March 5, 2012

“ . . . print the legend.”

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:22 pm

A column describing the events of Saturday, March 3, 2012 experienced and witnessed by the World’s Laziest Journalist might prove how and why the parable of the six blind Hindus is still important in the Internet era.

[Six blind Hindus touched an elephant and were asked to describe their reaction. The one who felt the tail thought elephants were like a strand of rope. The guy who touched the elephant’s trunk, said elephants were just like snakes. The fellow who touched the ear observed that elephants were just like a big leafed plant. The man who felt the elephant’s stomach was very convinced that elephants were a subcategory of walls. The guy who touched the tusk, knew that elephants were like swords. The guy who felt a leg concluded that elephants were very similar to trees.]

On Saturday morning, we met up with James Richard Armstrong II, the homeless columnist who lives in Berkeley CA. This writer wanted to brainstorm some possible column topics and have a morning cup of coffee. James was, among other things, concerned about some generalizations a reader had made regarding one of his columns about the plight of the homeless. People who live in houses (glass or not) tend to be very certain of their perceptions as do all of the six blind Hindus.

Since the homeless writer uses Hunter S. Thompson as a role model and since Thomson’s public persona often displayed a cavalier attitude about money, we criticized the Berkeley resident’s tendency to imitate Thompson when making financial decisions.

We suggested that perhaps Thompson’s attitude was part of a fictitious “image” that was deliberately manufactured. This was met with a vehement denial of that possibility, which, unfortunately, was impossible to fact-check. The World’s Laziest Journalist explained that he was basing his assertion on one actual encounter with one of the founding fathers of the Gonzo school of Journalism.

At an appearance at the Viper Room in Los Angeles, in 1996, Thompson had made a conspicuous display of having security eject hecklers. What many in the venue did not notice is that subsequently the persons who had been 86’d would be seen again in the sold out event, quietly observing the proceedings from the very back of the auditorium. The victims had the material for a personal encounter story that they would still be telling many years later, Thompson had bolstered his Wildman image, and the audience had been treated to an entertaining example of Thompson’s lack of tolerance for dissention.

We suggested that (perhaps) Thompson (who owned real estate in the Aspen area of Colorado) was just helping to create an image of an outlaw journalist when he seemed to act irresponsibly about financial matters.

We have been reading a recently acquired copy of “The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson” (by Michael Cleverly and Bob Braudis Harper Perennial paperback) and have become aware that often the reality of stories about Hunter do not match the legend and that the tendency is to use the Rio Bravo advice: “print the legend.”

Hence we strongly asserted that the famed father of Gonzo may have been playing a role when he used an expense account to subsidize living large.

Next we discussed the bogus aspect of the image of the homeless as free wheeling “king of the road” people who could come and go as the mood strikes them. Unfortunately the reality is the complete opposite. Often their movements are very restricted because they have to worry about finding a place to temporarily store their possessions if they want to move about during the day.

We volunteered to do a column delineating the problem. If (for example) a homeless woman wants to go into a public building and use the women’s rest room, the backpack and bedroll is an open invitation for hassling. If she can leave her gear with a trusted friend, she can run off, use the facility, and return very quickly. The problem is exponentially more complicated if the homeless person wants to stash their backpack and go across to San Francisco for a day. Where can he or she leave the backpack for a whole day?

Storage lockers are a quaint reminder of the past. (We will expand on this topic for use as a full column in the future.) So where can a person leave all his worldly possessions while taking a one day trip over into San Francisco? Taking sleeping gear and a heavy backpack will certainly put a damper on any one day outing in San Francisco. What’s with these practical restrictions vs. the image of “go anywhere when the mood strikes you” freedom?

A few hours later we were at the opposite end of the social spectrum. We were in Marin County as the guest of a woman who has devoted her life to helping women’s causes and helping philanthropists decide where and how to make their contributions. She has lived the “those who can, do” aspect of the story; now she also does coaching and teaches about that and related subjects.

As it turns out, the woman had met Hunter S. Thompson at the wedding of one of her close relatives. The philanthropy coach corroborated our impression of Thompson as a fellow who created a public persona that was very different from the private person.

The prolonged economic “recession” has added some additional new challenges to the task of encouraging wealthy citizens to make well informed decisions about making philanthropic donations to an every growing list of worthy non-profit organizations.

As it turns out, on that very day that we were discussing the particular financial needs of various organizations devoted to women’s causes, radio personality Rush Limbaugh may have inadvertently drawn added attention to women’s causes in particular by apologizing for calling a collage student a slut, earlier in the week. Liberal pundits noted that the apology was “out of character” for the bombastic radio talk show host.

Uncle Rushbo could add a considerable amount of credence (“What me make an insincere apology just to get myself off the hot seat?”) if it were accompanied by a large donation to a relevant women’s nonprofit organization.

We asked the Philanthropy coach if she or any of her associates had ever asked Uncle Rushbo (Doesn’t he live in a house that is worth $24 million?) what the level of his philanthropic donations are and also ask if he would like to increase that amount of giving during the economic hard times which have perceptively swelled the difficulty level of maintaining America’s commitment to subsidizing charitable organizations.

Wouldn’t most Americans be quite prepared to assume that Uncle Rushbo’s annual philanthropic donations are rather anemic? Doesn’t he advocate the “bootstrap” philosophy of self reliance?

The World’s Laziest Journalist adheres to a stringent budget, but we have, in the early phase of the Occupy movement, bought fast food meals, on different occasions, for two Occupy protesters. Could it be that the parsimonious columnist outspends Rush on philanthropic endeavors? Perhaps Rush Limbaugh makes large philanthropic donations anonymously or very quietly while perversely bolstering the Scrooge image?

On Monday morning’s broadcast, Uncle Rushbo’s introductory monologue seemed to be an apology to his regular listeners for making the apology on Saturday. His mistake was to lower himself to the level of leftists, he explained. “ . . . it was way beneath me . . .”
He did use the term “self reliance” several time Monday morning.

When Armstrong posts and shares a link to one of our columns on facebook , we get a perceptible bump in hits. We had shamelessly suggested that the Philanthropy coach bring the humble efforts of the World’s Laziest Journalist to the attention of some of her well known friends in the journalism industry. Could they do better at boosting the hits?

What would happen if Uncle Rushbo destroyed our speculation about his level of philanthropy giving on air and enumerated and elaborated on his donations and specifically mentioned that he was providing some fact checking information for the World’s Laziest Journalist?

Over the the course of this weekend and Monday morning, we realized that about one percent of journalists have about ninety percent of the clout that publicity can deliver. The other ninety nine percent of those working in Journalism must share the remaining amount of influence.

The folk wisdom in Hollywood is: “I don’t care what people say about me as long as they spell my name correctly.” Should we, perhaps, hope that Rush does mention our columns in a negative context? What if Limbaugh resorts to ridicule and speculates about the incongruity of someone who works very hard to promote the image of being an example of Lazy Journalism?

While this columnist roamed about Australia in a “sundowner” style, we often left our suitcase under a bunk in a hostel. We were oblivious to the homeless’ concern about “stowing the gear for a day,” until Armstrong elaborated it. This proved to me his contention that people who live in glass houses (or even sleep on a hostel’s bunk) should not assume that they fully understand what it means to be homeless.

What would life be without handy, comfortable illusionary images?

The closing quote has to be a line from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”

[Correction: the Howard Hawks series has not concluded but continues at the Pacific Film Archive until mid April. Rio Bravo will screen Saturday, April 14, 2012, at 8 p.m.]

Now the disk jockey will play “the man who shot Liberty Valence,” “Do not forsake me oh my darlin’” (the Oscar winning theme song from “High Noon”) and the theme song from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” We have to go get us a cup of celestial tea. Have a “smile when you say that” type week.

March 2, 2012

Newsman = a woman?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:35 pm

USS Iowa is moving to L. A.
Iowa stops in Richmond CA before going to L. A.
Some restoration work is being done before leaving for L. A.

In Howard Hawks’ 1940 film “His Girl Friday,” an unscrupulous, unethical newspaper editor, Walter Burns (Cary Grant), will do anything to get things to happen his way. In the film he uses his “anything goes” ethics to win back the love of his best reporter and former wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) who is, as the film begins, about to marry another man the next day.

Hawks took the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s classic journalism drama, “The Front Page,” and changed the basic plot into a screwball comedy with some sensationalism and contemporary issues dialogue thrown as elements of substantiating authenticity.

As America drew closer and closer to involvement in the war in Europe, women such as Margaret Bourke-White and Martha Gellhorn struggled to establish a woman’s right to be employed as a “newsman.” Hawks focused on the romance angle of his version of the story and let incidental issues such as race and pay get only quick lines to outline the (perfunctory) attempt to establish some sympathy for mitigating circumstances in the murder of a policeman. Hildy’s marriage is scheduled on the same day as the murderer’s execution.

The film, which the Pacific Film Archive had scheduled to be the final installment of a Howard Hawks retrospective, was shown on Tuesday, February 28, 2012, and brought up the question: How relevant could a 72 year old film about a declining industry be?

Since the film was shown at the same time that newspaper/broadcasting mogul Rupert Murdoch was being portrayed as an unscrupulous, unethical newspaper publisher who is being investigated for using “anything goes” ethics to win readers and increase his profit margin, it turned out that the movie was not a night off, but required the World’s Laziest Journalist to put on his columnist hat and ask this question: What if a similar newspaper man were trying to manipulate American voters and change the Republicans’ choice for their Presidential nominee rather than win back the love of a top reporter?

Isn’t there a folk axiom that proclaims that “All is fair in love, war, and journalism!”?

Supporters of Murdoch will make the assertion that citizen journalists will be the Maginot Line insuring that shoddy journalism doesn’t become the norm in the USA. However the Myth of Sisyphus task for bloggers may be showing some signs of stress fatigue. In the current issue of the East Bay Express, Rachel Swan (on page 10 of the hard copy edition) presents a story substantiating the idea that unpaid bloggers may be as effective as the Maginot Line was. The subhead for her story reads: “The blogs that were ‘making democracy work’ last year have largely fizzled out.”

When the Republicans unanimously started to use morality as the basis for assessing the Blunt bill (to permit employers the right to withhold health benefits for employees on the grounds of religious freedom), earlier this week, did any voice in the mainstream media point out that such scrupulous attention to morality seemed conspicuously absent when liberals pointed out the large number of collateral damage deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Does any unique pundit ask where is the morality when bankers, who have used faulty if not felonious paperwork for foreclosures, continue to toss American families out of their homes, are asked to hold off until the paperwork can be improved; they continue to foreclose at top speed? Is that flagrant disregard for the sanctity of a family’s home in preference to profits a true example of the American politicians’ concept of family values?

Can paid punditry’s continued effort to completely ignore the incongruity of the high moral tone for the birth control aspect of health care and at the same time the callus disregard for the morality of unrelenting foreclosure efforts mean that the professional writers are either really stupid or are they just unquestioningly subservient to the one percent media owners?

Does the fact that only a lose cannon, online columnist has the freedom to ask such impertinent questions, prove conclusively that the free press is extinct? If that is the case, will Americans wait until listening to foreign broadcasts and reading dissenting opinions are capital offenses before they realize that the free press is as extinct as the California golden bear? Or will they cheerfully assert that the pathetic uniformity of conservative punditry is all they want or need to become well informed voters?

How did that work out in Germany in the Thirties? (Do a Google search for “VE 301”)

Is there some irony to be found in the fact that when Democrats are in the White House, the Conservatives are unanimous in their belief that criticism of the President must be unrelenting, but when George W. Bush was President, the conservatives assessed any criticism of Dubya as being unpatriotic?

When FDR was in the White House did conservatives denigrate the Presidents constantly? Wasn’t the very wide spectrum of voices in the political arena (when “His Girl Friday” was released) a vast assortment of differing points of view? How diverse was the political debate in Germany at that very same time? Which style of diversity are the Republicans striving to duplicate?

In “His Girl Friday,” Hildy Johnson thought that Walter Burns’ extortion and bribery made him all the more lovable and by the film’s end, she was back in love with Burns.

When Rupert Murdoch’s choice for the Republican candidate in 2012 becomes known, the teabaggers may fall in love with Murdoch again, but the liberals might get a jolting dose of déjà vu that gives them a “Rick Santorum level of revulsion” reaction.

Have you noticed that the mainstream media seems to be in perfect harmony regarding the idea that Mitt Romney shouldn’t be handed the Republican Presidential nomination? (The Stepford Pundits?) Have all the paid political pundits (both liberal and conservative) started to sing the same song? Where is the much vaunted “unique voice” that will point out the fact that all the calls for withholding the nomination seem to be written by the same author with little or no unique wording or phraseology inserted?

The Republicans started out with about a dozen potential candidates and now that Mitt is the frontrunner, he is being criticized for not getting a majority of the Republican primary votes. Are the mainstream media hacks too dumb to see the correlation to the arguments supporting the “instant runoff” concept or are they being forbidden to wander into that line of reasoning?

On Thursday, March 01, 2012, Andrew Breitbart died and Uncle Rushbo was effusive in his praise for the conservative spokesman. Limbaugh seemed on the verge of suggesting that Britebart be put on a catafalque and lay in state for a day or so in the rotunda of the Capital building in Washington D. C. Was Andrew Breitbart more like Walter Burns and Rupert Murdoch or was he the modern day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow? Which type of news reporter does America want/deserve?

Is the tendency to make sure that conservative pundits are liberally remunerated for their work but that altruism is deemed sufficient reward for leftist, a stealth way to make sure that the pundits eventually suffer burnout? Isn’t it conservatives who glibly spout the sentiment that “Virtue is its own punishment”?

[In 1940, when “His Girl Friday” was playing in movie theaters across the USA, the designs had been drawn and production of the weapons of war was beginning. Pearl Harbor hadn’t happened yet, but America was gearing up for war. The USS Iowa had already been designed.

The fact that photos of the Iowa visiting Richmond CA while slowly traveling to its new permanent home in the Los Angeles area will be used to illustrate this column rather than photos from various Occupy protest marches held on Thursday March 1, 2012 also illustrates how fatigue can inject a WTF factor into the contemporary online realm of column writing.]

Back when the number of words used determined the cost of sending a telegram, often meant that some words were dropped as a means for economizing. A writer who wanted to know Cary Grant’s age for a story he was writing sent a telegram: “How old Cary Grant?” Grant’s answer to that question provided the closing quote for this column. He replied: “Old Cary Grant fine. How you?”

Now the disk jockey will take us back in time by playing “Long ago and far away,” “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition,” and “The band played on.” We have to go buy tickets to see “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” again, at the Flashback film series. Have a “stop the press!” type week.

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