July 10, 2015

On the Road to literary fame and fortune?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:28 pm

crop of tent man best


What would happen if a group of homeless political activists in Berkeley offered an opportunity for a young journalist to score a scoop and a chance for a career making project? Since a good many energetic authors have endured the rigors of life on the road to write about their experiences, and since Berkeley is considering a list of proposed ordinances that will make being homeless more challenging, Mike Zint, the political activist leading the effort to prevent the historic Berkeley Post Office building from being sold, has issued a challenge to journalists covering the resurgent political scene in the famed University town. He calls it the George Orwell do-it-yourself scholarship program.

Writers ranging from the eager staff of the Daily Californian to contributing writers for various publications, and perhaps even a staff writer for the New York Times are being urged to vie for the privilege of spending a week (or month?) with the 24/7 protest at the city’s main Post Office branch and experience what life without money, regularly scheduled meals or time clocks means.

If a young writer shows up with no money, no ID, and no credit cards and is willing to spend a week (month?) living on the streets gathering material for a writing project, there is no guarantee that the work will sell, but the rookie scribe will be granted membership in a rather exclusive group. The Berkeley chapter of the fraternity of the open road school of journalism has an impressive roster.

Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote “Travels with a donkey,” and “An Inland Voyage” had a home that is now a California State Park just north of Calistoga.

Dorothea Lange was a photographer who roamed the country taking photos that provided classic images showing the desperate plight of the poor during the Great Depression. She lived in Berkeley CA.

Jack Kerouac made being a bi-coast schizophrenic the basis for the beatnik literary movement by repeatedly bouncing from the Big Apple to Frisco and back again and again and writing about it in various books. He was briefly a Berkeley resident.

Hunter Stockton Thompson rode with the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angeles Motorcycle Club and the subsequent book mad him a journalism super-star. He lived, for a while, in San Francisco.

Blogger, former war correspondent, and (more recently) occasional baby sitter, Jane Stillwater, who has circled the glob gathering interesting information and facts, has interrupted her peripatetic fact checking activities and is currently ensconced in Berkeley and is putting the finishing touches on her first novel tentatively titled “Pictures of a Future World.”

Sure, married people can write charming books about domestic bliss but even the lady from Scranton Pa., who wrote “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” didn’t stay there.

George Orwell’s first book “Down and Out in Paris and London” never lived in Berkeley but his first book helped establish him as a celebrity writer. The fact that his book about hard times sold well during the depression should provide some incentive for today’s white belt (i.e. beginner) writer to “walk a mile in Orwell’s moccasins.”

If writers can’t get an assignment from the mainstream media to cover the tumultuous atmosphere on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley it might indicate that the publishers (who are usually conservatives) are more into denial than willing to subsidizing a sojourn into the fascinating world of life on the edge.

If a bold and audacious writer decides to take the challenge, and doesn’t get any response to his work done on speculation, that might be proof that capitalists are practicing de facto censorship in a country that has been conditioned to be oblivious to any limits on freedom of speech imposed by financial considerations. Would capitalistic publishers institute de facto censorship based on misguided fanatical beliefs if it deprived them of a traditional source for sure sales? In the capitalists’ world, doesn’t greed trumps political principles every time?

If such hypothetical self imposed limitations were in effect, wouldn’t the discipline required to resist the urge to break the embargo ultimately fail due to greed fostered by the potential of impressive sales numbers? Hasn’t the life of a vagabond wordsmith been the basis for many literary careers? Publishers may be able to control what is available to buy in America’s bookstores, but they can’t stop people from follow sales trends that have been effective for many generations.

The danger for the capitalistic conservative moguls would be that some desperate graduate of a journalism school, who is being overwhelmed by student debt, cites the WTF factor and puts his world on the line and risks everything on a bold gamble. That makes very interesting reading for those who want to live an exciting life vicariously.

What beleaguered dad doesn’t retreat to his “man cave” and yearn for a proxy who will deliver the life of a happy go lucky, eloquent rolling stone in the pages of a new best seller?

With all the time spent on talk radio decrying the existence of panhandlers in the land of opportunity, there is one glaring factor: when is the last time a conservative talk show host interviewed a homeless person on the air? If the unemployed are not given an opportunity to express their point of view, how then does a one-sided point of view program exemplify a dedication to “fair and balanced” content?

Dirty diapers, puking babies, and Sunday morning sermons may add a comforting predictability to life and adds a shared experience bond to community living but the uncertainty of hitchhiking in the rain on a desolate highway intersection at night does not need to be concerned about being too mundane to hold the audience’s interest. The song “Phantom 309” describes the dismal experience of hitchhiking at night on a remote stretch of highway as a rain storm approaches. For families in fly-over country that song is a “Twilight Zone” episode told in lyrics and is very entertaining, but for someone who has experienced the vagabond lifestyle it provides a “been there done that” moment that rings true for many a wandering wordsmith.

(If the writer’s reaction to the plight is to utter a blasphemy and if it is immediately followed by a dramatic lightening bolt striking the peak of a mountain top about five miles yonder, that will probably be an “ace of trump” incident at a hostel story telling competition.)

The World’s Laziest Journalist has lived the hitchhiking to Frisco chapter of “On the Road” almost five decades ago and has concluded that it is better to interview the regulars at ‘Fort Zint” (the Berkeley Post Office Defense Protest) and get a vicarious look at the challenges they face rather than adopting the young writer’s sense of adventure and putting a major commitment of time and energy into a project that would be done on speculation.

At this stage of the game what would be the use of putting a great deal of time and effort into laying the foundation for a writing career that will stretch thirty years into the future?

We either do something for the S&G factor or we give it an immediate “pass.” That isn’t to say that we would turn down a spur of the moment offer of a ride to NYC – the travel bag is always packed – but road adventures are a young man’s game and, according to Mike Zint’s ground rules wouldn’t getting a monthly social security check take away the risk factor of being broke and on the move?

In “the Road,” former University of California at Berkeley student Jack London wrote: “I located and empty box-car, slid open the slide-door, and climbed in.”

Now the disk jockey will play Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s 1956 hit “Ain’t got no home,” the Eagles’ “Take it easy,” and the Highwaymen’s “The Road goes on forever, the party never ends.” We have to check Craig’s list and see about the possibility of getting a ride to the Big Apple. Have a “never saw a sight that didn’t look better looking back” type week.

October 22, 2014

Not again!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:53 pm

crop of Titanic

The bargain bin at Half Price Books in Berkeley has yielded some literary treasures but since our “In” stack of books is a formidable reading challenge, prudence dictates that any additions to the unread pile should be chosen very judiciously and so, recently, we were leaving the store empty handed. We were wearing some jeans with holes in the knees and must have looked a tad like one of Shattuck Avenue panhandlers which may have inspired a local citizen to engage us in conversation. He quickly cut to the chase (as they say in Hollywood) and delivered the essence of his philosophy of life: “If you want nice things in life (such as the books being sold inside the store), get a job and earn the money to buy them.”

Rather than take a pragmatic approach and respond with some logical facts and statistics about how the nation is in the midst of The Great Recession and jobs are hard to get and hold, we challenged the validity of his premise. What’s wrong with the old song’s belief that “the best things in life are free”? In the specific case of the World’s Laziest Journalist that would include: a ride on the Goodyear blimp (Bucket list item since high school days), a ride on a B-17-G WWII bomber (dittio), a chance to cover the Oscars (ditto again), a 1965 ocean voyage to Casablanca and various European ports of call, and talking our way into a closed automobile museum. Total expenditures: Nada.

He was flummoxed. He had failed to shame us into a painful admission that we were an abysmal failure in a capitalistic society. We travel around having a shipload of fun and are too dumb to realize that we should have embraced Oscar Levant’s concept of the treadmill to oblivion.

There’s an old adage that says anybody who has kids has given hostages to fortune. We may wind up with an anemic memorial service (such as Jay Gatsby’s) but we console ourself with what Hunter S. Thompson said: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, and Hunter S. Thompson wanted to become world famous writers. They got what they wanted and it made them miserable.

The Berkeley Public Library offers a tool library service and the library in Boulder City in Western Australia offers a toy library. Don’t kids go through toys like a voracious reader goes through books? Buying toys keeps the toy factories (“made in China”?) busy and if a kid is going to obsess on his Hoppalong Cassidy holster and cap gun for just a short burst of time, why do the parents have to buy it? A toy library is logical but basically a Communist concept, n’est ce pas? How often do you use the sander that you got for Christmas several years back?

A happy-go-lucky bachelor is the antitheses of family values. A vagabond who can throw all his gear under a hostel bunk and explore exotic locations can easily identify with an Apache who can pick up all the necessities and move on at a moment’s notice but for the father of a modern family, life demands an unchanging home and social structure.

When the (future) World’s Laziest Journalist was warned about the hazards of indolence, we (being of Irish heritage) immediately assessed the value of lazy slobs in society. For one thing, it gives mothers an example for what can happen if a kid doesn’t strive for excellence in kindergarten and all subsequent educational endeavors. Then again, it also reinforces the moralistic message that all good little boys grow up and become responsible citizens and a cinder block for building a solid social structure.

Nonconformists might do more for helping the proles become assured that they have made the correct life decisions than the possibility that they will inspire dissent and unrest.

Who, in their right mind, would want to experience what it is like to stand at a forlorn highway intersection, see no traffic, and realize that a thunder storm will soon leave you cold, wet, and miserable? On the other hand, what diligent father wouldn’t want to read a passage about such a dismal night on the road (at this point hipster know that the disk jockey will play Red Sovine’s song “Phantom 309”) to his kids? There’s a line in a Waylon Jennings song that cheerfully reminds listeners that when life serves you a shit sandwich “at least you got the makings of a song.”

At this point, as the column is being written, the columnist recalls a debate among three neighbors in South Lake Tahoe in the summer of 1970 that tried to determine which is more difficult: life “on the road” or the challenges of working the same job year after year just to provide for a family? The red or the black? Family or Adventures? The Lady or the Tiger?

There is one very dangerous aspect to picking the Jack Kerouac trail to fame and forturne. Well, two, actually. First you might not become rich and the author of best sellers and two: you might become so addicted to the process of collecting material for the greatest autobiography ever written, that you don’t actually write the damn thing. It would be a case of contraccting the wordsmith’s version of “White Line Fever.” WHAT-ev-ah!

One thing is for sure at this point in life. We know we aren’t capable of writing a column that clearly outlines the parameters of the turmoil in the Middle East, let along write a column that (somehow) ends it. Sooooo? This weekend we will not post a week-in-review column, but will provide tour guide service for a fellow who will be visiting the San Francisco Bay area.

You want more? Google “The Myth of the Unbiased Media,” by Robert Gammon in the latest editor of the East Bay Express (dotcom).

Recently a political activist in Berkeley (Ironically the home of the world’s best weapons lab happens to be a city where the peace symbol is ubiquitous) asked us: “Are you in favor of World Peace?” We responded “F*** no! War means jobs.” It also means that we will feel obliged to reassess the situation again next week when the Forever War will again instigate a need for perceptive and insightful (and cynical?) commentary.

The World’s Laziest Journalist realizes that Howard Beal was spot-on in his criticism of the way things are going, but we also realize that if after many years of producing criticism of the system we can get our closest friends to “share” the link to our latest column on Facebook only on rare occasions. We have concluded that the best we can do is adopt the throw the glasses into the fireplace and imitate the philosophy in the “Is that all there is?” song and try to have an “eat, drink, and be merry” fling that would have made the Red Barron proud.

Recently we heard a report on the radio (probably on KCBS) that President Obama was going to rely heavily on scientists for advice on how to contain the threat of an Ebola epidemic and we marveled that the conservative media didn’t quickly ask: “You mean the same loons who cooked up the Global Warming conspiracy theory?”

We expanded our search for the meaning of life to include some (new to us) nineties style pop culture endeavors by activating a DVD player and in a documentary about the life of film director John Huston learned that his modus operandi was to have a much fun as possible. Second the motion.

We have always tried to emulate the people who made “having fun” a leitmotif for their biography. We have even found a way to include that proclivity into a portion of our personal views on theology.

If life is a gift and if the people who seem to enjoy living the most are the ones who have the most fun, then perhaps (we speculate) when we die and face St. Peter on Judgment Day, he will ask everyone the same question: “Did you have fun during your time on Earth?” If the answer is “Yes!” then their reward will be a chance to be reincarnated and have more fun; if they answer “No!” then their punishment will be another go-round to see if they can figure out how important it is to improve their “fun quotient.”

Herodotus wrote “If a man insisted always on being serious and never allowed himself a bit of un and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it.”

Now the disk jockey will play Waylon Jennings “He went to Paris,” the Beatles’ “Follow the Sun,” and Duane Eddy’s “Movin’ N Grovin’.” We have to go buy a “Yes on D Berkeley vs. Big Soda” T-shirt for our history archive. (Dang! We wish we had bought a souvenir T-shirt from the kids who were on strike at Columbia back in 1968.) Have a “Kick on third down!” type week.


January 3, 2014

Lenny Bruce, Alan Ginsberg, and Rush Limbaugh

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:32 pm

Jann S. Wenner had a very seductive way of convincing writers to work on his new magazine; he would promise them life in the journalists’ Valhalla by saying:  “You can write about anything you want” and since prospects for liberal punditry at the beginning of a year that will consist mainly of covering the Republican Sitdown Strike in Congress at a time when leftists have been banished from the ranks of talk radio, the only way for management to generate enthusiasm from beleaguered columnists is to duplicate the vague mission statement that lured talent to the headquarters of Rolling Stone Magazine at 625 Third Street in San Francisco almost a half a century ago.

Who wouldn’t want to be assigned to escape Winter in the Northern Hemisphere and go to Canberra to write an article titled “SummerNats is Decadent and Depraved!”?  The defunct Scanlan’s Magazine started a journalistic tradition of writing an installment in the Decadent and Depraved series of sports exposes when they sent a rookie to cover the Kentucky Derby.  That pioneer of Gonzo Journalism is gone, but shouldn’t the tradition be preserved to spark enthusiasm in a new generation?

Since the 2014 SummerNats is being held this weekend in Canberrra, it’s too late to seek an assignment that would subsidize a trip there.  Wouldn’t the 2015 installment of an annual Australian event that uses the unofficial motto of “beer, boobs, and burnouts!,” seem like an excellent choice to qualify for being included in Scanlon’s magazines series of profiles of depraved sporting events?  We should probably send them a query letter rather quickly.  (Note:  we used a file photo from the 2009 SummerNats as the illustration for this column.)

If Dr. Hunter S. Thompson isn’t available to spoof political punditry in 2014 by writing a scathing piece to fill the space under a headline that reads:  “Is the USA ready for a chick President?;” then who in the Gonzo bullpen is a better choice than The World’s Laziest Journalist?  Wouldn’t a quote from Frank Sinatra about “frails” put it over the goal line?

Aren’t the Republican strategists beginning to assemble an arsenal of sexist sentiment in anticipation of the 2016 Presidential Election?

Since articles about the unverifiable results from the electronic voting machines must either be an enthusiastic endorsement of that questionable facet of democracy in action or be a nominee for the Conspiracy Theory Bunkum of the year award, it might be an example of discretion to aim, instead, for something more accessible.  Since the schedule has just been posted, it may be time to decide how (not “if”) we will cover Noir City 12, the film festival that starts in San Francisco later this month on January 24.

If Phil Robertson just got forgiveness for his recent controversial rant, could it be that conservatives are slowly building toward a denouement in 2014 that provides a crucial turning point whereby Uncle Rushbo either gets absolution for using the N-word on the air, or destroys his career and becomes a martyr for freedom of speech?  Would the Leftists’ holy trinity of freedom of speech then become Lenny Bruce, Alan Ginsberg, and Rush Limbaugh?

Fox got some publicity by airing the F-bomb word as part of their New Year’s Eve coverage.  Is this going to be the year of the on air F-bombs?

Since progressive radio talk show host Norman Goldman had a scoop about how the series of “fiscal cliff” crises had been broken, we would rather not write a sloppy seconds version of that obscure aspect of American Political History.

We have missed the deadline for applying for press credentials for covering the Oscar Awards Ceremonies which will be held at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood in just a few weeks.  Perhaps we can channel the spirit of Gonzo Journalism and talk our way into getting a special deadline dispensation, getting a press pass, and then doing some reports about this year’s mad scramble to give acceptant speeches.   (Garry Cooper gave the shortest acceptance speech.  It consisted of just one word:  “Thanks!”)

Speaking of eloquent sales pitches, perhaps we can convince Jerry Cimino to resurrect the Beatmobile (AKA the Beat Museum on Wheels) and take a contingent of writers on a round trip from the North Beach area of San Francisco to this year’s celebration of Hemingway Days in Key West, Fla.  If we could get a ride on such a hypothetical quest journey, we could do a series of Gonzo reports on our continuing effort to establish Hemingway as the prototype Beatnik.

The assignment desk at the World’s Laziest Journalist World Headquarters will tantalize the staff with the possibility that in 2014 somebody will be assigned to cover the 24 hour sports car race at Le Mans before being given the task of being the results wrangler for the Mid-Term Elections Desk later in the year.

Speaking of Demographics, recently a friend insinuated that crusading liberal journalists are “mouth breathers.”  If he thinks that Leftists are dummies, perhaps we should start doing some fact checking for a column that would provide statistics to back the contention that the average PBS News Hour audience member has a better education than the high school dropouts who are addicted to the quality level available at Fox propaganda?

Have some clever Republicans started using reverse psychology?  Aren’t some staunch Republicans starting to wear some Wendell Wilkie “No Third Term” buttons from the 1940 Presidential Election as a way of introducing a move to grant President Obama an exemption from the two terms limit?  Isn’t that a stealth a way to manipulate disgruntle Democrats into either endorsing a third term for Obama or expressing public disappointment in the lame duck’s track record?  If the Republicans do pass such a change, wouldn’t Barick Obama still be young enough for a third term in 2020 if the incumbent isn’t’ a fellow Democrat.

Berkeley blogger, war correspondent, and grandmother Jane Stillwater, tipped us to the fact that this year’s Boucher Con known as “Murder at the Beach” this year, for the fans of mystery novels will be held in Long Beach California and so we are penciling in coverage of that event which will be held November 11 to 16, this year.

The new film, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” is a Horatio Alger, rags to riches, saga that will motivate and inspire young Republicans for decades to come, and so we may soon write a full film review as a column.  The Ayn Randian premise of the film is simple:  If a fellow makes millions of dollars, it doesn’t matter who else gets hurt in the process.  The real question is “How many Oscars will it win?”

It brings to mind the old Hollywood wisdom:  “Be careful whom you step while climbing to the top, because you may have to step on them again, on your way back down.”

Speaking of wolfpack capitalism, will 2014 be the year that the Republican majority Congress starts to take measures to solve the looming prospect of a deficit for the Social Security program?

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson described the Myth of Sisyphus aspect of a late start when he wrote:  “The press handler was shocked at the idea that anyone would be stupid enough to apply for press credentials two days before the Derby.”

Now the disk jockey will get us in the SummerNats frame of mind by playing Jerry Lee Lewis’ “What made Milwaukee famous,”  Rusty Warren’s “Bounce your boobies,” and the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coup.”  We have to start checking to see if a certain couch in Marina del Rey is available for crashing during the Oscar weekend festivities.  Have an “I want to thank the members of the Academy . . .” type week and a happy new year.

March 16, 2012

Is New Journalism getting old?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:36 pm

Photo of the 2012 Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance by (and courtesy of) William “Jersey Bill” Hitzel

The conflict in Afghanistan had its Tet Offensive moment last Sunday, when a soldier, whose name wasn’t initially released by the Ministry of Truth, went on a shooting rampage. Just because the Peaceniks believe that proves that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, they are ready to call it quits. President Obama can now sound like George W. Bush and urge the folks to continue fighting the war in Afghanistan for no appareanet reason or he can mimic Lyndon Johnson and decline the Democratic Party’s nomination. By mid-week, President Obama was recycling many of the Bush clichés about staying the course.

On Tuesday, Rick Santorum won two more primaries and thus underscored the sourceless contention that Mitt Romney is not a member of the Herrenvolk and thus ineligible to receive his Party’s Presidential nomination.

The Republicans believe in a Republic which means that only eligible people (men who own land according to the Founding Fathers) can vote and thus they will have no philosophical objections if the Party elite perform an intervention and deliver the Party’s Presidential nomination to someone who is a member of the Herrenvolk and is obviously qualified to reestablish the Republican domination of the White House. (A Republican has been in the White House for 28 of the last forty-four years or 36 of the last sixty years.)

During the week we saw an item online that asserted that in England two reporters involved in the Murdoch-gate phone tapping scandal had attempted suicide. Don’t the Brits call the investigation Operation Weeting?

The Porngate scandal in India doesn’t seem to be getting much play in American media.

On Tuesday, Uncle Rushbo fresh from a day off for golfing, started his program with a meticulous examination of the meaning of the numbers for oil prices and oil production. Since there had been an item online reporting that a Canadian study asserted that Conservatives tended to be less educated and more insecure than Liberals, we marveled that the man who flatly stated that there is no Republican war on women, was able to mesmerize his audience, reputed to number 20 million, with facts and figures that might tend to bore all but a very specific college classroom full of students ready and eager to join the BP assault on undersea oil reserves around the globe.

Does Uncle Rushbo’s disk jockey have permission from the artist to play the old hit “I’m the Pied Piper”? We ask that quesiton because, apparently, he has the magic touch and can lead his vast audience into some very arcane and esoteric facts and figures and not suffer any perceptible amount of listener defections.

On Thursday, Uncle Rushbo was mesmerizing his millions of listeners with a discourse on the history and purpose of the strategic oil reserves. That, in turn, made us wonder what would Lenny Bruce have said about Limbaugh’s “slut” slur?

Speaking of adventuresome college radio, this week we heard a well done report on KALX (the UCB student radio station) from North Gate Radio about fecal transplants. It was one of those unusual bits of news that usually shoots to the top of the list on odd news websites such as Fark and/or Obscure Store.

The World’s Laziest Journalist has noticed that using a photo to illustrate the columns usually means a better chance of catching the reader’s eyes, but the challenge (and time consuming nature of the task) of finding an appropriate still shot and then getting the photographer’s permission to use it is very daunting, and so (after struggling with learning to include the photos with the posting) we often resort to taking an appropriate photo and using that.

It works out rather well if the columnist manages to get some shots of some news worthy events that are mentioned in the column, such as arrests at a “No Justice; No BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)” protest, or some events at Occupy Oakland or Occupy Cal; but for a week when there are no high news value images available, that means either running a mundane weather shot or mooching an extra shot from a former high-school classmate who covered the Amelia Island Concours D’Elegance, a high profile car event held in Florida, for the Just Above Sunset Photo website or not using any and losing a chance for the column to be more noticeable.

The World’s Laziest Journalist missed such a photo op in Berkeley last weekend, when Louis Frakaan delivered some controversial comments at a speaking engagement at the University of California’s Berkeley campus.

Wasn’t there some concern in the early days of the Internet media revolution that quality content would be accorded diminished value as “bells and whistles” graphics were added to various web sites?

Here is a hypothetical example of how an item without a very noticeable graphics can loose reader appeal. Recently we picked up a copy of “The New Journalism” by Tom Wolfe (“an anthology edited by Tome Wolfe and E. W. Johnson” [Harper and Row paperback edition]) and began to assemble some information for writing a column about the 50th anniversary of the start of the “New Journalism” branch of news reporting. The publication of “Joe Louis the King as Middle-aged Man” in Esquire magazine in 1962, is cited by Wolfe as a significant milestone in the demarcation of the birth of the trend.

The anthology includes all of the essential examples of the New Journalism (called “Gonzo Journalism” by Hunter S. Thompson) but it also piqued our curiosity. Does You Tube offer a hilarious obscure example of “Parajournalism” (as Wolfe dubbed it) that consisted of video of Hunter S. Thompson interviewing Keith Richards? We learned that several versions have been posted there and a still shot from that tsunami of mumbled unintelligible syllables would serve as bait for luring unsuspecting new readers into the latest example of this columnist’s attempt to preserve the traditions of “thee dot journalism” . . . if we could figure out how the heck to insert such a still shot touting that interview before the (self imposed) Friday morning deadline.

In the past, the World’s Laziest Journalist has made efforts to draw attention to the idea that Philip K. Dick, in his speculative history work of fiction titled “The Man in the High Castle,” seemed to accurately predict Hunter S. Thompson’s life and writings.

Our efforts to draw attention to that coincidence have been just as successful as our Hans Brinker-ish efforts to warn Liberals that Karl Rove will use delegate gridlock at the Republican National Convention as a smoke and mirrors diversion to hand the nomination to JEB Bush.

The Conservative pundits will ignore the JEB angle because they don’t want to tip Rove’s hand and the Liberal commentators can’t or won’t acknowledge that scenario because . . . they receive their generous paychecks from media owners who don’t want any spoiler material put into the national debate . . . until it’s too late.

Perhaps some folks who have a rare form of diarrhea and are in need of some therapeutic bacteria are not the only ones who qualify for fecal transplants? Could that concept be used as a metaphor for the Liberal voices employed by Conservative media owners?

The topic of objectivity vs. a reporter’s emotional involvement with a news story got an example of the inherent dangers on Thursday night when a KALX reporter on the evening newscast became overcome with emotion and had to hit the cough button. The story was about an event at a zoo in Germany to draw attention to the arrival of a new bunny. Unfortunately during the course of the media event, the bunny was trampled to death by the attending journalists. The reporter seemed on the verge of tears when she deactivated her microphone for a few moments.

In “The New Journalism,” Wolfe describes the task facing subservient “wordproles” (on page 44): “The reporter . . . (manifests) behavior that comes close to being servile or even beggarly. . . . They supply mainly ‘vivid description’ plus sentiment.” Then they are free to (as Liberace once put it) “cry all the way to the bank.” (Do you honestly think that any on-air personality at Fox would dare show any sign of disapproval if JEB gets the Republican nomination?)

Now the disk jockey will play Roy Orbison’s “Workin’ for the Man,” Gene Autry’s “Here comes Peter Cottontail,” and Bing Crosby’s “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling . . . .” We have to go find our green T-shirt and green Branch Motor Express jacket. Have an “Erin go Bragh” (Ireland forever!) type week.

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.

November 7, 2011

The Case of the missing Gonzo Journalism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 6:45 pm

The typewriter looked very familiar
Getting the poster makes seeing a good movie even better
The movie produced a deja vu moment.

Seeing Johnny Depp, in “The Rum Diary,” portraying a rookie Hunter S. Thompson in Puerto Rico pounding away on a portable typewriter, we were again inspired to renew our efforts to draw attention to causes such as the effort to Save Richardson Grove State Park, “one of the 100 finest state parks in America” (according to a brochure from, and also draw attention to the environmentalists’ alarm that some gold mining activity in the area posed a threat to Yosemite National Park. We scaled back our goals and settled for spending a day taking photos of the November 2, 2011, General Strike in Oakland, and then posting them online, but wished we could do better.

Wouldn’t it be much more Gonzo if we still had an influential voice and a portable typewriter to bang out a column lamenting the fact that while Conservatives are shameless in their efforts to shield the rich from their civic duty of paying any taxes, the Liberals are being inundated by a tsunami of outrageous simultaneous assaults on causes that would (subjunctive mood) draw the scorn and vituperative sarcasm of Hunter S. Thompson, if he were still alive?

Would Hunter find humor in the oxymoron that while President Obama was winning the Nobel Peace Prize, bringing justice to Osama bin Laden (as Dubya had promised America he would do), giving the orders to get the troops out of Iraq (in compliance to commitments made by Dubya), and dealing with Ghadafi while the Republicans are constantly trying to tar and feather the President with an image as a lazy, no-good, shiftless, black bum?

While posting the photos of the General Strike, we checked our e-mail and leaned that our wish to be the fellow behind the Gonzo typewriter wasn’t so farfetched after all. A friend back in “the old country,” just South of the ’bu (= Malibu) sent us an e-mail saying:
“At one point, a girl came over & started asking me about a slim Olivetti typewriter I had: was it made in or before 1960? You might remember this item, Bob: lightweight, manual, somewhat anonymous, portable & only 2″ thick: you sold it to me back in 1997.
Now I know this model really came out in the early 1970′s, designed by Ettore Sotsass of Milan, I believe, but being the salesman I am, I replied, “Yes ma’am, this unit did indeed come out in 1960.” We haggled just a bit on price, & I let her have it for $25. With the sale complete, I asked, if she didn’t mind telling me, what she was going to do with it? She smiled & told me that she was the propmaster on a feature film set in 1960.
Well, Bob, I just saw “Rum Diary” last night, & Johnny Depp is writing with your typewriter! It has one big hero shot 1/2 hour from the end where they pull in real close, & it’s your typer, Bob! To fit the exegeses of the story, which in part is about American business’ despoilation of paradise, they had to have him using an American typewriter, so they refitted a REMINGTON ES nameplate in place of the OLIVETTI one, but it’s definitely your machine: the indispensable tool for the travelling journalist.
So—a young Hunter S. Thompson is portrayed beginning his legend using YOUR typewriter.
Does it get any better than this, Bob?
Oh, and the movie’s great.”

Yikes! The portable typewrite we had used in our efforts to imitate Hunter S. Thompson became the same one that Johnny Depp used to portray the father of Gonzo Journalism. Maybe we should be encouraged and renew our efforts to bring the Gospel of Gonzo to the Internets?

If Hunter S. Thompson were still alive wouldn’t it be child’s play for him to make a visit to one of the Occupy sites and then tie together the possibility that the law forbidding the use of masks in California, the burly provocateurs (do police officers use steroids to “bulk up”?) and the bad image that the (so called) liberal media pins on the OWS movement into a crazy conspiracy theory asserting that maybe the “anarchists” and the agents of law enforcement were collaborating their efforts to help the Koch brothers discredit the roving band of hippies who have terrorized the Establishment for over forty years? If Hunter could have done that; then why can’t we?

Don’t newspaper reporters on the crime beat and the police know that Section 185 of the California Penal Code make wearing a mask a misdemeanor? The police and any Occupy monitors could call out the people behind the mask for breaking the law, but that would stifle any attempts to use agent provocateurs to sabotage the Occupy Movement and isn’t it obvious who those scoundrels might be?

If the agent provocateurs are using masks shouldn’t the monitors at the Occupy site ask masked people to remove the masks or be reported to the local police agency? End of problem. It might be a bit embarrassing for things to happen that way if some of the masked people turned out to be undercover cops.

Wouldn’t the Gonzo pioneer point out that the Occupy issue is unfolding in the traditional Republican manner? The politicians want to remove the symptoms (the various encampments) rather than treat the disease: the rich don’t pay their fair portion of taxes. The debate has devolved into concerns about health and safety because the lackeys in the media say what the owner/publishers tell them to say. Wouldn’t Hunter S. Thompson lead by example and tell the truth to power?

Would Hunter have trouble directing the public’s attention to the potential for a revival of the Bush Dynasty? Would he be accused of being a conspiracy theory nut for making bets on a successful JEB run for the Republican Nomination?

Would Hunter be an effective voice if he pointed out that the sweeps of the encampments happen at night because the effectiveness of videos from citizen journalists is considerably diminished by the dim available light capacity of their equipment, thus making it easy to summarily dismiss any videos of alleged police misconduct by saying “you can’t see that clearly”?

Wasn’t the Internets supposed to supersede the old underground newspapers in supplying a voice of dissent? Do you suppose that the Internet hasn’t produced an fine examples of e-Gonzo Journalism because the media moguls don’t want voices of dissention and protest to be heard? What ever happened to mainstream media coverage of the blogisphere?

There is a great speculative fiction book about using a replica of Hemingway’s typewriter titled “The Hemingway Hoax.” Where is our copy of that book?

Herb Caen’s typewriter is on display (at an inaccessible location?) in a newspaper office in San Francisco. What ever happened to the typewriter used by the famed Berkeley native who was Caen’s good friend and biggest rival and used the nom de plume Freddy Francisco? What was that guy’s real name?

At one point, when Freddy Francisco and Herb Caen would prowl the nightclub beat together, a rookie cop stopped them and told them they were under arrest. The response was: “Do you know who you are trying to arrest?” The young policeman marched them down to the local station house and when they entered the desk sergeant recognized the two veteran (and influential) journalists, laughed uncontrollably, and then managed to ask the officer: “Do you know who you are trying to arrest?” Does that sound like a Gonzo legend or not?

What did the production company do with the typewriter they used in “The Rum Diary”? Now that they don’t need it, would they be interested in selling it?

Writing in the City of San Francisco’s August 10, 1975 issue, Freddy Francisco stated: “It should be explained that this was a juicy era in San Francisco journalism. The Chief (William Randolph Hearst) was still dominating all newspaper activities the way Alexander had ruled the ancient world.” Isn’t Rupert Murdoch carrying on that tradition to this very day?

Now the disk jockey will play some Forties era ♫ tunes such as “Baby, it’s cold outside,” “Riders in the sky,” and “Buttons and bows.” We have to go look for a new column topic. Have a “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” type week.

August 19, 2011

What recession?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 2:13 pm



On the morning of August 18, 2011, while the cable channels with new were delivering non-stop monitoring of the numbers for the Dow Jones industrial average, people who were more concerned with automobiles were pouring into the town of Monterey California where their attention was focused on more esoteric topics such as the pre-auction estimate that a privately owned Ferrari would sell for two to three million dollars.

Anyone who asks why someone would be willing to pay that much for a car that had been driven in the 1952 La Carrera Panamericana race by Alberto Ascari and Giuseppe Scutuzzi should generate such expectations would probably not comprehend the answer.

Recently in both Berkeley and San Francisco, the ranks of the homeless asking for spare change seems to be growing exponentially, so which bit of news tells the true story about how the economic picture for the USA looks this week?

Journalists who focus on one aspect of contemporary culture can be compared to a gourmet critic who goes to a smorgasbord takes one bite of one offering and then basis his entire evaluation on that isolated bit of factchecking.

A writer with a sharp sense of irony might find it curious that at a time when more and more people are becoming homeless, the story for travelers arriving in Monterey was a modern variation of the “no room at the Inn.” A single at a nationally know chain of hotels was available for $309. The local hostel was booked solid.

In a predicament like that a columnist might envision writing something that Chuck Thompson, author of “smile when you’re lying: confessions of a rogue travel writer,” would be proud to submit.

A Hunter S. Thompson wannabe might find enough material to make an expedition to this year’s installment of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance sound like it should be titled “Beer and Loafing in Monterey.” Would “Champaign and Loafing” be more appropriate?

In an era when austerity measures have nearly crippled the concept of “paid vacation” assignments, if the Ferrari (serial number 0226 AT) with Vignale coach work sells for considerably more than the pre-auction estimates, the resulting sensation will trigger a desperate scramble at various news organizations that had failed to send someone to the weekend event.

If, on the other hand, the vehicle fails to meet expectations, the various news media that skipped the costs of being on hand just in case will breathe a sigh of relief.

There is a journalism legend that asserts that when a LIFE magazine photographer (back in the Eisenhower era) turned in an expense account for shooting a story onboard an ocean liner, he included an amount for taxi fare. The accounting department challenged the item and was informed: “It was a big ship.” They paid him the money.

Shouldn’t a columnist who posts on web sites that monitor the news and information about political issues be devoting his efforts to producing a column that challenges the reader to consider the possibility that the recent BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) computer snafu which shut down the system during a recent commute hour and preceded the recent series of news stories about the agency’s struggle to contend with computer hack attacks (allegedly from the Anonymous group) might (potentially) have been spawned via a hack from their adversaries? To which the hypothetical writer would probably respond: “What’s the policy for paying bloggers Over Time?”

Didn’t there used to be a ubiquitous vulgar suggestion about how an overworked and underpaid employee could sweep the floors while simultaneously contending with an already crowded “to do” list? Isn’t a complaint about being overworked now considered a quaint example of obsolete folk humor? What means it when journalists exclaim: “this afternoon, the ME wants to go waterskiing”?

Rather than waxing eloquent about a 750 Monza Scaglietti Spider (s/n 0492 M), which had been driven in various competitions by John von Neumann, Phil Hill, and Harrison Evans and “won” the fictional “Australian Grand Prix” in the movie “On the Beach,” shouldn’t a political pundit be speculating about the possibilities that Col. Qadaffi, who responded to President Reagan’s bombing of Libya by instigating the bombing of a Pan Am airplane over Lockerby Scotland, might retaliate even more vigorously to this year’s continued drone attacks on his own life and country? Probably.

Editors who have to contend with an obstreperous columnist, who shoots more than 800 photos on a Nikon Coolpix in a 40 hour period, rather than churning out 800 words on a more pertinent topic, know the concept of “high maintenance employee” very well. Wouldn’t the recent pathetic and anemic (with the notable exception of Mike Malloy) tone of progressive talk radio be more appropriate than the selling price of a mint condition Bugatti? Don’t the progressives urging the reelection of the incumbent in next year’s Presidential Election sound as strained and insincere as the assurances a wife gives regarding the admirable qualities of her husband who is notorious in the local community for conducting numerous simultaneous love affairs? (I.e. wouldn’t you love to get a buck for every time they reassure their audiences that “he really is a progressive and not a stealth Republican”? So why not elaborate that metaphor in the new column?

However, it’s not bloody well likely that the BBC would be interested in the (perceptive?) insights of a rogue American blogger about the fact that the Anonymous grope hackers seem to have no problem gaining entry to various computer systems while advocates of the unverifiable results from the electronic voting machines still stoutly maintain that those machines are immune to hacking efforts. On the other hand, if the magic aura of Ascari drives (15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike punning) the price of the Ferrari well above pre-auction estimates, then it is conceivable that the columnist’s shot of the aforementioned car would the editor in charge of selecting the BBC’s reader submitted news photos be glad to see a file containing an image of the race car in his e-mail in box?

The World’s Laziest Journalist has had one photo published on the Jalopnik website. Do images of valuable Ferrari race cars interest their photo editor? Does lightening ever strike twice in the same place?

As the appropriateness of Bush’s term “the forever war” becomes more and more apparent to American voters would it be easier for a columnist to write a sarcastic evaluation of shrinking school budgets using the headline “Does cannon fodder need a state subsidized college education?” or to produce a column that would convince “Jersey Bill” that if he doesn’t get to see an installment of the Pebble Beach event before he dies; he will regret his poor decision for all eternity?

Ian Fleming wrote: “They have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action.’”

Now the disk jockey will play “Hey, Little Cobra,” “Little GTO,” and the theme song from “Goldfinger.” We have to go and try to make some hostel accommodation reservations for one year hence. Have a “be careful of that button” (as Q once said to James Bond) type week.

April 14, 2011

National Columnists’ Day for Gonzo Journalists

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:22 pm

National Columnists’ Day occurs annually on April 18 because it was on that date in 1945 that war correspondent/columnist Ernie Pyle was killed in action on the island of Ie Shima. In past years, our annual National Columnists’ Day column has detailed Pyle’s life and career and in other years it was devoted to other memorable columnists such as Herb Caen and Walter Winchell. About two weeks ago, we took a break from the task of selecting a subject for this year’s installment and went down to the local Half Price Bookstore in downtown Berkeley to score a bargain bin copy of Ammo Books’ “Hunter S. Thompson,” which is subtitled “Gonzo.”

Recently, we had caught a screening of the film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and followed it up with an immediate repeat viewing via a VHS tape, on the following day. The “Gonzo” book, edited by Steve Crist and Laila Nabulsi, includes photos and reproductions of memorabilia from Thompson’s life. While perusing the new addition to the collection, because a friend is preparing to celebrate her fortieth birthday, we noticed one particular illustration in the Ammo book; it was a certificate of achievement, from the National District Attorneys Association noting the fact that the Thompson had covered the Third National Institute Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs convention which was held, in Las Vegas, on April 25 to 29 in 1971. We realized that the events described in Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” book were also celebrating their 40th birthday.

After starting to reread the book, we recalled reading columns by Hunter S. Thompson in the (now defunct) Los Angeles Herald Examiner and then later, in the computer age, online. Thompson has always been hard to categorize and so it seemed that selecting him to be the peg for this year’s installment of our annual National Columnists’ Day column made the choice a “slam-dunk” because forty years after Thompson blurred the lines between fiction and journalism all of American Journalism has become a credibility challenge for those who want to know if what the government is telling the people is fact or fable.

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is subtitled: “A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream” and that may be a play on title of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Forty years ago, the concept of the “American Dream” evoked clichéd references to a home surrounded by a white picket fence. Today, the thought of a “home” conjures up images of thousands of families being thrown out of their homes by wealthy businessmen (who contribute generously to various political reelection funds?) who are just as savage and ruthless as any native warrior encountered by Marlow in the journey described in the Conrad novel.

Forty years after Thompson lampooned the American Dream, circa 1971, the USA is full of disillusioned families with broken dreams trying desperately to cope with homelessness and the darkness in their new depression era hearts. The country is going broke fighting three separate perpetual military adventures which are either just for the pure fun of it or are wars of imperialistic aggression. The American Dream has morphed into a nightmare while American Journalism stands by obsessing over the latest celebrity gossip about Charlie Sheen and ignoring the Republican Party’s coordinated efforts to vandalize and sabotage the Democratic process of holding honest elections.

Thompson helped popularize the term “Gonzo Journalism” which became a handy label for a Sixties journalism trend marked by the writer including himself in the events being described while simultaneously exaggerating some factual aspects of the story. (For a more scholarly approach to the wide open and vague bit of fact checking about the origin of the word “gonzo,” refer to page 128 of Jann S. Wenner and Corey Seymour’s oral biography of Thompson, titled “Gonzo,” published in 2007 by Little Brown and Co.)

In the early stages of Internets development, we belonged to an e-mail group of people (mostly scholars) who were focused on all things concerning Ernst Hemingway and they accepted without challenge the idea that the degree of involvement of the writer in his own story, as far as both Hemingway and Thompson were concerned, was about equal. The term “gonzo” had not come into contemporary American Literary culture when Hemingway was writing (and producing columns) about WWII and the Spanish Civil War. Is it possible to make the case for asserting that Hemingway was the spiritual godfather of gonzo journalism?

While George W. Bush was President, columnists who furnished vitriolic criticism of the fellow, who Thomas called “the child-President,” became wildly popular on liberal web sites and attracted an eager audience whose appetite for disparaging remarks about the occupant in the White House couldn’t be satisfied by a relentless torrent of criticism.

In “Kingdom of Fear,” the last of Thompson’s books published while he was still alive, the pessimistic attitude regarding the future of America is epitomized by the phrase “Big Darkness Soon Come” and it doesn’t take a scholar with impeccable academic credentials to say that if Thompson had lived, he would be very acerbic in his assessments of George W. Bush’s successor who has rubber stamped his approval (“imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”) of almost every one of Bush’s outrages against the Geneva Accords and the rules of engagement.

Thompson was relentless in applying his philosophy regarding politicians (“Don’t take any guff from these swine”) to the Bush Administration and anyone who wants to assume that Thompson would give President Obama a pass and, instead, provide partisan platitudes just because he wasn’t a Republican is asking for a stretch in logic that betrays the foundations of rational thinking.

Thompson’s righteous indignation, directed against George W. Bush, was a matter of principle not subject to change when a new President from the other major political party took the oath of office, rather than being an example of partisanship (of the German salute level of commitment kind) which would defy credibility when it broke the WTF barrier of logic and did a complete 180 degree about-face to mollify the new war monger (not that the new guy gives a farthing about what columnists or bloggers think of his ERA [or era?]) Thompson would have continued his acerbic snarky attitude with only the name of the President being criticized changed.

Philip K. Dick, in “Man in the High Tower,” envisioned a cult hero writer adored by his fans who lived in isolation in Colorado. The World’s Laziest Journalist is alone in his conviction that Dick had accurately forecast the cult of Thompson fans, in his alternative history novel which was written and published when Thompson was graduating from high school and serving a hitch in the Air Force. If this columnist was younger and more ambitious, he might consider doing a doctoral thesis as the basis for a comparison of the real life writer to Dick’s fictional character.

Thompson’s biographers report that he was obsessive in his slavish attention to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, “The Great Gatsby” and that Hunter may have either consciously or unconsciously patterned “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” on Fitzgerald’s work of fiction. Ironically, the Fitzgerald novel has become an icon of life in the Twenties during prohibition and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” has become a symbol of the hippie life style. Each novel has come to epitomize an American generation. Perhaps some diligent liberal arts graduate student will do a doctoral thesis comparing and contrasting the two (related?) examples of classic contemporary American Literature?

While gathering information for this column we were informed that Cliff Notes does not have a detailed critical analysis of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” available. Perhaps some industrious literary critic will now send a query letter to the Cliff Notes commandant and perhaps that gap will be remedied?

The fact that the Beat Museum (in San Francisco) has become the host site for two courses (for college credit?) in creative writing brought to mind the academic consternation caused when a pioneering effort to teach a course in Beat Literature was a controversial innovation and that, in turn, caused us to wonder if any college or university anywhere offers a course of study (Gonzo 101?) devoted to the works of Hunter S. Thompson or an overview of Gonzo journalism per se.

Ernie Pyle went to England to cover the Battle of Britain. Hunter S. Thompson covered the Viet Cong’s arrival in Saigon after American troops were evacuated. Would it be too Philip K. Dick-ish to try to envision how an imaginary encounter between Pyle, if he had lived longer, and Thompson, during the evacuation of Saigon, would have played out?

Looking through the index for Karl E. Meyer’s book “Pundits, Poets, & Wits (An Omnibus of American Newspaper Columns)” it is obvious that we could have made a different less controversial selection for this year’s installment of our National Columnists’ Day column, but the fact that Thompson could be a contentious choice made it all the more imperative to do so.

About his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, Thompson wrote: “Oscar was one of God’s own prototypes – a high powered mutant of some kind who was never even considered for mass production. He was too weird to live, and too rare to die.” The same might be said of Thompson himself.

Now the disk jockey will play the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” soundtrack album. We have to go to a wifi hot spot and post this column early as a way to stir up a “my National Columnists’ Day column is better than yours” competition to increase public awareness of the annual event. Have a “Gonzo” type week.

March 12, 2011

The Tattlesnake – Defending Charlie Sheen Edition

Is it crazy to stand up to corporations and media parasites that are trying to tell you how to live your life?

Charlie Sheen’s gotten a bum rap from the media lately because he refused to play the corporate and tabloid-TV game: the Shamed Celebrity is supposed to enter rehab and emerge contrite and chastened and just so gleefully grateful his corporate employer stuck by him during his time of need. Instead, Sheen called CBS and his producers on their ‘we care’ bullshit, and told the media hypocrites that parasitically cover celebrities to stuff it where the moon don’t shine. Here’s a news flash you won’t see on the MSM: When celebs enter rehab, it’s mainly for PR, career, or project-insurance purposes and there is no shortage of drugs and alcohol at any of the well-known rehab ranches that cater to the famous. What are they going to do, kick them out and lose all of that money? No, they turn a blind eye and cooperate in the fraud that the celebrity is ‘cured,’ and everybody goes home happy. Charlie Sheen just refused to indulge in this fetid game and, for that, he should be applauded.

Is he crazy? Maybe, but no more than most of us, and he’s not advising that we hurt or hate anyone. If you read his quotes below, he often makes considerable sense and he frequently lampoons himself, which the TMZ-style media are apparently too obtuse to recognize. He’s certainly more honest and lucid than the demented wolfpack of politicians and pundits that appear on Meet the Press every Sunday and are treated as sane and reasonable.

If a Hunter S. Thompson had given Charlie’s recent interviews, some of the same people pointing the ‘nutjob drug addict’ finger at Charlie Sheen and ‘tsk, tsk’ self-righteously shaking their heads over his sure demise, would be laughing with or praising him. But because he’s known as a film/TV actor, and many of them don’t want to offend Viacom/CBS for professional reasons, they toe the corporate line that Sheen is spinning out of control and needs help. Haven’t we learned by now that large corporations do not have compassionate souls that take pity on their employees, and neither do the heads of Hollywood production companies? It’s all about the money.

Aside from that, when did Charlie Sheen’s personal life become the concern of anyone but himself and those around him? How would you like your personal problems exaggerated and splashed all over the TV beast and the Internet?

As you read the poem below, pretend they are the words of a beat poet rather than a movie star. It might give you a whole different perspective; “Droopy-eyed armless children” by itself is a line worthy of a Jack Kerouac novel or Allen Ginsberg epic.


The words of Charlie Sheen edited into poetry

I so desperately wanted to be
Mr. Somebody.
Instead, I was the little brother…
As kids we’re not taught how to deal
with success; we’re taught how to
deal with failure.
If at first you don’t succeed,
try, try again.
If at first you succeed,
then what?
C’mon, bro, I won best picture at 20!
I wasn’t even trying.
I wasn’t even warm.

Fame is empowering.
My mistake was that I thought
I would instinctively know
how to handle it.
But there’s no manual,
no training course.
The run I was on made Sinatra,
Flynn, Jagger, Richards,
all of them look like
droopy-eyed armless children!
Sure, I did a lot of things in excess.
But if you look at the core,
the foundation of what I pursued,
what red-blooded young American
male in my position wouldn’t?
But you can’t focus on things
that matter if all you’ve been
is asleep for forty years.
Funny how sleep
rhymes with sheep.


February 8, 2011

An Eddie Haskell style joke on bloggers?

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:24 pm

Larry Flynt pays his writers well and delivers the checks promptly. He is one boss who doesn’t have disgruntled employees bad mouthing him behind his back. Current and former employees of Larry Flynt Publications always speak well of him. Hugh Hefner made Playboy magazine the highest ranked potential market for freelance writers and also made some remarkable profits with his philosophy about paying generously. Unfortunately, Hefner was so successful at making his magazine an attractive prospect for freelancer writers he had to close down the golden opportunity. Playboy articles are now all done on assignment (according to a reliable source who is a former boss) only basis. Neither freelance query letters nor submissions are accepted.

William Randolph Hearst assembled a remarkably talented posse of writers by offering them more money to work for him than other newspaper publishers could. Hearst was the source of the term “lobster shift” (AKA “lob-shift”) and caused his biographer W. A. Swanberg (Citizen Hearst Bantam Books paperback p-83) to write: “The Examiner office was a madhouse inhabited by talented and erratic young, men drunk with life in a city that never existed before or since. They had a mad boss, one who flung away money, lived like the ruler of a late Empire . . . and cheered them on as they made newspaper history.” Hearst was not a sexist. He did hire a red haired chorus girl, Winifred Sweet, who became a successful reporter.

Republicans, perhaps thanks to the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” believe that they should pay their workers as little as possible for the most amount of work they can ring out of their workers.

Wouldn’t it be funny if a famous conservative made a bet with a wealthy Republican owner of a word plantation that she would do better than get the prols to work cheap? What if she made a bet that she could get writers to clamor for the chance to work for free? She could pose as a liberal, start up something cheap, and then get talented tree-huggers to embrace her “you don’t need a paycheck” response to the idea of paying writers generously by giving them a big audience as an “ego-stroke.” Then to prove that she deserved to win the bet she could sell her publication for a shipload of money and “cry all the way to the bank” with her profit. She could collect on such a hpothetical bet she had just won.

What if her writers were true ballsy Democrats who believed in workers’ rights and they all went on strike during the same week she collected her sales windfall?

What if on the same day they all tuned in something that was in the public domain? Is the “Modest Proposal” essay in the public domain? Come to think of it, a strike did fatally cripple Hearst’s L. A. newspaper.

On the same day the sale was announced, a friend suggested that this columnist could improve the quality of his words if he would spend more time fact-checking and double checking for spelling errors. A good city editor can turn one spelling mistake into a mortifying city room ordeal, but if it takes a goodly amount of time to turn out a contribution to the Internets done in a slap dash fashion, why should any extra time and effort be made? Fox News’ personnel (Is Fox a farm club for the stand up comedian circuit?) are backed by a court decision that says they don’t have to report news that is “true.” If they don’t waste time and money on fact checking, then why should a rogue columnist do it?

It is one thing for a Hunter S. Thompson wannabe to spend some personal funds to go to Fremantle in the W. A. (Western Australia) and spread the Gospel of online Gonzo Journalism, but it is a different thing entirely to see a Berkeley CA based web site owner and operator urge his work for free keystorkers: “We have to go out and work harder for Democrats in the next election cycle.” As Tonto once said; “What do you mean ‘we’ . . . ?” Couldn’t an imaginative writer cook up a wild conspiracy theory about such an order?

We seem to recall an issue of Paul Krassner’s “The Realist” which proclaimed that the Republican and Democratic parties were twins separated at birth. At the time, it sounded absurd to us. It seems we may have had the opportunity to naively question Krassner about that belief in a composing room encounter in the early Seventies, but deadlines are relentless and we didn’t have time to seize that chance. We now believe that Krassner was “spot-on” with that Sixties assertion.

If the next election is a choice between a Reagan Democrat incumbent and JEB, then maybe it’s time to double check and see if we can still cross post our material on Digihitch because the extent of our efforts over the next two years will be along the lines of doing a random bit of voter trend spotting in the automobile museums of Germany. If that doesn’t help Obama very much . . . oh well . . . at least there will be photos in the e-scrapbook to remind the writer when he gets old of just how much fun it was to do the “Europe on 5$ a day” routine in the second half of Obama’s first (and only?) term in office.

This year Germany is celebrating the 125th year of automotive history. Sounds like a fun thing for this columnist to cover. Once, long before we sent our first news tip to Ray Wert, we talked our way into a top rate automobile museum on a day when it was closed. We’d like to think Mr. Hearst would give us a “well done” on that stunt.

W. A. Swanberg (Ibid page 57) wrote that Hearst regarded journalism as: “an enchanted playground in which giants and dragons were to be slain simply for the fun of the thing.” Wouldn’t it be funny if Hunter S. Thompson read that book before choosing journalism for his career?

Yeah, it was great fun the one time we saw our efforts mentioned on Mike’s Blog Report. It made us feel like we might some day get a membership card and bragging rights that we were “in with the ‘in’ crowd,” but it was more fun when Time magazine’s Reagan era White House correspondent entered our apartment in Marina del Rey (many years ago) and exclaimed: “My God, Bob, it is a hovel!” We’ll have to work that moment into our memoirs . . . if we ever get around to finishing that project.

Would it be funny if a TSA employee said “turn your head and cough” during a pat-down?

The Daily Curser used to plug good blog postings. They are long gone, but still listed on a list of other blogs at a certain high profile liberal pundit aggregator site. Did the Cursor ever mention our efforts? What blogger holds the record for “talking shop” with the most winners of a Pulitzer Prize? Is four a good number?

Swanberg succinctly captured the hippie commune non-judgmental democratic atmosphere of a newsroom (Ibid page 70) in one sentence: “The Examiner had drinkers of all categories, moderate, steady, intermittent and inert, and the staff was so flexibly arranged that when a member fell from grace another would take his place without comment.”

[Note: One night in late 1996 we saw Hunter S. Thompson appear at Johnny Depp’s night club on the Sunset Strip. He drank an amber liquid from a whisky bottle for three hours and at the end of the evening he wasn’t showing any of the three symptoms of intoxication, which are: impaired physical dexterity, slurred speech, or incoherent thinking. What up wid dat? Was it a hoax or a miracle?]

Nietzsche wrote: “Nothing succeeds if prankishness plays no part in it.” We have always wondered how that applied to the stodgy Huffington Post or if it was the exception to the rule. Now we know.

Now the disk jockey will play the Doors’ “Show me the way,” “See what the boys in the back room are having,” and “Pour me another tequila, Sheila.” We have to go and try to decipher the inside joke behind the word “Rosebud.” May you have a “Let’s celebrate the $315 million sale with a big party!” type week. This columnist is going to have a glass of A & W. diet root beer and then browse through the travel guide books to Paris (France not Texas) which are available at the Berkeley Public Library – after we check out the latest pro Egyptian student demonstration at Sproul Plaza.

October 8, 2008

The Tattlesnake – Obama-McCain Round Two Edition

Best and Worst of the Second Presidential Debate, in Brief:

Obama’s Worst Moment: No really bad moments or gaffes, but it would be nice if he answered the question and then explained his answer rather than the other way around. Still, looking at how far he’s come, maybe Obama knows what he’s doing after all.

McCain’s Worst Moment: What was with answering a question about who he would appoint Treasury Secretary by saying to debate moderator Brokaw “Not you, Tom”? I appreciate an oddball sense of humor and have one myself, but I could not fathom the wit or point in this ‘joke’ – maybe he should have said “Major Tom” and tried to nab some David Bowie fans. Also, when he approached the bystanders in the bleachers too closely, I got the feeling they were hastily looking for a crucifix to ward him off. Other than that, McCain was the best McCain he could be.

Obama’s Best Moment: When he finally said, harkening back to FDR in 1944, that health care is a right. That one line by itself may have been sufficient to nail down enough votes in the hard-hit Rust Belt states to win him the election.

McCain’s Best Moment: Considering McCain’s never been a great public speaker, he didn’t do a bad job overall, and, to his credit, he assiduously avoided diving to the slimy ‘dark side.’ But that’s not what this election is about anyway; it helps that Obama can speak populist poetry to McCain’s Reagan-GOP boilerplate when necessary, but the election is really about who looks like they’re up to the job of saving the country. The hunched and elderly McCain, lurching around spouting his stump speech Talking Points, did not look like that man; Obama did.

And the Winner Is: Obama. In the final analysis, this all boiled down to appearances: Obama, as in the last debate, once again looked presidential and poised; McCain, partly due to factors beyond his control such as his age and physical appearance, looked old and weary and annoyingly lapsed into his standard “My friends” mode halfway through the thing, indicating that he was running out of gas. Cap’n Crash is going to discover on November 4th that a majority of Americans just aren’t his buddies.

Put the champagne on ice; the last eight years of our history – a rambling Hunter S. Thompson nightmare of treachery, deceit and devastating Republican Doom ‘n’ Gloom as scripted by the two Terry’s, Gilliam and Southern, and Mario Puzo — is about to take a turn for the better angels of our Frank Capra, as Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington to effect a Change We Can Believe In. (Whew! Have another swig, Mr. Tattlehead.)

Is it really all over but the shouting? Barring an October Surprise of unimaginable proportions, some unforgivable gaffe by Barack or Biden, or the presidential preference of computer hackers, it’s all about the ‘O’ now.

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