October 26, 2012

Occupy Oakland isn’t what it used to be

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:32 pm

Occupy Oakland held a new rally on Thursday October 25, 2012.
A year ago Occupy Oakland was front page news.
Some folks disagree with Occupy’s aims.

On Monday night, watching the NLCS’s final playoff game with the sound turned down so that we could hear the Presidential debate was one of those epiphany moments that life serves up occasionally.

The World’s Laziest Journalist is suffering from a case of Propaganda Gridlock. We know that the fate of the free world rides on the outcome of the rapidly approaching American Presidential Election but lately TV is outrageously infantile and radio seems to be a tsunami of political propaganda, but the saturation point has been reached, so we have been desperately searching for better quality diversions and entertainment as a change of pace to get away from the relentless onslaught of “important” news.

The prospect of watching the Presidential debate in the hopes of being given a possible column topic seemed very unlikely. Both candidates have their script and will stick to their main talking points very rigidly.

The last time we were interested in baseball’s annual pennant race, Gene Woodling, Hank Bauer, and Allie Reynolds were providing depth for a team that featured a boy wonder batting star in the outfield.

Watching the playoff game while pondering the question “who will win this year’s World Series,” we were reminded of the title of a 1971 movie: “They Might Be Giants.”

In an introduction to a book titled “The New Journalism,” Tom Wolfe informed readers of the 1973 copyrighted anthology that one of the branches of literature that preceded the era of writer involvement was “The Literary Gentleman with a seat in the grandstand.”

The calm, cool, detached observer seems like such a quaint old fashioned idea now that the golden age of propaganda in America has arrived.

One prominent political pundit in Germany proclaimed: “It (propaganda) must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” He also warned politicians to never concede any point: “As soon as our own propaganda admits so much as a glimmer of right on the other side, the foundation for doubt in our own right has been laid.”

Does that sound like an accurate assessment of the “dialogue” surrounding this year’s Presidential election? To any columnist who thinks that sounds like an accurate description of the quality of debate in the current American political arena, the task facing political pundits is not to provide eloquent journalism but to offer some sensational cheerleading support.

The Literary Gentleman with a seat in the grandstands has become completely irrelevant in the contemporary American Political scene and, in many cases, even in the realm of sports reporters.

The fans are becoming quite ferocious in their blind enthusiasm. If you doubt this, would you be afraid to attend a World Series Game wearing a T-shirt sold by a non-participating team? Heck, even wearing a T-shirt that was obviously intended to proclaim neutrality (such as a West Coast Eagles T-shirt) would probably draw some animosity from some enthusiastic supporters of the home team.

“New Journalism” quickly became known as “Gonzo Journalism” and San Francisco was the place where Rolling Stone magazine raised it from being a fad to the level of being a strong and vibrant branch of the news reporting industry.

In the Introduction to the 1973 anthology (on page 27) Wolfe noted: “But the all time free lance writer’s Brass Stud award went that year to an obscure California journalist named Hunter Thompson who ‘ran’ with the Hell’s Angels for eighteen months – as a reporter and not a member.”

Inadvertently Hunter Thompson also pioneered the possibility that Gonzo Journalism can be used as a disguise for the old fashioned “convenient excuse for having a good time” tradition relished by writers seeking ways for getting their enjoyment of living subsidized by gullible accounting departments at various news media organizations and publications.

Over the years, the World’s Laziest Journalist, who has covered the Oscars™, the Emmys, the Grammies, been a passenger in a B-17 G, the Goodyear blimp, and given his autograph to Paul Newman, may have adopted a rather cavalier attitude about mixing fun and job performance. (Isn’t that a rather common personality trait among folks with Irish heritage?)

Hence the challenge of post election column topics is beginning to take on all the ominous potential for becoming an identity crisis.

If Mitt Romney becomes President of the United States will it be worth the time and effort of someone, who has provided content for liberal (or progressive or “lefty”) websites since before George W. Bush was named President by the U. S. Supreme Court, to continue the efforts to tell Americans: “Wake up!”? That will be hard work and not much fun.

If, on the other hand, the President is reelected, he will be lucky to get a Democratic majority in Congress and if he doesn’t the Republicans will continue their “sit down strike” level of job performance and prolong the political gridlock.

If the President is reelected and gets a Democratic majority in Congress, is it very realistic to think that he will get some new ideas by reading the World’s Laziest Journalist’s columns? Ridiculing politicians is easy but after doing it for a number of years, the fun quotient evaporates completely.

On Wednesday, October 24, 2012, the World’s Laziest Journalist reconnoitered the outside of AT&T Park just before Game One of the World Series was scheduled to begin. That was a good photo op and fun to see.

We intended to go back the next day for more, but on Thursday October 26, 2012, Occupy Oakland scheduled a protest and march at Frank Ogawa Plaza to mark the one year anniversary of a mêlée that had made headlines when it occurred. We felt duty bound to go check it out rather than hang out at AT&T Park.

It became obvious to this columnist that the unlimited supply of energy and enthusiasm that was accessible approximately 38 years ago, when the opportunity to attend the Oscar™ was offered, is no longer available to sustain a long wait and a long walk to cover protesters in the fall of 2012 at an event which ultimately did not make big headlines.

A new generation of firebrands will have ample opportunity to criticize the winner of the November election, but more and more it is becoming obvious that is a young man’s game and it may be time to throttle back and let the political chips fall where they may.

The few reviews of Tom Wolfe’s new novel, Back to Blood, we’ve seen have sounded rather dismissive in tones hinting that one of the founding fathers of Gonzo Journalism has lost his magic touch.

When a high school and college classmate was recovering from some wounds received in the Tet Offensive, we found that he would get very annoyed if we prefaced any comments on contemporary culture with: “Back in 1968 . . . .” He would address me in the same way that my family used and say: “Goddamn it, Robbie, it is 1968. Knock that shit off!” As we used to say back in the Sixties: “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”

The New Journalism is celebrating the start of the second half of its first century and that perhaps is a signal that, if nothing else, it is time for some new stars in journalism to be anointed and for some new labels to be coined.

On Wednesday October 24, in the San Francisco Chronicle’s World Series Preview section Scott Ostler wrote (on page E-6): “I’m a reporter. I’m not here to root.”

Now the disk jockey will play The Who’s “My Generation,” the Stones “Mother’s Little Helper,” and Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Someday Never Comes.” We have to go dig out our Nikon F and relive some past glories. Have a groovy week.

May 18, 2012

Evaporating Journalism in the USA

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:52 pm


Saturday, May 19, 2012, is Armed Forces Day and so the columnist took a photo in Alameda CA of this TBF Avenger is on display on the USS Hornet’s (CV/CVA/CVS 12) hanger deck.

USS Hornet served in WWII.

On Wednesday, May 9, 2012, the World’s Laziest Journalist went to San Francisco Public Library’s main branch to see what books were being offered at the front steps sale of used books and we didn’t expect to cover any news. After buying a copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Great shark Hunt,” in good condition with the dust jacket in used condition, we noticed that some event was going on in front of City Hall. We were carrying our trusty Nikon Coolpix, just in case. We wandered over and found that medical care for the pets of the homeless people was being provided. Thinking this might provide some good material for a column, we took a few pictures. Next thing we knew a young lady came up and advised us that we should ask permission to take any photos.

We improvised a better suggestion: since the World’s Laziest Journalist’s experience assessing newsworthiness stretches back to Sixties and since new trends in journalism keep happening, we should defer to the young lady’s editorial expertise and let her organization hire a PR firm so that they could very carefully micro-manage the news and the group’s message to potential donors.

On Saturday, we were in downtown Berkeley CA talking with a fellow who has been active in the Occupy movement in Oakland and Berkeley and we mentioned that we were planning to go over to the Occupy the Farm protest being conducted on land owned by the University of California in Albany CA. Our contact advised us that if we did we should make it a point to ask for permission to take any photos because, he informed us, Occupy protesters are not taking kindly to outsiders insinuating themselves into the narrative of their complaints.

Back in the Seventies, Vietnam Veterans held a sit-in in the lobby of the VA Hospital in the Westwood Section of Los Angeles. Since one of the summer temps at the Santa Monica Independent Journal newspapers was majoring in photojournalism in college, we advised him that the Occupy the VA Hospital – did they call it “Occupy the VA Hospital”? (Whatever.) – might be an opportunity for both of us to do some freelance news photography work.

Early one morning, the police came and very gently and respectfully removed the protesters (Wasn’t the photo of Ron Kovic that ran in the New York Times the next day, a great shot?) from the facility. The summer hire was also present for the news event and he took photos that appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, the next day. One of his pictures was used by the Associate Press wirephoto division.

Our past experience indicated that there would be a window of opportunity for some (possibly) dramatic news photos to be taken when the looming confrontation at the Occupy the Farm site occurred.

Unfortunately the young fellow who took the photos of the news event at the VA wasn’t available on the morning of Monday, May 14, 2012, (last we heard he was working in L. A. as a staff photographer for the L. A. Times [he’d be in his mid fifties now and perhaps we shouldn’t use the expression “young lad”?]) and since it seemed that both the Police and the protesters don’t want the World’s Laziest Journalist to take unauthorized photographs at news events, the decision to stay in bed on Monday morning when the protesters were being evicted from the Albany site and not be concerned was a gimme.

On KCBS news radio, the reporter said that some of the protesters had to be wrestled to the ground while being arrested. Obviously, if the police didn’t follow standard procedures during the round-up, the protesters will provide photographic evidence of any potential and hypothetical misconduct and it will “go viral” on the Intenets.

There was going to be a protest march in Berkeley on Tuesday, we learned. When we attempted to ask some of the Shattuck Avenue panhandlers about the potential protest, they didn’t have any particulars but when we mentioned skipping it because of a lack of enthusiasm about the new trend in journalism, a street people woman became very adamant in explaining the nuts and bolts details of journalism to this columnist. People in a protest march have a right to privacy and must be asked for permission to take any photographs.

Since this new meme is becoming ubiquitous and since this renders information we had gathered over the last four decades obsolete, we put it in the “straw that broke the camel’s back” category and scrapped any inclination to take any pictures of the rumored protest march. We could, we realized, do a trend-spotting column instead and stay comfortably right in the World’s Laziest Journalist’s world headquarters home office to write that.

In an attempt to defuse our strong reaction to this new insight into contemporary journalism, we picked up our newly acquired copy of Tom Wolfe’s “The Pump House Gang” (which we bought at the Berkeley Public Library) and began reading his article about Marshall McLuhan titled “What if he is right?”

That got us thinking. What if the lady is right? What if the Protest March itself and not the Occupy Wall Street political agenda is the message? We could write a McLuhanesque column and proclaim that the Protest March has become the protesters’ version of the Hollywood tradition of walking the red carpet.

We immediately recognized that watching the Murdochization of the news business is a serious matter and, like the news stories from Europe in the late Thirties warning about the dire implications of Hitler’s rise to power, should be regarded as an ominous topic.

There are two ways to look at the lady’s fervor: either she is being unwittingly duped into aiding and abetting Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to scuttle real journalism, or the people strongly urging her to protect the right to privacy are mole agent provocateurs consciously sabotaging the movement’s own efforts to increase public awareness of the Occupy Wall Street political agenda. Whatever. The bottom line, either way, is that the conservative cause is being helped and the OWS program is being damaged.

The “ask permission” meme is as insulting to the basic tenants of journalism (as intended by the much revered “founding fathers” of American Democracy) as that lady (presumably) would be if she were offered the advice: “Get a job!” There is a school of Journalism at the University that is up the hill, so she could probably get a teaching job there, eh?

The diabolical self defeating aspect of this new attitude among protesters is very reminiscent of the dirty tricks stunts that were a hallmark of the Karl Rove political strategy. Could it possibly be that . . . . We will send our suspicions to the tips editor at the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory and see if we can win their “News Tip of the Month” award for May.

Meanwhile we will struggle to answer the age old philosophic question: “If a protest march is accompanied by a complete absence of news coverage; did it really happen?”

Does this mean that a policeman who beats a protester with a billyclub also has a right to privacy while performing his mission to “protect and to serve”?

It seems like life just got a whole lot easier for the World’s Laziest Journalist. Perhaps now, instead of going to the Protest Marches, we can just sit back and ask the Sarah Palin type question: “How’s that OWS protest thing workin’ out for ya?”

Have we lost our ability to discern real news? Here’s a news item for any scriptwriters in Hollywood looking for story ideas: the tale of Uwe, Beate Zschape, and Uwe (no. 2) might make a great “based on a true story” modern film noir. It’s like Terence Malick’s 1973 film, Badlands, done over in Germany with a ménage a trios twist. We found one UPI story online otherwise you better be able to read German if that news story interests you.

Friday, May 18, is International Museum Day and will feature a photo contest. If you take a photo of yourself in a museum today, please be sure to ask yourself if you can have permission to take the photo of yourself. You might want to get a legal document called a “model release” just for your own protection. Think of it as playing a variation of the “How steps before the queen” game.

[Note from the WLJ Photo Editor’s desk: Since Friday is International Museum day and Saturday is Armed Forces Day and since we could concentrate on just trying to take good pictures rather than be lectured by an uninformed high school drop out about the finer points of photojournalism, we decided to take some photos on the USS Hornet in Alameda to use as the illustrations for this column.

Speaking of news value judgments assignment editors in the San Francisco area might want to check out the rumor that the USS Iowa will depart from Richmond CA on Sunday and head out to its new home in Southern California. Since the Golden Gate Bridge is preparing to celebrate its 75th birthday a shot of the battleship with the bridge in the background might be a strong visual. We’ll run it by the panhandler photojournalism expert and see what she thinks.

For protesters to say that they have a legal right to camp in a public park but photographers can’t take pictures there because the protesters have a right to privacy is an illogical pair of contradictory conclusions and we call “Bullshit!”

(If photographers are legally obliged to ask permission to take photographs, how will the paparazzi ever earn a living?)]

Tom Wolfe quoted Marshall McLuhen as writing (in The Mechanical Bride): “Why not assist the public to observe consciously the drama which is intended to operate on it unconsciously?” Our answer to McLuhen would be: “Shouldn’t journalists ask Rupert Murdoch for permission before doing anything?”

Now the disk jockey will play “Get a Job,” Truck Stop’s “Mein Stiefel kommt in Himmel,” and the traditional song “Captain don’t feel sorry for a longtime man.” We have to go walk the water (we don’t mean “walk on water”). You are hereby granted permission to have a “shakin’ it up over here, boss” type week.

August 7, 2011

Visions of Kesey

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 3:17 pm

When morning for Monday, August 8, 2011, arrives on America’s East Coast, the financiers will have already coped with their response to the Asian stock markets, the military will be replying to the weekend’s helicopter attack in Afghanistan, and the President will be meeting with his advisors to implement the Obama Administration response to the credit downgrade. Voters in the USA will be visiting various web sites to learn the political pundits explanation for and analysis of last week’s news and that will be one step behind the playing out of this week’s reality and so the curious citizens might just as well be reading a subjective response to one of the new movies that opened this past weekend and by a remarkable co-inky-dink that is what this column contains.

The film “Magic Trip” contains home movies made by novelist Ken Kesey of a cross country trip he and his acolytes made in 1964 to visit the New York World’s Fair. The 16 mm home movies, almost 50 years old, used to provide the bulk of the movie’s images, may provide an inadvertent and very accurate prediction of what the USA would be like in the summer of 2011.

Ostensibly the documentary provides a nostalgia laden look back at a more innocent time when the USA was poised to grow and prosper and provide workers with a consumer’s paradise full of mod clothes, exciting new music, and inexpensive travel opportunities. Unfortunately a closer look at the adventures of the Merry Pranksters may provide a metaphor for the dazed and confused America that is trying to figure out why their own government social services must be eliminated to provide a balanced budget that will permit the continuation of some capricious and perplexing military adventures in far away lands.

The film starts with the shot of a microphone which provides film aficionados with a visual pun that refers back to promotional material made for “Citizen Kane.”

Successful novelist Ken Kesey (who was enjoying success from “One Flew Over the Cookoos’ Nest” and “Sometimes a Great Notion”) spent some money in early 1964, to acquire a 1939 International Harvester bus that had been transformed into a rolling dormitory room. He envisioned using it to take his friends on a quest for an insightful movie about their journey. The group of road acolytes were accompanied by Neal Cassidy who had already achieved fame as Jack Kerouac’s on the road traveling buddy.

What the movie actually shows is a group of social misfits and fuck-ups lurching through a series of travel disasters, a string of social faux pas, several encounters with American Literary legends Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, an anticlimactic visit to the World Fair, a bumbling inept visit to Timothy Leary’s estate, a series of numerous dispensations from their marriage vows, a return to the West Coast and coping with their leader’s jail term which was (magically?) truncated by a promise to denounce the use of the growing popularity of the experimental psychedelic drug called LSD.

Is the Tea Bag movement the political equivalent of LSD for conservatives?

The new century has seen the USA become embroiled in questionable examples of democracy in action, a series of unprovoked wars, an imitation of Hitler’s distain for the Geneva Convention rules of war, the principles America established at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials, and the standard American dream of a home surrounded by a white picket fence going into foreclosure.

Simultaneously, America has turned on Fox News, tuned into the Republican talking points and dropped out of being well informed about political issues.

When the USA bombs Libya constantly for more than four months to protect its citizens from their leader of forty years at the same time that the President turns his back on the Syrians who are being shot down like rabid dogs in the street, no responsible political pundit takes notice of the dichotomy.

Why should they? Aren’t they being paid to reassure the voters that the radioactive sites in Japan, the economic turmoil, the endless wars, the unexplainable election upsets, and the rapidly dwindling 401K accounts are no cause for alarm? Chill out, dude! You’re just having a bad trip.

After seeing “Magic Trip,” we went to the Berkeley Public Library and borrowed a copy of Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Elecgtric Cool-aid Acid Test,” which was about what happened to Kesey’s posse

The book is highly regarded as a pioneering example of gonzo journalism, which was the label given to the trend in journalism whereby the writers injected themselves into the story they were covering. From the vantage point of more than forty years later, the tone of the beginning of the book is more like a sales pitch at the entrance of a freak show. Wolfe provides the ordinary folk with an alter ego for a journey into the land of pathetic drug fiends.

Will he actually drop acid later in the book? Perhaps, as the long hot summer of 2011 continues to play out, we will have a chance to finish reading the Acid Test book and write a column on its efforts to be a valid example of gonzo journalism.

Wolfe’s newspaper article and subsequent book anointed the Merry Pranksters to a high level of fame and notoriety. Perhaps with some lucrative book deals some influential future historians will be able to depict the summer of 2011 as a time full of warm and fuzzy sentimentality when folks walked out of their recently foreclosed homes and went off in search of their inner Woody Guthrie?

Wasn’t the Great Depression chock full of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, Amos ‘n’ Andy radio shows, and Black Mask magazines that were just so much fun? Won’t the future look back at this summer with so much envy because they will have to settle for a vicarious participation in the antics?

CBS radio news’ hour long weekend recapitulation of the week when the debt crisis was settled and the USA’s credit rating was lowered is available on line at radio etc. The political pundits’ analysis of this week’s current events should be available next weekend.

According to a popular urban legend, Kesey’s bus was the subject for a request from the Smithsonian Institute that it be donated to them. In real life, it became a rusted out hulk on Kesey’s Oregon farm. Future historians will know if the suggestion that the bus was a metaphor for America’s Democratic process was valid or not. How does the binary choice of “Four more years!” vs. JEB, grab ya? In the “Magic Trip” movie, someone is heard dispensing the advice: “Enjoy the chaos!” Could there be a better epigram for capturing the zeitgeist for the summer of 2011?

Tom Wolfe wrote: “They get the feeling that Kesey was heading out on further, toward a fantasy they didn’t know if they wanted to explore.”

Now the disk jockey will play “Mellow Yellow,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “Puff the Magic Dragon.” We have to check the current flower power level. Have a do svidaniya type week.

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