Saturday, May 19, 2018

The American News Media goes to a wedding

There are a lot of important news stories that America's traditional news media could be covering. President Trump just lifted trade sanctions on a giant of the Chinese communications industry that had traded with North Korea and Iran, ZTE, only three days after the Chinese government provided a half-billion dollar loan to a development project in Singapore that will include Trump-branded hotels, golf courses, and condos. The Israeli army has been murdering unarmed Palestinian protestors, using our weaponry, at protests over the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Another school shooting less than 24 hours ago, this one in Texas, took the lives of ten people.

Instead, CNN, Headline News, Fox News, and MSNBC-- as well as their news and information siblings, E! and TLC--  have been wall-to-wall with their coverage of the wedding of the sixth-in-line-to-the-throne of the United Kingdom. The wedding went on as scheduled today even though the American bride's father, who's actually a descendant of King Robert I of Scotland, suffered a heart attack this week and couldn't make the trip to Buckingham Palace for the divine and everlasting entangling of the couple's underemployed families. I suppose delaying and/or relocating the wedding to Los Angeles so that he could attend was out of the question. I didn't wake up to watch any part of the ceremony live as it occurred, but I saw some photos online afterward, and frankly, I didn't care for the dress.

What follows is what I wrote on the blog on the occasion of the wedding of Prince Harry's older brother William in 2011. Yes, Nosy, the piece also appears in my new book Lies My Blogger Told Me: The Best of the Chris Moeller Blog 2004-2017. Enjoy the fragment free here with my compliments...

God Save the Serfs
Friday, April 29, 2011

 "This is my fourth royal event... You weren't seeing double. They did do two kisses. That's history made. That's history. Everything else was true to form. It was a fantasy. It was a fairy tale... I think they should keep the kids home from school today because they probably won't see something like this for another 20 years." -Barbara Walters, royal bootlicker

"Why don't you up-Chuck and Di?" -Carla Tortelli, Boston barmaid

This morning's television coverage on ABC of the Royal Wedding between Prince William of Wales and British commoner Kate Middleton warranted the on-air participation of journalists Robin Roberts, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and six other correspondents, each apparently instructed to apply as much Vaseline as possible to the camera lens. Oh, times they do change. Two hundred and thirty-five years ago, Americans fought a war over the entitlement of ignoring the British monarchy.

Royal titles in England are really just honorary anymore, we're told, yet William, by fortune of being born the eldest son of the likewise-bloodlined "Prince of Wales," will-- perhaps within 10 years-- be elevated to the throne of sixteen "sovereign" states on Earth. In so doing, he will become the head of the British armed forces, one of the largest militaries in the world, as well as the "Supreme Governor," or spiritual head, of the Church of England. The latter designation makes him, by law, "the highest power under God in (his) kingdom," and gives him "supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil." This fact is mildly misleading as the church has very little influence in modern life. Of the 44 diocesan archbishops and bishops now in the Church,
only 26 are allowed to sit in the House Of Lords, the upper house of the British Parliament that is not democratically-elected but filled instead by inheritance or appointment. A "King William" would hold the right his grandmum now holds to dissolve the Parliament at any time and to choose the Prime Minister of the government.

The wedding ceremony this morning really was lovely-- the recorded bits of it that I saw. William's commoner bride, Kate, is strikingly beautiful, and by fortune not a Catholic either or William would have to renounce the throne to marry her. (No adopted children either, please, not if you want them to inherit the kingdom.) As is the role of the modern monarchy, William and Kate today gave the British people (and many fawning Americans as well) "something to look up to," a new standard of elegance and extravagance, if you will. Of course, not inviting former Prime Minister Tony Blair to the ceremony was rather inelegant, it seems to me. Blair, an
elected official of government during his time, was only responsible for canonizing William's dead mother by memorably dubbing her "the people's princess," but of course his choice of words at the time only served to remind everyone that the prince was NOT of the people, and living parents have the most sway over the guest list of any wedding.

The British could have chosen to go the French route of republicanism by salvaging the buildings of monarchy but abolishing everything else. They didn't. The Windsors wheeze on into the 21st century, sapping the country's treasury, royalists forced to constantly mention and promote the "charitable" works of the crown, snowing under the philosophical hypocrisy of having two different levels of citizenship in place for the nation, and somewhat incidentally, wrecking political debate by destroying the quality of British newspapers.

The royal subjects of the U.K. (and that's what they are, they're not "citizens") have been seriously debating the necessity of the monarchy in recent years. The royals behaved so badly so often towards the last commoner princess that their entire hustle almost collapsed. (Public perceptions have improved considerably over the last decade.) Diana's divorce from Charles was no small matter in respect to their children, Prince William and his brother. The two boys, again by ancient law, were the legal property of the House of Windsor, and the Windsors deeply resented the popularity of the boys' mother. As the first-born, William has been forced to deal with great public-- and presumably private-- pressure to marry and advance the hereditary line with his sovereign sperm. His younger brother, Harry, who is not in line for the throne, after first being spoiled rotten, was assigned to public relations duty, getting to join Grandma's imperial army and shuffling off to Afghanistan. But I'm sure both these boys make life decisions of their own volition.

In recent years, a number of political movements in the United States have attempted to brand for us just what it is that makes one "a real American." The almost-entire lot of these movements is comprised of bubbleheads, and so the results have been lacking, but I think I've actually stumbled upon it: If you still reject the British monarchy, in all of its ridiculous structure, forms, and rituals, 235 years after the Declaration of Independence, you are a real American. If you don't, then you are a deserter.

I wonder how many freedom-loving Americans, loyal to the principle that all men and women are created equal, would actually reject a royal title if one were offered? Ronald Reagan didn't. He accepted a knighthood during the years following his presidency (current U.S. officeholders are forbidden by law to accept such an honor from another government). George H.W. Bush doesn't think atheists are real Americans, but in retirement, he morphed into Benedict Arnold in respect to the Revolution. Bob Hope is on the list of betrayers. He was
born in England and obviously preferred in some way to return. There's Ted Kennedy, that's a shame, and Steven Spielberg, and Alan Greenspan (whom I guess is kind of "stateless" now, like a corporation), and there's a who's who of U.S. military generals representing a whole host of U.S. wars other than the first one. An overwhelming majority of the overall list of Knighthood recipients, though, are other monarchs from around the globe. One hand indeed washes the other, I guess, but of course, none of those recipients are Americans. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Many of your more enlightened Brits (and I intend the use of the word 'enlightened' here with all of its historic meaning and power) have actually declined the honor, and it's the general mark of that person's worth in my estimation. The physicist Stephen Hawking declined the honor from the officially-sectarian government of his state. Paul (now Sir Paul) accepted a knighthood, but John returned his MBE insignia in 1969, settling that age-old question once and for all, I guess. Mick accepted a knighthood. Then Keith responded: "It's not what the Stones is about, is it?" Paul Scofield, Vanessa Redgrave, and John Cleese all declined, as did the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and many others in the field of the arts actually. Even two fictional characters, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, declined knighthoods in literary texts, and their public service to England certainly marked them each as patriots, unqualified.

Of course both William and Kate have the prerogative to accept the titles offered by their state that are legally worthless everywhere outside the United Kingdom, and that are morally-worthless even within, but it's frustrating that so many of our fellow Americans and our media diplomats to the world feel the motivation to panty-sniff the inbred descendants of Henry VIII. Undeniably we have our own special and skewed brand of star worship here, but at least to this point, we're not sticking our own economic and celebrity betters with the senseless and silly labels "prince" and "princess." U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The first road trip

Road trip season has commenced, and I'm freshly returned from another trip to New Orleans for JazzFest. This year I saw Anita Baker, Smokey Robinson, Savion Glover, and the Re-Birth Brass Band all on stage doing their thing.

The first time my brother and I took a lengthy road trip was during college-- from Iowa to Los Angeles, and then ultimately north to a family reunion in Napa Valley, California, and back home. This was in the summer of 1995, and we were partially re-tracing a Route 66 path that my grandfather, Elmer Moeller, had taken in 1936. His story was an extraordinary one. As a 25-year-old single farmer at that time, he was driving west-- through the Dust Bowl region-- to join his parents and younger siblings in L.A. They were out there for several months, and his brother and sister had even been enrolled in school there for a time. Grandpa Elmer agreed to serve as the driver for an older man from nearby Vinton, Iowa. Their journey was more perilous than ours, six decades later, but in retrospect, consider that Aaron and I were taking a trek of more than four thousand miles and doing so without a GPS or smart phone, or even a cell phone. Another four decades from now, he and I will be the heroes.

My grandfather was still living in 1995 so, after our return, I chronicled by hand the overlapping part of our trip for his benefit-- and now for yours also. Back in my possession after his death, I tracked down these yellowed papers (they were already on yellow steno paper) this afternoon in my curated files and now present them to you in their entirety. By '95, historic Route 66, "the Mother Road," had been largely displaced by four lanes of interstate highway along a slightly divergent pathway, but we made a careful effort to drive the ancient road where it still existed. In my chronicles, I also made a careful effort at the time to record every baseball reference I could think of. Here 'tis...


Monday, June 19th
Began our trip early in the day. Took our usual route to St. Louis (out of the way) and arrived at 2pm-- late lunch at Ozzie's Restaurant in Westport. Drove downtown for ballgame through Ferguson. Took pictures of my apartment and Frosty Treats, my employer, from the previous summer. Watched Busch Stadium debut of Hideo Nomo, the Japanese sensation. He won 5 to 2-- shutout through 8. Stayed in Red Roof at Westport.

Tuesday, June 20th
Took 270 south to 44 west-- the interstate that replaced Route 66 through this region. Billboards along the route were denser than at Hannibal and were topped later at Branson. Didn't take the Meramac Caverns tour-- too expensive, but we walked through the gift shop and found some Jesse James clippings endorsing a man who claimed he was him and still alive in 1950. In July of '95, James descendants had his grave reopened to disprove this story. Drove down Highway 8 to Meramac State Park. Beautiful river bluff scenery-- maybe the best view of the trip. Reached hotel in Springfield around 4pm. Drove to Branson, ultimately for a 2-hour IMAX theater presentation of the recent Titanic exploration. Afterwards, drove through Branson's strip. Experienced third-best musical moment by playing Elvis CD and driving slow along the strip. Cardinals playing on radio back to hotel.

Wednesday, June 21st
Left Springfield and rove up H-71 to LaMar for a look at Harry Truman's birthplace. Small but nice display. Mickey Owen Baseball Camp, which always appears in ads in the classified section of the Sporting News, was spotted along the way. Shortly after, Aaron said he saw a turtle on the road, reminiscent of The Grapes of Wrath-- the Steinbeck novel that popularized Route 66 in the public's imagination. Turned around but couldn't find it. South from LaMar went through Alba, hometown of the baseball Boyer family. Took real 66 into Kansas past the Graffiti Bridge. Next stop was Commerce, Oklahoma to find Mickey Mantle Street. He was "the Commerce Comet" with the Yankees. Drove down almost every street of this small town before realizing it was the main thoroughfare we had been on most of the time. Stayed on "Mother Road" to Tulsa. Will Rogers Memorial was great. Other popular attractions were disappointing, but not this one. Every human born would do well to end up with a tribute like this. Lucky to reach Oklahoma City by quarter after six, minor league stadium next to interstate by 6:45, 89ers versus the Reds' top club-- Indianapolis. Aaron's all-time favorite Cedar Rapids Reds' player (Steve Gibraltar) hit two home runs. FYI--Comfort Inn in OK City turned us away because we were under 21 years old.

Thursday, June 22nd
In hotel parking lot, spoke briefly with Native American family from New Mexico headed the other direction-- to the southeast-- for a family reunion. Hit Cowboy Hall of Fame (rather disappointing), then drove downtown to see the Federal Building. Out of OC by eleven AM and drove quickly through the rest of Oklahoma-- no significant stops made. I ruined a roll of film in an unexpected camera mishap. No pictures now exist between Meramac and eastern Texas. Saw Trade Winds Inn in Clinton where Elvis once stayed. Shamrock, Texas was a significant stop on Grandpa's trip. This is where he stopped, with his passenger, to assist a couple women that had a car problem. We found the service station he told us to look for, that is, the remnants of it, and we also saw the similar one across the street that replaced it.

We snapped a picture of the Devil's Rope (barbed wire) Museum in MacLean-- but didn't take time to tour. We probably should have. The leaning water tower in Britten was impossible to miss. The day culminated with what may have been the best stop on the trip-- the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Neither Aaron nor I attempted to eat the 40 ounce steak. Eight ounces was plenty, with all the extras they give you. It was also plenty for the wallet. The dark, atmospheric interior was worth the price. We spent the night at a chain motel in Amarillo. I couldn't persuade the driver to drive down to Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Friday, June 23rd
We started with the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo. We each wrote our names on one of the cars, of course. Aaron had an appropriate Bruce Springsteen song for the CD player after this stop. We made good time to cover all of New Mexico in one day. The temptation was great to skip Santa Fe and cruise straight through the Land of Enchantment on Interstate 40, but we didn't regret staying on old 66. Santa Fe is an unbelievably beautiful city, from the historic downtown area to the state capitol building. Everything's expensive for college kids. The oldest church in North America is here. We were caught in Friday night drive-through traffic in Albuquerque-- no sightseeing in town. The only stop before Gallup was at the Continental Divide. I performed a spitting experiment.

As advertised, the Gallup area had a real feel for the golden era of Route 66-- lots of neon signs (similar to Branson's, which aren't vintage), and best of all, was the El Rancho Hotel. This one-time hangout of Hollywood stars was the only historic hotel we slept in on the trip. We spent half an hour looking at the star pictures in the lobby. We were fortunate to get a room in the historic building, and not in the architecturally-uninspired addition to the east. Ours was the "Mae West" room. There was a pool. With the scenic driving mixed in, this might've been the best day of the trip.

Saturday, June 24th
When you drive I-40 through Arizona, you spend the first 130 miles looking at Humphries Peak. It's hard to ignore the snow caps after mile upon mile of rock and sand. Lunch was at a Burger King in Winslow, Arizona-- famed in song. This gave us the energy we needed to witness the meteor crater. My crater interest was at an all-time high following my first and only geology college course back in the spring. This being said-- it's just a big hole. Important, yes. Worth ten dollars a head, no.

Beyond Flagstaff is Seligman. This town really embraces the Route 66 travel culture. We bought all of our 66 souvenirs and took a look at some goofy cars. Kingman was our resting point for the night. We arrived mid-afternoon and did laundry. We called Dad, and cousin Jeff in Fullerton, California. We arrive there tomorrow.

Sunday, June 25th
Our biggest problem of the trip came between Kingman and the California border. Route 66 goes through Oatman, while the interstate detours around the mountains. We chose the mountains, driving past a sign instructing semi-trucks to take the easy way instead. After winding around the Sitgreaves Pass for about 15 miles (at slow speed), we turned one of the sharp corners to find a truck trailer jackknifed-- completely stuck around a bend. It was inconvenient for us, but certainly more so for that driver. A local told us that this happens about once a week. It added at least an hour to our trip by the time we returned to Kingman searching for the interstate. This also, unfortunately, ruined our hopes of being on 66 when we first glimpsed California, the Land of Milk and Honey. We made a half-hearted attempt to find Oatman from the west instead because it seemed like a neat idea. The driver opposed me on this so we gave up after a few miles and simply crossed the state bridge.

We ate at a Jack in the Box in Needles, California. Everyone told us to be wary of driving through the Mojave Desert at mid-day. We had no other choice but to do it, and then were surprised to find out how harmless it was. It may have been the safest stretch of road we traveled because there was a phone posted every two miles. The decline in altitude begins in Barstow and becomes rapid quickly. We left 66 for the final time in San Bernardino. Highway 91 led us to Jeff's house and past Yorba Linda, where we browsed the gift shop of the Richard Nixon Library. We couldn't think of anything else to do in Riverside and Orange County while we waited for Jeff to return that evening from a trip to the Bay Area.

We never reached Santa Monica, where Route 66 formally ends in its original form, but then we didn't start with it in Chicago either. We would swim in the ocean four days later in a location further up the coast with Aunt Jan and Uncle Pete.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

"Lies My Blogger Told Me"-- one that went missing, part 2

Here's another one that didn't make the book, but posted to the site approximately five years ago. From March 22, 2013...

Wikipedia Mysteries, Pilot

The trophy for moving one's life from fame to total seclusion and public retirement goes to Ruth Ann Steinhagen of Chicago, Illinois. Do you know who this woman is of whom I speak? Small chance. Know what became of her? I'm quite positive you don't. 

Ruth Ann Steinhagen became famous in the summer of 1949 for shooting Eddie Waitkus, All-Star first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies. She induced him to a hotel room in her hometown and shot him in the chest. She was only 19 years old at the time. The shot barely missed Waitkus' heart, but the ballplayer survived, even returning to baseball to help the Phillies to the "Whiz Kids" National League pennant of 1950. After Steinhagen was released from a mental institution in '52, where she had received electroconvulsive therapy, Waitkus declined to press charges. (This was the golden age of gentlemen.) He died in 1972 of esophageal cancer after reportedly suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for years due to the shooting. 

This incident of celebrity-based violence was the inspiration for the 1952 Bernard Malamud novel "The Natural," which, in 1984, became a popular and quite marvelous feature film starring Robert Redford as a wounded pitcher-turned-slugger of Arthurian proportions, and Barbara Hershey as his obsessed admirer. 

So what did become of Ruth Ann Steinhagen? Would it surprise you to know that she died on December 29th of last year? In the six decades after her release from the hospital, it seems she moved in with her parents and a sister. The parents both died during the 1970s, and the sister died in 2007. She lived in the same house for her final 42 years, only a few miles from the now-demolished Edgewater Beach Hotel on Chicago's north side where she shot Waitkus. She never spoke publicly about the incident. 

So obscure had she become in the intervening years that her death did not get noticed by the news media until last week, at three months distance, when a Chicago Tribune reporter happened upon her death record while researching another story. 

Ruth Ann Steinhagen, one-time subject of lurid fascination slipped into what was likely a merciful obscurity. 

Tomorrow on Wikipedia Mysteries: A famous musician is shot dead in New York City's Central Park more than three decades ago. What became of his songwriting partner? Who are these two men? That's tomorrow on Wikipedia Mysteries, only on the CM Blog.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

"Lies My Blogger Told Me"-- one that went missing

Absent from my new book-- besides about 1750 of the almost 1900 or so entries on this blog-- is one that I particularly liked and that just missed the cut-- a summary of the life and times of one of my many historical heroes, attorney Clarence Darrow. It was posted almost exactly six years ago-- on April 7th, 2012. When I was making decisions about inclusion for the book, I felt it read too much like a book report, yet I think it does demonstrate that I’m capable of taking good notes and then consulting them as reference when I read something. Like a bad penny, it’s back again…

Attorney for the Damned

I've just finished reading the fine 2011 biography from Doubleday entitled "Clarence Darrow - Attorney for the Damned." Darrow, of course, was the most famous legal defense counsel of the first third of the 20th century, a tremendous small-d democrat in the most genuine sense of the word, as well as an orator of the finest reputation, in court victory or defeat, on the topics of right and human justice. His biographer, John A. Farrell, brings an even-handed approach to bear on his subject, humanistic experience as a long-time journalist and a writer at the Center for Public Integrity. 

A study of Darrow's legal cases is a walk through the American Experience (to borrow a PBS series title) from the Gilded Age until the depths of the Great Depression. He made his name first, in 1894, by defending labor titan Eugene Debs, my political hero and a tremendous orator in his own right, in the aftermath of the great workers strike of the Pullman Palace Car Company. Debs, an Indiana native like Darrow, had been charged with contempt of court for "inciting" workers to strike in violation of an injunction ordered by President Grover Cleveland and for interfering with interstate commerce. President Cleveland attacked the reformers with the full arm of the justice department. 

Before the U.S. Supreme Court, Darrow argued, "When a body of 100,000 men lay down their implements of labor, not because their own rights have been invaded, but because the bread has been taken from the mouths of their fellows, we have no right to say they are criminals." The appeal had seemingly little effect on the Fuller Court, which ruled on the side of the president, but forever after martyred Debs and his men. Two years later, almost the same group of justices would author the legal decision upholding "separate but equal" segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson. This was not a golden era of American jurisprudence. 

Darrow represented unpopular and disenfranchised defendants throughout the first years of the new century-- anarchists, gangsters, unionists, "Bolshevik sympathizers," the very poor and hungry, the mentally unstable, and a whole host of teenage criminal perpetrators condemned to die. When a more unpopular figure could not be found anywhere, he defended the engineer of a boat that had capsized on the Chicago River, killing more than 800 people. 

In 1907, he defended to successful acquittal the labor militarist "Big Bill" Haywood, who was standing trial for the conspiracy murder of the anti-labor governor of Idaho. After this trial, The Sun paper in New York called Darrow "an infidel, a misanthrope, a revolutionist, a hater of the rich, a condemner of the educated and the polite, a hopeless cynic." He faced charges in the typically-hostile press of hucksterism. In his public pronouncements, he opposed Prohibition, advocated for "free love" and open sexual relationships, agnosticism, and equal rights for blacks. He caused public inflammation once by asking in a civic setting, "Is there any reason why a white girl should not marry a man with African blood in his veins? These lynchings in the South and these burnings in the South are not for the protection of the home and the fireside; they are to keep Negroes in their place." This was in 1901, the year in which violence broke out all across the South because Booker T. Washington had been invited to converse at the White House with President Teddy Roosevelt. 

In 1911, he defended two laborists accused of dynamiting the Los Angeles Times building and killing 21 men in the process. Years later, in 1924, he would defend the wealthy, homosexual, University of Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb for the so-called "thrill" killings of a 14-year-old boy. These two cases, more than a decade apart, were similar in that the pair of defendants were certainly guilty of the accused crimes in both cases, but Darrow accepted the cases with the purpose of saving the men from "the hangman's rope." Darrow was a lifelong opponent of the death penalty, and for a time during his professional career-- aided by his public advocacy-- it appeared a distinct possibility that civil punishment by death might become but a footnote in the nation's bloody history text, as it has in the world's more civilized countries. 

In cases involving labor violence, crimes committed by the underprivileged, or victims of abuse (Leopold and Loeb, the latter), Darrow always advocated compassion for perpetrators due to the social circumstances that had contributed to the crimes. He said of one of these last such defendants, "This boy is not to blame. Organized society had its chance to keep him off the streets, and failed to do so. He was just a young animal, turned loose on the streets in the shape of a boy." At the time, Darrow's opinions on the psychology of the criminal were seen as revolutionary, and in this respect, he was linked often pejoratively with "godless, soulless, anti-Christian, anti-individualist" thinkers like Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. 

Each of his most well-known cases have relevancy that stretch to today, but none more than two of his last. Easily the most famous is the Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925, in which he defended a high school biology teacher in Tennessee named John Scopes of teaching the theory of evolution in violation of a state law. This public battle between science and superstition, which was broadcast at the time to a national radio audience, is still being waged in various forms by the party of the defeated in school board libraries from coast to coast. During that sweltering summer in Dayton, Tennessee, alternately in a county courthouse and, at times, in a nearby public park to allow for larger audiences and relief from inside temperatures, Darrow defended the teacher against the law that had been drawn by Christian Creationists. 

The trial culminated with 65-year-old fundamentalist preacher, opponent of "the Menace of Darwinism," former U.S. Secretary of State and three-time Democratic Party presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan agreeing to be cross-examined by Darrow on the witness stand about his religious beliefs. Proverbially speaking, Darrow tore him apart on the stage, ridiculing his hypotheses of Divine Creation of a timeline that was inconsistent with modern scientific study in every field from biology to geology to astronomy to physics to chemistry. It was "darkness vs. light," says Farrell, "modernity on trial." 

In a memorable sequence from the court record, Bryan remarked that he believed "everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there," clarifying that he believed in the literal Old Testament translation of Jonah being swallowed whole by a whale, living inside the belly for three days and three nights before being excised (for what it's worth, this whopper also appears in similar form in the Koran). 

"Do you believe Joshua made the sun stand still?" his examiner then asked. "I accept the Bible absolutely," the famously-pious Bryan responded, promoting the idea that the Book of Joshua was divinely inspired. But Darrow got Bryan to admit that the deity "had used language that could be understood at the time" to explain why the author of this ancient text seemed to believe that the sun revolved around the Earth, and not vice-versa. Then, when questioned about the Great Flood that purportedly caused Noah to hit the high seas accompanied by a male and female version of each of the planet's animal types, Bryan was forced to explain why that long ago flood was only 4000 years before the birth of Jesus, based on the biblical-defined generational timeline... 

Darrow, said mockingly: "When was that flood... about 4004 B.C.?" 
Bryan: "That has been the estimate. I never made a calculation." 
Darrow: "A calculation from what?" 
Bryan: "I could not say." 
Darrow: "From the generations of man?" 
Bryan: "I would not want to say that." 
Darrow: "What do you think?" 
Bryan: "I do not think about things I don't think about." 
Darrow: "Do you think about things you do think about?" 
Bryan: "Well, sometimes." 

The examination continued in earnest-- with additional questioning from Darrow about the evidence of older civilizations in the Far East, and the theoretical female siblings (and wives?) of Cain and Abel-- but with that previous exchange, just like that, an elder statesman of the United States, a great American spiritualist, had been exposed for all of his ignorance and superstition. Indeed, a pitiful Bryan would drop dead in his sleep within five days of the end of the trial. When asked by a reporter if Bryan died of a broken heart, Darrow, in his inimitable fashion of reasoning scientifically, replied, "Busted heart, nothing; he died of an overstuffed belly." The verbal sparring between the pair in this small Southern town would go down in history, being further popularized in 1955 by a fictionalized play entitled "Inherit the Wind," which has been performed countless times since by professional companies, and by high school and collegiate drama departments, also becoming a movie in 1960 starring Spencer Tracy as the Darrow-esque attorney Henry Drummond, and Fredric March as the Bryan-esque Matthew Harrison Brady. 

Within a year of Scopes, Clarence Darrow would participate in yet another sensational trial that has just as much resonance in America these days. Darrow went to Detroit to defend an African-American physician named Ossian Sweet, who had purchased a home for his family in an all-white middle-class section of the city. Only two summers earlier, thousands of the Ku Klux Klan's rank-and-file, hooded and gowned, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. (you gotta love this country). The Klan had come up from underground and was putting up candidates in general elections all across the nation, including Detroit's mayoral race, and when a white mob numbering in the hundreds started gathering daily outside the Sweet's house on the city's near-east side, little time passed before Sweet and a few of his relatives and friends had armed themselves. The second evening, after rocks had been thrown at the house windows, shots rang out from one of the upstairs windows, into the crowd, and a white man lay dead with another one wounded nearby. 

The NAACP called upon Darrow to join the Sweet defense team. The case raised issues of racial suspicion, neighborhood integration, and individual self-defense that can be just as uniquely felt today in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida. During court proceedings, under harsh examination by Darrow, it was discovered that white witnesses had been encouraged by investigators to lie, both in their verbal accounts about the size of the crowd, as well as the crowd's intent and the lengths of its instigation to violence. All-white juries would find the 12 black defendants not guilty. Darrow had not held back during closing argument. He attacked the establishment justice system of the nation, and the original sin of its white citizens, with animus, challenging jury members to confront their prejudices head-on... 

"Every one of them (the witnesses)... perjured themselves over and over and over again to send twelve black people to prison for life. The almost instinctive hatred of the white for anything that approaches social equality is so deep and so abiding in the hearts of most white people that they are willing to perjure themselves on behalf of what they think is their noble, Nordic race... I don't need to take any pains to prove to you what was the cause of this trouble down at Charlevoix and Garland (street corner), do I? If you don't know it, you are stupider than any people I have ever seen in the jury box yet, and I have seen some daisies in my time." 

In his book, Farrell describes a man who was capable at times of crass opportunism, hypocrisy, or mean-spiritedness. He was charged with, but ultimately acquitted of, bribing a juror during his defense of the LA Times bombers. He would remark on occasion that such actions were justified when operating under a system in which competing powers were unequal, or when done to save a man's life. Like many of our geniuses, he invested money poorly (see Sam Clemens as another example), and was often taking legal cases with at least the partial motivation of rescuing his finances. 

On a much-larger scale, however, Clarence Darrow is generally considered to be the best friend that a defendant in the American criminal justice system ever had. And in a nation of unequal justice, religious and racial hysteria, not-fully-fathomable financial disparity, yet fully-formed national bloodlust, and one that is, itself, an all-powerful state, a man that can be that best friend with compassion, intellect, and foresight, and one that believes people are more intelligent, understanding, and liberal than they believe themselves, has no small or unimportant legacy to leave to us. 

Near the end of his book, Farrell reprints an enlightening quote from the occasion of Darrow's death in 1938, one that reveals to a person all you need to know about the Bizarro-existence of living a life of morality in a nation that is simultaneously too Christian and insufficiently Christian. A lady that had lived near him during his final days in the small town of Kinsman, Illinois, told the papers of Darrow after he was gone: "He was a good man, I reckon, but folks didn't like the way he believed. Myself, I never could see how he could plead for all those murderers."

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

"Lies My Blogger Told Me"-- a formal sampling

"Lies My Blogger Told Me" has only been on the market for a couple weeks, but I'd like to claim a couple cross-offs for it already. For example, in a blog post vilifying the NFL's Rams for leaving the city of St. Louis for Los Angeles (actually Inglewood, CA) back in 2016, I disparaged at the time the name of then-Rams quarterback Nick Foles. (This citation can be found on page 248.) Now in 2018, he's Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, but even my fresh introduction for the piece went to press before the Eagles' Foles-led playoff push. Oh well. Luckily, the subjects of all the celebrity obituaries found in the book are still dead. 

This is the 1,883rd blog post on this site, and roughly 130 of them appear in the book, most of them with fresh introductions. I'd like to reprint one of the winners today with your permission-- just so that one of them can be found up front again on the site-- and to let you all know that I'm available-- for a nominal fee-- to come read it aloud to your book club, historic preservation group, or secret society.

It's called "Fogle Fresh," and it's about Subway spokesman Jared Fogle. I choose it here not because it's aged so well, but because it has aged so poorly. I wrote and posted it three and a half years before the FBI raided Fogle's Indiana home and charged him with paying for sex with minors and distributing child pornography. That's why it reads so innocuously. At one point, I state that "most Americans would trade places with (him) in a Madison Avenue minute"-- which I still believe was true in 2012. At two points, I say that he's a decent man. I hit the nail too much on the head though when I suggested he probably chased "tail" at Subway corporate events, and that's another one of the cross-offs I'd like to have as it sure seems crass now. I want it on the record, however, that with no sources inside the FBI or the Indiana State Police in 2012, I was already-- rightfully-- in fear for Fogle's eternal soul-- and I found multiple ways to misspell his last name. Is it Fogle, Fogel, Fogler? I kept these spelling errors as they originally appeared. I also-- eerily-- found a way to link Jared to Bill Cosby before either man had been accused of horrendous sexual crimes-- or at least before the news media or law enforcement paid full heed to the allegations that had been made. Hell, I just knew they both liked sandwiches.

Reprinted with permission by me, from Saturday, February 4th, 2012...

Fogle fresh

Sometimes on "The Cosby Show," Cliff and Claire Huxtable would argue (playfully) about Cliff's diet. When his wife was too busy with her work of balancing a lovely home and family with a full-time legal career, Cliff would sneak into the kitchen and build himself a giant hoagie sandwich. "Hoagie" is a Philadelphia-in-origin colloquialism for the submarine-style sandwich, and Cliff, I think, was from Philadelphia. For sure, the famous comedian who portrayed him was from Philly. 

Point being, this was the 1980's and sub sandwiches, as evidenced by the actions of the characters on America's most popular show, were not considered good for your health. (The joke was that Cliff, a physician who should know better, couldn't keep himself away from these tasty foodstuffs and thus, aggravating his high blood pressure.) A funny thing started happening in the 1990s however. A large corporation called Subway came along, and began competing head-on with the existing fast food chain restaurants, the largest of which were primarily offering fried, preprocessed beef patties. My recollection of the conventional wisdom during that time period before Subway supplanted McDonald's as America's "leading" fast-food provider is that the Subway-brand sandwiches weren't necessarily healthier, but they were, we were told, at least "fresher." 

What was the single biggest event that caused the Subway brand to go into orbit while America was becoming increasingly diet- and nutrition-educated? A golden narrative fell into the company's proverbial lap in 1999, as if from the sky. Jared Fogel, a dweebish, almost-completely uncharismatic 22-year-old Indianapolis man reported that he had lost more than 200 pounds on an all-Subway sandwich diet. A Chicago franchisee picked up on the story after Men's Health Magazine confirmed it, and already by New Years Day 2000, Jared was the star of a national television advertising campaign. That first day, home audiences tuned in to college bowl games got a glimpse of an objectively average-looking man that no longer fit snugly into his 62-inch "fat pants." 

The diet elements of this story have never interested me that much, and I don't pretend to be an expert. From the beginning, we were told that Jared (can I call him "Jared"?) had also sharply reduced his portion sizes since his experience at other chains. He cut way back on the condiments and began vigorously walking. Also, consider that Subway's structured competition in this corporate pissing match has always been the Whopper, the Big Mac, the Double Quarter-Pounder, and more recently, something called the Double Down, a sandwich that doesn't even bother with the pretense of a bun. Subway has never considered its competition in this contest to be your neighborhood organic gardener or grocer. That food is too "slow" to be considered a hassle. 

What interests me more about it all is the now decade-long corporate branding of a man named Jared Fogler. It's more polite to call Jared a "spokesman" for Subway, as opposed to a "brand," but both labels are apt. He's a unique individual in American advertising. He's not playing a character. He's also not trading on the celebrity of a previous life lived in front of the public. Kirstie Alley could do a thousand commercials for Jenny Craig and never be the 'Jenny Craig lady" the way that Jared is positioned to forever be "the Subway guy." 

Most Americans would trade places with Jared Fogler in a Madison Avenue minute. He did even one better than a massive weight loss that in and of itself could improve his quality of life for years to come-- he also spun that loss into a lucrative job, into fame and fortune. He's been Subway's public representative at the Olympics. He runs in marathons where he finishes in 36,968th place but everybody hears about it. More than 12 years after his public ascendancy, you could place a safe bet that he would be a visible presence at tomorrow's Super Bowl even if it wasn't being hosted by his hometown. After all, Super Bowl Sunday, America's annual Corporation Day, was invented for brands like Jared. 

But what has Jared sacrificed? Take a look at this one-minute interview on YouTube from a couple years ago. Remember that Jared is never playing a character. This is his public identity, his reputation among his fellow humans. A very innocuous interview that, superficially, has nothing to do with sandwiches devolves into the image of the man having to spark up and prostitute himself once more for his "sugar daddy" (or should it be his "sodium daddy"?). I find this clip very depressing to watch. We're looking at a broken man. 

Nobody begrudged Jared's grab at the treasure chest a decade ago. He was a trumpeter swan unveiling his pure white plumage. I would have surely gone for that deal myself. Take the money and run. You all probably think of me as just a Trotskyite blogger, but I enjoy the creature comforts of life. Where is Jared in his life now though? I'm sure it's fun to banter with Terry, Howie, and the boys on FOX NFL Sunday, and a little of that high-end tail that's magnetically-pulled to large corporate events is probably still there for the taking. Am I right, Jared? But is it really a positive for this guy's emotional health at this point to still be hugging hoagies on television? 

The competitive world of fast-food marketing never slows down either. They just keep raising the bar. It's not enough anymore for Jared to just be the decent man he projects to be. Now you see him bouncing around on these commercials-- acting the clown, as my buddy Rob described it. I swear that late one night last week, I saw Jared wearing a diaper on my flat screen, but that might have just been a mirage brought on by the Irish Cream I was sipping. 

At the corporate level, of course, he's still just a brand. Perhaps more so now. His bosses consider him that. Their competitors consider him that. The business analysts consider him that. They write in the trades about how Jared (the man) is being replaced gradually on television by "the offer"-- that well-publicized $5 footlong deal. As the U.S. and global economy drives nearer to collapse under the weight of the top, the advertising focus at Subway is now on promoting the inexpensiveness of the product, not nutrition-- just another piece of evidence that Subway is, at the end of the day, selling the same basic product that McDonald's is under each of those individual plastic sandwich wrappers. (And by the way, you can keep the plastic bag, gang. I'm just going to be walking eight feet away to eat this thing. The two-by-two foot heavy paper wrapper you've wound this in should hold up fine.)

How low will Jared go? Is he willing to stay around for the fight against the next fast food upstart chain, the one that challenges the current king? Subway's been good to Jared, but Jared has been a damned good thing for Subway too. Does he work for the man, or is this a mutually-beneficial partnership? Does Jared see himself as the one in driver's seat. I really fear he doesn't because Americans are programmed to think this way. Now that he has much greater financial resource at his disposal, what could his life become now? A decent, generally-grounded, curly-haired, white man in America, combined with a lucky break, should be able to write his own ticket. He just needs to be told-- or hopefully, simply reminded--exactly who it was that was actually responsible for taking off that weight.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Russian attack

I feel like such a dope. Through a bit of online sorcery, thirteen Russian agents tricked me into not voting for Hillary Clinton in November of 2016. There’s some solace in the fact that I wasn’t alone in my confusion. Tens of millions of other Americans also filled out ballots for other candidates. Twenty-six years of Clinton in the public spotlight, and we still didn’t have a good idea what to make of her. That’s where these agents found our blind spot and manipulated it. Though I wasn’t one of them, most voters that shunned Clinton chose a candidate who had been in the public eye for on or about forty years.

Borrell Associates, an agency that tracks and forecasts spending for the advertising industry, reports that $1.415 billion was spent on online advertising by local, state, and national campaigns in 2015 and 2016. Two out of every five of those dollars-- so almost five hundred million-- were spent on social media sites. Ten billion dollars were spent overall during the election season on media advertising of all kinds. The Russian “bots” spent $100,000.

The indictments of these Russian agents by the Robert Mueller team will likely have about the same resonance as those of foreign countries when their judicial systems indict agents of the U.S. government for interfering in their political process and in their elections. The difference is that those indictments are often written up for crimes such as an overthrow or assassination. Here, foreign agents allegedly buy ads online and develop memes that reflect political partiality. As long as these Russian agents don’t plan to live in the U.S., our courts likely won’t be able to hold them to account. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has been indicted in at least five different countries. So when you hear American politicos discussing the best way for us to retaliate for interference, know that in other nations, these sorts of actions are considered the retaliation.

This distraction from the real issues of the day causes great harm to everyone, including Democrats, who are so beholden to corporate interests that they are truly incapable of accepting responsibility for their corrosive actions and devastating failures during the ’16 electoral cycle. It’s not even a question of political courage at this point. Their representatives are so intrinsically cuffed to their corporate paymasters that the bond can certainly not be broken. Since the fall of ’16, when their underhanded actions in relation to the Bernie Sanders opposition campaign in their own primaries were revealed by an email leak, they have, in their defense, done the only thing their compromised predicament allows them to do-- distract through an investigation into the leak.

Is the loud public investigation into Russian meddling helping to fuel the Trump opposition? Of course not. His approval ratings are up five points-- to 40%-- since December. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released eight days ago shows that for the first time since November 2016, more registered voters say they would support the Republican candidate for Congress in their district than the Democrat. The Democratic Party, with its nearly preternatural ability to project hyper-partisanship while standing for absolutely nothing, threatens to once again fumble away the gift of Donald Trump that was handed to them by Republican primary voters right at about two years ago.

As one of the most important examples, the President and the Republican Congress passed a crippling tax bill a few weeks ago, one that provides unprecedented cuts for the wealthy, and which will then translate into a disproportionate burden for working people and the defenseless. In December, 49% of Americans opposed that Trump tax plan with only 29% in favor, according to Public Policy Polling. Now those numbers are virtually even—41% opposed, 39% in favor. And why wouldn’t it be that way? There are no Democrats making the political case against these crushing cuts in revenue that will be made up out of the pockets of those of ordinary means. The subject came and went while politicians and the media were focusing on Vladimir Putin. The national anthem performance at the NBA All-Star Game has had a longer life in the news cycle than the tax cuts.

The electoral interference that actually took place was between the DNC, pockets of the Intelligence State, and a colluding news media. It was actually done to elevate Trump, who was the Democrats’ preferred opponent all the way up to Election Day, but also to sabotage progressives like Sanders and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. For eight years, President Obama made the case that Russia was our ally while Republicans attacked him for it. Now, in left-wing circles, you get called "comrade" if you demand that the National Security State show evidence of their charges. In order to survive, the primary goals of the Democratic Party must always be the elimination of opposition voices and convincing progressive and moderate voters that the Democratic Party is their only option. What better way to sabotage and censor than to sidetrack from the stories of their own misdeeds and spin a story instead of how the oppressor has supposedly been wronged? The only alternative option would be to repent, give back the corporate bribes, replace the compromised with new leaders, and go to work for the people, and that's not going to happen.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Yankee, go home

If you know a military member that's been stationed overseas at any time during the last ten years... or twenty years... there's a good chance that that person has been deployed to Afghanistan or the Persian Gulf as part of a war operation. We hear a lot about those assignments. But there's also a good chance that that man or woman has lived for a time in one of two other countries-- Germany and South Korea.

World War II ended in 1945. Documents were signed. It was in all the papers. But American military forces have maintained major military footprints since at the locations of both the old, dismantled Berlin Wall and throughout the Pacific. We're still holding back Communism on the Korean Peninsula even since the "police action" in Korea paused in a cease-fire in the summer of 1953. That truce represents the moment when most Americans-- because they have been continuously told-- came to believe that a three-year and never-declared "war" between North and South Korea came to an end. But its Cold War, complete with defense build-ups, trade sanctions, undercover ops and targeted violence, has continued. Thus, the presence of the American military at the edge of the Korean Demilitarized Zone for the last 65 years. We are still 23,000 servicemembers strong in South Korea. The peninsula has been more or less out of the mindset of Americans since 1953 (except for the eleven seasons M*A*S*H was on the air)-- but America, as you could probably guess, is still a major presence in the lives of North Koreans. The USS Pueblo naval ship, captured by the North Koreans in 1968 and never decommissioned by the U.S. Navy, still sits docked along the Potong River in Pyongyang, a daily reminder from the North Korean government to its people of United States ongoing war games in their backyard.

Does it ever strike you as strange that your country's military has a presence in foreign countries, but other countries don't have a similar presence in ours? We certainly do harbor fears about a lot of different peoples. We are armed under the U.S. banner inside hundreds of countries. Nothing of the military apparatus has been dismantled since the time of the early build-up of the Cold War. Nothing has even checked the growth. We have bases in Germany and South Korea, but also in Niger, Djibouti, Italy, Greece, Japan, and Kosovo, and even in countries like Cuba with which we don't offer diplomatic relations. Conversely, the Italian military is not based in part here in the U.S. The National Army of the Republic of Djibouti does not house its North American Command within our borders. The Greek armed forces don't have an installation in, say, the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Isn't that odd to you?

This has been an extraordinary weekend in geo-politics. The Olympics are on-- and during this round they're actually serving the larger purpose for which they are routinely marketed-- that is, thawing the often-chilly relationships between countries. This one could be historic. North and South Korea are joint participants in the winter games at Pyeongchang. The North-South Korea women's hockey team has game. The respective leaders in the North and South, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, agreed to have the two countries join forces on the snow and ice. Kim's sister, 28-year-old Kim Yo-jong, the first member of the ruling Kim family to cross the border into the South since 1953, was seated with the South Korean hosts at the opening ceremonies, a lunch was shared the following day, and a summit might be in the works for later this year after Kim Yo-jong passed a note to Moon on behalf of her brother.

And the United States is having none of it.

U.S. Vice President Pence was at the opening ceremonies also-- seated just a few feet away from the Koreans. He stayed seated for the passing of the North and South Korean athletes. On Wednesday, in Tokyo, he vowed renewed U.S. sanctions for North Korea. (New sets of embargoes are arriving now about once a month. The most recent were three weeks ago.) On the topic of warming relations between these ancient Asian siblings with shared customs and history, North and South Korea, the guy from Columbus, Indiana weighed in with this, "I'm announcing that the United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of sanctions on North Korea ever, and we will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs once and for all." Then after touching down in Seoul for the ceremonies, his message drew upon the symbolic, cooperative spirit of the locking Olympic rings: "We will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games. We will not allow North Korea to hide behind the Olympic banner the reality that they enslave their people and threaten the wider region." Take that, Kim Jong-un. And take that, Moon Jae-in.

This is what the U.S. does-- and it didn't start with the Trump administration. We are not neutral players, as we often profess. In this case, we are not even weighted allies of one side against another. We are saboteurs. The military industrial complex, the one famously warned by President Eisenhower that certainly grew in size beyond even his wildest imagination, is a tiger in the basement that needs to be relentlessly fed, hemorrhaging the budget while putting us all in danger. The news media plays along as propagandist. Dennis Rodman was pilloried-- universally-- for traveling to Pyongyang and meeting with Kim last June, but now his visit looks prescient. This blog was probably the only place you read praise for Rodman at that time. His diplomatic trip, which curiously did not carry the blessing of anyone in the official American diplomatic community, did not carry that blessing because it ran afoul of our perverse motivations. Rodman did not attempt to dehumanize. He did not misrepresent. He did not traffic in paranoia. He was not intruding there on behalf of American business.

Well, now Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea, is Dennis Rodman, and what choo you all got to say about that? Pence looked the fool sitting there in the front row of the Koreans' box-- disengaged, arrogant, ignorant, sullen and severe. You can find plenty of images of this online to chuckle over. He looks like he's photo-bombing the rest of them. The Japanese president-- no fan of North Korea-- said hello to Kim Yo-jong. Pence refused to speak to her. (So he's not even a gentleman-- and he's embarrassing Midwestern Americans.) He looked like an ungrateful guest-- and probably at a certain point he was an unwelcomed one. As he left South Korea, he told reporters, "there's no daylight between the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan on the need to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically." But the reality seems to be that there's quite a lot of daylight there. The Koreans were literally passing notes to each other behind his back.