Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Digging up Moses

One of the truly indelible moments caught on film during my lifetime is the confrontation between Michael Moore and Charlton Heston in Moore’s 2002 film Bowling for Columbine. The debate over gun violence took place between the director and the veteran actor-slash-National Rifle Association president in Heston’s backyard in 2001 after Heston had begun to suffer the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s Disease, but before a public announcement had been made of the fact in 2003.

Though the film received high marks from critics and became one of the highest-grossing documentary films of all-time, political wisdom cast a harsh light, then and now, on Moore for supposedly failing to play fair with Heston in his obviously-befuddled state-- the big, bad liberal picking on a weak old man.

It’s a bogus charge. As expressed, Heston-- the one-time civil rights champion who devolved during his later life into David Duke’s favorite public figure and a man who blamed America's high rate of gun violence on its "mixed ethnicity"-- was still in a very high-profile position as head of the nation’s most powerful political lobby when the celluloid encounter transpired next to Heston’s swimming pool at his palatial Beverly Hills home. The year after Moore interviewed the 78-year-old, the gun rights lobbyist campaigned for Congressional Republicans in 22 different states. He was on record shortly before as saying that the most recent standard-bearer for the Democratic Party, Al Gore, had “the guts of a guppy,” so when Gore made the strange public statement that Moore’s film did the impossible of arousing sympathy in him on behalf of Heston, it kind of re-enforced Heston’s point.

In this penultimate scene of the movie, Moore attempts to have Heston answer for the NRA’s decision to hold a meeting in Denver, Colorado in the days following the deadly mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. Moore attempts to deliver (into Heston’s “cold, dead hands”?) an 8x10 photo of one of the dead girls, but winds up leaving it at Heston’s gate, instead, after the old man abruptly ends the interview.

Maybe what was so poignant about Moore’s film is that Heston, along with Ronald Reagan and George Murphy, were pioneers in using the Hollywood image machine to serve their political ends, nearly all of which were reactionary-- trampling the cultural and economic victories of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” that interestingly, all three actors had once championed. In Heston’s unique case, the persona was trading in on his many acting roles as “great men” in big-budget, historical epics.

The Moses Industry, as one might call it, led the one-time star of MGM’s The Ten Commandments to take increasingly angry and ridiculous public policy positions. It’s well documented by sociologists that poor white men in America, as they age, begin to harbor deep resentments towards what they perceive as cultural favoritism towards women and minorities, but I believe these are nothing compared to the resentments felt during their golden years by rich white men, especially those that have lived in the public eye, as they come to believe that, even though they don’t directly feel the crushing burden of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity, they are no longer venerated by young people. In Heston’s case, we add alcoholism into the mix. Moses/Ben-Hur checked into a rehab clinic in Utah in 2000.

His Moses alter ego was so extreme that it colored his public statement when announcing his Alzheimer’s in 2003. “I can part the red sea,” he or a publicist wrote, “but I can’t part with you.” In his worsening, final phase, he attempted to reach back for a public sympathy he no longer garnered from the mushy political middle that he no longer occupied, adding lines to his statement such as “If I tell you a funny story for a second time, please laugh anyway.” It's almost enough to make you forget how uncivil the man had been for the previous 20 years.

The encounter in Bowling for Columbine is painful at times to watch, for sure, but let’s not forget how it was forged as the result of Heston’s enormous Hollywood ego, one that that the radical reactionary fringe of our country always attributes, in blanket form, to movie stars on the political left. Reagan suffered from Alzheimer’s late in life also, but he was kept discreetly away from the public. In the end, Heston couldn’t keep the same steely grip on his public image that he always kept on his sidearm. He had wandered so far and so long ago off the political reservation that the public could no longer determine when his demented opinions had simply become dementia.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The shame of the season

Hillary Clinton has said and done some egregious things. In 2008, her campaign floated to Matt Drudge a photo of Barack Obama wearing traditional Somali garb (taken during an official African visit) and she thus became the architect of the right-wing conspiracy theory that Obama is a secret Muslim born in Africa.

Until she was called on it by the Washington media, she claimed during that '08 presidential race that she opposed the Iraq war from the very beginning. And for the decade preceding her Senate vote to wage war on Iraq, she made a living defaming the women her husband had sexually violated.

But my new favorite example of Clinton's immoral character is her assertion 10 days ago during the Democratic debate at Des Moines' Drake University that her support for the victims of 9-11 explains her cozy relationship with Wall Street. In case you missed it, her answer, when asked to defend the millions of dollars she has accepted in campaign donations from Wall Street firms, was this...

"I represented New York, and I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York."

Good god, just how low will this woman stoop? I fear that Democratic Party voters will allow us to find out.


A Trump presidency will be a boon for the construction business in Mexico. The building trades there will be compelled by the United States chief executive to erect a wall along their entire 1,989-mile northern border... you already know about that, but now think also about all the 35-foot step ladders they'll be manufacturing.


One of the yet-unnoticed tragedies surrounding the Trump campaign is that it's maligning the concept of the subversive protest vote.


Two of these men should be president.


People who recognize that the Rams will be leaving St. Louis after the current football season ask me all the time if I will continue to be a Rams fan when they are representing the city of Los Angeles. The answer is: oh god no. I can't even understand that concept. Sportswriter Will Leitch, a native of southern Illinois (Urbana), still follows (even publicly) the football Cardinals, who abandoned St. Louis for Phoenix 27 years ago. Weird. Maybe it's because he was a kid when that relocation took place. He and I are roughly the same age. I am a fan of the St. Louis Rams, and the St. Louis football Cardinals, and it ends there. When neither exists, I will live with my memories.


Gobble. Gobble.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

More evidence

Fifty-three percent of American adults tell Bloomberg they don’t want to absorb any of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the devastation of ISIS in Syria. The nation mourns when 130 Parisians are killed by Islamic militants, but there is a virtual news blackout when other murderous Islamists, Boko Haram, murder at least 42 in separate attacks in Nigeria and Cameroon. ALL lives matter, though, right?


The expressions of sympathy, generosity, and courage being demonstrated by friends on Facebook for the Syrian refugees is heartwarming. In the middle of the political silly season, you sometimes begin to believe that this entire country is mean-spirited and stupid.

It does seem to all manifest at Trump rallies. Our new Father Coughlin has his plan for a wall, then his Muslim database, and now his own Brownshirts. Oddly, no arrests were made today in the gang beating of a Black Lives Matter protester by six white people in Birmingham, Alabama. The Trump campaign is disavowing the violence, but this is exactly what Donald Trump said should happen at his rallies if he was confronted by BLM protesters the way Bernie Sanders was in the early fall.


In 1906, W.E.B. DuBois declared that the problem of the Twentieth Century was the problem of the color line. That problem now threatens to claim the Twenty-first Century as well. On the topic of refugees, racism and ignorance needs to be contended with even after re-settlement and citizenship. Here in Des Moines, two of these women, Achan Agit and Aicheria Bell, are challenging an Iowa state law that requires 2,100 hours of training at a state-approved cosmetology school in order to perform African-style hair braiding-- even though the style is often not even taught in cosmetology schools.You first gotta pay for and learn how to style white people's hair if you want permission to style black people's hair.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Winning the planet

Here’s a recipe for creating a well-populated and thriving terrorist organization. Step 1: Topple a tinpot dictator under fictitious charges and with nary a whiff of a plan for the government that will succeed him. Step 2: Engage in a decade-long bombing campaign using flying robots, employing zero regard for the innocent civilians residing at your targets, even re-categorizing the civilian dead officially as “enemy combatants.” Step 3 (and this one’s just as important as the others): Deny relocation and opportunity to refugees of the battered region, falsely declaring that the problems from which they are fleeing are nothing of your doing.


The acting performance of a generation came down on FX’s Fargo last night, an episode called “Rhinoceros.” The actor in question was Nick Offerman. He plays an opinionated liberty-loving small town drunken chatterbox named Karl Weathers whose story arc was unclear until last night’s sixth episode of the series’ second season. Trust in me that Offerman will win the Emmy next fall for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series, hundreds of hopeful actors will soon begin reading his monologues from the "Rhinoceros” script in casting auditions, and they will be talking about this one for years to come.


I watched the Rams in St. Louis on Sunday-- for the last time, but I had missed this story about the team's owner, E. Stanley Kroenke, a.k.a. Toupee Fiasco, in Minneapolis a week earlier. It's little wonder he's building a football stadium of his very own in Los Angeles.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Championship context

There are four major team sports leagues in North America. In the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League (along with its forerunner, the National Hockey Association), the following are teams that have won championships in their respective sport since the last time the Chicago Cubs won the baseball World Series in 1908. What makes this particular list of championship teams unique is that, unlike the Cubs, league charters prohibit these teams from winning as they are each defunct.

Note: The list could be longer. Left out are the champions of defunct leagues that were absorbed by the remaining: the American Football League, the American Basketball Association, the Western Hockey League, and baseball’s Negro Leagues and Federal League. I also did not include teams that have gone through name changes if they continue to play today in the city of their championship(s)...

Akron Pros (NFL)- 1920
Baltimore Bullets (NBA)- 1948
Baltimore Colts (NFL)-1958, 1959, 1970
Boston Braves (MLB)- 1914
Brooklyn Dodgers (MLB)- 1955
Canton Bulldogs (NFL)- 1922, 1923
Chicago Cardinals (NFL)- 1925, 1947
Cleveland Bulldogs (NFL)- 1924
Cleveland Rams (NFL)- 1945
Frankford Yellow Jackets (NFL)- 1926
Los Angeles Raiders (NFL)- 1983
Los Angeles Rams (NFL)- 1951
Milwaukee Braves (MLB)- 1957
Minneapolis Lakers (NBA)- 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954
Montreal Maroons (NHL)- 1926, 1935
Montreal Wanderers (NHA)- 1910
New York Giants (MLB)- 1921, 1922, 1933, 1954
Ottawa Hockey Club (NHA)- 1911
Ottawa Senators (original) (NHL)- 1915, 1920, 1921, 1923, 1927
Philadelphia Athletics (MLB)- 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, 1930
Philadelphia Warriors (NBA)- 1947, 1956
Providence Steam Roller (NFL)- 1928
Quebec Bulldogs (NHA)- 1912, 1913
Rochester Royals (NBA)- 1951
St. Louis Hawks (NBA)- 1958
Seattle Supersonics (NBA)- 1979
Syracuse Nationals (NBA)- 1955
Toronto Hockey Club (NHA)- 1914
Washington Senators (MLB)- 1924

Monday, November 09, 2015

A story of Tigers and a Wolfe

The University of Missouri should be deeply proud of its football team. Only a year ago, it was disclosed that Southeastern Conference co-defensive player of the year Michael Sam was “out” to his teammates throughout his senior year, and his homosexuality had been widely accepted by the team throughout. Now the Missouri Tigers are standing behind their African-American players-- and all African-Americans that attend school on the Columbia, Missouri campus-- enacting extraordinary change while they're at it.

Thirty-two African-American players Tweeted a message and photo this weekend calling on the university’s president, Tim Wolfe, to resign. The campus has been scarred this year by repeated incidents of racial taunting and intimidation, the most recent example of which was the discovery of a Swastika scrawled on a dormitory bathroom with human excrement. Activists on campus believe the school’s administration has had an insufficient response to the incidents. The team’s white football players and its coaching staff were pictured in a follow-up Tweet yesterday, adding their collective voice of support for African-American students and for their teammates. Today, the president did resign, effective immediately, along with the chancellor.

The University of Missouri at Columbia has a rather sordid history of racial intolerance, one I was not fully aware of until reading the recent news reports. (Score one for the Tigers players also in bringing about this widespread enlightenment). What I already knew is that UM, the oldest public university west of the Mississippi, did not admit its first black student until 1950. To contrast that, the first black student (George Washington Carver) at my alma mater, Iowa State-- a similarly-sized university in an adjoining state-- was enrolled in 1891. When Iowa State fielded its first black football player, Jack Trice, in 1923, the president of Missouri at that time wrote a letter to Iowa State’s president declaring that Trice would not be allowed on the field in Columbia. (The collision of ideals never came to pass as Trice died from injuries sustained on the field during his first game at the University of Minnesota.)

This is a truly revolutionary act by these athletes. They used their collective weight to great effect as the highest-profile students on campus. By refusing to suit up for practice and, potentially, for a major football game on Saturday against Bowl-bound Brigham Young (7-2), they put the school at risk to lose millions of dollars. NCAA football and basketball players quite famously provide the labor for a multi-billion dollar industry for which they get paid nothing. These men showed great courage, nevertheless, by jeopardizing their athletic scholarships for the good of their fellow students. They made it clear that they wanted the president dismissed not only over the issue of safety and acceptance for minority students on campus, but over other volatile issues there such as Wolfe's proposed cut in health benefits for graduate students.

What we’re seeing in Columbia is a reaction to a decision made in 2011 by the state's board of curators to appoint as university president a man with no experience in teaching or even in the field of educational administration. Wolfe was brought in "from the private sector" with the purpose of guiding the school through a difficult period of limited state funding-- read: his job to slash programs and salaries so taxes could stay low. When he signed on, Wolfe announced point-blank that he "would run the university like a tech company." The same thing is now being attempted at the University of Iowa thanks to a Republican governor in the state that came back to office in 2011 after 12 years removed from a previous tenure, returning as a paid henchman for the Koch Brothers political cult. At the U of I this fall, faculty and students have risen up in defiance of this blind decision by the chief executive and the state's board of regents. The two schools are at different points in their narratives, but have each been thrown into almost full-scale revolt at the campus level. There could have been no action by the football team in Missouri if there wasn't broad support behind them precipitated by campus activists. The two entities then feed each other.

President Wolfe was deaf to their demands. During Homecoming weekend earlier in the semester, his car had been confronted by protesters. His driver swiped past two of them, and Wolfe refused to intervene when university police used violence later against activists. A university spokesperson had announced last month that the school’s new initiative on campus tolerance wouldn’t be released until April, nearly half a year into the future, well after the Tigers' football season, and even the basketball season, had concluded. When asked about the concept of "systematic oppression," Wolfe described it as "when you don't believe (my italics) that you have the equal opportunity for success," suggesting that it was all in the protesters' heads.

Protest is what it’s going to take to get white America to take the concerns of black America seriously, on college campuses and off. Striking out at someone's pocketbook is a tried and true method also. We’re certainly beginning an unprecedented new era of college athletes standing up publicly for their principles and realizing, at long last, the extraordinary power they possess. The mindset of the plantation cannot hold.

Wolfe's resignation came about in lightning fashion. The possibilities are endless now that we know how quickly social change can take place when college athletes threaten not to play. (What's next? Fully-funded schools? Reasonable tuition? Opening the prisons? Just some minor suggestions.) Athletes and activists on college campuses do not exist on separate plains, despite the two separate social realities that get perpetuated by the schools. The failure of these institutions to compensate the athletes appropriately for their outsized financial contribution to the schools has left the athletes in the position, collectively, of having nothing more to lose. It often takes a while to manifest, but exploitation will inevitably lead to insurrection. Power to the people… power to the Tigers.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Called it

Two months ago, this blog raised suspicions about the developing story of an Illinois police officer who had been reportedly shot to death by three unidentified "suspicious subjects," one of them said to be black. A large-scale manhunt was on by local and state authorities and the news networks were in the middle of breathless coverage. The point of the post was to highlight the fact that news agencies still accepted police department media releases as Gospel, despite the exposure of widespread police misinformation exposed by a revolution in civilian video.

Well, that officer's death has now been ruled a suicide. But the news coverage today is not breathless.