Friday, January 30, 2009

It Ain't Easy

There's an old saying, "belive half of what you see and none of what you hear." Where reading the news fits into the equation is anybody's guess and I suppose it varies, from day to day, event to event. Reading about the (former) president having appointees lie about the environment, workplaces and the rationale for an unprovoked war constantly bordered on the unbelievable. $18 billion in taxpayers money has gone for executive bonuses, which doesn't really do well within the range of acceptability on the truth-o-meter. Governor Blago was caught on tape making deals and demanding cash up front. In the end, he said that "the fix" was in. I didn't think anyone outside an Elmore Leonard book talked like that. Ah, but I digress.

The top story on the front page of today's Oregonian was headlined, Is Son His Father's Bagman? Above it was a quote from David Ian Miller, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon. It read, "It wasn't easy to bring allegations against such a worthy adversary."

The story was about disgraced CIA spy Jim Nicholson, who "allegedly" sent his 24 year-old son to collect debts from Russia from his jail cell. Above is a picture of Harold James "Jim" Nicholson. So, let me get this straight-- he was a worthy adversary? Look at his freakin' T-shirt!!! Have G-men dumbed down or are they visually handicapped? I mean it! all the guy is missing is a hammer and sickle tattooed on his forehead.

This is another case that enhances my admiration for fiction writers. With so much unbelievable shit going on every day, there are still people who have the talent to be able to make things up. I mean, didn't Dick Cheney look like some evil character out of Central Casting at the Inauguration? I kept praying the woman wheeling him around would have just upended the chair like the baby carriage down the stairs scene in Battleship Potemkin. And Blago, for chrissake! Could anyone have made him up? He makes the likes of Huey Long, Richard Daley (Sr.) and James Curley seem honest by comparison. And this yutz, Nicholson? Did he get that T-shirt on Venice Beach or at the Moscow Airport?

"It wasn't easy?"

Don't give up your day job, agent MIller.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ad Nauseum

House passes $819 billion stimulus bill

Obama lobbied for the bill aggressively, but it garnered no Republican support. Senate likely to take up its version next week.
By David Goldman, staff writer
Last Updated: January 28, 2009: 7:29 PM ET

GOP: Stimulus packed with pork

NEW YORK ( -- The House on Wednesday evening passed an $819 billion economic stimulus package Wednesday on a party-line vote, despite President Obama's efforts to achieve bipartisan support for the bill.

The final vote was 244 to 188. No Republicans voted for the bill, while 11 Democrats voted against it.

... to which I say, in my most authentic Boston accent, "ARE YOU SHITTIN' ME???"

Is Treason Still a Punishable Offense?

So I was listening to Randy Rhoades on the way home from Portland today and she had the congressman behind the petition against comedian Rush Limbaugh's remark that he hopes President Obama fails. I have to agree with Randy. Why does anyone want to give credence to this overweight, pompous buffoon? I agree that he should be pulled out of his comfy leather chair and sent to Gitmo until the place closes. The fact that he said that he hopes President Obama's programs don't work is... treasonous. The other fact that some Republican members of congress thought his comments were "over the top" and then apologized when Mr. Limbaugh took them to task shows their collective spinelessness and general stupidity. He--and they-- are appealing to the lowest common denominator in this country. For a man of media-driven power to hope that programs aimed at creating jobs, slowing down the worst economic disaster in this country in more than seventy years and, even worse, wishing failure on the President of the United States after less than a week in office, despicable. Mr. Limbaugh is, of course, protected by the first amendment. He is also protected by having a hearing aid he can turn down and a support group of flag waving, gun toting, God fearing cretins. Oh, and don't even get me started on Mr. Tanning Bed--John Boehner. What a dick! Do America a favor. Do not tune in to Rush. Do not buy ANYTHING he advertises. And, for God's sake, do not follow in his baldheaded stupidity and wish our new president failure. Think about it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

20th Century Man

This is the age of machinery,
A mechanical nightmare,
The wonderful world of technology,
Napalm hydrogen bombs biological warfare,

This is the twentieth century,
But too much aggravation
Its the age of insanity,
What has become of the green pleasant fields of Jerusalem.

Ain't got no ambition, I'm just disillusioned
I'm a twentieth century man but I don't wanna be here.
My mama said she can't understand me
She can't see my motivation
Just give me some security,
I'm a paranoid schizoid product of the twentieth century.

You keep all your smart modern writers
Give me William Shakespeare
You keep all your smart modern painters
I'll take Rembrandt,Titian, DaVinci and Gainsborough,

Girl we gotta get out of here
We gotta find a solution
I'm a twentieth century man but I don't want to die here.

I was born in a welfare state
Ruled by bureaucracy
Controlled by civil servants
And people dressed in grey
Got no privacy got no liberty
Cos the twentieth century people
Took it all away from me.

Don't wanna get myself shot down
By some trigger happy policeman,
Gotta keep a hold on my sanity
I'm a twentieth century man but I don't wanna die here.

My mama says she can't understand me
She can't see my motivation
Ain't got no security,
I'm a twentieth century man but I don't wanna be here.

This is the twentieth century
But too much aggravation
This is the edge of insanity
I'm a twentieth century man but I don't wanna be here.

Oh, and The Kinks 6 CD box set, "Picture Book" is out now.

Is it ART?

There was a piece in yesterday's New York Times Arts and Leisure section about a small retrospective of Mel Ramos' work, entitled "The Image Is Erotic. But Is It Art?".

Writer Ken Johnson lambasts Mr. Ramos basically as a hack who has seen his time come and go and yet persists in his comic book pop art, saying that "Mr. Ramos always painted on the teasing edge between acceptable and unacceptable taste... (recycling) the same basic formula over the ensuing decades, even up to the present... (making) a certain image of heterosexual male fantasy far too explicit."

Maybe the humor was too droll, the joke too banal and more than slightly flat (pardon the pun), but Mr. Ramos was both seeming to have been making a statement about sexuality and commercialism and of a time. I don't recall the reaction to the movie, "Prime Cut," where Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman fight over a livestock auction, featuring underage girls, including Sissy Spacek. But unless one took it as an allegory for something other than what it portrayed, it was so grossly gender objectifying so as to be patently offensive. (I don't recall it being that).

Pop art is of a time. Mr. Johnson has that right. He is also correct in stating that the rise of feminism in the 70's was the kiss of death for such tongue in cheek sexist "art" as Mr. Ramos created. But here is where it gets tricky, for me, anyway.

In making the case for Mr. Ramos being left by the wayside while "Eric Fischl's cinematic, psychologically charged paintings of domestic sex scenes in the 80's were exceptional for their Freudian candor."

In the context of making the case that Mr. Ramos is as passé as an 8-track, he not only brings up Mr. Fischl's work, which I will not bother to criticize, other than to say that a painting of a young man masturbating in a kiddie pool at night seems to haveh with have very little to do with Mr. Ramos' cartoon pop confections. One can be considered truly pornographic while the other is merely sweetly irritating. Mr. Johnson says that "so-called pornographic imagery is ubiquitous in art today," and he cites the work of Hilary Harkness, John Currin and Thomas Ruff...

Hilary Harkness (left) John Currin (right)

Thoms Ruff (who "creates" what Mr. Johnson calls, "pixelated pornographic imagery, downloaded from the Internet." Where the creativity is in applying an Adobe Photoshop Gaussian Blur filter on a porno pic lifted from the internet and then printed really big is "art" best defined by someone other than me. After all, what do I know? I think fuzzy porn is, well... fuzzy porn).

Which brings me to Mr. Johnson's seeming point in all of this. He ultimately asks, "Can pornography be high art?"

This question is posed as someone in the next room reads The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, (in the rooms where women come and go, talking of Michelangelo...) while Simon & Garfunkel are on the box, with the volume low-- just loud enough to make out the words to "The Dangling Conversation," (Yes, we speak of things that matter, With words that must be said, Can analysis be worthwhile? Is the theater really dead?

In the end, Mr. Johnson admits that Mr. Ramos "may not be the answer to the contemporary sex-in-art question, but he surely belongs in the conversation.

Faint praise and fainter aesthetic acceptance. Mr. Johnson uses the word "erotic" twice in his piece-- once in the title and another when describing certain literature. In his diatribe, sexual visual art never rises above the stature of pornography. Curious.

To paraphrase the line about those who can't teach: Those who paint confuse and confound as a matter of self-legitimization. Those who can't but have the money and the voluminous vocal range become gallery owners. And those that neither paint nor shout with conviction, pontificate in empty rooms... and National newspapers.

I went to Art School. I studied graphic design and photography. I hung out with the fine art majors. They talked funny. I would go to the Whitney and MOMA, the galleries on the East Side. I laughed at what was being passed off as Avant-Garde. I had my favorites then and still do now. Most of the artists I admire stepped on the rainbow long, long ago. And here is where I stand: there has been little "new" since the Paris Armory show in 1913. Dada was the defining modern "anti-aesthetic" art movement and has never been superceded. Pornography has no place in "art," and the people who create it and the viewers who covet it like it that way just fine. Mr. Johnson makes a surprising error toward the conclusion of his piece, confusing pornography with erotica. Since Duchamp, Grosz and their contemporaries, it is damned difficult to shock with anything even vaguely approaching substance. When it comes right down to it, a kid jerking off in a kiddie pool and a masterfully rendered menage a trois pastiche do not shock. They bore. At least Mel Ramos' work still puts a smile on my face. He seems to have fun... still. His "successors" are merely tedious.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bush commutes sentences of former US border agents

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – In his final acts of clemency, President George W. Bush on Monday granted early prison releases to two former U.S. Border Patrol agents whose convictions for shooting a Mexican drug dealer fueled the national debate over illegal immigration.

Bush, responding to heavy pressure from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, commuted the prison sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. The two guards from El Paso, Texas, each were sentenced to more than 10 years for the shooting, which they tried to cover up. They will be released within two months.

Opposition to their convictions, sentencing and firings has simmered ever since the shooting occurred in 2005.
"After four years of fighting this, it's taken a toll on me and my daughter, and really the whole family," said Joe Loya, Ramos' father-in law, who has received tens of thousands of supportive e-mails and spent much of the past two years traveling the country to speak about the case. "We wouldn't give up. ... I knew sooner or later God would come through — that finally it would happen."

He said his daughter, Monica Ramos, called from New York after learning the news that her husband soon would be released from a federal prison just outside Phoenix.

"She could hardly speak," Loya said.

The border agents' case became a rallying cause for conservatives concerned about border protection. On talk shows, people sympathetic with the agents argued that the men were just doing their jobs, defending the U.S.-Mexico border against criminals.

Bob Baskett, Compean's attorney in Dallas, cited widespread congressional support from the bipartisan congressional delegation from Texas. "I think the president did the right thing," he said. "An awful lot of people did an awful lot of work to get this done."

David Botsford, a lawyer for Ramos in Austin, Texas, said he had been guardedly optimistic that the commutations would be granted because of the support from Congress and the thousands of people who had sent letters of concern. The president has shown "he's a compassionate man," Botsford said.

Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, who called the agents' convictions a "grotesque injustice," said he and other lawmakers initially had hoped to have the agents pardoned. "When it became evident there was resistance at the White House to a pardon, that's when we shifted gears to ask for a commutation," he said.

Culberson helped gather signatures from 31 of the 34 current members of the Texas congressional delegation and two former delegation members for a letter asking Bush for the commutations. Culberson hand-delivered the letter to the White House last week.

"I was beginning to really be concerned that with literally only hours left in the president's term, this might not happen," he said. "With this one decision, President Bush has done more to improve his popularity than any single thing he could do."
Compean and Ramos were convicted of shooting admitted drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete Davila in the buttocks as he fled across the Rio Grande, away from an abandoned van load of marijuana. He remains in a low-security prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

... what is left out of this story is that Mr. Davila, shot in the ass, was unarmed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Justice will be done

Here I come,
last chance to run.
Killer with a gun,
out to have some fun.
In my dreams,
I hear screams.
Pleasure I feel
is so obscene.

Timothty McGhee

Timothy McGhee was sentenced to death last week. He represents one of the tenuous connections I still have to my old neighborhood in LA. As the head of the Toonerville Rascals, he terrorized the area. As a kill-crazy mad fuck, he had bloodlust of the worst kind. He liked what he did. Look at that face. Never mind the tats, the scars and the shit that is on the surface. Look at those eyes and that smile. The embodiment of BAD. The reason gangs were created and the way they recruited members. Tim scared the young ones into joining. Become or be dead. The helicopters whir in the darkness and flash their blinding beam, looking for Tim and the Rascals. He fled to Arizona. But he couldn't keep his mouth shut. He liked what he did.

Justice at the Twelfth Hour

Jim Ed Rice has been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's a little like those old Warner Brother movies, or the spoof picture in "The Player," when the Governor saves the innocent guy from sitting on the hot seat. Jim Rice may be one of the more deserving baseball players to be inducted into the hall of fame. And yet it took until now, the last chance, for him to join Dewey Evans and Freddie Lynn, his compatriots in the Boston outfield in the mid-70's. A memorable time for the team, filled with great expectation, high drama and, ultimately, tremendous disappointment. There were many seasons between 1918 and 2004 that were great for the journey and frustrating for the finish. And there was Jim Ed Rice, an MVP, a clutch hitter and a pain in the ass to the media. Is that why he was kept away from Cooperstown? Has he bore the grudge of Pumpsie Green and the missed opportunity of signing Jackie Robinson... that really wasn't missed at all. Boston has never been Brooklyn. The mid-70's were a time of racial conflict in Beantown. School busing and forced integration. Southie showed its true colors... well, actually only one: white. Louise Day Hicks and Kevin White. And the Red Sox. Come rain or come shine. A source of pride, derision and discomfort. I am proud to be from Boston and I was ashamed as hell and more than a little scared as the busses rolled through the 'bury and Dorchester. When rocks and epithets were thrown through the air and Jim was in the outfield. Justice has been served. Let's get spring training going. The boys of summer await. It has always been a pastime and always a game of relevance, of poetry and personalities. Congratulations, Jim. We will often ask what took you so long, but not today.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Nobody Lives Forever - A Eulogy

Donald E. Westlake, 1933-2008

The title is taken from a title by a book by Richard Stark, one of the most respected and admired hardboiled crime writers since the genre was created. Only, there is no writer named Richard Stark. It was just one of the noms de plume of Donald E. Westlake, who died of an apparent heart attack new years eve, in Mexico.

He is one of my all-time favorite writers, and my collection of Westlake/Tucker Coe and Richard Stark books takes up over a shelf of my crime fiction bookcase(s). He wrote stand-alones and series-- and even within the series are variations. The back cover blurb of one of the Richard Stark novels revealed that Westlake wrote about Parker during inclement weather and the thespian/occasional criminal sidekick, Grofield on sunny days. Writing under his own name, Westlake created the often hysterical Dortmunder gang series, which among others, features a particularly clever one called "Jimmy the Kid," where one of the members of the gang has read a Richard Stark book and bases it on a kidnap caper. Another, "The Hot Rock," was made into an underrated film with Robert Redford and George Segal. The Richard Stark books have been turned into many films, from the first ("Point Blank") to "Payback" with Mel Gibson. The protagonist Parker has been portrayed by Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, and even ex-football star, Jim Brown. Westlake also wrote a screenplay or two. He brilliantly adapted Jim Thompson's pulp classic, "The Grifters" into a faithful and smart movie.

I noted, during a brief Google search, that Westlake was a favorite of neocon nutjob, William Kristol's, to which I say only do not besmirch the author for one of his fan's lapses in bad taste. He was also one of Stephen King's favorites and even referred to "Mr Stark" in "The Dark Half." To the best of my knowledge, Westlake rarely if ever interjected politics in his work. The couple exceptions that come to mind are the recent "Put a Lid on This" and "Money for Nothing." Neither of them are overtly nor explicitly political in any partisan way. Both are highly recommended, as are ALL the Stark books.

He was one of the great ones. And he will be missed, both in "inclement weather and on sunny days."