Monday, May 31, 2021

Absent Friends

 You Know Who They Are

"We have done so much with so little for so long that we could do anything with nothing forever".

Mozart: Concerto For Clarinet and Orchestra; 2nd Movement, Adiago

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Reprint Heaven: The Big Guy Is Your Buddy, Part I

 Gozirra, Then and Now

(From 2014.  Part 2 follows below.)

Disgruntled:  Not Allowed On The 'Blue And Gold Fleet'
Arooo, Arooo / Godzilla Sure Likes You
He's Got Big Feet/ And He Smells Real Neat
Arooo, Arooo Arooo; Arooo, Arooo...
>>  Rhyme Started By Friends' Children;  To The Tune Of, "Hi Ho, Hi Ho; It's Off To Work..."
The Big Guy will be making his appearance this week, on a gigantic multiplex screen near you, in another installment of the timeless saga of ambition, terror, sea water, and a 350-foot Lizard who just wants to be the best 350-foot bipedal Lizard ever, and find love in a busy uncaring world -- the 28th (or, depending on who you ask, the 29th) film version of Godzilla.

In Sixty Years, He Has Entered Our Collective Unconscious

Spoiler Alert, Sort Of

Be Advised: If viewed in reverse, this film shows the Giant Happy Fun Lizard putting out fires and rebuilding a large, urban area for its inhabitants, playfully wrestling with other large alien figures (but none so large as He), then backing away respectfully into the ocean as a grateful nation sends naval vessels and its airforce to join in celebration.  Roll credits; everyone goes home feeling good.
According to people who have actually seen the film (the most creative take I found is by illustrator and reviewer, Natalie Nourigat, and can be found at her site, Spoilers !), most classic moments you expect to see in Giant Monster movies are present: The scientist who tries to warn the population and is ignored; the brave warrior; scenes of people chatting about things personal; the happy children, playing at the seaside... and all the while, the audience knows: Gorzirra Out There. Gorzirra Come Soon. U Are All So Scrood.

So Much For 'Suspension Of Disbelief': No Way It's That Overcast On The Bay In August

In fact, it may be that Godzilla 2014 is so much like previous Giant Monster films that it runs the risk of ironic self-parody -- and when The Big Guy appears, he's just in the nick of time to keep us from nodding off.

And still, we don't know: What the hell does he want? Why does he do the stuff he does? Is he just pissed off, twenty-four-seven? About what? Is he sad? Is there a Ms. Godzilla? And the answer always comes back --  It's In The Script! He's Godzilla! It's a monster movie, for crying out loud; it's not 'Prime Suspect'. There is no nuanced, emotional or rational context in the film to provide those kinds of answers.

We've seen "Earthquake!" and all the Airport movies, and "2012": the earth shakes a lot; planes almost crash; and there's that Mayan, end-of-the-world thing. They're genre films, which build on every previous film of their kind that's gone before.

The best you can expect is that a director is superb at delivering a genre story (M. Night Shyamalan, say, before Lady In The Water). Rarely, a classic appears and redefines a genre (like Chinatown, or Alien) -- but in general, most of these films follow a formula as faithfully as the tides.

Outtake For The Gag Reel: Having Blown His Line, The Big Guy Does Karaoke

And special effects -- showing us what the impossible looks like -- draw us in.  I'm also curious to see what Bryan Cranston does with his role (his first after Breaking Bad), and Ken Watanabe (of 'Letters From Iwo Jima' and Inception), but the CGI treats will be a focus.  And I'm interested to see whether my neighborhood survives; from the stills on the Intertubes, it appears North Beach, the Waterfront and Financial district are Toast, so who knows.

And I'll go to see The Chairman Of The Board, of course. He's been a treat for sixty years.

1954: Big Guy's Beginnings

(Note: This narrative undoubtedly has holes, inaccuracies, and is incomplete. It won't satisfy a Godzilla, or a film, purist. This an arc about the evolution of a character from destroyer, to near-slapstick character, and back again. Enjoy.)

Gojira (The Original) Attacks The Tokyo Diet Building, 1954

The Godzilla franchise isn't as old a film character as Dracula or Frankenstein, Batman or Superman -- but the mythos behind all of them has periodically been re-imagined and re-translated on the screen for new generations. There's no doubt about it, though: As a concept, Godzilla is a classic. And in Japan, Gorjira is regarded as one of the two most classic films in its national cinema -- right alongside Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.

No joke: when it premiered in 1954, Japanese audiences (who have very different cultural reference points than we here in the West) didn't consider it a cheesy monster flick so much as a serious morality tale about the limits of science, told through the destructive hijinks of a mythic lizard. In fact, there's a bronze statue honoring The Big Guy in downtown Tokyo.

Ray Harryhausen's Stop-Motion Creature, 1953

Godzilla's cinematic roots were Made In The USA: In 1953, Warner Brothers premiered the classic Beast From 20,000 Fathoms -- a giant, prehistoric dinosaur, released from frozen sleep in the Arctic by a nuclear test explosion, swims to New York City and then comes ashore to raise all kinds of ruckus. Sound familiar? The monster was played by a large rubber model with an internal, articulated armature, operated by the master of stop-motion animation, Ray Harryhausen, (the armature designed and built by Ray's father), and the film was distributed around the world.

But Godzilla's real genesis began over a labor dispute: In the spring of 1954, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka of Japan's Toho Film Studios was in a real fix.  Having negotiated making a film for Toho in Indonesia, with everything ready, the Indonesian government refused to grant visas to Japanese actors (one way of saying, "Thanks for the brutal occupation of our country a few years back").  Tanaka, who was just trying to make a movie, was moderately screwed.

Director Honda (Left), Producer Tanaka (Right), Toho Films

Toho Studios had grown out of a theater company which (among other things) managed all Kabuki theatres in the city of Tokyo. It began to make films in the late 1920's, and operated movie houses for a new, domestic Japanese market. After 1945, it was struggling to make and distribute motion pictures in a Japan still trying to define itself after the end of the Second World War. 

Tanaka had funding to complete a film, but suddenly, no project; he had to find one, or else. As he flew back to Japan from Indonesia, that American film he'd seenBeast From 20,000 Fathoms -- about a monster lizard terrorizing New York -- drifted through his head, and he began getting ideas.

Back in Tokyo, Tanaka made a forceful pitch to the studio heads to make their own version of  20,000 Fathoms. He was given approval to re-direct the budget of his Indonesian picture towards this new film -- but with one catch: he had only six months to get a film in the can, edit it, and produce a Final Cut.

This called for what the Japanese referred to during WWII (some enthusiastically; some with sarcastic derision) as a "Hero Project" -- shortened deadlines, intense work, little sleep, and All Hands On Deck. In short order, Ishirō Honda (who had already completed two domestic films for Toho) was hired to direct what Tanaka called "Project G" (for 'giant'). Shigeru Kayama, a science-fiction author, was engaged to develop a screenplay and the concept of  The Monster -- originally a wild predator which came ashore, ate people, and went back in the water.

A second draft of the screenplay by Honda and Takeo Murata expanded on themes Tanaka wanted to see in the finished film -- fears of radiation and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, real-life monsters unleashed by the United States in the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and through continuing nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific.

The Monster in their script -- which had no name, yet -- grew in size, particularly after the studio consulted their special-effects director, Eiji Tsuburaya, who had worked with director Honda on his previous films.
Before Godzilla's Visit: Tsubraya's Miniature Tokyo Bay (1954)

Tsuburaya was known at Toho Studios for the realism of miniature model effects he created for a 1942 Toho film dramatizing Japan's attack on at Pearl Harbor. He had been intrigued by stop-motion animation ever since seeing King Kong in the 1930's, and while he was impressed with Harryhausen's work for 20,000 Fathoms,  Tsuburaya advised Honda and Tanaka that a stop-motion Creature would not work for the new project.  That technique was time-intensive, and 'Project G' had no time to spare.

Tsuburaya suggested an actor wearing a large suit would be their Monster, and attack a tiny Tokyo. Some wanted a monster designed with a mushroom-shaped head, reminiscent of a mushroom cloud, but the traditionalists won -- the Creature was dinosaur-like, but still needed a name. Producer Tanaka reportedly overheard colleagues talking about a Toho Studio press agent, nicknamed "Gojira," -- a combination of the Japanese words for gorilla (Gorira) and whale (Kujira). Tanaka decided to use it as both the name for the Creature and the title of the film -- and to Western ears, 'Gorjira' sounds very much like... Godzilla.

(MEHR, Mit Arooo: In response to a question, yes: the sound, "Arooo!" assigned to The Big Guy did originate from its use by 'Nixon's Head' in the animated series, Futurama

Here at Before Nine, we've reported Arooo being used by The Zombified Ronald Rayguns, among other things. Oddly, it's a term also applied to conical, clear plastic packaging, and [our favorite] Dog Products.)

(Part 2 Follows)

Reprint Heaven: The Big Guy Is Your Buddy, Part II

 Gorzirra, Then and Now

(Part One Is above; or, Go Here. From spring, 2014.)

[NOTE: As the Googlemachine has reminded all of us, this is the 114th birthday of  Eiji Tsuburaya, special-effects designer and the originator of so many hero beings from Japanese science fiction cinema. He also created the concept which we know today as The Big Guy, the Chairman Of The Board; and San Francisco's hometown monster, as we are a Sister City with Tokyo.] 

Releasing Gojira: 1954

(The Story Thus Far:  An American film, Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, is released by Warner Brothers in 1953, and gives producer Tomoyuki Tanaka of Toho Film Studios the inspiration he needs to save his job. Allowed to make a Japanese version, he is given roughly six months to complete it.

(Tanaka envisions a Giant Lizard, the mutated product of radioactive fallout or contamination, to serve as a warning about the limits of science and unintended consequences of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

(It's decided the Creature will be named "Gorjira" [a combination of the Japanese words for 'Gorilla' and 'Whale'], and the project's special effects consultant, Eiji Tsuburaya, convinces Tanaka and his team that an actor in a large rubber suit can play the Monster, and will have the fun of ravaging a miniature downtown Tokyo.)
Haruo Nakajima (Left) Served Tea On The Set Of Godzilla (1954) 

One of Toho Studios' principal stunt actors, Haruo Nakajima, volunteered to play Gorjira -- but even with several redesigns, the suit was heavy and difficult to use (its final version required a drain for collected sweat) and only frequent rehydration breaks kept Nakajima from passing out due to heat exhaustion. 

Tsuburaya (Left) Confers With Nakajima, 1956

The film was completed on schedule, released in Japan on November 3, 1954, and was a blockbuster hit.  Overnight, Toho was the film studio in Japan, and Gojira's director, producer and special effects creator hailed as geniuses of the cinema arts.

The film was sold to the American market; producer Joseph E. Levine had it dubbed, cut by twenty minutes, and inserted scenes of Raymond Burr (star of the popular television series, "Perry Mason") as an Edward-R-Murrow-style journalist, broadcasting eyewitness accounts of The Big Guy's trip to Tokyo.

Raymond Burr Contemplates His Fee For This Acting Job

Levine named the film "Godzilla, King of the Monsters", and released it in 1956. It was a smash in the U.S., pulling in $2 million dollars (that's about $40M in 2014 dollars, kids -- not bad for a guy in a rubber suit).

Toho, and Daikaiju, Go Viral1955 - 1961

Tanaka initially considered Godzilla a one-shot morality tale, not the beginning of a 'franchise', and of an entire cinema industry.  However, the movie was so popular (not only in Japan, but worldwide) and making sequels seemed so potentially profitable, that in less than a year Toho shot and released "Godzilla's Counterattack" (later famous for the derisive line, "And you call yourself a scientist").

This was the first film where Godzilla would fight another monster, Anguirus (which became Godzilla's friend in later movies) -- and this established what eventually became the hallmark of the Godzilla 'franchise': Other monsters appear (from inside the earth, from outer space, or the mind of Minolta), wreak havoc, and Earth is defenseless... until Godzilla appears to save the day.

War Of The Rubber Suits: Big Guy And Anguirus Duke It Out

"Counterattack" (released as Gigantis in the U.S.) wasn't as successful in Japan as the original Godzilla, and the movie didn't adapt well to foreign distribution. As a result,  Toho began releasing other daikaiju movies (a term meaning "gigantic, strange monster"), a new genre of films Toho had created and which other Japanese studios began to imitate) -- most notably Rodan; "Varan the Unbelievable"; and Mothra by 1961.

All three of these characters would appear in later Godzilla films. All were solid box-office hits in Japan; Toho Films decided to keep milking the daikaiju cow so long as it kept paying off.

Good, Bad, and Even Worse: 1961 - 1973

"Look, No One Told Me Kyoto Was A World Heritage Site"

... and pay off it did. In 1961, Toho collaborated with American producer John Beck to create "King Kong versus Godzilla", the most box-office popular Godzilla movie of all time in the U.S. and Japan.  On the strength of that success, Toho produced 12 more Godzilla films -- by the end of which Godzilla was transformed from a mutant, destructive Monster created by atomic radiation, to the protector of humankind.

Actually, no one can be certain whether The Big Guy likes humankind enough to fight for it, or is just amazingly pissed off at the violation of his turf by some giant Bug / Dragon / Flying Turtle / et al.

(I'm not adding a list of all Godzilla productions; you can look at the Godzilla Wiki for that. We're just looking at the evolution of an archetype here.)

Unfortunately, over time, several things happened:  Godzilla's character and portrayal began to resemble the formulaic aspects of other daikaiju films and characters, and other Giant Monster films had a certain level of low comedy and moments of near-slapstick action.  Toho adapted its most popular character to fit the genre, not the other way around, and by the early 1970's things were ... goofy.

No longer the chunky-but-trim Terror From Under The Sea who laid waste to large urban areas, Godzilla lost most of his back spines and looked like... your neighbor, in a big rubber suit.

Godzilla (L), Megalon (R), And Other 400-Foot-Tall Beings

In 1971, I thought the bottom of the barrel was Toho Studio's "Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster", which showed human victims chopped up in sections (take that, kiddies), pratfalls, and Godzilla boxing like a human. It's tough to maintain suspension of disbelief under those circumstances.

Unfortunately, it was topped by their 1973 Godzilla vs. Megalon -- I swear to God; the stunt workers in that 89 painful minutes of cinema had to have been higher than Mt. Fuji. And the "film" was shot in only two weeks: Toho was low on funding. The daikaiju cow had gone dry.
Death And Transfiguration: 1975 - 1995

In 1974 and 1975, Toho tried slightly rebranding their character for its 20th anniversary in MechaGodzilla and The Terror Of MechaGodzilla, but the original magic of the character had been badly diluted; the public wouldn't pay to watch him, and Toho's executives didn't want to risk their money in future Godzilla film projects.  The Big Guy only made a few appearances on Japanese daikaiju science-fiction television into the early 1980's, all moderately ridiculous compared with the menace and destructive power of the original Monster.

In 1984, the 30th anniversary of the character's birth, Toho made a simple and radical decision to save the franchise which had financed the studio's successful expansion for decades:  They started producing a new set of Godzilla films, called the "Heisei Series."

Most were for the Japanese market only -- but through them, Toho Studios simply 'reset' their character -- they ignored every Godzilla film made after the original 1954 release (good pick, that) and started with a new film appropriately titled Godzilla, which starred a Big Lizard who looked almost identical to the one who stepped on Tokyo in 1954.

In it, The Big Guy returns to his amazingly pissed-off former self, indestructible, created by nuclear radiation, a 350-foot-tall Lizard out for your personal ass.  It was released in America as Godzilla 1985, with some added scenes featuring an American played by (wait for it) Raymond Burr.

Ten years later, in 1995, Toho decided to end their franchise by killing it, in Godzilla vs. Destroyer. Toho made Godzilla's death public by adding "Godzilla Dies!" to posters and advertising of the film, and (while leaving a door open for a successor to reappear), The Big Guy dies.

Broderick Gets Up Close And Personal With Roland Emerich's So-Called Lizard (1998)

In 1998, everyone wished his successor had died before the filming started when TriStar Films licensed with Toho to develop their own Godzilla -- a computer-generated Big Lizard which had little relation to the classic Big Lizard. Directed by Roland Emerich and starring Matthew Broderick, it was a financial and artistic flop; the less said about it, the better -- but it was Bad. It was just Bad.

There was, of course, the movie 'Atonement', but Godzilla's appearance in that film was barely mentioned. Probably because we'd all rather look at Keira Knightley.

So, there are two Godzillas -- the Japanese Monster who came from the sea to destroy things, stayed to become a comedic actor, then returned to his old ways.  That current Godzilla encompasses both the original Destructor, the product of bad science and big bombs, and his daikaiju side, battling other Big Monsters to protect the Earth, his turf, or just for the hell of it.

Godzilla films have continued to be popular in Japan, and a second series was released following The Big Guy's supposed 'death' in 1995 -- again, Toho simply "reset" the story line without reference to the character's end... but this is one side of his existence that American or European audiences don't see. In Asia, Godzilla is timeless and lives on, as pissed-off and irrascible as ever, sometimes defending mankind and occasionally kicking Tokyo's ass.

The second Godzilla is a creature of Hollywood -- less accessible, a  Godzilla "leased" from Toho Studios and who is (aber natürlich) much different for a Western audience. He's more of an animal, nastier, cunning and cold-blooded -- kind of like The Koch Brothers on a good day.  He's all Destructor. No slapstick from this Big Guy.

However, after Emerich's poor showing nearly twenty years ago, no American studio (or whoever owns the conglomerates which make films these days -- Disney; Little Rupert's Fox; Comcast) wanted to risk putting money behind another Godzilla remake -- until now. This new film is supposed to be a "totally new concept" in Godzilladom. We'll see.

It's nice, though, that The Big Guy is getting work. He thinks so, too, I'm sure.


MEHR: With apologies to Fafnir, Giblets, the ghost of Freddy el Desfibradddor; Mistah Charlie, Phd.; and the Medium Lobster Himself (who is, well... pretty sizable):
Godzilla! There is no Giant Happy Fun Lizard but He - the Living, The Self-subsisting, the Eternal. No slumber can seize Him Nor Sleep. His are all things In the heavens and on earth and under the oceans. Who is there that can intercede In His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth What (appeareth to All as) Before or After or Behind them. Nor shall they compass Aught of His knowledge Except as He willeth. His throne doth extend Over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth No fatigue in guarding and preserving them, For He is the Most High, The Supreme (in glory). He is Godzilla, King Of The Monsters, the One and Only.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Reprint Heaven: Sail On

 An Anecdotal
(A Birthday Post From March, 2019.  Now He Knows What We Do Not)

City Of Paris Sign In The Conversation (1974)

Almost half my life ago, a friend took me to an event in support of saving the Eiffel Tower-shaped sign which had graced the roof of the old City of Paris department store on Union Square. CofP had been there for generations -- since the Gold Rush; before and after The 1906 Earthquake and fire -- but business setbacks forced it to close.

The property had been purchased by Neiman-Marcus; they intended to build what still looks like a featureless beige box around the old CofP's oval, central core, topped by a stained glass skylight (you can see the old City of Paris building, and its trademark sign, in Coppola's film, The Conversation).

Replacing City of Paris with Texas-based Neiman's struck many San Franciscans as a cultural loss (dear god; Texas???) . Trying to save a landmark sign from a landmark local business was a way of saying No, we don't agree with that Yah-Hoo shit. A meeting was held to raise funds to purchase the sign, before finding a suitable location for it: and there would be poetry! Gary Snyder would read. So would Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

I went, I listened.  Snyder had been a particular lodestone favorite of mine for a long time; I'd only heard him read once before in Berkeley; and Ferlinghetti, not in person at all.

When he did, he set "In Fascist America " in front of us like a dish, well-cooked but spicy enough to be a challenge to eat, like reading The Fire Next Time all in one sitting -- dig in if you've got the spittle for it, baby. And he read it in the Beat cadence you can see, fortunately, in film and video clips.

The applause at the end was genuine. Everyone knew Ferlinghetti as a national treasure, a cultural icon, someone who had gravitas and knew it and used it. He was on the side of Right and it appeared in his work like a sword on fire. We applauded for all that as much as the reading.

They never were able to buy the City of Paris sign. I went on to dinners over the years with friends and occasionally did (or was asked to do) my impression of Ferlinghetti, reading -- I'm gifted as a mimic; people laughed, which was the point (particularly about the repeating line in that poem, with a specific pause in his cadence when he would say, "In Fascist / America"). One person I knew in particular, who loved Ferlinghetti's poetry and had heard him read multiple times, always dissolved in laughter when she heard me do that.

Fast-forward a number of years: My acquaintance was taking lessons in a foreign language in the City, through a cultural exchange group; Lawrence Ferlinghetti was in the class. The last, penultimate assignment for each student was to take a short piece of literature or poetry, translate it into the Language Other Than English, then read it to the rest of the class. Ferlinghetti chose, "In Fascist America". He did it in the same cadence I'd used in my homage.

My acquaintance said later she was able to hold it in "almost until the end", before exploding with laughter. Apparently she slipped and fell trying to exit the room but made it outside, leaving Ferlinghetti and the rest of the class somewhat mystified.

I lived in North Beach for over a decade. In (for me) the old days, before heading to Vesuvio's or Spec's or Tosca's [Still with us in 2021]-- the real Bermuda Triangle (and if you understand that reference, you are my brother or sister) -- I might stop off in City Lights Books; occasionally, you might see Ferlinghetti on the ground floor, talking with someone at a table in one of the alcoves. More rarely at night, when you were coming out of Pearl's jazz club across the street [No idea if it's survived Covid], you might catch a glimpse of him, working late, through a window in City Lights' second-floor offices.

Most long-time residents in North Beach knew his house; it was roughly a block from my flat, and we passed each other at least twice a week for years, he walking up Stockton street towards Columbus, me walking down: two guys who wore fedoras. We made eye contact; I smiled, and sometimes said hello (it would have been odd if, after years of occurrence, I hadn't) but it was only a short time before I left the neighborhood that he began responding back.

The last time I saw Ferlinghetti was during a sentimental walk back, over ten years after leaving North Beach: walking across the grass of Washington Square on a warm, sunny afternoon; there he was, wearing one of the trademark hats, lying on the grass with his head propped up by a day pack, a faint smile on his face as he tilted it up toward the sun. I believe he'd been hospitalized for a heart problem not long before, and that knowledge struck me -- mortality; a memory of my Sixties in The City, the place I landed after Southeast Asia and never really left, and Ferlinghetti's connections to all of that.

Ferlinghetti once wrote, "All I ever wanted to do was paint light on the walls of life." The City changed, and not for the better.  In a 2015 PBS News Hour segment, he noted that int San Francisco, "A new brand of dot-com millionaires and generally Silicon Valley money have moved into San Francisco, with bags full of cash and no manners." 

In response, one person responded, "What a crank. The city is still as vibrant and creative as it ever was, except, now, young ambitious people are in tech."  Another wrote, "...Fogeys gonna foge." 

Well. Kiddies.

At some point today I'll walk over to the old neighborhood and past his house, and put a good thought out for him. A century is a long time for a person, but it's not even a blink in the universe. 

Very few of us get to impact the Geist of the culture, live in people's hearts, and so sail on into time. But he will.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Auf Nicht Wiedersehen

Ende: Slipping Anchor

"First and foremost, I’m a businessman. My first goal is to attract the largest audience possible so I can charge confiscatory ad rates. I happen to have great entertainment skills, but that enables me to sell airtime.” Then he added -- as if he had to after a rare moment of honesty -- "But in my heart and soul, I know I have become the intellectual engine of the conservative movement."
John McManus, "The Flap Over Limbaugh", New American, April 2009


Lard Boy, 70, racist homophobic misogynistic junkie and self-described shill "intellectual engine" for America's Rightist movement, is dead. He was famous for publicly stoking political and racial hatred, spreading lies, and behaving like a high school bully for nearly thirty years. 

He was the most successful hate-monger on radio, after the end of the Fairness Doctrine under Reagan in 1984. Limbaugh used his huge soapbox -- not to build positive connections between people in service of a public good, but to pour permeating, corrosive dialogue into the culture.

Beginning in 1988, Limbaugh helped to shape the audience for Rupert Murdoch's Fox, which debuted in 1996. Lil' Rupert could not have been as successful, quickly, without Limbaugh creating a ready-made market for the hatred and lies the Murdochs push daily.
“You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray [assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.]. We miss you, James. Godspeed.”
He mocked people, insulted them, belittled them on air.  And from that soapbox, he lied, or passed along lies pushed by others. He used his position to attack public figures whose politics he disliked (even other conservatives who weren't Toeing the Limbaugh line), which would guarantee they received more hate mail and threats to their personal safety. 

He reveled and took pleasure in being able to affect others in a negative way from the safe remove of a broadcast studio, like the bully he was.

To an African American female caller: "Take that bone out of your nose and call me back”.  To an immigrant:  “You’re a foreigner. You shut your mouth or you get out.”

Limbaugh was vain, morally and ethically crippled. He was a coward. His legacy is utterly negative, without a shred of redeeming behavior. And he was no stranger to flirting with sedition, even secession.

This government is governing against its own citizens. This president and his party are governing against us. We are at war with our own President, we are at war with our own government. Limbaugh; January 9, 2010

Blimp's End: 'Tucked In With A Spade' ; the obituary in Little Rupert's papers
("Giant Of The Age Passes - And The World Mourns").

He's dead. He was who and what he was. He was responsible for what he did.  I am not unhappy he's gone. If that's upsetting to you, so be it.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Never Be Rid Of Him

Until The Cletuses 'Own The Streets'

Oh, and [redacted] Steve Bannon to [redacted].  And, the heads of all the fascisti parties in Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Coatia, Serbia, Russia, Greece; China, and all the other [redacted] countries where they live and breed.


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

How It Ends

Smoke And Ghosts

Fuk Off To The Sea

A king, who had brought suffering and disaster to his people, finally died. His funeral was attended by massive crowds from all corners of the nation, who in almost complete silence walked past the funeral bier of the Great Leader.

Observing the crowds was an ambassador from another country, surprised by what he was witnessing. He said to his secretary, "This bastard treated his people as chattel, lied to them, and when the plague descended he did nothing but lie and steal from them -- and yet they come to grieve!" His secretary replied, "They come, not to grieve, but to make absolutely certain he truly is dead."

Over 200,000 new cases of SARS-CoV2, and two and three thousand deaths from complications of the disease, are reported in America every day. 

It's easy to forget that it didn't have to come to this. ~ 400,000 People dead; many more will suffer 'Long Covid' effects. The number of deaths, the suffering and anguish, amplified by the incompetence and sociopathology of The Leader -- still screeching that the election was stolen from him; that the nation is "angry"; adding the veiled threat that this is a "dangerous" time.

Long ago, I interviewed persons who had interacted regularly with Hitler, for an academic writing project. Later, under different circumstances, I located and interviewed members of a particularly vicious cult with a violent end.

My questions varied -- but in essence they were all the same: How did it happen? Why did you assist someone so clearly disturbed, so incapable of real empathy, so capable of bringing about real evil? I never received a common answer; don't think I really expected to find one.

In the past four years, there hasn't been a single day that I haven't asked about The Leader: He's a bully, a liar, a grifter; he's mentally ill. He denied reality, now 400,000 people are dead; the United States is more fragile than it's been since 1860; how can you believe in -- this malignant thing ??

No one has been able to provide an answer to that question about The Leader. He appealed to the some of the worst aspects of human nature. The Leader enabled people to be cruel, violent; to believe obvious lies, and to hate. That's his legacy.

And, I will not speak or write his name. Not any longer. Let him Fuck Off To The Sea.

Last Acts: The Leader was busy after the election. Loyal satraps like Graham and Giuliani made calls to Republican officials in swing states, nosing around to see how amenable they were to a little election fraud (none were). There were baseless lawsuits; bizarre conspiracy theories. In early December, several meetings were held at the White House to discuss tactics in contesting, even overthrowing, the election which may or may not have included a Proud Boy leader or two.

In late December, The Leader himself repeatedly called the Georgia Secretary of State, who ducked all but the eighteenth attempt. He pressured the man to commit election fraud. The Secretary recorded the call, and released it to the media. It was clear The Leader, a week from the Congress' accepting the votes of the Electors and certifying Biden's victory, was still in utter denial about losing the election.

On January 6, Congress was in session to certify the Elector's votes. At the same time, The Leader spoke to an extremely large crowd -- many brought to Washington on chartered busses paid for by Koch groups, donations from individuals (like Ginny Thomas, wife of a Supreme Court Justice). Standing behind a podium bearing the Presidential seal, The Leader primped and pranced; he savored the energy of a crowd of tens of thousands. 

He essentially told them to march to the Capitol. Whatever happened, would happen. After his speech, he didn't do what he'd promised, and walk to the Capitol with them. He returned to the White House and watched televised images of the mob he had created in action, as it unfolded. He was 'delighted', 'pleased'. 

The Leader Makes A White Power Hand Gesture To Adoring Masses

When some in his inner circle suggested the riot was "bad optics", The Leader became angry and sullen. When Congressional Republicans made panicked calls from lockdown inside the Capitol, some approached The Leader to suggest he make a statement. Defuse the situation, end the violence.

A request was made from the Congressional leaders at the Capitol: bring Washington, D.C.'s National Guard units in (as D.C. is not a state, only the President can release them). The Leader's swinish eyes narrowed, his mouth slumped into a busted, downturned scrawl in the ochre pudding of his face. He refused. 

Then, when it was clear the riot had already resulted in 'bad optics', aides convinced him to make a video statement, delivered in a wooden voice after the riot ended -- and even then, he still said the election was stolen, describing his supporters were "special... we love you", but that they should go home now.

Long After The Riot Ended, A Call For Healing, Sort Of

The next day, after the roll of dead had risen to two police officers (one dead of injuries received at the Capitol; the other a suicide) and four of the rioters, The Leader released another video, speaking from a podium in an even more detached, emotionless voice, he urged peace and condemned the violence. It was just for show, and everyone knew it.

He spoke of "handing over power to a new administration", and ended by saying to his True Followers, "I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning; there's never been anything like it... will only grow stronger by the day." 
... Trump taped a short video calling on Americans to act peacefully following pressure to do so from Vice President Pence, daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner and other advisers. Trump later told aides that he regretted doing it and that his supporters did not like the video, two officials said. (Washington Post)
At the same time, the White House's flag was not lowered to half-staff in honor of the Capitol PD officers, though nearly every other U.S. flag in Washington had been.

Aside from the shock of the violence -- that a rightist mob would break into the Capitol, pushed by The Leader, enabled and coddled (even assisted) by Republicans in Congress, is important. Using a threat of violence to compel a deliberative body to overturn national election results is crossing a significant red line. 

One week later, The Leader was Impeached on a single Article: incitement to insurrection. The far right chitters with threats and continued radicalization, feeling they have nothing to lose, hoping for their fabled Boo Galoo.

Watching the White Riot unfold via streaming video from outside the Capitol building, I sensed the same spontaneous Shit-Happens energy that I remember from long-ago mass antiwar actions. The energy of the crowd as it rushed up to the Capitol seemed like video of the 2004 tsunami in Sumatra: the ocean surge, initially laps on shore, just a few inches of water. Then it became a foot of water, pulsing more urgently; and suddenly, the ocean is flooding in without stopping, now four or five feet and rising. 

This is what revolutions feel like; we're soaking in it.

It's likely there was a smaller organized group, or groups, inside the Capitol with a specific agenda, hidden by the cover of a mass disturbance. The march had been organized a month before; plenty of time to research and plan; that should surprise no one. 

This is The Leader's legacy, too. I don't feel I am living in a country where, no matter what, we're all Americans. I think -- just as the MAGAs do -- that The Other Side will stop at nothing to destroy the country. The White Riot was just a sample, "only the start... getting stronger by the day".

But, together with the Covid pandemic -- the White Riot and feelings that we can no longer trust each other may be the impetus for an expansion of the American security state: Patriot Act 2.0. As with 9-11, it's too good an opportunity to lose.

Meanwhile, our Oligarchs running social media, the Oligarchs that own news and entertainment networks, pay no penalty for hooking suckers on lies and dopamine. They become richer and richer, and claim innocence; 'free expression' 'free speech'.  And every day, angry Cletuses are radicalized to hate, and envy, and to dream of revenge.

If I have to see Mark Zuckerberg's smooth, Aspergerish face one more time, sputtering about how his poorly-led corporation is unfairly blamed for assisting societal dissolution, I'll throw up.

Peter Wehner, Republican New York Times contributor who wrote on November 5, 2016 about what The Leader's presidency would be like, appeared on PBS News Hour last night to observe
We're in an epistemic crisis... there has been an assault on truth and on reality, that [The Leader] has led, and his party was a part of, and his Base was a part of. We now live in a world where we don't just have policy differences -- we're living in different moral universes, different epistemological universes; we don't have a common set of facts, even a common reality. And when you lose that, it's very difficult to put it back together again... 
But if you don't... a free country can't continue. Ultimately, your politics breaks down and your society breaks down... there's no ability to have dialogue. [The Leader] did this... it wasn't just the lies; it was this intentional assault on reality, which ...spreads a kind of disorientation in the public that has tremendously damaging and long-term effects.
Wehner's opinions ignore the development of the American Right since 1974 towards authoritarianism, 'christian' Dominionism and (with the Leader) proto-fascism. It also ignores the devolution of both Republican and Democratic parties into extensions of a neoliberal, globalist perspective, which benefits a limited number of people with wealth. 

Being in America, now, is like walking into a crime scene. The victim is still here; blood and numbered cards for the photographers still dot the floor. There are witnesses to interview, security camera video to review, leads to pursue. If you have to throw up, do it outside.

And, there's a weird calm hanging over everything that only seems to appear in the wake of incredible violence. You go about your business, live your life, with the knowledge of what has happened hovering just behind everything, like smoke; like ghosts.

It's a great relief to see The Leader deposed, no longer with any legitimate authority.  I do not wish him well, or his Issue, or his Base.

Where the Biden administration will take us, no one knows. May all of us be well, and safe.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Reprint Heaven: Don't Know Much Psychology

 Musings Of An Ex-Cigarette-Smoking Man
(From 2018)

Research into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder made clear that physical, neuro-chemical effects occur when people experience significant traumatic events, evoking a "fight-or-flight" response, which is a function of our DNA; as hardy meat puppets, we're hard-wired for survival.

Neural pathways created in the brain are triggered when, later, people perceive -- subconsciously, for the most part -- that they're in circumstances similar to that original event, reliving, replaying (and actually reinforcing) the same emotions they experienced in it.

As a definition, PTSD was first used as the Vietnam War began winding down (for America, anyway), and only became a medically-accepted diagnostic category in the early 1980s. The Veteran's Administration was quick to adopt that addition to the DSM-III, but not necessarily to act on it or treat it.

My Dog Trainer (who specializes in PTSD, and has been in the Biz since the mid-70's) agreed that the relationship between trauma, brain chemistry, and cyclic reinforcement of bad experiences is likely.  I've worked with them for a while, and a something we've talked about occasionally is the effect of broad social or political events on the mental health, and trends, in culture and societies.

In college I was introduced to Loren Eisley through his autobiographical All The Strange Hours. He was born in 1907, and was already in his early twenties during the Depression. There was no way he could describe experiences in his life, on his way to becoming an anthropologist, without mentioning that historical event.

In trying to understand The Depression, any statistics are useless. Every anchor-point that defined a person's place in a community, their sense of identity and self, was threatened. The anxiety people felt (a constant fear in anticipating more loss, shame, powerlessness; death) went on, every day, for years with no end in sight. 

People adapted -- as organisms, that's what we do. But their spirits were bent by the gravity of events, and the effects rippled out through their lives, because that's what History does. 

The political Right has purred for years that FDR's 'social experimentation' after his election "really made the depression 'Great' ".  The truth is, a Republican-led government left 'the markets' to sort themselves out without interference. The Oligarchs of the day didn't care; their lives remained much as they always had been. They left the People on their own.

Herbert Hoover believed in a rugged individualism, where strength built character. Asked decades later how he dealt with critics who blamed him for the Depression, Hoover quipped, "I outlived the bastards". Meanwhile, people struggled to adjust and survive. Until Roosevelt was elected and tried to do something, anything, they did so without hope. 

Eisley never spoke about what The Depression did to people directly. America is composed of physical places, but also it's very much a geography of the mind: Eisley described hopping freights and moving through Hobo Jungles, towns of the Great Plains, writing sketches of the people he met there, dislocated physically and mentally by The Crash. One night, a hobo told him what he believed was the great lesson of life, hoping Eisley would get it: "Men beat men, kid. That's all there is."

Something in those side-glance references to America during those years reminded me of  late-evening conversations I'd overhear as a child, between my parents and their peers. When they'd talked through current events, surface details of their jobs and days, they worked down to the big events, to the Second World War. Reminiscing in that layer could take time.

Among married couples, the men watched their language (for the most part), and only made brief mention of the details of their war if they'd served in a combat arm. The wives talked about waiting, home, families, radio news, and finding work.

If the talk went on long enough, someone would finally mention The Depression, and something about the conversation took on a different character. The War was something to be proud of, and their voices were energetic, confident, talking about it. And it rubbed off on the children: attending the first day of First Grade, when roll was taken some children answered 'Present' or 'Here'; but a good number of kids responded, "Yo!"

But our parents sounded like distinctly different people when talking about the Depression. I don't remember details -- but sharing these memories sounded different. I could sense a current of uncertainty passing between them, a helpless fear; survivors reliving a disaster that came out of nowhere, and repeating every memory sounded like thank god we got through it; I never want to see anything like that again.

Reading Eisley sparked a connection for me between the America after 1929, and my mother's compulsive saving of string, rubber bands, pencils, tin foil. How she seemed to expect bad news or a worst-case end to anything; a stock response was, "You never know". My father, despite a level of professional success, bonuses and good reviews, worried that his job was always in jeopardy; his favorite phrase was, "Get with the program".

There was no apparent reason for either of them to live as if anticipating the ceiling would collapse, but they did. And, children talk -- we discovered our parents had similar motivations, fears, even memories. They all had their own Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- and the veterans in particular.  One friend's father was a survivor of Corregidor, the Bataan death March, and four years in a Philippine POW camp. Another kid said quietly his father would wake up, shouting for a long-dead shipmate, several times a week.

It seems obvious that people are affected by the events they live through; that trauma marks us, and it's obvious what we're living through, now, is having the same effect. Never mind the details; we all watch the news. Many people more intelligent than I am present an analysis of What It All Means every day. I only bark about it.

I keep remembering the opening section of a John Gardner short story, "John Napper Sailing Through The Universe" (1974): he and his wife arrive home after a party, full of drink and making their way up to bed. Gardner has a sad vision of the future: ...fumbling, helping each other as we must... [We] take our teeth out. I'm ninety-two. The planet is dying -- pestilence, famine, everlasting war. The nation's in the hands of child molestors. True Dat.

All I'm considering at the moment is how the echoes of the history we're living through continue to affect us, rippling out across time. How just being in the room when something happens -- seeing an image, hearing something shouted or whispered -- shapes perception. How, like gravity from some body unseen in space, experience bends how we act in the world, and our expectations of it.

And now, something completely different: Socio-Political Commentary!


Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Bomb In The Back Yard: A 2020 Coda

 Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

Where the title of the previous post, 'End Of The Beginning', came from is obvious. The major events which began or rose to prominence in 2020 will, aber naturlich, continue to play out in the New Year.  We can party, but it's only the close of a Beginning. There is more shit to come.

The greatest threat, the most dangerous unexploded munition waiting to go off in America, are the 70 million persons who voted for Donald Trump. They didn't vote for him, exactly; they voted for how he made them feel. How he still makes them feel. 

Since the mid-2000's there has been a struggle between traditional, Good Ol' Boys of the GOP (McConnell the current figurehead), and 'Alt-Right' 'Tea Party' revolutionaries originally created by the Koch brothers, later taken over by evangelical 'christians' and anti-democratic opportunists  (Trump their current Leader), to control the Republican party. 

(Incidentally, the January 6th showdown over electoral college votes in the 2020 election is a contest between these two factions. Aside from being an act of sedition, this power play will show how much control over the Republican party McConnell and the traditionalists still hold -- and how much the GOP belongs to The Leader, and his howling Base.)

Trump's ability to connect with and direct his cult followers determines how much influence he has on the party. And in a larger context -- even with potential legal issues, reportedly precarious finances -- his popularity determines how useful he will be to the Bannons and Adels, the LePens and Weidels, the Hofers and Farages of the world.

These heads of more global, proto-fascist, nationalist movements will tolerate the cons which Trump runs on banks and 'investors' -- after all, as Bannon's indictment shows, they all have their own cons to run, their own sheep to fleece. In turn, Trump will make as much (or more) use of them as they of him.

But, Trump -- in his mid-Seventies, obese; addictions, unspecified health issues -- will eventually dwindle to a sideshow. He'll make incendiary remarks, appear at rallies for "Trump-True" candidates; 'write' books. Fueled by hate and his own inner demons, he will not go quietly, but go he will have to.

Meanwhile, the Murdochs, Mercers and Bannons want to find a 'Better Trump' -- charismatic, gifted; a worthy successor to the fascist energy of the 1930's -- to finish what Bannon Trump started. Someone who can speak to and mobilize the Base with A New Message for All Those Of (Dominionist christian) Faith, and American (Right-Wing Political) Strength -- All (White Heterosexual, Male) People; and those with full use of the 'physical gifts with which god has graced them'.

Which leaves us with 70 million unexploded bombs of Trumpism in America. 70 million people who believe -- one way or another -- in what Trump said and did, then voted on those beliefs.

They voted for white supremacy, for Dominionism. They voted for keeping a knee on the neck of every George Floyd, forever. That SARS-CoV2 is a hoax, and science is wrong. That America and the world is ruled by satanic pedophiles, through a bureaucratic Deep State. 

They voted for a liar and a con artist. They voted for forced separation of children from families. They voted for tax cuts to the wealthy. They voted that a sitting President could take money in exchange for favorable treatment, and to coerce the leader of another country to attack the President's political rival. That all political Liberalism equals Socialism, equals tyranny -- and so they voted for Trump as a way to "own the Libs".

Trying to comprehend how 70 million people can think this way (abandon fact-based reason; act more like superstitious Dark Age peasants than citizens in an industrial society) and follow a person like Trump, has been an enduring question in America for four years.

We've had nationalist politicians, rabid populists, in American politics before, but they've always had relatively few followers. Their ideas have never threatened to become mainstream belief. The malignant spread of Trump's hate-filled messages through the The Base -- which includes Congressional Republicans -- leaves the American Left dumbfounded. We pause and sputter, try to reason with them, find 'bipartisan consensus'. It fails, every time.

The Europeans I know are even more alarmed at Trump and 'Trumpism' than we are. They understand in their bones what fascist politics look and feel like. They've seen The Base before. And, they understand that Trump's expansion of the American Presidency into autocracy is only a symptom of a possible future even more malignant and terrifying -- and that Trumpism's followers, the Proud Boys and militias, will be waiting for the next Leader to appear and pick up where Trump left off.

If you're a Left / Progressive voter; if you're a Person of Color, LGBTQ; if you're poor, homeless, an immigrant -- and if you believe The Base are people, Americans like you, who have the capacity to be compassionate and rational... if you believe that Republicans in the House and Senate want the best for all Americans, and that their behavior is just political theatrics ... remember: A majority of  The Base's 70 million, and those Thugs in Congress, do not believe you are even human.

They believe you are agents of Satan, Socialists who want to destroy America. They believe this as fact. You are the enemy. Think about that.

In reading through Digby, I came across a Tom Sullivan piece, "What's Reason Got To Do With It?", which I recommend:
... Trying to understand Trumpism is like asking a hoarder why she/he hoards. ... The questions assume there are rational answers when rationality has nothing to do with it. For his followers, Trumpism is about how they feel... 

UC Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild tells The Atlantic‘s Derek Thompson that Trumpism “exists beyond the logic of policy“... Hochschild wrote in her 2016 book, “Strangers in Their Own Land” that there is a “deep story” playing out with a large faction of Americans:
The deep story went like this: You are an older white man without a college degree standing in the middle of a line with hundreds of millions of Americans. The queue leads up a hill, toward a haven just over the ridge, which is the American dream. Behind you in line, you can see a train of woeful souls—many poor, mostly nonwhite, born in America and abroad, young and old. “It’s scary to look back,” Hochschild writes. “There are so many behind you, and in principle you wish them well. Still, you’ve waited a long time.” 
Now you’re stuck in line, because the economy isn’t working. And worse than stuck, you’re stigmatized; liberals in the media say every traditional thing you believe is racist and sexist. And what’s this? People are cutting in line in front of you! Something is wrong. The old line wasn’t perfect, but at least it was a promise. There is order in the fact of a line. And if that order is coming apart, then so is America.
Hochschild tested this allegory with her Republican sources and heard that it struck a chord. Yes, they said, this captures how I feel. In the past few years, she’s kept in touch with several of her connections from the Deep South and keenly tracked their philosophical evolution. 

She’s watched the locus of their anxiety move from budgets the entrenched and “swampy” political class. She also witnessed the Trumpification of everything. “There used to be a Tea Party,” she said. “Now it’s all Trumpism.”

The logic of policy has nothing to do with it. Trump is a kind of dancing orange dinosaur who has captured the imaginations of his base. He gave shape to their feelings. He gave voice to them.

Hochschild explains, “From his first rallies, Trump’s basic message has always been ‘I love you, and you love me, and we all hate the same people.’”

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Random Barking: End Of The Beginning

 The Year Of Living Dangerously

2020 (MMXX) was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar, the 2,020th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 20th year of the 3nd millennium, the 20th year of the 21st century, and the 1st year of its second decade. 
Initially trained as an historian, my reflex is to see 2020 as a mega-event -- where one year is dominated by  a few serious, unique and overwhelming occurrences affecting hundreds of millions of individuals. It's felt like wartime, with battles, victories, losses; new technology; politics affecting the war; and, deaths.

So in finding a year to compare with 2020, some obvious choices were the Great Plague of Athens in 380 BC, which took three years to burn out and killed ~25% of the Greek population. Or, 1347 and the Great Plague of Europe, the Black Death, which lasted four years and killed ~200 million; 1664-65, the Great Plague Year in London; or the 1918-19 Spanish Influenza epidemic.

2020 seemed to be a year of emotion more than actual conflict. As a nation, or as individuals, we were about 'waging war' with a viral organism, and with some of the most vicious, ugly aspects of human nature -- sometimes, in ourselves.

But I found myself looking for periods that felt more like a match than were correct in some one-for-one historical comparison. The Second World War felt obvious; maybe, too much so. It isn't part of my experience, but I was born not long after it ended. I absorbed its experience by my parents' generation, the Depression that preceded it, and the early Cold War / Red Scare America that followed.

Then I gave up. I realized that comparing 2020, globally and in America, with a year in WW2 is what we've always done -- dramatize events as one more chapter in the heroic, upward progression of America's story. It's normal to frame traumatic events in ways that help us absorb them, find a context and understanding. But we need to see what has happened, just over the past 365 days, with real clarity.

The true meaning of events we're living through are both profoundly personal and epochal at once. But by turning 2020 into a Ken Burns special in our heads, it becomes a Year already in the Past -- safely in memory, something manageable, unable to hurt us further.

That would remove the fear and disruption and claustrophobia -- but it will also rob us of our own individual experience of this moment, this time. It prevents us from seeing the reality of 2020's real impact.


We're still in the middle of a bad spike in a long-term pandemic. It isn't a dramatization to say: We're in the most fragile and desperate of moments in our nation's history, since 1776 or 1861. Believe it. Trump (please God) leaves office as of January -- but he tried, incompetently, to stage a Coup. He's still trying to subvert the election, still trying to burn down as much of America as he can before the 20th.

And, he's just the worst symptom of a deep infection at America's core; the worm at the heart of the rose. Trump will go; but Trumpism -- fascism, authoritarianism, Bannonism; what you like -- is now a precedent in American politics. Two months ago, seventy million adult Americans voted in favor of it.

As a nation, if we're wise, we'll take this Plague Year ending as a wake-up call to address a very long list, spanning generations, of cultural Chickens Coming Home To Roost -- starting with The Pandemic. How we prioritize the rest will determine where we go as a nation. And that's just the beginning

MEHR, MIT MUSIK, MIT MUSIK, MIT MUSIK: The Girl Who Refused To Be Mrs. Mongo put in her oar: "The phrase, 'Letting your freak flag fly' popped into my head, for some reason."  Fair enough.