Friday, April 24, 2009

Tortured Logic

So the news is all atwitter over recently released memos that prove that the hierarchy of the Bush government sought out and approved methods of "enhanced interrogation techniques," particularly Cheney and Rumsfeld. Tell me something I don't already know. One witness after another has refuted the Rumsfeld "few bad apples" explanation for institutional torture in American run prisons. If Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, I personally don't care if they pull his teeth one by one, each representing 100 victims inside the World Trade Center, to get information or exact revenge for that matter. If he was responsible for the sneak attack on this nation, then he is an enemy combatant deserving of retribution. It's disturbing, however, to learn that the White House was inquiring about which "harsh techniques" they could legally use on prisoners three months before they had anyone to interrogate.

Focusing on the Bush government's sanctioning torture of detainees in the midst of this ghastly enterprise is like quibbling over the preferred thumbscrews used during the Spanish Inquisition. The My Lai Massacre occurred within the massive horror that was Vietnam. Violations of international law concerning treatment of prisoners happened in the greater atrocity that is the American invasion of Iraq. The continuing reports of prisoner abuse in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib while under U.S. control are worthy of examination, but they are misdemeanors when compared to the Bush government's larger crime. They conspired at the highest levels to willfully and without provocation, invade and occupy a sovereign nation, cynically using the 9/11 attacks to mislead the American people and the Congress into believing we were living under an imminent threat of nuclear attack from Iraq. All they needed was a major Al Qaeda leader to confess a confederacy with Saddam Hussein, and that would seal the deal.

I'm no seer, but I saw through the obfuscation the day the entire Bush cabinet fanned out to the Sunday talk shows to warn of Saddam's "mushroom cloud." In a time of patriotic fervor, this previously unutterable phrase sounded like obvious bullshit to sell the public on a war that's execution had already been decided. Why else would they send Colin Powell in front of the United Nations to display pictures of "rolling biological weapons labs," and "aluminum tubes used in the manufacture of nuclear materials," when U.N. weapons inspectors were still on the ground? But, according to the Downing Street Memo, the timetable had already been set for March, 2003. White House chief of staff Andrew Card famously told The New York Times in 2002, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." Even when Bush gave the Husseins 24 hours to get out of Dodge, the invasion was set. In the final hours when asylum was offered and accepted by Hussein, Bush blocked his exit. Cheney and Rumsfeld were going to exorcise the demon that had haunted them since the first Bush presidency ended; after a brilliantly executed war against Iraq, they had allowed Saddam to remain in power, and Poppy's critics called him a "wimp."

If the Justice Department wants to look at who approved waterboarding, have at it. After all, they finally got Al Capone for income tax evasion instead of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. But there are larger issues here. Taking a nation to war through lies and deception is a more serious infraction to me than smacking someone upside the head. Conducting a military exercise that kills over a half-million civilians and foments an insurgency that costs our soldiers 35,000 casualties is a higher crime than placing a dog collar on a detainee. The best estimate I've found of prisoners that have died in U.S. custody is 108, and that was four years ago. Of those, the Army admits that 34 are homicides. Our government's agents have done far worse than lock a man in a box with insects. We have tortured people to death, and it is documented. It's best that we, as a nation, address this egregious breach of civilized law ourselves, rather than have an international court parade the Bush lawyers who justified torture before the world. They were just the good Germans. The criminal conspiracy that took over the highest offices of government are the evildoers. I'm sure, however, that comfortable accommodations can be arranged for the Secret Service within Federal Prison grounds. Better locked-up in Leavenworth than renditioned to Romania.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Forget the Alamo

I enjoy telling my Texas friends that if it weren't for a few brave Tennesseans, they'd all be speaking Spanish. But to hear Governor Rick Perry talk these days, they'll have to choose a national language when Texas re-secedes from the Union. Then they can build an electric border fence as high as they want and reassign the beleaguered Border Patrol to hold the line against Oklahoma. But, according to the treaty admitting the Republic of Texas to the Union, they would be required to break up into five separate states, and then who would cheer for the Texas Rangers; either the ball team, or the lawmen? What manner of insane, combustive, prattle is this from an inane public servant who is a "Rebel Without a Clue?" It has reached a point where it may be necessary to require every seeker of public office to first take a remedial class in American history, just to keep them from self-humiliation.
"Texas is a unique place. When we joined the Union..(the treaty said), we would be able to leave if we chose to do that. We've got a great Union and there's no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what might come out of that?" Gov. Rick Perry
It's not that Texans alone continue to elect absolute dumbasses for Governor. After all, Tennessee elected the crook Ray Blanton, not to mention Rod Blagojevich in Illinois and Eliot Spitzer in New York; first-rate political jackalopes all. But not even Huey Long suggested that Louisiana should declare its' independence. Texas has also produced master politicians like Sam Rayburn, LBJ, Ann Richards, and the distinguished Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, who had the intellectual capacity to become the first woman, and black president. The good people of Texas have merely been duped like everyone else by the malignant political theories of Karl Rove. The Rove philosophy is not to be overly concerned with a political client's particular opinions on the issues as long as they meet three criteria; they must be pro-business, which also means anti-tax and anti-regulation; culturally conservative and demonstrably Christian; and have good hair.

This methodology emerged with Ronald Reagan, when the GOP found a man with one, great, "gut," principle, and the rugged, good looks that Americans like in their movie stars and father figures. When Bush the Elder, who fired Rove for dirty tricks, was presented with a choice of worthy candidates to nominate for his Vice President, he said, "I'll take the peachy blond who looks like Dennis the Menace." Molly Ivins has described Rove's first star-crossed meeting with Dubya when he was assigned to pick up the younger Bush at the D.C. train station. Rove was taken aback by the Texas Air National Guard flight jacket, the steely, blue eyes, and the cowboy hat on the man from Harvard Business and thought, "I can make him president." After Rove stacked the Texas statehouse and Supreme Court with his clients, and was about to do the same to the country, his hand-picked successor to Bush, Rick Perry, moved into the Governorship. Kay Bailey was a local TV anchorwoman with good hair before becoming a Rove client. In the upcoming gubernatorial election between Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, how can Karl Rove lose? Rove's clients still occupy positions and seats in overwhelming numbers in every aspect of Texas government, including Senator John Cornyn III, who's hair is not as great as his right-wing politics.

Former and future Texas roach killer, Tom DeLay, came to Rick Perry's defense by saying, "This is a governor standing up for the sovereignty of his state," and claimed he was caught up in the tumultuous hysteria of San Antonio's recent "Tea Party." In a demonstration so incoherent that the GOP should stand for "Gut Obama's Policies," Perry was more likely attempting to appeal to the malcontents who, without proper stoking, might be inclined to vote for the slightly more moderate Hutchison. At least as a former Senator, Hutchison must know that seceding from the Union is unconstitutional. Perry probably knows as well, only he doesn't give a damn when it comes to fanatical, redneck populism. Either way, Texas' next governor will be a Rovian creation. So what if one seems like a rabid disciple of John C. Calhoun, and the other is like, well.. a TV anchorwoman? With an unprincipled State's Rights fanatic as governor, the criminal Dubya and Karen Hughes planning the Bush Policy Institute in Dallas, "The Hammer" DeLay plotting a comeback, and the Ron Paul Revolution, I say, "Let Texas Go." Fence it, put a moat around it, build a great wall; just stop sending Rove's politicians to Washington, and please grant passports to my cousins so they can visit me in free Tennessee.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Brand Loyalty Oaths

What ever happened to soap? I envision some genius in the marketing department at Proctor & Gamble saying, "You know, our soap smells far too pleasant and produces a rich lather. Let's change it to a slick bar with no discernible scent that leaves an oily residue that is hard to wash off, but also put specks of grit in it that are uncomfortable on the skin and tell the public that it's good for them." Before you know it, every bar in the soap aisle is either anti-bacterial, or Ivory, which brings back bad memories of childhood punishments for cursing. I gave my heart to Safeguard, and then they took it away from me. The whole concept of lather disappeared in order to sell you a new, gel "body wash" in a plastic, disposable container. Of course, that makes the puffy bath net on a rope a necessity and then you're into a whole new category of bathroom accessories. A similar thing happened with Vanilla Pepsi. I had finally found the proper mixture of cola, carbonation, and taste and was pledging my loyalty to Pepsi by listening to Michael Jackson records and watching old Joan Crawford movies, when they cut me off cold-turkey. I protested the bait-and-switch like a true Southerner and turned to Royal Crown Cola. It's hair tonic today and Bug Be Gone tomorrow. Packaged groceries are shrinking in size, trusted brands are disappearing from the shelves, and somehow the Watson's Girl just doesn't seem as sexy in her new incarnation as the Family Leisure Woman.

That's why, ever since the age of awareness, I have tried to be cautious of developing brand loyalties. But then I'm not like other people, if only for the fact that I put my pants on two legs at a time; always have. I sit at the edge of the bed, britches in hand, rock back and place both legs in at once, and spring to my feet fully trousered. I figure it saves me 15-20 seconds a day, which may not seem like much, but accumulated over many years it gives me an extra few hours at the end of my life to just mess around. That sort of thinking, plus a few college advertising classes, made me cognizant of tricks used by image peddlers who know that if they hook you young enough on their product, they've got you for life. Joe Camel was no accident. Neither were subliminal images contained within advertising, mostly in popular magazines. I saw devil heads painted into ice cubes in liquor ads without actually having to drink the stuff. I once considered advertising as a career for a minute until I realized I'd be lying for a living, and had I wanted to do that, I would have gone to law school. Over the years, I cast away the brand name products for common sense, but there was a time when brand preferences went a long way in determining social acceptance.

I wore a uniform back then, just like all my friends. But we weren't in a military academy or assigned a school uniform; just in Junior High, trying to be cool. We created a self-imposed, official, "cool" outfit and became slaves to fashion and the brand names. I wore Oxford cloth, Gant, button-down collared shirts in white, blue, yellow, or pink, H-I-S slacks in navy or khaki, Burlington Gold Cup socks, and Bass Weejuns. Upon enlightenment, I shed the uniform for simpler garb; the light blue workshirt, bell bottom jeans, and chukka boots. Then one day I looked around and realized that everyone was wearing exactly the same outfit and that I was back in uniform again. My clothing decisions these days are based more on comfort than style, but I have steadfastly refused to display a designer label on my ass or be anybody's walking billboard; Marvin Gaye and Barack Obama T-shirts excluded.

Back when American cars were the world's standard, they produced the fiercest brand loyalties. Beginning in 1934, my grandfather owned one long series of Buicks for his entire life. My first car was a Pontiac Tempest Le Mans ragtop and I loved it dearly. I had read in one of my big sister's "Teen" magazines that a gentleman should keep a scarf in the glove compartment so his female passengers wouldn't have to mess up their hair when the top was down. I had a variety of colors. After a few hundred trips back and forth from Knoxville, however, I began to notice something known within the industry as "planned obsolescence." Without constant maintenance, these cars weren't designed to last very long, and the ragtop wasn't so impressive at 85mph on the interstate. I would shove in an 8-Track of the Steve Miller Band and let him and Boz Scaggs battle the howling wind for noise dominance in the vehicle. Major mechanical problems began to develop in the car's third year, and that's only because it sat idle in my parents' driveway for nine months while I obeyed the UT rule forbidding freshmen from having cars on campus.

After an angst-ridden stretch in a doomed 1969 Mercury Cougar and a hippie pipe dream gone horribly wrong with a stripped-down, short-lived VW Minibus, I abandoned buying American cars completely for an alternating group of Hondas and Datsun/Nissans, the last of which I drove for ten years. I lease a car now, and I guess we show a little Honda favoritism since Melody drives the Accord and I drive the Metropolitan scooter. In the cola wars, I prefer to drink whatever is on sale that week. I am very fond of the Fender electric guitar, although I have owned others, but I have played the same cracked, hollow-body Gibson acoustic for 47 years. To power my home stereo, I still use the Marantz amplifier I bought for $75 from my former college roommate in 1972. That was a good deal, but the one I'm not so proud of was selling a 1962 Fender Stratocaster to Buddy Davis for $175. He was a good guitarist, I wasn't, and I thought he could make better use of it. That same guitar is worth over $12,000 today. Buddy ultimately sold it too, so there's someone out there with a prize. I only hope they know it.

As I have aged, my brand loyalties have dropped away one by one; Ultra-Brite toothpaste, Mennen Speed Stick, English Leather, any razor of any type, and since I've been married; Stouffer's Lean Cuisine and Sweet Sue Chicken and Dumplings. I have no favorite football team although I can't say the same for basketball, and I always root for the old hometown, as difficult as it sometimes gets. I seldom read fiction unless it is forced on me. I have owned both Apple and PC computers. Because I have 1000 songs at my fingertips at all times, I have no need for an iPod and I never listen to music through headphones or when I'm in public. I hate the cellphone and I refuse to text because that's essentially typing on the phone. I've entered the digital age, but saved my albums, and yes, I'll probably end up buying the newly mastered Beatles albums for the fifth separate time. All it takes to make me happy these days is a box of real Kleenex with Aloe and my remaining three undying brand loyalties which perfectly illustrate my priorities; Charmin Ultra, Jockey, and the Democratic Party.

Friday, April 10, 2009

All-American Murder

The "Hello-Kitty AK-47"

When Charles Whitman lugged a duffel bag full of high-powered rifles to the top of the clock tower at the University of Texas and began picking off unlucky bystanders, leaving 14 dead and 32 wounded, the country was brutally shocked and our collective psyche was forever scarred. There had been mass murders before, but nothing like this: a random spree killing of innocents. The killer never discriminated between young or old, man or woman, he just shot everything that moved. The year was 1966, and for years following the disaster, a macabre national obsession with the tragedy produced a best-selling, minute-by-minute novel and a made for TV movie, creating stars out of the Texas Rangers that finally took the sniper down. Everyone knew from the Kinky Friedman country song that Whitman had a brain tumor and was an Eagle Scout, but only insanity could explain his murderous rampage. I recall news footage of the day of horror being repeatedly broadcast with each gruesome detail examined. The name Charles Whitman entered the lexicon as the prototypical mass killer and an avalanche of psychobabble followed concerning how to identify and stop these potential time bombs in the future before they exploded. After 43 years of heated discussion, we are now experiencing a Charles Whitman-like massacre once a week. Rage and spree killings have become as American as Mom, apple pie, and methamphetamine.

3/10/09; Sampson, Ala. "The worst rampage in Alabama history" began when a man described by friends as "a nice, quiet kid," armed himself with two military assault rifles, a handgun, and a shotgun, and began a multi-town slaughter that took 10 lives, including his parents and four relatives. When he opened fire on a True Value Hardware store, the owner said, "we realized what it was and grabbed our guns, but he was gone." A witness said he was wearing earplugs.
3/23/09; Oakland, Cal. A violent felon on parole used a handgun to murder two motorcycle policeman who had pulled him over for a traffic stop. When a SWAT team entered the apartment in which he was hiding, he killed two more before being shot himself.
3/29/09 Santa Clara, Ca. Six are killed and one injured in an upscale townhouse community by a man who shot his two children and three relatives with a .45 semi-automatic weapon, legally purchased two weeks previous.
3/30/09; Carthage, N.C. A nursing home is attacked by an armed man whose wife worked at the facility. An employee and 7 residents are killed and 4 wounded before the spree ends. A policeman is shot subduing the shooter. The victims' ages ranged from 78 to 98.
And that was only March. This month's tally so far:
4/3/09; Binghampton, N.Y. A man blocked a rear exit of the American Civic Association and killed 13 immigrants taking a citizenship test. Four are wounded. The center had tried to help the unemployed immigrant whose two handguns were properly purchased and registered. The killer boasted of his murders in a letter to the newspaper.
4/4/09; Pittsburgh, Pa. A gunman in body armor and "lying in wait" ambushes police responding to a domestic disturbance with an assault rifle and two guns, killing three.
Am I the only one seeing a pattern here? Yet it seems like the debate about restricting gun sales has already been settled. You rarely even hear it discussed anymore. It takes a high profile shooting or a massacre like Columbine to get our attention, and then the NRA moves in and showers money on the Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, and the problem quietly goes away until the next time. Is it a coincidence that after Bush the Merciless allowed the Clinton era ban on assault weapons to expire, the incidences of multiple victims murdered in a short period of time, from Virginia Tech to Northern Illinois University, began to spike? If someone who is mentally disturbed can act right for a couple of minutes, they can buy a gun in America. Or perhaps all these rampage killers went crazy after they purchased their weapons. It's also worth a reminder, before someone goes all racial about it, that with a few notable exceptions, serial and spree murder is almost entirely the province of angry white males. Yet the Obama administration has expressed no desire to bring up further restrictions on assault weapons, or the kind of "street-sweepers" that should only be in the possession of SWAT teams or the military.

The war news continues to report murders, kidnappings, and beheadings, and that's just in Mexico. Aside from Coke and Colonel Sanders, weapons are the US's most popular export, including assault weapons like the AK-47, which is the preferred weapon of Somali pirates, thug gangbangers, and Mexican drug lords as well. The AK-47, or Kalashnikov, was adopted by the Soviet Army after the Second World War for its killing effectiveness. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it became accessible to American "collectors." Now, there are more than 70 million in production and they even make them right here in the U.S.A. Some have Chinese wood stocks, but that's globalization for you. Secretary of State Clinton was criticized for admitting that assault weapons enter Mexico from the United States. Where else would they come from? We want the drugs, and guns and drugs go together like peanut butter and jelly. The automatic weapon and the handgun have replaced the automobile as the iconic American image. Our auto industry is on life support but the domestic sale of weapons is soaring, partially because of right-wing media goons spreading a mantra that says, "Obama is coming for your guns."

America is armed like never before and a rash of paranoia is spreading through the populace, the television news spends 50% of their airtime reporting crime, and carry permits have exploded in number. In Memphis, men packing weapons at restaurants are killing over parking spots, and you can't tell me that if someone has a gun in his glove compartment and feels threatened in a road rage incident, his first instinct won't be to reach for the weapon. I still recall the woman who put her purse on the counter of a Baskin-Robbins store, discharging her pistol and killing a high school coach who was buying ice cream for his children. Now there is a measure to allow permit holders to carry a concealed weapon into a bar. Even in old Dodge City, they collected the guns at the saloon door. I understand anyone's desire and right to possess a handgun for protection or a rifle for hunting, but no one needs an infantry weapon to ensure their family's safety. I am not the first to point out that if cars must be registered and drivers licenced, certainly firearms deserve the same serious attention. What sort of hypocrisy allows a nation's weapons manufacturers to churn out guns like Dunkin' makes doughnuts, but the switchblade is illegal? Commerce will triumph, but recent history shows that desperate times produce desperate people. We don't need to resurrect the Tommy Gun to accommodate their twisted revenge fantasies.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Hello Liverpool!

I would never send out two posts in the same day were it not for the fantastic news I wish to share with my friends. I received a call early this morning, noon London time, from my man at Ace Records UK, Alec Palao, who was the producer of the CD: "Randy and the Radiants: Memphis Beat, The Sun Recordings 1964-1966." He had told me it might take a year or two before word of mouth spread about the disc, but a pirate radio station, broadcasting from a ship off the UK coast, began playing a song last month by Bob Simon called "Nobody Walks Out on Me," written in 1965, and it has become the most demanded and downloaded song in the English Midlands. It appears that after forty years, we may have a hit record on our hands. But here's the exciting part.

The surviving Radiants, plus Reni Simon, have been invited to participate in an event called the "Liverpool Renaissance" in the fall. Liverpool is completing a year as the official "Cultural Capital of Great Britain," and all the renovations have been turned into pedestrian malls, shops, and areas for concerts by the Mersey River. There is also a large entertainment district with a variety of nightclubs, but the buzz has been about a club called "Mania," with a limited partnership that includes Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. The 1,200 seat club will feature music from the 1960s era performed by both vintage and contemporary groups. Somehow, Sir Paul heard Bob's song on the radio and called Ace Records to get the story, and he was fascinated that Sun Records and Sam Phillips ever recorded a "garage band." Because of his fondness for Sun, (he owns Bill Black's "doghouse" bass), the Radiants will perform at "Mania" during their opening week. Every celebrity from rock royalty to real royalty are rumored to be attending, but that's not all.

Sir Paul has become interested in the Radiants' history, especially that we persevered for thirty years, and believes that since Liverpool and Memphis are similar, the stories of the Beatles and the Radiants are likewise similar. So, Apple Corps. has decided, along with my friend Isaac Tigrett, to fund a project that will bring famed British artist and documentarian Alan Aldridge, editor of "The Beatles' Illustrated Lyrics," to Memphis over the summer to film black-and-white scenes at local 1960s hotspots like the former T. Walker Lewis YMCA, Clearpool, and the Mid-South Coliseum. The plan is for the yet untitled film to be debuted at "Mania" in September before the Radiants' performance. But, and this is important, here's where you come in.

Mr. Aldridge has asked for everyone that participated in the Sixties' scene to be part of a "Battle of the Bands" recreation at the former T. Walker Lewis YMCA, now the Ira Samelson Boy's Club, behind Treadwell High. He will intersperse scenes of young dancers with the actual people who were there at the time. The filming will be on a Sunday evening when the facility will be available and everyone who shows up will receive an "extra's fee." Those willing to share their memories of the time and be interviewed on camera will receive a standard actor's fee, plus a royalty if the film is picked up for distribution. They are particularly looking for stories concerning the wildness of the place to compare to the Cavern Club. After the interviews, the Radiants will play T. Walker Lewis one more time, and we're hoping to convince the original Flash and the Casuals to join us in the "battle." Of course, we're supposed to win.

I know you are as excited to take part in this unbelievable event as we are, and we all hope to have our own
"Magical Mystery Tour" right here in the River City. I understand a special guest or two might be coming from London, but that's all I'm saying. I can barely believe it myself, but I will notify everyone when the occasion draws near and we can all make plans to go to T. Walker Lewis again, but this time, no fighting or making-out in the parking lot. The film crew should be here in early June, after Memphis in May wraps up, which only seems just around the corner. We can already start counting the days. If the British arrive on June 7, then that's only...let's see what today is. Oh yeah, April Fool.