Gensler’s planned headquarters in the “Jewel Box”

It goes something like this: You are a large property management corporation that owns and manages zillions of properties throughout the country, including prime commercial real estate in Los Angeles.

Recently, the huge architectural firm, Gensler, has agreed to pack up their T-squares and move from their swanky Santa Monica location to your even swankier property at Flower and Fourth, known as the “Jewel Box.” Even though Gensler has already agreed to become your tenant, you’d like to up the good will quotient and sweeten the deal a bit — you know, a gesture more meaningful than a dozen roses, but less meaningful than a reduction in rent.

What do you do?

You get the City of Los Angeles to give — that’s give, mind you — $1 million of taxpayer money to Gensler to remodel their new digs.

Anatomy of a Hustle

Thanks to an investigation by the Legal Aid Foundation and solid reporting by Steve Lopez at the Times, emails between Thomas Properties exec Ayahlushim Getachew and Marie Rumsey, an aide to councilwoman Jan Perry, have surfaced, offering a bird’s eye view of corporate/government collusion in all its perfectly legal repulsiveness.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the exchange began last November with an email from Getachew.

“Do you have any available block grant available at CDD [Community Development Department] for a really great opportunity in the 9th [District]?” he asked. “What do you think?” 

“It is a bit of a long-shot but possible,” replied Rumsey. “What do you have in mind?”

“Confidentially, Gensler just agreed to move their corporate headquarters to our building. We are quickly and quietly working to make this a good move for everyone. I need about $1 million or more for tenant improvements…. Do you think that is doable? Can we work together on this?”

A Done Deal

I hate to ruin the suspense, but Rumsey’s answer was, “Yes.” In fact, Thomas Properties and Perry’s office worked so well together that the deal was virtually sealed that evening. Technically, they still needed the approval of Mayor Villaraigosa — which they received soon after — but essentially, with a few clicks of the mouse that night Los Angeles agreed to spend one million of its federal dollars to remodel Gensler’s headquarters.

For the moment, forget that the million bucks was supposed to be used for economic development and housing in low-income areas. Forget the asymmetry of the deal that got Los Angeles a promise of a whopping one job per $35,000. Pay no attention to the fact that the mayor of Santa Monica — Gensler’s former location — is ready to declare war on Los Angeles for headhunting its businesses. Even forget that both companies involved contributed to Councilwoman Perry’s campaign for mayor.

Focus instead on the money-grubbing mentality of these corporations. Thomas Properties owns and manages 12.6 million sq. ft. of Class A commercial property throughout America, including City National Plaza downtown, and Gensler takes in hundreds of millions per year, building everything from the City Center in Las Vegas to China’s Shanghai Tower, the world’s second tallest building. You’d think Gensler would be able to remodel one of its 38 locations with its own dough — or if it’s so darned important, Thomas Properties could give Gensler the remodeling as a house warming present.

But no, they are perfectly happy to let federal dollars earmarked for L.A.’s poor do the job.

Captains of Industry

This is the grubby behavior we’ve come to expect from large corporations. If it’s not B of A dreaming up a new $5 fee in the middle of a crippling recession, ARCO charging a fee for the privelege of buying its gas with an ATM card or Halliburton wiring American fighting troops’ living quarters on the cheap and dangerous, it’s two thriving corporations in Los Angeles hustling dollars out of a broke government for Persian rugs and Armani desks.

Corporate hustles big and small, relentless advertising and the blatant commodification of everything — from erectile dysfunction to religion — has increased the level of blatant corporate avarice to a point that makes top execs seem more like dime store shoplifters than captains of industry. In other words, if corporations really are people, they’re not people you want in your house.

Occupy Wall Street

It is exactly this “whatever we can get away with” corporate credo and its influence on government that has created the fox-guarding-the-henhouse madness nibbling away at our middle class and exactly what the protesters are railing against at “Occupy” demonstrations throughout the country and beyond.

Getting Big Money out of politics will not be an easy fight. It is so deeply entrenched in our system (and protected by the Constitution and the Roberts Court as freedom of expression) that we will need a constitutional amendment and a really big crowbar to pry it out. But, look at it this way; two months ago the issue of campaign finance reform was dead. Today, it’s all everybody talks about. Who knows — Occupy Wall Street just might become a really big crowbar.

Add your name to the 214,562 so far at Get Money Out

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Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPiere, has taken his organization’s paranoia to new heights with his latest anti-Obama tantrum.

In LaPiere’s speech to fellow gun enthusiasts in Florida last Friday, he accused Obama of plotting to take America’s guns by fiendishly NOT proposing any anti-gun legislation during his first term. Oh, that Obama–you gotta watch him every second.

“President Obama will remind us that he’s put off calls from his party to renew the old Clinton assault weapons gun ban, he hasn’t pushed for new gun control laws, and he’ll even say he looked the other way when Congress passed a couple of minor pro-gun bills by huge majorities. The president will offer the Second Amendment lip service and hit the campaign trail saying he’s actually been good for the Second Amendment.

But it’s a big fat stinking lie, just like all the other lies that have come out of this corrupt administration. It’s all part — it’s all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment in our country.”

Put aside for the moment LaPiere’s cloddish, “big fat stinking” characterizations of a president’s administration and intentions, and think of the persecution complex rattling around in this guy’s brain. You can almost hear the little metal balls clinking in his hand.

This man has access to firearms, for crying out loud.

I wrote “Double-D Breast Implant Deflects Bullet: NRA Cries Foul” a while ago as a snarky exaggeration of NRA’s paranoia. But after hearing LaPiere’s speech, I’m not sure how exaggerated it is.

*

Double-D Breast Implant Deflects Bullet

NRA Cries Foul

(originally posted March 10, 2010)

A miraculous combination of manufactured voluptuousness, luck and tensile strength saved Lydia Carranza’s life last summer when a bullet fired point-blank at her heart was deflected by her double-D breast implant.

After seven months of healing, Carranza was scheduled to undergo reconstructive surgery last Friday.

Carranza’s Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Ashkan Ghavami, told KTLA News he believes “her implant stopped the bullet from hitting her heart.  The bullet fragments were millimeters from her heart and her vital organs.  If not for the implant, she might not be alive.”  He added that the implant absorbed much of the bullet’s impact, limiting most of the damage to the breast itself.

NRA Response

Upon hearing of Carranza’s close call, the National Rifle Association (NRA) issued the following statement to its membership:

Dear Member:

“Although we are glad that Ms. Carranza is alive and well, we at the NRA feel we must address the growing problem of bullet-deflection by breast enhancement implants.

We believe the 2nd Amendment gives all Americans the right not only to own and use firearms, but according to our legal experts’ interpretation, it also carries an implicit protection of the right to hit intended targets without fear of ballistic deflection caused by cosmetic medical devices–devices that left unchecked, could very well send us hurtling down a slippery slope to total gun confiscation in America.

In our ongoing struggle to protect your Constitutional rights, the NRA feels obligated to bring this issue to your attention.  As more American women opt for this type of procedure, the possibility of bullet trajectory impairment grows.  After all of our efforts on behalf of American gun owners, including the defense of your right to own 30-round handgun clips, military-style assault rifles, armor-piercing ammunition and untraceable cartridges, we believe it would be irresponsible to drop the ball on the issue of bullet deflection by breast enhancement.

As always, you can be sure your NRA is on the job, defending your right to total gun freedom in America.

To the manufacturers of bullet-deflecting implants and doctors who specialize in these types of anti-gun procedures: Know that the National Rifle Association has you in its sights.”

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Debris on the Pacoima Junior High School Athletic Field

Debris on the Pacoima Junior High School Athletic Field

A few minutes after 11:00 AM on January 31, 1957, teacher John Buchanan began recording the graduation ceremony being held for 800 students gathered in the San Fernando Valley’s Pacoima Junior High School auditorium. Approximately ten minutes later in the sky above the nearby San Gabriel Mountains an F-89 jet slammed into a new DC-7, rendering both aircraft uncontrollable. 

What Buchanan’s recording ultimately captured that morning was the sound of a tragedy.

Halfway through the recording — immediately after graduation speaker Linda Latrelle says “We have only one life to live…” —  the DC-7 can be heard plummeting into the school’s athletic field just a few hundred feet from the auditorium.

Killed in the crash were three Pacoima students, the pilot of the F-89 and the four-man crew of the DC-7, whose final words to traffic control were, “Uncontrollable–we’re spinning over the Valley. Say goodbye to everybody… we’re going in.” The navigator of the F-89 had parachuted safely to the ground immediately after his jet’s near head-on collision with the  larger aircraft.  However, dozens of students on the Pacoima gym field were injured, many seriously.

The tragedy gained national notoriety when angry Pacoima parents successfully petitioned officials to prohibit future test flights over populated areas. Though the San Fernando Valley was considerably less populated in 1957 than it is today, it was home to hundreds of thousands back then.

In 1987 the crash was spotlighted again in the movie “La Bamba” as the reason Richie Valens, the 50s rock icon and Pacoima favorite son, was afraid to fly. Two years after the Pacoima disaster, Valens was killed along with his fellow performers and tour mates,  J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson and Buddy Holly when their light plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa.

*

The quality of the recording is surprisingly good, considering it was recorded on dad’s ancient Wollensak reel-to-reel and that it sat in our garage for decades. The two-minute recording opens with Latrelle’s speech in progress. One minute into the recording, the faint-but-unmistakable sound of a rapidly descending aircraft crescendos into a roar of crashing airplane, immediately followed by the sounds of confusion and fear in the auditorium. The auditorium doors can be heard slamming open from the concussion of the crash. A school official tries to calm the students by announcing, “It was a jet blast. That’s all there is to it. It’s all over,” implying that the deafening sound they had just heard was a sonic boom (it was actually the plane’s wing exploding just above the ground, spraying hot oil and shrapnel in all directions). Against the sound of 800 frightened students and a distant fire bell, an unintelligible announcement is made on the P.A. when the school’s power goes out and the recording winds to a stop. As far as I know, this is the only recording of the Pacoima crash: Click on following link:

[This recording is the property of Russ Buchanan. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited]

The Pacoima crash was of particular significance to my family for a number of reasons. My father and sister were both on the Pacoima campus when it happened — my dad as a teacher and my sister Pam as a thirteen year-old student (it was her birthday). Needless to say, it was a rough few hours for my mom, who had learned of the crash but had to wait an excruciating two hours before dad called to tell her he and her daughter were OK. I can only imagine mom’s reaction to Pam’s account of the crash. Pam, who had just finished Gym, was in the P.E. office waiting for permission to retrieve the jacket she had forgotten on the athletic field when the DC-7 came down on the field. “I thought we were being bombed so I immediately dropped to the floor and assumed the ‘duck and cover’ position,” remembers Pam.

As a five-year-old kid, all I can recall of that day is seeing what appeared to be shiny bits of tin foil falling from the sky — parts of the DC-7 that had broken off after its crippling mid-air collision.

For a chilling and informative first-hand account by an individual who arrived at the school minutes after the crash, click on:  
“‘Eyewitness to the Carnage’ – A Personal Account of the 1957 Pacoima Crash”

Photo: Iowa State Daily

The demonstrations in Madison are manna from heaven.

Aside from the very welcome spectacle of thousands joining together to block the Republican putsch against the middle class, the demonstrations also remind America and the world that pissed-off, middle-aged white people thrusting misspelled anti-Obama signs into the sky are not the only politically active voices in America. Not by a long shot.

Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to crush Wisconsin unions has given America the unvarnished, accurate picture of today’s Republicanism in all its selfish, bullying arrogance and American workers have responded with a resounding “Eat Me!”  With over 70,000 protesters in Madison on Saturday alone, and other protests planned for tomorrow in every state capital and major city in America, it appears more members of America’s middle class are recognizing who the real enemy is… and it ain’t Obamacare.

Republican DNA

Just how stupid do Walker and the Forces of Darkness think Americans are? Nobody’s buying the fiscal responsibility song and dance so earnestly crooned by Walker and his fellow union-busting governors. Like demagoguery and giving tax breaks to the rich, everyone understands that union crushing is part of Republican DNA. It’s one of the many ways they say, “We love you” to big business. So, to anyone paying the least bit of attention, Walker and pals not only come off looking like union-busting extremists, they come off looking like lying and opportunistic union-busting extremists.

Listen in on the inspired prank call between Governor Walker and ersatz magnate David Koch (played to smug perfection by Buffalo Beast’s Ian Murphy) and you hear the very definition of plutocracy at its union-busting worst. Like an aide-de-camp in full, simpering toady mode, Walker assures “mon generale” that the attack on unions is going according to plan–as he smooches away at what he thinks is Koch’s billion-dollar behind.

Backlash

It appears this latest bit of Republican arrogance has launched a backlash from American workers that in sheer numbers will continue to dwarf last summer’s Tea Party tantrums in a big way–while giving the press better looking people to photograph in the bargain.

Perhaps no symbol better captures the feeling of community and the “we’re all in this together” spirit of the demonstrators than the thousands of pizzas being anonymously ordered for them by supporters all over the planet. As of today, 30,000 slices of pizza have been ordered for the protesters from every state in the union and such far-flung places as Antarctica and Egypt. So selfless, so caring, so cooperative and collaborative… so un-Republican.

Tea Party favorite Rep. Allen West wants people to know two very important things: He encourages his opponents to speak out at his town hall meetings… and he is armed.

____________________________________________________

let’s play…SPOT THE REPUBLICAN

_____________________________

Double-D Breast Implant Deflects Bullet

…NRA Cries Foul

A miraculous combination of manufactured voluptuousness, luck and tensile strength saved Lydia Carranza’s life last summer when a bullet fired point-blank at her heart was deflected by her double-D breast implant.

After seven months of healing, Carranza was scheduled to undergo reconstructive surgery last Friday.

Carranza’s Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Ashkan Ghavami, told KTLA News he believes “her implant stopped the bullet from hitting her heart.  The bullet fragments were millimeters from her heart and her vital organs.  If not for the implant, she might not be alive.”  He added that the implant absorbed much of the bullet’s impact, limiting most of the damage to the breast itself.

                                                   NRA Issues Response

Upon hearing of Carranza’s close call, the National Rifle Association (NRA) issued the following statement to its membership:

“Although we are glad that Ms. Carranza is alive and well, we at the NRA feel we must address the growing problem of bullet-deflection by breast enhancement implants.

We believe the 2nd Amendment gives all Americans the right not only to own and use firearms, but according to our legal experts’ interpretation, it also carries an implicit protection of the right to hit intended targets without fear of ballistic deflection caused by cosmetic medical devices–devices that, left unchecked, could very well send us hurtling down a slippery slope to total gun confiscation in America.

In our ongoing struggle to protect your Constitutional rights, the NRA feels obligated to bring this issue to your attention.  As more American women opt for this type of procedure, the possibility of bullet trajectory impairment grows.  After all our efforts on behalf of American gun owners, including the defense of your right to own 30-round handgun clips, 50-round assault rifles, armor-piercing ammunition and untraceable cartridges, we believe it would be irresponsible to drop the ball on the issue of bullet deflection by breast implant.

As always, you can be sure your NRA is on the job, defending your right to total gun freedom in America.

To the manufacturers of bullet-deflecting implants and doctors who specialize in these types of anti-gun procedures: Know that the National Rifle Association has you in our sights.”

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Question: How did Fox News attempt to discredit the recent U of Maryland study that found Fox viewers to be a comparatively misinformed bunch?
a.  Attacked the wording of the study’s questionnaire
b.  Characterized the directors of the study as left wingers
c.  Claimed the study’s correct answers came from biased sources
d.  Belittled the study as mere fodder for the liberal mainstream media
Correct answer: All of the above
A News Organization Like no Other

I tried to find out how other news sources had handled similar studies or findings that implied continuing inaccuracy in their reporting, but strangely enough, I couldn’t find any. Sure, there were lots of complaints about different news organizations misreporting specific stories, and lots of individuals claiming left and right bias in the mainstream media, but there was no similar academic study finding the viewers of a specific news channel to be consistently more misinformed than non-viewers. In this journalistically embarrassing category, Fox News stands alone.

This is where Fox’ claim of liberal bias comes in handy, though. Ailes and crew refute the study by claiming the professors who designed the study are liberals who have it in for Fox, thus discrediting the study and reinforcing anti-intellectualism in an inspired Fox News twofer. In addition, they claim liberal or Democratic bias in the experts who determined the study’s correct answers. Finally, they trot out their timeworn claim of left-wing bias in the mainstream media. If it ain’t the professors, it’s the experts, claims Fox. If it ain’t the professors and experts, it’s the reporters reporting the story. Presto–study refuted. It’s almost poetically foolproof, in a wild-eyed paranoid kind of way.

Though we probably didn’t need an academic study to confirm our nagging suspicion that Fox just might not be on the up and up, it’s nice to have as a tangible reference. It also serves as a reminder that our democracy has never before seen such a strange, potentially calamitous phenomenon as Fox News, where facts are selectively partisan and the viewer comes away from the TV with an alternate universe firmly planted in his head.

The Fox Effect

Take the subject of global warming, for instance. Scientists overwhelmingly agree that global warming is likely due to man’s activity. They also believe that its effects, left unchecked, will lead to catastrophe for life on our planet. Further, they agree that our only hope lies in immediate action to counter its effects. Meanwhile, back at “Facts Schmacts Central,” 60% of regular Fox viewers do not believe that most scientists agree global warming is even occurring. That’s occurring, mind you. When it comes time to adopt anti-warming measures or elect candidates who take climate change seriously, how will 6 of 10 Fox News viewers vote? So much for immediate action.

Comments from “The Truth About Fox News Viewers” at conservative Free Republic.com demonstrate how Fox News’ dueling facts and “circle the wagons” mentality plays out in the world of the Fox faithful.

“Amazing. They are now claiming that showing skepticism of dubious claims indicates narrow-mindedness,” writes Fox viewer, Tribune. Through the magic that is Fox, consensus on climate change formed by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are reduced to “dubious claims” By Fox viewers.

“Yep, time to re-educate all the nonwatchers of MSM in Progresssssive [sic] Education Gulags!” says Leo Carpathian, raising the argument to neo-John Birch Society hysteria.

“We must support Conservative news outlets at every opportunity. The Marxists will continue to attack from every direction with every method possible,” writes Blam, proving Joe McCarthy lives, and Fox-brand paranoia is contagious.

Though the logic escapes me, a number of commenters point to Fox News’ comparatively large ratings as proof of its accuracy. I may be nitpicking here, but to me the only thing Fox News’ large ratings prove is that Fox misinforms a lot of people.

A news service pumping half-truths and nowhere-near-the-truths into the public consciousness 24/7 can’t be good for a democracy and its requisite informed electorate, can it?

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John Buchanan taking on the funeral industry

A friend wrote the other day to ask if my dad had been on the Blacklist.

My friend had been reading about America’s waltz with fascism during the 50s when demagogic politicians and rightwing zealots attempted to ruin the lives of show folk, teachers and other public figures — sometimes with great success– for being a little too free in the Land of the Free. Dad was a professor and locally high-profile lefty political organizer/activist, and my friend figured my father had at some point endured the wrath of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. Joe McCarthy’s merry band of commie hunters. He hadn’t. Dad did have problems with cops and feds later on, but in the 50s he was still in his pre-activism stage, just settling into his new job teaching at Pacoima Junior High in the San Fernando Valley, going to grad school and helping mom raise my sister and me.  The activism that would become central to his life was still a few years off. My buddy’s email got me thinking about my father’s life choice, though. What changed? What inspired this mild-mannered, soft-spoken, Mr. Chips-type academic to become a full-throated crusader for peace and social justice?

The Bandleader and the Bastard

Though dad and I never talked much about his political awakening period, I’m pretty sure it began during the civil rights era. I was about six years old when I began hearing dad talk about the plight of Negroes. Even at my tender age I noticed that TV images of Dixie cops and clan types beating up dark-skinned people would send my father into a funk. He would get very quiet. Then he’d talk to my sister and me about how immoral it was to mistreat people because of their skin color. He told us that we should always stand up to bullies of all kinds, whether they were attacking us or others. To illustrate his point he would often tell us about the time during World War II when he and mom went to see the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in mom’s hometown, Great Falls, Montana. While the band was playing, someone in the audience yelled “nigger” at Dorsey’s only black musician. Dorsey stopped the orchestra mid-song and the crowd went silent. He called out into the microphone, “You! Hey you. Yeah, you in the yellow tie.” The heckler was trying to scamper away into the crowd but couldn’t get around the throng in front of the bandstand. He finally looked up at Dorsey, who was shaking with anger and pointing down at him like a vengeful god with a trombone. Unfortunately for the yellow-tied bigot, the black trumpeter happened to be a good friend of Dorsey’s and had just returned from duty in the Pacific, where he’d been wounded. According to dad, Dorsey went crazy, yelling into the microphone about his friend’s heroism, then verbally filleting the bigot, whom he called a stupid, un-American bastard. At the end of his rant, Dorsey ordered the guy out of the dance hall and refused to continue the show until he left. Whether for noble cause or the fact that the crowd was ready to jitterbug and had shelled out good money to see Dorsey’s whole show, many in the audience sided with Dorsey, booing and hissing the guy out of the dance hall. The show went on. Though the full meaning of the tale was over my 6-year-old head, I never got tired of it. I loved hearing dad do the Tommy Dorsey parts. “Yeah, you with the yellow tie,” dad’s baritone rumbled, as he pointed at some imaginary racist in the living room. I also got a bang out of hearing dad say the word “bastard,” a word rarely heard in our house–a word I probably assumed meant bad man in a yellow tie. For my sister Pam and me, the story was a great example of someone using his position to stand up to a bully. For dad, who knows? Tommy Dorsey’s wrath might have been an important inspiration. After all, it was the kind of thing dad would soon be doing full time, only on a larger, relentless scale, against bullies ranging from Richard Nixon to the funeral industry. Inspiration or not, by the time the 60s started, dad was taking on the bullies of the world with a vengeance.

The Art of Activism

The first piece of dad’s activism I remember–helping a black family move into our whites-only neighborhood–was relatively small-scale and personal. For months after the Holmes moved in, it was dad’s job to protect the house from vandals when the family was away. There wasn’t much he could do about the rocks thrown through the Holmes’ front room window during the night, or the cross burned on their lawn one very early morning. But during dad’s watch, just the sight of him sitting on the Holmes’ front porch, grading his students’ papers, was all it took to keep the Bubba brigade off the property. I don’t know how long dad had been at it before I realized that threatening phone calls in the middle of the night and flat tires from tacks and nails scattered on our driveway weren’t part of everyone’s hearth and home, but I gradually came to understand that dad’s dedication to fairness was not shared by everyone. As for the 3 AM phone calls, we discovered that the cardboard stick from a Sugar Daddy sucker made a terrific telephone bell dampener when jammed through the proper hole in the phone’s access plate. My contribution to the struggle, of course, was to eat the Sugar Daddy. Ah, the sacrifices of activism. Sometimes dad’s protests verged on street theater. During his quixotic run for the California Assembly in the mid-60s he delivered a campaign speech at a local shopping center while stomping a bathtub full of grapes. This might have been a fine way to draw attention to the farm workers’ strike and grape boycott raging at the time, but the sight of dad in the tub, wearing his trademark Petrocelli business suit with the pant legs rolled up for the fruit-stomp, did not sit well with my teenaged notion that parents should always strive to be invisible. For weeks after, I was known to my rotten buddies as “Grape.” To dad’s supporters, though, it was a beautiful sight to behold–and it worked. Lots of people gathered to see the lunatic in a bathtub, and wound up learning why they should support Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers and stop eating grapes. Dad lost the Assembly race in a rout, of course, but his son’s embarrassment over his father’s unusual forms of activism soon morphed into pride and admiration. His low-key protest of the Vietnam War was particularly memorable. Every day during his lunch hour he would set up a card table full of anti-war literature next to the college flagpole. For that hour he stood silently next to the flagpole wearing an armband featuring the number of GIs killed that week. For two years.

Dad’s Final Years

Dad started in the 60s and never let up. He was still active in the Memorial Society — a consumer activist group — well into his 80s, fighting the good fight against the predatory practices of the funeral industry. A 1992 L.A. Times interview about the Memorial Society found dad in top form.

“You have to look at death as part of life,” Buchanan said. “‘If people looked at it that way, they wouldn’t need the limousines, the caskets and the tons of flowers, the embalming and all the other barbarities that go on at a so-called traditional funeral.’ ‘The hoopla is undignified,’ he said. ‘The other indignity is putting so much emphasis on the body, which is not a person.’ Buchanan has not made the trip to his mother’s gravesite in Spokane, Wash., in years, he said. ‘That grave site does not mean anything,’ he said. ‘What does mean something is that the dead still live in our minds,’ he added.”

“The hoopla is undignified” and “…all the other barbarities…” Dad had a way with words.

*

I’ll never know whether a big band leader’s outburst in the 40s inspired dad to help save the world. But damn, it was inspiring to hear him tell that story. Actually, there wasn’t a lot about John Buchanan that wasn’t inspiring. Though less active, dad still followed the news during his final years. I wish he had been spared America’s rightward drift during the 90s and new millennium and all the intentional unfairness it has thus far meted out. Mercifully, he wasn’t around to see the bully renaissance in full flower. If he were still alive, news of such bad-guy victories as the passage of voter suppression laws and the Citizens United ruling would have put him in a funk. He would have gotten very quiet…for a while.

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I’m in love with a cantankerous old crone named Ramona Red Wolf. Don’t ask; I’ll explain later.

I ran out to pick up the new novel, Shidoshi: The Four Ways of the Corpse for a couple of reasons. The book is written by an old chum of mine named Gordon Richiusa, whom I know to be a hell of a writer, and the story is about ninjas. Now, I’ve never been very interested in karate, kung fu, boxing or any of the zillions of creative ways man has come up with to smack each other around; martial arts movies either send me into peals of derisive laughter or uncontrollable fits of ennui. For some inexplicable reason, though, I’ve always nursed a curiosity about ninjas. I think the hook was baited by Tiger Tanaka’s ninja academy in “You Only Live Twice,” then gradually set by a number of movies I’ve seen through the years depicting those slithery, black-garbed enigmas. I hoped this book would give me the non-Hollywood skinny on these guys.

Shidoshi not only satisfied my ninja jones, but also turned out to be a good read. One part primer on “ninjutsu”– the history, credo and deadly fighting style of this secretive warrior class — and two parts adventure, Richiusa’s first novel is as informative as it is entertaining.

Set against a 300-Year Plan to unify the internationally fragmented ninja clans, Richiusa contrasts modern day characters, settings and weapons against the methods and mores of old Japan. Essentially, Shidoshi is the story of a showdown between the rightful-though-reluctant heir to the title “Shidoshi,” leader of the unified clans, and those who would do anything to keep him from ascending. Though told with a liberal dose of humor and quirky characters, Shidoshi’s epic scope and unbreakable connection to the past are constant reminders of its gravitas and the high stakes of The Plan. The story is loaded with left turns, as one might expect from a tale that begins in Los Angeles, excurses to Okinawa and winds up on a windswept Hopi reservation in southwest America. Which brings me to Ramona Red Wolf.

A kind of Auntie Mame-meets-Ma Joad wrapped in a snaggle-toothed, octogenarian, Native-American body, Ramona Red Wolf is indicative of Richiusa’s ability to bring eccentricity to credible life. As one of a group of equally interesting and well-drawn mentor ninjas, Red Wolf whips her charges into shape with a mixture of raw humor and perfectionism not seen since Mr. Niagi got the Karate Kid to paint his fence.

Red Wolf’s quirky persona is a good example of what makes this novel unusual and entertaining. Shidoshi is a book of contrasts. It gives us old Japan in a modern wrapping, Asian lore and fighting styles on an American Indian reservation, and a deadly serious and precise battle waged by imperfect, sometimes hilarious, characters. The main characters’ devotion to The Plan is a given; their offhandedness and humor actually serve to heighten the plot’s stakes.

An internationally recognized martial arts instructor and recent inductee into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Richiusa brings authority and credibility to Shidoshi. His non-fiction writing on Carlos Castaneda and Native Americans also helps to flesh out lovely Ramona and her milieu. In other words, Richiusa knows his way around a sweat lodge as much as he does a dojo.

I must admit, I approached this book with dread. If 90 minutes of martial arts on screen can make me scream for deliverance, what would 300 pages of karate chops and “bruising on the inside” do to me? Not to mention, it was written by an old friend. What would I tell him if it stunk? Thank heavens, Shidoshi: The Four Ways of the Corpse proved to be a font of ninja info and a well-told story.

Note to publisher: Watch those damned typos and punctuation lapses, guys!

As I emerge from my post-election funk, the blood slowly returning to my face, I survey the damage done to the world by Fox News and half a nation gone nuts, and ask the only appropriate question… “WTF?”

We’ve elected to the Senate a guy who publicly condemns the Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act; we have put in Congress a passel of people who believe that Obama–the centrist’s centrist–is actually a covert Muslim/Communist bent on world domination, and we’ve emboldened an Alaskan female, secular version of Elmer Gantry into thinking she has a chance at becoming president.

So what on earth is there to be thankful for?

Culture Wars

If you believe, as I do, that the culture war is the 500-pound aardvark in the room–the reason that ostensibly sane voters would elect utterly unqualified people to lead the country, the reason for the Tea Party’s successes, and the reason for the strange disconnect between Americans’ self-interest and their votes, then raise a glass this Thanksgiving for Generation Y,  AKA the “Millennials.”

On almost all the culture war/wedge issues, the current crop of Americans under 30 are trending far more progressive than X-ers or Boomers did when they were pups. When it comes to reproductive choice, acceptance of homosexuality, role of government, the environment and race–this group is turning out to be Pat Buchanan’s worst nightmare.

Nowhere are this generations’ progressive leanings more evident than in its acceptance of homosexuality. According to the 2010 Pew survey, Religion Among the Millennials, 61% believe homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared to 51% of Americans aged 30-49; 48% of ages 50-64 and 35% of those over 65. Though every modern generation of young Americans has increasingly turned its back on bigotry, the Millennials seem to be running from it at light speed.

Staying Power

With this group, the old, “sure, they’re liberal now, but wait until they get older” bromide doesn’t wash. Hard data and the nature of today’s young adulthood suggest that this group’s rejection of socially conservative politics is different than that of earlier generations, and is more likely to last. Additionally, their desire for more government services suggests their progressive leanings may not be limited to social issues.

According to the L.A. Times’ “Walking Away From Church,” young people are leaving their churches at five times that of previous generations, and the number-one stated reason for leaving is the conservative political orientation of their church. It’s not that they are running out to dance with the Devil, mind you–Millennials tend to hold on to their Christian faith–they just can’t stand the us vs. them poison spewing from the pulpit and from older parishioners.

This phenomenon is not lost on the Christian press. Drew Dyck writes in Christianity Today, “…the life-phase argument may no longer pertain. Young adulthood is not what it used to be. For one, it’s much longer. Marriage, career, children—the primary sociological forces that drive adults back to religious commitment—are now delayed until the late 20s, even into the 30s. Returning to the fold after a two- or three-year hiatus is one thing. Coming back after more than a decade is considerably more unlikely.” Though Dyck is probably correct about losing young people for good, he misses the fact that Millennials’ commitment to religion is still very much alive. They’re just taking it away from what they see as non-Christian influences.

Young Americans to the Rescue

So this Thanksgiving, think of your turkey’s  wishbone as the letter “Y” and give thanks for the Millennials. Yes, four years with our new ultra-right House of Representatives will be difficult to stomach, but remember there’s a whole new crop of young folk out there who have refused to drink the conservative Koolaid and will soon be flexing their political muscle. Like a lethal gene diminishing within a family line, the old, intolerant, Calvinistic mentality seems to be heading for well-deserved extinction.

Who knows, after a few years of seeing this new Congress in action, the Millennials might even become politically active (be still my heart). But for now, I’ll be grateful for their votes.

Cartel kingpin “El Barbie”

As Election Day creeps closer, the rhetoric against Proposition 19–California’s marijuana legalization measure–is getting louder, weirder and more successful.

The latest Public Policy Institute of California poll shows Prop 19 trailing 49% to 44% among likely voters, proving once again if you shout lies loudly and often enough, people will eventually begin to believe them.

WTF

It’s hard to tell which tidbit of misinformation has scared California voters the most. I suppose employers aren’t comfortable with the idea that Prop 19 would protect raging dope fiends from being fired, as the anti-19 forces would have them believe. The notion that taxing marijuana sales will miraculously fail to produce any revenue for California or its cities is also a bit of a disappointment, I would imagine. But, I’ll bet the fear has something to do with kids and marijuana’s logic-defying reputation as the “gateway drug.”  Because every junkie started with pot, the warning goes, legalizing cannabis will make it easier for your kids to buy and smoke the stuff, and in no time at all, those sweet little lads and lasses will become smack vampires who will drop out of school, steal from your purse and not show up at Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, by that logic, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and polio vaccine are also gateway drugs, but there is no monetary incentive in banning those drugs, so they remain legal.

The Great Slogan Search

In this blog’s daily stats and  “Search Terms Used to Get to Your Site,” I’d been noticing a dramatic increase in search terms, like “best anti-prop 19 slogans” and “what are the slogans for no on prop19?”

At first, I was surprised that the searches led readers here; Craving Sense is a pro-19 blog. It indicated folks were having trouble finding slogans for the campaign to defeat Proposition 19. But every campaign has slogans, I thought. Was the “No on Proposition 19” drive the only wrongheaded campaign in modern history to go the distance without even trying to come up with a nice, punchy line that would thoroughly confuse and mislead people into voting “no”?

Then it hit me. Of course the Anti-19 people are having slogan trouble; the reasons for opposing Prop 19 are so convoluted and complex it would be difficult to convert them into snappy, vote-getting one-liners suitable for banners, buttons and posters. Slogans like “You won’t be allowed to discipline a stoned employee if Prop 19 passes,” and “Proposition 19 is a badly written law with lots of loopholes and stuff” just don’t have the zing to compete with pro-19 slogans, like “Just Say NOW!” and the right-on-point, “Legalize, Regulate, Educate, Medicate.”

Even though the latest polls show the Anti-19ers are doing just fine without them, I knew there had to be some “No on Proposition 19” slogans somewhere. But finding them meant I would have to go where the Forces of Darkness congregate. I would have to use phrases like “marijuana cigarette” and “taking the pot” just to blend in.

Off I went though, looking for the catchiest and most heartfelt “No on Proposition 19” slogans out there. Truth be told, they were not easy to find. It seems most of the organizations and corporations financing the “No on Prop 19” drive prefer to stay in the shadows—no lawn signs in front of Coors corporate offices, for instance. But, dammit, I wasn’t about to let my readers down, so I kept hunting and finally found…

The 5 Very Best No on Prop 19 Slogans

From the California Prison Guards Union:

KEEP OUR PRISONS FULL…AND OUR TREASURY EMPTY.  NO ON 19! [found on baseball caps worn by patrons of Ronny’s Booze  and Broads, favorite watering hole for guards and other prison workers at nearby San Quentin State Prison]
 

From the National Association of Beer Breweries:

DON’T TRUST A DRUG THAT DOESN’T MAKE YOU WANT TO BEAT UP YOUR WIFE.   NO ON 19! [discovered on cocktail napkins at the organization’s Annual Convention Dinner]
 

From the Greater Mexico Association of Drug Cartels:

NO VOTAR POR LA PROPOSICION 19. ¡VIVA EL STATUS QUO! [carved into the chest of drug-related murder victim number 28,001–La Ciudad Juarez]
 

From the United Group of Southern Baptist Ministers:

EVERY UNITARIAN STARTED WITH MARIJUANA: NO ON PROPOSITION 19! [delivered during opening benediction by group’s president at monthly Bible Study and Gun Show]
 

From the Republican National Committee:

NO ON EVERYTHING (including 19)! [found on Republican Rep. Darryl Issa’s lawn sign–next to sign reading “Get Government out of Our Lives!”]

*

This opportunity to bring a touch of sanity to the miserable failure that is “The War on Drugs” will not come again soon. Hell, I don’t even smoke the stuff, but every day my life is adversely affected by this counterproductive, cruel charade. As I slalom around the growing number of potholes in our roads, I think of the sheer waste of public money spent on enforcing this prohibition.  I look at our crumbling schools that manage to graduate half of their students, while teachers–the ones who still have jobs–spend their own money on class supplies, and I think about the revenue that a regulated and taxed marijuana would produce.

Most importantly, I think about the tyrannical chutzpah of a state deciding for its residents which substances are OK to get high on, and which aren’t.

Then, of course, there’s that ever-present queasiness I feel about my tax dollars being used to lock people up for growing and smoking a substance that is proven to be less harmful than tobacco and alcohol.

Proposition 19 looks like it’s headed for Nice Try-ville. The only thing that can possibly save it is your vote.

Post-Mortem

Well, as everyone knows by now, Prop 19 did indeed wind up in Nice Try-ville. In the end, the prohibitionists prevailed 53% to 46%. To celebrate 19’s defeat, I’m sure they all went out and had a nice, legal alcoholic beverage or a few milligrams of highly-addictive, prescribed Valium, or any number of buzz-producing substances that make corporate manufacturers lots of money.

Take heart, though; weed will become legal in the not-too-distant future. According to a Pew study, American support for the all-out legalization of the stuff has grown from 12% in 1969 to 41% in 2010–a major shift of public opinion. I suppose that’s part of what makes this loss so damned frustrating. In the meantime, pot smokers and personal-use growers will continue to be fined, arrested and jailed, Mexico will continue its devolution into murderous anarchy, and the Prohibition Sluts who financed 19’s defeat, will continue to prosper from this nonsensical restriction on Californians’ personal freedom.

Maybe the main problem was Proposition 19’s official name, “The Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act,”

If it had been called, “The Personal Freedom, Kick the Cartels’ Asses & Help End our Tragically Futile War on Drugs Act,” Proposition 19 might have fared a little better.

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