28 December 2012

Alan Waldman: 'Rumpole of the Bailey’ is Superior Legal Britcom

Waldman's film and TV
treasures you may have missed:
Rumpole of the Bailey, a classic British TV legal series, delighted 95% of viewers.
By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / December 28, 2012

[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

Rumpole of the Bailey was a much-beloved comic English legal drama, starring the superb Leo McKern and marvelously written by creator John Mortimer. It ran for 43 episodes in seven seasons, between 1978 and 1992 (although it is set between 1967 and 1992).

Horace Rumpole is a clever, cynical, larger-than-life barrister who defends all comers but refuses to plead guilty -- or to prosecute -- at central London’s legendary criminal court, the Old Bailey. He is dominated by his steamship of a wife, Hilda (played first by Peggy Thorpe-Bates and later by Marion Mathie), whom he refers to as “She Who Must Be Obeyed.” (Tee shirts bearing this logo are worn by some American wives.)

After work, Rumpole repairs to Pomeroy’s Wine Bar, where he quaffs a vin rouge he calls “Chateau Thames Embankment.”

Mortimer was an Old Bailey barrister for 36 years, defending accused criminals and often fighting against famous obscenity prosecutions. He was also an excellent screenwriter (1965’s Bunny Lake is Missing and 1999’s Tea With Mussolini) and playwright (whose touching, autobiographical A Voyage Round My Father, televised in 1984, starred a magnificent Laurence Olivier as Mortimer’s blind, opinionated father).

The series was widely acclaimed and was nominated for 10 top British and American Awards, including three “Best Actor” BAFTAs for McKern, an Edgar and a BAFTA for Mortimer, and two “Best Miniseries” Emmys. More than 94.5% of viewers rating it at imdb.com gave it thumbs-up, and 47.2% considered it 10 out of 10. Everyone I know who has ever seen Rumpole declares that they loved it, as my three wives and I did.

All seven Rumpole seasons are available on DVD and Netflix, and many episodes are on YouTube. Rumpole also stars in many charming novels and short stories by Mortimer and a great number of British radio programs.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman's articles on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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27 December 2012

Paul Krassner : My Tweets of 2012

Paul Krassner tweets @ZenBastard. Graphic by James Retherford / The Rag Blog.

Paul Krassner’s Tweets of 2012

By Paul Krassner / The Rag Blog / December 27, 2012

This is my first tweet. I have Writer's Block. I mean Twitter's Block. I'm waiting for a cure to be developed.

A minimalist summation of American culture in the Los Angeles Times on Conan O'Brien: “The Masturbating Bear will remain the intellectual property of NBC.”

Perhaps Toyota should borrow a slogan from McDonalds: "You deserve a brake today.”

Texting while having sex? Two thumbs up.

Double standard: Charles Rangel pays restitution for unpaid taxes; Wesley Snipes is sentenced to a few years behind bars for a similar response.

Excuse me, I have to take a Wiki-leak.

Join me in signing a letter to stop the inhumane detention of Private Bradley Manning.

I saw the movie The King's Speech and was disappointed that it didn't end with Porky Pig saying, "Th-th-the-that's all, folks!"

Steve Jobs' legacy is a form of alchemy -- he transformed planned obsolescence into a virtue.

Poor Rick Santorum, he's afraid that if Roe vs. Wade isn't overturned by the Supreme Court, there will an epidemic of recreational abortions.

I stopped channeling Lenny Bruce the day he reminded me, "C'mon, Paul, you know you don't believe in that shit."

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Allen Ginsberg's death; he once told me he smokes not to get high, but rather because he likes to cough.

I went to the dentist today, and the hygienist gave me a choice of X-rays or a pat-down.

Summing up the presidential campaign: It'a battle between "Keep the government out of my Medicare" and "Keep the government out of my vagina."

I covered the Dan White trial and coined "the Twinkie defense."

The world desperately needs a campaign beginning with Kickstarter to raise funds to build an Iron Dome for the Palestinians.

Plan B has been aborted.

I voted for Barack Obama again, and yet now, although he wept for the loss of 20 kids, he never wept for the 178 kids killed by U.S. drones in Yemen and Pakistan.

The digitally colored edition of the infamous Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster by Mad magazine artist Wally Wood is available only at paulkrassner.com.

Have a Merry War on Christmas and a Happy, Snappy and Fulfilling New Year.

[Paul Krassner edited The Realist, America's premier satirical rag and was an original Yippie. Krassner’s latest book is an expanded and updated edition of his autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture, available at paulkrassner.com. Read more articles by Paul Krassner on The Rag Blog.]

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Bob Feldman : Race, Unions, and the Booming Texas Oil Business, 1920-1930

Burkburnett oil field, Burkburnett, Texas, circa 1920. Image from Texas in the 1920s.

The hidden history of Texas
Part 10: 1920-1930/2 -- Race, exploitation of workers, and the booming oil business
By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / December 27, 2012

[This is the second section of Part 10 of Bob Feldman's Rag Blog series on the hidden history of Texas.]

In 1920 over 741,000 African-Americans lived in Texas. But given the level of KKK influence in Texas and the limited political and economic opportunities that white supremacist and institutionally racist Texas society generally provided most African-Americans between 1920 and 1930, “a good many African-Americans,” not surprisingly, “left the state in the 1920s,” according to Randolph Campbell’s Gone To Texas.

But between 1920 and 1930 the number of Latinos in Texas of Mexican descent increased from over 251,000 to nearly 684,000, and by 1930, 10 percent of Austin’s population was now of Mexican descent.

Although the number of African-Americans who worked for wages as farm laborers in Texas decreased from 75,000 to 41,000 between 1910 and 1930 (due, in part, to the increasing mechanization of agricultural work), 20,000 African-Americans in Texas still owned their own farms (on which most grew cotton) in 1930.

Yet between 1900 and 1930, the number of African-Americans in Texas who were now just tenant farmers increased from 45,000 to 65,000; and 70 percent of all African-American farmers in Texas were just tenant farmers by 1930. In addition, about 64 percent of African-Americans who worked for wages were at this time employed in non-agricultural work in Texas, mostly as servants or unskilled laborers.

Most workers in Texas -- whether white, African-American, or of Mexican descent -- who attempted to organize themselves into unions were apparently exploited or repressed between 1920 and 1930 by the white corporate power structure in Texas. As F. Ray Marshall’s Labor in the South recalled:
The anti-union campaign was particularly vigorous in Texas. In San Antonio, for example, the chamber of commerce ran a free employment agency which placed over 2,000 non-union workers in 1920, by which time it had become almost impossible for union carpenters to get jobs. Mexican workers were brought in by the thousands, and special schools were set up to train non-union workers.

In San Antonio, the program defeated union electricians, carpenters, planning mill operators, butchers, printers and others. Beaumont, which had been a strong union town, became almost "open shop" after the anti-union attacks led by a member of the National Metal Trades Association. The anti-union forces in Dallas imported 1,500 strikebreakers, and even the printers were forced to accept non-union conditions. The Southwest Open Shop Association opened a trade school at Dallas to supply workers and persuaded the governor to send militia to Galveston to break the 1920 longshoremen’s strike.
But although “the ILA locals at Galveston surrendered their chapter in 1922, and company union was chartered in 1924” (and miners in Texas also “lost a 1926 strike against a 25 percent wage cut, and the United Mine Workers [then] disappeared” from Texas), “the open-shop movement” during the Roaring Twenties “was not completely successful, however, because the unions at Fort Worth and Houston were able to survive,” according to the same book.

Although most Texas farmers and workers in Texas did not enjoy much economic prosperity between 1920 and 1930, by 1928, “Texas for the first time led all other states in oil production with... nearly 20 percent of the total for the entire world,” according to Gone To Texas.

Besides producing super-profits for out-of-state, eastern corporate interests like the Mellon family and for some local Texas businessmen, politicians, and investors, Texas’s booming oil industry in the 1920s also began to produce super-profits for the “non-profit” University of Texas in Austin (a university that still discriminated against African-American people in the 1920s). As the same book observed:
Development of the Permian Basin... made the University of Texas... rich. The two million acres of land donated to the Permanent University Fund [PUF] in the 19th century had generated little income... But then in 1923 drillers brought in the Santa Rita wells on university lands in Reagan County...
According to David Humphrey’s Austin: An Illustrated History, “the income from the Permanent University Fund... in 1925... amounted to $225,000, gained largely from grazing leases on University of Texas’s 2 million acres in West Texas;” but “by 1927 revenues from oil leases on University of Texas’s West Texas lands poured into the Permanent University Fund at a rate of almost a quarter of a million dollars a month.”

Yet, although Austin’s “non-profit” University of Texas began to accumulate a lot of surplus wealth from its Texas oil industry property by 1927, in 1930 about 25 percent of Austin homes still had no indoor toilets, tubs, or showers, according to the same book.

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

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20 December 2012

Jack A. Smith : What's Behind America's Gun Violence?

Image from Black Youth Project.

Remember the children...
What's behind America's gun violence?
In recent decades -- despite the fact that last year there were over 11,000 murders by firearms in the U.S. and another 20,000 gun deaths from accidents and suicide -- the great majority of American politicians have been too gutless to fight for tougher laws.
By Jack A. Smith / The Rag Blog / December 20, 2012

There is more than the act of one individual involved in the mass gun killings that take place in America -- the most recent being the massacre of 20 young children and seven school workers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., December 14.

The main culprit, of course, is the late killer, Adam Lanza, 20. But such events occur within a context of shared responsibility for the unparalleled number of mass and individual shooting deaths that take place in the United States every year. This includes the political system and politicians, the National Rifle Association and other gun lobbies, and federal, state and local governments. Each has played an indirect role in the latest and earlier slaughters.

Of these other responsible parties, one is our political system that refuses to strengthen absurdly deficient federal and state restrictions on the possession of various types of arms. Another is the irresponsible politicians who make it relatively easy for criminals, people with mental problems, and those who are unfit to possess weapons for other reasons to accumulate a private arsenal.

In recent decades -- despite the fact that last year there were over 11,000 murders by firearms in the U.S. and another 20,000 gun deaths from accidents and suicide, not to mention many more injuries -- the great majority of American politicians have been too gutless to fight for tougher laws.

President Obama was moved to tears in announcing the deaths of 6- and 7-year old children in Newtown, and said he might take "meaningful action" of an undefined nature. But Obama is risk averse and has shown a disinclination to tangle with the pro-gun lobbies throughout his first term -- so there’s a chance all we’ll get is tears and rhetoric even though 80% of the American people want gun owners to secure police permits, and nearly 90% would require background checks on all gun sales.

On the other hand, the fact that 20 youngsters were massacred has shocked the nation to the extent that it may be politically advantageous for the White House and Congress to pass token legislation. Most conservative Republicans will do whatever is possible to block progress on gun control, but they may be less obstructive if a proposed law is weak and limited. No major changes are anticipated.

At one time, the Democratic presidents were willing to support gun control measures, in contrast to the recalcitrant rightists, but that’s changed in recent years. President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s was a strong advocate, seeking passage of national legislation demanding that firearms owners obtain licenses registering all guns and rifles. It failed.

After a mass shooting in the early 1990s President Bill Clinton fought for and won two gun control laws. The Democrats were quiet during George W. Bush’s eight years and silent during the last four.

Next in responsibility for the murders is the National Rifle Association and other gun owner or industry lobbies such as the Gun Owners of America, which sports an executive director, Larry Pratt, who actually made this comment soon after the school killings:
Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones.
The well-funded and fanatically supported gun lobbies greatly influence the politicians through payoffs and the threat of uncompromising electoral opposition. In order to fulfill its function as the propaganda instrument of the firearms owners and industry, the NRA argues disingenuously that the slightest regulation will eventually lead to banning of all guns for civilians, including those for home defense, hunting, and target shooting.

A large percentage of Americans appear to believe the lobby’s extremist propaganda and oppose efforts to strengthen gun laws. They seem to think a constitutional amendment provides them the right to convert society into a modern version of the Wild West, where we can “stand our ground” with bullets even against the innocent and unarmed if we claim to have been threatened.

In this regard, writes Zack Beauchamp Dec. 14 in AlterNet:
The Second Amendment prohibits strict gun control. While the Supreme Court ruled in D.C. v. Heller that bans on handgun ownership were unconstitutional, the ruling gives the state and federal governments a great deal of latitude to regulate that gun ownership as they choose. As the U.S. Second Court of Appeals put it in a recent ruling upholding a New York regulation, "The state’s ability to regulate firearms and, for that matter, conduct, is qualitatively different in public than in the home." Heller reinforces this view. In striking D.C.’s handgun ban, the Court stressed that banning usable handguns in the home is a "policy choice" that is "off the table," but that a variety of other regulatory options remain available, including categorical bans on firearm possession in certain public locations.
The federal government, too, must assume responsibility for creating a national culture of guns and violence that leads to continuing mass murders and individual killings. They averaged 30 a month last year. For every 100,000 residents, the U.S. averages five murders. In England it’s 1.2 murders; in Japan it’s 0.5.

The U.S., working with the arms industry, is the biggest seller of weapons worldwide, mostly to foreign militaries. It also entertains the greatest military arms budget in global history. And by its glorification of the military and of war Washington has contributed mightily to the sense that we are a gun-slinging people, at home as well as abroad, on Main Street USA as well as al Rasheed Street Baghdad.

America is the most violent country of all the advanced industrialized nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). From slavery to the displacement and annihilation of the original peoples in order to seize the entire continent, to modern day wars, regime changes, and torture overseas, “violence is as American as cherry pie,” as H. Rap Brown once reminded us.

On July 30, Mother Jones magazine informed its readers that, in the U.S. during the last 30 years, there “have been at least 62 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii.” This includes 2012’s “horrific mass murder at a movie theater in Colorado on July 20, another at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on August 5, another at a manufacturer in Minneapolis on September 27 -- and now the unthinkable nightmare at a Connecticut elementary school.”

State and local governments must assume responsibility as well for contributing toward a violent and gun-loving society. Considerable moves toward militarizing the police have taken place in recent decades as a result of the exaggerated drug wars and hyped-up terrorism wars. In the 20 years leading up to 2007 (the latest figures), special weapons and tactics teams (SWAT) have increased 1,500 percent.

Police brutality is a frequent reality -- mostly but not exclusively in urban areas and at political, worker, or popular protests and occupations. We’ve handed our police departments a huge array of violent instruments that are, to say the least, disproportionate to most situations. Here is some of their equipment:

For elite SWAT teams in their Darth Vader uniforms: submachine guns, automatic carbines or rifles, semiautomatic combat shotguns, sniper rifles, gas, smoke and flashbang grenades. For regular police: handguns, concealable off-duty handguns, shotguns and/or semiautomatic rifles, tactical batons, nightsticks, electroshock guns (Tasers), mace pepper spray, tear-gas. beanbag shotgun rounds, body armor, and loud noise devices. Beginning to arrive: aerial surveillance drones, soon to be widespread and weaponized.

In combination -- weak gun laws and a compliant political system fearful of powerful lobbies; a national history of violence, militarism, and frequent aggressive wars against smaller nations; and the gradual militarization of police -- these are factors that have significantly helped create the gun culture in the United States.

It’s time to change all of this, but it’s not on the immediate horizon. Enhanced gun control, however, has a chance over the next several years. The great majority of Americans call for expanded gun control. Today, 40% of gun owners have not even been subjected to a background check. It should be everyone. Every gun owner should also have a license from whatever authority issues them. At present, trade shows and private sellers don’t need registration or license information. This must change. And it would be good if there was one overall national law instead of different state laws.

Obviously there should be a reduction in the number of guns in the U.S. The purchase of assault weapons, and automatics with large magazines should be banned, as should large private arsenals. There used to be a law regulating assault rifles but it expired. It was very weak with many loopholes and a new one should be much tougher. A number of people think assault rifles should be completely banned.

Some gun control advocates see no need for concealed handguns at all on the streets at all, much less efforts to allow them in schools, sporting events, bars and elsewhere.

The American people are not seeking to place impossible obstacles in the way of gun ownership. They want tighter regulation and licensing. Banning all guns except for those possessed by the military and the police will never pass, and shouldn’t for a number of reasons including the fact that political systems can and do go wrong. At times, an armed citizenry is most necessary.

There are a number of good gun control groups in the U.S., such as the well-known Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, but they are small with not much clout. It is time for the American people, especially the liberals, progressives, and the left, to unify in action on this issue and organize mass political and electoral activism for as long as it takes to vastly reduce gun violence in America.


I’m sure we all agree with these lines from an editorial in The New York Times the day after the shooting in Newtown: “There is no crime greater than violence against children, no sorrow greater than that of a parent who has lost a child, especially in this horrible way.”

It is good to remember this in terms of all children, not just our own. According to the UN, a half-million children, many even younger than those at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, died as a result of Washington’s 1990-2003 sanctions against Iraq. We don’t have the child death figures from the wars in Afghanistan an Iraq but we do have some regarding Vietnam from various online sources:
  1. Ten percent of the child population of North Vietnam was killed, mainly by U.S. bombers. Another 400,000 suffered birth defects because of the U.S. Agent Orange defoliation campaign. Untold thousands continue to die to this day from accidentally detonating unexploded American land mines.

  2. According to American estimates (the Pepper Report) there have been 250,000 children killed, 750,000 wounded and invalided for life in a South Vietnam of 14,000,000 inhabitants. The great majority were killed by U.S. bombers, which decimated (allied) South Vietnam in efforts to destroy the liberation army and its many millions of southern supporters. More than 10,000 sorties by B-52s of the U.S. Strategic Air Command have been carried out over South and North Vietnam, each plane capable of dropping over 30 tons of bombs; that the number of bombs dropped monthly by American planes exceeds that dropped by U.S. planes in the European and Mediterranean theatres in the Second World War.

  3. On 27 September 1967 at 7:30 a.m., the day after classes reopened following the summer recess, while the children were happily bent over their first lessons, four U.S. jets, swooping in from the sea, fired rockets and dropped four CBUS (about 2,400 pellet bombs) on the first and second degree schools of Ha Fu (Ha Trung district of Thanh Hoa province) killing 33 pupils from eight to 12 years and wounding 30 more, including two teachers.
Remember the children -- from Newtown to Vietnam!

[Jack A. Smith was editor of the Guardian -- for decades the nation's preeminent leftist newsweekly -- that closed shop in 1992. Smith now edits the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter. Read more articles by Jack A. Smith on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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RAG RADIO / Thorne Dreyer : Interviews with Author John H. Slate & Singer-Songwriter Barbara K

Author-archivist John H. Slate on Rag Radio, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, in the studios of KOOP-FM in Austin, Texas. Photo by Carlos Lowry / The Rag Blog.

Rag Radio podcasts:
Lost Austin author John H. Slate
and singer-songwriter/activist Barbara K

By Rag Radio / The Rag Blog / December 20, 2012

Dalas City Archivist John H. Slate, the author of Lost Austin, was our guest on Rag Radio, Friday, December 7, 2012. Lost Austin -- a recently published volume in the “Images of America” series -- records some of the rich and unique history that shaped Austin's special character.

And on Friday, December 14, Singer-Songwriter Barbara K (Barbara Kooyman) -- joined by New Orleans poet Don Paul -- discussed her group, Artists for Media Diversity, and A4MD's new "virtual album," "Artists for Vieques." Barbara also performed live, accompanied by Richard Bowden on violin and Gerald Torres on harmonica.

Listen to Thorne Dreyer's interview with John Slate here:

And listen our show with Barbara K., Don Paul, et al here :

Rag Radio is a syndicated radio show produced in the studios of KOOP-FM, a cooperatively-run all-volunteer community radio station in Austin, Texas. It is broadcast live Fridays at 2 p.m. (CST) on KOOP, 91.7-FM in Austin, and streamed live on the Internet, and is rebroadcast on WFTE-FM in Mt. Cobb and Scranton, PA., on Sunday mornings at 10 (EST).

John H. Slate is the archivist for the City of Dallas, where he is responsible for historic city government records in the Dallas Municipal Archives. Slate's recently-published book, Lost Austin, features images of iconic Austins institutions, most of which no longer exist.

On the show, John discusses the role of the archivist in the preservation of local history, the historical importance of alternative journalism, and -- joined by our Carlos Lowry -- reminisces on early Austin and especially its punk and other seminal music scenes. Interesting irony: John Slate appeared in Richard Linklater's iconic indie film, Slacker, as a JFK conspiracy nut. Now, as Dallas municipal archivist, he coordinates the files on the Kennedy assassination.

Slate is a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists, has a BS from UT-Austin and a Masters in Library and Information Science, worked at the Center for American History at UT-Austin for 13 years, was curator/librarian at the Hertzberg Museum of the San Antonio Public Library, and was archivist at the Texas African American Photography Archive in Dallas.

He is past chair of the Government Records and the Visual Materials Sections of the Society of American Archivists and served as president of the Society of Southwest Archivists 2010-11. He is a member of the Texas State Library and Archives’ Historical Records Advisory Board.

Singer-songwriter Barbara K. performs on Rag Radio, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. Photo by Tracey Schulz / Rag Radio.

Barbara K was half of the recording act Timbuk3, whose 1986 song, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” was a big pop chart hit in the U.S. and England. The group traveled with Bob Dylan, Sting, and Jackson Browne, appeared on Saturday Night Live, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1987. Barbara performs on the show with Austin violinist and activist, Richard Bowden, and Gerald Torres, who -- in his other hat -- holds the Bryant Smith Chair in Law at UT-Austin.

Barbara Kooyman helped create Artists for Media Diversity (A4MD), to protect freedom of speech through the funding of services for alternative non-commercial media sources, to foster independent media voices, and to promote musical and cultural diversity.

"Artists for Vieques," was produced by AM4D in collaboration with the Latino Public Radio Consortium and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and features recording artists from Puerto Rico and Austin -- like Willie Nelson, Los Lonely Boys, and the popular Puerto Rican band Calle 13 -- supporting the construction of WVQR-FM, which will be the only public radio station on the small Puerto Rican island of Viques that the U.S. Navy used as a bombing range and testing ground until protests forced its closure in 2003.

Don Paul is a New Orleans-based poet, recording artist, and activist, and the author of more than 20 books, including four novels and four books of poems. In 1971, at age 20, Don Paul was the youngest winner of a Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University (other winners include Ken Kesey and Larry McMurtry).

Rag Radio features hour-long in-depth interviews and discussion about issues of progressive politics, culture, and history. The show, which has aired since September 2009, is produced in association with The Rag Blog, a progressive internet newsmagazine, and the New Journalism Project, a Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

The host and producer of Rag Radio is Rag Blog editor and long-time alternative journalist Thorne Dreyer, a pioneer of the Sixties underground press movement. Tracey Schulz is the show's engineer and co-producer.

All Rag Radio shows are posted as podcasts and can be listened to at the Internet Archive.

Rag Radio can be contacted at ragradio@koop.org.

Coming up on Rag Radio:
THIS FRIDAY, December 21, 2012: Sixties rock legends, Powell St. John and Charlie Prichard.

The Rag Blog

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Alan Waldman : Canada’s Two ‘Da Vinci’ Series Are Dramatic and Powerful

Waldman's film and TV
treasures you may have missed:
Canadian genius writer-producer Chris Haddock hit the bullseye with excellent procedurals Da Vinci's Inquest and Da Vinci's City Hall.
By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / December 20, 2012

[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

The terrific 1998-2005 Canadian TV series Da Vinci's Inquest and its 2005-2006 spinoff Da Vinci's City Hall were smart, gritty, honest, and eminently watchable. Largely based on actual Canadian criminal cases and social issues, both series were inspired by the career and exploits of Vancouver chief coroner-turned-mayor Larry Campbell. The title role, however, was written for actor Nicholas Campbell, who is just great in it.

Inquest ran for 91 episodes (seven seasons), and City Hall followed with 13 more. My wife Sharon and I saw most of them on U.S. TV and found them fascinating. Brilliant Canadian creator-writer-producer Chris Haddock followed the two fine Da Vinci series with the extraordinarily good, short-lived, drug- and corporate-crime series Intelligence, which I previously reviewed here.

The first three seasons of Inquest are available on Netflix, and episodes of both series can be seen on YouTube.

The two series were nominated for 61 major Canadian awards, winning 35. Inquest won the country’s top honor (the Gemini) for best dramatic series and best writing, for six of its seven seasons. The cast was very talented, and acting awards went to Campbell, Ian Tracey, Donnelly Rhoades, Venus Terzo, Duncan Fraser, Colin Cunningham, and Keegan Connor Tracy. More than 91.5% of the 602 viewers rating it at imdb.com gave it thumbs-up, and 41% rated it 10 out of 10.

Butting heads with bureaucracy in both series, Dominic Da Vinci strives to bring criminals to justice and mount needed social change. In City Hall, he locks horns with the police chief, while striving to implement controversial reforms, including a safe red-light district, help for the homeless, a safe injection site for addicts, and cross-training for Police and Fire & Rescue.

The first three episodes of Inquest dealt with a real case: the mysterious disappearance of numerous Vancouver prostitutes and the eventual arrest of a local pig farmer for multiple murder.

The drama of episodes is heightened by the evil of the villains and particularly that of a sly, crooked, and manipulative city cop. There is also much humor in character interactions, particularly in the running badinage between Da Vinci and an older cop played by Eugene Lipinski.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman's articles on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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Howard Wooldridge : Rocky Mountain High / 2

Howard Wooldridge and Misty in Pueblo, Colorado. Image from The Pueblo Chieftain.

Misty and me:
Fighting pot prohibition in Colorado, Part II

By Howard Wooldridge / The Rag Blog / December 20, 2012
Howard Wooldridge was Thorne Dreyer's guest on Rag Radio, produced in the studios of KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin, Texas, on Friday, November 30, 2012. You can listen to the podcast here:

Howard "Cowboy" Wooldridge, the founder and director of Citizens Opposing Prohibition (COP), is a Texan since 1994 and a former Michigan police officer and detective. His experience in law enforcement taught him that arresting people for drug use is a faulty proposition: it doesn’t work and is a waste of police resources.

Wooldridge has become one of the most effective advocates in Washington, D.C., for ending marijuana prohibition and the "war on drugs.” Howard -- with his horse (and “partner in politics”) Misty -- took part in the successful Colorado campaign in support of Amendment 64, to legalize cannabis for recreational and industrial purposes there.

This is the second in a three-part series written for The Rag Blog.

I used the local McDonald’s railing in Sterling as a hitching post, tying Misty up while I went inside to buy lunch. A crowd had already gathered when I returned a few minutes later.

We were a combination "petting zoo" and political statement, as everyone took pictures of their kids with Misty. Her "64" signs would show up along with my t-shirt all over social media in the Sterling area. One guy boasted of having 3,000 Facebook friends and said he would make multiple posts.

Yes, adults were nearly as eager to have a picture of the horse as the kids. By the end of this Saturday, Misty and I were both approaching exhaustion. She was actually falling asleep on the corner. We took the next day off. I took Misty to a large park and let her roam loose for several hours.

On the 22nd of October we started our long march down the I-25 corridor, spending our day in Longmont. The gods of weather smiled upon us again with sunshine and high 60s. A reporter spent nearly an hour with us, asking almost as many questions about riding across America as our efforts for Amendment 64. The drivers and passengers gave us hundreds of honks, thumbs, and smiles, while the cell phone cameras kept taking our pictures.

I strongly believe we helped fire up the base to vote, even as we confounded the stereotype that only "stoners" were voting "yes." The COP t-shirt and large pistol on my hip certainly set me apart from many. Note: My wife Karen insisted I take and wear the gun in case the Cartels tried to shoot me. Am I a lucky guy or what?!

Misty caught a break that night, sleeping in a paddock with two llamas. Bo and Betsy Shaffer of Erie put us up the next three nights, as we worked in Loveland. Bo had given us shelter in 2005 during our second ride across America. Nothing like a home-cooked meal and good conversation.

The enthusiasm for 64 exceeded that we received in our sojourn across California in 2010. The polls reflected us holding steady at 51% and, as we entered our last two weeks, I believed our efforts were helping the numbers. According to the election experts, turning out your supporters is crucial to any win. And Misty made people smile, even if they disagreed with the signs on her side.

The Front Range received 4-6 inches of snow on Wednesday evening, which meant Thursday was a snow day. I would never trailer Misty in snow. I took advantage of the off-day to visit my brother in the Denver area, had dinner with my ‘"librarian" Karen Bary and ended our day off doing a radio show in south Denver.

Colorado Springs in El Paso County -- which is home to many mega-churches -- was my last challenge. Bob Wiley not only arranged for a stall for Misty, he and his wife Rita put me in their guest bedroom, making our stay like heaven. Misty was able to take a load off. Sleeping on the ground left her markedly more rested and alert during her work time. The Wileys' good food, drink, and conversation improved my morale, just as the grind of work and being on the road were wearing me down.

We worked a bit of the traffic going to the Air Force Academy football game, before the police forced us to leave... The officer told us he was voting for 64, which tells you how pleasant the whole thing went. In the next 10 days we worked every day at different intersections. On Saturday the local ABC TV station did a nice report on us. A few days later we made a side trip to the police station where a local medical cannabis patient was supposed to receive his five pounds and 60 plants back (he had been found not guilty). This resulted in me being quoted in the local daily paper.

Again the honks and smiles seemed to increase. People rolled down their windows to shout they had already voted YES on 64.

On Saturday, November 1, we worked the crowd going to the Romney rally at the Colorado Springs airport. The traffic was only averaging about two MPH into the parking lot area, so everyone saw the signs for a solid minute. Some of the Republicans were angry and abusive but overall the crowd seemed about 50-50. It was another good day in the saddle. Fire the base and confront the opposition is my strategy.

We made a two-day, 60 mile trip down to Pueblo to work their mall intersection. Again the media gods smiled on us, as we made the local paper, including a nice big picture. Mall security was an off-duty cop who was a bit nasty ordering me to leave his parking lot. Luckily across the street the Goodwill folks said we could park there.

Though tired, we decided to work Sunday in Colorado Springs. And it was lucky that we did. An off-duty Fox reporter saw us and said, "There is a story." We made the local Fox news that night. Better, Fox national picked it up and we aired on all Fox channels on the Monday before the election, as the report went national.

After four more hours in Castle Rock on Monday, I bought a last, five-pound bag of carrots for Misty and pointed us home, our work done. Though invited to the victory party in Denver, attending would have meant a delay of 36 hours before being with my long-suffering Karen.

Near midnight on Tuesday, as we rolled into the Motel 6 in Indianapolis, I got the call from Bob that we had won with about 53% (the final total was 55%). I nearly cried with joy, knowing this was the beginning of the end of our national nightmare of marijuana prohibition. Late the next day we arrived at the ranch where Misty joined the herd of 50 on 80 acres. Later I learned that El Paso County voted in favor of Proposition 64 by a margin of 10 votes. Congratulations all around!

Ode to Misty: In August she thought, “Uh-ohh. Howard has ridden me three times this week. We are going someplace.” And with that realization, Misty had to prepare herself, mentally and physically, for yet another long ride in the trailer and upon arrival, to stand nearly motionless on one busy street corner after another. She knew that foul-smelling diesel smoke would mix with gasoline fumes to make her days less than pleasant. She knew she would be spending all night in her tight little trailer while Howard slept at the motel. Misery was spelled: "Howard-on-the-road-for-politics."

Misty has carried the anti-prohibition message on her back since 2001. She carried my little butt across America twice, while I wore the COP T-shirt. She spent two months in California for Proposition 19; now one month for Amendment 64. Through it all she did not complain, act up, or be anything other than my magnificent, Texas horse and partner. Her good looks made her a TV star and allowed our message to be seen my millions.

She has done enough. I will ask no more of my Misty. She is retired from politics. I let her know this as I turned her out into the paddock back in Maryland.

To be continued...

[Harold Wooldridge, who was a Michigan police officer and detective for 18 years, co-founded Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and is executive director of Citizens Opposing Prohibition (COP).]

The Rag Blog

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19 December 2012

Kate Braun : Will Winter Solstice Bring New Cosmic Balance?

Galactic Synchronization or end of the world? This illustration shows how some project the planets in the Milky Way to be aligned on the Winter Solstice, December 21, 2012. Image from About2012.

Winter Solstice 2012:
Will planetary alignment
bring new cosmic balance?

By Kate Braun / The Rag Blog / December 19, 2012
"I’m pickin’ up Good Vibrations..."
Friday, December 21, 2012, is Yule, the Winter Solstice. This year, according to the Mayan Calendar, a major cycle concludes, which is said to prompt major changes in the spiritual collective consciousness.

No, the world is not going to end; no, the X-Files prognostications of an alien invasion are not for real. But this year’s Galactic Synchronization, when lore says that the planets will come into alignment not only with themselves but also with the center of the Milky Way, implies a shift in the cosmic resonance that should affect all beings on Planet Earth.

Consider this: each planet in our solar system vibrates to a specific frequency which may be expressed as a musical note; when all the planets are in alignment, they vibrate in harmony; not dissonance, but harmony. The Galactic Synchronization brings this “harmony of the spheres” to the entire galaxy, creating a symphony of celestial vibrations attuned to balance in all things.

Weather permitting, I recommend you spend some time outdoors on Solstice Night. Open your senses. Breathe deeply and evenly; seven yoga-breaths (in through the nose to fill all the empty spaces in your body such as sinus cavities and the spaces between spinal vertebrae, hold a short time before releasing the breath slowly and evenly through a slightly open mouth) will put you in an Alpha-rhythm and open you to the meditative state.

Observe the moon, the stars, whatever planets may be visible in your area, and the night sky. Listen to the wind, to birdsong, to animals bustling through the brush, to whatever your ears notice. Pay attention to your dreams this night; you may receive insights that will prove helpful to you as we move forward into not only a New Year but also a New Balance.

Winter Solstice is a reestablishing of balance. We will notice the hours of daylight increasing daily as Planet Earth awakens from her deep meditative state to the new beginning that is 2013. What this New Year will bring is yet to be revealed. Each individual will have an individual response to the Galactic Synchronization, and while general trends will move us collectively to a better balance, each individual will still be walking an individual path to achieve that balance.

My feeling is that there will be a greater sense of responsibility to Planet Earth and that there will be a movement toward greater harmony in life, work, and play. My hope is that Yuletide 2012, truly marks the beginning of a more harmonic relationship between not only individuals but also nations, cities and their inhabitants, politicians and their constituents, and humans and their environment.

May each of you enjoy a Merry Christmas, Happy Yuletide, Serene Solstice, and Prosperous New Year.

[Kate Braun's website is www.tarotbykatebraun.com. She can be reached at kate_braun2000@yahoo.com. Read more of Kate Braun's writing on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Harry Targ : In Times Like These

"In Times Like These" performed by Arlo Guthrie.

In times like these:
Give peace a chance

By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / December 19, 2012
In times like these when night surrounds me
And I am weary and my heart is worn
When the songs they’re singing don’t mean nothing
Just cheap refrains play on and on...

When leaders profit from deep divisions
When the tears of friends remain unsung
In times like these it’s good to remember
These times will go in times to come
I see the storm clouds rise above me
The sky is dark and the night has come
I walk alone along this highway
Where friends have gathered one by one

I know the storm will soon be over
The howling winds will cease to be
I walk with friends from every nation
On freedom’s highway in times like these.

-- Arlo Guthrie, “In Times Like These.”
All year we have been celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie. “This Land is Your Land” has become the new national anthem, particularly for the 98 per cent of the population, mostly the American working class.

Singers now sing the forbidden verses challenging the rights of private property and choruses of cheering people, young and old, black and white, straight and gay, join in. It is a song of struggle, pride, and recognition that this world belongs to everybody.

Although the song has inspired us all as we sing it, sometimes we forget that the trajectory toward progressive change is not smooth. Guthrie’s friend and voice of our times, Pete Seeger, reminds us that “it is darkest before the dawn.”

Perhaps the anthem of these times, after hundreds of domestic instances of violence from Columbine to Newtown, from Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis, to the streets of Chicago, is most poignantly articulated by Arlo Guthrie. And it is an anthem that peace activists should sing as we struggle against bombings, drones, economic blockades, covert interventions, assassination lists, killer teams, wars on drugs, huge appropriations of human resources to kill, violent video games, war toys, endless television shows and films that portray and normalize killings, as well as the tragedies such as at Newtown.

Major targets of violence and murder are educational institutions and particularly students. It is ironic that it is in these institutions that some of the most creative debates ensue around direct, or physical, violence and structural, or economic, sexual, and racial, violence.

After World War II, scholar/activists concerned about atomic war, arms races, and war on poor countries introduced Peace Studies into university and public school curricula. Educators and activists had studied and advocated for peace for hundreds of years, but in the environment of the Cold War distinguished academics demanded that the tools of modern research and education be applied to war, the social cancer of our time.

Peace Studies programs since the 1950s have taken many forms. Some concentrate on the “war problem” and engage it through studies of philosophy, social theory, and theology. Others, using modern statistical techniques, gather data on war and other forms of violence and test hypotheses about causes.

And finally, others, the “radical peace educators,” argue that research and teaching should use all available techniques to study violence. In addition, we should include in our study of violence, the violence of exploitation, discrimination, the prerogatives of institutionalized power, and the manipulating of minds as well as bodies.

These latter peace research/educators also argue that a connection needs to be made between theory and practice, reflection and action, studying causes and working to eliminate them.

Today there are some 250 peace studies programs. Some emphasize one or another or all of the three approaches. Despite efforts of rightwing political forces to eliminate Peace Studies programs, they persist. They persist because university alums, professors, teachers, and students remain committed to addressing the problems of violence in the 21st century.

So researchers continue to learn more about the problem of violence, teachers (kindergarten through college) try their best to develop curricula that celebrate the preciousness of all human beings, and activists continue to struggle to eliminate institutions and cultures of violence.

In sum, in the midst of our deep sorrow, we remember Arlo Guthrie’s words. “In times like these,” despite the emotional energy and time spent achieving some electoral, labor and Occupy victories, we get weary and our “heart is worn.” While we see the “storm clouds rise above,” we should remember that “the storm will soon be over.” Why? Because “I walk with friends from every nation, on freedom’s highway in times like these.”

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his book from Changemaker Press which can be found at Lulu.com. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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18 December 2012

Lamar W. Hankins : A Humanist Response to the Newtown Killings

Photo by Whitney Curtis / Getty / The Guardian.

A humanist responds
to the deaths at Newtown
As a matter of public policy, there is no justification for allowing the widespread dispersal of semi-automatic weapons in the United States. They have done great harm in our society and have done no good.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / December 18, 2012

As a freethinking humanist, I do not see the world as guided by some divine force, or by some evil force. I recognize that good and evil both exist among our species. And I react to the events of December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut, much the way President Obama did when he said:
We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.

The majority of those who died today were children -- beautiful, little kids between the ages of five and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.

So our hearts are broken today for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost.
I react personally. I have a grand daughter who is eight years old. I was with her mother when her water broke. I was at the hospital when she was born. I helped care for her when she was an infant and for all the years since. To learn that her life had been snuffed out would be almost unbearable.

That it could happen by the senseless acts of a mentally unbalanced person who too easily laid hands on a semi-automatic rifle only makes my views of Wayne LaPierre and the organization he leads -- National Rifle Association (NRA) -- harden into something akin to hatred.

I have always seen the NRA as a front for the manufacturers of guns, especially semi-automatic weapons. I have no problem with guns, though I respect that they are dangerous, just as I respect that cars are dangerous. I own guns, but not the semi-automatic kind, though I could. I also don’t drive 85 mph on the highways, though I could do that also.

The primary difference between semi-automatic guns and fast cars is that there is no reason to possess semi-automatic guns except to go to war or to kill a lot of people in a short period of time.

Only those who have unreasonable fears about the dangers of our society, or fear totalitarianism to the point of paranoia, or who are influenced by fantasies about invasions of the wild pigs (name your own animal) see any need for semi-automatic weapons. I know these people exist because there are reality shows about them and I read about them. I also know people who are afraid to walk down the street in daylight and at night. Semi-automatic guns won’t help these people, though they might benefit from cognitive behavior or reality therapy.

The Humanist Manifesto II provides: “Faced with apocalyptic prophesies and doomsday scenarios, many flee in despair from reason and embrace irrational cults and theologies of withdrawal and retreat.” Public policy should not be decided by a retreat from reason. Our laws should not be determined by the needs of the few in our society who have outrageous fears or disturbed notions about American society. Our laws should be written for the benefit of the people as a whole.

As a matter of public policy, there is no justification for allowing the widespread dispersal of semi-automatic weapons in the United States. They have done great harm in our society and have done no good.

While denying the few the right to possess semi-automatic weapons would not have prevented all of the killings in Newtown, it likely would have reduced the slaughter. It would have allowed a few families who are now in the depths of despair at the loss of their children and grand children less cause for grief because they would not have lost those children to the actions of a mentally unbalanced man armed with semi-automatic weapons.

And let us not forget the recent mass shootings at a shopping mall in Portland, at a workplace in Minneapolis, at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, at a movie theater is Colorado -- all within the last five months. In the last 30 years, we have had 62 mass killings in this country. Something is terribly wrong.

A day after the shootings, New York Times columnist Charles Blow quoted Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, a group more extreme than the NRA, who blamed the events in Newtown on gun control advocates:
Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to ensure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones.
That Larry Pratt’s first reaction to the shootings in Newtown is to blame gun control supporters for the tragedy is to try to make a political point using the bodies of 20 school children and six teachers and administrators. And indirectly, Pratt is also blaming those teachers and administrators for their unwillingness to become a part of America’s gun culture. To emotionally dead people like Pratt, all that matters is his right to possess extremely dangerous weapons -- the kind used in war and terrorism.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think about what would happen if everyone in every public venue in America walked around with a gun on their hip or in their purse. It is not necessary for our public school teachers to have to be armed to prevent such tragic shootings as those that occurred in Newtown. There must be other solutions.

Surely improved surveillance, greater passive security, and more institutional protection would serve our public schools better than arming all adults who work in our schools. Arming all teachers will assure that we raise a generation of students who are as wildly paranoid and emotionally lifeless as Larry Pratt and the leadership of the NRA.

And what about those teachers who don’t want to carry guns. Surely they and all others who don’t want to carry guns have a right to be safe. This is a question posed by Blow, who cited a Mother Jones study that revealed that the “vast majority of mass shootings in the last three decades involved assault weapons and semiautomatic handguns.”

Americans deserve the right to be free from mass slaughter without having to arm themselves. We need to find better solutions for the 55% of Americans who do not have a gun in their homes. The JustFacts website, which is a a non-profit research and educational institute dedicated to finding and disseminating scientifically valid research on public policy issues, cites a study that found that
households in which a homicide occurred had a firearm ownership rate of 45% as compared to 36% for non-homicide households. Also, households in which a homicide occurred were twice as likely to have a household member who was previously arrested (53% vs. 23%), five times more likely to have a household member who used illicit drugs (31% vs. 6%), and five times more likely to have a household member who was previously hit or hurt during a fight in the home (32% vs. 6%).
This suggests that many factors influence gun-involved injuries and deaths. Unless we take a wide range of issues into account, put emotions aside except as a source of motivation, focus on the rational, and base our decisions on scientifically valid studies, we cannot arrive at the best decisions for our society.

We do know that countries with similar cultures as ours have much lower rates of gun-related deaths. Switzerland, Canada, Finland, France, Austria, New Zealand, Belgium, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom all have much lower death by firearms rates than the U.S.

Looked at another way, we find that Canada has a rate of gun deaths three times lower than the U.S; Australia’s rate is five times lower; the United Kingdom’s rate is t30 times lower. Maybe we could learn something useful about better controlling the gun violence in our society by studying these other countries.

Owning guns makes some people feel safer. There is no good public policy reason to refuse such people the right to own guns, and I am not suggesting that we should do so. In fact, the Constitution gives all of us the right to own guns. But that same Constitution does not give us the right to possess semi-automatic guns, or bazookas, or surface-to-air missiles. And our society has a right to prevent such powerful weapons from falling into the hands of disturbed individuals, which is impossible to prevent if the guns are readily available.

A poll done this past August by CNN/ORC shows that a majority of Americans favor background checks before purchasing a gun, a ban on semi-automatic weapons, a ban on high-capacity clips, a ban on guns for the mentally ill and for felons, and gun registration. I don’t know if these views enacted into law would reduce the gun violence level in our society, but they are worth considering, as is closing the gun show loophole that lets people avoid registration and background checks.

I do know that to keep semi-automatic weapons from those who will do us harm requires one thing -- enough politicians with the courage to take sensible steps to protect Americans from the devastation such weapons can create.

Unfortunately, most of our politicians take their orders from the NRA and Gun Owners of America, two organizations that contribute millions of dollars to protect the profits of the gun industry in the guise of standing up for rights to which none of us are entitled.

Their position on the issue of semi-automatic guns puts us all in jeopardy. They do not make us safer or more secure. On the contrary, they delay us from finding rational solutions that may prevent the kind of heartbreak felt by most Americans for the families of those children and adults killed in Newtown.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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VERSE / Alyce Guynn : Pale Mornings

Photo by Kelly Rossiter / treehugger.

Pale Mornings

     Brass buttons, green silks and silver shoes
     warm evenings, pale mornings, bottle of blues

          "Brass Buttons," Gram Parsons

She removes her precious memories
from the store room of her heart
unwraps the protective tissue paper
shielding them from today’s
enlightened air, amorphous moisture
and lays them out, not only for reminiscing
but also, examination

Like the yellowed silk of yesterday’s finery
the treasured recollections reveal
the wear and tear of time

     It was a dream much too real
     to be leaned against too long

She has curated these memories
catalogued them, carefully preserved
in papyrus of the everlasting now
protected from the inherent vandalism
of close scrutiny

     Gram Parsons wrote
     “Brass Buttons” when he was 18

The eternal second guessing:
too much purple? Did they drink
too deeply from the bottle of blues?

     Gram Parsons died way too young
     he never knew how famous
     he would become

Pretty pictures of the past
too precious to be pixilated
too fragile to be framed

Like yesterday’s satin doll
edged in tatting and lace
ivory slowly shading to yellow
unable to retain its glow

     The bearded man from five blocks down
     suggesting Billy Gibbons
     always waves when I drive by
     the one-finger, Texas two-lane wave

Here in the eternal now
witness to her agony
rumpled and tousled
she leans over her shadow
observing self

It always slew her
each time she let herself
revisit his eyes
the look landing on her
an echoing thud of knowing
seeing behind her lids
where all her yearning hid out
like the Younger brothers
in the Missouri hills

With doleful acceptance
but no regrets
she steps inside her past
profound and magical in its excess
shimmering, incandescent
memories not to be squandered
brought out on rare occasions
carefully shared with trusted few
not to be profaned by parading
sheltered from indiscriminate scorn

     And all the while
     I think she knew

© Alyce Guynn
The Rag Blog
December 2012
Austin, Texas

[Alyce Guynn’s poetry appears in Feeding the Crow and Deal Me In, a book of her love poems illustrated by Jesse "Guitar" Taylor. A former reporter for the Austin American-Statesman in the ‘60s, Alyce never wrote for The Rag, but read it regularly. Alyce also works as an antitrust investigator.]

The Rag Blog

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Alice Embree : Campaigning against Cuts at Corn Dog's Office

From left, at Austin "fiscal Cliff" demonstration: Aron Duhoon, Harrison Hiner, Grover Norquist (Thorne Dreyer), Alice Embree, Les Cunningham, Paula Littles, and, in front, Sen. John (Corn Dog) Cornyn. Photo by Carlos Lowry / The Rag Blog.

Austin protest against cuts for rich:
'Racketeer' Norquist meets 'Corn Dog' Cornyn
Union members, MoveOn, and citizens who want to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, made their message to Senator Cornyn clear with a 'Candlelight Campaign against Cuts.'
By Alice Embree / The Rag Blog / December 18, 2012

AUSTIN -- Grover Norquist, Racketeer for the Rich, made an unannounced visit to Senator John Cornyn's district office in Austin, Texas, on Monday, December 10, 2012. His message, "Don't Tax the Wealthy," is still wildly in vogue with Republicans. A group of citizens was there with another message for Senator Cornyn.

Cornyn (who was affectionately known as "Corn Dog" by George W. Bush), was present in canine form in front of the real Cornyn's district office. Rag Blogger Thorne Dreyer (as Grover) tussled with Corn Dog handler, Alice Embree, over the direction he should take. Grover kept urging hard right turns.

As part of nationwide protests that coincided with International Human Rights Day, union members, MoveOn, and citizens who want to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, made their message to Senator Cornyn clear with a "Candlelight Campaign against Cuts." There were also demonstrations in Dallas, Austin, Corpus Christi, Laredo, San Antonio, and Houston suburb Sugar Land.

Participants in the Austin action included members of the Communications Workers of America, Texas State Employees Union (TSEU), National Nurses United, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME), United Steelworkers (USW), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and MoveOn.

Hats off to the spirited nurses who brought "Robin Hood" hats and a banner that read: "Don't Push Seniors Off the Fiscal Cliff, Tax Wall Street." (See RobinhoodTax.org and like it on Facebook.)

[Alice Embree is a long-time Austin activist, organizer, and member of the Texas State Employees Union. A former staff member of underground papers The Rag in Austin and RAT in New York, and a veteran of SDS and the women's liberation movement, she is now active with CodePink Austin and Under the Hood Café. Embree is a contributing editor to The Rag Blog and is treasurer of the New Journalism Project. Read more articles by Alice Embree on The Rag Blog.]

Here are links to demonstrations around Texas:
The Rag Blog

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12 December 2012

Bob Feldman : The Rise of the Klan in Texas, 1920-1930

Flyer for "Ku Klux Klan Day," October 24, 1923. Image from The Portal to Texas History.

The hidden history of Texas
Part 10: 1920-1930/1 -- The rise of the Klan in Texas
By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / December 12, 2012

[This is the first section of Part 10 of Bob Feldman's Rag Blog series on the hidden history of Texas.]

Between 1920 and 1930, the number of people living in Texas increased from over 4.6 million to over 5.8 million, and the percentage of Texas residents who now lived in urban towns and cities with populations above 2,500 people increased from 34 to 41 percent.

By 1930, over 292,000 people lived in Houston, over 260,000 people lived in Dallas, over 231,000 people lived in San Antonio and over 163,000 people lived in Fort Worth -- although the number of people living in Austin in 1930 was still less than 54,000.

Between 1920 and 1930 the percentage of farmers in Texas who were now just tenant farmers also increased to 61 percent. And in Texas during the "Roaring Twenties,” as Randolph Campbell recalled in his book, Gone To Texas:
Thousands upon thousands of farmers continued to live in destructive poverty as tenants and sharecroppers. Giant corporations still wielded monopoly power because anti-trust and regulatory laws had always aimed more at "foreign" businesses... Laws protecting children in industry... went unenforced... The doctrine of white supremacy ruled race relations, and in South Texas Anglo bosses exploited Texans of Mexican descent politically and economically...
Alwyn Barr’s Black Texans, observed:
Mob violence increased in the early 1920s with the rise of the new Ku Klux Klan... Klansmen branded a black bellhop in Dallas with acid and castrated a light-skinned Negro accused of relations with a white woman. They raided the office of the Houston Informer and threatened the Dallas Express, both black papers. Hooded groups beat a black youth in Texarkana, removed two Negroes from the Denton jail to flog them, and forced black cotton pickers near Corsicana to end their strike for higher wages...
In addition, during the 1920s, “the new Klan, which claimed over 100,000 members in the state, proved powerful enough... to help elect Earle B. Mayfield, a Klansman, to the United States Senate from Texas,” the same book noted.

According to Gone To Texas :
The KKK arrived in Texas in September 1920 when a kleagle came to Houston and recruited 100 men into the state’s first local chapter. "The initial roster represented literally a glossary of Houston ’s Who’s Who," wrote one observer. The charter members were silk-stocking men from the banks, business houses, and professions...

From its Houston beginning, the Klan spread rapidly across the state. In January 1922, when membership reached more than 75,000, Texas was organized as a realm of the "Invisible Empire" under its own grand dragon, A.D. Ellis, an Episcopal priest from Beaumont. That same year women... obtained a Texas charter as the Women of the Invisible Empire of America. In June 1923, 1,500 masked and robed klanswomen held a parade through Fort Worth. Eventually male membership alone stood at approximately 150,000.
Some opposition to the KKK’s growing influence in Texas electoral politics began to develop within Texas white power structure and political establishment circles (who then backed state-wide candidates that were able to defeat some KKK members who ran against them) by 1924. But as Merline Pitre’s In Struggle Against Jim Crow noted:
The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s was a viable force in Houston and throughout the state. In Texas, this vigilante group occupied a position of power and influence unequaled in any other state, giving Texas the designation of Star Klan State. Houston was dubbed as the Star Klan City...

In 1921, Houston Klansmen, led by Deputy Sheriff George E. Kimbro, attacked and castrated a black dentist and beat a white lawyer who represented him. Several years later, the Klan tarred and feathered a black physician. In 1928, a Houston mob dragged a black man, accused of killing a white police officer, from his bed in a local hospital and hanged him from a bridge -- a murder for which no one was ever convicted. Additionally, a Klan newspaper, Colonel Mayfield’s Weekly, circulated throughout the city.

[In Houston ] in 1920, backed by a city ordinance, the American Legion excluded blacks from the annual Armistice Day parade. Blacks also were prohibited from voting in the municipal elections of February 1921. In 1923 and 1924, respectively, blacks were banned from standing in the same lines as whites to purchase stamps at the post office and to pay property taxes at the Harris County Courthouse. In 1925, the Electric Company excluded blacks from riding its buses, while in 1926, the Majestic Theater refused to admit blacks on weekends.
In 1921, Houston ’s Democratic Party also passed a resolution "allowing only whites to vote in the upcoming Democratic primary;” and in 1923 the Texas state legislature passed a law stating that “only white Democrats and none other” could vote in primary elections, according to the same book.

Between 1920 and 1930, the KKK was also visibly active on the streets of Austin, Texas . In 1921, for example, “500 white-robed and hooded Ku Klux Klansmen from Austin and San Antonio marched single file in silence up and down Congress Avenue, while thousands of spectators looked on,” according to David Humphrey’s Austin: An Illustrated History. The same book also observed:
Capital City Klan No. 81 was organized in 1921 and a year later had 1,500 members including the sheriff of Travis County and apparently other highly placed city and county police officials. The Klan thrived in Austin in the early and mid-1920s... In the mid-1920s the Klan even purchased a sizable piece of property off South Congress Avenue and erected a hall or "Klan haven"…
So, not surprisingly, Austin’s “1928 city plan recommended that East Austin be designated a `Negro district’ and that municipal services for blacks, such as schools and parks, be confined to this district” and so “thirteen-acre Rosewood Park in East Austin provided recreational facilities for blacks, but other city parks were closed to them,” according to Austin: An Illustrated History.

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

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Alan Waldman: 'Father Ted' is Howlarious Irish Series

Waldman's film and TV
treasures you may have missed:
Anglo-Irish sitcom Father Ted brilliantly spoofs Catholic clergy in one of the funniest TV series ever.
By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / December 12, 2012

[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

The 1995-1998 TV series Father Ted, set on Ireland’s remote, fictional Craggy Island, was almost universally adored until the heart-attack death of star Dermot Morgan, 24 hours after the filming of its 19th and final episode. Father Ted took comedy in wonderful new directions, although its treatment of three eccentric Catholic priests roused viewer protests that drove Boston’s PBS station to take it off the air. All its episodes can be seen on YouTube, and the first season is on Netflix and Netflix Instant streaming.

As of December 6, 2012, more than 93.6% of the 11,959 viewers who rated it at imdb.com gave it thumbs up, and an astonishing 52% of them consider it a perfect 10. Judge for yourself by clicking here.

Created and written by Irish funnymen Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews (who have written and/or created another 21 comedy series), it follows the hilarious adventures of three priests who have been exiled to a lonely parish house on remote Craggy Island as a punishment.

Father Ted Crilly (Morgan) was sent to Craggy Island as penance for “The Lourdes thing,” in which he supposedly stole the charitable donations meant to fund a children’s pilgrimage and hot-footed it to Las Vegas. He and nutsy housekeeper Mrs. Doyle (Pauline McLynn) now care for the supremely dim Father Dougal McGuire (a delightfully funny Ardal O’Hanlon) and the violent, alcoholic, deranged Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly).

Father Ted was nominated for 19 major British and Irish awards, winning 15, including Best TV Comedy for two of its three seasons. Morgan won two awards, including the BAFTA for Best Performer. O’Hanlon and McLynn won performer awards and Linehan and Mathews took two BAFTAs for producing and a best TV Situation Comedy honor from the Writers Guild of Great Britain.

One great running gag is that Father Dougal lacks even the remotest understanding of Catholicism. Father Ted once sarcastically cracks that Dougal entered the priesthood via a “collect 12 crisps packets and become a priest” promotion. His childlike view of life is endlessly hysterical, and he delivers his lines with great deadpan innocence.

By the way, O’Hanlon followed this role with the wonderful lead in the highly imaginative Britcom My Hero. O’Hanlon’s standup comedy is also terrific and can be found on YouTube. (“Women experience pain more deeply than men do, because a certain part of every woman’s brain is always thinking about shoes.)

Father Jack sits in a corner or is passed-out drunk most of the time, and his vocabulary mostly consists of four shouted words: “Drink!,” Arse!,” “Girls!,” and the Irish “F” word, “Feck!” He will drink anything, including floor polish and an Irish product called Toilet Duck. Father Jack’s face is covered with sores, and actor Frank Kelly looked so creepy while in costume that cast members refused to lunch with him.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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Paul Buhle : Comix Artist Spain Rodriguez (1940-2012)

Spain Rodriguez: Transforming comics. Image from CBLDF.

The passing of a comix pioneer:
Spain Rodriguez (1940-2012)

By Paul Buhle / Dissent / December 12, 2012
In Trashman: Agent of the Sixth International, the signature saga of his early years, Rodriguez's revolutionaries took revenge on a truly evil American ruling class.
We are now so far from the 1960s and ’70s that the crucial locations, personalities, and moments of one very popular art form’s transformation have been largely forgotten. Spain Rodriguez, with a handful of others (the best remembered are happily still with us: Gilbert Shelton, Robert Crumb, Bill Griffith, Kim Deitch, Art Spiegelman, Trina Robbins, and Sharon Rudahl, to name a few), pushed the comics agenda so far forward that no return to the limitations of superheroes and banal daily newspaper strips would ever be possible.

Comic art, belatedly recognized in The New York Times (and assorted museums) as a real art and not a corrupting children’s literature, owes much to them.

Spain (his birth name was Manuel, his father a Spanish immigrant, his mother an Italian-American artist) grew up in Buffalo, New York, a rebellious working-class kid who wore long sideburns and was impressed by the civil rights movement. He dropped out of art school in Connecticut and, after returning to Buffalo and working a factory job with a motorcycle gang engagement, landed in New York in time for the efflorescence of Underground Comix (styled with an “x” to distinguish itself) in a comic tabloid offshoot of the East Village Other.

His colleagues were a strangely mixed crew, all of them old enough to have been influenced by EC Comics, the most politically liberal and artistically accomplished of the old comics industry, and the one hardest hit by the congressional hearings of the McCarthy era. (As with attacks on the Left, every charge of subversion and perversion hid Middle-American outrage: these were Jews corrupting innocent American youth.)

In a sense, every “underground” artist of these early days sought revenge in the name of comic art, and realized it through the depiction of sex, violence, and anti-war and anti-racist sentiment unthinkable in what remained of the mainstream. Sex and violence, lamentably, became chief attractions to many readers, recalling the “headlights” (aka “sweater girl”) crime and horror comics of the late 1940s, albeit with a left-wing or libertarian ambience.

The whole comix artistic crowd moved to San Francisco around 1970, joining Robert Crumb and a few others already there, part of the acid-rock, post–Summer of Love setting. Underground comix, replicating the old kids-comics format but now in black and white, grew up alongside the underground press, whose reprinting of comix created the market for the books.

Crumb was the artist whose work sold the best, in the hundreds of thousands, but Spain was widely regarded as the most political. He was heavily influenced by the most bohemian of the EC comics world, wild man Wallace Wood, whose sci-fi adventures depicted civilizations recovering from atomic war and whose Mad Comics stories assaulted the 1950s commercialization of popular culture. Wood’s dames were also extremely sexy, too overtly sexy for the diluted satire of the later Mad Magazine.

Spain Rodriguez. Photo by Sean Stewart / Babylon Falling.

Trashman: Agent of the Sixth International was Rodriguez’s signature saga in these early years, serialized in underground papers, comix anthologies, and eventually collected in comic book form as Subvert Comics. These revolutionaries took revenge on a truly evil American ruling class in assorted ways, many of them violent, but they also had fun and sex, and were subject to many self-satirizing gags, in the process.

By the middle 1970s, his work had broadened into more social and historical themes, often with class, sex, and violence highlighting his points. Histories of revolutions and anti-fascist actions (and all their complexities) inspired some of his closest reading of real events, but he had no fixed point on the left-wing scale.

He admired and drew about anti-Bolshevist anarchist leader Nestor Makhno and also anti-Stalinist Spanish anarchist Durruti, but he also drew about Red Army members facing death fighting the Germans, and so on. (Several of these pieces are now reprinted in Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, an anthology from that 1980s series, just published by PM Press.)

In recollections of the internal conflicts among comix artists, sometimes pitting feminists against male-dominated circles, Rodriguez is remembered as having been unusually helpful and egalitarian, a memory that contrasts curiously with his sometimes sado-masochistic plot lines but not so curiously with the gender-equality of the sybarites (“Big Bitch” was Trashman’s female counterpart, the tough working-class broad with sex cravings for weaker men).

He poked and prodded San Francisco’s self-image as a haven of liberated sex, sometimes making his younger self a player on the scene. He also helped set in motion the vital murals movement in San Francisco’s Mission District, but was likely best known on the West Coast for his many posters of San Francisco Mime Troupe openings.
Spain Rodriquez lasted long enough to see his work in square covers (if not often hard covers), his unique and quasi-realistic modernism preserved for generations ahead.
The validation of comic art from near the end of the century onward -- Spiegelman’s Maus and left-wing lesbian Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home high among the evidence of artistic achievement -- found Rodriguez with a Salon series, “The Dark Hotel,” and several books of his own. Devil Dog, a biography of disillusioned Marine Corps general Smedley Butler, and Nightmare Alley, an adaptation of the classic noir novel, are easily among the best. Che, his graphic biography of Che Guevara, reached the furthest, with editions published everywhere from Latin America to Europe, Japan, and Malaysia.

At the time of his death, Rodriguez was amid “Yiddish Bohemians,” a strip about Jewish-American puppeteers during the 1920s and ’30s, in what would be the last in a stunning series of collaborations with playwright-professor Joel Schechter. Rodriguez had started a Woody Guthrie poster for an upcoming Bay Area concert and, had he lived, would have drawn a history of the 2003 San Francisco hotel strike.

After more than 40 years (and the disappearance of well over 90 percent of many little-remembered artists’ work in yellowing pulp), the impact of the Underground Comix world remains more a matter of style than substance, daring more than narrative and artistic content. This is unfortunate, because so many artists had particular contributions worthy of note, worthy of reprinting for the sake of comic art alone.

Spain Rodriquez lasted long enough to see his work in square covers (if not often hard covers), his unique and quasi-realistic modernism preserved for generations ahead. That he never lost his political vision or his sense of humor should go without saying, but those of us lucky enough to see him teach or to be taught by him felt the deep impact of his humanism as well.

Rodriguez died at home in San Francisco, with his wife, Susan Stern, a documentary filmmaker, and his daughter, Nora Rodriguez, by his side. A retrospect of his work, including a short documentary film made by his wife, is now in place at the Burchfield Penny Art Center in Buffalo, the second exhibit in Buffalo to honor this improbable local hero.

[Cultural historian Paul Buhl is professor emeritus at Brown University. He publishes radical comic books and graphic novels. Buhle was the editor of Che and is co-editor of the anthology Bohemians, to appear in 2013, with two strips by Rodriguez. Read more articles by Paul Buhle on The Rag Blog.]

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