30 September 2013

Lamar W. Hankins : A Case Study in DWI in San Marcos, Texas

Kyle Maysel's arrested is reported on San Marcos television. Image from kens5.com.
A case study:
DWI and the citizen accused
A San Marcos attorney was arrested on a DWI charge during a 'no refusal' weekend and questions have been raised about the conduct of the police and the judge involved in the case.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / September 30, 2013

SAN MARCOS, Texas -- This past August 30, San Marcos attorney Kyle Maysel was arrested on a DWI charge after a minor traffic accident in which he backed into a stopped car. That day was the start of the first “no refusal” weekend to be conducted by the San Marcos Police Department (SMPD), a weekend when anyone arrested for DWI would not be allowed to refuse to take a breath test or a blood test to measure the alcohol content of their breath or blood.

It coincided with the Labor Day Holiday weekend (August 30-September 2). Several questions have been raised by reporters about the conduct of the police and the judge who was involved in the case.

Maysel, a well-known 55-year-old attorney in San Marcos and president of the Hays County Bar Association, was backing out of a parking space on Hopkins Street in downtown San Marcos around 10:30 p.m. He failed to notice a westbound car in a line of cars stopped for a red light at the corner of Hopkins and Guadalupe Street. Maysel’s vehicle struck the stopped car on its right rear. The drivers of both vehicles apparently drove one and a half blocks to an HEB parking lot after the accident.

San Marcos police officer Jason Scott arrived at the parking lot a few minutes later, along with another officer, to investigate the accident. During the officer’s investigation, he observed that Maysel was unsteady on his feet, had glassy eyes, slurred his speech, spoke slowly, had an odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath, and leaned against a car for support.

Maysel also exhibited six “clues” related to intoxication on the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, during which Maysel had difficulty following the officer’s instructions to put his feet together, to put his hands down to his side, and to follow the procedure requested. The officer had to repeat his instructions many times over a nearly 10-minute period.

The HGN test requires an officer to watch the action of a subject’s eyes to determine whether they bounce or jerk unusually as they track the horizontal movement either of an object held by the officer or the officer’s finger. The inability of the eyes to track smoothly can be caused by excessive alcohol use, as well as many other factors.

Maysel had to be told several times to follow the officer’s finger with his eyes as he moved his finger in front of Maysel’s face from side to side. The officer reported that Maysel became argumentative about the HGN test and the officer’s observation that he was unsteady on his feet.

When first contacted by the officer, Maysel was confused about where his driver’s license was, believing he had given it to another officer before finding it in his shirt pocket. Maysel admitted to backing into the stopped car, and refused to perform any other standard field sobriety tests, which usually include the one-leg stand, and the walk-and-turn test. Initially, Maysel agreed to do the one-leg stand on a flat surface, but after moving to a flat area, Maysel refused the test.

The officer’s conversation with Maysel contained further confused statements related to how much he had to drink. At first, Maysel responded that he had a couple of drinks. Later, he said that he had three or four drinks while watching a football game. Maysel refused to take both a breath test and a blood test to determine alcohol concentration in his body after having been read a statutory warning that a refusal would result in the loss of his driver’s license for at least 180 days.

Two other police officers, Don Lee and Tony Scott, assisted with the investigation. Officer Tony Scott explained the “No Refusal Blood Draw” program to Maysel. Upon learning that District Judge Bill Henry would be asked to issue the warrant for the blood draw, Maysel told the officers that he knew Judge Henry.

Maysel was handcuffed and arrested. His car was left in the parking lot since it was parked legally and no one could be found to drive it away. Maysel was driven in a patrol car to Central Texas Medical Center (CTMC), which has an informal agreement with SMPD to do blood draws for its “no refusal” initiative.

A search warrant to authorize the blood draw was prepared and signed by officer Jason Scott after he swore to the affidavit supporting the warrant during a telephone conversation with Judge Henry, who then asked for the warrant and affidavit to be taken to him at his home for his review and signing. This was done by officer Tony Scott.

Forty-five minutes later, Officer Tony Scott arrived back at the CTMC and informed the arresting officer, Jason Scott, that Judge Henry refused to sign the warrant for the blood draw because Judge Henry “has a working relationship with Maysel and knows about his (Maysel’s) drinking problem (which) he felt... made him subject to being called as a witness should the case come to trial.”

Further, Judge Henry “stated he was with Maysel (that day) during a retirement party at the Courthouse around noon.” The report by Officer Tony Scott states further, “The Judge denied there being alcohol at the party but stated Maysel has a drinking problem he (Judge Henry) is aware of.” All of the quotes are taken from Officer Scott’s written report.

The arresting officer decided not to pursue the arrest of Maysel, drove him to his truck so that Maysel could retrieve some personal belongings, warned Maysel against driving his vehicle again that night, and gave him a ride to his home. The officer did check the parking lot later in the night to make sure Maysel’s vehicle was still parked there.

This case brings up several issues that may be confusing to the average person, as well those who have a working knowledge of police procedure:
  1. Why wasn’t there another judge who could have signed the warrant?
  2. Why is it constitutional to take a blood sample against a person’s wishes?
  3. Why would Judge Henry recuse himself from participating in the issuance of a warrant to take a sample of Maysel’s blood?
  4. Why wasn’t a DWI charge pursued after Maysel’s arrest even though no breath or blood specimen was provided?
In an interview with San Marcos Police Chief Howard Williams, he explained that the Labor Day weekend was the first time that the SMPD had tried to do a “no refusal” program and ironically the first case it attempted revealed an unanticipated glitch in the program.

The SMPD had asked Judge Henry if he would be willing to participate in the program. He is one of two district judges who live in or around San Marcos. No one had thought about what to do if, for some reason, Judge Henry believed that it would be improper to issue a warrant for a blood draw on a subject.

State law allows only certain judges or magistrates to issue blood draw warrants -- they must be attorneys. This requirement leaves out all of the Justices of the Peace who are not attorneys, which includes all now serving in Hays County. Also, municipal court judges must serve in municipal courts of record to be allowed to issue blood draw warrants, but the judge for the San Marcos Municipal Court, which is a court of record, had not previously been contacted about the program.

This left only three judges who reside in Hays County, other than Judge Henry, who were eligible to issue a blood draw warrant for Maysel. Because no plans had been made for a substitute judge to issue a blood warrant, there was inadequate time to find another judge who was eligible to issue a warrant, and the police thought that perhaps all of them would find themselves unable to issue such a warrant for the same reasons given by Judge Henry.

The constitutionality of using a warrant to draw a blood sample in a DWI case has been settled law under the U.S. Constitution since 1966, when the U.S. Supreme Court held that blood samples may be taken provided that the requisites of the Fourth Amendment are met.

In Texas 11 years ago, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals made clear that this was the law in Texas provided that the warrant is based on sufficient probable cause; that is, the officer must explain precisely, in a written affidavit, what evidence exists that the person whose blood is sought may be intoxicated. And the magistrate issuing the warrant must be neutral and unbiased, what the law considers “detached.”

In addition to satisfying the requirements of the Fourth Amendment and its comparable provision found in the Texas Constitution for the issuance of a search warrant for blood evidence, Texas law recognizes an “implied consent” concept. That is, if a person obtains a valid Texas drivers license, the possession of which is a privilege and not a right, such a person has given “implied consent” to provide a breath or blood sample when one is requested under the proper circumstances or suffer the consequences.

In the Maysel case, that consequence will be the loss of his drivers license for at least 180 days unless an administrative law judge finds that the requisites for an arrest for DWI were not met.

The reasons for Judge Henry’s recusal from the Maysel case may be more difficult to understand. In a few situations, recusal is mandatory. The Code of Criminal Procedure provides that a judge is disqualified from hearing a criminal case if the judge is the injured party or has been the counsel for the state or the accused, or if the accused or an injured party is a close relative.

The Code of Judicial Conduct provides broader, discretionary standards, however. The Code calls for judges to maintain “high standards of judicial and personal conduct” in ways that preserve the “integrity and independence of the judiciary.” Judges are further required to “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” Undoubtedly, these standards weighed on Judge Henry’s decision in the Maysel case.

On the other hand, another provision of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that judges “shall not allow any relationship to influence judicial conduct or judgment.” Arguably, a judge should not allow a professional relationship with an attorney who regularly appears before him or her to influence the performance of that judge’s duties. But another section of the same Code provides that judges should hear and decide matters that come before them “except for those in which disqualification is required or recusal is appropriate.”

Judge Henry’s knowledge about Maysel, his concern that questions might later be raised about his own impartiality, and the mixture of judicial conduct standards make it difficult to determine whether recusal was necessary. But except for mandatory disqualification situations, recusal decisions are almost always left to the discretion of the individual judge, and there are ample reasons to support Judge Henry’s decision in this case.

The reasons a DWI charge was not pursued can be found mainly in officer Jason Scott’s report of the incident. At one point during the interchange between Scott and Maysel, his lapel microphone malfunctioned. The HGN test took an excessive amount of time. There were time delays caused by the relocation from the HEB parking lot to one that was more level across the street from HEB.

Fulfilling the procedures of the new “no refusal” program took additional time. The preparation of the warrant, the phone call with Judge Henry, and delivering the warrant to Judge Henry, after which he recused himself, took even more time. From the time Maysel left the parking lot and Officer Tony Scott arrived back at CTMC with news of the recusal action almost three hours had passed.

While this was not too long a time to secure a breath or blood test, it was apparent that neither would be taken in this case. Without a breath or blood test, the case would rest completely on the officer’s observations and the videos.

While the videos may have been sufficient, along with the testimony of three officers about Maysel’s condition and behavior, officer Jason Scott decided not to pursue the arrest further, something that is within his discretion to decide, though it is not unreasonable to let that decision be made by the district attorney, whose job it is to prosecute such cases.

I did not talk to any of the officers involved in the Maysel case, but I will note that I have represented clients formally charged with DWI in which the evidence against them was less than the evidence amassed against Maysel.

While the state has a more difficult time prosecuting such cases, they regularly do so, especially when the video evidence clearly demonstrates that the accused was impaired. In addition, there were at least two civilian witnesses to Maysel’s actions and demeanor at and immediately after the time of the accident. Their testimony, as well as the testimony of people in the bar where Maysel had been drinking, could have been sought.

After reviewing all of the reports provided by the SMPD, as well as the videos taken by the department’s in-car cameras, I was left with the impression that the officers had little confidence in their conclusions about Maysel’s intoxication. With additional training, they might feel more secure in pursuing DWI charges that lack more conclusive evidence than was available in this case.

Chief Williams has already taken steps to assure the availability of a judge who is less likely than Judge Henry to have personal or professional relations with local attorneys the next time the SMPD has a “no refusal” weekend.

[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

[+/-]

26 September 2013

RAG RADIO / Thorne Dreyer : Jim Hightower Brings the Lowdown on 'Poopgate' and 'Tinkle-Down' Economics

Texas populist gadfly Jim Hightower at the studios of KOOP-FM in Austin, Texas, September 13, 2013. Photos by Roger Baker / The Rag Blog.
Rag Radio podcast:
Famed Texas populist commentator
and political gadfly, Jim Hightower
In 30 years, we’ve gone from Ronald Reagan’s ‘trickle-down’ to the Koch Brothers’ ‘tinkle down’ economics. We are resurrecting the robber barons and imposing a plutocracy over our democracy.
By Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / September 26, 2013

Texas populist writer, commentator, and political gadfly Jim Hightower was our guest on Rag Radio, Friday, September 13, 2013.

Rag Radio with Thorne Dreyer is a weekly syndicated radio program recorded at the studios of KOOP 91.7-FM, a cooperatively-run all-volunteer community radio station in Austin, Texas.

Listen to or download the podcast of our September 13 interview with Jim Hightower here:

Texas progressive populist writer, public speaker, humorist, radio commentator, and political gadfly Jim Hightower was twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner and is a former editor of the Texas Observer.

He is the New York Times best-selling author of seven books including Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow; Thieves In High Places: They've Stolen Our Country And It's Time To Take It Back; If the Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates; and There's Nothing In the Middle Of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos.

Jim Hightower broadcasts daily radio commentaries that are carried on more than 150 commercial and public stations, on the web, and on Radio for Peace International. He publishes a populist political newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, which now has more than 135,000 subscribers, is the fastest growing political publication in America, and has received both the Alternative Press Award and the Independent Press Association Award for best national newsletter. His newspaper column is distributed nationally by Creators Syndicate.

'Tinkle-down' economics

Jim Hightower told the Rag Radio audience that “we have a greater share of our wealth going to the tiniest portion of our people than any time in the last century.”

“In 30 years,” he said, “we’ve gone from Ronald Reagan’s ‘trickle-down’ to the Koch Brothers’ ‘tinkle down’ economics.” According to Jim, “We are resurrecting the robber barons and imposing a plutocracy over our democracy.”

“This is a structural change,” he says. “this isn’t a recession, this isn’t a technical glitch in the system. Thie is deliberate. We’ve enthroned the corporate powers to rewrite the rules.”

And we have a Congress “that is so ideological that they don’t care. And so many of them really don’t know regular workaday people. They’re millionaires, most of them,” he said. “You’ve got both parties that are tied to the corporate money.”

Thanks to gerrymandering and the dominance of big money in electoral politics, the politicians “rig the system so that they keep getting elected.” The Republicans, who “have voted 40 times to repeal Obamacare," play to a “Republican tea party fringe that doesn’t represent 10 percent of the American people.”

They “ignore the real problems” like “joblessness and rampant underemployment,” and “play games with these phony political issues.”

Hightower faulted the corporate-run media. (“A reporter used to be a working stiff. They worked in rumpled clothes, went home to a working class neighborhood, drank at a bar named Joe.”)

We do have some strong progressive media, he said, citing the country’s numerous independent community radio stations, many of which air Hightower's commentary -- with special praise for Austin’s KOOP and Rag Radio -- and the Texas Observer. “And we’ve got voices like Rachel Maddow and Paul Krugman,” he said.

Texas pols -- and 'Poopgate'

On the show, Jim talked about the recent “flapdoodle” in the Texas legislature over abortion and women’s health that drew thousands of activists to the Texas Capitol and was highlighted by State Sen. Wendy Davis’ remarkable filibuster.

“It’s about abortion,” Jim said, “but it really is about power. Mostly men, wanting to go back to ‘Father Knows Best’ years, the 1950s, before women got uppity...” In this case, the dramatic citizen activism “defeated the Republican leadership and embarrassed them. And, quite honestly, frightened them.”

“It was a hoot,” Jim says, “to hear Rick Perry say, ‘It was a mob. Mob rule! Mob rule!' And (Lt. Gov. David) Dewhurst saying, ‘Socialists, socialists!’ One representatives even said we had terrorists in the Capitol.”

Jim wrote about the events at the Capitol in the Hightower Lowdown: “If you’ve never seen a pack of pompous state legislators fall into a panic, you’ve missed a scene of truly uproarious low comedy.”

And then there was ”Poopgate!”

According to Hightower, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst (“he’s such a prissy guy anyway, a multi-millionaire public servant who doesn’t like the public...) got spooked by all the women in the State Capitol building.

Dewhurst “had heard that they were going to bring tampons and other ‘feminine projectiles’ into the Senate chamber, to toss down on the floor,” Jim says. So he had the state troopers search ladies’ purses at the Capitol entrances and confiscate anything resembling a tampon.

And then, as if that wasn't enough, “Dewhurst claimed that they had also confiscated some 19 jars of feces and urine.” But, when pressed by the media, he couldn’t come up with any evidence. So the reporters asked the troopers at the Capitol gates, and they didn’t have a clue what Dewhurst was talking about. “They said, No, that they hadn’t seen any excrement -- except what was in the Lt. Governor’s memo!”

“It’s just astonishing,” Jim said. “The extremism that is loose. And they seem to think that this is leadership.” But, “not only the women who were there, but just people of good will recognize that and think, maybe we can do something. Because there was such a force there that can’t be denied.”

“Throughout our history, we’ve had to do a little screaming, and confrontation, and rebelling -- when the skids are greased and the system is rigged against people. Because that’s what happened that night.”

Whether or not Wendy Davis runs for governor, Hightower believes that real change is in the works for Texas politics. The long-dormant state Democratic Party is alive and kicking, he says, under the “vigorous and vibrant” leadership of new party chair Gilberto Hinojosa, who is committed to returning the party to grassroots organizing.

The Texas Democrats “got way too cozy with the lobbyists and with the money,” Jim says. “We had people sitting in the office down by the Capitol, just talking to each other.” Now the party has 20 organizers working in the field.

Concerning efforts at voter suppression, Hightower asked, “Why don’t Republicans want people to vote?” “We should make it an issue,” he said, “that these bozos are trying to keep people from voting in the United States of America!”

From left, Rag Radio host Thorne Dreyer, populist commentator Jim Hightower, and Rag Radio's Tracey Schulz.
Corporate trade scams and NSA eavesdropping

One issue that raises Hightower’s hackles is the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (a secretive and very controversial “nuclearized and supersized NAFTA” that would involve 11 nations, including China and Japan). “It’s not about free trade,” Jim Says. “It’s a corporate coup d’etat. Against us… It’s about enthroning corporate power.”

Jim says there’s strong opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that's being organized by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a "wonderful project that's been battling these issues for years." “We’ve defeated 10 of these kind of trade scams just in the last decade,” Jim says. “So people really will make a difference.”

“You know, Lyndon Johnson said, ‘You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken manure.' So, the more people know about this thing, the more that they’re smelling that manure.”

Jim is also enraged about the NSA’s massive eavesdropping program. “This is not just another entity that’s poking into our personal privacy and lives... this is a comprehensive violation of at least the first and fourth amendments, and possibly the fifth and sixth as well. And a violation of the privacy laws of the United States.”

“It’s one thing to use spooks to go chase down terrorists, which we certainly want them to do, but to then decide that the entire 330 million people of the United States of America are suspects, that’s another thing altogether.”

“There are 3 billion phone calls made in the United States every day. They get them all... These are not metadata, as they call them, these are profiles. They’re little pieces of us. And they draw a picture.”

They are “using these super-supercomputers, and using this fog of fear that was generated by the powers that be, using 9-ll, to take away our core rights.”

“Snowden, to me, has done a tremendous public service by revealing all this,” Jim said.

Also read "Jim Hightower and the 'Populist Moment'" on The Rag Blog from April 11, 2012, and listen to our earlier Rag Radio interview with Jim Hightower here.

Rag Radio is hosted and produced by Rag Blog editor Thorne Dreyer; Tracey Schulz is the show's engineer and co-producer.

Rag Radio has aired since September 2009 on KOOP 91.7-FM, an all-volunteer cooperatively-run community radio station in Austin, Texas. Rag Radio is broadcast live every Friday from 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on KOOP and is rebroadcast on Sundays at 10 a.m. (EDT) on WFTE, 90.3-FM in Mt. Cobb, PA, and 105.7-FM in Scranton, PA. Rag Radio is now also aired on KPFT-HD3 90.1 -- Pacifica radio in Houston -- on Wednesdays at 1 p.m.

The show is streamed live on the web and, after broadcast, all Rag Radio shows are posted as podcasts at the Internet Archive.

Rag Radio is produced in association with The Rag Blog, a progressive Internet newsmagazine, and the New Journalism Project, a Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

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

[Thorne Dreyer, a pioneering Sixties underground journalist, edits The Rag Blog, hosts Rag Radio, and is a director of the New Journalism Project. Dreyer was an editor of The Rag in Austin and Space City! in Houston, was on the editorial collective of Liberation News Service (LNS) in New York, was general manager of Pacifica's KPFT-FM in Houston, and was a correspondent for the early Texas Monthly magazine. Dreyer can be contacted at editor@theragblog.com. Read more articles by and about Thorne Dreyer on The Rag Blog.]

Coming up on Rag Radio:
THIS FRIDAY, September 27, 2013: In their first father/daughter interview, newsman Dan Rather and Austin-based environmentalist Robin Rather.
Friday, October 4, 2013: Novelist Thomas Zigal, author of Many Rivers to Cross, set in post-Katrina New Orleans.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

25 September 2013

HISTORY / Bob Feldman : A People's History of Egypt, Part 10, 1930-1945

Signing of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty in 1936. Image from Islam Project 2010.
A people's history:
The movement to democratize Egypt
Part 10: 1930-1945 period -- Anglo-Egyptian Treaty reaffirms Egypt's 'independence' though British domination continues.
By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / September 25, 2013

[With all the dramatic activity in Egypt, Bob Feldman's Rag Blog "people's history" series, "The Movement to Democratize Egypt," could not be more timely. Also see Feldman's "Hidden History of Texas" series on The Rag Blog.]

During the 1930s, “Egyptian communist activities...focused primarily on labor unions, continued to be suppressed” by the UK imperialist-backed Egyptian monarchical regime, according to Tareq Y. Ismael and Rifa‘at El-Sa’id’s The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

But in response to both the rise of fascism internationally and the growth within Egypt of Young Egypt, “a paramilitary organization which in the mid and latter 1930s demonstrated admiration for the accomplishments of fascist regimes” in Europe, “antifascist groups...proliferated in Egypt during the 1930s,” according to Selma Botman’s The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970.

In addition, by the late 1930s some “communist study circles” were again formed in Egypt “that evolved into several organizations and factions” by the 1940s, according to an article by Hossam El-Hamalawy that appeared in the MERIP magazine in 2007, titled “Comrades and Brothers.”

Yet in the 1930s Egyptian society was still “socially traditional,” “men and women were generally separated,” “marriages were still arranged” and “women were regarded as the legitimate possessions of men,” according to The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970.

Although Islamic law “allowed a woman to own property, conduct business, and inherit a portion of her father’s estate equal to half her brother’s share, it put her at her husband’s mercy in matters concerning divorce and the family,” according to the same book. But despite the social conservatism of Egyptian society in the 1930s, some younger, less traditional Egyptian women did participate in the anti-fascist leftist Egyptian groups of the 1930s.

The UK and Egypt signed an Anglo-Egyptian Treaty on August 26, 1936, which again recognized Egypt as an independent and sovereign nation but “also stipulated...that Egypt must grant Britain...military facilities,” according to Selma Botman’s Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952.  In 1937 the UK government finally “allowed Egypt to apply for membership in the League of Nations and to set up foreign embassies and consulates,” Botman wrote.

But Egyptian leftists in the 1930s considered the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty inadequately anti-imperialist “because British troops were to remain in Egypt for an additional 20 years and because...promises of unobstructed democracy and self-determination were absent,” according to the same book.

The 17-year-old King Farouk -- who inherited the Egyptian throne following the death of his father, King Fuad, in 1936 --  “soon displayed the same autocratic tendencies as his father,” although “the British ambassador Sir Miles Lampson...always referred to Farouk as `The Boy,’ even when the king was in his twenties,” according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt.

After UK ambassador Lampson "surrounded the Abdin Palace with tanks” on February 4, 1942, and “ordered `The Boy’” to appoint as Egypt’s prime minister the particular Wafdist leader that the UK government alone had selected, “or abdicate,” according to A History of Egypt, this “coercion action confirmed that Egyptian independence was nothing more than a sham,” according to Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952.

So, not surprisingly, a new wave of anti-British street protests broke out in Egypt after leaders of the Egyptian student movement met in the summer of 1945 and “decided to call for the formation of national committees to participate in the national movement” of Egypt, according to The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

[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.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

24 September 2013

Alan Waldman: ‘Midsomer Murders’ is a Popular Long-Running British Rural Crime Series

Waldman's film and TV
treasures you may have missed:
So far, 100 episodes of this dramatic and humorous ‘whodunnit’ set in fictional Midsomer County have aired.
By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / September 24, 2013

[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.]

Since 1997, 15 series (100 episodes) of beloved rural British crime mystery series Midsomer Murders have aired on PBS and around the world. Seven of the episodes are based on the books of Caroline Graham, who was nominated for a 1999 “Best TV Feature or Miniseries” Edgar award for it. Many episodes were adapted by gifted scribe Anthony Horowitz (Poirot, Foyle’s War).

More than 90.8% of the 9,106 viewers polled at imdb.com gave it thumbs up, and 29.6% regarded it as a perfect 10. It is a big hit with all demographics, but especially females over 45 and under 18. Viewing figures for the series were healthy, and the drama attracted a number of actors from the stage and screen in guest-starring roles.

Midsomer Murders has been sold to a large number of countries and territories around the world. In 2004 it was among the three most-sold British TV shows worldwide, whether as TV or DVD. Among the many buyers: Ukraine, Bulgaria, Estonia, Iceland, Macedonia, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Through season 13, all episodes are streamed via Netflix, are Netflixed by mail and are on DVD. Here is an episode.

Neil Dudgeon as John Barnaby.
Until 2010, the lead detective was Tom Barnaby (John Nettles). After Nettles’ retirement, Neil Dudgeon took over as his cousin, John Barnaby. The Barnabys have had several sergeant/sidekicks throughout the run of the show. Other key characters are Tom’s wife and daughter and a crusty coroner.

The show is very well-written and -acted. Humor is a main feature of the series, with many actors playing up their high-camp characters. The show includes some black comedy, such as a woman being murdered by a wheel of cheese. Much of the popularity of the series comes from the incongruity of sudden violence in a picturesque and peaceful rural setting. Individual episodes focus on institutions and practices seen as being characteristic of the English counties. I often enjoy seeing familiar faces among the suspects.

The county of Midsomer is notable for its particularly high murder rate -- estimate at 32 per million, around double that of London. This has become a running joke among the British public. It’s like the joke T-shirts used to promote America’s beloved Murder She Wrote: “Cabot Cove, If you lived here you’d be dead.”

Tom Barnaby’s wife once proposed they move out of their hometown of Causton and suggested various villages; her husband countered with recollections of particularly grisly murders that occurred in each community.

If you haven’t seen it, I think you will enjoy this charming, dramatic crime series.

[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

[+/-]

19 September 2013

Marilyn Katz : A Different Path for Syria, and Hopefully for Chicago

Child at funeral in Chicago. Image from The Old Black Church.
And for Chicago?
A different path for Syria
Will U.S. diplomacy in Syria carve a new path towards peace at home and abroad?
By Marilyn Katz / The Rag Blog / September 19, 2013

CHICAGO -- The example of our leaders cannot help but guide the thinking of our youth: Might makes right and those who are "wrong" -- who disagree with our worldview -- are The Other, ever-more-easily transformed into an enemy to be dealt with by whatever means necessary.

I am more than pleased today. For the first time that I can remember, well at least since the Cuban missile crisis, the United States has chosen diplomacy over force to resolve an international conflict. We have taken a breath, stopped the worst of the bellicose rhetoric, put the guns away, and found a peaceful solution to what only a week ago seemed an irreversible march to war.

On a personal level I am relieved because I head to the Middle East a few weeks from now and didn’t relish the idea of adding a gas mask to my luggage.

As one, like many, whose support of President Obama is partially premised on his ability to discern the difference between a necessary and unnecessary war, I am relieved to see that leadership in action -- however late it was in coming.

But I also have another reason -- one closer to home. I live in Chicago, a city sadly now synonymous with gun violence. Much of my work is in communities where virtually every family has a family member, friend, or acquaintance who has been a victim (either as the shooter or the shot) of gun violence.

A few weeks ago I spoke at Stateville Correctional Center, an Illinois Maximum Security Prison, to a group of 40 men, ranging from about 25 to 70 -- virtually all of whom had been convicted of murder. We talked and they explained why they had killed. While some were at the scene of a robbery most said they killed to “protect the threads, wheels, corner, or women” they saw as within their defensible space, their world.

These sentiments and reasons were echoed in a discussion I was in recently with women from the South Side, who talked about the challenge they faced in keeping their remaining children, brothers, husbands -- and now even their girls -- out of harm’s way.

Unwilling to wait for and dubious about the prospects or effectiveness of congressional action, they spoke about their attempts to shield their young from a culture of violence -- on television, in the movies and on video games -- and their efforts to define manhood as something other than having the biggest gun.

As I drove home (ironically having to stop for 20 police cars racing to the latest shooting around the corner from the church where we had been meeting), I thought about what they had said and also about Syria, about Iraq, about Iran, about Grenada, about Vietnam.

As parents we try to model good behavior; through our actions we try to provide examples of how to deal with the hand that life has dealt. Yet we are not the only -- let alone the strongest -- influences in our children’s lives.

Our children, be they 10, 20, 30, or 40, have grown up in a context of non-stop war. They have watched not only “the axis of evil” but also their ultimate role models -- their presidents, from Kennedy to Johnson to Carter to Reagan to Clinton to Bush -- turn to weaponry to resolve disputes large (Iraq) or small (Grenada).

They have watched the creation of the “Other” whose instant demonization once they become the enemy somehow justifies and lessens the horror of the death and destruction they endure. They have watched government-sponsored assassinations, once considered shocking, become a topic for public conversation, with the details of who orders the “hit” and under what circumstances -- rather than the validity of the fundamental action -- the only question discussed.

And they’ve learned a new term, “collateral damage,” for the non-combatants -- the women and children killed. You know, those like the scores of Hadiyas hit by a misfired or stray bullet.

Youth might also notice how quickly our former allies (some would say puppets) -- from the Taliban to Saddam Hussein, from Noriega to Assad -- are transformed into dangerous monsters who threaten our very existence and must be eliminated (sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally).

And while the territories and resources that the United States fought over are larger than the corner or possessions for which the young kill, the example of our leaders cannot help but guide the thinking of our youth: Might makes right and those who are “wrong” -- who disagree with our world view -- are The Other, ever-more-easily transformed into an enemy to be dealt with by whatever means necessary.

Urban youth might well (and do) argue in their defense that the threat they face each day is far greater and more imminent than those faced by the nation during the recent wars we’ve chosen to fight.

I no more than anyone else know if the diplomatic solution which our president and the nation have "fallen into" will work. The seeds of the conflicts in the Middle East were planted long ago when, with American complicity, France, England, and Russia redrew the map of the region to meet their own imperial needs.

That said, those who are tired of war abroad and on the streets of our cities should hope diplomacy carries the day. We must be openly supportive of the process, both for what it could mean for a resolution of conflict in Syria, but more importantly, for the lesson it offers those who will guide the future.

This article was cross-posted by the author to In These Times.

[An anti-war and civil rights organizer during the Vietnam War, Marilyn Katz helped organize security during the August 1968 protests at the Democratic National Convention. Katz has founded and led groups like the Chicago Women’s Union, Reproductive Rights National Network, and Chicago Women Organized for Reproductive Choice in the 1960s and 1970s, and Chicagoans Against War in Iraq in 2002. The founder and president of Chicago-based MK Communications, Katz can be contacted at mkatz@mkcpr.com. Read more articles by Marilyn Katz on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

18 September 2013

Johnny Hazard : Tanks Versus Teachers in Mexico City

Striking teachers at Zócalo plaza in Mexico City, Friday, September 13, 2013. Photo by Eduardo Verdugo / AP.
Tanks vs. teachers:
Federal police drive striking teachers
from Mexico's Zócalo plaza

By Johnny Hazard / The Rag Blog / September 19, 2013
"In addition to promoting just causes and altering business as usual for awhile (and hoping that such alterations will be permanent), marches, rallies, highway blockages, and the collective taking of public spaces, but especially encampments and occupations, re-establish community and the liberating collective creativity that has been lost amid urban chaos." -- Armando Bartra, Mexican left intellectual
"Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexican president, doesn't know how his first wife died, can't name three books that have shaped his life, and can't name the capital city of the state of Veracruz, yet he's ready to evaluate teachers!" -- Sign on a tent at the teachers' encampment
MEXICO CITY -- 3,500 federal police, with their tanks and water cannons and joined by hundreds of the “progressive” police of Mexico City, expelled thousands of teachers, members of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (dissident caucus but, today, the de facto teachers' union in Mexico) from the central plaza, the Zócalo, on Friday, September 13.

Violence, according to government and mainstream media, was limited, but images of 12 police attacking one woman have been widely distributed. In other times or other places, or with other actors, this may have been the end of the story: another social movement smothered.

But the teachers have not gone far. Many are in the plaza of the Monumento de la Revolución, about a mile away. And the level of public support for the teachers is much greater since the police action. Students at most of the campuses of all the public universities in the city, including technical schools and teachers' colleges, have voted in assemblies to shut down campuses and join in actions to support the teachers.

Police drive teachers from the plaza Monday. Photo by Eduardo Verdugo / AP.
They are staffing the kitchens at the encampment and arrived on short notice for a candlelight march on Saturday night and for a much bigger march on Sunday night that culminated in an alternative Independence Day celebration.

The federal police attack on teachers had, perhaps, two main objectives:
  1. To support the governments's bogus education reform that stems from the premise that teachers are to blame for whatever is wrong with education and with youth. (A movie called Panzazo, styled after Waiting for Superman, was funded by the corporate elite and served as the first shot by the other side in this battle.)

  2. To open up the plaza for Independence Day celebrations tonight and tomorrow. It's a strange ritual in which hundreds of thousands of apolitical, mostly drunk people fill the square, shoot fireworks at other people, spray foam on people who don't want it, and listen to the president shout "Viva México" at a time when Mexico's lack of independence in the face of U.S., Canadian, and Spanish corporations has never been more severe. Television coverage of the event appears more stately, emphasizing pomp and circumstance inside the presidential palace (which faces the Zócalo), and muting the noise of the crowd.
This year was Peña Nieto's first Independence Day in office and images abound of his promenading with his new wife, a soap opera star. His relationship with her became public very soon after the mysterious death of his first wife. When he was still a state governor, he had a multi-million-dollar publicity contract with Televisa, the largest television network. It's common here for politicians to literally buy the media with taxpayer funds, but Peña Nieto has taken the concept to a new level.

The teachers and their supporters are now organizing -- gathering food, tarps, tents, and clothes -- to withstand extreme rains. (Normally in this season, it rains for a while every day in the late afternoon, but, since Friday, it's been raining most of the time as very severe tropical storms have hit both coasts. Guerrero, home to some of the most hell-raising teachers, is especially hard-hit, with damage exacerbated by systemic negligence. In Acapulco and Chilpancingo, and more in smaller communities, there is no running water, telephone, transportation, or Internet service.)

This week has seen marches every day and most of the local universities remain in active shutdown till Friday. Much of the coverage of the strike in the U.S. media, it should be noted, has been inaccurate or misleading, or often virtually nonexistent.

[A former Minneapolis teacher, Johnny Hazard now lives in Mexico City where he is a professor at the Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México and author of Con estos estudiantes: La vivencia en la UACM, a book about that alternative university.]

See earlier Rag Blog coverage of the continuing Mexican teachers' protests by Johnny Hazard and Shirley Youxjeste.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

INTERVIEW / Jonah Raskin : Occupy's Nathan Schneider on Anarchy and Radical Catholicism

Nathan Schneider, June 17, 2012. Photo from Occupy.
Interview with Occupy’s Nathan Schneider:
Anarchy, activism, and radical Catholicism

By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / September 19, 2013
"It's hard to pick a revolution about which one doesn't have major misgivings. But they also have peak moments: the nuns kneeling before Marcos' tanks in the Philippines; the queer crusaders emerging out of the Sixties; the cacophonous assemblies at the Paris Commune; the pockets of anarchist rule in Catalonia; the Christians and Muslims in Tahrir guarding one another's prayers." -- Nathan Schneider
If Nathan Schneider had a middle name it might be “Contrary” or “Confrontational.” There isn’t a sentence that he writes or speaks that’s not provocative. In that sense, he’s a child of the Sixties, though he wasn’t born until the Reagan 1980s, and more precisely in 1984, the year that George Orwell warned us against.

“Half Jewish,” as he calls himself, he grew up in the free-floating spiritual environment that characterized the end of the twentieth century in America, which meant that he was touched by secular Judaism, secular Christianity, and “a strong dose of Eastern Spirituality” -- through his mother. Not surprisingly, given his family and background and the force of his own quest for a spiritual matrix, he converted to Catholicism at the age of 18.

After he graduated from public schools in Virginia, he attended Brown and then the University of California at Santa Barbara, but gave up on academia to pursue his “education through journalism.” Schneider has been connected, as an observer and a participant, to the Occupy Movement for two years, beginning in 2011 and continuing until the present.

He tells the story of his conversion to Catholicism in God in Proof, and the story of his engagement with Occupy in Thank You, Anarchy which Rebecca Solnit calls, in her introduction, a “superb book.” It’s not the first book about Occupy but perhaps it’s the most comprehensive.

On the cusp of 30, Schneider has quickly become one of the “best and the brightest” -- to borrow a phrase from the 1960s -- in a generation of intellectuals and activists who are reinventing the American radical tradition. In the under-30 crowd, there’s probably no one with a deeper affinity for the Sixties than Schneider, and no one more eager to question the legacies of the Sixties than he — all of which makes his books and articles provocative and entertaining.

Nathan Schneider, March 19, 2012. Photo from Occupy.

Jonah Raskin: An Old Left friend of mine -- Alexander Saxton -- used to say that there was a gene for utopia. Do you think that there’s a gene for anarchy?

Nathan Schneider: Maybe it's the same gene. Or maybe it's a mood or a moment. Many people who were talking the anarchist talk during Occupy are now more or less back to doing the same-old-same-old. The Occupy mood or moment was caused partly by a failure -- from the Democratic Party of Obama to radical left organizations -- to bring young folks into the fold. A few years after Obama's election - - with no limits on Wall Street or the security state -- there were no viable alternatives. So, there was a craving to do away with everything, take over a square and start from scratch.

My Catholic friends tell me that I’m a closet Catholic. I’m motivated by guilt and by the need to confess. There’s more to Catholicism than guilt and confession isn’t there?

Guilt motivates me, too, but I don't attribute that to Catholicism. Despite evidence to the contrary, thanks to 2,000 years of baggage, the Catholic Church is supposed to be a durable institution that helps people live out the gospel of faith, hope, and love. I've found a great deal of inspiration and support in communities of radical Catholics such as the Catholic Worker. But my faith is enlivened just as much by acts of witness that aren't done by Catholics -- and Occupy was chock full of them.

Do you wish you had been alive in 1968? If so what might you have done?

I might have kept to the sidelines. My mother was in France that year and my father in Southern California, yet their proximity to rebellion didn't seem to impact them appreciably. Occupy could just as well have passed me by if I hadn't happened to be in on it from the beginning. I had time on my hands.

What if you were alive in Paris in, say, 1789?

I would have liked to be a pamphleteer.

Or in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944?

I probably would have died, as members of my family did.

I remember Tom Hayden popularizing the notion that repression leads to resistance. In Chile, for example, repression lead to the death of a movement that had culminated in the election of Salvador Allende. Is there a more nuanced view of repression and resistance in Hayden’s?

In Occupy, repression inspired wider resistance only for the first few weeks. Occupiers, especially in early 2012, got addicted to repression and couldn't understand why their arrests stopped inspiring the public. Movements in far more repressive regimes tend to understand this dynamic instinctively. Activists need to be strategic about how much to invite the repression of the state and how much to circumvent it.

What you attribute to Hayden is related to the horrible notion that "things have to get worse before they get better." No Thanks!

When you say in Thank You, Anarchy that the revolution isn’t far off, what are you actually saying? What do you mean by “far off” and what do you mean by “revolution”?

I was thinking of a conversation I had with an Egyptian activist. I asked whether, she expected that Mubarak would be out of power. She said, "Not in a million years." Social transformation is hard; when it happens it can seem so easy and inevitable, until it gets really hard again. In the passage you're quoting from, I'm trying to play with the dialectic. As for what we mean by revolution, take your pick. I'm trying to talk about the way in which revolution can't be talked about.

You have published two books this year? What other books do you have in the works?

My goodness, two's not enough? They've got me plenty busy. But I am also working on an essay about dispensationalism, a popular form of apocalyptic theology.

What political writers have taught you the most about writing about politics?

Jeff Sharlet -- who also writes at the intersection of politics and religion -- has long been a mentor, though I can't come close to imitating him. He introduced me to JoAnn Wypijewski who guided me at a formative time. As the initial occupation approached, I was reading Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night -- about the 1967 anti-war march on Washington -- which I loved and hated, because all that seems to matter to Mailer is what he’s thinking. At times his thoughts are brilliant. Lastly, I've learned a lot from Joan Didion, especially how her thinking is less important than what she reveals.

How white was Occupy Wall Street?

Schneider on Occupy.
It started out pretty white, and then became less white and then white again. We saw some of the wrinkles in our supposedly post-racial society when it turned out that people didn't know how to relate to each other across racial lines.

The other day, I saw a young black man in my neighborhood wearing one of Jay Z's "Occupy All Streets" T-shirts. The movement forced Jay Z to discontinue those shirts. In Occupy Atlanta, John Lewis, a civil rights hero, was denied a chance to speak. A lot of the beauty in us and in our society that’s normally hidden under a bushel was allowed to shine in Occupy. So was a lot of ugliness.

Can you say more about Jay Z and the T-shirts?

People were very sensitive to rip-offs and co-optation. It was a tough decision because if the shirts had been around they might have led to more connections to communities of color.

Is there a revolution from the past that inspires you more than any other?

It's hard to pick a revolution about which one doesn't have major misgivings. Every revolution betrays. But they also have their peak moments: the nuns kneeling before Marcos' tanks in the Philippines; the queer crusaders emerging out of the Sixties; the cacophonous assemblies at the Paris Commune; the pockets of anarchist rule in Catalonia; the Christians and Muslims in Tahrir guarding one another's prayers. Still, it's hard to pick one that I'd be willing to wish on anyone.

The Left used to have a monopoly on the word “contradictions.” Now it’s everywhere. What would you say were the main contradictions, in the Marxist/Maoist sense, of Occupy?

So many: autonomy and accountability, sanity and madness, order and mischief, creativity and frustration, occupation and colonization, relief and recovery, grievance and self-sufficiency, ecstasy and failure. The moment these contradictions resolved themselves, and one element in them came to dominate over the other, the dynamism went away.

Why do you think it is that every generation in America over the past 60 years or so has wanted to define itself in opposition to an earlier and an older generation? Why not emphasize continuities between generations?

Occupy had the potential to be powerfully cross-generational. From the outset, young folks were driving it, but they were very eager to hear from elders. They wanted advice, support and help. Many leading organizers had grown up in political families, and, while they viewed their parents as more moderate than themselves, they credited their upbringing for their politics.

Sounds like you have a theory on this. 

I think that the Sixties generation of radicals had to rebel so hard against their parents that, when they became the new establishment in left wing groups, they had an Oedipal fear that later generations would do the same to them. So they didn't make a priority of raising young leaders.

If you look around at the established radical organizations, especially in New York City, you'll be hard-pressed to find more than a tiny minority of young people involved. But as those who turned out for Occupy showed, it's not for lack of young activists. Before and after Occupy, young folks eager to get involved in radical politics had to hustle to find mentors and material support. Friends of mine affiliated with the political right don’t seem to have this problem.

Are you calling for defiance against older generations?

I’m trying to bridge the gaps between generations. I tend to get along with older people.

My favorite political quotation is from Gramsci about the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will. What’s yours?

Mine is the entirety of the commencement speech that the poet-priest (and friend) Daniel Berrigan once gave at a Catholic prep school in Manhattan: "Know where you stand and stand there." Not that I follow it, really -- I just like it.

What’s your connection to Berrigan?

We met about five years ago. I started going to his monthly community suppers. We talked and saw that we had common interests. I see him regularly now, but his health is deteriorating rapidly. I don’t know how much longer he’ll be around.

In a nutshell what does anarchy mean to you?

A society in which some people don't wield unnecessary power over others, and one in which the needs of all are put before the privileges of a few. "Anarchy" has so many connotations, and in the book I like to play off of several of them at once. It's a very ambidextrous word: chaos, freedom, organization, and structurelessness. I want them all.

[Jonah Raskin, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, is a professor emeritus at Sonoma State University and the author of For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman and American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and the Making of the Beat Generation. Read more articles by Jonah Raskin on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Mike Klonsky : Forbes Calls Charter Schools 'Part of a Corrupt System'

Demonstration in New York against school privatization.
'Part of a corrupt system':
Forbes piece pounds charters
About the only thing charters do well is limit the influence of teachers’ unions. And fatten their investors’ portfolios.
By Mike Klonsky / The Rag Blog / September 18, 2013

An article appearing in the September 10 issue of Forbes gives a swift kick in the rear end to charter schools. According to Forbes contributor Addison Wiggin, charter schools have selective enrollments, don't perform any better than regular public schools, and are part of a corrupt system that funnels public funds into the pockets of privatizers and corporate cronies through real estate deals and tax credits.

He writes:
Charter schools are frequently a way for politicians to reward their cronies. In Ohio, two firms operate 9% of the state’s charter schools and are collecting 38% of the state’s charter school funding increase this year. The operators of both firms donate generously to elected Republicans.

In Florida, the for-profit school industry flooded legislative candidates with $1.8 million in donations last year. “Most of the money,” reports The Miami Herald, “went to Republicans, whose support of charter schools, vouchers, online education and private colleges has put public education dollars in private-sector pockets.”
But it's not just about Republicans. Wiggin saves his best shots for Democrats like the ones in Philadelphia who closed 23 public schools -- about 10% of the total -- to be replaced by charters. Not to mention Arne Duncan who "rolled out the Obama administration’s 'Race to the Top' initiative, doling out $4.4 billion in federal money to the states -- but only to those states that lifted their caps on the number of charter schools."

Something I wasn't aware of was a program called EB-5 that encourages foreign investors who pony up $1 million in a wide variety of development projects -- or as little as $500,000 in “targeted employment areas” -- to buy immigration visas for themselves and family members.

“There’s a risk to taking education to Wall Street,” says Education Week -- “one that helps explain why so few publicly traded companies cater to the educational needs of students in elementary, middle and high school.”

But EdWeek charter school blogger Katie Ash attacks Wiggin's piece for being "inflammatory." Wiggin doesn't mince words, says Ash, "and I'm sure many will take offense at his staunch views."

Not me. He's shooting straight.

This article was also posted by the author to Schooling in the Ownership Society.

[Mike Klonsky is a long-time education activist who teaches in the College of Education at DePaul University and is director of the Small Schools Workshop. He has spoken and written extensively on education issues and is active in the struggles in Chicago to save and transform public schools. A veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, Klonsky is a former National Secretary of SDS. He blogs at his SmallTalk Blog and you can follow him on twitter here.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Ron Jacobs : 'Another Self Portrait' of Bob Dylan

Another Self Portrait:
Dylan’s take revisited
Dylan's voice here is the voice of an earnest troubadour. There is little of the smoky raspiness present in his mid-sixties material or the world-weary gruffness of Dylan's current persona.
By Ron Jacobs / The Rag Blog / September 18, 2013

When I lived there in the early 1970s, the main shopping area in Frankfurt am Main revolved around the Hauptwache U-Bahn stop.

Part old-world cobblestone streets and alleyways filled with small shops and part modern multifloor department stores, including the Kaufhof firebombed by the Andreas Baader (the future Rote Armee Fraktion leader) and others in an action against capitalism and war, the area covered several city blocks.

It served as a crossroads for several streetcars, a subway (U-Bahn) station that included a large shopping area, the American Express office, and lots of action. A few blocks away was the Opernplatz, site of the then bombed-out Frankfurt Opera House and the site of most major political rallies in the city.

One of my favorite stores to hang out in was in the underground shopping area at the Hauptwache. It was a fairly large store that sold records, books, and periodicals. The first time I walked around the Hauptwache and found the store, it was the enlarged cover of the Evergreen Review featuring a picture of Che Guevara that attracted me. The date was in early March 1970.

I wandered around the store, looking at the treasures therein. New Left books from around the world, mostly translated into German but some in English, leftist newspapers, a small English language book section, underground newspapers from Britain and the East Coast of the United States, and hundreds of rock, blues, and classical records.

I had no money. I fingered the records in the bins, determined to get some money and buy a couple of them. The next time I visited the store a clerk showed me the turntables in the back where I could listen to albums before purchasing. She sat me down with Jethro Tull's second album and I gave it a listen.

The next time I went to the store, I had 30 Deutsch Marks in my pocket. It was enough to buy a record and a couple undergrounds. The first record I saw in the window, and the reason I'm writing about this store, was Bob Dylan's Self Portrait. I had already read a good deal about the record, most of it negative. I didn't care. I loved Bob Dylan. I bought it without a listen. It cost 30 DM. No underground newspapers for me that time.

After getting on the streetcar home I opened the bag, unwrapped the cellophane from the album and studied the package. The songs were mostly traditional tunes with a couple live recordings of Dylan and the Band from the previous year’s Isle of Wight festival. The front was a primitivist style painting of Dylan by Dylan. A self-portrait obviously.

When I got home, I put it on the turntable. I was immediately taken, even with some of what seemed to be overproduction on some of the tracks. Besides the two tracks from Isle of Wight ("Quinn the Eskimo" and "Like a Rolling Stone"), my favorite tunes were “Days of ‘49” and “Blue Moon.”

Fast forward to 2013. A new Self Portrait disc is in my player. It’s titled Another Self Portrait and includes the tracks from the first album with that name and a few others from the same period, including a demo version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a couple early takes on tunes that were on 1969’s Nashville Skyline, and some songs that appeared on the New Morning disc.

The tracks are almost all completely stripped down. Just Bob and guitar on quite a few of them. It’s even better than the original. The innocence present in this collection makes me wish it was still here. Since it isn't, this helps me pretend otherwise. Dylan's voice here is the voice of an earnest troubadour. There is little of the smoky raspiness present in his mid-sixties material or the world-weary gruffness of Dylan's current persona.

The music is as close to pure as anything ever released by Dylan. The guitar is clear and clean, his picking and strumming reflecting a casual and comfortable relationship with the instrument. The songs that include other players remind one of a very talented and friendly jam session. The songs range from outlaw ballads to songs of love; from pop standards to Dylan compositions. Arrangements are modified and time signatures changed, creating an element of surprise for the listener and lending a different understanding to the lyrics.

Bob Dylan was living in Woodstock, New York, just prior to when these songs were recorded. He was a married man making music and raising kids in the country. Some of his fans were also moving to the country, eager to leave the cops and the dealers of the city behind.

The war in Vietnam continued to rage, while the antiwar movement was taking desperate turns, wondering how in the hell it could stop the killing. Cops in all sorts of uniforms (and many not in uniform) were doing their best to disrupt and destroy the positive changes the counterculture was trying to establish. Music might have been the only salvation.

The guitar playing on these songs is superb and technically superior to anything Dylan recorded before. In addition, the musicians that appear on these songs are topnotch and include David Bromberg, The Band, Al Kooper, Norman Blake, Charlie McCoy, Charlie Daniels, and a myriad of other top players, many then working in Nashville.

The musical interaction between Dylan and his fellows creates a performance ranking among the best Dylan has ever put together. This is somewhat remarkable given the mostly negative response the first Self Portrait album received. In part, that reception can be blamed on the strings that were laid on top of many of the original tracks. To put it simply, the overdubs hid most of the folk instrumentation actually played during the recording sessions.

Another reason for the poor reception had to do with the expectations so many people had for Dylan in 1971. Despite his recent attempts to step back from the role of generational spokesman and all-around revolutionary so many had placed on him (and, to be honest, he encouraged in some ways), all too many of his listeners wanted him to lead the charge. However, it turned out Dylan did not even want to be in the battle.

There is one song in this collection that I first heard on the bootleg (unauthorized release) known as the Great White Wonder. This song has always intrigued me with the simple manner it emotionally stirs the listener to consider the grimy, lost men that sit on sidewalks around the world. Titled “Only a Hobo,” it’s the first Dylan song I ever learned to play on guitar.

That’s not why I like it, though. It’s because of the song’s unadorned musical approach to its subject matter. Bob Dylan sings a tale of a broken man whose heroism goes unnoticed because his heroic act is just that of being alive in spite of the fact that his life has gone “from a drop in the bucket to a hole in the ground.”

The version on this CD has a banjo playing clearly in the background, plucking away the minutes of a dying hobo’s life. That banjo extracts the melancholy present in this story of capitalism’s castoffs. Together with Bob Dylan’s singing, the melancholy of a hobo’s life is forged into the beauty that is the other side of this life.

Another Self Portrait revives a part of Dylan’s catalog that has been unjustly ridiculed. This two-CD set forces a reconsideration of Dylan’s intentions and his artistry during the period these recordings cover. Indeed, critic Greil Marcus does exactly that in his set of liner notes accompanying the CD. (It was Marcus who wrote the infamous Rolling Stone review that asked of the original Self-Portrait, “What is this shit?” -- more in response to the album’s reception than to the music therein.)

Suffice it to say, it is worthy of reconsideration.

[Rag Blog contributor Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. He recently released a collection of essays and musings titled Tripping Through the American Night. His novel, The Co-Conspirator's Tale, was published in 2013, along with the third novel in the series All the Sinners Saints. Ron Jacobs can be reached at ronj1955@gmail.com. Find more articles by Ron Jacobs on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

17 September 2013

Alan Waldman: ‘Are You Being Served?’ Was Hit Sitcom in Britain and Around the World

Waldman's film and TV
treasures you may have missed:
It -- and sequel ‘Grace and Favour’ -- aired 81 classic episodes, which repeated and repeated on many PBS stations.
By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / September 18, 2013

[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.]

Are You Being Served? is a beloved Britcom that aired 69 silly and naughty but highly amusing episodes from 1972 to 1985. It dealt with the antics and misadventures of the staff of the men’s and women’s clothing floor in fictional Grace Bros. department store in London.

It was created and totally written by executive producers David Croft (won two BAFTAS and earned 13 BAFTA noms for this, 'All 'Allo!, Dad’s Army, and other series and who won the British Comedy Awards’ Lifetime Achievement honor) and Jeremy Lloyd (same BAFTAs and got two Emmy noms for writing on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Lloyd started his career as a suit salesman at Simpson’s Department Store.

Later episodes drew enormous British audiences -- up to 22 million (in a country of 50 million, at that time). It took the 1977 “Best Sitcom” BAFTA.

All episodes are available on DVD and Netflix, with many episodes, such as this gem, available for free on YouTube.

From 1992 through 1993, the brilliant cast returned as the same characters running a country manor/hotel for 12 episodes of Grace & Favour (called Are You Being Served? Again! in some countries).

The cast was impeccable and their comic timing was superb. Molly Sugden played Mrs. Betty Slocombe, who drank, was man-hungry, and constantly changed her bright hair color. Gap-toothed Jon Inman was Mr. Wilberforce Humphries, a very effeminate men’s department head who lived with his mother. Frank Thornton (who went on to star in Last of the Summer Wine, Britain’s longest running sitcom) created Captain Stephen Peacock, a haughty floorwalker who claims to have fought in the British North Africa campaign, but who actually worked with food and never saw combat.

Cast of Are You Being Served?
Wendy Richards (long a mainstay of the enormously popular soap opera Eastenders) was cute but dim cockney saleslady Miss Shirley Brahms. Nicholas Smith (with young Mike Berry, one of the only two cast members still alive today) was incompetent, jug-eared Mr. Cuthbert Rumbold, who was autocratic to some, obsequious to his boss, and who had a long series of foxy but stupid secretaries.

Trevor Bannister as Mr. Lucas, followed by Mike Berry as Mr. Spooner, were womanizing, wisecracking junior salesmen. Harold Bennett was ancient “young Mr. Grace,” who was rich, stingy, and surrounded by sexy “nurses.” Arthur Brough was older salesman Mr. Ernest Grainger, who often fell asleep on the sales floor. There were also many funny minor and guest characters.

Are You Being Served? had much humor based on sexual innuendo, misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and slapstick. Outrageously funny sight gags often featured crazy costumes which the characters were required to wear for store promotions or gaudy store displays frequently with malfunctioning robotic mannequins. The show constantly made fun of the rigid British class system. Are You Being Served? is best remembered for its prolific use of double entendre.

Those double entendres and the show’s reliance on sexual stereotypes attracted some mild criticism, as did frequent jokes about Mrs. Slocombe's cat. A typical line from Mrs Slocombe: "Animals are very psychic; the least sign of danger and my pussy's hair stands on end." John Inman's camp portrayal of Mr. Humphries as a seemingly gay man could easily be misinterpreted by viewers. Inman pointed out that Mr. Humphries' true sexual orientation was never explicitly stated, and writer David Croft declared that the character was not homosexual, but "just a mother's boy."

The series was very popular in the United States on PBS stations and on BBC America, as well as in many Commonwealth nations around the world. My various wives and I howled through much-anticipated repeat episodes, time and again. A U.S. adaptation pilot episode called Beane's of Boston aired on CBS, but it didn't make it to series. An Australian version, also called Are You Being Served?, ran for 16 episodes from 1980 to 1981 and co-starred John Inman as Mr. Humphries.

In 1977, an Are You Being Served? film was released, using the same characters and cast. It was set in the fictional Spanish resort of Costa Plonka. The film was an adaptation of a very successful stage version of the show.

Grace & Favour/Are You Being Served? Again! had the same main cast as its predecessor, plus Michael Bilton (who was priceless in Waiting for God), Billy Burden, Fleur Bennett, and others.  

[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

[+/-]

Harry Targ : Revisiting 'American Exceptionalism'

Beacon to the world? Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Was Putin right?
Revisiting 'American exceptionalism'
A better future and the survival of the human race require us to realize, as Paul Robeson suggested, that what is precious about humanity is not our differences but our commonalities.
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / September 17, 2013
Continued study and research into the origins of the folk music of various peoples in many parts of the world revealed that there is a world body -- a universal body -- of folk music based upon a universal pentatonic (five tone) scale. Interested as I am in the universality of (hu)mankind -- in the fundamental relationship of all peoples to one another -- this idea of a universal body of music intrigued me, and I pursed it along many fascinating paths. -- Paul Robeson, Here I Stand, 1959.
America’s destiny required the U.S. “...to set the world its example of right and honor... We cannot retreat from any soil where providence has unfurled our banner. It is ours to save that soil, for liberty, and civilization... It is elemental... it is racial. God has not been preparing the English-speaking and teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth.” -- Senator Albert Beveridge, Indiana, Congressional Record, 56 Congress, I Session, pp.704-712, 1898.
President Vladimir Putin wrote in The New York Times, September 12, 2013, that “it is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” This statement embedded in a generally reasonable statement about the instability of Syria brought an outcry from the liberal media elite and often-quoted academics.

For example a Bloomberg editorial refers to Putin’s “bizarre” “out-of date” analysis. Professor Fouad Ajami wrote that “Arab regimes of plunder and tyranny were both physically close to Russia” and the “lawless Kremlin model.”

Liberal commentators dwelled on the silly pictures of muscular Putin riding a horse without a shirt. Or they reminded viewers of Russia’s recent (and vile) homophobia. Or they referred to Putin’s pedigree as a KGB operative or as the ruler behind the throne manipulating the Russian electoral system in order to return to office after being replaced.

Even considering the source.
Image from
Huffington Post.
Although critics were probably correct to challenge his claim that the recent gassing of Syrian citizens was done only by rebels, he did admit that the Assad regime in fact does have such weapons. But both Democrats and Republicans expressed outrage that anyone could challenge the idea that the United States is the “exceptional” nation.

Let’s be clear. United States foreign policy over the last 150 years has been a reflection of many forces including economics, politics, militarism, and the desire to control territory. The most important idea used by each presidential administration to gain support from the citizenry for the pursuit of empire is the claim that America is “exceptional”.

Think about the view of “the city on the hill” articulated by Puritan ancestors who claimed that they were creating a social experiment that would inspire the world. Over 300 years later President Reagan again spoke of “the city on the hill.” Or one can recall public addresses of turn of the twentieth century luminaries such as former President Theodore Roosevelt who claimed that the white race from Europe and North America was civilizing the peoples of what we would now call the Global South. Or Indiana Senator Beveridge’s clear statement: “It is elemental... It is racial.”

From the proclamation of the new nation’s special purpose in Puritan America, to Ronald Reagan’s reiteration of the claim, to similar claims by virtually all politicians of all political affiliations, Americans hear over and over that we are different, special, and a shining example of public virtue that all other peoples should use as their guide to building a better society and polity.

However, looking at data on the United States role in the world, the United States was at war for 201 years from 1776 to 2011. Ten million indigenous people were exterminated as the “new” nation moved westward between the 17th and the 20th centuries and at least 10 million people were killed, mostly from developing countries between 1945 and 2010 in wars in which the United States had some role.

In addition, world affairs was transformed by the singular use of two atomic bombs; one dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, instantly killing 80,000 people and the other on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, killing another 70,000.

Comparing the image of exceptionalism with the domestic reality of American life suggests stark contrasts as well: continuous and growing gaps between rich and poor, inadequate nutrition and health care for significant portions of the population, massive domestic gun violence, and inadequate access to the best education that the society has the capacity to provide to all.

Of course, the United States was a slave society for over 200 years, formally racially segregated for another 100, and now incarcerates 15 percent of African-American men in their twenties.

The United States is not the only country that has a history of imperialism, exploitation, violence, and racism, but we must understand that our foreign policy and economic and political system are not exceptional and must be changed.

Finally, a better future and the survival of the human race require us to realize, as Paul Robeson suggested, that what is precious about humanity is not our differences but our commonalities. Exceptionalist thinking separates us. Sharing what we have in common as human beings, both our troubles and our talents, is the only basis for creating a peaceful and just world.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University and is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, and blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Only a few posts now show on a page, due to Blogger pagination changes beyond our control.

Please click on 'Older Posts' to continue reading The Rag Blog.