Books on a Roll

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In this age of digital publishing, old-fashioned brick-and-mortar book stores have to rethink their image in an attempt to remain relevant. The British Museum in London has taken an innovative approach with their own bookshop: they’ve installed a “wheel of books” for the bookshop’s display window. Designed and built by London-based Lumden Design, the “wheel” is comprised of 270 actual books and stands 2 meters (7 feet) in height.

Perched conspicuously at the shop’s entrance, is already achieving its objective in making visitors stop and visit the store. They’re certainly snapping plenty of photographs of the wheel.

“We have strived to create a compelling retail environment which compliments the majesty of the Reading Room, as well as enhancing the architecture of Lord Foster in the Great Court itself,” Lumden declares, referring to a separate area within the shop.

With the advent of e-book readers and various devices to distract people, it’s nice to know a collection of traditional books is attracting people. I guess, sometimes, you just have to think outside of the…er, wheel.

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Bad Boys, Dumb Broads

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‘Nice guys finish last,’ goes the old maxim. Apparently, they also go home alone. At least the straight ones do. Recently, a photograph has been circulating on the Internet of a young man named Jeremy Meeks. This isn’t just a simple cell phone snapshot, or a Facebook post. It’s a mug shot. Meeks’ picture went viral in June, after his arrest on weapons charges; earning him the affectionate moniker of “handsome mug shot guy.” The 30-year-old Californian isn’t exactly husband material, though, and the dark spot on the outer edge of his left eye isn’t a birthmark. Meeks has a lengthy criminal rap sheet dating back to 2002; the tear drop mark is a gang tattoo.

That didn’t stop thousands of people from visiting his Facebook page and “liking” it, as people are wont to do in this digital age. It didn’t even prevent talent agent Gina Rodriguez from accepting Meeks as a prospective client. Rodriguez, whose gallery of talent includes such media gems as Nadya “Octomom” Suleman and Farrah “Teen Mom” Abraham, hoped to get Meeks a modeling contract as voluptuous as his lips. Knowing star potential when they see one, officials with a porn studio have also approached Meeks; offering him a $100,000 contract. Meeks has been held in the San Joaquin County Jail on a whopping $1,050,000 bail.

“Handsome mug shot guy” is married with a young son and, according to family members, has been trying to live a quiet life after spending time in prison and being involved with the “Northside Gangster Crips,” an offshoot of the Los Angeles-based “Crips,” one of the oldest and most violent street gangs in the U.S. He was arrested June 18 after driving away from a suspected drug house in Stockton, California that was due to be searched. Two others were with him in the vehicle, which also contained a loaded and unregistered semi-automatic handgun and two extended magazines in the trunk. Police also found marijuana in the car.

Insisting her son is an innocent “working man,” Meeks’ mother, Katherine Angier, seized upon his newfound celebrity to plead for help. She established a profile on the “Go Fund Me” web site to raise money for his legal defense, adding that her precious offspring has been stereotyped because of his past behavior. “He’s my son, and he is so sweet,” Angier opines.

Well, who could argue with her?! Unfortunately, more than just Meeks’ mother has come to love his face. Plenty of desperately lonely females have swooned over those cornflower blue eyes and chiseled cheek bones.

Just the right look.

Just the right look.

A second cousin of mine who’s an active-duty solider in the U.S. Army recently went on a Facebook rant about the lascivious response Meeks is getting; ending it with a deprecatingly bitter piece of advice: “Keep it classy, girls!”

I can empathize. This is the kind of crap that drives men crazy. While women often complain that men lust after the ubiquitous supermodel chicks, the reality is that most men usually don’t become infatuated with female criminals. At least most supermodels aren’t of a criminal bent – excluding Naomi Campbell. Indeed, two of America’s worst serial killers, Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez, developed legions of female fans during their respective criminal trials. It didn’t seem to matter that these monsters deliberately sought out and slaughtered untold numbers of innocent people. Some felt there was an angel inside each man and they had the ability to bring it out.

I wish I had purple eyes and stood six feet tall. But, I don’t. I just wasn’t born with those attributes. I wish I’d joined the U.S. Navy some 30 years ago; my life might have gotten into better shape a long time ago. But, I just never did. I’m not alone. People often want who and / or what they can’t normally have. Poets and psychologists have debated this issue for millennia; knowing it’s part of the human psyche to crave the unattainable. Modern science has deduced that dopamine, a chemical precursor to adrenaline, is the primary culprit. It’s a complex substance the brain develops naturally; one that generates feelings of pleasure and desire – but, not necessarily satisfaction. It may be a key factor in substance abuse, such as alcoholism. Researchers still don’t understand why some people respond more acutely to one set of stimuli than others. The brain may be the most powerful sex organ in the human body, but it remains a mysterious one.

Females who prefer the stereotypical “bodice-ripper” (think Rhett Butler carrying a shrieking Scarlett O’Hara up the staircase in “Gone with the Wind”) might want to confer with occupants of a domestic violence shelter; women who either fell for or stayed with a man they thought could change with a good meal and the right perfume. It’s amazing how stupid some women can be in genuinely believing their feminine charms are powerful enough to alter the core personalities of the worst men; a sort of hormonal alchemy that would be the “Holy Grail” for marriage counselors, psychologists and talk show hosts. But, with a few exceptional cases, it rarely occurs.

Such blind self-adulation can be fatal. There are countless stories of women dying at the hands of men who really didn’t have a Prince Charming hidden beneath those balled up fists and bloodshot eyes. But, when I contemplate such odd pairings, I recall the tragic tale of a cousin who took her own life in January 1983. Already a somewhat fragile soul, she had married a man with a drug problem a couple of years earlier; believing she could somehow cure him of his ailment. Her mother strongly opposed the union, as did most everyone else in the family. But, no one could stop it. After all, she was an adult. And, apparently no one – not even my cousin – could stop her husband’s drug addiction. So, she left him. That would seem a happy enough ending, but her marriage’s sudden dissolution plunged my cousin into a state of extraordinary despair. I guess she blamed herself for the guy’s inability to shake free from his wicked habit; shattering her vision of a bright and loving future for the two of them. So, she sat down in a closet one night after work and stuck a pistol in her mouth. He had been a very bad boy, and she was a very good girl. Yet, she’s the one who ended up dead. He had failed miserably, but she felt like a miserable failure. Where’s the justice, I asked quietly at the funeral. Where, in a decent world, is there room for something so twisted as that?

Wearing a San Joaquin County jumpsuit – in what I called “arresting amber” – Meeks made a court appearance on July 8 and received mixed news: he’s no longer facing multiple weapons charges. But, the state turned his case over to the federal government, and now, Meeks is looking at a single federal weapons possession indictment. As a federal case, it’s obviously much more serious, and if convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

And, knowing how desperate some women are for a man, there’ll be more than a few nitwits holding vigil for his sorry ass in the comfort of their delusional minds. Meanwhile, the truly nice men will still be at home alone.

Cartoon courtesy of Joke All You Can.

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The Worst Legacy

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This past April marked twenty years since the death of President Richard M. Nixon, which came nearly two decades after he became the first Chief Executive in U.S. history to resign from office. That ignominious fortieth anniversary is coming up next month. It’s not something to be celebrated. The Watergate affair that brought him down has left an indelible stain on both American politics and the soul of the American people. Those of us in the 50 and under crowd have pretty much grown up in a world suspicious and even hostile towards all levels of government. The over 50 crowd helped build and fuel that distrust after a brutal sense of betrayal for a nation that set itself up more than two centuries ago as a beacon of democracy and freedom.

I’ve always said Watergate burned whatever bridges of faith and trust the American public had in their elected officials. But, the wicked uncertainty actually began the moment President John F. Kennedy had his head blown apart by an assassin’s bullets and Jacqueline Kennedy clambered onto the trunk of the presidential limousine in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The ensuing Warren Commission Report hoped to quell doubts that the murder was anything but the act of one deranged ex-Marine with delusions of grandeur. Yet, people saw it for what it really was: a rush to judgment. Americans weren’t so gullible anymore. The quagmire in Vietnam; the various energy crises of the 1970s; and the absolute failures of the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter Administrations (the latter burdened by the ineptness of the Iran hostage ordeal) only sealed the fate of Americans’ general distrust of their government.

Ronald Reagan fed off that fear like a lion gorging on a sick zebra and metamorphosed it into two successful political campaigns. One of his most popular statements, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’,” resonated strongly with the frustrated masses. Indeed, he had a point. But, Reagan’s own professional disconnect and ineffectiveness – Iran-contra, covert U.S. involvement in Central American conflicts, ignoring the AIDS epidemic, a pathetic war on pornography – placed him in the same pantheon of “Them.”

Almost from the moment Bill Clinton announced his candidacy for president, Republicans took retribution against their Democratic counterparts over Watergate by targeting Clinton every chance they could. They dissected the Whitewater deal and found – nothing. So, they turned to First Lady Hillary Clinton and manufactured something called “Travelgate.” When that didn’t work, they pounced on the events surrounding the suicide of Vince Foster; dragging the memory of a man who may have had severe emotional problems into their cesspool of arrogance and striving fruitlessly to twist it into an evil political plot. Alas, in 1998, they zeroed in on something totally unrelated to politics: the Monica Lewinsky affair and tried to impeach Clinton over a tawdry sexual indiscretion. The final report by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr read like a soft-core porn novel. I remember looking at that mess and thinking, “They want to impeach a U.S. president over that?! A blowjob?!”

We see that stubbornness now with the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. They complain that President Obama has no viable plans to help the U.S. economy, for example, but stand in their buckets of ideological cement and won’t budge. Thus, Obama (slowly growing some semblance of a backbone) has been forced to invoke executive privileges to get the work done. Now, Boehner is threatening to sue him because of it! I remember Boehner repeatedly asking, “Where are the jobs?” But, when Obama wanted the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans to expire at the end of 2010, Republicans balked and threatened to block extension of unemployment benefits, which were also set to expire at the end of that year; thus holding struggling Americans hostage. Obama relented, and the wealthiest citizens continued to see their after-tax incomes grow, while average Americans continued to lose their jobs and their homes.

The administration of George W. Bush solidified, in my mind, the corruptness and intransigence of the U.S. government. The 09/11 horror compelled many Americans to question what our government officials know and what they’re doing about it. That the Bush Administration then tied the 09/11 affair to Iraq’s alleged development of nuclear and / or chemical weapons convinced so many of us that our government is willing to go to extreme lengths to obfuscate and mislead just to embolden its own agenda. They tap-danced on the dead bodies of the innocent people who hurtled themselves from the World Trade Center’s burning Twin Towers and merely wiped the blood of soldiers from the millions of dollars they earned from oil revenue.

Bush was a puppet president; a doll adorned in designer business suits and propped up with ersatz ‘Mission Accomplished’ bravado. I almost feel sorry for him. Even he said, after leaving the White House, that he felt “liberated.”

Obama hasn’t done much better. At least he’s more verbally adept than Bush. But, I wish he’d make the time to rummage through his wife’s cache of designer handbags for his gonads before telling John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, “Fuck you. I’m president of the United States. I run this shit here – not you guys.”

It bothers me, for example, that we’re still entrenched in Afghanistan. I feel we should have bombed the crap out of them twelve years ago – damn their civilians, including the children and women, because they didn’t care about ours – and then leave. Maybe airdrop a few high-protein biscuits and bottled water into the mountainside, just to show we’re not complete assholes and go about our own business.

But, it bothers me even more that Obama hasn’t empowered Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the causes of the near-total economic collapse in 2008. The worst financial downturn since the 1930s didn’t happen because someone on the Dow Jones trading floor accidentally unplugged a computer before the end of the business day because they needed to do a software upgrade. It resulted from a multitude of events; such as hefty tax cuts for that “job-creating” 1%; extreme deregulation of the housing and banking industries; and the billions of dollars on the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Except for a handful of notable exceptions – Bernie Madoff, Mark Dreier – no one has been held accountable for the “Great Recession.” But, if I walk into a local convenience store with a toy gun and rob the Pakistani clerk of fifty bucks, I could spend thirty years in prison. I believe there were other more diabolical machinations in play, beginning in 2001, that caused the economic downturn. Yes, economies endure cycles of bull and bear markets. But, this fiasco wasn’t just cyclical, like rainfall. Somebody did something, and it wasn’t by accident.

In February 2012, Maine Senator Olympia Snowe stunned her constituents by announcing that she wouldn’t seek reelection that year. She didn’t hesitate to explain why: the level of hostility and unwillingness to compromise in the U.S. Congress had become unbearable. To her, I guess, it wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. It was a shame. Snowe was one of the most level-headed politicians in Washington, regardless of party affiliation. She was willing to listen to and work with all of her colleagues. But, many of them just didn’t seem to share the same ethic.

I still say it all goes back to Watergate. Nixon and his band of henchmen were determined to keep the president in power, as the 1972 elections neared. Nixon had a modest tenure as Vice-President under Dwight Eisenhower, but suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the upstart Kennedy in 1960. When he lost the California governor’s race in 1962, he vowed to exit public life altogether, loudly proclaiming, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.” But, he just couldn’t stay away. He loved the political game and desperately wanted the presidency. His dogged ambition put him in the White House six years after the California debacle – and forced him back out six years later.

Things have never been the same since. And, we still can’t bring ourselves to trust anyone in government.

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Happy Birthday Ron Kovic!

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“I am the living death
the memorial day on wheels
I am your Yankee Doodle Dandy
your John Wayne come home
your fourth of July firecracker
exploding in the grave.”

Ron Kovic, Democratic National Convention, New York City; July 15, 1976.

 

Ron Kovic, born July 4, 1946; author of “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Around the World in Eight Days,” and “A Dangerous Country.”

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Happy American Independence Day 2014!

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“It is those who have struggled the most, and who’ve been forced to be the most creative, that have the most to teach us.”

Matthew Dennis, Professor of History and Environmental Studies, University of Oregon.

 

Soldiers wave American flags at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.  Photo courtesy Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika, U.S. Army.

Soldiers wave American flags at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. Photo courtesy Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika, U.S. Army.

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

President John F. Kennedy

 

U.S. Independence.

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Iraq Again! Oh, Hell No!

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“It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive!”

Colin Clive in “Frankenstein

 

As the United States slowly recuperates from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are suddenly beset with a very real horror show: the rise of militants in Iraq, as well as the collapse of the Iraqi government. Most of us keep smacking ourselves across the face; trying to wake up from what can only be deemed a nightmare. No – a night terror. This can’t be happening. There must be some kind of misunderstanding. The media has it all wrong.

No, they don’t. It is happening. And, we’re all wide awake.

I wish that the brewing fiasco is – at best – a really cruel, heartless joke. But, it’s simply not. The blatant reality is that radical Iraqi insurgents have risen from the crypt of hate and anger to launch an assault on that nation’s fragile government and hapless military. They’ve already taken over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. It’s surely only a matter of time before they attack Baghdad.

President Obama, who campaigned in 2008 partly on the promise to end the war in Iraq, says another round of military intervention is not likely. But, almost in the same breath, he added, “We have enormous interests there.”

What happened to the good old days, when a president would say stupid crap, but still really believe it with all his heart? Many of us disagreed with George W. Bush, but at least we knew where he stood on an issue. Along with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, Bush hoodwinked much of the nation into believing Iraq had a role in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and was secretly building a nuclear arsenal. In the twisted logic that only a draft-dodging right-wing lunatic could manufacture, Bush forced the U.S. to switch its attention abruptly from Afghanistan to Iraq. Most of us level-headed folks saw the ruse clearly and still didn’t mind being labeled terrorists. We knew it was a lie. But, Bush was a puppet president for corporate oil interests (in much the same way Warren G. Harding was), so I don’t blame him completely.

But, with nearly 4,500 U.S. dead in Iraq alone – not to forget those who died from their injuries or suicide once back home – we’re faced with a bizarre quandary: sending troops back into Iraq to thwart what observers have ominously deemed the “threshold of civil war.”

Trick question: what’s the difference between the threshold of civil war in Iraq and a total conflict?

Answer: nothing!

The difference is in terminology only. Hearing military and political “experts” trying to define the two concepts is like saying there’s a difference between azure and blue. I knew a guy in college who got upset when people said he was Italian. He preferred the term “Sicilian.” Oh, of course! Silly me! And, just so you’ll know, I’m not Latino. I’m Hispanic! ¿Entiendes?

The U.S. put itself into a quixotic situation with Iraq more than three decades ago when it began funding its war with Iran. That came to an abrupt end in 1988, when Saddam Hussein launched a genocidal chemical attack on Kurdistan. The U.S. also placed itself in a quagmire with Afghanistan when it supported mujahideen rebels in their valiant fight against the former Soviet Union – and then forgot about the Afghan people. One nation doesn’t make a promise of that magnitude to another nation without owning up to it.

If, by some wretched chance, we do send our military back into Iraq, here’s what I’d like to see happen:

  • Initiate a military draft. Every 18-25 able bodied person (including women, Jews, Mormons, conservative Republicans and rich kids) will have to serve in some kind of capacity. No exceptions!
  • Raise taxes on the wealthiest 5% of American citizens. Since many of them are the ones who propagated the war in Iraq and subsequently benefited from it, we need half of their income to go into Pentagon coffers.
  • Cease all foreign aid. This includes Israel. Unquestionable financial and political support for Israel by the U.S. is another reason for the 09/11 attacks.

It’s only fair all of the above should occur, as the U.S. roars back into Iraq like a repo man going after a late-model BMW for the third time. But, I also think it’s only fair I should be rich and famous without working too hard for it. After all, I’m attractive (in the right black light) and intelligent. Why should I struggle so hard?

Will the U.S. boomerang its troops back into Iraq? I can only hope not. But, you know how that goes.

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Happy Father’s Day 2014!

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“Only a dad with a tired face,

Coming home from the daily race,

Bringing little of gold or fame,

To show how well he has played the game.

 

But glad in his heart that his own rejoice,

To see him come and to hear his voice.

Only a dad with a brood of four,

One of ten million men or more.

 

Plodding along in the daily strife,

Bearing the whips and the scorns of life,

With never a whimper of pain or hate,

For the sake of those who at home await.

 

Only a dad, neither rich nor proud,

Merely one of the surging crowd,

Toiling, striving from day to day,

Facing whatever may come his way.

 

Silent whenever the harsh condemn,

And bearing it all of the love of them.

Only a dad but he gives his all,

To smooth the way for his children small.

 

Doing with courage stern and grim,

The deeds that his father did for him.

This is the line for him I pen:

Only a dad, but the best of men.”

 

“Only a Dad” – Edgar A. Guest

Father’s Day.

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