Category Archives: Memoirs

Elmore Leonard, 87, a hard boiled paragon

Elmore Leonard, like Raymond Chandler, wrote like a slumming angel.

His first words for hire were Chevrolet commercials, but he loved the hard-boiled stuff, the tersely worded, hard-hitting stories that filled the pulp magazines once so beloved of kids who read by flashlight under the covers.

He started out writing Westerns, then moved his characters into the present, and always somewhere in the background were directors, hungry for spare, cinematic visions.

Like all good writers of the hard boiled genre, Leonard knew just how to insert tongue in cheek, ensuring there were always laughs to accompany the shudders.

Elmore Leonard’s gone now. He died today, ending a solid 87-year run.

We’ll miss him, both at the movies and under the covers.

We leave with images and words:

Elmore Leonard on Writing

From vlogger Nettoyeur71:

Mr Majestyk’, ‘Stick’, ‘Cat Chaser’, ‘52 Pick up’ – just some of the colourful, clever and very exciting thrillers penned by Mr Elmore Leonard. Here he talks about his career to date, and gives us a lil insight into his writing methods.

This is a 2006 interview repeated recently which I managed to grab off the iplayer.

Elmore Leonard At the Movies Compilation

From vlogger Gregg Sutter:

A compilation of Elmore Leonard’s movies assembled to honor his 75th Birthday, It was shown at the Telluride Film Festival at a Variety event in the year 2000.

From the Criterion Collection:

Elmore Leonard on 3:10 to Yuma

Random Sunday thoughts on the human condition

We began blogging soon after being laid off from our last newspaper job, a consequence of the economic crash and an advertiser boycott of the Berkeley Daily Planet organized by a trio of militant Ziocons.

In the following three years we’ve made 7,296 posts [this is the 7,297th] about a wide range of subjects, selected on the basis of both personal interest and a desire to share our thoughts of issues we think are very important to understand in an age when events are spiraling rapidly toward a critical turning point in the history of both our species and our planet.

In the last year, we’ve been focusing intensely on the developments in Europe, where a concerted efforts is underway to destroy the institutions built up over the course of the last two centuries to stem the rapacity of the financial elites who rose to power through the confluence of forces embodied in the imperial colonial adventures that began in the late 15th Century, the creation of central banks, the invention of the modern corporation as a weapon of colonial conquest, and an industrial revolution by the exploitation of the planet’s non-renewable energy reserves.

We have watched as the forces of money and multinational corporations have eaten away at labor rights, social protections, and the machinery of democratic process — the latter gutted by international treaties transcending national laws and the evolution of powerful and secretive transnational organizations.

All of this has transpired under an agenda epitomized in the quotation from Aldous Huxley’s Island featured on the blog’s flag: “Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence — those are the three pillars of Western prosperity.”

Now, as the era of cheap energy reaches its end and our environment is being poisoned by the “externalities” of the industrial age, we are facing a crisis that is both global in scope and of our own making.

Accompanying this massive transformation and environmental degradation has been the capture of the Western world’s communications media by giant corporations which have severed the links between media and community, laid off most of their journalists, and transformed the media into machines for selling both product and propaganda.

And lest we forget, all the alternative media are carried through corporate channels, and can be shut down by a simple flick of a switch.

Governments that fail to play by the rules set down by the bank-and-corporate-owned governments and transnational alliances of the West are destroyed. While the West was busily demonizing Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya, the flood of stories rarely if ever mentioned that Libyans received guaranteed incomes, health care, housing and education, and that the government had created the greatest civil engineering project of the 20th Century, the Great Man Made River, to bring water to the cities along the coast.

While the West was busily bombing Libya, using bombs from Israel in the case of Denmark, the violence unleashed in the country was carried out in large part by members of the same groups NATO was fighting in Afghanistan — including Al Qaeda. But all this was lost on most of the Western media, which hewed to the official line, just as they did to the myths of Iraqi WMDs.

Death of the American news media

We discovered our journalistic vocation on 9 November 1964, when we walked into the newsroom of the San Luis Valley Courier as a college sophomore and left that night having written the lead front page story and shot the accompanying photo. We’d never thought about reporting before that day.

Of the seven newspapers where we served on staff, only two have survived, the Las Vegas-Review-Journal and the Sacramento Bee. All the rest were either merged into larger, chain-owned papers or succumbed to the loss of advertising revenues and subscribers that have plagued the American press over the last 35 years.

In the most extreme case, the Oceanside Blade-Tribune — where we served first as reporter, then as city editor — the newspaper was bought and folded into a chain. Of the dozen local, community newspapers which then existed in North San Diego County California, only one remains, and that was recently bought by the same owner, Manchester Lynch Integrated Media Holdings [a developer], who bought the only large newspaper in the county as well as one of the last remaining papers in Riverside County to the north. The inevitable layoffs followed.

This cartoon, from another since-closed paper, deftly sums up our concern:

So we’ll keep writing as long as we’re able.

The world’s in trouble, and it’s up to us to act.

WikiCable: The editor of a doomed Bahraini paper

Much has changed in the six years since then-Ambassador William T. Monroe reported on 29 June 2005 on his conversation of the day before with Mansour Al-Jamry, the editor of Al Wasat, Bahrain’s only opposition newspaper.

First, according to a Reuters report published Tuesday in the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram, the newspaper will cease publication Monday.

Bahrain’s Al Wasat newspaper, seen as the country’s only opposition publication, will stop publication as of next week

The newspaper was targeted in a rolling crackdown by Bahrain’s Sunni-led government against Shi’ite opposition political groups and activists after it crushed anti-government protests and declared martial law in March.


Al Wasat resumed publication following its suspension a day after three editors left the paper, including editor-in-chief Mansour al Jamri, the son of a former Shi’ite opposition leader. Prosecutors later questioned the three over the accusations.

A source close to the newspaper told Reuters the last edition of the newspaper would appear on May 9: “It’s for economic reasons, the commercial viability was gone.”

Second, one of the Shia opposition leaders cited in the dispatch, Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja, was severely beaten and arrested by police in April, according to Human Rights Watch. At last report, he was scheduled to go on trial today on charges of inciting unrest.

One of the ironies in reading the cable is the evident sympathy expressed by Al-Jamry  towards Bahraini monarch Sheikh Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa.

In light of subsequent developments, consider the cable’s concluding paragraph:

Al-Jamry represents much of what is good about Bahrain since King Hamad launched his reform effort. Having spent years in London in exile, he returned and set up a newspaper that is contributing to the more open discourse that one finds in Bahrain these days. He believes passionately in reform, and is willing to take risks (as when he took on the Malkiya wall issue). But he recognizes the complexities of moving the reform process forward in Bahrain — both because of the dynamics within the Royal Family and within the opposition Shia community. He acknowledged to the Ambassador that at times he gets frustrated and is tempted to return to the comfortable life he had in London. If he did, it would be a real loss for Bahrain.

The dispatch is posted online here.

291148Z Jun 05
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAMA 000922
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/29/2015



Classified By: Ambassador William T. Monroe. Reason: 1.4 (B)(D)


1. (S) Independent newspaper editor Mansour Al-Jamry, in a June 28 discussion with the Ambassador, gave a wide-ranging review of the complexities and challenges facing King Hamad as he pursues reform in Bahrain. On the one hand, the King faces challenges from his two uncles: Prime Minister Khalifa and Shaikh Mohammed. The King has been quietly trying to erode the economic power of the Prime Minister, moving PM cronies out of Cabinet positions and granting enhanced powers to the Economic Development Board (overseen by Crown Prince Salman). The PM, however, has allies sprinkled throughout the bureaucracies, and it would be wrong, Al-Jamry cautioned, to count him out just yet. The other uncle, Shaikh Mohammed, who is in a coma, has long lived outside the law and his financial interests are being protected and advanced by his children. One son, Shaikh Hamad, was at the center of a recent controversy over a wall built in a Shia village that cut off access to the sea. Al-Jamry led the charge against the uncle, which resulted in a rare retreat by a powerful Royal Family member.

2. (C) Another set of challenges highlighted by Al-Jamry comes from the oppostion Al-Wifaq and a more extreme group of Shia led by activist Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja. Al-Jamry spoke positively of the way the King has dealt with recent demonstrations on constitutional reform organized by Al-Wifaq, and was sympathetic to “the box” the King finds himself in dealing with Al-Khawaja’s more provocative challenges. He said that Al-Khawaja considers himself “untouchable” because of support from the U.S. and the West, but is an opportunist who has no interest in democratic reform. Al-Khawaja, he added, also poses a dilemma for opposition Shia, including Al-Wifaq and leading clerics like Shaikh Issa Qassim. End summary.


3. (C) The Ambassador met June 28 with Mansour Al-Jamry, founder and editor-in-chief of the independent Arabic-language newspaper “Al-Wasat,” for a discussion of Bahrain’s reform efforts and the various challenges facing King Hamad as he attempts to move Bahrain’s reform process forward. Al-Jamry, who comes from one of the most prominent Shia families in Bahrain, lived in exile in London for many years before returning to Bahrain after the King introduced his constitutional reforms in 2001. Under Al-Jamry’s leadership, Al-Wasat has provided lively coverage of controversial issues, such Continue reading

Paperback Books: Memories of a vanished world

Here’s the teaser for Paperback Dreams, a PBS documentary about two Bay Area bookstores, Cody’s and Kepler’s. The whole film is posted online here at SnagFilms.

Since the mid-1990’s, more than half the nation’s independent bookstores have closed, and Paperback Dreams tells the tale of one now-closed store and a second which has struggled, surviving one closure and now back again.

I once calculated that over the course of a couple of decades I’d spent $20,000 at one of the stores, the late, much-lamented Cody’s Book’s of Berkeley. From the time I moved to Davis in 1983 with a new spouse, I came to Berkeley to shop at Cody’s about once a month, returning home with anywhere from five to ten books.

My son, Derald, often accompanied me at first, then joined my first daughter, Jackie, and then by second, Sammi, who returned home [in Davis first, then Sacramento, finally Napa] with books of their own. They loved the trips, though mostly because of Telegraph Avenue, which they found almost as fun as a circus, sometimes more so.

For me, Cody’s was a near-erotic experience, a nexus for indulging my lifelong love affair with the printed word. I’m one of those odd folk who find books a profoundly sensual experience. I love their feel, their smell, the wondrous images, the sound of the turning page — though I gave up tasting them with I left the toddler teething stage.

Cody’s was an expansive sensorium, a place where I discovered new interests, new writers, new ideas. It was part of my life, a liberating experience untouched by the cares impinging on work and home.

One of the reasons I shopped at Cody’s was a series of friendships with bookstore owners earlier in my life, doubly rewarding because once they knew my interests, they’d introduce me to books with new ideas.

I worked at a bookstore back in my college days for a delightful owner, taking all my pay in trade. Later, when I was a reporter and then city editor in Oceanside, both downtown store owners gave me credit and introduced me to countless new books and authors; I’ll be forever grateful to one for introducing me to Lord Buckley and the other for wiping out my not inconsiderable debt when I moved on. Still later, in Sacramento, a bookstore clerk gave me unexpected discounts, turned me on to some important reads, and gave me occasional news leads and foreign film recommendations.

I’ve watched the destruction of the local American book merchant with great sorrow, afflicted first by the rise of the chains, then by the discounters, and then slain by the Internet.

It’s been heartbreaking to watch the independents die, and with them, a perfect niche for a booklover to thrive as an independent merchant. They were good friends, lively people interested in ideas and conversations, and blessed with the contentment that comes from a livelihood precisely what they loved best.

Cody’s is gone now, briefly reincarnated as a pale shadow in a Shattuck Avenue storefront before finally vanishing. Kepler’s, where I’ve spent a few bucks as well, is still here.

I still shop mostly at stores, because I like to handle books before I buy them, checking out fonts and illustrations, perusing the indexes, eyeballing the references, feeling the quality of the binding and paper.

[I was about to write that it’s hard to judge things online, but then I remembered that the most delightful relationship of recent years came through an online encounter, and that commenced from nearly half a world apart. But still, I prefer the immediate hands-on approach to books, and I miss as well the little spark of community that flourishes in the independent bookstore.]

And enjoy the documentary.

Leslie Nielsen is gone, a very funny man

Word this evening that Canadian actor Leslie Nielsen, best known for his role as Lt. Frank Drebin in the Police Squad films, has gone.

While most people probably remember him for his straight-faced comedic portrayals, I remember him best as the man who starred in the film that sacred me sleepless.

For a nine year old kid, Forbidden Planet was the most frightening experience imaginable. And that’s precisely the source of the fear: Imagination.

The 1956 film was the first science fiction tale filmed with believable special effects, meaning there was no perceptible gimmickery of the sort that had always let the viewer know that she was watching trickery created in a studio craft shop.

But MGM pulled out the stops and its wallet for the film, and to a young child living in a small Kansas farm town, the result was stunning. Space travel became real, as did the monster conjured up by a screen writer. And therein lay the film’s brilliance. For the monster was invisible, a massive, hulking, unstoppable predator that became visible only when attacked by other equally invisible energy weapons.

What made the film even more frightening was that fact that my family was in the process of moving to Colorado, where my dad had bought into a furniture store in Fort Collins.

We had sold our house and moved into a rental while dad was closing out his half interest in Shank & Brenneman, a paint, glass, and wallpaper store in Abilene. Our temporary home was an aging bungalow, with floors that creaked in the night.

After I came home from the Plaza Theater [children’s seats, 14 cents], I waited bedtime with dread, and spent the sleepless night with the blankets drawn up over my head, quaking each time a floor joist groaned and nearly losing control of my bladder when Mickey, our fat orange Persian cat, jumped up onto the bed.

So whenever I think of Leslie Nielsen, it’s always with mixed emotions, a smile and a shudder.

And only later did I realize that the futuristic space opera was a translation of a much older tale, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

So here’s a bit of footage from Forbidden Planet.

And here, from the film that launched his second career in comedy, is his most famous line from Airplane.

And here’s the opening of the Associated Press obituary:

Leslie Nielsen, who traded in his dramatic persona for inspired bumbling as a hapless doctor in “Airplane!” and the accident-prone detective Frank Drebin in “The Naked Gun” comedies, died on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 84.

The Canadian-born actor died from complications from pneumonia at a hospital near his home at 5:34 p.m., surrounded by his wife, Barbaree, and friends, his agent John S. Kelly said in a statement.

“We are saddened by the passing of beloved actor Leslie Nielsen, probably best remembered as Lt. Frank Drebin in ‘The Naked Gun’ series of pictures, but who enjoyed a more than 60-year career in motion pictures and television,” said Kelly.

Nielsen came to Hollywood in the mid-1950s after performing in 150 live television dramas in New York. With a craggily handsome face, blond hair and 6-foot-2 height, he seemed ideal for a movie leading man.

Nielsen first performed as the king of France in the Paramount operetta “The Vagabond King” with Kathryn Grayson.

The film — he called it “The Vagabond Turkey” — flopped, but MGM signed him to a seven-year contract.

His first film for that studio was auspicious — as the space ship commander in the science fiction classic “Forbidden Planet.”

22 November, a day haunted by memories

Anyone of a certain age remembers 22 November 1963.

esnl was a college freshman, doing a bit of pre-class studying in his college dorm room in Southern Colorado when a fellow resident yelled out “Kennedy’s been shot.”

Radios went on in every room, and a barrage of conflicting reports followed. One report had gunman firing a .30-.30 from an overpass. I remember because I owned a rifle of the same caliber, a Winchester Model 94.

There was a lunch in the nearby cafeteria, unusually subdued for sunny warm Friday afternoon, then a stroll to the science building, where geology prof “Pop” Burroughs announced that he’d decided to cancel class.

In the years since, we’ve read a lot of books on the assassination, and we’re convinced the full story will likely never be told. Lots of very powerful people hated Kennedy, the most eloquent and charismatic President of our lifetime.

JFK will always remain the big question mark of the 20th Century.

What if he’d lived?

The Mideast might be a much different place, since he had come out unequivocally against the Israeli nuclear weapons program just a couple of months before his death.

Fidel Castro might well have been killed, since brother and Attorney General Robert was deeply engaged in plots against the Cuban government.

The Mafia’s power might have been broken, since both brothers hated the mob —  possibly because their father, Joe Kennedy, had been so deeply tied to the syndicate when he was bootlegging scotch during Prohibition at the same time he was trying his hand in the mobbed-up movie business.

Jack Kennedy had flirted with danger all his life, and with today’s scandal-mongering press his sexual profligacy would’ve been exposed early on, most likely before he ever had a chance to reach the White House.

Though few people remember it, he became a war hero only because the Navy had to ship him out of Washington after he became involved with a suspected spy, Inga Arvad, who’d accompanied a guy named Hitler to the 1936 winter Olympics.

But every year, come 22 November, we entertain such thoughts. . .

An anniversary: Four score and seven

Back in 1902, a great-grandfather, Albert Coleman, paid a visit to the scene of a war he’d fought 39 years before. Here he stands, bearded and bemedaled, in the rocks of Devil’s Den, scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in the bloodiest war in the nation’s history.

Gettysburg was also the scene of the best-known speech in American history, delivered four months after the fighting by an embattled President Abraham Lincoln.

In a very few words once memorized by several generations of American middle school students, Lincoln reminded us that eloquence doesn’t require endless words and rhetorical flourishes.

So in honor of iur three great-grandfathers who fought for the Union, where’s the text Lincoln deliver on this day in 1863:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate —we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.