Category Archives: Memoirs

Headline of the day III: Yet another SciFi plot

From the Los Angeles Times:

Deadly superbugs from hospitals get stronger in the sewers and could end up in the Pacific Ocean

A growing number of studies show sewage plants can’t kill the superbugs. Instead the facilities serve as “a luxury hotel” for drug-resistant bacteria, a place where they thrive and grow stronger, said Pedro Alvarez, a professor of environmental engineering at Rice University, one of the scientists studying the problem.

Envirowatch: Alarms shriek, outbreaks, & nukes

We begin with a three-alarm fire, first from the New York Times:

Unprecedented Level of Human Harm to Sea Life Is Forecast

A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of committing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a co-author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.

Next, via the Washington Post:

Scientists: Human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’

At the rate things are going, the Earth in the coming decades could cease to be a “safe operating space” for human beings. That is the conclusion of a new paper published Thursday in the journal Science by 18 researchers trying to gauge the breaking points in the natural world.

The paper contends that we have already crossed four “planetary boundaries.” They include the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean.

“What the science has shown is that human activities — economic growth, technology, consumption – are destabilizing the global environment,” said Will Steffen, who holds appointments at the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Center and is the lead author of the paper.

And this from the Guardian:

Rate of environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, say scientists

  • Humans are ‘eating away at our own life support systems’ at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years, two new research papers say

They found that the changes of the last 60 years are unprecedented in the previous 10,000 years, a period in which the world has had a relatively stable climate and human civilisation has advanced significantly.

Carbon dioxide levels, at 395.5 parts per million, are at historic highs, while loss of biosphere integrity is resulting in species becoming extinct at a rate more than 100 times faster than the previous norm.

Since 1950 urban populations have increased seven-fold, primary energy use has soared by a factor of five, while the amount of fertiliser used is now eight times higher. The amount of nitrogen entering the oceans has quadrupled.

All of these changes are shifting Earth into a “new state” that is becoming less hospitable to human life, researchers said.

From the report:

BLOG Boundaries

The Pope draws a conclusion, via Reuters:

Pope says climate change mostly man’s fault

Pope Francis said on Thursday he believed that man was primarily responsible for climate change and that he hoped this year’s Paris conference would take a courageous stand to protect the environment.

The Pope said his long-awaited encyclical on the environment was almost finished and that he hoped it would be published in June, ahead of the U.N. climate meeting in Paris in November.

Speaking to reporters on the plane taking him from Sri Lanka to Manila, he was asked specifically if man was mostly to blame for climate change.

“I don’t know if it is all (man’s fault) but the majority is, for the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature,” he said.

Next, some good newws [?] from the London Telegraph:

Haggis is the cure for American obesity epidemic, say peers

  • President Obama urged to drop ban on sale of haggis in the US

The United States should lift its ban on the import of haggis in an attempt to tackle the country’s obesity crisis, a leading medic has said.

Lord McColl of Dulwich, a retired professor of surgery, said American Scots were being deprived of the “wholesome” food and as a result dying of obesity.

Lord Winston, a leading fertility doctor and television presenter, told the Lords that haggis was “revolting” but if it could be used to curb obesity it should be promoted in Glasgow.

And what constitutes Groundskeeper Willie’s favorite dish? From Wikipedia:

Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a sausage casing rather than an actual stomach.

On to outbreaks, first with Jiji Press:

Bird Flu Outbreak Confirmed in Okayama Pref.

An outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu has been confirmed in the western Japan prefecture of Okayama, prefectural government officials said Thursday.

Chickens that died at a poultry farm in the city of Kasaoka tested positive for H5 subtype avian flu virus in a genetic test, the officials said.

This was the fourth case of highly pathogenic bird flu in Japan this winter, following two in the southwestern prefecture of Miyazaki and one in the western prefecture of Yamaguchi last month.

Closer to Casa esnl with the Associated Press:

6 more California measles cases tied to Disney outbreak

California health officials confirmed that six new measles cases are connected to an outbreak at Disney theme parks last month, bringing the total number of illnesses to 32.

The new cases include five in Los Angeles County and one in San Diego County. Craig Sturak with the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency said Thursday that the latest case in his area posed no threat of public exposure.

Officials were working to confirm additional possible cases in San Diego County after several people showed up to an urgent care clinic with measles symptoms. Sharp HealthCare spokesman Curtis Ippolito says the La Mesa clinic closed after patients arrived Wednesday morning with fevers and rashes. He declined to say how many people were involved or whether they were related.

Across the Atlantic with StarAfrica:

Cholera outbreak kills 20 in oil rich Rivers State of Nigeria

The outbreak of Cholera in 11 communities in the oil rich Rivers State in south-eastern Nigeria has claimed 20 lives, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr Sampson Parker, has confirmed.

Parker told journalists in Port Harcourt on Wednesday after visiting the affected communities in Andoni Local Government Area that the outbreak was reported on January 5.

“So far, 171 cases have been recorded with 20 deaths in the outbreak which was reported on January 5. The Local Government Area Rapid Response Team with State Emergency Response Team, have responded swiftly,” he said.

From StarAfrica again, and even more troubling:

Rwanda faults imported bed nets for surge in malaria infections

For a country that has been acclaimed as a role model in the fight against malaria, Rwanda’s story has now somewhat become worrying.

Malaria skyrocketed by over 30 percent to one million cases in 2013, while the most affected, Kirehe District, reported more than 40, 000 cases in December last year, up from 37,812 in November.

According to the Rwandan Minister of Health, Agnes Binagwaho, the worrying situation is being blamed on sham mosquito bed nets imported from Netprotect – a Danish firm.

After conducting investigations, the government is now awaiting approval from its Justice Ministry to drag Netprotect to court for providing nets that did not serve their purpose.

On to China and another epidemic, via People’s Daily:

China reports over 100,000 new HIV/AIDS infections in 2014

China reported 104,000 new HIV/AIDS infections in 2014, up 14.8 percent from the previous year, the country’s central health authority revealed on Thursday.

Wang Guoqiang, vice head of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said that the overall rates of infection and number of HIV/AIDS cases have stayed at a low level.

China has provided anti-viral treatment for an additional 85,000 HIV/AIDS patients last year, an increase of 21.2 percent compared with 2013, Wang said at a national conference on disease control.

Wang said despite the low pandemic situation, the spread of the disease in certain areas is still high.

SciDev.Net covers anther outbreak:

Race is on to save banana from fungus wilt

A global plan to fight Fusarium wilt, a fungus spreading from Asia to Africa and the Middle East, is needed to prevent the world’s most popular banana variety from disappearing.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and 30 other organisations have estimated that a strategic global plan to contain the disease could cost US$47 million to implement.

The fungus, Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense Tropical Race 4, or TR4, is a destructive one that afflicted Asia for more than 20 years, affecting China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan, as well as northern Australia.

Its appearance in Mozambique in early 2013 raised the alarm of cross-continent spread, and sparked moves to devise the global plan, the main goals of which were discussed last month during a meeting in Rome where the FAO is based.

After the jump, avian climate change deaths in Mexico, deforestation threatens the world natural medicine wellsprings, on to the fracking front, with numbers from the Golden State and a fracking transformation of Ohio into an earthquake hot zone, Colombian farmers await a verdict in their BP pollution suit, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with a hot waste shipment delay, Japanese subsidies for faster reactor restarts, Fukushima fears haunt nuclear power politics in Seoul, China’s President Xi sees a golden nuclear power future, and an international nuke disaster compensation accord draws nigh. . . Continue reading

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.

Tales of a childhood touched by FDR’s WPA

It’s a sad day when you don’t learn anything new, which makes today a happy one.

Intending to write a piece about the library which meant so much to me in my earliest years, I began with an internet search for the Abilene Kansas Library, source of some of the fondest memories of my youngest years.

But, as so often happens with web wanderings, I found myself quickly drawn to some of the other buildings redolent with my early years growing up on a Kansas plains.

What I discovered was that two of the most significant were created as a direct response to the devastation wrought by the nation’s last great economic crash.

Thanks to the extensive documentation required to land structures on the National Register of Historic Places, I learned a lot.

For historians, Abilene is best known for two things: It was the end point of the Chisholm Trail, that great trek made by Texas cattle herds on the way to the railroad and the slaughterhouses of Chicago, and it was the town that shaped a future war leader and President, Dwight David Eisenhower. [The town also gave rise to Whitman’s chocolates and the Brown Telephone Company, known today as Sprint Nextel.]

Otherwise, Abilene’s just one of many small farm towns in America’s grain belt, with a current population of about 6,300, up about 700 from when I added my digit to the total back in 1946.

My world then revolved around three public institutions, the public library [built with funds from Andrew Carnegie], Garfield Elementary School, and the city swimming pool. Today I discovered that both the pool and the school were built with funds provided by the WPA, the Works Progress [later Projects] Administration, at the time the nation’s largest employer.

The WPA was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s response to the massive unemployment wrought by the Great Depression, an event triggered by the reckless speculations of the small elite who controlled a larger share of the nation’s wealth than at any time in the nation’s history — until today.

The Depression hit Abilene perhaps harder than any other small town in the state. By 1932, real estate had lost 30 percent of its pre-cash value, drastically shrinking the community’s property tax base. The shortfall forced the closing of the country health department and the lost of jobs led to an increase in relief for the poor and spending on the country’s poor farm, where indigents could obtain food and shelter in exchange for producing food.

Further falls in property values struck again the following year, at the same time as the community began receiving funds from the Civil Works Administration, the WPA’s immediate predecessor.

Unemployed workers found jobs again, on projects ranging from a library expansion, a new community bandshell, and repairs to the fire station. By the following year, 2,500 local residents were on some form of government relief, devastating numbers for a small agrarian community. More troubles followed in 1935, when the region was hit by massive dust storms that devastated crops and sent property values even lower.

But 1935 marked a dramatic increase in WPA programs, helping to offset the job losses and their harsh impact on local relief budgets. By year’s end, only 101 people in Dickinson County remained on the relief roles.

Over the next four years, WPA money flowed into Abilene for a wide

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Those were the days: The Osbourne 1

Behold, esnl’s first personal computer. Not the actual machine, but an image discovered whilst web surfing.

Until the late 1970’s, everything esnl wrote for pay or personal pleasure came out of a typewriter, and not even an electronic version until 1975 or so.

Until the late 1970’s, newspapers generally used manual typewriters, mostly Underwoods and Remingtons. Reporters developed strong fingers in those days.

Cut and paste was really cut and paste, with a bottle of rubber cement and either a steel type ruler [a pica pole] or an oversize pair of scissors close at hand. Stories were banged out either on individual sheets of newsprint chopped to varying sizes by “the boys in the back shop” or on rolls of wire service printer paper.

The story began with a slug — a one or two-word descriptor — and your last name. Subsequent pages were called “takes,” as in take 1 and take 2. The last line of the last take was always followed by a


or a


Editing entailed a fat Number 2 pencil and a knowledge of typesetter’s symbols. The glue pot came in when assembling the final story. If no paragraphs needed shifting, the pages were pasted top to bottom into one continuous scroll. If  paragraphs needed to be moved, you cut ‘em out and cut into the place you needed to insert them, using a couple of glue-smeared strips of paper [one for the top, one for the bottom].

It was a messy business, especially when it came to changing typewriter ribbons, and the paste always wound up on your fingers.

But the smell of rubber cement and the memory of ink-stained fingers will remain among our fondest memories.

All that changed a couple of years after signing on with the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, still the most congenial newspaper job we ever had.

When the old building in downtown Santa Monica was sold through eminent domain to make way for Santa Monica Place, one of local architect Frank Gehry’s first big commissions, the owners built a new plant 16 blocks away, complete with a newsroom computer system, purchased second-hand from Systems Development Corporation, one of Santa Monica’s two major government affiliated think thanks [the other, more famous, was the Rand Corporation].

The glue pots and pica poles were gone, never to return.

Always a quick adaptor when it came to new technology, it soon became apparent that a computer was just the thing for home as well.

Back in 1980, the choices were few, the software limited, and the machines used for writing tended to be large and bulky. They were also hugely expensive.

By the next year, though, new choices had appeared. Radio Shack had introduced a new machine we liked, but then came the Osbourne 1, billed as the world’s first portable computer.

For a journalist, portable was just the ticket. Besides, Adam Osbourne, the fellow behind the machine, had come up with a hot concept: Software bundling. The program that came with the machine at no extra charge would cost nearly as much as the hardware if you paid retail, a gimmick that looked good to a penny-pinching freelancer who’d quit his newspaper job a few months earlier.

I was the first reporter I knew who owned a computer,

The machine stood us in good stead, churning out lots of stories and one nonfiction book [Fuller’s Earth].

But compared to today’s machines its laughable; our wristwatch has vastly more power.

So here’s the specs for our first machine, via with a H/T to Metafilter, where I found a comment that puts the price in perspective: “Just to note that by 2009 (adjusting for inflation using the Consumer Price Index) the relative worth of $1,795 from 1981 is $4,240.”

Introduced:    April 1981
Price:    US $1,795
Weight: 24.5 pounds
CPU:    Zilog Z80 @ 4.0 MHz
RAM:    64K RAM
Display: built-in 5″ monitor 53 X 24 text
Ports:    parallel / IEEE-488
modem / serial port
Storage: dual 5-1/4 inch, 91K drives

Free software:
CP/M System
CP/M Utility
SuperCalc spreadsheet application
WordStar word processing application with MailMerge
Microsoft MBASIC programming language
Digital Research CBASIC programming language

The Osborne was a huge overnight success, with sales reaching 10,000 units a month. In September 1981, Osborne Computer Company had its first US$1 million sales month.

Our machine was one of the first thousand, serial number 669.

Old Blighty, pyramids and type-squeezers

‘There will always be an England. . .’

Or so they say.

For journalists of a certain age, stories were set in lines of hot type, stacked in decks, topped out with leaden headlines, and laid into chases, the steel frames that kept the whole page together, then tightened with quoins [adjustable margins of the chases], then laid on a turtle [a heavy steel rolling table] so it could either be laid directly on a flatbed press or covered with a heavy sheet of special paper which was molded onto the page, then used to recast the image onto a cylinder of metal that fit onto the rollers of a rotary press.

In the days of hot type, narrow slivers of metal could be inserted between the lines of type in the deck was too short to fill the assigned slot on the page, but the only way to make an overly long story fit was to pull out some of the type — which was always done from the bottom.

The practicalities of typography dictated the writer’s approach to a story, creating the classical journalistic “inverted pyramid style” — where all the most important material was stacked at the top, followed by points of decreasing importance. That way, when the type was too much for the “hole” in the chase, the “boys in the back shop” [and male they usually were] simply started pulled out lines of lead from the bootm until what was left fit the hole.

So what does all this have to do with England?

When stories were too short, the folks in the back filled in with ROP, for “run of the press,” fillers in the form of tiny advertisements [reporters called them “itchy pile ads” since so many were for suppositories or various creams and ointments] or with tiny fillers stories, usually from selections the periodic collections sent over the newswires by Associated Press or UPI [or its two predecessors, United Press and International News Service].

During esnl’s days of laying out pages back in the 1960s, a huge percentage of the fillers came from England, and dealt with some peculiar antic perpetrated by the denizen of small town with an unlikely but charming name.

Many an editor suspected that some creative writer in a dingy office somewhere in New Jersey [or maybe the old Jersey back in Old Blighty cooked them up midway through a bottle of Black Jack.

All of which leads to me this latest oddity from the Old Country, via the London Daily Telegraph.

More than a third of adults still hug a childhood soft toy while falling asleep, according to a new survey.

More than half of Britons still have a teddy bear from childhood and the average teddy bear is 27 years old, the poll found.

Travelodge, the hotel chain, surveyed 6,000 British adults and found that respondents said sleeping with a teddy a “comforting and calming” way to end the day.

The survey also found that 25 per cent of men said they even took their teddy away with them on business because it reminded them of home.

So where are today’s fillers, you may ask?

Well, back in the old days, when reporters whined about having their stories cut, a common response went, “Well, we couldn’t find the type-squeezer.” A joke, of course, since metal type wasn’t compressible.

But today’s pages skip the whole mechanics of metal, and pages are laid out on screens. Type squeezers and expanders exist in the form of Quark commands that can air out text or instantly resize the type to fit the page.

So there’s no more need for fillers or itchy pile ads.

Here at esnl, we miss them.

Dad-isms: Colloquialisms of a Kansas farm town

I loved my old man, and most of the best times of my childhood were spent with him on fishing, rock-hunting, arrowhead-hunting, and pheasant-hunting expeditions, or simply when we just loaded up in the camper and let our whims of the moment govern our path.

He was something of a prude when it came to anything sexual [except for one item you’ll see below], so I only heard a PG version of his metaphors [I didn’t hear him swear until I was 13]. But hailing from an Anabaptist heritage [Amish and Mennonite] and growing up at the dawn of the 20th Century in what was once the West’s wildest cowtown, he’d acquired decent-enough repertoire.

Here’s a sampling:

“Pardon, but I must go and shake the dew from my lily.”

“Drier than a popcorn fart.”

“Bungfodder.” [toilet paper]

“Rain’s comin’ down like a cow pissin’ on a flat rock.”

“Why, would you look at that, son!” [only uttered when the exclamation point was called for]

“Why, that thing like to tore my arms plum off!” [a fishing story constant]

“It’s colder than a witch’s tit.” [once when he dubbed a landmark “the with’s tit,” the topography involved led me to conclude that I’d probably like witches]

“Well, I’ll swan to goodness!” [general amazement]

Inflation, as seen over one lifetime’s course

Apropos of nothing and just for the fun of it, esnl decided to search his memory for the lowest prices he’d ever paid for a range of consumer goods.

Steak dinner [all you can eat] $1.25
Ice cream cones, per scoop       $.05
A slice of pie                                      $.15
A gallon of gas                           $0.19.9
A new car [1971 VW bug]       $1,995
Month’s rent [2 BR apt 1963]      $40
A candy bar                                       $.05
Movie seat, child price                  $.14
Hamburger meat [pound]            $.10
House [3BR in CA, 1969]      $12,000

Of course the federal minimum wage was less, at $1.25 per hour, when esnl entered the job market, compared to today’s $7.25, and some things were much more expensive then, even in today’s inflated dollars [long distance phone calls cost a mint, as did TVs].

Still. . .

esnl interviewed about the Roman Polanski case

David Walsh of the World Socialist Web Site conducted the interview.

Here’s the setup:

Swiss authorities announced July 12 that 76-year-old filmmaker Roman Polanski would not be extradited to the US. Polanski was arrested September 26, 2009 on his arrival in Zurich to attend a film festival. He remained under house arrest at his chalet in Gstaad until the Swiss justice ministry rendered its recent decision.

The effort by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, assisted by the Obama administration’s Justice Department, to extradite Polanski in relation to charges of having sex with a teenage girl dating to the late 1970s, was a vindictive and politically motivated act.

An unsavory alliance of extreme right-wingers, feminists and liberal media pundits came together over the Polanski issue, demanding that “justice be done” once and for all in the case of this “rapist” and “pedophile.” Erstwhile “left” elements paid no attention to the facts of the case, including the systematic violation of Polanski’s rights by the judge in the case in 1977-78, or its social and political implications, so blinded are they by the prejudices of identity politics.

As we noted earlier in July, this sordid coalition “uses inflammatory, fake populist arguments as a means of whipping up the most backward layers of the American population with hot-button appeals to the ‘protection of children against predators.’ The targets of this lynch mob are ‘Hollywood types,’ artists, intellectuals and non-conformists of every variety. The anti-Polanski effort has undertones of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, along with old-fashioned American Puritanism.”

Richard Brenneman is an author and veteran journalist, who covered the Polanski case for the Santa Monica [California] Evening Outlook. As the newspaper’s court reporter, he had a unique vantage point on the events and an unusual relationship with Judge Laurence J. Rittenband. Brenneman figures prominently in the 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, directed by Marina Zenovich. He has written numerous recent articles on the case.

Brenneman was kind enough to consent to a telephone interview. We spoke to him from his home in Berkeley, California.

Read the rest here.

‘You know, son, I was born at the perfect time’

“You know, son, I was born at the perfect time,” my dad used to say.

“I was too young for World War I, and when World War II came along I was too old, and I had a family.

“I’m getting Social Security even though I only put a few thousand dollars into it, and I’m getting Medicare.

“Not bad, huh, son?”

My dad lived to a few days short of 91, and until the prostate cancer that finally got him, he lived in his own house, which he cared for himself.

He had friends, two children who loved him, and a way of looking at the world that never left him too disappointed with life.

Mom, who died of cancer several years before him, used to complain that he saw the glass as half empty. But while that may have frustrated her, it gave dad the kind of detachment that let him roll with life’s punches.

And now that I’m commencing my 65th year of life, I see a lot of wisdom in what he said about the timing of his life.

Because Jim Brenneman was born at the perfect time.

He was in high school when the United States jumped into the First World War, too young for the draft. And by the time he reached 18, the war was three years gone and the draft along with it.

He received Social Security for more than a quarter-century, and Medicare handled his medical needs, including a successful cancer surgery and then the treatment for the second round of cancer that finally claimed him.

He’d lived through the Depression, in part by bootlegging. Not booze, which was never an indulgence for him, but salt and potatoes.

Back in those days, states had tariffs, with Kansas levying a duty on Nebraska potatoes and Kansas retaliating [or vice versa] with a fee on Nebraska potatoes.

Dad got to know the backroads, and would haul a truckload of good Kansas salt up to Nebraska and return with a load of potatoes and a small but helpful profit.

That was his only streak of buccaneering.

Before the Repeal of Prohibition, he did make one booze-smuggling run, at the invitation of a friend who had a car specially fitted with concealed tanks which they drove from or hometown of Abilene, Kansas, to Kansas City.

His pal had told him he could make a tidy sum from time to time running booze, but what he encountered at a Kansas City warehouse was enough to discourage him from any thoughts of violating the Volstead Act.

“There were guys there with tommy guns, really scary fellows,” he said. “That was enough for me.”

They guys in question were no doubt soldiers in the Kansas City Mafia family, the same outfit which would later be parsing out the Las Vegas casino skim during the day’s ensl worked as a young reporter in Sin City.

Later, dad built up a successful paint, glass, and wallpaper business in Abilene, selling out so we could move to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he became a partner in a furniture store.

Before selling his interest in that business, he bought a duplex, and later a fourplex, both later sold to provide the nest egg for his long and pleasant retirement.

His greatest love was fishing, or more accurately, the exploration of the mountain West he undertook in search of new lakes to troll.

We spent countless weekends — longer in summer — on long explorations, sometime with our 14-foot aluminum boat hitched on behind, sometime without.

More often than not, we set out with no agenda, following whatever roads

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And now for the morning’s moment of levity

Years ago, when esnl was living in Los Angeles, California decided to join the ranks of sates which had opted to boost their revenues by selling personalized license plates. News stories reassured folks that the censors at the Department of Motor Vehicles would ensure that no offensive messages would be sprouting from back bumpers, thanks in part to a data base that included not just naughty words from the English lexicon but those of other languages as well.

And so it was that yours truly was riding as a passenger with his soon-to-be mother-in-law when he burst into a fit of laughter.

Mother-in-law-to-be gave me a quizzical look.

“What’s so funny?”

“The license plate in front of us.”

The vehicle in question was a huge four-wheel-drive pickup, an aggressive vehicle if ever that was one, and MILTB looked at the plate, then looked at me, still quizzical.

“Say it out loud,” I said.

She did, and then she laughed too.

Without further ado, the source of our laughter:


Yeah, it was offensive. But, damn, I had to admire the ingenuity, as one wordsmith to another.

I wonder if the plate is still out there, perhaps faded now and adorning some rusted-out hulk abandoned in the Mojave Desert. . .

Marilyn Monroe’s bugs and a .22-caliber killer

Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the most emblematic Old Hollywood screen star, is in the news again, this time because the last house she owned — and the one where she died — is up for sale again. Asking price: $3.6 million.

The New York Daily News report included this in the concluding paragraphs offers this:

One of the more elaborate: when actress Veronica Hamel  reportedly bought the home in 1972, she discovered a telephone tapping and eavesdropping system while remodeling, according to Hamel’s  biography. This ignited the far-fetched rumors that the Mafia may have been responsible for Monroe’s death.

The home was built in 1929 and still has much of its original details, but has been remodeled several times.

First, some background. During esnl‘s years at the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, he spent a fair amount of time looking into organized crime. Two sources had interesting stories to tell about the wiring found in the crawlspace at 12305 St. Helena Drive in Brentwood.

I had two sources: the late Marion Phillips [previously] and a corporate security officer who had once worked as as CIA officer. They told me the same story six years after the discovery of the wires.

The wiring was discovered during renovation work, and both law enforcement and corporate phone security officers examined the find. What they found was two different sets of wires.

Covert operators who install bugs and wiretaps have distinct “signatures” readily discernible to the cognoscenti, involving both the specific types of wires used and the way the wires are installed, ranging from the brand of connectors used to the types of knots, the manner of soldering, and the way the wires are secured.

One set of wires was instantly recognizable as an FBI installation because of the distinct coating of the wires, which was reserved for law enforcement use. The signature of the second set, installed after the FBI wires, was also instantly recognizable.

The second wire man was Bernard Bates Spindel, the tap and bug expert hired out by both law enforcement and organized crime. One of his major clients was mobbed-up Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, who had ample reason to fear illegal bugs.

Robert Kennedy, appointed Attorney General by his presidential brother John, had been waging a relentless “Get Hoffa” campaign as part of his overall attack on organized crime. It was a dangerous and thoroughly illegal war, since it was waged before federal law allowed the FBI to install bugs. FBI bugs exposed the inner workings of the Chicago Outfit, the old Capone gang.

The double-edged sword posed by the bugs was the harsh reality that John F. Kennedy had shared two mistresses with Outfit boss Sam Giancana. The first was Judith Campbell Exner, and the the second was the woman the tabloids dubbed the “Blonde Bombshell.”

Giancana had another tie to the Kennedy administration as well, and to the subsequent administration of Lyndon Johnson: The CIA was paying him, through front man Johnny Roselli, to carry out a “contract” on Fidel Castro.

Just what the feds and Spindel captured on their tapes at the Monroe house

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People v Roman Polanski II: Judicial arrogance

As a journalist who covered the 1977 prosecution of Roman Polanski from the start, I was the only reporter in the courtroom throughout who knew the judge.

And I can say without equivocation that Laurence J. Rittenband was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met, as well as one of the most corrupt. No, he wasn’t taking dollars or deeds under the table. His corruption ran much deeper.

But first, some background.

I started at the Santa Monica Evening Outlook in December, 1976, at the age of 30, assigned to the cover the courts and tackle special projects, or what later came to be called “investigative reporting.”

The Santa Monica Superior Court — officially the Los Angeles County Superior Court West District —covers the richest part of Los Angeles County, from Malibu in the north to Beverly Hills and Westwood on the east and down to Venice on the south.

Bel Air, Pacific Palisades, Westwood, and Brentwood all fell within its jurisdiction.

Celebrities made frequent appearances. I covered a Bob Dylan’s child custody dispute, the battle over the state of Groucho Marx, a baseball assault by Evel Knievel, and a Raquel Welch’s wrongful death suit against UCLA alleging malpractice in the death of her father. I even met a guy named Orenthal James Simpson who was getting a divorce [the case was considered so minor that I didn’t even write about it].

I was the only reporter covering the Santa Monica courthouse on a regular basis, and I got to know most of the judges, who would direct reporters parachuting in for celebrity cases to me for explanations about the courthouse and its players.

I had free access to the District Attorney’s office, and would hang out with the attorneys during free time, since they were the best possible sources in covering criminal cases.

When I first set foot in the courthouse, I’d never covered a trial. But reporters are expected to be quick studies, and I was.

Since a judge is supposed to be the one impartial person in a courtroom [both prosecutors and defense attorneys are advocates for their respective cases], one of the first steps I took in deciphering the legal maze I’d entered was to talk to the judge.

Scrapbooks and the California Penal Code

Rittenband was more than eager to help. As I would discover, among his other vices, hizzoner was a raging egotist, who kept every press clipping about his high profile cases in leather-bound  scrapbooks, maintained by Leonard Walton, the Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff who served as his bailiff.

Any questions I had about legal motions and the arcane twists of the California Penal and Evidence Codes the judge would answer as we sat in his chambers.

I had plenty of questions, and the judge’s answers were always accurate and precise, and I was grateful for the help, which let me explain events accurately and clearly to my readers. Thanks in part to his help, I was able to write stories that won awards from the State Bar of California and the American Bar Association, among others.

Rittenband was what my dad would’ve called a “banty,” a short, feisty fellow with a temperament like a bantam rooster: preening, assertive, and always alert for any encroachments on his claimed turf.

He was also, I would learn over time, brazenly arrogant, quick to take offense, and incapable of suffering fools gladly. And anyone who dared challenge his elevated self-image would find themselves the target of venomous, ill-concealed rage.

Laurence J. Rittenband, I would learn, was also a “prosecutor’s judge,” and

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The Ramblin’ Muse: Encounters along the way

Come this November, esnl will be starting his 47th year as a journalist.

Writing for newspapers and magazines, even a little network TV, and setting down a book or two, has given me privileged access to some remarkable people.

In college, I could listen to people relating second-hand stories about the ideas and doings of other folk. As a journalist I could speak directly with the people they were quoting, asking my own questions—all with the goal of sharing them with others who didn’t have the same access.

One of the folks I met was an actor, a bright, gentle fellow then in his seventies, who had once starred in All Quiet on the Western Front, a landmark 1930 antiwar film so powerful that wherever it was screened in Germany, Nazi stormtroopers smuggled in boxes of rats and snakes, releasing them to drive out frightened patrons. They finally shut it down.

He later became a big screen matinee idol in the Dr. Kildare series.

He was also a pacifist, a conscientious objector who’d seen combat as a medical corpsman during the island-hopping campaigns against Japan. It must have comforted the injured soldiers to see Dr. Kildare suddenly pop up in the jungle beside them, offering aid and comfort, after crawling through the jungle to under enemy fire.

And he’d also been married to Ginger Rogers during the days she was dancing with Fred Astaire.

At the time we met, Lew Ayres was also a relatively new father; he told me that rather than save the household breakables like lamps and such from his toddler, he’d tied them down.

At the time, I was interested in his pacifism [which I shared], and didn’t even know about the Nazi incidents —though I now wish I had.

We had a good conversation, mostly talking about a film he’d just made, a documentary focusing on the common threads that make up the fabrics of the world’s religions.

I’ve interviewed other stars, some more luminous in celebrity constellations, but none was more enjoyable than Jan Clayton.

Growing up with difficult mother, I found my childhood ideal mom in the Clayton’s role as the farm family mother in Lassie, a TV series I never missed. Clayton’s character was the embodiment of love, concern, and intelligence, the mother I wished I’d had.

And through it all, she’d been a drunk, which was the reason I was interviewing her.

I was doing a series of profiles of alcoholics, and I’d been referred to her, to my great surprise. We met at her home, on the same street and in the same neighborhood where another, much brighter, star had flamed out, Marilyn Monroe.

We had a great conversation, and she shared some stories about her drinking days, and about the way she kept vodka bottles hidden in toilet tanks to avoid discovery.

The story wrote itself, and she sent me the second-best fan letter I’ve ever received.

I’d found a real human who was much different than the image I’d cherished through some hard times, but I liked her the more for it.

Just thinking of either one brings a smile to my face, one for his principled and courageous dignity, the other for her warmth and humanity.

Reporting was a damn good gig.