Friday, January 30, 2015

The Day the Music Died

If you are of a certain age, you will recall 1972 when Don McLean's abnormally-long ballad, "American Pie", hit number one on the charts and was widely interpreted as being "about" the 1959 deaths of musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valenz and the Big Bopper.

But there are more connections, some that may be kind of fanciful and some not, and they've all been put together by a guy named James Waller in a "culture map" that is surely worth taking a look at, if not for the music-connection theories then for the clever use of Internet technology that illustrates them.

It's called, naturally enough, The Day the Music Died. See how Buddy Holly connects to Charles Manson and the Altamont Concert!

Oh, and while you are there, take a look at another culture map, this one called Propaganda by the Deed: Anarchism in Revolution.  Or take your pick from dozens of other culture maps -- they have a lot of them.

It's true that these are some ultra-simplified presentations of some super-complicated connections, but I'm a sucker for this kind of thing... See my New Years Eve post on apophenia.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Must-See Cinema: Punishment Park

Last night I watched Punishment Park from 1971. Because of its incendiary content, this film has been hiding in the shadows for the last 40+ years. Even I, with my vast reservoir of movie trivia and leftwing significa (the opposite of trivia), had never even heard of it before I read about it somebody's list of their favorite dystopian sci-fi films.

Here's the trailer:


It was directed by Peter Watkins, a pioneer of the docudrama genre, who also made another film I loved, Culloden. Given that I was familiar with Watkins already, it seems a cruel oversight by the fates that I hadn't seen this movie before.

The setup of Punishment Park is pretty simple. It's 1971 and the Nixon Administration, using the little-noted Section 2 of the McCarran Internal Security Act, arrests all dissenters, war protesters, civil rights activists, feminists and all others determined to be a "risk to internal security". They are rounded up, taken to a remote desert location and given a "hearing". Then they are faced with a choice: Do the prison time of ten years or more, or do three days in something called Punishment Park. There all they have to do is go through a barren and waterless wasteland in a desperate game of "capture the flag" -- in this case an actual American flag implanted at the top of a distant rocky outcropping. Distant as in over 50 miles away. Without water. In temperatures over 100 degrees...

Of course everyone chooses three days in the desert over the ten-plus years in prison. What they are not told initially is that they also have to dodge the cops and National Guardsmen who are doggedly pursuing them. With guns. And Jeeps...

Shot in a hand-held documentary fashion, this film intercuts between two groups, one that is already on the run through the desert, and one that has just arrived for the "hearing". The actors are all non-professionals, but it doesn't show except for maybe a couple of times. There was no scripted dialogue -- the actors were given their characters' back stories and it was up to them to come up with the appropriate responses.

Like Watkins' other work, the whole thing has the look and feel of a real documentary, and it was entertaining, gripping and disturbing. Most shockingly, what with all that is going on in the country now, it doesn't seem at all dated.

Highly recommended.

And, wonder of wonders, Netflix actually has it for rental. If you get the DVD, be sure to watch the intro by the director and the included short, "The Web", about the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, which Watkins apparently made as a student.

Further reading:
· Punishment Park on the IMDB
· Review on Slant
· Review on Rotten Tomatoes (100% on the Tomatometer)
· Culloden (full movie) on YouTube

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

War Is Not a Video Game

Yeah, so-called "first person shooter" video games on a slick X-Box can be kind of fun to play, but they are not "war". War -- real war -- is NOT a video game.

You wouldn't know it from the praise heaped on American Sniper by Fox News, who is creaming its jeans over it, while at the same time denigrating "Hollywood" for being a bunch of leftist Islamist-jihad-enabling brie-eating wine-snarfling elitists. You know, the same Hollywood that made this movie, the same Hollywood that hated America so much that they nominated this picture for about five hundred Oscars, including Best Picture.

The same Hollywood that provided a pathetically doddering old man to argue with a chair at the Republican national convention. The same pathetic old man who went on to make this movie. The same pathetic old man that must need money really really bad, so bad that he obviously can't afford to retire.

Yeah, I'm looking at you, Clint Eastwood. Jesus man, give it a break. Go back to arguing with that chair. It suits you.

Killing another human being is the absolutely worst thing that a human being can do. I don't give a flying fuck about how much the now-sainted-by-Fox Chris Kyle claimed that he enjoyed sending hajjis to their seventy-odd virgins, killing another human being, no matter who you are, takes a terrible toll on your very soul. I don't know anyone who killed someone in war (I was in Vietnam myself, and I know a lot of veterans who have) who wasn't fucked up by that to some degree. Anyone. If anyone isn't affected by it, they are a sociopath. We should not, as a society, exalt our sociopaths.

Going to war. It's not fun, it's not a video game, it's not "noble". It is, in fact, the veryworst thing that a country can do to its young men, and yet we still do it.  By "We" I mean the dickwad chickenhawks like George "Baby Doc" Bush and Dickhead "Darth" Cheney, to whom military service was something to avoid, and avoid talking about, because they (Cheney) had "other priorities", instead of answering their country's call when an actual war was going on, thereby letting one of 16 men from Midland Texas and one of 12 men from Casper Wyoming die in their place in Vietnam .

I've asked this question before and it is still valid: "Who Died in Your Place in Vietnam"?

I haven't seen American Sniper and I have no plans to see it. I don't have a problem watching most war movies, even those of the John Wayne variety, wherein every enemy soldier ("Japs" for the most part) gets what is seen as coming to him. But it seems to me that this particular movie glorifies the killing just a little too much, celebrates the death of another human being a little too eagerly, another human being whose only "crime" was being born an Iraqi and then exacerbating that misfortune by being in the way of a bullet screaming towards him from some hidden murder gun on a rooftop so far away that the sound won't even carry that far.

I don't need it. I don't want it. And I won't support it by spending my money on it. Fuck that shit.

Oh, and "fu_k you Sarah Palin". Just thought I'd toss that in there...

John Cleese on the Stupidity of Fox News

Brilliant -- just fucking brilliant.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I Guess a Little Flattery Is Supposed to Help

I was aware that Google Blogger has an automatic spam dump for questionable comments, but I finally went and took a look at it. It's amazing what some people will do to get a mention of their product's website into a blog. These are posts that I never see, since they go automatically into the spam dump before I even get a chance to "yea" or "nay" them.

I don't know what kind of algorithms are being used here, but they seem pretty effective. Here are a few examples of some people earnestly striving to hit the "big time" by getting a mention in this blog (which, as you know, has literally dozens of readers):

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These are just the first four. There are lots more, over 100 of them, all pretty much in this vein. Oh, and the question marks? They represent non-standard characters, mostly Russian from the looks of them, that don't transfer over in the cut-and-paste process. Other misspellings, etc., are in the original.

I know I might be missing some legitimate posts with this process, but I guess I can learn to live with that. But if you ever post a comment that doesn't show up -- I approve pretty much everything I get, even things that are critical of me (especially the ones that are personal attacks on me) -- this is probably the reason.

Does a Rising Tide Lift All Boats?

We've been spoon-fed an economic concept since the Reagan administration, as part of that whole "trickledown economics"* thing, that a "rising tide lifts all boats". Well, it does seem to work that way in the real world of Budd Bay, one of the farthest-south reaches of Puget Sound, about a mile from my house. But, since boats that are lying on the bottom and stuck there don't get lifted, using that as a metaphor for anything except the rise and fall of water in an arm of the sea is kind of stretching it.

But that what's rightwing economists have tried to do since Reagan, and they are still at it, despite 30 years of facts -- inconvenient things, those damn facts -- proving the exact opposite when it comes to that "trickledown" bullshit.

BadTux the Snarky Penguin, whose blog I always read, has a startlingly simple analogy of his own, which involves the sellers of oranges. A lot of sellers of oranges coupled with just a few buyers. It illustrates a concept which was new to me, oligopsony, but which makes a lot of sense.

It's definitely worth the read, especially since it comes from a smart guy who is actually in a boat that's rising but who still sees the necessity to help those boats that are stuck on the bottom.

Dammit, now I'm using that metaphor... But never mind that. Go read his trenchant analysis of the whole thing.



 * Also known as the "don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining" school of economics.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday Music Break -- Australia!

In 2004 we went on "holiday" (i.e., vacation) to Australia. It's someplace I'd always wanted to go, and we had the time and the money, so why not?

For nearly a month we roamed by rented camper-van the great Australian nation, from Sydney up to Brisbane out through the Outback to Broken Hill and then down to Port Fairy and along the spectacular Great Ocean Road to Melbourne (including, of course, a side trip to Phillip Island and its famous Penguin Parade and the Australian National Vietnam Veterans Museum, where I "bought a brick" by donation to support the endeavor and made a friend of a fellow Vietnam vet -- a tip of the ol' pint to Ziggy), and then we reluctantly circled back to Sydney for our flight home.

We did a lot, we saw a lot, we met a bunch of terrific people -- everyone went out of their way it seemed to welcome us -- and I felt we had driven millions of miles kilometers and had a "been-there-done-that" experience of Australia. But when I look at a map of Australia, it's a humbling experience -- we had actually covered only a small part of it, in the far southeast. That place is HUGE.

One thing I am glad that we discovered was Australian "country music". I grew up in Oklahoma and thought I'd had my full lifetime dose of country music by the time I was ten. I had no idea that Australia produced its own country music, that Banjo Paterson ("Waltzing Matilda") was not just a one-off, and I especially had no idea about a guy named Slim Dusty.

Here he is singing "Indian Pacific", about the famous railway line across Australia:

(Note: If you look carefully starting at about 0:58 you will see the same pointy peaks that appear in the classic dystopian sci-fi movie Road Warrior, still the best-ever Mel Gibson movie, which was filmed in the area around Broken Hill NSW. The Indian Pacific passes through Broken Hill on its long haul from coast to coast.)

Slim Dusty recorded an incredible 106 albums, and he had total sales in Australia of seven million -- in a nation of only 20 million people! It's kind of a shame that he is not more well-known in the United States.



Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jane Fonda. Again.

You got to hand it to the Rethugs -- give them a pile of shit, they will make shitmuffins with it. And you get a muffin. And you get a muffin. And YOU get a muffin!

There's this Republican governor of Iowa named Terry Branstad, who was in the Military Police at Fort Bragg a long time ago, when Jane Fonda got arrested -- kind of -- for coming onto the post to hand out leaflets, without permission. In a USA Today story we learn that Rep Peter King (R-Moron) introduced Branstad at the so-called Iowa Freedom Summit by saying he was a hero -- the one who slapped the handcuffs on Hanoi Jane.

Wait for applause.

What apparently was never told to the red-meat-devouring GOP at that meeting, what with all that celebratin' freedom by castrating them some hogs and all, was that Branstad was not the one who actually arrested her. By his own admission to a reporter after the Big Event, "I was the provost marshal's driver."

He did say that he put together a dossier for his boss and that was the basis for denying her permission to come on post. So I guess to Peter King that's the exact the same thing as actually clamping those 100% American steel bracelets on the "red" wrists of that Commie-lovin' Traitor.

I tried to find a contemporary account of this arrest, but I was unable to find anything (if anyone knows of one, please post a link in the comments). But I am pretty sure that she was not actually put into handcuffs. This incident occurred in 1970, before she injudiciously went to Hanoi to become "Hanoi Jane", and she was at that time seen as just another rich and famous dilettante dabbler in the peace movement. She would have been handcuffed only if she tried to resist arrest and fight back. If she had done that, the big story would have been, and would continue to be, about that and not about just her "arrest".

I am willing to bet money ("my next paycheck") that she was just given some kind of a citation and then she left peacefully.

Presumably to catch the next plane  to Hanoi where where she had some POWs to torture, stopping by the San Francisco airport on the way to spit on some Vietnam veterans...

But I digress. As we all know, when it comes to the Rethugs, facts and them are complete strangers -- jeez, they've never even had as much as a One Night Stand. Plus, all you really have to to do is throw out a "Jane Fonda!" to the swarming mouthbreathers on the right and they start salivating like Pavlov's dogs, willing to eat the shit right out of your hand.

As you know, I've posted stuff on Hanoi Jane a few times before and, according to my stats, one of my posts, The Return of Hanoi Jane from November 2010, is still in the monthly top five page views.

Donald Trump Still a "Birther" -- This Time It's Ted Cruz

Jeez, I really don't know why anyone still listens to professional bloviating bad-hair buffoon Donald Trump, but he keeps getting invited to speak at "conservative" events. Including one in Iowa (not-coincidentally the first state to pick delegates to the party conventions), where he made the totally-not-cogent observation that Ted Cruz has an electile dysfunction, what with being born in Canada and all:

"It’s a problem. It could be a difficult problem, but he admits that he was born in Canada," Trump told reporters in Iowa on the eve of the first major gathering of 2016 presidential hopefuls.
"He’s a friend of mine. I have great respect for him. But …certainly it’s a stumbling block and he’s going to have to have it solved before he goes too far," Trump said.
Everyone else in the world has gone on from this "birther" shit except Donald Trump. It didn't work on Obama, but that's no reason to give up on it.

Did I say "everyone"? That's not true. I thought erroneously that the Obama Birthers had squirmed back under the rotten logs they had crawled out from, but I was wrong. If you read that story, scroll down to the comments, where you will see things like this:
It isn't about whether Cruz is a "citizen". It's whether he's eligible for the office of president (Article II, section1, Clause 5) or vice president (Article XII) of the constitution by being a "natural born citizen". A special status required by the constitution to be president or vice president period. In short, you have to born on U.S. soil by (2) U.S. citizen parentS [sic]. You should check this out about citizenship http://birthers.org/misc/logic.htm and this http://people.mags.net/tonchen/birthers.htm Inform yourselves, as I can see most of you posting are uninformed and/or misinformed.[Posted by "anonymous" ... and I can see why...]
. . .
The only reason Trump is coming out is because he's got the obots on his ass! They want him to stand on principle and not party and he BETTER DO IT! If we have to sacrifice Cruz to prove Obama ineligible, we will do it! I love CRUZ, but I think he knows the truth. He is smart and I think he is doing this to save America! That's how patriotic he is! He knows he is not eligible, but it will make the courts listen! The obots will file cases and the nedia will follow, not like they have with the 200+ Obama eligibility cases? 200? Yes, you snoozers, 200 cases against Obama and NONE hear on the merits! [Posted by someone calling him/herself "KenyanBornObama"; misspellings, etc., in the original]
Why do they do it? Why can't they give up? Because they are fucking crazy, that's why.

I've posted many times before on this particular form of Obama Derangement Syndrome. I guess I had hoped that by now even the most rabid Obama-haters had calmed down a bit. But I was wrong.

At this point Obama is in the last half of his last term. What do they hope to accomplish? But never mind, you don't have to answer that. They want to be "right" -- better to be right than to be factual.

Sad isn't it, that some of them are still willing to waste their lives, waste their time, waste their "precious bodily fluids" on such utter bullshit?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Rescued WWII Photographs

People of my age grew up re-fighting WWII. Our fathers, uncles, even some older brothers all went off to fight in The Big One, and came back to spin all the yarns we heard growing up. We watched all the movies (and there were hundreds of them), bought "Army stuff" cheap at one of a dozen or more war surplus stores -- some of them no more than tents set up at roadside -- and managed to work out some credible small-unit tactics fighting the other kids in our neighborhoods. (The first thing to work out was who was going to be the Allies -- nobody wanted to be the Axis.)

So with that background, it was with more than a little excitement that I discovered a website devoted to "rescued" photographs, including a lot from WWII. It's called The Rescued Film Archive, and consists of photographs developed from old and in some cases damaged negatives, taken by GIs mostly, of the places they were and the things they were doing.

WWII has a section all its own that any WWII buff will spend some time scrolling through. There are other sections as well. The only complaint I have is that it wants context -- you don't know what or where you are really looking at in most of the pictures. I swear that one of the photos of a row of barracks was taken at Ft Lewis WA, where I spent basic training -- in some of those same buildings!

Recommended for all history buffs and everyone interested in WWII.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Back-to-the-Land Hippies and The Lost Generation

A long, long time ago, in 1974, I was a graduate-school dropout from The University of California at Santa Babara and an "official" member of the Hippie movement. Admittedly, I was in it mostly for the sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, but there were a lot of people I knew who were really into it, who really talked up the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and the casting aside of the old ways of belief and thinking. (For those of you who want to explore the whole Hippie phenomenon further, there is, naturally, a website called Welcome to Hippyland devoted to that.

We were Hippies. We drove -- and lived in -- our vans VW , we wore our hair long, we wore our clothes weird, and we wore our smells patchouli (in the mistaken belief that the overpowering scent of patchouli would cover up the odor of the marijuana smoke in our cars when we got pulled over by The Man), and we grabbed up so many copies of the Whole Earth Catalog that, ironically, the printing of which laid waste to entire forests. The book was great, and even Steve Jobs eventually characterized The Whole Earth Catalog the Google of the 60s.

One dream that everybody had was to go "Back to the Land". Everyone was lulled into a patently false sense of "we can do this, we can really do this!" by publications like the Mother Earth News magazine ("Five Acres and Independence!"), the Foxfire magazine and book series ("Make Your Own Bacon!"), and a thick yellowish-pulp-paper national catalog of land for sale at ridiculously low prices, the name of which escapes me now (and for which an Internet search turns up so many false positives that it would be like finding a straw in a haystack to identify it -- maybe one of my literally dozens of readers can help here...).

So it was decided we would some buy some plot of ground out of this catalog, then all move onto the property, start a commune, raise our own food (vegetables, chickens, pigs) and, in the words of Lenny in the 1939 film of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, "Live off the fat a the lan'!" There was even some vague talk to house the whole commune in a built-by-hand "sweat equity" geodesic dome, based on the "plans" in Steve Baer's Dome Cookbook, or move into in a amateurly clobbered-together house constructed on the concepts in Handmade Houses: A Guide to the Woodbutcher's Art by Art Boericke and Barry Shapiro.

As most of you know, I grew up on a farm, so I knew how much work running that rural paradise was really going to be. It was at that point that I more or less delicately excused myself from the deliberations. I knew that these slacker layabouts would likely starve to death the first winter, since none of them wanted to get up before noon, they couldn't slaughter a pig if their life depended on it (which it would), and the only "crop" they were interested in harvesting off that five acres of independence was marijuana.

One of my favorite writers, T.C. Boyle captured this whole idea masterfully in his novel, Drop City, which was kinda-sorta based on the very real commune of Drop City in Colorado, and springboarded off of the idea that somebody back then had had that all free-thinking, free-spirited hippie-types ought to move to ... Alaska(!). Because Alaska had such a small citizenry population that it was theoretically possible to get enough of the "right kind of people" to move there and register to vote so that a true "Hippie Haven" could come into existence. Legal pot! Yay!

Ha.

A lot of that catalog land, it turned out, was for sale so cheap because it was in such remote locations that it would require a week of backpacking just to get to it. But there were a few places that were not so remote -- the more civilized parts of Montana and Idaho featured prominently in these dreams, despite the fact that, like Alaska, pretty much none of these "new homesteaders" had actually ever been there.

Finally they settled on Ferry County, Washington. It had it all -- remoteness, cheap land, a leave-'em-alone attitude from the local authorities, and a county seat, Republic*, that had fewer than 1,000 residents.

There were some reasons for that. In winter Ferry County gets socked in deep by ice and snow, and in summer the heat is enough to melt the bumper off a Buick.

About that time I had had enough of the Californian neo-bohemian Hippie lifestyle, and hightailed it back to Washington State, where I eventually got a job working for The Man (i.e, the state), and settled into a nice lower-middle-class existence. But there was always a part of me that kind of wondered what I had missed by bailing out.

So. Fast forward a couple of dozen years, and I found myself in Republic, Washington, for my job (for a while I was in the state administration of Americorps), where I thought I recognized someone from those days. I was reluctant at first to approach her -- wary of the whole "So you're working for The Man now, huh?" thing, I guess.

But approach her I did and asked her if she had lived in Isla Vista, California, in 1974. Turns out it was her, but she didn't really seem to remember me clearly -- she seemed as spaced out then as she was back in the day.

She was the only one of that group who had made good on the plan to move to Ferry County and get back to the land (by getting in with some other people, who actually knew what they were doing), but here she was 25 years later, still living in poverty, still acting distracted and spacey, still smelling of patchouli and pot, even still wearing the same clothes! And living on a commune nestled between two anti-government bunker-building gun-toting food-hoarding deer-poaching survivalists.

I asked if all the neighbors got along with each other. "Better than you'd think," she said. "We don't trust the state, they hate the state, and we all just leave each other alone."

Good advice, that last part. But that whole situation vis-à-vis the hippies and their survivalist neighbors didn't really surprise me. Both groups shared many common goals and ideas and ways of looking at the world. But one is fully armed and the other isn't... If a fight starts, who do you think is going to win it?

So that's pretty much how the whole Hippie experience played out. Most people finally grew up, decided that society wasn't so fucked up after all, ended up getting jobs and mortgages and living in the real world, i.e. "selling out". But some didn't, and while I'd like to believe that everyone made the choice that was right, for them, I know that for every Ferry County Suzy Starburst happily settled into a bucolic Hippie paradise there are ten homeless street drifters living in cardboard boxes, chugging 40s and spare-changing at shopping-mall-entrance curb-cuts The ones who aren't dead from Agent Orange, drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, exposure or just plain poverty.

Sadly, in many ways, they really did turn out to be, like their forebears, the young people in the 1920s, a "lost generation".


 Republic WA, by the way, is famous for something else: The Stonerose Interpretive Center, which is a sure-'nuff fossil bed that is, amazingly, open to the public. That means that you can drive there and pick away at an Eocene Epic fossil site. And it doesn't take long at all to actually find a real fifty-million-year-old fossil! That you can keep and take home with you! And this, as far as I know, is the only site of this kind anywhere in the world. I think the only reason it hasn't been picked away completely by now is that it is so remote -- it takes a whole day to drive there just from Seattle. Plus it is so easy to find a fossil that most people chip away only a foot or so of the strata before they find their fossil and get tired.
But it is a real thrill to chip away carefully at a flat piece of sandstone until you get it split and reveal the perferctly formed ghost leaf from fifty-million-years ago. There's nothing else like it.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Restricting the Minority Vote

Back in the bad ole days, there was a joke that went something like this:

A black guy in Mississippi goes in to register to vote.
"No problem, boy," Bubba, the local yokel election official says. "All y'all gots to do is pass a little lit'racy test."
"No problem," the black guy says. "I managed to graduate from high school."
"Then there ain't no problem with your readin'?"
"Nope."
"Nope?"
"Uh, I means 'No, suh.'"
Bubba hands him a newspaper from Shanghai -- in Chinese. "Well, let's see ya read that, boy."
The black guy says "I can't read the small print but that headline's pretty clear."
Bubba is flabbergasted. This isn't going the way he thought at all. "Unnhhh, so what's it say?"
"It say that black folk ain't gettin' to vote this year, either."

That is funny, in one of those "it's-funny-'cause-it's-true" Homer Simpson moments.


It turns out that, surprise, it's not so funny to the minority residents of 22 states, all controlled by (wait for it...) Republicans, who have started erecting it's-modern-so-it's-so-not-racist roadblocks to voting that have the effect of preventing minorities and other assorted non-persons from voting.

It should come as no surprise that voter ID legislation originated in the Koch Brothers-controlled fully-owned-subsidiary ALEC.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Joni Ernst's Fact-Free Response to the SOTU Speech

Jesus, you don't know whether to laugh or to cry. Joni "Nutcutter" Ernst, the earnest junior senator from Iowa, had the hearts thumping and the dicks jumping over at Faux News after her maiden speech (full text here) to the nation following Obama's State of the Union address last night (which, as an aside, William Rivers Pitt described as twenty pounds of shit in a ten pound bag. But never mind that; we kind of expect that in our SOTU speeches. Dubya was famous for it.).

She kinda-sorta-but-not-really pissed and moaned about her hardscrabble life on the farm, where she had to plow the fields (in an air-conditioned tractor, no doubt, but never mind those nitpicky kind of details), her family couldn't afford but one pair of shoes for her, and her mother had to wrap her little farmer-girl tootsies in bread bags to keep her feet dry. No word as to whether she actually had to use a privy for her personal ablutions, or walk to school ten miles in the snow, uphill -- both ways! and we were glad to do it! -- because in those deep dark years of her childhood, when Ronald Reagan was president from the time when was 10, life was hard. And it's still all hard and stuff, and Obama just doesn't get it. So there.

But there was no indication from her that the "hardscrabble farmers" who comprised Ernst's family actually received over $460,000 in Federal farm subsidies over a ten-year period. You also won't find out that fact from the major media. Not Faux News, of course, but none of the others are seeing fit to talk about it.

Oh, and she never used the accepted term "Islamic terrorism" in her speech, either. But still, Faux News loves them some Joni Ernst -- she is a Republican, she is a rare female Republican, and especially she's proud of the fact that she cut her some hog nuts once upon a time. That in itself was enough to make Faux News totally fall in love with her.

Oh, that and her shoes.

Who Killed Gary Webb?

The other day, when I wrote about the Crimes of Ronald Reagan, Constant Reader Yellow Fringe asked if I had seen the movie or read the book Kill the Messenger. I hadn't done either one, so I went to Netflix and put it into my "want" list -- it won't be released on DVD until Feb 10 -- and then I scouted my local library and was able to get a copy of the book.

It is, to give it its full title, Kill the Messenger: How the CIA's Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb, by Nick Shou. It tells the story of investigative reporter Gary Webb and how he was destroyed by the very media he worked for, print journalism.

Webb was in the investigative reporter game for many years, with several different papers. Along the way he picked up a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on a California earthquake, but that "shaker" wasn't the biggest one to hit Gary Webb. It was his three-part series "Dark Alliance" in the San Jose Mercury-News in 1996, about the CIA-Contra-crack cocaine connection, that blew up in his face.

Even though Webb never said that the CIA was behind the sudden crack cocaine epidemic that hit the US, and especially Los Angeles, in the early 1980s, the mainstream papers climbed all over him. Leading the charge was the LA Times -- smarting over the "scoop" Webb got on them, no doubt -- which vilified Webb and fed into the other papers "discrediting" Webb, for claiming something that he did not claim.

All Webb did was ask a few pointed questions about some curious connections between the CIA, the Nicaraguan "contras" and the drug shipments that were coming into the US from Latin America. The CIA of course denied any participation in, or knowledge of, any thing of the sort, and their lackeys at the LA Times and the Washington Post bought the whole story. Back in those days, even after Watergate(!), big media were still in bed with government, and, according to Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, especially the CIA. It likely still goes on.

It wasn't until several years later that a CIA internal investigation established that, yes indeed, whoops!, there were some connections, the same ones that Webb had `questioned. The report was "coincidentally" released the first weekend that our old friend Monica Lewinsky made the news, and even then the neo-yellow-journalism papers were slavering over reports of a sex scandal involving the president of the United States, and not so eager to follow up on some boringly tedious report from an "uninvolved" government agency.

Reading this book, I was constantly reminded of the whole "Rathergate" incident from 2004 -- never mind the content of the story; instead make the story about the reporter covering it. Dan Rather vanished into oblivion, and we never did manage to settle the whole question of G.W. "Baby Doc" Bush's alleged military service.

I've heard it described as "censorship by noise". If one person is telling the truth, let him, but drown him out with a thousand people calling him a liar. Kill the messenger.

And that's what happened to Gary Webb. His life was ruined and he spiraled into depression and unemployment (no one was willing to hire a "disgraced" journalist, even if he did have a Pulitzer), and finally in 2004 he was found dead from two shots to the head. It was ruled a suicide.

So who killed Gary Webb? It is possible that it was a legitimate suicide; he may have pulled the trigger himself but it was his fellow journalists in the media, along with the shadowy government world of the CIA, and the contras, the amoral "founding fathers" of Nicaraguan death squads, who loaded the gun.

Highly recommended for its insight into a very ugly slice of our history.