Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kennedy Assassination Jokes: Thor's Great Anus

Last April I made a post here called Kennedy Assassination Jokes, a whimsical item recounting the lighter side of assassination criticism.

It has since occurred to me that I left out one of my favorite examples.

Renatus Hartogs was a New York shrink who examined Lee Harvey Oswald in the early 1950s, when Oswald was a truant teenager. Though a decade had elapsed, this was good enough for the Warren Commission to call Hartogs as an expert witness. Hartogs dutifully told the Commission that the teenage Oswald was "dangerous," even though his contemporaneous report did not say that.

Cashing in on his Commission appearance, Hartogs co-authored a book about Oswald called The Two Assassins. With great psychological insight, Hartogs said that the letters in Oswald's pseudonym, Alek J. Hidell, could almost be re-arranged to form "Jekyll-Hyde." (The pseudonym lacked two instances of the letter y.)

In a published review of The Two Assassins, Sylvia Meagher noted that the letters in the name "Renatus Hartogs" could themselves be re-arranged to these phrases: "Trash outrages," and "Strange Authors."

Meagher dreamed up a third anagram, "Thor's Great Anus." Her editor deleted it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

For Sale (An Unapologetic Rant)

Ever get the sense we are overwhelmed by advertising?

You probably do, because we are. But I think a lot of people are totally accustomed to advertising – so much so that they consider it the norm.

What's not for sale anymore?

I'm especially bothered by the placement of ads, and its non-stop intrusion into our lives. The fact that advertising is at best misleading but most often a lie is, for the purposes of this rant, beside the point.

The placement of ads began to really bother me some years back when I noticed some on the inside front of shopping carts. Anymore, they are positioned wherever you might innocently cast your eyes, or devote a few moments of your attention. Marketing people research the hell out of this and constantly dream up new schemes.

There is nothing these bastards will not stoop to.

You can't even watch a lousy stinkin' baseball game on the tube without advertising intruding at the most unlikely times. All that is required is the thinnest of pretexts. Current examples: a team's manager might visit the mound to make a pitching change. This becomes a "Sprint call to the bullpen!" complete with corporate logo. A pizza company might underwrite a re-cap of the game's key scoring – the "delivery of the game."

It's nauseating. These media sluts will use any opportunity to infect your brain.

"Advertising exists only to purvey what people don’t need," wrote Jerry Mander, in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. "Whatever people do need they will find without advertising, if it is available. This is so obvious and simple that it continues to stagger my mind that the ad industry has succeeded in muddying the point."

Kinder and gentler? Nope – just its infancy.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Heidelberg Project: July 2011

Earlier this year, I posted some text and photos of The Heidelberg Project, a remarkable outdoor art environment in Detroit. The black and whites in that post were more than twenty years old, and were taken during what at the time was my one-and-only visit there.

I got back to the Heidelberg Project recently. The art on display has changed since my first visit. Some of the original houses have been razed. But the concept remains the same.

As I said in my original post, the Heidelberg Project is one of those things that must be seen to be believed. I have some new photos, but my pictures, new and old, do not do it justice.

Briefly: the Heidelberg Project began in the mid-1980s and is the creation of Tyree Guyton. It is usually characterized as a protest against the decline of a once-great American city, which has fallen victim to the worst sort of neglect.

This sign at the east end of the project serves a dual purpose. It's both a welcome and copyright notice. It's okay to take pictures without permission, its fine print says, provided they are not used commercially.

I went back to the Heidelberg Project with my daughter in early July, 2011. We arrived at its west end, at the corner of Heidelberg and Ellery streets. The sidewalk in the photo at left runs parallel to Heidelberg Street.

(By the way, do not consider this post a history of the Heidelberg Project. Not much research involved. As I understand it, though, it originally involved just a few houses. It has since sprawled onto a couple of adjoining streets, although most of it remains here, on Heidelberg.)

One of the project's motifs is multi-colored dots. According to brochures available at the site, artist Guyton "got the idea that people were like jellybeans – all similar, yet different – all the colors together. Well, those jellybeans inspired a dot here, and a dot there, a dotty-wotty house and a polka-dot street, a celebration of color, diversity, and harmony."

Ain't it the truth.

In its largest context, I think you can make a case for Detroit being a sort of poster child for urban blight and decay. Starting in the late 1950s and the 1960s, the powers-that-be dumped billions of dollars into the American war machine, at the expense of domestic programs. But that's another topic for another time.
Check out the Heidelberg Project web site.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fourth of July (2011) – Bike Ride

The morning of the Fourth of July, 2011, was absolutely ideal for bike riding – warm and sunny, and due to the holiday, not much traffic on the roads.

So I got up early, did some stretches, had a little breakfast, and was on the road by 6:50am.

From my little town in Colorado I rode north a dozen or so miles, turned west, and reached a hamlet called Niwot – which was kind of, sort of, but not really, my destination.

Niwot, as far as I can tell, consists mostly of modern homes in modern suburbs. But I'm totally drawn to its quaint, four-or-five block Olde Town.

Once upon a time there was a newspaper there,  the Niwot Tribune. They've kept the name on the front of its building, but the paper is long gone. You can't see it in this photo, but there's a "For Rent" sign in the window. It fires my fantasies: I'll rent the place and start publishing the Tribune once again. Buy one of those green visors old-time newspaper guys used to wear (in the movies at least). Expose local corruption, personal safety be damned.

Just up the street from the Trib, I found a woman painting whatever she was painting. Actually she isn't painting; she's using these crayon-like things, or a kind of chalk. I asked if she'd let me take her picture and she said sure.

"I hope this is a commissioned work," I said.

"Oh, no!" she laughed. "I'm just getting a little work done while I can. I love this morning light."

A few more pleasantries, a few more photos, and I was on my way.

This part of Niwot is really small, and I was out of town in another few minutes. Crossed over the Diagonal Highway and got into my favorite part of this route – wide open spaces, farmland, ponds. The warbling of the meadowlark. Passed a body of water and saw a group of American White Pelicans floating around.

I've seen these long-beaked birds from a distance, but never very up-close. The photos I got on this ride were still from a distance. I saw the pelicans and wheeled my bike around for a better look. One was very close to the shoreline, but I must have spooked it, because it began swimming out toward the middle right away. The photo at left is the best I got, but it's just a detail, as you can perhaps tell from its graininess.

A few months ago I got pictures of an old school building I often pass. The photo in a May 10 blog post was taken in the early afternoon, when the light is not at all favorable. I've been meaning to get back for some more photos, and on this Fourth of July ride, I finally did.

I took the photo at right around 8:30 in the morning. This is the Valmont School, built in 1911 according to an inscription in the masonry over the front door. A lovely old school. I hope the preservationists find a way to protect it when developers come along, and say this is an ideal site for a new Starbucks.

By this time my ride was nearing its end. I had about half an hour to go and didn't stop for any more photos.

It was nearly a perfect ride. Given my druthers, I'd have taken the ride later in the day. I'm perverse enough to enjoy cycling in scorching hot temperatures, and by early afternoon it had reached 102 degrees, according to the Weather Underground. Maybe next time.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fourth of July (2007)

Note: The following trifle is entitled "Fourth of July (2007)," because that's what inspired it, and that's when it was written.

Ahh, 2007! Few outside of Alaska had ever heard of Sarah Palin! After writing this item I read it to a writer's group I then participated in. At least one person was offended – unjustifiably, I think, but offended nonetheless. So naturally I want it to appear again, if only as a blog post no one reads.

Fourth of July festivities in my town were nearly cancelled this year. Wind-whipped rain of unexpected ferocity began falling about half an hour before the fireworks were supposed to begin, forcing dozens of people to huddle under the meager protection of a small pavilion. Many more were left out in the rain.

The weather had been pleasant enough when Caroline and I left the house. Soon after arriving at the park, though, the wind began picking up and storm clouds loomed. We were among the lucky few to get beneath that shelter. 

After forty-five minutes the rain began slacking off and we said fuck it, let's go home, no way will they do the fireworks tonight. Even if it stops raining, we figured, the ground is so soaked no one will hang around. So we unlocked our bikes and started pedaling home through what by then was only a light rain.

Not long after we got back, the boom boom boom of exploding fireworks began.

So we missed the display. Or rather, we missed it up close: we could still see it from our upstairs bathroom window.

I didn’t bother watching, though. I’ve never really liked the Fourth of July. I don’t much care for anything you can’t opt out of if you are so inclined, and the Fourth falls into that category. Death, taxes, and Fourth of July fireworks. And Christmas, and...

Caroline, on the other hand, enjoys everything about the Fourth: spreading a blanket on the grass, sipping wine beneath an evening sky, meeting up with friends, watching the light show. She has accepted that my participation is at best grudging and that I’m perfectly content to stay home.

Simply stated, I’ve had too many restful nights disturbed by the Fourth. Not just by fireworks displays, which are loud enough as it is, but also by firecrackers, and the irresponsible idiots of all ages who blow them off late into the night – usually starting in the days leading up to Independence Day and going for several days thereafter. I even hated firecrackers when I was a kid, a fact that dumbfounded my peers.

Now, with the United States engaged in foreign wars, the idea of the rockets’ red glare as entertainment strikes me, more than ever, as obscene. War, after all, is nothing more than totally fucked up foreign policy. And the Fourth of July is the pageantry of war: jingoism glamorizing the spectacle while ignoring the human suffering – the blood spurting from mangled stumps that once were arms or legs, the dead or defiled children, the families destroyed and the infrastructures devastated. (This last is the least important item on a short but sickening list.)

When Caroline and I lived in California there was an air show originating at a nearby Air Force base. The show covered so large a geographical area that a park a few blocks from our apartment was a good place to watch it from. The highlight of the show was the Blue Angels, that elite squadron that flies amazingly coordinated maneuvers.

It was a sight I shall never forget: six or seven of these Angel jets zooming over the big park. My memory is probably playing tricks on me but I recollect these jets screaming along at an altitude of only twenty-five or thirty feet.

Most of the thousands of spectators oohed and ahhed, but I was horrified. All I could see was napalm fireballs trailing in their wake. My senses were overwhelmed by the nauseating smell of burning flesh and the agonized screams of collateral damage.

All in my imagination, of course. But as with fireworks displays, this hardware of war, its matériel, was stripped of its true meaning and presented as entertainment.

2011 postscript: Caroline says I should lighten up. Happy Fourth!