Chuck Colson dies and the free press is ailing…

April 22, 2012

Well first this week it was Dick Clark of American Bandstand fame, and now Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame is dead. Two totally different stories of course.

But just as Dick Clark was a seminal part of my growing up, so was Colson. Well not really Colson himself, but the Watergate scandal he was involved in. Actually I was grown up when it occurred. But I was just out of the Army and beginning my so-called career in journalism. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the story about Watergate that eventually brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon.

That was back in the days when there was something called journalism, not just “media”, and when students still majored in “journalism“, not “communication”  or whatever name they have given it now (there used to be something called “publicity”, which reporters got into to make more money, kind of like prostitution).

Their efforts were made famous in the book and movie “All the President’s Men”. Of course reporters from the New York Times and other outfits did a lot (even more, perhaps) to tell the whole sordid story of Watergate too. It was about a presidency and re-election campaign gone way out of control, with Nixon using the power of his office and the government to stifle or intimidate political opponents or anyone who he or his staff thought might threaten his power.

I did not decide on journalism because of Woodward and Bernstein, though. Actually I thought it might be easier than work at the wood products mill and more suited to my talents or abilities. But that summer of the Watergate hearings, the summer before I entered into the actual workaday field of journalism, I was working in sugar beet and bean fields moving irrigation pipe — I had left the mill job. But every chance I got I listened with rapt attention the live broadcasts of the Watergate hearings. And I knew that something had gone terribly wrong with our democracy but the power of the press had been used in a good way and had set in motion the wheels of government oversight to set things right. And after I had become a newspaper reporter, I recall watching what I considered one of the most historic things I had ever seen — the President of the United States announcing his resignation of nationwide TV. I actually took a picture of the TV tube (I think at a 30th of a second shutter speed), just for my own remembrance (don’t know if I still have it).

Colson did prison time and then found God — that’s the nice thing about sinning, you can always later find God, or at least claim you did — I’m not sure how falsely claiming it will work at the pearly gates, though. Colson may have really been repentant or he may have just been sorry he got caught. I don’t know. Never paid much attention to him.

Nixon was able to regain some of his stature and reputation after time, not all of it. Ironically, I think he was an extremely able politician and leader, but he had a major character flaw (to say the least). And if he had just owned up to Watergate in the beginning I feel certain he would have gotten away with it, but covering up bad activity is sometimes as bad or worse than the actual bad activity and increases exposure to jail time — just ask Martha Stewart.

But anyway, when I watched the movie, “All the Presidents’ Men”, there they were, Woodward and Bernstein (well of course Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman playing them) hunting and pecking away at their manual typewriters. I never hunted and pecked. I at least used a my modified touch typing method, based on that taught in school, but I used manual typewriters for years. I thought it great that at the little paper where I worked at the time we were no further behind in that score than the Washington Post (my time frame is a little messed up in that the actual Watergate scandal pre-dated my entry into journalism a little bit, I think, but I saw the movie after going to work at a paper).

I often note (to anyone who might care) that newspaper newsrooms moved from manual typewriters to computers, while other offices had already been at least using electric typewriters for years or decades. Once when I was covering the local county board of supervisors meeting during a yearly budget session, the sheriff requested an electric typewriter for jail bookings. When asked by one of the supervisors why they could not just keep using the manual one since it would only be used by deputies not clerical personnel, the sheriff said he did not want to make his deputies labor at those manual typewriters — and you can just picture a deputy or jailer booking someone, hunting and pecking away, like on the old Barney Miller TV Show. I was nearly incredulous. I mean I knew I was headed back to my office to type out my story and many others on an old Royal manual typewriter. But hey, you know, they’re county workers, they get better pensions too.

And back to Chuck Colson and Watergate. Politics is dirty. Always has been. Always will be. And where there are elections (and even where there are not) there is politics — you just can’t take the politics out of politics. Colson and the others probably for the most part did little worse than had been done before and is still being done — except, I think in Watergate President Nixon and his henchmen did cross the line, using the power of government, such as through IRS harassment, and even the disruption of free elections, to thwart our democracy. They thought that because they felt they were supporting the right cause the ends justified the means. That thinking still often prevails today. Actually, it’s really scary. We even have people implying that we ought to do away (and I’m using a euphemism) with our current president (and you can’t get me to believe there isn’t some racism there). Colson is dead. Dirty politics will never die.

P.s.

Watergate made me feel good about the role of the free press in a free society. I was not too surprised to learn that in the small time newspaper owners were not so keen on investigative reporting, especially if it involved advertisers. But I have been saddened that with the advance of technology and competition in news reporting from the internet and the decline of newspaper advertising, the bean counters have taken over much of the larger segment of the free press. There is not as much money or enthusiasm to do real reporting — it’s more like who can be first with the tweet with the most banal comments. On the other hand, with the ability to instantly disseminate information worldwide and the pervasiveness of texting and You Tube and so on, it’s hard for anyone to get away with anything.

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Dick Clark actually sanitized rock ‘n’ roll for public consumption; they don’t bother with all that now…

April 18, 2012

The seemingly perennial teenager or at least seemingly perennial young man has died at age 82 — Dick Clark, who had hosted American Bandstand and was synonymous with rock ‘n’ roll.

I first recall seeing him on TV in the mid 1950s when I was in elementary school and my sister attended the high school across the street from our house where souped-up cars or hot rods went parading by every day and night in authentic American Graffiti style.

And get this: when I was about ten I knew this kid a few years older than I who had a large 45 rpm record collection, all rock ‘n’ roll, in his basement and also had a record player down there, with a turn table just like the disc jockeys used. His name was Dick Clark. But not that Dick Clark, of course.

It always amazed me how for decades the famous Dick Clark never seemed to age. Of course he finally did show some age, and I lost track of him, although I know he went on to do all kinds of productions and host New Year’s Eve programs, but I never paid any attention to all that, except to see him on TV and hear him on the radio doing oldies from time to time. I think he may have done some of those unseemly sweepstakes promos — ever the pitch man.

I also saw him looking kind of mad and ugly in a Michael Moore documentary, but anyone would probably be annoyed by that guy.

And do we call this “the day the music died?” Well I guess not, but the guy who pretty much brought rock ‘n’roll to the mainstream has died.

Dick Clark sanitized it for family consumption.

By the time I was a teenager, instead of Bandstand, I was watching his show “Where the Action Is”.

I think he made lip synching look like the natural thing to do. I mean on his Bandstand and on his Where the Action Is show all the performers lip synced. There would not be the same studio sound without it and it would be all too cumbersome to do it live, at least at that time. I don’t know what they do these days.

By the time it came around to Where the Action Is in the mid 1960s, Paul Revere and the Raiders did not even make a pretense of doing their performances live. They used brooms in place of guitars.

And what I said about Dick Clark sanitizing things for family consumption — whenever he would comment on one of the singers or groups doing or saying controversial things, he would just roll his eyes and kind of talk around it all. Whether it was lyrics with explicit sexual suggestions in them or anti-war songs, he would just soft pedal it all and get away with it.

I don’t know what he’d do with the foul language and movements used today in modern music that may go by the name of rock or rap or whatever.

There have always been suggestive lyrics and suggestive moves. But I think the art has disappeared from it all and been replaced by pure vulgarity and disrespect for human kind.

And don’t I sound like a prude? No. it just seems like the beauty and mystery of it all are gone. And so apparently is the ever-wholesome style of Dick Clark.

P.s.

I hope this does not seem like I was some kind of fan of the smarmy or Pat Booneish Dick Clark style. By his own admission, he was a businessman first, with little to no altruistic motive. But he was (is?) an American icon.

 


Brother of slain soldier is right, we do need to remember we are a nation at war (but we need to question policy too)

April 6, 2012

One can certainly understand the anguish of a man whose brother has just been killed in a war. One such man was quoted in a story over the past day as saying that Americans need to remember that we are a nation at war. I agree, but I also think that as we remember that or take note of it, we also need to decide what we are accomplishing in the decade-long effort in the Middle East, and Afghanistan in particular.

And maybe the reason people don’t act like they realize we are at war is that no outward sacrifice is being called for on the part of the general public. And although one would think our goal would be to have some kind of victory, we have already telegraphed that we eventually plan to quit. If we can quit later with no clear sign of victory, why not quit now? This is not as much a war in the conventional sense as it is a geopolitical police action. With our all-volunteer force when one signs up these days, he or she is essentially signing onto a world police force. Police are on duty forever. The American public is given little choice in the matter. If either Barack Obama wins re-election to the presidency or Mitt Romney is elected (and that seems now to be the choice) there is no clear end in sight to the war. Obama does like to talk about time tables (they are movable), Romney does not like the idea of telegraphing when you plan to quit, and that much I agree with him on. But, Romney also wants to press on, something I am not necessarily in agreement with. Somehow it seems immoral to me to ask people to put their lives on the line for something you go at half-heartedly, always ready to quit. That does not mean I think we should not quit. I think it takes as much guts to fight all-out as to admit the war cannot be won outright or is not worth it. I would not suggest admitting defeat or anything like that, rather, I would think we should re-assess.

There may be other more practical ways to keep our enemies at bay or at least off our shores. We are already in the Vietnam syndrome in that we seem to have miscalculated and would like to get out but we can’t because we must save face and not dishonor those who have died. We also have used the discredited strategy of limited war. War continues to be war and the only practical thing is to fight to win or not to fight at all. It could be that an even more drawn out war of attrition could work in our favor (although doubtful), but it does not seem to be the way we should conduct things, lest we put ourselves in a true state of endless armed conflict, a state of being and an image I don’t think is right for the United States of America.

But yes, we should remember we are a nation at war and demand our president and congress do something to resolve the issue.

(The story I referred to is at: http://news.yahoo.com/brother-ohio-soldier-nation-war-104658229.html )

—————-

What follows is my previous post on pretty much the same subject:

I’m not sure what women not shaving under their arm pits, people drawing welfare, Occupy Wall Street, soldiers denied proper medical care once they get home (who’s to blame there?) while welfare recipients are tended to, and making it a point to thank the people in uniform all have in common but that seemed to be the elements of the conversation on my local radio station which was playing the Glenn Beck Show, being hosted by a guest host possibly. I only listened to a few words before I had to turn it off.

The message seemed to be that women who did not shave their arm pits were just part of the crowd who lives off of welfare, protests, and who shows it is against America by objecting to war and failing to thank the troops.

While listening to the ignorance and hate one should realize that those who run the local radio stations simply play the blather because it is cheap fare and it apparently brings in the revenue — never mind being part of a more civil and intelligent public discourse. But people want their own point of view to be validated or they want someone to do their thinking for them, so the talk show trash on radio is just what it is. Critical thinking and discussion does not do well in the marketplace.

And I am not saying they should be playing Amy Goodwin and Democracy Now; I’ve caught a little of that at times and it may be somewhat more civil but it is propaganda too, just from the far left of the political spectrum.

But before I turned my radio off I heard the tired old diatribe about how people don’t support our soldiers and the wars they fight. It is irritating that the idea of supporting troops (and that can mean different things in different contexts; a government –to include Republicans — who fails to treat returning reservists or National Guardsmen is not supporting the troops) has to be forever linked in the minds of those of the far-right, one-track mindset to national policy. As far as I know most people who may object to wars or military adventures/actions are not specifically or not at all criticizing individual soldiers, but the policy that puts them in harm’s way. Now in instances where there is abuse perpetrated by soldiers (such as the murder of innocents) then, yes, there might be indeed criticism. And there was a school of thought during the Vietnam War that since it turned out to be so obviously wrong and immoral, not to mention impractical, that any one who agreed to fight it (even if conscripted) was committing an immoral act (I do not necessarily agree with that). And some might argue that today (again I do not necessarily agree with that, even though it is all volunteer).

But people who dress differently than what has become the norm among what is considered the general public, or women who do not shave their arm pits, which has been the custom in Europe and even here decades and decades ago (into the past century), and people who get government assistance, and people who would dare question public policy (unless it is the far right questioning legitimate policy promoted by the middle and left) are all linked together in the minds of those incapable of critical thinking or those simply stirring up the masses for political and financial gain.

(I hate to bring Tom Sullivan into all of this. But he is a case study of someone who began as a conservative talk show host who was capable of and willing to engage in somewhat critical thinking in that he would give both sides of an issue, even though always coming down on the right. But he apparently found such was not acceptable in the world of right-wing talk, so he cut it out for the most part. I wrote that previously and he actually emailed me about my comments on that and other things to do with him and did not deny it — and he still occasionally lets his guard down, I think. He’s usually clever enough that it goes over the heads of many of his listeners, but sometimes they object. The rule on the right is to never but never present the other side of the case. That may be true on the far left too.)

I have to make sure to remember to switch the radio off or to music or something when the commercially driven-right wing propaganda is on, which is all the time.

And it is troubling that Mitt Romney, a highly intelligent man (hell he speaks fluent French) has felt he needs to pander to the ignorant masses to get his party’s nod to be GOP candidate for president.

P.s.

This endless war thing: Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are equally guilty and spend more time blaming each other for it than trying to figure out how to reform our policies so we are not constantly mired in conflicts that are so costly in human lives and to our economy.

A third party is needed and we need to indeed vote all the current slate on both sides out. Extreme yes. But we are facing extreme circumstances. But beyond that people have to pay more attention to public affairs and critical thinking is in order here.

P.s. P.s.

And part of the story or back story in all of this is that those with nothing else to do often get involved in protest movements and supposedly the poor, but working people just do what they are told and don’t question. And those who stand to gain from various policies, such as defense contractors, oil interests, and so on, would like to keep it that way.  Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are at opposite ends of the spectrum and yet in many respects have the same interests, but the Tea Partiers may consider themselves more legitimate in that they consider themselves to be part of the mainstream of working people (whether they are or not and notwithstanding that there is evidence that the original concept of the Tea Party may have been the brain child of monied and vested interests). And the Tea Party no doubt thinks the Occupy movement is nothing but anarchists and maybe socialists/communists. It’s too bad there cannot be an effective movement from the middle, or maybe that is what general elections are all about.


Armed Neighborhood Watch scares me as much as criminals…

April 2, 2012

The shooting death of a black teenager in Florida brings forth the issues of black people being suspect for just being black or racial profiling, stand your ground gun laws that give citizens wider leeway is shooting people and race relations in general, but it seems to me one of the more pressing issues is self-appointed, armed citizen cops.

The only people who really know or knew what happened in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida are him (but he is dead) and George Zimmerman, the shooter.

There is a lot of conjecture, much based on racial prejudice and animosity on both sides.

And on the web you can find character assassinations (based on truth or not) on both characters.

The victim was a black teenager and the shooter is described as being of Peruvian and white descent, 29 years or so old.

The truth likely is that there was blame on both sides, although since Martin was reportedly unarmed, the weight falls heavily on Zimmerman. Zimmerman claims he was attacked and was acting in self defense. But some of what has come out so far makes it appear that it was not as simple as that or at least complicated by the fact he may (or not) have provoked the attack.

But what bothers me in all of this is that besides the worst thing, a teenager is shot to death walking down a street, is the idea of vigilantism — a Neighborhood Watch commander, as Zimmerman is described as being, carrying a gun and going after someone. While he claims he was attacked, I believe it has also been established that he took it upon himself to follow young Martin and bug him about what he was doing at night in the neighborhood.

Excuse me. I think Neighborhood Watch people are just supposed to observe and report things to the authorities. In fact, I heard part of a 911 tape and the person representing authority on the other end was telling Zimmerman to stay put and not follow. Zimmerman complained that “they always get away…” and did not follow that instruction.

Supposedly Young Martin was doing nothing more than carrying back snacks from a store to where he was staying. Zimmerman claimed the young man was poking around the area, which in and of itself, depending on what he meant, is not illegal (unless you’re trespassing, I guess), but at night is not a good thing to do — you might get bit by someone’s dog at the least or killed at the most (even if shooting you is not legal).

I won’t even go into the subject of a hoodie, the garment that Martin was wearing, and which some contend led Zimmerman to rightly surmise the young man was up to no good because some so-called “ganstas” wear them, except to say I wear a kind of light sweat jacket with a hood in my work (a kind of hoodie, I guess). Oh, and I am white and I am not a gangsta.

Okay, I will say something more on that. If you dress like a bad guy (or gal) you might be taken for one. But that has nothing to do with whether Zimmerman or anyone else in his position should have shot someone. Again, what bothers me is regular citizens acting like the police or for that matter self-appointed militias. I’m no more afraid of bad guys or big government than I am of so-called citizens committees (or I guess Neighborhood Watch in the Zimmerman manner) or militias.

As far as the Stand Your Ground doctrine that allows citizens to use deadly force in some jurisdictions, to include Florida, and in some situations, I think the burden has to weigh somewhat heavier on the shooter and should only hold in clear self-defense situations, if not we have a shooting free for all with a lot of innocent victims.

P.s.

But in cases where there is an intruder into or onto someone’s private domain (to include inside and outside) and such person can show that he or she logically feared for his or her life, I think that should be seriously considered in exonerating the shooter — but of course that has nothing to do with the Trayvon Martin case.