Sunday, May 30, 2010

The View From The Peanut Gallery


Yesterday, May 29th, I attended a rally in Tempe Diablo Stadium called “Stand With Arizona”, intended to show support for our new anti-illegal-immigration bill. For those of you who’ve never heard of Diablo Stadium, it’s a baseball park where the Angels play. It’s also a good long way from downtown Phoenix, which is where the pro-illegal-immigration rally was being held. At the plaza in downtown Phoenix the Pro-Illegals could march for free; renting Diablo Stadium for the day cost the Anti-Illegal rally’s organizers considerable money, which shows how serious they were about avoiding physical confrontations with the Pro-Illegals crowd.

I’d dressed in one of my singing costumes (long pale-denim skirt and Indian blouse) and towed my guitar along because I’d had a handshake deal (agreed on by email) to sing at the rally. Once at the stadium, I saw that everybody else – including the speakers – was wearing shorts or bluejeans, T-shirts or knit blouses, so I was actually overdressed for once.

The entry was merry chaos: people welcomed through the gates by volunteers in corn-yellow T-shirts whose only idea of where to steer people was either into the free seats in the bleachers or down on the green near the speakers’ platform for $10. Where were the entertainers supposed to go? Not a clue. One volunteer suggested I try Operations, which I did, but there was nobody in the office. Another suggested the Press Box, but had to get help finding it. – and the lone harried organizer at the Press Box insisted that I couldn’t get in without “credentials”. Most Science Fiction conventions are better organized.

I eventually contacted two of the other singers, who guided me to the recording booth in the dugout. I’d arrived at a little after 5 PM, and the singing wasn’t supposed to start until 8, so I had plenty of time to re-string my guitar and observe the proceedings.

The first thing I noticed was the playful carnival mood among the participants, many of whom had brought their children; everybody was jolly and polite, and there was none of the self-righteous fury one usually finds at protest rallies. Next thing I noticed was the absence of hucksters; there were only four dealers’ tables, near the entrance, and they were selling only American flags of various sizes, T-shirts and trinkets with the organizing committee’s logo on them – obviously to offset the cost of renting the stadium and bringing in the speakers. I noticed that nobody was selling food or even soft drinks, though there were countless flats full of bottled water being given away for free. There were a few people – wearing clearly different T-shirts from the rally volunteers’ – handing out leaflets for the Libertarians and the Constitutional Party. I also noticed the signs huckstering hopeful political candidates (none of which, interestingly enough, included a party affiliation), and local radio and TV stations, particularly KFYI. In fact, as I sat near the sound-engineer’s mixing board, I saw a couple people come by wearing “press” badges and ID tags for KFYI radio who asked if they could get copies of the recordings.

The next interesting thing I saw was how many of the crowd were Black, Latino, Indian or Asian. I particularly noticed one little old Asian lady holding up a sign that read: “I was a Legal Immigrant”. Also, many in the crowd were youngsters. This was definitely not a collection of old White folks.

Many of them, though, had driven in from Texas. I learned the significance of that later.

Another interesting note was just how many cameras were in the audience. There were cameras set up near the speakers’ platform, which instantly transmitted the view of the podium to a huge TV screen at the back of the platform, so that even the last seat in the bleachers had a good view of whoever was talking. There were obvious media cameramen toting big professional cameras that needed tripods. There were freelance professional photographers with huge-lensed film cameras and transmission-quality videocams. Besides that, almost everybody in the audience was using either small personal videocams or the camera-apps on their cell-phones, and I saw at least one laptop computer with an antenna. I’d guess that the final population of the rally was about 8000 people, and that a good 5000 of them took pictures. Nothing that happened at that rally went unseen or unrecorded, and that was obvious to anyone there.

This fact did not go unnoticed by the one trouble-maker I saw in the crowd: a deliberately crazy-looking older White man who clapped and hooted at the speakers, danced clumsily around a choice spot in center-field, and did his best to attract the attention of the cameramen. The yellow-shirted volunteers kept a polite but watchful eye on him, and everybody else quietly moved away from him on the infield. After awhile, seeing that everyone was deliberately ignoring him, he sat down and kept quiet.

It soon became clear that the whole Tea Party movement is wildly decentralized. Despite the obvious time and money spent on the soundstage and recording equipment, and the presence of cheerleaders in the audience, shouting slogans and asking the crowd to join in (“Gimme an A, gimme an R…”) the rally was clumsily organized, more like a high-school pep rally than a political meeting. Everyone – including the crew at the sound-mixing board – did their individual jobs well, but nobody knew what anybody else was doing. I eventually found out that the singers were supposed to be in the middle of the field, behind the sound and recording equipment, at the speakers’ platform – so there I went. The rally started an hour late, so most of the speakers and entertainers had their time cut short, and – as low man on the entertainment totem-pole – I had my proposed two songs cut completely out of the program. Ah, well; there’s always next time.

So I went back to the dugout (which also turned out to be one part of the “no smoking” labeled stadium where one could discreetly light up), and hung out with the sound-recording engineer. As the clock ticked well past the official starting time, a man from KFYI came over and urged the sound-man to at least put on some music CDs. “We’ve got too much dead air here,” he complained. The sound engineer and his assistant argued a bit over what kind of music would appeal to this crowd, versus what CDs they actually had, and finally settled on some Johnny Cash songs. This bears out my theory that damn-near everybody in America likes Johnny Cash.

Anyway, one album later, the proceedings finally opened. The MC, from the Phoenix Tea Party chapter, did the usual brief welcoming speech – and then pointed out all the people who had “bussed in” from Texas, and invited them to all stand up and be cheered. There were a surprising number of them.

Then the speakers stepped up and the speeches started, and I noticed an interesting division; most of the out-of-towners were Conservatives, while the locals were primarily Libertarians. I could tell the difference by whether they said “God bless America” or asked “How many of you have read ATLAS SHRUGGED?” The MC carefully addressed the crowd as “whether you’re Conservatives or Libertarians or anywhere along the spectrum”. Speech by speech, I slowly got the picture. Most of the money for this rally had come from Conservatives in Texas, who were trying to pass a state law of their own that mirrored our SB 1070 – and with good reason.

The speaker from Texas told of a Somali terrorist who had recently sneaked across the Mexican border and was now holed up in Houston, claiming “sanctuary” and hiding in a church. This put the Conservatives in a serious dilemma; on the one hand, they’re addicted to their religious bigotry and didn’t want to weaken the power of their local church, but on the other, they badly wanted to keep Islamofascist terrorists out of the US. Whatever they did about the Somali terrorist, they meant to keep any more of his ilk from getting into the US so easily, and that would mean putting an ironclad barrier on the porous Mexican border. Yes, they honestly meant their slogan: “Stand With Arizona”.

Other speakers included two Latino ladies – one from Columbia and one from Mexico – who had immigrated legally and become citizens. Both of them agreed that, yes, it was difficult and took time, but it was worth it if you wanted to be an American citizen. Both of them stoutly agreed that nobody should come here to stay permanently if they weren’t willing to become Americans.

I noticed that nobody mentioned the corollary: that the Illegals, by and large, only want to become rich Mexicans at America’s expense. Nonetheless, comments by other speakers – such as the head of the local police union – made it clear how much the Illegals cost the state, and the country, by supplementing their minimum-wage incomes with welfare frauds and professional crime. The statistics on kidnapping, robbery, car theft and massive methedrine-dealing were infuriating, though the audience kept their expressions of outrage to boos and short slogans.

Other speakers, from as far as Washington state and Missouri, promised to combat California’s threatened boycott of Arizona with a “buycott”: a campaign to advertize Arizona-made goods and services, and to encourage tourism, in other states that were considering laws similar to SB 1070.

A lot of people in the crowd tossed out spontaneous ad-libs, usually quite clever, to which the audience laughed appreciably. When the speakers called for chants and slogans from the audience, the crowd responded politely rather than passionately. The loudest cheer of the evening came when the MC reported that live coverage of this rally had “crashed the servers” on the Internet – meaning that so many people had been following this event on live streaming video/audio that the servers couldn’t keep up with the demand. I understood this because I’d noticed how hard it’s been to get downloads from YouTube for the past couple of weeks. It’s clear that grassroots political organizing has entered the Internet age, and that the mainstream media can no longer control what the public sees, hears or believes.

The speaker who impressed me the most was Ted Hayes, an elderly but spry Black homeless-activist, the man who created the famous Dome City in Los Angeles. He spoke briefly of his career as first a Civil Rights activist in the ‘60s, and then got down to the subject of racism. “When I was a boy, growing up in Jim-Crow age Massachusetts,” he told, “I got called a Nigger maybe a dozen times. White kids would yell that, and we’d chase them and threaten to beat them up, and they’d run away – and the next day we’d all be back to playing stickball together as if nothing had happened.”

But when he and other activists, both Black and White, marched in Los Angeles in support of the anti-immigration law, it was a different story. “The Latinos called us Nigger a hundred times over, and called the Whites with us Honkies and Rednecks” and less printable things, and spat on them, and threw bottles and “all kinds of crap”. It was, he said “worse than Montgomery, Alabama”. At the end of the march, he said, he sat down and cried because racism was not dead in America – but it wasn’t the Whites doing it. “You tell me,” he finished, “Who are the racists.”

He was followed by another singing group, a small Conservative rock band. Their performance was good, but I concluded that in all the years since the ‘60s Conservatives haven’t yet produced good songwriters – nothing to compare with Libertarian musicians, such as Rush.

The final speaker of the night – who was clearly making this a big stop in his re-election campaign – was Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Despite his expectations of his audience, he’d taken care to be introduced by a celebrity: Lou Ferrigno, still impressively muscled all these years after he ceased playing The Incredible Hulk. The crowd was appreciative, despite Ferrigno’s obvious speech impediment. The Sheriff spoke briefly, mostly the expected platitudes, with one notable piece of news; if the ICE wouldn’t process any Illegals arrested in Arizona, Arpaio would still have them prosecuted under state law. He also mentioned that he had a sizable reserve of tents, enough to increase his tent-city jail “all the way down to the border of Mexico”. To this some ad-libbers in the crowd yelled that if anybody escaped from the tent-city jail, they could run to Mexico – and welcome. To his credit, Arpaio didn’t speak long and left the last word – and applause – to Ferrigno.

After that the MC stood up and announced that the rally was over, and asked the crowd – politely, again – to be sure to drop their empty water-bottles in the recycle-bins and take care not to snarl traffic on the way out. The crowd obligingly packed up and left, with much conversation but little noise. Nobody snarled traffic on the way out, and the cars pulled away with no delays. By then it was 10 o’clock, almost exactly. I got the impression that this was the time-limit the organizers had bargained for when renting the stadium.

Altogether, the crowd could best be characterized as playful, co-operative and polite. From what I could tell of the organizers, they were a little more affluent but less experienced than the old Mobilization to End the War – and were willing to delegate necessities like security, audio-visual systems and recording to various experts, regardless of their political leanings.

From what I saw, I’m guessing that there’s a certain internal political tension in the Tea Party between the Conservatives and the Libertarians. The Libertarian movement – and party – were founded back in the late 1960s, and have been studiously ignored by the media and the older political groups ever since, until they gained enough numbers to create the Tea Party. The media and the political groups don’t quite know what to make of them, and so try to cast them into molds they already know. Liberals dismiss them as racist-Republican-redneck Conservative nuts. Conservatives approach them tentatively because the Libertarians agree with them on some issues – such as limited government, free enterprise and enforcing the immigration laws – but depart wildly on others – such as Gay rights, religion in public, and abolishing the drug laws. The Conservatives are clearly trying to take over the Tea Party, just as Republican candidates are trying to woo it, but neither have succeeded yet. All that has prevented an open breach so far is the Tea Party’s sticking strictly to legal-political issues that the Conservatives agree on, and the Libertarians’ need for the Conservative’s support in numbers and, admittedly, more money.

I predict that this peace will hold until either the Tea Party becomes politically successful enough to win major elections for Libertarian candidates – such as Ron and Rand Paul – or the Conservatives try to push for school prayer or legal oppression of Gays. Until then, the balance will hold – with great politeness.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again

Did anybody notice that an ex-doctor named Paul just won the Republican senatorial primary in Kentucky? No, not Ron: his son, Rand (yes, named after you-know-who). So now there are two Libertarians named Paul working in politics under the Republican imprimatur. Libertarians who actually want to get elected usually do run as Republicans, because the Libertarian Party itself is a political debating society that doesn't know how to play politics, and doesn't do jacksh!t to get its candidates elected or even on the ballot. The Republican Party doesn't really like Libertarians, but is desperate enough to take them on. I wish Rand Paul, and his father, lots of luck.

The really interesting part is how the mainstream media (which carefully blacked out Ron Paul's campaign in the 2008 election), did its best to paint Rand Paul as a "racist" (the catch-all accusation these days, like "communist" in the '50s). IIRC, 'twas NBC that claimed Rand Paul wanted to repeal the Civil Rights Act -- even though he himself clearly said otherwise. The funny part is that within hours of NBC's claim there were videos up on YouTube showing Rand Paul's real statements, and comments by Black entertainers stoutly defending him. And a few hours after that, Rand Paul won the primary.

This reveals the growing influence of the Internet as a widespread news source, the almost desperate bias of the mainstream media, and the growth of the grassroots Libertarian movement which has both the media and the federal administration so worried.

It's also an eerie parallel to something that happened back in the '60s and '70s, when another grassroots movement took off. Back then it was the anti-Vietnam War movement, which collected such a galaxy of other pro-freedom causes around it: Civil Rights, Women's Lib, Gay Lib, and the whole Counterculture. The mainstream media then did the exact same things: first carefully ignored the Hippies, then slandered them. The Hippies responded with the "underground press", which was slower and less efficient than the Internet is today, but was adequate for getting the real news out to millions of people. The descendants of those underground press papers exist today, alas, in a decadent form: those "entertainment" papers -- like the NEW TIMES -- now staffed by bourgeois Parlor Pinks who moo patronizingly over "little brown people" and lie shamelessly about the immigration problem, any outbreak of the Libertarian movement, and anyone who proposes reducing our bloated government. Let's hope the Internet doesn't follow in their footsteps.

More to the point are the dirty tricks used by other political groups back then. The FBI did its best to infiltrate the "New Left" organizations and "CoIntelPro"/provocateer them. The Democrats sent hopeful candidates out to woo them. The Marxists infiltrated them and steered them (much to the FBI's delight) into crazy and clearly Communist positions. Between them, the Marxists and the FBI succeeded in bringing down the New Left and making the Hippies look obsolete -- but not before the New Left/Counterculture had managed to achieve a few things: ending the Vietnam War, getting voting-age reduced to draft-age, establishing the rights of Blacks, women and Gays. When the wave of '60s/'70s activism slid back down the beach, it left some permanent fixtures behind. (One of those was the Libertarian movement, which began in the late '60s and has been growing slowly but steadily ever since.)

And I'm seeing parallels to that now. When the Libertarian movement grew too big for the media to ignore (Ron Paul's candidacy, the Tea Party, the Downsize DC organizations), not only did the mainstream media start vigorously denouncing/slandering it, but the political opportunists moved in. Go to, say, any Tea Party rally and you'll find: provocateurs hanging around the edges waving badly-spelled signs with Nazi emblems and slogans, Republican candidates lying merrily as they woo votes, and Conservatives infiltrating and trying to take over.

Comparing this with the history of the '70s, I'd say that the Conservatives are the biggest threat. If they take over the grassroots Libertarian movement, they'll drag it down to ruin as surely as the Marxists did the New Left. There are ways to counter their tactics and keep them out (which also work well on the provocateurs, by the way), but first your Libertarian organization has to be able to identify them.

This isn't easy, since a lot of Conservative policies look, on the surface, much like Libertarian ones: reduced government, encouraging the growth of small businesses, encouraging the private sector to take up a lot of the services of government, and support of individual rights and responsibilities. It's only when you look deeper that the differences appear -- and by then your Conservative infiltrator may have already done damage, just as the Marxist infiltrators did back then.

For the sake of the public safety, I'll point out here what the big difference is; Conservatives are secretly addicted to their old religious, racial, class and sexual bigotries. Examples: Libertarians want religion kept out of public business, while Conservatives want laws to support their own particular religion. Libertarians consider labor unions to be "voluntary associations" and the "natural" check and balance on management, while Conservatives think they're all Corrupt and Evil. Libertarians could care less about anyone's race or ethnicity, while Conservatives (though they'll never say it in public) want "those people" kept at a safe and powerless distance. Libertarians consider everybody's sexuality to be their own business, completely neutral to law, while Conservatives will snarl about "disgusting perverts" and wail for laws to support "morality".

The simplest tactic I can think of is to bar anyone from Tea Party etc. meetings and rallies (as much as possible, anyway) who answers the wrong way on this one simple question: "What's your opinion of Gay Marriage?"

How will that work? Simple. A Libertarian will either shrug and say: "Let them marry if they want", or stand up on the nearest soapbox-equivalent and denounce government involvement in private contracts. A Conservative will either stammer and fumble and come up with laughably thin excuses about why Gays shouldn't marry, or else stand up at the nearest pulpit-equivalent and denounce Gays as "perverted", "immoral", "sick", etc. and claim that marriage is a "sacrament". That's how you can tell them apart.

I wonder how different the world would be today if the New Left/Counterculture had come up with a similar filtering system 'way back then.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gainful Employment

Hi, team. I haven't posted in nearly ten days because, if ya please, I've gotten a job. Of course, knowing me, you could guess that it's not an ordinary job.

It fell out thusly: I was singing for the monthly Phoenix-area filksing at Mark Horning's place, and one of the guests turned out to be Christina Paige, a filker buddy who's now working for a local publishing company. When I mentioned my tale of job-hunting to her, she offered me something interesting; her publishing company, Fireship Press, specializes in nautical fiction and non-fiction, and was planning to re-issue an old classic novel called "Bride of Glory", the story of Emma Hamilton, notorious mistress of Lord Nelson. The publishing company wanted a sequel, but the author was long dead. So, how would I like to write that sequel?

What, a writing-on-demand job, me? Heheheheheh. When the dust had settled, I had a promise of an advance before I'd written even a word. I also had a copy of the original novel sent to my document files, the advance, the promise of help with the historical research and a few other perks (including a fifth of excellent plum wine). So, it's hi-ho, hi-ho, off to work I go.

I've spent the last week and more plowing my way through "Bride of Glory", and it's been heavy going. The plot is rambling, as the lady's life was, the historical detail is abundant and fascinating, and the writing is lamentably clunky. I don't have to worry about writing better than this author; I could do that in my sleep. I'm a little better than halfway through the book now, and hope to have it finished by the end of next week. The plot will be easy enough: just following Emma Hamilton's actual life story, as written up on Wikipedia. The hard part will be filling in all the fascinating little minutiae of early 19th century history -- and Christina has offered to do the research on that. There's nothing to it but to do it. It's simply taking time and labor, like all jobs.

I could certainly do worse. Come to think of it, I have done worse; I used to work for Welfare, and after a few months of that (ask me sometime, or listen to my song "The Paper Sea") I would gladly have taken a job as a garbage-hauler. A commissioned-writing job is a snap after that.

So, patience. I promise, I'll post here every chance I get; just don't be surprised if I'm a little slower at it than usual. Oh, and if anyone's interested, Fireship Press does indeed have a website. Anyone who's interested in naval history, or fiction thereabout, could do a lot worse than look there. Enjoy!

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Return of the Prodigal Gun

Here's a weird one for you. Seven years ago, a nasty ex-tenant -- during the process of leaving my house for three months' non-payment of rent -- exercised her light-fingering talents by stealing my main handgun: a 6-shot, chrome-plated, Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver, which I'd bought 'way back when in Chicago. Fortunately, I had (the only advantage of gun registration) a thorough description of the gun, which I reported to the cops as stolen.

Well, now: last week I received a form-letter from the Phoenix police informing me that they had my gun at the city impound lot, and if I wanted it back I should show up at the address near Central Ave., during the morning hours, with photo-ID (in other words, my driver's license) and come pick it up. I obliged, and got my gun back -- in a plastic bag with various tags attached. The old silver Smith looked only a little the worse for wear; there was a nick in the chrome on the forward edge of the cylinder, exactly the sort of mark the gun would get if it had been thrown down on hard pavement. Hmmmm.

Another thing I noticed, when I got the old gun home and took a closer look at the tags that came with it, was the "date of recovery". I'd reported the gun stolen in the summer of 2003; the tag said the gun had been found in a "front room" during in investigation for "vehicle theft" in November, 2004. Now it was early May, 2010. Just why had the cops held onto my gun for nearly 6 years?

I take it you're all familiar with the concept of the "throwdown" gun; it's a gun that a cop obtains by some means other than official purchase, which he carries around concealed. In case of an altercation with civilians wherein the cop feels obliged to shoot one of them, he'll throw down the gun on the ground near said shot civilian, so his partner or other cop can pick it up later and claim that the first cop must have shot in self-defense. Of course this trick depends on the cop getting the civilian's fingerprints on the gun, or at least coming up with a good excuse for why his own prints are on it. I saw this trick practiced extensively back when I lived in Chicago. Hmmm...

The first thing I did was phone a local buddy who had once been a local cop, and ask him what he thought. His conclusion was that the gun had probably been kept as evidence in a case that went through several appeals, since the police legally have to hold onto evidence until the last appeal is settled. Since the case was a car robbery, he considered, the robber might have kept on with appeals until his sentence was more than half finished. I mentioned the nick in the cylinder, and my buddy replied that most likely the crook had done it, crooks not having a reputation for taking good care of their equipment. No, he didn't think the cops had kept it for a throwdown. "Phoenix," he reminded me, "Isn't like Chicago." We both knew what he meant.

So the next thing I did was make a note of the case number and phone the Phoenix police information line, from which I was transferred to the evidence department, from which I got the name of the detective on the case. When I finally caught up with him, he claimed that -- from what he could tell from the case notes -- there had been several crooks involved in that car-theft, and the delays and appeals had dragged on and on for years. If I wanted, he said, I could look up the case records myself on the Internet; they're a matter of public record.

Okay, so after talking with him I went up on the Internet, searched for Phoenix, AZ Police, and eventually traced the links to a site that would give me the case records in exchange for a lot of form-filing and a "modest" fee. I also found a commercial site that would get me *any* police records I wanted if I'd subscribe -- again, for a "modest" fee. Well, I didn't have either "modest" fee, so I believe I'll wait until my next money comes in.

All right, so at the moment it looks as if my buddy was correct, the cops really did behave honestly -- Phoenix not being like Chicago -- and my wandering gun had no nastier adventures than being stolen and sold and carted around by a crook. I'm still curious, though. When I get my next money I'll take the silver Smith to a gunsmith for inspection, to see if there are any more clues on it, and I'll pay for a subscription to that records-site. I daresay I can find a lot of interesting tales there, besides whatever is known about the wanderings of my prodigal gun.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(