Friday, August 15, 2014

WWII: The Fate of "The Buzzer"

[Preface - I have translated for a dear friend's web site in Naples, Italy for many years. NUg or Napoliunderground.org is an internationally popular speleological site in Italian and the English version with which I help out. The NUg group came back with two photos of an impressive WWII memorial with Italian and American flags flying side by side in a tiny village way up in the mountains literally in the middle of nowhere. There also was a photo of a cast bronze plaque with a tribute to 16 American airmen who lost their lives in 1944 . . . my curiosity was aroused and for the next five days and nights I researched this story . . . and wrote the piece below. I hope you find it interesting.   Larry Ray]

  It was a Saturday outing way back up into the Picentine mountain range about 50 miles East of Napoli. The Napoliunderground gang were going in search of some vaguely reported cavern entrances up on a mountain near the small village of Senerchia. Fifty miles as the crow flies from Naples. But the actual distance was much longer over winding switch-backs and narrow roads as their small Suzuki off road jeep made the arduous climb up to the isolated village of 1,036 residents.

   Senerchia sits 2,000 feet above sea level in the high Sele valley at the foot of the steep slopes of Mount Boschetiello. The Sele river skirts the village as it courses through lush forests and rolling hills in the very valley where Romans attacked from the rear, surprising and killing Spartacus in 71 BC, capturing his slave army.

   When the NUg Group arrived, a few villagers were out and about but they had little to say to these strangers from Naples. Nothing about cavern entrances or much else, it seems. The NUg visit to this remote area nonetheless brought surprise after surprise. Their haunting discovery of a mountain top ghost town is beautifully detailed in Fulvio Salvi's account of the trip in the fine translation by NUg friend, Prof. Jeff Matthews at: The Ghost Town on the NUg web site. Their video of exploring the lush valley floor and cascading waterfalls and river rapids must be seen: Trekking Monti Picentini

   The original medieval mountain top village of Senerchia was heavily damaged and abandoned following the powerful Irpinia 1980 earthquake that caused grave destruction across the whole mountainous area. As the NUg visitors from Naples walked around the newly built modern village of Senerchia, located just below the original town which is abandoned, they found a recently built memorial park with both Italian and American flags flying and a cast bronze plaque honoring the sixteen U.S. WWII airmen who perished when their B-24 bomber slammed into a nearby mountain peak on a flight through stormy weather from Grottaglie to Naples on December 9, 1944.

  Why would an elaborate memorial park exist on a hillside in the remote village
of Senerchia? Who would have paid for such an impressive little park and why? It was this tantalizing story that sent me on an amazing search to learn more about that B-24 Liberator fondly named "The Buzzer," and the 16 men who perished in it. The story I have pieced together includes WWII records of “The Buzzer” and its amazing role, surviving seventy-seven harrowing bombing missions all over Europe and accounts of the efforts of locals who aided American officials in the search of the crash site.

   Allied forces took control of the badly damaged Former German and Italian controlled airfield in Grottaglie near Taranto in Southern Italy where they established a strategic base of operations for heavy bombers capable of reaching targets in Germany. A new B-24 Liberator flown from Chatham Army Air Force Base in Savannah, Georgia, arrived at the heavily damaged field at Grottaglie on January 4, 1944. After arrival, the new Liberator bomber underwent flight tests before being put into service.  

   One of those tests included the bomber making a screaming low pass “buzz job”just feet above the runway which the plane’s crew chief, Sgt. Bart Paluso saw and he immediately named the new replacement bomber “The Buzzer.” The name was fondly embraced with artwork and name painted on the front sides of the huge plane which bristled with armament including 50 Caliber machine guns which could shoot 800 rounds a minute.

   And “The Buzzer” also had a ball turret which was lowered behind the bomb bay doors and operated by a gunner of short stature able to fold up inside the cramped rotating ball. The gunner could turn the ball a full 360 degrees, from front to back of the plane with a hand operated joy stick. The ball turret gunner could position the two Browning AN/M2 .50 caliber machine guns using a special aiming sight sending out a wall of hot steel against incoming attacking aircraft.


   Important details are taken from a book I have been able to locate, "Brother men who fly," written by a ball turret gunner, Benedict Yedlin, who flew most of his 50 missions in "The Buzzer" with the 449th Bomb Group out over heavily defended targets like Hitler’s oil refineries in Polesti, Romania and Moosbierbaum, Austria.

   Mr. Yedlin safely completed his fifty missions and returned to the USA for discharge. His old plane, “The Buzzer” would soon also be retired from duty as a bomber. The plane was credited with seventy-seven sorties and had flown 41 consecutive missions without one turn-back because of mechanical problems. The war-weary plane was finally retired from combat duty and its guns were removed. Open areas from gun removal were covered over with sheet metal and the gutted interior had a floor installed with seating for “The Buzzer’s” new duty as a personnel and supply transport airplane.

 

   Her passenger manifest for that December 9, 1944 flight from Grottaglie to Naples, Italy included the five man flight crew, and eleven passengers, seven of them were on their way to Naples having survived their fifty-mission tours, eager to board a ship back to the States, hoping to spend the Christmas holidays with their families. Of the sixteen crew and passengers on board, fifteen were combat veterans.

Graphic from: "World War II Story" by Robert F. Gallagher
   Because of the predicted bad weather “The Buzzer” was to have not taken the direct route over mountains, in red,  to the allied Pomigliano airfield near Naples. The flight plan for a safer route, in blue, had a dog-leg from Grottaglie out south-southwest to the western Italian coastline then a right turn up to the north-northwest direct to Naples, a distance of 194 miles (312km) about 64 miles longer than the direct route.

   Weather that morning in Grottaglie was rainy and stormy and getting worse. Several flights canceled their flight plans including 1st. Lt. Ray Aldrich who had taken off on a scheduled mission but it was scratched and he returned to base where he reportedly urged “The Buzzer’s” pilot 2nd Lt. Julian Caldwell not to go because of the worsening weather. Caldwell’s co-pilot who was a weather aficionado also urged Caldwell to cancel, but “The Buzzer’s” crew and passengers loaded up and took off at 11:12 AM, with all on board looking forward to the relatively short flight to Naples and a bit of Christmas cheer.

   At 6:22 PM the tower at Pomigliano air base near Naples asked Grottaglie for the plane’s whereabouts. Just after midnight Grottaglie asked Pomigliano if there was any news about “The Buzzer.” There was none. No one knows for sure just what happened, and there is still much speculation. Weather most certainly was a major factor perhaps causing the flight to drift off course. There is mention that the impact happened just yards from the top of the mountain peak. That model of B-24 also lacked a de-icing system, and heavy ice build up on the wings was a known problem.

   But eventually it would become clear that “The Buzzer” upon impact, fully fueled for the flight flew directly into a mountain peak becoming a hellish inferno of bodies and twisted metal which plunged down the steep mountainside some 1,500 feet into a narrow and barely accessible ravine. The scattered debris, most of which was in the deep, steep walled abyss would soon be covered by thick layers of winter snow.
   
   Search planes from Grottaglie were hampered the following day by the still stormy overcast skies. A search by planes from the Pomigliano air base checked the coastal areas and water off Naples but found nothing. The following day six B-24s from Grottaglie made a wide area search of the scheduled route with two of them searching the direct route. One airman thought he saw the wreckage in a deep crevasse but he could not find it again because of the deep snowfall.

   Finally the names of the 16 aboard had worked their way up through the various military commands to Headquarters of the Army Air Force and on December 30th, telegrams went out to the to the next of kin telling them that their loved one was “missing.”

   The crash site and bodies remained deep within the crevasse completely covered with deep snow making any location almost impossible using aerial searches. A strong rumor that the plane had crashed into the bay of Naples proved false. It was five months later when the snow has started to melt that locals located the crash. In the valley near the crash site in the village of Oliveto Citra, the wife of a town doctor, Mrs. Amelia Clemente, who was born in the USA and had a fair grasp of English, took it upon herself to go to Allied headquarters near Naples and report the crash location. She had been to the site with a group of local alpine climbers who had been able to descend over the slippery rocks down to the bottom of the incredible debris and carnage. They positively identified that there were human remains down there and obtained some personal effects and identification of some of the victims.

   When there was no response to her first visit she returned and finally found someone who admired her persistence and scheduled the Graves Registration Service to come to the site. Her efforts eventually resulted in all sixteen victims being identified and their remains removed and examined for further analysis and identification for eventual burial in both Italy and the USA. Mrs. Clemente received a letter of extreme thanks and commendation, dated 30 August 1945 from the Adjutant General of Allied Force Headquarters, Colonel C.W. Christenberry.

   That ball turret gunner who flew most of his 50 bombing missions in “The Buzzer” attacking essential petroleum storage and refineries to cripple the German air force and limit Hitler's fuel supplies finally returned to the USA for discharge. He joined his father in a major construction firm that built whole subdivisions for single family housing throughout New Jersey. Ben Yedlin, in his 2002 book, “Brother Men Who Fly” recalled his real fear that since was a Jew, if he had to parachute from the plane he would be captured by Germans. But Ben made his 50 missions laying down a deadly screen of 50 caliber shells from his rotating nacelle right behind the bomb bay doors without serious incident.

   He remained active as a member of the 449th Bomb Group Association which honored him with a Humanitarian Service Award in 1998. He became a respected philanthropist for many causes and his goal of creating a true memorial to “The Buzzer” and the 16 men who perished in the crash never wavered. After many trips to Senerchia, Yedlin made many friends in the village and ultimately was able to get the plaque memorial to his comrades constructed and officially recognized by both America and Italy. After ten years of search and travel his plaque memorial was dedicated on a bright morning in Senerchia Village, June 29, 2003.

   Mr. Yedlin had contacted members of Congress and the U.S. Consulate in Naples regarding the planned dedication ceremony and the response was overwhelming. High ranking officers from the U.S.A as well as Italy, dignitaries including the Mayor of Senerchia and the U.S. Navy Band from Naples in summer white uniforms delighted the crowd with both American and Neapolitan favorites.

   And Ben Yedlin, already in failing health nonetheless got to see his Plaque Memorial and the peaceful park which surrounds at that memorial dedication ceremony. He died about a year later, September 10, 2004.

   Below is a link to a PDF from his 449th Bomber Group semi annual newsletter, “Late Pass” which was the radio call sign for the Grottaglie control tower. Go to pages six, seven and eight to see photos and commentary at the Senerchia Plaque Memorial dedicaion and the attendance of Americans and Italians in mutual respect for these fallen airmen.



Click Photos Below to Enlarge and Read Plaque

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A little bombing quiz for you ...


"Still Winning Hearts and Minds"

There are two photos below and both are middle Eastern neighborhoods in different countries where families lived ... husbands, wives, elderly relatives and lots of kids. Both neighborhoods were destroyed in a show of force by political leaders who called up ruthless and incessant shelling and bombing against civilians, all the while denying they were doing so. These were political and tactical  decisions to use deadly force to achieve total control of a populace ... the old 'bombing your way to peace' is still happening with a vengeance.

In the two photos below please identify which bombing was ordered by Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and which one by Benjamin Netanyahu from Israel into the Gaza Strip.

Scores were killed or gravely wounded in each country, mostly women and children.  And while you are looking at the photos, let's also go back and remember the USA's ceaseless high altitude carpet bombing of Vietnam in the 60's and 70's. Both Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington determined that of the 3.8 million violent war deaths in Vietnam,  two million were civilian.


We don't want to ask ourselves, but were Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon's ultimate decisions to bomb and shell indiscriminately any less deadly that those of other leaders who decide to aggressively bomb and shell knowing the civilian toll will be terrible?

Can you detect any differences between the two photos below from Syria and Gaza? Which one shows Syria's bombing of it's own civilians and which one shows the results of Israeli bombing and shelling of the tiny densely packed sliver of humanity called the Gaza Strip?
 
Can you see any difference in the destruction of homes or the slaughter of the innocent? Does one photo look more peace-producing than the other? 
Do the levels of hatred at work here seem about equal in each photo?

Photo One:



Photo Two:


 Put down your pencils, end of quiz.  For now.


 "War remains the decisive human failure."
John Kenneth Galbraith

Friday, March 21, 2014

Real life fiction: The Final Flight


(March 18, 2013) - The whole world has been gripped by the seeming total disappearance of a Malaysian Boeing 777 with 239 souls on board. Its scheduled overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, China March 8th, 2014 never arrived at its destination. Air control radar lost all contact with it after it reached its assigned cruising altitude about an hour into its flight. 

After the first ten days of confusion, failure of the Malaysian governmental bureaucrats to cooperate with other nations by providing data in a timely manner made the story drag on and on and imaginations have run wild.

As a private pilot with aircrew experience going back to my U.S. Navy days in the late 1950's and as a retired journalist and writer I decided on the evening of March 18th to use my imagination to sketch out a rough movie plot line with actions set vaguely in Indonesia and to intertwine totally fictional elements with some of the early press reports about a real pilot.

The story is grim, yet embodies elements that together make a shocking and dark story that could have some basis in truth with what may have actually happened. Here is my completely fictional account of of how a motion picture might  portray "The Final Flight."
____________________________

The Final Flight
Ⓒ Larry M. Ray   Mar 19, 2014

The experienced and respected captain of Flight 307, Arief Agus Jawardi, had learned three months earlier that he had an inoperable brain tumor. He had gone to Singapore for the MRI, using an assumed name and identity.  He knew as soon as the airline found out about his worsening condition he would no longer be able to fly. Meanwhile he had continued to report to work as scheduled.

With his own flight simulator in his home and being a Certified Flight Instructor qualified to approve pilots for ATR type rating certification in large commercial passenger aircraft, it was clear that his life was singularly devoted to the pinnacle of being captain of a large Boeing 777-300ER with its sleek and powerful improvements and a flight range of 7,930 nautical miles. The tumor was already making his reasoning stranger and stranger and he had spent more time than usual on that home flight simulator in recent weeks.

By March 8, 2014, Captain Jawardi's world had begun to whirl and change. Prior to arriving at the airline’s operations office to conduct the plane's preflight inspection and check the routine flight plan for the regular 12:41AM departure of flight 307, he had attended a controversial trial in the city's large courthouse in which his political idol, Irwan Salim, was jailed for five years. Captain Jawardi had been described by some as a political fanatic because of his devotion to Salim who was sentenced in 1999 to 15 years imprisonment on an ugly, very public trumped up sodomy charge. Salim had served six years of that sentence mostly all in solitary confinement but he was released in 2004. Salim, the key challenger to the the ruling party, was arrested once again on sodomy charges in 2008, and acquitted of those charges in January 2012.  But the ruling powers appealed the decision, and on Friday March 8, 2014 that acquittal was overturned and Salim was again sentenced to prison. Captain Arief Agus Jawardi was known to be an ‘obsessive’ supporter of Salim and was visibly upset over the terrible verdict.

The horrible injustice he had just witnessed sent his unstable mind racing into overdrive with reason and zest for life now replaced with a dark, carefully studied final flight plan not for his Indonesian home base to Beijing Capital International Airport but instead to a tormented destination known only to Captain Jawardi.

Flight 307 had reached cruise altitude and they were flying, or more accurately, the autopilot was flying the way point legs programmed into the plane's navigational computer controlling the autopilot for the flight to Beijing. As passengers settled into a smooth, soothing long night journey, a young flight attendant entered the flight deck and brought the captain and his first officer, seated in the right seat, some cold drinks and nice box lunches. The captain thanked the attendant, smiling a familiar smile that said all was well and he indicated that they would talk to them on the decent into Beijing. The copilot, in a final radio response to their routine hand off from their local air traffic control center, radioed thanks and a good night to the controllers. In less than forty five minutes they would enter Vietnamese air space and check in with their new controllers.

The captain finished his sandwich and a sweet pastry then loosened his seatbelt and walked back to the reinforced flight deck door and bolted it firmly shut from the inside. After quickly pulling the circuit breakers turning off the cockpit flight deck voice recorder he easily walked back toward his unsuspecting co-pilot, approaching him from behind as he uncoiled a length of thin polyester rope. Then, in a dispassionate yet violent move he swept the rope over his co-pilot's  head and yanked him back against the seat, strangling him. The seat belt kept his victim from being able to jump up or swivel, and he died quickly, barely able to utter but a few gurgling sounds.

The captain then calmly switched off the plane's electronic connections to the world outside, rotating switches and knobs on the center console to the off position. In an instant there was no more signal from the radar locating transponder, or the ACARS air to ground communications, and in an hour or so he would again walk to the back of the flight deck and on the large overhead panel would pull out the circuit breakers to the passenger entertainment system which would also disable the in-flight satellite telephones in business class. It is almost certain that he also pulled the circuit breakers to the two flight recorders in the plane's tail commonly referred to as the two "black boxes." With a very long night flight ahead, the plane banked gently into a 20 degree left turn to the West, barely noticeable to passengers. The captain had typed all new five character way points into the nav computer telling the autopilot to fly the plane back over the narrow Indonesian archipelago and on out into to the vast emptiness of the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile passengers had been fed, and most were trying to get some sleep, not noticing that the plane was doing anything other than flying along into the blackness of night. The still operating basic independent interrogatory satellite pings from the Boeing aircraft are said to have indicated to ground stations that the plane flew for a total of seven hours after departing from the initial flight path to Beijing before the signals ceased. By the time passengers and flight crew started to wonder why the plane was not letting down as it approached China, it was too late. That far out over the Indian Ocean no cell phone calls would have been possible, and no one could get into the cockpit at that point.

The captain had thought out every detail out right down to flying on far out over the ocean to the furthest reaches possible until the plane's fuel was depleted so there would be no visible oil slick. This was to be his perfect final flight. Now, in his errant and erratic logic, he was alone in his huge airliner. There were no passengers, no crew, just him making a final bitter comment to world, to his family and especially the crooked and worthless politicians in power back home.

Then with the very last of the fuel remaining, he descended slowly and evenly down to a hundred feet or so above the water. Airspeed was down to the lower end of flyable approach speed and as he was mere feet above the ocean he throttled back the two giant Rolls-Royce Trent engines and pulled up for a nose-high, tail dragging, wheels-up pancake landing doing as little damage as possible to the plane. And then after impact which had thrown him forward in his seat, he loosened his harness, walked back with difficulty as the plane was instantly starting to toss in several directions by the roiling sea and he reached up and pulled the emergency exit light circuit breakers.

The chaos among the 237 passengers and crew after the shocking surprise water landing meant doors would be opened allowing some people to attempt escape only to most certainly die. And those open doors and exit hatches were an inevitable part of the plan as they would allow the heaving sea to fill the airplane with its near freezing brine.  Many did not have seat belts fastened, having no idea what was about to happen, and were violently slammed and thrown about with a number of them gravely injured. This adding to the total surreal screaming panic on board. The darkened cabin with even the emergency exit lights on the aisles disabled created a living nightmare. With no prior notice of a water landing it is probable that few if any would have located the life jacket under the seat and donned it in the madness and total darkness.

The captain had left the circuit breaker panel and returned to his Captain’s Seat. He calmly opened his mouth and began to swallow a handful of powerful opiates that would quickly knock him out and if they did not kill him, at least he would not be conscious when the icy water crept into the the cockpit as the basically intact plane lost buoyancy and swirled down into the depths of the frigid melding of the Indian and Southern Oceans. Perhaps he had set a final way point to the West of the Dianmatina Deep, a meandering trench which is 26,401 feet below the water's surface.

All the searching for the missing plane that diverted from its assigned flight path on March 8, 2014 was concentrated for the first week on a relatively small area around the point where the plane dropped from radar and all communication stopped. The plane had gone down, unobserved, in the early hours of March 9th into the nether reaches of the vast Indian Ocean.

Indonesian bureaucrats and career military generals were totally inept in coordinating an orderly investigation, refusing to share with other countries and agencies all the data they were collecting. As the squabbles and confusion mounted, any hope of rescue died. The passengers who had made it out of the plane before it filled with water and started to sink had no chance against the rapid onset of hypothermia. The distant and extremely frigid waters of the beginning of the Southern Ocean are cruel, with massive, churning waves and they are rarely traversed by commercial shipping. Bodies of those outside the plane would eventually be eaten by any of several of the active varieties of sharks in those waters, including the Great White, another thing for which the Southern Ocean is infamous.

So there were no visible signs of debris from the plane visible by the time searchers belatedly started to fly random grids ten days later over the huge ocean area. There were no seat cushions, floating plane parts or other familiar crash debris all clustered waiting to be spotted because the difficult but well executed water landing landing did little structural damage to the huge airplane. If anything had broken off the plane and somehow floated, the howling wind, giant waves and surging currents of the unforgiving Southern Ocean would displace debris making calculation of debris origin extremely difficult if not impossible. Meanwhile the disconnected Black Boxes had long stopped functioning, recording nothing and would yield scant information as to what had happened because they were disabled by the pilot shortly after the plane's early turn from its scheduled flight path.

A giant airliner and all its victims would now reside at 20,000 feet below the difficult sea for a very long time, evading attempts of easy discovery or retrieval. The grief of loved ones would not easily fade with the uncertainty of how, where and why their friends and family members had mysteriously perished.

The Titanic went down in 1912, and was not definitely located until September 1985 or 93 years after it sank. And those searchers had a good idea about the general area where it sank.

                                                       -30-


All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pentecostals, Baptists and "Naked Images"


Here's looking at you, kid!

There ought to be a law! And there might be one shortly to protect Mississippi prison workers from anyone sneaking a peek at their private parts.

Some Mississippi prison guards and other civilian prison workers are now required to stand in front of surplus TSA airport X-ray body scanners installed in the prison as they report for work. It is apparently part of their daily work check-in routine to be scanned for hidden contraband, and this has upset State Rep. Dennis DeBar of Leakesville. Not the contraband checks, but the X-ray machine that can see through workers’ clothes!

Rep. DeBar told The Mississippi Press that he has proposed House Bill 926 because he, "... has constituents who work at South Mississippi Correctional Institution, and some believe the scanners invade their privacy. He said many of them are worried that a co-worker could see naked images of their bodies."
Speaking at the State Capitol yesterday, Rep. DeBar said, of his constituents, "We have a lot of religious people -- Pentecostals and Baptists -- who object to that."

Some 250 TSA radiation-emitting backscatter (X-ray) airport scanners were finally dumped last summer and warehoused. The scanners’ flawed Rapiscan software never could be made to satisfactorily blur pubic or breast areas or much of the rest of the image for that matter. So to quieten the clamor from privacy advocates, they removed them from airports to satisfy Congress.

They were ultimately warehoused, then donated to state governments, and the Mississippi surplus property division is where the Department of Corrections latched on to seventeen of them to “look for contraband.”

In classic Mississippi logic, House Bill 926 proposes "that the scanners be used only if there's reason to suspect an employee is carrying contraband." Well, if  there is reason to suspect an employee is sneaking in dope or whatever, it isn’t like prison security folks don’t know how to do a full body cavity strip search.  No need to fire up the old airport X-ray scanner.

Just have the suspected employee step into the office, strip and bend over. But that nuanced logic may be too much to deal with. Maybe civil enough for prisoners but not for Civil Service employees?

The prison folks who grabbed up the X-ray scanners after the TSA dumped them also got the problematic and flawed Rapiscan imaging software that came with them which still bares all of the body, in 50 shades of gray. Well, maybe not fifty, but detailed enough for a potential prurient peek.

However, Rep. DeBar's Pentecostal and Baptist prison guards aren't just left unprotected from surreptitious stealthy spying at their bare imaged bodies, real or imagined. The damaging personal invasion comes from from that scanner's regular daily dose of X-ray ionizing radiation, a form of energy that can cause cancer.

The TSA and its big buck scanner suppliers all swear that the "amount of radiation is minimal." I have always wondered if that was true why do all European countries ban use of the ionizing radiation X-ray scanners?

Certainly, the occasional chest X-ray or scanner zap of an airline passenger should have a much lower cumulative effect on the body than someone being X-rayed daily. Hospitals and imaging clinics most certainly would forbid such an idea. Technicians and medical staff who monitor CAT scans and even chest X-rays do so from behind lead shields. And TSA workers located near the scanners also are provided shielding.

I would hope when the Mississippi Department of Corrections got their zillion dollar high-power airport passenger scanners for a few bucks they also got the operational manuals with the bright yellow pages that warn about the dangers of radiation exposure.

The TSA’s new “millimeter-wave” machines do not emit potentially cancer causing X-rays and feature privacy software that produces a generic cartoon image of passengers' bodies.

Cartoon images may be more appropriate to the needs of Mississippi. DeBar's bill passed the House Corrections Committee yesterday and now will move to the full House for more debate.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Gluten-Free Grub and Price Gouging

Udi's Gluten Free Bread with expensive "artisan air holes"in their diminutive loaves


Several years ago a new young doctor finally properly diagnosed the reason for my decades of panicked dashes to the loo with stealth attacks of lower GI distress. These relentless urgent attacks were too often visited upon me at times like the final minutes in the 4th quarter of a New Orleans Saints game where a touchdown or field goal could cinch the game for them . . . listening to loud cheering from the bathroom made it even worse because there was no way to tell who was cheering for what.

After the diagnosis I underwent an endoscopic adventure down into my small intestine for several diagnostic snips of its lining and a look around. The velvety villi-coated lining that takes our digested food and sends that nutrition out all over the body had large clotted, dysfunctional patches where the tiny waving villi were bent over, clumped up, and out of order. Most of that nutrition had been going straight south for way too long.

Celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating the protein, gluten, and is  commonly called gluten intolerance. Unlike other types of bodily malaise, the cure for Celiac disease requires no expensive medicines or procedures after diagnosis. Simply just quit eating anything at all with wheat, barley or rye. It was that simple and in an amazingly short time the old small intestine banquet for the body starts working again and in my case I felt better than I had in ten or fifteen years.

My widowed neighbor lady across the street got six large grocery bags of food from my fridge and pantry which, I learned, contained wheat, barley or rye. Like soy sauce being 50% wheat ...who knew? Gluten in the form of wheat is in beer and almost all processed food like those great tasty frozen Turkey Tetrazini microwave entrees. After a couple of weeks of learning to eat gluten-free, my digestive system quickly started operating properly and blood tests were now spot on.

But no cheating is allowed like that one little nibble of pie crust because eating even 5 parts per million of gluten can literally get your bowels in an uproar again. So discipline is quickly acquired.

My story of years of misdiagnosis as "irritable bowl syndrome" is told over and over again in publications like the Mayo Clinic newsletter which notes that "Celiac disease was rare, but it's now more common in all age groups. Although the cause is unknown, celiac disease is four times more common now than 60 years ago, and affects about one in 100 people."

After my diagnosis and the good gluten-free gastric vibes, I quickly learned to automatically check package ingredients for wheat, barley or rye. It's much like scanning for land mines now before journeying on into new dietary destinations.

And early on, I noted that the available gluten-free products on store shelves, though usually packaged in regular sized boxes or bags, had a content weight scarcely sufficient to satiate the appetite of a medium sized elf or gnome.

And not only are skimpy portions and product sizes smaller, they can be twice the cost of a similar non gluten-free bag or box of the same thing with lots more food in it. Early on, finding a gluten-free loaf of bread that was not like a hockey puck or that tasted no better than shredded cardboard was a challenge. Companies claim higher cost is from having to have dedicated production lines to prevent wheat contamination. I think they are more dedicated to plain old American price gouging.

Around 2010 more acceptable breads with good flavor started to show up on shelves here in the Gulf South. Notable, with reservations, are products by Udi Baron, who with his wife in Denver in 1994 started out as "Udi the sandwich man" with ready to eat sandwiches. Today, Udi's has expanded into a very large operation in the USA and UK with bakeries, cafes, restaurants and their "Artisan loaves" of gluten free breads, and more recently bagels, cookies, energy bars and more.

Good stuff, but at almost six bucks for a 12 ounce loaf, which is about a third the size of a standard gluten-loaded loaf of white or whole wheat bread I feel genuinely gouged every time I buy one. We Celiac Captives are forced to accept shopping in the "gluten-free sections" which have smaller sizes, and half the product in bags and boxes and double the price, compared to the wheat laden equivalents in the rest of the store.

In addition to the 12 ounce loaf of Udi's bread for six bucks, is their package of four quite good hamburger buns also at $5.60 a bag or a buck forty a bun, and on and on. Udi's bagels are extremely good when toasted . . . four in a bag for six bucks. All I can figure is that with really slim pickings for tasty gluten-free anything for so long, those with Celiac disease and others who have, for whatever reason, decided they like a gluten-free diet will easily pay whatever the price tag says.

I learned early on from my old friends in Italy that the country has had a Celiac Disease Association for more than 40 years. Not only that, but with universal health care in Italy, those diagnosed with Celiac get a generous monthly ration of gluten-free groceries just like a prescription including great pasta of all sorts. Restaurants and stores in Italy routinely have gluten-free menus with breads, pastas, and desserts. Forget trying to take a deduction for the steep prices for gluten-free food here in the USA.

I get a CARE package from Italy every few months full of really great gluten-free pastas that cook and taste like pasta made with classic semolina flour. Stuff labeled gluten-free in most stores here in the South that I have tried includes cookies that crumble and disintegrate, mixes that collapse and are really disappointing including most pasta that is disgusting.

So, the gluten-free beat goes on. Better products are out there if you can find them ... and afford to pay twice as much for half the food. Although the Udi's products are good, it is a real crap shoot each time I buy a frozen loaf of what my friends refer to as "your little chicken shit loaves of bread" as to how many slices will have holes in them.

All too often the lack of quality control of Udi's Artisan bread results in large sections in a loaf being good old gluten-free air. Artisan bubbles in the bread, seen in my photo above, as well as collapsed tops of the loaves, and irregular thicknesses of the little slices do not make Udi's the best thing since sliced bread. Close, but no gluten-free cigar.

We are a captive market for gluten-free products like Udi's offerings, and who knows, there might even a developing market for those lesser bad products from folks who actually love to eat toasted hockey pucks and dine on soggy pasta.

But hey, I can watch a whole football game now so what's a few air-bubble-riddled loaves of gluten-free bread?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

JFK's 1963 Visit to Naples, Italy

JFK's visit to Bella Napoli, 1963 - greeted by throngs of people along the Naples shoreline

Here is a bit of JFK history most Americans probably have never heard about. The article below is from multitalented American expat, Jeff Matthews' endlessly fascinating "Naples: Life, Death, and Miracles... a personal encyclopedia"  Jeff lives in Naples, Italy with his wife and is a long time friend and associate who has taught at The University of Naples and other schools and colleges for more than 30 years.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, various Neapolitan newspapers today recalled JFK's visit to Naples on July 2, 1963. It was the last stop of a European tour that had included, one week earlier, the president's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in Berlin. 

The visit to Naples was the first time that a US president had ever visited the city and the people went crazy. (I have spoken to many who remember the visit and they are as crazy about it now as they were then.)

The president landed at Capodichino airport and went by helicopter to the NATO base in Bagnoli; he arrived there at 4:39 on a fine summer afternoon, accompanied by US secretary of State Dean Rusk, Italian president Antonio Segni and Italian prime minister Giovanni Leone. He gave a short speech reaffirming US commitment to the defense of Europe. He quoted Shelly's lines that "Italy is a paradise of exiles" and said how greatly he appreciated this paradise in his own brief exile from Washington.

He then returned to the airport by car, a black Lincoln convertible with the top-down. This photo (from il Mattino) is one of the classic shots of the president's car moving through the city. (The other person standing is Italian president, Segni.) It shows the president's car moving through a dense throng of onlookers along via Caracciolo, the seaside road between Mergellina harbor and the city. In terms of security, it was a nightmare.

Delirious Neapolitans crowded around the car. One man actually tried to leap into the car to hug the president. At one point, someone threw a bouquet of flowers that landed in front of the vehicle. Kennedy had the driver stop so the flowers could be retrieved and so he could wave them at the crowd. He was all smiles and so was the city. It was a fine summer afternoon.

And this nice update: A reader sent me this archive video of JFK's speech. It is wonderful to hear his cadence and emphasis . . . and NO teleprompter either. Just the printed speech before him.

Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK 1963 - a reporter's memories

1963 - Larry Ray, KLRN-TV &  KUT-FM Newscaster, Austin, Texas
We all have memories burned into our minds about where we were and what we were doing on that Friday, November 22, 1963 when we learned that President Kennedy had been shot. 

Many learned of it while listening to the radio, which was how most folks got their breaking news in those days.  I had just finished a class on the campus of The University of Texas in Austin and walked outside to find a girl sitting on the sidewalk, her books strewn around. I thought she might have fallen and I stopped to ask if she was OK. She looked up, eyes swollen from crying, and simply said, "They shot him." I asked who had been shot and she answered with bewildered anger, "Kennedy ... they have shot the President!" 

Then I looked up and could see groups of students, just stopped in their tracks staring, some sitting on the grass and hugging their knees and some hugging one another in despair and grief.

I sprinted the hundred yards up the long sidewalk to the University Radio-TV building which housed the studios of KLRN-TV, Channel 9 and the KUT-FM radio studio. KLRN TV was part of the fledgling television network called NET, National Educational Television which in October, 1970, would become the Public Broadcasting Service, PBS, that we know today.

In May of 1963, as a Radio-TV-Film major I had joined KLRN-TV's newly expanded evening newscast as a young student/staff newscaster ... "Anchor" had not yet been coined. KLRN's TV signal had a large Central Texas coverage area around Austin as well as a repeater transmitter covering the San Antonio metro and rural viewing areas. We reached more of Central Texas than any commercial TV station back then.

I had raced to the studio to see what was happening to get both our TV and FM Radio studios up and ready to go live since we did not originate live until later in the afternoon. Literally running onto the building the first thing I saw was a mob of fellow student broadcasters and faculty around our two chattering teletype machines.

Station manager, Bernard "Bernie" Crocker spotted me and waved me over. "Larry we are getting circuits patched up in master control to take live feeds from all the major networks and they are getting the studio lit right now. You need to get your hair combed, put on a tie, grab your suit jacket and get ready to go live out of studio one and break the station to join these Net news feeds."

And for the rest of that day, and around the clock until the following Tuesday, our evening news on-air announcers, news director, Bill Moll, our "Weather Girl," Jann Arbogust, and I rotated on the news set doing intros to the breaking news reports from the major networks and padding with wire copy in between. I also took shifts reading wire copy from the new KUT-FM radio studio which had just been built in the Radio-TV building. We cat-napped in the wee hours but I do not ever remember feeling tired with such a story breaking all around us.

For four and a half days, we literally did not leave the Radio-TV building as the news unfolded in a constant stream ... confirmation of the President's death, Lyndon Johnson's being sworn in aboard "the President's plane" as it was then called, and Oswald's capture, brief detention and his startling murder by Jack Ruby on live TV.

And since there was no instant replay in 1963, for those who had not seen it live, newscasters had to verbally recreate what had happened in all that confusion as Oswald was being transferred in handcuffs when someone lunged at him and a shot rang out.

There were no teleprompters like today and until film from the broadcast scene could be developed and distributed there was lots of padding and speculation by on-air reporters. Videotape recorders were few and far between and finicky to operate. It was seat of your pants live black and white TV in its infancy.

We continued to broadcast live around the clock as a major feeder of network news and local information across Central Texas until we finally just "rode the Net" starting that Tuesday afternoon. By then there were uninterrupted live NBC and CBS feeds of the cortege carrying the President's casket from St. Matthew's Catholic Church following a solemn requiem mass to his final resting place "on an open slope in the Arlington National Cemetery."

An estimated one million people lined the streets in Washington to watch the President pass by for the last time. And millions more watched on TV. I left the studio mid afternoon and went to be with a close friend, and I finally broke from the reporter's discipline and cried with her for the first time as she and I held hands and watched the President's arrival at the cemetery and fought to understand the enormity of what had happened over the past few days.

Now, all of a sudden, it is half a century ago that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Yet while many of my memories have begun to fade, those four and a half days as a young on-air journalist, challenged with reporting this huge, tragic and incredibly sad story still remains clear and detailed in my mind. I wanted to share a bit of it with you.


Monday, November 4, 2013

A One Night Stand . . .the Cereus

With the clatter of a shameful Congress rattling about, concerned principally with the upcoming 2014 reelection races instead of the work of moving the country forward, any bit of beauty and amazement, however transient, becomes even more of a delight.

And my Night Blooming Cereus, a gangly, awkward plant with no symmetry, long, thin rubbery leaves and a mind of its own brought such delight a couple of weeks ago as if to distract from the artificiality of Ted Cruz and the toxic nonsense of other wild cannon Tea Party pronouncements. I share this mysterious and beautiful moment as a break from the clatter.


"This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer." -Will Rogers, humorist (1879-1935)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

John Boehner: Still a Crock


Does Boehner's orange face denote a great tan
somehow the mark of a courageous, fine man
Does the sincerity of his easily produced tears
mean he has truly served for all of these years?

Speaker John just bet it all, simply to keep his job
backing a greenhorn gang, a clueless, ranting mob
So will the losers turn on their now weakened Speaker
And will he again cry, forced to become meeker?

Fabled crocodile tears are not truly felt
but perhaps John's weeping is darkly indwelt
Fear of losing his speaker-ship, now darkly looming
his lachrymal breakdowns will become all consuming.

Will Speaker John Boehner now tread that thin border
between sanity and madness, a narcissistic disorder?
Indeed, Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem
Nah, Boehner's tears are there just to bamboozle 'em!

 Larry Ray
Texas Poet Lariat

Ode, Post Tea Party Standoff Defeat 10/17/2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Debt Ceiling: A GOP Primer

  
When Mr. Bush took office, he inherited a federal budget that had been balanced for three consecutive years and a surplus of $236 billion, the largest surplus in American history. Even sweeter, we were running an on-budget surplus no longer diverting surplus from the Social Security Trust Fund to fund other government programs.

  This conservative largess, of course, came from the previous Democratic administration. The national debt was $5.727 trillion when Bush took office. By September 2008, the national debt had soared to more than $9.849 trillion, an almost 72 percent increase during Mr. Bush’s two terms.

  And those are the debt figures before the basically unregulated, free-for-all banking and financial system received Mr. Bush's $700 billion Wall Street bailout money leaving the biggest increase in the national debt under any president in U.S history as a going away present to the American people.

  Mr. Bush must have erased the collective memory of his record national debt from the minds of the Grand Old Party. And the troublesome new gang of hometown heroes elected to office who are trying to operate like some kind of hostage-taking Tea Party Taliban have tried to shut down the government by refusing to approve extension of the Federal Debt Ceiling limit.

  Most all of these Republicans who rant about "out of control national debt" having no real idea what a debt ceiling is and certainly no idea of how most of those trillions of bucks in debt got racked up . . . on the GOP watch.

  So for our seasoned Republican pols like Speaker Boehner, and especially for the Koch Brothers' shiny new members of Congress, here's a quick review:

  Shortly after taking office, President Bush spoke to the the Republican Congressional Retreat in Williamsburg and blithely declared that his budget would “pay down the national debt."

  President Bush raised the national debt limit eight times during his administration with no notable opposition. Certainly no attempts to take the country hostage on any of the eight occasions when the debt ceiling was raised as a routine act national fiscal procedure.

1.  On July 30, 2008 President Bush signed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, which contained a quiet little provision raising the debt ceiling to $10.615 trillion.

2.  One week before leaving office, Bush asked Congress for the remaining $350 billion of the $700 billion Wall Street Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP bailout package.

3.  That same last week, Bush signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 raising the national debt ceiling for the eighth time to $12.104 trillion to accommodate the $11.3 trillion all time record debt he left the incoming administration.

4.  George W. Bush's $11.3 trillion record debt has cost more than $37,000 each for every man, woman and child in the United States. The cost of cleaning up up after the huge GOP approved debt and near deep depression thus caused has been dealt with by the reasoned leadership of President Obama ... in spite of being stonewalled at every turn by Sen. Mitch McConnell and the entire Republican party.

5,  And we aren't even factoring in cost of the Bush/ Cheney unfunded, off the books, decade long wars. 

  I have found it both bewildering and angering when Republican conservatives, now salted with Tea Party Jabberwockies all lambaste President Obama for the present state of indebtedness as if it was all his fault.

Republicans are ordered to pass these Cliff's Notes around especially to the petulant Tea Party clog.

There will be an exam ... early next year.

( the referenced figures in this piece are all public record, mostly from the Congressional Budget Office ...  Graphic above with apologies to Cliffs Notes - Larry )

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Herd Denial of the Conservative Crisis

Republicans have tightened the blinders they are wearing to keep the realty of their government-crippling intransigence from spooking their whole herd of mulish diehards milling around under their own huge bell jar.

And, unsurprisingly, the old guard conservative commentators like George Will have dusted off their standard boiler plate copy to lay the government's woes at the feet of those whiny "liberal scolds."

A few days ago on NPR's 'Morning Edition' when asked about the Republicans 'short-circuiting' of the government with their refusal to even vote on funding the government and extending the debt ceiling while demanding the dismantling of Obamacare, Mr. Will loftily opined that all of this legislation demonstrates the “bruising, untidy, utterly Democratic” process of changing laws.

In his explanation of that reasoning he said:

“How does this short-circuit the system? “I hear Democrats say, ‘The Affordable Care Act is the law,’ as though we’re supposed to genuflect at that sunburst of insight and move on. Well, the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them.”
Whoa! He suggests that a law providing affordable health care, for the first time in our country's history for millions more Americans should somehow be as easily be changed as the racist Civil War slave-capturing legislation of 1850?

The law was, indeed, a compromise between Southern slave owners and the short lived Free Soil Party made up of Whigs and Democrats who basically wanted to avoid dealing with the moral problems implicit in owning slaves. The law demanded that all runaway slaves were to be captured and returned to their masters.

Abolitionists nicknamed it the "Bloodhound Law" for the dogs that were used to track down runaway slaves. Condemned by true abolitionists, the law was a NIMBY attempt in part to control Northern as well as Western migration of slaves who could just, kinda, maybe become a unified force to eventually be dealt with.

Mr. Will is but one of many strongly biased in their purist Conservative and intellectual realities regarding our Government, and most everything else. They sneer and blame  'Democrat scolds' who would dare stand up for what they believe.

It is more than clear that Mr. Will should encounter his own "sunburst of insight' and move on to the reality of the acidic erosion taking place within his beloved GOP and focus his attentions upon the toxic Tea Party clot who have kidnapped the Speaker of The Republican House and taken our government hostage with their clueless intransigence.

Unlike the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, today's Tea Party scolds are the ones wreaking historic havoc upon our nation in a manner which which no fair or reasonable American will see as simply the  “bruising, untidy, utterly Democratic” process of changing laws.

It is time for an immediate earsplitting "Reality scold" throughout the House and Senate before we crash into what George Will eloquently once described as:
"A nation said to be picnicking on the slope of a volcano, with molten anger bubbling just below its thin and brittle crust ..."


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Meet Activist Trucker-Author Earl Conlon!

This is a big day for Earl Conlon, a truck driver and author because he has gotten a mother lode of free promotion and publicity in this morning's newspapers about his announced Tea Party Trucker roadblock in Washington D.C.

The Huffington Post's breathless headline and story this morning proclaimed:

'Truckers Ride For The Constitution' Plans Beltway Demonstration To Protest Government Shutdown

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of tea party truck drivers is planning a government shutdown demonstration on the Capital Beltway that rings Washington. "Truckers Ride For The Constitution" -- known as "Truckers To Shutdown America" before their original Facebook page was shut down -- plans to clog the Interstate 495 inner loop from Oct. 11 to Oct. 13. The truckers said they hope to create enough of a backup on the highway to express their frustration with the "lawlessness" of members of Congress "who refuse to work on behalf of the American people."
All over the web the viral breaking news story ballyhooing a clot of big Tea Party trucks blocking the beltway in a protest being headed by trucker, Earl Conlin, certainly was an attention grabber. So I just had to dig around a bit and try to get to know a little about Earl and his Tea Party truckers.


Seems Earl penned a paperback coffee table sized book about being a trucker and the problems, inequalities, and other trucker woes mostly caused by leftie Democrats that are so familiar to truckers. So with a little looking around I found Earl's book available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and lots of other places for around $30. He wrote it in July of 2008 and had it published by PublishAmerica a Maryland-based print on demand book publisher, often characterized as a publisher of last resort. The on-demand publisher, founded in 1999 has a long history of criticism reportedly including flaky treatment of authors, providing minimal editing (reportedly PublishAmerica accepted an author's manuscript that featured the same 30 pages repeated ten times) and accepting and printing several hoax "sting" manuscripts.

So Earl's "And the Trucks Quit Running" came humming off the digital press and off he went to promote it. On Amazon and B&N the quickie synopsis of the book says,
"Product Description Truckers across the country are being overwhelmed with regulations, outrageous fuel prices, abusive cops and unreasonable laws. Inexperienced drivers are causing accidents on the scales, and havoc in the cities. The stores and shopping centers are bare. People all over are running out of food and fuel. President Coolidge has to find some way to save his country and bring the truckers back to work before it is too late."
This must be a Trucker Time Warp where there are shopping centers and 18-wheelers back in the 1920's! What a concept. So after a little more digging around to see what the author himself might have to say about his book, I found it . . . just as it is printed in a comment reply by Earl on Barnes and Nobel... Earl Conlin's short look at himself, and his unedited writing as well, from 2008:
How this book is becoming reality FAST! I took me 6 years to write this book, and i did all I could to inform people of how we truckers are treated, and how tough it is getting to make a living driving a truck. and In current times our Goverment is pushing threw policys that do not help any one in any type of work except goverment. they are surely making my Book BECOME REALITY. 
I strongly advise people to not only read my book but you should also read MARK LEVIN's Liberty and Tranny after reading MARK LEVINS book you will see how my book is becoming reality. 
Thank you Earl Conlon
An even closer look at Earl and his Trucker admirers who may be fueling up for the trip to the Beltway comes from their book review comments left on Amazon and B&N like this insightful bit from porchpuppy:
customer review by porchpuppy on Amazon: Feb 11, 2009 Finally, a story about trucking!! i think this book is really good, it really tells it like it is. i'm a truckdriver and folks, you have no idea how close the happenings in this book are to becoming reality....prepare, people! this could be for real, don't get left behind!!!
And Earl's hard work selling his book at truck stops garnered this comment:
You never know who you'll meet in a truck stop I was recently laid over in a Truck stop in Augusta georgia and had the pleasure to meet the author and bought his book from him. I had forgotten to bring some books from home and the truck stop had none for sale. This book is a great first effort for Mr. Conlon and covers a topic which most people would never think about, especially those unfamiliar with the trucking industry. It kept me glued to my seat while I read it and it had a good plot and strong likable characters. It had a surprise ending which I didn't like but that was the choice of the author. I am looking forward to his next effort.
That is quite a mental image of the driver in Georgia glued to his seat ... certainly he wasn't driving while reading Earl's book.

Finally, a couple more comments from Earl's readers which sure give us a look at the Tea Party Trucker mindset and how they could be easily motivated to come on up to Washington to get Obama impeached and Polosi and all those other commie leftie politicians outta there, get the Constitution back in order, and all that other stuff Earl was talking about!
Finally, a story about trucking!! i think this book is really good, it really tells it like it is. i'm a truckdriver and folks, you have no idea how close the happenings in this book are to becoming reality....prepare, people! this could be for real, don't get left behind!!!
And this final critique from "..a person reading it"  that about says it all  . . .
This Book Is A Good Book For Anyone Earl Conlon hit the nail right on the head. I think every single person in the entire United States of America needs to read this book. My husband and I are truck drivers and if all of us "truckers" followed what is written in the book (we are all treated like what's written in it all ready), we would probably all be in much better shape than we have been in years. As a person is reading it, it really could become reality. And I think that would be awesome. It's getting to that point now. 

Earl, this is for you.....it was absolutely fantastic!! I LOVED it!! Great job!! Thumbs up. Keep ' coming!!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Stinky Politics and an Old Texas Expression . . .



  Speaker of the House, John Boehner, is hanging tough as his Tea Party Republicans have forced a reckless government shutdown in a mad ploy to make President Obama negotiate cuts to his historic health care plan.
Days into the shutdown, the Tea Party Sect of the Republican Party continues to be generally ornery and intractable while the shutdown has forced thousands of workers to be laid off and massive work stoppages to domino across our country. There already has been incalculable economic loss and damage worsens daily.

Speaker Boehner, in full dudgeon on the Sunday ABC News program “This Week,” proclaimed, “The fact is, this fight was going to come one way or another.”

Well, after picking that fight with a lose-lose argument based totally on stinky politics Boehner has found himself backed into a corner, and that stink is already rubbing off on him.

Mr. Boehner, who hails from Reading, Ohio where the local vernacular may be a little tamer than it is in Texas, is trying to get President Obama into what is colorfully referred to in the Lone Star state as a “skunk pissing contest.” Well, you wouldn't get in a pissing contest with a skunk, and neither will the President.

That malodorous metaphor aptly applies to the hard line mindset of a small clot of clueless conservatives in the Republican Party who have been all reared up and spraying away at just about everything recently. And of course there aren't any winners in that kind of fetid fight.

They are so busy producing a gagging yellow cloud over the Capitol they have blocked the view in the U.S. House and are holding hostage a vote on the regular yeoman legislative responsibilities of approving a new budget and adjusting the debt ceiling.

This has routinely been done for decades to allow established Federal accounting protocol to pay the debts racked up with Congressional approval. Debts which will come due in just a few days. Interestingly, there was no Republican ruckus when George W, Bush raised the debt ceiling eight times during his two terms in office.

Meanwhile the government has been brought to a standstill and the threat to our international political and economic standing could not come at a worse time because America has been showing steady upward progress out of a long recession.

But we have been forced here before, suffering national hostage taking by recalcitrant Republicans.

How could we ever forget Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning, when in March 2010 he popped up from the back benches of the Senate and righteously proclaimed, “We cannot keep adding to the debt. It’s over $14 trillion and going up fast.” And, exercising a rarely used Senate procedure, he singlehandedly blocked a bill that would have extended unemployment benefits for thousands, and also forced a stop on the extension of the Highway Trust Fund for 30 days.

This resulted in the furloughing of 2,000 federal workers and a tidal wave of other work stoppages.

Bunning spitefully held things up causing a huge expensive mess until he eventually relented in the face of strong peer pressure. In the last of months of his tenure as a U.S. Senator he saw his approval rating fall to 28% back home in Kentucky. He lashed out at his fellow Kentucky Senator, then Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, calling him a “control freak” among other things.

With his approval ratings in the dumper, Bunning ultimately did not run for reelection and backed an outsider, Rand Paul, for his Senate seat. Paul won and now keeps the requisite crankiness going as a new Kentucky Senator.

This little refresher from just a few of years ago should bring back even more memories of the first real example of Tea-Party-fueled conservatism which almost caused a government shutdown in April, 2011.

Literally at the 11th hour was there an agreement on a cobbled together temporary budget halting the shutdown. But great damage had already been caused by the mere thought of the United States defaulting. The agreement did nothing to solve the nation's debt and deficit woes, and it didn't solve any of the non-spending problems either.

Today's ideological, clueless newbie Tea Partiers seem to have no idea what their Blitzkrieg approach to politics is doing to the country, and worse, they don't seem to care about approval ratings and certainly have no use for rational give and take.

First thing they must do is to stop the skunk pissing contests, clear the air and then maybe Boehner can find some copies of "Legislating for Dummies" to hand out to his new buddies.

Then as a courtesy to the rest of the U.S. House, they might try bathing in catsup using a stiff scrub brush to get the stink off of them. It worked on my dog after he got too close to one of those ornery varmints.

Graphic montage by Larry Ray

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Terrorism of Ignorance



   At the heart of the madness that has shut down full function of our Government is plain old home grown ignorance and no small amount of right wing heartburn from a twice elected black President of the U.S.A.

   Those once ranting the loudest against Obama and demon Government back in their local barber shops and social gatherings have been enabled by the largesse of the Koch brothers and other vested interests and ultimately elected as U.S. representatives of their local gerrymandered fiefs.

   Now, with no real idea of national politics, rational debate or other basics, they have packed up their anger and their ignorance and moved into paneled offices in our nation's Capitol.

   How do the 30-some-odd newbie zealots at the heart of this mini fission reaction taking place in the aging GOP reactor be made to see the damage they are doing? Or must we actually suffer a full national meltdown and long lasting damage to our country before some rational Republican leadership stops this?

   There clearly seem to be no statesmen left up there to deal with this vapid Congress and its shameful game of hostage-taking political chicken. Ultimately they must all eat crow.

   The heartburn may, or may not back off a little in 2016.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Special Scrooge Greeting This Year

   
  Senator Ted Cruz, the freshman senator from Texas has not shut his mouth since he was sworn in eight months ago. And the United States Senate has never had such an upstart elbowing his way to the podium, constantly showing up on TV and on-line espousing his narrow scorched earth proposals. 

We all have suffered a ranting old hard line relative thundering his way through family gatherings. But Cruz is only 43 years old. Born of a Cuban father and an American Mother in Alberta, Canada, he claims the Latino half of his origins. 

Though he was an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Texas school of law in Austin you would never know it. His is in no way objective, and clearly is a wholly partisan Tea Party conservative extremist of the worst sort.

His logic is self serving and skewed to the extreme far right. Cruz is quite willing to drag the whole nation into fiscal default by forcing a governmental shutdown unless he gets his way.

Particularly odious are his demands that we vote to balance the nation's debt by doing away with the new Affordable Health Care act, cutting life saving governmental assistance to feed hungry children, slashing food stamps, closing rural public health clinics, and a whole litany of other appalling Republican and Tea Party objectives. 

It occurred to me that when a flash-in-the-pan political pariah like Cruz shamelessly seeks to even worsen things for our neediest Americans, his extreme Scrooge-like views should have a memorable moniker. 

So as we approach the  holiday season, I invite you to wish all those who would use their political or high social positions to neglect and harm the most vulnerable among us in the name of debt reduction,  a very, "Merry Cruzmass!" I even designed a greeting card you may copy and email to them or post on Facebook! 




                  Graphic by Larry Ray 2013                                Photo by Brenda Ann Kenneally - AmericanPoverty.org

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Macho Male Marketing: It All Depends

Tony Siragusa, protector of leaky manhood!

American Television advertising has reached a new high, or low, in blustering pitchman doublespeak. 

The first time I saw the beginning of this thirty second TV spot, I hit the channel-change button because of the loud, irritating fat dude with the real tough Jersey accent. He is wearing a XXXX size logo sweatshirt and barks at the camera standing in his imaginary sports locker room supposedly like a tough coach. I had no idea what he was selling, I just wanted to get away from his grating macho snarl. No luck. The spot had been bought in the same time slot on all three major network news channels.

Full disclosure: I am a diehard NFL New Orleans Saints fan but the name Tony Siragusa didn't immediately ring a bell. Checking back, in the 1990's when Tony was a defensive tackle for the Ravens he was fined ten grand for an illegal hit on Raiders QB Rich Gannon in the 2000 AFC title game. The big guy helped the Ravens to their first Super Bowl in 2001 when they beat the Giants, and then Tony retired from football and took his identity as a real bad ass with him.

After retirement from the NFL most players usually have to keep working. So with his naturally explosive, threatening Jersey-speak he landed a role in the HBO hit, "The Sopranos" as tough guy Frankie Cortese, Tony Soprano's driver and bodyguard.

He also had a role in the movie "25th Hour" as a Ukrainian Mobster. No longer wearing shoulder pads, Tony was still making a living off being a big, mean, loud dude. Even as a Fox Sports NFL sideline announcer, Siragusa has a challenging edge to his old-pro commentary.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Tony hit the airwaves again having been sucked into an ad-agency vortex of bad ideas, flawed focus groups and a puzzling double-speak advertising concept. With great fanfare, Tony is now a spokesperson for Depend disposable absorbent male urinary incontinence underwear pads ... though he doesn't tell you that. Instead, Tony barks his lines about "protecting your manhood" as easily, and illogically as if he were reciting the first stanza of The Jabberwocky.

Urinary incontinence happens most of the time because of a treatable medical condition but men commonly under-report this problem to their doctor.  Being unable to control one's bladder is not at all uncommon but it can be an embarrassing problem. Examples can be as simple as just occasionally leaking urine after sneezing or coughing, or can be as serious as getting an urge to urinate so suddenly that there is not time to get to a toilet.

Urinary incontinence is clearly a medical problem which has nothing whatsoever to do with the one's "Manhood." But Tony's macho ad makes it clear that peeing your pants is a sign of being a wimp.

I later caught the end of Tony's locker room pep talk with its tag line inviting men to go to "guardyourmanhood.com" for more information. There's an internet address for you.  Guard your manhood by wearing absorbent skivvies? Are we under attack by some gender stripping macho munching virus? I went to guardyourmanhood.com only to be re-directed to the Depend adult diaper web site, and Tony's really tacky home page.

Tony is selling real men "Guards" or "Shields" that sort of resemble the rigid sports cup athletes wear to protect their genitalia. But Tony's cups runneth over, on purpose, because they are adhesive absorbent pads that soak up errant urine leakage. The "Guards" apparently soak up more than the "Shields."

Tony's web site scrolls down and down with a series of individual tutorial videos that could have been written for a Saturday Night Live skit. But Tony isn't joking around. He starts out in the first one showing a frilly basket of absorbent pads for women, which look similar to the male underwear pads he is selling. 

As if he was talking to 12 year olds in a pee-wee football squad he growls, "Ladies have their own stuff! This is for girls, not for you!" then Tony violently throws the sissy basket of  "girl stuff" across the room. 

He then turns to two neutral gray cardboard boxes, one with an orange stripe and a larger one with a green stripe. "This is for guys! This is made for men! You don't see any pink do you?" I swear, those are the exact lines he gruffly delivers.

Never is male urinary incontinence mentioned directly. Instead the introduction to Tony's training videos in his "locker room" starts with, 
"So you got some leaks? No big deal. Millions of guys deal with the same thing. Tony Siragusa is here to help you learn how to Guard your Manhood. Step One: Reclaim your bathroom. After that, get to know Guards and Shields for Men."
Leaks in the bathroom? So far this guy ain't giving you any real clues to what this is all about so maybe he's a plumber. He looks like one and fixing the commode would make it possible to reclaim the bathroom.

This almost comical advertising idea and Siragusa's delivery at perhaps a fourth grade comprehension level makes one wonder how any of this can seriously communicate with mature men suffering urinary incontinence ... which is only referred to in this ad tutorial as "leaks." Other slicker, more mature pages on the Depend site are clear and concise about the problem, so what is this mad approach trying to accomplish?

Tony's on-line training camp internet home page is laid out like a discount store closeout newspaper ad. It is plastered with tacky clip art touts to, "Click Here!" - "Chat Online" - "Watch The Commercial!" and "Meet Tony" offers. They even will send you "Free Samples!"

Don't miss this advertising gem before it is discontinued. Click anywhere on the "Scroll Down to Start Your Training" symbol below to go right to Tony's home page. You gotta see this to believe it. Watch all his individual "training" videos . . . they get worse as he goes along.

My favorite in his videos is when he, with no apparent motivation,  turns to a glass-covered framed frilly, colorful floral print on the wall of his locker room, yanks it off, smashes it on the floor and hangs a pair of boxing gloves on the nail to reinforce his macho mandate. This is true golden snicker-time stuff. Pass it around!



Graphics from Kimberly-Clark Depends web site.