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 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 -

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 "" 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 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.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

America's Right to Love and Marry : Picking the Fly Specks out of the Pepper

There's a problem when the stars and stripes exclude some Americans forcing them to have their own flag

It would seem reasonable that most folks could agree that no person decided to be born with red hair, or with a club foot, or as a prodigy, or with black skin or white skin, or as a government issue "normal" person. An embryo doesn't get to decide that kind of stuff.

So, when a male and a female produce a child, how much does their genetic material, their parenting and environment have to do with that child's eventual sexual orientation? And if the kid is homosexual are the parents OK with that kid eventually living like a second class citizen in America?

Prior to the Middle Ages we don't hear much about homosexual acts other than they seem to have been accepted with no big problem back then even by the Christian Church. But the Renaissance of the 12th Century saw a birth of intellectual revitalization and a steady growth of open hostility against homosexuals. This vilification was taken up and quickly spread through the Christian church and also into secular organizations.

The normative characteristics of human sexuality have been debated probably since homo erectus learned to talk. In the late 1600's the most influential of the so-called Enlightenment thinkers, John Locke, argued that the mind is a "tabula rasa" or blank slate and that the environment in which a child is raised determines its sexuality. In the early 1900's Sigmund Freud's papers on sexuality ultimately held that sexual drives are instinctive and a central source of personality.  And in recent years most researchers ask whether either of those ideas ever had much merit whatsoever.

What has never changed is the fact there have always been people born who  have a sexual attraction to their own sex, and that has always seemed to others to be rather, well, queer.

So by the end of the 19th century in addition to long having been being labeled a sin by the Church, homosexuality also became viewed as a deviant mental disorder. And it was not until 1986 that the American Psychiatric Association finally completely removed the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

And now not quite 30 years after that milestone, The Supreme Court has finally heard two sets of oral arguments regarding same-sex marriage. One argument basically deals with the Constitutionality of the 1996 Federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, and the other whether California's Proposition 8 can single out any group of people and prevent them from being legally married in that state.

But in both instances the arguments don't come right out and talk about  homosexuality itself. Instead, the arguments are about marriage, both religious and secular. The Christian church makes a singular claim to marriage as a sacred and crucial part of the religious life of their adherents and their definition of marriage can only be between a man and woman. Anything else and Leviticus is loudly quoted.

Section 3 of The Federal Defense of Marriage Act codifies the non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors' benefits, immigration, and the filing of joint tax returns. Not recognizing same-sex marriage is Federal law.

President Clinton, under whose administration DOMA was created and passed, now says same-sex marriages should be just like any other marriage. Clinton and a number of other elected career politicians have recently disavowed DOMA and called for its repeal ... but since 1996 none of them have stepped up and done anything to see that it is, in fact, repealed.

President Obama has simply dodged the issue by saying Section 3 is unconstitutional, but that he would still continue to enforce the law, however ... that he would no longer defend it in court. No profile in courage here. More like the statement of a Lewis Carroll character from Alice in Wonderland.

Reaffirming their blatant discrimination and clearly indicating strong opposition to same-sex marriage, the U.S. House Republican leadership quickly instructed the House General Counsel to defend the The Defense of Marriage Act in place of the Department of Justice.

Public opinion polling now shows consistently that around 58% of the country supports homosexuals marrying one another. And their message is that this should not be such a big deal.

The trend in a 2012 Mercer survey of employee health benefits shows "about half, or 47% of employers with more than 500 workers made health coverage available to same-sex domestic partners, with large employers it’s even more prevalent, with figures in the 60-75% range."

So imagine America's politicians, particularly conservative Republicans now in a 2014 election minefield, where not voting to finally recognize homosexuals as equal to all other Americans might cost them votes back home.

Conservative Judges on the Supreme Court are literally stewing and sputtering as they question attorneys speaking in support of same sex marriage.  And attorneys questioning the Court  about the issue of alienating a group of citizens from the institution of marriage brought forth not answers but more questions as answers.

Justice Scalia replied, asking, " ... when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage?" clearly indicating Scalia's view that society has always excluded homosexuals. And Justice Alito lightly commented that same-sex marriage is “newer than cell phones and the Internet,” suggesting that perhaps all of a sudden homosexuals just up and decided they want the same rights as every other American citizen. Risible and disappointing evasion from the high court.

The U.S. Supreme Court's position on marriage was once crystal clear when it came to a black marrying a white. That meant a prison sentence in many states if a white man married a black woman or vice versa. That law stayed on the books for 84 years until a case was brought before the Supreme Court in 1967 by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in the State of Virginia for marrying each other.

After the Loving case was championed by Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, and the ACLU, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court overturned the 1883 Supreme Court ruling which had affirmed that Alabama's anti-miscegenation statute was constitutional.

It was overturned after 84 years of a court approved, hate-defined prohibition of blacks and whites to marry. The law clearly was finally struck down because of the Civil Rights act of 1964 ... and then only because Mr. and Mrs Loving filed suit for the right to legally love one another and marry.

Yet in 2013, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women still does not seem to apply to homosexuals. Those American citizens  whom the Catholic and Protestant Christian churches define as sinners, are not allowed to legally marry with all rights and benefits guaranteed by the Federal government. It is fair to ask if Church and State are indeed separated in this case?

What the Supreme Court and our politicians are doing is what in Texas we call "picking the fly specks out of the pepper," an earthy expression meaning delaying, ridiculously arguing, failing to act through use of excuses or plain old  bullheadedness.

Same sex marriage poses no more threat to our society than black folks who were not allowed to sip a soda at Walgreens did. We have mostly gotten over the ugliness of our racist American past.

Now it is time to also end the hate and judgmental exclusion that still makes it illegal for some folks in America to get married to the person they love.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Jaron Lanier and "digital Maoism"

JARON LANIER - Photo by Robert Holmgren for Smithsonian Magazine January 2013

Internet visionary and guru, Jaron Lanier, was central to the early development of the faster, more capable Web 2.0, which enlivened the World Wide Web and made possible the eventual virtual interconnection of everyone to everything ... instantly. 

But Lanier, who is sought after worldwide as a lecturer, high octane teacher and consultant, has now become a "defector." He is severe critic of the dangers of burgeoning social media like Facebook, Twitter and similar instant sharing enablers which he labels as "spy agencies."

These addictive apps encourage the propagation of every thought, photo, video or whim from people who blithely post and forward potentially damaging personal information which is then mined and sold to be marketed, stored and available for eons in the social media "Cloud."

All this has developed what Lanier now calls "the hive mind" which he warns will become a "social catastrophe." After reading a recent interview of Lanier in Smithsonian Magazine* and discussing it with friends, a few thoughts have come to me.

We have, in fact, already watched the development of Lanier's "hive mind" in the last two years or so as malcontent, poorly informed, angry, non-intellectually curious, and fearful "wanna-bees" have been fed the nectar of nonsense, nonstop. 

Energizing but artificially sweet flowers, trees and grasses were quietly planted and brought to bloom by the billionaire Koch brothers whose well paid worker bees then spread out to do intricate cyber-bee dances across America to  waiting wanna-bee colonies.

The wanna-bee hives are uniformly narrow, have a reddish tinge and are easy to identify. The messenger bees did their wireless waggle dance to indicate the direction and amount of Koch nonsense nectar to all the narrow interconnected, and like-thinking wanna-bee hives. 

Once all fattened on the free Koch nonsense-nectar, the wanna-bees didn't even notice as the Koch smoke was also slowly being blown up their apian arses.

In an astonishingly short period of time the idealistic and ignorant worker wanna-bees were stocking their hives and providing their queen wanna-bees not only with nonsense-nectar but with their discovery of a the new artificially sweetened, free wireless high speed connections to the buzz from all the other hives. 

All this nourishment and new social interconnection was courtesy of the calculating Koch brothers, though few of the wanna-bees had ever heard of them. Now all queen bees could coordinate the coming swarms across their states. And when the swarms began with the wanna-bees adopting, curiously, tea bags as their rallying symbol, the nation's TV camera crews swarmed after them.

Now, it seemed, the wanna-bees for the first time in their lives were able to buzz and be heard far and wide. Some of them were actually able to deliver an occasional sting from their normally vestigial stingers. It had cost the Koch brothers  hundreds of millions of dollars but they had finally started the swarm they had long dreamed of right from their own exclusive titan hive of contrarian apians.

The vast social networking interconnections among the wanna-bees soon became a threat to the balance of the long standing nectar chain feeding the head hive located inside the unmistakable huge marble dome up near the Potomac river.

The "hive mind" had been born. Now everyone could potentially have their own bully pulpit. It was easy and empowering to rant, obfuscate, delay, confuse and frustrate others with a flap of a wing ... or the click of a mouse key. The sense of order and government as we had always know it, was already being threatened by an early form of Lanier's feared "digital Maoism."

And the cranky Koch creation was abuzz with a large hive of wanna-bees already gnawing off tiny pieces of the Constitution, laboring busily, using their bitter saliva to glue those pieces together so to form their own huge, narrow mega-hive up near the Potomac.

But the central life-giving nonsense nectar source would slowly become harder and harder to find as the seasons changed. The bright blooms covering the Koch brothers' groves and meadows seemed to disappear as quickly as they had appeared. Nonsense-nectar, it seems, almost always comes only from annuals not perennials.

However, wanna-bees will now still always be able to find something or someone to feed them, but perhaps not quite  as bountifully. At least it is much easier to find and share their beloved nonsense-nectar with established wanna-bee hives which are now all interconnected and abuzz, all in a twitter, day and night.

Some of the queen wanna-bees are already laying eggs double time in preparation for another planned mega swarm just two years from now.

The coming "social catastrophe" Lanier describes already seems to be faintly visible through that seemingly innocent, sweet smoke.

*READ Smithsonian Magazine interview