The Dust Journals – Part XIII

Thursday, March 17, 2157

So what sent me over the edge over a week ago? I have it on my lap: a book called Titans.

That Saturday I remember getting up early and going outside for a walk. It was already hot, so I didn’t stay outside for long. I’ve spent so little time outside since arriving at the desal plant that I forgot what reality felt like. The building is well air-conditioned. Back inside, I drifted as I often did to the library.

That’s where I found Titans.

I had heard about the book about when it first came out, about 30 years ago. It was published in Europe. Copies made it stateside after a fashion. Most things get here only after a fashion. No one concerns themselves about the fate of also-rans. I knew what it was about, and just avoided it. Others denounced it as garbage. I laughed at that shit. I did not engage, but I laughed hard at their defensiveness.

Titans. Giants. Larger than life demigods. Every era has had them. Carnegie and Rockefeller. Ford and Edison. Gates and Jobs. Bezos and Zuckerman. Every era.

The titans of this book were singled out as the main perpetrators of The Change. They made water a sacred word and scarce commodity. They made the oceans rise. They made the world get hotter. They made the plants die. They made the storms stronger and more violent. They did it by doing what they had always done: build their businesses bigger and better and faster and richer than any business ever in the history of mankind. They made those latter-day demigods I mentioned earlier look like nothing.

They destroyed everything, so the story goes.

In time I got defensive about it, too, even as I laughed at those who protested the book’s publication. I wanted it both ways. Yes, I admit that a class of people existed who fomented The Change. I just disagreed that my great-granddad was one of them.

Whenever I’m confronted with reality – like seeing how the Bay swallowed up most of Berkeley and Oakland – my love/hate relationship with him festers. That’s when the voices occur. The more I rationalize his actions, the worse the voices get. I get apologetic. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. But I can never say it enough.

So I was in the library, looking at this book, not reading it, not even touching it, just looking at it. Its mere presence triggered the voices. Murderer. Killer. Assassin. Hitler. Hitler. Hitler. You’re worse than Hitler.

No, I said, not me. I’m not part of that world. I divorced myself from that world.

They don’t believe me and scream louder. Murder. Killer. Assassin. Hitler.

I lapsed into the I’m sorrys, tearfully pleading with them to leave me alone. But I can’t say it enough to appease them. I never can.

Sans pills, I found no other defense than taking my own life. And that’s what I tried. It wasn’t the first time. To understand this, you need a lesson on bogo.

Many fanciful theories exist to explain the word’s origin. I subscribe to this one:

Bogo is a corruption of pogo, as in pogo stick. When you dance bogo, you jump up and down in one place, as if on a pogo stick, so it fits.

An extension of this theory claims that the bogo dance actually came from the Pago Pago Islands. The natives from that island devised the dance as a street theater protest against The Change. You see, they would jump up and down to get above the rising waters and gasp for air, so the story goes.

It was all probably an urban legend. I never wanted to believe it, though in my heart I probably did.

Whether it was true or not, us dryfoots on the mainland adopted the dance as a nihilist battle cry. In clubs that played bogo, they constructed a false ceiling that was maybe a bit over six feet off the floor. If you jumped hard enough, you’d smash your head through it. Kids would go all night, smashing their heads through the plaster and light timber, until they passed out. Even the Catholic Church never came up with a self-flagellation that severe.

My folks did not allow me to go to bogo clubs. That’s why I ended up trashing my room. I didn’t hit my head through the high ceilings. I hit it against the wall a few times instead.

That was my first attempt. I didn’t get very far. I felt so stupid that I just ended up trashing my room. This time, though, I felt more determined. Instead of smashing my head through the wall or against the bookcases of the library, I hit it against the floor, repeatedly.

Walter found me before I did any real damage, though I’m sure I became mildly concussed.

When I came to a couple of days later, I told him about my great-granddad, about the voices. He said that he had a great-granddad, too, that we all did.

I told him that he didn’t understand. I came from money. Lots and lots of money. I could have lived my life up in Toronto or on the Great Slave Lake or any of the other A zoned areas in the north, in complete luxury. I chose not to, I said.

Don’t forget, he said, I chose to live here. I’ve also heard voices.

That’s when I cried. I had never met any other person who heard voices like I had. I swear, all these years that I was the only one. I’m 57, and I thought I was the only one.

No, he said, you are not.

I told him about my fascination with postwar Germany. I wanted to learn how they dealt with guilt.

It took time, he said. They didn’t deal with it right away, he said. They had folks that held up mirrors, like Fassbinder, who forced the issue. Today, he said, we are all isolated, even those in the A-zones. Our culture is too fragmented, detached from itself.

I don’t want to live in that fantasyland, he said. It’s better to know the voices, recognize them for what they are.

He still wanted to show me what he wanted to show me. It would put everything into perspective, he said.

But only, he added, when you are ready.

The Dust Journals – Part XII

Friday, March 11, 2157

Walter is so wonderful.

Most of my life, the people I’ve encountered don’t give a damn about anything but their immediate existence. They have no time for anything else, especially other people’s complex emotions.

I’ve lived most of my life, most of my adult life, among this class, 22nd century hunter-gatherers. We don’t stay in one place for very long. And when we do, we form only superficial communities, like back at the arroyo. Folks were pleasant enough, but we stayed in our silos. In reality, we don’t have time for our own complex emotions much less anyone else’s.

Walter is different. He doesn’t have to hunt or gather. He has stayed in one place for a long time, here at the desal plant.

Great Granddad used to say that he never had a problem in his life that he couldn’t solve with a few buddies and a good stiff drink at his favorite bar. He said that was the secret to life, implying that I should follow his example. Let’s dissect this advice.

We don’t have a few good buddies, those of us stuck in C-zones and D-zones. We follow the water. We have to be first in line to get the water. When you’re constantly fighting for first place, you don’t tend to form many lasting relationships. You may form temporary alliances, to further your own gains. Great-Granddad said he and his best friend had known each other for over 60 years, until they started dying off. I can’t think of anyone I’ve stayed in touch with for more than six.

Hunter-gatherers establish no roots. Business cannot afford so fickle a population. So there are no bars in C- and D-zones. Therefore, if I had a few good buddies, we’d have no place to get plastered.

Great-Granddad used to go on a tear about people who “claimed” they had to choose between paying the bills and buying food. He called that bullshit. That was not a reality he knew or could fathom. And for a while, I couldn’t fathom it either, when I was a kid.

As an adult, it has become my reality.

In my world, the vagrant world of C- and D-zones, you either drink the water, or bathe with it, or wash your clothes with it, or water the plants you hoped one day would feed you with it. You cannot do all four at once. The ration was always too low.

We have no friends and we have no bars. We just have the either/or choices associated with survival.

Walter, though, he belongs to a different era. I could see him running a bar or being someone’s drinking buddy. He tells me not to be hard on myself.

I told him about the voices. He said he has them, too. And I cried.

From Selma to Black Lives Matter

After the first instance of racially motivated violence during Selma, I wanted to start shouting “Black Lives Matter.” I held my tongue, so as not to disturb others in the theater. But I wondered if others in the audience saw the obvious connections between the racial violence of 50 years ago and the violence we’ve witness in the last year. As the credits rolled, I got my answer. Some folks in the back began chanting “Black Lives Matter.” I felt satisfied. And then something fascinating happened. I noticed a man in the row ahead of me with a distinct sneer on his face as he looked back towards the chanters. It wasn’t just that he looked bothered. His face curled into an almost identical expression of hatred displayed by the white racist characters in the movie. Why did he cop such a look? The chanting could not have disturbed his movie viewing. The film was over.

I didn’t talk to the man, so I have no idea what was going through his head, but a thought went through mine. Maybe he didn’t get the connection between the events in the film and the Black Lives Matter protests happening today. The incongruity made him angry.

How so? Let’s try to connect the dots. The Selma March belongs to history. It was a seminal part of the Civil Rights Movement. A national hero, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led it. The film depicted peaceful black folks from all walks of life, from the elderly to the young, marching for the right to vote, and being brutalized as a result. Moviegoers reacted with revulsion to a reenactment of these events, just as TV viewers did 50 years ago watching the real thing. The racism depicted was obvious, crude.

Today, for some, things are more complicated. When we hear about an unarmed black man or woman being killed by a police officer, shades of doubt enter many people’s heads. Today, society has deified the police to the point where their motives are rarely questioned, examined, or properly investigated. Similarly, the killed unarmed black person automatically falls under suspicion. This inevitably leads to the kneejerk conclusion that s/he must have deserved it either because they were guilty of something or because they escalated the situation by not obeying the police properly. Furthermore, the person killed wasn’t serving a higher purpose, like marching for civil rights. Thus, they do not possess the unimpeachable aura of innocence attached to demonstrators from the Civil Rights era. To someone with this mindset, it’s not only ludicrous to compare the two events – Selma and Black Lives Matter protests – it’s actually blasphemous.

Maybe this explains why the man sneered so harshly. Blasphemy usually provokes severe reactions. Nonetheless, this way of thinking contains a whole lot of wrong.

One should not need an unimpeachable aura of innocence to warrant humane treatment or due process. This goes for Eric Garner, who sold cigarette illegally as well as for Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who failed to drop his toy gun fast enough – within two seconds – before police shot him to death. Police killed both of them by escalating their encounters with these individuals and by forgetting that they were human beings, contrary to everything preached, marched, fought, and died for 50-plus years ago. The Civil Rights Movement had but one message at its core: Black folks are people, too. In other words, Black Lives Matter.

Black Live Matter if you’re going out to get Skittles. Black Lives Matter if you’re riding BART on New Year’s Eve. Black Lives Matter even if you had just robbed a liquor store. The sad fact remains that if any of these instances had involved white men instead of black men, the men would likely have survived their encounters with the police. Racial bias exists today as it did 50 years ago.

The movie showed a dramatization of the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson. In the film, Jimmie Lee is with his family at a night march, when the lights suddenly go out and police charge after the protesters. Jimmie Lee and his family escape and hide in a diner. The police find and beat them. Jimmie Lee tries to protect his elderly father when one officer takes out his gun and shoots him dead. The dramatization stays largely true to the facts of the killing, with one exception. Jimmie Lee did not die instantly, but two days later in hospital. He was 26 years old.

The policeman who shot him, James Bonard Fowler, claimed self-defense, saying that Mr. Jackson was trying to get to his gun. Sounds familiar? Fowler did not get indicted for the murder until 2007, 42 years later. He still claimed self-defense all those years later, but pled guilty in a plea bargain deal to involuntary manslaughter and spent six months in jail. Sounds quite familiar. In 2009, the FBI began investigating Fowler’s possible involvement in the killing of another unarmed black man, Nathan Johnson. In 1966, Mr. Johnson was stopped on suspicion of drunk driving and shot dead during the encounter.

The real blasphemy, as I wrote a while back, is that we still have to say “Black Lives Matter,” 50 years after Selma. The real blasphemy is that the police use the same excuses (“he was reaching for my gun”) to justify the killing of unarmed black folks. The real blasphemy is that people ennoble the Civil Rights Movement, deify it, so that its messages, reasons, and goals can vanish in that never-never land known as the past. It becomes an abstraction, and thus unconnected to similar events occurring today.

Some may sneer at Black Lives Matter chants and protests, but do so at their own peril. For they are sneering at the very people and events they hold so dear from 50 years ago.

Ding Dongs and Twinkies Part 2: Patty Hearst & the Twinkie Murders Through the Eyes of Paul Krassner

The Castro began life as Eureka Valley. A rail line built in 1887 made the area more accessible and a population boom took place. Working class families of Irish, German, and Scandinavian heritage began buying land and building large Victorian houses to serve several generations of their families. Denizens shared a Catholic background and a love of bars – the area had many. This era continued more or less unchanged until after World War II.

“White flight” cleared out the area in the 1950s as families moved to the suburbs. Meanwhile, gay folks had already begun settling into San Francisco, a phenomenon that dates back to before the war. Some were servicemen and women who had been discharged. Many found SF a place of tolerance. Even though California like virtually all states at the time had anti-sodomy laws, San Francisco was like, ‘eh,’ a level of tolerance most folks did not experience at that time. By the 1950s, the City had a growing population of white-collar gays and lesbians. Early guppies. And like all good guppies, they wanted to buy housing. So when “White flight” commenced, a population sat in the wings ready to buy. So began the stereotype of gays improving rundown neighborhoods and increasing property values. Being fabulous pays dividends.

Though the queer community in SF began flexing its muscles as early as the late 1950s and 1960s – back when Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon founded the Daughters of Bilitis and legendary drag queen José Sarria (aka, the Widow Norton) dared to run for the SF Board of Supervisors – acceptance and respect took time. Tolerance only went so far. In this case, no farther than the closet door.

Dan White, the murderer of SF Mayor George Moscone and SF Supervisor Harvey Milk, as Paul Krassner notes in Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials Plus…, represented the stay-in-the-closet-and-keep-quiet segment of the population. He was a young dude when elected to the Board of Supervisors, only 31 years old. But he came from a conservative Catholic background. He was once a police officer then a fireman for the City of San Francisco before going into politics. Both the police and firemen’s unions heavily supported his candidacy.

White, who seemed to like to quit things shortly after starting them, resigned from the Board of Supervisors a short 10 months after being sworn in. Then, he decided he wanted his job back. Moscone initially considered reappointing him, but then was talked out of it by Harvey Milk, among others. So were sown the seeds of bitterness.

Krassner covered the Dan White trial for the SF Bay Guardian. The murders happened not long after the Jonestown massacre. Indeed, Krassner states that San Francisco District Attorney Joe Freitas thought that a People’s Temple hit squad had done the deed. That wasn’t the connection, though Krassner points out other interesting connections between these two seminal events in San Francisco history.

Many who have taken to the streets recently to protest the killing of unarmed black folks by the police have charged that prosecutors will time and again side with the police, thus never charging them with a crime or treating their abuses seriously. We saw it in Ferguson, Missouri and again New York City. By Krassner’s account, such a cozy relationship played a heavy role during the Dan White trial.

The day before the trial began, the Assistant District Attorney slated to prosecute the case was standing in an elevator at the Hall of Justice. He heard a voice behind him speak his name.

‘Tom Norman, you’re a motherfucker for prosecuting Dan White.’

He turned around and saw a half-dozen police inspectors. He flushed and faced the door again. These cops were his drinking buddies, but now they were all mad at him.

Norman had crossed a line: he did not show deferential, blind allegiance to the police, a complaint we’re hearing a lot these days.

In reality, though, his former drinking buddies were being drama queens. Norman presented the prosecution’s case against Dan White so poorly and handled the trial so haphazardly, that the police needn’t have worried. Among other flaws, Krassner points out that Norman failed to highlight indications of premeditation in Dan White’s taped confession. White stated that he decided to see Milk only after having seen Milk’s aide in the corridor. White’s aide Denise Apcar, however, testified that he told her that he wanted to see both Moscone and Milk. Also, Apcar, who drove White to City Hall, let him out at the front entrance. But White went around the corner to go in through an open basement window, to avoid metal detectors. He was packing heat, after all. Krassner identifies obvious clues for premeditation in the case that Norman, for whatever reason, couldn’t.

By contrast, the defense was able to use White’s taped confession to their advantage, presenting their client as a scared but otherwise good little boy who had done something naughty. Writes Krassner:

When the tape was played in court, some reporters wept, including me, along with members of White’s family, spectators, jurors, an assistant D.A. – who had a man-sized tissue box on his table – and Dan White himself, crying both live and on tape simultaneously.

The truth revealed itself for those, like Krassner, who noticed. White’s own wife testified, via a psychiatrist, that her husband had a poor sex drive. How common is it that the weak envy the strong, to the point of wanting to destroy them? Krassner makes this observation. Moscone was perceived to be a lady’s man, with a penchant for African-American ladies. And Milk, of course, was gay. Gays have lots and lots of sex partners. Just ask one. So sexual inadequacy may well have fueled his rage, particularly since he blamed both Moscone and Milk for keeping him from being reappointed to the Board after he resigned.

It was later in the trial that the defense decided to switch reels a bit and declare that their client had a compulsion to eat a lot of sweet stuff whenever he felt stressed, thus causing him to behave in irrational ways. Krassner wrote in his notes “Twinkie defense” and a meme was born. Schmidt, the lead defense attorney, would later deny referencing the famous confection during the trial. But Krassner notes that his psychiatric witness Martin Blinder did. Thus, Dan White became a scared but otherwise good little boy who did something naughty because of a sweet tooth and a sugar rush. Ultimately, the jury bought it. They convicted the naughty little boy of voluntary manslaughter.

Krassner lived near Castro and Market around the time of the trial.

I met Harvey Milk when he ran a neighborhood camera shop, and I watched him developing into the gay equivalent of Martin Luther King. Had he lived, he might have been elected the first gay mayor. But he already envisioned the possibility that he would become a martyr.

The rage expressed at Dan White escaping a murder rap for killing a gay icon was off the chain. Krassner hadn’t intended to cover the aftermath of the trial, what would become known as the infamous White Night Riots. He had been home chilling when a friend called to urge him to go to City Hall, where an angry gay community went on a rampage, smashing police cars and creating havoc. Krassner went. He later called this one of the six dumbest decisions of his life. His description of the police, barricaded inside of City Hall witnessing the chaos, was chilling. Someone waited until the police were fighting mad, and then set them loose. They hit anyone who moved, including, unfortunately, Krassner himself. He attributes his limping walk to the beating he received that night.

Just over a decade later, in October 1989, the SFPD would reenact the White Night Riots in what became known as the Castro Sweep. And I was there. It started as an innocuous ACT UP march from Civic Center to the Castro. It turned into a police take over of the Castro, with police quarantining people inside their homes, inside the bars, inside Different Light, while they marched down Market and then Castro and beat people. I was on top of a newspaper stand, screaming at them to stop beating a friend of mine. An officer calmly asked me to get down, so I got down. He was one of the few cooler heads in the police crowd that evening. Later, as I was walking to the Castro Muni Metro station, one or two officers charged at us, and we ran into the station. Fortunately, they did not pursue us any further. Someone claims that someone on the police force said, “If we can get ACT UP in the Castro, we’ll have won the war.”

And what war would that have been? The war against queer folks? Were they still angry about Dan White? Did they blame gay people for his fall from grace and suicide? Krassner wryly observes that prosecutor Tom Norman “should’ve been grateful the jury had not declared the George Moscone and Harvey Milk were killed in self-defense…” The police clearly had a lot of “blame the gays” attitude, an attitude likely shared by the homophobic Dan White. It’s an attitude that states, in effect, just stay in the closet and you’ll be OK.

Krassner connects the Patty Heart trial and Dan White trial by noting their different outcomes. Patty received a 35-year sentence and was held responsible for her crimes, despite her having been kidnapped, coerced, and brainwashed. Dan White, on the other hand, received only a 7-year sentence for having committed premeditated murder without having been coerced or brainwashed. After reading Krassner’s book, one could say that the establishment achieved the outcome it desired most in both cases.

Plus

The “Plus” in the book title refers to two other chapters. One is an interview with Krassner by Terry Bisson. I liked this chapter a lot and in many ways I wish I had read it first. It has a lighter mood than the two main chapters dealing with the trials, making it a good warm up act.

The next chapter deals with singer/songwriter Michelle Shocked’s performance at Yoshi’s San Francisco (now known as The Addition) in March 2013. Shocked paused her show to adlib about Christians and gay marriage, stating that the beginning of gay marriage in California would bring about the end of days, in the view of many who follow her particular form of Christian belief.

Yoshi’s shutdown her performance prematurely and closed the show after many in the audience walked out. She subsequently lost several gigs after that. Krassner asks the question, “Is Michelle Shocked homophobic?”

The backbone of this chapter is a discussion Krassner had with Shocked on a radio show about the incident. He suggested that perhaps she expressed her satirical observations about born-again fundamentalism and gay marriage to the wrong audience. Having lived in the Castro, covered the trial of gay icon Harvey Milk’s assassin, and suffered crippling abuse at the hands of the police after that trial, Krassner was keenly aware of this community’s sensibilities and history of oppression. Shocked pushed back, saying that she strove to “confound an audience that has grown so self-righteous that they needed a little prick.” Well, maybe.

Good satire, as Krassner writes in this chapter, reveals a “metaphorical extension of the truth.” If Michelle Shocked meant to use satire to confound a self-righteous community, then I don’t think she did an effective job. The only bit in her rant that smacked of tongue-and-cheek was when she asked an audience member to tweet out that she said “God hates fags.” That, to my mind, wasn’t a serious request. The rest of her rant, however, just came across as muddled and confused, like she was in conflict about the issues herself.

But is she homophobic?

Krassner answers this question with nuance at the end of the chapter, a demonstration of the power of satire, an art form he has clearly mastered after many decades of practice. For those who enjoy nuanced observations, and in particular have an interest in 1970s San Francisco history, I highly recommend picking up this book.

Ding Dongs and Twinkies Part 1: Patty Hearst & the Twinkie Murders Through the Eyes of Paul Krassner

Radical left politics went haywire in the 1970s. By that point the big names, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, were long gone. The FBI had decimated the Black Panthers. Anti-Vietnam War protests – and indeed the war itself – had grown nastier, with events like the killing of students at Kent State. The dizzying parade of names and organizations from this era could fill volumes. One group from this time that I’ve never really understood is the Symbionese Liberation Army.

I was too young at the time to know about them or their most infamous event, the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. No doubt my mother, who followed the Watergate hearings religiously, paid closer attention. My only memory of the Watergate hearings was that they preempted my cartoons. Maybe the Patty Hearst trial coverage did, too. I can’t remember. Today, I still watch cartoons, but as an older person with leftist proclivities, I gained a fascination for such things as the Symbionese Liberation Army. I always thought the name sounded goofy. What does “Symbionese” mean? Is it a nationality? Apparently, I wasn’t alone in thinking that. Someone wrote The Straight Dope asking the same question. In response, they quoted from the SLA’s manifesto:

The name ‘symbionese’ is taken from the word symbiosis and we define its meaning as a body of dissimilar bodies and organisms living in deep and loving harmony and partnership in the best interest of all within the body. – Donald “Cinque” DeFreeze, cofounder of the SLA.

Loving harmony, replete with killings and kidnappings. Right.

Paul Krassner, founder of the legendary satirical underground magazine The Realist, wrote extensively in the 70s about two major political upheavals that rocked the San Francisco Bay Area, and indeed the country: the Patty Hearst abduction and trial and the assassinations of SF Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. His thoughts and some of his original writings from that period appear in his new book put out by PM Press as part of their Outspoken Author series: Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials Plus… Krassner’s writing style cuts through the bafflegab that often obfuscates otherwise serious or deadly happenings. So his take on these events make them clearer and more accessible. His story includes an amazing array of names and places, but the one thing I got out of the Patty Hearst chapter of the book was that the SLA was batshit crazy.

Donald DeFreeze, known also as Cinque Mtume, was an escaped convict who became radicalized while in prison and founded the SLA once on the outside. The SLA’s symbol was a seven-headed cobra, each head representing the seven tenants of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. As Krassner points out, the SLA was basically “a group of white men and women led by an African-American,” DeFreeze. Nonetheless, they declared themselves a black radical organization.

Their first order of business was to assassinate popular, up-and-coming black politician Marcus Foster, Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District, in November 1973. The SLA claimed they killed Foster because he planned to create student ID cards, which they considered fascistic. They also claimed that Foster supported having police on school campuses. They were wrong on both counts. So here we have a self-professed radical black organization killing one of the first prominent black officials in Oakland, a city that had long been Republican, white, and racist despite its diverse population. SLA was off to a grand start.

SLA’s abduction of Patty Hearst, in February 1974, and her subsequent, alleged allegiance with her abductors, was a story so bizarre that only a satirist like Krassner could properly cover it. He reprints in the book an imaginary interview of Patty Hearst he wrote for Crawdaddy, written a couple months after the one-year anniversary of her abduction. It’s quite brilliant. Informed by popular, underground theories at the time, it reads like a genuine interview. It even fooled the FBI, which promptly dispatched agents to have a friendly chat with Krassner about his knowledge of Hearst’s whereabouts. ABC’s Harry Reasoner is quoted on the back of the book saying that “Krassner not only attacks establishment values, he attacks decency in general.” Law enforcement agencies love having friendly chats with folks like that.

Patty Hearst famously changed her name to “Tania” and participated in several SLA activities, including two bank robberies. The search for her turned from a rescue operation to an arrest of a fugitive from justice. She was finally captured 18 months after her abduction and put into jail to await trial. Krassner writes that Hearst was initially to be represented by radical attorneys Vincent Hallinan and his son, future SF District Attorney Kayo (Terence) Hallinan. They planned a simple defense involving involuntary intoxication and amnesia. But then her uncle, William Randolph Hearst, Jr., felt it better if an establishment attorney defended her, to better protect the family name and prestige. So he advised the family to hire F. Lee Bailey. Writes Krassner:

He had defended a serial killer (the Boston Strangler) and a war criminal (Captain (Ernest) Medina of My Lai massacre infamy), but he said he would not defend Patty Hearst if she were a revolutionary. You’ve got to have standards.

Bailey, of course, would go on to form part of the Dream Team that successfully beat back the murder charges against O.J. Simpson. Much later, he would be disbarred in Florida and Massachusetts due to misconduct.

Whereas the Hallinans would have set up a defense where Ms. Hearst would not have had to plead the Fifth or be interviewed by psychiatrists, Bailey went instead with the Stockholm Hostage Syndrome defense for her actions. This defense required her to engage heavily with psychiatrists. Krassner points out that she went from being kidnapped and drugged by the SLA to being kidnapped and drugged by doctors. He also added this haunting observation:

The message of the trial was clear: Destroy the seeds of rebellion in your children or we shall have it done for you.

Such observations on the trial not only highlight the sad ironies of the proceedings, but also give it perspective. I particularly liked when Krassner called F. Lee Bailey “Cinque in whiteface.” And he wasn’t just speaking figuratively. He documents that there was more behind DeFreeze than appeared on the surface, and that the SLA was an establishment fabrication to discredit black radical organizations and to target black leaders, like Marcus Foster. The FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO – the unit in charge of subverting and destroying radical organizations, especially black ones – was shutdown in 1971, before SLA’s rise. But it had long shadows.

SLA as a CIA fabrication gone amok makes far more sense than any other reason for their existence. The details are complex and intriguing. As I read this chapter, I thought about recent charges by anti-police violence protesters of plainclothes police officers infiltrating the demonstrations in recent weeks. Some have claimed that such officers instigate vandalism and do other things to discredit the demos. It’s easy to poo-poo such thoughts as nutty conspiracy theories, until you remember the history of what took place in the not too long ago. Krassner’s documented accounts of how this was done in the past give such theories historical legitimacy.

Patty Hearst, of course, would later be found guilty of bank robbery and faced seven years in prison. President Jimmy Carter ultimately commuted her sentence after just under two years. She then went on to appear in several John Waters movies.

The next chapter deals with the assassinations of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk, The Twinkie Murders. This I’ll discuss in Part 2.

Torture By Any Other Name is Just Revenge

Torture has no justification. There is not, nor ever will be, a reason to torture someone. All the rationalizations are hogwash. Torture has one, singular motivator: revenge.

Revenge is a part of our mythos. Cultures throughout the ages have envisioned angry gods exacting revenge upon indolent citizens, or even each other. We follow in their footsteps. Theater and opera are rife with revenge. We love movies where the hero, or antihero, slams the bad guys. It’s not enough that the bad guy gets captured, he has to be made to suffer. On TV shows, in movies, or in simulation on video games, revenge torture is everywhere.

As part of our storytelling tradition, revenge is all well and good. But it’s quite another thing to practice barbarism in real life on real people. In the years following 9/11, we have asphyxiated ourselves with the desire for revenge, clouding reason, tainting judgement, choking our humanity.

Numerous reports, including the recent one put out by the Senate Intelligence Committee, have shown that torture does not lead to “actionable intelligence.” It often leads to gibberish. When you’re being hurt, you say what you think your torturers want to hear so that they’ll stop hurting you. Even the Vietcong realized that torture served no purpose and that it did more harm than good. Those who insist that one can gain useful information via torture have been watching too many episodes of “24.”

We dress up torture with urgency, the mythic “ticking time bomb” scenario. We cloak it in euphemisms (“enhanced interrogation techniques”). But it is simply revenge, a quality it shares, in my opinion, with the death penalty. There are ways to stop criminals without killing them. You throw them in jail forever. Similarly, there are ways to stop evil-doers from doing evil: acting upon good intelligence gathered in the traditional way (i.e., without torturing someone for it) to identify, capture, and prosecute them. The Bush Administration often touted that they kept America safe following 9/11. Maybe. Before 9/11, though, they were asleep at the wheel. They failed to act upon the intelligence available to them.

Investigating, following up on leads, none of that has the same visceral satisfaction as Jack Bauer slapping, slamming, or shooting confessions out of someone. Again, fine for fiction, not so much for real life. In the real world, our torturing people has real consequences.

And now it’s time to pay the piper. With the Senate Intelligence Committee’s damning report, confirming all the worst fears of what the CIA did during the Bush Administration, the US has lost its moral standing for a generation. We cannot look other nations in the eye and say “don’t do that,” because we did it. We can call it whatever we want and we can justify it anyway we like, but we did it. It was base and it was cruel. And it yielded nothing, making it, for all its gross flaws, unnecessary. Dick Cheney claims torture led to the capture of Osama Bin-Laden. The Senate reports states otherwise.

Torture is evil. Yet it is the quick and easy refuge of the weak. Because our political class is rife with weakness these days, I fear that we will one day torture again.

Black Lives Matter

My husband and I went to dinner last night at one of our favorite restaurants in Berkeley. On the way, we saw a group of about 8 or more motorcycle cops gathered at a corner gas station just down the block from where we were going. As we waited for the light to change so that I could make a left turn, we wondered what was up. Clearly, all those cops weren’t just to going to get slushies. Then I saw the answer: one of the officers carried a large handful of plastic handcuffs. Ah, a protest was in the works nearby. Sure enough, looking the other way down University, we saw a gathering in the distance.

We arrived at the restaurant, packed with a respectable Saturday night crowd. We got a table quickly. As we settled in I took out my iPhone and started looking for tweets. #Berkeley gave me the answers and confirmed my suspicions. Folks marched for black lives. They gathered for Eric Garner. They chanted for Michael Brown. They hollered for Tamir Rice, and the many other black lives taken by police needlessly.

I’ve spent most of last week trying to write about the latest grand jury insult, the failure to bring charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing unarmed Eric Garner. Bons mots have not been forthcoming. There is nothing clever that can be written about this current crisis. I recognized Ferguson a national tragedy. That tragedy has now replicated itself many times over.

At dinner, I asked myself, how does this current crisis affect me personally? Besides the anger, pain, and hurt I feel, fear also comes into the equation. In 2014, even in the liberal Bay Area, I have to keep looking over my shoulder. I have to wonder if people will see me as me or as a Big Scary Black Man. Will someone call the cops on me while I walk through the mall? Will an officer stop me and rough me up for being somewhere s/he felt I did not belong?

These questions, thrust upon me by others, I must now carry into the 21st century, over 100 years after DuBois declared that race would be the prime issue of the 20th century. I weep knowing that a generation of black folks born in 2000 and beyond will still have to grapple with this shit, at least for the first half of their lives. How has it come to pass that the ugliness of race hatred continues to fester so relentlessly, even as our society has grown more diverse during the first 50 years of my life?

Before our salads arrived, the streets outside filled with protesters. They marched down University, heading west. I ran out to take pictures. Hands up. Don’t shoot. I can’t breath. Black lives matter. A few police followed on motorbikes and in cars and vans.

Berkeley Protest 12-6-14

Tail end of group of protesters, Berkeley, December 2014

Another conclusion I came to last week, one that many have stated, is that cameras don’t matter. Michael Brown’s death occurred without cameras present. The grand jury in St. Louis declared that witnesses to the shooting contradicted each other. A fuzzy picture exists of what actually happened. (For the record, I do not believe the statements made by former Ferguson officer Darren Wilson.) In the Eric Garner case, though, everyone figured that there would at least be an indictment against Officer Pantaleo. But no, there wasn’t, nor against any of the other officers involved in Mr. Garner’s takedown. And in this case, a video caught everything.

It might seem shocking that a video recording didn’t enlighten a jury, until we remember our history. The Rodney King beating of 24 years ago was also video taped. And we know how that story went. Though even in that case, there were indictments. Four officers had to stand trial. They were acquitted, but they had to stand trial. So I guess one could say that we’ve gone backwards. In extraordinary cases like Rodney King, and even Oscar Grant many years later, we could expect an indictment. Not anymore.

Society has allowed its irrational fear of black men to create some very dangerous public policy. This policy now states that a police officer is always right, no matter what s/he does. Conversely, a black man is always wrong and is in some way responsible for what happens to him. Due process be damned. Michael Brown allegedly did not obey orders and became unruly, so he was shot to death even though he was unarmed. Eric Garner reacted when four officers started pawing over him, so he was taken down. Some commenters have callously added that he died because he was overweight and had asthma, leaving the police blameless. 12 year old Tamir Rice did not drop his toy gun fast enough — as if two seconds were plenty of time — so he was shot to death.

It doesn’t matter. Outsized fear of blacks in our society means that if a black person does not obey instantly and immediately, they face punishment, up to and including summary execution. That is horrid and barbaric public policy. That people actually defend this line of reasoning is deeply, deeply troubling. We cannot live in a safe and just society when we rob segments of that society of its humanity. Slavery should have taught us that, but we continue to find new ways of making similar mistakes over and over.

A second group of protesters walked by on University. Following the tweets, I see they went to San Pablo, then turned north because the police blocked them from going any further west. No doubt the police wanted to prevent them from reaching the I-80 and blocking the freeway. Then I saw tweets reporting that the protesters were headed back east, on Delaware, just a couple of blocks north of the restaurant.

Soon after these tweets appeared, a phalanx of cops showed up. They roared onto the street  in a Humvee. A Humvee? Folks in the restaurant were appalled. Many lips decried the militarization of the police. The Humvee belonged to the Hayward Police Department, a city a good 20 mins south of Berkeley. UCPD officers from the nearby Berkeley campus also joined the ranks. They lined the street, preventing access up Acton, towards Delaware. Several helicopters flew overhead, shining their lights on us. It was a crazy scene. As I tweeted about all this, someone tweeted back, “You’d think they were going after Godzilla.” Indeed.

Black lives matter. Black lives matter. Black lives matter. What a ridiculous thing to have to say. Black lives matter. Like it’s not a forgone conclusion, that black lives matter. But it isn’t. Even now, in the 21st century, it isn’t. Even 100 years after DuBois and 50 years after Martin Luther King, Jr, it isn’t. Even in liberal bastions of the country like Berkeley, it isn’t. It isn’t because we continue to substitute fears, preconceptions, prejudices, and secret desires for real flesh and blood black men. African Americans have always been looked upon through the preconceptions of others, rarely as human beings with our own dignity, our own strengths and weaknesses. I can still hear my mother cry, “We must have the right to be human beings!”

Until that day comes, we will have to remind the world that black lives do matter. And we’ll have to do better about penalizing those who do not recognize and respect this simple statement, even if they be police officers.

The Dust Journals – Part XI

Saturday, March 5, 2157

The voices returned, violently. So violent came their onslaught that I blacked out and am just coming to. Whatever it was Walter wanted to show me, it hasn’t happen yet. I’m back in the bed again with bloodstained bandages on my head. It’s too hard to write, physically and mentally, too damn hard.

 

Tuesday, March 8, 2157

The bandages on my head no longer show any red. I can write a bit now. I can think again, without my thoughts turning into bullets from an Uzi. The voices have ceased, sans medication.

During the worst of my blackout, I apparently kept screaming WHERE ARE MY FUCKING PILLS! Walter hadn’t hidden them. They simply vanished on their own accord, probably on the beach where he found me, dying.

That I would blame any of this on Walter just shows how messed up I was. He’s so wonderful. I don’t deserve to know someone this patient or kind. He’s the sort of person you just figure no longer exists in this world. I’m no saint, he tells me, but I beg to differ. He’s saved me twice, so far, and counting.

I need to write about what happened, about my showdown with the voices, but I’m still processing it. And I’m still too weak. I need more rest.

Our Band Will Never Sound the Same Again

Our band will never sound the same again. – Duke Ellington, after the passing of Johnny Hodges

Not a minute of this Thanksgiving will go by without my thoughts turning time and again on my brother Robert. This will be the first Thanksgiving since his passing. To be sure, we did not gather last year, either. By that point, he had had his operation, the removal of his tongue, and could not eat. Plus he was deep into his chemo and radiation treatments, which weakened him. We hoped he would get better. We hoped.

Robert played the bass in our family band. Louis played guitar. Tania sang. I played tabla. We jammed like this nearly every Thanksgiving. This tradition goes back over two decades. Now our bass player is gone.

Lester Young played with the Count Basie Orchestra at Newport in 1957, his first time playing with them since the early 1940s. Afterwards he said, “I always bust my nuts when I play with them.” I always think of that quote after playing with Louis and Robert. Both masters of their respective axes, they knew all the jazz standards, and more, and never tired of playing. The tabla player had to keep up. It was an honor to do so.

Robert always enjoyed the odd-rhythms I introduced. He loved 5s and 7s, but also get a kick out of 11, 13, even 17. The last time I played for Robert, over the phone about a month before the end, the first thing he said was, “I can hear the 7s.” He lavished me with praise for my skills, but he always had a deft sense of rhythm. He’s the OG master of tal.

I had a feeling this Thanksgiving would be challenging, and it is. My ears still hear the words he spoke at our last Thanksgiving together, in 2012, just as he left for the night: “This was the best ever.” Yeah, it was. I almost didn’t write this piece, but I had to say something. Before launching into new holiday traditions, I had to acknowledge the weight of what came before. Though we’re all doing our own thing this year, I have no doubt that the surviving Mighty Russell Players will play again one day.

Though, of course, our band will never sound the same again.

For you, Robert, I’ll play a little something tomorrow. I’ll make it an odd-rhythm. Because.

And Now We Know

During the Trayvon Martin tragedy, one question lingered in the back of the head: what if his killer, George Zimmerman, had been a police officer? Now we know.

There have been exceptions to the narrative, where an officer had to go to trial over a killing committed under shady circumstances. There was Johannes Mehserle, the killer of Oscar Grant. He did get indicted, did stand trial, and did get convicted. Though his conviction, and sentence, did not even qualify as a slap on the wrist. It was more like a wagging finger intoning a gentle “now, now.” But Mehserle’s killing of Oscar Grant had too many witnesses with cellphones for there not to have been an indictment. We all saw what happened on that BART platform that New Year’s Day.

There was the Rodney King four, a small subset of the group that savagely brutalized Rodney King. They had to stand trial, though of course all were found not guilty. But here again, there was the lone video, which showed the world what happened. To have not indicted someone would have looked quite ridiculous.

Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown away from cellphone cameras or other recording devices. He had only a small audience of witnesses, all of whose accounts the prosecutor and grand jury discounted. Had Wilson been wearing a camera, things may have happened differently. Had George Zimmerman been filmed, things may have happened differently. Sans video, we now know what happens.

Prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch feigned concern while delivering the no indictment decision. However, his astounding, 20-minute word salad, mushed together with the biggest wad of bafflegab imaginable, lacked compassion, lacked justice. His calls for peace and respect for the rule of law and for protesters to voice their concerns openly seemed contradictory and patronizing.

Protesters would rather not be protesting. They’d rather that this whole affair had never happened. We’d all rather that Michael Brown were home with his parents. But he’s not. He’s dead. And his killer will not have to answer for his actions because he’s a police officer and because no cameras caught what happened. It’s as simple as that. No word salad, no detailed description of cherry-picked facts can alter this sad realty, or bring justice to an unjust situation.