Friday, June 25, 2010

"On The Cover Of The Rolling Stone"

So Barack Obama cashiers his top general in Afghanistan for mouthing off to the press. That is a big yawn for me. But what really piqued my interest was the medium through which the general chose to voice his opinions: Rolling Stone Magazine. Like many old actors and singers you see pop up on Larry King, I assumed the magazine died a natural death years ago. The last time I read it was 1979 while buying some drug paraphernalia in the back room of a head shop in Philadelphia. But I remember it very well as a quintessential reflection of a slice of a part of the American landscape post Woodstock and pre Reagain. I first stumbled upon the magazine while making a pit stop in an upper end Jewish neighborhood circa 1974 to cop some quality Colombian Gold from some kid named Horowitz. Rolling Stone readers smoked good pot or hash, had liberal/left political views, owned the latest and greatest stereo equipment, watched Saturday Night Live went it was still an underground pilot, and listened to the trendy progressive rock stations that dotted the FM landscape back then. And oh yeah, they wore painter's pants (without real paint stains of course) and earth shoes. In other words, they excelled at one of the great art forms of the 1970's and 1960's: pretending to be a member of the proletariate while living the life of a bourgeoisie. Rolling Stone was a great window to watch the spectacle. While it felt good to feel ideological solidarity with some oppressed farm worker in some third world country (right wing of course), it felt even better to have the most expensive Pioneer receiver on the market sitting on your bedroom dresser or front row seats when David Bowie was in town. Because let's face it: the goal of every pseudo revolutionary was the same as every conservative firebrand: using every means at your disposal to get that damn bra off of that girl who was dumb enough to go out with you. The symbolism, though, was more a function of the readers as opposed to the editors. If you looked beyond the fancy cover page, the magazine contained some quality writing. Hunter Thompson was a great writer who cut his teeth there. Ditto William Greider. As much as I disagreed with the magazine's political perspective, the writing was top notch, especially during an era when the mainstream media did not give much credence to the music tastes of the younger generation. But then, like its readers, it moved into the mainstream and thus, complacency. I guess most of its readers when on to Vanity Fair and The New York Times as irreverent hipness lost its panache. Irony is what makes life funny and I have to laugh that Rolling Stone Magazine is the forum that a four star wartime general used to voice his opposition to his commander in chief's policies.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

All That Jazz

I like jazz and blues music. The lyrics, cadence, and artists capture a certain slice of Americana much the same way that film noir did in the 40's and 50's. And what is that slice: a recognition that life ain't always easy and is just as likely to be filled with tragedy and disappointment as with happiness and success. But the human spirit trudges along against overwhelming odds. The music is a window into the soul of those people who through their own transgressions or just plain bad luck have swung and missed at life's opportunities but realize that there can be redemption at the end of the line. Listen to Billie Holiday or Dinah Washington or any of about 20 African American crooners from yesteryear. The theme is unmistakable: life is very tough at the bottom of the food chain whether it be spiritual or material. Which brings me to a wonderful website I discovered thanks to Eugene Volokh. It is called It is Ejazz News New Music Weekly Sampler. Every week the site publishes a group of songs that you can download for free. And the music is not the cheap stuff you get at Starbucks every week on some card they hand out with your coffee. It is quality stuff. So download it, put it in your Ipod, go on a bike ride or walk, and appreciate the little things in life. Happy Father's Day.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Witness Protection Program

I followed the Rothstein sentencing with a grain of salt and a heavy dollop of skepticism. What really caught my attention (and cynical nature) was not the number of years that he will eventually serve but his potential initiation into a very exclusive club: the federal Witness Protection Program. This program was initiated in the early 80's. Its purpose was laudable: to get Mafia members and their hangers on to cooperate and provide them and their families with a new identity after their sentence was finished so that the omnipresent Mob would not be able to find out where they are and exact retribution. It all sounded nice in theory but I have to believe has been a disaster in practice. Think about it. You are asking a sociopath who has known nothing but crime and violence to renounce his nature and instead of living it up at the Copa every Friday night with some hot looking $750 a night arm piece, to work at a donut shop in Billings, Montana for $6.25 an hour and hope that that your old buddies from Brooklyn don't happen to drop by and say hello. The program assumes two facts; a moral convert and and almost maniacally unified and determined adversary. The former was dependent on the latter and the latter, if it ever did exist, does not now. Two famous enrollees, if that is the proper term, were Henry Hill of Goodfellas fame and Sammy Gravano of John Gotti fame. Hill is walking the streets and Gravano was until he was indicted for dealing dope after he dropped out of the club. Let's face it. The traditional Italian mafia ain't what it used to be. Most organized crime figures have game plans that are very short. Which brings me to Rothstein. His participation, if it ever comes to that, is comical. He rolls over on some heretofore unknown pretenders from South Beach and gets them indicted. I am sure they would love to feed him to the alligators. But 30 years from now? If they do, say, ten years, will they spend the next twenty plotting revenge on Rothstein? Highly unlikely. They will get on with their lives. If I were them, and assuming they are part of a well organized criminal enterprise, I would be more afraid of getting whacked for screwing up and/or for possibly buying their own way out of trouble by cooperating against their supposed lieutenants. So what is Rothstein afraid of? That when he is 82, and in a homeless shelter in Phoenix, someone will slip a knife through his stomach a la Robert Deniro as a young Vito Corleone? I don't think so.

In 30 years, most of Rothstein's enemies, imagined and real, will be dead or not even remember who he is. The whole witness protection story is a bluff, leaked by the government to build up Rothstein's bonafides as a witness to make potential defendants believe he knows more than he actually does. And how is the government going to help Rothstein in 30, 40, or 50 years from now? Get him a new identity so the other 90 somethings who are pissing and shitting in diapers every day in the convalescent home don't recognize him? I can see it now.
"Hey! Isn't that guy Hymie Schwartz really Scott Rothstein?
"Yeah. Oh my God. It's him!!!!!!"
"Hey Mr. Rothstein, Mr. Rothstein. Tell us. How did you do it? How did you fix the 1919 World Series? Tell us!"

Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Wooden, RIP

John Wooden was the most successful college basketball coach ever. No one else came close. I remember him well. His era, the 1960's, was a turbulent one in America, especially the cultural circles where he made his mark: college, black athletes, youth, and all that it implied. Wooden seemed like an island of tranquility in a turbulent sea. I do not know what Wooden's political views were and it really does not matter. He was a symbol of wisdom, stability, and patience. In all the years I watched him coach, from Walt Hazzard to Lew Alcindor to Sydney Wicks to Bill Walton, I cannot remember ever seeing him raise his voice to a player or referee. His expression was the same in 1968 when Elvin Hayes slayed his Goliath like team in the Astrodome as when, a few months later, Alcindor proved that it was all a fluke. I guess you could call him the anti Bobby Knight. I cannot imagine Wooden signing a deal with Nike or Men's Wearhouse. Perhaps his UCLA teams complemented the dynastic nature of the era when it was common for one team to dominate a sport, be it the Canadiens, Celtics, Yankees, or, to a lesser extent, Green Bay. And perhaps his old school approach to basketball would never make in today's hyped up sports world. But here is the real mark of the man: the 1960's and early 70's were characterized as one of rebellion. Young people, at least the affluent and well educated ones, had contempt for people like Wooden and the values they reflected. But Wooden never changed his style to fit the perceived fashion of the times. His black players may have sported wild Afros and changed their names while others advocated a back to nature enviro/chic radicalism, but it never affected Wooden. More important, as different as he was from the players he coached, you never heard them utter a negative word about him. John Wooden was a class act. RIP.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Those Horrible Young People

When I was young, my parents always compared me to everyone else's children. It was not a pretty picture. It seemed that every time there was a social event, family get together, school function, etc., I acted like a jerk and the other duplicitous two faced punks put their best foot forward. So on the way home, all I heard was "Why can't you be like the ___________family's kids. They are so respectful and well behaved." I heard this a thousand times to the point that I really thought when it came to being a renegade, I was the floor from which every kid in the neighborhood's behavior was measured. Of course, the truth was that my parents were wrong on two fronts: the nieghbors' kids were horrible and I did stuff that was ten times worse than what I often was punished for. But that is all history. And so is this. I was reading one of my favorite blogs this morning, The Volokh Conspiracy ( and came upon this a post comment by someone named Joe:
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint” (Hesiod, 8th century BC).
Very interesting. For all of you graying hipsters from the 60's who thought you were re-inventing the wheel every time you lit up a joint or had sex with your high school sweetheart or ridiculed your father for (gasp!) working for a living, take a look at this quote from a 1585 case, Stanhope v. Blith, 76 Eng. Rep. 891. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Again, thank you Eugene Volokh.