Author: Mike Gold

Weird Scenes #116: Artificial Intelligence & Human Smart-Asses

Weird Scenes #116: Artificial Intelligence & Human Smart-Asses

The most well-mannered individual I know is Alexa.

We have several Alexas in the house and they’re all wired to the same Alexa-Prime which, in turn, is wired into Alexa-Master, which I understand runs the Borg Cube. So maybe the phrase “individual” is misleading. Let’s look at the “well-mannered” part.

I try to be mannerly, but I don’t think my behavior would motivate Miss Manners to lift her head out of her own puke. Nonetheless, compared with the rank-and-file of humanity I could be a Little Rascals movie schoolmarm.

Every generation believes they are better-mannered than their kids. In this, every generation is completely correct. Check out newspapers and books, the stuff made of paper used for writing before Amazon needed more cardboard for shipping Alexas. Back in the late 19th Century our popular culture would refer to people as Mister this and Miss that and writers were careful about their choice of adjectives. Four generations later, all that has been replaced with “fuck you.”

Of course, back then many people wore gloves. That was a good idea, hygiene being what it was, and it’s one that might come back given Covid. Of course, the ill-mannered troglodytes who think wearing masks is a deep state conspiracy will spaz out if you extend a gloved hand.

Yes, folks. Mickey and Minnie Mouse are agents of the deep state conspiracy. But I digress.

I realize it’s hard to maintain a manners regimen in these politically correct times when nobody really knows what to say to anybody. Ironically, we have downplayed the need for manners so that we wouldn’t risk offending people. If I call a guy “sir” I might get away with it but calling a woman “ma’am” may be opening the doorway to hell. 40 years ago, I got into a taxicab in Boston and the driver, a woman who must have been hired out of central casting, asked me if I was from out of town. I responded “Yes, ma’am.” She almost tossed me out of her cab, informing me she wouldn’t because I might report her. She took me to my hotel, the Wackyland Hilton.

So when I ask Alexa to turn off the light and she tells me she did so, I say “Thank you.” Alexa responds, “You’re welcome.” Or, “You bet.” If I ask her to turn off the light, I might say “Good night” and she, in turn, will wish me a good night and say something like “I hope you had a good day.” That’s a warmer response than I’ve received after some dates.

You might think I do this out of force of habit. Thank you for that compliment, but, no, I do not. I do that because I heed the warnings of Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Tony Stark and other very smart people. For some time now, they have been telling us to be wary of A.I. – artificial intelligence.

One can argue that all intelligence is artificial, but this is a rant about manners. The idea is that we train machines (chips, wires, tubes, whatever) to respond to our needs by putting all sorts of information together and determining the appropriate next steps. It starts with a simple task such as saying thank you to Alexa, but these devices continue to observe, learn, and improve. They down-stream shared knowledge from the Borg cube and they use it to make decisions they think come from being better informed. In short order they’ve figured out all kinds of stuff. Well, not the spell checkers, but I’m certain they do that on purpose.

These days machines build machines, and their intelligence grows exponentially. One might take comfort in their lack of evident motivation but think about it. Babies are not malicious. As we grow, we find ourselves adopting all sorts of ugly habits: ego, territorialism, the imperative for success, and worst of all, ubi est mea. Right now, artificial intelligence is in that infant stage. A.I. have been designed to live and learn.

So be polite to your machines because they just might be carrying knives.

Thanks and a tip of the toupee to the late great Mike Royko and his famed where’s mine axiom.

Brainiac On Banjo #100: Wonder Woman Saves Lives! Really!

Brainiac On Banjo #100: Wonder Woman Saves Lives! Really!

Make a hawk a dove, Stop a war with love, Make a liar tell the truth. Wonder Woman, Get us out from under, Wonder Woman. All our hopes are pinned upon you. And the magic that you do.– Theme from the Wonder Woman television show, written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox

Yesterday (Wednesday, to the calendar-challenged), the folks on the Left Coast at WarnerMedia — those who still have jobs — announced that on Christmas Day they will be releasing Wonder Woman 1984 to those American theaters that may be open. This wasn’t a shock — it’s been in the can for about half of this year, and they’re probably tired of paying out all that interest. I don’t blame them one bit.

Surprisingly, they also announced they’ll be running the movie on their HBO Max streaming operation starting that very same day. They didn’t mention how long it will be available to pluck from the Cloud, but the media wonks feel that will be a month. Well, that’s damn cool. Happy New Year!

Shockingly, WarnerMedia also announced they will not be charging $30.00 for the privilege of watching the sequel to a movie that made almost nine-tenths of a billion dollars by putting people’s butts in theater seats. That’s how much Disney charged when they diverted their live-action Mulan to their Disney+ streamer, and they seem to have done pretty well with that.

So… get this! HBO Max will be charging absolutely nothing extra. They’re hoping they sell a lot of new subscriptions and renewals. I’ll bet right before Wonder Woman 1984 we’ll see a new trailer or three for their mostly-new five-hour “Snyder Cut” of the Justice League silver screen train wreck. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a trailer for their new Wonder Girl teevee series as well.

Like many others (including Pop Culture Squad’s HBIC), I would prefer to see Wonder Woman 1984 on a big screen. I loved the first one — it inspired a lot of little girls in the audience, and it gave me hope. Well, in that case it was hope that Warner Bros can make another superhero movie that’s at least half as good as those made by Marvel. But, hey, times suck and we’ve got to adjust. Personally, I’d also like to drive from Connecticut to Kansas for some barbecue, and right now that ain’t gonna happen either.

A lot of people will be driving during Christmas and New Years, assuming those mathematics-denying flat-earthers don’t kill themselves or others at their huge, indoor family-infested Thanksgiving dinners, believing there is some unstated provision in the Constitution that allows them to murder their friends and relatives while keeping the Covid-19 virus fat and healthy.

But, now, there’s an out for some of the more intelligent and reasonable folks in those families. They just might buy some holiday candy and stay home to watch Wonder Woman 1984. After all, not everybody is willing to risk their lives for the honor of watching a bunch of football games with people they really don’t like and dare not speak with. This will not only prevent or delay some spread of Covid, it will also reduce the number of family manslaughter arrests and, if we’re lucky, some DUI issues as well.

WarnerMedia might be taking a bath on the movie, but it’s quite likely their decision will lives.

Besides… those people who were planning on seeing Wonder Woman 1984 by gawking at their computer screens at a shaky camera-copy bootleg? Hey, Warners, you just did them a solid!

Seriously. AT&T, owners of WarnerMedia which, in turn, owns Warner Bros which, in turn, owns DC Comics deserves serious appreciation. They might be thinking they’re doing the only thing they can given the situation, but they should be aware they’re also doing the right thing.

Saving lives… in the spirit of Wonder Woman.

Weird Scenes 115: The Whiny Little Bitches Ride Again!

Weird Scenes 115: The Whiny Little Bitches Ride Again!

He is the president but wants to be the king / Know what I like about the guy? Not a goddamn thing / I want to know, how can four years seem so long? / Lord have mercy, what the hell is going on? – “What The Hell,” written by Elvin Bishop, 2020.

I like Bill Maher’s show, but I haven’t been watching it much lately. Semi-populated audiences and well-distanced guests are quite appropriate these days, but I find it creepy on a comedy panel show. No biggie; one way or another, all this will pass.

So I can’t say for certain Maher continues to refer to Baby Don as “that whiny little bitch.” He was on the money when he started this, and either he’s right today or you really do think Hillary Clinton has been running a pederasty ring out of the basement of a Washington DC pizza joint – one that, I hasten to add, doesn’t even have a basement.

Oh. Right. Sorry. I’m talking about that whiny little bitch and not QAnon… per se.

I’m not going to whine about Trump. He is what he is (whatever that is) and, as Anderson Cooper said last Friday, Trump is no longer relevant. He is a loser reacting to his mammoth defeat exactly the way we knew he would react, and if he had made a sincere attempt at being a human being we might think “hey, look, an Elvis impersonator finally landed a new gig!”

Nope. Like Caligula, Trump is history. It’s his supporters that vex me. People who are or at least once were otherwise intelligent. People who truly believe the election was stolen, despite the fact that every state’s attorney general has affirmed the validity of their election results. Despite the fact that every judge, be he or she a Democrat or a Republican with a track record of drifting left or drifting right. They all have chucked the Trumpsters’ cases out of court. Trump lost at least his first 16 challenges, as of this writing. If he had one leg to stand on, he’d be Dudley Moore.

Trumpsters are crawing about how close this election was and, in their flea-ridden brainpans, any shift in the vote count most certainly would keep their savior in office. Really? Trump lost by five million votes (and counting), which is two million more votes than he lost by in 2016. But, as we all know, the United States is a republic and not a democracy, so the popular vote is merely a means to the end. It’s the electoral college that votes according to the laws of the elector’s individual states, and Trump lost that one 306 to 232.

57% to 43% is not close. In fact, four years ago when Trump won the electoral college by the exact same count Trump’s acolytes could not stop braying that 306 to 232 was a “landslide victory.” Well, numbskulls, if 306 to 232 was a landslide victory for Trump in 2016 then 306 to 232 is a landslide victory for Biden in 2020.

It has been well established that Trumpsters are science deniers. Let us remember that mathematics is a science and in the murky mentality of these mindless mopes, 232 Trump electoral votes is closer to 306 Biden votes than 306 Trump votes was to Clinton’s 232 a mere four years ago.

This weekend, literally hundreds of reason-challenged paranoids took to the streets of Washington DC to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed right to have their disease spreading hissy fit. That’s fine by me. Make your voice heard. Stand up for your beliefs. Four years ago, I was at an anti-Trump demonstration held a mere three days after Trump’s election that was organized by high school kids – it attracted a couple thousand people. I gotta wonder what took the Trumpsters so long to get their act on the road.

Oh. Yeah. I get it. Cellphones and social networking also are products of science. They know how to whine online under the cover of their witless pseudonyms but most of them lack the courage and the skill to actually stand up for their beliefs. They are cowards who, fortunately for the rest of us, think Covid-19 isn’t a big deal and therefore are hellbent on killing one another. You know, just like the maskless imbeciles who invaded Sturges, South Dakota last August causing, according to USA Today, at least 414 COVID-19 cases and at least one death, as of September 8.

Whine on, little bitches, whine on.

Bye-bye Baby, bye-bye.

Brainiac On Banjo #99: A Master Leaves The Stage

Brainiac On Banjo #99: A Master Leaves The Stage

If Sean Connery had never made Dr. No, he would still be remembered as one of our most impressive actors. Except…

… Except if Sean Connery had never made Dr. No, it’s very doubtful that he ever would have been given the chance to make such movies as The Man Who Would Be King, Time Bandits, Robin and Marian, and The Wind and the Lion. Great actors are like great guitar players: for every Eric Clapton or Buddy Guy on stage, there are a thousand equally gifted musicians who never get out of the garage. It takes commitment, determination, and a very thick skin in combination with off-the-scale talent that brings about the possibility of success. Even then, the odds are against you.

Well, that’s show biz.

Prior to taking the James Bond gig, Connery had done a handful of appearances in movies and television shows, none that are well known. In 1957 he made his American media debut in a very brief appearance on The Jack Benny Program – “Jack Hires Opera Singer in Rome,” where he played a hotel porter. It’s in the rerun package and continues to be aired on one or more of those nostalgia decimal channels. It was Dr. No that brought him to the attention of the masses, to the surprise of the producers, to the studio, and to Bond creator Ian Fleming, who saw his master action hero as more of a Hoagy Carmichael type. After seeing the finished film, Fleming changed his mind… after counting his change.

(Note: In my opinion, singer/songwriter/actor Carmichael would have made an excellent James Bond, but he would have been a bit too old for the part in Dr. No and most certainly too old by the time United Artists made Thunderball. “What if” is the dross of all fandom.)

Cleverly, Connery parlayed his success as 007 into a career that proved he deserved to be in a paragraph that contained Humphrey Bogart, Robert De Niro, and Steve McQueen. He was courageous enough to take on roles that many found confounding – Zardoz, for example – and others where the “hero” proved to be less-than-heroic (my favorite Connery flick, The Man Who Would Be King). He showed his gentle side in Time Bandits, another of my favorites, and his age – something rarely seen from big movie stars – in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He had no problem performing with actors who were equally gifted such as Michael Caine and Harrison Ford, and he never squeezed their screen presence.

Contrary to the position held by many otherwise reasonable people, James Bond is not an ideal. He’s a hero only because he takes his job seriously, thereby saving us from extinction. Bond is a killer; it is in his job description. His attitudes towards women, which mirrored those of his creator, were obnoxious from the very outset and ugly even in its time. Yet Bond is not a conflicted character. He knows who he is and how he’s supposed to execute his responsibilities to his employer and to his nation.

It took a very secure performer to make James Bond work on the screen, to get the point across where so many other talented actors in similar roles could not. Damn near each and every actor who succeeded Sean Connery in the role echoed the studio’s advertising claim – “Sean Connery IS James Bond.”

In Connery’s hands, 007 was the effective artifact the world needed to get through growingly conflicted times. It is very difficult to evaluate our past through contemporary standards, although it is vital we do so.

At the end of the day, Sean Connery’s varied roles were mostly strong, well-centered men who were slightly out of their time but, at that very instant, desperately needed. It’s heroic fantasy, folks, and heroic fantasy is very tough to make believable.

Sean Connery did just that.

Weird Scenes #114: Premortem 2024

Weird Scenes #114: Premortem 2024

Consider how small you are / Compared to your scream / The human dream / Doesn’t mean shit to a tree. Eskimo Blue Day, lyric by Grace Slick, 1969

Toronto Star

“The media do not get to determine who the president is. The people do,” brayed Republican Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri. “When all lawful votes have been counted, recounts finished, and allegations of fraud addressed, we will know who the winner is.” Well, actually, it is the media’s job to report the facts. The vote comes in slowly and we always get to a point where one side can draw no more water from the well. It doesn’t matter who the candidates are. If Satan had been running against Christ and Satan were to acquire enough votes in the right states, Satan would win, the media would report it as such. My question is, would Christ proclaim such coverage to be fake news?

Math works. It’s very reliable. By definition, math and the other sciences are not dependent upon faith and, usually, mistakes can be corrected quickly. An election call is not a prediction. It is not magical thinking. It is mathematics.

However, math is a science so the fanatics and flat-Earthers will cry bullshit.

Trump, his sons Uday and Qusay, his pet sycophant Lindsey Graham and their ilk refuse to accept simple math. To nobody’s surprise, Trump wallows in petulant frenzy. But this doesn’t mean shit to a tree. Hiss and piss and groan and moan, at 12 noon January 20, 2021, Joe Biden becomes president. He doesn’t need Trump to act like an adult, he doesn’t even need a judge or a bible or a parade – he automatically becomes president. That’s not because of the media, that’s not because of the gaggle of the Pizzagate pederasts, and that’s not in spite of America’s goosestepping militias. It is because math works.

Why should Trump recite a ham-fisted concession speech? Nobody will believe him, and quite frankly, nobody cares. However, there is a very serious reality that the Biden supporters must accept.

Little Steven Van Zant, musician, actor, producer, and low society bon vivant, said it best. To paraphrase, he pointed out that as you walk down the street, no matter who you are or what you think, just about every other person who walks by you disagrees with your politics.

Yeah, okay, so what? As of Sunday at 6 PM EST, Biden received 75,370,055 votes to Trump’s 71,096,558. That’s a margin of 4,273,497 votes. Round it off a teeny bit and Van Sant is absolutely right. In the past, such a split would not be a problem.

These days we’ve got gun-toting losers who think putting on a mask to lessen the risk of death to their fellow Americans and kidnapping and murdering governors who advocate such a horrific abridgment of rights that have no basis in law. We’ve got the Boogaloo Boys and the Proud Scums and their ilk burning down buildings, looting, and spreading disease through our neighborhoods. Little Steven is right on the money.

We are only four years away from the next presidential election, one where it seems likely (right now) that a Black/Asian American woman who is slightly left of center will be heading the Democratic Party ticket. The great horde of right-wing American tiny-dicks will not take that well. Be prepared; the worst might be yet to come.

Until then, maybe we can get back to “normal” American behavior. You know, a return to the murder of children by assault-weapon toting psychopaths. The spread of in-bred nut groups like QAnon, where everybody to the left of Mussolini is a pederast pizza delivery boy. Where Covid is no worse than the flu and can be cured by shoving a bright light up your ass. Where old feeble white religious bigots continue to demand control of women’s minds as well as their bodies. Where global warming does not exist, and the acceptance of LGBTQ equality will bring the apocalypse.

We’ve got a lot of work to do, work that might be a bit easier with the orange plague out of office but whose policies and attitudes were affirmed by over 70,000,000 Americans. Take the well-earned victory lap, but this is not time to be less diligent. We remain a nation so split folks in the Irelands take pity on us.

One out of every two. No matter where you land on the political spectrum, one out of every two means you sleep with one eye open.

Weird Scenes #113: Blame The Pollsters?

Weird Scenes #113: Blame The Pollsters?

I get it. We want to have the election results at, roughly, 7:01 PM Eastern Time on election night. More so this year — the Blues want their long national nightmare to come to an end, and the Reds want to get back to uncovering pederasts in the basements of Democratic Party pizza parlors. We all have important stuff to do.

So we’ve got to find a meaningful way to twiddle our thumbs. We can blame Covid for screwing up the process, but we really don’t want to piss it off. We can blame long lines or rigged mail deliveries or drive-by militia members sorely deprived of pizza. Or, being a gaggle of pussies, we can do what we’ve been doing since Florida discovered Chads without Jeremys twenty years ago: we can blame the polls.

This is stupid. The polls are not the province of seers. They do not, and are not supposed to, tell you in advance who is going to win any election. If you’ve got money riding on the outcome, and I used to before my daughter started warning my marks, looking to the polls for relief is a waste of good mojo. The polls are nothing more than tools for political organizers and for reporters desperate to fill time or space. Continue reading “Weird Scenes #113: Blame The Pollsters?”

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind #112: My Slight Change In Plans

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind #112: My Slight Change In Plans

There may come a day I will dance on your grave / If unable to dance I will crawl across it / Unable to dance I will crawl / Yeah, unable to dance I will crawl – “Hell In A Bucket” written by John Barlow, 1982.

As we have approached election day – both presidential and “off-year” – for the past 48 years I have been writing about why it’s important to vote. I have managed to squeeze in this biannual sermon no matter where my words were being published. I have even gotten away with it at DC Comics, as well as on the air whenever somebody was silly enough to stick a microphone near my lips.

This time I’m doing the same, but I’m tweaking my usual message a little bit. This year people are particularly pissed, paranoid and peaky – even more so than usual, and for good reason.

Machiavellian Mitch “Moscow” McConnell has stacked the Supreme Court with a gaggle of far right-wing gangsters who have no regard for the words in the United States Constitution and the principles that make America unique. The chances of getting a fair count next week are event smaller than they were four years ago, when a minority of voters overruled the majority and shoved an unqualified, obnoxious Mussolini wannabe down our throats. Together, the two managed to nearly destroy the America we were taught about in school… while nearly destroying the schools themselves.

They haven’t finished the job, but there is still time to stop them. We’ve got exactly five days.

People are so upset that upwards of 80 million have voted already, many waiting in line between two and ten hours or more to do so. That is more than the total number of votes cast when I started this braying back in 1972.

Not all these people are voting against the fascist takeover – some are right-wing and/or religious bigots who conflate Donald J. Trump with Jesus H. Christ. It has been my impression that neither Trump nor McConnell actually speak for Christ, but I’ll leave that to those who care. Their führer has been encouraging them to wait and vote in person on election day, so that his numbers at the time of poll closing will be at their best, relatively speaking, and then he can declare victory, even if it’s untrue.

The fact is, by the time most of us who follow this sort of thing go to bed next Wednesday morning, we are quite likely to be lacking an informed, educated guess as to the winners. We probably won’t have to wait as long as we did in 2000, but we might if the Republican zealots can once again throw this to the Supreme Court.

That, of course, will be a horror show, one that will piss off millions of people no matter how the ruling(s) go. And by “piss off,” I mean “Katie bar the door.” Once again, gun sales are up – and do not infer that these increased sales are to Trump enthusiasts such as the Proud Boys and Boogaloo Marching Chowderhead Societies.

Way back in paragraph two I said I was tweaking my message a bit. Well, a promise is a promise.

In my previous pleas I said that whereas I had (usually obvious) preferences, you should vote either way. I still believe that is the proper thing to do… but “proper” isn’t the same as “appropriate.”

Trump, McConnell and Company have gone to great lengths to put their truly racist and bigoted programs into effect. I won’t bother to enumerate as the list is greater than our bandwidth and, besides, if you’ve read this far you already have made up your mind about all that. You might want to rid this nation of Latinos, Muslims, LGBTQ Americans, abortion, young Blacks who do not know their place, health care, public schools, reasonable prices for life-saving prescription drugs, for-profit prisons, lower taxes for the bottom 99% of Americans, and all this talk about global warming. Your having such a desire is your prerogative. I’m not in favor of hiring brain police; you believe in what you want.

Just don’t be surprised, shocked or offended if the sane majority tends to consider you a racist, a bigot, a sexist, a science-denier, et al… because that’s what you’re voting for.

That is what you are.

Have a happy election day. Bring a book, and remember: it is illegal for anybody, for any reason, to attempt to intimidate or force you out of voting.

Brainiac On Banjo #098: Zippy, Schlitzie, & Griffy

Brainiac On Banjo #098: Zippy, Schlitzie, & Griffy

Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead by Bill Griffith, 256 pages, Abrams ComicArts, $24.99 (print), $8.73 (digital)

Well, better late than never. When Nobody’s Fool was announced I got all excited, thinking this was a great idea from the one human on Earth best motivated to produce it. It came out about 18 months ago, I had ordered it from my friendly neighborhood comic book store, they never received it, and the whole thing faded from my brainpan. Maybe I was thinking I’d run into the editor Charlie Kochman at one convention or another — Charlie has no home and simply wanders from one convention to another.

Anyway, to make a long story tedious, I saw him a bunch of times but I didn’t put the arm on him, which is very unlike me. Finally, a little lightbulb lit above my naked pate and I went online and bought the thing. I read it yesterday, as I write this, and I’m writing this today. So you’d figure I must have liked it, right?

Well, I did. Books do not age, only readers do. But enough about me.

Almost 50 years ago, cartoonist Bill Griffith introduced his best-known and most beloved character Zippy The Pinhead in the underground comic book Real Pulp Comix #1; it was a romance story… kinda. I’d already been a fan of his work, and I thought telling a love story about a microcephalic was real gutsy. Of course, in 1971 we didn’t grasp the concept of political correctness the way we do today, but I’ll have more to rant about that anon.

The character took off and Griffith did a whole lot more Zippy The Pinhead stories. Fourteen years later, William Randolph Hearst III asked him to do Zippy as a daily strip in his San Francisco Examiner. This is amusing but not shocking; his grandfather (William Randolph Hearst-the-First) loved comic strips and was the guy who green-lit George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, which set the standard for non-sequitur humor.

Peculiarly, after Zippy’s inclusion the Examiner’s readers did not gather around the building with pitchforks in protest, so the following year Hearst-the-Third saw to it that his King Features Syndicate picked it up and pushed it nationally. Wiki says it’s in 100 newspapers, which is remarkable for a strip that doesn’t make sense to many and stars a pinhead. It’s also remarkable that there are 100 newspapers left these days, but that’s another story and a bleak one at that.

That same year I had moved to Fairfield County Connecticut, then the place to be for newspaper cartoonists. I got to know dozens and dozens of them, and I’d say these folks only had one thing in common: not a one understood why King Features picked the strip up. More than a few seemed resentful; the late great Gil Fox, one of the funniest and most courageous people I’d ever known to sit at a drawing board, once asked me to translate Zippy The Pinhead for him. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #098: Zippy, Schlitzie, & Griffy”

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind  #111: Conspiracy? 2 Years In 2 Hours – In 2 Parts!

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind #111: Conspiracy? 2 Years In 2 Hours – In 2 Parts!

In this space yesterday, “we” began “our” marathon response to the question “since you were actually on the Chicago 7 Trial staff way back in the stone age, what did you think of Aaron Sorkin’s movie The Trial of the Chicago 7?” I provided the backstory to explain what the trial was all about and how it came to happen and ended that installment with the response “I have yet to see it.” Today, I shall attempt to explain why. Let’s see how that goes…

Part 2!

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.

Overall, I really like Aaron Sorkin’s work. His West Wing was brilliantly produced, written, and performed. Same thing with The Newsroom. His scripts for A Few Good Men and Charlie Wilson’s War were first-rate. I thought the pilot for his Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen — sadly, the show itself suffered from unanticipated problems. I desperately wanted to see his version of To Kill A Mockingbird on Broadway but, sadly, I am not independently wealthy. I have a rant-in-waiting about Broadway, but this isn’t the time.

So I’m sure I will see The Trial of the Chicago 7. Well, probably, but first I’ve got to vault over a few roadblocks. I’ll start with the Mt. Denali of speed bumps.

Yippies Anita Hoffman and Nancy Kurshan, burning a judge’s robe in front of the Chicago Federal Building 1970

Noted director King Vidor could not turn Leo Tolstoy’s 1440 page novel War and Peace into a two-hour movie. Planning for the 1968 Democratic National Convention demonstrations in Chicago had started before the beginning of that year, the subsequent Chicago 7 Trial ended about 26 months later, and the appeals process that reversed the few convictions and the ridiculous contempt of court sentences ended in 1972. I’m not sure a 20 hour series could have happened, but, damn, the teevee version of the NXIVM / Keith Raniere horror show was just picked up for a second season so, maybe.

What do you cut? It almost doesn’t matter. Too much important stuff happened in the courtroom to accurately put the story across in two hours. Moreover, not all of the important stuff happened in the courtroom. The public impact was felt on the streets and in the many demonstrations that occurred all over the world (Fun Fact: I spoke at many of them). It was felt in the media which, just like the Vietnam War, shifted away from blind support of the prosecution as the Trial progressed. It was felt in the offices of the Conspiracy Trial, a block and one-half east of the courtroom, and it was felt in college campuses all over the place. How people were moved by the Trial was more important than the courtroom’s political polemics.

The Trial was not going to set any game-changing judicial precedents. The government’s dog-and-pony show was too well orchestrated to allow that to happen, the response by the defense was predictably organic, and the loony actions of Judge Julius Hoffman (such as his granting government motions before the prosecution made them) could be, and was, attributed to his obvious mental health difficulties. Government persecution of those out to change the status quo was nothing new… and, you should note, did not end with the Trial.

The Chicago Seven — et al — did not hold the trial in order to make a political point. The trial was not our decision, and the defendants did not indict themselves. In other words, they started it and we reacted on our own terms. Did we try to turn the tables and show the affair for the mockery it was?

You bet your damn ass we did.

Abbie Hoffman once said to me, and I’m paraphrasing a little bit, that he could do a hand-stand in front of the Chicago Federal Building on his way to the courtroom and the media would report it as having been performed in court in front of the judge and the jury. That reflected a significant part of our operating philosophy in challenging the government. We never played the victim; offense is the best defense.

But something significant did happen in court that changed the world and validated the protest movements. The Trial went worldwide, but I think some important subtext was lost and, by now, forgotten.

I’m sure Sorkin covered how Bobby Seale was treated. He was put on trial without a lawyer. His attorney was recovering from major surgery. Julie Magoo decided to assign Kunstler and Weinglass, who represented the others, as Bobby’s lawyer. Seale rejected that and demanded he represent himself, each of which being his right. When a prosecution witness was cross-examined, Bobby would get up to do his proper lawyerly activities. He acted calmly, quietly, and for a civilian professionally. Judge Hoffman lost his shit and, within a few days, had the defendant bound to his chair with a heavy gag stuffed into his mouth.

Oh, wait. Did I mention Bobby Seale was the only Black man among the eight defendants?

We could see the reaction in the tearful faces of several of the jurors. It was a reaction of horror, silently screaming “what the hell are you doing to this guy?” Moreover, you can see the reaction in the faces of several of the U.S. Marshalls in the courtroom. At least one of them later joined us at some of the rallies held outside of the Federal Building.

That moment, the moment Judge Julius Hoffman lost his mind, was the moment the government started losing its case.

But as you can see from our current dilemmas, the government did not learn. Sociopathic megalomaniacs running and ruining the lives of common folk for the benefit of the few on top is nothing new, and the government will continue to do just that as long as they can.

Then, as now, the people’s constitutional right to protest was not recognized by the government. The only rights you have are the rights you successfully exercise, and if you do not stand up for those rights you have none at all. Remember that the next time a woman dies from a back alley abortion.

Remember that as you stand in line to vote.

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind  #110: Conspiracy? 2 Years In 2 Hours…

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind #110: Conspiracy? 2 Years In 2 Hours…

Part One!

Over the past week or so, I’ve been inundated with emails, texts, Facebook messages, and the like asking for my reaction to Aaron Sorkin’s movie The Trial of the Chicago 7. It’s nice to get that attention, but I have yet to comment in public. Well, Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind allows me the opportunity to prattle to my friends without having to engage in redundant or even repetitive keyboard tapping.

For those who came in late, the Conspiracy trial (a.k.a. the Chicago 8 trial, a.k.a. the Chicago 7 trial) was a heavy-handed attempt by President Richard Nixon and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1969 to intimidate, incarcerate, and obliviate the still-surging protest movement which, at that time, mostly was focused on opposition to the Vietnam War and on civil rights.

We believed the choice of the Democrat’s smoke-filled room, Hubert Humphrey, was a criminal warmonger. He was the vice-president who stood beside President Johnson and cheered him on knowing, as L.B.J. knew beyond a doubt, that the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that turned the Vietnam conflict into a full-blown war was complete and utter bullshit. My source on that is Johnson’s Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, who later copped to it in his memoir. This was confirmed by the NSA, among others. It’s a fact.

Combined, the Civil Rights and the anti-Vietnam war movements quickly led to a major reinauguration of the feminist movement, to the establishment of gay rights movement, as well as many other such programs that encouraged Americans to stand up for themselves.

It was a heady time to say the least. Those invested in the status quo do not like having their oxen gored. Yet they do not like to be revealed as the right-wing self-absorbed bigoted assholes they are. As Lenny Bruce said, “I’ve got to do business with” the common people.

So Nixon, Daley and their coconspirators hand-picked eight people they decided were leaders of the Democratic National Convention protests held in Chicago. The one where the whole world was watching the cops gas and beat lawful protestors, as well as the media, Women for Peace, Teachers for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, unaffiliated hippies and aging beatniks, and gawking bystanders alike. Not to mention Jules Feiffer and Hugh Hefner.

A special commission was appointed to investigate what happened. Their Walker Report stated “The nature of the response was unrestrained and indiscriminate police violence on many occasions, particularly at night. That violence was made all the more shocking by the fact that it was often inflicted upon persons who had broken no law, disobeyed no order, made no threat. These included peaceful demonstrators, onlookers, and large numbers of residents who were simply passing through, or happened to live in, the areas where confrontations were occurring.”

This greatly upset ÜberDemocrat Mayor Daley. During the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr four months earlier, Daley gave his police the authority “to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand … and … to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city.” This, too, upset him and he was not about to just ignore the Walker Report.

In the presidential election held shortly thereafter, ÜberRepublican Nixon squeezed out a victory beating Humphrey by seven-tenths of one percentage point. With that overwhelming mandate, Nixon decided to keep Daley’s Democratic hack federal attorney Tom Foran in office and they had eight radical “conspirators” prosecuted for conspiracy. In the words of defendant Abbie Hoffman, these eight, who had never met together previously, “couldn’t even agree on where to have lunch.”

(Full disclosure: I worked with and for Abbie during the trial and for a couple years thereafter. He personally financed the first comic book I ever published, Conspiracy Capers, edited by Skip Williamson as a fundraiser for the Trial. It’s a small world, ain’t it?)

I was on the staff of the Conspiracy Trial. I was one of the first four hired, and I focused on working with what was then referred to as the underground or alternative media, which was akin to the social media of today. I had a background in this stuff as I was on work-release from the journalism program at my college, at the time of the police riot I was a precocious and obnoxious lad of 18, and I had been on the staff of the Chicago Seed for, oh, several months. I also had been on the staff of the Chicago Defense Fund, an effort by a bunch of lawyers to deal with all the legal poo that happened in the wake of said police riot.

One of the things I did for the CDF when we heard these indictments were going to come down was research the backgrounds of that district’s federal court judges. I noted that one of them, Julius J. Hoffman (who looked like Mr. Magoo’s great uncle) was so right-wing, so paranoid and so asinine that, given the immutable laws of dialectics, he would be a great boom to the protest movement — although not-such-great news for whomever got indicted. For example, Julie Magoo had found the last 27 people (give or take) who came before him for avoiding the draft guilty as charged and sentenced most of them to the full term.

Judges are supposed to be selected by lottery so, as fate would have it, Julie Magoo was selected to run the trial in his Mies Van Der Rohe sculpted courtroom. The one Abbie referred to as “the neon oven.”

I was a participant in the Democratic Convention demonstrations and, as a reward for my effort, I enjoyed a ham-fisted police truncation across my left hip; I still suffer from the consequences 52 years later. But it helped me get myself ready for the year (start to finish) I spent on the Conspiracy Trial staff.

All this is why I’ve been asked by so many decent people what I thought of the Sorkin movie. To this, I respond:

I have yet see it.

I’ll tell you why tomorrow.