Posts By Gary Phillips

Thursday, April 12, 2012 / 7:36 am

Herman Cain’s Plan 9-9-9

Is the former presidential candidate vying to be a horror movie producer?

by Gary Phillips

Vampyra can see the horror that's coming

Herman Cain was on one of those fluffy Fox talk shows the other day saying he wouldn’t rule out being Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential pick.  I’m sure Romney must have rolled his eyes at that one.  Big Daddy Cain would certainly excite the Mitt’s campaign.  But it would be like a scorpion makes your heart race if it were trapped in your car with you yet eventually does you in even if that means you’re gonna crash the car and cause its demise as well.

Anyway, being vice-president doesn’t seem to be where Black Walnut’s desire is at these days.  Rather I think he’s building up to be a horror impresario like a modern day- right wing schlockmeister of the Ed Wood school, he’s released three strange videos decrying taxes, the stimulus package and all-things progressive in general.  In the first one a goldfish is dumped out of his fist bowl of water to flop around and gasp for air…us the American taxpayer the dying goldfish.  In the second one bunnies are used as skeet targets by a man blasting them out of the sky with a shotgun.  We’re told this is the attack on business under the tax code.

His latest is a farmer in overalls feeding his chickens and this hapless chap is attacked by these devil birds and pecked to death.  The voice over stating this guy is the stand in for the average American taxpayer feeding the big government of chickens who turn on hi.  Like in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, the special effects in this last one are truly underwhelming.  The chicken pecking sequence and the farmer’s mock horror are totally unbelievable.

What is creepy is that blonde waif of a kid who Cain has as our onscreen ersatz Rod Serling narrating the three vids.  She’s effective in a affectless, less-is-more way.  Seems to me what Cain is really up to is grooming her to be the new star in his remake of Children of the Corn or be like Billy Mumy in the classic Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life.”   Thi sis the one where’s he an evil precocious child who can punish adults for thinking bad thoughts – making them into a human Jack-in-the boxes and sending them to the cornfield for instance

In Cain’s version that girl will send all lefties and liberals to the cornfield as part of the work camps in Arizona where we’ll be fed the red slime and ten to twelve hours sew camouflage uniforms for militia members and print anti-evolution textbooks.

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Saturday, April 7, 2012 / 5:13 pm

The Light Fades

Mass producing artist Thomas Kinkade dies.

by Gary Phillips

Kinkade's romantic touch

Mindful that one should not speak ill or enviously of the dead, I note the sudden passing of Thomas Kinkade, a couple of years younger and far, far richer than me.  He was the Henry Ford of American art, mass producing paintings of bucolic, ‘50s-era Hallmark moments that are reputed to hang in one out of every 20 homes in this grand nation of ours.  At one point a decade ago, Kinkade’s Media Arts Group took in a whopping $32 million per quarter from some 4,500 galleries and gift shops across the country.  A devout Christian, his bridges in the emerald woods, churches, Hobbit-like cottages, copyrighted characters (Disney Dreams Collection), winter wonder lands and so forth adorn nightlights, mugs, Bible covers, Lay-Z-Boy recliners, tote bags and on and on.

Ah, but there was a darkness beyond the “Painter of Light’s” tableaus.  As reported in the L.A. Times in 2006, Kinkade and his business associates were under a fraud probe by the FBI.  At least six investors in the Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery chain, a gallery in which only the master’s paintings, prints, clocks, etc. were to be sold, felt he’d used their Christian faith as a way to rope them into these deals.  They sunk tens of thousands of dollars in these galleries, the former owners alleged they were stuck with prints and other merchandise they couldn’t move, but were forced to carry.  That they were further undercut by the same items being sold through discount distributors.  Ultimately, he was ordered to pay out $2.8 milion to settle the claims.  In 2010, his company filed for bankruptcy.  But Kinkade wasn’t broke.

His collectors enthused about his art – which Kinkade said was filled with the light of Jesus – that they got a warm, cozy feeling from his work.  His detractors, me among them, figured at best his work was of an inoffensive quality that was best displayed on hotel room walls.

Well, history will sort this out whether the late Mr. Kinkade’s work will stand the test of time.  Meanwhile, for some artwork of a bit more grit, that has historical heft, check out Ron Finley’s international black movie poster exhibit in the Museum of African American Art on the third floor of the Macy’s (I kid you not) at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.  The Italian version of Sergeant Rutledge, with big, tough Woody Strode on it wielding a rifle like a club is worth the trip.  It’s up until April 22nd, and open Thursday thru Sunday.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012 / 8:40 am

A Shot Rang Out

A view from the mountaintop.

by Gary Phillips

Dr. King

On this date of April 4 in 1968 the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.  He was killed by rifle shot as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel at 6:01 in the evening.  King was in the city in support of black garbage men, union members on strike for recognition, equal pay and equal treatment.  To King this was but a small matter in the big scheme of things as he and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were in the midst of a planned Poor People’s March on Washington D.C. for April 29th.  Today we call it Occupy, then the idea was a multi-racial gathering of working poor would not sit-in, but stay-in the nation’s capitol.  One of the demands being that the money being poured into the Vietnam war would be much better used for job training, education and health. 

This shift of King’s broader focus from civil rights to zeroing in on economic issues not only bothered some of his liberal white supporters, but handkerchief heads like Roy Wilkins of the NAACP openly questioned his tactics.  King is lionized these days 44 years down the line, but then he was getting to be too radical, too dangerous.  Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now heard here locally on 90.7 KPFK-FM, noted the following on a re-broadcast of one of his most famous speeches, Beyond Vietnam, on the occasion of the King holiday in January for 2010:

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Monday, March 26, 2012 / 8:44 am

Yo Soy Mitt Romney

Is Romney a sleeper agent?

by Gary Phillips

President Roosevelt gets the joke.

I love this.  Them crazy-ass Birthers have turned their supposedly considerable research abilities onto a secondary target, the eventual Republican candidate for the presidency, Willard Mitt Romney.  As reported on NPR and NBC’s 30 Rock Center, in1885, Romney's Mormon great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, hatted up from the States to Chihuahua, Mexico so he could keep his four wives and their 30 damn kids.  One of those kids was Gaskell Romney whose son, the Mittman’s dad, George, was born down there in Colonia Juarez, but would go on to be the governor of Michigan.

Apparently the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent various plural marriage types as they term it into Mexico and Canada back then.  The conspiracy-minded Birthers must be salivating about this tidbit when they gather in their office in back of the cash for gold outlet paid for by their douchebag sponsor Chuck Norris.  I imagine as the meeting is chaired into session by Orly Taitz, they take off their tinfoil fedoras (the office is lead-lined to prevent the alien machines from reading their minds), and sit down to debrief their latest efforts at finding the proof detailing the grand scheme the Mormons, Muslims and Masons concocted to plant their sleeper candidates to seize world power.

It goes like this: In 1901, Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, former police commissioner of New York City and practicing freemason, held what would be a historic meeting in the secret five-pointed star chamber beneath the White House.  Gathered there are a medium channeling the ghost of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, a mysterious traveler from the east who had many names, but is now known as W. Fard Muhammad (later to be the mentor of Elijah Mohammad, leader of the Nation of Islam), and an old, but still vital Edgar Allan Poe.  Yeah, I know, Poe was already dead for half a century but when did the facts ever get in the way of a far-flung conspiracy yarn?  For the purposes of this scenario, let’s say that Poe faked his own death so he could continue his exploration of the occult sciences out of the public eye.

For the next three days, this powerful grouping lays out a plan that will take centuries to reach fruition.  They need to take a break now and then as keeping Smith’s ghost in the Earthly plane taxes the medium – who is the maternal aunt of Emma Goldman.  Coffee and food is brought in by trusted White House butler, Hiram Delany, the grandfather of science-fiction writer Samuel R. Delany.  The plotters work out a series of alliances, mostly of pairing up certain women and men, their names revealed to Poe after many a fevered dream over the years of his research.  Many of these parings will in secret plural marriages as they will cross racial lines to create progeny who will begat specific others whose descendents will obtain the proper positions in society.

Yep, that’s right, that’s one of the big secrets the Birthers are now at work uncovering, that Obama and Romney are cousins and are part of this grand plan.  I can see it now, an enraged Chuck Norris karates his way onto the stage at the GOP convention and takes out Romney, declaring himself the one true, nominee.


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Wednesday, March 21, 2012 / 7:10 am

Blago, We Hardly Knew Ye

Rod Blagojevich went to jail in style.

by Gary Phillips

The Guv'nor

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich headed to the joint last Thursday to do a 14-year jolt. I for one will miss him. He’s my kind of politician, signing autographs on his way to the joint. 

Back in December ’08, Fixed News mouthpieces, the poisonous troika of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and blusterous Bill O’Reilly were licking their chops when the then governor of Illinois was busted on various corruption charges – including trying to sell a particular recently vacated senate seat. At that time, they were hurting given the electorate had voted into office the first, and likely the only, African American president. I’m sure they were creaming themselves as they and the other minions of the Right Wing Echo Chamber were concocting stories tying the governor’s shenanigans to Barack Obama, the president-elect. For it was the senate seat he’d held at the heart of the case against Blagojevich.

“I got this thing and it’s fucking golden,” Blagojevich was surreptitiously taped as saying over the phone to an aide regarding the seat.  “…and I’m not just not giving it up for fucking nothing.  I’m not going to do it.”

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Friday, March 16, 2012 / 10:18 am

Book Banning

Subversive books smuggled back into Arizona.

by Gary Phillips

Libro Traficante call to arms

Dutifully I drove over to Crenshaw High this drizzly Friday morning to catch the send off of the Libro Traficante van.  This is an effort by educators and activists to highlight the racist stupidity of the legislature and school officials in Arizona to ban K-12 ethnic studies classes throughout the Tucson Unified School District.  The officials claimed such classes promote the overthrow of the U.S. government” and/or “resentment toward a race or class of people.”  The banned books include Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People’s History of the United States, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rudy Acuna, and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.  A van of these banned books was to head from the Crenshaw District to Tucson.

Well, nobody was there.  No van, no gathering of people.  Nothing.  Figuring maybe the “smuggles” were on CP time, I hung around some.  But I was conscious of how did it look that a man my age, unshaven, grey whiskers in a plaid shirt and cap, sitting in an old Caddy in front of a high school look to the campus police parked out front?  I left.  But a check of the librotraficante site afterward stated the van is due in Tucson today at 3 pm, so it’s all good.

Bad enough you have the right wing attempting to make it seem our history begins and ends with John Wayne at the Alamo.  In Texas and Tennessee, there’s efforts to have textbooks in their words, “downplay” slavery and civil rights.  It’s from Texas where the Junteenth celebration arose due to slave owners in the Lone Star state failing to mention to their slaves they were free after the Civil War.  Not only is the right seeking to obliterate people of color’s contributions from the annals of this country, but are on the long march to destroying public education.

Screw ‘em.  Check out the librotraficante site and make a contribution.  It’ll be a sound investment in our young peoples' futures.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012 / 7:47 am

Kiss Me Deadly, Baby!

Women cops straight out of the noir pages of Jim Thompson and David Goodis.

by Gary Phillips

Dangerous Woman

Last week in Los Angeles in the same courtroom, a day apart, two former female law enforcement officers were convicted of murder.  For Stephanie Lazarus let me take you back to UCLA to a time when two bight-eyed students, a young man named John Ruetten, and a young woman, Lazarus, meet and dated.  In ’85, after they’d graduated, Reutten began seeing another woman, Sherri Rasmussen, a nurse.  They married in November of that year.  The young bride would be dead months before her first wedding anniversary.

On February 24, 1986, the nurse’s battered body, including a bite mark on her left forearm, was discovered by her husband, an engineer, that evening when he came home from work.  Rasmussen was a good-sized woman at six feet and in-shape.  There were signs of a fight in the Van Nuys condo, upstairs and down.  Bullets had been fired from a .38 into her body, after the police surmised, she was hit over the head with a heavy object to stun her and the shots muffled through a quilt. The BMW Ruetten had bought his wife was missing – though would be recovered a week later.  No fingerprints or seemingly any other trace evidence, save the swab, were obtained.

The spouse is often the prime suspect in these kinds of murders but Ruetten as they say in police procedurals, had an air tight alibi what with various witnesses having seen him at work that day.  The theory then was two burglars had gained entry and killed her.  When Rasmussen’s parents got to town the following day, her dad, Nels Rasmussen, told the lead investigator his daughter had told him about this female LAPD cop, an ex-girlfriend of her husband, had come to her hospital soon after she was married.  The woman had given her grief, but the father didn’t know the cop’s name and apparently the detective didn’t pursue the lead, didn’t question the husband about this woman.

That February in 1986 Tomiekia Johnson was five or six.  Maybe getting older she played cops and robbers with the boys or maybe she was the studious type and didn’t have a thing for guns one way or the other growing up.  Nor do I have any idea why she became a California Highway Patrol officer.  What is known is that on another February, the 21st in 2009, she and her husband Marcus Lemmons, a barber and said to be a pretty good bowler, were having drinks at the Friday’s in Compton.  As these things happen when alcohol is involved, Johnson got to chatting with another dude at the bar.  Her husband had something to say about that, and the couple got into an argument and left.  Lemmons would be dead before they reached their home, shot once in the head while he sat in the passenger seat, his wife outside of the car.

At the end of 2004, the LAPD’s Cold Case Homicide Unit was working its way through a backlog of some 1,400 cold cases.  Because the lead detective had taken a swab from that bite mark on Sherri Rasmussen’s arm all those years ago, and the sample frozen and saved, the cold case unit got it analyzed.  The gender marker came back indicating a female.  The results were run through CODIS – the Combined DNA Index System, but no match in the FBI’s database came up.  The information was put into the Rasmussen file but there was no immediate follow-up given the unit’s caseload.  Meanwhile Stephanie Lazarus, who made detective in 1993, got a sweet assignment to the Art Theft Detail in 2006. 

In 2008, the Rasmussen file was looked at again by some detectives in Van Nuys where the unidentified female DNA that surfaced was noted.  These detectives began eliminating suspects and zeroed in on Lazarus, the father’s comments also having been noted.  Surreptitiously Lazarus was tailed and her DNA was obtained on a discarded straw.

Tomiekia Johnson fell out when her 50 years to life was announced in the courtroom.  She was removed handcuffed to a stretcher.  Stephanie Lazarus took it stoically the day before when her 27 years to life was read.  Johnson’s defense revolved around her contention her husband had tried to choke her out on their way back home that night.  That he had a violent history.  Indeed there’s a 911 call she made a few days before.  The two were returning from a bowling tournament in Vegas and were arguing.  On the recording, Johnson said her husband had her gun. The prosecution maintained Johnson had anger issues.  At one point on the CHP, she’d been ordered to take anger-management but classes but hadn’t. 

On the Atlantic magazine site, there’s an article about the Lazarus case by Matthew McGough, one of the sources I used for this piece.  What utterly fascinates me as a crime fiction writer is the clip of Lazarus being interviewed by detectives in 2009.  By then she’s their major suspect, only they make it seem like she’s a colleague, a helpful witness to aid them in clearing this matter up.  But no matter that she’s an experienced detective, someone who no doubt has sweated her share of suspects in the “box.” 

In the clip, where we just see her talking and the disembodied voices of her fellow cops questioning her, she acts like any other perp. She hems and haws, dodges direct answers when she damn well knows they know the answers to what they’ve asked her.  Despite her experience, it does matter what side of the table you’re sitting on.  The guilty, or even if you’re innocent of the crime but have something to hide, you have to double-think your answers.  Invariably you’re going to be hesitant, and that’s what they pounce on, walking you step-by-step into the trap.

As Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane’s ‘50s-era tough guy private eye—who makes Don Draper look like a sissy—might have exclaimed regarding these dangerous dames, “Kiss me deadly, baby.”

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Saturday, March 10, 2012 / 12:04 pm

The Day the Disco Inferno Died

Burn, baby, burn!

by Gary Phillips

The Trammps

A shout out to the passing of Jimmy T. Ellis, the lead singer of the Trammps.  You may not remember who this group was, or never know, but I bet if you’re of a certain age, you know their 1976 hit, “Disco Inferno.”  Mr. Ellis died from complications due to Alzheimer’s at 74, in his hometown of Rock Hill, South Carolina.  The song was a massive hit and was on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.  I can’t remember for the life of me the name of the club on La Cienega we used to go to in those clouded days of disco, only that “Disco Inferno” was played many a night there and the DJ was in this large plaster bowl that extended from the wall held in a pair of giant hands.

The hook line in “Disco Inferno,” “Burn, baby, burn,” was the battle cry during the Watts riots of '65 here in L.A., and had been originated by local KGFJ disc jockey Magnificent Montague – for the hot platters he played.  The song itself was the inspiration for my short story, “Disco Zombies” in the Cocaine Chronicles.  The zombies, the undead from a disco club that burned down long ago, climb their way out of their graves looking to have the payload of coke two thieves have unwittingly brought onto their gravesite.  “Disco Inferno” plays on the air as the zombies attack.

Sing on, Jimmy Ellis, sing on.

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Friday, March 9, 2012 / 8:12 am

Mars or Bust

With John Carter hitting theaters, is Martian fever upon us?

by Gary Phillips

Mars Attacks

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…”  So begins one of the greatest science-fiction novels, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. 

Since Wells’ story was first serialized then published in novel form, our fascination and fear of the planet named for the god of war hasn’t waned.  Ray Bradbury had his Martian Chronicles, a series of short stories that offered horror and happiness on that not so distant planet. 1950s sci-fi movie Invaders from Mars had them taking over our minds, the creepy big brain octopus Martian pulling the strings in his underground flying saucer.  In Philip K. Dick’s short story, “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale” (the basis of the film Total Recall), a man visits Mars by implanted memory only to find out he’s not who he thinks he is – that his mind and Mars hold secrets.

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Monday, March 5, 2012 / 3:57 pm

Watermelon Woman

Damn, Disney, it is 2012 not 1952.

by Gary Phillips

Vanilla and watermelon, so good together

As first reported on the site Sociological Images, Disney has licensed the image of their black princess Tiana, their only black princess I hasten to add from the animated wonder The Princess and the Frog in 2009 for the watermelon flavored dipping candy offered by Dig n Dips.  We’ll skip over what the hell a candy dipping stick is, but really, Disney?   Or is it somebody in licensing’s clever retort on racism?  Been taking a night class and reading up on their Ashley Montague?  For the character from Cinderella, the blonde, blue-eyed Aurora, decorates the vanilla candy side of these double sugary treat. 

Hey how about Jeremy Lin replacing Uncle Ben on those rice boxes?  What about a return of Speedy Gonzalez as an outlaw biker who goes to hell after a booby-trapped exploding burrito kills him and he returns from beyond the grave as a gardener to take out bigoted politicians – getting intel when he does their lawns, his power the ability to appear as a kindly old harmless peasant.

I know, Disney, why don’t you bring back Uncle Remus as a singing folksy drug dealer – those chirping birds his mules – and Brer Rabbit as the idealistic cop out to get him?  And Brer finally traps Remus with a beautiful woman in a fried chicken bikini offering shots of Hennessy in Song of the South: The Rhyme of Vengeance.

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