Misdirection — Alfred Hitchcock

Anybody who has ever stood anywhere close to me by know knows I am a great fan of classical movies. I have a video library of films I have obtained on DVD or recorded off the cable, and there are many titles I have seen more often than Elizabeth Taylor ever got married. Some of these are really good, and they easily count as artistic treasures, so it is difficult for me or anybody else to admit, reveal, herald some obvious flaws.

Here is what a good film requires:

1. A good story
2. good photography
3. good acting
4. and not least good direction

Considered one of the best directors of the twentieth century is British-born Alfred Hitchcock. He started his career in England directing such dark classics as Jamaica Inn and The 39 Steps, and he wound up in the U.S., turning out such classics as Psycho and Rear Window.

But it is Strangers on a Train I want to discuss, because, despite its standing as one of the crime thrillers of all time, it also contains one of the most absurd action sequences ever put on the screen by a serious director.

It is likely Strangers is the first of Hitchcock’s films that I ever remember seeing, although it was not for years that I knew or cared who directed it. The plot is tricky enough. Farley Granger plays a tennis star with a broken marriage, and he desperately needs to get rid of his wife so he can move on to Ruth Roman (who would not). On a train the tennis star meets rich psychopathic playboy Robert Walker, who proposes an exchange of murders. The tennis player is supposed to kill the psycho’s father, and the psycho will in turn kill the tennis guy’s wife.

Anyhow, the tennis star thinks nothing of the conversation until he learns that the psycho has murdered the wife. Who’s he going to tell? He’s in a jam. He can’t kill the father, but the psycho insists and applies pressure. He has obtained the tennis guy’s cigarette lighter and goes to the scene of the wife’s murder, an amusement park, to plant the lighter.

With the police following him, Granger heads for the murder scene to retrieve the lighter before the police can discover it. The climax of the movie comes when Granger and Walker struggle on the merry-go-round in motion. Now here comes the part that should gag every  half-way realist in the audience. The police arrive, and somebody points out the two men fighting on the merry-go-round and says something like “There’s the murderer.”

Here it comes.

A policeman draws his revolver and lets fly a shot at the supposed murderer. That is the murderer on the moving merry-go-round packed with riders, including small children among a crowd of people milling around the amusement park.

Of course this is necessary for the plot finale, because the shot hits the merry-go-round operator who falls and pushes the speed control to full on. The merry-go-round then goes out of control while the two men continue their fight, and it finally crashes and kills the real murderer.

I was a mere child when I first saw all of this and did not give it much thought. Now I cannot but help wondering, “What was he thinking?” Not the cop, because he was only a pretend cop drawing his salary as a bit player in the film, but the director, Alfred Hitchcock. So much for reality.

Writer Mark Twain is noted for saying something like “Of course truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction needs to make sense.” Only sometimes, it would appear.

St. Mary’s Jazz

Does not get much better than this. Free concert, free parking, good company, a few snacks, a bottle of Dos Equis, weather to write home about and really great jazz.

The scene was St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, and the site was the Pecan Grove Pavilion. This was the 50th anniversary edition of St. Mary’s Jazz Festival. It featured great performers of the music from university and school jazz groups around San Antonio plus the Jim Kalson Trio and members of the St. Mary’s music faculty. Who best to perform the art other than the ones who teach it?

The modern jazz is always my favorite, but there were also great Dixie Land numbers and one by W. C. Handy, a name I had not heard since Robert Preston sang the praises of “The Great Creatore, W.C. Handy and John Philip Sousa” in The Music Man.

Jazz is the great American music invention, and, according to the twentieth century evangelist Amee Semple McPherson, one of the products of an evolution-inspired satanic plot. It’s obvious the plot has been carried off with great success with the assistance of the music faculty at a Catholic school. Is jazz another thing we have evolution to thank for?

Our Man Don

I just finished watching Don McLeroy on Comedy Central with Stephen Colbert. Makes me proud to be a Texan. When the former Chairman of the State Board of Education can go on the Colbert Report and get the notoriously facetious Colbert to agree that matters of science and eternal truth should be decided by majority vote, then you know this man must carry some serious intellect. He is a national brain trust, a walking Newton. And to think I used to call him a creationist.

Wait, he is a creationist. He admitted it in front of Colbert and God and everybody. Could he be joking? No way. Who would call himself a creationist who had any choice? Imagine that. He’s a creationist, and he still got elected to the board of education of one of the proudest states in this great country. And not only did he get elected to the board, he was even appointed chairman by the state’s other closet mental giant, the governor. Did I mention how proud I am?

So there’s this new documentary out, and it’s called The Revisionaries, and I have not seen it yet, but it premiered last night at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. I will try to bring more information about the video after I get my hands on a copy, but footage from the trailer is hilarious.

The film is about 83 minutes long, it’s directed by Scott Thurman, and it features our own Don McLeroy. What little I could see from the trailer features Don reciting his pouring forth his profound wisdom, reminding us how he saved the Texas school system from liberal academics and preserved our cultural heritage. What a guy! This is our man Don.

Teachers on the Front Lines

I just finished watching again the Nova documentary produced for PBS on the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board law suit of 2005. The video is titled Judgment Day, and it recounts the circumstances surrounding the attempt by board members to introduce religious-based science into the school curriculum and to suppress the teaching of biological evolution.

The Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of Seattle is the nation’s leading organization advocating the Intelligent Design version of creationism, and they have long sought a public venue that would give them an opportunity to showcase their arguments. I have been following the Intelligent Design movement for about twenty years, and a recurring complaint I hear from these people is that mainstream science will not give their side a fair hearing. A good test case in court would fit the bill for the CSC and its cadre of disgruntled scientists and eager legal experts. It turned out the Dover trial was not what they wanted, and they quickly backed away from this gathering train wreck before too much of the tarnish rubbed off on them.

The problem was the CSC was formed in part as a response to the 1987 Supreme Court decision in the case Edwards v. Aguillard. In that case the court had ruled against a Louisiana law mandating equal treatment of creationism and evolution in the public school. The court had ruled that creationism was a strictly religious concept rooted in the biblical story of Genesis and could not be put forward as science, since it had no basis in fact and amounted to religious indoctrination.

The cause of the CSC was to promote a form of creationism that omitted reference to Genesis and God and proposed to be non-religious and also to have only a scientific basis. The problem with Dover was that the board members pushing first creationism, then later Intelligent Design as the wind direction became clear, had made clear up front their religious intent, an intent that had already become soiled beyond any known method of cleansing.

Anyhow, the video deals with the lead-up, the personalities, the bizarre posturing and finally the trial and resulting in utter defeat of the creationists. The equally bizarre aftermath of the trial was that the trial judge, a federal court judge, subsequently received death threats, which almost certainly did not come from an evolutionary scientist.

But the real story, and what this posting is all about, is the teachers.

When board members began to send down to the science teachers through the school administration their intention to introduce Intelligent Design, the teachers, to a person, recognized Intelligent Design immediately for what it is: old style creationism dressed up in a “cheap tuxedo,” as Leonard Krishtalka, who directs the Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas, once called it.

The pressure these teachers faced from the board was relentless. First the teachers sought to straighten things out with an explanation of why creationism was not science, but when they thought they had gotten their message across they discovered the board was not interested in listening to their message. The board had an agenda, and science was not on it. The board threatened to withhold new biology book purchases unless the teachers accepted the book Of Pandas and People, a barely disguised argument for creationism, as well. When the teachers would not relent on the Pandas book the board went through back channels and purchased the creationist text with private funding and required the school to make it available to the students. Ultimately, when the teachers refused to teach creationism, the board prepared a disclaimer for the teachers to read before teaching evolution:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

The teachers recognized this as a gross distortion of reality and an attack on valid scientific principles. They refused to read it, and ultimately the school district assistant superintendent Mike Baksa took on the job of reading it to each class while the science teachers stood by.

The Judgment Day video includes interviews with the science teachers involved, and their level of commitment and their understanding of the nature of science is heart-warming. People unsure of the state of the American education system and the competence of our teachers should view the documentary just to experience the testimony of these teachers.

I previously recorded the documentary when it aired on PBS a few years ago, and I recently purchased a DVD of the program in a set that also includes the series on evolution. To see the Judgment Day video you do not need to purchase the disk. Log onto the PBS Web site and go to the link. You can view the entire program on your computer at home.  If you want to get the disks just follow the links below.

http://www.amazon.com/Judgment-Day-Intelligent-Design-Trial/dp/B000YY6VIC/ref=sr_1_1

http://www.amazon.com/Evolution-Judgment-Intelligent-Design-Trial/dp/B0015LPRTM/ref=sr_1_2

The Candidate

It’s been 50 years, and it’s time for another look. In 1962 The Manchurian Candidate starred Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury. There was also a part played to great finesse by character actor James Gregory. More recently they remade Candidate in color with new actors and a new setting. I have not seen it, but I am sure it is vastly inferior to the original.

The movie was an adaptation of a 1959 book of the same name by Richard Condon, and the plot is so highly improbably it should barely pass muster in a first semester writing class. Perhaps that’s one part that makes it such great entertainment.

The basic premise of the plot is that an American soldier and his patrol are captured by North Koreans during that famous police action. They are rendered unconscious by some means not explained and whisked away to Manchuria, the name given to a region of China that borders on North Korea. The soldiers are kept there for a few days and are “brainwashed,” a term that seems to have seen first light during this particular conflict. “Brainwashing” is the translation of a Chinese term for intense indoctrination, mind cleansing.

Anyhow, due to the poor motivation for the war provided to recruits that were sent into this kill zone and due to the campaign’s very low level of popular support in their home country, many American war prisoners at the time succumbed to this technique and switched sides during their captivity. To rationalize this embarrassing circumstance and to reassure themselves as to the righteousness of their cause, the American military and the civilian administration gave great credence to the effectiveness of brainwashing. By the time the movie came around nine years later audiences could believe that men held captive for just a few days had become conditioned to a far greater extent than the North Koreans and the Chinese had ever been able to achieve through an application lasting for weeks, months and years.

Anyhow, in just a few days, the captured soldiers are effectively hypnotized to forget abut their entire captivity, and one member of the patrol is converted into a robotic assassin before they are sent back to their own lines. The remainder of the plot deals with the unveiling of the plot and the psychological unwinding of the assassin.

What brought this half-century-old film to mind was the antics of Florida congressman Allen West. In a recent address Congressman West talked about up to 80 Democrats being members of the Communist Party. This was the role that was played with such grim humor by James Gregory in Candidate that it gets a laugh even today, this time at the expense of Mr. West.

This classic is worth a see, and you can get it on Amazon. Follow the link at the beginning of this post. I do not have plans to see the remake, but if you do, let me know if it’s any good. I may want to do a side-by-side comparison for myself. Hopefully there are still 57 communists left in the government after all these years.

The Big Lie

Over the weekend I was reviewing some old VHS tapes I keep for reference from a previous century, and I came across a copy of Linda Thompson’s Waco: The Big Lie. I wrote the following for the May 2000 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. Perhaps this remains pertinent today:

This is not about claims of the paranormal or even about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary proof. It is about people believing what they want to believe in the face of contrary evidence. It is about people putting aside good judgement and critical thinking and allowing their personal preferences to dictate what is true and what is not. As such, it is rightly a topic for discussion by the skeptics.

The siege and fiery end of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco seven years ago has been a point of controversy ever since. Apologists for the Davidians have maintained the members were innocent victims of an overzealous government. Some have gone so far as to claim the final assault by the government was a calculated move to murder those inside.

One making such a claim was attorney Linda Thompson, who shortly after the fire distributed a video titled Waco: The Big Lie. Scenes and narration in the video attempt to convince the viewer that government tanks using flame throwers torched the building, causing those inside to burn to death.

Professor Ray Eve at the University of Texas at Arlington was called in as a consultant by the attorney for Cathy Schroeder, who was one of the surviving Davidians prosecuted by the government. During the course of his work on the case, Dr. Eve obtained a copy of the video, and he gave it to former NTS President Joe Voelkering for examination.

Joe, who has since died, operated a business investigating aviation accidents and preparing presentations of evidence for court cases. Those who continue to delude themselves will continually find unexpected surprises during cross-examination, and as a result Joe developed a keen sense for putting aside personal preferences and seeing only what the evidence showed.

I viewed the tape, as well, and Joe described to me what was going on. He pointed out the places where severe editing of the tape had placed events out of chronological order to best support the story Linda Thompson wanted to tell. He also pointed out places where large flashes of light were described as flames from the tank (really an armored engineering vehicle). Closer examination showed these flashes were associated with pieces of siding or wall board from the building flashing in the sun.

Others were not so critical in viewing Linda Thompson’s video. Apparently Timothy McVeigh watched the video a number of times and convinced himself that the government had murdered the Davidians. This is thought to be part of his motivation for killing 168 people two years later.

More recently writer Mike McNulty has produced a documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement. While the story line of Rules of Engagement is decidedly anti-government, it goes beyond offering sympathy for the Davidians. A press release states it “is a shocking film which says that the FBI machine-gunned Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas and committed numerous other rights violations there.” The press release was related to the announcement in 1998 that the film had been nominated for an Academy Award. Siskel and Ebert gave it “two thumbs up,” and it “was named one of the year’s best films in The Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, L.A. Weekly and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.”

McNulty’s conclusions regarding the machine-gunning of innocents seem to hang on his interpretation of FLIR (Forward-Looking Infra-Red) video captured by a reconnaissance aircraft flying overhead at the end of the siege. Flashes of light in the vicinity of the building are perceived as muzzle flashes from automatic and other small arms fire by government agents. In fact, a consultant shown analyzing the FLIR imagery is not circumspect in his statements. He uses phrases similar to “Here we see gunfire toward the kitchen area” and “This is a two-second burst from an automatic weapon.”

McNulty is no Linda Thompson. When two NTS members participated in the taping of a McCuistion TV program about the siege recently he was there and repeated the shooting allegations in language less strong than he used in the video. He even had praise for the agents who took part in the initial raid, including Robert White, who was wounded that day and was on the McCuistion show with him.

The NTS has subsequently obtained a copy of the Rules of Engagement video, and at the April 2000 meeting we showed the portions illustrating the purported gunfire. I have some previous experience with FLIR technology and gave my interpretation of what we were seeing. Here is a little background.

FLIR is a remarkable technology. It enables seeing in the dark for all practical purposes. Infra-red film is sensitive to what is called “near infra-red.” This is electromagnetic energy with wavelengths just longer than red in the visible spectrum. What IR film sees is very hot objects or reflected solar IR. In contrast, FLIR sees objects that are barely warm. This electromagnetic energy is low energy and is called “far infra-red.”

In a laboratory demonstration once I switched off the lights and viewed the imagery on a video monitor (which is what you have to do, since the FLIR just produces digitized images). There was no practical difference between lights on and lights off. Everything in the room showed up to some extent, since everything was about room temperature. People produce remarkable IR images. Certain areas of the face and other exposed skin show up lighter because they are warmer. Clothing is darker because it is closer to room temperature. Cold objects are very dark. Place your hand on a surface and remove it. The outline of you hand shows due to the residual warmth.

Outside, the imagery mostly shows the effects of solar warming and residual warmth. Objects that absorb IR readily also readily emit it. The black lettering on the Wal-Mart truck driving by showed up clearly in the imagery. A construction worker’s cigarette was a bright beacon.

I did not retain any of the imagery from my FLIR project, but I do have a shot from a Texas Instruments Web page (see Figure 1). The picture shows a highway and railroad bridge north of Dallas. The shot was made in the daytime, when the sun was warming exposed surfaces. Steel structures are hot and show very bright in the image. Bridge piers are shaded and show up dark. I have reversed white and black in this image, because the FLIR operators produced the original in reverse mode, showing hot as dark. The black rectangles were injected into the imagery by a target tracking system to show the operator the tracking points. They show up black here, but they were white in the original.

Figure 1. FLIR image from a missile seeker
From the Texas Instruments (now Raytheon) Web site

Other imagery I have dealt with showed automobiles, tanks, and other vehicles, and here is the important point. You can tell by looking at the tires of a car or truck or the treads of a tank whether the vehicle has been moving. The tires and treads are warm and show up brighter.

In the Rules of Engagement video the tank treads show up brighter. The FLIR was sensitive enough to show the extra warmth. In the siege video no shooters show up. “Gunfire” erupts from a patch of ground, supposedly directed at the Davidian’s building, and we don’t see anybody doing the shooting. The FLIR that is sensitive enough to show warm tank treads does not show a warm (98F) person lying on the ground. More so, there is a two-second burst of automatic weapon fire, and we don’t see a stream of hot bullets. A gun barrel that should be too hot to touch does not even register.

Surviving Davidians are now suing the US government for the wrongful deaths of their friends, and they had planned to use the FLIR imagery from the aircraft as evidence. In its defense, the government conducted tests at Fort Hood using similar FLIR equipment plus real gunfire and real shooters.

The results of these tests are now beginning to come in, and it does not look good for the Davidians. The new video shows shooters where there are shooters, and it shows flashes like those in the earlier video where there are no shooters. Science may provide the answer to what has been wild speculation up to now.

In the meantime, Mike McNulty has produced another video, Waco: A New Revelation. We have not seen it yet, but you can get additional information from a Web site devoted to it at www.anewrevelation.com.

It seems everybody has an opinion one way or the other in this matter, and here is mine: Rather than submit to a raid by the AFT and to the surrender of their weapons and rather than face arrest on felony weapons charges, the Davidians chose to shoot it out with the feds. For 51 days they held off the inevitable, knowing the government forces would not attack because of the presence of the children. Finally, when the government did force the issue (in a rather stupid and clumsy manner), the Davidians torched their own compound and killed themselves (with some exceptions) and all of the children. Sometimes the truth is as simple as that.

And that was that at the time.

Mike McNulty has since produced another documentary, appropriately titled Waco The F.L.I.R. Project. I ran into McNulty at the taping of a panel program about the Branch Davidian raids, and we subsequently had a couple of go-rounds on the topic. The January and February issues of The North Texas Skeptic carry the details. If you have any comments, check out the on-line references and get back with me.

One Way Mission

It was 70 years ago. There were 80 of them. Sixteen airplanes and 80 men. Five per plane.

One by one they took off from an aircraft carrier in the Western Pacific. They were heading for a place none of them had seen before to face an enemy none of them had fought before. And there was no coming back to the ship. There life expectancy could be measured in hours.

None of the planes survived. Fifteen crashed, and one landed in the Soviet Union where the bomber was confiscated, and the men were imprisoned for more than a year. The enemy captured eleven crewmen and later executed three of them for what they considered war crimes. Thirteen entire crews survived the mission plus four of another crew.

The Chinese assisted the Americans who made it to their country, and the vengeful Japanese military executed 250,000 Chinese civilians over the next few weeks in retaliation. It was a terrible price, and it was a reminder of why we fought.

The mission inflicted only minor material damage to its Japanese targets, but there was tremendous damage to the Empirical psyche. So rolled up in themselves were they that the Japanese became reckless in the quest for retribution to the extent that they over extended themselves in a raid on Midway island a few weeks later and lost the cream of their carrier fleet in the battle. From that point on it was backward all the way to Tokyo for the next three and a half years.

Amazingly, of these 80 who had hours to live that morning of 18 April 1942, five were still living as of April last year. Jimmy Doolittle, who led the raid, subsequently commanded the  Eighth Air Force in the European war. Pilot Ted Lawson lost a leg as a result of crashing his B-25 in the sea, and wrote Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo about the mission. By 1944 the book had made into a movie of the same name, starring Spencer Tracy as Doolittle and Van Johnson as Lawson. Lawson’s crewman Corporal David Thatcher was portrayed by Robert Walker, and Thatcher was one of the remaining crewmen to attend last year’s reunion of survivors.

If you are wondering whether this country still produces heroes like these men, have no doubts. You know them. They walk among you. When this nation needs them again they will come forward.

Heinz 57

Angela Lansbury practically stole the spotlight from Frank Sinatra. The movie was a Cold War thriller about a “brainwashed” American soldier turned assassin. Lansbury’s on-screen husband is played wonderfully by James Gregory as lame brained Senator John Iselin, who is instructed by his domineering wife to proclaim there are (pick a number) communists working in the Defense Department. Ultimately Senator Iselin confronts his wife over breakfast and demands to know just how many communists. This he does while pouring Heinz ketchup on his breakfast eggs. Lansbury eyes the ketchup bottle and comes up with the number. Later Iselin is addressing reporters to announce there are 57 communists working in the defense department.

Of course the movie is The Manchurian Candidate, and Iselin is standing in for the then recently deceased Senator Joe McCarthy. The scene is almost too comical to watch.

Less comical is that people then and some even now believe Joe McCarthy’s assertions, which in the early 1950s grew wilder by the week as he drifted off into a never world of his own belief. Tradition has it that at one time he waved a list and announced he had the names of (many) communists working for the government, only the list turned out to be his laundry list. There does not seem to be any historical basis for the story, but it seems as likely a source for communist infiltrators as a ketchup bottle. Ultimately McCarthy never did deliver on his promise to expose and expunge enemy agents from the government.

It doesn’t matter. I have always known that no good joke ever goes unrepeated. Today we have our own twenty-first century Joe McCarthy in the form of Representative Allen West of Florida. West goes one better than the fictitious Senator Iselin and maybe even better than the real-life McCarthy. West has a number, at least an upper bound.

The conservative tea party icon also got in shots at Democrats and President Obama, who spoke Tuesday at Florida Atlantic University. West said Obama was “scared” to have a discussion with him. He later said “he’s heard” up to 80 U.S. House Democrats are Communist Party members, but wouldn’t name names.

Imagine. Eighty, did I say, “card-carrying” communist. But no names. that would spoil the fun. People, I feel like Eisenhower is president again, and I am back in high school and living in my father’s house. Thank you, Congressman West.

One Carswell, Two Carswell, Three Carswell, Four

This happened a long time ago, before many readers of this blog were born. There was this judge named G. Harrold Carswell, and he was up for nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. President Nixon had put forward the nomination, as is one of the jobs of the president.

Naturally, many Democrats objected, because he was a Republican, of course, but also because he, according to many, lacked the luster of an ideal Supreme Court judge. For one thing, his record on civil rights was not considered liberal enough, as he had openly voiced support for racial segregation, and feminist did not like him much, either. Betty Friedan testified against him during the confirmation hearings. He was also considered mediocre, as well. More than half his decisions as a district court judge were reversed on appeal.

Then came the critical point in all of this. Nebraska Republican Senator Roman Hruska responded to this outrageous slander thus:

“Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”

And there it was. What a novel idea, that mediocrity was not only to be tolerated but to be applauded and enshrined as a valuable American asset. Where had the party come since the days of Abraham Lincoln?

So was born a new term. Since mediocrity was of such value, it needed to be graduated so various levels of it could be compared and quantities of mediocrity could be exchanged for things of value. The unit of mediocrity was named the “Carswell.” This was not the kind of thing you would want hanging on your family tree. But, I swear to you that to this day I have a problem remembering the name “Carswell.” When the topic comes up the word that pops into my mouth is “Hruska.” The person who so cherishes mediocrity is far more significant than the mere mediocre. One may not be able to avoid being mediocre, but he who gilds mediocrity has done his deed with deliberation and forethought and is worth having his name written on restroom walls.

So, what does all of this have to do with Mitt Romney? I am glad you asked:

Obama campaign chief slams Romney ‘hypocrisy’ on Harvard, out-of-touch attacks

With the presidential campaign in full “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” swing, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign manager Jim Messina on Monday accused Mitt Romney of “hypocrisy” for his attacks on the president as a member of a coddled, out-of-touch, Harvard-educated elite.”

I would brand it simply hypocrisy,” Messina told reporters on a conference call. “Romney is also a Harvard graduate.”

And Messina mocked Romney’s attack as “a little difficult when he’s shopping for car elevators”—a knock on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s plans to include one in a beachfront California home.

People, are we again going to have this race to the bottom? Please spare me.

The Photo That Got Me Arrested

OK, I really did not get “arrested.” It was more like “You better not try to leave, or we’ll come after you.” All right, maybe that’s technically “arrested.”

So I was beating the bricks in Anaheim, CA, looking for photo opportunities. I walked all the way down to State College Boulevard, because I needed the walk, and also because the train tracks are out that way. Sure enough, I got some train photos. The coastal express comes along fairly regularly, and it’s almost a sure bet to get photos of cars waiting at the gate while the train goes thundering through.

On the way back I passed the fire station just as their phone rang. If you know fire stations you know that they have a phone with a very loud bell (what fireman wants to say later “I didn’t here the phone ringing”). Anyhow, I know what it means when that phone rings. It means the truck is going to be pulling out soon.

I was across the street, so I got the camera ready. No tripod, I braced against a tree. Sure enough, the firemen took the call and started up the engine, and the truck came rolling out along with an ambulance. So, I got the photo, and here it is, the photo that got me arrested.

I took several photos, but this is the one I like.

So far, so good. I had my images tucked away on the flash memory card in my camera, and I had my camera in my hand with the strap wrapped around my fist. And I was walking on toward my apartment on Santa Fe Street. About time for some dinner. I thought.

There was a voice. Somebody was saying “you.” Something there is about it when somebody is saying “you.” It’s usually not good. Then I went into this mode. “You talking to me? You talking to ME?” My plan was to ignore this whole business. I was on my side of the street, and they were on the other side of the street. And never the twain shall meet. That was the plan.

I decided (big mistake) not to ignore the voice. I am sure I did not say, “You talking to ME,” but I walked over and said simply, “Yes.” They were talking to me.

“What are you taking pictures for?” (Surely not an exact quote, but close.) I explained that I was taking photos for my stock agencies. “Oh yeah, what agencies?” I rattled off a few names. “You have a business card?” I gave the fireman one. “Let me see some identification.” I pointed to my business card. “This doesn’t have your address.” I told them my address. “Show me some identification (like a driver’s license).”

It was a nice day in July, and I did not want it to turn ugly, so I was not my usually snarly self, and I did not say, “Up your nose with a rubber hose.” I just said, “No.” I may have even said, “Absolutely not.”

Anyhow, I have done a bit of reading in my life, and I recalled reading about 15 years previously of a case that went to the Supreme Court, and the case was out of Los Angeles County just to the north. A cop stopped a guy who was running while black and demanded some identification, and the guy said, “No,” and the Court agreed. No crime, no probability of a crime, no probable cause, no identification is necessary. I did not bring this up with the firemen.

One, who seemed to be the lead fireman, indicated to me that he had a badge as a fire investigator, and I asked to see it. I also asked him if he had a gun, as well, because, as I told him, I have a great respect for guns. He said he had a gun, but he never showed me a badge, and he never showed me his gun. He indicated it was his public duty to be aware and to be vigilant and proactive. He mentioned that “things were a lot different since 2001.”

“Oh, shit,” I thought. “Not this crap again.” I reminded the fireman that things were not different since 2001, and this country (and I) had seen a lot worse in the form of Hitler and Mussolini. I forgot to mention Stalin, Tojo, and the Japanese Emperor. But this was not the capital of enlightenment I was in. This was Orange County, where they named the airport after John Wayne.

The upshot was they offered to call the police if I did not produce any identification, and they also offered to keep me around until the police arrived. I did at this point mouth the words “false arrest,” but I let it slide. Besides, I wanted to meet the cops.

While we waited I conversed with a burly fireman, and while I did this I volunteered that even though he owned me by twenty years, I was sure I could leave him in the dust if he decided to pursue me. Once again I decided to just let things play out.

Eventually two motorcycle cops showed up. I knew where they came from, because my apartment was right next door to the station. Anyhow, one of the motor cops talked to the firemen and got their story and asked me to show some identification. I gave him a business card and no more. When he wanted more I gave him my Dallas address and my phone number. And no more. I was thinking about the Supreme Court. I also reminded him that my fingerprints are on file with the FBI, due to my having been in the military and also to having a security clearance issued by the U.S. government.

When the policeman became insistent I told him he was going to have to be very insistent. He was going to have to make it something besides a polite request. I told him I was fully ready to obey any order from the police. But he was polite, and I finally decided to be polite, as well. I showed him my driver’s license and told him were I was staying in Anaheim, and I went on my way.

As I said, it was a nice day in July, and I was in a good mood. I did not cause the firemen to physically restrain me, and I did not sue the city of Anaheim for many thousands of dollars, and the firemen were able to keep their jobs. Like I said, I am a nice guy, and I want everybody to be happy.

And I will take photos wherever and whenever I please, and if you don’t like it then up your nose with a rubber hose.