White Trash in Manhattan…

Donald Trump is white trash.

No, he doesn’t live in a trailer, but he acts like it.

He was elevated to celebrity by media outlets that sought ratings in an increasingly fractured universe.

First the tabloids, then slick-paper magazines, and finally TeeVee were forced to market themselves to niche markets to make a buck.

The media sought advertising dollars by catering to the most vocal audiences, and the incredible explosion of cable teevee and social media and internet access made stars of people who 20 years before would have been laughed off the stage of a vaudeville theater.

A star is born: Donald Trump.

A failure at business; nonetheless able to sell his snake oil to the suckers, thanks to skillful editing and compliant executives. And greedy producers.

Parallel to this, the gun lobby buys legislators in fee simple. Today in the U. S. of A., there is no way to keep a whack-job with a hundred dollars from arming himself with the means to kill dozens of people in minutes.

And now, Donald Trump is president, and holds rallies stoking the crowd to visit their hate directly on their perceived enemies.

“There are good people on both sides.” BULLSHIT!

Trump is not the problem: he is a symptom of the problem.

But I am afraid the genie is truly out of the bottle, and Trump is no longer able or willing to control it.

Fifty Years On… USGP edition

About now, fifty years ago, Carol and I had begun our first adventure together, having recently cast our fates to the love affair.

We set off for Watkins Glen, New York for the U S Grand Prix.

We had no idea how the camping or race ticketing worked, or even exactly where the track was. We proceeded to Watkins Glen.

In those days, there were no garages at the track, and the teams took over gas stations in the village for bases, with only simple race pits at the track. I still miss that.

We found a sea of people, mostly feeling no pain, but all very friendly. We milled around in the village for quite a while. Occasionally the sea would part, and a mechanic in a formula one car would rip through the street. It was magic.

We eventually found our way to the track, and a “campsite” in a field. We bought a bundle of firewood along the way. It was cold, a tent and our eventual elaborate camping gear was still in our future. We had one sleeping bag, borrowed from her father, and the yellow Galaxie 500.

Carol was so cold, she melted the soles of her shoes holding her feet to the little campfire, and we fouind I had managed to find a “campsite” far from any food stands.

Somehow we survived. I fell in love with Watkins Glen, and even more in love with Carol.

Race day, October 6th, was brisk. Jackie Stewart got nine points in his Matra. I got no pictures worthy of the name, lacking any long lenses. I got to hear and smell the formula one cars at last.

It was a memorable trip, and I would do it again in an instant.

One week in May, 1974

My “archives” are nothing more than 1500 or so rolls of film, numbered from 1 (1969 or so) to 1254 when I went to teevee and quit maintaining it. The wedding and commercial jobs were a separate pile. That 1200 rolls is mostly b&w 35mm stored 36 frames to a “roll” These days, every time I go looking for something, I likely also find a nugget or two outside the bounds of my search. Thus I came across two rolls that follow a parade all the way through the publishing of the paper. I have no recollection whatever of why I shot it, and I do not believe most of the pics ever saw the light of day. I probably intended to do something with it, but never got the time. Nevertheless it stirred a lot of memories of the people in the shots, many of whom have since passed. If you would like to take a look back at a small town weekly paper in 1974, here it is: http://www.bennettvaughn.com/paper

Thinking about events….

Every story is a circle, No?

Please note, I do NOT mean to draw any connections between any of the the players in this tale.

A million years ago, I was assigned to shoot a spot. I met a PSU footballer named Wisnewski (don’t quote me on the spelling). Bob Hope had recorded a track, where he spoke as God to Wisnewski as a golfer. I staged Wisnewski playing golf alone on the Toftrees course, and the story was God giving Wisnewski advice on golf and life, up to the end.

First scene, Wisnewski is teeing-up a shot, and he is interrupted by God before he swings. God gives advice, and they have a conversation about the charity that helps kids who have challenges. Wisnewski follows along until the predictable end, and Wisnewski disgustedly asks God if that is the key to golf: God says, no, That was a plug, here’s a tip: stick to football.

Closing shot is a man and a boy sitting on a bench with the logo over. I do not remember if Wisnewski was the man.

The rest of the story:

The spot was a PSA for “The Second Mile”, the Jerry Sandusky charity.

I guess sticking with football was a good tip.

What a twisted path through time we travel!

Thinking about the legacy of Grace Hopper

A few random thoughts on this, the 110th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Grace Hopper:

I drifted into the realm of stored program computers by accident, sometime in 1965 or 66. Keith Marcellius was a programmer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, and they had a state-of-the-art IBM 1401. That milestone machine was to be IBM’s arrow through the heart of unit-record-equipment, and their insane patch-panel program boards. I did not work for BCBS, but Keith liked my company and I was delighted to hang around. I think I was “between engagements” then. Town and Gown theater was just a few blocks up the hill from Five Points. I can believe that Keith was as mystified by theater as I was by computers. Moths and flames….

CoBOL was still in the future and BCBS was using AutoCoder. The big thing about the 1401 was it could do variable word-length instructions.

I am unsure whether AutoCoder is technically compiled, or assembled, or just translated. It was NOT human readable without very specialized training, but it did not require specific memory addressing, and thus was a very big deal.

Keith habitually worked the hoot-owl shift, so he had exclusive use of the machine. I sat with him while the 1401 churned decks of cards into payroll and AR/AP programs. I will call it compiled, even though many would argue the point.

The process was long, and the debugging of the ultimate crash was a matter of tracing through crash dumps in HEX or even binary printed out on green-line paper looking for the problem.

It was challenging but enormous fun.

One night, when Keith solved a particularly knotty problem, we wrapped up in the wee-small hours, cleaned up our gameboard and roaches, and walked up through Five Points.

Among his many talents, Keith played the carillon at the big church on the intersection (ropes-and-bells, children. This was very pre-electronics). On a whim he unlocked the front door, we went up in the bell tower, and opened the big wooden shutters, and Keith treated the stumbling drunks to a concert. I think it was “Ode to Joy”, but don’t quote me.

It was a magic moment, to be sure.

A few years later, I became employed at State Farm’s regional office. They handled Auto, Fire, and Life insurance for 3 states.

I was no programmer then. I calculated loss ratios and such things on a mechanical calculator.

I got a “ten-key” calculator, a big thing on the desk and a large suitcase thingy on the floor connected by a thick cable. It was a great boon, because it printed a paper tape with those twelve decimal place numbers.

About that same time, State Farm upgraded their 1401 to a PAIR of IBM 360’s.

They were running in 1401-emulation mode, but State Farm had decided to embrace this new-fangled programming language, CoBOL!

Although “the machines” (always said in a near-whisper) were intended primarily for Policy Records, AR/AP, and Payroll, they decided to include the “math” people in the mix.

I thought I had suddenly gotten a top-of-the-line Cadillac.

I soon found out State Farm had gone for the Full Monty…. errrrr…  Rolls Royce. We had CoBOL, ForTran, and Assembler at our disposal.

Nobody knew how this stuff worked then, and IBM trainers were on-deck all the time, and we made it up as we went along.

The first time we tried to close the books on Dec 31 (I think it was 1967) it took over twenty runs to get a legal balance sheet.

My boss said he would fire anybody that got champagne on “the machine”.

Nobody did… most of us were too tired to drink any.

State Farm Springfield apparently liked what we were doing down in Dixie. They decided to open a new regional office in Monroe LA, and rearrange the corporate blood flow.

My boss offered me the option of relocating there, and they FLEW me to Monroe to see if I would like it there! Not just me, but INCLUDING me!

Holy \\JOB card, Batman!

Coincidentally, I was about to fall in love and move to PA, to a town with no computers at all, but sometimes, late at night, after a few beers, I kind of wonder where that thread might have led…

So, how does Amazing Grace figure into this, you ask?

CoBOL was hardly universal then. I was doing IBM CoBOL, not to be confused with NCR CoBOL, or ControlData CoBOL, or…. or later ANSI Cobol.

State Farm’s largess meant I (we) could drop in an Assembler subroutine if CoBOL would not do what we wanted, and i used a LOT of ForTran math subroutines.

ForTran was great for math, which was important to me, and CoBOL was great for handling the business end of things.

We did what we did, compiled, debugged, compiled, debugged, compiled and linkage-edited, and debugged, and so on over and over… once we generated the necessary number of boxes of green-line crashdumps, we punched out an object deck (cards punched with the actual machine-language instructions) and “handed it to the operators”.

That Rolls-Royce of compiler packages probably led to some of the sloppiest code imaginable.

I am sure that without Amazing Grace, I would have gotten the same results with three drawers of Assembler Language cards, but I surely would not have done it before I turned 1111 years old.

November the tenth…

10 November 2017

My mother was married twice… the first time to Carl Goolsby Johnson. They had a son, Junior, who I knew as “Carl G”. Like all my other siblings, he was a dozen or more years older than me. IIRC she also bore a “blue baby” and I think there was a miscarriage as well.

Mother and Carl divorced long before I came to town… I never met Carl that I remember. Carl G. became part of the family of my father’s five children following the five’s mother’s death from cancer.

My father was a sharecropper when this story takes off, and they struggled in the hardscrabble world of North Georgia and eventually the iron works in Birmingham AL.

When Carl G. got old enough, he chose the Marine Corps as a path out of the poverty. He eventually came back to Birmingham for awhile.

I do not know if he was part of the Korean un-war or not. I dimly remember riding around in the olive-drab surplus panel truck (carry-all) he had before he  moved away to Louisiana. I am told I visited him in Metairie, but my only memory is the horror of a big bowl of crawfish presented as food.

He was not part of my life outside of a few old pictures I got from family members. He appeared and disappeared for visits, but we never got acquainted. I am told he liked me a lot.

When I got out of high school, I started junior college while holding down a job as a billing clerk on the nightshift for Baggett Transportation… that did not go well.

The image burned into my brain is the morning I rode my motorcycle to school, after his death the night before.

“He was my brother” was Simon and Garfunkel’s hit song reverberating in my crash helmet.

With the rest of the family in the back, in the middle of the night, he was asleep in the front passenger seat as his mother-in-law drove, and slammed into a bridge abutment. Right in the passenger side corner. It was some kind of early-sixties econocar.

Both of his daughters were severely injured, everybody else died.

Carl G. did everything you could expect of a man, and went far beyond to take care of two girls in difficult circumstances. The mother of those girls was a woman I took to be from the Philippines, and she was sometimes pretty shrill. She did not get what she expected from Carl G., and left him. Looking to give the girls a home, he married another woman, who was the eventual instrument of his destiny. He was a refrigeration tech in Jacksonville, mostly, like his father.

He was a proud Marine. He gave me the back-issues of “Leatherneck”.

I wish I had known him better.

Reflections on Johnstown

8 November 2017

On the way to a meeting, I stopped at The Press Bistro and soon I was enjoying a spectacular burger and unique fries at a table in what once was the primary display window of Glosser Bros department store, looking at a darkened Central Park. Jazzy easy listening on the Muzak.

Facebook asks “What’s on your mind, Bennett?”

What a vibrant place this was when I came to town in the last flicker of the ‘sixties.

Before I went over to the dark side (teevee) I was a frequent visitor to this block to deliver a roll of exposed film to the paper a half-block down.

NEVER an empty parking place. The whole area crowded with pedestrians, even near deadline of midnight.

I was really saddened to read the spot-on assessment Tom Claycomb linked to this morning. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/08/donald-trump-johnstown-pennsylvania-supporters-215800

But this was during Johnstown’s last hurrah, before the third flood.

I knew I had been accepted here as a working pro the night Jack Rhue took me to the upstairs bar at the Elk’s club across the corner and we sipped nectar as we waited for the big press to spit out my first front-page cutline.

“Bennett Vaughn Photo”… It still has a nice ring to it, even from the other end of the long plastic echo chamber.

OBITUARY: LOCAL TV NEWS (circa 1941-2017).

-by Mike Schneider, by permission

Good evening. Local TV news is dead. It died today when the FCC overturned a decades-old rule requiring TV & radio stations to operate studios in the cities they served.

Old friends say Local News has been ailing for years, a victim of corporate consolidation and the rise of new technology. In fact, corporations are now free to use the tech they control to close down operations in smaller, less profitable locales, and ship in “Local News” programming from hundreds of thousands of miles away.
While not accusing the corporations of murder, friends of “Local News” believe some broadcasting groups turned a blind eye to their old mainstay, staving off competition with increasingly sensational story selections and gimmicks. 
But other “Local News” relatives are convinced it was killed by some greedy beneficiaries.
Funeral arrangements for “Local News” have not yet been made public. But, when they are, don’t be surprised to hear it from somebody who is in a studio hundreds of miles from your home, talking about leaders they’ll never meet, events they’ll never witness, occurring on streets they’ll never visit.

And that’s the way it is…..

June 2017

Under FCC regulation, there were (are, at least in lip-service) limits on how many teevee stations a single owner could have.

In 1953 the commission decided a single company could own 7 teevee, 7 AM radio, and 7 FM radio stations. Of course, at that time there were about 200 commercial teevee stations.

In 1990, the limit was raised from 7 to 12, and the requirement that a teevee owner could not also own a newspaper in the same market. The FCC could not control newspaper ownership, but could (and did) decline teevee licenses for companies that already owned a newspaper.

The FCC slowly became toothless as the government became more and more beholden to deep-pocketed corporate donors.

On Trump’s watch, Sinclair Broadcast Group is expected to soon own more than 200 teevee stations (it currently has 173) and a reach of 72% of the national audience.

Sinclair is “right-leaning” – in my not so humble opinion they are right of FOX by a long shot.

Sinclair made a deal with the Trump campaign to get “access” to candidate Trump, in exchange for favorable coverage. Sinc corp produces “must run” stories which all affiliates are required to put in their local news, as well as garbage like the “Terrorist Alert Desk” which is thinly coated propaganda.

Here in podunk, in the age of digital media, Sinclair and Nexstar between them totally control our television available for free. And cable or satellite does not get you any local news. That is controlled by the two big boys,

That bleak outlook is becoming more and more common outside the major cities.

Much though I hate Nexstar, I think it is a good thing that they are mainly just money-grubbing cheapskate fatcats.

Sinclair is out to rule the world.