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What the World Needs Now


What did the nut job who gunned down 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando have in common with the Tunisian thug who ran over 84 people in France, the Muslim couple who blew away 14 people at a Christmas party in San Bernardino, the two black guys who killed eight cops in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the white supremacist who slew nine people at a black church in South Carolina, Brexit voters, Black Lives Matter, Bernie Bros, Hillary Haters and Trumpanistas?

They were angry. Upset. Outraged. Whatever. Black, white, brown, gay, Jew, Christian and Muslim, nowadays it seems like everyone’s mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Even though unemployment, illegal immigration and crime are down, ISIS is on the run and Osama bin Laden is dead, nearly two-thirds of Americans tell pollsters they think the country is “on the wrong track.” Who or what is to blame for this discrepancy between perceived and objective reality?

There’s no shortage of suspects. Fatal officer-involved shootings also involving unarmed blacks have some people concerned, while others are just as perturbed by the loss of white privilege. Weak Obama, bellicose politicians, religious extremists, immigration, insanity, income inequality, too many/not enough guns, ISIS, PC, LGBTQ, globalization, climate change, nationalism, populism, sexism, racism, and perhaps a perfect storm of all of the above.

To that list must be added relentless media hype and internet trolling. Like burning fossil fuels, the sheer volume of vitriol spewing from the 24-hour news cycle and Facebook et al. has to be having an effect on the national mood. The question is what kind? Gotcha journalism and online hate speech may act as psychological pressure-release valves, enabling people to vent their angst in relatively benign ways. Or, they may help gin up a critical mass of fear, anger and hate that leads to conflict and polarization. As a general rule, too much of anything isn’t good, and if recent events are any judge, too much anger endlessly amplified and echoed through the media does not appear to be having a beneficent impact on civilization.

Unless you happen to be Donald Trump. The billionaire businessman turned Republican presidential nominee is hardly the first to attempt to channel base instincts into political power. Indeed, the strategy is as old as politics (and religion) itself. No matter what the meme says, when it comes to politics, love seldom trumps hate. And the more riled up people get, the more likely they are to self-radicalize, or at least vote to throw the bums out.

The final ingredient in a witch’s brew that can conjure a Donald Trump (or Bernie Sanders) is you. You as in you and I. You and I and every other member of society. Instead of letting shock jocks and attack ads push our buttons, what if we just stopped playing the blame game?

But encouraging people to buck up is not good politics. The textbook case occurred in 1979, when skyrocketing oil prices had Americans in such a funk that in a televised address, President Jimmy Carter told them they were suffering from a “crisis of confidence … that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.” His antidote was to “have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation.” It became known as his “malaise” speech, although he never used the word, and he was widely ridiculed for being preachy and trying to blame the voters for his own failings. The result was Ronald Reagan.

Which makes it all the more remarkable when a politician tries to tell voters to calm down. Barely noticed at this summer’s Democratic National Convention was the cavalcade of Broadway stars who sang the 1965 Burt Bacharach/Hal David standard “What the World Needs Now is Love.” But it’s a theme that has been repeatedly struck by both President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump, not so much.

For example, after three police officers were gunned down July 17 in Baton Rouge, Trump employed the politics of fear by tweeting, “President Obama just had a news conference, but he doesn’t have a clue. Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse!”

At said news conference, the president had pulled a Carter and noted, “We don’t need inflammatory rhetoric. We don’t need careless accusations thrown around to score political points or advance an agenda. We need to temper our words and open our hearts. All of us.”

Ten days earlier, after five police officers were assassinated in Dallas, former Sec. of State Clinton expressed similar sentiments, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “We can’t be engaging in hateful rhetoric or incitement of violence … we need to be bringing people together, and I’ve said on the campaign trail repeatedly, we need more love and kindness, and I know that’s not usually what presidential candidates say, but I believe it and I’m going to be speaking about it from now all the way into the White House and beyond.”

Predictably, a story about her comments on the alt-right Breitbart website was headlined, “Hillary Clinton Blames Whites, Cops for Deaths of Young Black Men.” Weeks later, Trump hired the chairman of Breitbart, Stephen Bannon, to head his campaign.

It’s easy to accuse Trump of demagoguery, since he’s so obvious about it, but both sides are trying to scare people into believing this year’s election has apocalyptic implications — if crooked Hillary wins, she’ll force us to accept free stuff while taking away our guns, and if Trump wins, he might nuke The New York Times. But believe it or not, neither candidate is as bad as they say.

Whether or not they have been brainwashed by a vast right-wing conspiracy, Hillary haters have three main beefs: that she is a congenital liar; has bad judgement; and is a bitch. In 1996, when Clinton was the first lady, now-deceased Times columnist and Nixon speechwriter William Safire became the first to call her a “congenital liar” in a column about her prevarications regarding missing legal papers, financial dealings in Arkansas, and staff changes in the White House travel office. Today, she is most often accused of lying about Benghazi and emails. The problem is that like Israel, Hillary is held to a higher standard than other politicians, for whom spinning and dissembling are pretty much part of their job descriptions.

Her judgement, or lack thereof, is often evidenced by then-Sen. Clinton’s 2002 vote, barely a year after 9/11, along with 76 other senators, to authorize President George W. Bush to use military force against Iraq. Bad call, as she has since conceded, but not one to disqualify her from becoming commander-in-chief. It’s harder to address the bitch factor, as it’s part sexist and part Freudian. Some dislike her because she’s shrill and has a cackling laugh, or is overly ambitious and ruthless, while others, whether consciously or not, view her not as a victim but an enabler to her husband’s many tawdry affairs. The fact that she stuck with her philandering husband really galls some people, even though it’s nobody’s business but her own.

Meantime, while Trumpism has exposed flaws in the American political system, the media and the voters themselves, if Trump were to win the election, it would not necessarily mean the end of the world. For one thing, if conservatives, liberals and the mainstream media are all apoplectic over the Donald, he must be doing something right. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that compared to the other candidates in the Republican primary, he’s a stark raving moderate.

True, Trump has said some intemperate to bizarre things about Obama’s nativity, Hillary’s health, immigrants, women, Muslims, Mexican-American judges, Gold Star moms, POWs, disabled reporters, rigged elections, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, NATO, nuclear proliferation and torture that go way beyond politically incorrect, and a Trump campaign event feels less like a rally than a beer hall putsch. But much of Trump’s bigotry may simply be political theater, or as The Times said of another rising political star in 1922, “bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.” OK, the rising political star The Times was referring to was Adolf Hitler, so maybe that’s not a good example.

In fact, Trump is less like Hitler than another Aryan, action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in 2003 co-opted a similar mood of anger and frustration in California to be elected governor, twice. Taking advantage of a sham energy shortage created by Enron, and Gov. Gray Davis annoying voters by increasing vehicle tag fees to balance the state budget, conservative operatives orchestrated a successful petition drive to trigger a gubernatorial recall election. But it was political novice Schwarzenegger who seized the spotlight when he went on The Tonight Show and told Jay Leno he was tossing his hat in the ring. Although Schwarzenegger had no previous government experience, California survived his administration.

The candidates’ supporters aren’t as evil as they’ve been portrayed, either. The right’s disdain for the left goes back to at least 1969, when then-Vice President Spiro Agnew, in reference to the Vietnam antiwar movement, opined that, “A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” The left is no less contemptuous of conservative, working class Americans.

It’s ironic, as well as fitting, that the original white Angle-Saxon Protestants who built this country on the subversive premise that all men are created equal should suffer the same fate as the native Americans they displaced. Annihilation by modernity. As their number dwindles to less than 50 percent of the populace by 2040, they are losing not just their privilege but their jobs, dignity, status, morality, culture, history, even their flag. Little wonder they are attracted to a blunt, politically incorrect bully who thumbs his nose at the political, media and intellectual elites, and promises to make America great again. Still, it’s hard to imagine how someone who epitomized yuppie scum in the 1980s could become a redneck messiah today. Go figure.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament. The Hebrew Bible has a similar commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Comparable ideas have been expressed in the Koran, the Analects of Confucius and many other cultures. If each of us tried to be less angry and more empathetic, more loving, there’s no guarantee it would stop a single terrorist, break the gridlock in Congress, or in any other way change the world for the better. Then again, it couldn’t hurt.

— by H.B. Koplowitz copyright 2016

Brush Towers

This video describes some of the history of Brush Towers, and cites “Carbondale After Dark” at about the 5 minute mark. It also claims the dorms are supposed to be torn down, but according to Stephen Hall of Murphysboro, the master plan referred to in the video “is actually just a bid from an outside architectural firm made to an Administration and Board of Trustees who are all gone now. The towers will be around for the foreseeable future.”

“Southern Illinois University Dorm Life in 1970,” by then-student Sharon Norris, has interior shots of Brush Towers.


Transgender vs Transracial

by H.B. Koplowitz

cait-rachAs soon as I heard about Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who was passing as black, I asked my Facebook friends if Bruce Jenner can decide to be female, why can’t Dolezal decide to be black?

One friend’s response was succinct, if politically incorrect: “Because she isn’t, and neither is he.” Another friend noted it should actually be easier, since there is “less genetic distance between black and white than between the sexes.”

Others have raised the same question, and those who applaud Jenner but condemn Dolezal have been tying themselves in knots trying to explain the difference. From a common sense point of view, Dolezal is white because her parents are white, and Jenner is male because he has sperm, among other things. Yet Jenner has been treated like a hero for trying to become a female, while Dolezal has been treated like a black woman caught trying to pass as white — she’s been called a scam artist and liar and shunned by both races. But people with mental disorders should be neither praised nor vilified, and both may have psychological issues.

Dolezal may have a variation of Munchausen syndrome. WebMD describes Munchausen as a “factitious disorder, a mental disorder in which a person repeatedly and deliberately acts as if he or she has a physical or mental illness when he or she is not really sick. Munchausen syndrome is considered a mental illness because it is associated with severe emotional difficulties.” I don’t mean to infer that being black is a disease, but rather, that the motives of someone who pretends to have cancer or be black are similar — a pathological desire to gain attention and sympathy, i.e., to be perceived as a victim.

Most people have no problem accepting that Dolezal may be a little kooky, but to make the same assertion about Jenner risks severe blowback from the LGBT community and their supporters. However, Jenner may have gender dysphoria, which WebMD describes as a condition in which people “feel strongly that they are not the gender they physically appear to be.”  Notice how gingerly WebMD deals with this subject, saying “physically appear to be” rather than “are.” The website also goes out of its way to state that “the mismatch between body and internal sense of gender is not a mental illness,” although it is also associated with severe emotional difficulties, including stress, anxiety and depression. And like those with Munchausen, people with gender dysphoria can be very insistent and persuasive that their feelings are real.

One of those who has called gender dysphoria a mental illness is Dr. Paul McHugh, the former chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, which in the 1960s became the first American medical center to do “sex-reassignment surgery.” In a 2014 commentary in the Wall Street Journal, McHugh said the hospital stopped the practice after studies found that patients who underwent the procedure had as many problems with “psycho-social adjustments” as those who didn’t have the surgery.

McHugh noted other studies have found that about 40 percent of those who had reassignment surgery attempted suicide, which is 20 times higher than the rate among the general population, and that 70 percent to 80 percent of children who expressed transgender feelings “spontaneously lost those feelings” as they grew up. (A significant number of people who “transition” to the opposite sex later regret the decision and try to reverse the process, which is called detransitioning or retransitioning.) McHugh asserted that “policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention.”

However, there is another way to view what Dolezal and Jenner are doing that makes them seem no more crazy than women with breast implants or men with hair plugs. After Dolezal got outed by her parents, given the gotcha treatment by the media and the blogosphere, made the butt of comedians’ jokes, resigned as the Spokane, Washington, NAACP chapter head and lost her teaching job, she explained that whether or not she is biologically African American, she simply “identifies” as black. She also said she empathizes with Caitlyn Jenner, raising intriguing questions regarding sexual as well as racial identities. But she mostly fell off the radar after the racist massacre of nine people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the ensuing furor over the Confederate battle flag.

As Dr. McHugh noted, “‘Sex change’ is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women.” Although Jenner can’t biologically become a female, many say he has a civil right to live his life as a woman — to change his appearance and social identity. Dolezal can’t change her parentage, but why doesn’t she have the same right to look, act and live life as a black person without being ridiculed or discriminated against?

A third Facebook friend, who is not a fan of gays, blacks, the president or the chosen people, answered my query facetiously: “And why can’t Obama decide he’s a Jew?” But he has a point. Once genetics is separated from gender or race, what is left is mostly cultural.

As former basketball star and sometime social commentator Kareem Abdul-Jabbar noted in a recent essay for Time magazine, many anthropologists, geneticists, sociologists and psychologists agree that race is “not a scientific entity but a myth.” In the essay, titled “Let Rachel Dolezal Be as Black as She Wants to Be,” Jabbar went on the say, “What we use to determine race is really nothing more than some haphazard physical characteristics, cultural histories, and social conventions that distinguish one group from another … As far as Dolezal is concerned, technically, since there is no such thing as race, she’s merely selected a cultural preference of which cultural group she most identifies with.”

Those who break cultural boundaries often become outcasts. But over time, boundaries change. Gays can now get married, so who knows, maybe transracialism will become the next civil rights frontier.


Florida midterm recap: High hopes dashed

by H.B. Koplowitz

Florida potheads had their high hopes dashed election night when a ballot measure that would have legalized medical marijuana went up in smoke. Also dashed were the hopes of the former governor, Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, that pot power might get enough liberals to the polls for him to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

As one tweeter noted, the happiest people in Florida today are weed dealers. The cannabis measure, Amendment 2, got 58 percent of the votes cast, but needed 60 percent to pass. Jodi James of the Florida Cannabis Action Network tried to look on the bright side. “Although Amendment 2 lost, medical marijuana won,” she said. “Over 57 percent of voters said yes — that is a mandate.”

Earlier this year, lawmakers legalized a strain of cannabis that doesn’t get people high for patients with a rare form of epilepsy. “When lawmakers head back to Tallahassee, we are seeking to expand the 2014 law to include all strains of cannabis, increase the disorders covered under the existing law and assure Medicaid dollars cover cannabis treatments,” she said.

While the pot amendment failed in Florida, voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., approved legalizing marijuana for recreational as well as medicinal purposes. Attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled the Florida measure, was also upbeat about the results. “We may not have passed Amendment 2 tonight but make no mistake, tonight was a victory in the fight for medical marijuana in Florida,” he said. “The idea that marijuana is medicine and that those suffering and in pain should not be made criminals, received a larger share of the vote than the winner of the last six gubernatorial elections … and every presidential campaign in Florida for decades.”

He said the fight to legalize medical marijuana will move back to the Florida Legislature, and if lawmakers don’t pass a law in the 2015 session, the measure will be back on the 2016 ballot. “Compassion may have been delayed, but it is coming,” he said.

Crist, who is an attorney in Morgan’s law firm, lost to Scott by an even thinner margin than Amendment 2, 48 percent to 47 percent, about 80,000 votes out of 5.6 million cast. During his concession speech, Crist said he talked with Scott about accepting the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which would provide an estimated 700,000 Floridians with health insurance, but Scott made no mention of the issue during his victory speech.

Both men had high disapproval ratings among voters, and the campaign was ugly. Crist accused Scott of being “too shady for the Sunshine State” because the health care company he headed paid a $1.7 billion fine for overbilling Medicare, while Scott focused on Crist’s party-switching. Like other Democratic candidates who chose to shun President Barack Obama because of his low approval ratings, Crist did not ask the president to campaign on his behalf. Some commentators suggested that may have turned off some Democratic voters, especially in black and Hispanic communities, making the difference in the race.

Republican incumbents also won the three other statewide races for Florida’s cabinet — attorney general, chief financial officer and commissioner of agriculture — by a comfortable 60-40 margin, meaning ex-felons who have served their parole and probation won’t be getting back their right to vote anytime soon. Under Florida’s constitution, the governor and cabinet determine whether ex-felons, mostly minorities, are allowed to vote, and during their previous term, they undid a rule Crist enacted that made it easier for ex-felons to regain their voting rights.

In addition to medical marijuana, two other amendments were on the ballot. Three-quarters of voters approved a measure that is supposed to ensure that state money allocated to restore Florida conservation and recreation lands is actually spent on conservation. A constitutional amendment that would have allowed a lame-duck governor, rather than the newly elected one, to choose new Supreme Court justices due to retire, received only 48 percent approval, well short of the 60 percent it needed to pass.

The amendment was created by the Republican-led Legislature, which called it a needed clarification, while Democrats claimed it was an attempt to pack the court with conservative Scott appointees. Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Quince, who are considered the most liberal justices on the court, must retire in 2019 because of a state requirement for mandatory judicial retirement at age 70.

If there is a silver lining for Democrats, it’s that their candidate, Maria Sachs, narrowly eked out a victory against Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff in state Senate District 34, which runs along the Treasure Coast between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The bitterly contested race was a rematch of 2012, when redistricting forced the two state senators to face off against each other. Had Bogdanoff won this time, Republicans would have had enough state senators to override a governor’s veto, but since Crist lost and Sachs won by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, or 6,000 votes, that is largely problematical.

Altogether, the various campaigns raised nearly $111 million, making Florida’s midterm the most expensive in the nation, far exceeding the $86.6 million spent in Illinois. The Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who wants to build a resort casino in Florida, was the largest single out-of-state contributor, giving $1.5 million to the Republican Party of Florida and a whopping $5 million to oppose the medical marijuana amendment, canceling out the $6.5 million Morgan put into the Yes on 2 effort. Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature oppose legalizing medical pot and “also control the fate of Adelson’s casino initiative,” the Miami Herald noted.

© H.B. Koplowitz 11/6/14

What a drag it is getting older


Robin Williams at a charity benefit in 2007 American comedian Robin Williams at “Stand Up for Heroes,” a comedy and music benefit organized by the Bob Woodruff Family Fund to raise money for injured U.S. servicemen.

© 2014 by H.B. Koplowitz

I first heard about Robin Williams’ suicide from CNN’s smarmy Don Lemon, which made the news even more depressing. The world may be burning, but the latest induction into the Dead Comics Society soon took over the national consciousness, from cable news channels to the Twittersphere. Comic, actor, philanthropist, sometime substance abuser and full-time manic-depressive, from his most intimate friends and family to his legions of fans, people can’t help but wonder why such a beloved and talented genius would choose to check out now. The consensus is that his “demons” of depression got the best of him, and that more should be done to ensure that others don’t follow his path. But in the case of some celebrities, like Elvis and Marilyn, premature death can be a good career move. And there’s something to be said for controlling the time and place of one’s own demise, for going out on top. Especially when one is getting older.

Some have said Williams “was just 63 years old,” stretching the cliche well beyond reason. Sixty-three is a different kind of just, as in just plain old, well past the half-century mark, into the fourth quarter, and a lot older than most homo sapiens survived throughout history. I say this from the perspective of someone who was also born in 1951. Williams was a bigger man than I in every way I know of, except for one. He may have been more talented, loved, rich and famous, but when it came to age, we were tied.

I won’t presume to feel Williams’ pain, so speaking for myself, I’ll never run faster, jump higher, look better, be healthier, feel as passionate or have better sex than during my youth, which is as long gone as the ’60s, the 1960s, that is. With the passage of time, guilts, regrets, obligations, lost loves, lost friends, and mental and physical diminishments accumulate like barnacles, bogging down the soul. And it gets ever harder to outdo one’s former self.

In addition to Williams’ past upheavals in his personal life, his battles with drug and alcohol abuse and his 2009 heart surgery, Fox 411 reported he was haunted by the deaths of his friends Christopher Reeve, Andy Kaufman and John Belushi, and that he was in a funk about a faltering career. His latest comedy, “Angriest Man in Brooklyn” opened in May but quickly went to DVD. That same month, CBS canceled his TV comeback “The Crazy Ones” after a single season. In a way, “Crazy” attempted to recapture the magic of “Mork and Mindy” (1978-82), but he had outgrown the role, and it was painful to watch. After a few episodes I tuned out, as did most other viewers.

But his career was hardly over. Newser reports he will be in no fewer than four upcoming films: “Merry Friggin’ Christmas,” a road-trip film about a dysfunctional family; “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” in which he reprises his role as Teddy Roosevelt; “Boulevard,” a drama in which he plays a married man involved with a street hustler; and he will voice a dog in “Absolutely Anything,” a comedy about a teacher who gets supernatural powers from aliens. A sequel to “Mrs. Doubtfire” was also in development, but will probably be scrapped, according to Variety.

There’s been a lot of talk about suicide prevention, like early intervention, better recognition and more treatment for depression. But some treatments, like hospitalization, shock therapy and pills, are as depressing as depression. I can’t imagine Williams being as creative or happy on, say, Paxil. Some schizophrenics take “vacations” from their meds just to feel again. No pain, no gain. No agony, no ecstasy.

Teen suicide is tragic and stupid, because there’s no telling what the future may hold. But as “When I’m 64” becomes more than a song, the future begins to narrow. Williams lived a fuller life than most of us could ever dream, and achieved in one truncated lifetime more than most of us could accomplish in a dozen. He surely had more great performances in him, but he had brought so much joy to the world already. It’s selfish to expect any more from him. Sooner or later, our bodies tell us when we’ve had enough, and sometimes our minds do, too. Some people age more gracefully than others, Lauren Bacall certainly being one. Again, I have no idea why Robin Williams did what he did. All I know is that depression plus aging can be a drag.

A day after this was written, Williams’ family disclosed he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

HB Koplowitz testing 123

This is a test to figure out how to post a comment on my new blog, then “share” it on Facebook. So as not to totally waste this comment, I’m repeating the announcement of my new ebook and website:

I’ve just released the ebook version of “Blackspanic College,” which is shorter, tighter, updated and available at Amazon and B&N so far. Please check out my totally revamped website,, where you can leave a comment on my blog, and if you’re looking for a good read, view some of my “Lost in Cyberspace” columns or pick up one of my books or ebooks. I hope you’ll visit and leave a comment, snide or otherwise, because I could use the traffic!

Bob Dylan & Paul Simon: Slip Slidin’ Away

© 1999 by H.B. Koplowitz

“You know the nearer your destination,
the more you’re slip slidin’ away.”
— Paul Simon, “Slip Slidin’ Away,” 1977

Near the end of the prior millennium, the two greatest folk-rock composers of the 1960s, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, teamed up for a concert tour. Attention must be paid. Both men’s early music was so intertwined with the social issues of the day — civil rights, Vietnam, recreational drug use, sexual revolution and existential angst — that they hold special meaning for those who came of age during those times.

Thus I plunked down $70 for their June 22, 1999, concert at the Hollywood Bowl, knowing neither would give me what they knew I wanted, which was, of course, for them to sing all their golden oldies just like they used to, forever young. Fat chance, when Dylan has spent most of his career trying to dodge the revolution, while Simon has spent his trying to prove his last name isn’t Garfunkel.

Hey, I’m sorry, OK. I know they are sick of doing their old stuff. And I know they have “evolved” and created more stuff since 1969, even if I’m not nearly as familiar with Simon’s 1998 Broadway musical “The Capeman,” or Dylan’s 1997 triple Grammy album, “Time Out of Mind.” But the immutable truth is that for people of a certain age, call us baby boomers or aging hippies, “the music we grew up with” — “Sounds of Silence,” “Mr. Tambourine Man” — remain powerful touchstones, whether we, or the people who created those immortal tunes, like it or not.

In such situations, an uneasy truce tends to exist between audience and performer that goes something like this: The performer will sprinkle the concert with enough moldy stuff to bring a nostalgic tear to the eye, if the audience will be open to the newfangled stuff, or at least refrain from constantly yelling out requests for the old stuff. And somewhere in between, hopefully the performer takes an old song seriously enough to do it justice, and the audience gets turned on to something new.

The ultimate goal is one goose-pimply moment of transcendent clarity, call it sentiment, that makes the rest of the evening worthwhile. For me, the generally lackluster Dylan-Simon concert at the Hollywood Bowl did yield one such moment. It came near the end of Simon’s set, shortly before Dylan came out to collaborate in a niggardly four duets, and Simon split, no doubt to tune up for his next night’s more intimate gig at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip. Stepping away from the multiethnic armada of three towering drum sets that made one wonder which inadequacy Simon might be compensating for, he sang an acoustic, soulful, haunting and, dare I say, straight version of “Slip Slidin’ Away” that seemed to sum up not just the concert, but a generation.

Bob Dylan and Paul Simon were both born in 1941, although Dylan is the acknowledged father of folk-rock music, while Simon is its prodigal son. By 1965, when Simon & Garfunkel had their first hit with “The Sounds of Silence,” Dylan had already popularized “protest songs” with such classics as “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’,”  and then caused a schism in the folksinging world by strapping on an electric guitar and fusing urban folk lyrics with pulsating rock ‘n’ roll music, creating such mind-expanding melodies as “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” “Just Like a Woman” and “All Along the Watchtower.”

Then came Dylan’s fabled motorcycle crash, his discovery of religion, and Johnny Cash, and some 20 less memorable albums followed including “Nashville Skyline,” “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” “Planet Waves,” “Blood on the Tracks,” “Dylan & the Dead” (from when he toured with The Grateful Dead), and “Self Portrait,” in which he covered Simon’s “The Boxer.” Like several of those albums, his latest effort, 1997’s Grammy album of the year “Time Out of Mind,” is viewed as a major comeback.

With childhood friend Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon began his career in the same urban folksinging tradition as Dylan. Simon & Garfunkel’s first album, “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM,” covered Dylan’s “The Times They are a Changin’,” along with such other protest songs of the antiwar and civil rights movements as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “Peggy-O.” While Simon & Garfunkel had a softer, sometimes saccharine sound, Simon’s lyrics were just as poignant as Dylan’s in such songs as “Scarborough Fair,” “Homeward Bound,” “Mrs. Robinson,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” And it was their music that accompanied the classic ’60s coming-of-age flick, “The Graduate.”

After splitting with Garfunkel in 1970, Simon went on to record “Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard,” “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover,” and “Still Crazy After All These Years.” Like Dylan, who made “Don’t Look Back,” Simon made a movie about the music industry, “One Trick Pony.” He also appeared on numerous “Saturday Night Live” TV shows and gritted out a 1981 nostalgia reunion tour with Garfunkel.

In his late ’80s and early ’90s releases, “Graceland” and “Rhythm of the Saints,” he experimented with Latin rhythms, African beats and other indigenous music. However, in 1986 he was temporarily blacklisted by the African National Congress and United Nations for breaking the apartheid boycott of South Africa with “Graceland,” which was inspired by South Africa dance music and featured the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. But the album was both a critical and popular success, and received the Grammy for 1988 record of the year. More controversy hovered over his short-lived 1998 Broadway musical “Capeman,” based on a ’50s New York Puerto Rican gang member.

The careers of Dylan and Simon have crisscrossed but never intersected until the current tour, which, along with the fact that neither man is getting any younger, has some calling the concerts historic. Especially with the duets, the shows would seem to have a huge quotient for goose pimples. Sadly, with the exception of “Slip Slidin’ Away,” the Hollywood Bowl concert provided few such eruptions.

During the tour they were doing 75-minute sets with 15 minutes of duets in the middle, alternating who performed first, and it was Simon’s turn at the Bowl. Flanked by guitars, keyboards and the aforementioned arsenal of percussionists, he launched into an over-orchestrated and under-emotive “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” which counts as a medium moldy, as it is the title track of the last album he did with Garfunkel. Later he did another S&G standard, “Mrs. Robinson,” which got a rise out of the audience at the mention of Joe DiMaggio, who had recently died, but most of his set was devoted to his more recent music, including “Graceland” and a nice rendition of “Trailways Bus” from “Capeman.”

Dylan makes a different deal with his audiences — he’ll sing oldies, just not the same way. Indeed, his playlist included many of his classics, and not only the super hits like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” but also “Masters Of War,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” and “Highway 61 Revisited.” But as usual, he sang them in a herky-jerky way that, among other things, makes it impossible to sing along. His harp playing also seemed off. But he played a surprising amount of lead guitar, which was the strongest part of his performance.

While many performers are energized by an audience, Dylan has been feuding with his since they booed him at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. As close as he came to acknowledging his fans in Los Angeles was to say “thank you ladies and gentlemen,” but I lost count after he said it five times. He seemed to have only two expressions, one being his patented scowl, and the other a scowling smile. He also displayed some doddering footwork that seemed inspired by Keith Richards, cough syrup or both. 

And then there were the duets, which bridged their individual sets. Following an earnest rendition of “Still Crazy After All These Years,” Simon rather reverently told the audience he felt “honored” to be sharing a stage with Dylan, who came strolling out picking the opening notes to “Sounds of Silence.” Next came the highlight of the show, as Simon chimed in with his guitar and they both stepped up to mikes and basically did Simon and Dylanfunkel. Dylan had a twinkle in his eye like he was enjoying the song, but also like he was enjoying watching Simon squirm through his half of it.

For me, the other duets were a letdown. First they did a medley of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line” and Elvis Presley’s rockabilly version of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and then Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” hardly a fair trade for “Sounds of Silence.” If Dylan could join Simon in his signature song, then Simon should have joined Dylan in his own anthem of the ’60s, “The Times They are a Changin’.” Now that would have been sentiment.

Dylan did such a good job of imitating Garfunkel in “Sounds of Silence” that it made you wish he’d imitate himself once in awhile. After all, he’s got one of the easiest voices to imitate in music. Even Simon does a great Dylan parody on “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” called “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission),” which would have made a fun addition to the show, as would some of those precious S&G inside tracks like “America,” “Kathy’s Song” and “April She Will Come.”

But enough “thinking of things that might have been.” Bob Dylan and Paul Simon have already provided my generation with enough sentiment to last a lifetime, and if Simon thinks a wall of sound from five continents is better than a curly-haired kid from Queens, that’s his business, and if Dylan thinks that when he sings “Highway 61 Revisited” he should pause between the words “sixty” and “one,” or end his set with a Bo Diddley number, that’s his business as well. Besides, any time I want to hear their old stuff I can go play their records. It was just really nice to see a couple of old friends again. Before we all slip slide away.

Cyber Sea-Monkeys

© 1999 by H.B. Koplowitz

In 1957, Harold von Braunhut stared into a vat of brine shrimp and saw … Sea-Monkeys. Brine shrimp, as some people know, are not really shrimp, but tiny crustaceous plankton used for live food on fish farms and in aquariums. Sea-Monkeys, as any baby boomer who picked up a comic book in the ’60s knows, are “amazing miracle” “instant pets,” a magic powder in a packet that lets you “create life” just by adding water. Brine shrimp are a quirk of nature that can survive for years in a state of suspended animation. But it took a quirk of marketing — and Harold von Braunhut — to turn them into a pop cultural icon. Now Sea-Monkeys, and the people who love them, have invaded cyberspace.

Sea-Monkey Central Official Webbed-Site” <> was created by a 38-year-old graphic designer and closet Sea-Monkey fanatic in Kansas City who would only identify himself as “Aqua-Boy.” As a kid, Aqua-Boy got hooked on Sea-Monkeys from the comic book ads. He “never had great success with the product but stayed enamored with the packaging.” Years later, after a hard day at the office, he decided to try Sea-Monkeys again, and from that point his interest “changed from a mild source of amusement to a state of obsessed frenzy.” In other words, he became a Sea-Monkeys memorabilia collector. The bug soon spread to collecting other novelty items invented by von Braunhut, and then to other “bio-grow toys” — Ant Farms, Sea Horse Corrals, Magic, Aqua and Moon Rocks, Instant Fish and Mexican Jumping Beans.

“Sea-Monkey Central” has product information, grow tips and a list of Sea-Monkey mentions in the media, including “The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys,” CBS’s short-lived Saturday morning live action children’s program starring Howie Mandel. It also has a fascinating biography of von Braunhut, who first unveiled his “Instant Life” in 1960. For 49 cents you could buy a kit that included water clarifier, nutrient and the powdery brine shrimp eggs. Just add water and the powder would magically come to life. Sometimes. Not surprisingly, toy stores and parents were skeptical. Then von Braunhut decided to appeal to his target market of kids directly by advertising in comic books, and mail orders started pouring in.

Soon von Braunhut shifted the emphasis from “Instant Life” to “Sea-Monkeys” (in interviews he says he got the name from the monkey-like tails on the tiny creatures). As Aqua-Boy explains, “if the instant hatching brine pets didn’t live for long, the friendly Sea-Monkey family on the product’s packaging would last forever in the memories of baby boomers.” By the late 1960s, Sea-Monkeys had become so popular that toy stores began carrying them, so kids could buy them without the dreaded “4 to 6 week” postal delay.

Sea-Monkeys were usually sold with accessories, the first being a mini-aquarium called the “Micro-View Ocean-Zoo,” a plastic jar with built-in magnifying lenses, crater textured sea-floor base and aerated lid. Von Braunhut’s forte was turning a natural phenomenon into entertainment. For example, taking advantage of the fact that brine shrimp swim against water currents like trout, in 1974 he unveiled the Deluxe Sea-Monkey Speedway, in which you could race Sea-Monkeys through plastic tubes.

For girls there was the Incredible Sea-Bubble, a small aquarium that could be worn on a necklace. And kids could create their own peep show with the Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” Sea-Circus kit marketed in 1964. The aquarium fit inside a cardboard box decorated like a circus tent with a stage window for Sea-Monkey viewing, along with a cardboard audience and ticket stand. While Sea-Monkeys are von Braunhut’s most famous invention, his other creations include Crazy Crabs, Invisible Goldfish and X-Ray Spex, cardboard glasses with funky red and white hypnotic spiral lenses that create an optical illusion of seeing through clothes or skin.

Von Braunhut still mixes the secret Sea-Monkey ingredients at Transcience, his home-based business in Maryland. And over the decades he has improved the breed so the critters are bigger and guaranteed to live two years. Distribution has gone through several hands, and yesterday’s “instant life” has become today’s educational toy distributed by ExploraToy <>.

ExploraToy Vice President George C. Atamian said Sea-Monkeys fit into their product line of items that “improve people’s lives by helping them learn.” He described von Braunhut as “brilliant and eccentric,” adding that the 74-year-old inventor has 193 patents, “incredible energy and a truculence for mediocrity.” He said von Braunhut is quite proprietary about his Sea-Monkeys, and that when the inventor dies, so will the recipe for making them.

ExploraToy’s latest kits include the Ghostly Galleon, an aquarium with a glow-in-the-dark sunken ship, and Ocean Zoo, a replica of the original mini-aquarium. Recently it began selling the Fun Time Aquarium Watch, a five-function digital watch with water-filled bubble dial where you can carry your Sea-Monkeys on your wrist.

Another Sea-Monkey fan Web site is the “Sea-Monkey Worship Page” <>, created by Susan Barclay, a.k.a. Sea-Monkey Lady. The Web site lets you “Ask the Sea-Monkey Lady” and post announcements of Sea-Monkey births and deaths. There’s also tips and tricks you can do with Sea-Monkeys, and information on where you can buy Sea-Monkeys online, through the mail and in stores.

One of the few sites where you can buy Sea-Monkey kits on the Internet is “As Seen On TV” <>, which is selling the Aquarium Watches for $13. “As Seen on TV” also peddles such classics of TV advertising as Chia Pets, Gator Grip, Super Slicer and The Smart Clapper.

Finally, lest you think all Sea-Monkey fans are fishy, or that the “Los Angeles Times” is not, check out the Sea-Monkey Webcam live from the newsroom at “The Times” <>. Scooped again.

Fanfic Online



© 2000 by H.B. Koplowitz

Gilligan was crouching in the bushes, peering through the foliage, as Ginger waded into the sweetwater pool under the waterfall.Her back was toward him as she moved under the waterfall. He saw her drop her clothing and caught a glimpse of her bare (expletive deleted) before it was covered with the white water.“C’mon, Ginger, turn around,” he whispered. “Turn around…”

He reached down into his pants and gripped his (expletive deleted)…

Under the waterfall, Ginger smiled secretly to herself. “He’s out there again,” she mumbled to herself. “Who could miss that hat?”

“Gilligan’s Island” was never like this! With Congress wanting to stomp out sex and violence in Hollywood, and the entertainment industry censoring itself with “standards and practices,” what are those who want MORE sex and violence to do? At so-called fanfic Web sites, avid followers of books, movies and TV shows, past and present, post their own versions of scenes they’d like to see, plot twists or relationships they want developed and entire seasons they wish were. A sub-genre of fanfic is nfic, or naughty fiction, like the above “Passion Fruit,” that tackle storylines Hollywood is too timid to touch.

Outgrowths of fanzines, e-mail lists and newsgroups, most fanfic Web sites contain no more sex and violence than the original works they are loosely based on. Even so, you’d think they were the ones getting investigated by Congress, because the Web sites come with elaborate disclaimers, warnings, plot summaries and rating systems to ensure that no one reads age-inappropriate material.

For example, “The Lois & Clark Fanfic Archive” <>, has 1,300 fan-written stories and images inspired by the defunct TV show “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” all rated G, PG, or PG-13. Recent stories include “Forever Superman,” about a vampire seemingly on the loose in Metropolis; “Married, With Children,” about an afternoon at the Zoo with Lois and Clark and their children; and “Misadventures Again,” in which Spiderman gets married, with Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne (Batman) on the guest list.

Decidedly more risque are the 400 stories archived at “The Official Lois & Clark nFic Directory” <>. In “Aftermath,” “after a traumatic rescue by Superman, Lois uses a hot tub and massage to soothe a troubled Clark.” And in “All Work and No Play,” “a frustrated Lois teases Clark unbearably at the office, until he loses control and they make love in the supply closet.”

Another nfic collection is the unabashed “Agent Xena’s Smut Archive” <>, which pairs up X-Files characters like Mulder/Scully, Scully/Krycek and Scully/Skinner, not to mention Mulder/Scully/Krycek. Mulder/Scully stories include “2 Close For Comfort,” in which they make out on a stakeout; “The Carrot And The Stick,” in which a sexual encounter with Scully results in additional angst for Mulder; and “Batteries Not Included,” which answers the question, what would happen if Mulder came upon Scully’s vibrator?

Fan Fiction on the Net” <>, is a resource page with links to fan fiction based on such diverse muses as “The Adventures of Sinbad,” “Airwolf,” “Alien Nation,” “The A-Team,” Jane Austen and “The Avengers,” and that’s just the A’s. There’s also extensive links to adult fiction based on “Babylon 5,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Doctor Who,” “Power Rangers” and all flavors of “Star Trek.”

An even more subversive sub-genre of nfic is slash. Named after the punctuation “/” used by fanfic authors to denote who is doing what to whom, slash is erotic fanfic involving two characters of the same gender. Some slash is based on fairly obvious choices like “Xena,” “Hercules” and “Highlander.” But there’s also homoerotic versions of “Ally McBeal,” “E.R.” and “The Practice,” along with “Friends,” “Oz,” “Quantum Leap” and “Rawhide.”

Of course, there’s slash and there’s slash. So while “RatB” <>, fixates on the “X-Files” characters Mulder and Krycek, “Syrenslure Fan Fiction” <>, prefers Buffy of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and hooks up Xena with Gabrielle, “Queen of the Amazons.”

For whatever reason, there seems to be a lot more naughty fan fiction being written than violent fan fiction. But for the ultimate in nfic fanfic, call it snufffanfic, there’s the simple but elegant “Who Would You Kill” <>, which invites people to cast their vote for who they’d most like knocked off their favorite TV show, and write their “final scene.”

For “NYPD Blue,” Gay John and Greg Medavoy were in a dead heat, with about 900 votes apiece. But someone calling himself Raoul Duke wanted to off Sipowicz: “Sipowicz and Danny are sitting at their desks. Danny says ‘I can’t belive how many people that heroin addict killed.’ Sipowicz says ‘Well that’s life. Ya gotta take it as it comes.’ Danny says ‘How do you do it? After seeing all this crime and murders how do you keep so cool?’ Sipowicz says ‘Quit whining Ricky.’ Danny says ‘What did you call me?’ Sipowicz says ‘I called you Ricky, remember your Silver Spoon days?’ Danny says ‘I TOLD YOU NEVER TO MENTION THAT AGAIN!!!!!!’ Danny jumps over the desk and clobbers Sipowicz with a desk lamp.”

Now that’s entertainment!