Minstrel’s Alley to Publish Spy Book

Minstrel’s Alley will soon be releasing its first book, “The Guys Who Spied for China.”   The new, independent publisher is based in Santa Monica, California and intends to publish books that have popular appeal but not necessarily mainstream.   Minstrel’s Alley sees a pressing need for books that are based in a literary tradition but offer a  modern expression of the world around us.

“The Guys Who Spied for China” is written by Gordon Basichis.  It is a roman a clef depicting Chinese espionage networks operating in the United States in the eighties and nineties.    While depicting incidents that were long kept under wraps, the novel is relationship based and interspersed with quirky humor.

The Guys Who Spied for China is scheduled for publication in mid-October.

Minstrel’s Alley plans to publish several books, annually and intends to release multimedia, film, and video in the future.

Will Democrats Screw Up Healthcare Reform?


There is a darkly humorous scene in the film,  The History of Violence, where the main gangster,  played by William Hurt, arranges for the murder of his brother,  played by Viggo Mortensen.   One of Hurt’s henchman is to sneak up behind Mortensen, wind the garrote around his neck and strangle him.   But the tables are turned, and Mortensen escapes.

“How can you f**k that up?” exclaims and exasperated William Hurt.   He then shoots the henchman to punctuate his case.

This is how I feel about the Democratic Party and its attempt to reform healthcare.   I am aware you can argue intelligently for healthcare reform and variations on that healthcare reform, or you could against it.   There are credible opinions, for sure.   There are  options that may be worth considering.   But that is not what I am talking about here.   That on one hand is too simple and argument and too mired in knee jerk doctrine to warrant my adding my two cents on the matter.

First off, healthcare is not what I consider a philosophical issue.  Abortion.  Same sex marriage.   These can be philosophical issues.   Not healthcare.  People get sick.  People need healthcare.   Many people don’t have healthcare.   Even more can barely afford the healthcare they have.  I pay a fortune every year in healthcare.  I pay more for healthcare than a fair amount of people make as take home pay, annually.  And every January  my premiums go  up.   Last January it went up 40-something percent.  That’s a big increase.  I have no idea what will be extorted from me this January.   And I am lucky.  Why?  Because I am in a group, so I am not confronted with the big, bad bugaboo, preexisting conditions.

As for our “choice.”  That’s almost funny.  Our choice is to face rejection for different procedures or fight like hell for months on end with the health insurance people.   Luckily, we have good doctors with whom we have established long term relationships.   I can only imagine how it would go down if our doctors just got here last Wednesday and had no personal investment in our general well being.   And that is what most people are facing.

So we need healthcare.   And we need healthcare reform.  What gets me is the Democrats and the remarkable way, to paraphrase William Hurt, they managed to f**k this up.    How when you have any number of options to clarify your healthcare initiative do you choose to lead with your chin? In fact this desultory attempt at convincing America that healthcare reform is necessary and is being implemented with the best intentions is so lame, so lacking in clear information, that the Democrats risk having any meaningful healthcare reform being kicked down their throat.    They could lose their advantage in both houses of Congress in the forthcoming elections.    They could face disaster and render what should have been a shoo-in eight year Presidential term into a four-year Jimmy Carter extravaganza.

Amazing.   It is so amazing that one friend of mine believes the inept way the Democrats, in general, and the White House, specifically handled this healthcare initiative, they must have a secret plan.   They must be sandbagging the opposition.   They must know something that we don’t, but like any secret weapon they are only waiting for the right moment to unleash it on their opponents.   I can understand why he would think that way.   Hoping against hope that they are not that incompetent.   Unh uh.   Not happening.

We have done nothing during the past couple of decades or so if not turn every smart strategic act, politically, socially, and otherwise into some slick term that is used to identify its application.   We are homogenized that way, very precise with all of our modeling, studies, surveys, statistics, pigeonholing.   There is little allowance for random and unpredictable action.   There is little allowance for gullibility that can border on insanity.   But things do fall randomly, and even the most cogent proposition can lead to chaos.  And, indeed, the road to hell has often been paved by good intentions.

Among the first things you learn in media management is to conceive of your message.  Keep it concise, make it clear, and be damn sure the language is such that the average Joe Public out there can grasp what you are getting at.   Introduce your message way ahead of time.  Test market that message.  Take it for a spin.   Kick the tires, looking under the hood.  If it’s a clunker, modify it in a hurry.

Repeat the message as if it was a Sunday prayer.  Make sure all your primaries, secondaries, and surrogates understand that message.   Make sure they can translate it, repeat it to large crowds and as a talking head on news shows.   Like any good sales pitch, preach all the good stuff in easy language.   Don’t allow for confusion.   If you have too many facts, realize you are not in a fact finding nation.   Reduce those facts to the three or four things that will resonate with the crowds.   And if all that fails, hire a brilliant guy like Frank Luntz to make sure you can stay on point and deliver your message.

In the case of the Democrats, they believed people were hurting in a bad economy and would be open to change in their healthcare system.   They probably would.    The Democrats believe that there is a matter of moral consciousness, that there are far too many people without healthcare.   Very true.   The Democrats believe that economically speaking we are in big trouble with our present healthcare system, and in the very near future with costs soaring more and more people will not have a viable healthcare plan.  No argument there.

But so much for beliefs when they translate to message that is supposed to lead to action.  Democrats have  approached this vital initiative, believing because it may be so you won’t have your ass handed to you by the financial interests concerned with preserving the private healthcare system just the way it is?   We’re talking big bucks adversaries who have no interest in reform, really, not when they are raking in the money.   And some of that profit goes to a fair share of legislators, local, national and statewide, in the lovely guise of campaign contributions.  Maybe so.   But certainly these campaign contributions, which total in the tens and maybe hundreds of millions, are not crossing palms to encourage reform that would detract from the bottom line.   These campaign contributions, all right, you can call them bribes, are being paid out to keep things just the way they are, or close enough.

Rather than see this coming and creating a significant information campaign that would clarify the healthcare reform, they stumble about.   With President Barack Obama reputedly one of our nation’s greatest orators, the Democrats did not elect to put him out on point  No.  That would be too smart.   They relied on surrogates.   Surrogates who can’t deliver the message because the message was never clearly delivered to them.  Surrogates who lack that little thing called engaging personalities.   Surrogates who don’t know how to fight.

So now President Obama is the one delivering the healthcare message.   Sort of.   Finally.   This tactical decision only comes after  the Republican leadership and the private healthcare industry takes the Democrat’s discombobulated message and turns it on its fanny.   But the damage has been done.   People love to buy into groundless information, it would seem.    Thanks to the Democratic stumble step, a fair percentage of this country believes the Democrats are planning to kill grandma and the government is climbing into your underwear.

No matter that in the Bush administration, civil rights were abrogated, voluntarily surrendered,  and intruded upon without so much as a peep from this crowd.  No matter that we are still taking off our shoes in the airport and being forced to carry a gnat’s worth of shampoo on a seven day business trip.     Forget you have nineteen different agencies listening on your phone, monitoring the books you read and checking out your toilet paper for secret code.   It’s the healthcare reform that will ruin our country.  In fact, in some circles the message has been so distorted that some ardently believe it is a copy of Nazi policy.

Amazing.   Again, let me repeat.  There are intelligent ways to debate healthcare reform.   There are civil and cogent perspectives that should be heard.   There are people out there, on both sides, who are actually trying to be heard.   But they cannot be heard above this ridiculous din of lunacy and ragged incompetency that has predicated this mess.

I watch not with shock, but a whole lot of dismay as the princes and peasants with pens and pitchforks descend on these alleged town hall meetings, to rant and rave, show their guns, and try to shout down what are far too many excuses for legislators who are tongue tied and brain twisted by the level of adversity and near-violence.     With the notable exception of Barney Frank who offered the appropriate response to one programmed lunatic who termed the healthcare plan a play taken out of Hitler’s National Socialists, most other Senators and Congress Persons seem grossly incapable of dealing with adversity.

Yes, adversity.  It does still happen in a world where we believe everyone should be safe.  In a world where our more naive believe American citizens will not be subjected to any abuse, in spite of the more obvious atrocities in the world around them.    These are the people who believe reason prevails.  Well, like anything else, miracles included, sometimes it happens that way, and most often it doesn’t.    Sometimes, if you want to reason with someone, you have to hit them  with a two by four in order to get them to listen.

I am not suggesting actual violence.   I can see already what would come of it, what with the nut jobs out there who are carrying their guns to Presidential rallies.   I believe in gun ownership.  Really.   But I also believe that anyone carrying a gun within the proximity of a president or elected official is not confronting a rights issue.   That person is confronting a security issue.   It is dangerous in theory and even more dangerous in practices.  It is incredible to me that this should be allowed to occur.   It is amazing that any doofus carrying a gun to a political rally isn’t hauled off to the rubber room for a quick stay with the shrink of his choice.  C ‘mon, people, haven’t we all seen “Taxi Driver?”

But I digress.   The fact remains that the Democrats have muffed the healthcare initiative.     They have screwed up.  Now they are playing defense.    A smart defense is a good offense.   A good offense is one that works.  If you want to get it passed perhaps it is best to forget bipartisan efforts, group hugs, and marshmallow roasts.  Tear a page from the old Democratic Playbook when such pols as Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn were not afraid to twist arms in their own party.  Even Bill Clinton did that.

Tell your supposed Blue Dog Democrats, cute name, that if they don’t climb on the train here, they can forget about any National Party support in 2010.   Tell him there were be no funding, no marquee value personalities showing up in support.   There will be no support of any kind.   Nothing.   Hell, if this healthcare initiative fails, as the Democrats must realize,  and the Republicans certainly do,  they will be losing congressional seats anyway.   They might as well lose the seats that didn’t do them any real good.

In other words, cowboy up and show some boldness.   Do like the Republicans do.  When they get in power, they have an agenda, and they follow it in lock step to see that agenda is realized.  They don’t mess around, getting caught up in the facts or apple bobbing in their own confusion.   The Republicans don’t apologize.     They don’t hem and haw.   They have a message, and they stick to it.  They don’t want to hug.   Whether their policies are right or wrong, they are there to do their job, and that is exactly what they do.    Give them credit where it is due.

But not the Democrats.   They mistake confusion and mixed messages as freedom of choice and personal expression.   They believe like every obnoxious television series that everything will right itself in the end.   It doesn’t.   It often gets worse.

So, Democrats, if you are really concerned with healthcare reform, then act the part.   Get tough.   Be direct.   Get your message straight.    Get rid of a thousand page document. Tell the public the public option is Medicare, but only if you are younger than 65, then you have to pay for it.   That’s it.  If you like Medicare, then this is your chance to buy it.  Simple.  To the point.   No confusion.

Am I making myself clear?

When You Are Living Dead Above Marilyn Monroe


Westwood Village Memorial Park is arguably the nicest cemetery in Los Angeles.   It is a small park, just south of Wilshire Boulevard.   A movie multiplex sits in front of it as well as a high rise office building.  In fact, you would never know it is there, unless you…know its there.  Or discover it by accident.

Bodies have been entombed, buried, and cremated.  Ashes have been stored in urns in a special room that looks like a dusty old apothecary, and in designated vaults.   There are cylindrical graves, a couple inches wide, set into posts that also hold ashes.   There are fountains, rock formations, and benches marking burial sites.   The graves in the cemetery are both simple and elaborate.   Yet you will never find a garish grave.   This is Hollywood, and spending eternity in a tacky setting is the ultimate in bad taste.

While small and obscure, this quiet graveyard  is hardly a secret.   Although Forrest Lawn may get the attention,  Westwood Village Memorial Park is the final resting place to many show business luminaries.   It is an A-List repertory company.   The legendary Fanny Brice is buried there, along with film pals Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.  Natalie Wood, Kirk Douglas, Roy Orbison, and Frank Zappa have been all laid to rest in this exclusive little cemetery.  Singers Mel Torme and Beach Boy, Carl Wilson are here.   You can find the graves of Dean Martin and Burt Lancaster, if you are so disposed.     George C. Scott and Billy Wilder.  Peggy Lee and Carroll O’ Connor.  The list goes on and on.

But perhaps no resident is more famous, or controversial, that Marilyn Monroe.   She lived as a legend and died in mystery.   Even today, we see her like she was in “Some Like It Hot,” or even, toward the end, in “The Misfits.”   It is hard to imagine her, if she remained alive, visiting talk shows at 83 years of age.   That is what she would be today.  Eight three.  Hard to believe.

Marily is entombed and not buried.  Her casket is set above ground and covered in marble.   There are myriad lipstick impressions all over the marble made from people who have come and kissed her grave.   There are flowers, courtesy of former husband and Baseball Hall of Famer, Joe Dimaggio.   At least the flowers were still being delivered each day, as Joe had ordered, even after his passing.   He loved her, after all.

But no enough to spend eternity alongside her.   That was the plan, but then the plan went awry for reasons that have embellished both their legends.   Instead Joltin’ Joe sold that crypt, just above Marilyn’s, to Richard Poncher.  Poncher has been occupying that crypt for the past 21 years.   It is fitting in a way, as Poncher was an inventor but a rounder who had befriended gangsters, movie stars, and assorted notables.   He ate at the good restaurants, traveled, and was the bon vivant.   Poncher lived well and died at 81.

At Richard’s insistence, his wife, Elise, had the funeral director turn Poncher’s casket upset down so that he was facing Marilyn.   A little unorthodox, perhaps, but far from the oddest dying request.    It is Marlyn Monroe we are talking about here.   Elise contends that if she didn’t abide by his wishes, Richard would haunt her for the rest of his life.

But now Elise wants to sell Richard’s place and move him.   She is selling his crypt and moving him to the one that had been reserved for her.   She will be cremated.   Opening bids on EBay will start at $500, 000.   Half-Million bucks, and up from there.    Elise is not selling the crypt out of whimsy.   There is nobility involved.   She wants to leave here Beverly Hills house to her children, mortgage free.

I wish Elise luck.  I hope she gets plenty of cash.  I am sure she will.   After all, who wouldn’t want the berth above Marilyn Monroe?   And right next door to her, reserved for the time he draws his final breath, will be Hugh Hefner.   Fitting enough for the Founder of Playboy to be Marilyn’s next door neighbor.    And if nothing else, it’s a very exclusive neighborhood.  No rowdy neighbors.  Very quiet.   And the shows they put on are not to be believed.

Les Paul’s Death Marks the End of a Music Era

APTOPIX Obit Les Paul

Rock and Roll Music is many things to many people.  From its inception in the late forties and early fifties when black blues and rhythm and blues combined with country and rockabilly, rock and roll has alternately been one of the most revered and hated of American institutions.   Nearly everyone has something to say about its impact and its legacy.

Back then the religious figures and social conservatives absolutely deplored its encroachment into the fabric of American culture.   They viewed it as a threat against racial segregation, it was, and a means of expression for untoward and calamitous behavior, an instrument of temptation, luring otherwise innocent young Americans to sex and drugs.   It did that, too.

For the very same reasons it was viewed as a threat to constrained but allegedly decent American culture, rock and roll was seen by millions as source of liberation.   It was an emotional outlet and a new resource for embracing the lifestyle that was rebellious an anti-heroic, that contrasted with the proverbial Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.   It was a conduit for integration and for social and mystical reflection.   It was a lot of things to a lot of people.

Few people had as much influence on rock and roll music itself than Les Paul.  His iconic guitar has been played by legions of rock and roll gods, aspiring gods, and regular guys who played for awhile in their high school  before switching out their dreams to sell insurance.   Like far too many brilliant  people starting out in life, he was deemed an underachiever.   One of his early instructors lamented that Paul would never learn music.

He not only learned it and played it, showing great flair and innovation, but he and Leo Fender probably did more to make sure the fledgling sound of rock and roll took root in the American consciousness.   Paul not only developed his eponymous solid body electric guitar, but he also developed the first eight track recording system.   Revolutionary?  Absolutely.   Instead of the recording musicians all having to be in perfect synch for the mixing aspect, each musical effort could be tracked in independently and later mixed into the final sound.

Without the eight track, we would have all the advancements since then.  We would not have many musical innovations, creations like the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.”   The Beatles’ “Dr. Pepper” and so many innovative recordings, too numerous to name, would have remained obscure ideas that never reached fruition.   The eight track mixing system seems quite by today’s digital standards.   Even before the music world went digital the 72 track sound boards dwarfed the meager little eight track.   But the true analogy is to compare Les Paul’s eight track with the Wright Brothers’ first venture, and then measure the technological advancements to, say, the B-2 Bomber.  In short, it had to start somewhere, and in the case of mixing music, it started with Les Paul.

Gibson Les Paul guitars are still produced and sell around the world.  Vintage Les Paul guitars can sell for the price of a modest house.   More recording sessions were driven at least in part by Leo Fender’s Stratocaster and Telecaster, and the durable Gibson Les Paul.    More musicians owe their careers to these three guitars.

Les Paul didn’t look cool.  He didn’t look like a rock legend or rock god.  He was unassuming, a genuine nice guy who liked to play music and liked to tinker.   He fused jazz with country and grittier roots music for his own special sound.  He was often genteel when compared to the more raucous aspects of rock and roll.   He played with his wife, Mary Ford, which I’m sure nullified any groupies hanging around.  He never made the tabloids for drug overdoses or tossing the hotel furniture twenty stories into the swimming pool.

Perhaps what made Les Paul so exceptional is that he looked so ordinary.  He appeared the regular guy.   But he was extraordinary, and few come along that contriube so much to American culture.   He was one of a kind.   He will be missed.