Author and Book Event Center Showcases Gordon Basichis and The Guys Who Spied for China

The Author and Book Event Center has recently showcased Gordon Basichis and his new novel, “The Guys Who Spied for China.”  Basichis is featured in the this week’s author spotlight section.

Author and Book Event Center posts information about authors, writing, and new books.  Included in it postings are book reviews, video interviews, chat forums and member information.

“The Guys Who Spied for China,” is a roman a clef based on the author’s true experiences uncovering Chinese Espionage Networks in California and the United States, during the eighties and nineties.

The Bodhi Tree, a Bookstore No More

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The Bodhi Tree has been a Los Angeles institution since I can remember.  Located in West Hollywood, on Melrose Avenue, the Bodhi Tree was one of the first bookstores of its kind.    It was a metaphysical bookstore, redolent with incense burning in its labyrinthine rooms.    Just walking through the door made you feel like you were in a different place and time.

The store  stocked books from every religion and every metaphysical pursuit.    There were 35,000 books in all.  No genre bestsellers here.   The Bodhi Tree was for reading and thinking, meditation and contemplation, things we don’t seem to do so much of anymore.   Who has the time?    The Bodhi Tree was founded by two men,  Stan Madson and Phil Thompson, who in the Angeleno hippie days of 1970 first bought one bungalow and, later, its adjacent twin.   It was name for the place where Buddha found enlightenment.

You could visit the Bodhi Tree in pursuit of metaphysics.  People did.  In fact, they came from all over the world.  Or your could visit the Bodhi Tree in pursuit of the datable guys and gals who were seeking a love partner to accessorize their spiritual enlightenment.   Yes, it was open seven days a week and late enough into the evening that singles found other singles with whom they hoped they shared a common bond.   Probably the reason that so many of their offspring have such arcane names.   In the decades where spirituality was the thing, what could be better come on lines than opening gambits pertaining to astrology, nutrition, auras, and Zen.

The Bodhi Tree was offering books on the Kaballah before the faddists had a clue about it.  There were books on herbs, and books on Yoga.     The place gave off its own special church-like aura, a much deeper sensory presence than, say, a Christian Science Reading Room.   You felt that maybe you were onto something in your search for the spiritual, even if you weren’t.  One one hand the Bodhi Tree was contained in a respectful if not reverential silence.   But there were also discussions  among the bookshelves and along the benches where customers sipped the different types of herb tea the owners put out gratis.  Some of the discussion were complex and heady, while others bordered on the obnoxious.

Celebrities, Hollywood people, cane and went, mixing it up and were part of the usual clientele.   There was no valet parking or special VIP sections.   Los Angeles people are pretty blase about celebrity sightings anyway, although there was at least a smidgen of curiosity about what the actor or rock star was actually reading.

Here at the Bodhi Tree, you could buy your talismans and amulets.  Incense, of course, was big seller, as were the crystals and figurines the stones of a mystical quality.   There were crystals to buy and even antique Chinese Coins for throwing the I-Ching.  I still have some stored away and a couple I knew reminded me recently that we had given them coins for their wedding present.   They had stumbled on them, recently.  In their garage.  I guess the oracle of  the I-Ching wasn’t high on their priorities.

Now the Bodhi Tree is closing.  It will be gone soon.  And with it goes a piece of Los Angeles History.   Like a good many products, the metaphysical offerings of the Bodhi Tree have not gone to the heavens so much as the Internet.  Spirituality has gone mainstream, and like most things mainstream, it has been dumbed down somewhat.   The more comprehensive volumes, and the antique works you could find at the Bodhi Tree have little demand in a world that takes complexity and nuance and renders them into easy to remember jargon.    Chain stores can now sell the bestsellers and a few others at deep discounts, just a  few shelves away from their celebrity volumes.

Like a mangled  Zen proverb, the intellectual quality of  many spiritual pursuits has been reduced to a simple tattoo or claim that even a crackpot theory can align you as one with the universe.   To further alter the Zen Proverb, common thinking is such that if you didn’t see it on Dr. Phil, then it probably doesn’t exist.

So long to the Bodhi Tree and with it a piece of history and part of my youth.   And say hello to the Starbucks or corporate chain store that will probably takes its place.  As the mystics claim, nothing lasts forever.

Hang High the White Collar Criminals

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People are pissed off.   This in itself is no real news as the public disgust with the news media, politicians and Wall Street has been on the increase every year.   But now they are really pissed off.   People are so angry that not even their Prozac and Zoloft, and the other mood enhancers, can fend off the seething desire to retaliate against the charlatans they believe have done them wrong.

People want justice.   They have lost their savings, and they have lost their jobs.    They have seen their pensions cut in half.   Their houses, if not foreclosed upon are underwater.   What equity they had is gone.   They have been lied to, bamboozled, and moved around by the sound byte media and the sound bitten politicians.    The had put their faith in their civil and social leaders, their financial advisers, and they  have  been led  astray.   The economy has become a fiasco and the state of the nation is regarded as but one more news event to be commented on by the spurious and insipid who through media magic have been qualified  as experts.   A reinvigorated Wall Streets continues its efforts to make a buck off the public’s ignorance and apathy.

But people are pissed off.   Certainly, some of the responsibility for this national debacle must fall upon their shoulders.   For it is the public that overbought and extended itself.  It is the semi-literate public who disregarded the large print, yet alone the fine print, on its mortgage contracts, never bothering to ask why am I paying so little for a house that is worth so much?    Instead, they bought into the snake oil sales pitch that they should overlook the balloon payment due in a few years, as they will always be able to get another mortgage.   And the real estate con artists most used phrase, ” housing prices will always go up,” resonated with millions, much like we take comfort in our being watched over by angels, or global warming will be corrected by forces other than ourselves.

We are a nation that doesn’t read too well.   Forget about the languages of other nations.  Approximately half of us our functionally illiterate with our own language, and that’s when we bother to read.   Much of our more significant  correspondence has been truncated down to pithy little phrases that hinder the scope of any detailed thought or definition.    We utter sound bytes that are fed to us and believe wholeheartedly that this is original thought.   Anything more than a few sentences to a paragraph forces us to give up what little element of concentration we still possess.   And critical thinking, true critical thinking, is far too demanding to warrant our attention.

So, in short, our ignorance and laziness can turn us into victims.  We are easily bamboozled.   We take lies as truth on face value, as long as those lies come from our own segment of social and political belief.   We give more credence to our celebrities and are suspicious of our scientists.   A crackpot with a theory gets more attention than the knowledgeable with the facts.   Especially if the fact is bad news.

We believe for some reason that we have the inherent right to be safe and free of any slights or contrary opinions or perspectives that would make us uncomfortable.    We think of our children of geniuses in the making and believe they will prevail and prosper by virtue of their American heritage and their legacy of a  two car garage.   We believe we can buy anything and pay for it later.   We take out home equity loans on our houses with inflated values and then use that money for trinkets and beads and other crap we don’t really need.    We buy boats and overpriced designer clothing.   We buy gourmet foods for our pets and dress our four-year-old’s in $300.00 blue jeans.

Instead of being a producer nation, we are a consumer nation.  Two-thirds of our economy is based in consumerism.  It is a hell of a lifestyle, and to support it we borrow money from foreign countries, borrow against our house, our credit cards, and, lately, we melt down our own crappy old jewelry and sell it off for its weight in gold.   We do this for one of two reasons.   We are either in love with ourselves; we are special people who absolutely deserve to garner all the material offerings that the world can provide.   Or we hate ourselves, have the kind of esteem issues that compel us to buy these baubles and trinkets so that we can feel better about ourselves.  Feel that we measure up to the people next door.

In short, we have set ourselves up as suckers.  We are ripe for the plucking.  We are semi-literate, prescription drug indulged individuals who worship celebrity while eschewing any kind of critical or cognitive thinking in favor of our own distorted view of the world.   We are the perfect mark for any group of slippery sliders wishing to sell us a bill of goods.  And that they did.   Our government gave Wall Street a license to steal.  And that is what they did.

First came the panic.  We were on the verge of  a depression.  Enter the federal government as those surviving companies, paragons of what is loosely labeled free enterprise and free market conditions,  took bailout money by the trillions to shore up their companies.   Those those that took the bailout money, or stimulus money, were supposed to use it wisely.  Stimulate the economy.  Pass it from Wall Street to Main Street.  It didn’t happen.  Instead the money was used for consolidation, for shoring up financial institutes and for buying companies that should have been left to die.   A trillion bucks later, and unemployment remains high, businesses are closing,  and there are millions of foreclosures.

There is constant talk that America is in the economic downturn from which it may never recover..  We have stopped our buying, most of us anyway.  Suddenly, we realize we really don’t need those extra trinkets and beads and that Fluffy the Cat doesn’t need gourmet food that children in a developing nation would kill for.   Little Child can make do in a $50   pair of Levi’s, in fact it is chic again, and the two luxury  vehicles in the driveway, the $20 thousand dollar vacation, the caviar and custom made $500 shirts,  the  ski mobiles and snow mobiles and the RV that drags them to places where we can overrun the landscape may not have the cachet they once did.

Then came the anger.  We are trying to save our money.  We are watching every buck.  We are eating in and ordering movies with a couple of pizzas for our rich and robust entertainment on a Saturday night.  We have no credit left, so cash is king.   We try to make the best of a bad situation, knowing that we were left stranded by political and financial chicanery and that the vaunted promise of change is like other campaign promises, fading in the light of a harsh reality.   We are tightening our belts and punching new holes in the leather, because we can’t afford to buy another belt.

And we are very pissed off.   In response to our anger we have voiced our concern by claiming we are lapsing into Socialism though few really know much about that economic system and what it really means.   We make noises about a free market, but corporate welfare leaves the rest of us struggling.   We become tea baggers and in tepid attempt to express ourselves conduct insipid reenactments of the more stalwart at the Boston Tea Party by flinging our Lipton’s into the rivers and lakes.   We are angry and it is vented in misguided ways with little direction that will promise little results.

We are frustrated and we have few channels for its expression.  In the past couple of decades we have been indoctrinated with the belief that anger and frustration are by their nature bad things and shouldn’t be expressed in polite society.   As colonialists in our nascent stages and in quest of our independence we dragged our scalawags into the streets where they were summarily tarred and feathered.  Now we just whine at them.   We are admonished that we shouldn’t act out,  that we shouldn’t raise our voices, that we shouldn’t complain.  So when we do act out and raise our voices, we do so with meaningless displays.  We wear our guns to a healthcare meeting and consider this a show of resistance.

We immerse ourselves in nonsense.  We conduct meaningless debates that are exploited by the media and the interest groups who manipulate our deeper  emotions.   We are turned against each other over petty discord, and we   allow our prejudices to condemn us to the kind of narrow thinking that obfuscates the real demons among us.   It is in the best interests of the special interests that we continue this nonsensical rancor, allowing time for the real criminals to continue to rob us blind.

Our anger is very real, but misdirected.   The feeling is righteous enough, but its expression lacks currency.   The angrier we get, either the more we try to hide it, or the more confused we become.   We don’t know which way to turn and any moral or ethical compass that is supposed to give us direction has been co-opted by corporate sponsor and their political toadies that direct us to their own best interests and not our own.

We are a nation that believes in justice.  We are a nation that believes in accountability.   At least we used to.  We believe someone should be responsible for transgressions against society.  We went to war and fought the Nazis, then conducted the Nuremberg Trials to show that leaders must be accountable for their actions.   At Nuremberg, we listened to one Nazi after the next claim they were only following orders.   And then we hanged the bastards.  We hanged them high.

But no more.  Our leaders are anything but accountable.  They screw up and get promoted.   They run their companies into the ground and they get bonuses for their efforts.    They break the law and rob and steal, and receive bail out money from the government, which is best described as public money misused and misdirected.   We bail them out and absorb the disaster, and they pat themselves on the back.   The New York Times just announced that Wall Street is preparing to give itself even more bonuses, after taking government money for bailing out of a debacle they created and then leaving us in the lurch.  Who could be more deserving of a hefty reward than a collective bunch of failures?

There has been predatory mortgage lending, falsification of documents, and the fraudulent act of according toxic financial packages mythical value.     There was insider trading and the illegal shuffling of money.   There were crimes committed.   And yet the government in its implacable wisdom has deemed it fit not to investigate or prosecute any financial wrongdoings.    While it has been broadly acknowledged that a fair portion of the financial dealings were indeed criminal acts the government while wrangling over partisan politics can not be bothered bring these white collar criminals to justice.  Sure, they brought Bernard Madoff to justice, ad a few others, but their few billions in stolen funds are mere drops in the bigger bucket, compared to the trillions stolen by others.

We are not accountable.  We do not suffer consequence for our actions.  We  allow criminals who screw up royally and drive this country into the ground to walk off with the the spoils of their ill gotten gains.   We endure one of our few remaining industries were the media discusses the crimes ad nauseum, and books are written.   But no one stands accountable and no one goes to jail.   Remarkable.

I realize that out of the thousands of people in the financial sector, Wall Street, if you prefer, only a portion committed criminal acts.   The rest merely climbed in on a rare opportunity, universal deregulation,  perpetrated for the past twenty years by idiots in government who failed to see the catastrophe the  end game would bring.   But then, among the high paid toadies there are the criminals, the ones who robbed this country blind.   These are people with no conscience that raided pension funds and pillaged the economy worse than any group of gangsters.   While we arrest a couple of grocery store robbing fools and put them in jail with vapid pronouncements that we are fighting crime, we allow the true criminals, the ones that took our retirement money and the futures of the children to live in luxury.

This is what we are pissed off about.  Underneath the spurious nonsense about Socialism and the loss of our old America, we are seething that everything we believed in has been delivered as one big lie.   We are enraged that all those Western Movies, Cop Movies, where the good guys defy the odds to bring the bad guys to justice is just a lot of crap.   Because we have not just been robbed of our money.  We have been robbed of our culture and our sense of justice and fair play for all.

Had either this administration, the past one possessed half the insight it claims it has, then they would prosecute these white collar criminals.   They would bring them to justice.   We would take back the money they stole and give them long and harsh prison sentences.   We would make examples of them by making it more costly to commit the crime than to endure the moderate penalty that, if ever, are now being handed out.  We would hang them high.

Making white collar criminals accountable would promote the true healing of this country.   Here is where at least partisan populist cultures can converge in rare mutual agreement.   This would ease the anger and the pain.   This would give us justice.   And justice is what we deserve.

In Praise of the B-52 Bomber

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Somewhere recently I read that the B-52 Bomber will be in service at least until 2040.   That would be mean this plane, or at least its current model, would be helping to to defend this country for nearly a century.  One hundred years for an airplane.  This is more than remarkable, it is nearly unimaginable.  Yet here it is.

For those that don’t know the B-52 or its venerable history, this is a long range sub-sonic bomber that was developed shortly after the Second World War.  It made its first flight in 1952 and was officially put into service in 1955.   This was the essential post-Nazi/Cold War Bomber.   Among others who perceived its need was Air Force General Curtis LeMay.  LeMay was brilliant on certain levels and nutty in others.   To short hand LeMay, one only need to watch  Stanley Kubrick’s “Doctor Strangelove.”   The George C. Scott character, General Buck Turgidson, which was a satire of the real General LeMay

Nevertheless, LeMay and other Strategic Air Command (SAC) strategists saw the urgent need for a high altitude, long range bomber that could carry a hefty 5 tons of  nuclear weapons in its bomb bay.     The purpose of this long range bomber was two fold.  First it was to service as a deterrent to any foreseeable Russian aggression.  And secondly, if there was any such aggression, the B-52 would retaliate for that aggression by assuring destruction of the Russian homeland.

The Russians or no one else in this world took the threat of the B-52 all too lightly.   SAC made it clear that a given amount of B-52’s were always in the air and should the enemy decided to get frisky, the B-52’s were given what was called “the go code.”   They were on their way and beyond a certain part, no one could call them back.   That point was called the “Fail Safe” point.  Novels were written about it dramatizing the what if scenarios.   But, by far, the best rendition was the darkly hysterical “Dr. Strangelove.”

The B-52 has gone through a number of incarnations.   The first  production models back when were the B-52 B’s and were slated for nuclear weapons only.  Later, different models of the B-52’s were equipped with conventional bombs.   B-52’s flew combat missions during the Vietnam War, resulting in approximately thirty of the planes being shot down, mostly from Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs).   The last models to be put in service were the B-52 Hs,

During Operation Desert Storm the B-52’s were again brought into service.     Their ability to carpet bomb is devastating.   The sound is incomprehensible and the ground shakes for miles around.    It feels like the world is coming to an end.  Their missions during Desert Storm resulted in hundreds of Iraqi soldiers quitting their bunkers to surrender to the advancing Allied Troops.   When asked,  the Iraqis confessed that it was far too nerve wracking and they couldn’t take it anymore.

Over the years the B-52’s have been modified and upgraded.   The Air Force has installed new electronics systems, jamming systems, and has modernized their effectiveness by fitting them with anywhere from ten to a eighteen cruise missiles per plane.   This give the B-52’s the ability to stand off out of harm’s way and still be a lethal platform in the time of crisis.

The B-52’s have regarded has sturdy, deadly, and durable.   They can take a hit and still go on to complete their mission.    As a Boomer kid back in the Stone Age era, I remember reading one of those bubble gum trading cards where it depicted the B-52 in flight and commented that its 185 foot wingspan was approximately the same length as the Wright Brothers first air flight, at Kittyhawk, N.C.   That has stuck in my mind.   Long since, I have seen B-52’s in the air and on the ground.   Either way, the B-52 is one big plane.

But more than that, the B-52 represents more than its purpose.   It is an icon, for sure, but a symbolic emblem of security during an era when mutually assured nuclear annihilation was always a distinct possibility.   While pundits warn about the wanton destruction at the hands of terrorists and rogue nations, we with so little sense of history are prone to forget how any mistake had the potential for a nuclear holocaust.   As one who once studied just what devastation 50 and 100 megaton bombs would wreak upon this planet, the results fortunately for all of us have remained as conjecture.

The B-52 did its job back then in the Cold War Era.   It warned our enemies not to mess with us.   It reminded  our enemies of the destruction we would cause them, regardless of whether they struck us first.    This single plane, perhaps more than any other weapon, until the age of the ICBM, made it clear that we would never waiver in our determination to survive.   And no one dared to test that premise.

The B-52 also represents a time in America that when we built something we built it to last.    This was the plane where we as kids went to bed knowing it was in our skies and its pilots were protecting us.   There was a sense of security in an insecure world.   Whether it was all real or not, it’s tough to say.   But most of us believe it, and that was often enough.

Sure, technology changes and the weapons change along with it.  There are new needs to face new threats and the wars we may have to fight.   There are changes everywhere.   But here in the B-52, we found a plane that  offered endurance and could be modified to at least help meet those needs and continue to assist in defending this nation.   In the years when most of us are pondering our retirement, this is a plane that can still  bring hell to our enemies.   It’s silhouette over their skies is something no enemy ever wants to see.

It is a plane, whether we meant to or not, that was built to last 100 years.  A century.   In this day and age that is hard to believe.   But like others have said, when the last B-1 flies its last mission, it’s pilots will probably be picked up and flown home in  a B-52.   That’s amazing.