December 27, 2020

For the record: this pandemic sucks. Yeah, it’s a bad virus and it’s lethal. But what does it say about the state of human affairs that something such as a virus could be so politicized?

According to reports, the recoil over mask-wearing was common in the 1918 pandemic, decried as “dirt-catchers” and so inconvenient for smoking that some would cut holes in them for their cigars. The science of virology was barely young, and communication was not nearly as instantaneous. Global mobility was unfortunately higher than it might have been because of WW1.

The sense you get from 1918 is qualitatively different from 2020. I have yet to see a report from a century ago that deemed the pandemic to be fake, and where dying people were coughing out denials with their last breaths.

I was always suspicious that Friedman’s proposition of a totally egalitarian Flat Earth, in the globalization of everything, including communication and access to its platforms, had its down side. More than ever, some are more equal than others, perhaps because power is never shared, and perhaps, even, the inherent drive towards inequity (to gather wealth, to gather power) was accelerated by globalization precisely because the scoundrels now had the entire sandbox to play in.

The behavior of people in the US (and its government) has been atrocious. After the initial NY outbreak, I started to watch the various sites for how the virus was spreading. The Hopkins site gives that big, global picture, and this Brown site gives the nicest view of things in the US – a color code for each county, based on the last 7-day average: if 0-0.9 cases/100,000 per day: green; if 1.0-9.9 cases/100,00 per day: yellow; if 10.0-24.9 cases/100,000 per day: orange; and at 25 and above: red. Just as a little hobby, I have been capturing the county-detail for three segments of the US since mid-July.

I’m posting this on December 27, 2020, so let’s go to the maps on the 27th of the month, starting in July – when the locus of cases had moved from the northeast to the southern tier. You see the flow up the Mississippi to the upper midwest, the return to the northeast and the rebound to the south. Shout out to Michigan for being able to push back a bit. Being a couple of peninsulas creates at least the chance of mounting a defense from land-born transmission. You can see how it moved in from Wisconsin and Indiana.

By the way, take a look at that little green spec of a county in northwest Texas. Still today, it is the only green spot on my maps. That is Loving County, Texas. It covers 677 square miles, which is 50% of the land area of the state of Rhode Island, with its 1.06 million people, and has a population of 169 people. Loving County is the least populated county in the contiguous US (and second only to Kalawao County, Hawaii (53 square miles with 88 people). Loving County has had one recorded case of coronavirus.

July-November 27, 2020:

December 27, 2020 (Michigan gets a little credit here):

A Cruise Ship is safer than a Campus

A Cruise Ship is safer than a Campus

The optimism for re-opening campuses to in-person activity in the fall is being cast as “cautious” and “guarded” and “prudent,” which are all the new euphemisms for reckless and unsafe. The only situation about the pandemic that has changed since mid-March is the behavior of people, who isolated from one another to interfere with the only thing that could be controlled: the physical transmission of the coronavirus. The behavior of the coronavirus is unaffected. The epidemiology of outbreaks remains unaffected. The greater the crisscross of contacts with other humans, the more likely transmission exponentiates into an outbreak. The closed and close-quarters environments of cruise ships and food processing plants are the proofs of concept. And a cruise ship is safer than a campus.

Welcome to the S.S. University. Most of the 45,000 passengers are drawn from every state in the union, rural and urban, each carrying whatever contacts they left when they set out for the ship, as well as every contact along the way to embarkation. The boat is parked, and only a fraction of the passengers actually stay in their small, randomly-assigned, double-occupancy rooms. The S.S. University is not isolated. It is surrounded by an archipelago of neighborhoods and a flotilla of other boats. The passengers who do not live onboard this cruise of young and eager singles live in a community of smaller boats that ring the main ship, typically in 3-6 person groups in apartment cruisers.

Passengers live on the ship, off-boat passengers live in the apartment cruisers, and the entire staff, from the captain to the deck hands to the cruise directors to the custodial staff, all commute in from a hundred nearby islands. The people who live onboard and close by move back and forth, taking crowded ferries that pick up and drop off passengers from meeting site to meeting site. Every member of the staff and crew leave from and return to their families every day, and all the contacts that they have, embarking and disembarking daily.

The S.S. University is not the only destination. Among the archipelago and the flotilla of other boats, there is a constant crisscrossing that takes place, mainly around socializing and commerce. Some of the services of the S.S. University are exclusive to its onboard passengers, but many other services ring the wharf and are open to whomever can get there: bars and gyms and restaurants and coffee shops that are built around cheap prices and high turnover, because many of the passengers need to watch their money, are also attractive to the members of the archipelago.

Outside of the social agenda, the actual paid-for cruise for passengers is built around side-by-side meeting rooms and a tight schedule, with 10-minute changeovers in narrow corridors with access through a finite number of human-sized doors (each with a handle). The air circulation can be non-existent, often in rooms with no windows that, anyone can tell you, linger with the distinctive humidity of anxious humans after the first meeting of the day.

Everything is communal: the ferries that move passengers and staff around, the meeting rooms, the seats in the rooms, the materials used by the staff in the rooms, and every bathroom. Have you seen what the bathrooms are like by the afternoon?

Distancing is the beginning, not the end, of safety in the pandemic. Distancing is a way to think about contact in the present, only. How to maintain distance when you take commuting and the integration of time into account? Occupying spaces that need to be made safe before and after occupancy is another aspect of distancing: distancing in time. It does not matter that you are six feet away in the room when you are sitting in the seat for which there is no practical way of ensuring its safety, including from the passenger from the last session who sneezed onto its emptiness and caused the blood pressure of everyone else in the room to spike. Nearly all rooms have at least two doors, so you might manage “in” and “out” – but it is a pretty magical 10-minute ballet if everyone moving “out” can distance from everyone moving “in” as well as from one another.

Some fraction of the highly experienced staff is either at-risk or interacts with an at-risk member of their own family or might come across someone while taking care of business over the weekend back at their home island. Personally, I am a session leader for one of these activity rooms. And as much as I loathe to admit it, I am at risk. I am 63, male, a type II diabetic, and carry a genetic hypercoagulative disorder. When I enter one of those session rooms, I can invariably smell the departing group and sense its humidity. I see every surface, in front of me, that has been used by my colleague from the previous session. My colleague who is standing there, quite unavoidably, needing to spray their words to the student with a question after class to cover the noise of the changeover and their attempts to stay distanced. I do not want to put that mic on, and I really have no interest in touching the 4-5 buttons I need to touch just to get ready for my session.

A cruise ship is safer than a campus. I need a better metaphor. Navigating a campus in a pandemic is more comparable to every big heist movie you have ever seen. You do not just worry about the size of the bag you need in the moment you squirrel away the diamonds in the vault. You need to get in without being caught. You need to get out. You need to assume every surface and space has an alarm, so you better be prepared. Every single member of the team has a job to do, and you need to have trust in every other team member and in their skills, because your life is in their hands. And in this case, hundreds of different teams are carrying out their own heists in the same space as you, so your trust and confidence needs to exponentiate like a viral contagion. Before a heist, in the movies, you practice again and again in a simulated space, making the inevitable errors you make when you do something new, even when you are an experienced scoundrel. There is no room for rookies on your team.

In the campus pandemic heist, though, everyone is a rookie. The first bell rings on the first day, and you are following imagined instructions about how to proceed, procedures developed by senior management, whose memory of being an on-the-ground team member might not actually be from your campus or have taken place in the last two decades. In the 1981 noir film “Body Heat,” an experienced criminal played by Mickey Rourke is giving advice to a lawyer, played by William Hurt, who is contemplating pulling off a murder. Rourke returns the advice that Hurt once gave to him: “Are you ready to hear something? I want you to see if this sounds familiar: any time you try a decent crime, you got fifty ways you’re gonna fuck up. If you think of twenty-five of them, then you’re a genius… and you ain’t no genius.”

Are you contemplating in-person instruction this fall, in the absence of completely reliable testing, tracking, and a deep understanding about the mechanism of transmission of the coronavirus, particularly among the asymptomatic? If there is even one problem related to re-opening campus in this essay that had not occurred to you (did I mention that the toilets are all communal?), then heed Mickey Rourke’s advice about the hubris of genius. And believe me: I ain’t no genius. There are a countless number of unanticipated problems just waiting to turn your “guarded” and “cautious” optimism into reckless and unsafe actions.


The epidemiologists tell us to watch out for these variables in the equation of infectious exposure: space (farther apart, not closer), time (the lower, the better), people (the fewer, the better), and place (open, not closed).

That, and a heaping helping of common sense from Robert Strauss on how to behave when you are having a fight with a more powerful adversary:

You don’t quit when you’re tired – you quit when the gorilla is tired.

Bon Appetit

I do not follow too much in the way of web sites, but I do keep up with about 10 food sites. One of them is        

Over the past few years, Bon Appetit has done a GREAT job featuring the young chefs in their test kitchen, and two of them now have pretty regular shows that are pretty fun to watch. There are other shows, but these two are my faves.

(1) Claire is a pastry chef who takes on the challenge of creating gourmet versions of junk food.

(2) Chris is a super-taster and so one of his colleagues selects a dish, makes it, and then they blindfold Chris – he can smell, taste, and feel the dish, and then has to reverse engineer it without ever seeing it

It’s really great to watch how both of them approach the problem-solving, plus it is around food, so it’s inherently accessible.


Anyone remember settings such as this?

Bryant Park, NYC, late December 2019

I was in Beijing and Nanjing during the first two weeks of January 2020. We returned back to the US on January 16, which had been scheduled to simply avoid the crazy-busy travel season around Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) in China. Within days, the news about the coronavirus was making the news. Coincidentally, the first student we met with on January 4 was from Wuhan University.

I was supposed to go to Hong Kong via South Korea in mid-February, and while travel was still allowed at the departure date, things were changing fast in both places, and the night before the morning of my scheduled departure was the day that American Airlines first started to curtail its flights. I called my carrier, and they were planning to follow suit later in the week. No sense getting trapped: trip cancelled.

I got back from San Francisco a week ago. Other than some extra hand sanitizer everywhere, things were not notably different. Today they are in lock-down.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”
Lewis Carroll, 1871

Tiny Type Museum and Time Capsule

I am fascinated by art and printing reproduction methods, in general. Drawings transferred into stone, metal, or wood, and then used to make impressions. Or the old foundry works that gave rise to terms with which we are so familiar: typeface, font, upper and lower case letters, italics, and so on.

The Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule is a celebration by journalist and printing historian  Glenn Fleishman of type and printing, and an effort at preserving history for future generations to re-discover. Each custom, handmade wood museum case holds a couple dozen genuine artifacts from the past, including a paper mold for casting newspaper ads in metal, individual pieces of wood and metal type, a phototype “font,” and a Linotype “slug” (set with a customized message), along with original commissioned art and a letterpress-printed book and a few replicas of items found in printing shops.

Fleishman notes: “The museum comes with a letterpress-printed book, Six Centuries of Type & Printing, in which I trace the development of type and printing since Gutenberg printed his Bible around 1450. This book will be the ‘docent’ for the museum, providing insight into the stages in technological and artistic development that took place, and explaining the importance and nature of the artifacts. It will also slip neatly into a slot in the top of the museum case.”

You might imagine that, for my customized Linotype “slug,” I would select my mantra. Here it is (below). The image has been inverted so that you do not need to read it in its mirror image.

We have seen the dragon smile

We have reached the age, those of us to whom fortune has assigned a post in life’s struggle, when, beaten and smashed and biffed by the lashings of the dragon’s tail, we begin to appreciate that the old man was not such a damned fool after all. We saw our parents wrestling with that same dragon, and we thought, though we never spoke the thought aloud, ‘Why don’t he hit him on the head?’ Alas, comrades, we know now. We have hit the dragon on the head and we have seen the dragon smile.

Ernest Lawrence Thayer, tenth anniversary reunion at Harvard, 1895, as quoted in “American Heritage,” (December 1968).

Thayer, born in Lawrence, MA (as was I) in 1863 (as I was not), is remembered for writing “Casey at the Bat.”

E Pluribus Unum

“Out of many… one”

At the time of the American Revolution, this phrase appeared regularly on the title page of the London-based Gentleman’s Magazine, founded in 1731, which collected articles from many sources into one periodical.

The motto serves as a terrific reminder for the basic relationship between the autonomy of the States and how Federal Law is often developed when there is a momentum consensus of the Will of the States.

Ticking off passage at the State level serves great purpose, and lobbyists of any kind, even just the seriously interested citizens, have the ability to act locally and ultimately influence the national policy. The problems get worked out; the regulations get tweaked against the law of unintended consequences; and the fear-mongering who forecast the end of civilization-as-we-know-it get a chance to see that the sun still rises and sets.

Case in point: Same-Sex Marriage

In 1995, there were a handful of legal bans (state-level) and no constitutional bans (state-level). In the years through the first same-sex marriage approval in Massachusetts (2003), the number of legal bans had gone up by the factor of 7. The next year, almost half of those bans were solidified as constitutional bans. The State-to-Federal strategy was clear and visible. Ten years later, the momentum had shifted, and the Federal adoption happened in 2015.

I mention this case because there has been another state-by-state change happening, and I can simply not recall a single time in the last 20 years that anyone has been talking about it. Surely our elected officials all know about this.

Case in point: Concealed Carry

I had no prior knowledge about “open” and “concealed carry” and the licensing requirements in the US, and its history. My impression was just so far from the facts!

There are basically 4 levels of permissiveness used for concealed carry: (1) not allowed, (2) may be permitted (license), (3) shall be permitted (license), and (4) allowed.

Vermont has been at level 4 since the 1700s. In the mid 1980s, 41/50 states where at levels 1 and 2. By 2006, that number had inverted: only 11/50 at levels 1 and 2, and 2 states at level 4 (Vermont and Alaska). From 2010-2019, the number of states at level 4 has increased to 16; the number at level 1 went to 0 in 2013, and only 8 states remain at level 2.

Remember what I said before?

Ticking off passage at the State level serves great purpose, and lobbyists of any kind, even just the seriously interested citizens, have the ability to act locally and ultimately influence the national policy. The problems get worked out; the regulations get tweaked against the law of unintended consequences; and the fear-mongering who forecast the end of civilization-as-we-know-it get a chance to see that the sun still rises and sets.

What happens when there are actual problems that result, when there are people for whom the sun no longer rises, when the fear was warranted? Let’s look at the number of mass shootings in the US (as defined by “Mother Jones”).

Correlation is not causation; otherwise we might claim that the increase in mass shootings is related to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Not that there are not people who have tried, I suppose. But there is such a thing as face-validity, when a correlation makes sense. Is the experiment with concealed carry yielding data that ought to be attended to? Because certainly, just like with same-sex marriage, there is a community of people who are taking advantage of E Pluribus Unum– as the center of legal mass for carrying weapons has long since shifted, and unlicensed carry is now growing. When does this get deemed to be the will of the States and become Federal Law?

Here is one last correlation to consider:

“Which Will Win?”

“Which Will Win?” (June 5, 1968)
by Charles Phillip Bissell (1926 -)
13 x 16 in., ink on board
Coppola Collection

Sometimes you come across one of those lucky finds, the buried treasure when you see something that no one noticed. Among the Bissell editorial cartoon art I was picking up, this one was weird and non-descript, although from growing up in the 1960s its potential meaning was possibly clear enough. The high profile assassinations of JFK and RFK were certainly a combination of a ballot box and a bullet.

Bissell did not date his pieces on the artwork, but sometimes there is a handwritten date on the back. And I have a few examples with a stamped date. This one is unusual because there are two stamps. And that was the give-away: June 5, 1968.

On the early morning of June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy was shot in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. A bit after midnight (PT) was a bit after 4 AM (ET), where Bissell, editorial cartoonist for The Lowell Sun, was located.

One can imagine he woke up to (or was woken up by) the news, and got the order to get a drawing going for the paper. At 9:57 AM, just less than 6 hours after RFK was shot, the back of this drawing was time-stamped. Kennedy died the next morning. This version of the cartoon was not run in the paper, however, so it appears here for the first time.

The editorial “Our Choice: Curb Violence Now or Surrender Our Form of Government” appeared on the following Sunday, June 9, with a revised version of the cartoon. One imagines that the violence in the original one was too graphic and that the editor wanted it toned down. See below.

Bissell’s ties to Massachusetts run deep. In 1960, as a $25-a-day cartoonist working for Boston Globe, he received a task related to Boston’s new AFL football team.

Bissell recalls “Sports editor Jerry Nason came to me and he said, ‘They’ve decided to call the team the Boston Patriots. You better have a cartoon ready for tomorrow’s edition.’”

Bissel’s “Pat Patriot” cartoon was the Patriot’s logo from 1961-1992.

The Lowell Sun (Sunday, June 9, 1968; p. 44)

Two postscripts to this cartoon:

First, the site of the assassination, the Ambassador Hotel, which closed in 1989, was razed in 2006, after almost 20 years of debate about what should be built there. Donald Trump was lobbying to build the world’s tallest building (no comment). The site ended up housing the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, a 4200-student complex of K-12 pilot schools that feature social justice missions congruent with Kennedy’s work. Paintings, murals, and marble memorials to RFK are featured, and the main building is designed as an updated replica of the original hotel (including a preserved piece of the Cocoanut Grove, an extremely popular LA nightclub during the 1920s to the 1950s).

Second, I have a few JFK and JFK-related editorial cartoons.

“Our Nice Clean Page” (01/01/1961)
by Vaughn Richard Shoemaker (1902-1991)
14 x 18.5, ink and wash on board
Coppola Collection

Shoemaker was an American editorial cartoonist. He won the 1938 and 1947 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning and created the character John Q. Public. He spent 22 years at the Chicago Daily, and subsequently worked for the New York Herald Tribune, the Chicago American, and Chicago Today. He retired in 1972.

JFK was elected in November 1960 and inaugurated in January 1961. The cartoon outlines the threats from the Soviet Union and the Cold War, as well as crime, as pressing issues.

“Your Deal, Mr. Khruschev!” (06/1961)
by William (Bil) Canfield (1920-)
17.5 x 20.5 in, ink and wash on board
Coppola Collection

William Newton Canfield (1920- ), professionally known as Bil Canfield, studied at the American School of Design in New York City from 1940 until 1941 and then served in World War II. As a Boatswain’s Mate First Class in the Navy, Canfield, aboard the USS Massachusetts, drew cartoons for the ship’s semi-monthly newspaper, The Bay Stater. Canfield was hired at the Morning Telegraph and Racing Form where he was a sports cartoonist until 1946.

Canfield then took a job at the Newark News as a sports cartoonist and staff artist where one of his influences, Bill Crawford worked. The News ceased publication in 1972 and Canfield became the editorial cartoonist at the Newark Star Ledger. During this time he also contributed editorial cartoons to the Red Bank Register under the name “Lev”. Canfield retired from the Star Ledger in 1995.

Once elected, President Kennedy pledged not to resume testing in the air and promised to pursue all diplomatic efforts for a test ban treaty before resuming underground testing. He envisioned the test ban as a first step to nuclear disarmament.

President Kennedy met with Soviet Premier Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, just five weeks after the humiliating defeat of the US-sponsored invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Khrushchev took a hard line at the summit. He announced his intention to cut off Western access to Berlin and threatened war if the United States or its allies tried to stop him. Many US diplomats felt that Kennedy had not stood up to the Soviet premier at the summit and left Khrushchev with the impression that he was a weak leader.

The Cuban Missile Crisis had a profound effect on both leaders. In a series of private letters, Khrushchev and Kennedy reopened a dialogue on banning nuclear testing. On July 25, 1963, after only 12 days of negotiations, the two nations agreed to ban testing in the atmosphere, in space, and underwater.

“Gone Far Enough” (10/23/1962)
by Eddie Germano (1924 – )
14 x 18.5, ink and wash on board
Coppola Collection

A native Bostonian, Germano became a full-time cartoonist in 1948, at age 24, after serving in WWII. Among other positions, he worked as the editorial and sports cartoonist for the Brockton Enterprisefrom 1963-1990.

This is perhaps the earliest of his existing editorial cartoons from his time at the Enterprise, which speaks to the US quarantine of Cuba (by international law, the term “blockade” fell under an act of war.

On October 22, 1962, Kennedy delivered a nationwide televised address on all of the major networks announcing the discovery of the missiles. He stated: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

He described his plan: “To halt this offensive buildup, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for Cuba, from whatever nation or port, will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back. This quarantine will be extended, if needed, to other types of cargo and carriers. We are not at this time, however, denying the necessities of life as the Soviets attempted to do in their Berlin blockade of 1948.”

“The World Mourns” (11/25/1963)
by Eddie Germano (1924 – )
11 x 14.5, ink and wash on board
Coppola Collection

A native Bostonian, Germano became a full-time cartoonist in 1948, at age 24, after serving in WWII. Among other positions, he worked as the editorial and sports cartoonist for the Brockton Enterprisefrom 1963-1990.

This drawing commemorates the JFK assassination.

Protected Speech

“Fuck the Draft” (1968)
by Kiyoshi Kuromiya (1943-2000)
20.25 X 29.75 in., poster
Coppola Collection
Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Arguably one of the most iconic anti-Vietnam War posters ever created, it depicts a young man burning his draft card in a symbolic act of defiance. Designed by famed activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya under the pseudonym Dirty Linen Corp, this poster was distributed via mail order.

This copy is an unrestored original poster with bright color and a clean overall appearance.

On June 7, 1971, “Fuck the Draft” was ruled as protected speech in the Supreme Court case of Cohen v. California.

Robert Paul Cohen had been convicted of walking through the Los Angeles County Courthouse, on April 26, 1968, with the words “Fuck the Draft” on the back of his jacket as an anti-Vietnam War protest. The Supreme Court on this day overturned the conviction as a violation of freedom of speech.

Justice Harlan: “This case may seem at first blush too inconsequential to find its way into our books, but the issue it presents is of no small constitutional significance…The constitutional right of free expression is powerful medicine in a society as diverse and populous as ours. It is designed and intended to remove governmental restraints from the arena of public discussion, putting the decision as to what views shall be voiced largely into the hands of each of us, in the hope that use of such freedom will ultimately produce a more capable citizenry and more perfect polity…”

The ruling in Cohen v. California set a precedent used in future cases concerning the power of states to regulate free speech in order to maintain public civility.

Opposition to the Vietnam War was an issue that galvanized a generation of students and activists. The drafting of men became a major catalyst for opposition to the Vietnam War, especially among college students for whom burning the draft card became a symbolic act of defiance.

The language Kuromiya used in the poster was designed to shock the establishment and resonates with the ways in which 1960s American youth culture sought to challenge authority. In 1968, Kuromiya distributed this poster via mail order. In the accompanying advert he described it as ‘the perfect gift for Mother’s Day’ and ‘Buy five and we’ll send a sixth one to the mother of your choice’ listing a number of options, including the White House.

For this ad, Kuromiya was arrested by the FBI and charged with using the US postal service for inciting lewd and indecent materials, but this poster had already made its rounds and secured a place in anti-draft history. Later that year, Kuromiya defied the authorities and handed out 2000 of the posters at the Democratic Convention in Chicago.

Kuromiya procured—how is unclear—a photo of a hippie burning his draft card, looking almost religiously captivated by the flame, and set his slogan in the plainest possible type. It was a hit, but his mail order sales gave feds seeking to suppress its message a strong angle of attack—using the mails to send obscene materials over state lines. The designer spent three years fighting those obscenity charges.

Jason Schafer (Dangerous Minds) told the whole story in an article (October 2017), exactly five decades later, after an investigation.

Poster boy Bill Greenshields (2017) from the Dangerous Minds interview.

Schafer writes “A crucial part of that story has gone untold until now—

He’s only ever been publicly identified as the face of “Fuck the Draft” once before, practically in passing in a 1968 issue of an underground magazine. He’s agreed to tell his story for the first time to Dangerous Minds, to mark the 50th anniversary of his immortal rebellious action—the photo was taken on October 21, 1967, at the notorious war protest at the Pentagon, the one during which Abbie Hoffman famously attempted to levitate the building.

Dangerous Minds was put in contact with Greenshields by longtime Detroit art/punk provocateur Tim Caldwell. Caldwell has known Greenshields for decades, but only just found out about his friend’s connection to the poster. It’s a story best told in Caldwell’s words:

Tim Caldwell: I was at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit for this exhibit called “Sonic Rebellion,” for the 50th anniversary of the Detroit riots in July of 1967. There are all these artifacts, like magazines, protest posters, books, and photographs, and people’s interpretations of all that in their artwork. And also there’s this idea of music as a force of expressive resistance.

And there was this poster of my friend Bill.

It was really weird, because he’d always told me he’d had a very different life before we met, and I didn’t really know what he looked like as a teenager—he’s almost 70 and I met him about 30 years ago, doing films and things like that. But so I saw this poster, in a case, and I was like “WOW, that’s him!”

He looks kind of goofy and crazed in it, because that’s just the moment they caught him, he wasn’t posing or anything. I hadn’t seen him in about five or seven years, so I called a mutual friend who’s a musician who he knew Bill from film societies going back to the ‘80s. And he confirmed that it was Bill in the poster, and I asked if he was OK with talking about it, since he’d never mentioned it. So finally I called Bill and, yeah, it’s him! And every time we talked after that he’d have more and more crazy stories about stuff he did in the protest era that I’d never heard about before, he had this whole secret life before I met him—I started to wonder how well I’d really known him for those 30 years!

Greenshields broke his decades-long silence on his experience in a phone conversation last weekend.

Dangerous Minds: So let’s start at the beginning—the protest itself. What were the circumstances, and do you know who shot the picture?

Bill Greenshield: I have no idea who took the picture or how I was selected to be on a poster. There were some people around with cameras, some of whom I thought were probably government spooks.

DM: Some of them probably were!

BG: There were friendlies too, with cameras, though. This occurred at the Pentagon on October 21, 1967, and it was part of the march on the Pentagon.

DM: This was the day that Yippies tried to levitate the Pentagon?

BG: Yeah, that occurred at the same time, you might say, around sundown. The march started at the Lincoln Memorial. People were bussed in from all over the country, and it was kind of a virgin thing, the first really big national march. If you’ve been to the Lincoln Memorial, you know there’s a giant long reflecting pool between that and the Washington Monument obelisk.

At that particular time, I was part of a group of draft resistors in the Detroit area, and one of us had made a mock-up of a sign, a really large draft card. The name on it was “Loony Bird Johnson,” because LBJ was president at the time. Another fellow and I took off our shoes and socks and walked into the reflecting pool, which was slippery as hell. So we’re slipping and sliding, trying to be really careful, taking this gigantic draft card out into the middle of it, and suddenly everyone looked a lot smaller, except Lincoln, who was still very imposing. We got out a butane lighter and tried to light it, and it took a while, because there was a breeze and it was poster board. But we got it lit and immolated the whole thing. Then slid all the way back and put our shoes on to go hear all the speeches.

Then there was a march across the Potomac to the Pentagon. I don’t know how many miles it was, but it was slow going. I don’t know how many people were there but it was a long line of them, and the first people there went to where the public entrance was, that large staircase, and they went up there and got stuck up there, surrounded by Federal Marshals, who were not very nice [laughs], with billy clubs and whatnot, and Federal troops, who were our age, and were very nice. They were armed, but you could talk with them. It was starting to get dark, and like I said, they were stuck up there. Then some of the Yippies were doing like an invocation to levitate the Pentagon…

DM: So did it go up?

BG: Well, WE levitated! [laughs] Anyway, what happened was someone threw a rope up to the next level, because the stairs were blocked, and nobody was grabbing it to climb it, and I thought “what the hell,” and I started to go up. And as I’m going up I’m thinking various things, like “I hope someone up there keeps holding the other end of this,” and “A sniper could pick me off pretty good right now.” And when I got all the way up some people saw me and helped me over the ledge. People were pretty crammed together, and about 50 of them had put their draft cards in a soldier’s helmet and burned them all, and I had just missed it. So I took mine out and lit it up individually, and it lit a lot better than the big cardboard one.

That was when someone took my picture.

And that picture somehow got to Kiyoshi Kuromiya who made the poster.

I had no knowledge of the poster until an article in May of 1968, in The Fifth Estate, an underground paper that still exists, by the way. Harvey Ovshinsky was the editor. I was a childhood friend of his, all the way through junior high school, and he recognized me on the poster right away, and even named me in the article (a copy of the article appears at the end of this transcript).

DM: The look on your face in that poster is a little demented, like you’re some kind of twisted fire-worshipper.

BG: Yeah, like there’s this GLEE of some kind! That’s probably why it was selected, but you gotta remember, I had just climbed this rope after walking from the Lincoln Monument to the Pentagon, and so I probably WAS really enjoying burning that card at the time.

DM: So after the poster came out, the Federal obscenity charges came up against Kuromiya. Did the feds try finding you, too?

BG: Yes, they did. Here’s what happened: under the U.S. Code title 18 section 1461, postal code, it was considered an obscene, indecent and crime-inciting poster. The ACLU defended Kuromiya, who was arrested on April 11, 1968. He was handcuffed at both his hands and his waist, and forced to walk seven blocks down Martin St. in Philadelphia to the Federal Building where bail was set at $500.

And if I remember my facts correctly, the case was overturned in 1971. The ACLU used a precedent: some guy had “FUCK THE DRAFT” hand written on his jacket, and was arrested and indicted for obscenity. The defense was that the statement is Constitutionally protected and cannot be used to convict because no-one could possibly believe that the defendant was suggesting sexual intercourse with the Selective Service System.

DM: [laughing] So the context of the “fuck” was non-sexual and so not obscene? Is that basically what it came down to?

BG: Yes. That was the basis of the whole argument, suggesting sexual intercourse— which of course is impossible—with the Selective Service System! It’s not something you could literally do.

DM: I’ll bet some people got high enough to try.

BG: I’m sure they did.

DM: So wait, now, you said the article in The Fifth Estateappeared in May of 1968, but the poster artist got arrested in April of 1968? Was the obscenity case the topic of the article in which they named you as the subject of the photo? That seems jurisprudentially ill-advised.

BG: Right! Like I said, as soon as they had knowledge of the poster and the arrests, May 1st was when the paper came out and April 11 was when the artist was arrested. Now I saw, in early May, the article. It had a picture of the poster, which I hadn’t seen before, and they printed it backwards so the “FUCK” wouldn’t be obscene, it would say “KCUF.” My parents, friends of mine, my employers, places I frequented, were all approached by the FBI. But where I was living, that was pretty ambiguous, or they probably would have come straight to me. So I said well, discretion is the better part of valor here, so I decided to get out of Detroit, hitchhike out west and keep moving around. A moving target was less likely to be hit. I just didn’t want to deal with these guys after what they were doing to Kuromiya.

So I wandered around Indian reservations, like the Navajo nation, Zuni Pueblo, later a Lakota reservation, then became a migrant worker with a lot of Mexicans, who were mostly Yaqui Indians who didn’t speak Spanish. I wandered all up and down the West Coast, up to Washington, down to Los Angeles, of course spent time in the Bay Area, and I finally wanted to make my way back to see what was going on, and I got news— two couples who’d visited New York had come to see me, and they told me they saw me in New York. I go: no I haven’t been to New York… you didn’t see me. But they said oh, no, you were IN New York!

They smile and tell me there was this area where they were building these huge buildings, and there’s a baffling fence around all these blocks so you can’t get into the construction site, and the poster with me on it was all the way around it for blocks and blocks. You couldn’t miss it. Those buildings were the World Trade Center Twin Towers.

There were other incidents where I came across the poster, of course. I never had a copy because I never felt I needed one, I was in it. Anonymity of the subject was kind of what the poster went for, and Kuromiya said in an interview that he thought the person in the poster was from Detroit, but that he was either in jail or dead, neither of which happened, thank God!

You can only imagine putting yourself in my place, this thing you had nothing to do with—and of course I did what I did willingly and I’d back it up today, and if someone had asked me to voluntarily be photographed burning my draft card for a poster I would have said “sure”—but nobody asked me, it was just done, so it was a surprise, and I’ve kept it under my hat for many years. It’s nothing to brag about, really, I was just committed to the cause, and it took years after that for the war to finally be over. So many people died, I had friends who went, some all gung-ho and some against it, some didn’t make it back, so I felt it was worthwhile doing what I did in opposing it.

What a Great Day for Mail

At this web site, over at the “Take On Me” tab, I have archived the story of writing and then commissioning the art for a 5-page comic story. I wrote the story… I saw drafts of the art… I’ve seen and posted scans of the final pages… and I even made a little book about it.

And yet none of that compares to a package being delivered that contains the original art pages.

Sixty cents worth of graphite, ink and watercolors on a buck-fifty in paper… capturing an idea in the minutes and hours of artistic labor by a pair of clever and talented guys.

Happy, happy, joy, joy… do the Snoopy dance.