Intl. Notebook Jan 10 2016
BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE
Drug lord’s ego leads to capture, but bigger issues remain.


Last night Rolling Stone, one of the U.S.’s top investigative magazines, published a pulp-worthy article on its website about Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo. The magazine sent actor Sean Penn to the jungles of Mexico to interview Guzmán, a meeting that came about at the drug kingpin’s behest because he was interested in making a movie about his life. Long story short—Guzmán ended up being captured Friday in Sinaloa, Mexico after a gun battle with police, and his ongoing contact with Hollywood figures was the primary factor that led authorities to him.

Guzmán has been imprisoned before, so nothing new there. He escaped both times. He may well escape again. His most recent breakout is detailed in the Rolling Stone article—he disappeared through a hole in his shower (see below), dropped into a mile-long tunnel, and rode away on a specially designed motorcycle on rails that had been modified to runin a low-oxygen environment. All this took at least $1 million to achieve. According to Penn and Rolling Stone, Mexican engineers were flown to Germany for specialized training in tunnel building.

The article is worth a read. Penn describes being waved through police checkpoints to Guzmán’s jungle lair, and when that fact is measured against his capture, it suggests a factionalized Mexican state, with the president and certain other top authorities conducting an anti-drug crusade even as military figures, federal officers, and local cops often work for the drug lords. But Mexico is not uniquely corrupt, and that is something that must be emphasized. The wealthy north is also in the drug trade.

Consider—the British bank HSBC knowingly laundered hundreds of millions of dollars of Guzmán’s drug profits. Yes, they knew about it. The bank was caught, and its heads talked about a “failure of standards,” but all the bankers skated from justice for this terrible crime thanks to their connections in the political world. Is this any different from Joaquín Guzmán motorcycling to freedom through a tunnel? We don’t think so. This is something that global authorities desperately want to keep the general public from understanding—the drug trade is an integral part of capitalism, not some dark subset of it.

Not convinced? The U.S. bank Wachovia laundered drug cartel money and deliberately failed to apply anti-laundering measures to $378.4 billion that passed through the institution. That amount of money is equal to one-third of Mexico's gross national product. The result? Fines of about $160 million—less than 2% of the yearly profits—and no jail for anyone in the executive suite. The list goes on. Liberty Reserve, Bank of America, Western Union, and J.P. Morgan all have drug ties. There are doubtless more we don't yet know about.

Articles in The Wall Street Journal and other establishment papers try to paint the banks as victims. Yet in the end, there are always executives who know exactly what’s happening—just like the cops that waved Sean Penn through those Mexican checkpoints. Besides, since when do victims get to charge millions in fees for their crimes? In the same way U.S. slavery was enabled by banks in New York City and Boston, which even accepted slaves as collateral, the southern drug trade cannot exist without the money laundering operations of the northern banks. And the amounts of money involved don’t just influence markets—it shapes them. Roberto Saviano, possibly the world’s foremost expert on the global drug trade, and author of the blockbuster exposé Zero Zero Zero, says, “It’s not the world of cocaine that must orbit around the markets, but the markets that must rotate around cocaine.” 

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Hollywoodland Jun 30 2015
PAYTON'S PLACE
No matter how far she ran dissatisfaction followed close behind.


This gold colored June 1963 cover for Confidential magazine is entirely given over to actress Barbara Payton, whose self-penned hard-luck story appears inside and details her life troubles. The tale is well known and is one we’ve touched upon before—early marriage and early motherhood, followed by stardom, romances, and riches, followed by booze, drugs, divorces and crime. Confidential being Confidential, the editors neglect to mention that the story here is not an exclusive, but rather is excerpted from I Am Not Ashamed, Payton’s painfully revealing autobiography.

I Am Not Ashamed did not sell especially well, and was pretty much forgotten a few years after its release. But it reappeared by chance two decades later when Jack Nicholson famously lent a rare copy to Jessica Lange to help her prepare for her femme fatale role in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Today the book is widely available. Just a few seconds reading Payton’s words conjures the suspicion she had a ghostwriter, and indeed, it was the king of lowbrow literature Leo Guild who gave shape to the prose, which reads like gutter level sleaze fiction.
 
For example: “He hated what I had been [but] loved me for what I was. He tortured himself. Every part of my body reminded him of another man.” And this bit: “I had a body when I was a young kid that raisedtemperatures wherever I went. Today I have three long knife wounds on my solid frame. One extends from my buttocks down my thigh and needed I don’t remember how many stitches.” Payton’s anecdotes are cringe worthy, but they read like she’d gotten a grip on her life. No such luck. After four more long years of drugs, drink, and disaster she was found dead on her bathroom floor in 1967.
 
Payton post-mortems usually describe her problems as self-induced, but that’s simplistic. In the 1950s famous men did anything they wished, but women had to be careful not to be seen doing the same. Still do today. That’s the part Payton had problems with. Even so, she had several happy periods during her life. One of those was the stretch she spent in Mexico married to a young fisherman. About this time she says, “We fished and I caught big ones, and we loved and for a couple of years it was beautiful. My big problems were what to cook for dinner. But it was inevitable the ants in my pants would start crawling again.”
 
We like that passage, because nearly all the stories about Payton declare, or at least suggest, that everything that happened after Hollywood stardom was part of a terminal plummet. That’s pretty much the default setting in American journalism—anything other than wealth and fame is by definition failure. It’s an idiotic conceit, even a harmful one, and Payton reveals that in Mexico she landed someplace solid and safe, and got along fine without money or recognition. Two years of happiness is nothing to take lightly. But she just couldn’t sit still—not because of where she was, but because of who she was.
 
And the spiral continued—cheaper and cheaper forms of prostitution, physical confrontations that resulted in her getting some of her teeth knocked out, and more. In all of these tales there’s a recurrent theme of lowly types taking advantage of her, but we can’t help noting that she was paid a mere $1,000 for her autobiography, an absurdly deficient amount for a former top star with a crazy story to tell, which suggests to us that guys in office suites take as much advantage—or more—of a person’s hard luck as guys in alleys. We have some scans below, and Payton will undoubtedly appear here again.


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The Naked City May 9 2015
WALT DIZZY
I’m feeling a little light-headed. Do you have any pills you could give me?

A dismayed but dapper narcotics suspect named Walter Collins gets a double grilling from two LAPD detectives as they sort through a stash of contraband pharma. Collins looks like he’s got a headache, which may very well be true considering the circumstances, but of course he’s actually hiding from the intrusive Los Angeles Examiner photographer documenting his downfall. The photos were made today in 1952. 

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Hollywoodland Jan 8 2015
BURNS IN THE FIRE
You’re nobody ’til somebody loves you.


The above photos show Barbara Burns when she was busted for drugs today in 1958 after LAPD officers found track marks on her arms. Burns was the well-to-do daughter of famed comedian Bob Burns, but her father had died of kidney cancer in 1956. Barbara Burns was sentenced to probation after the arrest, and the story got some play in national newspaper, with several calling her probation sentence a storybook opportunity at a second chance. But she didn’t cooperate in the role. She managed to cobble together some behind-the-cameras television work, but was arrested for heroin possession in 1959. That time she served ninety days in jail and admitted in an interview, “I’m really hooked. I had nothing else to do, and my mother wouldn’t talk to me. I wanted to be a singer but I was too heavy and they told me it would help me lose weight.” 

Burns had always called herself an ugly duckling, compared herself unfavorably to her siblings, and felt she could never live up to family expectations. But even though her own words told the world that low self esteem was the root of her problems, a dead father and an estrangement from her mother probably didn't help things. The downward spiral continued. She was arrested for marijuana possession in early 1960 and
earned ninety days in Camarillo State Hospital. In November 1960 she was snared in another weed bust, but that time she walked after a jury acquitted her. When she was arrested for heroin possession again in June 1961, she lamented what had probably been true for longer than she admitted—that she had doomed her chance to have a career in show business.
 
At some point she sought medical treatment for an eye problem and was told by a doctor that she was losing her vision in her right eye. In both August and September of 1961 she attempted suicide, and in January 1962 while awaiting trial on one of her narcotics busts she was found overdosed and unconscious on a Hollywood street, and died a few days later in the hospital. Her suicide note said all she wanted was to be loved but everyone hated her. Many of her obituaries, ironically, described her as “tall and beautiful,” which she certainly would not have believed. They also noted her advantages in life—how she had won the crucial lottery of being born to wealth. But Barbara Burns didn’t see it that way. She once said, “I wish I had been born in some poor, obscure family that nobody knew. Then maybe I would have tried to become somebody.”
 
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The Naked City Dec 16 2014
TURN FOR THE WORSE
What did I say to you? I said I’ll drive. What did you say? You said no I got this…

The holidays became a bit less happy for Bernabe Sena and Frederico Muñoz when they crashed their getaway car into a telephone pole trying to flee cops after a narcotics bust. The above shot shows the despondent men awaiting treatment in the hospital while vice cop Jack Smith searches Muñoz’s clothes for contraband. The next two shots show the ruined car, and a vice detective with the unlikely name Werth Harvey checking for evidence and drugs. It happened yesterday in 1954.

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The Naked City Jun 29 2014
ALL TIRED OUT
When the wheels come off.

The above photo shows twenty-two-year-old Eddie M. Gonzalez, who was discovered dead behind a service station located at 3822 E. Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles. In the background is police detective A.W. Frank. Police decided the cause of death was an accidental overdose, a deduction made thanks to fifty capsules of an unnamed drug found on the deceased’s person. To us the whole scene looks strange—a well-dressed, well-groomed person in shiny shoes who can afford fifty capsules of drugs doesn’t seem like the type who would need to ingest them behind a gas station and end up tangled in a pile of tires. And if suicide was his aim, why fifty leftover capsules? But maybe we’re just conspiracy minded. The photo is part of the University of Southern California’s digital archive and was taken today in 1952. 

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Sportswire Nov 15 2013
LITERARY WHIZZ
Mike Tyson’s new autobiography Undisputed Truth tells of fake penises and coke-fueled boxing bouts.


England’s Guardian website has shared claims from ex-boxing champ Mike Tyson’s new autobiography Undisputed Truth, among them his admission that he used a fake penis called a “whizzer” to pass drug tests. We have a feeling Tyson is referring to the good ole Whizzinator 5000, invented by entrepreneurs George Wills and Robert Catalano, and which we wrote about back in 2008. In short, you’d strap the contraption inside your pants and at the moment of truth use its realistic latex phallus (which sold in various colors, but sadly only one size) to issue a stream of drug-free synthetic urine. We hailed Wills’ and Catalano’s genius, but law enforcement authorities felt differently and charged them with violating one of America’s eight million federal drug statutes.

One gets the impression Tyson’s whizzer was an oft used piece of equipment, because according to his book he was ingesting drugs so routinely that he fought high several times, necessitating lots of faked urine tests. Tyson even claims the brutal 38-second TKO he scored against Lou Savarese occurred during a marijuana/cocaine high. In that bout, Tyson knocks down Savarese with his first punch but Savarese regains his feet. At that point, Tyson crawls fully up in Savarese’s ass, so much so that when the ref tries to stop the fight Tyson just tosses him aside and keeps on chucking hooks and uppercuts. It makes no sense if you think of it as a boxing match, but if you think of it as punishment for standing between a man and his next rail of coke, it all becomes crystal clear.
 
The fight is probably worth watching, for those who have a spare minute. Even the announcers are bemused by the spectacle. Savarese probably already felt bad all these years about being the opponent in Tyson’s second shortest professional bout—now he surely feels worse knowing Tyson probably thought of him as little more than a brief annoyance to be dealt with before regaining access to the marching powder and Moët. But Savarese should count himself lucky. If he’d put up more resistance he might have ended up being fed to one of Tyson’s pet tigers. It was Aristotle, we think, who in explaining his theory of gravity said: “Stand between a man and his next fat line at your peril.” See our original Whizzinator story here.

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Politique Diabolique Oct 14 2013
STATE OF AFFAIRS
London drug raid uncovers no drugs but raises serious questions.


Over the weekend, a squad of drug cops raided the London flat of a woman named Natalie Rowe based on what they described as a “tip from a member of the public.” The drug cops found no drugs, no drug paraphernalia, no sign that drugs had ever been consumed in the apartment. Why is this such an interesting story? Because Rowe, formerly a prominent madam who procured women for paying male customers, is mere days from publishing an autobiography in which she details early 1990s sex and drug parties attended by various Tory politicians. She claims one of the politicians was current Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. He appears in the photo above with Rowe, along with what she says is a line of cocaine (in full, fat view between the yellow vase and the wine glass).

After the raid Rowe made an official complaint to police, saying she suspected she was targeted because of her forthcoming book. She was quoted in the tabloid The Sunday People: “I’m not into conspiracy theories. I’d like to think the fact I’ve been unfairly targeted by the police has nothing to do with the fact my book is about to be published, which happens to be very embarrassing for the Chancellor. But it’s certainly made me wonder.” Well, we’re into conspiracy theories and we’ll just come out and say that, especially in light of all the other dubious police activity in Great Britain these days, you’d have to be willfully blind to think the raid occurred for any other reason than at the behest of an influential government official.
 
Think about it. Would a mere “tip from a member of the public” trigger an expensive full-scale drug raid, with no corroborating intelligence whatsoever, such as surveillance, reports from undercover police, or multiple complaints from neighbors? If so, any Brit with a personal enemynow knows how to ruin that person's day. A single tip will bring a phalanx of police crashing through their door. Does your neighbor's dog bark late at night? Call the drug cops. Did some total ass get a promotion you wanted? Call the drug cops. So, let’s dismiss with this “tip from a member of the public” nonsense. Clearly, a full-scale drug raid that takes place with no corroborating intelligence doesn’t occur because of some random tip. It occurs because someone with great influence wants it to happen.
 
Were we to speculate, we’d suggest that the cops were searching for anything that would justify serious charges against Rowe and cast doubt on whatever she has written. But it seems they failed to find any leverage. Do we actually care if George Osborne hoovered rails of coke in his youth? Not in the least. It puts him in the same company as many politicians, including Barack Obama, who wrote in his autobiography of how in his youth he did "a little blow.” But the raid, which looks to us like pure abuse of power, is certainly a troubling event in a country that many residents already believe is morphing into a police state. Is some plebe threatening your status and/or power? Call the drug cops. In any case, we’ve got our Kindle charged and ready for Rowe’s book.

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Vintage Pulp Mar 23 2012
DIG THAT CRAZY BEAT
Cool and the Crazy warns against delinquency and drug use, but not very effectively.

As Cool and the Crazy opened, we thought the lesson was that cool was acceptable but crazy was what happened when you crossed the line. It quickly became clear that cool and crazy are synonymous, with both terms meaning that you’re beyond the pale, i.e. basically fucked. Lead actor Scott Marlowe plays Bennie Saul, and he’s both cool and crazy. The crazy part is clear, because he’s an M dealer (“M” being hepcat-speak for marijuana). He deals because he owes a big-time criminal lots of money, and the only way he can repay his debt is to get his buddies hooked on the M.

He decides to approach the task methodically. He starts with one member of his crew. This is where the cool comes in. He seduces the guy into trying it, then stands by and smirks as the poor fella tries to crawl between the grain on a wooden table. Later the same hapless chump dances with a bus stop sign as if it’s a woman, demonstrating his underlyingloneliness. Yes, Fred Astaire danced with a coat stand in Royal Wedding, and it was cute, but this bus stop sign dance is edgy stuff, highly disturbing. We hear that in the unrated version of the scene the character sexually assaults a merge sign because it was really asking for it.

Anyway, in the subplot, brooding delinquent-in-waiting Jackie Barzan meets a girl, which is only possible because he’s cool, but not yet crazy. Like Brando in The Wild One. The girl, Amy, is neither cool nor crazy. She’s warm and totally sane, with big, soulful eyes that drip redemption. Like Mary Murphy in The Wild One. While in Amy’s house one day, Jackie starts handling a ceramic bauble and Amy tells him to putit down, because it’s extremely valuable and irreplaceable. So, she’s sane, but stupid. She should know, via the Moviemaking 101 Handbook, that when an expensive bauble is handled, it will later be stolen or broken.

So, back we go to signdancer, who by now is so hooked on the M that he’s going to lose his mind if he doesn’t partake every day. The problem is he’s already spent his entire net worth. So, being a good friend but a terrible boyfriend, Jackie steals Amy’s priceless trinket to sell for more evil M, but he accidentally breaks it. Conveniently, this happens right in front of Amy, and rather than rat out his buddy, Jackie pretends to be hooked on the M himself. He whines, “You don’t know what it’s like when you’re hooked on the smoke, Amy! It’s the worst! Just the worst! When you’re hooked… you’re hooked!

Later Jackie… actually, you know what? Let’s just yank the ripcord and end this agonizing freefall. You’ve got better things to do, right? We’ll summarize by saying that in mid-century drug movies all roads lead to either the nuthouse or a fiery wreck. That’s poor Bennie Saul in there, below, no longer cool. But he doesn’t charbroil in vain. His deathserves to reform Jackie, and perhaps even give him a shot to get back with Amy, who may be out one priceless tchotchke, but never runs dry of forgiveness.

As bad as Cool and the Crazy was, it’s an informative example of mid-century drug hysteria. All it needed was an ending voiceover: “And so Bennie Saul, rather than working hard and staying on the straight and narrow like a good American, took a shortcut that led to the graveyard. But while it’s too late for Bennie Saul, it isn’t for the rest of you out there. Play by the rules, obey the law, pay your taxes, and all your money will eventually be given away to a bunch of criminal bankers in something called a bailout.” Well, that last bit probably wouldn’t be in there. Maybe in the remake though. Cool and the Crazy opened in the U.S. this month in 1958. 

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Hollywoodland Dec 26 2011
BOND RESTRUCTURING
Diamonds are forever, but Connery wasn’t.

Sean Connery makes as many appearances in sixties and seventies tabloids as just about any celeb of the time, so here he is again in an article promoting his role in Diamonds Are Forever, which would premiere just a couple of weeks after this December 1971 National Police Gazette hit newsstands. Connery talks about his futile struggle to portray James Bond as a balding hero, and quips about making his stylist thin his wigs so there was almost no point in wearing them at all. Connery said about Bond’s aging, “No one is immortal—not me, not you, and not James Bond.” It was a commendable sentiment, but naïve. Seems as though Connery didn’t realize United Artists had already branded Bond well beyond the point where the character was tethered to any concept of aging. The studio proved that when it brought the much younger Roger Moore on the scene for 1973’s Live and Let Die. Moore would later give way to Dalton, who gave way to Brosnan, who gave way to Craig, as Bond himself remained eternally forty-ish through the passing years. Elsewhere in the Gazette you get a report on the hash capital of the world, the world’s greatest racing systems, and the usual assortment of random beauties in bathing suits. All that, plus hashish toasted cheese, below. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 23
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
August 22
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
August 21
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.
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