When I was a kid I lived on two things - science fiction and TV cop shows. Hawaii Five-O, Burke’s Law, Ironside, they were all grist for my mill. But one of my favorites when I was growing up was Dragnet, with Jack Webb.
There just seemed to be something so realistic about the series that set it apart from other police shows. And I really bought into the endings where they would announce things like “Dick Cheney is now serving a life sentence for . . .”
Okay, the Dick Cheney mention is just pure fantasy on my part. It’s the influence of all the science fiction I read, I suppose.
But I loved Dragnet. And when we lived in Germany, American Forces Radio would carry the radio show. Wow, Dragnet twice a week. TV and radio!
But somewhere along the way it became apparent that Joe Friday and I were destined to part company.
The ever-humorless Joe Friday (Jack Webb) was never someone you might imagine hanging out with on a Saturday night, but near the end of the series he was showing signs of coming apart at the seams. Jack Webb had evidently decided to turn his detective show into a program about the problems facing America.
Hippies? Lock ‘em up! Free thinkers? Show that they were a danger to the social order!
In short, Dragnet was becoming the exact opposite of every other TV show at that point in American history. Joe Friday and partner Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan - who could act Jack Webb off the screen without even saying a word) were going to become the anti-Mod Squad.
It just became sort of silly, and more than a little sad.
There is a televised debate over drug use and the police department sends Joe Friday to represent the views of civilized society against a trendy leftist professor.
Friday and Gannon bust another trendy leftist academic (obviously patterned after Timothy Leary) who is selling mind-altering drugs to young people. Most, if not all, of the episode takes place in the professor’s office/lab, where they discuss drug laws and the effects drugs have on society and young people.
After the professor opines that LSD is harmless, Officer Gannon responds with, “What about chromosome damage?” Yeah, somebody showed the LAPD the same-anti-drug films they were making us watch in junior high science class.
The plots were getting even better, if by better one means totally fruit-cake bizarre.
Joe Friday is taking a night class at the local university - yeah, probably the same place where he debates and busts professors - when after after class he sees a brazen fellow classmate selling some drugs to someone in the hallway. Friday marches over and handcuffs both of the miscreants.
The next night in class there is an uproar, Why hadn’t Friday told his fellow classmate he was fuzz? Couldn’t he just have warned the fellow not to do it in public anymore?
And so we have yet another spirited defense of middle-class values against what Jack Webb and others like him must have been most terrified of - the liberalization of American life. Today it’s drugs, but tomorrow?
It was sort of hard to watch shows that attempted to deal with the issues facing American society with any degree of seriousness, and then watch Dragnet with its black and white, almost cartoonish version vision of morality. When issues happened to be discussed, producer Jack Webb always made sure that those who expressed views contrary to his were depicted as almost clownish, using every cliche the Silent Majority had come to know, loathe and fear.
I stayed through it all, though, till one episode in particular, when it was proven once and for all that Joe Friday was irredeemable.
Someone was going around Los Angeles stealing movie posters. Not just any movie posters, but science fiction and super-hero movie posters right from their glass cases in front of movie theaters.
With the same plodding passion that they might apply to tracking down a serial killer, Friday and Gannon find a young man who has been stealing the posters and putting them up in his room.
Turns out this enemy-of-society has been raised in a single parent home, with no strong male influence to guide him, and give him the moral code that a young man needs to survive in this world.
Or at least make him a smarter thief.
He is taken away, without a word of understanding, or a hint that maybe something might be worked out.
That was it; my love affair with Joe Friday ( or rather, Jack Webb) was over. Even as a young man I could see that the world was far more complex and emotionally dangerous than the world of Dragnet was willing to admit.
Dragnet had become a show for people who were afraid of the changes taking places in the United States, television comfort food for those tired of reading about peace demonstrations, young people experimenting with drugs, and the idea of rebellion in any form at all.
It was time to say good night, Joe, and thanks for the memories.
That being said . . .
Then again, there are two pretty good Dragnet movies, which are way better than the TV show. One is a 1950s theatrical film based on the radio/TV series, and the other is the 1967 pilot for returning Dragnet, about the hunt for a serial killer.
At the end, Joe Friday and the killer get into a terrific fight in the mud and the rain on a hilly LA hilltop, a level of tension and excitement that the subsequent TV series never even attempted to match.
IBM and the Holocaust: - Ayn Rand would have loved these guys
Capitalism gone mad, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation, by Edwin Black.. is a modern horror story, all the more horrifying because it is true. With sickening detail, Black details the story of how IBM essentially prostituted itself to the Nazis, turning a blind eye to the evil in which they were participating.
Black, the son of Holocaust survivors, was visiting the United States Holocaust Museum in 1993. While there, he happened upon an IBM Hollerith D-11 card sorting machine.
Attached to the front of the machine was an IBM nameplate. After staring at the machine for more than an hour, he left the museum obsessed with the question of how the Nazis came to have the names of not only his parents, but every other Jew in Germany and the occupied territories.
Within a few years he had the answer, and the results make up the meat of IBM and the Holocaust. With no computers yet in existence, how was IBM able to help the Nazis locate everyone they desired to murder?
With the aforementioned machine, and punch card technology, IBM was able to assist the Hitler regime through a series of census and cataloging programs.
Everything was listed - ages, names, religion, occupations, the names of parents, etc.
In fact, thanks to IBM's machines, it was that much easier to go through church records, in order to trace potential victims' lineage.
The Holocaust would have occurred even without IBM's machines, but they cheerfully made it easier to perpetrate.
It wasn't a case of the technology already being in place, and IBM being inadvertent partners with the Nazis; IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, an amoral man concerned only with the corporate bottom line, actively pursued business with the German government, and long after hostilities broke out, was concerned that IBM receive its rightful share of the European monies their machines earned.
At one point, before the war broke out, Watson even visited a concentration camp, to see how well the machines were performing.
That Watson could betray his own humanity without even batting an eyelid is one of the more bizarre aspects of this work. That he did is not in question, but the question of just what part of his soul was missing is important, and not just for an examination of IBM's business dealings.
Today, American security firms are openly dealing with China, and some of the equipment they provide is being used to torture Chinese dissidents.
Do the makers of these products care? Would they hesitate for one second if they came face to face with the results of their devices?
The Thomas Watsons of the world are increasing all the time, and the world is becoming more frightening by the day.
Quote of the Day
The greatest mistake you can make in life is continually to be fearing you will make one. - Elbert Hubbard