Friday, July 31, 2020


We're coming up on the 51st anniversary of the Tate/La Bianca murders. Bobby Beausoleil has just been up for parole. as has Leslie Van Houten; it is unlikely that they will be set free by California Governor Gavin Newsome.

There is also a new, six-part Epix Channel docuseries about the witchy days of "Helter Skelter". The question is, do we need to see more from these human monsters?

I say, "yes", and so does author Lorraine Ali, who reviews the series and provides her own retrospective of those shocking events that made the psychedelic era even more hallucinatory.

The infamous Spahn Ranch in the Santa Susanna Mountains.
Commentary: Do we need another story about Charles Manson? Why Angelenos can't look away
By Lorraine Ali | July 27, 2020 | Los Angeles Times

The new Epix docuseries “Helter Skelter: An American Myth” is a six-part production chronicling the ominous ascent of the Manson Family, from its flower-power beginnings to its heinous killing spree in the summer of 1969.

The compelling series, which premiered July 26, is full of illuminating archival footage of Manson, his followers and the environs that shaped their anomalous ascent. Each hourlong episode features new interviews with former cult members, those who knew them or their victims, and those involved in solving their horrific crimes.

But do we really need another production about this racist madman and his druggie sycophants turned assassins? They’ve been immortalized in countless narratives about this especially creepy chapter in the history of American crime, from last year’s “Mindhunter” and “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood” all the way back to the granddaddy of Manson narratives, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s 1974 book “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders.”

The answer is yes: More than half a century later, the Manson Family's tale still resembles a fever dream. Storytellers can’t help but re-explore the story of Charlie, a diminutive ex-con, pimp and aspiring musician who amassed a following of mostly young women, plied them with LSD, sex and antiestablishment jargon, then convinced them to kill in the name of a race war. They lived on a commune. They mingled with, and murdered, celebrities. It all happened behind the deceptive cloak of peace and love. No wonder we can’t stop watching.

Yet there’s something else that attracts me to new stories about Patricia, Tex and the cult, something that's oddly personal, if not provincial. Weird as it sounds, I have a sense of shared history with these horrible people simply because I grew up in their shadow.

I’m a native Angeleno, raised in the 1970s under a brown inversion layer not dissimilar to one that crowned the San Fernando Valley when the family had its reign of terror. Proximity alone has meant that my life has continually intersected with their legacy and the countercultural confusion they left behind. The notion of killers disguised as peaceniks may explain why I gravitated toward punk rock rather than pining for their generation’s songs about harmony and brotherhood. Like many of my peers, my associations with hippie culture were as much about local madman Manson as faraway Woodstock.

Nostalgia and familiarity are not what I should be feeling watching "Helter Skelter," directed by Lesley Chilcott ("An Inconvenient Truth"), or Quentin Tarantino's Oscar-winning feature, but it’s hard not to when they’re both so deeply immersed in my own SoCal mythology.

For example, the Epix docuseries' mention of “Charlie’s girls” dumpster-diving for food in back of markets across the Valley brought back memories of places where my mom used to grocery shop. When the series shows footage of Manson’s followers riding horses and smoking weed in the Santa Susana Pass, the rock formations behind them are so recognizable I can close my eyes and trace their outline perfectly with my finger. I grew up playing in those hills around Chatsworth Park, hiking the caves and boulders where they’d partied. My daily school bus ride took me past the old Spahn Ranch site. And later in high school, when we could drive up ourselves, we’d search for the fabled row of palm trees where Family members supposedly carved their names.

I associate images of the LaBiancas' Los Feliz home, where the couple were tortured and murdered in 1969, with my first apartment. It was a block from the scene, on a street where I’d frequently walk my dogs out of duty and, if I’m honest, morbid curiosity. And as a music fan, I frequented the clubs where Manson once tried (and failed) to become a rock star. He watched Buffalo Springfield at the Troubadour. I watched Social Distortion. We may have been generations apart, but by the time I was established enough to interview real rock stars, one of my first big breaks was talking to NIN’s Trent Reznor inside the Cielo Drive home where Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski and Steven Parent were murdered.

The home was demolished soon after, in 1994, but every time it’s pictured in photos or re-created for a scripted production, the horror of those murders is mixed with my own memories of sitting in the living room beneath those thick wood ceiling beams, walking around the kidney-shaped swimming pool and peering out the Dutch door at sweeping views of the city.

Mug shot of Susan Atkins.

And no matter what, Topanga Canyon still feels haunted to me. It’s where the family moved in with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, killed associate Gary Hinman and where Charlie played a dismal set at the Topanga Corral. One aspect that helps separate the Epix series from my own experience is a soundtrack replete with Manson’s awful recordings. It’s clear now why he had to amass a following some other way than through his music.

Harder to explain than the Manson Family’s invisible imprint on L.A. is why the San Fernando Valley was the perfect incubator for such a deadly aberration. A suburb of Los Angeles where middle-class families had the chance to thrive, the Valley was close enough to access the celebrity of Hollywood, as Manson did, but also far enough away to forget about the privileged lives of L.A.'s beautiful people. The Valley was rough around the edges — Topanga Canyon Boulevard was lined with horse pastures, the 118 Freeway was rolling hills — so there was plenty of undeveloped space for a broke band of misfits to create their own warped ecosystem.

The Valley was a basin of contradictions — wholesome drive-in theaters and a thriving porn industry (see “Boogie Nights”), Topanga’s psychedelic scene, showbiz rich and famous and normal folk like Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Manson and his family moved between all those worlds, which seems absurd today. But in a city that prides itself on bucking the status quo and starting new trends, who was going to take notice of one more long-haired weirdo waxing poetic?

The connection I have to these felons and their awful legacy is troublesome, but they are part of local history — part of the messed-up place where I was raised, where nothing was ever as safe or sedate as everyone kept insisting it was. And that's a story that never gets old.


In the latest coronavirus-related news, WOM has learned that at least one airline is responding to social distancing requirements by offering outdoor seating during flights. In other news, wildlife is reacting to COVID-19 in an odd and most surprising way.

While these stories may sound unlikely -- even crazy -- read on and judge for yourself.

By Boyce Day | July 24, 2020 | Weekly World News
As the country struggles to get back to work amid the coronavirus pandemic, industries are learning to cope by adapting. Service industries are promoting new cleaning practices. Retail stores are limiting attendance. And restaurants are welcoming diners back, but not allowing them inside—rather, there’s a resurgence of outdoor dining, with sidewalk tables set up under umbrellas and spaced for safe social distancing.

Now another bruised and battered industry is taking its lead from restaurants—the airline industry. “I was out to dinner with my wife,” says Cal Newton, the CEO of Flystar, a small carrier that operates out of Columbus, Ohio. “We were shown to our seat and had a lovely meal. There was a breeze, and sunlight. It was such a pleasant experience that I started to think about how we could transfer it to an air travel setting. The very next morning, I woke up and emailed my team to set up a group call.” 

On the call Newton and his team began to explore the possibility of setting up outdoor seating on their airplanes. “The wings are pretty big,” says James Gershon, the head of marketing at Flystar. “I haven’t measured them but they’re at least as big as a park bench. So we sketched out a seating arrangement that would put up to three passengers on each wing, safely social distanced.”

The team didn’t just sketch out the plan. They put it into practice. Passengers waiting for Saturday’s 2 pm flight from Columbus to Wilmington, Delaware — what Flystar affectionately calls “The Assistant Manager Express” — were greeted by an unfamiliar gate announcement. “Those passengers willing to fly on the wing can earn a voucher for either one free flight or the equivalent value in in-flight on-demand video programming.”

“I made the announcement myself,” says Pamela D’Ora, Flystar’s Chief Innovation Officer. “Drove out to the airport, hopped on the PA, and told people about the new offer.”

At first, passengers seemed shocked, but after a second and third announcement, they began to laugh more comfortably.

George Theiss was the first to approach the counter. “I thought they meant sit behind the wing, inside the plane,” he says. “Of course I did. Who would have even imagined the other? In fact, I didn’t realize it until I was taken to board early, which involved being driven out to the plane, hoisted up on to the left wing, and strapped in tight like I was getting surgery or something.” 

“George jumped at the chance,” says D’Ora, “but we couldn’t take off unless we had an even number.” About fifteen minutes later, Henrietta Grady, a 91-year-old woman who was traveling to visit her newborn great-grandchild, made her way to the counter. “I actually thought of going when I first heard the offer,” she says. “I’m a little slow with my walker.” Grady opted in as well, and the Flystar staff drove her out to the right wing. “We needed to put a forty-pound sack of dried beans on her lap so that she balanced off George,” said Gershon. “It was a bit of guesswork because she wouldn’t tell us her exact weight.”

The flight took off and landed without incident, though the new arrangement drew mixed reviews from its early adopters. Theiss reported being “let’s just say a little unnerved,” while Grady, smiling broadly, said that she hadn’t had a thrill like that “since the rollie coaster in Baltimore back in the forties.”

Flystar plans to add more wing seats in the coming weeks, along with additional amenities that will include a tube to deliver beverages and virtual-reality goggles that will give passengers the illusion that they are safely inside the plane. 

And they have been fielding calls from larger airlines. “I can’t say which,” says Gershon, “but you would recognize their logos.”

“Everyone seems excited about this,” says Newton. “It’s always thrilling to be at the ground floor of a revolution.” 

By Brick Rivers | July 27, 2020 | Weekly World News

“It really is an environmental first,” says Gus Grizzly, the President of the American Bears Association. “It’s the first time that Grizzlies and our Brown Bear brethren and our Black Bear friends have come together on anything. Usually, we’re all snarling at each other over a dead fish.”

It all started last March when Gus, who hails from Montana, began to notice a difference in the number of campers going into parks. There were less than usual. As the weeks passed, the number kept dwindling. Gus then reached out to his Brown bear cousin, Ben, to go into the suburbs and see what was going on down there. Ben agreed, coming back with both information and fur reeking of every sauce found in a Chinese restaurant. (“I considered that dumpster a necessary perk,” Ben states.)

Once the bear population began to realize what was going on with Covid-19 and learned of the importance of masks for humans to survive, they called a summit; the first one of its kind. One hundred bears, representing various national branches, convened in Bass River State Forest in New Jersey, where they faced the facts, ate a lot of Taylor Pork Roll and learned the word “jamoke.”

 “We knew we had to preserve our food source,” Gus says, bluntly. “Oh, I don’t mean we see people as food, well, rarely…but, they’re a food source. They go camping in the forest, loaded with food. They leave half of it unguarded at night. We just creep in and pig out. I really love the families. The kids bring so much junk food. I mean to compare chomping chemically-filled human flesh with chowing down on Twinkies? No contest.”

He heaves a sigh: “So, the less campers meant the less food for us.” 

“We put word out to some of the environmental groups. If campers wear facemasks, we won’t bother them. In fact? We’ll take selfies with ‘em. The word spread. One family showed up. We went full Disney and danced and brought out the cubs to be cuddled. The next weekend? There were six families. And it’s been on the increase ever since. Plus, everyone is having such a good time, the campers actually feed us.”

What’s the point of the bears’ behavior? Gus sighs. “I’m 25 years old, which is Grizzly Geezer status. I’ve seen a lot. I don’t really like people all that much because of their attitude about the land. They feel they can kill it, poison it and level it without any payback.

 “But, as I’ve learned, there are just as many good people out there who will never stop fighting to preserve the land. Those are the people we want to save. We co-exist. So, we figured if we could get people to wear masks in the middle of the forest where masks aren’t really required, it’ll make it easier for them to keep the masks on when they return home.”

Bernard, a Black bear who’s been sitting nearby on a picnic bench, whuffed in agreement. “Like it or not, bears and people are neighbors. Now, you may have a neighbor who is just awful, a real pain in the ass. But over the years, you’ve gotten used to him. Now, if something bad is going to happen to him, you try to save him. Why? He’s your neighbor.”

 Weekly World News thanked the bears for telling their story.

 At that point, Ben galloped up. “The Chinese Restaurant just dumped their garbage!”

All the bears but Gus galloped off. “I’m too old for that,” he chuckled.

 Weekly World News asked Gus if he’d gotten any political blowback for his endorsement of masks. He shrugged. “We had a truck filled with yahoos pull up a few weeks back. One guy jumped out waving a pistol in his right hand. He charged me.”

What happened? “By the time he made it back to the truck, his new nickname was ‘Lefty.’”