Family Matters

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I’ve read a total of nine books previously on the subject of Charles Manson and his murderous 1960’s cult known as ‘The Family’.

I’m a little afraid to think exactly what that says about me. I’ll put that small matter to one side for the moment. 

Back in September last year I released a list of my all-time favourite TOP 50 BOOKS (HERE). Standing atop of that list, at number one, was an account of what was known back in 1969 as the Tate/LaBianca murders.

Published in 1974, HELTER SKELTER was written by the prosecuting attorney who successfully put Manson behind bars for the crimes. No book I’ve read before or since has gripped me quite to the extent that book did.

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These are the  nine books I’ve already read on the Manson Family Murders. If anyone wants to play Sigmund Freud and suggest what taking an interest as great as that in a subject such as this says about me, go right ahead. Just please don’t tell me.  I’m pretty sure I’d be too horrified to find out!

MEMBER OF THE FAMILY written by Dianne Lake and published only last year, is, along with Vincent Bugliosi’s seminal HELTER SKELTER, easily the best book I have read on this subject. And given the vast quantities of literature and things posing as literature that have passed before my eyes on this subject over the years, that’s  a claim I definitely don’t make lightly.

Books written by mere journalists on the Manson phenomena (Charles Manson passed away at the age of 83 in November 2017) are a dime a dozen. I say that because there are literally dozens and dozens and dozens of published books written about this person and subject; a person and subject that passed into popular culture five decades ago and has remained there ever since. Books written by people who were actually THERE – under Manson’s spell – doing his bidding – and who lived to tell the tale – are an infinitely rarer and more precious commodity.

Dianne Lake’s masterfully poignant ‘fly on the wall’ memoir MEMBER OF THE FAMILY is in that last category. It sits at the very head of the throne as far as authentic, touching, insightful and historically accurate accounts go. And try to keep in mind as you read that heaving praise that it’s coming from a person who thought he knew all there was to know about this tragic part of 20th Century American crime history. This book is nothing short of a revelation!

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Dianne Lake was fourteen years old the day she was introduced to 33 year-old prison parolee Charles Manson. They made love together later that same night. The circumstances both personal and in a wider societal context that allowed that to happen are what this book so insightfully and at times painfully lays bare.

MEMBER OF THE FAMILY is divided into three sections entitled “Turn On”‘Tune In” and “Drop Out”. This was a counter-culture era phrase that became a slogan for a whole generation of alternate-minded youth (hippies) from 1966 through to the mid seventies.

The first section of the book details how Dianne’s parents came to embrace the free-thinking hippie lifestyle when she was around the age of 10. They eventually sold the family home and packed everyone (Dianne was the oldest of three children) and all their belongings into a modified bread truck. They travelled around California leading a largely nomadic existence. During this time Dianne was exposed to hallucinogenic drugs and witnessed group sex due to the types of people her parents socialized with. It was an era when experimentation and ‘freeing one’s mind’ through such practices was common and actively encouraged in many circles. Feeling less and less a part of her own family, Dianne left with her parent’s permission in 1967 at the age of 14 to join Charles Manson’s group.

The second section of the book, titled “Tune In”, documents her two years living with the charismatic, messiah-like Manson and his commune of uninhibited flower-power followers. She describes Charles Manson as both conman and charlatan as well as being a very resilient and creative person. She makes the point that at that time California was an epicentre for the counter-culture movement and everywhere one looked there were people investing in the ideals and promised claims of salvation  that were all part of ‘The Age of Aquarius’.

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Dianne Lake aged 16 in 1969.

“As a fifteen-year old living with Charlie and the girls, I didn’t think about what was forming around us or how Charlie was moulding us. Perhaps it was because I also had the example of my parent’s efforts to seek a higher truth, but at this point, we weren’t much different from the other communes of the day, all of which were trying to eschew materialism and live off the land in a communal setting.

The biggest difference as far as I could tell was that Charlie was the center of everything for us, but even that wasn’t strange in itself. Charlie‘s form of guruism was in the California air, and up and down the coast there were men – they were almost always men – leading groups like ours and espousing many of the same things he was.

People were looking for guides to the counterculture’s promised land, and there were more than enough people out there who appeared to have the answers. In that regard, Charlie, as criminal as his instincts were, was fairly unexceptional, simply another false prophet taking advantage of the moment’s uncertainty.”   

Pages 209 – 210

Dianne freely admits to feeling confused at the time over her own loyalty to Manson, especially as the group and it’s purpose slowly morphed into what eventually became a perversion of its original ideals of love, acceptance and community.

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Cult leader Charles Manson as he appeared on the covers of Life Magazine in December 1969 and Rolling Stone Magazine in June 1970.

The final section of the book titled “Drop Out” chronicles Dianne Lake’s life after the murder convictions of her fellow Family members in 1970-71 (murders which Dianne took no part in) right up to the year 2017.

She emerged from the cult an LSD-soaked, Charlie-programmed traumatized mess and spent the first eight months of her freedom in a Psychiatric Facility (Patton State Mental Hospital in San Bernardino, Los Angeles).

Today she is a retired special education teacher and mother of three adult children. MEMBER OF THE FAMILY is easily one of the most courageous, disturbing and all-round best memoirs I have ever had the good fortune to read.

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(1) Inside the geodesic dome that Lake’s father built in the backyard of their Santa Monica house in 1967. Her father is holding a joint. This photo was taken right before their family dropped out. (2) The bread truck that Lake’s family drove around in when they dropped out.

Ps. Since 2019 marks fifty years since the tragic murders in August 1969 masterminded by Charles Manson,  a number of new additions to the books/films/documentaries ‘Manson’ cannon are set to be released.

One of them is a book due out next month called THE MANSON WOMEN AND ME. Based on conversations the author had with some former Family members while they were behind bars, this is yet another book written by the sort of commentator who was not there that I referenced at the beginning of this post. I’ll withhold further judgement on this one until I know more.

A much more eagerly awaited installment is what’s being touted as ‘Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film’ ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. This movie stars Australia’s own Margot Robbie as well as one of my all-time fave actors Al Pacino. Expect I’ll be among the first in the queue when it hits Australian theatres in September.

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On Your P (Personalised) Plates

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You definitely see some sights when you’re out driving.

On life’s highways the bold and the bizarre come into view on many an occasion.

Varied coloured cocoons each filled with people hermetically sealed within their own worlds, moving at speed to the rhythm of green lightyellow lightred light – for starters.

There I was stuck in traffic, two lines of steel and tire, each capable of over 160 kilometres per hour and each averaging about five in their stop-start fashion. My viewing options were limited so I chose what most others would do in this situation… to gaze zombie-like at the car in front of me. This turned out to be a not entirely wasted experience. In a vision of loveliness sullied only by the grey mist exhaust coming from its tailpipe sat the sleek chrome rear of a mustard yellow Nissan GT-R sports car.

That type of auto-eye-candy under any normal circumstance would have been satisfying enough but this particular sleek unit of hot metal came with a bonus: a personalised number plate that read SIR YANG”. (To supply added context to this story, the location for my stuck-in-traffic experience was the Brisbane suburb of Sunnybank which is recognised as having a higher than average Asian population).

With time on my side and not going anywhere fast I tossed over in my mind exactly why that particular combination of words seemed so.. so.. unique (not to mention hilarious, at least to me). The best I could come up with was the idea that mixing the most English of sounding royal titles ‘Sir’ with the quintessentially Asian sounding surname (or is that first name?) of ‘Yang’ results in a most unlikely blending of European and what used to go by the name of ‘Oriental’ flavours one could possibly imagine.

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Probably the most out-there personalized plate I’ve seen on a car on the road was one that simply read ANTS (to be honest I can’t recall if it was spelled with an ‘s’ or a ‘z’) Make of that what you will.

Naturally that’s nothing compared to the likes of the wanton weirdness you can find online –

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 And they’re just the G-rated ones!

In the minds of some, there isn’t an item that screams ’empty status symbol’ more than the personalised number plate, or ‘vanity plate’, as they are still referred to in some circles. So why do people sometimes mentally roll their eyes when they see another driver’s attempt at being funny or what they may interpret as a gaudy ‘look at me’ gesture?

In part, it’s a legacy of the fact that personalised plates were born in the eighties, a decade when bankers’ greed had poisoned the well of public opinion against conspicuous displays of wealth. Getting a personalised plate was seen as something that was done by those with more money than sense, a rather gauche, loadsamoney thing to do.

But three decades on, the general wealth of the middle class has risen exponentially and personalised number plates, much like tattoos or piercings, are now widely considered simply a fun thing to do ‘because you can’.

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An early adopter – Lady Penelope from the 1960’s tv series ‘THE THUNDERBIRDS’.

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Ps. Your bonus read this week is the incredible story of the car that carried Archduke Franz Ferdinand on the day he was assassinated in June of 1914 (an event that triggered a series of events which lead to the outbreak of World War 1) and the eerie significance of the number plate of that motor vehicle.

It’s helpful if you keep in mind when reading this article that the peace treaty that ended World War One was signed on the 11th of Novemember 1918.

READ IT HERE

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Into the Snakepit of Friendship

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About a month ago a well-written US-based blog I follow going by the name of YEAH, ANOTHER BLOGGER published an uplifting ode to the joys of friendship (HERE)  It was a refreshing and affirming celebration of how friends enrich our lives while doubling our joys and halving our sorrows.

Such unabated cheerfulness was simply too much for me. With ice running through my veins in quick time I proceeded to pour acid-scented cold water over the whole notion by posting this comment on the site –

This friendship-themed post comes with a lot of good vibes Neil.

Unfortunately, along with some of your other readers like Alyson, Mahvish, Paddy and Les my experience of friendships has been more mixed. To this extent I’ve come to somewhat reluctantly believe over the years in two adages –

(1) Friends come and go but enemies last a lifetime and
(2) Keep a watch on your enemies but keep a closer eye on your friends.

Despite the slightly mafia-sounding ring to these old sayings, there’s no disguising a cynical (or is it just born-of-experience adult realism?) viewpoint at the heart of both. To be brutally honest, without even really trying, a great many adults I come into contact with begin to grate on the nerves after anything more than a short time in their company. Sad but true (for me)

And of the others, if a person who I’m compatible with on a friendship level isn’t prepared to put in at least something approaching a similar amount of effort to keep that friendship going, then whamo, unfortunately up in smoke goes another glorious ‘what might have been’.

I’ve heard that in order to thrive the one ingredient all friendships need is FORCED REGULAR CONTACT. Like back in Primary school! Remember those days? Back then friendships for all of us were based on innocent choices centred on the laws of personality attraction. These days work and family occupy the bulk of my time which is not to say I’m not on the lookout for personality types who I think could become friends.

Sorry for what probably comes across as an anti-friendship tone in this comment Neil but I just wanted to put across the idea that, at least in my experience, despite the best of intentions friendships and the desire for friendship don’t always go according to plan. Which is certainly no great truth bomb on originality count I think it’s safe to say.

And just when I was starting to feel guilty that maybe I’d popped the feel-good party balloons that up to that moment seemed fairly inflated, came this comment on the same site from a person named Pazlo  –

I’m tempted to quote Mark Twain and say “The more I know of people, the more I like dogs.”
However, you have painted a lovely picture of brotherly love from the city famous for such.

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See, I’m one of those people who believes the word ‘friend’ is often mistakenly used by people who are simply referring to someone they’re on friendly terms with. And there’s a big difference, as we all know, between the two. With possible misunderstanding hanging thick in the air like negatively charged particles before a rainstorm, what else was there to do but haul out the analytical blowtorch and see if I could make any sense of it all.

Let’s start with exhibit A below – The Friendship Schematic

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Tier 1 Friends – Those who feel somewhat like brother’s and sisters. This is hallowed territory indeed.

Tier 2 Friends – You might be invited to their wedding, but you certainly won’t be delivering any Best Man or Best Woman speeches.

Tier 3 Not Really Friends – Your relationship tends to exist mostly as part of a bigger group or through the occasional Facebook like.

Tier 4 Acquaintances – When you hear that something bad happens to one of these people, you pretend to be sad but you don’t actually care.

Tier 5 Strangers – We get to ‘meet’ about 80 000 people in our lifetime (that’s everyone from the teenager who served you a flat white in the coffee shop this morning to the uncle you only ever saw a few times back in your childhood) and the overwhelming majority of those will remain as barely one step up from complete strangers to us.

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Before leaving this topic, I’d like to aim the cross-hairs at a couple of very recognisable friendship types –

 THE NON-QUESTION ASKING FRIEND

You can be having a bad day. You can be having a good day. You may be having marriage problems. You may have just loaded a bloody body into the boot for all they care. None of it matters because  none of it will be discussed by the non-question asking friend who never, ever asks you anything about your life. This friend can be explained in one of three ways:

1) They are extremely self-absorbed and only want to talk about themselves.

2) They avoid getting close to people and don’t want to talk in-depth about either you or themselves or anything personal, just third-party topics.

3) They think YOU’RE incurably self-absorbed and know if they ask you about your life you’ll talk their ear off about it.

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THE LOPSIDED FRIENDSHIP

Whether we like to admit it or not there’s a power-balance at play in all friendships.

Friendships can be lopsided in a variety of ways. Someone can want to spend more time with a friend or vice-versa. One member can consistently do 90% of the listening and only 10% of the talking.

A near 50/50 friendship is ideal, but anything out to 65/35 is fine and can often be attributed to two different styles of personality. It’s when the number gap gets even wider that something less healthy is going on—something that doesn’t reflect very well on either party.

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THE FRENEMY

Infamous by name, white-anting by nature. The frenemy is a person with whom one is friendly, despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry. They are common in workplaces the world over. The frenemy can’t disguise their pleasure when things don’t pan out for us.

The word itself has appeared in print as early as 1953 in an article titled “Howz about calling the Russians our Frienemies?” by the American gossip columnist Walter Winchel  in the Nevada State Journal. 

The trick to dealing with a frenemy is getting them as low down your friendship mountain – at least Tier 3 but more ideally Tier 4 or 5) – as is humanly possible.

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THE HISTORICAL FRIEND

A Historical Friend is someone you became friends with in the first place because you met when you were little and stayed friends through the years, even though you’re a very weird match. A true Historical Friend is someone you absolutely would not be friends with if you met them today.

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THE FRIEND IN THE GROUP YOU CAN’T BE ALONE WITH UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES 

In many groups of friends, there’s one pair of individuals who can’t ever be alone together.  It’s not that they dislike each other—they might get along great—it’s just that they have no individual friendship with each other whatsoever. Awkward? Yeah, awkward.

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There’s no denying life is a far richer experience in the company of good friends. It’s just that, like anything, friends exist on a continuum, meaning that there’s a range. There can also be a dark underbelly and I’m just sorry I had to be the one to raise it.

Then again what would you expect from a person who used to loath with a passion the television series FRIENDS (1994 -2004) and would rather have root canal surgery than have to endure the indignity of watching a single episode in its entirety based around the romantic and career lives of a collection of twenty and thirty somethings?

Sitting through the antics of an ensemble cast of perfectly groomed and overprivileged, what used to go by the name of ‘yuppies’ back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, just was not on my wavelength either back then or now.

On the other hand …hitching my viewing wagon to following the ups and downs of working class married life centred around the odd-couple union of an overweight courier driver and his underpaid, feisty Manhatten secretary wife who both live in a small apartment with the wife’s hilariously volatile widowed father (who always manages to get in the way) was much, much more my thing. More my type of virtual ‘friends’.

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Ps. I’ve always been a big believer in the idea that in a lot of ways its easier to like a person from a distance than it is up close and warts and all via a lot of daily/weekly contact. This is the theme explored in Australian author Lisa Ireland’s (Check her website HERE)  novel THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP released last year.

Libby and Kit have been best friends since Primary school. They’ve maintained their friendship over many decades via emails, phonecalls and an annual face to face catchup. So when Libby announces she is moving to Kit‘s city of Melbourne, the two besties are initially overjoyed. But both are about to discover the person they thought they’d known and stayed in contact with all these years has changed  in ways not revealed by their polite emails and up-beat phone chit chats.

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Just how Unique is Unique?

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My fingerprints are all over the keyboard that typed these words.

Your fingerprints are on the mouse that’s scrolling them.

Both sets are different.

Right?

Of course it’s right, if you accept the idea we’ve all been told, many times over, that no one who’s currently living, has ever lived or will be born in the future will ever have the exact same fingerprints as us?

But what if you don’t accept that notion?

What if that idea is really a bunch of pink-cinnamon-lip-gloss-flavoured-old-school- codswallop perpetuated by the same people who told us an apple a day keeps the           doctor away, you get warts from touching toads and frogs and sharks don’t get cancer.

As is pointed out in this clip from the ‘ol tv series NUMBERS (2005 -2010) unless you were to take the fingerprints of every person who is currently alive today (7.7 billion) plus the fingerprints of every person who has EVER lived but is NOT alive today (estimated to be a little in excess of 100 billion people) you can’t say you categorically ‘KNOW’ that no two people have the same identical fingerprints.

That’s why when experts state they have a DNA match they don’t say it’s a certainty but rather reword things to state more cautiously that, for example, there’s a one in three million chance that the DNA samples are NOT from the same person.

Naturally arguments along these lines that contend a person is prevented from stating something as impossible unless they have checked every single existing specimen that is living or has ever lived to see if it might in fact be possible are plainly ridiculous. Science more often than not arrives at not facts but what, to be fair, must be labelled assumptions (though these ‘assumptions’  are about as air-tight and scrupulously investigated as are any likely to ever be).

We are told the distance between the Earth and the Sun is 149.6 million km’s. But since no person has ever boarded a space ship, set the odometer to zero and then travelled the distance to measure it, how do we KNOW it’s 149.6 kilometres? For that matter how does the average person KNOW the Earth is not flat?

The answer is we don’t.

Instead we rely on armies of scientists from every country on Earth whose life work is to use super-sophisticated instruments based on empirical measurements  to make  calculated estimates based on scale. (FYI, and so I may appear mildly intelligent,  in the case of interplanetary distances, astro-scientists transmit a radar signal at another planet (or moon or asteroid) and measure how long it takes for the radar echo to return)

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The same mischief-making argument can be applied to poke holes in the adage that says no two snowflakes are alike. How do scientists actually KNOW that to be true unless they’ve personally examined every single snowflake that’s ever fallen to Earth? (Here I go again attempting to pass myself off as some super intelligent being  but apparently there’s estimated to be one septillion – that’s a trillion trillion – snowflakes that fall from the skies every year).

According to Jon Nelson, a physicist and formerly assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona, Tucson, there are this many possible snowflake shapes – 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,00 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000.

That’s a one followed by 768 zeros making the chances of finding two identical snowflakes not good.

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There was actually a scientist who claimed back in 1988 to have found two identical snowflakes. Nancy Knight, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado was studying wispy high altitude cirrus clouds. Her research plane was collecting snowflakes on a chilled glass slide that was coated with a sticky oil.

She found two hollow hexagonal prism shaped snowflakes in a Wisconsin snowstorm that she claimed were identical. The news made headlines around the world at the time. Closer examination under a microscope revealed in fact the snowflakes were not identical but rather amazingly similar.

So for the moment at least in the absence of any evidence to the contrary I’ll be sticking to the beliefs that hold fingerprints are indeed unique and that no two snowflakes are identical.

Old school I know.

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Ps. On a contrasting but not entirely unrelated note,  you may have heard there’s a new KEANU REEVES movie doing the rounds. It’s called REPLICAS and features a pretty ‘out there’ plot line.

Reeves’ character is a researcher at a biotech firm who suffers a tragedy when his wife and three children are killed in a car accident. After carefully laying out the dead bodies on the side of the road, he calls not the police but rather a co-worker at the biotech firm. Together the two of them go about  preserving his family’s neural maps, cloning their bodies, and re-imprinting their memories into the clones.

But this being a sci-fi film centred around freaky experiments you know things are bound to go wrong. And they do.

And just so you know, these are my favourite six Keanu films

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