The centennial Burbank book also arrived from my friend Mike; we provided photos for it, and our web site Burbankia is credited frequently within. Mike was also on the historical committee for that section of the book, and got some scant praise from the bureaucrats who assembled it. Thumbing through it last night, I notice some curiosities. The "turkey crossing" intersection is mentioned, but the reason why it's called that is missing - an odd omission. Also, some things which could have been mentioned were not...
The royal wedding - William and Kate - has taken place. I set up the DVD recorder to capture it this morning; we'll watch it tonight. Why? Because it's English history and I very much like English history, and it's cool to see places I've been.
Last night I watched most of a Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert video; I like the sound of men's choirs, whether they be Welsh, Georgian, South African or nearly anything else. One of my favorites is the Rustavi ensemble; that full-chested Georgian drone is a really cool sound. But when it's not loud and in your face it can also be incredibly sad, gorgeous and soulful: Tsinskaro. (What is this folk song about? An ageless problem: "I walked down along a small river/And there I met a beautiful woman/When I talked to her, she took offense/I walked down along a small river.") Here's a very pretty example of Georgian polyphonic singing.
Getting back to the Mambazos... most people know them via a Paul Simon recording in 1986, when he highlighted their unique and deeply felt harmonies in some hit songs. But they hold up very well in concert all by themselves. They did their highly entertaining song Hello My Baby, where they blow kisses to imaginary women. Their choreography is also great to watch... I'd like to see these guys live.
Welsh men's choirs... what more is there to say? Bread of Heaven ("Cwn Rhondda") is gorgeous and spiritually uplifting - and a great rugby song. (So is the Welsh national anthem, which is sung with considerable emotion at matches... really something to see and hear.)
Last night I watched a documentary about John Entwistle, the now deceased well-regarded bassist of the Who, An Ox's Tale: The John Entwistle Story (2006). It was okay. Actually, I fell asleep near the end...
Next week will be great! My son and his wife are driving from Utah, and will spend the week with us. Ethan is here for the summer as he works at a graphic arts internship in D.C. They may arrive as early as Monday, depending upon how long they drive during the days... it's a big continent.
Yard sales tomorrow, and this time the weatherman isn't calling for rain. It's supposed to be perfect convertible weather, in fact.
Have a great weekend!
On Burbankia, my hometown website, I posted the information that Marilyn Monroe got her start in Burbank, and that General George S. Patton once spoke in front of City Hall; I didn't know either fact until this week.
I watched a wistful and sad Russian movie last night, Ballad of a Soldier (1959), made after the post-Stalin "thaw," when films didn't automatically have to be quite so socialist and propagandistic. This is an anti-war film shot in gorgeous black and white, and tells the story of a nineteen year-old World War II soldier who goes through one hurdle after another to visit his mother on leave. Due to his cheery, helpful nature he becomes delayed and only has a heartbreakingly short time to see his mother until he has to leave for the front - never to return.
During his journey he meets a girl in the boxcar of a train and falls in love; the girl is extraordinarily pretty, the young soldier quite handsome. (Both actors were nineteen at the time of the filming and were not professional actors - their performances are quite convincing.) But, as the soldier is killed, any relationship is not to be. They don't even kiss. At first I watched about twenty minutes of this film and then gave up on it - one scene seemed ridiculously Soviet: the solider is in the company of other hardy soldiers, and one makes a lame joke and they all laugh over-long and too enthusiastically. So I asked Alexander, my Russian friend at work, about it. (He's my source for many things Russian; we often talk about Soviet and more recent films.) He said, "No, no... this is a good film. A classic, well-known in Russia. You should see it through." I did and I'm glad. It was excellent.
It just occurred to me that Ballad of a Solider is very much like the later excellent British film Overlord (1975) I blogged about a month ago; both feature a likable young soldier in a doomed relationship with a girl, both men are tragically killed. Both are anti-war in tone. Both are in beautifully shot black and white film stock, both have well-wrought incidental music. The British film's melodies are reminiscent of Ralph Vaughan-Williams' English folk moods, the Russian film's music is strongly peasant in origin - also folk. The difference is that the Russian film is simpler and less gritty, more like Hollywood product of the late 1940's. The British film is modern and impactful. But they're essentially the same movie! Do see both if you have a Netflix streaming capability.
My daughter got me a wonderful book for my birthday, one I had seen in London: London in 3-D, A Look Back in Time. It is SO cool. It comes with a stereoscopic viewer to examine the many pages of old stereoscopic images... I have a Civil War book like this that is equally fascinating. Before there was Avatar, there were stereoscopic images.
By the way, Roger Ebert wrote a funny and brilliant article: Why I hate 3-D (And You Should, Too). Well put. The last 3D subject I saw was the Hubble Telescope IMAX film in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. There should have been a warning: "Attention! Three Dimensional Images of Senator Barbara Mikulski Are Used In This Production."
Victor Hugo said "Forty is the old age of youth. Fifty is the youth of old age." What's that make 55?
Today's poster boy is Jimmy Carter, who gave the nation the 55 MPH speed limit, an idea so colossally lame and annoying (like much of what Carter did and said) it was repealed with much gusto later on. But it did give Sammy Hagar a hit: "I Can't Drive 55," interestingly enough, in 1984, the year of Big Brother. Nice to see that Orwell misjudged the disappearance of civil disobedience.
I am sorry to report that I voted for Jimmy in my very first election, in 1976. I was too annoyed with Gerald Ford for pardoning Richard Nixon to vote for him, and, young idiot that I was, I thought Carter would fix everything. In 1980 I enthusiastically voted for Ronald Reagan... I can nearly always admit when I've made a mistake.
So... 55. In the end, I think I can take my cue from an album cover I came across: It Ain't Over. Cool.
Exactly one year ago I blogged about my love for the 1972 Ford LTD Brougham, the big green sedan my parents bought in August 1972 - for all intents and purposes it was my first car. Look what I found on youtube: An ad for a '72 LTD, the same green sedan my parents had, complete with the Concertmaster from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra playing in the back seat. (It starts at the two minute mark.) I remember this ad! Was the car that quiet? Indeed, it was. I was once driving the LTD down a street in Burbank with the FM classical music station on - not especially loudly - and only noticed that an ambulance was directly behind me when I noticed the flashing red lights in my rear view mirror. I couldn't hear his siren!
So. They may or may not have discovered the existence of the Higgs Boson. (My blog last summer about it.) I'll be surprised if they do. Not that I know anything about high energy physics, of course - my opinion is worthless. From what I've read the version of the Standard Model that incorporates the Higgs Boson is impossibly complicated and inelegant. Nature just isn't like that; it's simple and elegant. Well, we shall see in time. But the boson's existence should have been apparent by now, I think, and this announcement isn't formal or official. Maybe it's a hoax.
Was Glenn Gould the greatest pianist of his generation? It's arguable - but he was certainly the most eccentric (he may have been somewhere on the autism spectrum) and controversial pianist of his time. He sprung upon the world piano scene with a 1955 Columbia recording of the Bach Goldberg Variations that astonished everyone - no one had ever heard such precise articulation between the right and left hands. It became a best seller. Gould later performed in Russia in the late Fifties and became a phenomenon; the Russians didn't hear much Bach, whose music was considered in harmonious with the spirit of the masses, and so Gould's formidible technique was a Cold War cultural sensation. (Shortly thereafter, Van Cliburn was another Western pianist who wowed the Soviets - except he did it with Tchaikovsky.)
In one performance of a Brahms piano concerto with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, the conductor took the highly unusual step of addressing the audience before Gould arrived on stage, stating that while he and the Gould disagreed strongly over the tempi and performance of the piece (and famously asked, "Who's the boss? The soloist or the conductor?"), Bernstein accepted that his eccentric young soloist had his own unique opinions about the piece and performed it anyway - but took no responsibility for the performance of the work.
Gould was a hypochondriac who always wore thick gloves and an overcoat - even in summer. He was also a homewrecker and, later in life, a drug abuser.
Gould is notable in that he hated to concertize, considered audiences evil, and refused to play in public after age 31. He became instead a highly idiocyncratic recording artist, whose humming and cooing while playing was a curse to recording engineers. Also unlike other great pianists, Gould engaged himself in the production of radio broadcasts, one odd one being an exploration of the music of Petula Clark! (This is very strange... great classical pianists are single-minded folks who just don't do that sort of thing, fraternizing with pop artists.)
Gould died of a stroke in 1982 at the age of fifty, an internationally famous and beloved Canadian musician.
We had a weeping willow ripped from our front yard yesterday: willow weep for me - or weep for the willow. (Cari did - she hated to see it go.) It's in preparation for the re-grading and resodding of our front yard, which will take place in another few weeks or so.
Seems that there is some controversy in my reenacting unit about the upcoming 150th Anniversary Battle of First Manassas (aka 1st Bull Run). I'm with a "Regular" unit (no, it doesn't mean that we have commendable bowel functions - it means that we pretend that we are an element of the federal standing army, not the volunteer militia) and there's a desire to form with other Regular units to create a "Battalion of Regulars." It sounds good until you realize that some likely wannabe military guy wants us to trot around doing excess drill and picket duties in the Virginia summer heat to impress the rest of the reenactors with how professional we Regulars are. Our unit leader questioned this, and requested comment, which I duly provided:
Speaking strictly for myself, I do reenacting for recreational purposes, not to accurately reproduce all the myriad discomforts and hardships of the soldier. I had enough of that hot weather nonsense during the 125th series of events, when I was in my thirties and was considerably more robust.
And I agree with your observation about the age-related impacts of taking sedentary, office-working men and expecting them to trot around in equatorial weather in blue wool, playing soldier. The most notable sight of the 135th anniversary of Antietam for me was seeing one such gent being treated by the paramedics for a heart attack – he didn’t survive. Even the most casual observer will note that we are not exactly a company of spring chickens.
After the brutally hot and unpleasant experience of 125th Manassas I determined a personal rule of thumb: You do what you need to do to avoid injury or a health issue. If it requires abandoning a picket duty, leaving the field when the Rebs are provoking fistfights or running around with bayonets on the ends of their rifles, or even leaving the event, so be it. I feel that with my experience in the Marines, a long career as a reenactor and in playing rugby I have proven myself long ago. Summer events are very optional – if somebody’s leadership plans to turn the 150th Manassas event into a grueling ordeal, I’ll pass.
Thank you for your concern and doing all you do; I recognize that the leadership you provide is frequently unsung.
Haze gray and underway: This past weekend I became thoroughly engrossed in the ten part, ten hour PBS series Carrier (2008), about life aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz during a 2005 deployment to the Persian Gulf. I have the last hour yet to watch. It's on Netflix streaming video - five stars, easy. It is fascinating! The only downside to this production is the frequently intrusive American Idol style pop songs which get in the way of the dialogue.
There are at least two characters who stand out: Command Master Chief Penton, an enthusiastic, direct, take no guff type who serves as the senior enlisted man aboard ship - in Hollywood terms he steals every scene he's in - and Seaman Garzone, a wiseguy who likes to produce his own videos about shipboard life who has a promising career as a humorist or disk jockey. But there are so many others... a carrier is like a small city - some of the sailors call it a floating high school due to the number of teenage junior enlisted aboard - and each has his or her story, which is, of course, one of the things that make this series so interesting. It's sort of a military soap opera with graphic depictions of the danger and boredom of military life.
One interesting sequence depicts the difficulties of landing a jet aircraft atop a floating runway at night when the runway is pitching and heaving 30 feet or more due to rough seas. I have read that this is the single most difficult and dangerous thing routinely accomplished in our military... and yet, the pilot's fellow squad members are shown in the squad room eating popcorn and watching the jets coming in (or, more frequently, doing a flyby because they hadn't snagged the cable). While the atmosphere is tense, it's also raucous and jolly. There is a very real possibility that the jet could instead hit the sea or the back of the carrier, killing the two man crew (file footage of when this happened in 1994 is shown), but the demeanor of the pilots doesn't suggest this. Amazing sangfroid.
A production of this type should be required viewing for every American because it shows just what is sacrificed and endured in one segment of one branch of the armed forces in the nation's service: impossible Middle East heat on the flight deck, long hours of grueling and dirty manual labor (I wish the producers had shown more of the ship's greasiest, dirtiest jobs), the tedium and boredom of routine, the pressure to excel, home life problems, etc. In fact, one of the great disappointments of the deployment for the crew was that the jet pilots never dropped a single bomb on a target in Iraq, which leads to the inevitable question, "So why were we there?"
And, as is always the case when I watch a film or some production about the U.S. Navy, I get the feeling that I blew it by never spending time serving aboard a ship. Even with the tedium and danger, it seems like such an adventure. (In the past when I've written things like this on my blog my former Navy readers send me e-mails telling me how wrong I am and how much I'd probably hate it. When they do this time I will ask, "But are you sorry you did it? Would you rather have lived your life never having had that experience? I bet the answer is no.)
The yard guy came by on Saturday to give us an estimate on regrading the yard and putting in sod. Our house was built by Van Metre in the 1980's during the local boom, when houses were going up hourly, and they never did the fill properly. Consequently the ground has shifted and fallen; we used to have a 4 inch difference in level between the driveway and the garage pad before we put in a new driveway. So we're looking at having one contractor come by and remove a stump, a weeping willow and its roots, and another to do the regrading and laying down of sod. $$$ Home ownership is a costly pain - but this is an unoriginal observation.
I am now starting a new book, a paperback I found at a yard sale: Life With Groucho by Arthur Marx (Groucho's son). In regard to age, I've used one of Groucho's lines for years: "You're only as old as the girl you feel."
It's Spring, 1972, and I am a sixteen year-old in my first year at Burbank High School. There is a water fountain on campus, near the athletic field. It's a wide, pan-like thing with three or four spigots. It had clearly been there a while. (Come to think of it, most of the stuff on campus looked like it had been there a while or had seen some hard use - or a little of both.) As I drank the water I had a feeling that something was wrong, or that I didn't like being near the fountain. I don't recall precisely what it was I was feeling, but it was negative. And it wasn't a strong feeling, either, just a bad feeling. But I remember to this very day.
I was puzzled by this flight of fancy of mine. At any rate, I had developed a minor superstition about this, and whenever I was in gym and wanted a drink of water, I always walked over to another fountain on the field, not the multi-spigoted one. For the next three years on campus, I was always disinclined to drink from that fountain by force of habit.
So. Fast forward to last week, 39 years later, when I mentioned on this blog that I was looking at old Los Angeles Times articles, had been doing a search on "burbank" and "death," and had found a story about a scuffle between two teens and an accidental death at a water fountain on the BHS campus in 1946. "What fountain?" I wondered, with a sneaking feeling that I knew. A BHS grad from 1947 contacted me via e-mail yesterday (he saw my blog entry) who remembered the incident: there had been a scuffle, a boy's head had hit the metal fountain and he was fatally concussed as a result. I asked which fountain, was it the multi-spigoted one? He wasn't exactly sure, but recalls that it was the one near the tall stairs to the field... this is the multi-spigoted one. So... 26 years prior to my odd little disconcerted feeling, a student had died at that water fountain.
I do not claim to be a psychic, and in all the years I did historical reenacting I only have two unconvincing ghost stories to my credit.
Meanwhile, in Burbank, you can read about romance and tragedy available in the minutes of the City Clerk's Office (1965). I get a kick out of the nonplussed expression on the face of the clerk, as if to say, "Yeah, what? You expecting a soap opera here?"
Hey, check this out: Some ships in the U.S. Navy still rely upon DOS-based PCs to feed their crew! I thought that operating system had gone away a decade or so ago... guess not.
Last night my wife and I watched a video of ABBA's 1979 tour, which has special significance to us because I had asked her to the performance at the Long Beach Arena in September, before we were dating - it would have been our first date. She refused as she wanted our first date to be a couples thing, and so I went with my friend Mike instead. It was a good concert with an odd crowd: children, old people, young people - a real mix. But she missed out.
I also visited my rugby club at practice last night, and at a bar afterwards. The club president was gracious enough to present me with a plaque for an award I received in 2010, for my 2009 efforts in figuring out how to combat the virus on the club's website. (I spent many hours doing that.) I treasure any award I get from a rugby club, and have placed it in my office where I can beam at it from time to time. I also got a track suit which is very cool. The jacket says "Pabst" on the back, the name of the club's sponsor - and indeed, I did see many guys slugging down cans of PBR (the official beer of film noir) last night. Funny about that beer, it is popular again despite the availability of finer, micro-brewed
Of course the question "When are you coming out again?" came up. Errrr... Watching the guys slam into one another at scrimmage I kind of marveled that I once played that game. (My last season was in late 2006 - I have a persistent case of shoulder tendinitis - perhaps now arthritis - as a result.) I have to admit, there's a pull. And I don't have the excuse that I'm too old: There was a guy my age out on the field, one almost as old as I, and a guy named "Hurricane" who is in his sixties. You wouldn't expect that with a game as tough as rugby, but it's true - it is a game for all nearly ages.
Maybe yard sales tomorrow morning, maybe not - they're calling for showers tomorrow. Drat, that's two weekends in a row. Well, whatever... have a great Easter weekend!
In this film Shishido plays a hit man who is ranked Number 3 in Japan (who maintains the rankings, and how?) and has a fetish about smelling the aroma of cooking rice. During the course of the film hit men numbers 1, 2 and 4 get plugged by various means. I'd be more specific, but the editing is non-intuitive and makes it rather difficult to follow what's going on. Frankly, I'm not sure I understood the plot! But, come to think of it, it's a good film noir for ADHD folks who can't follow a complicated plot, as the plot doesn't seem to matter much.
The original poster for this film is at left. Don't be fooled by the woman in the rather modest white bikini - during most of this film she scampers about totally nude.
I should mention the bass harmonica (heard in some Beatles music) featured in the incidental music, and the femme fatale, the one in the black bikini: a lady with a death wish who drives a convertible in the pouring rain. She likes to pin butterflies and moths to her wall, and has a dead bird with a pin through its neck hanging from her rear view mirror. All in all, a bizarre flick. Needless to say, it's a cult film. "Only an audience can make a cult film" - Sid Haig.
I understand Branded to Kill is a good introductory film to further explore the work of Seijun Suzuki, the director. From wikipedia: "His films are renowned by film enthusiasts worldwide for their jarring visual style, irreverent humour, nihilistic cool and entertainment-over-logic sensibility." A good quote was from the president of the film corporation which fired him: "Suzuki makes incomprehensible films. Suzuki does not follow the company's orders. Suzuki's films are unprofitable and it costs 60 million yen to make one. Suzuki can no longer make films anywhere. He should quit. Suzuki should open a noodle shop or something instead." I have Suzuki's 1966 Tokyo Drifter on my Netflix streaming queue... I guess that's my next film while my wife is tying up the mailed DVDs watching Mad Men Season Four!
My hometown of Burbank is a municipality that occasionally does things in a big way. I mentioned digging around in the Los Angeles Times archives; while doing that I found this 1977 article about a 600 roll TP assault. The pranksters report playing jokes on one another to relieve the tedium of their workplace lives. What do they do for a living? They process porn films!
Fun fact: The San Fernando Valley, where Burbank is located, used to be - and probably still is - the nation's porn producing capital. As I recall the industry is centered in Van Nuys, a community not far from Burbank. It is a fact of supreme irony - given my wife's steely moral backbone - that she was born there. (This just in: According to 60 Minutes, the porn epicenter of America is now in Chatsworth, another San Fernando Valley community.)
Also in Burbank, a 1974 tale about a bartender who got a Veterans Affairs notification letter of his untimely death. I like his quote: "My friends, particularly at the bar, are amused, but I'm not amused by it at all, especially since I don't have the damn money" (his disability checks were discontinued).
I got my VW back from the mechanic yesterday - I allowed them to do the 40,000 mile service. $420 rather than $870 from the stealership.
I came across this link as a part of a Facebook conversation about papyri; the topic of the Herculaneum papyri came up... I hadn't heard about this. A entire Roman library preserved (more or less - charred, but intact)! How cool! I hope with time we'll know the contents of these scrolls.
The subject reminded me of a conversation I once had. I completed some genealogical research on my mother's father's line, the Aucoins/Wedges, and contacted the Berlin, New Hampshire (Mom's hometown) Historical Society to see if they wanted a copy of what I learned. "Sure," said the lady. What format, I asked, .ged (a common genealogical exchange format), .doc, .rtf .txt...? What the lady said surprised me: "Can you send us paper copies?"
Of course I could, but it's a lot easier to send a digital file via an e-mail or an ftp site. Why paper? She pointed out that, number one, Berlin, NH was a town that paper built, referring to the Brown Co. Pulp Mill in town that stunk up the place for generations and which has only recently been shut down - my grandfather Wedge worked there. Number two, digital is nice, but paper is still really the only proven long-term archival method; we have parchment and papyrus that are thousands of years old.
While digital is a much more easily compressed format, will optical disks, semi conductor drives and the software necessary to recover text files be around 100, 500, 1,000 or 3,000 years from now? An excellent question. I learned the truth of this last year when I tried to recover the data I had on a couple of MacIntosh microfloppy disks I had from the early Ninties - I couldn't do it. (Well, not easily. I suppose I could have found somebody on the Internet with an old Mac who would charge for the service...)
Speaking of genealogy, I am in contact with a woman who has as a 2nd great-grandmother an Elizabeth Clark of Burlington County, New Jersey. This Elizabeth was born in 1810. She could have been the sister of my 2nd great-grandfather Wesley H. Clark (b. circa 1814, d. 1888), whose parents and siblings I have been trying to identify since 1982, when I first learned of his existence. But, as is usually the case for me, the woman knows nothing of the family - drat.
I am in part two of a fascinating and well made pair of gangster films from 2008: Jean-Francois Richet's Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One. They stand with the first two Godfather films, Goodfellas, Casino and A Bronx Tale as the best gangster films around. And they're French! I say that because normally I find French gangster and films noir too mannered and derivative of the American style - not these. These are as gritty, violent, hard-hitting and fascinating as the best Scorsese and Coppola have managed.
The title character, Jacques Mesrine, France's Public Enemy Number One (shown above), was an interesting guy with a fairly amazing career from 1959 to 1979. He broke out of prison three times, claimed in a book he wrote while in prison to have murdered forty persons, and occasionally boldly robbed banks across the street from each other in single occasions! A master of disguise, he was known in the French press as "the Man of a Hundred Faces"; do a google image search on his name and you'll see for yourself. With the love of the French for the astonishing coup, one can't do things like that without becoming something of a folk hero, which is what he became.
His end was violent: in 1979 the Paris police, tiring of being made fools of by him and wary of his uncanny luck with escaping, loaded up a truck with policemen, veered in front of his BMW and fired nineteen rounds through the windshield of his car, killing him. No warnings, no calls to surrender - they just started firing. Finis. Interestingly, this is how the film series begins, and the viewer comes to find out why the police had become so exasperated.
Gerard Depardieu is in these films. That man has the weirdest-looking nose I've ever seen, outside of Michael Jackson. It looks like somebody's hind end.
I forgot to mention that Cari and I went to see a Navy Band concert Saturday night at the Bishop Ireton High School auditorium in Alexandria, just off of Duke Street. BI is a private school; I've never been there before. We sat down and I noticed that most of the people in the audience were seated towards the rear of the area. Odd, I thought. We soon found out why.
The Navy Band was LOUD. Louder, in fact, than some rock concerts I have been to. And this was acoustic loud, not artificially miked loud. I suppose it was due to the quality of the performance space: It had acoustic reinforcement panels all along the back and sides of where the band members sat, and I didn't notice boxes or a balcony which might cause the sound to become diffused. They played a couple of neat Vaughan-Williams pieces and a bombastic, rather unpleasant piece for oboe and military band by Rimsky-Korsakov. (I have an Lp of a piece for trumpet and military band by R-K; I don't like it, either.) While the oboe playing was virtuosic - there are always top notch musicians in these service ensembles - the player kept wiping the side of his face with the sleeve of his uniform coat, which totally ruined it for my wife.
I am now reading a book by a friend. He completed it not too long ago and wants me to read and comment upon it. It's a fictional work about a sailor (sail boat, not USN) and it takes place in the British Virgin Islands. I'm not far enough into it to confirm that it's a murder mystery, but that's where it seems to be headed. I was amused to note that the author has put Tarot cards into the plot, although he doesn't call them that. Apparently he did some research and identified some cards, card meanings and card designs. I'm always up for a work with Tarot cards...
The card he described is one from what is called the Rider-Waite deck, a very popular deck due mostly to the ease of memorizing the cards' meanings by the illustrations. For instance, a card indicating a journey by sea is illustrated by a design of a man in a boat with six swords plunged there into - the six of swords. Other decks simply show a design of six interlaced swords, which makes it harder to memorize the meaning. A friend gave me a variation of the Rider-Waite deck when I was thirteen, back in 1969. However, mine is the Albano-Waite deck; I still have it. It's the same as the Rider-Waite deck, except the color saturations are turned up to eleven - it looks very end of the Sixties countercultural. In fact, I used to have big posters of a few of the Major Arcana cards on my wall from this deck. I suspect the card coloring was influenced in part by a desire to posterize the designs, posters being very popular back then.
I used to be interested in tarot cards and the occult when I was a kid. It was, after all, a Sixties/Seventies "thing" in Southern California. When I became a Mormon in 1979 I threw out all my books about the occult. I'm a little sorry I never got a copy of Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal - the illustrations are famous - but oh, well. I kept my tarot card collection, however. I couldn't part with them, largely because they have visual and artistic interest apart from their occult connotations. I still have them - they sit in a shoebox in a closet, unlooked at and unused. Every now and then I take them out and remember my teenage years.
Speaking of the occult I saw a truly lame film noir/murder mystery/British parlour drama the other day: The Fatal Witness (1945). It started out well enough, but took a decided kink towards the end. A Scotland Yard detective wants to frighten a suspect into admitting that he murdered his aunt, so he hires an actress to portray her and confront the man during a dinner party on a windy, atmospheric night. (All the guests are in on the stratagem and pretend not to see the actress.) The aunt shows up and the man is duly freaked out, and confesses. He is apprehended and taken away. Just then a telegram arrives: the actress couldn't make it. So who was the woman who accused the suspect? Was it the murdered aunt... returned from the grave? As final confirmation the front door opens by itself, and then closes. The End. Sheesh.
Getting back to my friend and his novel, I will admit that I began writing a book. It was intended for children and was about a teenager enlisting in Mister Lincoln's Army; I called it Frankie the Yankee. If sales caught on at park service visitor center bookstores my plan was to do a companion book entitled Jeb the Reb. The problem was the artist I relied upon for the illustrations, a fellow I knew from my reenacting unit. He and I became estranged when he decided to take upon himself a female identity ("Katherine") in order to solicit sex in D.C. dressed as a sweater girl "...with something extra." That killed off poor Frankie the Yankee, something Rebel marksmen couldn't do.
A decade or so ago I tried to get Avocado Memories turned into a book - it is book length - but was unsuccessful. While an agent did take it on and shopped it through various publishers, it never got sold. One publisher's rep called me and asked what my plan and vision was to market it to readers. I replied along the lines of, "I don't know. I've never marketed a book before. Isn't that your job?" Puzzling. Another time a self-described PBS producer called me to talk about turning it into a documentary, but that got nowhere, either.
My wife and I do have a book to our credit, sort of. A public broadcasting outfit in Salt Lake City once took our Utah Baby Names list and produced a book entitled Raising LaVaughan. The New York Times hasn't ever confirmed that it appeared on their bestseller list, however. So I suppose I will remain an unheralded, unpublished author.
I did find a nice, deluxe 1965 Decca Lp of some of the speeches of Winston Churchill (glossy cover courtesy of British Celanese Limited) in a library Lp box for fifty cents; what an inspiring speaker! Not only did he muster the armed forces of the United Kingdom against Nazi Germany, but he fully utilized the English language as well. I get goosebumps listening to the man. I'm going to have to read some of his books.
Last night my wife and I watched just about one of the best rock video concerts I have ever seen, Neil Finn in Sessions at West 54th Street, from 1998. Finn (shown above) was a member of the New Zealand band Split Enz in the Seventies and early Eighties (when I discovered them), then formed the very successful Crowded House when they broke up. After that he became a solo artist. I am convinced he is one of the best pop songwriters alive today. He has an interesting way with melody - his melodies are never obvious, but, rather, subtle. Not quite British pop, not quite American pop - different. A wonderful concert, full of interesting and unique songs.
I also watched the fascinating and daringly revisionist Fat Head (2009), a documentary about the role of fats and cholesterol in heart disease. Specifically, it is a scathing refutation of Morgan Spurlock's famous Super Size Me, and shows that it is possible to eat a fatty diet at McDonald's and still lose weight. (The guy in the documentary did exactly this.) According to the producer, the problem is the Lipid Hypothesis and the belief that a low fat diet is best for you, avoiding animal fats. The contention is that fats - even saturated fats! - are actually better for you than too many carbohydrates... well. I think I'll have to read one of the books cited in this documentary. I should mention that this documentary was filmed in large part in Burbank - I could see street signs and locations I recognize. (Which raises the question: Can any good thing come out of Burbank?)
I finished Frederico Fellini's I Vitteloni (1953) - a masterpiece, a classic - and season one episode one of Lost. I think I'll simply read what happens next in the episode summaries of the show. I didn't find it engaging enough to become snared in the series. (And I wonder if I'm the only person in America to write that; the show was incredibly popular.)
As I mentioned, my 2007 VW Bug needs its 40,000 mile servicing, and I duly went to an auto parts place and bought an air filter and a cabin pollen filter. The air filter went in easily, but the cabin filter was another story. I couldn't find it no matter where i looked. So I went to the home mechanic's ready reference - the Internet - and found a detailed, step by step description of how to tear into the upper dashboard to replace the pollen filter.
After some scary manipulation of plastic dashboard pieces (the cracking sound when releasing pressure clips is disconcerting - it sounds like you've broken something) I got into the upper dashboard. Guess what? VW convertible bugs don't have pollen filters! I guess they figure with the top down it's a losing battle, or that a filter would become clogged too easily. So I took the filter in and got my money ($18!) back. I still haven't decided whether I'm going to replace the spark plugs and change the oil myself; I may take the car into my trusty mechanic. The $870 the dealership wants is excessive.
I also discovered an interesting scientific line of thought: Olbers' Paradox, or, why is the sky dark at night? It's a far more complicated question than you might at first suppose, and has been debated for centuries. The correct answer, oddly enough, was first advanced in print in 1848 by none other than Edgar Allen Poe! (Which suggests that an imagination in good working order is an important part of arriving at great scientific truths...) Anyway, Poe correctly guessed that the universe is finite, not infinite, that stars have existed for only a finite amount of time and that the Earth receives no starlight from beyond a certain distance. In other words, the boundary of outer darkness corresponds to the creation of the (expanding) universe. Were the universe infinite our evenings would be far brighter, suffused with starlight from infinite sources.
I spent some more time in the Los Angeles Times archives database, looking through hits for the search terms "burbank" and "death." This time I found 1949 and 1966 stable blaze deaths, the 1952 accidental electrocution of a lineman, a 1967 teen suicide pact, a 1959 "illegal operation" death of a sixteen year-old girl, a 1951 bar brawl murder, a bride who stabbed her husband to death in 1956, what looks like a 1951 mob hit on a BPD detective, a woman who died creating a trash fire in 1954, a 1967 shoot-out between the BPD and a bank robber (the BPD won), a mother who beat her two year old to death in 1963, the 1953 Mabel Monohan murder (which received nationwide coverage and resulted in I Want To Live!, the highly whitewashed 1958 Susan Hayward film), a 1951 pair of deaths via an Inspiration Point Jeep accident and a 1954 influenza fatality. There are many more. What am I going to do with all this morbid information? Other than report it in this blog entry, nothing.
I also found a 1964 mention that the Burbank library system has within its holdings the Burbank Family Bible. I want to see this, but my researcher pal Mike doesn't think they have it, but will check.
Bored, I restlessly went through Netflix' streaming video fare last night. I started with Season One, Episode One of Lost, the TV series some rugby friends have raved about. The Netflix software predicted I'd give it one star. I got though about ten minutes of it and thought, "Too modern, too Hollywood" and gave up. (A rugby friend once said, "If it's not at least fifty years old and in black and white, Brigham won't watch it.")
So I began watching Frederico Fellini's 1953 masterpiece I Vittelloni, which is more my style. I got about thirty minutes into that and felt restless again. I'll return to it, but I then switched to an HD documentary about ancient Greece narrated by Nia Vardalos which I found somewhat cloying. Still, I liked the caryatids coming to life and the computer simulation of what the Parthenon looked like just after completion.
I finally found what I was looking for with a juvenile delinquency film I haven't seen from 1958, Juvenile Jungle. Great, Daddio! Some of you may recall that I was into JD flicks a few years ago... This entry in the genre was only a little over an hour in length and starred the Prince of JD flicks, Richard Bakalyan, as "Tic-Tac," the volatile but funny thug. Bakalyan was to the JD film what Charlton Heston was to the Biblical Epic. In fact, he was so convincing as a JD that he was once grabbed by the police during a film shoot, loitering on a street. The directors had to bail him and a fellow actor out of jail. Later on in his career he was mainly seen as a goofball in Disney comedies, and as Detective Loach in Chinatown.
In general, 1950's JD flicks feature actors and actresses who look a little too mature to be teenagers, and this film was no exception. In fact, Rebecca Welles, who plays the hot waitress "Glory," was thirty when she made this! At one point she jealously asks a boy for whom she has the hots, "What's she look like?" "She's got all the parts... but you stack 'em better." Bakalyan also has a good line: "That's Kitten. Even before she meets ya, she knows ya." Later on he spills some beer onto Kitten's chest. Stay classy, Bakalyan! (I ought to mention that the beer swilled in copious quantities on the beach in Juvenile Jungle is the featured beer of film noir, Pabst Blue Ribbon. Judging from how often I see PBR turning up in old films, I'd say it must have been pretty popular.)
So, were there JDs in Burbank? Yes. Check out the L.A. Times entries here. 1955, teenager, black leather jacket and blue jeans? That spells JD to me.
Here's an interesting passge from the book I'm reading, Apollo's Fire by Michael Sims. What happens when you shut yourself up in a cave with no sunlight?
Our house guests return tonight from their jaunt in southern Virginia, Harper's Ferry and Pennsylvania. We have dinner, then tomorrow morning I get them to the airport for their flight back to Utah. I'll be sorry to see them go - they're fun.
Have a great weekend!
I came up with a ton of fascinating stuff, tales of fatal misadventures, mob hits, plane crashes (being home to Lockheed, my hometown had a significant aviation history), a fatal fast (1931), a "shotgun duel" (1935), traffic fatalities, railroad train-related deaths, what we would now call murder due to postpartum psychosis (1925), suicides, fatal love triangles, a "shoot-it-out" (1929), industrial accidents, sad stories about children hit by cars and even the sad, suicidal hanging of a fourteen year-old boy in a playhouse (1946). One rancher was buried alive when a tunnel he was digging between two wells collapsed upon him (1908). And in my own high school in 1946 there was an accidentally fatal scuffle between two teens over the use of a drinking fountain. (A part of me wants to know which water fountain on campus it was.)
I had no idea growing up there that there had been so many interesting deaths in town, but that's because I didn't think in those terms. None of us do. But any town or city with a history has its share of deaths which can be plotted on a map. One major thing - other than taste and a sense of propriety - that keeps me from doing a page like this is the realization that there may be descendants in town who would be grieved by such a thing. It's probably better to let most of these sad stories lay... or perhaps there's a way I can cite these incidents without using names...
I found one obituary about a bonafide, nationally-recognized hero who moved into town towards the end of his life. His heroism inspired a Methodist hymn! Here's the link to my page.
There are other revelations; I found an obit about the man who gave the town its name - Dr. David Burbank - as well as one for his brother who lived nearby.
I am still reading that book about the course of a day. Here's an interesting passage: "Philosophers, comedians, and tipsy birthday celebrants all have proposed theories about why time seems to move increasingly swiftly as we grow older. But the most disconcerting rationale is not a theory. It is the undeniable realization that every day we live constitutes a smaller percentage of the accrued experience with which we awaken each morning, and therefore seems proportionately a smidgen quicker and smaller than the day before." How true, how true!
I watched a fabulous movie last night: Mafioso (1962); 2/3rds hilarious ethnic family comedy in the style of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, 1/3rd realistic crime drama. (A genial Sicilian working in Milan returns home with his wife and daughters, where he is drafted to perform a murder in New York City for the local Don.) An abrupt change of tone and plot like that is hard to pull off in a film, but director Alberto Lattuada managed it. If you have Netflix streaming, by all means check this one out.
I also finished watching another great Terry Jones (Monty Python troupe) documentary series, Terry Jones' Barbarians (2006). Like his series about medieval lives and the Crusades, it is fascinating; Jones does a stellar job as a genial and witty presenter. Even better, having a scholarly bent of mind he writes these episodes himself! I do have one gripe, however: in one episode he classifies the Greek as being barbarians compared to the Romans. THE GREEKS WERE NOT BARBARIANS! Far from it. The Romans had an intellectual inferiority complex about the Greeks (as well they should). While the Romans conquered Greece, they sought out Greek slaves as tutors for elite Roman youth. In fact, the Greeks coined the term for the Persians, whom they considered uncouth barbarians. (The Persian language sounded like "bar-bar-bar" to the Greeks, hence, "barbarians.") I have written this before, but the ancient Greeks were astonishing. It's like the Lord God had leftover intellect that he didn't completely expend with other races, and simply dumped the excess onto Athens starting in about 350 B.C. Case in point, the Antikythera mechanism which Jones cites as being an example of how the Greeks utterly outclassed the Romans. Dated to about 100 B.C., it is nothing less than history's first retrieved clockwork device built a full 1,500 years before such mechanisms were built in Western Europe. While its use is debated to some extent, it is clear that it could have determined the positions of the known planets forwards and backwards in time. Scholars of ancient history had no idea the Greeks possessed such knowledge and mechanical skill.
I also enjoyed this series because it gave me a new slant on Alaric the Visigoth, whom I have always read (in the pro-Roman/Catholic church-derived histories) was an utter lout. (Is that him, leering at those women?) On the contrary, he led the foederati, Germans working as Roman mercenaries, in military campaigns to strengthen the Emperor, and, like the Romans, was a Christian. And Alaric's dreadful Sack of Rome in 410 A.D.? From wikipedia: "The contemporary ecclesiastics recorded with wonder many instances of the Visigoths' clemency: Christian churches saved from ravage; protection granted to vast multitudes both of pagans and Christians who took refuge therein; vessels of gold and silver which were found in a private dwelling, spared because they 'belonged to St. Peter'; at least one case in which a beautiful Roman matron appealed, not in vain, to the better feelings of the Gothic soldier who attempted her dishonor."
The photo above is an actor in Jones' series who portrayed Alaric. I like the sad, aggrieved look on his face, as if to say, "The history books have me all wrong!" (He also looks like a guy I used to work with at Lockheed.)
While I found this Criterion release interesting, I didn't like it. The main problem was that this movie really didn't have a storyline. Things happened to the boy in sequence, but this doesn't necessarily result in a plot with narrative sense. Some scenes were allowed to continue longer than they probably should have. Another problem is a fanciful sequence where a white mouse tied to a balloon lands on the moon; it was at odds with the tone of social realism in the rest of the movie. Finally, the title is odd: neither the protagonist nor his friends are ratcatchers. All in all, it was an overly artsy look at the poor, living in bleak circumstances. The same sort of thing was shown much more memorably via the slums of Mexico City in Luis Bunuel's 1950 masterpiece Los Olvidados, a personal favorite.
My award for the all-time most bleak poverty flick, however, is Pixote (pronounced pe-SHO-tay - 1981), which I saw a few years ago. It's the grim story of a young boy who enters into crime in the slums of Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo, Brazil. It's so depressing that it's almost unwatchable - yet compelling somehow. It also has chilling real-life credibility: its young star Fernando Ramos da Silva - pulled from the slums to star in the film (he returned there afterwards) - was killed at age 19 by the police. Three of his brothers were also killed in the inner cities.
Looking for cheerier fare I then turned to Crucible of Horror (1971), a British horror flick starring Michael Gough, an underrated actor who died last month. American audiences know him primarily as Alfred in the Batman films. A curiosity of this film was that it also starred Gough's son and daughter-in-law. The Netflix film summary is notable: "Sadistic banker Walter Eastwood routinely tortures and humiliates his wife and daughter. (No he doesn't, just the daughter.) One day the women decide they've finally had enough. But their conspiracy to kill Walter backfires when his corpse comes back from the grave (it is never placed in one), seeking revenge. (This totally gives away the plot surprise.)" It sucked. It was more of an inept murder mystery than a horror film. Inept? In one sequence, the daughter is shown filling a perfume bottle with acid - this is never used. No payoff. And there are other plot problems...
Hey, I got an e-mail from a Mrs. Susan Lucas. She wants me to manage her wealth on behalf of her daughter. I'll get a share of it. Really, do these e-mails really get any response? I've been getting them for years with every possible location and situation variation. Sheesh.
Meanwhile, back in Burbank, my pal Mike found another photo of the city's celebrated but now seemingly forgotten Pumpkin Building - scroll to bottom of article. I asked my father-in-law and another Burbank old-timer about the place, but neither remembers it, despite the fact that I know it was there when they lived in town. Geez, you'd think that a building in the shape of a giant orange pumpkin would be memorable!
Yesterday I learned that the place was once owned by Mae Williams, an extraordinary unlucky actress who was known as the "Almost Girl" because she kept getting hospitalized just when it appeared she was about to break through to the big time. Any Twin Peaks fans out there? Mae Williams portrayed the strange character Mrs. Tremond, who lived in a spooky place called the Black Lodge. (In retrospect, the giant pumpkin was preferable.) But her usual luck held: When it came for the Mrs. Tremond character to appear in the 1992 Twin Peaks feature film, the role was played by another actress. When Mike and I get to the Pumpkin Building part of our Burbank historical slideshow in July I think I'll highlight the unlucky aspects of the place...
Okay, this is odd. Remember how I was complaining about this blogger editor having a mind of its own and inserting linefeeds all over the place? It has completely stopped doing that and has gone back to the way it used to behave. Curious. Maybe my e-mail to the blogger forum resulted in some good...
What makes the Pompeii site interesting is that the lava flow, ash and pumice that hit the place in 79 AD buried it intact so that excavators can remove the debris and reconstruct how life was lived back then. What is especially fascinating are the molds of the corpses that were made by the ash - shots of these are also used in the BBC production. (I see that this production is sold on DVD with the equally good Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story - both are top notch, and for $8 on amazon.com this is a great value! I would think that anyone interested in Rome would love these...)
I also watched Mickey Rooney in a jailbreak movie from 1959, The Last Mile, a grim depiction of life on Death Row. I've always enjoyed watching the Mick act: in this, he straddles a very thin line between intense, effective acting and chewing up the scenery left and right. One foot in each style, I guess. Anyway, he (and others) go out in the proverbial Hail-O-Gunfire and so it had plenty of the DAME HUNGRY KILLER COP RUNS BERSERK element I always enjoy in film noir. I didn't know Rooney made so many... I think this is the fifth or sixth I've seen with him...
My 2007 VW just turned over 40,000 miles, and is therefore due for its next 10,000 mile preventative maintenance service. The dealership wants $870 for this, which sounds way too steep for me. So I think I shall change the spark plugs, the air filter and the cabin filter myself and check the front and rear brake pads while I'm at it. I don't do brake shoes anymore - it's a mess and a pain - but pads are easy, I can handle those. I'll bring it in to my trusty neighborhood mechanic for the Mobil One oil and filter change, tire rotation and change out of the brake fluid (weird, but it's called for in the maintenance schedule). The 2007 VW bug doesn't use a conventional spin off oil filter - it has some sort of weird throwback paper element that goes into a removable housing. The cynical part of my nature tells me that this is to discourage user involvement and drum up some business for the dealerships.
The tires won't last too much longer; when I need those I'll get them at COSTCO. And the battery is beginning to act like it's not long for this world, either. (I usually only get about four years with those.) But, in four years the Bug has been great. The only repair was an overactive hot engine light which was fixed on warranty and a red reflector which popped out of the door - also on warranty. I have had to repair nothing and replaced only headlight bulbs and oil and oil filters. So how come J.D. Power and Associates haven't asked me how I like my car?Our house company - my high school friend Bob and his family - are now touring around in the southern part of Virginia, near Jamestown/Williamsburg, etc. they return Thursday or Friday night. We may or may not have another day of D.C. tourism before they leave on Saturday. On Sunday after a visit to the National Cathedral, I made the tactical mistake of trying to find a place to park along Constitution Avenue during the last Cherry Blossom Festival day. I did, but we walked a lot. From the parking lot to the FDR monument to the Korean War monument and then to the Lincoln, the Vietnam, the World War II and then the Jefferson monument. That's a big loop for three middle aged adults and two teens to walk! When we got home we devoured the dinner my wife made, along with her chocolate chip cookies.
By the way, there's a new thing to see in D.C.: the 41,000 LED "Multiverse" light tunnel connecting the east and west buildings of the National Gallery of Art. I just stood there and watched the thing... in fact, I rode the walkway twice. It's fascinating and hypnotic.
While perusing the bookstore in the Washington Monument I came across a book with this bizarre cover art by a pair of artists named Komar and Melamid. It's entitled, "The Wings Will Grow." Weird! Komar and Melamid are a pair of Russian immigrants, so they bring an unusual aesthetic to historical art. Examples:
Being Russians raised during the Soviet period, and exposed to much of what was labeled "People's Art," Komar and Melamid set about to scientifically discover what a "most wanted" and "least wanted" people's art might look like, by country. So they took surveys. The survey results are here. Examples of what the people in the various countries were looking for are here. Does this actually reflect national preferences? I'm sure that's arguable.
It appears that yard sale season has finally begun. I went out with my friend Bob Avery and his teen aged son; we bought books. I found a good paperback by Groucho Marx - that ought to be interesting.
By the way, we Mormons believe that Adam did have a navel. Consider that, ye masses.
It's a book about, well, days - specifically the wonder of an individual day. How light waves are scattered to provide blue, red and orange skies, sunrises, midday, sunsets, dusk, the dead of night, etc. Sims is described as being a scientist who writes like a poet, so we shall see. I have only started the book. Rest assured, if there are any passages I come across that I think are exceptional I'll provide excerpts for you.
As you may or may not know, I am a federal employee - an engineer. My cheap legal counsel (my pal Bob at work - a paralegal) always advises me not to write about my workplace in this blog, so exactly where I work in the great federal monolith I'll keep to myself.
However, yesterday I did something that has been long overdue. I am a compulsive organizer, and since 1993, when I first hired on, I have kept all of my SF-50s (a personnel action form - whenever you get reassigned, or receive a raise or something like that you get one) and performance appraisal paperwork in binders. Which is fine... but reading the retirement articles on an e-mail newsletter for feds that I receive, I have taken the additional step of better organizing these into a chronological file. I am wary of the cases I have read where some hapless federal employee plans his retirement, files the paperwork for the expected date - and then finds out that due to a mistake in an SF-50 he received but didn't examine, he cannot retire when he wants. Horrors! So I'm not letting that happen to me. When my time comes (27 August 2022, age 66 years and 4 months) I'm high-tailing it out of Dodge, pronto.
Unless I die of a heart attack at my desk, of course.
By the way, did you know that statistically, most men who die of heart attacks at the office perish Monday between the hours of 8 AM and 11 AM? I read that somewhere. So, when my employer allowed me to telecommute from home one day a week, guess which day I selected? You won't get me, you grinning, scythe-wielding shade! Well... not at work on a Monday, anyway.
My other pal Bob, that is, Bob I, my high school chum, flew into the area with his family last night, and so I'll be playing the Washington D.C. tour guide. It'll be the usual thing: the Smithsonian (assuming the government doesn't shut down), the monuments, perhaps a battlefield. Fun! Not London fun, but fun.
Yard sales Saturday morning. Even company can't keep me from that. I may take Bob with me.
Have a great weekend!
I watched a first rate, five star Netflix streaming movie last night, Evil (2003), a Swedish film about bullying and hazing at an all-male boarding school. The title suggests a horror film, but it isn't that at all. In a way it's an update to Tom Brown's Schooldays - which also touched on the subject of bullying - but this is much more focused and intense.
It's based on a semi-autobiographical novel about the writer's experiences at a boarding school, with a message that evil must be confronted; an especially timely theme after 9/11. It stars Gustaf Skarsgard as a loathsome bully; he's the son of a favorite Swedish actor of mine, Stellan Skarsgard. So how is the Swedish film industry doing post Ingmar Bergman? Considering this work and Let The Right One In (2008), the highly unusual and original vampire film, very well, it seems.
Along the lines of the Russian film 9th Company which I watched earlier, I also watched a National Geographic special: Camp Leatherneck (2010), a look at how Marines are avoiding IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in Afghanistan. I would have written, "How Marines are fighting in Afghanistan," but it appears they're not doing that. They're staying alive, which is an entirely different thing. The mission, as explained by various Marines, is "Winning hearts and minds," which is, unnervingly, a Vietnam phrase, like "We have to destroy the village in order to save it."
Far be it from me to question our nation's greatest planning and military minds - the "best and brightest," to summon up another Vietnam phrase - but aren't Marines, arguably the most aggressive military force the republic has, best used to disrupt, destroy and disarm our enemies? After watching this production I had the distinct feeling that the Marine Corps was being misused as a police force, bidding Afghan drivers on IED-strewn roads to "Be safe." True, the Marines are doing a great job - I would expect no less of Marines - but this really isn't what the Corps is intended for.
When I worked at the National Security Agency (NSA), old-timers told me that Marine Corps personnel once provided security at the facility. The civilian workers felt really safe because the Marines, by and large, hated the duty and were just begging for a disruptive element or some kind of attack so they could unleash some latent hostility. Once, some careless civilian had failed to show the young Marine at the door his badge, and the Marine halted the escalator, causing the people on it to all lurch, and said in a loud tone of voice (startling all), "SIR, I DIDN'T SEE YOUR BADGE." When I was there and nowadays, security is provided by uniformed civilians who look, by and large, very unimpressive and who wouldn't dream of such an affront. I often wonder what chance any of them would stand with a baddie who initiated a determined foot race.
Regarding the Marine Corps and its misuse, I am certain that the all-time worst USMC ad campaign occurred, sadly, when I was on active duty. I suspect Marines from the highly unfortunate Carter Era don't talk about this much (mainly because they may have succeeded in forgetting it), but one day I walked out of the Camp Pendleton Base Telephone headquarters building and saw a big sign with a smiley face thereupon - characteristic of the Seventies. The smiley face was wearing a Drill Instructor's hat. Underneath was the slogan, "Have a Nice Day, America - Your United States Marine Corps is on Duty!" I was mortified.
It was such a bad idea that I cannot find an image of it doing a google search - and I am certain a poster of said art is not for sale at the USMC Gift Shop at the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico. It just doesn't have the appeal of other posters of the era.
The ending, however, is pure Hollywood: Soviet paratroopers stand up in the face of fire from oncoming Mujahideen, shout "Charge!" and run at them firing machine guns like Russian John Waynes. As is often the case with a war film that begins with boot camp and follows the careers of a small group of soldiers, one gets emotionally caught up with what happens to them. I won't give away the ending (for once), but in this flick it's not good. I will say that it appears that the Russian war film equivalent of the stereotypical G.I. from Brooklyn who almost always buys the farm, is, in this, a paratrooper from Tashkent. He survives thanks to a lucky medallion he inherited from a fellow Tashkenter.
I also saw a documentary, It Might Get Loud (2008) featuring Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White. Needless to say, it's about guitar playing. It was... okay. My take on it was that Jimmy Page either needs to cut his hair or dye it darker - his looks are beginning to suggest the Quaker Oats guy - "the Edge" seems like a ridiculously pompous thing to be known as (never been a U2 fan) and Jack White is a more interesting a guitarist than I initially gave him credit for. Parts of this production are geeky. At one point Jimmy goes into his full Led Zep guitarist stance with his Les Paul, purses his lips, nods his head and grinds out the chords to Whole Lotta Love, and The Edge and White stand there and grin stupidly. Whoa, man, rock history takin' place right here in front of us! Duuuddde!
I also saw an East German curiosity over the weekend, Murderers Among Us (1946), the first film made in Germany after World War II. Interesting that the East Germans got there first. A cinematic mea culpa, it concerns a doctor who takes solace in alcohol after suffering post traumatic stress syndrome for his involvement in a massacre of (probably Jewish, but it's not specially said) civilians. The love of pretty Hildegard Knef (shown above) redeems him. The exterior scenes of a bombed out Berlin are interesting. It appears that military flotsam and jetsam - helmets, buckles, bayonets, etc. - were left all over the streets after the war, something that would surely cause my WWII memorabilia collecting pal Mike envy and anguish.
My current reading matter is interesting: Past Imperfect - History According to the Movies, edited by Mark C. Carnes. It's arranged chronologically; I just got done with The Last of the Mohicans (1992). As you might expect, the guest historians who are reviewing the films are not at all respectful. The last sentence in the Mohicans review is, "The last I heard, the Mohicans were operating a casino in Connecticut." I was hoping they'd do Braveheart - an egregiously bad treatment of English and Scottish history - but they left that one alone. I'm looking forward to the section on Oliver Stone's JFK. Sadly, they overlooked Troy.
I'd be a lot more willing to forgive Hollywood its constant historical slights if the studios, producers and directors would simply state something along the lines of, "This is a movie, an entertainment, not a history book. We tried to impart some history in it, but the main artistic purpose here is to present a dramatic story and to make some money." That's understandable and honest. But no, whenever a film on a historical theme is presented, one always reads the press releases from the studios about the exacting research, help of historian advisers and reenactors, etc., performed in order to get it right. And then they present a film about how, say, Secretary of State Edwin Stanton arranged the Lincoln assassination, or show late Bronze Age Greeks wearing armor from 750 years later. They want it both ways.
My apologies once again for the seemingly random way that the blogger.com software inserts linefeeds in this text. It's maddening. I only want one linefeed between paragraphs. That's it. But the software keeps sticking in all sorts of weird HTML tags at random, which adds extra lines. I go through and remove them, then they get added in again. I've complained about it to blogger's "Help" forum, but so far no response. I just can't get this page to look the way I want it anymore. Grrrr.The week drags on. I have a Webelos Den meeting to organize tomorrow night and I don't know what it is we're going to do. What I'd like to do is buy a bunch of cookies and milk, throw a party and just have them draw stuff, but that isn't advancement with the activity pins. (Well, it could be, but we're not currently doing that particular activity pin.) Hey... we haven't ever shown a video that has some connection to an activity pin. Perhaps we'll do that. And have popcorn. Hmmmmm. That sounds fun and instructive. (Geez, I'm almost 55. Who knew that I would be spending mental processor time with keeping a group of ten year olds engaged and attentive?)
Tomorrow evening after Webelos I pick up my Burbank High friend Bob and his family from the airport; they're staying with us for a while to do some tourism. (Assuming that the government - and the Smithsonian - don't shut down, in which case we get creative.)
When I was in my senior year of high school (1973 - 1974), I used to meet with my pals Mike and Bob for lunch in the flatbed of Bob's '73 Mazda mini-truck parked just outside of school; these were some of my happiest memories of high school. We'd eat, chat and listen to music on Bob's stereo: Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren.
Bob's Madza was very stylish. It was a powder blue, and had a huge whip antenna on the back for the citizen's band radio. It also had a bullhorn concealed in the engine compartment connected to a P.A. system - Bob could issue announcements to other drivers, such as, "I heard that Hondas suck!" Bob also fitted intensely bright airplane landing lights as high beams; at night it lit up the world. The flatbed - our lunch area - was lined in astroturf, which I thought was novel and cool, and he always parked in the same place every day, on Delaware Rd. and Third St., just a half-block north of the intersection of those two roads. The Burbank High School tennis courts were across the street.
For years, for some reason, I thought that the house we parked in front of was the same one seen in Laverne and Shirley, and last night this came up in a cell phone conversation. Could I quickly prove or disprove this using the resources of the modern Internet?
The first stop was to wikipedia's Laverne and Shirley entry to see if there was a mention of the site used for shooting this location. While the specific location wasn't cited, there was this: "Setting: Burbank. For the sixth season in 1980, the current cast moved from Milwaukee to Burbank, California, with the catalyst behind the move as the girls losing their bottlecapping jobs to new automation installed at Shotz Brewery, and want to start fresh. Their friends and family are inspired by the idea and also pack up to move out west. Laverne and Shirley took jobs as gift-wrappers at Bardwell's Department Store..." Okay, so for at least part of its run, the show was supposed to take place in Burbank. This was encouraging.
The next step was to get an image of the Laverne and Shirley house as seen in the series. I had guessed that this was probably available via youtube, and indeed, it was. You can see the title characters walking out of the house in the opening sequence where they do that weird hopscotch chant, " "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!" A pause and a screenscrape of the youtube sequence provided what I needed.
Finally, I needed an image of the place where we used to park, and the house. Google Maps Street View to the rescue... (you can do a 180 and see the school).
Here's the result. Does it look like the same house to you? No, even allowing for some possible remodeling over the years, this is clearly not the same place. I can see how I got confused, however: that arched doorway. Myth busted!
Additional comment: Why would the show's producers move the show's location from Milwaukee to Burbank, of all places? Possibly because the show's creator Garry Marshall (brother of star Penny) lives in Burbank. In fact, he wrote a forward for the 2011 Centennial City of Burbank book, just now being published and distributed.
I ate some Grapples over the weekend. Weird. It's an apple with a grape taste, that is, grape notes. (It's not overwhelming.) It's externally flavored, that is, the taste is injected into the apple; it's not any sort of a hybrid. Eh. Kid stuff. I won't buy more.
Have you ever found yourself writing, on whatever topic you happened to be thinking about, and then wondered Why on earth am I writing about this? Something like that happened to me recently, while composing prose for this blog. Somehow or another I got onto the subject of Satan, and then thought, "Why am I blogging about Satan?" He is therefore decidedly not the subject of today's blog entry. As Mark Twain used to write, Unberufen! (His translation: Let the devil stay unsummoned.)
Actually... I like that word. I think I'll use it more often as I can see how it can be applied in my own life. For instance, some years ago I attended a workplace diversity fair. I stopped by the Islam table and picked up a small booklet entitled (I think), All About Islam. In it I found a section describing the conditions when it was acceptable for husbands to beat their wives, and how this was to be done. A little shoulder demon popped up in a puff of smoke and suggested that I highlight those passages, and leave a copy at the women's table - which at the time was being manned by what looked like a particularly fierce-looking lesbian. I didn't do this, however - unberufen!
Or there's the occasional e-mail I get by well-meaning political types who think I'm the former Democratic candidate for president, Gen. Wesley Clark. I suppose they think the name "wes clark" attached to a .gov e-mail domain can only be that Wes Clark. I always respond with a simple "Sorry - wrong Wes Clark," but each time that little demon again leaps onto my shoulder and suggests I respond with something along the lines of, "Thank you for writing me your e-mail of support! As you know, I have been a lifelong supporter of man-boy love and NAMBLA, so it's important that you stand with me to help build a fairer America." But no... unberufen!
Last week I mentioned the death's head, and how I didn't approve of its use on military uniforms, and cited the World War II era German forces. Quick as a bunny, my WWII military memorabilia collecting friend Mike pointed out that it was not Hitler's troops who originated the use of the death's head in German uniforms, and a quick search on Google proved that this is indeed the case. Look at this Royal Doofus, Kaiser Wilhelm, wearing the uniform of the totenkopfhusaren ("Death's Head Hussars"), a Prussian unit that fought Napoleon's troops. I'd feel utterly ridiculous wearing such a thing. And check out the Crown Prince. I'm sorry... wearing that hat knocks a good 20-30 points off your apparent I.Q. in my book. The British - who ought to know better - have a "Death or Glory" regiment - the 21st Lancers - which features a death's head on their crest. Oh, well. At least it's graphically distinctive, like a rebus.
I've also seen a skull and crossbones used for "Schoolhouse rugby," which is what the students who graduate from Rugby School wear. Looks childish.
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