Wednesday, April 16, 2014
[Editor's Note: We live in the butt end of nowhere, so we have to buy everything "mail order" as they used to call it. We have an Amazon Prime account. Prime gives you free two-day shipping, and allows you to watch a crummy selection of movies and TV for nada. We almost never use the TV function. Out of curiosity, I turned it on yesterday after a long interregnum, and under "Most Watched Movies," there was Flyboys. I guess I can safely ignore Amazon Prime movies for another three years.]
My son and I watched a movie last night. I hardly ever watch movies, so I thought I'd multi-task and review this one: Flyboys.
It features a guy that looks vaguely like that other guy that was The Joker in the Batman movie --no, not that Batman movie, the other one. No, not that the other one. The other, other one. Anyway, he died --no, not this guy, he didn't die, the other, other Joker guy died. At any rate, our hero was a jolly rancher for a while in Texas, but for some reason the Depression showed up early, like twenty years early, and he lost the farm and took to hanging around in a movie theater like Lee Harvey Oswald, until the sheriff comes in and tells him he better join the French air force or go to jail for punching Mr. Potter at the bank for foreclosing on his ranch.
So he goes to France to smoke Newports and fly Nieuports, and I suppose World War One isn't interesting enough, so the scriptwriter gives him a new best pilot friend, who he doesn't like much but is still his best friend, and the guy has a pet lion instead of a dog, and they are, like, pilots and guys and depressed together about stuff, because eighth-grade girls and movie producers think being self-absorbed makes you interesting.
Then someone decided the movie needed Jack Johnson, the boxer, in it, only his name is different, I think -- I don't know; I was too busy wondering if guys like the guy that looks vaguely like the actor that played the Joker would have highlights dyed into his hair in 1917 in the Lafayette Escadrille, so I didn't have time to get up to speed and wonder why this movie needed a poor man's Jack Johnson in the Lafayette Escadrille. I guess French people and guys that keep lions aren't exotic enough.
Anyway, the Jack Johnson-ish dude shoots a German dude right straight down in the top of his head using only an airplane and CGI, and that's hard, and thereby saves a rich, overweight dude with Daddy Warbucks issues who previously didn't care for the black dude because he's black and all, but now he does you betcha. So the fat guy buys the black guy a drink, only he doesn't buy it, he offers him some ritzy booze he stole from his father like Ferris Bueller would, and the fat guy says to Jack Johnson, my rich father is rich, how about yours? And even though the black guy is noble enough for five movies already if you ask me, the movie doubles down and makes his father a slave, even though it's 1917 and slavery was outlawed in 1865, and that seems like a long time between jobs if you ask me, but who's counting in this movie.
Then the Hindenburg was bombing the Eiffel Tower for some reason, and the guy with the lion gets all shot up and whatnot while defending the spire, and decides he's turning Japanese (I really think so) and becomes a kamikaze pilot and crashes into and blows up the Hindenburg. So instead of dropping bombs on Paris, the flaming Hindenburg falls on top of Paris full of flaming bombs, which doesn't really sound like an improvement if you're a Parisian, but that happens out of the frame so he's still a hero if you ask me.
Then yet another guy who is a brave guy acts like a coward a lot, because we all know brave guys are all cowardly in real life, and that guy hangs out a bit with still another guy, a guy that reads the Bible all the time, so you know he's a weirdo and not a regular person in 1917 in America. We all know everyone normal was reading Chomsky not the Bible back then no matter what Ted Nugent says.
Still another guy, who is wanted in Wisconsin for armed robbery with a toy pistol (to pay the bookie in The Sting, I think) lands his plane in the No-Mans Land between the trenches, which is hard to do indeed, but his hand is caught and he can't run away, which normally would seem easier than landing a plane in No-Man's Land. Just his hand is caught, mind you, nothing else, and he looks like OJ trying on a glove when he's trying to pull his hand out, not like a normal person would look under shelling and machine gun fire. So the brave guy -- not the guy with the lion, he's dead; and not the brave guy that's a coward all over the place -- so the brave guy with the highlights and the ranch near Dealey Plaza who doesn't have it anymore, manages to land his plane in No-Man's Land like it was a Home Depot parking lot and not No Man's Land, and he parks it next to the guy trying on OJ's glove, and immediately chops the guy's hand off with a shovel he borrows from a dead French dude who was lying around handy equipped with a shovel, even though the airplane wing is just made of canvas and a little pine. I guess it's just easier to chop the guy's hand off, don't ask me. So now this guy can only be a one-armed armed robber, not a regular armed robber, and he gets a hook instead of a hand, like in Peter Pan, and the hook improves his flying I guess, because he sucked before but thereafter he's swell at it.
Later the guy with the hook and the cowardly brave guy get together and save the regular brave guy, for a while, anyway -- at least until the regular brave guy can meet up with the villain, who is contractually required to be a German guy who sneers a lot and waves like a crossing guard while he kills all sorts of guys and leaves orphan lions all over the landscape willy-nilly like a really bad guy would. The brave guy would no doubt have triumphed over Snidely von Richtofen, but at the moment of truth his machine guns don't work because a bullet hits them and they bust open like a pinata and spill the wrong kind of bullets for that kind of gun all over the place like Jolly Ranchers, and then the brave guy...
No, not the brave guy with the lion; he's dead, I told you! I was referring to the guy with the highlights in his hair, who's now stepdad to a fatherless lion. Anyhoo, he's been stealing planes to go see a French woman from time to time, even though at first he thinks the French woman is a prostitute -- which I gather is normal for any American sizing up French women for the first time -- but she's just the cleaning lady at the cathouse (which strikes me as a much less desirable job than being a prostitute, but maybe that's just me) where the first guy that originally owned the lion liked to hang around and act like Vince Vaughn would at a French cathouse, but Vince isn't even in this movie, which is a shame because he couldn't have done any worse, really.
Anyway, the brave guy that steals airplanes goes to save this one French girl that isn't a prostitute, because she's hiding from the Germans in her attic quietly like Helen Keller...
... now they've got me doing it. Like Anne Frank, not Helen Keller. Anyway, at first he flies the stolen plane at night for a while, then he flies it at night with the motor turned off for another good long while, and then he lands it like a ninja next door to Anne Frank's house. The Germans don't notice, even though they're in her living room drinkin' wine spo-dee-o-dee; but after a while they decide to notice, and the dastards shoot Anne Frank in the shoulder. But just so you know, I'm swapping back to calling her Helen Keller right now because she gets a Mauser bullet through the chest and doesn't utter a peep, I shit you not.
Anyway, our hero with the frosted hair saves her and gets a medal for stealing the plane, which seems a bit odd, and later he steals a motorcycle instead of the plane for a change of pace, and he goes to another place all bombed out and full of Germans, which is a habitual thing with him at this point, and he finds her again and they decide to meet in Paris, but later -- or at least the part of Paris that survived having a flaming Hindenburg dropped on it -- because she's going to England with some kids that aren't his, or even hers, now that I think about it, and he can't go right away because he's got a lion to take care of.
Where was I? Oh, yes. The brave guy with the highlights and the second-hand lion is saved for a while by the cowardly lion and Captain Hook...
(Dammit, I mean the cowardly brave guy, not the cowardly lion; the lion seems legit, if strung out on barbiturates a little bit; and I don't think Captain Hook is a captain, really, prolly just a corporal or a lieutenant or something, or whatever the French word for lieutenant is, I don't know)
.. but the brave guy gets all shot up by the Red Baron, who inexplicably seems to be the only German not flying a red Fokker triplane in this movie, but that's got to be him, as he's so evil. But anywho, this German guy shoots more bullets into our hero than a carnival attraction with ducks for some reason, and then stops shooting him for some other reason, shits and giggles I expect, and then Rolf or Heinz or Manfred or whatever his name is just pulls up next to our beauty parlor hero like a guy at a red light in American Graffiti, just to wave and smirk. Then the shot-up brave guy -- the guy with the used lion and the only French girl that's more interested in housecleaning than prostitution -- why, he pulls out a revolver of all things and shoots that German Snidely Whiplash right through the eye, which is pretty good shooting indeed, considering he's all shot to pieces and flying a biplane that's all shot to pieces that was made by French people in the first place.
Then the producers evidently ran out of money or unexposed film or something, and they hastily explained over the closing credits that the Jack Johnson guy gets a job at the Post Office, and the rancher with the highlights never meets the girl in Paris, but he gets his ranch in Texas back, only it's another ranch, not the one I told you about already, but the new one is way better so never fear.
I guess it's not his fault the stupid French chick, the one that's not a prostitute, didn't know he meant Paris, Texas.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Marvin Gaye's greatest work, I think. He's playing all sorts of instruments on it, too.
Trouble Man was one of those mostly forgettable black private eye movies popular in the seventies, like Superfly and Shaft, both of which yielded big hits on the AM radio charts. Trouble Man's music really was a step above the others, though. The words to Shaft have become perennial fodder for parodies, easy pickins because of their comic book toughness; Superfly by Curtis Mayfield, along with Freddie's Dead, had way more grit. But Trouble Man's orchestral musical framework immediately shouts: serious business, and when Marvin Gaye opens up with, "I come up hard, babe", it sounds heavier, more like real life.
Trouble Man was directed by an interesting fellow named Ivan Dixon. If you're of a certain age, you might remember him instantly as "Kinch" on Hogan's Heroes. He's one of those fellows you see from time to time in Hollywood -- he worked. His IMDB for acting has fifty credits, the usual fare for someone that's gotten past just standing around, but not a leading man by any stretch. He was even once a stunt double for Sidney Poitier. He had an almost equal amount of directing entries, some movies, mostly TV, lots of familiar titles like Magnum, PI, The Waltons Room 222, and The Rockford Files. I remember one of his roles, in Car Wash, fondly. The movie wasn't good, exactly; but it encapsulated the era pretty well. I imagine archaeologists will someday find a video of Car Wash, and attempt to discover the engineering secrets behind Franklyn Ajaye's righteous fro.
Friday, April 11, 2014
[Editor's Note: Originally offered in 2009. Still seems fairly trenchant, I'd say, if I knew what trenchant meant]
Why did the nascent United States produce so many great thinkers? Where are they now?
Great thinkers come to the fore when they are required. The founding of any great enterprise requires inspiration coupled to intellect. If the intellect is wanting, the inspiration is usually enough, but makes it harder to carry out the fruits of your inspiration except by dogged determination. Intellect alone is not useless -- it's worse than useless. On a good day it's counterproductive; the other 364 days it's destructive. You cannot come up with a worthwhile concept based solely on intellect. It qualifies you only to be a clerk or a sophist. Clerking is hard work, so everybody goes full sophist right away.
Now the world is run by sophists. They think that because they read a few books about people who were great that they are great in their turn. There are two problems with this surmise. One, the people they think were great probably weren't. Secondly, most people are incapable of much more than misremembering and misunderstanding the twaddle they read anyway, because education isn't very rigorous anymore. If you think the world's business is decided by simply choosing wisely between John Galt and Noam Chomsky, I don't know what to say to you. Mozart is never going to show up on American Idol.
I'll answer the question I posed in the opening myself. The reason Hamilton and Madison et. al. sat at the same table once is that it was required just then. There was an enormous market for ideas in the rough, right away. A few years later, the time for thinking like that was over. Old Muttonhead rightly sat at the head of the table and told Jefferson and Hamilton to put a sock in it, and see if they could manage to keep the spittoons emptied in their assigned offices before they got any more bright ideas. We could use some of the Old Muttonhead approach right now.
I read the news in the most desultory fashion because it's so useless to read twaddle filtered through incoherence and basted with a faction reduction. I hear, literally, gibberish. There is no such thing as a "toxic asset," for instance. An asset is pass/fail. It either is, or it's not. A banker prone to adjectives isn't much of a banker. There's that sophistry again. To hear a person with their hand on the levers of vital things utter such bosh indicates to me that the people that formerly put stupid back-seat-driver bright ideas in the suggestion box at their crummy jobs thrice daily are in charge of important things now.
Smart managers know the suggestion box is 99.9% for humoring cranks. The Internet is the world's suggestion box now, with much the same role.
What possible good could it do to read a paper that refers to a capital injection into the money supply and a transfer payment to non-productive sectors referred to interchangeably as "a bailout." It used to be only the journalist that was that ignorant. When the people the journalists are interviewing start talking like that, why listen at all?
My father was a banker. He told me the old saw about the only rule in the bank is the "3-6-3 Rule." Borrow at 3%, lend at 6%, and play golf at three.
It was a joke and pop never played golf and he never left at three and people were always coming in to the bank to rob it and shoot the guard. You see, you don't understand the joke. You think it means that bankers were effete and lazy and thick-headed. It really meant that the wisest of them knew that after you borrowed (judiciously) at 3% and lent (wisely) at 6% there was nothing left to do. If you kept coming up with bright ideas after that, it was all bad, brother.
Everybody's been working overtime in banking and government coming up with new and bright ideas to torture the language and the arithmetic so they could pat themselves on the back about how much smarter they are than everybody else. Can I have my bonus billion now? I'm going to invest it with Bernie Madoff because I'm so smahhht.
You're not captains of industry. You're not visionaries. You're not statesmen. You're supposed to be clerks. I'm sorry, but clerks don't get paid all that much -- and never get a piece of the action. They don't get statues in the park in their honor. I can read well enough to know that real clerks, honorable, hardworking clerks, are going to be taxed into the hereafter, never mind the foreseeable future, to make sure the fake clerks with delusions of grandeur don't have to go back to the real world they fled.
It's an honorable profession, being a clerk. I spend part of my day being one. You intellectual swells should try dabbling in it. To paraphrase Randle Patrick McMurphy: Sell big ideas someplace else; we're all stocked up here.
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
Monday, April 07, 2014
My two sons, AKA Unorganized Hancock, are back with fresh material. It's bossa.
Bossa is one of those words that doesn't translate well. It's Portuguese, via Brazil, and means something's done with panache, or in a stylish, effortless way. The hippie word "cool" isn't a bad approximate. If you look up Bossa Nova, it's generally translated as "new wave," but that hardly does justice to the expression.
Bossa Nova was definitely a new, cool thing right around the Eisenhower/Kennedy divide. Back when I still played music, we referred to this song, cheekishly, as "The Girl From Iwo Jima." I had a whole set of bent lyrics for it that I could place right here and ruin the song for you forevermore, but I won't. No matter how trite the song got to be, you always new it was trite because it was wonderful and universal. It still matters. It might be the second-most popular song recorded in my lifetime.
Well, after Unorganized Hancock performed it, it became the first-most popular song at our house. Hope it is at your house, too.
Sunday, April 06, 2014
The road meanders from noplace special to nowhere anyone wants to go. The semis rattle by going both directions filled with the boles of trees, showing their butt ends to the only place they've ever known, going somewhere else to be useful. Like all the children born here do, as soon as they're big enough.
The car's a bit worn now, and a muddy chuckhole reaches out for the tire as we bound into the hardpan lot, pitching and yawing like astronauts on the way home. His grandfather would have called it a chuckhole, anyway. His grandfather, the man with the twinkle in his eye and a laugh on his lips and the same name on his certificate of birth. He winked out like a star in a distant galaxy last year, but the light from it is still reaching us here. It's in the back seat, bright; and driving, too -- a little faded.
The words aren't up to the task anymore. People grope for the name to call it. Antiques? A flea market? Junk or junque. It's stuff for sale that no one wants so it costs a little money. If anyone would want it, it would be by the side of the road with a "Free" sign on it. But then, commerce is not arithmetic.
I know too many things and examine everything like a doctor looking at the third person in a row with a cold in the last ten minutes of office hours. He knows nothing so everything is wonderful.
You can never tell with him. He never uttered a sound until he was four. Just looked at you with eyes like saucers half-filled with motor oil and you wondered if he was sent to make you nervous forevermore. Then he never stopped talking until his eyes banged shut each evening in a bed laden with bears and talking sponges. To bring him anywhere is to bring Ken Coleman along to murmur about the mundane in a continuous stream, and pass the time contented.
What would it be this time, you wonder. A broken Happy Meal toy or a dented sousaphone or a three-and-a-half legged-table covered with lead paint? He ranged around the tent like a bedouin holding up a caravan mid-desert and pawing around for some honorable plunder. Then he disappeared.
We found him there, sitting alone and tapping away. No paper. A Royal Standard Ten with beveled glass windows on the sides. He wouldn't go anywhere else. He wouldn't look at anything else. Tap tap tap ding.
"I'm going to find the man and make him a bargain."
It was twenty bucks we didn't have. It was twenty bucks that wouldn't show up on our plates. It was twenty bucks I would have sold a quart of blood to get for that boy. All the way home, he sat in the back and craned his neck to look at it on the floor behind the seat. Some things are worth more than money.
"This is the machine you write books with, dad."
Yes, my boy. The machine comes with the stories in it. You just have to let them out. They put the windows in so you can see them before you try them out.
Friday, April 04, 2014
I remember the dark days before Nuvi.
Being lost in a car was a fairly regular occurrence for me. I built and repaired things out in the landscape, and I had to find my way to them first. More often than not, I was supposed to meet a homeowner or some other interested person at these prospective jobs at an appointed hour, so time was of the essence. In my experience, a person that can direct you to their location with any sort of accuracy is a very rare person indeed. Most people simply say things like, "Do you know where the... "
Listen, if I knew the local landmarks, I wouldn't need directions. People rely on what's familiar to them by and large, and what's familiar to them encompasses a very short list. Precision in directions is almost unheard of. But I eventually accumulated a substantial supply of gigantic streetmap books in my car, took the "take a left at the rock that looks like a bear" directions with a grain of salt, and carried on, until Nuvi saved me entirely with her curt, clipped directions. She even reads street signs at night for me.
I noticed something about my behavior, and the behavior of many other people, when I got lost. You speed up. The lost-er you get, the faster you go, and the more frantic you become. There is almost no better time to slow down and think things through than when you're lost, but people don't do it. People behave just the opposite, almost to a man. It's the same reason an inveterate gambler lays his last, borrowed dollar on the green baize. He's trying to win back everything he ever lost, all at once, all the time.
If anyone is in the car with you when you're lost, they will get an avalanche of fury directed at them if they find the temerity to mention that they told you to go left a mile back, but you didn't listen. They'll get the same treatment if they say absolutely nothing, because their silence is an accusation, after all. There is no way to be in a car with a person that is lost and like it.
People's judgment gets compromised fast when they're lost. They back up on superhighways when they miss an exit. They take left turns from the far right lane. They tailgate. They drive without looking out of the windshield. They cut through gas stations on streetcorners if the light is red. If they are involved in any sort of fender bender as a result of their situation, there could very well be bloodshed one way or the other by the side of the road. Frantic and angry and late is no way to go through life, son.
But that's exactly how the general public acts about everything all the time now. They're lost. Almost everyone is traveling to a location they cannot name, but they seem hell bent to get to. Every milepost, sign, and touchstone that formerly directed their travel through life has been defaced or destroyed by vandals. They have map books that consist solely of dead ends on other planets. They started off edgy but by now they're entirely unglued. They will turn on anyone that comes into their line of sight; even a Good Samaritan better watch out, as no amount of help is ever enough to turn back a clock. Anything resembling advice is seen as vilification, and even the mildest sort of criticism is an imperative to immediately drop the gloves. Everybody is stretched to their absolute limit, and further, and in every which way -- mortgaged and indebted into the hereafter, but still somehow with an enormous budget for dissolution and sloth; overworked and still somehow lazy; fifteen minutes late for being a dollar short; angry, sullen, wound up tight and drugged insensate at the same time. The laziest person in the country is very, very busy being lazy. I see people that look like hobos walking by the side of the road, texting furiously while they walk, as if they were a captain of industry who needs to keep in constant touch with lots of important persons over serious affairs. There's no rest for the wicked, and everyone's wicked.
If you interrupt, in any way, anyone's frantic attempt to get nowhere for no particular reason in order that they might achieve an equanimity they'd reject as boredom, and by doing so become conspicuous in their mind at the wrong time, which is all the time, you can expect the full fury of their frustrations will immediately be heaped upon you -- some real, most imagined, overlaid with the dull image of violence and degradation that is their daily entertainment, and cozened to the top of their to-do list by the buzzing saw of the cocktail of drugs, illegal and prescribed, that they take to keep going, faster and faster, and basted in the inchoate fear that they're missing out on something.