I took it into my head to see Dunkirk in a movie theater on the opening weekend. I don’t think I have done since the early nineties (when we returned from Spain, where movies showed at the base theater six months to a year after premiering.) The last time I saw a movie in an actual theater, instead of at home on DVD or on streaming video was – if memory serves – The Kings’ Speech, in 2010, or it may have been The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 2013. We saw the latter in an Alamo Drafthouse cinema, notable for being set up in a civilized manner to serve tasty adult beverages before and during the showing, as well as equally tasty entrees. They also have a positively Soup-Naziesque attitude about talking, texting, ringing cellphones and children disturbing the movie experience – an attitude of which I regretfully approve. One toot on yer flute, or on your cellie, and you’re oot, as the saying about the woman in the Scottish cinema with a hearing horn used to go. Adding to the charm of the experience – you can book a ticket for a specific seat and showing through their website, and pay for it online in advance. Print out your ticket on your home printer, waltz into the theater at the appointed time – and yes, this is one thing I do like about the 21st century.
Back to the movie. The necessary trailers for upcoming releases reminded me powerfully about why I have not been to a movie theater for a movie since 2010 or 2013, especially a trailer for a superhero concoction called The Justice League. No, sorry; so much my not-cuppa-tea that I wouldn’t more two feet off a rock ledge to watch it, or anything else there was a trailer for. Fortunately, the pre-feature features were few and relatively brief.
Then to the main feature, which began very quietly, with a half-dozen British squaddies wandering down a narrow street on the outskirts of Dunkirk, under a fluttering of German propaganda leaflets … which set the situation as it exists, and supplies one of the young soldiers, appropriately named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), with a supply of toilet paper. Tommy is a luckless lower-ranks Candide, foiled numerous times in his efforts to get away from Dunkirk, the first of three different yet congruent stories told by the director, Christopher Nolan. Some viewers may have difficulty in following them, as they weave and intersect with each other. I did not – although how daylight and tide conditions changed abruptly from shot to shot and episode to episode in the narrative may baffle some viewers. Tommy’s soggy epic journey (he damn near gets drowned three times by my account) alternates with two other narratives: an account of the civilian boat-owning volunteers – epitomized by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his younger son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s school chum, George (Barry Keoghan). The Admiralty, under emergency orders, has begun requisitioning civilian boats for service shifting English and French troops off the beaches held in a pocket between Dunkirk and Bray Dunes.
This is historically accurate – the main harbor of Dunkirk was composed of an inner and an outer harbor. The inner was essentially unusable through German bombing by the time of the evacuation. The outer – a long sheltering mole-and-walkway – was difficult to moor large sea-going ships against, and hideously vulnerable to German bombing and strafing attacks, both to the ships and the ranks of soldiers drawn up to board them. Mr. Dawson’s substantial motor-sail yacht is one of those requisitioned to serve – because of their relatively shallow-draft – in taking troops directly off the beach to the larger ships at anchor in deeper water. (This character and account is clearly based on the experience of Charles Lightoller.) Mr. Dawson doesn’t want to turn his yacht over to the Navy and he heads out of the English harbor, (after ditching all the civilian accoutrements and taking on a load of life-preservers) with a crew composed of a pair of teenaged schoolboys.
The third element, after land and sea, is in the air; a pair of RAF Spitfire pilots, Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farner (Tom Hardy). They start on their mission to provide air cover to the evacuation, lose their flight leader even before they even get mid-way – and thereafter Farner, with a busted fuel-gage on his fighter-plane (which was top of the line in 1940) is on a tense countdown. Make his goal, achieve his mission of providing air cover for the evacuation before he runs out of fuel…
The countdown is one of the elements which makes this movie consistently suspenseful: the countdown of Farner’s fuel tanks, the countdown of Tommy’s ability to hold his breath, the arrival of the ‘little ships’ in time to do any good, the ability of Mr. Dawson’s crew to haul drowning soldiers out of the water before the oil from a sinking ship cooks off. This is punched up in the soundtrack, which is not so much music but the effect of a clock ticking, occasionally broken by a terrifying silence which means that the German dive bombers are about to attack. The soundtrack is mostly sound design, with very little music as we usually hear it. The only conventional and hummable bits are a version of ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations in about the last five minutes. The acting is likewise impeccable from the cast, especially Tom Hardy, who as Farner, had the challenge of spending most of the movie with his face covered by his oxygen mask and goggles.
Those are the laudable elements – now the severely critical comments based on the various books on Operation Dynamo. This is one of the historical events that I was obsessively interested in as a teenager. The movie vision of the smoke column on the horizon is lame. From all reports and photographic evidence – it was huge. Really huge – as could be seen from across the channel, covering a good quarter to half the horizon as one got closer to the French side. The crowds on the beaches were also much more substantial, if the historical record is any guide. The long tracking shot in Atonement gives, I think, something more of an idea of how chaotic, crowded, and desperate the situation in the Dunkirk-Bray Dunes pocket must have been. I was also thrown out of the story a couple of times by how many times the ‘stuck under a barrier and drowning’ trope was brought out and inflicted on key characters. Really, do this no more than once per character a movie. A lovely shot of all the ‘little boats’ coming to the rescue; they all looked so pristine. It was a fantastic touch to use some of the real surviving Dunkirk ‘little boats’, but only a few were shown, out of 250 or so known to have participated. As a matter of fact, many were towed across the Channel to the evacuation zone, most of them crewed by Naval reservists (as was shown in the initial scene with Mr. Dawson’s boat), and they bustled back and forth from the shallows, ferrying troops out to the deeper-draft ships standing off-shore, rather than make the cross-channel journey independently and loaded with troops. (The largest portion of troops rescued from Dunkirk were transported to safety on destroyers – not on the ‘little boats’.) The bit about the British Army engineers kluging up a pier by driving trucks into the sea at low-tide to create a makeshift pier to load from at high-tide – that did happen. I do wish that the incident of one particular ship-captain deliberately grounding his own ship to serve as a temporary pier and floating it off again at high-tide had been included – but that act of desperate improvisation was one of many.
On the whole, Dunkirk is well worth the time and cost to see in a theater, especially this summer. Regarding the previews of coming attractions, though, it looks like it will be another four or six years before I bother going to the theater to watch another one.

Atonement – Beach at Dunkirk (2007) from Wagner Brenner on Vimeo.

Here we are, a couple of days past the middle of the year, and almost eight months after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency … and I swear that the lunacy has not died down in the slightest, but is now ratcheted up to eleven, or even twelve. (Gratuitous Spinal Tap reference.) The classical five stages of grief are supposed to be denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but it’s clear at this point that the Hillary and Bernie partisans are stuck fast at the ‘anger’ stage – and appear to be egging each other into higher, farther, deeper and more intense demonstrations of denial and anger. It’s almost … well, operatic. Like a spectacular ten-car pile-up on the interstate, one can’t even look away from the spectacle – especially the spectacle of establishment news media personalities and institutions losing their freaking minds over Donald Trump.

The reason for this insensate anger is another source of bewilderment for me. I mean – I thought he was one of them, a big-city, big-money and flamboyant-with-it guy, pretty much a moderate Democrat, sort of liberal socially, someone that establishment media figures in New York had palled around socially with for decades. Is it because he is an apostate in their eyes now? Or were they so invested in Hillary, so convinced that she had it in the bag, and that CNNMSNBCBS would carry her over the finish-line, and when it turned out that they couldn’t – this is the tantrum of a very sore loser? Is the media hatred caused frustration over having lost, by excessive and undeniable partisanship, all authoritative credibility with the flyover-country citizens? All that old black political magic that used to work so well – favorable press, celeb endorsements, polling, media appearances, a constant stream of paid political ads, huuge spending – couldn’t get Hillary into the White House, or budge the needle in a Democrat-friendly direction since. I don’t even want to get into the flat-out hatred boiling over on social media and in comment threads in various places, the hatred of liberals for conservatives of just about any stripe.

Is it as a commenter at Samizdata suggested, when one of the regulars there linked to a recent Sarah Hoyt post?

I have often considered that there are a lot more people who have degrees of mental illness out there than we generally realise. Most of the time they can function relatively OK, if surrounded by good people who try and keep them on the path of sanity, however if they are steered in the wrong direction … their inherent bias towards fantasy thinking will mean they go down the wormhole when a more sane person who stop and think ‘Hang on a minute here!’ I think the reason we are seeing more of the misdirection now is the internet – its all there on everyone’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, and 100% accessible to all, whereas in the past such people would probably never have been exposed to such twisted thinking. Now they are, and they lack the critical faculties to determine what is true and what is false.

Discuss, if you can bear it.

Just when I start to think that the fans of Hillary Clinton and her minions in the national establishment are calming the heck down, after the unexpected shellacking at the polls by Donald Trump of Her Inevitableness, the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua … nope, the insane is being cranked up to twelve – that is two more above ten. (Obligatory Spinal Tap reference there.) And the inmates of certain college campi are running the insanity all the way up to thirteen or fourteen, as witness the furious activists at Evergreen University, in Olympia, Washington State. They are bent out of shape over the usual crap that student activists are usually bent out of shape over – but in this case, the frosting on the cake is a video of a raucous demonstration by student activists making their demands, and generally acting like spoiled three-year-olds throwing a screaming tantrum. The video is linked here -And the students take? “We demand that the video created for Day of Absence and Day of Presence that was stolen by white supremacists and edited to expose and ridicule the students and staff be taken down by the administration by this Friday.” Sorry, kids – the internet is forever. Don’t want to be ridiculed by strangers who don’t give a damn for your sensitive little egos? Don’t do ridiculous things.

Ridiculous things like … oh, I don’t know – pose for an elaborate video shoot with a blood-soaked fake head of Donald Trump, especially if you are a pathetically unfunny failed comedian like Kathy Griffin. In whom, like the Kardashians, I am fabulously disinterested but such is theirs and Kathy Griffin’s unseemly lust for public attention that I can’t help knowing about them anyway, much as I would wish otherwise. At this point, it looks like this tasteless stunt as cost Ms Griffin a gig with CNN on New Years Eve – story here. I imagine that the suits at CNN are counting up the numbers and calculating how many more viewers they can lose if they really put their backs into it.

And speaking of media figures taking their lumps – last week we had the interesting spectacle of one Greg Gianforte, running for a congressional seat in Montana, charged with roughing up a reporter for England’s Guardian newspaper. Gianforte won the contest anyway, leading observers like myself to wonder if he did any damage to his campaign at all. After all – who hasn’t wanted to slap the cr*p out of a rude and obstreperous reporter now and again? This could get very popular, if incorporated onto White House press briefings. Sean Spicer could draw a name from a hat at the start of every briefing, and punch out the selected reporter. We could call it “Beat the Press.”

And finally – the latest to surface in the cacophony of crazy is the demand by a group calling themselves “Texas Antifa” to remove a prominent statue of Sam Houston from Houston’s Herman Park, on the grounds that Houston was a slave owner. Doubtless, Texas Antifa is trying to hop aboard the movement to banish statues of Confederate leaders and soldiers from public spaces across the old South and garner some of that sweet, creamy media attention … either that, or someone – either on the right or left – is doing an epic troll. While Sam Houston did own slaves (about a dozen, some of whom were purchased so as to keep a family together, or so sayeth one of the biographies I have read) he was emphatically against the expansion of slavery to the Western territories, against secession from the United States and resigned his office as governor rather than take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. In any case, Texas Antifa has called for a rally on June 10th. At the very least, this event may draw more supporters of keeping the statue where it has been since 1925. I’m no particular judge of prog-speak: Texas Antifa’s Book of Face page is here. Read for yourself and decide – for realsies lefty, stark raving nuts, or clever parody?
Discuss, if you can bear it.

With some apologies because this is not a matter which particularly touches me, or the books that I write, I am moved to write about this imbroglio one more time, because it seems that it didn’t end with the official Hugo awards slate of nominees being finalized – with many good and well-written published works by a diverse range of authors being put forward. The Hugo nominations appear for quite a good few years to have been dominated by one particular publisher, Tor. And it seems that the higher levels of management at Tor did not take a diminishment of their power over the Hugo nominees at all gracefully. (This post at my book blog explains the ruckus with links, for those who may be in the dark.)

A Ms. Irene Gallo, who apparently billed as a creative director at Tor, replied thusly on her Facebook page, when asked about what the Sad Puppies were: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

Oh, yes – outraged science fiction fans had had fun with this resulting thread.
And who can blame them? Four sentences which manage to be packed full of misrepresentation and a couple of outright lies; the voicing of similar calumnies had to be walked back by no less than
Entertainment Weekly when the whole Sad Puppies thing first reached a frothing boil earlier this year. Now we see a manager of some note at Tor rubbishing a couple of their own authors, and a good stretch of the reading public and a number of book bloggers … which I confidently predict will not turn out well. I have not exhaustively researched the whole matter, but tracked it through According to Hoyt and the Mad Genius Club, where there are occasional comments about anti-Sad/Rabid Puppy vitriol flung about in various fora. I would have opined that Ms. Gallo’s pronouncement probably isn’t worst of them, but it seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, coming as it does from an employee very high up in Tor management. People of a mild-to-seriously conservative or libertarian bent, are just sick and tired of being venomously painted as – in Ms. Gallo’s words – “right-wing to neo-nazi” and as “unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic,” when they are anything but that.

Discuss.

(Cross-posted at my book blog, and at chicagoboyz.net)

27. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Fun and Games, That's Entertainment!

So, the wailing, the sobbing, the gnashing of teeth from the so-called intellectual and cultural elite over the runaway box-office success of American Sniper is pure music to my ears … all the more so since I started calling for this kind of movie to be made … oh, in the early days of the Brief, back when it was still called Sgt. Stryker. It didn’t take the WWII-era studios to get cracking and crank out all kinds of inspirational military flicks within a year of Pearl Harbor, the disaster in the Philippines and the fall of Wake Island. Of course, those were full-service movie studios, accustomed to cranking out movie-theater fodder on an assembly-line basis. There was, IIRC one attempted TV series, set in an Army unit in Iraq, which was basically recycled Vietnam War-era military memes, and died after a couple of episodes, drowned in a sea of derision from more recent veterans, especially after an episode which featured an enlisted soldier smoking dope. On deployment. In a combat zone. The producers of the show had obviously never heard of Operation Golden Flow. Or maybe they had, and assumed it was something porn-ish.

We did get at least a cute and military-knowledgeable TV comedy series out of the last ten years of the military experience – Enlisted – which barely lasted a single season. And then there were a whole long series of well-meaning movie flops, out of which only Hurt Locker seemed to come within a country mile of realistically dealing with the military experience in this last decade. And so now we have Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which is packing them in at the mega-plexes and sending entertainment figures like Michael “Jabba-the-Hutt” Moore and Seth Rogan into epic fits of pearl-clutching, and inspiring dark warning of everything from Nazi-style propaganda to a possible anti-Muslim backlash. Said backlash, by the way, is rather like the Loch Ness monster, or the chupacabra; there are people absolutely convinced that it exists, but only rare and usually blurrily-photographed sightings provide any evidence at all.

One might think that the success of American Sniper, in contrast with previous mainstream movie offerings might effect some kind of turnabout when it comes to making movies about the military experience in the last ten years. One should not count on it. Michael Medved pointed out decades ago, in Hollywood VS America, that most major players in the movie business were too much invested in making movies that were artistic, and ‘risky’ and ‘stuck it to the establishment’ (whatever establishment suited, presumably those that it would be safe for Hollywood to stick it to). Rather than make movies that were broadly appealing, refrained from excessively epatering the poor old bourgeoisie, and upheld our common values – and which would make a mint at the box office – they would prefer the accolades of critics and peers.

My own crystal ball likely could use a re-calibration, but from where I sit – at home and preferring to watch movies through streaming video on a modest flat-screen TV – it looks like mainstream Hollywood prefers to make movies for each other, rather than the rest of us. Discuss.

obama-drone-paltrow-sabo(You know, I thought I might loosen up before a weekend of book-stuff by taking aim at Gwyneth Paltrow, a legacy movie actress who I have always suspected to be close to a total blithering moron in real life, but now know it for sure, in addition to being one of B. Obama’s the most appalling sycophants. Gwynnie, sweetie, I suspect that your acting career – at least in enormously popular blockbuster movies – is now at and end. I’d have done a right proper Sgt. Mom rant, but commenter Drumwaster at Protein Wisdom beat me to the punch with this blast of ranty goodness.)

Gwyneth? Gwynnie, hun? I know you aren’t ever going to read this, because it is neither a script with a multi-million dollar-paycheck made out to you (and your agent), nor a fan magazine story kissing your cellulite-laden heiney, but maybe someone who cares about you will read it to you…

Pay attention, now.

SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOU HYPOCRITICAL BINT. You are an example of everything that is wrong with Hollywood and none of which is right with this country. You are the spoiled brat scion of worthless parents who brought you up to believe that Fame – Wisdom, and have surrounded yourself with people who believe the same thing. That is no way to go through life, dearie.

Your Dear Leader had two years of damned near veto-proof majorities in both Houses, and the only thing he managed to get passed were trillion-dollar deficits and the ruination of the Health INSURANCE industry, while doing absolutely nothing at fixing the problems with the Health CARE industry. Not to mention the elimination of any kind of real credibility the US might have once had before he took office, any kind of Full Faith and Credit the American citiznes might have once had with their government, what with abusing the IRS to punish “his enemies” (who were also American citizens, remember), the NSA to spy on the rest of you, gutting what protections the Constitutional Amendments may have once offered (such as the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Fourteenth, et alia), selling guns to the drug gangs south of the border, refusing to admit there actually IS a southern border, abandoning our allies, encouraging our enemies, and demolishing what little value the currency has left.

He may be “so handsome”, but he is as worthless as you are, with the added fact that he can’t even deliver a valid speech without a teleprompter, while you have the (not-at-all-rare) ability to memorize words written by people better and smarter than you. So if you really want to make the world a better place, take the money you would have given him, add in all the money you get from selling all those fancy clothes, expensive cars and that craptacular box you live in, and donate it to the nearest actual charity. If you need a place to live at that point, go rent an apartment and live paycheck to paycheck like all of the people you say have it easier than you do with those “14 hour days” you work. (ProTip: You wanna know what the rest of us call a “14 hour day”? Normality, but without the chance to get a do-over when a mistake is made.)

18. September 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: That's Entertainment!, The Funny

On the prospect of an independent Scotland – from the Corries

Enjoy! I post ‘em as I find ‘em!

As a matter of interest as an independent author, with some affection for science fiction … (principally Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, and once upon a time for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, both of which explored in an interesting and readable way, a whole range of civilizational conceits and technologies with a bearing on what they produced vis-a-viz political organizations, man-woman relations, and alternate societies of the possible future … oh, where was I? Complicated parenthetical sentence again; science fiction. Right-ho, Jeeves – back on track.) … I have been following the current SFWA-bruhaha with the fascinated interest of someone squeezing past a spectacular multi-car pile-upon the Interstate. Not so much – how did this happen, and whose stupid move at high speed impelled the disaster – but how will it impact ordinary commuters in their daily journey, and will everyone walk away from it OK? So far, the answers to that are pretty much that it will only matter to those directly involved (although it will be productive of much temporary pain) and yes – pretty near everyone will walk away. Scared, scarred, P-O’d and harboring enduring grudges, but yes, they will walk away, personally and professionally. Some of these are walking away at speed and being pretty vocal about why.

The crux of the matter in this particular instance, is that the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America – hey, what happened to the ampersand and the second F … guess the domain name was already taken or something) – got overtaken by the minions of the politically correct. The SWFA is, or was – a professional association of writers of science fiction and fantasy materiel (traditionally-published writers only, BTW), intended as a kind of support group, to lobby with publishers on behalf of wronged writers, and provide professional services, like health insurance. Sort of like the AARP … only for science fiction and fantasy writers. Alas, it seems that the minions of the politically-correct now appear to insist that to be members in good standing and to be considered for various book awards (and this is the short version) one must write glum and politically-correct bricks of sensitivity, emphasizing obedience to all kinds of shibboleths regarding race, gender, et al. Never mind about writing a cracking good story … the glum gruel of a liberal arts curricula at an expensive university is what the Social Justice Warriors at the SFWA have said we should have, and that readers deserve to get it, good and hard. Through a tube down the nasal passage, apparently, if all else fails. Naturally, being a somewhat cantankerous and creative provider of popular amusement, many of the existing membership has sad ‘no’ and not just no, but ‘no, with bells on.’ It seems from various discussion threads that many of the long-standing, better-selling and more popular creators are bailing out of SFWA, or at least, warning caution.

The organization may survive – or not. From the viewpoint of someone passing by the tangled wreckage on the Interstate, it’s of only academic interest. But I began to meditate on it all – another once-thriving and valued establishment, overtaken by the grand Gramscian march through our social and political establishments. Sure – they have taken them over, but at what cost? Yes, the politically correct, the Social Justice Warriors in every theater and establishment … they HAVE taken them over – and many others besides the SFWA, but at what cost if what they have is just a wrecked and hollow establishment?
So, this leaves me to wonder, whither SFWA? If the popular writers, with an existing or a soon-burgeoning readership leave, what then as far as the future of the organization is concerned? Indeed, what then, o wolves?

What then, of the many institutions, taken over and hollowed out by the Social Justice Warriors, or their Gramscian ilk? Most of them are bigger and more influential, then a little pool of writers perpetrating science fiction and fantasy … and yet they also appear to be ridden by factionalism, if not teetering on the edge then cratering economically. Just a few and from off the top of my head – the Episcopal Church, old-line print publications like Newsweek and Ladies’ Home Journal (and possibly very soon Time Magazine, too), and broadcast networks like CNN and MSNBC. Instapundit often points out how colleges and universities are staggering, and how more and more people who can are choosing to home-school their children. I can just barely remember the last Oscar-nominated movie that I went to see in a theater, (The King’s Speech, BTW) and the TV audience for the Oscars is plummeting also. Mainstream publishing is fragmenting, as independent writers go out on their own, cable television is also fragmenting. Just as the long march through the institutions is nearly complete … the institutions themselves crumble. They are run into the ground, as the audience, consumers, and genuinely creative flee in all directions.

There is talk of a non-ideological organization to replace the SFWA; likely the disaffected refugees from the establishments and organizations listed above (as well as many, many others) will form new associations. Creative destruction at work? I’d like to think so. Discuss.
(cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

Just for fun, and because I am thrashing out a review of The Birdmen, for Amazon Vine – a song from a movie about the early days of aviation, which became a British hit…

Thinks about going to a movie this weekend; ah-ha! Liam Neeson has a movie which opened last week; a white-knuckle thriller about a US air marshal on board a hijacked airliner.
Not my cuppa, actually – but Liam Neeson is one of the few actors around who can convincingly play an adult man doing a job … like an air marshal.

*Does internet search for reviews of Non-Stop. Look, I work for a living. Do you think I want to waste $10 on something I might not get a good two hours of enjoyment out of?*

Oh, dear. Making the villain the survivor of someone murdered by Islamic terrorists on 9/11, and a veteran, with a military member as a side-kick?

Really?

Look, if there had been a whole stream of movies from Hollywood since 9/11 where survivors and military were the good guys, maybe I might be inclined to cut some slack for an unexpected plot twist. Alas, this is Hollywood, behaving in the movie manner which we have come to expect of them since 9/11.
No sale. I hereby put on my magic Cassandra hat and predict that Non-Stop will sink at fly-over country box offices as if it had a fifty-pound lead weight strapped to it and dumped over the Mariana Trench.

To put it in simple terms, that’s what I call it when a whole group, or sub-set of people are deemed the Emmanuel Goldstein of the moment by a dominant group, and set up as a focus for free-wheeling hate. In practice, this hate may range all the way from a mild disinclination to associate professionally or socially, all the way to 11 in marking the object of that hate as a suitable target for murder, either singly or in wholesale lots – and sometimes with the cooperation and blessing of the state. It’s more something that I have read about – either in the pages of history books, or in the newspapers – and increasingly on-line. Still, it is no end distressing to see it developing here in these United States in this century. Am I paranoid about this current bout of ‘otherizing’? Perhaps – but don’t tell me that it cannot happen here.

Some hundred and fifty years ago, the ‘otherizing’ reached such a pitch that young men marched against their countrymen – they were clad in blue and grey, and fell on battlefields so contested that lead shot fell like a hailstorm, and swept away a large portion of men recruited by regional-based units. Passionate feelings, words and small deeds, public and private regarding slavery were balanced against states’ rights. The pressure built up and up, like steam in a boiler – and finally there was no means for them to be expressed but in death wished upon the ‘other’. By the end of twenty years of editorials, speeches, and political campaigns had been worked to a fever pitch. Civil war became not only possible – but in the eyes of the editorialists, the speech-makers and the politicians – a wholly desirable outcome. And a goodly portion of a generation lay dead, as if a scythe had swept over a wheat-field. Everyone was very sorry afterwards, but the words could not be unspoken, the hatred and resentment re-bottled in a flask, or the dead re-animated, to go about their ordinary lives as if the great divisive issue of mid-19th century America had never been.

Words eventually lead to deeds – especially hot, angry words spoken or expressed by those in cultural authority. Which in this West of the World means politicians and intellectuals, and the popular media; even the not-so-pop media, come to think on it – like NPR, or lesser organs like CNN or MSNBC. (Which is my private jest to call PMS-NBC. See, two can play at this denigration game.) They used to say that sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me. But it’s the words, you see; eventually the tide of insult and slander takes a toll. The trouble is that words used with deliberation and intent will lead to application of the sticks and stones. It will also lead, as history demonstrates, to the misuse of the law to criminalize political opposition, to encourage mob actions to retaliate against the ‘other’ for perceived offenses, and at the very least to shun the ‘other’ socially.

Are we at the point of 1861 again, with a divide so deep, and the words spoken so incendiary that they might only be erased in blood? I don’t think so, not quite yet. But we are certainly closer today to 1861 then we have been in the last few decades. And that prospect scares the heck out of me – but it doesn’t seem like many of those in cultural authority, in the media, the commentariat or in politics quite feel the same fear. Just possibly they knew recent history about as well as Andrea Mitchell does … which is cause for even more alarm, if possible.

(crossposted at chicagoboyz.net)

And I did notice certain musical trends, and many of them for the worst. Enjoy

That useful concept (thank you, the French language for putting it so succinctly!) is defined “as an offense that violates the dignity of a ruler” or “an attack on any custom, institution, belief, etc., held sacred or revered by numbers of people.”Well, it appears that our very dear current occupant of the White House is certainly held sacred by a substantial percentage of our fellow citizens. How else to account for the perfectly earsplitting howling from Missouri Democrats and the usual suspects over a rodeo clown wearing an Obama mask to yuck it up before the crowd – most of whom seem to be laughing their heads off. All but the desperately sensitive, who breathlessly insisted that it was just like a KKK rally, practically. The rodeo clown’s name apparently is Tuffy Gessling; his supporters, and those who, as a matter of fact, support the rights of a free citizen to mock authority figures of every color and persuasion, have set up a Facebook page. He’s also been invited by a Texas congressman to come and perform the skit at a rodeo in Texas.

Never mind that sitting presidents long before this one have been ridiculed, mocked, hung in effigy and otherwise made fun of by one and all and in all sorts of venues. Such ridicule is usually defended as being a matter of free speech, man! And so it is. Occasionally distasteful, sometimes unfair, and always infuriating to partisans of the one towards whom it is directed. But there it is; either we have the freedom to ridicule the elected head of state of either party, or we have a monarch whose dignity demands that we peasants hold our tongue … lest we be banned from performing or doing our jobs, or else get investigated by the Secret Service and/or the FBI at the request of the Missouri Chapter of the NAACP … who at the very least seem to be a little vague on the whole freedom of speech concept. (Hint, people – freedom of speech does not mean that you are free from being offended.)

I wonder if it’s the preference cascade beginning; quietly and without much fanfare at first, ordinary people are beginning to openly mock Obama. There was a story about a country fair where contestants were throwing darts at a picture of him – the picture taken down and a hasty apology made … but people were participating gleefully, just as they were laughing at the rodeo clown in the Obama mask. I have heard mention in certain right-of-center blog comment threads of a ‘pin-the-tail-on-Obama’ game. How much of this mockery is bubbling under and breaking out at county fairs, over a late summer where the job situation is not getting any better, the cost of groceries is creeping up, and the smoke and fallout from various fires – like Benghazi, Fast-n-Furious, and the IRS-facilitated abuse of political opponents grows thicker? Could it be that parties like … oh, I don’t know, the head of the Missouri NAACP and the leadership cadre of the Democrat Party and the old news media (just to mention a few) are surprised and disconcerted to discover that the current president is not worshipped and glorified universally? Has it come as a complete surprise to those luminaries that people living from slender paycheck to paycheck, or facing cutbacks and layoffs might very well resent the heck out of a president ostentatiously going to Martha’s Vineyard (the playground of the 1%) for his fifth vacation of the year after not doing very much in particular to address those problems?

Later on this month, Mad Magazine’s new issue is lampooning Obama for the various electronic eavesdropping programs. I can hardly wait. Let the ridicule begin, loud and long. It’s the American way. We don’t do lese-majeste here.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.com)

… it was a farce the first time around, and then it comes around again? I speak of Anthony Wiener’s wiener, of which the candidate for the mayoralty of the Big Apple is so insensately proud that he continues thrusting it – or the pictorial evidence thereof – into the public sphere, through the medium of Twitter … which I categorically insist is a fiendishly clever means of proving celebrity idiocy beyond all doubt and ensuring life-time employment for their public relations experts. But I digress … and yes, the grade school impulse to make fun of someone with a thoroughly risible name is something one never quite outgrows.

But seriously, Mr. Huma Abedin – how stupid are you? How stupid do you think the voting public is, that you could offend with the sexts and the pics of your unclothed bod, humiliate yourself and your spouse, and for all I know, the rest of your family and your neighbors – and then turn right around and do it again! Usually reckless impulses of this pellucid-pure stupidity involve the phrase “Hold my beer and watch this!” and a Darwin Award nomination, but since this involves a member of the bi-coastal ruling elite, that famous last-words phrase likely didn’t apply.
Sigh. Look, y’all in New York, it’s all on your heads if he is to be your next mayor. On the positive side, maybe tweeting pics of the mayoral junk far and wide will just be seen as an amusing personal foible – and a welcome distraction from fussing about salt consumption and the availability of large soft drinks.

I have begun to think that Twitter is just a social media device which reveals the idiocy of celebutards to a waiting world … but what if a celebutard’s Twitter account is just a means of guaranteeing full employment for the next decade or so for their professional publicist, who must clean up the resulting mess?

Discuss, if you dare. Twitter if you must.

The injudicious use of which has led to Paula Deen being booted from the Food Network, never mind that she was speaking under oath, and is a lady of a certain age and of a background where the n-word was … well, I honestly can’t say how current was the use of that word back in Paula Deen’s early days. It’s certainly scattered generously all over 19th century literary works like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn like chocolate sprinkles on a frosted Krispy Kreme donut, and piled on by the handful in the 20th century oeuvre of rap artists and edgy comedians of color.

It’s a word that I don’t use, myself. The very first time I brought it home – in the first grade, I think, having heard it on the playground, Mom landed on me like a ton of bricks. I don’t think I actually got my mouth washed out with soap – Mom wasn’t that old-school – but the lesson came through loud and clear. The n-word was not to be used, ever. The fact that I had gotten to the first grade, or thereabouts and had never heard it is likely a strong indication of how generally it was frowned upon in middle-class and mid-century So-Cal suburbs anyway. Matter of fact, I can’t even bring myself to use it in writing my own books, where it would certainly be appropriate and historically correct. I just can’t – I have to smooth it out and write it as it might very well have sounded phonetically. No, the use of racial epithets was frowned upon, as being low-class, tacky, and rude at home – and in the military it was even more strictly verboten. So there you are – very likely I could swear honestly and truthfully to never having used the n-word, ever.

I’ve never been particularly a fan of her show or her cooking; too much fried and way, way too rich for my taste, but I might be willing to extend some indulgence to Paula Deen, being of certain age myself. My daughter, though, is most definitely not inclined to indulgence, when it comes to the n-word, although I have repeatedly pointed out that the only people who seem to be able to wield it with impunity are the aforementioned rap artists and edgy comedians of non-pallor.

To judge from some of their output, if they couldn’t use it, there would go about a fifth of their vocabulary – but I digress. I only wish to point out the basic hypocrisy. If it is an ugly, demeaning and degrading term, then it ought to be across the board, without exception. One is reminded of how a certain kind of feminist wishes to reclaim the word ‘slut’ and proudly throws it about at slutwalks and such-like events, but comes totally unglued when the term is applied to say – Sandra Fluke, proud professional feminist.

So – circling back around to the original thought – Paula Deen dropped from the Food Channel for … essentially being honest, old-fashioned and perhaps consciously or unconsciously reflecting values of a different era and at somewhat at variance with the expected TV norms, and having the bad luck to be drawn into a legal imbroglio with a perhaps-vengeful former employee. One wonders … but I honestly don’t know enough about the case, or the people involved to venture any sort of opinion but this one; what if? (Firmly donning my tinfoil hat here…) What if the Food Network has established a preference for the young, urban, urbane and smoothly trendy metrosexual male chefs/restaurateurs or decorative young to young-ish and non-threatening of the female variety, and that would account for the rush to ditch Paula Deen, simply for the crime of being not-young, urban, urbane and smoothly trendy, etc.

If such is the case, I hope that Ree Drummond (rural, devout Christian, non-minority and home-schooling) has no skeletons in her metaphorical closet. Otherwise, she might very well be next on the chopping-block.

All academic to me, though – now that we have ditched cable and gone to a Roku box and a couple of paid subscriptions – but still food for thought, eh?

(Cross-posted at Chicagoboyz.net)

Well, damn … so they were. They were written up in the media this morning, which was nice, I suppose. I skimmed the list of winners and noted that I had not gone to see any of them at all. This has been happening more and more often, of late. Curiously, those movies are being released on DVD almost as soon as they have premiered, so that ones’ chances of actually catching them in a theater are, shall we say, diminished. The only movie that we actually made an effort to go see was “The Hobbit” and we went all out to see it at the local Alamo Drafthouse, where we could get dinner and a drink in the theater along with the movie. If going to the theater to see a movie is the expense that it has become these days, might as well go all out. Getting back to the Oscars, I also skimmed the pics of the various personalities arriving, and didn’t see any outrageous get-ups, not like Bjorks’ infamous swan dress. The only big tizzy is that Michelle Obama appeared via remote feed to help present the best picture award. Sigh. There, too, oh Lord? Like Chicken Man, she’s everywhere, she’s everywhere! Just another reason not to watch self-reverential award shows for an increasingly incestuous industry. I might also get away with throwing in the observation that the old canard about Washington being show business for ugly people is in danger of being invalidated…

Sigh … where was I? Oh, yes, Hollywood and showbiz in general, and the fact that most of Hollywood’s shining stars seem perfectly willing to jump into bed, metaphorically speaking, with the Obama Administration. The thought of being a repeat guest at the White House must be a tempting prospect to the many Hollywood A-listers, and those who only dream of it … but still, there is a large chunk of the country who is not absolutely enamored of Barry O and M’Shell. I count myself among them, naturally – and I am given to wonder, if the Hollywood elite who are inclined to worship at the shrine of Obama won’t eventually pay a price for it, in popularity with the general public. I do know that my own household is maintaining an ever-growing list of personalities whose movies and shows we will no longer patronize, precisely because of this unfortunate tendency. As the cost of producing mainstream movies goes up, and as the general public picks and chooses more carefully, won’t this eventually begin to bite? Something to think about, anyway.

My family was, for various reasons, devoted to the first Upstairs, Downstairs series, back in the day. Mom loved the whole dichotomy of the ‘family’ upstairs, and the servants, working away behind the scenes and below stairs – very likely because her father, my Grandpa Jim was engaged in practically life-long service to a wealthy family living in a magnificent mansion. Dad had a mild guy-crush on Rachael Gurney, who played Lady Marjory Bellamy – she was what Dad apparently considered the perfect upper-class Englishwoman. And I loved it all because it was … England, that very place that three of our four grandparents had come from, and during the two decades that were pictured in the show. The outer world of Upstairs Downstairs was what they would have remembered; the music, the manners, the fashions, habits and social customs, the scandals and events.

So we followed it devotedly, even as we admitted to each other that it was really a high-toned soap opera in period costume. I think primarily the reason that it succeeded on those terms was that it was entirely character-driven. That is, the characters drove the plots, and they were pretty consistent over the arc of the show; there was a womanizing rake – actually two of them, one upstairs and one down – the imperious lady and her devoted sour-tempered maid, the upright lord of the house, several charming ingénues – and their affairs of state and otherwise, personal crises large and small, courtship, marriages, birth, death … the whole enchilada, as it were. And always in the background there was history going on, but it usually took a back seat to personal lives and concerns. Which is how it is for most of us; what we do, the decisions that we take are driven by our characters and our needs. So, dialed up for dramatic purposes, the Bellamy saga managed a high degree of consistency that way.

And now we come to the new Upstairs, Downstairs iteration … and a couple of episodes into the second season, it is not going well, character and plot-wise. It was a good idea, to update Eaton Place to the 1930s, and bring in a whole new upstairs and downstairs family, with the character of Rose Buck to tie them together, but it’s already gone south, between season one and two … which we have easily deduced from the rushed manner in which the transition between the two was made. You mean – now they have two children? And the mother-in-law died? (And they killed the monkey… not a good start, FYI, and it matters little that it was a well-meant accident.) And Sir Hallam will be boinking his sister-in-law, who doubles as a Nazi spy? Hooo-kay, then. There could have been a whole season of character-developing high-toned soap opera worked in, between the end of one and the start of the second, but apparently everyone wanted to rush on to the drama of historical events. Pity, that – what they finished up with was plot-driven characters; where the needs of plot drove the characters to do things that radically changed what they had first appeared to be ... which is very likely why one of the key originators of the original and the follow-on series departed at speed, while the other had serious health problems.

No, it’s not a bad thing do do plot-driven characters, especially in the confines of a historical narrative, but abruptly contradicting the established character, and rushing over certain developments? Sigh. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the next season of Downton Abbey. At least, they are not doing things in a mad rush ... although they did rather hurry through WWI, and muddled the sequence of the end of the war and the great influenza epidemic.

(Cross-posted at my book-blog website)

So, a week after the debate and stuff is still happening. Well, I think the preference cascade has well and truly begun. Once someone – or several influential someones came out and said that our esteemed resident of the White House has feet of clay and several other shortcomings, and didn’t get struck by lightening, or tied up and burned at stake by a vengeful mob … well, now it’s safe for everyone.
Look, he did a craptastic job last week; sweaty, blinking, repeating the talking points … apparently he believed that all he had to do was saunter out on stage and that ol’ 2008 magic would put everyone under it’s spell. Riding on a shoeshine and a smile … right up until everyone stops smiling back. Look, Mr. Hopey-Change – there’s some work involved in this Presidential gig; some long hard work, late hours, late nights … and not spent partying with J.Z. and Bouncy. (Yeah, I call her Bouncy. Easier to pronounce. Somehow, I don’t think the parties with celebs are going to go on quite as often, after November 6, no matter who wins.)

Oh, and about form letters of official consolation to the next of kin with an auto-pen signature? It’s not that difficult to have your staff vary the standard letter a little, and scribble a signature yourself. Governor Romney apparently generates personal, hand-written letters of consolation, if this story is correct.

Remember Benghazi, Mr. President – coupla of dead former Navy SEALS, and an ambassador dead? Bloody dragged fingermarks on the doorway of a consulate from which official US protection had been withdrawn? You don’t? Well, seeing that the major press lords are not the least interested in dead soldiers and ambassadors, the plight of the homeless and gas prices shooting up to $5.00 a gallon during a Democrat Party administration, I can’t really say I’m surprised.

So – looking forward to the debate tonight. Note to self – make a big bowl of popcorn.

It’s been another one of those weeks, blog-fans … now, I do want you all (all both of you) to put your hands together and welcome back Radar, a contributor from away back, who has decided to get back into long-form blogging again. Yay, Radar! Welcome home!

As for the rest of it … well, welcome to interesting times. Now it is something like six weeks, give or take a handful of days until Election Day, and honestly, it cannot come too soon for me. Every week and every day there’s some new bit o’drama inflated by the lapdog mainstream media into something that spells Certain Doom for Romney/Ryan, and Glorious Victory for the Dear Leader. A sooper secrit recording of Romney talking to fundraisers and being bluntly honest that a certain percentage of potential voters probably wouldn’t vote for him and upset their entitlement applecart … oooh! Gaffe of the week, according to all the talking and editorial heads. That a good number of the conservative-libertarian blogger types taking note of all this would not have disagreed with this insight – although the exact percentage might be open for discussion – appears to be something that the usual media lapdogs have chosen to ignore. Also – that the tape was edited, and Jimmy Carter’s hapless grandson chose to do his bit for the Dems … jeese, doesn’t he have a real job to go to? Apparently many of these Millennial’s don’t. The Daughter Unit, better known as Blondie does – having several different jobs to go to, none of which offer health care benefits. Not a shock, considering that some of them are part-time, and for the rest, she is an independent contractor – and is qualified to go to the VA.

OK – back to election matters – wish I may, wish I might – know why Mittens Romney is the party of the clueless, disconnected rich, Thurston Howell-type … whereas, a candidate who has a fund-raising event at a venue owned by a fabulously wealthy rap music* entrepreneur and his performer wife featuring a tower made of $800 bottles of champagne and charging $40,000 a plate for the privilege is a defender of the downtrodden middle- and working-class. This is probably one of those mysteries, like that of Hollywood blockbusters which never turn a profit to pay off the hapless actors and writers who signed contracts for a percentage of the net profits.

But $800 bottles of champagne, all in gold – Talk about ghetto fabulous. I’ll shudder over the gross vulgarity of that and move on, while noting that if the stuff tastes any better than Crystal, I’ll be mildly surprised. And Blondie has sampled Crystal – through the offices of a date with a surfer dude she met in Ocean Beach, once upon a time. She tells me it didn’t taste any better than the $6 supermarket champagne that we buy for celebrating the New Year.

It does look as if the O-Man did, in his rounds of entertainment and talk shows, actually stumble into some real reporters, prepared to ask hard questions instead of the usually softly thrown Nerf ball. Just a hint, big guy – the local Hispanic community does care very much about what has been happening south of the US border for quite a while. Fast and Furious has managed to kill hundreds of Mexican citizens, many of them innocent bystanders to the drug gang wars. Meanwhile, the rest of us look at the Middle East going up in flames, and wonder if a brand-new Obama campaign motto and a logo featuring a re-imagining of the US flag with stripes bearing a curious resemblance to the dragging finger-marks made in blood on the doorway of the US consulate in Benghazi was all that good an idea. Your mileage may vary, however.

Let’s see … is Twitter a means for hapless celebrities to reveal themselves once and for all as utter morons and/or bigots? I guess so; the evidence is compiled at Twitchy. Alas, it looks like Bette Midler joins my steadily lengthening list of stars and personalities who have so pissed me off that I will never pay money for anything they are in. Bette, Bette, Bette … we do not, in fact, have a blasphemy law in this country. Citizens may not be arrested for saying things that embarrass the government or an established religion … and if they were, then Andres Serrano and the producer of The Book of Mormon would be in big, big trouble.

And that was my week – yours?

(* insert viciously skeptica quote marks around that word)

A Mini concert …

Courtesy of one of those emails…

… that there was some kind of secret high-sign or signal that we could give to other conservative-libertarian-Tea Party adherents in casual social situations. Even in Texas, a mostly red-state and stronghold of prickly independent free-marketers, there is enough of a leavening of blue-state Dems and Obama worshippers that one need be constrained in discussing politics … by good manners, if nothing else. Especially in the neighborhood where one lives; there are, I know, at least a few Democrats sufficiently enthused about the One to actually display bumper-stickers and yard signs. One of them is a very sweet and cordial gentlemen dog aficionado; he and his wife always adore and pet our dogs, when they see us, and we recently mourned together when they had to put one of their own dogs to sleep. He and his wife are nice people, decent people; good neighbors, home-owners who keep their place beautifully – they fly the Texas and American flags, and a military service flag with two stars upon it – but… But on the back of his truck he has a home-made magnetic bumper sticker implying that the Tea Party in combination with the GOP equals the screwing of America. So there is one thing that we can never talk about, not without risking neighborly amity, and I just don’t want to take the risk. He had an Obama-Biden yard sign the last time out, anyway, so we can’t say we weren’t warned. The nice older couple with the lovely garden just down the street from them were precinct-walking for a Dem candidate this year, so any casual conversation with them also must avoid politics. My own next-door neighbor, an irreproachably middle-class retired civil servant of African-American heritage has an Obama tee-shirt that she has worn now and again, so there again … a careful avoidance of my Tea Party sympathies.

But now and again we have stumbled into a potential political minefield in conversation, most often when the other person ventures an opinion to do with the economy, race-relations, or the upcoming campaign, and then hesitates, looking at us nervously until we assure them of our own libertarian/conservative Tea Party leanings. This happened most recently last weekend, during a venture into the Hill Country, and a stop in a small shop featuring vintage Americana. The place was empty, and the owner was probably very bored, when Blondie and I wandered in. Soon we were comparing our favorite episodes of American Restoration, mutual in our wish that they would show more of the actual nuts and bolts of the restoral job, instead of the manufactured interpersonal drama. Then Blondie mentioned a similar show – Abandoned, which features a couple of guys spelunking through abandoned buildings, looking for stuff they can refurbish, refinish, or repair and sell at a profit. I said how I thought it was just tragic, these factories and churches like the neo-gothic monument in Philadelphia featured on a recent show were just left to ruin, where once they had been the pride of the cities and towns where they were located. In the 19th century and early 20th, people had spent good money to build solidly and well, had manufactured good and useful things, paid wages … and now, it was all left to rack and ruin, and the rag-pickers, raking through the ruins looking for something to sell. The shop owner sympathized, and made a remark about eastern and rust-belt cities which the political leadership had essentially trashed … and then he got a very nervous look on his face, obviously fearing that he had said too much and possibly to the wrong people. Until we assured him that we were Tea Partiers from way back. And then we had a nice conversation, speculating on the eventual outcome of the various campaigns … and really, that is why I wish there were some kind of secret handshake or signal that we could give, so we know right off the bat when it is OK to risk being open about political leanings.

(Cross posted at chicagobotz.net)

You know, I meant to do this on Monday, for part of my Monday Morning Miscellany series, but I had a deadline or two, and the time and writing energy just got away from me … but all to the good, for the last five days have actually provided something to muse upon, in these dog days of summer. (Fittingly called the dog days, as one of them is curled up underneath my desk at this very moment.)
The first of these is that Newsweek – tottering towards it’s nearly inevitable doom – has either recovered something of its journalistic backbone, or thrown caution to the winds and tried to win back those droves of disgusted conservatives and libertarians by doing a cover story suggesting that it might be best for all if the Dear Leader start packing. I couldn’t have been more astonished to hear the White House Press Corpse-men suddenly break out singing, “Hit the Road Jack, Don’t You Come Back, No More, No More,” in four-part a-capella harmony during the morning White House briefing . Not surprised that a pop historian like Niall Ferguson should say so, but in Newsweek? The deeply cynical opine that it’s a sort of “Get out of Jail” marker, against future accusations of being biased in favor of the Dear Leader – so at a later date, they can say in their defense, “We did too criticize him, so there!” I wonder if it isn’t one last vain attempt to cut themselves free from the sinking USS Obama, seeing that the ship is going down by the head, the engine room is flooding rapidly, and the last lifeboats are being lowered.

Further indication that the White House Press Corpse is perhaps less enamored of the Dear Leader lately is this recent picture … captured by a Reuters photog. Further comment would be superfluous … but somehow one senses that the bloom of enchantment with Dear Leader is pretty much wearing off with the working press stiffs.
And as for our own Mittens, our hero in the upcoming joust in the 2012 campaign lists … the phrase “Bless your/his/her heart” is a somewhat loaded one, in flyover-country-speak. It can be a mild and gently charitable wish for the person of whom it is said to have a nice day … but when said in a certain tone of voice and under certain circumstances by certain practitioners of the passive-aggressive arts (usually but not always Southern ladies of a certain age) the unstated meaning is a suggestion that the person referred to should sodomize themselves with a rusty chain-saw … or something even more painful and humiliating. Glad to clear that up for my bi-coastal and international readers. Moving on …

And it seems to be true that the Obama campaign is stiffing host communities on paying for the additional expenses attendant on hosting a Presidential event in their dear little towns. Whereas the Romney/Ryan campaign is paying up front, even paying in advance. Seriously, I wonder how long this kind of thing – stiffing cities and municipalities for the extra expense of having Dear Leader swoop into town for an event – can go on without serious repercussions. A pattern? Do bears perform ablutions in the woods? IIRC, Los Angeles commuters got pretty darned tired of the Presidential motorcade making traffic a nightmare … or more of a nightmare than usual, whenever he attended a Hollywood event.

The Todd Akin rape kerfuffle … hard to know what to say about that; he is not running for office in a district where I vote, and the suspicion remains that if a sentiment so dubious and so clumsily expressed were mouthed by a candidate with a D after his or her name, it would get the full-enable treatment. Still – a clear pitfall, in the question posed to him and a bad response to it. Seriously, if you need follow-up explanations, clarifications and footnotes about what you said – then you have not put the best foot forward … unless that foot is comfortably lodged in your mouth up to the kneecap. I note that the gentleman in question is a long-term establishment Repub, which in my way of thinking is at least one strike against him. The other strike being that if you cannot enunciate what you mean, clearly and unmistakably, without legions of commenters arriving on gossamer wings on a mission to disentangle you from your thoughts … then perhaps you should consider another career, outside politics. One mush-mouthed, gaffe-producing and deeply confused career politician of Social Security age at a time, please – and that slot is already filled bountifully by Joe Biden. Alas, the only useful suggestion I have for GOP/Independent/Tea Party voters in Mr. Akin’s district is to consider a write-in vote, and to campaign on that basis over the next two months and a bit.

And finally, Prince Harry in the tabloids after a loosing round of strip pool in Los Vegas. Hmmmm, yes. Very nice and thank you, sweetie. Now put on your trousers before you catch your death of cold, as your Gran is going to be pretty pissed for a while.

And that was my week; yours?

The clouds of self-destructive stupidity gathering around the brows of those writers and entertainers who believe with the force of holy writ that they are not affected by the laws of action and consequence which govern the world and the rest of us, has now achieved an almost early 1960s Los Angeles smog-like density. And where I once was fairly indulgent towards those big names in the literary and entertainment industrial complex who entertained political opinions incongruent with mine and were mouthy about it, I am not inclined to be indulgent any longer. In fact, I’m downright annoyed … no, worse than annoyed; I’m fed to the back teeth with tolerating it all. Yes, this blog doesn’t have half the readership it did, back in the mists of time, and no, I do not delude myself that the world trembles at the frown of Sgt. Mom.

I am a writer, with a small and hopefully growing readership, and I do understand that kicking potential readers in the teeth by going full-bore on political matters is … well, it can be a self-limiting thing. I understand completely the tension between being dependent on the affection of a public, and the draw of publically attaching yourself to a cause or a political campaign which might prove to be controversial. I’m not such a big wheel in the grand literary scheme of things that I want or can afford to be perceived as kicking half my potential audience in the teeth … I’d rather convince readers subtly and through my books – not scream at them from a podium. I have friends, and even family who do not espouse the same Tea Party principles that I hold dear – and so I do not want to declare a sort of scorched-earth policy. I am fond of my friends, and my family. A mini-civil war is not something I want to have, especially around the table at a family Thanksgiving dinner.

I am OK with disagreeing on matters political, with someone merely registered to vote Dem, or anything else, like Green or Libertarian. Let it also be admitted that I disagreed vociferously with many of my Tea Party comrades on certain matters, matters which we all agreed should take second place to the Big Three of fiscal responsibility, strict constitutionality and free markets. What I will not tolerate any longer is being insulted, openly and repeatedly by various entertainers with delusions of political acuity. Garrison Keiller lost me as a listener three years ago – not so much for his slobbery worship of Obama, but for his disgusting slams against conservatives generally, Morgan Freeman is about to come under the same ban-hammer, and regretfully Tom Hanks is teetering on the verge. Janeanne Garafalo – banned. Rosanne Barr, Whoopie Goldberg and Rosie O’Donnell – all banned and boycotted. There’s a growing list of other offenders; from what I have observed in various discussion threads over the last year or so, other bloggers and commenters are working up their own lists. From the whip-lash reaction by HBO to the ruckus over the severed head of GWB in an episode of Game of Thrones, I seriously am wondering now if the cleverer and more far-sighted denizens of the entertainment world are sensing the danger to their own careers in being overtly partisan in their political commentary and attitude. As the classic stand-up on-the-spot reporter closes the story while standing in front of a government building, ‘Only time will tell.’

I am almost sure that telling a historical story through a movie is fraught with as many perils for the story-teller as doing so through the medium of historical fiction – it’s just that the movie-maker’s pratfalls are so much more … public, I guess is the word that I’m fishing for. There are big-name, serious historical fiction writers who abuse history almost beyond recognition in their attempt to weave a tale of the past – Philippa Gregory, anyone? – but to my mind, the really, really egregious mainstream offenses are committed in the service of movie-making. I was reminded of this again, in reading yet another 100-year-anniversary-of-the-Titanic sinking, and how James Cameron had to apologize to the descendants of First Officer William Murdoch for the manner in which Murdoch’s character was maligned and his fate dramatized in Titanic … all in the service of punching up the drama a couple of degrees. Which was really not necessary, since – like most dramatic historical episodes – a strict accounting of the facts usually provides all the drama required. More »

That is what I have finally reached this week, in the wake of the Rush Limbaugh-Slutgate imbroglio: the far frozen limit. I’ve never been one to flounce off in a huff, having neither the figure for flounces or possession of a late model huff-mobile. That was my Granny Dodie’s style; she was the one who was prone to throwing hissy-fits in public places at being the recipient of bad customer service. I personally always rather preferred the model provided by my other grandmother, Granny Jessie, who would simmer quietly, depart silently … and then never darken the door of the offending establishment ever again. Which, as Granny Jessie lived to the age of 96, probably resulted in a lot of establishments being vaguely puzzled as to why the heck they didn’t ever see the tiny, grim-faced old lady in the print rayon dress ever again … or maybe not. Say what you will, at least Granny Dodie’s method left the offending establishments in no doubt that they had offended grievously, which from a customer-service point of view, at least clued them in to the fact that there was a problem. And that they just might have to take steps to fix it.
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My daughter and I are watching and very much enjoying the period splendors of Downton Abbey, showing on the local PBS channel here over the last couple of weeks – just as much as my parents and I enjoyed Upstairs, Downstairs – the original version, yea these decades ago. Of course, the thrust of this season is the effects of WWI on the grand edifice of Edwardian society in general. The changes were shattering … they seemed so at the time, and even more in retrospect, to people who lived through the early 20th century in Western Europe, in Russia, the US and Canada. In reading 20th century genre novels, I noted once that one really didn’t see much changing in book set before and after WWII, save for the occasional mention of a war having been fought: people went to the movies, listened to the radio, drove cars, wore pretty much the same style of clothes … but in novels set before and after WWI, the small changes in details were legion.

England, France, Germany, Austria, Russia – they were the epicenter, seemingly – the place where it hit hardest, and afterwards nothing was ever the same. Of course, in Russia with the Red Revolution and all, things were quite definitely never the same, and Austria lost the last bits of empire … and the other nations were gutted of a whole generation of young men. In the American experience, the only thing which came close was the Civil War, where a single battle in Pennsylvania, or Virginia or Tennessee could be the means of casually extinguishing the lives of all the young men in a certain township or county… just gone, in a few days or hours of hot combat around a wheat field, a peach orchard, a sunken bend in a country road. The Western front (not to negate the war in the Italian Alps, at Gallipoli or the Germans and Russians) went on more or less at that horrendous rate, week in, week out – for years.

The marks of it are still horrifyingly visible, even though the numbers of living veterans of it can be about counted on the fingers of a pair of hands. Because it’s not only the survivors’ trauma – it’s the mark and void left by the fallen. So many that I remember a college textbook of mine – I think that it was a required sociology or statistics course – had the population breakdowns by age of various European countries. In all cases, there was a pronounced dip in the numbers of males who would have been of early adult age in 1914-1918. This is reflected again in the acres and acres of white crosses in Flanders, on the tight-packed lists of names carved on memorials large and small; not too much marked in the United States, but in the Commonwealth nations, and especially in Britain itself, that sense of loss must have seemed suffocating. Even low and middle-brow genre novels showed the scars that WWI left, especially if they were written by contemporaries to the conflict. Memoirs, histories, memorials and all… there was loss written large, by people who looked at the ‘before’ and then at the present ‘after’ with an aching sense of the void between, a muddy void into which friends, schoolmates, lovers, husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers and certain illusions had all vanished.

Nothing was the same, afterwards.

Although perhaps the war wasn’t directly the change agent, it pushed some developments already in the works farther along than they would have been. The war served as a handy delineating point for those who lived through it … electricity everywhere, motor cars ditto, airplanes as something more than a toy for enthusiasts, women voting and wearing short shirts and routinely forgoing corsets, half a dozen live-in servants in a big house which once had been staffed by three times that many … all that. The worst loss was something a little less concrete – and that was, I think, a certain sense of confidence and optimism. I like writing about the 19th century because of that very thing: generally people believed with their whole hearts and without a speck of cynicism, that the conditions of their lives were steadily improving, that conditions which had plagued mankind for centuries were fixable, and that their leaders were able and well-intentioned. All those beliefs were deeply shaken or utterly destroyed during those four years – and that is why that war still casts a long shadow. And makes for an interesting and evocative television show – like Downton Abby and Upstairs, Downstairs.