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.

We went to Wurstfest in New Braunfels this last weekend, to celebrate all things Germanic. I posted the pics in a Facebook album here – enjoy!

And no, I don’t have a recipe for the German Taco … I would guess, since it is fair food, that it is basically a grilled country sausage, with jalapeno cheese and maybe some salsa, wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Being that I am snowed under with finalizing the last details for the second edition of To Truckee’s Trail, and preparing to launch the sequel to Daughter of Texas at more or less the same time in order maximize my portion of what increasingly looks like a pretty dismal Christmas shopping season with sales of my books . . . I have been only intermittently able to put my head above the parapet lately and take a look around at the socio-political landscape. A more relaxed schedule might permit me to address each of the developments listed below at length . . . but time does not permit. Heck, brevity is supposed to be the soul of wit, anyway.

1. Potential Candidate Cain’s purported sex scandal. Hey, it would be a treat to have a sex scandal in which some actual sex was involved, rather like John Edwards and his campaign-trail inamorata/baby mama? At this juncture, all we have, though – is some unspecified act(s) committed by Mr. Cain, complained of by anonymous persons (presumably female) which took place in some unspecified venue, which resulted in an unspecified money settlement . . . which no one involved can talk about, because they all signed an agreement not to talk about it. At least the time frame of this unspecified action has been nailed down by our heroically working mainstream media professions to sometime in the 1990s. Ok, it’s nice to have that specific nailed down, but seriously; unnamed sources? I’m sorry, but unnamed sources, with a charge like this do not fly freely with me any more. If you want this charge to be creditable, start naming names and specifics, otherwise I will treat this matter like the gutter gossip that it appears to be,

2. At least the matter of the rock on a hunting lease in West Texas, which had a disparaging term for a racial minority painted on it, and which was painted over at least two decades ago, seems to have been dropped – er – like a rock into the well of memory. Did any of the faithful national press gumshoes actually find the damned rock? If that’s all the dirt you can find on Rick Perry . . . Look, the guy has been in Texas politics for years. They play for keeps here, politically – the brass knuckles at no extra charge. If there were any substantial dirt to be found on him, it would have been found, long since. Oh, and thanks for floating teh ghey rumor, alleging it to have been an open secret in Texas political circles for years. I haven’t had a good laugh like that since the last time I watched The Money Pit.

3. So – looking at the list of Occupy Whatever Street supporters and backers . . . including you, “San Fran Nan” Pelosi, Michael “One Teensy Thin Mint” Moore, Mayor Bloomburg, our “illustrious”* Commander in Chief, and assorted other fellow travelers, anarchists, anti-Semites and career protest ‘tards . . . you own them, root, branch and arrest records. They are all yours, even as various OWS locations melt down gloriously into Lord of the Flies territory. I repeat; all yours. Kinda make the Tea Party rallies look good in comparison, don’t they?

4. Isn’t it well past time for the Kardashian sisters’ ration of fame to be up? I mean; fifteen minutes each, there are three of the talent-free and parasitical skanks, which adds up to 45 minutes total. I had a case of mono which lasted longer than Whats-er-fern’s most recent marriage. The Cardassians of Star Trek fame were much more interesting. And realistic.

5. Finally, in site news; this weekend Brian is going to fight off the locusts that ate his day off, long enough to look at why we can’t easily post pictures on this website. I have a raft of pictures I want to put up, including a new header . . . and, well all sorts of stuff.

Sincerely, Sgt Mom

PS: The Kindle version of To Truckee’s Trail – second edition has already gone live. I am still taking pre-pub orders for Deep in the Heart, and for Truckee’s print edition. Your purchases help support me, and this blog, so . . . a portion of your consumer dollars thrown in my direction will be greatly appreciated.

Yes, never underestimate the capacity for extremely bored and intelligent military personnel in amusing themselves.
Yeeks – and this was even published in a presumably responsible military-oriented publication.
Kinda puts my whole being sarcastic about the movies scheduled for late Friday night at Zaragosa AB in the local TV Guide kinda pale … although I did have viewers now and again tell me that they stayed up deliberatly to watch them, just so see if they were as awful as I hinted that they were.

Enjoy. This is funnier than any of my movie promos were.

Me:  Looking at calendar.  “Why?”

Them:  “You watched the finale of “So You Think You Can Dance?” instead didn’t you?”

Me:  Holding up my fist.  “Melanie RULES!  Michele Bachmann’s got nothing on her.”

Yes, it would appear that the lesbians are actually straight men, the women are women, and the tween-agers are FBI agents, and a certain NY congressman with a slightly risible last name and a penchant for tweeting suggestive pictures of his body or parts thereof – is a bit of a perv. Honestly, I thought everyone had gotten a piece of Wiener last week, and there were absolutely no further possible ways in which the gentleman in question could embarrass his party, his constituents and his spouse, after the pic of him in the gym dressing room, clutching his ding-a-ling through a towel, but my daughter alerted me to this gem, courtesy of the UK Daily Mail. Seriously, I am wondering what possibly could top that for humiliating revelations, although now that he has resigned, perhaps that will stop any more from appearing.

The Gay Girl in Damascus and the Paula Brooks thing – honestly, it seems like the plot for a movie – something titled The Gay Deceivers just suggests itself right off the bat. Seldom in real life do we have such a delicious confluence of pretense . . . what is real, what is the real identity behind those pixels on a screen, and how much of what you put out there is really, really, really real. And I speak as someone who has been blogging under a not-terribly opaque nom du-blog since 2002, mostly because I didn’t want to put my real name out there. My daughter was still on active duty, my parents and brothers are listed in the phone book, and I had enough of demented devotion from eccentric fans when I was on radio, here and there among military radio stations. Yes, you have a million fans, if you are in the public eye in some manner, and a half-dozen really sick f**ks as enemies, all of whom have never met you, don’t really know any more about you than what you put out about yourself . . . and I didn’t really want to deal with it, or have my family deal with it.

There were often discussions, early on – about blogging under a real name, or under a nom-du-blog; questions of credibility, of standing behind what you wrote. I took the line that yes, for piece of mind or actual physical safety, there were excellent reasons for someone to blog under another name. One could establish a reputation for verity, and honesty, no matter what name you called yourself. Over time, your on-line reputation could be as solid as it was in real-space, congruent with your real-life experience.

And there are bloggers who have been doing that – under cover or by their real names in various countries, and some of them in physical danger: Salam Pax is one that comes to mind at first, mostly because of the blogosphere controversy over whether he was a real and credible person, reporting from inside Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Hossein Derakhshan, the godfather of Iranian blogging may or may not still be imprisoned by the Iranian authorities. The Egyptian blogger who goes by the nom du blog Sandmonkey was briefly arrested in the recent past. They took – and still are taking risks by writing, and blogging. Creating a whole other persona and identity, at odds with real life, and claiming to bear first-hand witness in a blog to extraordinary current events, when you are actually hundreds or thousands of miles away?

When I do that, I call it a bit of historical fiction, and clearly label it such. Dunno why “Amina” and “Paula” didn’t think of doing it that way. Would have saved a bit of embarrassment, all the way around.

Only once in my life have I ever had first-hand acquaintance with the necessity of a body-guard. Not for myself, mind you – but for a fellow military broadcaster during my year at Yongsan AIG, Republic of Seoul, South Korea. Being – in a relatively minor way – something of a local celebrity is a thing that the younger broadcasters doing an on-air job as a radio or TV voice would rather glory in, at first. Ohh! You’re on radio, or television, everybody knows your name, your voice and your face, all over the ROK! After a good few years in the career field though, the older and career broadcasters would wise up and sober up – it was just a job; talking on the radio, playing records for folks and saying things to amuse them. Nothing special, just a job, albeit a little more public than most; after a while, one perfects the ability to keep the on-air personality a completely different and separate thing from the every-day-at-work NCO. Divas and their male equivalent do not last very long in military broadcasting.

Having thousands of fans, though – is nice. What’s not so nice is to become the focus for a deranged one – and it will. That’s a guarantee for anyone in the public eye, even a military broadcaster. That kind of irrationality is deeply frightening, even if it never goes any farther than disturbing phone calls. And that’s what happened to one of the young female broadcasters during my year in Seoul. She was the dee-jay for the mid-night rock and roll show: she was funny and earthy . . . and within a short time, she had a big circle of fans, both military and among the young English-speaking Korean audience. (American military radio usually does develop a local-national shadow audience.) And one of those local national fans began making increasingly disturbing phone calls to her, when she was on the air, which escalated to the point where he had vowed that he was going to get on post somehow and kill her for rejecting him. She had fortunately been taping his calls, since we had the capability to patch in a studio line to a recorder, but as it turned out, the local police were disinterested in taking any action against the deranged fan. Their attitude seemed to be that – eh, she had led him on, boys will be boys, and he hadn’t done anything but talk . . . but still – she was frightened very badly, all of her friends, and the rest of the AFKN staff – and the Air Force Security police contingent at Yongsan were furious. There was a small, but real possibility that he could manage to sneak on post, and figure out who she was, among the uniformed female staff at AFKN. Most of us walked between the AFKN building and the dormitory where we lived, a distance of about four blocks – and she would be doing this after dark. The handful of AF Security Police who lived in the dorm took it in turns to walk with her, back and forth for most of the rest of her tour. They were organized by an NCO who had just come off of the Presidential protection security team – who had beau-coups of experience being a bodyguard.

Anyway – yeah, quite often people who work in a capacity where they are out in front of the public eye do attract a lunatic fringe, and do need the services of a body guard . . . but I really have to wonder about Patti Labelle. Yep, that Patti Labelle – who passed through Houston’s airport in March, with no less than three body-guards, a raft of luggage and an even larger raft of self-importance. Apparently, a guy talking on his cell phone in the pick-up area while he waited for a ride from his family, failed to appreciate the splendor and importance of Miss Labelle, or more precisely her luggage. And Miss Labelle’s body-guards’ manner of making sure that such lesser mortals did know their proper place – with regard to the luggage of a super-star – involved leaving him bruised, bloody and with a concussion. Oh, and the airport security officers who came to investigate took the time to pose for pictures with Miss Labelle, knowing they were in the presence of a star, and knowing the properly graceful way to acknowledge celebrity.

The young man with the cell phone and lack of proper appreciation for the presence of a celebrity turns out to be a senior year cadet at West Point. And he has just filed suit – story here, from the Houston Chronicle. And just for fun – the airport security cameras caught the whole beatdown and aftermath.

Or what they do for fun in South America … and look out for the dog!

Never mind “Got Milk?” Got testicles of steel?

So, observing the current imbroglio with the leadership of National Public Radio being played like a fish on the line for a five-million dollar donation from a so-called Muslim Brotherhood front organization . . . well, my feelings are mixed. It’s about 95% schadenfreude-drenched pure pleasure mixed with a 5% sprinkle of regret. I once did like NPR very much and listened faithfully, donated regularly to the local affiliate stations in Salt Lake City and San Antonio, even went to work part-time as an announcer at the classical-music public radio station for nearly ten years. I never missed an airing of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, which I thought at one time was about as close to a modern Will Rogers-type comedian as there was.

Alas, in the run-up to 2008, GK chose to go mean-spiritedly partisan, fell down on his knees metaphorically in worship of the One, and went full-on rabid bigot with regard to Tea Partiers, Republicans and conservatives generally since then. Ok, fine – free country and all that, and I am free to take my fanship – and my pledges elsewhere, preferably to a news and entertainment venue which doesn’t feel the need to kick me in the face, morning noon and night, and three times that on Sunday. Which brings me back to NPR – and yes, I know the two NPR executives featured in the video are management materiel and not reporters or on-air personalities . . . but to appear not to know anything about the Muslim Brotherhood, to be apparently eager to curry favor with a big-money donor, and be so willing to trash Christians and Tea Partiers, not to mention a well-respected former employee like Juan Williams, not to mention appearing to go along with the whole –Jews-control-the-media meme . . . Words fail me on that one, at least the words that I can put onto a family blog. Yes, it’s one thing to gracefully appreciate a potential donation, quite another to look like you’re about to break out the kneepads and the Binaca. So – like the old story of the woman who would sleep with a guy for a million dollars, but not for ten dollars – now NPR is just negotiating the price.

Sheesh . . . at this point, I’m not only convinced that NPR and PBS ought to be de-funded – I want back every dime of every pledge I ever contributed.

All righty then – maybe the book that this inspired this upcoming TV series is as funny as some of the reviewers made it out to be – somehow I doubt it. Desperate Housewives set in Dallas? Erm, OK, then. Divorced mother moves back into town and gets treated badly by the so-called upper crust. This was funnier thirty years ago when it was called Harper Valley PTA. And I suppose it’s necessary to keep the title; gotta keep on kicking all those devoutly observant Christians in flyover country smack in the kisser. The Lords of the Entertainment Industrial Complex will show those no-class rubes who’s in charge, boy howdy! The upside is – they’ve probably pissed off at least a third of the potential audience before the show even rolls out. Honestly, sometimes I wonder if they do want people to watch their shows.

And speaking of discouraging people from watching shows – we used to like Glee. Enjoyed the heck out of it, actually: decent music, original concept and characters, a great deal of wit, a talented cast, and writing that sparkled . . . and then it all drained away, and somehow we can’t bring ourselves to watch the latest season. It all seemed to deflate gradually, but the episode where they all went ga-ga for Lady Gaga stuck the fork in it. (Note: is Lady G’s fifteen minutes of fame up yet?) Maybe the show became less about characters and situations and more about pounding home certain points with a sledgehammer, which brings to mind the rule attributed to movie mogul Sam Goldwyn: If you want to send a message, call Western Union. Or Sgt Mom’s version: Skip the pious platitudes and just entertain me, thanks. And now they’re going to finish off what is left of Glee’s audience by incorporating a Tea Party Mom/Sarah Palin type political candidate character and not in a nice way . . . all together with me now: Oh, that will go over real well!

Swiftly and efficiently alienating at least a half of the remaining audience, which leads me back to my original point – do they even want us to watch their damn shows?

The food-court flash-mob, singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Avery nicely planned and executed stunt, which took place last month in a mall in Ontario, Canada.

Friend sent me the link via email. I just thought it was so cool. I wonder how classical music enthusiasts will top this – maybe perform HMS Pinafore at half-time at a football game?

That would be so cool…

(Don’t have any liquid in your mouth while watching this … look, I warned you, I’m not paying for any new keyboards.)

At the risk of being viewed as a skinless person in a sandpaper world, I have to admit that in the last couple of years or so, I have really added more and more actors, entertainers, musicians and writers to my own private boycott list – in fact, I have added more in the last year by a factor of twenty to one than I ever added over the last three decades. I still can’t decide if this is because my toleration of stupid celebrities mouthing off has just withered away to the thickness of tissue paper in recent years, or there are just more stupid celebrities who feel obliged to step up to the plate and make a demonstration of their general f**kwittedness in those intervals when they are not actually entertaining us.

Jane “Hanoi” Fonda was the first actress that went on my personal no-dice list, for historic reasons which should need no explanation here. Hasn’t made a movie in years, but I skipped the exercise tapes as well, just on general principles. Next on the list – Cat Stephens, following the 1989 fatwa issued on Salman Rushdie for the Satanic Verses. Mr. Cat publicly supported the fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khoumeni. Frankly, the only output of Mr. Cat which merited my boycotting was his hit Peace Train– which had achieved the status of a Golden Oldie by that time. Eh – we had a library full of Golden Oldies, when I was working as a AFRTS radio dee-jay. I was happy to play anything other than Peace Train for all the rest of my time serving in this duty. I suppose I ought to add in Marlon Brando, post-Apocalypse Now, for general serious weirdness, elephantiasis of the ego and screwing up what could have been a fairly decent movie. And as much as I could, I avoided John Landis. Not for anything he said – but for directorial incompetence in setting up a film-stunt involving a hovering helicopter in the Twilight Zone Movie, which managed to kill Vic Morrow and a pair of child-actor extras. Basically, he skated away from manslaughter charges on that one. Call me Miss Judgmental, but I cherish my grudges.

Move on into this present century, and what riches there are, as far as Celebs Mouthing Off! Really, one is spoiled for choice. Induction into my personal hall of shame is reduced from something that would resemble Grand Central Station at rush hour through the happy chance of not being particular fans of certain directors, actors, musicians and writers anyway. Having never watched anything of Oliver Stone’s oeuvre after Platoon, and nothing at all of Michael Moore’s – eh. Is it really a boycott if you never watched them anyway? Or a star who never really appealed, like Barbara Streisand? On the other hand, it’s a bit of a mild wrench to walk away from actors and writers whom I really did enjoy watching, or reading, once upon a time; Susan Sarandon, Matt Damon, and Jane Smiley. (Hey, I loved Moo, and the Greenlanders.) Rosie O’Donnell once was funny; she had the best lines evah! in A League of Their Own. I suppose the biggest wrench of all was not listening to Garrison Keillor any more. I used to love Prairie Home Companion, and never missed an airing of the show on Saturday afternoons, or the repeat airing the next day . . . but GK just got too one-sided with the political comedy, too snide and mean-spirited, and finally it just got too much.

Really, I would have preferred to think of actors, singers and the like to be just another sort of well-trained, costumed, performing monkey. Put on the costume, go out on stage or on the set, say the lines, and then go the hell away; don’t lecture me about politics, religion, the environment, politics or nuclear war from the bully pulpit of your celebrity. The odds are that my opinions on any and all of those matters will probably differ, and in some cases, differ substantially from a large chunk of those in the audience – and presuming to lecture me from a position of presumed moral authority on your part will have the effect of seriously annoying me. It may seriously annoy me to the point of not going to your movies and shows, watching or listening to them on radio and television, and never buying any of your DVDs or CDs – ever again. Look what happened to the Dixie Chicks and think of that as a cautionary tale. I am sure that they felt all morally-superierly after kicking their fan-base in the teeth, but having an appeal which is becoming increasingly selective does translate to a smaller audience; not a good thing in the long run. Audiences do not remain around forever, Wayne Newton to the contrary. Encouraging them to head at speed for the exits – not a good long-time career move.

Which is not to say that celebs shouldn’t have opinions or take up causes near and dear to their hearts. Heck, save the whales, adopt an orphan, dish up meals for the homeless, come and help bail out a flooded area, convert to an off-brand religious sect, whatever. Just don’t beat us over the heads with it, ‘kay? Walk the fine line, keeping in mind that we’ve got our own causes and our own problems.

The only times I ever got ahead of any particular zeitgeist was when I started blogging – which was in 2002, and for this blog. There may have been fair number of blogs in existence back then, in the Dark Ages of blogging, but you still had to explain exactly what it was, this mysterious thing called a blog – and god bless ‘em, people like my parents who were only barely aware of the internet, had to have the whole concept explained to them very, very, carefully. And I was way out there when it came to the Tea Party, but that was only because a person I knew and liked – through blogging – asked if I would like to get involved.
More usually, I am the one wandering along the well-trodden track, well after the herd has gone by, wondering vaguely where all the footprints were going, and then being distracted by butterflies or rabbits or something. So it was, when it came to reading Lord of the Rings – I didn’t actually read it until I was well along in high school, and all my friends had read it ages ago. For some reason – possibly because The Fellowship of the Ring was checked out of the library – I read The Two Towers first, and then Return of the King, before reading The Fellowship of the Ring. This had the advantage of kick-starting the adventure off in high gear. Anyway, simply everyone else had already read the whole thing, and in some cases, years before. (It was just one of those books that you read then, just like everyone had read Stranger in a Strange Land. You just did.) So, I read it all, and caught up with everyone else – and then, I did something a little radical: I read it aloud to my little brother, Sander, who was then about four or five. My parents did not believe in TV, you see. This is how people used to amuse themselves, back then.

They read books, and I had established a regular habit of reading a couple of chapters of appropriate kid-lit to my little brother. We had already read The Hobbit – so, one afternoon we launched into LOTR. At a chapter or two a night, it took most of a year, and he was absolutely enthralled before we had gotten very far, and would often beg for another chapter – because the end of most chapters is a cliff-hanger, you see. You simply have to start the next chapter to find out what will happen to our sturdy hobbit adventurers, and before you know it, here comes another peril. As I said, it took most of a year; and by the end of it, Sander could talk like Sam Gamgee. That Halloween, he insisted on dressing up as a hobbit, with a tunic and cloak (we had to fudge on the furry feet, though) and a little wooden sword and a shield with Tolkeinish runes painted on it. I have no idea what his various grade school teachers thought of all of this, by the way. He must have come to school with some very strange turns of phrase, during this period.

And then, when my daughter was four years old – I read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings aloud to her, as well. We were in Greece then, and still without a television, VCRs had just barely come on the market and it wasn’t as if I could afford one anyway. So – back to the refuge of books. Blondie, the Daughter Unit became as enthralled as my little brother had been – again, it took the best part of a year. She began relating the latest development to her best friend, at nursery school, and the best friend begged her mother to begin reading LOTR to her. But Blondie was still ahead as far as the cliffhangers went, for we remained a few chapters in the lead, and she could still let her friend know what was coming next.
When the Peter Jackson movie version came out – of course, Blondie and I were so there; every year, when I came back to California to visit my parents for Christmas, we’d go to the big movie theater in Oceanside together; another one of those family rituals. And the last freelance project I finished, allowed me to indulge in some books and DVDs that I had always wanted, among them a boxed set (second-hand, naturally!) of the extended-version of LOTR; the one with all the extra scenes included. Just couldn’t stop at the end of each disc, by the way – had to go a little way into the next. What a visual feast of a movie; and how very curious that it all looked just as I had imagined it would look, all those ages ago, when I read it to my little brother.

…a note in C-sharp.
I have a couple of horrifically impending deadlines, so blogging is at a minimum until I can meet them – and it is important to meet the most impending of them since it is a paid writing project.
Another of them is the follow-on to this book, A 21 Story Salute
Finally, I have to carve out some time after these two projects are done to finish the next book, which will be called Daughter of Texas, although the working title all along has been Gone to Texas.
In September, I will be at the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene, Texas to promote the books now available. May I ask a favor – of those readers who have read To Truckee’s Trail and the Adelsverein Trilogy? If you haven’t done so, can you post a rating and review on Amazon for them? Nothing especially lengthy; just let readers know what you liked about it – and if you have criticisms, be honest about that, too. It’s kind of embarrassing, they’ve been out on the market all this time, and have only a handful of reviews each. (Although oddly enough, they still continue to climb in the ratings. But slowly … like an arthritic snail crawling across a hot asphalt parking lot.)

Thanks!
Sgt Mom

Seriously, what is it with the people that make our movies? I might almost believe there was something about the higher reaches of show biz that turns people into complete and raving loons. What with a long series of much-ballyhooed movies culminating in The Green Zone, most which in some degree or other, can easily be construed as anti-troops/anti-war productions and most of which have tanked at the box office, an Oscar evening which I didn’t even bother to watch, let alone seeing any of the movies involved, and Tom Hanks near as dammit shooting himself and his TV series The Pacific in the foot with statements about American racism in interviews . . . oh, heck, can I be forgiven for wondering if there something in the water? Never mind how the Hollywood good and the great appeared to jump on the global warmening and the Obama bandwagon, almost simultaneously. Never mind how the Law’n’Order TV concession painted tea partiers as dangerous terrorists. Never mind the incessant slams against the religiously observant, or the monstering of Sarah Palin. The cumulative idiocy is almost too much to be born; it’s almost as if they don’t want us to be watching any of their damned movies or TV at all.

For the record, this last weekend, we went to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which is about the first time in a year that we went to see a first-run movie in the theaters. (Last time it was Gran Torino, if memory serves, and no, I can’t remember what we went to see the time before that.) I might have gone to see Up, and Blondie and I were considering Julie and Julia, but just didn’t feel strongly enough about either to make the effort. Seriously, I used to love going to movies, but somehow and somewhere in the last decade or so I lost my enthusiasm. Between the expense and hassle of actually going to the theater, the sheer badness of most current releases, the speed with which the best of the current crop show up on DVD (where I can ask to do a review and get the darned thing for free) and the steady drip-drip-drip of ignorance and insult directed at flyover, working-class Americans, conservatives, military, and tea partiers – all sourced from the glitterati . . . well, really, what’s the point? Why should I put up with having my values routinely insulted, right along with my intelligence? I have long insisted on skipping anything which features car chases, machine-gun fire and massive explosions, in lieu of plot and dialogue. And I’d prefer to think of actors as a kind of well-trained performing monkey, whose job is to amuse the audience. I do not want them to be lecturing me on politics, history, international relations, global warming or ecology at the drop of a hat or Charlie Sheen’s trousers, whichever happens oftener. Not unless they actually have some professional education or expertise in those fields, which damn few of them appear to do anyway. Stick to entertaining me, dammit.

Bob Hope, that is.

(Link Found courtesy of the Belmont Club)

. . . As well as the jaw-dropping, industrial-strength, armor-plated ignorance displayed in the comments appended to this story. Quite honestly, I ought to have become used to this, since the usual tools used to have about the same misconceptions – and probably still do – about military. All of this industrial-grade bigotry on open display, without ever actually coming anywhere near the military, a military base, or any members of the military. So, I very likely am right that the most virulently hostile of the commenters here quoted, and which I have seen in other internet venues have never actually come to a Tea party rally, or personally know anyone involved with a local Tea Party. And of course, the most ironical part is that these people very likely take a great deal of pride in how open-minded and tolerant they are.

Just a sample, for your delectation:

I DESPISE the fascist tea-party movement. If they get into office, this country is going the way of the Nazi party, in essence. No thank you. They are the most dangerous and evil movement in the United States since the John Birch Society, which they very much resemble. – Susan in Redmond, WA

Didn’t the Nazi party start kind of like this? Desperation is scary to say the least. – Dash Riprock

A bunch of bible banging – racist – right wing domestic terrorists – running around with tea bags stapled to their foreheads? – Feisty Redhead Roselle

And then, of course, I realized that a lot of them must be fans of the recent seasons of Law & Order, which explains quite a lot.

So, once the Halloween decorations were sorted out and put away, we could think of nothing better to do than to drive up to New Braunfels on Sunday morning to join in the Wurstfest celebration. What better place, and what better day is there to celebrate suds, sausage and song than in a small town, in a park by a cool green river, and on one of those gloriously cool autumn days? Music and revelry, carnival rides for the kids, and plentiful seating, under the pecan trees, or in the big and little tents, or the main hall. Wurstfest is one of those gloriously scrambled ethnic holidays that can only happen in the US – and possibly only in Texas. For sure, it might be the only place on earth where you can see a woman wearing a dirndl and cowboy boots, or have a serving of nachos and cheese with sauerkraut, while listening to an oompah band play the National Anthem, followed closely by the chicken dance. A monumental beer stein in the main hall features – you guessed it, a painting chickens dancing.

Besides the official leitmotif of sausages in every form – and there practically is every other variety of meat-onna-stick known to man available, the food vendors also have a wide range of fried stuff; regular fairground things like funnel cakes, but also deep-fried pickles and a delight which about made my arteries close up just to consider it; chicken-fried bacon. One of the vendors, the New Braunfels Smokehouse is well-established, but most of the other food vendors were run by local booster clubs and associations, like the Little League, the Canyon Lake Masonic Lodge, and the various Lions Clubs.

Of course – beer is the second official leitmotif, by the glass or the pitcher. New Braunfels was the second town established in the mid-19th century by a massive influx of German settlers brought over by a well-meaning, but ultimately disorganized group of nobly-born philanthropists. The Germans – those who survived the journey and the vicissitudes of the frontier – brought along an appreciation for arts, culture, and technology – and straightaway set to producing beer. It is only fitting that one of the largest, if not the largest collections of beer bottles in the world is permanently housed on the Wurstfest grounds in the Spass Haus, which is either a museum cunningly disguised as a bar, or a bar cunningly disguised as a museum. In either case, no one dares begin to sing “9 thousand, 9 hundred, 99 bottles of beer on the wall,” because they’d be there for at least the whole run of Wurstfest. The bottles are from all over the world; the oldest American beer bottles are from the 1840s.

And finally – it’s hats, some of them very strange; hats shaped like chickens seemed to be awfully popular, I spotted one shaped like a beer keg with a spigot on the side, another shaped like an over-flowing stein, (which really came from Germany, the wearer of it informed me) and the hat with a number of green tentacles on it also seemed pretty popular.
Wurstfest runs until Sunday, November 8th, not only at Landa Park, but throughout New Braunfels.

Sometimes, it’s a real pain in the ass, knowing history – kind of like one of those lines of telepaths in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels, who could see all the possible futures, resulting from any deliberate or random action and usually went mad, from it – not daring to take any step at all, seeing all the millions of possible results.
Knowing history is a bit like that. You know what happened before – sometimes many times before – as a result of specific actions or inactions – and even though those baleful results didn’t happen every single damn time, the unfortunate and unlooked for results happened frequently enough to make you jumpy when you start seeing certain things happening one damn more time. And saying, between slightly gritted teeth “No, as a matter of fact, I am NOT paranoid – I just have good pattern recognition!” is of no particular comfort, or defense.

I’ll leave to more qualified and credentialed intellects than mine to take a resounding thwack at the current administration – they’re being beaten like a cheap piñata at a kid’s party where everyone present has slipped off the blindfold, taken up a baseball bat and had a fair old go at it; hey ACORN – how ya doing, still facilitating setting up whorehouses stocked with underage Third-world staff? Lizard-Lips Lady, still adoring Mao and Mother Theresa … geeze, how did someone with a disability that makes you look as if you are trying to pry peanut-butter off the roof of your mouth mid-speech get a job as communications director? Oh, never mind – wife of old Chicago crony – I can do the math. Like I didn’t see that kind of deal coming, from when the serious politicking began, all these long months and years ago. And adding Fox News to the enemies list? Bad move, sports-fans … never pick a fight with someone who buys printer ink by the barrel or pixels by the cart-load. Besides, you are increasing their viewer-stats by degrees, and raising uncomfortable memories of Richard M. Nixon, he of the White House enemies list – and many of those so-called enemies have been dining out forever on their established reputation. You’ve made their reps well into the next couple of decades as ‘fearless chaps and chapesses who dared speak truth to power’ – at least, if they have a sinecure in broadcasting like the dear old croaking saint Daniel Schorr of NPR, in which case they will have a cause to go on croaking about unto the next generation or two. Yeah, like never give a hack a cause to harp on about, endlessly. Eternity, that is thy name.

No – the thing that seriously worries me is what I first started to notice, when I occasionally went spelunking through the deeper lefty-depths of regular bloggers at Open Salon. What initially unsettled me was the casual and usually much applauded (to judge by the appended comments) demonization of the “other.” The “other” in this case being – depending on the issue under discussion – conservatives, Republicans, Sarah Palin fans, Tea Partiers, church-goers, Obama Administration critics, or critics of health-care reform. And these same leftish OS bloggers were not – for the most part – the sort of screeching howler-monkey Kossacks that I would have avoided anyway. I’ve been blogging at OS for more than a year, and many of these exact same bloggers were in a way of being fans of my own OS blog and my writing in general – so the free-floating contempt for conservatives and non-Obama fans of every variation was a little disheartening. I post at OS for the literary exposure, more than engaging in political fisticuffs, so I haven’t made many attempts at open discussion. It’s kind of like your grandmother’s house at Thanksgiving, encountering some of their reactionary old friends: yeah, you could start an argument with them – but it’s not the time or the place, and the whole exercise would be kinda pointless anyway. The minds are already made up, and your Grandmother would be hurt over having a good dinner ruined. Just bite your tongue and have another helping of chestnut stuffing. This sort of thing has been going on since the first ur-blogger put on his saber-toothed tiger PJs, crawled up to his stone keyboard and pecked out “Urg-rok is a moron!” I may not want to get drawn into the discussion—but I’m fairly used to it, after blogging since mid-2002. Used to it – and tired of it. I just observe and analyze, these days and in that venue.

The automatic denigration of the “other” starts to worry me, though, when it slides seamlessly past an equally automatic disregard of whatever argument or position the “other” holds – merely because it is the “other” holding it. The default position becomes “There’s no need to even bother considering “x” because everyone who holds position “x” is *insert group identity label here* – say, a “Tea Partier”, or a “conservative” or “a Christian” or – going even farther “a Fox TV fan” , “a global warming denier” or “someone who wants the poor and uninsured to just die already!” It’s not good and it’s not healthy to have this kind of contempt normalized, especially among people who otherwise pride themselves on being right-thinking, tolerant and broad-minded. And then, a little farther along the continuum of contempt, I get a little more worried, when one starts to hear sincerely-expressed wishes that the “other” just go away, just vanish – so that the well-meaning and sensitive and caring sorts won’t even have to bother with considering those nasty “others” any more. I fear that a dangerous threshold has been reached, when this kind of emotion seep out into the commentary of a semi-mainstream commentator like Garrison Keillor – who most famously of late commented: “one starts to wonder if the country wouldn’t be better off without them and if Republicans should be cut out of the healthcare system entirely and simply provided with aspirin and hand sanitizer. Thirty-two percent of the population identifies with the GOP, and if we cut off healthcare to them, we could probably pay off the deficit in short order.” Kind of a sweeping statement there; would Mr. Keillor also recommend that people he disagreed with be subjected to a sort of modern political Nuremburg Law? I suppose he intended to be witty – but it comes off as sour, and angry – and more than a little unsettling, given that he would be talking about a third of his fellow citizens and countrymen.

This very week, the White House has made a fairly concerted and so far unsuccessful effort to de-legitimize Fox News as a news source, arguing that it is just dishing up too much ideological content to be a real news organization. One might suspect that the real problem is that Fox isn’t genuflecting deep enough for the White House press office’s taste, and has the embarrassing tendency to cover issues that the White House would rather be left uncovered. De-legitimizing Fox as a news organization is all of a piece with the tendency noted above; essentially, “what you think and say doesn’t matter, because all good-thinking people have decided that you are beneath notice, that you are ignorant at best and malign at worst, and maybe it would be best for all if you just weren’t around.”

Yeah, knowing history can make reading the headlines a little discomforting; sometimes paranoids really do have people out to get them.

According to the invaluable but frequently erratic Wikipedia, that translates to “the lord’s right” – that is, the right of a noble lord to be the first to bed any or all of the local girls, willing or not, who caught his lordly eye. Further, Wikipedia states that although there is not much credible evidence to suggest this legal right ever existed or was practiced in Western Europe, the phrase has been used ever since, as a convenient short-hand, in reference to all those rights that a noble lord exercised over the tenantry – especially those rights and privileges which infuriated those they were exercised upon. The rights of the lord with regard to the lesser orders variously infuriated, insulted, demeaned, degraded, or at the very least inconvenienced the sturdy peasantry. And there is, I think, something of a race-memory of this in middle- or working-class Americans, for they don’t much like it when someone attempts to claim a lordly privilege. Nothing is more calculated to earn a snappy comeback from a hard working American prole with nothing to loose, then someone in a high dudgeon demanding “Don’t you know who I am?!” There are whole sub-categories of stories of independent mechanics and plumbers who reply, “Yeah, the guy who ain’t gonna get his Hummer back until next Wednesday,” or “Yeah, the a-hole who’d better call another plumber!” The original of this tale involved the English investor, visiting an American cattle ranch, in the far West, circa 1880, and accosted one of the ranch-hands, saying, “Where is your master?” and the hand replying (doubtless with a spit into the weeds and something of a John Wayne snarl) “The S-O-B ain’t been born, yet!

So, no – traditionally claiming special privilege on account of exalted wealth or blood never went down very well over on this side of the pond, although there is an element in American society that does tend to go all wobbly-kneed when it comes to Euro-royalty. Or royalty of any sort; just look at the covers of the magazines on the rack by the supermarket check-out station. But an over-developed interest in aristocracy of the old, or the new-made kind ought not to be confused with any eagerness to allow law to be set aside for the convenience of a member in good standing of the aristocracy – as the usual Hollywood crowd is discovering to their horror in the wake of the Polonski business. I’d have called it l’affaire Polonski, but that doesn’t quite translate the sense that it wasn’t an affair, in the sexual sense. It was plain old rape (and drugging, and unconsenting sodomy) of a minor, for which the perpetrator bargained down to a lesser charge, was found guilty and skipped the country. And nope, I don’t give a rodent’s patoot that it was upty-odd- decades ago, that he’s a really sooooper-talented, and all his nice Hollywood friends with their faultless moral compasses and quasi-aristocratic assumptions are rallying around, demanding that he is a very, very special person, and entitled to clemency. Nope – that will not do. It wouldn’t do if it had been the plumber Ronnie Polonski, or the Father Polonski the Catholic priest – in fact, I think – no, scratch that; I know the reaction of the Hollywood set would have been much different, in those cases.

I think most of us have assumed for years that Hollywood was a weird, and insulated little world, all to itself, and now we see how very, very easily they assumed the trappings of privilege, and a sense of how the laws that apply to everyone else, somehow, magically do not apply to them, and their very special, talented friends. And now we see, exactly, what they would justify and excuse, and explain away. Frankly, I find it pretty sick-making. Even more sick-making, is the list of actors, directors, and other illuminati who have come out in support of their good buddy, the child-rapist. From what little I might know of some of them, I had expected a little better. Especially Whoopi Goldberg, whom I used to think funny…

Well, then – there’s another ten of fifteen entries on my private movie boycott list, some of them with movies that I still would watch. But not now, not after this sick little exercise in droit de seigneur. Really, are these people trying to make everyone in the whole damned country not watch their movies?

I am amused to note a lot of amusing new and old media fall-out, after the massive Tea-party inspired rally on the Mall on Saturday – which, depending on which media outlet and which political orientation you read – may have been as many as two million people or just one or two of them walking a million times around the Capitol Building. They were all carrying Nazi symbols, and Confederate banners and getting their hate on, according to some of the more … ahem … outspoken commentators, such as this one, whose illustration for his post takes the absolute cake for condescension and arrogance … although apparently, the Tea Partiers did pick up the trash when they were done, for which I think they ought to get some credit. And no, I didn’t read much past the ‘teabagger’ reference in the linked column. That’s according to my new principle of considering that as akin to the n-word. This Daggatt person is supposed to be “a meticulous political blogger” according to David Brin’s blog at Open Salon, and offer a “ a truly excellent appraisal.” Yeah, that David Brin. Guess he doesn’t get out all that much.

Quite honestly, I am left shaking my head in weary disbelief, reading the picture that is painted of the Tea Party and conservatives/libertarians in general on the leftist blogs and media – in a similar way that I used to be shaking my head at the portrayal of the military, in similar venues. People would write the most astonishing things, insist that every word was true, and the most horrible things were going on in the military – and couldn’t accept that what they were saying wasn’t anything like the military that I actually lived in. You’d think that a military veteran and someone active in the Tea Party would have some credibility with them, for … you know, actually being there, and being able to speak with authority regarding their particular concern … but no. Their minds were already made up – and who should I believe, them or my lying eyes?

Coincidentally, there is another ruckus brewing – fortunately this involves Hollywood and it’s not Kanye West, so it’s fairly minor, rating only a long and amusing thread at John Scalzi’s Whatever. Apparently the pearls are being clutched, over the inability of this film to find an American distributor because – get this! Those fundamentalist American yahoos are just so anti-the-teaching-of evolution that no one will touch a costume drama about Charles Darwin with a ten-foot pole. Oh, spare me the attack of the vapors, people – the grownups in this country who eschew Michael Bay and all his works and his ways eat up this high-toned, historical costume-drama Merchant Ivory stuff as if it were a quart of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, and don’t you even try telling me otherwise.

See, both these parties appear to have something in common – besides a stratospherically high estimation of their own superiority – and that is, they think they know something, and everything they read, hear on TV, and at cocktail party chit-chat with their friends all reinforces that thing that they think they know. The producers of “Creation” – or more likely, the marketing guru who they have hired to gin up some controversy, attract some attention, and with luck, snag an American distribution deal, all know that Americans (to quote the acerbic Mr. Scalzi) are knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing Creationists. All nice, creative, brilliant and witty Brits know this, and they know this because they read it in their newspapers and hear it on the BBC, and all their nice, creative, brilliant and witty friends say so.

And so it is also with our very own dear media and intellectual elite: they just know that the Tea Party folks are ignorant, racist, knuckle-dragging hicks, who are puppets of (pick one or all) Fox TV, the Republican Party, or the insurance industry, because all the very best people say so, and really … the New York Times say so, and so does NPR. Well, there you go. I think that what these people have done is to create a simulacrum in their own minds of what an American is, or a semi-libertarian conservative Constitutionalist is, which has some tiny and almost coincidental resemblance to what they are, really … and for one reason or another, it’s just easier, or more comforting to believe in the simulacrum.

Well, it’s kinder than thinking they are all just nucking futs, which was my first reaction. Hey, I at least did the courtesy of at least trying to be understanding. I live to serve, people.

And it burns, it burns us, it does!

Yeah, I saw this at Protein Wisdom. In a perfect world, this would have been on Saturday Night Live. Alas, most funny and deeply sarcastic stuff is on YouTube, these days.

Oh, man – there are some people who just cannot take being laughed at, as richly as they deserve it. Kudos for Sacha Baron Cohen, for having a brass pair … tastefully trimmed with some fashionable and expensive designer-something-or-other, I am sure.