Here we are, only a bare week and a half into “Pride Month” and I’m already tired of it all – triggered by an email for a fabric and interior decorating store that I did subscribe to and don’t anymore. Yes, they sent me an email advertising their assortment of Pride-themed fabrics and that’s when my last nerve was stomped on, metaphorically, with hobnailed boots. A small thing … but it hit my limit of toleration. Mainstream commercial retail has been doing this – Target stores being the example which comes most often to mind. I can only assume that their leadership gets a nice warm fuzzy feeling over catering to a miniscule minority while annoying the heck out of a larger segment of the purchasing public.

For some reason June has become the month set aside by … the current zeitgeist, the ad agencies, the LGBTQVWXYZTLGBLT-whatever orgs … to celebrate the LGBT-BLT lifestyle of a minority of the human population in these variably-blessed and sort-of united States. A minority which encompasses perhaps two percent of the population overall, three percent at best, plus maybe another two or three percent comprised of confused adolescents trying to shock their parents and deeply unbalanced adults hopping on the current social fad bandwagon. Yet, somehow, this relatively tiny but ear-splittingly loud minority get a whole month wherein to pester the general public, parade through the streets and flog rainbow-themed merch wherever you glance. Activists and politicians wanting to goose their ratings in the polls, exhibitionists wanting to shock the daylights out of the normies by wearing fetish gear in public during the day and commercial interests looking for a few extra dollars in these inflationary days have seized on any old excuse to hawk their wares between Memorial Day and the 4th of July. As has been pointed out frequently by commenters on the conservative side of the spectrum – our war dead, our veterans, our past presidents and our country itself only get a single day each; why do the LGBT-BLTs rate the whole darned month?

This is not, by the way, to be construed as me expressing a dislike or even a hatred of LGBT-BLT individuals. I just don’t care what consenting adults get up to in private; haven’t cared for simply decades. (The operative words here are consenting, adult and private. Like Mrs. Patrick Campbell is supposed to have said – Don’t care what you do in the bedroom, just don’t be doing it in the road and frightening the horses.) Why the heck should we be hectored into a pretense of caring about the LGBT-BLT spectrum now; as if they let up any time during the other eleven months? It used be said that it was the love that dare not speak it’s name, now it’s the love that never shuts up. As I said, I’m sick and tired of Pride Month already, and it’s only a week and a half into June. Your comments?

My daughter and I and Wee Jamie the Wonder Grandson had to make a flying visit out to California all last week. Family reasons – my mother asked to see the three of us. She is in her nineties, bedridden and failing; this was the first time that she had asked to see us. We knew it would be the last, so we dropped everything, packed Thing the Versa and hit the road on Memorial Day for the twenty-hour-long drive, rather dreading everything that we might encounter when we got there. Not just the personal – but dreading encounters with the progressively-inclined and everything else which has come about in the nearly half-century since I upped sticks and left California behind for the military and then retirement in Texas.

I grew up in California – a nice, normal 1950s and 60’s upbringing in an outlaying fringe suburb, backed up against the wall of the San Gabriel Mountains. The first house that my parents owned there was a hill-top bungalow built shortly after WWII. On a dirt road among similarly rural properties, we had a horse and a garden, walked to school, a row of olive trees in the back yard, and watched fireworks over Hansen Dam on the 4th of July. The second house was on a paved road, but with a view and a swimming pool, bountifully producing orange and lemon trees in the back yard. We visited the grandparents regularly, went to Cotillion, confirmation class, summer camp, and Scouts … Vietnam was ongoing, but Ronald Reagan was governor, and Tom Bradley was the mayor, so California then was a sane and well-organized place, with beautiful scenery that might range from desert palms to snow in the pines in the space of half a day’s drive. Temperate weather, bountiful farming country – growing everything from rice to dates to almonds and acres and acres of citrus fruit. There was a strong industrial element, too, along with an enviable public education system, and a state-of-the-art highway network. The nutbars, fruitcakes and relatively harmless eccentrics stayed or were kept away from the levers of power. Or so it seemed, then.

I went to the military for twenty years, then spent the following thirty in Texas – increasingly happy with the chance that deposited me there, after the Air Force.

My daughter went out every year by Amtrak to spell my sister and her family, so that they could take a vacation from overseeing Mom’s constant care. Last year, she took Wee Jamie (then aged two) to introduce to my brothers, sister and Mom. She returned from every visit with discouraging stories of homeless camps lining the streets downtown by Union Station and freeway overpasses, horrifying mountains of trash and graffiti disfiguring buildings and the railway sidings, and disintegrating highways. Last year it was a deranged woman in the doorway to the local neighborhood Ald1, screaming abuse at shoppers. It was also a comatose street person on the sidewalk by a thrift store. She curtailed a visit to that shop, since she had Wee Jamie with her, and didn’t want to risk a dangerous encounter with an obviously substance-addled individual. And of course, stories of California political and social dysfunction are almost a permanent feature in the alternate media which is my regular source of information, as well as countless stories of California residents departing in droves for practically anywhere else. I was expecting – and dreading the same and perhaps worse on this trip.

But no – my sister’s neighborhood was a placid, well-kept and to all appearances a stable and secure place. The streets are lined with mature trees, shading beautifully maintained cottages and small houses of every vintage from turn-of-the-last-century to mid-century post-war, lush with well-groomed gardens and hedges of sweet-olive and mock orange. (TV series often use this neighborhood for exterior location shoots, it is that attractive.) Rows of palm trees lined some streets, and the familiar silhouette of Mount Wilson loomed up on the horizon to the east. Rose bushes in bloom were everywhere – Pasadena calls their New Year’s festival the Rose Parade for a reason.

The homeless were nowhere in evidence, much to my daughter’s mild surprise. I walked Wee Jamie every morning, pushing the cheap Cocomelon-themed folding stroller that we keep in Thing’s trunk for emergencies. The weather was cool, in comparison to late May in Texas – no need for air conditioning and closed windows and doors. We went to the LA County Arboretum with Jamie, admiring the flowers, the Queen Anne cottage, Lucky Baldwin’s bespoke stable, and the peacocks, who were in mating season, and in full voice. There were volunteers at the Arboretum, dead-heading the roses, and a well-mannered class of high-school kids from a private school, appreciating a morning of freedom from routine. We went to a nearby up-scale mall, let Jamie into the play area and let him run around with the other littles for a bit, bought lunch in the food court… the mall had about as many shoppers as one could expect at a mid-day mid-week, and there were no vacancies along the shop fronts. And it all was … good. I talked now and again with people that I met; an elderly gentleman walking his German shepherd dog, the expatriate Englishwoman tending her lovely garden at the front of a pair of cottages on a deep lot (as was the custom in that part of Pasadena – stacking two houses on a deep lot), the young woman walking her baby son in another stroller. We had one of those weird heart-to-heart conversations, in which she confessed that she and her husband really didn’t want to raise their little son there – but they had family close by and depended on them … and I looked around and realized that for most people in a comfortable situation, in a prosperous neighborhood, close to kin and friends… it’s all good.

It’s lotus-land. For now. Maybe it will continue being OK. For now.

17. May 2024 · Comments Off on Literary Imagination · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, General Nonsense

The matter of a certain literary style and practice came up a couple of months ago – and I was reminded again of the discussion in a weird way, when my daughter and I watched the Night at the Museum movie series. This was in the interests of not freaking out Wee Jamie terribly, who is soaking up information and stimuli like a small, child-shaped sponge. I vaguely recall watching the first of the series, but my daughter did not, so I must have seen it in a theater, possibly when the Gentleman With Whom I (Once) Kept Company was on one of his yearly visits to Texas. Cute movie, and one which loaded in a lot of established actors in supporting roles (Ricky Gervais? Seriously?) …but anyway. (It is kind of cool, though – imagining an animated dinosaur skeleton playing ‘fetch’ the bone, and behaving like a playful puppy…)

The museum of the initial movie setting reminded me of an elementary school field trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History in Exposition Park, which also covered the La Brea Tar Pits, with all the life-sized landscaped dioramas, and the stuffed critters, mounted dinosaur bones and the remains of paleolithic critters excavated from the tar pits… all terribly retro and rather quaint, actually. There’s a natural history museum here in the old upscale part of San Antonio, the Witte Museum, with pretty much the same sort of exhibits, established around the same period, now with the addition of lighting and sound effects.

In any event, I began to think on how these kinds of exhibits became so very popular in the 19th century: I mean, the showman P. T. Barnum started with his exhibit of natural curiosities, scientific exhibits, wonders, and marvels early on. People flocked to see them in the flesh, and twice natural size – because most ordinary people didn’t often see extraordinary things; dinosaur bones, ancient Eqyptian temples, statues of Greek gods and goddesses, African elephants … such were curiosities, and rare ones at that. So going to P. T. Barnum’s flamboyant exhibits, and later on to more staid and scholarly local museums of natural history – well, there they were; all the exotic natural history and fabled creatures that you could wish to see, before movies and television brought them to us in living color in theater and living room.

On one of the book/author blogs which I follow (can’t recall which one or when, or even if it is an original insight!) another writer made what I realized immediately was a perceptive observation, regarding those verbally florid Victorian novelists who went on for pages and pages, describing scenes, settings and characters. Modern readers find this terribly frustrating, as this tendency bogs down the plot something awful. The reason Victorian authors did so was because most of their readers then had no mental archive of visual references to build on! When someone like Sir Walter Scott wrote about medieval Perth, or Dumas wrote about Renaissance France, or Lew Wallace about the Roman-era Holy Land, they were setting the necessary scene for readers in necessary and exacting detail for a reader who perhaps might at best have seen a crude black and white line drawing, or a hand-colored lithograph of a castle, Jerusalem, or the skyline of Paris. There was nothing in the 19th century reader’s visual vocabulary anything like what movies, television, even color photographs in glossy coffee-table books provide modern readers. We have the advantage of already having those visuals in mind, and don’t need to have them spelled out at length.

And that is my off-the-wall observation for this week – the news is just to depressing to contemplate at the moment. Comment as you wish.

05. May 2024 · Comments Off on Pity Poor Mexico … · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Memoir

… so far from God, as the saying went – so close to the United States. Mexico was very close to us, when I was growing up in suburban Los Angeles in the 1960s and early 70s. My elementary school had us study Mexican history in the 6th grade – if I remember correctly, that was part of the unified school district curriculum. We did a field trip to Olvera St., in the old part of downtown, at least three of the old Spanish missions were within a short drive from our various homes, and we weren’t allowed to forget that Los Angeles itself had Spanish origins and Mexican governance for decades before American statehood. For Southern California, Mexico was just a hop, skip, and a jump away – just as it is for South Texas.

A day trip to Tijuana when I would have been about thirteen or fourteen was my first trip to a foreign country. Dad took JP, Pip, and I with him on a trip to could get a new headliner installed in the ’52 Plymouth station wagon which was our family’s main ride. I don’t know why Tijuana, or how Dad located a workshop there that could do the work – but he did, and we spent a whole day there. I guess they could do it in Tijuana for a fraction of the cost of having it done anywhere closer to home. We drove down from Los Angeles, crossed the border, dropped off the car, and spent the hours until it was ready wandering through nearby shops catering to the tourist trade; folk art, hand-blown glass, and Mexican-style furniture. We watched some glassblowers at work, which was pretty interesting, looked at the finished glass menageries, walked by the bull ring and looked at the posters – but as it was a weekday, there was no bullfight scheduled, which was mildly disappointing. We went to a grocery store were Dad bought fresh rolls, cheese and soft drinks for lunch … and in the afternoon, we collected the station wagon and drove home.

Later, when Dad got interested in dune buggies and off-roading, he built a custom dune buggy on the chassis, transmission and engine of a VW bug – they were favored for their low profile and disinclination to roll over on steep inclines, which couldn’t be said of jeeps. Dad welded a custom body out of tube steel lengths, and sourced seats, dash, windshield, and enormous-capacity gas tanks from his favorite junkyards. The resulting junk-parts vehicle looked pretty much like something out of the Mad Max franchise. Over the Easter week holiday break, Dad would take my brothers P.J. and Sander in that dune buggy and go on an extended off-road camping trip to Baja California. They’d camp out in the desert, or on the beaches, eat beanie-weenies out of the can, forgo washing … and have a glorious time of it, all week long. (Meanwhile, Mom and Pip and I would go shopping, see a movie or go to the theater, and elegantly lunch in restaurants … and towards the end of the week, get ready for Easter; each of us had a glorious time over the Easter week break, partaking in those activities which engaged us the most. Pip and I would have been miserable, dragged on such a road trip; Dad, JP and Sander would have hated the ladies-who-lunch routine. To each, their own, and we were much happier for it.)  

What brought all this on was this horrifying story – of three surfing tourists turning up dead – murdered on their dream surfing trip to Baja. Not just the violence, robbery, murder and all – but that it all happened in a place that Dad and my brothers used to frequent, without any shred of concern about danger on visiting. Dad had no worries taking two kids through Baha, no more than any other place north of the border. He possessed a sidearm and was a good  shot with it; I do not know if he took it with him on those trips for personal projection; likely not, as that was frowned upon by Mexican authorities even then. The small towns and the open country along the length of Baha California seemed as safe as any place north of the border. Baja, Ensenada, Rosarita Beach … all those places named in the news stories are familiar. Ensenada and Rosarita just an easy day trip over the border, for the beaches, the bars and restaurants serving excellent and comparatively inexpensive local seafood cooked with Mexican flair.

But that was then, this is now – and another horrible reminder that places which once were fun and safe to visit are not safe now.

 

03. May 2024 · Comments Off on Finishing School · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, Fun With Islam, Local

So, the recent fiery yet “mostly peaceful” pro-Hamas demonstrations of support on various university campuses making the fiery and “mostly peaceful” headlines over the last couple of weeks may yet have unfortunate results for the affected schools. This would be a consummation devoutly desired by those of us on the sort-of-conservative side of the political spectrum, who have viewed the increasing academic lunacy and dysfunction with concern and mistrust. Honestly, it’s long been obvious that there is a massive stench emanating from those ivy-hung quadrangles of higher learning. The tuition to attend them has been increasing at a breakneck rate for two or three decades, even above the rate of inflation, while the graduates of those institutions appear dumber and dumber and the ratio of administrative staff to student body approaches 1:1. Of late, even those graduates boasting diplomas from formerly respected colleges appear barely scathed by literacy, or any kind of practical, useful to-the-working-world knowledge and skills at all. No wonder that an increasing number of 18 year olds are coldly, rationally considering the cost-to-benefit ratio and opting for a trade school or an apprenticeship.

Adding insult to this injury, just about every malignantly bad idea infecting our society and body politic today originated in academia; diversity-equity-inclusion or ‘white people bad!’/POC can do no evil, the viability of gender-swapping and forcing women to share intimate spaces and sports teams with men LARPing as Audrey Hepburn, and those designated as disadvantaged minorities are entitled to whatever retaliation they want to take against those they hold responsible for their condition. I’m certain that dozens of other bad ideas can be laid at the feet of the ivory-tower academics. They’ve long been enamored of communism and that slightly less poisonous junior partner, socialism, because it sounds so logical and sensible in theory. Never mind that extolling Marxism in practice means glossing over mass murder, famine, gulag slave labor, political corruption, and a stagnated manufacturing sector. If academia can overlook all that … well, what’s the murder, kidnapping, mass rape and torture of 1200 Israelis in comparison? Going all I-Heart-Hamas is sooooo daring, rebellious, romantic, and the logical extension of those other bad ideas, in addition to wholly unwarranted ‘60s protest nostalgia. Why not turn out and protest for the Cause, whatever the cause is, this week?

However, I am not entirely certain that fondness for Hamas and the Poor Pitiful Pathetic Palestinians runs all that deep at American universities, even the ivy-shrouded bastions of privilege favored by the otherwise useless spawn of the elite class. Oh, sure – a lot of the proggie professorate are keen, with visions of ’68 dancing in their relatively vacant heads, or administrations keen on all that full-fare tuition from foreign students of a Middle Eastern origin and naturally anti-Semitic leanings. News stories like this one, about the high proportion of professional activists among the detained, the pre-positioned buckets of concrete chunks, the uniformly expensive pop-up tents all of a color and make, professionally pre-printed protest signs … all scream ‘astroturf’.

It’s an ‘astroturf’ protest movement enabled by spaghetti-spined administration and chancellors, at the expense of students there who actually – get this – still expect an education out of it all, while enjoying something of traditional fun and non-activist college experience. I also suspect that in the long run, indulging the I-Heart-Hamas student activists and the professional protest organizing cadre will not work out well for places where the most destructive, disruptive protests have taken place, and which retain the most anti-Semitic faculty. When the brightest and most focused students decide they can be better served by taking their interests and their tuition dollars elsewhere, formerly respected academic establishments will just become an expensive finishing school for privileged foreigners, and the offspring of our own elite class who can’t hack more demanding school programs.
Comment as you wish.

Honestly, I’ve always been considerably conflicted about Gone With the Wind – both the book and the movie. Yes, best-seller, and loved extravagantly by more readers and movie-goers than partisans of the antebellum South, a gripping tale of a time, a place and a people, in a war that stripped away every shred of that noble and deluded gentility and Southern cavalier-worshipping delusion… shades of Vanity Fair, with a spineless, guileless and gentle supposed-heroine whom we are supposed to sympathize with in the main, contrasted with a conniving, spiteful and yet … entrancing stubborn, gutsy and conniving anti-heroine. I was reminded of all this once again, on reading this recent essay – by another woman and writer, similarly conflicted.

On initial reading of GWTW I thought that Scarlett was an amoral, heartless, and manipulative bitch, (I based a supporting character in my own series on Scarlett – as experienced by people who didn’t like her at all. Yes, she annoyed me that much.) Melanie was a deluded simpleton, Ashley ought to have been knocked on the head and put out of his conflicted sexual misery, and Rhett Butler given a good round of treatment by a competent therapist and sent off on a long ocean voyage to someplace else … anywhere else. Maybe British India. China. Anyplace.

I also wanted to wall the book every time Margaret Mitchell made some spiteful comment about abolitionists, Yankees, and Union soldiers. Look, my Smedley great-great-maybe another-great grandfather was a fire-eating and diehard abolitionist. Family legend has that the Smedley family farm was an alternate safe house on a branch of the Underground Railway which ran through Lionville, Pennsylvania. GGG-Grandfather Smedley was also unceremoniously (or perhaps ceremoniously although Quakers normally didn’t seem to go for ceremonies as a rule) read out of his local Quaker meeting for his unseemly enthusiasm for Mr. Lincoln’s war. In response, he took his religious custom to the Lutheran congregation, where we remained ever since, although I confess to flirting with Episcopal tradition, based mostly on a literary fondness for the language in the Common Book of Prayer.

But I kept on reading – because it was that kind of book, the kind that a reader just can’t put down. Early on, I thought that it must have been because some particularly vivid episodes and scenes must have been drawn from the memories of survivors and veterans of the South’s civil war. They had the ring of authentic experience, at one remove. Margaret Mitchell was of an age and era where she would have known and talked to people who vividly recalled such wrenching sequences as the gathering at the newspaper office, as the lists of the Gettysburg casualties were posted … and Scarlett realizes that just about every man she has flirted with, danced with, grown up knowing, the sons of her families’ neighbors … is dead in a battle in Pennsylvania.

On rereading GWTW a couple of years ago, I realized something else – that practically every character outside of the central quartet of Scarlett, Rhett Butler, Ashley Wilkes and Melanie – had particularly vivid stories of their own. Some were hinted at in the narrative. Other backstories like the tragedy and courtship of Scarlett’s parents, Gerald and Ellen were gone into a little …but they all were there. The elderly neighbor who hustled Scarlett away from hearing clods of dirt hitting a coffin, and told of how she was the sole survivor of a massacre of her family, the crippled soldier, Will Benteen, who took refuge at Tara after the war and married one of her sisters (About the only male around who sussed out Scarlett’s character almost immediately.) The slaves – Mammy, Pork, Dilcey – they all had stories too, just barely hinted at. The other survivors of the war who pick themselves up, carry on, make a new kind of life for themselves, after the wind has blown away their previous existences. It’s those vividly-drawn secondary characters who engaged my interest and sympathy when I read FWTW all again. If it hadn’t been the fashion of the time to jumble it all into a single book Margaret Mitchell could very well have drawn out a whole rambling, loosely connected series of novels with a cast of hundreds, dealing with their lives, loves, extravaganzas, war, hardship, fighting up from poverty again and again.

Mention of poverty, though – brings to mind Danusha Goska’s observation regarding how nastily judgmental Margaret Mitchell and her planter upper-class and upper-class adjacent characters were, when it came to the O’Hara’s relatively impoverished poor white neighbors. She and they sneered at the non-gentry as shiftless, disease-raddled, deplorable poor white trash. It appears that nothing much changed since the time that she wrote or the time she wrote about, when it came to the elite Democrat party view of Southern working-class or poor whites. They’re only wanted and useful in elections, or to fill out the ranks of enlisted soldiers, when there’s a war to be fought. Comment as you wish.

04. April 2024 · Comments Off on Cursive and Other Archaic Skills · Categories: Ain't That America?

My daughter recently reviewed the various academic programs available at the Hill Country elementary school which Wee Jamie will eventually attend, when she makes her pile in real estate and moves up to that community. Among the skills on offer is training in writing cursive – which we were both pretty thrilled to hear about. (Although I do hold out for home-schooling Wee Jamie.) Apparently, teaching cursive handwriting has been pretty much phased out in elementary school curriculums of late – in favor of either printing or keyboarding… apparently, very few people now hand-write documents. Scrawling a signature is about as far as most people go, these days of computers, cellphones, email and being able to fill out forms on-line.
For myself, I have perfectly awful handwriting; not all the cursive practice in third and fourth grade could remedy this quality a single iota. Frankly, I envy anyone who has excellent flowing Palmer-style handwriting, or the gentleman I met at an art show who could do perfect gothic script lettering – freehand. I have usually resorted to printing, if legibility to another person was a requirement, and there wasn’t a typewriter or computer handy. But I fully support Wee Jamie being taught to write cursive, for the very excellent reason that even if you can’t handwrite legibly – you can still read handwritten documents. Otherwise, whole libraries and archives are closed to someone who simply can’t read such documents.

Some years ago, I made a tidy amount for a local researcher, who in the course of his studies, been able to access the letter archives of a prominent early 19th century inventor/industrialist, preserved in the archives of a major East Coast university. There were pages and pages of PDF scans of personal letters and business correspondence – not just of the industrialist himself, but from his wife and son, in-laws, friends and business associates. The researcher didn’t have time to read and transcribe the whole archive himself, so he hired me to do it … and it was rather fun, as well as remunerative. There was a wide range in quality of the handwriting, too – some of the business letters were as easily read as if they were typewritten; rather obviously, the industrialist hired men who could write with a clear and elegant hand. His mother-in-law, alas, wrote with a scrawl nearly as illegible as my own. His wife had the habit of saving paper by turning the page 45 degrees and writing more lines crossways over what had already been written – which was even more challenging to read when the ink bled through to the other side of what was obviously very thin paper. The industrialists’ father-in-law would have been schooled in the late 18th century, as he routinely used the then-archaic formulation of the letter ‘f’ instead of the rounded ‘s’ in his letters. (This meant confusion in deciphering his letters until I figured it out. I got rather fond of the father-in-law through his letters although he was about 150 years dead by then. He was a decent and kindly old stick, charitable and modest, although his son-in-law was one of the richest men in America at the time.)

Anyway – being able to read original old documents can be a very useful skill, especially for someone with an interest in history and culture. I have read that in countries like Japan, there have been so many simplifications and variations of the alphabet in use over the recent decades that many ancient documents can only be read by specialist scholars. It would be a pity if the same happened here in the US. Perhaps the urge to move away from teaching cursive is a deliberate ploy; a means to sever younger generations from our founding documents and our history.

Anyway, I got to think about skills that are commonly seen as outdated, outmoded, superseded by new technologies … but maybe, just maybe … really aren’t. The ability to drive a stick shift automobile or truck. Morse code. Celestial navigation. Editing audio tape with a razor blade and specialty sticky-tape. Hand sewing – didn’t Doctor Kennedy mention once that the skills of doctors doing sutures had fallen off because so few people did hand sewing any more? Discuss as you wish; what other seemingly-outdated skills are still useful or may become useful again in our lamentably chaotic world?

A fever, so the doctors and medical experts tell us, is a symptom of a deeper issue; an illness which most often is a mild and fleeting thing. And then, there is the serious and life-threatening fever – in either case, a fever is a way of telling us that something is wrong, and we’d best pay attention.
Just such an indication in the body politic is the occurrence of vigilante groups – a kind of civic fever, an indication that civic adjudication – the administration of justice in the case of offenses against law and order to the satisfaction of those offended by crime – has become seriously out of whack. It is a purely human drive; if one has been harmed by the unlawful actions of another, one would prefer to be assured that justice has been served – and if not made whole again, at the very least satisfied that the offender has been properly chastised for their offense.

Bad things happen in a nation or a city when ordinary citizens become convinced (rightfully or not) that justice is not being done, as in the case of local bully and thug, Ken McElroy, a couple of decades ago. Eventually, citizens realize that the civic authorities are not living up to their end of the bargain, as did the residents of Skidmore in the McElroy case. If not actually indulging in crime themselves, police, district attorneys and courts are turning a blind eye to criminal offenses. Citizens are even more quietly offended when they note that criminals are being treated by the ruling class as a kind of protected pet. Eventually the end of patience is reached. Americans historically run out of civic patience sooner than most other nations and ordinary citizens tend to take administration of justice into their own hands. Not as an undisciplined mob, although that has happened a frequently in American history as anywhere else – but as a vigilante organization. As I wrote some years ago about the San Francisco vigilance committee“The image of a ‘vigilante’ most usually implies a disorganized mob; lawless, mindlessly violent, easily steered but ultimately uncontrollable. The Vigilance Committee was something much, much worse than that. They were organized, they were in earnest, they would not compromise … and they would not back down.”

In the last couple of years, I have seen murmurings about a kind of pre-vigilante actions – most of it along the lines of a kind of informal local neighborhood watch; neighbors banding together informally to secure their own areas. It’s not gone as far – yet – as banding together, taking oaths, fortifying a stronghold, electing leaders, and going after the most notorious miscreants, as the San Francisco Vigilance Committee did, back in the day, but the impulse appears to me, when I read various news sites, that the vigilante impulse is solidifying around a most unexpected offense against the laws of man. And that would be the current wave of squatters moving into vacant or temporarily unoccupied homes and defying all efforts by the legitimate owners to get them out. This is substantially different from deadbeat tenants overstaying their lease and milking the tenant-protection laws for all that they are worth. Landlords and property managers have long had to deal with this kind of tenant.

What is a new twist is squatters breaking into and setting up housekeeping in a temporarily-vacant home and defying the owner of the home, brandishing a fraudulent lease or a claim to have purchased the place – and the police shrug and tell the legal owner to take it through the court as a civil matter. This is happening to people who aren’t landlords, who perhaps have inherited a house from a deceased next of kin, gone away on vacation for a couple of weeks, a stint of active duty in the military, or to care for a sick relative. Such people likely don’t have a lot of money to pursue a long, painful journey through the courts to get back their property … property which may have been thoroughly trashed and scavenged to the bones by the time the squatters are thrown out.

Thinking a little more on this situation, I am not surprised at the level of smoldering anger that property-owners might feel about this. A house is a very personal thing; for most people, a residential property would be the single most expensive thing they own. Having a total stranger invade their property, their home, or the home that their parents lived in – and brazenly steal it – and with only a long, expensive court battle can they get their property returned. How galling this must be, how insulting! Then of course, there is this fool, telling his social media followers that the laws will let them just ‘occupy’ empty houses; which will almost certainly end badly for those other fools to take his word for it. People have already been killed in at least one case, and a handy-man entrepreneur is achieving a mild degree of fame by offering anti-squat services and advice to home owners who have had their properties targeted in this way. Having a home taken over in this way is a deeply personal insult to a property-owner; and this is rich soil for a new vigilante movement to grow in. Comment as you wish and have insight into this matter.

14. March 2024 · Comments Off on Separate · Categories: Ain't That America?, Home Front, Media Matters Not

So this is a story which first percolated up to my attention at the Powerline blog last week – a perfectly vicious attack on a teenager by a bigger and apparently stronger teenager, which has put the first teenager in hospital with likely permanent brain damage – if she even recovers consciousness at all. There’s something about having your skull repeatedly slammed on a concrete sidewalk which will do that. The attacker has been detained, which is a nice gesture on the part of local law enforcement, and a Go-Fund-Me appeal has already raised a considerable sum for the medical care of Kaylee Gains. The name of her attacker, hereinafter referred to as Little Miss Thugette, however, seems to be under a veil of secrecy in those few stories which have appeared in the news media. The comments appended on sites where the story does appear tend towards the cynical: if the colors of the two girls were reversed, most commenters acknowledge that there would be screaming headlines for weeks in all the print media, TV pundits rushing to make their two cents clear by taking a knee (literally or metaphorically), the inner cities in blue states would already be in flames and Al Sharpton would be ubiquitous in demanding justice. (Of the mob and rioting sort, naturally.)

But Kaylee Gains is white, and Little Miss Thugette is black. We have all become accustomed to how the news-making machinery addresses matters racial in this age of DIE. News media-wise this beatdown is a non-story in the mainstream media; of apparent interest only to Miss Gains’ family and friends. This is not this first instance of a Little Miss Thugette, or her male kinfolk, Mr. Inner-City Gangbanger going all fight-club and clubbing the stuffing out of some hapless teenager of white, Jewish or Asian background and posting video of the beatdown to their social media account. Such black-on-white beatdowns make a brief splash on the local news … and then the media and our intellectual class goes right on bleating about white privilege, microaggressions and the desirability of reparations for people of color … because living in the United States in this century is just so soul-searingly damaging for such persons of color, having to associate with whites…

Which brings to my mind an interesting speculation – what if parents of white, Asian or Jewish students at public schools – especially the schools in sink neighborhoods are reconsidering the whole school desegregation thing and reassessing the so-called benefits thereof? The DIEists insist that it is so soul-searingly damaging for black kids to be around white privilege and white culture every single day, and the only way to minimize the harm done is to maintain black-only spaces. And the parents of white, Asian and Jewish students might very well believe that their kids might be safer in such a segregated school – although they probably don’t come out and say so, save among close friends and trusted associates.
Discuss as you wish.

06. March 2024 · Comments Off on Another Visit to the Quadrangle · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Devil Dogs, Domestic, Local

My daughter and I with Wee Jamie had cause to visit Fort Sam Houston this week, to pick up some prescription refills and make a run through the commissary – but before we did, we went by the historic old Quadrangle, so that my grandson could pester the deer and the peacocks and admire the enormous koi goldfish in the little landscaped fishpond. Yes, the historic limestone Quadrangle, the original structure and oldest building at Fort Sam houses a kind of petting zoo in the courtyard in the middle of three block-long ranges of buildings. That is, it would be a petting zoo if the current herd of nine deer were slightly more tame.

The Quadrangle was originally constructed to replace the Alamo, which had been the original military HQ in this part of Texas, serving sequentially the Spanish colonial army, the Mexican army, the Texian militia and army, the US Army, the Confederate Army, and the US Army again over the space of 200 years. (The Quadrangle is now HQ 5th Army, and home to the post’s historical museum.) In it’s last decades as a military installation, the Alamo was basically a central supply depot for the US Army in the Southwest, and the plaza before it a wagon park. When city sprawl swamped it all in the 1870s, the Army took the opportunity of some donated land out north of town to build a brand-new post with plenty of room for quartermastering activities – to park wagons, pasture horses and mules, warehouse supplies, and to establish a proper garrison for training and housing troops and officers.

Originally constructed for defense against attack by hostile Indians, the Quadrangle was first built without doors and windows along the outside walls. This was a somewhat remote reality by the time that the Quadrangle’s cornerstone was laid – but not entirely out of the question, and certainly not outside of living memory by troops and ordinary citizens then. About the only activity in the Quadrangle involving hostile or formerly hostile Indians came in the mid-1880s, when the Apache war leader Geronimo and the survivors of his war band were captured and interned there for a month before being moved to Florida. The legend is that the deer and birds were brought in to serve as meals on the hoof for the Apache prisoners … but that is an oft-debunked legend. According to some accounts, the presence of the deer predated the Apache internees.

Which does bring up the question – why? Why is a herd of semi-tame deer and a flock of peacocks and waterfowl kept on an active military post? They must be maintained at some expense and trouble, after all – there are pens for the deer and sheltered quarters. Presumably deer chow has to be gotten from somewhere, not to mention veterinary care. The first obvious answer is – military tradition! Like the Barbary apes at Gibraltar, and the ravens in the Tower of London. They are there, because they always have been there, and caring for them is enshrined in custom since time immemorial, or at least in this case, since the 1870s. But why – and since when? I began to wonder about this during our visit and did a little research when I got home … and it turns out that … no one really knows for certain. A local historian ventured the supposition that having a few peacocks and tame deer around the place was a popular domestic thing to do in the late 1800s. I have my own theory about the deer herd, though. I suspect that sometime after troops and families came to live at Fort Sam that someone rescued an orphaned deer fawn and made a pet out of it … and the best place to keep it when it was grown was in the confines of the Quadrangle, which seems to have become a park very early on. Could have been an officer’s wife or family member … or equally – a soldier. The deer fawn became a unit mascot – goodness knows that other unlikely animals have since become beloved and honored unit mascots – bears and horses, among them. Within a few years, having the deer at Fort Sam was an established custom, and everyone forgot about who and under what circumstances the deer herd had been established.

Discuss as you will – and share any theories that you might have.

01. March 2024 · Comments Off on Visual Disaster · Categories: Ain't That America?, Geekery, Media Matters Not

I admit to being alternately horrified and amused at Google’s Gemini AI visual disaster. Usually, a pratfall of this magnitude involves a bakery-worth of thrown cream pies. Frankly, I am relishing the spectacle of a publicity disaster this epic; a fail so huge as to be practically visible from outer space. We mere mortals are not often given the privilege of watching our so-called betters sequentially step on a yard full of cosmic rakes. Just desserts, just main course, a whole hors d’oeuvres of crow!

Everyone to the right of the harridans of The View pretty much had gathered over the last few years that Google as a search engine had bias in favor of the progressive flavor o’the month and against anything with the slightest tinge of conservative, traditionalist, skeptical leanings. But what a gift it was to have it demonstrated so openly and undeniably. I don’t know which was more risible and ridiculous – the Vikings as black, the oriental woman trooper in a Nazi Army uniform, or the American founding fathers as black or indigenous – or whatever the current correct term du jour is. How nice to have it proved, once and for all.

Tt couldn’t be more clear, if painted in three-foot tall letters across highway billboards – Google Gemini was absolutely determined to give users not what they wanted and asked for, but what the tweaked and massaged algorithm dictated that clients/requestors ought to get. Shouldn’t really have come as a surprise, after all, because that is that the cultural gatekeepers having been doing for the last decade or more – in traditional publishing, in the news media generally, and in Hollywood producing movies and television shows for public consumption, and other fields. They have been serving up great heaping helpings of what they think we should have; movie franchises with acres of unpleasant and unappealing Mary Sue girl-bosses, and all the rest of the progressive pantheon of race and sex-swapping progressive nominated heroes and designated hapless villains … not what we really want. (Interesting discussion here on that topic of the cultural leaders giving us what they think we should have, rather than what we want.)
Discuss as you wish.

21. February 2024 · Comments Off on The Question of When… · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Home Front, Politics, The Bear

The question of when to talk to your children, when you live in a repressive dictatorship was something I remember from reading James Michener’s essay into political reporting The Bridge at Andau; an account into the Hungarian Revolt of 1956 against the Soviet Union, published the following year. There came a time when parents of school-aged children, Michener wrote, had to open up to their children, if they were anti-Soviet dissidents, religious, or simply Hungary-first patriots. It was a fine line; either live a lie in front of your children regarding your own beliefs, and at worst, see them irretrievably buy into the whole Soviet system if you left it too late, or trusting that they were sufficiently mature, to be adept at concealing such dissident beliefs in front of their schoolfellows, Communist-indoctrinated teachers – and informers among them. How old did your children need to be, before they could dissemble in front of peers, teachers and spying informants among them? It was a matter of deep concern to Hungarian parents, as Michener related. (Parenthetically, as a teenager and young adult I had never been the least bit enchanted by the golden chimera of communism in any guise. Growing up, my parents knew too many people who had fled from Communist-dominated or threatened countries and had heart-rending stories to tell of their experiences in living in and fleeing Cuba, Russia, Eastern Europe, the far East. Reading Michener’s account of the Hungarian Revolt definitely drew a line under my antipathy towards all-powerful dictatorships of the so-called proletariat.)

So the Department of Homeland Security – a governmental entity which just by it’s very name, sends nasty chills down my back – has funded a program to train teachers, ostensibly in something called ‘media literacy’ but which in practice looks more like monitoring students and their families political and religious beliefs, directing them in the preferred set of progressive doctrines and encouraging kids to inform on their peers … or their families who dissent from such doctrines. (This linked post on Legal Insurrection goes into greater and unsettling detail.) I should think that parents of school-aged children would be looking at this so-called ‘media literacy’ with considerable alarm; it has even more dangerous implications than pushing gender-confusion and outright porn for the elementary-school set. Exactly how many other school systems are participating in this program?

This is all of a piece with authoritarian dictatorships across the political spectrum; get ahold of the youth through the education system, mold them into the new man/woman/whatever, encourage them to inform on their families and peers, and reward them with praise, honors, after the example of Pavlik Morozov, the Boy Hero of the Soviets. I wonder if membership in a new organized youth group is part of Homeland Security’s long-term plans for their properly-indoctrinated school-aged cadres. Perhaps the Department’s experts are considering cute uniforms for participating student participants; something with brown shirts and black shorts, or maybe a bright red neckerchief. Discuss as you wish – and is this program being utilized in your local school district?

03. February 2024 · Comments Off on DIE, Quiet Quitting, And the Exit of Competence · Categories: AARRRMY TRAINING SIR!!!, Ain't That America?, Home Front, My Head Hurts, Rant, That's Entertainment!

About the only comfort that I could take away from the initial election of B. Whose-Middle Name-Shall-Not-Be-Mentioned Obama was a small one – a hope that the election of a man of partial color and relatively cosmopolitan upbringing would at last bury the last lingering shreds of AmeriKKKa-Is-The-Most-Raaaaacist-Evah! Alas – it soon became very clear this was a sad, and forlorn hope. The new intellectually powered Diversity-Inclusion-Equity racism came roaring back like a movie serial killer in a twentieth remake of a Hollywood horror flick franchise. A decent regard for civil rights of black citizens has somehow metastasized into ‘DIE, whitey, DIE’ or at the very least, ‘no well-paying prestigious job for you, pale-male-and-stale.’ Never mind if the beneficiaries of these policies appear far less able to perform to the standards which the job requires … it seems to be the intentions that count. It’s no biggie if the bridge collapses, the aircraft collide on approach, the expensive movie bombs at the box office, or the press secretary babbles nonsense when asked a difficult question. The good intentions of DIE conquer all, even reality.

Is this a power-play on the part of the Democrat Party, the intellectual fashion o’ the moment on the part of our educational establishment, vicious class snobbery on the part of a managerial elite, nostalgic for the days of forelock-tugging peasantry who wouldn’t disobey the orders of their petty lords? A combination of all three? In any case, the would-be supreme powers appear to be going all out to demean, demoralize and economically beggar a confident property-owning, independent American middle and working class — a class of citizens which is mostly but not exclusively of European origin, and therefore mostly-sort-of-mainly white under the current popular description.

The results of ‘no job for you, whitey!’ is playing out in several wildly different areas with interestingly calamitous results, especially when it comes to lowering standards of competence in order to favor the chosen minority over those competent but disfavored by the principles of diversity/inclusion/equity. Ace of Spades linked to a post on a website called Film Threat, lamenting the difficulties of writers for TV shows; no cushy writing gigs on a diminishing number of shows unless the writer is anything but a white middle-aged heterosexual. Such experienced writers with a good (or even so-so) track record are being passed by, in favor of the trendy young gay, multiracial female (or identifying as such) – who have no experience and little apparent craft in actually telling a story and engaging more than a narrow audience segment. This would explain how domestic audiences for American TV and movies are crashing in such an extraordinary degree of late. Hollywood at large has established what amounts to a color bar; shafting the competent and experienced in favor of the not-so competent and relatively inexperienced … who then produce movies and TV which only a small portion of the available audience want to watch without a gun pointed at their head.

Another area where this is happening appears to be the military, especially in recruitment, now crashing to heretofore unexpected levels. It was conventional wisdom when I was active duty that generally black troops enlisted to get skills training and experience, mostly on the support part of the long spear. Whites and Hispanics enlisted or were commissioned, on the other hand, for the challenge and experience of being at the tip of the long pointy spear – fighter pilots, special forces, rangers, SEALS, whatever. Those guys (and most but not all were guys) came from a working-class, rural and/or southern background and the combat arms were what they wanted to be and to do. Now if they are still on active duty, they are being treated like moral lepers. Potential recruits from families with a long tradition of serving are snottily informed that they aren’t wanted in this splendid new and diverse military. So the rural working-class southern boys are bypassing the recruiting office, to the surprise of practically no one paying attention. Given the debacle of the Afghanistan withdrawal, any sensible parent or authoritative adult in the life of a potential recruit clearly sees that competent military leadership has left the building. I’m not the only veteran around these days, quietly discouraging any young person from considering a military career or a place in one of the academies.

The more heavily the thumb of the DIE advocates press down on the hiring/promotion scales, the faster the professionally competent will either quiet-quit, quit entirely, or not even be hired in the first place. Anyone not addled by diversity-inclusion-equity at the expense of competence can see this will accelerate the doom loop in the activities cited. Discuss as you wish, and if you have gruesome examples from personal experiences, or insights to share, please do.

25. January 2024 · Comments Off on Say Goodbye to Hollywood · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, History, Memoir

Last week, in a discussion thread on a story about plans to revamp Hollywood Boulevard and make it attractive to tourists, against an apparently overwhelming tide of homelessness, addiction and petty crime, someone posted a link to this Billy Joel song. For some curious reason it struck me, since I have been saying goodbye to Hollywood – the physical place, and the entertainment concept – over the last couple of decades.

I grew up on the fringes of physical Hollywood. My immediate family was not directly involved in the entertainment world, although there were a great number of curious connections. A fair number of friends and associates were employed in show-biz, mostly as technical specialists for various studios. One very dear friend of Mom and Dad’s was a makeup artist; curiously, as a straight and good-looking man, he wound up dating a fair number of stars and starlets before his marriage. They were gorgeous women and lonely when it came to dating, as their degree of fame intimidated the heck out of most potential dates who were not ‘in the business’. The husband of my Girl Scout troop leader when I was in high school was an audio tech for Warner Brothers; he got the troop a private tour of the studio lot. The set of the throne room/Round Table for the movie Camelot was still set up on one of the enormous sound stages, and it was every bit as cavernously awesome as it appeared in the movie, with enormous candelabras filled with dripping candles as thick around as my wrist. We also got to see and be introduced to Efrem Zimbalist, as he was shooting an episode of The FBI. Richard Widmark’s brother was one of my high school teachers – and another high school teacher had Tommy and Dick Smothers as students back in the day. Ronny Howard went to the same local junior high for a while – he was the same age as my next-younger brother. (Ronny’s stint in public school didn’t work out well – he was bullied and scorned for being a cry-baby, and his parents eventually removed him from that school.)
The Lutheran church in North Hollywood that we attended for many years also had a coterie of Hollywood people in the congregation – again, mostly techs, although Barbara Hutton coached the kid’s chorus for a while, and Elke Sommer also turned up now and again. (At a time, she had the public image of being a Continental sexpot – against type, she was a devout Lutheran and daughter of a Lutheran minister back in Germany.) As I had written before, Granny Clarke, the mother of one of Mom’s best friends had a storied career for half a century as housekeeper to the stars. The Cal State University Northridge campus, which I went to for upper division was a location for exteriors for the medical drama Medical Center, and there was often a camera crew working there. For years afterwards, running the TV control room for whatever AFRTS outlet I was assigned to, I amused myself by spotting familiar places around Los Angeles which had served as backgrounds. For TV shows mostly, as the movie location shooting could go very much farther afield by the late 1970s and early 80’s.

Say goodbye to Hollywood … my brothers and sister also knew physical aspects from the weekly commute to church. Over the hills from the San Fernando Valley, and down through Laurel Canyon – past the forest-grown grounds of Harry Houdini’s estate, although we were never looking in that direction. There was an old rustic house on the other side of Laurel Canyon, with a spiral staircase from an upper floor room wound round the trunk of a big tree next to the building. We were enchanted by that house, and always looked for it. Down to Sunset Boulevard, turning right and past the place where the Garden of Allah had been, and where there was a model of that legendary hotel complex in a glass case next to the bank HQ that sat for a time on that very spot. Past the Whiskey-a-Go-Go – then the white-hot live-music and clubbing venue on Saturday nights. Past the great neo-gothic cliff of the Chateau Marmont … past the more-than-life-size rotating showgirl on the signboard for the Sahara Hotel in Los Vegas – a billboard made famous by the book and movie Myra Breckenridge … all this to the tune of Mom quietly grousing about the drivers with out of state license plates, driving oh-so-slowly, thinking they would catch a glimpse of a real movie star! Yeah, a recognizable movie star, walking along the Sunset Boulevard sidewalk, on an early Sunday morning. It was considered rather tacky to make a big thing about recognizing a movie or TV star, gushing over how much you luuuuved them, and asking for an autograph. That was for tourists; for us here in that part of California, it was just the local industry, the business that many worked for; we were properly blasé. Gushing over stars that you recognized on the street, in a grocery store, or anywhere else? Tacky, tacky, tacky.

I was gone from there by 1977. The congregation of the Lutheran church had dwindled to almost nothing well before then, the building deconsecrated, sold and torn down, which was a pity, as it was a lovely neo-Tudor structure with gorgeous stained-glass windows, and traditional, richly embroidered paraments to dress the altar and sanctuary with. The various studios are still there, sort of, although much diminished from their heyday of more than half a century ago. Movies and television shows are filmed and taped practically everywhere else. The tourists who still come to see Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard, and the handprints of stars in the sidewalk apparently have to step over human poop on the sidewalk and dodge aggressive street people. I don’t think that proposed revamping will help much. It will all be a Potempkin set dressing on a decaying urban setting. And I haven’t set foot in a movie theater in ages, and the TV shows that we watch at home now are all produced and filmed/taped practically anywhere else.
Say Goodbye to Hollywood, indeed.

21. January 2024 · Comments Off on Shopping Daze · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic

We spent most of Saturday morning doing the semi-monthly grocery shopping run; a rather abbreviated run as it turns out, as my daughter has some houses to show on Sunday to clients who work Monday-Friday. We have given up driving to New Braunfels once a month to drop a goodly lot of money on meats from Granzin. This is lamentable, as Granzin’s sausages and the various meats, fresh, marinated, smoked and dried were absolutely prime and relatively inexpensive, but with Wee Jamie, a full schedule of real estate stuff for my daughter, and the nerve-wracking drive on a busy highway … road trips like that were just not something we can keep on doing – and never mind the hours’ long trip to Pflugerville or Victoria to the Aldi outlet. (That’s for when we are going in that direction for something else, anyway.)

The cost of most grocery staples has gone up, making certain economies necessary. I’m accustomed to cooking most things from scratch and have lived through patches of extreme economy and a limited budget, so the shopping list doesn’t include much in the way of frozen prepared items anymore – just basic ingredients. As my daughter says – ‘We are Old Poor, compared to the New Poor,’ for whom necessary austerity must bite very hard in the last year or so. But even basic ingredients have increased in price, to the point where now the military base commissaries offer a better deal than HEB, the Texas grocery chain, which has a huge distribution center here in San Antonio, and which has run just about every other national chain out of the state. (It’s a small town indeed, which doesn’t rate a HEB grocery outlet.)

This wasn’t always the case. When I first came to Texas, assigned to the video production unit at Lackland AFB, it was honestly even money whether HEB offered better pricing than the Commissary – various HEB locations certainly offered a wider selection than the commissaries, which mostly featured national big-name brands, and offered in-store bakeries and deli counters and numerous Texas-local brands. After so about a decade and a half of having the base commissary as the only and often limited grocery option, I was glad to shift my grocery-purchasing custom to HEB, and the lavish array of staples and specialty foods on offer, and to either Costo or Sam’s Club for items we used in quantity. We still do Costco, for certain items, and Chewy for pet food … but we’re back to making a commissary runs twice a month. It turns out that the DOD has extended commissary and PX access to veterans across the board, not just retirees, which means that my daughter can shop there for baby and toddler food for Wee Jamie, as the prices for the brands that we favor for him are somewhat less expensive – one thing that has changed for the better, I guess.

19. January 2024 · Comments Off on Misplaced Sarcasm · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Media Matters Not

One of my occasional internet stops is a group blog featuring analysis of costuming, hair and makeup in a wide range of movies, TV shows and miniseries set in all periods and countries, up to the late 1950s or so. The various contributors have, between them, considerable expertise in aspects of historic costuming, apparently unlimited time, access to the material under consideration, sharp eyes for detail, and a reservoir of snark the size of Lake Michigan. Now and again some of them have gone all out for diversity, inclusion and equity, but not to an absolutely insufferable degree; mildly annoying, but not enough to put me off returning. I have a mild interest in historic costuming, since I do like to dress in period Victorian or Edwardian attire for book events. And the sarcasm is occasional diverting, especially when aimed at badly done costuming, or at a variety of commonly-committed goofs in the genre – things like corsets without any shift underneath, metal grommets in lacing-up garments much before the late 19th century, a tragic lack of hairpins and hats in settings when they would have been required absolutely, zippers up the back of costumes … I’ve occasionally waxed sarcastic about some of these aspects myself.

The other limit to the range of movies considered, besides pre-1950s, is that they don’t ‘do’ war movies, ancient and modern, not having any interest or expertise in uniforms and generally no interest in war movies anyway. Which is a perfectly OK principle to maintain … but just this week, one contributor yielded under protest into watching Band of Brothers because her boyfriend wanted to watch it. Apparently she was so resentful about having to watch that she posted about the experience; just stills of the various actors with a bitter and brief tagline about what their other acting roles had been and a request for judgement on whether she was an a-hole for not relishing the series, as all those white boys looked alike when covered in dirt. Oh, my – the comments on that post were pretty fiery. I’m still working out in my own mind why I was so offended by the flippant dismissal. Likely it’s on the principle of keeping silent if you can’t find anything nice to say. You know – if you and your weblog doesn’t do war movies and don’t know anything about military uniforms, then you just might be better off giving a miss to posting about it all, rather than being spiteful and sarcastic.

But there is a bit more than that; Band of Brothers is an excellent series; the producers took every care to make it as accurate as possible (which at least she gave credit for), and to cast actors who looked as much like their real-life counterparts had appeared at the time. As a dramatic representation of what it was like for the guys of Easy Company in the European Theater 1944-45, Band of Brothers is as good as it ever gets. It just seemed like the blogger/contributor was just dumping on a generation of men because she had to watch a series about them.

I don’t know if I will go back to checking out their posts, after this. I can get my fix of costume design and historical critique at Bernadette Banner and Prior Attire, I think.

14. January 2024 · Comments Off on Incoming · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry

A winter storm/extreme cold front has hit this weekend, with overnight temperatures falling into the ‘well-below-freezing’ range; rare indeed for this part of Texas.  Our planting zone falls around “9” – which generally means that warm-weather plants – banana trees, citrus, ferns and the like – generally do rather well. The occasional snow that stays for longer than a couple of hours after sunrise is a rare happening. Like about every twenty years or so. But one of those last long-predicted winter blasts hit a little less than two years ago and hit so catastrophically that everyone’s memories are still quite unpleasantly fresh … especially memories of how badly our civic power authorities bungled a long-predicted cold front which left much of suburban San Antonio freezing in the dark, and without tap water. A foot of snow on the ground, too – which would have left places in the Northern tier doubled over laughing; ‘That’s not winter … this (pointing to four feet and more on the ground for weeks and months on end) is winter!’ But the naked fact is that places like Ogden, Utah, Denver, Colorado, and Truckee, California are set up to cope with lots of snow and prolonged freezing temperatures, and South Texas is not. (What we are set up for is months of summer heat at temperatures in the three figures.)

Every one of my neighbors whose memories of the Great Snowmagedden of February, 2021 are uncomfortably vivid grimly prepped for something like it to happen again: stocking up on any groceries to be needed in the next week, making certain that electronic devices are charged, and that we are stocked up on propane, bottled water and toilet paper. The word on Next Door is that various HEB groceries are entirely out of canned soups and the like. Probably bread, milk and sandwich fixings, too. What saved a lot of my neighbors and I during Snowmagedden was having camping gear, propane camping stoves or barbeques, and a lot of blankets and firewood. We made out OK, generally – not happy about it all, especially the owners of one house which burned because the fire department couldn’t pull water from the hydrants because the pipes were frozen or empty – but we all remembered the week of misery. Hence the grim preparations, just in case. Our faith and trust in the power grid and those who manage it has been considerably reduced in the last couple of years. If what I heard on a walkabout during the last prolonged power outage this spring, at least a dozen neighbors have bought and set up household generators.

Right now it’s overcast and 30 degrees outside, and it’s late afternoon. The temperature will drop after sunset: a hard freeze is predicted for tonight, and pretty much the same for the next few days. We’ve taken the few tender plants that the hot, rainless summer didn’t kill into the garage, hung a blanket over the front door, and drawn the curtains and shutters over the windows to preserve as much of the warmth as possible. The dogs and cats are all inside and sheltered – at least this time around, we don’t have chickens to keep inside, too. The battery lanterns, our cellphones and my Kindle are all on their chargers – so, we’ll see what develops. Already, the inside walls and windows are cold to touch. We’ll keep the heat on tonight, which is not our usual custom, but with Wee Jamie as part of the household now, we can’t long endure an excessively cold house.

 

Out of the blue in the week before Christmas, my daughter asked me if I had any idea of how the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, early in December, 1941, generally affected the Christmas mood that year. Of course, she knows that I wouldn’t have any personal memories of that period (as I wasn’t even born until 15 years after that event) but I grew up pretty well marinated in memories and memoirs of World War 2 – even more so when I sat down to write a novel set in that time period. Yes, the Christmas of 1941 was a nerve-wracking time for more than just Americans, even if a war in Europe had been going on for more than two years. In the Far East, countries and colonies were falling like ninepins to imperial Japanese invasion and occupation all through the first months of 1942. I have gathered so from memoirs; and also from my own memories of the lead-up to Christmas, 1990 and the buildup when operations began before the first Gulf War (the last year that we were in Spain) and how mothers and fathers put on a brave face for small children. They did their best then, as we did that year, to have an absolutely normal, reassuring Christmas, with presents and Santa, carols and a nice meal. In 1941 and for three subsequent years, parents had to explain the sudden absence of older brothers and cousins, younger uncles and fathers, and the necessity of blackouts. Probably later, they had to put a brave face on depressing headlines in the newspaper that yet another island, town or province had been attacked, and might soon surrender – just as I and other parents stationed at European bases had to explain Desert Shield; new concertina around the base perimeter, a flightline full to bursting with parked transport aircraft, the long hours that military parents and spouse volunteers were all working.

This last Christmas wasn’t so fraught as all that, but it still seemed to me to have been pretty restrained; the two Christmas markets that we participated in were almost flat-lined. Everyone seemed to be holding on to what money they had. We went to one small-town Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which was crowded … but it was a small town, out in the Hill Country, which we presumed to be fairly sheltered against disruptive shenanigans. But everything costs more, this year – we couldn’t do massive batches of fudge to give away to friends and neighbors this year but had to settle for baking a few sheet pans of bar cookies instead. UPS used to park a storage unit in the driveway of a house just inside the neighborhood and made deliveries in a golf-cart with a trailer hitched to it … not this year. (Or last, to be fair.) On the other hand, the post office was swamped; they had at least four days backlog on deliveries. This seemed to be nationwide, as it made the local news. I suspect it was not the number of parcels in the system, but that transportation systems were clogged and erratic. I have the sense of people hunkering down, looking at a dark horizon, waiting for the storm to hit. Inflation, terrorism, crime, war and civic unrest, the near-certainty of an election season that will make the history books in a bad way as a cautionary tale and a renewed panic over a wildly-communicable but relatively harmless virus – any or all in combination.

There is a brief passage towards the end of Marcia Davenport’s family epic of the Pittsburgh steel mills (a book and the movie made from it posted about here at Chicagoboyz by David Foster) which resonated with me, when I reread it late last year… “One thing was held by everybody in common, everybody from the flower-seller on his corner and the gruff driver of a rattling hack, to the artists at the opera and the sober officials up in the Hrad?any; a knowledge that every day of the good life now was a day gained from an ominous and impenetrable future. They would make and listen to their music and cook and eat their delectable food and promulgate and live by their wise laws intently aware that the rim of security and sanity was shrinking, shrinking visibly around them, every day. … it was the infinite personal perfection of life that glowed warm and treasurable against the thickening miasmas of the wilderness outside. Each homecoming now was not merely the delight of coming home, but the tense appreciation of this home to come to, this perfection balanced so delicately on the brink of a volcano.”

Ah, well – I wish that I could hope for a happy new year – but I can read the skies as well as anyone. Discuss as you wish.

It was my daughter’s notion to watch Christmas movies beginning at the first of November, but we pretty well watched all the ones that we wanted to watch by last week – even old favorites like A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation and new favorites like Arthur Christmas. This has had the effect of Wee Jamie being perfectly happy and sociable when introduced to that weird stranger known as Santa Claus – a fat jolly man with a long white beard and a red coat trimmed with white fur. That project being successfully accomplished, we commenced on a secondary aim… to properly nerdify Wee Jamie with a watching of the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Yes, not only did my daughter and I made it a project to go see each of the movies as they launched (normally at a multiplex in Oceanside when she was still in the Marines and I came out to California to spend the holiday at my parents’ house) but I had started her off early by reading all of RR Tolkein’s The Hobbit and LOTR to her as a bedtime story when she was three … and I had read them all to my little brother Alex as well when he was about seven or eight. This was a project which took at least a year, and my little brother was so immersed in the story that he could do a very creditable voice as Sam Gamgee by the time we were done. He also dressed as a hobbit that Halloween, in a tunic and cloak, with a sword and shield by his side. (Wooden ones that Dad made for him.)

The whole four-volume epic is a great read-aloud adventure, by the way – every chapter, practically, ends on a cliffhanger. We still love the movie version, though, in spite of the mild violence done to the storyline in the interests of moviemaking. Skipping over Tom Bombadil was understandable, and Arwen had to be introduced as a character, instead of appearing out of the blue with no explanation at the very end. Faramir, unlike his brother twigged the peril of possessing the Ring almost at once, but really, was it necessary to make Denethor such an unpleasant character?

On the other hand, the visual sweep of Middle Earth was just mind-bogglingly wonderful – the pleasant, rural Shire and golden, stream-threaded Rivendell, the ancient statues looking over the river, Meduseld, the Golden Hall of Rohan, the charge of the Rohirrim before the walls of Minias Tirith, and the splendor of the White City itself. What I really liked over the course of the Trilogy was the care taken in the design of sets and props; instead of settling for a vaguely medieval-fantasy of places and folk, Peter Jackson and his designers made an obvious distinction between the various settings. The Shire was vaguely late Victorian rural cottage, Rivendell was very Art-Deco, while Rohan was early Saxon/Germanic, and Gondor classical Roman/Romanesque. I like that the distinctions were so carefully drawn and noted. This just added so much visual texture to the Trilogy.

The one thing that we both wish, as far as movie-making goes – is that Peter Jackson had decided to do movies all of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, instead of padding out The Hobbit to make three movies out of what could have been only rather long one. I get chills, just imagining what Jackson could have made of that mythic tale. The Prydain story arc could have been a series just as riveting, and with as many yearly releases as the Harry Potter epic. Ah, well – we all have our dreams, in the world of Nerddom.

29. November 2023 · Comments Off on Close to the Edge · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun With Islam, Media Matters Not, Politics, Tea Time, World

I’ve felt over the last couple of years, that there is a steep precipice in our path, up to which our current Ruling Class is staggering blindly. Not just our American path, but in the developed world generally, and in that of western Europe. Things just can’t continue as they are. There is a breaking point coming. Really, no one might accurately predict exactly what small spark will kick off the explosion or the fall from a great height, or exactly where it might occur. The precipitating powers move in the shadows, veiled by a news media which deliberately veils them anyway. Too many national and international elites are pursuing policies which benefit them, rather than the countries they are supposed to govern. Too many of the transnational ruling class, indeed, seem to be in competition to pour contempt and derision on their less-fortunate, relatively powerless fellow citizens … and that’s a situation which can’t continue indefinitely. People are too stressed, made angry by things which they can’t control. Road rage incidents, riots that flame up like a prairie fire, unprovoked beatings, mass brawls in fast food restaurants and on commercial airliners; people are snapping over the slightest provocation, a misheard word, a momentary inconvenience…

There are just too many small indicia of trouble – small things, taken individually which wouldn’t mean much. But all the big things pile up like firewood, only wanting the tinder – which I fear that the small things will provide, to our cost. Big things like the Covidiocy, locking people into their houses and out of a social life, and then the vax mandate which cost them jobs, BLM/Antifa riots and protests which wrecked downtowns across red states, and inspired city governments to turn a blind eye towards property crime and the organized looting of retail outlets. The erasure of national borders is another one of those big things, stressing on a local level, when mobs of strangers suddenly show up and are favored with shelter, food and considerations not given to local citizens, deserving or not.

A recent incident which caught my attention and hinted to me that we are very close to the disastrous edge was the unprovoked knife attack at a school in Dublin – an attack which severely injured a woman and three children. (Link goes to Neo Neocon, and an interesting and informative discussion in the comment thread.)Initially, the local police were coy about describing the assailant, although he was captured almost at once. In the US, we have learned what to assume – with a high degree of accuracy – when a Person of No Description is apprehended after committing violence. Apparently, the Irish have learned that lesson as well. Having been fed to the back teeth with assorted petty and major crimes committed by an alien element – third-world migrants forced upon their communities by a governing class who appeared to be much more interested in currying favor with their international ruling class elsewhere in Europe, the locals chose to make their unhappiness in a language which the ruling class can’t ignore.
“… Some in Ireland believe too many people have arrived, too quickly, and that we need a ‘mature debate’ about it. But whenever they say something, they’re branded bigots and scum.”
Firey riots appear to be an acceptable means of protesting when it comes to an urban underclass, but only of the aggrieved are the right sort, dontchaknow. In any case, the national stereotype is of the Irish generally being truculent and ready to fight on any ground; after all, they fought being colonized by the British for a good few centuries; who would have expected them to lie down and be colonized by anyone else.

The observation in the above-linked article does ring very true to me; the ruling class willfully closing their ears to the voices of the ruled class by branding them bigots and scum. And deplorable, racists, stupid … Our own ruling elite did the same with the Tea Party. As courteous, reasonable, responsible and thoughtful a body of citizens as ever was in the United States political life, and for all that, called names and abused by the media, entertainment and political class.
Discuss as you will, while we still can.

16. November 2023 · Comments Off on Good Times, We Hardly Knew You · Categories: Ain't That America?

My daughter and I are off on a binge of watching Christmas movies, as it seems that episodes of Cadfael, starring Derek Jacobi and a cast clad in lamentably Ren-fair costumes, inspire nightmares in Wee Jamie. So to my regret, we ditched Cadfael … honestly, why is it that the top English actors are generally so ordinary, and individual in appearance? Too many American actors look like underwear models, one indistinguishable from the next, peeled out of the same mold…

Anyway, we started with Home Alone, and Home Alone 2 … although I do note that McCauley Culkin was one of those kid actors who did not ‘adult’ well as he grew. But it was sad to look back at the Home Alone franchise from a nostalgic point of view. No interminable wait to go through security at the airport, for example. And once upon a time, my children, it was possible to go straight to the gate to meet someone arriving. And Home Alone 2 was even more of a punch to the nostalgia gut – the top of the World Trade Center tower, shining and silver. The Plaza Hotel, with Donald Trump in a brief bit part, when he was just a flamboyant TV and tabloid celeb with a penchant for dating models … New York City streets without crazies punching out total strangers. No one wearing masks because they feared the Commie Crud. The first Gulf War was over and won, the Russian Iron Curtain had fallen … and oh, things weren’t perfect, by any means … but most of us didn’t fear our local cops and we trusted the professionalism of the FBI. We could be sure that our politicians and national media didn’t hate the guts of half the American population with a white-hot passion, and we were also pretty certain that kids in most public schools were learning the basics, and not being perved on by teachers and bullied by the urban thug element … well, mostly.

Life was pretty good – and we didn’t even know it.

30. October 2023 · Comments Off on Tale of the Moroccan Brass Table (And Stand) · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic

So I was wandering though my YouTube subscription channels and noticed this one particular bit of restorage – a mid-century modern Moroccan brass coffee table on a wooden stand, which rather decayed object was being renovated and restored. And it reminded me very much of a similar table which served in my parent’s various houses for nearly four decades, until it was destroyed in the 2003 Paradise Mountain Fire in northern San Diego County. That fire pretty much obliterated Mom and Dad’s retirement house. All that was left standing was a quadrangle of conblock walls … everything else in the house burned to a crisp, unless it was a few things that Mom threw into the back of her car, or which the firemen grabbed when the fire began exploding the glass windows inwards. When all was said and done, the insurance claim paid off and the house rebuilt, I think Mom rather had fun replacing the furniture and contents to her own taste, rather than what had been a random collection of family hand-be-downs and stuff acquired because it was available and either inexpensive or free.

The Moroccan brass table that my parents had in their various living rooms looked more like this one on eBay: almost five feet across, engraved overall with an ornate deckle edge and a matching wood and brass “spider” stand, which folded flat. Mom usually had the current issues of her magazines arranged on it, with an antique globe-shaped bowl with blue irises on it in the center. When we were expecting guests, it was usually my chore to remove all the issues of Harpers, The Atlantic, American Heritage and whatever, to apply about a quart of brass polish and the equivalent amount of elbow grease and polish the darned thing, before replacing the array of magazines. But when Mom and Dad refurnished their house, the Moroccan brass coffee table wasn’t something they were fond enough of to replace. The one like it that I located on eBay is on offer for almost $900, nearly half again what it originally ought to have cost. The insurance would have paid for a replacement … if they had wanted one. And why did Mom and Dad give houseroom for so many years to an expensive, high maintenance but distinctly flashy bit of mid-century exotic modern? They didn’t pick it out or pay for it – it came as a gift from Great-Aunt Nan. And thereby hangs a bit of a family story.

I think Great-Aunt Nan worked a lot of different jobs in her lifetime – I am not entirely certain what some of them were; secretarial positions for certain, possibly up-scale retail sales, a telegraphist in the 1930s, a government job in WWII and an enlistment in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps. She might also have had income from what remained of the family fortunes established by her father, my Great-grandfather George. She lived very simply in small rental apartments, and traveled when the urge took her … anyway, one day in the mid-1960s, she was tootling around one of the high-end department stores in downtown Los Angeles. It may have been Bullocks, could have been May Co., or Robinsons. For some reason, Nan went wandering through the furniture department – and spied the Moroccan table and stand.

Holy cow! It was priced at $60, which even then was a steal! Obviously, someone marking the price tag on that table had made a howling blunder by misplacing a decimal point; it should have been marked $600! Well, never one to disdain a bargain, Nan insisted on buying the Moroccan brass table (and stand) for $60, over the strenuous objections of the salesperson, and the department head, and for all that I know, the store manager. No, (said Nan, standing her ground as only a spinster lady of independent means and irreproachable English upbringing could) – she knew the rights of retail sales. What the price on the sales floor was marked as – that was what it would sell for, and she would have that Moroccan brass table (and stand) for the $60 marked price, or else… I have no doubt that Nan would have raised the matter all the way to the Bullock’s company president and the board of directors.

Of course, Nan emerged triumphant, with the $60-dollar Moroccan brass table (and stand) in her possession – an item for which she had about as much use for as a goldfish does for long winter underwear. It was the principle of the thing, and too good a bargain to pass up. She gave it to Mom and Dad, who also appreciated bargains, even if it wasn’t for an item which they liked particularly well. Free was an even better deal than $60.

And that is the tale of the inadvertently marked-down Moroccan brass coffee table (and stand.) You’re welcome.

05. October 2023 · Comments Off on Hood Ornament · Categories: Ain't That America?

In the early 80s (which now seems to be as long ago as the High Victorian era seemed to be to those looking backwards from the vantage point of the 1920s) acclaimed literary lion Norman Mailer took up the cause of a life-long convict, Jack Abbott by name … and discovered to his dismay that it was easier and safer to champion a violent felon at a considerable distance, than to actually wrangle the man close up. After being out of prison for a matter of weeks Abbott lost his temper and fatally stabbed another man … thereby demonstrating a certain drawback to an intellectual burnishing their public credit by adopting an edgy cause. It was liable to backfire, and make the adoptee appear to be a gullible prat. At about the same time, Tom Wolfe called it ‘radical chic’ and poured erudite derision on Leonard Bernstein for doing much the same with the Black Panther leadership.

Alas, since then, the politically trendy have taken to adopting more than single individuals and fringe elements as what a current wit termed ‘hood ornaments.’ – to the point that an entire criminally-inclined urban underclass has been adopted wholesale by the civic leadership – adopted and excused every failure to be a good and responsible member of the community. All this has made it interesting lately – not to mention dangerous – for an urban dweller working in retail, riding the public transport system, walking down the street, or even just living in an apartment building that doesn’t have iron-clad, 24-hour-a-day security. Ordinary people living in cities where defund-the-police and cater-to-the-homeless have become the primary focus of local government are on edge, unhappy, jittery … and in come sad recent cases, dead on a slab in the mortuary. It’s happened too often; an otherwise harmless person attacked for no particular reason by a street crazy. No wonder that Uber driver picking up a takeout order in a mall food court felt sufficiently threatened and shot the guy following him around the mall, shoving a phone in his face playing a nonsensical message. How can any sane person tell the difference these days between a genuine nutcase arguing with the voices in their head, and a prankster doing it for laughs and his Youtube channel? Hood ornaments are now the most valued constituency in just about every blue city.

And then there is the Portland (naturally!) school superintendent, more indignant about the public and parents of students having the nerve to be angry about a male student in a dress bullying and beating up genuinely female students. I definitely get the feeling that school superintendents and administrators across the nation have taken on gender-bending boys-claiming-to-be-girls as their primary hood ornament, such is the apparent enthusiasm for allowing boys in dresses and Maybelline to compete as girls on school-supported sports teams.

Comment and discuss. I should note that last weekend, I had a client meeting at a lovely venue on the edge of downtown San Antonio. We had arranged to meet in front of the Food Hall at the Pearl Brewery – a lovely redeveloped and very upscale reworking of a former 19th century industrial brewery on the edge of downtown along the extended Riverwalk, which is no adorned with parks, lawns, ornate fountains, a boutique hotel and expensive apartment blocks over boutiques, restaurants and other upmarket retail. On weekends, there is a farmer’s market, rows of portable pavilions, with venders selling more gourmet groceries, meats, eggs, cheeses and artisan chocolates. People shop with their dogs on a leash or children in strollers; there is a splash fountain by the Food Hall that is very popular with children, especially on days as hot as last Saturday was. The Pearl was crowded with shoppers and their families – it was all very pleasant. And not an urban hood ornament in sight. I wonder why? Then again, this is Texas.

27. September 2023 · Comments Off on Fahrenheit 451 · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, Geekery, History

This report, of a school district eliminating all books published before 2008 from the shelves of school libraries struck me as more-than-usually horrifying, when it comes to stupidities enacted by a public school system. Of course, there is some comfort – not much – to be had in the fact that the school district in question is in Canada, but bad ideas in pedagogy have the unfortunate tendency to go international. I am a hundred percent certain that many American school districts have wokified administrators just chomping at the bit in their eagerness to perform the same purge on their own school libraries. Part of the great purge plan allows for an intensive review of pre-2008 books and restoring certain of them to school library circulation upon being judged appropriate – most likely after extensive editing or bowdlerization to remove every scrap of bad-thought.

Well, heavens to Betsy, we can’t have students learning that other people in other times had ideas, interests, and speech incongruent to modern sensitivities. Their interest and curiosity might be engaged and horrors – the kiddos might learn something, and the schools simply can’t have that, not outside of a very narrow field, approximately the width of a gnat’s eyelash.

For myself, I think of all the books that I read as a student that would fall into the condemned range. No Kipling – that goes without saying. No Saki. No Emil and the Detectives, none of the Little House books, certainly no Mark Twain. Nothing of Mary Norton’s Borrowers. No adventure novels by Thomas Costain, no Sherlock Holmes, no All-of-a-Kind Family, no Edna Ferber, no Georgette Heyer, no Bess Streeter Aldrich, no Sanuel Shellabarger, no Rafael Sabatini, no Gwen Bristow and her Plantation Trilogy, nothing by whoever wrote that Boy’s Own Paperish series about the crew of a tramp steamer in the 1930s, or the various adventure of aircrew in the Pacific in World War II. All this and more, even recent popular adventures like the Harry Potter series must be deleted or edited out of all recognition.
Nothing that might spark an interest in history, recent or long-past, other countries, and other, often alien experiences. It’s all to be banished or censored out of any juice, burned in the fires that Ray Bradbury warned about in Fahrenheit 451, lest delicate feelings be hurt. And meanwhile, a gaggle of entertainment personalities have signed the usual manifesto condemning the banning of books – certain other books, most of which have been objected to by parents for containing inappropriate sexual content. The irony of this is of sufficient density to drop through the core of the earth and come out the other side, Hollywood as an establishment being the very epitome of upright morality and ethical conduct.

Comment as you wish, and shall I open a pool on how soon American school districts begin purging school libraries of books published before 2008 ? That is, if it hasn’t been happening already.

21. September 2023 · Comments Off on Another Brand Bites the Dust? · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Stupidity, Working In A Salt Mine...

So Dove, a venerable brand of bar soap (owned by Lever Brothers, AKA Unilever, which has an enormous stable of household brands) looks to have trod heavily on it’s metaphorical private parts in falling for the supposed magic of an internet celebrity “influencer”, a woman who bears a notable resemblance to the Venus of Willendorf and is a malicious racist besides. I swear, I wonder if someone has spiked the coffee urns or the water coolers at whoever is the most currently popular advertising agency with hallucinogenic compounds, or if the advert creators and the approving corporate C-suite executives have all just drunk too deeply of the magical diversity madness. There is a place for edgy – and it’s not with mainstream commodities with a long history of appealing to a wide segment of consumers. On recent examination, I deduce that they are not teaching this in marketing classes lately.

It is nice and perhaps forward-thinking of advertisers and producers of consumer goods to ditch impossibly perfect, beautiful models in favor of featuring normal but attractive women or men in advertising, but I just can’t help thinking that it is a huge mistake to feature the grotesque, the homely and the screamingly unattractive models to sell soap, underwear, or whatever – male, female, or wanna-be-something-else. There is ordinary and normal – and then there is ‘auditioning for a place in a traveling circus freak show’. How on earth can this be construed as a good idea when it comes to moving product? The usual excuse for an awful, offensive commercial has always been “Well, it makes it memorable, so no matter! Good or bad, you’ll remember and buy the product!”

I have never entirely been convinced of this line of reasoning; there were plenty of consumer items that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole because an ad by the manufacturer left me cold, and I don’t believe I am unique in this. It’s become clear in the last few months that loyal customers can only be pushed so far by popular national brands embracing their inner freak, ever since the recent debacle over Bud Light and wanna-be-girl Dylan Mulvaney. An inexpensive and best-selling beer formerly beloved by undiscriminating male drinkers everywhere basically became untouchable over a long hot summer. Will Dove soap likewise crash and burn, through being partnered with a so-called influencer so repulsive, and an advertising concept so ick-making as Free the Pits’? Discuss as you feel moved.
(As for soap, my daughter and I make our own homemade olive-oil Castile, from scratch, for our own use.)

19. September 2023 · Comments Off on Characters and their World · Categories: Ain't That America?, Literary Good Stuff, Luna

My daughter and I began watching this Britbox series last week: Living the Dream, about an English family locating to Florida to run an RV park, full of eccentric characters. The show only had a short run of two abbreviated seasons and doesn’t seem to have racked up much awareness but we have enjoyed it immensely, because of the ‘fish out of water’ aspect, and because all the characters, even just the secondary characters appear to have lives of their own, and are quirky and endearing.  I don’t know if it’s because the writing for the series is intelligent, funny, and mostly avoided making vicious caricatures of Americans, the South, and Floridians generally, although given every opportunity to do so.  There really aren’t any big name stars among the cast, either, although most seem to have had long and relatively unspectacular careers playing character roles in various TV series in the US and Britain; solid professionals, every one, who appeared to to have enjoyed themselves enormously filming on location in Florida.

This brought on some thoughts about how certain TV series and movies manage to give us the impression that even minor characters have fully-rounded lives – that they are just not walking on for the sake of supplying lines or plot points to the main characters. Some small quirk or quality hints at that aspect. I don’t know if it can be attributed to the screenwriting, or perhaps the skill of the actor in coming up with little bits of business that establish that individuality even in a small part, but it is there in some movies and shows, and absent in others. The first time I was made aware of this was in one of the extra features to a recent DVD of Breakfast at Tiffany’s; an examination of the crowded party scene in Holly Golightly’s apartment. One of the extras involved explained how long it took to film that scene and dropped the information that all the bit players involved had worked out all kinds of mini-dramas, played out as the camera glided past. Not just the party scene, but this also held out for the staff of the on-screen Tiffany’s; one had the sense that each person there had a life with a lot going on in it … but there was just this quick interaction with the customers, posing a slight interruption of that life.

In a way, this kind of creative character-building is right up my alley, what with the cast of characters in the Luna City series. With forty or more minor characters, who rotate in an out of focus, there is so much scope for making them individual by telling a story focused on an aspect of their life, present and past. It’s a heck of a lot easer with an omnibus epic like Luna City – giving small characters their own lives.

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic… From the Oath of Enlistment

It honestly kind of slipped my mind at first, that Monday morning was the anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attack on the United States. It’s been 22 years since that horrible day. I had other stuff – purely personal concerns on my mind.
For one, every single thing that I had to say about 9-11, I said, wrote and posted ages ago … and why re-run, one more time? There’s just nothing more to say, any more than there would be anything more to say about the shock of Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 – one more tedious rerun of a recollection of where I was, what I was doing. It’s been a lifetime, in a way – and for high-school and college graduates this year, it’s been all their lifetimes.
The other thing – a more recent tragic anniversary which looms closer in time is the disastrous and humiliating withdrawal from Kabul, Afghanistan, and the Abbey Gate suicide bombing there which killed more than a hundred civilians and thirteen American service personnel. Those deaths meant so little to President Biden that he kept looking at his watch during the ceremony at Andrews AFB when their coffins were unloaded. Those thirteen were the merely last American military lives frittered away in almost two decades of seemingly endless and pointless deployments to Afghanistan, culminated in a departure so botched that I’m still shocked that only a single commissioned officer resigned in protest. Sec Def Austin and General “Thoroughly Modern Milley apparently feel no shame over bungling their responsibility to the nation so horribly.

And this – a demoralized, gutted military – isn’t something that happened at the hands of foreign enemies. Our so-called leadership of the so-called elite gives every indication of hating at least half the American citizenry; it’s as if there is a secret contest on for who can come up with a notion to make our lives even more miserable, by banning gas stoves, gas-powered gardening tools and automobiles, limit air conditioning, efficient toilets, appliances and heaters, and living in detached suburban houses with a generous garden attached. Those same political and social elites appear to cheer on a new race war, all this with the full and enthusiastic cooperation of academia and the national news and entertainment media … those who have taken some time away from cheering on the sexualization of elementary-school-aged children.

Those of us paying attention suspect, with considerable reason for it, that our political leadership (mostly on the Donk side, but a few of the Heffalump persuasion when campaigning for reelection) have been bought and paid for by international and/or corporate interests – to the detriment of the interests of voters and American industries alike. Our national borders seem to have been erased in the interests of importing a more compliant population … and political opposition to all of this and the above has been criminalized. We even have our own gulag and collection of political prisoners. In the meantime, the national news-reporting media have degenerated into a partisan collection of bootlickers, toeing the party line and exclaiming rapturously over how much the love-love-love the luscious taste of authoritarian boot-polish.

The horror of 9-11, and what enemies foreign did to us, more than two decades ago? That was bad enough … but not nearly as damaging as what our ruling elite have done to us since.
Discuss as you wish, and while we still can.