I have to confess to feeling a positively unholy degree of amusement, watching the Establishment Mainstream Media publicly coming to grips with Joe Biden’s senility … this after pretty much papering over his decaying mental condition over the past three years. That President Biden’s remaining brain cells have been melting into a slightly greenish and glowing puddle of goo has been screamingly obvious to everyone on the center-to-right quadrant of the blogosphere with any sense and worldly knowledge since his installation in the Oval Office. That the major national media minions are now having to wrap their tiny minds around that realization, and not just acknowledge but explain how it is now urgent that he be replaced on the Dem party ticket this year, as well as how they managed to escape noticing the freaking obvious for the past two or three years … well, all sorts of fun for those of us with a freakish sense of humor. It’s like watching a hapless stage magician try and gingerly handle a turd by the clean end.

The National Establishment Media – the public affairs branch of the Democrat Party – just spent the last three years trying to cover up his mental incapacity, not to mention his corruption, mendacity, and nasty tendency to perve on any attractive female of any age within reach, even on public occasions. The jig is up. The party’s over. Credibility is shot … not just shot but bleeding messily out in the center of the dusty street, while the large crowd of onlookers who perhaps held Tea Party sympathies, willingly served in our nations’ armed forces in the past, believed that our votes – and our protests counted for something – point and jeer. Yes, indeed – learn to code. Or wait tables, dig ditches, sling packages at Amazon or drive for Uber. If it’s good enough for former millworkers, coal heavers and truck drivers in the industrial heartland … it’s good enough for those who have called themselves news reporters for years, people who have lied to us by commission and omission. There are too many Taylor Lorenzes, and not enough Salena Zitos, it seems to be all too important for the top-ranked national news outlets to have a seat in the farcical White House press conference room, and thus, the national news industry is a fading one. It’s fading for a number of reasons, but one of the major ones is that a large proportion of consumers of news are tired of the lies and are fleeing to other sources than the mainstream purveyors of the government party line.

As an aside, there once were two daily newspapers in my home town of San Antonio – the Express News and the San Antonio Light. The Light was bought out years ago by their rival, but the Express News has shrunk from a once-substantial newspaper which everyone read, to something the size of a small tabloid and mostly running content gleaned from AP, UPI and other syndicated materiel. The editorial columns were usually by nationally syndicated personalities – and why bother? Eventually I dropped subscribing, and evidently, so did most everyone else. I used to see the paper in the driveway of practically every home in the neighborhood in the early mornings when I used to run before dawn. Now, I don’t think it’s delivered to more than a handful of houses.
Comment as you wish.

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.

07. September 2023 · Comments Off on The Tottering Colossus · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, Geekery, General, Media Matters Not

We beat feet from cable for our nightly television viewing about ten years ago – my, how the time flies when you are having fun. We went to various subscription services at a quarter the cost of the monthly cable bill. This came about when we realized that there were only a couple of channels or services provided by cable that we watched regularly; this last weekend, we racked our memories, trying to recall the last American broadcast TV program that we looked forward to and made a point of watching. (Castle, BTW, mostly because of Nathan Fillion … which had it’s last season in 2016.) We have lavished our screen-watching time ever since then on old, or foreign movies and series, of which there is a rich and entertaining selection – everything from Blackadder, to the original Upstairs, Downstairs (Great Britain), to things like A Place to Call Home800 Words and Brokenwood Mysteries (Australia/New Zealand). Currently, the evening watching for us is The Durrells (BBC, and only minimal traces of wokery), while Wee Jamie seems to be fascinated by Alien TV, (Australian) Grimmy and the Lemings (Canadian/French) and Masha and the Bear (Russian.)

Neither of us have felt the urge to go to a movie theater to see a first-run movie in ages. The last one that I went to a theater to see was Dunkirk. I do know that the one-two punch of Barbie and Oppenheimer did boffo business at the box office, sort of reviving interest in seeing first-run movies at an actual theater, as did The Sound of Freedom … but neither of us felt a jolt of interest in venturing to a theater. Those other movies on tap at the multiplexes just seem … meh. Over-loud, over-larded with special editing effects, inept writing and stupid plots, remakes of animated features or comic books, uninteresting concepts, and the unending lectures on matters political, racial, and sexual, pounded in with all the subtlety of a fifty-pound sledgehammer. Added to that; the movie-going experience now costing a small fortune as well as being physically unpleasant, compared to staying at home and watching it on your own wide-screen TV, sitting on your own comfortable couch, breaking for a snack, meal or a potty break.
From what I have read in various middle to conservative websites and blogs (including this one) with an interest in contemporary culture, entertainment and media in general and the comment thread attached to those posts, I am not alone in a prolonged disengagement with our American entertainment industry. Dropping viewer numbers for award shows, collapsing box office receipts, major houses like Disney circling the drain, audiences fragmenting into smaller and smaller niche markets, to include games, Youtube videos and the like … the American entertainment colossus, which once bestrode the world appears near collapse. The SAG-AFTRA strike hardly seems to have made a ripple, outside of those in the industry most concerned. The rest of us are watching … well, practically anything else.
What are you watching, and diverting yourself with, when it comes to television and movies? Comment as you wish.

23. May 2023 · Comments Off on Dealing With The Threat · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Geekery, Veteran's Affairs

This post is kind of a continuation of last weeks’ post, about the invasion of genetically male-claiming-to-be-gender-fluid into spaces formerly the preserve of genuinely, original-equipment-issue XX females … and no, I will not play the variable-gender game and use your favored pronouns. (Should you demand that of me, mine are ‘Your Highness’ and ‘My Lady’). I admit that yes, there are those very rare occurrences of people who are genuinely physically inter-sex from birth, and another small number who have fully undertaken to conduct their lives as the opposite sex of what they were observed to be at birth; this after careful consideration, with surgery, hormones, and the choice of suitable dressing/makeup. But it doesn’t really change anything at all, save the superficial impression. When in a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years, a future archeologist excavates the bodies of one of those people, the skeletal features and residual DNA will read the remains as either male or female – no matter what they maintained an appearance/pretense of being in life.
Frankly, I otherwise wouldn’t much care about the kinks of other adults. I’ve always subscribed to the wisdom of the Edwardian-era actress and correspondent with GB Shaw, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, who famously remarked that she didn’t much care what people did in the bedroom, just that they weren’t doing it in the road and frightening the horses. My own metric was “consulting, adult, and private” which does admittedly leave open a wide range of sexual behaviors such as incest and polygamy. Really, I don’t care. Just don’t demand my rapturous approval. And don’t go about flaunting it in places where the rest of us just can’t look away, m’kay?

I wouldn’t care about transgender matters at all, if they weren’t so determined to strip off and wag the wang-wang in my face, or that of teenage girls and boys, elementary-school students, and apparently everyone else considering buying a cheap intercourse-inna-canoe-beer or a stretchy swimsuit modeled by a model who needs minimal stretch in the breast area, but plenty in the crotch. Or invade places like … hospital wards, prison units, sorority houses, leisure spas, locker rooms, changing rooms, bathrooms, and the like, under the handy guise of claiming to ‘identify as’ female. No matter how unconvincing the pretense, and it appears that many of those pretenses are extraordinarily unconvincing, the perverts and sexual predators are determined on indulging their kink, while male and female authority figures positively cheerlead for the program of invasion. They accrue woke points in the eyes of their peers, I surmise. And the perverts, predators and scammers get away with it. Or at least, they have gotten away with it so far, although this might be on the cusp of changing.

Why have ordinary women waver on tolerating the invasion of their private spaces and sports competitions. Why would this be? Or as my late father would say – “How come?” While I am not a credentialed sociologist or specialist in human behavior – from what I have read and observed in my own life and gathered from others, women are generally much more vulnerable to social pressure from other women. Maybe it stems from having to be tight with the band of sisters and mothers when we were all part of a prehistoric hunter-gathering tribe, perhaps its from centuries of having to have solidarity with other women while living a very circumscribed life as a matter of survival – a dictatorship of petticoats as a 19th-century observer would have put it, in a tight circle of home-hearth-children-family. Whatever the basis for this might be – women in general have a notably much higher threshold for “This-is-crazy-y’all-are-nuts-I’m-outta-here!” then men. And teenage girls, going through the doubt and misery of going through puberty – with all which the confusion which that entails – seem to be most susceptible to destructive peer pressure, transient fads, social bullying, and the general madness of female crowds. There are exceptions to this, though – Sarah Hoyt calls them “Odds”; the freaks, non-conformists, outliers, eccentrics, and rebels; those of us who wander down a different path, pursuing a fascination in something other than what our peers are interested in. It could be a non-traditional sport or profession, or just defying the current convention by building a stable family and raising your children yourself. (It was noted that many of the women who regularly post comments at According to Hoyt are … military veterans. Which is curious in itself, as female veterans aren’t all that numerous in the general population.) It’s my feeling that it will be the non-conformist women, the “Odds” and the rebels who will not tolerate the trans madness and the invasion of female spaces, and who will take the lead in resisting the invasion of female spaces, and in bringing the trans-fad to a halt. Discuss as you wish.

17. March 2023 · Comments Off on Harrison Bergeroning · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, Geekery, My Head Hurts, Rant, Working In A Salt Mine...

I have noted stories of high schools dropping honors and AP classes in the name of so-called ‘equity’ like this lately, with a great deal of sadness and sympathy for those kids who would have benefited most from more challenging classes. The intelligent, motivated and intellectually-gifted students are bored beyond all reason by the standard classes – I know that I certainly was, and my high school days were from 1969-1972 in a largely white blue-collar working-class to no-class suburb of Los Angeles. This was when California public schools were still pretty good, and students were ‘tracked’ by abilities as well as interest in higher learning. I’d estimate that only thirty or forty out of a graduating class of 600 or so were tracked towards the Honors/AE classes; Sunland-Tujunga was, as I said before, a blue-collar, working-class community, with a small sprinkling of middle-class. My own mother was about as pushy a tiger-mom as there was, and her collegiate ambitions for us didn’t go much beyond the state university system, never mind any of the west coast Ivies. An east-coast Ivy wasn’t even in the same universe.

When, for some reason, I wasn’t assigned to one of the AE (academically-enriched) classes for the eventually-college bound, and wound up in a regular class, I was frustrated, impatient and as noted – bored beyond belief at writing down the answers at the end of the rote chapter and turning it in to an equally bored teacher. A fair percentage of my classmates in regular classes were not all that invested in school, or wanted to be there at all – they were there because they were under the age of 18 and the law said that they had to be. Once the regular run of students had learned to read at something close to grade level, to do basic math, and picked up shop skills and maybe a little science – I’ve always believed most other students at Verdugo Hills HS would have been happier going out and getting a job, or at worst, hang out on streetcorners with fellow underachievers. Left to themselves, I suspect most teenagers still feel that way.
With an Honors or AE class, one didn’t have to prove to the teacher beyond all doubt that you weren’t stupid; we had lively class discussions, special projects and independent research papers, and the handful of teachers taking those classes were good teachers themselves, and generally well-liked. We were being challenged with more difficult materiel, asked to think, research, write, tackle advanced material, stretch the boundaries … and at no time was it ever suggested to anyone that such classes were somehow unfair to regular students because they weren’t inclined towards them. Or that … horrors, they just weren’t bright enough.

So now, in pursuit of equal outcomes, every student must be bored out of their respective skulls; the bright, intellectually-engaged kids must have every shred of intellectual achievement and interest crushed ruthlessly, lest the disinterested underachievers somehow feel bad about themselves. This is a horrific waste of potential; talent at anything is not evenly distributed, genius is a rare fish indeed. Squashing it in the name of so-called equity is as wasteful and brutal of human potential as those weights, masks and thought-disrupting radio earpieces enforced by the Handicapper General Diana Moon Glampers in Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian short tale.
Discuss as you wish.

So, Wee Jamie the Wonder Grandson is of the age when he likes noisy things, flashing lights, music and moving colors. We have a Tunie (a kind of boom-box for small children) with an assortment of selections – none of them Disney, by the way. I’m boycotting Disney for now and for the foreseeable future. He has a couple of walkers, and noisy educational toys, toys that jingle, rattle, and play music. And we do let him sit up in the den and watch cartoons. Shaun the Sheep was a favorite, and then a French production – Grizzy and the Lemmings, which features a grizzly bear plagued by a troop of mischievous lemmings. Both Shaun and Grizzy feature wordless adventures, and lots of physical gags.  But the very favorite seems to be Masha and the Bear – a Russian series in various translations for the international market, the adventures of a mischievous and hyperactive little girl and her best buddy, a retired circus bear. There are all sorts of Russian cultural references, most of which I am certain that I am not catching. I do get the classical music references, but the one about the characters of two wolves who live in a decrepit ambulance and are called on for medical and rescue assistance had to be explained through the Wikipedia entry. It’s a Russian proverb, that the wolves are the orderlies of the forest. It’s a cute series, and one of the best things about it is that there isn’t a rainbow in sight. Not a single reference to current woke fads, diversity, or anything more significant than ‘Be careful you don’t get in over your head, child!’ Just gentle and amusing antics of a little girl and her best bear friend, at home and in the forest.

Between this and Grizzy, though – some day we will have to break it to Wee Jamie that bears (and wolves, too) are wild creatures, and not really given to play nicely with small children. I am hoping that he will not be too terribly disappointed.

11. January 2023 · Comments Off on The Royal Ruckus · Categories: Fun and Games, Geekery, General, Media Matters Not, That's Entertainment!

Although ruckus is perhaps too mild a term for the flaming dumpster fire, train wreck or thirty-car pile-up on the interstate, for the public relations disaster that has been called down upon the Windsor family by the present king’s younger son. One isn’t so much drawn to look, in horror – just that one can’t look away from the international spectacle of a man napalming relationships with his own family, all egged on by his wife and the news/entertainment media.

I can’t help knowing what I do know about the British royal family, and the Kardashians, too, as I am a regular reader of the Daily Mail. Curiously, both the British royals and the Kardashians are an obsession of that publication, and it’s a slow week where there aren’t half a dozen stories concerning either. To be fair, I would guess that most of the royals are a bit better grounded, more obedient to duty, and all-around pleasanter people than the Kardashian clan. I really don’t know any of them, in the accepted sense – all I do know, like Will Rogers, is what I read in the papers. But the royals figured a lot in the news, over the last twenty or forty years – what with Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee, the assorted family weddings, divorces, scandals, nostalgic looks backward at the abdication of Edward, the wartime conduct of Queen Elizabeth’s parents, her own coronation, and her recent passing … well, one picks up a lot of trivial knowledge by osmosis.

One of those things is the realization that it’s a burden enough to be born into a family such as the Windsors, and as for the individuals who willingly and for love marry into it? It’s not a fairy tale; it’s more like an indeterminant sentence of glittering privilege and hard labor, into which those volunteers must go with open eyes and a willingness to fit into that life and give up just about every shred of privacy as the rest of us know it. The late Queen Mother did so, apparently assuming at the onset that her husband as the second son would be allowed a relatively obscure and private life on the edge of the royal circle. (I have read in several different accounts that her resentment of Edward VIII was unrelenting, as she was convinced that the responsibility of the office her husband was thrown into, willy-nilly, contributed to shortening his life.) As queen consort and later dowager, she never put a foot wrong. Catherine Middleton did the same; it would seem that Prince William let her have a good long time to consider and consent to what she was letting herself in for. Camilla, the present queen consort was in two minds about the degree of commitment necessary to join the royal family firm; apparently, so did Prince Harry’s previous serious girlfriends, and who could blame them in the least?

Another of those realizations is the knowledge that their lives are terribly peculiar; privileged for certain – but always in the pitiless and unsparing eye of the public – always “on”, whenever in public, the cynosure of all attention. The lifelong burden of attention and responsibility must be a terrible weight; only the strongest and most dedicated are likely able to hold up under the strain without cracking. That the late Queen and her husband held up under it for decades argues for the strength of their own characters, and the steadfast support and affection of a close family circle and those long-time members of their private circle – those few with whom they can relax, let their hair down, metaphorically, and trust to share confidences with – confidences and feelings which will not immediately be blared to the public at large. A close-knit and close-mouth family circle must be a large part of that support system. And Prince Harry has just blown all of that to heck. Not just breaking family confidence, as if that weren’t enough, but publicly venting a reservoir of spleen and resentment with just about every member of his family. It’s horrifying to watch as a disinterested spectator. Those once closest to him must be in agony. One must wonder if he was always an immature and resentful dumpster fire of a human being, and the royal public affairs office and a sympathetic British media just managed to keep that under wraps … or was Ms Markle every bit as awful.

If anything, the divorce coming along in five to seven years, is going to be an even more disastrous spectacle.

21. November 2022 · Comments Off on A Grand Puzzlement · Categories: Ain't That America?, Geekery, General, Media Matters Not, My Head Hurts, Technology

There are certain things that I just don’t “get”. No matter how hard I try and wrap my mind around the topic, it just stubbornly refuses to engage, sitting in a little sullen lump in the corner and obstinately saying “No.” Because of this, the higher mathematic fields have always been closed to me, either through natural disinclination or having been traumatized in getting blind-sided by the New Math in the third grade. Wisely, I stuck to the simpler, practical methods to do with numbers, and left esoteric maths to those who had a bent for them. I have other talents.
That being admitted and perhaps in relation to such an inability, I could never quite grasp the method and appeal of bitcoin.

Why was it a ‘thing’, other than a lot of people seemed to believe that bitcoinage was a ‘thing’? Bitcoin always seemed to me to be like the medium of exchange used in on-line role-playing games; a thing of value because everyone involved insisted on and agreed that it was. As for the concept of ‘mining bitcoin’, other than it involved a lot of time on the computer, and something to do with solving long and complicated formulae … Nope, just could not “get” how that all worked, and what if anything, bitcoin was based on, other than being trendy. It was all vaporous, it meant whatever anyone said that it meant, and no two people seemed to agree on how bitcoins were generated. So my daughter and I were never particularly drawn towards anything to do with bitcoin, or bitcoin wallets, investments or exchanges … especially since so many of the communications that we (my daughter more than me) received about bitcoinage appeared to be scammers. Something so thoroughly fenced around by a poisonous reek of scam made us both wary and we declined involvement, in any way, shape or form. Sensible in hindsight, considering the near-apocalyptic collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s Futures Exchange.

A truism to live by – like high-explosives, if you don’t understand it, don’t play around with it.

Well, it could have been worse – might have been tulip bulbs. (Oh, that Charles Mackay is not alive in this century – how many more chapters could he have added to his magnum opus!) It was curious and ironic that Bankman-Fried and his merry band of wonderkind were so elevated by the finance press … as if he had discovered some great hitherto unknown secret to grubbing wealth unfathomable, secrets unknown to the rest of us mere mortals. The subsequent crash and burn, as well as the fury of those rooked out of their very real investments is a mater of academic interest to those of us who had the native intelligence not to go messing about in something we really didn’t understand.

Bankman-Fried and his friends appear to be the children of privilege – just like Elizabeth Holmes, of Theranos ill-fame, who by striking coincidence, was sentenced this week. Like Bankman-Fried, Holmes was taken up by the press and by the great, good, and the well-connected, few of whom appeared to have actual specific knowledge of the field that she claimed expertise in. She conned a great many people who ought to have been warier or known better into backing her blood-testing enterprise – an undertaking that I am certain was as mysterious as is the generation of bitcoinage to laymen… or laywoman. But she fooled the well-connected and media outlets for years, just like Bankman-Fried did, and now everyone who ever bought into the hype has egg, metaphorically-speaking, on their faces. One wonders how much of it was due to the intensely favorable press … and how much the assumption from those who enthusiastically backed Theranos, that ‘she’s one of us, one of the elite, well-connected, gradate of a prestigious university, the daughter of so-and-so; she couldn’t possibly intend to pull a scam on us!’ I assume that it was the same with Bankman-Fried; ‘oh, he couldn’t possibly scam us! He’s one of us!”
Comment and discuss as you wish.

21. November 2022 · Comments Off on The Pleasures of Yew-Toob · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Geekery, General, That's Entertainment!

Last fall, when my daughter and I both fell temporarily to the covid plague, one of my respites was sitting at my computer with Wee Jamie the Wonder Grandson in my lap, watching various videos on YouTube. We were not exactly sick … just not very well; easily tired, devoid of energy and interest in anything that lasted very long. Wee Jamie had a low-grad temperature for a day or so, and sniffles, so his health was never in any particular danger. Neither was ours, once some serious drugs had knocked out the covid-induced pneumonia … but the two of us, Wee Jamie and I came away from those weeks with a decided fondness for ten or a dozen YouTube series – some of the home renovation off-the-grid living, a couple of ‘build a shelter from raw materials and a few basic tools’ – look, hard work fascinates me, I could watch it for hours. (Our Restoration NationRed Poppy RanchTrent & AllieLesnoy_Craft … respectively, various locations in the south, somewhere in the inland northwest, in Utah, and somewhere in … maybe Russia? We also liked some of the model-building shows; one an Australian, the other a German, both of whom do the most amazing dioramas and small structures. (Luke Towan, and Samy-Modelblau. Oh, the things that you can make from thick cardboard, and a range of model-making supplies! And wire … and resin…)

But the ones that we liked the best, and from which I came away from with a severe case of power-tool envy were the various renovation/restoration channels; a variety of specialists doing amazing things in renovating, refinishing, and repairing old furniture, restoring seriously wrecked and rusted agricultural or domestic items, and restoring them to attractive functionality. It’s kind of soothing, watching rust being blasted away in a sand-blasting booth. I so wish now that I had been permitted to take wood and metal shop in junior high school – instead of cooking and sewing. I already knew how to cook and sew … but this was when shop classes were strictly reserved for the boys, and the home-making sills were likewise reserved for girls. (You know – back before the Noachian flood. Although Dad did his best to teach my brothers and sister and I, outside of school)

The thing that does get me is that these various specialists really ran the gamut of nationalities – and that some of them never even appeared as more than their hands, doing the work. Veradona Restoration is Czech, AT Restoration, as near as I can figure out, is based in Estonia, one of the Baltic States. LADB is French, and so mysterious that all one ever sees of the experts featured is their hands. I think that there are three of them – one young, one middle-aged, one old, just to judge from close-ups of the hands doing the detail work – woodwork, metal fabrication, rust removal. They have a charming ginger cat-familiar hanging about the incredibly-well equipped workshop; Avril, who appears in most episodes.

Then there is Epic Upcycling, featuring a stone-faced Canadian carpenter-genius, who builds the most ornate and substantial furniture out of old pallets and miscellaneous scrap. Seriously, never give this man an acre of old shipping containers, I think he would build a whole fantastically-original city, or at least a suburb out of them. The pieces of furniture are fantastic – complicated, ornate … and he builds his own metal hinges, handles, locks and stuff. My thought is that of course, the designs are that ornate because the wood he builds them out of is basically waste product, of which (from the occasional glimpses of his wood stash) he may have cornered the available market in used pallets. What he could do with fine wood would rival anything built for Versailles. Or any other 17th, 18th or 19th century palace.

Ah, the pleasures of watching knowledgeable craftsmen and women at work … although I am pretty certain that all the disasters are off-camera or edited out.

The sins of Microsoft are many – but since their Office suite is practically universal, one almost has to use it, especially if one is not technically adept in matters of a programming nature. I do understand that there are means of working around, involving Linux and some open-source word processing packages, but frankly, it’s all too much for a practicing writer and small publisher to process and still get useful work done, for myself and for clients.

I am, as a matter of fact, completely happy with and sufficiently skilled with Word, with Excel and Publisher themselves, although I wish that they hadn’t gone with the new hotness and ongoing income stream of the subscription model – that is, pay yearly or monthly for the privilege of using the programs. (Yeah, when I started with all this, you bought the package straight up, on a DVD/CD which you installed and used – forever, or as long as the computer lived, or until they came up with a physical upgrade.). I’ve been working with the various versions and so-called upgrades for at least three decades, with Photoshop for at least that long, and Adobe Acrobat Pro for half that long.  Not a genius with either of the last two packages, but well enough to get by. What has lately frosted my cookies is the utter dogs’ breakfast of Microsoft’s consumer account system, and their customer service when things to do with the subscription go sideways.

To be brutally frank, it sucks sweaty pustulent donkey balls. It’s calculated, apparently, to avoid having to deal with a customer’s problem or complaint, much less actually do anything to fix the problem.

To recapitulate – early last month, I had to switch to a new computer, since the one I was currently using was beginning to glitch and had not enough memory to run several essential programs in the manner to which I would have liked them to run. Switching over all the saved documents which were on a detachable hard drive – no problem. Porting over all the bookmarks and settings – piece of cake. Going to my subscription accounts for Adobe Acrobat, and Photoshop, and re-installing those services on the new computer, no problem at all. But signing into my Microsoft account and trying to get the Office suite installed … headache on top of headache. I absolutely had to have those tools on my computer, being halfway through two different projects. My first intimation that Microsoft’s customer services sucks donkey balls – I went around and around on my account, but always came back to – having to pay for the subscription service again. (WHY? Adobe.com was perfectly transparent, and the services that I had already paid for were readily installed.) Bit the bullet and paid for the subscription anew.

Straight, so far? On Friday, Microsoft charged me for the yearly subscription, even though I had just two weeks previously – paid for a new subscription, because I couldn’t install the previously existing subscription package on the new computer. I signed into my account and tried to file a complaint, and request for a refund … and this time I went around and around for more than an hour. They are insidious in their customer service, you see. I twice tried calling the help telephone numbers I eventually found … and got a recorded message which sent me a link which referred me to another Microsoft website page … which circled back to where I had been before. I couldn’t cancel the transaction, couldn’t even change it to a monthly billing, they didn’t even recognize or accept my phone number (what? Although they could send an automated text message to that number.) Eventually, I found a page where I could file my complaint and describe my problem in a hundred characters or less. How very generous of them. No other option for filing a complaint or notifying them of a problem, which seems pretty measly, considering how large a company it is, and presumably stuffed full of technologically knowledgeable employees.

I did get an automated email answer – but one which asked that I type my reply above a line above … which couldn’t be done. Yes, Microsoft customer service sucks donkey balls. Even Amazon has better customer service; yes, they do low-key the contact email and number to call, but with a little persistence, you can eventually speak to a real human being. AT&T, my own bank, our local utility company – all do a much better job. Frankly, I’m convinced that Microsoft doesn’t really want customer interaction of any kind. They just want your money; customer satisfaction isn’t anywhere in the same room, or the building. Monopolies can operate like that, for a while, anyway.

Me, I hope for a refund, eventually, or just for communication with a human being in customer service – or for the SMOD to land on Redmond, Washington State. At this point, I figure the odds are equally split.

08. December 2021 · Comments Off on Alternative Structure · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, Geekery, Politics

I did note this story on Axios, which was discussed scathingly and at length on Ace of Spades; that the Lefty Progs have belatedly realized that, yes indeedy, us social and political conservatives are building our alternate establishments, in media, money-management, retail, and everywhere else. Welcome to the party, pal… It goes without saying that the Lefty Progs disapprove, most indignantly. I noted the split a little more than a year ago, in this post.

We’re already at the split. We read different books, watch different movies and television shows – those of us who still watch movies and television – follow different celebrities, earn a living in different ways, educate our children differently. We honor different things, different heroes and heroines, have wildly different aspirations and hopes for the future. We are already split. More »

30. September 2020 · Comments Off on Paint it Black · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, Geekery, Media Matters Not, Rant, World

Well, if this isn’t a good reason for a grad student passionately interested in English literature – meaning the study of classic literature written in English (starting with Beowulf and running all the way to Tom Stoppard) to avoid the U of Chicago and embrace a program of self-education then I don’t know what is. It’s akin to being invited to a grand, lavish multi-course banquet and then only allowed a single tiny plate of hors d oeuvres. Which you must consume, and praise lavishly, and not even consider looking over at the main course. Or for another comparison – be fascinated by American pop music all through the 20th century, and then only be permitted to specialize in Motown. Because … reasons. Anyone fascinated by Chaucer or Tin Pan Alley is just plain out of luck, because of systemic racism, and overwhelming whiteness of the culture and the stain of slavery, et cetera, which is usually the reason given. Frankly, I think it’s just momentarily fashionable to paint everything Black.

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22. February 2020 · Comments Off on Flashy Himself – A Literary Diversion · Categories: Fun and Games, Geekery, History, Literary Good Stuff

So it took a link on Powerline last week to bring to my attention that George McDonald Fraser’s first Flashman book came out fifty years ago.

My, I don’t know how the time flies – but it does. I must have read the first couple of Flashy’s adventures sometime in college, shortly thereafter, and being quite the history nerd even then, they were rowdy enough, and amusing enough that I read most of the rest of them when they came out, even if I had to order them from an English book catalog when I was stationed overseas. I do remember very well reading The General Danced at Dawn, in the back of one of my more boring lecture classes at CSUN and nearly self-strangulating in trying to not laugh uproariously out loud. The professor lecturer would not have been amused – he was a medieval history expert with a thoroughly tedious interest in the most comprehensively boring of early dark age church confabulations and absent any detectable sense of humor.

My main regret as far as the Flashman series goes is that GMF never wrote of Flashy’s adventures in our own Civil War, which sounded from references in other books, as if Flashman conducted himself in the manner which we came to expect of him – that is, purely and basely devoted to the preservation of his own skin, while dodging, lying, fornicating and back-stabbing on battlefields spread across three continents, as well as hob-nobbing socially or sexually with all sorts of likely participants. As one early reviewer put it, Flashy saw 19th century history briefly over his shoulder as he fled down the corridors of power at high speed. His adventures in our very own Civil War would have been … interesting, although when I touched on this matter before, a reader pointed out that a) Flashy was a British officer and hardly gave a toss as to what we recalcitrant ex-Colonials got up to, and that b) that all our native ACW experts, amateur and professional alike would have made passionate objection to any error or omission, fancied or with historical backing that GMF might have worked into the plot. So, the effort wouldn’t have been worth the candle to him … although I and most of his fans would have loved to read it anyway. Just to see the process by how Flashy got suckered into participation by Abraham Lincoln, fought on both sides, and wound up being pals with George Armstrong Custer and well-acquainted with General Grant, and how many other Civil War notables.

I myself would have loved to see Flashy entangled in some kind of partnership with Elizabeth Van Lew, the Richmond spy queen, or perhaps a much deeper entanglement with Allan Pinkerton, of the national detective agency … it all would have been great reading, no matter how contentious the fallout might have been with Civil War historians. His take on Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals would have been interesting, as well. Because GMF had the eye, an absolute gift for writing 19th century dialog, and loved history enough to go into the deep weeds about it all … and most of all, make it interesting to the reader. Pop media is not downhill from culture, it’s in a symbiotic relationship with it. One shapes the other, mutually.

The darkly appealing thing about Flashy is that as a character, he was blunt and unsparingly honest, especially about himself: coward, toady, professionally self-serving, enthusiastic fornicator, (rapist, also on one occasion), and all-around scummy character – and yet with pluck and luck, always coming up out of the sewer smelling like a rose. As well as being brutally honest about himself to himself, Flashy was also was also magnificently candid about a lot of other matters now held to be absolutely radioactive. And that’s a large part of his appeal. I rather suspect that GMF had a great deal of fun in writing Flashy as a character, kicking politically correctitude right in the shorts, over and over again.

And what a wonderful miniseries Flashman would be, supposing that GMF’s literary executors would allow the rights to be negotiated for it, and a producer had the budget and stones to do it right, covering Flashy’s eventful career. You’d likely need eight or nine seasons to do it all justice, filming in fabulous locations in Europe, the US, Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Africa, an international cast of actors buckling swashes right and left … it would leave Game of Thrones in the dust, for sure. Likely it would never happen, given today’s social climate – but it would be glorious. Oh, well – at least we have the books. Discuss as you wish.

Being myself a person of decided pallor, and increasingly cynical about current social-justice principles being inflicted on captive campus audiences at every level from kindergarten on up through graduate school, I am over in a corner snickering uncontrollably about the current mass freak-out in educational circles over the appearance of anonymous and unsigned posters with the simple declaration that “It’s OK to be White.” No, seriously – these things are apparently “hate-filled … sick and outrageous behavior … revolting actions,” and those found to have participated in distributing the flyers, “subject to the severest disciplinary actions, including dismissal as well as possible civil and criminal actions.”

So much for freedom of speech, open-minded discussion of differences in the realm of academia. So much for respecting differing points of view. Well done, wokiest of the woke in the sacred groves and campus.
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18. September 2019 · Comments Off on Training Wheels · Categories: Geekery, Literary Good Stuff, Local

This last weekend was the start of the fall book market season; I spent three days in Giddings, Texas, as one of the local authors invited to participate in the yearly Word Wrangler Book Festival – which is sponsored by the local library, and supported by practically every civic institution in Giddings, including the local elementary and high schools. Last Thursday, the first day of Word Wrangler, certain of us authors volunteered to go and visit schools for readings, or to just talk about writing. This year, I visited three middle-school classes, to talk to sixth graders about writing, the stories that they liked, and what they could write about. I like doing this with fifth and sixth grade students, by the way – they are old enough to read pretty well, but not so old as to be jaded by the whole ‘visiting writer/storyteller’ thing. The kids were lively and responsive; it helps that they were being taught about plotting, about the narrative voice, and how to create a story. In each class of about twenty or thirty kids, I would guess that two or three are terrifically keen on creative writing, another eight or ten are interested, and the remainder are not completely indifferent. I went around and asked each student what they liked to read the most; adventure stories seemed to be most popular, followed by mysteries. Two boys in separate classes were enthralled by World War II stories. Horror and fantasy seemed to be about equally popular; and there was one girl with quite gruesome taste in exotic forms of murder. Well, it takes all kinds, and I am not her analyst; she’ll most likely grow out of it, once puberty really takes hold …
Then I went around again, asking each one what they would write about; what story would they want to sit down and write. For those who couldn’t think of one, I gave them a character and a situation, and encouraged them to go to town. And one more thing I told them – it is perfectly OK for a writer starting out to venture into scribbling fanfiction. You like a certain movie, book, TV series, videogame, are interested in that world and those characters? Take the characters you really like or identify with and write them a new set of adventures in that fictional world. Saves the time and trouble of building a whole new world from scratch … and isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Go and do it; practically every writer I know did the same. I certainly did; and the reams of juvenilia is something to eventually be consigned to the shredder by my literary executor. Just be careful when unleashing revised fanfiction into the world – chose the venue carefully and file off all the identifying serial numbers. Otherwise, it’s excellent practice, I told the kids; the literary equivalent of training wheels when learning to ride a bicycle.
I’ve been publishing independently since 2007; the first big wave of independent writers, although there were a small number of specialists in the decades before that. There were always writers publishing their works in a small way, mostly through arranging a print run with a local printer and bookbinder, but that method usually cost more money than was available to those of us in that big wave in the mid ‘Oughts’. The development of publish on demand, the ability of printers to do small print runs at a reasonable cost, the rise of Amazon, the popularity of eReaders, and the disinclination of the establishment publishing houses to continue backing midlist authors while pursuing only huge blockbusters … that all left the field wide open to indy writers like the ones I spent last weekend with. It astounded me all over again how very good, and professional the books at Word Wrangler looked. The covers of most books – and they covered the range of kids’ books through adult fiction; adventure, mystery, western, historical – all looked as good as anything produced by mainstream publishers. There is such a wealth of good reading available, through independent and small publishers, and readers in places like Giddings know it very, very well,

On summer nights, in the suburb where I lived in the late 1980ies, I often heard gunfire at night – a regular popping kind of noise, like pebbles dropping into a metal bucket. The every-day noise of the city died away, as well as sounds of traffic on the highway between Zaragoza and Logrono. Very distant, of course – the firing range at Bardenas Reales was at least thirty miles north as the crow flies, but the sounds of artillery, air gunnery, and military war games carried quite well, under certain conditions. I was often reminded then, of accounts from both world wars – recollections of residents in France and England; miles from the front, but who could hear the war, at a distance. The popping sound of distant firing also reminded me of other accounts, like this one – of submarine warfare in WWI, and how pressure worked on the hulls of early submarines, quite often fatally to their crews.
The noise – hissing, popping, creaks and groaning, as the pressure builds, and builds. I cannot help thinking that the shootings in an El Paso Walmart, at a bar in Dayton, and at the Gilroy garlic festival are symptomatic of pressure building to a nearly unbearable level. Those young men, the shooters in each case (as well as earlier shooters like Dylan Roof and Adam Lanza) are the weakest rivets popping loose.

And no, for the hundredth and thousandth time – it’s not guns, their availability, laws governing sales of guns, the Second Amendment, or politicians and editorialists pleading for so-called “sensible gun control” who emerge, like the groundhog in spring, in the wake of horrific events. I have often wished that they would vary the program by suggesting a round of “sensible nutbar control”, just for the sake of variety. I have also come to think that the constant and unsubtle anti-male bashing in intellectual, educational practice and entertainment circles over the last twenty, thirty, or forty years might have a great deal to do with teen and twenty-something men going completely off the rails. The best-adjusted of them settle for low-rent jobs, a meagre social life and turn to on-line gaming, dangerous hobbies involving heights, long falls, and high speed. The worst-off take comfort in the kind of solace and sympathy available among the like-minded in the darker corners of the internet. The very worst-off find a weapon and use it on living, breathing, bleeding targets. Such young men can’t get a worthwhile job or a worthwhile relationship – so much for having a steadying family life and long-term commitments as earlier generations of males did. Adding a heaping helping of social and political contempt for being white, working class, and living in Flyoverlandia is just the topping to this whole rancid dish.

Your thoughts, and insights? We are all damned by our so-called betters as irredeemable, far-right racist deplorables, anyway; may as well speak honestly while we can.

Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings. – Heinrich Heine

This last week there was a mild kerfuffle in the world of those bloggers who love and often write books, and who also love history. This was caused by a marginally-literate screed published on a personal blog by one Sofia Leung, who professes to be a feminist and a librarian of the totally-woke/social-justice/critical-race-theory variety. Said screed was amplified in the twitter feed of the Library Journal, until the tweet was deleted, (possibly at the urging of someone with a lick of sense and professionalism). I suspect that the Library Journal is a publication which was once much more respected and authoritative; like Time, Newsweek, Scientific American, Harper’s, Smithsonian and National Geographic once were, before being overtaken in a flood of semi-coherent woke/social-justice/critical-race-theory nonsense. Quoth Ms. Leung –

“Library collections continue to promote and proliferate whiteness with their very existence and the fact that they are physically taking up space in our libraries. They are paid for using money that was usually ill-gotten…”

I swear, those two sentences alone encompass ignorance of such pure, stainless density as to drop into the center of the earth and emerge on the other side. (A close rival this week, is the Twitter feed of a painfully ignorant SJW who insisted that white people shouldn’t be permitted to learn Spanish because it wasn’t properly a ‘white’ language.*) However, the phrase which raises the hair on the back of the neck of any historically-knowledgeable of whatever color or shade of whiteness is her complaint that such materiel – presumably papers, publications and books which reflect that so-called “whiteness” “… are physically taking up space in our libraries.”

Taking up space in our libraries. Reflect on that for a moment. Our libraries. Taking a rather royally-possessive attitude, here, aren’t we, Ms. Leung? Considering that these tenuously United States are still inhabited largely by citizens whose national origins were somewhere north of the Mediterranean, and west of the Ural Mountains and thus are to be ‘white’ by the standards of this current century. (The definition of ‘white’ is curiously elastic; depending on the point to be proven. Americans of Oriental descent, and those whose origins are in South America are frequently also lumped into the ‘white’ category, for purposes of allocating places at prestigious universities or for inflating/deflating categories of certain crimes with regard to the ethnic background of the convicted.) Are we not supposed to be educated and diverted by volumes of whatever – poetry, history, philosophy, drama – in our own tradition? What is it that you are proposing to do with that which you so magisterially disapprove of, Ms. Leung? Remove it, as something unclean? Perhaps you have an auto-da-fe of books in mind, if you have thought that far ahead, when you consider a condemnation of stuff physically taking up space in libraries?

Additionally, I am also fairly certain that – depending on the nature of the library in question – that many of those institutions so casually dismissed by Ms. Leung contain extensive collections of material in the original language or in authoritative translation from the ancient world, from India and the Orient. Indeed, wherever there was a written language, there must be material, both original and informed commentary – from a direct source which in now ways could be considered ‘white’ and layers and layers of comment which perhaps might be …

In any case, Ms. Leung is considered by me to be a disgrace to her profession – a dangerous and bigoted one, with delusions of adequacy far beyond her intelligence, as it is displayed in her blog post. Is this expressed wish of hers – to cleanse “our” libraries of the dreaded taint of “whiteness” a kind of harbinger when it comes to fashion among the woke set? How seriously should we take it? Are we – us ‘normies’ and flyover citizens – now past the second or third marker on the road to be erased, in having our history, what we value intellectually being thrown down the memory hole?

Discuss as you wish.

*Can’t find the link for this – but I know I saw it.

11. April 2018 · Comments Off on Whither Social Media · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, Geekery, Media Matters Not

Damned if I know, as my educated guess as a long-time milblogger is probably about as good as yours. I never had a Myspace account – too busy with the original milblog, I guess, to be aware of or want to participate in any of the original or prototype Facebook iterations. Never got into Twitter, although I do have a barely-used, and all but neglected account, which I am camping on, since there is another author Celia Hayes out there, who likely would scoop it up, as soon as I vacated that account. (Yes, I am, spiteful that way. That other Celia apparently never did a google-search, upon deciding to publish her contemporary rom-coms. There is such a thing as due diligence…)

See – I am a long-form blogger. There are those of us whose skill is witty epigrams, or slashingly vicious put-downs on a daily basis. Mine is not; I prefer to open up a document, meander at my own pace, and then hit “publish.” Tedious, I know, for those readers with the attention-span of a gnat, but my most intense literary influences where those of the Victorians, who wrote complicated sentences, some of them lasting for at least a quarter of a page, if not for longer. My sense of humor (as well as my tastes in architecture) was set in stone by the influence of a book in the parental collection: Osbert Lancaster’s Here of All Places, who was at least as good as a cartoonist as he was a wordsmith, if slightly ponderous and wonderfully dry.

When I began seriously scribbling on more than a weblog around 2008, I began connecting with other independent writers; the largest congeries of us assembled at first through an Amazon discussion group, swapping experiences, opportunities, and advice on marketing our books. A good many in the group had been on the fringes of traditional publishing in various editorial or technical capacities. Their experiences and insights into the dark heart of what I took to calling the Literary-Industrial Complex were invaluable to the rest of us.

In the light of recent events, one of those pieces of marketing advice has proven to be quite prescient: that is, utilize social media as you must – but don’t bet the farm on it. One should not put all of one’s hard-written content into a basket controlled by others; suck up the expense of your own website, mirror-post your content – because, if for some reason, the social media platform goes under, or takes against you, all your work can and will be lost. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter – all easy, popular, convenient … but when – when, and not if – the politicized and mostly left-of-center providers of the service decide to shadow-ban, demonetize or close your account, you will be stuck. I had a good three or four years’ worth of archive posts on Open Salon, which evaporated into the ether, when Open Salon had their plug pulled by management. Didn’t lose much, save for some of the connections, when that platform went down. I do have a Facebook account for myself as an author, and for several other of my enterprises – not that I post, connect to, or repost anything but the most neutral and anodyne materiel on them. I came into this internet game with a sense of probity already hard-learned, having as a military broadcaster to always consider what I said, wrote, and posted, from the public affairs point of view. Once what you have said on air – it’s out there. No reconsideration can draw it back or erase any line of it.

The social media oligarchs who control such venues have decided – for whatever reasons – to get in touch with their militantly liberal side, consigning better than half the country to perdition and obscurity. I have no idea why, although I can guess at a few possible motivations. Are they so thickly insulated in their bubble of the like-minded that they are genuinely baffled at the existence of conservatives of any stripe? Are they frightened; scared out of their wits at that straw-other built up in their own minds, and hysterically lashing out at the perceived threat by calling it hate speech, or terming conservatives a threat to the community? Or are the social media lords and the media nobility vengefully blaming half the country for not obediently falling into line and voting for Hillary, and punishing the outspoken for our lack of faith in Her Inevitableness?
And what action can we take in response? Can we switch to gab.ai from Twitter, MeWe from Facebook, post to Vimeo instead of YouTube, or explore other alternatives? Will a substantial shift to alternate social media platforms have any effect on oligarchs like Zuckerberg? Discuss.

There is an oft-quoted maxim generally credited to the late William F. Buckley to the effect that “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.”  So it also appears to be the case with the corporate and academic diversity-mongers; who are all about diversity when it a matter of race, nationality, sex, sex-orientation, background and education level, but react like a bunch of screaming howler monkeys when what they have established as ‘conventional-think’ is transgressed upon or critiqued, even in a manner most thoughtful, The most current demonstration of this has been the Google-Diversity imbroglio, which was set off by a rather thoughtful memo (linked here) which ruminated on unconscious corporate assumptions, and suggested that there were other reasons than bias for a dearth of women in highly technical programming activities, and that Google’s own diversity culture was preventing discussion of effective means of remedying that lack. Oh, my … did that set off the Lords of Diversity at Google, as well as a number of female staff at Google and other tech industries … a reaction which I can only describe as ‘hysteria.’ The Google engineer who generated the memo has become the focus of one of those internet lynch mobs, thus fulfilling his own prophetic warning that there are some questions which are like the third rail in that one cannot touch them without being vaporized. Or as in his case, fired summarily. It is altogether likely that he will not be unemployed for long, or the recipient of a large settlement as the result of a suit filed for unjust termination by Google – very likely both. (More here at Ace of Spades, who thoughtfully posted the link to the infamous memo.

It is also likely that Google may feel a bit of pain from this; if not from pissed-off consumers choosing another search engine and email service, then from ideologically straight-jacketing those in-house techies thinking creatively about solving problems. If savvy thinkers know that that voicing speculative wrong-think about hard questions will impact them professionally … well, then, there will not be answers to those hard questions, and the Lords of Diversity will never know why.

Another takeaway from all of this is a powerful reinforcement of the notion that being conservative in a generally liberal workplace is a perilous professional situation – a situation that has become even more unstable since the election of Donald Trump. Yes, sensible conservative/libertarians are going to go on keeping their mouths shut and their heads down, unless among friends or in a safe space like this one. Even those of us who are self-employed, have their mortgage and cars paid for, or nearly paid for, and topped-up bank accounts are still vulnerable to a determined and malicious internet lynch mob … or even someone like the odious Lena Dunham, maliciously going to an employer, with a tattle-tale of a supposedly overheard conversation in a public place.

 

Discuss, if you can bear it.

23. July 2017 · Comments Off on Saturday at the Movies: A Review of Dunkirk · Categories: Eat, Drink and be Merry, Geekery, History, Military, That's Entertainment!

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

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

Some time ago and in another blog-post I wondered if it were possible for those with conservative and libertarian leanings to develop some kind of secret password, or handshake with which to identify themselves to new-met acquaintances who might possibly share those inclinations. We tend to be polite, do not relish open confrontation – and really, why pick unnecessary fights with neighbors, casually-met strangers, distant kin, or fellow workers? Most times, it just is not worth the hassle, or the chance of turning a casual social interaction or relationship turning toxic. Most of us do not eat, sleep, dream, live politics twenty-four-seven, anyway. But it certainly is pleasant to discover someone of like sympathies, usually after a few rounds of warily sounding them out, and assuring them that no, we will not come unglued if they confess to having voted for or liked (insert political figure or philosophy here).

But I think that I have hit upon a handy shorthand method for discerning the political sympathies of another without coming outright and asking. This insight came about through following a couple of libertarian-leaning or conservative blogs – Sarah Hoyt and Wretchard at Belmont Club being two of the more notable – and noting that the principals and many of their commenters all seemed au courant with Kipling.

Lines from “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” “When ‘Omer Smote ‘is Bloomin’ Lyre”, “The Sons of Martha” “The Three-Decker” and “Dane-geld” or “The Wrath of the Awakened Saxon” and any number of other poems from the pen of the Glorious Rudyard were tossed about with abandon, along with references to various short stories and novels. Tags and lines from these poems and others were almost a currency in comment threads at these websites and blogs.
If you like Kipling … then you are likely to be some stripe of conservative, libertarian, or an original independent. I have not much of an explanation of why this should be so, other than that Kipling was an unparalleled master of storytelling, and his poems – traditional in the sense that they had a rhyme and meter – sometimes are still topical and always quotable. He has been out of fashion among the mainstream intellectuals and tastemakers for going on a century; In the place of the story-teller and poet there is a massive straw-image of him, labeled with every nasty -ism that can be applied; imperialist, racist, and so on and so forth. Die-hard fan of British imperialism – or not – he certainly was an acute observer of the institution and of his times. Perhaps it is the clear-eyed observer part of the Glorious Rudyard that appeals. Any other explanation would be welcomed, but the correlation between a liking for Kipling and conservative leanings is pretty well marked in my mind. Your thoughts?

29. September 2016 · Comments Off on Miniseries – 2016 · Categories: Geekery, General Nonsense, Media Matters Not

So, I had this marvelous inspiration for an epic miniseries last night, which I am sure has probably occurred to other people – would that at least one of them might be in a position to act on this inspiration. We were watching Father Ted, and on the way to watching it, skimmed through some of the other offerings available through Amazon, Netflix, and Acorn … and I was thinking, since there are so many period series available, which offer all sorts of alternate or even just slightly-skewed versions of history, especially the versions which offer the actors the opportunity to get all vamped up in corsets and coats trimmed up in gold braid and whatever … what would be a good and popular historical novel series to make a TV miniseries out of … something with a swaggering, handsome and sexually-adventurous-hero, who romped all through the known world of the 19th century, brushing elbows with all kinds of interesting men of note and bedding women likewise, hip-deep in scandals, scoundrels and skullduggery, oh my.

Can you picture for a shining moment – what a thumping good miniseries the Flashman books would make? Yes, George McDonald Fraser’s Flashman series of books, wherein the dashing rakehell of the outwardly heroic, inwardly lily-livered Harry Flashman goes from the First Afghan War, scampering down the corridors of power all over the globe, looking over his shoulder and putting on a desperate burst of speed. Think of all the famous historical personages portrayed over five or six episodes by well-known actors doing a guest turn, consider all the supporting and reoccurring characters, whose listing on imdb would feature this role at the top of their CV. Consider all the exotic, exciting locations for Harry Flashman’s adventures … well, OK, likely Afghanistan is off the list as a real-life shooting location since history is still repeating itself there: You got England and Scotland, Germany, the Crimea, Russia, India, China, Southeast Asia, Africa, Mexico, all through the US and better than half a century of significant events, wars, campaigns and punitive expeditions across four continents. You got Abraham Lincoln, the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Empress of China, pirates in the South China Sea, mutineers in India, and Apache on the warpath.

It would be splendid. And with even more book materiel than George R. R. Martin, too. Enough to do at least ten seasons if they did all twelve books, although likely to fill in the American Civil War segment, they might have to figure out exactly how Harry Flashman managed to fight for both the Union and the Confederacy. GMF never wanted to do it up in a book; Flashman being an Englishman, the American Civil War was just one of those minor foreign scuffles to him.

And the best part – would be that nervous-nelly, eternally politically correct social justice warriors would absolutely melt down into puddles of anguished tears at it all.

27. August 2016 · Comments Off on A Historical Diversion – The Last Day of Pompeii · Categories: Geekery, History

A lovely animated visualization of how Pompeii was destroyed and buried –

08. July 2016 · Comments Off on The Restaurant of Life · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, Geekery, General Nonsense

Some ironic fun on a Friday, found through the Passive Voice website.

14. May 2016 · Comments Off on Medieval London, Revisited Digitally · Categories: Domestic, Geekery, History

I do wish they had paused long enough to look into some of the ground-floor shops, and into the church, too – but still, this is awesome.

Oh, yes – I’m still here. Finishing up work for a client, and the launch for the Second Chronicle of Luna City.

14. April 2016 · Comments Off on Computers, Books, Progress and All · Categories: Domestic, Geekery, History, Literary Good Stuff

Coming up for air, after more than a week of … well, stuff. Firstly, Blondie and I decided to bring out the sequel to Chronicles of Luna City at the end of this months, rather than try and do three books all at once at the end of the year. I have the sequel to Lone Star Sons to write, and The Golden Road to finish – those last two got set aside in the rush to finish Luna City and Sunset and Steel Rails in time for the Christmas market season. Inspiration, OK? It strikes where it will. So – finishing that sequel and going through editing and layout, and devising new pictures for the chapter heads … and right in the middle of all that, my main computer chooses to not be able to internet. Seemed to be a purely mechanical thing – as in some connection in the innards not being able to connect – and I had some handy work-arounds, which were sabotaged by the wireless router crashing shortly thereafter. And then my daughter’s computer crashed utterly and irretrievably. Sigh.

This is why we have a spare everything, in boxes in the closet. Computer, monitor, router … and also why I back up everything to a thumb drive and an external hard drive as soon as I finish writing a chapter. And a laptop, which those generous people running the Amazon Vine program offered me earlier this year. I will never forget that horrible day around Christmas 2007 when I was just about ready to sit down and write that fifth chapter for Adelsverein: The Gathering – where Carl and Magda meet cute on the bank of a river when she is desperate and he is heroic – and the then-current computer crashed, taking all four previous chapters with it. My dear late friend, Dave the Computer Genius was able to sort out the crippling virus infestation after a couple of days, retrieve all my files (including the chapters!) and revive the then-current computer unit to serve for a few years more … but prepared is to be forewarned. Hence the redundant back-ups. And I also bought into some particularly effective virus-killing programs and have used them religiously ever since. This is my livelihood, OK?

Still, it does take some time to migrate everything to the new unit/units. It’s rather like a PCS – moving into a new space. There is some time required to settle everything familiar into the new location, get comfortable with the layout, locate the new electrical switches – especially because the new units and the laptop came already pre-loaded with Windows 10 … as well as some kind of leftover function that made me sign-in repeatedly, if I walked away from the computer or didn’t move the mouse or strike a key in one minute. Took two days to sort that one out, which tends to tell on the writing time, let alone re-installing certain necessary programs, which I was foresighted enough to have on original discs. (What is with this thing about paying a monthly fee to have certain programs available – a rant for another occasion, I think.)

Anyway, now settled into the new work-space and picking up those writing projects set aside, and thinking about new ones. What to work on when I finish The Golden Road? I’ve been toying with the thought of a WWI novel, since there are characters in The Quivera Trail and Sunset and Steel Rails of an age to have been affected by it. I may still do something of the sort, but writing about how the 19th century world came to an end in bloody mass-slaughter of men and empires, not to mention a certain degree of confident optimism … at this present depressing time, I don’t need any additional depression. I’m toying more energetically with the idea of an adventure set in the American Revolution; how the original Becker paterfamilias came to America as a Hessian mercenary, and deserted at the end of the war to stay behind, marry a local girl named Katerina, and set up a prosperous farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania. That would be more to my liking – picking up the circumstances briefly mentioned in Daughter of Texas, with a young Margaret Becker fondly recalling her grandfather; the wisest, kindliest and most humorous man of her acquaintance, who made certain that she and her brothers spoke proper German.

How careful he had been in speaking the old language, ensuring that she and Rudi said words in the proper way, so that Oma Katerina laughed and laughed, saying that the children sounded as if they had a broomstick up their backsides, so prim and careful with words and sounding like proper children of Hesse. Margaret had never thought that Opa had been sad about leaving his family, and his soldier comrades. The story of Opa and Oma had a rightness about it, the comfort of a familiar fairy-tale for children; of course young Opa Heinrich should stay in America and marry the young Oma Katerina. That was the happy ending which all fairy tales had.

That will be an interesting book to write, although I shall have to stretch my research library in a whole ‘nother direction; I do have some materiel about late 18th century America and life in the colonies – but more will be required.
And I will have to find the time to get out the sewing machine and start to work on my author-garb for the upcoming year – the Edwardian-style walking suit and a towering period hat to wear with it.

02. September 2015 · Comments Off on A (Very) Brief History of Luna City · Categories: Ain't That America?, Geekery, History, Local, Luna, Texas, The Funny · Tags:

(This is the background, or essential info-dump relating to the history of Luna City, Texas. This will be one of my books for this fall, as soon as I dash off another hundred pages or so, of the doings of a little town where eccentricity is on tap, day and night.)

Final Cover with LetteringLuna City is an incorporated township, located in Karnes County, Texas, at approximately 28°57′29″N 97°53′50″W, a point where Texas Rte 123 crosses the San Antonio River. The population of Luna City and environs in the 2010 Census was 2,453. The nearest large town is Karnesville, the county seat, approximately ten miles south of Luna City. Those residents of Luna City not employed in their own small businesses commute to Karnesville for work, or to nearby enterprises such as the entertainment/spa/commercial venue of Mills Farm, the Lazy W exotic game ranch, or in various oil-production ventures associated with the Eagle Ford shale oil formation. Notable people from Luna City include the prima ballerina Johanna Gonzales Garcia, international financier Collin Wyler, noted historian Douglas McAllister, Korean War jet-fighter ace Hernando “Nando” Gonzalez, and the legendary bootlegger Charles “Old Charley” Mills.

The land on which Luna City was later established was part of a 1769 Spanish land grant of a league and a labor to one Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez (or Gonzales), who may have been already settled in the area at the time that his grant was recorded. It is a matter of undisputed archeological record that Don Diego, members of his family or in his employ were engaged in grazing cattle, goats and sheep in the area, as an adobe structure on the northern outskirts of Luna City was extensively excavated and studied in the late 1960s. The structure apparently served as a shelter for both animals and people. Evidence of regular camping and hunting by elements of the native Tonkawa people at a fairly early date was also found in later excavations in the area. The first recorded permanent dwelling in the area was built in 1857 adjacent to an easily-forded stretch of the San Antonio River, by Herman Borgfeld, an immigrant stonemason from Bohemia, who ran a small general store, tavern and inn catering to travelers between San Antonio and the coast.

In 1867, a large portion of the tract originally part of the Gonzales or Gonzalez grant were purchased by Herbert King Wyler, formerly a captain in the Confederate Army, assigned during the hostilities to various garrisons west of the Mississippi and in Texas. Captain Wyler had been involved in various capacities with operations to move Confederate cotton to Brownsville and thence over the border to the Mexican port of Baghdad, from where it was shipped to Europe. He emerged from his wartime service with sufficient wherewithal to purchase outright what is presently the Lazy W Ranch, still run by his great-grandson, Dr. Stephen Wyler. Captain Wyler caused to be built a palatial residence, modeled after the magnificent Greek Revival-style mansion of Windsor, at Port Gibson, Mississippi, a mansion distinguished by a series of ornate columns all around the perimeter of the structure which extended from the main floor through two stories to the roofline and supported a wide veranda on the main floor, and wrap-around galleries on the second. It is thought that the local economy revived to a not inconsiderable degree, as construction of the house itself employed hundreds of local workers at a time and in a place where money was scarce. (The ranch residence and gardens are open to the public once yearly, for the term of a week in mid-September, as part of the observances of Founders’ Day, although application for private tour may be made through the website for the Wyler Game Ranch.)

Around 1884, or 1885, having made another considerable fortune in trailing herds of cattle north to Kansas, Captain Wyler became intensely interested in the possibility of establishing a town on his property, since the proposed town-site lay along a possible route proposed for the as-then-unbuilt San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway. Along with Don Antonio Gonzalez, presumed descendent of Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez (or Gonzales) and the second largest landowner in the district, Captain Wyler formed a corporation to build attract investors and businessmen willing to settle in a new town. Captain Wyler brought in as a partner in the project, an ambitious surveyor and engineer who dabbled in architecture, Arthur Wells ‘A.W.’ McAllister, to not only survey the site and create the city plat, but to design various public buildings, including a suitably impressive courthouse. It was confidently expected that Luna City, as Captain Wyler dubbed his project, would become the county seat. Arthur Wells McAllister in turn was so confident of success and committed to the project that he moved his family to the site, after purchasing, expanding and renovating the original Borgfeld stone house. (The house still stands amid spacious and well-maintained gardens along Rte. 123, and is lived in by his descendants.)

Alas for Captain Wyler’s ambitious plans; they were undone by love – specifically that of his daughter, Myra Elizabeth “Bessie” Wyler. Having married relatively late in life, his progeny numbered only three; two sons and Mary Elizabeth, the youngest. He doted upon them to a considerable degree, and especially on Myra Elizabeth – beautiful, indulged and impetuous. On returning from a year in a finishing school in New Orleans, which the Captain and his wife had hoped would curb Bessie’s naturally youthful high spirits, the young woman fell hopelessly in love with one Edward Standifor, some ten years her senior and employed as a locomotive engineer on the GH & SA Railway. Bessie Wyler eloped with Edward Standifor; they were married by a Justice of the Peace in Fort Worth and settled down to a life of respectable tranquility – but Captain Wyler’s fury knew no bounds. He not only disowned his daughter, but declared that his enmity against the railway – all it’s works, ways, establishments and personnel – was unremitting. The railway was, he declared in an impassioned statement to the San Antonio Express News, an open invitation to the establishment of vice and debauchery of every kind, a threat to the virtue of susceptible young women and girls everywhere … and he vehemently withdrew any support previously rendered to the establishment of a route for the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway which led through his property. From surviving correspondence, it appears that A. W. McAllister blithely assumed that this was an attempt by Captain Wyler to pressure the builders of the SA & AP into offering a higher price for the right-of-way through his property. A.W. had a basis for this belief, as Captain Wyler had a long-established reputation for driving a hard bargain, using every possible means at his disposal – including treachery and personal tragedy, as they served his immediate purpose.

Alas for the future of Luna City as a station on the SA & AP – Captain Wyler was completely in earnest. The managers of the proposed railway line shifted the proposed route to run through Karnesville – and all the investors in the Luna City project were left high and dry, including A.W. McAllister, who had sunk all of his own funds into the project and therefore had to make the best of it. Fittingly enough, he did prosper in a mild way – although not to the degree that he would have, if the whole project had come about as originally projected. Still – he was respected and honored, as the decades wore on; the man who originated the vision of Luna City, and designed nearly every one of its surviving public buildings. Architectural historians and aficionados for this kind of thing laud Luna City as a peerless and harmonic jewel of minor late Victorian and Beaux-Arts city planning.

As for Bessie Wyler Standifor, she and her husband lived to a ripe and happy old age, parents of a large and prosperous family. In the early years of the 20th century, she and whoever of her children wanted to accompany her were frequent guests of honor at Founders Day observances. It is noted, however, that her father throughout the remainder of his life eschewed railway travel, choosing to travel in a horse and buggy until the development of other means of transportation. Captain Wyler was the first recorded owner of an automobile in Karnes County in 1901 – a Columbia Electric Runabout – and the first to die in an automobile accident five years later, when – at the wheel of it and against the advice of his chauffeur – he collided with another motorized vehicle on what would become Rte. 123. There is a historical marker alongside the roadway where this occurred. Folk memory has it that the driver of the other vehicle was none other than Charley Mills, with a load of illicit whiskey.