Sunday, December 4, 2016

"I Know Nothing!"

Andrew Sachs, the accomplished English actor best known for his role as Manuel on Fawlty Towers, my favorite TV comedy, died recently at the age of 86.  Fawlty Towers was the creation of John Cleese (of Monty Python) and his then wife, Connie Booth.  Only 12 episodes, aired on the BBC in the mid and late 1970s, were made, but each is perfect.
andrew-sachs.jpg(Manuel, from The Independent)

The incompetent, snobby, socially frustrated, and unhappily married Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) and his bossy, and unsympathetic, but more realistic, wife, Sybil (Prunella Scales), operate a small hotel (Fawlty Towers) in Torquay on the southwest coast of England.   Manuel (Andrew Sachs), is a waiter, from Barcelona with a shaky command of English, hired by Basil because he doesn't have to pay him much, while the competent chambermaid, Polly (Connie Booth), frantically, and usually futilely, tries to keep the insanity in check. Sachs, from The Daily Mail)

Andrew Sachs was born in Germany in 1930 of a Jewish father and Catholic mother.  The family emigrated to England in 1938.  Andrew's acting career began in the late 1950s.  Although best known for Fawlty Towers he had a very long and successful career, playing multiple roles on Dr Who, as a narrator of BBC TV and radio documentaries, as well as appearing in the popular British soap opera, Coronation Street.  He left behind his wife of 54 years.

Our family discovered Fawlty Towers while renting videotapes while vacationing in Maine during the 1980s.  All four of us watched the entire series multiple times and the THC Son could do a pretty good imitation of Manuel.

The interplay between Manuel and Basil is one of the keys to each show, as, at some point, Basil, always full of suppressed rage, has his volcanic temper erupt, usually with Manuel as the victim.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Happy Jack

On this date in 1966, The Who released their 7th single in the UK, where it quickly rose to #3 on the charts.  Yet another smash hit in their home country.  In March 1967, Happy Jack was issued in the United States, becoming their first American single to receive substantial airplay.  According to Billboard, it peaked at #24, reaching #13 on Cashbox, and on WABC in New York, which I listened to, managed to briefly enter the Top 10.

In Live At Leeds, Pete Townshend mentioned that it was also the band's biggest hit in Germany, speculating it was because of the oompah rhythm.

To me, what has always stood out about Happy Jack, is Keith Moon's drumming.  It's the first, and maybe the only, hit single with the drum as the lead instrument.  Also featured is John Entwhistle's fat bass.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Planetary Defense Officer

How's this for coincidence?  Right after seeing Arrival, about mysterious alien spaceships landing on Earth, I find out NASA has someone with the title of Planetary Defense Officer!  Now that is a big job.

The PDO is Lindley Johnson, an Air Force veteran, who heads the Planetary Defense Coordination Office established by NASA in January 2016.  According to NASA: Johnson)

The office will be responsible for supervision of all NASA-funded projects to find and characterize asteroids and comets that pass near Earth's orbit around the sun. It will also take a leading role in coordinating interagency and intergovernmental efforts in response to any potential impact threats.

To date, about 13,000 Near-Earth objects (NEOs) have been detected with about 1,500 new discoveries every year.  NASA is searching for all objects more than 450 feet in diameter.  In 2012, President Obama and Congress significantly increased funding for the program, which is now about $40 million annually.

Bloomberg recently carried this interview with Johnson.  I was disappointed to find out that we can't plan on sending Bruce Willis and his crew of drillers to a threatening asteroid and destroy it with a nuke.  Johnson doesn't care for Armaggedon, calling it "a total fantasy"; I still consider it one of the best bad movies ever made.

A day in the life of a PDO:
That’s when a surprise meteor hit Chelyabinsk, Russia, the same day as a different asteroid was predicted to fly by?

The international network of astronomers who do this had discovered an object in February 2012 that would pass closely by the Earth in February of 2013. They predicted the orbit for it and found that although it was going to come very close—within the distance of a satellite orbit—it would be a miss.
That event also coincided with the annual meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The Near-Earth Object working group had been developing a recommendation to the UN about what the space-capable nations of the world ought to be doing in response to a possible impact threat. I was actually in Vienna that day getting ready to brief the committee when the Chelyabinsk incident happened.
Mother nature sort of put an exclamation point on our recommendations.
I still think Bruce Willis is the best bet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Disappointing.  Strong cast giving good performances - Amy Adams (always good), Jeremy Renner (always a good second banana) and the reliably solid Forest Whitaker.   Arrival starts well, with what seems to be an intriguing story built around the arrival of twelve alien spaceships around the world.  Amy Adams is a linguist called in to figure out exactly what these space dudes want, and who has an intriguing possible back story of her own.  Forest is the military guy who recruits Adams and Renner is the science man.

The problem is that the movie drags and the plot line has too many holes, with one puzzling and seeming random key twist inserted near the end to apparently clean up a dead end the story has gotten itself into.  There is a big "reveal", but if you are paying any attention you've figured it out well before the film tells you.  I'd anticipated the story would be much more interesting than it was.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Other Life

A few days ago, I ran across this article in Politico by Carl M Cannon, reminding me of the other man killed by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on November 22, 1963 -Dallas police officer JD Tippit.  I've written previously about the assassination and the Warren Commission in A Cruel And Shocking Act. Tippit)

JD Tippit was 39 years old and an eleven year veteran of the Dallas Police Department.  At 1245pm that day, Tippit was in his patrol car when all officers were directed to central Dallas in response to the shooting.  A few minutes later, a description of a possible suspect was broadcast.  Around 110pm, Tippit was driving slowly up East 10th Street, when he saw a man walking who matched the description - it was Lee Harvey Oswald.  Tippit stopped, and onlookers described Oswald walking over to the patrol car and a brief conversation ensuing (the contents of which remain unknown).  Tippit got out of his car and walked to the front.  Oswald suddenly pulled a .38-caliber revolver from his jacket, firing five shots and hitting Tippit four times; twice in the chest, once in the stomach and once in the head.  Tippit was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead, while Oswald fled the scene, seeking refuge in a nearby movie cinema where he was captured shortly thereafter.  Tippit's family learned of his death from radio news reports.

There's been a lot of speculation about where Oswald was headed when Tippit noticed him.  He was clearly not returning to his apartment which was in the opposite direction.  His decision to stop and the tragic shooting that ensued, led witnesses to attempt to track Oswald and to his ultimate capture.
JD Tippit was a Texas native who joined the US Army in 1944, served in the 17th Airborne Division, participating in Operation Varsity, the airborne assault across the Rhine River in March 1945, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery in the course of action.  Returning to America, he married his high school sweetheart, Marie Gasway, in 1946.  They had three children, who were 13, 10 and 5 at the time of his death.  JD's police salary was $490 a month in 1963 and he worked two part-time jobs to supplement the family income.  He'd also received two citations for bravery while a Dallas police officer.

According to Cannon, Marie Tippit gave a rare interview to a Dallas paper in 2004 in which she said:
No amount of time can take away the pain I feel for the man I loved. And for anyone who thinks I’m over it, well, they never really knew J.D. Tippit.”
Cannon reports that Bobby and Jackie Kennedy both reached out to Tippit's widow.  Marie told Jackie that she and JD admired JFK and requested a picture of their family.  Jackie sent the framed picture with this inscription:
“For Mrs. J.D. Tippit - with my deepest sympathy - and the knowledge that you and I now share another bond - reminding our children all their lives what brave men their fathers were - With all my wishes for your happiness, Jacqueline Kennedy."
The plight of Tippit's widow and children touched Americans and they received $650,000 in donations.  Among the largest contributions was $25,000 by Abraham Zapruder from the proceeds of the sale of his film of the assassination to Life Magazine.

(Photos below from Dallas Morning News)
Marie Tippit at her husband's funeral, November 25, 1963
 Marie Tippit was escorted by a mourner and a police officer at the funeral of her husband on Nov. 25, 1963. J.D. Tippit was buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park.
Marie and her children at 2012 ceremony honoring JD
J.D. Tippit’s family — (from left) wife Marie, daughter Brenda and sons Curtis and Allan — were photographed at a Nov. 20, 2012, ceremony in Oak Cliff honoring their father.