Saturday, September 30, 2017

Words Of Wisdom

From Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

I endorse his thoughts below.  We have a remarkably resilient society in the United States, but all societies, including ours, have breaking points.  Constructing and maintaining a civil and civilized multi-ethnic society, is a unique achievement, but one that has not been easy, and we should not take it for granted.

SO I SPOKE AT AN EVENT TONIGHT, TALKING ABOUT CIVILIAN DISASTER RELIEF AND SOCIAL COHESION, and a guy came up to me afterward saying that since Robert Putnam found that diversity is associated with decreased social trust, how did I feel about a bunch of white people going off to start their own country. (My response: Unenthused). But you see this sort of thing on the Internet enough that some people believe it, and while Putnam’s point is supported by research, I don’t think it actually supports the solution. “Diversity,” I suspect, is one of those things that actually is a social construct. If you make people hyperaware of their differences — as is done on college campuses today — you can make things much worse than they otherwise would be. (See also Tito’s Yugoslavia). If you encourage people to think about what they have in common, you can make things much better. And where it suits their interests, politicians will create ethnic cleavages. (Hutus and Tutsis are both “black” in American conception, but politicians were still able to inflame passions that led to genocide.) My prediction is that if you created some sort of racially segregated society, politicians would soon be at work finding other differences to inflame, differences that nobody’s even aware of now. The only real answer is a strong social norm that supports, for example, our common humanity and, in this country, our common Americanness. This seems to be what ordinary Americans believe, and act upon, but politicians will do whatever it takes to gain power. Keeping politicians in check is the key to getting along. Can we do more of that?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Aja Drums

The recent passing of Walter Becker induced a fit of Steely Dan listening on my part.  This is one of my favorite bits of musicianship on a Dan recording; Steve Gadd's drums on Aja.  This is a cover by Joe Nocella (one of the nice touches is that Joe responds to most of the comments on the video).  It's just lovely, particularly from 3:00 on.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sure Looks Hot

Taken from cockpit of Air National Guard C-130 preparing to drop fire retardant on forest fire near Fresno, California on August 29, 2017.  From Strategy Page.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cool, And Not Cool

Keeping your cool.  Watch it all the way.

And not cool:
A Coolidge man remained hospitalized Friday after surviving a rattlesnake bite to the face while trying to show off to friends at a party by attempting to cook the reptile on the barbecue.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Louis Armstrong Tells Off Ike

Sixty years ago yesterday.  In the wake of tension over integration of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.  For the backstory, read this THC post from 2012.  Newspaper courtesy of the Louis Armstrong Museum in Queens.  Go visit!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Los Lobos: The Wolves Survive

We last saw Los Lobos perform in 1987, headlining a show at Great Woods in Massachusetts at which The Smithereens were the opening act.  We caught up with them again on Friday night at the refurbished Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Los Lobos formed in East Los Angeles in the early 1970s when singer/guitarist/composer David Hidalgo met Louie Perez (guitar) in high school.  Soon joined by Cesar Rosas (guitar) and Conrad Lozano (bass), and Steve Berlin (sax and keyboards) in 1984, they toiled away for a decade before beginning to break through with Will The Wolf Survive? in 1984, becoming a huge act with the release of the soundtrack for the film La Bamba, the biopic about Richie Valens, in 1987.

Although La Bamba hit #1, Los Lobos continued to follow its own path, with an eclectic mix of music, refusing to be categorized.  Though never repeating the commercial success of La Bamba, they've continued to make new and good music for the past 30 years.  I've always thought of The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival as making Americana music.  I put Los Lobos in the same category.  They've taken the elements of The Band and CCR and added some updates reflecting modern America. Listening to their records you hear straight ahead rock n roll, blues, folk, and traditional Mexican, with dashes of zydeco, jazz and country, along with occasional REM style jangling guitars.  They sing about faith and the struggles of people while having fun at the same time.

The lineup we saw on Friday included drummer Enrique "Bugs" Gonzales who joined in 2011 and, though missing the dynamic Cesar Rosas, delivered a fine show.  Hidalgo's tenor voice was as strong as it was decades ago; it's still one of the great instruments in American music, and the band can really rock.  Berlin had some fine sax solos and Hidalgo and Perez traded guitar licks, peaking with searing work on a cover of Neil Young's Cortez The Killer.

We had a wonderful time at the concert; I only wish the set included some of the more offbeat songs and lovely ballads from their repertoire, a couple of examples of which you can listen to below:

And the guys in the band really don't like Paul Simon.  For why read this.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Wind River

We saw it last night.  We are definitely not moving to Wyoming.

Acting: Good performances by all, including the astonishingly uncharismatic Jeremy Renner as a tracker and hunter working for the Fish & Wildlife Service, Elizabeth Olsen, the Olsen non-twin, as an FBI agent and native Floridian, Graham Greene, an actor who makes every film he appears in better, as the tribal police chief, and Gil Birmingham as the grieving father of the girl whose death on the Wind River reservation sets the plot in motion.

Screenplay: Dialogue, when we could understand it, veered wildly from solid to overly simple and also included too much forced revelation of backstory. 

Plot: Because so much of the dialogue was incomprehensible, it was difficult at times to tell who was who and who had done what to whom.  If you know what I mean.

Best Line:  The tribal police chief responding to the FBI agent's suggestion they get backup; "This isn't the land of backup Jane, it's the land of you're on your own."

Summary:  Decent film, primarily because of performances.  Wanted it to be better.  It wasn't.


Most incomprehensible dialogue in a non-Christopher Nolan film.  Perhaps they speak a different language in Wyoming.  I saw it with four other people.  None of us could decipher much of the dialogue.  Should have had subtitles.

Most off-putting tagline at end of film.  Tacked on to a good closing scene it completely spoiled the mood, though obviously intended to convey the message this was a "serious" film.

Movie that most makes you want to drive a snowmobile at 80 mph.  U.S. winner only.  Global award retired 20 years ago by Jackie Chan's First Strike

Best medical explanation of why it is not good to run fast in the snow at -20F in your bare feet.

Best misdirection through editing by use of a couple of very short cuts to one individual.  Happens towards end of film and involves local non-tribal police officer.  I thought the movie was being overly obvious about what was going to happen but that's what they were trying to make you think.  They then took things in a different direction.

Most ludicrous gunfight inserted to work screenplay out of plot trouble in supposedly serious film.

Film most disliked by Wyoming Office of Tourism.

Here's the trailer (bonus - you can actually understand the dialogue!)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Selling Stonehenge

Stonehenge advert in Country Life - 1915

In 1915 you could have purchased Stonehenge, along with 6400 acres on the Salisbury Plain and a sumptuous country home. for 6600.  I learned this from a recent article in the British journal Country Life, which documents the life and property of England's upper class, and carried the original adverts for the property's sale more than a century ago.

The oddest thing from today's perspective is according to the 1915 brochure the Stonehenge portion of the property was really an afterthought.  Take a look at the full ad:
Stonehenge advert in Country Life - 1915

Fortunately the lot containing Stonehenge was purchased for 6600 British Pounds (somewhere between $650,000 and $4 million in today's dollars) by Cecil Chubb who gifted it to the nation in 1918.  Born in a nearby village, the son of the local saddler and harness maker, Chubb attended Christ College, Cambridge and became a wealthy barrister.

The Country Life article also includes a picture of the site and neighboring roadway taken in 1977. 
Stonehenge in Country Life - 1977

1977 was the year THC along with the future Mrs THC visited Stonehenge.  Arriving before the site opened in the morning, Mrs THC ventured onto the property where she was evicted by a local policeman.  Somewhere we have photos and someday we may find them.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Failure Of Imagination

In May 2002, Condoleezza Rice said, "I don't think anyone could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center."

Yet in 1994 Algerians hijacked an Air France airliner with the intention of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower.  French officials tricked them into landing in Marseilles to refuel, where they were overpowered.  In 1995, police in the Philippines uncovered an al-Qaida plot (in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was involved) to fly a plane into CIA headquarters.

We even had a 1996 major Hollywood production, Executive Decision, starring Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, and Halle Berry, in which Islamic terrorists hijacked an international flight with the intent to making into a bomb to be delivered to Washington DC.  It was a pretty good film.

We would be better off in thinking about threats to have a team made up of Disney imagineers, Hollywood screenwriters, and science fiction writers to supplement our intelligence agencies which have failed so often.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Duellists

Two men trapped by their code of honour.  One, an aristocrat, feeling bound by the code though he sees it as ridiculous.  The other, aspiring to the upper class, using the code to validate his rise as well as meeting the needs of his obsessive personality.  Triggered by an absurd incident, leading to a nonsensical affront to honor and resulting in several duels fought over a fifteen year period among two officers of Napoleon's army.

Based on a Joseph Conrad short story, The Duellists (1977) was Ridley Scott's (Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) directorial debut.  The story, editing and stunning cinematography make it worth watching.  The only negative are the American actors (Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel, Christina Raines), some notably miscast (Carradine, Raines), striking a jarring note in this period piece.

During the Russian campaign.

Ending.  Spoiler alert!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Japan Surrenders

General Douglas MacArthur remains a controversial presence in American history.  Franklin Roosevelt was wary of the man, distrusting his ambitions, while Harry Truman fired him (for more, read Truman Fires MacArthur).  His fellow generals, even those who admired his military talents, could not abided his naked ambition and unceasing self-promotion.  Amidst the turmoil and controversy of his career, his rule of Japan from 1945 to 1950 stands as an undisputed high point.  It all began on September 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Japan announced its capitulation on August 15 but the official surrender ceremony and signing of the documents took two weeks to arrange.  General MacArthur's words on that occasion were thoughful, measured, and worthy of the best in the American tradition.

We are gathered here, representatives of the major warring powers—to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored. The issues involving divergent ideals and ideologies, have been determined on the battlefields of the world and hence are not for our discussion or debate.

Nor is it for us here to meet, representing as we do a majority of the people of the earth, in a spirit of distrust, malice or hatred. But rather it is for us, both victors and vanquished, to rise to that higher dignity which alone befits the sacred purposes we are about to serve, committing all our people unreservedly to faithful compliance with the undertakings they are here formally to assume.

It is my earnest hope and indeed the hope and indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past—a world founded upon faith and understanding—a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish—for freedom, tolerance and justice.

The terms and conditions upon which the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces is here to be given and accepted are contained in the Instrument of Surrender now before you.

As Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, I announce it my firm purpose, in the tradition of the countries I represent, to proceed in the discharge of my responsibilities with justice and tolerance, while taking all necessary dispositions to insure that the terms of surrender are fully, promptly and faithfully complied with.