Category Archives: Popular culture

I’m losing my photographic memory for trivia!

Huskers

Is that a sign of aging?

Whatever it is, I’m shocked at something I couldn’t remember today.

Someone had said to me that Steph Curry had played basketball at Davidson, which I knew was supposed to impress me, but all it did was cause me to go look up “Steph Curry.” (And it turns out he IS quite impressive).

Because, you know, I don’t do real-life sports. I do frequently enjoy fictional sports (I like the idea of sports more than the reality), so I can tell you all about Roy Hobbs and Bartholomew “Bump” Bailey and Willie “Mays” Hayes and (now that Bryan has me watching “Friday Night Lights”) “Smash” Williams, Tim Riggins and Matt Saracen.

So anyway, defending myself, I boasted that while I don’t know this Curry guy, I can name all the Hickory Huskers from “Hoosiers.”

But then, privately, I tried to do so, and without looking them up, all I came up with was this:

  • Rade
  • Buddy
  • Shooter’s son
  • Ollie
  • Strap
  • Jimmy Chitwood
  • Buddy’s friend who said, “I ain’t no gizzard.”

Best I could do. Which is lame.

Can you flesh out the roster with full names?

You can check yourself against this

team

And look — there’s Merle! I forgot him altogether!…

OK, Bill, this is YOUR fault, dang it…

44084-ram-mccartney

Today’s earworm is brought to you by our musical correspondent Bill, who a couple of days back shared a link to “Dear Boy,” from Paul McCartney’s “Ram” album in 1971.

I focused on it more than usual because of a quirk in the way it’s recorded: During the day, I almost always listen to music or anything else involving sound with earbuds. (I don’t wish to bother my neighbors.) And apparently the lead vocal was on the right side, where I’m almost completely deaf.

It gave the song an eerie sort of feel. So I listened to it a couple of ways as an experiment, including putting the buds in the wrong ears. I’m still adjusting to this hearing loss thing, and find it interesting to explore the limits of it.

As a result, it lodged somewhere in my brain, good and tight, and then emerged this morning, and kept playing over and over in my mind.

Which is strange, because I don’t remember taking much note of the song when the album came out and I listened to it over and over. Like everyone, I listened a lot to “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” to a lesser extent the musical joke “Smile Away,” and maybe “The Back Seat of My Car.” (Yes, I was 17, and my tastes weren’t terribly sophisticated, or even cool. If they had been, I might not have bought the album in the first place.)

But now, I learn to my surprise that “Dear Boy” is an infectious tune. And I can’t seem to shake it…

I also enjoyed Lennon's send-up of the cover, several months later.

I also enjoyed Lennon’s send-up of the cover, several months later.

Setting the record straight on ‘The Dirty Dozen’

Can you name them? Not these guys, the ones in the book...

Can you name them? Not these guys, the ones in the book…

I love it when I find out that someone somewhere has, at least for a brief moment, obsessed about something trivial that had obsessed me.

It makes me feel… almost normal. Or at least, human.

In the past, as an illustration of the perverse way that my brain works, I have bragged/told on myself for remembering the names of all the characters in The Dirty Dozen, which I read when I was about 13.

The book, mind you. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to name the 12 in the movie, because the movie doesn’t fully introduce them all.

Oh, and the list is different. This is partly because, for whatever reason, Archer Maggot — played by Telly Savalas — was a mashup of three very different characters from the book. Maggot was a redneck career criminal from Phenix City, Ala., a really malevolent, violent guy. Calvin Ezra Smith was a prison convert who constantly quoted Scripture. Myron Odell was a shy little rabbit of a man who was scared of women, and supposedly had killed a woman who came onto him sexually (which he vehemently denied).

I’m not sure why they combined those three into one, but somehow Savalas pulled it off, so hats off to him. But then they had to make up a couple of names of characters to replace Smith and Odell. Then there was the fact that Jim Brown’s character was nothing like the one black character in the book, so they changed his name from Napoleon White to Robert Jefferson. White had been an officer and an intellectual (he and Capt. Reisman have debates about the writings of T.E. Lawrence), which I guess they thought didn’t fit Brown, so they made Charles Bronson the ex-officer.

They went on to change several other characters’ names — sometimes just the first names — for reasons that would only be understandable to a Hollywood producer.

Anyway, I’m going on about this because today, while looking for something totally unrelated, I ran across this Los Angeles Times story from way back in 2000. And it contained this paragraph:

Can you name all 12? Roll call: Charles Bronson as Joseph Wladislaw; Jim Brown as Robert Jefferson; Tom Busby as Milo Vladek; John Cassavetes as Victor Franko; Ben Carruthers as Glenn Gilpin; Stuart Cooper as Roscoe Lever; Trini Lopez as Pedro Jimenez; Colin Maitland as Seth Sawyer; Al Mancini as Tassos Bravos; Telly Savalas as Archer Maggott; Donald Sutherland as Vernon Pinkley; and Clint Walker as Samson Posey.

Wow, I thought. There’s someone else on the planet who has wasted gray cells memorizing the names of the Dirty Dozen! Worse, memorizing the names of the ones in the movie, not the real ones!

It gave me a fellow-feeling, if only for a moment, for this Donald Liebenson who wrote the piece…

Anyway, the real names, from the 1965 E.M. Nathanson novel:

  1. Victor Franko
  2. Archer Maggot
  3. Calvin Ezra Smith
  4. Myron Odell
  5. Glenn Gilpin
  6. Ken (not Seth) Sawyer
  7. Napoleon White
  8. Samson Posey
  9. Roscoe Lever
  10. Luis (not Pedro) Jimenez
  11. Vernon Pinkley
  12. Joe Wladislaw

dirty

Top Five TV Dramas of this Golden Age

'Long as I got a job, you got a job; you understand?'

‘Long as I got a job, you got a job; you understand?’

I don’t know why I just ran across this a week or two ago. The piece ran in the NYT back in January. But for some reason I saw a Tweet about the list just days after the end of “Game of Thrones.” And to me, that made now a better time for pondering such a list than several months ago. Since everyone speaks of GoT as such a landmark and all…

Anyway, the headline was “The 20 Best TV Dramas Since ‘The Sopranos’.” It represents the consensus of three TV writers. (Consensus. I like that about it. That’s how we made decisions on the editorial board. Not enough decisions are made that way. It’s a great process.)

It’s a pretty good list. Of course, it contains a number of shows I’ve never seen, so I can’t judge whether they deserve to be on the list: “The Shield,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Veronica Mars,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Adventure Time,” “Enlightened”… hang on…. I just realized that I’ve never seen well over half the list.

That’s all right. Some of us are not paid to watch TV and write about it. Some of us are just people living our lives in a certain time and place and looking around us and occasionally trying to make some sense out of the tiny slices of existence we have time to experience.

Anyway, I have a snobbish disdain for Top Twenty lists. They lack discipline. They are promiscuous and indiscriminate. I continue to believe that Nick Hornby’s Top Five system represents perfection. You have to work at it. You have to choose. You have to be ruthless, and let the also-rans fall by the wayside, gnashing their teeth. You have to have standards, and stick with them.

On a couple of points, I’m right there with the NYT writers. On others, I have to wonder where they’ve been, or at least what they’re thinking. Anyway, here’s my list:

  1. The West Wing” — No surprise there, right? It topped the NYT list, too. And in describing why, Margaret Lyons admits that yeah, it’s a fantasy, “a fantasy about caring… because you’re my guys, and I’m yours, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.” Or as Leo said, long as I got a job, you got a job. It’s about much more than that — the people care not only about each other, but about Things That Matter — but that’s an important part of it. When I went to work for the campaign, I told James I wanted to be a part of something again with a bunch of people who cared about things. Like on “The West Wing.” Go ahead and mock me. I was perfectly serious, and I’m glad I got that chance. Not everyone does.
  2. Band of Brothers” — This didn’t fit into the parameters of the NYT list, because they defined a series as something meant to go more than one season. But before I saw “The West Wing,” this was unquestionably the best thing I’d ever seen on television. I knew it would be that back before it existed, when I was toying with the idea of writing a letter to Spielberg and Hanks to suggest it (but I didn’t have to; I guess after they connected with Steven Ambrose it was just that obvious). And of course, aside from being wonderfully acted and directed and crafted, it was a story that mattered.
  3. The Sopranos” — This is a guilty pleasure, probably the ultimate example of that phenomenon in the annals of TV. It represents sort of the opposite of the first two, which are about good and decent and admirable people who care about the right things and are willing to work and sacrifice for them. The Sopranos is more typical of the serious Golden Age dramas, in that it lacks a moral center or characters to admire or regard as heroes. But it was supremely engaging, and again we’re talking craftsmanship. I have debates with my wife about this, which she always wins. She asks why time should be spent on stories and characters completely lacking in redeeming qualities, and I reply that it’s so well done! Which is a vapid answer, I know, but I’m a sucker for things that are done well…
  4. The Wire” — Best thing about the NYT feature is that the bit about The Wire is in the words of actor Michael K. Williams. You know: “Omar coming!” This series had a lot of contemptible characters in it, too, but you cared about so many of them, from soulful snitch Bubbles to the infuriatingly self-destructive McNulty to the Greek-tragedy labor leader Frank Sobotka. This was a work of fiction with hugely ambitious journalistic aspirations: This season is about drugs in the projects; this one is about the dead-end life on the docks; this one is about Baltimore public schools; this one is about city politics; this one is about the newspaper. And it really worked.
  5. Breaking Bad” — This was the hardest to watch, but I had to keep watching. It gave me something of a complex. I’d watch it at night after my wife had gone to bed — again, not her thing and I love her for that — and after another hour of Walter White’s traumatic slide into evil, I’d slip into the dark bedroom feeling guilty, as though I were the one building a drug empire and lying to my family about it. I think I half expected my wife to wake up and say, “Why do you have two cell phones?” or “Who’s Jesse Pinkman?” That’s how deeply the show implicated me in Walter’s evil madness. Which was not fun, and probably the main reason I haven’t rewatched the whole thing since it ended. I mean, I “lived through it” once, and that was enough…

So that’s it. Two that are about honor and courage and decency, two that are sordid as all get-out, and one — “The Wire” — that hovers between the two, although leaning toward the sordid.

The NYT writers allowed themselves a “Toughest Omissions” list, so I will, too:

  • Firefly” — Was it a drama? Was it comedy? Was it fantasy? I don’t know, but it was awesome, and I can’t believe those gorram network people cancelled it before the first season was even over. The only funny, heartwarming, witty, inventive show about space cowboys in the history of the medium. But even if there were a hundred such, this would have been the best one.
  • The Walking Dead” — I was determined I was never going to watch this, but one of my kids talked me into trying it and I was hooked. For awhile. I finally got to the point that it was no longer watchable for me. That happened in that hopeless episode in which Rick and the rest were captured by the Saviors, at the end of the sixth season. I don’t know what happened after that.
  • Barry” — I’m just trying to be topical, since this is newer than anything else on the list. As long as I still had HBO NOW for watching “Game of Thrones” (which you’ll notice does not make my list), I went ahead and finished the second season of this show about a hit man who wants to be an actor. I may sign back up when the third season comes out. This is worth watching for NoHo Hank if for nothing else. There’s also Stephen Root. And Bill Hader’s always great.
What, no Honey-Nut?

What, no Honey-Nut?

The officer who refused to launch the missiles was LEO!

"Turn your KEY, sir!"

“Turn your KEY, sir!”

Yes, this is about as insubstantial as a blog post gets, but I enjoy life’s little coincidences.

Friday, I was at one of the Relic Room’s monthly Lunch and Learn sessions, which I help publicize (and y’all should come check them out, because they’re all interesting). The speaker this time was Sumter attorney Frank Shuler, talking about his experiences as an Air Force officer serving in a nuclear missile silo during the Cold War. (Here’s a release about that.)

At some point, someone asked him about the sidearms he and the other guy down in the capsule buried 60 feet under North Dakota were required to wear while on duty — originally .38 revolvers, later changing to 9 mm semiautomatics. He said that they weren’t really for the purpose depicted in the movie “WarGames.” He was referring to this, the opening scene.

Well, this morning I was looking for something new to watch on the Roku during my workout on the elliptical, and I noticed something new on Amazon Prime: “WarGames!”

Actual missile silo blast door.

Actual missile silo blast door.

So I started watching, initially to see how accurate the depiction was, after what I had learned from interviewing Shuler and writing that release. And a lot of it was pretty much on the money — but one thing was wrong for sure: They showed the guys closing the massive, vault-style blast doors by pressing a button. In reality, someone had to pump the hydraulics on those doors, by hand, and it was a strenuous, tedious process — both opening and closing.

But then I noticed something that delighted me: The officer who refused to turn his key to launch the missiles was my hero, Leo McGarry!

Well, not really Leo, but the actor who played him, John Spencer. I’d had no idea, because when that movie came out, “The West Wing” was far from even being a twinkle in Aaron Sorkin’s eye.

It’s sort of bittersweet to see him unexpectedly. John Spencer was only 58 year old when we lost him and Leo simultaneously. But it was a treat. Especially since, as I think about it, what else did I ever see him in, but this and “West Wing?”

Of course, you know that Leo himself served in the Air Force, but not down in a bunker. He flew the F-105 Thunderchief with the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing out of Thailand during the Vietnam War. Which is the personal experience from which he was able to ‘splain military service and national security to President Bartlet…

An Open Thread on the end of Game of Thrones

Burning the Iron Throne: An unusually subtle move, coming from a dragon.

Burning the Iron Throne: An unusually subtle move, for an angry, bereaved dragon.

Over the last couple of weeks, as we waited for the finale, I read a bunch of stuff written by people with serious perspective issues. So it is that my favorite thing written so far about the last episode is this:

It’s likely you’re already aware of the dissatisfaction with the conclusion tweeted hither and yon — six weeks of nitpicking complaints, first-class nerd whining and an ungodly amount of postgame analyses. Consider all those hastily posted diatribes or that pointless online petition with a million deluded signatures on it, demanding (demanding!) to have Season 8 scrubbed and remade. In some ways, “Game of Thrones” had grown so popular that it made its viewers look embarrassingly out of touch with life itself.

This can only happen when we love our popular culture a little too hard, crossing some line of personal investment, forgetting when a TV show is only just that. It was our fault for coming to regard the show as the apogee of the medium itself. It’s also why I’m glad some unnamed, unwitting hero left a coffee cup in the camera shot in the episode that aired May 5. That one coffee cup humanized the whole endeavor. It reminded us that a TV show, no matter how absorbing, is a folly, a fake, a job that someone is hired to do, so that an HBO subscription can be sold to you. The coffee cup will be scrubbed away with a quick flick of magic technology; but before it’s entirely gone, I hope they give it an Emmy….

Absolutely. And the plastic water bottle should at least get a nomination.

I hereby go on record as being one of the few who are satisfied with the ending, and happy to move on. About the only criticism I agree with was the rushed nature of the last two seasons. I guess it was just really hard making episodes that went beyond the original books, and this was all the show runners had in them. But it did make the tying up of loose plot threads seem a bit too hurried. Maybe if it had taken more time — say, the usual 10 episodes per season — there’d be less dissatisfaction out there.

Of course, while I am satisfied, I do have a few questions, objections and observations remaining. Here are some of them, in no particular order (SPOILER ALERT):

  1. So how many troops did Dany have? Raise your hand if, like me, you thought the Dothraki were wiped out in that ill-advised charge (the Red Woman lit up their sickles, and they just went bananas — they were excitable boys — and charged off to their deaths) at the start of the Battle of Winterfell. And yet, at the end, she seems to have more of them than ever. Not to mention all of the Unsullied, apparently. Enough for a Nuremburg-style rally that put the icing on Dany’s Mad Queen cake. As of that moment, it seems that the troops she brought over in a few small ships outnumbers anything in Westeros. Which sort of defies expectations.
  2. Dragons got higher-order thinking skills! So, in the final, climactic moment, when Jon is sure the dragon (no, I don’t know its name; I’m not going to waste gray cells learning something like that) is going to light him up, that being the one thing dragons know how to do, the dragon apparently goes, Wait! His death would be meaningless. I should instead burn a symbol, because they mean so much to me. Ah! The Iron Throne — the cause of all the trouble! If I melt that, it will truly achieve my mistress’ (I’m not going to say “my mother’s;” that was always kind of ridiculous) goal of Breaking the Wheel! That’s what I’ll do, even though most humans in Westeros are probably too dim to come up with such an idea… Did you know big lizards were way philosophical? Neither did I.
  3. I thought Arya, not Jon, was going to kill Dany. The penultimate episode had set that up nicely. She was the one survivor who had seen the horror of the incineration of King’s Landing up close and personally. She was horrified, traumatized and ticked off. The Hound had talked her out of the vengeance that had been her Purpose since the first season. All that training had to be for something. (Taking out the Night King doesn’t seem enough.) And only Arya would be able to get to her no matter how many murderous mindslaves surrounded her.
  4. Why did the Unsullied go so easy on Jon? In one scene, they’re slitting the throats of captives just because they served in Cersei’s army. The next, they deal with Jon’s murder of the woman they view as more or less divine by — locking him up. Oh, and how did they know he did it? There wasn’t even a body. We are left to assume he told them. (“Guys, you notice how the Khaleesi isn’t around? That’s because I killed her. I actually feel kind of conflicted about it, if that helps…”) Which brings us to…
  5. Right to the end, Jon Snow knew nothing. When he told Dany she was his queen, now and forever — even as he stabbed her to death — I think he really meant it. It just never sank in for this boy. Ygritte was right about him all along, and it’s easier than ever to understand why she shot him. Up to this point, everything had been pointing toward Jon being the one to sit on the Iron Throne: He was pure of heart, the people loved him, and it turned out the bastard actually had exactly the right pedigree for it. But what kind of king would he have been with so little between his ears? I’m trying (and failing) to find a link to something I read this morning about Jon standing there with a confused “This doesn’t seem right” look on his face during the Nuremberg scene. It pretty well summed him up.
  6. How does someone get to be a Sansa fan? She just never made that great an impression on me. I guess I never got over judging her for the stupid stuff she did early on, which led to, among other things, the death of her father (I think. It’s been awhile, and I don’t commit all this stuff to memory). I mean, she had the good sense to get rid of Littlefinger, but I’ll never get to like her the way, say, Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post does: “After all this time, seeing Sansa crowned should have been an absolute triumph… Jon’s admission, at long last, that Sansa… is capable, strong and brilliant…” Where does that come from? I suspect that it’s an Identity Politics thing — there were a lot of folks out there who thought it was really important that a woman end up on top. (Alyssa was also really bugged that the last we saw of Brienne, she was writing a mash note about Jaime. Me, I thought it was kind of touching.) But Sansa? Brienne and Arya were women who excelled on the macho terms of their swashbuckling culture. Sansa just sort of stood or sat like a statue most of the time.
  7. Finally… winter actually came, right? I mean, we’d been hearing about it for all these years, and when it came, it was… unimpressive. Seriously, in what way was anyone’s life changed by it. Things went on fairly normally — the usual slaughter and associated mayhem. And near as I can tell, the southern reaches of Westeros were untouched by even a flake of snow. Reminds me of when we get this big buildup in Columbia about the possibility of snow, and… all that happens is that a couple of inches fall in Greenville.

OK, that’s enough. Back to real life…

giphy (1)

Mort Drucker, caricature genius

MAD-Magazine-Godfather-Parody-Splash

Our discussion earlier of MAD magazine caused me to say that my favorite part was the movie spoofs.

So I did a little Googling, and came up with the above, which epitomizes what I was remembering. I was trying to recall who the artist was who did the best of those parodies. I found out.

Mort Drucker is amazing (or perhaps I should say “was amazing,” since he’s 90 now and I assume retired). The very piece you see above is mentioned on his Wikipedia page, where a writer is quoted as saying, “The way he draws James Caan‘s eyebrow is worth some folks’ entire careers.”

Exactly. And check out his rendering of Barzini in the panel below.

Another thing from that page:

In a 1985 Tonight Show appearance, when Johnny Carson asked Michael J. Fox, “When did you really know you’d made it in show business?”, Fox replied, “When Mort Drucker drew my head.”[1]

Absolutely.

Oh, by the way: I don’t expect people to know who Mort Drucker is for me to consider them to be sufficiently aware of the world around them. Alfred E. Neuman is an icon; Drucker is more esoteric. Just for those keeping score.

If you’re confused about where the line it, just ask me; I’ll tell ya…

On Gary Cooper, Tony Soprano and Alfred E. Neuman

The other day I wrote something for a client that said in part, “Think Gary Cooper: Be the strong, silent type – but polite.”

Never mind what it was about, except that it was in the context of an analogy about making movies. So it made sense.

But then one of my colleagues asked whether young people would know who Gary Cooper was, and what he was known for. So I polled a millennial or two with disappointing results. At one point, I tried explaining his character in “High Noon,” and my respondent said, “Sounds kind of like my grandpa.”

Exactly. So we just cut out the reference. It was impossible to insert a later pop culture figure, because it wouldn’t mean the same thing. We don’t have “strong, silent types” any more; men are a bunch of whiny babies. Which is essentially what Tony Soprano was on about in the clip above: He was expressing his contempt for modern men like himself, whining to therapists — although you’ll notice the therapist is careful not to tell him that that’s what he’s doing, because she’s afraid of him. You can be a scary guy and still a whiny baby.

And now we’ve got the kid with the funny name dismissing the fact that Trump compared him to Alfred E. Neuman by saying, “I’ll be honest; I had to Google that… I guess it’s a generational thing. I didn’t get the reference….”Neuman

No, Pete. It’s not a “generational thing. ” It’s a basic American popular culture thing. Saying you didn’t know who that was doesn’t make you hipper than the old guy in the White House. It means maybe you missed something, something the average idiot knows, when you were learning how to speak Norwegian just so you could read a novel in the original language.

Knowing who the “What, me worry?” kid is is simply a matter of pop cultural literacy.

The Post reported on the exchange by saying Trump was “comparing him to a caricature created decades before Pete Buttigieg was even born.” Really? Well, where does that leave such characters as Huck Finn, or Romeo and Juliet, or Jay Gatsby?

OK, maybe that’s unfair; those being such major cultural touchstones. How about this: Buttigieg knowing who Alfred E. Neuman is would be… like me knowing who Will Rogers was. Or Al Jolson. Or George M. Cohan. They were all dead before I was born, but I’m familiar with the roles they played in the popular imagination. By contrast, I believe MAD is still being published, although admittedly I haven’t read one in decades.

In Buttigieg’s place, I would have said, “I’m shocked at the suggestion that Trump has actually read something, even  if it’s only MAD magazine…” That would have been more to the point.

These kids today and their temporal chauvinism…

Where have you gone, Gary Cooper? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you...

Where have you gone, Gary Cooper? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

Don’t let today’s earworm bring you down

Perhaps this should be a regular feature, even daily. It would be a gift to my readers, a helpful explanation. They could say, No wonder he says all this stupid stuff; look what he’s got running through his head.

The reason this was lodged there is stupider than most. I was playing a video game that involves blowing up castles. Really. I’ve got a blog post I want to write that will explain. My time-wasting pursuits are growing dumber and dumber.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the song is supposed to mean.  Without having really thought about it, I’ve assumed subconsciously that it was a sort of leveling, sixtiesish nod to social equality: Who cares if castles are burning? Most of us don’t live in castles, and those who do deserve to be burned out. Anyone who lives in a castle is The Man.:

Don’t let it bring you down,
It’s only castles burning
Find someone who’s turning
And you will come around…

But maybe that’s not right. The song contains a number of alarming or at least dark images, things I don’t think people would shrug off easily — the dead man lying by the side of the road, the red lights flashing through the window in the rain. Are we not supposed to be brought down by any of that?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just meaningless rhymes. Maybe it’s like “I am the Walrus,” which Lennon composed from random lines he would write down and stick in a drawer to use later. One day, he just pulled them out and jammed them together.

Anyway, that’s today’s earworm…

neil young

Unlike earlier princes, Baby Archie will always know his place

Shakespeare's earlier version of Game of Thrones.

Shakespeare’s earlier version of Game of Thrones.

I’ve lost track of how many of my ancestors were beheaded, or killed in battles fighting on the wrong side in the real-life Game of Thrones that was medieval Britain. One led a failed rebellion against Bloody Mary. Another, whose name I forget, fell alongside Richard III at Bosworth Field.

I’d search and tell you, but there’s a huge inadequacy in the Ancestry tree database: You can search by people’s names, but if there’s a way to search by cause or place of death, I haven’t found it.

I bore you yet again with my genealogy fetish because the birth of Prince Harry’s baby boy has got me to thinking about royal succession.

The morning Baby Sussex came into the world, I had started the day watching the tail end of the most recent episode of GoT on my Roku while working out on the elliptical. That wasn’t long enough, so I started watching something I recorded awhile back from PBS — Part 1 of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, the version that kicks off the second Hollow Crown series.

I saw the scene in which a group of lords display their allegiances by plucking either a white or red rose from the bushes in a garden in which they’re standing, then go off in a huff to start fighting the Wars of the Roses.

Henry V’s uninspiring offspring sits on the throne, but the Yorkists — also being Plantagenets — have a pretty strong claim to the crown, seeing as how Prince Hal’s Dad had taken it away from their line by force (see Richard II.

But you can make an argument either way, and they did. A lot of people died in the process, including some of my ancestors and almost certainly yours, too.

Today, it’s so simple. We know where Harry’s new son stands in the line of succession — he’s seventh. Nobody disputes this. It’s all so definite, so certain. You can look it up on Wikipedia.

On the one hand, it seems hugely ironic that it’s all so cut-and-dried, now that it doesn’t matter at all who the monarch is. There’s no power in the throne at all.

Of course, on the other hand, I suppose that’s why there’s no controversy about it. Who cares? Why fight about it?

I suppose if the king or queen suddenly had virtually absolute power again, the succession would suddenly become all fuzzy, or at least disputed.

In that alternative universe, 30 years from now young Archie — yes, that’s what his parents have decided to name the new royal — might be drawing his sword against King George, claiming that the crown should have passed to Harry’s line after the untimely death of King William.

I expect that Lord Jughead and Sir Moose would back his claim. But he could not rely on Sir Reggie, Earl of Mantle, who would likely play both sides.

And whether he ended up with Lady Betty or Countess Veronica would depend entirely on which could cement the more important diplomatic alliance…

archies-archonis-story_647_020916061213

You know nothing about tactics, Jon Snow

Um... are we sure this is the best way to use our cavalry?

Um… are we sure this is the best way to use our cavalry?

Dang, y’all — I wrote this the other day (after “The Long Night” and before the new episode that aired Sunday night) and thought I had posted it, but I hadn’t. I still think it’s a fun topic, so here you go.)

SPOILER ALERT!

Whoa! Was that the most intense episode in 8 years or what?

As storytelling, I thought it was wonderful. The show-runners have really hit their stride. And I hope I won’t upset George R.R. Martin fans too much when I tell the truth: The show has gotten much more enjoyable since it got out ahead of his books.

For the first few seasons, I had the complaint I so often have had about the best shows in this Golden Age of television — whether it’s “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” or GoT, I’ve had trouble finding characters to like and/or root for. (Although none of them were as bad in this respect as the execrable “House of Cards.”) There was nobody to care about in Breaking Bad (except maybe Hank toward the end), and the other shows were almost as bad. Everything was dark, and there was no one to admire.

On GoT, if you started to care at all about a character, he or she would soon be dead.

But it started changing over the last couple of years. And in the episode before the Battle of Winterfell, there were so many tender moments with characters you now care about — Tyrion, Jon, Dany, Sam, Arya, the Hound, Theon, etc., even Jaime — that it got downright mushy at times. Consider, for instance, the scene in which Lady Brienne is knighted — what she always wanted!

But this was a good thing, not cheesy. It was good that, with the Dead marching inexorably down from the ruined Wall, we all stopped to reflect on what was at stake — characters we cared about!

And the battle itself last week was one of the most suspenseful things I’ve ever seen. Yeah, you kind of knew some of the living had to survive this because somebody’s got to go after Cersei in the rest of the season. But the action kept making you think, well, maybe not

But all that said, it’s a miracle it came out the way it did: Because Jon, Danny, Grey Worm and the other commanders had no idea what they were doing.

When the Dothraki got all excited over the Red Woman lighting up their weapons and charged off to their deaths as the opening move in the battle, did you go, uh, wait a minute?

The folks at The Washington Post did, and they asked military historian and GoT fan Jesse Tumblin what he thought, and Tumblin was less than charitable. After bemoaning the way artillery (the trebuchets) was wasted, he said:

Then there’s the issue of the Dothraki, who are “really fast and effective cavalry,” but they’re essentially sent to their slaughter.

“They’re the most mobile part of the coalition of living forces, and almost all conventional military thought would suggest that you would want to hold your cavalry in reserve for flanking maneuvers,” Tumblin said.

Instead, they put them right in harm’s way, leading a frontal charge on an enemy that’s many times the size of the living….

That’s not all:

  • Grey Worm’s infantry should have been behind the flaming trench, not in front of it. Then they’d have had an advantage over their more numerous foe as the wights were forced to go through a narrow choke point.
  • The dragons were held in reserve too long.
  • In Bran, they have the most effective intel instrument in the history of Westeros (does your whole strategy depend on killing the Night King? Bran can tell you where he is!) and they don’t use him at all, leaving him in a vulnerable position with poor Theon.

Tumblin said one thing was accurate, although ugly — the way the nonwhite soldiers (the Dothraki, the Unsullied) were sacrificed while the Westerosi were in the safest positions. There’s a long history of “colonial troops” being used that way.

Of course, in the end, we the living won, thanks to little Sis.

But can they afford to make such mistakes against Cersei’s mercenaries? I think not. We’ll see…

They probably mean a different kind of ‘swinger’

Vegas, baby! Vegas!

Vegas, baby! Vegas!

I’m always getting unsolicited emails from mysterious parties wanting to “partner” with this blog in some endeavor or other.

Some are more interesting than others:

Hi There

I actually view your blog repeatedly and go through all your posts which are very interesting.

CumSwingWithMe is one of our site and we constantly work a lot to really make it more informative to our viewers. It is all about bondage and sex swing. These types of details will be useful for those who search for these information. We both of our websites are in very same niche.

We recently provide a FREE detailed infographics about “The Master Sex Swing Guide”. If you’re interested I am pleased to share it to you to check over.

Kindly let us know your interest about this mail.

We’ll be waiting for your reply.

Best

Yeah, “hi there” back atcha.

Hey, I loved “Swingers.” Awesome movie. But I think they’re using the word a different way. Although it’s a bit unclear — “sex swing” is a decidedly awkward construction.

Apparently, in addition to bondage and other things, this site is into English as a second language. But not enough into it to get the nuances. Or even, in some cases, the basics.

And I wonder what sort of confused algorithm concluded that “We both of our websites are in very same niche.”…

poster-780

I’m a Sorkin originalist

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Since I did all that typing over on Twitter, I thought I’d share this exchange I had with Bryan.

Ainsley, look all modest as she kicks Sam's butt...

Ainsley, look all demure as she kicks Sam’s butt…

Top Five ACTUAL National Emergencies

Spanish Flu Pandemic

Spanish Flu Pandemic

As the man who is, to our everlasting shame, president of the United States makes a mockery of the concept, I thought I’d start a discussion of actual national emergencies from our history.

It’s not that easy. I’m sure I’m forgetting something big, but just to get the ball rolling, here’s my quick-and-dirty list of Top Five Actual National Emergencies:

  1. Civil War — I could have said Secession or the Dred Scott decision or the Nullification Crisis, but I’m just wrapping it all together under one heading.
  2. Cuban Missile Crisis — An alternative might be “Berlin Wall Crisis,” but this seems to be the one when a nuclear exchange seemed most likely.
  3. World War II — Not sure whether this should make the short list because the United States’ existence wasn’t threatened the way Britain’s and France’s and so many other countries’ were. But for those living through it, things looked pretty dark in December 1941. In terms of response to a crisis, the nation rose to this one as it did in the 1860s.
  4. Spanish Flu Pandemic — Exactly a century ago, it killed more people than there were military deaths in both World War I and II. Of course, it was worldwide, and not just national, but I included it anyway.
  5. Stock Market Crash, 1929 — I know it was just about money and all, but it was a biggie.

Honorable mention:

  • Burning of Washington, 1814 — Kind of a low point — I mean, the president fled and the Brits burned the White House — but I went back and forth as to whether it should make the list.
  • 9/11, 2001 — We’re still kind of reeling from this one.
  • Watergate — The Constitution withstood a test, and we passed with flying colors. But Americans’ trust in their government has continued to wither.
The burning of Washington.

The burning of Washington.

I’ve just never thought of it as a good place to meet girls

Really? You lost a girl to THIS guy?

Really? You lost a girl to THIS guy?

Today is a day for wondering for me. And while I was walking across the USC campus at midday today, I finally decided to ask about something that has bugged me for decades:

And you lost her to the guy pictured above? You are evidently not favored among men. Or hobbits, either…

In Rohan, mayBE. But Mordor, never...

In Rohan, mayBE. But Mordor, never…

‘Alistair1918:’ A nice little film you probably haven’t heard of

alistair1918

Just a quick word about a neat little film you may not have heard about, and might enjoy.

It’s called “Alistair1918.”

I ran across it on Amazon Prime, where you can see it for free if you’re a subscriber. It wasn’t among the films and TV shows the service promotes on its main page. You know how if you call up a film, depending on your interface, you get a list of similar movies across the bottom of the screen — and then if you click on one of those, you get a list of things related to that? After you do that two or three times, you get to some interesting, and unexpected, stuff. Well, I was a click or two into one of those searches for arcana, looking for something to watch while working out, and ran across this.

But the blurb doesn’t really tell you what it’s like. It says, “A World War One soldier accidentally time travels to present day Los Angeles. Filthy, penniless, with no way to prove his identity, he struggles to find a way back to his wife in 1918.”

Actually, all of that has already happened when you meet Alistair, the British soldier. He’s been in the present day for about a month, and he’s already come to grips with the fact that it’s the 21st century and that he’s stuck here. He’s been living in Griffith Park, staying alive by trapping squirrels.

So there are no battle scenes, or flash-bang depictions of what time travel might be like, or anything. No “Back to the Future” action involving DeLoreans. In fact, it’s basically like what you’d see on an amateur documentary, because that’s what it’s supposed to be. Near as I can recall, you see nothing that’s not part of the “documentary” footage. It’s about as vérité as cinéma gets.

When the film started, I thought it was a promo for something else, one of those Prime routinely gives you at the start of a video, and only when the “promo” dragged out into extended scenes did I realize the show had started.

It starts with this nervous young woman named “Poppy” trying on different outfits before doing interviews on camera. Gradually, you infer that she’s a graduate student shooting a documentary for her master’s, with help from friends, about homelessness in Los Angeles. She starts by asking people on a city street about the homeless. After a couple of people mention all the homeless in Griffith Park, the crew goes there. They head off the beaten path and starting looking in a wooded area, and the first homeless guy they meet is the one you see below — Alistair.

When they interview him, he very matter-of-factly explains his situation. As I’ve said, he’s had time to adjust. So there’s none of the “Where the hell am I, and what’s happened to me?” drama you see in most time-travel films. He’s even unimpressed with the technology. Alistair dismisses such tropes as irrelevant to his situation or his goal — which is to get back to his wife in 1918. Later in the film, when one of Poppy’s friends sort of condescendingly asks him whether he’s amazed at the old flip phone Poppy has given him, he says, with a “what kind of rube do you think I am?” tone, “We have telephones.” When the guy says, yeah, but this has no wires, Alistair says, “We have radio, also.”

Alistair’s a pretty smart guy who defies the usual fish-out-of-water cliches. You know he’s a pretty smart guy because when they ask him what he did before the war, he says he wrote for a newspaper back in England (ahem!). He’s a guy who reads, and writes, and figures things out. In fact, after a “scientist” he meets fails to get him back home through a hare-brained stunt, he reads every book in the library that deals with wormholes in a quest to figure out how she got it wrong. (The film’s title is Alistair’s email address, which Poppy creates for him so he can communicate with the scientist.)

The film was written by Guy Birtwhistle, the actor who portrays Alistair. Told you he was a smart guy.

Anyway, I think you’ll enjoy this. You should check it out…

in Griffith Park

Oh, come on! 1939 was the greatest year for film. Or maybe 1967. But 1955, or 1982? Don’t make me laugh!

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

Back in the olden days, we had to stockpile “evergreen” stories for that period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when not all that much news happened, but the papers were humongous because of all the ROP ads.

The tradition of doing “best-of” retrospectives on the year are sort of related to that phenomenon. And even now in the post-print world, when editors are no longer haunted by the physical “hole to fill” problem, the tradition continues.

I referred to that earlier. But on Dec. 28 (sorry I’m just getting to it), The Washington Post ran a variation on the genre: They gathered seven “film buffs” on their staff and got them to make their arguments as to which was the greatest year for film.

Which was kind of silly, and sort of had the effect of giving ALL the kids trophies. This, for instance, is an artificially democratic statement: “Eventually we found the best year in movies — all seven of them.” Yeah. Because everyone’s opinion is equally valid, right? Bull. What a pat on the head — you all tried so-o-o hard

Basically, I think they tried a little too hard, and overcomplicated the subject. The proper question is sort of binary: Was 1939 the greatest year, or wasn’t it?

It was the moment of Peak Hollywood. The very idea of Hollywood has never had the grip on us it had then, before or after. We’re talking “Gone With the Wind.” “The Wizard of Oz.” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” None of which require any elaboration. “Stagecoach,” which launched John Wayne. “Wuthering Heights” (not any old “Wuthering Heights,” the one with Olivier as Heathcliff).

No other year touches it.

And the feature in the Post sorta acknowledged that truth by letting the lucky writer who got to represent 1939 go first. But then, to try to justify considering the other, lame years, the writer treats us to this:

It’s hard to view “Gone with the Wind” these days as anything but massively problematic. Slavery is presented in soft-focus. Rhett Butler carrying a struggling Scarlett O’Hara up the stairwell, intended to make the audience swoon, is now as likely to make them vomit. If it was never screened in public again, then frankly, my dear, I wouldn’t give a — well, you know.

Really? We’re going to dismiss a representative — excuse me, the representative cultural artifact of 80 years ago by current political standards? Yeah, we know: Slavery was bad. It was, in fact, our nation’s Original Sin. And the bodice-ripping genre leaves much to be desired. But, you know, this is Gone with the frickin’ Wind! We’re supposed to be made uncomfortable by, say, the role Mammy played in Scarlett’s world — while at the same time being impressed by Hattie McDaniel’s performance. Which, by the way, earned her the first Oscar ever won by a black performer.

As for the rest, though… really?

But all of this is to set up arguments that the greatest film year was actually… get ready for this… one of the following:

Yep. And with good reason. Sometimes, you see, when everybody says something, they’re right.

But OK, I can get into the spirit of this thing. I can go beyond the pat answer. So I’ll offer my own nominee for dethroning 1939. But first… please note that my embrace of ’39 is not a generational thing, like my preference for the ’60s-’80s in music. I know y’all think I’m old, but 1939 is WAY before my time — my parents were very young kids at the time. It’s more their parents’ time.

And “Gone With the Wind” isn’t even close to making any list of my favorite movies — not Top Five, not Top Ten, not Top Twenty. I’m not even sure it would make a Top 100, if I were to take the time to draw that up. But I recognize epic film-making. I recognize cultural significance. I recognize values other than my own, as a guy living in 2019. It’s not about me and what I like. It’s about the history of film, seen as a whole.

But what other year comes close? Here, I am going to go with one from my own lifetime: 1967. If 1939 was the peak year of Hollywood’s Golden Age, 1967 was the year that the revolution arrived — all over the place, everywhere you looked, in every possible genre.

Consider:

  • The Graduate.” Here, we are talking about what I like. Any Top Five list of mine would include this, “The Godfather,” “Casablanca” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the fifth will be negotiable. And among those, “The Graduate” is the most original, the most distinctive. Seriously, into what genre would you place it? “Satire” tends to be where most end up, but that’s still inadequate. Everybody was at peak in this, doing the most brilliant work of their lives — Mike Nichols, Buck Henry (especially as writer, but also as the desk clerk), Dustin Hoffman certainly (even if he’d done nothing more than come up with that beautifully weird little noise he made in Ben’s more stressful moments). Simon and Garfunkel at the very peak of their powers. And I believe Anne Bancroft IS Mrs. Robinson (and she scares me)! To say nothing of the Alfa Romeo! And… I’m not sure how to put this… Hollywood has caused us guys to fall in love with scores, hundreds, thousands of beautiful women over the decades, but Katharine Ross? She makes it work, just by looking the way she does and knowing what to do with it, in a minimalist way. If you say, “A guy falls in love with the daughter of the woman with whom he’s having a tawdry, soul-devouring affair,” you say “That’s sick!” and don’t believe it. But then you see Katharine Ross, and you can see how this would happen, to Benjamin or almost any other guy. Wanting to marry her is NOT a half-baked idea. It’s completely baked.
  • Cool Hand Luke.” OK, so I went a bit overboard on “The Graduate.” I’ll try to hold myself in on this one. But it’s another that shattered conventions, that holds up over time, and would definitely make my Top Twenty. “Taking it off, boss.” “Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box.” “Gonna be some world-shakin’.” And after my lack of discipline re Katharine Ross, I’m not going to mention Lucilllle. Nor am I going to get all deep about Luke as a Christ figure, or anything like that. But if 1967 is the best year, this is one of the ones that puts it over the top.
  • Bonnie and Clyde.” There’s a lot in this one that kind of gives me the creeps, but wow. It’s original, it’s fresh, it’s groundbreaking, it smacks you in the face, and it works. And this film gave us Gene Hackman, which on its own would cover a multitude of sins.
  • The Dirty Dozen.” I almost didn’t include this. I loved it at the time (I was 13). But it doesn’t hold up. It inspired me to read the novel at 14 (which was a little young, on account of the dirty parts, which I practically memorized), and I was impressed then and remain impressed now at what a missed opportunity the film was. The novel was really a great story, well told, and the characters were 10 times as interesting as the ones on the screen… with the possible exception of Victor Franko — Cassavetes pretty much brought him to life. He must have read the book. But, all of that said… flaws and all, this is a landmark film of the action genre. It’s not for nothing that in “Sleepless in Seattle,” Tom Hanks holds it up as meaning to men what “An Affair to Remember” means to many women. And it’s hard to imagine it being made before 1967.
  • In the Heat of the Night.” I watched this again just this week on Amazon. You should go and do likewise. And always remember to call him MISTER Tibbs…
  • To Sir, with Love.” Poitier again. And speaking of him, I could as easily cite “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” — also 1967, and also something hard to imagine in any other year. But “Sir” is another personal fave. It is, without question, the absolute best of the whole “lovable teacher who wins the hearts of the snotty punks he teaches” genre. Streets ahead of the rest. OK, Lulu — hit it!
  • Blow-Up.” I’m cheating a bit here because it was technically released in the U.S. at the end of 1966, but I think of this as essentially a British/Italian film in sensibility, and it wasn’t released in those countries until ’67. It can be a bit of a hoot to watch now — see how cool this guy is; he has a phone in his car! — but talk about your cultural artifacts! Definitely a good candidate to put in a time capsule and tell people what the 60s were like. Or would have been like, were you an in-demand fashion photographer in Swingin’ London. Which is why Austin Powers takes the time to do an homage to it.

I’ll stop there. I’m interested to see what year y’all would pick. I just hope it wouldn’t be a year as lame as 1982…

the_graduate

The Chuck and Nancy thing was an added weirdness bonus!

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We knew all along that it would be extremely weird to see the strangest president in our nation’s history by far using his first live address from the Oval Office to try to convince us there’s a crisis on our border, and that it’s worth shutting down the government in order to implement his own preferred remedy for said nonexistent crisis.

Especially since we’d been conditioned all our lives to expect such addresses to be about something, you know, important. Like escalating the war in Vietnam, or killing bin Laden.

But there was an added weirdness bonus to the evening — Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi doing a Siamese twins impersonation standing behind one small podium at the same time.

It was predicted that we’ll definitely see this odd visual on SNL this week, and there were some good shots on social media as well:

You know, we took a lot of criticism during the campaign for not separating James and Mandy more, but sheesh — at least they took turns at the microphone on their joint appearances….

Lake Street Dive is in Columbia tonight, which is cool…

Hey, y’all — Lake Street Dive will be in Columbia tonight!

I just heard about it last night from one of my kids, who have heard me talk about enjoying some of their stuff on YouTube.

They’re playing at the Music Farm. Or Tin Roof. Or The Senate. Which is all right there together, so you should be able to find them if you go to that general area. Just park and wander about until you hear Rachael Price‘s distinctive voice. It’s nice. (It goes down smooth, you might say.) And they strike me as a good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

The tickets I’ve been able to find are between $24 and $47. Why the range? I have no idea, since they’re general admission. Something to do with markets and what they will bear when buying on the Web. Or something.

I’m not planning to go. I’ll spend $7 to go hear my son’s band at New Brookland, but that’s about it. If you want me to spend more than that to see someone I’m not related to, you’re going to have to bring John and George back to life and reunite the Beatles or something.

But I know there are some of you who have disposable income and like to go out, so I thought I’d give you a heads-up.

Because as I say, I’ve enjoyed some of their stuff on YouTube, so I think it’s cool they’re coming to town. If I were a going-out kind of guy, I’d go hear them…

A good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

A good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

Will we as a country ever do great things again?

Will McAvoy loses it after hearing the pat answers of the 'liberal' and 'conservative' on the panel.

Will McAvoy loses it after hearing more than enough of the pat answers of the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ on the panel.

I really should have had more faith in Aaron Sorkin.

After all, there’s never been anything on television I like more than “The West Wing” (although I’ll note that “Band of Brothers” ties it).

But until this week, I had refused to watch “The Newsroom.” Long ago, when HBO first launched it, I read things about it that made me not want to see it, on the grounds that I thought it would just irritate me no end. But what I read was either a misrepresentation, or I misread it.

When my wife suggested, as I was clicking around in Amazon Prime, that we check it out, I trotted out the objections as I recalled them: First, it was about a TV news anchorman — and you know, I’m a print guy. I don’t even WATCH that TV stuff, network or cable. Next, he was an anchorman who one day loses it and launches into a rant that supposedly “tells the truth” for a change, and nothing is ever again the same for him or his network. That, of course, sounded an awful lot like “Network,” which I’ve always thought was overrated. (You probably have to have been around in 1976 to recall how “brilliant” it allegedly was.) I’ve never yet understood what Peter Finch’s character was “mad as hell” about, or why that supposedly connected with a wide audience. It was gibberish to me — sensationalistic gibberish. Unfocused emotionalism, signifying nothing.

Then there was my memory of the content of the rant on “The Newsroom” — which, as it turned out, was mistaken. As I told my wife, the “truth” he was sharing was paranoid nonsense like what we hear from Bernie Sanders and in slightly different form from Donald Trump, about how everything is fixed and the little guy stands no chance. My memory was clearly wrong. His “truth” was something else that tends to evoke a similarly dismissive reaction in me: a rant about how this is not the greatest country in the world, essentially a rejection of American exceptionalism. (There are a lot of things that prompt similar reactions in me, and sometimes I confuse them.)

Actually, when I relented and watched the show, I saw that even that wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. Here’s what Jeff Daniels’ character Will McAvoy says after being badgered into reacting while sitting on a panel in front of a college audience:

And yeah, you… sorority girl. Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know. One of them is: there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are, without a doubt, a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite?!

Here’s the video. In the context, and in light of his irritation at the pat answers given by the stereotypical “liberal” and “conservative” on the panel with him (irritation with which I fully identified; he could have been me sitting there, losing patience with their stupid game — so by the time he erupts, I’m in his corner), it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. I was willing to keep listening to him. And I was rewarded for that, because what followed redeemed what he’d said before, if it needed redeeming:

It sure used to be… We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed… by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

Right. Absolutely. That’s what I mean by American exceptionalism, and it describes the country I was born into and grew up in. And it evokes the sense of loss I have as I look around me today. (And the outrage I feel at the Trumpistas saying they would “make America great again,” when everything they want to do would accomplish the precise opposite.)

Anyway, I was hooked on the show right there. I’ve still only seen the first episode, but I look forward to watching more.

As I said above, I should have more faith in the creator of “The West Wing.” By the way, when I first heard about “The Newsroom,” I had not yet watched “The West Wing,” and in fact had avoided it for similar reasons. I had heard it was a liberal fantasy of what a presidency should be, and I don’t like that kind of stuff from either left or right. But again, I had been misled. And I’m beginning to think the reason why I keep getting misled about Sorkin is that he writes with an intelligence that other media have trouble describing, because their limited “left vs. right” vocabulary lacks the necessary words.

Having had them inadequately described to me, I simply wasn’t ready for shows that spoke so clearly to me, striking a chord that I’d not been told was there.

I may never like it as much as “West Wing,” but I’m pleased so far.

(Oh, and a brief digression that will only be of interest to fellow Sorkin fans: I think in this one, he managed to avoid a mistake he made in “West Wing.” Remember the pilot? Remember how Josh feels blindsided and gets upset because the White House is about to hire back a woman he used to be involved with? Well, the first episode of “The Newsroom” has the exact same plot point: the network boss has hired a woman with whom McAvoy has a past, and he is at first all bent out of shape about it. But this time, I think its going to work out. On “West Wing,” the woman in question, “Mandy,” was the one and only truly grating, irritating character on the show — and Sorkin wisely “ghosted” her before the season was over. She just disappeared, without explanation. This time, I think the character is going to work — I’ve even gotten to where I no longer expect her to mention “avian bird syndrome.” No need to send her to Mandyville — yet. Apparently, Sorkin learns from his mistakes.)

Anyway, to get to my point, more than 1,200 words in…

Let’s go back to that bit about how “We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior….”

Good stuff.

And why don’t we do stuff like that any more? Why did we lose our confidence? Was it just Vietnam, or what? In any case, I’m ready for us to get it back.

As 2019 dawned, The New York Times ran a piece about 1919. An excerpt:

To promote the idea of interstate travel, a military convoy left Washington for California in July 1919. The New York Times called it “the largest aggregation of motor vehicles ever started on a trip of such length.”

But the convoy broke down repeatedly, and took 62 days to reach its destination. It averaged just six miles an hour, and almost didn’t make it out of Utah. As it turned out, there were almost no paved roads between Illinois and Nevada. Decades later, the officer who led the convoy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, would push for a national highway system as president. Even with a well-publicized divide between red and blue states, we can generally reach each other when we need to, and that is another unexpected result of a pivotal year….

No roads? No problem, to the man who whipped Hitler. We’ll build an interstate highway system. It may have taken him awhile, but he got to it eventually.

The first episode of “The Newsroom” is titled, “We Just Decided To.” I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it takes us back to something Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell says in “Apollo 13” (one of the best movies ever about what’s special about this country):

From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.

We just decided to go. And we went.

This week, the Chinese landed a robot on the other side of the moon. They might as well. We lost interest in the place after 1972 — 46 years ago. Yeah, I know, we have those pictures of Ultima Thule, and that’s cool and worth celebrating, truly. But such accomplishments are too few and far between these days.

We live in a time when the most ambitious proposal to “do something big” is to build a gigantic wall on our southern border. It’s big, all right — you’d be able to see it from space. But as a monument to xenophobia, it diminishes the country. It makes us less than we are. It’s about closing, not opening. It is a big, fat NAY to the universe. It is in fact a profoundly depressing thing to contemplate, seeing what we’ve descended to.

Yeah, Ultima Thule. That’s great and all. But I want more. I’ll close with the words with which Hanks closed “Apollo 13:”

I sometimes catch myself looking up at the Moon, remembering the changes of fortune in our long voyage, thinking of the thousands of people who worked to bring the three of us home. I look up at the Moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?

'We just decided to go: Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, ponders the moon.

‘We just decided to go: Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, ponders the moon.