Bad Movie of the Week

I have not done one of these in a while, and it’s not because there aren’t any bad movies out there. There are plenty, but some are so bad it’s obvious they are meant to be bad, and what’s the fun of reviewing a bad movie that everybody already knows is bad. This is one of those. Universal International Pictures, 1958, black and white, 69 minutes.

The title is a giveaway: The Thing That Couldn’t Die.

Movie poster from Wikipedia

You know right away this is going to be a bad movie from the very start, the opening titles are static and right out of a visual graphics 101 class. The titles open over the scene of a guest ranch in a valley somewhere it California. You are sure it’s California, because this film’s budget most likely did not allow more than 10 miles travel from the studio.

Anyhow, as the movie opens young Jessica Burns is using a willow branch to dowse for water (there once was a spring located on the ranch). Gordon is fresh back from a long stay at college, and he is much smarter and wiser now, and he informs Jessica that dowsing does not work. Jessica rebuffs Gordon’s suggestions, which is a disappointment to Gordon, because Gordon last saw sweet Jessica when she was 13 and didn’t have such a nice chest.

Speaking of chests, Jessica does not locate a spring but she does locate an ancient pendant hidden in a centuries old tree and also a treasure chest buried several feet down in the ground. Gordon gives the ancient pendant on a chain to Jessica as a sort of love gift and places it around her beautiful neck. Ranch hands Mike and Boyd plus Gordon dig up the chest, and they take it into the ranch house and lock it inside a room, leaving Mike and Boyd to guard it while Gordon goes off to fetch an archaeologist to help decipher the inscription on the chest lid. Ranch owner Aunt Flavia is sure there is gold in the chest and wants it once the inscription has been deciphered and the lid opened.

Linda and Hank, Linda’s artist boyfriend, go off to the square dance, leaving Jessica and Flavia alone with Mike and Boyd. Boyd is also sure there is gold in the chest, and he wants the gold for himself. It’s obvious Boyd is unscrupulous, because he is shown peeping in Jessica’s window while she is undressing. Mike is big and strong and not very s-m-a-r-t, and Boyd steals the room key from Aunt Flavia and convinces Mike that Flavia said it’s OK to open the chest. Boyd waits outside while Mike uses his immense strength to pry open the chest.

Inside the chest is the head of Gideon Drew, details of whom are revealed later in the movie. The ancient head stares with evil eyes and takes over Mike’s slow-moving brain. When Boyd returns to the room, Mike kills him and drags his body out and dumps it into the hole they had dug earlier. Mike then takes the head and vanished into the woods. When the murder is discovered, Flavia phones for the police.

After Linda and Hank return, Mike appears outside a ranch house window and exhibits the head to Linda. Linda falls under the spell of the head and turns evil, herself, rejecting and scorning Hank. Hank returns to his room and destroys a portrait he has been painting of Linda. Linda has obtained the severed head from Mike and has placed it on a shelf in her closet. She attempts to steal the ancient pendant from Jessica, but Jessica rebuffs her.

Mike emerges from the woods with a knife and attacks the police, who shoot him dead.

Alone in the woods Jessica has a vision of the execution for sorcery of Gideon Drew by explorer Sir Francis Drake and his party. In the vision the executioner chops Drew’s head off, and the head and body are buried separately so that Drew can never die and can never do any more harm.

Jessica is determined to leave the ranch due to all the wickedness going on, and gives the pendant back to Gordon, who puts it into his pocket. Linda offers Jessica a going away present. It’s in a hat box. When Jessica opens the box she sees the head and comes under the spell.

Under the spell, Jessica changes her appearance drastically. Gone is the pretty girl print dress, and she now wears a low-cut black cocktail dress. She offers to dowse for the coffin containing Drew’s body.

Again there is much digging of a large hole, where the coffin is located and hauled up. Back in the ranch house the coffin lid opens and Drew’s headless body sits up. All are startled and alarmed, except for Jessica and Linda, who are by now sisters in evil. Jessica announces a surprise and goes upstairs to retrieve Drew’s head from her room. She returns and places it on Drew’s body, which now becomes animated and menacing.

Gordon fires several rounds from a pistol into Drew, but there is no effect. Gordon then draws the pendant from his pocket and shows it to Drew, who shrinks back into his coffin and closes the lid. When the lid is opened only Drew’s bones are there. Linda and Jessica are released from Drew’s spell and reunite with their lovers. The archaeologist offers Flavia thousands of dollars for the ancient chest and coffin.

So, what’s wrong with this move? A child can see the problem in an instant. It’s the absurdity of the basic premise of the plot. Everybody knows that dowsing with a willow branch is a bunch of malarkey. This bit of rubbish has long been disproved and is used only in cheap movie plots when nothing else comes to mind. The writer David Duncan needs to try harder next time.


Bad Joke of the Week

My daughter sent me this one. It has some miles on it, but I’m still glad to see somebody in the family has a sense of humor.

It happened at a New York Airport. This is hilarious. I wish I had the guts of this girl. An award should go to the United Airlines gate agent in New York for being smart and funny, while making her point, when confronted with a passenger who probably deserved to fly as cargo. For all of you out there who have had to deal with an irate customer, this one is for you.

A crowded United Airlines flight was canceled. A single agent was re-booking a long line of inconvenienced travelers.

Suddenly, an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk. He slapped his ticket on the counter and said, “I HAVE to be on this flight and it has to be FIRST CLASS.”

The agent replied, “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll be happy to try to help you, but I’ve got to help these folks first; and then I’m sure we’ll be able to work something out.”

The passenger was unimpressed. He asked loudly, so that the passengers behind him could hear, “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO I AM?”

Without hesitating, the agent smiled and grabbed her public address microphone. “May I have your attention, please?”, she began, her voice heard clearly throughout the terminal. “We have a passenger here at Gate 14 WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him with his identity, please come to Gate 14”.

With the folks behind him in line laughing hysterically, the man glared at the United Airlines agent, gritted his teeth, and said, “Fuck you!”

Without flinching, she smiled and said, “I’m sorry sir, you’ll have to get in line for that, too.”

Life isn’t about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain…

Pork Chop War

Sixty years ago today an armistice ended the formal fighting in the so-called Korean War. The story goes back a way.

The first 200 years of Joseon were marked by relative peace and saw the creation of the Korean alphabet Hangul by King Sejong the Great in the 14th century and the rise in influence of Confucianism in the country. During the later part of the dynasty, however, Korea’s isolationist policy earned it the Western nickname the “Hermit kingdom”. By the late 19th century, the country became the object of the colonial designs of Japan. In 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan and remained a colony until the end of World War II in August 1945.

In 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States agreed on the surrender of Japanese forces in Korea in the aftermath of World War II, leaving Korea partitioned along the 38th parallel, with the north under Soviet occupation and the south under U.S. occupation. These circumstances soon became the basis for the division of Korea by the two superpowers, exacerbated by their inability to agree on the terms of Korean independence. The two Cold War rivals then established governments centered around their own respective ideologies, leading to Korea’s division into two political entities: North Korea and South Korea.

The Soviet Union installed Kim Il-sung as head of a communist government in North Korea. All indications are that Kim was prime for the position, having lived in exile in the Soviet Union and having acquired strong communist sympathies. He joined the Communist Party in China in 1931. From the beginning he sought the unification of Korea under his communist government.

In the South Syngman Rhee was appointed by the United States to head up the Korean government, at least in the South. Rhee was a authoritarian strongman and ruled ruthlessly. He put down communist opposition with arrest, torture and summary executions. One goal of his was to attack the North and unite Korea under his rule.

Both the Soviet Union and the United States withdrew their military forces from the Korean peninsula as agreed, and the United States decided against arming the South, mainly due to Rhee’s known intent to attack the North. In the mean time Kim in the North worked diligently to build up a fighting force that made good use of his own experience with infiltration and guerrilla warfare. Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin at first refused to give his backing to Kim’s war plans, but a sympathetic communist government in China expressed support for the invasion, and Stalin’s intelligence indicated that American president Truman would not defend the South. Stalin gave his approval, and North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel on 25 June 1950.

Initially the forces of the South and the American forces that came to their defense were routed, and they retreated to a small pocket at the south end of the country. Then American General Douglas MacArthur launched an amphibious attack at Inchon, which resulted in the capture of the Korean capital of Seoul and turned the tide of the war. United Nations forces drove the North Koreans back almost to the Chinese border, creating both a sense of victory and also a serious military and political provocation.

Communist Chinese dictator Mao Zedong feared MacArthur’s plan was ultimately to invade China, and nothing that MacArthur did or said indicated otherwise. Chinese troops secretly crossed into North Korea and on 25 October 1950 attacked United Nations forces, driving them back to about the 38th parallel.

And that’s where the war stagnated from June 1951 to the present time. The remaining two years of active conflict involved holding ground and killing enemy forces. Approximately 12,000 American soldiers died during this stalemated conflict.

Logistically crippled and suffering heavy casualties, in early 1951 the Chinese began to make inquiries about a truce. MacArthur would have none of this, and his vocal disagreements with higher military authority and with the President led to his dismissal in April 1951. Truce negotiations with the Chinese began on 10 July 1951, a little more than a year after the war started and two years before the final cessation of fighting.

During the two years’ of negotiations the Chinese were obstinate, and, realizing the war was likely to remain static for some time to come, held out for the best deal they could get. And that’s what the movie is all about.

Movie poster from Wikipedia

Gregory Peck is Lieutenant Joe Clemons, who is ordered by his commanders to retake Pork Chop Hill, recently overrun by the Chinese. Nobody wants to do this, because the war is grinding to a halt and will likely be over in a few weeks, even days or hours. Nobody wants to be the last person shipped home in a body bag from this war that few Americans favor.

The movie is all about the April 1953 battle for Pork Chop Hill. It’s about how politics drive war, how wars and battles are mismanaged and about how soldiers at the cutting edge get through it all. Or not.

This was the first American war with a racially integrated fighting force, and in this movie we see black soldiers fighting along side Gregory Peck. We saw black soldiers in war movies before, such as Red Ball Express, but in these films the black troops were performing support roles. Here they are shooting rifles and charging machine gun nests.

Except one soldier is Private Franklen played by Woody Strode. Franklen is a shirker, and as his fellow troops charge up the hill in the dark he tries to lie down and play dead. Clemons orders him to his feet and threatens him with court martial if he doesn’t get with the program. Clemons ultimately puts Franklen under the watch of another black soldier, played by Clarence Williams III, and Franklen ultimately survives the movie and redeems himself.

There are other notables in the film, including Robert Blake, no longer a street urchin in Treasure of the Sierra Madre or the Indian sidekick to Bill Elliot in the Red Rider movies. Martin Landau has yet to play the bad man in North by Northwest or the ace undercover operative in the Mission Impossible series. There’s also Harry Guardino, Rip Torn, George Peppard, Norman Fell and Bill Wellman, Jr.

Anyhow, the men of Clemons’ company struggle up the hill in the dark, encountering concertina wire they had been assured was flattened by artillery, enduring being accidentally illuminated for the benefit of the Chinese by search light from their own side and a devastating artillery round the men are sure came from their own side. Communications are abysmal, and support the company is supposed to receive never materializes. Communication blunders give the upper command the false impression that Clemons’ company is not short on food or ammunition, and when the remnants of another company finally arrive to reinforce them at the top of the hill, that company is ordered to pull back in the mistaken belief that all is well on Pork Chop Hill.

Meanwhile the armistice negotiations drag on, with the Chinese negotiators being portrayed as obstinate, intransigent and insulting. One Chinese officer is shown smoking his cigarette in a holder, gazing toward the ceiling and taking off his head phones as an American admiral attempts to talk reason. What the American negotiators fail to comprehend is that the Chinese are politically motivated in a way the Americans can never be. The Chinese are willing to trade lives for small gains, up to a point as it turned out in real life.

When Clemons’ company regains the position previously overrun by the Chinese, they relieve a small band of American troops who have held out all this time. Then, when the Chinese counterattack, Clemons and his men are, themselves, forced to hole up and prepare for annihilation.

Anybody viewing this movie, as I just did, in 2013 is bound to ask the question, “Why didn’t the Air Force just come over and blast those Chinese into the hereafter?” In fact, our Air Force was all the while blasting North Korea regularly with B-29 bombing runs. Somebody quoted the figures to me that we dropped more tons of bombs on North Korea than we did on Nazi Germany. The fact is that close air support at the level expected by our troops today just was not available in the early 1950s. The movie depicts the reality of those days and is reported to be an accurate account of the April battle.

About this time the Americans at the armistice negotiations realize that the Chinese have figured the Americans are not willing to make sacrifices, so the Americans decide to reinforce their troops on Pork Chop Hill. Reinforcements arrive just as the Chinese are attacking the holed up troops with flame throwers, and the survivors of the original force trudge back down the hill. And that’s the end of the movie.

But that was not the end of the war. On 11 July 1953 the Chinese counterattacked, and American forces withdrew from Pork Chop Hill and left it in North Korean hands when the armistice was signed, sixty years ago today.

Still a virgin after all these years

I am impressed. Did I say “impressed?” I am really impressed. In this jaded era, blown free of purity and naivety by the relentless winds of instant communication and instant gratification, on a planet that shrinks daily to the width of a smart phone screen and with hard reality just a click away on the TV remote, I am impressed that even an ounce of mental innocence remains, let alone the buckets full that spilled at a recent gathering.

CPAC Event On Racial Tolerance Turns To Chaos As ‘Disenfranchised’ Whites Arrive

A CPAC session sponsored by Tea Party Patriots and billed as a primer on teaching activists how to court black voters devolved into a shouting match as some attendees demanded justice for white voters and others shouted down a black woman who reacted in horror.

The session, entitled “Trump The Race Card: Are You Sick And Tired Of Being Called A Racist When You Know You’re Not One?” was led by K. Carl Smith, a black conservative who mostly urged attendees to deflect racism charges by calling themselves “Frederick Douglass Republicans.”

The event was CPAC 2013 held in National Harbor, Maryland, from 14 to 16 March 2013. CPAC is the Conservative Action Conference, and the March event was one of several scheduled this year. I don’t have a copy of the event program, but CBS News posted a summary. The theme was “America’s Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives.”

So, you’re a conservative guy, and you believe in racial equality to a degree, but you are concerned that white guys are being moved to the back of the bus while black people are living off welfare at your expense. Where are you going to go? If you guessed the Democratic Party you are dead wrong. The Democrats are the party of entitlement and government give-aways, and discrimination against whites, like you. You may not feel completely at home in the Republican Party either, because those guys integrated public schools over 50 years ago, and they have continually sidled up to the Democrats as they handed privilege and power to the blacks. George Lincoln Rockwell is long dead, and the American Nazi Party no longer gets much political traction in this time of renewed national pride. Also there is an awful stench attached to the Ku Klux Klan, and besides you have to wear those silly-looking hoods. But wait, there is still the Tea Party movement.

While the movement is not all about white pride and racial discrimination, it seems to be the closest safe harbor for many of the radical right element who seek the sheen of respectability. So it happened that a number of the disaffected white pride showed up at CPAC 2013 in March. This was apparent at the “Trump The Race Card” session.

According to Talking Points Memo’s Benjy Sarlin, the trouble began at the “Trump The Race Card: Are You Sick And Tired Of Being Called A Racist When You Know You’re Not One?” session when the black conservative leading it, K. Carl Smith, began describing the Democratic Party as the party of the KKK, and urging white conservatives to begin referring to themselves as “Frederick Douglass Republicans.”

For those who don’t read, Frederick Douglass was born a slave in the United States about 1818, and he later escaped from his owner and gained his freedom by obtaining the papers of a freed black seaman and fleeing to New York State. He had previously learned to read, a crime for slaves at the time, and with his freedom he became an eloquent speaker and writer for the abolition of slavery and for equal freedom to all. His last owner of record was Thomas Auld:

In 1833, Thomas Auld took Douglass back from Hugh after a dispute (“[a]s a means of punishing Hugh,” Douglass wrote). Dissatisfied with Douglass, Thomas Auld sent him to work for Edward Covey, a poor farmer who had a reputation as a “slave-breaker.” He whipped Douglass regularly. The sixteen-year-old Douglass was nearly broken psychologically by his ordeal under Covey, but he finally rebelled against the beatings and fought back. After losing a physical confrontation with Douglass, Covey never tried to beat him again.

Frederick Douglass (image from Wikipedia)

Free in 1848 Douglass wrote a letter to Auld that read in part:

I will now bring this letter to a close, you shall hear from me again unless you let me hear from you. I intend to make use of you as a weapon with which to assail the system of slavery—as a means of concentrating public attention on the system, and deepening their horror of trafficking in the souls and bodies of men. I shall make use of you as a means of exposing the character of the American church and clergy—and as a means of bringing this guilty nation with yourself to repentance. In doing this I entertain no malice towards you personally. There is no roof under which you would be more safe than mine, and there is nothing in my house which you might need for your comfort, which I would not readily grant. Indeed, I should esteem it a privilege, to set you an example as to how mankind ought to treat each other. I am your fellow man, but not your slave,

So, this came up in the discussions at the March CPAC.

Scott Terry of North Carolina, accompanied by a Confederate-flag-clad attendee, Matthew Heimbach, rose to say he took offense to the event’s take on slavery. (Heimbach founded the White Students Union at Towson University and is described as a “white nationalist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

“It seems to be that you’re reaching out to voters at the expense of young white Southern males,” Terry said, adding he “came to love my people and culture” who were “being systematically disenfranchised.”

Smith responded that Douglass forgave his slavemaster.

“For giving him shelter? And food?” Terry said.

The ingratitude! Imagine that. Thomas Auld took Douglass in and housed him and clothed him and gave him food and steady employment at a time with jobs for poor black people were hard to come by. And Douglass was not grateful? Scott Terry finds that hard to comprehend. So do I.

What I find hard to comprehend is the intellectual poverty of somebody like Scott Terry, who fails to realize that the days of the Old South are over and have been for nearly 150 years, and that it’s not OK to buy and sell black folks anymore.

Well, at least Terry was not alone in his quaint view of the world. At CPAC he had come to the shining beacon of such views:

The exchange occurred after an audience member from North Carolina, 30-year-old Scott Terry, asked whether Republicans could endorse races remaining separate but equal. After the presenter, K. Carl Smith of Frederick Douglass Republicans, answered by referencing a letter by Frederick Douglass forgiving his former master, the audience member said “For what? For feeding him and housing him?” Several people in the audience cheered and applauded Terry’s outburst.

See, Terry is not such a maverick after all. He knows the exact place to bring his views. He is comfortable to know his freedom of expression would not be quite so welcome at a Democratic Party function. No sir.

But wait. Moderator Carl Smith had earlier made the point that respectable conservative should distance themselves from the Democratic Party:

Disruptions began when he started accusing Democrats of still being the party of the Confederacy — a common talking point on the right.

“I don’t care how much the KKK improved,” he said. “I’m not going to join the KKK. The Democratic Party founded the KKK.”

Smith is right. It was the Republican Party that abolished slavery 150 years ago, and it was the Democratic Party in the Old South that continued to support suppression of black citizens for nearly a hundred years until… Until Franklin Roosevelt was elected as a very liberal president in 1932, and Democratic President Harry Truman desegregated the United States armed services. The kicker came in the presidential election of 1964 when Barry Goldwater was nominated, and movie actor Ronald Reagan explained to Republicans at the nominating convention how bad and nonconservative had been the policies of Democratic presidents Kennedy and Johnson. In that year conservatives began to see the light and to make their shift from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. This day the Confederate flag never waves at a Democratic Party function, and the Old South is nearly wall to wall Republican.

If Carl Smith is concerned about the welfare of the KKK he can put his mind at ease. The KKK still has a small place in the hearts of some people, and he never had to look very far from his podium at the March CPAC to find that place.

Call Me Bwana

I first heard the term a long time ago, and it went like this. There was a standard feature in Reader’s Digest titled Humor in Uniform. It was about funny happenings related to military life, which can be quite humorous.

Anyhow, there was this story about a cadet pilot at Graham Air Force Base, which was a training field in Florida. A big milestone in pilot training is the first solo flight, the first time the trainee goes up alone, without an instructor along. So this trainee was up on his first solo flight, and the exuberance was overwhelming, and he needed to share the joy. He got on the radio in flagrant violation of procedure and announced, “Graham Tower, this is Graham Cracker. Eat me!” The tower came back with the bad news, “Consider yourself eaten. You’re the only one in the air.” That was the end of Graham Cracker’s flight training.

At the time I was not familiar with “cracker” in this context, but I later became acquainted with the term “Georgia Cracker,” and I began to get the idea. A cracker was some kind of southern country hick. OK, I can comprehend that.

The term has come up again recently. In February last year an unarmed teenager was shot to death in a scuffle with a resident of a housing community in Sanford, Florida. The dead person’s name was Trayvon Martin, and just before the altercation he was on his phone talking to his girlfriend and complaining about being stalked by a “creepy ass cracker.” The teenager was black, and the man with the gun, one George Zimmerman, was white. So, you get the idea. To this particular victim the idea of a creepy white man is a cracker.

George Zimmerman mug shot

The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white man followed by no subsequent prosecution enraged Martin’s family, and many others. There was the consideration that racial profiling was involved in Zimmerman’s stalking Martin. Previous to the shooting Zimmerman had been on the phone to police saying he was following a black man, Martin, who had come into the neighborhood and was acting suspiciously. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, had a history of calling police about suspicious black characters. Anyhow, Zimmerman was subsequently prosecuted for the shooting and was acquitted. Zimmerman claimed Martin initiated the fight, and that was enough for a finding of self defense. The racial implications of the case linger, and there is a curious sidebar. A number of people have taken sides over who was at fault for the shooting, and Martin’s reference to Zimmerman is being tagged as racial by his detractors.

Rachel Jeantel, the troubled young woman who was speaking on the phone to Trayvon Martin just before he was killed, testified in George Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial that Martin called Zimmerman a “creepy [ass] cracka” before their violent confrontation.

The quote is not from one of Martin’s detractors but from the Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson, who says additionally:

I’ve been warning for the past 23 years that black racism is out-of-control – it appears black racism killed Trayvon Martin, and Paula Deen’s career!

Paula Deen, of course, is the TV chef who has been dumped by sponsors for perceived racial prejudice. Which gets us back to the word “cracker.” Americans, and I am sure others do, have a name for just about every type of person. We have Yankee, gringo, honky, cracker, Cajun, coon ass, injunCanuk, mick, wop, dago, kike, spic, Hun, jerry, kraut, Jap, gook, chink, and nigger. Most of these terms are derogatory and considered to be racial slurs. Some not so much so. Cajuns universally wear the appellation “coon ass” with pride.

I was explaining all these names to some French friends a few years ago, and one asked if we had a name for the French. Of course we do have a derisive name for the French (frog), but I told my friends I did not know of any such and we just called them French.

The origins of these names go way back, some starting out as pejorative but later rehabilitated. Others have innocent beginnings but ultimately became slurs. Yankee is from the Dutch term for “John Cheese,” a really stupid person. That’s what the Dutch colonists in what is now New York called the English who came in to take over. When American troops invaded Mexico about 1846 the Irish troops sang Green Grow the Violets, and the Mexicans translated this into gringo. When Italian immigrants showed up at Ellis  Island without papers their forms were stamped WOP. Jewish immigrants got a circle (kikel) placed on their forms. Irish immigrants were called mick for Michael. Arcadian settlers in Louisiana were soon called Cajuns. Negro is the Spanish word for black, and black Africans were called Negroes. Slave owners needed to dehumanize them to feel comfortable with the crime they were committing, and they called the slaves niggers. The term has never had a good meaning, and these days it is never pronounced in a polite context on television. News anchors have to use the term “N word” or lose their jobs.

It’s possible the issue of racially sensitive language has slipped downhill in the past 30 years. I keep getting back to this SNL clip featuring comedians Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor. It may be we can’t do this anymore.

Interviewer: Alright, Mr. Wilson, you’ve done just fine on the Rorshact.. your papers are in good order.. your file’s fine.. no difficulties with your motor skills.. And I think you’re probably ready for this job. We’ve got one more psychological test we always do here. It’s just a Word Association. I’ll throw you out a few words – anything that comes to your mind, just throw back at me, okay? It’s kind of an arbitrary thing. Like, if I say “dog”, you’d say..?

Mr. Wilson: “Tree”.

And then later:

Mr. Wilson: [ defensive ] “Cracker!”

Interviewer: [ aggressive ] “Spearchucker.”

Mr. Wilson: “White trash!”

Interviewer: “Jungle Bunny!”

Mr. Wilson: [ upset ] “Honky!”

Interviewer: “Spade!”

Mr. Wilson: [ really upset ] “Honky Honky!”

Interviewer: [ relentless ] “Nigger!”

Mr. Wilson: [ immediate ] “Dead honky!” [ face starts to flinch ]

It’s funny, of course, and you can watch a video on YouTube.

Americans have conjured up derisive terms for the enemy in various wars, because it makes it easier to kill somebody if you can first demote them in the chain of humanity. But nobody that night in February 2012 was calling anybody a nigger. Somebody called another person a cracker.

Cracker, sometimes white cracker or cracka, is a derogatory term for white people, especially poor rural whites in the Southern United States. In reference to a native of Florida or Georgia, however, it is sometimes used in a neutral or positive context and is sometimes used self-descriptively with pride.

The origins go way back:

The term “cracker” was in use during Elizabethan times to describe braggarts. The original root of this is the Middle English word crack meaning “entertaining conversation” (One may be said to “crack” a joke; a witty remark is a “wisecrack”). This term and the Gaelic spelling “craic” are still in use in Ireland and Scotland. It is documented in Shakespeare’s King John (1595): “What cracker is this… that deafes our eares / With this abundance of superfluous breath?”

One fault line in the Zimmerman case was along the issue of gun rights. Some on Zimmerman’s side saw this as a gun rights issue. What’s the use of have a right to carry a gun if you are going to be prosecuted the first time you kill somebody? Lacking any knowledge about motivation, I will cite a couple of remarks from Facebook postings. These apparently are in response to the Reverend Peterson’s post:

Shelly Phillips Biggs[:] Good article. I’m so sick of everyone (media, law enforcement, courts, etc) assuming when someone is referred to as a racist, they can hardly believe it may be someone other that whites! Liked this section: Whites have to overcome the fear of being called “racist.”

Chuck Tilbury[:] I used to flinch if someone called me a racist or a bigot. Not any more. I know who I am. (not a bigot) And, I know a liar when I see one. And if someone goes around telling lies about me, should I get all angry and try to get revenge? Nope. It only pl…See More

It would seem that learning Martin had called Zimmerman a cracker let’s some people salve their consciences. When I first read this on Facebook I wondered what these people had done to be called racist, but I never followed up on it. It would appear that some have recently become racially sensitive if they were not already. Here’s another item. Jason Easley posted an inflammatory comment about Texas governor Perry, and somebody on Facebook considered this pertinent to the discussion:

Rick ‘Niggerhead’ Perry Tells African Americans There’s No Racism In the Justice System On CNN today, Gov. Rick Perry took a break from stealing the rights of women to let African Americans know that there is no racism in the justice system. CROWLEY: Watching the action across the nation to the not guilty verdict in George Zimmerman’s murder trial people have gathered in the streets of downtown Chicago. Federal and state officials are keeping a close eye but mostly things have been pretty calm. In just a moment I will talk to the governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn. I want to go first to Texas and Republican governor Rick Perry made a lot of news this weekend. Also a lot of news being made in Florida, governor. So let’s start there. What do you make of the Zimmerman verdict and the reaction to it? PERRY: Candy, without a doubt, a tragic event and as your experts you had on the previous segment they did a very good job of laying out the details of the case. And the issue boils down to you had two very, very capable teams, prosecutors and the defense teams laying out the evidence and the jury made the decision. And although, you know, there maybe people on either side of this that don’t agree with how it came out, the fact is that we have the best judicial system in the world and we respect it. And you know, that’s my position is that a very thoughtful case was made by each side, the jurors made the decision, and we will live with that.

I cannot find from the darkest reaches of my soul find any excuse for calling Perry “Niggerhead,” and the extreme racial slant of the post is completely uncalled for. However, my perception is that this link was posted on Facebook as a way of diluting the significance of an apparent racial bias in the Zimmerman case.

One thing that keeps being emphasized in the discussion is that Zimmerman is also a racial minority. Despite having a German surname he bills himself as Hispanic. So, where’s the white on black racism if Zimmerman is not white? Doesn’t that kind of diffuse the racist slant of this episode? I am guessing it does, else why would defenders of Zimmerman ever bring it up? Further, if Zimmerman is not, in fact, “white,” then where is the black on white racism?

Taking a closer look, Zimmerman’s father is of German ancestry (“white”), and his mother is from Peru, of part black African and part Spanish (white) ancestry. Call me color blind if you want, but from all appearances Zimmerman is white. I have seen snowflakes darker than Zimmerman. Anyhow, there was enough similarity to fool Martin, who told his girlfriend on the phone he was being stalked by a creepy ass Cracker, the source of claims for black on white racism.

From the words that have been flying back and forth on the issue it would appear there is a passel of white folks who identify with the term cracker and are lightly insulted and freshly self-righteous.

Which brings me around to the title of this post. I never did get to see the film when it first came out in 1963, and I have not been able to catch it since on Turner Classic Movies. It stars Bob Hope and its title is Call Me Bwana. I will do a review the next time I get a chance (need to watch it first), but I have always considered I had the title figured out.

As a youngster I saw many B movies at the local theater in my home town, and I could count on more than one a year being set in Africa with European hunters or such with a hired gang of local black Africans. In these movies the hired hands seemed to call all white people “Bwana.”

from Swahili, meaning an important person or safari leader

To me it always seemed that being called cracker was not all that far from being called Bwana. All you crackers out there can write in and let me know your preference.

The Wells Fargo Wagon

Ron Howard is one of the industry’s foremost motion picture directors, his notable works including Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind. However, my favorite Ron Howard role was that of young child Winthrop Paroo in The Music Man. When the Wells Fargo wagon finally arrives bringing the musical instruments, the withdrawn Winthrop bursts out in song, although he does not sing this part of the famous melody:

O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street,
Oh please let it be for me!
O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street,
I wish, I wish I knew what it could be!

The entire town has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the instruments for the River City Boys Band, and the day has finally arrived. With that setting you can imagine the disappointment the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) when their Wells Fargo wagon was waylaid at the Panama Canal.

O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ now
Is it a prepaid surprise or C.O.D.
It could be curtains!
Or dishes!
Or a double boiler!
Or it could be
Yes, it could be
Yes, you’re right it surely could be
Somethin’ special
Somethin’ very, very special now
Just for me!

No, Democratic (I blush) People’s Republic of Korea. It was none of those.

COLON, Panama (Reuters) – Panamanian investigators unloading the cargo of a seized North Korean ship that carried arms from Cuba have found the two MiG-21 fighter jets the Cuban government had said were on board, the government said on Sunday.

Alongside the two supersonic planes, originally produced by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s, officials found two missile radar systems on board the Chong Chon Gang, President Ricardo Martinelli told reporters in the Atlantic port of Colon.

The discovery, which included cables and electrical equipment, was made inside containers on the ship Panama had feared might contain explosive material. None was found.

After stopping the vessel bound for North Korea last week, Panama revealed it had found weapons in the cargo hold late on Monday. In response, Cuba said the shipment contained a range of “obsolete” arms being sent to North Korea for repair.

Oh, my. Little Winthrop of the DPRK is going to be sorely disappointed when the Wells Fargo wagon, or rather the good ship Chong Chon Gang, arrives at the port of Wonsan without the musical instruments. That is, provided the good ship Chong Chon Gang arrives at all. There is a story behind that.

It was 60 years ago this month that the United Nations forces and the North Koreans hammered out an armistice that stopped the three-years Korean War, otherwise known as the police action to prevent dictator Kim Il-sung of the North and dictator Syngman Rhee of the South from strangling each other. There’s going to be another post about that later this week, along with a review of the movie Pork Chop Hill, which is all about the fighting that was pushed by both sides to gain fractional advantage during the closing hours of the armistice negotiations.

Anyhow, the armistice of 27 July 1953 left the communists dictator in charge in the North and the not so communist dictator in charge in the South with the result being that South Korea enjoyed burgeoning trade and economic relations with the capitalist powers of The West, including the United States, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and most of South and Central America. The South became an economic and industrial powerhouse.

North Korea was left to engage in business with the failing economies of the Soviet Union, the communist Easter Bloc states and ultimately the (not so democratic people’s) Republic of Cuba. The DPRK’s mentor, the People’s Republic of China eventually saw the capitalist road to prosperity but was never able to drag its southern cousin along into the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first. Ultimately the world of the DPRK came to embrace such beacons of enlightenment and prosperity as Iran, Syria, the failed Libyan dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi and Venezuela. You need only to view a satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula at night to see the difference. The south is a sea of light, and the North is a dark pit. The armistice line that marks the boundary between the two is obvious.

Anyhow, 27 July 1953 was only an armistice. There was never any peace treaty to end the war in Korea. We (the United States and the United Nations) are still at war with the DPRK. We could resume shooting at any time.

Since the armistice the DPRK has gone its self-delusional way, telling its people the world is against them (and making it so) and telling them they are so much better off than people in capitalistic countries, such as South Korea where they keep the lights on everywhere all night long.

By all accounts the DPRK is one of the most economically depressed areas in the world with little in the way of legitimate exports. Which brings us to illegitimate exports. One way the DPRK has found to make money is to develop and export missile and nuclear weapon technology. Western powers, even China, have frowned on this practice. As a result of the DPRK’s practices there is an embargo of DPRK arms trade that is enforced by the United Nations and other powers, including the United States. In violation of these restrictions, items of war from the DPRK have found their way into the hands of rogue powers in Libya (before Gaddafi was killed) and the Middle East. Apparently the Republic of Cuba is also a customer.

American agencies had been tracking the path of the Chong Chon Gang, which has a history of drug smuggling, and they advised Panamanian officials to inspect the ship before it transited the Panama Canal. Apparently the port authorities in Panama boarded the ship and asked to see the cargo manifest. When they wanted to see more the Korean crew rested, strongly.

When Panamanian officials began looking inside containers stuffed with over 250,000 100-kg (220-lb) bags of brown sugar, the captain became violent, Mulino said.

The captain, a North Korean citizen like the crew, tried to slit his throat with a knife, a police official said. The man was in hospital in stable condition, the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Ben Rhode, a North Korea security expert at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, suggested the captain’s suicide attempt might have been an effort to escape severe punishment by officials in North Korea for failing to carry out his mission.

All 35 members of the crew of the ship, which is called Chong Chon Gang, were arrested after resisting Panamanian orders and are now being questioned at Fort Sherman, a former U.S. Army Base on the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal, the official added.

The DPRK has protested and has demanded the ship be released and allowed to proceed to home port. Not likely. My guess is Winthrop of the DPRK is going to have to wait a long long time for the Wells Fargo Wagon.

O-ho the Wellth Fargo Wagon ith a-comin’ now,
I don’t know how I can ever wait to thee.
It could be thumpin’ for thumone who is
No relation but it could be thump’n thpethyul
Just for me!

Tangier, not Panama, but that’s the best I can do


Bad Joke of the Week

OK, this one is bad.

A man and a woman were sitting beside each other in the first class section
of the plane. The woman sneezed, took out a tissue, gently wiped her nose
and then shuddered quite violently for 10 or 15 seconds.

The man went back to his reading.

A few minutes later, the woman sneezed again, took a tissue, gently wiped
her nose and shuddered quite violently as before.

The man was becoming more and more curious about the shuddering.

A few more minutes passed and the woman sneezed one more time. Again she took a tissue, gently wiped her nose and shuddered violently.

The man couldn’t restrain his curiosity. He turned to the woman and said, “You’ve sneezed three times, wiped you nose with a tissue, then shuddered violently! Are you all right?”

“I’m sorry if I disturbed you,” the woman replied, “I have a rare condition- when I sneeze, I have an orgasm.”

The man was a little embarrassed but even more curious and said, “I’ve never heard of that before. What are you taking for it?”

The woman looked at him and said, “Pepper.”

Over Redundant

This is kind of crazy, but there is humor to compensate.

A little over 40 years ago I worked for this engineering company in Austin, and we submitted a bid on an Army contract to build a machine to unscramble 20mm ammunition. I can explain this best if I tell the story a little out of sequence.

Upon being awarded the contract three of us went to the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Missouri, just east of Kansas City. Anyhow, while we were there we got to see how they made the ammunition. What I found extremely interesting was the machine that spit out 7.62mm rounds. The plant was operated by Remington Arms, and there was this machine that made cartridges for rifles and machine guns. At the back end of the machine was a chute, and a steady stream of finished cartridges spewed out into a bin. Our tour guide advised us the production cost (1972) was about a penny a round. It was enough to give Wayne LaPierre a hard on.

Anyhow, another machine completed the process of assembling 20mm ammunition. Our tour guide advised us the production cost was about $1 each. The cartridges exited the process standing upright on their rear base on a flat metal plate. As more cartridges finished the assembly process and exited the machine they crowded the other cartridges already finished, and those previous cartridges eventually tumbled off the edge of the plate into a waiting cart.

Right away I saw the problem. The cartridges were already standing upright when they exited the machine. All that should have been necessary was to capture the product in this well-organized arrangement, and there would be no need for a subsequent unscrambling operation. But I kept my mouth closed, because if there was no need to unscramble the ammunition, then there would be no need for me to design the unscrambling machine, and I needed the job.

Anyhow, back when we first studied the government’s request for bid we got a good idea of what was needed. Ammunition is shipped to the area of operation in metal cases, each one containing in the order of 100 rounds of 20mm cartridges. This was machine gun ammunition, and before it could be used by the machine gun the cartridges needed to be chained together with metal links. This is something I had observed as a sailor on the Kitty Hawk. You line up all the ammunition in a tray, and the cartridges roll down into the machine where metal links were pressed onto the casings. Our job was to design a machine that would take cartridges that had been dumped out of their metal boxes and line them up in the linking machine feeder.

The first problem we saw was that our design needed to get all cartridges pointed in the same direction. But wait, I observed. This is a problem that has already been solved. Go to a bowling alley. You throw a strike, and the AMF pinsetter will sweep all the pins off the wood, line them up, and set them all base down on the alley. The pinsetter was performing exactly the job our machine needed to do.

We went down to a bowling alley and asked politely for permission to go back stage and observe the operation. The solution was obvious. The center of gravity of a bowling pin is not located halfway between the base and the tip. If a pin slides base first off a cliff, the tip will swing up. If the pin slides tip first, the tip will remain up much longer. If you install something to catch the tip as it hangs out over the edge of the drop off, then the pin will fall base first. The pin will fall base first regardless of whether it was base first or tip first.

Anyhow, we designed the machine, and it had a big hopper for 20mm cartridges up on top, and there was a loader for the bin. You dumped cartridges into the loader and ran the loader up to the top of its guide, where it tipped over and dumped its load into our hopper. And we all stood around and congratulated ourselves.

Then somebody asked, how can the operator tell when the hopper needs another load of cartridges? Standing on the floor you can’t see into the hopper. For engineers, every question requires an engineering solution. There was a suggestion for a built-in weight detector to determine when the hopper was nearly empty, and there was a suggestion for an electric eye that would detect when the hopper was nearly empty. I had to take a step back and shake my head. I felt we had just stepped through the looking glass into wonderland. We had exited reality and entered fantasy.

People, I said, all we need is to mount a mirror up above the hopper, and the operator can look up and see if the hopper needs another load of cartridges.

So, that’s my point. Often times improvement is not needed and only introduces extra sources of failure. I have discussed this before. Why does a fighter pilot take to the air with only one parachute, while a paratrooper heads off with two strapped to his body?

So, that’s what this post is all about. Useless redundancy. I will now get down to the topic.

Our house has the air conditioning unit in the attic, and that contains the air handler, which moves the air through the system, and it has the evaporator unit, where compressed gas is allowed to expand and become very cold. Warm air from the house passes over the coils of the evaporator unit, which are quite cold. However, the air is also quite moist, and a mass of watter is always condensing onto the coils, and it needs somewhere to go. Ta-daa! There is a water collection system that funnels the runoff down to the drain under the sink in the upstairs bathroom. Problem solved, right?

Maybe not. What if the drain becomes plugged? Where is the water going to go? Ta-daa! Problem solved. There is a pan under the unit that catches the water in case the collection tubing becomes clogged. That pan is above the ceiling, and it has its own drain, which runs into a tube which ultimately empties through a spout mounted above my back porch. Not only above my back porch, but right above the floor mat outside my back door. That way, when the main drain becomes clogged, and water starts draining into the catch pan and emptying onto my back porch I will know immediately when I step out the back door and onto a wet door mat. Which is what happened.

WTF? There was a puddle of water on the mat, and I wound up with wet feet. No missing that clue. Something was wrong? Call the A/C man.

The A/C man serviced the unit and unplugged the drain so the water resumed flowing down into the connection under the upstairs bathroom sink. And all was right in heaven and in my home. Except.

Except, what if the main drain became stopped up again, and then the backup drain became stopped up? What would happen? Why, the pan above my upstairs ceiling would overflow onto the sheet rock and ruin the ceiling. Bummer. But wait! There’s a solution. The A/C man offered to install a float switch in the backup drain pan. If that pan ever began to fill up the switch would shut off the A/C. The house would not cool off, but neither would the ceiling be ruined. It would be just a matter of holding out until the A/C man could come out again and fix the problem, and then the house would be cool again. Just $240. What a deal!

I don’t think so. I am thinking that enough redundancy is enough. So we install a float switch, and that, too, fails. What then? What’s the backup for the backup for the backup? I’m not going there. That’s a redundancy too far. My plan is much cheaper.

When the A/C runs and I am in the upstairs bathroom, doing whatever I do in the upstairs bathroom, I can hear the water running into the drain under the sink. If I hear the A/C running, and I do not hear the water running down the drain, then I take action. That’s my backup plan. And I get to spend the $240 on some neat accessory for my camera.

The backup. When the pan overflows water runs out this pipe onto my door mat.

Boys in the hood

I just love Fox News. I really do. This show and this network, I do declare, they are a gold mine, I tell you, a gold mine of wonderful information. For example, just the other day Geraldo Rivera reminded us that the way we dress could get us killed. Of course we all know that anyhow, but it’s nice for Geraldo to remind us from time to time.

On Fox News Sunday, Geraldo Rivera doubled down on his previous stereotypical comments about wearing hoodies and walking the streets at night. Back in March, Rivera said that a “hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman.”

This morning, he stood by his previous statement: “You Dress Like A Thug, People Are Going To Treat You Like A Thug. That’s True. I Stand By That.”

I read this amazing piece yesterday, and I remarked to Barbara Jean about how informative and helpful it was. I thought about it some more and mentioned it again at dinner, and Barbara Jean reminded me she had already heard my comments, and once was enough. Then last night as we were watching TV (not Fox News, unfortunately) I brought the subject up again, and Barbara Jean remarked, “Why don’t you put on your hoodie and go out to the store for some Skittles and ice tea?”

This man is dangerous (he only wishes so).

I am shocked

I tell you, really shocked.

I’m reading CNN news on the Internet. Here is what I see:

‘First thought was shock, disgust’
Trayvon Martin’s parents react

Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said she was shocked:

Fulton told “CBS This Morning” she was “in a bit of shock” after the verdict. “I thought surely that he would be found guilty of second-degree murder,” she said.

I am shocked. Woman, where have you been? You are shocked? You didn’t know a white man can gun down a black kid and walk away? Where have you been?

So, you want to sue? Forget it. If I understand current Florida law correctly, Zimmerman’s acquittal takes that option off the table.

(1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.

This is the law in Florida, but civil recourse is possible in other states. In 1994 O.J. Simpson (black person) apparently murdered two (white) people in a carefully planned and executed (almost carefully executed) ambush. Simpson walked, but survivors sued and won damages.

On February 5, 1997, a civil jury in Santa Monica, California unanimously found Simpson liable for the wrongful death of and battery against Goldman, and battery against Brown. Daniel Petrocelli represented plaintiff Fred Goldman, Ronald Goldman’s father. Simpson was ordered to pay $33,500,000 in damages. However, California law protects pensions from being used to satisfy judgments, so Simpson was able to continue much of his lifestyle based on his NFL pension. In February 1999, an auction of Simpson’s Heisman Trophy and other belongings netted almost $500,000. The money went to the Goldman family.

Simpson, apparently not having learned from his previous life style, is currently in prison for a subsequent offense.

Martin’s parents may be contemplating civil action, but I am not placing my bet on their success. And, I am not shocked.