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.

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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

/a

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.

J’ai la clé

OK, now I really do have the key. But it is an interesting story.

In the previous post I poked fun at business that do not really have a handle on day to day operations. The state of business-customer relations also came up. I noted that when my new house was completed in 2010 the builder gave me the keys to the garage door, said keys having been given to him by the company that installed the garage door. Said company being Parrish & Company, Inc., 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas, (830-980-9595). I also mentioned that Parrish and Company had provided a lock for the garage door and had provided keys to yet a different lock. I also mentioned that when I informed Parrish and Company of their error more than two and a half years after the fact they graciously offered to make good on their error. They, at no expense to me, offered to provide me with the correct key. They would hold the key for me at the front desk of their offices at 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas, and would exchange the correct key for the wrong keys when I arrived. It was the kind of customer outreach that traditionally warms the cockles of my heart. I guarantee you that on this occasion their generosity did just that.

So it happened that yesterday I had an appointment in north San Antonio with one of the companies that I pay to keep me alive. That was most convenient. After giving a sample of my blood to a nice lady at the north San Antonio office, I drove my car on out to 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas. And what a drive that is.

Now, 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas, is not actually in San Antonio. That made an issue of using my Garmin GPS navigator to locate the address. It was necessary to fall back on drive-by-inspection. You get on Highway 281 heading north from Loop 1604 and drive. And drive. And stop at numerous traffic lights along with the 10,000 other vehicles that stop and wait at the same signals, wending their way to the outer reaches of Bexar County and beyond. All the way it’s necessary to check the addresses posted on the buildings along the road, because it would not be advisable to keep on going all the way to Stephenville before you realize you have gone too far. Of course, 281 is a highway and not a city street, so the buildings do not face onto the road but are set back many feet from the pavement. This makes for some excitement when attempting to read the street number, squinting out the opposite window of the car, all the while keeping an eye on the traffic ahead so as not to have a collision.

Anyhow, there was a better solution than reading the numbers on the buildings. Out in the sticks business are sensible enough to place a mailbox on a post beside the pavement, and the number is usually on the mailbox. I eventually learned to just pull over on the shoulder and squint at the number on the mailbox. That was after I left Bexar County and entered Comal County.

Turning around, heading back into Bexar County (but not into San Antonio), I inspected mail boxes and located Parrish & Company and went inside. They were simply wonderful. The man there plucked the key they had been holding for me since the day before (actually, since 2010) and generously handed it to me. One key. I gave him two keys. OK, I can now go down to Home Depot (or Lowe’s) and get a duplicate key made, even though I know I only need one key, because if I ever lose my garage door key I can always drive back to Parrish & Company, 26995 Highway 281 N, (not) San Antonio, Texas, and get a replacement.

The way God intended things to be—the correct key for the correct lock.

Isn’t great customer service a wonder to behold? Or to find?

J’ai la clé

My wife hates it when I pretend to speak French to her. Like when we are heading into the house, and she has her purse out and is fishing for the door key. I will pull my hand out of my pocket and say in my best Parisian accent, “J’ai la clé.” She has a German last name, and she will at that point turn toward me and give me her best “Droppen Sie dead” look.

Another of Barbara Jean’s pet gripes is companies that do not know how to run their own business. When I met her over 30 years ago she was business manager for an engineering company, and she kept the company accounts. By hand.

She had an adding machine and a ledger book, and she hired me to put the whole system on the company computer. This was in the days before Quicken and other shrink-wrapped software solutions, and I wrote some programs to mimic the process of maintaining a general ledger, and we entered all the account histories into the database. I sat at the keyboard and started the process running.

It ran for over 30 minutes, printing out daily balances, and finally it got to the end of the database and printed out the current day’s balance. The printed balance matched the number in the general ledger book. Exactly. She had gone three years through multiple engineering projects, pay periods, customer receipts and vendor payments and had not dropped a penny. I eventually learned she did not suffer lightly those who were not so diligent.

Banks are a big gripe of Barbara’s. Let a rounding error show up on one of their statements, and they hear about it. Overcharge her in an invoice, and there is doom to pay. I try to get her to dial it back. All this hostility, I tell her, just leads to frustration and is not good for her health. What she is seeing is merely incompetence disguised as malice. She tells me to take my advice and shove it.

For my own part, my approach is to never get angry. I recall what my daddy always taught me: “Son, anger spoils your aim.” In reality I have found that anger leads down the path to undesired results, and I have never found it necessary to get angry. It is not necessary for me to get angry. That’s because I have this blog.

So, that gets me to this story. Three years ago we had our new home built in San Antonio, and the builder was great to work with, and now we very much enjoy our new home. OK, there have been some issues, but through it all I never got angry. Remember, anger will not get done what you want gotten done. You need to work the issues. Barbara, not so much so.

Her temperature rose when she observed two-foot-long machine mark in her new counter top. The installer worked with us and replaced the defective section. I did, however, wonder: What were they thinking? They have these pieces of artificial stone, and they are going to install them and grout them into the tile back splash. And they didn’t take a close look and say, “Oh! This piece has a machining mark. We need to send it back to the factory.” No, they just installed the defective piece and went home at the end of the day.

The issue with the new bathtub was kind of the high point. It was the upstairs bathtub and did not get our everyday attention. Anyhow, when we pointed it out to the builder, he worked with the manufacturer and everything got fixed to our satisfaction. Again, however, we wondered: Who goes to all the trouble installing a bathtub and then finishing out the enclosure with tile and does not notice the tub is cracked? Along about the time we were working this issue Barbara was driving the car. I was riding. She finally had to pull the car off the road and get out. And scream. OK, she takes this kind of stuff seriously.

So, we love our new house and are likely to leave here foot first sometime in the future about the time this country elects its first Muslim president. However, there are still these little oddities that crop up. Like the garage door keys.

Out of town for the weekend. Make sure we lock the garage door, because I have seen my garage door go up when my neighbor (or somebody) activates his remote control. OK, we’re going to lock the garage door, and we have a key to unlock it from the outside if necessary. So, Barbara fished around in the box and found the garage door keys. They did not fit.

WTF? The keys were in an envelope with the name of the garage door company on it, and the envelope had a number, 184, and that was the number on the keys. The problem was the lock on the garage door has the number 157 on it. Back in 2010 this company diligently installed our garage door and diligently tested it to make sure it would go up and down and the safety interrupter would prevent the door from going down when something blocked the beam. They also made sure the lights came on when the garage door opener was activated or when somebody walked into the garage. They also made sure the electronic clock on the control panel displayed the correct time, and the electronic thermometer on the control panel showed the correct temperature (Fahrenheit of Celsius). But they did not make sure they gave us the correct keys. What a way to run a business!

The garage door lock

Something obviously does not match.

All I need to do is to drive up to Parrish & Company to get my real keys.

Of course, that’s not the end of it. Naturally we were sure the company, Parrish & Company, Inc., 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas (830-980-9595), would make good on their mistake and replace the keys. So, I phoned the company, and I was glad to hear they were perfectly willing to replace the keys they gave us with the correct keys. Now, all I have to do is drive up to 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas, and they will exchange keys with me. Right now they are holding keys for me at the front desk. All I have to do is get in my car and drive up there.

Well, OK. That’s what I like. A company with a progressive outlook on customer satisfaction, always eager to admit culpability for their own screw-ups and to make things right. You don’t find much of that kind of business attitude these days. Apparently.

However, we do from time to time discover bright spots in the modern business landscape. It’s a great story, and is worth telling. It’s going to wait for another post. Keep reading.

Bad Joke of the Week

As you all know from world history, after the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945 many of Hitler’s top henchmen bailed out, and some made it to safety in South America. Argentina was especially receptive.

One Nazi settled in Buenos Aires as a hired gun, but an Interpol cop tracked him down. In Buenos Aires an informant led the cop to a night club in La Boca and told him the fugitive was inside. “You’ll recognize him,” the informant told him. “He’s sitting at a table near the back. He’s the Fascist gun in the vest.”

Reasonable Doubt

The last word has been said. The jury now has the case. It’s been nearly 17 months since Trayvon Martin was shot dead on the grounds of a gated housing complex in Sanford, Florida. If that was the sole extent of the case this story would just be a few paragraphs in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. However, it is more than that, and there is a reason.

George Zimmerman mug shot

George Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer for the gated community of The Retreat at Twin Lakes, and Martin was a 17-year-old visiting with his father. When he was shot through the heart by Zimmerman, Martin had just returned on foot from the 7-Eleven store with a box of Skittles and a can of iced tea drink. Zimmerman had a gun. Martin was unarmed. Martin was dead, and no charges were filed against Zimmerman.

There was little or no national publicity about the case until after many days police had not charged Zimmerman in the shooting. The reason for not charging Zimmerman was that Zimmerman claimed the shooting was in self defense.

Florida has a law titled Florida Statutes Chapter 776 Justifiable Use of Force. It is sometimes referred to as a “stand your ground” law. The intent of the law is to protect people from prosecution for the use of force to protect themselves from various forms of assault. To make it clear, in some states the law requires the victim of assault or attempted assault or the threat of aggression to retreat if possible and to not engage in self defense, especially if self defense involves the use of force. The Florida law, and similar laws in other states, do not require a person under threat to retreat even an inch, but it allows the use of force, up to deadly force, in self defense. Protection is also given against civil action that may result from the use of force.

There are a few misconceptions about how Florida’s particular law came into being, but it appeared this was an ideal case for this law. George Zimmerman claimed he was investigating Trayvon Martin as a possible unlawful intruder on the property when Martin physically assaulted him and threatened to kill him. A scuffle ensued, Zimmerman claimed Martin had him pinned to the ground and was beating him. Zimmerman pulled his weapon and fired it into Martin’s chest.

It was raining, it was dark, witnesses saw the scuffle, but no independent witnesses could determine who started the fight. If Zimmerman started the fight, then the Florida law would not give him any protection. Prior to the killing, Zimmerman made phone calls to the police non-emergency number, and these were recorded and available for evidence. During the scuffle and at the time Martin was killed, others made calls to 911, and these were recorded. One call has the sound of the gunshot.

Some suggestion as to Zimmerman’s state of mind is provided by his conversation with the police dispatcher. Zimmerman describes Martin as a black person acting suspiciously. Zimmerman makes comments about hoodlums preying on his neighborhood and not getting caught. These comments came back to haunt Zimmerman when his trial started last month. The prosecution contends this is evidence Zimmerman’s attitude was not one of passive assistance to the police but instead indicated a vengeful state of mind.

When Sanford police chief Bill Lee at first declined to file charges against Zimmerman, many in the community and nationally saw this as yet another killing of a black man by a white man with no justice forthcoming. Resulting tensions catapulted the case to a higher level and brought an indictment and a trial for second degree murder. If convicted of the charge Zimmerman could face a life sentence.

When the case first bubbled up to the national level early last year a posting on Facebook seemed to depict Zimmerman’s prosecution as contrary to the Stand Your Ground law. In response I observed that the law had been contrived to aid and abet just about anybody who wants to commit murder. In a case like Zimmerman’s there are only two witnesses to the homicide, and only one of them is able to tell his story. An early case involved a gang shootout, with the surviving gang getting a free ride.

Gun enthusiasts chimed in. This was a case of gun rights, right? I mean, the right to carry a gun should include the right to use a gun for the intended purpose, that purpose being to protect life and property. Obviously at the expense of the loser’s life, of course. If Zimmerman were to be charged and, worse, convicted, then what’s the use of gun rights?

My early thoughts on the trial were that Zimmerman was going to get a pass on this killing. With nobody to refute his story (Martin attacked Zimmerman), the prosecution’s case was bound to fall apart. After, that’s the beauty of the law. Dead men tell no tales. However, the prosecution was able to find some fault with Zimmerman’s story.

Zimmerman claimed that Martin came at him out of the dark and knocked him to the ground, pinned him down and started beating him and banging his head on the concrete sidewalk (the scuffle took place mostly on the grass). Zimmerman feared for his life. That was an essential ingredient of Zimmerman’s defense. If he feared for his life, then shooting was OK. Else it was 30 to life.

Zimmerman had injuries. A police photo shows a bloody nose and lacerations on the back of Zimmerman’s head. Obviously he had been in a fight, and he was not making that up. Besides, independent witnesses had seen a fight.

In summation the prosecuting attorney today pointed out to the jurors that Zimmerman had no serious damage. Not even a headache. Although he claimed that Martin had placed his hand over Zimmerman’s mouth and nose, as a fighter would do to suffocate an opponent, Martin’s hands showed no signs of blood. Martin’s hands also showed no signs of having delivered multiple punches to Zimmerman’s face.

Finally, Zimmerman claimed Martin had him pinned to the ground when he finally pulled his own gun and killed Martin. However, Zimmerman’s gun was in a holster tucked into the back of his waistband. If Martin had him pinned to the ground, how could Zimmerman reach underneath himself and pull his gun?

There are other questions I would like to have answered about this case, but they were never asked in the trial. For example, witnesses to the fight and recorded voices depict one of the combatants screaming for help. Martin’s mother and others testified that was Martin’s voice calling for help. Similarly, friends of Zimmerman testified it was Zimmerman’s voice. What I wanted the prosecutor to ask is this: “How do you know it was George’s voice and not Trayvon’s?” People testifying for Zimmerman had never heard Martin’s voice, and never would.

Anyhow, I started out a fan of Martin’s because, call me a bleeding heart liberal if you want, given the choice I tend to vote for the guy who brings Skittles and iced tea to a gunfight.

However, after watching a lot of the trial I do not see much opportunity for the prosecution. The burden is, after all, on the prosecution. The prosecution has the near impossible task of proving to the jury, beyond reasonable doubt, that Zimmerman stalked and killed Trayvon Martin. And you know me, given the choice I will always go with the person still standing after a gunfight.

To Hell and Back

The United States entered World War Two in December 1941 after a surprise attack on our fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and a follow-up raid on American forces in the Philippines. Americans were outraged at the treachery and at the tremendous loss of life at Pearl Harbor. 2386 Americans died, almost all military.

Winston Churchill had been leading the the British fight against the Axis powers, practically alone since June of 1940. Nobody would come to the aid of the British. Smaller countries feared suffering the same fate as Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium if they took sides in the conflict. President Roosevelt favored American intervention, but congressional approval was required, and that was not to be forthcoming.

Churchill learned of the Japanese attack while having dinner and was, in fact, overjoyed. It was obvious that now the United States would enter the war, and England would have a strong ally in its resistance to Nazi aggression. Churchill compared the American casualties at Pearl Harbor to two nights worth of German bombing of  London during the Blitz. But for the United States, it was enough.

The American Congress declared war on Japan the day following the attack, but we did not declare war on Germany and Italy, the other two Axis partners. There was no sign that either Germany or Italy even knew of, much less facilitated, the attack. However, four days after the Pearl Harbor attack, Hitler unilaterally declared war on the United States. At the time Germany had a pact with Japan to come to Japan’s assistance in case the Empire was attacked. The agreement did not apply in this case, since Japan had initiated the hostilities. The reasons for Hitler’s action have never been made clear, but the result was immediate. The American congress responded in kind with declarations of war against Germany and Italy. The doom of the Axis powers was sealed at that point.

Our losses at Pearl Harbor were slight compared to our losses in the Philippines. American and Philippino forces there were defeated in a Japanese invasion of the islands that began in December 1941, and nearly all survivors were captured. Many prisoners were killed by Japanese soldiers and thousands more died in captivity.

The following year the United States went on the offensive, defeating the Japanese navy in the battle of Midway Island and beginning the drive to occupy the Japanese-held island of Guadalcanal. Late in 1942 the Americans also went against German and Italian forces for the first time, beginning with Operation Torch, the invasion of Morocco in North Africa.

Our first encounter with German land forces resulted in a stunning defeat in the Battle of the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. It was following this that General Dwight Eisenhower put General George S. Patton in charge of American forces there, and Patton began to demonstrate the tactical skill that would gain him a prominent role in the war and would lead to the destruction of so many German and Italian military units.

The British had been battling the Axis alone in North Africa since 1940. Now with the aid of American military supplies and Patton’s forces, they were able to push all German and Italian forces out of Africa at a terrible cost to the enemy. The joint British and American army now prepared for the invasion of the European continent, starting with Italy.

Seventy years ago today Allied forces began their invasion of Sicily, by now heavily fortified by German and Italian troops. Up until July 1943 American forces had been wading in blood. From this point forward they would be swimming in it.

One American soldier who saw first blood on Sicily was Texan Audie Murphy. Murphy was one of twelve children of a sharecropper family northeast of Dallas, and after his father deserted the family and after his mother died, Murphy’s adult sister falsified a sworn affidavit about his birth date, allowing him to enlist in the Army in 1942. He was attached to the Third Infantry Division and joined them in North Africa as a replacement. In July 1943 he saw his first combat in Sicily.

After the war Murphy’s story was depicted in a book To Hell and Back, later made into a movie with Murphy portraying himself. According to the movie Murphy killed his first enemy in Sicily. While his platoon was on patrol two Italian soldiers jumped from hiding and mounted horses to make their escape. Murphy was an expert marksman and lifted his rifle to his shoulder, shooting both the enemy troops off their horses. A fellow soldier (again, in the movie version) asked why he shot fleeing soldiers, and Murphy’s response was they were the enemy, and he came to kill the enemy. That attitude of Murphy’s was to keep him alive for the next 18 months while all but three of his company were either killed or else wounded and removed from combat. Later, when the Third Division was attacking through the south of France, a close friend of his was suckered in by two German soldiers coming out of a house faking surrender. Murphy’s friend was killed, and Murphy reacted by killing six of the Germans, wounding two and capturing the survivors. During that same one-hour battle Murphy killed two more Germans, earning the Distinguished Service Cross.

Murphy was a very aggressive fighter, also very skilled and very lucky.

At L’Omet quarry on October 2, Murphy crawled alone to the location of a machine gun manned by a unit of German officers. Within 15 yards of the Germans, Murphy rose to his feet amid German fire that missed him. He lobbed two hand grenades at the men, killing four and wounding three. Murphy was awarded the Silver Star for this action

Later:

While en route to Brouvelieures on October 26, the 3rd Platoon of Company B was attacked by a German sniper group. Murphy captured two before being shot in the hip by a sniper whom he in return shot between the eyes.

The book relates how a mortar shell landed between him and another soldier standing together. The other soldier was killed. Murphy’s war came to an end in January 1945 in northern France. The story is told in the official recommendation for the Medal of Honor:

Second Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire, which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad that was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued his single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way back to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack, which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50. 2d Lt. Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction, and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.

He was 19 years old at the time. After the war Murphy caught the attention of noted actor and producer James Cagney, and a successful acting career followed. Audie Murphy was killed in the crash of a private plane in Virginia in 1971. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Big Lie

This was previously posted in the September 2004 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. There is a lot of crap going out as news these days, and I need to post some reviews. This post is intended to prime the reader for what is to come.

Thierry Meyssan and the big lie

by John Blanton

Forget about the hapless “tourist guy” of 9/11, the rigged photo of a parka-clad sightseer atop the World Trade Center, with his back toward the oncoming airliner. Forget about the four thousand Jews who didn’t show up for work that day. French author Thierry Meyssan spins a yarn that shades both these tall tales. According to Meyssan’s book L’Effroyable Imposture (The Frightening Fraud), American Airlines flight 77 did not crash into the Pentagon building. Instead, a crafty plot by the U.S. government employed a truck bomb or a missile strike to further the pretense of the Twin Towers attack.

There’s a lot of wild stuff in the book, but chapter 1, “The Pentagon’s Phantom Plane,” is the best part. Here Meyssan describes the attack on the Pentagon, essentially going over the official account. Then, barely pausing for a breath, he explains why the official account is a bunch of lies. In the process, he spins a yarn that would make a Minnesota fisherman blush.

The first and most audacious assertion of Meyssan’s is that photographic evidence demonstrates an airplane could not have done the damage shown. Incredibly, he superimposes the outline of a Boeing 757 over an aerial view of the impact site and says “…it can be seen that only the nose of the Boeing entered the building. The fuselage and the wings remained outside.”[1]

He also refers to the Associated Press photo on the front of his book. The photo was taken shortly after the impact and shows the firefighters and ambulances, shortly before the roof of the damaged area collapsed. “[Y]ou will clearly observe that there is no plane,” he writes.

One wonders. Would an airliner, traveling at the speed this one was, come to rest on the Pentagon lawn after impacting the side of the building? It may be that left wing radicals skip high school physics, because the absurdity of the proposition seems to have escaped him. Furthermore, Meyssan claims no wreckage of the jet was found.

So, although officials, members of Congress and military personnel all claimed to have seen the aircraft fall, no one saw the smallest piece of the plane, not even from the landing gear: there were only unidentifiable metal fragments.

Meyssan pretends to be unaware of the vast body of evidence and eye witness accounts that contradict this statement. An on-line account titled “The Pentagon Attack and American Airlines Flight 77″ by John Judge includes statements by a number of witnesses.

I have spoken to dozens of other witnesses to the event, and to others who know the reports. Wayne Madsen, a respected local journalist, spoke to a camera person at WJLA-TV 7 who had been driving to the Pentagon on instructions from his office, expecting a public statement from authorities there in response to the events in New York City.

Shortly after the crash he saw a woman standing by the road at the edge of the Pentagon, next to her car, and apparently in shock. He stopped to help her and found she could not speak. But she pointed him to the far side of her car. The passenger side had been sheared off in part and sections of the landing gear from the plane were on the ground nearby. Others I have spoken to, including pilots, either saw the crash happen and identified the plane, or saw parts of the plane in the wreckage days afterwards.[2]

Others who were in the Pentagon at the time of the crash describe finding aircraft parts, including landing gear, within the building.

After trying to convince us the aircraft only partially penetrated the building, Meyssan seems to contradict himself later in the book.

The Aircraft penetrated the building without causing major damage to the façade. It traversed several rings of the Pentagon, opening successively wider holes in each partition as it passed.

For this absurdity Meyssan has a ready explanation that takes a long pull on my credulity.

All of this testimony and these observations could correspond with the firing of one of the latest generation of AGM-type missiles, armed with a hollow charge and a depleted uranium BLU tip, and guided by GPS.

Oliver Stone, take a hike.

So, what kind of researcher is Thierry Meyssan, who so carefully loads his weapon (206 references cited in the back of the book) and discharges it into the ground? He has been characterized by National Review Online contributing editor James S. Robbins as a left wing radical (apparently with no love for the United States).[3] Vasily Bubnov, writing for the on-line edition of Pravda, hints that Meyssan is “craving for glory.”[4] I do not hasten to dispute these worthies.

And the book? The English translation is “9/11 The Big Lie.” It’s available from Amazon through the NTS Web site, but I will not feel slighted if you put off the purchase. I will even let you read my copy.[5]

Meyssan obviously had access to the same information as the rest of us. So, is he a liar or a fool? I will allow the possibility the answer is more subtle. A famous song by Paul Simon contains the advice “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

If this is mere self-deception, then Meyssan is not alone. It only took me a few seconds to turn up another source devoted to debunking the official account of the Pentagon attack.[6] The “Killtown” Web site pushes high-profile conspiracy theories related to 9/11 and the Bush administration. Its page titled Did Flight 77 really crash into the Pentagon? has many photos of Flight 77 wreckage along with arguments against their authenticity.[7] Obviously, 9/11 conspiracy stories are going to be a thriving cottage industry for years to come.

References:

1. The Defense Department at http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Sep2001/010914-F-8006R-006.html.

2. http://www.ratical.org/ratville/JFK/JohnJudge/PAandAAF77.html

3. http://www.nationalreview.com/robbins/robbins040902.asp

4. http://english.pravda.ru/main/2002/05/23/29196.html

5. http://www.ntskeptics.org/books/otherbooks.htm

6. The 9/11 Commission Report available at http://www.ntskeptics.org/books/books.htm.

7. http://www.geocities.com/killtown/

Bad Movie of the Week

It has been weeks since I posted a BMOW. I started to way back then, but when I looked at my most recent movies none of them were really that bad. It’s been long enough. It’s time. And this one is really bad.

The movie poster

You know immediately the movie is going to be bad when the title is The Beast of Hollow Mountain. Actually, the title is the one of the best parts of this movie. It’s good when you can figure out the entire plot just by looking at the title. This movie is going to involve a hollow mountain, and there will also be a beast, and the beast will somehow be associated with the hollow mountain. So, let’s do it.

Wait. There’s also something else good about this movie. Patricia Medina is cute and pretty and sexy and loyal and so vulnerable as Sarita the daughter of wealthy land owner Don Pedro and also scheduled to be married to the villainous Enrique Rios, who uses subterfuge and crooked means to gain and to maintain power and wealth. Only, Sarita does not marry Enrique at the end of the movie, which was scheduled to be her wedding day, because she meets Jimmy Ryan, played by Guy Madison, who is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent and also good looking, but in a masculine way.

TV fans will remember Guy Madison as Wild Bill Hickok in the 1950s series The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok. Madison’s Wikipedia entry notes his acting career was somewhat limited due to his “wooden acting style.” This style is prominent on display in The Beast of Hollow Mountain. He’s in the movie because he photographs well and most likely because he was available.

Anyhow, Ryan is a Texan in Mexico, where he has teamed with Mexican Felipe Sanchez to purchase and operate a cattle ranch. Only, the two cowpokes have problems. One is the hollow mountain on their ranch, which is said by superstitious locals (we all know how superstitious backwoods Mexican peasants are) to be a source of evil. There is also a marsh that may be the cause of the disappearance of Jimmy and Felipe’s cattle. Or, there could be something else behind the disappearances.

Anyhow, Jimmy rescues Pancho from a runaway horse and meets Sarita and Panchito. Pancho is the film’s comedy relief and is excellently played by Pascual García Peña. Panchito is Pancho’s little son, played by Mario Navarro, who practically steals the show. For a seven-year-old kid, he turns in an outstanding performance as an irascible son, protective of his drunken father and fearless to the max. IMDB follows his career up through 1965, and his Mexican kid role is strongly reminiscent of another Mexican kid, played by non-Mexican Robert Blake in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Also, it is obvious at his first appearance in the movie that Pancho is going to be the first person eaten by the beast.

Anyhow, Enrique conspires to disrupt Jimmy’s and Felipe’s business, but his plot falls apart, and Sarita decides not to marry him. Early on you get the idea that Sarita is having second thoughts about Enrique after she meets Jimmy, but on the wedding day viewers get the big hint. That comes when Sarita hangs up her wedding gown and puts on her riding togs to go off to see Jimmy.

The beast is a life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex who lives in the hollow mountain, and he comes out on the wedding day to stampede Jimmy’s and Enrique’s cattle.The beast also attacks Sarita and Panchito at an abandoned house on the ranch, and Jimmy comes to the rescue. Enrique attempts to gun down Jimmy, exposing his true character, and Jimmy rescues Enrique from the beast, exposing his true character. Jimmy lures the beast into the swamp, where the beast sinks out of sight and out of the movie in the quicksand, and there is no more of the movie after that, but you can be sure that in the future Jimmy and Sarita are going to be making babies.

The movie also introduces “Nassour Regiscope Process Animation in Depth,” which I assume did the beast animation. The film should have been in black and white. The beast comes off too fake in color, which fakeness could possibly have been hidden in black and white. Shooting was at Churubusco Studios, Mexico City, and other locations in Mexico.

See the movie. Have some popcorn and a diet soda, and watch it with a friend some dark and stormy night.

Don’t cry for me, Venezuela

I agree, I cannot just go on poking fun at sovereign countries. They do represent the will of their millions of citizens, and as such they deserve my respect and the respect of the world. Recent news indicates that respect may be flagging from fatigue.

Tribute to Los Desaparecidos in Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires

I recently posted an item that to some might have appeared critical of the sovereign nation of Venezuela. President Hugo Chávez had just died, and I invoked the image of the Argentinian regime of Juan Peron by way of comparison with modern Venezuela. There are differences, but the similarities are striking. In the aforementioned post I noted that Chávez spouted on liberty but paid tribute to the likes of Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad and Kim Jong-un. Needing a visible evil to leverage popular support, Chávez chose an obvious target, the United States. His conspiracy theories abounded:

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez speculated on Wednesday that the United States might have developed a way to give Latin American leaders cancer, after Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez joined the list of presidents diagnosed with the disease.

It was a typically controversial statement by Venezuela’s socialist leader, who underwent surgery in June to remove a tumor from his pelvis. But he stressed that he was not making any accusations, just thinking aloud.

He thought some more. The United States had plans to destabilize Venezuela:

In his comments on Wednesday, Chavez also slammed Washington and its European allies for criticizing Russia’s recent parliamentary elections – and said they were planning the same thing for Venezuela’s presidential election in October, when he will seek re-election.

“They are crying fraud and saying the elections need to be re-run … They’re trying to destabilize no less than Russia, a nuclear power. That’s the madness of the Empire,” Chavez said.

“I say this because here in Venezuela, the Imperial Yankee, the local bourgeoisie, and a good part of what they call the opposition parties here, are preparing a similar plan,” he said.
“I call on the armed forces to be alert, on the Venezuelan people to be alert. Because we are not going to let the Imperial Yankee destabilize Venezuela again like they did in the past.”

But that was last year.

Anyhow, if anybody finds this comparison insulting to a modern sovereign state, then I apologize. It should not be my job to hold an entire nation up to ridicule. That would be the job of the current president, Nicolás Maduro. The new president is in the news again with the announcement that Venezuela will grant asylum to American fugitive Edward Snowden.

CARACAS, July 5 (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro offered asylum to former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden on Friday in defiance of Washington, which is demanding his arrest for divulging details of secret U.S. spy programs.

“In the name of America’s dignity … I have decided to offer humanitarian asylum to Edward Snowden,” Maduro told a military parade marking Venezuela’s independence day.

Maduro invokes the usual culprits:

Since narrowly winning a presidential election in April that followed the death of his mentor, Hugo Chavez, from cancer, Maduro has often lambasted the United States – even accusing the Pentagon and former U.S. officials of plotting to kill him.

But the former bus driver and union leader has at times also struck a much more conciliatory note, saying he is ready for better relations with Washington, based on mutual respect.

But wait. There are some serious issues here. Bolivian President Evo Morales was in Moscow attending a conference of other heads of state, and he had his own (Bolivian) airplane. However, when Morales flew out of Moscow to come home his aircraft was denied permission to land and refuel in Portugal. The Bolivian plane had to reroute to Vienna.

Oops! That’s a big oops. The head of state of a sovereign nation, on a diplomatic mission, being denied a refueling stopover? Incidents like this are sometimes followed up with declarations of war.

The story went around that several European countries denied landing and even fly-over permission to the president’s plane. The shit hit the fan all across South America. American intervention, even imperialism, was involved. Things have never seemed this bad since the last time we sent troops down south to invade a Latin American country.

I have yet to unraveled the whole web of events. However, here is a recent news clip that may shed light, or an additional layer of subterfuge, on the matter. The story is from mcclatchydc.com:

Denial of European airspace for Bolivian president’s flight causes turbulence

BERLIN — The assertion by Bolivia’s president that his plane was denied rights to fly across four European nations because of suspicions that fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden might be on board set off a bitter diplomatic battle Wednesday that did little to illuminate what actually had happened.

France and Spain said Bolivian President Evo Morales was always welcome in their airspace on his way home from Moscow, where he’d attended a conference. But the Bolivians said the two nations and others had denied their leader access to their airspace, despite being in a jet that was dangerously low on fuel, and they accused the nations of acting on U.S. suspicions that Snowden, who’s been hiding out in the transit area of Moscow’s airport, had somehow been sneaked aboard Morales’ plane.

The Associated Press later reported that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had released a statement Wednesday night acknowledging that Morales’ plane was initially refused and saying he’d called Morales to apologize. The statement gave no reason for the denial.

Bolivians said the presidential plane had to reroute shortly before entering Italian airspace and head for Vienna to refuel. There, Morales spent 14 hours waiting to continue his journey home. Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia called the matter “imperial kidnapping.”

Around South America, reactions were similarly indignant. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner responded to a tweet from Morales that said, “I’m not going to permit a search of my plane. I am not a thief,” by tweeting back: “Simply perfect. Stay strong, Evo.”

The Ecuadorean Foreign Ministry sent out a series of tweets, adding up to a strong condemnation of what it thinks happened to Morales.

“We will not permit this affront against a Latin American leader. . . . The Bolivian government will summon the ambassadors of France, Italy and the consul of Portugal in La Paz to explain why they denied over-flight.”

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino Aroca, also in a tweet, noted, “What happens to Bolivia and Evo happens also to Latin America and Ecuador.”

Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, demanded an explanation for why Morales’ life was put “in danger.”

In all, Morales claimed that his plane was denied access to Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, after the plane had passed over Russia, Belarus and the European Union nations of Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria.

The European nations accused of kowtowing to American whims were quick to try to deflate the story. The Portuguese said in news reports that there were “technical reasons” for denying their nation as a fuel stop.

In Spain, the answer was a bit more direct, coming in a statement on the website of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Yesterday Spain received an authorization request for President Evo Morales’ plane to fly and stop over in Las Palmas from Moscow, which was duly granted,” the statement read, in direct contradiction to Morales’ tale and flight path. “The presidential plane ultimately landed in Vienna. In the early hours of this morning, Bolivian authorities have requested an updated flight authorization for President Evo Morales to fly and stop over on his return to Bolivia. This authorization was issued by Spain this morning.”

How much of this is bluster and how much is righteous indignation will take some time to sort out. If one thing comes out of this it is that even a head of state needs to clear his stop-overs before heading out on a transcontinental jaunt.

In the mean time, my best wishes go out to the former Booz Allen Hamilton employee. I am sure he is looking forward to spending his remaining years (he is 30) ensconced in this South American bastion of open government and civil liberties. As I have mentioned before, the American government would be an idiot (did I use that word?) to insist on having Snowden back for trial and incarceration. For the future, Snowden can best serve the interests of his former government by hanging around and looking for work in Caracas.

Speaking of which, what idiot did not, while they were all sitting around a table planning this NSA project, protest: “Wait, if we do this, and somebody leaks it there is going to be shit to pay?” Not I. Besides, nobody ever asks my opinion anyhow, but I do give it freely.

Bad Joke of the Week

Sorry about this, but there are two versions of this joke. First the kinder, gentler version:

He asks, “Am I the first man you ever loved?”

She responds, “Could be. Were you ever in Wheeling, West Virginia?”

Now the hard core version:

He asks, “Am I the first man you ever loved?”

She responds, “Yes, all the others were Aggies.”

What happens now?

It was fascinating to watch. At times I could not leave the TV set. The story was unfolding, and Egyptian society was unraveling. People were protesting the government of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, and the Egyptian army was preparing to take action. The army gave Morsi an ultimatum: make some changes now or else step down from office. In the event, Morsi refuse to comply, and the army removed him from power. A TV news commentator remarked, “What happens now?”

Arab bazaar

In my mind there was a flashback to a movie from the previous century. Juan Peron of Argentina was welcoming Eva Duarte to replace his previous mistress. The unfortunate lady of convenience was left with only her suitcase and a song, with lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber:

Where am I going go?
Call in three months time and I’ll be fine I know
Well maybe not that fine, but I’ll survive anyhow
I won’t recall the names and places of this sad occasion
But that’s no consolation–here and now
So what happens now?

It was a romance that was not bound to last. Mubarak is a fading memory. He was a pox on Egyptian society, but the cure was a travesty. Hopefully Morsi still has his suitcase.

A little Egyptian history—democracy is little known in Egypt. It never seemed to catch on with the pharaohs, of whom Cleopatra was the last. Since that time various local and world governments had their say on Egyptian affairs, including the Romans, the Persians, the Ottoman Turks, the French and the British. Which brings us to modern times:

After the First World War, Saad Zaghlul and the Wafd Party led the Egyptian nationalist movement to a majority at the local Legislative Assembly. When the British exiled Zaghlul and his associates to Malta on 8 March 1919, the country arose in its first modern revolution. The revolt led the UK government to issue a unilateral declaration of Egypt’s independence on 22 February 1922.

The new government drafted and implemented a constitution in 1923 based on a parliamentary system. Saad Zaghlul was popularly elected as Prime Minister of Egypt in 1924. In 1936, the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty was concluded. Continued instability due to remaining British influence and increasing political involvement by the king led to the dissolution of the parliament in a military coup d’état known as the 1952 Revolution. The Free Officers Movement forced King Farouk to abdicate in support of his son Fuad. British military presence in Egypt lasted until 1954.

Following the 1952 Revolution by the Free Officers Movement, the rule of Egypt passed to military hands. On 18 June 1953, the Egyptian Republic was declared, with General Muhammad Naguib as the first President of the Republic. Naguib was forced to resign in 1954 by Gamal Abdel Nasser – the real architect of the 1952 movement – and was later put under house arrest. Nasser assumed power as President in June 1956.

Nasser died of a heart attack in 1970 and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. Sadat gained the disfavor of islamists by entering into a peace treaty with Israel and was assassinated in a plot by an Islamic group. Vice President Hosni Mubarak assumed the presidency and remained in power until the Egyptian population sickened of him and ran him out of office in 2011. Up to this point there had been little in the way of democracy in Egypt—the real power was the military. Last year Egyptians determined to give democracy a try.

Since 1928 the Muslim Brotherhood had been festering beneath the surface, and nobody in power wanted much to do with them. To the Brotherhood there was no concept of separation of church and state.

The Brotherhood’s credo was and is, “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.” The Brotherhood’s English language website describes the principles of the Muslim Brotherhood as including firstly the introduction of the Islamic Shari`ah as “the basis for controlling the affairs of state and society” and secondly, work to unify “Islamic countries and states, mainly among the Arab states, and liberating them from foreign imperialism”.

Such teachings do not sit well with entrenched power, and on a number of occasions the Brotherhood was oppressed—its members were imprisoned, and some have been tortured. They are not a political organization, but in the 2012 election to replace Mubarak they voted as a block, giving the win to Morsi. That was one year ago.

Trouble began quickly as secular Egyptians began to see too much Muslim influence in the new government. Resentment boiled over in November when Morsi expanded his powers unconstitutionally. Things came to a head yesterday in what Morsi opponents refuse to call a coup d’etat. The ever-reliable Egyptian military installed a new president and has now promised constitutional changes and free elections in the future. In the mean time arrest warrants went out for 300 of the Muslim Brotherhood and others who might spoil the festivities. All other similarities to the reign of Juan Peron are coincidental. And the world wants to know, “What happens now?”