SLIM PICKENS

“Pickens,” in the above title, isn’t a typo. Granted, you may deem my blog slim pickins if you’re hoping it delivers posts that make your day….but this ain’t about that. No, friends, the title refers to Slim Pickens, the actor playing the U.S. Air Force Major who went hopping on a delivery that made his day in this film:

Contrary to what some readers may conclude, I wasn’t born yesterday — but Slim Pickens was (June 29, 1919); thus this celebration of the actor and his most iconic role as Major Kong in DR. STRANGELOVE or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb….not just any bomb, but as you saw in the clip, a

NUCLEAR WARHEAD
HANDLE WITH CARE

Pickens was born Louis Burton Lindley, Jr. in California, the son of a dairy farmer. An excellent horse rider as a boy, he grew bored with dairy farming (according to Wikipedia) and began earning money riding broncos and roping steers in his early teens, which his father learned of and forbid. Nonetheless, he entered a rodeo, despite being told by the dubious rodeo manager that there would be “slim pickin’s” for one so young. To keep his father from finding out, he registered as “Slim Pickens,” won, and pocketed $400. He went on to work as a rodeo clown until landing a role in the 1950 Errol Flynn western Rocky Mountain, beginning a long career in movies and TV.

As for DR. STRANGELOVE, if you’ve seen the film (made in 1963), there’s no need to go into detail, and if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so. In brief, it’s a brilliant black comedy that provoked much controversy when belatedly released January 29, 1964. The very names of the characters (played by the likes of Peter Sellers, George C. Scott and Pickens) paint a picture of the satire that caused such consternation in those cold war times: President Merkin Muffley, General Buck Turgidson, Gen. Jack D. Ripper, Maj. T.J. ‘King’ Kong, Col. ‘Bat’ Guano, Soviet Premier Dimitri Kissof, Ambassador Desadeski.

The idea that war is madness wasn’t new in 1963-64. Logically, war as madness comes with the territory when IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (another 1963 movie — though the comedy is much broader and more mainstream than DR. STRANGELOVE). So we should have standards, as in this closing classic admonition from President Muffley:

That’s it until July 10 as I go to a post-every-ten-days schedule, or perhaps a post-when-the-spirit-moves-me non-schedule (posting every five days has become a bit of a heavy load lately, so rather than cut corners on quality, I’m cutting back on quantity/frequency).

 

 

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF QUOTING ERNEST

Did you fathom that the title of my last post (THE OLD MAN AND THE SEASON) was a play on Ernest Hemingway’s last completed novel, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA? Because that post was about aging and autumn, perhaps I was remiss in not including a Hemingway quote (such as the first one below) among those I gathered for the occasion.

This post will attempt to make up for that shortfall with a selection of Hemingway quotes, starting with this autumn-appropriate eulogy he wrote for a friend:

Best of all he loved the fall/the leaves yellow on cottonwoods/leaves floating on trout streams/and above the hills/the high blue windless skies./Now he will be part of them forever.

For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.

There is nothing to writing. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. 

When you go to war as a boy, you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed, not you… Then, when you are badly wounded, you lose that illusion, and you know it can happen to you.

In modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.

True nobility is being superior to your former self.

No weapon has ever settled a moral problem. 

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

There is no lonelier man, except the suicide, than that man who has lived with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other, there can be no happy end to it.

But hold on — happy or not, this isn’t the end. The title of this post is another play on words, this being Oscar Wilde’s peerless comedy of manners titled THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST….a parody of Victorian age social standing previewed in this trailer for the 1952 film (not to be confused with the inferior 2002 remake) of the Wilde play:

Now (as the movie says when it’s over) this is THE END

CONFUCIUS, PRO AND CON

Yesterday, Sept. 29, was CONFUCIUS DAY. Confucius say: Mistermuse perfect pundit to write Sept. 30 CONFUCIUS DAY post because he always a day late and a yuan* short. Mistermuse say: I not a day late, Confucius Day a day too soon — besides, everyone know yuan is actually Spanish/Latino name (as in Don Juan), not Chinese. Latinos say: Whatever. Just don’t Confuci-us with the Japanese, who have the yen. Anyway, before yuan thing lead to another, what counts is the way we Americans say it: “A day late and a dollar short.”  USA! USA! USA!

*Chinese currency

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let us get down to the business at hand, which happens to be a selection of profound proverbs by Confucius, followed by an equal proportion of proverbial conclusions by Contrarius (which happens to be the pun name of Anonymous).

Choose a job that you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.
To see and listen to the wicked is already the beginning of wickedness.
He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make words good.
Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.
The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.

Man who stand on toilet may be high on pot.
Wife who put husband in doghouse soon find him in cat house.
Passionate kiss like spider web: leads to undoing of fly.
People who eat too many prunes get good run for money.
War does not determine who is right, war determine who is left.
Man who jump off cliff jump to conclusion.

THE END (and not a moment too soon)

 

 

 

WAR AND WONDER BOY

At the risk of making this a too-lengthy piece (lengthy peace, I’ll leave to miracle workers) I am going to blend a very disparate “double feature” into a two-for-the-price-of-one post….for today is not only Memorial Day, when America honors those killed in military service, but it’s the birthday of a man who literally changed the long-term ‘picture’ of the Marx Brothers after their riotous anti-war film, the anarchic classic, DUCK SOUP (1933).

But first, for those who are interested and may be unfamiliar with the 100+ years history of war movies, I highly recommend taking time to check out this link for context: http://www.filmsite.org/warfilms.html (DUCK SOUP is listed under “Black Comedies”)

I don’t necessarily agree with a blogger who wrote, “As we all know, every good war film is [an] anti-war film” — though I think any war picture which doesn’t contain at least an element of “war is madness” (as in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, below) is, at best, simplistic patriotism (e.g. John Wayne’s GREEN BERETS; I’d add Cagney’s YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, but it’s a rousing glorification of a man’s patriotism, not a war film).

Back to that birthday man (Irving Thalberg), the film producer known as “The Boy Wonder” for becoming head of production at MGM at age 26 and turning it into the most successful studio in Hollywood during his reign (1925 until his death in 1936). Quoting Wikipedia, “He had the ability to combine quality with commercial success, and [to bring] his artistic aspirations in line with the demands of audiences.” Within this framework, we can appreciate this passage from ROGER EBERT’s great book, THE GREAT MOVIES:

The Marx Brothers created a body of work in which individual films are like slices from the whole, but Duck Soup is probably the best. It represents a turning point in their movie work; it was their last film for Paramount. When it was a box office disappointment, they moved over to MGM, where production chief Irving Thalberg ordered their plots to find room for conventional romantic couples.
A Night at the Opera (1935), their first MGM film, contains some of their best work, yes, but [also] sappy interludes involving Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones. In Duck Soup, there are no sequences I can skip; the movie is funny from beginning to end.

This may not be one of the funniest sequences in DUCK SOUP, but it certainly makes for a glorious celebration of war as madness:

  

As even the longest war must eventually come to an end, so too must this Memorial Day piece (de résistance). Even so, it ain’t over till the DUCK SOUP fat lady sings: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xnec7z_freedonia-at-war-part-3-from-duck-soup-1933_shortfilms

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P.S. The state of Ohio imprints the words ARMED FORCES on driver’s licenses whose bearer is/was a member. The last time I went in to renew my license, the BMV clerk took a look and thanked me for my service, which took me by surprise because my service is ancient history and I’d never been, or expected to be, thanked. I was a 1960 draftee who served during the so-called Cold War, not a volunteer in the Civil War (or whatever hot war my hoary appearance makes me look like I served in). But I realize that a bullet or bomb doesn’t care if you’re a draftee or volunteer when it takes you out, so to those who died in the service of this country and its professed ideals (and who had no choice as to whether or not the war they were in was worthy of their sacrifice), I thank youYou are the ones fate chose to earn this day.

 

 

TRIBES AND TRIBULATIONS

tribal, adj. Of the nature of, or relating to, a tribe.
tribe, n. 1. A unit of sociopolitical organization. 2. A political, ethnic, or ancestral division of ancient states and cultures [such as] a. the three divisions of the ancient Romans. b. the 12 divisions of ancient Israel.
–Webster’s New College Dictionary

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If anything seems clear from the seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it is that tribalism and religion are at the heart of the madness. This is not to suggest that tribalism is confined to the Middle East (far from it), or that other forces haven’t played a part. But buried beneath the overlay of foreign intervention in the region (or meddling, if you prefer) are roots with a “history as old or nearly so as that of humanity itself” –Edward O. Wilson, biologist, naturalist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

In his book THE MEANING OF HUMAN EXISTENCE, Wilson posits that tribalism and religion are inextricably bound together by what he calls “the instinctual force of tribalism in the genesis of religiosity. People deeply need membership in a group, whether religious or secular.” In a chapter titled simply “RELIGION,” Wilson states:

The great religions are inspired by belief in an incorruptible deity–or multiple deities. Their priests bring solemnity to rites of passage through the cycle of life and death. They sacralize basic tenets of civil and moral law, comfort the afflicted, and take care of the desperately poor. Followers strive to be righteous in the sight of man and God. The churches are centers of community life [and] ultimate refuges against the inequities and tragedies of secular life. They and their ministers make more bearable tyranny, war, starvation, and the worst of natural catastrophes.
The great religions are also, and tragically, sources of ceaseless and unnecessary suffering. They are impediments to the grasp of reality needed to solve most social problems in the real world. Their exquisitely human flaw is tribalism. It is tribalism, not the moral tenets and humanitarian thought of pure religion, that makes good people do bad things.
Unfortunately, a religious group defines itself foremost by its creation myths, the supernatural narrative that explains how humans came into existence. This story is also the heart of tribalism. No matter how subtly explained, the core belief assures its members that God favors them above all others. It teaches that members of other religions worship the wrong gods, use wrong rituals, follow false prophets….

Food for thought — but thought that leaves questions to chew on: if “love makes fools of us all” (to quote Thackeray), does it follow that tribalism makes blind fools of us all? Are we unwitting tribalists to the siren song of political/religious saviors, some of us to the extent of becoming tribal or religious fanatics? Are tribal/religious fanatics born or made (nature vs. nurture)? And, given that all religions are invented by man, does that entitle Wilson to tar them all with the same brush?

For example, Wilson regards it as a mistake to fold believers of particular religious and dogmatic ideologies into two piles (moderate versus extremist), because “The true cause of hatred and violence is faith versus faith, an outward expression of the ancient instinct of tribalism.”  While that may be true, I question the notion that all religions/tribes wash out equally. For example, in pre-colonial times in North America, there were both peaceful and warlike Native American tribes. And so it is elsewhere. Aren’t secular humanists equally guilty of bad faith who don’t recognize/won’t separate the wheat from the chaff/laissez-faire from doctrinaire? Who and what have incited and fed religious wars and persecutions throughout history? It’s not the likes of the Quakers, nor is it directives from the heavens.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

 

 

 

 

ALL IN FAVOR OF BOMBING AGRABAH, SAY ABRACADABRA

Friends, I love to bomb the hell out of the enemy as much as the next guy, but as we know, in the dead-on, aptly-dubbed fog of war, mistakes are made (aka stuff happens)….for examples, the killing by “friendly fire” of former NFL star Pat Tillman in April 2004, the accidental bombing (which took the lives of 22 medical staff & patients) of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in October 2015 — both in Afghanistan — and who knows how many other such tragedies throughout history.

Thus it is with mixed feelings that I bring you tidings of a recent poll revealing that many Americans are in favor of bombing the city of Agrabah, which is located, not in the Middle East, but in the far-off kingdom of Apocrypha, no less:

http://www.mintpressnews.com/212204-2/212204

Friends, after some animated soul-searching, I regret to say that I must differ with my fellow patriots. I do not favor the bombing of Agrabah. It’s not because Agrabahn terrorists don’t deserve to die — they are, after all, cartoonish, less-than-human barbarians, committing appalling atrocities in the name of Allah (who apparently controls the minds of his adherents from the heavenly kingdom of Allahbah). No, friends, I demur because there is a near-100% chance of fog in the war zone, and an even greater probability of collateral damage, which of course only turns survivors into revenge-crazed recruits for the enemy. Even many of our esteemed leaders, both military and political, are believed to be aware of these realities, though clueless as to what to do about them (other than deem them regrettable and unavoidable).

Well, I say we spare Agrabah and all the other bahs whose populace has the misfortune of living in a different dream world than ours. If we must show them who’s boss, we can always blow them to kingdom-come with politically incorrect ridicule and blasts of bombast, such as the Shakespearean likes of Donald Trump drops on his adversaries, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Or – well, as a last resort, we could emulate the brilliant tactics employed by another politically incorrect Donald, by George:

So there, as a last report, you have my final post of 2015….and not a moment too soon, I dare say. Happy New Year to all, and to all, a good night.

 

STRICTLY, FROM HUNGARY

You must remember this — the opening scene (after opening credits) in CASABLANCA:

I am reminded of that scene’s “tortuous, roundabout refugee trail” when seeing reports  of tens of thousands fleeing from war-torn Syria, west across the Mediterranean in small boats to Greece, and thence overland hundreds of miles through passageway countries to Germany and other destinations. Some die in the attempt (recall the picture-worth-a-thousand-words of the lifeless body of a 3 year old boy washed up on a Turkish beach in early September). Many “wait….and wait….and wait….and wait” in refugee camps. Many more have been kept from continuing on, stopped on their way by the far right government of Hungary, which has been particularly strict in this regard. If you thought “exit visas/letters of transit” were hard to come by in CASABLANCA….

Perhaps you’ve read some of the recent series of articles in USA TODAY called TREK WITH MIGRANTS in which journalist Kim Hjelmgaard follows “migrants on their arduous 1,500 mile journey from Greece to Berlin” to witness their challenges. Particularly illuminating was Day 7 (CHECKING OUT WALL CURLING ACROSS HUNGARY) of that series, from which I quote:

I sat next to Robert [Kim’s guide] for most of Thursday as his car zigzagged around small-town Hungary in search of new additions to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s controversial barrier. The Hungarian leader has already erected a 15-foot-high rampart along the entire 110-mile border with Serbia. Now, he was starting work on a fence to close the 25-mile [border] with Croatia.
On my way up here this week from Greece, I had been told by several people not to mess with Hungarian police. They are prone to violence, they said. Last week, several journalists said they were beaten and detained for speaking to refugees. So it was Robert (and Naomi), or go straight to the Austrian border, and I didn’t want to do that. Naomi, his girlfriend, wasn’t in the car in the usual sense, but they were in frequent contact by phone, Facebook and text message.
He told me that the “very beautiful” Naomi — she is 19; he is 23 — was studying to be a physical therapist, and she wanted to one day own a “big, big” house in Sweden and possess extremely expensive things.
This wall in Hungary had been a flashpoint in the migrant crisis;
I asked if he thought it was good for Hungary to be trying to seal its borders when so many people were intent on getting through anyway.
Robert said he didn’t have an opinion either way. And so I asked about Naomi, what does she think, this policeman’s daughter? And of course Naomi had an opinion. I could hear that by the way her voice was spilling out over the edges of Robert’s cellphone. “She said she thinks the wall is a good idea, and that she also understands why the people are leaving their countries,” Robert said.
“And Sweden?” I asked. “Was there any contradiction in her wanting to go there for the ‘big, big’ house, and people wanting to come to Europe for a house?”
He didn’t know. I didn’t either.

There is, of course, more to the refugee crisis than the one scene here. Still, one wonders, why can’t Hungary abide terrorized people passing through? Is Hungary worried that they’ll see how wonderful Hungary is and change their minds about continuing on? Is Hungary concerned that they’ll devour all available food and leave the country so Hungary that it will starve? Is Hungary afraid they’ll leave a trail of drugs, crime, and raped women in their wake? If so, why doesn’t Hungary say so? When it comes to demonizing illegals crossing borders, Hungary’s right wing counterparts in America have no such qualms (and, unlike America, Hungary’s “illegals” don’t come to stay).

This is a post without a happy ending….but before I close, you younger-than-I trivia buffs may be interested in the origin/meaning of the idiom on which the post’s title is based:

Strictly From Hunger: Explanations, investigations