Monday, August 29, 2016

Sed-a-give?

Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder): "Igor, help me with these bags."
Igor (Eye-gore)(Marty Feldman): "You take the blonde, I'll take the one in the turban."

Noting the passing of actor Gene Wilder.

He was, even the few times he played lead, perpetually the "other guy." Even in Young Frankenstein, ostensibly the central role as the monster's (Peter Boyle) creator, he was overshadowed by a vaudeville-performing back-from-the-dead beast, a buxom assistant and a servant whose hump seemed to change sides with each scene. His acting style could be, well, manic. Wild hair, eyes wide, he didn't so much deliver lines in that personae as scream them.

He was a veteran, drafted into the US Army in the 1950's. He served for several years, mostly as a medic at a military hospital in New York City. He pursued acting, took classes, and began a career that found him in some of the most interesting movie projects of the 60's and 70's. The Producers found him as an accountant who comes up with a brilliant idea - defraud stage-play investors with "Springtime for Hitler," a production so bad it would close on its opening night. He was nominated for an Academy Award.

That was his first Mel Brooks movie, but not his last. He played a perfect sidekick in Blazing Saddles, the white "Waco Kid" alcoholic gunfighter to Sheriff Bart, an African-American railroad worker sent to certain death as the sheriff of Rock  Ridge. The Waco Kid was suave and worldly, and could shoot lights out when he'd had a bit of the hair of the dog.

My friend John and I went to see Young Frankenstein at the theater, mostly on a whim. From the opening credits to the final scene ("Oh, sweet mystery of life...") I couldn't stop laughing. It was broad humor, childish at times and enlightened at others. There is the shrewish princess of a fiance (Madeline Kahn), a Germanic and comely laboratory assistant (Terri Garr) and the shrunken but roguish Igor (Marty Feldman). The brilliant, eccentric Kenneth Mars's Inspector Kemp delivered, in high dudgeon, lines like "He vill curse the day that he was bern a Frankenstein," with such a thick accent that the crowd could never understand him.

Wilder wrote the screenplay for Young Frankenstein, his second Academy nomination. It is high-minded genius. The monster comes to life, but begins to strangle its creator. Wilder is reduced to a game of charades, finally getting Garr and Feldman to understand. Igor triumphantly proclaims "Give him the sed-a-give!" Sedated at last, Boyle slumps to the floor.

"Sed-a-give?!" Wilder screams.

Maybe you have to be in the right mood. Maybe it has to be your genre. It was genius, brilliantly written, exquisitely over-acted, shot in black and white as an homage to all of the horror movies we watched as kids.

Wilder died today of the effects of Alzheimer's disease.

I know there were other roles, and other facets to his varied life. But, Young Frankenstein... 

Well played, sir. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Easy Reading

I tried.

There were a number of places to express an opinion concerning this fellow in San Francisco who refused to stand for the national anthem. He was apparently expressing his dismay about "bodies in the streets" or some such nonsense. Perhaps he should get his nose out of his playbook and his ass to Chicago on a warm weekend. Then, we could have something to agree about.

This is a busy weekend, and eschewing the argument, aside from a well-placed "Dick move" on several posts was advised. And it is a dick move. But...

One friend was involved in a discussion with some like-minded friends of his, expressing a different "take." Aside from the usual drivel, someone made mention of the individual's "First Amendment" rights in light of the firestorm of criticism energizing social media. I would have to friend this...legal eagle...in order to make the following point. That's silly, though. I'll make it here.

Puh-leeeze.

Let's read the First Amendment, shall we?

 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Congress shall make no law. Not "Jim Greer shall express no opinion..." This football player is free to express his opinion and be free from governmental sanction. The 49ers (who appear to be a corporation) have a contract with him, the terms and conditions of which may restrict some behaviors outside of the control of government. 

But, the First Amendment does not act to prevent, abridge or limit the cascade of criticism from individuals heaping on this clown. Neither does it suggest that telling him "It isn't illegal, but you're a giant child for doing it. You should stand up." is inappropriate because...you know...the First Amendment. It prohibits the government from messing with him.

Okay, enough horseback riding for one day.

 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Billions of Lives in the Balance

Spock: "I can't believe my ears, Captain."
Kirk: "I can't believe your ears, either, Mr. Spock."

"Star Blech," Mad Magazine, circa 1967.

Spoiler alert - We went to see the latest Star Trek movie last night. If you think "the bad guy" and "Captain Kirk" used in the same sentence will screw up your enjoyment of this eminently enjoyable movie, either: You have a strikingly vivid imagination (let's write a book together), or you have never watched Star Trek in any iteration. But...you've been warned.

So, we went to see the latest Star Trek movie. It is exciting, action-packed and stays (in a millennial sort of way) genuinely true to the characters of yore. The villains are pretty villainous, the heroes heroic and the special effects put the viewer into the twenty-something century with ease. Kirk is a pilot at heart. We know that, because...

Kirk and the bad guy interact. The bad guy is brandishing a weapon that can immediately kill millions of "people," or whatever. He is monologuing - going on and on about why his villainy is, in fact, virtuous. Kirk, phaser in hand, attempts to deescalate the situation.

Seriously?!

Phaser his dumb ass!! You said drop it, he made additional threats... Evaporate him!

Like I said, he's a pilot, not a cop. Other than that, fun movie. Go see it.

Friday, August 26, 2016

God's Own Comedy

We became friends when I took piano lessons from her in the early 2000's. Pat and I socialized with Chris and Kenny, went to the piano parties and enjoyed their company immensely.

Chris's FB posts have always been comical, but now she's found a voice on a blog. It is totally laugh out loud funny.

Laughter and Faith. 

You will never forgive yourself if you don't stop by. And... If it is ultimate forgiveness you seek, if you ignore Chris you might not get that, either. Just sayin'.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Somebody Hold My Beer

"I don't know why fortune smiles on some, and lets the rest go free." The Eagles, "The Sad Cafe." The Long Run, Henley, Frey, Walsh and Souther (1979).

We had traveled to Costa Rico for a wedding. Several days prior to the event, we hired a guide. Over the course of the next almost eight hours we saw natural wonders, visited a coffee farm and ate several awesome meals. The delightful company of the young man who expertly navigated the area's rough roads amid the jungle splendor of Central America made the day especially enjoyable.

We passed through a small town at dusk. A uniformed police officer, apparently assigned to a roadside post, gave us indifferent, passing notice. Our companion emitted a huge relieved sigh. "If the police had stopped us," he said, "he would have found a reason to detain us. I would have had to pay him to release us. That's how they earn their money."

The 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil seemed to be progressing uneventfully. Dire predictions of bodies washing ashore and human sewage in the bay notwithstanding, the events came off with minimal fuss and bother. A number of records were set, new champions crowned and a great time was had by all. Maybe a little too great.

USA Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte and several of his mates embarked on a night of drinking and revelry. Along the way they may (or may not) have damaged some property. Someone with a badge and gun arrived, demanding money. The boys forked over a few bucks and went on their way. Lochte told his mom about the incident, and she told the press. That's where things went badly wrong.

Politics is an ugly business, even in the best of times. When the swimmers, each in their own way, told the story of being shaken down for money at gunpoint apoplexy abounded. The officials in Rio went nuts. Under intense international scrutiny the "robbery" story unraveled, Lochte looking like a spoiled American of privilege cavorting in someone else's country as though he owned the place. He came home in disgrace, sponsors abandoning him as though he was...well...Lance Armstrong.

But, wait.

USA Today seems to have done something remarkable. They sent reporters to the scene. The reporters conducted interviews. They personally viewed surveillance tapes. They didn't accept anyone's account at face value. Their report is a tour de force of objectivity. Amazingly, everyone was right, and wrong. In a country where they were guests the swimmers behaved like drunk boys. They ran afoul of local customs and misunderstood the nature of the interaction. Read the report. It's especially good writing.

No one was hurt - if nothing else that result is a blessing. As for Ryan and his friends? They forgot a simple reality of traveling in someone else's country - it belongs to them. It is set up for the benefit of its citizens, in a manner that makes the most sense to them. While the USA Today piece indulges in a degree of legalese, it boils down to this - Brazil's formal and informal legal system doesn't have to make sense to us. It didn't make sense to Lochte, and nobody helped him through it while the bright lights blazed and the international press pounced. They left him hanging out to dry.

Ryan Lochte, behind the scenes, has the reputation for being a decent chap. He paid a significant price for also being stupid on a night in Rio. He will, forever, be the Ugly American in a situation where he was just a guy in another country who made a mistake, one for which he has fallen on his sword and come clean.

You're an okay dude. Glad you didn't get hurt.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Wing and a Prayer

"First of all, single mothers don't date. They've been to the circus, you know what I mean? They've been to the puppet show, and they've seen the strings." Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) Jerry Maguire, (1996).

Lyle Carter's oldest daughter was a mom when we met in 1991. Her son - a man I would come to love and admire as my own - regarded me warily, as he should have. But... I was mostly concerned about her dad.

We had, of course, compared notes about our parents. Her father had grown up in a very rural part of Minnesota. He'd enlisted in the Marine Corps midway through high school and served in Korea during the war there. He'd come home to work trades - that is, he did things. He was employed as a construction estimator at that point. 

He was, for all intents and purposes, a carbon copy of my dad - enlisted in the Marines at 17, served in a war. Dad was also a cost estimator, but his field was electronics. He did not suffer fools. Neither, I suspected, did Pat's father.

We'd been "an item," my new girlfriend and I, for a short time when the parents stopped by to say hi. Nervous small talk...well, I was nervous anyway. Somehow, the subject of the vacuum cleaner entered the conversation. Don't ask me how, it has been twenty-five years.

Pat reported that it was on the blink, and that we...between us, we had about twenty bucks...might need a new one. "No," I said. "I took it apart and found a model airplane wing blocking the intake port. It's fine."

A small, knowing smile greeted me.

My father-in-law was a doer. He helped build, in one role or another, many of the office buildings in downtown Denver. When we demolished the porch on our house in Northglenn he picked up the jackhammer and showed us "boys" how it was done. He was probably seventy by then.

He was also a lover of classical music, having been raised on it. Out on the farm the family had a radio that ran on batteries. They listened for a couple of hours each week, to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. The Lyle I knew did not care for contemporary concert pieces, which can often lack a clear melody. "Long-haired music" he would say dismissively when we visited he and my mother-in-law during intermissions at Boettcher Hall.

It was during a trip - my wife and I, Lyle and his beloved Jean (who he always referred to as "Mother") - to see the Colorado Rockies play spring training games in Tucson that we heard the rest of the radio story. A relative had to travel to their house to tell them about Pearl Harbor.

But a man like that is not swayed entirely by a simple appliance repair. I drove our Rodeo down to Arizona, Pat handling the map. Pre-GPS we arrived in Tucson and promptly departed. We were looking for an Embassy Suites, but the sign "Mexican border ahead" suggested we were lost. We pulled over. A few minutes of back and forth in the cockpit ("Pilot to nav...WTF?") with the passengers - my in-laws - sitting in uncomfortable silence. We were, indeed, heading into the hills that were Mexican soil.

All we could do was laugh. A lot. We had both, in obsequious obedience of directions from MapQuest, obliviously driven away from the tall buildings of an obvious city in favor of scrub, two lanes and rusting signs announcing the border with another country. Later in the trip, piling into the SUV, Lyle asked casually "So where shall we get lost today?"

He was a good man in a storm, a great friend to my parents and a comfort as I said good bye to them - first dad, and then mom. The last time we truly spoke I was on a lunch break, wearing "Range Reds" that identify Law Enforcement firearms instructors. We joked about his stint in the facility where he was undergoing physical therapy. He would do what he was told, demonstrate proficiency in the skills he had to master and get the hell home. That's what Marines did.

My youngest daughter recently posted a picture from several years ago. She is arm in arm with her "Grandpa Lyle," a man she adored for the simple reason that he loved her. My oldest daughter took a photo of him with her to Army boot camp, a reminder of the dignity and honor she hoped to emulate.

And the son? He stood by during the crisis, a pillar of strength and devotion as grandpa battled cancer, every bit a man Lyle loved and respected.

We prayed for strength as a family as we gathered to say our last good byes this weekend. We prayed for wisdom, and comfort. In reality, the man who had done so much had already taught us where to look.

Each other.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Every Life.

Good writing.

That's what we support here. If someone writes something good, we share it.

Read this blog by daughter Katy. Life is precious. Every life matters.

Kindergarten

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Realistic Training

Social media meets PERF - police should use force in the manner that would be most acceptable to the average citizen. So said the report of the Police Executive Research Forum. Translated to FB speak..."Why didn't they shoot the gun out of their hand or something? Can't they be trained to do that?"

The answer, of course, is yes. This is how.

0600 - Officers report for day watch. They change into PT gear and spend the next 45 minutes exercising. Each has had a routine tailored for their particular needs, with an eye toward beginning the day energized. Light stretching and breakfast during roll call.

0700 - Change into training gear. Report to the use of force simulator. Firearms staff delivers a half hour of marksmanship drills. An array of instructors then run a variety of computer-delivered scenarios on a wall-sized screen, some of which require force, some that do not. Detailed critiques follow. Each officer runs them multiple times, until their performance raises to the level necessary for flawless performance.

0830 - Live fire drills. Each officer performs multiple handgun and long gun exercises. Nearly three hundred rounds of ammunition per trainee is expended. No missed shots are tolerated - a score lower than 100% results in immediate remedial training.

1000 - Legal update.

1100 - Pre-trip and load vehicle. Call in service. Begin patrol duties.

1400 - Return to the station. Download.

1430 - Debrief. Massage. Wellness lecture. Meet with department psychologist.

1600 - Off duty.

That would be one duty day (swings and graves, too). Three hours of actual service, seven hours of training. That doesn't count those days when an officer, or team of officers, were taken out of service completely, to run building search, active shooter or other drills requiring a full day. These would be among the best trained individuals on the planet.

Unreasonable?

Not at all. Granted, it would require some re-tooling of the department budget, as well as hiring a few more officers. Maybe...three times as many officers as now serve a community. Of course, taxes go up, other services are cut. America (at least in 2012) spent about $45 billion in salary and benefits for police officers. The above schedule would increase that to $135B. There are some municipalities that cannot pay their officers now, but that's what the Feds are for.

If only one life is saved, it's worth it, right?

Sure, but there is no guarantee this would end up in a net saving of life. Let's say, for the sake of discussion, that officers threatened with a weapon are successfully trained to shoot the suspect in an appendage. That should end the fight, yes?

There is a video we all get to see in training. An officer - everyone from his town agrees he was a stellar cop - stops a vehicle. The driver is outraged at the officer's intrusion against his freedom. Despite several commands and attempts at deescalation the driver removes an M1 carbine, a 30 caliber rifle, from his vehicle. He starts shooting. The officer returns fire and gets a number of hits. The effects of adrenaline (and other predispositions) allows the suspect to fight on. He closes on the young man and executes him. We get to hear one final whimper, recorded by the mike on his lapel, as the cops dies. He left behind a wife and children.

Officers are trained to end the threat to them, and the people they protect. For some assailants, minor uses of force (Tazer, OC spray, a few love taps with a baton or ASP) are all that are necessary. A little bit of kung fu (sorry, my friend) can go a long way. When kind words and reassuring manner fail, just removing a weapon from its carrying case sometimes has a therapeutic affect. 

For others, being wounded is enough. It is impossible to determine, until the person trying to kill you stops, if you have encountered someone with a finite reservoir of will, or a person who will persist until their last breath escapes them. Would you want to stake your life on this decision, made in the heat of a running gun battle?

One can be trained to shoot the eye out of a fly every time. Cops can be trained to do all kinds of magic. In the split second an officer has to decide what is necessary to defend themselves, a lot happens. Most of the time they are reacting to what is in front of them. It takes the average officer about a second to draw their weapon. Unfortunately, that is sometimes the rest of their lives. For three men this week, all of the training they got wasn't enough.

The decision, how much training an officer receives, does not rest with street cops. It rests with society. Citizens have  a right to demand a lot of government. Demanding perfect interactions and foolproof solutions to complex problems deeply rooted in human nature?

That isn't a training issue.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Hopping Mad

"Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, you bald-headed old son of a bitch. I've been trying to get your goddamn attention for the last half hour."  A cordial exchange on the floor of the US House of Representatives.*

Barbara Jordan
A vacancy had occurred in the US Supreme Court. The Senate, in accord with the "advise and consent" clause of the Constitution was conducting hearings in a manner customary for the "World's Greatest Deliberative Body." That is to say, a shit show ensued.

Partisan rancor? Walk outs? Pithy exchanges? You wish. It was far, far worse.

There are few things more painful to watch than a Senator, in solemn voice and high dudgeon, reading a question drafted by someone else that he/she does not understand. High-minded, scholarly-sounding questions about original intent, or scrutiny levels may be worth asking, but in the manner of a first year law student imploring a moot court to grant his "client's" freedom?

There was the usual parade of well-regarded legal minds...well, the usual suspects, anyway. Harvard's Lawrence Tribe was there, his presentation a thinly veiled recitation of his own curriculum vitae serving to ask the question "When is it my turn to be the nominee?" The learned and the obscure, the famous and the inscrutable. In short, the typical yahoo sprawl.

Head and shoulders above the other witnesses was one Barbara Jordan. She had served in Congress, representing the state of Texas. A list of her accomplishments is available on Wiki, they being far too numerous to list here. Suffice to say, were it not for ill health, or the open discrimination she faced on several counts, she would have been an excellent Supreme Court justice, or President.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats lavished well-deserved praise and fawned over her. They asked her questions designed to demonstrate her grasp of the US Constitution, her powerful oratory style and her breathtaking intellect. She did not disappoint - she is the kind of person with whom one might vigorously disagree and yet come away thinking the time they'd invested had made them a better individual, on the whole.

The Republicans greeted her warmly, asking after her health. It was always a pleasure to see her. They wished her well, and left it at that. When one is walking in a mind field, it is best not to hop.

Then, there was Gordon Humphrey, Senator from New Hampshire. He had questions. He had concerns. He engaged Ms. Jordan in a Q&A designed to demonstrate his grasp of Con Law.

He had been, prior to his election to Congress, an airline pilot. The slaughter that ensued left little bloody pieces of the Senator adhering to the ceiling. Her command of her philosophy on constitutional interpretation was superior to his understanding of it. Her command of his philosophy was superior, too. In fact, had not the Senator's time mercifully expired we might have discovered that she knew more about aviation than he did.

How did this come up?

Just as one does not cross swords with a once in a generation gift to humanity such as Ms. Jordan, one must only have limited things to say to the parents of a US soldier who gave his life in defense of this great nation, regardless of the context. To wit:

"I'm very sorry for your loss. Thank you, on behalf of my party and a grateful nation, for your son's service and sacrifice. He will never be forgotten."

Anything else is a dick move. Madness.

*My late father swore that this exchange actually happened.