Friday, September 5, 2014

Over There...Over There...Why'd They Put All the Words Over There?

Today is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First Battle of the Marne, the week-long bloodbath that marked one of the first major clashes of World War I. Fought just east of Paris, this Allied victory prevented the Germans from reaching the French capital and making quick work of the war. Unfortunately, with more than half a million casualties laying dead or carried off the battlefield, the First Battle of the Marne also set the pattern for the devastating trench warfare that turned much of France and Belgium into killing floors over the next four years—a pattern of seesawing advances and retreats so futile that, nearly four years later, witnessed another major clash along the River Marne.

Known, of course, as the Second Battle of the Marne (above), this smaller, but still murderous battle halted the German advance in the summer of 1918 and hastened the Axis’ surrender. More than 132,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded in this three-week struggle, including 12,000 Americans.

County Route 537, which passes less than a mile from my home in its long trek across the breadth of New Jersey, is known within the limits of Mount Laurel, Hainesport, and Mount Holly as Marne Highway. Commemorating the great sacrifice of American doughboys in that second sanguineous battle, a blue historical marker is mounted on a Marne Highway road sign just west of the intersection with Larchmont Blvd. The problem is that the marker—a small-fonted, two-paragraph explanation of the Second Battle of the Marne—stands approximately 150 feet from the stop-lighted intersection. There is no shoulder in which to pull over (and if one did, one’s car would dangerously—and illegally—obstruct the right-turn-only lane that begins a few feet beyond the sign). Furthermore, there is no hope of gleaning more than a sentence of the marker even while decelerating toward a red light. (Imagine trying to read the sign above while moving at anywhere from 25 to 50 mph—hell, try reading it right now!)

Thus, the only possible practical way of actually reading this small acknowledgment of American contribution to that pivotal battle is to be stopped in traffic backed up from the intersection, which, although a line of traffic often does form there, hardly ever backs up that far.

Or one could simply walk over to the sign and stand just a few feet from the roadway to read it—a monumentally inconvenient and not-entirely-wise option, especially on that stretch of non-residential road flanked by daily-active railroad tracks. (This is exactly how I took this photo, walking home from the auto-repair shop a quarter-mile down the highway from this intersection.)

Sure, one could keep driving around the block, hoping to glean the entire message a line or two at a time with each drive-byand this might just be most in the spirit of Great War stupidity, as driving around this block entails an approximate 2.2-mile trek, including three traffic lights, because none of the streets within this block exit to another side of it. I guess a family could make a day of this by driving down Marne Highway, spying a line or two, turning right onto Larchmont Blvd., eventually merging onto Route 38 West, making another right onto Hartford Road, taking it back to Marne Highway, turning right, and again driving by the sign at approximate 7-minute intervals until the reading is complete (there is an Italian restaurant, Chinese takeout, and a 7-Eleven on the opposite side of the Marne HighwayLarchmont Blvd. intersection should a family wish to stop for lunch during their reading). I suppose a savvy couple or family could pre-plan for each member to simultaneously read a different section of the marker, which, if performed and recited correctly and in order, would drastically cut down on the time, effort, and gasoline expense involved. But this not an easily executed strategy and could backfire catastrophically—like many a World War I offensive. 

Thus, to say that this historical marker was poorly planned and futilely placed is an understatement—also very much in keeping with World War I, itself, given the many atrocities perpetuated by idiotic generals who, time and again, ordered regiments of men “over the top” and into the waiting graveyards of no-man’s land.

So Im torn...

If the State of New Jersey (or perhaps Burlington County) allocated the expense and effort to commemorate the battle at all, then why not do it right and set the sign where it could actually serve its purpose instead of in a place where its words would surely go to waste? It seems certain that the genius employee of the state/county/township responsible for the placement of this historical marker was the great-grandson of one of those World War I generals who so asininely sent their men off by the thousands to certain death for a few dozen muddy yards...

Did the war to end all wars teach us nothing about historical-marker placement? You can bet the Flemish sited their markers in readily accessible, easily readable locations.

And yet for all of its seeming idiocy, perhaps the Marne Highway historical marker is perfectly placed, ideally echoing the utter absurdity of the Great War, as if it were a modern-day, metal-plated Zimmerman Note.

Only Americans possess such a sense of irony...

Friday, August 29, 2014

With Twitter Abuzz About Keys of Bees, 'Twas Time to Channel Stevie and McCartney

This scientific fact has recently been making the rounds on Twitter: Bees normally buzz in the key of A, but when theyre tired, they buzz in the key of E.

No, I neither own a piano nor play the piano—but that didnt stop me from tickling the Ebony and Ivories about this bee-musing fact and writing a song that goes a little this:

Every bee that I can see
Buzz together in the very same key
Side by side in their hive or swarming, oh lord, theyre after me

We all know that bees bring the news in Sacramento
There is good and bad in every bee
Some are humble, some will bumble
But they wont bother us if we mind our own beeswax, thats a fact

Every queen in Ulees apiary
Could breed drones for a ten-pound beard of bees
Side by side in their hive or swarming, oh lord, theyre after me

We all know that bees buzz in A less their lids are low
There is sweet nectar in every bee
Some make honey, some cause you fright
E is the key when bees dont have the might to take flight

Every bee has got no knees
Its a phrase that was made up falsely
If Sting got stung, the beed die and hed cry profusely
John Belushi was killer singing Im a King Bee

Every bee that I can see
Buzzing together in harmony
Ruth Buzzi so funny
As angry Gladys Ormphby
Ruth Buzzi socked it to me
When whacking dirty, old Arte


(Image of Bumblebee Man copyright Fox Broadcasting; image of John Belushi copyright NBC.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

We All Lifted the Yellow Submarine...

So, I just turned on the TV and caught the last ten minutes of The Three Stooges in Orbit (1962), a film I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. And in that brief span, several elements immediately jumped out as closely presaging subsequent films—to the point that I wondered more than just fancifully if this predictably insipid film filled with recycled jokes and made on the cheap for a very over-the-hill comedy troupe could actually have been the source of certain concepts used in later, higher-profile works.

Look at the propeller-powered flying submarine stolen by the Martians (above). Is this not practically a real-life, full-scale model of the Beatles’ yellow submarine depicted in the 1968 animated feature film? The Three Stooges in Orbit predated Yellow Submarine by six years—yet looking at the similarities in concept and design, it’s not hard to suppose that the director of the Beatles’ film, George Dunning, was a Three Stooges fan who caught their movie upon its theatrical release,* perhaps even screening it privately six years later for the crew of animators to give them a definitive sense of the artistic style he wanted.

* In 1962, Beatlemania hadn’t yet swept England, so Dunning, a Canadian expatriate who had yet to become associated with the Beatles, likely was walking around London with little to do and thus had plenty of free time to see the new Three Stooges film.

Moments later in the film, Professor Danforth, played by long-time quasi-Stooge, Emil Sitka, displays an animated television segment of the Stooges dancing to stock, early 60s pop music. This is perhaps even stronger proof that George Dunning and his crew lifted ideas from this Three Stooges film. As you can see, that’s impressively sophisticated animation for 1962—and it appears very much the progenitor to the dazzling animation of Yellow Submarine. Granted, the Stooges weren’t as limber as the girl dancing to “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” but their particular brand of fat, elderly elegance must have made a lasting impression on Dunning.

Okay, this weakest incarnation of the Three Stooges is no “Fab Four,” but consider the cumulative work of Moe, Larry, Curly, and the criminally underrated Shemp—that’s a four as fab as John, Paul, George, and Ringo, for sure.†

† Continuing the numbers game, the Three Stooges and the Beatles each counted six participating members among their ranks: the aforementioned four in each group, plus, of course, latter-day Stooges Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita as well as Beatles’ castoffs Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best.

Furthermore, the Three Stooges went into widespread television syndication in 1958, introducing them to a new generation—the Beatles’ generation. With the future Beatles all in their highly impressionable teens at that time, it’s a good bet the lads watched and enjoyed the Stooges’ tomfoolery—especially the angry, young man of the fledgling group, John Lennon, who probably would have appreciated them most. I can easily see the Stooges’ violent tendencies having rubbed off on the volatile Lennon. (The Three Stooges was actually removed from syndication for a time in the 1960s when mothers complained that their children were emulating the Stooges’ dangerous antics.) Now, I’m not saying that a few episodes of Moe bullying Larry, Curly, and Shemp led to Lennon kicking original bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe, in the head—as has occasionally been alleged in the cause of Sutcliffe’s untimely death—but I am saying that an irate John likely was not above rapidly fluttering his hand in front of Sutcliffe’s entranced gaze, then snapping it down briskly, causing Sutcliffe’s head to do the same. Whether that facilitated Sutcliffe’s fatal cerebral hemorrhage, no one will ever know—but it sure looks like a lot of stress on the brain…

As an aside, yes, the Beatles’ animated TV series (which the Fabs had nothing to do with production-wise) debuted a month before The New Three Stooges cartoon in autumn 1965. However, the Three Stooges’ animated series included numerous live-action segments, so it’s highly probable that The New Three Stooges began development before the Beatles cartoon, although there may not have been enough time to permit cross-pollination specifically between the two shows.

Having presented all of this evidence, it cannot be overlooked that any discussion concerning the Three Stooges’ influence on the Beatles begins with the fact that Moe was wearing a Beatles’ haircut before any of the lads were born; thus, the Fab Four owe their most defining physical characteristic to Moe Howard.

But I’m not positing that The Three Stooges in Orbit was a creative well from which only the Beatles drew ideas. Far from it. Though meant to look comic, the Martians in this film actually appear disturbingly grotesque—even more so when the viewer subconsciously realizes that they strongly resemble the horrifying Grendel in the 2007 CGI version of Beowulf—or rather, that Grendel strongly resembles them. One wouldn’t think that the creators of a faithful and brutally explicit retelling of a violent Dark Age tale would look to a Three Stooges film for creative inspiration, but compare the Martians’ distended skulls, heavy eyebrow ridges, and lacertilian digits to Grendel and try to deny a connection…

Of course, Moe Howard—by several accounts, well-read in his youth and possessor of two months of high school study—may have based the Stooges’ brand of aggressive comedy on the original Beowulf

And as game-changing as was the granddaddy of all science fiction films, Star Wars,  it’s glaringly obvious from where in his movie-going youth George Lucas later pilfered the concept of the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star...

(Images from The Three Stooges in Orbit copyright Columbia Pictures; images from Yellow Submarine copyright United Artists; image from Beowulf copyright Paramount Pictures.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

This Guy's Got a Little Too Much Nike on the Psyche

These photos have recently made the rounds on I know nothing of their source nor the reason for the drivers unorthodox technique.

My guess is that hes constantly saying embarrassingly asinine things.

Or perhaps hes suffering from a particularly virulent case of Aphthae epizooticae.

If the former, we can only hope that this man is en route to sensitivity training; if the latter, a top-notch veterinarian.

Then again, I suppose this could be a pre-2005 photo of him placing a call on his mobile to Don Adams. (Laws prohibiting using a phone while driving were not widespread or well-enforced back then...)

Friday, July 25, 2014

It's Not a Lie...if You Believed It in 1937

Beg, Borrow or Steal, a rather obscure comedy from 1937, aired on the Turner Classic Movies channel this afternoon. Its description in the Comcast grid:

As a gesture, an American in Paris invites his daughters wedding party to his nonexistent châteauand they all accept.

This plot sounds remarkably similar to Seinfeld Episode 171, The Wizard, in which George Costanza is caught in a lie to his would-have-been in-laws, the Rosses, about not being able to attend a charity event on behalf of his deceased fiancé because he is closing a lease on a house in The Hamptons. When the Rosses dont call him on his lie, an infuriated George decides its time to get nuts and takes it up a notch by inviting the Rosses to his new summer home. Hilarity ensues when the Rosses call his bluff, and George spends two painfully awkward hours driving them to the very end of Long Island, all the while describing in exquisite detail his nonexistent house, including two solariums and a pair of horses, Snoopy and Prickly Pete.

I didnt get to watch the film, but reading Comcasts description of Beg, Borrow or Steal, its not hard to picture American expatriate Ingraham Steward (Frank Morgan) squirming to keep his Costanza-esque lie going as the wedding guests inquire about his” château. A lavish, pre-war, French home likely built in the 19th century most certainly had two solariumsas did Georges purported lease. And horses for sureIm betting Snupây and Épineux Pierre. Lets face it: lies and deceit were all the rage throughout Europe in the 1930s...

It seems as though MGM got nuts and took it up a notch sixty years before George did...

(Beg, Borrow or Steal image copyright MGM; Seinfeld image copyright NBC.)

Carl Spackler's Lifetime of Learning to Think Like an Animal

This U.S. Department of Agriculture bulletin was published in January 1940. No wonder the United States was so unprepared for Pearl Harbor and the Second World War: While the Axis powers were running rampant across Europe, Asia, and Africa, Franklin D. Roosevelts administration worried about relatively harmless mammals that, although endangering American lawns and golf courses with their burrowing, certainly posed less threat to democracy than Hitler, Hirohito, and the other guy.

Geopolitical commentary aside, I believe that very well might be little Carl Spackler learning greenskeeping tips from his father. Carls age is never indicated in Caddyshack, but he could well be in his mid-forties. A life of golf-course maintenance in the unforgiving sun and liberal indulgence with northern California sinsemilla cannonballed by white wine likely has weathered Carl beyond his years, so being the youngster pictured on this 1940 cover is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Sure, as assistant greenskeeper at Bushwood Country Club, Carls primary task is to keep the course free of the destructive gopher, but its burrowing brethren, the mole, poses just as much threat to the American way of pretending to be athleticso dont think for one minute that the mole isnt also Varmint Cong, even if it doesnt prefer dancing to folk-pop as much as its tunneling counterpart. Thus, there is no reason that an experienced groundskeeper such as the man pictured on the Mole Control coveras well as his apprentice sonwouldnt also know how to deal with the pesky gopher that decades later would plague Bushwood and its upper-crust members.

True, one would think that a greenskeeper training since the 1940s wouldnt still be six years from the position of head greenskeeper in 1980, but who knows how long Carl spent in Tibet caddying for the Dalai Lama as well as practicing to become a Cinderella-story Masters champion, himself? And lets not forget that Carl devoted a lot of time to broadening his education on chinch bugs, manganese, and nitrogen, not to mention inventing and registering his own kind of hybrid grass. So even though hes got that going for himwhich clearly is niceCarls career development might be lagging...

Au revoir, mole...

(Image of Carl Spackler copyright Warner Brothers Pictures.)     

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Apparently, The History Channel Don't Know Much About History

I was recently re-watching episodes of How the Earth Was Made, a 25-episode History Channel series that premiered in 2009. I had some gripes about it during the original run but never put them to keyboard. So it’s high time I vented about the series—particularly Episode 9 of Season 2: “Mount St. Helen’s.” Clearly, the writers and producers of the show were starting to scrape the barrel for topics in Season 2, but this episode’s premise is especially ridiculous.

As you no doubt surmised, this episode centers on the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s in Washington State—the only major volcanic eruption in the continental United States in modern times. Twelve years old when the volcano blew itself apart, I know full well the significance of the event and remember well the havoc it wrought.

But that was 1980—and this is a series about how the Earth was made. By all scientific consensus, the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. I hardly need to do the math for you, but to illustrate my point…

Earth’s 4.6-billion-year age had long been established by the episode’s debut

This episode first aired in February 2010—30 years after the eruption

So, 4.6 × 109 – 30 = 4,599,999,970 years.

Therefore, 4,599,999,970 years—or 99.99999934782609% of Earth’s existence by this episode’s original airing—had already elapsed by the time Mount St. Helen’s erupted in 1980.* In other words, Earth had long been made when the Washington volcano went kablooey. To purport that the Mount St. Helen’s eruption had anything to do with the making of the Earth would be like a centenarian trying to pass off his latest birthday cake as his birth certificate.

* Even in Christian fundamentalist Ken Ham’s creationist world of nonsense, a volcanic eruption so recent would mean that 99.5% of the 6,000-year-old Earth’s history had already elapsed—making Mount St. Helen’s just as irrelevant in the context of this series.

But the Mount St. Helen’s episode wasn’t the only relatively recent event that made for highly questionable television. How the Earth Was Made also featured episodes about the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883; the Vesuvius catastrophe of ad 79; the formation of the Sahara, which occurred a mere few thousand years before that; and a general overview of tsunamiswhich have absolutely nothing to do with the formation of the waterless Earth and have less to do with ongoing processes that currently affect it than any other phenomenon spotlighted in the series. 

Don’t misinterpret my harsh criticism as utter disapproval—I enjoy the series and find it highly informative. I just think that the series’ title is deceptive and ill-conceived. Considering the immense timeline of topics covered, it would have done much better with a less-specific title…perhaps something along the lines of How the Earth Did Stuff or When Bad Things Happen to Good Planets.

After all, it’s not as if History Channel doesn’t have a…um…history of broadcasting programs and series that utterly contradict its mission statement, viz., Life After People. (It similarly ran the future-based The Road Warrior several times about a decade ago.) Hardly the stuff of history

I don’t demand much from History Channel…but I do demand thematic fidelity!