Wednesday, October 22, 2014

! Spy Too Many Exclamation Points on !-95

While driving home from Florida, I passed this sign yesterday, which stands at Exit 169 on the southbound side of I-95 near Florence, South Carolina. It looks to me like writer Jake Jarmel now manages the Triple T Truck Center and he hired on-again-off-again girlfriend, Elaine Benes, to edit his billboard.

Of course, Elaine, upset that Jake’s latest endeavor lacked a certain emotion and intensity, apparently added unnecessary exclamation points—ostensibly to connote such messages as:

“It was a damp and chilly afternoon, so I decided to drive my semi!”


“I pulled the lever on the clutch, but the truck’s engine wouldn’t start!”

Okay, the dialogue implies a plot so banal that an inordinate number of exclamation points may be the only thing keeping this truck-repair place from being boarded up in bankruptcy, but Mr. Lippman isn’t going to see it that way and will want those exclamation points gotten rid of, should he drive by…

(Images from Seinfeld copyright NBC.)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Maybe the "T.S." Stood for "Terribly Similar"...

Jesse Lee Tally, known as “Doc” Tally, played baseball for the barnstorming Israelite House of David team from 1914 to his death in 1950. The House of David was a religious commune founded in Benton Harbor, Michigan, in 1903 and thrived through the 1920s and 30s. Its founders—not the most visionary of religious leaders—declared sex a sin (even for procreation), in principle dooming their movement after a single generation.

The House of David became a national phenomenon during that time for fielding a long-haired, long-bearded evangelizing baseball team (actually, several teams) that crisscrossed the country playing amateur; semipro; and professional opponents, including squads from the major, minor, and Negro Leagues. Sort of the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball, the House of David team grew famous for its fancy, yet very formidable, play. It even, for a time, boasted several former Major League greats, including Three Finger Brown and Grover Cleveland Alexander, as well as the legendary Negro Leaguer, Satchel Paige—all of whom were required either to grow their whiskers or don a fake beard.

The House of David even beat the Major Leagues to night baseball, playing its first game under electric light in 1930—five years before the Bigs. (Ever shrewd in enlarging opportunities to play for paying customers, the House of David brought portable lights on its buses to allow night games.)

Anyway, I find Jesse Lee Tally the spitting image of the recently deceased Robin Williams. Reputedly the House of David’s best player, Tally invented the famous pepper games with which players would wow crowds with their acrobatic and dexterous skills before, and during, contests. Tally thus seems like the same type of good-natured, entertaining ham that Robin Williams came to be. Interestingly, Williams was born little more than a year after Tally’s death and just a hundred miles from Benton Harbor (in Chicago).*

* Perhaps stranger still, Williams starred in the resemblant-named 2004 “dramedy,” House of D.

It’s almost as if Jesse Lee Tally’s spirit entered the newborn Robin Williams’ body in 1951—all it had to do was float to the far side of Lake Michigan, and it had more than a year to do so…

So, it is entirely possible that Robin Williams possessed great baseball potential, even if he never sensed it. However, the world is a better place for him taking the route that he did—not only because he left a legacy of laughter, but because Williams’ natural inclination to field a batted ball, then toss it in the air while declaring, “Fly, be free!” would have led to a catastrophic amount of unearned runs…      

(Image from Good Will Hunting copyright Miramax Films; image from Mork and Mindy copyright ABC.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

No Breakdown of Communication at 7-Eleven

I walked into my local 7-Eleven last evening, and the radio that’s always kept at the back of the store, next to the freezers, was playing “Communication Breakdown”—one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. Sadly, Led Zeppelin, following John Bonham’s death, disbanded just before I grew old enough to attend rock concerts, so I never got to see them play live (although I have seen each surviving member perform solo).

Even so, getting to hear the Mighty Zep launch into one of its most molten tunes from as close as just to the right of the Ben & Jerry’s pretty much made up for it. Naturally, I stayed for the entire song, blithely disregarding potential traffic hassles awaiting me in the parking lot.

Now if I could only get to hear the Jimi Hendrix Experience at my local Sherwin-Williams...  

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 is 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.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

If Only Clubber Lang Had Taken on Pyongyang...

Im watching a M*A*S*H episode from 1981. Thankfully, MeTV runs restored versions of M*A*S*H that include scenes, or parts of scenes, long ago hacked out by greedier broadcasters squeezing episodes for every last second of commercials. Some of these scenes likely have not been shown for decades—I certainly dont recall a lot of them despite being a M*A*S*H aficionado since the mid-70s. 

Tonight, it was Episode 223, “Give ‘Em Hell, Hawkeye,” in which Capt. Pierce, fed up with year-long peace talks that have achieved nothing, pens a letter to President Truman, narrating it in voice-over as he writes. And as Hawkeye writes his letter, he refers to Harry—in newly restored dialogue—as “Mr. T.”

Now, the actual Mr. T, Laurence Tureaud, took that name in the late 1970s, but he was, by and large, anonymous until appearing as “Clubber Lang” in Rocky III, which debuted over Memorial Day weekend in 1982.

So, clearly, Hawkeye using the name “Mr. T” in an episode filmed nearly a year earlier is unrelated to the yet-to-be celebrity of Mr. T.*

But I can’t help wondering: if Mr. T had only become a Hollywood name a matter of months earlier, he could have actually portrayed President Truman in that M*A*S*H episode (M*A*S*H already had a long history of employing young, ascendant actors in guest roles). I see the episode as a two-parter, in which President Truman, “Mr. T,” responds to Hawkeye with a letter of his own—and, as did Hawkeye, narrating his reply in voice-over as he writers it...perhaps over a montage of his training regimen in the Oval Office, such as jumping rope, using a speed bag, or whatever else passed for hardcore cardio training in the early 1950s. 

Dear Capt. Pierce,
Thank you for your letter pleading for me to end this police action. However, you don’t seem to understand politics. One doesn’t back down from international threats to peace. South Korea was attacked. Attacked! You get it? If that little man, Kim Il-sung, don’t wanna come to the peace table, then I’ll come to him. The United States is ranked No. 1. ONE! That means we’re the best. But that bum has been taking the easy matches, sneak-attacking its peaceful neighbor. I’m telling you and everybody else at the 4077th: the United States will fight North Korea anywhere, anytime, for nothing. No, I don’t hate Kim Il-sung…but I pity the fool, and we will destroy any man who tries to take what we got.  

In closing, my prediction for the war: pain. 

Yours sincerely, 
President T

With aggressiveness that would’ve made Gen. Douglas MacArthur look like a Salvation Army bell ringer and accountability that would’ve left Harry S. Truman resembling a shriveling buck-passer, Mr. T might well have provided a ratings spike and seriocomic possibilities encouraging the stable of M*A*S*H writers to continue for several more seasons—perhaps even long enough to necessitate a romance between Hot Lips Houlihan and SSgt. Rizzo that would have perfectly encapsulated the lunacy of war...not to mention paved the way for either the best or the worst spin-off in television history.

*Far predating this M*A*S*H episode, a Welcome Back, Kotter spin-off called Mr. T and Tina briefly ran on ABC in 1976, but the show was so short-lived and obscure that not even its star, Pat Morita, remembered it. Perhaps if he’d come up with the “Crane” a decade earlier…

(Image from M*A*S*H copyright CBS.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

We All Lifted a 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, himself, 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.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Costner’s Arms Caused Draft Day Harm

According to the Web site Box Office Mojo, as of June 18, 2014, the Kevin Costner film Draft Day grossed $29.4 million worldwide. Against a budget of $25 million, this constitutes a major disappointment for Lions Gate Entertainment.

I was not among the few who forked over money to see a film that, seemingly, only a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth football fanatic given a free bucket of Milk Duds could tolerate. However, it’s clear that, apart from the insipid drama of the behind-the-scenes string-pulling that occurs on the NFL’s most crucial day of the off-season, the prime reason why Draft Day failed at the box office is Costner’s glaringly obvious lack of range as an actor.

I mean, compare his performance in Draft Day (above) to some of his major roles over the last quarter-century. Clockwise from upper left, in Field of Dreams, JFK, Wyatt Earp, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and A Perfect World, Costner’s standard acting technique remains unchanged. It matters not whether he’s portraying a historical figure such as New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison or Old West lawman Wyatt Earp, or if Costner’s role is a completely fictional character—he has not altered that cool, calm, arms-crossed stance that so defines his image across the decades.

Sure, arm-crossing is called for in some roles—but to keep drawing from that well for one’s entire career is to sabotage that career by desensitizing the audience. “We no longer care that he’s acting casually confident—he’s done it,” filmgoers clearly said by staying away from Draft Day in droves. Do we really need more proof of the potential of arms on the screen than Molly Shannon in Episode 156 of Seinfeld, “The Summer of George”? Letting her arms “hang like salamis” as she “lurches around like a caveman” led to interoffice chaos.

And the less said how disastrous is Raquel Welch’s lack of arm movement in that episode, the better…
Okay, said arm-swinging led to a pair of arousing catfights involving Elaine…but who wants to see Kevin Costner in a catfight, even if it were to produce the drama Draft Day so sorely missed?

The bottom line is that arms = conflict. Can you imagine the bore-fest Raging Bull would have been had DeNiro stood scene after scene in the ring with his arms crossed? You can’t throw the title and pathetically destroy your career and reputation if you don’t first move your arms to punch and win the title...

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on Costner. He could well be an unknowing victim of Hollywood typecasting, selected for these roles solely because of his experience and proficiency in characters that cross their arms—not unlike Marlon Brando, whose outstanding ability to ooze psychotic torment by grabbing his skull landed him many a classic role.

So I suppose I’ll cut Costner some slack and give him until Draft Day II: I Can’t Believe They Green-Lighted This One Also to sort himself out…

(Image from Draft Day copyright Summit Entertainment Lions Gate; image from Field of Dreams copyright Universal Pictures; images from JFK, Wyatt Earp, and A Streetcar Named Desire copyright Warner Brothers; image from Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit copyright Paramount Pictures; image from A Perfect World copyright Malpaso Productions; image from Apocalypse Now copyright Zoetrope Studios.)

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, that hes on his way to 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!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sing Along With O.J. Simpson's Stabbed in the Hearts Club Band...

It was twenty years ago today
Police chased the Bronco driving O.J.
He’s been going in and out of jail
Couldn’t sell his Heisman Trophy for bail
So may I introduce to you
The back you cheered for all those years
O.J. Simpson’s Stabbed in the Hearts Club Band

We’re O.J. Simpson’s Stabbed in the Hearts Club Band
The Juice used to be an All-Pro
We’re O.J. Simpson’s Stabbed in the Hearts Club Band
He did his running in a Bronco
O.J. Simpson’s Stabbed in, O.J. Simpson’s Stabbed in
O.J. Simpson’s Stabbed in the Hearts Club Band
It’s horrible to be here
It’s like being a Buffalo Bill
Such a huge TV audience
He’d like to take you home with him
He’d love to stab you at home

I don’t really want to stop the chase
But Marcia’s gotta prosecute the case
And O.J.s fingers in the glove are too long
So the jury got the verdict wrong
So let me introduce to you
The one and only Orenthal James
And O.J. Simpson’s Stabbed in the Hearts Club Band


What would you do 'bout the lives led to ruin?
Would you stand up and render Guilty?
Lend me your ears and I’ll show you how wrong
You would be not to set me free

Oh, I get by with a little help from the Dream Team
Mm, I won’t fry with a little help from the Dream Team
Mm, gonna lie with a little help from the Dream Team

What do I do when my love’s cold awhile?
(Does it bother you that you killed her?)
How do I feel by the end of the trial?
(Where’d you like the price of your soul billed, sir?)
No, I get by with a little help from the Dream Team
Mm, I won’t fry with a little help from the Dream Team
Mm, gonna lie with a little help from the Dream Team

(Do you need anybody?)
I need somebody to kill
(Could it be anybody?)
My ex-wife and the waiter from Ill.

Would you believe that the glove is too tight?
Yes, I’m certain that it does not fit
Would you convict if the jury were white?
I can’t tell you but you must acquit
Oh, I get by with a little help from the Dream Team
Mm, I won’t fry with a little help from the Dream Team
Mm, gonna lie with a little help from the Dream Team

(Do you need anybody?)
I need somebody to kill
(Could it be anybody?)
My ex-wife and the waiter from Ill.

Oh, I get by with a little help from the Dream Team
Mm, I won’t fry with a little help from the Dream Team
Mm, gonna lie with a little help from the Dream Team
Yes, I get by with a little help from the Dream Team
With a little help from the Dre-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-heem Team!

(Thanks to Drinkmore Pat for Photoshop guidanceGIF of chase copyright CNN.) 

Friday, June 13, 2014

It's Not a Nerd, It's Too Inane...It's Soviet Superman!

Pat e-mailed the rest of the Drinkmore crew this panel today. It’s from Superman: Red Son, a three-issue comic book produced in 2003 and premised on Kal-El having landed in Ukraine rather than the United States and grown up a Soviet “citizen,” fighting a never-ending battle for Josef Stalin and the Red Army rather than Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

Although I’ve never read Red Son, aside from the canon of the story, in which the Soviet Union apparently becomes the predominant superpower and the United States produces super-villains to destroy both it and Superman, it is readily evident just from this panel why the USSR ultimately failed in its goal of world domination: the Russkies were dopes.

Firstly, Soviet Russia officially adopted the metric system in 1918, almost immediately upon its inception. Now, I’m not saying that Tsar Nicholas II might have saved his and the Royal Family’s tsasses by going metric—after all, the Russian Revolution was more socio-politically than metrically motivated—but I am saying that the Tsar could have substantially improved life under his apathetic reign by standardizing the nation’s AAA maps both internally and to the rest of Europe, vastly simplifying vacation travel for serfs. Even so, why the hell was Superman calculating in “capitalist” miles instead of “communist” kilometers? Soviet Superman wouldn’t have made it past Russian elementary school—yet he’s the USSR’s ultimate weapon?   

Much more importantly than simple units of measure, look how utterly vague and scatterbrained is the hammer-and-sickle–chested Superman: In a nation that measured more than 6,000 miles east to west and nearly 3,000 miles north to south—an area of 14 million square miles—he’s “pinpointing” a destination more than 3,000 miles away from a known locale.

Three thousand miles west of Vladivostok, a coastal city in the Russian Far East, is just east of the Ural Mountains. However, the Urals stretch north-south for approximately 2,500 miles. Even considering Superman’s incredible flying speed, that’s still precious minutes wasted in a millions-of-square-miles wild-goose chase across the Soviet Union’s spine. How many people will die and homes will burn while the Man of Stoli searches for this chemical fire by needlessly zooming up and down mountainous wilderness of the Urals like Clint Eastwood looking for his refueling point in Firefox?

Considering that Stalin and Soviet Superman are surely in Moscow—4,000 miles east of Vladivostok and thus obviously much closer to the chemical fire than that cross-continental port city—citing Vladivostok as a reference point makes absolutely nyet sense. Why not use Yekaterinburg, a major city on the eastern slope of the Urals and approximately those 3,000 miles west of Vladivostok, as the reference point? It’s still almost 900 miles from Moscow, thus preserving the image of Superman heroically coming to the rescue from a great distance yet eliminating the asinine inexactitude that betrays his stupidity. After all, one does not summon emergency services by saying that an ambulance is needed fifty miles west of a town located fifty miles to the east…

That neither Comrade Kent nor Stalin—who also foolishly fails to demand a more-specific location—could not fathom such obvious logic displays the kind of flawed reasoning that led to the USSR’s demise. Would American Superman know to go to San Francisco if he were needed “3,000 miles west of New York”? Of course not—but, possessing the American penchant for individual thought and the free exchange of ideas, you can bet he would look into it, he would at least ask for directions. Little wonder the USSR never landed a man on the moon, conquered capitalism, or beat the Broad Street Bullies in 1976—those Soviets were such slaves to their own narrow-minded system, their overbearing Mother Russia, that they were utterly incapable of thinking even slightly out of the Bloc.

Not that the United States owns an unblemished heritage of geniuses at the helm—the US government atom- and hydrogen-bombed its own country more than a thousand times since the end of World War II—but at least our superheroes’ kryptonite isn’t common sense and our pizza deliverymen get their precious cargo to hungry mouths without empty-headedly basing their route on the customer’s distance from the Cumberland Gap.

(Superman: Red Son panel copyright DC Comics; map of Russia copyright

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Abraham, Father of Nations...Abe Vigoda, Father of Patience

Abe Vigoda continues to astonish with his longevity—especially those who thought he died long ago. (The extremely veteran actor has been reported as deceased on at least three occasions over the last thirty years.) Born Abraham Vigoda in February 1921 to Russian-Jewish immigrants, he remains the highest-ranking Jew in the history of the Italian Mafia, enjoying the status of caporegime in the Corleone crime family until his forced “retirement.”

Now 93 years old—and having looked ancient for many decades; he was a mere 51 in The Godfather yet appeared easily to be in his sixties—I’m wondering if Vigoda can hold on to become the oldest Abraham in history. Vigoda passed Abraham Lincoln only two months into the run of his spinoff series, Fish, in 1977, and moved into the No. 2 spot in 1986, when he eclipsed Abraham Zapruder, who had proved not up to the challenge by dying, years before, at age 65. Since then, only the biblical Abraham has stood in Vigoda’s way.*

* We can endlessly debate where Abraham Simpson belongs on this list, but the fact is that his birth year has never been revealed. And with the timeline of his life continually in flux, a determination of his true age would be specious at best. Grampa Simpson is a World War II veteran, yet he also claimed to have fought in the First World War, as well as participated in the 1936 Olympic Games. His service in World War II is undoubtedly true—at least, he was certainly old enough to have served—but given Grampa Simpson’s penchant for meandering tall tales and his suspect memory, much of his background cannot be taken as gospel, even though we know he was of an advanced age when he fathered Homer in the mid-1950s. Yes, through flashbacks and glimpses of Simpsons future, we see Grampa and other Springfield residents at different ages, but because of strictly maintained canon, they never actually age—their age at the time of the series’ “birth” is the age that they have remained throughout the canonical run of the series. Therefore, Grampa, an 80-something when The Simpsons premiered in 1989, remains an 80-something today regardless of the fact that nearly a quarter-century has elapsed. So, even though Abraham Simpson once was likely much older than Abe Vigoda, Vigoda has long since reclaimed second place.

Of course, according to Genesis, Abraham lived to the ripe, old age of 175. Now whether you take the Bible at its literal word or dismiss the ages of its many incredulously long-lived characters as gross exaggerations, 175 remains the sole “official” age of record—and a target still so far away that the nonagenarian Vigoda is little more than halfway there.

Still, I believe Abe Vigoda can do it. The key to Vigoda’s long life thus far has been his languid, almost reptilian, movement. Whether shuffling gingerly through the Corleone compound or planted in fatigued misery behind his 12th Precinct desk, Vigoda’s patient, unhurried manner emulates the slow heart rate and conserved body motion of such long-living animals as the elephant, the whale, and the tortoise. Let’s face it: Vigoda even shares the same facial expressions as a tortoise…

Certainly, none of us will be around to see it, but I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if, early in the year 2096, a shriveled-yet-still-filled-with-vim Abe Vigoda quietly becomes the longest-living Abraham in human history.

After all, a 90-something who can take this hit isn’t going any time soon…

Besides, breaking the record is the smart move...and Tessio was always smartuh.

(Image from Barney Miller copyright ABC; image from The Godfather copyright Paramount Pictures; animated GIF of Snickers ad copyright Mars, Incorporated.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Coupe Fit for a Pope—The Cordoba Could've Been a Holy Roller

What if the 1975 Chrysler Cordoba had seats made not from soft Corinthian leather, but from soft Corinthian letters—as in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians? Imagine driving in the plush comfort of parchmented scripture as you get to your destination in style and a state of grace...

I’m surprised Paul VIthe first pope to make formal appearances in a motor vehiclefailed to deem this his Popemobile. The 1975 Cordoba certainly was roomy enough to accommodate not only His Holiness, but a trio of his favorite cardinals as well. And with a three-speed, automatic, V8 engine, the Most Holy Father would rest assured that he’d get to his destination with all expedience. Paul VI could even have issued a papal bull re-designating his vehicle as a Chrystler Cordoba...perhaps also decreeing that something from First Corinthians become the brand motto...

Ricardo Montalbán: The new 1975 Chrystler CordobaAll things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Turning Siamese Would Have Been Quite the Coup d'Etat for All in the Family

Amid the current political upheaval in Thailand, capped by the military coup d’etat of May 22, this is the optimal time to examine why Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins, would have made an even better Archie Bunker than Carroll O’Connor. Sure, O’Connor earned four Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for his timeless and beloved portrayal of Archie Bunker, who, in turn, helped make All in the Family one of the most culturally significant programs in television history. America laughed for a decade at Archie’s convoluted logic, malapropos and mannerisms, his equal-opportunity bigotry, and his big-hearted narrow-mindedness—all of which mirrored a nation struggling with its own hypocrisy and neuroses by finding the right way to reflect all that was wrong with America.

Still, Chang and Eng Bunker, twin brothers conjoined at the chest by a large segment of cartilage, seem even better suited to the role. Born to Chinese parents in Siam (present-day Thailand), in 1811, the brothers found worldwide celebrity exhibiting themselves on tour as the “Siamese twins” (even rating a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records a century later as the source of the term). The Bunker twins later immigrated to antebellum North Carolina, becoming successful plantation owners—and slave owners, oddly enough, in view of the similarly low status of “Orientals” in that age—as well as naturalized U.S. citizens. Proving more desirable than many “single” men, they fathered twenty-one children between them—literally between them, considering the logistics involved—and died in 1874.

For a show called All in the Family, what could have been more familial than conjoined twins sharing the lead role? Especially with the ability to call Edith a dingbat and Mike a meathead simultaneously? Perhaps even opting for the comedic drama of one brother a hard-line, war-hark conservative and the other a bleeding-heart, pinko-commie liberal, verbally battling each other between orders to Stifle yourself! and moans of Aw, geez, huh? (Their inevitable problems with enunciation hardly would have been worse than Archie’s butchering of the English language.) I don’t know if the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences would have awarded each brother his own Emmy, presented the two of them with a single prize, or, most likely, bestowed the twins with two individual statuettes soldered together, but Chang and Eng surely would have carted off during the series’ run an armful of them—carried with each lending one arm, of course.

During that narrow, 100-year window between Chang and Eng’s death and the mastering of special effects that now might allow twin Thai actors as talented and charismatic as Carroll O’Connor to appear conjoined—or, in lieu of expensive technical wizardry, at least have them share an XXXXXXXXXXXXL shirt—we certainly were fortunate that O’Connor gave the world Archie. But in a medium in which twins have long been prized both as a source of comedy and conflict, Change and Eng Bunker—the first of their kind, on the first show of its kind—would have yielded twice the laughs.

Boy, the way Yul Brynner played
Years on Broadway Mongkut stayed
Thais like us, double we weighed
Those were the days

And you knew Siamese twins
Didn't quite move like Errol Flynn
Messrs., we could use a man
Like Naresuan the Great again

Didn't need no coup d'etat
Everybody smiled through Buddha
Gee, Bangkok was Shangri-La

(Chang puts stogie to mouth with available hand as Eng leans head on Chang’s shoulder)

(Image of Archie Bunker copyright CBS.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Deep Purple's Deepest Puzzle Solved...Thanks to Judith Owen

Okay, this is a seriously overdue discovery, but you, too, may have been unaware of this: Welsh-born singer-songwriter Judith Owen has righted one of the great wrongs in the history of popular music. Not widely known in pop or rock circles, the velvet-voiced pianist—and wife of humor mainstay Harry Shearer—devotes much of her musical career to jazz and Celtic material that you wouldn’t normally hear in the mainstream…and certainly not on rock stations, despite Owen covering songs by The Kinks, James Taylor, The Police, Mungo Jerry, Shearer’s own Spinal Tap, and Deep Purple.

In 2005, Owen’s Lost and Found album led off with a cover of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” Despite being pretty well versed in contemporary music, I never heard her version—which also served as bumper music for the Coast to Coast AM radio show—until this morning. Owen’s wistful and, yes, smoky rendition of the 1972 hard-rock classic—complete with alluring uh-uh-uhh’s in place of Ritchie Blackmore’s immortal riff—adds an extra word to Ian Gillan’s original lyric.

A word that corrects perhaps the most brazen grammatical neglect since December 7th, 1941—a date that will live in infamy (neglect that, in turn, stood as the most egregious transgression in human communication until the 1976 debut of the sitcom What’s Happening!!—with its two vexing exclamation points yet no trace of a question mark).

Among the first songs I ever knew, even as a five-year-old I was perplexed by “Smoke on the Water”’s Some stupid with a flare gun. Sure, I had yet to embark on the great endeavor of kindergarten, but even though basic grammar, syntax, and parts of speech lay in my future, I recognized—as surely did most adults—something horribly amiss with that line. “What’s a stupid?” I asked myself every time I heard the instantly anthemic tune crackling out of Dad’s car radio. I didn’t yet know what a noun was—but I instinctively knew stupid wasn’t one. In a perversely psychotic twist of poetic license, Ian Gillan, one of the very greatest vocalists in rock music, had forced the square peg into the round hole and sang an adjective as a noun. Somehow, the FCC had done nothing—both it and the BBC couldn’t censor or ban songs containing a drug reference or anything deemed even mildly “subversive” quickly enough in those days, yet they sat on their collective hands as “Smoke on the Water” raced up the charts and addled a generation of preschool minds with grammatical nonsense.

Confused and losing alarming amounts of sleep as “Smoke on the Water” saturated the airwaves—and, consequently, my cerebrum—I eventually made excuses for Ian Gillan…

“It was done for meter—following stupid with a noun would have made the couplet too long,” I sometimes placated myself.

Other times—questioning my own rationalism—I fell back to no one in particular on the all-healing mantra, “It’s rock ‘n’ roll, man!”

Yet why didn’t Gillan use a noun in place of stupid? Okay, he might have been lured by the alliteration of some stupid—even at the risk of creating one of the all-time asinine lines—but Gillan still could have achieved this lyrical device by opting for an “s-noun.” Some sod with a flare gun would have worked smashingly. Or if the young bloke from Hounslow had managed in his youth to pick up any Yiddish from the approximately 0.25% of Jewish citizens living in that London suburb (based on 2011 U.K. Census data), even some schmuck with a flare gun.

It might be too cynical to believe that Gillan planned this lyrical faux pas to garner attention—after all, the band self-admittedly operated in a constant whirlwind of sex, booze, and drugs that likely left minds too fogged to know that A is for apple, let alone articulate simple sentence structure. Then again, Deep Purple hadn’t made an impact where the money was—the American singles chart—in nearly four years, when it was essentially an entirely different musical entity. And even though “Smoke on the Water” wasn’t officially released as a single for nearly a year, this signature-tune-in-the-making, with its haunting imagery and relentless crunch, was chiefly responsible for propelling Machine Head into the Top 10 in the United States and breaking Deep Purple as a major force in rock. As far as I was concerned, the song seemed just as provocative because of what was wrong with it as what was right about it. (Not even the hopelessly straight-laced Pat Boone bothered to correct the line in his infamous 1997 lounge-metal cover, probably to augment his pathetically disingenuous attempt at the bad-boy image—so maybe I’m not being too cynical after all.)

Perhaps Ian Gillan’s carelessness even served as the subconscious impetus for me to become an editor all those years later, sowing in my young mind a need to make sense of a bewildering rock ‘n’ roll landscape—a need that I carried into adulthood and from which I have made my living ever since.*

* Not long before “Smoke on the Water”’s release, I had already become well acquainted with another radio hit, America’s “A Horse With No Name,” whose lyrical minefield of a chorus quickly became legend; however, that song lacked the monolithic majesty of Jon Lord’s distorted Hammond C3 organ to produce the same editorial consternation in my young logic center.

Forty-three years later, along comes Judith Owen, like an angel of grammar out of the Welsh mist, to not only cover this most iconic of rock songs, but to fix it, by adding the noun it so dearly missed lo these many years.

Some stupid fool with a flare gun/Burned the place to the ground  

Hallelujah, Judith. After more than four decades, we finally know who was responsible for starting the fire that destroyed Montreux Casino: A fool. A stupid fool. This information likely came too late to amend the fire-insurance claim filed by Groupe Lucien Barrière execs sifting through the cinders of their gutted casino, but it does mercifully provide grammatical closure for Deep Purple fans such as me, disillusioned casualties of the 1970s, and those who value the English language.

Now if Judith Owen only would cover Jimi Hendrix so that castles made of sand can melt and slip into the sea—properly... 

(Image of Ian Gillan copyright Rolling Stone.)