Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

September 25, 2010

The Red Baron flies again

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:52 pm

I rented the 2008 German movie The Red Baron recently, and I have to say I enjoyed it.

However, there was something about it that bothered me.

The movie took an anti-war tone, portraying Freiherr Manfred von Richthofen (Matthias Schweighöfer) coming to realize the futility of the war through the influence of an attractive nurse (Lena Headey) who shows him the war from the point of view of wounded infantrymen in her hospital.

As the realization dawns on him that they’re losing, he tells a superior that the reason he was so successful in combat was, “Whenever I knew I couldn’t win, I ran.”

Damn good advice for anyone studying the martial arts!

The Red Baron tells the high command they’re losing the war and might as well surrender now. They send him back to his unit to get killed, which he realizes. He tells pretty nurse he’s conscience-stricken that the high command is using his image as a hero to drum up support for the war.

At one point, he meets Capt. Roy Brown RCFC (Joseph Fiennes) when they both crash in no man’s land. There’s a nice bit of humor when von Richthofen tells Brown he hopes to see him again. Brown replies he hopes not!

Brown was at one time credited with shooting down the Red Baron, though now the consensus is Von Richthofen was killed by ground fire. The movie wisely leaves the question alone. Brown shows up again to meet Pretty Nurse and arrange for her to visit the Baron’s grave.

Roll credits. The fate of all the historical characters is listed where known, and very self-consciously reminds the audience that there were highly-decorated Jewish fliers who fought for Germany in WWI. They are represented by a fictional stand-in in the flick who gets killed. Someone says, “He needs a priest.” Another replies, “No. A rabbi.” That’s it. Spear carrier.

Now I could swear some of this was lifted almost whole from a 1965 episode of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatere entitled ‘The Fliers’ with John Cassavetes and Carol Linley.

Same spiritual progression, only in this case it’s a flier who transferred after a year in the trenches with the infantry who shows a pretty nurse engaged to another flier what the war is like for the ground pounders.

The beginning scene is identical. At a funeral for an allied flier, German planes fly over and drop a wreath encribed to “A gallant enemy lost to us as well.” (Differs only in a few words in the movie.)

The plot veers from there though. On his first day as a flier John Cassavetes takes to the air and shoots down the Germans’ best ace. When asked by the CO if it was possible the ace survived the crash, he replies, “He did. I machine gunned him on the ground. He’ll be hard to replace.”

He’s subjected to scorn by his fellow-fliers. Outraged, the Germans demand an aerial duel. Asked if he’ll meet the German at the time and place appointed, Cassavetes says “Hell no!” or words to that effect.

Pretty nurse’s fiancee goes in his place for the honor of the unit, and is killed. She hates Cassavetes guts and demands he go and get himself killed as soon as possible. Then she goes to her new post in a field hospital, which opens her eyes to the fact that war is not a game for children. They meet again, and you get the idea Cassavetes just might get lucky.

The film ends with word coming down from the top to stop screwing around and win the damn war.

The fact the German movie might be highly derivative of an obscure American teleplay doesn’t bother me. What bothers me concerns the subsequent history of Von Richthofen’s Flying Circus.

After the death of Manfred Von Richthoven, command of Jagdgeschwader 1, passed to his second in command, an ace fighter pilot and recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite (“The Blue Max”).

His name was Herman Göring, and he doesn’t even appear in the movie.

Look, I do not think guilt is hereditary, and like Thomas Sowell I do not think a thousand years of German culture is represented by 12 years of National Socialism.

But damn it, this smacks too much of the “Adolph who?” attitude.

September 20, 2010

Is there such a thing as a competent/honest mechanic anymore?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 4:53 pm

We just found out today we’ve sunk well over thousand dollars into a car that won’t ever run again.

My wife got a tune-up and had the brakes and window motor fixed last month so we could close it and drive the damn thing in the coming North Dakota winter.

Then the damn thing broke down in a town about 40 miles east of here. Fortunately it was in front of a garage. How convenient.

Turns out it needed a new fuel pump. Bummer, another $350-$500. More than the Chevy Lumina is worth, but what the hell, we already put $500 in it to fix the window, and Obama’s Cash for Clunkers program has resulted in a shortage of decent cheap beaters, so…

Well they replaced the fuel pump – but it was still running kind of ragged. They said the oil was old and cruddy. OK, change the oil and filter.

Then they did a compression check. The cylinders are shot. The motor is junk.

IS THERE ANY FREAKKIN’ REASON NOBODY THOUGHT TO DO THIS BEFORE WE SUNK THE GODDAM MONEY INTO THAT PIECE OF $#!+

UPDATE: The last garage very nicely waived all fees for work and parts and took the van off our hands. Bless them, that’s better than I hoped for. Which still leaves the question of how the last place we had a tuneup done didn’t catch the problem. Cylinders don’t go kaput overnight and you’d think after a tuneup the car was still running ragged they’d think to ask why, or at least recomment you look into it.

September 15, 2010

A question about Cuba

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:11 pm

Now that it is reported even Fidel acknowledges the Soviet model hasn’t worked for Cuba, I’d like to ask a purely theoretical question.

We all know that imperialism is always and forever a Bad Thing, but…

Given that 1) we are engaged in possibly and probably futile efforts in nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively, 2) Cuba’s former superpower patron now has no interest in supporting that money pit and thus it is not a potential nuclear trip wire anymore, 3) Cuba was a prosperous western-oriented Christian nation with a large class or highly-educated people in exile ready to lead in retaking and rebuilding their beloved country…

So why the hell haven’t we invaded the place and hanged the Castro brothers?

It is absolutely obscene that butcher Fidel will soon die peacefully in bed of old age.

It would seem to be far more in our immediate national interest that any Middle Eastern $#!+hole, and certainly less costly. Among other things, it would send a message that the Monroe Doctrine, abrogated by John F. Kennedy in a devil’s bargain with Nikita Khruschev, was policy again. (Chavez take note.)

Heck, we could probably do it with the Cuban-Americans already in the armed forces, or who’d join up if asked.

Sheesh, we could probably open a gap in the fence at Guantanamo and advertise for enlistments.

Just asking.

September 11, 2010

The creepiest story in my repertoire, in two parts

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:03 am

I suppose by now it’s evident over the years I’ve collected a fund of cool stories. Stories of things that happened to me, or I’ve witnessed personally, or I have at first-hand from sources I trust.

And that was before I became a journalist! If only there were a way to make a living as a raconteur. (Actually there is, it’s called writer and I’m still working on it.)

Most are just entertaining of course, but some I tell in aid of the eternal question, “What does it all mean?”

(Readers who remember Mr. Natural from Zap Comics – try and resist temptation.)

At any rate, a recent experience with certain kind of passive-aggressive malevolence that left me feeling, for want of a better word, unclean inside, reminded me of something I witnessed years ago when I was working in a sewage treatment plant.

The children involved are grown now, and the feelings of the adults involved I frankly don’t care about. Nonetheless I won’t be too specific. Only those who already know the story should recognize this.

And by the way, a while back while I was collecting the police report somehow this came up with the Chief of Police. Now the Chief of course has the typical cop, “You can’t shock me I’ve seen it all,” attitude.

When I told the story he visibly started, “Good God!”

One Monday I came into the plant to work the 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift. Old Floyd on the day shift was sitting looking kind of morose, which I thought nothing of at the time.

I was cheerful and cracking wise when my shift partner came in, saw me and said, “Steve, didn’t you hear what happened? Bill M hanged himself.”

Bill was coworker on the day shift. I reacted about like you’d expect: shocked, surprised, and curious. It turned out Bill had had a three-day weekend. On the evening of the third day he hanged himself in his den. His little son found him in the morning.

If we’d known he was even thinking about this, we might have been alerted by how cheerful he was before his weekend. For suicidal people that’s what you watch for. A sudden cheerfulness in a depressed person often means they’ve made their decision and they’re happy about it.

Probably not though. None of us suspected he might do this.

I started to get the back story right away. Bill’s wife was fooling around on him. They’d been together since high school, where what they had in common was they were both fat unpopular kids. Then evidently she got a stomach staple and slimmed down.

Now even chubby I thought she was pretty foxy, in a dark Lebanese way. When she slimmed down, she got quite attractive, and evidently he wasn’t good enough for her anymore. At this time she was carrying on regularly with a married city employee – and on some level didn’t care who knew it. (Different department thank God! Working with the guy would have been entirely too much drama for the rest of us.)

“I don’t know why I married that fat… So-and-so is so much better looking. And so much better!” is what she said to a co-worker at a party.

We heard, but couldn’t verify, that Bill had passed the bedroom that night and told her something ominous about what he was going to do. She went to sleep.

So within a day we were all at Bill’s funeral, where the grieving widow was bawling her eyes out. It was held at the local Catholic church where the priest compassionately ignored canon law and allowed him to be buried in the church.

In the eulogy the priest didn’t say a word about how Bill died, just vague generalities about being “taken young.” I ran into one of my oldest friends at the service who collared me and demanded the story.

Now here’s what gave us all the crawling horrors. The widow named her lover as a pallbearer.

He had the good taste to refuse, but was listed on the funeral program under “Honorary Pallbearers.”

So what does it all mean? Did she think this would make everything all right between the two of them?

I’m not letting Bill off the hook either. That was his pre-school aged son who found him hanging. If he had to check out, he damn well should have done it somewhere else.

Next: an epilog of sorts.

September 8, 2010

The Mosque controversy – about 30 years ago

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:32 am

Amid all the fol-de-rol about the Ground Zero Mosque controversy I recall an incident in Oklahoma, around 30 years ago that presaged all this.

Dr. Nazih Zuhdi born 1925 in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Syrian father and Turkish mother, came to Oklahoma in 1957. In 1985 he performed the first heart transplant in the history of the state, and later founded a world-class interdisciplinary transplantation institute in Oklahoma City.

He and his wife were also frequent guests at Chez Vernon, the French restaurant in OKC I worked at for a few years. Witty, urbane and sophisticated, he seemed more French than Middle Eastern. The one concession to Muslim mores I could see was that rather than wine with meals, he always called ahead to have us chill a few bottles of Vichy water, “the king of waters!” he said.

(I suppose it’s a mark of my level of sophistication that to me, Vichy water tastes like Alka-seltzer. I do rather like Perrier though.)

At any rate, some years later (sorry, the timeline is vague in my memory) I remember reading Dr. Zuhdi had announced plans to build a mosque in Edmond, Oklahoma.

(Edmond is a rather affluent community just north of Oklahoma City proper. It has a small but well-regarded university.)

There was an outcry in the community, lead by some loud fundamentalist Christians who cried that the mosque would be a center for terrorism. Dr. Zuhdi very graciously backed down and abandoned the project.

At the time I was deeply embarrassed and ashamed to be an Okie.

Well how times change.

Today there are mosques all over the United States, and yes indeed many of them have links to terrorism.

Now a group wants to build a mosque next to the site of the Twin Towers, and the country is in an uproar. The would-be builders aren’t backing down though.

A great deal has been said about this: sense, nonsense, and irrelevant.

President Obama, discovering a hithertoo unsuspected respect for private property, has said the American Way and American law, holds people can do what they like with theirs.

True – but irrelevant. Having a right to do something is not the same as it being right to do it. Something often misunderstood about libertarians (and unfortunately by too many libertarians) when they advocate doing away with laws against victimless crimes.

And the private status of the property seems in doubt as well, as details of the funding become available – slowly and painfully, like pulling teeth.

One conservative commentator asked how we’d all like it if the Japanese wanted to build a Shinto shrine at Pearl Harbor?

Well, if they wanted to build a shrine for Japanese tourists to pray for the dead entombed in the U.S.S. Arizona I’d be quite touched actually.

However, by all indications that does not seem to figure in the motives for building Cordoba House.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg managed to first infuriate, then impress me. First by saying nobody had any business inquiring into how a place of worship was funded or what they say inside.

Wrong on both counts. How they’re funded is an entirely legitimate question we have every right to demand answers for.

As for what they say inside, if it’s in the nature of “subway jihad lessons next Friday after services,” or announce the opening of a free clinic for the circumcision of your daughters, we damn sure have a right to know – and interfere.

Christopher Hitchens rhetorically asked himself, “Am I in favor of the untrammeled “free exercise of religion”?”

He very sensibly answered, “No I am not,” and cited examples of religious practices from Mormonism to Judaism we do not, and should not, allow under our law.

I was about to condemn Bloomberg as a “capo” who sold out his people for considerably more than 30 pieces of silver (he is reported to have huge investments in the Arabian Gulf) when he came out in defense of that church in Florida and their plans to host a “burn a Koran day” this September 11.

I’m impressed Mr. Mayor. (And confused. Don’t you hate it when people aren’t consistently praiseworthy or condemnable? In short, when they act like people.)

So now we’ll see what the reactions to this grandstanding preacher are. I will study with interest the intricate knots I expect the Apostles of Tolerance to tie themselves into explaining how this is not a matter of freedom of religion.

September 4, 2010

There and back again – “there” being hell

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:31 am

Back again after two weeks on the road.

It was the most excruciatingly uncomfortable two weeks of my life.

In Eastern Europe I’ve been kicked with honest-to-god jackboots and beaten with honest-to-god rubber truncheons. (They’re not just rubber, they have a steel rod inside.) I’d rather go through that again than this.

I was trapped in a space the size of a prison cell with an emotional vampire who was supposed to be training me.

And what did I learn?

I learned his wife has enormous tits and has had at least one breast reduction surgery. She has had a series of abusive relationships in the past. He has left her at least once over financial issues. They fight constantly. She’s gotten fat. She is the most selfish person he’s ever met – except for his mother who was an alcoholic slut who slept with anyone in a uniform, before she became a manipulative Jesus freak.

He also jokes with her – over the phone (an average of 10 lengthy calls per day) that she should get a second job whoring at the truck stop. They “joke” about divorce all the time. He discusses his trainees’ shortcomings with her, in front of the trainees. And though he seems to love them, he shocked me out of my skin by making a tasteless joke to his wife about his two small children’s disabilities. (A speech defect and Down’s Syndrome by the way.)

I learned his previous trainee was an OK driver but a white-collar snob. One before that learned to drive in the army but got into fights with a female truck scale weighmaster. I know their names.

I learned the director of recruiting for the company was an OK driver but kept getting lost. But that was OK since the company owner liked him he moved him into a desk job.

I learned a lot that I wish to God I didn’t know! If I ever meet his wife I think I’ll die of embarrassment.

Oh, about trucking. I learned I suck, but that he couldn’t be bothered to teach me because he was busy watching his DVD player in the co-pilot seat.

“You should know that.”

On the other hand, I’ve heard the audio for The Expendables, 2012 and Iron Man 2 now.

But I got two weeks practice, and made some horrific mistakes I’ve certainly learned from – thank God with no consequences other than to my peace of mind. I also did manage to figure out some things such as: how to stay centered in the middle lane (aim the driver’s side blind spot mirror at the left white line,) and when to judge the appropriate distance from the truck in the lane to the right before changing lanes (when you see both headlights in the right-side mirror.)

My last stint driving, trying hard to keep my eyes open because I’m about to pass out from sleeping badly, I made a stupid mistake with the gears which made me feel like crap. Nothing like ending on a sour note.

Gee, what wonderful stories he’ll have to tell after our time together.

Then to cap it all a phone call came through, telling me one of my oldest friends had been killed in a car wreck in Oklahoma the day before. A 17-year-old girl swerved into his lane and hit him head-on. She may have been texting. (My trainer fiddles with his phone while driving, but wears a headset.)

When I got home, I hugged my kids and begged my wife’s forgiveness for any slights or insults I may have thoughtlessly given her.

Needless to say, I’m looking elsewhere for work. Which is a pity because this company has an excellent reputation for treating drivers well.

On the other hand, their long-haul drivers are typically out 2-3 weeks at a time, returning for a whole 2-3 days with their families. While away I missed my wife and kids like to die. So I’m looking for something that’ll keep me closer to home. If I miss my kids growing up, at my age it’s not likely I’ll have a chance to make it up with my grandkids.

But first I’ve got a funeral to get to.

So how was your week?

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