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Sunday, May 29, 2011
Cruisers : a Tale of two Movies

This is a piece about TV or ships or TV movies; perhaps all that. About a year ago while flipping channels on my resolutely broadcast TV (I don't do cable) I came across an old movie that seemed to be one I had watched, thirty years before. A singular or small group of plucky Brits take on a German warship. It turned out it was actually a different movie which just deepened the experience, made it more of a mystery, more fun.

I grew up with bad television, but it isn't bad prime time television that I remember particularly or fondly. Rather the avalanche of old reruns every afternoon of the previous decade's television. An even greater entertainment; though, was old movies, especially during the period when TV stations weren't too self-conscious to air black and white movies. That lasted about ten years into the sale of color televisions. Then Turner broadcasting decided they would "colorize" any remaining movies they cared to air or license. At one stroke 10,000 movies disappeared from popular culture. Some came dribbling back through VHS editions, some made the rounds of dedicated cable channels. Places where a candle in the window still burned for George Raft. I've never had cable, didn't even have a VHS machine until 1998 (I now have my sister Susan's vhs collection as she moved on to dvd and now Netflix). As the modern age deepened the movies one might find on TV, on a UHF channel on a Saturday, or late at night grew as a set and became acceptably tolerable. The element of find is critical, the happenstance, the serendipitous nature. The casual dismissability, the easy ability to turn it off if it gets tedious, or something else needs to be done. The history of movie programming in television is fascinating and I know of at least one book undertaking an academic study of the dynamics Hollywood in the age of television (Book, 1990) which I glanced through as I copy-cataloged it into U Md's broadcast archive collection.

Even worse I enjoyed the New Bad Television era. Which is my name for the glut of new production syndicated television. This is a somewhat aging enthusiasm now, but I fondly recall Bruce Campbell, Tia Carrera, Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda (Lexa Doig, Keith Cobb), Cleopatra 2525, and Lost World. Bruce Campbell is of course back in "Burn Notice" a cable show which ch. 20 (the remnant of the mighty WB/UPN empire) is kind enough to broadcast in syndication on Wednesdays. Things are now looking up again with the move of TV from analog to DTV; every channel gets a handful of side-channels and in the expansion of the medium, broadcast gains a share of puzzling sport or local interest channels, as well as deliberate retro TV like RTN or Antenna TV and dedicated movie channels like the This channel.

This is where this story starts. On such a channel I found a movie where Roger Moore and Lee Marvin along with Barbara Perkins are conniving to blow up a German warship full of sauerkraut-eating proto-Nazi's. They succeed, and it is ever so picturesque when they do. I came in around a half hour from the end. I realized by the end that it was not the movie I had seen twenty minutes of thirty years before, and I didn't manage to catch the name of this movie as the credits ran. The next day I went over to IMDB to try to sort all this out. The two movies I determined after a while were Shout at the Devil from 1976, and Sailor of the King from 1953. There are some parallels in these movies about blowing up ships. The two movies are based on books about naval battles concerning German light cruisers in world war i, both movies add a foreground story to a actual historic incident and changed or obscured the names of the ships, location and other facts.

The movie Shout at the Devil (film) weaves in a complex plot about man and his daughter an American adventurer and thuggish acquisitive Germans. The film changed the ship to the larger, older and more gothic battlecruiser SMS Blucher. How much of the historical liberties originated with the book or the film I don't know. Also changed was the location from the flat hot and undifferentiated jungle of the Rufiji Delta, in Tanganyika, the film was still set in Tanzania but actually filmed on the rugged and incredibly beautiful Umzimvubu river near Port St. Johns, Cape Hermes Transkei South Africa. This is where I'd go if I ever had a honeymoon to go on. The historical incident was the Battle of Rufiji Delta - Wikipedia, on the Rufiji River, Tanzania, July 1915. Involving the light cruiser SMS Konigsberg versus British cruisers, land forces, some airplanes, and two monitors brought around from Malta. The SMS Konigsberg had attempted some commerce raiding in the Indian Ocean, but unforgivably had sunk the light cruiser HMS Pegasus in Zanzibar Harbor in September of 1914. By November of 1914 the British Navy had trapped the Konigsburg, but were unable to get up river to shell her This led to a long miserable campaign to put the ship out of action. Which they finally managed six months later sinking her with the aid of the monitors. Monitors were ships that looked like dwarf battleships, being essentially large gun turrets mounted on barges.

The movie I had mistook Shout at the Devil for was Sailor of the King - Wikipedia, which is based on the book Brown on Resolution by C.S. Forester author of the Captain Hornblower series (who also wrote the book African Queen which is uniquely about two plucky civilians trying to sink a German warship). Sailor of the King was actually the second movie based on Brown and switched the time period from the first World War to the second. There are apparently alternate endings; in the American release Brown survives, this version also carries the title Single-Handed. In the book and UK release his resolution is -to the end. Signalman Brown, hero as ordinary seaman as Forester envisioned him, was played by Jeffrey Hunter who later went on to become the first captain of the starship Enterprise for Gene Roddenberry, but turned down continuing in the role, which was recast for William Shatner. The historical incident was the Battle of Mas a Tierra - Wikipedia, and the demise of the SMS Dresden at the Chilean island of Mas a Tierra (Robinson Crusoe island) during 8-15 March 1915. A German Task force was scattered after battle of the Falkland Islands in the opening days of the war. The light cruiser SMS Emden escaped into the west Pacific and Indian ocean for a legendary commerce raiding spree (before being sunk eventually by the HMAS Sydney). SMS Dresden low on coal was cornered by British cruisers HMS Glasgow and Kent and sunk at Cumberland Bay. In the movie Brown whose ship has just been sunk harasses and prevents the quick repair of the German ship until the Royal Navy shows up.

By the time of these battles all the ships in these stories were around 5 to 10 years old in naval architecture design. The German ships suffered by having coal burning boilers at a time when warship technology was transitioning to oil. Coal was less efficient by weight and the refueling process took significantly longer and with the presence of coal dust was far more dangerous. All European navies were shuttling through ship design iterations rapidly, part of an overall extreme naval arms race. There was considerable uncertainly about the merits of the various armament arrangements and machinery such as the new steam turbine systems. These ships at any rate were superior to the US light cruiser design of the period, the USS Chester class. Although one of those ships the USS Birmingham had been the first warship to launch an airplane, that was one hundred years ago last November.

I can round this out with one additional really random fact. I was copy cataloging a book of Paul Signac"s late period water colors into U. Md's collection a month or so ago. Signac famously painted "Portrait of Felix Fenton" in 1890 a work seeming to predict the pop art of the 1960's. The book was: Signac : les ports de France. (Book, 2010). One watercolor featured a cruiser sailing out of a harbor - which I attempted to identify, believing such a thing possible. The ship name given in the painting's title did not correspond to any French warship I could identify, but appeared to match the name of a minister in the French government of the time. I chalk this up to an aqua-tinted inside joke for lack of better information. The ship itself appeared to be the Suffren or one of her sister ships, a French heavy cruiser : French cruiser Suffren - Wikipedia. The Suffren was later known for an heavily disputed incident in 1946 [Vietnam - Google Books p. 47] where it or a pair of Corvettes under its protection bombarded the city of Haiphong, killing as many as 2000 Vietnamese citizens, allowing Marxist leader Nguyen Sinh Cung (later known as Ho Chi Minh) to sweep the nationalists aside turning his people permanently against the west initiating the first Indochinese war. No one appears to have made a movie of this yet.

11:34:28 PM    ;;

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
A simple suggestion

Like smallpox the Tea Party is still with us. Well it is more a mood than a Party, and while not entirely reducible to the KKK as the KKK might exist today it struggles to gain distance from that. Seriously follow any online discussion or set of comments where they attach themselves to and watch what points of view turn up. Sock puppets in sheets and pointed hoods. The weak leadership associated with this "Tea" Party guarantees that nothing to isolate or excise bigotry from the movement will ever get underway. Instead the procedure will be to weakly deny it, or simply pretend not to see it at all. The other thing becoming clearer as time goes on is that while they rode to town on a debt crisis horse and under that banner their band wagon filled, if you scratch the surface you find obsessions and legislative initiatives of the religious right, and the affair is rather less than wholly libertarian. A significant portion of the tea party is a social conservative bait and switch The Tea Party Is Losing Steam - Joshua Green - Politics - The Atlantic.

A further aspect of the movement is their passionate and conspiratorial embrace of the idea that government is as evil as it is unnecessarily big (unless they have a task for it). I linked to one of Richard Hofstadter's essays on this subject in a post last fall . He was writing in response to McCarthysim and, in the early sixties, to Goldwater's tub thumping. Many of his essays can be found in the collected sets The paranoid style in American politics, and other essays. and Anti-intellectualism in American life. "Whatever happended to AntiTrust" in the former is a fascinating read. There is nothing deader in America than Anti Trust. There are those who say Hofstadter's considerations do not apply to the current Tea Party or Birther situation (currently catching its breath) because he was concerned primarily with demagogic control of the paranoid style. The paranoid style refers as much to the charisma to the exploiting political figure as the styling of the crowd. This is the age of the self organizing mob though. it is significant enough that a persistent strain of paranoid style exists in the America populace, jejune and largely prepackaged. Feeding off the bombast of its own reflected image in the media.

All of that aside I have suggestion for them, a simple suggestion. The tea party and birther contingent should sue the President. The case is simple and straightforward, the takings clause right there in the constitution -- fifth amendment -- freedom from abuse by the government. Barack Obama's competence, or rather if you prefer, his failure to fail. His uncooperative inability to live down to their expectations degrades the value of their whiteness. It leaves their world hollow by showing whitness alone is not the sufficient condition. This is a plain eminent domain taking. Leaving them below well below their perceived market value. It is an expropriation of thier commonly understood supremacy. A confiscation and dispossession of an established property right. a violation of obvious natural laws. It should go forward, I think you will agree, into the courts as a class action suit.

With that offered extended, I feel compelled to a review of other touchstones. What was the point of birtherism? Denigrating the end of Osama Bin Laden I can see, refusing to admit it or mark the accomplishment they don't want to see Obama as competent. But the point of trying to wave the last two years all away, by somehow demonstrating that the man who inarguably grew up and was educated in the US. Educated to an elite level, teaching at Chicago Law school. Winning an Illinois Senatorial election, and four years later the Presidency by a significant margin. That somehow they could get all that to vanish if they can just cover their eyes and doubt his established birth in Honolulu. The only thing it truly marks is a bitter low sourness, a blanket refusal of acceptance. Obama's centrist competence, His stolid and pragmatic sense of hope and change. These are an anathema to his supporters, who desire him activist and crusading. His mere existence naphtha to the right who desire him impotent and stereotyped.

If one thing that holds the Tea Party together it is the vague and inarticulately stated notion that in some way there oughta be a law A law against change. A law against physical change, change in circumstance, situation and status. Against perceived changes in values. For keeping the porch light on, as long as the porch light has a burning filament light bulb.

11:42:34 PM    ;;

Sunday, May 8, 2011
Death of a Salesman

Al Qaeda's big man is dead. The chief peddler of the efficacy of terrorism. Dead on the floor of his big house Osama bin Laden resisted assault but was unarmed, U.S. officials say - The Washington Post That house, iconic brutalist in its barbed wire compound. It's size, its fortress-like, jail-like nature BBC News - Bin Laden: Pakistan intelligence agency admits failures. It reminded me once I put a finger to the association of nothing more the Haitian national jail in Port au Prince which I had seen in a number of pictures last year. Touched by the same architectural djinn of design. I always pictured him in a house very much like this one. With roughly that level of amenities present, perhaps a little more isolated. It was a muzzled end for the salesman of death. Checking to see if his video charisma still held up, trying to sound still the taunting franchiser of fear. Through ever more clipped and irregular missives. Pacing daily in a silent garden Death of Osama bin Laden: Phone call pointed U.S. to compound and to "the pacer" - The Washington Post, in a green leafy suburb belonging real power-brokers of the region. My guess frankly had been for him to turn up in a town like Banjul in the end, obscurity and space along the edge. The Abbottobad cantonment, that was a high risk choice A Look at bin Laden's Compound - This is a town, an old hill station town from the time of British rule, along a modern highway with schools, colleges, hospitals, golf courses, tennis courts, even a hockey arena! And as well the Pakistani military academy. At some level, but what I coulnt't say, the Pakistani army and its government-within-a-government the ISI (Inter Service Intelligence) were involved . A passive neglect perhaps, like Nelson putting a telescope to his blind eye. But it seems a drawn conclusion that some in the Pakistani government were facilitating Bin Laden's stay, with some degree of active hospitality. Others may have known only there were things and places not to look at. To be fair its not a great shock, most people knew Pakistan was playing a strange game for years U.S. Support for Pakistan: A Long Messy History : The New Yorker. They sent a team of feral assassins into Mumbai to murder in a three day spree hundreds of ordinary people just two years ago. To send a message. The competency of more than one terrorist group in the region was gained at the guiding hand of the ISI. DP18Waldman latest.doc - Google Doc

There was some minor controversy attached to the nomenclature of the mission the mission namely that Bin laden or the mission had been code named Geronomo. It in fact was a sub code for the target, denoted by Jackpot, being dealt with. The mission itself was called Neptune Spear Death of Osama bin Laden - Wikipedia. I think the use of Geronimo was a nod to Robert Kaplans 2005 book Imperial grunts : the American military on the ground (Book, 2005) [] a book that dealt extensively with the evolution and use of special forces. Particular with the notion of moving the war on terror largely into their domain and regarding resistant non-integrating actors as so many Bad Indians wanted dead or alive (dealers choice). Call it ironic commentary on a world view they don't necessarily disagree with. An encompassing Manifest Destiny The mission was carried out by Navy Seals a command that has evolved from amphibious landing sappers to the most trained and adept special operations unit the US has. Rounding out DevGru assets is the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment dedicated to deliver and extracting the forces. Loss of a helicopter notwithstanding the mission was a success. It accomplished what it set out to accomplish. So successful in fact that there was an unfortunate tendency to over-share operational detail in the immediate aftermath (at least the mission got off the ground without being leaked to have an aftermath). This was equal opportunity auto-release, the first leak to the press came came from one of Rumsfeld's people. Everyone wanted to know exactly how it went down, but the capacity for such operations is reduced that way. Additionally if you get ahead of the facts in "background" briefings you only create an ill-disciplined mess that requires untangling and often more unnecessary disclosure to sort out White House goes silent on bin Laden raid - The Washington Post. The administration claims their original intent was to stand by a sparse narrative, but that they got pushed off their game Robert Gates: We Had Agreed We Wouldn't Release Details About the Operation Against OBL But 'That All Fell Apart' - Political Punch. They should have anticipated the media frenzy this produced, and not end up in a situation where people felt they were owed a narrative or a handy and immediate PR exploitation.

As the investigative world -- journalistic and ex officio -- begin an excavation of the trail and activities of Bin Laden these last nine years. The most prevalent reaction of most was "About Time" and "Why so long?" Well, it's still a big world out there. Osama Bin Laden's time seems to have involved a brief period of field living at the beginning, a warriors life. Followed by more permanent residence(s). These living arrangements likely adhered to strict underground cells procedures at first, gradually that protocol would lessen through complacency and laziness. At the same time the process of sifting through enormous amounts of intelligence: leads, interrogations, interviews, and intercepts. The yards and miles of aerial photo reconnaissance data ground on. I would argue that it simply took these years to gather and sort through all that information, that no one "gave up" Bin Laden for any obscure reason . It took as long as it took, and the dragnet in the end snagged him. The role of of "enhanced interrogation" is unclear. I haven't seen anything that indicated that this investigation was solely or irrevocably was set on its final path through the magic of water torture. There is a logic that pretends to an unambiguity of directness and action that does not really exist. That if you believe in the existence of certain information, tear it out of whomever you think has it. Apologists beware, this is not even a slippery slope it is an abyss at your heels. Violence and denial. One step back and you fall forever. You become must be fought to regain a just world.

For what its worth and for how the Pentagon sees it the length of time it took to find Bin Laden extends to the global war on terror in general, to all its sundry insurgencies. These are their long wars. They flare up but they render their host societies damaged and unproductive and eventually are run to ground, as long as we are patient and let them keep at it in their own way they believe they have a handle on it From Roman Legions to Navy SEALs: Military Raiding and its Discontents - Adam Elkus - International - The Atlantic:.

Among some observers there was as degree of churlishness on display. An inability to acknowledge the end of Bin Laden at this point in time as a positive accomplishment. Under this government under this President. This may owe to their believing their own BS that the President is incapable of decision.

Bin Laden was going to die. He made the world his battlefield. There was no place he could go now, no safe rest supply base. What al Qaeda means. No particular value to his capture, to hold or try. Nothing he could to alter his fate once we caught up with him. In a sense the bullet that ended his life started it's flight the moment the 11 September hijackers got up from their seats. Even as singular as this case is, it pulls into question the wisdom politics ethics and legality of assassinations. Many of these targeted killings involve extended active breeches of national sovereignty Targeted Killing LRB blog. Additionally they undertaken in the absence of complete information - and that in partial review. All are extrajudicial, and not all we kill are guilty. Even if we freely overlook that, others won't. The sanguinity of our methods may be our legacy.

No where is this base indulgence seen clearer than in the clamor for the death pictures of Bin Laden. Photographic evidential proof is insisted upon, demanded, to serve the blood lust of the doubting Thomases. It is a strange desire and an unintentional deification. Outside of a certain ghoulishness it also marks an elevation of revenge as a higher motivation. As well I think it is a misreading of evil. There is evil in this world that does not require utter individual psychopathy. It only requires simple or subconscious desire, rationalization and opportunity. Bin Laden and other the "monsters" of history are in the end just men. They lived lives that were in more ways than not little different from the ones we live. They approached decisions and made their choices with the same facilties of reason we have. What is in any of us, is somewhere in all of us. All portraits are mirrors. Don't look to a photograph to give you the relief of their otherness, Bin Laden died with a human face.

The great shame in all of this is that we can look back and conjecture the existence of a Bin Laden era. A life time or at least a childhood for many, the various segments of the millennials. Stalked by the spectre of unfathomable enemy. An echo of cold war annihilation in the form of an glowering obtuse theocrat holding an AK-74U. At the center of this lies a large but dubious and unexceptional achievement one that no other generation of Americans has the misfortune of attaining: to make peace with a state of permanent war.

10:27:29 PM    ;;

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A brief glance at the calendar over on the right here shows that because I spent a month writing that last post I didn't actually get anything up for April. This is probably the first time I've skipped a month since I started Atomized Jr.

That post was an example of a piece that somewhere between the initial set of notes and the final post things become tangled in mind and tangled in the page. When I say tangled in the page I mean tangled in my AlphaSmart Neo the word processing device I use for the notes, outline and draft portion of the process here and other writing NEO Direct. The tangled times are when I most feel the Neo's few drawbacks; notably its six line review screen. And while the Neo has a nice feature that allows you to collapse a file to the first line of every paragraph, allowing you to hack an outline, it becomes unwieldy somewhere around seven or eight paragraphs. After that you start to need a separate formal outline to keeps things tidy and on track. I often spend a lot of time weeding repetition out of pieces at this point. There was a period where I used to use OmniOutliner to write posts. It was not a terrible thing by any means, I recommend it highly. I like the portability of the Neo even more (three AA batteries a year, that it autosaves with every keystroke. I like that it is a separate device from the one that holds my email and twitter and Firefox and their worlds of distraction. This also mitigates against writing posts on an iPod touch although one day I will do that in a proof-of-concept manner. In general I don't need to be writing two-thousand word weblog posts.

There is also a disturbing property of thought that it does not resolve against other co-existing ideas tangled in the mind. Contradictions are only apparent when caught within the web of language. Specifically written language when you have committed yourself to a specific word, a specific concept and left a concrete trail of evidence on paper. This is when a piece unwinds on you. When certain beliefs are revealed strands of separate string. Your shoelaces lie untied, assured conclusions provide no support and grand perceptions fall apart. Ignorance is bliss, to be sure. I never feel as smart as when I am responding to something with an ambient frame of reference the zeitgeist provides. This happens so often - and I see it in others - that I can only conclude that thoughts aren't anything, only words are something. Even they are not action.

I didn't, in that last post, say things about Japan I wanted to. I've been to Japan it was one of the places the Navy delivered me to. It was an experience to have Tokyo be the next city to see after growing up near Boston. I went to the top of the Tokyo Tower and observed solemnly that the city below extended to the horizon in all directions. An urban entirety. The Sendai earthquake and tidal wave; however, hit small towns and medium-sized cities NOVA | Japan's Killer Quake:. It was of a scale and nature of human community that seemed oddly familiar and beautiful. I was strongly affected by seeing this side of Japan.

If anyone out there is of the opinion and motions that the phrase "debris fields" has appeared too much in the news recently, I will second that. Like wars and revolutions growing up in Massachusetts tornados belonged in the class of things that happened else where, to others. Even here in mid-Atlantic Maryland, they belonged to the realm of stories. Then one came through College Park a few years ago and amended that. - Tornados are sudden specific non-predictable things. A storm front can hang over three states, tornado watches and warnings can be set against counties, sometimes towns. A tornado though will reach down from from a single cloud and obliterate a path 50 yards wide and a mile long before disappearing forever into thin air. Thinking about the weather, what the weather can do falls into two main categories. It can give too much wind and rain. It can give too little rain. We are at the mercy of nature treading a narrow and precise path. We have evolved within a set of expectations and have survived by the practice of gathering where they hold. Human ingenuity moves unevenly and sails mostly behind the van.

11:50:49 PM    ;;

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