Tuesday, September 30, 2014

PC on campus (yawn) - how much dumber can they get?

The astute social critic John Leo makes some trenchant comments on political correctness at Marquette, ostensibly a Catholic school but in reality a university that should take credit only for its basketball team.  But lest I single out one institute of higher education, be assured that this is commonplace everywhere.

The truly sad thing about this is that universities are supposed to be places where young people go to learn how to think, debate, discover ideas.  Instead, they're just diploma factories that serve the secondary function of indoctrinating, as Rush Limbaugh put it, "young skulls full of mush."  And we wonder why this nation lacks the will to do so much.  I've got a quote appearing on Thursday that's apropos for this kind of thinking.  (Or lack thereof.)


Friday, September 26, 2014

Mr. Ward's lack of responsibility: marijuana proved it

The report from the Ontario County District Attorney and Grand Jury in the case of the August 9, 2014 Empire Super Sprint (360 sprint car) Series event at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in the aforementioned New York township, had a disturbing reference when considering that Kevin Ward Jnr’s irresponsibility led to his death, as was previously mentioned.  The toxicology report of Mr. Ward performed by the coroner of the county uncovered traces of cannabinoids (marijuana) in his system at time of death.

Cannabinoids are prohibited under Section 8 of the World Anti-Doping Code’s Substances Prohibited In Competition.  That matters to Tony Stewart, who has previously applied for an FIA Grade A licence as part of his participation in the Indianapolis 500 (INDYCAR mandates a Grade A licence), and at minimum must hold a Grade B licence (since the 1960’s, NASCAR has required at minimum an FIA Grade B licence – Hurley Haywood angered the SCCA when the autocrosser applied for a NASCAR Grand National licence so he could apply for an FIA Grade B licence, which was approved, promptly finishing eighth at the 1969 Six Hours of The Glen, winning the 2L GT class, in his first professional race, with Peter Gregg, who had spotted him at the autocross event).  Under his FIA licence, he must clear an FIA-approved drug test and face random drug tests.

Mr. Ward had competed in Empire Super Sprint races and some races with a World Racing Group sanctioning.  None of those events has a mandatory random drug testing, and while World Racing Group has a Substance Abuse policy, they do not have mandatory drug testing, which has drawn the ire of drivers in the organisation’s events, with at least two stars telling National Speed Sport News mandatory drug testing should commence.

The lack of responsibility had caused the death of Mr. Ward, and his irresponsibility at the time of his death now was proven with the test showing he had used cannabinoids, prohibited by ACCUS members (NASCAR/IMSA, INDYCAR, USAC, SCCA, NHRA, WKA) under the FIA licences required for competitors.  In light of a huge push by a younger generation pushing for legalization of cannabinoids, pushed by liberal city-states in Colorado, Washington, and California, popular culture, and the Bohemian attitudes of the generation taught by humanism, this death should be another warning shot fired against the pro-pot crowd.  As they said in youth groups at church in my youth, “don’t smoke a pot of pot”.  This incident shows the lack of responsibility by having such drugs in your system.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Cormac McCarthy on the irony of life

Here a year or two back me and Loretta went to a conference in Corpus Christi and I got set next to this woman, she was the wife of somebody or other. And she kept talking about the right wing this and the right wing that. I ain't even sure what she meant by it. The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin somethin bad about em, but of course that's a high compliment in my part of the world. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, said: I don't like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I don't think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I don't have much doubt but what she'll be able to have an abortion. I'm going to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she'll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Originally published June 5, 2007

Monday, September 22, 2014

The cruelest irony

This past weekend was the seventeenth anniversary of gospel music singer and songwriter Rich Mullins' death.  The 41-year old pop singer and his 24-year old protégé, Mitch McVicker, were in a Jeep, driving to Kansas when Mr. Mullins lost control of the short-wheelbase, high centre-of-gravity truck, overturning it.  Both were tossed, with Mr. Mullins hit by a tractor-trailer in the immediate impact of the crash.  Mr. McVicker survived, but admits to injuries that he still suffers today, now at 41 himself, mainly double vision.  Neither was wearing a seat belt.

Sadly, it took Mr. Mullins' death to win his awards, Artist of the Year in 1998 and Song of the Year a year later, in what some called a sympathy vote for the popular songwriter from Kansas, and devoted to St. Francis of Assisi, including a reference to it in his music publishing (he had signed with the independent Reunion label (now part of Sony) from 1982, but had just defected to Word (now part of Warner Music Group) shortly before his death, and had masterworks of his next album already in development;  the rough drafts became known as the first disc of The Jesus Record;  friends finished the songs for commercial production).

With the 45th Gospel Music Association Dove Awards coming next month, the 15th anniversary of the duo's popular win (in March 1999, before the GMA moved the awards show to October in 2012), there was one cruel irony of winning Song of the Year 18 months after his death.  Considering neither was wearing a seat belt, this screenshot from the original GMA Dove Awards broadcast could show the irony as Mr. Mullins (represented by his brother David) and Mr. McVicker were named winners.  And the irony was even crazier considering the last time the very same presenter pairing had presented at the very awards show seven years previously, they gave Sandi Patty her 11th consecutive Female Vocalist of the Year (she never won again).  Later that year, something happened to the male presenter -- and he never did it again.  This time, the cruel irony of the award was because of the way the singer died, and the awards presenter.  Think about it.  Can you see the cruel irony of the Rich Mullins Dove Awards win in this photo?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday - On the Beach

Perhaps it’s the recent talk about the movie adaptation of P.D. James’ novel The Children of Men that brings to mind one of the best-known of the Cold War post-apocalyptic novels, Nevil Shute’s haunting 1957 On the Beach. Like James’ novel, On the Beach tells how people face the approaching end of the human race. Like James' novel, it was made into a so-so movie (starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner). But whereas the end cause in James’ world is unknown, the reasons are all too familiar in Shute’s: nuclear war.

Before you go jumping to conclusions though, I wouldn’t call On the Beach an ideological screed. While there can't be much doubt what Shute thinks of war (he's against it, as most of us are), he approaches the subject with sorrow rather than outrage, melancholy instead of polemics. The novel is set in 1963 Australia following a catastrophic war, and observes its inhabitants as they await the slow drift of the nuclear fallout that brings with it certain death.

What’s left of the American navy is there, led by Captain Dwight Towers, who becomes involved in a platonic relationship with Moira Davidson, an Australian woman introduced to him by mutual friends. While the two form a close friendship, it doesn't go any further than that. It can't, for Towers - a good and decent man - still has a wife and children home in Connecticut. We know they're dead, as is everyone in the Northern Hemisphere, and Towers knows it too - he just can't bring himself to face it. In one poignant scene Towers and Moira go shopping for presents for Towers' family, in particular his quest for a first fishing rod for his son.

Denial seems to be the predominant mood of most of the people we encounter, and what’s most fascinating (and terrifying) about On the Beach is watching how they accept their approaching death. For the most part there is no defiance, no panic in the streets. Society still maintains order, the streets are kept clean and people go about their work and their lives as best they can. On the surface it's as if there's been a slow, backward movement of civilization - cars are apparently a thing of the past, and only enough electricity for radio. It might seem not so different from the rationing and shortages of World War II, except that there was no war Down Under - only the consequences.

People enroll for college courses that won’t be completed, plant gardens they’ll never see, hoard gasoline that won’t be used. A woman goes in for an operation that her doctor says, without a trace of irony, should “give her a few more years of life.” It’s the secret that everyone ignores, the elephant in the room, the crazy aunt living in the attic, who nobody talks about. They talk of a future that's already gone, mouthing the words "next year" even though none of them really believes it. The start of trout season is moved up, and we understand why - by the time the original date rolls around, there won't be any fishermen left. That doesn't stop some from speculating that the government's just doing it for political advantage at the next election - an election, of course, that will never be held. ("Of course," one cynic says, "they'll have to change it back next year.") The date of the Australian Grand Prix is moved up too, and the drivers take ridiculous chances on the rain-slicked track – after all, what difference does it make if you die doing something you love, or wait for the sickness to kill you?

For those who might not be "fortunate" enough to die doing something they love, there's the free euthanasia pills (complete with instructions) being offered by the Aussie government. This may sound like a parody, but it’s deadly serious – and, considering the premium we seem to put on “quality of life” today, it probably creates less of a stir than it did when the book was first published. In particular Shute describes a young husband, an Aussie officer assigned to Towers’ submarine, trying to explain to his wife how she is to euthanize their baby and then herself if he hasn’t returned from his mission by the time the cloud arrives.

All through it the reader is confronted by the humanity of the characters, people struggling to get a grip over something they understand but can't comprehend. The mood shifts subtly during the year or so that the book covers. The world as they know it, the world that's left, becomes oppressive, a kind of living death, as the city slowly starts to fall into disrepair - things are broken but never fixed, shop clerks abandon their stores, people disappear from rooms and never return, presumably clutching the coveted pill in their hands. There is a sudden moment of reckless abandon as the end draws near - gasoline seems to appear out of nowhere, cars fill the streets, there's scattered crime and disorder - but even that lasts only a short time, a final fling while people can still appreciate it. "Everything's just slowing down," someone says sardonically. When reports start to come in of cases of radiation sickness in Melbourne, everyone knows the time has come.

It's that "living dead" sense (which you see so vividly in Eliot's "The Hollow Men," from which Shute gets his title) that I think stays with you after the book is over, the slow and gradual decay, the feeling you get when people just don't give a damn anymore but are helpless to do anything about it - even give up. A telling scene occurs when Towers and Moira go to an art show featuring a painting of a sorrowing Christ against the background of a destroyed city (presumably New York). Towers hates the painting - at first he criticizes it as being "phony" (the planes destroying the city are too low, the buildings are situated all wrong for New York) - and finally the truth comes out. "It couldn't have looked like that," he says, letting the denial fall away for just a moment. He goes on to say he gets no comfort from the painting: "as for religion, that's just not my line."

"You go to church regularly," Moira says.

"Oh well, that's different," Towers replies.

It is one of the saddest sections of this sad, sad book, this lack of consolation. Religion is there, sort of, but it's just pro forma. It doesn't really mean anything. In that sense I suppose it does nothing so much as mirror our own attitudes toward religion - it is a cultural thing, something you do, but not something you actually believe.

If there is a major shortcoming to On the Beach, I think it revolves around Shute's brief explanation of the war itself - how it came about, where it happened and why. Not that his explanation is implausible (it manages to indict everyone without pointing fingers at anyone) - it's just unnecessary. The war is the monster under the bed, Eliot's "Shadow," the great force that has nonetheless managed to ruin everything, no matter how they try to ignore it. As one character comments, "There never was a bomb dropped in the Southern Hemisphere. Why must it come to us? Can't anything be done to stop it?" As in any good horror story it’s the fear of the unknown rather than the known that is the most terrifying. The greatest of these stories are those in which the monster is never seen save fleetingly: a shadow, the movement of a window drape, the creak of a floorboard. Better that the war should have been seen that way, visible only in the effect it's had, but never seen straight on. To spell it out even to the extent that Shute does is to injection a brief glimpse of reality into a nightmare world that, because of its serenity, remains all the more nightmarish.

Some critics have pointed to other flaws: stilted writing, wooden dialogue, implausible behavior, bad science. It’s tempting to say these people are missing the point, though. (And you have to read this book in the context of the 50s, rather than the let-your-feelings-hang-out mores of today.) Ultimately what resonates with the reader is not how well the book is written or how realistic the dialogue is. It’s the atmosphere Shute creates - this overwhelming, almost unbearable sense of sadness. To truly appreciate it, try reading the last thirty or so pages while listening to all three parts of the Kyrie from Bach's Mass in B Minor, or perhaps Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix from Saint-Saens' Samson et Dalila. If you're familiar with either of those pieces, then you'll understand what I'm talking about. If, after you finish this book you look at your loved ones and suddenly feel just how precious life is, then you understand what I'm talking about, too.


Read T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" here.

Originally published February 23, 2007

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This Just In

Yanks Push for Jeter Sainthood

(New York City)—The New York Yankees, celebrating the closing days of Derek Jeter’s long and respected career as their team captain and perennial All-Star, have reportedly appealed to the Vatican to “fast track” what could eventually be Jeter’s designation as a full-fledged saint in the Catholic Church.

“Derek means so much to our team, our fans, the city of New York, basically everyone, everywhere,” said Brian Cashman, Yankee General Manager. “His brilliant career is coming to an end, but we know that his influence and legacy will continue. Proclaiming him a saint will be a helpful step in that direction.”

The canonization of a person into official sainthood is normally a lengthy and complicated process, although in recent years, most notably in the case of Pope John Paul, special dispensations have been allowed to shorten the time period. Also, people who become saints are normally dead first, but the Yankees are hoping for a waiver in that category as well.

An artist's conception of the icon being
prepared for center field
Whether or not Jeter is a practicing Catholic may also come into play, but shouldn't be a roadblock, says Cashman. "Catholic, Jew, Protestant, Muslim, atheist, agnostic--we think Derek really transcends all of that."

Whether or not Jeter is a practicing Catholic may also come into play, but shouldn't be a roadblock, says Cashman. "Catholic, Jew, Protestant, Muslim, atheist--we think Derek really transcends all of that."

Jeter, currently batting .260 with 40 RBIs, would need an authenticated miracle to confirm his sainthood. One undocumented incident is now under investigation. When Yankee teammate Jacoby Ellersby broke his bat during a game against the White Sox in late August, Jeter later took the bat, rubbed it, and handed it back to Ellersby—in perfect condition. Another unidentified teammate also reportedly saw Jeter carrying on a friendly conversation with Ichiro Suzuki—in fluent Japanese.

“Whatever happens with the sainthood thing, we’re making sure Derek will not be forgotten by Yankee fans,” said Cashman. A statue of Jeter is now being planned for Yankee Stadium, a 75-foot-tall structure that may also serve as the stadium’s right field foul pole. However, should the drive for canonization succeed, team officials have discussed adding a relic off of Jeter's person - perhaps a bone chip from the ankle surgery he underwent in 2012 - to Monument Park in place of the standard plaque.

If and when Jeter’s sainthood is confirmed, it is possible that having a former major leaguer in that realm may be beneficial to those in special need. “I could see Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Pete Rose being very interested in all of this,” says Harold (Big Mitt) Ketchum, former board member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. “With Jeter’s divine help, they may actually have a prayer.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The sad state of sports

At one point Friday evening, the top ten headlines at Fox Sports included the following: a football player indicted for child abuse, the NFL players union approving a new drug test program, an NBA general manager dealing with charges of racism, a baseball player suspended for drug use, data showing 28% of NFL players will suffer some type of dementia, another football player dealing with domestic abuse, an Olympic athlete convicted of homicide, and a racing driver taking the place of another one killed in an accidental accident.  And this didn't include the calls for the NFL commissioner to resign, and the stories leading up to that.

As you can see, it's a pretty grim legacy.  Truth be told, last week was not the best week if you're in the sports PR business, although it certainly provided you with job security.  And they say sports is supposed to provide us with a break from real life.

Of course, those who participate in sports - players, managers, owners, fans - are simply one subset of society as a whole, complete with the same foibles and graces that you might find in any group of individuals that share a particular trait.  In that sense, we shouldn't expect to see sports headlines that are any different than those we read about in the news.  As well, the media love to focus on "stories," usually negative ones.  All that being the case, it was still an extraordinary sports week, and a depressing one.  And to the extent that sports does mirror the rest of society, it tells us much about the world in which we live.  

But then, we have other headlines to deal with: dissension in the Church, terrorism and genocide in the Middle East, non-stop partisan bickering on Capitol Hill, a president who doesn't seem to know which end is up, a nation seemingly at war with itself.  .  It can make the world of sports seem tranquil by comparison.  I'm fond of often writing the phrase "my point is," but I'm not sure there's a point to all this.  Those who say the world is going to hell in a handbasket have a lot of ammunition behind that argument right now.  

There are still good stories in sports, just as there are good people.  (And good headlines in the news, though they may be even fewer and farther between.)  And the drama of a live sporting event is still difficult to surpass, which is one reason why so many of us keep coming back for more, even while knowing who we're dealing with.

There will be a time, though, when each of us has to ask of ourselves whether or not it's worth it, or if we're simply the idle Romans being entertained by the circus in the Colosseum - the gladiators, the Christians being fed to the lions - while the empire crumbles around us.  I reached that point a few years ago when I quit watching the NFL* and NBA, and I don't doubt that other sports are standing in line waiting their turn (and not too patiently, it seems).

*Baseball, on the other hand, besides being corrupt, is also boring.

The thought of this sickens me, as it should everyone who used to enjoy the simplicity and competition of sports.  So much of it is about money nowadays, which I think has no little impact on everything else going on.  But so much of it is like the horse that's already out of the barn - there's not much anyone can do over it, and if we fuss too much, we're dismissed as curmudgeons.  

And until that time comes for each of us, when we have to decide what's important for us, we'll sit back and watch: watch the games, watch the headlines, and wait for the next shoe - or body - to drop.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Wish I'd written that

Until you guys own your own souls you don't own mine.  Until you guys can be trusted every time and always, in all times and conditions, to seek the truth out and find it and let the chips fall where they may - until that time comes, I have the right to listen to my conscience, and protect my client the best way I can.  Until I'm sure you won't do him more harm than you'll do the truth good.  Or until I'm hauled before somebody who can make me talk.

- Philip Marlowe, written by Raymond Chandler, The High Window

Friday, September 12, 2014

This Just In

NFL Cracks Down on Domestic Violence; Affirms Nightclub Brawls, Strip Joint Shootings and Other Random Violence Still OK 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Figures for an Apocalypse

VI: In the Ruins of New York
by Thomas Merton

The moon is paler than an actress
We have beheld her mourning in the brown ivy
Of the dendric bridges,
In the brown, broken ivy
That loves but a span of air.

The moon is paler than an actress, and weeps for you, New York,
Seeking to see you through the tattered bridges,
Leaning down to catch the sham brass
Of your sophisticated voice,
Whose songs are heard no more!

Oh how quiet it is after the black night
When flames out of the clouds burned down your cariated teeth,
And when those lightnings,
Lancing the black boils of Harlem and the Bronx,
Spilled the remaining prisoners,
(The ten and twenties of the living)
Into the trees of Jersey,
To the green farms, to find their liberty.

How are they down, how have they fallen down
Those great strong towers of ice and steel.
And melted by what terror and what miracle?
What fires and lights tore down,
With the white anger of their sudden accusation,
Those towers of silver and of steel?

You whose streets grew up on trellises
With roots in Bowling Green and tap-roots in the Upper Bay:
How are you stripped, now to your skeleton:
What has become of your lie and dead flesh:
Where is the shimmer of your bawdy leaves?
Oh, where your children in the evening of your final Sunday
Gunned after one another in the shadows of the Paramount,
The ashes of the leveled towers still curl with tufts of smoke
Veiling your obsequies in their incinerating haze
They write, in embers, this your epitaph:

”This was a city
That dressed herself in paper money.
She lived four hundred years
With nickels running in her veins.
She loved the waters of the seven purple seas,
And burned on her own green harbor
Higher and whiter than ever any Tyre.
She was as callous as a taxi;
Her high-heeled eyes were sometimes blue as gin,
And she nailed them, all the days of her life,
Through the hearts of her six million poor.
Now she has died in the terrors of a sudden contemplation
Drowned in the waters of her own, her poisoned well.”

Can we console you, stars,
For the so long survival of such wickedness?
Tomorrow and the day after
Grasses and flowers will grow
Upon the bosom of Manhattan.
And soon the branches of the hickory and sycamore
Will wave where all those dirty windows were--
Ivy and the wild-grape vine
Will tear those weak walls down,
Burying the brownstone fronts in freshness and fragrant flowers;
And the wild-rose and the crab-apple tree
Will bloom in all those silent mid-town dells.
There shall be doves’ nests, and hives of bees
In the cliffs of the ancient apartments,
And birds shall sing in the sunny hawthorns
Where was once Park Avenue.
And where Grand Central was, shall be a little hill
Clustered with sweet, dark pine.

Will there be some farmer, think you,
Clearing a place in the woods,
Planting an acre of bannering corn
On the heights above Harlem forest?
Will hunters come explore
The virgin glades of Broadway for the lynx and deer?
Or will some hermit, hiding in the birches, build himself a cell
With ths stones of the city hall,
When all the caved-in subways turn to streams
And creeks of fish,
Flowing in sun and silence to the reedy Battery?

But now the moon is paler than a statue.
She reaches out and hangs her lamp
In the iron trees of this destroyed Hesperides.
And by that light, under the caves that once were banks and theaters,
The hairy ones come out to play--
And we believe we hear the singing of the manticores
Echo along the rocks of Wall and Pine.
And we are full of fear, and muter than the upside-down stars
That limp in the lame waters,
Muter than the mother moon who, white as death,
Flies and escapes across the wastes of Jersey.

(H/T Fr. Z)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

S. Truett Cathy was never afraid to devise, even in his 90s

Looking at the obituaries this week at Chick-fil-A for S. Truett Cathy, who was 93, he not only had his three children, but four grandchildren currently own restaurants (from all three children).  A daughter served on missions field along with her husband, and he later returned home to serve in the executive offices at the organisation that commissions missionaries at the denomination for 20 years.  The boys actively teach Bible studies at the churches near their homes, following in his footsteps south of Maynard Jackson Airport.  They've become national and sponsor college sports, with the only Conference Guaranteed Game of the Week (the CBS SEC broadcasts are guaranteed national;  all ESPN and Fox games are regionally selected, and there is no guarantee of a conference receiving the same time slot every week), an ESPN College Football Playoff game, and the National Championship Game when the game is assigned to New Atlanta Stadium.

But even in his 90's, Truett had a dream, something that showed as he was slowing down, he was not even slowing down – he was still full throttle on ideas.  In the 1990's, the Truett's Grill restaurants opened in Atlanta to join the Dwarf Grill and Chick-fil-A.  After acquiring a strip mall in Peachtree City, he looked at 8,000 square feet of space and conceived what he called a dream restaurant.  At 91, Truett Cathy thought of a final project as a special restaurant with fun, life with family and friends, and a larger than regular restaurant.  It was a full service restaurant that he and colleagues developed.  Things you would never see at either of his three restaurants were there – down to Hawaiian seafood and treats, salads, burgers (at Truett's Grill, naturally), and of course those signature chicken sandwiches, albeit with some toppings you'd never see in the mainline restaurants.

All we need is Brian Tyler's version of a 1968 Morton Stevens tune, a black 2014 Camaro SS, and Truett Cathy, in December 2013 at 92, had that project that would eventually be his final project.  And it was out of the box thinking that would make an Atlanta trip more exciting – the cows wearing leis, hanging signs, “Eat More Shrimp” or “Eat More Fish,” or even “Seafood Truett Style”.

Godspeed, Truett.  Well done, my child.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The hacked celebrity photos, and Hedy Lamarr's breasts

I've thought that there was something I should say about that celebrity photo-hacking scandal from last week, but I wasn't quite sure which way to go with it.  I mean, there are enormous cultural overtones involved*, not to mention meditations on freedom, privacy, and the meaning of both.  I thought that Grantland's Molly Lambert did a pretty good job touching on some of the deeper implications of it all, but it wasn't really what I would have written if I'd had the chance.  And as the days passed, I began to fear that I might be the only blogger out there not to have written about it.  What to do, what to do.

*No pun intended.

And then came Fred Schwarz's piece in National Review Online.  I mean, this is what I'd been looking for from the beginning.  Its sense of symmetry and irony is unmatched, and it has all the elements of one of Rudyard Kipling's "Just So" stories, not to mention the Six Degrees game.  It tells, in a few short paragraphs, the story of the classic movie star Hedy Lamarr, and how the hacked photos can be traced directly back to her.

Lamarr was a big time movie star in the '30s and '40s.  She appeared in the extraordinarily (for the time) provocative movie Ecstasy and she costarred in Hollywood movies with everyone from Spencer Tracy to Clark Gable to Bob Hope.  If you're not familiar with her work, you still might recognize her name from the Blazing Saddles character Hedley Lamarr.  So Lamarr was a star, both famous and infamous.  There was one problem though, at least for Hedy: her small breasts.  In a story regarding her movie Samson and Delilah, in which she started with movie muscleman Victor Mature, Groucho Marx supposedly told director Cecil B. DeMille that "he had gotten the lead roles backwards, because  'Victor Mature has much bigger knockers than Hedy Lamarr."”

Because of her self-consciousness, Lamarr came to call on George Antheil, a man of many talents: composer, musician, author, inventor, and dabbler in endocrinology.  Antheil suggested hormone treatments to enlarge Lamarr's breasts.  They didn't help much, but it did lead to a friendship that would take a different turn some time later, when

Lamarr told Antheil about an idea she had. Her first husband, whom she had divorced, was the Austrian arms manufacturer Fritz Mandl, who did extensive business with Nazi Germany (though his father was Jewish, as were Lamarr’s parents). From Mandl and his associates, she had learned about radio-controlled torpedoes, and how the enemy could jam the signals that were used to guide them. Lamarr wondered: What if the guidance signals were sent out in a series of brief bursts, each on a different frequency, and then decoded with a device inside the torpedo? In that case jamming, which requires a steady signal, wouldn’t work.

Antheil immediately grasped the importance of this idea, and after he and Lamarr worked out the details, they took out a U.S. patent, which was initially kept secret for security reasons. The patent can be seen here (Hedwig Kiesler Markey was Lamarr’s legal name at this point; she would eventually rack up half a dozen husbands). While somewhat similar schemes had been proposed or discussed earlier, this was the first patent in the field of what is now called frequency-hopping spread spectrum. 

The Lamarr-Antheil patent has been used frequently in many forms of technology over the years, one of which being - the cell phone.

The same cell phone that, through years of evolution, is used by many of us - including Upton, Jennifer Lawrence, and all those other celebrities - to take selfies.

And that, my friends, is how Hedy Lamarr's small breasts are forever linked to Kate Upton's large ones.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Flashback Friday: Wish I'd written that

Idon't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.'

Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. "You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, Goddamnit! My life has value!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'

I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: [Screaming at the top of his lungs] 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'

Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch), written by Paddy Chayefsky, Network

Did you ever notice now many people get the line wrong?  They'll say, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore."  Chayefsky was quite specific in what he was writing.  He didn't say, "it" - he told everyone that this what he was lashing out at.  The sheer dehumanization of man.  The quote can be applied to anything, but to fully appreciate it you have to put it in context.  He wasn't raging at everything, but something very specific and direct.  It only seems, nowadays, as if it applies to everything.

Originally written February 2, 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Burger King inversion controversy

Reports have been rampant over Burger King Worldwide (NYSE : BKW) and their acquisition of Tim Hortons (NYSE : THI), the Canadian pastry chain, and moving offices from Miami to Tim Hortons' offices in Toronto, in an inversion deal. One player in the deal, Warren Buffett, says the patriotism of Tim Hortons matters.

Both firms have had citizenship changes in the past. From 1989 until 2003, Burger King was British under the ownership of British firm Grand Metropolitan (now Diageo - NYSE : DEO), and spun off by Diageo when they sold off non-alcohol interests to interests led by Bain Capital. From 1995 until 2006, Tim Hortons carried an American flag when it was owned by Wendy's (NYSE : WEN) in a deal where Wendy's signature figure Dave Thomas met Tim Horton's business partner Ron Joyce when someone who owned both franchises developed a combination store -- and later led to Wendy's acquisition of Tim Hortons, where Tim Hortons was now Ohio-based and started work in a camp in Kentucky as part of Wendy's work. After Dave Thomas' death, activist investor Nelson Pelz demanded a breakup of Wendy's, a spinning off Tim Hortons, where it returned to Canada, in 2006, eventually leading to Mr. Pelz acquiring Wendy's after he split the company.

There are stores in Ontario owned by Ron Joyce Jr Enterprises -- which is actually the original partnership with Ron Joyce Jnr and wife Jeri-Lyn (née Horton) owning those stores in the area.

The majority of readers might not see that both Burger King and Tim Hortons have had "citizenship" swaps over the years with corporate takeovers. This reminds me of how Bi-Lo acquired Winn-Dixie in bankruptcy court, then proceeded to make an inversion when Bi-Lo left Greenville Couty (Mauldin) for Duval County, Florida, where Winn-Dixie was based, to form Southeastern Grocers.
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