Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's a Twitter World

Finally have been forced to join Twitter, as it has (unfortunately) become the news feed of choice.  The restrictions of 140 characters might appeal to some people.  I find it abhorrent as one cannot tell a story in that space, only a brief, fleeting emotion (or invective in the case of “some”).  Still, for late-breaking news (both fake and real) it’s a medium that needs to be reckoned with.  So, this old dog is trying to reckon.

From time to time I might post a string of Tweets here that tell a story, such as watching Obama’s moving farewell speech, then seeing a Tweet on Ben Bradlee’s memoir about Nixon’s accusation that the Press fabricated Watergate, and then, coincidentally on the very next day, seeing Carl Bernstein (live, not on TV) talk about Watergate and the role the Press still plays, even in this treacherous “fake news” environment.  Mr. Bernstein still has the right stuff – an impressive speaker.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Hunters

How many men start out as an F-86 pilot during the Korean War and then become a writer over the next 50 years?  James Salter wasn’t prolific, but great nonetheless.  I had already read what has been considered his best works, Light Years,  All That Is and A Sport and a Pastime

I’m generally not “into” war novels (although will never forget reading Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, tears streaming down my face reading the concentration camp chapters), so to this point I had avoided Salter’s first novel, The Hunters.  Perhaps this is also because I had seen the movie version on Turner Classic Movies, staring my favorite film noir actor, Robert Mitchum (also with Robert Wagner and May Britt).  The novel is very different from the film, hardly bearing any resemblance, other than a story of F-86 fighter pilots during the Korean War.  Salter’s novel is so superior, but of course it’s literature, not Hollywood.  Salter must have agonized over the changes that were made to his novel for the screen version.

Cleve Connell arrives at Kimpo air base at the height of the Korean War.  There, the F-86 pilots do a dance of death with their MIG-15 enemies.  Connell learns this dance means to hunt or be hunted, kill or be killed, a path to fame or ignominy.

The wonder of flying, only decades after flight itself was pioneered by the Wright Brothers, is encapsulated by Salter, an experienced F-86 pilot.  This novel could not have been written without that credential or by a person indifferent to the joys of flying.  Cleve is ready for one of his early missions, congregating with the other pilots while waiting to go out to his “ship” as they referred to their F-86’s:  He was not fully at ease. It was still like being a guest at a family reunion, with all the unfamiliar references. He felt relieved when finally they rode out to their ships. Then it was intoxicating. The smooth takeoff, and the free feeling of having the world drop away. Soon after leaving the ground, they were crossing patches of stratus that lay in the valleys as heavy and white as glaciers. North for the fifth time. It was still all adventure, as exciting as love, as frightening. Cleve rejoiced in it.

Cleve fantasizes about turning his flying skills into a sport, becoming an ace (5 kills).  He romanticizes to his wingman, while being aware that it’s not necessarily the best prepared pilots who become aces:  Odd. Everything about this ought to be perfect for you and me. Here we are, by sheer accident, in the most natural of worlds, and of course that means the most artificial, because we're very civilized. We're in a child's dream and a man's heaven, living a medieval life under sanitary conditions, flying the last shreds of something irreplaceable, I don't know what, in a sport too kingly even for kings. Nothing is missing, and yet it's the men who don't understand it at all that become its heroes.

By then, though, he is already transitioning into some self doubt, even after a brief burst of confidence after his first kill.  Soon he sinks into an even larger sinkhole of remorse, and finally finding an acceptance of his self worth in the end.  He is tormented, directly or indirectly by his arch rival, Pell, a man he learns would claim unsubstantiated kills or even put his wing-man in harm’s way to get a kill….he hated Pell. He hated him in a way that allowed no other emotion. It seemed he was born to, and that he had done it from the earliest days of his life, before he ever knew him, before he even existed. Of all the absolutes, Pell was the archetype, confronting him with the unreality and diabolical force of a medieval play, the deathlike, grinning angel risen to claim the very souls of men. When he dwelt upon that, Cleve felt the cool touch of fear. There was no way out. He knew that if Pell were to win, he himself could not survive.

But these opportunities for wins frequently were the consequence of just sheer luck.  The squadron flew three or four missions a day and pilots are not assigned to all.  Some came back their noses blackened, the fuel tanks dropped, indicating a dog fight while others do not see MIGs during the entire mission.  Cleve’s pick of the litter tended to be in the latter category while Pell’s were in the former, so no wonder.

The Hunters is a well developed novel, gathering momentum to the end, becoming so compelling one can’t put the book down the deeper you get into it.  Although a war novel, it is written by a then young writer whose prose, you can tell, would lead him to greatness, not in the air, but on the page.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Another Day, Another Horror

A mass shooting at an airport, the denial by the President Elect that his “victory” had anything to do with Russia’s revenge plot against Hillary Clinton (even though he, himself, used the very fake news Russia implanted) – just an ordinary day in the U. S. of A.  The normalization of such events inures us to it all.  How much can we absorb each day of reports of violence and a President-to-Be who is consumed by his monolithic view of how events affect our perception of HIM rather than how events (such as the Russian involvement in our election) impact the nation Putin prefers HIM to lead?  The distrust of Clinton that was baked into the election by Russian hacking and Trump’s demagoguery was probably enough to shift those relatively small margins in WI, MI, and PA that gave him the Electoral lead. 

Trump’s call for “Congressional Hearings” (sorry, wrong venue, Donald, try the FBI) to investigate why NBC allegedly received intelligence information before he did, reveals his world view.  He disparages “intelligence” and our intelligence professionals on the one hand (“I’m smarter than all the Generals”), but wants to first receive what he considers misinformation before a network against which he has a vendetta.  Look forward to government by retaliation.  As he would Tweet, NOT NICE!

As to gun violence, the ubiquity of guns, and our failure to connect that issue with mental health challenges and intelligence needed to keep nut jobs off our planes (even allowing them to check weapons in their luggage), there is just growing legislative intransigence.  After Sandy Hook one would think we’d have stricter gun laws.  Instead, the nation is gravitating to “open carry” including such a movement in my state, Florida.  Its insanity, especially with Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law.  I’ve written about gun control ad nauseam, so no sense repeating everything here.  And, no, I’m not for repealing the 2nd amendment and neither was Hillary Clinton as accused by Trump.

Will Trump ever get serious beyond his Tweets?  His actions even before taking the Office of the Presidency makes one already think about future impeachment on the grounds of Treason (giving aid and comfort to the enemies of our country).

These were my thoughts as I made coffee this morning only to discover I was so deep in thought (sort of writing this entry in my mind) that I had forgotten to put the coffee pot under the drip so I found myself in damage control, going through half a roll of paper toweling, moping the counter and the floor: a microcosm of the mess we’re in.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A 'Honey Fitz' New Year

What delightful serendipity, going out on my boat with “the kids” before the end of the year, on the Intracoastal, and encountering JFK’s Presidential Yacht, the Honey Fitz a 92-foot motor yacht built in 1931 by the Defoe Boat Works in Bay City, Michigan.  Although five US Presidents have cruised the vessel, it was JFK who took to her and thus the vessel will forever be associated with him. The full story is recounted by the JFK Library.  The Honey Fitz is stately, classic, and apt for the time when the Office of the Presidency was as well. 

Our preNew Year’s cruise took us around Peanut Island and past the Kennedy bunker on the island, built for him during the cold war and was in readiness during the Cuban missile crisis.  His part-time home in Palm Beach mandated the bunker which can still be visited.  See this nifty one minute video for the full story and to see the interior.  Undoubtedly, the furnishings are too primitive for the President-elect (alas, nothing gold-plated).

After the Honey Fitz was retired for Presidential service, it finally became a charter vessel and the full story of how it was refitted to meet Coast Guard specifications for such use is told here.

We closed out the year by watching the last sunrise of 2016 over the Atlantic.  Hopefully, 2017 and the next four years will be good to all. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas Lullaby

Talk about unknown Christmas songs.  Christmas Lullaby was written for Cary Grant by none other than Peggy Lee (Lyrics) and Cy Coleman (Music).  It is the simplest of tunes and lyrics but therein is its beauty.  And the story of how it came to be written and recorded by Cary Grant is told by Jessica Pickens in her blog, Comet Over Hollywood. YouTube captures Grant’s recording for posterity

James Gavin, in his biography of Peggy Lee, Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee, said “Christmas Lullaby as Lee called it, wasn’t anything too special. ‘Angles bless you, little one…my little one, sleep well.’ But as Lee sat alongside Grant at a Hollywood studio and gazed at him while he talk sang her words, he could have been intoning Emily Dickinson.”

Although Christmas is not the same for me as it was when I was growing up and then for us as parents raising two sons (happily both visiting us this holiday), the spirit indelibly left its mark.  I posted YouTube piano versions of two of my favorite Christmas pieces, one two years ago --  a Bill Evans composition, It’s Love It’s Christmas, and, last year, Vince Guaraldi’s classic Christmas Time Is Here. 

So I offer one of Christmas Lullaby, a lovely one minute waltz.  Lyrics are below.  Happy and Healthy Holidays to all!

Angels bless you little one / while you’re fast asleep.
You’ll awake to dancing toys, candy canes, Christmas joys.
And I pray your whole life through, Angels will watch over you,
loving you the way I do my little one, sleep well.
Angels bless you little one / while you’re fast asleep.
You’ll awake to dancing toys, candy canes, Christmas joys.
And I pray your whole life through, Angels will watch over you,
loving you the way I do my little one, sleep well.

Copyright © 1967 by Notable Music Co. Inc. and Denslow Music Co. Inc.