Herman Wouk

Author Herman Wouk at his home in Palm Springs in 2000. (Los Angeles Times)

It’s strange how things happen. As some of you’ll be aware, I found out a few short weeks ago, while I was on break, that Herman Wouk, one of my favorite authors, was still alive at 103. That was from a post at Warsclerotic that reminded us that Winds of War/War and Remembrance are available on YouTube. I’ve been watching them (binge-watching, really).  Between them, especially the books, they form perhaps the best overall history of World War II.

That was from an article there by the site’s editor, Joseph Wouk, and I commented how much his dad’s writing, going back to The Caine Mutiny when I was perhaps eight years old, had taught me some lessons that had stood the test of time. Joseph kindly informed that his father was still alive and nearing his 104th birthday.

Sadly, he didn’t make it, dying last Friday, writing till the end. That remarkable since his first novel was published shortly after World War II, in which he served as an officer in a destroyer minesweeper, which will sound familiar to anyone who has ever read about the Caine or seen the play or movie adapted from it.

As I told Joseph, The Caine taught me much about organizations and how they work and has stuck with me. In fact, I wrote about it back in 2013, in a post titled Of Mutiny and Education.  What is interesting about what is probably a somewhat inaccurate book review in it, is that I hadn’t read the book in probably 30 years, and a fair amount of it stuck with me. And allowed me to draw lessons from it. And, you know, that article still has lessons for us, as well.

Not surprisingly he’s been eulogized all over the world. You can find quite a few at Warsclerotic. I rather like the one in the LA Times.

Herman Wouk, the prolific and immensely popular writer who explored the moral fallout of World War II in the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Caine Mutiny” and other widely read books that gave Americans a raw look at the horrors and consequences of war, has died at his Palm Springs home, where he wrote many of his acclaimed novels.

Wouk, who was honored by the Library of Congress in September 2008 with its first lifetime achievement award for fiction writing, died in his sleep Friday at the age of 103, his literary agent Amy Rennert told the Associated Press. Wouk was working on a book at the time of his death, Rennert said.

As a writer, Wouk considered his most “vaultingly ambitious” work the twin novels “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” about “the great catastrophe of our time,” World War II. Critics, however, considered “The Caine Mutiny” to be his finest work.

Taut and focused, the book is a riveting exploration of power, personal freedom and responsibility. “Caine” won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for literature and was on the New York Times’ bestseller list for more than two years, selling more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and Britain in the first few years after its publication.

In the novel, Wouk creates one of American literature’s most fascinating characters, Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the U.S. destroyer-minesweeper Caine, who is removed from his command by a lower-ranking officer in the middle of a typhoon.

In one of the book’s most famous scenes, concerning the theft of the captain’s strawberries, Queeg lapses into paranoid incoherence as he is questioned during his court-martial. He pulls a pair of ball bearings from his pocket and obsessively shuffles them in his hand:

“Ah, but the strawberries! That’s, that’s where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with, with geometric logic, that, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist. And I would have produced that key if they hadn’t pulled the Caine out of action. I, I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer. (He pauses, realizing that he has been ranting.)

“Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory.”

Keep reading, nor would it hurt any of us to revisit these works, to learn again how we won the war, but more how we treat people to accomplish our mission, and even more, perhaps, to simply enjoy ourselves. Like a good storytelling father, Herman Wouk brings us a lesson while entertaining us with a ripping yarn.

Rest in peace sir, knowing you are missed, and your memory honored.

The Dance Begins

And so, last night the Big Dance started as the first 13 games of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament were played. As far as I am concerned this is the greatest tournament in sports. 64 of the greatest teams playing the greatest game, single elimination, no second chances. Like the game itself, it’s a very American format.

Actually, it’s a very Hoosier thing. The NCAA didn’t invent this, the IHSAA did. Who? you ask. The Indiana High Scholl Athletic Association is who. This until just a few years ago, is how Indiana found the best basketball team in Hoosierland, who taught the world to play. Dr. Naismith himself watching an Indiana high school game remarked that Indiana had recreated a much-improved game to what he invented.

That tournament still exists although in a mutilated form. Some years ago, the age of all must have prizes reared its ugly head and they divided it into classes, and now it’s no big deal. Well, it still is, which is why the Purdue blog I read, carries the brackets and scores for the HS tourney. That’s great for us expats, but it’s not the same.

No room anymore for a Milan to beat South Bend Central, the true back story to the movie Hoosiers. Can’t happen now, and so they took away a dream, to give a few more trophies, which have far less significance now. As I’ve said before, when you watch Hickory walk into the Butler Fieldhouse in Hoosiers, that’s a venue that Hoosier Hysteria built.

No more every February, us guys in the small schools wondering how far Cloverdale, the smallest school in the state, will get. No more wondering if this is the year when we will beat Michigan City Elston, the largest school in the state. We never did, we lost every year, in the sectional finals, usually not by all that much.

But so is the NCAA, and in truth the NBA. Back in World War II, the Hoosiers involved taught the world to play a pretty simple game, and to play it our way, and to win.

Remember the UCLA Bruins when we were young, winning the NCAA 8 out of 10 years, coached by an Indiana high school and Purdue legend, John Wooden. They’re still trying to make it happen again, they just fired Steve Alford, from New Castle and an Indiana Mr. Basketball in high school, before playing at IU under the great Bobby Knight. Who was a bit mercurial though, throwing a chair across Purdue’s court is frowned upon. Now there are rumors they are trying to poach Purdue’s Matt Painter, nobody seems overly worried though.

If your curious IU won last night, and my Boilers will play later this week, showing off their record 24th Big Ten championship, although they didn’t manage to win the tournament.

But my favorite memory of the tournament remains Indiana State versus Michigan State, Larry Bird from French Lick against Magic Johnson.

And so the dance cards are filled out and the music has begun  And after the last dance on April 8th, only one will remain standing.

Meanwhile, how about the trailer from Hoosiers, the original March Madness.

Puritans to the left of me

I’m not especially comfortable talking about social issues, so mostly I don’t. Although I do read about them, and sometimes comment elsewhere on them. A lot of leftists and mixed up folk have found out that I’m an orthodox Christian that way. Nor am I ashamed of it, its just that other people do a better job of talking about it. But sometimes it gets so egregious and silly, that I decide to talk about it as well. Like now. From William Murchison in The American Spectator.

[A]s Cole Porter slyly reminds us: “In olden days a glimpse of stocking/Was looked on as something shocking/Now heaven knows/Anything goes…”

Well, you know: depending on the state of Puritan politics at a given moment. The Puritan habit of scolding, and gazing sourly, on others for Improper Behavior is a human constant. And not just among long-faced conservatives, I beg to point out.

Let us contemplate — if we have to, and I guess we do — the current attempt to deplore a non-Porter song written before most living Americans were born, having fun with a guy’s attempt to coax a girlfriend into staying put amid the warmth of his apartment. The song, of course, is Frank Loesser’s rollicking duet, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” written in 1944 as a Hollywood party act for Loesser and his wife; subsequently made famous, and Academy Awarded, in the movie Neptune’s Daughter. The song is a hoot: “I really can’t stay (But baby it’s cold outside)… My mother will start to worry (Beautiful, what’s your hurry)/My father will be pacing the floor (Listen to the fireplace roar)… But maybe just a half drink more…” And so on. No wonder we’ve been listening to it ever since Truman was president.

But wipe that smile from your face. Various “woke” folk launched an initially successful movement to ban “Baby” from the airwaves: their idea being, the song covers up bad male behavior, including date rape.

Which aside from being ridiculously judgemental, is very demeaning to the woman played by Esther Williams who does just fine standing up to Ricardo Montalban, not to mention the delightful reprise, where the roles are switched and Red Skelton becomes the pursued. When this first brewed up, I ran the video, you can find it here. It’s been covered by almost everyone and is a very fun number.

And that is the problem, increasingly the left is reminding me of H.L. Mencken’s comment, “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” And that is increasingly the definition of the left.

Well, you know in some ways, I kind of like it. Used to be that us religious traddies had a reputation as blue-nosed, censorious, killjoys and to an extent it was true. But we were always more concerned about conduct and beliefs, we weren’t against fun (in modern times) we just had higher standards. We might tut-tut Montalban in the song for what he has in mind, but we can be very proud of Ester Williams for not succumbing. Yeah, that might be true, but it’s still bullshit, it’s very simply a very fun song with two (really four) appealing characters.

The moral understanding in “Baby” is that a morally educated girl has to watch out, and will. But life in the Truman era wasn’t a Stalinist indoctrination class. You could laugh and smile and yearn — man or woman — within the rule system, enjoying the richness of life. That privilege, seemingly, gets rarer and rarer as the Puritans and control freaks of the left shake scandalized forefingers.

Dumb? Put-upon? The women of pre-Weinstein times? They were smart in that most of them, most of the time, knew what was what and what to do about it — to the wonder of whoopee-wide-open modern folk.

Few, I trust, depreciate the awfulness of date-rape. But “Baby It’s Cold Outside” doesn’t celebrate violence and brutality. It celebrates the rituals of moral understanding that keep brutality at bay. It celebrates normal, everyday human relationships, carried on with devotion, decency, and, not least, a sense of humor.

Boy, they don’t write ’em that way anymore, do they?

Moving On

Well, I think it is time to look around. For me, and for millions around the world, the Kavanaugh confirmation has become a legend, an existential battle against the darkness. But he was ceremonially sworn into office by the President last night. So, while we took casualties, foremost the nominee and his family, we won.

In other things, Trump had a winning week as well. The economy still roars, with unemployment lower than it has been since before we walked on the moon, as it is for all those categories you hear about. There is a new version of the pretty bad NAFTA treaty We produce more energy than any country in the world. North Korean (and mostly Iranian) missiles aren’t flying about.

So, let’s look at something else. Camille Paglia wrote a column for The Hollywood Reporter last week. She makes some good points. And you should read it all.

For the past century, women in the Western world have liberated themselves by shedding more and more clothing, from beaches and ballrooms to today’s boldly bare-all Instagrams.

The pro-sex wing of feminism to which I belong celebrates this historical trend, which has been accelerated by Hollywood and the fashion industry as an expression of female power and autonomy. But is there a downside? With unapologetic exhibitionism now commonplace for both workplace wear and online dating, are confused messages complicating sexual relations and deepening the divide between men and women? […]

As a veteran defender of pornography and staunch admirer of strip clubs, I have to say that an overwhelming number of today’s female-authored Instagrams seem stilted, forced and strangely unsexy. Visual illiteracy is spreading: It is sadly obvious that few young people have seen classic romantic films or studied the spectacular corpus of Hollywood publicity stills, with their gorgeous sensual allure.

While I actually defend neither, I can admit that they likely serve some purpose. Nor do I do Instagram, but I don’t have to, enough floats around in general society to say that she is, without doubt, correct. One of the things that made Hollywood’s ‘golden age’ golden was the unbelievable sensuous appeal of those female stars. What we currently get, even from Hollywood, is third or fourth rate, at best, in comparison. Mostly it is simply gross dreck or dross that reinforces my desire to have nothing whatsoever to do with the film world, even its films.

Meanwhile, a movie ostensibly about sex, like the first installment of Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), was a lifeless and clinically antiseptic bore.

No American movie in decades has approached the blazing sizzle, conveyed simply by eye contact, of the first encounter of Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) on the grand staircase of Gone With the Wind (1939). Electrifying onscreen energy was once generated by stark sexual polarization — old-fashioned gender differences, rooted in biology. Campus gender theory, with its universal androgyny and rigid social constructionism, is box office poison.

Here’s a short list of incandescent star couplings whose heat is now rarely duplicated by Hollywood, even in its monotonous remakes: Anthony Quinn and Rita Hayworth in Blood and Sand (1941); Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not(1944); John Garfield and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946); Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal in The Fountainhead (1949); Laurence Harvey and Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8 (1960); Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968); Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were (1973); and Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (1987).

It’s telling that most of these heady erotic effects were produced onscreen with virtually no nudity, which was strictly curtailed by the studio production code from the early 1930s to the late 1960s. The sexual candor of small-budget European art films inspired American moviemakers to break free of industry censorship. The next big step in liberalizing body display was the exercise boom of the 1980s, which was kicked off by Jane Fonda’s best-selling workout book and video and made skimpy, formfitting leotards an everyday fashion statement.

I could quibble a bit with her list, a couple of my favorites aren’t on it. 🙂 But no matter she is correct.

And you know that is telling. I’m no prude, I like looking at a gorgeous young woman in a bikini (or a not so young one, for that matter) just s much as the next guy, and have no particular desire to put women in T-shirts and boxers for underwear either.

The key thing is in the proper place, you know, a bikini on the beach or at the pool, the lingerie at home, neither belongs on the street. And inappropriate isn’t sexy.

The current surplus of exposed flesh in the public realm has led to a devaluation of women and, paradoxically, to sexual ennui. A sense of appropriateness and social context has been lost, as with Ariana Grande wearing a sleeveless minidress with bared thighs to perform from the pulpit at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. That there is growing discontent with overexposure in Western women’s dress is suggested by the elegant flowing drapery of Muslim-influenced designs by Dolce & Gabbana and Oscar de la Renta, among others, in recent years. An exhibition, Contemporary Muslim Fashions, opened Sept. 22 at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

One of the greatest photographs ever taken of a Hollywood star was Edward Steichen’s 1924 close-up of Gloria Swanson through a lavishly embroidered black veil. It conveys tremendous power, dignity and enigmatic reserve. If women want respect in society, they must do their part to raise their own value. Stop throwing it away on empty display.

Indeed it has. Many things were jarring at Aretha Franklin’s funeral, but Ariana Grande’s dress was certainly one of them. It would have been fine at a party for young adults, or quite a few other places, at a funeral it was jarringly out of place and made her appear one or more of; stupid, disrespectful, or badly advised.

Ah well, Ecclesiastes does tell us (and so do the Byrds).

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

We’d do well to keep it in mind.

And you know, my vote for the sexiest woman in America in 2018 would go to Melania Trump. Lovely, dignified, and always appropriate.

Myths,legends and facts

 

lvalad

Jessica wrote a post a few years ago, about The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. As with all of hers here it was outstanding, and makes a point, as well. First, let’s reread it.


“This is the West, sir, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” One of my favourite quotations from any film, and it is what the newspaper editor, Scott, says to Jimmy Stewart’s character, Ransom Stoddard at the end of The Man who shot Liberty Valance. Even for the great John Ford, that’s some line. Stoddard, a Washington grandee, former Ambassador to the UK and likely Presidential nominee, has come back to the town of Shinbone for the funeral of a local rancher, a nobody called Tom Doniphon, and the local press want to know why: Jimmy Stewart’s character tells them a story which is not just about how the West was won, but how it became civilized.

The story began a quarter of a century before, when what is now the State was a Territory – with men who wanted it to stay that way. The young Stoddard is held up by a notorious outlaw, Liberty Valance, and pistol-whipped. Doniphon, a tough local rancher, takes him back to town and sets him up with the family who run the local canteen – his love interest, Hallie helps the wounded lawyer recover, and he helps out at the canteen – eventually falling foul of Vallance – played by Lee Marvin at his brilliant best. In a scene packed with tension, Doniphon tells Valance to pick up the food that’s been spilled by him tripping ‘Ranse’ Stoddard up: it looks like there will be a shootout – but Vallance backs away – Doniphon’s that sort of a guy.

So, we have there the old West, men are men and all that. It’s rough and tough, and if you haven’t got a gun – or don’t know how to use it – you’re not going to get far – or even live long. But Stoddard is the new order’s forerunner. He believes in the law, sets up an office in Shinbone and works with the local editor as the Territory moves towards statehood.

Doniphon tries to help Stoddard adapt to the ways of the West, but an attempt to teach him how to use a gun is a failure. But Valance and his type are not to be stopped by the law. They beat up the editor and burn down the newspaper offices, and Valance challenges Stoddard to fight him. The first two shots see ‘Ranse’ injured, and he drops his gun – Valance, wanting to rub it in tells him to pick it up – sure the next shot will be right between the eyes – but to everyone’s surprise, the next shot kills Valance. Hallie runs to help the wounded Ranse. Doniphon, who actually fired the shot, sees that he has, in saving Stoddard, lost Hallie – he goes back home, drinks himself into a rage and burns his house down – being saved by his faithful retainer.

At the convention where the vote for who should represent the Territory in Washington is to be taken, Stoddard is challenged by a rival, who says that he should not be trusted because he shot a man. Stoddard hesitates, wondering if that is actually the case – should a gunfighter be a politician. Doniphon removes his doubts by telling him the truth about the man who shot Liberty Valance. The rest is history, Stoddard becomes Governor, Senator and Ambassador, marries Hallie, and has the career which opened up to men of his type as the United States moved towards its manifest destiny. Now Doniphon is dead, it is time to tell the truth – but the press don’t want the truth – the legend does them just fine.

So Doniphon, who had saved Stoddard’s life and made his career possible, dies alone and unheralded – but not quite, Hallie and Ranse have not forgotten him, or who he was, and who he was was more important than what he did. He did what he did because of who he was. He was the sort of man who did the right thing because it never occurred to him to do the other thing.

This is Ford’s world at its best – there’s no one does the old world making way for the new better. He admires the values of the old West, and he sees them re-embodied in a different form in the new. Doniphon and Stoddard are two sides of the same coin. Their integrity shines through – and Doniphon is all the more believable for not behaving like a plaster saint when he knows he has lost Hallie. Plaster saints neither won, nor will the hold, the West. And now, as then, the media prefer the legend to the facts!


Pretty much what we are seeing in the world, isn’t it? Cast Trump as Doniphon, (although one who talks quite a lot, perhaps too much, no analogy is perfect).

The never Trumpers as Stoddard, who are all for the good (conservative) things in life, but just can’t quite find the guts or skills to make them happen. In other words, they end up as all talk and no action, because their knickers are always in a twist. They’re nice guys (or they were, before getting so embittered). They were a good support during the locust (Obama) years, keeping us motivated, but when it became time to do something, well you see the result. Not entirely their fault, they have neither the temperament nor the requisite skills for this part of the mission.

So we have to go back to the old ways for a time, when Ollie Winchester and Sam Colt spoke for us, so the orators could be heard. Not literally, of course, but it is a time for plain speaking, the theoretical constructs can wait. We needed both Tom Jefferson and George Washington back in the day.

Then there is Valance – or quite a number of them.

There is the Occasional Cortex wing of the Demonrat party, who want nothing so much as to wind down this experiment called the United States, even though, or maybe because, it has been wildly successful, but didn’t give them power over others.

There’s what we have taken to calling the ‘Deep State’, the bureaucrats who think they are doing a job for us, but really are all about keeping their perks and power no matter what, and no matter who they hurt to make it so. See those guys who wanted to keep the Territory, the Territory, not a State

Then there are the legitimate opponents, foreign powers ranging from untrustworthy (sometimes) friends like Canada and the UK, to competitors like Russia and China, right on down to enemies like North Korea and Iran. These guys are at least openly fighting for themselves, but in truth, that’s about the only good thing I have to say about them.

All in all, it makes Tom Doniphan’s task in Liberty Valance look pretty simple. There is no magic target here, that will give us clear sailing, and clean up Shinbone. All we can do is keep on doing what we have done, what Doniphan, and so many others taught us to do, fight, preferably non violently, for the right thing, and keep fighting until we win through, even if it costs us the girl.

1776, and a Travel Warning

 

 

 

 

 

And thus it started. If you haven’t seen the movie, do find it.

As Winston Churchill reflected on July fourth, 1918

“The Declaration of Independence is not only an American document. It follows on Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights as the third great title-deed on which the liberties of the English-speaking people are founded. By it we lost an Empire, but by it we also preserved an Empire. By applying its principles and learning its lesson we have maintained our communion with the powerful Commonwealths our children have established beyond the seas…We therefore join in perfect sincerity and simplicity with our American kith and kin in celebrating the auspicious and glorious anniversary of their nationhood.”

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