To Embarrassingly Go Where No One Else Went

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All the buck passing, responsibility ducking and lying coming out of Washington last week prompted me to think about what constitutes leadership and where can examples of it be found today. As a good American, I immediately started rummaging around through my pop culture archives to discover illustrations of the real thing and came up with the name of Jonathan Archer.

“Jonathan Archer, who is he?” you exclaim in unison. Well, I’ll tell you lads and lassies. Jonnie Archer was the captain of the Star Ship Enterprise, and never was there a better man at the helm. “Mason, come now, a man with your education and upbringing dredging up models of selfless heroics and true leadership from that tired old series, get a grip.” Perhaps you’re right and my mind is going more rapidly than I feared, but over the last few weeks I have been watching in embarrassed fascination the adventures of Cap Archer and crew as they navigate the good ship Enterprise through the myriad perils of deep space.

I’m by no means a Trekie but I’ve become attached to this guy and the series – Star Ship: Enterprise the last installment of the TV franchise which ran for four years beginning in 2001. Though the last one filmed, chronologically it was actually the first in the Star Trek series. It begins around the year 2150, sometime before James T. Kirk fouled the space-time continuum with his overripe presence.

Archer and Enterprise succeeds because it was built around a strong believable character, (ably played by Scott Bakula of Quantum Leap fame). Archer is someone you would entrust the command of a Star Ship to. Level headed, steady, creative yet ready to take risks, technically savvy but not a nerd, open to the opinion of his underlings but ready to broke no debate once he’s decided on a course of action, Archer was the real deal – someone you would follow into a black hole. Much like his female counterpart, Kate Janeway of the earlier series – Star Trek: Voyager (played by Kate Mulgrew) Archer exhibited the knack for holding the center without insisting on the need to constantly occupy it.

Archer stands in sharp contrast to the rambunctious cowboy and Lothario, James T. Kirk whether played by the lovable method ham William Shatner or by the grinning bro Chris Pine of more recent fame. But as obnoxious as Kirk could be he was a prince compared to Jean Luc Picard, the preening, bureaucrat of hyper drive, who mistook acting for elocution and had as much vitality as a trunk full of tribbles. No, Picard made space interesting only because it offered a possible escape from this politically correct dogmatist. Someone should have been fragged him in his ready room as he was straightening his tunic.

No Archer’s the man, and if this blog has any purpose under heaven it is to advance him to the highest rung of the captaincies of Star Trek or God Damn It I’ll eat a warp coil.

Next week: Why Star Trek: Enterprise is the greatest ever, man!

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The End of Kool Jerk?

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When I began this blog I said I would try to avoid the subject of politics but the news over the last week has been too delicious to avoid commenting on; so please forgive me for a moment as I pontificate about the woes in Washington.

It does seem that the stars are aligning in such a way for us to wonder if our great constitutional scholar-in-chief is political toast. The trifecta of Benghazi, IRS and the Justice/AP scandals, to name only the most publicized are making for some meaty doings within the Beltway, and if history is any indicator, we are just approaching the abyss where His Petulant Arrogance himself will feel the wrath of all those who he has held in such contempt.

In one short week the Obama Administration has managed to by its breathtaking ineptness to have awakened the lapdog media from its supine state by unwarranted seizure of reporter’s phone records. The Nixon-like unleashing of the IRS on conservative groups is far too similar to the Watergate era for anyone to dismiss it as actions of rogue elements with the Service. Thoughtful liberals are now half conscious to the fact that they have been holding a viper to their breast.

The crude and ridiculous attempts by Obama and company to brush off these growing scandals have only hurt what slim chance they had in adverting political disaster. Saying that the IRS is an independent agency is false, it is part of the Treasury Department. Brushing of the Benghazi fiasco as “there is no there” is equally childish. The AG rescuing himself form the AP investigation is the clearest sign we have that he knew he was up to no good in going after the phone records of 20 reporters. And the outrageous claims that the White House and the President were in the dark about all this until they picked up their morning papers from the stoop displays the unparalleled distain in which they hold the American people.

Where are these and other stupidities going to take us in the next few months? Here are my predictions:

1. The press will drop its battered wife routine and turn on Obama, portraying him rightly as a none-too-bright and aloof man who simply cannot manage the huge edifice of government which he so adores.
2. Eventually there will be some sort of house cleaning at 1600, the IRS and Justice, look for Holder to go; but these will come far too late to be meaningful.
3. Obama’s second term agenda will be gutted but he might be able to get a pared down immigration bill passed if the Republicans think it their best interest to cooperate.
4. The Senate will go Republican in 2014 ending for all intents and purposes Obama’s second term and leaving his legacy in in the gutter.

It, however, won’t be the present smorgasbord of troubles that will bring all this about, but rather Obama Care. Once the public (beginning in late 2013) really starts to get a good look at the mess that was cooked up by Obama and Pelosi and are forced to endure, with its endless regulations, expenses, fees, taxes, and mind numbing regulations, the revolt will be on and the Team Obama consigned to the status of a Millard Fillmore administration.

Of course I might be totally wrong in all of this.

A Partnership Made for Detroit

35467972_oMy mother, a staunch Episcopalian, admonished me to never give into despair, no matter how bleak things may seem, fore to do so was an affront to God’s love and mercy. True sentiments, indeed but when I think of my old home town, Detroit, I wonder whether they’re off the mark a tad.

We’ve all heard of the poor metropolises’ plight – a once proud city of nearly two million souls and forth largest in the country in the early 1950’s reduced to barely 700,000 by 2010. The industrial power par excellence in the 50’s and 60’s now little more than a kibbutz and artist slum, where over wide swaths of its once teeming neighborhoods deer, pheasants and coyotes roam, etc., etc. Corruption, envy, shortsightedness, stupidity and fear have combined to bring down this great wrench eating town. Desperate and near despairing voice cry out, “Is there no hope, no rescuer who can begin the process of our physical and spiritual reclamation?”

Over the past several years I have read a number of books on the travails of the Motor City. Most of them have been poor efforts – half-hearted, poorly researched journalist hack jobs or hipster rubbish, unworthy of the profound tragedy which is Detroit. The small cottage industry which has sprung up to chronicle the demise of the city may in time produce something worthy of its subject but we will need to be patient for that tome to appear.

There was one book in all the clutter, however, that offered indirectly a modicum of twisted hope – Motor City Mafia by Scott M. Burnstein from the Images of America series. In its brief 130 pages or so, Motor City Mafia recounts the rise of the city’s Mafia families in eight brief chapters’ chockfull of photographs and mug shots. You will notice I wrote “rise of the city’s Mafia …” What no fall you query, surely like everything Detroit the local mobsters must have had their comeuppance just like those in New York and elsewhere?

According to Mr. Burnstein Detroit mob, though smaller than in its prime, is still very much a going concern, happily chugging along into the 21st century, highly profitable and ably run by the second and third generations of the Toco, Zerilli and Giacolone clans. Unlike its more stylish and famous New York Five Families who willfully slaughtered one another in one street or restaurant brawls after another and then feel afoul of a crusading DA; the Detroit mob has spent the last fifty years wisely, building up their brand, branching into legit businesses and avoiding self-destructive warfare. The upshot is that they have grudging garnered place at the table of the mighty. Indeed, many observers of mobdome, consider the Motor City mob to be the best run of all the remaining mafia groupings. The mob isn’t called the Partnership for nothing.

Perhaps poor sniveling and hapless Detroit can benefit from the mob’s ‘stick to your knitting” approach and incorporate some black hand management techniques toward helping to reinvigorate the old town. I can see foreign investors flocking to invest in huge complexes in the rubble strewed lots after being visited by the likes of ‘Tony Fat’ Giacolone and ‘Jackie, Jr.” Giacolone, and a couple of Toco’s. “Why yes a $3 billion investment on the city’s abandoned east side is certainly what we were thinking of Mr. Giacolone. In fact we want you and the Partnership to act as our agent in acquiring the land and providing services for the factory once it’s up and going; we’ll need plenty of protection, if what I hear about is true. What do ya say?”

I could also see their management insights and techniques working wonders with the moribund school system and its recalcitrant unions. If I were a lefty teacher union negotiator, the last thing I would want to do would be to sit across from members of the Partnership and demand a 30% increase in wages and benefits while test scores are plummeting through the basement.

If the car companies had employed the narrow focus and quiet determination exhibited by the Partnership, they very well might not have gotten into the mess they found themselves in five years ago. Think, if GM and Chrysler had been as ably run as a Detroit street crew, they very well may have avoided humiliation of bankruptcy.

Yes, mom was right, never despair, just remember to bring a long spoon and everything will turn out for the best.

Blow Out on Bolyston

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18574-bigthumbnailAs horrible and senseless as the bombings in Boston were, they were easily outmatched by the gross stupidity and hyperbolic rantings of the cyclers of 24 hour news. The way Wolfe Blitzer and company hemorrhaged their inane verbiage for days on end one would have thought that the city had been leveled and all its inhabitants consumed by flames.

Not only were many of the reports coming out simply dead wrong, they smacked of cheap fear mongering with the intent of fostering hysteria. It was apparent after the first couple of hours that the bombings had all the earmarks of an amateur affair, and was not the well-orchestrated plot to cause maximum destruction and loss of life the media wanted gin up. Starting with the type of explosives used, to the placement of the devices it had all the earmarks of a third rater, akin to a deadly college prank during exam week.. Yet the idiots reporting the disaster keep lie going that it may have been part of “a far wider conspiracy” for the sake of ratings.

Now that the mad bomber is behind bars, Boston can get back to the business of “healing”- God if I hear that overworked and near meaningless expression again, I will slit my wrist. I don’t care if Smugville, USA heals or not, but I do hope that those injured do. Can anyone image what the news coverage would have been like if we had the likes of Blitzer, Williams, and that loathsome bunch from MSNBC reporting on the London Blitz? As a viewer, I would have demand that England surrender immediate so as not to have to hear all the hollow speculative nonsense endlessly repeated by people have devolved from the status of journalists to that of carnival barkers.

If there is no greater indication of what is wrong with the major news networks it is that after two weeks after the event some of the regularly scheduled news programs are still come directly from the scene. In the real world, however, real news events are unfolding in Syria and northeast Asia, a pity that the hyper-ventilators are not in Seoul or Beirut to cover these stories.

Not to be out done in the department of the inane, Matt Damon last week added his heartfelt and brainless comments. In accepting some sort of award in his hometown, the actor/activist stated he was still in shock (still in shock after almost ten days, come now) and that he had yet to determine what had happened. Jesus, let me clue you in Matt, two shitheads set off a homemade bomb which killed some people and hurt a lot more. Matt then, in words dripping with false humility and sensitivity, went on to question the meaning of the untoward event. Here’s another clue – there are bad people about who do bad things.

Where’s that razor blade?

The Emperor Aquatic

Emperor with specimangrouper-fishIn keeping with my promise of not taking up any more of your time shamelessly flogging my wonderful and seminal book, Heroes of the 21st Century, I’ve elected to take a stab at film criticism. My initial attempt will be a comparative review of two movies: The Sun (2004) by Alexander Sokurov and the newly released Emperor (2013) by Peter Webber.
Both films deal with the fate of Japanese Emperor Hirohito at the end of the World War II. The Sun focuses on the political and cultural back and forth of getting Hirohito to relinquish his claim of divinity. The Emperor, in contrast, seeks to weave a tragic love story into the political drama of a potential trial of Hirohito for war crimes.
What struck me in watching the two is how one director, Sokurov, with a limited budget and unknown actors , could make an interesting and deftly comic movie, while the far bigger budget movie, Emperor (featuring the redoubtable Tommy Lee Jones as General MacArthur) is an altogether contrived and pointless affair from start to finish.
The Sun is the third in a series of movies Sokurov has made exploring the corrupting influence of power (Moloch, 1999; Taurus, 2000; Faust, 2011, round out the quartet). I have not seen these companion pieces but I must say that regarding Hirohito, exquisitely played by Issei Ogata, the theme of corruption is a bit of a stretch when assigned to this unassuming man would have preferred spending his days as an amateur marine biologist than as the occupant of the Chrysanthemum Throne. Sokurov plays on this longing to escape the suffocating formality of divine status by giving Hirohito the facial mannerisms of a fish. We see him in the beginning repeatedly pursing his lips and opening his mouth in the fashion of a grouper. So odd is this little fellow that MacArthur (played by Robert Dawson with an opaque remoteness) after meeting him for the first time proclaims Hirohito to be a simpleton.
The aquatic imagery is extended in a wonderful scene about the bombing of Japan during the final days of the war. The audience witnesses the bombs going off as if looking down through the water from a high altitude bomber as sub-surface flashes spread across the bombardier’s view finder. It is an economic little trick which delineates clearly the gulf between a true director and a Hollywood hack.
Adding some comic relief is the loving portrayal of the stiff and laborious court protocol which attends Hirohito as he ekes out a much reduced existence in a bunker below the Imperial Palace. The interplay between his attending flunkies is finely tuned, and it alone is almost worth the price of admission.
In contrast to Sokurov’s little gem, Webber’s Emperor is a confused and irrelevant movie which appeared in March then mercifully vanished. Based on the book, His Majesty’s Salvation by Shiro Okamoto, one wonders why it was ever made into a film in the first place. Hampered by an uninspired script, it offers no particular insights into the history of the time while resoundingly failing as a doomed love story.
Emperor has a bifurcated plot. We find Tommy Lee Jones as MacArthur trying to find any excuse for not having Hirohito tried as a war criminal. On the personal level, MacArthur’s chief translator, Bonner Feller (played with a wooden intensity by Mathew Fox) is trying to find out the fate of his former girlfriend, Aya, whom he had fallen in love with while stationed in prewar Tokyo as a navel attaché. Fox is perhaps the worst choice for a role that requires intelligent understatement. When he isn’t seething with frustration and guilt, Fox is rampaging through war- ravaged Japan, hell- bent on finding Aya; while Tommy Lee Jones fumes about the whereabouts of his missing subordinate. Compounding the acting deficiencies of Fox is a lifeless script crafted in a committee room. While we learn to care about Aya, played touchingly by Eriko Hatsune, in the end we are relieved to learn that she has been spared the prospect of having to spend the rest of her days with her charmless lover. Tommy Lee Jones’ talents are wasted in this film, restrained by the nature of his role which precludes him from eating up the scenery; he is confined to playing the wise MacArthur with a faded Texas drawl
To do Emperor justice, the two strands of the plot are mutually reinforcing, as the Japanese in time begin to interpret the frantic travails of Feller’s search as indication of his sincerity and goodwill. This allows s the Emperor’s aides to open up regarding the true extent of his power in war time Japan. Unfortunately, the path to this revelation is too labored and poorly realized for the audience to care.. In the hands of a better director and a more engaging actor than Mathew Fox, it might have worked to some degree.
The upshot of the three hours or so that I spent watching these movies is that I want to take a gander at Sokurov’s other films in his quartet, and run like hell when I see or hear the names, Mathew Fox or Peter Webber come up. (The Sun is available through Netflix as is Moloch. The whereabouts of the Emperor are currently unknown)

Excerpt from Heroes of the 21st Century

            Dear Readers.  I am well aware that for the last two weeks or so I have been devoting my weekly entrees to shamelessly promote my novel Heroes of the 21st Century.  This I assure you will end (at least for a while) after  this current piece, after which I will be free to explore subjects which are dear to my heart such as totalitarian sumptuary, and the recent spate of  films on the late Emperor Hirohito. 

            Before that blessed moment, I do need to address numerous requests from my ever growing reader base asking to be able to read a brief excerpt from the book. So to oblige, I offer this peak under the hood, so to speak – just a couple of pages for your enjoyment and edification.

            Allow me to set the scene:  The primary hero of the book, Charlie Leuven, has assembled a three person panel to discuss the long range social and environmental impact that the impending weather calamity, Windigo, will have on the country.  The panelists have been specifically selected for their odd take on things, and Charlie hopes that their outlandish views will help to stoke ratings for his TV network as well as panic throughout the country.  One of the panelists is Professor Merkulus of the University of Wisconsin who has come up with a very interesting formula to measure the impending disaster.

 

            “Yes, certainly, thank you, Charles.  First off, I’ve grouped my research under the heading, the Merkulus Meteorological Mortality Metric, or M 4 for short.  Central to my approach is the observation that the traditional method of enumerating the number of fatalities from a large disaster is woefully inadequate.  The current method merely totes up the number of dead directly resulting from the incident itself.  With Katrina, I believe that total was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,900.  Now, the M 4 approach looks at the long term impact that these deaths will have on the population over time, in a holistic way, as it were.” The professor paused in his singsong preface for a moment before continuing.

            “Let’s assume that the average couple in an advanced industrial or post industrial country, like the U.S., will have on average of 1.8 children, and that a generation is measured as about thirty years.  I don’t think anyone would seriously quibble with these facts, except perhaps at the margins.  We also make the assumption that thirty-five million years will elapse before the next catastrophic die off.  These occur about every hundred million years on average, and the last one was sixty-five million years ago. So statistically we have another thirty-five million to go in this cycle.  Some, of course, say that the earth’s increasingly sophisticated technology base may well protect us from some of these periodic disturbances.  This may indeed be the case but for argument’s sake we will keep the hundred million year cycle intact.

“So let’s plug the numbers into the formula you see displayed on your screens.”

Mt = ƒ[(Di.Br) (Eg /G)). Rp]0.0075)

Mt of course represents the total fatalities over time for any given event.  This is arrived at as a function of the following inputs: Di or the immediate death toll from a disaster, times the constant birthrate, Br of 1.8. This product is in turn multiplied by Eg, the elapsed time of thirty-five million years before the next die out of the dominant species. This in turn is divided by G the constant span of time for each generation or thirty years.  The product of the first half of the equation is in turn multiplied by the variable Rp which is the average constant of the population in a given area or region that is capable of reproducing over a given time, or 0.35. Finally we multiply these variables with a rather complex probability factor of 0.0075. Now let’s plug in the numbers from a disaster with one hundred known dead and see what we come up with:

                        551,250 = [(100 x 2.0) x (35,000,000 /30) x (0.35) ] 0.0075

In this case, Mt equals a total of 551,250 over time for the 100 immediate fatalities, this total equates to 5,512 dead per each immediate death, over the course of thirty-five million years’ time span. Admittedly, not an exact figure but nevertheless an important heuristic breakthrough on this timely subject.” Merkulus looked squarely into the camera and smiled broadly in anticipation that everyone fully appreciated the brilliance of his reasoning as much as he did.

            In the beginning of the Professor’s spiel, Charlie had been pondering whether and when to interrupt him, so as to help the man cut to the chase, but as he rattled on Charlie became increasingly enchanted by the academic lunacy of his computations, and so let the good professor run his game. “Fascinating indeed, Professor Merkulus, so, in other words, the three known deaths from this storm really should be more accurately calculated as 16,536; am I right in this?”

            “Yes, that is correct.  Please understand that an exact outcome is impossible to predict at this time from the raw death totals.  It is only after a disaster is over that a detailed analysis of the demographic damage can be accurately made…..

Greatest Publishing Event of the First Half of the 21st Century Announced

I’m very pleased to announce that Heroes of the 21st Century is now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in book and electronic formats. The book has been a long time in gestation; I first started it in 2009 and it was a on and off again affair with large gaps of complete inactivity accounting for long stretches of time. I often ask myself “was it worth it” and I immediately rejoin, “Yes” always good to complete a project like this, and I must say that I am rather proud of Heroes, in part for the very reason that I persevered with it for so long and that stick-to-it-ness brought about such a good yarn. The second question I am asked is, “What is the book about?”
That is not as easy a question as you might suspect. In broadest terms Heroes is a satirical, romantic- adventure story centered on the on again-off again relationship of Charles Leuven and Samantha Hewitt. The novel, however, features well over twenty characters, the very rich, to the penniless. Hollywood celebrities to New York money men, on to an ex-Chicago cop to two psychos. Some of the characters are good, some are very, very bad indeed but their all real and vibrant.
“Very interesting but what does Heroes satirize?” Well the human condition in these United States, of course. Without giving too much away in terms of the plot, the novel takes a jaundice look at what ingredients constitute success, and what people will do to achieve it. Fear generated by the media plays a big role in the book, as does the public willingness to become active participants in the games spun by the media’s puppet masters. It is also about greed, lust, madness of various types, but it also about transcendence and the need for spiritual union, loyalty and devotion in our lives.
As Heroes traverses the country from Bel Air estates and New York townhouses, to mid-size cities to forlorn, isolated village, the mood of the novel shifts from gentle black comedy to darker and more violent tones as the restraints which formerly checked the baser instincts are discarded allowing for chaos and evil to take momentary hold under the stress of an impending cataclysmic events.
But above all this novel is meant to entertain and in its own curious way to delight the reader. Its intention is to be a good, fast paced yarn, in which karmic principles manage to take hold and a rough justice is meted out to one and all.

The man and his work.

The man and his work.

GREATEST NEWS EVER!

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Well, finally we were able to kick the baby out the door and officially proclaim the launch of my novel Heroes of the 21st Century.  The exciting event took place at the Blue Line in Bloomington last Thursday.  Hosted by my publisher, Holon Publishing, the fandango turned out to be a tour de force or is that what Holon claims my book to be?  Simply can’t get the two things straight. Anyhow, Heroes is available in print form on Amazon and by March 15 in electronic format as well.

            Before I blog on, I must but to rest those spurious rumors going around that several members of the vibrant Tibetan community threaten acts of self-immolation if they were not given invitations to the party.  I can now categorically deny these and even more outrageous claims which cropped up right before the event was to start.  While I do not the root cause of the calumny, my thinking is that it was exaggerated response to the request by his Holiness the Dalia Lama to reserve several copies of Heroes for his perusal and enjoyment when he comes to Louisville in May.  I do know for a fact that he is one of my biggest fans.

            This was my first experience at one of these things and I must make two notes to myself if I am going to survive another one.  One, have a standard signing phrase.  While I can’t say I got a cramp in my hand from signing hundreds of books, the signings I did do were noteworthy by the rather lame greetings to purchasers, such as, “Thanks for coming; I hope you enjoy my book.” And even worse, “Thanks for your support, I hope you like Heroes.”  Next time I think I will go for a more stringent approach – “To (name of reader) and then my signature.”  This would be less taxing and faster, and I wouldn’t make any writing mistakes.  In the future, after I’m very famous, I will, of course, establish a fee schedule for signings. The fee for simple one like the one mentioned above would go for a mere $10.00, a more elaborate one with up to fifteen words would go for $25.00.  Finally, the schedule will include the “Titanium” signing package which would include up to fifty words as composed by the requestor, and would go for the tidy sum of $100.00.  Thank God that’s settled. [Publisher’s note:  Book signing prices are suggestive only.  The advisability to initiate book signing fees has not as yet  been determined, Any decision on this matter must await the conclusion of exhaustive market research studies which are now being undertaken.  Jeremy Gotwals, President and Publisher of Holon Publishing, Inc.}

            Moving on, a further note to myself: Avoid at all costs self-deprecating humor, understatement and any and all witticisms pertaining to one’s literary efforts as they will be taken at face value by the younger set.  Instead promote yourself and your book with all the subtlety of a Super Bowl half-time show, and employ a constant stream of  over-the-top hyperbole regarding your achievement by always proclaiming it as the seminal publishing event of the first half of the 21st Century.

            Special thanks to Jeremy and Kari of Holon Publishing, and the Cup Cake Girls, Sadie and Chelsea, for furnishing such delectable fare (who were even gracious enough to fork over some money for my tome).  In all the two hours seemed to whisk by like an hour and a half.  The only bit of sadness to crop up during the evening was when a poor business student confided that the best possible life he could conceive for himself was to live and work in Manhattan during the week and then retreat his exurban place in Connecticut for the weekends. Does poverty of imagination come in any more appalling guise, or am I just being envious as the rising waters of the upper James laps up under my mobile home?  Pray with me that the supporting cinder blocks hold through the Spring.