May, 2015

Memorial Day: Dulce et Decorum Est

May 24th, 2015 13 Comments

Flanders fields

 

Memorial Day weekend. A time to reflect on the men and women who serve our country and those who served before them. A time to honor them in ways that are so simple and so easy: tending a grave, attending a parade, little things.

Unfortunately, Darleen came down with the bubonic plague or the creeping crud or something, so we were more or less housebound. Our only sortie was when I drove her into town to pick up some meds, where we made a contribution to our local VFW and were each given a small artificial red poppy.

Such a little thing, yet it brought back memories of my father taking the family to one of the famed cemeteries now collectively known as Flanders Fields after the famous poem by Canadian poet John McCrae:

           In Flanders fields the poppies blow

          Between the crosses, row on row

                    That mark our place; and in the sky

                    The larks, still bravely singing, fly

          Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

          We are the Dead. Short days ago

          We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

          Loved and were loved, and now we lie

                    In Flanders fields.

 

          Take up our quarrel with the foe:

          To you from failing hands we throw

                    The torch; be yours to hold it high.

                    If ye break the faith with us who die

          We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

                    In Flanders fields.

It was almost sixty years ago, so I no longer remember which World War One battlefield it was that lingers in my memory from that long ago trip—Ypres, Passchendaele, another—but the visual memory remains, brought back by an artificial poppy.

I’m very grateful to my parents, both of whom served in World War Two, for taking me to so many places and exposing me to so many different aspects of man’s most memorable achievements, from Roman aqueducts still in use over two thousand years after they were built, and the glorious life-affirming beauty of the best of man in the form of art from the caves of Lascaux to van Gogh, to the darker, destructive side represented by those battlefields and others my father knew so much about. I can still hear his voice explaining to a small boy: “This is where Wellington sat his horse. This is where the German tanks… This is where General Patton…” I hear too my mother’s voice giving us her sometimes accurate, but always colorful historical accounts of this Civil War battle or the siege of that castle by… Most, and the best, of the education I have was never learned in any classroom.

I wonder what my parents would make of the world’s current troubles in the form of ISIS and radical Islam. I’ve been reading a lot of history lately, including an account of the causes of perhaps the most ridiculously unnecessary war of all time, World War One (The War that Ended Peace, the prize-winning account by Margaret MacMillan), the war of Flanders fields and Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and so many others, and it’s hard to make an unequivocal argument in favor of war, any war. Certainly World War One represented more destruction, more loss of life, for less reason than perhaps any other war in the bloody history of man, but all wars, seen through the excellent bifocals of hindsight, seem so unnecessary, so avoidable. And yet here we sit again, watching the bloody rise of maniacal monsters, and it will all play out again, one way or the other, and there will be more fields, with more crosses, and more poppies.

Perhaps the shortest poem to come out of that most destructive and unnecessary war that inspired so much great poetry was by the great Rudyard Kipling. Kipling, like so many others of that and every generation, actively encouraged his son John to fight for… For what? God and country? England’s honor? A patch of earth? What? It still boggles the mind that World War One should ever have taken place. But John joined the Irish Guards and was killed in the Battle of Loos at the age of eighteen. In his grief, Rudyard Kipling wrote the following couplet:

          If any question why we died,

          Tell them, because our fathers lied.

Aplastic Anemia

May 13th, 2015 8 Comments

sisters Sam and Alex Kimura

 

I’m a grumpy old curmudgeon. I hate having my heartstrings plucked while watching the news: life will pluck your heartstrings far too often in the normal course of events, whether you will or no; I don’t need anyone to go out of their way to pluck mine.

But this morning, as I was eating my breakfast and talking to Darleen and trying to make sense of my schedule for the day and watching the news, all at the same time—it’s called multi-tasking, and it’s about the least efficient or intelligent thing you can do, since it guarantees you will perform none of the tasks well or thoroughly—there was an item about two girls traveling around the country in a van. I was only giving the television about one fourth of my brain, such as it is, and even less of my attention, and certainly I had no interest in two girls going off on a post-college romp, no matter how happy and pretty and energetic they looked, but then we heard a phrase Darleen and I know well. It seems the two girls, sisters who look remarkably alike, were trying to find a bone marrow match for the younger one, who has aplastic anemia.

The television got all our attention.

Thirty-six years ago, just around the time Darleen and I first met while working together on an episode of Simon & Simon, and then on an episode of her series, Maverick, with the late James Garner, she gave birth to a little boy (by her feckless then husband) who was born with aplastic anemia.

There’s no point going through it all blow by blow. Suffice it to say, back then, the options were practically non-existent, and Darleen used to go from the set to the hospital to spend the night with her little boy, sleeping on the floor outside his room in the first hospital, on a fold-out chair in the room with him at the second hospital, as she frantically prayed and searched and fought for a miracle that did not happen.

The next morning she would be back on the set, composed and professional, on time, lines learned, ready to be whatever the day’s work called on her to be.

My oldest son was born the same year as her little boy. My oldest son is thirty-six now, married, happy, successful, and I rejoice for him, for the fact of his being.

Her little boy died when he was only three.

These two young ladies, Sam and Alex Kimura, are planning to drive all across the country in an effort raise awareness about this implacable disease, and in an effort to find the right DNA to save Sam. If anybody lives anywhere near where these two young ladies are going to be in their search for a bone marrow/DNA match, please stop by and give a sample of your DNA. It involves nothing more than a few minutes of your time and a swab of your cheek. Here is a link to their website: http://www.sharingamericasmarrow.com

I spent the morning sending out invitations to all my Facebook friends to like the sister’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/sharingamericasmarrow?_rdr, and I’m so incompetent computer-wise and especially Facebook-wise that it took forever—the sisters are probably somewhere else by now—but please go on one of their sites and see if you can help. If you’re smarter than I on the computer—and it’s hard to imagine anyone not being smarter—please pass along the information about Sam and Alex Kimura.

Thank you.

Heaven Forefend We Should Offend

May 7th, 2015 18 Comments

Titian Annunciation

 

I’ve been thinking about the reaction to the shooting of those two purported ISIS terrorists in Garland, Texas. You know: the ones who wanted to massacre cartoonists drawing caricatures of the prophet Mohammed.

The wild-eyed loonies of radical Islam, both here and abroad, have issued the expected call for the “slaughter” of the organizer of that event, a reaction that is both drearily predictable and about as intelligent as you would expect from seventh century savages.

But less predictable, and a good deal more alarming has been the reaction of so many non-combatants, all the pundits and politicians who love to pontificate publicly about everything. A lot of those people, primarily in the media, both liberal and conservative, have been damning the lady who organized the cartoon competition, saying she deliberately provoked the attack.

Really? Well, now. Isn’t that an interesting perspective. Golly, using that logic, any woman who gets raped should be blamed for wearing provocative clothing—she brought it on herself!—and from there to “She deserved it,” is a small step. Is that really the standard we wish to set? Of course here the difference is that blaming the lady in question takes us away from just the small-minded, smug self-righteousness of blaming the rape victim and into larger areas of the first amendment.

But beyond that, there seems to be a feeling in America these days that we should refrain from doing, saying, writing, even thinking, anything that might offend anyone else, and I find that both frightening and offensive. There is practically nothing anyone can do, say, or create that won’t manage to offend some delicately balanced soul. And more: if you don’t offend someone, you probably haven’t said or done or created anything worth paying attention to.

Unthinking multicultural inclusiveness seems to be the new norm: we’re all supposed to be just one big, happy family of man, with no differences between any of us, all of us carefully looking out for the feelings of everyone else. No one is bigger or smaller, no one is faster or slower, no one is stronger or weaker, no one is smarter or stupider, no one is even man or woman. No one is an individual; we’re all just supposed to be part of a happy homogenized collective, unthinking little ants or bees, all working for the common good of all.

And if that’s the new norm, we can expect just about as much artistic creativity from this brave new homogenized world as we might from ants or bees, because creativity and political correctness cannot coexist.

Think of the politically motivated art from the Soviet era… What’s that? You can’t bring any of it to mind? There’s a reason for that. The function of art is to rattle your cage; art that’s intended to appeal to everyone will touch no one. Think of the memorable “art” that hangs on motel walls. The very definition of art is something that touches the emotions and, by touching a nerve, stimulates the mind. If you’re appealing to the soppiest, lowest common denomination of sentiment that can’t possibly upset anyone then, like a Thomas Kincaid painting or a cupcake, you will be eminently forgettable. Unfortunately, that seems to be what we’re all supposed to do these days, create gentle, colorless little distractions that will linger in the memory for less time than it takes to chew your Tums.

In the old days, back when art and artists had muscles and testicles, and didn’t give much of a damn who they offended, works were created that had both impact and longevity.

Dante managed to insult just about every group you can think of (including Muslims; his portrayal of Mohammed in the ninth circle of hell is a study of barbarism, and Gustave Doré’s engraving of the suffering Mohammed wouldn’t win a lot of fans in ISIS) yet his masterpiece has been revered for eight hundred years, and is still considered the defining work that marks the end of the medieval era and the beginning of the Renaissance.

All the art of Giotto and Botticelli, much of da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo, and most of Titian glorified God in ways that would have appalled any Muslims around to see it when it was painted, and it can still give atheists the vapors and cause them to bring lawsuits if hung in a government building. (That’s Titian’s “Annunciation” above.)

If Shakespeare had sat around worrying about offending Jews, we wouldn’t have Shylock, and ditto for Charles Dickens who gave us Fagin.

Politically correct school systems in this country have either removed Huckleberry Finn from their shelves entirely, or bowdlerized it, to protect delicate young readers from seeing the “N” word, thereby ensuring generations of students are impoverished by their protection.

I’m sure generations of Native Americans were offended by their portrayal in just about every movie John Ford ever made, but I still think The Searchers is one of the all-time best Westerns.

The drunken, brawling Irishman was a staple of English literature beginning with Henry Fielding and continuing on through early twentieth century American literature.

I have heard an Italian-American deeper thinker rail against The Godfather movies for perpetuating the Mafia myth.

And on and on and on. Get over it.

I’ll leave you with an historically inaccurate (the Medicis had more to do with the arts and the Renaissance than the Borgias, and the Swiss didn’t invent the cuckoo clock), but correct-in-spirit quote from the movie The Third Man:

“Don’t be so gloomy. After all, it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”

America today is well on its way to mass-producing cuckoo clocks.

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