Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Maundering in the Dead Time

I think I've mentioned this before.

(In fact, I know I did; it was this time last year...)

The week between Christmas and the New Year always seems to me to be a very odd sort of aimless, drifting period; I called it "the Dead Time" in last year's post. Maybe that comes from my Army days, when at this time of year we went to a half-day schedule, loafing off waiting for the holidays to pass and the new working year to begin.

Or perhaps it's just that this is a kind of rudderless time, when many of us just take our foot off the throttle and lay back for a week or so.

The kiddos are out of school and - if the past week has been any indication - are lazing about watching videos and playing videogames.
My Bride has the fortnight off, as well, and is overwatching the larvae to the degree required. My workplace is ludicrously silent. I have about four hours of work today - already receipted and filed - and another four this Wednesday, and then a full day of work Friday, and that's it. I have no friggin' notion of what to do tomorrow. Perhaps in the grand Soviet tradition I will pretend to work and my corporate master will pretend to pay me.

So in the spirit of the week, here are some idle ruminations.

Fallows has a worthwhile article up about the ongoing disconnect between our American pretense of "enthusiasm" for "the troops" and our actual ignorance of and indifference to said "troops". We've talked this one to death - it was the primary subject of last year's "dead time" post right here - but the situation hasn't changed. We the People are still far too well insulated from the geopolitical consequences of our political stupidity as well as the lives and deaths of those we send into the arena to be whipped with rods, burned with fire, and killed with steel.

That cannot be a good thing, for them or us.

And I should add that the one thing the Fallows article discusses is the one thing that really irks the shit out of me about the present reflexive warrior-worship:
"Americans admire the military as they do no other institution. Through the past two decades, respect for the courts, the schools, the press, Congress, organized religion, Big Business, and virtually every other institution in modern life has plummeted. The one exception is the military. Confidence in the military shot up after 9/11 and has stayed very high. In a Gallup poll last summer, three-quarters of the public expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military. About one-third had comparable confidence in the medical system, and only 7 percent in Congress."
Don't get me wrong. You don't, as I did, spend more than two decades in an armed service without loving the hell out of it. Well, not if you're a 20th and 21st Century American and have other options than those forced on you by Sergeant Winter.

But...I also know all the fucked up and stupid things that my Army and my fellow soldiers and officers did, and do. The U.S. Army is no different than any other immense organization, and there's always more than enough ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision to go around. You know that. You've worked for GigantoCorp, or dealt with MegaLocity, Inc. Throw in the immensely-fucked-up-by-its-very-nature qualities of war? You get a Perfect Storm of fucktardry.

It's inescapable.

The reality is that in war people get killed and maimed and fucked-up, or get other people killed, maimed, and fucked-up, for stupid reasons, or for no reason at all. Weapons and equipment fail (they're made by the lowest bidder, remember..?), lethal stuff goes the wrong direction. Wrong turns, bad choices, confused instructions and, above all, mind-numbingly pointless random shit that just happens.

Shit just happens.

You try to tell normal people this and they nod solemnly like they understand. But they're kidding themselves, and you. They have no idea, and because they have no idea they have no real understanding that every time they support some pencil-headed cracker ranting about "drawing a line in the sand" and "fighting them there" they're inviting all this random shit out into the daylight to kill and maim and fuck-up the people they send to do this drawing and fighting.

Anyway, that's just the Way Things Are and I have no hope that they will change or expectation they will change, but I sure wish I thought that some sort of change was possible.

And while we're on the subject, Ta-nehisi Coates has some smart things to say about the subject of police, society, and how they intersect in the same issue.

Off the subject...

I know sort of in a "I know this exists but don't really pay attention" sort of way that there are all sorts of creative-type people who produce stories and artwork based on George Lucas' Star Wars universe (largely based on my son's early fascination with the brand).

But I'd never seen these: Imperial (and Rebel) propaganda posters.

But...makes sense, right? Two factions fighting for control of the same polity...why wouldn't they have their own Office of Special Services cranking out propaganda. Whatever the Umpteieth-Century version of YouTube videos would be, pamphlets, and, of course, posters.


So...speaking of movies and did I mention the Girl's thing with getting up early?

She's always been my light sleeper, ever since she was a tiny. Her current position is that her back bedroom creeps her out because "it's near the basement and there are spiders there". So she wakes up in the early predawn, takes her blanket, shuffles into the front room and curls up on the couch. She usually goes back to sleep (though not always, and often not deeply) so that when I wake up early - and other than Little Miss I am the earliest riser in the Little House - she is there when I get my coffee and settle on the couch to check the weather and traffic. She usually cuddles up to me and we share a quiet time until I have to get dressed for work.

Usually I turn off the television after I get the weather report. There's just not much on the damn thing, anyway, and usually even less at oh-five-thirty. But every so often I spend a moment or two channel-surfing and it was doing that this morning that I blundered across Land of Doom.

The benefits of early-morning television are subtle. For example, had I not encountered this treasure I would have been forever ignorant that in Land of Doom's post-apocalyptic hellscape the one thing everyone will have is...hair.

Lots and lots of ginormous mall hair.

Oh, and studded leather. And vehicles with bizarre, pointlessly jagged (or jaggedly pointless..?) sheet metal finials.

But mostly big hair. Maybe that's what's really in store for us after the Third World War; cannibals, studded leather, and Eighties mall hair.

Or maybe it was just the Eighties.

The best thing about this rascal was that the heroine, "Harmony", had the least-poofy mall hair of any of the leads. Her 'do was downright post-apoca-thenticly ratty looking.

The worst thing, though, was that she also had no visible acting talent, or, at best, no more than the other leads and her character was written so as to expose the worst of her liability - "Harmony" was kind of a grouchy asshole. Understandable in the rapey, leather-studded-mall-hair world of post-apocalyptic whereever, but hard to make her or the actress who played her appealing.

"Harmony"'s lack-of-anything-approaching-charisma actually got me running to IMBD and Wikipedia to track down the woman who played her and, mirable dictu, she turns out to have been a very dim Eighties sort of star; Deborah Rennard, whose claim to what-passes-for-fame is that she played "J.R. Ewing's loyal secretary Sylvia "Sly" Lovegren" (according to her Wiki entry).

Now that may be the most-Eighties-form of "celebrity" I can think of. Seriously. "One of J.R.'s secretaries on Dallas". Is that perfect, or what? Even a recurring part as one of Thomas Magnum's girlfriends or a dancer in a Robert Plant music video wouldn't have touched all the Eighties bases the way that one does. And it also kind of explains why 1) she got cast in Land of Doom in the first place and 2) why she couldn't act her way out of that post-apocalyptic paper bag. I mean..."one of J.R. Ewing's secretaries..." Roll that one around in your brain a while and consider the sort of "acting talent" it implies. "One of J.R. Ewing's secretaries..."

Fucking boxcar.

Anyway, if you're looking for some Eighties post-apocalyptic-mall-hair goodness don't overlook Land of Doom. Heads do not roll. Fingers roll. Four stars for Deborah Rennard for NOT running around the post-apocalyptic wasteland in a studded metal bikini.

Joe Bob says; check it out.

(And from my searching I note with a sort of muted regret that Ms. Rennard appears to be newly unhitched from her husband of 13 years. Girlfriend paid her dues back in '86 when she filmed this turkey, girlfriend, so I'm sorry to hear that. Ouch, Deb. Damn. Sucks. I've been there.)

And...what else do you do in the Dead Time other than watch bad Eighties flicks?

You read, of course.

So...here's what I'm reading, and some hip-pocket reviews if you're interested;

The Enemy at the Gates (Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe), Andrew Wheatcroft 2007

I picked this up to reasearch the next "battle" post, the 1683 Siege of Vienna, and IMO the NY Times review rates it higher than I would. It's not a bad general-history of the conflict between the Habsburg domains and the Ottomans between the late 16th Century and the early 18th, and Wheatcroft does a decent job of detailing the actual conduct of the siege and the engagement of 12 SEP 1683 that broke it and the Ottoman invasion of south-central Europe. He does much less well at trying to explain the complexity of the relationship between the powers and, particularly, how and why the Ottoman Empire receded in the 19th and 20th Centuries. His attempt to link the conflict to the modern troubles between the Islamic World and the West is even less realized and less successful, coming across as a hastily-tacked-on marketing gimmick rather than a thought-out coda to his historical account.

Well worth the effort, however, if you're interested in the military and political details of the 17th Century Austro-Turkish wars. And, winged hussars, man! What could be fucking cooler than winged hussars? Joe Bob says check THAT out..!
Chicacabra (Tom Beland, 2014)

One thing about drawing cartoons is that I am always on the lookout for work I like by others who draw. This little book caught my eye at my local comic shop and I have already read and re-read it a dozen times. It works on every level; as a memoir (the artist talks about how he pulled a great deal of his struggle with depression into the story) and as a valentine to his home of Puerto Rico, as an adventure, as a "horror story", and as a momento mori.

Isabel's - the heroine's - world is full of life and yet full of death; her mother is slowly dying and her father is dead. She has tried suicide before we meet her. But she can't quite escape the lively world of San Juan, her friends, her enemies, and, of course, the titular chupacabra who adopts her (or is adopted by her...) and changes everything. The story is complex and fun, the characters are lively and likeable (even the "bad guy"), and it's above all a hell of a good read.

Of course all of this would be unworkable if the artwork was poor, but Beland finds a nice balance between realism and "comic" in his linework and his composition is outstanding; the story balances his words and his pictures to move forward seamlessly. I admit; I'm a sucker for "clean" lines, and Beland's are impeccable. The rumor is that there's another in the works, and I'm already ready.

Oh...one last item...

Let me start by saying that I yield to no one in my contempt for the Worst Newspaper in the World (by the way...did I ever get around to mentioning that the Oregonian now only actually publishes a print edition something like twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays? No shit. Really. We are a "major city" without a daily paper, not that the O, with it's assload of wire-service copy and idiotic "human interest" stories was any piece of work when it did run every day...) and I like to think that I've been pretty consistent in that contempt here ever since the days of the Death Cat back in 2007.

Every so often I get caught up in one of these moronic "human interest" stories. Usually it involves someone being stupid, naked, or both, but pets may be involved, too, as they are here, in the tale of Camo the Cat and The Giant Box Spring:
"Camo used to like to hide in a hole in her box spring when he was upset. Dufek didn't know that, though, because Crews had taped over the hole and shielded it with boxes when she was using the box spring.

So, when Dufek tried to be a helpful boyfriend and sell her bed while she was at work, he neglected to check for felines in the box spring.
My ass. I call bullshit; I think he was toasted. I mean...think about it. He was home selling shit on Craigslist while she was working? So, unemployed much? So loafer boyfriend smokes a big ol' bowl of now-legal-in-Oregon "Hillsboro Windowbox" and by the time he wrestles the box spring out the door and down to the buyer's car he's so fried he couldn't hear the cat if it had been meowing the fucking Anvil Chorus and hammering on a kettledrum.

Sorry. Anyway...
He realized his mistake minutes after helping the buyer strap the bed to the roof of a car. But by then, Camo was off on his unexpected adventure."
Adventure is right. This poor moggie got rocketed across the Tualatin Valley on top of some joker's car because "helpful" boyfriend sells it along with a box spring, ended up (I'm guessing) tumbling out around the airfield in Hillsboro and spending a week or so lost, frightened, and injured.

But...there's a happy ending; kitty was found and brought back to its owner who - hopefully - either gets a box spring without a cat flap or a smarter boyfriend.
Or both.

That's all I got. Hope your Dead Time is more fun and productive than mine..!


Anonymous said...

I literally call that time "The Fallows"...and here it is marked by various metaphysical discomforts and insomnia aided by too many cookies and various booze-tastings.

Leon said...

M.C. Hammer chief? Clearly he was in the 90's.

Get it together man!

Yeah, going a bit nutty without the usual yearly structure...

FDChief said...

Leon: Damn, man, you're right! I'd forgotten that Hammer Time was a Nineties thing. I'll have to fix that. How 'bout a Pointer Sisters dancer..?

BigFred said...

Merry New year, Chief. +1 Internets for the Joe Bob Briggs pull.