American Icon

This was 22 years ago. We were sitting around an upscale living room in  Plano, Texas. The local school district was suffering under a board member who wanted to include the creationist book Of Pandas And People in the science curriculum. We were discussing the sorry state of affairs and how the community could resist. Victor Morales was there. He was planning on running for the Senate. His opponent would be Phil Gramm. Morales was a populist who had defeated tree seasoned candidates in the primary, and now he was going up against one of the most powerful politicians in the country. I advised Morales he needed to watch the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, starring Jimmy Stewart. He said he knew of the movie but had never seen it. I offered to lend him a tape.

The movie, which came out before either one of us were born, garnered actor James Maitland Stewart the Academy Award nomination for best actor of 1940. The following year Jimmy Stewart won for best actor for his role in The Philadelphia Story. Then he went off to war.

I didn’t begin to watch Jimmy Stewart movies until the early 1950s. About the first I recall was Winchester 73. But it was as the intense photographer who watches a murder plot unfold from across a Greenwich Village courtyard that really caught my attention in  Rear Window. It didn’t hurt to have the seductive Grace Kelly slinking about the plot. And much more.

But the center of Robert Matzen’s book Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe is Jimmy Stewart’s wartime career. It was more than 75 years ago that Americans shouldered the job at hand and went off to fight the rampages of Europe and East Asia. At the time many of our privileged few suited up and made the sacrifice. Members of Congress, sons of presidents, the fabulously wealthy, star athletes, and Hollywood celebrities suited up. And some died. Possibly none survived more famously than Jimmy Stewart.

He was bound to go. Soldiering was a family tradition and a matter of honor in the family, dating back to the days of the American Revolution:

Jim had grown up on war, beginning when Fergus Moorhead, his great-great-great grandfather on his father’s side, served in the Cumberland County Militia in the American Revolution. A counterpart on his mother’s side also fought in the Revolution.

Matzen, Robert. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (p. 8). Paladin Communications. Kindle Edition.

And he had the yen to  fly. He finagled a ride with a barnstorming pilot who visited his home town of Indiana, Pennsylvania, shortly after conclusion of the War To End All Wars. And he never looked back. But first there was college, acting, and Hollywood fame.

He caught the acting bug early in life and played roles while attending college at Princeton before easing into life as a struggling actor in New York. There he bunked in West Central Park with Henry Fonda, Joshua Logan, Myron McCormick, and sometimes Burgess Meridith. It was Fonda who eventually lured Jim to Hollywood and a steady climb to  success. His climb to success and his natural good nature enabled him to accumulate many notches on his gun, including some of the flashiest Hollywood flesh of the day. How he ever  packed in time to learn to fly we can only imagine.

It all came to a crashing to an end on 22 March 1941. He became a private in the United States Army.

Suitcase in hand, wearing a suit and tie, fedora, and raincoat, Jim eased up to a nervous-looking collection of men and their luggage surrounding Army Sgt. James J. Smith. Stewart said to the gathering, “It’s a little early in the morning,” then, to the sergeant he gave his name. Smith checked Stewart’s name off his list on a clipboard. Jim looked around him at the crowded corner and a near riot.

Matzen, Robert. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (p. 79). Paladin Communications. Kindle Edition.

He had overcome the resistance of the studio bosses, who could have engineered him a cushy wartime assignment, but in the end Louis B. Mayer threw him a grand going away at MGM, and he carried into battle a handkerchief smeared with paint from some of the most glamorous lips that ever graced the screen.

What pull he held, due to his fame, he exploited to get himself into the Air Corps, This was not an easy task, considering he was 33 at a time when airmen averaged out ten years younger. Eventually his skill, work ethic, and amazing leadership qualities had him leaving for battle in November 1943 as the commander of a flight of B-24s that hopscotched from “Florida to Puerto Rico to British Guiana to Brazil to Ascension Island to Ghana to Senegal to Marrakech to Casablanca to Southampton to Tibenham” in East Anglia, England. Immediately across the North Sea from their muddy flying field was the European Continent and an enemy Stewart and his men  would face and defeat over the next 17 months. The flight over had been a taste of what was to come. Out of Puerto Rico:

Suddenly, a Mayday call broke radio silence and Jim shot to alertness. A Mayday? Now, in blue skies over turquoise waters? Jim gathered his thoughts and ordered all ships to report in. One by one they did, except for Sunflower Sue. She had sent just one Mayday and then, nothing—a very bad sign.

Matzen, Robert. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (p. 123). Paladin Communications. Kindle Edition.

As squadron leader, Stewart did not fly every mission, but by the time air operations for his unit stopped in April 1945 he had flown combat 20 times. By all accounts he rolled the dice again and again before finally coming home. In the interval he experienced enough for a lifetime. Excerpts of battle experiences are all too typical of the times:

Conley pointed and Jim could see a yellow 190 at twelve o’clock low and a mile out closing fast, heading straight for their ship. As Conley and Stewart watched, its wing guns started flashing fire, aiming for the flight deck—a new German strategy they had been briefed on. Soon they could hear Steinhauer’s machine gun answering from the nose below. Stewart waited for bullets to punch through the windshield and hit him. It was in God’s hands now. The German plane zipped past so close over the top of the cockpit that Jim could count the rivets in her belly. He knew the Lady had been hit; no way that damn pilot could have missed. A moment later Rankin said the glass in the front turret had been punched through, but he and Steinhauer were all right.

Matzen, Robert. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (p. 166). Paladin Communications. Kindle Edition.

A little later, standing in the midst of so many shot-up planes, Jim was heard to murmur, “Somebody sure could get hurt in one of these damned things.”

Matzen, Robert. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (p. 250). Paladin Communications. Kindle Edition.

Other times were grim, tragic:

Jim watched a German fighter stray too close to a Lib and catch hell. Suddenly, it careened left, spewing smoke, and fell straight toward earth from 20,000, nose first. On went the fray with enemy aircraft all over the 389th. Another B-24 got hit and sank below the others, and from that moment the wounded ship was as good as dead, carrion for the Bf 109s and Fw 190s that buzzed about taking potshots until, to Stewart’s horror, the Liberator exploded.

Matzen, Robert. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (pp. 194-195). Paladin Communications. Kindle Edition.

The sliver of circumstance that separated glory and oblivion is exemplified by one incident, among others:

Flak came up again and boomed to the right and left. All at once a loud bang sounded in the flight deck and rocked them so hard that only their safety harnesses kept them in their seats. Then came an explosion right under them. It lifted the ship, lifted the pilots. Johnson and Stewart took a moment to realize—an .88mm shell had punched up into the bottom of the ship and detonated. They felt frozen air blast straight up into the cockpit from the hole beneath them. The flight deck cleared of smoke. As it did, Jim looked down to his left and inches from his boot sat a jagged, gaping hole nearly two feet across. He could look down through the fuselage straight to Germany.

Matzen, Robert. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (p. 246). Paladin Communications. Kindle Edition.

And then one day it was all over. In the spring of 1944 people began to experience “invasionitis.” England was weighted down with invasion troops, and it was apparent to all, including the Germans, that invasion was coming. Then the word came in stages. Leaves canceled. Bases sealed off. Communication prohibited. On 5 June the word arrived. It was Normandy, and the crews received their target lists. They were to support the invasion by attacking first beach defenses, then German communication routes. The missile factories and launch sites that were menacing England (and later Belgium and France) were also designated.

Airmen continued to die, but the war wound down. The German war machine was collapsing:

Hitler called in General Galland for a consultation at Wolfsschanze to have the American bomber threat explained. The boldness of daylight raids perplexed the Führer, and Galland leveled with him: To combat the Allied air raids into Germany from the Baltic to Italy to Russia, the number of German fighters would have to increase dramatically. Hitler wanted to know how dramatically. Galland said he would need three or four fighters for every American bomber to bring the bombing campaign to a stop. But, said Galland, there was another variable in the equation. If the Four Motors brought fighter escorts with them, he would need even more planes. Many more planes.

Matzen, Robert. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (pp. 134-135). Paladin Communications. Kindle Edition.

What had the Eighth Air Force accomplished in Operation Argument as its formations were mauled by German fighters over six February days? Had all those boys lost from the 445th died in vain? Hardly. Argument and its Big Week hit aviation facilities all over Germany, true, but the bloodbath over Gotha and other engagements that week had cost Galland’s Luftwaffe eighteen percent of its remaining pilots. For the month of February, Oberkommando der Luftwaffe noted the loss of 456 fighter planes trying to beat back the American bomber stream. For every American aircraft downed, the Germans lost ten. The manufacture of German fighter aircraft would go on at a record pace, but who would fly them? They were running out of pilots.

Matzen, Robert. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (p. 255). Paladin Communications. Kindle Edition.

In April 1945 the 8th Air Force ran out of targets. Jimmy Stewart’s war was finished. On 6 and 9 August Army B-29 bombers unleashed atomic bombs on Japanese cities, and the Empire capitulated. On 31 August Jim arrived in New York City aboard the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth,  and shortly to be unemployed.

There were many who did not come back. Matzen tells the stories of some of them. One is Clem Leone, a kid from Baltimore and a B-24 radioman in Jim’s squadron. An early check ride in England ended in disaster when engine problems developed. All bailed out except the pilot, who died. Clem’s war ended when his plane was set ablaze by anti-aircraft fire:

He got up so far, head and shoulders out, and was wedged tight with his chute below the hatch, the winds pounding him. He couldn’t breathe. He put both gloved hands in front of him on the hatch and pushed until he got his chute over the frame. In the slip-stream he had nothing to grab onto but the twin gun barrels of the top turret. He hugged them tight, marveling he had made it this far. His legs dangled out in the open air. Now what? Let go and fly straight back into the twin vertical stabilizers? That would be the end of him, bouncing off those stout columns at such speeds. The boy from Baltimore who wanted to fly was really getting his wish now.

He hung there considering his options, a man alone three miles up, with his buddies below dead or dying, these men he had trained with and grown up with. Then, under him came the answer. Not an option; a certainty. The flames found the wing tanks and the ship exploded. Tech. Sgt. Clement Leone had reached the end of his worries.

Matzen, Robert. Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (p. 238). Paladin Communications. Kindle Edition.

The plane was over The Netherlands, occupied by German troops since 1940, and his survival was far from sure. First he had to avoid landing in a pond and drowning. Then he pulled his service pistol as civilians approached. They announced they were Dutch and took him to a house and fed him. Then a German home guard with a Mauser rifle stormed in and led him toward a wire enclosure. But the Dutch followed close behind, and they suddenly, in fractured Dutch and English, shouted for Clem to run. As he did so he saw the Dutch civilians swarming the German, killing him.

The underground resistance passed Clem from one cell to another on a route that would have taken him to neutral Spain, except that in Belgium one of the couriers turned out to be a Nazi, who handed him and others over to the Luftwaffe. Clem endured the agony and deprivation of captivity, finally being force marched in the winter of 1944-1945 to avoid advancing Russians until one morning in April 1945 the prisoners woke up in a Belgian field encampment to discover their guards had deserted. British troops arrived in trucks to take them away.

Jimmy Stewart had entered the Army as a private, and he left as a Colonel. Back in Hollywood with Fonda, who had done a stint in the Navy, he looked for work. His magnificent pre-war career was gone. Completely evaporated. He was a war hero, but that did not mean squat to the studio bottom line. Younger talent had risen in place of the older men who had gone off to war, and Stewart cast about for a vehicle to showcase his older, more mature persona. He found it teaming with Frank Capra, in a similar situation. $3 million bankrolled a fantasy story about a man who stayed home from the war while his younger brother went off to war and returned with a Medal of Honor.

George Bailey married, had children, and managed the local “Building and Loan,” which kept his small New England community afloat. As the business teeters on failure and scandal claws at his family, he despairs and proclaims he wishes he had never been born. An Angel Second Class is sent from Heaven to redeem George Baily, and the story rights itself. It was It’s a Wonderful Life.

Portraying an American survivor on the ragged edge of catastrophe, Stewart turned in an outstanding performance, earning another Academy Award nomination. Frederick March got the win that year for his role in The Best Years of Our Lives, a drama about servicemen returning to civilian life.

The movie’s break-even  box office was pegged at $6 million, but it only drew $3 million, making it a money-loser. It has since become an American cinema icon, much as has Jimmy Stewart.

Stewart’s teaming with Alfred Hitchcock produced four outstanding performances, my favorite being Rear Window. His role as an Upper Peninsula trial lawyer in Anatomy of a Murder is a jewel of a story and a grand showcase of pure Stewart. The last production of Stewart’s I saw was The Shootist, where he played a doctor treating and advising a dying gunfighter, played by John Wayne in his last movie.

Jimmy Stewart stayed in the Air Force Reserve, rising to the rank of Brigadier General and making another Air Force film, titled Strategic Air Command. He flew a combat mission in Vietnam.

James Stewart died 20 years ago this month.

Jimmy Stewart’s military awards (from Wikipedia)

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That Old Time Rock And Roll

I liked the song when it played on the radio while I was a senior in high school, but I never knew anything about it, who wrote it, who sang it. I only began to  get a clue when the movie came out.

Thirty years on, and it’s time to take a look back at this one. Actually, it’s 60 years since the story unrolled. It’s La Bamba, about the short career of teen rock star Ritchie Valens. More than that, it’s about the peak of rock and roll  in the 1950s. The film is a tour de force of late ’50s rock and roll. La Bamba was distributed by Columbia Pictures, and is available for view this month on Hulu. I’m getting details from  Wikipedia.

The opening scene depicts an actual event. Children are playing in a schoolyard in Pacoima, north of Los Angeles. On 31 January 1957 two aircraft collided above the area, and debris from one of the planes landed in the schoolyard, killing three students.

Historical accuracy is lost right about here. The two aircraft shown in the film are not the two that collided and crashed.

But it’s only a dream. Richard Steven Valenzuela (Lou Diamond Phillips) was not at the school that day. He was at his grandfather’s funeral. He wakes from the nightmare in a migrant labor camp, where his mother, Connie Valenzuela (Rosanna DeSoto) is calling him to get up and get to work picking oranges.

It’s a dismal future for Ritchie, but his half brother Roberto “Bob” Morales (Esai Morales) comes riding up on an Indian motorcycle. He is lately out of prison on drug charges, and he brings money to get the family out of the migrant camp. He also moves in on Ritchie’s main squeeze, Rosie (Elizabeth Peña), gets her pregnant, and abuses her.

Back in high school, Ritchie meets Donna Ludwig (Danielle von Zerneck), inspiration for his big hit song named after her.

Yeah, that romance is not going anywhere. Donna’s father objects to the romance and is a perpetual roadblock to young love. Ritchie plays the guitar and joins a local band. However, the band’s leader keeps him in the background.

But Ritchie books a concert in the local VFW hall, and the band leader will have none of it. The band goes on with Ritchie playing lead, and it’s a huge success. One of those enjoying the music is Bob Keane (Joe Pantoliano), eager to record Ritchie’s music.

An early success has Ritchie being invited by the manager to sing at a cowboy bar. You have to think a Chicano kid playing at a redneck hangout is not going to fly, but Ritchie apparently knows his audience, and he opens belting out “Oh, Boy!” by Buddy Holly from Lubbock, Texas. By the time he’s finished the joint is jumping.

Signed to Del-Fi Records without the band and having his name changed to Ritchie Valens, he hits the big time, singing Donna on American Bandstand, his classmates, including Donna, back in Pacoima watching on TV. We see him hitting the big time in New York with famous headliners of the day.

His career is famously short. Just eight months after hitting the big time he is touring with Buddy Holly and catching a flight out of Clear Lake, Iowa. Despite his fear of flying, due to the Pacoima tragedy, he takes the offer.

The plane will only carry four, including the pilot. J.P. Richardson, Jr., The Big Bopper (Stephen Lee), is going, and Holly flips a coin to decide whether to take guitarist Tommy Allsup or Ritchie. Ritchie calls heads, it’s heads. Allsup loses the toss and is the only survivor of this scene. According to Allsup, Ritchie remarks it’s the only coin toss he ever won. Ritchie was only 17.

Take special note: Waylon Jennings gave up his seat to Richardson, because The Big Bopper had the flu.

February third, 1959, is known as The Day The Music Died, with three headliners of 1950s rock and roll gone in an instant. Thirteen years later  Don McLean‘s hit American Pie was tops in the charts.

The movie stresses the tension between Ritchie and his brother Bob. Bob is shown as continually resentful of Ritchie’s success while he continues to drive his own life into the toilet. Apparently we have Bob to thank for the song. He took Ritchie to a club in Tijuana, where the band was playing it.

La Bamba is a traditional Mexican folk song out of Veracruz. La Bamba is a wedding dance, and it’s the dance the song refers to:

Para bailar La Bamba
Para bailar La Bamba
Se necesita una poca de gracia

To dance La Bamba a little grace is necessary.

Ritchie did not speak Spanish but an aunt from Mexico taught him the words. And the rest was magic.  This is going to take some people way back. Are you one of them?

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Ryobi TEK4 Thermometer

Ten years back I was having A/C problems at my house, and I called in a repair company. It was one of those hot Texas summer days, and there didn’t be much cool coming out of the vents. The service tech walked around checking temperatures, and he had one of these things.

It’s a Ryobi TEK4 Professional Infrared Thermometer, and it’s cool as all get out. Here is a link.

It works like this. You point the snoot of the device at, for example, the A/C vent in your room, and you pull the trigger. A laser spot on the vent shows where you’re pointing, and a display on the back tells you the temperature. Read the details on their site. You can switch between degrees F and degrees C. Here’s what it looks like when you put the spot on a vent.

And this is the kind of information you need. You measure the temperature at a vent, where the cool air is coming out, and you measure the temperature at a return point, where the warm air is being sucked out of the room. If your A/C unit is working properly there should be a significant difference in temperature. One service guy told me it needs to be 15° F. Another said 10°. I’m thinking if it’s not at least 10°, then your unit is not up to snuff and needs to be serviced.

I bought mine at the local Home Depot, and the good news is the price doesn’t break the budget, especially if you are wondering whether to throw the dice and gamble on a service call. My model may have since been superseded. Check Home Depot or Lowe’s and see what they have.

TAKE NOTE. This is not a toy. The laser beam is nothing to messed with by children.

The unit has a lithium ion battery inside the handle, and a charger comes with it. Contact me for additional advice.

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Executive Action

It is only coincidence that I am posting this review of a show about the decapitation of the United States Government on the very day somebody had a go at such an abortive plan. In any event, this morning I completed viewing episode 12 of Designated Survivor, now available on Hulu. The plot concerns a member of the President’s cabinet designated to skip the annual State of the Union speech. This is an actual practice, because, the speech, held in the Capitol Building, is attended by the president, vice president, all other cabinet members, all Supreme Court justices, and all members of Congress. The idea is, should a calamity of massive scale take out all attending, somebody in the presidential line of succession will survive to take over.

The opening scene reminds viewers of that fact with a nighttime view of the Capitol complex and a caption explaining the setup. Next we see Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Thomas Adam “Tom” Kirkman watching the proceedings on TV, along with his lovely wife Alex (Natascha McElhone). We know he’s going to be the designated survivor, because he’s Kiefer Sutherland, and you know he’s going to have to be in all remaining episodes. It’s a pleasant evening, beer and popcorn, some quiet time with the wife.

Of course, we know what’s going to  happen. The president is going to be talking, and then the screen is going to go blank. We know that, because the only thing that can take out the entire United States government in a single strike is a massive bomb attack. We watch. Here it comes.

Here it is. And the screen goes blank.

First nit to pick is right here. When a bomb takes out a TV transmission, there is not any streaking. The screen just goes blank. Later on we learn about the nature of the bombing and realize even an instantaneous blank screen would not be expected. But more on that later. The Secret Service detail rushes in immediately, and Kirkman gets the word. He goes to the window and witnesses the horror, still unfolding.

Pushed into a Secret Service car, Kirkman and bride are rushed to another secure facility, could be somewhere besides the White House. There an appellate judge stands him up and issues the oath of office. He’s the President of the United States.

The realization hits him. Earlier in the day the president had told him he was going to be replaced as HUD secretary, and now his fortunes have reversed in the most spectacular way. He goes to the restroom to puke his beer and popcorn. In the next stall is a speech writer wondering loudly how a buffoon like Kirkman is going to be able to handle such a job. Emerging, speech writer Seth Wright (Kal Penn) realizes he has been talking to his new boss. Kirkman quickly makes him the new White House Press Secretary.

And the story continues from there, and I am not going to regurgitate the plot. However, if you have have not watched the series, then you might want to stop reading now, because what follows will be a massive spoiler. There are some issues I have with the plot.

Religious terrorists are immediately suspected. In fact, there is no other consideration besides a bunch of Muslims have waged an attack on the United States. This is going to be standard for this kind of story, because it is typical of our government’s reaction these days. Back in real life I am sure government intelligence has a better handle on these matters than the public at large and elected officials in general. They are going to be considering all possibilities and not be blinded by the “obvious.” In this story that rationality does not manifest, and all eyes are closed to the ultimate source of the attack. Makes the story more interesting.

Of course, American Muslims are targeted, with at least one person killed. Seth, who is the son of immigrants and does not look the least bit Western European, gets some hard looks early on. The governor of Michigan cracks down on Muslims in Dearborn, forcing President Kirkman to have him arrested, along with the general in charge of the Michigan national guard.

Next comes a critical plot development. A survivor is pulled from the rubble. He is Congressman Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman), and he is quickly hailed as a hero (Hero of the Potomac). A decorated military veteran, he is quickly promoted as candidate to become the new vice president. Things look suspicious.

The FBI solves the case, and a main character is FBI Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q). She has an  FBI technician pull cell phone intercepts from the fatal night, and she observes uploaded snapshots made prior to the explosion. They show that the congressman left his seat in the chamber prior to the event. And here is a minor plot failure. The congressman previously told interrogators he was in his seat watching the speech when everything just went black. But nobody follows up on this inconsistency. Agent Wells goes to the MacLeish home to ask him about this, but he and his wife Beth (Lara Jean Chorostecki) explain his absence from his seat, but not the inconsistency of his account. Agent Wells takes the explanation and departs. My thinking is real FBI agents are more tenacious than that.

But Wells receives a phone call from out of nowhere. A female voice tells her to check room 105. Then she hangs up. Digging deeper, Wells pulls up classified Capitol Building renovation plans, plans which show that room 105 in the Capitol Building has been recently constructed. Reconstructed as a bomb-proof bunker. Further, this matches the location from where MacLeish was pulled from the debris. Things are beginning to add up.

Scenes show recovery workers digging at the remains of the building. Not all that realistic. I have seen video from, for example, the Murrah Building, the World Trade Towers, and the Pentagon. It really is a lot more messy than depicted in the show. Also, my guess is, suppose MacLeish were in  the 105 bunker when the balloon went up, so to speak. How did he get out? How come rescuers didn’t find him still inside the well-fortified room 105?

They find an unexploded bomb. It later develops that numerous such bombs were planted throughout the building. Examination reveals it is of a kind used by a known terrorist. What is suspicious is this one seemed to have designed not to explode. It was possibly a plant to throw suspicion on a specific operator.

Further, if the building has been taken down by a collection of dispersed charges, there would be some evidence of this in the TV broadcast. There would be flashes of light from off screen as the charges detonated, but before blast wave propagated.

MacLeish is immediately promoted to  the vice presidency. No no no. This is the American government, which pulls like a magnet to all and anybody having a lust for power. There would have been about 50 governors and numerous others clamoring for that job and presenting a much stronger case than being a war hero from Oregon who survived the attack. But, the plot must go on.

We see the FBI closing in. We see Deputy Director of the FBI Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) being blackmailed by the conspirators. The suspected Muslim terrorist is tracked down and sucked out of his hiding hole in Algeria. He has previously claimed responsibility for the attack, but he has a history of false claims. Atwood and Wells interrogate him with some success, and he admits he was coaxed into taking the fall. Then he is murdered in his cell in a secure facility. Atwood’s young son is kidnapped, and Atwood succumbs to the demand he admit to killing the prisoner. Yeah, both you and I are thinking that FBI deputy directors are made of sterner stuff.

The plot continues to unravel, but Agent Wells is shown to be about the only person to exhibit a pragmatic approach. She carries the load to bring the initial stage of the master plot crashing down. She tracks down an assassin who has plans to shoot President Kirkman immediately after Vice President MacLeish is sworn in. I mean seconds. You want to raise suspicions? This is the way to do it. But Wells rushes to the scene of the inauguration (see In The Line Of Fire) and takes a shot at the gunman, deflecting his aim and saving the president.

Of course, Wells is arrested and charged with complicity, this despite obvious witnesses who saw her take a shot at the gunman. Any investigation of the shooter’s perch would reveal where Wells’ bullet struck and caused him to miss.

OK, President Kirkman is wounded, and must undergo surgery. That allows VP MacLeish to take charge of the government during a few crucial hours. One of his actions, when the gunman is tracked down to a hiding place, is to order he not be taken alive. On the president’s orders, government agents execute the fugitive with no attempt to arrest him for questioning. No. Absolutely not. The President of the United States does not have the authority to order the execution of a fugitive, script writers notwithstanding.

But the shooter is dead, and now Wells is able to tell  her story to the president. Plans are  laid to trap VP MacLeish and his Lady Macbeth squeeze. Tricked into a meeting at Arlington National Cemetery with an Army buddy who knows sensitive details, MacLeish is about to dump the goods when Lady Macbeth comes along and shoots him to silence him. Then she kills herself. The plot is obviously much deeper, and there is going to a lot more to unravel in future episodes.

Hulu reminds viewers the series will resume this fall.

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The Great Granbury Conflagration

DATELINE: 3 June 2016 – Granbury, Texas

I became aware of the drama that was about to unload upon this sleepy Texas county seat as I strolled along Houston Street, west of the town square. Sirens wailed, and a flashing of lights in the distance hailed the coming of emergency response. Tragedy was surely upon us.

Bidding my sweet wife adieu, “I’m going across the street for a while,” I unlimbered my trusty Canon 5D and headed toward the sound of battle. Rather, the sound of commotion.

Employees of a local restaurant were already standing outside, apprehensive and idle. At least idle.

All manner of emergency vehicles converged. First the police.

Then the fire fighters.

Then emergency medical rescue. It was a full court press of this small town’s rapid response assets.

Meanwhile, tourists on Houston street ogled the mayhem.

The action grew furious.

Desperate measures unfolded.

Having grown up in Granbury, I was neither surprised nor impressed that the town counts on mystical assistance.

In the end, it was a lot about a little. A smoky kitchen fire gave all an opportunity to unlimber their specialties and their preparedness.

Eventually it was time to pack up and call it a day.

A man on the phone said NBC News in  Fort Worth wanted some photos, so I sent three. I am guessing they were never used. Nobody got killed, not much of a story.

I will head back again next year and see what else is in store.

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Maravilla Condos Galveston

Down to Texas City for some photographs on the 20th anniversary of the 1947 disaster, we stayed over in Galveston two nights. We figured it would be neat to rent by the seawall, and Maravilla Condos had great appeal. Here’s the deal.

As advertised, this is not a hotel. It’s a condominium complex with individual owners of each space. Some put theirs out for rent. This one has a lot going for it, and you need to know some specifics of the place. The seawall was constructed in response to Galveston’s being wiped out by a hurricane in  1900. It’s about 17 feet high, and Seawall Boulevard runs the length, on top of a levee that backs it up.

Our rental was on the ground floor, which means it was level with the top of the seawall and maybe 17 feet above ground level  at the back. That meant our room looked out over the pool, a most pleasant view.


This rental sleeps four. There is a master bedroom, and alongside the entrance there are two bunk beds. The kitchen is modern and complete.


The complex is three stories, two rows of dwellings opening from a spacious atrium.


Parking is below the ground floor with some spaces beneath the building and some in the open. There is no assigned parking, but at least when we were there (a weekend) there were ample vacancies.


You could not hope for more seclusion on this island. Maravilla is a few blocks short of the end of the seawall (and the boulevard). A pleasant walk along the seawall or brings you to places to eat.


I have to  admit, it took two retired tech types 30 minutes to figure out the electronic door lock to our room. The critical requirement was to carefully read the directions and then to follow them absolutely. Once in we were expected to set our own pass code, for which we used my phone number.

Our big complaint was the noise, which we did not expect. Upstairs a family with some kids who seemed to never sleep. And when they were not sleeping they were jumping up and down on the floor. That was fun. The first night the people next door decided to party until 3 a.m.

Another thing to remember when renting a condo like this is the cleaning fee. At a hotel that’s included in the price. Here, as at most others, it’s a one-time charge, no matter how long you stay. So if you stay for one hight you can expect to pay a week’s cleaning fee, $92 in our case. We rented through, and the fee was listed, but in the fine print.

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Le Misanthrope

It’s a classic title, and it’s what popped into my brain after watching a few frames of this. But this movie has no resemblance to the Molière classic. It’s As Good as it Gets, starring Jack Nicholson as the only person who could have been cast as the misanthropic Melvin Udall. This came out 20 years ago and co-stars Helen Hunt as Carol Connelly, the foil to Udall’s misanthropy. I’m sure I once had the VHS, but no longer. When it showed up on Hulu earlier this month I took another look and captured some screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

You almost think Udall is normal as you snicker through the first scene. He encounters a neighbor’s miscreant toy dog in the hallway of his apartment building. The dog, named Verdell, is determined to piss on something, a prospect that’s about to send Udall up the wall. He corners the dog, which then proceeds to piss for the audience. Udall drops the pooch down the trash chute and returns to his apartment to work. He’s a best-selling author of steamy romance novels.

He’s also a poster for obsessive compulsive disorder. Washing his hands, he never uses the same bar of soap twice, chucking each bar after a single lather and unwrapping a fresh one from his stash.

Misanthropy rears its head when the Verdell’s owner, Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear), comes to confront him over his sweet, lovable puppy discovered in the trash bin in the basement. Simon is an artist, sensitive, and gay. “Do you realize I work at home? Do you like to be interrupted when you are nancing around in your little garden?” Udall has a store of remarks relating to others of all stripe. Regarding Simon’s friend, Frank Sachs (Cuba Gooding Jr.), when Simon first asks about “Verdell,” Udall pretends to  misunderstand. “I thought it was the name of that colored man I’ve been seeing in the hall.”

Whoopee! Udall stands to  offend everybody.

He has a favorite restaurant. He gets there by stepping lightly over Manhattan sidewalks, careful not to step on any cracks. Speaking of which, viewers should crack up watching tough-guy Jack Nicholson prancing lightly along the streets of New York.

This time when he arrives two people are at his favorite table at his favorite restaurant. He becomes visibly perturbed.

He confronts his favorite waitress Carol and informs her, “I’ve got Jews at my table.”

He proceeds to tick off Carol, in the worst way possible. She is a single mother with a son who has chronic health issues, making a mountainous strain of her life. “We’re all going to die sometime. I will, you will, and it sure sounds like your son will.” Writers James L. Brooks and Mark Andrus have created what is arguably the worst excuse for humanity on this planet.

Udall knows he has problems. He is seeing a psychiatrists. He barges into the doctor’s office without an appointment, reminding the doctor that this is a manifestation of his disorder. Exiting through a group counseling session, he remarks, “What if this is as good as it gets.” Hence, the title.

Simon hires a model off the street, and gets inspiration to paint. But the model’s buddies rob Simon and beat him up, leaving him hospitalized and destitute. Udall has to take care of the dog while Simon is in the hospital. But the dog responds to Udall’s piano playing and to Udall. The two bond.

Carol takes a job at another restaurant, likely to get away from Udall. At his next visit to his favorite restaurant he blows up when the waitress is not as accommodating, and he gets barred forever by the management.

The “O” in OCD stands for “obsessive,” and Udall is obsessive. He tracks down Carol and sees how miserable she is, having to deal with her son’s illness. He goes to his publisher’s office and makes an arrangement, pissing his publisher off in the process. Not to be partial, he insults the publisher’s voluptuous receptionist, who gushes over Udall’s depiction of women in his books. How does he manage so well to write women, the sex pot breaths, her amble breasts throbbing with each beat of her enraptured heart. “I think of a man. And I take away all reason and accountability.”

His publisher’s husband is a doctor, a specialist. When Carol returns home she discovers the doctor visiting, prescribing treatment for her son. Udall is picking up the tab.

Udall also picks up the tab to take Simon to visit his parents in Baltimore, where Simon hopes to grovel for money. He takes Carol along as a chaperon, because he doesn’t want to be alone on the trip with a queer man.

Taking Carol out to dine at a fine restaurant, Udall almost connects with Carol. Then he lets fly that he was thinking if Carol screwed Simon, then Simon might straighten out. Udall dines alone while Carol goes back to the room she’s sharing with Simon. Watching Carol prepare for bath inspires Simon to begin sketching again, and he figures he can now resume painting, and he doesn’t need money from his parents.

They go back to New York, and Carol and Udall hook up. But Udall’s issues remain, ensuring he manages to piss off Carol at least one more time. We know he is on the road forward as he walks with Carol, ignoring he is stepping on brick pavement.

And that’s about as good as it gets.

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