Top Jimmy

1968: the assassinations of MLK and RFK, riots, the My Lai Massacre, the Tet Offensive, famine in Biafra, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the founding of the Khmer Rouge, four submarines mysteriously lost with all hands…

And then, on Christmas Eve, William Anders snapped this photo.

As a telegram to his crewmate put it: “Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”

 

***

I went through a phase in my youth where I read lots of books about the Vietnam War. I remember thinking: how did people let things get this bad? And now… well, here we are.

 

***

On Christmas Day I awoke and prepared to tell my children to be quiet and wait to open presents. For the James Webb Space Telescope was due to launch at 7:15am. And then I didn’t notice the reminder on my phone and missed liftoff by ten minutes.

Which was fine. Frankly, I avoided torment by not witnessing the launch. I have become uncommonly attached to, and commensurately anxious for, the JWST, which is a marvel. That thing is going to figure out the universe.

Just getting to the launchpad was a feat. Here’s an excerpt from a 2018 article:

In another error, the wrong solvent was used in cleaning thrusters. And the wrong kind of wiring led to excessive voltage. Those three errors — the screws, the solvent, the wiring — set the project back 1½ years and about $600 million, the review board concluded.

And if you think I can finally relax because it’s en route, think again. It has to unfold and set itself up, a process in which there are 344 “single points of failure.” I.e. if even one of them doesn’t work, the whole thing becomes space junk. Here’s an unsoothingly titled video from NASA.

 

Godspeed, James Webb Space Telescope. Save 2022.

One Hundred One Score and One

This year is resolved to not go quietly; nor shall I thusly see it out. I’m going to make some Charles Mingus Eggnog. If delivery would cause no more than (my) moderate inconvenience, let me know and I’ll bring a cup of cheer. Pending any being left.

Either way, I leave you with the wisdom that has sustained me through Pandemic Year 2. It comes from that august speaker of truth, Lodge 49′s Ernie Fontaine: “Embrace the zugzwang, baby!”

Sunshine Supermen

A few days ago an RAF fighter plane crashed after takeoff from an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. It may have been because of a lens cap. The pilot is safe, but, if they do payroll deductions, his checking account is not. F-35s ain’t cheap.

***

There’s a BBC series from 1981 called Fighter Pilot. It begins with 31 candidates for the Royal Air Force. The pool gets quickly narrowed down, and the show tracks six of them onward. One succeeds. It’s like a combo of 7 Up and Squid Game.

 

 

I loved the show, not least for its exemplary Britishness. E.g. during a class on dogfighting tactics, the instructor warns of “getting into an embarrassing situation.” There’s a banquet scene where recruits are taught silverware. Right in the first 45 seconds the narrator talks of how, on a “business trip,” the jet will be armed with what the pilots call “a bucket of instant sunshine.”

***

Reminds me of those jokers over at Russia’s Strategic Rocket Force. Their motto is: After us – silence.

Будем здоровы!

Thanksgiving

When I get home from school I empty my pockets of the day’s accumulation: notes, paper clips, pens, etc. Sometimes I think about an interview I read with the drummer of the Rolling Stones. It was a questionnaire-type thing, a mix of serious and silly questions. One was “What do you have in your pockets?”  He replied he kept nothing in his pockets, so as not to break the line of his suit.

So long, Charlie. You are the coolest Stone.

***

Your crackers, licorice, and shelved Hennessy are now safe, Gentle Reader, but at woeful cost: Shock G is no more.

This had some, uh, resonance:

“The Humpty Dance” invited an audience of awkward youth into hip-hop with its embrace of misfits and outcasts. “Stop whatcha doin’ / ’Cause I’m about to ruin / The image and the style that ya used to,” Shock G rapped with lighthearted bravado. “I’m crazy / Allow me to amaze thee / They say I’m ugly but it just don’t faze me.”

 

***

Oh, snap!

Upon hearing the dismal news, I played “Just a Friend” for Twins 1 & 2. They thought it hilarious, and still occasionally interrupt the procession of Ed Sheeran and Olivia Rodrigo for it.

Good night, sweet clown prince. It is ever spring when we hear you.

Home Run / Home Free

…see, the premise is that Wiffle Ball Tony is like George Bush, you invite him to the party because you know he’s the guy who’s going to start the Wiffle Ball game. People generally like him and when he shows up everyone’s like, “Yeah, Wiffle Ball Tony’s here! It is so on!” And then one day someone’s like “We’re going to put Tony in charge of everything.”

– Mike Birbiglia, Detroit Metro Times

 

I always thought that was the best encapsulation of our 43rd president. A pithier one, about his opponent, inspired me to write this.

Boogie Wonderland

Maria Mendiola, who has died aged 69, was one half of Baccara, whose Eurodisco anthem Yes Sir, I Can Boogie reached No 1 in the UK in 1977 and is claimed to be the best-selling single ever by a female duo; latterly, it had been adopted by the Scotland football team as their unofficial song during the European football championships.

The Telegraph, September 12, 2021

 

That’s a heck of a first sentence for an obit. Having never heard the song, I sought it; what follows is an abbreviation of the rabbit hole. [“But hey! Enough of my yakkin’…” – ed.]

The original? Kind of a Donna Summer-meets-ABBA vibe. They sing it “booo-gie.”

 

The Scottish football thing. As best I can tell – skip to 1:55 – they sing it “beu-geh.”

 

This, though. Holy smokes. That saudade intro! The backup trio! What a terrific cover.

PS I’m no disciple of pretention, but I think they sing it “beu-gie.”

Summer Slide

Maybe it’s the weather or it’s something like that, but I’m done here for a while. In the meantime:

 

1. Vita Breva

Every day I post an obituary worth reading at @passed_present. Check it out. As spake Ian Dury, “There ain’t half been some clever [folks].”

 

2. Ars Longa

Good heavens, your walls. Fix them up with some proper art.

 

3. Hail Darrell!

I pity the fool who doesn’t hit play.

The Zaire Road

When Twins 1 & 2 were infants, I discovered that taking them outside on a chilly day would calm them. So I’d bundle them up and take them out in their stroller, a swank model with rugged tires. It was on these expeditions I learned that bumpy surfaces soothed them as well.

We’d go a few streets away to a small lane that curved up the side of a hill. It was in appalling neglect, with potholes of such frequency and depth it appeared to have received indirect fire.

I’d push them up and down the road, going into and out of the potholes. I probably looked like a madman, but believe me, it was being able to calm a brace of screaming infants that averted my madness.

One afternoon I was at my quasi-Sisyphean toil when I heard a mighty noise above. I looked up and saw a 747. It was ascending and making a turn, and I could see it perfectly in the clear October sky. It was Air Force One. I was awestruck. To this day it’s one of the most magnificent things I’ve ever seen.

***

In 1971, six years into his reign, Mobutu Sese Seko decided he wanted the Congo to have a new image. So he renamed it Zaire. Mobutu – the Marshal, as he called himself – ruled for about thirty years. Although his country was very poor, his focus was his own comfort. He built palaces, one with a runway to accommodate Concordes bringing delicacies from Paris. Mobutu fled power a few months before his death in 1997, but lived long enough to see his country – which was falling into the deadliest conflict since World War II – be again renamed, back to the Congo.

Notwithstanding his downfall, Mobutu was shrewd, and knew how to play people – and nations. (If you paid federal taxes back then, he sure got some.) All the while, he maintained both a risible grandiosity and a profound unconcern for his subjects.

…Mr. Mobutu said his European bank accounts held “less than $50 million. Is that such an exorbitant sum for someone who is, for the last 22 years, the head of state of such a great country?” he asked.

Critics reply that Zaire has pressing, unattended social needs. About one-third of the children die before the age of 5 in Zaire, which has a per capita income of $180, the eighth lowest in the world.

The New York Times, September 29, 1988

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