Wednesday, December 31, 2008

John Callahan

John Callahan is a cartoonist with a truly macabre sense of humor. This is, no doubt, partially because of his life history: he was an adoptee who suffered some terrible abuse, and at the age of twenty-one, a car accident made him a quadraplegic. He has ritten a quasi-memoir called "Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up?". (I *told* you his humor was macabre!) Recently, I've been reminded of a Callahan cartoon of a black man sitting on a park bench, holding a beggar's bowl, and a sign that reads "Black, Blind, and NOT Musically Talented." David Paterson is black, legally blind, not musically talented; however, due to Eliot Spitzer's whoremongering blunders, Mr. Paterson is now Governor of the State of New York. Is America the Land of Opportunity? YOU BET IT IS!

E-mail from Singapore

Over the past year, I have traded a number of e-mails with a nice young gentleman from Singapore. I visited Singapore once, back in the 90s. The skyline looks a bit like Manhatten's; the subway system is *immaculate*. No drugs, no graffiti- they are downright *draconian* in punishment of traffickers and vandals.

Once during the early days of the Clinton Administration, a kid from Dayton, Ohio, got caught "tagging" in Singapore and got sentenced to a number of lashes with a cane. Clinton appealled to the Singapore govt. for clemency. I was living in Dayton, Ohio at the time; I wonder if the Singapore govt. ever learned that a poll in Dayton showed that a clear majority of Daytonians favored the kid being whipped, and one Dayton DJ did a bit on the air of a crowd chanting "Hit him again! Hit him again! Harder! Harder!"

The symbol of Singapore is the merlion; bottom half is a fish, top half is a lion. *Very* cool.

It is a *very* long way from Singapore at the southern tip of Southeast Asia, to the country of Guinea, on the Atlantic coast of Africa. about 7,500 miles in fact. A few days ago, the 'President' of Guinea, Mr. Lansana Conte died and a faction of the Guinea military seized power. France gave Guinea its independence 50 years ago, and in that time, Guinea has had *two* presidents, both of whom came to power in coups. My Singapore e-mail penpal sent me a youtube clip of crowds in Guinea's capital greeting the leader of the latest coup de tat, and asked me what I thought of that.

OK, I'll tell anybody who interested what I think of that: I think I am PROFOUNDLY grateful for the fact that I had the good fortune to have been born in a country where we resolve our political differences through *elections* and not coup de tats!

I have a woman friend from my school days, who does not like President Bush *at* *all*. For Christmas a few years ago, I got her a calendar that counted the days down to January 20, 2009, when Bush will leave office. I purchased it for her for two reasons, 1. I knew she'd be delighted, and 2. I was, indirectly, paying her a compliment. Some people on the far ("Air America") Left in America were fond of accusing the Bush administration of plotting to cancel the 2008 elections and stay in power indefinitely. By buying her that calendar, I was complimenting her on having far too much good sense to believe that rubbish.

P.S. I just learned that the current President of the country of Gabon is named Omar Bongo. Perhaps he ought to consider changing his name. I think *Charlie* Bongo sounds *much* better, don't you?

Your Age on Other Worlds

Sure you know how many times you've been around the Sun. But what if you'd been born on Neptune? Or Mercury? How old would you be in "local" time?

I'm only 26 Martian years old!

Muhammad Ali and Alternative Lifestyles

More than 20 years ago, Maynard Jackson, the mayor of Atlanta, as running for reelection, and he asked his friend Muhammed Ali, to campaign for him. At one rally, a man walked up to walked up to the Heavyweight champ- and *kissed* him full on the lips. (I do NOT recommend doing that AT ALL!) Stunned, Ali said something like "Get away from me you sissy!"
Mayor Jackson stepped up to Ali and whispered something in Ali's ear. Muhammed Ali laughed out loud. He said, "If you're wondering what he just said to me, it was 'Champ, champ, *please* don't be like that- we need the sissy vote too!'"

Hmmm...well, in America, gays get to vote like anybody else.

My moral: it is a very good idea not to kiss *anyone* on the lips unless you are *quite* certain that the feeling is mutual.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Governor Janet Napolitano

President Obama has named Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as head of Department of Homeland Security. I have grave reservations about her appointment. Several years ago, when commenting upon the possibility of the construction of a border fence to seal off illegal immigration from Mexico, the governor said, “If we build a 20-foot fence, they’ll just build 21-foot ladders."

I find that to be a *spectacularly* wrong-headed and demonstrably fallacious position. As governor of the state of Arizona, she certainly decided over the Arizona prison system. I’m sure that if every Arizona prison is surrounded by at least one barbed-wire fence, and I am equally certain that over 99% of all Arizona inmates serve out their sentences without escaping.

Translation: If you don’t think fences will work on a border; we use them on prisons and they work just fine.

Wake Island/Takasago Maru

Few people have heard of Wake Island, unless, like me, they are hardcore WWII history fanatics. Wake Island was a tiny American outpost in the Pacific well over 1,000 miles from any other American possession. So, after Pearl Harbor, the island’s garrison was very much on its own. They made a legendary, heroic stand. First, they repulsed a Japanese invasion attempt on December 8, 1941 before being overwhelmed by a vastly superior Japanese force on December 23.

Few people know that, in the immediate aftermath of battle, the Japanese selected five Americans and beheaded them in their anger after the losses they had suffered. While most of the garrison endured 45 months of hellish conditions in Japanese POW camps, 95 civilian contractors were kept on the island, forced to help construct a Japanese airstrip.

In October of 1943, after an American air raid, a Japanese commander ordered all of the Americans killed. Very few people, except hardcore war history geeks like me, know what happened after that.

The Japanese committed about 4,000 troops to defend a 2.5-square mile island. They didn’t know it, but they were in for an experience, possibly more dreadful than any battle. Because of the success of the American submarine campaign, the last supply ship to reach Wake Island during the war got there on New Year’s Day 1944. 4,000 men, stuck on almost a desert island with no resupply. It must have been utterly humiliating for those men to realize they were destined to occupy an island the US Navy used as a practice bombing range. I once saw an interview with a Japanese ho survived the experience; he said that they were on *one**quarter* rations and that he lost one third of his body weight. By the end of the war, 600 of those Japanese soldiers died as a result of American bombing raids while 1300 of them starved to death. In July of 1945, the Japanese sent a hospital ship, the Takasago Maru, to Wake. An American ship stopped and searched the Takasago Maru and discovered, surprisingly enough, it was not carrying any contraband. They did find that it was carrying 974 patients from Wake Island, most of who were suffering from malnutrition. Of the 1200 Japanese soldiers still on Wake at the end of the war, 200 of them had to be carried off in stretchers. This is just a tiny footnote in the history of the Pacific War. However, I believe it sheds a great deal of light on the Japanese military mentality in 1945, and what the Pacific War would have been like had it not ended so abruptly in August 1944 as a result of the dropping of the two atomic bombs.

After that last supply ship, as a practical matter, every day the Japanese garrison had an eating contest. First one to find something to eat wins. The popular story is that any American pilot shot down over Wake could count on being on the menu that night.

The Avengers – A Forty-Year Intermission

When I was a kid, I was a big fan of the TV show, “The Avengers.” How cool was Patrick McNee as John Steed? How hot was Diana Rigg as Emma Peel? There is one episode that has stayed with me, that I have remembered since I saw it and what I now know must have been in the summer of 1967.

The episode began with a man apparently being attacked by an enormous cat. The camera angle was from the attacker’s point of view, and we saw in slow motion the victim being mauled by enormous claws. I don’t know what it was, but that scared the living daylights out of an eleven-year-old Kent Mitchell and my brothers. Then, my parents did something ill-advised. They made us go to bed without seeing the end of that episode. Man, was I scared that night! I never did find out how the episode ended. Well, knock me over with a feather. I was surfing through a BBC channel on cable, and lo and behold, got to see the episode, “The Hidden Tiger,” to its conclusion after a 40-year intermission.

I discovered that the nefarious villains were the People United for the Restoration and Rehabilitation of Cats. Or “PURR”. The resident mad scientist, Dr. Cheshire, (with his lovely assistant Miss Angora), had invented a device which transformed house cats into enormous man-killers. (Don’t ask me how it works! I didn’t write the episode!)

It was a mind-boggling experience seeing the same episode as a middle-aged man forty years later. What had terrified me in 1967, I now saw as tongue-in-cheek comedy.> > The moral of the story: Parents, if your kids see something scary on TV, do not send them to bed until they get to see the resolution.

The Optimistic Coed (Rated PG-13)

I’ve always been a firm believer that it’s important for young women to have great dreams for the future. I have also believed that women have a perfect right to engage in just as much, or as little, amorous activity as they choose. They have the right to say no, or this far and no further. I shall always remember one evening back in the eighties when I was attending Notre Dame Law School when I had an interesting encounter with a Notre Dame coed.

In the Client Counseling Center at the Notre Dame Legal Clinic, just as it appeared that things might go from PG-13 to R, she announced that things were not going to go any further. I, of course, respected her wishes. Even twenty years later, I vividly remember her reasoning. She informed me that if affairs continued any further, sometime in the future, I might say bad things about her to the press when she ran for a seat in the United States Senate. Not Mayor..not the state legislature...not Congress... but the *United* *States** Senate*.

I have no idea where that young lady is in the present day except that she is not serving in the United States Senate. In answer to my collaborator’s question, I would not say a blessed thing about her if she did run for the Senate.

One Day at the Western (Wailing) Wall

One day in 1994, I went on a bus tour of Jerusalem along with 40 other sailors and Marines off the USS Inchon. When we got to the Western (aka) Wailing Wall, we happened to see a young Israeli girl in Army uniform visiting her boyfriend. Both were carrying M-16s. What happened next was not planned. I didn’t have a camera with me, but every other sailor who got off that bus had the same idea simultaneously: to photograph the cute Israeli girl with M-16 right next to the Wailing Wall.

I want to emphasize that, while I’ve known some sailors who were capable of obnoxious behavior, all of these guys just wanted to get the picture of a lifetime. Besides, of all of the people you would not want to tick off, a woman lugging an automatic rifle with a full clip of ammo at the ready would NOT be that person. I’m afraid the young lady was a bit disconcerted. At first, she looked at us like, “Who am I, Cindy Crawford?” Then she stepped behind her boyfriend. Happily enough, nobody wanted to create an international incident. We went on our way. Too bad the young lady wasn’t into posing.

The Top of the Rock

Back in 1964, my father spent one summer teaching at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. As a result of this, the family got to see a great deal of Chicago. One of the high points of our stay in the Windy City was having dinner at a restaurant called “The Top of the Rock,” which was located on the top of the Prudential Building. It was over 500 feet high, and in 1964, was the second-tallest building in the world outside of New York City. Ironically enough, a bit more than 20 years later, I had a job interview in the Standard Oil of Indiana building next door to the Prudential Tower. The “Top of the Rock” has long since closed, since you can’t get much of a panoramic view of Chicago with a building more than 200 feet higher right next door. I have seen Chicago from the top of the Sears Tower, and the Prudential Tower is now, I believe, the 25th-tallest building in Chicago. (Probably not even in the top 100 in the world. Such is progress.)

Profitable Tattoos

Back in 1982, when I was going through a Navy school in Pensacola, Florida, I met another sailor who had multiple tattoos on both his arms from his wrists to his shoulders. (These days, if I saw someone tattooed like that, I would be suspicious they were hiding needle marks.) This guy commented, “Yeah, I’ve got more than 300 dollars invested in tattoos.”

I thought, but did not ask, exactly what his tattoos’ rate of return was. With that in mind, I have only heard of two tattoos that actually earned money for the wearer. I once heard about a sailor who had the letters, Y-O-U-R-N-A-M-E. He used this fact to win a great many bets in bars.

There was another fellow I heard about who also had a tattoo that he used to win bets. On the middle of his calf, he had a tattoo of a rooster with a rope around its neck. I will let everyone figure that one out for themselves.

Polo Grounds

As part of my Aspbergian nature, I relate well to numbers and statistics. For example, decades ago, when I was just a kid, I came across a section in the World Almanac that listed the fence measurements of every big-league ballpark. What sticks in my mind almost half a century later is that the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Yankees until 1923, for the New York Giants and New York Mets for two years had the shortest right-field fence distance (255 feet) and the shortest left field fence (275 feet) of any big-league ballpark. The measurement for straightaway center field was 481 ft, the deepest of any park in the majors. The Polo Grounds were torn down after the 1962 season. However, many years later, I was talking baseball with some guys in the Navy when somebody mentioned that the Polo Grounds had a center field distance of 505 feet. I contradicted him, he contradicted me, and things got pretty heated. Happily enough, no one threw a punch.

It was not until just recently, when surfing on the web, that I realized the Polo Grounds went through several configurations. At one time, the fence was at 481 feet; at another, it was 505 feet.

Moral of the story: there are times when people disagree and both are right.