Thursday, February 20, 2014

John Bell Hood

There was a confederate general, John Bell Hood, who was one of the Confederacy’s bravest, though by no means one of its most talented, generals.  At Antietam, his brigade took 85% casualties in a few hours.  At Gettysburg, Hood suffered a wound which cost him the use of one of his arms.  Two months later, at Chickamauga, Hood was commanding a division and suffered a wound that led to the amputation of one of his legs.  In 1864, he was briefly my Great Grandfather Mitchell’s commanding officer as being the General in charge of the army of Tennessee; leading it to one bloody defeat after another I've often wondered if Al Cap, the creator of the Li’l Abner comic series had Hood in mind when he created the character of Confederate General Jubilation T. Cornpone, the engineer of Cornpone’s defeat, Cornpone’s Disaster, Cornpone’s Debacle and of course Cornpone’s Utter Devastation.

I wonder how many people reading this, upon hearing of Hood’s loss of leg one month after losing an arm thought of John Cleese’s portrayal of the Black Knight of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 

Dietrich von Hülsen-Haeseler

Dietrich von Hülsen-Haeseler was a German army officer from a titled Prussian family who succeeded in gaining a position as an aide to camp to Kaiser Wilhelm and ultimately achieved the rank of Major General.  One of his less savory duties was assisting in a cover-up when it came to light that one of the Kaiser’s favorite companions for all male excursions turned out to be homosexual even though he was married with 8 children.  I’ve often wondered if the history of 20th century Europe would have been dramatically different if Kaiser Wilhelm’s mother hadn’t had such a horribly difficult delivery which permanently damaged the future Kaiser’s left arm. And I wonder if maybe Kaiser Bill didn’t get enough oxygen at a critical stage in delivery.  Kaiser Bill certainly had a really bizarre sense of humor, which his close aids and senior government officials played along with.  Hearing about some of their antics reminds me of Lord Acton dictum: “power tends to corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  During one black forest hunting trip (apparently this stag hunt was a stag affair), Major General Hülsen-Haeseler, by this time in his late 50s, helped provide the evening’s entertainment by dancing for the Kaiser wearing nothing but a pink ballerina’s tutu.

What an extremely inopportune time to have a massively and instantly fatal heart attack!!! This time, the Kaiser had to ask someone else to clean up the scandal. 

Jack Soo’s Last Laugh

Jack Soo was the professional name of the child of a Japanese immigrant family named Suzuki (Suzuki happens to be the Japanese name for Smith).  Achieving considerable success as a singer and actor, he played John Wayne’s South Vietnamese counterpart in that all time camp flick “The Green Berets.”  Soo’s most memorable line in that film was, “We build many camps, clobber many VC.  Affirmative?” 

However, Soo’s most famous role was that of Detective Nick Yemana in the mid-70s comedy “Barney Miller.”  The show featured an absolutely superlative ensemble cast with Detective Yemana frequently making brilliant sardonic comments.  I note in passing that some of his humor was racial without being racist.  Example, Yemana once commented, “I don’t think the Chief likes Japanese cops.  They mess up the looks of the St. Patrick’s day parade.”  Or after hearing an eastern European fellow describing the delight that he felt (Yaakov Smirnoff) made a guest appearance and spoke of his delight at seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, Yemana dead panned “my parents felt the same the first time the saw Alcatraz” (for anyone who’s slow on the uptake for 30 years Alcatraz was America’s highest security federal prison).

One of the running gags on “Barney Miller” was that Nick Yemana, while a capable detective could not make a decent pot of coffee to save his life.  After the completion of the show’s 4th season, Soo discovered that he had cancer and died shortly thereafter.  When his co-star Hal Linden visited him in the hospital, at the end of the visit as the orderly wheeled Soo out of the room, he reverted to character and called out, “It must have been the coffee Barney!”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Texas Story

When I was in law school, an elderly professor told a story about a Texas Judge from long ago who was chided about the fact that in Texas the penalty for second degree murder was a shorter prison sentence than horse stealing.  The judge’s response professor Rhodes told me was “We got some folks down here that need killin’, we don't have any horses that need stealing.” I am reminded of that Texas jurist’s observation when I hear of Justin Bieber’s possible incarceration.  A great many people apparently think it is hilarious to make jokes about Mr. Bieber getting sodomized by his fellow inmates should he go to jail (these same jokes are frequently used by democrats any time a republican gets sent to prison).  While I believe there are great many people who need to be locked up, I don’t think *any*one needs to be raped.