KEEP THE BARDS

From some mysterious source on the Dark Web … or maybe Facebook (is there a difference?) … comes this cartoon. Which says it all about history. Our history, your history, and everyone else’s history.

It IS good to be the King.

good to be the king cartoon

NOTE: You might not need to kill a lot of people — only those few you can’t bribe or bully into writing the story your way.

Keep the bards. They’re all suck ups anyhow.

OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough

We watch it every year on Memorial Day, the best movie ever made about ‘the war to end war.’ It was just as good this year — in the same funny, awful way — as it was every other year.

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

I first saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969 and never forgot it. Based on the long-running British stage production, it’s World War I — in song, dance, and irony. The catchy score sticks in your brain. The songs are those sung by the troops, and the cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen. The credits are a who’s-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand, even when you study it. No matter how many books I read, I’m not sure I do. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans. So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any. When the war began, it was the old world, ruled by crowned heads of ancient dynasties. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918, the world was remade — beyond recognition. The monarchies were gone. A generation of men were dead, the death toll beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease and starvation. It remains one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, paving the way for major political upheaval and revolution in many nations.

You can’t make this stuff up. And why would you want to?

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could well be categorized as an organized international effort to murder a generation and they did a damned good job of it. The absurd statements and dialogue of the historical characters, all safely lodged a safe distance from actual fighting, sound ludicrous.

Did General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really say: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? Apparently he said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans, their takeover of the endless war and bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to preserve, is a great moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would they still be fighting it today? Would Europe even exist or would it be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs are mixed with pithy comments by generals, kings, Kaisers and occasionally, soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and the meaning of those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny and catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and also love great movies, grab one before they disappear. Over Memorial Day weekend, one of the movie channels usually plays it. I didn’t see it listed this year, but we own a copy, so I didn’t look very hard.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and surprisingly informative, this motion picture is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You will not be disappointed and you will never forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I never forgot it.

THESE HONORED DEAD

The cemetery is in the center of the town, across from the dam and just a hundred or so yards from the river itself. It’s up on a hill, so it never floods, even when the rivers rush over their banks. The people who created that cemetery knew about the rivers. And flooding. They picked a beautiful spot, but dry and safe for the bones and memories.

Downtown Revolutionary War Cemetery Uxbridge BW

An old cemetery, dating back to the early 1700s. It contains traces of many generations of those who lived and died in this town, this valley. Folks who lived along the Blackstone and its many tributaries, fished in its lakes and streams. They fought in our wars and are buried here — Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War veterans as well as those who fought in all the American wars since.

Every Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, the cemetery blooms with bouquets and flags. The schools bring the children here, so they will remember too and traditions will be maintained. They bring bouquets of wild flowers or from the back garden. Lilacs and lilies, scarlet poppies … and always a miniature American flag. Even if there’s no special holiday, the cemetery always shows signs of caring, remembering.

Maybe it’s easier to remember here, with such a small population. Is that it? Or it’s just part of the air, the character, the history. Remembering is what we do in the Valley.

The cemetery is one of my favorite places. We’re newcomers after all, only living here 15 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok … from tiny villages in Ireland and the West Indies and the shtetls of eastern Europe.

Valley people have been here longer. Many came from French Canada in the late 19th century to work in the mills. Another large group formed the dominant Dutch population. They built churches, businesses and factories, dairy and truck farms, shops, horse farms and sawmills. Their names are prominent wherever the rivers run.

Newcomers, like us, aren’t rare anymore but far from common. We have no ancestors in the cemetery, at least none about whom we know. Anything is possible in America.

The valley is the only place I’ve lived where the majority of families have lived in the town or in a nearby villages for three, four, five generations. “We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else … but some can’t remember when or if it’s true.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I point out they must have come from somewhere because unless they are Native American, they came to this place, even if a long time since. They get misty-eyed trying to remember old family stories handed down when they were young. Hard to remember, they tell you. “You know, that was 75 years ago … a long time.” We nod, because it was a long time ago, longer than we’ve been alive, and we aren’t young.

So another year passes and little flags and flowers bloom in the old cemetery in the middle of town.

WHEN FEASTING ON CROW INCLUDE THE FEATHERS

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Hola! Daily Prompt! We did jealousy last week. Really. Exactly one week ago, on May 8th, 2015. It was a good one too and I invite all of you to read “DON’T COVET YOUR NEIGHBOR’S ASS.” And if that’s not enough, you can also read my original response from August 2013, “MONEY CAN’T BUY IT.” 

Instead of something more on this worn out subject (not a favorite from the beginning) because I have nothing more to say about jealousy, here’s a favorite anecdote. It’s funny, and a cautionary tale for assholes everywhere.

MOTTO: Make sure, when you set out to humiliate someone, that the shoe does not wind up in your mouth. And that is all the metaphor mixing I can handle for today.

NOTE: The photographs are irrelevant to the story, but I like them, so I’ve used them.


In the mid 1980s in Israel, I worked at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot with the team developing DB1, the first relational database. Those familiar with databases and their history should go “Ooh, aah.” Feel free to be awed. These are my bona fides certifying my “original geekhood.”

I was never a developer, just a computer-savvy writer, but I worked extensively on Quix, the first real-English query language and documented DB-1. I was eventually put in charge of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. They bought it and from it, DB2 and all other relational databases emerged. Cool beans, right?

Technical writing was new. In 1983, it didn’t have a name. I was a pioneer. I didn’t chop down forests or slaughter aboriginal inhabitants, but I went where no one had gone before. Breaking new ground was exciting and risky.

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The president of the group was named Micah. He was the “money guy.” Micah knew less about computers than me, but wielded serious clout. His money was paying our salaries, rent, and keeping the lights on. The definition of clout.

As the day approached when the team from IBM was due, it was time for me to present the materials I had created with Ruth, a graphic artist who had been my art director at the failed newspaper I’d managed the previous year. (This was well before computers could generate graphics properly.) Ruth was amazing with an airbrush. I’ve never seen better work.

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The presentation materials were as perfect as Ruth and I could make them. I had labored over that text and she had done a brilliant job creating graphics that illustrated the product, its unique capabilities and benefits. And so it came time for the pre-IBM all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or even my disputable personality. He didn’t like women in the workplace. I was undeniably female. As was Ruth. Strike one, strike two. At the meeting, he looked at our materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered.

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Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.

“That’s my work, ” I said.

“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”

He was not done with humiliating himself. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I had a bad-tempered, jealous husband — something I didn’t feel obliged to reveal.

Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. It was me.

“Oh,” said Micah. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. The deadpan faces around the table were elegant examples of people trying desperately to not laugh. Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.

Hyannis show window

It was a moment of triumph so sweet — so rare — nothing else in my working life came close. I won one for The Team, for professional women everywhere. Eat it, Micah.

SAME OLD SAME OLD AND AN HISTORICAL NOTE

Ecclesiastes 1:9 — New International Version (NIV)

What has been, will be again,
what has been done, will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

I’ve given this a think and come to realize not only have I not done anything completely new or outrageous in recent memory, I don’t know that I ever have, or wanted to. If I’d wanted to do it, I’d have done it.

I’d love to get a repeat performance for some places I’ve been. I wouldn’t mind a first run at a couple of spots I always wanted to go — if someone will transport me there without complicated travel arrangements.

Irish Signs Ireland

My mind wanders towards travel because I love traveling. Sadly, that’s one thing that’s lost its savor. It was more fun in years past. Not mere nostalgia. Fact.

Airline travel especially has fallen to the bottom rung of the desirable-modes-of-transportation ladder. That alone would put a damper on any lingering travel lust.

I fear not flying, but I dread airports. Luggage handlers. Airport food. The so-called lounges where we wait for flights that never arrive or never take off. Incomprehensible announcements over garbled sound systems. Delayed flights. Security checks.

And the eternal question. Why is the connecting flight inevitably at the farthest point on the opposite side of an airport the size of Alaska? And why is that connecting flight on time when the flight on which you arrived, is late?

I haven’t done anything “beyond the pale.” Not recently and, on further reflection, ever. I’ve always been the same old me. How dull.


Historical Footnote: Does the author of this prompt know the derivation of “beyond the Pale?” It refers to the Pale of Settlement, in which Jews were allowed to live, other places being forbidden to them.

Catherine the Great created the Pale of Settlement in Russia in 1791. This was the name given to the western border region of the country, in which Jews were allowed to live. The motivation behind this was to restrict trade between Jews and native Russians. Some Jews were allowed to live, as a concession, ‘beyond the pale’.

Pales were enforced in other European countries for similar political reasons, notably in Ireland (the Pale of Dublin) and France (the Pale of Calais), which was formed as early as 1360.

DOC, WYATT, AND BAT

Everyone knows the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the OK Corral. It’s possibly the most iconic story out of the “wild west.” But there are many more stories yet untold. I’ve been following the trail of this one for a while. Doc Holliday. Wyatt Earp. Bat Masterson.

Afternoon walk - Tombstone

Where did they meet? How did Doc Holliday — legitimately a D.D.S.(doctor of dental surgery) and apparently a good one — wind up best friends with Wyatt Earp and his brothers? How did this polite, educated gentleman become a gunfighter and a gambler? When did Bat Masterson get into the mix?

The "Dodge City Peace Commission", June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

The “Dodge City Peace Commission”, June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (August 14, 1851 – November 8, 1887) became a gambler and gunman out of necessity.

Not quite the killer his reputation made him out to be, Doc’s reputation was part truth, mixed with a lot rumor and publicity. Often credited with killing people he never met, the rumors were fueled by Holliday’s own publicity.

He wasn’t fond of killing people. Being a notorious gunman made it less likely he’d be challenged. He was famous for shooting opponents in the hand or foot, thus ending a duel without killing anyone.

Stagecoach in Tombstone

Doc Holliday was otherwise known as a mild-mannered, well-bred southerner who would have rather been a dentist. Except for being tubercular. Tuberculosis is a career ender for a dentist.

Exactly how he met the Earp brothers and with which of the many Earps did he connect first? Lots of speculation, but no evidence that can stand up to scrutiny. When and where did Bat Masterson come into the mix?

Bat Masterson is a great character. He pops in and out of the story, shows up in the nick of time to pull someone’s iron out of the fire, then disappears back to his own story. Sounds like a supporting actor Oscar to me.

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The OK Corral has been done to death. Can I convince someone to write this story? No zombies, no werewolves, no vampires. Let’s keep it all human, in the just-before-the-turn-of-the-century west.

Interesting Factoid: Doc Holliday was a cousin by marriage to Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With the Wind.”


There is history for which the facts are known. We don’t know who said what, but we know the players, dates, locations. Documentation exists.

Much — maybe most — history is not straightforward. There is no evidence. No indisputable documentation or trustworthy testimony. You might as well print the legend because that’s all you’ve got.

Sometimes, you can pick your favorite version of the tale. Or write your own. One is as true as another.