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.

STATE OF THE STATE: LAST YEAR, REDUX

It took me five months to see an oncologist from Fallon who ran my 2013 Medicare Advantage plan. In 2014, I switched to Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Value Advantage PPO. It came as a blast of clean air. Life has been so much better ever since. Not perfect, but better.

Still, this is a story worth retelling because although the names change, the same situations recur. Right now, I’m going through a similar snafu with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It has me convinced that my state is run by morons. Garry says I’m being unfair to morons.

72-Dana-Farber_020

This story had a beginning and an end. It started when, in November 2012 I gave up my expensive Humana Medigap policy and joined Fallon’s Senior Medicare Advantage plan. It sounded okay on paper.

The customer service person who signed me up assured me Dana-Farber in Milford was covered by Fallon. Untrue. It left me without an oncologist. I was not too upset. I could see my Dana-Farber doctor once more and get a referral from him.

custSVC

Wrong. My oncologist didn’t know anyone at UMass in Worcester which is Fallon’s only cancer care facility in the county.

Even this didn’t faze me. I’m in the maintenance phase. I go for checkups and blood tests. Nonetheless, cancer runs in my family. Mother. Brother. Both maternal grandparents. I’ve had cancer twice. It’s too soon to stop monitoring.

My Dana Farber oncologist said the UMass facility is good, but he couldn’t help me find a new doctor. He told me to call the HMO and ask them who they have in medical oncology with a specialty in breast cancer. I already knew my PCP couldn’t give me a referral.

I called Fallon.

She said — this is a quote: “We do not list our doctors by specialty.”

“What,” I asked, “Do you list them by? Alphabetically?”

I mean, seriously, if you don’t list doctors by specialty, how can anyone get an appropriate referral? This is senior health care . It’s cancer — not rare among the senior set. Not rare among any set.

Dana Farber lobby

I explained I needed a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer. Cancer doctors are specialized and it did make a difference. No, there’s no such thing as “just an oncologist.” If ignorance was bliss, this was a happy woman.

I explained (again) it would not be okay to send me to “just any” oncologist. I needed a doctor who knew my cancer.

I spent an hour or two being told I needed to go to my primary care doctor for a referral. It was like talking to a robot. Another 45 minutes passed until I was transferred to a supervisor. I retold the story. She said she would “research the problem” and get back to me.

I called my doctor’s office, explained that I hadn’t been able to get a referral from the oncologist at the Dana-Farber, nor could I get a referral from Fallon who seemed to think my PCP should send me to the right doctor. Even though I told them that Dr. S. didn’t know the doctors at UMass, Worcester. I needed help.

A few hours later, my doctor’s office called back and gave me a name, an appointment, and a phone number. The appointment was for just a few days hence, also my birthday. I didn’t want an oncology appointment on my birthday. I called the office.

I got transferred, then transferred again. I ended up talking to Lisa, the administrator for the Breast Cancer Care department. It turned out the doctor with whom I’d been booked was a surgeon Also, they couldn’t do anything without my medical records — scattered through 3 hospitals and a doctor’s office.

Lisa said not to worry, she would take care of it. She did.

She changed the appointment, booked me with a doctor who specialized in my type of cancer, called the various offices and ordered my medical records sent to UMass. Said if I had any kind of problem, give her a call and she’d fix it. Women with cancer didn’t need extra problems. What a difference she made!

My PCP’s assistant called to ask why I’d cancelled the appointment she’d made. I explained that doctor was a surgeon. I’d already been surged. I needed a different doctor. She was pissed because it hadn’t been easy to get that appointment. She could not grasp the difference between a medical oncologist and a surgeon.

CustomerSvcFallonQuote

I explained again I didn’t need a surgeon. I have no breasts. I did need my medical records. She said yes, Lisa from UMass had called, but she wasn’t sure where to send them.

“Didn’t Lisa tell you where to send them?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Then … why don’t you send them where she told you to send them?”

“But you cancelled the appointment I made!” she said.

“I changed the appointment. Actually, Lisa changed it. Because the doctor to which you were sending me was the wrong doctor. Now I have an appointment with the right doctor. I’m not blaming you. Why are you mad at me?” I reassured her I truly appreciated her efforts.

“Oh,” she said. Not “I’m sorry.” Just “oh.”

“Right,” I said.

I subsequently got many calls from Fallon, all wanting to explain again why I was unhappy with their customer service. I said a patient should be able to call and get names of appropriate doctors and basic information about the doctor. This is fundamental to medical care.

Everyone agreed with me, but I was sure nothing would change. Inertia always wins.

The day was only half over; I was not done.

When I finished the marathon calls to Fallon, I got a call from Humana to remind me I hadn’t made a payment this month.

I hadn’t made the payment because I had cancelled the insurance when I switched to a Medicare Advantage (HMO) program. At the end of November, I had signed up with Fallon, then called Humana to cancel my policy as of the first of the year. I was told that as soon as my new program kicked in, the old policy would be automatically cancelled. There was nothing for me to do.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” I was told.

In was the middle of March. Humana was harassing me for money. When they called again, I got a person on the phone,  pointed out I’d cancelled the plan.

The representative said that he could see in his records I’d called to cancel. I’d been given incorrect information. I had to send them a letter. I could not cancel by phone. I said I signed up by phone. Why did I have to write a letter to cancel?

“Those are the rules,” he said.

“I want to speak to your manager,” I said. He explained that the manager would tell me the same thing. I pointed out that I didn’t care, I wanted to talk to a manager. I didn’t owe them any money.

He said I’d have to file a dispute to not pay them. Although it was their fault and they could see I called to cancel the policy, I would have to fix the problem, though they caused it.

I thought my head would explode.

customer-service

The manager reiterated indeed they’d given me incorrect information, but it was my problem. Tough luck lady. I hung up, steam coming out of my ears.

I took a breath, called their other customer service department.

The lady I spoke to looked it up, agreed they had given me erroneous information, contacted the cancellation department and assured me it was fixed. I have a name and a number in case it isn’t. I pointed out they had burned a whole year of good will in an hour. And any further harassment and I’d call the Attorney General and report them for sharp business practices.

It had grown dark while all this was going on and as the day had gone from morning to evening.

How come so many incompetent people have jobs? Why are they working when so many more intelligent and better qualified people are out of work? It’s a mystery.


STATE OF THE YEAR, REDUX, 2013 EDITION WITH UPDATES

COME SLEEP O SLEEP – SIR PHILIP SIDNEY

96-BlueMoon-UB-4
Come Sleep, O Sleep …

Come, Sleep! O Sleep, the certain knot of peace,
The baiting-place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man’s wealth, the prisoner’s release,
Th’ indifferent judge between the high and low;
With shield of proof shield me from out the press
Of those fierce darts Despair at me doth throw!
O make in me those civil wars to cease!—
I will good tribute pay if thou do so.
Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,
A chamber deaf of noise and blind of light,
A rosy garland, and a weary head;
And if these things, as being thine in right,
Move not thy heavy grace, thou shalt in me,
Livelier than elsewhere, Stella’s image see.

Sir Philip Sidney


Note: If you are reading this sonnet out loud, “press” in Elizabethan English was pronounced “preese” to rhyme with release. Or anyway, that’s what my perfesser at collitch told me.

Sleep is the balm of wit and the baiting-place of woe. Count on it. 

WHEN FEASTING ON CROW INCLUDE THE FEATHERS

72-Bouquet-1-May_04

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.

72-window-afternoon-at-home_26

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.

72-bouquet afternoon_41

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.

72-Bouquet-1-May_05

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.

BOOKS I NEVER READ BUT SAID I DID

Today’s Daily Prompt is a duplicate of one which WordPress offered less than two weeks ago. So, here’s something else. It’s about books. We’ll split the difference, okay?


Ulysses James Joyce

It starts in school when they give you lists of books to read.

I was always a reader. Most of the time, I’d read most of the books on any list. The remaining few were not a big deal. Reading any book, no matter how thick, was rarely a problem for me. After all, I love books.

But literature courses inevitably include books that I would never read voluntarily. Maybe books that no one would voluntarily read. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe that’s the entire point of literature courses — to force you to read books no one likes and maybe no one ever liked.

How about Silas Marner? When was the last time someone read that because it sounded like a fun read?

Despite current trendiness, Jane Austin was nobody’s favorite author in high school. I read it, but I didn’t have to like it. You may lob your stones this way.

Pride and Prejudice was the only book I ever threw in a lake. There, I’ve admitted it. I do not like Jane Austin. Not then, not now. Neither does my husband. We also don’t like the movies made from the books.

By the time I got to college, among the many books I did not read was James Joyce’s Ulysses. Not only didn’t I read it, I barely got through the Cliff Notes. But I got an A on the paper for my “unique understanding of the characters and motivation.” Good Cliff Notes, eh? I did read Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and thought it wasn’t half bad. At least I could discern a plot and everyone in it wasn’t a prig — as they were in Austen’s novels.

I slogged my way through all of Dostoyevsky’s books. It was voluntary, but I still couldn’t tell you why I did it. Maybe to prove I could? I think the angst of the characters appealed to my younger self. Teenagehood was very angst-ridden.

I read all 1800 pages of Romaine Rolland’s Jean Christophe because my mother loved the book. She also had me read Growth of the Soil, Knut Hamsun’s depressing tale of grinding poverty and despair in the Norwegian highlands. I barely made it through Madame Bovary. War and Peace was a non-starter.

Growth of the SoilI never made it through anything by Thomas Hardy. Or Lawrence Durrell. I loved Larry’s brother Gerald Durrell. He was hilarious and wrote about my favorite subjects, animals. I slogged my way through Lady Chatterley’s Lover only because everyone told me it was hot. I thought it was dull. My brother had some books stuffed under his bed that were a lot dirtier and more fun.

I never owned up to not reading those important, literary masterpieces. When the subject came up — which it did when we were students and even for a few years after that — I would try to look intelligent. I’d grunt at the appropriate moments, nod appreciatively.

So yesterday, I was looking at a review I wrote last January about Dahlgren and realized I was lying about literature again. I hated the book. I didn’t merely dislike it. I found it boring and pretentious. It had no plot, no action, and as far as I could tell, no point. I mealy-mouthed around my real feelings because it’s a classic. Everyone says so.

So my question is: who really read it? Who loved it? Did everyone pretend because they heard it was a great book? How many people lie about reading great books when in fact, they never make it past the preface?

I’m betting it ain’t just me.

MY STORY, BY JAMES LEE BURKE

I’ve sort of already written my autobiography. I called it The 12-Foot Teepee. A few people read it, but a fresh approach would surely give it new life.

Or maybe a less fresh approach. Definitely a different approach. Less sentimental. Darkly descriptive. Faulkneresque with shadowy, flawed characters trying to get past their guilt and regret for bad choices, damaged relationships, and murky pasts.

How about James Lee Burke?

75-JLBurkeShelf-NK-08

I love your books, Mr. Burke. Not just Dave Robicheaux, either. I love all of them, the flawed, crazy, haunted, alcoholic, bunch.

Will you please write my story? Pretty please? You’ve got the right style. You can describe my abusive childhood while adding a sufficient amount of wry humor to highlight the ironies of my adulthood. You do flawed people brilliantly and God knows, I’ve got enough flaws for a series.

Bizarre characters and plenty of them. The legion of the weird have marched through my life. They hung around for decades and they aren’t all gone yet. I seem to emit some kind of magnetism which signals to the misfits, miscreants, loners, and strangers in a strange land to come to me. I call them “friends.” Or I did. Many are gone.

James Lee Burke

Mine could be the story which could be the movie you want to make. I know how hard you’ve struggled to get one of your wonderful books properly translated for the screen. So far, no dice.

I hope you don’t take it personally. Hollywood murders most books. It’s totally not you. It’s Hollywood being Hollywood.

Stephen King is a great author who keeps trying, but ends up hating “the movies” do to his material. The only recent author who manged to escape that fate was John Irving. He wrote the script for Cider House Rules himself. Got an Oscar for it. Have you considered that?

Script-writing isn’t easy … even when it’s your work. Maybe especially when it’s your work. But I’m digressing.

Maybe there’s hope for you, if you have the right property. Me. Stop laughing. I’m semi-serious here. If you add your brooding, sardonic, Southern style to my outwardly ordinary upraising, meld it with the ugly reality of those years, and add a dollop of the bizarre life I’ve lived as an adult … In your unique style, how could it miss?

Good for you, good for me. It’s possible I’ll be dead by the time the book hits the virtual shelves and ultimately the silver screen, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll be a ghostly character, like the soldiers from In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. Maybe I’ll hang around to see the reviews.


Your Life, The Book – The Daily Post

BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was watching Randy Scott in Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) last night as my “fall asleep movie” in bed. Headset on, so I could hear everything. I’ve seen this film countless times before. But last night, it finally dawned on me — the movie is awful.

"Buchanan Rides Alone FilmPoster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

“Buchanan Rides Alone” – Film poster licensed under Fair Use via Wikipedia.

I know this is heresy. This is a 1950’s Randolph Scott western. It’s directed by the legendary Budd Boeticher. Here’s the rub. The bad guys are just plain stupid. Not scary. Stoopid! Moreover, Randy’s character is aimless and a little dim-witted.

In a pivotal scene, Randy, L.Q. Jones, and another guy, leave a trio of bad guys loosely tied in a shack after a mediocre fight. Next, Randy and the boys leave the bad guys’ guns in the shack — with the bad guys. And, to complete the picture of truly dumb, they leave the bad guys’ horses conveniently tied up, just outside.

Randy and his pals trot slowly away. Very slowly.

What a surprise! A mere five minutes later, the bad guys catch Randy and his pals.

Randy wears an idiotic smile throughout the film. Now I know why Buchanan rides alone.