Sunday, August 30, 2015

Berowne's 284 Quiz

Here’s this week’s question: who was she ?

“She’s an actress, Fred.   A lot of actresses think they could make a film better than the director or producer.  That doesn’t mean you should let them try.”
“She’s different.  She’s seems to have some real talent.”
“Again, they talk a good game, but just because they were a success acting a part on the silver screen doesn’t mean they know anything about the nuts and bolts of film-making.”
“So let her have a shot at it.  She might do well.”
“You don’t understand; my people are complaining.”
“Who cares?  As long as she’s got the big guy everyone calls “MM” – which as you know means “Mr Master” - on her side, she’ll continue to do as she’s doing.”
“But it’s embarrassing!  She wants to run the camera itself – and you know women don’t understand mechanical things – and highly qualified, very experienced cameramen are expected to stand about and do nothing.”
“That’s right, and say nothing too.  If they’re unhappy tell them to go directly to MM and let him know they don’t approve of his way of doing things.   Somehow I don’t think they’ll take you up on that.”

“If we get the whole film community, all respected names, to let him know that this idea of an actress working as writer-producer-director of an expensive professional film is just not a good idea, he might finally agree.”
“You don’t seem to understand how things are done in this country.”
“But if we can show anyone the weird things she does, or tries to do, it should change anyone’s mind.”
 “She’s trying bizarre camera angles no sensible cameraman has used before.  She had another fellow spend the day digging a hole so she could shoot from a low angle.  That’s foolishness.”


“And she’s got a guy shooting film in a wheelchair, like he’s got both legs broken, even though we have perfectly good equipment for such stuff in the studio.” 
“But that’s the point.  She doesn’t want to work just in a studio; she wants to go outside.”
“Well, you can take it from me.  If she keeps up the way she’s working she’ll be going outside sooner than she thinks, and permanently.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.) 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Berowne's 283

(There was no Magpie blog last week so I take the liberty of re-posting this.)

When in World War II the enemy finally knelt in surrender one thing became clear: all the thousands of the American armed forces stationed in Europe wanted to leave immediately and – GO HOME!

What an exodus!  Every ship they could dig up, including a few that had been officially moth-balled - anything that had a propeller that could still rotate - was thrust back into service to carry the GIs homeward.
The ship they put me on then had, usually, a crew of twenty-five.  Most such vessels never carried passengers in peacetime but if they did there might be five or six, no more.  And here we were, jamming over a thousand into the same space.
We had told the soldiers, as they waited on the dock to board, that it was not going to be a pleasant cruise; in fact it was going to be pretty God-awful and they might choose to wait for a later ship that wouldn’t be so crowded.

To a man, as you might have expected, they sang out “No!  We want to go home!!”

Well, we filled up the ship with people.  Cheek by jowl might describe it.  Some of the poor guys couldn’t even sit down out on the deck, there was no room, and they stood up a good deal of the way.  Bird colonels slept on the deck in the ship’s wheelhouse.

Everywhere it was the same; ships of all kinds were jammed to the gunnels.

Huge drums – you couldn’t call them cans or tins; they were as big as oil drums – labeled “Tomato Soup” or “Pork and Beans” and other such culinary delights, were lifted aboard our ship by winch.  At least no one was going to starve.
And the weather gave us a break; lots of sunshine, very little wind and a calm sea.  We had wondered about the nasty result that could happen if the weather began causing problems and the ship started to roll.  The few lifeboats we had could hold but a fraction of our passengers.  Better just not think about that.
Once we got under way, our ship was skimming along at top speed.  Of course, our top speed was eleven knots, which is about thirteen miles per hour.  Many of the soldierie didn’t think it was moving.  “Hey!” they shouted, “Kick this thing into gear!” or “When are we gonna start?”
Then, on the third day out, after quite a bit of what I thought was smooth sailing, it happened.
The ship’s engine, which had been designed and built before World War I, evidently felt it had done enough for its country and it just coughed quietly and stopped.
No problem, no danger.  We sat there peacefully in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, unmoving, like a lump on a bog.  We waited.  And waited.  The GIs began cursing the ship’s officers, loudly.  “Ninety-day wonders!” they shouted, among other epithets.  It was embarrassing.
I went below and asked one of the engineering officers about when the engine would start cooking again.  He reluctantly said it was not that they were having trouble fixing the thing, it was that they couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

After Pearl Harbor, the U S began hurriedly building ships, hundreds of ‘em.  Each of those vessels needed crews, so they took kids like me, taking day classes at UCLA and working in a grocery store at night, and after a couple of months of training anointed me as a ship’s officer.  They did the same with engineering officers.
In other words, we were all ninety-day wonders.
Since I was an officer, even if of the lowest grade, I had a room.  I was able to go hide in my room when not on duty and avoid the embarrassing “90 Day Etcetera” catcalls of the thousand or so commandos on deck.
Evidently an engineer down below finally figured out which switch to pull, or had found the users’ instruction booklet, and the ol’ engine began to purr again.
In spite of everything we managed ultimately to get everyone to the Brooklyn Naval Yard safe and sound.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

282 Quiz Answer

                                    The Battle of Thermopylae
The battle took place in 480 BC, in which an outnumbered Greek force including the famous 300 Spartans, among others, held off an overwhelmingly larger force of Persians.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "E" is for "embarrassment")

The following scenelet might suggest to you a well-known military operation…
 “You served as platoon sergeant at the time of the battle?”
“That’s right, general.”
“I haven’t been able to get much satisfaction from the officers so I thought I’d try a non-com.”
“I’ll do my best, sir.”
“You understand what this looks like – not just to our country but to the entire world?”
“Well, I believe that once they’re aware of the actual situation they can more easily understand our difficulties.  The terrain…”
“Is that it?  The terrain?  Every officer I spoke to wailed on irritatingly about the terrain; I thought a sergeant might give me some better information.”
“But sir, the terrain was the problem.  None of us had ever seen anything like it before.”
“Don’t you understand?  There’s always a problem with the terrain in any operation.  That doesn’t mean you can decide to pack up and go home.  What do I care about the terrain anyway, sergeant?  You were serving in a unit of several hundred thousand troops and the enemy, according to the latest information, consisted of a few hundred.  It’s ridiculous that they had you stopped.”
“You mention information, general.  We evaluated the enigmatic info we were given and that is all we had to go on.  Turned out that info was incorrect.”
“As often happens during wartime.  Again, we can’t get away from the ludicrous fact: a quarter million of you and a couple of hundred of them.  It wasn't a battle, it was an embarrassment."
“I know you don’t like hearing about it, general, but could I explain just why the terrain was so important in this operation?”
“Oh, all right.”
“They call it a pass.  It was actually more of a path.  And it was so narrow; in some places a couple of yards across.  We had cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other.  We sort of jammed our troops into this narrow path and when they emerged at the other side, the gruesome fact was the enemy could pick them off.”
(Sighs) “Well, I guess there’s no help for it.  It’s my job now to go and try to explain this to the emperor.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

281 Quiz Answer

In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Paris isn’t a place; it’s a he.  He is handsome and wealthy and a member of the nobility - he’s Count Paris – and an eager suitor of Juliet.  However, she prefers Romeo.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "D" is for "drama")

It would appear that Will Shakespeare never visited Europe.

A claim has been made that he actually did make the trip across the Channel as a soldier. 

A book, “Sergeant Shakespeare,” was written to support this theory, in which the playwright was a feisty non-com in the army, involved in the filth of one of the many wars fought on the continent.  But there is little – (none, actually) – evidence to support such a claim.

However, though he never visited such places, most of his plays are set in foreign locales.  In some cases he lets us know right up front where the action will be taking place.  You can be pretty sure “The Merchant of Venice,” for example, is not set in Barcelona, and you have the feeling, when you come across the play titled “Timon of Athens,” that you know just which town Timon used to hang out in.

Even back in Britain Will could be specific as to setting.  “Merry Wives of Windsor,” anyone?

Surely the work titled “Romeo and Juliet,” set in Verona, Italy, is one of the best of the Shakespeare dramas.  I traveled to Verona once, while I was wandering about Europe, and I got to see what was claimed to be the actual balcony where Romeo spotted the Capulet girl.

It is the east and Juliet is the sun!  See how she leans her cheek upon her hand.  O that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek!”

The Veronese folks there tried to convince us addicted tourists that it was the real balcony of the play, and we pretended to believe them.

But of course it wasn’t.

There’s something kind of funny about Shakespeare’s handling of these overseas settings.  He defiantly makes no effort to present dialects or accents. 

In the plays, wherever we may be in Will’s foreign world, we have the feeling we’re back in his real world, Elizabethan England.  And the foreigners, where’er they’re from, all talk pretty much the same.    

Cyprus, for example, is an exotic locale for one of his plays.  But a Cypriot gentleman speaks like a chap from Warwickshire, where Will was raised.

Which brings us to our question for this week: Though “Romeo and Juliet” is set in Verona, how is it that Paris is so important in the play?

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

280 Quiz Answer

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "C" is for "chain")

The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were two inventors and aviation pioneers who are credited with inventing and building in 1903 the world's first successful airplane, the first that was controlled, powered and sustained as heavier-than-air human flight.
Question: Reflect for a moment, who were these guys?

“Jeff!  Always good to see you but I’m afraid you’re a bit early.  We haven’t got the chain on yet.”

“What!  Second time I’ve been here to pick the dam’ thing up and again it’s not ready.”

“But it won't be a total waste of time.  We ordered a new type of chain, much lighter.  It’ll give you a far better ride.  Should be ready tomorrow.”

“You guys are too much.  You may be good mechanics but you’re lousy businessmen.  Why are you mixed up with this kind of tedious work anyway?  When we were kids everyone thought you were headed for glory when you grew up, always tinkering with some invention or other, but neither of you even finished high school.”

“Oh, we still tinker.  We might come up with something surprising one of these days.”

“Like a special type of bicycle chain?  You know, there’s a new century coming up.  You should seriously consider getting married and settling down.  Have a family, couple of kids, a nine to five job – like mature grown-ups.”

“Well anyway, it’s good to see you, Jeff.  Every time you come by we know we’re going to get a little lecture on how to live.”   

“By the way, what is that thing over there?  Looks like a huge casket.  Got a dead body inside?”

“Ha. Hope not.  No, we call that a wind tunnel.”

“And a wind tunnel does what?  I know, tunnels the wind.”

“Oh, it’s just something we’ve been experimenting with.  Besides running the shop we have various projects we work on.  You see, we keep busy.”

“And the money just pours in, though it looks like it’s been mostly nickels and dimes.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.) 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

279 Quiz Answer

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "B" is for "blunder")

I’m afraid this will be looked upon as the timid way out, but I chose the cut-and-run option.
I felt that an apology, no matter how elaborate – especially since I was in no way at fault – would be dragging things out needlessly.  Instead, I just quietly left, did my work and flew home.  Sooner or later they figured out what had happened, and with a minimum of embarrassment for everyone.

I’ve written before about my work as a film-maker a few decades ago, so I thought this time I’d tell you about my Japan adventure.

The movie I was making was nothing special, no polished, potential Oscar-winner; it was just the equivalent of a metallic, nuts-and-bolts film, though the topic was rice-growing

So I flew to Tokyo, ready to go to work. As I got off the plane, I believed that the Japanese were really taking this motion picture project seriously because, as I was surprised to see, I was being met at the airport by a large limo.

And not just a limo; the car had a uniformed driver and another chap, also uniformed, who rode shotgun - though in Japan I suppose it would be shogun :-) - in the front passenger seat.

I had never had a job, of any kind, that started off so auspiciously. They drove me to their head office and I found myself meeting everyone. They were all friendly and welcoming; there was a lot of bowing, me doing my share, of course.

It was lunchtime, so they asked if I would prefer going to a steak-house or would I like to try some authentic Japanese food? Well, of course, we had steak-houses back in the Stytes and besides, I thought it would be a good political move to opt for the indigenous cuisine, so we headed off for what I would today recognize as a sushi place.

I say I would recognize it today; I didn’t recognize it then. Truth is, a few decades ago there weren’t many sushi joints in our country, and you certainly didn’t see sushi for sale in grocery stores. Most westerners of that era didn’t know from sushi; the idea of eating raw fish was regarded as just sort of weird.

However, I could see that this restaurant I was being taken to was elegant and upscale – i.e., expensive – so I looked forward to an interesting experience.

But there was a fly in the saki. Something had been worrying me, and it had nothing to do with raw fish.  It had gradually dawned on me that this was all kind of a blunder: I was inadvertently sailing under false colors.

The reason for the great welcome I had received?  I came to realize that they thought that I, a humble artisan, was actually one of the top executives of the worldwide corporation they were a part of. That explained the limo and its two charioteers.

That was bad enough. Just as bad was the question, how on earth do I go about telling them of the mistake? I had heard all about the importance of saving face in the Orient and if I told them about this awkward situation would they be subjected to humiliation and embarrassment, with me as the cause?

Even worse, would they think I had tried to trick them, intentionally acting the part of an American exec so that I could pull off some fraudulent scheme?

I had reached another of those what-would-you-have done? moments. 

First off, I could have cut and run, just gone off at an optimal moment and without a word to a remote area, shot my rice-growing footage and left for home.  No muss no fuss; let them figure it out.

Or, as a second possibility, I could have adopted a very formal “Japanese” style, bowing numerous times to them and apologizing profusely for the misconception.  (Even though, as far as I could see, it was in no way my fault.)

Or I could have used more of a relaxed, “American” approach: “Say, you know, folks, there’s been sort of a mixup; I think you might find it kind of funny…”

Or, given the possibility that I might be regarded as a crook who planned the whole deal as some sort of illegal scheme, my first priority should have been, before they called the Japanese gendarmes, that they clearly understood this was not the case.

So the quiz this week is, how would you have handled this?



Sunday, July 12, 2015

278 Quiz Answer

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "A" is for "Alan")

(The following scenelet might suggest to you a Victorian gentleman who became a well-known writer.  Who was he?)

“Millie!  Come in, sit down.  What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Well, a number of us mothers in the neighborhood have come to the conclusion that there’s a potential dangerous risk living here.  I’m speaking of Mr. Halleck.”

“Alan Halleck!  Dangerous?  We’ve known Alan for years.  He’s about the most un-dangerous person I could imagine.  Why would you think such a thing?”

“A number of us have been wondering about this for some time.  It’s what happened last Wednesday that finally convinced us that something should be done.”

“And what was that?”

“Mr. Halleck took some children for a boat ride and picnic…”

“Yes, I’m well aware of that.  My daughter was one of the kids.  We knew all about it.”

“And you didn’t find this bizarre, suspicious?”


“He just took the girls out for a boat ride on the river and they stopped and had a picnic on the riverside.  Then he brought them home.  And for this you want the guy arrested?”

“You’re missing the point.  None of those children were his…”

“Millie, he’s not married; he has no kids.”

“Exactly.  Which makes it all the more odd that he takes other folks’ children for boat rides and picnics.”

“Good lord, if you knew Alan Halleck as well as we do.  He’s a quiet sort of lonely guy who teaches arithmetic.  It may be boring to say this but he’s what you might call mousy.  No harm to him at all.”

“That’s what they say about all the dangerous child molesters at first.  We should have zero tolerance for such stuff.”

“Child molester!  What he loves to do is tell the kids stories, and they really enjoy them.”

“Now you’re getting to another key point.  What he told those children during that boat ride was outrageous.  Dark tales of people getting their heads cut off and other such terrifying stuff.  Not suitable for little kids.”

“Wait a minute.  Those weren’t little four or five-year-olds.  My daughter is ten and she was well aware that what Mr. Halleck was doing was telling the equivalent of harmless ghost stories.  Except she says his tales are much more fantastical and quite funny. 

“She might be the exception.”

“She loves the stories he tells.  She thinks he should publish them in a book so kids in the future can enjoy them too.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Berowne's 277

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "Z" is for "zero")

Yesterday was the day for fireworks and I got to thinking about Little Roy.

And that made me remember a special example of the pyrotechnician’s art: the JumboBlast rocket.  (This all happened way back when I was just a lad of ten years of age, which is way back indeed.)

We had heard about that rocket because so many of the kids our age spoke of it.  However, it was extremely expensive – it cost fifty cents – so it was out of the question for our celebratory pyrotechnics.

You see, at that time we were in the middle of the depression.  I mean The Big One, the worst depression in our nation’s history.  This was bad for the entire country, but it was also bad for me: if I ever had more than one dime at any time I would have considered myself on the road to affluence.

On the same street where I lived were the Yeagers, a family of four boys, so I hung out there a lot.  They too were also suffering from galloping penuriousness.  Our holiday was spent disappointingly with sparklers and very cheap firecrackers, so weak that if anyone was speaking loudly when you set one off you could entirely miss the “pop” sound.

But on that day the youngest brother, Little Roy, five or six years old, had a secret.

A secret no one knew about, for he certainly had told no one.  For the past few years, for most of his life as a matter of fact, Little Roy had been hoarding.  Any penny, along with the rare occasional nickel, that he managed to get hold of he hid away in a special cache only he, acting aloof, knew about.  I’m not sure he was aware of how much he finally had because counting past ten wasn’t what he was good at, but it turned out to be a total of about fifty cents.

We learned that because one of his brothers had stumbled upon this whole treasure and suddenly our July Fourth took on dazzling possibilities.

The Yeager guys were not bad with their little bro.  They didn’t bully him and they certainly wouldn’t physically harm him.  But they, and I, set out on a propaganda campaign to illuminate for him what a sensational holiday this could be.  If he’d just turn over those fifty centavos, we could actually go and buy a JumboBlast rocket! 

Think of it, Little Roy!  Your rocket – (yes, we’d make sure it was known as his) – would shoot up into the firmament and explode and the entire vault of heaven would burst forth into brilliant, positively ravishing examples of incredible fireworks display.  We would have a holiday none of us would ever forget.

It wasn’t hard.  Little Roy wanted the rocket as much as the rest of us.

Long story short, one of the older boys went and bought the device.  We set it up carefully in a wide patch of the back yard.  It was a thrilling moment when the lit match touched the fuse.

I was only ten or so, and I didn’t know all that much about aerodynamics, so I didn’t understand why the rocket, as it started off, suddenly took a quick turn to the right.  It shot like a bullet just over nearby housetops and in a matter of a second or two was totally out of sight.  Its pyrotechnical effect was zero.

Whatever dazzling display that rocket was going to put on would be displayed before someone else.  Little Roy had a stunned look on his face, as if to say: Was that it!!!?

There was not much we could say to ease the situation.  Little Roy just sat there staring into space, thinking about his life savings, perhaps hoping the rocket's absence was only temporary and it would come back again and perform as expected.

The rest of us got together and ponied up some money so we could buy him a Popsicle.  That helped a little.  In its way it was a Fourth of July I’ve never forgotten. 
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