having had some time to think on it

I probably first discovered Bourdain in about 2007.  This was during his time at No Reservations back when I still had cable.  It was well before anybody really knew who he was.  At this point he was just another obscure cable television host.

Sure, those in the food scene knew him and he’d written a relatively famous book.  But most average folks had no idea who he was.  I got immediately hooked on No Reservations and ended up watching most episodes.

It was also at this point that Bourdain began to become a wider part of the food / travel scene and also our wider modern culture.  I remember he gave some interview online and I forwarded it to my brothers.  I think they thought this was weird, and were like, who’s this random guy?

But years after that I remember my brother forwarding me a radio interview he’d done.  Bourdain in a few short years had gone from relative obscurity to being well known across a variety of circles.

I kind of kept in touch with what Bourdain was doing over the years but never really got into Parts Unknown.  Whenever I was at the airport or entirely bored in a hotel, if it was on, I’d watch it.  But I never sought it out.

Part of my issue with Parts Unknown is it had a poor food to travel ratio.  This was also the case with later episodes of No Reservations.  I could be entirely mistaken but it seems as time went on, more and more of each episode was just Tony eating.  Whereas in say 2007 most of the episode was travel focused.

Again I could be wrong, that’s just my impression.  I like food too, but the most compelling parts of No Reservations to me was never the food, but always Bourdain traveling and giving his thoughts on life and the local areas.

Ultimately what drew folks to Bourdain was his ability to to put himself into the shoes of anybody on the planet, understand them, capture that, and then explain it to somebody else not there.

This is not an easy skill to master and employ.  And one that if you spend eight seconds on social media and the news, that most folks don’t even care to learn.  Today’s culture seems to be about conquest, not understanding.

And that was never Bourdain.  And that’s why people like me who are just not into celebrities or modern culture sort of worshiped this guy’s message.

One of the most compelling episodes is where Bourdain spends time with Ted Nugent.  A guy who even his most fervent supporters could not deny is a total lunatic.  Bourdain had his politics too, but he always wore it with a light touch, something other entertainers could learn a lot from.

I forget the line, I’m summarizing, but Bourdain essentially says something like: I don’t have to agree with you, to like you.  If I’m remembering this right, then that line should be tattooed onto everybody’s skull cavity today.

I’ve avoided thus far writing about his death, so I could think on it.  In the end, sadly I believe he’ll be known to many as just another celebrity who killed themselves.  I don’t know why he did it.  Nobody ever will I suppose.  It doesn’t matter though.  Life is sacred, but suicide is all too easy.

My coworkers and I found another coworker at a gas station with a whiskey bottle and a loaded pistol in his lap.  I still get the shakes wondering what if we’d been a half-hour late.  Like most people who’ve been to the darkest of places, once or twice I was probably at very serious risk of suicide.  My family, my friends, my dogs, my coworkers helped me back.  But essentially, suicide is no joke, and it’s everywhere.  Even when somebody seems like they’re okay, you should always be there to help, always be there for somebody, because you never know what’s going on inside somebody’s head.  Nobody can do life alone.

I suppose in the end, all I can say is that there are many, many voices in today’s world.  Most of them are simply not worth listening to.  Anthony Bourdain was a voice to absorb, and to pass on.

We need more people like him.

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Kamakura – Engaku-ji

Lost amidst the fervent nationalism that’s now the norm in the Western Pacific is how longstanding and deep the ties are between peoples.  From 1274 to 1281 the Mongols, alongside their Chinese and Korean vassals, conducted a series of invasions against Japan.  All failed for a variety of reasons, not least of which was a series of typhoons and the emergence of what would become the samurai warrior class.

In 1282 to commemorate the victories, honor the dead on all sides, and to push forward Zen Buddhism in Japan, the then shōgun Hōjō Tokimune ordered the construction of Engaku-ji.  He enlisted the help of a Chinese monk in Mugaku Sogen.  Zen became a huge part of the ruling culture’s psyche and was integral in the emergence of the samurai and what they were.

In the sense, Hōjō got exactly what he’d wanted.  He’s buried there.  And while the days of the Kamakura Shōgunate long passed it remained a key feature in Japanese Buddhism throughout history.  It’s a must see if you’re anywhere near Kamakura and it couldn’t be easier to get to via JR East’s Yokosuka Line which essentially drops you right at the temple entrance.

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The Sanmon, two story main gate, looking from it’s back towards the entrance.  As is typical for just about any ancient Japanese structure, fire constantly requires rebuilding.  The current version was reconstructed in 1785.

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Now walking up from the front of the Sanmon.

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Engaku-ji is still a functioning temple.  I didn’t get too close but there were folks practicing archery.  Note the target in the distance.

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Note the guy on the right with a typical Japanese longbow, as tall as a man (he is kneeling).  Despite the reputation of the katana, I suspect the real killers on most Japanese battlefields were the archers.

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I love the contrast in light on this shot.

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Find the fishy.

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The monk’s quarters.

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The Great Bell, Ogane, cast in 1301.  The largest temple bell in the wider Tokyo area.

“to see more clearly to the end of the business”

242 years ago 56 men signed a document that made them traitors.  This incredibly brave and reckless act changed humanity.  We take their ultimate success as a fact of history.  For them it was far less certain.  Not all of them lived.  All of them suffered.  All of them fought.  And victory was ultimately theirs.

If I can manage to remember, every year we’ll take a look at one of these men and reflect upon their lives.

Thomas McKean – Delaware

Son of a tavern keeper whose parents immigrated from Northern Ireland.  He was a lawyer at age 21 and already on the move.  Like many of his contemporaries he bridged the gap between the law and politics.  In many cases he held jobs in both camps at the same time.

County attorney general, general assembly representative, judge, and ultimately assembly speaker were just some of the titles he held.  He married at 32 and spent ten years with Mary and had six children with her until her early death.

Often forgotten is that the Revolution was as much as civil war as anything else.  McKean was a member of the pro-independence faction of Delaware and spent many years prior to 1776 in the political fencing act with his neighbors who were pro-British.  He remarried in 1774 to Sarah and had four more children.  I would gather he ultimately had a hard time remembering his grandchildren’s names.

As early as 1765 he is already an openly active member of political organizations dedicated to resisting the power of the British crown.  During the crucial years came in 1774-1776 he’s one of the most fervent speakers pushing for Independence.

Immediately after his 1776 Independence vote at Congress he assumed command as colonel of a regiment of militia.  And so bizarrely it’s believed he didn’t actually sign the Declaration in 1776.  It’s thought he signed it many years later as one of the original voting members was permitted to do so.

He spends most of the war in Congress and is it’s leader at the time of the surrender at Yorktown.  He also began service as chief justice of Pennsylvania in 1777 and would hold that title for twenty years.  Apparently back then you could be the ranking judge of one state, represent another in Congress, and lead Congress, all at the same time.  I don’t think any of our jobs are hard by comparison.

He played a key role in the subsequent creation and signing of the Constitution.  By 1799 he settles down for the rest of his life not in Delaware but Pennsylvania and serves three terms as governor there.  He had a rocky time as state boss.

He seems to have had such a fervent view of things that he frequently quarreled even with friends and was known for his temper.  Yet maybe that was what was needed during those chaotic times of change?

John Adams said of him: “one of the three men in the Continental Congress who appeared to me to see more clearly to the end of the business than any others in the body.”

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life makes fiction look silly (again)

I’ve been reading (or re-reading if I loosely remember my education) Mark Twain.  Tom Sawyer gets himself stuck in a cave for days with his young love and the whole town gives them up for dead.  It’s a neat little tale.

But when the planet announces that a dozen Thai kids and their coach are lost in a cave and they’ve had to drag out the divers to find them, in my mind I’m like, they’re dead, there’s no way.

Hah, fuck my idiocy.  Turns out they’re alive.  Nine days in there and they’re still in it.  Smile humanity, this is insane, and awesome.  Let’s breathe in some good news for a bit.

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And get a load of these UK cave divers who flew in to help.  These guys are heroes, so it’s great that they also look like they own your local gas station.

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A happy Mom and Dad.

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Win.

Hostiles & Fort Apache – and how to properly capture misery on screen

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Misery seems to be the trend lately with just about anything you can watch on screen.  We’ve written about this a lot lately, including just a few days ago.  It’s everywhere.

Take two movies I watched on my last plane flight.  First off, The Last Jedi.  I remember Star Wars growing up, I loved it.  What fun.  So did we really need a Star Wars movie where Luke was sad, tired, and depressed?  Where Solo is a corpse?  Where all the other main characters are confused, angry, etc, etc?  Forget all the plot controversy, it was just an unhappy movie to watch.

The other airplane flick I caught was Hostiles.  This Western had a reputation as violent and covered with despair.  It was certainly that, the opening scene involves the murder of three children including an infant.

Overall, I didn’t hate Hostiles, I kind of enjoyed it.  But it’s not a great movie.  Why?  Because other than the awfulness, I’m not really sure what the movie was trying to do.  At the end of the movie I was asking myself: “What was the point of all that?”

Instead of running my mouth and complaining about all this malaise and darkness in our entertainment again, I’m instead going to contrast Hostiles with another dark movie in Fort Apache.

Granted, this is unfair.  Hostiles has some top name actors but they’re not legendary.  It’s directed by some random guy.  Fort Apache has two screen legends and probably the guy in the top three of directors all time.  It’s like comparing a rabid panther against a duck in a cage match.  But bear with me, because there are a lot of similarities between these movies.

They’re both traditional Westerns that focus upon the Army, specifically the cavalry.  Both have humanized and sympathetic portrayals of the American Indians.  Each has a substantial number of the main cast die on screen.  And they end with an intent that you reflect upon the misery you’ve just watched.

I’m going to focus on the endings of these movies because otherwise this post would be sixteen pages long.

Hostiles ends with Christian Bale’s character burying Wes Studi in his native land.  Then a stereotypical gang of racists comes up and demands Bale dig up Studi’s corpse.  A gunfight ensues in which everybody dies except Rosamund Pike, Studi’s grandson, and Bale.  Pike and her now adopted son go to Chicago, Bale is going to walk away, but ultimately gets on the train with them as it pulls out.  Roll credits.

Fort Apache ends with Henry Fonda getting most of his regiment wiped out in a foolhardy battle worthy of Custer.  John Wayne actually wants to duel his regimental commander at one point to stop it.  Then Wayne and Miguel Inclan (playing the Apache warlord Cochise) have a poignant conversation about the situation.  Cochise lets Wayne and his remaining soldiers live.  We end with Wayne now the regimental commander and when confronted with the myth of Fonda’s last stand by reporters, Wayne lets the myth live.  As in, Wayne lies.  Roll credits.

So what was the point of Hostiles?  Well, I think what they were going for is at the beginning of the movie Bale hates Studi and only his orders are keeping him from murdering Studi straight up.  Yet by the end of the movie Bale is willing to shoot his own kind to defend Studi’s grave.

Okay, got it.  But the problem is that’s all there is going on.  In the meantime there is the aforementioned on screen murder of three children, three women are raped (off screen), numerous very bloody battles, and the final scene in which pretty much everybody dies horribly.

So if all Hostiles has is Bale simply learns not to hate at least one Indian and his family, then what exactly was the point of all the murder, rape, violence, gore, etc?  Was it to set the scene and mood?  Was it to provide the action and shock that the writers and director seem to think a modern movie demands?  You could have told the story of Hostiles with maybe only one or two people gunned down.

That they didn’t do this means that any character progression in Bale, that he ends up a better person, is simply just lost amidst the gore, the awfulness, the constant death.  It’s why as the viewer I had to actually think about what the point of the movie was afterwards.  Because in the moment all you can feel is the violence shoved right in your face for two hours.

Contrast all of this with Fort Apache.  At it’s heart this movie is a study of Fonda’s character.  It’s about how an otherwise decent, hardworking man can be consumed by arrogance, racism, and narcissism that leads to the unforgivable sin where a military commander loses most of his men in a battle that need not ever have been fought.

It gets even worse with Wayne.  Wayne ends the movie by perpetuating the myth that Fonda’s actions were right, just, and glorious.  Then Wayne takes his regiment and leads them on the attack against the Apache.  All the moments Wayne had where he conversed with Cochise, where he knew Fonda was wrong are blown away by the simple act: Wayne is going to do his duty.

And thus you see the point of Fort Apache is the great wheel that was the Indian wars of the American West.  Everybody gets ground down in what in the end was a series of savage endless wars that lasted decades.  Decent guys in Wayne, Fonda, and Cochise trying to do the right thing, their duty, leads to death where alternatives were still available.  It’s brutal to consider.

Fort Apache accomplishes all of this without a single gory murder, rape, or scene where Wayne and/or Fonda are shown in some kind of vicious traumatic rage, or hatred, or crying or screaming like crazy people, all things in Hostiles repeatedly.  Yeah, this is a movie made in 1948 so of course it’s tamer, but the point remains valid.

I think television and movies are going down two trends.  The idea is that a tale must be an adventure theme park ride or it must shock you.  In both cases, the plot is a side concern.

The Jurassic movie recently came out.  I’m sure that film will make over $1B.  It has a plot that probably makes no sense, but that doesn’t matter.  People see this movie because it’s a theme park ride where dinosaurs eat people.

Where Hostiles could have really taken it’s time with a thick plot full of thought and motives, it instead spends most of its on screen time in the shock category.  And thus, its message gets lost in the darkness.

I don’t need all my entertainment to make me happy.  Dark movies have their important place.  But give me the Fort Apache kind any day.  That’s the way to do it.

Mexico gets ready to dive into the wonderland too

It would be quite the short list of president and/or prime minister that I would be comfortable walking my dog.  In my estimation, most of the planets current leaders are bland losers or actual evil people.  So I’m not exactly the best defender of the establishment or whatever.  But one has to wonder if this is the time to dive into some kind of mysterious wonderland.

In North America, USA’s got Trump.  Canada is led by a ninth grade drama teacher.

In Europe, Italy is now in the hands of a former C-grade professor / bicycle mechanic.  Turkey just re-upped with a guy that would make even the most jaded 17th Century Sultan jealous.  Britain remains in the hands of the least effective prime minister since Chamberlain.  Germany still has that lady who refuses to even firmly decide what she wants for lunch.  The verdict is still out on Macron, who could implode at any moment.

I’m not even going to get into Africa and Asia which are for the most part still led by the usual battery of dictators, crooks, race baiters, and closet Chelsea fans.

In South America, Nicaragua has now joined Venezuela on the list of countries where it’s totally cool if the police execute you on the streets.  Argentina seems set to go broke, again.  The aforementioned Venezuela is probably now poorer than it was in 1945.

So you would think in elections now’s about the time to pick the blandest person ever.  Just elect a coat rack for all I care.  The coat rack can just hang out in El Presidente’s office for the next few years and just ride out this filth.

Instead, Mexico seems bent to elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador in a landslide, aka AMLO, aka serial election loser and revolutionary, aka former mayor of Mexico City, aka lunatic.

Maybe AMLO has what it takes to lead a dysfunctional Mexico in a troubled world.  Maybe not getting to sit in the big chair so many times has humbled the guy and he really does indeed mean to tackle corruption.  But I doubt it.

In the end, men are what they are.  AMLO is cut from the same cloth of the current horrible men running Nicaragua and Venezuela.  Mexico should elect the coat rack.  They won’t.  And AMLO is going to make them pay for that foolish vote for years.

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Photograph of an incompetent dictator, Circa 2023.