Pith Helmet

With A Name Like “Hey Oscar Wilde! It’s Clobberin’ Time!!!”, It’s Gotta Be Good.
July 1, 2008, 4:00 am
Filed under: Books | Tags: ,

With A Name Like “Hey Oscar Wilde! It’s Clobberin’ Time!!!”, It’s Gotta Be Good.

At Hey Oscar Wilde! It’s Clobberin’ Time!!!, Steve Gettis has assembled “a personal art collection of various artists interpreting their favourite literary figure/author/character that has been accumulated since 03.1998.” Among my favorites are Dale Berry’s Sir Harry Flashman, Tim Bradstreet’s Nosferatu, Mike Mignola’s Jacob Marley and Dracula, Leland Purvis’s Sir Richard F. Burton, Steve Skorce’s Doc Savage, and Walt Simonson’s J. R. R. Tolkien and Michael Moorcock.


Crile, George. Charlie Wilson’s War, New York: Grove Press. 2003.
May 12, 2008, 3:22 am
Filed under: Books | Tags:

As anyone who has ever typed in my url into their Windows Address Bar can attest, I love The Great Game. No, I’m talking not talking about foosball, jai alai, mumbleypeg, or even Lunch Money. The Great Game I refer to is the nineteenth and early twentieth century struggle for domination of Central Asia between the British and the Russian empires. The rivalry has been touched on by many of my favorite authors: George Macdonald Fraser, Peter Hopkirk, and Rudyard Kipling. Though nonfiction, Charlie Wilson’s War comes across as the perfect sequel to the books of that era. It addresses the genesis of what former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzenski suggested was the “New Great Game”: the U.S. involvement in the Soviet-Afghan War.

Grile’s book is filled with all of the cloak-and-dagger derring-do one would expect to find in the works of one of the great chroniclers of the original Great Game. The cast of real-life characters as colorful as any spawned by the imaginations of Fraser and Kipling. The central figure is skirt-chasing Congressman Charlie Wilson (D-Texas), whose love of whisky was exceeded only by his hatred of Communist oppression. Wilson emerges from the story as having played a larger, though less publicized, role in the collapse of the Evil Empire that Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II combined. One of Wilson’s colleagues, a fan of George Macdonald Fraser, even likened the Congressman to Harry Flashman and presented him with a copy of at least one of the novels. It was a comparison that Wilson embraced wholeheartedly:

Curiously, Charlie took immediately to the Solarz analogy and declared that he was indeed Flashman. It may be that he l iked the cover; Flashman was, after all, a man caught up in great historical dramas. Even if he were a lout at heart, he did come through in the pinch, and Charlie found it easier to make this identification with his Afghan role than he did trying to define himself in a serious vein. He was just not able to dwell on himself as a hero without first loudly proclaiming that it was a lie. He actually began promoting the Flashman image. He created his own elite club of “Flashman’s Raiders.” Those he chose to initiate into this inner circle would get copies of the novels and a leather jacket with the club’s name embroidered on the back. He even wrote Gust at Langley describing the new organization and granting his old friend honorary membership.

Other colorful characters in the dramatic history include the ultra right-wing socialite who seduces Charlie Wilson into the mujahideen cause, a CIA agent who would have been right at home at a Velentzas family reunion, a Playboy cover girl, a Knight of Malta, and an eccentric filibustering B-movie actor from Cherokee County, Georgia. While Allah’s intervention may have insured the mujahideen victory over the Soviets, it was Charlie Wilson who wrote the checks and who forged alliances between players as diverse as Islamic fundamentalists, Israeli gun merchants, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army that made it all possible — in the process, building an arsenal that included everything from high-tech Stinger surface-to-air missles to Tennessee mules.

While it is full of intrigue and adventure and could stand alone as a jolly-good ripping yarn, Charlie Wilson’s War is enlightening as well. It provides vital information necessary to understand the events of September 11, 2001. Also, having read the story of Charlie Wilson, I can understand why my father and generations of men before him remained registered Democrats until the day they died. In spite of his many flaws, Wilson is a larger-than-life hero who understood politics and patriotism and successfully made the two work hand-in-hand.

I’m Deviant Now
I have a deviantArt account at http://oldcontemptible.deviantart.com. I don’t have anything in my gallery yet, and possibly never will. I just mainly made the account to keep track of my favorite artistes.

Just In Time To Make War on Rock Starships and Scissors Starships
Double tip o’ the pith helmet to for pointing me to Paper Starships, a now-defunct source for cardboard make-your-own models of starships from Homeworld, Star Trek, Star Wars, and other sources. Thanks to his info and my good friends at Internet Archive, I am now the proud owner of an Imperial Tie Fighter and a ship from some German TV show.

Bond, Obama, & Joe
April 19, 2008, 3:03 am
Filed under: Books, Politics | Tags: ,

May 28th, this year, marks the centenary of the birth of the man who gave the world James Bond, Ian Fleming. To celebrate Fleming’s life and lasting contribution to British culture, the Imperial War Museum will present the first major exhibition of Flemingiana. The exhibition runs from April 17, 2008, through Marc 1, 2009. Then, starting May 4, BBC Radio 4 will present a dramatization of Dr. No. Already, back in January, the Royal Mail began commemorating the Fleming centenary by issuing postage stamps featuring different editions of six of his novels.


  • Ian Fleming Centenary
  • For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond

    Smerconish on Obama
    After the Reverend Jeremiah Wright hit the fan, Barack Obama gave a speech on Race in America that was lauded by many as greater than the Gettysburg Address and “I Have A Dream” combined. Personally, I’d have preferred him give the following, addressed to The Reverend himself:

    I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
    How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
    I have long dream’d of such a kind of man,
    So surfeit-swell’d, so old and so profane;
    But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
    Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
    Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
    For thee thrice wider than for other men.
    Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
    Presume not that I am the thing I was;
    For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
    That I have turn’d away my former self;
    So will I those that kept me company.
    When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
    Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
    The tutor and the feeder of my riots:
    Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
    As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
    Not to come near our person by ten mile.
    For competence of life I will allow you,
    That lack of means enforce you not to evil:
    And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,
    We will, according to your strengths and qualities,
    Give you advancement. Be it your charge, my lord,
    To see perform’d the tenor of our word. Set on.
    Henry IV Part 2, Act V, Scene v

    Still, Obama’s professed refusal to abandon the hunt for Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, which I learned of while listening to conservative talk radio guy Michael Smerconish, is almost enough to have me return to the party of my forefathers. If only I could quit clinging to my carbine and Christianity. While I don’t think our government should be deploying troops around willy-nilly within the borders of our allies, Obama makes some excellent points.
    Still, who is to say what’s going on in the cloak-and-dagger world? Just as the CIA was setting up the play that would finally allow the mujahideen to send the Soviets packing, Senator Gordon Humphreys (R-NH), totally unaware of a massive upgrade in weapons systems, unintentionally threatened to upset the whole apple-cart by mouthing off to the press that the Agency wasn’t doing enough. Still assuming the CIA was arming the insurgency with old AKs and even older .303 Enfields, Humphreys was unaware that the boys at Langley had secured everything from modern rifles to anti-tank weapons to surface-to-air missles with the help of everyone from the Swiss to the Israelis to the Chicoms.


  • Smerconish on Obama

    Quote of The Day
    “Old soldiers never die, your mom just throws them away.”
    -Anonymous G.I. Joe collector

  • George MacDonald Fraser
    January 4, 2008, 11:38 am
    Filed under: Books, Obituary | Tags: ,

    George MacDonald Fraser R.I.P. D.Y.E.


    George MacDonald Fraser

    LONDON (AP) — George MacDonald Fraser, author of the “Flashman” series of historical adventure yarns, died Wednesday, his publisher said. He was 82.

    Fraser died following a battle with cancer, said Nicholas Latimer, director of publicity for Knopf, which will release Fraser’s latest work “The Reavers” in the United States in April.

    Latimer was unable to provide details of where Fraser died. He lived on the Isle of Man, off the coast of northwest England.

    “Flashman,” published in 1969, introduced readers to an enduring literary antihero: the roguish, irrepressible Harry Flashman.

    The novel imagined Flashman — the bullying schoolboy of 19th-century classic “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” — grown up to become a soldier in the British army. In the book and 11 sequels, Flashman fought, drank and womanized his way across the British Empire, Europe and the United States, playing a pivotal role in the century’s great historical moments. A vain, cowardly rogue, Flashman nonetheless emerged from each episode covered in glory, rising to the rank of medal-garlanded brigadier-general.

    Some readers and critics found Flashman’s 19th-century racism and sexism disturbing. But by the time the final Flashman book, “Flashman on the March,” appeared in 2005, the critical tide had turned in Fraser’s favor.

    Born in Carlisle, northern England in 1925, Fraser served as an infantryman with the British Army in India and Burma during World War II, and in the Middle East after the war. He worked as a journalist in Britain and Canada for more than 20 years before turning to fiction.

    [ source : Associated Press ]


  • OED editor and Flashman fan Jesse Sheidlower weighs in at NPR.

  • Review: Holton, Bil, Ph.D., Leadership Lessons of Ulysses S. Grant, New York: Gramercy Books. 2000.
    November 29, 2007, 11:22 am
    Filed under: Books | Tags:

    Holton, Bil, Ph.D., Leadership Lessons of Ulysses S. Grant, New York: Gramercy Books. 2000.

    Review forthcoming

    Vade Retro Me, Pullmanus
    November 23, 2007, 2:51 pm
    Filed under: Books, Firearms, Movies, Religion | Tags: , , ,

    I have received chain e-mail from a number of people alleging that if I go see The Golden Compass, I will be a traitor to Christendom. They cite various sources, everyone from Focus on The Family to The Catholic League to Philip Pullman himself, the author of the books on which the film is based.

    I first heard of Pullman and his His Dark Materials trilogy when Pullman criticized C. S. Lewis. As a fan of Lewis, I was not very pleased with Pullman’s words. Still, I decided to give his trilogy try, but The Golden Compass failed to keep my interest at the time. While I find Pullman’s world quite enchanting and remain in awe of the skills with which he constructed it, his writing just couldn’t hold my attention.

    However, the film looks like it could definitely keep me enthralled for 99 minutes. It has everything I could ask for in a movie. Airships, alternate history, Eva Green, a cowboy played by Sam Elliot, a polar explorer, and guns. And not just any guns. “Obscure and beautiful guns from around the world.”

    We are introduced to Nick, a man who Loves His Guns. With the impracticability of constructing their own guns from scratch, he and his team searched for obscure and beautiful guns from around the world – and are confident that the weapons eventually used have not been seen on screen anywhere else before. Each gun chosen for each character is a deliberate design choice. Lord Asriel carries an 1880s revolver and a rare Swiss Canton rifle with a huge reloading bolt. The Trollesund police pack a standard Russian WW1 rifle, whilst the Magisterium police bear a more advanced weapon, coloured back to match their uniforms. Nick gleefully showcases each gun by firing several dummy rounds from each, admonishing bystanders to stick their fingers in their ears.
    It only gets louder with the Tartar’s weapon – a 1960s Spanish police carbine, practically an assault rifle. This is the gun most frequently used in the Bolvangar scene we’ve just witnessed part of and has been modified to hold separate rounds, which give a lighter sound, so as not to alarm the child actors. The guns don’t end there as Nick whips out a flintlock pistol – carried by Farder Coram he tells us, the character perhaps being made more muscular than in the book – he is certainly a younger actor. Amongst the Gyptians, John Faa lofts an 1870s Austrian model, with Tony Costa brandishes a pair of French pistols. Even Ma Costa reputedly packs a weapon – three we’re told, one of which being a small sawn-off shotgun, whilst one always remains concealed. In the film, Ma Costa will be heading north with the men, as seen in some of the promotional stills.
    Nick and his team’s approach to the weaponry of the book is a microcosm of the film’s design philosophy – Lyra’s world is not to be any one recognisable period from our world, it will always remain truly alternate. The team have a clear vision for the pieces – the Gyptians’ guns produce more smoke as they are not able to afford quality ammunition. Only Lee Scoresby has a very typical weapon – a Colt revolver and a Winchester rival, famous in America for “winning the west;” this is because it was felt that the character was a very traditional cowboy. In a scene where Lee shoots from his balloon, Sam Elliot reportedly wanted to use a revolver, not a rifle – better suited for long-range – as he thought his character was such a good shot. The big gun – literally – is saved for last: a Nock Volley, a gun so large the Royal Navy had to abandon it as too few men were strong enough to fire it. It is the Gyptians’ special and Nick quips, “when this is fired, everyone in front of it falls over.”
    [ source : BridgeToTheStars.Net ]

    Having read this and seen the trailers for the movie, and keeping in mind the rubbish passes for speculative fiction these days [cough]Robert Jordan[/cough], I have to ask myself, “Why couldn’t we get Phil Pullman, and let the other side have Tim Lahaye?”


  • “A Call to Arms: How to Fight The Book Burners” by Merlyn
  • “A Dark Agenda” by Susan Roberts
  • “Far From Narnia: Philip Pullman’s secular fantasy for children” by Laura Miller
  • “Wardrobes in Collision: The Divergent Visions of C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman” by James S. C. Baehr and Ted Baehr
  • Tehanu’s Seventeenth Note: His Dark Materials
  • “This Is The Most Dangerous Author in Britain” by Peter Hitchens

  • Review: Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of The Zombie War. New York: Crown Publishers. 2006
    October 22, 2007, 4:24 am
    Filed under: Books | Tags:

    “There’s a saying in Spanish when times are bleak or bewildering: La esperanza muere última. ‘Hope dies last.’ And somehow the damn thing stuck with me.”
    –Studs Terkel

    In the Acknowledgments to his book World War Z: An Oral History of The Zombie War, Max Brooks thanks “the three men whose inspiration made this book possible: Studs Terkel, the late General Sir John Hackett, and, of course, the genius and terror of George A. Romero.” The debt that he owes to Terkel is obvious throughout the book, both in style and and in sentiment.

    Max Brooks could easily have been the Studs Terkel of my generation. Only problem is that for my generation, there was no central formative experience. Our great economic crises, the Savings and Loan Crisis and the Stock Market Crash of 1987, paled in comparison with the Great Depression of Terkel’s generation. And whereas almost everyone of the Greatest Generation was touched in some way by the Second World War, most people of my generation can’t even count on both hands the number of people they’ve known personally who had even a peripheral role in the U.S. military actions in Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, and Desert Storm. As a result, Brooks had to invent his own (a la General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War) — or at least borrow one from Romero.

    Terkel is perhaps best known for his oral histories, such as 1970’s Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Good War. In World War Z, Brooks adopts a similar style. In The Good War, Terkel eschewed the orthodox fodder for histories: memoirs of generals, after-action reports, and official histories. Instead, he used interviews with common soldiers, seamen, airmen, Marines, and civilians. Likewise, Brooks’s history of the War of Undead Aggression consists of a collection of interviews with people from all walks of life which gives the reader a broad-brush picture of life during the fight for the survival of the human species.

    Among my favorites was the interview with Christina Eliopolis, the Air Force pilot who recounts having to punch out in zombie-infested Louisiana, and the one with Father Sergie Ryzhkhov, the man who single-handedly may have been responsible for revitalizing the job of military chaplain in a faithless, post-Soviet army. Either of these tales could stand alone as a first-rate short story.

    Echoing the sentiment as well as the style of Terkel’s work, Brooks’s history extols the virtues of the New Deal. For every problem in the post-zombiefied world, there is a government agency that is making things better. Still, in spite of Brooks’s sometimes not-too-subtle proselytizing, the novel was a joy to read. In fact, my only complaint is that, at times, some of the innovative strategies and weapons in the Total War and Post-War were a bit far-fetched (even for a reader who willingly suspends disbelief long enough to buy that the dead can walk), and, on rare occassions, downright hokey.

    According to Variety, Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment has won the battle to produce a film based on the book, and while I’m certain they have the potential to do justice to the novel, I’d still love to see Ken Burns do a treatment for World War Z like he did with The Civil War and The War