A few years ago PBS’ Nova series aired a fascinating episode called “Why Ships Sink”.
Water gets inside.]
It was called “Why Ships Sink” because the more honest, less generic “Why Cruise Ships Sink So Often” would doubtlessly have had them facing a barrage of legal threats from the cruise industry.
Cruise ships sink so often because the cruise industry staffs them with MBA graduates in hotel management, not real sailors.
One can understand the reasons for this. Real sailors tend to be a colorful but often unappealing lot, foul mouthed and somewhat brusque to landlubbers.
Unlike the various navies and merchant marines of the world, the cruise industry places a priority on making their passengers’ experience as pleasant as possible.
They hire crews — and captains — based on their ability to interact well with paying customers, no salty dogs here! As a result the crew can mix a really mean martini, provide hours of entertainment in the lounge, guide you to the best tourist
traps bargains at the various ports of call, etc., etc., and of course, etc.
Navies and merchant marines hire sailors based on their ability to (a) keep the ship afloat and (b) fulfill the ship’s mission.
And of the two, (b) comes in second to (a) because without (a) there will be no opportunity to do (b).
Ya with me so far?
On January 13, 2012, Captain Francesco Schettino of the Carnival cruise ship Costa Concordia deviated from his assigned course to give his passengers a better view of the lights on shore.
The Costa Concordia hit a submerged rock and lost power. It began listing and sinking. While the engine crew and a few other genuine sailors tried to keep the ship afloat long enough for the passengers to evacuate, while the entertainers and housekeeping staff tried to maintain order long enough for everyone to get safely aboard the lifeboats, Captain Schettino opted to hop off the ship and head for shore.
The Italian Coast Guard, speeding to the Costa Concordia’s rescue, managed to make radio contact with Captain Schettino in one of the lifeboats.
When they learned he had left his crew and passengers behind while he headed to dry land, they remarked in a typically reserved Italian understatement:
“Vada a bordo, cazzo!”
Which in common everyday English can be translated as “Get the fuck back on board!” or “Get back on board, for fuck’s sake!” or “Get on board, damn it!”
Being half Italian,
I lean towards the first
We jest, but the wreck of the Costa Concordia resulted in 32 people dying that night plus one diver later when the ship was being salvaged. The 32 who died on January 13 were passengers who had paid handsomely to be entertained on what was advertised as a perfectly safe cruise, and crew members who despite their inexperience sacrificed their own lives to save passengers entrusted to them.
Unlike Captain Schettino.
Captain Schettino had no business being in charge of a ship carrying over three thousand passengers and a crew one/third as large.
Though a graduate of a naval institute, his previous seagoing experience had been as a crew member on a ferry. Hired by Carnival Cruises in 2002 to be a security officer, Schettino was promoted to executive officer and then captain by 2006. He was then placed in command of the Costa Concordia and sailed her until he ran her aground in 2012.
Compared to a typical naval or merchant marine captain, he had virtually no experience at all, and certainly was not entrusted with key decisions on the navigation and operation of the ship.
It was, as noted above, his decision to deviate from his ordained course in order to show off to passengers that led to the disaster.
Further, cruise ships are by intention the easiest to sail vessels on the open seas. They are floating hotels that quite deliberately steer away from danger; rough seas and stormy weather will cancel a cruise, but merchant ships with cargos to deliver and naval vessels with hostile waters to patrol aren’t afford that luxury.
Those bad boys are trained to go out in
the worst of it and accomplish their mission,
quite literally come hell or high water.
Schettino acted more like a hotel manager than a ship captain, and a very poor hotel manager at that.
If a hotel suffers a fire or earthquake, then 90% of the job is getting people safely out of the building; once they’re on the street they are pretty much safe.
A sinking ship is still a danger to those trying to evacuate it, and lifeboats under the best of conditions are not easy to operate, and wind and water and weather can prove life threatening hazards to shipwrecked passengers.
Yet Schettino’s first instinct was to leave these people behind and see to it that his own skin was saved.
Schettino had no real training in commanding a large ship.
Schettino had no regard for carefully established protocol to guarantee the ship operated safely.
Schettino had no qualms about showing off to impress others.
Schettino had no idea what to do when disaster struck his ship.
Schettino had no sense of duty or responsibility to the four thousand plus passengers and crew entrusted to his care.
Schettino turned a good situation into a bad situation and then made the bad situation even worse.
Schettino lacked the ability, education, experience, integrity, intellect, and temperament to be a ship captain, especially for the Costa Concordia.
the wrong man in
the wrong place at
the wrong time in
the wrong job and for
the wrong reason.
Why am I writing about Captain Francesco Schettino?
Why do you think?
Today’s it’s Hillary’s turn in the bullseye.
Don’t worry, Donald Trump in particular and the GOP in general will be topics of future posts, with the Democrats being mentioned either along with the GOP or in a separate post of their own.
For those not interested in things political,
here’s an amusing gif of a dog taking a bath
with a rubber ducky on his head.
For the rest of you, we start after the jump.
The number of Americans identifying as Christians on their census reports and attending churches has been dropping steadily over the last few decades. Here’s my wholly unscientific / totally anecdotal look at what’s been happening.
Those leaving Christian churches tend to fall into these four broad categories:
Those who were never really in it in the first place – We’re talking about the cultural Christians here, the ones who went because it was socially expected of them by friends or family. In many cases these people never actually participated in any religious functions, they just checked off the “Christian” box whenever asked because once upon a time somebody in their family had gone to church. Others attended only sporadically (typically Easter and Christmas services) but shockingly a few were regular attendees and often even high ranking members of their local churches. Their faith and knowledge was as deep as a Dixie cup and the moment there was no longer a social penalty for not belonging, they walked away.
Those who were hurt by Christians – This includes all those who were raped, beaten, sexually / emotionally / spiritually / financially abused by clergy, lay members, and their own families driven by the dictates of their local congregation. It can be the direct hands on approach of a bestial father who takes “spare the rod” too literally and beats their children and spouse so badly that hospitalization is required, the sexual abuse of a predatory minister who preys on emotionally fragile congregants then gaslights them if they object, a person demonized by their denomination for being outside their comfort zone, or guilted into commitments by the threat of shunning or humiliation if they aren’t compliant. This group often overlaps with…
Those who see only the bullshit – Despite claims to the contrary, most denominations and local churches do indeed say they have the answer to everything: Faith in Jesus, which really means sit down and shut up. When they do give Biblical answers it’s typically a word salad of theological gobbledygook that can and does mean anything anybody wants it to mean to justify their position. This group tends to be people with a genuine longing for some sort of spiritual connectivity, only to find their spiritual nature is routinely brushed aside as they are told to replace their often unanswerable questions with empty words and phrases; as well as those with questions about their pastor’s showy lifestyle or denomination’s stand on social issues. In the end they decide that because their local church or denomination has no answer on some things that Christianity as a whole has no answer on anything, and they leave.
Those who see through the bullshit – This group includes many of the sincerest, most genuinely faithful followers of Christ. They know what is expected of them as true followers of Christ and they don’t see their local church or denomination doing enough to help those on that journey, and so they leave, not out of bitterness, not even disappointment, but in the knowledge that whatever it is they are supposed to be doing, following the agenda of a local church or earthly denomination ain’t it.
In light of the above, perhaps it’s time to reframe the question re why the number of Christians is shrinking.
Maybe it isn’t.
Maybe the real Christians have always been the same small number, not easy to pigeonhole but identifiable through their actions.
Maybe what has been identified as the body of believers is a misnomer, and that instead of obsessing over increasing the number of believers, the Christian church as a whole should concentrate on improving the Christ-like qualities of those who are truly disciples.
Better a single warm heart
than a hundred warm bodies.
Normally I try to avoid direct political commentary on this blog, but this isn’t going to be a normal election year and so I’m going to posting a few observations between now and November.
This one is an air clearer; it’s something I think needs to be openly acknowledged before discussion can shift to a more current topic.
And we need, both as party partisans and American citizens as a whole, to acknowledge what went on here, and why it is important, and what we need to do to improve things in the future.
For those willing to face the ugly truth, proceed apace.
For the rest of you,
here’s a cute gif of a
cat eating spaghetti.
Let’s say that’s a given:
We write because we can’t not write.
The secondary question becomes:
What do we want to do with that writing?
(Now, some of what follows will apply to all forms of creativity, but other parts will apply very specifically to writing text, be it prose or poetry, novels or short stories, journalism or fiction. Draw from it what ye may…)
The shortest current copyright duration in the US is 95 years for a work-for-hire published within 25 years of when it was created (if created as a work-for-hire but never published, copyright is 120 years from the date of creation).
The longest copyright is the life of the creator + 70 years, which — assuming a work is created at age 25 and the creator dies at age 75 — is 125 years but could run longer.
Now, if the objective is to control use of the material and see that one gets money from every use, these copyrights seem like a good idea.
However, as has been demonstrated,
that’s not what copyright exists for.
If the objective is to see to it that one’s work survives to another generation, that it is read and remembered and spread around and re-interpreted and generally enters into mainstream pop culture, then copyright is not so good.
We have numerous examples of writers, once well known and respected and enjoyed by thousands if not millions of readers, virtually vanishing from the public consciousness because their estates:
- don’t know what to do with their creations
- don’t care to find out what to do
- are actively embarrassed by what was written
- have unrealistic ideas about what the material is worth
- simply don’t know what material exists, much less who owns what rights
- any combination thereof
People who know and enjoy the material and wish to share it with others are stymied because until it enters the public domain, there is no safe way to publish or distribute the works.
The result is a stifling of the literary landscape, a silencing of voices that, despite being from previous generations, still offer much to say to modern audiences.
The previous US copyright term — 56 years total — was sufficient for exploitation by the creator. A successful work could see several profitable print iterations, in multiple formats and languages, and more importantly, spread the writer’s reputation, thus generating more interest in their other work.
At the end of that period the work could be freely shared and adapted. A writer’s loss of potential income was offset by their value as a cultural touchstone; Edgar Rice Burroughs is no less a cultural influencer from his works falling into the public domain than not.
Let’s look at our hypothetical 25 year old author; if she passes away at age 75, by old copyright law her estate would still enjoy control of her material for another 6 years.
But let’s say her work, despite its quality, does not remain a perennial best seller. Rather, it falls to the backlist and as such disappears from view because there is not enough potential income to justify promoting it.
As such, after her death and despite the best intentions of her estate, the work remains out of print for six years.
After that, enthusiasts for her work (fans, scholars, teachers) would be free to share it with another generation.
Not being limited to commercial publishing, they could circulate the work freely (if digitally) or at minimum cost (hard copy), thus introducing another generation of readers and fans to the material.
This is exactly how a lot of authors who were in danger of vanishing from the literary realm found themselves becoming overlooked masters of their craft by later generations.
Once the profit motive was removed, their resurgence in popularity was driven purely by enthusiasm for the material, not a major corporation’s bottom line.
Now, it’s fair to say this presumably posthumous rediscovery is moot to the now deceased author.
But it’s also fair to say that often times this
is their only chance at literary immortality.
You see, if the generation that knew them and enjoyed them can’t pass that torch along to the next generation of readers and fans…
…then that torch may sputter and die.
An additional half century may not seem like much, but that’s time enough for three generations to come on the scene and be completely ignorant of the value of a pre-existing work. Not only does the work lose its potential influence, but the works that would have been inspired and derived from it are lost as well.
The currently insanely long copyright terms are not for the benefit of individual human creators; rather they are so corporations can exert a bottleneck that simultaneously crowds new creator-owned material out of the market while at the same time forcing customers to select from a limited range of corporate-owned options in direct contradiction to what our constitution established copyright for!
 And threatening to get longer.
 At least without fear of having the bejeebers sued out of them.
 Or rather, almost always deceased; Irving Berlin lived to see several of his earliest hits slip into the public domain. He did not miss any meals because people could play “Come, Josephine, In My Flying Machine” without sending him royalties.
 There is a solution to the tension between corporate control and individual copyrights, and that is to let the corporations continue to hold specific trademarks while allowing the public at large the right to use those characters and concepts as they see fit. Thusly, the Disney corporation could continue to market the mouse as The Official Mickey Mouse while the public could use now the character’s public domain stories and images as they saw fit. All this would entail would be a periodic minor redesign of characters as they already do anyway to accommodate changing public tastes. The brand would not be damaged because audiences would know that without the official seal, any Mickey Mouse product would just not be “official”.
Many, many years after its initial release, I finally caught up with The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas and was immediately struck with this thought:
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
is a far more wholesome film.
There’s a lot to recommend Best Little… as a movie entertainment. First off, few stars have had a better screen debut than Dolly Parton enjoyed in Best Little… Her incredible vivaciousness and personality leap off the screen, but she also demonstrates a savvy actor’s knowledge of character and a wide and subtle range of emotions.
It’s certainly brightly lit, enthusiastically performed, full of surprising turns (Charles Durning as the governor was a delight), fast paced, and jolly good fun while at the same time touching seriously on the topics of cynicism and hypocrisy and the morality of prostitution in light of Judeo-Christian ethics.
But in the final analysis it succumbs to
a certain cynical hypocrisy of its own.
- Point: Parton’s Mona Stangley madam character is, for all her vivaciousness and feisty rhetoric, ultimately a passive acquiescent to what men want. She is there to serve them and has no goals of her own other than operating a high class establishment. She folds with minimum fuss when confronted by hypocrisy, and can be — and is — wounded to the quick when called a whore and reminded of her real status in society.
- Point: For all the obsessions with sex and tits and ass, for all the titillating talk and flirty dancing, in the end it’s a very sanitized and asexual experience. Bedroom activities consist of rolling about in bed in one’s undies, presented in such a wholesome manner that even the most conservative religious person would see nothing wrong with it. If Disneyland had a whorehouse, this would be it.
- Point: Despite this, the film openly states through a man-on-the-street interview that without a release for their sexual tensions, heterosexual men would turn to rape to satisfy their desires.
- Point: Though a nod is made towards changing mores, the basic message is that sex is something men are obsessed with and a chore for good, decent women, fit to be engaged in only by the outcasts of society. The women of the town approve of the whorehouse because it lets them take a rest from servicing their husbands, young men get to frolic without having to actually engage emotionally with their partner, and since part of the proceeds are cycled back into the community in the form of Little League baseball uniforms, well, what’s the harm?
- Point: Sex, with the exception of Parton and Burt Reynold’s relationship and a nod towards Jim Nabors’ deputy being a happily married man who doesn’t frequent the establishment, is divorced from emotion and genuine passion. It is openly commoditized and exploited by all parties, something men do for fun and women do for money.
- Point: Despite this, with one or two exceptions (and they are presented only briefly as comic relief), all on-screen participants are young and good looking (okay, Parton and Reynolds are middle aged and good looking). Everybody’s clean, everybody has a sunny disposition, and unlike Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour, there’s no threat of Harold Sakata walking in with a box containing something so horrific even hardened Parisian prostitutes run screaming in terror.
- Point: With the exception of a single token African-American prostitute who dances with a single token African-American football player, sex is reserved for attractive young white women and attractive and / or financially secure white men.
- Point: Despite being an egomaniacal poser, a jerk, and an exploiter in his own accord, Dom DeLuise’ newscaster is not wrong when he points out the hypocrisy of passing laws to make certain activities and establishments illegal, then ignoring those laws because it’s beneficial to all parties to do so.
Compared to that, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a breath of fresh air!
- RHPS is about characters who are independent moral actors motivated by their various passions. They are all willing, enthusiastic self-guided participants, not passive workers-for-hire awaiting employment. They live in neither fear nor contempt of the mores of others; they do what they want to do and couldn’t care less what others think. “Don’t dream it, be it.”
- While there’s actually less skin shown on-screen than Best Little…, RHPS is a lot more realistic in terms of human sexual interactions. It’s messy, it’s extreme, it’s daring, it’s frightening, and it’s tons of fun.
- There are seductions galore in RHPS but no rapes. Some participants may be reluctant at the start, but they change their minds and willingly consent before actual sexual activity begins.
- Sex is depicted as something to be experienced and enjoyed equally by all people of all genders and orientations. And it remains the business only of those actively involved, not the community at large.
- There are no ulterior material motives in RHPS. While different characters have different agendas, they nonetheless relate sexually to one another as individuals, not as people engaged in business. RHPS’ sexual activity means something intrinsic to those involved, not an opportunity for financial exploitation.
- The Transylvanians are genuinely egalitarian, representing all ages, all ethnicities, all genders, all orientations, and all physical types. There is more genuine interest and interaction shown among the supporting dancers of RHPS than those in Best Little…
- While predominantly a white American / English cast, RHPS features a multi-ethnic troupe who, more importantly, interact across ethnic lines.
- Though not its focal point, RHPS does address the issue of moral hypocrisy on the part of authorities. But, as will be elaborated on below, it’s willing to turn its eye on itself and call out hypocrisy among its own central characters. It provides no pat moralistic answers.
That examination is the key to understanding The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It is not a story about two innocents, Brad and Janet, who are initiated into the realm of sexual passion (thought that, of course, occurs).
Rather, Brad and Janet are two vanillas through
whom the audience can witness the real story.
You see, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is actually the same story as Heart Of Darkness / Apocalypse Now: A man on a mission to a remote backwater goes native and his superiors authorize an underling to terminate his command.
Unlike Dolly Parton’s Mona Stangley, Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank N. Furter is no passive character who exists to please others; he’s self-motivated, self-guided, and clearly in charge of the story.
He’s also frightening and dangerous; he flat out murders one character twice then (no spoilers) takes steps to make sure they won’t revive again for Round 3.
He doesn’t cater to glossy surface pleasures but digs down deep into what floats other characters’ boats. He makes people face and realize their own deepest motivations, for good or bad.
But he’s also recognized as being out of control, brushing off his duties as an advance scout to Earth.
Like Mona Stangley, he ultimately has to answer to a higher authority; unlike Mona, he answers for the consequences of his own moral choices and behaviors, not as an innocent scapegoat for the status quo.
And in the end, that’s a far more honest, far more realistic, far more ethical and moral message.
One last thought in closing:
Tim Curry was perfect in RHPS, but Marlon Brando as Dr. Frank N. Furter would have been EPIC.
I looked for an image of Brando in
lingerie but this is the best I could do.
 Well, Tim Curry, too, in RHPS, only Parton continued her climb to superstardom while Curry settled in for a long and successful career as a character actor.
 No foolin’!
 It’s ironic that a movie supposedly celebrating heterosexual activities casts two gay actors, Nabors and DeLuise, as the only male characters resistant to the blandishments of the establishment.
 This use of the term “moral actor” means an individual who has the right and ability to make ethical decisions regarding their actions, not a squeaky clean performer.
 We know little about the mission or the culture of the Transylvanians (from the galaxy Transexual, not to be confused with the Transylvanians of Earth) but we do know whatever it was, Dr. Frank N. Furter has abandoned it in pursuit of self-gratification. It’s an open question whether he had these predilections before arriving here and embraced the freedom to do as he wished without oversight, or if he became corrupted by what he found on Earth. Likewise the question about Kurtz in both Heart Of Darkness and Apocalypse Now is whether he misunderstood his superiors’ orders or understood them all too well.
First off, since I’m using Instagram for my humorous captions project, I’m going to stop posting similar images here.
Twitter I spend very little time on; I’m going to keep that account going for the funny captions and to announce when I have new posts on my blog, but I’m really not using it to its maximum potential.
This blog will re focus on:
- My upcoming books, stories, appearances, and projects
- Opinion pieces by yrs trly
- Anecdotes about people I’ve worked with and projects I’ve worked on
- Short stories, fictoids, and poems.
If I see a good article I will link to it on Facebook;
this blog will be centered more around what I write.
Facebook will catch the brunt of my posting, more current affairs oriented than this blog, as well as more personal comments on other topics.
I’m trying to organize material for a podcast that will focus mostly on places I’ve worked and people I’ve worked with [see #3 above]. That probably won’t occur before the end of summer.
I’ve tried about a half dozen other forms of social media but Facebook, this blog, Instagram, and Twitter are the only ones that engage my interest to any degree and, as so many people advise, if you’re not interested enough in a social media to actively participate, why bother at all?
A tip o’the pork-pie hat to
the one & only Buster Keaton