Tag Archives: americana

chitty chitty bang bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Teaches Us About Life.

By Chris Warren.

I was on YouTube researching material for another website I write for and ended up wandering around and getting lost on my own click trail. YouTube does a great job of getting me to drift off task. My proclivity to being an easily distracted airhead had me watching clips from the classic British children’s movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I loved that movie as a kid. It never seems to get tiresome and I diverted from my mission for just a few minutes to partake in a little childhood joy.

I did not have time to watch the entire movie, but I saw enough Chitty Chitty Bang Bang clips to realize what I did not notice as a kid: The story, intentionally or not, had some depth to it. It was not just a cute kids’ movie. There were lessons buried in there:

Children can be strong agents of change. The magical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car would never have existed if the kids had not grown fond of it and begged their eccentric inventor daddy to buy the old wreck before the junkman did. What started as a mere appeasement of children turned out to be a major process of self realization for its builder.

In real life, adults  learn a lot about themselves as a side effect of doing some pretty crazy stuff to please kids. Having kids means not living solely for yourself. It means being needed. And sometimes, it means buying an old junk car that you would otherwise have no interest in because a little kid begged you. It reminds me of all the things my parents put up with to make me happy and how that contributed to their wisdom.

How many of us will not actively go looking for a challenge but will accept one if it is given?

Great people always underestimate themselves. Main character Caractacus Potts (played by Dick Van Dyke), is a loving single dad of the two children but is a somewhat inept inventor who doesn’t make any real money. Lacking confidence, he seems resigned to his mediocre standing until he is forced take his flying car to the fictional Kingdom of Vulgaria and rescue his kidnapped father.

He successfully recovers his father and unintentionally also liberates an entire country from their immature man-child Baron. Throughout the story, even Caractacus himself seems amazed at his own abilities and those of the car that he built. By the end of the movie, everyone returns home safely. Caractacus gets the pretty girl, finally attains status as an inventor, and lives happily ever after. And oh yeah, the children get a really cool car that can also be a boat and an aircraft.

Great people usually begin as average  people. On the surface, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is just a whimsical kids’ story. But in the mix is a regular guy many of us can relate to: Potts trudges through life doing the best that he can with what he has. He deeply loves his kids but does not have a lot of money to give them the lifestyle he’d like. He never gives up, but does not take any big risks, either. That is, until he is forced to. How many of us will not actively go looking for a challenge but will accept one if it is given? It’s not the same as being lazy. Some of us just need a little push. Like many people who overcame adversity or achieved a difficult goal, Caractacus didn’t know how great he was until being great was the only option.

Ok, I know the plot of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a very far fetched and implausible children’s movie, but I’m not reading too much into this. There are legitimate lessons buried in there. Even the movie itself  defied its own fate: It received wishy-washy reviews from the critics when it  was released and was only a modest financial success. Yet like Caractacus it endured and hung in there and is now considered a timeless classic. What entertained me as a child now enlightens me as an adult., and that’s not silly kid stuff.

 

gun control

Gun Control: So Shallow, A Flea Couldn’t Drown In It (Best Of TFS)

by: Chris Warren

The validity of statements made in the past can and should be measured by how well they hold up against the test of the future. Unless and until the big guesses evolve into tangible reality, gun control is at the same level as overdramatic hucksters on late night infomercials telling us they have the secret to all our heart’s desires.

The apparent death of the Second Amendment as we know it and the subsequent rise of the gun control movement over the vanquished National Rifle Association was glowingly foretold by liberals since well before 2008 when Barack Obama won the Presidential election. In his first term he bailed on his promise to come down on the “bitter clingers,” but that was not enough of a buzzkill to keep his patsies from reelecting him.

My rearview mirror wisdom now confirms what I presumed in the first place: The gun control movement is indeed a collection of overdramatic hucksters, with Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg getting top billing. Note: I refuse to use the term gun control in the context it is employed by the political left because those claiming to want “common sense gun laws” are either liars or fools (see also, useful idiot). Their newest hero, Hillary Clinton, claims that she does not want to abolish the Second Amendment. Technically, this is true. She has never openly made any such statement. But we all know her end game: The complete and total abolition of all private civilian firearm ownership. Of course she’s not going to admit it blatantly. Yet everyone, including her hired buffoons, know that if given the opportunity, that’s exactly what she would do. I will not take the bait and be a party to their overt bullshit, even if it is rhetorical hair splitting.

The “gun lobby” is not as much a lobby as it is a genuine, people-centric movement. The NRA has around five million members, each paying (give or take) about thirty-five bucks a year. Many if not most of those members donate over and above the yearly dues and are also members of other pro-gun organizations. Then factor in sales of NRA-branded clothes and gear, raffles, cash donations collected at gun shows, and yes, the occasional corporate sponsorship. But there is more to it than just a big pile of money. Gun enthusiasts are active participants every single day. They know it’s not enough to “like” a Facebook meme or slap a sticker on the back of their car or write a $35 check once a year.

“The left are accomplished experts at getting people to sign an online petition or answer a poll question, but their ‘point and click’ activism is miles wide and a millimeter deep.”

Most of the time, being engaged is not very exciting. It’s a daily grind of staying informed and reacting when needed. As one NRA member put it, “Thanks for emailing your U.S. Senator, but you have to also write a letter or send a hand written postcard. No one ever tripped on a bag of email.” Even buying a gun or a box of ammo is a statement.

A common taking point dragged around by the gun control hopefuls is that firearms ownership is on the decline; the recent dazzling increase in gun sales is due to the same core group of “gun nuts” panic buying multiple firearms. The theory only works if you ignore the thousands of new gun carry permits issued every year and that very few gun owners will respond to a survey by admitting they own guns. I know I would not. And I personally know dozens of gun owners who would not.

Even my own family does not know exactly how many and what type of guns I have. Liberals in general and Obama/Hillary in particular are in a tizzy because their claim that fewer and fewer Americans want to keep guns cannot be validated against gun sales, carry permit figures, and registration in training classes, all of which are easily quantifiable facts. Gun owners are sophisticated enough to know that any data collected on firearms ownership will ultimately be used to support gun control. As a result, Second Amendment supporters’ default setting is to be recalcitrant towards the media and the pollsters who work for them. To put it more simply, many if not most gun owners deliberately lie on polls and surveys.

Pro-gun citizens have the advantage of a common thing (guns) that serves as a base for organizing. They gather at gun shops, ranges, gun shows and shooting competitions, all of which serve a secondary purpose as a friendly venue where ideas are exchanged and information is passed along. As amazing as the internet may be, there is no substitute for a face to face discussion where everyone can shake hands and look each other in the eye.

The gun control folks have no such common platform. They organize marches and rallies which are are limited in duration and headlined by professional victims along the lines of Jesse Jackson or Micheal Pflager. There is no natural interaction, no opportunity for small random meetings. Everyone stands around and cheers for a speech, lights a few candles, then goes home.

The left are accomplished experts at getting people to sign an online petition or answer a poll question, but their “point and click” activism is miles wide and a millimeter deep. When it really counts, the claimed support is mere gentle vapor drifting to invisibility, at least on the gun control issue. This is why Obama got elected, and re-elected, with vigor only to see his fan base go back to playing Xbox. They are thinking, “Hey, we voted. What else do you want?”

Progressives then turn up the spin and gooey sentimentality because they can’t make a case with facts and and follow through, nor do they have genuine long-haul support for their gun control goals. It’s not too hard to figure out why many progressive causes never seem to materialize into active policy even when the polls say it should be an easy win.

The goodwill and kinship felt among gun people transcends anything the left can put up. When gun banners gather, it’s to share their disgust for those of us who disagree. When gun enthusiasts gather, it’s to express appreciation for Constitutional freedom. There is no acrimony. Celebrating freedom does not require hating anyone. But gun banners have to hate guns and gun owners, otherwise their cause has no reason to exist.

My analysis should not be taken to mean that firearms freedom supporters and the NRA have nothing to fear from Hillary Clinton and her army of useful idiots, led by Michael Bloomberg. On the contrary, as soon as one Second Amendment abuse is beaten back, it’s not long before another pops up.

The gun control clowns, knowing nothing will get done at the national level, have recently shifted focus to state and local efforts. To their credit, this tactic will probably be more successful than trying to get any big federal rules through Congress. They have indeed managed to get some very heavy-handed gun control legislation passed in a few states and cities. The gun enthusiasts have likewise benefitted from several laws expanding Second Amendment freedom. Which side is ahead is a matter of semantics, but it’s generally accepted that the pro-gun side has the upper hand. For the purpose of fundraising and stirring up their respective bases, each side will claim the other is winning.

In my relatively short career as a firearms owner, I’ve discovered that “gun people” are some of the most harmless folks you’ll ever find. They would prefer not to involve themselves with controversy, and they would rather spend their time pursuing their Second Amendment freedoms instead of defending them in the courts and at the ballot box.

Gun people do not see themselves as the reason for criminal gun violence (they are correct). As long as the left demonizes us, blows off the true cause of the problem to pursue a power trip, and pushes to take away not just a Constitutional freedom but a natural, God-given right, Second Amendment supporters will have no choice but to jump reluctantly off the diving board into the cesspool of politics. Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg don’t care enough to understand that all gun people really want is to live in their freedom and be left alone.

Author’s Note: I’m away from the keyboard this week, so I’m re-releasing this Twenty First Summer article originally posted on February 8, 2014. The article has a few edits and updates. 

las vegas

Las Vegas, Where Everything Is Authentically Fake.

By: Chris Warren.

I just got back from my very first trip to Las Vegas and it was the satisfaction of a curiosity that had been nagging at me for a long time. Las Vegas is more than anything a place where nothing is what it seems, and that is exactly why I’m looking forward to going back.

If you are destined to gamble away every cent you have, then you may never get out of the airport. As we stepped off the jetway the very first thing that greeted us was a row of slot machines. Going the other way, the airport slots give you that one last chance to leave town as a millionaire. That scene was only the beginning of the aura of wealth and success that Las Vegas plants into the mind of every single visitor no matter how modest their means.

As our cab pulled up to the casino-resort-hotel (they all triple bill themselves that way) the first thing that hit me was the both the opulence and the size. Casino-resort-hotels are built with huge, palatial architecture, finely appointed with artwork, fountains, luxurious furniture. The size of these places is hard to overstate. Just being there makes ordinary folk like me feel rich.

That is the psychology of Las Vegas. They want guests to feel above their means because it makes them more inclined to spend money above their means. They do a brilliant job of pulling off the con. Everywhere we went, attendants in neat uniforms were holding doors open for us, handing us towels, offering us drinks. Every detail was addressed. One barely has to even do much walking to get around Las Vegas: I think there are more shuttle buses and taxis than there are private cars.

We took a walk over to the The Venetian, a casino with an old world Italian theme that features an actual indoor canal with gondola boats. The ceiling was convincingly painted to look like a blue sky. It’s easy to forget that you’re really in the middle of a desert. These illusions are repeated all over town. There is a fake Eiffel Tower. A Fake Statue of Liberty. A fake Roman Coliseum. Hundreds of fake Elvis’ and probably thousands of ladies who are, uhhmmm, technically not ladies, if you know what I mean.

Las Vegas is the world capital of fake-ness, but they aren’t liars: Las Vegas never claimed to be the real deal. Heck, they even have a casino-resort-hotel named The Mirage. They loudly celebrate being fake. Of course, deep inside no one believes anything there is real. Yet, that’s the attraction. The idea that everyone will strike it rich is the the biggest fake of all and the source of funding for all that feigned opulence. Las Vegas is so good at what they do they still earn very huge, very real profits even after coving all the overhead costs of the fake stuff.

I never gambled a cent the whole time I was there but I had a terrific time in Las Vegas and definitely want to go back again. I too can be swayed by the allure of fake. Las Vegas is the only place in the world where an average dude like me can feel like a globe-trotting aristocrat for a few days. I am well aware that all those grand Roman columns and statues are made of Fiberglas. And yes, I know that Eiffel Tower is off by about 5400 miles. In Las Vegas, the fake is real, but the hospitality and kindness of the locals, and the good vibe that comes from just being there, is the genuine article.

vhs

VHS Video Rewinds For The Last Time.

By: Chris Warren.

I came along at that perfect time where I’m old enough to know what life was like before digital technology took over the world and young enough to embrace the change. I owned vinyl records, and am now a iTunes fanboy. I had a car radio with mechanical presets, and now I’m addicted to SiriusXM and podcasts. I don’t miss phone books, even a little. I love the idea of making a few clicks on Amazon and a package magically appears at my door the very next day. Soon another piece of my analog past, the VHS video recorder, will roll off the assembly line and into multimedia history.

I was honestly surprised that VHS video recorders were still being made at all. I assumed they had gone out of production years ago. I can’t remember the last time I saw a new-in-the-box VHS in a store or on line, so I got curious and did a little looking around. Apparently they are still out there, but not for much longer. Soon the only way to get a VHS video recorder will be on the used market because the last company to manufacture them, Funai of Japan, is ending VHS’ run forever.

The VHS recorder is officially if not belatedly about to become yet another broken down old junk on the information superhighway.

Those young enough to think that having high definition video no further than the smartphone in their hand is a normal expectation of life might have a hard time grasping what a breakthrough VHS was. The machines were big, heavy, and expensive. They were mechanical devices and prone to breakdown. They required a mess of wires, adapters, and plugs. The picture and sound quality was dismal by today’s standards. But the ability to record programs and watch them later, or watch them over and over, was something that had not been possible until the VHS recorder came along.

Imagine the drudgery of having to sit in front of your television at a certain time and date to see your favorite show. If you missed it, or wanted to see it again, you were out of luck until the episode came around in reruns, at which time you would still be tied to the schedule of the network programmers.

VHS was the on-demand programming of its day and had a social appeal that does not transfer over to digital media. As a teenager, me and a bunch of friends would hole up in my parents’ basement with a borrowed VHS recorder, some sugary-caffeinated drinks, cheap Little Caesar’s pizza, and a pile of rented tapes. I don’t know how many times we watched Mad Max and Spinal Tap in glorious analog on a tube TV. The party, such as it was, would usually last until 3 or 4 in the morning.

Those great times would not have happened without the then-innovative VHS recorder. Yet, as great as the new technology was, home video entertainment still required enough effort & expense that it was something of a special occasion.

Kids today will never suffer the archaic process of getting up to adjust the tracking to get a decent picture and having to rewind and change the tape when the movie was over, much less the now absurd transaction of renting physical tapes. I can hear my nine year old nephew’s incredulous voice now: You mean you actually had to get in the car and go pick up the video tapes? From where? And then bring them back when you were done? By the way, what is a video tape?

Technology rapidly rolls forward and the VHS recorder is officially if not belatedly about to become just another broken down old junk on the information superhighway. As I type this article I’m lounging on my couch with a laptop computer connected to wifi, smartphone at my side, watching my large flat screen high definition TV with Bluetooth speakers. Yeah, I had a good run with VHS recorders back in the day. The memories of fun times with my friends mean something to me but the new stuff is so far and away better that I have no such nostalgia for VHS recorders. Like floppy disks and phone books, VHS’ time has passed and we who lived through it are just fine with letting it become a fading dot in the rear view mirror.

jeep

A Diamond Anniversary Covered In Mud.

By: Chris Warren.

Americans embrace a culture of cars in a way no other nation does. Classics such as the Mustang and Corvette usually first come to mind, but the true king of them all, the one that predated the muscle cars of the 60’s & 70’s and even the chrome & tail wings era of the 50’s, is an unrefined, simple, instantly recognizable no-frills vehicle that was built to slop through mud and sand and be bombed and shot at and keep pushing on through obstacles that would humiliate any other car: The Jeep is an American legend and has been proudly kicking ass for seventy five years with no sign of stopping soon.

Jeep, the proper noun and brand name, has several sport utility vehicles in its lineup, but only the Jeep Wrangler has a pedigree going back to the original jeep, the common noun, that was a key player in winning World War II and went on to win the hearts and respect of three generations. Jeep Wrangler has a fan base like no other.

I got sucked into the Jeep cult at an early age. When I was nineteen, I decided that my Ford F-250 truck was too big and too thirsty for gas to be a practical vehicle for a college kid. After some persuasion, my parents agreed to help me get a Jeep CJ. I had been a Jeep freak since I was little, so having a real one of my own was a pretty dang big deal.

My dad sold my tired old truck to a guy in the neighborhood for I think $500. I had some money I saved from my part time job at a radio station, and my parents kindly kicked in the rest. Dad found me a used Jeep through a relative who was in the car business. Purchase price $2100.

It wasn’t what I would have chosen if I could have anything, but teenagers with very little money are in no position to be picky, so I happily embraced it. For my two-grand-and-a-little-more I got a 1979 Jeep CJ that was equal parts rust and metal. It had a 3-speed stick shift and a V8 engine. A big engine in a little jeep translated into breathtaking power and speed. My Jeep may not have looked like much, but it had plenty to brag about under the hood. My parents didn’t even notice (or pretended not to notice) that its gas mileage was only a little better than the truck.

jeep
President Roosevelt visiting the troops in a jeep. Date unknown.

I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I was driving a piece of American military history. Jeeps were on the beaches at Normandy and Iwo Jima. Jeeps were in Korea and Vietnam. Jeeps hauled Presidents and privates in equally modest utility. Jeeps had been turned into ambulances, tow trucks, delivery vans, card tables, and weapons platforms. Jeeps were adapted to every conceivable task and succeeded at all of them.

Everywhere the Army went, they took jeeps with them. And I do mean literally everywhere. Soldiers revered jeeps, and after returning home from World War II, the veterans’ nostalgia for a vehicle that was itself a legitimate war hero created a loyal civilian customer base.

jeep
The 2016 Jeep Wrangler.

I drove that Jeep for five years, all the way through college and into the job market. Then the day came when my dad suggested that maybe it was time to trade the rust bucket in and get something else. Dad’s wisdom was right: By then I had a real job and my own money, and the old Jeep needed to go. I knew someday I would own another. Nobody trades in a Jeep and says to themselves, “I hated that thing. I’ll never buy one again!”

Today, Jeeps still steadily roll off the assembly line and millions of them sit in garages and driveways from coast to coast, including mine. It’s bouncy. It’s unsophisticated. It’s coarse. But it has a personality as big as America itself and will always get you there, even when “there” is up the side of a mountain or through eighteen inches of snow.

Among all the  amazing classic cars, only one is a true patriot that earned its place in history with mud and blood. The Jeep is still in production in 2016 on its diamond anniversary because it was cut from the proud spirit of a great nation and polished into a legend by American heroes who needed a vehicle that was was tough as they were.

Editor’s note: If you enjoyed this article, you may also like my related article, The Legend Of Super Jeep .

hangar 17

Hangar 17: A Lonely Shrine To 9-11.

By: Chris Warren.

We are nearly fifteen years out from the September 11, 2001 radical Islamic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The debris and mountain-sized mess has long been cleaned up and rebuilt with an impressive new building and a reverent memorial that attracts thousands every day. Just a few miles away, another building representative of that horrible day still stands. There are no grand memorials. There is not even so much as a sign or plaque to commemorate the site. No one comes to pay their respects. Hardly anyone knows about Hangar 17 at Kennedy airport in New York City or its deep connection to 9-11.

In the aftermath of the terror attack, someone, somewhere, had the foresight to realize that a lot of the debris had historical and commemorative significance and should be saved. These artifacts were stored in hangar 17 until it could be decided what would happen to them.

The inventory of hangar 17 was as diverse as the people who died that day. There were a lot of twisted steel beams, emergency vehicles, various building parts, retail displays, a huge elevator motor, a broadcast antenna, a bike rack with bikes still chained to it, two intact subway cars, and an entire section of the parking garage. The most poignant to me were the signs identifying the World Trade Center, and  personal items, such as the bikes. They’re like a killed soldier’s dog tags. They have an identity. Theses items speak to us in a way a piece of nameless twisted steel or broken glass cannot.

hangar 17

At one point hangar 17 was filled to the rafters with these sad remembrances. Over the years, they were claimed by municipalities, veterans groups, museums, schools, and other organizations to be used in public memorials all across the United States and a few in foreign countries. Some of the steel beams ended up in my hometown of Naperville, Illinois because of one of the victim’s connection to the community.

A decade and a half later, JFK hangar 17 is now nearly empty. Its contents have been spread all over the earth like symbolic cremains of the deceased who were never found. The victims of that day never made it home; what could be saved of the surroundings they perished in have been given eternal places of honor for all to see. In addition to the inventory of hangar 17 are the countless undocumented relics picked up by rescue workers for their own personal commemorations.

The future of hangar 17 is not so noble; it is slated for demolition. It’s not clear if the teardown has anything to do with its relationship to the 9-11 radical Islamic terror attacks, or if it’s just a junky old building that needed to be replaced anyway. I am guessing the former. Hangar 17 is inextricably woven into the lore of September 11. No terrorist plowed a jetliner full of innocent passengers into it, but it’s plausible to say that the building was also destroyed along with the World Trade Center. It would be awkward and inappropriate to return hangar 17 to its original use, and airport managers are not going to let an empty structure just sit there. Tearing it down seems like the only choice.

As the days between the present and September 11, 2001 click higher and higher and a new generation of radical Islamic terrorists plot against the civilized world in general and the United State in particular, it’s more important than ever to understand that the saved items are covered with the invisible remains of thousands of real people who until that day had a million reasons to live and were loved by families and friends. The ones who died are, literally, a part of every memorial made from the recovered pieces of the World Trade Center. Hangar 17 was more than a temporary vessel to hold artifacts from one of the darkest days of our time. It was also the victims’ last layover before their flight into eternity.

idrache

The Amazing Flight of US Army Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache.

By: Chris Warren.

The American military is full of incredible people. There are so many real life heroes, so many success stories, so many tales of selfless bravery, that what is superlative to us civilians is actually kind of baseline average to those in uniform. When there are so many outstanding people collected together, it’s hard to find that one who rises even higher than what they consider ordinary. Lieutenant Alix Schoelcher Idrache has achieved the envious goal of distinguishing himself among those who already meet an impressive standard, and his military career has barely even begun. His story is almost too amazing to believe, but it’s all true and it’s something that every American needs to hear.

Lt. Idrache is an immigrant from Haiti who started off life with very little going for him. Haiti is not the kind of place where kids realistically think they might someday be in command of a multi-million dollar, high tech helicopter like the ones Alix saw the US Army flying during humanitarian missions around Port-Au-Prince. Most Haitian kids live a day by day existence and feel lucky to have a safe place to sleep at night.

The Idrach family came to the United States, legally, for the same reason millions of immigrants before him did: To build a better life in a land where the opportunities are infinite and anyone can become a huge success if they only have grit and work ethic.

Almost immediately upon arrival, Alix enlisted in the Maryland National Guard in part because it would fast-track him for US citizenship. His path fortunately crossed with a Lieutenant and a Sergeant who saw his potential and shepherded him through the complex process of applying to the US Military Academy at West Point.

Their mentoring paid off in a very large way. Idrache met every challenge, passed every test, and made it all the way through to become a West Point graduate, class of 2016, with a degree in physics. He was awarded the Brigadier General Gerald Counts award for the top physics student and was also named regimental commander of 950 cadets.

“I am humbled and shocked at the same time. Thank you for giving me a shot at the American Dream, and may God bless America, the greatest nation on earth.”

-Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache.

A moving graduation day photo of Lt. Idrache standing at attention with tears of pride running down his face raced around the internet. More meaningful is the hard work, studying, dedication, patriotism, and faith that drove those tears. A few years ago he was a poor kid in Haiti who could barely speak English. Now he’s an officer in the United States Army and a top graduate of one of the most respected military institutions in the world.

Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache speaks in humble words about his thanks to God and the United States for the opportunities he’s been offered. It is We The People who should be thanking him. Besides having a brilliant mind and a pure heart, Idrache’s story is a reminder how blessed the rest of us are to be citizens of this great nation.

Idrache did not have the benefit of being lucky enough to be born in the right place. He had to sweat and work very hard for what most of us were given by birthright. How many of us would rise up to the challenge the way Idrache did? By living his life the way he does, he’s almost daring the rest of us to keep up with him.

That kind of challenging leadership is what America needs. The next stop for Lt. Alix Schoelcher Idrache is helicopter flight training school in Fort Rucker, Alabama. It’s very symbolic, being that he has already lifted himself –and the United States– to a place of honor. We should all be grateful and proud that he chose to come here and dedicate his life to defending our freedom.

Lt. Idrache, the scrappy poor kid who once thought he had no future beyond the dirty streets of a third world country, is living a reality unimaginably above that far-fetched Haitian childhood yearning.  I am certain his life and career will go a lot higher than what any helicopter can do.

pizza

The American Pizza Trade Deficit.

By: Chris Warren.

The news media has been covering the American election process 24×7, with way more attention to Donald Trump than is necessary. In particular, they talk a lot about how Trump is going to ruin the world. He isn’t, but that’s another blog article. Quietly buried in the side stories is something with the potential to be far more ruinous than any politician: An American pizza chain wants to expand into Italy.

I absolutely do not comprehend other nations’ fascination with American chain restaurant food. Even my friends from other countries can’t get enough of it. My buddy from the Philippines begs me to take him to…Olive Garden? My other friend who came here from India thinks Red Lobster is America’s greatest contribution to culinary culture. I’m not kidding.

The rest of the world may not believe it, but we actually do have “real” food in the United States. So why would someone come all the way over here and ask for Pizza Hut? It’s a real WTF? moment. My Filipino friend was not dissuaded when I explained to him that in the United States, Olive Garden is more famous as the punchline of a joke than it is as a place for authentic Italian food.

So I was not surprised to hear that Domino’s Pizza is entering the Italian market. And by “Italian” I mean the adjective referring to the geographical country, not the food genre. Anyone who has ever eaten Domino’s Pizza will understand why I need to make that distinction.

All indicators say that the Italians will fall for the pizza scam. American chain restaurant food is a big deal in Europe, so I’m told. When Dunkin’ Donuts opened its first franchise in Sweden, the locals went nuts over it and even waited in long lines for their 400 calories (give or take) of sugary, grease-fried, carbohydrated American goodness. They give us IKEA, we give them diabetes.

A Domino’s Pizza in Italy is a whole different level of crass. Yes, it bothers me that they think it’s authentic “American food.” Uncle Pete’s Pizza in Naperville, Illinois, was one of my regular stops when I was a teenager and is still there to this day. It’s been in the same location for over thirty years, and they have never gotten any greedy ideas about expanding or selling out. It is a chain with one single link. You cannot get anything like it, anywhere else.

Originality is the hallmark of any culture, and Uncle Pete’s is just one original in a huge gallery of masterpieces. Every American neighborhood used to have its own version of Uncle Pete’s until corporate pizza drove them to extinction. Now the world is being overrun with low end industrial grade grub being passed off as down home American fare.

If you want to see the Mona Lisa, then you have to go to the Louvre in Paris. No one considers a print of the Mona Lisa to be the real deal, nor would anyone travel a great distance and wait in line to see one. Yet with food it seems everyone is willing to accept a much lower standard. Bad counterfeits are not only tolerated, they are celebrated. In a way I can’t blame the restaurant chains as they are only giving the customers what they want, or more accurately, what they are willing to settle for.

It’s puzzling, but if Italians want Domino’s Pizza, then who am I to tell them what to like? I must point out that it’s not authentically American any more than freakin’ Olive Garden is authentically Italian. I just don’t understand why the nation that gave us the Mona Lisa and real pizza would settle for a cheap knockoff when they already know what it means to be an original.

hedy lamarr

The Odd Tale Of How World War II Era Actress Hedy Lamarr Gave Us Wireless Connectivity.

By: Chris Warren.

History often takes unusual, sometimes bizarre paths back to an origin, and the farther back something happened, the less known the strange details are. For example: Ask 100 people on the street who Hedy Lamarr was and it would be surprising if even one gives a correct answer. Here’s the kicker: Hedy Lamarr invented something in 1942 that the average person today uses all the time and carries with them everywhere they go.

Hedy Lamarr was about as far from the image of a technical innovator and inventor as one could expect. As a hugely popular actress in the 1930’s and 40’s, she graced movie screens with the likes of Spencer Tracy and Clark Gabel. With such a busy filming schedule, it’s amazing that she had time to dabble in science. Yet dabble she did, and in what might have been one of those Hollywood-esque eureka! moments, Hedy Lamar invented what is now known as spread spectrum frequency transmission.

I know…I can sense my readers’ eyes glazing over. Stay with me a little longer and don’t click away from this page. Lamarr’s invention and personality is relevant to your modern life in ways you may not realize. Much more than someone who both starred in movies and changed the world with her invention, Hedy Lamarr tells a personal story that goes deeper than art and science.

It is very easy to interfere with a transmitter that sits on the same frequency all the time. In World War II this had serious implications for radio communications. All the enemy had to do was find the frequency the Allies were on was on and jam it, or they could quietly eavesdrop and collect intelligence data.

But if the transmitter constantly changes frequencies, and the receiver changes with it, then the transmission is much more secure because it never stays on any one channel for very long. It would be impossible for the enemy to follow the constant changes.

That’s basically how spread spectrum frequency transmission works. Hedy Lamarr, along with a musician neighbor, came up with a device that used something similar to paper piano rolls to change the frequencies. As long as both the transmitter and receiver had copies of the same roll, and the rolls were running exactly in sync, the system would work. The paper rolls were a 1940’s version of “software.” Lamarr was granted a patent on August 11, 1942.

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As things went, the US Navy took a pass on Hedy Lamarr’s invention until 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis forced the American military to up their technological game. By then the patent had expired but Lamarr’s legacy was secure. Today, cellphones, wifi, Bluetooth, remote controlled devices, security alarms, public safety communications systems…almost everything wireless uses some form of spread spectrum. The frequency hopping is controlled by computers instead of paper rolls and occurs thousands of times per second. The net result is less interference and more security.

Great discoveries often come from unusual origins. There are other examples out there, but a World War II era movie queen with no formal engineering credentials coming up with an invention that touches every moment of our modern lives is possibly the most profound.

Hedy Lamarr died in obscurity in 2000, just about when cellphones became an everyday item and well before Bluetooth or wifi. She did not live to see her invention come into common use, but I’ll bet a thoughtful mind like hers sensed she was on to something that was valuable for more than just avoiding the Nazis. Lamarr was posthumously inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2014.

And that my friends is the offbeat story behind one of the most important technological developments of the modern age. Perhaps unintentionally, Hedy Lamarr also taught us something about weaknesses in human nature such as doubting others’ abilities based on stereotypes and not being open to ideas from unexpected sources. Hedy Lamarr is living proof that greatness often comes from the direction we are not looking.

music

When Music Mattered.

By: Chris Warren.

I am a huge consumer of music. My iPod is nearly full and I’ve been a subscriber to SiriusXM radio for over ten years. I listen to jazz standards and screaming thrash metal and classic rock and country and everything. A lot of what I’m into is just for entertainment, but some of it says something meaningful to me. What has become apparent is that new music does not seem to say anything at all.

Rewind back to the 1960s-1970s Vietnam era. The war was in the headlines every day. We The People, particularly the young people, were getting sick of it and the music of the time reflected the sentiment. It was a Golden Age when music was not just about making a profit. It was a vote, an editorial, and a prayer all rolled into one. You may not have agreed with what they were saying, but they deserved respect for the effort they put into saying it.

Today, not only does music have little to say (unless killing cops and having sex is “saying something”), it does not take a whole lot of talent to say it. Carefully crafting chords and downbeats, you know, actually singing and playing an instrument, has been dispensed with. Now they just slap some junk together and let a computer sort out the details. All bow down to Auto-Tune.

There is an episode of the animated TV show South Park where father Randy Marsh, disgusted by the kids’ idea of “talent” as hitting high score on the video game Guitar Hero, tries to show them the artistry of Kansas’ classic Carry On My Wayward Son as performed on a real guitar. Predictably, the kids are appalled. Satire and comically horrible vocals notwithstanding, that one short scene encapsulates the generational disconnect about music. It’s not about musicianship or artistry, it’s about memorizing what button to push or having a good marketing agent.

The computerization of music is not necessarily bad. Times change, technology moves forward, and I love my iPod and SiriusXM. I’m not old enough to have ever owned an 8-track tape, but I know I don’t want them back! What is bad is the complete lack of effort and thought put into modern music. Led Zepplin, Styx, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel…not a single one of them could get a recording contract as a new act today. Their music is nowhere near shallow and superficial enough for what sells now.

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The social commentary and protest songs of the 60’s and 70’s are still relevant and still have a large following, not just because the music is well composed and performed, but also because decades later it still isn’t done telling its story. Anyone want to bet if Justin Bieber or Nicki Manaj will be considered artistic treasures forty-plus years from now?

The political climate probably has a lot to do with the lack of dissent in modern music. In politics, there are very few fence sitters. Music is a commodity and bands are run like corporations. As such, they go only for what sells. The few that drift out of the center lane accept that by embracing one side they are volunteering to be outcasts to everyone else. Socially conscious music may be virtuous and philosophically pure, but it seldom pays the bills.

Justin Bieber will never have to worry about one of his songs being hijacked for a political or social cause.

We have an election year coming up, and as sure as the weeds grow every spring there is no shortage of aging hippy rock stars whining that they don’t want their music used in a particular party’s or candidate’s campaign. Never mind that the campaigns paid licensing fees for the legal right to use the music (although the law does give the artists some say in the matter). And never mind that a lot of these old bands get a badly needed career boost from the publicity that comes from their songs being used by a political campaign, even if it’s for a candidate they disagree with.

The 60s and 70s antiestablishment spirit still burns bright in the hearts of the old rock legends who are still around. Their objections today seem rather petty compared to the statements they were originally trying to make with their art, yet I admire them for sticking to their principles. For sure, Justin Bieber will never have to worry about one of his songs being hijacked for a political or social cause.