Saturday, April 04, 2015

Pete's 22, and the Many, Many Open Mad Men Questions Before the Final Episodes

One last stab at trying to wrap it all up before the series conclusion starts tomorrow.

Will the series end in 1969, or will it bleed into 1970? Will we see a years-after scene of some sort? Will it end on a trite New Year's Eve, or will the series do one last time-jump of some sort?

Important events of 1969 yet to come after Season 7 Episode 7: the Manson Family murders, the Beatles crossing Abbey Road, Woodstock (will Sally go?), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid is released, the Mets win the World Series (you have to believe *that* one will make it in, given the repeated shout-outs to the Mets over the years and the lingering token of Lane Pryce's Mets' pennant finding Don in 7.4), debut of the 747 (continuing the series' use of planes and jet age imagery - that plus the first flight ended in New York City, on December 2), the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont (the unofficial "end of the 1960's).

What musical outros will guide us down the final seven episodes? The latter half of 1969 is replete with classic releases, from the first Stooges album to Nick Drake's debut album to breakout albums from Laura Nyro and David Bowie to Abbey Road and Let It Bleed (ominously, in December). But please, no Harry Chapin.

Will Don get into an elevator? Will the elevator be used as a heavy-handed metaphor for something going on in Don's life? Will he fall down an elevator shaft? Will he overhear some important plot detail from an elevator? Will he get into a fight in an elevator? Answers: Yes, yes, maybe, yes, yes, and yes.

Will Ben Michaelson, Don's Lawyer, finally make an appearance on screen? Will it be to get Don out of that awful contract with McCann?

Speaking of which, are we finally going to meet Hubert Green and the crack team of executives from Secor Laxative, the firm's most loyal client through ten (plus) years and four changes of ownership? How about seeing a little of the creative?

Will there be an acting role for a taxi driver? Or will we learn Mad Men is set in a parallel universe where there are robot taxis in the 1960's?

Will Ginsburg make a cameo, a la Paul Kinsey and Danny Siegel? If it's a sad expository scene underscoring the insanity of modern life set in the nuthouse, as with Pete and Beth, I'll be disappointed. Buick's Bob Benson?

We've already skipped over the Stonewall Riots (in June of 1969) and gone straight to the moon landing, missing a golden opportunity to find one of the series' best-loved write-off characters in the midst of the historical action, or at least running away from it. Will Sal Romano show up again, out of the closet and directing fabulous, fabulous commercials?

Which former paramours of Don - there are so many to choose from - will make an appearance? Or are we past the monkeying around of Sex and getting down to the brass tacks of Death? There are some good candidates - Sylvia Rosen is still in the building, Rachel Menken Katz was still in Don's heart, and poor Suzanne Farrell was literally left holding the bag the last time we saw her - Lord knows Dr. Faye has every motivation to come after Don with Pete's .22 - but my money's on Betty being the only significant figure from Don's past love life to play a real role in the end.

Uh oh. The Manson murders were just three weeks after the moon landing. Is Megan's Sharon Tate t-shirt going to be just one of those coincidences? Hunch: Megan's going to know somebody involved, and something will happen as a result, and it will not be that interesting. (We are hoping it's not flying back to Don's arms.)

We all know Harry Crane will never, ever make partner. Will Roger finally get his wish and get Harry fired, or will he become the king of SC&P, lording over the agency from his throne in the computer room?

Will Henry become Attorney General and continue his rise, or will be become Lieutenant Governor and join the obscure dustbin of history?

Who, exactly, is Pete going to end up shooting with the .22 rifle  that's been hanging around since Season 1, episode 3? Or is this the Godot of Chekhovian guns, never to be actual shot after all? It is the last act.

A small but persistently nagging question leftover from season 2: was Anita's little boy actually Peggy's? If so will Peggy reunite with him as his mother, or be forced to make a choice between career and having a family?

Will Sally lose her virginity? Please, please God, if it happens, please don't let it be to Glenn. (The acting talents of the two young actors in this off-again, off-again romance spread over eight years have diverged mightily, and what chemistry might have been created for either a happy or sad first physical union has now veered over into the prospect of simply yucky.)

Will Don Draper literally die, literally plunge off a building, and literally see his life's work fly by? Or will Don be killed metaphorically so that Dick Whitman can live?

What, exactly, is going to be the fruition of all this astronaut imagery and explicit reference from the previous nine seasons? Apollo 12 is barely remembered and the drama of Apollo 13 lies in 1970.

Will Ken Cosgrove quit advertising to become, oh, say, John Irving? Duh, of course.

Will we have the fifth Bobby Draper? Will anybody in the family notice the only regular character in the series to have been played by different actors is any different?

Will Captain Harris be killed in Vietnam, freeing Joan to marry Roger, which she will refuse to do? Will Joan end up as President of the new agency?

Will Roger get back together with Mona? Of course.

Will Peggy and Stan split off to form their own agency, or be content as mid-level cogs at McCann? Will Peggy and Stan, you know, get together finally? What about Peggy and the now-suicidal but New York bound Ted Chaough? What about Peggy and the hunky handyman, Nick? Answer: Peggy always will have her cat.

Will Betty get a life? I keep thinking that ship has sailed, but hope springs eternal. Episode 2 of season 1 started out with establishing the basic conflict of an intelligent woman bred and inculcated into living a life of background subservience to men's more important doings, but the series has never quite stepped into the pitch and swung for the fence with Betty. We can only hope she realizes that Henry is not that much of an improvement over Don, and at least joins Francine at the travel agency.

Will the show, in the end, be about Don or about Peggy? Will it be about the irredeemable burden of the past preventing personal evolution (Don) or the great leap forward of liberation (Peggy)?

Will anybody care in seven weeks?

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Case Against Bobsledding



The origins of this sport were in tobogganing. Can you recognize the modern bobsled as a toboggan? You cannot. A bobsleigh was invented by putting sled runners on a toboggan, as a novelty for mountain resort guests. It was primarily popular at St. Moritz and a few competing resort areas in Switzerland and Germany. Next they added on a steering wheel. Then they put on the space cowling to cut down on air drag. Now the top of the line bobsleds cost between $25,000 and purportedly a million dollars for the BMW-designed sleds.

There are only 17 bobsled runs in the entire world. 15 of them were built for Olympic games. Originally just laid out on a mountain on snow, first they watered them down to get an ice run to build up the speed. Now they're all artificially-iced, prescribed courses. ALL of the modern tracks have been designed by one person.

It's not like snowboarding or archery where anybody who wants to can try out the sport as a novice. A junior in the US program spends $40 a day just to stay at the facility; it takes $20,000 a year to keep a junior in the training program for luge, skeleton, and bobsled. The ones who prove to be good drivers but aren't good enough athletes for luge or skeleton are the only ones who "graduate" to bobsled. It's actually far more accessible to join motor sports as a junior competitor. It's more elitist than yachting. Bavarian Curling - Ice Stock Sport - has far more participants worldwide.  Casual Olympics watchers may recall the Crown Prince of Monaco was an Olympic Bobsledder, granting a set of sprinters citizenship and bankrolling the whole thing because…well, he wanted to be an Olympic athlete.

You *can* take a bobsled ride - with a professional driver in front of you and brakeman behind you, from a start where somebody else pushes off, for half the distance the Olympians go (at least in Utah and at Lake Placid). For your 90 seconds at Lake Placid, you pay $85 (but you get a souvenir photo).

There are two kinds of bobsledders. There are the drivers, who are as specialized an athlete as you can imagine. They basically spend their training time not associated with training to make ten steps pushing the sled in memorizing the exact turns of all the bobsled runs in the world. Over and over they run them in simulations, until they've got full memory of every turn. Not to say there isn't a lot of skill involved; but unlike skiing, where the slopes are different and often the courses are laid out differently from year to year, the bobsled runs are never changing.

Then there are the pushers/brakemen. Their one and only skill is running fast and jumping in the sled, which is why you have world class sprinters now replacing pretty much every former winter sports person.

As Slate pointed out in an article, you get highly predictable results from a competition where you make four runs on exactly the same track with the same athletes. The team in first place after one run wins 70% of the time, after two runs 85%, and after three runs - 100%. Slate called the fourth run the most meaningless contest in athletics, and with the exception of the Pro Bowl, I will agree.

Even so, the variation among the top competitors is in thousandths of seconds. The predictability of the times on a given event is extremely high.

it is a sport that exists for one reason only: because it's an Olympic event. (A tenuous enough one that it was briefly dropped in 1960 due to lack of participating countries.) Countries want those medal counts so they pay for the Olympic program (Jamaica's team is currently sponsored by the Jamaican tourism board) because it's an Olympic sport. There are a few sports invented for the Olympics (decathlon, for example, or that funky skateboard-on-skis/snowboards event, slopestyle, they added in recently or any of the X games things) but they're hybrids of other events or sports.

I say: fake sport. There is nothing "sporting" about it, little drama or amazement at the athleticism.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Parable of the Cave

Today is the 72nd anniversary of the discovery of the cave paintings at Lascaux. There are other paleolithic paintings, and many were known prior to Lascaux, but the sheer volume, the imagery, the immediacy, and the "signatures" (traced hands) at Lascaux are still sui generis.

Here we have a time tunnel to 15,000 BC, to see how humans thought, how dominating the world around them was, as they still clung barely to survival of the species. The depiction of animals and the stars has often been attributed, without much evidence, as being part of the cosmology or religion of people at large. For all we know, it could just as easily have been some lone artist, grooving on his or her own aesthetic. Maybe they just loved drawing. Perhaps the artists' (artist's?) contemporaries considered the activity weird, or maybe it was the center of recreation, or a contest, not a religious rite. Who knows? The "art" may have been the birth of science: taxonomy of animals, depictions of recognizable clusters of stars. (At Lascaux, we have human witness to the truth of evolution: disappeared species are depicted, their bones available for inspection and confirmation of their existence nearby; surviving species are shown in earlier forms. We have evolved since then as well.) In any event, it's (now) a monument to human creativity that predates any surviving building or written record, and more to the point, the drawings are still just fun to look at, without any context. With the context, they're fairly jaw-dropping.

But the cautionary tale of Lascaux is not in the creation of the paintings, or the mysteries of the art, but what's happened to the paintings since.

I have always loved the fact the paintings were rediscovered by a group of teenagers, goofing around, with their dog (named Robot). In terms of the cycle of rebirth and rediscovery, I find this more heartening than if they'd been discovered by an academic expedition or some official organization. Of course, the site, even during World War II, was quickly taken over by "authorities" and "experts", who have held sway ever since.

And this brief 72-year history of modern supervision has been a disaster for the paintings. First thousands of visitors a day tromped through: I don't blame them, I'd love a chance to see these in person as well. Their gaseous emissions -- carbon dioxide, of course -- started degrading the paintings that had sat for 170 centuries relatively well preserved almost immediately, to the point they had to close the caves off to the public in 1963. In the ensuing years, attempts to "preserve" the caves with humidity control, the use of lighting, and simple disturbance of the soil have kicked up lichens, formed crystals, and introduced various forms of toxic molds that are destroying the art fairly efficiently, considering the time frame involved. The laws of unintended consequences certainly apply, but such consequences should be expected, because it's our way to leave a path of dissolution in our wake.



Our footprint is heavy: how many of those extinct species depicted did we extinguish ourselves through hunting? Is the quest to understand ourselves worth the destruction of our own heritage? What responsibilities do we have to our posterity?

Talk to the hand.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Five Things I Liked About Sally Ride

5. She went to Swarthmore. OK, for three semesters, but I strongly suspect Swarthmore of her era did not provide her with the kind of updrafts for her to spread her particular wings and fly. But I love that she started out there, and she had the sense to move on. (And I point out to future generations, she did not leave Swat with the intent of transferring; she dropped out, ostensibly to focus on tennis.)

4. She was a lesbian with a committed partner of 27 years.  Can we edit this in the future? This should be jarring to someone who reads it years hence as being a weird thing for me to note. To say nothing here, at all, and that in her obituary she left her wife of 27 years behind as a survivor? Because Sally Ride, first American woman in space, is the tagline for her obituary, which in 1983 was a huge freaking deal because of where we were, so wretchedly, in 1983. But I want to point out the issue in 2012 is that Ride died with a loving wife, and because of the lack of legal recognition, she won't have the simple line in her obituary that "legally married" Americans have. Maybe she didn't want to get married, I don't know. A hundred years from now maybe she'll be forgotten for "both" "achievements" (was she the first gay person in space? I don't know), but you know what, in 2012, I say, this is what an Astronaut-hero is. And you're going to tell me her survivor couldn't be buried next to her in Arlington (if that's what she had chosen for burial, at least)? Is this how America treats its heroes? Well, it's how it treats everybody who's gay. You could cure cancer, balance the federal budget, save Lassie from a burning building, and defeat Voldemort and in America in 2012, if you happen to be a lesbian, that won't get you a marriage license if you want one. It won't get your spouse survivors' benefits and it won't get them the simple recognition as a widow.

3. She was a Steely-Eyed Missile Man. This was the phrase they used in the 1960s, during the most macho and testosterone-fueled era of astronautics, to describe somebody who could solve complex and demanding problems under pressure. Its obvious phallic overtones had their origins in the test pilot program, but were extended to the technicians and engineers who worked problems on the launch pad. Ride was famous, famous for being cool under pressure in training and in space, notably while controlling the centerpiece robotic arm in the shuttle. Was she ever called a Steely-Eyed Missile Man? Well, I'm calling her one. She was a damned good engineer by all accounts.

2. She believed Roger Boisjoly. She ranks up there with Richard Feynman for unraveling the engineering side of the story, all too obvious in its origins of groupthink and "go fever",  of the Challenger disaster in 1986. Boisjoly was, like most whistleblowers, ostracized instead of lauded for truth-telling. I don't know whether Ride had a special position of security that allowed her to publicly support Boisjoly at a time when he was being scapegoated, or was perhaps even more vulnerable because of lingering sexism, or because of her sexual identity, but either way it still took a lot of courage to speak truth to power in that atmosphere.

1. She did not sell herself; she was not full of herself. In a society full of self-promotion and hype, and at a time when NASA is all about constant public relations to try to keep the human flight program prominent, she didn't yap. She might have been a booster of NASA, to be sure, but she was not a self-booster. She didn't take endorsements. She didn't make a big deal out of herself, even though she was, yes, a big deal. You can make the argument she was just a private person, or she didn't, with good reason, want her private life on a pedestal, or she was just an engineer at heart. Maybe the Gary Cooper attitude was a myth, and we've always been a nation of hucksters, but I prefer my heroes to be humans, not cardboard cutouts.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Extruberescence

extruberescence - (n) - an architectural feature, usually an addition, which does not match the original style of the building to which it is attached, in an unattractive and particularly noticeable manner. Also: a general term for an architectural crime.

Example: "Ooo, what a lovely Craftsman!" "Wait, what's that extruberescence on the side of the house?" "MY GOD, it's a vinyl-sided hot tub enclosure with sliding glass doors!"