“Cafe Society”: Woody Allen, Jesse Eisenberg and Steve Carell bring back the moral compass of George Gilder’s “Men and Marriage”

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Name: Cafe Society
Director, writer:  Woody Allen
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2016/7/30, Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax, late, fair crowd
Length 96
Rating PG-13
Companies: Lionsgate, Amazon Studios
Link: official site

Café Society”, written and directed by Woody Allen, is indeed a cute film, cleverly worded and setup.  It’s funny indeed.  Should we look deeper for meaning?

The movie opens in the mid 1930s at a Hollywood party in LA.  It’s blue and opulent, and apart from the Mafia slayings that occur intermittently throughout the film, there’s no hint of the suffering of ordinary people from the Great Depression, or hint of coming war and the draft.  Producer Phil Stern (Steve Carell, only partially recovered from having become a “man-o-lantern” ten years ago) gets a long distance call (a big deal in those days) from her sister  in New York(Jeannie Berlin) that her self-indulgent son Bobby (Jessie Eisenberg) is moving out from the Bronx to find himself in Tinseltown.

Uncle Phil is supposed to help Bobby get established, with a job and apartment, and call girls.  All of that happens, and Bobby turns out to be much more responsible than expected.  Bobby really behaves like the real Jessie Eisenberg, writer himself of morality plays like “The Spoils” (which ought to become an indie movie). He’s not quite capable of being the real Mark Zuckerberg today. (Jessie, by the way, is said to rescue homeless cats, but that doesn’t come up in the film.)

The plot wrinkle comes when Jessie dates Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) who is simultaneously busting the marriage of his uncle.  This idea brings up the old “sexual princess” idea of George Gilder’s “Men and Marriage” book (1986, which had been preceded by “Sexual Suicide” in 1973),  That is to say, wealth and powerful middle-aged men pick up nubile young women and wreck the chance for younger men to get established. Even Andrew Sullivan (“Virtually Normal“) has recognized Gilder’s ideas.

Bobby goes back to New York, marries and has a family anyway, and the movie accelerates into mob history and even the death penalty before settling down.

Lionsgate avoided playing the Wagnerian music accompanying its trademark trailer, so as not to belittle the humble jazz score of the movie.

Picture: Disneyland, 2012, my picture.

(Posted: Sunday, July 31, 9:45 AM, EDT)

“The Night Before”: If it’s not Christmas, it’s when kids start studying for finals

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Name: “The Night Before”
Director, writer:  Jonathan Levine
Released:  2016/1
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/7/30, Netflix DVD
Length 110
Rating R
Companies: Columbia (Sony)
Link: official site


The Night Before” (2015), written and directed by Jonathan Levine, may provide more fuel to Google’s assertion that it must protect free speech, even for Seth Rogen movies.  That, of course, referred to “The Interview” back in 2013.

Rogen plays Isaac, who along with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as Ethan) and Anthony Mackie as Chris, form a tag trio looking for a “Nutcracka” of a Christmas Party on Christmas Eve in New York.  (A little bit of Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” actually gets played in the soundtrack, unfortunately.)  They ride around in a Red Bull limo (not Uber), and finally go through a “Corridor” into a bizarre, kinky disco party at the end.

Gordon-Levitt, remember, had starred in “Mysterious Skin” (2005) in a most provocative role as a precocious teen, and has shown off his talent as a host of SNL.  In an early scene in the film, Ethan is running around in green leggings as an elf in a department store, and gets one more chance to keep his boring retail, proletarian job.

There’s plenty of crude language and talk about primary sexual characteristics for both men and women, as if they became a measure of becoming “desirable” or of evolutionary survival.  This talk turns this into private assessment of what people “have”, not what they can do. Nothing much happens to anyone’s bod in the disco finale, however.

I can remember asking friends in high school when they started studying for final exams.  The answer was usually, “the night before”.

(Published: Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 5:45 PM EDT)

“Suited”: a tailoring business in Brooklyn meets the needs of hard-to-fit customers (including transgender)

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Name: Suited
Director, writer:  Jason Benjamin
Released:  2016/6
Format:  standard 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  HBO GO, 2016/7/28 thru Xfinity
Length 76
Rating NA   (PG-13?)
Companies: HBO Documentary, Sundance
Link: official site 

Suited” (2016, directed by Jason Benjamin, produced by Lena Dunham)  , a new HBO Documentary (premiered in June), traces the setup and work of a tailor company in Brooklyn called “Bindle and Keep”, which emphasizes making custom suits for people, especially transgender men (female to male).

The company’s niche is based on the idea that many men cannot easily find a suit that fits off the rack in conventional department stores of men’s shops.   The earliest scenes depict the entrepreneurial owner (himself a female-to-male) examining the new work space, apparently near Liberty Center in Brooklyn.

Later he works with various clients and finally helps with a wedding (which is female to a female-to-male trans, which I could have viewed as heterosexual – the marriage might have been “legal” even in the past, before gay marriage became legal in New York and in all 50 states).

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I can remember, as a teen and college age person growning up in the DC area, going to Schwartz, a factory  in Baltimore for most of my suits.  When I started working, I think I had seven suits: chartreuse, gray, brown, dark blue, black, and plaid blue, and then an ultra-cheap second gray.  I do remember the fitting rooms.  I used to hate them as a child (all the accidental needle pricks).  There was some mild pressure when I worked for Sperry Univac (1972-1974, in New Jersey) to dress up better and be willing to spend more on clothes – which you never really had to do.  I never bought the idea that you could make a less “desirable” (according to the notions of a few decades ago) bod by “covering it up” with snazzy clothes.  But even in the 70s, some progressive women tried to encourage less “competitive men” (like me) to “go hippy” in order to “make up for it.”

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The film reminds me of the 19th century meta-novel or poioumenon, “Sartor Resartus” by Thomas Carlyle (“The Tailor Re-Railored”).  I can remember plenty of little jokes about “sartorial taste” early in my own working life.

HBO had created a “Get Suited” contest , where (LGTBQ) youth were asked to submit videos to win a trip to NYC and get a suit from the company.

Here are three clips from the contest:

Brenda:

Will:

Jaehla:

Published: Friday, July 29, 2016 at 11:15 AM EDT.

First picture: Redhook area of Brooklyn, mine, Feb. 2013;  second: BargeMusic in East River, near Brooklyn Bridge, mine, June 2011.

“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”: they need to be careful about “What Women Want”

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Name: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
Director, writer:  Jake Szymanski
Released:  2016/7
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/7/27, fair audience
Length 100
Rating R
Companies: 20th Century Fox (when will Fox convert the trademark to “21st Century?”)
Link: official site

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” (Jake Szymanski) is indeed silly, and must have been tedious to write (Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien).

The plot is that the two “bro’s” played by Zac Efron and Adam Devine, are so reckless that their father wants them to find specific dates for a big wedding of the sister in Hawaii.

So, they advertise on Craigslist (low tech). They get responses written on their Facebook timelines.  They get transgender people and regular gay men among the respondents, until real women show up in what looks like an “I Hate Speed-dating” scenario (that’s the name of another script I have seen).

But the real curiosity about this film is the male leads. Zachary David Alexander Efron is, at 28, at his physical summer solstice. He’s solid, well bulked up, with the “right amount” of chest hair.  Efron, remember, played the teen “Troy Bolton” in all of Disney’s “High School Musical” and even Cameron Bale in WB’s TV series “Summerland” about how a single woman raises her sister’s kids on the west coast after a family auto accident in the Midwest. Efron was an AP student in high school while doing these early acting gigs.  He was the sort of person you wanted to have in class when you (or I) worked as a substitute teacher.

But Adam Devine is something else.  He looks a little puffy.  Despite the trailers (and the pics which duplicate Zac with his chest painted in water colors) Adam never goes shirtless, even in a scene of simulated intercourse.  Is that because he’s recovering from a silly ad for AllState where he becomes a “man-o-lantern”, like Steve Carell had in “The Forty Year-Old Virgin” (2005, Universal)  (an implicit nod to David Skinner’s 1999 essay in the “conservative” Weekly Standard, “Notes on the Hairless Man“, with all the speculation about  men and family, like “we cannot erase general notions of manliness from popular culture and expect today’s boys to become tomorrow’s protectors and providers”). Or is this about “What Women Want” (2000, Paramount), with Mel Gibson, featuring depilatory strips to accelerate going bald in the legs.

Needless to say, the Hawaii scenery is lush, most of all in the aerialized buggy scenes.

Wikipedia attribution link for 3-D map of Oahu under CCSA 3.0 by Marin Adamiker.

(Published: Thursday, July 28, 2016, at 1 PM EDT)

“Jackrabbit”: a dystopian world centered around Texas after the “Reset”

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Name: Jackrabbit
Director, writer:  Carleton Raney
Released:  2015
Format:  digital video 16:9
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play 2016-7-26
Length 100
Rating NA (PG-13?)
Companies: Vopo, Gravitas Ventures:
Link: official site

Jackrabbit” (2015), by Carleton Raney, depicts another account of what could happen to “us” if our technology fails us, because of solar storm or EMP.

Sometime a couple decades from now, after “The Reset”., people in “City” of Section 6 believe they are the only people on the planet left with technology, but they stay in an enclave and are told to stay indoors most of the time to avoid pollution.

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When Eric (Ryan Dailey) is found dead in a bathtub, Simon (Josh Caras) a nerdy computer technician from the one remaining tech company, Vopo,  and his rebellious friend Max (Ian Christopher Noel) hack the hard drive and circuit board he left behind to figure out what is going on in the “outside” world. It’s a world of 80s-looking CRT’s and keyboards, and ancient computer games.  It’s hard to explain how a “reset” would have taken them back three decades.  The duo visits a compound in the desert that seems like a Maoist reeducation colony.

Caras was the super-attractive and naive teen kid “Ben” in the cult horror classic “Bugcrush” (2006). (That film could be remade as feature-length, or maybe have a sequel to tell us what really “happened” to Ben!)  He may have gained a little weight and looks just a little flush here. There’s a great line where his boss and mentor (Reed Birney) asks him “Did you lose anything during the Reset?”  He may be too young to know. Yes, you need to have something to lose to care.

The film was shot around Austin, TX, as well as in the Hill Country and possibly the Big Bend country farther west.  It’s dry, and barren, with mesquite, all rather November-like.

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The video has a technical issue with the miking of the voices, which are often very low volume and hard to hear at any distance from the speakers, compared to music and sound effects.

(Posted: Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 10 PM EDT)

“Star Trek: Beyond” shows a couple of plausible alternate civilizations, like a “super-Dubai” rama sphere

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Name: Star Trek: Beyond
Director, writer:  Justin Lin
Released:  2016/7
Format:  2.35:1  3-D Imax
When and how viewed:  Ballston Common Regal, 2016/7/25, small audience
Length 122
Rating PG-13
Companies: Paramount, Skydance, Bad Robot
Link: official

Star Trek: Beyond”, directed by Justin Lin, appears to be the 13th film in the franchise.  And it presents some interesting visual concepts of what alien civilizations could look like.

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One of the environments is the globe “Yorktown”, which looks like a mini Dyson’s Sphere (or a gyroscope, like the object in Sagan’s 1997 movie “Contact“, or even an astrolabe).  It comprises threats of rama-like strips of cities (inspired by Dubai, where some filming was done), each with its own gravity (from “gravity plates” beneath the surface) but where the other threads are visible at various angles.  I would love to have seen a minute-long “Metro” ride through the various threads (something that Regal Cinemas does in an effective animated “roller coaster” short for its own theater chain). Captain Kirk (Chris Pine)  has applied for a promotion in Yorktown, and wants Spock (Zachary Qunito) to be his chief commander.  Quinto plays Spock’s mild Asperger’s well, leaving him with a kind of “Alan Turning” kind of charisma (although in the movie he still has girl friends).

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The crew gets called to go on a rescue mission on an earth-like planet, with odd jungles, and desert landscapes with lots of bone-like rocky spires, and above-ground communities with odd parasols and toy figures.

The film honors Anton Yelchin, who was killed in a freak car accident involving misleading gear information, story here.

The film has a false opening, where Kirk is interrogated in a training session by little creatures who look like Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars.  Soon, in a quarters seen, we see that Kirk’s job has already cost him his chest hair.  Later, there is a scene on the other planet where the creatures ask if they are hearing “classical music” to a pop song.  The music score, by Michael Giacchino, plays the well known Star Wars melody and arranges a concert overture with songs for the closing credits.

(Published: Monday, July 25, 2016 at 7:15 PM)

“Captain Fantastic”: prepper comedy that pays homage to Noam Chomsky

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Name: Captain Fantastic
Director, writer:  Matt Ross
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/7/23, at The Charles Theater, Baltimore, large audience, evening
Length 118
Rating R (some very explicit nudity and biological language, which is quite funny in context)
Companies: Bleecker St
Link: Official site 

Captain Fantastic”, directed and written by Matt Ross, somewhat resembles the “Wilderpeople” comedy (July 10) but is even more focused on fatherhood, in a domestic American (western) setting.

As the film opens, father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) Is leading his six kids in a camouflage deer hunt in Washington state’s Cascade mountains (which are often shown with stunning views). The kids paste their bodies, even more than we did in Army basic.  The movie shows us their campground with its little huts, barracks like sleeping quarters, gardens, and animal husbandry.  Soon the kids are all rappelling, and one of the young kids slips and apparent breaks his wrist.  Daddy and the other kids fix him up.

They go around in a “vancredible” bus.  They’re also home schooled.  Soon we learn that the kids know the great books of literature (George Elliot’s “Middlemarch” and I believe Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native” get mentioned or show up in the “library”), can do the science and math, and the oldest boy, Bo(a charismatic and fit George Mackay) has gotten into every Ivy league college. Bo likes to quote political manifestos, and at one point says he is a “Troskyite” but may become a “Maoist”.  That makes sense, because Maoism (in the Chinese cultural revolution of the 1960s) had involved everyone taking his turn as a peasant or “prole”.

Ben is no right wing doomsday prepper (and the film doesn’t get into the area of guns).  His hero is Noam Chomsky, and on Chomsky’s birthday, he fakes a heart attack in a supermarket so the kids can shoplift groceries. That’s after an emergency room scene where one of the kids notices that most patients are fat (and probably diabetic). You don’t say those things in public.  It’s like saying Amish kids are usually much fitter than modern teens.

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We learn that Ben’s wife – the kids’ mom – has committed suicide in a mental hospital, and the conflict over her father’s (the kids’ maternal grandparents) funeral plans generate the rest of the plot. The patriarch is Jack (Frank Langella), who lives in New Mexico in a huge estate.  Although Jack first threatens Ben with arrest if he comes, Ben takes the family down and they attempt a reconciliation (and now the scenery switches to New Mexico deserts and mountains). The main conflict now comes from mom’s will and her funeral wishes, which had expected modest ceremony, cremation, and disposal of the ashes, in comparison to the lavish funeral desired by Jack.  Ben proves disruptive, which provokes the climax of the film.  Maybe in the end, the kids (most of all Bo) all win out.

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The idea of wanting to downplay a funeral, especially if death occurs in certain shameful or violent circumstances, is an idea that has occurred to me.  The idea was even explored on NBC’s “Days of our Lives” with EJ’s murder.

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Wikipedia attribution link for I90 thru Snoqualimie Pass in Washington, p.d., from Byways.org    I had an “ephiphany” there at lunch in 1978 on vacation, which would turn out to be prophetic in a few years.

Wikipedia attribution link for view from Lama Foundation (north of Taos, NM), which I visited in 1980 and again in 1984 (“Spring Work Camp”).     The facility sustained a

(Published: Sunday, July 24, 2016 at 11:15 AM)

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“Rebirth”: an appealing young man is enticed to join a “real life” cult

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Name: Rebirth
Director, writer:  Karl Mueller
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/7/22 Netflix instant play
Length 100
Rating R
Companies: Campfire, Heretic Films, Netflix
Link: Reddit

Rebirth” (2016), directed and written by Karl Mueller, is one of those “road” movies where an appealing young adult man goes on a little trip to get initiated into something maybe dangerous (think “Bugcrush”).  Structurally, it’s a little like the short story “The Ocelot the Way He Is” that closes my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book.

In fact, protagonist Kyle  (Fran Kranz) and his former best friend had authored a little paper “Manifesto” years earlier.  If someone associated with the concept of this film knows me, it could be relevant that my 1997 DADT-1 book was called “The Manifesto” before “Manifesto” had become a bad word (although the Unabomber had almost made the word bad in 1995).  But this fictitious manifesto is supposed to be uplifting, about living “real life”.

Kyle works for his dad in a bank, in what looks like modern day LA (although there is a freeway scene with cars going the wrong way – was this film shot in Australia?) One day, that best friend, a rather disheveled and tattooed Zack (Adam Goldberg) shows up at his office (I wouldn’t do that to a friend) and inveigles Kyle to go to a weekend self-help experience with what sounds like an elaborate run cult, “Rebirth”.  I hope I don’t risk litigation by wondering if there is some allusion to scientology.

It needs to be said that Kyle is made to look as close as possible to the desirable, perfect young male, with a tender face and a slender, muscular hairy body, all ready for exploration, at least in fantasy.

The experience starts with innocent steps, like a hotel night, then a bus ride, and then an orientation at what looks like a gay dirty disco dance, for straight men. (Oh, yes, Kyle is married with wife and kids and big house, probably underwater.)  There are some “rules”, like secrecy, but the most important rule is “no spectators”.  After all, “spectators judge and criticize.”  Kyle has to surrender his cell phone for a while, which, you guessed it, opens him up to identity theft and bank account drains.

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All of this reminds me of how things go in discos today.  In fact, if you gawk, people (not your type) wil challenge you to dance with them.  The phone surrender reminds me of the Black Party that used to be held by the Saint in New York;  I think no phones are allowed.  (I wish they would release a DVD indie film of footage from the parties – but I could recommend the 2000 film “Circuit” by Jake Shafer, set in Palm Springs).

What happens, besides all the double talk of sales manipulation in the script (rather cleverly written), is a series of encounters (rather like Rosenfels-ian “gay talk groups” for straight people) in various decrepit rooms.  Finally, there is a sexual encounter (straight), where Kyle “gets it” although the scene could have done more with this.  Kyle’s character then will be tested, and whether he can contain an animal urge for violence is also on the block.

It’s too much of a spoiler to say the ending, but maybe this explains how some commercial cult-like self-help and motivational movements succeed.  I can recall going to an impromptu “feeling good about yourself” session at a hotel in Helena, Montana, of all places in 1981.  I’ve been to sessions like Est, Understanding, Lama, various encounters that the American west has to offer. In 1985, a friend in Dallas was “flown” to Waco for a day to interview for a job selling motivational tapes.  He didn’t quite get it.

Picture: Bar district in San Diego, my visit, 2012; second picture — outdoor disco dancing at Baltimore Pride 2016, while I function only as a “spectator”.

(Posted: Friday, July 22, 2016 at 10:3 PM EDT)

“The Vasectomist”: a Florida surgeon offers male sterilization to poorer peoples

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Name: The Vasectomist
Director, writer:  Jonathan Stack, Sarlena Weinfeld
Released:  2013
Format:  digital video
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play, 2016/7/20
Length 52:
Rating NA
Companies: Special Broadcasting System, New South Wales, Australia
Link: url

The Vasectomist”, a long short (52 minutes) documentary film funded in Australia but not shot there, and directed by Jonathan Stack and Sarlena Weinfeld, pits rational wisdom not only against religion but instinctual love and biology.

In central Florida, Dr. Doug Stein has perfected his scalpel-free laser operation, to the pleasure of male patients who don’t completely “trust” their girl friends. But then Stein takes his procedure on the road, tyring his crusade for world population control, in poorer countries.  In the film, he visits the Philippines (source of labor for a lot of US manufacturing) and Haiti (post earthquake).  The documentary shows a lot of squalor.

He does meet objection.  A pastor connects homosexuality, birth control, abortion, and euthanasia as one continuum of progressive immorality that devalues some human life for the pleasure of others.  (Does a potential unconceived child, who cannot yet even exist, have rights?) Later, a woman resists his “rationalism” (where he talks about how many more billions of people the planet can support) with “love”.  There is talk about reproduction as nature’s “vector”, and of procreation, while Stein questions the carrying capacity of the planet. The word eugenics doesn’t quite come up.

Stein offers income replacement for the day in poor countries to customers.  The film sometimes shows the procedure explicitly.

I can recall, back in late 1971, a co-worker coming in on a Tuesday morning saying he had his “tubes tied” the day before, and that he felt he had been kicked.  He was on this third marriage, and already had an “instant family” from his second wife, people depending on him, a source of pride.  In those days, there were concerns that vasectomies could have long term demasculinizing effects.

(Published: Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 5 PM).

“I Must Survive”: a sailor caught behind the Vietcong in 1966 Vietnam

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Author: Harry Simpson
Title, Subtitle: I Must Survive
publication date 2014
ISBN 978-1-63268-783-8:
Publication: Tate, 40 chapters, 244 pages, paper
Link: Amazon,  author interview by Michael Slaughnessy

I Must Survive”, by Harry Simpson, arrived as a free sample.  The book tells the story of Brad Howard, a Navy sailor quasi Marine caught behind Vietcong enemy lines in late 1966, somewhere in the Mekong Delta, apparently.  I am not sure if this is really an autobiographical account or if it is fiction (but see the author interview link, it may well be fictive).

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Brad recalls his upbringing in Colorado from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s.  They moved around, and even after television became common place, they lived in an area of the High Plains (away from the Rockies) so remote they got no signal.  So the kids all had to learn real world creativity outdoors.  There was a kind of backyard baseball, of sorts (which we used to play – we even made cardboard stadiums as kids).  They dealt with telephone party lines, which could be listened in.  Brad even got polio, from which he recovered fully.  I can remember the advice for avoiding the dread disease around 1950, like not eating “too much ice cream.”

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The book is layered between “present day” (which is 1966) and the 1940s-1950s (sorry, no mention of Roswell).  In that sense, the book is structurally similar to “Silent Drums” (June 23), except that in the former book, the Vietnam battle scenes are a “past is prologue” with hospital and domestic stuff as “present day”. (The former book is more complicated in other ways, as explained there.)  The book, like “Tribe” (May 31) also shows a concern for why we put men into the military.  Brad says he enlisted in the Navy to avoid the draft, but wound up in a combat situation more dangerous.

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Indeed, the escape and evasion are quite harrowing.  He pastes his skin for camouflage, notes sores disfiguring his legs (as if that mattered), eats snakes and turtle eggs (so do foxes – at least the red fox that comes into my yard and naps after munching on stuff I didn’t know exists).  He calls to my mind the “Committee Group” unit of “Individual Tactical Training” at Fort Jackson SC at the start of Week 3 of my own Army Basic Combat Training in 1968.   (Oh, yes, on a hike-march from that session back to the company area, I said, “The Marines are tougher than the Army.”)

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Lyndon Johnson escalated the War in Vietnam in mid-1965, while I was working on my first summer job (as a computer programmer) for the Navy at David Taylor Model Basin.  I would get a graduate degree in math before having to enter the Army in early 1968.  But a friend, in the college chess club, flunked out and got drafted in the fall of 1966, and spend most of 1967 in Vietnam in the Signal Corps.  He wasn’t exposed to much combat personally, but by 1966 it had already gotten quite dangerous.  I can recall that soldiers headed for Vietnam on the East Coast would report to Fort Dix, even on New Year’s Day, fly to Oakland and then to Nam, often after eight weeks of Basic and ten or so weeks of Infantry AIT, and a month’s leave. Army infantry went on patrol every third night.  Many did not come back.  This was sacrifice.

I’m reminded of the 1995 book by Robert McNamara (with Brian Van Der Mark), “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam” (Times Books), most of all Chapter 7. “The Decision to Escalate”.

(Published: Tuesday, July 19, 2016 at 2 PM EDT)