You Started It! — Fawlty Towers and Wars Declared by US Presidents

You started it!

Series 1 Episode 6 – The Germans, Fawlty Towers
—————————————-
When Sybil is out of action in hospital, Basil is left to cope with his shabby hotel (in Torquay) in her absence. What could go wrong when there’s a fire drill scheduled, a moose’s head to hang and a party of German tourists due? Quite a lot really, but it will all be fine as long as… you don’t mention the war.

Many people quote “The Germans” as their favourite episode of Fawlty Towers and, while I would pick another (The Rat), those sequences between Mr Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) and the German tourists are certainly among the most memorable of the series.

Direct quotes from this episode:

Basil [who keeps making Freudian slips about the war]: Is something wrong?
German Guest: Will you stop talking about the war?
Basil: Me? You started it! [referring to WWII]
German Guest: We did not start it. [referring to the conversation about the war]
Basil: Yes you did, you invaded Poland.

Speaking of starting it, I was challenged in a conversation a little while back as to which political party in the US was more responsible for starting wars. The supposition was that the Republican hawks were more prone to engage in war than the Democrats. When I mentioned a few top of mind wars (WWI, WWII, Korea…) as having a Democratic president at the outset of the war, it led me to investigate further. In the last 38 years, each significant engagement/war has indeed been started by Republican presidents (you also have to bear in mind that a Republican president has been in office 28 of those 38 years).

There should be at least four qualifiers before attempting to come to a conclusion. (1) What would be more interesting perhaps is to look at which party was dominating Congress at the times when the meaty decisions/approvals were made… (2) A second consideration is whether the war can be judged to have been a “good” or “necessary” war. (3) What was the outcome? And (4), who was responsible for carrying out and/or ending the war?

Anyway, I have put together a list of most the more significant wars since the 19th century (and I have chosen to include all the recent wars). A more rigourous and comprehensive study would have to go into all the wars (definition of “war” needing to be clarified). I have not touched the wars with the Indians for example. The list of all military wars/engagements involving the USA has been made over on Wikipedia here. In any event, if you look at the associated presidents below, it is not exactly conclusive as to which party is more likely to declare war.

War of 1812
Begun and ended 1814 by James Madison (Democratic Republican, precursor of Democratic Party ironically)

Mexican-American War 1846-1848
Started and ended by James Polk (D)

Spanish-American 1898

Started and ended by McKinley (R)

Philippine-American War 1899
Started and ended by McKinley (R)

WWI 1914-1918
Started and ended by Woodrow Wilson (D) who declared war on Germany in April 1917

WWII 1939-1945
Started under Roosevelt (D) 1941
Ended under Truman (D) 1945

Korea 1950-53
Started and ended by Truman (D)

Vietnam
Started officially in 1959 under Eisenhower (R)
Escalation under JF Kennedy (D)
War ended by Nixon (R)

Invasion of Grenada 1993 under Reagan (R)

Persian Gulf War 1990-1991
Started and ended by Bush Sr (R)
(note bombing of Iraq in 1993 by Clinton)

Afghanistan Invasion 2001-
By Bush Jr (R)

Iraq or Second Gulf War 2003…
Started by Bush Jr (R)

The only conclusion I feel like making is that, despite all the civilizing that we human beings have been doing, the net net is that military conflicts, whether borne of need for power, zeal or fear, are an ugly and consistent part of our existence. And, for sure, there are necessary wars. If the world were run by women, would it be entirely different? Female Presidents, Prime Ministers, Queens and Empresses throughout the ages have been known or associated with wars (see here for a list frm womenhistory.com). Solutions to avoid an escalation in wars would include heightened education, international integration and, most importantly, increased prosperity. However, given the current and foreseeable economic crises and the hardships and pressures that will inevitably arise, it would seem more likely that we are in store for more conflicts than less in the near future. And, that’s when I take refuge in Fawlty Towers, and return to viewing Manuel being clobbered on the head about his Siberian Hamster [aka rat].

Your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Spamalot Monty Python Review NYC

Monty Python Spamalot on BroadwayQuick Review of Monty Python’s Spamalot on Broadway, NYC

Spam, spam, spam, bacon & spamalot – internet emails meet On Broadway ?

While in New York, my wife and I had a 4th July evening to ourselves (celebrating our independence) and decided to hit Broadway. Our choice: Spamalot at the Shubert Theatre, NYC. It was a gamble. On the one hand, I am a die hard Monty Python fan (and my kids are fast joining the band) ; on the other hand, such British humour was likely to be difficult for Yendi, my French wife (although her English is fully fluent).

Directed by Mike Nichols and based on a book by original MP star Eric Idle, Spamalot features an entirely new score (by John Du Prez and Eric Idle). Running since March 2005, it has won three Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical of the 2004–2005 season.

The irony of the play was that it was a hit with my wife and less so for me. The story is fun and certainly is loyal to spirit of the mythical 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. The tagline says that Spamalot is “(lovingly) ripped off from the motion picture.” However, Spamalot is also a substantially watered down version of Monty Python humour, replete with wildly « easy » moments. Among the more « interesting » moments, however, was the song entitled, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” that features the line « You just won’t succeed on Broadway, If you don’t have any Jews! » How true — especially in New York.

Wikipedia comments on the views of the original MP team with a wide array of opinions. Cleese, who gave his voice to God in Spamalot, apparently was favourable. However, Terry Jones who co-directed film with Gilliam, said in an interview with Entertainment News, “Spamalot is utterly pointless. It’s full of air… Regurgitating Python is not high on my list of priorities.” Evidently, there was also a feeling of bitterness regarding the unshared commercial success (to Eric Idle’s benefit).

Plabill spoof – a highlight

Meanwhile, the Spamalot Playbill features a surprising hoax section, where all the normal information is transliterated into a Finnish version of the musical (“Finns Ain’t What They Used To Be”). Particularly impressed by the EVP, Vlad the Impaler Wankel. This part of the Playbill was apparently written by Michael Palin (who gave the musical a less-than-positive review himself). The Finnish section also advises “Patrons are asked not to smoke or speak Swedish in the theatre. Please use cell phones whenever possible.”

Spamalot is currently also running in London, Las Vegas and Melbourne (where it is apparently flopping), with a Spanish version in the works. Clearly, it is doing well — bringing a “democratic version” of Monty Python to the masses. And, there is some kind of international competition — verified by the Guinness Book of World Records — on the world’s largest coconut orchestra. The new record was set when 5,567 people, led by the cast from the London production, along with the two Terrries (Jones and Gilliam), armed with coconuts performed “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” in Trafalgar Square. Will the folks down go nuts enough to break the latest record?

In an era of changing and updating the initial film, I missed the opportunity to link the spam skit to the internet spam.

Overall, I give Spamalot a notawholelot rating and a 2.5/5.0 star review. Anyone else have an opinion to share?

For a few reviews: try New York Times, Popwatch Blog (some good comments), and a fun blog called Dressing.

Emirates Airline marvels again on Nairobi-Dubai-Paris

Emirates Airline logoAfter a first experience on Emirates Airline, two weeks ago (post here), I have since taken three more flights with Emirates (EK). Turns out our first experience was not one-off. We flew from Dubai to Nairobi a week later, then on Thursday we did a double header: Nairobi to Dubai (5 hours) then Dubai to Paris (7 hours) with a two and half hour layover in Dubai’s bustling airport. Each time, the flight (in Economy) was a pleasure.

This last time, we added a special wrinkle, something we could have made a real flap about: a last minute injury. At 1pm on Thursday, our very last day on holidays, my son, Oscar, fell by the pool on a lava rock and gashed his knee. So badly, that it needed 6 stitches which were put in by the Serena Lodge (Amboseli) medic. The “operation” took over an hour and a half (including having to find him, first) and happened on our room’s balcony (i.e. outside), replete with monkeys onlooking (photo to right; one of them finally managed to steal some cotton).Kenya Amboseli Monkey watching first aid

With Oscar sown up, we hit the road (and in Kenya, that is not an understatement). Our valiant driver, Ibrahim, took us to Nairobi airport in a little over 5 hours, with Oscar stretched out in the backseat. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time and were able to get a decent seat for Oscar in order for him to keep his leg straight as much as possible.

On the flight EK722 (May 1) to Dubai, the staff were good enough to reserve a set of four seats which allowed Oscar to sleep stretched out for the full 5 hours. I would like to signal out the kind Dubai Airportservices of Mohamed Haji. When we got to Dubai, Oscar got a fast and furious nose bleed. This afforded us a visit to the Dubai Airport medical centre. A doctor from Senegal and a nurse from Kerala, India, took care of Oscar’s nose then reviewed and re-dressed his knee. All clear. And very civilised! Then Oscar was taken by wheelchair to the “Special Handling” area which meant a comfortable seat, juice and biscuits… The rest of us managed to find seats outside (although they are at a real premium at the overcrowded Dubai departures level).

Our flight EK073 (May 2) from Dubai to Paris was as pleasurable as the flight out (again on the Boeing 777-300ER), if different because of Oscar’s leg.

Here are the further thoughts I would like to add to the prior post regarding the EK service:

* The flight attendants are very international — intentionally, Emirates recruits from a very wide array of nationalities, allowing them to announce at the outset: “On this flight, we have crew members speaking the following languages…” On this EK073, there were 10 different nationalities. Some kind of proof that diversity pays! The wonderful staff that helped us out included the energetic Lydie (an Aussie) and dapper Aman. There was also the kind Z’ied (notEmirates Airlines ICE sure on the spelling).

* Each seat is equipped with a “ICE” (information, communication, entertainment) system. The ICE digital wide screen is a touchscreen (super easy to use) and is as good as it gets.

* The USB slot at each seat (to the right of the telephone-cum-“remote control”) is to allow passengers to view your holiday pictures on the wide screen TV or to listen to your personal media player through the ICE system. IPODs can even be read if they are set to “disk mode.”

* The ICE booklet (for May) is very agreeable to read and shows the extremely wide variety of options and selections available. It even includes a set of good old rock’n’roll box sets, a random set of audio books (Crime & Punishment, David Copperfield, Tom Peters Live in London…), comedy (Monty Python, Woody Allen, Peter Sellers…) and a brief guide to the anthology of major composers and classical musical periods over the past 500 years (nice pedagogical touch, no?).

In any event, as if I needed any further proof, the very day we took our flight back, the newspapers were splattered with the Emirates financial results: profits rocketed up 62% to Dh5.3 billion in fiscal year 2008 (Mar) on revenues of Dh41.15 billion, despite a Dh1.83 billion extra fuel bill. As this Gulf News article writes, Emirates Airline is indeed an important part of the Dubai success story:

“Emirates contributes about Dh47 billion, or nearly a quarter of Dubai’s Dh198 billion GDP, to its economy, the airline said yesterday.”

Hopefully the bosses of these flight attendants will get wind of their great service. In the meantime, I can only say: fly Emirates whenever you can!