Tag: Crash

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

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This Friday marks the 45th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest album of all time.

Before you flick lint in my beer or pelt me with wads of Big League Chew for not designating this title to Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn or Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay, allow me to point out that there are many albums that are flawless – sometimes in spite of a number of actual flaws. Nary a wayward note blemishes Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, and Paul Simon’s Graceland is among the few utterly perfect slabs of 1980’s vinyl. For me, “the greatest” combines not only artistic and technical brilliance, but the subjective distinction of having served as the soundtrack to many of the most fantastic moments of my life. Your results may (and probably do) vary.

The story of Abbey Road is one of pure, primal mirth, flecked with auburn specks of encroaching melancholy. It is the last glorious and romantic trip to Maui for an otherwise doomed marriage. It marks the greatest rock band in history (an assertion I’ll stand by as wholly factual) producing one final brushstroke upon their legacy before heading their separate ways.

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This is not a happy group.

In January of 1969, the Beatles were moving in four different directions, and had been for over a year. Their plan was to return to the studio, record a back-to-their-roots album, perform their first concert since the summer of 1966 (the Pyramids in Egypt were a proposed locale, as was a barge adrift in the Atlantic), and film it all for posterity. This attempt to reconnect resulted in a cavalcade of arguments, the grandiose concert reduced to a noon-hour gig on the roof, and the temporary quitting of George Harrison. Read more…

Day 792: The Day The Suffragette Was Run Over By A Horse

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It was a beautiful sunny June afternoon at the 1913 Epsom Derby in Surrey. Thousands of people had gathered to watch horses run in a circle because it was 1913 and television was not yet invented. Also, the horse of King George V was among the competitors, which added the thrill of watching a celebrity to the event. No one expected to see a horrific crash – had that been on the program, I’m sure the stands would have been packed with an even greater crowd.

The crash was not notable for its carnage, nor was it significant because the king’s horse was involved. It stands out in history because Emily Davison, a famous figure in the world of women’s suffrage, martyred herself by leaping in front of the royal steed, taking her own life.

Or did she?

Recent analysis of the incident – and yes, there was actually film footage which could be reviewed obsessively like the Zapruder film – has called into question this alleged ‘suicide’. Either way, it succeeded in drawing attention to Emily’s cause. Not that she ever had a problem doing that.

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Emily worked for her own education, first as a governess then as a teacher. She poured her earnings into classes at Oxford, studying biology, chemistry and English literature – despite the fact that she could never attain a degree. Oxford’s degrees were for dudes only back then. Emily was a first-class honors student, and this antiquated policy no doubt riled her toward the cause of women’s rights. Read more…

Day 753: Rampart’s Black & Blue Glare

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In 1973, long before the rise of crack cocaine and the ensuing (and ongoing) gangsta-chic branch of popular culture, the Los Angeles Police Department threw together a group they called TRASH: Total Resources Against Street Hoodlums. The nickname suggested a smidgen of inherent bias, so the unit was renamed CRASH, with the ‘C’ standing for ‘Community’. The group would have a mountainous workload over the following decades.

In addition to the work, the CRASH squad would also be faced with a lot of temptation by the gangs they had sworn to take down. And in the unit’s 29-year tenure over the city’s most gore-flecked streets, they would tie the Los Angeles Police Department’s reputation to a large rock and kick it off a cliff.

This is the scandal that revealed the wicked allure of a blood-red do-rag, as well as the way that the Thin Blue Line of so-called righteousness can be lured to blur when frail hearts plunk their tinny drum behind a police shield. The CRASH team’s reach extended to the limits of L.A. and throughout its miniature sub-cities, but it was the Rampart Division that patrolled the area just west and northwest of Downtown that caused the system’s collapse. This was where, for a moment in time anyway, the gangs won.

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The story begins with Kevin Gaines, pictured on the left. He had raised some eyebrows in the summer of 1996 when he’d placed a call from the home of Sharitha Knight (estranged wife of Death Row Records honcho Suge Knight) and proceeded to engage in a scuffle with police. This suspicious behavior might have resulted in his removal from the force, but Deputy Chief Bernard Parks dropped the investigation. Watch for him – Parks’ name is going to come up again later. Read more…

Day 630: Medic On The Set

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I respect the fact that a number of Jackie Chan films finish up with a blooper montage featuring a cavalcade of missed maneuvers and on-set accidents. The guy is so well-known for doing his own stunts (and shattering his own person-parts in the process) that every so often it’s announced that he died on set, and people believe it until someone they know does a little fact-checking.

What makes this rumor semi-credible is not only the fact that Jackie Chan likes to do physically absurd things to his body in films, but also the handful of gruesome film accidents on official record. It haunted the front page when Brandon Lee was shot by a gun that was supposed to be loaded with blanks on the set of The Crow. But did you hear about Conway Wickliffe, the cameraman who was killed when the pickup he was shooting from hit a tree during the making of The Dark Knight?

I was surprised by how many of these names have scrolled past us in the credits of forgotten history without getting the attention they deserve. These are folks who either died or gave up a significant chunk of their physical being for a piece of art.

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Ormer Locklear was one of those crazy bastards who walked on the wing of his plane while it was in flight in an effort to solicit oohs, ahhs, gasps and faints from airshow and circus crowds. He also translated that skill into a movie career, albeit a brief one. He was in the process of shooting The Skywayman, his second feature film, when things went wrong. Read more…

Day 626: Our Mystery Guest – Lover, Killer, International Spy

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I’m going to slip a little swoosh into my gait today and alter my stride somewhat. Instead of simply telling the story of today’s subject, I’m going to bury the lead about as deep as I can, relating the story of this man’s life while leaving his name behind the final curtain. Why do I do this? Well, sometimes you start with dessert and eat your way backwards. Sometimes you take the long way back home, either because you want to check out the scenery or else allow the long version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to play out. Sometimes it’s just fun.

This man is a famous person, one with whom most people in the English-speaking western world be familiar. The hero of this story has commanded a far more interesting life than one might expect, given the sliver of it which we have seen.

So dip your brain-bacon into your thinking-eggs and see if you can’t deduce our mystery guest’s identity. If you’re up on your obscure trivia, or maybe if you’re simply a big enough fan to have this knowledge padlocked to the front table of your readily-available mental hors d’oeuvres, then you’ll pick this up right away. For the rest of us, let’s peel through this guy’s backstory and see where it takes us.

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Born in Wales to Norwegian parents, our story’s hero had a rough childhood. When he was three, his older sister died from appendicitis, and a few weeks later his distraught father perished from pneumonia on a fishing trip in the Antarctic. I don’t know why anyone would travel from the UK to the Antarctic just to go fishing. There weren’t any good seafood restaurants in his little corner of the island, I guess. Read more…

Day 607: The 3660-Mile Race

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What’s the fun of owning a hotel if you can’t change history in some small but significant way?

When Raymond Orteig bought the Lafayette Hotel on 4th Street in New York, he was pleased when it became a hangout spot for airmen after World War I. Ray was an affable guy, and he fit in easily with the raucous flyers. In 1919, he snagged an invitation to a dinner honoring Eddie Rickenbacker, the most ass-whomping American flying ace of the Great War. Eddie (among others) devoted a lengthy chunk of speech-time to celebrating the passion of flying, which was notably shared between America and France.

This gave Raymond Orteig an idea. Eddie Rickenbacker specifically stated he looked forward to the day when the two nations were linked by air. So why not help that along? Throw some money up for grabs, and see who reaches for it. Orteig declared that the first pilot to fly nonstop from New York to Paris (or vice versa) would pocket a cool $25,000 (over $330,000 in today’s money).

The race was on.

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If Eddie Rickenbacker whomped the most aerial ass for the US, René Fonck was the French equivalent. In fact, his 75 confirmed aerial victories might make him the best there ever was. He was the first to step up for the Orteig Prize. It was September 21, 1926. The conditions appeared right, and Fonck had a snazzy piece of equipment for the voyage: a Sikorsky S.35 worth about $100,000. It was a twin engine sesquiplane (that’s where one wing is longer than the other, which somehow doesn’t mean the plane only flies in circles – hooray for physics!), upgraded to three engines for the trip. With all the gas needed for the voyage, they were about 4000 pounds overweight. Read more…

Day 291: A Hasty, Half-Assed Article About Military Robots

Today’s article is about military robots.

Why am I writing about military robots? Simple – I don’t care about military robots. I care about butler-robots, rapping robots and sex robots (don’t worry honey, I’m only interested in the articles). I read through the article about military robots on Wikipedia. It’s frighteningly dull. But the fact is, it’s nine o’clock at night as I write this, and I just lost over two thousand words of an essay due tomorrow at one o’clock because Microsoft Word failed.

How does that happen? My auto-save is set for every one minute – I’m sufficiently paranoid and I’ve heard too many academic horror stories to want to live through one myself. I hit Ctrl-I to italicize the title of a movie (yes, I take film studies classes because I believe someday they will get me a job that involves watching Manos: The Hands Of Fate). The file closed, and away went my essay. I re-opened it, and found all 500 of the words I started day with, looking up at me with overwhelming mediocrity, no sign of loss or sadness at the inexplicable premature death of their friends.

Gone.

Fucking gone.

Fortunately, I didn’t lose the important stuff I was looking at in my browser.

So I’m 16 hours away from zero-hour, and I still have my daily tithe to the Goddess of Insane Writing Projects. I looked at my big ol’ list of possible topics and saw ‘Military Robot’ sitting at the top, right where it’s been sitting since January when I started this list. At one time (I may have been slightly drunk) this struck me as a fascinating topic for a kilograph. Every time I look at the Wikipedia article I wonder why, yet I can’t bring myself to erase it from my list.

Today I get to erase it. Something good will come from this nightmare. Read more…