Little Dieter Needs To Fly

directed by Werner Herzog
Little Dieter Needs To Fly

This is a documentary about a man named Dieter Dengler who wanted to fly; a simple premise that overlays the engrossing story of a remarkable man.

He became intoxicated with a desire to fly as a young boy after witnessing his small Bavarian village being bombed during World War II. He later emigrated to American to pursue this dream because it would have never been fulfilled in the shambles that was post bellum Germany.

Soon after finally becoming a pilot he was shot down over Laos and captured during the early stages of the Vietnam War. The heart of the film is the story of a young man who realizes the freedom of the air, only to find himself caged as a prisoner of war, and struggles with the effect this has on his later life.

While little of his personal life is revlieved outside the main line of the story, he emerges as a gentle, thoughtful and determined man. His benign demeanor while relating his harrowing tale of freedom lost and then regained is only broken once or twice, which makes those moments particularly riveting.

» Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2005 | Permanent Link

Minor Threat

Here’s another blast from the past. Below is a flyer for a show featuring Minor Threat and SS Decontrol that took place at the VFW Hall in Cambridge, Mass on March 4th, 1983. The original is 17 by 11 inches and it’s starting to show its age. I can’t really believe I still had the thing after 22 years. That’s older than I was at the show!

This is a review of the show from Forced Exposure #6, which was the big zine at the time in Boston (all typos in the original):

Meatmen were the surpise opening guest and of course featured a new line-up since Tesco has moved to D.C. and Rich as…um, moved on to greener pastures…Bert and Rich from Double O supplied the heavy backing while Lyle Pressler added the six-string sonics, with the end result being the best line-up yet from what has been a rather unstable assemblage…blistering cover of the old, forgotten Pagan’s classic, “Whats this Shit Called Love” began the set splendidly, with another cover, “Dance to the Music” and a new one, “You’re Rich” being equally memorable…this set, along with the Touch & Go benefit 2 days later were to have been the final Meatmen shows…I know I’ve said that before, but this time it’s for real…Necros, F.U.’S, and Minor Threat all played competent, though ultimately unexceptional sets… the main reason that none of these bands failed to truely inspire me wasn’t so much due to any fault on their own part, but more simply, because SSD were at an unreachable apex…the karma was flowing, and this was the sound of a great band at it’s most magnificient… “now, wait a minute”, some of you will most certainly argue, “the electric power went out on them during their 2nd song, they ended up standing around aimlessly on stage for what seemed like an eternity waiting for power to be fixed, and in the end, only played 6 songs in over an hour”…all of which is true, but oh, what a six songs they were…the new unrecorded, “How We Rock” was a 5½ minute epic of swirling, transfixing mayhem…a masterful opening and not a second too long as far as I’m concerned…staggering renderition of “Walking in the Sand” followed—don’t laugh till you’ve heard it, its amazing…yeah, so there were only 6 songs performed, but quality’s the only thing that matters, gang, and SSD on this night exemplifyed live music at it’s most transcendental, unparalled summit…

Both Minor Threat and SS Decontrol have passed into near-legendary status by now, but SSD were the home-town heroes as can be seen from the review.

SS Decontrol were amazing there’s no doubt about that. I was at another show where they opened for the Angry Samoans at the old Channel club. They hauled out a roasted pig’s head for their song “Police Beat” and started throwing chunks of it out into the crowd. All hell broke loose. But I suppose you had to be there to appreciate it…

» Posted: Sunday, June 26, 2005 | Comments (1) | Permanent Link


I was lucky enough to pick up a first edition of Ernest Shackleton’s “Heart of the Antarctic” a number of years ago, before the recent huge rise in interest in the explorer pushed the prices of his books so high. It’s an account of his failed 1907-1909 British Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole during which he was forced to turn back less than 100 miles from his goal.

Interestingly, folded inside the pages of the book, I found a section of an article torn out of The Daily Telegraph from March 25, 1916 discussing how no news had been heard from the now more famous, 1914–1916 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

It was this expedition that gave Shackleton the fame he has today, and which is chronicled most heroically in the book Endurance by Alfred Lansing.

» Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2005 | Comments (7) | Permanent Link

The Lunar Atmosphere


Although it is commonly understood that the moon has no atmosphere, it does in fact have an extremely tenuous one made up of captured solar wind molocules and out-gassings from radioactive lunar rock. The atmosphere is so thin, that if it were compressed to the same temperature and density as the earth’s, it would fit into a 210 foot cube.

The lunar missions increased the mass of the lunar atmosphere by 30%, which was enough to impact the sensitivity of some of the experiments. After several weeks the atmophere returned to normal having been swept clean by the solar wind that keeps it in relative stasis.

A few other interesting details from aforementioned link…

If the atmosphere were … a factor of just 1000 denser, … the atmosphere would remain stable for tens of thousands of years. … Large scale human activity on the Moon could push the total mass over the limit and create … a stable, if highly tenuous atmosphere which could threaten precisely the most important asset that the Moon can offer us: its sterility and almost atmosphereless nature. There is even some evidence, from the lack of certain sizes of microcraters in surface dust that the Moon did have such an atmosphere in the past, perhaps as much as 10 million times denser than now.

NASA has all the specific data here.

» Posted: Saturday, June 18, 2005 | Permanent Link

Bad is Good

Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

by Stephen Johnson
Everything Bad Is Good for You

I wanted to like this book more than I did, because frankly I’m sympathetic to the argument, but I came away rather disappointed.

First off, I would have been shocked if he didn’t at least make mention of Marshall McCluhan since his argument is essentially a challenge to McCluhan’s famous saying “the medium is the message” without actually positioning it as such. McCluhan meant that the most influential aspect of any particular medium is not the message being transferred, but how the medium itself affects the user. Johnson argues that content is in fact vital; that the complexity of the content, the degree to which it challenges one’s cognitive abilities, has a profound affect on a person and ultimately society as a whole.

While he does claim that there is evidence to support this premise, the data he presents is actually pretty thin and cannot be attributable unequivocally in the way that he suggests. Most of his arguments are based on his personal theories and observations; not until p. 153, almost three-quarters of the way through the book are any actual scientific experiments mentioned.

I did like his observation that “pop culture is in a race to the top.” Counter to the conventional wisdom that the media is becoming increasingly vapid, he claims that it is in fact becoming ever more challenging. As an example, this is shown through the use of interleved plots and complex character interactions on the most popular television programs. But is this really true? He grants that the books of Charles Dickens, the most popular author of his day, were excedingly complex, but were in fact only enjoyed by a far smaller percentage of the population than today’s mass media (I think this is debatable). Television may be getting more complex but this might just be because of the age of the medium itself, not because society at large is better able to understand complexity.

He theorizes that the Flynn Effect, the observation made in 1970s by James Flynn that standard IQs have been steadily increasing, may be attributed to the growing challenges of the mass media. But the hallmark of any modern society is its ever-increasing specialization and complexity. Are we making more demands of the media, or is it making more demands of us?

» Posted: Friday, June 17, 2005 | Permanent Link

Rwandan Genocide

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda

by Roméo Dallaire
Shake Hands with the Devil

This was one of the more gut-wrenching books I’ve read in a while. It is Lt. General Roméo Dallaire’s chronicle of his term as Force Commander for the U.N. Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). This mission was established to help implement the Arusha Peace Agreement of August 1993 that ended the Rwandan civil war. This agreement was signed between the Hutu-led government of Rwanda and the mainly Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Almost from the moment is was signed the Hutu-led government seemed to do be doing everything it could to undermine it, with the more extreme elements positioning themselves for an assault on the Tutsis.

Dallaire maintained and extraordinary level of dedication and discipline throughout his tenure; in fact, it became difficult to understand how he was able to sustain his attempts to keep the parties moving towards the implementation of a treaty that was becoming increasingly irrelevant as the days wore on. He was frustrated at every turn by many competing interests among the government and the RPF themselves, the U.N. diplomatic corps, the French and Belgians (who had colonial history there) and the United States (which had just suffered its own loses in Somalia).

He had little knowledge of the situation in Rwanda before signing up for the mission, which is in part responsible for what made the book so gripping. Knowing ahead of time the general outlines of what is to come, it’s unnerving when he writes about a mysterious “third force” that he senses working behind the scene. It was this third force that was ultimately responsible for the killings.

The actual catalyst that unleashed the genocide was the death of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, himself a Hutu, in a plane crash. The plane was most likely shot down by the extremists in the government who thought he was too accommodating of the peace agreement and wanted to blame the RPF on his death. This provided a thin excuse for the extremists to set upon the Tutsis.

The title of the book comes in part from his strong Catholic beliefs. Instead of questioning God’s existence in the aftermath of the killings, he states that he knows the Devil exists because he actually shook hands with him: at one point, much to his frustration he actually had to meet with some of the men that he knew were leading the atrocities. He describes having to unload his pistol before the meeting because he was worried he wouldn’t be able to resist simply shooting them down on the spot.

Dallaire interacts with so many different people and organizations, at times it’s difficult to keep the names and acronyms straight. In a way though this served to underscore the difficulty of the task that was laid before him. The tragedy on the ground was so overwhelming and the means to prevent it so obvious, that his inability to get the U.N. Security Council to act in a meaningful way ultimately caused him an acute psychological trauma. He is very forthcoming about the post-traumatic stress that he suffered from; after reading this book it is easy to appreciate the source of his affliction.

There is an interview with Dallaire and an excerpt from the book here.

» Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2005 | Permanent Link