Great Men

Ok…I find that I often resort to Hyperbole. Like my brother-in-law Jim M. stated in one of his columns, the word hero is overused. So I think,  is the term “Great Man.” But recently two men have passed who I think qualify…it is the end of an era with them gone. I would compare it to the day Adams and Jefferson died…or similar. Two great men, and I guarantee you’ve never heard of them, so an attempt to educate…

      Jay Hammond and Walter “Wally” Hickel. Two mavericks before it was cute, two self-made men who owe nothing to no-one except for ambition and ability. Both defined the era of Alaska statehood more than any other.  Hammond, a marine corps fighter pilot in world war II,  provided Alaskans w/the framework for the permanent fund. He believed in simple common sense, and you’ll never meet a humbler appearing ex-two time governor than this man. He, like Sarah Palin, married an Alaskan native and created a Lake Clark spread for his family that might rival  the days of  “Big Valley” or “Bonanza”…Alaska style.

     From the appearance of his hotel, the opulent grand dame of Alaska the  “Captain Cook“,  you’d think Hickel the opposite. The man who has a 10,000 bottle of wine cellar at the Crow’s Nest and has written several books barely had an education. Legend has it he arrived in state with thirty-seven cents but  a boat-load of confidence. To go from that to founding the “Institute of the North“, where world leaders traipsed into his presence long after he was out of the executive office to discuss the future of countries above the 57th parallell…Amazing.

     I won’t go into too much detail. You can hit the links and explore their biographies. Just remember as you look at the current crop of politicians hoping to get elected and then immediately kowtow to every interest that will further their selves…remember two humble men in a far off corner of our empire. Two guys who could have been prototypes for John Galt, but with the empathy and compassion that is necessary to  lead.

Iditarod 2010- Alaska Girls Kick Ass!

     The Iditarod truly is amazing. To line up on fourth avenue in Anchorage for the symbolic start, to watch the stoic mushers and eager dogs head out into the midwinter Alaska dark and cold…everyone should experience it once. Eleven hundred miles through unforgiving weather and terrain featured in movies and stories like Krakauer’s “Into the Wild“, or even London’s “Call of the Wild.” This is geography that is…well…wild. It kills.  Sometimes  a dog that dies. Even though every single observer will tell you that the dogs live to run, this has cost the sport in the lower forty-eight, both in viewers and sponsorships. So much so that one four-time winner, Jeff King, put up fifty-thousand of his own money as part of the purse. How many other sports do you see such selflessness just for love of the competition?

     But it’s far ahead of any other world sporting event in one other significant, dramatic aspect: It’s the only major race that has always featured men and women in the same race, mano a mano, may the best sex win. And women often do. There are the pioneers like Libby Riddles, and the triumph and tragedy of multiple winner Susan Butcher. This year though features someone, a woman, who just might get the race the attention it deserves.

     Her name? Zoya DeNure…a former international runway model from Wisconsin who saw a sled dog demonstration, fell in love, and settled in the small town of Paxson, Alaska to follow a dream. Like most mushers, Zoya raises her own dogs with her husband, John Schandelmeier. Currently she is in the top three going into Willow. Would it be fair for the beautiful thirty-three year old to get attention for the race because of her looks? Probably not…but if she can stay in the top three, Make it a race to Nome, possibly win by pure grit, maybe some of the big sponsors will reappear or hitch up for the first time.

     It’s ironic: television shows “Outside” always feature Alaskan bachelors as quirky, ideal mates. Maybe with a Zoya win, the rest of the lower forty-eight will discover a huge secret, let out only sometimes, but which you’ll often see on bumper stickers and t-shirts from Juneau to Fairbanks…Alaska Girls Kick Ass!

Robin Wright Penn

     I was a little intrigued at last year’s Oscars when Sean Penn thanked the world for his gratuitous statuette- that is, everyone  except for his wife, Robin Wright Penn.  I remember thinking “Wow, what a cock,” and admiring her grace as she sat there with all eyes upon her, waiting for him to acknowledge the mother of his two kids. Now it appears I am the only person on earth not to notice that they had marital difficulties and it was all over even then.

     What reminded of that this week are the upcoming Oscars and a movie I saw tonight, Pippa LeeIt is a delicate vehicle for Keannu Reeves and Robin Wright Penn, and enjoyable. But what struck me most about the film was once again the absolute poise of RWP. 

     If you don’t remember, as a young woman she starred as Princess Buttercup in the The Princess BrideThis is one of the all time great movies. When it came out, I was a young marine at Guantanamo in the late eighties. No prison camp then, just a cold war outpost for about three hundred or so jarheads and plenty of sailors. I still recall guys in my platoon, far from home and lonely,  unsure of their place in the world, absolutely enthralled by the film. And by Ms. Wright’s Buttercup. The perfect idealized woman, beautiful and faithful to her man even when he was off to sea and presumed lost years before. We crowded around a t.v. in the open squad bay and memorized every line.

     Now, years after mothering her children, years after several notable roles and living with Sean Penn, There she is on the screen in this tidy little film. Forty three years old. Once again, you can’t help but see the talent and beauty. Out-shining woman twenty years younger…and still to many of us, the perfect princess.

“The Hurt Locker”- Oscar worthy?

Ok I’ve seen “The Hurt Locker” twice, in theaters and at home.  The buzz surrounding it from Hollywood itself is how authentic it is and how James Cameron’s ex-wife is in serious competition to upstage his own, more expensive epic dealing with the same topic:  imperialism. (Avatar).

I enjoyed the flick, but this is no “Generation Kill,” which truly reminded me of marines in the field. Spot on. Truthfully, The Hurt Locker” is this year’s “Top Gun.” Fun when it played, but ultimately hokey and serving not as a mirror to reflect on the coalition war in Iraq, but rather acting as a fluff piece to present a budding star (Jeremy Renner).  Like Top Gun, “The Hurt Locker” easily acts as a recruiting tool. I doubt the U.S. Army had a lot of volunteers to disarm IED’s;  presenting this dangerous act as sexy, wild, and rock and roll no doubt increased the intake.

That those in the industry are fooled into thinking it is “intelligent” only shows how ironic it is that a Hollywood decidedly not pro-war now might award its highest honor to a film practically dedicated to the proposition that war is necessary to fulfill the soul.