Applying JFC Fuller’s Military Theory to Coaching

A little more than a century ago, a new weapon showed up on the battlefields of World War One.  Initially described as a landship, it was decided that was too descriptive and to keep it secret, it was given the name ‘tank’ and that’s stuck ever since.  The first nation to build a full-fledged tank unit was Britain; this was the Royal Tank Corps.  One of its staff officers proved to be an important military theoretician.  This was General J.F.C. Fuller and he put these ideas into a book titled The Foundations of the Science of War, first published in 1926.  Basically, there are nine principles–success comes from applying/following them.  Let’s think about them in terms of coaching.

  1. DIRECTION:  What’s the goal?  What do we need to do to get from here to there?  This is pretty simple.  Ultimately, to me, one important thing to remember is that goals must be realistic.  Saying your goal is to win state with 6 girls who have never played before–that’s not really achievable.
  2. DISTRIBUTION: How do you deploy your troops.  In volleyball terms, who is starting, who do you plan to come off the bench?  In most circumstances, you hurt your team if you try and ‘wing it’.  As a coach, you need to have an idea of who goes where if you want to succeed.
  3. DETERMINATION: The will to fight.  How badly do your players want to win?  I’ve found that in many instances, if we get up 2-0 in a match, it’s over, especially if it is the last match of a tournament or our opponent has a long drive home that evening.  I think it’s important to rephrase my initial question, too (and it becomes a different question this way….): How badly do your players hate losing?
  4. CONCENTRATION: This is NOT mental focus–this is deploying your forces to the right spot at the right time.  In terms of volleyball, this is recognizing that your 6’1 right-side is matched up against a 5’5 blocker or that your opponent’s middle just served and is playing at right-back.  Get the ball where it needs to go to score points.
  5. DEMORALIZATION OF ENEMY: Figure out your opponent’s plan and neutralize it.  Unable to succeed with their commander’s orders, they will lose heart.  In volleyball, this is understanding how your opponent succeeds–do they block well, serve tough?  Do they have one dominant hitter?  Do they win because of their offensive system’s speed?  What takes away these advantages?
  6. ENDURANCE: Your ability to defend while faced with an all-out attack from air, artillery, and ground assault.  Essentially, what is your plan when your match goes five sets?  How do you train your players when facing an opponent tough enough that they do not get demoralized or applies these self-same principles against you?  Fuller argues the best bet is training specifically for this situation, not just with field maneuvers (practice), but discussion and education (things like scouting and mental training).
  7. OFFENSIVE ACTION: A properly executed offensive prevents similar action from an opponent; they become disorganized.  With volleyball, I think this starts with the serve–my teams WILL come at you.  We intend to take you out of system, prevent you from using #2 and #4 above which will cause #5.  When you watch a match, you can usually tell which team is dictating the pace of events–is it you?
  8. SECURITY: Preventing surprise threats from disrupting your force.  A minor point for coaching, I think.  I suppose this would have watching film/charting as the equivalent.  To counter this though, I’ll have my team practice certain things throughout a season with the intent of using them only once or twice at key points–so that they can’t be countered, so that surprise is guaranteed (and ideally leading to demoralization of the opponent).
  9. MOBILITY: The ability to move while preventing the enemy from doing the same.  I think you can take this one of two ways.   First, keep yourself in system more than your opponent is so that you have options and your opponent is constantly reacting to unexpected attacks.  Second, maximize the tempo of your attack.  Moving at an uncomfortable speed will disrupt your opponent.

There we go.  Nine principles that we can translate from war to sports (symbolic war).

 

Hey–ever considered helping the cause?  I’ve written a book containing *27* essays on volleyball and coaching–all meant to make you ‘think outside the box.  Here’s the link It’s a grand total of $4.99.  Yup–under five dollars.  You’re paying less than twenty-five cents an essay!!  You won’t find coaching help any cheaper anywhere!!

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Family History Memory (II)

Tomorrow would have been my mom’s 73rd birthday.  Thinking of that, I realized how many stories there are that should be remembered, documented–not just my family but everyone’s, actually.  Some of them carry lessons, some are emotional, and others aren’t really going to matter to anyone other than me.  Oh well, my blog, my rules, right?  

My family are immigrants, arriving February 16, 1952–so that I’m actually first generation American…and just as important, wouldn’t have been allowed in to the US with current restrictions.  Free and open immigration is vital to the long-term prosperity of the United States.  In any event, when you’re an immigrant, you bring the values of your home with you.  Combined with the values held everywhere the 1950s and it’s obvious my mom grew up in a conservative environment–women go to high school, hold a job until they find a husband, then get married and have kids and take care of a house.  And that’s it.

My mom knew that was the plan–and the corollary: school is irrelevant.  I saw her HS grades.  Yikes.  She always told the story of being behind the Keokuk Gymnasium skipping class,  smoking cigarettes (the habit that eventually killed her) when loudspeakers announced Kennedy’s assassination.  It didn’t affect her other than give her a day off from school.

So she graduated and did what she was supposed to.  A year after graduation she married my dad and 2 1/2 years later, I appear on the scene and a little more than two years after that, my sister.  The family business was doing well (the company, not just the growing size of mein Familie), we moved into a bigger house…all perfect.

Except for my mom, it wasn’t.  Some stuff happened–and out of it, she realized the perfect dream she’d been indoctrinated with in the 1950s and 1960s wasn’t what she wanted.  What she wanted was to help people.  She wanted to be a nurse.

Of course, that required a college degree and when she decided on this back in 1983, she knew that her grades from high school would hurt her.  Still, the Marycrest nursing program took her–using the logic (the right logic, by the way) that adult students can’t be judged on grades from twenty years prior, and so at the age of 37, my mom became a college student.

She struggled.  I wanted to harass her for it, but  I realized how tough it was, her struggle–because she asked me constantly for help on certain subjects like math or writing.  Think about it–you’re a parent and you have to ask your 15-16yr old child for help.  Daily.  Humbling, but still, she pressed forward.

She’d never learned how to take notes, so she’d record class then COMPLETELY re-write what she heard.  She’d listen to it over and over.  She read the textbooks over and over.  She did this in the morning, she did this at night.  Every. Damned. Day.  I’ve never seen a work ethic like it.

In ’85, I left high school for college.  Being the cocky guy I was (am?), I made a bet with my mom regarding GPA–lower GPA owes the higher GPA $50.  I was in college four semesters while she was in college…I lost that money four of four times.  Never mess with a woman with a work ethic–and don’t make bets you aren’t guaranteed to win.

She wound up graduating #1 in her Nursing class, finished her BSN in four years–amazing given that she had to take remedial classes to catch up with kids just out of high school with schooling fresh in their mind, kids who were top of their class at Central or North, not bottom 5% of the Class of 1964.

So?

So I have never forgotten that work ethic or her commitment for pursuing her passion.  I have not forgotten she did this without sacrificing her children’s needs (other than the one day I wound up jimmying the kitchen window to get in since she left without giving me a key that morning…I was skinnier then).

I haven’t forgotten her smile when she graduated.  I haven’t forgotten the efforts she went to on behalf of her patients or their families in moments of need.  I learned how small things can make a big difference.  I’ve learned that we are not defined by our wealth, but our service to others, our commitment to making the world a better place.

I learned that I miss her more today than yesterday and more then than the day before or the day before that.

So when you learn that adults are returning to college, be in awe of what they do, the commitment they are making, the sacrifices necessary for pursuing their dreams–because those men and women like Mom are trying to lead the world to a better place.

A Bittersweet 15th Anniversary, 1/21

Back before I started this blog (the dark ages of spring, 2018), there was a thread in a coaching forum called ‘Volleyball Coaches and Trainers’ on Facebook started by a coach who had just been let go from a coaching position because of upset parents.  She wondered what other coaches did to get over being fired, what it was like to find that your summer was suddenly free–the works.

I was able to reply–because I’ve been fired (shockingly, this post is about that).  One of things I remember being told after I was fired was “Congratulations.  You aren’t a real coach until an administrator screws up your life.”  Gallows humor, but now with hindsight, I see there’s great wisdom in those words.

Anyways, she wanted to know what you did to get over it and the reality is–you don’t.  This month marks the 15-year anniversary of getting fired from what I considered a ‘dream job.’  Here’s an open secret–I’m still pissed about it.  I still hold some grudges….yes, 15 years down the road.  And if you’ve read any of my other posts like #1, #2, or #3, you know that I’m pretty happy where I’m at now kicking some butt:

Heck, I’ve been at Lincoln Land now thirteen seasons, five more than Satan’s School where I was terminated.  I am blessed to work with an athletic director who cares about all of the sports and with other coaches who believe in the ‘student’ part of ‘student-athlete’.  I’ve seen our baseball and softball teams go to Nationals, the soccer team come within a goal of Nationals and, possibly, our women’s basketball team making it this spring.  I’ve enjoyed almost every young woman I’ve coached, I’ve loved watching them move on to success in their own personal and professional lives–and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

I’m still salty about getting fired though.

The thing is–it was ‘my choice’.  The school superintendent, the head priest, relayed the message to me that I needed to play the right person, do the right thing.  The choice was the 6’3 MH freshman or the 5’5 senior.  I’m a coach and built that program based on the principle of ‘you play for the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.’  It was inferred I’d face consequences for the wrong choice.  Well, I played the 6’3 kid (who made all-state) and that was that.  –‘We need the program to go in a different direction.’…7 winning seasons, a state-qualifying team…Satan’s School has gone a different direction since, by the way….but the ‘right’ people have played at least….

When I was suggested to change the lineup, it was also mentioned that I needed to think about my family–here’s a lot of why I’m still upset, by the way.  That if I didn’t do the ‘right’ thing, how would I support my family?  I needed to think about their well-being….honestly, it was like a Mafia threat.   Of course, you can’t support a family of five on a religious school’s teaching salary or the $1,000 coaching stipend.  I did those things because I love teaching/volleyball.  Ugh…hinting at family ruin all for the sake of a wealthy kid.

The other part of that which upsets me–I know there are coaches who would’ve changed their lineup.  It isn’t the coach I get mad at…it’s that I understand there ARE coaches who rely on that salary, who need that tiny paycheck to make rent, buy groceries.  I hate seeing people forced to compromise principles for the sake of cold, naked reality.  It lessens the individual.  I hate that.  And to this day, I’m thankful I could stand on my principles–not just for me, but I know it made a difference for several of my students in choices they made later.  It’s also made a difference with my recruiting now–I can show that I don’t play favorites, that I will stick to principles.

So–we get back to that coach at the start of this who got fired…my advice?  Acknowledge you won’t get over it, but don’t let the anger or despair blind you.  Keep your head up, look for opportunities, and if they don’t come right away, use the sudden free time to recharge your personal batteries or get involved in other ways–college summer camps or officiating (there is a drastic shortage in all sports, everywhere…consider checking it out here, here, or here).  Consider what happened–would you do things the same if you had the chance to change them?

For me, I was offered a different high school coaching job–then it turned out that superintendent’s college roommate was the dad of the 5’5 kid…he vetoed my hire (you can’t make this stuff up, y’know?).  I did get discouraged.  I decided I’d change gears in life, focus more on other things like my business and investments–those were things that needed more attention to prosper, but I kept them on the back-burner because I enjoyed teaching/coaching much more.  Oh well–time to gear up the business!

And then, the first week of August, a college head coaching position opened with teaching responsibilities to go with it.  The pay was pretty good–worth being two states away from home.  What the heck–I applied.  The next day I had a call from the college president, had a nice talk, and two days later, I was in Iola, KS, interviewing at Allen Community CollegeTwo days after that, I was hired and moving to Kansas…having found out that the season was already underway!!  (A ton of stress to learn on the fly, I’ll note)

I spent two seasons there at which point my current job near home opened.  Without Allen, I likely don’t get the LLCC gig.  Things worked out because I didn’t let the past control me.  I used getting fired by Satan’s School as motivation.  I used it to critically examine how I coached, to evaluate how badly I wanted to coach.  I realize now it was a crucible, a temptation–I had the chance to remain in a job I loved if only I compromised my personal principles.  I didn’t.  Under pressure, I was able (thankfully) to remain true to myself.

But I still miss teaching, seeing light bulbs go on.  I miss watching an athlete go from being unable to hit a ball 20 feet in distance to pounding it straight down, to watch confidence grow in themselves and a team–in a way that you don’t get with emotionally more-mature college athletes.  I miss seeing girls survive the trauma of junior high, begin the process of becoming young adults.  I’ve missed that for fifteen years.

I know some of my former students and players at Satan School will read this–I post it on social media and stay in touch with a ton of them.  You are missed.  I think of you regularly–and am proud of who you have all become now as doctors, mothers, fathers, carpenters, artists, nurses, musicians.  Indeed, I loved you then and love you now.

Well, that’s all maudlin and ramblin’.  Sorry.  Really–reflect on what has happened and use it to make today and tomorrow better.  Your fate, your path, is yours to choose, not anyone else’s.  Free will, baby.  Free will.

* * *

So, since I wrote everything above in preparation for today, a different story came forward out of Texas.  A coach there resigned (or was asked to resign as I saw in one story) and after doing so, went public/to the internet with her issues, noting:

“…“As a coach, playing time decisions are always difficult. Unfortunately, upon making these decisions in the best interest of team success, I was not supported by athletic, campus, or district administration. I was told by campus administration that I needed to recognize the political aspect of my job, and also of theirs. I cannot and will not compromise the integrity of my decisions based on a parent’s political pressure or position. I believe strongly in the value of athletics, that being a part of a team is a privilege, and playing time is earned….”  

I don’t know the coach and really, no one can know the internal situation unless employed there.  In coaching forums, naturally, coaches side with coaches (administrators and officials are the enemy for some…).  The problem is–you’ll never get to hear the administration’s side of the story.

It’s why I’ve added this post-script.  With mine, you know where things stood in the aftermath or as Paul Harvey would say, ‘Now you know…the rest of the story.”

It was January 21, 2004 when I was sitting in my 8th hour prep period–and actually using it, grading some US History homework.  There was a knock at my door and the principal (Thom) and the athletic director (Matt) came in to my room and asked to talk.  I wasn’t too worried–it was time to do contracts and since I didn’t have regular state certification, I was going to need to start heading in that direction with summer classes, etc.  With coaching, I’d received a note from the school accountant/financial person that there was a ‘glitch’ with my coaching contract–but not to worry.  So, this was no biggie.

Except it was, obviously.  But Thom and Matt didn’t come to fire me.  They came to tell me that that ‘glitch’ was intentional.  The superintendent would accidentally have someone else sign the teaching contract and then wouldn’t want to go back on their ‘word’–and since they were one year positions, it wouldn’t be a big deal for me to not coach any more since I should expect to leave at the end of any season.  The super’s plan had been to get me to sign a teaching contract first so I felt bound/obligated to remain–since the teaching contract prevents employment at other schools (which would have prevented me from coaching elsewhere).  And that was that.

So–why am I adding this?  Because of what happened to Thom and Matt, because what happened to them stayed quiet, too.  Because they told me what was going on, having been warned not to, because they acted with integrity, they were fired as well.  Yup…three firings because of an upset volleyball parent (you’d think that’s something that would come from football or boys’ basketball only).  They stayed quiet, too, choosing not to air grievances in public.  SO what happened to them?

Thom left and went to work for his son’s construction company in Colorado and when the snow came, he and his wife went to Florida where they nannied his daughter’s three children.  Once word got out Matt was let go, he didn’t even really have to apply for jobs–job offers came to him.  He took one as an AD/assistant principal and has been there ever since, supervising massive growth in that school’s booster program, adding a couple sports, and supervising a multi-million dollar capital improvement program.

Thom retired basically so he isn’t a great example, but would those job offers have come in to Matt if he’d blown up at the school/superintendent who fired him?  Unlikely.  Prospective employers will hear your side during the hiring process; if they are good, they’ll find out the details all around it, too.

So this is why I give administrators benefit-of-the-doubt when there is coaching turnover.  It’s why I am thankful to have worked for Matt and Thom and then John/Randy* at Allen, and now Ron at LLCC.  Consider all the possibilities–not just the ones that fit your prior notions!!

*Randy was acting A.D. while I was at ACCC; the ‘real’ A.D. (Dan Kinney) was serving a tour of duty in Iraq, so he didn’t return until my last two weeks at Allen.

Electoral College, redux

So a bit ago, I wrote a blog on experimenting with the Electoral College to see if a ‘better’ balance regarding population, states, and regions could be done at the structural level.  The reality is, all but one close election remains the same.  The question then becomes one of changes at the state level.  Nothing in the Constitution says delegates must be winner-take-all.  What would election results look like if they were done on a more proportional basis, based on a state’s votes?

Good question.  So–let’s look and see what happens.  Basically electors will be divided proportionally.  The one catch?  I’m going to round all fractions up, so if a candidate earns 3.001 electors, they’ll get 4 instead–a ‘bonus’ for leading the popular vote in that state.

Let’s see what happens….

2016:
Due to faithless electors, it winds up a 304-227 Trump win.
With proportional voting, it’s 268-263 in favor of Trump (because of the rounding I am implementing).  Clinton is absolutely hurt in this scenario by independent votes (though not enough, I think to change who wins).  She was killed by incompetent campaigning in the industrial states.

  • 2000:
    Due to an abstention, Bush beat Gore 271-266.
    With proportional voting, it’s 272-254 with 12 electors going to other candidates or as ’rounding errors’.  Even if all 12 went to Gore, it’s still 272-266.  Basically, no difference.

    1976:
    Carter defeated Ford 297-240.   One elector in Washington voted for Ronald Reagan.  Ford carried 27 states (mostly out west).  Carter won 23 in the east and south.
    Proportional results–it’s 272-265 (we’ll leave Reagan with his faithless elector).  It’s closer, but still a victory for Carter.

    1968:
    This was the last real three-way election.  Nixon vs. Humphrey vs. Southern racism (George Wallace).  Nixon won 301-191-46.
    Proportionally, you get: Nixon winning 245-218-75.  Basically, there was a lot more support for the blatantly white/racist campaign than people realize or can see from just electoral numbers.

    1960:
    As per the last blog (and history), this is electorally the election where Nixon is screwed in Illinois and loses because of ballot-stuffing in Chicago.  537 votes possible and Kennedy defeated Nixon 303-219.  It should be noted, too, that this was the first election to dredge up constitutional-level fears since 1876.  Kennedy won the popular vote by 0.17%.  (Fifteen electors were left unpledged/not voting)
    With proportional electors, we wind up with…268-269 and a one elector victory for Nixon–clearly it becomes an issue of which states the two candidates carried.

    NOTE: I have counted ‘unpledged’ in the totals.

So what’s the significance?  I still don’t know.  I think it really comes down to–the system works as intended.  These close elections remain close, often closer which would reflect a popular vote.

I think the real lesson is–don’t let the political parties manipulate the Constitution or election system.  Be active and work for reform so that the system can work as intended.

Odd Family History (everyone has things like this)

A friend of mine, Eric, has a mom who has been doing some research into her family and things like her dad’s service during World War Two–some cool stuff like picking up a Purple Heart during Operation Cobra, serving as part of an ACR within George Patton‘s 3rd Army.

Another friend works to keep the memory of his grandfather’s best friend alive–he was killed in the Huertgen Forest (one of the stupidest campaigns of World War Two).  That man had no siblings, so only my friend is left now keeping that soldier’s memory alive.

In any event, some of this got me thinking about one of the useless bits of trivia from my family’s history….on my mom’s side, my great-grandfather loved playing football as a youth.  Playing a match at the turn of the century, he was clearing a ball from his end of the pitch and launched it straight into the face of the opposing forward.  Now, this is 1900 we are talking about.  This isn’t a modern FIFA ball.  This is (photo by Jacques Barralon):

1900ball

The ball is leather covering inner-tubes and a rubber bladder.  It’s worse than just that.  Leather absorbs water, so that as a game went on, it picked up weight, became heavier, harder to kick, painful to head.

Anyways, my great-grandfather struck the ball and it connected with the opponent’s face.  That forward collapsed immediately like he’d been shot.  With most football games, it keeps going until there’s clear proof an injury is serious (more important in modern soccer where so many athletes flop and fake injuries).  But not this contest.  Unlike most football injuries where the game may keep going if someone gets hurt, this injury stopped the match instantly.  The health of the forward was considered far more important than the game.

The forward was Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August Ernst.  You don’t recognize that name.  That’s fair.  It’d help if the guy had a last name, right…though the lack of a surname should be a big clue.  No last name.  None of the royalty of Europe run around with last names.  See–the guy my great-grandfather knocked totally cold was the Crown Prince of Germany….

How many people do you know who have ancestors who knocked royalty out cold?  

Exactly.

 

Dystopian or Apocalyptic Movies

So…since I’ve done a few posts on books and movies and music related to history, why not look at some stuff that hints at the future?  Not all of these take place at the ‘end of the world’–many are dystopic, meaning ‘frightening’ or ‘anti-utopian’.  The list is alphabetical.  The first great dystopian movie was Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’.  You’ll find that here–don’t worry.

28 Days/Weeks Later: Released in 2003 and 2007, they explore the effects of an animal-borne virus that spreads from monkeys to humans because of animal-rights terrorists.  In terms of end-of-the-world movies, 28 Days Later does one big, important thing for cinema–it changes zombies from shambling, slow-moving creatures into frenetic berserkers that descend on victims like packs of wolves or schools of piranha.  28 Weeks Later takes up the story after Britain has recovered–until it doesn’t and the virus spreads beyond Britain, setting up a third movie…that never got made.

Blade Runner/BR 2049: Neither movie did well in theaters, but both are film-noir classics, created 35 years apart.  Based on Philip Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the movies take up the theme of what it means to be human–and whether an android can be human.  The world is dark, the Earth slowly dying from atomic war (the book) or unknown causes in the movies.  The movies make things interesting with the central city of the story–massive, sprawling, and a complete mosh of cultures and languages.  For philosophy, the book is better–for imagery of what a world falling to pieces could really look like, the movies are better.

Blood of Heroes:  Known outside the US as ‘The Salute of the Jugger,’ this is a movie about a sports team traveling the wastelands, gambling on winning for things like food and supplies, moving from one poor area to another–until they get a chance to get back to the underground city where wealth still exists and they have a chance at glory against a professional team.  They never tell you what the disaster was that caused the world to go to Hell, but you can play the game they invented for the movie.  Info is here.

The Book of Eli: From 2010, it has Denzel Washington in a nuclear wasteland heading west towards Alcatraz where the people there are trying to save the best of the past.  He’s fighting to get through a post-apocalyptic ‘Wild West’ where Gary Oldman runs things.  People either love the movie or they hate it.  There aren’t many in between on it.  I have a personal odd relationship with the movie–it’s the last one I watched with my mom before her final trip to see my sister where she died a few days later.

Clockwork Orange:  Ahh, Malcolm McDowell.  What a weird, wild movie by Stanley Kubrick–England dominated by thugs (droogs) and violent criminals.  One is arrested and subjected to psychological torture/conditioning to change their behavior…becoming a political tool in an election campaign with no one realizing he has been ‘cured’ of his conditioning.  Honestly, the most disturbing part of the film is the juxtaposition of the violence with the classical music:

Dawn of the Dead:  This is part of Romero’s series starting with ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and was filmed in 1978.  It’s redone in 2004, but don’t watch that version.  Dawn of the Dead sees a few survivors occupy a mall, looking to survive the Zombie Apocalypse there with the mall’s food and services.  …except it wouldn’t be a post-apocalyptic movie without things going wrong, bikers rampaging without care across the remains of the world.  It’s also a great movie about consumerism and the mindlessness of American customers (the mall, sadly, no longer exists).

WARNING–>this is low budget…but with that said, Tom Savini did amazing work with the zombie guts!

 
This discusses both versions of the movie…with a bit of snark.

Death Race 2000:  From my childhood (1975), one of my favorites–never mind that I was too young to even understand the nudity-sort of stuff.  This was wild cars running over people on the streets for points!  It’s an interesting take on modern America–a president who sits on a big throne (in his White House–in China!), controls the population through the media and the creation of a driving superstar: Frankenstein.  There’s a resistance movement, too, fighting back against massive government and repression.  It’s got some big stars including David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, and Mary Woronov, as well as Gopher from ‘The Love Boat’.  After you watch it, you’ll start counting the point-value of pedestrians.  Trust me.

Escape from New York/L.A.:  Escape from New York was the first R-rated movie I went to.  It takes place in 1997 after New York is turned into the US’s only maximum-security prison where prisoners are left to fend for themselves.  It takes place at a time where the US is at war with the Soviet Union–with vital information for peace negotiations, the President crashes (due to terrorists) inside New York and only war hero-turned-criminal Snake Plissken (Have you heard of him?  I heard he was dead.) can get him out–and he’s got 24 hours to do it.  EfNY has great actors, great action, and a twist at the end.

LA is a different sort of movie.  With this one, John Carpenter’s take is different.  This is the dystopia of Hollywood/California life.  Rather than the gritty urban scenes of Escape from New York, this is more…”cheesy” (for lack of a better word).  You’re going to feel the oddity of California, get surfer-movie and Disney references in it as well.  I’m one of the few people who finds both enjoyable.  Many who see LA first like it a great deal–but those who love the ’81 New York movie and watch it over and over have their eyeballs bleed if LA is on a screen nearby.

And Escape from L.A.–it’s cheesy, but realize that’s Peter Fonda and intentionally so…not everyone understood that when the movie was released.

I Am Legend/The Omega Man/The Last Man on Earth:  All of these are based on the same novel, I am Legend, by Richard Matheson.  They are all about one man immune to a plague that has turned the rest of humanity into vampires.  By day, the man hunts and kills as many vampires as he can while at night, he hides while vampires try and track him down to stop his murdering of their kind.

The most recent remake featured Will Smith.  Before him came Charlton Heston and before him, Vincent Price, so it isn’t like these were schlubs starring in the films–and yet all three are just ‘okay’.  I prefer the Heston version, but it hasn’t aged well–it looks like the 1970s.  Price’s version looks like it was low-budget (which it was) while Will Smith’s looks the best/most timeless–but it just feels like it’s a generic attempt at a blockbuster summer movie.  This is the trailer for Heston’s.  See what I mean about it looking dated?

In Time: This isn’t the greatest movie in the world.  I get that.  It is entertaining though if you ignore the economics of it all.  Basically when you become an adult, you get a clock that starts running on you.  If it reaches zero, you die.  When you work, you get paid in time–so the more time you have, the longer you live…and no one ever ages past 25, so everyone stays beautiful, too…unless you die. 

Thus, the very wealthy accumulate time/manipulate the system to further their wealth and power while the bottom of society, the working class, can do nothing other than work/slave away.  Yeah, it’s pretty Marxist…but in terms of a modern take on dystopia?  Why not?

The Last Chase:  Lee Majors from ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ (a silly title now in the era of athletes with $300 million contracts) is a race driver in an America left without oil where cars are banned.  Top that off with a plague that killed a bunch of people.  Now it’s time to escape to freedom (California) with a young boy and pursued by the government…and the only way to catch a race care lieft–a F-86 Sabre jet with the last living jet pilot.

I get that it isn’t a great movie…but was okay when I had the flu back in ’82 or ’83.  It is interesting though in showing American fear of running out of oil after the OPEC crises of the 1970s.

Logan’s Run:  From 1976, this movie needs to be remade!  It’s about a post-nuclear war society where no one is permitted to live past 30…amusing since the Baby Boomer generation’s slogan was ‘trust no one over 30’.  Of course, it’s been 40 years now and the Boomers have changed their beliefs–since they hold most offices.  Now, of course, they cynically proclaim the wisdom of their advanced age.  Go figure.  Like Heston’s ‘Omega Man’, the costuming and envisioning of the future don’t hold up well which takes away from the plot and ideas.  

Mad Max (series):  Starting as a low-budget Australian film, Mad Max proved popular enough to spawn a 1980s trilogy–Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome and then a 21st century film, Fury Road.  In Mad Max, there’s a semblance of order left as the oil runs out and people begin fighting for resources, but by the time of The Road Warrior, that’s gone and you get pure post-apocalyptic Australian wastelands.  Big ideas, big action…Thunderdome is disappointing mainly because it’s good, not great like the others.

From the Mel Gibson ones:

From Tom Hardy’s:

Matrix (series):  The first of these was great.  Then you got ‘Reloaded’ which was good and ‘Revolutions’ which was all right, I guess (you also have the animated ‘Animatrix’ which has several small stories and is an interesting thing to watch).  The problem is like many innovative movies–the sequels can’t capture your original amazement at what you see.  The movies take place in a world where the world is actually inside a computer, except for humans resisting machine control…except that it could all be within another computer which seeks to erase everything as glitched.  The original remains a great movie to leave on if you see it.  Laurence Fishburne is great, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder, “Why do I see him and think ‘Why isn’t Samuel L. Jackson in this instead?'”

Also important–those special effects in this scene are now two decades old.

Metropolis: One of the first dystopian films–maybe the first as it goes back almost a century to 1927.  It was long for its time–more than two hours, and it grossed about 2% of its production costs, about as big of a bomb as you can get.  Yet here we are talking about it.  It’s about the son of the city’s controller who tries to unite the workers and the city management for the good of all, a bridging of classes.  In Weimar Germany, this was a large issue with a great divide between the wealthy, the middle, and the poor and communists.  There’s an early 1980s release of it where they put in modern rock music from Freddie Mercury (yes, that Freddie Mercury).  That doesn’t do anything for me, but I do like Queen’s song, “Radio Gaga,” which uses the film for inspiration.

Clip from the film:

Queen’s music video:

Planet of the Apes (Charlton Heston era):  I don’t think they ever expected to make sequels and a TV show out of this.  It’s a fascinating look at space flight and the horror of nuclear war and what happens when astronauts are thrown far into the future, humanity is destroyed, reduced to being animals, as various species of monkeys evolve and create a new world order.  That’s where the astronauts come in–the apes have never seen a talking human before.  They need to be destroyed.   The sequels are entertaining and also serve as allegory for things like racism.  

There’s one big problem with the movies and you have to suspend disbelief.  Thousands of years in to the future and the apes have evolved and amazingly….they speak English.  This (sort of) gets ret-conned by one of the later movies where an ape is taught to speak circa 1970 or so, but still….

Planet of the Apes (21st century series, and specifically NOT the 2001 remake by Tim Burton):  Completely inspired by the first–and designed to be a movie series, the premise here is a serum that increases primate intelligence, but with genetic manipulation that causes a virus to cross over to humans which kills 99% of humanity off.  This leaves equal numbers of intelligent humans and monkeys and a conflict between wanting power and wanting peace and trying to co-exist.  What is nice is that they set up as prequels (mostly) to the originals.  You can take these, then watch the first movie and they link together quite well.

Ready Player One:  Based on the novel, it’s a world where everyone’s caught up in virtual reality.  It has a ton of inside jokes regarding video games and ’80s cultural references.  It’s not my cup of tea, but most people I know have found it entertaining.  I think it’s just too obvious in terms of the power/downtrodden, wealthy/poor storyline.  I appreciate movies with a message, but this is a bit too obvious.  

RoboCop: The funny thing with this is that it’s got a sleazy city government led by a corrupt black mayor…which is exactly what happened 10-15 years after the movie was made.  In an effort to cut costs, the city creates a cyborg cop to patrol the streets (conveniently with an attractive female partner…).  It portrays a dying city, rife with drugs, crime, the works…which is pretty much what Detroit was becoming/became.  The thing is, what you don’t get from this Dystopia–the hope of recovery.  Detroit’s in better shape than it was 20 years ago, finally heading in the right direction.

Rollerball (James Caan version):  This is the first Dystopian movie I can remember watching on ‘Channel 100’, the precursor to HBO.  It’s the story of a man named Jonathan who plays the world’s greatest sport of rollerball for the Houston corporation.  The sport is about the team, that no one can rise above as an individual–yet Jonathan does, so the movie becomes the story of the attempt to destroy Jonathan.

It’s still a great movie.  The technology is a bit off–the movie is 40+ years old, but they get some things quite right–multiple, giant-screen televisions covering action from every possible angle, etc.  I watched it recently with my daughter and she also thought it was a great movie.  Ultimately, this is how you create a movie that’s fun/interesting to watch while presenting a moral dilemma for pondering later.

Also important–avoid the remake at all possible costs.  You’ll never get those 90 minutes of your life back.  It’s not even good as background noise.

Soylent Green: Charlton Heston was on a roll with these movies, having also starred in ‘Planet of the Apes’ (see above).  This is the film adaptation of the Harry Harrison novel, Make Room! Make Room! which is the story of a cop in New York in a world overpopulated and out of resources, where people are assigned roommates because there just isn’t anywhere else for people to go.

It’s a dingy movie with a great, gritty feel.  It builds slowly towards its emotional payoff and just like ‘Rollerball’, it entertains you without beating you too hard over the head with its message.  Given the way corporations are governments are raping the planet right now, at a certain point, we still have to wonder–is this a possible future for us a century from now?

The trailer gives you a good feel for the movie–and spoils nothing.

They Live:  One of my favorite movies of all time.  The funny thing?  It doesn’t have a movie star in the key role–it has a professional wrestler, the late Rowdy Roddy Piper.  It’s another movie where the plot centers around the wealthy in a conspiracy to keep the poor oppressed and to exploit the planet’s resources.  The catch is–they are in cahoots with aliens who are disguised and walking among us.  The Resistance develops a way to see the aliens, Piper gradually gets involved, and it’s a roller coaster from there.  Done by John Carpenter, it was in the middle of a serious roll of great films for him–‘Big Trouble in Little China,’ ‘The Thing,’ ‘Escape from New York,’ and ‘Christine.’

GREAT SCENE (and the origin of a line a whole bunch of people use….):

Not related to being a dystopic movie, Carpenter should be appreciated for his ability to make entertaining movies on low budgets, without relying on massive special effects.  I also love that you can see a lot of the same actors in the various Carpenter films.

Zombieland:  Over the past twenty years, zombie movies and products have saturated the market.  There are hundreds of them.  ‘Zombieland’ is different, a great deal like ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ except that SotD takes place in a normal, every day world–and concludes in a normal world with just a few changes to it.  Zombieland takes place in an America where society has collapsed, leaving stragglers and survivors scattered.  That’s nothing new for apocalyptic movies.  What makes ZL different is that it maintains a feeling for human reaction/relationships and a great sense of humor, breaking the 4th wall at points.  What happens to cultural icons when society dies?  Will survivors seek out places like Disney as comfort?  What happens when you realize you’ll never be able to eat your favorite snack again?  –those aren’t issues you really ever see dealt with in a zombie movie.

(How many movies can combine silliness, violence, Metallica–all before the credits are done?

Whew–make it to the end?  If you did and liked it, consider hitting “FOLLOW” for the blog.  You might find yourself entertained, you might learn something about coaching, but mostly, hopefully it helps you think!  

 

 

 

 

Nicht Neues am Westen (All Quiet on the Western Front), November 11, 1918

One hundred years ago, the ‘Great War’, aka the ‘War to End All Wars’ ended.  It was four years of senseless slaughter and ground a generation of European men to pulp.  Why?  The events which caused it, the handling of the war…all foolish.  Even the peace at the end was horrible.

*The war started because of a Balkan assassination, a terrorist act that drug the Serbian government in to conflict with the Austrians (not realizing their own secret police were conspirators).  Rather than cool tempers, the Russians and Germans saw it as a way to reinforce alliances and loyalties.  When that meant war, the Germans’ only plan was strike west which brought France and Belgium in (and because of the attack on Belgium, Britain as well)

*Or the cause is older–British hatred of continental power, whether it was 16th century Spain, Napoleon, or a unified Germany after 1870.  There’s a lot of documentation out there (Niall Ferguson has about 400 pages of endnotes in The Pity of War suggesting Britain welcomed war in 1914 as an excuse to fight Germany before Germany grew too strong to contain) that Britain intentionally avoided a peaceful solution.

*Fighting the war?  Read the documents and orders, especially on the western front.  Men are treated as a number in the ledger, nothing more.  They are something to expend, no different than bullets or artillery shells.  European leaders chose to avoid lessons of war–the trenches of the American Civil War or the addition of barbed wire and machine-gun positions to those trenches which came during the Russo-Japanese War.  Nope–those wars involve Americans, Asians…not “real” or “professional” soldiers.  So they applied 19th century solutions against 20th century technology.  And failed.

*Peace?  Britain and France made sure to screw over all of the Central Powers.  Theirs was not a peace meant to heal wounds, it was one of vengeance.  The Ottoman Empire was eliminated, its territories handed over (conveniently) to France and England.  Germany was forced to admit all guilt for everything, its industry was occupied, it was banned from a real navy, army, or airpower, and it was forced to pay cash to Britain and France for the cost of the war.  There were sane men who tried to prevent such a solution.  They understood Germany would not stand for it, would recover and seek an alternative solution.  One of those rational men headed France’s military during the war, French Marshal Foch.  He said on the treaty’s signing, “This is nothing more than a twenty-year ceasefire.”  He said that June 28, 1919.  On September 1, 1939, World War Two broke out.  He missed by 63 days (he was 99.14% accurate in his assessment).

*It was worse still.  The American president, Wilson, had entered the war naively, believing the Germans the bad guys, that Britain were the good guys.  He wanted to make the world safe for democracy and then, even though it was American financing which won the war against the Central Powers, Wilson permitted Britain and France to dictate terms, including the way the League of Nations was created.  Instead of the United States brokering a just peace between nations who all shared guilt for the slaughter which devastated Europe, Wilson returned home with nothing.  The US didn’t even join the League because of the numerous caveats–and fears of entanglement abroad (worries which existed before Wilson fought for the League unnecessarily).  Wilson blew his political capital and prestige on an impossible dream that every nation would get along if they had an organization to talk in.

So what?  This was a century ago?  It doesn’t matter.   Oh, but it does.  Can you picture a war breaking out because two leaders don’t like one another, one winds up with a bruised ego?  What about a regional power entering a fight with another–the two Koreas–which escalates when China and the US become involved?  Does that become the time for the Sovi–Russians to try and reoccupy Warsaw Pact nations?  Can those powers keep the fighting limited or when defeat nears, will someone use nuclear weapons hoping for a desperate win or ‘if we can’t win, no one else will either’?

Remember this day.  November 11 is far more important than 9/11 or 12/7.  It’s much more important than Memorial Day or Labor Day.  This Remembrance Day is to keep in mind that ungodly slaughter of 1914-1918 and the war spawned by its hateful end, 1939-1945.  We owe it to each other, our children, and their children’s children to never let anything like that happen again.  

“In Flanders Fields” –John McCrae (1872-1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

World War One was accidental.  No one thought it would come to that.  They tried to put in place rules and treaties to prevent it happening again.  They failed, but the invention of atomic weapons created a stable, lasting peace–even in the middle of an arms race.  Eventually, the two main powers, the US and USSR, negotiated limits.  Those agreements are being disavowed now, you have China massively upgrading its arsenal….are we nearing the point of another accidental war, this time fought to the species’ extinction with nuclear weapons?