Dinner Guest Extraordinaire

Whenever I get to play the game of “Name the people you’d like to have over for dinner,” I always enjoy other people’s choices, even though many of them would make me leave the house screaming rather than sit at a table with them. Over the years, of course, my own list has changed as my tastes have changed, or as I’ve encountered or read about people who, in my opinion, would make excellent guests at a dinner table. The people I’d want to have over for dinner, it seems, are always temporary members of my list.

Except for one.

My permanent guest is none other than the late David Niven, the classy actor (Academy Award-winner), legendary seducer of women, (anonymous) war hero and peerless raconteur. 

I’d always enjoyed his acting, even though Niven’s golden years were long before I was born. But what turned me into a fan were his memoirs, The Moon’s A Balloon and his stories of old Hollywood, Bring On The Empty Horses. Both are wonderfully written, both are fine insights to Hollywood’s Golden Age, both are in turn side-splittingly funny and dreadfully poignant, and I have both in hardback. They are among the very few books that I never lend out.

I’m not going to do a potted biography of the man here — there’s a workable bio at Wikipedia, and of course his biography Niv (which I haven’t read because I don’t need to).

Then there are his movies — countless dozens of them — which bear witness to his (self-deprecating) talent. If you want a recommendation, try Separate Tables (for his Oscar-winning performance), or Stairway To Heaven (my favorite of his work, a.k.a. A Matter Of Life And Death). None of his movies are on Netflix, which alone is enough to make me cancel my subscription.

Niven is not a household name anymore, certainly not in America, and that’s a shame, because he embodies just about every quality which goes to make a Real Man (despite being an actor): he was intelligent, witty, charming, well-read, resourceful and brave. (The last comes from knowing that during WWII, he served in the Commandos and the “Phantom” unit — which, typically, Niven never spoke about, and would just change the subject when pressed for details.)

Oh, and here are but two of his many conquests, the exquisite Loretta Young:

…and the kittenish Paulette Goddard:

…neither of which he ever boasted about, of course.

So if you have a rainy afternoon with nothing to do, grab a whisky and copy of The Moon’s A Balloon, and settle in for a wonderful time. There’s no need to thank me; it’s all part of the service.

I just wish I’d known him in person.

Plutocrat Problems

Seen in a recent real estate listing here in West Plano:

Not sure about the Ford GT on the right, but otherwise I don’t think you can fault the man’s taste.

The house looks out onto the Gleneagles Country Club golf course, and is listed at $1.2 million which, in that neighborhood, makes me wonder if there’s something wrong with it.

But that’s not what I want to talk about, because it’s Saturday and I’m not a realtor.

Here’s the question: let’s assume you’re that guy, and the Fast & Furious crowd stole all your cars one night. The insurance has paid out, and you want to fill your garage with different ones of about equivalent value (i.e. the sky’s pretty much the limit). Which four cars would you buy? (Assume you need at least one SUV as a “guns ‘n groceries” conveyance, just to make it interesting. And please:  I don’t want to hear any guff that you only need one car, and you want to use the rest of the garage as a workshop. Play the game.)

Answers in Comments. My choices are below the fold, but make your choices first before looking at mine, lest I influence your selections. Read more

International Comparisons

In my post about laws and traffic laws, Erik of No Pasaran! took me to task in Comments. According to him, I’m an Allyagottado — i.e. a slave to the law. (I should mention that Erik and I go back a long, long way; he’s one of the good guys, a rarity in Eurostan, and I don’t take his criticism of me to heart.) Read his comment first, but let me say at the outset that it’s basically a rant against traffic speed limits, with which I don’t disagree that much. (I should also point out that the entire point of my post was that apart from traffic laws, which to me are a minor irritation, I’m anything but an Allyagottado, but whatever.)

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. One of Erik’s points was that speed limits, or rather the lack thereof on Germany’s autobahns makes for efficient driving and few crashes. That’s by and large true, although when you do see a crash on the autobahn, it’s a doozy: seldom fewer than four or five cars totally wrecked, and multiple cases of serious injury and/or deaths. However, there’s a point that is seldom made by people who love the no-speed limit on Germany’s highways: the Germans know how to drive. And that’s a very salient point, because to get a driver’s license in Germany, you don’t just get handed one after a couple weeks of driver’s ed in high school; you have to enroll in a State-authorized Fahrschule and pass both a theory- and practical examination (here’s a decent overview so I don’t have to go into detail). It is not a cheap process, it is extraordinarily difficult, and unlike here in the United States, the Germans treat driving very much as a State-granted privilege and quite definitely not as an individual’s right. It is quite common for licenses to be suspended, sometimes for life, after multiple traffic infractions, and with no appeal. (In Germany, if you get angry at another driver and just make a rude gesture, there’s a good chance that you’ll be photographed by one of the hundreds of thousands of traffic cameras on the autobahns — oh yes, we Americans would just love that degree of privacy invasion — and you’ll lose your German driver’s license, possibly forever if it’s not your first offense.)

To repeat: driving is treated in Germany far more strictly than it is treated Over Here. And thus a comparison of the two countries in this regard is not only difficult, but incongruent. “Why can’t we have highway speed limits like the Germans?” is answered simply by, “We could, if we wanted to live under a Germanic system of licensing and control.”

To get away from the Germans (something we should do as a matter of course anyway*); I’m always amused by people of the gun control persuasion who never tire of comparing the U.S. gunfire homicide rates with those of Japan (a favorite of theirs, by the way). “Why can’t we be more like the Japanese?” they wail as they wave around Japan’s 0.00000001% statistic. Well, we could, if we Americans were prepared to put up with the stifling social conformity and authority-worship of Japanese society, and the complete lack of a Second Amendment in our Constitution. But we wouldn’t, and shouldn’t.

Which brings us, finally, to the point of this particular post. Many foreign countries do certain things better than we do, or at least have it better than we do in certain respects. But as the above examples have shown, that superiority generally comes at a steep price, and is most often a price paid with a profound loss of personal freedom — or else, a profound loss of standard of living and quality of life — all of which are abhorrent to us.

If we are going to make an honest comparison, therefore, I’m not sure we Americans come off that badly, all things considered.

Oh, and Erik, if you read this: I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find too many instances in my writings where I “reflexively defend the authorities”any authorities. But hey, if it helps you make your argument…

*Of course, I exclude my German Readers from this observation because to a man, they are my kind of people: hard-working, law-abiding, freedom-loving and lovers of firearms, to name but a few common attributes. (And to Reader Sam R. in particular, over in Germanland: Vielen dank  für Ihre Großzügigkeit, if you’ll excuse my schreckliches Deutsch.)

Insisting On Beauty

One of our favorite famille du Toit sayings is: “Architecture doesn’t have to suck.” And that’s because most often, it costs pretty much the same to build a beautiful building as it does an ugly one. (Yeah, sometimes the flourishes and carvings might make it a tad more expensive, but — to use another favorite family saying — “Long after you’ve forgotten how much it originally cost, you’ll still be appreciating its beauty.”) This article, I think, makes a good case for why beauty should be maintained, nay even required, in its examination of why beautiful architecture is so necessary.

My favorite distinction is between the Art Nouveau and the Le Corbusier (a.k.a. Modernist) styles:


Myself, I prefer the graceful, almost decadent style of Art Nouveau, and find the sterile straight lines and sharp corners of Modernism (or what I call the “East German”) style repulsive and soul-destroying. It should come as no surprise that the first style came about before the First World War, and the second style immediately thereafter — just like the exquisite art of Impressionism was followed by Cubism [50,000-word anti-Cubism rant deleted].

Yes, I know that Modernist buildings are more “efficient” (like that’s important) in their ease of construction and utilization of space. All I know is that I’d rather look down any classical Parisian street than any modern German one. (Or, for that matter, a street in an American city like Dallas, which is so ugly it’s small wonder that most North Texans prefer to live in the suburbs, which are themselves hardly a source of exemplary architecture.) And I can say with absolute certainty that I’d rather live on a beautiful Art Nouveau street than on one lined with buildings designed by Walter Gropius (another architect who — like Le Corbusier — should be in a space where the temperature is set to “Broil”).

I know, I know: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But as Joseph Campbell is quoted in the linked article above: “If you want to see what a society really believes in, look at what the biggest buildings on the horizon are dedicated to.”

We should live amidst beautiful things, we should strive for beauty even though some evil bastards may call it “decadent”.

A rose is beautiful, and it decays and dies. A concrete block is useful, and survives for centuries, its ugliness almost timeless. No two roses are alike; all concrete blocks are identical. We can always grow another rose to replace a dead one — but to get rid of a concrete block, we need jackhammers and high explosives.

I know that some people may find beauty in straight lines, and sharp corners, and orderliness. I’m just not one of them.

Eye Spy

I’ve often said that getting old isn’t for kids, nor for the faint of heart: you have to be seasoned and tough to be able to handle this aging nonsense.

Hence: eye trouble. Last year I was having trouble with my vision, so I went off to see my eye specialist — okay, opthalmololojist or whatever [10,000-word rant against medical terminology deleted] — and he gave me the good news that I have cataracts (a symptom of old age, apparently; everyone gets ’em sooner or later) which will eventually require surgery, oh joy. Also, the itching and pain in my eyes are caused by glaucoma (i.e. incurable, and eventual blindness). Oh, happy happy joy joy. The conversation then ran as follows:

Kim: So… are you going to measure me for a glass eye, or what? How do we deal with glaucoma?
Doctor: Drops.
Kim: Drops?
Doctor: Drops. Take a single drop in each eye every night, and that’ll at least reduce the pressure. Here are a few bottles to get you started — samples, no charge — and let’s take a look again in a few months. Your eye pressure is 21 [I have no idea what that means – K.] and we’ll want to get it down to at least 13 on your next visit.
Kim: Drops?

Last week was my follow-up. Good news is that the pressure is down to 11, so the doctor is happy. I am less happy because the cataract in my left eye is worsening, and will require surgery next year. Aaaargh.

My eye specialist is a good man. His old office was in a medical suite attached to a hospital so at the front door there was the usual shitty “30.06” (as we call it here, the thirty-ought-six) sign which forbids concealed carry in the building. Of course, at my first visit I forgot to de-gun in the car because Idiot Kim, and when I sat down in the examination chair I winced as the gun stuck into my back. The conversation went as follows:

Doctor: You okay?
Kim: Yeah.
Doctor: Gun got ya?
Kim: Uh… yeah. [no point in lying, he had me dead to rights]
Doctor: What are you carrying?
Kim: Uhhh a 1911.
Doctor: Cool. I’ve got a SIG 220 myself [patting his hip]. We should go to the range together sometime.

Man, I love Texas. A doctor who shoots .45 ACP… it just doesn’t get much better than this. Oh, and earlier this year he moved to his own office suite across the road: no 30.06 sign outside.

Harmless Addictions

As a rule, I have to drink quite a bit of liquid each day because if I don’t, the old kidneys malfunction and Mr. Gout puts in a reappearance:

(Yes, I take Allopurinol daily, and haven’t had a gout attack, not even a twinge, in years — but I’m taking no chances because excruciating agony, not wanting.)

Of course, “hydrating” means drinking water, but that actually makes me thirstier afterwards and anyway, as I was once told by a doctor:

…so generally speaking I ingest water only in solid form, surrounded by Scotch or gin.

But I still need to drink liquids in fairly large volumes each day. For a while, I’ve been drinking water flavored with lemon juice (just to make the water taste better; Plano is a fine city, but our tap water while potable tastes like shit). One cannot live by lemon water alone, however, so I sought out other liquid alternatives.

I don’t care for iced tea, and I can’t stand fizzy drinks as a rule — forget Coke and such — because with my lap band, gas causes me pain almost as bad as gout. I don’t mind a teeny bit of fizz such as found in costly products such as Perrier, but for the quantities I require (I’m not a Russian oil oligarch), Perrier is out of the question. And I feel like a pretentious dick carrying it out of the store. So what to do?

Then I discovered this evil substance:

…and OMG I was hooked on it shortly thereafter. I use it as a supplement to the lemon water (one can per day) so I probably drink only about a case of it every month in that manner. Unfortunately, the Aranciata Rossa also makes an excellent mixer for vodka and gin, so my total consumption of Pellegrino is, shall we say, somewhat higher. (Yes I know: booze is not A Good Thing for gout sufferers, that’s why I take Allopurinol so shuddup.) I generally pour it back and forth a couple of times between two glasses to take out most of the fizz (which is much lower anyway), and let me tell you, it’s nectar. I usually drink it in the evenings only, but I know it’s an addiction because yesterday when I looked into Ye Olde Iceboxe and found only two cans extant, I had to race off to the local pusher of said product — both Central Market and Trader Joe’s in Plano carry it, thank goodness — and stock up.

And no, I receive neither subsidy nor consideration from San Pellegrino so this punt is completely without motive, other than to tell you all that I’m addicted to the lovely stuff. But yes, if someone from San P. happens to read this adulation and wants to subsidize my addiction, they should feel free to do so and I’ll duly note that in an update.

No doubt, some other doctor will soon be advising me:

…but I’ll ignore it, as I do anyway to most medical advisories which harsh my mellow. It’s too early right now to have one, so I’ll just get me a glass of squeezed OJ instead.

Afterthought: I should probably add that I’m a huge fan of the blood-orange flavor; I eat the fruit whenever it’s in season, and even the flavored yogurt is a breakfast staple.