Wednesday, September 19, 2018

My AC Fiasco

Two small window units managed to sorta keep my house cool for 15 days in the late summer heat.
The Tuesday after Labor Day I woke up to find that my AC was out.  Actually, the compressor was still working but the blower fan that drives the cool air from the unit into the duct work stopped turning.  I cut everything off since there was no point in the compressor running and spent that Tuesday morning dealing with the issue.

I went to my AC provider and reported the situation in person.  I didn't want to fool with a simple phone call as I hoped to fix the issue as quickly as possible.  The office lady there was very helpful and sympathetic.  Unfortunately, all the repairmen were booked for the day but she would see what she could do.  One repairman standing around listening to my story simply said: "You need to get an alternate source of cooling."

Well, alternate heat is comparatively easy, but alternate cooling involved equipment I didn't have.  The AC lady mentioned that the company had some small window cooling units in the back.  After a bit of a search I managed to procure a couple of them.  I immediately drove back home.  The sun was still rising at this point and I wanted to get a jump on the hot part of the day.

I put the two units in my upstairs study windows.  Heat rises so I figured I could keep the house cooler overall by simply cooling the second floor area and use various fans around the house to circulate the air.  That worked pretty well actually.  I was able to keep the upstairs temperature at about 77 degrees and 79 downstairs during the hottest part of the day.  

Those small window units are basically designed to cool a 12 x 12 space.  So, two together would cool a slightly larger space.  But, my house is 10 times that size.  The units ran 17-18 hours a day.  I cut them off at night to give everything a rest.  Since I am an early riser, I could turn the units back on in time to make the house somewhat comfortable before the sun started heating things up.

On Thursday afternoon (September 6) the replacement motor for the blower unit came in.  It would be the next morning, however, before a repairman could be dispatched to my house.  He removed the blower assembly but could not get the old motor out.  It wouldn't budge.  "This is supposed to be a 30-minute fix.  I've never seen anything like this," was his comment as he took the whole assembly back to the shop where he had the tools to force the old motor out. 

He was back in about an hour and I had high hopes.  The new motor was placed into the assembly and everything hooked back up.  But when I turned the unit on from inside the house, the blower fan itself was now warped, apparently from the violence done to it when the old motor was extracted.

This necessitated an entirely new assembly being ordered.  Of course, the local distributor did not carry the whole assembly, that had to be ordered from St. Louis and would take 4 or 5 business days to arrive.  Crap.

So here I was trying to keep my entire house livable during these 90-degree dog days of summer with two window units meant to cool two small rooms.  I could only hope that the units could handle the way they were being pushed in order to keep things moderately cool to only slightly warm inside.

Repeated calls to my AC provider only frustrated me.  The assembly was (apparently) ordered on Friday, September 7.  By Thursday, September 13, no one could still tell me if the blower fan had even been shipped.  I was forced to get firm with the poor woman struggling to help me.  She was just doing the same thing over and over.  "No, I called but I haven't heard anything,"  she told me.  "I emailed but I never heard back."  Grrrrr.

I informed her in my most firm yet polite manner that no one seemed to be making this a priority, it didn't seem to be on anyone's radar.  All I wanted to know was when the part shipped and when I could expect delivery.  I told her that the situation was now "unprofessional" and I needed her "to go over someone's head and get some action."  I made it clear that I was not mad at her, that I understood she probably gets yelled at all the time, that I wasn't looking for special treatment, but after ten days I felt it was reasonable to expect at least some tracking information.  "As it stands now no one can even tell me if the part has been shipped," I stated emphatically. She agreed and said she would try her best and call me back.

I didn't hear from her again that day.

Last Friday afternoon, I called again.  The lady had no clue where the part was or even if it was en route.  She had gone to her supervisors and spoken to them about it but no one could tell me anything about the status of the alleged shipment.  But, surprise, surprise, about 30 minutes later she called me back to say the part was in Knoxville, Tennessee.  It was scheduled for a Monday delivery. Knowing that it probably wouldn't arrive first thing, I asked her to schedule having the blower unit installed and everything else in my system checked first thing Tuesday morning.  

Checking back with her late this past Monday (September 17), she told me the part still had not been delivered.  "Well, where is it?  You have the tracking number."  She couldn't find the freakin' tracking number, however.  Her sincere concern apparently was incapable to translating into any personal initiative whatsoever.  I was frustrated but pretty much helpless.  I half-seriously contemplated buying a whole new freakin' AC system.  It would already have been installed and working by now.

Meanwhile, the two window units continued to cool the whole house as best they could, with their small compressors running almost constantly.  By now I had figured out the optimum balance between nurturing the compressors and keeping my house livable in the late summer heat.

It was frustrating though; not just because of the primitive and inadequate nature of the cooling units.  The noise from the units running in my study all the time interfered with my ability to listen to classical music on my radio, to hear anything at all in the house except for the phone ringing.  Reading anything more than the news in my Flipboard app proved impossible.  I couldn't concentrate on any of the books I am currently reading. 

She called me back (!) later on Monday to say the part had been shipped to the Chattanooga distribution facility, not directly to the AC shop.  Why didn't she verify direct shipment?  I have no clue and she sure as hell didn't either since by now I was having to tell her what her next step should be.  

The part was due on Tuesday (yesterday) now, but she had no idea of when it might arrive (of course).  She apparently was struggling to get someone out late Tuesday afternoon but I told her there was no point in that since she didn't know when the part would come in.  I scheduled a service call for the first thing this morning.  She blocked out two hours for the maintenance guy to not only replace the blower fan but to service my entire system.

Somewhat surprisingly, given how all the rest of this went, the new blower fan was installed in no time and it worked perfectly.  The maintenance guy did a few other minor adjustments to the unit and pronounced it "good to go."  This whole BS episode is hopefully over.  Just in the nick of time, really.  It was sunny and 94 degrees here today.

I am sitting in my study as I post this blog entry.  It is quiet and cool and all seems right with the world AC-wise.  I'm looking forward to getting back to my reading and to doing yoga or just sitting in my recliner and staring without two small compressors unceasingly going hmmmmm in my head.

The whole ordeal only took 15 days (!) during some of the hottest temperatures of the year.  God only knows what my power bill will look like this month with those two small compressors and every fan in my house running almost continuously.  But it would have been so much worse without the window units.  So I should count my blessings, I suppose.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Year of the Deer Here

A grown fawn and a doe near the bird feeders in the back garden.

A frequent occurrence this summer, a doe crosses my front yard.  I took this photo with my old iPad camera, which isn't really that good, but it was all I had with me at the time.

Another doe along the back garden, again taken with my iPad.

The best photo I have of two of the fawns.  It isn't very good, I know.  I just happened to look out my bathroom window as they crossed out of my woods into the yard.  The iPad focused on my window screen so the image of the fawns is blurry.  But this still gives you a sense of how magical it was to just happen upon all this deer action on my property this year. 
This was a banner year for deer activity on my property.  Deer are no stranger to my woods and land.  I have seen them many times through the years since 1993.  But, this year was different.  I think due to nearby residential development more of them are being pushed into relatively safe, natural areas, especially when rearing their young is involved.

Back in the early spring when I would walk my dog, Charlie, through the property it was common for him to be restless, sniffing at something in the air.  I would often look out into my then leafless trees and see nothing.  Then, suddenly, Charlie would charge a bit and start barking, making a big fuss.  Suddenly, my woods came alive with 12-15 deer who had carefully hidden themselves from view.  They were all over my woods, the most I had ever seen at once.  This happened on several occasions.

Later in the spring, a few of them would come into my back yard to graze on various things, including Jennifer's prize tulips, much to her dismay.  Three or four doe were the most common encounter but I did see a small six-point buck now and then.  The deer became quite comfortable being around my house, with only Charlie to scare them away, especially at night when my dog was indoors.

In late-spring I was on my mower headed to the lower field to mow when I stopped.  Right in the middle of my gravel driveway stood a doe nursing two fawns.  I haven't seen many twin fawns in my lifetime.  I stopped the mower, wishing I had a camera, and just watched until the mother and her babies moved along.  She paused behind a small brush pile I have down there and continued to nurse the twins even as I was mowing near her.

A few weeks later I was driving up my driveway after work and saw yet another set of twin fawns with their mother.  These were even younger, just born, with spots all over them.  I couldn't believe my luck.  Two sets of twins more or less born on my property in the same season!  A rare event indeed!

Try as I might, I was unable to capture a decent photo of the fawns or of any other deer actually.  They frequently appeared near the bird feeders in my back yard along the edge of one of the gardens.  Charlie went crazy when, while resting on a couch that abuts the den window opening to the back yard and garden, deer would appear, grazing.  Charlie growled and sank his nails into the window sill (already bearing the marks of previous freak-outs about cats or deer or whatever).  The deer remain rather bold even as of this posting.

The photos presented in this post are the best I have unfortunately.  The deer still appear practically every day but the fawns are now grown, the younger twins have few spots left at this point.  They are all safe, if a bit aggravating, on my property.  I don't allow hunting.  But come later this fall, when deer season opens, many of them won't survive.  They roam too far to be protected by my small amount land.

But that's just the way things work.  I like venison as much as anybody.  Some of these deer will end up in someone's freezer for the winter; a great time for stews and cubed steaks.  Still, it has been fun watching them and allowing them to experience some small ease at being safe on my land.  Some of them no longer fear me at all, they just watch me from a safe distance, as curious about me, perhaps, as I am fascinated by them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Watching The Shining

The bloody vision seen by Danny when he "shines" about the psychic past of the hotel.  This shot was used as part of the advertising campaign for the film.
“There’s something inherently wrong with the human personality.  There’s a evil side to it.  One of the things that horror stories can do is to show us the archetypes of the unconscious: we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly.  Also, ghost stories appeal to our craving for immortality.  If you can be afraid of a ghost, then you have to believe that a ghost may exist, and if a ghost exists, then oblivion might not be the end.” (Stanley Kubrick quoted by LoBrutto, page 412)

Stanley Kubrick had reason to become somewhat more "mainstream" following his artistically brilliant but financially lackluster Barry Lyndon.  That film did not live up to expectations about “the Stanley Kubrick brand” when compared with the financial success of Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey and even the initially X-rated A Clockwork Orange.  His decision to purchase the rights to Stephen King's The Shining made sense on a lot of levels.

“In choosing The Shining, he may have felt an understandable need to get back in touch with popular taste.  Barry Lyndon was by no means the commercial failure some alleged.  An usual film, to be sure, and a disappointment in America, yes; but it found its audience, and eventually its profit, in Europe.  With The Shining, Kubrick assumed the obligation that came with a subject presold on its author’s reputation: namely, to give people what they expected – yet to surprise them nonetheless.  It was the first time that a mass audience would know in advance – or think it did – what ‘a Stanley Kubrick film’ would be about.” (Walker, Taylor, Ruchti, page 275)

Kubrick would enjoy the automatic buzz-recognition that King's popular horror novel would bring to his next film.  The choice of this material would also entice Jack Nicholson, at the zenith of his career, to play the lead role.  Plus, a treatment of the horror genre in general would guarantee a dedicated young audience that would lead to financial success.  Although, like 2001 initially, The Shining disappointed most critics, the movie was popular and is yet another example of a Kubrick film that has gotten better with age.

Being a Kubrick film, the picture defies the expectations of those who want to watch a traditional horror movie.  Instead of scares and blood and gore (although those elements are certainly present) The Shining focuses more on realism and upon psychological elements of fear and madness.  The result is a uniquely frightful film, with a slow intense build, that is satisfying in the Kubrickian sense even if it disappointed Stephen King and among other horror movie fans.  (King said the movie was "a Cadillac without an engine.")

King's displeasure was fundamentally over a shift in the emphasis of the narrative.  “Nicholson was attracted to the family crisis in the Torrance family.  For Stephen King it was the backdrop to set off sparks in a haunted hotel.  For Kubrick and Nicholson, Jack Torrance’s personal demons and the fury he inflicted on his family were the true horror of the film.” (LoBrutto, page 431)
Danny talks to his 'psychic' imaginary friend 'Tony' about the hotel.  Tony doesn't want to go there but he won't tell Danny why.

The Overlook Hotel.  Its isolation is matched by its immense interior, forming a perfect metaphor for Jack's psychological struggle.
The first hour of the film splendidly establishes a sense of mystery and disorientation.  From the beginning, the horror is internalized.  We see this most prominently in Danny's (Danny Lloyd) interaction with his psychic friend 'Tony'.  It is an innocent enough childish pastime; an imaginary character to keep the lonely boy company.  But, there is a sinister quality to it.  Danny's voice is anything but playful when Tony speaks to him.  Tony is able to show (shine) Danny glimpses of the past and the future in relation to his family's off-season stay as caretakers of the Overlook Hotel.

Danny's father, Jack (Jack Nicholson – it is an interesting coincidence that the actors portraying Jack and Danny have the same first names as their roles), seems 'normal' enough at first, but he has a troubling background of drinking and possible child abuse, and a frustrating teaching career that grates on his nerves.  As soon as the family moves into the hotel, Jack feels strangely at ease and comfortable in the cavernous empty lodge with all its many past stories of crime, debauchery, and mayhem.   Living in the hotel works on Jack's psyche, a degeneration which takes place at a believable, gradually accelerating pace over the final two-thirds of the film.

Jack's wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), is the most difficult role in the film.  She has to be the 'normal' one, the foundation upon which the terror of everything is grounded, the one who has to exhibit the pathetic consequences of the hotel's effects upon her husband and son.  Kubrick was famous for handling Duvall roughly during the shoot.  He was more brutal with her than he had perhaps ever been with any other actor.  
Wendy is near hysteria over what is happening in the hotel.  Kubrick manipulated Shelley Duvall's performance with endless criticism and takes.  In this particular shot she truly is in a state of exhaustion.  This 'realism' helps 'sell' the movie to the audience.  A really strong performance.

Jack has lost it.  He threatens to 'bash' Wendy's head in.

The famous 'Redrum' scene.  It's murder spelled backwards.

Another wonderful job of acting by Duvall as Jack takes an axe to the locked bathroom door.  This, too, required bountiful takes.  60 doors were demolished while shooting this scene.
“Often Kubrick would whine.  ‘Shelley, that’s not it.  How long do we have to wait for you to get it right?’

“Kubrick maintained a psychological advantage over Shelley Duvall by making her feel she wasn’t giving him what he wanted – that she was holding everyone up.  Kubrick wanted Duvall to use this harassment for her role as Wendy, but the gentle-natured actress had an idiosyncratic style that didn’t flourish under personal pressure.  Kubrick felt Duvall was overreacting in the scene when she hides in the bathroom while Jack threatens to ax the door down.  ‘Shelley, the only part clearly wrong was at the end when you said ‘We’ve got to get him out of here.’  You got strong at the end and I think it has to be a last desperate begging and I still think you shouldn’t jump on every emphatic line.  It looks fake.  It really does.  Shelley, I’m telling you, it’s too many times, every time he speaks emphatically you’re jumping and it looks phoney.’ Duvall tried to have an impact on the lines, changing them to suit her interpretation of the character. ‘I honestly don’t think the lines are going to make an awful lot of difference if you get the right attitude,’ Kubrick told Duvall.  ‘I think you’re worrying about the wrong thing.’ Kubrick continued to work on the attitude by maintaining pressure on the actress to portray true nervousness and fear in her situation.” (LoBrutto, page 441) 

Part of this was because Kubrick held such high expectations for Duvall's performance.  Part of it was because he needed that performance to sell the film to the audience.  If Wendy's existential crisis doesn't feel real then the entire film will collapse on itself.

But The Shining does not collapse, quite the opposite.  Duvall's performance becomes stronger and more relatable as the film unfolds.  In fact, I would argue that the performances delivered by the three primary actors, as well as several extras including Scatman Crothers, represent the best direction of acting in Kubrick's multifaceted catalog.  This high quality acting allows the film to develop on a strong intellectual foundation before it gradually disintegrates into the chaos and, ultimately, into violent insanity.

To capture the performances he needed and to experiment with a range of emotional responses from each actor, Kubrick often shot a ridiculous number of takes; often 30-40 for each scene, sometimes over 100 takes, as many as 148 of one scene(!).
Jack meets Grady, a psychic aberration of the former caretaker, in a wonderful scene shot inside a red bathroom.

Scatman Crothers and Danny Lloyd in an important scene where 'shining' is explained.  Kubrick shot an unbelievable 148 takes of this one! 
“The large take ratio allowed Kubrick to create a library of character reactions and emotions for any given shot.  As the takes stacked up, Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall began to move through a range of emotions from catatonia to hysteria.  Kubrick earned the power to make films the way he wanted to make them.  The way Stanley Kubrick made films gave him a myriad of choices all during the process until he signed off the release print to Warner Brothers distribution.

“A day’s output could be one scene of one shot.  Extensive lighting tests were done before Kubrick would even begin shooting.  Kubrick persisted until he felt he had gotten everything out of a scene that was there to get.  He didn’t begin with a preconceived idea but found what he was searching for in a series of methodical steps and inquiries as he pursued the shot.” (LoBrutto, page 424)

“Kubrick’s method of shooting take after take took its toll on the sixty-nine-year-old Scatman Crothers.  On particular shot of the scene in the kitchen between Danny and Halloran discussing the shining ran up to 148 takes.  This was one camera position and didn’t include the extensive coverage and high take ratio that Kubrick got on other angles of the same scenes.  The single shot ran for seven minutes and Kubrick printed every single take.” (LoBrutto, page 430)

“’Kubrick likes to do many takes.  Jack Nicholson told me that on The Shining, Stanley sometimes did seventy or eighty takes on a set-up.’ John Boorman wrote in The Emerald Forest Diary.  ‘When I saw the film I could see what Kubrick had been up to.  He was trying to get performances that came out of extremity, exhaustion.’” (LoBrutto, page 431)

Whereas in his novel, King used a traditional horror genre technique of storytelling (paranormal spirits expressing themselves through inanimate objects, for example), Kubrick relied upon the development of psychological tension, both in his actors and with his audience.  The Shining is far more mentally disorienting and intense than it is scary.  The horror in The Shining is not so much an immediate scare (although there are a couple of those) as it is a build-up in the viewer's psyche that will be difficult to shake off after watching the movie.  

This fundamental change in tone and focus from straight paranormal horror to psychotic terror distressed King and many of his followers.  As I mentioned before, they had expectations that the film would follow the novel.  But, as usual with Kubrick, the director took a different path, throwing out conventions about the novel and genre, in order to explore the terrifying aspects of how madness works.  This exploration was edited down, again like 2001, after the initial premieres, further eroding aspects of the novel.

“Such reductivism transformed King’s horror story into Kubrick philosophical fantasy and displaced the principal interest from man’s extinction to man’s immortality….Kubrick eventually shortened the 146-minute running time of its New York premiere by twenty-seven minutes.  He had two minutes removed during the first weeks of the U.S. run, and a further twenty-five minutes before the London opening.  These cuts reveal his mode of working and thinking, testing, twisting, and transmogrifying King’s horror story to reflect his own stylistic and enigmatic preoccupations.” (Walker, Taylor, Ruchti, page 281)
Jack and Wendy shot from underneath the writing desk.  Jack tells her he thinks he is losing his mind.

Jack is 'working' for weeks on his typewriter before Wendy discovers that he is simply typing the same line over and over and over in different spacing and margin variations.  This scene is surprisingly effective when watching the film. 
“…no allusions to his background, or his failure as a teacher, nor any mention of the ‘accursed’ hotel’s long, ill-omened history other than the incident of the murders by the former caretaker, survived Kubrick’s postrelease cuts.  He retained only a single reference to the hotel’s being built on scared Native American burial ground, preparing us for acts of justifiable vengeance by ethical spirits, and conforming to Stephen King’s preference for imbuing inanimate objects with a malign life of their own.  In the film, however, this proves a false trail, leading nowhere.  Originally, Torrance was to stumble upon a scrapbook chronicling decades of ‘evil’ at the Overlook – newspaper clippings about mishaps and catastrophes great and small: fires, murders, suicides, sexual and financial scandals.  This, too, was eliminated, though the scrapbook can still be seen on Torrance’s table where he sits, a blocked writer, crazily typing and retyping ad infinitum the same one line maxim: ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’” (Walker, Taylor, Ruchti, page 284)

“In almost every respect, Kubrick’s The Shining challenges both an audience’s expectations and its conceptual understanding of narrative events in ways that King’s novel rarely does.  In the early scenes, Kubrick develops Jack’s character from a deceptively ‘objective’ point of view, except for the moment when Jack ‘shines’ over a model in the reception area of the hedge maze and the camera (from Jack’s perspective) slowly zooms down upon the tiny figures of Wendy and Danny arriving in the center of the ‘real’ hedge maze outside.  Before his first conversation with Lloyd that bartender (Joe Turkle), Jack’s interiority remains largely a mystery (in marked contrast to the novel’s method), as the film requires the audience to ‘shine’ by interpreting his character either through Danny’s subjectivity or other visual details.” (Nelson, page 202)

One of the many prominent themes in The Shining involves the hedge labyrinth on the hotel grounds.  “In The Shining, the maze concept encompasses the film thematically and aesthetically (i.e., both within the film itself and with respect to the audience watching it).  It not only helps explain Jack’s madness (this is, the unconscious labyrinth in which the conscious self gets lost) but inspires the Overlook’s floor plan and d├ęcor (for instance, the maze pattern in the carpet outside room 237), as well as the events that occur there.  In addition, the film contains a maze-within-a-maze (the model inside the hotel) that doubles with the ‘real’ maze outside.  Significantly, Jack wants to stay inside the hotel’s maze rather than explore the surroundings (after closing day, he is not seen outside until the final chase through the snow into the hedge maze), to control its center (the Colorado Lounge) like a madly inspired God writing his book of creation….Within the maze-like designs of The Shining, Kubrick develops a series of doubling/mirroring effects that go far beyond anything found in King’s novel.” (Nelson, pp. 204-205)
When Jack first meets Lloyd the bartender the large hotel lounge is empty.

Later the lounge is filled with people, music and activity from the 1920's, reflecting Jack's further descent into madness and the psychic past of the hotel. 
“Notice how the progression of events goes from months to days to hours, a process of reduction and intensification that moves toward a single moment in time when insanity breaks loose from the restraints of rational order.  As he did so often in other films, Kubrick undermines that audience’s faith in the narrative machinery of exposition – and its cause/effect logic – by, first, establishing its credibility through a realistic, matter-of-fact style (in part one), only to confuse that understanding by transforming it into a memory as faint or illusionary as Jack’s mad quest for the immortality of death.  By parts two and three, the periodic screen-titles conform to an associative or symbolic logic, to the film’s complex patterns of doubling and reversal (i.e., the every-other-day quality of “Tuesday”/ Thursday,” etc., or the movement from ‘8 am’ to ‘4 pm’), which inevitably mock our desire for temporal sense and rational sequence.” (Nelson, pp. 208-209)

“In two key scenes, Jack’s menacing, godlike isolation inside the hotel opposes Wendy and Danny’s spirit of outside play and exploration.  In the first, he shines over the model maze as they playfully race into the hedge maze and experience its confusion (indicated to the audience by the dizzying motions of the Steadicam). In the second scene Wendy and Danny play in the snow below Jack, who, with the sand painting prominent in the background, grins and stares in a hypnotic, slack-jawed trance from the second-floor window in the Colorado Lounge.  As the snowdrifts increase outside, the Torrance family becomes more isolated inside as normal communication breaks down.  Jack sits in the empty but symmetrical ‘center’ of the Overlook, where he reads the scrapbook and translates its collective unconscious into the idiom of his private unconscious; Danny rides his Big Wheel through narrow corridors and sees bloody visions showing the monsters being reborn inside his father’s mind;  and Wendy tries, with little success, to fight off her loneliness through contacts with the outside world (she watches TV and uses her radio transmitter to say ‘hello’ to a fire-station ranger).” (Nelson, pp. 217-219)

“But, aesthetically, the maze concept requires that an audience be tested and challenged, even to the point of confusion if it fails to shine and remember not only how it got into the film (i.e. guided tours of narrative exposition) but how it got lost.  In retracing those steps, the viewer might discover that it wasn’t Kubrick’s The Shining that betrayed him, but rather all those false expectations that tyrannize audiences into believing that filmic understandings should follow straight paths into a center of meaning.” (Nelson, page 225)

The Shining was one of the first films to employ the Steadicam.  Kubrick was fascinated, of course, with the flexibility this new technology afforded.  It was used liberally throughout the film to let the viewer experience marvelous extended shots of moving through the space of the hotel, or through a specific doorway into a room, up and down stairways, or around the hedge maze.  Psychologically, these shots help immerse the viewer even further into the narrative by moving with the actors in what was a novel cinematic experience at the time.  Kubrick, as usual, was a master of the technology.  He never overuses it and when the Steadicam is employed it is always to marvelous effect.

As always, Kubrick's musical selections are superb, particularly with his use of modern classical compositions by Penderecki and Ligeti.  It is sometimes difficult to believe that what we are listening to was not composed specifically for the film but, rather, is just another brilliant musical choice made by Kubrick.  The opening titles use an original score by Wendy Carlos (who also worked with Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange) which creates some of the creepiest opening credits ever in cinema.  Carlos’ synthesized score is unsettling and foreboding and sets up a certain amount of anxious tension before anything has even happened in the film.  This, of course, is intentional.  Kubrick wants the audience to intimately experience Jack's mental volatility.  The director's masterful music choices are a gateway to the film's horror that connects the audience with the film and, more importantly, allows the film to emotionally affect the viewer. 

The Shining was one of Kubrick’s most commercially successful films.  Despite a majority of negative reviews, the film opened strong in New York and Los Angeles over the Memorial Day weekend.  Terry Semel, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Warner Brothers…called the film ‘the biggest opening our company has ever had in New York and Los Angeles.  It’s bigger than The Exorcist, bigger than Superman.’  The ad campaign, the summer timing, and the marquee value of Jack Nicholson carried the film against a slew of bad reviews….Good box office did not help The Shining at the Academy Awards.  The film was the first Kubrick picture not to have received any Academy Award nominations in twenty-three years.  The last Kubrick film to have been snubbed by the Academy was Paths of Glory.” (LoBrutto, page 452) 

The Shining is one of Kubrick's best efforts and I feel it is probably the greatest movie of its kind ever made (also ranked highly by movie-goers).  I waver between giving it a 9 or a 10 on my scale. It is not really a horror movie as we have come to expect from the Halloween or Friday the 13th or the Saw series'.  Rather, The Shining is a unique film, a psychological drama where the internal space of the human mind is shown to be as vast as the hotel interior and as complex as the famous hedge maze on the grounds.  It effectively takes a sinister undertone, brings it to a slow boil, and then unleashes the full violence of its tension.  The film might not make you (frequently) scream or gasp, but it will haunt you in a far worse way, resonating in your mind long after you thought you were over it. 
The closing shot.  Jack is in a photo taken at the hotel in 1921.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Atlanta Campaign Ends

Note:  This is the final installment of my high level overview of the Atlanta Campaign which I began back in May.

The situation west of Atlanta on August 28, 1864.  Sherman has disengaged from the city except along the trench line at East Point.  A large force under Thomas and Howard is concentrated for a bold move south to cut the Macon and Western Railroad, the lifeline to Hood's army.  Hood has suspicions but no clear idea what is about to happen.

August 31.  Sherman's troops are assembled along an 8-mile front to attack the rail road.  Hood has hastily dispersed his infantry and handful of cavalry to protect the rail line.  He correctly thinks that Sherman will attack at Jonesboro, but he fails to realize the threat is much more widespread than that.  Hood's attacks at Jonesboro will be pointless as most of the Union forces are positioned further north.  Atlanta is doomed.  
President Abraham Lincoln was worried.  The Union armies and navy had won many victories during the American Civil War, had almost completely blockaded the Southern Confederacy from the outside world, but the South remained defiant.  In the North the war was becoming increasingly unpopular, draft riots dotted Northern cities, particularly in New York City.  A peace movement was gaining momentum and favored Lincoln's defeat in the upcoming November elections.  

In August 1864, Lincoln felted he would lose in November.  In the far west, the Red River Campaign had ended in Northern defeat.  In Virginia, the toll of Federal casualties as Grant battled Lee in the Overland Campaign was appalling, tens of thousands in a few weeks.  Everywhere there seemed to be defeat or stalemate and the population grew weary of a fight that had no end in sight.

Sherman was before the gates of Atlanta but had so far failed to capture the city.  This too contributed to the general malaise among the North and to Lincoln's discontent.  Although his combined armies had repulsed Hood's aggressive attacks, Sherman could not see how he could capture the prize city under the present circumstances.  The city's fortifications were too strong for a frontal assault.  He held hopes that his cavalry could break the deadlock.

For most of August, the campaign shifted from the one of maneuver to a form of trench warfare that anticipated World War One.  Hood's forces remained badly outnumbered, especially in light of his battle losses during the second half of July.  But the Army of Tennessee was still strong enough to man the trenches, fully capable of repulsing the most concentrated Union attack.  Hood had a trickle of new recruits and recovering veterans wounded earlier in the campaign rejoining the Southern ranks.  His numbers improved, if slightly.

Sherman knew better than to attempt to storm the city.  And he could not isolate it without risking another concentrated Rebel attack against some weakness in his line that total siege would require.  Instead, he sent Generals Garrard, McCook, Stoneman and Kilpatrick on a series of separate raids with the intent to cut all rail lines and communications into Atlanta, thereby, it was hoped, forcing Hood to surrender the city or lose his army.   

It will be recalled that Sherman sent Garrard to the east back in July to destroy the rail line to Augusta.  The Yankee cavalry raid managed to tear up a few miles of rail, effectively ending that route of supply.  But this had little effect on Hood's army.  Almost all supplies came from Jonesboro to the south along the Macon and Western Railroad.  Next, Sherman ordered McCook and Stoneman to attack that route.  This resulted in a several miles of railway being destroyed, but the Rebels had it repaired in two days.  In mid-August, Sherman sent out Kilpatrick (augmented with Garrard’s troops) on a similar raid that was also unsuccessful.

All the while, Sherman's infantry laid siege to Atlanta.  He brought up his heavy artillery and pounded the city on a daily basis throughout August.  This resulted in a lot of property damage but few deaths.  It is estimated that that maybe as many as 100 civilians were killed or wounded as a result of these weeks of bombardment.  Time was ticking, Lincoln was worried, and Sherman was growing impatient.

Having failed to defeat the Federal advance on the battlefield, Hood ordered a cavalry raid of his own with the idea of cutting Sherman’s long logistical line back to Chattanooga.  He entrusted General Wheeler with over half of the Confederate cavalry to the task.  Wheeler managed to destroy rail lines at Big Shanty and much further north at Resaca.  On August 14, the cavalry captured Dalton, where the campaign began.  Again, a few more miles of track were dismantled.  A herd of over 1,000 cattle was captured and sent back toward Hood’s army in Atlanta.

But, as with the Federal cavalry raids, nothing much came of the rail destruction; Union engineer teams had everything repaired in a matter of days.  So a total of five cavalry raids (four Union and one Confederate) resulted in no ill effects on either army.  The infantry of both sides remained in place and, except for some minor inconvenience, remained supplied.  The siege of Atlanta continued.

Wheeler’s raid north came at a cost.  The Rebels had insufficient cavalry remaining around Atlanta to monitor the Yankee activity the way it had done so effectively for Hood in July to set up his battles (that this resulted in three Southern defeats was not Wheeler’s fault, the opportunities were real and Union marches were well known.)  The last of the four Union raids (Kilpatrick’s) went virtually unchallenged.  Moreover, what Sherman decided to do next with his infantry went undetected until it was too late. 

For weeks, Sherman had pushed his armies around the west side of Atlanta.  At first he tried to cut the rail line south at East Point but Hood successfully lengthened his entrenchments about seven miles southwest of the city and halted the probing Union infantry in sometimes heavy skirmishing.  Then Sherman made a bold decision.  He would end the siege, disengage completely from Atlanta, place a strong but token force at key crossings along the Chattahoochee River, while maintaining pressure on East Point with Schofield’s army and General Jefferson Davis’ XIV Corps.

Then he concentrated the rest of the Army of the Cumberland and all of the Army of the Tennessee (a total of about 37,000 troops), about five miles west of East Point.  He ordered this force under Generals Thomas and Howard to swing far to the south of East Point.  It was a risky maneuver, but Sherman was banking that Wheeler’s absence would partially blind and confuse the Army of Tennessee.

Hood had no clue what was happening.  Probes along the north trench line of Atlanta on August 26 revealed the Federal’s were gone.  That day marked the first in weeks that Union siege artillery did not fire upon the city.  At first, he thought Wheeler’s raid had succeeded and that Sherman was withdrawing north of the Chattahoochee.  The next day, Confederate cavalry reported Union infantry marching southwest of the city, but in what direction and in what strength?  Hood strengthened East Point and Rough and Ready, a small town five miles further south along the Macon and Western Railroad.  Two southern brigades were sent as far as Jonesboro – just in case.

Sherman’s infantry took time to destroy 12 miles of the Atlanta and West Point Railroad as they marched south.  That line led back toward Alabama and was scarcely used anyway.  On August 29, Schofield’s Army of the Ohio and Davis’ corps (about 25,000 troops altogether) withdrew from Atlanta as well, swinging further west then south.  Knowing that Sherman seemed to want to cut the rail line somewhere, Hood left only General Samuel French’s division and the Georgia Militia to defend the city.  The rest of his army was scattered all along the Macon and Western Railroad, not knowing exactly where the Union forces would concentrate (and without adequate cavalry to answer that question.)

Sherman now had almost 60,000 troops on the move subsisting entirely from vast wagon trains carrying abundant supplies. Two-thirds of this infantry fanned out west of the Flint River, parallel to the Macon and Western.  The other third was ordered toward Jonesboro. On August 31, the Union advanced all along this front.  By now Hood had shifted the bulk of his forces under Generals Hardee and Lee towards Jonesboro.  Union General Jacob Cox’s division advanced upon Marrow’s Station about four miles north of Jonesboro and met no opposition.  His troops easily struck the Macon and Western and severed the lifeline to Atlanta.
Hood finally feared the worst and ordered the ordinance trains in Atlanta to take the rail south.  But these had to return to the city in reverse when they found the rail line cut.  Hardee and Lee were ordered to attack the Union concentration west of Jonesboro in an attempt to save the rail connection.  None of the Confederate commanders knew until too late that the attack was pointless, as communications had already been cut.  The Battle of Jonesboro was a decisive Confederate defeat anyway and a fitting end to the campaign.  The Confederate attack was made in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Hood blew up his ammunition trains and abandoned Atlanta on September 1.  He would cobble together enough of an army at Lovejoy Station to make a stand, but Sherman was not really interested enough to pursue him further.  The North had won a grand prize in time for the November elections.  The Democrats would nominate former Union General George C. McClellan shortly after Atlanta’s fall.  Lincoln easily defeated him a few weeks later as Northern morale rose with Sherman’s victory.

Before the election, Hood switched bases of supply from Lovejoy Station to Palmetto.  He would dare to raid northward with his smaller army, where he had sent Wheeler in August.  An small but intense battle took place as part of this raid at Allatoona Pass.  A couple of weeks later the Army of Tennessee was again at Resaca and Dalton, tearing up the rail road.  But by now Sherman had amassed a huge surplus of logistics in and around Atlanta.  The Yankees had no reason to be too concerned with Hood’s movements, the many fortified Northern rail station garrisons held firm and their cavalry probed Hood every step of the way.  Eventually, Hood would retire to a railroad still under Confederate control in Alabama and plot his failed raid into Tennessee.

As supplies were amassed at Atlanta, Sherman at first decided to give chase to Hood, but soon retired and let the Confederates go.  They were of no consequence to his next plan.  He would fill his wagon trains to capacity and burn anything he couldn’t carry.  The resulting fire got out of control and much of the city burned. Sherman then ordered Atlanta abandoned and marched his entire army toward the Georgia coast, to establish a new base of supply at Savannah via the Union’s enormous naval shipping instead of rail lines.  When the supplies ran out, his command of about 60,000 men subsisted off of whatever they could find, freely confiscating crops and cattle.

Savannah would become a Christmas gift from Sherman to Lincoln.  Meanwhile Hood’s army would be decimated in the pointless battles of Franklin and Nashville.  This effectively ended large scale battles for the western theater of the war. 

Atlanta was an important transportation hub but, moreover, in the summer 1864 it had become a symbol.  Its fall (along with the fall of Mobile Bay) is widely attributed as being highly favorable to Lincoln's reelection.  The counter argument that a perpetual siege of Atlanta might have resulted in close defeat for Lincoln is not implausible.  It is less likely, however, that the North would have sued for peace had McClellan won despite the civil unrest there.  The majority in the North favored peace but only with the Union intact.     

Altogether, almost 70,000 men were killed or wounded from May through August. Though the Confederates won a number of smaller battles (Dug’s Gap, New Hope Church, Pickett’s Mill) the large victory eluded them.  Kennesaw Mountain was their greatest success but it proved inconsequential.  The large Battle of Resaca was a draw.  The Battle of Atlanta, the largest of the campaign, was a Southern defeat. Sherman maneuvered his armies boldly and with great imagination as long as there wasn’t a battle being fought.  Then he seemed impetuous.  While in command, Johnston was practical and cautious though he showed a troublesome lack of strategic understanding in the opening of the campaign.  Hood attacked and attacked and attacked, attempting to hit the Yankees in their flank, failing every time either due to misfortunate or unaffordable Confederate delays.

The Atlanta Campaign compares favorably with other great campaigns of the War Between the States.  In my opinion, the Gettysburg Campaign and the Vicksburg Campaign are two equally important military endeavors of the war, possibly the most important.  And Lee against Grant in the Overland Campaign is also worthy of consideration.  But I would put Atlanta in the company of these others.  To me it was a badly needed win where a stalemate or a loss would have greatly harmed the Union cause.  I have lived in the area of the Atlanta Campaign all my life; a rich and enjoyable lifelong interest of study and debate. I’m lucky in that regard.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Historic Bull Market

Yesterday the current stock market made history by becoming the longest-running bull market in history.  The US economy is proving stronger than all the many headwinds that might threaten it.  All this despite the fact that the Dow recently registered its longest streak in "correction" territory in 60 years.  Also noteworthy is the fact that the US manufacturing index is at a nine-month low.

It seems counter-intuitive.  Even whether or not this is the longest bull market is questionable. Barron's, not exactly a  liberal journal, makes a strong case that this isn't the longest bull market at all.  This chart indicates that there were four previous bull markets with a duration in excess of 12 years and our bull market is only 9+ years thus far.  In some ways the present bullish run isn't that exceptional at all.

In truth it doesn't matter.  This bull market is strong in itself and compared with history (see these interesting comparison articles here and here and here and here).  There are a lot of people making a lot of money in their retirement accounts and otherwise recently.  Even though the bull run started in President Obama's first year in office (2009) the strong economy and bullish stock markets are a big "win" for Donald Trump.  I keep hearing the word "Trumponomics" used over and over again by people I talk to.  The cult of Trump engulfs the entire American economic surge as if he were personally responsible for all of it, which he is not.  Regardless, Trump benefits from the strong economy as much as the average investor, if not more so.

My own exposure to this rising tide has been cautiously minimal, though I have increased my positions in various mutual funds over the past 12 months.  I am dollar cost averaging in at the moment but not that much as the longevity of the market also makes its correction more imminent.

But my previous interpretation that the market correction that began in February might be a harbinger of a bear market was probably premature.  It seems that this bull still has a lot of legs under it and could run to record levels by the end of the year.  I am comfortable with my market exposure at this time.  Things seem to be going great for the economy.

But all is not well.  According to Forbes our "real economy" isn't booming at all.  12% of employed Americans are considered "poor" even though they have a job.  Healthcare costs are predicted to rise 20% in the next year, which will put a strain on both employees and employers.  Credit card debt has fueled much of the economic growth but it is now reaching the upper limits of servicing the debt - at over $1 trillion.  College student debt tops even credit card debt.  

Perhaps most importantly, wage growth in the US is at an anemic 2.9% annually.  It is difficult to see how the American consumer can continue recent spending patterns, dramatically increasing personal debt,  with such low wage growth.  Debt is rising at a far greater rate than income.  That is obviously unsustainable, even if the tipping point still lies in the future.

Traditionally, I have relied upon Dow Theory to determine where we are in terms of investing in the markets.  But recently I came across an article that shows another metric that I am now taking seriously, given its excellent historical record.

This involves subtracting the 2-year treasury rate from the 10-year treasury.  I have read about this useful comparison before but only recently paid closer attention to it.  The St. Louis Federal Reserve tracks this in an interactive map available on their website.  This graph shows that every economic recession going back to 1980 has been proceeded by higher short-term rates than long-term rates.  Here are some screenshots of examples:

This shows two recessions (gray areas) from the early 1980's.  Notice how the treasury comparison turns negative in 1978, predating the onset of the recession by about 18 months.  It rallied briefly but turned negative again in 1980.  The second recession followed about nine months later.  The comparison turns positive again during the recession, signaling that the overall economic downturn will end. 

The comparison remained positive for about 7 years until it once again registered negative around the beginning of 1989, a harbinger of the 1990 recession which again started about 18 months later.

The 2001 recession was preceded by a negative downturn in the treasury comparison in early 2000. 

The Great Recession was preceded by the comparison skipping along negative territory in 2006 and 2007.

This is the present trend since 2013.  We are obviously headed toward negative territory again.  The only questions are how long will it take to get there and how far off will the recession be once the graph turns negative again.
According to this graph, we are nearing (but not yet close) to a recession.  It should be noted that even when the graph turns negative it could take over a year for a recession to actually occur.  I'm fairly sure this is one indicator economists look at when peering into the murky crystal ball of economic prediction.  And the present trajectory is in line with Ben Bernanke's recent prediction of a recession in 2020.

So, even though the specifics of short-term economic growth seem positive and the markets might not act as robustly as investors have come to expect post-2009 or during the first year of the Trump presidency, it looks overall as if investors are safe maintaining their positions for the next few months.

Whether nor not this bull market is truly historic in terms of its longevity, it nevertheless displays solid strength and likely will continue to make money for investors probably beyond 2018.  This is a positive sign for those of us creating wealth through investment (even though I failed to leverage in as much as I should have in hindsight).  Despite the politics of the situation, the markets are doing what they are supposed to do; balancing out certainty and uncertainty, discounting negative factors that are relevant while rallying on factors that seem important.

I will bet on the action of the 10-year and 2-year treasuries and conclude there is still money to be made, regardless of the conflicting news and data we are exposed to every day. No one knows for sure what is going to happen, including me.  I am cautious.  But according to the treasury metric, things should remain more positive than negative for months to come.

Late Note: Strictly in terms of Dow Theory, the Dow Transports reached an all-time two days ago.  Since then they have backed off a bit.  The Dow Industrial Average is near the all-time high it reached back in January.  Likewise it backed off the last two sessions.  If the Industrials can match the new high of the Transports then we will have a Dow Theory Bull confirmation.  Until that happens, this correction remains in force (according to Dow Theory) and the bullishness is in question.