A fine, patriotic hoax — the U.S.S. Pueblo

October 8, 2006

Commander Lloyd Bucher

Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher and the Pueblo on the cover of Time Magazine, February 2, 1968 (substituted for the official portrait of Bucher, which is no longer available)

A good hoax? It could happen, right?

It did happen.

A U.S. spy ship, the U.S.S. Pueblo, under the command of Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, was captured by North Korea on January 28, 1968 — the beginning of a very bad year in the U.S. that included Viet Cong’s Tet Offensive that revealed victory for the U.S. in Vietnam to be a long way off, the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the assassination of presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a bitter election — and a wonderful television broadcast from astronauts orbiting the Moon on Christmas Eve.

North Korea held the crew of the Pueblo for eleven months. While holding the crew hostage — there was never any serious thought that the ship had in fact strayed into North Korean territorial waters, which might have lent some legitimacy to the seizure of the ship — North Korea (DPRK) tried to milk the event for all the publicity and propaganda possible. Such use of prisoners is generally and specifically prohibited by several international conventions. Nations make a calculated gamble when they stray from international law and general fairness.

To their credit, the crew resisted these propaganda efforts in ways that were particularly embarrassing to the North Koreans. DPRK threatened to torture the Americans, and did beat them — but then would hope to get photographs of the Americans “enjoying” a game of basketball, to show that the Americans were treated well. The crew discovered that the North Koreans were naive about American culture, especially profanity and insults. When posing for photos, the Americans showed what they told DPRK was the “Hawaiian good luck sign” — raised middle fingers. The photos were printed in newspapers around the world, except the United States, where they were considered profane. The indications were clear — the crew was dutifully resisting their captors. When the hoax was discovered, the Americans were beaten for a period of two weeks. Read the rest of this entry »


Based on a true story — except, not Texas. Not a chainsaw. Not a massacre.

October 8, 2006

Nota bene: Be sure to see update, here.

First, there was the woman who squealed in class when I mentioned Travis County, the Texas county in which resides Texas’s capital city, Austin. She said later she had thought it was a fictional county. By the way, she asked, was the rest of the “Texas chainsaw massacre” story true, too? (I have never seen any of these movies; I understand the 2003 version was set in Hewitt, Texas, which is a real, small Texas town near Waco, between Dallas and Austin — but not in Travis County. I’m not sure what Travis County has to do with any of the movies.)

Logs awaiting processing at a sawmill in Nacogdoches County, Texas - Ron Billings photo

Victims of a real Texas chainsaw massacre: Victims await “processing” at a sawmill in Nacogdoches County. Photo by Ron Billings, Texas Forest Service.

Since then, in the last couple of weeks I have had at least a dozen requests to teach the history behind the movie, the “true story.” The movies are all highly fictionalized, I note. Perhaps I should plan a day to discuss real Texas murders, and just what fiction is, especially from Hollywood.

According to Snopes.com, one of my favorite debunking sites, there was never a Texas chainsaw massacre. There was a Wisconsin farmer who stole corpses from the local cemetery, and upon whom was based the earlier Alfred Hitchcock movie, Psycho. There was the chainsaw exhibit at Montgomery Ward seen by writer/director Toby Hooper, when he needed inspiration to finish a screen treatment. That’s about it.

But it’s nearing Halloween, and the studios in Hollywood hope to make money.

There are real Texas crimes that would be good fodder for movies, in the hands of intelligent and creative people. One wonders why more movies aren’t done on the real stories. Read the rest of this entry »


A good mentor

October 8, 2006

Teaching anywhere can be grueling.  Oh, sure, we do it for the great psychic rewards, kids growing up, students going on to do great things in the field, etc., etc.  But it’s a grind.  It’s a performance profession, but one in which the performer must do the writing and directing and producing, and on many days, rewriting while the cameras roll.  Turnover is high.

Which means that a good mentor is worth her weight in platinum or emeralds.  Saying the right thing to encourage any teacher to perform better is great, saying the right things to get a teacher to stick around . . .

So, this story is about a teacher mentor who did something dreadfully right.  May it occur more often, please.

At a blog called “all the standard catstrophes.”


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