Archive for 2006

Major Upgrade

10 August 2006
Categories: Self-referential

Last night saw a new, replacement web server go active and online at kevinforsyth.net. This was a rebuild of my former desktop Dell (Pentium 4, 1.8GHz, 768MB RAM, two 40GB hard drives), which replaced the even older Gateway (Pentium II, 400MHz, 192MB RAM, one 5.4GB hard drive [and another 500MB drive that never quite worked]).

Thank god for Mark Shuttleworth’s Ubuntu distribution—a complete LAMP (Linux + Apache + Mysql + PHP) installation that builds a fully-functional box in about 20 minutes. I’m sold on it and will forever bag RedHat/Fedora.

Certainly this new server is worlds faster and more responsive than the old one—a fact that’s made clear by the following graph, generated by the IPCheck software running on my work computer.

IPCheck 09 August 2006

It shows a glorious drop in response time—nearly 20 percent!—happening almost exactly at 20:00 on 9 August. One may assume that server response is now virtually immediate and all latency is the product of the intervening network (or, it turns out, IPCheck itself). IPCheck’s history from 4-Jul-05 to 7-Aug-06 shows an overall average of 880ms; so far today it’s 644ms. We’ve never seen a weekly average go below 700, so let’s hope this keeps up. For one thing, Samba has yet to be installed on it.

Words just don’t express the warm glow of excitement and satisfaction this successful transition has engendered in me. I can’t wait to nuke the old Gateway and put Ubuntu Desktop on it for my mother-in-law to use.

By the way, one little rant about this change… fucking Microsoft and their goddamned Word program. Every web page that originated as a Word document wound up with special characters that, in the new server, are sent as little inverse question-mark-filled diamonds. Ellipses, apostrophes, umlauts, etc. Total pain in the ass to track them all down. Who was it that said, “the benefit of Microsoft products in no way exceeds their limitations”?

update for 8/11… well, nuts. Guess I have to take back what I said about Microsoft. Turns out that apache2 defaults to use the UTF-8 character set, rather than ISO-8859-1. Once I made the change to /etc/apache2/conf.d/charset, everything was fine. (Turns out the degree symbols in delta2.htm were all screwed up, and that’s clearly something I created in raw text.)

Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie by Peter Kuran

11 May 2006

coverPeter Kuran is a visual effects producer who got his Hollywood start as an animator on the original Star Wars trilogy. He has since worked on dozens of big-budget films as diverse as Airplane!, Edward Scissorhands, and Men In Black, through his effects company, Visual Concepts Entertainment (VCE). His credentials gave him the perfect background for restoring the aging footage of Trinity and Beyond.

Yet an able digital effects company can only do so much with battered copies of copies of copies, so Kuran pursued a massive research undertaking. He found listings of film reels depicting many atomic and nuclear events, the reels locked safely away in government archives and unavailable due to their Classified designation. By researching the tests in question, and locating footage of the same tests that had long been available to the public, he was able to get the keepers of the keys to declassify the clean, low-generation footage.

Then VCE spruced up the images, which despite having been kept safe and virtually unviewed for decades had suffered substantial color fading due to the unstable film stock on which they were printed. To remedy the problem, Kuran invented a new color restoration process that “produces a new intermediate film element with restored color, fine grain and excellent retention of shadow detail.” The result far surpasses what is possible using current digital restoration technology, and was judged worthy of a scientific and technical Academy Award in 2002.

Peter Kuran has thus compiled the finest collection of nuclear test footage ever assembled. The imagery is at once awesomely frightful and achingly beautiful. The narration is performed by William Shatner, who gives an excellent reading and never resorts to the sort of Shatneresque delivery one might expect.

The documentary attempts to avoid commenting on the ethical pitfalls of the subject, not always with success. The lead-in to the footage of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings uses a faux-newsreel style to present the American government’s reasoning for the bombings, mocking the jingoistic tone of propaganda films and leading one to infer that Kuran might not agree with the rationale. In general, however, Trinity and Beyond is presented as a straightforward factual history, leaving the viewer to contend with the eerie combination of beauty and horror these shots engender.

The best accompaniment for the powerful images, though, is the equally powerful musical score. Composed and conducted by William Stromberg, and performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Choir, the music is appropriately haunting and bombastic, alternately explosive and pensive.

Ironically, despite Kuran’s extensive research and groundbreaking restoration work, Stromberg’s score may prove to be the longest-lasting and most pervasive element of Trinity and Beyond, at least in terms of popular culture. The pull-out-all-the-stops pyrotechnics of “Hiroshima/Nagasaki Requiem” have entirely supplanted Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana in the latest generation of action movie trailers, such as that for X-Men 2. This is no surprise, since the rapid tempo and open-throated chanting of the choir lend themselves well to snap-cuts of flying superheroes.

Of course it figures that the remix for trailer use eliminates my personal-favourite element: the bell-rattling trombone line at the end of the movement that, particularly in the reprise “China Gets The Bomb,” runs so rampant that it staggers on wildly for a few notes beyond the orchestra’s final chords. There’s something so gloriously diabolical about it—to me it seems, in just a brief phrase, the perfect musical embodiment of Mutual Assured Destruction, carrying on of its own accord toward our doom.

Forging a Fateful Alliance: Michigan State University and the Vietnam War by John Ernst

15 April 2006
Categories: From the armchair

coverHere is a surprising and little-known fact: from 1955 to 1962, Michigan State University was contracted by the U.S. government to provide “technical assistance” in Vietnam, teaching aspects of civil service and police administration to the government agencies of South Vietnam.

The story begins in 1954, after French colonialism met its demise at Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Accords divided the country into North and South. The U.S. decided that the best hope to staunch the spread of communism in South Vietnam lay in its new prime minister, a former exile named Ngo Dinh Diem. The International Cooperation Administration (ICA), a U.S. government agency, hoped to provide Diem with the means of “nation building.”

During his self-imposed exile in the early 1950s, Diem had met and befriended Wesley R. Fishel, an assistant professor of political science at Michigan State with a Ph.D in international relations from the University of Chicago. When Diem came to power in 1954, Fishel became something of a confidant and informal advisor to the prime minister. Diem sought the means to improve the new government’s strength and make it more responsive to issues that included a communist insurgency, a massive refugee influx from North Vietnam, and a calcified bureaucracy whose Vietnamese workers had never been adequately trained by the recently departed French colonialists (who coveted both the knowledge and all the top positions). Fishel convinced Diem that MSU had the know-how to provide the needed training in police and public administration, and when the request for assistance reached the U.S. government, MSU led a very short list of candidate schools.

A cadre of professors, from the departments of economics and political science as well as the school of public administration and public safety, soon deployed to Saigon as the Michigan State University Group (MSUG). From May 1955 to June 1962, the MSUG participated in several major programs, with varying success.

One of these was COMIGAL, a refugee resettlement program that provided placement and infrastructure-building for some 900,000 people fleeing the communist North. Most of the refugees were Catholic, as Diem (himself a Catholic) had widely promulgated the idea that they might be persecuted under communist rule. Among the MSUG’s positive influences was the idea of decentralized bureaucracy, of scattering COMIGAL offices throughout the villages to improve both the responsiveness of those offices and the self-responsibility of the refugees themselves. Yet the MSUG was unable to convince Diem of the validity of the land claims made by the Montagnards, Vietnam’s “mountain people” of the central highlands, and thousands of refugees—with government approval—became permanent squatters on land “already cleared by highlanders for planting.” Both the Montagnards and the majority Buddhists resented being governed by a Catholic regime, a minority religious group that they saw as unabashed colonialists. This opposition and Diem’s ruthless suppression pushed these groups toward further insurgency and, ultimately, communist rule.

In another program, the MSUG designed, financed, and implemented an expansion of the National Institute of Administration (NIA), a civil servant training school in Saigon. The NIA library in particular saw a tremendous improvement in both the size of its holdings and its organization. But students, used to the French style of juridical education, did not benefit well from American-style lectures. The library fell into disuse as most of its documents were in English, yet English-language studies were not emphasized. Finally, this notable quote, from an MSUG veteran in support of the project, expresses instead its mixed results: “You could tell that they [NIA graduates] were quite successful and in positions of authority because a number of them were assassinated after they went out to their posts in the countryside.” (emphasis added)

In the “participant program,” some 179 Vietnamese civil servants travelled to the United States, the Phillippines, Japan, and elsewhere, to be educated. Participants studied at major universities (not just Michigan State, but also Vanderbilt, Harvard, and many others) in pursuit of masters degrees and doctorates in civil service-related fields such as economics or political science. This program petered out during the seven years of the MSUG project—partly due to language and cultural difficulties—and never had the full support of Saigon. For one, it was feared that students who had become familiar with American language and culture would be reluctant to return to Vietnam. (Contrarily, although many did stay in the States, homesickness was a more common issue.) For another, not only were returning participants not given promotions commensurate with their new abilities, they were not always guaranteed to get their old jobs back.

Then there was the police administration project.

The MSUG helped the Sûreté—which they renamed the Vietnamese Bureau of Investigation, in an attempt to lessen the negative public image of that special police agency—to establish a national identification card. It was intended to streamline government services. Diem used the i.d. card registry to crack down on dissenters.

The MSUG tried to reform the civil guard into something resembling a U.S. state police outfit, an organization familiar to the professors, while Saigon (and the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group) preferred that the civil guard be a more heavily armed paramilitary force that could exercise national police duties and support the national army. The indecision and infighting between the advisory groups left the civil guard unprepared when major communist insurgency action began in 1959.

Much of the police administration training involved rudimentary tasks, such as the use of fingerprint kits, and even some seemingly obvious fundamentals, such as teaching city cops to treat the public they serve with politeness. And as far as the recorded history shows, it would appear that the MSUG’s primary roles were dispensing handcuffs and training Vietnamese police in small firearms.

Perhaps the biggest issue at stake was the fact that Michigan State lacked the manpower to sustain both its home campus and the MSUG. Particularly in police administration, a field in which MSU was widely respected in the 1950s, it became necessary to hire extensively outside the university in order to staff the project and still leave a sufficient contingent in East Lansing to teach classes. At one point, of the thirty-three police advisors stationed in Vietnam, only four were Michigan State employees prior to the MSUG. The “hired guns” often received academic status as lecturers or assistant professors at State. Moreover, several were also employees of the CIA.

It makes some sense that CIA-trained personnel were hired, since much of the police training was in counter-insurgency tactics. Whether these hirelings were merely teachers with former (or current) CIA associations, or active CIA agents performing covert operations on the side, remains a matter of conjecture. The official CIA record will be classified for many years to come. Ultimately, regardless of whether or not the CIA connection was appropriate, it opened the door for valid criticism of the MSUG.

Some MSUG professors may have ignored the signs of trouble and succumbed to the glamour of overseas service in a land where a professor earning “hardship assignment” pay incentives could hire five full-time servants and find them well within budget. Others, home from their tours of duty, wrote articles critical of the Diem regime and U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Two appeared in The New Republic magazine in 1961 and 1962. One in particular, a scathing indictment by professors Adrian Jaffe and Milton Taylor titled “A Crumbling Bastion: Flattery and Lies Won’t Save Vietnam,” enraged Diem. In spite of the university’s attempts to appease him, Diem called for termination of the MSUG project. The group left Vietnam in June 1962.

Within eighteen months, Diem was dead from a coup by a group of Vietnamese general officers, and the U.S. had begun to send the first of its military “advisors” that soon led to twelve years of conflict and over fifty-eight thousand Americans—and two million Vietnamese—dead.

Four years after MSUG’s expulsion an exposé appeared in Ramparts, which Ernst routinely describes as a “liberal West Coast Catholic magazine.” “The University on the Make” was sensationalistic in tone, and some of its facts were later admitted to be untrue. (What is apparently the full text is available online at cia-on-campus.org.) But it offered powerful fodder for the nascent antiwar movement, and it raised some interesting questions about a university’s role in the world community. CIA involvement was a main focus of the article, with the implication that the MSUG provided cover for “cloak-and-dagger” work. The article made Professor Fishel the scapegoat for the project, and he was soon demonized on campus, both in East Lansing and later at Southern Illinois University. He died at the age of 57 in the mid-1970s, and one could certainly argue that his notoriety contributed to his early demise.

Anyway, that’s roughly the story. John Ernst’s telling is a solidly researched, seemingly objective, overview of the Michigan State University Group. The book suffers some from repetition, engendered in part because each major player (MSUG, ICA, MAAG, etc.) is redefined and reintroduced in each chapter, seemingly as if that chapter might be republished as an individual essay elsewhere. There are a few teasers, the most major of which is the assertion that “the Kennedy administration encouraged the plot” by the Vietnamese military to assassinate Diem in 1963; this aside is never expounded or substantiated. But overall it’s an excellent and scholarly work, of an interesting and intentionally forgotten period in American international relations.

In my review of Walter Adams’ book The Test (which provided my first hint of this story’s existence), I stated my opinion that John Hannah was one of Michigan State’s greatest presidents. For his tireless work in growing the school from a humble agricultural college into a major university, I continue to feel that Hannah merits this distinction. But Hannah had traits—among them a propensity for high-level political wheeling and dealing, and a staunch anti-communist bent—that became serious flaws in the case of the MSUG. Hannah firmly believed that “the world is our campus” and defended the MSUG as a positive example of this sort of world service, long after the project had ended with mixed results and had become a political liability.

Adams in particular, who prodded Taylor and Jaffe to write their New Republic articles, would argue that the university’s role is not to act as the instrument of the nation’s foreign policy, and I must agree. The U.S. wanted to stop the spread of the “red menace,” but in backing Diem—an entrenched bureaucrat with despotic tendencies—it may have provided the direct catalyst for South Vietnam’s ultimate fall to communism. The MSUG’s intentions were, for the most part, noble, and the group had some successes (however short-lived) in improving Vietnamese public welfare and safety. But MSU was rightfully burned by the public-opinion fallout of the Vietnam project. The MSUG was solely there for “technical assistance,” and had no position to voice or act upon its opposition to Diem’s policies. The university saw no academic gains from its involvement. What ground the MSUG gained in Vietnam was surely surpassed in effect by Diem’s autocratic, nepotistic, draconian rule.

One too can wonder what benefit, if any, the project could have had even if it had been wholly successful. Scholarly research was nearly impossible given the sheer volume of practical work involved. As the Ramparts article noted just four years after the project’s end with some glee (and validity), “MSU has not a single course, not even a study program, to show for its six [sic] years in Vietnam.” About the only campus remnant of this history that survives to the present is the International Center, built in 1964 using a portion of the MSUG’s $25 million government stipend.

Meanwhile the university continued to accept overseas technical-assistance contracts, but never again on the scale of the MSUG. Even today MSU is engaged in dozens of overseas projects—including one in the Mekong Delta, where MSU is teaching environmental resource management under contract to the U.S. Department of State.

And of course, the U.S. government continues its attempts at overseas nation-building, with mixed results at best.

Attention continues…

13 March 2006
Categories: Self-referential

chicago.about.com

Sat, 11 Mar 2006
“Kevin S. Forsyth has made great use of interactive maps—he’s located the places in Chicago and surrounding areas where The Blues Brothers movie was filmed and placed them on an interactive map so you can find them easily. Click on the different pins, and a picture of the place will pop up, with a bit of information about the movie.” Nice, included my full name and didn’t fiddle with the page title. (no longer online)

A fresh look at a familiar friend

9 March 2006
Categories: Film buff

I watched The Big Chill the other night, for the first time in quite a while. This was also the first time I’d ever watched it on a large screen in its proper aspect ratio, even though I’ve probably watched it well over a dozen times on much smaller screens in pan-and-scan mode. The difference in clarity and detail was obvious from the opening scene, where for the first time I noticed the tear streaming down Sarah’s cheek as she stands in the doorway of the bathroom.

Moreover, though, I finally caught on to several nuances and subtexts that I’d never noticed before. In discussing these with my wife, I found that she’d been aware of all of them, meaning of course that she’s much smarter than me and I’d been missing the real story for the laughs. Herewith, however, is a collection of those epiphanies, or profound revelations, I’d had while watching, once again and yet as if for the first time, one of my all-time favourite films.

(Note that all quotes are paraphrases until I can confirm them with a re-viewing.)

The location

The film was shot in the town of Beaufort, South Carolina. Kasdan does an excellent job of making the place seem like a sleepy little rural village. I can’t address how much the place has changed in the 20-plus years since the film was shot, but certain aspects of Beaufort cannot have changed: it includes a satellite campus of the University of South Carolina, is just down the road from a large U.S. Marine Corps base, and is no more than five miles away from the major resort of Hilton Head.

The house is an antebellum summer house known as Tidalholm, built by plantation owner Edgar Fripp in 1853, tucked away at the eastern edge of town. It was restored as a private residence in the 1970s, and was used in the film The Great Santini which was what prompted Kasdan to seek out the same locale. Satellite views show that the house’s dock faces, not a lake as it appears, but a broad estuary with sand bars dividing its reach. Across the way are myriad other docks and numerous other houses tucked under the trees. Much of this was surely in place at the time of filming, yet it does not show. And Kasdan rarely shoots from the house toward the road, thus concealing the other homes and city streets that would surely be in clear view.

The time frame

The story takes place over the course of four days in the fall of what one must presume is 1982. The funeral is on Thursday, and (nearly) everyone goes home on Sunday. This is easily inferred by the fact that each new morning is greeted with a shot of sunrise, and of course the football game occurs on Saturday.

We figure that the date is fall 1982, primarily because that was when the film was shot. When Harold gazes into the distance before the funeral, we can see several trees have begun to turn to their fall colours. The film was released in September 1983, so a filming schedule of the previous fall makes sense. Plus, the football game must be played in the fall.

The game, however, offers an interesting anachronism. The Michigan – Michigan State game is being played in Ann Arbor. Then as now, this means that the game is happening in an even-numbered year. Watching the footage closely and checking against a database of UM players (sadly, the rabidity of Michigan State fans is not as readily apparent online), I am reasonably certain that the game being watched is the 1980 game. It most certainly is not the 1982 game, which is probably a mere logistical fact of not having the latest game’s footage available at the time of shooting. By the way, although both of the plays we see are solidly pro-MSU—a clipping call against Michigan and an interception by Michigan State—UM went on to win that game, 27–23. Of course—there’s no way that Lawrence Kasdan would include in his movie a losing game of his beloved Wolverines.

One last note on this is that Sam speaks of having lost track of Alex about five years earlier, and that the last he’d heard of him was when he quit “that case worker job in 1978.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that the date is not 1980. (For example, I “lost track” of a particular friend some dozen years ago, yet know some of what she was doing in 2003, thanks to published articles. Adding up those two figures does not necessarily mean that it is now 2015, because quite obviously it is not.) But it jibes well with the feel of the movie and the eras involved to assume that the year is 1982.

Meg’s history

Add up the following pieces:

  1. Meg says to Sarah, “I have only known one thing in my life, and that’s that I want to have a child.” Sarah gives her a look that’s somewhere between quizzical, ironic, and scolding, to which Meg replies, “I think—no, I know—that was the right thing to do at the time.”
  2. Michael, while pitching to Meg the notion of him fathering her child, says “remember the march on Washington?” and she says “I remember” in a way that implies far lesser fondness for the memory than Michael has.
  3. Meg, to Sarah: “Michael has offered himself as stud—a repeat performance.” Sarah, horrified, says “He didn’t use those words, did he?”
  4. Finally, Meg says: “I can’t go to Michael—too much history there.”

These oblique remarks, spaced across a couple of days, add up to a simple conclusion. Michael got Meg pregnant during the march on Washington, and Meg had it aborted. Moreover, I think it’s clear that Michael has no idea.

A neat bit of foreshadowing

On Saturday afternoon, while most everyone is watching the game, Karen and Sarah are out on the porch talking about Sarah’s affair with Alex. In the last shot of the scene, a slow zoom-in of Karen as she gazes toward Sarah while thinking about her words, Sarah says “so we finally acted on that long-standing, all-consuming passion, and all it did was put up a wall in our relationship.” After a brief pause, Karen’s eyes shift, apparently toward the house.

Of course, she’s almost certainly thinking about Sam, and the fact that the two of them have been flirting—nay, engaging in foreplay—ever since they first made eye contact at the funeral. So she’s wondering to herself whether their relationship might suffer the same fate if they act on their passions, which needless to say they do later that evening.

The foreshadowing is this: the next morning, it’s clear that the result she fears is exactly what happens. The last time we see Karen and Sam interacting, they’re having a perfunctory, matter-of-fact conversation. Karen: “If we come out to L.A., maybe you could get the boys in to see a studio.” Sam: “Sure.” Karen: “Richard would like that.” What she said on Saturday about leaving Richard will not come to pass. There’s a cold cordiality to the exchange that says “we won’t speak of this again.” They’ll never again have the sort of warm, close conversation that they shared over the weekend.

Richard

While we’re on the subject of Richard, I think that he exemplifies a theme that runs throughout the film.

Saturday night, as they’re clearing the tables after dinner, Sam says, “It took me a long time to realize that people who looked just like us and had the exact same backgrounds could be lying, cheating assholes. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt because I thought they felt the same as us.” (or some such)

In an inverse way, Sam could be talking about Richard—someone who doesn’t “look like us” and yet, underneath, feels the same. In college, Richard was probably one of the “straights.” I would not be surprised if he was in the ROTC, maybe even went to Vietnam for a tour of duty as a young second lieutenant in a rear echelon position. The whole group considers him stodgy, boring, and a bad fit for Karen—opinions surely shaped by Karen herself (q.v. her sidelong glance in the car when he says “None of those people are like I imagined them to be from your description—I only wonder how you described me to them”).

Yet Richard is quite unperturbed—one might almost say “cool”—when he witnesses Nick retrieving his drug stash from beneath his black Porsche 911T. And his sole monologue, at the kitchen table late Thursday night, reveals that he is quite clearly one of them, at least in the sense that he is (like the rest of them) perplexed by the life that he is leading, disappointed in some of the things he finds himself doing to make his way in the world and to keep his family safe and secure, but otherwise working to be the very best person that he can be.

Harold, alone, seems to understand that. He and Richard are much more alike than any of Harold’s friends would want to admit. Harold is a successful businessman (though the IMDb clued me in on a subtle, ironic joke that his athletic shoe store’s name is based on a quote from Mao: “The people’s revolution will bury the running dogs of capitalism”). He’s a pillar in his community, a father and family man. I think his sense of comity with Richard is revealed in something that I’d always taken as something of an anomaly, if not an outright continuity error: the fact that Harold includes Richard in his running shoe gift. Before this last viewing, I’d always thought, “wait a minute, Harold asks for everyone’s shoe sizes after Richard left, so why does the stack of shoe boxes on the kitchen table include one with Richard’s name on it?” Well, I think that’s the reason: despite Richard’s early departure and the predominant feelings about him from the rest of the group, Harold understands that Richard is definitely “one of us.”

Manipulation

On Friday night, Michael is overtly hitting on Chloe, much to the chagrin of all the other men there—particularly Nick, who has already been likened to Alex by Chloe, lately Alex’s girlfriend, and who despite his denial (“I ain’t him”) may have designs of his own. As Michael rolls a joint, Nick joins him and asks where Chloe is. Michael replies, “She’ll be right back,” in a tone that is anticipatory, verging on predatory. Nick then takes out a Quaalude, ponders taking it, decides against it, and is about to put it away when Michael asks about it, and Nick offers it to him.

I believe that Nick never has any intention of taking the ’lude, he feigns doing so solely for the purpose of drawing Michael’s attention to it. He then gently cajoles Michael into taking the whole thing, when Michael is considering splitting the pill in half. The next thing we know, Michael is passed out on the couch, not even having finished the glass of wine he used to wash down the ’lude, and Nick is free to converse with Chloe for the rest of the evening, which ultimately ends with her asleep with her head on his lap. (As an aside, it has been suggested that the inscrutable look he gives her as she’s lying there is a hint that perhaps her proximity has caused his long-damaged “equipment” to regain a modicum of functionality. I do not necessarily concur.)

What’s ironic about this is that earlier that same day, Michael and Sam are videotaped having a conversation wherein Michael says that being coldly manipulative may be a more honest way of getting what you want than being sincere, or earnest, or flattering. In espousing this view Michael casts himself as a cold manipulator, worldly and street-smart. Yet by the end of the day he has been wholly taken in by an act of cold manipulation.

Lines I still don’t get

There are two bits that still leave me confused.

One is an unintelligible line that is spoken while everyone is watching the J. T. Lancer intro, and comes immediately after the “I want a margarita and I want it now” line. Sam gives someone a scowl for it, but Lord knows what the line is.

The other is a reference, spoken by Karen (?) to Sam (?), asking “who did he think he wanted to be, John Barrister Tipton?” I cannot find any reference to this person; Google only responds with a Danish site that says “John Barrister-Tipton – som er den rigtige Hero-Man!” which seems like it would be appropriate, if only I spoke Danish. (Aha! The Tipton question, answered.)