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Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by Lancealot, Aug 13, 2006.
Evan Williams is a good source of vitamins and hawks $15 bucks a throw.
Grand Right and Left, by Stoddard King, originally published in 1927: cannot find edition information in my copy. King was a columnist, composer, editor, humorist, poet, and all-around man of letters. This collection features short articles and poetry, light-hearted and clever. Found it in the Pelican Bay Books and Coffeehouse in Anacortes, Washington.
Checkmate In Berlin by Giles Milton, 2021
In Checkmate in Berlin, Author Giles Milton argues the Cold War started not on a day and not with one event, but as part of a continuum between the last shot fired in Germany's capital in 1945 and the first plane that took off in the Berlin Airlift in 1948.
From the geopolitics played at the top of the house by presidents and prime ministers to the day-to-day tussles between the Soviet and Western commanders of divided Berlin, East and West were adversaries, in all but name only, from the end of WWII.
At the 1945 Potsdam Conference, the "Big Three," FDR, Churchill (owing to an election loss, he was replaced by Clement Attlee mid conference) and Stalin, met to, well, carve up Europe.
In the crazy tradeoffs of geopolitics and realpolitiks, Germany was split between the West (one American and one British Zone and, later, a French Zone carved out of the British Zone) and the East (the Russian Zone), which is not too crazy, but what to do with the symbolically important capital city of Berlin, which was deep in the "Russian Zone?"
"Split it" was the answer, so the American and British Zones (and, later, French Zone) of Berlin sat like a Western island deep in the Russian Zone. With only two roads, a single rail track and three air corridors connecting West Berlin with West Germany, the Western sinews were few and tenuous, but East and West were allies...maybe.
At the end of WWII, when the USSR army fought its way into Berlin two months ahead of the Americans and British, Milton avers the Russian army used its lead time to rape and pillage the city with a feral viciousness.
All approved at a high level of its command, the Russian soldiers systematically and violently raped Berlin's women, while it stripped Berlin bare everything including wrists of watches, houses of furniture, factories of equipment and museums of art. What it couldn't take, especially in what would be the Western Zone, it destroyed.
By the time the American and British arrived, they took over despoiled sectors populated by starving and shocked people. It was quickly obvious to the on-the-ground American and British Zone commanders there would be no honeymoon period with their Russian "partners."
Author Milton argues that while most of the American and British commanders in the West German Zone brought a genuine spirit of camaraderie toward the Russians, with orders from above to "get along with our 'allies'," the Russians were in full Cold War mode from the start trying to leverage the West's friendship solely for its own interest.
After only a few meetings of Berlin's joint ruling council, the "Kommandatura," the American commander of West Berlin, Col. Frank Howley, summed up the situation thusly, "There is only one way to deal with gangsters, Russian-uniformed or otherwise, and that is to treat them like gangsters."
At the same time, three events conflated to open American and British eyes to the aggressive anti-West policy of the USSR. These, effectively, ended the West's policy and efforts at maintaining the bonds between Russian and itself.
The first was Churchill's Iron Curtain speech in 1946 where he averred the Soviets were already carving up Europe by taking as much of the East as they could. Out of power, but still considered a "giant" by both the American and British public, his speech was a loud opening salvo in what would become The Cold War.
Then, George Kennan, deputy head of the American Mission in Moscow, sent his famous "long telegram" back to Washington warning that appeasement and friendship with the USSR was impossible in the face of arrant and inveterate Soviet aggression. His telegram began to turn "elite" Washington opinion toward the Soviets around. Kennan's subsequent work led to America's decades-long "policy of containment" toward the USSR.
The final spark in this volte-face in the West's view toward Russia was the "Gouzenko Affair." In a post-War first, a Soviet spy defected to the West and exposed an extensive Soviet espionage ring operating at high levels in Canada, the US and the UK. It was a spy ring that included Western scientists providing the Soviets with atomic bomb secrets. When the story finally broke in the newspapers, the public now knew the USSR was not an ally in any sense of the word.
As relations continued to deteriorate in both divided Germany and divided Berlin, the first post-war election in Berlin, for the city administration, in which Germans were able to vote, was set for the fall of 1946. Both the USSR and the West went all in campaigning legally, quasi-legally and illegally as everyone understood that this was a meaningful moment for Berliners to give their approbation to either the Russians or the West.
On election day, the Russians were jubilantly predicting victory with the West reconciled to defeat, but in one of those wonderfully telling moments in history, Berliners handed the Russians an ignominious defeat as the Soviet-backed Socialist Union Party garnered only twenty percent of the vote.
It was the West's first big, public victory in post-war Berlin, but after the Soviets engaged in their usual purging of most of the Soviet officials who oversaw the defeat (do not mistake being "purged" with being "fired"), the day-to-day and strategic battle for control of Berlin and Germany continued to escalate.
Finally, in the summer of 1948, the Soviets had had enough and played one of the cards the West had been fearing from the start: they effectively laid siege to the Western Zones in Berlin, a city deep inside the Soviet Zone of Germany.
The Soviets cut off both power (ninety percent of the Western Zone's power in Berlin came from power plants in the Eastern Zone) and transportation in and out via the two roads and rail line connecting West Berlin to West Germany.
These actions cut off food, fuel and medicine, in addition to power, to the Western Zone. The cutting of power, effectively, also cut off fresh water and sewerage operations. Without a solution, the Western Zones in Berlin would have an untenable health crisis (starvation and disease) on their hands within weeks.
America either has a brilliance or providence in its ability throughout its history to put the right person in the right place at the right time as it did with Col. Frank "Howlin' Mad" Howley, the effective head of the American Zone in Berlin.
Howley, from day one on the job in a newly divided Berlin, immediately saw the Soviets' goal was a complete communist takeover of Berlin, even when his own government's policy and his orders from above were to play nice and treat the Russians as allies.
Somehow, this colonel repeatedly stood up to generals and senior officials, from his country and others, including secretaries of state, for over four years. When he had to, he defied orders and made controversial decisions on the fly, regularly angering his superiors. Yet somehow, he wasn't removed (or court marshalled) and, as time revealed, his approach saved the Western Zones in Berlin.
But in June of 1948, when the aggressive but frustrated Soviets finally played their trump card by laying siege to West Berlin, the West and Howley facing their biggest challenge: how to save West Berlin from collapse and a Soviet takeover.
Despite much opposition, as happened time and again in the immediate post-war years, out of the tempest of democratic debate, the right decision was made. Truman, defying the recommendation of his Joint Chiefs of Staff, authorized a full "airlift" of Berlin. The city whose roads and rail lines were blocked would be fully supplied by air.
It was the right decision, but only nice words at that point as no one had ever tried, and few believed it possible, to supply a city of West Berlin's size (approximately 2.25 million people) solely by air. This was a city that had only two airports with a combined three runways.
But this was a post-war America of industrial might and a can-do attitude, both forged in a global victory that saved the world from fascist oppression. From the guys repairing the planes, to the pilots flying endless hours of dangerous flights, to the logistics experts who solved the unsolvable problems, to the American people themselves who supported the effort, the Berlin Airlift was one of America's finest moments.
The British also put out a herculean effort, but due to its limited resources, the success of the Airlift needed America's scale. After early struggles and setbacks and a historically harsh winter, the metronomic-like beat of the Airlift - plane after plane, landing minute after minute, for twenty four hours, day after day - and with a retaliatory boycott of East Germany by West German, the Soviets knew they were defeated.
When the USSR finally folded its hand on the siege in May of 1949, it was clear the Soviets had lost one of the first major confrontations of the aborning Cold War. By now, the Marshall plan and Truman doctrine were forming the cornerstones of the West's response to Soviet aggression in Europe.
After the airlift, Nato's founding members launched the military union that would knit Western Europe's defensive strategy together. Author Milton argues the airlift's defeat of the Soviet blockade "checkmated" the grand Soviet strategy to take over all of Berlin and use it as a catalyst to further communist aggression in Europe.
Twelve years later, Milton notes, the Soviets were playing such a rear-guard-action in Berlin, they had to build a wall to keep their best and brightest from leaving for the West. Winning countries don't build walls to keep their citizens in.
In Checkmate in Berlin, Milton pens an engaging tale of the nuanced yet post-war-defining gamesmanship that took place in Berlin from 1945 to 1949. Yes, it was only one city, but, Milton asserts, that tiny spot launched the Cold War that framed the geopolitics for much of the second half of the twentieth century.
I've had a hard time sinking my teeth into a novel lately, but I've been reading plenty for graduate school.
My current read is A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War by William Thomas III (one of the professors in my history department). I had no idea that some enslaved people actually sued for their freedom AND WON. But these freedom suits, as they were called, threatened slaveholders, and they responded by clamping down further on making the argument that slavery was a moral and legal necessity.
The author discovered that his ancestors in Maryland were slaveholders and part of some of these cases, so he intersperses the narrative with his own story. It's a really good read, and not full of academic jargon at all.
I’m reading Michael Ondaatje’s ‘The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-Handed Poems’. I’m a big Ondaatje fan and have been meaning to read this for years, I’m finally getting around to it.
Just saw that some titles from Walter Kempowski are available in English.
The „All For Nothing“ novel and „Swansong“, a collage of various diary notes.
Both about and around the end of war in Germany from a more German centered point of view, inexpensive and well worth reading.
I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane originally published in 1947
1940s movies were pretty nice affairs; even film noir then was nearly bloodless on screen where the good guys mainly won and the bad guys usually paid a price. Drug use, prostitution, homesexuality and other Motion Picture Production Code taboos occasionally made it to the screen in the open or, more often, by inference, but overall, 1940s movies were a tidy world.
Not so for the era's books. In I, The Jury, drug use, homosexuality (when it was a big deal), nymphomania and prostitution are very in the open as all play pivotal roles in the plot of Mickey Spillane's first Mike Hammer novel.
Hammer himself is no Hollywood hero as Spillane's famous private investigator breaks rules, laws and many things on his revenge-driven hunt to find and, as he states loudly, kill the murderer of his close friend.
Earl Stanley Gardner's 1930s creation, Perry Mason, also broke rules, laws and things as he solved crimes, but there was a positive vibe and good-guy aura to Mason. He occasionally worked outside the legal perimeter, but only to file down the rough edges when the legal architecture wasn't quite working.
Mike Hammer doesn't care about the legal architecture except when he can use it to his advantage and he isn't neatening things up - he is a vigilante out for justice. He does have a morality - he's loyal to his friends, he honors his word and he has a general sense of right and wrong - but if society had too many Mike Hammers in it, justice would come down to each man and his gun.
There's also an superhero immaturity to Mike Hammer as he's obvious a Spillane fantasy character who is so tough he can beat up two professional thugs who jump him from behind, can shoot better than anyone else and women often want to (and try to) sleep with him immediately after meeting him, while other women pine away hoping one day he'll ask them to marry him. Hammer's a twelve-year-old boy's perfect daydream of adulthood.
In I, The Jury, Hammer's good friend, Jack Williams, who lost an arm saving Hammer's life in WWII, is killed in cruel cold-blooded fashion (a gunshot to the gut and, then, left to die on his bedroom floor). Hammer immediately swears to everyone who will listen, including his friend police inspector Pat Chambers, that he will avenge this death by killing the murderer in the exact same way. That this is illegal and would lead to his arrest is all but ignored throughout the book.
Hammer and Chambers agree to work together to some extent, but they also understand that they'll each go their own way when necessary. From here, the investigation sifts through Williams' friends and acquaintances including his girlfriend Myrna, a shady mob guy, the mob guy's gay lover, wealthy twin sisters, one of whom is a nymphomaniac, and a voluptuous blonde psychiatrist who, years ago, helped cure Myrna of a drug addiction.
In addition to the above list of suspects, also involved in this complex murder are drug dealers, mobsters and a prostitution ring that, effectively, shanghais vulnerable girls from college. Hammer and Chambers struggle to untwist all these people and parts, especially as William's murderer keeps killing potential informants whenever Hammer gets close.
Along the way, Hammer has a couple of "quickies" with the nympho twin while he begins to fall in love with the smart and prepossessingly beautiful psychiatrist. Additionally, he consumes the equivalent of a medium-sized liquor cabinet while smoking his way through a small tobacco plantation's annual production.
Also part of the Hammer mystique are his cool friends and contacts who seemingly pop up wherever needed as when he goes up to Harlem investigating the drug angle. Sometimes these cool friends get killed because they are connected to Hammer, which only further fuels his passion for revenge.
In the end, and this is only a spoiler alert if you miss the Hammer-fantasy zeitgeist that Spillane has been spinning from the first page, Hammer solves the mystery and exacts the revenge he planned all along.
Added into the climactic moment is an awkward prurience as Hammer's victim, a beautiful woman, undresses completely and offers herself to Hammer in a desperate attempt to save her life right before Hammer shoots her: Twelve-year-old Mickey Spillane's fantasy is complete.
I, The Jury is a fun, quick read where hero Mike Hammer drinks, smokes and bangs pretty women as he pursues his vigilante-justice quest for his friend's murder. You can't take it too seriously, but it works as lighthearted escapism. It's also another entry in the "lone warrior working outside 'the system' to avenge a wrong" genre America has been perfecting with its superheroes and private detectives for generations.
So, I was sitting in a doctors office waiting room and reading “Hawaiian Legends of Old Honolulu” by W.D. Westervelt, originally published in 1915.
Across from me was a very big and very old Hawaiian Gentleman. He sees what I am reading and comments on it and soon we are “talking story.” His pidgin dialect is a joy to listen to. Among other things he tells me that he has personally stumbled upon the wreck of a Japanese Zero in the jungle valleys of the Ko’olau mountains; that he has personally entered ancient Hawaiian burial caves that are taboo. He said he knows a guy who once saw an apparition of the volcano goddess Pele while driving over the Pali.
We probably spoke for a half an hour before he was called in. All the while, I could see that his wife was grateful that I was humoring him and engaging him. But, I have to say, that was one of the best conversations that I have had since relocating to O’ahu. Of course, a lot of what he said was fantasy —-maybe not all, who knows?
My take is that Hawaii is much more than the popular one dimensional image of palm trees and Hula girls that we are used to. Because the place is so small, it seems that every valley and outcrop has a story, legend, historic event or personality associated with it. The town I live in is dotted with “kapu” sacred stones that are fenced-off for their protection. Most of them do not have signage explaining them.
It’s easy to get frustrated with the horrible traffic on O’ahu and all the nonstop commercialism. On the other hand, I frequently find myself stumbling upon the sights and stories of Hawaii before WWII and even before Captain Cook. I’m burning a hole through the Hawaiiana section of the Public Library across the street. There are a lot of forgotten books in there filled with obscure history and culture. Admittedly, I’m an oddball. But at least it’s holding my attention and distracting me from the endless din of 2021.
Some Wore Bobby Sox: The Emergence of Teenage Girls' Culture 1920-1945 by Kelly Schrum published in 2004
"Teenage Girl Power" is nothing new according to author Kelly Schrum in Some Wore Bobby Sox as she avers it started in the 1920s with roots going back to the second half of the nineteenth century.
In the mid-to-late 1800s, industrialization led to urbanization which, combined with a general push from many in the public and government to keep children in school into their teen years, started the creation of a "teen" culture. Teens were now spending large amounts of time away from their parents and with other teens.
These inchoate trends gained momentum in the early years of the twentieth century, finally creating a true "teen culture" by the 1920s, three decades earlier than the 1950s when many often claim the teen-culture began.
Aiding and abetting this development was not only America's early-twentieth-century growing economic shift to mass-produced goods, but also its handmaiden national advertising. Everyone being able to buy the same things, hawked the same way, helped create a common culture across disparate parts of the country.
As author Schrum says, by the 1920s, "A teenage girl in a remote part of Northern California shared enough with a Jewish girl on Staten Island and a farm girl in Indiana to demonstrate a distinct teenage culture in the making." This culture itself was a self-reinforcing feedback loop as companies discovered teenage girls and girls discovered mass-marketed products, often showing up in stores with advertisements from teen-oriented magazines in hand.
Many companies were only too happy to expand this market with targeted products and ads. Schrum proffers, though, it was girls, more than boys, who were likely to succumb to peer pressure, thus creating a stronger and more-homogenized female teen culture. In those early years, "teenager" and "teen culture" (the terms themselves were still evolving) often were understood to refer to girls only.
Supporting her theory, Schrum notes some clothing manufacturers and stores created "teen" departments for teenage girls, but only rarely for boys. The same distinction can be seen in the periodical business, which put out several magazines targeting a girl-teen audience, but not a similar effort for teenage boys.
With, as noted, roots going back farther, but beginning to codify in the 1920s, hair styles, cosmetics, jewelry, clothes and personal hygiene products all became part of the teenage culture. Sometimes, the girls reached into the adult market for items and, sometimes, the manufacturers and marketers reached out to the girl-teen market for customers. By the 1940s, the teenage culture and market, while always evolving, was already well defined.
It was a bumpy road the whole way, with parents, educators, government officials, religious organizations and social commentators all weighing in and, often, arguing over each change: bobbed hair - horrors, lipstick - the decline of civilization and so on. But with or without support from the formal institutions, the girls, interacting amongst themselves at school and social events, aggressively pushed the boundaries out over time.
Music and movies were another "bonding" opportunity that helped create the teen culture, while telling companies there is a market in teen-girl products if they'll just look for it. With the coming of the phonograph - the Victrola - records were highly sought after and collected by teens. In the early 1940s, and years before Elvis, Frank Sinatra was a teen idol.
Going back to the silent era, movie stars were also teen idols. Perhaps not surprisingly, the teenagers looked up to and fantasized about the adult stars like Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, but not the popular teen stars like Judy Garland or Mickey Rooney. Those latter stars were more liked by either the younger kids or their parents, who were attracted to the wholesome messages in those stars' family friendly movies. Effectively and quite modern like, teenagers were too cool for the teenage movie stars.
Author Schrum brings many historical facts, references, illustrations and anecdotes to support her premise that girl teen culture began in the 1920s. The writing and approach in Some Wore Bobby Sox is a touch too academic-paper like for a mass-market cultural read, but if you can stay with it through its "dry" parts, it has some sparks here and there, while providing an enlightening look at the origins of girl-teen culture.
A hat tip to @LizzieMaine for this excellent Fedora Lounge recommendation.
I am in an absolute reading slump when it comes to fiction. I've been so engrossed with grad school reading that I haven't read a novel in quite awhile and I hate it. I'm hoping that over Christmas break I can find a good novel to sink my teeth into.
Right now I'm part way through the following book, a 1981 analysis of Frank Herbert's novels, with a heavy emphasis on Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune. It really digs down into Herbert's storytelling methods and his inspirations and research, etc. The book is long out-of-print, but the author, Tim O'Reilly, has made an online copy available on his website (link below).
The Christmas reading season began with Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter, reading aloud with the Missus, followed by Christmas! by Peter Spier and Santa Calls by Willam Joyce. Currently just starting A Christmas Carol, by you-know-who, in an edition that uses the spelling variations and punctuation of the 1843 book. Christmas and reading, I'm happy happy happy.
I love that you read "Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter" every year. You might remember that you introduced me to that fun book.
I'm currently reading "A Christmas Carol" too.
Have been reading a ton of books about Hawaii. Am starting to get conversant about many of the key players; a rogue’s gallery of saints and sinners, adventurers, criminals, and some good people also thrown into the mix. Just finished “unfamiliar fishes” by Sarah Vowell. Chatty, well written, and full of obscure fun information. We know the native people of New Zealand are named Maori. The ethnic Hawaiians are named Kanaka Maoli. Linguistically allowing for L and R to be swapped out, it is the exact same word. Why didn’t I ever figure that out for myself? Another one: we all know that it took the missionaries over a decade to learn Hawaiian and then translate the Bible into Hawaiian. What I didn’t know is that they didn’t just translate the good book from English into Hawaiian. No. That would have been too easy. To avoid any errors of meaning, they translated from the original Hebrew and Greek into Hawaiian. Holy moly. Those guys were real scholars, and tough as nails too. The whalers opened fire with cannons on the missionaries homes because the missionaries were trying to suppress prostitution. The book has 1000 good stories. The whole Greek tragedy of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii is a complex mess that pulls at the heartstrings; with plenty of greed, stupidity, and ill will to go around. Colorful characters abound. Good book. It goes beyond the superficial, black and white narrative about Hawaii’s history that we all know.
The Guernesy Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Historical WWII novel
Really good book, okay movie (but very pretty).
I missed the movie which should have been good as a book with substance sparked the flame.
'HOW COULD YOU'
in a second I would be talking to a corpse
'It was easy.'
Mick dealt a cold deck.
Two interesting facts about Mickey Spillane:
1. Before he became a novelist, he had a job writing those cheesy two-page text stories used as fillers in comic books.
2. After he became a novelist, he became a Jehovah's Witness, and would go house to house offering copies of "The Watchtower" in his gruff, growly voice.
While repairing my mom's roof a JW showed, wife and mother in tow. Wife stunning, blonde, tan, voluptuous.
Bathsheba in all her glory. And preacher man wants to talk to me about the Bible.
I told him Uriah had a babe of a wife, just like he did.