Friday, February 09, 2018

The Second World Wars: An Implacable America Seeking Absolute Victory

I finished reading the eye-opening The Second World Wars by Victor Davis Hanson and came away with a lot to think about: the continuity of military issues from ancient times to today; the shifting alliances of World War II; how the Germans and Japanese misread the American capacity to make war; the British tenacity in keeping the war going for a year until the Germans invaded the USSR in 1941.

I found something compelling on every page. One passage in particular struck me in its sweep of U.S. military might and determination of attack enemies worldwide, with every weapon at hand. The passage, from pages 216-217, demands quoting in its entirety:
Why the American Army was small, in relative terms, is also illustrated by how diverse and spread over the globe the American military had become by the latter part of the war. For example, on the single day of the invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944), around the world other US forces were just as much on the attack at sea and in the air. As part of the ill-fated Operation Frantic shuttle-bombing operations between US airfields in Italy and refueling bases in the Soviet Ukraine, over 150 B-17s and their P-51 escorts attacked the oil fields at Galati, Romania. Another five hundred B-17s and escorts hit the often-targeted Romanian oil fields at Ploesti. Meanwhile, the 12th Air Force conducted continuous tactical air strikes on German positions in Italy. Allied ground troops also had just occupied Rome two days earlier and were garrisoning in the city in preparation for offensives against the Gothic Line in northern Italy.
In the Asia and Pacific theaters on this same landmark day of June 6, the US Pacific Fleet was making preparations to invade the Mariana Islands within a week, with a combined force almost as large as had landed at Normandy. Meanwhile, B-29 bombers prepared for their first raid against Japan from forward bases in China, while six B-25 Mitchell medium bombers and ten P-51 fighter escorts conducted operations against Tayang Chiang, China. B-25s were also attacking Japanese troops moving on Imphal, India. Meanwhile, the submarine Raton was tracking a Japanese convoy near Saigon. The submarine Harder sank a Japanese destroyer off Borneo, while the Pintado torpedoed and destroyed a cargo vessel off the Marianas. B-24 heavy bombers hit Ponape Island in Micronesia as tactical strikes were conducted against the Japanese on Bouganville, New Britain, and New Guinea.
In other words, even as the American Army and its supporting naval and air forces participated in the largest amphibious landing in history, the US military was on the offensive against the Germans in Italy, conducting long-range bombing from Italy and Britain, torpedoing convoys in the Pacific, assembling forces to storm the Marianas, and carrying out air strikes from bases in China all the way to New Guinea. On such a single typical day of combat, diverse fleets of B-17s, B-24s, B-25s, B-26s, B-29s, A-20s, P-38s, P-39s, P-40s, P-47s, and P-51s were all in the air from Normandy to the China Sea.
Could the United States ever again muster that social, economic and political will to "win through to absolute victory," as President Franklin Roosevelt said in seeking a declaration of war the day after Pearl Harbor? I don't want to find out.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

"The Second World Wars" -- Compelling on Every Page

I've always liked the online essays of classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson. His work combines deep historical knowledge and jargon-free expression to make big, discomforting points about current affairs. I had never read any of his books, however.

I hadn't until yesterday, when I started reading his latest, The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and WonHanson grabbed me from the introduction and hasn't let go. I can pay it a high accolade: It kept me awake on the train commute home to the suburbs, when I'm usually dozing off. I'm only 30 pages in on a 500-page book, but I know what I'll have my nose in for the next week whenever possible.

Every page has striking passages that draw from Hanson's knowledge of classical culture and world history. I want to quote something from every paragraph, he's that compelling with his original take on World War II. Rather than a chronological approach, Hanson discusses the war in seven timeless, elemental themes: ideas, air, water, earth, fire, people, ends. His long, well-balanced sentences are a challenge to summarize or excerpt. One typical example:
Yet the pathetic socialist pamphleteer and failed novelist Benito Mussolini, and the thuggish seminary dropout, bank robber, and would-be essayist Joseph Stalin--traditional failures all--proved nonetheless in nihilistic times to be astute political operatives far more gifted than most of their gentleman counterparts in the European democracies of the 1930s.
Lessons applicable to current civil challenges constantly struck me. In his total grasp of the subject material, Hanson reminds me of both Charles Dickens and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The originality and argument of his thesis compares well to Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, from 2010. While I've only started Hanson's book, I suspect one difference is that Hanson will come to an elegant and succinct conclusion, in contrast to Snyder, who struggled to close with a Big Message, as if his book needed something beyond its statement of horrors. That being said, Snyder's use of statistics was so eye-opening that I wrote about his book soon after it appeared, at the Times of Israel.

Bottom line: Color me impressed and informed by Hanson. I'll say more once I finish the book.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Virginian: How the West Was Written by Owen Wister

Just as Homer set the foundation of Western literature with The Iliad, so Owen Wister created the ur-narrative of another kind of "Western" literature in 1902 when he published The Virginian.

Wister is credited with writing the first novel of the American West, based on his own observations of visits to Wyoming, Montana and elsewhere. The book details the life and love of an unnamed character known as the Virginian. Wister touches on what became the classic Western themes: the guns, the cattle drives, rowdy card games, the loneliness of vast distances, the lovely and virginal school marm, religion and religious hucksters, the struggle to build a civil society, and even the gulf between the civilized "East" and the untamed "West." The Virginian's love interest, schoolteacher Molly Wood, hails from Bennington, Vermont, a locale that sets up humor and societal contrasts. A telling details is that Molly's great-aunt had the honor of curtsying before the Marquis de Lafayette.
Taken together, these passages startle with the knowledge that they were new then. What we may consider cliches were once fresh and remarkable; I'm reminded of reading Bram Stoker's Dracula, published in 1897 with all the undead themes of the undead genre.

Who was Owen Wister? He started life as a Philadelphia blueblood, educated in Europe and later at Harvard College and Harvard Law. Tart references in The Virginian to Wall Street, Bryn Mawr, Newport and Tiffany's no doubt stemmed from personal observations. At Harvard, he became a close friend of future president Theodore Roosevelt, another proponent of the vigorous outdoor life. Restless as a lawyer, Wister moved on to politics and writing. The Virginian builds on his experiences and stories he heard on 15 carefully documented trips to the West. His politics remained on the conservative side, as he lived long enough to oppose Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.
I knew nothing about Wister, his book or the 1960s TV series of the same name, so I didn't know what to expect. Wister's writing style ranged from straightforward to intricate Victorian-era ornate as he explored the "cow-boy" as a moral figure, chivalrous to women and animals, relentless foe of cattle thieves and other ne'er-do-wells. What struck me about the book was just not the themes, but their timeliness. The antique literature became a time machine giving a glimpse of behaviors and norms of a past era. And some of behaviors may not be so past.

For example, guns and rifles were common, but Wister depicted a country where gunfights were rare and were more the last resort of problem solving. While a man of action who never backed down from conflict, the Virginian spent more of his time as a ranch foreman dealing with human resources issues, as we would call them today, and logistics management—getting those dogies to market.

Kindness to those in need, implacable foe of oppressors

He's also a friend of animals. Beneath his storytelling and aw-shucks conversational tone, the Virginian has no tolerance for the exploitation of the helpless. In this passage, he responds to a frustrated cowboy's attack on a lovable horse named Pedro:

Pedro sank motionless, his head rolling flat on the earth. Balaam was jammed beneath him. The man had struggled to his feet before the Virginian reached the spot, and the horse then lifted his head and turned it piteously round.

Then vengeance like a blast struck Balaam. The Virginian hurled him to the ground, lifted and hurled him again, lifted him and beat his face and struck his jaw. The man’s strong ox-like fighting availed nothing. He fended his eyes as best he could against these sledge-hammer blows of justice. He felt blindly for his pistol. That arm was caught and wrenched backward, and crushed and doubled. He seemed to hear his own bones, and set up a hideous screaming of hate and pain. Then the pistol at last came out, and together with the hand that grasped it was instantly stamped into the dust. Once again the creature was lifted and slung so that he lay across Pedro’s saddle a blurred, dingy, wet pulp.

Vengeance had come and gone. The man and the horse were motionless. Around them, silence seemed to gather like a witness.

“If you are dead,” said the Virginian, “I am glad of it.” 

But the man of action is also a man of letters, even a letter writer. Thanks to his blooming relationship with Molly Wood, he finds a deep appreciation for Shakespeare, Dickens and Browning, identifying with Prince Hal and other characters. In some ways, the Virginian is more literate than many current English majors.

War and social division, quality and inequality

Reading the book through a 21st century lens, issues jumped out at me that may have been of passing interest in 1902. The Civil War hovers around the edges of the book, such as in a scene on a train:

So I was passing that way also, walking for the sake of ventilation from a sleeping-car toward a bath, when the language of Colonel Cyrus Jones came out to me. The actual colonel I had never seen before. He stood at the rear of his palace in gray flowery mustaches and a Confederate uniform, telling the wishes of his guests to the cook through a hole.

Wister treats social divisions, too, especially between the more settled parts of the United States and the wide-open canvas of the West, where unfamiliar groups and behaviors lurked. Discussing Molly's marital prospects, her family worried about the disasters lurking:

Somebody said to Andrew Bell that they heard Miss Molly Wood was engaged to marry a RUSTLER.
“Heavens, Andrew!” said his wife; “what is a rustler?”

It was not in any dictionary, and current translations of it were inconsistent. A man at Hoosic Falls said that he had passed through Cheyenne, and heard the term applied in a complimentary way to people who were alive and pushing. Another man had always supposed it meant some kind of horse. But the most alarming version of all was that a rustler was a cattle thief.

Now the truth is that all these meanings were right. The word ran a sort of progress in the cattle country, gathering many meanings as it went. It gathered more, however, in Bennington. In a very few days, gossip had it that Molly was engaged to a gambler, a gold miner, an escaped stage robber, and a Mexican bandit; while Mrs. Flynt feared she had married a Mormon.

The Virginian also keenly observes issues of equality and inequality. In a discussion with Molly, he observes ("cyards" is his Virginia-accented pronunciation of "cards"):

“I’ll tell you what,” pursued the cow-puncher, with slow and growing intensity, “equality is a great big bluff. It’s easy called.”

“I didn’t mean—” began Molly.

“Wait, and let me say what I mean.” He had made an imperious gesture with his hand. “I know a man that mostly wins at cyards. I know a man that mostly loses. He says it is his luck. All right. Call it his luck. I know a man that works hard and he’s gettin’ rich, and I know another that works hard and is gettin’ poor. He says it is his luck. All right. Call it his luck. I look around and I see folks movin’ up or movin’ down, winners or losers everywhere. All luck, of course. But since folks can be born that different in their luck, where’s your equality? No, seh! call your failure luck, or call it laziness, wander around the words, prospect all yu’ mind to, and yu’ll come out the same old trail of inequality.” He paused a moment and looked at her. “Some holds four aces,” he went on, “and some holds nothin’, and some poor fello’ gets the aces and no show to play ‘em; but a man has got to prove himself my equal before I’ll believe him.”

Justice and injustice in America

Wister's characters address issues of lawlessness, with an unblinking frankness of the era's realities that deliver shock value today. The key passage deserves quoting at length:

“Well,” he said, coming straight to the point, “some dark things have happened.” And when she made no answer to this, he continued: “But you must not misunderstand us. We’re too fond of you for that.” 

“Judge Henry,” said Molly Wood, also coming straight to the point, “have you come to tell me that you think well of lynching?”

He met her. “Of burning Southern negroes in public, no. Of hanging Wyoming cattle thieves in private, yes. You perceive there’s a difference, don’t you?”

“Not in principle,” said the girl, dry and short.

“Oh—dear—me!” slowly exclaimed the Judge. “I am sorry that you cannot see that, because I think that I can. And I think that you have just as much sense as I have.” The Judge made himself very grave and very good-humored at the same time. The poor girl was strung to a high pitch, and spoke harshly in spite of herself.

“What is the difference in principle?” she demanded.

“Well,” said the Judge, easy and thoughtful, “what do you mean by principle?”

“I didn’t think you’d quibble,” flashed Molly. “I’m not a lawyer myself.”

A man less wise than Judge Henry would have smiled at this, and then war would have exploded hopelessly between them, and harm been added to what was going wrong already. But the Judge knew that he must give to every word that the girl said now his perfect consideration.

“I don’t mean to quibble,” he assured her. “I know the trick of escaping from one question by asking another. But I don’t want to escape from anything you hold me to answer. If you can show me that I am wrong, I want you to do so. But,” and here the Judge smiled, “I want you to play fair, too.”

“And how am I not?”

“I want you to be just as willing to be put right by me as I am to be put right by you. And so when you use such a word as principle, you must help me to answer by saying what principle you mean. For in all sincerity I see no likeness in principle whatever between burning Southern negroes in public and hanging Wyoming horse-thieves in private. I consider the burning a proof that the South is semi-barbarous, and the hanging a proof that Wyoming is determined to become civilized. We do not torture our criminals when we lynch them. We do not invite spectators to enjoy their death agony. We put no such hideous disgrace upon the United States. We execute our criminals by the swiftest means, and in the quietest way. Do you think the principle is the same?”

Molly had listened to him with attention. “The way is different,” she admitted.

“Only the way?”

“So it seems to me. Both defy law and order.”

“Ah, but do they both? Now we’re getting near the principle.”

“Why, yes. Ordinary citizens take the law in their own hands.”

“The principle at last!” exclaimed the Judge.

As these passages show, The Virginian is intensely quotable, because of Wister's style and his subject material. On every page I knew I was reading the birth of the Western, a genre that's never truly vanished, and the raw material for reimaginings and reinterpretations, right down to the new Netflix series, Godless. The themes of that series include religion, the birth of civil institutions, a lovely (but not virginal) schoolmarm, women without men (a reversal of the usual western imbalance), breathtaking vistas, horses, oily Eastern business interests, black and Indian communities, and railroads opening the land.

Had Owen Wister seen Godless, he'd recognize a lot of it. He and the Virginian were there first.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Matthew Polly: Transformation in China

Here's a Princeton Alumni Weekly profile of Matthew Polly '95, a martial arts expert who wrote a book about his experiences. The story says:

Polly’s book, American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China, is a raucous, wry look at his transformation from a “weakling” to a fighting machine. Despite his lonely status as the only English speaker at his academy, Polly persisted in the training and language study so that after a year, he says, “I began to understand the culture. The people let me in.” Published by Gotham Books in February, the book recounts his picaresque adventures as he traveled, clashed with Communist Party functionaries, and switched from kung fu to kickboxing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

In-Q-Tel: Spookily Responsible Investing

Year's end always makes people think of their investment portfolios, and that makes me think about the unique investment strategy of In-Q-Tel, the non-profit venture fund supported by the CIA.

While the In-Q-Tel name is horribly clunky, the corporate mandate is a big winner in any game of Buzzword Bingo:

In-Q-Tel was established in 1999 as an independent, private, not-for-profit company to help the CIA and the greater US Intelligence Community (IC) to identify, acquire, and deploy cutting-edge technologies. In-Q-Tel's open and entrepreneurial venture capital model gives it the agility - lacking within traditional government contracting approaches - to help the IC benefit from the rapid pace of change in information technology and other emerging technology fields.

In-Q-Tel's mission is to deliver leading-edge capabilities to the CIA and the IC by investing in the development of promising technologies. Because early-stage technologies are often unproven, In-Q-Tel takes the calculated risks necessary to develop, prove, and deliver them to the Intelligence Community.

And the company uses an arresting tag line on its highly informative site: "As outside the box as government gets."

I can't evaluate In-Q-Tel's investment strategies or success, but I like to think of this as a War on Terror version of "socially responsible investing." The folks at the Social Investment Forum probably wouldn't be too keen to list In-Q-Tel as an investment vehicle, even if they could. The Social Investment Forum's perspective is:

Your savings and investments can help create a better world! Our new guide gives you hands-on advice and information to help you put your dollars to work to build healthy communities, promote economic equity, and foster a clean environment.

I would like to see In-Q-Tel reframe its value proposition in these terms, as a declaration of "spookily responsible investing." That would have more punch than cutting-edge, leading-edge, bleeding-edge, etc. Why not:

"Your savings and investments can help create a more secure, terror-destroying world! Our new guide gives you phasers-on advice and information to help you put your anti-jihadist dollars to work to build healthy listening devices, promote interrogation equity, and a foster an environment that's more deadly to terrorists and the evil forces that support them."

Doesn't that work better? Where do I send my check?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Wendy Sayvitz: Singing Underground in New York

Here's an alumni profile from the Princeton Alumni Weekly of Wendy Sayvitz '81, who has made a good living as a musician performing (and selling CDs) at Grand Central Terminal.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Do You Have a Relationship Resume?

Most people on Jdate and other dating sties have a resume for their work life. Lately I've been thinking about the value of a resume for my love life. It makes sense: you go through phone screenings, initial conversations, more formal interviews ("dates") with the goal of getting something valuable in your life. We jump through similar hoops in the quest for finance and romance.

So we can all benefit from a "Romance Resume" to provide to targets here on Jdate. The profile does some of the work, but it doesn't go far enough. "What I've Learned from Past Relationships" can be overhauled to provide much more detail. Think of the great conversations that would start if we could exchange relationship Resumes with love interests here.

What would they look and sound like? Since I'm throwing out the idea, it's only fair that I go first. Here's disguised example:

2005-2006: YettaFromYonkers, New York
Overview: YfY and I formed a dynamic, mutually supportive relationship based initially on our shared interest in kung fu movies. It blossomed through our discussions of children, parents, exes, personality-altering medications, and Jdate experiences.

Key accomplishments in this relationship:

* Social: Successfully took YfY to museums, concerts, and exotic restaurants where we ate with our hands while sitting on the floor.
* Emotional: Provided key support to YfY during late-night crises involving intestinal distress due to visits to exotic restaurants.
* Physical: Can discuss details during oral presentations.

See what I mean? We can all think of our pasts as a series of emotionally enriching engagements that let us develop knowledge and capabilities that will delight our next romantic "employer," so to speak. That will give us all an edge in the competition against all the other job applicants applying for the same job.

Some people aren't seeking full-time romantic employment. They are more like freelancers or consultants, interested in a series of less-defined short-term engagements. An honest, detailed romance resume will make that employment history clear, so readers can evaluate you on that basis -- whether you want to sign up for the whole package with an office and romantic employment contract or a more casual, in-and-out engagement.

And of course your romance resume will include references, so readers can check out its accuracy first-hand. Doesn't that sound fun?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Rescuing the Littlest Angel

I've been silent for a while. On July 31 I got laid off from the job I had held since February 2002. The blow came unexpectedly for myself and over 30 colleagues. We learned in a four-minute listen-only conference call that our employer no longer needed our communications skills and we'd hear from HR.

The end.

So I haven't been in the mood to blog here, about personal matters. But with the fall, soon Rosh Hashanah, I'll start early on new behavior, including this.

In the aftermath of the lay-off, two collegues and I rushed back to our New York office from Boston, where we were for an assignment. Our other colleagues had already completed the doleful packing of personal items. I found boxes waiting by my office. I knocked some together, flipping flaps to make a tight cardboard fit, then began dumping in books, CDs, Jdate profiles I had printed out, insurance papers and anything else I wanted to get shipped to my home in Connecticut.

After two hours, I was done. I took final photos, said good-bye to friends, took the elevator down 39 floors, walked down Park Avenue, got the train in Grand Central, and came home. I had packed everything, needing only to return on August 1 to turn in my laptop, keys, Diners Club card, and other professional flotsam.

I was wrong. I forgot something precious.

To understand what I left behind, you have to understand my life long before employment, before New York. I grew up in deep South Texas, a heavily Catholic region on the Rio Grande at the far edge of America. College took me far away, then after graduation my career in jouralism planted me in New York. I hardly ever went back.

I did return for high school reunions, which I always enjoyed at the 20th reunion in 1996 I got the award of a ceramic angel for being the most distant alum of Mission High School to return to the reunion. It would safeguard me on my long trip back home.

The littlest angel, as I call it, means a great deal to me. It speaks of an abiding affection among my classmates and me, a token of the place where I grew up, left, and at times returned.

On the day I returned, I took one last look at my office. The boxes were packed and taped, CDs stowed, everything ready for the last journey home.

And then my eye fell on the littlest angel, guarding my possessions from a bare shelf. Somehow, in my rush to pack, I forgot her. There she remained. I grabbed the ceramic guardian and gently placed her in my Lands' End bag for an escorted trip home under my direct care.

How strange -- the one item with the highest sentimental value to me was the very item I forgot. Had I not gotten laid off while I was in Boston, had I not had to return to the office to do paperwork chores, I might have totally overlooked the littlest angel and left her forlornly on the shelf.

But my last trip to Park Avenue connected me again with my ceramic guardian, and we'll watch over each other from now on.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"Rose Colored Glasses," Hitting Too Close to Home

Radio station WFDU played a country song this morning that hit a little too close too home emotionally. But some country songs do that. I had the presence of mine to jot down enough of the lyrics to find the song. You can hear part of the song on singer John Conlee's website, where you can hear part of the song, which is powerful:

Rose Colored Glasses

I don't know why I keep on believing you need me
When you prove so many times that it ain't true
And I can't find one good reason for staying
Maybe by leaving would be the best for you

But these rose colored glasses that I'm looking through
Show only the beauty cause they hide all the truth

And they let me hold on to the good times the good lines
The ones I used to hear when I held you
And they keep me from feeling so cheated defeated
When reflections in your eyes show me a fool

These rose colored glasses that I'm looking through
Show only the beauty cause they hide all the truth

So I just keep on hoping, believing that maybe
By counting the many times I've tried
You'll believe me when I say I love you and
I'll lay these rose colored glasses aside

These rose colored glasses that I'm looking through
Show only the beauty cause they hide all the truth

Friday, June 16, 2006

That's So Random

One aspect of parenting I enjoy is to hear the trends and times reflected through my son. Just as I had my G.I. Joes and 007 gear, Shmoikel has his Magic: The Gathering cards and video game systems.

I pay attention to verbal trends, too. Lately the phrase I hear, in various versions, is "That's so random." His mother indicated that he says that to her, too.

Case in point: Last weekend we visited the fabulous Greenwich Library, where I scoop up CDs by the dozen every week. Outside the library stands a metal sculpture of that beloved indigenous Connecticut animal, the long-haired yak. Short, squat, and bronzish, the Greenwich yak mystified Shmoikel.

"Why a yak?" he mused. "That's so random."

This hints that "random" is a synonym for "unexplainable."

To reduce the level of randomness in the universe, I said we should do another sculpture for the library of a "generic animal." It would be non-random, indeed, non-specific entirely, just a generic beast that wouldn't look like anything in particular.

This provoked the hoped-for bafflement and laughter as we attempted to define the characteristics and appearance of a non-random generic creature, with either two or four legs.

And that kind of father-son interaction is not random.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Sentimentalist and His Samsung

I've always been sentimental -- I keep letters, pictures, program guides from long-ago, school assemblies. Yet in the digital age, keepsakes can be much harder to hold. A few clicks of a mouse or an errant "delete" button, and something precious vanishes.

I had the feeling for my Samsung cell phone lately. It notes the last 20 calls that are incoming, outgoing, and missed. Since almost all my calls involve people already listed in the phone's contacts section, the call records give me a quick scan of the important people in my life, whom I call repeatedly. Making the list is easy; getting deleted almost impossible.

The calls from Tieta, a woman with whom I've had an tortured on-and-off friendship for over a year, duly showed up in the log, last name first name. After we struck up our friendship again in March, our calls were regular so her name peppered the call lists, both incoming and outgoing. Then they fizzled down to nothing, and in dismay I watched Tieta's name slip lower and lower in the list as other calls came and went. Still, as long as I could check incoming calls and see she really did call me at 3:56 pm on Friday May 19, I had a tiny, silly way of telling myself that, yes, we had contact.

Then on Monday, a friend called and pushed Tieta off the list, from 20th most recent call to oblivion. I had to mourn the moment, which I knew had to arrive. One fragment of a fragment of a fragile relationship vanished, and I do not know if it will ever be replaced by another call that puts Tieta back on the top of the call list.

This time around, at least, I'm not deleting her name from the contacts list. I'm leaving it there, for sentimental reasons.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Newsweek Rethinks "The Marriage Crunch" -- But Whatever Happened to "Luscious and Looking"?

Digging into its archives, Newsweek magazine has re-examined the data and the daters in its notorious June 1986 cover article "The Marriage Crunch." The article spun statistics in a study called "Marriage Patterns in the United States." Women across America got hit with the "traumatic news" about the relationship of aging and marriage prospects:
According to the report, white, college-educated women born in the mid-'50s who are still single at 30 have only a 20 percent chance of marrying. By the age of 35 the odds drop to 5 percent. Forty-year-olds are more likely to be killed by a terrorist: they have a minuscule 2.6 percent probability of tying the knot.

Newsweek took a fresh look at the article and tracked down 11 of the 14 women interviewed in the 1986 piece, and found eight were married, three were singled, and none divorced. Overall, Newsweek found the marriage odds are much better now.

However, for all the rethinking and reinterviewing, Newsweek ignored the one followup story I most wanted to read.

As background, I'll confess that I saved that issue of Newsweek. I stuck it in a folder I called "The Love File," stuffed to overflowing with magazine articles, photographs, the 1980 wedding announcement of a high school flame thoughtfully sent to me by my mother, "The Mensch Shortage, Or, What Do Women Want?" from the Village Voice of February 1986, a heartbreakingly beautiful picture of Amy Irving on the cover of the New York Daily News Magazine, and much, much more. And Newsweek had its place of honor.

Many of the articles came from New York Magazine. Back before the Internet, its personal ads were the big game in town for singles (in addition to the scruffier Village Voice). Around the time when "The Marriage Crunch" ran, New York made a radical innovation in personal ads -- singles could run their picture with their ad, for a price, of course.

The first pictures broke through the concrete-like wall of anonymity that always guarded the ads in New York. Sure, you could read the terse notices and get a very slight sense of the person, but learning the appearance of the other person had to wait until the slow-motion process of sending a letter with a picture, then waiting for a call, then wrangling a meeting. The process could take weeks. I couldn't imagine the nerve required to reveal yourself with a picture on your personal ad.

Newsweek also took notice of New York's approach. A sidebar article, "The New Mating Games," scanned the techniques of singles, including New York's approach, which cost "$500 for a picture and 12 lines of copy."

What Newsweek did in 1986 was reprint the actual ur-photo ad, the one I remember because I found the woman quite attractive. Under the headline "Luscious and Looking," she wrote copy that seems ludicrously brief by today's epic-length standards on JDate and Match, but Luscious still hit the classic themes and underlying neuroses of urban singles ads:
Divorced, 40, feminine, sexy, slender, 5'2", athletic, successful, great cook, cuddler, Jewish, enjoy intimacy, desire committed relationship. You: 34-45, tall, Manhattanite, handsome, successful, strong, masculine, caring, non-smoker."

The new Newsweek article has nothing about the role of technology in shifting the dynamics of dating and mating. Compared to 20 years ago, men and women have extraordinarily more choices thanks to the Internet. In 1986 Newsweek inadvertently touched on the revolution to come, with a passing reference to "video dating" and the pathbreaking picture of Luscious and Looking. While her photo is utterly demure compared to the bikini-clad vixens who can be found today, Luscious and Looking took the first tentative step beyond anonymity to say, "Here I am, guys. Take a good look."

If I were at Newsweek, I would have got on the horn to New York Magazine and tried to contact Luscious. She's 60 now; what's happened in the 20 years since she bravely shelled out her $500 to break through the columns of type in New York? Is she still luscious? Is she still looking?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I'm Turning Japanese

I've dabbled in many languages in my life, even an effort to teach myself ancient Greek before I started college in the fall of 1976. Not that I can speak anything besides English -- I'm more a dilettante waiting for the day when I can activate my meandering studies in a real-life situation (as in, get a job that requires me to actually understand, say, Portuguese).

Last week I moved farther afield than ever when I started a five-week Japanese Language and Culture class at my company. I don't know why the class is being offered. It has no bearing on my professional responsibilities. However, my linguistic spirit of adventure had me sign up.

The first week's language segment focused on greetings and the simplest one-stroke letters. Over the weekend son Shmoikel relentlessly drilled me so, incredibly, the polysyllabic words began to make sense. The cartoon pictures that serve as memory aides for learning letters -- "Mt. St. Helens is quiet today" for "he" -- work very well, although upcoming lessons show a strange fixation on cartoons with yo-yos.

Overall, I'm happy to be learning in a structured setting, and I'll be returning my Italian and Hebrew language learning sets to the Greenwich Library so I can concentrate on Japanese.

"I'm Turning Japanese," by the way, was a popular song and video by the Vapors in the early 1980s. The lyrics are painfully relevant, although not to my efforts to learn Japanese:

I've got your picture
Of me and you
You wrote "I love you"
I love you too
I sit there staring and there's nothing else to do

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Beneath the Planet of the Nutmeggers

I take great pleasure in life when I can think, "This is something I have never done before." That happened yesterday when Shmoikel and I went on a cave exploration trip sponsored by the Bruce Museum of Greenwich. Other than a 1971 visit to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico -- hardly rigorous, more a stroll along well-lit underground paths -- I have never entered a cave.

Two dozen of us, split between adults and kids on their spring break, boarded a bus in Greenwich for the 75 minute drive to Litchfield County's Tory's Cave. An instruction sheet told us to wear layers of clothes and bring our own food and water. We were ready, to some extent.

Once we arrived, we met three skilled guides who just returned from a cave trip to Belize. After historical and safety remarks, we donned hardhats with small flashlights taped to them and began the descent. Whatever Shmoikel and I expected, this wasn't it. Rather than a chilly but dry, dark but wide cave entrance, we slithered down a narrow mouth of rock, past stubborn ice (the cave temperature stayes around 45 degrees). Feet first, stomach down, we slid into the unknown. Very fortunately, we had fantastic guides who were patient and knew every inch and rock ledge of Tory's Cave.

Once down, our group of a dozen (the others were doing a park walk segment) heard more cave lore. The kids asked lots of questions about bats. We divided again so one group went to through a crawl space to the "throne room," a silo-like area that extended 20 feet up for a good view. Those of us in the main room waited, while the kids wiggled through the "Lemon Squeeze," a short but tight tube too small for adults (except for one of the leaders). Shmoikel, the intrepid explorer, jumped right in and with some guidance from a girl who had gone before him worked his way out.

The other group returned and we clambered over a watery patch to the throne room. Then -- back to the surface, the same way we came.

This was the tough part. Coming down, we had gravity to get us to the bottom. Now, we had to haul ourselves up holding a rope and clawing for hand and foot holds. A guide gave a tired but determined Shmoikel step by step guidance while I waited below, the last to climb except for the final "sweep" guide.

Back at the surface, I gave Shmoikel a big hug and congratulated him on the considerable accomplishment. Before long he shucked off his drenched sweat pants and socks for track shorts and fresh socks.

We've built a wonderful memory of a father, a son, and a cave beneath the Planet of the Nutmeggers.

When Retailers Give Up

Twice lately I've gone shopping for basic household items. My default retailer is a local hardware store here in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I always try to support the small guys. The results are sometimes discouraging.

First, I wanted an over-the-door towel rack from my bathroom. The plastic one I bought at this store snapped within five minutes. I took it back for a refund. Then I tried Home Depot. After circling the store and consulting a half-dozen orange-aproned associates, somebody told me to go to Wal-Mart. And this was Home Depot! Sure enough, I found a cheap plastic over-the-door at Wal-Mart. Which also broke. Finally, I found exactly what I wanted at Bed Bath & Beyond.

This week I needed a water bottle to take to a cave exploring trip with Shmoikel. Again I returned to my local store. Again, it stocked nothing I wanted. "Oh, the Rubbermaid company is having a lot of problems," a sales associate told me. "Try Wal-mart."

I don't want to try Wal-Mart! At least consult your catalogue and see if you can order the bottle for me. Is it that difficult to satisfy a motivated customer? At what point did retailers give up and send customers chasing to Wal-Mart? I wonder how many sales Wal-mart gets simply because other retailers can't be bothered to stock or order products that they don't always carry?

I didn't go to Wal-mart for the elusive water bottle. Supermarkets didn't have it, and outdoor-goods stores in New York had wildly expensive $10-$12 designer bottles that were outlandish in their costly pretentiousness. Finally, a CVS drug store had exactly what I wanted, a 34 oz. bottle for $1.99.

It took visits to five stores to find that?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Fatherhood on the Margin of Memory

My parents separated before I was three, and I have not a single memory of my family as an intact unit. Indeed, my father moved far away from my mother, brother and me before I was 5 years old, and I didn't see him for eight years.

Against this background of my parents' divorce and my divorce, my heart sank when my son, not quite a teen, told me he could not remember me living at home, with his mother and him. I moved out in 2002, when he was just past 8. Shmoikel knows me only at a distance, not the dad at home, but the dad on the phone, the dad with his other home.

Fortunately, I've worked hard to maintain a relationship. He may not remember me at the house, but he has a rich store of continual contact. I call every night, even if I'm on a date (what better way to show my solid parenting skills?), and maintain a clockwork-like visitation schedule.

Still, the sadness lingers, somewhere between a bruise and a shiv in my ribs. Surely my son benefits from growing up without the house full of marital tension, but couldn't I have broken the generational curse? I tell myself I've done that in my own way. He knows I love him and care -- a day doesn't go by without that, and our time together is full of hugs and private jokes. So I do the best I can.

And with a gentle reminder, I can bring memories of family time together to the surface. This weekend I mentioned Labor Day 1996, when the three of us went to a beach in Rhode Island. Schmoikel was barely two then, but fully capable of walking bareful on a splintery boardwalk -- and getting splinters in his little feet. We took him to a walk-in clinic to get them removed.

And you know what? He remembered.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

PARODY: Harvard, Yale Team Up to Produce Deluxe Edition of "Israel Lobby" Paper

[UPDATE: The April 12 New York Times carries an article titled, "Essay Stirs Debate About Influence of a Jewish Lobby." It's worth a look to see how brave Dr. Mearsheimer and stalwart Dr. Walt are holding up to the onslaught of attacks by "the Lobby." Why, they knew they were committing "career suicide in terms of getting a high-level administrative job in academia or a policy-making position," Mearsheimer said. What, provost of King Faisal University isn't good enough for you?]

Just in time for Passover, Harvard and Yale Universities are collaborating on a deluxe edition of the best-selling (in Saudi Arabia) scholastic paper "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy."

Announced at a press conference today in Cambridge, Mass., the book promises to bring the Harvard-published pathbreaking research of John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Joseph Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to a wider audience of readers.

The book will feature a lengthy introduction by the boola-boola mullah, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, now a student at Yale following his earlier career as a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"Feel the fine Corinthian leather cover, run your fingers over the rich gilt edging of the pages," said Yale president Richard Levin. "Truly this is the most beautiful book, the Gutenberg Bible of modern anti-semitic studies. It simply reeks of quality, and that's the type of project that deserves a Yale-Harvard collaboration."

Levin appeared at the event along with Mearsheimer, Walt, Rahmatullah, and political commentator David Duke, PhD, who contributed a book-jacket blurb to "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy."

"Jews everywhere, Jews, Jews," observed Duke, recently named the Mearsheimer-Walt Lecturer in Political Philosophy at Harvard, adding, "Jews, Jews, and more Jews. But I like Levin."

The book runs 150 pages and would normally sell for $49.95, but it is being retailed nationwide at only $9.95 "thanks to the gracious support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was eager to bring this serious, rigorous scholastic masterpiece to a broad audience," said Levin, who appeared at the event without his outgoing counterpart from Harvard, recently purged president Lawrence Summers.

The two Ivies plan a major marketing campaign in collaboration with Borders, which recently won acclaim for its brave refusal to carry Free Inquiry magazine's issue with the Motoons. "Borders showed it's the kind of politically aware, culturally sensitive, retailer that we feel comfortable with," said Mearsheimer. "Borders stood up to the Jewish lobby, just like we did. Borders refused to bow down before Jewish pressure groups, with their whiny voices and Holocaust-this, Holocaust-that attitudes. They're the force behind secular humanism, anyway."

Duke agreed and noted that he is giving the paper's thesis a major promotional push on his website.

Following its release, the book will enjoy a second wave of publicity during Ramadan, and it will be distributed in "goodie bags" given to pilgrims making the hajj to Mecca. The New York Times Book Review also plans to highlight the book in its "gifts for the holidays" section in December.

Harvard and Yale's royalties from the distribution of copies purchased by the Saudi government "should make our endowments go through the roof," said Walt.

Levin also expects many Jews to buy the book to "express solidarity with progressive attitudes toward Israel and support for the precious right of free speech."

He added, "I'm so enthusiastic about this book that I'll have Rahmatullah pass out copies of it tonight when he comes to my seder."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Repentence, 26 Years Later

March 24 marked the 26th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador. Now, one man involved in the murder is speaking out and asking for forgiveness. Alvaro Saravia, an aide to death squad leader and politician Roberto D'Aubuisson, acknowledged his role in the killing. Speaking with El Nuevo Herald in Miami, Saravia used striking language to make his point. Note the response from the current Archbishop of El Salvador:
As to his request for forgiveness, ''that's a moral obligation I have, as a human being, to society, to the Church and myself,'' Saravia said in an interview recently in a Latin American country he asked not be identified for his personal security.

Saravia said he is willing to appear before the Archbishop of El Salvador, Msgr. Fernando Sáenz La Calle, to ask for forgiveness. Sáenz La Calle said the offer brought him surprise and joy.

''God always forgives when there is true repentance and a desire to make amends,'' he said in a phone interview. ``How good it is that someone who bears so heavy a load on his conscience can lay it down and find peace and God's friendship.''

Can anybody imagine a member of Hamas or the PLO ever following Saravia in repenting for their crimes?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

How Borders Ignores the Record of 9-11

People going to Borders book stores asking for the now-infamous banned Motoon issue of Free Inquiry magazine can also ask another question: "What books do you have on 9-11?"

Answer: you will find almost none. That was my conclusion after I visited a huge Borders location in New York, on 57th Street and Park Avenue. Just a few miles from Ground Zero, the store carried not a single book devoted to 9-11 in its first-floor section of New York books, "All Things Local." The ONLY fleeting reference to 9-11 was in FDNY: An Illustrated History.

I wanted to be fair to Borders, so I asked a sales associate where I could find 9-11 books.

She couldn't point me to a specific section, but she mentioned 102 Minutes by New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. She suggested I look in Modern U.S. History and the politics sections.

I spent at least 30 minutes scouring the shelves of history, politics, and even photography. Surely, I thought, a New York Borders would keep a good stock of 9-11 books, through the logic of the local angle if nothing else. But here is all I uncovered:

-- The 9-11 Investigation, on a top shelf where I could barely reach it

-- Here is New York: A Democracy in Photographs

And that's it: as far as I can tell, this store didn't carry Portraits in Grief, New York September 11, not even 9-11 by Noam Chomsky.

To check that my New York visit was no anomaly, I also visited a Borders in Stamford, Connecticut, and also asked a sales associate for 9-11 books. Again, I got steered to 102 Minutes in the Modern U.S. History. I found that, along with:

-- Tower Stories

-- Inside 9-11: What Really Happened, by German's Der Spiegel magazine

And that's it. The whole search made me feel like I had dropped into a bizarro-world bookstore, where the most fateful world-historical event of our times did not occur. A visitor to either store would find it almost impossible to learn what happened that day -- what happened to set in motion the chain of events that led to many other books that Borders is happy to carry, such as plans to impeach President Bush.

The Free Inquiry episode makes a lot of sense in this context. Borders wouldn't want to inflame anybody with pesky photos of 9-11, right?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Cherchez La Femme: The Return of Adrienne Barbeau, My Most Dangerous Woman

I've known some dangerous women in my life. They combine killer looks with personalities that threaten to chew up any man who cross them. They have hard romantic histories, burdened by bad men that leave them vulnerable and hard-shelled at the same time. Relationships with them promise passion and ferocious high-decibel drama. Dangerous women can cause men to act in strange ways, perfectly captured in the French phrase cherchez la femme.

Growing up in the 1970s, I decided, in my murky adolescent mind, that the ultimate Dangerous Woman was Adrienne Barbeau, co-star of Maude and then featured in lots of b-movies. Something about her grabbed my imagination in a way no other actress of that era did. So imagine my delight to learn she's now starring in the play, "The Property Known as Judy Garland" at New York's Actors' Playhouse. I can now buy a ticket to enjoy my dangerous woman, seen at her most deadly, below.


On Maude, Barbeau played Maude's single-mom daughter, Carol Traynor. One fan site says the character dated and went with men on "weekend business trips." I can't remember any particular episode with Barbeau, but the cumulative effect was impressive. Much later, she bobbed up in my consciousness when she gave birth to twin boys in 1997, at the age of 51.

Barbeau then fell off my radar screen until I learned about the play. Now, I'm curious, in that way you wonder how the decades have treated an individual with an image formed much earlier in your life. The press photos of Barbeau in the Garland play certainly update me, although they probably depict a time-ravaged Garland more than the natural Barbeau. What do you think?

I've moved on since I first fixated on Barbeau. I'm happy to see she's busy with a biography, There Are Worse Things I Could Do, to debut on April 10, and other projects. I'll look for the book, but first I'm going to set aside some time to watch Swamp Thing, the classic showcase of Barbeau and her substantial charms.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

News from the Near Future: Yale to Award Honorary Degree to Sirhan Sirhan

April 1, 2006: Yale University has announced it will award an honorary degree to Palestinian-American activist Sirhan Bishara Sirhan.

University president Richard Levin told a press conference, "Sirhan is an outstanding representative of the Palestinian people, a true fighter for the rights of Palestinians to live peacefully in their own homeland. Tragically, he has been a political prisoner of the U.S. government for almost 40 years, simply for acting on his beliefs. While we cannot give back to Sirhan those lost decades of his life, we can give him an honorary degree, suitable for framing."

Speaking via telephone from his home at the Federal penitentiary in Corcoran, Calif., Sirhan said, "This is a great day for the Arabs, the Palestinians, and everybody who ever donated money to Yale University. Their investment is paying off, as Yale extends the ivy branch to victims of political repression such as myself and my spiritual brother Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi." The degree will be presented at Yale's graduation ceremonies in May.

Yale decided to present the degree to Sirhan following what Levin called the "tremendous excitement" surrounding the presence of former Taliban spokesman Hashemi on campus. "Let me tell you, you can't buy publicity like this," said Levin. "Everybody's talking about Yale. I can hear the alumni whipping those checkbooks out to make a big donation. Princeton will have to enroll General Pinochet's grandson to top this move."

Levin will give Sirhan a personal tour of the Yale campus, including a stop at Skull & Bones. Hashemi will join Sirhan to symbolically slit Levin's throat in a mock execution that will highlight the "celebrating our diversity" activities of graduation week at Yale. Levin commented, "I would be honored to be executed by these two fine gentlemen, even in a symbolic manner."

Asked about other events on the big day, Sirhan said, "I'm looking forward to lunch with Jodie Foster."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Suppress Without Mercy the New Trotskyites (in HR)

An article in HR Magazine last month, "Detecting Hidden Bias," is a most intriguing read. The subhead deftly captures the story's essence: "You may not see it, but it’s probably lurking among your managers—and perhaps even in you."

The article discusses the malign menace of unseen, nigh undetectable bias in human resource departments. Despite the lawsuits, training, online courses, seminars, conferences, and sensitivity efforts, the threat remains -- more dangerous than ever:
According to analysis conducted by a Harvard University-led research team, it is entirely possible that you and your manager are biased—and that you don’t even know it.

Such hidden biases can be disastrous for the employees who suffer as a result of them; they also can damage businesses by leading managers and employees to make flawed business decisions in a number of areas, including hiring, promotion, training opportunities and project assignments. For HR, the task is clear, but daunting: Help uncover and address such bias before problems arise.

That language -- uncover and address mental tendencies that you don't even suspect in yourself -- sounds familiar. Now, what other tendency drove executives crazy and demanded ever harsher efforts to identify, expose, force confessions, and liquidate from an organization?

Then I remembered -- accusations of hiring bias are the 21st century equivalent of being called a Trotskyite in the USSR in the 1930s.

In reality, the followers of Leon Trotsky were routed from the USSR's political life quickly. They had no visibility and no political base against Stalin's terror, with Trotsky himself, the Prophet Outcast in the words of biographer Isaac Deutscher, hurled into exile and eventually assassinated in Mexico in 1940.

Still, Stalin found the accusation of Trotskyite tendencies an excellent tool for flaying his hapless allies in the 1930s. He argued that the opposition from Trotskyites and the other despised class, peasant kulaks, only sharpened as their numbers decreased and their overt hostility lessened. The threat went underground and had to be rooted out and liquidated with increasing ruthlessness. The class struggle could never end.

Consider the process of rooting out the threat of Nikolai Bukharin, a favorite of Lenin's with whom Stalin played cat and mouse for years. Here is part of the last plea of Bukharin at his 1938 show trial:
I plead guilty to being one of the leaders of this 'Bloc of Rightists and Trotskyites.' I plead guilty to the sum total of crimes committed by this counter-revolutionary organization, whether or not I knew of, whether or not I took part in, any particular act... For three months I refused to say anything. Then I began to testify. Why? Because while in prison I made a revaluation of my entire past. For you ask yourself: "If you must die, what are you dying for?"

The language eerily parallels HR Magazine: Unstated, unconscious tendencies require confessions and a "revaluation." Denial of such tendencies merely confirms their stubborn presence.

The HR Magazine article quotes results of the efforts of the Southern Poverty Law Center to extract confessions from the New Trotskyites. Nikolai Bukharin would identify with the mindset:
“Bigotry is a persistent social problem in this country, and we can’t escape being socialized in this context,” observes Jennifer Smith-Holladay, the center’s senior adviser for strategic affairs. Smith-Holladay says her own results uncovered a preference for white people—a group to which she belongs—and a preference for heterosexual people, “a group to which I don’t belong.

“I discovered that I not only have some in-group favoritism lurking in my subconscious, but also possess some internalized oppression in terms of my sexuality,” Smith-Holladay adds.

Lesson learned? “In the case of my own subconscious in-group favoritism for white people, for example, my charge is to be color-conscious, not color-blind, and to always explicitly consider how race may affect behaviors and decisions,” Smith-Holladay says.

HR Magazine asks, as did Lenin in a different context, what is to be done? Actually, HR Magazine provides its plan of action uder this headline: "Help for Rooting Out Hidden Bias."

Final note: As far as I could tell, HR Magazine did not uncover a single case of actual bias in action. The article is entirely theoretical.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Light Unto the Nations, Still

This is an amazing story. The text is not available via a link to the Independent in the UK, so I'm placing the text here. The message is that beyond the bickering, the intermarriage, the hyper-organization and sub-organization, Judaism has a message for the world that retains enormous, if understated, appeal.


Matthias Goering says: "I used to feel cursed by my name. Now I feel blessed."

The 49-year-old physiotherapist, a descendant of Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler's right-hand man, is wearing a Jewish skullcap, with a Star of David pendant round his neck. After being brought up to despise Jews, he has embraced their faith. And although he has yet to formally convert to Judaism, he keeps kosher dietary rules, celebrates shabbat and is learning Hebrew.

In a Jewish restaurant in Basle, Mr Goering enthuses about Israel. "It feels like home," he says. "The Israelis are so friendly." Even when they hear his name? "Yes, they say they're so thankful I've made contact."

With the same name as the former Luftwaffe chief, who committed suicide at Nuremberg hours before he was to be executed, Mr Goering says he did not have a happy childhood. His great-grandfather and Hermann's grandfather were brothers, and that was enough to ensure problems after the fall of the Third Reich. "My siblings and I were bullied mercilessly," Matthias says. His father, a military doctor, was a Soviet prisoner of war, but returned with his anti-Semitic views intact. When times were hard, Matthias says: "Our parents would say to us, 'You can't have that, because all our money's gone to the Jews.'"

Mr Goering left home at 18 to join the circus, but eventually settled down, trained as a physiotherapist, married and had a son. But by 2000 his Swiss physiotherapy practice was bankrupt and his wife had left, taking their son. Broke and lonely, he was close to suicide, and says he prayed for the first time in his life. The same day his prayer was answered: a physiotherapy practice near Zurich offered him a job.

Mr Goering started attending Christian churches, but two years later began his journey towards Judaism. He says God told him "to guard the gates of Jerusalem", despite his name and his family history. "I knew then," he says, "I had to go to Israel."

Other descendants of Nazis have trodden the same path. Katrin Himmler, who published a book last year about the war crimes of her great-uncle, the SS commander Heinrich Himmler, married an Israeli. "It was as if we were predestined to meet," she says.

Beate Niemann, daughter of feared SS Major Bruno Sattler, made an award-winning film, The Good Father, documenting her hopeless search for a man she could be proud of, and tried to apologise to camp survivors after discovering her father had ordered the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews.

Monika Goeth's father was Amon Goeth, the camp commandant played by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List, who shot Jewish prisoners from the balcony of his villa. She has spent years seeking rapprochement with camp survivors. "I am completely drawn to Judaism," she says. "Jews were the real heroes. I feel nothing but contempt for those who idolise the Nazis."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

"The Godfather" Video Game: The Search for Consequences

March must be Mob Month: the new season of "The Sopranos" begins tonight, and Electronic Arts (EA) is releasing a video-game version of "The Godfather" on March 19.

The game sticks close to the book and movies, using the real voices of some characters. Set in New York between 1945 and 1955, the game
will offer gamers countless choices for solving the family's problems with brutal violence, skillful diplomacy, or a cunning mixture of both. From mob hits and bank heists to drive-bys and extortion, step deep inside the world of The Godfather -- where intimidation and negotiation are your tickets to the top. Players will use their powers of loyalty and fear to earn respect through interactions with characters in the world. Decisions made by the player in the game will have lasting consequences, just as it was in the mob underworld featured in The Godfather fiction.

As the father of a game-playing adolescent, the game's point makes me queasy. Let's focus on the word "consequences."

In both the Sopranos (which I just started watching on DVD, from the first season) and the Godfather book and movies, violence and power exist within a closed loop. Men get killed, women abused, fortunes made and lost, but everything happens in a sort of moral bubble where actions have no ripple effect outside the world of the criminals. All those charming Mafia activities like loansharking, prostitution, and drugs carry no moral impact beyond the tote board of respect, power, and money.

So when I read about the Godfather game, I wonder, what messages are players absorbing? You win by being the best killer and intimidator? Screen shots from the game show a policeman being thrown off roofs, assaults with baseball bats, people flung into furnaces. In the Godfather movies, Michael Corleone ultimately faces profound consequences, e.g., he leads a miserable life. Sonny's dead, he's killed Fredo, and confession does no good. What respect comes from crime? I'm still discovering on the Sopranos if Tony Soprano's therapy confessions to sexy shrink Dr. Jennifer Melfi lead to any insights (don't tell me!)

I'll grant that this is a still-unrated video game, and not every piece of entertainment need have a didactic purpose. Perhaps buried in the Godfather game are moments of doubt and fear, moral revelations. That does not make for good game play; fortunately, my son is far more into "We Love Katamari" than any violent game.

In the real world, actions DO have consequences. For a prime example, see this riveting article in New York Magazine as part of its Sopranos editorial package. "The Lost Soprano" discusses the case of Lillo Brancato, who starred in "A Bronx Tale" with Robert DeNiro and was in the second season of the Sopranos. He put more time into drugs than developing an acting career, and last December broke into a house with his ex-girlfriend's father seeking drugs. Off-duty policeman Daniel Enchautegui intervened, Brancato's companion killed the cop, and Brancato is now at Rikers charged with second-degree murder.

The article has quotes of startling moral rationalization and blankness:
Lillo feels terrible about the dead cop. “Too painful to talk about,” he says. Still, he’s not sure why it involves him. “I was in the wrong place, wrong time,” he says. Like drugs or acting, murder happened to Lillo. People misunderstand. “It kills me every day, being in here, knowing that I’m innocent,” he says. “I’m not a person who should be here. I am a good person.”

In the real world, Brancato is looking at consequences for his actions far different from what is found in the Godfather game and the Sopranos. At some point, the realization will kick in. Put that in a video game.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

PARODY: MTV's "Spring Break Gitmo" Names Cindy Sheehan as Guest Bachelorette

MTV's smash new show, "Spring Break Gitmo," will feature Cindy Sheehan as its first bachelorette in its "Terrorist Dating Game" segment. In the first episode, three terrorist-bachelors will battle one another to win the affections of Cindy, along with valuable prizes.

Ashton Kutcher and Courtney Love host the program direct from balmy, palmy, party-down Guantanamo Bay. Each week the show will feature a sexy celebrity bachelorette. Here's the premise: After qualifying rounds, three contestants will compete in several events that measure their courage and stamina. For Sheehan's segment, the wacky challenges include:

-- Wearing Cindy's panties on their heads

-- Spending 24 hours straight logged on to Daily Kos and Democratic Underground

-- Playing the Roy Cohn role in humorous skits written by Tony Kusher

The highlight of the segment -- filmed before a boisturous crowd of detainees and drunken college students -- comes when Cindy lobs hilarious questions at the three contestants, who are kept hidden from her by an on-stage screen.

The multiple-choice questions, meant to give Cindy insights into the personalities of three intriguing young, virile, woman-deprived men, include:

1. "If we had a three-way, we would be joined by: a. Reese Witherspoon b. Rep. Cynthia McKinney c. Khalid Sheik Mohammed d. this saucy blonde beauty."

2. "If former attorney general John Ashcroft suddenly appeared on stage, would you: a. kill him b. prefer Janet Reno c. thank him for providing food, medical care, and housing at Camp Gitmo that exceeds your wildest fantasies." (Note: MTV arranged for Ashcroft to make a surprise guest appearance at the show. Watch the fur fly when he presents the contestants with copies of the New Testament!)

3. "Complete this sentence: There's nothing I like more during a romantic evening than cuddling in front of a crackling fire and roasting: a. marshmallows b. kosher weenies c. Danish cartoonists."

Based on their responses, Cindy will choose one bachelor for a wild weekend at a secluded beach section of Camp Gitmo. The winner will also be sponsored for a green card by Sen. John Kerry and enjoy automatic admission to Yale University through its Terrorist Diversity Initiative.

In next week's episode of "Spring Break Gitmo," bachelorettes Susan Sarandon and Janeane Garafalo take on five lucky terrorists in the "Gitmo Gang Bang Mosh Pit."

Monday, March 06, 2006

HUMOR: H'wood Homophobes Nix Dix Pix; Chix-Lix Flix Clix?

America reeled last night as the hidden homophobes of Hollywood denied "Brokeback Mountain" its rightful Oscar for Best Picture, instead giving the precious little statuette to "Crash," some movie about race relations in Los Angeles with a title that sounds more like a "Super Mario" racing game.

While Ang Lee got the Oscar for best director and somebody named Gustavo Santaolalla won an Oscar for best score for Brokeback Mountain, the film's supporters expressed outrage at the revenge of the heterosexists.

"The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could have sent a very powerful message about the acceptance of gay cowpokes," asserted one observer. "Instead, the academy honored a picture about different ethnic groups getting on one another's nerves."

Director Lee, however, plans to leverage his Brokeback success into related projects. He's now developing a splashy musical comedy about gay mullahs in the Middle East, with the working title, "Naughty Bawdy Gaudy Saudi Second Street."

(Note: Photo below is from "Bandidas," a movie discussed in the rest of this entry. This is a blatant attempt to entice readers to keep reading. Bandidas has a thematic relation to Brokeback Mountain.)


Police units nationwide stood on guard Sunday night into Monday morning in anticipation of rioting groups of Brokeback Mountain supporters. Dawn broke over a troubled America as tension filled the streets from West Hollywood to Tulsa to Presque Isle, Maine. A SWAT squad in Falfurrias, Texas swung into action when it heard a loud noise, but that turned out to be a truck backfiring.

Larry McMurtry, co-writer of Brokeback's screenplay, denounced the decision as an indication of remitting bias against simple plain folks who don't live in big cities. Yes, he really said something like that.

Some astute observers saw this coming from a long way off. Back in December the writer of the "Strong Opinions" blog had this to say:
I’m going to stick my neck out and predict that BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN will not win the Oscar for Best Picture, although it will receive several nominations and probably win a couple. I hate to call the Academy prejudiced, but I think they will pick a more conservative film, like MUNICH, and there will be a loud protest that BROKEBACK lost because it was too gay.

The only way the academy can redeem itself is to give Best-Picture Oscar next year to "Bandidas," a pathbreaking Western starring Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek spiced with rumors of lesbian activity between the stars. Observers already spot a groundswell of enthusiastic support for Bandidas among a broad spectrum of a key demographic: straight males aged 12 to 95. The reliable sources at The Jawa Report call it "the kind of gay cowboy film men will be flocking to see."

Mullah's Version of "Get Up, I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine"

James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, performed the classic version of the song "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine," with the powerfully poetic lyrics
Fellas, I'm ready to get up and do my thing
I wanta get into it, man, you know...
Like a, like a sex machine, man,
Movin'... doin' it, you know
Can I count it off? (Go ahead)

But James Brown had better watch his back, 'cause this unidentified mullah looks likes he's ready to throw down and challenge for the crown of the New Godfather of Funky Moves. Check it out, oh kafirs.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I Love It When Psychiatrists Talk Dirty

Dr. Sanity puts a certain Venezuelan strongman on the couch for gentle probing under the headine: "Chavez: A Case of Castration Anxiety?" She writes,
It is striking, though, how Chavez perfectly embodies some of Freud's early concepts relating to paranoia and castration anxiety. He would make a good case discussion.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Katrina and Free Speech: Making the Connection

I just found this riveting counter-conventional wisdom discussion of the Katrina rescue efforts by Lou Dolinar. It illustrates what I call the "Flight 93" approach to problem-solving: Get off your tuchus and act, don't sit around waiting for some distant group to rescue you. As the story shows, this applies to members of the government themselves, who acted well on their own initiative. Dolinar writes:
Largely ignored by the agenda-driven national media, one of the largest rescue operations in history saved more than 50,000 people by boat and helicopter. In this Dunkirk on the Mississippi, Coast Guard and other military units, volunteers, and state and local first responders delivered thousands from death by drowning, dehydration, heatstroke, fire, starvation, and disease. The three goats of Katrina — FEMA’s Michael Brown, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, and Mayor Nagin — had little if any role; in fact, because local communication was wiped out by the storm, they may not even have known about the scale and success of the rescue operation.

I thought about Dolinar's article in light of yesterday's pro-free speech rally in New York. About 100 people showed up in a city full of supposed free-speech enthusiasts. Islamists can draw hundreds or more for their events, along with mainstream media eagerly waiting for the wild men to go berserk and threaten slaughter (and they always put on a bloody good show for the thrill-seeking media).

I felt sad, but not surprised, that New York couldn't draw more people. That's the nature of public protest in New York. A quarter-million showed up for the August 2004 anti-war rally in New York; maybe 250 lent support to a Darfur rally in New York just two weeks later.

Numbers count, but so do devotion, consistency, and determination to act in the face of overwhelming indifference. One boat, one voice, one call of "let's roll:" let enough individuals find one another -- as we did yesterday -- and resolve for a common purpose, and the results will follow.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Speaking Out for Free Speech in New York

About 100 stalwart supporters of Denmark and free speech gathered at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York today. Blasting the total lack of interest from mainstream media in an event in a city integral to the Terrorist War, the demonstrators drew approving honks from truck drivers and others on 2nd Avenue. The photos below give a flavor of the event.



One highlight of the event involved moving comments from Lisa Ramaci-Vincent, widow of murdered journalist Steve Vincent. "I came to warn you first-hand of the dangers of Islamic extremism," she said. Ramaci-Vincent is shown below.


In keeping with the country in the spotlight, the event featured some strong expressions of solidarity with Denmark and its culture of cheese and Vikings:



UPDATE: Mary's report contrasts our demo with the anti-cartoon Muslim demo from two weeks ago.

One of the many Protest Babes, Pamela of Atlas Shrugs, takes video that appeared on the Internet.


Excuse me, where might I find the Danish soccer fans?


Ah, here are the Danish soccer fans. Danke.


The contrast is obvious.


The language of the Vikings on the streets of New York.


It ain't kosher, but it ain't bad (caption inspired by the great Merle Haggard song of almost the same title)


Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Offensive: Ideas for Placards at a Pro-Danish Demonstration

I'll be attending a pro-Danish demonstration at UN Plaza tomorrow from 12 noon to 1 pm in New York, outside the Danish consulate. I hope to take lots of great photos of people -- thousands of people, I hope -- raising their voices in defense of Western values.

I've done my part by suggesting text for placards that my fellow Sons and Daughters of Liberty can wave around and, in need be, shove into the snouts of counter-demonstrators. Here you go:

What part of "freedom of the press" do you not understand?

1st Amendment + 2nd Amendment = Victory over Terrorists

Live Free or Die: Good for New Hampshire, Good for America

The Little Mermaid Does NOT Wear a Burkha! (great Photoshop possibility)

A Danish a day keeps Sharia away

Kufirs for Freedom

Hands off the Vikings

We're a Christian nation, but we won't turn the other cheek

The 7th century does not come after the 21st century

Free speech > Religious intolerance

Free speech rulez, repression droolz

Freedom is just another word for everything to lose

Oink if you love freedom (Photoshop alert!)

Calling Martin Luther -- Islam needs you!

Where's Martin Luther when Islam needs him?

Freedom: Where no Islamist has gone before

Get your paws off the Little Mermaid, you damned dirty jihadist! (very mean reference to Planet of the Apes)

Sharia? We don't need your stinkin' Sharia!

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin

Scarlett O'Hara to the West: "As God is my witness they're not going to lick me."

"And gentlemen now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us." Shakespeare, Henry V (adapted)

50 United States Always Trump 72 Raisins

All along the watchtower, we're defending the West's freedoms

Proud Member of the Dar al-Harb (Arabic for "House of War," those outside Islam)

I (heart) the Dar al-Harb

Proud to be a Zionist

Hands off the First Amendment (show Uncle Sam about to chop off a devilish hand reaching for a parchment document)

Here are several from "The Lord of the Rings:"

Gimli on Terrorists: They have no honor in life. They have none now in death.

Aragorn to the West: Hold your ground, hold your ground. Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day. This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you *stand, Men of the West!* (Choose whatever phrase you like)

Galdalf to the West: There is a task now to be done. Another opportunity for one of the Shirefolk to prove their great worth. You must not fail me.

Gandalf to Islamists: Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Solidarity, Then and Now

In 1979, Pope John Paul II returned to his native Poland and held mass before 250,000 people. He spoke words that challenged the atheist ideology of the Soviet Union and its ruling puppets in Poland. According to this report in CNN, the audience responded in a way that directly linked their faith to freedom:
"Therefore, Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude of geography. ... Christ cannot be kept out of this part of the world. To try to do this is an act against man."

"Christ conquers, Christ rules," they sang, hundreds of thousands of triumphant voices. And from among the yellow and white papal flags in the crowd a banner was unfurled that read: "Freedom, independence, protection of human rights."

A year after the Pope's visit, Lech Walesa formed the independent trade union Solidarity, the wedge of opposition to Soviet rule that eventually swept communist governments and the USSR itself into the dustbin of history.

Now, Poles are showing their solidarity again, standing fast and remembering Christians murdered by Islamists, through a campaign called "Martyrs of our Times." In a strong, unapologetic message, they are greatly adding to the growing stream of Western responses to Islamist terror, this time raising a distinctly Christian voice that should be emulated by faiths worldwide.

The details come from this Agence France-Presse story (deleted portions contain the obligatory Islamic braying about "provocation"):
A Christian group in the Polish city of Poznan has put up posters in the city’s trams of modern “martyrs” who have died at the hands of Muslims or in Muslim nations, its head said Monday.

“We did this in the spirit of Christian solidarity with those who suffer for their faith,” said Boguslaw Kiernicki, head of the St Benedict Foundation which was created six months ago.

“Christians in Poland are in a comfortable situation, but there are others in other countries who are not,” he said. . . Some 300 posters are on display in Poznan’s trams, showing Christians who have died in Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and Indonesia, among other countries.The captions on the posters describe their “road to Calvary” and call on Poland’s predominantly Roman Catholic faithful to pray for “these modern martyrs”

The invaluable Gateway Pundit has more details and examples of the posters.

The pro-Israel group Stand With Us has an outstanding collection of posters and flyers, including, in the spirit of the Polish campaign, this one.