Friday, January 30, 2009

New World Blitzkrieg

Once you realize that you have a favorite historian, you have probably already realized how much of a geek you are. I have several like Doris Kearns Goodwin, Barbara Tuchman, David McCullough and Thomas Cahill. But the most intrigue of them, I believe is Jared Diamond. Diamond likes to write about long term issues like why do some cultures or civilization survives and other don't. Some cultures simply disappear in history while others flourish. One of things he points out is how the Old World (Europe and Asia) had many domesticatable animals while the New World (America and Australia) did not. This allowed for speedier advancement and faster growing populations. Some animals in the new world and Africa are just not domesticatable , like the buffalo and the zebra, no matter how hard you try.

What I learned today is that this didn't occur naturally but that in many parts of the planet, the
domesticatable animals did exist but were simply hunted to extinction. The term for this is the New World Blitzkrieg.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Night of the Long Knives

The term, the Night of the Long Knives, refers to the events that occurred between June 30 and July 2, 1934 in the Bavarian region of Germany. Adolf Hitler ordered the arrest of all the members of the SA (Sturmabteilung) and the execution of its leaders. Sturmabteilung translates to English roughly as stormtroopers, but they were more commonly referred to as brown shirts.

The SA were a paramilitary group that was formed by disenfranchised combat veterans of WW I that were unhappy with how Germany was being treated as a result of the Versailles Treaty. They were an increasingly unpopular group, particularly unpopular with the German army, mostly for their use of street violence to get what they wanted. Among other things, the SA were responsible for security at Nazi Party rallies and in charge of the Hitler Youth corp. They were members of the Nazi Party but were mostly autonomous. Hitler could not control them.

Hitler used this opportunity to gain favor with the army. He (along with Göring, Goebbels, Himmler and Hess) had some documents forged that would show how the leaders of the SA were plotting to over throw the Nazis with the assistance of France. He justified their executions claiming that they were a treasonous coupe. This act is considered one of turning points in giving Hitler supreme power of the German government.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gone with the Wind on MLK Day

I awoke this morning intended to start my work week. I logged in and noticed that none of my co-workers were at work. After doing some research, I discovered that my employer does indeed celebrate Martin Luther King day and I had the day off. I thought for sure I had to work today, but I was pleased. If I had known I might have made plans to celebrate MLK day by volunteering like so many of my friends. Since it is cold and snowing, I decided to stay in and watch a movie. The only movie I had that I hadn't seen yet was the epic Gone With the Wind.

I have seen parts of this classic Hollywood film but I had never seen the entire thing from start to finish. The dilemma here is do I really want to spend MLK day watching something that is so racist, especially on the day before Obama's historic nomination? I told myself if I did, I had to blog about it (mostly to appease my white liberal guilt). I realize that the film is about the Old South so many of the characters are meant to be racist which isn't the problem. The problem is the portrayal of the slaves as simple, empty stereo-types. Also, to show slavery in the Civil War South without the brutality is in itself racist. It is a sin of exclusion. It is difficult to watch sometimes for what they excluded as opposed to included. Even after the war in the film, there is little reference to the slaves being freed. Regardless, the film is enjoyable and any fan of film like myself should have seen it a long time ago. The photography and score alone are reason enough to see it.

The film is also a bit biased against the North. Only a few Northerners are portrayed in the film, one is the slave master that impregnates an underage "white trash" girl. He eventually becomes a carpetbagger that tries to buy Tara, the family plantation, from the desperate O'Hara's. Another is a lone Yankee soldier that enters Tara with the intention of robbing them after the estate has already been stripped clean by the Northern army earlier in the war. Of course, the worst is General Sherman who isn't actually in the film but the resulting horror of his deeds is. His march of destruction from Atlanta to the Georgia coastline is one of the more disgusting events in American military history. I haven't read the novel Gone with the Wind, not yet, but I have no doubt that it has the same bias and why not, it is supposed to be about southerns during the Civil War. The devastation caused by Sherman is not glossed over in the film. The destruction of white families and their homes is portrayed very well ... and again there is little shown of destructive force of slavery. The film shows what the North did but none of the reasons why they did it.

Probably the most disturbing portrayal of Northerners is when the main male characters raid the shanties along the river. In the book, it is shown as an example of the early days of the KKK while the film makes no note of this. The burning of robes is mentioned by Rhett in the film but this is the closest you will find to a reference to the KKK. Once Northerner officers attempt to stop the raid, they are portrayed as interlopers. The raid is portrayed as completely justified in the film. Other differences between the novel and the film are less politically charged. In the book, Scarlett has 3 kids, one by each of her husbands. In the film, Scarlett only has Bonnie who is the daughter of Rhett Butler. Rhet Butler's blockade running exploits during the war are described in detail in the book. What I under a Southern blockade runner does is help supply ships get through the Northern blockade. The first line of the novel mentions that Scarlett is no beauty but Vivien Leigh certainly is. The sex in the film was also cleaned up to pass the sensors, particularly the scenes involving Belle the prostitute. Some characters were dropped or fused while entire scenes from the book were eliminated. Regardless, it is considered an accurate filming of the novel. If the entire book were to be put on film, it is estimated that you'd have to give up 20 hours of your day to watch in one sitting.

The novel is still one of the best selling English language books in the world and I believe still the best selling English language novel ever. One million copies sold in its first six months of publication. Margaret "Peggy" Mitchell wrote its last chapter first in 1929. She finished all but 3 chapters by 1935 and only finished the last 3 chapters after the book was accepted for publishing in 1937. The working title of the book was "Tomorrow is Another Day" which is also the last line of dialogue in the movie which is spoken by the protagonist Scarlet O'Hara. Mitchell eventually decided on Gone with the Wind which she stumbled on in an Ernest Dowson poem, called Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae. She liked how the line in the poem sounded far away and sad. Scarlet O'Hara was originally named Pansy O'Hara and her home, Tara, was originally name Fontanoy Hall. The impeccable accuracy of the research Mitchell did about Atlanta during the war helped earn her win a Pulitzer Prize in 1937. I want to point out I only watch this film because I thought that any film buff should. I didn't expect to enjoy it, but I did love it. I recognize its problems, but it is still quite a beautiful film. I am also adding the book to wish list.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Midnight Regulations

Midnight Regulations is the term used to describe the laws that are passed during the lame duck period of a departing president when the new incoming president is from a different political party. The US Congress grants some authority to the Executive branch to create laws that dictate the operations of the executive branch. What makes these laws so nefarious or at least suspect is that they have a 60 day waiting period before they officially become law. So if you pass a law in late November, it won't become law until late January ... the next president's administration. The new president can repeal these laws but it does take time and resources. A new president generally have a lot of other things on his plate and so they go ignored.

The term was created after President Jimmy Carter produced 10,000 pages of regulations in this period. This was the record until Bill Clinton blew it away producing over 40,000 pages. Some called him a procrastinator while others claimed that earlier in his administration he and his staff were too busy defending their personal lives. They never had time to do what they wanted to until later. I should also point out that much of Clinton's Midnight Regulations were directly in opposition to the Bush 43rd's campaign platform.

Speaking of Bush 43, he seems to be having a go at it. Here is scary stuff to warm your heart during the new year. Much of his midnight regulations seem to have these 3 letters in the title: EPA. With the environmental protection agency being a part of executive branch, he has passed some stuff in the past 3 months that might just turn your stomach: power plants are exempted from pollution controls, the easement of restrictions of coal fired plants near national parks, allowing of hazardous waste to be used as fuel, fisheries will no longer be subject to scientific review but will regulate themselves and rocket fuel being allowed in drinking water. If you are not significantly scared or pissed off yet, here is another link that will you how financial planners won't have to tell you of any conflicts of interest, some changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act, Medicaid and Family Leave and about how tired trucks can drive even longer hours than they used to. Sorry for the bummer, but the Bush administration doesn't exactly make my heart go-pitter-patter ... well, it does ... but not in a good way.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

This Old Cub

If you are from anywhere other than Chicago, there is probably a really good chance that you have never heard the name Ron Santo. In Chicago his is a household name. I listen to the Cubs games now on the radio via the net and I think he is the worst announcer I have ever heard ... but he is not famous for being an announcer. He was the Cubs third baseman during the famous 1969 season. Every baseball fan remembers the '69 season for the Miracle Mets. The New York Mets were an expansion team in 1962, they were the worst in the league their entire history up that point but late in the 1969 season came out of no where with a surge in September while the Cubs were slumping. The Cubs went 9 and 16 the last 25 games of the year while the Mets went 27 and 11 in their last 48. The last series of the year they played head to head ... the rest is baseball history. The Mets went to the World Series and beat the best team in baseball that year, the Baltimore Orioles. The Cubs team that year was probably the best team they have had in a century with an all star infield with such greats on the team as Billy Williams, Ernie Banks and Fergie Jenkins.

At the age of 18, Ron was diagnosed with diabetes. He was expected not to live to the age 25. The entire time he was on the Cubs, only the team doctor knew he had diabetes. The technology to check your own blood sugar didn't exist at the time. He had to monitor himself by how he felt. He kept a candy bar in the dugout with him at all times. Both his legs have been amputated due to diabetes, the right in 2001 and the left the next year. He still announces for the Cubs.

When he was drafted as a teenager every major league team had made him an offer, the Cubs offered him the least amount of money. He chose the Cubs for two reasons Ernie Banks and Wrigley Field. If you ever been lucky enough to see Ernie Banks play you'd know why ... and Wrigley Field, do I really have to say more? He and Ernie have played more games together than any other two players in Major League Baseball history. Since he left the team in 1973, the Cubs have had over 100 third basemen.

He has not yet been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and probably won't be, but hasn't affect his popularity in Chicago. His offensive numbers probably don't justify him being in the hallowed hall, but his defensive numbers more than make up for them.