Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Review of Peter Englund's History, "The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of WWI"

Let me preface this review by saying I am a believer in the just war theory and counter the bumper sticker I believe war is sometimes the answer (and not just to questions like, “Aside from frat parties, what human activity is most like to bring out man’s depravity?

But much in this book is a reminder that WWI in particular was blundered into and neither side truly went about the work of preventing evil, but the actions of war on both sides were ultimately futile and only helped lead to another great war in barely a generation’s time.

Englund takes an interesting approach in this book, following the war histories of various soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict, from a German school girl to an Australian army engineer to a Danish soldier to a French civil servant.
Their stories are compelling on a variety of levels. Though the book does not attempt to provide an overview of the war, it does bring out many fascinating details.
Here is some of the details I enjoyed learning about:

*The word “tank” come from a deception employed in the weapons construction when they were passed off as “water tanks”.
*Trenches were at times decorated with furniture (chairs, coaches, even beds) looted from homes.
*Prostitutes in France sometimes charged hire rates if they could pass along an illness that might get a soldier away from the front.
*German soldiers would not sing the second verse of “A Mighty Fortress” (Ein Feste Burg) because it might be perceived as a lack of faith in the military (Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing).
*Censorship in French papers led to large blank spaces when stories were removed at the last minute. (Because the Spanish papers were more free, the reporting on those papers on disease led to the name “Spanish Flu”, though the illness struck other nations first.)
*Pigeons were used as message couriers because horses and dogs panicked in battle when tried. (Of course humans were used as runners. Such as Adolph Hitler.)
*Ernest Hemingway’s account of the battle of Caporetto in “Farewell to Arms” was written in Kansas City, a year before he went to Italy.
*Leon Trotsky led a Russian delegation in peace talks and drove Germans crazy with the saying, “Neither war or peace.” (So he should never be mistaken for Leo Tolstoy.)
*American forces had a strict ban on alcohol (and this was before prohibition in the states.)

I enjoyed learning such trivia. But the real riches in the book are the lives Englund brings to life through his diligent work of digging through letters, journals and reports that are now nearly a century old. Sadly, the true war to end all wars is yet to come.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

You know that "2010" was meant to be "2011". Sorry

Favorite TV Shows in 2010

Since we have only the most basic of cable, there are some shows I might enjoy that I have not seen, so they don't make the list. (Still no "Boardwalk Empire" or "Game of Thrones" on DVD for instance. I'm cheap, I get my DVDs from the library and I don't do pay streaming.)
So here are my rules:
1) I must have watched it on broadcast TV or DVD this year.
2) If I watched it on DVD, it doesn't matter if it was 2010 episodes as long as the show is still running.

I went with a basic top ten:

10) "Chuck" This show was in my last spot last year and it certainly has its weaknesses. (Morgan gets the Intersect? It's good this is the last season or someone might get a pet dog that gets the Intersect.) But I enjoy the characters. Especially Casey, a rare conservative television hero. (He went after a villain when he learned he had cheated Rush Limbaugh.)

9) "Modern Family" Consistently funny. My favorite character is young Luke. It will be interesting to see if he can keep the funny as he gets older. (I am amused by the agenda that is occasionally mentioned by actors in the show that the gay couple on the show will make conservative viewers more open to gay marriage. Just give me laughs, that's what I want it sitcoms. Which the show does, so no gripes. But I'm not looking to sitcoms for political or moral instruction.)

8) "Raising Hope" Aside from, perhaps Nolan Gould as Luke mentioned above, no one plays funny dumb better than the cast of this show. And Hope herself is still cute. Hope Hope doesn't ruin things as she ages.

7) "Sherlock" - Come on BBC....Three episodes? Really....Three Episodes? I guess it says good things that I wanted more from this tale of Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century. And fun to see British "Office"'s Tim as Watson (and interesting that they could have Dr. Watson still serve in the military in Afghanistan). But still, three episodes with a cliff hanger in the third? Come on.

6) "Luther" BBC is stingy with the episodes again. But at least there were 6 in the first season if only 4 in the second. And the second season didn't have nearly enough of the pycho-klller Alice helping and tormenting our already tormented homicide inspector John Luther (played by Stringer Bell with a British accent.) Short season 2 did have a quite satisfying resolution, though.

5) "30 Rock" - Speaking of stingy, NBC held on on Fall adventures of Jack and Liz. But they'll be back in the new year. Consistently smart and funny, a liberal writing staff willing to take shots at liberal politics as well as conservatives.

4) "Breaking Bad" - Who would have thought the awesome daffy father Hal (Bryan Cranston) from "Malcolm in the Middle" could be awesome as a dying meth maker. Banality of evil wonderfully presented as still quite evil.

3) "Community" - And now NBC is not giving new episodes in January of an even higher ranking show. But I guess the show should only go one more year to go with the college schedule. Always makes me laugh. Amazed that they expect the audience to know "Pulp Fiction" and "My Dinner with Andre", so I guess that's why the ratings are not wonderful, even though the show is.

2) "Mad Men" - Love when the focus is on the advertising biz more than the relationships, but they do it all well. Great writing and acting.

1) "Justified" - Raylan Givens just makes me happy. So happy they put a show in Kentucky. So there are states beside CA and NY. Does the comedy and the drama well. The Hitler painting collector had such an unexpected, moving twist at its conclusion. Anxious to get season 2 in the mail come January.

Happy TV viewing in the new year to you.