Tag: WWII

Day 836: When Wars Simply Won’t End

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I don’t like to get overtly political on this site, but I’m going to roll the dice and potentially alienate some of my audience by taking a firm stand: war, for the most part, is not good. What’s worse is a war that doesn’t end when it’s supposed to. You know the deal – people sign papers, citizens throw parades, social studies textbooks get updated and B.J. spells out “GOODBYE” in rocks for Hawkeye to see as he’s flying away. Wars end.

Except when they don’t. Every so often there’s a logistical glitch, a “diplomatic irregularity” that causes two sides of a conflict to skip out on writing the war’s final chapter. Sometimes the paperwork just doesn’t seem necessary – the fighting ends, the troops go home and have little troop-babies, and the historical record simply reflects the moment when hostilities ceased as the end of the war. But paperwork does need to happen. A declaration of war gets filed, and a declaration of peace should follow suit.

This is how World War I and World War II are still – technically speaking – underway. This is how our official records tell us that one war lasted for over 2000 years before finally being settled. This is the weird side of peace.

PunicWars

The Punic Wars were a trio of individual wars fought between Rome and Carthage – currently a suburb of Tunis in Tunisia. These were the two big muscle-flexers of the ancient world and they were well matched. Carthage had a kick-ass navy that Rome couldn’t possibly fend off, but Rome had the most powerful army on the planet. The two empires started fighting in 264 BC, and it was fierce. The third Punic War wrapped up when Carthage was burned to the ground in 146 BC.

So… Rome won? Read more…

Day 823: Trolling The Trough-Crusties – Worst TV Part 7

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Posting a list of bests and greatests opens the door to debate, dissent, and the occasional inter-cubicle pelting of office supplies. Posting a list of worsts never seems to stoke the same ire. I have offered a tankard of derision for the insipidly successful sitcom According To Jim throughout my 823-day journey and have yet to hear one person defend the show’s quality. I appreciate my audience’s congruity. Perhaps it’s a rare thing for someone’s “worst” to be another someone’s favorite.

Even the shows I can’t stand today – and I make no apologies to fans of Two And A Half Men or The Big Bang Theory – I would hardly consider them to be among the absolute worst fare in the medium’s history. Just as I’m certain those folks who abhor shows I enjoy, like The League or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, would likely not plunk them at the bottom of the proverbial barrel.

Sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves just how low art can sink, which is why once every month or so I like to pick apart the worsts of things – most often television because she was my third parent and we still keep very much in touch. Just as we eventually grow to learn that our actual parents are flawed and imperfect, we must also acknowledge the defects in TV’s past, the moments we all wish she could take back.

And these are just the sitcoms.

HeilHoneyImHome

Concocting satire surrounding one of the worst genocides of the past century is a painfully delicate operation. The British nailed it in the 80’s with ‘Allo ‘Allo! and the Americans found a winner years earlier in Hogan’s Heroes. But check out this pitch for Heil Honey, I’m Home:

“It’s a parody of the cutesy family sitcoms of the 50’s and 60’s. We’ve got Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun living in an apartment building, and their next-door neighbors are… wait for it… Arny and Rosa Goldenstein, a Jewish couple! Oh, the hijinks! Oh, the hilarity!” Read more…

Day 814: Little Boxes Made Of Ticky-Tacky

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I was perusing through the November 1952 issue of Popular Science magazine yesterday (yes, I’m a little behind in my reading), when I came across an interesting article. It boasted the proud promise of a fresh residential concept: cozy in its cohesive uniformity, a respite from the urban blues, and built for the future. This cookie-cutter community would come to be known as Levittown, Pennsylvania, the inevitable sequel to Levittown, New York, which had opened up five years earlier.

This was the dawn of the modern suburb, the great-grandpappy of today’s seemingly endless sprawl. Originally proposed as a fully inclusive solution to the post-war housing shortage, complete with parks, schools, pools and shopping districts, Levittown came to be a civic archetype. Its bones have since been copied onto the fringes of pretty much every major city on the continent. It boasts consistency, predictability… and no black people.

But we’ll get to that later. I’m going to do my best not to be too hard on William J. Levitt and his vision, in spite its initial dollop of explicit racism, and in spite of how I feel the overused splatter of pre-planned communities has ravaged the heart of my own city. He did solve a significant societal problem, even if that solution may have been somewhat crusty around the edges.

LevittownNewYork

Abraham Levitt founded Levitt & Sons in 1929. Their specialty was in building upper-middle-class homes on Long Island, but while serving overseas in WWII, William Levitt (one of the sons) learned all about how to slap together some quickie military structures. He also saw the impending need for new properties once all the GIs returned home. William persuaded his architect brother and his father to put together a plan to mass-produce a swath of utilitarian one-floor homes on the cheap so that troops could move in with their families right away. Read more…

Day 788: Vintage Celluloid Boobery

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Whenever I’m assessing a question of morality, I like to assume the vantage point of an interplanetary visitor from an advanced race, dropping in to see how humanity stacks up to their alien equivalent. Don’t kill each other? I’m sure the little green dude agrees. Don’t pilfer one another’s wallets on the street? No question, Gleep would be down with that. Don’t allow parts of one’s natural form to be visible to anyone else, lest they succumb to evil, lust-sopped acts? He might raise a quizzical, crooked antenna at that one.

But our society has fought to uphold this denouncement of defrocking, this ban of the bare, particularly in film. It’s as though the collapse of our fragile culture could be set into motion by one wayward nipple. Sure, the pope probably gets naked, and so does every sign-toting, network-calling yahoo who feels their eyes have still not recovered from the excessive displays of side-boob on NYPD: Blue twenty years ago. But there’s a difference when it comes to being naked in one’s own home (or Pope-Fortress as the case may be).

Forget the fact that, with exceptions for size and possible skin conditions, butts tend to look fairly similar. And forget that the prohibition of anything (alcohol, drugs, looking at naked people) does nothing to quell the public’s desire for it. Our culture – and here I mean our global culture, because this is not simply a western taboo – spent decades frowning upon cinematic nakedness. Not too far back in our past movies could show blood from a stab wound by a homicidal maniac, but pubic hair? Hell no.

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It should surprise absolutely no one who has watched the landscape of the internet develop over the past 20 years that nudity was appearing in films before actual film had gotten around to being invented. Eadweard Muybridge (and I should point out that ‘Eadweard’ is a name choice more parents should consider) created the zoopraxiscope, a projector that could display images etched onto a spinning glass disk. With his rapid-fire photography method, he could capture what amounted to the equivalent of a brief gif of a horse galloping, a donkey bucking or, of course, a naked person. The photo above is his own grizzly self-portrait. Read more…

Day 776: Of Fingers And Knuckles And Stuff

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Faced with the prospect of a sixth trip to the dentist in two months for the same misbehaving molar, I find myself begrudgingly short on optimism for today. Rather than delve through another tale of a corrupt world or criminal conspiracy (both of which usually keep me perpetually entertained), I’m going to turn my curiosity toward the world around me.

There are so many miniscule aspects of our trivial routines whose histories and origins are overlooked because deep down, we simply don’t care. Throughout this project I have learned more than I’d ever wanted to know about the history of swear words, about polypropylene chairs and about German artist collectives. My life is endlessly richer for it.

Rather than comb the obscure I’m going to investigate a bit of the history behind some of the hand gestures we take for granted. Why do I do this? Does the public really need to know? Will Day 776 go down in this project’s history (or really any history) as anything but just another day? Should I stop asking rhetorical questions and twirl my word-fork through the pasta of this subject?

HighFive

The first nationally exhibited high-five in history (though it had no doubt gone through years of laboratory testing before reaching this level of exposure) occurred on October 2, 1977 between Glenn Burke and Dusty Baker of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Baker had just blasted his thirtieth home run of the year over the fence, marking the first time in baseball history that a single team saw four players notch at least 30 homers apiece in a single season. Glenn Burke, who was next to bat, was waiting with his hand raised when Dusty jogged home. Dusty, being of a quick wit and a clever mind, smacked the open hand with his, changing the course of greetings history. Read more…

Day 713: A Rat In Their Midst

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Sometime around 10:00 or 10:30 on the morning of Friday, August 4, 1944, a German officer named Karl Silberbauer showed up at the doorstep of Prinsengracht 263 in Amsterdam, accompanied by a handful of plain-clothes Dutch policemen. The visit was anything but social. A few minutes later they were marching back out the front door with eight prisoners in tow, all of them Jews who had been hiding from the Gestapo. Among them was future unwitting best-selling author, Anne Frank.

As one of the few victims of the Holocaust to wind up with a household name, the story of Anne Frank has been the subject of countless movies, books and school curricula. It helped that Anne was an astounding writer for her young years, and that she captured a horrifying experience from such an unexpected vantage point: when her youthful innocence could pose such a stark contrast to the inky shadow that was spreading across Europe at the time.

But while we all know the reason for the abrupt end to The Diary of Anne Frank, that she and her family were scooted off to concentration camps and that Anne was destined to perish there, we are still missing a key piece of the narrative. How did the police know the Franks and their companions were there? Who sold them out? There is a definitive answer to this query, but unfortunately we may never know it for certain.

Prinsengracht263

Otto Frank moved his offices of Opekta and Pectacon, spice and gelling manufacturers, into Prinsengracht 263 along the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam on December 1, 1940. Otto was aware that the outlook for Jews in Nazi Germany wasn’t good, and Amsterdam seemed like a wise relocation. Then the Nazis swooped into the Netherlands, and once again Otto was faced with the option of fleeing. But there was a reason he’d chosen that particular address. Upstairs, at the back of the house, he’d prepared a space for his family to hide. Read more…

Day 711: That Sweet, Sumptuous Slush

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Whilst wandering the school grounds during recess, pondering the lunacy of those hearty Edmonton settlers who determined that this frozen hellscape would somehow not be a ludicrous place to plop down a new town, I noticed a boy in my grade who was eating snow from his be-mittened hand.

“Enrique,” I queried, as even as a child I possessed the foresight to change the kid’s name to avoid a lawsuit, “what on earth are you doing?”

“It’s like the whole world is a giant Slurpee, just without the flavor!” The kid had enthusiasm and a downright sparkly approach to life, I’d give him that. Dumb as a moss-tucked stump, but he knew how to make the best of a situation.

I’d imagine that most local convenience store owners are counting on somewhat unimpressive sales of their Slurpee-like products today, with temperatures not expected to slither up past 15-below with the wind chill. Though I suspect a handful of parched throats around the city will crumple up logic and reason and internal temperature control and grab themselves a slushy treat anyway.

Some of us will down a cold beer tonight – why not a Slurpee?

Why not both in one beverage?

Why not both in one beverage?

The Slurpee brand name belongs exclusively to 7-Eleven, though many of us forged our addictions at other stores with Slushes, Chillers, Mr. Mistys, Slusherinos, Squishees, Slush-Puppies, and Half-Frozen Sugar Juice (some stores in my town were very literal). My local corner store had the machine stashed behind the counter, leaving the artistry of crafting the perfect flavor mix in the hands of the same ornery Chinese guy that stacked the pornos at the back of the magazine rack so we kids couldn’t reach them. The world seemed so far beyond our control back then. Read more…

Day 705: Legends Of Urbania

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The beauty of the Internet Age is how information – or more entertainingly, misinformation – oozes like honey-sludge, coating the globe in a glossy sheen of non-truths and insidious punks. Mischievous urban legends have been inspiring tizzies for as long as there have been folks around to lend their ears, but email and social media are like kerosene-swamped kindling, spreading the flames of tall tales from send-click to send-click in triple-time.

Those who have been burned by generous Nigerian princes or some such costly buffoonery are no doubt tuned in to the deceptive nature of online ‘info’. But I am still baffled on a regular basis how many people are unaware of snopes.com or the Museum of Hoaxes, two sites that are invaluable for cramming that valuable hiccup of pause between reading and believing.

Below I’ve included a half-dozen urban legends, often relayed in hushed tones around a high school cafeteria table or an office email circle. You probably know them, and if you’ve done your homework you probably know how much fiction has been shoveled atop any grain of actual fact that might be contained therein. But in case you haven’t tried to debunk ‘em, now’s your chance to learn the truth.

Which is taken from the internet, so… well surely you can trust me, right?

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McDonald’s Operates A Shadow Company To Fool Us

McDonald’s is an easy target. We know it’s bad for us, but eventually the tales of unsaturated fats and unfathomable calories get a little stale, which is why the company has had to deny using eyeballs in their burgers and chicken feathers in their shakes. The phrase “100% Pure Beef” has been slapped on McDonald’s containers since they were made out of crunchy McStyrofoam. So if we know faulty advertising is an easy crime for the FDA to snag, what if the phrase wasn’t bogus but simply misleading? What if they simply purchased their filler-infused beef from a company called “100% Pure Beef”? Read more…

Day 680: The Forgotten Four-Legged Heroes

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Every few years Remembrance and/or Veterans Day drops itself beside a weekend, giving us an extra day to lie on the couch while watching a TLC marathon of Say Yes To The Dress while eating Ovaltine with a spoon. But this holiday is different – it’s not a throwaway day off like Columbus Day or Victoria Day, nor is it a day custom-built for the followers of any specific religion. We are all supposed to take some time and pay at least a modicum of mental tribute to the brave men and women who died so that we could have the freedom to watch crap TV and fill our yap-holes with chocolate drink powder.

Americans believe in this duty so strongly they have two holidays every year for this purpose. Canada has opted to devote our May day-off to Queen Victoria, though no one has ever told me why. I think we should take a clue from our southern brethren and sistren, and add a second day to honor our war heroes. But with a twist.

Instead of saluting only our fallen men and women, how about a day just for the animals who have given so much to the cause? Okay, it’s not like they signed up for the fight but animals have played a much larger part in past conflicts than acting as vehicles in the cavalry or keeping up morale by using their feline charm on the troops aboard a battleship.

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It has been almost 500 days since I wrote about Sgt. Stubby, the most decorated pooch in US Army history. But Stubby wasn’t the only four-legged beast to suit up in khaki fatigues for the good of some nation or another.

In February of 1942, a regiment of the Australian Air Force came across an injured 6-month-old kelpie (that’s an Autralian sheep dog). He was patched up, given the name of Gunner, and placed in the care of Leading Aircraftman Percy Westcott. The troops quickly recognized that Gunner would whimper and whine and jump around like his colon was on fire right before Japanese bombers would show up in the sky to bomb the Northern Territory capital of Darwin, where they were stationed. Read more…