Notes from around the Human Experience…
CAPSULE BOOK REVIEW: America By Alistair Cooke: Something we’ve noticed during our years reading is our tendency to read books that are not particularly new. This trait has only increased as the years have passed, too. In grade school the books we got through the book club were new, of course, but the Hardy Boys novels we grew up on were old even when we were kids and there are an awful lot of books out there and we tend to know what we like and we’ve always been drawn to books that have been around a while.
This explains why we are just now got around to America, a mere 44-years after it was published. We picked it up a book sale at our small town library.
Dry, Technical Matter: America came in tandem with a television show of the same name presented by Cooke that ran on PBS in 1972. Cooke was for many years the New York City correspondent for The Guardian and hosted Letters From America for the BBC, which ran around the world from 1946-2004. It remains the longest-running spoken word radio show hosted by one individual in human history.
Uh, Are You Going To Review This Book Or Not?: America is a retrospective on 400 years of American history. There are pilgrims and Indians and presidents and robber barons and gold rushes and atomic bombs and the major cultural shifts that made America what it is today. Or was in 1973, when the book was originally published.
Bloody Good: For a Brit, or maybe because he’s a Brit, Cooks does a very good job of conveying not only some of the nuts-and-bolts history of America, but also of the spirit of America, of what and why Americans were possessed, both individually and collectively, to do certain things at certain times.
Fly In The Ointment: Cooke saves particular invective for our treatment of blacks, ultimately throwing up his hands – in resignation and, perhaps, despair – and saying this country is in a box regarding what he termed refugees from the Confederacy. Cooke probably would not be surprised to see we still haven’t solved that problem.
The Bottom Line: On a scale of 1-5, one being the very best humanity can offer to five being a steaming pile with three being Good, we give America a very good 2. Serious historians will like it while casual readers will not be overwhelmed by anything.
ON THIS DATE! ON THIS DATE! Isaac Singer receives US patent #8294 for his sewing machine on this date in 1851. It was far from the first sewing machine patent issued, however it was the first that made sewing machines practical for home use. Singer invested in mass production and interchangeable parts, cut the price of sewing machines in half and upped his profit margin over 500 percent.
Great Moments In Killing Large Numbers Of Your Fellow Humans: The Nazis end the Wola Massacre in Warsaw, Poland on this date in 1944.
The massacre began on August 5, with Nazi battle groups ordered to destroy Warsaw and exterminate civilians. Focusing primarily on women, children and the elderly that first day, the Nazis would eventually stop discriminating and execute between 40,000 and 50,000 people in the following days.
Well, This Is Good News: The Nazis decreed that as of the 12th all captured civilians were to be sent to concentration camps.
Well, This Wasn’t In The Plan Of The Day: Operating in the Barents Sea off the northern coast of Russia, the Russian submarine Kursk catches fire, explodes and sinks on this day in 2000. All 118 aboard, 1116 sailors and two civilian technicians, died.
The first explosion occurred at 11:29am when highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide leaked from a practice torpedo and exploded in the forward torpedo room. Two minutes and 14 seconds later, several torpedo warheads exploded. The first explosion would be measured at 1.5 on the Richter Scale, with the second measuring 4.2.
WTF?: No one knew what happened initially. When Kursk missed a 1:30pm torpedo shoot nobody got too alarmed because Soviet communications gear failed left and right. It wasn’t until 6pm when Kursk missed a scheduled communication check and could not be raised by headquarters that the Soviet Navy start a search and rescue operation.
This Is Really Code For “The Submarine Has Exploded And Sunk And Everyone’s Dead”: The Russians were in top form from the start, giving a clinic in stonewalling and lying that would have had their Soviet forefathers beaming with pride. Their first official announcement on Monday said the Kursk had experienced ‘minor technical difficulties”, that they had established contact with the crew and that everyone was alive despite the fact the Kursk was at the bottom of the ocean and the entire crew was dead.
Hell Of A Way To Go: We rode boats when we were in the US Navy and I‘ll tell you what, you didn’t dwell on it, but you thought about it and from time to time you would find yourself praying to whoever you thought would do you the most good that this wouldn’t happen to you.
Get Out Your Record Books: Bobby Jenks of the Chicago White Sox retires his 41st consecutive batter on this date in 2007, tying the major league record established by Jim Barr of San Francisco in 1972. Jenks pitched a scoreless ninth inning as the White Sox defeated Seattle 6-0.
Evidently only White Sox and Giants players are allowed to hold this record because it was broken in 2009 when the White Sox Mark Buehrle retired 45 straight batters and the record is now held by Yusmeiro Petit of the Giants, who retired 46 straight batters in 2014.
Quotebook: In the greatest fortune there is the least liberty. – William Bird, Virginia planter, circa 1662; from America by Alistair Cooke.
Answer To The Last Trivia Question: There was not a Trivia feature last time, silly!
Today’s Stumper: Since World War II, how many US submarines have been lost? – Answer next time!