In many ways I am fortunate to have come to Jewish prayer as an adult. My interest piqued by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner’s drashot, I dipped my toes into th...moreIn many ways I am fortunate to have come to Jewish prayer as an adult. My interest piqued by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner’s drashot, I dipped my toes into the birchot hashachar (Gates of Prayer blue if you’re keeping score). Reading Rabbi Hayyim Donin’s To Pray as a Jew preceded daily morning minyan with Temple Beth El, Springfield, Mass. I finally laid tefillin myself with Rabbi Merrill Shapiro at Congregation Beth Am, Apopka, Fla. All of which meant that, when I had trouble talking to G-d, I could still pray with my community. Many of us approach prayer with the same understanding we had when we left religious school (I see it in myself when I visit the communities in which I was raised). Rabbi Grunstein sets out (albeit from an Orthodox perspective) to help the reader develop a more age-appropriate understanding of, and thereby a fuller relationship with, the thrice-daily prayer service. Early on, he raises the question: if prayer is supposed to be avoda she'balev (service of the heart) -- spontaneous thanksgiving, praise, or pleading -- why are times, text, and even posture prescribed? The times, he answers, are supposed to interrupt us; by taking us out of our comfortable routine, the interruptions, which according to Berachot 26a mirror the times of the Temple sacrifices, help us see the wonders, gifts, and needs around us. After 87 pages of context building (choreography, attire, texts), R Grunstein addresses the prayers themselves One expects to offer blessings for the extraordinary; however, traditionally, the morning service starts with a recitation of blessings for a string of mundane events. R Grunstein argues that this should remind us that even the mundane should be seen as miraculous. Interestingly, having just noted with some pride Orthodoxy’s resistance to change, he lets pass without comment the siddur’s reordering of those blessings from the source text. R Grunstein usefully argues that the Avot v’Imahot, Gevurot, and Kedusha are descriptive rather than placating -- before we get into the requests, we fulfill the command da lifnei mi attah omed and remind ourselves of whom before we stand. In that spirit, consider that with Mishkan Tefilla the Reform Movement is again acknowledging G-d as the source of rain and dew. Even the most urban of us, on a little reflection, can see the blessing of enough rain at the proper time. Unless we are farming or gardening in a Mediterranean climate, that of dew is less apparent, though -- we must take special efforts to collect it lest it fade with the morning. While R Grunstein likens dew to Torah, focussing on the sweetnesses thereof, I believe that, particularly in the Diaspora, evanescence is precisely the point: even fleeting blessings must be noticed and acknowledged. I would have preferred that R Grunstein spend any time discussing the Mourner’s Kaddish. That quibble aside, his insights are a good starting point for helping to move to a more adult view of public prayer.
After sophomore English, many authors spend much effort not writing Hemingway pastiche. Too easy to fall into, damnably hard to do well. I have been a...moreAfter sophomore English, many authors spend much effort not writing Hemingway pastiche. Too easy to fall into, damnably hard to do well. I have been a Harry Turtledove fan since a friend turned me on to the Misplaced Legion series; while I can't abide the inherent military improbability of his Days of Infamy series (too long a rant for this space) I remain a fan. Among his strengths, Turtledove weaves a healthy dose of history into his what-if, enough that Videssos can be read as midrash for Byzantium and The Great War for American history (the stuff Miss Thistleblossom in grade school left out). In Cayos in the Stream, an Old Man and the Sea pastiche, the author is hunting U-boats in the Straits of Florida. Not fully an artifact of the interior monologue form, the perception of the author as bloated self-important git who will make too much of his liberation of the Rue Daunou and Harry's New York Bar is inescapable. As pastiche, while it avoids the Spanish diction of Old Man and the Sea, it is otherwise spot on. (less)
That Jerry Stahl collected well crafted stories is unexceptional; that, given its subject matter, the collection does not read like an MFA project sur...moreThat Jerry Stahl collected well crafted stories is unexceptional; that, given its subject matter, the collection does not read like an MFA project surprises. I was unfamiliar with most of the authors going in; The Heroin Chronicles served as an excellent introduction to Nathan Larson, Michael Albo, and Jerry Stahl himself. Eric Bogosian's Godhead did not disappoint. Larson's post-apocolyptic Dos Mac + The Jones(less)
Mornings start with a good belt of caffeine from at least two cups of coffee. Caffeine may crop up else...moreAs it happens, intoxicants framed my yesterday.
Mornings start with a good belt of caffeine from at least two cups of coffee. Caffeine may crop up elsewhere during my day with more coffee or, more usually, tea.
My evening cocktail was built on two more. One, dark rum, is legal (though prohibited by Constitutional amendment and federal statute for nearly 14 years); the other, while nominally illegal worldwide, has been part of the world’s most popular soft drink since John Pemberton first blended it into his fizzy sugar water.
The “soft” of soft drinks such as Pemberton’s brew contrasts with the hardness of spiritous liquors such as rum and whiskey. Curiously, then, Pemberton included extracts of kola nuts and coca leaves in what would become the world’s most popular soft drink.
Ricardo Cortes, who illustrated the delicious Go the Fuck to Sleep and its G-rated sibling Seriously Just Go to Sleep, describes the ongoing connection between the alkaloid derivatives of coffee beans, kola nuts, and coca leaves and Coca-Cola.
In 1914, the United States banned coca and its alkaloid derivative, cocaine, with the Harrison Narcotics Act. Internationally, by 1961 nine separate treaties and other agreements had erected a complicated system of drug control; the United Nations began negotiations to simplify that thicket. During those negotiations the US browbeat the world into mandating eradicating the coca plant; that browbeating bore fruit in the 1971 Convention on Pyschotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. While prohibiting people from chewing coca leaves, the conventions allow the world’s most popular soft drink to use coca; unsurprisingly, that exception grew out of a connection between a bureaucrat and a corporation supplying a coca derivative to Coca-Cola bottlers according to Cortes.
Cortes’ excellent journalism -- laying out the money driven inconsistencies in our supposed War on Drugs -- is enhanced by his illustrations (including, tellingly, a reproduction of a 1964 IRS filing purporting that the Maywood Division of the Stepan Chemical Co. imported up to three pounds of coca leaves to the University of Hawaii’s Hawaii Agricultural Experiment Station on Kauai; in the event, while the climate of the Hawaiian Islands is suitable for coca culture, seedlings succumbed to wilting and rot rot of unknown source). The Drug War is filled with unexplainable inconsistencies and injustices. A Secret Histor of Coffee, Coca & Cola illuminates a few of the more glaring(less)
Although I have lived much of my adult life outside WBZ’s signal coverage, I still claim “Civis Bostoniensis sum” since the taxpayers thereof invested...moreAlthough I have lived much of my adult life outside WBZ’s signal coverage, I still claim “Civis Bostoniensis sum” since the taxpayers thereof invested so much money and effort in my classical education on Avenue Louis Pasteur [for non-Bostonians: WBZ, Channel 4, was one of the three VHF stations during the 1950s and ‘60s; Boston Latin School -- the oldest public school in the country -- is housed on Avenue Louis Pasteur in the Fenway].
During an anti-Agnew demonstration I had my skull cracked near the corner on which Robert Parker’s Spenser had his first office and grew up with people who could populate a Higgins novel. Tourist shots make me mimsy although the city of my raising was more cold, dark, and gritty than sunlight and swept.
Thus I looked forward to the arrival of Boston Noir 2. Dennis Lehane, Mary Cotton, and Jaime Clarke have assembled a tasty sampler of crime and sudden death in Winthrop’s City upon a Hill during the third quarter of its fourth century.
Chuck Hogan’s The Marriage Privilege started well but felt rushed at the end, as if the author noticed his word count and needed to wrap up in some arbitrary limit.
I would not class Joyce Carol Oates’ Night-Side as noir. While a very good occult psychological, it however lacks the criminality of noir. Similarly, George Harrar’s The 5:22 and Jason Brown’s Driving the Heart are diverting but lack the requisite criminality.
Hannah Tinti’s Home Sweet Home gives a nice twist on domestic tragedy.
I imagine the Spenser novels happening sequentially (unless Parker specified otherwise); thus Surrogate would fall somewhere between A Savage Place and Ceremony. As ever, the situation and resolution are extreme, the characters well drawn and the telling masterful.
George V Higgins initially meant that mystery fiction didn’t have to be set in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco; because of duende, I later fell in love with the precision of his diction. The Balance of the Day nails the tribalism underlying the granite.
Dennis Lehane looks around his native Dorchester in Mushrooms and catches the numbing banality of urban violence. Other bon bons (notably Barbara Neely’s excerpt Blanche Cleans Up and Andre Dubus’ Townies) also divert.(less)
Harry Lloyd Hopkins is one of the shadowy figures of the New Deal and the Second World War.
He ran the Works Progress Administration, which used federa...moreHarry Lloyd Hopkins is one of the shadowy figures of the New Deal and the Second World War.
He ran the Works Progress Administration, which used federal money to build or repair 103 golf courses, 1,000 airports, 2,500 hospitals, 2,500 sports stadiums, 3,900 schools, 8,192 parks, 12,800 playgrounds, 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, and 651,087 miles of highways and roads and employ more than 8.5 million people during the Depression. He turns up in the background of photographs of the conferences in which the Alliance developed and implemented its grand strategy. After his death, and that of Franklin Roosevelt, McCarthy-era Republicans delighted in blaming him for everything that had gone wrong with the post-war world -- mostly that Stalin’s Soviet Union had survived the war and was reaping the benefit of its victory. Except for a Pulitzer prize winning memoir published soon after his death, however, Hopkins’ role carrying out the Roosevelt program in war and peace largely has escaped popular historical scrutiny.
Focussing on Hopkins’ wartime role as Lend Lease coordinator and go between among Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, Roll’s biography should end that 60-odd year silence.
While he starts from Robert Sherwood’s 1948 memoir -- Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History (Harper & Brothers) -- Roll does avail himself of material unavailable then to emerge from the shadow of that Pulitzer winning work. Roll’s tone is admiring without undue reverence to which “Great Man” histories into which can slip.
According to Roll, Hopkins was instrumental in two decisions that shaped the Europe that emerged from the War: the Torch landings in North Africa and keeping Stalin from making a separate peace with Hitler.
Torch: accepting the Germany-first strategy that emerged from pre-Pearl Harbor British and American conferences, the US Chief of Staff -- notably the Army’s George Catlett Marshall (and through him Henry Arnold of the Air Force) -- believed that landing in Northwest Europe (Normandy, Calais) was the shortest route to victory. The British -- scarred by World War I’s four year stalemate and consequent slaughter in Flanders and Picardy -- held out for waging World War II on the periphery. Hopkins convinced Roosevelt to accept the North African plan.
In the event -- particularly given the debacle at the Kasserine Pass -- the choice was correct though not for the reasons the British advanced (the Americans -- both soldiers and staff -- needed what turned out to be live fire training before encountering main force Wehrmacht). Arguably, British-American landings in Northwest Europe in 1943 likely would have turned into Dieppes writ large; Torch also meant that British-American operations in northwest Europe would focus on strategic bombing which would divert German production from main battle tanks to fighter aircraft (the main German anti-aircraft cannon was also a superb anti-tank gun so strategic bombing affected deployment rather than production). Stalin: Without downplaying the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, the British and American efforts in the European and Mediterranean Theaters were sideshows. The War in Europe was fought and won by the Red Army. Keeping a paranoid Stalin (let us remember that governments in which both Churchill and Roosevelt were part sent troops to strangle the Bolshevik Revolution in its infancy; see EM Halliday’s 1958 Ignorant Armies (Universal Publishing and Distribution) on the US Murmansk/Archangel campaign) fighting Hitler (and remember that the August 1939 Non-Aggression Pact was possible because Stalin saw Hitler and the Western Allies as equally hostile to the Soviet Union) meant that the Western Allies did not face as many as 3 million additional German troops. Fundamentally, Hopkins’ role extending Lend Lease to the Soviet Union meant that GM 6x6 trucks were blown up instead of boys of Coraopolis, Pa. and Clearwater, Fla. getting shot.(less)
WEB Griffin's Brotherhood of War, Honor Bound, Soldier Spies and The Corps series are guilty pleasures: ripping good yarns that happen to offer occasi...moreWEB Griffin's Brotherhood of War, Honor Bound, Soldier Spies and The Corps series are guilty pleasures: ripping good yarns that happen to offer occasional unexpected glimpses of historical figures. The Honor Bound series, of which Honor of Spies is the sixth entry, is set in Argentina during WWII and the presidency of Arturo Rawson. As the calendar marches toward Argentina's declaration of war and Rawson's overthrow, I look forward to seeing how the Butterworths deal with Peron's rise. (less)
Michel Fellman, who has professed history at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University, has explored the tragedies of US history throughout a long ca...moreMichel Fellman, who has professed history at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University, has explored the tragedies of US history throughout a long career. Views from the Dark Side of American History collects essays describing some of that career's professional and personal disputes. Elsewhere, I've noted that not only do we filter current events through our histories but that we read history through the lens of current events. Through that lens, each of Fellman's essays take on significance beyond their expressed topics and can be read as more than disquisitions on professional practice, scholarly analysis and applied theory. The history of New Left radicalism during the 1960s and early '70s is generally covered by either David Horowitz and other neo-Whittaker Chambers breast beating or “nyah, nyah, we were right all along” replies by the unreconstructed. Both shed far more heat than light on the subject and the smoke of both keeps us from building on the experience. By avoiding both extremes, Fellman's Madison Daze presents a truer picture of the phenomenon than either (and, sadly, by properly using agents provocateur gives pleasure to one oppressed by a Sister Mary Thistleblossom). We have seen that the disputes between a set of 20-somethings still matter 40- and 50 years on. George W Bush predicated his re-election campaign on not having opposed Viet Nam, even though his opponent served in country and he himself got no closer to combat than the Gulf of Mexico while his vice president had other priorities at the time. Fellman's Edge of Nihilism, written as a comparison of the German and American Civil Wars (the German otherwise known as the Thirty Years War), reminds us that in more than two centuries of counter-guerrilla warfare, the US Army has neither found a way to reconcile operational necessity with national ideals nor learned that those supposed operational necessities ultimately costs the war. We can argue that the Army won the guerrilla war against the Native Americans. That we did so by committing genocide and totally devastating the economic base of the Plains tribes should be inarguable. When soldiers and Anglo gangs wiped out Native villages those were famous victories; when Natives killed small units of soldiers or Anglo mobs [I refuse to dignify many with the name militia], that was a massacre. In the Philippines we essentially declared victory and brought the volunteers home. The Philippines Insurrection (by the army that thought we had come to liberate the archipelago from the Spanish but learned that they merely had traded colonial overlords) introduced water-boarding to US praxis. Fellman reminds us that along the Missouri border (in particular) the Civil War began long before April 1861 and continued after April 9, 1865. John Brown and the pro-slavery Border Ruffians were early adopters, and the James gang were post-Appomattox continuers, of the guerrilla war that marked the War along the western border. In that reading, Northfield, Minn. rather than Five Forks, Va. marks a last military gasp of the War of Secession. Again, along the western Missouri border both Confederate guerrillas and Federal counter-guerrillas committed atrocities against each other and against non-partisan civilians (Fellman does not triage the theater but Adams' description of the Revolutionary divides applies as well here). Each atrocity created partisans against those who committed it (see The Unforgiven as well as the Jesse James myth). The sack of Lawrence led directly to the Pottawatomie massacre led to Marais des Cynges and, via Harper's Ferry, to four years of main force clashes. And contrary to Jay Winik's assertion in April 1865(i) that Appomattox precluded a prolonged guerrilla war, not only did the James and Younger gangs continue to fight but the original iteration of the Ku Klux Klan terrorized blacks and Unionists throughout the former Confederacy until federal troops were withdrawn subsequent to the 1876 Presidential election. Robert E Lee: Myth and Man The point is less about the Marble Man myth (let alone Lee himself) and more about the uses made of that myth. A St Robert of Arlington House meant the War was about States' Rights rather than slavery; it certainly was not a clash of oligarchies. In fact Col. Lee abjured the officer's oath prescribed by the First Congress ["I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States."(ii)], which not only he had by custom taken at least 10 times (at each promotion), but which has no expiry. Prima facie, he had committed the only crime defined within the Constitution(iii). I daresay the Provost Marshal could have found two witnesses to any of Lee's overt acts between 1861 and 1865. Specifically, Fellman argues, the St Robert myth allowed the southern aristocracy to distance its paternalistic “soft” racism from, and enforce it by means of, the lynchers and cross burners. The Bourbons and Redeemers' moderation was complemented by the night-riders extremism. By omitting to note whether the Rev Dr Minnegerode actually administered the Eucharist to both men, the Communion rail story (which did not see print until 40 years after its presumed occurrence) can be read as St Robert promoting healing and accepting the results of the War rather than as a defeated oath breaker continuing the failed counter-revolution by non-military means. Ninety years after St Robert's apotheosis, the White Citizens Councils were the visible arm of segregation. The Bourbons could use church-bombers to maintain the poll tax (which not only disenfranchised blacks but could be used to discipline uppity crackers). Resistance to the ancien regime could be painted as caused by outside troublemakers (seeking to enforce federal law). By this analysis, Lyndon Johnson did not break the Bourbons' power by signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they continued to adopt other means to maintain themselves. A further 50 years on, the Tea Party has not taken over the Republican Party so much as it has been developed as a way to channel popular anger away from the Bourbons and their northern and western counterparts and into more 'profitable' channels.
By focusing on these three essays I do not mean to slight the others of the collection. Views from the Dark Side is a valuable counterpoint to the jingo and exceptionalism we usually read of American history.
i) Winik, Jay April 1865: The Month That Saved America 2001 Harper ii) His abjuration, among others, caused Congress to revise the oath several times until it took its current form under USC 3331, Title 5: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” iii) Art III, Sec 3: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.(less)