Four Weeks In

Number 67 of a series

There’s no way I’m ever going to run out of these. Daniel Dale, with the Washington bureau of The Toronto Star, compiled a list of 80 fabrications by Donald Trump, all during the first four weeks of the new administration. That was so many days ago, and we have ceased expecting any truth from our president. It’s near pointless to continue putting Donald Trump’s lies on display. However, forge ahead I must. History is waiting. Here is number 67:

67. Feb. 16, 2017 — White House press conference

The claim: “We had Hillary Clinton give Russia 20 per cent of the uranium in our country.” Added: “Hillary Clinton gave them 20 per cent of our uranium.”

In fact: Clinton didn’t personally give Russia uranium. The State Department, which Clinton led as secretary of state, was one of nine government entities that reviewed the Russian purchase of the Toronto-based firm Uranium One, which controlled the rights to about 20 per cent of U.S. uranium capacity. There is no evidence Clinton was personally involved in the process in any way. Further, only the president could have made the decision to block the deal; Clinton did not have final authority either way.

Daniel Dale’s list has since grown. As of 18 April the count was up to 179. How long can our president keep this up? Better yet, how long can I keep this up?

Until there is no skin left.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

They never do.

Tuesday again. Time for Jesus to take another young life. Only this was over a quarter of a century ago. Amazing how little changes:

In the early months of 1991, the nation was preoccupied with the Persian Gulf War, as the United States chased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from his dream of annexing Kuwait.

In Philadelphia, health and school officials were locked in battle too – against a major measles outbreak, and the deep religious convictions which fueled the spread of the virus.

Nine children would die, six of them associated with two fundamentalist churches which preach a reliance on prayer, not medical care, to cure disease.

Five of those children would die in 10 days.

This post honors the sacrifice little Jamie Jones made in the cause of what some claim to be religious freedom, actually a license to  kill. He is only one of several, and his death spurred his grandmother to push the Pennsylvania legislature to clamp down on religious exemptions. Little progress has been made since. The stupid is strong here.

Four Weeks In

Number 66 of a series

There’s no way I’m ever going to run out of these. Daniel Dale, with the Washington bureau of The Toronto Star, compiled a list of 80 fabrications by Donald Trump, all during the first four weeks of the new administration. That was so many days ago, and we have ceased expecting any truth from our president. It’s near pointless to continue putting Donald Trump’s lies on display. However, forge ahead I must. History is waiting. Here is number 66:

66. Feb. 16, 2017 — White House press conference

The claim: “This administration is running like a fine- tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my cabinet approved. And they’re outstanding people like Senator Dan Coats who’s there, one of the most respected men of the Senate. He can’t get approved. How do you not approve him?”

In fact: We’ll ignore the dubious “fine-tuned machine” claim — there is no sign that Coats, Trump’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence, “can’t get approved” or is even facing obstruction. The Republican who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. Richard Burr, told The Hill they are waiting for the FBI and others to finish background checks, and that they will hold a hearing when the Senate returns from its one-week break.

Daniel Dale’s list has since grown. As of 18 April the count was up to 179. How long can our president keep this up? Better yet, how long can I keep this up?

Until there is no skin left.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

Just recently I had to respond to a Facebook comment that compared Donald Trump to Barack Obama, this regarding Trump’s lack of familiarity with the truth:

And we should paint President Obama with the same brush? In this regard Obama is a piker compared to Trump. Actually, not even Nixon attained Trump’s rarefied air.

Obama a piker. Yes, a slacker. Then I wondered if anybody reading had an idea where we got the term “piker.” That’s this week’s Quiz Question. What’s the origin of the term?

Post your answer as a comment below. No fair running to  Google. You were supposed to know this stuff already.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

February 1934 – Paris

William Shirer’s idyllic year off came to a conclusion in January 1934 as he exhausted his savings and obtained a job with the Paris Herald. He and his new wife Tess left (then) peaceful Spain and plunged into the chaos of European politics of the 1930s.

PARIS, February 7

A little dazed still from last night. About five p.m. yesterday I was twiddling my thumbs in the Herald office wondering whether to go down to the Chamber, where the new premier, Édouard Daladier, was supposed to read his ministerial declaration, when we got a tip that there was trouble at the Place de la Concorde. I grabbed a taxi and went down to see. I found nothing untoward. A few royalist Camelots du Roi, Jeunesses Patriotes of Deputy Pierre Taittinger, and Solidarité Française thugs of Perfumer François Coty— all right-wing youths or gangsters— had attempted to break through to the Chamber, but had been dispersed by the police. The Place was normal. I telephoned the Herald, but Eric Hawkins, managing editor, advised me to grab a bite of dinner nearby and take another look a little later. About seven p.m. I returned to the Place de la Concorde. Something obviously was up. Mounted steel-helmeted Mobile Guards were clearing the square. Over by the obelisk in the centre a bus was on fire. I worked my way over through the Mobile Guards, who were slashing away with their sabres, to the Tuileries side. Up on the terrace was a mob of several thousand and, mingling with them, I soon found they were not fascists, but Communists. When the police tried to drive them back, they unleashed a barrage of stones and bricks. Over on the bridge leading from the Place to the Chamber across the Seine, I found a solid mass of Mobile Guards nervously fingering their rifles, backed up by ordinary police and a fire-brigade. A couple of small groups attempted to advance to the bridge from the quay leading up from the Louvre, but two fire-hoses put them to flight.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 80-92). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Some background may be helpful—this was before most of us were born. I translate “Jeunesses Patriotes” as “young patriots,” apparently a militant political faction at the time. Wikipedia has the following detail:

The Jeunesses Patriotes (“Young Patriots”, JP) were a far-right league of France, recruited mostly from university students and financed by industrialists founded in 1924 by Pierre Taittinger. Taittinger took inspiration for the group’s creation in the Boulangist Ligue des Patriotes and Benito Mussolini‘s Blackshirts.

According to the police, the Jeunesses Patriotes had 90,000 members in the country and 6,000 in Paris in 1932. Its street fighters were led by a retired general named Desofy, and were organized around Groupes Mobiles, paramilitary mobile squads of fifty men, outfitted in blue raincoats and berets. The group stated its willingness to combat the “Red Peril” and the Cartel des Gauches (Left-wing Coalition), and chose to back Raymond Poincaré who came to power after the Cartel des gauches.

The organization retreated in 1926, but made a comeback in 1932, with the Cartel des Gauches ‘s electoral victory, and took part in the February 6, 1934 riots, an anti-parliamentary street demonstration in Paris in the context of the Stavisky Affair. In 1936, the Popular Front government outlawed the Jeunesses Patriotes and other nationalist groups.

Grim reality was quickly manifest:

The first shots we didn’t hear. The first we knew of the shooting was when a woman about twenty feet away suddenly slumped to the floor with a bullet-hole in her forehead. She was standing next to Melvin Whiteleather of the A.P. Now we could hear the shooting, coming from the bridge and the far side of the Seine. Automatic rifles they seemed to be using. The mob’s reaction was to storm into the square.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 96-99). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

French were battling each other. It was a foreboding of the tragedy that was to follow six years later, as French society failed to rally against the invading German army.

Shirer recounts the deadly serious nature of the situation:

“If they get across the bridge,” I thought, “they’ll kill every deputy in the Chamber.” But a deadly fire— it sounded this time like machine-guns— stopped them and in a few minutes they were scattering in all directions.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 104-106). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Édouard Daladier was at the time the president of the national Council, having replaced Camille Chautemps barely ten days before, an offshoot of what is called the Stavisky Affair. The riots of 6 February, just described, resulted in 15 people being killed. A consequence was that Daladier was forced to resign. Shirer assesses Daladier’s character in light of the previous night’s action. His assessment of French democracy again foretells the doom that awaits France in a few short years:

Imagine Stalin or Mussolini or Hitler hesitating to employ troops against a mob trying to overthrow their regimes! It’s true perhaps that last night’s rioting had as its immediate cause the Stavisky scandal. But the Stavisky swindles merely demonstrate the rottenness and the weakness of French democracy.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 114-116). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Additionally:

But to resign now, after putting down a fascist coup— for that’s what it was— is either sheer cowardice or stupidity. Important too is the way the Communists fought on the same side of the barricades last night as the fascists. I do not like that.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 118-119). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

France and Germany were not the only festering sores in European society (not to  mention Spain). The German-speaking nation of Austria was coming apart at the same time:

PARIS, February 15

The fighting in Vienna ended today, the dispatches say. Dollfuss finished off the last workers with artillery and then went off to pray.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 139-141). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The shortened trajectory of Englebert Dollfuss was pivotal in the unfolding of the European tragedy:

Engelbert Dollfuss October 4, 1892 – July 25, 1934) was an Austrian Christian Social and Patriotic Front statesman. Having served as Minister for Forests and Agriculture, he ascended to Federal Chancellor in 1932 in the midst of a crisis for the conservative government. In early 1933, he shut down parliament, banned the Austrian Nazi party and assumed dictatorial powers. Suppressing the Socialist movement in February 1934, he cemented the rule of “austrofascism” through the authoritarian First of May Constitution. Dollfuss was assassinated as part of a failed coup attempt by Nazi agents in 1934. His successor Kurt Schuschnigg maintained the regime until Adolf Hitler‘s annexation of Austria in 1938.

Additionally:

February 23

Heard today that Dollfuss had hanged Koloman Wallisch, the Social Democrat mayor of Bruck an der Mur.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Location 147). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

William Shirer turned 30 on that day.

At this point there is a long break in Shirer’s narrative. He doesn’t pick it up again until 30 June, known hence for a horrendous unfolding of Nazi Germany’s future.

Four Weeks In

Number 65 of a series

There’s no way I’m ever going to run out of these. Daniel Dale, with the Washington bureau of The Toronto Star, compiled a list of 80 fabrications by Donald Trump, all during the first four weeks of the new administration. That was so many days ago, and we have ceased expecting any truth from our president. It’s near pointless to continue putting Donald Trump’s lies on display. However, forge ahead I must. History is waiting. Here is number 65:

65. Feb. 16, 2017 — White House press conference

The claim: “Walmart announced it will create 10,000 jobs in the United States just this year because of our various plans and initiatives.”

In fact: The Walmart expansion plan that is creating the jobs was announced in October, before Trump was elected. The company did not reveal the precise 10,000 figure until after Trump took office, but it is directly connected to the previous announcement.

Daniel Dale’s list has since grown. As of 18 April the count was up to 179. How long can our president keep this up? Better yet, how long can I keep this up?

Until there is no skin left.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This is not the book. In Stephen King’s Children of the Corn , a short story, Burt Stanton and Vicky Baxter are driving cross-country between corn fields through Nebraska when the car runs over a child in the road. The movie, contrary to custom, provides additional background and depth. This came out in 1984 from Angeles Entertainment Group, among others. Peter Horton is Burt. Linda Hamilton is Vicky. It was recently available on Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening scenes in the movie show a peaceful Sunday morning in Gatlin, Nebraska, some time previous. The townspeople leave morning church and many head for the local diner. It is then the evil Isaac Chroner (John Franklin), outside on the sidewalk, gives a signal through the window. The children in the diner begin to massacre the adults. Some are poisoned with coffee, others are cut down by sharp weapons. We later learn Isaac is the leader of a religious cult based on corn, hence the title.

Back to the present, a young boy attempts to leave the cult. With his suitcase he makes his dash toward freedom among the rows of corn. But he is waylaid by Malachai Boardman (Courtney Gains) and stabbed with a kitchen knife. He makes it to the road. That is when Burt hits him with the car.

Seeking help, Burt and Vicky stop at Diehl’s (R. G. Armstrong) shop. Diehl advises Burt and Vicky to go on to the next town, and he is subsequently killed by Malachai. Burt and Vicky attempt to make it to the next town, but their car ends up on a dirt path between rows of corn.

Going back to Gatlin, Burt and Vicky encounter Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy). She and her brother Job (Robby Kiger) are not part of the cult. They can only give clues as to what is going on and what will happen. The town is apparently abandoned, all adults having previously been killed by the children, and cult member roam the town, stalking Burt and Vicky.

Vicky gets taken by the cult and posted on a cross among the corn as a sacrifice. A conflict ensues within the cult, and Malachai usurps Isaac, posting him on the cross in place of Vicky.

Burt works with Job and Sarah as the cult members attempt to trap Burt, using Vicky as bait.

The movie culminates in a showdown among the corn, as an evil entity moves beneath the fertile ground, carrying doom to all it encounters. Burt and Job defeat the evil and the cult by setting the corn ablaze.

Horton and Hamilton are the front-line players in the production, both turning in lackluster performances. Hamilton is mainly good looking throughout. She turned in a significantly better performance as Sarah Conner in The Terminator the same year. The plot has a lot to ask for, as well.

Gatlin, Nebraska—the children kill all adults in the town except Diehl. And nobody notices. Storms of state cops are not all over the place wanting to know what went on. Fortunately this was before cell phones became prolific. Else, Burt would have merely dialed 911 when he found the murdered kid on the road, and that would have been the end of the story.

Viewers of my ilk will experience long stretches of frustration as Burt and Vicky become needless mired in the children’s plot. Viewers obviously know what is going on in the background, but any reasonable person would have dumped all that naiveté after a couple of minutes. Makes the thing agonizing  to watch.

While there is a smidgen of reality with the children cooking up a religious cult and committing murder, the thing beneath the ground in the corn field is pure fantasy. All of Stephen King’s stories seem to have a load of supernatural, but this is a corn crib too much—not essential to the plot and becoming manifest only in the final minutes. In the book the hidden force plays a pivotal role.

Years of Living Dangerously

January 1934

I have what may be a first edition. The book was printed in 1941, immediately following the events of the final chapter. I have no idea how it came into possession by my family, but following a division of assets it wound up on my bookshelf. I have read my copy through at least three times, and earlier this year I acquired a Kindle edition, which vastly facilitates searching, highlighting, and copying interesting passages. It’s Berlin Diary, and it’s by journalist and war correspondent William L. Shirer.

The full title is Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934–1941, and you can guess this is going to be about the early days of Nazi Germany. Besides that, it is the tale of a remarkable life. Shirer was born in 1904, and by 1925 he was in Europe, having worked his passage on a cattle boat. He intended to knock around for the summer but remained abroad for 15 years, returning only for brief intervals. As a news correspondent he traveled and associated broadly, including a close acquaintance with Mohandas K. Gandhi, and subsequently came to meet the key players in the lead up to war in Europe. In Europe he met and married photographer Theresa Stiberitz, from Vienna. Comfortable in French and German, he observed the widespread unrest in Europe and the spreading influence of Germany’s Nazi regime. He collaborated with Edward R. Murrow covering the early months of the war, being forced to leave in December 1940 as the danger became unbearable. Already noted for his war coverage, he achieved fame with the publication of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

If you ever thought your life has been dull, you may not realize how dull until you read this book. It begins after Shirer lost the sight in one  eye in a skying accident. First entries relate the couple’s year off in southern Spain, Shirer recuperating and the two living off their savings.

The plan for this series is to cover diary entries on a daily basis on each 80th anniversary. I will crowd in an initial burst of postings to catch up, since the book starts in 1934. The tale is best told by shamelessly reprinting great sections of text from the book and adding my analysis. This is, after all, Skeptical Analysis. The opening entry is 11 January 1934:

LLORET DE MAR, SPAIN, January 11, 1934

Our money is gone. Day after tomorrow I must go back to work. We had not thought much about it. A wire came. An offer. A bad offer from the Paris Herald. But it will keep the wolf away until I can get something better.

Thus ends the best, the happiest, the most uneventful year we have ever lived. It has been our “year off,” our sabbatical year, and we have lived it in this little Spanish fishing village exactly as we dreamed and planned, beautifully independent of the rest of the world, of events, of men, bosses, publishers, editors, relatives, and friends. It couldn’t have gone on for ever. We wouldn’t have wanted it to, though if the thousand dollars we had saved for it had not been suddenly reduced to six hundred by the fall of the dollar, we might have stretched the year until a better job turned up. It was a good time to lay off, I think. I’ve regained the health I lost in India and Afghanistan in 1930– 1 from malaria and dysentery. I’ve recovered from the shock of the skiing accident in the Alps in the spring of 1932, which for a time threatened me with a total blindness but which, happily, in the end, robbed me of the sight of only one eye.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 44-53). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

This is just north of Barcelona, peaceful as the tale begins, but soon to become a focal point of the vicious Spanish Civil War. Spain at the time seemed safe, compared to what was going on in Germany:

Hitler and the Nazis have lasted out a whole year in Germany and our friends in Vienna write that fascism, both of a local clerical brand and of the Berlin type, is rapidly gaining ground in Austria. Here in Spain the revolution has gone sour and the Right government of Gil Robles and Alexander Lerroux seems bent on either restoring the monarchy or setting up a fascist state on the model of Italy— perhaps both.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 55-58). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Those not familiar with the history, the Nazis came to power in January 1933 and immediately, with calculated brutality, muscled their way to complete control. At the time he wrote this, neither Shirer nor anybody else realized the level of viciousness that was about to ensue.

He tells of renting a furnished house for $60 a month—good fortune even at that time in that place:

Myself: some history, some philosophy, and Spengler’s Decline of the West; Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution; War and Peace; Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit, the most original French novel since the war; and most or all of Wells, Shaw, Ellis, Beard, Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Dreiser. A few friends came and stayed: the Jay Allens, Russell and Pat Strauss, and Luis Quintanilla, one of the most promising of the younger Spanish painters and a red-hot republican. Andres Segovia lived next door and came over in the evening to talk or to play Bach or Albeniz on his guitar.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 69-74). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Already a reader is coming to realize the waste he has made of his own life. The closest I came was when Dos Passos lived on a street in Austin I passed through going to and from the University.

The idyll ends here. After this it’s Paris and the brutal reality of European politics of the 1930s.

Bad Joke of the Week

One of a continuing series

Mother of Jesus, please come back.

One day a man was walking along the beach when he tripped over a lamp. He turned around and kicked the lamp out of anger. Instantly a genie popped out of the lamp.

Reluctantly, the genie said, “Even though you kicked me, I still have to give you three wishes. However, because of what you did, I will also give twice what you wish for to the person you hate the most, your boss.

So the man agreed and made his first wish. “I want lots of money,” he said. Instantly 22 million dollars appeared in the man’s bank account, and 44 million dollars appeared in  his boss’s account

For his second wish the man asked for a couple of sports cars. Instantly a Lamborghini and a Ferrari appeared. At the same time two of each car appeared outside his boss’s house.

Finally the genie said, “This is your last wish. You should choose carefully.” To this the man replied, “I’ve always wanted to donate a kidney.”

Four Weeks In

Number 64 of a series

There’s no way I’m ever going to run out of these. Daniel Dale, with the Washington bureau of The Toronto Star, compiled a list of 80 fabrications by Donald Trump, all during the first four weeks of the new administration. That was so many days ago, and we have ceased expecting any truth from our president. It’s near pointless to continue putting Donald Trump’s lies on display. However, forge ahead I must. History is waiting. Here is number 64:

64. Feb. 16, 2017 — White House press conference

The claim: “General Motors likewise committed to invest billions of dollars in its American manufacturing operation, keeping many jobs here that were going to leave. And if I didn’t get elected, believe me, they would have left. And these jobs and these things that I’m announcing would never have come here.”

In fact: GM made a new $1 billion commitment to U.S. factories, not “billions”; it committed $2.9 billion last year, before Trump was elected. GM did not offer any indication that it made the decision because of Trump, and independent automotive analysts said it was unlikely the company had done so. “Mostly theatre to play in the news cycle created by President-elect Trump’s tweets,” Autotrader analyst Michelle Krebs said. “These investments and hiring plans have long been in the works and are a continuation of what the company has been doing in recent years.”

Daniel Dale’s list has since grown. As of 18 April the count was up to 179. How long can our president keep this up? Better yet, how long can I keep this up?

Until there is no skin left.