Just make sure I'm around when you've finally got something to say.--Toad the Wet Sprocket

Thursday, November 17, 2016

How the CIA Came to Publish Doctor Zhivago

Sixty-Seven-Year-old Russian writer, Boris Pasternak was a very famous and respected writer and translators of other books into Russian. His book of poetry, In My Sister's Life, is a classic.  However, like most writers he wanted to write the great novel, so he did and that novel was Doctor Zhivago.  He could not wait for the people to read his masterpiece about the doomed love affair between the married- to-other-people Dr. Yuri Zhivago and nurse Lara Guichard Antipov set against first World War I and then the Bolshevik Revolution.

When the Soviet hierarchy read a copy of it before it hits the press, they see the book as an attack on the Communist regime such as his subtle criticism against Stalin, Collectivization, The Great Purge, and the Gulag and ban the book.  Despondent that his book will not be published in his country, yet eager to see it published somewhere he arranges for the manuscript to be smuggled out by Sergio D'Angelo to an Italian printer who has it translated into eighteen different languages.  The book is an international sensation and hit.  Critics hail the work as that of a genius.  However, this does not make Pasternak happy as his own people, for whom he wrote the novel, cannot read it.

In 1958 the CIA are looking for a way to undermine the Soviets when they receive the book from their friends at MI6. They too interpret the book as being against communism and soon hatch a propaganda plot to publish it and get it smuggled into the Soviet Union.  In September at the World's Fair in Brussels, they pass the book to those Soviet diplomats that are sympathizers to the CIA'a cause.  Like the rest of the world, they too love the book and tear off the cover and smuggle it into the Soviet Union where they pass it along to others. Soon, the people are finding ways to buy their own black market copy of the book that has been smuggled in or reading a copy from a friend and it is all the Soviet Union can talk about.  It did not, however, as the CIA hoped, end communism in the Soviet Union.

One month later Pasternak won the Nobel Prize for Literature for Doctor Zhivago and book sales really soar.  If he accepted this award his mistress Olga would be sent to a gulag and it was hinted that if he traveled to Stockholm to attend the ceremony he would not be allowed to reenter the Soviet Union. So Pasternak politely refused the great honor.  Despite his refusal of the Nobel Prize, the Soviet Union of Writers hounded him daily in the press demanding that he be kicked out of the country. Pasternak wrote an impassioned letter to Khrushchev begging to be allowed to stay, because "leaving the motherland will equal death to me. I am tied to Russia by birth, by life and work." Indian Prime Minister Nehru interceded on his behalf and he was allowed to stay in the Soviet Union. Pasternak died on May 30, 1960, of lung cancer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Marvel Vs DC: The Wonder Woman Chroncles

In my earlier post, I mentioned my lament over my daughter's distaste over Wonder Woman. She seemed to not see the importance or the ultimate coolness and strength of Wonder Woman. How tough she really was. Better, in my opinion than Superman and most other DC characters.  She has super-human strength that matches that of Superman, can deflect bullets with her bracelets, can use her lasso for multiple uses such as capturing bad guys, climbing something that way too tall for her to immediately leap on top of, and of course as a way to get others to tell the truth just to name a few.  She has an invisible plane that she can take anywhere.  Her tiara, which enabled her to communicate telepathically, call up her plane, protect her from a mental attack, could also be used as a razor sharp throwing weapon.  And eventually, she develops the ability to fly. She has superhuman speed and can speak many different languages including caveman and alien languages.  She can fight in armed and unarmed combat, knowing many different ways of fighting including the various martial arts as well as the exclusive Amazonian martial arts and Batman said of her that she was "the best melee fighter in the world".  She can astral project. She has great wisdom and intelligence as well as knowledge of psychology, philosophy, the sciences, and military strategy.  She also has enhanced senses including telescopic vision and super hearing. She also has super healing abilities.  

Whew. That's a lot for one superhero.  But Wonder Woman has been around since December 1941 and her attributes were pretty long for the time, but over time they grew a bit more extensive. Wikipedia, where I got some of this information, lists that she also at the beginning had ESP, had telepathy, and had mental control over the electricity in her body.  I didn't list these because I don't believe they stayed on with her over the years.

This is why Wonder Woman is so awesome. And so incredible. She truly is a superhero. She is also created to be a kind and generous person who seeks to not fight if there is a peaceful solution but will kick ass if need be. She has a strong sense of compassion, which some see as a weakness, but is really a strength.  It is easy to hate and be angry and fight first. It is much harder to have compassion for others and feel empathy, which she can thanks to one of the gods.

Anyway, the other night, my it was my night to choose what to watch and I chose to watch the Wonder Woman TV show with Linda Carter from the 1970s. My daughter, of course, moaned and groaned about it, but soon she was totally into it and so far we've watched five of them.  The last one had Robert
Loggia playing a Nazi. He was doing a stock German accident, but he couldn't keep the New York Italian hanging out of his voice at the end, instead of the clipped German tones.    It was a bit funny. The episode was called Wonder Woman vs. Gargantua. Gargantua was a great ape that had been trained to attack Wonder Woman and do other things upon command by the Nazis.  Wonder Woman with her compassionate heart wins over the ape and sees to it that at the end he gets sent back to the Republic of Congo where he was taken.  There's another episode where Wonder Woman gets captured by the Nazis and taken to Germany and Major Steve Trevor asks the General to let him parachute behind enemy lines to rescue her and the General tells him flat out no that it's too dangerous for him and that Wonder Woman can take care of herself. He tells Steve to take some time off, which he does to go to England to meet up with a buddy who will parachute him into Germany to meet with an agent who will help him get into where they have Wonder Woman. The General, of course, was right, Wonder Woman gets out without anyone's help. Steve, however, finds himself with a double agent and gets caught, so Wonder Woman, who is now back in the States, must fly back to Germany to save his ass. And when he compliments her on how good a job she does he always has to mention how hot she is when she does it. You just get the feeling that Batman and Superman don't have to put up with this.

My daughter was amazed to find out that the lasso did so much. And that Wonder Woman could run so fast or that she was so strong and could leap so high. There's a scene in one of the episodes where she alters her voice, which I'm not sure if she can actually do or not, but I'm going with it, and she thought that was the coolest thing in the world. My daughter now thinks Wonder Woman is cool. And that to me is the coolest thing in the world. I can't wait to see the other episodes or tell her all the other things Wonder Woman can do and see how amazed she'll be. Wonder Woman has always been my hero and now I hope she'll be my daughter's as well.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Marvel vs. DC And What No Mother Wants To Hear Come Out of Her Daughter's Mouth

The other day, my daughter said to me the words I never expected to hear from her: Mommy I like DC better.  I was horror stricken. I had raised her to be a Marvel girl. At a very young age I introduced her to Spiderman, the X-Men, and the Avengers.  When she was barely five-years-old she slept in her Spiderman pjs with her spiderman blanket on top of her comforter hugging a spiderman book.  Back then she had a habit of sleeping with books. Now that she's older she is able to put them on the nightstand before she goes to sleep.  Now she sleeps with Spiderman and Captain America.  No, my daughter doesn't have a teddy bear or other stuffed animals, with the exception of a blue bunny.  She prefers to sleep with her superheroes.

And until recently those superheroes have all been from the Marvel Universe, with the exception of Batman, with whom she had a passing interest in.  Now she tells me she prefers the DC Universe and it is breaking my heart. What is the worst about this is that she hates Wonder Woman. How can you hate Wonder Woman who is so totally awesome? Yes, I dip my toe in the DC world myself. I grew up watching shows like Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Shazam, Batman with Adam West, the Justice League cartoon (Wonder Twins activate--NOT) and the cartoon Spiderman and His Amazing Friends which featured Firestar who has nearly disappeared off the face of the earth and Iceman.  Shazam was pretty lame when I look back on it, so I hope when they do the movie they vastly improve on it.  I also had Wonder Woman underoos like so many other girls my age.  I keep trying to instill into my daughter that Wonder Woman is just as tough, if not tougher than the guys she likes so much from the DC world.  I believe there's a comic where Wonder Woman has her brain taken over by an alien and it takes everyone in the Justice League to take her down because she's so tough.  I tell her this and she still doesn't see it.  She locks onto Batman, Superman (who is the most boring of them all), Green Lantern, Hawkman, Flash, and even Robin who is merely a sidekick who is really rather pathetic.

But Marvel is so much better. How can you beat the X-Men? I mean there's Wolverine for crying out loud! And the whole Dark Phoenix story line with Jean Grey.  I mean the Phoenix is one of the most powerful comic characters ever. And Rogue who has one hell of a storyline where she can absorb other's powers and one day she absorbs too much of Marvel Girl's powers and is able to fly and have extra strength on a permanent basis. And who doesn't love the thief Gambit?  Or Storm who can freakin control the weather.  Or Nightcrawler who can transport from one place to another and has a gentle soul filled with faith.  Or the mercurial Emma Frost the only one who can stand up to Professor X in the mind reading realm.  And Magneto, the tortured soul who is mostly against the X-Men, but sometimes fights right along side them since they're goals occasionally are the same, though their ultimate goal is slightly different.  Or the complex Angel who becomes Avenging Angel who only wanted to be human.  Then there's Pietro and Wanda, Magneto's children, who never seem to measure up to his standards no matter how powerful they become. And let's not forget Charles's half-brother Juggernaught who is nearly unstoppable when he is wearing his helmet. Or the mystical Dr. Strange who sometimes switches sides as befits his whim.  I'd really like to forget Apocalypse who is one of the strongest villains of them all and just annoys me, but he is popular. Or Pyro with the power of fire and Bullseye who has unerring aim.  Or the mercurial Mystic whose side you never where she'll land.

Then, of course there's Spiderman's world with Venom and Green Goblin, and Electro and The Fantastic Four who seem to get no respect due to the movies which did not do so well.  They have Dr. Doom (who oddly enough gets defeated by Squirrel Girl) whom circles around all the Universes and recently crushed all the Marvel Universes together so that there are no more alternate universes. So we have a female Wolverine, a female Spiderman (Gwen Stacy), a female Iron Man, and let's not forget the formidable Jessica Jones, Nick Cage, and Daredevil who is finally getting the attention he deserves.

Yes, the DC Universe has such baddies as the insane Joker and the psychotic  Harley Quinn, the mesmerizing Mad Hatter, dangerous Poison Ivey, the tough Bane, the only character to sometimes play both sides the delicious Catwoman, the adorable Penguin, the never-say-die Lex, the never ending Riddler, the deadly Scarecrow, and of course Two-Face.  But in the Marvel world few of the baddies stay on one side of the fence like they do in the DC Universe.  They are much more complex than that. They have more dimensions to them.

For now, though, my daughter still sleeps with Spidey and Captain America and she recently discovered a cartoon called Little Superheroes which has mainly Avengers (Thor, Hulk, Wolverine, Iron Man, Falcon, and Silver Surfer)  fighting the good fight, though without the help of any regular women heroes, I am sad to report. Of course, their boss is Marvel Girl so that is something and there are guest appearances by other Marvel characters which include some women such as Storm.  At least she is watching a Marvel show. And we've started watching the old Incredible Hulk show from my childhood.  So, she may say she prefers DC over Marvel, but she has yet to turn her back on Marvel yet. Of course there's room for her to love both, but I will win her over to loving Marvel best, Stan Lee, I promise.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Why You Should Vote In This Election Even If You Don't Want to Cast A Vote For President

If you seriously feel you cannot decide who to vote for president in this election (and you really should choose one), then DO still go to the polls to vote. There are more elections going on than the presidential one. Your state may have a governor's race going on. Or a Senate or House race on the state or federal level. But more importantly, you will have local county commissioners and city councilmen or what your area's name for them are. These local people determine how the money will be spent on schools and libraries and many other local issues that directly affect you.  Your state officials will determine how much state money goes to your local municipalities and they handle such state issues as roads, health care to some degree, educational dollars, and pretty much anything you can think of.  Your federal representatives will help form bills that will become laws across this nation that can change all our lives.  Of course, it takes a long time to get anything changed in Washington. That's why it's important to vote for your local representatives who can effect immediate change to your lives.

And don't think that your vote does not count, because it does. In the past several presidential elections the vote was separated by only hundreds of thousands of votes.  That's less than the population of New York City. It's about the size of a mid-size city like Atlanta, Charlotte, Reno, Tuscon, or Green Bay.  That's a small amount compared to the vast number of people in the U.S.  So go and vote. Your country desperately needs you right now and this is how you can help it.  If you really want a better America or just want to see something have a possibility of getting done, then vote.  It's the right thing to do. It's the American thing to do.

And for those curious Hilary Rodham Clinton is not the first woman to run for president. She is merely the first one to be placed on a ballot.  The first woman to run for president was Victoria Woodhull a woman who arose from poverty to become, with her sister, the only woman to trade stocks on Wall Street under her company's name Woodhull, Claflin and Co.  She had been an advocate for women's rights, including the right to vote, but in 1870 she did the unthinkable and announced her candidacy for president. She was derided not just by men, but also by women in the suffrage movement like Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Beecher Stowe who believed in getting the vote but not in "being men".  During her two-year campaign to get on the ballot, she became the first woman to be allowed to address Congress and she argued that women had already been given the right to vote by the Constitution.  She formed the Equal Rights Party made up of a disparate group of people who were looking for something new and fair.  At the end of a speech at the delegation, she said "Let us have justice, though the heavens fall" to a roaring crowd.  She, of course, did not win the election of 1872. Ulysses S. Grant did.  Woodhull spent election day in jail.  She once told reporters that "To be perfectly frank I hardly expected to be elected. The truth is I am too many years ahead of this age...and the enlightened mind of the average man...If my political campaign for the Presidency is not successful  it will be educational."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The First Presidential Birther Movement: Did We Have a President Born In Another Country?

On September 20, 1881, President James Garfield dies from the infection brought about by the bullet wound he received by Charles Guiteau (Garfield could possibly have been saved, but that's a whole nother story). The nation knows very little about the new 21st President that has just been sworn in, Chester A. Arthur, except that he was born in 1830, Fairfield, Vermont. But was he?

New York attorney Arthur P. Henmen is furious and like Donald Trump makes claims that the President was born out of the country, in this case, Canada not Kenya.  He has sworn testimony that Arthur's parents were in Canada in 1829 with a newborn.  Arthur's two other brothers were much younger than him.  However, neither Vermont nor Canada kept written birth records at the time.  Arthur tells the nation that this is nonsense and that he was a natural born citizen and Henmen is forced to back down since he has no hard evidence and the public backs their president.

Fast forward to 1975. A historian is researching a biography on Chester A. Arthur at the Library of Congress when he comes across the Arthur family bible, which back in the day is how most births and deaths were recorded rather than an official system at the courthouse.  Next to Arthur's name is the birth year of 1829. So Arthur lied about his birth year. At the time his father was a preacher and teacher, so his parents were going back and forth between Canada and Vermont and the bible does not list where he was born. So he could very well have been born in Canada just as Henmen supposed all those years ago with this eyewitness testimony that places Arthur's parents there with a newborn.  His father was listed as teaching in Stanbridge East at the local school that was known as the "white house". Also, his mother's family was living there and would have been there to help out with the children.  Arthur burned all his papers right before he died and lied about his birth year until the day he died and if there was nothing to hide, then why lie about it? Now I sound like Trump!  Nonetheless, both Bedford, Quebec, Canada and Fairfield, Vermont claim Chester A. Arthur as a native son and America may just have had a Canadian president.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Female Crusader Who Set Out To Corner The President With His Pants Down Literally

By the time the 1820s rolled around, the families of War vets were pretty much getting screwed by the government when their spouse, who had fought in the war died and his pension was taken away. That meant they were left with nothing to support them and back then women were not allowed to work. Her only options might be to take in washings and sewing (which paid very little), rent out rooms in her home (if it was big enough, which it likely wasn't), or become a prostitute or a beggar on the street unless she had family that could afford to take her and her children in.  They needed that pension money to survive.

Anne Royall began a crusade to have the government continue to pay the pension money to the widows of war vets until their deaths. It was a cause near and dear to her heart as she was one.  She wrote dozens of letters to President John Quincy Adams but received no reply. She tried to get in to see him at the White House, but his aide wouldn't let her in (back then it was possible to get in to see the President, even if you were just a regular person).

But Anne wasn't about to give up that easily. She read up on Adams and discovered that he enjoyed a daily swim, naked, in the Potomac every morning.  So she hatched a plan to go see him there and corner him while he was in the water.  When she showed up he yelled from the water to go away he wanted nothing to do with her.  That wasn't going to stop her, as you might have realized by now.  She went to the rock where his clothes were and sat on them. When he saw this, he capitulated and she went to the water with his clothes and he listened to what she had to say and agreed to do what he could to get Congress to pass a law to let war widows continue to get the pensions.  With Adams' backing, the bill does indeed become a law and many war widows are saved from a bleak fate. All due to a creative crusader.

Anne was a journalist and author and a thorn in many other people's side for her causes. For more information on her or to read her writings go here: https://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/0001/royall.html