Thursday, July 28, 2011

For those of you still seeking your Masters in European History -

July 28, 1914 -
It was a sweltering July in most of Europe and the world as most people knew it was about to end. That was the day on which, still reeling from the recent assassination of their Archduck Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

Because Russia was a Slavic nation, like Serbia, Czar Nicholas II sent a few troops toward Vienna the very next day, hoping either that Austria-Hungary would become nervous and back off or that the Russian troops would loot someone else for a change.

But it was hot, people were angry, and Austria wasn't in any mood to back off. If anything, they were feeling a little pissy: a day later, they sent some troops of their own toward Russia.

The Russian Czar was unaccustomed to this kind of confrontational behavior. His self-esteem in tatters, he mobilized the entire Imperial Army against Austria and began calling himself Tsar.

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany observed the Russian mobilization with unease. The Slavs of Russia considered the Slavs of Serbia their blood cousins, but the Germans and Austrians were closer still. Like brothers. Like twin brothers. (Fraternal, not identical). The Emperor dashed off a note to his friend (and cousin) the Tsar (formerly the Czar), asking if maybe Russia wouldn't mind calling her troops back within, say, the next twenty-four hours or else. He sent another little note to France, asking if they wouldn't mind promising to keep their noses out of certain other peoples' business, if certain other people should happen to go to war within the next, say, eighteen hours.

Neither Russia nor France offered any reply to the Emperor's little notes (possibly because he wrote it in German - not his first language - now if he wrote it in French, that might have been different - they all spoke French at home), and his feelings were understandably hurt. He mobilized his own army, declared war against Russia on August 1, against France on August 3, and started calling himself Kaiser.

To reach France, the Germans had to cross through Belgium. Belgium expressed its sincere desire not to be crossed. This was unreasonable and forced the Germans to start killing Belgians on the night of August 3.

Britain, meanwhile, didn't care about Serbia. Britain didn't care about Russia. And Britain certainly didn't care who attacked France — it had been their own national sport for centuries. But they had foolishly pledged their support to unreasonable little Belgium, and had no choice but to declare war on Germany on August 4. This was extremely vexing to the British monarchy, as they themselves were mostly German and Kaiser Willie was King Georgie cousin (and remember, as well as the Czar, Tzar/ Tsar.)

On the same day, the United States declared its reluctance to become involved in the European conflict until it had a better idea who'd win.

Austria, meanwhile, had been touched by the fervor with which Germany had come to her defense—and by the rapidity with which Russian troops were advancing toward both of them. Emperor Franz Josef (somehow not related to any of the other people involved in this war) declared war against Russia on August 5.

Serbia, already being pounded by Austria, declared war against Germany on August 6. Montenegro considered this bold and dashing, and wanted a piece of the action: she declared war against Austria on August 7, and, ebullient at finding herself intact a whole five days later, went so far as to declare war against Germany on Aug 12.

Already at war with Germany, an irritated France declared war against Austria on August 10. Caught up in the excitement, Britain declared war against Austria on August 12. By now it seemed like everyone was getting involved. There was a mad rush to war. Japan declared war against Germany on August 23.

Japan's hostilities toward Germany offended Austria, who declared war against Japan on August 25. Fastidiously egalitarian in their foreign policy, they declared war against Belgium three days later. Things were now spinning wildly out of control. On August 29, France declared war against Mongolia, Ireland declared war against Lichtenstein, and dogs declared war against cats.

World War One was underway. In just four years, it would claim 8.5 million lives and leave 21.2 million wounded, and lay the groundwork for an eventual rematch.

Sometimes family feuds just get out of hand.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Desert Island Disc List

There is nothing profound or deep in my Desert Island Disc choices - they're just songs that I like (in no particular order)

If You Are But A Dream - Frank Sinatra

I love listening to Sinatra. This is Saturday afternoon, starting to cook a wonderful meal. Pulling a chilled martini glass out of the freezer. Even late Frank, when his voice is total gone and the material is crappy. But this isn't late Sinatra - this is early Sinatra , before the Rat Pack, before Ava - smack dab in the middle of the Bobby soxer years.

Boys & Girls - Brian Ferry

Any sort of style or sophistication I have in life owes a small part to my listening to Brian Ferry. I could have also chosen In Every Home There is A Heartache or Slave to Love - they all evoke a very sultry, louche like mood (for me.)

Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen is the soundtrack you play in your head when you're driving somewhere during the summer. This is the song you hear if your driving to the beach at night, with all the windows wide open.

Pavane for a Dead Princess - Maurice Ravel

I remember hearing the Deodato version of this as a kid and I was hooked. I know it's middlebrow classical music but I'm always deeply moved when I hear it.

Paint it Black - The Rolling Stones

This song gets you moving. Every time I hear it, I either see my friends bobbing around dancing to it or my daughter, when she was much younger, leaping up from her bath and playing air guitar, full throttle, to the song.

Take Me to the River - Al Green

I really like the Talking Heads version but hey, if you're stuck on an island you need a little salvation and who better to bring it to you but none other than the good reverend.

I Can't Get Started With You - Billie Holiday

How do you pick just one Billie Holliday song? How do you pick you favorite heartache? I used to play this before any dinner party, my wife and I hosted.

Haitian Divorce - Steely Dan

We always have to play some Steely Dan in the car for long road trips. I hate long road trips and it's the bait to lure me into the car.

The book I'd take with me would be La Recherche Du Temps Perdu ( I read it when I was in my 20's and I'm sure it would be a completely different book, reading it again now) and the luxury item would be a Freezer full of Bombay Sapphire (I won't need the vermouth.)

That eight songs (and that's all you're allowed.) I didn't get a chance to pick any Elvis Costello, any Squeeze, any Annie Lennox, any Radiohead, any Pearl Jam etc.

I think I'll have to get marooned again to have another go at it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July and God Bless America

If only for one day a year, it's important to remember that the British weren't always the friendly sort of people who gave us the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Monty Python. They're also responsible for warm beer, vinegar-flavored potato chips, and irritating Anglophiliacs on our own shores pronouncing schedule as shed-yule and issue as iss-yew. On July 4 of every year, therefore, we celebrate our forefathers having told them to screw.

We not only celebrate the purging of the British blight from our land: we celebrate the manner in which it was done, which was at once brilliant, daring, and easily adapted to the screen. The events that led to our independence are all the more worthy of remembrance, even inaccurately, at this crucial juncture in our history, and I therefore offer the following summary of American independence for the edification of both of my readers:

In 1774, representatives from each of the thirteen colonies convened in Philadelphia to complain. This was The First Continental Congress. Upon registering their various complaints, they returned home.

One of the colonists' primary complaints was that British cabbies working in the colonies refused to unionize. This was called "Taxis without Representation," and became the issue that ultimately pushed the simmering discontent of the colonies into outright hostility. Sensing the volatility of the situation, British troops advanced toward Concord in April of 1775, forcing Paul Revere to ride his horse (and not to ring bells and warn the British not to take our guns but we won't bring up Mrs. Palin on this holiday.)

The first shot that rang out at the battle of Concord was so loud that its sound reverberated all the way around the world. As a result, the British heard it behind them instead of in front of them. This caused the fog of war. Neither the British nor the Colonists were prepared for fog, so the War was postponed.

In May, representatives once again convened in Philadelphia to complain about the taxis, the fog, and other grievances. This was the Second Continental Congress. Unlike the previous Congress, however, this one tried to work out a deal with Britain's King George. This was difficult, as King George was insane and regularly confused the colonies for colostomies, causing considerable embarrassment to everyone involved but accruing great profit to Britain's flourishing proctology trade.

In June the Colonists developed a Continental Army and a Continental Currency, operating on the assumption that an insane king would be easier to deal with if they had a lot of money and guns. This assumption proved partly correct, as the Brits appeared to ease hostilities for nearly a year. It also proved partly wrong when, in May 1776, the Americans discovered that the King had been hiring German mercenaries to come kill them.

In June of 1776 the Colonists finally decided that instead of working something out with the British it would be easier and more satisfactory to shoot them.

On June 7, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read a resolution to the Continental Congress. The essence of his resolution was that King George and Great Britain could kiss his hairy American ass. The Congress appreciated Lee's sentiments, and subsequently formed a committee to write a note to King George in which it would be made plain why it had become necessary to start shooting the British.

The committee was chaired by Thomas Jefferson. Its four other members were John Adams and Benjamin Franklin (each of whom was counted twice for the sake of Stature).

The Declaration of Independence wasn't a very long document, but little Tommy Jefferson was trying so hard to impress all the older guys that he overwrote it, using an archaic style of English that is best understood in translation. Here is a translation of the Declaration in its entirety:

"It's a good idea to let people know why you're having a revolution. We think it's pretty obvious that any government that screws its people over is cruising for a bruising. We're not saying anyone with a hair up their butt ought to have their own revolution, but we've put up with an awful lot of crap from King George. He won't let us do anything on our own, and whenever we try, he sends people to kill us. We've asked him over and over to back off. We've told him over and over that we'd only put up with so much. But did he listen? No. So to hell with him and to hell with Britain and all their phony goddam accents. We'll kick their ass or die trying."

These were what political scientists refer to as "fightin' words."

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration was presented to the Congress. Nine of the thirteen colonies voted to adopt it. Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against it (we know where you live). Delaware couldn't make up its mind, and New York abstained. Copies of the Declaration were distributed the next day (photocopiers were much slower back then). On July 8 it was read aloud in Philadelphia's Independence Square.

The document wasn't fully signed until August, but as soon as it was, Americans began shooting the British in earnest. By February of 1783 they had shot enough of them that Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Russia officially acknowledged the United States of America as an independent nation.

In honor of our Independence, we celebrate the anniversary of its declaration by blowing things up, roasting dead animals over hot coals or gaseous flames, and drinking cold, sudsy beverages that inhibit our ability to think. Such festivities may not honor the philosophical nuances of our revolution, but they do keep the rest of the world at a comfortable distance.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Yeah, we're not celebrating Roots and Branches Month

The Ruby is the gem for July.

The water lily is the flower for the month of July.

Here are some of the causes recognized in July

American Beer Month.

Anti-Boredom Month ( Once again I've been beaten out by Al Roker as the spokesperson. I believe an Eastern syndicate always lobbies heavily for Al. What can I do?)

Boredom is an important sign of depression.

July is National Baked Beans Month.

You all know - Beans, beans, the magically fruit...

(The Pros and Cons of) Hitchhiking Month

Remember, if you're on a dark and lonely road during a thunderstorm, pick up that hitchhiker.

July is National Hot Dog Month - National Hot Dog Day is July 23.

Remember don't look too closely into the bit end of your hot dog

National Ice Cream Month

Remember to SCREAM about it

Lead Poison Control Week

So lick those walls kids

Peach Month (There seems to be some confusion on whether National Peach Month is in July or August.

So Dammit, dare to eat the peach!!!)

Read An Almanac Month

Which is apparently what I do all the time.