BOOK REVIEW: Danubia

Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe
Simon Winder
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Copyright 2013 by the author

Like his earlier Germania, this is not your typical political or military history of a nation. Nor is it a religious or cultural history – even though Winder does discuss those subjects. It’s not even a “People’s History” of the sort that Howard Zinn might have written. Instead, it’s what you might get if a good friend of yours spent months traveling across a large part of Europe, visiting a bunch of odd and out-of-the way sites of historical interest, then decided to weave all the stories of his visits into one fun and interesting narrative.

Winder lets you know almost from the start that the tale is going to be gloomier than the one in Germania, his history of Germany. Here, with the Habsburg Empire (to be later known as the Austrian Empire and then the Austro-Hunugarian Empire), the story is one of a long, slow decline with very few moments of glory. The inbreeding of the royal line had a good deal to do with that; the most noticeable result was the infamous “Habsburg Chin” defect. His ever-present wit and occasional light snark cannot fully hide that. You can only adjust a portrait of the Emperor so much before it loses all resemblance….

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More Birdwatching Notes

Way back when I was first starting this blog, one of my posts was an essay about birdwatching from my living room window. I still live in the same place, and although the apartment complex management cut down some of the trees (the ones just outside the window, naturally) and installed some new LED floodlights for the parking area (which are SO BRIGHT I need an eyemask to sleep), there are still plenty of birds to see.

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Life under COVID-19

Things are very strange…. Well, I can’t come up with a proper word to describe it. But I doubt anyone can. We are living in Interesting Times, as the Chinese curse has it. Personally, I’m doing OK. I work for the county government, so I’m an “essential employee” in one aspect, and even though I only go into the office once or twice a week (there’s a lot of mail that still needs to be dealt with), my union is making sure I get paid. The days I’m not in the office, I’m “working from home” for payroll purposes.

I have been unemployed for some long periods before, so I’m used to doing very little. Unlike those times when I could go places and do things but I didn’t have the money, now I have the money, but there’s no place to go. I walk around the neighborhood a lot and visit the nature centers in my area for a hike when the weather cooperates. Have to get exercise somehow.

Keeping a routine is worthwhile. A bit of reading and housework in the morning, goofing off on the computer in the afternoon, a break for more reading and a walk before dinner, then more computer at night. One needs to keep a sound mind in a sound body. I feel a bit disappointed in myself that I’m not really using the time for self-betterment.

Shopping is odd. I live within a few minutes walk of two supermarkets, so there’s no reason to not pop over to one when I need something. I’ve got my mask (a bandana-type one that I hacked out of an old bedsheet), and I’m paying attention to the Six Foot Rule of Social Distancing. The real odd feeling is the internal debate I occasionally have. “Hmm. I know I’m running low on bar soap. Should I get the only package on the shelves – of a brand that I never get because it’s so darned expensive compared to other brands – or wait and hope another shipment comes in before I run out completely?”

I really wish a few other stores would open up, though. A hike through the woods is great, but my hiking boots (well, the right one at any rate) are coming apart. The upper is separating from the sole, so I dare not go out when the ground is muddy or soft. I’ve tried glue, but it doesn’t last. I do know that it’s possible to but things online, but my feet are of an odd size. I have to actually try on a pair of shoes before I buy them (the last time I got new shoes, I had to try on three pairs – all labeled with the same size – before finding a pair that fit).

Free e-books from The Gutenberg Project and Feedbooks are nice. Though I do wish there was an easy way to tell the length of an e-book. It’s annoying to curl up with my reader and settle in for a novel – only to find out it’s really a short story. Maybe I’m just not looking closely enough at the descriptions.

I have a few little panic attacks. “Uh-oh! I’m feeling hot and sweaty all of a sudden! Am I coming down with it?” Then I remember that I just had some hot soup….so….. Yeah, I’m going to be sweating a little. Let’s hope that’s all it is.

I wonder how much I’m racking up in overdue fines from library books that were supposed to have been returned six weeks ago.

Movie Review: The Gamera Trilogy

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996)

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

 

After a “golden age” in the 1950s where they produced classics like Rashomon (1950) and Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Japan’s Daiei Studios began to decline; mostly due to financial mismanagement. They were forced to declare bankruptcy in 1971 – but managed to get revived in 1974. They had a modest number of releases, to decent success.

I’m guessing they were jealous of rival Toho Studios continued success, especially with their Godzilla films. Hmm… didn’t Daiei still own their own giant monster – Gamera? What if they blew the dust off the old Big Turtle (which by then had become a staple of Saturday afternoon “Chiller Theater” TV programming), and gave him new life with the latest in moviemaking technology?

The three movies really do comprise a trilogy. Though each one is self-contained and you can watch them in any order, they exist in the same universe and the second and third movies each contain references to the ones that came before (explicitly in the third). This is not like the Godzilla movies, where Japan – even though they may have a special anti-Kaiju military agency, seems to have completely forgotten even the existence of the monsters from the previous movie. Actors even play the same characters from one movie to the next; most notably Yukijirô Hotaru, who plays a nervous police official in Guardian, a security guard in Legion, and a homeless bum in Iris. Clearly, the stress of his encounters with Gamera and the other monsters got to him. Continue reading

Analyzing my Writing

My usual subjects are in short supply these days. The libraries are closed, so I can’t get any new books. Baseball is shut down, so there’s nothing there to talk about. Politics is too depressing.

What’s this blogger to do?

A while back I started wondering about my style of writing. Am I too wordy, too complex, or too simple? I found that there are a bunch of “text analyzer tools” out there online, so I figured I’d run a few posts through one of those and see what came out.

Yes, I’m bored.

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Eurovision 2020

Among the many events that have become “casualties” of the coronavirus is this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. With the pandemic raging across Europe, it was decided that it just wouldn’t be safe to have an event bringing thousands of people into Rotterdam for an international “battle of the bands”. When the announcement of the cancellation was made, there was no small amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth from fans, expressing dismay that their favorite artists and songs would be forgotten.

As it happens, all the participants and their songs had been announced prior to the cancellation. So one could easily support their favorites by purchasing their music – even the official CD compilation. Also, Eurovision officials have stated that while this year’s songs will NOT be eligible next year, there’s nothing to prevent any of this year’s performers from being chosen to represent their countries next year in Rotterdam (the host city this year, and the presumptive host next year).

As far as the Grand Final show is concerned, organizers are working on a special concert in lieu of the finals.

And if you miss the voting and drama (such as it is), the people behind the “My Eurovision Scoreboard” app have set up a polling among their users to pick a winner. It’s being done along the same lines as the real competition, with two semi-finals and a Grand Final. They’ve already done their voting for the First Semi-Final:

I can’t tell if that’s some careful editing or if they actually did manage to get two real Eurovision hosts to announce their winners. If it’s the latter, you have to give some real applause to them.

I wonder who they will announce as their winner…..

Book Review: Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie:
The Cold War, the Berlin Wall and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth
Iain MacGregor
Scribner’s
Copyright 2019 by the author

It’s not really a history of The Wall, or the geopolitical situation in and around Berlin during the nearly three decades of its existence. There are plenty of books covering that, if you are interested. What MacGregor has collected here (and that’s a good term; it’s not a strict and straightforward textual history) is actually more an oral history of the Berlin Wall, from people who were there at the beginning, for key incidents during its “life”, and the ending.

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Contingency Plans

As I write this, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is doign well in his battle with COVID-19. One wishes him a quick recovery, even if one doesn’t necessarily agree with his politics. It’s just the decent thing to do.

I don’t know if Great Britain has any plans or procedures to deal with the death or incapacity of their head of government, but the United States does. We have written rules to handle presidential succession.

But this is an election year…. And we’ve got a pair of septuagenarians running for the office. What happens if something happens?

I’m going to assume that each party has a plan in place for the situation where their nominee dies prior to the election. They had better. It probably involves the vice-presidential nominee moving up a level. It’s not unprecedented. There have been cases in state and local elections where a candidate died before the election – and the dead candidate even won. It won’t be easy, but if the parties have rules in place, we’ll have to go by their rules. It’s the party’s choice who they nominate, after all.

It gets weirder if it happens between Election Day and the inauguration. Given the rules for presidential succession, we’d probably just inaugurate the vice president.

The trickiest situation is if the president-elect dies after Election Day, but before the Electoral College votes to confirm the results of the election. Jeff Greenfield explored that situation in his novel The People’s Choice (1995). Are the electors required to endorse the vice-president, even if he (or she) is clearly incompetent? The matter is not entirely fiction. In December 1960, Richard Paul Pavlick planned to kill president-elect John Kennedy, but he got cold feet at the very last minute. The attempt happened one week before the Electoral College met…..

I think we had all better wish good health for all the candidates.

At least until the inauguration.

MOVIE REVIEW: Master of the World (1961)

Jules Verne is widely regarded, and with very good reason, as one of the fathers of science fiction. He built upon the technology of the time, and turned it into some pretty good adventure tales.

Alas, very little of his work could actually be called science fiction. It fits better in the genre of “pulp adventure”, and is mostly forgettable. Seriously, how many of his over fifty Voyages extraordinaires can you remember, or even name? Well, there’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which you undoubtedly know from the movie. Around the World in Eighty Days was also made into a movie that’s much better than the original novel. You may have heard of From the Earth to the Moon because of its use of a giant cannon to launch the spaceship…. But The Vanished Diamond or Facing the Flag? Nope.

Working for American International, Director William Witney took two of those forgettable novels – Robur the Conqueror and its sequel Master of the World – into one, well……

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Things To Do While Self-Isolating

The whole country is pretty much in a lockdown mode (and those areas that aren’t are going to be rather soon). People are being told to stay home, and keep away from other people as much as possible in order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

This is most likely a new thing for many people, but it need not be a prison sentence. There are plenty of things that you can do to keep your self occupied.

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