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July 2017

Love this series of krimis set in the Athens of Pericles. Nico and Diotima set sail for Delos for she has been chosen to represent her temple at a ceremony on Delos. Indeed it seems the goddess Artemis has chosen her, for her name was picked twice out of an urn. Twice?

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The first time her name emerged on a pottery shard from an urn it was rejected and replaced. Why? Because it is not suitable for her to go, being so heavily pregnant. Huh? It is forbidden by Zeus for anyone to die or to be born on the sacred island of Delos. Why did Zeus lay down this law? Because the island was the birth place of Apollo and Artemis, the golden twins, and there shall be no further births there, and a death would desecrate the place.

But when her name came our once again, after a great deal of urn shaking, the priestesses recognised the divine will and off she went, taking husband Nico in tow. All in all a two week jaunt to the Greek islands in high summer seemed like a good idea to escape the heat, humidity, dust, and pressures of Athens, and while Diotima is pregnant there is plenty of time because the ceremony on Delos is but one day and then they can move on to Mykonos for a vacation, and perhaps even the birth of the next generation. What can go wrong?

Ah huh.

While they sail in a gold encrusted ship with a polyglot crew devoted to such ceremonial voyages it is, strangely, accompanied by a fleet of fifty, count ‘em, Athenian navy triremes in war paint, i.e., black.

Delos map.gif Delos is marked by the red star.

Just before sailing the hapless Nico was summoned to the great man’s presence and given the word. The great man is Pericles who has made Nico his catspaw for discreet work here and there, often involving the detection of whodunit. Nico can hardly say ‘No!’ to the first man of Athens, as much as he would like to do so, especially this time.

Pericles tells Nico that he -- Pericles -- will be coming along in those warships, because even then Athens was outspending its Euros and needed some more readies. Readers of ancient history know this sad story, and in Thucydides’s ‘History of the Peloponnesian War’ it stands as an early sign of Athenian corruption. The Athenians have come to steal the treasury of the Delian League (147 members) kept on the sacred island, held in trust by the highest of high priests and priestesses of Apollo and Artemis. The Athenians come armed and ready to take it, if it is not given by the religious guardians. Though what a few hundred clerics and another few hundreds shepherds could do in the face of an onslaught of Athenian marines is not much.

But will the marines risk their immortal souls at the order of Pericles to seize the treasure? He would rather not find out, and so — as always — he tried to talk the highest of the high priests out of the treasure. Pericles is at his glib best and has a smooth and convincing reply to every protest, he thinks. While the formally designated highest most high priest wavers in the face of Pericles’s sophistry, one old curmudgeon does not. Gero is his name and he knows right from wrong whatever Squid Head says, as the irreverent called Pericles for the elongated shape of his head. (Being sensitive to this indication of his alien origin, Pericles almost always wore some kind of hat.)

A standoff ensues. It is for such occasions that Pericles has a confidential agent at hand, one Nico. Gulp! Diotima is firmly on the side of the gods on this one, and she and Nico have words, while he fusses around her with fans and water to keep her and her passenger comfortable.

1024px-Terrace_of_the_Lions_03.jpg There were once twelve of these lions protecting the temple.

These are charming stories, this being the seventh, in a series that remains fresh and vivid. Corby continues to mine the historical record for frying pans and fires into to which to sauté Nico and Diotima so that readers can watch them squirm, and squirm they do. While Pericles appoints Nico to suborn Gero, the Highest Priest appoints Diotima to see that no suborning occurs! Well, not quite but close enough.

The plot gets thicker when Gero is found dead with a sacrificial knife in his heart! Whodunit, indeed? A thorough investigation of the treasures and treasuries on Delos reveals….. [Think Enron, think Lehman Bros, think…]

Hardened readers of police procedurals know what is coming next, and it does.

GaryColorSquare.jpg Gary Corby

I ordered this for the Kindle before it was published and awaited its appearance, then one night after finishing a heavy-duty krimi it appeared in my Kindle Library as if by magic. It was a magic powered by American Express and Amazon in combination. I was delighted and devoured the first chapter that night, despite the alarm set for 6 a.m. the next morning to welcome the builders come to rip out the kitchen and rebuild a Star Trek galley complete with replicator. Power tools at 7 a.m. get the day off to a good start.

All is revealed about the Delian League on Wikipedia. When Pericles came calling in 451 BC the heavy handed Athenian treatment of the League had made it into the Athenian Empire. Previously independent member states like Naxos and Thasos had been coerced, and the tax levy was set to fund the building program on the Acropolis, not to intimidate the Persians. That Pericles might prefer an empire to a committee meeting of 147 members does make a lot of sense.

A very cold Cold War film noir set in the Berlin of 1953, just after the Korean War. Everyone is on edge. The military presence — USA, Great Britain, Soviet Union, and France — in Berlin is considerable. Is there going to be a European encore for the Korean War there in Berlin?

NP poster.jpg

Gregory Peck is in US counter-intelligence, trying to extract a Soviet defector when he is lumbered with the kidnapping of an American soldier, a private, with a very influential and noisy father, played to a T by Broderick Crawford. It is taken as obvious that the Soviets have nabbed the son, but why?

Crawford flies to Berlin to show the paper-pushing bureaucrats how to get results in the real world! This he tells to newsmen whose circumspect replies tip off viewers to what will follow.

In this Berlin human beings are trafficked in all kinds of ways and this incident is another example of that. Nothing happens by chance. Everything connects, somehow, but how?

Crawford discovers a world where insistent bluster and big bucks do not matter one whit. No one wants his money and his bellows fall on deaf ears. Peck gives him a marvelous dressing down but Peter van Eyck does even better in an earlier and lower key scene in breaking the news that his big money and many friends mean nothing in this time and place.

Before he became Jed Clampett, Buddy Ebsen is a perfect chorus to Peck who is effortlessly glamorous and briskly decisive, while Ebsen is an ‘ah shucks a good ole boy,’ but one who knows how to get things done even in this dark and menacing place.

Pecl, Crawford, Ebsem.jpg

Much of the screen play is cryptic by today’s standards. It takes awhile to realise that the extraction is afoot, and the importance of that briefcase Peck constantly carries around slowly dawns. He carries it around, I inferred, because in it he has the most top secret confidential documents that he does not trust, even to a safe at HQ. It is always in his hand or always in his sight. Almost.

Since he is there, Peck insists that Crawford witness the proceedings. He does and it is an eye-opener for him, and a growth experience, though Crawford’s change of heart is a little too quick but the clock ticks relentlessly in this film, and if the final result is just a little too easy, it does wrap everything up with a mighty twist.

There is a lot of talk and virtually no action. In Hollywood terms that makes it cerebral and it would probably not be made today in this way. Most of it occurs in offices or rooms, with one scene in a bar and another at the loading dock of a hospital. One punch is thrown when Peck strikes a woman!

Nunnally Johnson (1897-1977) wrote the screenplay and it is a corker for its overall plot, its humanity, and dialogue.

Nunnally Johnson.jpg If only.....

Among his many other credits are ‘Grapes of Wrath’ (1939), ‘Tobacco Road’ (1941), ’The Moon is Down’ (1943), ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ (1953), and ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’ (1956). The themes in these films include that depression, corruption, oppression, anti-semitism, and racism, and then there is the delightful comedy of ‘How to Marry a Millionaire.’

The military parade at the beginning does drag on but to original audiences in 1954 it would have been reassuring, and it segues nicely into the plot. Original audiences would also have seen that both Peck and Ebsen wear uniforms with shoulder patches indicating combat service in World War II and both uniforms sport impressive ribbons betokening Silver and Bronze Stars. They have been in the shooting war.

I watched it on a DVD acquired from Amazon.

Performances until 5 August. Recommended.

A one act play of 90 minutes, this is a family drama. Three years ago Henry died in the garden and his widow-wife, Sue, soldiers on with her three adult children, Erin, Naomi, and Daniel. Sandy Gore as Sue carries the burden, and does so marvellously. The others are fine, but she is the centre around which they turn, albeit reluctantly.

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Much is told in flashbacks to fill in the gaps.

Erin, Naomi, and Daniel have lives of their own and are too busy for more than brief and ritual visits to Sue, hastening in and out. Erin is the leader of the pack on some measures. She is married with two children, and a budding career as a literary agent. (Some knowing in jokes there from the playwright.) She has the least time for anyone else, the mobile phone constantly ringing, the off stage children demanding, the husband to be placated. Naomi, the youngest, is a drifting dreamer with pot smoking interfering with her work at the call center. Boy, does that explain a lot. While she is not pressed for time, well pot smoking keeps her busy. Daniel is on an upward trajectory at school, now department head. Poor sod. Daniel under constant pressure to mark papers, attend meetings, complete budget spreadsheets. He is in a relationship with Kim or is it Tim, I could not tell. Whatever the name, it is a man. They whirl individually in and out of Sue’s house.

She has found that she cannot communicate with them. Talk, yes, but communicate, no. It is partly their preoccupations that block the signal, but Sue also has trouble putting her thoughts and feelings into words. She is not quite sure what she wants to say, and that uncertainty together with their noise discourages her.

By chance she starts talking to a plant, as in the title, 'The Plant,' as a lonely person might talk to a pet, a dog. She finds that helps. As Georg Hegel would say, she objectifies her thoughts by speaking them into the world, and that is relaxing. It also helps her come to terms with the situation. Then she takes in a border, Clare, who takes the place of The Plant. See it to believe it.

This intruder rings alarm bells with the children who find enough time to chasten Sue, to warn her, to threaten the border, to spy on Sue.

By the end all three children are back at home. Erin was so successful that did not notice her husband’s departure until it was too late. Naomi has lost yet another job and spent all her dosh on dope when the rent is due. Tim/Kim splits from Daniel who is lost.

The play is the thing, and now that I know the name Kit Brookman, I want to see more. Though he looks like a child in the publicity photographs, the script has insights to go with the wit and zest.

Kit B.jpg

The players live up to the words, and we loved Clare’s shoes.

Plant stage.jpg

The staging is minimal. A few cardboard boxes and one chair. When there is something to be said, few props are needed. Though there is Clare's gear.

We drove to Kirribilli over the Bridge and parked on the street to see the play, and then had lunch there on a fine winter’s day, bright, clear, and 18C with views of the Harbour while we talked about what we had just seen.

Inspector Cetin Ikmen and his team are back at it once more in the bazaar of Istanbul, awash with Syrian refugees and militant Islamic zealots under the watchful eyes of the security services.

A perfectly unremarkable and pleasant young man staggers to his death on the steps of a church, the victims of a heart attack. Case closed. Wait! Not quite, the routine autopsy accorded such an unexpected death produces a disturbing result.

On the Bone cover.jpg

The heart attack killed him, yes, but his last meal contained human flesh. Whoa! Some plot twist.

There are tension aplenty already on the streets of Istanbul and so it is decided to keep this fact as quiet as possible, but also to investigate it at full speed. How to do that: Investigate thoroughly but deny that there is anything to investigate. That is an interesting conundrum for Ikmen and his crew. No one dares say the word, 'cannibalism.' Yes I know about 'Silence of the Lambs.'

Where to start? The deadman’s family includes an angry father once already victimised by the regime, who will not cooperate with its minions. Friends who are suspicious of police no matter what they do or say. Then there are the gastronomic worlds that have blossomed along the Bosporous. Beneath all those essences and foams of chemical gastronomy does the oldest taboo lurk? The celebrity chef at the Grand Imperial Hotel certainly acts as if he has something to hide. Are the friends more than bohemian artists? Does the father’s anger shield a darker secret? Who are the quiet men who pick at food each night at the celebrity chef’s restaurant?

The chef reminds me of one egregious member of that species and I rather think the author intended to invoke that persona. Loud, foul, proud, and like all bullies, cowardly at the first pushback. I name no names.

Istanbul -1.jpg Istanbul in full swing.

Back and forth across Istanbul go Ikmen’s minions and the man himself. Getting nowhere, Ikmen, reluctantly recruits, a one-time criminal computer hacker to find wanna be cannibals on the dark web, fearing that he is giving matches to an arsonist.

Did the dead man knowingly and willingly eat human flesh? If so when, where, and how? If not knowingly or not willingly, what happened? In either case his dead body is itself a crime scene, and this causes the first difficulty because a good muslim is to be buried before the sun goes down. But in the circumstances no higher authority wants to rule on the technicality of what is a crime scene. Instead low level functionaries are left to their own devices.

Ah, how that reminds some of life in large, complex organisations full of self-styled leaders at the top who stay there, in part, by not leading. Does Max Weber cover this somewhere?

Ikmen’s efforts to get one of his superiors to declare the cadaver a crime scene bring out the worst in everyone. They go through the stages of bureaucratic grief when confronted with a career-threatening problem: first, denial. The pathologist must be wrong. But no, the tests are conclusive. Second, anger. Why bring this to me! It is someone else’s responsibility. Go away! But it is your problem as per the organisational chart. Third, bargaining. Let’s find a middle way. Keep the stomach and contents and release the rest of the body, but say nothing. Fourth, depression. One higher authority takes sick leave to avoid further involvement. Only Ikmen accepts the reality and the responsibility that comes with it, because he has no other choice. After all the human flesh consumed came from a victim, and he has to identify that victim and ascertain what happened.

Minor plots go swirling by. On street corners congregate idle young men who dream of martyrdom for Allah. Syrian refugees who cannot speak Turkish struggle to survive out of trash cans. Churches are bombed. Jewish cemeteries vandalised. Russian tourists are buying up property. Public works projects have stopped in mid-stride with the vicissitudes of the regime.

In distant Ankara members of the government seem more preoccupied with in-fighting than with governing. Another verity.

All the further testing done to discredit the finding of human flesh throws up another clue. The flesh has the genetic markers of a very rare disease that almost exclusively afflicts Jews. If the victim was Jewish the narrows the field of inquiry but strews it with social landmines when Ikmen has to seek out Jews. Is he insulting Turks by asking if they are Jewish or have Jewish ancestors? Is his a witch hunt for Jews on behalf of the regime? In the volatile world of contemporary Istanbul who wants to admit to being Jewish if it is an option not to do so.

barbara_nadel.jpg Barbara Nadel

While I found reading this novel uncomfortable, the ISIS martyrs in the making, the cannibalism, the clash of the Russian mafia with the local rivals, and all the innocents caught in the several crossfires, there is no doubting the author’s skill in putting it all together. The greater is the admiration when one realises this is the eighteenth Ikmen krimi. What an achievement to keep such a long running series fresh. Chapeaux!

When I entered this title onto the software I use to catalogue books the program fetched the metadata and the author came out as Brian Nadel! Wrong!

The Lázaro men are carpenters and in their workshop there is backroom, usually kept closed, full of broken down pianos - the cemetery of the title. That much I got. It is set in Lisbon.

Piano cemetery cover.jpg

Our narrator, who speaks from beyond the grave, recounts his life story and within that his discovery of his father’s life story. In both his father’s story and his own the piano cemetery figures.

In effect, this is a domestic drama with piano music on the radio in the background. While some pianos are repaired, notably a bar-room grand piano in the early pages there is too little about pianos. What is important is the locked room where his father dallied with women, and where our narrator does, too, or dreams of doing so; I am not sure which. I also got confused about where the narrator was the father or the son. Perhaps that Braque superimposition was intentional, but I found it confusing.

There is nothing specifically Portuguese about the story; it is deracinated. Though a few streets are traversed, they could be anywhere. Nor am I sure of the epoch. There are references to the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm as long ago.

Some of the descriptions of the atmosphere within the workshop are very fine as are the luminous descriptions of the narrator’s young love.

Now if there were a story to hang those onto, it would be of interest. Instead, the narration turns back onto itself, and like snake swallowing it own tail it disappears.

Peixoto.jpg José Luis Peixoto

It has been well reviewed in ‘The Times’ (London) and ‘The Financial Times,’ and it has many stars in Good Reads reviews. He has many other titles.

This is homework for our Iberian travels in the future.

On a fine, clear winter’s Saturday with a temperature of 18C off we went to the Rocks to see a play featuring torture: à chacun son gout, as the clock struck thirteen. It was small town Sydney again. We drove in, and parked in front of the theatre and went a few doors down for a pasta lunch in the sun before entering the Orwellian world. When we left we went to the car and were home in twenty minutes or less.

George Orwell wrote ‘Nineteen Eight-Four’ in 1948 and derived the year for the future world he imagined by reversing the digits. But that was a long time ago, both for 1948 and 1984.

it is a long and dense book, making it a challenge to condense into 90-100 minutes, that being the average theatre-goer’s endurance. Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan contrived Orwell’s story within the frame of a bookclub discussion, which sped up the exposition, a nice idea well executed.

1984 Play 1.jpg

In addition there was a video screen on the back wall used for some closeups and some the off stage action (sex). This was another very nice piece of staging. There were also feeds from a camera man on stage during the torture for those that like that sort of thing.

Effective use of lighting and sound added to the excitement, though it got repetitive after the fifth time. Less can be more in these things.

We were among the gods so there is no comment on the acting, though I was sure that there were actors on the stage, no faces made it to row ZZZ, except for those on the video screen, for which thanks.

Mercifully Icke and Macmillan did not try to improve on Orwell, as I have seen adapters try to improve on Shakespeare, believe it or not, but within the frame of the book club they let the story unfold as it does in the novel. However, like many other producers and directors, they missed one vital point. Their Winston Smith is a young man, whereas Orwell’s is older, and with good reason. He is jaded and cynical from experience. The actor here is a boy, and he is played as a boy. His actions are impetuous not measured. His fatalism is intellectual,not emotional. I have likewise seen productions with a young MacBeth, when the whole impetus of the Scottish play is that MacBeth, while at his peak, is ageing and his last chance is now. I have even seen a young King Lear, more an older bother to Cordelia, than the wizened, exhausted statesman Shakespeare had in mind.

Seeing this performance has inspired me to read Bernard Crick’s essay on ‘Nineteen Eight-Four’ in the edition he prepared in 1984, and also perhaps, later, his biography of Orwell.

In that year of 1984 at New College (built in 1379, when the plumbing went in) of Oxford University I saw Crick, in a seminar of twenty, present a paper about the novel to promote the book. It was the most brilliant conference presentation I had ever seen, and still is. If ever a man was born to do a job, Bernard Crick was born to channel George Orwell. It was as it Orwell were in the room with us. While Crick spoke, or paused, I did not notice that in January the room was unheated; I did not notice the spring poking through the dilapidated chair upon which I was perched; I did not faint from hunger after the college breakfast of hard bread and brown water.

1984 Crick.jpg

Years later when Crick travelled to Australia and shopped himself for the pathetic seminar fees universities pay, someone asked me if we should host him. YES! I shouted, and stumped up all the dosh I could find around the place (being Head of Department at the time, I filled out forms).

This is the same Bernard Crick (1929-2008) who wrote one of the best freshmen textbooks ever, ‘In Defence of Politics’ (1962). He was also famous in those distant days for leaving a prestigious post at a British university to go teach in a night school for working class adults. The Wikipedia entry finesses this point.

Back to the play, some liberties were taken with the mention of screens, and the paraphrase of Neo from ’The Matrix’ at the end. I did not bridle at those, but they were unnecessary. If the play worked, they were redundant, and if it did not communicate, they were superfluous. They were there, I guess, to show the audience it is up-to-date.

Yes, the torture is there and it is unpleasant but it is less repellent than the blood and gore splashed over the screen in the latest shock-and-awe CGI blockbuster from Hollywood.

I first came across ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ on the after high school movie from a local channel which I used to watch after school and before sports. I often missed either the beginning or the end, or both. I missed the start of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ (1956) and there was Winston (Edmond O’Brien) feeding paper files down the memory hole at the Ministry of Truth. That was an attention getter compared to the usual fare of swashbucklers and westerns, so I paid more attention than usual. I went from there to the book.

Edmon Obrien-1.jpg

I now realise that O'Brien is too well fed, and Julia (Jan Sterling), behind him, is too old. Julia should be young and natural, whereas Winston is the (over) thinker.

When I re-read ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ in 1984, inspired by Crick, one of the most powerful elements was Orwell’s portrayal of the weariness of the lives of the Oceanians. The privations, the monotony, the grey, the mould, the dirt, the 1,500 calories a day of tasteless gruel of which Oliver Twist would not ask for more. Orwell had lived through the privations of the Great Depression, followed by the shortages and restrictions of wartime rationing, which continued until 1954, as Britain struggled pay off its war debts. That was fourteen years plus the preceding Depression. A bar of soap, a roll of toilet paper, a finger nail clipper, a hair brush, a box of tissues, toothpaste, a cotton towel. and plenty of hot running water, all these things I used in the morning, are unknown to Oceanians. The privations grind one down and down and down. That is why an older Winston Smith is right. A man who is wearing out and this is his first and also his last chance to taste the forbidden fruit.

George Orwell insisted that the title of the book was ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and not ‘1984.’ I do not know why, and await enlightenment. Knowing that and being a tireless pedant I was on edge when we went to see the play because it is titled ‘1984.’ The tension in my shoulders relaxed when I read the program notes that refer, respectfully, to the novel as ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ leading me to suppose the play is to be distinguished from the book by the use of the digits, as in Australia the Labour movement is distinguished from the Labor Party by the spelling, though I notice fewer journalist, wholly reliant on the spell checker, realise this fact. No such orthographic distinction is made in Great Britain, the United Kingdom, or England.

Though Orwell did not use the term himself, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is now routinely labeled a dystopia. If utopia is a perfectly good place, then, so reason John Stuart Mill when he coined the terms, dystopia is a perfectly bad place in an 1868 parliamentary speech.

Brownie Wise (1913-1992) liberated thousands of women from household labor and fostered hosts of small business women.

She was born in Buford north Georgia where women stayed at home and in their spare time sewed for clothing and textile mills. Spare time! It was a way to earn cash income. This cottage industry set terms, conditions, and wages and the women either took it or went without the cash income.

Wise cover.jpg

Brownie’s mother became a single parent AND a labor organiser for these seamstresses in Northern Georgia, carrying along baby Brownie. That was her given name ‘Brownie’ for her big brown eyes at birth. Brownie learned from then on about self-reliance, strength in combination with others, fortitude, resilience, and the deceitful ways of men in suits. Her mother had successes, and Brownie learned from that, too: a win today is good and perhaps it can be multiplied tomorrow, i.e., keep at it.

Brownie_Wise.jpg Brownie Wise from the cover of 'Business Week.'

In the period after World War I much of the population of the United States was either rural or lived in small towns. Life for such denizens was often confined to a few miles from home. Transport was uncertain, expensive, and dangerous. In addition, the term housewife was literal. The woman tended the house. There is a searing example in a chapter of Robert Caro’s magisterial biography of Lyndon Johnson called ‘Sad Irons’ about wash day in Texas. Not for the faint of heart.

These people did not go to big cities to shop in department stores. Rather the retailers came to them via mail-order catalogues or callers at the door. It was the age of the door-to-door salesman or drummer as they were called in an earlier time. Why not mail? Because the postal service in rural and sparsely populated areas was irregular and expensive, this was long before RFD. The most famous door-to-door sales representative was perhaps the Fuller Brush Man, who rang the bell and slid a foot in the door and traded on the politeness of the door opener to get in and make a hard sell. Many times they were welcomed in because social contact was a rarity.

Other companies did the same, selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door later. (Indeed, true in Europea, too, and Adolf Eichmann did it for a while.) The young Brownie Wise worked for Stanley Home Products (sponges, mops, dusters) where she was a successful sales representative and an even more successful trainer, organiser, and manager of sales representatives. She was married to Mr Wise for five years before he abandoned her with their son to disappear into the mist. (In these pages he does not even reappear when she became nationally famous, as she did.)

Then a young protégé saw something in a hardware store that looked promising. He borrowed it from the store and took it to Mrs Wise and the rest became history. It was a plastic box with a burp from Earl Tupper (1907-1983). When Stanley Home Products refused to sell these boxes because it did not make them, she set up her own business selling them plastic boxes.

Tupper was a chemist who had been experimenting with plastic for years on his own time. He had worked for Dupont for years.

Earl tupper.jpg Earl Tupper

Tupper started and then continued his experiments because the World Wars had absorbed the primary materials of steel and wood, creating a void for other materials to make everyday items like telephone handsets, ergo Bakelite. Tupper tried a great many techniques and finally hit upon something like the plastic we now see in food storage boxes. He sold some locally to fund further experiments. Old friends at Dupont gave him waste byproducts for his experiments. From these he made his first burping boxes.

Wise wrote to him about his burping boxes and they soon came to an agreement in 1946, whereby she marketed and he manufactured. While working for other direct marketing firms, Wise had already hit upon the party-plan method of sales but with Tupperware, as it became known, it went into high gear. There were benefits all around.

Instead of trudging door-to-door, Wise’s sales representative went to a home and set up a display. Instead of being interrupted by a stranger at the door while changing a diaper, the housewife spruced herself up and went to a neighbour's home for tea and cakes and heard an amusing sales patter. There was no hard sell but rather information about the value of saving leftovers for later consumption, the convenience of visibility, the ease of stacking, the best way to clean and store the boxes and bowls, and the trick in closing that burping seal that was long the de facto trademark of Tupperware. That trick had once impeded sales, but Wise turned it into an asset by making it the crescendo of the standard exposition.

Nearly all of the direct sales reps on the road were men with no domestic responsibilities day by day. The job therefore excluded women. A lone woman trudging down country road lugging samples, and then dashing home to make dinner, nurse babies, and iron clothes did not compute. The party-plan made it possible for women to enter this workforce.

Wise recruited, trained, and directed the sales force and in the course of so doing created careers for countless scores of women. Some women were so successful that they became the primary income earner, and some husbands quit their jobs to act as assistant in the family business. For others the Tupperware Party was a high point on the social calendar. Tupper withdrew his products from stores and relied exclusively on party-selling. For a manager or sales representative Tupperware offered flexible working hours, did not require going to an office or factory, and was tolerant in others way, too, about taking children along.

Tupperware soon had a nationwide sales force numbering 10,000 and became, in three years, a multi-million dollars enterprise. Nearly all these workers were women in sales. Earl Tupper had trouble meeting the demand, while continuing to experiment and improve the products. The factory never employed more than a hundred at a time, and usually less, partly because Tuppper liked to do everything himself. Not a good delegator.

She set up sales headquarters in Florida, and he remained in New England. He and Wise had no rapport. On his infrequent visits to Florida, he avoided her and talked only to the accountants. She never set foot in the factory. While the relationship was profitable for both, it was not happy. He was the withdrawn scientist, happiest in his garage laboratory, and she was the effervescent party girl into middle age. His factory and workshop were painted white and spotless. Everything ran to timetable. Her sales headquarters was a complete contrast, decked out in a riot of colour, with people, mostly women, coming and going with no apparent purpose. It was creative but to his eye it was chaotic.

Wise spent money on motivating the sales and management teams she had created. There was much of what we would today recognise as staff development. Very successful managers would have all expenses paid sojourns to the Florida headquarters in January for motivational talks, training seminars, demonstrations of new product lines, expositions of the dress code, etiquette for the parties, scripting the patter, and networking. Ladies were invited, even required, to bring along the husbands. Imagine managers in New Hampshire or Minnesota in September realising that with a few more sales before Christmas they might qualify for an all expenses paid trip to the Florida sunshine for a week. Stand back!

Wise Florida.jpg Wise at a training session in the Florida sun.

Regional sessions were also organised to bring together managers and sales representatives. Tupper never understood or cared about these sessions and saw in them only the expenses, not the benefits in motivation, solidarity, commitment, loyalty, unity, and knowledge shared. It was collision course.

When a new sales representative started, she would first go door-to-door in a neighbourhood and offer the carrot test. The carrot test? She would lend a Tupperware container and two carrots to the housewife at the door with the suggestions that she, the housewife, keep one carrot however it was she usually kept vegetables and the other carrot in the Tupperware container. She would then call back some days later, and voilà, she had someone interested because one carrot was soggy and droopy while the one in Tupperware was still fresh-picked crisp. After the Great Depression, after the privations of war rationing, the morality and the economy dictated that no food be wasted.

When a woman comes down the street with a bag of carrots, Tupperware is coming!

The dress code meant sales agents had to keep up with fashions and dress in the latest, conservative style. with stockings, hats, coats, and gloves. That meant buying clothes was a business investment, not a frivolity, and a tax deduction, and those training courses explained how to claim that deduction from the IRS.

The business was successful beyond any expectation. Many women took to it enthusiastically. It was so successful that several large manufacturing firms wanted to buy Tupperware, and Earl Tupper wanted to sell, but Brownie Wise did not. He owned the patents and in the end he pushed her out. Some think this was done to make the sale easier, that is, even if she had agreed to the sale, no self-respecting buyer at the time would touch a firm with a woman Vice-President. Tupper made a mint, renounced his US citizenship to dodge taxes, and set up in Costa Rica to potter away in another laboratory.

Tupper may also have resented the accolades bestowed on Wise by ‘Business Week’ and ’Time’ magazines as a genius businesswoman. She was the first woman on the cover of 'Business Week.' Then there was the fire and water personality clash between them. Finally, he hated the cost of that staff development.

Despite the acrimony of the split, she landed on her feet, becoming CEO of a cosmetics firm and when that lost its appeal she turned to real estate in booming Florida. While she made a good living from these later ventures, they did not offer the stimulation (read national limelight) that the Tupperware years had, and soon she retired to philanthropic endeavours, particularly rating money for fellowships for artists. She herself was a lifelong hobby potter.

She raised a son by herself in the Tupperware years and became a devoted grandmother to his children.

The scripts she wrote remained in use by Tupperware into the 1980s and the party sales model is still in use in more than one hundred countries, including Australia and New Zealand. Its biggest sales these days, per Wikipedia, are in Indonesia and Germany. As Roy Kroc standardised fastfood, so Brownie Wise standardised the sale of kitchen ware.

Some say the pressure to buy at these parties is a deterrent. Perhaps. But when the parties started it was a different world, and the social contact, the women only gatherings, the freedom to bring children, all of these broke the social isolation of the housewife in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. The parties were welcome to many, many women.

When teaching Power I used Brownie Wise as an example under the heading of charisma and leadership. Imagine the reaction, especially from the men, for whom charisma and leadership means generals and presidents, guns and rockets. For some, like the army reserve officers in one class, it confirmed the nonsense of higher education.

Fergus Mason has pages and pages of titles on Amazon, each short like this one, which is about one hundred pages. I could not find a picture of him, probably because he is never away from the keyboard long enough for an exposure.

A journalistic account of the Amber Room, once of the Catherine Palace near St Petersburg in Russia. It is indeed journalistic, disjointed, breathless, unfocussed, self-centred, inaccurate, and clumsy. One reader’s opinion.

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The Amber Room was an Eighth Wonder of the World in its day. Wondrous, indeed it is.

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First, what is amber? It is the resin dripped from the trees in the primordial forests that flourished where the Baltic Sea is now. In time it is fossilised into a soft stone, let us say for the sake of illustration. That was millions of years ago. The smell in a pine forest is carried by the resin excreted by the trees. In sustained hot weather it drips from the trees. The drips pile on top of each other in clumps like small stalagmites. With rain and then climate change these clumps on the forest floor were washed into the rivers and thence into the emerging and enlarging Baltic Sea where tidal action drives it into pockets along the shore. Most clumps are the size of a golf ball or smaller, which are too heavy to float on top and too light to sink to the bottom and stay there.

amber-red-kaliningrad-russia.jpg.png Red amber.

Amber has been valued as jewellery since human habitation in the region. In time artisans learned how to work it, by carving and polishing and then later using heat to shape it, then to dye it with vegetable extracts, wine, or honey. Most prized became clear pieces in which an insect was trapped by the sticking, dripping resin. These were talismen for pre-historic Nordic peoples. We saw some spectacular examples of such jewels in our Baltic sojourn in 2016.

One of the prizes of the Baltic Coast of Prussia was amber. There is a superb krimi which is set among the women who harvested amber for the Hanseatic market in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Michael Gregorio, 'A Visible Darkness: A Mystery’ (2011), one in a series based on a judicial officer, Hanno Stiffeniis. Very atmospheric and detailed.

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In the Prussian court of the Seventeenth Century there occurred a rivalry among architects, artists, decorators, and artisans for the favour of a new queen, Charlotte, later of Charlottenburg Palace. One competitor who was being displaced by younger rivals, knowing the King’s reluctance to part with a pfenning devised a project based on using what was already in storehouses, tons of amber in those clumps. There followed a technological leap from small items of jewellery to panels twelve feet high and three or four feet wide.

At the time an ounce of amber was more than ten times the value of an ounce of pure gold. It was more rare and precious than gold by a factor of ten. It had been stockpiled because the cost of the jewels limited the market. No other Baltic country had such riches of amber on its shores, thanks to the peculiarities of tidal action, location of ancient forest, etc. The idea of using what was sitting in the basement appealed to the king, and the project started to create an amber room, i.e., a room panelled in amber. Extraordinary as it was it did not find favour and the panels, once made, went back to the storeroom.

In 1701 Prussia and Russia were allies against the Swedish juggernaut, and to seal the deal the Prussian king wanted to entrench himself with Peter the Great, Tsar of all the Russians. Peter had a fondness for amber, and ‘Voilà!’ There was the answer, a gift like no other to someone who would appreciate it. The amber panels were packed up and dispatched to St Petersburg. Peter was overwhelmed but there was a war on and the panels stayed in boxes.

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The Tsarinas who succeeded Great Peter did have the panels mounted to create a room but moved it several times. It is fragile when extended to the size of panels and there must have been breakage but no details were recorded. Then the German Tsarina, who had grown up with amber jewellery, came to the throne and she made what became known as the Amber Room in the eponymous Catherine (the Great) Palace, a summer residence outside St Petersburg. Walls were lined with gold and silver leaf foil and the amber placed over it interspersed with mirrors. In flickering candle light, with bejewelled courtiers moving about the very walls themselves would seem also to teem with life.

There it stayed, surviving the revolutions and upheavals until 1942 when the advance of German armies targeted Leningrad, as the city had become. The order went out to all Soviet cultural institutions west of the Ural Mountains to pack up everything and ship it east. So much easier said than done. None of the curators had experience in moving whole collections and everything necessary for the task was in short supply, from timber for packing cases, to men to load them, to railway cars to transport them.

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In the Catherine Palace the Amber Room was the obvious priority, the problem was how to dismantle it without destroying it, and then how to ship it over roads and rails under aerial attack. Heating in the Palace over the years had made the amber brittle, even more fragile as early efforts indicated. If cracked, some pieces simply disintegrated into dust. In the end the responsible curators could not square this circle and to the sound of German artillery decided to hide the Amber Room with its tons of amber by papering over the walls and painting the floor and in another adjacent room they tried to make it look like wall panels had been removed from it. Nice try.

As the Wehrmacht advanced there followed in its train the treasure hunters, special units commissioned by Hermann Göring to loot treasures and send them back to the Reich. The Amber Room was at the top of the list for these units approaching Leningrad.

The Germans occupied the Catherine Palace area quickly and the Amber Room disappeared as the siege of Leningrad began.

From this point onward information is fragmentary, partial, hearsay, distorted, self-serving, false, and incomplete. In the crisis of war and battle records were not always kept in detail and many such records as were made became collateral damage in the German advance and then three years later in the Russian advance. The Red Army was followed by its own treasure hounds to reclaim looted goods and to loot more as reparations. At the top of their list was…. The Amber Room.

The records that do exist show that the German treasure hunters found the room quickly and dismantled it in thirty-six hours! That is hard to credit. There is no record of how much damage was done in that haste. The German records show that the trove and much else from the east was shipped to Königsberg, the historic capital of Prussia where it was placed in the Castle Museum. This city is so far east it is now in Russia, Kaliningrad, once home to Soviet boomers.

In January 1945 the Russians were coming and the RAF was bombing Königsberg to block the harbour, destroy the railroad yards, cut roads, and then to destroy the town itself. Half the Castle was destroyed either by RAF bombs or Red Army artillery. A few weeks later, after the Soviets had taken over the rest of it was burned either by accident or design. On one of these occasions the amber of the Amber Room went with it.

K castle.jpg Königsberg Castle in 1945.

Everything after the initial receipt at Königsberg is vexed, contradictory, inconsistent, undocumented, rife with conspiracy theories, and lost. Despite the many years the authors spent on the trail, they found nothing because there was nothing to find. This fact is disguised by the pitiless details that are heaped up in the book as though altitude yielded enlightenment. The authors, seemingly fluent in both Russian and German went here, there, and everywhere in Russia and Germany to track down survivors and records. The ensuing discussions were fruitless and the records scant, Instead we have endless detail of the number of stairs climbed, the knocks on the door, the shuffling feet heard inside, the second knock, the forms filled out in archives, the colour and feel of empty file folders, the cigarettes smoked by interviewees, the aroma of the tea offered, the mercenary attitude of Russian museum staff, the apologetic demeanour of German curators, and on and on. A traveller across a desert may describe in detail a mirage, but it remains a mirage, and these two travellers have described in detail the illusions they chased…to no avail. It is all trip with no arrival.

My impatience with the journalistic style together with the dawning realisation that there was no story to tell, led me to reading only every other page and then later every other chapter. I did not miss anything. This was a technique I learned in graduate school to cope with the impossible reading assignments, though with that reading I did miss a lot. Though even with this stream-lined approach it was still heavy going.

Having heard many stories of our Russian travels, a friend lent me this book. He said it was overlong. What a subtle understatement. As to substance it is indeed overlong, as to content it is short. Fully three-quarters of it is puff. By the way the giant equestrian statue near the Arsenal in St Petersburg mentioned early in the book is of Peter the Great, not Catherine the Great. Nor is Saxony south-east of Königsberg on map. Perhaps a new prescription for contact lens is in order.

Scoot and Levy.jpg Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy

Yes the book has a lot to say about the rivalries among curators, the terrible political infighting, the disastrous wars, the personalities involved, but such subjects are treated in many far better books by historians, biographers, and novelists than this effort. It is described as a best seller, but what is not so described today.

For an orderly and succinct exposition of the Amber Room turn to Wikipedia. A replica was completed in the 1990s and we saw it on our tour of the Catherine Palace. It is indeed a wonder though lacking in the mystique of the original.

One of the many Westerns that Gregory Peck (1916–2003) made. That alone recommends it. The opening scene is superb and those that follow in the first act are on a par with it. Then comes the slide….

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The silence, the eternal and forbidding landscape, the big sky, and the taciturn dialogue get it off to a good start.

Robert Forster steals some scenes from his mentor Peck, but ever gracious Peck rolls with it. Forster has since been in every television program there is but never equalled this turn.

Foster cards.jpg Robert Foster waits.

There are some moments of humour as with the train ticket that it would take an IRS accountant to figure out.

Harder to take is that chiseled block of satin wood, Eva Marie Saint. That she is largely silent helps but the constant squeeze of the frontal lobes indicates her thespian range. When she speaks it is in whispers which I suppose is to add to the drama. It didn’t. (I admit that she was superb in ‘Don’t Come Knocking’ [2005] with Sam Shepard. Maybe with age directors were less inclined to limit her to eye-candy.)

Most of the faults of this film, however, lie with the screenplay and the director, Robert Mulligan (he of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’), and not the players. Where to start?

Eva, after ten years of (implied) brutal captivity, emerges with makeup intact and speaks English within five minutes as though nothing had happened. It is a strength of the screenplay that what happened is left to the viewers imagination and not stated, agreed. Yet she is none the worse for it.

Peck’s change of heart is a plot device and nothing more. It does not emerge from the events or his character. He says she can cook for him and Ned, but in the only scene of cooking, Ned, does not eat with them. Ned, too, is a plot device and meets the fate of a Star Trek Red Shirt in due course. That was obvious from his first appearance.

The aggrieved indian husband come to fetch home his son is granted no humanity. He is a spectre. Yet Peck has stolen his son as well as his wife. Why Peck chose to invite his wrath remains a mystery. This indian is supposed to be preternatural, yet when the showdown comes he is very visible and it must have taken practice to miss him with fusillade of rifle shots fired at him. He on the other hand drills Forester with one shot.

For a spectre he was none too bright. He lured the two younger men away but did not then go back to fetch his boy, who would have willingly come to him. Instead he prolongs the movie another twenty minutes. So that he can do the same thing again. In a Randolph Scott movie, made on a smaller budget, this kind of repetition did not exist.

But then Peck seems to lack smarts, too. In the last confrontation the indian is backlit in a doorway and Peck has a cocked rifle in hand, but waits politely for nemesis to enter the darkened room and shut the door so that they can slug it out in the dark. Go figure that one, Mortimer. Shouting at Peck to shoot, did not work. Indeed many of the interiors are too dark to see much.

Indeed the boy is likewise not granted humanity. He is a prop for Eva. That he might have collaborated with his father at the moment of truth seemed on the cards (joke, but to get it see the movie) but was forgotten come the time.

While decrying plot devices there is the dog. It is not present until needed for one scene, then is conjured as the watchdog. Ned’s reaction as that of a hardbitten frontiersman is a scriptwriter's cliché.

The final contest between the two alpha males is a forgone conclusion. If that is all that was at stake, we all knew how that would end, and we did not need 1 hour and 59 minutes to get there.

I watched it on Daily Motion and read Roger Ebert’s contemporary review. He nailed it. But then when did he not?

Martin Bora is a police officer now in the Wehrmacht, assigned to the German embassy in Moscow in 1940 from whence he is dispatched to Crete on the whim of a superior to fetch some Cretan wine. The early scenes in Moscow are interesting period pieces as the allies of convenience dance around each other.

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Equally fine are the descriptions of the heat and light in Crete, after the chilly gloom of Moscow. While the weather is different, the social atmosphere in Crete under German occupation is as tense as that in Moscow.

The simple errand of finding the wine and escorting it back balloons out as readers knew it would.

The Germans have only just secured the island.

Crete invasion map.jpg The German airborne invasion.

The Greeks have surrendered and the British have once again been driven into the sea, but there are still many British soldiers at large in the hills and dales, and some Cretan armed resistance has begun. It is much more dangerous than Moscow.

In the midst of this volatile situation a British prisoner claims a war crime has occurred and produces photographic evidence of the murder of a household of civilians. Hmm. Best to investigate this ourselves is the German conclusion, and do so before the International Red Cross takes an interest. It would have been a refreshing change from the stereotypes, if one of the Wehrmacht generals wanted the truth to root out indiscipline among his men. Instead it seems one of the victims was an acquaintance of the egregious Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) and the quickens the pace.

But with Crete largely subdued and the demands of the next offensive now in train, combat troops and field officers are being transferred and reassigned in rapid succession. Ergo the only Wehrmacht officer of sufficient rank with relevant experience who is not subject to a movement order is …Martin Bora.

It is a good set-up. Bora does what all good plods do and interviews the accuser and at the end of one of their discussions when they have sparred is a nice touch. Both are highly educated men and Bora speaks perfect English so has no translator, though there are guards present and many other prisoners milling about. The Brit decides to reveal a secret to Bore to help in the investigation but swears him to secrecy. Then just to make sure the word does not leak out he switches to Latin to provide the clue. Bravo.

Bora meets a local police officer who is resigned to German hegemony and an American archaeologist, a woman, becomes his unwilling guide. Both of these characters are rounded individuals.

To find an eye witness to the events shown in the photographs in the battered camera, Bora takes to mountains of the interior to find a British soldier who allegedly fled that way. In the course of this trek the descriptions of the flora and fauna, the heat and the light are excellent but they become repetitive and thereby frayed.

Crete hills.jpg It is a long way from the tourist resorts now on the coasts.

Less palatable to this reader is Bora’s incessant need to feel sorry for himself, and bore the reader with his back story. How a solider who went through Poland and then France can be so inward looking is the mystery here. This is no Odysseus!

That he and the woman guide are at odds is well done, and unusual in this genre when the femme is usually either a fatale or a conquest. This one is not very femme though she does try to be fatale.

Bora’s meetings with those who have fled to the mountains and those who live there are uneven. The Catalonians he finds there are a cardboard plot device, period. Ditto the distant maidens in the field. Hardly more credible are the Cretan guerrilla band members. More convincing is another archeologist whom Bora finds at a dig in the mountains. Major Busch, Bora’s immediate superior, is also credible.

That Bora begins to think he is on an Homeric odyssey just seems silly. Likewise the resolution of the plot coiling back on itself is so far fetched it would take Apollo astronauts to bring it home. It is not what Aristotle would call a coherent plot.

By the way, the description on the Amazon web site, from which I acquired this book, errs on two counts. It is a not Red Cross representative who is murdered. Nor is Bora sent to investigate the murder, rather he is there when an investigation is needed and he is put to work.

Ben Pastor.jpg Ben Pastor

This title is part of series. Ben Pastor is a woman, one who writes about soldiers, she proclaims on her website.

Captain Gregor Reinhardt continues to struggle with his conscience in this entry to a police procedural series set in the German Wehrmacht in 1943.  He is Abwehr officer, that is, Wehrmacht intelligence service, whose usual task is interrogating prisoners of war.  He talks to them rather than beating them, and his makes him odd, but he gets enough results to be insulated from critics, though they circle. A successful detective in Berlin he entered the army to escape the thugs that the new regime of 1935 promoted, and its racial approach to identifying villains.  Some escape.  

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He is in Sarajevo going about his business, trying to focus on the main things and ignore.... [much].
But he is despondent and depressed, his wife has died and he is estranged from his only son who has become a super Nazi.  Is life worth living in this Dantesque universe, he might have asked, for he is learned, but he did not.

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Then he is assigned a case to investigate and the old policing instincts are aroused, and he has a purpose each day.  He meets the usual obstacles and obfuscations readers expect though they are heightened in this Balkan inferno.  He presses on, though there are doubts.   He meets some truly despicable people, including one of the late victims, a beautiful young woman film-maker who enjoyed torturing Jewish women in front of their children before filming their murders by her Ustaše comrades. If the supply of Jews was low, she would turn to Serbs for such fun.

The book offers a socio-politico topography of war time Yugoslavia, the Chetniks, the Red Partisans, the Ustaše, the Croat Army, the Italian occupation force, and the German, within whose ranks are many deep divides. Only the Italians seem to be civilised and they are a minor player. These groups make shifting formal and informal alliances. In the brew come some British advisors so the plot thickens.

It is a murder that Reinhardt must investigate. One of the victims was the woman film maker and that would be left to the civil police in the puppet state of Croatia, but also murdered a few steps from her was a German army lieutenant. It becomes a joint investigation with the Croat police for whom all acts of villainy, apart from their own, are done by Jews, Gypsies, Serbs, or Reds. Ergo find the nearest Jew and that is the culprit.

This plot is very thick and it just gets thicker. There is much about the city of Sarajevo, its Ottoman and Austrian pasts, its troubled present, and its byways. The divides among the Germans are many and varied. Their are personal animosities, unit competitions, status consciousness to an insane degree, service rivalries, venal as well as moral corruption and incompetence, and the usual assortment of thugs and bullies assembled by krimi writers, most of them wearing uniforms in this instance.

The comeuppance of the primary bully was a delight. (Where do I get one of those Reinhardt specials?) There is also a captivating portrait of a German general with something of Erwin Rommel in him, a war lover. He is in a word, charismatic. Even the jaded and cynical Reinhardt feels the urge to follow where this man leads but tries to resist it, and then realises all is not as it seems. The blue herrings are piled up and neither of the short-priced favourites was the perpetrator. That is enough of a spoiler.

The story Reinhardt tells of one of his famous cases in Berlin is nicely done. He tells the story but suppresses much of the truth, which will sound familiar to anyone who has worked in a large organisation, the backsliding, the backstabbing, the blinding incompetence, the stubborn resistance to the obvious, the incapacity to act in a coordinated fashion. The usual. Then add to that the racial elements and the brew goes from noxious to toxic.

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This is the third novel I have read of late featuring such a military police office. Perhaps inspired long ago by ‘The Night of the Generals.’ That is not counting Bernie Gunther whose career I have not followed.

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