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November 2018

IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 7 minutes, rated 6.1 by 202 cinematizens

Genre: Old Dark House

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Verdict: It took a long time to get to the Old Dark House.

Querulous relatives unite, briefly, to have elderly Aunt Cassandra certified so that they can get their hand on the dosh she teases them about - more than two million smackers which in today’s geld is about 30 million iron men -- which she says she has secreted in her Old Dark House. Whoa!

We start in a courtroom where Cassie appears crazy like a fox. But then what law school did that attorney attend? His prime argument for her being nuts is that she puts vinegar on apple pie. Really! Who doesn’t?

The vultures of the press enjoy the spectacle. The judge gavels Cassie into sanity.

To show how much she enjoyed the outing Cassandra invites the mob of scheming relatives to her Old Dark House (at last) for a week while she will decide how to divvy up the dosh. They have to go and go they do, one at a time.

No sooner do they arrive than the body count starts. Stabbings, shootings, poisonings here and there reduce the number of relatives. Is Cassie getting her revenge? Did Hillary do it, again? Was the vinegar off?

A newshawk and gal pal have insinuated themselves into the proceedings and Cassie finds that funny. The local sheriff is off work from the circus where he is the clown.

Turns out…. [Spoiler a-coming!] one of the relatives is reducing the number of claimants. To add to the confusion the villain(s) keeps moving the stiffs around. No explanation is ever revealed for this mystery. What, why, and how all are left to the memory-hole.

We also have the house staff, mercifully free of a black comic relief stereotype, a lugubrious butler, a greasy chauffeur, a snippy maid, a jolly cook. There is also an ever present nosy neighbour peering in windows to add to the soup.

The denouement is unexpected, though it is historically inaccurate as we pedants have to say. The Confederate States did not print a $10,000 bill. Tsk, tsk. It also turns out the neighbour is more than a neighbour. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Phil Rosen directed with panache the crisp story by George Brickner.

The best part may be the end, when one of the players breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience saying the Hays Office (1930-1968) will not like this film.

For those born yesterday, the Hays Office was a voluntary production code for the Hollywood factory. The code permitted chaste kisses, but not too many. No profanity and, of course, no nudity. No mixing of races. No adultery. And, hardest of all, law enforcement officials had to be portrayed positively. In its first and last decades it was largely toothless but between 1942 and 1955 it dictated much. As significant as it was, this is the only time I have noticed a reference to it in a movie, and this one is irreverent.

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Sharp eyes will spot Hays Code certification as above on many films from that era.

The players were diverting in this exercise. Wallace Ford, a perennial supporting actor, made the most of the male lead. Marian Marsh as his wise cracking assistant held up her end of the partnership.

1823 Jame Monroe declared the eponymous doctrine of hemispheric independence. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote it. At the time both France and Germany had designs on parts of Latin America. With the silent approval of Great Britain, President Monroe warned them off the hemisphere. Later the Doctrine became a cloak for all manner of ignoble purposes. A study of Monroe's presidency is discussed elsewhere on this blog.
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1929 The skull of Peking Man - homo erectus - was found by Davidson Black. It led to breakthroughs in understanding evolution.
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1942 In a tent on a squash court at (Alonzo) Stagg Field (University of Chicago) Enrico Fermi engendered the first controlled nuclear fission. ‘The Italian navigator has landed in the New World’ was the coded message send to the White House. Football fans will realise that Alonzo Stagg was himself an innovator in his domain, football. He devised the huddle, the forward pass, and end sweeps.
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1867 Charles Dickens did his first public reading of an American tour. We have been full of the Dickens at many times.
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1950 Isaac Asimov published ‘I, Robot.’ Read them all and published an article called 'I. Burocrat' once. It was struggle to get that spelling through the process.
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IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 25 minutes but it seemed like m o r e, rated 4.3 by 48 members of the cast.

Genre: Amateurism and Sy Fy

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Verdict: The 1957 Chevrolet is the star of the show, along with some (not enough) period music.

A group of thirty-year olds pretend to be high school students wearing saddle shoes, poodle skirts, a-lines, letter sweaters, sporting duck tails, and so on. The period detail was the best part of the effort.

Dweeb’s date with Date is interrupted by Bully and company at the soda shop. After an embarrassing departure, Dweeb and Date go parking, where is seems Dweeb does not know what to do. Did he sleep through human biology in eleventh grade or what?

The inaction is punctuated by a platoon of zombies who could not get date and hence were available to be suborned by Martians claiming to be Republicans. The zombie make-up is far better than any production that starred John Agar, and when I think of that old stone face, I realise the acting here has some energy.

Dweeb and Date are joined by Escapee from Zombieism and the three of them battle the Martian scourge, only two of whom were seen earlier. In a decaying farm shed they find a DIY manual to make an anti-Martian ray gun which they proceed to do. The manufacture is cloaked by the insertion of comic books frames, which were rather cute.

Somewhere, some how, some time along the way we learn that the Martians have ordered the zombie army to zombie-nap teenage girls because ‘Mars Needs Women’ (1967) [discussed elsewhere on this blog]. The zombies are such more respectful and polite to their victims than most jocks on a Saturday night date.

They blast the zombies, who let us remember, were innocent teenagers trapped by the two green Martians dressed up in Masonic gear we saw near the beginning.

These victims were shown with bongo drums, and the whiff of marijuana in the air, berets, beards all the usual paraphernalia of beatniks in the 1950s. They each also have a large number '3' on their labels. Where were '1' and '2'? Who knows? Not even close watching revealed the answer to that mystery. Number '6' is way beyond this effort and the fraternity brothers.

Be that as it may.

After saving the world by seeing off the Martians, Dweeb has the confidence to sock Bully.

The end.

1824 The Presidential election went to the House of Representatives which voted for John Quincy Adams, though Andrew Jackson had more popular votes. There were two other candidates. Curiously both Adams and Jackson had the same Vice Presidential running mate, John Calhoun. Jackson had campaigned vigorously on the program of the corruption of Congress, only to discover he had no friends there.
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1917 Father Flanagan founded Boys Town in Omaha. Quite a story. Seen Spencer Tracey do it. Been there more than once.
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1955 In Montgomery, Alabama Rosa Parks was jailed for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man, a violation of the city’s racial segregation laws. In those angry, volatile, and murderous times she had volunteered to be a test case for the NAACP.
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1987 Under great pressure from the Fitzgerald corruption investigation Country Party Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen resigned as Queensland's longest-serving Premier (1967-1987). He freely manipulated electoral boundaries to weight sparsely populated country seats. Recalling his garbled speech reminds me of President Tiny.
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1990 Shortly after 11 am, hand-held drills penetrated the last rock wall and to connect the Chunnel linking Great Britain with the European mainland for the first time in 8,000 years. It took four more years to bring the it into service. Been through it a couple of times. Napoleon had an engineering assessment of such a tunnel in 1804. It was assumed in 'The Trans-Atlantic Tunnel' (1935) discussed elsewhere on this blog.
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IMDb meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 4 minutes, rated 5.7 by 343 cinematizens.

Genre: Mystery

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Verdict: Whodunit?

In Pea Soup London a turbaned Stereotype is up to no good on the docks, observed by Smooth. Turns out Smooth and Stereotype are residents of a rambling boarding house whose residents include keyhole peepers, sidlers, creepers, sneakers, priers, snoopers, and suspicious characters all.

Smooth gets stabbed, often, to death; plod appears. He ready to charge anyone and everyone. As the bodies pile up, Plod blames each murder on the next victim. He does not notice this. Well, he is consistent.

Writer-in-residence and Belle, daughter of the manager of the boarding house, take up the investigation while Plod smokes a pipe. They discover everyone’s secrets, including the cross-dresser.

Ha, ha, ha, turns it was all a joke, since it makes no sense otherwise.

Despite the regiment of genuine British accents, it was made by Warner Brothers in Burbank California with denizens of the Hollywood British colony. Many are familiars from the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films of the time.

It was the first Hollywood film for Turhan Bey, the Austrian Jew who fled Anschluss to play stereotypes in Tinsel Town.

1016 Cnut the Great (Canute), King of Denmark, took the English throne. Notice the Ecco shoes as he explains climate change to retainers.
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1876 Archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found the gold mask of Agamemnon. We saw it in Athens and also visited his house.
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1886 First commercially successful AC electric power plant opened, Buffalo, NY
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1906 Republican President Theodore Roosevelt at the bully pulpit denounced segregation of Japanese school children in San Francisco.
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1924 First radio transmission of photographs from London to New York using the work of Canadian inventor William Stephenson from University of Manitoba. Facsimile forerunner.
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GoodReads meta-data is 362 pages, rated 4.1 by 2252 litizens.

Genre: Krimi

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Verdict: Craic!

Slacker Paul ekes out a living in contemporary Dublin by doing six-hours of charity work a week. As long as he does this work a stipend from his late, fabulously wealthy aunt, who despised him, gives him a bare living. He was her only living relative. Her idea was that this stipend would get him started, at long last, on earning a living. She over-estimated her man, because his idea is to scrape along on that stipend. As a consumer he has learned how to make that stipend stretch to cover his very few needs. No bargain bin in Dublin escapes his notice. Most Op Shops are too upmarket for him.

Most of the gratis charity work is visiting inmates and patients at hospices and retirement (old folks) homes in and around Dublin. He has shopped around and found the best set-up, taking into account transport cost to and from, level of demands from clients, opportunities with female staff, and such. Paul is none too bright despite all his scheming. The staff at the institutions verify his work and he lets the elderly clients talk to him and he pretends to be whomever they say. He takes the chits to the lawyer managing the trust fund and gets the Euros. Simple. Too. To last.

Those patients that are assigned to him have no other visitors and are pretty confused about who any one is or where they are. He has one of those non-nondescript faces that they can project onto and he is a good listener.

Then one night, as he listens to a new client rattle on, the dying old man, Mr Brown, riddled with cancer beckons him closer to whisper weakly in his ear, or so he thinks. He moves the chair and leans forward and the old coot stabs Paul in the shoulder with a scissor blade he had secreted in the bed. What with all the tubes and wires on the old cuss the two of them get tangled and fall to the floor, killing the patient who was eighty if a day, and leaving Paul bleeding from the stab wound with additional bumps and bruises.

A routine police investigation soon discovers that the cancer-ridden client was not Mr Brown but rather Moriarty long since thought deceased in Montevideo. Whoa! Where has he been these last thirty years and what has he been doing? Who did he think Paul was that he wanted to stab him? None of this interests Paul, until….

It get worse when Paul barely escapes another much younger villain. His car is booby trapped. He is on the run! He blames the nurse who sent him to listen to Moriarty and she feels guilty enough to club together with him, because it seems someone is trying to kill her, too. Indeed anyone is a target who had anything to do with Moriarty at the hospice.

The pace is fast and furious. The throw-away lines are many. The Irish idioms are delightful. Much ground is covered in and around Dublin. Little is as it seems: The beautiful TV journalist is rancid. The upright police commissioner isn’t. The shifty cabinet minister is honest. The objectionable husband (never mind the details) is a wounded lion. The helpless shut-in is far from helpless. Even the dead are not what they seem.

Hurling figures in the story, as does Guiness so we know it is Irish.

The characters who pass in review include Bunny, the hurling coach who never bluffs, Dorothy who lied about the gun collection of her late husband, Detective Inspector Stewart who may be the last and only honest Gardià in All Ireland, pregnant lawyer Nora whose taser is illegal and all the more welcome for it, but nary a priest though the pews were near full.

Glad I read it on Kindle since I could look up the Irishisms as I went. It is the first of series of four or five titles by Caimh McDonnell.

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I started the next one a few hours after finishing this one, and finished them all since I drafted this post. Craic!


IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 10 minutes, rated 5.1 by 233 cinematizens.

Genre: Mystery

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Verdict: Where is the old dark house?

While visiting London a brash American chipmunk inherits a House of Secrets. Whacko! Off he goes to claim the abandoned, empty, vacant, House of Secrets only to discover it is occupied and the occupiers have barking dogs and shotguns to prove it. They seem strangely indifferent to his legal claims, as do the local Bobbies.

Meanwhile back at the ranch lawyer's office there are many phone calls to people with plummy accents. Now the lawyer tells him to sell and skedaddle. Meanwhile he has fallen in lust with a wispy blonde lurking about the House of Secrets. No way is he going to leave this damsel behind.

The next 55 minutes consists of Chipmunk asking a number of people — the lawyer, Bobbies, plummy accent 1, plummy accent 2, wispy blonde, shotgun totting butler — what is going on. They respond by saying they cannot tell him.

Why not? Because it is not in the script.

Meanwhile also in London are three American stereotypical hoodlums who want to break into the House of Secrets and find the treasure. Treasure? Well, any House of Secrets is bound to have treasure, right? Huh? How it got there is.... contrary to the laws of physics.

In the last five minutes, they break in, the secret is revealed, and a treasure is found.

Spoiler coming.

The house is being used to experiment on an anti-poison gas. Evidently no research facilities are available for such a purpose. Budget cutters had been at it again. The ace scientist was also given to acting like a Republican — screaming, grabbing, and going all sanctimonious all at once — and had to be sequestered and sedated far from prying eyes. Further, please, shouted the fraternity brothers. Usually these types get Senate seats.

The house is hardly used apart from a basement. Where are the sliding panels, secret doors, spy holes, remote switches, cobwebs, and the other conveniences of the Old Dark House? Nor is the damsel in distress until the gangsters appear, partly led there inadvertently by Chipmunk.

It was filmed at the Gower Street studios of RKO in Hollywood. The plummy accents all came from the British colony in Tinsel Town at the time.

Poison gas was the atomic bomb of the age, and any British audience would have shuttered at its mere mention. Ditto many in an American audience like Rondo Hatton, as is discussed in another post on this blog. But it is also mentioned in the last ten minutes and has nothing to do with Chipmunk, the gangsters, or much else.

1803 The Louisiana Purchase agreement was signed. It included all of six states: Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and parts of eight more: Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Louisiana. Nearly doubling the area of the country. The purchase was opposed by some Senators and Representatives whose names are now forgotten.
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1935 Physicist Erwin published his famous thought experiment 'Schrödinger's cat', a paradox that illustrated the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. To observe is to alter.
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1948 The first mass-produced Australian car, the Holden FX, rolled off the assembly line in Melbourne. The automobile industry has been a child of the tariff wall and thereafter a political football.
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1949 Chang Kai-Shek's Nationalist regime left mainland China for Taiwan and stayed. Kate's mother once sold a pup to Madame Chang. True fact.
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1972 Atari released Pong, the first commercially successful video game. More came.
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1520 Ferdinand Magellan passed through the Tierra del Fuego to become the first European to enter the Pacific from the Atlantic. He had left Spain on 20 September. In the image below the Pacific Ocean is on the left and the Atlantic on the right.
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1660 The Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge had its first meeting. Sir Christopher Wren, who was Gresham's Professor of Astronomy gave the lecture. The audience was the scientific cream of Great Britain. The Royal warrant came two years later.
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1814 'The Times of London' was first printed by automatic, steam powered presses which reduced the price per number, making newspapers available to a mass audience.
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1919 Lady Astor is elected the first woman in Parliament. She campaigned hard as a Conservative and was re-elected until 1945. She held the ethnic and racial prejudices of the time and place.
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1956 Government of Canada paid the transportation costs to settle 37,565 Hungarian refugees in Canada, including the child pictured below. There followed English lessons and a clothing allowance.
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1095 Pope Urban II called the First Crusade because “Deus vult!” (“God wills it!") to liberate the Holy Land from the infidels. He was responding to false Fox News from Jerusalem about massacres of Christians. The aggression was Christian and battles have since continued.
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1868 George Custer led a massacre of peaceful Cheyennes on the Washita River in Oklahoma. He had been suspended from duty for a year because of absence, carelessness, neglect, and incompetence. He made no effort to identify the Indians, respond to the white flag they showed, or the presence of numerous women and children. All were murdered at Custer’s command, though some troopers of the 7th Cavalry refused to participate, and Custer attempted to silence and punish them. Custer's wife ensured it was reported as a great victory against the odds on the fact-free Fox News of the day. Pictured are some of Custer's victims.
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1895 Alfred Nobel made his last will and testament, pledging his enormous wealth toward the betterment of humanity through Nobel prizes.
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1999 Labour Party leader Helen Clark became first women elected Prime Minister of New Zealand.
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2006 Led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Clark, the Canadian House of Commons passed a resolution recognising Quebecois as a nation with a united Canada by a vote of 265 to 16. It seems largely symbolic, e.g., public parks in Quebec were re-named as nationale parcs rather than provincial parks. Quebec also got its own trade commissioners in French-speaking countries like Belgium, Switzerland, France, and Cote d'ivoire. In context it took the air out of a proposal for yet another sovereignty referendum in Quebec. How that sold in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia among Acadians and elsewhere among Franco-Canadiens would be question.
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43 BC In the wake of Julius Caesar’s murder Octavian, Lepidus, and Antony form a triumvirate to rule Rome and its Empire. Ah huh. It lasted even shorter time than the first triumvirate.
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1896 Alonzo Stagg’s University of Chicago football team went into a huddle before offensive plays. Other teams followed the example within days. The word 'huddle' came from Low German to Middle English and refers to animals and people crowding together against the weather.
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1917 On the orders of Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes army officers raided the Queensland Government Printing Office in Brisbane and seized all copies of Hansard containing a speech by the Premier of Queensland, T. J. Ryan, against military conscription for the Great War in Europe. This was done just before the second referendum on conscription. Earlier newspaper censorship in Brisbane had kept Ryan’s speech from a public airing. So much for states' rights.
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1917 Five professional hockey teams in Canada signed an agreement to create the National Hockey League. One ambition was to raise civilian morale with diversion from the long lists of the dead, wounded, and missing from the Western Front.
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1941 FDR signed a bill making the fourth Thursday in November Thanksgiving day. Abraham Lincoln had proclaimed that in 1863, but there was no legislation. Rather each year the president proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day. In 1939 that last Thursday was 30 November. The retail association claimed that such a late Thanksgiving eroded sales for Christmas and urged that it be pushed forward. The result was Franksgiving on the third Thursday in 1939 and in 1940. This change led to much confusion, contention, and distraction and became a political football. FDR reversed course and accepted the convention of the fourth Thursday with his usual wit and grace.
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1789  Eora Aboriginal man Bennelong, a Koori, became an intermediary between the British and Aboriginal peoples. Michael Boddy's play 'Cradle of Hercules' in the 1974 was my introduction to Bennelong. More recently we saw the Bangarra dance company interpret this relationship. Bennelong.jpg

1867 Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel patented TNT.
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1952 Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mouse Trap’ opened to an audience of 450. It has since had 20,000 performances in London’s West End and ten million people have seen it to date among them us.
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1980 France continued nuclear weapons testing at Mururoa atoll. The tests were in the atmosphere until direct action by members of the New Zealand government led France to go into underground tests. Thank you, Kiwis. Continued testing led to diplomatic tension in 1994, and we encountered a whiff of it when Kate handed an Australian passport to a French official in Nice. He stared at it, at her, and slowly -- very slowly -- clicked away at the screen and then leafed through a very large ring binder (looking for a reason to gum things up, I thought).
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1992 The Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia voted to partition the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, beginning January 1, 1993. We have been to the Czech Republic, and perhaps will make it to Slovakia in 2019.
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Good Reads meta-data is 424 pages, rated 3.84 by 632 litizens.

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Liliuokalani (1838–1917) became the last royal sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands. In this autobiography she refers to them and the people as Hawaiian. Captain James Cook had called them the Sandwich Islands to honour the First Lord of the Admiralty who had commissioned the voyage.

Most of the book consists of reminiscences about the good old days, and repeated assertions that every native Hawaiian loved the monarchy, the monarchs, and the numerous members of the several royal families. There is a brief, early reference to the bloody wars among the peoples of these islands, long before the arrival of Captain Cook, to establish the monarchy, and political compromises that produces the plurality of royal families.

Absent from these recollections is the reality of the sui generis native conquest, genocide, and compromise. The name Hawaii was the name of one of the islands from which came the victorious tribe which then planted its name on the whole group, after conquering Molokai, Maui, and Oahu. The Nuʻuanu Pali lookout north of Honolulu was the scene of the final massacre. More blood was shed in the conquest of Hawaiians by Hawaiians than in the American annexation.

Only from Chapter 39 on does the story become interesting as annexation to the United States draws near and finally occurs. The focus is on Hawaii and Hawaiians as victims. Though earlier much is made of the relationship of the Hawaiian monarchy to Great Britain, there is no reference to a British role in permitting, encouraging, tolerating this American appropriation. Too bad, because I wondered about that. Nor do we hear anything about those natives who preferred Americans to an indolent, unresponsive, tribal, and taxing monarchy.

Annexation was indeed a sorry story, even if the telling here is one-eyed, which occurred during the administration of one of most inept and lazy American presidents, Grover Cleveland. His name is much mentioned in these pages. A biography of this man-mountain is discussed elsewhere on this blog.

Mark Twain, a frequent visitor to the islands, opposed annexation virulently. There is much name-dropping in the book but his is not among those dropped in my hearing. Try his 'Letters from Hawaii,' a collection of 25 letters that he wrote from Hawaii in 1866. He was there four months as a correspondent for the 'Sacramento Bee.' The letters were only published in 1947.

I listened to it in on Audible. The reading is superb, though the content is seldom interesting and rarely convincing. Autobiographies are like that.

In our many visits to Hawaii we have been some of the places mentioned in this book, and I listened to it in anticipation of another visit in 2019.

Her entry in Wikipedia is a battleground in Wiki wars, being edited, and re-edited almost daily. I checked as I was listening to the book. History is constantly rewritten on Wikipedia.

1639 Separately, Jeremiah Horrocks and William Crabtree first recorded the observation of the transit of Venus. It was a major contribution to mapping the Solar system.
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1642 Dutch sailor Abel Tasman landed on Van Dieman’s Land, now Tasmania. His name is also on the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand.
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1859 Charles Darwin published the 'On the Origin of Species.' A masterwork.
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1947 The drooling monster HUAC ruled the Hollywood Ten in contempt of Congress. Several went to jail and at least one died there. The floor vote was 346 for and 17 against the citations. The Supreme Court later upheld the authority of Congress to so act. The ten were writers, directors, producers, and editors. It was a shot across the bows of the studios and interpreted in that way.
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1995 In a referendum Irish voters accepted divorce 50.3 to 49.7, ending a 70 year proscription. In a total of 1.6 million voters the difference was 8,000 votes.
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1227 The Spanish Christians drove the Muslim Moors out of Sevilla after a two-year siege. Been there. Those oranges perfume the air.
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1644 John Milton published 'Areopagitica,' a polemical pamphlet advocating the freedom of the press at a time when there was none. Read some Milton but not this. Maybe I should.
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1903 Enrico Caruso made his American debut in Verdi’s 'Rigoletto.' Heard some recordings of 'God’s voice,' as Puccini said. Caruso in costume is pictured below.
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1923 2SB Radio in Sydney went on the air for the Australian wireless broadcast from Philip Street. SB = Sydney Broadcasters. It broadcast Saint-Saens ‘Le Cygne.’ Still going but has become ABC 702. N.B. that wireless includes plenty of wires then as now.
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1955 Great Britain transferred responsibility for the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to Australia which with Christmas Island today constitute Australian Indian Ocean Territories closer to Sri Lanka and Indonesia than Canberra.
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IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 38 minutes, rated 5.5 by 270 cinematizens.

Genre: Sy Fy

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Verdict: Charming.

Beau collects old cameras and finds in one exposed film from August 1969 which he develops in his home dark room closet. Whoa! It's 'Paul' (2011) and his brother Asgards on film. Aliens with bulbous heads like ‘My Favourite Martian.’ What to do?

Well he is a free lance (aka unemployed) photo-journalist so he tries to sell the pictures. Editors dismiss them as fakes. He takes them to the Air Force where Chief Gillespie reads him the official word on UFO-riding aliens. Gillespie played the same bumptious fool in ‘Mars Attack’ (1996) discussed elsewhere on this blog. Do I see the hand of the IRS compelling this old stager on to the old stage, again and again?

Then Prince Nerd comes to his door with a thousand smackers for the pictures for his personal UFO collection. Bingo!

Beau soon discovers that Prince Nerd is a paid Liar, that is, he works for Faux News which has plastered the pictures along with Beau's own countenance across the nation. Faux News blames the aliens on Hillary and this makes Beau a laughing stock.

Righteously indignant he goes to sock Prince Nerd where he meets Frail, who is the daughter of one of the men pictured with the aliens. Her dad and his pal disappeared that very night in 1969. She was there to find out what happened to Dad.

The two join … forces to figure it out. They meet a relentless real estate agent for whom ‘NO!’ is a bargaining gambit, an accordion playing retired football star, UFO nuts who begin to seem sane, some cagey trailer trash, and — well, yes — some aliens without bulbous heads. They read micro-cards, interview witnesses, explore dark houses, and find bright lights. That's entertainment!

It is slow, low key, shorn of special effects, not a CGI in sight and relies on the droll script and the deft players to move things along. The direction gives it a gentle pace. Accordingly, mouth-breathers score it at 1 or 2 on the IMDb. Ah the benefits of a free public education wasted again.

Way over budget are some of the players, including Jill St John, Billy Bob Thornton, and Rod Steiger along with Mr Hom.

1497 Vasco de Gama (1460-1524) rounded the Cape of Good Hope bound for India. He was the first European to make this trip. Portuguese Empire in Asia began and then ended in East Timor in 1974. We saw replicas of his craft in the maritime museum in Lisbon. Yikes!
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1928 Maurice Ravel’s ‘ Boléro’ was performed for the first time in Paris. the music remains instantly recognised. Commissioned by ex-patriate Russian dancer Ida Rubinstein; it was originally intended to be ballet and it was an instant success. It was soon used for dance.
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1956 The Games of the XVI Olympiad began in Melbourne. Seventy-two countries sent 4,000 competitors with men outnumbering women 10 to 1. Because of Australia's strict quarantine laws, the equestrian events were not staged in Melbourne, but rather five months earlier in Sweden.
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1963 Jack was murdered.
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2005 Angela Merkel became the Chancellor Germany and became a voice for calm, rationality, and the long view. She will be missed.
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1620 Mayflower Compact established the principle of the consent of the governed at Cape Cod.
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1789 Convict James Ruse received a land grant for an experimental farm in Parramatta. He was successful and got more land in 1791, and more. Now one of the best high schools in Australia is James Ruse Agricultural High School.
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1920 Bloody Sunday in Dublin left 30 dead when the IRA clashed with British troops and Ulster police.
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1934 Teenage Ella Fitzgerald sang at an amateur night at the Apollo Theatre. On a dare with girlfriends she had entered as a dancer. But when her number was called, she sang. In some Sy fy movie lost in the mists of my mind, one character swears that someone is an alien. The proof. No reaction to Ella Fitzgerald singing! Proof positive.
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1988 Ethel Blondin-Andrew, a First Nations woman, was elected to the Canadian House of Commons, a graduate of the University of Alberta and a school teacher in the Western Arctic in the Northwest Territories. She was the first woman from the First Nations to enter parliament and served ten years.
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IMDb runtime of far too long at 1 hour and 15 minutes, rated a generous 2.2 out of 10 by 229 slackers.

Genre: Sy Fy and Boredom.

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Verdict: So bad that it’s bad.

A flaming orb lands on Earth and after toasting an Indian or two it then hides in a lake for three hundred years. That prelude took fifteen minutes as we watch the same segment of the Indian running down a hill in a five minute loop.

A geologist digs up some opals which stimulate the flaming orb which has been Rip Van Winkle-ing at the bottom of the lake. Yes, the flaming orb was hiding in the bottom of a lake. Cute trick. Awakened, flaming orb toasts various people in the hills.

No one finds this strange because the Surgeon General has said smoking kills. And where there is smoke there was fire. Great logic that.

The geologist and his squeeze investigate since the authorities are too busy practicing their bumpkin accents.

The flaming orb lurks around keeping an … [a what?] on Geologist in between toasting others. Why flaming orb does not toast Geologist and spare viewers more treacle is unknown.

Consulting the NRA play book, victims try shooting the flaming orb. More toast is the result. Finally Geologist figures out something or other and finishes off flaming orb. At last.

What the orb was, what it was doing, and who cares all are questions left unanswered.

It is a Roger Corman production. Hmmm. It is poorly lit so most of the scenes are lost in the murk. The editing destroys continuity. The acting is … well, it is the first and last credit on the IMDb for most participants. The direction is absent.

Director Harry Essex wrote two excellent screen plays: ’The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ and ‘It came from Outer Space.’ Each is discussed elsewhere on this blog. He also wrote this slop. Naughty Harry!

That inflated 2.2 includes several 8’s from raters who rated it so bad it is good. Imbecilic but true.

IMDb meta-data is run time of 1 hour and 22 minutes, rated 5.4 by 144 cinematizens.

Genre: Bio-pic and Disappointment

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Verdict: Read the books.

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944), just wanted to fly, and fly he did. In 1908 he saw his first airplane and seldom had eyes for anything else after that.

Bruno Ganz plays Saint Ex, as he was called even by his sisters. He had a vexed relationship with Consuelo and that is the focus of this film where she is played by Miranda Richardson as a selfish, manipulative, petulant woman with no interest or activities of her own part from making him miserable. Blame the screen writer.

Ganz and Richardson were enough to capture my interest, plus the prospect of some flying sequences. But alas, the actors have little to do, though they try their best to make the most of it, and the flying sequences. Well, what flying sequences? We had a better flying sequence against a green matte in Amsterdam once making a tourist video. What we see here is clumsy, patently fake, and all too much like a school play.

Moreover the story dwells on ‘The Little Prince’ from go to whoa as his alter ego, though in fact he tossed that off in a few weeks while travelling the United States to raise money for Free France. It was not a lifetime preoccupation as implied here.

By concentrating on ‘Le Petit Prince,’ the story elides and ignores most of his career as a world travelling aviator, international journalist, and published novelist. Occasionally some passages from his elegiac prose are narrated, and that is the best part of the film because it communicates a feeling for the sky, the wind, the earth below, and the eternity of the stars. But alas, there is too little of that.

Try ‘Southern Mail’ (1929), ‘Night Flight’ (1931), ‘Wind, Sand, and Stars’ (1939), and ‘Flight to Arras’ (1942).

Saint Ex in plane.jpg This is the last photograph of Saint Ex.

It has Ganz declare in the last scene that he is a ‘fighter pilot.’ Not so, he flew reconnaissance and the Lockheed P-38 he had was unarmed, despite appearances in this movie, to make it lighter for distance and speed. It was also a notoriously difficult plane to fly even for pilots trained in its peculiarities with youthful reflexes, unlike the forty-four year old St Ex. Did he have a self-destructive streak? Perhaps.

The archival interviews with people who knew him are informative, though at the end when the credits roll the camera work on some of them is demeaning and gratuitous. Really!

There are no linked critics and no user reviews on IMDb. Never before have the opinionators failed to fill a vacuum on the IMDb. However, all was not lost because the entry on Amazon for the DVD is accompanied by some idiotic comments, including one that has Saint Ex dying to prevent Charles De Gaulle from making France socialist. Don’t believe me. Look for yourself. It restored my faith in the endurance and proliferation of human idiocy.

1875 Henry James published 'Roderick Hudson,' his first novel. Not read this one, but have read The 'Ambassadors,' 'The American,' 'The Bostonians,' 'The Princess Casamassima,' 'The Turn of the Screw,' and 'Washington Square.' A master of fine detail but ever so orotund. What I remember is the dedication of the hall in 'The Bostonians,' the door opening (where there is no door) in 'The Turn of the Screw,' and a gentleman who is sitting down (when he should be standing) in 'The Ambassadors.'
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1914 US State Department required photographs on passports as shown below. I look like my picture. Gulp! Somewhere -- lost to me now --- Georg Hegel recommended pictures to go with travel papers in the 1820s.
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1923 Garrett Morgan patented the three-position traffic signal with buffer between stop and go, making the transition safer. He was the child of two former slaves. This butter evolved into the amber light, which in some jurisdictions follows the red, and in others the green. In both cases it means 'sped up!'
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1945 Nuremberg Trials began with 24 individuals.
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1985 Windows 1.0 was released two years late, and has continued in that manner. I left the PC world about ten years ago for the Mac World and will not go back.
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1805 Lewis and Clarke reached the Pacific Ocean, having started in Washington D.C., and using Pittsburgh as the base camp.
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1863 Sixteenth President Abraham Lincoln delivered 272 words at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Here's a fun exercise time-wasters. Imagine how Faux News would bastardise this speech today.
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1872 Edmund Barbour of Boston patented the first adding machine capable of printing totals and subtotals. One of his early model is pictured.
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1903 Carrie Nation attempted to address the Senate on demon rum from the visitor’s gallery. Earlier she had tried to corner President Theodore Roosevelt in the White House but he was too fast for her. She was 6 feet tall and led numerous hatchetations in which saloons were destroyed from Kentucky, Kansas, to Texas and back.
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1926 At the Imperial Conference in London the Balfour Declaration proclaimed Britain and its dominions to have equal constitutional status. In led to the 1931 Statue of Westminster which made it official that the dominions were sovereign.
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When What

1477 William Caxton published the first printed book in England, Earl Rivers’s 'Sayings of the Philosophers.' Books, we have read a few.
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1838 Scottish businessman and chairman of the South Australian Company, George Fife Angas, sponsored twenty-one German Lutherans who arrived in South Australia. More followed in short order. Some settled in Hahndorf which we visited in August 2018.
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1865 Mark Twain published his first story, ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.’ Read it in high school.
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1883 At noon American and Canadian railroads begin using four continental time zones to end the confusion of dealing with thousands of local times. US Congress enacted time zones in 1918. It ended the distinction between town time and railroad time in thousands of places. See Jo Barnett's 'Times Pendulum' (1999) tells some of this story. I found the book unfocussed and did not discuss it on the blog.
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1963 Bell Telephone in the US began to market push button telephones to replace rotary dial phones. The charm of the pulse dial was lost, replaced by tone. No doubt Luddites mourned its passing.
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IMDb runtime is 1 interminable hour and 14 elastic minutes that stretched and stretched, rated a generous 3.9 by 980 spaced out viewers.

Genre: Sy Fy, Boredom

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Verdict: Why did I do it?

Robert Clarke’s allergy to shirts continues in this exercise. Playing (off camera) with atoms he exposes himself (see reference previously to no-shirt) to radiation and is rushed (ever so slowly) to a hospital where he seems….. like Robert Clarke, i.e., shirt on, shirt off.

It is quickly discovered that if he is exposed to sunlight from the big nuclear reactor in the sky (N.B. as soon as Greens figure out it is a nuclear reactor, they will want to close it down), he gets all rubber lizard-suited in the tradition of cheapie Roger Corman movies. He goes all nasty, ripping, tearing, chasing, killing, devouring, all within the Hollywood code. (The only Hollywood monster permitted beyond the code was HUAC.) This is not something he likes but he has no control once he is sun burned. Sort of like the fraternity brothers after the second keg.

The reptilian Clarke is an instance of reverse evolution, explains one doctor (ever so slowly for those taking notes). HE MUST AVOID SUNLIGHT AT ALL COSTS.

Guess what comes next! He gets sunlit and goes all reptilian like a Senate Republican leaders.

Not even the Hollywood police, who have seen it all, they thought, can ignore this. Off they go in a chase that goes on, and on, and on, and on. He is an incompetent runner and they are KeyStone Kops without the laughs.

As entertainment, well,….. The Fast Forward is the viewer’s friend.

Shirtless Clarke was the producer, director, writer, and star, and one critic linked to the IMDb entry says it was filmed in his home for a $5000 (app. $43,000 today). The word is most of the players were friends and family who worked for the absolute minimum. It all shows. It was his first and last effort of this kind.

When Lon Chaney, Jr became the Wolf Man that story and that actor endowed the metamorphosis with pathos, loss, anger, distress, resignation, and confusion. What we have here is bathos. (Look it up.)

The lizard suit is pretty much it. Although the fraternity brothers liked the bar scenes. Typical.

On the IMDB Clarke has a long list of credits (many where the B movie budget did not run to a shirt), including several films discussed elsewhere on this blog: ’The Man from Planet X’ (1951), ’The Astounding She Monster’ (1957), ’The Incredible Petrified World’ (1959), and ‘Beyond the Time Barrier’ (1960). Mostly his later entries are in television, many uncredited.

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He was movie struck as a boy in Oklahoma and went to California to be discovered. When John Agar was in the tank, Clarke got the nod, it seems.

Good Reads meta-data is 432 pages, rated 4.2 by 430 litizens.

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Verdict: All hail.

Gaius Petreuis Ruso, Roman legionnaire retired, and his wife Tilla, tribal Britain, are at it again. No, not that. They uproot themselves from the farm in the North of Britain, where Ruso is trying to fit in with the Britains, though he draws the line at tree hugging and singing to carrots, when his old army buddy sends for help. Ruso is only too glad to have an excuse to leave the farm.

Tilla, as usual surprises him, by declaring that she will go along, too, with their infant daughter, nursemaid, hapless slave Eisco, and the exhausted messenger Albanus. This troupe sets off down river, over hill, pass dale, and through mud, through more mud — this is after all England — to arrive at Bath, well it must be but it is not named in the book. Instead of the heroic mercy dash Ruso had imagined, it is a slow plod.

Someone has murdered Serena, buddy Valens’s estranged wife, and he is about to be tried for the crime. He says he is innocent, but Valens has had so little experience in the telling the truth that Ruso is not quite sure whether to believe him. Serena’s father demands justice, and he has lots of large friends who also once served in the legions to back up his call. By the time Ruso and company arrive, Valens is pretty well convicted.

But Ruso never knows when to quit and he asks questions to find that the local priests at the baths squirm this way and that. A trial they do not want. Too public. Too open. But why are they so worried? What are they hiding? How can they hide anything when bathing?

As usual those who know do not say, and those who do not know will not shut up. Sounds like a committee of PhDs at it.

Ruso stumbles around irritating everyone, and exhausting himself. Tilla adds her efforts with little success. There is a large cast of red herrings for each of them to consider. During the consideration we learn a lot about life in Roman Britain, and how holy baths work, including some water engineering. Too bad the British lost the knowledge of bathing when the Romans left.

This is the eighth title in the series and it maintains the standard of excellence. Ruso is so ordinary and Tilla tries so hard. Together they are charming and refreshing compared to the leads in many historical krimis.

IMDb meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 51 minutes, rated 7.2 by 5708 cinematizens.

Genre: Docudrama.

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Verdict: Wow!


During the Cold War in 1985 with Ronald Reagan in the White House and Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin, the Soviet space station Salyut 7 (S7) went haywire. During a period when it was unoccupied, S7 lost flight integrity and began to spin on all three axes in a way that threatened a crash on earth. There was no way to control it from the ground.

Time to send in the flyboys. Their mission is to fix it or destroy it. A crash would be terrible but even worse would be a capture of the space station by the irritating and tiresome Americans. If they used a space shuttle with a Canadarm to grab the station, then they would have all the latest Red technology on board, coffee cups, screw drivers, burned out oxygen canisters, pinup pics of Comrade of the month, and so on.

There are the complications, of course. One of the flyboys was grounded but the engineer chosen for the assignment wants him back. Why, we never find out. That he was grounded is the start of the film, and let’s just say it reminded me of something John Glenn once said, and wisely never repeated. But it means that this flyboy is not high on the short list of those trusted. The Ground Control commissar (Cap Con in NASA-speak) has to fend off military and political pressures which mount up.

The two have a deadline to meet, which was set both by the erratic orbit of S7 and the American salvage hunt. To add spice, each has a crisis of sorts in his personal life. Whew, what a lot of competing story lines.

Off they go!

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This is one of the arresting visuals as the rocket ship pierces the clouds and leaves earth.

It is the usual management squeeze: they are told to use their initiative but to obey orders. They are told to use their own judgement but wait for directions from Cap-Con. The McKinsey management manual has a Russian edition.

Anyone crazy enough to go on this mission has to be crazy enough to see it through and they do, not always obeying orders and not always waiting for instructions. They see the job and do it.

Nits to pick there are a few. If the Red Tech is so hot how come earlier they let that French astronaut on board and then let him go to work for the Americans. Hasn’t he already told all. Most Frenchmen do. This Frenchie is mentioned early on and then forgotten, though not by this correspondent.

The international irresponsible media makes much of the problem, but all examples of this perfidy we see come from beyond the Soviet sphere. Inside Russia no one knows what is going on or so it seems.

Wow! The special effects are very special. According to the film publicity about twenty minute of screen time came from S7 in space. Fabulous. Another forty minutes came from cosmonaut training. Verisimilitude is high. The travelling mattes for the space photography are glorious. Far too few space film have anything of the grandeur and emptiness of space in them, but this one does.

The gorgeous photography brought to mind ‘Gravity’ (2013) but this film had a story, whereas ‘Gravity’ had only Sandra Bullock taking her clothes off, repeatedly. The fraternity brothers rated is 6 out of 5. (That's their idea of wit.)

The exploits of the cosmonauts are there, but played in a low key, and the better for it. The emphasis is always on doing the job, and how hard it is with all those laws of physics. This is what has to be done. Do it.

I also like the distribution of heroism between the two flyboys and the Cap-Con on the ground. They each had a role in making it happen. And nothing is soft-soaped.

What is not to like is the role of women. The only woman in action we see is there to be rescued from herself in the opening. Thereafter the only women we see are the wives, who are treated condescendingly by everyone. There is an MD at Ground Control who is constantly ignored and patronised. No doubt realistic, but rankling all the same. Marie Windsor would not have put up with that. See the discussion of ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ (1953) elsewhere on this blog for edification.

I expect the film is no more realistic than ‘Apollo 13’ but it is great entertainment. But with all those competing storylines something had to give, and some of the elements are lost in the shuffle. It should have been cut to 90 minutes as the laws of physics demand. In this case, the physics of me sitting still and reading subtitles.

1558 Elizabeth became queen of England at twenty-five and so began the Elizabethan Age.
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1869 The Suez Canal opened to shipping traffic. A Pharaonic canal once existed but was lost due to neglect. This canal began in 1854 employing 2.5 million workers, of whom 125,000 died on the job! That is from Wikipedia. Today 14% world trade passes through it, mainly to the states of the Persian Gulf.
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1875 Occult spiritualist Mme Helena Blavatsky founded the American Theosophical Society. Let the table rapping begin! Spiritualism with spectres, table raps, séances, and more became a trope in the popular culture. The harvest of dead in the Great War gave it re-newed impetus.
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1913 The first ship passed through the Panama Canal from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean. It was an enormous strategic asset to the United States for three generations. I read McCullough's book years ago and found it excellent.
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1970 Douglas Engelbart patented the first computer mouse. It was ridiculed and disparaged by the experts. Behold below Mouse Number One.
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534 Justinian declared his code of laws. It codified and simplified Roman law as it stood at the time for the Eastern Empire at Constantinople. Been there and see some of his works.
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1821 William Becknell reached Santa Fe on the route that became known as the Santa Fe Trail. Kate's mother grew up in New Mexico.
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1913 Marcel Proust published ‘Swann’s way,’ the first volume of 'Á recherche du Temps perdue.' Read most of it.
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1945 UNESCO founded in Geneva. It has done many good works.
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1989 South African government of F. W. de Klerk rescinded the Separate Amenities Act, the first step in dismantling apartheid.
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1791 At Rose Hill in NSW grape vines were planted which survived and started Australian wine cultivation. The site is a race course now and the grapes have gone to the Hunter Valley.
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1881 American Federation of Labor was founded in Pittsburg uniting crafts unions for the first time. Samuel Gompers became its president and remained that for twenty years. We have a graduate of Samuel Gompers High School down the street.
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1904 King Gillette patented the Gillette razor blade. Royalty indeed. King was a family name which his parents bestowed on him as a first name. I never use anything else but Gillette.
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1920 Forty-one nations opened the first League of Nations session in Geneva. Below is the unofficial logo of the League.
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1948 Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King retired after 22 years in office. His anointed successor was Quebecois Louis St-Laurent. King was never without a dog as a familiar. He no doubt occulted his long dead mother, as he frequently did. I meant to type 'consulted his mother' but, well, 'occulted' fits. His peculiarities are discussed in other posts on this blog. Go for it!
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IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 5 minutes, rated 5.7 by 307 cinemitizens.

Genre: Horror, Mystery

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Verdict: Not enough Bela!

At the Rinehart estate, upstart Beau is a scientist who is about to experiment on himself by slowing his bodily processes to nearly nothing to be buried alive, and then dug up later. Nutso, right? Right! On the other hand think of the market for a drug that could do that. Before every McKinsey management training session with a twelve-year-old trainer the victims, the old salts, could deaden themselves to the nonsense and revive at the end. Hmm, sounds good, but back to the film at hand which does not sound so good.

Outside a Maniac is murdering so many people that the fraternity brothers ran out of fingers.

Meanwhile, the faithful servant Bela Lugosi peers around corners, creeps down hallways, probes into recesses. Is he the Maniac? No, we know he is not from the opening scene and that steals much thunder from the get-go.

Because they are wealthy and beautiful the Rineharts suppose they are safe. Just before being murdered they say ‘I’ll be all right.’ They aren't. Did Hillary do it? Who insured their lives? Fired!

Yes, Maniac finds rich pickings in the Rinehart mansion on the Rinehart estate on Rinehart Drive in Rinehartville. Dad Rinehart is murdered and his will divides his fortune equally among the surviving relatives. That is not enough for any of them, and they fall to bickering, and cheer Maniac on when he murders again.

Bela continues to peer. His mystic wife goes into trances at the drop of a knife. Yet the proceedings are lugubrious. Then the comic cop shows up in the pre-code film where the police were often the comic distress. After the Hayes Code police had to be portrayed positively in works of fiction.

There are some fine players like Wallace Ford as the cynical newsman who injects energy, and Sally Blane, aka Loretta Young’s little sister. Even Beau is well played by George Meeker who is just too oily to be true.

Turns out Beau had a plan of his own, and it did not involve lying quietly waiting to be disinterred but how he managed to combine that with Maniac is anyone's guess. The screenwriter did not even try to cover that. Bela was but a red herring. What a waste of this master of menace.

1732 First professional librarian in North America, Louis Timothee, was hired in Philadelphia at the Library Company which still exists. He was a multi-lingual protegé of Benjamin Franklin. Hmm, librarians.
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1889 The American journalist, Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman), followed the footsteps of fictional character Phileas Fogg from Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. She started in Hoboken and came back 72 days later. She had made a career as an undercover journalist whose exposés of the conditions in a workhouse, an asylum, and a factory made her name. I have flown around the world a couple of times when those tickets were cheaper than point-to-point return tickets.
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1922 The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) began the first daily radio broadcasts from Marconi House which I have walked by it in Aldwych a few times. Still listening to the BBC4.
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1971 NASA's Mariner 9 entered Mars' orbit after 167 days in space. This was the first craft to orbit Mars and returned 7329 images over the course of its mission. Confession time: I have small Mars globe on my desk which is partly based on the data from Mariner 9.
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1994 The Eurostar passenger trains between London, Paris and Brussels was launched carrying passengers through the newly completed Channel Tunnel, the train reaches speeds of 186 MPH or 299 KPH. Ridden EuroStar a couple of times but not the one pictured below mysteriously abandoned in the Ardenne forest of Belgium.
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IMDb meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 19 very l o n g minutes, rated at an inflated 4.4 by 238 relatives of the director.

Genre: Sy Fy and Bickering

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Verdict: It felt terminal.

In distant 2035 an international crew of bickering, backbiting, resentful slackers rides a spaceship to find a new home for the residents of the doomed planet Earth. These are the Bickersons and the fate of the species is in their hands. Game over.

What selection process picked this crew? Spin the bottle? Eenie, meanie, minnie, moe? Or were they the survivors of McKinsey management seminars? No, no one survives those.

The Bickersons awake from a cryogenic sleep - the scriptwriters best friend after the meteor shower — and find the low bid contractor struck again. The captain of the ship is a rotten corpse. Maybe he read the script and took the easy way out.

Thereafter others exit. First the 2-IC (that is, second in command for the pacifists) steps up to the plate. Briefly. Now that he is in the big chair his butt print (the fraternity brothers suggested that image) allows him access to super secret intel. He reads the script and…. Yes, he hung himself in a hallway. So far nothing has happened but the payroll had diminished. Every managers dream come true.

Then the only one who seems to be taking his lines seriously snuffs it while wearing a virtual reality hood to watch a peep show. Meanwhile, others are doing a variety of pharmaceuticals. The snarling Russian in the ranks smokes oxygen burning cigarettes. Sure. That would be a good idea. The fraternity brothers waited for her to don a space suit and light up!

This crew has been carefully selected from the world’s population and this is it! It looks like President Tiny's inbred cabinet of dolts, droolers, and dopes.

Then there is the automaton who even in death is irritating. Androids can be like that. Even the severed head of the android has been done in ‘Spaceflight IC-1’ (1965) discussed elsewhere on this blog.

It is by the numbers. The dead captain was dramatic in ’Planet of the Apes’ in 1968. The virtual reality was done to death in Star Trek. The drugs have been everywhere. These people did not need a spaceship for such banalities. The mechanical man, a woman in this case, is another tired trope stitched in.

It is all interiors. We never even get a glimpse of the stellar void, or any sense that the space ship is going anywhere or that the Bickersons have any control over it, though we get far too many shots of its vast CGI bulk.

Most of the action is the crew arguing about who is in charge. That part did seem realistic because pointless bickering is on most agendas. They snipe at each other. Denounce one another’s national origins and dress sense. The usual. No need to go into space for any of this.

And they didn’t. The end.

The Italian Sy Fy of the 1970s at least had some energy. Not so here. The direction is leaden. The screen play has no redeeming merits. The set is a card table. Within those limits the actors try to work up some drama, well, some of them do, and others keep looking at their watches. Me, too.

1474 Near Belfort, a Swiss army without William Tell defeated a French effort to conquer Switzerland in the Burgundian War. The threat united the peoples of Alps as never before and they stayed that way.
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1835 Texas proclaimed its independence from Mexico, and became an independent and sovereign state (until 1845) with Sam Houston as its first president. A biography of Houston is discussed elswhere on this blog.
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1895 First shipment of canned Dole pineapples from Hawaii. Still shipping. We have been to the original Dole plantation on Oahu, and another on Maui. Yum, yum.
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1953 ‘Robin Hood’ was banned from Indiana state school libraries because it was communist. Oh, oh, watched it every Thursday evening about that time. Did not know he was Red Robin, thought that was a bird in the spring.
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1981 The Canadarm, a robotic space arm (the first of five) was deployed on the Space Shuttle Columbia. They were used on more than 90 missions over 30 years. They originated in a Quebec engineering firm.
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1859 Jules Leotard performed the first flying trapeze circus act in Paris wearing a garment he designed for the purpose which has since borne his name. Cannot say I have ever donned one.
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1900 Art Nouveau style dominated the Exposition Universelle (World's Fair) in Paris which closed after 50 million visitors. The style uses natural forms, following the Arts and Crafts movement of the previous century. The Exposition disseminated it around the world with those millions of visitors. An enduring example are the Métro entrances like the one pictured. Been on many a Métro ride.
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1919 Brothers Ross and Keith Smith with two others in the crew flew from England to Australia in 27 days. Prime Minister Billie Hughes of Australia offered a prize of £10,000 for the first flight from England in less than 30 days to develop an air link to Old Blighty. That was a fortune at the time. There were six starters but only one finisher. Flown the Kangaroo Route many a time, all in less than twenty-seven days. Whew!
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1923 Adolf Hitler was arrested for attempt to seize power during Beer Hall Putsch. We forget that the Nazi party vigorously campaigned in many elections and won many of them. That was the voice of the people. For details see my chapter ‘Democratic Theory and Practice' in Australian Politics, Rodney Smith (ed.) (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1989, 1992, 1997), pp. 35-50.
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1966 Buzz Aldrin took a selfie performing extra-vehicular activity in space during the Gemini program. Aldrin remained a tireless advocate for space exploration and a bane to flat earthers. Go, Buzz! Check him out on You Tube.
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Good Reads meta-data is 224 pages, rated 4.1 by 58201 litizens.

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Verdict: all trip, no arrival. Life's like that.

An edifying zip around the universe and back. It consists of a series of essays originally published in popular magazines tied together. It works well. The exposition is direct and simple with everyday imagery. I particularly liked the picture of two meltingly hot marshmallows colliding at near light speed. SPLAT, and there we have another star system.

Having no background in the subject, and I would not count the physics I did in college and neither would my teachers, Messers Throckmorton and Bonar, but then I may remember them better than they remember me.* I could not assimilate much of it with no framework or vocabulary in mind.

The single most important thing I can retain from the book is the continuity of matter in the universe. Start dust takes many forms but there is nothing new under any sun.

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Tyson finds this continuity and the scale of the universe(s) exhilarating while other might find it intimidating or belittling. He communicates the wonder of it all very well, as do the pictures from the Hubble telescope as above.

The chapters are short, the technical jargon is absent, the explanations are concrete. For a few minutes the reader understands quarks (without Richard Benjamin), pulsars, Big Bangs, black holes, quantum mechanics, string theory, and the carbon in a hamburger. Beat that. But easy come, easy go.

The man can turn a phrase, as in:
‘The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.’ A truth that anti-vaxxers, flat earthers, climate change deniers, and others will rediscover in time.

There are more than 7000 reviews on Good Reads. Have a look there. Does Tyson keep a scrapbook of such reviews? Do it, Neil!

I was not in a hurry but a short book was the order of the day.

When a conclave of science deniers gets together, Tyson can sometimes be found across the street in another hotel at a podium daring them to bring out their dead arguments. That’s how I came across him the first time, in just such a situation in Baltimore. Some mob of anti-science flat earthers were in one hotel and he pitched up across the street in another to spruik science at them.

Yes, I know he calls himself Neil de Grasse Tyson, but I generally only allow two names to a customer.

* [Censored.]

1675 German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz demonstrated integral calculus for the first time to find the area under the graph of y = f(x) function. The foundation calculus as some know it today, but not me.
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1880 Irish tenants and harvest workers employed in Ballinrobe by land agent Charles Boycott ostracised him, leading to the term ‘boycott.’ Boycott was refused service in shops, drapers, livery stables, saloons, and people crossed the street rather than pass him by. It was a giant cause célèbre at the time and led to army intervention to force labor. While Boycott worked for Lord Erne who owned vast acreage, it was Boycott himself who was target because he was regarded as arrogant, oppressive, and brutal. He became, briefly, a hero in England and wasshowered with honours for taking the whip to those primitive Irish.
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1918 The armistice to end The Great War came into effect. Amen. The front page of the Sydney Morning Herald for this date is behind a paywall so I used the freely available one from the New York Times. During the war it was called The Great War. Afterward the Department of Defense asked U.S. President Woodrow Wilson about filing the mountain of paperwork generated for the war, he said call it 'The World War' because it involved action around the world. On how it all started there is no better source that Barbara Tuchman, 'The Guns of August' (1962). This book influenced the Cuban Missile Crisis.
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1933 One of the worst windstorms of the Dust Bowl blew from South Dakota to Kansas and on to Texas. and lasted more than a week. In one year an estimated 850 million tons of top soil disappeared in the wind, some of falling as far away as New York City, Boston, Philadelphia. First came insects, then drought, and then wind. Then the cycle repeated itself until there was nothing but dust left over a five-year period. The times they were apocalyptic.
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1975 Australian Governor-General John Kerr dismissed the elected government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. The history wars over this event continue. I was listening to the radio at home when the news came. The exercise of the powers of the Governor-General were destroyed in their exercise may be the judgement of history. Nicholas Hasluck's novel 'The Dismissal' (2011) is a long cool worm's eye view of this totemic event when the goal posts moved.
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When What
1871 At Ujiji near Unyanyembe in Africa Henry Morton Stanley said, "Dr Livingstone, I presume?” David Livingstone was one of many who sought the origin of the Nile River. Below is a map of his treks.
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1903 Mary Anderson patented a “window cleaning device for electric cars and other vehicles to remove snow, ice, or sleet from the window.” She got the idea riding electric street cars in rain. It became standard equipment on automobiles by 1913.
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1911 The Andrew Carnegie Foundation took legal form. One of its major efforts was to build free public libraries like the one in which I learned to read and read. The Carnegie Foundation built the building ain 1903 before the Foundation was incorporated and the local community paid for its collection, staff, and upkeep. Been unable to shake the habit ever since.
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1928 The first installment of ‘Im Westen nichts Neues’ by Erich Maria Remarque was published. He had been in the western trenches at 18, wounded five times: gassed, shot, bayoneted, hit by shrapnel, and shot again. In 1933 the book was burned and he fled to Switzerland. In 1938, his German citizenship was revoked on the grounds that he had NOT done war service, making him a stateless person. In 1943 his sister was judicially murdered for his crimes. Her surviving sister was charged 495.80 Reichsmark for the murder. Sounds like something Faux News would make-up, but all too true, unlike Faux News.
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1969 Sesame Street debuted on PBS television. It was conceived and promoted by Joan Cooney, a former documentary producer for public television. Muppet characters, created by Jim Henson, are as varied as the human cast, like the crew of the Enterprise in 1966. Imagine how many of the original cast today would be excised by President Tiny Twit.
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IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour 20 minutes, rated 4.4 by 95 cinematiziens.

Genre: Sy Fy, Mexican

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Verdict: Lucha libre!

While auditioning for Eggheads, Dr Caronte keeps three dead brains in his cupboard. They are hungry little grey cells and he sends a horde of bearded zombies in boiler suits to the Red Cross to take, not give, blood for these critters. Musical interludes punctuate the pace.

To confuse matters Caronte often wears white, while the bare chested, tireless battler for truth, justice, and the tamale-way, Neutron, wears black. Got it so far?

Neutron has a way of appearing and disappearing. Whoosh. There he goes again, or here he is again: Whoosh.

The action takes place in a darkened Mexico City alley, and in the director's home, and on a sound stage nightclub. Many expenses were spared. The dubbing is terrible, befitting the picture. Still all and all, it is better than some early Roger Corman efforts and less predictable than anything on broadcast television.

Neutron does the lucha libre with the zombies, who are directed by a dwarf who can barely lift a revolver and runs like…..a dwarf, and not a CGI.

It seems Neutron and Caronte have a history in a series of the movies, four or five, but who’s counting.

Wolf Ruvinskis stars as the man without a shirt but with a mask and a Whoosh. He was a Lativian Jew whose family fled the Naziis. In the new world, as a teenager, he became a lucha libre champion and that took him to the heart of the sport, Mexico City, where he stayed. One thing led to another and when the falls got too hard to fake, he kept the mask to extend his career as Neutron. (Pretty sure that the physiotherapist I go to learned the trade at lucha libre.)

Amazon Prime tempted me with this offering, and it seemed better than some of the alternatives from Hollywood of late. At least it was not pretentious, did not present fiction as fact, or have Jack Black in it. Three pluses right there. Though admittedly the part of the dwarf would fit Tom Cruise.

1925 Robert Millikan presented evidence of cosmic rays to the National Academy of Sciences at Madison, Wisconsin. A graduate of Oberlin College where the sky did not fall when women were admitted, he showed the extraterritorial origins of the energies he and others had recorded. Many other kinds of energies from space have since been identified. He got a Nobel Prize. We have been bombarded with such cosmic rays.
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1961 The Professional Golfers Association (USA) ended the caucasians only rule (reaffirmed in 1960) in a year when a darling of the South African apartheid regime, Gary Player won the open. It was the last major sports organisation to end this explicit racism and did so with reluctance only after repeated litigation by individuals, clubs, and associations. It was finally coerced into it by Stanley Mosk, Attorney General of the State of California, who had threatened to disrupt a scheduled tour with court orders, subpoenas, and writs. Speaks for itself.
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1972 Discoveries of bones in Tanzania by the Mary and Louis Leakey caused the origins of humanity to be revised backward by one million years. These two were inveterate diggers, shifters, analysers who spent most of their lives in tents in Kenya and Tanzania. EVeryone's family tree got longer as a result.
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1980 Iraq and Iran War started and continued until 1988. After half a million deaths, it ended at the status quo ante without any change of borders or attitudes. It was largely trench warfare, featuring poison gas, child soldiers, human wave attacks, prisoners used as human shields with dissent groups from each country siding with the other to add to the mayhem. Within each country it was also the excuse for ethnic cleansing.
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1989 The Berlin Wall opened for the first time since 1961. It was about 150 kilometres in all, and about 140 people were killed trying to cross it, including two just a fortnight before it crumbled. Amazed me at the time, like the Cold War, the Berlin Wall seemed immutable and eternal, and then it fell over. Been there and seen Checkpoint Charlie and more, a couple of times.
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IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 20 minutes, rated 6.8 by 992 cinemtizens.

Genre: Mystery, Canine.

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Verdict: A fast start and and fast finish, but in between time passed very slowly.

Veteran supporting actor Edward Arnold plays the lead as a blind detective in the first of a short-lived series of B pictures. He is ably supported by an excellent cast and it starts well.

Eddie has his Alsatian, Friday, to look after him and Allen Jenkins to do the heavy lifting in-between pratfalls, while Mantan Moreland opens and closes doors and his bug eyes. These latter two share the comic distress duties.

An old (girl) friend (hereinafter designated OGF) comes to ask for his help, because her step-daughter Donna Reed (sigh…, went the fraternity brothers) is in love with a gigolo twice her age. What Eddie and company can do about this domestic tangle is anyone’s guess. He tells her to have it out with Gigolo.

OGF takes his advice. (What a sucker, cried the fraternity brothers.) She finds Gigolo cold and dead on the bear rug in front of the fireplace in his bachelor pad. Gulp! She goes back to Eddie, who sets out with Friday and Jenkins for reasons unknown, but a private dick has to do what a private dick has to do, per the script.

OGF’s husband is the incredibly dignified Reginald Denny, a scientist working on a TOP SECRET project that he keeps in his clothes closet at home. Security or what? Or what. He is away being important leaving OGF and Donna at home to tear strips off of each other with a houseful of recently employed servants with foreign accents. Will the clothes closet b safe? The tension did not mount.

So far it has some pace and mystery, but about now occurs a hissing sound that is the air leaving the balloon.

All of the many servants at the house are Nazi spies so incompetent they have not yet found the closet and purloined Reggie’s secret. Donna’s friends who encourage her to antagonise her step-mother, i.e., OGF, are also Nazis. They are everywhere. Friday even looks under the bed for more. The top Nasty is Katherine Emery who gives a masterful performance as a black widow.

Once Eddie is ensconced in the house, the action freezes. He carries on as best he can with the screenplay but really…. He plays the organ; he paces in garden; he listens at doors; he plays the organ some more; he paces in the garden; he listens at doors. Then for a change he repeats the sequence. It was a very long night. And so on.

[It is no surprise to any observer of the absurdity of life, that some IMDb reviewers think the interminable scenes at the house with Eddie playing the uncle are great. Me, watching paint dry would be better.]

The Nasties take him for a fool, underestimating him because he is blind. That is a neat idea but it just does not gel in this rendering. He has some nice lines like this one: ‘Turn out the lights, I am going to read.’ Did he have a Kindle, too? No, he had Braille.

There is a superb confrontation in a darkened cellar where the blind man has the edge, and it is staged and directed with real suspense. Fortunately for the Eddie the Nasties have been knocking each other off to reduce the budget so he does not have to deal all of them at once. Meanwhile Friday shows off his canine athletic ability racing here and there, completing a crossword puzzle on the run. It all comes good in The End.

A second was made but it, too, had a cool reception, perhaps there were too many blind men coming home for the war for it to be diverting. There is a large ensemble cast on show here and many went on to bigger and better things, including Rosemary de Camp, John Emery, Ann Harding, Steven Geray, Stephen McNally, and Barry Nelson in addition to those named above.

But the biggest name is director Fred Zinnemann whose list of subsequent credits runs to: ’Member of the Wedding’ (1952), ‘High Noon’ (1952), ‘From Here to Eternity’ (1953), ‘A Hatful of Rain’ (1957), ‘Behold a Pale Horse’ (1964), ‘A Man for All Seasons’ (1966), and more.

392 Emperor Theodosius of Rome banned all pagan worship in the empire in favour of Christianity. Christians celebrated by murdering pagans.
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1519 Henán Cortés met Aztec emperor Montezuma in Mexico City. It turned sour soon enough, chocolate or no chocolate. We have been there and hope to see Montezuma's feather cape in Vienna sometime.
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1602 The Bodleian Library at Oxford University opened. Thomas Bodley, a graduate of Merton College, had married a wealthy woman and when she died, he offered to rebuild the library at Oxford University which had suffered during the English Civil War. Both the collection and the building had been sacked by soldiers of the battling armies of Christians. There was a time when readers had to purchase a copy of the catalogue to use the library. Been there.
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1895 In Wurzburg Germany, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen observed X-rays which made the invisible visible. X-Rays were used within two years to locate bullets for surgeons. The 'X' meant the source of the radiation was unknown at the time. Had a few.
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1946 Nova Scotia, Viola Desmond refused to leave a whites-only area in a movie theatre. She was jailed, convicted, and fined. Unlike Rosa Parks, Desmond had no organised support and went it alone. Her likeness now graces the $C 10 bill. Nova Scotia had been a terminus for the underground railroad that transported runaway slaves north.
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1512 In a regime change Niccolò Machiavelli was dismissed from the Republican chancellory by the acolytes of the de' Medici family. Most of the conventional wisdom, some propounded by the man himself, about Machia is erroneous. See below for details.
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1916 Jeannette Rankin from Montana became the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. A lifelong pacifist she was the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. That ended her political career. She was crucified by the press apart from stalwart William Allan White of the 'Emporia Gazette' who recognised her moral courage to stand by her convictions even in these circumstances. She had likewise voted against the declaration of World War I in 1917 along with a hundred others, all men.
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1929 The Museum of Modern Art opened in NYC in the building pictured. Rockefeller money made it happen. Been there.
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1990 Máire Bean Mhic Róibín became the first woman elected President of the Republic of Ireland, that is Mary Robinson. She started out in the Dublin city council in 1979 and kept going. Saw her give a keynote address at a conference in D.C. once upon a time.
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2012 Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved measures for same-sex marriage. Hey, what happened in Minnesota?
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IMDb meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 24 minutes, rated 6.2 by 2,242 cinematizens

Genre: Sy Fy

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Verdict: A known unknown, to quote Donald Rumsfeld. with whom I once crossed a street in D.C.

A British Army unit practices detecting and securing radium watches on a mired, desolate beach. These are national servicemen who are none too keen on this damp, wet, and muddy duty so they slack off. Then one of them gets burned to a crisp. Now that might stimulate some attention, but no they continue to smoke, rest, and generally act by film extras. More crispy critters are on the menu.

Turns out the practice radium has lured a radium eating blob from deep within the screen writer’s imagination to the surface.

Officialdom reacts according to the McKinsey management manual by denying reality, by blaming the victim(s), by minimising the loss, by claiming pilot error, by blaming Hillary and so on. But the plot must thicken to make a movie. Nearby is a nuclear research centre and also a nuclear power station, plus all those radium dials on watches that were fashionable at the time. In short, it is a picnic ground for the blob from the deep whose appetite has been stimulated.

A couple of adventuresome boys are toasted and the parents blame science, not stupidity. Got it.

Rumpole arrives to investigate and seeks out Baldy, who gets all serious. Baldy is the American import straight from Jefferson High School where he used to supervise Mr Novak. Baldy and Rumpole team up and tame the blob with some mumbo-jumbo, aka science. Blob retreats but will it come again, and what was it anyway? X as above.

The pace is snappy. The atmosphere is effective. The blob is largely unseen and all the more menacing for that. Baldy is authoritative without being arrogant. Rumpole is persistent without being obnoxious, contrary to the current rule of Hollywood.

The tagline on the poster above is 'It can kill but cannot be killed.' Why did I think of McKinsey management training sessions? Is this another unknown? Dunno.

Steve McQueen must have gotten a few tips from this picture when he encountered his own blob.

The screenplay was originally intended to continue Hammer Films run of success with Professor Quatermass. However, Nigel Kneale, who owned the copyright to Quatermass, would not relinquish it, i.e., not enough dosh was on offer, and so Baldy was re-named.

As is sometimes the case, there is more drama behind the camera than in front of it. Hammer had hired Jospeh Losey to direct.

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He went on to do many superb films like ‘The Servant’ (1963), ‘The Go Between (1971), ‘Mr Klein’ (1976), and many more.

However, Baldy refused to work with Losey. Losey had escaped the monster that roamed 1950s Hollywood, HUAC, while Baldy was a 100% Moron who would have nothing to do with this pinko. Either he goes or I go, he is supposed to have said. The producers made the wrong call and kept Baldy.

They got lucky though because Leslie Norman did a fine job of filling in as director at short notice. He went on to be a regular with ‘The Avengers.’ The screenplay by Jimmy Sangster is low-key and lets the action carry the story. There is no exposition. No effort to make anyone sympathetic with a boring backstory. He cranked out many a story for Hammer over the years.

1605 The Gunpowder Plot of Guy Fawkes failed. The plot was to displace King James I with a Catholic and annihilate protestants. He had twenty barrels of gun powder in the cellars under parliament where the king was scheduled to appear.
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1872 Susan B Anthony was arrested in Rochester, New York for voting for U S Grant in a presidential election. She refused to pay a fine and the court declined to take any further action. She was a tireless campaigner for womens suffrage.
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1893 Twenty-year-old Willa Cather began publishing a column called 'As you like it,' in the Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln. She loved the Great Plains and its peoples, new and old, and more.
We have made pilgrimage to Red Cloud more than once.
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1935 Parker Brothers company launched Monopoly, a game of real estate and capitalism at the height of the Great Depression. Played many a game of that.
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1956 The ABC’s first television broadcast. JD was still reading the news to me in 1974.
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1572 A supernova (SN1572) was observed in the constellation now known as Cassiopeia. Many observed it including Tycho Brahe in Denmark. He was not the first to see it but his measurements and analysis were the most precise and comprehensive. We went to a planetarium named for him in Copenhagen and saw his observation tower in Prague, too.
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1917 The Bolshevik launched a coup d’etat against the Kerensky government in the Winter Palace, now know as the Hermitage. They entered the white dining room at 2:10 AM to arrest the remnant of the provisional government cabinet. Kerensky had left to mobilise loyal troops and kept going. I heard him give a talk as an undergraduate. We have shuffled through this room and down the stairs the Bolsheviks came up.
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1867 The Canadian House of Commons met for the first time with Conservative John A MacDonald as Prime Minister.
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1870 Louisa Ann Swain in Laramie Wyoming became the first woman to cast a vote in a federal election. In 2008 Congress designated 6 November as Louisa Swain Day. We have been to Laramie but in our ignorance we did not see this statue in front of the Women's History House.
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1962 UN General Assembly voted to condemn South African apartheid and called on member states to boycott it.
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1999 Australians voted against becoming a republic in a national referendum. Only in the Never-Never Land of the ACT did the republic secure a majority. It was a dreary campaign in which the self-styled Republicans vied with each other for the spoils of the victory they assumed, rather than working for it. That is, individuals modestly put themselves forward as the president of a future republic, including some known to me personally. Yuck.
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IMDb meta-data is runtime is 1 hour a 9 minutes, rated 5.9 by 551 cinematizens.

Genre: Old Dark House

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Verdict: Several rungs below mediocrity.

Went backward to see the original version the film already discussed earlier on this blog. Its only claim to fame is that it stars Virginia Kathrine McMath of Independence, Missouri. She plays two roles, one of them very brief.

As above, and often word for word the same, but with a little more explanation and less forced humour from the detective. There is a even a reference to the thirteenth guest at the end, though it makes no sense. The completely incompetent cop is the nephew of the police chief. The detective is a relative of the other copper.

Here, as in the version discussed earlier, the detective orders the police around, carries off evidence with their approval, sequesters witnesses at his home, and generally runs the show while the police say ‘Yes, Sir’ to this arrogant and supercilious twit. He is also patronising to women. An all rounder. Don’t blame the actor, he is written that way.

The best part is that the villain who hides in secret passages and hidden basements wears a rubber mask, hood, and cape. That get-up must have been heavy and hot. It was also pointless since no one ever saw him in it. What a slave to fashion he is. None too bright either, because he puts the switch he uses so far away from his peep hole he can never reach it in time.

Lyle Talbot played the lead, and it is easy to see why Nebraska’s own Talbot receded to supporting roles where he compiled a massive 332 credits, ending in 1987. Maybe the thing to say about him is that the ‘Known for’ entry on the IMDb lists for him ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ (1959), where that picture might have better stayed. It is discussed elsewhere on this blog.

The pace is leaden. The direction is leaden. The dialogue is leaden. Not even Virginia Kathrine McMath is allowed to liven things up. She is Miss Ginger Rodgers.

1879 James Ritty, saloon keeper of Dayton Ohio, patented the first cash register to reduce pilfering by bar tenders. Bars, I have known a few.
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1890 The Prince of Wales opened the first London Underground station in a deep-level tube line, the City and South London Railway, between King William Street (close to today's Monument station) and Stockwell. Electric locomotives towed carriages with small opaque windows, nicknamed padded cells. Used the Tube many a time.
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1922 Archaeologist Howard Carter found the entrance of the tomb of King Tutankhamen. A water-boy stumbled under a load and dislodged stones that revealed a cut step. Carter had been digging in Egypt for nearly thirty years and realised the potential significance of such a step, covered it with earth, and telegraphed Lord Carnarvon, his patron, to come and have a look. Seen King Tut artefacts at museums here and there, Sydney and Berlin.
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1924 Nellie Taylor Ross and Miriam Ferguson were elected the first and second women governors of Wyoming and Texas, respectively. The sky did not fall in either state, despite that being widely predicted. Nor did either of their male opponents commit suicide at the shame. Been to both states.
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1993 The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union, paving the way for the free movement of people and goods and the Euro. In the end of year round up in 1993, the ABC Television news did not feature this treaty but did include bus crashes in India, and grass fires in California. Ah news-judgement is what the national broadcaster is famous for. Drove to Maastricht once to confer with a colleague about a project and found the geography in that area is hilly, very unlike elsewhere in the Netherlands.
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1507 Messer Gherardini commissioned a painting of his wife. It’s still not done. The painter was an inveterate revisor and carried it around for nineteen years daubing at it now and again, and then watching the paint dry. It was in his possession when he died in France as a guest of the King and it passed into the patrimony of that nation. Gherardini never got back the deposit he had paid.
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1892 The first automatic telephone exchange went into service in La Porte, Indiana. The public demonstration was greeted with much fanfare, including a brass band and a special train run from Chicago. Guests included power company executives, journalists, entrepreneurs, inventors, and two representatives of the Russian czar. Almon B. Strowger, a local undertaker, conceived and built it. The Strowger switch remains vital to the inner workings of many a telephone. For years afterward some people preferred to call an operator rather than use this new fangled iPhone.Stowgear handset.jpg


1913 First modern elastic brassiere was patented by wealthy New York socialite born Mary Phelps Jacob. When dressing for yet another ball she rejected the proffered whale bone corset and told her maid, 'Bring me two of my pocket handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon ... and a needle and thread and some pins.' Together they fashioned the handkerchiefs and ribbon into a simple bra. The elastic came in the next iteration. After the dance she was besieged by other women who wanted to do likewise. She founded the Fashion Form Brassière Company but had little interest in running it and sold it for a pittance. She was already wealthy and stayed that way.
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1930 The mile long Detroit-Windsor tunnel opened. An engineering wonder at the time because it had to be very deep to get under the lake bed. At four dollars the toll was about half the cost of using a ferry to transport an automobile across the lake.
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1953 Clarence Birdseye marketed frozen peas, heralding the frozen foods advent. The first test marketing was in Springfield Massachusetts as pictured below. Birdseye was an entrepreneur as a child and naturalist from birth. His family and friends called him Bugs because of his fascination with creatures great and small. When he left college he worked for the United States Department of Agriculture where he saw great bounty in food go to waste, and in the west and northwest he experienced freezing temperatures. These two came together in his mind. In time he sold the company for a mint and used the money to continue experimenting on food preservation to the end of his days.
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IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour flat, rated 5.4 by 354 insomniacs.

Genre: Old Dark House

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Verdict: Mysteries aplenty.

On her twenty-first birthday Marie goes to the one-time family home, which has been empty for thirteen years and became an Old Dark House with sliding panels, secret passages, sub-basements, priest holes, and other conveniences. Evidently none of these things were in the house when she lived there because she knows nothing….about them.

Thirteen years earlier her grandfather had a family dinner and denounced his relatives as useless, greedy sods, all but little, innocent Marie. Her two child brothers are also included in the denunciation, it would seem. An empty chair at the table represented the thirteenth guest, and Gramps said he would explain that later. We are still waiting Gramps! We have waited more than six years! It is never explained.

Gramps entrusted an envelope for Marie with the attending family attorney, whom he also accused of greed. Is that smart Gramps? First accuse him and then hand over the goods? Gramps also assumed Marie is going to remain innocent until age twenty-one. Gramps did not get out much.

Years later on the appointed day the lawyer gives her the envelope and she has to take it to the ODH and open it there. Why is anyone’s guess. The screenwriter kept that to himself. In it is the message 13-13-13. Gramps is inscrutable. Is that a cube root in the making? Yes it is thirteen years later and that has something to do with the thirteenth guest. Huh?

At the abandoned house Marie discovers the electricity is connected and so is the telephone. Everyone else rediscovers this without ever considering the implications. 'Zap!' being the major one.

Thereafter the murders begin. We never do find out the identity of the first and last victims. Huh?

The murderer also posed the murdered victims at the table. Why? Who knows. Maybe he was trying to find number thirteen.

Spoiler alert. Turns out the greedy lawyer is the murderer. Hmm, and he is not a very bright murderer. He wanted the envelope which he had in safekeeping for thirteen years. Why not take a peek? Guess it did not occur to the screenwriter. That would have been easier than all the rigmarole at the ODH. That must have been covered in law school. Did he sleep through every class?

Moreover, we discover the numbers 13-13-13 are a safety deposit box that holds a will that leaves everything to Marie. Any shyster lawyer could surely have streamed open the envelope, and just as easily as Marie was to do, figure out it was a safe deposit box, and finagle opening it. That certainly is covered in the law school curricula, for why else go to law school? By the way, how did she make the leap from 13-13-13 to a safety deposit box? We’ll never know.

In a classic ploy the villain hired a private dick to guard Marie, and tell him what she is doing. That dick is Dick Purcell who has a script from a different movie. He makes jokes and laughs as the bodies fall. He laughs a lot at his own jokes. This rugged he-man died with a year of a massive heart attack.

Even more annoying is Frank Faylen as a dumb cop, so favoured in movies of the era, but at least this comic distress is not a black man or a woman. The other dumb cop has no excuses since he was one of the authors of the screenplay.

Given the screenplay, the direction by journeyman William Beaudine is crisp and well paced. The gaffes and gaps are in the text, not the direction or the editing.

When the film was released the U.S. Marine Corps had engaged the Japanese on Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, and this indecisive but bloody battle would contain to the end of the war. Naval engagements off Bougainville were likewise indecisive but murderous. Meanwhile in Europe, Blond Germans were busy murdering Jews, Gypsies, Masons, homosexuals, and red heads.

Like millions of others, Hadley Cantril tuned into CBS radio and listened to the Mercury Theatre of the Air’s ‘War of the Worlds’ on Halloween 1938. The next morning he was surprised to read of the panic that the broadcast had precipitated.

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He went to work to analyse this natural experiment. There must be quite a backstory about how he pulled it together so quickly but he did. He started the Princeton Radio Research Project with this initial study.

Because of the reaction on the night, others were also mobilised, and Cantril identified them and cooperated. Because of the public reaction the CBS had committed Roper and Gallup to do surveys. In addition, at least one government agency also did a study. To this mix, Cantril added about 150 interviews with listeners, and a national mail survey of about 1000. He also mailed a questionnaire to the managers of radio station to ask about local reaction. From this combination of data, the book offers some quantitative analysis leavened with case studies.

Cantril’s hope was to explain why the panic occurred. (Many a PhD since has disputed the definition of panic.)

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That is, why did some people react in panic to the broadcast, while others did not. What distinguished the former from the latter. He tried demographic explanations, i.e., gender, age, education, social status. He tried geographic explanations. Were those closest to the fictitious New Jersey site more likely to flee their homes? He also looked for psychological factors in the readiness to believe.

The analysis is detailed but the exposition is clear. He found several types who were ready to believe the worst. It was this ‘readiness to believe’ that interested him as a psychologist.

For this reader the social and political contexts have much purchase. After the Spanish Flu epidemic, after the Great Depression, after the Dust Bowl, after the Munich crisis of the previous month, the times were apocalyptic. Bulletins on the radio, newsreels at movies, newspapers, all speculated on a new and terrible war with ever more incredible weapons. They were full of Nazi air armadas, the Italian use of poison gas in Ethiopia, and Japanese atrocities in China. What next?

With all this background someone who tuned into this broadcast and heard of strange weapons and poison gas in New Jersey might fill in the rest.

And all of those who were disturbed by the broadcast were invariably those who missed the introduction and also missed the station break in the middle. They either tuned in late or were not listening to the introduction. By the station break they were already alarmed and again missed it or misunderstood its comforting normality. These listeners received more than was transmitted.

For Cantril the most interesting group were those who tuned in late and heard of the catastrophe and did not panic, but rather did reality checks and concluded there was nothing to fear. They checked by reading the newspaper radio listings, by looking out the window, by going next door to speak to a neighbour, by telephoning the fire service, and so on. Of course, some who spoke to others in person or on the telephone found them in a panic and that contagion had an effect.

But then again, was an invasion of New Jersey anymore far fetched than a Japanese attack on Hawaii, which already in the planning in Tokyo to be followed by balloons released at sea to drift over the northwestern states and explode. Might not the meteor have been a disguised German missile? What became the V-rockets were already a gleam in the eye of some.

Older, more educated, and higher socio-economic status individuals were associated with reality checking but not decisively so. Some older, educated, and wealthy people were millenarians who believed it was god’s judgment on the evil ways of New Jersey. Well I did have a disastrous stay in a hotel -- a Hilton at that -- in New Jersey once, proving the unexpected happens there.

By the way, Cantril said reality checking was widespread among people who had ‘survived advanced schooling’ (location 1753 on the Kindle edition). Loved the phrasing.

Aside, a few listeners were Sy Fyians and they had no trouble either in recognising the genre or even the specific title. Reading does broaden the mind.

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Later Cantril worked for the Nelson Rockefeller’s Office of Inter-America Affairs to gauge public opinion in Latin America during the early years of World War II and to combat Nazi propaganda there. He also conducted a small, clandestine project interviewing Vichy officials in Morocco in 1942. The conclusions of that latter study influenced Allied tactics in Operation Torch.

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