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December 2018

IMDb runtime of one hour and four minutes, rated 6.1 by 209 cinematizens

Genre: Old Dark House

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Verdict: Shiver!

On a speeding train Spectacles is typing away on a barely portable typewriter. He has pages and pages of a manuscript. Just as the train slows for his two-minute stop at Asquewan Junction the light go out in his first class compartment and….. the manuscript disappears. He shrugs off the loss of hours of work and disembarks. (!)

‘He shoulda saved to the Cloud,’ chorused the fraternity brothers.

Unlike Spectacles, viewers saw a dainty female hand turn off the light switch before the manuscript went poof.

At the Asquewan Junction depot a blizzard rages. As Spectacles prepares to walk ten miles to the Baldpate Inn, Blondie appears and warns him not to go because ‘It’s dangerous.’ She then takes refuge in the ladies' room.

To abridge, Spectacles is a well published writer of ‘mysteries of the intellectual sort’ who had complained of distractions throwing him off schedule. Encouraged by Ellery Queen, he bets his publisher $5,000 he can finish a novel in a single night of uninterrupted work. The publisher called this bluff by offering him the only key to the empty Baldpate Inn. The inference is that the publisher wants the book finished, but he does not want to lose the $5000 bet, so he sent along Blondie to gum up the works.

Far from being vacant Spectacles finds a sinister European-accent in residence at Baldpate Inn claiming to be the caretaker. To make matters ever more menacing, European-accent wears an ascot! This is serious.

Blonde fetches up at the Inn, too, in need of shelter from the blizzard, she says, but she soon blows her cover and Spectacles starts to work when he realises the trick. Nothing will stop him from the work!

As more and more stereotypes show up, the tough moll, the hoodlum, the fence, the whiner, and the brain it seems there are a lot of keys to the Baldpate Inn out there. But Spectacles thinks all of these people have been hired to disrupt him. With that ego he should go into politics.

With about eight people in the empty Inn the villainous stereotypes start murdering each other. It seems there is a stash of jewels and a huge payoff going. They met there on the assumption the place would be empty. Now there is no room at the Inn.

There are satisfying numbers of creaks and moans in the Old Dark House, sliding panels, hidden doors, and the other accoutrements of mystery homemaking. As Spectacles begins to realise there is more at stake than his ego, he confronts situations such as he has written in his books, only to find that the responses he imagined on paper don’t cut it in reality. That is a nice running gag. I took it to be a jocular reference to his alter ego Ellery Queen.

Another running gag is his repeated attempts to start his next novel by typing a title page which starts as ‘One Key to Baldpate’ and by the end is ‘Seven Keys to Baldpate’ and counting.

Loose ends, there are a few, the missing manuscript pages from the train are never again mentioned! Gasp. While the name ‘Baldpate’ would seem to be a joke, nothing is made of it in the story.

This is a remake of a version done in 1937 which is also on You_Tube along with an earlier 1929 version. There were silent versions still earlier. Evidently a tried and true story for which the fees had been paid. I tried the 1937 version but found the audio out of sync and lost interest.

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The original story was by Charles Chan’s creator Earl Derr Biggers.

Lew Landers directed in the house style of RKO, i.e., fast and furious. Landers has a 150 directing credits on the IMDb with six or more B movies a year. Philip Terry played Spectacles to a T. There is some goss on him in the discussion of ‘Double Exposure’ (1944) elsewhere on the blog. The assorted character actors were fine until they got bumped off. Harry Harvey as the local police chief is a delight as he applies common sense to the denouement.

1847 Using the masculine pseudonym Ellis Bell, Emily Brontë submitted the manuscript of "Wuthering Heights" to a publisher who had enough sense to publish it.

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1965 In the State of Union address to Congress President Lyndon Johnson outlined the Great Society with a long list of measures that galvanised the nation - for a time - into a War on Poverty. Robert Caro's magisterial biography of LBJ is discussed in other posts on this blog.

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1999 For the first time since Charlemagne’s reign in the ninth century, Europe had a common currency when the “euro” became a financial unit in corporate and investment markets. This was the first step to the currency and coin Euro on 1 January 2000. The name had been decided in 1995.

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2004 NASA’s rover ‘Spirit’ landed on Mars and it stopped transmitting in 2011, but its sibling, ‘Opportunity,’ just won’t shut up. Below is the first picture that Spirit sent home. N.B. both were designed to last six months. Both overachieved on the KPIs. No low-bid contractors were involved, evidently.


2007 Nancy Pelosi became the speaker of the House, the first woman to hold this post, which made her second in the line of succession for the office of President after the Vice-President. As of today, she's back!

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1521 Pope Leo X ex-communicated Martin Luther. In 1962 on the same day Pope John XXIII (pictured below) ex-communicated Fidel Castro.


1872 Elijah McCoy, whose parents were slaves and took the underground railroad to Canada, got U.S. patent no. 129,843 for a lubricating device that allowed steam locomotives to run without stopping for lubrication. Legend holds that his invention worked so well that machine operators wary of cheap substitutes often requested "the real McCoy." (There are competing legends that attribute the phrase to others.)


1929 Don Bradman scored 112 v England at Melbourne Cricket Ground - his first Test century with twenty-eight more to follow in a spectacular career.

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1938 President Franklin Roosevelt became patron of the March of Dimes to fund research into polio and to assist those afflicted. Dr. Jonas Salk was its research director. When we went to the movies in the 1950s we always put all of the dimes in our pockets into the collection cups for the March of Dimes passed around by ushers like church collection plates. I suppose today the anti-vaxxers would steal them because God told them to do so.

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1996 The first clamshell flip mobile phone, the Motorola StarTAC, went on sale. It was the first cell phone to have a screen. Eventually sixty million were sold. No doubt the design was influence by Star Trek communicators.


1839 In France Louis Daguerre took the first photograph of the Moon, as below. His name gave us the Daguerreotype for a kind of photograph.


1890 In D.C. President Benjamin Harrison appointed Alice Sanger to be the first woman on the White House staff. He also appointed Frederick Douglass to be US ambassador to Haiti. I expect the White House cooking and cleaning staff had included women, but Sanger was an office worker of some sort. Little is available about her apart from the appointment. It was a time when agitation for the vote for women was high and perhaps the appointment was intended to mollify that constituency a little. Likewise the agitation for black rights was strong and perhaps Douglass's appointment was a sop to that. No image of Alice Sanger could be found. Below is Frederick Douglass looking like an Old Testament prophet bringing the word from the wilderness.

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1893 In Chicago the World's Columbian Exposition opened. It was notable for the use of electricity for illumination whether in day or night to make it a White City in a second sense. All the buildings were painted white and at night it was illuminated by electric lights. A book about 'Chicago's Perfect Cities of 1893' (1991) is discussed elsewhere on this blog.

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1906 In Brooklyn Willis Carrier patented for the world's first air conditioner. Why did he not get a Nobel Prize? Peace, medicine, physics, or all of the above? That is a mystery to me. Have you heard people who say they have air conditioning in the home or office, but 'try not to use it.' I have. My reply is to say the same about the flush toilet. That stops the show.


1922 In D.C. Albert Fall, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, resigned in response to public outrage over the Teapot Dome scandal. Like many others in the administration of Warren Harding he had been selling public assets to cronies for enormous profits to himself. Has a contemporary ring to it does it not. Rumour has it that Albert Fall is one of President Tiny's heroes.

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Good Reads meta-data is 429 pages, rated 4.2 by 17,737 litizens.

Genre: Novel


Verdict: An incredible story well told.

This is a novel about the l'affaire Dreyfus of 1894 in which the blameless Alfred Dreyfus (1859–1935) spent five years in solitary confinement on Devil’s Island in a prison built especially for him. His punishment took many additional forms. Were that not enough he spent another five years in a mainland prison.

His crime was to be Jewish. The accusation was that he had given military secrets to the Hun. It was but a generation since the humiliating French defeat in the War of 1870 by Prussia and the Hun was detested.

That detestation was crucial because Dreyfus’s second crime was to be from Alsace. When Alsace was ceded to Prussia at the end of the war, the population had to choose. Stay and be German, or be French and evacuate. His family chose to be French and left Alsace. In the convolutions that followed this choice was taken as evidence that he was a sleeper agent of some sort.

His third crime was to be well off, and not dependent on his army income as a captain. This made fellow officers envy him, ready and willing to be believe the worst of him to explain why he had money and they did not.

The fourth and most significant crime was to refuse to confess to something he did not do to shield the honour of the army. Its incompetence and stupidity certainly needed shielding.

It began with a scrap of paper purloined from the German embassy in Paris. It had been torn into bits and when it was pieced together the inference from it was that it referred to the passing of French General Staff secrets to the Germans.

Two questions arouse immediately. First, who could have done this deed. The second was who would do this. It could have been done only by an officer with access to the General Staff files. It would be done by a Jew. Dreyfus met both criteria. Guilty! (At times it was also alleged that as an Alsatian of German descent he was loyal to Germany. That second order point was used to explain his motivation since no money seems to have changed hand, and he did not need it. But Jews betray because it is in their blood.)

Once he had been identified no further investigation occurred. Rather all energy went into convicting and punishing him. A very great deal of expense went into his punishment by creating a prison for him alone on the otherwise uninhabited Devil's Island near Cayenne.

Later a French counter-intelligence officer stumbled on a loose end and began to tug on it. The wagons went into a circle and the cover-up became more and more extensive and intense. An effort was made to send this officer, who just would not let it go, on a suicide mission in North Africa, but his local commander stalled that. The officer's determination was painted as an effort to discredit the army, not to see justice done to Dreyfus, or, by the way, to apprehend the real villain who was still at large and still selling.

All in all it makes Watergate seem like a student prank.

The organisational pathologies of the army bureaucracy are mercilessly dissected in these pages. While senior officers plotted against each other for promotion, they united against outsiders who might disturb the playing field on which they schemed against each other.

There was no big bang to clear Dreyfus but a numbing series of re-trials, appeals, inquiries, and more that gradually eroded the conspiracy of the cover-up. The conspirators had to prop up the lies for ten years in both military, civil, legal, and popular arenas and in so doing they made mistakes. It is hard keeping a tissue of lies straight. The truth began to leak out, drop by drop.

But a quick spin around web sites indicates that there are today plenty contemporary nut jobs, when they take time off from denying the Holocaust, who proclaim Dreyfus’s guilt. President Tiny would doubtless declare them good people.

It is implied in these pages that at least two weak links in the cover-up were murdered as cut-outs. Certainly many involved with the matter died prematurely. Others went into voluntary exile. One lawyer for Dreyfus was shot on the way to the court and the presiding judge refused a recess to allow the defence to reorganise. A great many junior officers were suborned into lies and calumny to protect their superiors.

Only in 1906 was Dreyfus exonerated and restored to rank. Likewise the counter-intelligence officer who himself had been imprisoned was restored to rank and promoted. Both served in the Great War, 1914-1918.

I never did fathom who was responsible for the two murders. The shooting of the lawyer was perhaps a self-appointed fanatic. Although, maybe not.

Nor did I ever did fathom the behaviour of the real wannabe spy, the dissolute and brazen Ferdinand Esterhazy.

Finally, I could not quite understand how so many junior officers were suborned into the cover up with nary a leak. Suborning I get but without a leak? That part I don't.

I do not doubt that these things happened but the novel sheds no light on them.

In keeping with the whole sad spectacle most of the original evidence has since disappeared, says the Wikipedia entry. That word ‘disappeared’ would be a euphemism for the word ‘destroyed.’ There is no longer any bottom to touch.

While I am picking nits the novel is written in the first person singular in the present tense, and I almost stopped reading it on page five because of that. Only my experience with reading and valuing previous novels by Robert Harris kept me at it, though on every page I regretted that choice on his part. For readers who do not know what the first person singular in the present tense means I recommend tuning into Channel 7Mate where the question will never arise.

I had wanted to read a biography of Dreyfus sometime ago and came up with Jean-Denis Bredin’s ‘The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus’ (1983) by a French historian so I tried that. Mistake. It started in the middle with the writing test that Dreyfus was tricked into doing. I could never get a foothold on what was going on so I stopped.

45 B.C. In Rome 1 January became the first day of the calendar year with the adoption of the Julian Calendar based on the solar year. Prior to that the New Year had been marked on 1 March. It had been commissioned by Julius Caesar. John Maddox Roberts tells this story through a krimi in' The Year of Confusion (SPQR XIII).'

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1863 In Nebraska farmer Daniel Freeman submitted the first claim under the new Homestead Act for a property near Beatrice. The act opened the West and immigrants followed. The Act gave land to those who would improve it by the mixture of their labour. Sounds like John Locke.


1892 In New York City harbour fifteen-year old Annie Moore from Ireland became the first of the more than twelve million immigrants who passed through the Ellis Island Immigration Station in its sixty-two years of operation. Kate paid it a visit once upon a time. See the discussion of the film 'Brother from Another Planet' (1984) elsewhere on this blog for an update on Ellis Island.

1901 In Melbourne the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed. Tom Roberts was commissioned to paint the scene and below he is at work.


1962 In London the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records, but the company instead signed Brian Poole & the Tremeloes. The executive who made this call no doubt paid himself a bonus.


1660 In London Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter to the Company of Merchants of London Trading with the East Indies, later know as the East India Company with its own navy and army it became a law unto itself while providing sinecures to James and John Stuart Mill to write their books.


1879 In Honolulu the cornerstone was laid for the Iolani Palace which was the only royal palace in the United States. We have been through it. Jack Lord used to be there in Hawaii 5-Oh.


1929 In Montréal Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians played "Auld Lang Syne" as a New Year's Eve song for the first time. The group originated in London, Ontario. Been there and Montréal, too..

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1935 In Chicago Charles Darrow was granted United States patent 2,026,082 for the board game Monopoly. Play money was a big hit when there was so little of the real thing to go around in the Great Depression. It was such a success that it crossed the Atlantic in the following year. The poster below marketed the game in England in 1936. Played it more than once.


1999 The millennium observed around the world, while pedants declaimed it would be at the end of 2000. Despite the hype, the bug did not show.


1853 In Mexico City the coercive Gadsden Purchase, or Gadsden Treaty, was concluded. It was the last piece of territorial USA brought under the flag.


1916 In Saint Petersburg Grigori Rasputin, a self-styled Russian holy man, was murdered by Russian nobles eager to end his sway over the royal family. We have been the room where the deed was started but not done.

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1922 Moscow: The USSR established in a ceremony in Bolshoi Theatre comprising a confederation of Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine, and the Transcaucasian Federation. We saw a ballet at the Bolshoi and this plaque on the wall of the building.

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1936 In Flint Michigan members of the United Auto Workers staged the first sit-down strike on history at the Fisher Body Plant. They said the idea came from Mahatma Gandhi in India.

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2011 In the South Pacific Ocean several island natons changed time zone and moved west of the international dateline to align the time zone with trading partners, Australia and New Zealand. In doing so, they skipped December 30 and moved directly from December 29 to December 31. The line in the picture below used to be straight. There must be a backstory about moving that line. Who manages the world's time zones? And how is it done?


1170 Canterbury England Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral to please King Henry II. Plays by T. S. Eliot and Jean Anouilh brought this story back to light .


1851 In Boston the first chapter of the YMCA was formed. Pictured below is the Boston 'Y' I frequented in 1979-1980 when a visiting fellow at Harvard.


1890 The massacre at Wounded Knee at Pine Ridge in South Dakota occurred. Been there and I have the dream catchers over my iMacs to prove it. The Sioux I bought them from assured me they were made by his wife and not in a factory in China. He volunteered this; I did not ask.


1967 On television the Star Trek episode ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ aired with Mr Pomfritt, third from the left.


1969 Curt Flood’s lawyers surrounded that he would challenge Major League Baseball’s reserve clause and return to accept his trade to Philadelphia. His subsequent victory re-made all professional sports. Every player since then owes him a lot.

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IMDb meta-data is runtime of one hour and three minutes, rated 6.4 by 121 cinematizens

Genre: Mystery, comedy

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Verdict: A mile a minute

The set-up: Boston Blackie poses as the editor of a photo-news magazine called 'Flick,' a hybrid of People and National Inquirer. The owner is a health fanatic who hands out carrots as incentives. What McKinsey seminar did he attend?

Circulation is not what is should be. Even though their sensational photographs are faked, they are not very good fakes. They need new blood. They scan newspapers for sensational photographs and land on one. The decisive carrot sends a telegram to the Iowa snapper, a Pat Kelly, with an offer too good to refuse. Who can say no to a carrot a day?

Pat leaps on the train, leaving her Iowa boyfriend, Spectacles, behind even though he has helped her fake her photographs, including the one that caught the eye of the Big Carrot .

With it so far? It is all fake.

She arrives at the New York offices. Consternation follows. She is a she. Blackie quickly recovers and begins to see opportunities here. Yep. Leachery follows. Pat may be country but she is no bumpkin. She fends him off with references to her big Iowa brother who is staying with her in the Big Berg. Blackie is five foot nothing and takes the hint.

The plot thickens when Spectacles does show up and Pat, with difficulty, convinces him to play the brother role she had already cast.

Pat gets to work and with brass, wit, and a disarming honesty gets some nifty pixes. The real thing. Blackie is impressed. He never thought of that. Real events. In the excitment Carrot changes to handing out turnips.

See, I said it was fast-moving.

Then, finally, a stiff shows up. It’s complicated. Pat staged a mystery shoot for a 'Flick' promotional piece, which was then copied in a real murder. The cops pounce.

Blackie sees more opportunities here. It had to be spelled out for the fraternity brothers. First, by leaving Pat in the slammer for a while they get material for an exposé of police incompetence, terrible conditions in jail, the poor hygiene of other prisoners, or the poor Wi Fi in New York City jails. Second, when he springs her then her gratitude will exceed the Hayes Code. Perfect. What can go wrong?

Well when Blackie and Carrot tell Plod about the promotional stunt figuring it will be Open Sesame, the cops play (as usual) dumb. Oh, oh. Pat is still it in The Big House.

Much desperate this and that follows and Blackie fakes another photograph to flush out the real killer. Whew!

Meanwhile Specactles has gone and got married to another woman so that all can live happily ever after, the end.

Nancy Kelly as Pat carries the show and Phillip Terry is marvellous as Spectacles. The ever reliable Richard Gaines as the Big Carrot is brisk and efficient. Charles Arnt is a charming rouge and Claire Rochelle runs 'Flick' so subtly none of the men realise it. Director William Berke keeps it moving full tilt. He worked in television in the 1950s after about eighty B-movies in the 1940s. He also produced and wrote.

Kelly was a baby model at age one, and as a child appeared opposite Gloria Swanson. She was the Bad Seed in the 'Bad Seed' (1956) and Walter Kerr said it was an astounding performance. She did it first on Broadway and then in film. Seeing the film made me glad I did not have a sister. Kelly also did much television

Terry was the lead in ‘Seven Keys to Baldplate’ (1947) discussed elsewhere on this blog. He was one of those B movie actors who went into television. Innuendo has it that it was as a toy boy for Joan Crawford that he started his film career. Even so his film career was blah and he turned to real estate with great financial success.

Richard Gaines flew to Mars in ‘Flight to Mars’ (1951) discussed elsewhere on this blog.

The film was released on 18 December 1944 while the Battle of the Bulge had just began in Western Europe with a series of German victories and advances. At the same time MacArthur’s return to the Phillipines was being fought out on Mindoro. The siege of Bastogne had begun as the film travelled to theatres across the country. More German victories followed. The newsreel on the bill with this film would have covered all of this. Yellow telegrams arrived from both the Pacific and European Wars. Diversion would have been most welcome.

1065 In London Westminster Abbey was consecrated. Still there. Seen it and the long lines of visitors waiting in the rain to enter but have never done so myself.

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1836 In Adelaide the Acting Governor read a proclamation creating the colony of South Australia. The first and only Australian colony founded by free settlers, many of them from German-speaking Europe.

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1869 In Philadelphia the Knights of Labor, a labor union of tailors, held the first Labor Day ceremonies in American history. This was a forerunner of Labor Day. Why is not one of the Philadelphia sports teams called The Tailors? Answer me that!


1895 In Paris the world’s first commercial movie screening took place at the Grand Cafe. For a fee the Lumière brothers screened a series of short scenes from everyday life.


1973 In Paris Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published ‘The Gulag Archipelago' in Russian. It put paid to Western apologist for the Soviet Union in documenting the persistence, severity, extent, and depravity of the slave system. These apologist told us that the Gulag went with the death of Stalin. Powerful. It is depressing to realise that at the same time there were comfortable intellectuals in Paris, London, and Sydney espousing the moral equivalence of the USA and USSR while never missing a meal. No mea maxima culpas have ever been heard. We went to the Gulag Museum in Moscow. Grim. The curator who showed us around had been a victim. The map below of gulags below shows the extent at the time Solzhenitsyn published.


1652 In London Charles II suppressed coffee houses because of the "scandalous papers, books and libels from being read in them" and to prevent the freedom of speech or the right to express dissatisfaction with the government in the houses. It was rescinded in a fortnight when it elicited in equal measures ridicule and disbelief.

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1780 In Victoria Buckley’s chance was taken when convict William Buckley, recently arrived, escaped into the bush. He lived 32 years among the Wathaurong people on the Mornington Peninsula. He became a peacemaker between the aborigines and European settlers and was pardoned to become a civil servant.


1900 In Wichita Kansas Carry Nation smashed up the bar at the elegant Carey Hotel. She had abandoned the nonviolent agitation of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union for direct action -- “hatchetation.” Since the Kansas Constitution prohibited alcohol, Nation argued that destroying saloons was an acceptable means for citizens to enforce the law when established authorities would not do so.


1904 In London 'Peter Pan,' by James Barrie, opened at the Duke of York’s Theater in London. Do you believe? Still playing in some form somewhere right now.

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1945 In D.C. International Monetary Fund was established by twenty-nine member countries. It has done much to bring stability to the world's finance.

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1606 At Whitehall London King Lear was performed at the court of King James I. It had been written in the previous twelve months. I have seen it performed many times. Most productions mangle the politics by omitting scenes and lines that indicate Lear had a plan, and only when it was foiled and he lost control of the situation did he become erratic.

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1919 The Boston Red Sox committed original sin by selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, and suffered ever after. Only expiated in 2004; saw it, did not believe it. Bill 'Spaceman' Lee had predicted it would a hundred years but he meant 2019. He missed by fifteen years. That's close enough for a junk baller. In any event it was the hundredth World Series so he numerology was right.

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1931 George Gershwin’s musical, "Of Thee I Sing," opened in New York City. It became the first American musical to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Daughter Julie sang in this at the Sydney Opera House.


1945 The first Sydney to Hobart yacht race occurred. In the first instance it was a sailing club with nine craft, but it soon became a competition 'to make it more interesting'. It has been a boon to Hobart’s tourist business. The spectacle on Sydney Harbour is a sight to see. At Hobart the survivors are usually a bedraggled lot which does not look so good.


1982 Time magazine made the Personal Computer its ‘Man of the Year.’ The first time a person was not name for this distinction. Started to use my first one in the office about 1988 when I rolled one recently delivered from the hallway into my office. That was the method by which resources were allocated in those days.

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GoodReads meta-data is 324 pages, rated 2.9 by 108 litizens.

Genre: Krimi

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Verdict: Dan (Brown) started here.

The sleuth in change of the City of the Flower in the year of their lord 1300 is Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) is called to the site of a ruined ship in the marshes of the Arno with a manacled and dead crew. Is this a life boat from the Mary Celeste, or what? Turns out it is 'or what.'

Florence is ruled by a small but typical committee — shutter! — whose members are Priors, and Dan is one of them. The others are busy with training seminars, bickering over trivialities, and writing this service onto their CVs while not raising a finger. See, it is a typical committee. Only Dan does any prioring work.

He finds on the ghost ship a strange clockwork, which he conceals, least some zealous churchman declare it devilish and destroy it. There is a lot of that around, i.e., churchmen declaring sliced bread the work of the devil, and devouring it least humble people be corrupted.

It seems the Catholic Church has never changed. It loudest exponents are the first to become corrupt to save the humble people from it. If that is too cryptic, think choir boys.

Dan noses around annoying everyone. Florence is full of travellers, many on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and others to AC Milan away games. They are united by Latin and soccer. Then the murders begin among a group of those travellers. The plot got so thick this reader could not stir it.

Meanwhile a charlatan, no relations to Heston, is gulling credulous Republicans with a new Crusade to build a wall. They throw money at him which he happily collects. When Prior Dan sets out to unmask this scoundrel he finds a deeper and darker plot that harks back to the War of Guelphs and Ghibellinis. This conflict was largely familial though various doctrinal and territorial claims were made to cloak the tribal battle for precedence.

Dan is much less inclined than his fellow committee Priors to accept supernatural explanations for everything and even less inclined to favour destroying anything unusual as the devil’s work. The author brings home the suffocating and hypocritical environment of the time and place very well. While Dan is pious he sees all as part of the divine plan and wants to understand it, not whack it with a sword.

The last great Holy Roman Emperor was Frederick II (1194–1250) of Sicily who was very much larger than life. He travelled widely in the constituents of the Empire and promoted alchemy, astronomy, astrology, and the other arts and sciences of the age. The pope denounced him as the anti-Christ for this support. Freddy also negotiated with Saracens about access to the Holy Lands, and that made him anathema to the Pope. 'Negotiation, never! The sword, always!' cried the Pope in the name of the Prince of Peace.

When the Papacy prevailed and Freddy died, it grew avaricious and bloated, and by Dan’s time it was an enemy of Florence, seeking always to extend its grip on the secular city through the sectarian cloisters that abound in the city. (When I spent a semester at the European Universities Institute in Florence I had an office in a one-time monastery. Pretty grim.)

After the Guelphs defeated the Ghibs in 1294, a battle in which Dan distinguished himself, they then split among themselves into Black Guelphs and White Guelphs. The losers of this interniacine conflict went to Ontario where it was a balmy -2 degrees Fahrenheit when I checked this minute. Again the conflict was familial and personal rather than theological or ideological, though inevitably the contestants sought allies on these latter grounds.

The to’ing and fro’ing and the manners and mōres of high medieval Florence are interesting but confusing to the neophyte like me. I never did quite figure out what the point of it all was but nonetheless I will try to SPOIL(ER) it for readers!

The plotters were trying to rekindle the Ghibs. The purpose of the take over was to reclaim Freddy’s mirrors which his court astronomer had made to observe the transmission of light. This was sacrilege because light was God’s creation, or something. So it all had to be done in secret, in the dark. Get it? Why all this had to be played out in Florence was lost on this reader. But the mirrors were the cargo of wrecked ship. Secrecy required the whole crew to be murdered. [Gulp.] UPS could have delivered without all that. Not sure about DHL.

Dotted throughout the text are passages from and references to Dan’s masterwork, the Comedy, which took the name Divine after his death. I have listened to most of it in an Audible book while dog walking years ago. I once met John Ciardi, the foremost English translator of Dan, in that memorable 8 am poetry class that seemed like a good idea for the first and last time at registration.

giulioleoni.jpg Giulio Leoni

There a number of titles in this series and I read another one a long time ago. Like this one, I found that one intriguing but confusing. Don’t suppose I will rush to find another title, but if another crops up I would most likely add it to the Kindle.

Wikipedia tells us that Dan’s family was loyal to the Guelphs, a political alliance that supported the Papacy in opposition to the Ghibellines, who were backed by the Holy Roman Emperor. To pursue a political career the young Dan had to join a guild and the easiest entrance exam was pharmacy so he did that. It made some sense, because apothecaries in those days and for centuries to come also sold books, at first DIY book on diet and health, but others, too. That fits with bookish Dan.

IMDB meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 27 minutes, rated 6.2 by 197 cinematizens.

Genre: Mystery, Comedy

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Verdict: ‘Sunset Boulevard’ Lite.

A streamer trunk arrives at the estate of a glamorous Hollywood peroxide star who swans around in a diaphanous wardrobe. The delivery man demands payment, Cash On Delivery. Irritating that, since the trunk contains fabrics for costumes to be used in an upcoming production, but she writes a cheque. (Look it up under either ‘cheque’ or ‘check.’)

Then her factotum prises the case open to reveal, among the bolts of cloth, a corpse! Screaming and gasping follow on cue.

Worse the deadman is the very unpleasant costume designer with whom Peroxide had an argument about wardrobe the day before. Factotum reaches for the telephone but…'No,’ she says and called a newspaper reporter Boyfriend (he wishes) and who takes over control.

After insuring a scoop for his byline he calls the law in the person of Detective Baritone who goes all Dragnet.

Even as Boyfriend investigates he trips over a newshound rival, played by the one and only Joan Blondell. The pratfalls are predictable, as are the fisticuffs, and the red herrings but it is all done with so much joie de vive to make it seem fresh.

There are in-jokes as the two journalists compete for information around the studio lot. The running gang of the convict escape scene did finally end with the man who came to sing! Nice.

Marvin Miller is a superb villain, before he went to work for Mr Tipton giving away moolah. Though the major villain is….. Well, the fraternity brothers figured it out before the denouement because it was telegraphed nearly from the start.

Peroxide is a wall flower when in the same scene with the firecracker Blondell. Even dim Boyfriend figures that out.

The picture starts like a publicity film for Hollywood with references to the dominate gossip and newspaper columnists of the time, like Luella Parsons and Hedda Hopper and then arrives at the estate mentioned above. There is no further reference to the figures reviewed in that five minute overture, which, by the way, included the screenwriter of this piece. If there is a backstory to explain this introduction it did not reveal itself to me.

The anonymous New York Times review of 17 August 1947 is as exhausted and disdainful as most of the reviews carried by that organ. It adds nothing.

336 The Christian church in Rome observed the Feast of the Nativity coinciding approximately with the winter solstice and the Roman Festival of Saturnalia.


880 The Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor in Rome. This was the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire, which was not Holy nor Roman nor an Empire per Voltaire. Sounds like something from Faux News. Even so it lasted until 1806.

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1741 Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius introduced the Centigrade temperature scale calibrated with a value of 100° for the freezing point of water and 0° for the boiling point. It was reversed by Carl Linnaeus in 1745 after Celsius’s death to facilitate more practical measurement. It was called the Swedish thermometer but Celsius referred to it as Centigrade. With his death Linnaeus named it Celsius himself.

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1818 ‘Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht’ (‘Silent Night’) was first performed at the Church of St Nikolaus in Oberndorff bei Salzburg in Austria. The music was by local school teacher Franz Gruber and the lyrics by local priest Jospeh Mohr.


1990 The first successful communication between an HTTP client and server over the Internet spawned the World Wide Web.

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563 The Byzantine church Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was re-dedicated after being destroyed by earthquakes. We have been there and seen that remarkable building and learned something of its history.

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1851 A fire at the Library of Congress destroyed about two-thirds of its 55,000 volumes, including most of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library which founded the Library. I have been there more than once and felt honoured each time to enter this temple of knowledge. There are posts about my experiences there elsewhere on this blog.

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1865 In Pulaski Tennessee the Ku Klux Klan was founded as a self-help society for Confederate Army veterans, many of them maimed by the war and nearly all of whom were dispossessed. The name was derived from the Greek word kyklos, meaning “circle,” and the Scottish-Gaelic word “clan.” Its first leader was one-time General Nathan Forrest. After less than two years he objected to the violent racism of Klan members and tried to disband it. Later sitting president U.S. Grant also tried to disband it. Neither succeeded. Today its members and fellow travellers support President Tiny.

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1974 Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, destroying more than 70 percent of the city’s buildings, including 80 percent of its houses. It was a colossal storm. On one of our visits to a Darwin museum we spend five minutes in a replica of a storm cellar as the sound effects blasted and wall shook. That was enough for us. The real storm went on for hours. It nearly obliterated Darwin.


1979 The Soviet Union sent three army divisions with air support into Afghanistan to install a government aligned to the USSR to head off an American attempt to do the same through Pakistan. Tribal infighting in Kabul had produced instability which made such foreign intervention tempting. So begin a decade of war that left at least 15,000 red grunts dead and an untold number of locals. It became one of the hottest points in the Cold War.

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1888 At Arles Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh cut off his left ear after argument with fellow painter Paul Gauguin, sending it to a prostitute for safe keeping. We have seen some marvellous paintings by this troubled genius. There is a memorable scene in the film 'The Night of the Generals' when one mad man, Peter O'Toole, recognises another in Vincent.

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1900 Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden made the first wireless voice transmission while working for the Weather Bureau. His immortal words were 'It's snowing here.' The reply came by telegraph: 'Same here.' Low key or what?

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1906 At Bondi Beach the surf life-saving reel was demonstrated. Legend has it that the first person saved by that reel was the eight-year old Charlie Kingsford-Smith (for whom Sydney airport is named due to his later aviation exploits). The reels became standard equipment until 1993 when they were replaced by inflated rubber boats, yellow duckies.


1912 The prestigious 'Nouvelle Revue Francaise' in Paris rejected with disdain a self-contained excerpt from 'À la recherche du temps perdu' (Remembrance of Things Past) by Marcel Proust. This was Proust’s first attempt to publish this monumental work. I have read most of it. Who can forget the death of Marcel's grandmother, Gilbertine's elusive kiss, the Baron de Charlus's mordant wit, or Monsieur Norpois lighting a cigar to encapsulate European history.

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1913 U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed the Owen-Glass Act to create the Federal Reserve System to regulate banks. Its temple is pictured below. Within it the god of mammon is worshipped, propitiated, mollified, appeased, soothed, and pacified in dark and secret rituals with demand curves and Pareto optima.


877 The tradition of the Twelve Days of Christmas started when King Alfred the Great decreed that no servant had to work during the twelve days of celebration which followed Midwinter which merged with the twelve days of Christmas instigated by Christians to replace the pagan festival of Saturnalia.

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1808 Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67—the “Fifth Symphony” premiered half way through a long program with an unrehearsed orchestra in a vast, freezing hall. It was ignored by critics at the time but is now regarded as one of the greatest work of one of the greatest composer. The four-note opening motif is familiar to many people who have never heard of Ludi. Its opening four-note motif was the signal for D-Day on 6 June 1944.

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1849 Fyodor Dostoyevsky was to be executed for antigovernment activities. In fact, he was led out to face a firing squad, where he was then told he had been reprieved. He was sent into exile for a decade. At the time of his arrest he had written two juvenile novels now seldom read. The great works followed his return to Russia in 1859. We saw much about this tortured soul on our Russian tour.


1894 Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason by a military court-martial and sentenced to life in prison for passing military secrets to the Germans. He was convicted on flimsy evidence in a highly irregular trial. Being Jewish he was a scapegoat for the far reaching corruption and incompetence in the French Army. The meat-eaters of the day, i.e., journalists, had him convicted long before the sham of a trial. Somethings never change.


1956 A baby gorilla named Colo was born at the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo becoming the first-ever gorilla born in captivity. After a long and comfortable life with many progeny she died in January 2017.

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1817 Governor Lachlan Macquarie recommended to the Colonial Office in distant England the use of the name 'Australia' instead of New Holland for the continent. Much of Australia still bears the imprint of Lachlan Macquarie, a humanitarian and visionary. In Latin 'australis' means southern, and from the second century there were legends of an "unknown southern land" (terra australis incognita).

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1844 The Rochdale Pioneers began business at a cooperative in England, starting the Cooperative movement. The principals included: Open membership, democratic control (one person, one vote), distribution of surplus in proportion to trade, payment of limited interest on capital, political and religious neutrality, cash trading (no credit extended), and promotion of education.


1898 French scientists Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium. It made them famous and it killed them. She was the first woman in Europe to earn a PhD. They coined the term 'radioactivity.'


1913 First crossword puzzle (with 32 clues) was printed in New York World. It was created by Arthur Wynne, a Liverpool journalist. We have done a few of these.


1933 Fox Films signed Shirley Temple at five-years of age to a studio contract. By that time she had been in films for two years. She retired from Tinsel Town at twenty-two and had a career in business and then another in diplomacy.


GoodReads meta-data is 304 pages, rated 3.79 by 309 litizens.

Genre: krimi

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Verdict: George Will would approve.

It is July 1917 and since April the United States has thrown itself into the War to End all Wars. Ten thousand men — doughboys — a day were entering the Western Front. By November 1918 more than four million American men were under arms. Behind them was an unprecedented mobilisation in industry, agriculture, railroads, and shipping. Women joined the work force and blacks moved north to work in war industries. The great Muscle Shoals development began (and it later morphed into the Tennessee Valley Authority). And there was more.

Part of the more was a patriotic anti-Germanism that made it dangerous to be called Schmidt, Eisenhower, Kresbach, Diffenbaker, or anything else that some fool might think was German. Lutheran churches were burned by self-appointed patriots and police had blind eyes. Cities like Baltimore that had more Germans than anything else were patrolled by the army. Even H. L. Mecken had to adopt a low(er) profile. Newspapers were censored. Labour leaders who criticised exploitative armaments manufacturers were imprisoned without trial. Hysteria was in the air along with kerosene. Kayser rolls were off the menu.

Our hero, Chicago Cubs second baseman, Mickey Rawlings lives on double plays, drag bunts, run and hits, choke-ups, tag-ups, inside slides, pick-offs, stolen bases, balks, sac flies, inside the park homers, and barely notices any of this until…….! Then his infield teammate and double play partner, shortstop, Ed Kaiser is murdered. For a time it seems he was killed because of that name, and that seemed plausible in the time and place, but no, there was more to it.

The more emerges as Mickey, reluctantly, becomes involved in the labyrinth of wartime Chicago between home games and road trips. It starts when he delivers condolences to Kaiser’s family and begins to realise how pervasive and pernicious the anti-German feeling is. One thing leads to another and he is warned off, which, per the conventions of the genre, stimulates his competitive desire to find out more.

Profiteers, opportunists, corrupt officials, naive churchmen, jaded journalists, vigilantes, plank thick coppers, all put in an appearance. Though Charles Wrigley’s name is much mentioned, he never appears on the page.

Troy_Soos.jpg Physics teacher Soos.

This entry is the third in a series of kimis set in the world of baseball. There are a couple of these series and I have been curious but reluctant to try them I did sample another one a long time ago that started in Fenway Park and lapsed almost immediately in cliché so that I did not get past chapter two. This one has more life in it, and just enough baseball to offer background. Mickey mixes with many historic figures of the era like Shoeless Joe Jackson, who forgot his spikes once and never lived it down, Burleigh Grimes, Fred Merkle, and their ilk.

69 General Vespasian became Roman emperor for a decade. He was the last in the year of four emperors. His rule was one of those rare occasions when a military government led to stability and order without resorting to the sword. He founded the Flavian dynasty which ruled for another two decades. The Colosseum was one of his many building projects. Still there. Still an attraction.


1699 Tsar Big Pete changed calendar to coincide with Western Europe, making the new year on 1 January and not 1 September. The Orthodox Church rebelled because it changed saints days (and the birthdays associated with them.) Later the Bolsheviks had trouble with days and dates, too. A superb biography of Great Peter is discussed elsewhere on this blog.

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1820 To encourage men to marry and produce children to increase the population and to enhance its claims to statehood Missouri introduced a bachelor tax of $1 a year. It applied to only to men.

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1860 South Carolina seceded from the Union even before Abraham Lincoln was declared the winner of the election by the Electoral College. The first state to do so. It had threatened to this a number times before reaching back to the administration of Andrew Jackson. Been to Charleston to eat shrimp and grits, i.e., 'girls raised in the South,' we were told.

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1966 Su Yu-chen, an accredited Taiwanese journalist who had covered the Tokyo Olympics and other international sporting competitions, was barred from a press conference for the Asian Games in Bangkok because she was a woman. The other 400 journalists were men, none of whom protested at her exclusion.

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324 Licinius abdicates his position as Roman Emperor and retired to farm. The only emperor ever to do so.


1777 After a series of defeats, George Washington’s Continental Army retreated to Valley Forge near Philadelphia for a long, cold winter. The British assumed the war was over and prepared to accept Washington’s surrender in the spring. Men died of hypothermia, starvation, and disease but the Army held together, partly out of personal loyalty to Washington who remained in camp with the men and endured the same privations, unlike most of the other officers.


1843 Charles Dickens's published 'A Christmas Carol’ which sold 6000 copies in a week.


1889 The Bishop Museum founded in Hawaii. Charles Reed Bishop built it as a memorial to his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. We have been there many times.


1984 Britain agreed to return Hong Kong to China in 1997. Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher went to the Great Hall of the People in China to give away a jewel in the crown. The lease was up and she could not pay the rent increase. Imagine the Fox News hysteria if a Labour PM had done that.

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1865 The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified ending slavery. It had passed Congress earlier and ratification occurred when 3/4ths of the States agreed. What counted as a State in December 1865 was much vexed, as most of the Southern states were under military rule.


1894 Women in South Australia gained the right to vote in 1894 by a vote of the all-male South Australian parliament. Queen Victoria gave Royal Assent on 2 February 1895, allowing women to vote for the first time in the election of 1896.

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1912 The discovery of Piltdown Man (Sussex) by amateur Charles Dawson was accepted as genuine at Geological Society of London for two generations although it was an amateurish prank. Only in 1953 was it denounced as a hoax.


1957 World’s first nuclear power plant began generating electricity for Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

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1961 EMI rejected the Beatles submission for a recording contract. A change of heart came later.

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1538 The Pope Paul II excommunicated Henry VIII, leading him to champion the Protestant Reformation. Paulie thus obeyed the law of unintended consequences by stimulating Henry to break with the Papacy, rather coming to heel.

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1903 Two bicycle repairmen from Ohio, Wilbur and Orville Wright took to the air at Kitty Hawk beach in North Carolina in a heavier than air, self-propelled and powered, and controlled flight.


1908 Willard Libby developed radiocarbon dating in a physical chemistry laboratory. Some of the early work on this technique was done at the University of Nebraska. It uses the decay of radioactive carbon-14 (C14) to determine age in anything that was once living up to 60,000 years. It has become a tool in daily use in agriculture, archaeology, chemistry, geology, history, geophysics, and more. A dated fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls is an example.

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1967 Serving Prime Minister Harold Holt of Australia disappeared while swimming in the sea off a Victorian beach, never to reappear. Fox News says Hillary did it. Conspiracy theorists have dined out on this misfortune ever since. In addition to the ubiquitous Hillary, Chinese, Russians, socialists, CIA, aliens, Moonies, leprechauns, and Queenslanders have all been blamed. Don't mention the sharks.

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1989 The Simpsons first episode appeared on television in the USA. Tune in on a channel near you.


1707 The last recorded eruption of Mount Fuji, lasting 17 days. We have seen Mt Fuji in the distance on a bullet train from Tokyo to Nagoya.

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1773 Guests at the Boston Tea Party dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbour in protest of the Tea Act of 1771 introduced to prop up the East India Company by giving it a monopoly against Dutch traders who were undercutting the Company on price. The Tea Partists dressed as Mohawk Indians to shift the blame on to the innocent. Blame shifting remains a Tea Party speciality.

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1899 Italian football club A.C. Milan founded as Milan Foot-Ball and Cricket Club by Englishmen Alfred Edwards and Herbert Kilpin. Cricket? And two English founders! Athletic Club Milan. Go figure.

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1907 President Theodore Roosevelt dispatched the Great White Fleet around the world on a two year voyage. Warships visiting ports was a well established practice at the time, but Roosevelt's fleet, painted white to signify its peaceful intent, was enormous with sixteen battleships and 50 escort ships. Every ship was fully crewed and all nearly brand new, and of the latest design: all steel and coal-burning. The voyage was in part a training mission for the navy which had until that time concentrated on operations in coastal waters and not blue water out of sight of land. It also demonstrated American power to would be predators after the assault on Venezuela earlier by European creditors. It visited Sydney as the postcard below indicates.


1946 The House of Dior was founded with financial backing from Marcel Boussac. Still going with a revenue of more than $40 billion and about 125,000 employees in 2017.


1791 D.C. The Bill of Rights was ratified by the States. The process had begun two years earlier. It includes the right to bear arms in a well-ordered militia as a substitute for a standing army. Now that there is a standing army.....it would seem to follow that there is no need for this proviso.


1891 Springfield, Massachusetts, an illegal immigrant Canadian James Naismith devised the game of basketball, a sport that could be played indoors and was neither too tame nor too rough. He set the founding thirteen rules.


1893 NYC: Foreigner Anton Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E-minor, Opus 95, "From the New World," was performed in New York City in an open rehearsal at Carnegie Hall. The world premier was the next day.


1905 St Petersburg, Russia, Pushkin House was established to preserve the cultural heritage of Alexander Pushkin, who is credited with creating Russian as literary language. We have been there.


1920 Geneva: Australia became a member of the League of Nations. Been to the League of Nations building in Geneva to read archives. Frank Morehouse's superb novels featuring Edith followed.

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1751 Vienna: Hapsburg rulers founded the first military academy in the world, the Theresian Military Academy. We might see it next year.


1900 At the Physics Society in Berlin Max Planck presented a theoretical derivation of his black-body radiation law which became a corner stone of quantum theory.


1911 Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first to reach the South Pole.

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1926 Mystery writer Agatha Christie reappeared eleven days after being reported missing, with no memory of where she has been. Christie's autobiography makes no reference to her disappearance.


1962 For the first time an earth probe, Mariner 2, flew by Venus.

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1 hour and 6 minutes, rated 6.4 by 301 cinematizens.

Genre: Krimi

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Verdict: Redemption.

An amnesia victim is rescued up by Lieutenant Tragg posing as a kindly, country doctor. Tragg tries all the plays in the script to rekindle Amnesia’s memory. No go. Time passes.

Victim gets depressed and is snapped out of it by a love interest, and Tragg challenges him to make something of himself. 'Few men have a second chance and he should take it.' This dramatic tension is well played.

Victim transforms himself into….[drum roll], the Crime Doctor, a combination of physician and psychologist. Ten years passes while he transforms.

Then in no time he has reformed innumerable criminals. All the while a mysterious stranger is lurking about who tells Crime Doctor that he knows he a faking amnesia. He is not, but he worries about what Lurker knows that he doesn’t.

Turns our Victim (aka Crime Doctor) was a criminal mastermind who made off with a fortune, when prosperity was just around the corner, and then he lost his memory and with it the loot. Lurker with two associates want a cut, even these ten years later.

Whew! Is this plot thick, or what? There are lumps in this gravy alright.

Victim recovers his memory, singlehandedly captures Lurker and gang, finds the dosh, and surrenders himself to the authorities.

He is put on trial as a split personality. Think Clockwork Orange. He is tried for what Victim/Villain did but the man on trial is pillar of virtue Crime Doctor. Get it? What the fraternity brothers got was a headache.

He admits Victim/Villain’s guilt while claiming Crime Doctor’s innocence. Both inhabit the same body! What to do? There is some nice satire about the journalists covering the trial. On Fox News Hillary is blamed.

Find him guilty and let him go, that’s what.

It is all nicely done, though disbelief has to be suspended with Victim, the 55-year old Warner Baxter, who is ostensibly 30 at the start. Whoa. Not only does he look 55, he also looks ill. He did eight of these programers.

Crime Doctor was a multimedia hit at the time. It ran in newspapers, over the airwaves of radio, and in this and the subsequent series of films.

1 hour and 9 minutes, rated 5.7 by 94 cinematizens.

Genre: Krimi

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Verdict: Diverting

We open in China with a professional ventriloquist who is entrusted with a fortune in jewels to take from China to New York to raise money for Chinese war relief. But complications ensue.

The two dummies arrive in New York and the warm blooded one goes missing. Foul play is suspected by viewers. Inscrutable Anna May Wong arouses suspicion, but proclaims her innocence.

The local agent for the sale seeks the advice of Ellery Queen’s typist who brings EQ into it. There is some nice by-play between EQ and the typist who would like to be an assistant, and even a detective. EQ insists that he is writer and not a detective, and I agreed. This insistence riled the contemporary New York Times reviewer who was condescending and disdainful without a by-line. That august organ seems to specialise in reviewers who do not like movies.

Ralph Bellamy played EQ in this outing, and he does it pretty well, though the screenplay is repetitive.

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 6 minutes, rated 5.3 by 286 cinematizens.

Genre: Krimi


Verdict: Snappy

Hidden in the title is Ellery Queen played to a ’T’ by Eddie Quillan. A rare Chinese Mandarin stamp is stolen and the body count starts. The courier delivering the stamp from China is robbed in her hotel room, and the Inspector Queen comes to investigate with Ellery in his wake.

Her intention was to sell the stamps to a private collector. When a rival collector offers twice as much the courier, strangely, declines. Meanwhile the offspring of the first collector oppose the purchase of another useless stamp which they see as squandering their inheritance.

There are locked rooms, posed cadavers, shadows lurking outside windows, and bumbling coppers. The dialogue is brisk; the direction is crisp; the players are engaging.

There is much coming and going, and more than one set of villains are on the prowl to confuse things, and me.

EQ comes to the rescue with smart alec remarks, and a keen eye for detail.

Spoiler: Turns out Collector One found that forgery paid better. His plan was to buy the Chinese stamp and them make forgeries and sell each on the black market for the purchase price. I think.

Franklin Pangborn, as ever, superbly plays the flighty hotel manager.

Ellery Queen stories were multi-media at the time, in print, over the radio, and on the silver screen.

1577 Plymouth, England: Sir Francis Drake went to attack Spanish shipping in the Pacific. To do so he had to circumnavigate the world. Silver from Peru was the major source of money for Spain at the time.

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1642 New Zealand: Dutchman Abel Tasman reached the coast of South Island in New Zealand, and named it Staten Landt (States General). It was the default name Dutch explorers used, e.g., Staten Island in New York Habor. Cartographers back home changed the name to honour his home, Zeeland.

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1902 Caracas, Venezuela: British and German ships bombard Venezuelan harbour forts to collect sovereign debts. Using the Monroe Doctrine, US President Theodore Roosevelt offered to arbitrate and successfully did so.

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1955 Melbourne: Australian housewife, Dame Edna Everage, debuted. The character evolved over the years. The wardrobe, the gladioli, the glasses, the rings, came later. The lane in Melbourne below bears that name.


1972 The Moon: Apollo 17 was the sixth and the last time humans landed on the Moon. Eugene Cernan was the last man of twelve men to walk on the Moon.

1694 London: the Royal Society censured Edmond Halley for suggesting that Noah’s flood might have been caused by the impact of a comet. Supernatural causes were preferred explanation.

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1792 In Vienna, Franz Joseph Haydn gave the first lessons in composition to 22-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven. We hope to visit Vienna again in 2019 and pay homage to Ludi.

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1874 D.C.: President U.S. Grant hosted the first state dinner at the White House and it was for visiting Hawaiian King David Kalakaua. Hawaii is our favourite place, apart from Newtown.


1953 Chuck Yeager flew two and a half times the speed of sound. He inspired Tom Wolfe.
Notice the X-plane and pilot in a pressure suit on the cover of the first edition. It is a marvellous book.

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1980 NYC: Apple made its initial public offering on the stock market. It became the largest company in the US over the next generation. Ten years ago we migrated from the PC World to the Apple World and have never looked back.

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1620 The Mayflower pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. Kate has been there.

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1936 Edward VIII abdicated the throne of England.

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1944 The Great Toronto snowstorm of 20 inches remains the worst blizzard experienced in that winter city. The death count increased to about twenty.

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1946 United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund was established, one of the many good things the United Nations does that gets little press.


2001 Race riots occurred in Cronulla in southern Sydney. A voter is pictured below.

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GoodReads meta-data is 402 pages, rated 3.9 by 827 raters.

Genre: Non-fiction

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Verdict: Could not put it down.

The book reads like one of Harris’s historical novels with a cast of characters and skulduggery galore, but it is too incredible to be fiction. Only reality could combine such colossal stupidity, egotistical incompetence, and venomous hypocrisy. In short, it seems like a typical episode of Fox News.

The basics, for those born yesterday, are these. In 1983 there came to light the personal diaries kept for thirty years by one Adolf Hitler. Look him up. It was a sensation and a flock of carrion eaters landed on it to exploit the find.

It all started with an inveterate liar and forger who had eked out a living selling Nazi relics on the black market, since trade in such things was illegal in West Germany. When he could not get the real thing he learned to make replicas. His clients did not seem to notice, or mind if they did notice, so he kept at it. Since trading and possessing such items was illegal the clients did not seek expert opinion or dare to compare notes. Forger also discovered that the objects that commanded the highest prices were those connected personally to Hitler.

He followed the marks, and forged Hitler signatures, early letters, and paintings, a lot of paintings, hundreds. When asked he always said he got the goods from a contact in East Germany, whose name he had to protect because there the penalty for trading in Nazi relics in the DDR was capital.

One day a lowly reporter from the Stern magazine came along. He was a Nazi obsessive, and he bought a few items. Note, though Stern was at the time aligned with the Socialist Party, this reporter was a dreamy fantasist way down the pecking order.

He kept buying from Forger, no questions asked. Then Forger, on the look out for new ways to add value to his small business, broached the prospect of diaries. This was perfect for Fantasist. He tried to interest the editors of Stern in buying the diaries but they rejected them as preposterous and irrelevant. There were many previous examples of forged material from that era, and to their minds this was another pathetic example of that. They knew Fantastist for what he was and left it at that.

Fantastist did not give up easily. In time he by-passed the editors and made contact with the management of Stern. Stern was owned by a holding company which in turn was a subsidiary of the leviathan Bertelsmann corporation. Fantastist convinced Herr Decisivie, the chairman of the board, that this was the scoop of the century. To make it a scoop everything had to be kept secret. So Decisive consulted no one and gave Fantastist a blank cheque to get the diaries: No questions asked.

Fantastist went back to Forger and created a demand for diaries. Forger set to work at his usual standard. He bought ruled A4 school books and used the public records of Hitler’s day-to-day activities to add jottings in Gothic script as diary entries. Over two years he produced 50,000 words spread over fifty A4 booklets. Fantastist spent the blank cheque on them, though he skimmed off as much as 75% for himself of millions. (When Forger later learned of this surtax he readily spilled beans on Fantastist.)

At Stern secrecy remained the watchword. To get some verification very limited graphology tests were done but they were so constrained as to prove nothing, or everything to those who wanted to believe. The Fantastist believed. Herr Decisive was sure of this own genius.

Negotiations with international buyers like News Limited in the UK and Newsweek in the USA brought more people into the secret and doubts were expressed, but dismissed by Fantastist and Decisive as petty jealousies. Decisive had no interest in disproof.

Then Decisive ordered the Stern editors, who had to this point known nothing about this matter, to prepare a special issue. They objected, asking for checks to be made (which would perforce reveal the secret), but were overruled. The international buyers wanted verification but were stalled. They, too, were blinded by the scoop and did not press the matter. At each stage everyone seems to have assumed someone else had verified the diaries. Or so they said in hindsight.

Even as the presses rolled out 75,000 copies of a special, large issue of Stern, a press conference announced the find to the world. It was a fiasco. Faced with a roomful of skeptical journalists some of whom brought along historians from all over the world, the house of cards collapsed. Hugh Trevor-Roper who had authenticated the diaries made a fool of himself, and spent years afterward trying to rewrite this history at least to his own satisfaction. The utterly cynical David Irving played both sides against his bank overdraft and won the lottery that night.

News Limited and Newsweek sold unprecedented numbers of their publications and counted that a commercial success, even while switching to reporting on the hoax that they had generated.

In West Germany there was a police investigation that laid it all bare, sending the little fry: Forger and Fantastist to the slammer - they were held for a time in the same prison specially built for members of the murdering Red Army Faction.

Stern, the Sunday Times, and Newsweek had to show that they took it seriously and scapegoats had to be sacrificed to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the mastheads. [Pause to smell the hypocrisy.]

In each case management, circling the wagons, agreed the scapegoats had to come from down the food chain. Where better than the editors who at each publication had resisted the story until ordered by management to run it. Yet they were the ones fired. ‘They had not resisted enough,’ declared management!

Herr Decisive went on to become the CEO of Dornier Aircraft Corporation. Never ride in a Dornier product is one conclusion to reach from this story. Rupert Murdoch who gave the order to the editor of Sunday Times of London to publish it, over the editor's objections, was only too happy to fire the editor and blame him for everything while basking in his own genius for the brief circulation increase. The longterm damage to the integrity of journalism bothered no one.

Not even Scott Adams in Dilbert could have concocted a better example of McKinsey management. Credit flows up the corporate chain, and blame flows down.

Harris’s telling is absolutely deadpan. The story is so unbelievable it does not need embellishment.

1510 The muslim ruler of Goa surrendered on terms to the Christian Portuguese admiral Afonso de Alburquerque who ignored the terms and slaughtered the population of muslims because god told him to do so. Christianity struck again with the sword.


1799 France adopted the meter and the metric system. A meter was one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator as it was calculated at the time. Several specimens were made but one survives.

1869 Governor John Campbell of the Wyoming Territory signed the first law in the U.S. explicitly granting women the right to vote. Twenty years later it was explicitly written into the state constitution making Wyoming the Equality State. While that slogan appears on the automobile license plates the logo is a cowboy on a horse. The cowboy is certainly a man. Get it? The one pictured below was hard to find.

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1927 The Grand Old Opry made its first radio broadcast from Nashville, Tennessee. It is a foundation stone of Country and Western music. I spent a week in the state archives in Nashville once upon a time.


1948 The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Committee that brought it forward was chaired by Eleanor ‘Everywhere’ Roosevelt. The statement was written by Canadian lawyer John Humphrey. None of the diplomats at the founding of the United Nations wanted anything to do with such an airy fairy project and so they left it to Roosevelt who made it happen, overcoming indifference and hostility. It has been often cited since, justifying much of the work of the International Court of Justice in Den Haag. A biography of Eleanor Everywhere is discussed elsewhere on this blog.

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IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 21 minutes, rated an astonishing 6.2 by 42 cast members.

Genre: Sy Fy, incredulity


Verdict: [Gasp!] 'Corner Gas' it is not.

A skilled veteran is recruited for one last mission. Heard that one before, Rambo? This Rambino is overweight, with combo mullet-mohawk hair, slurs, slovenly, and waddles. He is the man for the job!

He blasts off from planet somewhere that looks just like Ontario to Earth in a CGI-take to capture the science experiment gone wrong which is wandering around the Pre-Cambrian Shield (look it up) looking for a pizza place. Instead he finds idiots.

It is hard to go on because the fraternity brothers interrupted my study of this celluloid with their demands for the remoter to change channels. I had to hold them off with one hand and that limited the note-taking.

The back story is that presiding genius Erica Benedikty made a six-minute project called ‘Phobe’ in a media studies course (which has much to answer for). She parlayed that into a feature-length script and found a backer to invest, sit down, $500,000 dollars of some sort, American, Canadian, Hong Kong, Liberian, Namibian, New Zealand, Singaporean, Taiwan, who knows. Full marks for initiative.

Erica became producer as well as writer and set to work. With a hangover the putative investor woke up and pulled out, but she went ahead, adding director to her list of credits, on the Niagara Peninsula at St Catherines and transformed it into a community project. Everything was done by amateurs. Again full marks, this time for persistence.

The result is several steps below the worst of Roger Corman. Who would have thought that possible?

The lines are delivered flat. The scenes are in private homes, an empty high school hallway, public sidewalks, and — the most interesting — a steel mill.

The femme fatale that Rambino has to rescue from Phobe (on whom more in a moment) is Chubby, slow-witted, and out waddles him. Phobe wears platform shoes inside boots to elevate him, three layers of hunter’s camouflage over a parka to give him bulk, and an arc welder’s face mask to make him, well, look like a hockey goalie.

In the end after a mano-à-mano struggle at the steel mill where miraculously Chubby knows how to operate all the heavy equipment, ah huh, Rambino and Phobe bond. Together they turn on the evil scientists who Xenoed Phobe and zero them.

The list of credits is torn straight from the St. Catherine’s telephone book and just about as long. After this the Ontario Provincial Police impounded Erica’s director’s chair for her own safety.

1793 NYC: Noah Webster published New York's first daily newspaper, the 'American Minerva.' A biography of Noah Webster, the dictionary man, is discussed elsewhere on this blog.

1868 London: Traffic lights were installed outside the Palace of Westminster in London. Like railway signals, they used semaphore arms and were illuminated at night by red and green gas lamps.
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1936 MCG: Australia all out for 58 v England in the Bodyline Ashes Tour. Don Bradman was out for duck (0). A rarity indeed for this Lord of the Bat. Not, however, a golden duck. Those who do not know what MCG means will never understand anyway.
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1979 Geneva: WHO said smallpox had been eradicated by vaccination, not prayer.
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1993 In low earth orbit: Hubble Telescope was repaired and put back into service and it remains in operation.

IMDb meta-data is run time 1 hair and 21 minutes, rated 6.4 by 190 cinematizens.

Genre: Mystery.

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Verdict: Predictable but diverting.

As the bodies fall in the Big House, Plod comes to investigate. The formidable chatelaine is uncooperative whereas her musical Lord son is is ever so friendly. Ever so.

Chatelaine wants to get him married off to her secretary, the Frightened Lady of the title, who hears strange sounds and sees creepy shadows that remind her of — shiver! — President Tiny. She and Lord are pals; nothing more. Two lurking footman who seem to have no duties are much present and just a shade short of insolent.

Then the chauffeur is murdered. Well, 'So what?' says lawyer Rudy for the Chatelaine? The lower orders will do that.

Plod is not so sure and insists on reading the script. He interrogates the suits of armour in the hall, and generally is never there when he is needed. He concludes the family doctor did it. Inconveniently, then the doctor is murdered and that blows Plod's KPI clear-up rate.

There are more shadows and sounds. The lies are piled up with the abandon of Faux News. Lord Musician tittles and tattles. The eponymous lady screams, faints, and trips per the stereotypes of the day.

Spoiler alert.

The pace is slow enough for a viewer to realise only one person could be the culprit, and he is. The footman are so dumb they could not possibly have done ‘em in. All the Chatelaine’s scheming slows the pace and draws attention to her motivation. She is a good schemer to be sure but it becomes obvious that she is protecting….

Marius Goring gives a great performance as Lord of the Music. The comic relief plod is irritating. The supercilious doctor gets his comeuppance. The Frightened Lady gets the architect. The haughty chatelaine gets nothing.

Good Reads meta-data is 269 pages rated 3.9 by 16 litizens.

Genre: Non-fiction.

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Verdict: A golden oldie.

A charming memoir of meetings with the lions of the British academic establishment at a time when the BBC gave them air time, parliamentarians asked them for audiences, and newspapers welcomed their words. The charm is in Mehta and not his interlocutors.

The subtitle is ‘Encounters with British Intellectuals,’ however all but two of his respondents were ensconced in academia. Few seemed troubled by teaching duties.

The book divides, more or less, into two parts. The first is a series of interviews with British philosophers like A. J. Ayer, Peter Strawson, and their ilk. The second is a parallel series of interviews with British historians, like Arnold Toynbee, A. J. P. Taylor, and the egregious Hugh Trevor-Roper (who went from strength to strength on ever so little), though he is rivalled by E.H. Carr for hubris.

It was indeed a small world since three-quarters of the beasts were in the Oxford zoo, with the remainder, bar a couple, in its Cambridge annex. Small, yes, and all the more venomous for it. The back-biting, the undermining swim beneath surface of the scathing public reviews of each others’ works and days. The pages of ‘Encounter,’ the ‘Listener,’ and the ‘Times’ positively bristled with their poisoned barbs.

It was all so monumentally unimportant that today it is all but forgotten, and a good thing, too. Yet the Platonic dialogues that they despised are still studied.

I loved the story of Hughie writing a long and venomous review of one of Taylor's books and publishing it with much fanfare in ‘Encounter,’ and then sitting back in the expectation of a rejoinder from Taylor that he could reply to in another vituperative essay in ‘Encounter.’ Taylor did not bother to reply. What a deflation that much have been, like not making Richard Nixon’s Enemies List, despite all efforts!

Among the philosophers the major issue of interest to the laity is the conundrum of free will versus determinism, or in social sciencese: structure versus agency. Among the historians the parallel divide is between meaningful and accidental events.

Amid the nonsense and petty bickering made out to be something much more, there are many telling shafts. I liked historian Herbert Butterfield’s conviction that in teaching history (and political science) one is teaching future officials, diplomats, traders, tariff managers, entrepreneurs, bureaucrats, and so one must equip them to respond to the challenges they will face outside the classroom. Predictably when he uttered this view of academic responsibility in a public lecture he called down the wraith of the gowned gods upon his head who went on about their art for their art’s sake. As if. Few were troubled by teaching duties since they had very few.

Mehta’s ever so oblique and sly digs at his prestigious prey are desiccated. While much of their posturing is, well, posturing, it is well to remember that R. M. Hare’s arid ‘The Language of Morals’ (1951) was drafted while he was in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp in Malaya. However, few of his contemporaries can lay claim to such courageous conviction.

The title is one of the bon mots Ludwig Wittgenstein tossed off, namely, that the task of philosophy was to lead the fly (us) out of the fly bottle (?). Every remark by this sage is totemic to acolytes, so there are many disputed interpretations of this aside, which Ludi no doubt forgot as soon as he said it.

Here is a sampler of the dross and the ore.

Richard Hare dismissed Continental philosophy holus-bolus opining that philosophy can only be taught by the tutorial method (51). Since that method was only used at Oxford and Cambridge it followed only graduates of those universities can be philosophers. He seemed to accept that conclusion when Mehta put it back to him. Since it has only been used there for a short time, there were no philosophers before that. Got it? Ergo Plato, Hegel, Sartre, Schlick, Rawls, and so on are not philosophers.

Wittgenstein thought of himself as a living philosophical problem (82). Amen. Wittgenstein thought only of himself full stop.

J. L. Austin’s linguistic philosophy spread throughout the dominions and America, but not in England because Austin admitted too students from those places (85) [not on its merits], said one don in a huff. It is certainly true that it dominated the curriculum in my undergraduate and graduate education.

Mehta asked E. H. Carr to name historians he admired. ‘None’ was his reply (133). Well, one might suppose there was one, ‘E. H. Carr' by name.

Taylor wrote, with prescience, of a world where emotions have replaced reason and hysteria has become meritorious (177). He foretold Fox News and President Tiny.

Another bon mot from Taylor: Perfection is always sterile (184). That might be the motto of utopia.

This traipsing through the groves comes to an abrupt stop. But then how could it end. Mehta adds a page and half at the end, drawing no conclusions. These essays were commissioned by the New Yorker and do not quite make a book. What Mehta does not tell the reader is that he became blind in India at four years old. There are a dozen or so of his titles on Amazon.

I read this on paper in the Forgotten Books reprint as picture above. That edition is not recommended because of missing text and omitted pages. I think I may have read some of it in graduate school as relief from analytic and linguistic philosophy.

By coincidence I started to read Robert Harris’s ‘Selling Hitler: The Story of the Hitler Diaries’ where Hugh Trevor-Roper again figures. Egregious to the last. The excuses are many and the facts are immutable.

IMDb meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 16 minutes, rated 6.2 by 112 opinionators.

Genre: Krimi komedy

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Verdict: Snappy

Boston Blackie (avant le nom) locates a missing heiress and marries her in Reno. Since he is already there, his boss gives him another missing person to find in Reno. He does this by locking his new bride in the bathroom, in the hotel room, and in a car. How anyone can be locked in any of these is beside the point. The sexism is surpassing. He locks her up to keep her out of trouble, he says.

She is feisty enough to get loose, to make him regret it but not enough to stop him from doing it again, and finally to save his bacon though it is too little, too late.

The missing man remains missing, and there is a secondary plot about mistaken identity that was lost on me.

There are many familiar faces from the time and genre: the feisty bride is Jean Parker, Rod Cameron towering over all, Grant Withers scowling, Keye Luke faking bad English, Dick Purcell for once acting, the glacial Astrid Allwyn being glacial, Doc Adams before med school, and those eyebrows on Oscar!

The title comes from a clock on a mortuary across the street from the hotel which has a large pendulum for seconds but no hands for the time. Symbolic? Yes. Of what? Dunno.

By 7 December I suppose audiences had other thing to think about, like the 2,000 widows created on Oahu in just under two hours.

IMDb meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 43 minutes, rated 6.7 by 4497 cinematizens.

Genre: Sy Fy


Verdict: Cavorite about! Be careful.

In 1968 when astronauts at last land on the moon, they find a Union Jack in a Victorian bottle. ‘Huh?’ is the scientific reaction. The political reaction is to slap D-Notices on the news.

H. G. Wells got there first with cavor! Ingenious. It is an anti-gravity paste whipped up in a motor and pestle. Belt up. Get set. Slather it on. Go!

Professor Cavor recruits his neighbour who wishes to escape debt collectors with his obliging girlfriend who wants a honeyMoon. She got it.

They bundle into his garden shed and off they go …’to the Moon, Alice!’

The green cheese is full of holes and they go into the moon, per the title: ‘In’ the moon.

In the cheese they find toiling beetles, not mice, who speak English and are not cooperative.

They escape to return, but keep it all secret for script reasons.

There is good humour, mannered turn-of-the-century charm, and a lot of special imagery from the masterful Ray Harryhausen. Lionel Jeffries as Cavor steals the show with his plucky determination and courageous conscience. Eye candy Martha Hyer is mostly locked away in the Victorian tradition, though she too is in the moon, despite that title. The screen play is from the golden typewriter of Nigel Kneale but….not his best work.

Well, I found it boring. Most of Wells’s social commentary was deleted. It seemed aimed at children which Wells’s story certainly was not. Nor was there any mystery in the flashbacks, perhaps because the pace is so slow.

1609 In Milan the Biblioteca Ambrosiana opened its reading room, the second public library of Europe. There are many claimants for the first public library in Europe, depending on definition of 'library' and 'public.'


1660 The first actress to appear on an English stage was Desdemona in 'Othello' at the Thomas Killigrew's Vere Street Theatre. Her name was not recorded to protect her reputation. Killigrew was an impresario who innovated in many ways.


1813 - Ludwig van Beethoven's "Symphony No. 7 in A major" premiered in Vienna with Ludi at the rostrum at a charity concert for wounded soldiers from the Napoleonic wars.

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1991 The Belavezha Accords was signed by Ukraine, Russian Federation, and Belarus. Though members soon fell into conflict among themselves, the Accords were the obituary of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1917-1991).

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2004 The two-page Cuzco Declaration was signed in Peru to establish a South American Community of Nations for summit meetings on health, agriculture, trade, defence, policing, free movement of people, terrorism, energy, tariffs, and other matters of mutual interest. The membership fluctuates with regime changes. The Passport Mercosul arose from it to facilitate the free movement of people. I have seen a few in hand while waiting in passport control lines at airports.


185 Chinese Emperor Lo-Yang observed and recorded supernova (MSH 15-52). Astronomers still study the remnants of MSH 15-52. Observing the stars was not a hobby for the Emperor. It was part of his duties to take note of the heavens and the portents therein revealed that might affect the realm.

1941 English-Speaking Harvard educated, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto reluctantly gave the Go (Tora) order. Below is the cable sent under fire from Pearl Harbor. The operator was killed a few minutes later. Having seen the industrial capacity of the United States first hand, Admiral Yamamoto realised the prospects were slim and counselled against war. He was overruled and he obeyed. He was killed during the war.

1960 The first episode of the longest running TV soap opera "Coronation Street" was broadcast by the BBC. It is up to 9,716 episodes and counting. Below is the logo upon entering its 50th year.
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1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor by air, land, and sea. Blind eyes were turned in Canberra and elsewhere. Because several Australian journalists were killed in the ensuing conflict, the media rehashes it regularly with nothing new but righteous indignation.

1979 ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ premier and heralded the revitalisation of the franchise. I saw in Boston upon release.

1735 London: The first recorded appendectomy was performed at St George’s Hospital. I had one of those with anaesthetic unlike the chap portrayed.
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1784 London: His Majesty’s Government authorised the transportation of convicts to Australia. Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister. With the loss of the American colonies transportation there was precluded. 60,000 had been transported to Georgia and Maryland. Now it the turn of Botany Bay.
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1917 Halifax: a Norwegian tanker and a French munitions ship collided in the harbour and blew up in the Halifax Explosion that killed 2,000, injured another 9,000, left 25,000 homeless in the north Atlantic coast winter and flattened all of the port and much of the city. Meanwhile the long lists of the dead, wounded, and missing on the Western Front continued to come. The explosion provides the backdrop to Hugh MacLennan’s novel 'Barometer Rising.' Been there in January!

1921 The Anglo-Irish Treaty made Ireland a sovereign dominion. The conflict had begun with the Easter Rising on 1916 which was crushed, but led to the 1919 birth of the IRA and its campaign. This settlement did not stick and more conflict followed among the Irish and with the British.
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1973 Gerald Ford was sworn in as Vice President, unelected, who went on to be an unelected President with a second unelected Vice President in Nelson Rockefeller. Unique in all three respects. He was born in Omaha.
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1766 London: Christie’s held the first sale in Pall Mall. Still going there at home and around the world.

1831 D.C.: Former President John Quincy Adams took a seat in the House of Representatives where his many accomplishments include creation of the Smithsonian Institute(s) and defending the mutineers of the Amistad. He died at his desk in Congress. He did more good as a representative than as a president. A biography of JQA is discussed elsewhere on this blog. Go there for further enlightenment.
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1909 Sydney: George Taylor made the first heavier-than-air flight in Australia in a glider from the sand hills at Narrabeen. He made 20 flights that day of 100 to 250 metres. The Child Bride grew up in those environs.
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1945 Florida: Flight 19 left Fort Lauderdale for a three-hour training fight and flew into legend in the Bermuda Triangle to became the ‘Lost Squadron.' The incident is demystified in the book below.
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1952 London: The Great Smog began and lasted until March of 1953. Thousands died in accidents and respiratory ailments.

IMDb meta-data is runtime of 1 hour and 25 minutes, rated 5.6 by 542 insomniacs.

Genre: Sy Fy, Noir

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Verdict: Broken-backed but diverting in both parts.

Carmine Orrico, his cheek bones have never looked sharper, lands in England and young women start disappearing. Meanwhile a cast of reliable British character actors study a glowing soccer ball, and when it goes missing they call in another set of reliable British character actors to track it down. The reliables include Maurice Denham, Patricia Haines, Alfred Burke, John Carson, Aubrey Morris, Warren Mitchell, Marianne Stone, and Barbara French. It is an ensemble piece and better for it.

The first half is Sy Fy as Denham and Carmine track an object from SPACE and find it on the pitch. Well, it is England and they are soccer mad there. But it is one strange soccer ball. Very. Denham decides to commune with it. Did his life insurance include death by soccer ball?

After killing Denham, the soccer ball grew legs, scarpered, stole a car, and set off for Vienna for the second half of the film which is Noir.

More than twenty young girls answering an ad for swimsuit models — at this point the slumbering fraternity brothers gained consciousness — have disappeared. Since they have disappeared, they are not on screen, and the bros lapsed into the usual state of unconsciousness. The police, oh hum, find these disappearances to be routine. Flighty young girls are always disappearing, it seems.

Carmine tries to convince the stodgy British moustaches that the soccer ball is a menace. He is dismissed as a flighty (wo)man. Then he connects the missing girls with a soccer magazine and the chase is on. It goes all zither and Third Man thereafter.

Squeeze tries to talk to the soccer ball, which is very polite, and assures her that the missing girls will come to no harm (but that they will never be seen again on Earth). She does not find that very reassuring, so soccer ball kills her, because she is too smart. That was a surprise. But at least Carmine is safe, as he is not that smart.

Turns out soccer ball is a man with a lobster claw on one arm -- which makes lighting a cigarette a chore — and a lump of rubber on his profile but he has mellifluous voice when he is not a soccer ball.

Eventually, Carmine of and with the Yard corners soccer man, and he explains his world — of all places, Ganymede — has had a Republican apocalypse and needs new blood, i.e., breeding stock, in the hope shaking off the lobster claws. Apologia delivered, he blasts off with the hu(wo)man cargo.

Carmine seems to have forgotten that soccer man killed his mentor, Denham, and his squeeze Squeeze, and has alien-napped twenty-one girls against their wills, and that they will be sex slaves. Carmine seems to find that normal. Ahem. Maybe those rumours about his life style choices have a truth in them.

The pace is brisk though the soccer ball is loquacious for a shy alien.

1791 Britain's Observer, the first Sunday newspaper in the world, began publication and is still going.
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1872 The 'Mary Celeste' was found abandoned near the Azores, with its cargo intact, but no sign of its crew or passengers. President Tiny said Hillary did it.

1873 Manila paper (made from sails, canvas and rope) was patented in Massachusetts. I always wondered why it was called that. Much of sail hemp came from the Philippines through the port of Manila.
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1961 The female contraceptive 'pill' became available on the National Health Service in Britain. The sky did not fall, contrary to assertions.
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1998 Assembly began in space of the International Space Station, a joint project between USA, Russia, Japan, Canada with eleven members of the ESA. The space station is in low orbit and can be seen from Earth. It has been in use continually.

IMDb meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 5 minutes, rated 7.0 by 290 cinematizens.

Genre: Mystery

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Verdict: Art /deco steals the show.

Eight strangers are invited to a swish soiree in a splendid penthouse apartment. After wining and dining at a banquet buffet while waiting for the arrival of the mystery host, Siri on the radio informs them that the ninth guest is DEATH. Each will be murdered. These are Eight Little Indians off the Agatha Christie reservation.

In the penthouse doors are locked, gates carry an electric charge, stairwell doors have been welded shut, windows cannot be opened, the balcony is on the thirtieth floor - too high for shouting or jumping. The fraternity brothers suggested throwing furniture off the balcony to bring a reaction.

There is no escape. They must endure the McKinsey management training seminar that will lead to their deaths. I know the feeling.

The mystery is why they are there and who is the mastermind. There are connections among some but not all of them. None is innocent. They include an oily dean from a university, an egotistical assistant professor from the same university, a political fixer and his mistress, a shyster (aka lawyer), a self-appointed do-gooder, a hypocritical society hostess, a starlet trying to sleep her way to the top, and - shock - an unscrupulous journalist.

They all wear the most formal Tuxedo Park attire, and proclaim their ignorance and innocence. The former is credible but the latter is not.

What follows is a character study as each guest reacts to the doom the awaits. Some panic and in so doing hasten their own end. Others go all rational and try to figure it out. Some read spam email. Others close in on themselves, but no one turns to prayer. There is a butler for comic relief, and mercifully he is not a she or a black. For such a static story, the direction is crisp.

The art deco set and the 1930s hi-tech are marvellous. It makes it a variant of the Old Dark House with all its quirks, lurks, traps, sliding panels, disappearing objects, talking radio, and more.

1468 Teenager Lorenzo the Magnificent became head of the d' Medici family and the de facto ruler of Florence on the death of his father. His grandfather had made an enormous fortune in banking throughout western Europe, and his son had consolidated it. Grandson Big Larry spent the fortune on art. We saw some of it when I spent a semester at the European Universities Institute there.

1586 Sir Thomas Herriot introduced potatoes to England from Colombia. The Inca Empire cultivated dozens of varieties and they spread from there. Is that potatoes or potatos? Ask Dan Quayle.

1854 The Battle of the Eureka Stockade began near Ballarat, Victoria. Been there; I have commented on the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka elsewhere on this blog.
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1947 In New York City ‘Stella!‘ is heard as ‘A Street Car Named Desire’ opened on Broadway. Seen it and been on that streetcar in NOLA.
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1967 In Cape Town Dr Christiaan Barnard successfully completed the first human heart transplant on Louis Washkansky. The heart came from a car accident fatality. The operation was successful and the patient died eighteen days later.
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