Saturday, June 28, 2014

Franz Ferdinand

100 years ago today, Gavrilo Princip, a young Bosnian Serbian radical, shot and killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo. This was one of a number of assassinations, bombings, political murders carried out around the turn of the century by various radicals, terrorists and cranks, but this one blew up. Serbia was looking for ways to expand, to take Slavic lands away from the Austro-Hungarian empire; hey may not have planned the assassination, but they certainly encouraged that sort of behavior from Serbs in Bosnia. Austria-Hungary was looking for ways to crush Serbia, to protect their holdings, to remove a threat, to humiliate an enemy, to regain some prestige lost after the earlier Balkan wars. So Austria turned the assassination into an excuse to humiliate Serbia, to neutralize them - or better, to force them to war. But war meant European war - because Russia made promises to Serbia, and Germany made promises to Austria, and France and Russia made promises to one another, and England was hanging around, half promising things to France. And Germany's plans for fighting Russia involved starting by knocking France out of the war and that required invading Belgium, and England guaranteed Belgium's neutrality, and so were brought into the war, from the start. And that was that.

It took another month for the diplomacy to play out, with no one quite grasping the full scope of the coming disaster for a while. Even when they did - no one seemed to quite grasp the full scope of disaster modern all out warfare would bring. And maybe worse, that lack of understanding seemed to be ubiquitous - countries continued to play at war like they were playing a game of Diplomacy, making deals, promises, creating and destroying countries out of nothing. So when it was all over, the world was left with more problems than it started with - Bolshevik Russia; a bitter resentful Germany, ripe for the plucking by worse radicals still; unstable, patched together countries in middle and southern Europe - the patchwork of the Austro-Hungarian empire reproduced in smaller places like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. And a messy patchwork of countries and powers and the like in the middle east - which plague us to this day. Much of it made by the high handedness of the winners. Much like today. (Listening to Dick Cheney talk about Iraq is like resurrecting Kaiser Wilhelm or Moltke the Younger to talk about the wisdom of invading France.)

All that after millions of men were killed in the fighting - a war to end all wars, but one that proved to be a hothouse for future wars. And things started down that hill today, 100 years ago, in Sarajevo.

Knockout Rounds Begin

The World Cup resumes today - the business end of the tournament. The contestants are interesting - the group stages ended with a nice mix of favorites and surprises, with pre-tourney dark horses delivering and plenty of drama. I managed to pick 6 of the group winners; 10/16 total; a few of the misses were ambiguous ones. I picked Spain over Holland for fairly arbitrary reasons - I thought one of the two would fail, and just got the wrong one. The same happened in group D - there I even said it - either England or Italy could flame out, maybe both. I wish I'd gone with that thought... It is very nice to see Costa Rica advancing; teams like Greece and Nigeria and Algeria are cool underdog stories; and the USA overcame a very tough group to sneak into the next round. Setting up an interesting bunch of games.

Brazil v. Chile - this should be a lively game; it would be very cool to see Chile win, though I find it unlikely; Brazil is likely to get tougher as the tournament goes, not just because of the crowds and the potentially cowardly refs.

Columbia v Uruguay - Columbia has looked as good as anyone; Uruguay has been the Luis Suarez show, for good and, in the end, mostly ill. While resentment and self-pity can take you a ways in a game like this, I don;t think it will be enough.

France v Nigeria - Nigeria played fairly well in the group games, though in the end, they are in the sec one round because of the refs blowing an offside call against Bosnia. France has been running roughshod over some average opponents, so I expect them to handle Nigeria pretty well.

Germany v Algeria - Germany should be Germany; Algeria isn't Germany.

Holland v Mexico - While Holland has looked good, especially up front, this one has potential for trouble - Mexico has also looked very good; Ochoa stands on his head again, and Mexico could get out of this. I suspect Holland will win, but Mexico should give them a game.

Costa Rica v Greece - the minnow game; one of them will be in the quarters! Costa Rica has looked genuinely good so far, and I expect them to win this one too. Then - they aren't impossible odds to knock someone else off as well. Semi-finalists, Costa Rica? not likely, but not impossible.

Argentina v Switzerland - While Argentina are close to co-favorites, the have not played like favorites. They have played like Leo and the other guys. They look weak in the back - they seem far too dependent on Messi - everything goes through Messi - defenses can gang up on Messi. That won't stop them, if the other teams can't score, because Messi will get his - he seems to have come to play - but sooner or later someone will be able to put 3 on them, and that could be the end. Switzerland? is not impossible - they seem happy to attack - though that seems more likely to give Argentina the chance to put up a 4-2 win.

Belgium v US - hard to know what to think about Belgium; have they shown toughness in wearing down teams that have played to frustrate them? or have they floundered against mediocrity? Well, we should find out - the US won't park the bus (and if they do, they're likely to forget to set the emergency brake, so don't get downhill of them!), so we should find out of Belgium can play with teams that want to play. They should - but this strikes me as being abut the most evenly matched game of this round.

Should be fun; on we go.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Kennesaw Mountain

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, one of the largest and most significant battles of the Atlanta Campaign. I have been giving short shrift to Sherman's campaign in the west in my attempts to follow along with 1864. There are reasons - ranging from the relative fame of the eastern battles (Grant vs. Lee and all that), to the books I've been able to find to read, to my background - reading Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac books in 5th grade made me the nerd I am... But a big part of it is that the western campaign did not have the kind of cataclysmic battles the east had. Triggering posts on anniversaries favors those kinds of events - there aren't as many of them in the west, and they weren't as dramatic. It was a very different campaign in the west - Sherman was determined to avoid the kinds of frontal assaults on fortifications that caused so much havoc in the wast; his opponent, Joseph Johnston, was just as determined to avoid any kind of fighting out of trenches. So Sherman maneuvered and Johnston defended...

And so it went. Johnston started the campaign in a very strong position - Sherman sent his armies marching around him, and Johnston retreated, rather than be cut off. He had new lines prepared to the south - Sherman flanked him again - he retreated again. And so on. Kennesaw mountain, just outside Marietta Georgia, was the fourth defensive position Johnston occupied - and it looked to be more of a problem for Sherman than the others. It was a very strong position in itself - a defensive line built along the top of the mountain and the ridges around it - but more than that, it was in a place Sherman was going to find it hard to get around. By this time, the Union army was well inside Georgia, dependent on one rail line for supply - Sherman had doubts about his ability to conduct any kind of flanking maneuver away from the railroad, and Johnston had him blocked on the railroad. So he decided to try breaking the lines. There were other considerations - Sherman had been trying to slide around the ends of the rebel lines, and found that his own lines were starting to get very thin - he reasoned that if he was thin, the rebels, with half as many men, should be even thinner. If he attacked, then, at several points of the line, while demonstrating against the whole line - there was a chance that someone could break the lines. So - on June 27, the union army attacked.

It went about as well as frontal attacks went in the east. The attackers went in - the defenders cut them down - the attackers either went back or dug in where they were stopped. There were places where the Union soldiers got to the confederate lines, engaged in some nasty close in combat - but they never came close to breaking the lines. In fact, the results are not that different from the big final attack at Cold Harbor - Sherman's men lost about 3000 casualties, in an hour or two of fighting, without a thing to show for it; the rebels a fraction of that. Like Cold Harbor, the attacks were piecemeal - that was by design at Kennesaw Mountain. Sherman attacked with 3 or 4 divisions, on fairly narrow fronts - the hope was to punch a hole in the lines, and send in reinforcements to exploit the breakthrough. It didn't work - it was just about impossible to break an entrenched line in any circumstances - and when it failed, Sherman called off the attacks. The attacking forces were cut to pieces - the rest of the army avoided most of the fighting. The Yankees dug in again, and waited for dark, and went back to siege warfare....

But in the end, Sherman won the day anyway. He'd ordered part of his army around the far left of Johnston's line, as a pure distraction - but this flanking movement worked. They got in behind the rebels, giving the Yankees a starting point to continue the flinching movement - and Sherman started moving the rest of his army around in that direction. And so, a few days after the battle, Johnston was obliged to abandon another defensive line, falling back even closer to Atlanta, where they would start up the process again.

By that time, though, Johnston was gone. He was replaced by John B. Hood, who was put in command to attack, and so attack he did, thus hastening the end of the war. We'll be back for those battles, I imagine - but Hood was a superb division commander who was completely lost as an army commander. Though again - he was put in command to attack, and he did what he was expected to - the strategy was a disaster for the south - they were outnumbered in Georgia 2 to 1 or more, and never had a chance. Johnston, for all his flaws, could string the thing out, which in the end was the only hope the South had...

And so... Sherman's campaign in the west was a very different kind of campaign from the east, for many reasons. The personalities of the commanders certainly mattered - Johnston was defensive minded and cagy where Lee was aggressive, and willing to gamble to win, and Grant was as aggressive as Lee, while Sherman was more of a planner. But as much as that, the land itself mattered. Virginia was a fairly constricted theater - there wasn't a lot of room to move. And everything led to Richmond (strategically at least) - there was only so far you could move back. In the west, Johnston had plenty of land to trade for time; Sherman had room to move around him. The war in the west featured its share of bloody fighting, but it was also shaped by the spaces of the west - it was a war of marching and logistics. The South survived there due the spaces the Union had to cover; the Union marched and turned the South out of positions.

And finally - this campaign was like the eastern campaign in being sustained - once the armies started, they kept going. By this time, the campaign had been going two months - it could continue for another two months before Atlanta fell. In its way, it was groping toward modern warfare itself.

Friday Music in the Summertime

As we pause in the world cup, no games for the first time in 2 weeks... here is some music to hold you over...

1. Sunny Day Real Estate - Days Were Golden
2. Richard & Linda Thompson - Why Don't You Love Me
3. Swell Maps - My L'il Shoppes Round the Corner
4. Heroin - Indecision
5. Marvin Gaye - Mercy Mercy Me
6. Richard Thompson - A Man In Need
7. Feelies - Should be Gone
8. Pentangle - Lyke-Wake Dirge
9. Come - Sad Eyes
10. Spirit - Soldier

And video, on this fine summer day? Can't find Richard and Linda doing that Hank Williams song, so how about this? Roy Clark and Joe Pass picking their way through it (with some superfluous voiceover, but just a bit):

And live footage of Swell Maps - that sounds like a win:

And Marvin Gaye:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


What would a world cup be without idiocy? And who is a bigger idiot, really, than Luis Suarez? I mean, once, maybe, people do stupid things in the heat of the moment, even inexplicable things - and biting someone, in a soccer game, is pretty inexplicable.... But to do it twice? who does that? And to bite someone after you've been banned once for biting someone? And were banned the year before racial abuse? That's - how can that happen? But it did... And now, for the third time in his career, Luis Suarez has bitten someone in the middle of a soccer game. Big, ugly defenders, too - Ivanovic? Giorgio Chiellini? you'll break a tooth biting those guys... I don't know. Someone needs to get him a muzzle.

He should listen to Ian Hunter:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

World Cup Game 2

Picking up where we left off I guess - lots of goals; not as many comebacks, though still a couple - and lots of late drama; 4 draws, instead of 2, though that includes what was just about the game of the game of the tournament, and a last second equalizer; plus upsets, near upsets, and so on. Plenty of football being played, and though there have been some grinders, even they have been tight and dramatic. It's been good stuff.

The story, I suppose, is Spain being out. It isn't surprising, watching them play - they were static and dull against Holland; they were run off the field by Chile. You can see the reasons, retrospectively - lack of defensive steel; not really getting Costa integrated with the team; maybe some of the central players getting old. And sometimes, good teams lay an egg - look at Holland in 2012 - and look where they are now. Meanwhile, England is out too - and gnashing their teeth about it. It looked a close thing in the first one - not the second one though. Strange coaching decisions in there - in the Italy game, it as obvious quickly that Rooney wasn't playing any defense on his side of the field. They had an answer - move Sterling out there - but didn't take it. Then, against Uruguay - they switched their places. It makes no sense - why make the change you needed against Italy against Uruguay? Who are exposed by a fast central player in their first game - I don't know. A few other good teams have underachieved - Portugal is alive buy the skin of their teeth; Italy and Uruguay have to play to get through, and neither has been exactly dominant. Bosnia is out, despite looking like a pretty good side - and so on.

On the other side, the good side - it is very cool to see Costa Rica in the second round already - well deserved, as well. Chile, Columbia are going on, maybe not surprisingly, but both looking very dangerous. France seem to be establishing an on/off/on/off pattern at these cups - after being horrible in South Africa, they have looked great - scoring all over the place, looking good doing it. Some of the big teams have been a bit less convincing - Brazil got shut out by Mexico (who are looking for real) after looking average against Croatia; Holland let the Aussies make a very tight game of it; then Argentina and Belgium both had to wait almost to the end to take their 3 points - the latter two showing the value of the superstar, Messi making a spectacular goal; Hazard creating a pretty nice one for Origi. It's been a neat tournament for the small fry - Costa Rica; Algeria winning big; Iran almost getting a point off Argentina. And, in the second round, we've seen Africa's resurrection - Nigeria and Algeria winning, and Ghana playing one of the games of the tourney.

That game - what a game. Germany is Germany; Ghana looked better in the US game than the result showed - and kept it up against Germany. Meanwhile, the US reverted to their early and late goal allowing ways, and let what looked like a very nice win turn into a point - but that's better than I would have expected. They are still in a good place for the last game. The tournament has, indeed, confirmed this as the group of death - a couple other groups tried to claim it, but this one has delivered. Portugal was awful in the first game, and looked vulnerable in the US game - but they got their point; they are still dangerous. The other three teams have all looked like the real deal - Germany has done very little to dispel its place as one of the favorites - Ghana looked great coming in, looked strong against the US, and ever better against Portugal; the US has looked solid - showing a good deal more steel than you might expect, and more than a little creativity going forward. If Altidore were healthy - they might be looking even better. Though there isn't much to complain about as it is.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Random 10 and Casey Kasem

First up - RIP to Casey Kasem. I can't really overstate how important American Top 40 was to me - I listened to it every week, devotedly, and fretted terribly if I missed part of it. It was my Saturday morning routine - enough to make me stop watching Scooby Doo! It was kind of a gateway to a broader musical world - the means of changing from casual listening to whatever was on the radio, to sustained attention to music. And though it was, by definition, a show full of pop songs - before I started listening to it, all I really heard were the AM stations my parents listened to for news and weather - so it infinitely expanded my horizons at the key moment. All that lasted from, oh, 75-80 or so - by the end of high school, I was listening to AOR, and had some records of my own, and had a firmer grasp of my own tastes, and didn't care so much about what the #27 song in America might be - I stopped listening so religiously, though I still managed to get the top 10 in every week, until I went to college... But I remember it fondly, and Casey Kasem's voice, his stories, his ability to play anything and talk about anything as if it were all interesting - a perfect DJ.

And now? My tastes have long since departed the realm of the top 40 - or the top 40 has long since departed me. I suspect by the late 70s, things were already gone from the openness of the 60s, when Eve of Destruction and The Ballad of the Green Berets could hit the charts more or less simultaneously. But that's all right. I can live in the margins...

1. MIA - Sexodus
2. Boris - Fuzzy Reactor
3. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - The Love I Saw In You Was Just a Mirage
4. Billie Holiday - I Cried for You
5. Rolling Stones - Street Fighting Man (live)
6. Allman Brothers - In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (live)
7. Brian Eno - Dead Finks Don't Talk
8. Robert Wyatt - Just a Bit
9. Audioslave - Hypnoptize
10. Donovan - Atlantis

Video? I stopped listening to the top 40 about the time I started listening to U2 - so - probably not likely to stay up, but here you go - the letter U and the numeral 2.

And maybe something that wouldn't fit on the top 40 very well - Allman Brothers live:

And of course - Scooby Doo!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lie Down, You damned fools, you'll never take them forts

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the first stage of the battle of Petersburg, in the Civil War. It is also the day my great-great grandfather was wounded, part of the attack by the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery, the most severe of a number of similar one sided fights on this day.

The battle of Petersburg was the last of Grant's attempts to get around Lee in Virginia in 1864. It was his most successful as well - but like the others, ended in stalemate. He had tried again and again - but various factors, from Lee's ability to react to the Army of the Potomac's bad habits, to the messy command relationship between Grant and Meade and their underlings, every attempt had been thwarted. But they got closer every time - the Yankees had chances at Cold Harbor that they missed, but things were closer. After that - Grant planned this stage more closely. He got his men out of their lines at Cold Harbor, and stole a march on Lee - getting a good chunk of his army over the James river into position to attack Petersburg before Lee could react. They had chances - the city was held by a scratch force, and it took a took a couple days for serious reinforcements to reach the confederate lines - but once again, the union army failed to take advantage of their chances. Baldy Smith arrived, almost took the city, but paused; other men came up - and a number of attacks were attempted - but nothing broke through, though the rebels were forced to pull back to a series of defensive lines. It was only on the 18th that the Union mounted a serious attack - and by then, the confederates were dug in deep, and had started to get Lee's men into lines - and the results were the same as at all the other battles in the spring of 1864. No one was going to break a well entrenched line - and they didn't.

After this, Grant stopped trying to get around Lee. He dug in and held the rebels in place, and stayed for the rest of the war. There would be a couple more attacks - there would be one big attack, at the Crater, in July - but from this point on, Grant wa]as willing to stay where he was and keep Lee there as well. Strategically, the idea was a good one - Lee had nowhere to go - no option but to defend Petersburg and Richmond at all costs. So Grant kept him there - let the rest of the armies settle the issue. Things settled down into trench warfare - another hint of things to come, that no one quite paid attention to, with disastrous results 40 years later.

Monday, June 16, 2014

World Cup Round 1

Well - most of the first round is done - it's been a lively one! Especially compared to the last outing - 6 draws, no comebacks (to win), 4 teams scoring more than once - etc. This time? 14 of 16 games - we've had one draw; 5 comebacks to win, including a winner in extra time; 12 of 14 teams have scored 2 or more; 6 have scored 3. There have been 6 shutouts - vs. 13 last time. It's all good - it makes for entertaining soccer. Things got more open in 2010 in the later games - if that happens here, we could see some wild ones.

I wonder what is causing it? I suspect a couple factors: Spain and Germany - whose influence brought in possession and strong attacking/counterattacking football - lots of teams seem to be set up around one of those plans... Though I suspect another part of it is that a lot of teams seem to be going younger - look at England, France, Italy, the USA - all of them playing younger players, faster, more offensive minded, less experience. Which is the other side - all those young teams are playing young defenders, with all the problems that can arise from that... Could be.

In any case - it's been interesting. A couple shockers - Uruguay's loss is a shock; Spain's loss is less shocking (Holland is very good), but the scoreline is shocking. So was Portugal's loss, in a way. Though they are liable to give up when things are against them. Uruguay looks to be in real trouble - England and Italy both looked good, Costa Rica is no pushover - unless Uruguay beats England, they are done. Spain and Portugal, the other prominent losers, are in better shape - they both would have come in expecting the hardest time in that first game, and thinking they can win out. Portugal has troubles, with injuries and Pepe suspended, and both the US and Ghana looking pretty capable - but the US has injures too. We'll see.

At the top end - Holland and Germany did their thing - I picked against Holland, almost arbitrarily at the beginning - I have no problem being wrong about that. If they show up, they are a very good team, and I guess they showed up. Germany just did what Germany does. The other favorites, Brazil and Argentina, say, were less convincing. Brazil won on an awful penalty call, a PK off the goalie's hands, and two dribblers; they looked very vulnerable - if Mandzukic had played, they might have given up another goal or two. Argentina? won easily enough, but the first goal was blind luck, they weren't exactly untouchable on defense - and though Messi scored a beautiful goal, most of the game, their offense looked quite solvable. Everything went right up the middle through Messi - they only got one goal out of it, and how well is that going to work in the second round, when they start to see better defensive teams? For all that - both teams look quite strong, and likely to grow into the tournament - but they are not as convincing as Holland the Germany were.

And outside the favorites - Columbia looks very strong; Mexico should have won 3-0 - they look capable of doing things; so did Croatia, though they need better keeping. Italy looked very strong - England let then run rampant down the right, but looked very dangerous on attack. France played a good game; US and Ghana played solid games - it's been an interesting cup. Looking forward to the next round.


As of today, I have been doing this blog for 10 years. I don't know if there is much to say about it. I set up a blog (not this one) in the first place to see if I could write for a blog, see if posting stuff online a couple times a week made sense. I'd been interacting with people online for years by then - started at work back around 1990-91, tried out Prodigy, Compuserve, AOL about the same time (early 91), settled into AOL by 93-94, and stayed there. Message boards - I found a couple groups I really liked - a writers group first, some movie groups later, and found that very satisfying. But by 2004 or so, AOL was starting to lose its appeal. The folders my buddies hung out in were shut down; we started up somewhere else, but were invaded by trolls, racists and fools, and the decent people slowly drained away. Meanwhile, I had been reading the internet since the WWW began - Mosaic opened up the world. I read whatever I could find through the years - personal web pages; online magazines; sites like Slate and Suck and Salon and Word; and finally, in the early 00s, blogs. I don't remember exactly where I started - maybe links out from Slate or Salon, maybe somewhere else - but I started finding blogs...and as AOL got boring, I decided to try blogging. That was in 2003, actually - it already seemed a bit passé, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it or not - so I set about trying it, but almost in private. Opting out of search engines, things like that. And - decided the process worked - but wasn't really all that enthused about unleashing my experiments on the world... So The Listening Ear was born, to start clean, a little more publicly.

Even so, I didn't really chase readers - it was still more an exercise in writing and posting for itself, than for an audience. At the beginning, it looked more like a normal blog, I think. All politics, all the time for a while - with the odd bit of culture blogging, occasional geek posts, and eventually - in the same post! - getting to what would be the staples of the blog (and were the staples of what I argued about on AOL for many years) - films and music. Still - it was mostly politics at first, until 2005, when I started working in a few more film posts - the kinds of things I would have posted on AOL in the past... But AOL was dead - and so I started putting that stuff here. And started seeing the advantages of doing things like that on a blog. Starting with a series of posts on Busby Berkeley, in May and June - a combination of notes from a film festival, and a long essay on Berkeley's style, much of it (to be honest) derived from an essay I'd written for a class a couple years before that... After that, this became a film blog - which it has remained, more or less - though this year, you'd never know it. I've given myself over completely to history - anniversaries and such - and music.

But mainly, this has been a film blog. Film blogging started to get me something like an audience - and I started making connections to other bloggers. Those were the days of the blogathons - there were so many, I put up a page to keep track of them - I participated in a few. I made connections, there, and managed, in my modest and somewhat uncommitted way, to interact with the film blogosphere. It was a very satisfying time - which is reflected in the content at this blog. I posted a lot, from 05-08, most of it film related (though music got in there too, in a more ritualized way, maybe), a good deal of it related to film-writing on other blogs. Blogathons - Harry Tuttle's Contemplative Cinema blogathons and site; the Film of the Month Club , and so on. I made connections - from old AOL cronies, like Joseph B. and Evan Waters; academic oriented film bloggers, like Girish; and other film bloggers, like Edward Copeland, Ed Howard and Joel Bocko. People have come and gone since then - though I am happy to still have a few connections in the world. These days mainly, Wonders in the Dark - which remains a great site, varied and enthusiastic.

So - the next 10 years? Good lord. Who knows. This year - expect more Civil War and WWI, bands of the month - and hopefully some films. (Definitely in relation to Wonders in the Dark's Romance Countdown, going on all summer.) The next month or so - mostly soccer... I've always intended this to be a place I can write about whatever popped into my head - an assortment of observations - the soup of culture, I called it back when I started. Hardy Boys, Captain Beefheart and Imamura my guiding lights, so to speak... probably ought to have Bruce Catton, Carl Yastrzemski and Charles Schulz up there somewhere too. Anyway - on we go.

UPDATE: One thing I hope to manage in the next 10 years is to learn to read a calendar. The anniversary of the birth of this humble blog is June 17, not June 16 - unfortunately, I suppose, as I could then celebrate its anniversaries with Joyce quotes. Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoops! But alas - the date is tomorrow.

Friday, June 13, 2014

I Won't Forget to Put Roses on Your Grave

This Friday, we reach a kind of milestone - the first anniversary of my Band of the Month posts. My posting has been a bit spotty this year, but this feature has been going strong - and I see no end in sight. There are lots of bands to go!

This month might be the end of my autobiographical organization, though. This brings us full circle - I started at the beginning and the top, with the Beatles - and now we come back to the top, their closest rivals - The Rolling Stones. It's back to the beginning, in a way as well - back to the 60s, to a band that has been on the radio all my life. Maybe not as much, in the early years, as the Fab Four, but certainly by the time I started listening to the radio deliberately, I heard the Stones, and heard them all the time. They were, as far as I can tell, always taken for granted as one of the Great Bands - which might be a hint to why they come at the end of this series. By the time I really started listening with intent, I was inclined to take them for granted. That's around the time of Black and Blue - a time when they'd settled into a certain style, a bit too familiar and predictable. They were the very model of the mainstream hard rock band. They sounded like everyone else, since everyone else sounded like them. It was easy (for me) to treat them as elder statesmen, admirable enough, but nothing too serious... Though even then, that was missing the point. After all, they followed up Black and Blue with Some Girls, which did vary the sound a bit, slipping some disco into the mix, changing up the way Mick sang... And even then, I heard their older songs too, and knew they hadn't always sounded like It's Only Rock and Roll. There was a teacher in high school who had a record player in his classroom, and 2 singles - one was Hey Jude/Revolution; the other Hey, You, Get Offa My Cloud; the teacher was notorious for showing up to class late - and we kids would put on the Stones or the Beatles and groove. The early songs were different - the difference made them more interesting... But I still didn't quite embrace it.

How do you put that? It was obvious how good they were; my friends and I liked the Stones - could sing along on most of their songs, probably considered half a dozen of them as good as anything... But I didn't obsess about them, and I'm not sure I had any friends who did. I had friends were obsessed over Springsteen (in high school and college); over the Beatles; Led Zeppelin; people who talked all the time about Pink Floyd or the Doors or Black Sabbath - later, U2, The Ramones, The Police, Prince.... I myself obsessed over the bands I've been writing about - The Who, the Zep, The Beatles, U2, Bruce - but I don't remember anyone who treated the Stones like their favorite band. We all knew them - loved them - but took them for granted. I did - I remember it that way. And it stayed that way, and might have to this day - except it didn't. Maybe there was an external reason - maybe they reissued all their CDs in the late 90s, and I bought them (I never bought the Stones before that - why bother> I had heard all their songs on the radio, I knew the good ones by heart - why bother?) - then listened to them (in those days before the iPod when I listed to whole records) - and suddenly found myself a convinced Rolling Stones fan. Whether it was taking the time to work through their records, being able to separate the actual music from the general (and generic) adulation, being able to separate their music from their imitators, or maybe being able to really understand the universality of their influence - whatever it was - I understood.

For they are a force. Impressive in their way for hanging around as long as they have - though I can't say I've followed the latter stages of their career. They were impressive enough for hanging around into the 80s, still making decent records - I had a cassette of Tattoo You that I listened to a great deal in college; Emotional Rescue and Undercover were still more than passable. But before that - they had a long run at their best - and at their best they were magnificent. With a much better range than I had noticed in the 70s and 80s - they moved through rather distinct phases: the early blue band, evolving into a pop band (though with a dark undercurrent, at their prettiest), trying psychedelia, before arriving at the rootsy sound they settled into - until they started paying around with disco and funk in the late 70s, and so on. They were credible at all of it, though some of it sounds a bit odd - they seem a bit lost and out of sorts in the Between the Buttons/Their Satanic Majesties Request era, though even there, the songs are still well crafted and made, and they are full of ideas and imagination. Between the Buttons, especially, can be a very jarring and cool sounding record - the cuts in the middle of the record, All Sold Out, or Who's Sleeping Here? or Cool, Calm Collected are very odd, very cool pieces, various kinds of pop disintegrating in your ears. They almost have a Frank Zappa vibe - things going in every direction at once....

Still - that's not their natural mode, exactly. The truth is, they are first rate songwriters, superb craftsmen, and better served by the songs where they establish a sound, a groove, a riff, and go with it. Nobody wrote better riffs. And nobody did a abetter job of working their riffs into the texture of the song, working the words into the riffs. And then playing them - they were tight and hard at the beginning; they were tight and hard in the 70s - they can still play those songs. Charlie and Keef are rightly worshipped; Mick Taylor ought to get some love too - he was only in the band for a few years, but he added high end guitar solos to the spines of those songs - things just take off... but all their guitar players give them something - Brian Jones put much of the decoration on those mid-60s records; Ron Wood regrounds them - brings out the core sound, though his presence also feels like a retreat: I like Mick Taylor... but that's all right.

And finally - the Stones don't get quite the credit they deserve as lyricists. They should - they should be considered among the elite there too. (Not that they didn't write a lot of dreck - but it's always mixed with the brilliance.) Very early on - Satisfaction, 19th Nervous Breakdown, As Tears Go By - they were writing clever, smart, sharp turns of phrase. They get to be as quotable as anyone - he can't be a man cause he doesn't smoke, the same cigarettes as me - your father's still perfecting ways of making ceiling wax - the squirmin' dog who's just had her day (now - I can't say they're lyrics are exactly edifying - more on that in a while) - I was born in a cross fire hurricane - I went down to the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse - when you're sitting back in your rose pink cadillac making bets on Kentucky derby day - I been walking' central park, singing after dark, people think I'm crazy... this can go on forever. Now - there's no doubt, they are willing to go over the line - songs like Under My Thumb, Brown Sugar, etc., are pretty nasty bits of work - but as crafted as anything, and part of the craft is not quite letting you in on the joke. Is Under My Thumb a joke? it's certainly played up - siamese cat of a girl, the sweetest [pause] pet in the world... it probably doesn't matter if Mick meant it - he sells it, he writes it - the story it tells and how he tells it make it a heck of a song.

And so? Now? if I were making lists of bands here - they would probably get #2 - and in moments of weakness, maybe when heads is tails, I think that might be putting them too low. They are brilliant.

And so - Rolling Stones, top 10:

1. Sympathy for the Devil - this might be the main reason they might be #1 - because this is not just their best song, it might be the best rock song of them all. That groove; the solos; the rolling piano and bass line - and the lyrics: it's Jagger at his best (and he is among the best) - clever wordplay, a clear story, political and social commentary, literary references, delivered in his best drawl - I never get tired of hearing it. (Or quoting it - every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints...) And then you listen to the version on Get Your Ya Ya's Out, Keith and Mick Taylor trading solos - Taylor's a masterpiece (and Richards' a cool, biting, rhythmic stab at the song - they're both fantastic.) That recording does justice to the best rock song there is.)

2. You Can't Always Get What You Want
3. Dead Flowers
4. Jumpin' Jack Flash
5. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
8. No Expectations
7. Street Fighting Man
8. 19th Nervous Breakdown
9. Gimme Shelter
10. Under My Thumb

AS always, I could go to 30 without much difficulty... what can you do. Video? Start with very old Satisfaction performance:

And the Mick Taylor years - Jumping Jack Flash, live in New York:

And a complete set at the Marquee Club, if you have 40 minutes:

And some songs I should have put on the list - like Loving Cup, live in the 70s:

Or Mick singing to a track (and the others watching) of Play With Fire...

And high 80s video - disco! Mick in a white suit and a mustache! Keef as a terrorist!

And the present? if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

World Cup Predictions

It is time once more for that most wonderful of sporting events - the World Cup. I have become quite a soccer fan in the past few years - since acquiring Fox Soccer Channel a few years ago, almost by accident (I wanted TCM, and Fox Soccer was part of the same package) I have become a pretty faithful BPL and Champions League watcher, and keep up on the other big leagues. (TV developments in the last 4 years have been a bit awkward - the arrival of BEIN and NBC as a soccer carrier has moved leagues around, and created odd effects - like all the English games on TV, but none of them repeated; or the disappearance of the Bundesliga from my cable package; or the irritation of only one of the Fox Sports channels being carried by frigging Comcast. Etc.) So this World Cup is not just exciting as they all are - I am modestly positioned to have opinions! Though even if I were completely innocent of soccer knowledge I would have opinions. And now I shall share! Let us commit to something like predictions, before things get going...

Group A: Brazil should win this, for obvious reasons. They should win it all. Behind them, I think Mexico is going to get through - they have been awful in qualifying, but they have too much talent to stay awful, I think. Though Croatia is a good team. I am familiar with their stars - I have read that their defense is suspect, and can believe it. Cameroon is hung out to dry here - not a can again. bad team, but hard pressed to get much in this group. they could be spoilers - a win, a tie or two, and they could settle someone's fate. I expect Brazil and Mexico, though.

Group B: Spain and Netherlands start off this tourney where they left off last one. Hopefully with less of a brawl, though I expect the results to be the same. I am not at all sure what to expect from Holland - repeat of 2010? repeat of the 2012 Euros disaster? probably neither. The kicker is Chile - who were a revaluation in 2010, and have a good squad coming into this world cup - I've seen lots of backing for them to get out of this group instead of one of the favorites - I tend to agree. I think Spain will get through, probably easily enough - but I think Chile will sneak past Holland - beat them - or score an extra goal or two somewhere. Australia, meanwhile, is always tough but probably not a factor - right? Spain - Chile is my pick.

Group C: Columbia would be clear favorites of Falcao had made it back; I think they are still favorites without him - I think they have a decent squad. Though I had hoped to see him play in this. Oh well. The rest of the group is tough, in a minor sort of way. I think Japan will get out - they have risen to the occasion in a coupe of these tournaments and I think they can again. But Greece is a hard team to get past; and Cote D'Ivoire has plenty of high end players - though they might be getting long in the tooth. It would hardly be an upset if they did go through. But I expect Columbia and Japan.

Group D: This is one of the hardest groups to pick in the tournament. I think Uruguay should win it - they are almost at home, they are confident and tough and they have Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, assuming they are healthy (and Forlan if Suarex has to miss a couple games) - and the competition is not what it could be. England and Italy seem broadly similar to me - traditional powers who have been somewhat underwhelming in recent years - not bad, just hard to figure out. Young? but with canny vets? either one would rise to the occasion and go deeper int he tourney than you'd think - either one could flame out. Hell, both could flame out and Costa Rica might go through. That would be amusing. I expect, though, that England will do all right - Uruguay to win, then, England to take second.

Group E: This is a soft group, though teams can surprise. I think France will do all right - they are unlikely to be a force, but they should be good enough to win the group. Switzerland should take second. I don't really know much about Ecuador - Honduras seems to be over their heads anywhere - but either of them could surprise. Still - the French seem to alternate tournaments - this is one of their good ones. France - Switzerland.

Group F: Argentina has an easy path to the second round. Behind them - Nigeria is a modest threat, but Bosnia-Herzogovena looks like a very strong dark horse. Iran I suspect is going to enjoy the ride. I think this might be there easiest to predict of the bunch - it is hard to picture either Nigeria or Iran getting out of this group. Argentina - Bosnia.

Group G: The group of death! not the hardest to predict - truth is, the predictions are pretty easy - Germany wins, Portugal takes second - but they will have to beat good teams to do it. Ghana seems once again the best of the African teams - a serious threat to get out of any of the other groups, I think; here they might be the fourth best team. The US is in the same boat - quite capable of taking at least second almost anywhere else (maybe not group B, though they would be serious underdog threats there), but facing a daunting challenge here. At least it should create a really good game or two - the Ghana-USA match should be a thriller - both teams have to get the 3 points and are likely to go for it with all their might. Portugal, on the other hand - well - I expect their usual tactic - shut games down and let Ronaldo win it for them on the counter attack. That will probably work. Germany is way too good not to be a favorite, though Portugal might frustrate them, and that might give Portugal a chance to steal that game too - which could give the winner of the other game a shot. Stranger things have happened. There should be some good football in this group - though I suspect there will be a couple stinkers, probably involving the home team. (Home team for my part of Cambridge-Somerville: it's only a question here of whether the Portuguese outnumber the Brazilians...) So - Germany to win, Portugal #2.

Group H: Another soft group - I would have thought South Korea was a decent team, but watching Ghana abuse them the other night - maybe not. Which leaves it to Belgium and Russia, I think - though Algeria could sneak through - or Korea could wake up. I doubt it.

SO I could map out the rest of the tournament based on that - I did on a couple fantasy sites... Why not? Though this is obviously subject to much second guessing as the games start:

Brazil beats Chile
England beats Columbia (a radical call, but you need a couple)
Bosnia beats France
Germany beats Russia
Spain over Mexico
Uruguay over Japan
Argentina beats Switzerland
Portugal beats Belgium (poor Belgians, if this is right - winning their group to get Portugal, who I think are a very dangerous squad this year.)

then? courage rears its ugly head in here...
Brazil beats England, that's easy enough
Germany beats Bosnia, ending their run
... but now the courage comes in:
Uruguay over Spain
Portugal over Argentina - why? I say - 1) Uruguay is very good, has a lot of punch; Spain is still a great team, but have been a bit lacking in finishing the last couple tournaments, and teams are figuring them out - and Xavi is getting old. Obviously, third pick depends on Suarez playing at a high level, which isn't a given; but I think it's possible. 2) As for Portugal beating Argentina - the latter can score; can they defend? And what happens when Portugal parks the bus and counter attacks? can Argentina stop Ronaldo? I think Portugal can exploit their weaknesses. I think. We'll see. My rooting interests here are mixed - I do like Uruguay, and dearly want to see them succeed; Portugal is almost the home team in my part of the world - though Argentina could be a very fine team,a nd if they are good, they will be very entertaining. So - there's really no bad result here.

In the semis: Brazil beats Germany and - is this another upset? I think Uruguay will beat Portugal. I suspect this will be a nasty game, though.

Leaving Brazil to avenge itself on its tiny neighbor for 1950.

Neymar the man of the tournament, he and Suarez likely to contend for the most goals, etc. And - I hope - all of it as entertaining as possible.

Friday, June 06, 2014

D-Day + 70

70th Anniversary of D-Day today. As always, Sam Fuller provides the imagery.

I have given the Second World War somewhat short shrift here, in my occasional historical writing - mostly film stuff, when I have written about it. There's probably a lot more where that came from - it's obviously a rich vein of material for filmmakers. I haven't written so much about the direct history for a couple reasons - one, that WWII is very heavily covered in the popular media (if not well). I write about the Civil War and The Great War at least partly because it's harder to find material on those wars - I write it partly to counter their relative invisibility. Though also because if I want to learn more, I have to read books, and if I read books, I spend more time thinking about the subject matter (rather than the form, which tends to draw me when I write about films), and writing about it. And, of course, because the Civil War is having its 150th anniversary, and WWI its centenary. The dates drive a desire to immerse myself in the history a bit more.

But today is D-Day, 70 years later, and worthy of a comment. On the movies, I suppose - Fuller, in particular, is the master, his Omaha Beach sequence about as perfect as war movies get. Love, hate, action, violence, death; in one word - emotion. You see similar sequences (men blowing the wire on the beach) in other D-Day films, but they don't have Fuller's precision - something like the Longest Day (which is a pretty darned good movie, for all that) can't reproduce the sand level point of view Fuller gets. There are reasons - partly the fact that he was there; partly because of the work he does to build up the emotional connections of the men in the squad, and make that pay off in the combat sequences; and partly because he has such a true eye for detail, and how to construct a sequence.

But that's all right. D-Day is part of such a vast operation, it is very difficult to get a grasp on all of it. All of it is fascinating - I can't do justice to the whole of it, so am inclined to honor the best depiction of a part of it I know. It was a monumental accomplishment - and obviously a lot of it done in the months building up to the landings - though like so much of warfare, it comes down to a guy crawling far enough forward to set off a bomb under the enemy's defenses. Repeated (some variation on the theme) thousands of times by thousands of men up and down the coast.

Quite a thing.

Friday Music

A busy day today - some traveling (a nephew graduates high school this weekend; reminds me I am getting old); 70th anniversary of D-Day (might try to get a longer post up later - at least post some more Sam Fuller pictures.) So here we'll just run a quick shuffle for some music, to keep us going.

1. Sham 69 - I don't Wanna
2. REM - Accelerate
3. Beck - Already Dead
4. Deerhoof - Jagged Fruit
5. Doctor Nerve - I am not Dumb Now
6. Elvis Presley - Don't be Cruel
7. Johnny Cash - O, Bury Me Not
8. REM - Leave
9. Liars - Protection
10. Sly & THe Family Stone - Stand

Video? Here is The King:

And some aging punks - Sham 69:

And off the list, but - young punks:

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Cold Harbor

Today in the Civil War was the climax of the Battle of Cold Harbor. It's an infamous day - another frontal assault by the Union army on entrenched Confederates, that ended in slaughter. There was a kind of traditional story - that the Union lost some 7000 men, in about 15 minutes of fighting - Gordon Rhea suggests that the numbers were really about half that. (I've been reading Rhea all spring - that explains why so many of these Grant posts, and no Sherman posts; since Sherman was busy this whole while as well. But all those Rhea books to read!) While that makes the carnage a little less awful, it's still pretty horrific - and the battle still plays as something of a precursor to the Somme.

The best thing about Rhea's account, though, is that he covers the whole campaign. I won't do so here - but the fact is, that this was the end of a week or so of marching and fighting, with Grant trying to get around Lee, Lee trying to head him off. That was the pattern of the whole campaign, really - Grant tried to get around Lee, Lee headed him off. Grant usually managed to steal a march on Lee - over and over, he gave him the slip - but a combination of sloppy planning, very bad coordination by the Union high command, excess of caution on the Union side at times, plus a bit of bad weather and luck, and especially Lee's ability to react to threats, and his soldiers' ability to march and dig, meant Lee ended up cutting him off, every time, forcing another confrontation over trenches. They did it at Spotsylvania, where Grant tried to hammer his way through with - well - some success, but nothing that lasted. They almost did it at the North Anna, but Grant realized he'd divided his forces around Lee's army (and the North Anna river), and got out as quick as he could. So they did it at Cold Harbor - marching south, Lee following, all of them coming together at Cold Harbor - Lee digging in - Grant attacking... stalemate. It wouldn't be the last time it happened.

Rhea goes through the minutia of the campaign - the skirmishes and marches, the commanders' thought processes, the breakdowns of communication. By this time in the war, there isn't all that much drama to the big confrontations - once the full armies were involved, they were usually dug in deep, and this is what happened - whoever left their trenches to attack got smoked. So the maneuver and the attempts to get at parts of the other side are where the challenge was. Oddly - the nature of battle in 1864 turned the war into a matter of position and movement, more than it had been. That was Sherman's campaign - flank the rebels out of their holes; and Johnston's - retreat to new holes to cu them off. Grant and Lee were probably not all that suited to it - both of them liked to get at the other guy and give them a thrashing - but they were also very good at it, conceptually at least. Though reading about the movements of the Army of the Potomac in the spring of 1864 is a painful thing - logistical carelessness and confusion, missed opportunities and so on. The only comfort is that for all their reputation, Lee's army didn't do much better - they were better at getting where they needed to be when they knew where they had to be - but by this time, Lee's subordinates were badly eroded, and Lee himself was breaking down. They did all they could to head off the Yankees.

Finally - the other thing Rhea's account does is show some of the details of the fighting in this time. For example, the disparity in casualties between veteran units and new units. I have something of a personal stake in this, since my great great grandfather was in a heavy artillery regiment - his is a recurring story. And it was played out here: a unit was ordered to attack - they went out, the veteran rather quickly determined if they had any chance, and if not, went to ground - the rookies and the heavy artillery men kept going, bravely forward. And so - Rhea claims that 900 of the II corps' 2500 casualties came from 2 regiments; half the 2500 came from a total of 5 regiments. By this time in the war, the men, if not the generals (and especially not the new regiments, who hadn't been doing this for 3 years), knew the futility of attacking trenches.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Bad History on Bad Television (A Rant)

By now, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the History Channel, glorious franchise of alien and templar fiction, junk collectors, and CGI Romans. But when I saw they were airing something called The World Wars, talking about the world wars, as one long war - well, what could I do? When I turned it on, they were talking about Churchill, who seemed about to invade Turkey - it looked worth a shot. Though not at the moment - I think the Red Sox were in the process of winning a game at the time, a great novelty, so I flipped away - but not before recording the thing to watch later. By the time I came back, though, I had come across a reference to it in the world, from no less that Charles Pierce - his remarks were acerbic and on point - but not enough to dissuade me from watching. Just enough to make me watch it to find out what it got wrong as much as any inherent interest. And when I started watching it - well - it didnt take long to turn into straight up hate-watching: ladies and gentlemen, this is just about as bad a history documentary as you are likely to see. Outside of vanity projects (check out Nietzsche and the Nazis sometime - if you want to know less about the rise of Nazism than you do now) or overt propaganda, this is about as bad as it gets. ("Better than The Eternal Jew!" - now there's a tag line to be proud of.)

The World Wars is comprehensively bad. Aesthetically, it is a mess. It's done as voiceover over mainly re-enactments, with some archival footage for variety, and the occasional talking head. The re-enacments are very lame: actors playing famous people strike characteristic poses (Churchill sips scotch and smokes cigars! Hitler stares maniacally at the camera! Patton rides on the back of a tank! Neville Chamberlain twitches! Tojo smokes a cigarette over a map!), and sometimes make speeches or have symbolic conversations; battlefield recreations; part 2 offers lots of aerial shots of planes and stuff on the ground. This stuff is bad, but I suppose I can't single it out - it's what passes for historical documentaries on much of TV these days, not just the History Channel. Still - this is 20th century history, and using cheesy recreations in place of the infinite supply of archival material seems odd; and when they cut to actual footage of the wars, it is very jarring - how much better looking the real stuff is, how much more dynamic, detailed, rich it is. It's not as if they use archival material all that well - but when they do, the film looks a lot less stupid. Because the recreations sure look stupid. I know this sort of thing is probably only interesting to military history nerds, but still - couldn't they have found someone to coach the actors in how to pretend to shoot a rifle? Poor old Churchill is shown in a trench banging away at the Hun, but when he shoots the thing, he's holding the rifle 3 or 4 inches away from his shoulder! what the hell? The nerd in me kept getting smacked in the nose by things like that - the cleanest WWI sets ever; Mussolini shooting the three stupidest soldiers in human history; some kind of post-war tank used to represent the Germans' invasion of France; German soldiers with panzerfausts in France, 1940; Japanese naval casualties at Midway called "soldiers;" British soldiers (helmets, anyway) in the Battle of the Bulge; even the archival footage had what looked like a B-17 bombing London in the blitz. I'm usually relatively forgiving of this kind of thing when it turns up in a historical movie - but in a documentary, when you have the option of showing actual footage - your recreations had better get it right. And top all of this off with the endless repetition of the thing - it's 6 hours long, but there feels like about an hour's worth of material - shots, sequences, narration, are repeated over and over again - they must assume no one is actually going to watch this thing from beginning to end, and design it so you can start anywhere. Felt that way, anyway...

Okay... for all that, it might be all right if the rest of it worked. But alas. Start with the organizing principal of the show - it is all organized around a handful of Great Men. Now - Great Man history itself is a tired old thing - but it works well enough for introductory history. I don't stray too far away in my Civil War posts, after all - it's an easy way to organize material. And might have worked here, if they had done it better. But they managed to make a mess of this too. First, it's really Great Men of WWII, right from the start - they ignore the Great Men of WWI in favor of the likes of Hitler and Patton and Mussolini. That might have worked if they focused on how the Great War shaped these men - they do that with Hitler (who's the star of the piece after all), since they can't really pretend a German corporal altered the course of history. But McArthur and Patton, especially, are pumped up well beyond their actual contributions. All while leaving everyone else out - all the people who did matter int he first world war - Pershing and Ludendorf and Douglas Haig are nowhere to be seen. This is the core of why this is so bad: they have chosen a number of men to follow, but then, instead of following them, while keeping an eye on the context, they have treated the men they are following as if they are the only ones who matter. And even more - they don't even bother to name anyone else. It's rather shocking to get through a show about WWI without hearing the names Franz Ferdinand or Kaiser Wilhelm or Gavrilo Principe or Tsar Nicholas II or David Lloyd George or Pershing or Haig or Ferdinand Foch, or, indeed, anyone French. In WWII, at least the people they name are important - but it is something, and not something good, to never hear the names Eisenhower, Montgomery, Nimitz, Hirohito, or any Frenchmen, or even any of the other famous Nazis! Hitler has Germany to himself, not having to share with the usual suspects, Goering and Goebbels and Himmler and Hess. Between these two bad habits - treating their named characters as if they were the only people who mattered, and ignoring everyone else - it becomes a very bad bit of history. But they are quite consistent about it - they treat McArthur and Patton as if their efforts broke the stalemate in France in 1918; they treat them as if they were the only Americans to matter in WWII; they treat all the relationships and decisions in the war (on all sides) as if they involved only their dozen or so named people. So Roosevelt decides whether to discipline Patton for slapping a soldier, not Ike; Roosevelt brings Patton back to active duty for the Battle of the Bulge (definitely more on that later), not Ike; Hitler invades France because Churchill becomes prime minister - etc.

The worst of it is probably in Russia. The revolution is all Lenin and Stalin (and the Germans, who apparently planned and funded the whole thing). They even stage it like that - Lenin comes back to Russia, gets off a train, and meets Stalin in a vast empty train station. Gone the masses, gone the Revolution itself, just Lenin and Stalin, giving Stalin far more of a role than he had in fact. It's a perfectly Stalinist move - dropping everyone except the Great Leaders. The show tops it in part two though - there, they surpass Stalin himself, and erase Lenin from history... But we're getting to that.

All of this is small potatoes next to what they do to history itself. They don't do much of anything right, historically. They can't even tell a story - it's very hard to piece together a good chronology out of it all. They hop around in time (all through the show), never quite stitching anything together. It's even harder to put together a narrative (to work out the causes and effects.) And if you know the history - oh: it gets painful. They sometimes stab at explaining events - but they make such a hash of the chronology, the narrative makes no sense. They tell things out of order, they conflate historical events (as if they are adapting someone's biography, and conflating characters for efficiency sake - I suppose that might explain Ike's disappearance, for instance.) This is carelessness - but it verges on outright deception - and a few times, goes well beyond that. Saying Patton conquered Italy in 6 weeks - or that he was held out of combat from August 1943 until the Battle of the Bulge - those aren't just errors. Those are flat lies.

I was thinking about that: if this were a paper, a student project, turned in to a class - you would have to give it a straight F, for the history alone. They get some things so shockingly wrong it's almost impossible to explain. The claims about Patton and Italy - it might just be an editing error - he was instrumental in conquering Sicily in 6 weeks, sure - not Italy. Maybe they meant that - but think what it means that a mistake like that would get into the final script of a show like this. If it's an accident - how does that happen? It's too big an accident - it's a lie.

It's not the only one. The moment that knocked me over when I started watching it came in the first episode - after building up to Gallipoli and its aftermath, they turned to Russia - and Lenin, Germany's secret weapon. Now - that's a bit of a stretch, though the Germans certainly hoped he'd do what he did. But the kick comes in what the show claims he went to Russia to do - it says, he went to overthrow the Tsar. And later - they say he did overthrow the Tsar. But Lenin didn't overthrow the Tsar - the Tsar was out before Lenin started back; the Revolution was well under way. And he didn't overthrow the Tsar in October 1917 - he overthrew Karensky's provisional government. How do you get a thing like that wrong? you can look it up on Wikipedia, and get it right. Why would they put that in the show? I might understand if this were part of their Great Man of History approach -but they don't bother to name Nicholas II; he's not part of the story. So... why not get it right? Of course, they make it worse in part two - there, Stalin seizes control of Russia and establishes Communism - Lenin has been written out of the story; written out after he was the star of part 1!

That's one, and not the last. Let's see - according to this show, the Night of the Long Knives is when Hitler wiped out his political enemies and seized total control of the state. They've basically conflated the knight of the long knives with the Reichstag fire. Or - they reverse the order of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz - putting the Blitz first. I don't know why, though I suppose the gist of the reason is to make Hitler look worse than he really was (kind of pointless really). This kind of thing is endemic - they can't get the chronology straight in the best of times - it's almost hopeless trying to list all the places they screw things up. Hitler's rise to power; the events after the Munich accords that led to the war; US/Japanese relations in the Pacific - all are incoherent. They almost get WWII right - though they skip long stretches of it (nothing seems to have happened in the Pacific from Midway to the invasion of the Philippines; Russians jump straight from Stalingrad to Berlin; etc.) They mess up a couple pieces pretty badly, though - they have us invading Italy, then Mussolini is overthrown - and that is the end of the fight in Italy. Which would come as news to my uncle who got shot in the Liri Valley 70 years ago last month. They credit this victory to Patton - who was gone before the Invasion of the Italian Peninsular took place. And add that he then was out of combat until the Battle of the Bulge, where he was called on (by Roosevelt, of course) to save the Allies from defeat - almost every word of which is nonsense. Patton led the Third Army through France. Ike called on Montgomery to save the day after the Battle of the Bulge - and Patton to take charge of the southern half of the battlefield. And - etc. What can I say?

It's not just the facts they get wrong - they get larger issues wrong too. Like completely ignoring the importance Hitler always put on attacking the USSR - making it seem like his invasion of the USSR was a terrible and inexplicable betrayal of his great friend Stalin. Or screwing up all the reasons the western powers fought in 1939; or the progress of trouble in the Pacific; or the reasons for the battle of Stalingrad; and on and on. And if we go into the sins of omission - this post will go on forever. (It's getting there already.) But - all the details from the wars are gone. The Pacific campaign in WWII is gone. (Guadalcanal and Tarawa and Iwo Jima and Okinawa, all gone.) The North African campaign is gone. Most of the Italian campaign is gone. Everything after Stalingrad and between D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge are all gone. Other than Pearl Harbor and Midway, and the Lusitania, back in WWI, the naval wars are gone. The air wars are gone, other than the Blitz, the Battle of Britain (in the wrong order) and the 2 a-bombs. France is gone, from both wars - no Frenchmen are named in either war (though apparently DeGaulle gets a moment in the international edition of the stupid thing.) Someone does mention that 100,000 of them died in the 6 weeks of 1940, which might be the only mention of anyone's casualties, other than the 100 million total...

And non-military? Let's go back to the end of WWI - they use archives and show a bunch of newspaper headlines about the Armistice. One of the newspapers has a story about a camp set up to house flu victims - the only mention of the epidemic of 1918, that killed more people than the war. BUt then again - they mention the Final Solution, death camps and so on - but not Kristallnacht, or any of Hitler's racial laws - do they use the word "holocaust"? It's horrible.

And I did say comprehensively bad - I haven't mentioned the commentators yet, have I? They have their usual run of professional historians, biographers of famous men and the like - but they've supplemented the experts with a perfect rogue's gallery of 21st century failures. Maybe the likes of John Major and Leon Panetta are harmless enough - but who in god's green earth thought it would be a good idea to let Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell out of their cages? Not to mention John McCain and weeping Joe Lieberman, who turns up at the end to talk about the holocaust. Stanley McChrystal, I suppose, might have some qualification for his speaking parts - though it's tempting to think his main qualification is that like Douglas McArthur, he knows what it means to forget that in the USA the military is most definitely subservient to the civilian government. But how can you get around Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell? Unless it's someone's idea of a joke - to bring in lying fools to lend their voices to a show that butchers history. They are what Pierce is exercised about up there - Crooks & Liars too, though they don't seem to notice how bad the history is. (And to show this is not just a partisan rant - here's NewsBusters taking a shot at the thing.) I can't quite say the show is committed to the kind of right-wing politics the commentators would indicate - most of the politics are as incoherent as the rest of it... though the show it pretty explicit in its pro-army bias. (I'd say pro-military, but the navy and air force, most of the time, are completely invisible.) In part 2, they play scene after scene contrasting Hitler's greatest military the world had ever seen, to crazy Brits and Americans building dams and power plants and houses, and keeping Oklahoma from flying into the Atlantic, instead of giving Churchill and McArthur all the tanks they want. And of course bringing on the Bush boys to nod soberly and talk about the importance of a strong military... After 3 or 4 of those scenes the thought must enter someone's head that for all Germany's militarism - who won the war?

Okay: I am done. Almost. There is one more thing I have to say about the commentators - I suspect very strongly that more than one of them - historians as much as politicians, maybe more so - were scripted by the show's writers. Because the commentators repeat the same kinds of things the show does - the same personalization of the war; especially around Patton. Real historians would talk about Eisenhower's appointments of Patton - real historians, if they were talking about D-Day would mention Ike somewhere. Sure, maybe they cut it out - but there are lots of places where they talk about things that clearly involve someone other than FDR and Patton, FDR and Churchill, Hitler and Stalin - and they use the same phrasing the show does, make the same interpretive mistakes the show makes. I don't know why they are doing - but the talking heads are certainly not providing expertise. I may be too harsh in this - more than once, I could tell the except was talking about something completely different than the show made it seem like they were talking about. One guy talks about the Russian Winter - how the German march on Moscow was stopped (in 1941) by the cold, the Siberian reinforcements who came up, and their own lack of preparation - but the show edits this bit into its own discussion of Stalingrad. Another case of conflation. But I don't think there's much doubt - a lot of those historians were just reading lines...

All right - that is all. I could run up another 2500 words I fear, but I won't. Not now anyway. I am almost calm again! it is almost out of my system! though since this thing will be replayed every week for the next 20 years - I am sure it will annoy me again before too long...