Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ich Ben Ein Berlin-Air

               At the risk of diluting my #brand, I’m gonna step back from our popular feature Terrible Book Exchange, and instead talk about something that I actually enjoy. Also, I need time for my brain to get back into shape where I can read capitalized words without cringing. So, instead, I’m going to talk about the Berlin Airlift.
               Nearing the end of World War Two, the Allies were closing in on Axis Germany from two different fronts, East and West. Germany pretty much knew it had lost, and was surrendering in droves, just about as fast as American, British, and French soldiers could reach them from the West, and the Soviets from the East. In spring of 1945, the Allies were practically racing to Berlin, just to be known as the country who did it- competition abounded during this phase of the war about who could capture which beautiful town and steal the most silverware or whatever. It was practically a geopolitical Black Friday.
               Well, the capital of Germany, Berlin, is much closer to the eastern border than the west, and the western Allies decide they’ll just let the Soviets have it; they’re closer, anyway, and let’s face it, earned it more. What with the double the casualty rate and size of the fighting force, and everything. Never forget, most of World War Two happened on the Eastern Front, although that’s a discussion for another time.

               Eisenhower and Truman and Montgomery and the rest decide to let Soviets capture Berlin, so they do. Much ransacking and burning and let’s-not-really-go-into-it-in-this-lighthearted-blog commence, but things settle down after a bit. Now, Russians are in charge of Germany’s capital, and as decided early in the war, Germany will be split in half to prevent another militant powerhouse from rising. Western Germany is split into thirds between American, British, and French influences, while the USSR gets all of Eastern Germany to themselves. Berlin, likewise, is split into these sections. American, British, and French thirds in the West, an entire half given to the Soviets in the East. It goes great for everyone forever!
               Oh, wait, this is Soviet Russia and Stalin we’re talking about. It goes great for no one never. The first couple years after the war, the borders between East and West are relatively open, but Stalin clamps the border shut in June of 1948. In addition to keeping citizens inside his borders, which is never a good fight to get into, Stalin also wants to parade about the global bar, slapping his biceps and challenging people to take it outside, which is an even worse one. He’s mad about a new type of money in Western Germany, but that’s super technical and finance history so I don’t want to get into it.
               The border isn’t just for family trips out of the Iron Curtain, it’s also how the Allies have been getting supplies and information to their people and citizens in Western Berlin, which remember, is WAY inside quasi-enemy territory. Stalin would never do something as stupid as invade the city, but he’ll sure as heck starve it until they give in, and, um, not introduce a form of currency? (I said I didn’t want to get into it!)
               The supplies the West -- jeans, rock music, miscellaneous shiny rocks -- has been shipping to Berlin have been going by truck convoy, but now the road is closed. However, like that Firefly theme song said “Something something you can’t close the sky or whatever”.
               The Allies have a lot of experience in flying huge flights of planes to Berlin, you know, explodey-wise. They immediately begin loading the same supplies they’ve always shipped onto massive cargo planes, sending them up and over the blockade to land and unload in Berlin. It’s very easy to close borders on the highway without retaliation, but to shoot down a supply plane on a peaceful mission would straight up start World War Three. Not even Stalin thinks his mustache is THAT intimidating.
               For almost a full year, from June 1948 to April of 1949, the Allied nations fly 24/7 supply missions from dozens of airports in the West. It didn’t start great. When military documents base feasibility of supply plans on minimum calorie counts, they’re either in that movie The Martian, or in serious trouble. They estimated they needed about 5,000 tons a day of food and industrial supplies. The first week, they flew out 90.
               However, as more planes arrived and crews got better and grew more dedicated to the supply missions, the tonnage improves. The second week, they improved to nearly 1,000 tons a day. The improvement continued week by week.
               The Communist press laughs at the Airlift, like “Just admit it, man, you’re beat. Planes can’t work that well for as long as we’re willing to hold out!” And as we all know, when you tell an American you think they won’t be able to sell as much stuff as they want to, we only try harder. God bless capitalism!
               The airlift continues. A flight lands in Berlin every three minutes. In essence, there isn’t a time a plane isn’t flying over West Berlin. A plane could land, unload, refuel, and take off on the return trip in under 30 minutes. The Berliners took the rate of landings and applied German industriousness to it. Crews competed to see who could unload the heaviest planes in the shortest time, and winners received extra rations.
               One American pilot, Gail Halvorsen, started a mail-in campaign to have Westerners donate candy and gum. He flew over Berlin (East and West) and would drop the donated goods with teency little cute parachutes, just as a sign of, like, “We’re kicking so much Soviet butt, here’s straight up candy. Fo’ free.” The kids, and let’s face it, probably some weird adults, knew to look for Halvorsen’s plane as he flew over – he would wiggle his wings as a sign for kids to get out in the streets, like an ice cream truck thousands of feet in the air.
               By April, the Allies were shipping more tons of freight through the air than they had been on the ground. The blockade not only didn’t work, but the US and other Western nations had such a hard-on for proving the Communists wrong that they went above and beyond to over-supply Berlin. Quietly, the USSR cancelled the blockade for road-based shipping in late April of 1949, and the Berlin Airlift came to an end.
               The reason the Berlin Airlift RULES SO HARD is because it’s a great example of the power of humanitarianism. This airlift cost Western governments insane amounts of money to fuel and load that many cargo planes, but they did it, because the people of Berlin needed it. And also, you know, to prove that they were better than the USSR, but whatever floats your boat. The planes were unarmed, unarmored, and not shot at. They carried food and coal (and sometimes candy), not weapons. No shot was fired, and although I’m willing to bet someone got punched or something, no violence ensued. Citizens came together to work their collective capitalist asses off because they weren’t going to allow their countrymen to starve.
               The Berlin Airlift is a reminder what can be accomplished through actions that benefit people who need it, that motivate people who do it, and what an immense need can bring out of people. The industriousness and organizational insanity that the Berlin Airlift harnessed is one of our greatest collective efforts that, once again, cost SO MUCH MONEY TO DO.

               What I’m saying is that maybe we just need to compete for who can cut the most carbon.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Bibliovile: Sonnets and Skins

            We’re back, folks. There was a pretty good response to our last post of this nature, mostly from Sue’s friends that exist in a state of pure support. You know the frame; we pick books for each other, and then review them. I picked Sonnet to a Dead Contessa, by Gilbert Morris, based on back jacket alone. Sue picked for me Skin of the Wolf (I had to look up the title), by Sam Cabot, a nom de plume for two authors. Let’s just hop in, shall we? Sue went second last time, so she’ll get to start now. Street rules.

Sonnet to a Dead Contessa, by Gilbert Morris
            The book Mick chose for round two of the Terrible Book Exchange is Sonnet to a Dead Contessa, by Gilbert Morris. It is, of course, the third book in a series, because Mick hates me and wants me to be unhappy. He chose this book based on the description on the back, which is too good not to share. Pay extra attention to the penultimate line:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bibliovile: Choosering the Bestest

               After a long while off of the grid over the past year, I’ve finally settled down. I’m finalized on my address for Amazon, job applications, and W9s, I had to make that last leap of paper-trail-conformity and get a library card. After all, I’ve heard that having fun isn’t hard that way. An anthropomorphic aardvark advised me to contact my local library for some fun times, so I did.
               I’ve had a lot of free time but very few books on my wish list. I finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s Blue Mars, a great hard sci-fi book, and promptly ran out of ideas for things I wanted to read. But I am my mother’s son, and I wasn’t about to let my free library card go to waste, so I came up with a competition between my fiancĂ©e Sue and I. We’d each check out a book, and then force the other to read whatever it was that we’d found. The whole library was our literate oyster, with only two rules; No graphic novels, and a reasonable page count. Sue’s already pouring time into thousands of pages for grad school, and she asked me for “Anything but Warren Peace” so I guess he’s not the type of author that would write a short book.
               We made our way into our library, and only showed our hand at the exit door. From behind her back, she removed a small, pristine paperback, about an inch thick. It was How to Marry a Duke. I, a giddy smile on my face, gave her the amazingly titled Choosers of the Slain. I’m going first, because as you’ll see, her book is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. I’m worried I’ve won forever in our first entry. But until then, we’ve got a lot of repressed boners to cover.

               How to Marry a Duke, by Vicky Dreiling

               It’s obviously bodice-ripper. As you can see, a square-jawed man is wheezing into his blond girlfriend’s neckmeat while she mourns her torn pink gown. The man has the lowest nipples I’ve ever seen, like they’re trying to slink off his chest before he notices. It’s also a little tacky to have your Victorian fainting couch in the same teal as the wall. This cover is ripe for the judging, and the verdict is would, for both of the humans on the cover.
               This is a book about sex. It may not be as explicit as our second entry (stay tuned!), but even if it includes less sex, it’s about sex. I’m going to talk about sex in this entry. You know how you know several Urban Dictionary-quality words and phrases, and someone asks you “Wait, how do you know that?” as if knowledge of an act is automatically an endorsement of its performance? Well, we’re going to run into that today. I just know, alright? Alright.
               Our story opens in 1816 London, a time period and place that I hate. Sure, the mustaches are nice, but MAN are there a lot of white people problems in stories based in 1816 London. Unless you’re Charles Dickens, your story in 1816 London is going to involve a lot of glove-slapping fights and violations of etiquette.
               Quick step into history. 1816 was called “The Year Without Summer” because of a volcanic eruption that threw enough ash and soot into the air to prevent the temperatures from warming sufficiently. This one-off ice age threw Europe into the greatest starvation crisis of the post-Renaissance era as food wilted early or did not grow sufficiently. But yeah, let’s focus on attractive people’s problems on banging while the rest of the plebs starve. We are the ugly 99%.
               Tristan James Gatewick, a name that is truthfully and delightfully aristocratic, is the Duke of Shelbourne. Wouldn’t you know it, he’s England’s most eligible bachelor, but like, he’s SO TIRED of banging widows and loose women. He’s just trying to settle down and get a respectable heir for his dukedom. He’s at a sort of Victorian singles mixer, rolling his eyes at all these honeys trying to mack, but then he spots the finest honey of all. The first scene of this book involves our male protagonist checking out the love interest’s ass, so at least our author knows the male gaze pretty well. She is Miss Tessa Mansfield, a prominent single woman who has devoted her life to matchmaking for other couples. He contacts her to find his wife, and she agrees since he’s such a prominent figure on London’s “Scandal Sheets”. We’re reminded of that fact about as often as we are that the Duke is a rake, and his matchmaker a spinster.
               A guy that wants to settle down! A match maker! This professional arrangement will work out professionally for the rest of the plot, I’m sure. Well, of course not, this is a romance novel. It plays out just as you’d expect. They start to fall in love, worry about scandal, get mad at each other, and then, well, I don’t want to spoil, but it’s a happy ending. The perspective switches about every other chapter between the love interests, showing us that Tessa is attracted to his compassion, his jawline, his honor, and love of his family, and that Tristan really wants a blowjob. It creates a gap of knowledge between the characters that allow for the requisite he-said-she-said-he-whispered-she-moaned back and forth of all romance novels.
               There are some surprises along the way, namely that it’s exactly the plot of every season of the Bachelor. Tessa contacts 24 women to court the Duke all at once instead of picking a single lady as is tradition. The Duke and Tessa have to come up with all these flirtation events and special trips to family homes or London locales, and he invites those that passed some sort of rubric back for another week of Clorox Bleach and tampon advertisements. It’s not even the format that rings the truest, because catfights begin immediately to prove who is “here for the right reasons” and the prettiest girls get hated on because come on look at those eyebrows. They drag the Duke’s mother, sister, and best friend Marc “Hawk” Darcett, the Earl of Hawkfield in to give their testimonials as the girls are ferried to the opera and to a party-planning contest. The only way it could be more exactly the Bachelor is if Ben Higgins turns out to fall in love with Chris Harrison next season.
Basically our main character
               It’s a book that’s so far from being up my alley I’m worried about their GPS. Get this, though: It wasn’t that bad. It’s mechanically solid, characters have clear but not explicit motivations that conflict with the easiest path, and the dialogue works well enough, given the subject matter and setting. Hawk says “Old boy” every other line, but he gets the most of the sarcastic witty repartee that’s all the rage. It’s Downton Abbey if the viewers were in charge of choosing a match for Lady Edith.
               The Duke feels bound by honor and duty to put his title first, and Miss Mansfield feels that she needs to set an image of independence to counteract her loins’ need for the Duke. It’s nothing that you haven’t heard from this sort of thing, but it’s written well in that the characters themselves know that they’re in a crappy bind.
               This book is like a jigsaw puzzle of a man punching himself in the face. All the pieces fit together, but the picture is not something I especially want to look at, and all of the conflict seems self-created. It’s a steam-powered dildo; congrats, you’ve created an element of engineering, but buddy I ordered my chicken fingers an hour ago and I get this instead? Who wants a steam-powered dildo? Steely Dan, duh.
               Speaking of dildoes, I’m sure you’re dying to hear about the sex. And, other than the use of “manhood” and “male sound”, they’re not terrible either. The author knows how to work her audience. There’s this fetish called “edging.” Basically, you hold yourself or a partner on the verge of an orgasm for several or even dozens of minutes at a time, teasing and denying them until finally, when you do give it all, the wait and anxiety make it that much better. This book strings small moments of wanting or even -gasp- making out until you’re crying “Just bang already!” By the time they do (spoiler, it’s great), you’re at a place of relief because holy cow, guys, the number of boners this dude’s had to hide in old-timey pants.
               The fantasies this book presents are pretty true to life as well. At some point in our life, I think, we’ve all had an unrequited lust that we wish our target would recognize and return. Or a hookup whose forbidden nature only made it all the more enticing. For me, I’m speaking about all the girls in high school who dared look me in the eyes. This book gives you a chance to be a handsome, tall, rich white dude or a beautiful, big-boobed, rich white girl and finally give into that bad idea.
               Finally, the most surprising thing was the mixing of old-time activities and social scandal with modern relationship standards. If you’re a purist for historical gender relations, you’re probably going to chafe against the up-to-date ideas of abuse that this book presents. But as a man who enjoys not making women fear for their lives and safety (go me, I’m a baseline of decency), I was pretty proud of the character’s decisions. There’s a B-plot about a former jilted lover of Tessa’s that threatens scandal, and pretty much everyone around affirms that his manipulations constitute emotional and mental abuse which, let’s face it, is still not universally accepted as a form of abuse in our world today. So, you know, good for them.
               Look. Two attractive people fight their urges before steadily advancing up the bases until they finally bang. You can call that literature or you can call that internet pornography, but as long as it’s well made, I don’t mind.

               Choosers of the Slain, by John Mingo
               Mick’s pick for me was Choosers of the Slain, by John Mingo, which is by far the worst book in all of existence. Choosers of the Slain is the third book in the Paladin of Shadows series, because of course there are more books this awful.
               Now, let’s talk a moment about the title of this book, Choosers of the Slain. When I found out that the book was the third in a series, we looked it up online to try to find plot summaries of the first two books. Turns out, there are TWO UNRELATED BOOKS IN EXISTENCE WITH THIS TITLE. Two books. With the title Choosers of the Slain. 'Choosers' is not even a word. Ugh.
               After searching for about thirty seconds without finding plot summaries, I decided to just give up and read the book cold. Turns out, with a book this quality, you don’t really need back story.
               Choosers of the Slain chronicles the life of Mike Jenkins, also known as the KILDAR (a word that you can’t help but shout every time you read), a retired Navy SEAL who lives in Georgia (the middle-east one, not the state south of the Mason-Dixon) in a compound that he somehow came to inherit in the first two books. With this compound, Mike also inherited his own militia, called the Keldara. Mike is in the process of training the Keldara, and luckily enough, they keep running into rogue terrorist groups! How convenient for training purposes!
               In between training sessions/terrorist raids, Mike goes home and relaxes in his compound, spending quality time with the girls in his harem. Because, oh yeah, Mike has a harem of twelve-to-sixteen year old girls, whose bodies the author describes in startling, unpleasant detail (the words ‘flamboyantly large breasts’ are used, despite the fact that those words should never, ever, be strung together in the same sentence). Also described in startling, unpleasant detail are the evenings that Mike spends with these girls. In one chapter, he spends three hours and forty-seven minutes with one girl (totally realistic, bruh), and he makes her go blind due to “loss of blood flow to the optic nerve.” Just in case you weren’t aware, that’s not how biology works.
               I won’t go into much more detail, since there’s a possibility my future mother-in-law will read this post (and also because the whole thing is supremely icky). Let’s just say that despite the excruciating detail he writes into his sex scenes, it is abundantly clear that John Mingo has never even met a real live woman, let alone had sex with one. Nor, I’m assuming, have the majority of his readers, which is why this book has FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE STARS ON GOODREADS WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, WORLD.
               The first quarter of the book alternates between sex scenes and battle scenes. It’s so awful it hurts to remember.
               Around chapter twenty-ish, we mercifully get a break from the icky sex scenes for several hundred pages of terribly written action. Mike takes his personal army to Romania, they blow up a brothel, Mike picks up a few more hookers for his harem, because why not, and then, in the midst of all this ‘action’ and ‘intrigue,’ for no reason whatsoever, our main character goes to Las Vegas to sell beer. Because he has a brewery, of course. Why wouldn’t he? So Mike takes a time out from blowing up brothels in Eastern Europe to go on a mini-vacay TO THE UNITED STATES. ALL THE WAY FROM GEORGIA. (He deserves it, guys, the man works hard.) He goes to Vegas to sell his beer.
               Now, I gotta be honest with you for a minute. I love reading. I have loved books since before I could remember. I have continued reading books for hundreds of pages after deciding that I hated them, just because it kills me to not have the plotline resolved, no matter how terrible it is. Hell, I even finished all four books in the Twilight series. Despite all this, I have a confession to make…
This book was so bad I didn’t finish it.
Choosers' main audience (Police Approximation)
               I read the first half, then skimmed the second half, read the last four chapters, and decided I was done having this book in my life. And to tell you the honest truth, it all still made sense.
               This entire book reads like the dirty fantasies of a fourteen-year-old who isn’t as cool as he thinks he is. “When I grow up, I’m gonna be a badass with a lot of guns, and people are gonna listen to me when I tell them what to do, and I’m gonna get a lot of pussy and drink a lot of beer and live in cool places and be really important to everybody and not have to listen to what anybody says,” says Johnny as he jerks off to the Victoria’s Secret catalog that he stole from his sister. It crosses everything off the checklist: power, money, women, action, beer, and a bad reputation – the only things that adolescent boys think they want when they’re too young and dumb to know any better.
               Long story short, I hate this book. I hate it so much, it took me several hours and half a pitcher of beer to get through this review, because I don’t like being reminded that I actually read this book. I’m offended that this book is going to show up on my library history.
               It also makes me a little concerned for the world that these books did well enough for there to be an entire series about this creep and his disgusting misadventures. I’m curious as to what kind of sad, lonely person honestly enjoys this garbage and roots for this deranged, sex-crazed psychopath. Reading the reviews on Good Reads did not make me feel any better about John Ringo fans or society at large, with comments like, “Lots of action and good fun.” “Mike and his Keldara blast a gaping hole in the Balkan sex trade. I think our antihero rapes a prostitute in this one – male fantasy. Very cool.” “This is the third time I’ve read these books and still don’t get tired of them.” “As always, I love this series, it speaks to my dark side.”
               Thankfully, there was at least one sane human being in the review section of Good Reads, and I agree with him completely, “I don’t know if I ever want to meet somebody who actually loves this book.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

All Star on the Western Front


Battle of the Somme-body once told me the world is gonna war me
I got a metal spike on my head
I was looking at Verdun just a soldier on the run
Crazy how all those guys are even more dead.

Well, the shells start coming and they don't stop coming
Head to the ground and they hit the ground running
Didn't make sense to charge our trench
Machine gun bullets are attracted to French

So much to shoot, too smoky to see
So what's wrong with a bayonet to stab me?
You'll never know if you don't go
If that shell’s gonna dud or blow

Hey, now, that’s the call now, get your mask on, it’s gas
Hey, now, you're a Prussian, don’t go blind now, go fast
It’s just chlorine and bleach
Only once more into the breach

It's a wet place and they say it gets muddy
You're healthy now but wait 'til it gets funny
But trench foot might just get you
Judging by the hole in your beat-up shoe

More people die from disease
Relaxing in a trench, how ‘bout ease
My lung's on fire. How about yours?
My hygiene’s really lacking and my health is poor.

Hey, now, that’s the call now, get your mask on, it’s gas
Hey, now, you're a Prussian, don’t go blind now, go fast
It’s just chlorine and bleach
Only once more into the breach

Hey, now, that’s the call now, get your mask on, it’s gas
Hey, now, you're a Prussian, don’t go blind now, go fast
It’s just chlorine and bleach
Only once more into the breach

Somebody once asked could I shoot a can of gas
We need to get go and get in charge of that trench
I said yep, sounds like fun
Maybe this time we’ll take Verdun
And we could all kill a lot of French

Well, the shells start coming and they don't stop coming
Knife on the gun and we hit the ground running
Didn't make sense to charge their trench
Machine gun bullets coming from the French

So much to shoot, too smoky to see
So what's wrong with a bayonet to stab me?
You'll never know if you don't go
If that shell’s gonna dud or blow

Hey, now, that’s the call now, get your mask on, it’s gas
Hey, now, you're a Prussian, don’t go blind now, go fast
It’s just chlorine and bleach
Comrade, only once more into the breach

It’s just chlorine and bleach

Only once more into the breach

Thursday, September 3, 2015

B1G Things Poppin'

               The college football season is finally upon us. Much like Hank Williams Jr., I am both ready for some football and also jobless, so I decided to write something about the CFB season opening.
               The Big Ten is the oldest existing collegiate association, with six of the original seven teams still in the conference. They’re highly regarded as premier research institutions, with high enrollment and high financial endowments, lots of living alumni, and a very large TV market. Their athletics, while sometimes disparaged, routinely rank high enough to earn them a spot as a power conference in nearly every sport. All in all, the Big Ten, for all its low-scoring foibles, is a force to be reckoned with and respected as we approach another college football season.

               But forget all that. Let’s make their mascots fight.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Full Leaden Jacket

Hi guys. Marathon training isn’t going great, and the job search is over for now, to put it lightly. So to cheer myself up, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite stories from history that we’ve forgotten.

               The Revolutionary War is important to America since it marked our independence and the victory of democratic self-rule in a modern era. But I’ve gone on record ON THIS VERY BLOG (you look it up, ya turkey) as testifying that we tend to overblow its importance across the world. Globally, the French Revolution meant WAY more and had a much larger scope in both boob-heavy paintings and chopped-off heads. But that doesn’t mean the subject isn’t ripe with its own fun turns of fate and cinematic life. I mean, why don’t we have a “hiding from the government” miniseries about the Revolutionary War? About the original Founders after they’ve signed their names to a treasonous document and now are fleeing from town to town and house to house, depending on the loyalty of people to put them up and provide for them? BUT NOOOOOOOO it’s all about Mel Gibson hunting down pretentious Englishmen to avenge Heath Ledger.

               Anyhoozle, this next one would not make a good movie. It would, however, make a FANTASTIC episode of Drunk History, and if you’re listening, people who make that show that might have already devoted a segment, have me on to do this. I’m a real entertaining drunk.

This is the story of a Founding Father named Oliver Wolcott.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


             I get bored at work a lot. It’s not work’s fault. I’m just temping between student teaching and what is now clearly going to be substituting work, and I work with large sums of money. Yeah, sure, it’s just data entry, but the data I enter is often more money than I will get paid for the entire summer. I'm terrified of those big numbers and will only do the work I am 100% sure won't end up getting a whole branch bankrupt, which leaves me not doing a lot, often.
             Anyhoo, I found myself on Twitter recently during a particularly slow day. Someone had posted an article where they compiled the original version of oft-stolen tweets, found here. They provided a link to the search functions that would reveal copy cats. I scrolled through, trying to find my ol’ nemeses “parody” accounts. Instead what I found was a world that threatens to consume my very spirit.