Opus Colorado Article

Saturday, February 20, 2021

This is a favorite article that I’d like to share, from a defunct blog called Opus Colorado.

The Fragility of Our Cultural Inheritance: Part I

By Robert McNeil

January 7, 2012, 1:22 pm 

Every now and then, if I think about it too much, I can get very upset about the fragility of our cultural inheritance.

The other day I was listening to NPR, which I basically like very much, when I heard a review being given by Ken Tucker of a new piece of pop music. I do not remember the name of the piece nor do I remember the person who was singing, but Tucker was describing it as one of the most profound and moving pieces of music he had heard for quite awhile. As I listened, I noticed a few things about this piece which were absolutely inescapable: 1) I could not understand the words, except very randomly; 2) There seemed to be a four line stanza of text, which seemed to describe the singer’s despair over his unrequited love, and his frustration at being treated in a poor way by the object of his affections; 3) Each sentence, and each word of the text, were all sung on the very same note. It was quite similar to an aria because the notes only appeared when the rhythm of the text changed. If there was a long syllable, the note was held longer, and, if the syllables were fairly short, then the notes occurred more rapidly. It was simply one note repeated in the rhythm of the syllables until the end of the fourth sentence, when the notes changed and usually ascended by one or two steps. Subsequently, this wonderful song that Ken Tucker found thrilling was, in actuality, almost monotone; 4) The instrumentation of this song was fairly sparse, but a relatively driving rhythm, provided by a drum set, forced the piece along and gave it some direction; and, 5) The harmonies which were used only changed at the end of every fourth sentence of text. The singer stayed on the same note for all four lines, and the same chord all four lines until the last couple of words of the fourth sentence, and then the harmony changed. One group of four lines was based on the tonic chord, one group of four lines was based on the sub dominant, and one group of four was based on the dominant chord. Then the harmony started all over again using the same pattern. I’m sorry if many of you readers aren’t aware of what a tonic chord is, or dominant or sub-dominant, but there isn’t room right now to explain, except to say that the tonic chord is a triad based on the first note of the scale, the sub dominant on the fourth degree of the scale, and the dominant on the fifth degree of the scale.

What upset me about this review was that Mr. Tucker was describing it in the most glowing terms, and, as I said above, the word profound was used more than once. In addition, there was nothing in it that to me, at least, indicated any kind of sadness or frustration. In fact, I wanted to shout to the singer, if that’s the most emotion you can muster, then get on with your life and stop wasting time. Quite often the person who was singing this was so inarticulate – or so loud – that the words simply could not be understood, except for an occasional “sorry, sorry, sorry.”

I have no idea what musical qualifications Ken Tucker possesses, because when I looked him up, I could find no bio statement, except that he had received some ASCAP Awards for his music reviews, and that he appeared on NPR’s program, “Fresh Air.”

I freely admit to the possibility that when Ken Tucker goes home, he may listen to Mozart quartets or Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, but I really don’t think he does. His enthusiasm for the piece that I heard him review was boundless, and the lack of art in this piece was as startling as the abundance of art in the Mozart quartets. Perhaps I need to listen to Fresh Air on a more regular basis, but I don’t think I have ever heard any of the Fresh Air hosts talk about serious music. My lament is that it seemed that Mr. Tucker may be close to my generation, and yet he seemed unconcerned about proselytizing music that had such minimal content. The problem with that is that we are passing on a piece of music that requires no thought and no imagination. Since it requires no thought and no imagination, it automatically advances the idea that any music can be listened to without any thought and that means understanding as well. I have heard many students explain to me that they listen to pop music because they don’t need to think about it; and, conversely, they do not listen to serious music, because every time they do, they have to think about it. The dangerous impact this is having on our cultural heritage is that the understanding of serious music, and its accompanying appreciation of the art, is beginning to dwindle. I have met adult students who don’t know how to listen to music or think that it is necessary, and indeed, seem to be almost fearful of listening to it, because they have not been accustomed to it throughout their lives.

I also become worried when someone outside the discipline of music writes reviews about it, and at the same time, demonstrates a total lack of knowledge about serious music. It seems to me, that if one is going to make a career writing about music, some evidence about musical knowledge must be in place.

There are times when I hear reviewers extol the art and profundity of Ziggy Pop, and when I am told that a concert in a “sterile concert hall is filled with well-heeled old fogeys in tuxedos,” and when I hear that Mozart and Beethoven and Mendelssohn and Schumann and Cage are just some “old dead guys,” I wonder who will keep the candle burning.

The Fragility of Our Cultural Inheritance: Part II

January 7, 2012, 3:21 pm 

I recently wrote an article on Expressionism in Music, in which I quoted two experts in the field of Expressionism in Literature. One of these individuals had written a fairly extensive article on Expressionism, but it seemed when he compared it to music, which was the thrust of his article, that he either omitted some points, or brushed them off. In reading the article, he seemed to state some common misunderstandings of what to listen to in expressionistic music, so I opened the gates for a response to my article at its end. I will quote my last paragraph:

“In Doctor Lea’s article, he comes very close to stating outright that Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern wrote without implying any social commitment, except to say that they were concerned with the reform in the arts and in the quality of life. My question would be of Henry A. Lea: Why is it so startling that Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern considered traditional harmonies exhausted? Art to be art must always progress. And how does a new art affect the quality of life?”

No one has yet responded to, or answered, the last two questions of the above paragraph, and I point out that the study of comparative literature is certainly an art. I wish that Dr. Henry A. Lea would respond because I think that we all know how art affects the quality of life. If Lea answered it, he would, by necessity, have to concede that some of his previous statements were at least vague, if not unsuitable, because of their implied prejudice.

By not being as complete as possible, the responsibility of thinking things through is abrogated. That is an aspect of inheritance that we all pass on to the next generation.

It also has the effect on our younger generation of keeping their attention span very short. A few years ago, I was startled when one of my students and I were discussing recordings made by great pianists in the past. The student had no idea what a record was, as she was only familiar with CDs. More recently, a student seemed perplexed that in the studio where I teach privately, I had so many books, including a 31 volume encyclopedia. Not being sure of how an encyclopedia was organized, she asked why I didn’t just look up the information on my telephone. While I freely admit that all the new technology, e-books, iPods, iPhones, and iPads, are amazing to use, and while I also admit to publishing an e-book, there is something amazingly comforting about holding another portable device in your hands that has paper with words printed on the paper. But, as Jack Kessler (bibliophile and author of the newsletter FYI France) has pointed out, the new electronic marvels have possibly saved books from spills, fingerprints, banana peels, and what have you. But it also has eliminated the reverence for the printed page. Like Mr.  Kessler, I, too, have gone to university libraries which now seem to be social centers where books are used mainly for propping up the new electronic devices so that the new generation of students can tweet and text and beep to their hearts content.

There are times when I feel like taking a stand against Google, as the French did, at least for a while, because they feared that Google’s digitizing every single book in the world would destroy their culture. It does, however, have a big advantage because it does preserve all of our precious books, and protect them from students who use a strip of bacon for an impromptu bookmark.

There is also a university here in Denver that is now instructing its faculty to take “advantage” of all the new electronic technology as they lecture to their students, because the students are convinced that the faculty is comprised of old fogeys who know nothing about technology, and thus, probably don’t know anything at all. So the professors now have to (required) use PowerPoint, tweets, and YouTube in their lectures, so they can “remain current and relevant to the student body.” In some manner, the student body has convinced the administration at this university that traditional approaches to teaching, while tolerated, were not sufficient in enabling a meaningful and interactive educational environment. What this means, of course, is that the administration has succumbed to the entitlement of the students to demand how they be taught. That university faculty is more knowledgeable than the student body seems to have no bearing on the fact that students come to a university to learn. In addition, some of the students apparently complained that coming to lectures which were not recorded, or pre-recorded, using the new technologies available, has made class attendance mandatory. That is an astounding thought indeed! Why on earth should students, who pay for tuition at a university, and their education, be forced to come to class? My immediate response is to ask, “Why don’t the students take notes?” I can remember, back in the “old days” when I was a student, without today’s technologies, that there were things called pens which you held in your hand (which is connected directly to your brain) and you could write down on paper everything that the professor said, and keep it forever if you wished.

Imagine, if you will, that you are teaching a class on medieval French literature, for example, the Gospels of Lothar, which were written between 849 and 851 (they were a gift for Charles the Bald, who was Lothar’s brother). This gift represented the end of their territorial feuding, and was completed by the monks at Saint Martin’s Abbey in Tours. How would you use twitter to teach the significance of this work?

If I am teaching a class in music theory (which involves the study of chords, their structure, their sound, and their movement) how would I use PowerPoint? A chalkboard is much more flexible, and a student’s embarrassing errors can easily be erased. A chalkboard has a much more intimate environment than a laptop computer screen. It does not have to be a page. Everyone in the classroom, assuming they still attend class, can see the changes the professor is making, and there is no constraint on fitting it into a paradigm.

I worry when I learn that university professors are being told what kind of technology to use in their lectures, aside from their brains, because the students have such short attention spans. Students come to a university to learn. They do not come to university to tell faculty how to teach, what kind of technology to use, just because they pay for their education.

Our culture has always depended upon the fact that older, and therefore experienced individuals, know more than those they are teaching. Part of the process is learning how to think. In addition, part of the process in learning, is learning how to work.

022021 • Thrift Store Finds

Saturday, February 20, 2021

To End All Wars: Robert Carlyle and Kiefer Sutherland both worked on the 24 movie Redemption with Sutherland, so that fact and the subject matter of this movie made it worth the full price of three bucks. Being about prisoners of war in a Japanese camp isn’t a fun subject, but it pays off in showing how even under those circumstances, it is still possible to endure, survive, and ultimately forgive as well as rely on one another for survival.

The Marne, 1914: I find it difficult to keep all of the battles straight from World War I, so a book dedicated to one battle is always welcome. One of the problems I have with so many books is that one paragraph, even a sentence, can contain a books’ worth of information. I was reading a magazine article on some battles from the Franco-Prussian war today, and like so many other articles it passingly mentions casualties and logistics that in real life were so much more than words on a page. Going in-depth on one of these topics is always a good thing to explore.

Aces and Aircraft of World War I: This book is just great! It is lighter reading with a lot of photos and very good illustrations on a very interesting topic. So happy to find this one. I have a lot of books like it, and in all cases I was very lucky to find them as they aren’t common in thrift stores.

West Like Lightning: I try not to buy too many books on the old west as I don’t have room, but the subject is so interesting, and on this topic in particular, especially so. Just reading the dust-jacket I discovered that the Pony Express was only in operation for nineteen months!

Khrushchev: The Man and His Era: Khruschevs’ name comes up so often when reading about World War II and Stalin, that a book dedicated to him is something I can use in my library. It is the second book on him that I own so far. According to the dust-jacket, it was twenty years in the making!

The Planets: As if I need another version of this, but at the same time it is one of those works that one can’t have enough renditions of.

Stalin: Man of Steel or Mass Murderer?: Well, that’s a dumb title! This is the kind of book I usually pass on because it covers the basics for people who don’t know anything about the topic. However, I still want to read this because it is interesting what is covered and what is left out. Also, this is one of those bargain books from Barnes & Noble that I want to buy, but is hard to justify when I know I’ll see it in the thrifts for a fraction of the ‘bargain’ price. It’s always nice to find these for two bucks instead of the $8.99-$24.99 prices.

The Destruction of the Dutch Jews: When I was a bank teller, I got to know a survivor of the occupation of the Netherlands. This fellow had watched his parents be executed, amongst other things. So I wasn’t going to not buy this book. I left another book on the Jews in Russia, but I should have bought it too and hopefully it’s still there next week!

Interesting Excerpts

August 16, 2020 • Time-Life Books – The Seafarers: The U-Boats

Page 60-62
As more and more German Submarines were destroyed by one Allied weapon or another, the U-boat campaign became more bloody and brutal. From the start, some commanders had taken their orders for unrestricted warfare as a license to kill indiscriminately. One case was that of Lieutenant Wilhelm Werner of the U-55, who torpedoed the steamer Torrington 150 miles southwest of the Scilly Isles on April 8, 1917. The Torrington’s captain and 20 of the crew from one of the ship’s two lifeboats were ordered on board the U-boat. The captain was sent below, and the rest of the crew were lined up on the deck and their life jackets were taken away from them. Then Werner gave the order to dive, and the U-boat submerged with the sailors still standing on the deck. There were no survivors. Four days later, Werner disposed of some of the crew of the steamer Toro in the same way and, at the end of July 1917, Lieutenant Paul Wagenfuhr of the U-44 gave the same treatment to men from the steamer Belgian Prince.

Early in 1918 a number of clearly marked Allied hospital ships came under U-boat attack, even though the German government had publicly stated that hospital ships would not be harmed. Again Werner was foremost among the offenders. On January 4 his U-55 torpedoed the hospital ship Rewa in the Bristol Channel. Four crewmen on the Rewa were killed, but all 279 patients aboard the ship were removed before she sank. On February 26 another U-boat sank the hospital ship Glenart Castle off southwest England with the loss of 153 lives. In the same area the hospital ship Guildford Castle barely escaped destruction on March 10 by turning to evade a U-boat’s torpedo. The torpedo scraped along the vessel’s side but did not explode.

Perhaps the most callous atrocity of the War was that perpetrated by Lieutenant Helmut Patzig of the U-86 against the crew and medical staff of the hospital ship Llandovery Castle on the night of June 27, 1918. Torpedoed 116 miles west of Fastnet Rock, off southern Ireland, the clearly lighted converted liner—which fortunately had no wounded on board— filled rapidly and sank within 10 minutes. As the lifeboats pulled clear, the U-boat surfaced, and the Llandovery Castle’s master, Captain R. A. Sylvester, was ordered to come alongside. Patzig questioned him about eight American airmen who he alleged had been on board. Sylvester denied the claim, pointing out that his vessel was a hospital ship and that his staff included seven Canadian medical officers who perhaps had been mistaken for Americans.

Patzig turned away, then approached the other lifeboats at high speed and demoniacally began to run them down, hurling the submarine this way and that as he smashed them like matchwood. Only the master’s boat was spared. In the darkness the men in this boat heard the U-86 open fire on the people who had been thrown into the water. Then the U-boat melted away into the night. The 24 survivors in the master’s boat were eventually picked up by another ship. Of the other 234 people from the Llandovery Castle, including 14 nurses, no trace was ever found. For this crime, Patzig and his lieutenants, John Boldt and Ludwig Dittmar, were arraigned for trial in Leipzig after the War. Patzig went into hiding and never showed up. His two lieutenants were found guilty and were sentenced to four years’ imprisonment each, but shortly after the trial they escaped. Still, for every barbarous U-boat act a chivalrous one could be cited.

Certain commanders were as consistently merciful toward their victims as others were callous. Lieutenant Hans Rose, who gained a reputation as one of the most humane U-boat captains of the War, sometimes towed a torpedoed ship’s lifeboats shoreward until they were in sight of land. In the southwest approaches on December 6, 1917, Rose torpedoed
the United States Navy destroyer Jacob Jones, the first American destroyer to be sunk by a U-boat in the War. After watching her crew take to their boats in the wintry waste of the ocean, Rose felt compelled, at great risk to himself, to send a radio signal to the British naval base at Queenstown giving the latitude and longitude of the survivors and asking for help to be sent to them. Then he made off as fast as he could.

Page 65
At 6 o’clock that evening, the Carolina had been steaming 60 miles due east of Cape May. A Mrs. Westbrook of New York, one of the few passengers who had not gone belowdecks for supper, first spied a low-lying hull on the surface of the sea less than two miles away. “Why,” she said to a lady near her, “there comes a submarine.”

Page 67-68
The U-cruiser continued southward, sinking more ships and dodging more destroyers. Her 13th victim, the Norwegian steamer Vindeggen, presented some problems. A woman and her two-year-old baby daughter were on board, and the sea was too rough for them to be placed in the lifeboats. Moreover, the ship was loaded with 2,000 tons of copper, a very scarce metal in wartime Germany that was desperately needed in the manufacture of shells. Nostitz decided to take the woman and child on board and to replace the U-boat’s iron ballast with as many of the copper ingots from the Vindeggen as the submarine could carry. The Vindeggen’s master, given a course by his captors, steered toward an empty quarter of the ocean with the U-151 trailing behind. Some 150 miles out from the American coast, the two vessels stopped, and for the next two days the copper was transshipped to the U-boat. When the laborious task was completed on Iune 10, the crew of the Vindeggen were placed in lifeboats, the woman and child were brought aboard the submarine, and the ship was blown up with explosive charges.

When the Vindeggen went down, the Norwegian flag fluttering proudly from the masthead, her old captain stood rigidly at attention in his lifeboat. On the submarine the woman cried and the little girl clapped her hands with glee at the strange sight. The tiny tot, Eva Ugland, soon became the U-boat’s darling. The cook prepared cakes, candies and dishes of canned fruits and whipped cream specially for her. The sailors fed the delicacies to the child with an unflagging delight.

To cheer everyone up as the U-boat headed for land, towing the Vindeggen’s lifeboats behind her, the U-151’s crew got out on deck and sang old songs to the accompaniment of a guitar and mandolin. At about 5 p.m. that day, another Norwegian steamer, the Henrik Lund, was sighted. The Germans set the Vindeggen’s boats adrift, sank the Henrik Lund
and then took the lifeboats from both ships in tow. Soon after dark a patrol boat was sighted. The U-151 cast off the boats—after placing little Eva Ugland and her mother in one of them—and steered away, staying on the surface to make sure that the boats’ occupants were safely picked up. The people in the boats began to make a tremendous noise to
attract the patrol vessel’s attention, waving lanterns and setting off rockets. Under the guns of the U-boat, just 300 yards off, the patrol boat drew up and took the whole crowd on board. Only then did the U-151 depart.

Page 94-99
…It destroyed the broadcasting system, so that the senior officers were unable to give any orders, even “Abandon ship.” Worse still, it set a magazine on fire aft and sent burning cordite—the explosive propellant for the shells—raging through the vents.

“It was like looking into the muzzle of a blow lamp,” one Marine recounted. “The flame was
bright orange outside and an intense blue inside.” Men ran around screaming in the dark with their clothing on fire and their blackened flesh curling off like paper from a wall.

The force of the last explosion had blown a huge hole in the deck plating of the aft section, amidships, and it seemed that the whole starboard side was melting and collapsing. As the ship rolled farther and farther over, men began to slide down toward the hole, dropping into the fires still raging in the magazine beneath. Belowdecks, survivors, dazed with horror, groped their way about in the dark, looking for a way of escaping into the open. Already the Royal Oak had listed so far over that it was clear to all on board that she had only a few minutes more to live.

Most of the 1,200 crew members were belowdecks when the ship was hit. The greater proportion of them were trapped inside. Some men, believing that the ship was under air attack, lost any chance of survival by actually moving deep down into the ship to gain the cover of the protective deck armor overhead. Some never even found the ladders but
blundered about, lost in the dark, till the end. Others found the ladders but could not open power-operated armored hatches because the electricity had failed. Two sailors were sliced in half at the waist when a manually operated steel hatch suddenly slid shut under its own weight as the angle of heel increased; as their bloody lower halves fell, they knocked the men below them off the ladder. Many men were trapped, pinned down by heavy gear sliding across the sloping decks.

By now the ship had heeled over to an angle of 45 degrees. The spotting top on the tripod mast began to sheer, and the guns swung around their turrets and pointed down into the water. The starboard portholes, which were covered only with plywood blackout screens while in port, had already dipped into the sea, and the water flowed freely through them.
The portholes on the port side now pointed skyward, and through these the last men to escape from inside the doomed ship wriggled their way out. Once through, they could either climb up the ship’s side to the deck or slither down to the sea.

The temperature of the sea was 48° F. Immersed in such cold water, the average man could not expect to survive for long. The chances of survival for the men of the Royal Oak were reduced still further by a shortage of lifesaving equipment. There had not yet been a general issue of life jackets, and most of the life rafts had been smashed in a storm at sea a few days before. A large liberty launch, capable of carrying hundreds of men, was crushed when the spotting top crashed down on it. Apart from wooden planks and floating wreckage, only a picketboat and a Navy-contracted fishing drifter called Daisy II—both boats tied up amidships on the port side—offered survivors any possibility of keeping afloat on the water. Power failure had made it impossible to use the ship’s wireless or signal lamp
to send an SOS, and neither from the shore nor from the Pegasus was there any apparent sign that the disaster over-whelming the Royal Oak had been observed. In fact, sailors aboard the seaplane transport had felt the force of the explosions. They were too far away to see what was happening and were not yet aware that the Royal Oak had suffered an enemy attack. They launched two boats to investigate, but undertook no serious rescue operation until some time later. Only a few of the Royal Oak’s sailors were eventually saved by the launches from the Pegasus.

The men who boarded the Daisy while she was still tied up to the battleship did so initially in an extraordinarily orderly manner, having been organized into a file to go down the ship’s ladder by a junior duty officer, who exhorted the men with fairground cries: “Roll, bowl, or pitch, every time a coconut, form a queue here, my lucky lads!” But the Daisy was being slowly dragged out of the water by the Royal Oak’s roll, and was forced to cast off. After that it was every man for himself. Many sailors jumped off the dying ship, bouncing off the side as they fell. The men scrambling over the ship’s barnacle-encrusted bottom as the port side reared up lacerated themselves horribly. Both the Royal Oak’s Captain Benn and the ship’s second-in-command, Captain R. F. Nichols, managed to take to the water. But Rear Admiral Henry Blagrove of the 2nd Battle Squadron, who happened to be on board as a passenger, was not so lucky. He was last seen on the quarter-deck by the engineer commander, who survived. “What caused those explosions, Engineer Commander?” the admiral had asked.

“Torpedoes, Sir.” The engineer commander had no doubt, after the second explosion,
about what had hit the ship.

“My God!” the admiral exclaimed. He was never seen again.

The ship’s angle was now approaching 90 degrees. Suddenly she gave a great lurch, and turned turtle. “The thing which struck me most,” one survivor recalled, “was the tremendous noise; it was like a huge tin full of nuts and bolts, slowly turning over. Racks of shells must have been coming loose, and other gear, so that anybody still inside had no hope. It must have been an absolute nightmare.” More than 800 men remained trapped inside the hull as the Royal Oak turned upside down. Half a dozen were left standing on top of the inverted ship’s bottom, and as she slowly sank beneath them they waded off into the water as if from a beach. The time was about 1:33—less than 29 minutes after the first of
the U-47’s torpedoes had struck the Royal Oak, and 17 minutes or so after the last. With a great gasping sound, the battleship disappeared in the waters of Scapa Flow.

But the tragedy was not quite played out. The picketboat was so overloaded that it soon capsized and sank, drowning a number of men. The fishing boat Daisy II began pulling survivors aboard. There were several hundred men in the water. Those who could not swim thrashed about, crying out for help, while some who could swim burst out singing: “Roll out the Barrel,” “South of the Border” and “Daisy.” Many men were so thickly covered in black oil that had seeped out of the battleship’s fuel bunkers that they were almost invisible. Some were so badly burned that it was difficult to haul them out of the water without causing further injury and pain. One sailor was burned so terribly that the flesh ran off his
hands and face like water. “He was holding them in front of him like downward pointing claws,” one of the survivors observed, “and the flesh was dripping off them.”

About 50 men struck out for the rocky cliffs half a mile away. The cold was intense, as one swimmer recalled: “It got past my flesh until I could feel my own skeleton. I was aware of every bone in my body.” More than 30 of these swimmers succumbed to the cold and drowned. A number of those who made it to the rocky shore were so exhausted that they collapsed and died there. But three men had enough strength left to walk two miles to the village of Scapa and raise the alarm, while another man, who swam off in the opposite direction, managed to reach the Pegasus after nearly three hours in the water.

The Daisy had pulled up to the seaplane transport just a few minutes before. She had picked up 386 men—the greater part of the final total of survivors. These cold, shocked, injured, oil-covered men were given blankets, hot baths, cocoa, whisky and medical care according to their needs. By the time the sun rose, it was clear that there was no one else left alive in the waters of Scapa Flow. Twenty-four officers and 809 men had died in the attack.

At the British Admiralty in London it was announced, during the course of the morning, that the battleship Royal Oak had been lost—“believed by U-boat action.” The following day a group of Navy divers went down to investigate.

The wreck presented a ghastly spectacle. There were bodies stuck half out of portholes, bodies crushed by fallen gear, bodies bobbing up and down in upright positions on the seabed. Some divers were said to have come up crazed with the horror of what they had seen. Their reports confirmed the worst: The Royal Oak had been sunk by torpedoes. There
were huge holes below the water line, where the ship’s steel plating had been blown inboard. In addition, the divers brought up part of the afterbody of a torpedo. No further evidence was needed.

Page 16-17
In their moments of triumph and their downfall, the U-boat men proved themselves seafaring warriors of the highest order. Few men in modern times have been in more intimate contact with the sea in all its moods: exposure to the elements and nearness to the water made the men on a surfaced U-boat’s bridge almost a part of their environment. In a
true Atlantic storm the water would break over the bridge as solid as wet cement. The force and weight of the seas were so great that on occasion men were swept overboard. In such weather the view from the bridge was petrifying—a vast wilderness of mountainous waves whipped white by the roaring wind. The duration of bridge watches had to be cut by half in these storms, for no man could stand more than two hours of battering by the seas and laceration by spray. Conditions were little better belowdecks. The violent corkscrewing, rolling, pitching and yawing motions of the boat, the brutal jolt as the bow hit a wave, and the steam-hammer clang of the sea smashing down on the hull made it difficult to relax for a minute.

Only when the U-boat dived was there any respite. Once the vessel was below the surface, all was peace and quiet. “A solemn stillness reigns,” recalled Claus Bergen, a German marine artist who had traveled with a U-boat on a wartime patrol in 1917. “The adjustment of the periscope and the movement of the submarine steering gear are the only sounds in the vessel that are audible in the conning tower. The commander uses both hands to swing the greased and glittering periscope, now dripping with water. In his eye, the only eye in the vessel that is still in communication with the upper world, is the bright and shining reflection of the light of day.”

Whether the U-boat was on the surface or was submerged, the interior lights burned 24 hours round the clock, effectively blurring the distinction between day and night. On long patrols especially, crews lived in an atmosphere of increasing squalor. The heat was oppressive, the air stale and foul and reeking of bilge water, wet oilskins, rubber boots,
sweat, and diesel fumes so thick that a man’s hair became a pitchy mire. The U-boat grew steadily damper from the intense condensation and the frequent leakage of water through the hatch of the conning tower. Bunks smelled moldy and charts began to rot. A gray-green film of mildew coated shoes and shirts. Sausages sprouted luxurious overcoats of mold overnight. In this environment a man could easily grow irritable and morose and, under stress, even paranoiac or violent—Blechkoller it was called, tin-can neurosis.

Yet through all this the U-boat men persevered. Hardship and deprivation were their constant companions; they contended with storm, ice and tropical heat, and lived continuously with the threat of death by asphyxiation, drowning or explosion. Only youth, camaraderie, discipline and a dogged heroism kept them going through an ordeal that
many men would have found unendurable.

Page 150
…While probably only a few realized what was being taken out of the sub, even the fact of the U-boat’s capture had to be kept secret if the Germans were not to know that their cipher security had been penetrated. All the men were instructed not to talk about the matter. Not a single one of the 400 breathed a word of it for the remainder of the War. That in itself was a heroic feat, for in large measure the Allied successes that ensued were possible only because Dönitz and his staff never had an inkling that the British had an ear to the keyhole. Indeed, the whole affair remained secret for some 30 years, until the Allied governments began to release previously classified documents. 


For the past few months I’ve been watching nothing but DVDs and Blu-rays, in order to avoid wasting time, dealing with commercials, and why do I have these things if I don’t watch them? Why pay money for entertainment when I already own so much?

I can’t get out of Comcast for reasons beyond my control; But I do know that some of their On Demand movies have no commercials, and every once in a while, something decent, even good shows up.

I finished watching all of 24 a few weeks ago, and while watching associated videos about that, learned about this movie Kiefer did with his father, and some of the people who were a part of 24.

At the time I’d learned about it, of course I looked it up on On Demand, and it was a rental.

I think the way we can rent movies now is incredible, if you consider how it used to be just ten, fifteen, twenty years go. And before that, the idea of just owning a movie and watching it whenever you wanted… amazing stuff.

But here we are. I can pay a few bucks and watch this movie without going anywhere, or having to return it. No late fees!

Be that as it is, there is so much entertainment out there, I have so many books and other things to do, and Comcast, which is a like/hate relationship with me (Their cable guys have been great in fixing things and the service works pretty well), I don’t have to spend a dime if I’m patient. And, tonight, this movie was finally available after being a rental a few weeks ago. I look at it as I pay a lot of money for so many channels and commercials that I do not want, plus all sorts of other monkey-business, that I’m just not motivated to spend more with Comcast.

As for the movie, it was everything I thought it would be, considering who made it and was in it. I won’t get into the plot, as just stating the plot of any western is very cliché, but it is very much worth a watch. Plus, it doesn’t just have good actors in it, but it has both Keifer and his dad in the same movie for the first time.

It isn’t heavy on action for most of it as it is a drama first, so if you watch it, go into it knowing that it isn’t Young Guns! But it is worth the time to watch.

012321 • Thrift Store Finds

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Only Way To Cross: I like reading about this time period anyway, and the Titanic and Lusitania are both fascinating true stories, so this book just expands on that. I have a small section of about ten books on this topic already.

War in the Pacific: From the Fall of Singapore to Japanese Surrender: The text is bigger than I’d like in this book, which hints at it being more of an overview of the war, however it has great photos and from my preview of it, the information in this looks to be okay, so another good buy!

Selected Chaff: A collection of newspaper columns written during World War II.

Nicholas II: The Interrupted Transition: Also in that same time period is the end of the Romanov Dynasty, also fascinating. Earlier last year, I finished a book on Russia’s experience in the Great War which was a great read.

Brad Thor: Near Dark: After reading all thirteen of his books in (apoximately) 2013, I plan on reading them all again soon, and then continuing with the five or so he’s published since then, of which this is the latest, from 2020. I only need his 2017 book to have all of them. This copy is something I haven’t seen in a thrift, so it was a great buy and only two bucks!

011621 • Thrift Store Finds

History of the 305th Field Artillery: This was a great find! this book is one-hundred and one years old, and is actually a readable first-hand account of a soldier in the Great War, written, apparently, during and/or after the experience. I’m actually going to read this, I’ve read some old books before and they are a very nice change of pace and still relevant reading.

The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: I have access to all of my Dad’s Civil War books, and it’s just amazing how there is no book there dedicated to Grant. After watching the special on Grant on the History channel, I became very interested in him and now I’ve finally found a thrift store copy, although I didn’t pay half-price like I usually do by going on Saturdays. And to top it off, this is his memoirs, specifically what I’d been looking for. Six bucks well spent!

The Order of Terror: Everything I said about Men of Steel goes for this book, too. This copy is an old, beat-up water-damaged library copy. I’m a big fan of brand-new books, antique books, well-read books, faded books, pristine books… I like them all.

History of the 305th Field Artillery: This was a great find! this book is one-hundred and one years old, and is actually a readable first-hand account of a soldier in the Great War, written, apparently, during and/or after the experience. I’m actually going to read this, I’ve read some old books before and they are a very nice change of pace and still relevant reading.

We only went to one thrift store, the ARC on Colfax. I left behind three times as much due to already owning, or of opera or other kinds I wasn’t interested in. Usually this store has most of their discs at three dollars before the half-off, but this time it was a mix. I don’t think we’d been to this ARC since March, when the Chinese Flu started up.

I’m particularly happy about the Prokofiev since one of the biggest musical experiences I’ve had was in gaining an appreciation of Anna Vinnitskaya’s Prokofiev/Ravel album, some eight or ten years ago.

His cello works recorded by Han-Na Chang had the same effect on me at about the same time:

South-Side Bookshelf

Saturday, November 28, 2020

This is what I call my ‘South-Side Bookshelf’, or, ‘The Shelf’ built by my dad in 1982 or so.

Currently it holds my best war sets, although my Vietnam and Civil War sets had to go somewhere else as there’s only so much space even on this fine shelf.

There are the Life Magazine bound volumes, which cover World War II and the years leading up to it. Military Heritage Quarterly’s bound volumes make up the colorful bindings on the top-left.

Every set here has a story as to how it was acquired, and fortunately (?) I don’t see a lot of sets out there that I’m interested in to add to my library as it seems that nobody publishes books like this anymore.

There are a few Civil War sets that I need to finish collecting, but other than that…

Hoarder Vehicles

I’m sure we’ve all seen this; A vehicle packed with not just some belongings upon being kicked out of a home or something, but sedimentary junk, trash. I stopped watching the Hoarder shows on television because they are so depressing. There’s nothing about that that is safe, whether it’s a house or a vehicle. How does one have passengers, especially in an emergency? What happens if one had a near-accident, the g-forces would be an enormous hazard; it’s bad enough in a normal car to have a few things flying around much less the volume these vehicles have. There are so many questions, but in the end it’s just sad that anybody is at this state-of-mind, it’s obvious not a good thing.

020621 • Thrift Store Finds

Bitter Ocean: The Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-1945: I read a lot about the Atlantic War last year, so this was an easy decision. At first glance, the word count doesn’t seem to be too high, it’s generously-spaced and larger type. Not used to that!

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: I bought the movie last year, and have had my eye out for this. Didn’t know it was a fifty-year-old book, though.

Vince Flynn: Lethal Agent: Okay, this is weird. This is the third week in a row that I’ve found one of the four Vince Flynn/Brad Thor books I’ve needed to be up-to-date… this means the final book, the 2017 Brad Thor should be waiting for me to buy next week!

Jurassic Park & Jurassic Park: The Lost World: These movies are a lot of fun. I re-watched them all last year on DVD, and to complete the Blu-ray set I only need III and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Yuri Bashmet: Schubert, Schumann, Bruch and Enesco: I have nothing by this violinist, so this was a nice find.

Mitsuko Uchida / Jeffrey Tate: Mozart Piano Concertos: Uchida is one of those pianists that I have a lot of but never listen to because there are so many great pianists to listen to. Couldn’t pass it up for a buck-fifty, though.

Patrick Gallois / Orpheus Chamber Orchestra: Vivaldi: Six Flute Concertos: I used to pass on flute works until I heard John Williams’ theme for Rey in The Force Awakens. That changed everything. Too bad that new trilogy wasn’t worthy of his efforts.

Neville Marriner / The Academy of St. Martin-In-The-Fields: Vivaldi Concertos: “Vivaldi” and “Concerto” was all I needed. Have been listening to Neville Marriner and The Academy since the 1980s.

Pinchas Zukerman: Haydn Violin Concertos: I cross-checked this quite a bit before purchasing as the cover is so similar to other albums I’ve got. Looks like the risk was worth it!

Musica Amphion: Corelli: Concerti Grossi: Have never failed to enjoy Corelli’s works.

And finally, something that always irks me; why do people leave big thumb-prints on the reading side of a disc? There’s no good reason to and it’s totally not in one’s self-interest to do so! This print, I don’t know what is so special about it, but it’s just the outline of the thumb, and it doesn’t come out! Neanderthals!