Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Tuesday, June 14, 2021

Enough with all the Pac-Man stuff, already! I mean, I like the game, but it’s far from my favorite.

Still, I have to mark this month’s 25th anniversary of the introduction of the arcade classic.

“This was the first time a player took on a persona in the game. Instead of controlling inanimate objects like tanks, paddles and missile bases, players now controlled a `living’ creature,” says Leonard Herman, author of “Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of Videogames.”"It was something that people could identify, like a hero.”

My first reading of that paragraph aroused skepticism in me; there had to be videogame characters that preceded the Pac. But, going strictly from memory, I guess there wasn’t, at least not in a truly identifiable sense: It was hard to give a Pong paddle or Space Invaders ship much of a personality.

Pac-Man was a more definable character, as evidenced by the ease with which spinoff storylines were launched for him. He and Mario from Donkey Kong/Mario Brothers fame were, really, the only enduring and mass-market characters to come out of the early videogaming days.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 06/14/2005 11:26:05 PM
Category: Videogames, History
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Sunday, June 05, 2021

In Tom Standage’s “A History of the World in 6 Glasses”, particular attention is paid to Coca-Cola’s role as a social agent:

Mr. Standage finds much more to work with when he arrives at Coca-Cola, with antique slogans that are endearing (”Brighter! Brighter! Thinkers think, when they Coca-Cola drink.” - from 1896) and politics that are less so.

The author, who lives in England and is the technology editor of The Economist, posits two different views of Coca-Cola’s history. Either this drink is the amazingly successful embodiment of can-do American values or it signifies “ruthless global capitalism, the hegemony of global corporations and brands, and the dilution of local cultures and values into homogenized and Americanized mediocrity.” Whichever the case, he acknowledges the well-known fact that “Coca-Cola” is the second most widely understood phrase on the planet, second only to “O.K.”

Highlights of this drink’s long, checkered history include its early links to quack medicinal remedies, the court case United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, and the way colorless Coke was passed off as vodka by a Soviet military leader who dared not be associated with such a capitalist totem. Coca-Cola’s presence in the hot, parched Middle East is seen as no less tricky. As in the book’s other sections, Mr. Standage manages to be incisive, illuminating and swift without belaboring his analysis.

It’s always a dicey proposition when chronicling this iconic cola’s oft-murky history. I hope that the author (or his editors) consulted Snopes’ Cokelore, and thereby avoided repeating urban legends like the effectiveness of Coke as a spermicide.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 06/05/2021 06:47:51 PM
Category: Food, History
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Wednesday, June 01, 2021

While they put together a nice, multimedia-laden site to present the results of their four years of research, I have a feeling that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Journalism is going to “misplace” the next domain-name registration renewal notice for DeepThroatUncovered.com.

And Fred Fielding, for one, will be glad.

(Via Yes But No But Yes)

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 06/01/2021 08:21:12 PM
Category: Political, History
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Tuesday, May 31, 2021

W. Mark Felt, the former No. 2 guy at the FBI, has revealed himself to be the Watergate’s Deep Throat. A Nixon snub over the directorship of the FBI after J. Edgar Hoover’s death appeared to play a big role in Felt turning snitch.

Take note of this little tidbit about The Throat’s subsequent career path:

Tim Noah: I think you have to remember the sorts of crimes Watergate entailed. Burglaries. Illegal break-ins. Obstruction of justice. That sort of criminality is unusual, or so I would like to believe. Ironically, though, Felt himself was subsequently convicted on charges that he OK’d illegal (warrantless) break-ins into the homes of suspected members of the Weather Underground during the Vietnam War. He was pardoned by Ronald Reagan.

Anyone wanna bet that, had Reagan and other conservatives seriously suspected Felt and Deep Throat were one and the same, he never would have gotten that pardon?

UPDATE, 6/1/05: Predictably, and right on cue, the former Nixon gang confirms my guess:

“If he possessed evidence of wrongdoing, he was honor-bound to take that to a grand jury and secure an indictment, not to selectively leak it to a single news source,” Liddy, now a popular conservative radio talk show host, told CNN television.

Having someone as supremely devoid of honor as Liddy speak of honor-bound duty is so comical, it comes with a built-in punchline.

These chumps would like to paint Felt as an irresponsible whistleblower who should have gone through proper channels to get the situation resolved. They conveniently gloss over the fact that Nixon’s administration was so corrupt that any attempt to “handle it” would have been suppressed, and Watergate would never have come to light. They know as much, since they were all in on it; but it doesn’t hurt to try to whitewash 30 years later.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 05/31/2005 09:31:11 PM
Category: Political, History
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Thursday, May 26, 2021

Get ready to update those world maps ever so slightly. South Africa will remain “South Africa” (for now, I guess), but capital city Pretoria will be officially renamed Tshwane.

Pretoria was named after Andries Pretorius, a leader of the Afrikaans-speaking settlers who trekked into the interior of the country to escape British rule.

The name Tshwane — used for the past 10 years to refer to the greater metropolitan area around the city — comes from a chief who ruled the area before the 19th-century white settlers.

Many government departments and the national broadcaster SABC already refer to the capital city as Tshwane, provoking the anger of white-dominated opposition parties and other groups.

I guess the equivalent for the U.S. would be replacing “Washington, DC” with an appropriate Cherokee or Pawnee name…

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 05/26/2005 05:18:41 PM
Category: Political, History
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Monday, May 23, 2021

It’s amazing what kinds of personal artifacts you find when you start digging…

This weekend, I came upon a backpack I got at some financial conference, probably seven or eight years ago (back when I worked for an investment banking firm). It’s rather nice for a giveaway, but I never used it — not really a backpack kinda guy. As a result, the thing still looks practically brand new.

The backpack is branded with the name of the company that gave it away, all those years ago: Salomon Smith Barney. Back then, SSB was a new animal, formed as part of a spasm of mergers in the financial services field.

Which is funny in the here and now, because today, SSB no longer exists.

The company fades, but the ghost lingers, in the form of tchotchkes.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 05/23/2005 08:51:17 PM
Category: Business, History
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Sunday, March 20, 2021

The media quote of the month, probably, just heard on a rerun of VH1’s “I Love the ’70s” (retrospecting the year 1977):

“If someone asks you what the ’70s were about, you can tell them: ‘Mimes had a TV show‘.”

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 03/20/2005 06:49:04 PM
Category: TV, History
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Saturday, March 19, 2021

Author Rainer Karlsch has come out with a new book that posits a chilling scenario for the final days of World War II in Europe: Nazi Germany had developed a prototype tactical nuclear weapon, and had tested it in March 1945.

Hitler’s efforts to produce atomic weapons was no secret; the American atomic program at Oak Ridge and Alamogordo, staffed with expatriate German scientists, knew they were in a race with the Nazis to build a bomb. Werner Heisenberg’s team was hampered more by limited resources than by ability to pull it off; Michael Frayn’s play “Copenhagen” presents a compelling (if fictionalized) account of the Germans’ efforts.

Still, the idea that they got as far as making a limited-range fission bomb (perhaps no more effective than a modern-day “dirty bomb”) is disquieting, and not without skepticism:

“The eyewitnesses [Karlsch] puts forward are either unreliable or they are not reporting first-hand information; allegedly key documents can be interpreted in various ways,” said the influential news weekly Der Spiegel.

“Karlsch displays a catastrophic lack of understanding of physics,” wrote physicist Michael Schaaf, author of a previous book about Nazi atomic experiments, in the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

“Karlsch has done us a service in showing that German research into uranium went further than we’d thought up till now, but there was not a German atom bomb,” he added.

It has also been pointed out that the United States employed thousands of scientists and invested billions of dollars in the Manhattan Project, while Germany’s “dirty bomb” was allegedly the work of a few dozen top scientists who wanted to change the course of the war.

Karlsch himself acknowledged that he lacked absolute proof for his claims, and said he hoped his book would provoke further research.

But in a press statement for the book launch, he is defiant.

“It’s clear there was no master plan for developing atom bombs. But it’s also clear the Germans were the first to make atomic energy useable, and that at the end of this development was a successful test of a tactical nuclear weapon.”

In my mind, the idea that something like this could remain undercover for more than half a century gives me pause. Plus, some measurable fallout should remain in the Thuringia region to this day. I’m not sure what the alternative explanation could be, though (assuming the eyewitness accounts are accurate).

What if Hitler had the use of an arsenal of tactical bombs, even a few months earlier? The Nazis probably couldn’t have won — it was far too late by 1944 for the outcome to have changed — but they could have done considerable damage on the way out:

- A desperate elimination bombing of concentration camps, both to destroy evidence of the Holocaust and to provide a true “Final Solution”;

- Indiscriminate targeting of advancing Allied troops, more for terror purposes than to turn the tide;

- Mounting of a few warheads onto remaining V-2 rockets, and launching them toward London, Paris and Moscow — a last-gasp bid to freeze the Allies’ momentum.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 03/19/2005 08:21:37 PM
Category: Science, History
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Monday, February 28, 2021

During the Q&A period following Saturday night’s screening of CSA, director Kevin Willmott commented that he wanted his film to get across the idea that the South truly did wind up winning the Civil War, both in his fictional world and in our real one.

What it couldn’t manage militarily, it accomplished politically and socially: For a hundred years after Appomattox, segregation and Jim Crow managed to spread well beyond the borders of the old Confederacy, thus establishing a Southern sensibility to the national character. Even today, the vestiges of those attitudes persist.

Willmott’s argument seems timely, as there are other, varied, indicators of the resurgence of the traditional South of late:

- The growing population base in the Sunbelt is making the region even more of a national power broker:

Today’s regional relations remind some historians of the War of 1812. New Englanders protested against the war, and it took Andrew Jackson to end it at New Orleans with a trouncing of the British by the Louisiana artillery. Witness the last presidential election, which revolved around the president’s decision to invade Iraq and his muscular response to Islamist terrorism. The ideological “red-blue” borders almost perfectly traced the regional sentiments of the mid-19th century, with Ohio to this day in play.

“Why bother about this talk of separateness when you’re arguably in a position - the South is - to dominate the Union as [Confederate unionist] Alexander Stephens envisioned it before the Civil War: the South in a political alliance with the West,” says Jim Langcuster of Alabama, a moderate proponent of Southern heritage.

- Linguistically, the sprawl of the “y’all” expression is a sign of changing perceptions of the South:

“The rise of all these Inland Southern cultural manifestations to national prominence is also due in part to the population shift toward the Sunbelt,” said John G. Fought, an independent linguist and scholar.

During the 20th century, the major Northern dialect groups lost about 20 percent of their national share, he points out, while the Southern and Western dialect groups gained 20 percent. In fact, the South — stretching from Maryland to Texas as defined by the census — now contains over one-third of the nation’s total population. Partly because of the Sunbelt’s population explosion, Fought argues, Inland Southern has become the dominant dialect of the military services (except perhaps the Navy), and of such cultural manifestations as NASCAR and country music.

- Finally, I’m reminded that my own home state of Florida is the site for points of contact between the Northern and Southern identities.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 02/28/2005 10:57:35 PM
Category: Society, History
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Sunday, February 27, 2021

dixie moon
Last night I got to catch CSA: Confederate States of America. It was being screened as part of Eckerd College’s Environmental Film Festival (an odd fit for this flick, but no quibbles here); always good to visit the old alma mater. The EC show was the Florida premiere for the movie, which has signed on Spike Lee and IFC Films ahead of a Summer 2005 nationwide arthouse release.

This is my second viewing of CSA. I first got to see it a couple of years ago, shortly after its Sundance premiere. My brother got his hands on a review tape, and, knowing my enthusiasm for alternate history/reality fiction, sent it on to me. That tape’s video and audio quality was fairly poor; it was watchable, but just barely so. But I liked what I saw, overall, and I was happy to get the chance to see a clean copy, on the big screen, and (presumably) improved from a storytelling aspect.

You can get a synopsis of the plot from the official movie site, but briefly: The movie is presented as a televised “fake documentary” (in the words of director Kevin Willmott) or mockumentary, set in an alternate reality where the South won the Civil War, slavery persists into the present day and is the foundation of American sociopolitical life. A secondary plot revolves around a political scion’s rise to Presidential contention, while carrying a potentially earth-shattering secret.

The highlight of the film is the insertion of fictional commercials into the film (remembering that this is being presented as a televised documentary). These spots are reminiscent of our “real world” commercials, but twisted to show the predominance of racist mindsets in a triumphant Confederacy. I particularly liked the spot for a TV show in this world called “Runaway”, a “Cops”-style production where runaway slave hunts are broadcast for public entertainment (appealing to the same base impulses that makes “Cops” so popular).

There are two ways to take in CSA: As strict historical fiction, and as social satire. On the first count, it probably misses more than it hits. On the second, it’s quite effective (and really, is the basis upon which it will judged).

Like I mentioned, I’m a fan of alternate history. I find it both entertaining and intellectually challenging: I like puzzle posed by divergences in history caused by, for instance, whether or not the Schlieffen Plan would have worked had the Germans adhered to it in 1914. The Civil War has been fertile ground for this fiction subgenre, going back to Winston Churchill’s essay “If Lee had not Won the Battle of Gettysburg”, and before. So I’ve read a lot in this sphere.

My overwhelming preference for these divergence scenarios is plausibility: Once the theory that the historical actor decided to take a left turn instead of the factual right, that all consequent events flow from there in as likely a manner as possible. Thus, in the case of a Southern victory in the Civil War, Virginia-born Woodrow Wilson does not grow up to become President of the United States, but rather more likely becomes President in Richmond of the Confederate States (if he goes into politics at all).

In the interests of presenting CSA’s fictional world as a dark mirror to our reality, Willmott makes a lot of reaches in the development of American and world history in this alternate timeline. The chief one: That a Confederate victory led to a reunited North and South under the Dixie flag. This is probably my least-favorite alternate history outcome, simply because it’s practically impossible (the primary reason the South seceded was to disassociate from the North completely, echoed in Jefferson Davis’ famous proclamation “to be left alone”).

A lot of interesting scenarios are detailed stemming from that, some plausible, some not; but looking at it as an alternate history purist, the faultiness of the foundational premise makes it harder to accept. In my opinion, putting forth a scenario where an independent CSA, composed of the South, building this nightmarish society in competition with a free-(er) United States at its border would have done as good a job, in a less-simplistic manner. Harry Turtledove’s Great War series is a good template for this sort of treatment (not that Turtledove’s series is without its flaws).

Again, if you approach this movie strictly from the angle of alternate-historical likelihood, you’ll be turned off. That would be a shame, because you’d miss out on the broader insights it gives.

Willmott’s strengths shine with the tone of the movie, which demonstrates how eerily parallel a slave-based society is to modern American life. He manages to do this with a healthy dose of humor: The faux commercials are cheesy only because they monkey the advertising messages we see everyday, for what we think are more benign wares. Somewhat more seriously, the development of a Cold War environment in this world, with a latter-day expatriate abolitionist movement based in Canada as the enemy other, is a great way of looking at the roots of sociopolitical dynamics, and how they work independently of intent.

From a technical standpoint, the movie’s flow is not a completely smooth affair: I felt the editing could have used some work, especially in the early going. The story of the Presidential candidate was also something of an awkward placement, and I half-think it might be a stronger film if that part was removed altogether, or at least strongly underplayed. But it’s got its strengths: The mockumentary format engages the audience like nothing else could, and is probably the most streamlined way of presenting the concept (Willmott’s main inspiration was Ken Burns’ “The Civil War”, down to the dueling historian monologues).

I’m not sure how this movie will play in wide release. Audiences can be quite dense and unsophisticated when presented with storylines like this; even an arthouse crowd will likely have trouble wrapping their minds around it. During the question-and-answer session after the screening, one student mentioned how she felt America was ready for a film like this; I had to keep from audibly guffawing.

I managed to shake hands with Willmott on the way out, and got his email address from him. I pitched the notion of interviewing him here; if successful (assuming I haven’t scared him off with this rambling review), I’ll post.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/27/2005 11:42:36 PM
Category: Movies, Society, History
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Thursday, February 24, 2021

Michael Frayn’s “Copenhagen” is now playing at Gorilla Theatre in Tampa.

I’m there.

I find this story so compelling that I bought the book of the stage script (which I loved), and watched the PBS movie production (which I found only so-so). I think a small, intimate space like the Gorilla’s stage would be ideal for an intensely character-driven play.

I’m sure most people wouldn’t imagine a years-long interaction between Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and Bohr’s wife Margrethe, centering around discussions on quantum physics, to be the stuff of dramatic captivation. Throw in intrigue with the Nazi atomic bomb program and complex interpersonal relationships, though, and you’ve got one of the best-crafted plays I’ve ever had to pleasure to take in.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/24/2005 10:12:49 PM
Category: Media, Science, History
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Wednesday, February 23, 2021

our sea
The company cafeteria announced a tease to a theme offering scheduled for a couple of weeks hence: “Taste of the Central Mediterranean”.

I’m nothing if not well-read, and I have to say, I’ve never heard of the term “Central Mediterranean”, in gastronomic, historic, cultural or political terms.

Referencing the map above, I’d judge this Central Mediterranean to be, simply, Italy. And so I wondered: Was the cafeteria just going to serve up Italian food, and try to pass it off as something more exotic by tagging it with a new label?

Then I considered that this designation could include the southern portion of the Mediterranean, i.e. Libya and Tunisia. I’m not terribly familiar with North African cuisine, but I’d imagine it would include hummus and couscous. That would be a weird amalgam of dishes: Spaghetti and hummus?

I asked a few people today about what came to mind when I posed the term “Central Mediterranean” to them. To my surprise, they all cited Greece. This might have been because I was the messenger… But I always considered Greece to be Eastern Mediterranean; and indeed, the old geopolitical designator “Near East” used to include Greece and the rest of the Balkans (that’s no longer the case), thus reinforcing the “easternness” of that country.

But actually, referring again to the map, I guess I could see how Greece could be placed into a “central” grouping. I think Italy isn’t considered that way due to the persistence of Cold War thinking: Italy was on the right side of the Iron Curtain, so subconscious political thought would continue to place it more alongside France and Spain than with the other side of the Mediterranean. (Of course Greece was also with the West during the Cold War, but I digress.)

I originally thought using “Central Mediterranean” as a descriptor was a dumb move. But, as I’ve obviously put far too much thought into this, it’s turned out to be an inspired action, because it got my attention like nothing else could have. Now, I’m extremely curious to find out what food they’re going to be serving up to fit into this label (maybe they’ll be especially daring and include some southern French bouillabaisse in the mix). It doesn’t mean I’ll actually eat the stuff, but my interest is certainly piqued.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 02/23/2005 10:05:47 PM
Category: Food, History
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Sunday, February 20, 2021

We’ve all said it, in situations where only enunciating the full name of our Savior would convey the gravity of the situation:

Jesus H. Christ!

But what does that “H” stand for? Turns out, it’s Greek:

There have been various theories, but the one that seems most plausible is that it comes from the Greek monogram for Jesus, IHS or IHC. This is formed from the first two letters plus the last letter of His name in Greek (the letters iota, eta, and sigma; in the second instance, the C is a Byzantine Greek form of sigma). The H is actually the capital letter form of eta, but churchgoers who were unfamiliar with Greek took it to be a Latin H.

Makes sense. It’s amazing how many assumptions are made on the basis of identical, or even similar-looking, symbols like alphabetical letters. Because we’re ingrained, at an early age, with assigning specific meanings to such symbols, we automatically assume those meanings are universal.

Still, given the widespread popularity of The Passion of the Christ, I wonder if that “H” won’t eventually get supplanted by “T”. A bit cheesier, but the sound is similar enough.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/20/2005 03:25:27 PM
Category: History
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Thursday, February 17, 2021

The New Netherland Project is dedicated to translating documents about the Dutch settlements in 17th Century North America.

Lots of neat antique maps and historical tidbits. Having grown up in New York’s Hudson Valley region, among all the “kill”-named towns and “Van-something” estates, it’s a topic near and dear to my heart.

I guess I’m in a New York state of mind tonight. (Actually, I hate that song, along with just about every other Billy Joel work.)

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/17/2005 10:43:38 PM
Category: History
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Sunday, January 23, 2021

The most distasteful thing about the aftermath of 9/11 is the notion that the terrorist attacks came without warning, were unprovoked, and represented the “start” of a state of war.

All nonsense. The Nixon Administration commissioned a task force, whose members included Henry Kissinger and Rudy Giuliani, to develop ways to combat the possiblity of terror attacks against U.S. interests domestically and abroad. Which underlines that the situation was just as unstable and treacherous during the heart of the Cold War as it is today.

Granted, al-Quaeda wasn’t on the scene in the ’70s. And the bi-polar standoff between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. made geopolitical maneuvering a bit more predictable (at least on the surface). But the seeds for today’s crises were clearly identifiable decades ago.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 01/23/2005 05:07:43 PM
Category: Political, History
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Saturday, January 22, 2021

decipher this
It has murky origins that may go back 800 years. It’s filled with illustrations open to wild interpretations. And it’s written in an alphabet so resistant to decoding that the effort purportedly drove a University of Pennsylvania professor insane. And on top of all that, it might just be a gibberish hoax.

It’s the Voynich Manuscript, and NASA is putting out a call for an Internet-based meeting of the minds to crack its riddles.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 01/22/2005 03:43:36 PM
Category: History
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Friday, December 17, 2021

One down, one to go. Courtesy of Time Warner Book Group, the following is my brief review of David Harris’ “The Crisis : The President, the Prophet, and the Shah — 1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam”.

By way of background, not only did I run a teaser for this review yesterday, but last month, I also made note of an interesting tidbit about Ayatollah Khomeini’s name.

The present-day War on Terror inspires an impulse to examine the roots of Islamic animosity toward Washington and its Mideast policy. The natural starting point: The 1979-80 Iranian Hostage Crisis, a flashpoint event that crystalized public attitudes on both sides ever since.

But how useful is the Crisis as a case study to be applied to today’s dynamic? The parallels seem obvious, taking into consideration the broad outlines. But is what happened during those 444 days a quarter-century ago as apparent as it seemed to the public eye?

Harris’ “The Crisis” examines the extensive behind-the-scenes machinations that led to the hostage-taking, the negotiations to free the captives, and the drawn-out resolution. Every step of the way, the accounts and recollections provided by the likes of Hamilton Jordan, Abolhassan Bani Sadr and Robert Armao speak to just how complex the process was, and how much depended upon managing the situation instead of making futile attempts at guiding it.

Harris devotes a tremendous amount of background to how the political culture in Iran led to the Islamic Revolution. The hostage situation doesn’t occur until halfway through the book, underlining the importance of what led up to the Crisis.

Much of that prelude centered around the Shah of Iran, reviled in his country for running a repressive regime commonly assumed to be an American-backed client. The U.S. backing of the Shah, right up to the end, ensured an anti-American character to the Revolution; but the antecedents to the uprising illustrated ample opportunities for Washington to potentially forge ties with the post-Shah government (though not without collateral diplomatic damage). The Iranian fixation on the Shah wound up precipitating the hostage-taking, and his eventual fate, after a lengthy stint as an nomadic exile, accelerated an end to it.

Harris attempts to portray the Shah as an all-to0-human character, done in by his own shortcomings. At times, it’s overdone: The author continually strives for irony by referring to the Shah by his many honorifics (”King of Kings”, “Light of the Aryans”, and others) simultaneously, but despite the story of his continuing physical and political deterioration, the effect makes the Shah more of a mystical figure.

The Shah is only one of the three central characters in this book, the others being Jimmy Carter and Ayatollah Khomeini. Character studies on each mainly concentrated on their upbringings and rise to power, and were supposed to serve as context for their later behavior. While comprehensive, I’m not sure just how useful it was in interpreting the chief developments in the Crisis. In particular, the Ayatollah, potentially the most intriguing of the three, is the sketchiest study (doubtless due to the greater difficulty in getting an accurate account of his later years).

Somewhat surprisingly, very little focus is put upon the individual hostages themselves, or to their captors. A decent overview of the raid on the American Embassy in Tehran is provided, as well as how conditions were for a few specific hostages and specific hostage-takers. But in this book’s scope, they’re almost relegated to one of many sidebar stories, with the macro-political stories taking precedence. Personally, I preferred this approach, as I feel it got to the heart of the matter; but those expecting this book to deal more directly with the hostages could be disappointed.

What struck me most about Harris’ presentation of the facts was how The Muslim Students Following the Line of the Imam (the group responsible for the hostage standoff) managed to paralyze not one, but two governments. While the flummoxing of Washington was apparent to the world, the way the Students manipulated Iran’s Revolutionary government was more subtle. And yet it was this defiance of Tehran’s secular authorities that prevented an otherwise-attainable timely solution, and more than anything set the tone for the poisoned relations between the U.S. and Iran even today.

As an historical anatomy lesson, “The Crisis” is a very comprehensive work. Harris covered all the bases, from all sides, and paid due attention to how governments function in the face of seemingly unmanagable circumstances.

Where the book falls short is in the alleged attempt to link the Hostage Crisis to the beginnings of today’s militant Islam. It’s a weak attempt that’s given barely a couple of paragraphs’ worth of mention. I have a feeling that it was injected into the title simply to make the book seem less musty and more relevant to today’s events. In reality, the book stands well on its own as a history book, and Harris shouldn’t have to apologize for that.

“The Crisis” is a great recounting of a critical juncture in American history. The presentation has many aspects of a real-life political thriller, making it an engrossing read.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 12/17/2004 08:44:51 PM
Category: Book Review, History
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I’m feeling a bit puckish this morning (not to mention sleepy). So here’s a silly quote; by all means, let it sink in before clicking through to the hyperlink:

“I am Death, Destroyer of Lawns.”

And, if you’re actually interested, the meta-context, and the ur-context.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 12/17/2004 09:57:46 AM
Category: Movies, Comedy, History
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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

South Florida has long been recognized as home and destination for the Jewish community. The typical migration pattern, though, tended to be from New York/Northeastern U.S. to the Sunshine State. But now, instead of just American Jews, Chosen People from all corners of the globe are opting for metropolitan/multicultural Miami over Israel.

I just hope all these newcomers stock up on their Chrismukkah cards.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/07/2021 02:07:29 PM
Category: Florida Livin', Society, History
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Sunday, December 05, 2021

The ongoing release of Kinsey, a movie account of the life and times of sex-research pioneer Alfred Kinsey, has become a flashpoint for conservative groups, who are seeking to discredit the depiction of Kinsey in the film and, by extension, the body of his work.

I think the core motivation against Kinsey the movie and Kinsey the man is nicely summed up thusly:

“People who are raising these allegations have many more concerns than just Alfred Kinsey,” [Indiana University information services director Jennifer] Bass said. “I think there’s a desire to look for a reason for all the problems we have in society and place blame somewhere. Sex research is not the cause of problems in society today; it’s trying to understand why they exist and what we can do to make a difference with these terrible issues of public health and violence toward women and in the family.”

Not that anyone on the other side will acknowledge that. To mask their hangups, they use misdirection tactics, like questioning the basic statistical work that underlay the Kinsey research:

“You only need to look at the re-election of George Bush to understand why (Kinsey’s surveys) weren’t scientific,” [conservative groups spokesperson Kristi Hamrick] said. “No matter what the exit polls said, it was not a good cross section, and the numbers were wrong. John Kerry didn’t win the presidency. The poll numbers were bad, and that’s also the problem with Kinsey.

“He may have talked to 18,000 people, but when you look at the fact that he talked so disproportionately to prostitutes, sex offenders and pedophiles, you get the mind-set of a sex offender which he then projects on the rest of society. This is not a scientific sample.”

How disproportionate were Kinsey’s interviews? Of course, the scope of the interview pool is described as including “bootleggers, clergymen, clerks, clinical psychologists… housewives, lawyers, marriage counselors, n’er-do-wells, persons in the social register…”, but that doesn’t give much of a clue as to how many of each were included. I haven’t seen the data, but plenty of other researchers have, and the integrity of the methodology continues to be admired decades after it was compiled.

Again, it all comes down to who/what you believe, and none of it really matters to the voices who are dissenting. Frankly, I get the strong feeling that if, out of the 18,000 interviews, only a single one was with a sexual “deviant”, that would be enough to stain the entire study. Scratch that — actually, the entire subject of the study is enough to discredit it, in this worldview.

Get ready for these groups, including the Family Research Council, to declare a grand victory in this fight, on the basis of Kinsey not placing high on any ticket-sales charts by the time its theatrical run ends. It’ll be patently false, because the movie is being distributed on a strictly limited art-house circuit; and so distributor Fox Searchlight Pictures isn’t shooting for blockbuster-like numbers, only a decent return.

A few fringe “family values” groups tried to make a similar argument a few months back over Saved!. Saved! was another limited release, more notable for starring roles by Macaulay Culkin and Mandy Moore than its spoofing of ardent Christians. Naturally, it didn’t come close to matching the box-office of then-still-in-theaters The Passion of the Christ; again, it wasn’t shooting for that level. Not only are all movies not created equal; they’re also not shooting for comparable results.

The situation matches the one for Kinsey simply by stimulus. The re-election of Bush on the crest of the moral-values issue is interpreted by conservative social activists as a starter’s gun for advancing their agenda. This movie is a perfect target for an early litmus test for future campaigns (although this movement started well before the November election). These groups know their timing will never be better than it is now.

Back to the core of it: It’s a blame game, and a futile one at that. Instead of sticking their own heads in the sand regarding sexual issues — which is their prerogative — they want to put the issue itself in the ground. I’m not too big a fan of either action, and so I’ll be buying my ticket for Kinsey whenever it rolls into the Tampa Bay area.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/05/2021 09:32:09 PM
Category: Movies, Society, History
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Friday, December 03, 2021

Having grown up within a stone’s throw of West Point, you hear a lot of oddities about the Academy on the Hudson. Among the more famous ones was that various ghosts, including that of one-time cadet Edgar Allan Poe, haunted the campus (although it seems that Poe’s ghost actually spooks Virginia’s Fort Monroe).

While surfing through Blog Explosion earlier this afternoon, I came across a blog (I stupidly didn’t bookmark it) that reminded me of one of the other peculiarities about the place. Thanks to the longstanding grudge against one Benedict Arnold, students at West Point don’t eat eggs Benedict for breakfast — they eat “eggs MacArthur“.

Too bad the “Benedict” in those eggs doesn’t refer to America’s favorite traitor. Besides, isn’t two and a quarter centuries kinda long to hold a grudge?

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 12/03/2021 05:24:51 PM
Category: Food, History
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