Hot Air: The Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear

Get It Right

Loyal Pencillista Catryna Loos points out that Henry VIII was hot to divorce Catherine of Aragon and his spat with the Pope over it led to the creation of the Church of England. I’d attributed the establishment of the breakaway church to his desire to divest himself of Anne Boleyn in yesterday’s birthdays section.

Loos is right but so was I, sort of. The start-up of the king’s new church and the ensuing English Reformation comprised a fairly long, drawn out affair that encompassed the end of Hank’s first marriage (Cathy) as well as the entirety and more of his second (Annie).

I’d written sloppily and I’m glad I have readers who pay such close attention. Thanks, Catryna.

Right & Left

I’ve long felt that the gut feeling of well-fed conservatives is, “Hey, everything’s cool with me, so what the hell are you complaining about?” The antithesis, of course is the well-fed liberal who believes his stocked refrigerator and comfy bungalow are causes for guilt. “Why should I be so blessed when much of the world starves,” he says.

Woody Allen put it best when he explained in Stardust Memories (while standing in front of his dining room mural of the street assassination of a Vietnamese rebel) that he was incapable of enjoying himself in any way as long as there remained one person in the world who was suffering.

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Stereotypes? Sure, but there’s a grain of truth underlying them.

I’ve been re-reading historian Erik Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts, about the rise of the Nazis as seen through the eyes of the last American ambassador to Hitler’s Germany and his daughter. Larsen at one point relates the story of American news commentator H.V. Kaltenborn, an unabashed conservative as popular in the 1930s, ’40s, and into the ’50s as, say, Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity are today.


H.V. Kaltenborn

American newsmen and embassy personnel had been sending back alarming reports about the virulent anti-semitism in all the big cities of Germany as well as outbreaks of violence against political opponents and even people who neglected to sieg heil when impromptu parades of Storm Troopers passed on the street. Soon after American Ambassador William Dodd and his family arrived in Germany, the country began instituting racial purity laws and prepared to vote on withdrawal from the League of Nations, acknowledged as a prelude to war. Nevertheless, Kaltenborn, among others, refused to believe these reports. The Germans the commentator held, were a swell gang who’d never stoop to such low behavior.

In fact, Kaltenborn maintained, it was really the reporters and embassy personnel who were engaged in low behavior, libeling the fine German people. Kaltenborn, born in Milwaukee and a proud ethnic German, visited the country of his forebears early on during Dodd’s ambassadorship. One morning he, his wife and their 16-year-old son went shopping on the Unter den Linden. At about 9:30am, a parade of Storm Troopers appeared and virtually all the bystanders on the street faced it to give the Nazi salute. All that is, except Kaltenborn and family.

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Storm Troopers

A number of Storm Troopers broke ranks and confronted Kaltenborn, demanding to know why hadn’t heil-ed. He explained he was an American but that wasn’t good enough for the rabid Nazis. They and a number of pedestrians hectored the Kaltenborns and continued even after Kaltenborn called for help from nearby police officers, who ignored his entreaties. The Kaltenborns tried to walk away from the scene but one Storm Trooper approached them from behind and sucker punched the commentator’s son in the face, knocking him to the ground.

The incident was a minor one compared to many others that had befallen Americans under similar circumstances (and which Kaltenborn had dismissed as exaggerations). Kaltenborn, though, raised a stink about the attack with the American embassy.

The upshot was Kaltenborn suddenly changed colors and became a harsh vocal critic of Hitler’s regime. One of Dodd’s colleagues in the American embassy wrote:

It was ironical that this was just one of the things which Kaltenborn said could not happen. One of the things he specifically said I was incorrectly reporting on was that the police did not do anything to protect people against attacks…. It was on the whole, however, a good thing that this happened because if it hadn’t been for this incident, Kaltenborn would have gone back and told his radio audience how fine everything was in Germany and how badly the American officials were reporting to our government and how incorrectly the correspondents in Berlin were picturing developments in the country.

So it wasn’t until evil visited itself upon Kaltenborn and his family that he accepted its existence. He’d been incapable of accepting the word of previous victims and witnesses of the violence brewing in Germany. Was it because he was a conservative?

Maybe. Maybe not. But I still hold that conservatives, by and large, consider the world a fair and just place as long as they are fat and happy. Anybody who isn’t fat and happy is simply lazy or otherwise self-sabotaging. And the pleas of the persecuted, either in this holy land or overseas, seem to escape their attention fairly easily.

As Mike Royko once wrote, “It’s harder to be a liberal than a conservative. Why? Because it is easier to give someone the finger than a helping hand.”

Bertie & Kurt

Just met new-ish WHFB general manager Bertolt Sobolik. He’d come into this communications colossus’s back office, Hopscotch Coffee, this AM along with my old pal, platter spinner Hondo Thompson.

I learned the new boss was named after Bertolt Brecht and, natch, his middle name is Kurt, after Kurt Weill, the boys who wrote Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera).

Just for that, here’s Bobby Darin’s version of the opening moritat (death ballad) from the opera:

Well, hell, let’s sneak a peek at the song as envisioned by its writers, from G.W. Pabst’s German film version of The Threepenny Opera:

If you’re thinking our current days are bizarre, imagine living in Medieval times when roving minstrels stopped in the middle of a crowded lane to sing ballads about cruel and vicious murderers. The moritat was an example of the cantastoria, wherein “story singers” would croon tunes in public places, as seen in the clip above, while pointing to drawings on an easel illustrating their songs. I’d imagine the drawings for a moritat would be awfully lurid. Fun times, no?

Then again, in modern times we pay good dough to see grisly entertainments like American Psycho or Dexter so let’s not get all superior.

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May 20th Birthdays

Toussaint Louverture — A freedman who led a slave rebellion against the French in the colony that eventually became Haiti. The Haitian rebellion was the first slave uprising in world history to result in an independent, free state.

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Honoré de Balzac — Speaking of Woody Allen, he had a great line about Balzac in Annie Hall. After having sex with Annie, he commented, “As Balzac said, ‘There goes another novel.” Balzac was fascinated by celibacy; he believed engaging in the sex act could sap an artist — for instance, a writer — of the ability to work.

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Sigrid Undset — Norwegian novelist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature largely for her trilogy, Kristin Lavransdatter. Undset was raised in an atheist home. As she grew into adulthood she became more of an agnostic. The outbreak of World War I caused her to reflect on the evils of humankind and the redemption of the divine. She converted to Catholicism causing a major scandal in her country which was rife with anti-Catholicism at the time.

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Doris Fleeson — The first woman to write a syndicated column for American newspapers. She and her husband wrote about DC topics entitled “Capital Stuff” until they divorced in 1942. She then became a war correspondent, reporting from Western Europe. After World War II, she wrote her own column on politics, eventually appearing in more than 100 newspapers.

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Doris Fleeson (R) With Eleanor Roosevelt

James Stewart — His greatest role, acc’d’g to this unimpeachable observer, was as Ransom Stoddard, the idealistic lawyer in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Stewart portrayed Stoddard with a brilliant mix of righteousness and moral ambiguity, fighting for justice but also capitalizing on the heroic actions of another for his own personal advancement.

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Cher — Born Cherilyn Sarkisian with Armenian, Irish, English, German, and Cherokee roots, she dropped out of high school and went on to cut a bold, daring, almost revolutionary figure in the music and television industries. She radiated sexuality on her own terms — she’d choose you; you wouldn’t choose her. The spiritual godmother of Madonna and Lady Gaga, she created several marketable personae for herself as a singer and an actress.

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Marlene Zuk — Evolutionary biologist who wrote the bestselling Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love and Language from the Insect World. Zuk teaches and does her research at the University of Minnesota. A strong feminist and advocate for women in science, she’s the co-developer of the “good genes” theory, holding that females in many fast-evolving species are in charge of mate-selection, picking males on the basis of their likelihood to produce successful offspring.

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On this day in 2002 Stephen Jay Gould died. He was among a group of authors and TV personalities who, in the 1970s and ’80s, popularized science. Along with Carl Sagan, James Burke, Lewis Thomas, Desmond Morris and others, Gould brought cutting-edge ideas to the general public. Co-developer of the “punctuated equilibria” theory of evolution, he held that species tended to mutate slowly, if at all, over long periods of time in their histories except when they experience startling rates of change at certain intervals.

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