Zounds! A Browser’s Dictionary of Interjections

Zounds! A Browser’s Dictionary of Interjections by Mark Dunn. St. Martins Press, 2005, paper.

 

Mark Dunn has given up on defining an interjection. Some grammarians contend that interjections lie outside the rules of grammar; i.e. that they occupy a linguistic fringe. Other grammarians admit that they are often goofy, rarely literal, but nevertheless part of grammar. Zounds! lists over 750 of them. And Mark Dunn admits that this is only a sampling.

 

Their uses are so varied that creating categories is difficult. Shunning the use of profanity – swear words – but at the same time wanting to make a succinct comment about the matter at hand is a common intent. Darnnation! and gol-durn it!, two of many variations, are stand-ins for the `D’ word. The list of substitutes for swear words is endless. Tarnation! as in, “What in tarnation are you up to?” For Pete’s sake! Pete is thought to reference the apostle, Peter. Gosh! Or even more explicit, gosh-all-mighty! instead of the ‘G’ word. Gee! and gee whiz! and Jiminy Cricket! instead of ‘J-C.’ There are many interjections that mock piety. Holy guacamole! Holy cow! Holy moly!

 

Many interjections have emerged out of popular entertainment. Jiminy Cricket! was created and sneaked into a Walt Disney movie by its writers. Yadda-yadda! warns the listener that the speaker has chosen to make a quick cut to the finish of a story or argument, or hopes that you will. It is from Jerry Steinfeld’s show. As is Giddouttahere! an interjection to use when you discover someone playing around with your gullibility.

 

Popular interjections come and go. Many of Dunn’s list sound like grandma talking. Fiddle-dee-dee! and for crying out loud! Grandma would never have allowed the ‘bad words’ for which these are interjections or stand-ins to be uttered in her presence. If she were really strict about these matters, she might not even have allowed these substitutes to be used within her earshot. The current O.M.G., Oh My God! would never have been approved by Grandma. Except when recited in the liturgy.

 

Interjections are spoken but rarely seen in print. So Dunn’s spellings are useful. The Random House Unabridged Dictionary contains many of Dunn’s interjections and its definitions are better. But first you have to figure out the spelling from a remembered oral tradition. Not so easy.

 

Interjections commonly function as one- or two-word commentaries. They are often impertinent, dismissive, sarcastic, saturated with attitude. Well, boo hoo! is an insincere, mocking lamentation. Duh! is a commentary on the penetrating intelligence of some observation or realization. Whatever! a contemptuous dismissal indicating a lack of interest. Phooey! is an older dismissive.

 

Excuuuuuse me! is a response to a rude question or thrust. When drawn out, the word “excuse” takes on a different coloration from the polite usage. Similarly puh-leeze! means something very different from “please.” Interjections can of course be affirmative. Awesome! Cool! Groovy! Right On!

 

Some interjections are centuries old, some decades, some just the last few years. Some seem so trite as to deserve their forthcoming oblivion. No problem! one that I would like to see fade, despite its Latin provenance. Enjoy! is overused by waiters; let it die. Have a good one! is powerfully off-putting.

 

But for every interjection that I hope will fade, there are a dozen that I wish would stick around. The secularized Amen! is handy to signify agreement. Boy, oh boy! is fun but threatened because it is gender specific. For crying out loud! Heck! I’ll say! La-di-da! Lord a mercy! Okey-dokey! Voilà! What the Same Hill! Our language would be the poorer without its many interjections.

 

I gave a review of Zounds! at one of the retirement communities in town. After the above introduction, I asked them to come up with interjections that they remember – even use. They came up with a list of over 120 that weren’t mentioned above, nor by Mark Dunn. Awesome!  A partial list: Baa humbug! Bless your little pee-picken heart! Dad-burn it! For crying out loud! Groovy! Holy cow! Is the Pope, Catholic? My my! Oh my stars and garters! Phooey! Say that again! Take a fly’n leap! You bet your sweet baby!

 

Warning! Don’t try these out on a crowd that is less than say 60. You’ll get a lot of blank faces, you betcha!

The Discovery of France; A Historical Geography

The Discovery of France; A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War by Graham Robb. W.W. Norton, 2008, paper.

 

Graham Robb argues that in the year of revolution, 1789, France, the most populous country in Europe, was a “terra incognito.” Few Parisians knew anything about the France outside of the Paris basin. Until the advent of the bicycle, the known universe for most provincials was a radius of fifteen miles from their home.

 

The French language was still not understood by the southern half of France where the Occitan languages dominated the countryside. There were and remain to this day important regional languages — Breton, Catalan, Flemish, Provençal — that have survived French nation-building and high-speed travel.

 

The provinces were thinly inhabited except for parts of the Rhone valley, the Rhineland, Flanders, and the English Channel coast. Robb speaks of these sparse, insular rural populations as tribes and clans, with their own patois. These “tribes” often claimed to have had their own “histories.” Many liked to think that their village and its population had a Roman ancestory, the result of the Roman conquest of Gaul. Or they were Normans, remnants of Viking invaders. Villagers were self-sufficient, poor, and living on the brink of hard times at best. The “painted peasantry” of the artists’ shows none of their infirmities.

 

Bourgeoisie observers of the country and its inhabitants engaged in what Robb calls “moral mapping.” They commented on the stupidity and impudence of the peasantry. Their dumb silence, was of course, partly because they could not understand urban French speakers. Frenchmen became smarter the closer their domicile was to the urban, educated elites.

 

Much of this isolation of rural France was the result of the time it took to travel distances. That would change only with the introduction of faster modes of transportation, first the bicycle, some water transport, a better roads, and finally the railroads. Napoleon began working on a road network that benefited travelers who could afford to take the public stage coaches. Most Frenchmen could not afford speed.

 

Having described how few Frenchmen traveled and hence knew anything about the world beyond their village or town, Robb then enumerates various populations of migrants and commuters. The most celebrated is the transhumant migrations of sheep and goats and their herders to summer pastures in  the mountains of eastern and southern France. Apprentice craftsmen acquiring local techniques of working with local materials by taking the Tour de France (as it was then called). There was a substantial movement of children to urban areas to become chimney sweeps, peddlers, beggars, and petty thieves. They would go back to spend time in their villages often returning to the cities with hand crafted goods from the rural areas to peddle.

 

There was also a substantial number of pilgrims discovering France. The great pilgrimage to the burial site and shrine of the apostle St. James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain originated in southwestern France. It generated something like a tourist industry to accommodate those ambulatory pilgrims. Another well-known example was the huge pilgrim travel associated with a visit to Lourdes and the site of Bernadette Soubirous’s visions.

 

There were also numerous local and roadside shrines all over provincial France that were sites of pilgrimage. Many were old Druid sites, sacred stones and other natural objects, attesting to the survival of pagan spirituality. The Catholic Church worked to suppress these shrines. By 1914 many of the stone shrines had been crushed and used to build roads.

 

Despite the slow pace of travel prior to the railroads, Robb claims that rumor could travel nine miles per hour. The most famous example is the ‘great fear’ that spread through the provinces in July and early August of 1789, the result of rumor that foreign troops and numerous bandits financed by vengeful aristocrats had

invaded the country. Graham Robb has little to say about the role of the telegraph and the revolution that it brought to the speed of communication in the nineteenth century.

 

Robb’s The Discovery of France is historical geography at its best. A cyclist, he invites the traveler/tourist to return to a slower speed to rediscover for themselves France in all of its diversity.

 

India; A Sacred Geography

India; A Sacred Geography by Diana Eck. Harmony, 2013, paper.

 

Mostly a thing of the past in Europe and North America, the pilgrimage tradition continues in India, animating a sacred geography several millennia in the mapping. Vārānasī (Kāshī, Benares) is the best known pilgrimage site in this sacred landscape. But this city on the banks of the Ganga (Ganges) is just one of the sacred places that Diana Eck locates and describes in her fabulous book.

 

There are, in fact, seven sacred cities: Vārānasī, Ayodhyā, Mathurā, Hardvār, Kāchīpurim, Ujjain, and Dvāraka. Each has associations with particular gods in the Indian pantheon. All have substantial temple complexes and are sites of pilgrimage, though not necessarily tourist destinations or architecturally interesting. I have toured Vārānasī, Mathurā, and Kāchīpurim and looked carefully at their temples.

 

There are also lists of sacred mountains, forests, and particularly rivers linked to elaborate stories of Hindu gods and heroes. Eck describes the Indian notion of tīrthas, fords or crossing places of rivers. These tīrthas have a spiritual significance. Bathing at these locations affords the devotee liberation from the cycle of birth and death and the attainment of nirvāna.

 

Rivers are personified as goddesses. Especially sacred are the headwaters of these rivers and the sites of their convergence. The Narmadā, perhaps India’s most revered river, originates in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and flows west to Gujarat and the Arabian Sea. The pilgrimage route, along both banks of the river, involves an eighteen-hundred-mile trek. The pilgrims are much more numerous at the annual Māgha Melā at Allahabad where the Ganga and Yumunā converge. Crowds: we’re talking about millions.

 

Indian gods are well-traveled and have thus created trails passing through the landscape and hence many sacred sites. Eck points out that Hindu religious life has never had a hierarchy: no popes, bishops, etc. Hence there has never been a sorting out of the miscellany of these narratives about the gods and their habitats. She uses phrases like “is said to be,” “the tale is told,” “so they say,” and “according to tradition” to indicate their tentativeness.

 

Mention of the great Mughal city of Allahabad above brings to mind the fact that the Indian subcontinent is also home to other religions. Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, and Moslems have shared this sacred landscape with Hindus. Moslems were initially temple destroyers; their most spectacular vandalism was the vast temple complex at Somnāth on the Kathiawar Peninsula in the eleventh century. This Moslem destruction of temples which were the focus of pilgrimage disrupted for centuries temple-based piety, patronage, building and repair. But during the Mughal period in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Empire and its client Hindu kingdoms proved to be great patrons of temple building and reconstruction.

 

The reverse happened recently when Hindu chauvinists destroyed a mosque at Ayodhyā which was said to have been built on the birth place of Lord Rāma. Though most Hindus are ecumenical. For example, they revere the tombs of Sufi saints scattered throughout northern India and many Buddhist shrines, as well.

 

Like Islam and Christianity, there are sects within Hinduism. They get along better than have the various Christian churches, however, and are able to share pilgrimage sites. Shivites most commonly return to the circuit of temples associated with devotion to Shiva.  And likewise Vaishnavite pilgrims generally head for the temples associated Vishnu. Kānchipuram, a temple complex in Tamil Nadu, associated with the Shivites and the Jagannātha temple at Puri in Orissa associated with Vaishnavites are, however, sites of pilgrimage for both sects. They are also examples of striking temple architecture.

 

In my travels around India over three decades, I tended to avoid crowds and therefore a landscape filled with pilgrims. The one exception was attending the Krishna Janmāshtamī, a midnight darshan or auspicious presence of the god at his birthplace near Mathurā, south of Delhi. The temple which contained the image of Krishna was rebuilt in the nineteenth century and is not architecturally inspiring. One gets the impression that a good part of the religious atmosphere of the darshan is the feeling of being a part of a vast gathering.

 

Indian nationalists in the last century claimed that they discovered ‘Mother India,’ a unity from the Himalayas to Tamil Nadu. Eck reminds us that, in fact, these circuits of temples and pilgrimage sites have provided Indians with a singular religious landscape both inspiring and unifying, and centuries before their struggle for independence.

The Task of the Book Reviewer.

The Task of the Book Reviewer.

 

Reading Edith Grossman’s Why Translation Matters has made me think more carefully about the book reviewing that I do. She argues that a good translation must adhere to the rhythm and style of the original. A good translation should create the same responses from the reader as did the original work from its readership. This is a tall order.

 

A book review is, of course, a different literary task; although I shall argue that it is a kind of translation. A book reviewer tries to capture the essence of the book in relatively few words, while ‘translating’ its goodness, and shortcomings. (I never go to the trouble of reading and reviewing a book that I don’t like, so shortcomings are minimal.)

 

Book reviews vary. Reviews in The New York Review of Books, for example, are long essays; frequently several books may be reviewed together. The reviewer most often is a prominent writer with an expertise in the subject of the book(s) being discussed. Reviews in The New York Times Book Review, Sunday edition are less learned and more succinct, but their greater brevity can be a virtue. Reviewers in the daily NYT as well as the Wall Street Journal are more ambitious.

 

There are many, many magazines, journals, and now blogs with interesting reviewers and many opinions. And those opinions are distributed over the political and literary spectrum. That is good. Mine show a definite left tendency.

 

I never review fiction. A reviewer of fiction has to have knowledge of the art of ‘criticism.’ While I admire its intellectuality, I am not equipped to enter that discourse. It could be argued that the distinction between fiction and non-fiction is false. Fiction writers do a good amount of research to provide their characters with a plausible setting. Non-fiction writers engage in storytelling with varying degrees of verisimilitude. But the latter is more dutiful to the real world than the former. And more efficient for an information seeker.

 

The non-fiction titles that I read are mostly published by university presses and the more serious ‘trade’ publishers; they are almost never bestsellers. Someone once said to me that they were happy about my choice of books to read and review. They were obviously worthy books, and it was comforting to know that someone was reading them.

 

One merit which those who review non-fiction should possess is to be well and broadly read. That is an ambition to which I have always aspired.

 

Reviewing non-fiction involves a kind of dumbing down. To explain a subject as well as the author, you would need a comparable number of words. My reviews are 750 to 850 words, around two book pages. So I simplify: I leave out details, names, precise dates. I almost never include quotations of more than a few words. I suggest the more important ideas and judgments that the author makes. And how his book fits into the general notions about the subject. Is it revisionist and if so why?

 

I want a person who has read the book to be able to recognize it from my review and agree that I have captured the book’s essence. I am a translator. I want the author to think that my ‘translation’ of his work is a good reflection of his intentions.

 

 

Electronic Books, Amazon, and the Fate of Print, 2005-2015.

Electronic Books, Amazon, and the Fate of Print, 2005-2015.

“E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead,” an article about the book industry, shared the front page of The New York Times (23 September 2015) with the visit of Pope Francis. The author of the article, Alexandra Alter, reminded us that only five years previously, pundits were proclaiming the demise of print books. Sales of Kindle readers, Nooks, iPads, various other electronic devices, and books in the electronic format were soaring.

Surprise! E-book sales have fallen by 10% in the first five months of this year over the same period last year (quoting from the NYT article). And e-book sales have not been increasing in recent years at anywhere near the same rate as they had in the earlier half of the period (2005 to 2015).

The impact of the electronic format on print books (mass paper, trade paper, and hard) has varied with format and category. The mass paperback format (the old ‘pocket book’) has been the most affected, by far. Print editions of mass paperback genre fiction, particularly romances but also mysteries, thrillers, science fiction & fantasy, suffered most from competition with e-books. Hardback fiction was also adversely affected. Less so, non-fiction, and less so, kids’ books.

When they first came on the market, electronic books were presented as a godsend to travelers who didn’t want print books weighing down their luggage. However, the chains that run bookstores at airports are reporting that print books are regaining traction with travelers.

Other explanations for the short-lived e-book bubble. Lighter to hold, they would suit people who read in bed and would like to snuggle up to a Kindle. Some thought electronic books a boon to the industry because they would entice a new group of book buyers.

There were two trends worrying publishers. Rising expectations for the future of e-book and Kindle sales, they worried, would discourage print editions. It was not so much that print sales were off dramatically, but publishers noted that print was losing market share to electronic. Secondly publishers worried about the fact that the book business was increasingly concentrated in one mail-order operation, Amazon.com.

Publishers had welcomed Amazon as a solution to their fledgling direct sales efforts. But Amazon began to acquire an ever-growing share of print sales and then almost immediately 65% of the electronic book market. Publishers awakened to a world where one dominant retailer could dictate the prices it paid publishers for the e-books, their retail price, and hence the publishers’ margins. The older arrangement of the publisher setting a “suggested retail price” that included a fair return for themselves but also for the wholesaler and retailer was being remodeled. When negotiating price structures with Amazon, it has been a “take it or leave it” proposition.

Meanwhile, Amazon has begun selling all kinds of other merchandise, and the books’ share of its revenue is shrinking.  Amazon.com was becoming less dependent on book publishers just when book publishers were more dependent on Amazon.

Publishers Weekly recently celebrated the contribution that Amazon.com has made to the world of book retailing (”20 Years of Amazon.com Bookselling,” PW  7 September 2015).  The retailer was given a good part of the credit for creating best-sellers for the industry. The article provided a list of Amazon’s 20 all-time bestsellers. But the books on the list were titles that any brick-and-mortar book store would have sold well in that same 20 years!

Other achievements of Amazon’s first 20 years. The Kindle, introduced in 2007, was a significant contribution. However, their self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing, rolled out in that same year, entered an already well-established and crowded field. Textbook rentals, another listed achievement, had long been around by the time Amazon entered the market (2012). There were numerous subscription services when it got around to launching its own last year. The pattern is that Amazon enters a competitive market dominated by mostly startup companies and soon gains its usual “tight grip” on the sector, forcing out competitors (see “Digital Comics” Publishers Weekly 10 August 2015).

Readers have always availed themselves of ‘gatekeepers,’ beginning with acquisition departments of publishing houses. Gatekeepers determine the array of titles that are made available to a book-buying public. Traditional gatekeepers closer to the consumer include brick-and-mortar booksellers, libraries – and now websites including this one. Goodreads.com, a popular web site and definitely a gatekeeper, has been, wouldn’t you know it, recently bought by Amazon.

Well then, who are the winners and losers of this rise of Amazon, the e-book “explosion,” and now its contraction? The presence of small publishing houses probing the “nooks and crannies” of readership for publishing opportunities is still inspiring. There will always be entrants and exits, but this sector of the industry remains remarkably vibrant. Also, mid-sized book publishers and the conglomerates are adding warehouse space and promising faster delivery to their book store customers. They seem optimistic.

Local book stores lost big time, though it looks like they are returning to discerning communities. The resilience of print is giving them opportunity. The American Booksellers Association reports an uptick in membership over the last five years. And wouldn’t you know it, Amazon Books has just opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle, with more to come.

The group that seems to have suffered the most from the e-book bubble has been authors. Authors Guild recently released a membership survey, and the median income of its membership is down significantly over the last five years of this decade. According to its report in Publishers Weekly (21 September 2015), full-time book authors’ incomes are down by 30% comparing 2009 with 2014, and part-time authors’ income by 38%. There are several causes discussed in the article. The decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores has been a factor. Certainly they are receiving fewer royalties on e-book sales than was the case with print books. Authors, it appears, have been shouldering a good chunk of the cost of Amazon’s discounting.

Thanks to Publishers Weekly and The New York Times. Both diligently read and much admired.

 

 

 

 

Broke, USA; From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.

Broke, USA; From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. – How the Working Poor Became Big Business by Gary Rivlin, Harper Collins, 2011, paper.

 

This is an impressive example of investigative journalism. In past times we would have called it muckraking. Gary Rivlin has investigated the myriad of companies whose business it is to loan money to the less well-off. Pay-day loans, pawnshops, check cashing, rent-to-own, the cash-in-advance tax return business, the second mortgage market, and used auto-loan financing are categories of enterprises in the poverty business. And the companies described in Broke, USA are all over our town, though more commonly in east Gainesville.

 

It is also true, and he admits this, that these businesses provide a service to their customers. Not everyone has an uncle or aunt who will spot them for $500 until the next paycheck. Moreover, these companies are often in lieu of branch banking, which has generally vacated the poorer areas of our cities. It is estimated that seventeen million Americans no longer have bank accounts. So they need to obtain financial services including that small loan to tide them over until the next paycheck,

 

Rivlin describes a number of ironies.  For example, the tax refund anticipation loan business profited from the earned income tax credit inaugurated by the Nixon Administration as part of its welfare reform. Rather than making direct payments, welfare recipients are given a tax credit. A family with two children and less than a stipulated annual income receives a tax credit. H & R Block would happily loan that in advance of their tax return, but at a substantial interest rate. The tax credit for health insurance that is part of the recent overhaul of healthcare will also profit the tax-anticipation business.

 

Broke, USA. points out that many of the poverty industry’s “victims” are middle-class Americans, but living from paycheck to paycheck and occasionally using these lenders to solve short-run liquidity problems. They could resort to short-term borrowing from a bank via their Visa Card. And be charged much higher effective interest rates than does Advance America, a leading company in the payday loan business. Gasp, a bounced check of $100.00, subject to a $35.00 bank overdraft charge, is equivalent to a short term loan carrying a 910% interest, if made good in two weeks.

 

Rivlin was at first swayed by the arguments for these new financial institutions. But the more he thought about the situation, the more confident he became about the exploitive nature of subprime lending. He argues persuasively that there has been an “unmooring” of interest rates from any calculation of risks. Most of the working poor manage their debt and are not substantially greater risks than the rest of us, he claims.

 

One of the heroes of Rivlin’s book, Martin Eakes, started a company in North Carolina that makes affordable loans to people purchasing homes, and his company can make a go of it at 1 to 2% points above the going interest rate. He looks for borrowers who have proven to be hard workers with secure jobs and not buying a home beyond their means. An insider and vehement critic of the poverty industry, the MacArthur Foundation gave him one of their genius awards.

 

Eakes and Rivlin aren’t happy with the big banks. NationsBank, First Union, Citigroup, Bank of America, and others became involved in subprime lending, securitizing its financial products with disastrous results. That involvement has provided another good reason to enact substantial financial regulations. One useful beginning is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which President Obama has created. Also many the states’ Attorneys General are taking an interest. And the big banks may eventually bring some greater integrity to the subprime enterprise. At least they can be more easily shamed.

 

On the other hand, the problem may grow if real incomes of middle class Americans continue to shrink as they have in recent years. We would like to hope that Americans will, nevertheless, begin to put away some savings for a rainy day and be less dependent upon short-term, expensive credit. But that depends on their earning a decent wage and being given a decent interest rate.

 

 

Forgotten Wars; Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia

Forgotten Wars; Freedom and Revolution in Southeast Asia by Christopher Bayly & Tim Harper.  Harvard University Press, 2010, paper.

This is a sequel to their Forgotten Armies; Britain’s Asian Empire and the War with Japan. After the Japanese surrendered in August 1945 the British reoccupied the Southeast Asian crescent stretching from the eastern provinces of British India to Singapore. By 1945 it was clear that the ‘jewel of the British crown’ – India – would soon be independent and a replacement anchor was needed. The Malayan Peninsula, with its rubber, tin, timber and other resources could take on that role. But there were problems.

The British and their Empire had made an inglorious exit after Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1941. Posing as a liberator, Tokyo had talked about extending its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, which it claimed would end the European grip on the crescent’s economies. Part propaganda, part planning mechanism, it was soon set aside and the occupation became a matter of brutality and plunder. The Japanese did, however, create ‘puppet’ national regimes composed of Malaya and Burmese ‘collaborators.’

The Japanese occupation had unleashed forces that could not easily be tucked back into the box of pre-war colonial society. Moreover, as Bayly and Harper note, Britain, in 1945, was in no position to recapture its Southeast Asian empire. With no British army available, the reoccupation depended upon the Indian Army. Officered mostly by Europeans with the ranks drawn from the subcontinent’s ‘martial’ provinces, the Indian army would, however, also not be available after Indian and Pakistani independence.

Initially the Allied Land Forces, South East Asia, commanded by Louis Mountbatten, faced little armed military opposition as they rolled through the Malayan peninsula, but encountered no end of difficulties. The most immediate was the 630,000 Japanese occupation troop, housed in temporary detention camps, awaiting their repatriation to Japan.

Mountbatten had also to deal with the Indian National Army which had fought alongside the Japanese. Indians living in Malaya argued, however, that the Indian National Army had safeguarded them when Britain had skedaddled. Malayan collaborators had to be rounded up, and European colonials, just liberated from internment camps, were demanding revenge. Various resistance groups based on ethnicity had arisen during the Japanese occupation that now claimed the right to self-determination. Finally there was extensive damage done by the war that had to be repaired to get the county up and running.

The Chinese were the largest non-Malayan ethnic group. They dominated the labor force laboring on the rubber plantations and in the mines. To cope with the food shortages during and after the war, many Chinese laborers had hacked out small farms on the British-owned plantations and the forest reserves to provide food for their families. Now they were organizing themselves into bands to protect those holdings.

They were said to be communists. At least that was the judgment of the various British and American intelligence agencies. The continued insurgency in Malaya was one of the ‘dominos’ which President Eisenhower described in a news conference in April 1954. His argument was that if one country in the region came under the influence of the communists, the adjoining countries would subsequently fall in a domino effect. Thus China and India at either end and the smaller states, Korea, Indochina, Thailand, Malaya,  Indonesia, and Burma in between. And there was Winston Churchill saluting Eisenhower’s clarity.

The British have been given credit for defeating the ‘communist insurgency’ in Malaya. Bayly & Harper have a more nuanced version of that ‘triumph.’ It involved moving rebels and their families into detention camps, not unlike the notorious concentration camps of the Boer War in South Africa. That was accompanied by what would now be called a “winning hearts and minds” policy.

Think more recently experiments with this policy in such places as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Where Men Hide

Where Men Hide by James Twitchell and Ken Ross, photographs. Columbia University Press, 2008 paper.

 

James Twitchell, UF, is reflecting on Ken Ross’s photographs of men’s hiding places. Twitchell looks at traditional men’s lairs, their disappearance, the possible reasons why, and then proposes some newer ones. He argues, however, that these newer hiding places have less power to shape male cultural life than did the older.

 

Perhaps the most striking ‘male cave’ of old was the fraternal order, the Masons, Odd Fellows, Elks, Order of Moose, Knights of Columbus, Woodmen of America, to name the most popular. They gave opportunities to get away from both the job and family life. Twitchell agrees with Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone) that their passing represents a significant loss of male community.

 

The causes of their demise are complex. American men are working longer hours. And in their free time, they have been induced to spend more “quality time with their families.” They have found a more convenient ‘retreat,’ their La-Z-Boy recliner located in front of the television set.

 

In recent decades barbershops have been transformed into “hair styling salons” and are often bisexual. They were once a male hiding place, providing opportunities for loafing and for convivial conversations across varying backgrounds. The only women who ventured into those barbershops were mothers bringing their sons for a first haircut.

 

On the other hand, Twitchell notes that home workshops continue their popularity as hiding places. The inhabitants of these warrens may be leisurely restoring an old car or making furniture. More commonly workshops are equipped to undertake home repairs. The do-it-yourself craze does not, however, account for the elaborate work-benches and collections of specialized tools there lovingly displayed.

 

The home office as hiding place? That would seem a contradiction. Men cannot be escaping from either home or office by retreating to their home/office. Yet hideouts they are despite their smart phones and internet connections.

 

Getting away from both home and office on wheels has been a form of hiding, Twitchell reminds us. The open road has always beckoned the man on his motorcycle. Sports utility vehicles? Yes and no. When first introduced in the 1970s, SUVs were presented in ads as opportunities for males to strike out by themselves. A SUV could take on any back road and even go off-road in quest of adventure and escape. But nowadays the SUVs and their drivers have been domesticated. Moms find them convenient for hauling kids to soccer.

 

One of the newer hiding places, Twitchell proposes, is the phenomenon of men’s religious organizations, for example the Promise Keepers and their stadium rallies. Menfolk have never regularly attended church in the same numbers as women. In order to induce them to do so, mega-churches have explored the male-only prayer meetings. This may be an instance of men hiding out, but this men-only worship and the place in which it occurs is hardly hidden.

 

These men’s groups are intended to ‘keep the faith,’ while perpetuating traditional notions of maleness. The Promise Keepers encourage men to share life’s experiences with other men, and in that way they resemble older occasions when men hid. Yes, they provide opportunities for male bonding, but not at the expense of their wives and children. Family values are part of their credo. For good or ill, the movement, and therefore this particular hiding place, has lost steam in the new century.

 

Is the disappearance of men’s hiding places the result of a prolonged assault on the part of women? If so, Twitchell believes, this is only indirectly so. Rather the male cave is disappearing because the male, who once found hiding out essential for maintaining his peace of mind, is perhaps finding it less necessary – and certainly less possible

 

 

The Songs That Fought the War.

The Songs That Fought the War; Popular Music and the Home Front, 1939-1945 by John Bush Jones.  Brandeis University Press, 2006.

In 1941, just before our entry into World War II, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, on behalf of its membership, attempted to double its licensing fees. Nightclubs, theaters, dance halls, and radio stations that featured live musical performances paid a licensing fee for the songs they performed. Radio broadcasters – NBC, CBS, and their affiliates – responded with a boycott of all songs that ASCAP controlled, and the agency and its composers lost the battle.

Less than a year later the American Federation of Musicians barred its members from making recordings of popular songs to be replayed in these venues. AFM hoped to preserve the jobs of the thousands of musicians employed by radio stations and did help keep live performance alive and well.

Meanwhile song writers kept writing new songs.

 

Local radio stations of any size had a band that “plugged” popular songs, playing their own arrangements. Numerous bands and vocalists performed in nightclubs, and those live performances were often broadcast over the radio networks. There were numerous network variety shows as well, the most popular being ‘Your Hit Parade’. Broadway musicals of the day incorporated popular songs. Films were an important opportunity for song writers, musicians, and singers. Sheet music sales were still a measure of a song’s popularity. The recording industry and the thousands of juke boxes around the country that played those records were, of course, also a major part of any record’s success.

 

John Bush Jones’s entertaining book explains this enormous achievement of wartime popular music. He contends that the war years were “happy” times despite the carnage abroad. The country was remarkably united and prosperous. There was a mood of cultural excitement and participation. Oddly Jones also shows that a good portion of the songs which had wartime themes were about loneliness and separation. “I’ll Walk Alone,” “Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week,” and “You’ll Never Know” are three of many. Christmas brought out this mood. Hence Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” was the most popular of all the songs that fought the war. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry, Merry Christmas” had similar themes.

 

Sixteen million American men and women served in the armed forces, out of a population of 130 million. And millions more moved to find work in defense industries. The social angst that would seemly have been the result of both displacements was eased with lighted-hearted, up-beat songs. Thus “Mairzy Doats” and “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive.”

 

Some of the jobs in the defense industries were held by African-Americans. And they also made their contribution to Tin Pan Alley. “Ain’t Misbehaven,’” “Honeysuckle Rose,” and ”Shoo-Shoo Baby” were three. The Andrew Sisters made a big hit out of “Shoo-Shoo Baby.”

 

Concerned about the country’s morale, the Office of War Information wanted songs with patriotic themes. It welcomed those about boot camp and army life that were amusing without being critical. Songs about combat deaths and men who would never return, were taboo, of course. There was little formal censorship, however. Most of this restraint was self-imposed. Country-western song writers, Jones contends, were the more likely to venture into proscribed themes.

 

The OWI was looking for a one single war song that would match the great success of “Over There” in World War I. WWII never produced one, although two songs came close: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” and the service song “The Army Air Corps.” “God Bless America,” all about American exceptionalism, surprisingly never did.

 

Axis-bashing was common, though generally good-natured. Jones quotes Carson Robison’s “Hitler’s Last Letter to Hirohito;” Hitler is offering Hirohito some tips that would help him have a good day. “Why don’t you review your great navy? / ‘Twill boost your morale, I am sure. / Just borrow a suit from a diver, / and you’ll have an int’resting tour.” Japan’s navy had largely been sunk in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway.

 

Only six when the war ended, I have been puzzled about why I know so many of these songs so well. It turns out that school children in Garwin, Iowa at least continued to sing the songs that fought the war well into the 1950s. I wish my music teacher had played some good boogie-woogie on the school piano. She could have led us in “The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B).”

 

The war years had a rich popular culture, and they seem to have been blessed with more than their share of memorable tunes.