JordonCooper Rotating Header Image

history

December 1941 by Craig Shirley

December 19411

While on the way to the cabin on Friday, I stopped by Indigo Books and picked up December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World by Craig Shirley.  The book attempts to look at each day of December 1941 in the lead up and aftermath of the attack of Pearl Harbour though a variety of lens to give the month and attack some context.  He examines historical records, news paper accounts and even pop culture as part of this effort to explain the almost instantaneous change in American culture and life because of it’s entry into Word War II.

Pearlharbor

It’s an entertaining read.  I wandered through the almost 600 pages in two days.  I leaned a lot, especially about the difference in American and British views of how to communicate the war (Churchill laid it all out while FDR chose to reveal as little as possible) but in the end it was a very unsatisfying read.  The editing was awful.  The book got countless historical facts wrong (like the tonnage of the Price of Wales or the suggestion that England had 500,000 pilots trained).  The there are sentences like, “It was raking in millions each week, mostly for the top four studios: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Bros.”  The fourth studio was…  Also Pittsburgh was misspelled.  Things like that drove me crazy.

Pearl14

What was interesting to learn was the totalitarian powers that Congress almost immediately gave FDR to win the war.  What was even more interesting is when you realize that once war was won, those powers were taken away from the President.  It speaks to the ability the United States has to make and remake itself as the context determines it.  It will be interesting to see if the U.S. ever returns to a pre-9/11 mindset.

Rita Hayworth

I think the other thing the book did well was explain the events leading up to Pearl Harbour from Japan’s perspective.  While in no ways does it justify the attack, it does explain a little of what the Japanese were thinking through their militaristic cabinet.  I am not sure that I would recommend the book, there are just simply too many mistakes in it but it wasn’t a bad way to spend the weekend.

Japanese students are taught almost nothing about WWII

Japan like a lot of country’s with a dark past, struggle with educating their students about subjects like WWII.

There was one page on what is known as the Mukden incident, when Japanese soldiers blew up a railway in Manchuria in China in 1931.

There was one page on other events leading up to the Sino-Japanese war in 1937 – including one line, in a footnote, about the massacre that took place when Japanese forces invaded Nanjing – the Nanjing Massacre, or Rape of Nanjing.

There was another sentence on the Koreans and the Chinese who were brought to Japan as miners during the war, and one line, again in a footnote, on “comfort women” – a prostitution corps created by the Imperial Army of Japan.

There was also just one sentence on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Return to sender?

University of Chicago receives incredible package for Dr. Indiana Jones and would like to identify its sender.

Package for Dr. Indiana Jones

What we know: The package contained an incredibly detailed replica of “University of Chicago Professor” Abner Ravenwood’s journal from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. It looks only sort of like this one, but almost exactly like this one, so much so that we thought it might have been the one that was for sale on Ebay had we not seen some telling inconsistencies in cover color and “Ex Libris” page (and distinct lack of sword). The book itself is a bit dusty, and the cover is teal fabric with a red velvet spine, with weathered inserts and many postcards/pictures of Marion Ravenwood (and some cool old replica money) included. It’s clear that it is mostly, but not completely handmade, as although the included paper is weathered all of the “handwriting” and calligraphy lacks the telltale pressure marks of actual handwriting.

What we don’t know: Why this came to us. The package does not actually have real stamps on it— the outside of the package was crinkly and dirty as if it came through the mail, but the stamps themselves are pasted on and look like they have been photocopied. There is no US postage on the package, but we did receive it in a bin of mail, and it is addressed to the physical address of our building, Rosenwald Hall, which has a distinctly different address from any other buildings where it might be appropriate to send it (Haskell Hall or the Oriental Institute Museum). However, although now home to the Econ department and College Admissions, Rosenwald Hall used to be the home to our departments of geology and geography.

If you’re an applicant and sent this to us: Why? How? Did you make it? Why so awesome? If you’re a member of the University community and this belongs to you or you’ve gotten one like it before, PLEASE tell us how you acquired it, and whether or not yours came with a description— or if we’re making a big deal out of the fact that you accidentally slipped a gift for a friend in to the inter-university mail system. If you are an Indiana Jones enthusiast and have any idea who may have sent this to us or who made it, let us know that, too.

Our Parliament is Falling Apart

While democracy in Canada has seen better days, Centre Block which holds the House of Commons and the Senate is struggling as well.

The Centre Block of Canada’s three-part Parliament Buildings — which houses the Senate, the House of Commons and prime minister Stephen Harper’s office — is “seriously deteriorating” and will “reach the end of its life cycle” in seven years, according to the man in charge of renovations on Parliament Hill.

It’s a nail biter because work on a temporary home for the House of Commons in the West Block isn’t expected to be finished until 2017 and, in the meantime, tape, wood and netting are holding together parts of the iconic structure.

This past February, water leakage in Centre Block caused one of two transformers providing power to the Hill to explode “because it came to the end of its useful life,” Assistant Deputy Minister Pierre-Marc Mongeau told the Government Operations Committee Thursday.

The neo-gothic stone building — the only one in the world to be so well conserved — was re-built in 1922 after a fire destroyed the original building.

But, despite the ongoing efforts of maintenance staff to “do all they can,” Mongeau told the committee that the building’s aging structural, mechanical and technical systems are at “a critical risk of total failure by 2019.”

Mongeau said if the systems fail, the building could become unsafe for use requiring it “to be shut down.”

In 1994 and 1995, the façade of the building was repaired, but Mongeau said the other three less-visible sides were not.

Ventilation towers are “taped,” with wood pieces around them and pieces of stained glass windows in the House of Commons are beginning to fall out, he said.

“That means that we need to put in a net protection around those windows and visually that doesn’t look so good,” he said.

“Clearly it’s not likely to get better until it’s fixed,” said Liberal MP John McCallum, “but, I think (Mongeau) felt that it was manageable.”

“I’ve been there for 12 years and I’ve never had the feeling that it’s falling apart,” he said. “There are things that need repair, and it’s unfortunate that it’s going to take so many years before it’s done, but I’ve never been sitting in Parliament or walking around Centre Block thinking that I’m in a crumbling building.”

However, he said the building is the “central block of our democracy” and he’d “rather wait a few more years… and have a building of which we can be proud than do it faster and make mistakes.”

Conservative MP Mike Wallace wasn’t surprised to hear about the problems due to the sheer age of the buildings, although he said he hadn’t noticed any obvious signs of the deterioration.

“It is a fair age and, if you look around your own home, the older it gets, the more work it needs,” he said.

Mongeau was not available for comment Friday.

The House of Commons is expected to be re-housed in the modernized “energy efficient” West Block — complete with a three-layer glass ceiling, which will trap heat and supply 10 per cent of the building’s energy needs on sunny days, “even in winter” — before its end-of-life date in 2019.

The Senate will be moved to the East Block.

Painstaking rehabilitation work began on the West Block in earnest in 2007 after workers finished completely overhauling both the exterior and the interior of the 130-year-old Library of Parliament Building in the spring of 2006.

For those of us who call Saskatoon home and watched the almost painfully slow rehabilitation of the Peter McKinnon Building knows how long it takes to bring back a building to life.  Renovations change the way a building works, materials interact differently then expected, and then you have to decide what it is going to have to in the future and make it work in the context of the original architectural vision.  It’s harder than it looks.

The Greatest Marine Disaster in the History of Saskatoon

I love this story

Steamboats rarely used the South Saskatchewan River because the shallow waters made for unreliable service. Not to be deterred, the Medicine Hat hotelier and Scottish nobleman Horatio Ross commissioned a new boat in 1906-07 to connect the newly completed railway at Medicine Hat to points downstream. The sternwheeler, the S.S. City of Medicine Hat, was 40 m long and had a draft of only 0.6 m.

On June 7, 1908 the boat proceeded downstream during the high water and tricky currents of the spring flood. It cleared the Grand Trunk Railway Bridge at Saskatoon and was gingerly attempting the passage under the Canadian Northern Railway Bridge when its rudder and sternwheel became entangled in a submerged telegraph line. The captain lost control and the ship drifted downstream striking the pier of the Traffic Bridge. The ship rode up the pier and wrecked. All on board but the ship’s engineer clambered on to the bridge. He took to the water and swam to shore downstream. Some remnants of the wreck have been recovered recently.

It’s a great story for two reasons.

  1. No one was hurt.
  2. We actually use the term “The Greatest Marine Disaster in the History of Saskatoon” with a straight face.

How the Vietnam War Was Lost

A full length documentary by the BBC.

1421: The Year China Discovered America

The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The Edmund Fitzgerald

I started reading about the IPO of Manchester United and I ended up reading about the Edmund Fitzgerald.  While there are a lot of theories about why the great ship went down, the best one I have read is that it was just not structurally sound.

When Bethlehem Steel Corporation permanently laid up the Fitzgerald’s sister ship, SS Arthur B. Homer, just five years after going to considerable expense to lengthen her, questions were raised as to whether both ships had the same structural problems. The two vessels were built in the same shipyard using welded joints instead of the riveted joints used in older ore freighters. Riveted joints allow a ship to flex and work in heavy seas, while welded joints are more likely to break.  Reports indicate that repairs to the Fitzgerald’s hull were delayed in 1975 due to plans to lengthen the ship during the upcoming winter layup. The Homer was lengthened to 825 feet (251 m) and placed back in service by December 1975, not long after the Fitzgerald foundered. In 1978, without explanation, Bethlehem Steel Corporation denied permission for the chairman of the NTSB to travel on the Homer. The Homer was permanently laid up in 1980 and broken for scrap in 1987.

Retired GLEW naval architect Raymond Ramsey, one of the design team on the hull of the Fitzgerald,  reviewed her increased load lines, maintenance history, along with the history of long ship hull failure and concluded that the Fitzgerald was not seaworthy on November 10, 1975. He stated that planning the Fitzgerald to be compatible with the constraints of the St. Lawrence Seaway had placed her hull design in a "straight jacket".  The Fitzgerald’s long ship design was developed without the benefit of research, development, test, and evaluation principles while computerized analytical technology was not available at the time she was built. Ramsey noted that the Fitzgerald’s hull was built with an all-welded (instead of riveted) modular fabrication method, which was used for the first time in the GLEW shipyard. Ramsey concluded that increasing the hull length to 729 feet (222 m) resulted in a L/D slenderness ratio (the ratio of the length of the ship to the depth of her structure)  that caused excessive multi-axial bending and springing of the hull, and that the hull should have been structurally reinforced to cope with her increased length.

Former crew statements seem to back this theory up.

The stress fracture theory was supported by the testimony of former crewmen. Former Second Mate Richard Orgel, who served on the Fitzgerald in 1972 and 1973, testified that "the ship had a tendency to bend and spring during storms ‘like a diving board after somebody has jumped off.’" Orgel was quoted as saying that the loss of the Fitzgerald was caused by hull failure, "pure and simple. I detected undue stress in the side tunnels by examining the white enamel paint, which will crack and splinter when submitted to severe stress." George H. "Red" Burgner, theFitzgerald‘s Steward for ten seasons and winter ship-keeper for seven years, testified in a deposition that a "loose keel" contributed to the vessel’s loss. Burgner further testified that "the keel and sister kelsons were only ‘tack welded’" and that he had personally observed that many of the welds were broken.

And then there is this picture of another Great Lake’s freighter Algoport breaking up while being towed to China for conversion.  High seas just bent the freighter in half.

M/V Algoport sinking

M/V Algoport sinking

M/V Algoport sinking

It’s amazing reading through all of the theories how much contradictory information there is.  Rouge waves, clamps not holding, bad seamanship, hitting a shoal, structural failure.  All are possibilities and we still don’t know what really happened.

Malcolm Gladwell: The strange tale of the Norden bombsight

The Rosetta Project

How do you archive history in a digital culture?  The Long Now Foundation through the Rosetta Project tackles this problem.

What makes a great photograph great?

Ken Burns Shares What Makes a Great Story

The Atlantic has more here.

Texas is sinking!

No, this isn’t about the state economy but the U.S.S. Texas which is leaking again.

a 32,000-ton vessel that fired 255 14-inch shells toward Nazi positions during D-Day’s opening 34 minutes in 1944. The 100-year old vessel has been on display in the Houston Ship Channel for more than 60 years.

But the 573-foot dreadnought has sprung several leaks recently, forcing the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife to shut it down to visitors since mid-June. The state scrapped its plan to open it for July 4th after a new pair of leaks appeared. They have been patched with concrete, plywood and epoxy, and there are plans to open the vessel this weekend. But now a third leak began. Plans call for a pair of emergency pumps to remain aboard the vessel to fight any new leaks.

Texas has spent $300,000 on Texas since the latest round of leaks was detected June 9. The ship’s half-inch thick steel plate has been eaten away by decades in salt water.

The state wants to dry-berth the ship, and in 2007 Texas and private donors pledged $29 million to make that happen. Unfortunately, recent estimates peg the cost of the project as high as $75 million (it cost $5.8 million to build).

Before you criticize Texas (the state), remember that the U.S.S. Texas is the world’s oldest surviving dreadnaught, served in both World Wars, and has been sitting in salt water for over a century.  She needs some TLC.

The Dream Team 20 Years Later

This history of the 1992 US Olympic basketball team might only be interesting to those who watched all those games.

Chuck started Michael and Magic every game and then rotated the other three. Pippen would start one game, Mullin would start the next. Robinson and Ewing would alternate; Malone and Barkley would alternate. He was a master at managing. But in the second game against Croatia, there was never any doubt: He was putting Pippen on Toni Kukoc [who had just been drafted by the Bulls and had been offered a contract for more money than his future teammate]. Pippen and Jordan were tired of hearing about how great Kukoc was, because they were winning NBA championships.

You ever watch a lion or a leopard or a cheetah pouncing on their prey? We had to get Michael and Scottie out of the locker room, because they was damn near pulling straws to see who guarded him. Kukoc had no idea.

I watched everyone of those games and they were incredible.  Hearing the story behind those games is a lot of fun.

Should we revisit the legacy of John Turner

From iPolitics on a new biography of John Turner.

It sounds strange now, but Turner actually had collegial relationships with members of other parties. In fact, as Paul Litt notes, Turner once saved John Diefenbaker from drowning while on holiday in Barbados. With the current PM on the beach, and an opposition leader floundering in the surf, I wouldn’t go out on a limb to say what would happen next.

It sounds strange to say it today, but John Turner was also a fan of the media, the same media which fitted him out with horns on the front page of a newspaper. Can anyone in Conservative Ottawa picture Stephen Harper heading out to the Black Thorn Tavern for a beer with Lawrence Martin after a hard day on the Hill? Turner used to do that kind of thing.

But the fact that there is zero camaraderie between the media and the Conservatives is insignificant compared to what the Tories have managed to do to the press. Daily contact these days means getting an email from the PMO with suggestions for interviews you might want to do – the PMO as line-up editor. The prime minister holds press conferences whenever Halley’s Comet appears, muzzles his ministers, and forces every level of the public service to seek permission to speak. And when they do, a Tory staffer is often listening in, as Liberal MP Wayne Easter recently told me. Government is as transparent as a slab of granite. As for the media, their questions are not only limited, they are usually ignored. And despite all that, the government gets a remarkably easy ride from a profession it has done its best to marginalize.