Podcasts of the Week Ending October 13th


99% Invisible :: Hawaiian Shirts: Articles of Interest #4

The ongoing series Articles of Interest goes to Hawaii to discuss the history of the Aloha Shirt, from colonialism to the tourist trade.

Hub History :: Riots Classics

This well-timed podcast collects three stories from Boston’s riotous past: the Boston Police Strike of 1919, the Broad Street Riots of 1837, and the Impressment Riots of 1747. If you think riots in Boston history are interesting, join me on the Bostonians Behaving Badly tour on Thursday night.

Radiolab :: In the No, Part 1

This is a RadioLab podcast but it collects material from another podcast called The Heart.  Kaitlin Prest takes a deep dive into the issues of sexual consent.

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MASSACHUSETTS: VOTE NOVEMBER 6th (or earlier)!!


Once again, I’m sending out a message to my fellow Bay Staters to get out and vote in the upcoming elections.  A Senate seat, congressional representatives, the governorship, and numerous state and local positions are up for the vote this year. We will will also be voting on three ballot measures.

  • Make sure to Register to Vote by October 17th!!!!
  • Visit My Election Information to see the candidates on the ballot in your district and find out where your polls are located.
  • Consider taking advantage of Early Voting. Early voting in Boston runs from October 22nd to November 2nd, and will be available in other Massachusetts’ communities as well.

When you get to the polls, please consider voting for Jay Gonzalez for Governor.  He is a progressive and will advocate for bold ideas to challenge great amount of inequality in the Commonwealth.  He is focused on supporting public education, repairing and expanding public transportation, improving healthcare (and cutting healthcare costs), and addressing serious environmental problems that contribute to climate change. As the national political scene deteriorates, it is ever more important that “blue states” mobilize to do what needs to be done to protect our people locally and be a model of progressive values.

Which is why Massachusetts definitely cannot continue under a Republican governor.  Charlie Baker is often presented as a moderate and is inordinately popular with Massachusetts Democrats, but he is still a Republican whose conservative ideology benefits the wealthy at the expense of the most vulnerable. Baker has refused to take a stance against the Trump Administration’s worst offenses, and in fact continues to fund raise money for Republicans that is funneled to Trump.  His “reform before revenue” plan for the MBTA has done nothing but allow public transit to further deteriorate.  His Board of Education chair Paul Sagan made illegal campaign contributions to efforts to privatize public education.  And Baker used taxpayer money to make a deal with General Electric, a company whose stock value is crashing and may never build their headquarters in Massachusetts, but will still cash in on Baker’s sweet deal.  Baker is not good for Massachusetts, don’t vote for him!

I also encourage you to vote YES on all three ballot measures:

  • Question 1 – Sets limits on the number of patients a nurse can be assigned to.  It is important that patients receive quality care and attention in Massachusetts’ hospitals and that nurses are not overextended.  I know a lot of nurses – some of the hardest working and compassionate people I know – and they all say to vote YES ON 1.
  • Question 2 – Creates citizens commission to advocate for changes to the U.S. Constitution regarding political spending and corporate personhood. It’s vital to begin to reverse the trend toward oligarchy and make our state and national government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Vote YES ON 2.
  • Question 3 – Maintains a 2016 a law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. We shouldn’t ever have to vote on the basic human rights of any group of people, but since this question is on the ballot, I implore you to defend equality, dignity, and livelihoods for transgender people by voting YES ON 3.

Happy voting! Let’s all get out and vote for a better future for Massachusetts!

Beer Review: Harpoon Dunkin’ Coffee Porter


Flashback!  It’s a special beer review for you, you, you!!!

Beer: Harpoon Dunkin’ Coffee Porter
Brewer:
Harpoon Brewery
Source:
12 oz. bottle
Rating:
****(7.4 of 10)

Comments: .

The most Boston liquid every created brings together the beer brewin’ of Harpoon with the coffee brewin’ of Dunkin’ Donuts.  For all the novelty, it is a typical coffee porter.  A fine coffee flavor is up front follow by a sweeter chocolate/vanilla.  A slightly-bitter aftertaste is the only downside.  If you like the flavors of coffee and porter, you’ll like this beer.  Crack open a bottle while watching the Sox in the postseason!

From the Same Brewery:

Book Review: Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser


AuthorCaroline Fraser
TitlePrairie fires : the American dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Publication Info: New York : Metropolitan Books, 2017.
Summary/Review:

Like anyone else who grew up in my generation, I watched and loved the tv series Little House on the Prairie as a kid. In fifth grade we read a section of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Little House on the Prairie and I was entranced.  I immediately read all the books in the Little House series in sequence (except I skipped Farmer Boy because I had no interest in Almanzo).  The earlier books were my favorites and I read Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, and On the Banks of Plum Creek multiple times. This was an important time in my life as a reader because up to that point I was rather finicky and found it hard to finish books, especially fiction.

Of course, I knew that the books were highly fictionalized stories of Wilder’s life and the tv show even more greatly removed from reality.  It was interesting to read this biography to learn the true story of Wilder’s life. Fraser’s research and writing is especially good at establishing Wilder’s story in the context of historical events – conflicts with Indians, financial crises and depressions, political movements, and even climate change. The period of Wilder’s life covered in her 9 books is just a small portion of her long life and is covered in the first 150 pages of the 500+ page book.  For all her romance of life on the Great Plains and the admiration of the rugged individualism of farming, Laura and Alamanzo Wilder were not able to find stability and success in life until they left the West for the South (specifically the Ozarks of Missouri) and found work off the farm.

Laura Ingalls Wilder established herself in Mansfield, MO through her activity in local clubs and working for Farm Loan Asssociation, a federal agency that made small loans to farmers.  Wilder also worked as a writer and editor, eventually creating a popular column in a publication called The Ruralist. Wilder’s entry into writing was inspired by a key figure in this biography, Rose Wilder Lane, who lived in various parts of the country working as a journalist (albeit specializing in “fake news”) and freelance writer, and eventually writing novels and political treatises.  Fraser is barely able to contain her contempt for Lane, who admittedly is an awful person, but nevertheless its surprising when someone is so bad that a historian can’t keep a neutral tone

Wilder writes the Little House books during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930s and early 1940s, with the current events informing her reflections on the past. Since the books were written for children, Wilder naturally sanitized some of the darkest times of her childhood, elided events, and created composite characters.  But she also chose to use the books to hide her family’s deep poverty and multiple failures while idolizing her parents as exemplars of independence. This means leaving out parts of their lives when Charles Ingalls skipped out of town to avoid a debt or when the family had a miserable time working at a hotel in Iowa.

Lane served as an editor for her mother’s writing, and the surviving manuscripts includes notes back and forth, of what to retain and what to cut.  Fraser indicates Wilder fought to retain many of her own ideas and writing against Lane’s edits and suggestions and the finished novels have the same style as Wilder’s handwritten manuscripts.  Some scholars believe that Lane ghost wrote some or all of the novels, but Fraser use this evidence to attest that Lane mainly did the editing while writing an occasional interpolation. Lane’s increasingly radical right wing, libertarian ideology also influenced her mother’s political leanings and the underlying messages of the novels.

Fraser also examines the cultural effect of the Little House stories, both as a response to the New Deal when the books were published and in the post-Nixonian era of the television.  In both eras, Little House played the role of offering a rose-tinted view of a patriotic past where Americans took initiative and supported themselves through hard work.  Ironically, Wilder created a fictional version of her parents as independent farmers by erasing their poverty, their inability to survive as subsistence farmers, and the times they benefited from help of the government.  In fact, if the government is to be blamed for an of the suffering of the Ingalls, Wilders, and thousands of other pioneer farming families it is when they acted on laissez-faire and libertarian policies that someone like Lane would support. Examples include the US government ignoring their own scientist’s research that showed the Dakotas should not be opened to farming because it was too arid, and state governments offering little aid to farmers suffering from plagues of locusts and droughts because they did not wish to create “dependency.”

This is an excellent work of biography and history.  While offering a look at the exceptional life of a successful and beloved author, it also is a glimpse into the lives and dreams of many Americans in some of the most turbulent times in our nation’s history. Amazingly the book contains contrasting ideas of what it means to be American and the best way to govern this country that are still relevant to the current political debate. If you love the Little House books, this is a good way to deepen your understanding of their author and the books’ place in our culture.  But even if you have never read or watched any Little House material, this is still a great biography that I’d recommend.

Favorite Passages:

“The New York Times asked recently, ‘Why Do People Who Need Help from the Government Hate It so Much?’  It was no mystery to Wilder.  As she knew too well, people who are poor are ashamed.  It’s easier to blame the government than to blame yourself. Wrestling with shame was one of the reasons she wrote her books…” – p. 511

Recommended booksThe Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

Rating: ****

Boston by Foot Riots Walking Tour, Oct. 18th @ 6pm


Clear your calendar Thursday, October 18, 2018 from 6:00pm-7:30pm for the Boston By Foot walking tour Bostonians Behaving Badly, lead by yours truly among others.  This tour discusses the history of riots and mob violence in Boston from colonial times to the 20th century.

As a warmup to the tour, check out the most recent Hub History podcast episode, Riot Classics.  All three civil disturbances discussed in this podcast will be featured on the tour.

You may purchase tickets online ahead of the tour ($15/each or $5 if you’re a member), or buy them in cash from the guides on the night of the tour.  We meet outside of the Park Street MBTA entrance on Boston Common.

Book Review: The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale


Author:  Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Title:  The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare 
Publication Info:  Somerville, Massachusetts : Candlewick Press, 2018.
Previously Read by the Same Authors: The Princess in Black (I’ve read all of the Princess in Black books multiple times, but only reviewed the first one for some reason).
Summary/Review:

I received a free advanced reading copy of the 6th book in the Princess in Black series through the Library Thing Early Reviewer program.

My daughter and I enjoy reading the Princess in Black books which gently send up princess culture and superhero stories while be sweet and charming in their own way.  In this adventure, Princess Magnolia leaves monster-fighting behind to attend a science fair.  Or so she thinks, until a goo monster emerges from a volcano model!

Princess Magnolia changes costumes to become the Princess in Black, and the Princess in Blankets introduced in The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate is also there to help.  But then, three undisguised princesses also help out.  The book has a good message about working together to solve a problem.  We also get the goo monster’s perspective, and he just wants somewhere where he can fit in.  And the princesses (and monster) even use public transportation!

It’s a ripping good yarn and things end well for all involved.  My 6 y.o. and I have read it multiple times already and she’s not yet tired of it.

Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending October 4th


Hit Parade :: The Nights on Broadway Edition

I’m not quite a fan of The Bee Gees but I am fascinated by their story, especially their versatility and ability to remain big hit makers over decades without people even noticing.

99% Invisible :: Pockets: Articles of Interest #3

This episode of an ongoing series about clothing focuses on the pocket, the unfairly gendered feature of clothing with a history dating back to its origin as a completely separate article of clothing.  I’m definitely a Pocketist.

Scientific American :: Where There’s a Wills There’s a Way to Explain the Home Run Rise

The science behind how subtle changes in the design of baseballs lead to a rise in home runs hit.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Classic Cartoon Sound Effects

How sounds effects for cartoons are made, reused, and become iconic signifiers.

Household Name :: The Amway Dream

Psst…it’s a pyramid scheme.

Book Review: September 1918: War, Plague, and the World Series by Skip Desjardin


AuthorSkip Desjardin
TitleSeptember 1918: War, Plague, and the World Series
Publication Info: Regnery History (2018)
Summary/Review:

It’s a running joke that the Boston news media will try to find the Boston angle to any major news story.  The thesis of this book is that Boston was essentially the center of world events for the month of September 1918, and in many ways Desjardin is not exaggerating.

The 1918 World Series became famous for being the Boston Red Sox last championship for 86 years (after winning 5 of the first 15 World Series).  But the World Series that year is remarkable for other reasons.  First, it came at the end of a shortened season.  As part of the work or fight edict from the US government, Major League Baseball agreed to end the season at Labor Day, with the Red Sox and the Cubs given an extra couple of weeks to complete the World Series.  Baseball was then to be suspended for the remainder of the war, and when the World Series ended on September 11th, no one knew the armistice would occur exactly two months later.  The war also depressed enthusiasm for the World Series with a low turnout in both ballparks.  The players concern of getting the smallest bonus ever offered to World Series participants combined the uncertainty of future employment lead them to strike briefly before one of the games.

The first World War lies heavily over this book as the Wilson government heavily encouraged all-out participation by recruiting and dedicating the homefront to the war effort.  One of the first American war heroes, the flying ace David Putnam of Jamaica Plain, died over Germany on September 12.  The same day the American forces under General John Pershing began the three day offensive at Saint-Mihiel which included the Yankee Division, primarily made up of New Englanders.  This was the first time American divisions lead by American officers took part in an offensive and the successful battle gained respect of the French and British, while making Germany realize their hopes for victory were growing slim.

The War also played a part in spreading the Great Influenza across continents and oceans.  The flu made it’s first outbreak in the US in Boston at the end of August 1918 and by the early days of September it was infecting – and killing – great numbers of sailors at the Commonwealth Pier and a great number of soldiers at Camp Devens in Ayer.  Patriotic events like the Labor Day Parade helped spread the flu to the civilian population.  The official response tended towards prioritizing keeping morale high for the war effort rather than reporting the actual deadliness of the disease, and military officers repeatedly stated the worst was past even as the number of deaths in the ranks increased.  The flu would burn through Massachusetts by the end of September while having an even more deadly October in the rest of the US in places like Philadelphia.

I’ve long thought that the period circa 1918-1919 in Boston is an historic era uniquely packed with significant and strange events.  Desjardin proves that just picking one month from that period provides the material for a compelling historical work.

Recommended booksFlu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata and Red Sox Century by Glenn Stout
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Arm by Jeff Passan


Author: Jeff Passan
TitleThe Arm
Narrator: Kevin Peirce
Publication Info: [Ashland, Oregon] : Blackstone Audio, Inc. : Harper Audio, [2016]
Summary/Review:

The subtitle of this book is Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports and “mystery” is an important word.  No one knows for sure why some pitchers can gain incredible endurance and others are prone to injury.  Practices for building arm strength and preventing injury are built more on guesswork than science.  And while new surgical procedures have allowed some pitchers to return to successful careers, they are no panacea. At the heart of The Arm is the fact that throwing an orb overhand a 100+ times in succession is an unnatural action, and the mystery is that anyone manages to do it without injury rather than why some pitchers can’t avoid injury.

At the heart of this book, Passan provides eyewitness documentation of two contemporary pitchers – Todd Coffey and Daniel Hudson – as they undergo Tommy John surgery and attempt to return to pitching at the top level in Major League Baseball.  In between there stories, Passan interviews various baseball legends: Sandy Koufax, whose Hall of Fame career was cut short in the days before surgeries that could’ve extended the life of his arm; Nolan Ryan, the opposite extreme, a pitcher known for his remarkable longevity despite refusing surgeries; and of course, Tommy John, whose eponymous surgery changed baseball. The career of orthopedist Frank Jobe, who humbly named ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction for his patient rather than himself, is also documented.

Outside of Major League Baseball, Passan investigates the increasing pressure in youth sports to specialize in one sport early and for coaches to overuse their young players’ arms in games.  Tommy John surgery is skyrocketing among adolescents.  An exploitative youth sports industry has also emerged that encourages young athletes and their families to pay to participate in showcases on the hopes of attracting attention of Major League scouts.  Passan also visits Japan where the traditionalist view of “pitch until your arm falls off” in high school baseball is just beginning to be challenged by the younger generation.

The mystery of the arm is not resolved in this book, but Passan does an excellent job documenting what we know about pitching and exposing a seedy underside of our national pastime

Recommended booksWherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball by R. A. Dickey and You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting
Rating: ****

TV Review: Class (2016)


Title: Class
Release Dates: 2016
Season: 1
Number of Episodes: 8
Summary/Review:

This spinoff series from Doctor Who was designed as a young adult science fiction drama with the scripts being written by popular young adult author Patrick Ness.  It’s curious that in many ways Class is darker and more mature (and more gory) than Doctor Who, although teens actually do like that kind of thing, tv productions don’t generally recognize it. The premise of a team of people fighting off the monster-of-the-week that emerges from a rift in space and time is very much reminiscent of the very grown-up Torchwood.

The show is set at the Coal Hill School, a frequent setting of Doctor Who going back to the first episode in 1963.  Because of the Doctor’s frequent visits to Coal Hill with the TARDIS time and space have become unstable creating the rift.  The Doctor has also placed two alien refugees at the school, disguised as human for their protection: Charlie, the prince of the Rhodians, and Ms. Quill, a revolutionary from the same planet who is tied to Charlie by a mental link that forces her to act his protector.  They are each the only survivors of their species after genocide by the Shadow Kin.

The rest of the kids are ordinary, highly-intelligent students with the typical problems of teenagers. Ram is talented football player who grieves the loss of his girlfriend to the Shadow Kin.  April is nerdy and well-behaved, but hides a troubled past with her father.  Tanya is the youngest in the group having moved up three years at the school and comes from a Nigerian immigrant family.  Matteusz is a Polish immigrant who is ostracized by his parents for being gay, and has a romance with Charlie.

The cast are all really charming and the show does a great job at developing their characters, albeit sometimes unevenly to serve the plot.  The scripts are especially good at exploring grief and young people learning to trust and work with one another. Ms. Quill is a scene stealing anti-hero, revolutionary become physics teacher.  The Shadow Kin are the main villain in this series and the four episodes they appear in are strained by the Shadow Kin being rather ridiculous and uninteresting.

The best two episodes come near the end of the series.  Episode 6 – “Detained” – is a bottle episode where the five students are shoved out of normal space-time and encounter a creature that makes them confess uncomfortable truths.  It’s good drama and also symbolic of young people learning to communicate with one another honestly.  The next episode – “The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did” – features Ms. Quill on adventure using a TARDIS-like device to travel into metaphysical realities in search of regaining her free will.  It’s a very imaginative and really lets Katherine Kelly to expand her character and acting chops.

Unfortunately, Class was canceled after one season, which is possibly a good thing because the cliffhanger hints at a premise that I don’t think would’ve worked well.  If the showrunners had known that they had only one season I think that they could’ve have reshaped these 8 episodes into a more self-contained miniseries.  But now we’ll just have to use our imaginations – and Big Finish audio dramas – to find out to find out what happens next.