“Linus had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
In the 1975 film Jaws, the great Irish actor Robert Shaw plays Quint, the grizzled shark hunting sea captain.
The highlight of the film is Shaw’s monologue about why his character won’t wear a life jacket. He tells the story of being on the USS Indianapolis in 1945, returning from a trip to Tinian*, delivering the Little Boy atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima. On its way back, it was struck by Japanese torpedoes.
900 men went into the water and 317 came out four days later. Why? Drowning, injuries, saltwater poisoning, but the real reason was sharks. The men were eaten alive by sharks.
Smithsonian magazine has a wonderful piece about the true story of the Indianapolis. It’s well worth your time to read. And then watch the great Robert Shaw below. He takes some artistic liberties with the story, but it’s one of the great performances in the history of cinema. That he wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar is a travesty.
In real life, Shaw was one of the great actors of his generation, but he’d die 3 years later at age 51 of alcoholism. Discovery did a documentary of the making of the film, which was an epically dysfunctional shoot that became the highest-grossing film of all time until Star Wars came along.. It’s also well worth your time.
* My grandfather Ted Wade was stationed on Tinian. He saw the Enola Gay take off; he was told to watch by an officer. But the enlisted men didn’t understand the significance until they saw the faint echoes of the bomb’s mushroom cloud. It was the first atomic weapon ever used against people.
“On the twenty-fourth of May 1844, Professor Samuel F. B. Morse, seated amidst a hushed gathering of distinguished national leaders in the chambers of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, tapped out a message on a device of cogs and coiled wires:
WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT
Forty miles away, in Baltimore, Morse’s associate Alfred Vail received the electric signals and sent the message back. The invention they had demonstrated was destined to change the world. For thousands of years messages had been limited by the speed with which messengers could travel and the distance at which eyes could see signals such as flags or smoke. Neither Alexander the Great nor Benjamin Franklin (America’s first postmaster general) two thousand years later knew anything faster than a galloping horse. Now, instant long-distance communication became a practical reality.”
Excerpt From: Daniel Walker Howe. “What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.” Oxford University Press, 2007 Pulitzer Prize winner
At the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), India’s state-owned telecom company, a message emerges from a dot matrix printer addressing a soldier’s Army unit in Delhi. “GRANDMOTHER SERIOUS. 15 DAYS LEAVE EXTENSION,” it reads. It’s one of about 5,000 such missives still being sent every day by telegram – a format favored for its “sense of urgency and authenticity,” explains a BSNL official.
That missive will come 144 years after Samuel Morse sent the first telegram in Washington, and seven years after Western Union shuttered its services in the United States. In India, telegraph services were introduced by William O’Shaughnessy, a British doctor and inventor who used a different code for the first time in 1850 to send a message.
At their peak in 1985, 60 million telegrams were being sent and received a year in India from 45,000 offices. Today, only 75 offices exist, though they are located in each of India’s 671 districts through franchises. And an industry that once employed 12,500 people, today has only 998 workers.
One of them is R.D. Ram, who has been working in the Delhi office for 38 years. “They will now move me to another department where I will feel like a fresher [beginner],” he complains.
Mr. Ram once learned the Morse code technology for telegraphy, but today oversees staff who type out and send telegrams over a Web software. He tries to put up a spirited defense of the obsolete technology in the age of the smartphone, arguing that mobile penetration is much lower than it is hyped to be. Mobile penetration is indeed a dismal 26 percent, but even in the remotest village, at least someone has a phone.
Why do you call this “Currently Reading” if it’s a book review?
I know, I know. I actually finished this about two weeks ago. I know I should call this segment “Finished Reading”, but… whatever. This is still an excellent book and an easy read. Plus, I don’t feel like editing and retagging.
Get a hold of yourself.
What’s it about?
Candice Millard weaves the personal history of President James A. Garfield with the life, and unraveling sanity, of Charles Guiteau, Garfield’s assassin. Garfield – who took office 17 years after Lincoln was shot – was nominated from out of nowhere; he most definitely did not have “presidential fever”. His brief term in office centered his quest to end political patronage. It was this quest to end the ‘jobs for votes’ exchange that led Guiteau to shoot Garfield because he thought he was owed a job that he didn’t get.
what other weird, strange, fascinating or wonderful personalities are in it?
Excellent question. It IS a strange story.
It also involves regretful-inventor-of-the-telephone Alexander Graham Bell (who invented a metal detector to find the bullet in Garfield’s body and was really happiest teaching deaf students), Dr. Joseph Lister (as in Listerine) and his controversial-nowhere-else-but-America ideas about antiseptic procedures (the bullet didn’t kill Garfield, the doctors putting their dirty fingers in the wound did; it’s gross), and Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York (the reigning king of patronage who hated Garfield because Conkling’s considerable power rested in giving jobs to friends in exchange for votes).
It also illustrates the fascinating almost-redemption of Chester A. Arthur, who was the ultimate product of the patronage system. He was Garfield’s no-show, do-nothing vice-president who fiercely prayed for Garfield’s recovery because he, like the rest of America, realized how horribly unqualified he was to become president.
This is a really cool slice of history about a part of American history that doesn’t get much traction.
This is a bit of a lie too. I finished this last weekend.
What’s it about?
The musician. He’s old-ish now, but he wasn’t always.
Why do I care?
Springsteen is one of the most important musical and cultural figures of the 2nd half of the 20th century. He was monstrously huge before you were born.
I used to be a huge Springsteen fan. When I was 14,15,16, his stories of escape from dead-end towns, bad parents, and relationships busted open by circumstances out of control meant everything to me. He was, for all intents and purposes, singing TO me. And he isn’t that great of a technical singer, so I thought I could do what he was doing.
Why should I read it?
Because this isn’t a story about music. Bruce came from where you likely did. Maybe worse. He was dirt poor. It’s a story about survival, resilience, and a refusal to give up, in the personage of a kid born to a bi-polar father, a mom who worked just to hold the house together, a kid trying to fit in who finds his thing when he gets his first guitar.
Bruce’s life reads like an impossible movie and his lyrics, especially in the early days, read like poetry. Even if you don’t like the music, the story is a revelation.
It’s also a warts-and-all bio. Bruce gave access to everyone and told them to speak freely. And boy do they. Bruce has hurt a lot of people, including his own band members, which is why this is a must-read. It’s NOT A fluff piece.
You said you used to be a Springsteen fan. What happened?
It’s not that I don’t like him, but nothing he’s done has matched the intensity of his 2nd, 3rd and 4th albums – The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, Born To Run, and Darkness on the Edge of Town. You should listen to all 3. Wild and Innocent is a street band, all funky getting its sound together. Born To Run is that same band at the peak of its powers, as Bruce sang: “chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected and stepping out over the line”. Darkness is just that. Dark. Hard. Heavy. The sound of a guy who seen the bad side of things, the bad side of life, the bad side of people. But he’s still resilient, beaten but unbroken. “Mister I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man. And I believe in the Promised Land.”
Born To Run, studio
and live in 1975
Jungleland – from Born To Run, performed in 2001 NYC
The story of the kid known as Magic Rat and his death in a street fight
from The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Badlands, from Darkness on the Edge of Town, live in London 2009
This is kind of a lie. I finished this about two weeks ago, but I wanted to start this section off, so I’m starting with a BIG IMPORTANT BOOK. Because I sometimes read trashy fiction and bios.
What’s it about?
It’s about Lincoln, starting in his childhood and going through to his assassination. It’s detailed, richly so. It’s long, but it’s never boring. Goodwin writes using a lot of sourced quotes (all in the bibliography in the back) so it’s less reading ABOUT Lincoln and more like hanging WITH Lincoln. Who, BTW, was a much funnier and cooler guy than he has been given credit for. It’s like a trip back to the 1860’s.
Is it like the movie?
No. I read it because I loved the movie, and the part of the book that the movie is based on is about 7 pages. This is sprawling and will take some time, but the payoff is huge.
How many vampires does he kill?
None. Wrong movie. Lincoln doesn’t sparkle either.
So how was it?
Awesome. 9.5/10. It’s looong, but worth your time. I’d go eBook on this if you can just because of weight. It’s a doorstop.