Friday, March 29, 2013

More Trivia

Filed under: History, Easter

The date of Easter is determined as the first Sunday after the full moon following the first day of Spring.  This nails it to between March 21, and April 25, and it has been so since 325 AD.  I'll bet some jackass is working on getting it moved to Monday so Federal employees can get another paid holiday.

This one is filed as: History, Law

Teddy Roosevelt had the good sense to sign into law an act excluding "idiots, feebleminded persons, epileptics, insane persons" from being admitted to the United States.  So, who repealed it?

This is filed as: Mythology, Greek; and is attributed to Norman Davies' "History of Europe"

The Minotaur, the primogeniture of bullheadedness, was said to be the product of a strange infatuation that Pasiphae, the queen of Minos, developed for a certain bull.  She enlisted the aid of Daedalus, that Minoan Tom Edison who later became famous for flying away on wings made of wax and seagull feathers.  Daedalus built the queen a hollow cow within which she assumed the position.  Apparently the bull was unable to resist.

Finally: History, Notable Quotations

That Greek sage, Botheious (c. 400 BC) said, "The most unfortunate misfortune is to have once been happy."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Something Completely Different

I have always been fond of trivia and have a small archive of it.  For a change and perhaps a chuckle, I've decided to punctuate my eBook reviews with a little trivia.  Here is my first offering.

This one is filed under: History, pre-Columbian:

The Mayan archeological zone at Uxmal in the state of Yucatán has a curious little area of repose from the blistering sun.  It is a shady garden of phalluses.
Perhaps in the spirit of one-upmanship, a couple hundred kilometers away at the well known—now totally ruined by touristic development—archeological zone of Chichén Itzá there is a building that casual tourists never see.  It lies, choked with weeds, about a kilometer beyond the building known as the Nunnery near the Observatory.  If it were known at all, it would be infamously known for having gargoyles in the form of penises.
Those pre-Columbian funsters!

Finally, just so you can feel like you got your money's worth, did you know no water flows above ground on the entire Yucatán Peninsula?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Yo Tome Panama / I Took Panama by Rodolfo Leiton

Un ingeniero francés, pequeño y belicoso, llamado Philippe Bunau-Varilla, inspirado por el enorme éxito y el prestigio derivado del recientemente completado canal de Suéz, se obsesionó por la idea de construir el canal de Panamá hasta el punto de fomentar la revolución independista contra Columbia (financiándola con su fortuna personal—fortuna ganada durante el intento fallido francés de excavar el canal).  El análisis sobre la construcción del canal se hace desde un punto de vista distinto.  La audacia, determinación y habilidad de Bunau-Varilla es una verdedera lección de perseverancia sin la cual posiblemente el canal panameño hubiera sido controlado por Alemania.  ¡Considérense las ramificaciones de esa posibilidad!

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A feisty little French engineer named Philippe Bunau-Varilla inspired by the enormous success and prestige derived from the recently completed Suez Canal, became obsessed with the building of the Panama Canal.  Obsessed to the point of fomenting the Panamanian rebellion against Columbia and financing it with his personal fortune—a fortune made in the failed attempt by France to dig the canal.  This examination of the building of the canal is seen from a unique point of view.  Bunau-Varilla's audacity, determination and ingenuity is a lesson in perseverance, without which the Panama Canal could very well have been German.  Consider the ramifications of that!

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

To Steal an Election by Larry Winebrenner

Terrific characters—they are reminiscent of characters created by the great Robert Heinlein.  "To Steal an Election" is a twisted tale of shifting loyalties, ambiguous loyalties and no loyalties at all.  The unlikely hero is a one-legged Christian Marine commando with a weakness for women and the uncanny ability to escape from hopeless predicaments—usually with the loss of yet another prosthesis.  The action flows around the Carolinas as the conspirators apply all the firepower of the U.S. military in the furtherance of their plans to subvert the presidential election.  Our amputee can't be certain who to trust, so he gathers a team from the only reliable source available, his offspring.  That's when the action really gets a boost.

I will classify "To Steal an Election" as a very good book, however, it does have some pace issues.  There are places where the action lags and some descriptive passages indulge in more detail than we need.  I have corresponded with the author and believe that future editions will be tighter, but don't wait.  You can fast forward through the Southern cooking and recipes without losing the plot.  That aside, it is a cleverly constructed story with plenty of excitement.

Price: $8.99 (Tad on the pricey side.)

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Memoir of an Amazing Man

"Blessed" is the memoir of a truly remarkable person.  Burt Boyar has led an enviable life.  After serendipitously becoming close friends with Sammy Davis, Jr., Burt abandoned a successful career as a Broadway columnist to form a three-way collaboration with his wife, Jane, and the ground-breaking entertainer, the fruit of which was the autobiography of Sammy Davis, Jr.  Horror stories of five years of toil and more years of editorial battles sent chills through this writer's veins, but eventually, the result was a bestseller, "Yes, I Can".

Then a nine-month sojourn in the south of Spain to research a new book led the Boyars into the bizarre coincidence of having the daughter of the fascist dictator, Franco, for their landlady.  Spain captured their hearts, as it does to so many, and nine months turned into twenty-eight years, the product of which was a novel about Franco putting a stop to Hitler's designs on Spain and Gibraltar.  The source of the material for "Hitler Stopped by Franco" came from the extraordinary access that the Boyars had with the Franco family—talk about luck!

As an afterward, "Blessed" ends with a posthumous letter to Sammy in heaven wherein Burt details the frustrations he is experiencing in his attempt to turn "Yes, I Can" into a major motion picture.  Again my blood ran cold.

Memoirs seldom grab my interest, but "Blessed" tells a great story.  I had the enormous good fortune to meet Burt when he graciously received my wife and me in his West LA home.  Rarely have I had the opportunity to meet a person so full of wit and charm.  He shared anecdotes from his amazing life with us for a fascinating hour, at the end of which it wasn't Burt who rushed us to the door, like fools, we had to be elsewhere.  "Blessed" brims with joy, frustration, a little sadness, humility, warmth and all of the heavy hitters of the post-war era.  I got to meet Burt in the flesh.  Now, I invite everyone to meet him in "Blessed"

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Friday, March 8, 2013

Invited to the Home of Best Selling Author, Burt Boyar

Before I stumbled onto "Hitler Stopped by Franco" while browsing Smashwords, I confess that I had never heard of Burt Boyar.  Only a few pages into the free sample convinced me to return and buy the whole book.  It was one of those "I couldn't put it down" experiences.  As is my habit, I wrote a review giving high and genuine praise, and I made a list of a few typos and eBook formatting errors.  From the front material I surmised that he had a publisher and editor, but I assumed he would want to see the little issues I thought I saw in the text.  Since I've been in the habit of doing this, only one author has taken offense.  So, I published the review on this blog and elsewhere, I found Burt Boyar's email address and sent him the review with the list of errata.  Within minutes I got a reply thanking me warmly.  His email signature gives his address and phone number and I noticed from the address that he lived only about forty miles from me which I mentioned when I replied to let him know he was welcome.  He suggested that we should meet.

Now, as previously stated, I am a bit of a hermit, and going to West Los Angeles is to me tantamount to going to the moon, only worse.  However, it happens that the young son of a friend has leukemia which has confined him to the Los Angeles Children's Hospital for months where he has been receiving copious doses of blood platelets.  My wife—fondly known as Hurricane Sandy—and I wanted to donate blood on his behalf because if the blood is replaced, the family avoids having to pay for the transfusions.  So with two reasons to make the painful crawl into the City of Angeles, I set a time for the meeting with Burt.

The Wilshire Boulevard address was obviously an exclusive neighborhood, but I failed to comprehend that the 'PH E' after the street number meant Penthouse East.  In the elevator I began get nervous.  When the doors slid open one of the most charming and gracious men we ever met greeted us.

In his lovely apartment, filled with books, orchids and memorabilia, we had a fascinating chat about Spain, publishing, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Carmen Franco.  Burt Boyar ghostwrote the autobiography of his friend, Sammy Davis, Jr., which became a bestseller.  Foolish me, I had not known that I was entering the rarified air of celebrity.

Burt Boyar's other extraordinary access to priceless primary source material was having the daughter of the Spanish dictator, Generalísimo Francisco Franco, for a landlady.  This remarkable coincidence gave him the opportunity to interview on an intimate level people who were present when Franco played his deadly cat and mouse game with Hitler.  This, of course, is the story told in "Hitler Stopped by Franco".

He told us an anecdote that I can't resist sharing.  He was with Carmen Franco when she was asked to sign a church register and give her Spanish national ID number.  She signed and wrote the number three.  The priest, who was accustomed to identification numbers containing eight digits, said, "No, señora, I'm afraid you must give the whole number."  She said, "I did."  As daughter of the man who ran the place for four decades, she was numero tres.  You've gotta love Spain.

One amusing little incident that happened during our hour together: Hurricane Sandy got to flaunt her tech savvy by showing Burt how to use Siri to operate his Iphone.  The woman upstages me wherever we go.

Burt did not rush us out the door at the end of an hour.  The Hurricane had an appointment to get a haircut and we knew that at least an hour and a half of LA traffic stood before us.  It was the most delightful hour I've passed in a great while, and as we left, I was further delighted when Burt gave me an autographed copy of each of his books.  I plan to lock them in a glass case and download them as eBooks to read them.  When we said goodbye he suggested that we stay in touch and I certainly intend to do so.  Burt Boyar is a great writer and terrific person.  I'm sure glad I took the time to write that review.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hitler Stopped by Franco

Nothing Less Than Superb

Burt Boyar and his late wife had extraordinary access to intimate details of an obscure piece of World War II history.  Most Americans' view of Generalísimo Franco is of an implacable Fascist dictator who ran Spain with an iron hand for nearly forty years.  That may be true enough, but "Hitler Stopped by Franco" shows us that he had another facet.  Imagine being the supreme leader of civil war torn, impoverished and helpless Spain with divisions of Wehrmacht amour parked on your border and Hitler continually whining, cajoling and demanding access to Gibraltar through your sovereign territory.  With Spain totally defenseless, Franco had to play the ultimate cat and mouse game.  He had to convince Hitler of his friendship, and that he would join the Axis 'any day now' while he kept relief coming from the Allies with assurances of maintaining strict neutrality.  For three years he managed to walk this tightrope.

The Boyars were able to interview actual players in this tableau who were present at high-stakes meetings with the world's most dangerous men.  The depth of the research behind this story is uncanny.  Written in the form of historical fiction, this fascinating history reads like a suspense novel.  The characterization of Franco will give the reader a new perspective of the man who saved Spain twice.  I cannot give this book enough praise.

Price: $3.99
101,303 words

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