The Economist, 18 June 2022: Interview with Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov

Self has such enormous respect for Reznikov. He was Defense Minister for only four months when Russia invaded. He expected “to busy himself with bureaucratic reforms.” Instead, on Feb. 24, he kissed his wife goodbye and went to work. For the next three weeks, he and his core team of advisers “moved around secret sites in the capital: One of the most uncomfortable things was waking up each morning in a new bed.”

No one expected Ukraine to survive. But those canny Ukrainians: in early February, they had already begun secretly moving military units out from their permanent bases. They “hid their air-defence systems and attack aircraft, replacing them with mock-ups.” They rapidly “enacted a new law on territorial defense to arm 100,000 civilians in three days.” Which means they never, not once, entertained the idea of surrendering. All of which would have been clear to Putin or to anyone who’d been paying attention.

Because of this level of preparation, Volodymyr Zelensky made his decision to stay in Kiev. He did not run and form a government in exile. And “with every victory on the battlefield, Western governments began to believe that Ukraine actually had a chance of winning.”

Four months of war. In February, Zelensky had no idea about the kind of wartime leader he would be. Talk about rising to the challenge! He became the leader Ukraine needed.

The Ukrainian people have shown such tremendous courage. “In some areas, Russian forces have ten times Ukraine’s firepower.” Ukraine has lost some territory (Severodonetsk), but whatever gains Russia has made have had to be ground out, inch by inch.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Jane Harris, Wife of Lanson

For three years, friends and family of Jane Harris had urged her to accept the inevitable: that her husband had gone down with his ship. She tuned them all out. Hospitalized for a burst appendix, she insisted that the doctors continue to sedate her because the hospital was the first real sleep she had had for years. Then, she insisted they keep her sedated, for three more weeks.

A U.S. newspaper had printed an article “describing how two unnamed USS Houston men had escaped from a Thai prison camp.” Then she received “a Navy Department telegram saying that her husband was safe in American hands.”

She told an interviewer, “I put two and two together with the telegram I got, and I said, well one of those has got to be Lans.”

Fires at Sea

The battle on the Java Sea, a battle between mis-matched opponents (The Allies were much less prepared than the Japanese), is muddied by a lack of direction in command. The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors is the classic David vs Goliath match-up. Ship of Ghosts, however, is more like The Charge of the Light Brigade. Or at least that’s the way James Hornfischer writes it.

Admiral Doorman (Dutch), on his flagship the De Ruyter, is leading the Allied fleet back to port on Java when he gets a command from a superior to engage AGAIN. So he orders his ships to turn around. As the Allied ships head back to the scene of battle (a battle which they very decisively lost in the afternoon), they pass survivors of the earlier sinkings — “the swells here and there were dotted with men adrift” — and once again, the Allied fleet pass them by, with the exception of the HMS Encounter, which stops and takes aboard 113.

Three of the ships that escaped being torpedoed in the afternoon, are now torpedoed. GAAAH. So stupid. Admiral Doorman’s own ship, the De Ruyter, is hit. He orders the remaining ships to head back to port instead of trying to recover survivors. “The standing order that disabled friendlys should be left to the enemy’s mercy came with no exception for” admirals. So the De Ruyter is left to struggle alone. It was “an hour and a half before she finally sank.” A sailor on the Houston described hearing “nine separate and distinct explosions before we cleared the horizon. Admiral Karel Doorman was never seen again.”

btw, one of the Allied ships was sunk as it approached harbor, by a mine. A mine set by the Dutch just that morning, in anticipation of an enemy invasion.

Self always found it difficult to understand fires at sea. Wouldn’t it be easy to put out fires, surrounded by so much water? She learned from reading The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, however, that fires are one of the most common reasons for death at sea. Moreover, for the survivors, there is nowhere to go. A ship is a floating island. In fact, again from reading TLSOTTCS, she learns that most of the crew probably could not swim. And even if you happened to be one of the lucky few who could swim — sharks! Gruesome.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Me, Myself, and Self

Self was interviewed by The Museum of Americana.

Read the interview here.

How to Interview for Mine Work (Underground)

When I started in the employment office, after I’d been in there for, I don’t know, maybe six months, they wanted me to start interviewing applicants. I said, “I can interview applicants for the smelter, for all the plant, but I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about when it comes to underground.” I said, “You want us to interview applicants to see if they’re able? We should go underground.” So we did. We went through every part of underground. We climbed ladders. We went on trams. We crossed grizzlies, which is pretty scary. After that, I could paint a picture to an applicant, what they were getting into. These kids, they’re high school graduates, they’re college suits, summer hires, whatever. They have no clue. They’re from Tucson. They’re from Green Valley. Most kids that age — they think they know everything. I thought I knew everything at that age. So you paint a picture for them, tell them what the job entails. Some of them, I could just tell, they weren’t going to make it. I’d tell them exactly how narrow those ladders were, how big the cages were, how they shook on the way down, how dark it was, how crossing the grizzly — which was like railroad ties about a foot apart, where all the ore drops through, tons and tons of rocks and boulders and dirt — you can go down one of those grizzlies, you can land in the car that’s collecting it, end up in the smelter before anyone knows you’re gone. You paint that picture. What it means to go down there and sweat buckets. You just tell them what it entails.

— interview with Evelyn Gorham, Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West

Magma’s No. 9 Shaft

Self is learning a lot about what it’s like to work in a mine.

Cheryl became a timekeeper at Magma’s No. 9 shaft. Each miner was assigned a number, which was engraved on a small brass plate. When a man began a shift, he would “brass in,” collecting his time card in exchange for handing over his brass ID. At the end of the shift, he would ascend to the surface, return his time card, and retrieve his brass.

“At the end of the day, they’re running through, you see their face, know their name, and give them their brass back. But if the brass was still there, Where’s that man?

— Chapter 6, Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West

My Love to Director Luke Holland

It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon. There were signs all over downtown reminding everyone to wear a mask, the marquee on Fox Theater announced that Malala Yousef was coming to speak in October.

I did not have high expectations for Final Account. I’ve seen every Holocaust movie of the last three decades, including Quentin Tarantino’s. I didn’t read any reviews; I only wanted to get some respite from the glare.

Two things: there were other people in the audience. Perhaps eight other people? I assumed they were seniors. They usually are, at the movies I see. Towards the end, someone to my right clapped. It was after the interview with the man who had been one of 23 SS at the Wannsee Conference (1942) when The Final Solution was decided on. I looked to the right, saw bare feet up on the seat in front (which is a very American thing to do, it’s almost summer hey) and assumed the feet belonged to a young person. Much to my surprise, when the lights went up, it was a tall woman whose grey hair was cut very short, like a boy’s. She was wearing khaki shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops. She walked quickly out of the theater after the movie ended, faster than I’ve seen any person, young or old, move.

The film was a series of interviews with the last surviving members of the SS (identifiable by a small mark, a tattoo), and with others who worked for the Nazis, male and female. It started with those who were inducted into Hitler Youth in the early 1930s, moved all the way up through Kristallnacht (1938) and into the Allied Victory.

The day before the Americans arrived at one of the camps, the guards started stuffing people into the crematoriums, as many as they could. And then they slunk away. One woman told how she successfully hid her fiancee, a prison guard, for nine months. Her companions were surprised. I guess they’d never heard her tell this story? They also sounded a bit incredulous.

(I started the movie eating popcorn, out of habit. Can you imagine?)

The interview with Hans Werk, a member of the Waffen S.S., one of those who sat around a table in Wannsee and discussed The Final Solution, was a true punch to the gut. He was engaging in some sort of open discussion with students seated around a table. Get this: the student’s faces were blurred out, to conceal their identities, when you would think it would be the other way around. After all, what would students have to hide?

One wore a T-shirt that said “La Familia”??? They were all male, and all white. But it was Werk who stared directly into the camera and said, “I belonged to a murderous organization.” At which the students sitting around objected and said, “Must we live with this shame all our lives?” And then I understood why the students’ faces were blurred. They criticized Werk for his “lack of honour.” (!!!???)

Two of the interviews were with ex-SS who were still proud of their membership in this “elite” organization (and why was I not surprised that those two men seemed to have the nicest living rooms). The last interview, however, was in a very humble room, and I thought: “This was why this was selected to be the last interview. He’s going to go all-out about his shame.”

But no! He was with Hitler to the end! He was PROUD of Hitler! I was soooo surprised.

Oh bravo, Luke Holland.

One interviewee said they were “partially complicit.” But at what point does complicity start shading into guilt?

Most were ashamed and most said they “knew nothing.” That was their way of covering up their shame, but it leaked out in their eyes.

What. A. Movie. Five stars.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Quote of the Day: “just so bleeding tired”

Lamorna Ash’s first stop in Newlyn is, naturally, a pub:

“When you first come in,” . . . Nathan later tells me . . . “you literally do not know what to do with yourself. And you’re tired; you are just so bleeding tired that the easiest way out is to go to the pub and turn your brain right off.”

Seeking sanctuary in the pub becomes a way of numbing yourself within an environment that itself does not feel quite of the land, more an extension of your time at sea — filled with gumbooted men straight off their boats who retain the strong aroma of fish.

Dark, Salt, Clear, p. 18

Caroline Kim, Very Much on Self’s Mind

Dear blog readers, are you in for a treat.

Caroline Kim, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, and currently on the Long List for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection, has agreed to share with self her process for writing a short story.

The story we’ll be parsing is Mr. Oh, the first story in the collection. Among other things, self will be asking her why this story came first. Or, put another way, how does she decide the order in which to put her stories?

Caroline’s answers to self’s questions will be posted next week. But read her story first. Read her collection, the entire collection. If you think of any questions, you can leave comments here, and self will pass on to Caroline.

So excited! SQUEEEE!!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Gizmodo: Shoreh Aghdashloo

The real reason self started watching The Expanse was Shoreh Aghdashloo. Her deep (world weary) voice imprinted itself on my brain, ever since I saw her in The Lake House. She is perfect in the role of Chrisjen Avasarala.

An excerpt from her interview with Gizmodo:

  • “With entertainment, we bring people together. And bringing people together is half a step to unite them. When we get united, we’re sort of healed, because we know the person next to us doesn’t hate us—doesn’t love us, love is a strong word and I’m not asking for it—but is living peacefully next to me.”

She is so smart! And articulate! Read the entire piece here.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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