I Heart Propaganda: In Time of Emergency

As you could probably tell from my previous post about separating trash from treasures, I own a lot of weird shit.  Most of the stuff came from my husband’s grandma’s long-time gentleman friend, known affectionately as Uncle Beanie.  After Uncle Beanie passed away, Chris and I went to his home to help my in-laws clean it out. Uncle Beanie was a brilliant man with a penchant for hoarding.  From newspapers from 1967 (with stock certificates wedged between pages) to beautiful pre-WWII Japanese prints to McDonald’s hamburger wrappers that were cleaned and used as file dividers, he meticulously stored a variety of items in every available corner of his house.  As we sifted through piles and piles of papers, magazines and boxes, I kept a few fascinating things slated to be thrown away.  One of my favorite items is a cold war-era booklet from the Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense called “In Time of Emergency, A Citizen’s Handbook on: …Nuclear Attack …Natural Disasters.”  With a title like that, how could I resist?

In this day and age of body scans, shoe removals, and patting down old ladies at the airport, we live through procedures and protocols designed to give us a sense of security.  We want to feel like there is something we can do to prevent an act of terrorism from happening, so we comply with these rules, no matter how ineffective they are or how inconsistent their application.  In “A Citizen’s Handbook,”  we see this concept is nothing new – the booklet is filled with checklists to follow so you and your family can survive a nuclear attack.  Considering what the government knew about nuclear bombs and radiation at the time, the brochure is nothing short of fascinating propaganda.  Here are some of my favorite passages:

Got Particles?
There is a particular emphasis on fallout particles throughout the booklet.  It’s kind of like, “nuclear burns and being atomized are no big deal; but fallout particles? Now those are a bugger!”

“After a nuclear attack, food and water would be available to most people, and it would be usable. If any fallout particles have collected, they could be removed before the food is eaten or the water is drunk.”

…So you know how when a bug gets in your chocolate milk, and you’re like, “I’m not letting this ruin my day!” and you try and get the bug out with your finger, but it keeps scooting away from you and you’re tempted to just say “fuck it” and drink the bug? Well, it’s just like that! Except your finger will melt off the second it touches the milk.

“From many studies, the Federal Government has determined that enough food and water would be available after an attack to sustain our surviving citizens. However, temporary food shortages might occur in some areas, until food was shipped there from other areas.”

…Katrina pretty much showed how good the Federal Government is at these “many [un-cited] studies.”  Which is to say, about as good as they are at doing water drops and keeping victims from Human Fallout Particle Geraldo Rivera.

“Most of the Nation’s remaining food supplies would be usable after an attack. Since radiation passing through food does not contaminate it, the only danger would be the actual swallowing of fallout particles that happened to be on the food itself (or on the can or package containing the food), and these could be wiped or washed off.”

…”I find the particles to provide a nice, piquant aftertaste.”   – My favorite scene from A Fallout Christmas Story.

“Practically all of the particles that dropped into open reservoirs, lakes, and streams (or into open containers or wells) would settle to the bottom. Any that didn’t would be removed when the water was filtered before being pumped to consumers. A small amount of radioactive material might dissolve in the water, but at most this would be of concern for only a few weeks.”

…O_o.

If you see a nuclear fireball…DUCK!
Another aspect of the book is how they spend a few pages on preparing the reader for ideal scenarios, but then close the section with, “if you don’t feel like doing these things, DON’T WORRY! You’ll still live through a nuclear blast if you remember to stop, drop and roll!”

“It is possible–but extremely unlikely–that your first warning of an enemy attack might be the flash of a nuclear explosion in the sky some distance away. Or there might be a flash after warning had been given, possibly while you were on your way to shelter.

“TAKE COVER INSTANTLY. If there should be a nuclear flash–especially if you are outdoors and feel warmth at the same time–take cover instantly in the best place you can find. By getting inside or under something within a few seconds, you might avoid being seriously burned by the heat or injured by the blast wave of the nuclear explosion. If the explosion were some distance away, you might have 5 to 15 seconds before being seriously injured by the heat, and perhaps 30 to 60 seconds before the blast wave arrived. Getting under cover within these time limits might save your life or avoid serious injury. Also, to avoid injuring your eyes, never look at the flash of an explosion or the nuclear fireball.

… In all seriousness, I find the vagueness of the booklet really interesting.  Take, for example this very scientific diagram of the area of mass destruction versus the “okie-dokie-ish” area:


And here – if the explosion were “some distance away.”  Like, what kind of distance? You can guess that I am no nuclear physicist, but I suspect that if you see the…what is it? Ah yes – flash of an explosion or the nuclear fireball, or feel the warmth of said fireball, you’re kind of fucked.

Umm…This Improvisational Shelter Sounds Kind of Like a Grave.

“If your home has no basement, no storm cellar and no protected crawl space, here are two ways of improvising fallout protection in your yard:

“- Dig an L-shaped trench, about 4 feet deep and 3 feet wide. One side of the L, which will be the shelter area, should be long enough to accommodate all family members. The other side of the L can be shorter, since its purpose is to serve as an entrance-way and to reduce the amount of radiation getting into the shelter area.

“Cover the entire trench with lumber (or with house doors that have been taken off their hinges), except for about 2 feet on the short side of the L, to provide access and ventilation.

“On top of the lumber or doors, pile earth 1 to 2 feet high, or cover them with other shielding material.
If necessary, support or “shore up” the walls of the trench, as well as the lumber or doors, so they will not collapse.

“2) Dig a shallow ditch, 6 inches deep and 6 inches wide, parallel to and 4 feet from the outside wall of your house.
Remove the heaviest doors from the house. Place the bottoms of the doors in the ditch (so they won’t slip), and lean the doors against the wall of the house.

“On the doors, pile 12 to 18 inches of earth or sand. Stack or pile other shielding material at the sides of the doors, and also on the other side of the house wall (to protect you against radiation coming from that direction).
If possible, make the shelter area deeper by digging out more earth inside it. Also dig some other shallow ditches, to allow rain water to drain away.”

…In other words, please dig a hole in the earth for you and your family, and bury yourself in it.  Perfect! We thank you for your assistance in making the government post-nuclear cleanup as efficient as possible…

My husband finds certain aspects of history slightly depressing.  Me? I find them comforting, because it shows we’ve always been fucked up.  Billy Joel was right.

There are a ton of passages from this book that I don’t have the time to even get to on this post, but lucky for you, it’s all available online!
Read the booklet online in its entirety at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15158/15158-h/15158-h.htm

Four Books to Challenge Your Views

There are certain books you come across in life that make you so angry, you want to throw the book across the room by the end of it. It is as if the book ropes you in on a certain premise then pulls the rug out from under you, opening your eyes to a dirty, awful truth.  It is a truth that cannot be unseen, and is a truth that cannot be contained within pages or a collection of 1s and 0s on a Kindle.   The four books below made me angry, they made me want to learn and do more, and they all challenged my thinking in a profound way.  As a reminder, I’m not an Amazon affiliate or anything; this is just me sharing a few favorite books with you. [Full disclosure: update as of 5/7 - I joined Amazon, and yes, I am linking these books, but it is still about things I love - if I wanted to really sell out, I'd do a list like, "Four Big Screen TVs to Blow Your Mind."]


Circumstantial Evidence by Pete Earley

Whenever I hear about a case where a person seemed to be wrongly convicted, I think of this book.  It is a non-fiction account of how in 1986, an African-American man with no criminal history was found guilty of murdering a white woman in Alabama and had his sentence changed from life in prison to the death penalty by the presiding judge.  The book tells the story of how a corrupt prosecutor and a culture of racism almost killed an innocent man.  In the defendant’s case, he was lucky to have the Innocence Project and a 60 Minutes exposé on his side.  After reading this book, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people were on death row under similar circumstances who weren’t able to grab the national attention this case received.

 

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

This may come as a surprise to you, but I really enjoyed reading this book.  To Ayn Rand’s credit, this book was unlike any other of its time – it featured a “strong” woman (in quotes because Dominique was way too much of a Roarke fangirl), the heroes of the book openly had affairs, and the bad guys were into charity.  What? She does a good job of making the “bad guys” unlikeable, and it is page-turning fiction.  On one level, the book is nothing short of absurd – the trial scene in particular laughable and ridiculous.  Yet…it’s like sci-fi/fantasy, using an alternate reality of our world.  Rand didn’t see it as an alternate reality, nor do her legions of followers.  Until rich people actually make like a Rand character and petulantly hold their breath until the world lets them be the racecar in Monopoly or whatever the fuck spoiled brat thing Rand characters always do, I’m calling it fantasy.

After reading The Fountainhead, I went on a crazy Ayn Rand kick – I read Atlas Shrugged and a lot of Objectivist literature.  I’ll be honest with you, when the economy tanked in 2007, I was shocked at how many people pulled out their Cliff’s Notes of Atlas Shrugged and started quoting it.  For me, when 2007 happened, I took one look at my mongo-sized copy of Atlas Shrugged and thought, “well, there goes that theory…”

To each his own, I guess.


Animal Farm by George Orwell

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  Even though Orwell wrote this book as a satire of Stalinism, time and time again, we see our world mirror that of Animal Farm.  Orwell had said he came up with the idea for the book after seeing a boy on a farm whipping a farm animal, stating “men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.”  As we see various movements rise and fall in today’s world, one can’t help but wonder who in these movements is the Snowball or the Napoleon. We see certain individuals state they are for the people, yet are in bed with the rich and powerful.  We see people following these individuals without bothering to educate themselves on the facts.  This happens now, and it’s happened many times before.  Animal Farm shows the consequences for blindly following a movement, and placing an unwavering trust in a select few.  The United States may be one of the only countries in history to successfully overthrow a government and turn it over to the people, but at times we dance dangerously close to handing our rights away to the pigs.

 

Where Men Win Glory by John Krakauer

The general public may think they know the story of Pat Tillman – football star turns away from millions of dollars to join the military, dies valiantly fighting the enemy… if you’ve followed the story beyond that, you’ll know that he actually died from friendly fire and oops! those initial reports were incorrect and were in no way deliberately misleading. No, not at all.  Tillman was a man who defied every stereotype – he was considered to be too short to play football on an elite level yet managed to be a starter in the NFL.  He was a scholar, graduating with a 3.85 GPA in under four years.  He was an atheist, read the Book of Mormon and the Quran, and joined the military not out of patriotism or religious reasons, but because he wanted to push himself to reach his full potential as a human being.  He became an elite Army ranger yet questioned military groupthink and protocol often.  As is the case with many of Krakauer’s books, the main subject is only a part of a much larger story Krakauer wants to tell.  This is not only a biography of a fascinating person, but is also a history of U.S. relations in the middle east, a commentary on the Bush Doctrine, and a story of a military so desperate for good PR, they disgraced the memory of a man who died for their cause.  While I felt Krakauer spent far too much time on the 2000 election, the story is told with unrelenting passion and left me wanting to honor Tillman’s memory by being a better person.

Looking to purchase any of these books or anything else on Amazon? Support The Menacing Kitten by purchasing Amazon products through this web site. Like this sexy, sexy Kindle Touch (which I own and love):

 

How Tom & Jerry Made Me a Vengeful God

[Warning! Sailor-like language and imagery that may either upset children or give them a sense of the sweet, sweet taste of evil revenge.]

There were a few cartoons in my childhood I watched religiously but hated the designated “good guys:” He-Man, She-Ra, Josie and the Pussycats, and Tom and Jerry all come to mind.  The “Good Guy” characters were moralizing and seldom experienced adversity – shit always swung their way.  They were often goody-goody, never capable of making a mistake.  Even as a kid, I hated black and white characters.  I felt bad for Alexandra on Josie and the Pussycats, because she was clumsy and wasn’t as cute as Josie.  I felt bad for Skelator because he didn’t have a fucking face.  Yet I watched these shows every damn day because my naïve little mind thought maybe today Alan would give Alexandra a chance, or maybe He-Man or She-Ra would realize that maybe they’d be a little touchy too if they didn’t have eyeballs.  But no cartoon riled me up the way Tom and Jerry did.

I think it would be really interesting to do a scientific poll to see who rooted for Tom and who rooted for Jerry growing up.  I suspect most Jerry fans were either brutally attacked by a cat as a child or are Cowboy/Yankee fans.  Tom is the underdog…er… undercat; he’s just trying to live a normal, quiet, life as a housecat.  Jerry, the little diseased rodent, is constantly trying to steal from Tom’s family.  As if stealing wasn’t bad enough, he antagonizes and tortures Tom in the process.   Jerry is a little freaking grifter, and I for one wanted to see him lose.

Tom and Jerry, being the classic “this vs. that” cartoon, was ubiquitous not only throughout my youth, but throughout the youth of generations before me.   In addition to getting the cartoon, there were a number of ways you could get your Tom and Jerry fix.  When I was in elementary school, they would pass around leaflet-sized catalogs of books we could buy.  One time, my mom let me order three books, and one in particular stood out to me as a must-have: “Tom’s Happy Birthday.”  The cover showed Tom gleefully digging into a birthday cake.  After watching Tom get tormented day after day, it was good to see him get his due.  If I wasn’t lucky enough to see one of the two episodes where Tom beats out Jerry, then I’m going to get a book where he wins and I can read it whenever I want.  One damn day a year, Tom deserved to have a piece of cake and a little moment of serenity.  When the orders were handed out in class, I couldn’t wait to go home and read this story recounting justice for Tom.  I eagerly opened up the book and began to read.  Jerry, the little f-er, decided he needed to ruin Tom’s birthday.  Tom’s day.  Along with his grifter cousin (and by the way, Jerry had a lot of freaking grifter cousins), they did their typical torture and torment of Tom.  They did a lot of that “oh I’m going to be nice to you! Psych your mind!!! HAHAHAHA YOU STUPID NAÏVE FOOL” shit that I always hated as a kid (probably because it was all too familiar, really).  I got angry, but the cover showed Tom happily eating a birthday cake.  Surely that would happen, right?

As I turned to the last page, I learned with horror that you really can’t judge a book by its cover:  Jerry and that grifter cousin ate Tom’s cake, and Tom didn’t even get a damn bite.  They locked him out of the house, or some bullshit.  I threw the little paperback book down on the table, my young blood boiling.  I was as angry as could be.  No! IT WAS HIS BIRTHDAY DAMN IT.  Who writes a children’s story about someone who is bullied and has their birthday cake stolen from them? Whose idea was this shit, anyway?

I turned the page and saw the typical blank page at the end of the book.  I stared at it for a moment.  A light bulb went off in my head – this is a work of fiction; there is no rule saying I can’t write my own ending to the book.  Fiction can end any way you want it to, right?  I ran to my room and grabbed my Crayolas.  I would not let this awful book end in that way.  I scribbled furiously on that page, penning the only ending that seemed appropriate to me: 

MGM has been protecting you for years, Jerry.  Now?  Not in my house, you mean little bastard; not in my house.

Four Books for Holiday Break

It would make a lot of sense for me to become an Amazon affiliate at this point and make money off of any recommendations I send your way.   I could tell you about the books I love to read, provide a nifty link to Amazon, and get my hands on that sweet, sweet, affiliate money.  Considering I appreciate my viewers and don’t want to scare off the five of you who actually read my blog, I think I’m going to pass on the whole affiliate thing for now and just list these four random books I absolutely love.  Besides, as my friend Nate (1/2 of the Whoopsie Daisies) sings in his song: “You can’t sell out if you can’t sell anything.”   So true, so true… I can’t, and I can’t.

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
This non-fiction story turns the academic world of art history into a detective story involving a grad student who makes a career-defining discovery.  Despite the dismissive nature of their professor, she follows a lead and attempts to track down a lost painting by Caravaggio.  Her research takes her through Italy, encountering an eccentric Countess, incompetent restorers, and competitors who attempt to steal her glory.  The story takes you through the fascinating process of how a researcher confirms the authenticity of a painting from painstaking research to the forensics involved.  The book is written for a general audience, and tells the story in a way that is engaging to anyone, not just those of us who are art history nerds.

 

 

 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Why couldn’t we read books like this growing up?  This book has everything – romance, betrayal, a prison break, hidden treasure, revenge, Carnivale, and a lead character who is kind of intense and sexy.  I read a version of the book that Barnes and Noble printed, and while it translated beautifully, it was abridged.  They wound up abridging far too much, leaving out key components in the Count’s plot to exact revenge on those who betrayed him.  If you pick up this book (and I highly recommend you do), grab the unabridged version.  The book is a fun read, and you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

 

 

 

 

Replay by Ken Grimwood
Replay was originally published quietly in the late 1980s, and faded to out-of-print oblivion shortly thereafter.  Through word-of-mouth, the book gained a cult-like following, which led to its return to print over the past few years.  I believe the cult-like following is due to the odd effect the book has on its readers.  The plot seems simple enough – a man dies of a heart attack at the age of 43 only to wake up in his dorm room in the 60s, as his 19 year-old self.  He discovers that he is replaying his life, and uses his knowledge and wisdom to make his life turn out differently.  This occurrence doesn’t happen only once – every time he hits the age of 43, he dies and his life replays over and over again.  With each replay, he makes different discoveries and mistakes, and odd changes begin to occur.  After reading the book, I wondered: if I woke up as my 19 year-old self, what would I do differently?  I began to have recurring dreams that I was in my own replay.  As the concept captured my imagination, I realized “Replay’s” powerful message: we don’t get a replay in life, so live your life fearlessly and take advantage of opportunities as they appear, because you may never get that chance again.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Okay, I’ll admit – when I first saw this book in Barnes and Noble, I thought it was some cheesy chick-romance novel.  Despite my skepticism, I picked it up because the time travel plot was intriguing.  It has become one of my favorite books.  The two main characters, Clare and Henry, are the most likeable romantic leads I’ve ever read – despite the sci-fi element, their relationship feels real, containing ups and downs, comical and tragic moments.  Niffenegger’s story is narrated by each of them, and jumps around in time as it follows the progression of their relationship.  The book manages to be romantic without being sappy or maudlin.

After reading this book, I eagerly awaited Niffenegger’s second novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry.”  If you loved Time Traveler’s Wife and are thinking of picking this book up, don’t.  It’s fascinating for the first half, but the main characters suddenly become consumed with selfishness and stupidity in the second half to the point the entire novel is unbearable.  I’m hoping for her third book, she can regroup and recapture what made Time Traveler’s Wife so special and beautiful.