The Mighty Thor!

(Off topic.  I originally posted this on The American Catholic, and I thought our Almost Chosen People readers might like it.)

I went to see the Thor movie yesterday with my family and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  Thor was one of the more original superheroes devised by Marvel in the Sixties.  Doctor Donald Blake, on a vacation in Norway, stumbles into a cave where he finds Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer, disguised as a walking stick.  Striking it he is transformed into Thor, god of Thunder.  As Thor, Blake finds that he has super strength, can fly by flinging Mjolnir and hanging on, that Mjolnir is close to indestructible and will return to Thor after he throws it, that he can produce lightning and thunder by striking the ground with Mjolnir, etc.  After a few issues, Thor went to Asgard and met the rest of the panoply of the Norse pantheon, including his father Odin, and his adopted brother Loki, god of mischief and eventually god of evil.

In his early years Thor had adventures on Earth, or Midgard as the Norse referred to it, and in Asgard and the other nine realms of Norse mythology.  An early feature of the series was Tales of Asgard, where episodes of Norse mythology were re-enacted, sort of Marvel Comics meets Classics Illustrated.  Eventually Thor spent most of his time in Asgard, his secret identity of Donald Blake going by the board, especially after Thor learned that he had always been Thor and that Odin had placed him on Midgard in the guise of Donald Blake in order to teach him humility.  Thor was one of my favorite comic book series as I was growing up in the Sixties.  I was fascinated by the Norse mythology background and I found the Thor stories to be more imaginative than the more prosaic and formulaic superhero adventures of most of the other comic book series.  I also found the quasi-Shakespearean language in which Thor and the other Norse “gods” spoke to be a hoot!

Though thou be truly pure of heart – in thine innocence, thou art fair misguided! The true guru thou seekest doth lie within thyselves! Heed you now these words: ‘Tis not by dropping out – but by plunging in – into the maelstrom of life itself – that thou shalt find thy wisdom! There be causes to espouse!! There be battles to be won! There be glory and grandeur all about thee – if thou wilt but see! Aye, there will be time enow for thee to disavow thy heritage – yea, thou mayest drop out fore’er – once Hela herself hath come for thee! But, so long as life endures – thou must live it to the full! Else, thou be unworthy of the title – Man! (more…)

Published in: on May 16, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Grover Cleveland and the Great Confederate Battle Flags Furor


During the Civil War, the flags carried by military units had intense emotional significance for the men who fought and died under them.  The flags not only symbolized the nation or state, but also stood for the units that carried them and the men who bled in their defense.  At the end of the War hundreds of captured Confederate battle flags were held by the Federal government and the victorious Union states.  Objects of pride for the men who had fought for the Union, their treatment as war trophies by the victorious North was a sore point in the vanquished South. 

In 1887 Grover Cleveland was President.  The first Democrat elected to hold the office since the Civil War,  Cleveland was also the only non-Civil War veteran to hold the office since the end of the War.  During the War he had hired a substitute to fight in his stead, a perfectly legal, albeit unheroic, method of not having to fight one’s self in the conflict.

In 1887 the Secretary of War mentioned to Cleveland that the Adjutant General of the Army had suggested that the return of the battle flags to the Southern states would be a graceful gesture that would be appreciated in the South.  No doubt thinking that after more than two decades wartime passions had subsided, Cleveland ordered the return of the captured flags to the Southern governors.  This was a major blunder. (more…)

Published in: on May 15, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony


Something for the Weekend.  The ending of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  This section of the Ninth Symphony gets played so frequently that we lose sight of just what a creation of genius it is.  Beethoven’s culminating masterpiece, composed, astonishingly enough, when he was completely deaf.

When it was first performed on May 7, 1824 in Vienna, the crowd was wild with enthusiasm.  Beethoven was on stage with the conductor, and could neither hear nor see the tumultuous applause.  Contralto Caroline Unger came over to him and gently turned him around so that he could see the crowd reaction.  Beethoven received five standing ovations, and the fierce old musical curmudgeon was deeply moved. (more…)

Published in: on May 14, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony  
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Boll Weevil Monument

Everything you even wanted to know about the Boll Weevil Monument, erected in 1919 in Enterprise, Alabama!  I have always loved the story of the Boll Weevil Monument.  It is a prime example of how a seeming disaster, the boll weevil infestation of cotton, led to crop diversity throughout the South and an increase in general prosperity.  It is a very American impulse to seize a new successful path in the teeth of adversity, and that is what the Boll Weevil Monument celebrates.

Published in: on May 13, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Boll Weevil Monument  

Andrew Jackson: Hero, Heel or Both?

Andrew Jackson has always been controversial.  He is the only man in American history to spawn two political movements:  the Democrat Party which he founded, and the Whig Party, and after it the Republican Party, founded in opposition to Jackson and his policies.  In his lifetime he was celebrated as the brilliant general who won the battle of New Orleans, and condemned as a frontier duelist and near murderer;  he lived one of the great love stories of American history, and was condemned as an adulterer;  condemned as a pitiless persecutor of Indians, he is the only American president to adopt an Indian child;  a champion of freedom for the common man, he was a slaver-holder who never said a word against the Peculiar Institution.  Jackson and his legacy will be debated as long as there is a United States of America. (more…)

Published in: on May 12, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Andrew Jackson: Hero, Heel or Both?  

The Death of Pakenham


The battle of New Orleans is famous for launching Andrew Jackson on his eventual road to the White House.  Almost forgotten today is Major General Edward Pakenham, the British Commander.  A brother in law of the Duke of Wellington, Pakenham had a distinguished career in the British Army, earning rapid promotion for his good service in the Peninsular War in Portugal and Spain. 

At the battle of New Orleans Pakenham fell victim to American grape shot.  An initial blast killed his horse and shattered his left knee.  As he was helped to his feet, he was wounded in his right arm.  After he mounted a horse, yet more grape shot ripped through his spine giving him a mortal wound.  He was 36 years old.  (more…)

Published in: on May 11, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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May 10, 1861: Civil War Comes to Missouri

Few states were more bitterly divided in the Civil War than Missouri.  With a pro-Confederate governor and a pro-Union legislature, the Missouri government was truly a house divided against itself.  On May 10, 1861, regulars and pro-Union Missouri militia, largely German immigrants from Saint Louis, under the command of Captain Nathan Lyons, forced the surrender of 669 pro-Confederate militia at Camp Jackson, just outside Saint Louis.  Marching the prisoners through Saint Louis, Lyons and his men encountered hostile mobs. (more…)

Published in: on May 10, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 10, 1861: Civil War Comes to Missouri  
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The Battle of New Orleans the Hollywood Way

American history tends to be ignored by Hollywood and therefore it is unusual for a battle to receive treatment in a Hollywood feature film. It is doubly unusual for a battle to be treated in two Hollywood feature films, but that is the case for the battle of New Orleans. The 1938 film The Buccaneer was directed by the legendary Cecil B. Demille and had Frederic March, an actor largely forgotten today but a major star in his time, as Jean Lafitte. Two future stars have bit parts in the film: Anthony Quinn and Walter Brennan. Hugh Sothern who portrayed Andrew Jackson would also portray Jackson in 1939 in the film Old Hickory. (more…)

Keynes v. Hayek

Off topic, but this video is too brilliant not to post.  A funny and informative look at the competing economic and world views of John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. 


Published in: on May 8, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Keynes v. Hayek  
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The Ballad of the Alamo

Something for the weekend.  The Ballad of the Alamo from the Alamo (1960), John Wayne’s love note to America.  The film was scored by Dimitri Tiomkin, one of the true masters of film music.  Here is his haunting Deguello from the same film: (more…)

Published in: on May 7, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Ballad of the Alamo  
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