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Saturday Art: Influential Authors: John R. Tunis

4:05 am in Art, Culture, Influential Authors by dakine01

Brooklyn Dodgers: Cap Logo

Brooklyn Dodgers: Cap Logo

I was probably eleven years old when I was pointed towards John R. Tunis’s works. By this time, I had read all the Black Stallion books from Walter Farley and I had progressed beyond the simple, sanitized sports biographies and was looking for something a little more advanced. I can still picture the location of his books in the then public library in my hometown.

Here’s the intro from Tunis’s wiki:

John Roberts Tunis (December 7, 1889 – February 4, 1975), “the ‘inventor’ of the modern sports story”,[1]:11 was an American writer and broadcaster. Known for his juvenile sports novels, Tunis also wrote short stories and non-fiction, including a weekly sports column for the The New Yorker magazine. As a commentator Tunis was part of the first trans-Atlantic sports cast and the first broadcast of the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament to the United States.

I know the first Tunis book I read was The Kid From Tompkinsville which is the first of a series he wrote about a fictional Brooklyn Dodgers. Again from his wiki intro:

Tunis’ eight-book baseball series about the Brooklyn Dodgers began with The Kid from Tomkinsville, a book often cited by sports writers and commentators as inspiring childhood reading. Phillip Roth used The Kid from Tomkinsville and its main character Roy Tucker in his book American Pastoral. It is also considered an influence for Bernard Malamud’s The Natural and Mark Harris’ Bang the Drum Slowly.

Tunis did not just write about baseball. One of his books I remember reading was Silence Over Dunkerque. From the Goodreads.com synopsis:

John Tunis vividly imagines the drama of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkerque. Sergeant Edward Williams of the Second Battalion was among the first British troops to land in France, just across the English Channel from his family in Dover, after the declaration of war in September of 1939. Battles have been few and far between since then, in what the Germans have been calling der Sitzkrieg—the sitting war. In May 1940, under the leadership of their new prime minister, Winston Churchill, the British are hoping to stem the tide of Nazi invasion along their southern border. But now, flanked to the east and west by German troops and cut off from the Allies further south, Sergeant Williams and his battalion must retreat to Dunkerque in the north, and escape by sea is their only hope.

As a person who reviewed this book at Goodreads says, historical fiction is a way to make history come alive and I remember having a bit more appreciation of the evacuation at Dunkerque after reading this book.

As with so many other influential authors in this series, Tunis had many accomplishments. A tennis player, he was involved in the first broadcast of Wimbledon to air in the US. A graduate of Harvard, he was not overly impressed with Harvard itself. Once again from wiki:

In 1936, on the 25th anniversary of his graduation from Harvard, Tunis wrote Was College Worthwhile?, a condemnation of the Ivy League school and of his classmates that became a best seller. Jerome Holtzman, in No Cheering in the Press Box, calls it “a searing assault on Harvard traditions”.[5]:261 Throughout his career he continued to write about education, including the chapter “New Leaven on the Campus” for Democracy’s Challenge to Education,[15] and “Education and Ethics” for the Journal of Higher Education.[16]

Tunis only shows one credit at IMDB as the author of a book that was used as the basis of the movie Hard, Fast, and Beautiful. Wiki says this movie was:

…a 1951 American drama film directed by Ida Lupino and starring Claire Trevor, loosely based on the 1930 novel American Girl by sports fiction author John R. Tunis, which itself was an unflattering and thinly-veiled fictionalization of tennis star Helen Wills Moody

And finally from wiki yet again on Tunis’s legacy:

By the 1970s Tunis felt his message had been ignored or misunderstood by most Americans, saying “Nobody has paid attention… There was a time when I expected to do some good. But that was a long while ago.”[5]:272 This may seem surprising considering that his New York Times obituary referred to him as a man who “helped educate a whole generation of Americans”.[12]:155 Perhaps seen in light of Tunis’ distrust of professional athletics, it can be understood. Though he may have felt his message against the commercialization of sports was ignored, there are those who cite Tunis as having made a lasting impact in publishing and to them personally and professionally.

…snip…

In his tribute to the writer, Bernard Hayes said “Tunis has probably made good readers of millions of young people.”[63]:7 His success with the juvenile audience helped change the publishing industry. Along with writers like Howard Pease, his books demonstrated to publishers that there was money to be made in targeting books for teenagers. His influence went beyond simply creating a market for young adult books. “In his attempt to link sports with the communities in which they are played, he broached some highly significant issues in the literature written for and about America’s youth”,[62] according to John S. Simmons in John R. Tunis and the Sports Novels for Adolescents: A Little Ahead of His Time. Tunis never considered himself a writer of boys’ books, insisting his stories could be read and enjoyed by adults. He felt that the word “juvenile” was an “odious… product of a merchandising age”.[1]:11 Despite his dislike of the term, Tunis’ novels helped create and shape the juvenile fiction book market.[

I am just one of the book lovers who benefited from his introduction to Tunis. I have to say that I am (pleasantly) surprised that Tunis’s catalog appears to have been mostly re-published within the last ten years, introducing new generations to his writing, even if it is from and about times no longer alive.
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General Protection Racket

1:20 pm in Uncategorized by dakine01

Rank creep is almost more pernicious than mission creep.

What am I talking about? Glad you asked. Friday’s New York Times had an article titled:

Generals Wary of Move to Cut Their Ranks

I did some searching for a bit between some other tasks to see if I could find the total number of flag officers (Generals and Admirals) in the US military during World War Two. I was finally able to find this article from Armed Force Journal of June 2008 discussing General Officers being removed from command for cause (incompetence) and finally found this:

We should, to place this period in context, run the numbers. In World War II, 16 million men served in uniform. Of those, roughly 70 percent were in the Army (a force that, at the time, included what we now call the Air Force.) The U.S. had a population of 131 million people, and we lost in combat some 407,000 of the men who were in uniform.

Now, about the generals. During World War II, there were roughly 1,100 generals in the Army….

Sixteen million men in the military and 1,100 generals. Now compare this information with the following from the Times article linked above:

According to the Pentagon, there are now 963 generals and admirals leading the armed forces, about 100 more than on Sept. 11, 2001. Meanwhile, the overall number of active duty personnel has declined to some 1.5 million from 2.2 million in 1985, even though the Army and Marine Corps have grown since the Sept. 11 attacks, to carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I just ran some quick math on those figures. In WWII, there was roughly one general officer for every 14,545 troops. Today there is roughly one general officer for every 1,557 troops. According to the Times article

The salary cap for generals is about $180,000, up from $130,000 a decade ago, according to Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a private research group in Washington. Like all officers and enlisted personnel, generals have the benefit of the military pension system, which gives everybody who serves 40 years a pension equal to their full pay.

…snip…

Salaries and benefits, however, are the least of it. The biggest costs are created by the generals’ staffs — including security details, senior advisers, communications teams, schedulers and personal aides. Mr. Harrison said that the annual cost of salary, benefits and staff for each of the military’s highest-ranking generals and admirals — 40 four-star and 146 three-star — easily exceeded $1 million.

I know from personal experience from my days in the Accounting Office at Hickam AFB, HI about some of those general office benefits. I was responsible for a quarterly report to higher headquarters for CINCPACAF’s (Commander In Chief, Pacific Air Forces) "Major Force Program 09" accounting which was basically the Commander’s expense account. At the time, in the early ’80s the CINCPACAF account ran approximatley $20K per annum. It was used to purchase gifts for visiting foreign generals or gifts for CINCPACAF to give to counterparts when he traveled throughout the Pacific. It was also allowable for CINCPACAF to take his wife and generals visiting from the mainland out to dinner and charge it back. Dinner for four at a top restaurant in Honolulu at the time could run $500 easily.

One of my proudest moments when I was doing this accounting was when CINCPAC (Commander In Chief, Pacific) was forced to pay back a few hundred dollars to the accounts for CINCPACAF. One of the allowed charges was that a commanding general (or admiral) could charge lunch and some entertainment back to the hosting general’s account "incidental to a staff assistance visit." What CINCPAC was doing was driving down the mountain from his headquarters a couple of times a month, having lunch at the Hickam Officer’s Club then playing a round of golf and charging it all to CINCPACAF’s accounts. I complained loudly and finally someone listened.

The Times article quotes mostly retired generals. But we’ve already seen the levels of entitlement in many general officers, just in the last few months (see McChrystal, Stanley and Chambers, James E.).

Yes, fewer general officers would mean more people retiring at lower ranks. More retiring at Major (O4) rather than at Lt Col (O5) or Col. (O6) or as general officers. In many organizations when I was on active duty, positions that had formerly been held by commissioned officers had been transitioned to senior enlisted, many of whom had worked and gotten a Bachelor’s degree or even a Masters. Fill some of the officer positions with Chief Master Sergeants (USAF)/Master Chief Petty Officers (USN)/Sergeant Majors (USA and USMC). These individuals know their jobs, know how to lead, usually have the respect of those both above them in rank as well as those below them. The United States military does not need to have nearly as many general officers today as in WWII for an army today that is not even a tenth as large as the WWII military.

And because I can:

[Ed. note: bumped from Aug 27, 2010 @ 13:56]

Memorial Day 2010

10:40 am in Uncategorized by dakine01

Today is May 30, 2010. When I was growing up, May 30th was the traditional date for celebrating Memorial Day (or Decoration Day as it was also still known by many folks). As Peterr notes, there are a lot of places that lay claim to holding the first Memorial Day/Decoration Day observances.

My father served in the Army Air Corps during WWII. He’s in the lower left photo in this group of pictures (most of the pictures are of my godfather). After the war, Dad returned to our hometown to work and raise his family. He became active in the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (VFW). Because of this, I spent a lot of Memorial Days in my youth selling VFW Buddy Poppies. For some reason, my abilities to be a somewhat obnoxious little sh*t were rather helpful in selling the poppies as I could get folks to buy them just so I’d leave them alone.

As we celebrate this holiday in 2010, I’d like to ask folks to pause at some point between the burgers and dogs, beer, brisket, and ribs, and the day off and reflect on the meaning of the holiday. Think about the death this past week of Lt John Finn, 100 years old and the then oldest surviving holder of the Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Think about the 1,000th US casualty in Afghanistan (a "milestone" we crossed this past week), the more than 4,000 US soldiers who have died in Iraq. Think about the millions of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who have been injured or died in the wars since the Civil War.

Think also about all the civilians in all the countries where the US adventurism has been displayed over the years, the deaths and the dislocations and the disruptions of lives at our hands. I’m not asking folks to judge the morality of the wars and whether the adventurism was or was not justified. Even "good wars" harbor evil and misery beyond the comprehension of most of us who live our lives in our enclaves here in the US.

The people serving in the military today are not evil robots. They have joined the military for about as many different reasons as there are individuals. I have an idea that those folks who have seen war up close and personal are the same ones least likely to celebrate war. So if you can, honor the service and sacrifice without judgement.

And because I can: