Monthly Archives: June 2004

Manenggon Remembered

Manenggon concentration camp survivor recounts war tragedy. One of the painful memories of WWII on Guam is the concentration camp that Japanese Army forced Chamorus into in 1944.

On July 10, 1944, Japanese Lt. Gen. Takeshi Takashina, who assumed command of the island in March 1944, ordered all Chamorros throughout the island — men, women, children, the sick and the elderly — evacuated from their villages and marched to concentration camps in the south. Many of the Chamorros were kept in a concentration camp in the Manenggon valley in Yona.

A commemorative walk up the Ylig River valley to Manenggon will be held on July 10th, culminating at the site of the former camp. The tribute kicks off a drive to construct a memorial at the Manenggon site.

Tibbets In Saipan – Part III

One last post on the Enola Gay crewmembers visiting Saipan for the Liberation festivities. I think it is important to get this stuff down so others can read it. This article was the headline for Tuesday, June 15 in the Marianas Variety.

Enola Gay trio visit after 60 yrs
by Ulysses Torres Sabuco
Variety News Staff

PAUL Warfield Tibbets came back to CNMI with just one wish: to “face” the people he helped liberate and “correct” whatever “bad impression” he may left from bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

On Aug. 6 at exactly 9:15 a.m., Tibbets and his 11-man crew flew out of Tinian’s Northwest Field to drop the world’s first atomic bomb. It brought the quicker surrender of the Japanese government and the reduction in losses for the allied forces.

Tibbets will be part of today’s commemoration of Northern Marianas’s role in reshaping history.

Exactly 60 years ago today, the Battles of Saipan & Tinian took place, making these among the fiercest battles in the Pacific.

“I came here with (other Enola Gay crew and veterans). I wanted the people out here to see me and who I was because they have been here all of these years,” Tibbets told Variety yesterday morning.

“And I hope if they have a bad impression of me, I could change it…,” the retired brigadier general added.

Tibbets will keynote today’s formal commemoration of the Battles of Saipan and Tinian, and was among the returning WWII veterans, including some of the Enola Gay crew, who will also be feted by the CNMI government today.

Among the returning WWII vets are Morris R. Jeppson, a crew member of Enola Gay, and Ray “Hap” Halloran, the American soldier who became a prisoner of war when his plane was shot down in Tokyo on Jan. 27, 1945.

In his address yesterday morning during the dedication of the Saipan time capsule, Gov. Juan N. Babauta hailed the contribution of the Enola Gay crew and other WWII veterans.

First plane ride
A decorated war veteran, Tibbets was only 12 years old when he had his first airplane ride. 10 years later, he enlisted as a flying cadet in the Army Air Corps at Fort Thomas Kentucky. A year later he got his pilot wings at Kelly Field, Texas and was commissioned as 2nd lieutenant.

At age 29, soon after flying over 25 missions, including the first American Flying Fortress raid against occupied Europe and the first bombardment missions in support of the North African invasion in Algeria, Tibbets was briefed on the “Manhattan Project” – the code name for the development of the atom bomb.

It was his responsibility to organize and train a unit to deliver these weapons in combat operations.

On Aug. 5, 1945, President Harry Truman gave his approval to use the atomic weapons against Japan.

Tibbets is back to a grateful commonwealth, proud by the reception he has received.

“I have been really (happy). I did not know what to expect… the reception was beyond my understanding,” said the 89-year old former pilot.

He admitted that the “recognition is overdue” but is proud of what he accomplished.

“I am just happy to see this done for the people here and for the rest of the world… (the) recognition is overdue,” he said.

Honored to be here
Morris R. Jeppson, assistant weaponeer of the Enola Gay is honored to be back in Saipan.

“We are honored to be here,” Jeppson told Variety yesterday.

He said Saipan transformed into a “beautiful island” from what it was six decades ago.

“Saipan is a beautiful island now and we are delighted to be here,” he said. “We are delighted to see what beautiful things are happening here in Saipan.”

Meanwhile, Ray “Hap” Halloran said this might be his last time to visit Saipan, a place he “loves so much.”

Halloran became a prisoner of war by the Japanese Imperial Army after his plane was shot down over Tokyo while eastbound at 32,000 ft. passing Mt. Fuji.

“I was here the last time (in) 2002. I was here seven times before that. but now in 2004, I came back at age 82… It may be my last trip,” he said.

Halloran led an 11-man crew called the “Rover Boys Express” that flew the B-29 Super Fortress bomber on a combat mission to “bomb and destroy” Japanese mainland targets.

He was assigned to Saipan where the 73rd Wing Base was located. Halloran and the Rover Boys Express flew missions to Iwo Jima, Nagoya and Kobe in Japan in Dec. 1944 and Jan. 1945 before they were shot down on their fourth mission. They were supposed to bomb the No. 357 Nakajima Aircraft Factory in Tokyo.

Halloran said it was unforgettable for him when Japanese soldiers seized him from the custody of civilians who tried to save him.

He was beaten “severely” and brought to the Kempei Tai main prison in Tokyo, adjacent to the Imperial Palace grounds.

He spent 67 days in a “cold, dark room.” Beatings and brutal interrogations followed. He lived through the March 10, 1945 fire raid in Tokyo that killed over 100,000 by the B-29 bombings.

Halloran was then moved to Ueno Zoo in Tokyo were he was placed in a “lion cage” and tied to the front bars so civilians could march by and see him.

He was naked and black from being unwashed with his hair unkempt.

He recalled how he lost 90 pounds and was “covered with open running sores” from bed bug bites.

Fellow American forces freed him when Tokyo was liberated on Aug. 29, 1945.

Now that he’s back in Saipan, he wants to stay long.

“I hope (to stay longer) as I am enjoying it very, very much. I love this island,” he said.

A grateful islands
In a speech yesterday morning at the American Memorial Park, Gov. Babauta hailed the contributions of the Enola Gay crew and other returning WWII veterans.

“To the Enola Gay crew and to all the veterans thank you and God bless you,” he said.

Babauta said the CNMI commemorates the loss of lives and the sacrifices made by the U.S. soldiers during WWII.

The war gave birth to a new age of American presence and freedom to these islands.

“To Gen. Tibbets and your crew, thank you for putting a quick end to the war,” Babauta said.

At 3:30 p.m. today, the parade honoring veterans of the Battles of Saipan and Tinian, as well as other Pacific campaigns, starts at Kristo Rai Church and ends at the American Memorial Park.

The Governor declared a half-day holiday for all government employees today.

At 5:15 p.m. today, formal ceremonies to honor the veterans begins.

Tomorrow, a similar ceremony will be held at Tinian’s North Field.

Tibbets In Saipan – Part II

And here is the second article about Paul Tibbets that ran in the June 16th edition of the Marianas Variety. Since their website lacks an archive, I thought I would reproduce it here for posterity:

NMC students grill Enola Gay crew
by Anges E. Donato
Variety News Staff

WHAT reaction do you get from Japanese people when you meet them and they find out who you are? Do you believe in killing innocent civilians if the need is great enough?

These were two of the toughest questions from Northern Marianas College students that retired Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets, Morris Jeppson and Dutch Van Kirk had to answer during and open forum at NMC yesterday morning.

But the returning Enola Gay crew members were unfazed and even seemed to enjoy being grilled by the students.

“I’ve been used to tough questions. I’ve been answering tough questions all my life. (The students’) questions were intelligent and I enjoyed answering them all. They are a good bunch of students and I like them,” Van Kirk told Variety in an interview.

To the first question, Tibbets replied that he generally had no trouble dealing with the Japanese. The Enola Gay – which dropped atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 – is actually quite popular in Japan, he added.

He said one Japanese businessman once told him, “We look up to you the way the American Negroes look up to (former President) Abraham Lincoln. You granted us emancipation. You freed us.”

Van Kirk earned the applause of the NMC faculty and students with his witty reply to the second question.

“Yes, I do believe the killing of civilians is justified if the need is great enough. Mussolini was a civilian, Adolf Hitler was a civilian. In fact, I have certain people on my list that I’d like to see killed,” Van Kirk said.

Advice
He and Jeppson then gave the students some words of advice.

“Always have an inquisitive mind. Don’t believe all the baloney you read in your books, although not all of them are baloney. Get your own thoughts. I’ve always had a happy life because although Paul (Tibbets) gave me a lot of orders, I didn’t follow all of them,” Van Kirk said, partly in jest.

Jeppson added, “Just have a good life and do a good job.”

Tibbets declined to comment.

For their part, the students said they were very honored to have met the Enola Gay crew.

“It’s heartwarming. I never expected to meet anyone from history, especially from World War II. It’s an honor,” Liberal Arts student Francine Manibusan said.

Accounting student Tatiana Babauta said she was very impressed by the Enola Gay crew, especially by their wit.

Signing autographs
Tibbets signing his book at the Dai Ichi lobby; &copy Marianas Variety & Jacqueline HernandezThe three Enola Gay crew members also signed autographs at the Dai Ichi Hotel lobby yesterday afternoon.

Between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., the signed copies of Tibbets’ book “Enola Gay,” as well as photos of the plane and a poster on the mission.

Hideyuki Suzuki, a tourist from Tokyo who happened to passed by the lobby, could not believe his luck when he saw Tibbets, Jeppson and Van Kirk signing autographs.

Suzuki, however, was unsure at first if he could buy a copy of the book.

“I am Japanese. Can I buy a copy?” he asked one of the veterans’ assistants.

After paying for his copy, Suzuki lined up to have the three men sign it. He also posed for a photograph with them.

“The story of the Enola Gay is well known and I am interested in (Gen. Tibbets) book about it,” Suzuki told Variety.

He added, “Frankly speaking, I’m very sorry that the atomic bombing had to happen, but that’s part of war. And war is miserable. That’s why we should try to avoid it.”

Autographed copies of Tibbets’ Enola Gay book are sold at $60 each while photographs of the plane are available at $34 each. Those who want both the book and the photograph may buy them at $80.

The posters, which bear the signatures of three crew members and the 60th anniversary commemoration cancellation stamp, are sold at $100 each.

I think the Marianas Variety needs a good editor. Besides the clunky language and misspellings (the leader of Nazi Germany was Adolph Hitler), I know the Enola Gay dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945 and a different plane, B-29 #77 – rechristened Bockscar after the bombing, dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki on August 9th. Enola Gay did not drop both bombs, and nowhere does Tibbets make that claim. It’s just a half-assed assumption by a lazy reporter. I’m surprised nobody even bothered to fact check some of the stuff written in this article.

Other media in the region covered the visit by the Enola Gay crew, most notably the Saipan Tribune. Since they archive their stories, let me just link to them in reverse chronological order.

Tibbets In Saipan – Part I

The Wednesday, June 16th edition of the Marianas Variety has a couple interesting articles about Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay. I thought I would reproduce them here.

Tibbets says he didn’t want to return to CNMI
by Gemma Q. Casas
Variety News Staff

RETIRED U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets endured almost two days of flying hours to reach the CNMI, 60 years after he first set foot on the islands. But he says he doesn’t regret the long flight at all.

“It turned out to be somewhat like a homecoming,” he said in an interview yesterday at the Penthouse of the Dai-Ichi Hotel where he is billeted.

Locals and foreigners alike treated Tibbets like a celebrity the past two days on occasion of the 60th commemoration of the Battles of Saipan and Tinian. The 89-year-old former pilot was bombarded with request for autographs and photo opportunities.

But Tibbets admitted he hesitated at first returning to the islands which made him famous and which he made famous as well when he dropped atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, from Tinian, the second largest island in the CNMI.

The bombing claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Japanese civilians but also led to the surrender of the Japanese government which ended World War II.

“I have read things about the Marianas chain, particularly Guam, Saipan and Tinian… I really didn’t know what was expected of me so I said, ‘I don’t really want to go to the Marianas, this trip’ But then I thought, that’s the wrong attitude. I owe those people something. They helped secure the land that we could use to have their place fly to Japan and so forth and so I said ‘I’m going to go out there,'” said Tibbets.

“I want all the native people to see who I am and what I am. In that way, they could make their opinion of whether (what) they have been given credit to is a myth or not,” he added.

With so many books written about WWII, Tibbets said the flying hours is nothing compared to his mission: “To set the record straight” of what really happened during the bombing missions.

“I wanted to come here and set the record straight, because when I die there’s no way I could make that record straight,” Tibbets said.

The former pilot and his manager arrived on Saipan, the capital of the now U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, on Monday from Ohio via Hawaii.

Their total flight hours could sum up to about two days including the brief stopover in Hawaii.

Tibbets said in his younger years, he could fly straight to a destination in fewer hours.

“It took us two days to get here. We stopped in Hawaii. Of course, when I had my own airplanes I could fly from Utah out here in an average of 35 to 36 hours which I did… I made one trip with four pilots on the airplane. Three besides myself. We did it in 72 hours, round-trip. I mean you got to depend on the speed of the airplane,” Tibbets said.

“In those days too, we didn’t have the comfort that you got in the airline today. The B-29 was the first one to be pressurized and to have heat. It was extremely well,” he added.

Former U.S. president George Bush Sr. also fought in the Pacific during WWII for the U.S. Air Force.

On his 80th birthday, the former president went skydiving.

When Tibbets learned about it, he said, “Good for him. But I couldn’t do that (anymore).”

One Final Post On Bloomsday

James JoyceBefore I consign it to the dustbin of my memory, one final post on Ulysses and Bloomsday. Well actually a few links to various thoughts on James Joyce’s immortal classic. And yes, I have read it – twice now – and I enjoyed it immensely.

I was happy to hear about Ulysses being available as a page a day via RSS, that’s very cool. And the Guardian’s Bloomsday Blog was funny. But I found the NY Times article particularly interesting, especially John Banvilles’ reminisces about Jorge Luis Borges and the centenary celebration in 1982:

Among the many notable artists who came was — yes — Borges, who by then was in his 80’s and totally blind. He was collected from the airport by a couple of volunteer meeters-and-greeters, who deposited him in his suite at the Shelbourne Hotel and went off to do more meeting and greeting. When they returned, late in the day, Borges was still in his room, and in fact had not left during the intervening hours. What was he to have done, Borges asked, since he did not know the city or anyone in it? Ever since, when I hear talk of Bloomsday celebrations, that, I am afraid, is the image that springs immediately to mind: an old, blind writer, one of the greatest of his age, sitting alone in a hotel room overlooking an unseen St. Stephen’s Green.

Bears Wanders Into Hospital Without Insurance, Police Shoot Him Dead

Photo &copy API’d hate to be wandering the halls of a hospital and come across a
bear wandering the hallways. The bear walked in front of the sliding doors to the ER and when they opened, he set off on his grand adventure. He wandered the halls of the hospital, freaking out patients and employees, until he ended up in an office. He was probably looking for drugs, hillbilly heroin probably. The cops decided to prove their machismo by shooting the animal dead instead of drugging the bear and hauling him off to a shelter or something. I guess they thought that would be a lesson for other bears or something.

Apparently some people at the hospital thought this was a gag of some sort, and refused to believe it was really a bear. Reminds me of a great Chuck Jones cartoon based on a children’s story with the great quote: “You’re not a bear. You’re a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat.”

The Bear That Wasn’t

Once upon a time, in fact it was on a Tuesday, the Bear saw that it was time to go into a cave and hibernate. And that was just what he did. Not long afterward, in fact it was on a Wednesday, lots of workers arrived near that cave. While the Bear slept, they built a great, huge factory.

As winter turned to spring, the Bear awoke and stepped out of his cave. His eyes popped.

Where was the forest?

Where was the grass?

Where were the trees?

Where were the flowers?

WHAT HAD HAPPENED?

“I must be dreaming,” he said. “Of course, I’m dreaming.” But it wasn’t a dream. It was real. Just then the Foreman came out of the factory.

“Hey, you get back to work,” he said.

The Bear replied, “I don’t work here. I’m a Bear.”

The Foreman laughed, “That’s a fine excuse for a man to keep from doing any work. Saying he’s a Bear.”

The Bear said, “But, I am a Bear.”

The Foreman stopped laughing. He was very mad. “Don’t try to fool me,” he said. “You’re not a Bear. You’re a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat. I’m going to take you to the General Manager.”

The General Manager also insisted the Bear was a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat.

The Bear said, “No, you’re mistaken. I am a Bear.”

The General Manager was very mad, too.

The Bear said, “I’m sorry to hear you say that. You see, I am a Bear.”

The Third Vice President was even madder. The Second Vice President was more than mad or madder. He was furious. The First Vice President yelled in rage. He said, “You’re not a Bear. You’re a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat. I’m going to take you to the
President.”

The Bear pleaded, “This is a dreadful error, you know, because ever since I can remember, I’ve always been a Bear.”

And that is exactly what the Bear told the President. “Thank you for telling me,” the President said. “You can’t be a Bear. Bears are only in a zoo or a circus. They’re never inside a factory and that’s where you are; inside a factory. So how can you be a Bear?”

The Bear said, “But I am a Bear.”

The President said, “Not only are you a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat, but you are also very stubborn. So I’m going to prove it to you, once and for all, that you are not a Bear.”

The Bear said, “But I am a Bear.”

The President packed his vice presidents and the Bear into a car and drove to the zoo. The Bears in the zoo said the Bear was not a Bear, because if he were a Bear, he would be inside a cage.

The Bear said, “But I am a Bear.”

So they all left the zoo and drove to the nearest circus. “Is he a Bear?” the President asked the circus Bears.

The Bears said no. If he were a Bear he would be wearing a little hat with a striped ribbon holding onto a balloon and riding a bicycle.

The Bear said, “But I am a Bear.”

When the President and his vice presidents returned to the factory, they put the Bear to work on a big machine with a lot of other men. The Bear worked on the big machine for many, many months.

After a long, long time, the factory closed and all the workers went away. The Bear was the last one left. As he left the shut-down factory, he saw geese flying south and the leaves falling from the trees. Winter was coming, he thought. It was time to hibernate.

He found a cave and was about to enter when he stopped. “I can’t
go in a cave. I’m NOT a Bear. I’m a silly man who needs a shave and
wears a fur coat.”

As the days grew colder and the snow fell, the Bear sat shivering with cold. “I wish I were a Bear,” he thought.

Then suddenly he got up and walked through the deep snow toward the cave. Inside it was cozy and snug. The icy wind and cold, cold snow
couldn’t reach him here. He felt warm all over. He sank down on a bed of pine boughs and soon he was happily asleep and dreaming sweet dreams, just like all bears do, when they hibernate. So even though the FOREMAN and the GENERAL MANAGER and the THIRD VICE PRESIDENT and the SECOND VICE PRESIDENT and the FIRST VICE PRESIDENT and the PRESIDENT and the ZOO BEARS and the CIRCUS BEARS had said, he was a silly man who needed a shave and wore a fur coat, I don’t think he really believed it. Do you? No indeed, he knew he wasn’t a silly man, and he wasn’t a silly Bear either.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

It finally came to Guam this weekend. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is playing at the Hafa Adai II theater this weekend, months after it opened Stateside. It figures, since Hafa Adai II is Guam’s second run theater. It was happenstance that I noticed the movie listings just before I left work this evening. I wanted to catch this movie for months and I was pretty well resigned to waiting for it to come out on video, so I jumped at the chance to catch it in the theaters.

It was easily the best film I’ve seen all year. Love, loss, regret, the movie is a whirlwind of poignancy about relationships and the loss of love. Believe me, I am no fan of Jim Carrey, but his romance with Kate Winslet is wrenchingly beautiful to watch, their tortured break-up, the dappled moments of joy and achingly poignant happiness. I guess I will have to re-evaluate my impression of him.

And the movie is damn funny in spots. I was laughing pretty hard at some of the antics of the chorus of supporting characters, from Elijah Wood’s creepy lovesick machinations to Kirsten Dunst (and her glorious boobs) smoking a joint and bouncing around on Jim Carrey’s bed – with him knocked out and tucked under the covers. Their various sub-plots were an enjoyable diversion from the increasing chaos and wrenching desperation of Jim Carrey’s memories. And they finally wove into the theme of the story well, an effective counterpoint to the central love story.

I’m glad I saw Eternal Sunshine tonight, but I was surprised at the reaction I got at work. I told G’nette I was going to the movie tonight, mainly to point out that it was finally here. We had a conversation back in March about how we both wanted to see it and how it would never come to Guam. When I showed her that it was playing this weekend, she was ambivalent. Turned out a friend told her it ‘confused’ her, and that it was hard to understand. I thought it was an enticing movie, not confusing at all, and I enjoyed the movie thoroughly.

Rain Rain Go Away

It’s been raining since Sunday on Guam, and I am getting a little sick of it. I guess this means rainy season has arrived for the year. The weather this week reminds me of August though, with the non-stop drizzle interspersed with occasional downpours. I could really use some sunshine for the weekend.

To chase away the blues I stopped off for a drinkie-winkie at the Mermaid Tavern last night. Located in the GCIC Building in Agana, the Mermaid Tavern is Guam’s latest experiment in marketing microbrewed beers. The Great Deep Brewing Company was originally in Le Tasi Bistro back in 2002, but Typhoon Pongsona blew them out into the street. Their beers have been featured at Mac & Marti’s in Tumon since February or so, but that’s a little out of my way. This place is more convenient for me.

There are five microbrewed beers on tap, a pilsener, a pale ale, Irish red ale, Scottish ale and a stout. Real, fresh tasting beer instead of that pale, fizzy, watery crap peddled by Budweiser and Miller. The menu includes a wide selection of burgers and po’ boy sandwiches, and there are plenty of specials available too. I just ate some pupus but I plan to head back tomorrow night or Saturday and try the food.

Mmm, beer…

The Da Vinci Code And The Paranoiac Thriller

I finally gave in and drank the Kool-Aid this weekend. After looking at the best seller lists for over a year, I finally sat down and read Dan Brown’s magnum opus, The Da Vinci Code. In fact, I went whole hog and read his earlier work, Angels & Demons this weekend too.

Let me save the trouble. If this sort of stuff interests you, read one or the other. Basically they were the exact same mediocre book. Seriously – the plot of both books contained many of the exact same elements:

  • An elderly scholar murdered with evidence pointing towards a secret society
  • The hero, Robert Langdon, awakened in the dead of night to spend the next day or so uncovering this secret society
  • The murdered scholar’s distraught yet intelligent (and oh so sexy) daughter/grand daughter
  • The obtuse authority figures blundering around making life difficult for the hero
  • A couple decoy bad guys set up and later exonerated
  • The supposed ally who turns out to be the archvillian
  • A menacing, murderous, but misguided, button man duped by the archvillian
  • A malevolent secret society revealed to be smoke and mirrors
  • A series of blindingly obvious leads, unveiled as thunderous revelations
  • Plenty of second rate religious tomfoolery, featuring the Catholic Church
  • Lots of running around to medieval churches at night

So basically it’s a bunch of nonsense, but what amusing nonsense it is. For what it is worth, Angels & Demons was the better novel. Perhaps because I read it first, but it seemed more original and it was definitely more exciting that The Da Vinci Code. Angels & Demons revolves around the rumored Illuminati striking out at the Catholic Church during a particularly vulnerable moment for the church; the Pope has passed away, and the College of Cardinals is locked away in deliberations to elect a new Pope. The Illuminati, a secret society of scientists suppressed by the Church since the Renaissance, have secreted a high tech antimatter bomb somewhere in the Vatican during this crucial point. Robert Langdon must uncover a centuries old trail left by original Illuminati Galileo and Bernini across Rome to find the bomb before the Vatican, the Cardinals, and the vast treasures of the Catholic Church are annihilated in the antimatter explosion. It’s basically a fast paced scavenger hunt, with Langdon and his female sidekick dashing around Rome hoping to stop the mayhem. Brown tosses history, art, science, religion and conspiracy theories into a fun melange of thrilling action.

The Da Vinci Code was also a lot of fun to read, but it seemed more formulaic. Besides the plot similarities I mentioned above, the story lacked the zing that Angels & Demons had. The mass destruction of Christendom’s holiest city is a powerful device to propel the plot. The Da Vinci Code’s main threat is Langdon being falsely accused of murder and dashing around to prove his innocence and the presence of a conspiracy against him, all the while being chased by the French Police Judiciare and its implacable chief inspector. Shades of Inspector Javert, which was probably intentional (Victor Hugo is mentioned several times as a former grandmaster of the book’s secret society). Brown sprinkles in just enough art, history and science to give the story depth without boring casual readers out of their skull. The plot whirls along at a brisk clip, from the Louvre to a Swiss bank, a country chateau, several medieval churches and Westminster Abbey, with a denouement in windswept church in Scotland. But it never seemed to generate the sense of urgency that Angels & Demons did, and it limps along to an unsatisfying the climax.

The main concept this time around is that the Catholic Church is murdering the members of a secret society preserving a secret at the root of Christianity; that Jesus lived as a mortal man, with a wife and child. I don’t think I’m spoiling any plot twists here, I’ve seen several ‘documentaries’ on the Discovery Channel and Michael Baigent’s book Holy Blood, Holy Grail that cover the same territory. The wife of Jesus is none other than Mary Magdalene, and their progeny somehow or other founded the royal line of the French monarchy, a secret longsuppressedd by the church. Brown does a good job of laying out the history behind this theory, from the , the First Council of Nicaea, the Merovingians, and religious iconography. The best part of the book is when he takes Da Vinci’s fresco, The Last Supper, and picks it apart. Everything in this religious masterpiece is evidence of Mary Magdalene’s role as the chalice of Christ, the Holy Grail.

I had higher expectations though. First, Dan Brown seems to backpedal furiously at the end of the book. The church really isn’t out murdering people, they were duped by a madman. Whatever. Take the bull by the horns buddy and just make the Catholic Church the bad guy. Perhaps he was afraid of alienating religious readers, but I doubt the kind of people that frothed at the mouth over The Last Temptation of Christ will bother to read a book like this. So why spend the first half of the book setting up a malevolent, conservative Catholic order as the heavy, only to switch tracks and make them poor deluded souls duped by schemers and disingenuous scholars? It is a nonsequiturr, and the book suffers because of it.

Secondly, Brown is skimming across the top of a vast trove of material, dumbing it down and removing a great deal of the allegorical richness that other works dealing with this subject matter evoke. Umberto Eco is the master of this genre of thriller fiction. The Name of the Rose mines the Catholic symbolism and kinky murders with far more finesse than either of Brown’s works, and Foucault’s Pendulum is the benchmark that any other novel exploring the Illuminati, Rosicrucians, and Knight Templars should be compared against. The incredible web of history and conspiracy Eco’s weaves in Foucault’s Pendulum made me paranoid for a week the first time I read it. I was seeing conspiracies and connections in everything, and it freaked me out. And the crushing conclusion of Eco’s novel, it’s damning revelation about man’s tendency to construct vast conspiracies and alternate histories from a simple shopping list, is a telling evocation of human susceptibility, the many paths to madness and nihilism. And let’s face it, Dan Brown doesn’t compare dig that deep.

Lastly, it takes skill and sleight of hand toreallyy make a vast, hidden conspiracy come to life in the pages of a book. This is the worst flaw in The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown reveals all his secrets too early in the novel and it struggles after that. A writer needs to keep the conspiracy off camera, out of reach, out of touch, mysterious, slowly revealing more and more information as the novel unfolds. Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 offers up a perfect example. The story starts with nary a mention of conspiracies. Only slowly are they unveiled through a seemingly innocuous collection of stamps and a collection of coincidences. What is W.A.S.T.E. and who are Tristero? What is their the connection to Yoyodyne? How deep does the conspiracy go? Many of the facts surrounding Pynchon’s conspiracies are vague and undefined. They lurk in the shadows, mysterious, powerful. Oedipa Maas’ growing paranoia becomes the reader’s. He leaves the reader hanging in suspense as deeper layers are unveiled further into the book. In contrast, Brown offers up his secret society, and all their meager secrets, in the first half of the book. The book sputters from location to location after that until it collapses into a showdown at Westminster Abbey.

I stayed up Saturday night reading Angels & Demons, then pulled another all-nighter Sunday night with The Da Vinci Code. And after reading both of them, I was left with a guilty, icky feeling: “I stayed up all night to read this nonsense?” Kind of like when I read a Stephen King novel. It’s enjoyable at the time, but I know I’ll regret it in the morning. The Da Vinci Code troubles me a bit more than Stephen King’s pablum, probably because so many people seem ready to accept the fanciful history Brown spins in the novel without digging deeper into the source material. I guess people want to see vast conspiracies controlling events from the shadows, like Eco illustrates. Look at the furor over the Kennedy assassination and the crackpots that say NASA never landed a man on the moon. People want to believe. My concern is that readers will take Brown’s pseudo-history as fact instead of fiction and that may lead them to the wrong conclusions about the Christianity and church history. I hope the ideas related in the book will propel curious readers to research the early church, art history, or the Renaissance.

Ted Williams To Stay On Ice

Ted Williams’ daughter abandoned her fight to have the baseball great removed from cryogenic preservation. The lawsuit ran out of steam once she ran out of money to fight her half-brother and the Williams estate. Apparently New York Met Mike Piazza offered to help fund the lawsuit, but after estate lawyers threatened legal action if he intervened Piazza backed off. And so Ted Williams remains in an icebox, until science can reanimate him to play ball again. The world sure is full of some weird shit.

Another Typhoon For Yap

I guess it’s official: the storm track for 2004 is over Yap. The island suffered a brush with Dianmu yesterday, while it was still a tropical storm. Today Dianmu was upgraded to typhoon strength, and it is a whopper. We are getting feeder band activity on Guam and Manila. Thankfully this monster is not expected to make landfall on any other islands.

Expensive Living

Thought I’d post a link to this: World’s most expensive cities led by Tokyo, London – Jun. 14, 2004. I was surprised by the poll, London was killing Tokyo and Moscow in the ‘where would you rather live?’ question. I’d much rather live in Tokyo than London. The weather sucks in London.

I’m surprised Guam isn’t on the list. I’d say prices here are roughly comparable to Honolulu, which ranked 57th on the list.