Intl. Notebook Dec 5 2019
STRANGER ALL THE TIME
Albert Camus' fatal 1960 auto accident may have been a KGB assassination.


Italian author Giovanni Catelli has just published a book that claims French writer Albert Camus was assassinated by the KGB, rather than dying in an auto accident, as largely believed. When you say the words “Cold War intrigue,” we're all in, so the story caught our eye. Catelli's theory, which he first began airing in 2011, is that the KGB silenced Camus because he was a globally famous figure who made a habit of criticizing the Soviet Union. The order was allegedly given by Dmitri Shepilov, the USSR’s minister of internal affairs, after Camus slammed him in the French newspaper Franc-Tireur in March 1957. Camus died in 1960, so the killing took three years to come to fruition, according to Catelli.

His book length argument, La mort de Camus, is getting white hot press right now, however it's very interesting to look back at contemporary articles about the crash. Camus was riding as a passenger in a car driven by his publisher Michel Gallimard, with Gallimard's wife Janine and their daughter Anne in the rear seat. Michel Gallimard died, but his wife and daughter survived to describe the crash. Michel was driving fast and had been told to slow down, and had drunk wine at dinner.
 
A gander at the wreckage of the heavy Farcel Vega HK500 attests to its speed. We checked the various articles popping up online and found none that mentioned either the velocity of the car or the drinking of the driver, but that's how the internet works—a fantastic claim circles the world five times faster than anything resembling balance or a fact check.

Catelli, though, has an answer for the reckless driving theory—the Soviets had attached a device to the car that would puncture a tire only in the event of sufficient speed. If the Soviets came up with the device described, it would not kick in without the added ingredient of driver haste, which often happens in conjunction with alcohol consumption, which in turn is a near certainty when talking about French people, all of which means the chances of a crash with muddied circumstances were pretty high. The device, if it ever existed, was certainly clever. It would be like a device that tied your shoelaces together, but only if you went downstairs in a rush, and you happened to live in a fourth floor flat with a balky elevator.

Catelli's belief that Camus was disposed of via assassination is bolstered by the fact that the car he was riding in somehow careened off a stretch of straight road thirty feet wide. Nobody described Michel Gallimard trying to dodge a hedgehog or pothole, so despite speed and possible drunkenness, some unforeseen factor seems required to send the vehicle into the weeds. On the other hand, three years is a long time to enact a death plot. We've seen Yankees and Red Sox fans patch their shit up in less time. But let's move this death from the settled bin into the mysterious bin, which is where we like everything to be anyway. Camus, the famed absurdist, once wrote that, “There can be nothing more absurd than to die in a car accident.” And if Catelli is correct, nothing can be more convenient either. 

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Intl. Notebook Jul 14 2019
THE FUTURE IS CLOUDY
It's all skin no wit as tabloid stumbles along on its last legs.


It's July 14, 1974 and it's getting late in the game for National Informer. This issue shows that the magazine is exhausted of ideas and inspiration, and is bereft of all but the crassest humor. We suspect staff reductions. As magazines decline in circulation they lose pages and bleed staff. This issue is a full eight pages shorter than two years earlier. We aren't sure how much longer Informer lasted, but by this point the writing seems to be on the wall.

One mainstay, though, is resident seer Mark Travis, who offers his thoughts about the far future, predicting that Greenland will become the next frontier by 2050 due to underground volcanoes turning it into a tropical paradise, and Brazil will become a world power by 2075, ranking only after the U.S., China, and the U.S.S.R., thanks to cheap labor and the vast resources of the Amazon.

This guess is not far wide of the mark. The current president of Brazil is selling off the Amazon. But Travis's prediction is undermined by the fact that the U.S.S.R. no longer exists. Future visions tend to be notoriously select, but a non-U.S.S.R. future should be glaringly readable even within swirling clairvoyant mists. Well, no seer is perfect. Maybe Travis will do better in the next issue. You'll find out, because we have more to come.

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Vintage Pulp Feb 22 2019
GOURMAND OR MONSTER
I'd prefer to eat her with a Château Latour Pauillac and some grilled vegetables, but a werewolf has to make do.


This lycanthrope painted by William Randolph for the cover of Avon's 1951 edition of Guy Endore's The Werewolf of Paris has been caught red-handed eating his entree without a side and a garnish, not to mention the lack of a fine red wine. Being a murderous werewolf is one thing. That can be forgiven. But eating this way could cost him his French citizenship. Endore's take on werewolfery was originally published in 1933, was almost forgotten as recently as a few years ago, but seems to be gaining stature of late. We're happy to do our part. It's a deliberate tale—its setting in late 1800s France first has to be framed by a 1930s snoop doing a retelling from a found court manuscript, then within the account the wolfman character of Bertrand must be conceived, born, and raised, before being set on his bloody path in Paris, a city that offers a perfect hiding place. Endore explains why with this lyrical passage:

Before the greater importance of thousands going to death, before a greater werewolf drinking the blood of regiments, of what importance was a little werewolf like Bertrand?

Which is to say Bertrand has disappeared into the labyrinth of Paris during the chaos of the Franco-Prussian War. His appetites soon grow to include not only the living, but the dead, which he digs from fresh graves in Père Lachaise and Cimetière de Montmartre. Pretty interesting stuff, this novel. Of course, werewolf stories always end tragically, but it's the journey that matters. Endore crafts an atmospheric tale—and one that's sexually frank too, for 1933. Well, vive la différence. The French public was not quite so puritanical as the Americans about sexual explorations in art. Nor about sacrilege, nor children being eaten, nor incest, it seems. But as horrific as all these atrocities are, ultimately Endore asks which is the greater werewolf—Bertrand or war? Since in reality one exists and the other doesn't, we know the answer. The Werewolf of Paris is a fascinating tale, not pulp style, but certainly worth a read for fans of any types of fiction.
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Femmes Fatales Jan 3 2019
FLOWER DROMM SONG
You have to know when it's time to branch out.


Andrea Dromm is wearing a jumpsuit, which is fitting because she's going to have to jump if she ever wants to get out of this tree. A model and actress, she had one of the shorter careers, appearing in two movies and one television show. But one of the movies was the hit comedy The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! and the television show was Star Trek, so she's better remembered than someone with such a small filmography normally would be. After acting she went on to devote her time to modeling, and has been stuck in this tree since posing there in 1966.

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Intl. Notebook Dec 3 2018
SHIRK HER DUTY
Television makes a celebrity of a natural born Kira.


Above is another cover of the Portuguese magazine O Século Ilustrado, this time with a non-Hollywood face. She's Kira Shirk, who gained fame when Europe learned she had been a sniper in the Russian infantry during World War II's Battle of Leningrad. The magazine explains that she's appearing on NBC's Big Surprise, a game show that culminated in a high pressure question worth $100,000 if the contestant answered it correctly. Shirk had pledged to donate part of her winnings to an organization called Crusade for Freedom. Did she win? No idea, but her question was supposed to be about weapons and war, so we're going with yes. Great image, published today in 1955. More here.

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Intl. Notebook Oct 18 2018
GLOBAL WARNING
There's life on Earth. But is it intelligent life?


And speaking of Halloween frights, there's a theory in science that's gaining traction of late. Maybe you won't find this interesting but we did. First consider that even with life sustaining conditions assumed to be incredibly rare, cosmically speaking, the fact that almost every observed star has planets leads to the estimate of 100 billion planets in our galaxy. That number renders the long odds of perfect life generating conditions moot—there are certainly millions of planets with life, probably many thousands with intelligent life, and virtually any scientist you talk to outside of a political environment will tell you that. So why haven't we detected anything? The age of the civilization is a factor, distance is a second factor, point of origin of signal emission is another, and the perfect timing for us intercept a signal is yet another.

But here's the theory: a civilization advancing to the point that it can emit signals into space is a function of technological development, which in turn hinges on energy. Whatever form an alien race takes, it must advance through stages of energy generation. And since nuclear physics are a constant throughout this universe, every advancing civilization will eventually discover nuclear power. It's the most obvious energy form of all, because every sun in every sky shines as an example of it. It's possible that very few civilizations survive advancing through the various stages of dirty and dangerous energy generation. Nearly all collapse their ecosystems, which in turn leads to extinction. Just some food for thought this lovely Thursday as you look at these photos of a Russian nuclear test at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, conducted today in 1951. 

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Intl. Notebook Sep 21 2018
DAMN THE TORPEDO
It was full speed ahead in the Cold War.


This spectacular photo shows the test of a nuclear torpedo detonated today in 1955 by the Soviet Union at Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago above the Arctic Circle. The weapon sent a massive debris cloud erupting into the atmosphere, which you can see in a video here. It was one of seven tests the Soviets conducted that year, and they and the United States were just getting heated up in their insane nuclear race.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 24 2018
OWNED AND OPERATED
Well, technically I belong to Lester back there, but if you've got the money I'm available as a rental.


Sam Ross was the pen name of Samuel Rosen, a Russian born writer who was brought to the U.S. by his parents, attended school, joined the army, served during World War II, and turned both his immigrant and war experiences into journalism, fiction, and screenplays. He was immediately successful, and later shared his valuable insights by teaching at UCLA. You Belong to Me is a wrong-side-of-the-tracks tale of a married man who gets involved with another woman while his wife is out of town and finds himself in all sorts of trouble. The backdrop for his descent into craziness and danger is Manhattan, and often Harlem, which rarely fails in literature to provide writers the tools they need to craft a picturesque tale. Ross takes his protagonist through jazz clubs and all the rest. The book appeared as a paperback original from Popular Library in 1955, and the top notch cover art is by Owen Kampen. 

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Mondo Bizarro Mar 9 2018
HANDBAG AND ACCESSORIES
Russian authorities join hands near Khabarovsk.

If you can't quite determine what you're looking at we'll make it clear for you—it's a pile of severed hands. Fifty-four of them, in fact, which were found in a large bag in Russia yesterday on an island in the Amur River near Khabarovsk, close to the border with China.

The second photo, below, shows the hands organized into twenty-seven matched pairs by some unlucky member of the investigative team. It's this detail of the story that fascinates us. How did they match the hands? We would think all severed frozen hands look pretty much the same, and since fingerprints take time to process we can only guess the cops had someone along who was able to sort them out the way Dustin Hoffman could sort out scattered matches in Rainman.

Regardless, it has to be taken as moderately good news that twenty-seven rather than fifty-four people were potentially mutilated. Obviously nobody has the slightest idea how or why the hands were out there—though a trending theory has it that they were cut from accused thieves, and others are speculating that they were used for medical research, then bagged and illegally dumped. The second theory may be closer to the truth, since police allegedly found hospital accessories in the bag along with the grisly stash. Well, if medical personnel were responsible someone has clearly jettisoned their professional ethics. Not like that hasn't happened about a million times before. We suggest that the solution to this mystery could lie in locating a corresponding collection of feet, and if that's true, we know just where to start looking.

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Intl. Notebook Feb 17 2018
PEACE THROUGH POWER
Ban the bomb! The other side's bomb, we mean.


Soviet painter Nikolai Litvinov was a prolific producer of political art during the Cold War. Above you see one of his efforts—an anti-nuclear poster from printers Sovetsky Khudozhnik with text that reads: “May There Be Peace!” This is from 1959, but we've seen some purported to be from 1961, so if that's the case these were probably made throughout the early Cold War. Blaming the other side for the nuclear arms race was of course the same strategy employed by the U.S. We're going to get back to Litvinov shortly. In the meantime, you can see more Soviet propaganda here, some U.S. propaganda here, and a mixture from several countries here.

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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
December 12
1968—Tallulah Bankhead Dies
American actress, talk show host, and party girl Tallulah Bankhead, who was fond of turning cartwheels in a dress without underwear and once made an entrance to a party without a stitch of clothing on, dies in St. Luke's Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia complicated by emphysema.
December 11
1962—Canada Has Last Execution
The last executions in Canada occur when Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin, both of whom are Americans who had been extradited north after committing separate murders in Canada, are hanged at Don Jail in Toronto. When Turpin is told that he and Lucas will probably be the last people hanged in Canada, he replies, “Some consolation.”
1964—Guevara Speaks at U.N.
Ernesto "Che" Guevara, representing the nation of Cuba, speaks at the 19th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York City. His speech calls for wholesale changes in policies between rich nations and poor ones, as well as five demands of the United States, none of which are met.
2008—Legendary Pin-Up Bettie Page Dies
After suffering a heart attack several days before, erotic model Bettie Page, who in the 1950s became known as the Queen of Pin-ups, dies when she is removed from life support machinery. Thanks to the unique style she displayed in thousands of photos and film loops, Page is considered one of the most influential beauties who ever lived.
December 10
1935—Downtown Athletic Club Awards First Trophy
The Downtown Athletic Club in New York City awards its first trophy for athletic achievement to University of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger. The prize is later renamed the Heisman Trophy, and becomes the most prestigious award in college athletics.
1968—Japan's Biggest Heist Occurs
300 million yen is stolen from four employees of the Nihon Shintaku Ginko bank in Tokyo when a man dressed as a police officer blocks traffic due to a bomb threat, makes them exit their bank car while he checks it for a bomb, and then drives away in it. Under Japanese statute of limitations laws, the thief could come forward today with no repercussions, but nobody has ever taken credit for the crime.
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