Home/Prufrock/Missionary Spies, Surfing in the Age of Social Media, and New York’s Last Pirate

Missionary Spies, Surfing in the Age of Social Media, and New York’s Last Pirate

Spies. Who needs them? That’s Adam Gopnik’s conclusion—sort of—in a short survey of a handful of books on espionage: “If there is a lesson to be taken from the literature of espionage, it is that the surfaces we see generally have the greatest significance, and the most obvious-seeming truths about other countries’ plans and motives are usually more predictive than the sharpest guesses at hidden ones.”

Well, we needed them during WWII, and some of our most successful spies were missionaries: “William Eddy was one of the most effective intelligence officers in American history. During World War II, he was among the first to join the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the nation’s first permanent espionage agency. After the war, he helped found the CIA. He was also a decorated veteran of World War I and, in civilian life, an educator, devoted husband, and father. But none of those roles really captures the true William Eddy: Above all, he was a man of God. Eddy was born in Lebanon in 1896 to Presbyterian missionaries. Raised in the Middle East, he became fluent in Arabic and French and went to college in the United States. After earning a doctorate from Princeton, he went on to teach English at the missionary-founded American University in Cairo and later at Dartmouth. With his linguistic abilities and insider’s knowledge of the region, Eddy was recruited to the OSS by William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, the founding father of modern American espionage. Eddy became America’s man in the Middle East, helping make possible the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942. He acted as an interpreter between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Saudi King Ibn Saud at their meeting in 1945, which established the US-Saudi alliance. Yet no matter where he was, Eddy rarely missed a Sunday service. Eddy’s remarkable career—part missionary, part spy—might seem unusual, but as Matthew Avery Sutton shows in his magnificent new book, Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States During the Second World War, it was anything but. The wartime role of American missionaries has largely faded from memory, but Sutton’s entertaining and insightful narrative recovers it in full.”

The problem on university campuses today is not the abandonment of free speech. It’s the abandonment of excellence and reason.

The life and work of Romare Bearden: “Bearden’s art changed over time as he embraced motifs drawn from a wide array of sources, including Greek mythology and the vivid palette inspired by his new home in St. Martin. He continued to create using a variety of methods and materials—watercolors, pen and ink, fabrics and miscellaneous items, even bits of metal—with collage as his main process, in works he composed until shortly before his death in 1988. Campbell’s extraordinarily rich biography offers its readers many rewards. Nowhere here is the awkwardness of critics unfamiliar with the history of black art or who isolate it from its frames of reference or consider only how black artists ought to criticize race in America. Hers is a self-confident study of an artist’s life in all its contexts.”

New York’s last pirate: “Albert Hicks, the protagonist of Cohen’s tangy new book, The Last Pirate of New York, was no waterborne juvenile delinquent. Remarkably handsome and sturdy, with piercing black eyes, gleaming white teeth, and a scraggly beard, he was a psychopathic serial killer avant la lettre. By his own account, before he landed in New York, he freebooted around the world’s sea lanes in the decades leading to the Civil War and left a bloody wake. Hicks, writes Cohen, ‘is the closest thing the New York underworld has to a Cain, the first killer and the first banished man, carrying that dread mark: MURDER.’”

Essay of the Day:

Is social medial ruining surfing? Jamie Brisick thinks it is. Here he is in The New Yorker:

“On a recent, sunny Friday morning, a group of journalists and photographers gathered on the roof deck of the Surfrider Malibu, a boutique hotel that looks out over the iconic surf break for which it’s named. We were there for a demo of a new feature from Surfline, an iPhone app best known for its surf forecasts. Called Sessions, the feature captures the waves surfers ride and downloads the videos to their phones. ‘The pro guys have their personal filmers documenting their every ride,’ Dave Gilovich, Surfline’s chipper, sixty-seven-year-old brand director, said. ‘Well, Surfline Sessions is for the everyman.’

“‘See that camera over there?’ Gilovich pointed to a camera mounted atop the slanted roof of the hotel. I knew it well; it shoots the live feed of the waves at First Point, a section at Surfrider, and I check it most mornings. ‘We have over six hundred of these at breaks around the world, rolling day and night,’ he said. ‘Combined with the latest in wearable technology, and the software that we’ve developed, the camera can identify the surfer as they take off on a wave. To put it simply, you go out, you surf, and, before you’ve even changed out of your wetsuit, your waves are downloaded to your phone, ready for you to watch.’

“Over fresh pastries and coffee, Gilovich gave us a glimpse into an immediate future where no ride goes undocumented. ‘Say there’s some kid on the south side of Huntington Pier, and he’s getting good, and he’s been trying to bust his first air reverse,’ he said. ‘He’s sitting off the peak—he’s not with the alpha dogs yet. But that one morning he throws it up.’ Gilovich demonstrated an arcing twirl with his fingers. ‘The air reverse completes, he sticks the fins, and he rides out of it. Now it will be documented via the cam, and he’ll have that for the rest of his life.’

“It was a good day for documenting. At First Point, sets of shimmering head-high waves were peeling off with precision. More than a hundred and fifty surfers dotted the water, with three or four often riding the same wave. At least half were likely tipped off to the excellent swell by Surfline, a company that has changed surfing with both the live cams at popular breaks and super accurate swell forecasting. Gilovich pulled out a stash of Apple Watches from his duffel bag. ‘You just press this Start button right before you paddle out, then you go for your surf, and when you get out you press Stop. Simple as that,’ he said. We strapped the watches to our wrists, changed into our wetsuits, grabbed our boards, and headed for the water.

“As a former professional surfer and as a documenter of surfing for nearly thirty years, I’ve observed how the omnipresent camera has affected surf style. In a clip on The Surfer’s Journal’s Web site, for instance, the South African pro Michael February surfs solo at a remote point break in West Africa. His hand jive, soul arches, and toreador-like flourishes play to the camera in a way that breaks the spell of the itinerant surfer in far-flung solitude. His style is as self-conscious as the duck-face selfie. And by no means is February alone. Scroll through Instagram and you’ll see it: exaggerated arms, too-perfect fingers, the surf dance served up almost smugly.

“I’ve always thought of style as something instinctive and spontaneous—how you might react, say, dancing alone to your favorite song. I was curious to get the eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater’s take. ‘Style should be natural and not perfect,’ he wrote, fittingly, in a direct message on Instagram. ‘I really dislike watching someone, anyone, who seems to be trying to look a certain way.’ But the effect of the camera in surfing goes much deeper than just style. ‘One of the true gifts of surfing is the privacy of it,’ Scott Hulet, the longtime editor and current creative director of The Surfer’s Journal, told me over the phone. ‘That’s going away, and it’s at a great, great, great hazard to the experience. We’re so infatuated with getting looked at now—look at me, look at me, and look at me!—that we’re losing the magic of surfing being a low-profile activity.’”

Read the rest.

Photo: Viborg

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University. Follow him on Twitter.

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