Thursday, November 30, 2017

Breaking The Barrier

On October 14, 1947, Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager became the first human to break the sound barrier, flying the X-1.  Yeager was an Army Air Corps pilot in WWII.  After shooting down a German fighter plane, Yeager was shot down over France in March 1944.  Helped by the French Resistance he escaped over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain and was back in England by May.

At the time, pilots who had been shot down, worked with the Resistance, and made it back to England were forbidden to fly further combat missions.  Yeager was able to obtain an audience with General Eisenhower to plead his case and was allowed to return to combat.  In October 1944 he shot down five German fighters in one day.

In 2012, on the 65th anniversary of his 1947 flight, 89 year old General Chuck Yeager flew in a two-seater F-15 fighter, breaking the sound barrier once again.  Best comment on the video: "he barely can get into the cockpit, his steel balls block the way".


In 2017 the 94 year old Yeager remains active on Twitter.

You can watch a theatric version of his 1947 flight in this clip from The Right Stuff.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Things I Had Not Known Part 781

The United Postal Union (UPU) was founded in 1874, currently has 192 member countries, and is now run under the auspices of the United Nations.  The UPU meets every four years to set terminal fees for postage between its members with each country getting one vote.  Under the UPU scheme countries that are considered poorer or less developed pay less for shipping to countries considered richer or more developed.

The result, as reported in a recent eye-opening article in Forbes, has created an astonishing situation in which freight rates from China to the United States are less than shipping within the United States created a huge competitive advantage for Chinese manufacturers and shippers because, under current UPU rules, China, the second largest country in the world, is in the same category as poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa!

According to Forbes: “The cost to ship a one-pound package from South Carolina to New York City would run nearly $6; from Beijing to NYC: $3.66.”  At the same time, the shipping rates from the U.S. to China are outrageous, and often preclude American customers from returning defective products.  That same one-pound package would cost about $50 to send via USPS International Mail from New York City to Beijing.

American merchants, already facing higher production costs, are further penalized even in dealing with their American customers.  Here's one example:
Becca Peter from Lopez Island in Washington state is in a similar situation. She sells something called Washi tape via a website called PrettyPackagesTape.com “at some of the lowest prices of any U.S.-based small business.” But these low prices are nothing compared to what Chinese competitors can sell at. While Peter must charge a flat $3.50 for shipping, Chinese merchants are selling versions of the product with all fees and and shipping charges included for a total price of $2.
And shipping internationally?  Fugeddaboudit!
It costs less than $4 to mail a 9-ounce parcel from China to Toronto or London. If I want to mail a 9-ounce parcel to Toronto it would cost me $14.73. If I wanted to send that same package to London it would cost me $21.38. 
As the author points out: 
As you browse through the listings on sites like Amazon and eBay it is almost impossible not to be amazed at how cheaply China-based merchants are selling products for: xlr cables for $.99, a necklace for $.78, 10 watch batteries for $.78 -- all with postage included.
My default position on international commerce is to favor free trade.  And I don't begrudge China becoming more prosperous and more people moving out of poverty, and am happy for my friends there.  But it is very clear that the existing trade rules, whether involving the UPU or the WTO are simply not "free" trade and have been successfully manipulated by China to the detriment of American citizens.  When China gained admission, with U.S. approval (in an enormous miscalculation by the administration of President Bush), to the WTO in 2001 it was supposed to herald a new day of trade benefiting both nations.  Instead, China has been skillfully able to use the WTO rules and its tribunals to pry open U.S. markets while keeping theirs relatively closed.

As several studies have pointed out it is the sheer scale of China's production boom that makes it unlike any other country which entered the WTO.  Some estimates are that up to 2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost to China's onslaught in the first decade of the 21st century.  The suddenness and scale of China made it impossible for the U.S. to adjust gradually to change.  That's why a free trade agreement with countries with much small economies and manufacturing sectors are much easier to deal with.

And that doesn't even get to the intellectual property (IP) issues American companies face with China.  Those seeking to do business in that country are forced to turn over IP to the government in order to obtain access, and the outright theft of IP by Chinese companies is rarely punished by that country's legal system.

I saw some of this first hand during my many trips to China.  It's a fascinating place and I'd like to visit again.  But something has gone terribly wrong in our trade relations.






Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Case Of You

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Joni Mitchell live.  From the album Blue (1971).  I can't find words.

Monday, November 20, 2017

County Fair

It's riffmaster Joe Walsh's 70th birthday today!  We've written before of his approach to metaphysics which is reprised here:
You know, there’s a philosopher who says, “As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos, and random events, non-related events, smashing into each other and causing this situation or that situation, and then, this happens, and it’s overwhelming, and it just looks like what in the world is going on. And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely crafted novel. But at the time, it don’t.”
Building upon that insight we present County Fair, a further Walshian inquiry into the fate of humanity and the meaning of life.  Plus it's got some nifty riffs. 
Found an old puzzle that somebody quit
Try to fit pieces and hope that they fit
But they're going together so slowly
It may take me forever to know
And it's only a puzzle 

Parts of the puzzle will never be found
And even though pieces are gone
It's a county fair picture
Part of me's there
Some of the pieces are still at the fair
And it may be forever



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Talk Of The Town

One of the finest songs from the Pretenders, featuring the incomparable vocals of Chrissie Hynde.   This 1980 video is of the original band lineup.  In 1982 lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died from cocaine abuse. The same year bassist Pete Farndon was fired by the other band members for his out of control drug habits and he died shortly thereafter of an overdose.  Chrissie, along with drummer Martin Chambers, goes on.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

When Texas Invaded New Mexico

Yes, it happened and eventually got to the point where an American president threatened to use U.S. troops against Texas.

It started with the Texas War of Independence in 1836, at the end of which the Republic of Texas became a nation and the Mexican army withdrew (for more on the war, read Remember (My Visit To) The Alamo! series, and Sam Houston: The Raven).  The treaty signed by Santa Anna left the boundaries of Texas ill-defined and the refusal of Mexico, after Santa Anna's removal from office, to ratify the treaty and recognize Texas as an independent nation created an unstable situation where Texas was both expansionist and constantly worried about the prospects of another Mexican invasion.

Most Texians asserted that their country's western boundary extended to the Rio Grande and encompassed all of present day New Mexico and Colorado east of that river.

(From wikipedia)



Initially the situation was contained by the Republic's first President, Sam Houston, who did not press boundary issues and followed a policy of reconciliation with Mexico as well as with the powerful Indian tribes in the area.  Limited to one term by the Republic's constitution, Houston was succeeded in December 1838 by Mirabeau Lamar who was elected to a three year term.  Lamar's policy was of aggressive expansion, hostility to Mexico, and undertaking of punitive expeditions against the tribes, prompting retaliation against settlers.

All of this was against a confusing situation in the new nation of Mexico, which had achieved independence from Spain in 1821.  Although its 1824 Constitution was federalist, the instability, and frequent turnover of governments in Mexico City, along with the ascension of centralizers, like Santa Ana, led to unrest in many parts of the country and, in particular, in the northern border territories and states.  California, Sonora, and New Mexico all saw revolts in the 1830s.  In January 1840 Federalist leaders in Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas, meeting in Laredo, declared independence and the creation of the Republic of the Rio Grande.  Although the central government soon suppressed the rebellion its leaders fled into Texas from which they launched another unsuccessful revolt.  Though Texas remained officially neutral, it did provide support to the Yucatan in its war for independence from 1840 to 1846.

Texas itself was a ramshackle country; the national government was broke and civil organization minimal at any level.  The entire western half of the country was off limits to Anglo settlers because of the Comanche threat and, on occasion, the Comanche raided deep into Texas.  In 1840 a late raid actually reached the Gulf Coast mid-way between Corpus Christi and Houston.  

That same year Lamar appointed three Texians living in Santa Fe as commissioners and sent them a letter they could use to invite the people of Neuvo Mexico, then part of Mexico, to join the Republic of Texas.  The overture was not successful and the following year, Lamar decided to send an expedition to Santa Fe, despite the opposition of the Texas Congress.  The expedition was to be initially presented to New Mexico authorities as for the purpose of commerce but its real purpose was to seize control of the lucrative trade of the Santa Fe Trail and to annex New Mexico.  Lamar's deception was fairly obvious as the "trading" expedition was accompanied by five companies of infantry and one of artillery under the command of General Hugh McLeod, a West Point graduate.

(Mirabeau Lamar, from wikipedia)
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/Mirabeaulamar_2.jpg

Three hundred and twenty one men set out from Austin in June 1841.  They had little knowledge of the route to Santa Fe, at one point mistaking the Wichita River for the Red River and following it in the wrong direction for twelve days.  Food supplies ran low and they lacked sufficient water.  One attack by Kiowas killed five soldiers, while another attack resulted in the expedition losing all its cattle and a large number of horses.  These troubles were exacerbated by the desertion of their two Mexican guides who made way to Taos where they warned Governor Manual Armijo of the approaching Texians.

Armijo quickly mobilized more than 1,000 soldiers and advanced east, surrounding the main body of hungry, weary and thirsty Texians near Tucumcari.  McLeod and his men surrendered on October 5, without firing a shot.  Over the next ten weeks the prisoners were marched to El Paso, then to Mexico City, and finally imprisoned in Veracruz.

Lamar's tenure, which ended in December 1841 was a disaster between the failure of his Mexico policy, the wars caused by his Indian policy and the decrepit finances of the Republic.  After annexation, Lamar served in the state legislature and was appointed by President Buchanan as minister to Nicaragua and later Costa Rica before dying in 1859.
http://images.slideplayer.com/30/9553297/slides/slide_24.jpg

The US minister to Mexico intervened on behalf of the prisoners and was able to obtain their release in April 1842.  After his release, Hugh McLeod served in the Texas legislature and married a cousin of Mirabeau Lamar.  A fierce opponent of Sam Houston (for a quarter century Texas politics was about whether you were for or against Houston) McLeod joined the Confederacy, serving as colonel in Hood's Texas Brigade before dying of pneumonia in Virginia in early 1862.

In the meantime tensions between Mexico and Texas exploded.  In March 1842, Mexican troops occupied Goliad, Victoria, and San Antonio causing panic across Texas.  Though the occupation forces soon retreated, San Antonio was reoccupied by the Mexicans for several days in September.   Sam Houston, reelected president in December 1841, order a punitive expedition towards the Rio Grande, apparently more to appease Texian public opinion than to engage in pitched battles.  After capturing Laredo the expedition's commander ordered a retreat but more than 300 Texians refused and, under the leadership of political opponents of Houston, decided to cross the Rio Grande.  They were defeated in a battle near the town of Meir with thirty killed and the rest captured.

While being marched to Mexico City, the Texians made a mass escape eluding capture for seven days.  An enraged Santa Anna (president, once again) ordered their execution.  The Governor of the state of Coahuila refused to obey the order which was finally modified to require the execution of every tenth man, to be determined by the drawing of lots.  On March 25, 1843 seventeen of the prisoners were shot.  Many of the survivors died in prison while others were released from time to time, with the last obtaining their freedom in September 1844.

Meanwhile, Texas made two additional attacks on Nuevo Mexico in 1843.  Charles Warfield, fur trapper and Texas army officer, led 24 men in a retaliatory campaign, attempting to seize Mora, New Mexico (northeast of Santa Fe).  Driven off, his band later murdered Mexican trader Antonio Jose Chavez, on the Santa Fe Trail.

This was followed in the same year by an expedition of 200 men led by James Snively, quartermaster of the Texas army, to attack Mexican merchants on the Santa Fe Trail and, if possible, seize the town.  In June, Snively's band defeated a unit of Mexican soldiers. However, their was broad dissatisfaction with Snively among his men and the command voted to divide itself.  Several days later Snively's command unexpectedly encountered a troop U.S. Army Dragoons under Capt Philip St George Cooke which had been sent to protect Mexican caravans on the trail after the killing of Chavez.  Cooke informed Snively he was on American territory  Though Snively protested he was on Texas territory, Cooke surrounded the Texan camp and disarmed the men, ending the expedition.

Phil Cooke was a noted Indian fighter, and served under George McClellan was a cavalry commander during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862.  He was removed and sent to non-combat posts, in part because of the army's humiliation when Cooke's son-in-law, Jeb Stuart led his cavalry command on a successful ride around the entire Union Army.   You can still buy Cooke's memoirs on Amazon:
https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51eTycb91oL._SY445_QL70_.jpg

Snively went on to join the California Gold Rush in 1849, moving on to the Arizona Territory in 1858 where he played a role in organizing Yuma County while continuing to prospect.  He eventually settled in the Phoenix area and was killed by Apaches while exploring near Wickenburg, Arizona in 1871.

In 1845, Texas agreed to be annexed by the United States but it was not the end of its aspirations to expand its border westwards.  The following year General Philip Kearny seized Nuevo Mexico which became part of the United States with the end of the Mexican War in 1848.  Texas continued to assert that its western boundary was on the Rio Grande, actually sending a commission to organize Santa Fe County under Texas Law, prompting local citizens to file a petition with the American government to allow New Mexico to be organized as a territory.

New Mexico now became part of the greater crisis over slavery that engulfed the Union.  With the legal status of slavery in both California and New Mexico in question and Texan claims regarding borders the situation once again became explosive.

In March 1849, President Zachary Taylor took office.  Taylor, hero of the Mexican War and Louisiana slave owner was expected to look favorably on the expansion of the peculiar institution but, to the South's surprise and outrage, Taylor proved a fierce opponent to slavery's expansion into the territories.  To end the dispute, President Taylor urged the citizens of California and New Mexico to draft constitutions, apply for statehood, and avoid becoming territories.

(President Taylor, from constitutioncenter.org)
zachary-taylor

Tempers grew hotter.  Texans who favored both territorial and slavery expansion began to agitate to secure their Rio Grand boundaries by force, with the Governor of Texas threatening to send troops to Santa Fe, as well as threatening secession.  In February 1850 Taylor met with Southern leaders and warned them that anyone "taken in rebellion against the Union, he would hang ... with less reluctance than he had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico."  He ordered reinforcement of U.S. Army garrisons in New Mexico and instructed that any attempt by Texas to assert its claims to New Mexico be met with force.

Taylor began writing a message to Congress about the crisis but never finished it.  After an Independence day ceremony and picnic at the White House, the president fell ill, dying five days later.  His successor Millard Fillmore, was a much less formidable character, and Congress reasserted itself eventually passing a series of measures that became known as the Compromise of 1850.  The first bill passed, on September 9, was the Texas and New Mexico Act which established the current boundaries of Texas, made New Mexico a territory and allowed it to choose whether to be slave or free when it became a state (which did not happen until 1912), and provided that the United States would pay off $10 million of the debts of the Republic of Texas (which had teetered on the edge of bankruptcy throughout its nine years of independence).

With that the dispute between New Mexico and Texas came to a close.
Though with those Texans you can never be sure.




Friday, November 17, 2017

The Veil Nebula

From Astronomy Picture of the Day.  The Nebula is the remnant of a supernova and about 1,500 light years from earth.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Red Hot Chili Peppers Carpool Karoake

The Red Hot Chili Peppers drive around with James Corden singing songs and having fun.  Along the way Anthony Kiedis and Corden wrestle on someone's lawn.  I like that they start on with my favorite Chili Pepper song, Don't Stop.  You can hear the full song here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Last Of The Four Friends

He was the oldest living major league player, the only one left who'd played against Lou Gehrig.  Bobby Doerr died yesterday at age 99.

They came to the Red Sox within a few years of each other, Doerr in 1937, Ted Williams two years later, Dom DiMaggio in '40, with Johnny Pesky joining them in 1942.  They were all West Coast kids at a time when that was more unusual for baseball; Doerr from LA, Williams from San Diego, DiMaggio from the Bay Area and Pesky an Oregon native.  They became life long friends and they all lived long lives, Dom passing at 92, Pesky making it to 93, while Ted at 83 went first and youngest.

(Below, Williams, DiMaggio, Doerr, and Pesky)
http://bostonbaseballhistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Bobby-Doerr-2.jpg

The Hall of Fame second baseman for 13 seasons for the Red Sox retired at the age of 33 after injuring his back, returned to the West Coast, and became an Oregon farmer.

(Below, DiMaggio, Doerr, and Pesky throw out first ball, Game 2, 2004 World Series; Williams passed in 2002)
Image result for bobby doerr

Bobby Doerr lived long enough to be at Fenway Park for its 100th anniversary in 2012, a park that was only 25 years old when he made his debut.

(Below, Doerr and Pesky at 100th anniversary, behind them are Varitek, Big Papi, and Wakefield.)
Image result for bobby doerr

Monday, November 13, 2017

Contradictions

Last week I attended a talk by Prof Kyle Longley of Arizona State University on the subject of the Versailles Treaty of 1919 and its long term aftermath.  Prof Longley did a nice job in a short time laying out how the Treaty laid the groundwork for WWII and events into the 21st century, with special emphasis on Eastern Europe, the Middle East, China and Indochina.

Prof Longley is well respected in the field and, having checked his background before attending, is of the Progressive persuasion and it was two aspects of Progressive historicity, and the contradictions they present, that unexpectedly struck me during his talk.  The first is the concept of agency, which in the social sciences refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices, a concept that becomes particularly tricky in Progressive terms as it can be turned on and off as best aligns with Progressive political theory.  One example is that of African-Americans.  During the recent decades many historians of the Civil War and Reconstruction have rightfully emphasized the agency of slaves and of recently freed slaves.  Prior to this period, slaves had primarily been portrayed as passive recipients of freedom.  Modern historians have emphasized the actions many slaves took to achieve their freedom and fought as soldiers in support of the Federal cause, though like many such revisions some historians have now gone too far in ignoring non-black actions in this regard.  However, at the same time, in a Ta-Naheisi Coates' world of white privilege and Black Lives Matter we are assured by academics that African-Americans in the 21st century have far more circumscribed agency than slaves in the 1860s, a bizarre and ahistorical take on reality.  As an aside, writing this I am reminded Help Me To Find My People, a touching and illuminating book by North Carolina State University history professor Heather Andrea Williams about the search by newly freed slaves trying to locate the wives, husbands, and children from whom they were separated through sale by their masters before the war.

Agency came up in Prof Longley's description of the creation of new states in Eastern Europe and the Middle East though he did not use the term directly.  Longley believes, rightly in many cases, that these new nations had severe problems from the beginning because of how boundaries were drawn, a fault he ascribed to the winning powers, specifically Britain and France.  However, while Britain and France did play their part, they were also besieged by competing delegations from many different nationalities pleading their cases at Versailles.  They were active lobbyists for their conflicting claims, whether Poles, Hungarians, Bulgars, Serbs, Croats, Romanians, Arabs, and a multitude of others.

A specific example comes from the Arab world.  Though the magic words Sykes-Picot often start and end the conversation on post WWI borders in the Middle East, the situation was much more complicated.  While the British and French were trying to use the Arabs, various factions of Arabs were trying to use the British and French in support of their claims against fellow Arabs.  The Hashemites portrayed in Lawrence of Arabia promoted themselves as the leaders of the Arabs, a role much disputed by others.  In fact, after the end of the war they were ejected by the Saudi tribe who rule Arabia to this day, leaving the Hashemites the consolation prizes of Jordan, which they still rule, and Iraq, from which they were deposed in 1958.  There never was any good boundary solution in the post-war Middle East.  The British and French may have made a hash of it, but so have the locals in the decades since.  To pretend the solution was the creation of a new mythical Arab nation in an area which last saw such rule in the 10th century is simply romantic nonsense.

The other concept is multiculturism.  I don't think Prof Longley viewed his presentation as an indictment of multiculturalism, but it certainly was.   In his presentation, Longley repeatedly condemned the Allied leaders and mapmakers at Versailles for jamming together incompatible peoples and cultures in their settlements of both Eastern Europe and the Middle East.  He emphasized how foolish it was to ignore cultural differences in the creation of new states.  Yet Progressives turn around and urge multiculturalism and diversity as their preferred dominant value in Western societies.

Multiculturalism, at least as defined by Progressives over the past few decades, is different from a multi ethnic and multiracial society.  We've built, not without difficulty, a successful multi ethnic and racial society in the United States.  I'm certainly part of that mix and proud to be so.  But the traditional American approach and, indeed, the approach of Progressives until the late 1960s, was an assimilationist and nationalist approach to ethnicity and race (as discussed in a prior THC post) based upon common American values and pride in country.  Modern Progressives view multiculturalism as an end in itself, rejecting assimilation, nationalism and pride in our tradition of liberty and self-reliance.  The modern definition is a recipe for creating a new Yugoslavia; why anyone would have that goal.  We should learn from the truth of Prof Longley's observations; societies consisting of members of different cultures when left to their separate ways and undigested into some level of core common values, are societies based on unresolved tensions and grievances and inherently unstable.  Identity politics as practiced today are a recipe for societal disaster.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Will The Circle Be Unbroken

http://www.twangnation.com/blog/http://example.com/uploads/2013/07/Will-The-Circle-Be-Unbroken.png
Growing up in the northeast I wasn't exposed to country music though, as a fan of The Byrds, I'd heard their take on the genre in 1968's Sweetheart of the Rodeo.  The first time I remember really listening to old-time country was with the release of a triple album in 1972 - Will The Circle Be Unbroken.  The album cover was unusual - it pictured some old fogey (actually Union Admiral David Dixon Porter); the long list of names was hard to read and made it hard to tell whose record this was, and the prominent display of Confederate flags makes it questionable whether it would be released in this form today.

The album was recorded in August 1971 as a project of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a California-based group of country-rockers who'd had a minor hit in 1967 with Buy For Me The Rain and more success with the 1969 release of a cover of Jerry Jeff Walker's Mr Bojangles.  Their idea was to bring the band together with some of the icons of traditional country music to, as the album cover states, "form a new Circle".  It took some persuading to get the participants together, but the result was memorable - 38 songs, all recorded on the first or second takes, and snippets of in-studio conversation.  On all the tune, the Dirt Band provides the core instrumentation..

The featured country artists:

Mother Maybelle Carter (1909-78) of the famous Carter Family act and mother of June Carter, the second wife of Johnny Cash.  Known for her guitar and girlish voice.

The popularizer of the three finger banjo picking style, Earl Scruggs (1924-2012), with his breakthrough country hit of 1949, Foggy Mountain Breakdown.  Many of us non-country listeners first heard him on The Ballad of Jed Clampett.

My personal favorite, Doc Watson (1923-2012) whom THC has posted on before, with his marvelous guitar picking and resonant and comforting singing and speaking voice.

The famous country fiddler, Roy Acuff (1903-92).

Merle Travis (1917-83), singer, songwriter, and inventor of travis style picking guitar.

The King of Bluegrass, the guitar and mandolin playing Jimmy Martin (1927-2005).

The album also introduced master fiddler Vassar Clements (1928-2005) to a wider audience.

And now, let's listen to some music.

A Merle Travis composition, Dark As A Dungeon, featuring Merle on vocals.

A Jimmie Driftwood song, Tennessee Stud, with Doc Watson on vocals and guitar with Clements on fiddle.

The Hank Williams standard, I Saw The Light.  Roy Acuff vocals, Earl Scruggs banjo, Watson guitar, and Clements on fiddle.

Maybelle Carter singing Wildwood Flower, written by her brother-in-law AP Carter.  Earl Scruggs on banjo, and Maybelle on autoharp.

Earl's Breakdown with, no surprise, Earl Scruggs on banjo and Clements on fiddle.

Will The Circle Be Unbroken.  Maybelle Carter vocals on first verse, Jimmy Martin on second, Roy Acuff on third.  Watson & Travis on guitar, Scruggs on banjo, and Clements on fiddle.  The original version of the song by composers Ada R Habershon and Charles H Gabrieldates to 1907.  The version below was rewritten in the 1930s by AP Carter with new lyrics and a modified chorus.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Cool And Uncool

Thoughts for the day:

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool“.
The late Seymour Phillip Hoffman as rock critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous (2000)
. . . what Frank Sinatra projected was cool. And here is where the damage was done. Frank invented cool, and everyone followed Frank, and everything has been going to hell ever since.
The late Michael Kelly in The Washington Post, May 20, 1998

Kelly, a talented journalist who died in 2003 when the Humvee he was riding in overturned during the invasion of Iraq, went on to write:
“Cool said the old values were for suckers. Cool was looking out for number one always . . . Cool didn’t go to war: Saps went to war and anyway, cool had no beliefs it was willing to die for . . . Cool was a cad and boastful about it: in cool’s philosophy, the lady was always a tramp, and to be treated accordingly . . . Before cool, being good was still hip; after cool, only being bad was.
Quite a legacy. On the other hand, he sure could sing.”
I'm a great admirer of Frank Sinatra the singer, particularly of his 1950s Capitol Records recordings  as you can tell from my 14 posts on the man, but I like these sentiments about cool and uncool, though it seems like over the past decade we've moved on to snark as the dominant sentiment.

I've been unable to determine if the Seymour Phillip Hoffman quote was written for the Lester Bangs character in Almost Famous, or if Lester actually said it and it was inserted into the script years later.  In any event, for those of us who read his work it sounds like something Bangs could have written.

Almost Famous captures the feel of 1973 and the generosity, humor, and understanding it shows to all of its characters makes it a joy to watch.  It's not a surprise since the screenwriter and director was Cameron Crowe who, a quarter century before, was the 15 year old neophyte rock journalist portrayed in the film, and Bangs had been his mentor. Hoffman's performance is marvelous (his tone and cadence is just like that of Bangs).  Here is a compilation of his scenes from the movie, which contains many wonderful nuggets of advice.  The song playing in the background at the beginning of the clip is Sparks from The Who album Live At Leeds, one of the best pieces of live rock ever recorded - give it a listen. The quote used at top can be found at the end of the video.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

White Bird

Looking for something on YouTube I came across this 1968 tune from It's A Beautiful Day.  I hadn't heard it in many years and it captures well the spirit and sound of the times.  It takes me back. Led by David LaFlamme on electric violin and vocals, accompanied by his wife Linda on vocals, the band had a unique sound.  Listen to the violin solo beginning around 3:55.

I saw the band perform at the Fillmore East in May 1969 as one of the opening acts for The Who when they premiered Tommy in the U.S.

 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Padres-Braves Brawl Of 1984

Braves-Padres-brawl-AP.jpg(from The Sporting News)

I recently attended a three day meeting sponsored by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) in Scottsdale, organized around the Arizona Fall League (AFL) schedule.   Along with attending two AFL games and seeing Max Scherzer inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame we also heard from several speakers, including four former major leaguers, all of whom hated the decision to take Rich Hill out of the second game of the World Series after pitching only four innings:

- Del Unser; 15 years as a major league player, long time Philadelphia Phillies farm director and scout, just retired after 51 years in major league baseball.  Said Micky Lolich was the toughest pitcher he faced.  Del resorted to trying to bunt on him but Lolich knocked him down after every attempt.  He also told some funny stories about being a rookie on the Senators team managed by Ted Williams.

- Ed Lynch; 7 years as major leaguer, and former GM of the Cubs.  Got a law degree after he retired as player.  Told us the Mets could see that Calvin Schiraldi was scared when he came into Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The man knows his baseball history.
 (Ed Lynch at Scottsdale Stadium)
- John D'Acquisto; 10 year veteran, now working for mlb.com.  After retirement got a doctorate in exercise science and physiology and is also a talented artist.  Being an investment adviser did not turn out so well and he served four years in prison for fraud.  His talk was so entertaining I downloaded his well-reviewed book, Fastball John.
And Terry Kennedy.  Terry grew up in baseball.  His father, Bob, played 16 seasons in the majors and then worked for another 36 years as scout, farm director, manager of the Cubs, and as a GM.  He was also Ted Williams' flight instructor during WWII.

Terry played 14 seasons in the majors with his best years in San Diego from 1981 through 1986, including the 1984 NL pennant winners, and was a four-time All Star.  Other than Gary Carter, he caught the most major league games in the 1980s.  He's been a minor league manager for the Cubs and currently serves as an advance scout for the Chicago team.

In his very entertaining talk Terry covered a lot of ground but it was an audience question that inspired me to dig back into the 1984 brawl.

It was August 12, 1984 and the Padres were leading the NL West by eight games.  They were in Atlanta that day and it was typical August weather, hot and humid.  The Sunday afternoon game was delayed by rain and when it finally started the Braves pitcher, Pascual Perez, promptly hit Allan Wiggins, the lead off batter for the Padres.  In the dugout Kennedy, who was catching that day, asked manager Dick Williams if he wanted the Braves lead off hitter, Jerry Royster, plunked in retaliation.  Williams instructed Terry that it was the "****** pitcher" he wanted hit.  That directive led to four bench clearing incidents, three on-field fights, the ejection of 13 players and coaches, the suspension of both managers, and the arrest of five fans.

Perez came to bat in the second but avoided getting hit by pitcher Ed Whitson.  Kennedy remarked that Perez was so skinny and slinky he was hard to nail with a pitch.  The benches cleared but at that point the players just milled around.  In the fourth Whitson threw three pitches at Perez, who dodged each one, leading to the ejection of the pitcher and Williams.  It was here that a unwritten rule of baseball was broken.  If you throw once at a guy and miss him it's over.  But it was never over for Dick Williams - that's just the way he was.

In the sixth, new Padres pitcher Greg Brooker tried and failed in his mission to hit the elusive Braves pitcher, leading to his ejection along with acting Padres manager Ozzie Virgil along with the first on-field fight.

By then the game was teetering on the brink of anarchy and everything finally came apart in the 8th when Craig Lefferts hit Perez on the elbow, earning an immediate ejection.  The ensuing fight led to the ejection of Braves manager Joe Torre and many other players.  Padres player Champ Summers charged the Braves dugout to get at Perez, who had retreated there for protection, only to be restrained by Bob Horner (who was on the DL!).  At that point, a fan dumped beer on Summers and others fans jumped onto the field to enter the brawl.  Order was restored, but only briefly.

In the top of the 9th, Braves reliever Donnie Moore deliberately hit Graig Nettles triggering yet another melee.  The umpires ordered both dugouts cleared of all players who were not in the lineups and the game finally wound to a conclusion with the Braves winning 5-3.

Torre was suspended for three games; Williams for ten, along with a $10,000 fine.  Torre was still enraged after the game, likening Williams' actions to Hitler!  Terry Kennedy still seems embarrassed by the fiasco although he said having Williams suspended for ten games was heaven for the team.  He, along with most of the other Padres, hated their manager, though Terry admitted that after being a manager years later he better understood what Williams was trying to accomplish.

Interviewing Kennedy at the SABR event was our local chapter president, Barry Bloom, a baseball writer since 1980.  Barry currently writes a column for mlb.com, but in 1984 was covering the Padres for a San Diego paper.  After writing that Dick Williams should be suspended for the rest of the season for his role in precipitating the brawl, Williams ejected Bloom from his office and the team voted 24-1 to not allow the writer in the locker room.

Watch some entertaining videos of the 1984 game below.  The player in the dugout without a shirt is Ed Whitson, who'd been ejected earlier.  You can catch a glimpse of a Padres player on the top of their dugout attempting to get at Braves fans - that's Kurt Bevacqua.