Saturday, April 14, 2018

Your Money Or Your Life

Sometimes a successful joke only works when the comedian has developed a well-defined persona.  That was the case with Jack Benny who had enormous success on radio, TV, and in his live act from the 1930s until his death in 1974.  Benny's stage persona was of a vain, insufferable, and incredibly cheap man. By all accounts the real Benny was a warm, gracious, and generous.

(Benny's trademark look)
Image result for jack benny hand on elbow

That's why, along with Benny's impeccable timing, this joke works so well.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Why Scooter Libby Was Pardoned Now

Until the strike on Syria was announced this evening (I guess I'm just an old-fashioned guy but I sure would like to have seen a Congressional authorization of force), the big news of the day was President Trump's pardon of former VP Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby, convicted in 2007 for making a false statement during the Valerie Plame investigation.

It’s not widely recognized that the current situation is the second time James Comey has launched a special counsel at a Republican administration. The first was during the GW Bush administration. When Joe Wilson first published his “16 Words” op-ed in the New York Times, and then his wife, Valerie Plame (that’s in Joe Wilson & Valerie Plame, the “we’re not anti-semites, we just don’t want Jews running everything” couple), was outed to Bob Novak by an administration source as a CIA agent, and AG Ashcroft recused himself (sound familiar?), his deputy Comey saw an opportunity to get his arch-nemesis Dick Cheney.

Comey and Cheney were at crosshairs because of their differing views on the War on Terror and the role of the CIA/FBI and surveillance (I was closer to Comey than Cheney on the substance of their disagreement). Comey, convinced the source of the leak about Plame was Cheney or one of his staff, decided he could use the situation to nail the Veep, and so appointed his friend Patrick Fitzgerald (who was also godfather to Comey’s daughter) as special counsel and set him loose.

Unfortunately within a couple of weeks, Fitzgerald knew the source of the leak was Richard Armitage.  The problem was Armitage worked for Secretary of State Colin Powell, not Cheney. Moreover, Armitage and Powell were also opposed to Cheney's take on the War on Terror (and it appears no law was broken by the Armitage disclosure, as he was unaware that she may have been an undercover agent, though even her actual status remains in dispute). So instead of winding up his investigation, Fitzgerald asked Armitage not to disclose his role and proceeded to spend the next year setting perjury traps for Cheney and his staff, finally nabbing Libby. I would be shocked if Fitzgerald acted on his own without consulting his supervisor, James Comey.

For more background on the Comey/Cheney dispute read this this 2007 post from Tom Maguire who covered the investigation and trial extensively.  He describes Fitzgerald as a torpedo dropped in the water by Comey “towards the USS Cheney

Whether you can objectively determine whether Libby actually committed perjury is difficult.  The question centered around one of those who heard what from whom and when controversies in Libby's various conversations with media personalities like Tim Russert.  For what it's worth, one of the chief prosecution witnesses, Judith Miller, has since recanted her testimony, stating she was misled by the prosecutors and today released a statement called Libby's pardon "long overdue".  Of course, getting a conviction was not difficult with a DC jury when the defendant is an aide to an unpopular Vice-President.

That’s why Trump is pardoning Libby. It’s a direct rebuke of Comey’s sleazy machinations, which the sitting President has direct experience with.  After all, Comey admitted he told the president on three occasions he was not under investigation, yet at the same time was leaking unfavorable takes on the Chief Executive to the New York Times, but not leaking the accurate news that the president was not under investigation.  He was also party to using the Steele Dossier, cooked up by the Clinton campaign in collusion with Russian intelligence in order to convince a FISA Court (which was not fully informed of the Clinton connection) to issue a surveillance authorization on Carter Page which would give the government broad access to the Trump campaign.  And then, to top it off, when Comey briefed the incoming president on the Steele Dossier he didn't tell him of the Clinton campaign involvement!

It is also likely that another motive for the pardon is to send a message to Trump associates that he stands ready to pardon them.  I hope he does not follow through on that.  Or at least, that he makes distinctions among them.  There is a difference between a Michael Flynn, caught in the same type of dubious perjury trap as Scooter Libby, and Paul Manafort, who may have illegally enriched himself through bank and tax fraud.


In retrospect the Wilson/Plame story is also a precursor to today's Russian collusion story in the lack of mainstream media interest in anything that would interfere with the preferred narrative.

For instance, I was always struck that no one in the media asked why Joe Wilson waited to make his revelation only in July 2003, after the initial conventional of the war was over and Saddam Hussein deposed, since he’d made his Africa trip more than a year earlier.

Let’s look at the timeline:

Joe Wilson is sent by the CIA to West Africa in February 2002 to investigate allegations that Saddam is trying to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Oddly, it appears the CIA never asked him to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

On October 11, 2002, the Senate voted to authorize the President to use force in Iraq. Half of the Senate Democrats, including Biden, Kerry, and Clinton, supported the authorization.

On January 28, 2003, President Bush gave the speech that later became known as the “16 Words” speech because of his reference to Saddam’s efforts to obtain yellowcake in Africa.

The Iraq War began on March 20, 2003.

Joe Wilson’s op-ed in the NY Times appeared on July 6, 2003.

As to the substance of Wilson's accusation that Bush lied about yellowcake in his January speech here is the Washington Post reporting in July 2004 on a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report on the matter (this is before the WaPo publicly announced its aspiration to smother democracy in darkness). From the article:
Wilson’s assertions — both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information — were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report.
In any event, why, if Wilson thought Bush had a “lack of candor” in his January 28 speech did he not raise his concerns before the start of the invasion in March? I think it is because of Wilson’s own views about Saddam’s capabilities, and internal Democratic party politics.

Specifically, in a talk Wilson gave in the fall of 2002 to an audience in DC (I listened to a recording of it years ago, and am trying to find it on the internet once again), he believed Saddam had significant chemical and biological warfare capabilities. In fact, he opposed the invasion for two reasons. First, he thought the US would suffer significant casualties because of Saddam’s WMD capabilities, and second, he didn’t want American “boys and girls” dying on behalf of Israel (I don’t think he was referring to Israeli Arabs when he was making that statement).

Further, Wilson was interested in Democrats being successful in the 2004 election cycle.  If he went public with his concerns prior to the invasion, it would have put a lot of public pressure on Clinton, Kerry, and Biden to declare whether they would change their authorization vote and demand another vote. Since none of them knew how the war would turn out and whether WMD would be found that would have put them in an untenable position with a lot of political risk, a position none of them wanted to be in.

It was only politically safe for Wilson to make his accusations after the invasion when little WMD, and no nuclear material, was found.

The other important element in the specific timing of publications by the New York Times was that it created a media frenzy right in the middle of George Bush’s trip to sub-Saharan Africa. Since the media narrative was that Bush was a racist, there was a need to divert attention from his obvious concern about, and commitment to, improving conditions in Africa. The Wilson story also helped to overshadow President Bush’s speech at Goree Island in Senegal, the most remarkable speech by an American president on race and slavery since Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.


Joe Wilson wasn’t the only one in his family concerned about Jews. In 2017, Valerie Plame’s long-standing history of similar views finally became public over her endorsing tweet of an article entitled “America’s Jews are driving America’s wars”, published on a website that also carried articles like “It’s time to rethink David Duke”.

There are two interesting aspects of the 2017 tweet, which, once again, was not an aberration by Plame. First, it led to her resignation the Board of the Ploughshares Foundation. Ploughshares is the leftist foundation that worked with the Obama Administration to create what Ben Rhoades, President Obama’s right hand man on the Iran Nuclear Deal, called the “echo chamber”, a coordinated effort to help sway public opinion, an effort that included accusations of dual loyalty by American Jews.

Secondly, the Wilson/Plame worldview also obscured differences between American neo-cons and Israel on foreign policy. During the run up to the Iraq War the Sharon government in Israel told the Bush Administration that it thought Saddam was successfully contained and that Iran was a much bigger threat. Once it was clear that Bush was set on prioritizing Iraq, Sharon directed his officials to stand down on the basis that as an American ally, Israel needed to support the United States. In other words, causation was the opposite of Wilson/Plame’s accusations.

The same dynamic occurred during the Arab Spring in 2011 when many neo-cons supported the uprisings, while the Israeli government did not.

You would probably not be surprised to hear that American media did not report on Wilson and Plame's troublesome views on Jews.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Facebook

I’m so old I remember when a presidential campaign using Facebook data, and getting help from Facebook in doing so, was considered cool and hip, while the campaign that didn’t use Facebook data was considered a bunch of old fogey losers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Complex Or Complicated?

An intriguing essay from the always interesting Arnold Kling (you should make Askblog a regular stop) on the differences between something that is complicated and something that is complex.  The failure to distinguish between the two can lead to bad decisions and outcomes by individuals, companies, and government.

Kling starts by referring to a recent article by Jordan Greenhall for the proposition that:
With complex problems, we need to lower our expectations about our ability to arrive at fully satisfactory solutions.
Greenhall offers this illustration: the behavior of a simple bumblebee is complex, because it has response mechanisms that we do not fully understand; but a Boeing 747 is merely complicated, because its behavioral range is limited by a design and structure that we understand and can model. 
He then goes on to talk about economics and the (misnamed) "social sciences".
When I was a graduate student in economics in the late 1970s, we were trained as if the economy is complicated, but not complex. We were told that if we learned enough mathematics and statistics and applied these tools, then eventually we could predict and control economic outcomes.

In fact, economic behavior is complex. There are too many causal factors, feedback loops, non-linear effects, and unprecedented phenomena involved to enable economists to control the economy precisely and reliably. Often, the best mathematical models are not even useful, as was dramatically shown a decade ago by the failure to anticipate the financial crisis and its aftermath.

In fact, complexity is a challenge in all of what we unfortunately call “the social sciences.” The very term social science gives the impression that human behavior is merely complicated, so that social outcomes can be predicted and managed by experts.

Many complicated problems have been solved by human beings and by our powerful computing tools. But I think this creates the expectation that we can solve complex problems as well. By understanding the difference between complication and complexity, we can take a more realistic view.
And perhaps, by understanding those differences, it will induce some humility in those who think they can solve any problem.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Family

Posting has not occurred during the past few days as THC and the Mrs traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota for the wedding of the THC Daughter and the new THC Son-in-Law (SIL).  Although both parties to the wedding live in Phoenix, the parents of the THC SIL live in Bismarck and are unable to travel so the Daughter and SIL decided on a small wedding there, followed by a larger reception in Phoenix in two weeks.  We applaud them for their decision; it was the right thing to do and the SIL's parents are delightful folks whom we enjoyed meeting.

The wedding day was one to remember.  It was 25 degrees, windy, and snowy.  It was also a lovely and beautiful day that we will all treasure.

And here are the newly wed couple at their reception dinner.  The Mrs and THC are very happy also.




Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Parting The Waters

If you are interesting in reading a fine combined biography of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr through the time of the March on Washington, and the tale of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s, I recommend Parting The Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Tears Of Rage

I've always been intrigued by the first lines of Tears of Rage:
We carried you
In our arms
On Independence Day
But it's only in recent years I've given more thought to the full lyrics of this touching song, its most transcendent version by The Band (below performing it at Woodstock, a performance I witnessed), and most recently relistened to it again, prompted by the discussion of the song in a podcast on The Band at National Review (it's a wonderful and insightful discussion on one of our best American bands, and certainly the best American band consisting of four Canadians and a guy from Arkansas).

Bob Dylan wrote the lyrics in 1967 and then approached Richard Manuel of The Band to do the music, which explains why it's melodically so different from most Dylan songs.  Dylan and The Band were in the midst of the casual recording of what became known as The Basement Tapes.
You can watch and listen to Garth Hudson, along with Robbie Robertson the only surviving members of The Band, talking about the recordings here.

According to Manuel (via the blog Untold Dylan):
“He came down to the basement with a piece of typewritten paper … and he just said, ‘Have you got any music for this?’ … I had a couple of musical movements that fit … so I just elaborated a bit, because I wasn’t sure what the lyrics meant. I couldn’t run upstairs and say, ‘What’s this mean, Bob: Now the heart is filled with gold as if it was a purse?”
Although some view the lyric as a metaphor, it can be read directly as the story of a father, anguished and heartbroken by his daughter's rejection, a rejection to which his own actions may have contributed.  It's unusual by the tenets of pop music and even by Dylan's standards which tended to be more caustic.  Manuel's soulful vocal adds to the pain in the lyrics.  Dylan was married in 1966, the year his son Jesse was born.  His daughter Anna arrived on July 11, 1967, a week after Independence Day.  From what I can determine of the hazy chronology of The Basement Tapes, Dylan wrote the lyrics after her birth.  In Dylan's autobiographical Chronicles: Volume 2, he talks of the 1966-67 period as one when he used the excuse of a minor motorcycle accident to withdraw from the pressures of his adoring public, and instead spend time with his young family.  This may have been the origin of the remarkably mature and thoughful lyric.

Richard Manuel is a tragic figure.  Painfully shy and introverted, he wrote or co-wrote several beautiful songs on The Band's first two albums, including Whispering Pines, When You Awake, We Can Talk, and Lonesome Suzie.  After The Band's initial success he plunged into alcohol and drug abuse, contributing much less to the group's remaining albums.  In 1986 he killed himself.


We carried you in our arms
On Independence Day
And now you’d throw us all aside
And put us on our way
Oh what dear daughter ’neath the sun
Would treat a father so
To wait upon him hand and foot
And always tell him, “No?”
Tears of rage, tears of grief
Why must I always be the thief?
Come to me now, you know
We’re so alone
And life is brief

We pointed out the way to go
And scratched your name in sand
Though you just thought it was nothing more
Than a place for you to stand
Now, I want you to know that while we watched
You discover there was no one true
Most ev’rybody really thought
It was a childish thing to do
Tears of rage, tears of grief
Must I always be the thief?
Come to me now, you know
We’re so low
And life is brief

It was all very painless
When you went out to receive
All that false instruction
Which we never could believe
And now the heart is filled with gold
As if it was a purse
But, oh, what kind of love is this
Which goes from bad to worse?
Tears of rage, tears of grief
Must I always be the thief?
Come to me now, you know
We’re so low
And life is brief


Monday, April 2, 2018

Stuff

According to George Carlin, your house (not mine) is a pile of stuff with a cover on it.  On second thought, THC thinks this may apply to him.  When living in Massachusetts and Connecticut he and Mrs THC managed to completely fill two story homes along with full basements and attics with their stuff.  When they moved to Florida to a house without basement and attic a storage unit was rented to hold their excess stuff.

More recently, when moving to Arizona and yet another house without attic or basement, the THCs required the rental of two storage units to hold their excess stuff, despite sorting through our stuff for two months before moving and seemingly getting rid of half of it, including most of our furniture.

Thankfully, over our first few months we managed to get rid of some more of our stuff, so we now are renting only one storage unit. Maybe someday we can move to a smaller storage unit, but I know we will always need something for storing our stuff.

We are not alone in renting space to store our stuff.  One out of every eleven American households does so.  The self-storage business has proved to be recession proof and nationally there are approximately 50,000 self-storage locations (2.3 billion square feet, a volume equivalent to 26 Hoover Dams according to this article) and the sector has annual revenue of approximately $38 billion, more than 3X Hollywood's annual gross.

Americans aren't the only ones accumulating stuff.  With its growing prosperity, China and Southeast Asia have emerged as the new hot markets for self-storage because the folks there now have more stuff.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Scouting Report

The only player in major league history to win at least ten games as a pitcher and hit at least ten home runs in a season is Babe Ruth in 1918.  25-year old Shohei Ohtani is the only player to have done the same feat in Japan's major leagues and he's accomplished it twice (2014, 2016).  Though the level of competition in Japan is not the same as in American baseballs it's still quite impressive and when Ohtani signed recently with the Los Angeles Angels it caught everyone's attention.
(photo from espn.com)

THC watched Ohtani get roughed up in his spring training debut here in Tempe and he was hammered even harder during the rest of spring training causing some to wonder whether he should start the season in Triple-A.  Instead, the Angels started him at DH on opening day and he made his pitching debut this afternoon, which THC closely observed.  Here's my report:

Fastball:  Consistently 97 to 99mph with good movement.  Hit 100 on one pitch.

Off-Speed: Split finger (87-90), slider (82-84), and curve (74-79), all with a lot of break.

Smooth motion and works relatively quickly.

Result: 6 innings, 3 hits, 3 runs, one walk, and six K's.  The three hits all came in the 2nd inning, and all in a row (single, single, home run), which was the only time he had a sequence of pitches in bad locations.

Overall: Impressive.

And, by the way, the Oakland Athletics can't play defense.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Mist Covered Mountains

THC feels like something relaxing right now.  The Mist Covered Mountains, composed by Mark Knopfler for the soundtrack to the movie Local Hero.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Orlando Acquittal

Omar Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, was acquitted by a Florida jury of charges of aiding in her husband’s plans for the attack which resulted in the murder of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (a subject THC covered in prior posts). The charges were filed by federal prosecutors.

Three items of note came out during the trial:

First, according to the prosecutor, the planned target off Mateen’s killing spree was the shopping and entertainment complex at Disney World, not the Pulse nightclub.
[The prosecutor] Sweeney showed a video of the Disney Springs complex that captured Mateen walking near the House of Blues club in the hours before the Pulse attack. In it, he looks behind him at police officers standing nearby.
 “He had to choose a new target,” she said.
Second, the government stated prior to trial, including to the media, that Noor had accompanied her husband in "casing" locations, including the nightclub, before the shooting, a claim used to deny her bail.  However, at the trial it was revealed that the Justice Department and FBI lied:
But when Fennern testified today, he admitted that the FBI had learned “within days” of Salman signing the statement that this claim was false. Using geolocation data from cellphone records and documentary evidence of the couple’s whereabouts, the FBI had already concluded — long before Salman was arrested — that it was impossible that she went to Pulse with Mateen on that date. Indeed, the evidence, as The Intercept documented previously, is very clear that the first time Mateen ever went to Pulse was to attack it, after simply searching Google for “nightclubs downtown Orlando.” The FBI agent also testified that Salman’s cellphone records show she was never near Pulse.

Upon hearing Fennern’s testimony that this crucial part of Salman’s statement could not have been true, and that the FBI knew this very early on, the judge began questioning him in front of the jury about the FBI’s discovery that this claim was false. After taking a break, but prior to the return of the jury, the judge more aggressively scolded the prosecutors: “I’ve heard many, many times the drive around Pulse nightclub had occurred.” “I think I’ve kicked the beehive,” he added. Though the judge said, in response to a request from Salman’s lawyers, that he was not prepared to reverse his ruling denying bail in court, he invited them to file a written motion to seek a reversal.
Third, during the course of the trial, the Justice Department disclosed that at times between 2005 and the murders in 2016 Omar Mateen’s father was an FBI informant.
Attorneys for Noor Salman alleged that although FBI interviewed Omar Mateen in 2013 because of allegations regarding him, the agency declined to take action in order to protect his father’s status as an informant.

From January 1, 2013 to September 3, 2013 Robert Mueller was FBI Director of the FBI.  On September 4 he was succeeded by James Comey.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Opening Day

It's the first day of the 2018 baseball season!  In honor of this momentous occasion we're getting into the Waybac Machine to take us to 1982 and an interview with Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.  Tommy has just been asked about Padres player Kurt Bevacqua's insulting comments about the Dodgers manager in the wake of a beanball brawl.  Tommy starts off slowly and then gets hilariously profane. [Very serious language warning].

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Public Enemies

For better or worse, this is how THC's mind works.  I happened across a clip from one of the Baby Face Nelson scenes on O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the wonderful Coen brothers movie from 2000, which takes its title from the fictional book that the main character of the 1940s movie, Sullivan's Travels, wants to make into a film showing the suffering of those most affected by the Depression.

That, in turn, made me think of the movie Bonnie & Clyde, and then I got curious about the other colorful outlaws of the 1930s.  End result; the rundown you see below.  The capture or killing of these criminals is what, along with an astute PR sense, made the FBI and J Edgar Hoover popular icons in America.  This summary excludes mobsters like Al Capone, Dutch Schultz, and Legs Diamond, who met their ends in the 30s because the FBI at that time didn't believe the mob existed.

What was surprising to me is that the eight discussed below were taken out of action in a fairly brief period, from September 1933 to May 1936, with six killed within an eight month period in 1934 and 1935.  All operated in the heart of America, between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Their memories have been preserved in popular culture with movies (many devoted specifically to their exploits) and songs.  Four were officially named as Public Enemy #1 by the FBI (Dillinger, Floyd, Nelson and Karpis).

Machine Gun Kelly
MachineGunKelly.jpg

The favorite weapon of George Kelly Barnes (1895-1954) was the Thompson submachine gun, but unlike the rest of the folks on this list, Machine Gun Kelly may never have killed anyone.  Kelly was a small time criminal until he met and married Kathryn Thorne after being released from prison in 1928.  She convinced him a Tommy gun could become his trademark and she became his virtual publicity agent.  They went down for kidnapping Charles Urschel, a wealthy Oklahoma City businessman and holding him for ransom.  After his release Urschel provided vital clues to the FBI who eventually tracked Kelly and his wife to a Memphis hotel.  Upon breaking into their room on September 26, 1933, Kelly allegedly yelled "Don't shoot, G-Men! Don't shoot, G-Men!", thus providing Hoover's bureau with a catchy nickname.  Within three weeks, Kelly and Kathryn were tried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment (justice moved swiftly in those days).

Kelly was a model prisoner at Alcatraz until 1951 when he was transferred to Leavenworth where he died in 1954.  Kathryn was released in 1958 and died in the 1980s.

Bonnie & Clyde
Bonnieclyde f.jpg

Lived fast, died young.
Bonnie Parker (1910-May 23, 1934)
Clyde Barrow (1909 - May 23, 1934)

Both born in Texas, their crime spree covered several states until they were ambushed by law officers led by Texas lawman legend Frank Hamer, who chased them into Louisiana.   The FBI was not involved.

Blanche Barrow, Clyde's sister in law, lived until 1988.  She didn't like her portrayal in the movie.

John Dillinger
John Dillinger mug shot.jpg  Like the other folks here, Dillinger was in trouble from a young age.  Imprisoned for bank robbery in 1924 he was released on May 10, 1933 and quickly made up for lost time, robbing about twenty banks over the next 14 months. Along the way he was captured and escaped from an Indiana jail.  Eventually tracked by the FBI to Chicago, he was betrayed by an informant and gunned down on the street by G-Men after leaving the Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934 after watching Manhattan Melodrama starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and William Powell.  It was this event, more than any other, that catapulted the FBI to national renown.


Pretty Boy Floyd
PrettyBoyFloyd01.jpg

Pretty Boy Floyd by Woody Guthrie

If you'll gather 'round me, children,
A story I will tell
'Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an outlaw,
Oklahoma knew him well.
It was in the town of Shawnee,
A Saturday afternoon,
His wife beside him in his wagon
As into town they rode.
There a deputy sheriff approached him
In a manner rather rude,
Vulgar words of anger,
An' his wife she overheard.
Pretty Boy grabbed a log chain,
And the deputy grabbed his gun;
In the fight that followed
He laid that deputy down.
Then he took to the trees and timber
To live a life of shame;
Every crime in Oklahoma
Was added to his name.
But a many a starving farmer
The same old story told
How the outlaw paid their mortgage
And saved their little homes.
Others tell you 'bout a stranger
That come to beg a meal,
Underneath his napkin
Left a thousand dollar bill.
It was in Oklahoma City,
It was on a Christmas Day,
There was a whole car load of groceries
Come with a note to say:

Well you say that I'm an outlaw
You say that I'm a thief.
Here's a Christmas dinner
For the families on relief.
Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.

Born in Georgia in 1903, Charles Arthur Floyd's family moved to Oklahoma when he was eight.   After serving three years in prison during the 20s he vowed to never again spend time in jail.  He didn't.  Over the next four years Floyd and his gang robbed plenty of banks and may have been involved in a dozen murders, including those of several police officers.

On October 22, 1934 Pretty Boy was shot in a cornfield near East Liverpool, Ohio.  Accounts differ on the specifics of the shooting depending upon whether you believe local law enforcement, the FBI, or residents in the area.

Pretty Boy was not as benevolent as Woody Guthrie made him out to be.

Baby Face Nelson
Baby Face Nelson 1931 mug shot.jpg
Like Pretty Boy Floyd, Lester Joseph Gillis did not care for his nickname.  That's about the only thing the Coen Brothers got right in their portrayal of Nelson in the movie.

At the age of seven, Chicago born Lester "accidentally" shot a playmate in the jaw with a pistol he found.  By the late 1920s, Lester, using the alias George Nelson, led a gang specializing in banks along with home invasions of wealthy businessmen.  Baby Face was a stone killer, murdering anyone in his way.  In one incident, he was driving with a companion in Minneapolis when another driver cut him off.  Baby Face followed him, forced the driver out of his car, and shot him.  He killed policemen and is responsible for killing more FBI agents (3) than anyone else.  He also collaborated with Dillinger in the months before his death.

Baby Face was killed on November 27, 1934 in a bloody shoot out at Barrington, a suburb of Chicago.

Ma Barker 
Ma Barker.jpg
Ma Barker, born Arizona Dollie Clark in Missouri, was 61 years old when she died on January 16, 1935, along with her son Fred, when the FBI and local lawmen shot up the house they were holed up in at Ocklawaha, Florida.  Historians still argue over whether Ma was really the criminal mastermind as portrayed by the FBI, of whether she was just along for the ride with her boys and their friends.

Ma had four sons, Herman, Lloyd, Arthur, and Fred.  They were all bad guys.  Herman, the oldest, served time for a robbery in which he ran over a child with his getaway car.  He died in a 1927 robbery in which he killed a police officer and then shot himself when cornered.  By the following year Lloyd was imprisoned in Leavenworth, Arthur in Kansas State Prison, and Fred in Oklahoma State Prison.

In 1931, Fred was released and he and Ma joined up with Alvin Karpis to form the Karpis-Barker gang (son Arthur also joined upon his release in 1932), and they all merrily embarked on the usual robbery spree.  Things ended when on January 8, 1935 Arthur was captured in Chicago and on him were letters revealing Ma and Fred's location in Florida.  Ten days later, federal agents poured hundreds of rounds into the Ocklawaha hideout.

Arthur ended up in Alcatraz where he was killed in a 1939 escape attempt.  Released from Leavenworth in 1938, Lloyd was in the army during the Second World War serving as a cook at a prisoner of war camp in Michigan!  Lloyd was finally fully rehabilitated in 1949 when he was murdered by his wife.  And that's the end of the Barkers.


Alvin "Creepy" Karpis
Alvin Karpis.jpgAlbin Francis Karpavicius was the last of these miscreants to go down.  Raised in Topeka, Kansas, Alvin was a criminal by the age of ten.  In 1926, at the age of 19 he was sentenced to the State Reformatory in Kansas from which he escaped.  Caught for stealing a car he was sent to the Kansas State Penitentiary where he met Fred Barker.  Upon their release they formed the Barker-Karpis gang with many considering Alvin the real brains behind the operation (though we are, of course, speaking relatively when it comes to brains and this gang). With the Barkers, and on his own, he pulled off a string of bank robberies, kidnapping, and even a train robbery, while killing without compunction.

Karpis narrowly escaped the Ocklawaha shoot out having left three days before.  He spent the next year on the run before being captured in New Orleans on May 1, 1936.  Sentenced to life imprisonment he was sent to Alcatraz where he was held until the prison closed in 1962.  He spent more time on The Rock than any other prisoner.  After Alcatraz closed he was transferred to Federal prison in Michigan before being paroled in 1969 and deported to Canada (where he was born).  Karpis moved to Spain in 1973 and died there in 1979.



Friday, March 23, 2018

Preferred Nomenclature

Useful advice for those sensitive to today's battles over appropriate language.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Kaiserschlacht

4:40am on March 21, 1918.  Fog shrouds the ground in northern France.  Soldiers of the British 5th Army are in their trenches, some asleep, some just waking, others on guard duty.  Then come the booming noise, as several thousand German guns open up.  Over the next five hours, 1.1 million artillery shells are fired at a 50-mile section of the British front.

It would be the second worst day in British military history (the worst July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme).  On March 21, 38,000 British soldiers would become casualties, 8,000 of them dead, and the 5th Army dispersed.  Over the next five days the stalemate on the Western Front, existing since the fall of 1914, would be shattered.

On March 26 panicked Allies agreed to a unified command under French General Ferdinand Foch, a step resisted as a matter of national pride for the prior three years.  By then Germans had captured nearly 1,000 square miles in five days.  By comparison, in the 141 days of the Somme the British  seized only 125 square miles.

If, on that day, you told the British and French governments and military leaders that less than eight months later Germany would sue for peace, they would have thought you a lunatic.

(From Wikipedia)
Image result for western front 1917 map
The origins of what the Germans called The Kaiserschlacht (Emperor's Battle) are in the events of 1917.  The Russian Revolution erupted in March and the Czar was quickly overthrown.  That same month, Germany made the catastrophic decision to start unrestricted submarine warfare which directly led to America entering the war on April 6.  Germany made another decision that same month, one with short term benefits and long term disastrous results, when it transported Vladimir Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia with the hope it would lead Russia to withdraw from the war.  For how the events of March and April played out a quarter century later read April 1945: Germany's End.

By the fall of 1917, the Lenin's Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia and were suing for peace with Germany, while the United States was raising a huge army to send to the Western Front.

The mastermind of the German Army was Chief of Staff, Erich Ludendorff, and he saw the necessity of taking a gamble.  Germany could not win a war of attrition, and once American troops entered France in large numbers a some point in 1918, the balance of power would swing towards the Allies.  However, if peace could be secured with Russia, many German divisions could be moved West and the British and French defeated before the Americans made their presence felt.

In November 1917, Ludendorff proposed a Spring Offensive on the Western Front, a series of blows designed to drive back the British and French and, more importantly, undermine their morale and create an opening for a negotiated peace favorable to Germany.

In preparation more than 500,000 German troops were moved from the Eastern to Western Front, and they would employ a new tactic in their attack; the days of "over the top" in a massed broad-front attack against enemy lines was ended.  The German generals had seen the futility of that approach over the past three years of Allied assaults against their lines.  Instead an approach, pioneered on the Eastern front in the German attack on Riga would be used.

Stormtrooper assault teams, consisting of experienced soldiers carrying only their weapons, and unencumbered with heavy packs, would penetrate enemy lines on a narrow front and focus on machine gun nests and gun batteries in the front lines.  Once these were taken they would penetrate deeper seeking to disrupt communication lines.  Other infantry would follow later to mop up isolated enemy infantry units.  In a further change of tactics, the opening artillery bombardment would be intense but short, unlike the British bombardment at the start of the Battle of the Somme which lasted for six days.

Though the Allies anticipated a German attack in the spring of 1918 they did not know the specific timing or the location.  The Germans selected a 50 mile segment of the British lines, primarily because they thought French troops were of higher quality.  Ludendorff's intent was to drive a wedge between the British and French armies and drive the Brits back on the Channel ports.  However, he established no specific territorial objectives.

(German troops advancing, Wikipedia)
Image result for german spring offensive 1918
Image result for german spring offensive 1918

(British soldiers injured in gas attack)
Image result for german spring offensive 1918
The initial German attack achieved enormous success with the Kaiser's troops advancing in blitzkrieg style, at least compared to the glacial progress of Allied offensives since 1914.  But problems quickly mounted.  The stormtrooper advance was so fast it outpaced the German supply effort and since the soldiers carried very little food themselves they often stopped to loot supplies in town they overran.  Casualties were also heavy and could not be easily replaced in the chaos of the rapid advance.  Ludendorff's failure to name specific geographical objectives led to confusion and hesitation on the front lines and the British were able to defend the key towns of Amiens and Arras.

(From Wikipedia)
Map of Operation Michael
German progress was also impeded by the terrain selected for the attack by Ludendorff.  The initial German advance was into an area they had abandoned the prior year, in an effort to shorten their front lines and free up troops for use elsewhere.  During the withdrawal, Ludendorff ordered a scorched earth policy, with everything of potential use to the enemy destroyed, so that on March 21 the attackers were entering a wasteland.  After passing through this devastated area, the Germans would then have to cross the area where the Battle of the Somme took place from July to November of 1916, another scene of desolation.

Ludendorff's grandiose report on the first week of the attack gave false hope to those reading it back in Germany.  Excerpts:
The first English position has disappeared, and in its place there extends a wide and desolate crater-field.  Everywhere there are the remains of wire entanglements, broken-down shaft entrances, and destroyed block-houses.

At most places the battered-in trenches were over-run, and the survivors came rushing towards the Germans minus their weapons and with their hands in the air.

The English trenches were transformed into graves, which were full of dead.  Whilst the first lines in places were only thinly occupied, the English offered a brave resistance in their second position, which was broken down in a desperate struggle.  The dugouts had to be taken in hard hand-to-hand fighting.

Here the superiority of the German infantry showed itself in the best light.  Unexpectedly commenced and extremely effective, German artillery preparation only allowed the counter-effect of the English to be brought into action gradually.  The German losses were thus surprisingly light.

The successes achieved in the great victory are such as have not been nearly approached by the Entente since the beginning of the battle of positions in the western theatre.

The English offensive near Arras in April, 1916, was made on a front 12 miles wide; the Anglo-French attack on the Somme in July, 1916, was made on double that width; the French attacked on the Aisne in 1917 on a width of 24 miles.  The English big attack, prepared for months in Flanders, never exceeded a space of 18 miles, and the whole of the territorial gains of almost half a year's fighting only amounted to 36 square miles.

In the three days' battle in the west, the Germans made a territorial gain of 700 square miles.

The enemy casualties are unusually heavy.  The tremendous booty which fell into our hands from the 21st cannot yet be estimated.  More than 45,000 prisoners have been ascertained, many more than 600 guns, thousands of machine guns, tremendous quantities of munitions and implements, great stores of supplies and pieces of clothing.   
Despite his report, Ludendorff faced reality and recognized his advance had stalled as British and French reinforcements stabilized the line, calling off the attack on April 6.  Nearly 500,000 soldiers were dead, wounded, missing, or captured in those sixteen days, slightly more Allies than Germans.

Ludendorff renewed his offensive on three more occasions at different points on the Western Front on April 9, May 27 and July 15.  Though the Germans had initial gains each time, their advances were ultimately contained by the Allies.  American forces saw their first large scale action in the last of these attacks, the Second Battle of the Marne in July.  By early August, the Germany Army had suffered nearly 700,000 casualties in the four offensives, while the Americans were flooding to the front.  Time had run out for the Kaiser.

The next decisive day was to be August 8.

(From Wikipedia)



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Eric Holder Misquoted

This is outrageous and I'm sure the former Attorney General is already demanding a correction!

According to an article from The Hill yesterday:
Former Attorney General Eric Holder says that Attorney General Jeff Sessions needs to “have the guts” to say no to President Trump.
Holder criticized Sessions at an event at Georgetown University on Monday, days after Sessions fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who had been a subject of frequent criticism from Trump.
However, as Attorney General, Holder proudly described himself as President Obama’s “wing-man, so I’m there for my boy.“, and we know a wing-man never lets the lead pilot down.

And Holder played the key role in facilitating the pardon of Marc Rich for President Clinton, described in left-wing Slate, as “the most unjust presidential pardon in American history”.

That's why I'm confident he was misquoted and actually said Sessions needs to “have the guts I  never had”.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Roman Snow

On February 26, Rome had its first measurable snow in six years which yielded some beautiful portraits of the city in white.

Via Twisted Sifter this is drone footage by Oliver Astrologo, much of which is over the Colosseum and Forum areas of the city.

Below a snowball fight between seminarians in St Peter's Square.

More pictures, from the NY Post, can be found here.  Some of the 18 photos lack good labeling.  I'll help:

8 - Equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius; 2nd century AD.  This is copy of statue; original is in the museum building to the right of the statue.

11 - On the Sacred Way between the Colosseum and the Forum.  Palatine Hill on left.  Temple of Mars and Venus on right.  Arch of Titus at top of street.

12 - Trevi Fountain

13 - Palatine Hill in distance

14 - Spanish Steps

17 - Open field beneath which ruins of the Circus Maximus are buried.  Sledge is being pulled up Aventine Hill.  In background is Palatine Hill with ruins of Imperial Palace.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Another Fine Mess


Donald Trump is a mess.  The passengers on the bus he's driving have no idea whether he'll eventually steer it off a cliff or just decide to drive into oncoming traffic.

Tweet107
But then our entire political system is a mess.

The rest of the GOP consists of an ineffective and inarticulate hodgepodge of folks focused on doing whatever it takes to get releected, some nuts, some scared of their own shadow, some willing to do whatever big business would like them to, some still seeking approval from the Washington and media establishment.  There is no agenda, just a bunch of freelancers.

While the Democratic Party and progressives sink further into an authoritarian mode as it seeks to suppress dissent and impose conformity in the name of diversity and tolerance.  And dreams of deliverance in the short-term through the jihad of Robert Mueller, sworn to protect the reputation of the FBI and Department of Justice, and supported by his henchmen, devoted supporters of the Democratic Party.  Have they finally found the Holy Grail - undisputed evidence of a quid pro quo between a presidential candidate and the Russians?  A promise to deliver on the Kremlin's wish list after the election?

Oh . . . wait, a minute.

Friday, March 16, 2018

George Songs 2

A continuation of yesterday's post with my favorite songs composed by George Harrison.  The last post covered songs George did with The Beatles.  Next up are the rest of my favorites, again in chronological order.

Badge (1968), written with Eric Clapton and released by Cream on its final album Goodbye.  It turns out the title came from Clapton misreading George's handwriting on the lyric sheet and thinking the word "Bridge" denoting the middle section of the song was actually "Badge" and the song title.

Beware of Darkness from Harrison's solo triple album All Things Must Pass (1970).  Strong lyric and beautiful melody.  Clapton, Ringo, Billy Preston, and a slew of other rockers contributed to the album.

What Is Life, also from All Things Must Pass.  I actually don't like the riff that introduces the song and the verse but the chorus is infectious.  As long as we're on All Things Must Pass, this is a terrific take on Isn't It A Pity from the Concert for George, with Clapton and Billy Preston on vocals.

Photograph (1973), written with Ringo Starr and released as a Ringo single which hit #1.  Here he is performing the song in 2009.  Sounds pretty good!

All Those Years Ago (1981), originally written by George for Ringo who didn't like the lyrics.  After John Lennon's murder in December 1980, George rewrote and recorded it.  Ringo is on drums and Paul sings harmony.  Here's the best sounding version but the one you want to watch is below:

Handle With Care (1988).  George wrote this as a single for himself and enlisted Jeff Lynne to produce. Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Bob Dylan got pulled into the production and the The Traveling Wilburys were born!

End Of The Line (1988).  Though all the Wilburys were credited with the composition, George composed most of it.  The video was made after the sudden death of Roy Orbison in December 1988; that's why you see an empty rocking chair when Roy's voice is heard.
Maybe somewhere down the road aways
You'll think of me, wonder where I am these days
Maybe somewhere down the road when somebody plays
Purple haze


We'll let Ringo have the last word:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

George Songs

A couple of evenings ago I watched the Concert for George which was being broadcast by our local PBS station as part of its seemingly endless series of fundraisers.  The show, which took place on November 29, 2002 in memory of George Harrison who had died the previous year, was much better than most of its type.  George's longtime friend, Eric Clapton (such good friends they married the same woman!), was musical director and he evidently spent some time selecting songs and rehearsing the performers, who included Tom Petty, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Bill Preston, and Gary Booker, among others.   George's son, Dhani, played guitar and sang harmony that night.

I'd forgotten how many good songs Harrison had written which prompted me to go back and compile my list of personal favorites for which I've done two posts.  This first one consists of favorites from his time with The Beatles.  There is, of course, one problem with embedding the songs, which is that The Beatles promptly take down from YouTube any posting of their songs unless they've done the posting so most of what is linked below are covers or live versions.

In chronological order:

If I Needed Someone from Rubber Soul (1965).  Outstanding guitar sound and soaring harmonies.  Which brings up an issue I had with George; his guitar playing.  I liked the early rockabilly flavored style he employed (see, for instance, this cover of What Goes On) as well as the chiming, Byrds influenced guitar from 1965-66, but I never liked his slide guitar.  Here's Harrison and Clapton playing it on a 1991 tour.  And if you want to learn how to sing the harmonies, this guy in Bologna, Italy is your go-to man for all Beatles harmony singing.

Taxman from Revolver (1966).  Cool and cynical lyric.  I like a guy who doesn't like taxes.  The guitar solo is by McCartney.  Unfortunately, I can't even find a decent cover on YouTube but I did find the isolated guitar solo!

While My Guitar Gently Weeps from The White Album (1968).  With Clapton on guitar.  This is a live version from the 1980s with George, Eric, Ringo, Phil Collins, and Elton John.  This is George's demo for the song (with the strings added in 2006 by George Martin), which gives the song a very different feel.  Oh, and here's the 2004 version from the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, with Prince's famous solo.

Long Long Long from The White Album.  Very underrated song.  Big booming drums from Ringo.  Here's the best cover I could find.

Old Brown Shoe from Let It Be (recorded April 1969).  This version from a cover band.

I want a love that's right
But right is only half of what's wrong
I want a short haired girl
Who sometimes wears it twice as long

Here Comes The Sun from Abbey Road (recorded July 1969).  My favorite of his Beatles tunes.  Another cover.

You may have noticed that many people's favorite George song, Something, is not on my list.  Sorry, not a big fan of it, but The Concert for George featured a lovely version of the song, led by Paul McCartney on the ukulele, which I could not find but here's a shortened version from McCartney's 2002 concert tour.

Well, as long as I'm going down this path, here is a 2014 version of Something featuring Jeff Lynne, Joe Walsh, and Dhani Harrison (who looks and sounds strikingly like his dad).  Paul and Ringo are in the audience.  Joe Walsh's reference to being an extended member of The Beatles family is because he and Ringo are married to the Bach sisters.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Can't Find My Way Home

From 2012 comes 64 year old Steve Winwood with an acoustic version of his classic from the Blind Faith days of 1968, Can't Find My Way Home.  Steve is now a squire on a large country estate near the Welsh border.

And here he is with his daughter Lily performing a gorgeous version of his 80s hit Higher Love.

I got here via my friend Titus who posted this acoustic version of the English folksong John Barleycorn Must Die, originally done by Winwood as part of Traffic's 1970 album of the same title.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Finishing Even Stronger: The 1908 Pennant Races

In 2016 THC featured a piece on the 1908 National League pennant race (Finishing The Season Strong), as well as the equally astonishing American League race which is less well known.  At the time, Retrosheet had not yet reached the 1908 season in its day by day reconstruction of box scores.  Now that information is available and we used it to look at the season ending performance of the key players on the three NL contenders; Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Mordecai Peter Centennial "Three Finger" Brown.

To recap the earlier piece, over the last seven weeks of the season the Pirates, Giants, and Cubs collectively won 110 games while losing only 39.  Since they went 19-19 in the games between them it means they won 91 of the 111 games they played against the other five teams.  I was also able to find some of information regarding the workload of Mathewson and Brown in those weeks.


Honus Wagner

On July 17, Honus Wagner was hitting .315 with substantial power for the deadball era having twenty doubles, eleven triples and seven home runs.  Because we don't have RBI and walk data for each individual game there are some limits to my analysis since we cannot calculate on-base percentage but what we now know is that after that date Wagner hit .396.  During the final 12 games with the  teams changing positions in the standings almost daily Honus hit .479 with 22 hits in 46 at-bats.

The big shortstop led the league in hits, doubles, triples, RBI, stolen bases, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, and total bases.  And finished second in home runs.

Pittsburgh won 34 of its last 50 games and finished third.

Christy Mathewson

For both Big Six and Three Finger we are using July 27 as the date to bifurcate their seasons.  One limit to our data is we only have total runs given up by appearance and not earned runs which is significant since there were so many more errors in baseball games a century ago.  Since however we have total earned runs for the season I am going to use the season ratio of runs/earned runs to calculate a imputed ERA for parts of the season.

The Giants ace carried the heaviest workload of his career in 1908, appearing in 56 games, starting 44, and tossing 391 innings.   In 86 games as of July 27, Mathewson had already pitched 211 innings, winning 18 and losing 7.  He'd given up 157 hits (6.7/9 innings), walked 30 (1.3/9 innings), accumulated 148 strikeouts and had a ERA of 1.75.

Over the next 64 games, Matty picked up the pace, posting astonishing numbers, making 24 appearances of which 17 were starts, winning 19 and losing only 2.  In 166 innings he gave up 109 hits (5.9/9 innings), walked eleven (0.6/9 innings), and struck out 103 with a ERA of 0.87.  An extraordinary performance even for the deadball era.

Unfortunately for Matty, the season was not yet over.  The exhausted pitcher had to make two more starts, losing both, including the playoff game against the Chicago Cubs.  Even with those final starts, his record from July 27 to the end of season was 19-4 with a ERA of 1.05.  His hits per 9 innings  rose to 6.2 and walks remained the same at 0.6.

The Giants won 36 of their final 50 and finished second.

Three Finger Brown

In contrast to Mathewson, Brown had a consistent usage rate throughout the season and his performance was also consistent.  On July 27, Mordecai's record was 15 wins and 3 losses, with a ERA of 1.43.  More importantly he'd thrown only 144.2 innings, 32% fewer than Matty.   In those innings he gave up 94 hits (5.9/9 innings) and 20 walks (1.3/9 innings), striking out 57.

Over the remainder of the season Brown threw almost as many innings as Matty, 167.2, winning 14 and losing 6, with a ERA of 1.48.  He yielded 121 hits (6.5/9 innings), 29 walks (1.5/9 innings), while striking out 66.

The Cubs only lost 9 of their last 49 games, winning the pennant, and going on to beat the Tigers to win the World Series, their last until 2016.

It looks like Frank Chance had more confidence in his pitching staff than did John McGraw, the Giants manager.  Brown started only 31 games, pitching 312 innings.  Ed Ruelbach started 35, tossing 297 innings and winning 24 games, while Jack Pfiester started 29 with 242 innings and Orval Overall winning 15 while starting 27 and throwing 225 innings.

Matty started 44 games, laboring for 391 innings, while #2 starter Hooks Wiltse began 38 games, going 330 innings and winning 23.  After that it was up for grabs with Doc Crandall starting 24 and going 12-12, Joe McGinnity posting a 11-7 record in 20 starts over 186 innings, and Dummy Taylor and Red Ames each starting 15 games and completing less than 40%, at a time when 60% was league average.




Thursday, March 8, 2018

Ichiro Returns

I've been to three Cactus League games so far; Brewers-Angels; Dodger-Rangers; Angel-Diamondbacks.  Had two opportunities to see Japan phenom Shohei Ohtani; the first his pitching debut in which he was overamped but showed a 97 mph fastball and 69 mph curve; the second as a DH in which he went a very unimpressive 0-3 with awkward swings and trouble handling offspeed pitches.

Have tickets for three more games; Cubs-Padres; Indians-Athletics; Brewers-Rockies.  I'm also planning to catch a Mariners game now that they've signed 44-year old Ichiro Suzuki who'll start taking the field for them in a few days.


Ichiro had gone unsigned this winter after spending last season with the Miami Marlins as a pinch hitter and substitute outfielder.  At 44 and with more than 3,000 hits to his credit (over 4,000 including Japan) I had assumed he was retiring.  I was wrong.  It turns out he is serious about playing until he is 50.

To understand why read this compelling piece from Espn.Com When Winter Never Ends by Wright Thompson which I came across just as Ichiro's signing was announced.  Thompson recently spent time with Ichiro in Japan as he prepared for the coming season not knowing whether he would play in America or Japan.  He is quite the odd man, reminding me of a nicer version of Wade Boggs in his compulsiveness.  Some excerpts to whet your appetite for reading the whole thing:
Last year, a Miami newspaperman asked what he planned on doing after baseball.
"I think I'll just die," Ichiro said.
 The article makes clear Ichiro was not joking.
Former teammates all have favorite Ichiro stories, about how he carries his bats in a custom humidor case to keep out moisture, how in the minors he'd swing the bat for 10 minutes every night before going to sleep, or wake up some mornings to swing alone in the dark from 1 to 4 a.m. All the stories make the same point: He has methodically stripped away everything from his life except baseball. 

He gets stuck in patterns. In the minors, sometimes his 10-minute bedtime swinging ritual stretched to two hours or more. His mind wouldn't let him stop. For years, he only ate his wife's curry before games, day after day. According to a Japanese reporter who's covered him for years, Ichiro now eats udon noodles or toasted bread. He likes the first slice toasted for 2 minutes, 30 seconds, and the second slice toasted for 1 minute, 30 seconds. (He calculates the leftover heat in the toaster.) For a while on the road he ate only cheese pizzas from California Pizza Kitchen. He prefers Jojoen barbecue sauce for his beef. Once Yumiko ran out and mixed the remaining amount with Sankoen brand sauce -- which is basically identical -- and Ichiro immediately noticed. These stories are endless and extend far beyond food. This past September, a Japanese newspaper described how he still organizes his life in five-minute blocks. Deviations can untether him.
He is equally precise during the season, to the amusement of teammates. Dee Gordon says Ichiro even lint-rolls the floor of his locker. He cleans and polishes his glove and keeps wipes in the dugout to give his shoes a once-over before taking the field. The Yankees clubhouse manager tells a story about Ichiro's arrival to the team in 2012. Ichiro came to him with a serious matter to discuss: Someone had been in his locker. The clubhouse guy was worried something had gone missing, like jewelry or a watch, and he rushed to check.

Ichiro pointed at his bat.

Then he pointed at a spot maybe 8 inches away.
His bat had moved.

The clubhouse manager sighed in relief and told Ichiro that he'd accidentally bumped the bat while putting a clean uniform or spikes or something back into Ichiro's locker, which is one of the main roles of clubhouse attendants.

"That can't happen," Ichiro said, smiling but serious.
He loves old baseball players and their histories. He formed a relationship with former Negro Leagues star Buck O'Neil, and when the Mariners played the Royals in Kansas City, Ichiro took himself to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. He didn't tell anyone, and they wouldn't have known except for someone in the business office noticing his name on a credit card receipt. When Buck died, Ichiro sent flowers to the funeral and wrote a personal check to the museum in his memory. He's visited the graves of old players whose records he's broken, George Sisler in suburban St. Louis and Wee Willie Keeler in Queens, and in Japan he visits the grave of the scout who discovered him. 
Ichiro no longer speaks to his father Nobuyuki who started him on a strict baseball training regime as a young boy.
Ichiro started this life in third grade and hasn't stopped. With people he trusts, he'll talk about how Ichiro Suzuki did not create Ichiro. In the past, he has hated Ichiro. Only rarely do his private feelings become public. When Ichiro finished his second season with the Mariners and returned home, the writer Robert Whiting was granted an interview. He was escorted to a private floor of a Tokyo hotel overlooking the flashing neon Blade Runner world below. Whiting is a best-selling author and Japanese baseball expert and among the world's most sophisticated translators of the two cultures. He asked Ichiro about a passage in his father's book describing their training sessions as fun for both father and son. For the first and only time in the interview, Ichiro switched to English.
"He's a liar," he said.

Everyone laughed but Whiting didn't think he was joking at all. The next day, Ichiro's manager successfully petitioned Whiting not to run that quote because of the importance of filial reverence in Japan. Whiting left in what Ichiro said next in Japanese. Ichiro said his dad's behavior "bordered on child abuse."

Ichiro has broken away from his father -- the man who invented Ichiro, the wellspring of all that's good and bad in his life -- but he cannot break away from the man his father created. He cannot escape the patterns burned into him as a boy. His American teammates all talk about how he still polishes his gloves and spikes, as he was taught. He works out every day without break, forsaking even a family, wearing shorts in the freezing Kobe winter. He's made a $160 million fortune and can't enjoy it. He's earned his rest but can't take it. He's won his freedom but doesn't want it. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness

Released in 2017 by The National, The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness is a striking song.  I liked it.  Hope you do also.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Finding Lexington

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has spent the last few years locating famous sunken warships, most notably the USS Indianapolis, the cruiser which carried parts of the first atomic bomb to Tinian and was sunk on its return, with several hundred sailors being killed by sharks (a story memorably told in the movie Jaws).

Two days ago, Allen's team found the aircraft carrier, USS Lexington, sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 8, 1942, the first time the Japanese rampage across the Pacific and East Asia had been successfully countered.  The wreck is located 10,000 feet below the ocean surface.

Since December 7, 1941, Japanese Imperial Forces had occupied much of the Central Pacific, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Burma, and the Dutch East Indies.  The Imperial Fleet had severely damaged the American flotilla at Pearl Harbor, destroyed the British, Dutch, and Australian fleets in Asia, and had roamed as far as Ceylon, where Japanese naval air wrecked Allied sea and air forces.  Air raids had been conducted even on Australia, where Darwin the Northern Territories had been attacked.

Japanese infantry had landed on the northern coast of New Guinea in early 1942.  The next stage of advance was over the Owen Stanley Mountains in order to capture Port Moresby on the southern coast.  With Moresby in their hands the way would be clear for an advance to Australia, and any Allied counterattack would be easy to thwart.

To provide air cover for the infantry advance, the Japanese sent two fleet carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku (both part of the Pearl Harbor task force) and Shoho, a light carrier.  American intelligence was able to decode Japanese messages, and two carriers, Yorktown and Lexington, were sent to the Coral Sea.

With the American battleship fleet destroyed the four carriers in the Pacific were the only significant resource for our navy. Lexington, commissioned in 1927 and one of the oldest carriers in the American fleet, was needed in the crisis.

(Lexington, October 1941)
USS Lexington (CV-2) leaving San Diego on 14 October 1941 (80-G-416362).jpg  The battle, which took place on May 7 and 8, was the first naval action in history where none of the ships involved saw each other.  All of the action consisted of air attacks.  While the Americans drew first blood, sinking the Shoho, on May 8 the Japanese were able to badly damage Yorktown, and torpedo bombers hit Lexington several times, causing a series of explosions, and forcing the ship to be abandoned as it sunk.    Fortunately 2,735 personnel were rescued while 216 died.

(Explosions on the Lexington, May 8, 1942)
Large explosion aboard USS Lexington (CV-2), 8 may 1942.jpg
The Battle of the Coral Sea is considered a tactical victory for Japan since it lost one light carrier while the U.S. lost a heavy carrier and had another one badly damaged.  At the same time it's considered a strategic American victory, because in the wake of the battle the Japanese Imperial command ordered its naval forces to withdraw and Port Moresby was saved for the Allies.

Yorktown limped back to Pearl Harbor where it was estimated repairs would take three months before it could put to sea again.  But the American naval command had just become aware of the Japan's plan to attack Midway Island and force a decisive confrontation with the American carriers.  After only three days of repairs Yorktown put out to sea and was part of the overwhelming American victory at Midway in which four Japanese carriers were sunk, permanently crippling the Japanese navy, and ensuring ultimate American victory in the Pacific.  The only American carrier loss was Yorktown, hit by torpedoes from a enemy submarine.

Though Lexington was lost at the Coral Sea, the navy decided to give a new carrier under construction the same name.  The USS Lexington was commissioned in 1943 and served on active service until 1991.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Urgent Health News!

According to The Guardian, chemicals used in the processing of bacon may cause significant damage to your health.  The article goes on to say that . . . . wait, what's that? . . . ah!! . . . what was I saying? . . . while I try to remember let's relax and watch this for a bit:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Oscar Prep

For those of you planning to watch the Oscars tonight (THC is taking a pass), we present the Honest Trailers take on the ten Best Picture nominees.  We saw three of them, all fine films; Lady Bird, Dunkirk, and Darkest Hour (described as "A movie about all the talking that was going on at the same time" as Dunkirk (not the movie).


Saturday, March 3, 2018

How To Talk About What We Can't Talk About


The current atmosphere around discussions, or non-discussions on race, gender, and ethnicity, and the rise of social justice, microagression, intersectionality, and the other nonsense spawned by post-modernists prompted me to track down something I watched on C-Span several years ago.  It's a short talk and Q&A by Annette Gordon-Reed in connection with her then-new book The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.

I had not planned to read the book as I was sick of the battles over the alleged relationship between Sallie Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson.  It seemed that one group was intent on taking the relationship as 100% proven and then using it to trash Jefferson's reputation, while the other group steadfastly ignored any credible evidence supporting the possibility that such a relationship existed.

However, after watching Gordon-Reed I changed my mind, purchased her book and highly recommend it.  The author presents a plausible view of the relationship between Sallie, and indeed the entire Hemmings family, and Jefferson, and it's told with an understanding of the perspectives of everyone involved; Gordon-Reed treats everyone as a person, not as symbols or caricatures to make a point.  Along the way, I learned quite a bit about the history of slavery in Virginia and the evolving (or perhaps devolving) view of whites towards the institution during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The entire 33 minutes is worth viewing but it was a question at the end (asked at the 30:20 mark) that caused me to go back and watch it again.  The question goes to whether, or how, Jefferson reconciled his worst written racist utterances with his treatment of the Hemmings family.  From Gordon-Reed's response:
[growing up in the South; Texas to be specific] . . . it is not uncommon for blacks and whites to have generalized racial views but see individual people differently.

. . . it is not unusual for people to have a set of intellectual beliefs that their emotional lives do not jibe with.

. . . some of the people who have been the most helpful to me in my life, if you were to sit down and talk to them, they would express sentiments that were racist sentiments but [they were not malicious] . . . there are malicious people who are non-racist and there are malicious people who are racist . . . and I don't see Jefferson as malicious. 
I'm not sure Gordon-Reed could get away with this thoughtful perspective today.  In our brave new world, anyone who carelessly utters what others see as the wrong words can be attacked, humiliated, and driven from public life, regardless of their actual actions.  It is a loss for our society and corrosive to our ability to function.  Having read and heard her in other contexts, it is clear Gordon-Reed and I tread different political paths but I think her approach to discussing these issues is the right one.

My own take on Hemmings and Jefferson is that I think it highly likely they did have a relationship that lasted for 35+ years and that the author of the Declaration of Independence is the father of Sallie's six children though it will never be proved to a certainty.  The DNA evidence only indicates that someone in the Jefferson family was the father of her children.  Defenders of Thomas have claimed the real father was his younger brother.  However, one of the other defenses, that Thomas Jefferson was not present at Monticello nine months prior to the birth of all of Sallie's children has now been discredited, and it is accepted that the timing is now consistent with his paternity. 

In addition, there is a strong psychological element at play.  Jefferson, born in 1743, was only married once, in 1772, to Martha Wayles.  By all accounts, the introverted and aloof Jefferson was madly in love with Martha and she reciprocated.  When Martha died in 1782 he was distraught, isolating himself for weeks, leaving his family worried he might do harm to himself.

Sallie Hemmings was the half-sister of Martha Jefferson.  They shared the same father.  Sallie's mother was half white, so Sallie was three quarters white (many of her descendents after being freed and moving to Ohio passed as white).   We have no pictures of Sallie but according to those who knew her she looked strikingly like her half sister.  One can only surmise how Jefferson might have reacted when the teenage Sallie showed up in Paris in the late 1780s, as escort to his daughter.  We also know that Jefferson treated the entire Hemmings family much differently than the rest of the enslaved population of Monticello.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Winter In New England

Now that we've been living in Arizona for a year, this is how I remember New England in the winter:

http://www.headforart.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/George-Henry-Durrie-Winter-in-the-Country.jpg

The painting is by George Henry Durrie (1820-1863).  Born in Hartford, CT, he moved to New Haven in 1842 and made a name painting scenes of rural New England.  Three years before he died he gained wider popularity when Currier and Ives began selling prints of his artwork.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Blind Willie McTell

Composed by Bob Dylan in 1983, I first heard Blind Willie McTell last year via the version recorded by The Band in 1993 with Levon Helm and Rick Danko on vocals.  It became an immediate favorite but it was only recently I listened to the various versions by Dylan, some of which I prefer to The Band's.  The melody is good, though you've heard it before (no surprise, when it comes to Dylan; for instance, take a listen to St James Infirmary - I don't think it's a coincidence that Dylan references the St James Hotel in the lyric) but the lyrics are among Dylan's finest, and it was recorded back in the days when he still had a singing voice.  Recorded in 1983 as part of the sessions for the Infidels album, it was cut at the last minute and not released until 1991 as part of the The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3.

Infidels was co-produced by Dylan and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.  The beautiful, haunting, and spare version released as part of the Bootleg Series is not available on YouTube so you'll have to find it on iTunes, Pandora, or Spotify.  However, there are several other versions worth listening to.  My favorite is another take from the same recording session featuring former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor on slide guitar.


This is a live version from a 2000 concert.  Dylan began performing the song in concert only after hearing the version recorded by The Band.


Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying, "This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem"

I traveled through East Texas
Where many martyrs fell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, I heard the hoot owl singing
As they were taking down the tents
The stars about the barren trees
Were his only audience

Them charcoal gypsy maidens
Can strut their feathers well
But nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
See the ghosts of the slavery ships

I can hear them tribes a-moaning
I can hear the undertaker's bell
Yeah, nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

There's a woman by the river
With some fine young handsome man
He's dressed up like a squire
Bootlegged whiskey in his hand

There's a chain gang on the highway
I can hear them rebels yell
And I know one thing, no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, God is in heaven
And we all want what's his
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is
I'm gazing out the window
Of that old St James Hotel
And I know no one can one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4f/Blind_Willie_McTell_LOC.jpg(Willie McTell recording in an Atlanta hotel room, 1940)

Blind Willie McTell was born William Samuel McTier in 1898 or 1901 at Thomson, Georgia.  As a youngster he was part of the Great Migration of African-Americans to the north, growing up in Detroit.  Along the way he learned to play the blues on a 12-string guitar, and from 1927 until the late 1930s made several recordings with his distinctive tenor voice.  Like many of the bluesmen of the era, he had trouble finding a market for his music, as well as having his own personal troubles, and by the 1950s was reduced to playing for spare change on Atlanta street corners.  He died in 1959.

His best known song today is Statesboro Blues which was for decades a staple of Allman Brothers shows.  A sampling of other McTell songs follows:

Southern Can Is Mine
You Was Born To Die
Lord, Send Me An Angel
Travelin' Blues 

McTell recorded under many different names including Blind Sammie and Georgia Sam.   Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited (1965) contains the line "Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose", a reference to McTell.