Monday, September 29, 2014

Regular Season Wrap Up

This will be the first post-season since 1993 not to see either the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees playing.  The Yankees have appeared 17 times since then and the Red Sox made it to the post-season on 10 occasions.  The times they are a-changin'.

We did make it to Fenway yesterday to see Derek Jeter's farewell and experience the oddity of having perhaps half those attending being Yankee fans.  It was a fun afternoon with many former Sox showing up - Yaz, Lynn, Rice, El Tiante - as well as some icons from other Boston sports including Paul Pierce and Mr Hockey, Bobby Orr, who nearly 40 years after retiring got the biggest hand - other than Jeter.  They showed this tribute from Will Ferrell (as a Sox fan), Chris Rock and Kevin Hart. Big Papi led the current Sox squad out to say farewell to Mr Jeter and we all, Sox fans included, gave a fond goodbye to a respected foe.  Next up for Derek is bringing about World Peace.  We can't wait for A-Rod's farewell so we can give him a more traditional Red Sox send off.   

Future Nobel Peace Prize Winner                       Excommunicated From Church Of Baseball
  We'll wrap up by taking you to Grantland's Year-End Pitching GIF Awards.  Here's a sneak preview of two of the winners:

Corey Kluber (Indians): Slider

Felix Hernandez (Mariners) Changeup

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It Don't Mean A Thing

Since we're still in a Louis Armstrong mood, let's start a relaxing Sunday with Louis and Duke Ellington collaborating on It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing):

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Louis Armstrong House Museum

Yesterday we visited the Louis Armstrong House Museum in the Corona section of Queens, NYC.  We've written before about Armstrong and this trip on been on our mind for awhile.

Armstrong and his fourth wife Lucille purchased the house for $8,000 in 1943 just after their marriage and lived there until their deaths; Louis in 1971 and Lucille in 1983, although "lived there" may not quite be the right term for Louis who was constantly on the road playing up to 300 gigs a year. 

Corona then and now was a racially mixed middle class neighborhood with small frame houses and the Armstrong home is only a half block from heavily trafficked 37th Avenue.  The house (with the  garage converted into the museum) is modest and small.  Armstrong could have afforded a much larger home in a more exclusive area (he was making several hundred thousand a year in the 50s and 60s) but liked Corona and his neighbors, feeling very comfortable on the street and becoming friends with neighbors and having the local kids (Armstrong himself was childless) hang out in and around his home with the couple they knew as Uncle Satchmo and Aunt Lucille.  The photo at the top of this post is taken on the front steps of their home.

The home tour takes about 45 minutes and is well worth it.  The house remains as it was in the 1970s and it's definitely a trip back in time.  This is the retro kitchen which was very expensive back then (photos are not permitted on the tour so this is from a postcard):

Although the house itself is modest the Armstrongs collected art, particularly Asian, and Lucille made some very interesting choices about wallpaper; for one thing there is a lot of it.

Along with seeing the rooms you will also hear tapes of Armstrong speaking in several of the rooms (he made hundreds of hours of tapes over his life) and in his study you'll see a painting that Tony Bennett did of Louis (for more on Bennett see The Best Is Yet To Come).

Our tour guide, Tara O'Grady, was terrific - knowledgeable, enthusiastic and entertaining.   The visit and tour reinforced my existing impression that Louis Armstrong was a genuine good guy as well as a brilliant musician and you come away with the feeling he wanted you to have when he said:

"That's me and I don't want to be nobody else.  They know I'm there in the cause of happiness."
You can read more about the museum by clicking here.

It also turns out that Tara O'Grady is a talented singer performing at various venues in the New York area.  This is her website and here she is singing:

The Armstrong home is only a mile from Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets, which THC had never been to so after our tour we went over to see the Mets lose to the Houston Astros 3-1.  We had a great time at the park except for this annoying guy with a giant head who kept obstructing our view!  I guess I shouldn't be so critical since you could see from the stitches that he'd had some terrible injury.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

RMS Republic And Our Grandfather Louis

Due to the intrepid detective work of the THC Sister we've recently discovered that our paternal grandfather Louis (THC wrote about our maternal great-grandfather in Our History And My History) arrived in Boston during the summer of 1905 as a passenger on RMS Republic.  The Republic was the product of the shipbuilders Harland and Wolf of Belfast, Ireland, who built Titanic a few years later.  Launched in 1903 by the Dominion Lines after its first two voyages it was acquired by the British White Star Lines, the later owner of Titanic. 
RMS Republic(From

White Star built a very successful business model marketing to emigrants traveling in third class providing inexpensive, safe and clean accommodations along with good service giving it the best reputation of all the shipping lines among emigrants.  Advertising heavily all over Europe and organizing feeder routes from ports in Germany, Holland and the Scandinavian countries to funnel emigrants to Liverpool, White Line operated five main immigration routes to the U.S; three ending in New York City, one in Montreal and the fifth in Boston, this last being the route our grandfather took.

Republic is best known to passenger steamship fans because of its last voyage.  In early 1909 the ship left New York sailing for Mediterranean ports.  Off the south coast of Nantucket on the dark wintry morning of January 23 Republic was in heavy fog, proceeding cautiously when, at 5:47 AM, the Lloyds Italian liner SS Florida, carrying 800 Italian immigrants, appeared out of the gloom and struck the Republic amidships.  What ensued made history.  Fatally punctured, Republic used its newly installed Marconi wireless telegraph system to alert nearby vessels becoming the first ship in history to issue radio distress signals.  The US Coast Guard cutter Gresham and the White Star Liner Baltic responded and along with the Florida, which was still floating, rescued all 1200 passengers and crew with the exception of six killed in the collision.  Thirty six hours later the Republic sank while under tow.

The White Star Line still exists, merging in 1934 with Cunard Line with the combined company now part of Carnival Corporation.  You can read more about the White Star Line and the voyages of the Republic at here and here.

Why was Louis Stoler on the Republic and why did he emigrate to America?  Louis died in 1933 and didn't talk much about his past with family and we have little documentation so what follows is a plausible tale but one that can't be confirmed.

Louis and his family were from somewhere in the Minsk district of what was then Russia but is now Belarus.  In 1905 Russia had the largest Jewish population in the world, more than 5 million people, most descended from Jews expelled from Western Europe who began to move east at the invitation of King Casimir of Poland in the 14th century settling in lands that were part of Poland or the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until the 17th and 18th centuries when the Polish Kingdom first began to shrink before finally being disassembled by Russia, Austria and Prussia in 1793.

Once the Jews came under the rule of the Russian Empire they were restricted to living in certain designated portions of the country known as the Pale of Settlement.
(The Pale, from Wikipedia; the colors and numbers indicate the % of Jewish population)

Even within the Pale, Jews were restricted to living in specific cities and villages and barred from many trades and activities.  Until 1827, they were also barred from serving in the Russian military  being compelled to pay double taxes in lieu of service.  The reform minded Nicholas I (1825-55) instituted the change which required Jewish community leaders to provide a set number of annual conscripts from among Jews aged 12 to 25 for 25 years of military service, the standard conscription length for the Russian Army at the time.  By the latter part of the 19th century the age was raised to 18 and the term of service was 5 to 10 years.  While the Czars saw this effort as something that would encourage religious conversion very few Jews did so.  The regime for the Jewish soldiers was tough but bearable under Nicholas I and his successor, Alexander II (1855-81).  However, under the last two Czars, Alexander III (1881-1894) and Nicholas II (1894-1917) treatment became harsher as both were anti-Semites along with increasing numbers of the senior military leadership.  If you'd like to know more about the circumstances under which Jews served in the Russian Army read here.

Louis Stoler was one of those conscripts.  The family lore always had it that he'd been in the Russian Army and we located this picture (Louis is on the left) which we've recently confirmed is a Russian military uniform from that period.
By 1900 Jews constituted about 5% of the Russian Army compared to about 4% of the overall population.  About 14% of the population of the Minsk area was Jewish and the recruits were selected from the poorer and less skilled portion of the population.  Exactly when Louis was conscripted is unknown but as he was born in the early 1880s it is unlikely he'd been in the army for more than 3 or 4 years by the time the Russian Revolution of 1905 occurred.  The Jewish Pale had already been subject a renewed series of pogroms (attacks on Jewish people and property done with the tacit encouragement or forgiveness of the authorities) beginning in 1903, when the first riots broke out in Moscow and St Petersburg in December 1904 in the midst of the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-5.  In January and February of 1905 Russia suffered a series of catastrophic land and naval defeats at the hands of the Japanese and the violence and strikes intensified, including several mutinies in the Navy.  It was in the midst of this chaos and upheaval that Louis decided to desert and make his way to America, a journey an older brother made several years earlier.  How he got out of Russia and to Liverpool we don't know.  It is possible that he made his way via Hamburg in Germany one of the main feeder ports for Russian Jews coming to America and thence on to Liverpool.

Louis was part of a huge wave of emigrating Russian Jews from 1880 to the mid-1920s though most were not deserters which added an element of danger and risk to his escape.  During this period more than 2.2 million left Russia with about 80% coming to the United States.

Once he arrived what was he to do; how would he survive?  Well, as a young man with military experience it appears he decided to apply his training and a few weeks after landing in Boston we find him in Trenton, New Jersey enlisting for a three-year hitch in the United States Army!  He left the service for a few months after finishing his enlistment and then re-enlisted for another three years, finally being discharged as a sergeant in 1912.  At some point in this period he served with his unit in the Philippines and while stationed here seemed to have spent much time in Georgia.  Here's a picture of him while in the U.S. Army; he's the guy standing on the far left. Russia to America to the Philippines and serving in two armies all in the space of less than five years!
For some further speculation on Louis' history after his discharge from the army see Strange Fruit (you'll need to scroll down into the post to find the part about him).

In the course of this research I accessed some Belarus and Jewish Genealogy databases but was unable to find any record of Louis or his immediate family.  What I did find discloses the fate of most of the Jews who never left Belarus.  The only records I found of Stolers (there are also many Stolars, Stolairs and Stolinskys and there was even a town called Stolovichi) were of nine Stolers murdered by the Germans and their collaborators in the town of Novogrudok, about 70 miles from Minsk, on August 7, 1942 (their names and ages were Benjamin (10), Chaim (30), Gita (25), Hirsh (28), Meier (17), Moisiei (6), Moisiei (54), Musia (34) and Shosel (12)) and of two Stolers known to have fought with the Partisans against the Nazis; whether they survived is unknown.  Of the estimated 800,000 Jews of Belarus in 1939,  90% were killed by the Germans.  Most of the survivors served in the Red Army, fled from the German advance in the summer of 1941 or were among the small number of Jewish partisans who survived (the best known of whom are the Bielski Brothers who later emigrated to America; their story is told in the 2008 film Defiance, starring Daniel Craig).  Many of remaining Jews of Belarus emigrated after the collapse of the Soviet Union and today there are only about 12-15,000 left in the country.

We are forever grateful to Louis for deciding to come to America when he did.  Thanks grandpa!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Notes From Our Masters

Something that came to THC's attention this morning:

Via Hot Air THC learned the New York Times published a correction to a September 11 article comparing the approaches to war in the Middle East employed by George W Bush and Barack Obama which contained the assertion "Unlike Mr. Bush in the Iraq war, Mr. Obama has sought to surround the United States with partners."  Since Mr Bush had 29 partners in the Iraq War compared to the five for our new adventure (three of whom also partnered with Mr Bush) this did seem a tad in error and today the Times finally corrected it.
Apart from his mild surprise that the Times deigned to print the correction since it is, in the words of Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption, "deliberately obtuse" and reluctant about such corrections if they impair the party line what this most reflects is the inbred nature of the Times and much other media reporting.  THC is sure that the reporter has heard endlessly about Bush's "unilateralism" so didn't even think about it when he wrote the sentence and none of the paper's legions of editors also thought it unusual.  They live in a world where they repeat nonsense to each other so much that they just come to accept it as the truth.

As if to prove the point, the Times is not the only media representative making the same mistake.  The same Hot Air article also points out this tweet from reporter Josh Lederman, who covers the White House for the Associated Press,  just last night.
As was pointed out the distinguishing factor was not that Obama had Arab allies since Bush did also, it was the Bush, not Obama, went to Congress to seek authorization.

The problem with the Times compared to the ignorant tweet of Josh Lederman is that it is the paper of record and relied upon by educators and researchers.  The September 11 article will always be there for the researchers while the correction is hard to find. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Bodhisattva Isolated Guitars

While researching the post on The Edge, THC ran across this isolated guitar track from the Steely Dan's Bodhisattva which contains his favorite Dan guitar solo (see Steely Dan guitar solos).

On it you just hear the guitars and it's thrilling; despite the title of the Dan's first album, Can't Buy A Thrill, it turns out you can.  Guitars courtesy of Denny Dias (it's his solo that starts at about 1:35) and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter.