Thursday, December 14, 2017

Madame Blatavsky And The Birth Of Baseball

Captain Abner Doubleday (1819-93) fired the first cannon shot in defense of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.  He went on to serve with the Army of the Potomac, being wounded twice, and eventually promoted to Major General.  His finest moment was on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, when he assumed command of the First Corps after the death of General John Reynolds, holding the field for several hours against superior numbers of Confederates, and allowing time for the rest of the Union Army to reach the scene. (General Doubleday from SABR)

Abner was also, according to an official baseball commission finding in 1907, the originator of America's first national pastime, drawing up rules for a contest held in Elihu Phinney's cow pasture in Cooperstown, NY in 1839.  It's the reason the Baseball Hall of Fame, which officially opened on the 100th anniversary of Doubleday's game, is located in that bucolic upstate New York town.
(First Hall of Fame induction in 1939; front row L to R; Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Cy Young; standing L to R; Honus Wagner, Pete Alexander, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler, Walter Johnson; Ty Cobb arrived too late for the photo)

Of course, Doubleday did not invent baseball, indeed there is no evidence he was even in Cooperstown at the time, though he did have cousins who lived there.  The direct lineal ancestor of today's game grew out of the sport played in the New York City area earlier in the 19th century.  The American birthplace was urban, not rural.

How, and why, was the Doubleday myth accepted?

Answer: Albert G Spalding

Albert Spalding was one of the stars of early organized baseball in the 1870s, pitching for the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association starting in 1871.  Dissatisfied with the loose running rules of the Association, in 1876, Spalding played a key role in organizing the National League.  After becoming one of the first players to use a glove he founded the Albert G Spalding sporting goods company, which still exists.  Albert proved to be even more of a success as a businessman than as a ballplayer. as ballplayer, 1870s)

To help promote the business, Spalding published the first set of the official rules of baseball and an annual guide to the sport which became the "bible" of baseball.   In 1888-9 he put together a team of National League stars to undertake the first world tour to popularize baseball (and his company).  In 1900 President McKinley appointed him the US Commissioner for the Summer Olympics.

In 1905 when baseball pioneer Henry Chadwick wrote an article claiming that baseball derived from the English game of rounders, Spalding, as the most powerful man in baseball and an American patriot decided something must be done to establish the American origins of the game.  He organized what became known as the Mills Commission, named after the former National League president and close friend of Spalding, Abraham Mills, though for all practical purposes Spalding ran everything.

After announcing the commission and a public plea for information on the origins of baseball, Spalding received a letter from Abner Graves, a mining engineer in Denver, claiming claiming he was present as a child when Abner Doubleday approached a group of boys in Cooperstown with his newly developed rules of baseball back in 1839.  The letter is nonsensical and baseball historians have dismissed its accuracy yet it led directly to the 1907 conclusion of the commission establishing baseball's origin with Doubleday in Cooperstown.  You can find the full text of the Graves letters here.

It turns out there is a previously unknown connection between Albert Spalding and Abner Doubleday that may explain why Spalding pushed the Cooperstown story.   The connection was laid out for the first time in David Block's magisterial opus, Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search For the Roots of the Game (2006).  Block traces back the near and distant relatives of baseball to Europe, and England in particular.  His hypothesis is that the direct lineal ancestor of baseball is an English game called stool ball which, by the early 1700s had evolved into base ball which was a very rudimentary form of what became today's game.  Carried to America by colonists a variant of base ball was played in the encampments of George Washington's Continental Army. A Little Pretty Pocket Book, published in England (1744), image from Wikipedia)

The book also contains a chapter by David's brother Philip regarding his research into Spalding and Doubleday.  It turns out both were heavily involved in the Theosophical Society.  The Theosophical Society was the first organization in the United States devoted to the study of Eastern (Asian) thought and religion.  Founded in 1875 in New York City by Madame Helena Petrovna Blatavsky, who arrived from Russia two years previous, Abner Doubleday served as vice-president and then president of the Society from 1879 to 1884, remaining actively engaged until his death in 1893.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.jpg(Madame Blatavsky; Wikipedia)

Prior to arriving in America, Blatavsky traveled widely, including to India as well as claiming she was sent by The Masters of Ancient Wisdom to Tibet where she was trained to develop her own psychic powers.

The tenets of Theosophy are difficult for me to understand so I'll settle for this excerpt from Wikipedia and let the reader make of it what they will:
One of the central philosophical tenets promoted by the Society was the complex doctrine of The Intelligent Evolution of All Existence, occurring on a cosmic scale, incorporating both the physical and non-physical aspects of the known and unknown Universe, and affecting all of its constituent parts regardless of apparent size or importance. The theory was originally promulgated in the Secret Doctrine, the 1888 magnum opus of Helena Blavatsky.[7] According to this view, humanity's evolution on earth (and beyond) is part of the overall cosmic evolution. It is overseen by a hidden spiritual hierarchy, the so-called Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, whose upper echelons consist of advanced spiritual beings.

Blavatsky portrayed the Theosophical Society as being part of one of many attempts throughout the millennia by this hidden Hierarchy to guide humanity – in concert with the overall intelligent cosmic evolutionary scheme – towards its ultimate, immutable evolutionary objective: the attainment of perfection and the conscious, willing participation in the evolutionary process. These attempts require an earthly infrastructure (such as the Theosophical Society) which she held was ultimately under the inspiration of a number of Mahatmas, members of the Hierarchy.

In addition to the stated objectives, as early as 1889 Blavatsky publicly declared that the purpose of establishing the Society was to prepare humanity for the reception of a World Teacher: according to the Theosophical doctrine described above, a manifested aspect of an advanced spiritual entity (the Maitreya) that periodically appears on Earth in order to direct the evolution of humankind. The mission of these reputedly regularly appearing emissaries is to practically translate, in a way and language understood by contemporary humanity, the knowledge required to propel it to a higher evolutionary stage. 
Interested in spiritual matters from a young age, Doubleday subscribed to the Transcendentalist journal, The Dial, after graduating from West Point.  Upon retiring from the army in 1873, Doubleday decided to devote his time to spiritualism.  After reading Blatavsky's book Isis Unveiled, which he praise for its "marvelous erudition" and "the most novel explanations given in the work in regard to the psychical and spiritual phenomenon", Abner sought the author out and joined the Theosophical Society.  He also continued to pursue his spiritual interests outside the group translating into English two French books on magic and the occult.

Block notes that Doubleday continued to be a supporter of Madame Blatavsky:
"even after she came under numerous attacks by her enemies, including charges that she fraudulently produced psychic phenomena and allegations of alcoholism and other immoral behavior."
In 1880, Blatavsky and the society's co-founder, Henry Steel Olcott moved to India where they became associated with Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform movement.  They also visited Ceylon where it is reported they became the first Westerners to officially convert to Buddhism.  Blatavsky also created controversy in India being accused of fraud related to her alleged production of paranormal phenomena.  In 1885 she returned to Europe where she wrote The Secret Doctrine which she claimed to be a commentary on ancient Tibetan manuscripts.  She died in 1891.

When Doubleday died the society's journal noted that the general had "many strange psychical experiences of his own".  Harper's Weekly also noticed his interest in the occult in its obituary:
"Since his retirement he has lived quietly at Mendham, New Jersey, writing more or less for magazines on military subjects and studying the occult sciences.  He was one of Madame Blatavsky's first converts, and was a firm believer the theosophical theories . . . No one could take with him on this subject without realizing that he was perfectly honest in his faith.  Whatever a skeptic might think of the founders of the society, he could not help believing that this old soldier was a genuine Buddhist, and found much consolation in the religion which he had embraced towards the end of his life."
Interestingly, Doubleday's funeral cortege was accompanied by a military honor guard from the Lafayette Post of the Grand Army of the Potomac under the command of, none other than, Colonel Abraham Mills, the post commander, National League president, and later chair of the Mills Commission!

It turns out that Albert Spalding was also a prominent member of, and major financial contributor to,  the Theosophical Society.  Spalding became involved in the 1890s through his second wife, Elizabeth, a close aide of Katherine Tingley who had established a Theosophical enclave at Point Loma in San Diego in 1897.  Elizabeth had been a disciple of Madame Blatavsky and became close with Tingley, her successor as head of the U.S. Theosophical Society.  In fact, when Spalding received Graves's 1905 letter he and his wife had been living for several years in a palatial mansion in the Point Loma community.  It must have seemed a ready made solution for Spalding; Graves confirmed the very American birth of baseball, and its originator was a fellow Theosophist!

(Theosophical Society buildings at Point Loma from saveoursandiego)
In his research, Philip Block uncovered a 1905 article in the Loma Point community's weekly newspaper, four months after Spalding received the Graves letter.  The article references the Graves letter and, referring to Doubleday, notes:
"It is of interest to note the fact that it is to this stanch Theosophist, well known army officer and author, that the national game of Base Ball owes not only its name, but also in large degree its development from a simpler sport; or indeed, according to some writers, its very invention."
Two years later, Spalding, writing from his home at Point Loma, addressed the Mills Commission and endorsed the Doubleday story:
"I am very strongly included to the belief that Cooperstown, N.Y., is the birthplace of the present American game of Base Ball, and that Major General Abner Doubleday was the originator of the game."
The Commission, chaired by Spalding and Doubleday's mutual friend Abraham Mills, duly ratified this conclusion.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Allenby Enters Jerusalem

On December 11, 1917, General Edmund Allenby, commander of British forces in the Middle East entered Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate.  As a sign of respect he dismounted from his horse and walked into the city, as shown below.  It was the emotional and symbolic culmination of a campaign launched from the Suez Canal against the Turks a year earlier.

Jerusalem, part of the Ottoman Empire since 1517, consisted only of the Old City and a few buildings outside the walls.  Since the latter part of the 19th century its population had been majority Jewish for perhaps the first time in over a thousand years.

A few days ago President Trump rightfully extended United States recognition to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, recognizing the reality of the past seventy years.  Contrary to many predictions, the American announcement has not triggered widespread outrage in the Muslim world.

The context of the President's announcement is better understood in the context of one of the final actions of President Obama's administration.  In a small and spiteful act, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry maneuvered the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which effectively denied Jewish rights to East Jerusalem, including the walled city, the Jewish Quarter and to Judaism's holiest sites, and allowing the Palestinians in adding yet another set of unreasonable demands to any future peace negotiations. 

In contrast, President Trump formally fulfilled the provisions of a 1995 law, passed by Congress by a 93-5 vote and signed by President Clinton, declaring  “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”   Since then presidents have signed waivers every six months deferring action on the law.

The United States Senate reaffirmed the law just six months ago by a unanimous vote.  The co-sponsor was New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer who, two months ago, attacked President Trump for not keeping his campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem:
 “This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, yet with 2018 fast approaching, the U.S. still hasn't moved the embassy or made clear its commitment to Israel's capital…President Trump's recent comments suggest his indecisiveness on the embassy's relocation. As someone who strongly believes that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, I am calling for the U.S. Embassy in Israel to be relocated to Jerusalem. Moving the embassy as soon as possible would appropriately commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Jerusalem's reunification and show the world that the U.S. definitively acknowledges Jerusalem as Israel's capital.”
In taking this bipartisan action the President was more circumspect and diplomatic than Senator Schumer.  The Senator supports an undivided Jerusalem, while the President was careful to say that his action involved no predetermination of the ultimate boundary of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Breaking The Barrier

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Things I Had Not Known Part 781

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Case Of You

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

County Fair

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

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