Thursday, March 23, 2017

The American Indian

I recently read The Earth Is Weeping; The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens, an account of the years from the Civil War to the final surrender of the Lakota Sioux in January 1891 after the fight at Wounded Knee.  Over the past few years, I've also read The Apache Wars by Paul Hutton, The Heart of Everything That Is by Paul Drury and Tom Clavin (the story of Red Cloud, the only western Indian to defeat the US Army and obtain a favorable treaty), and Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches by SC Gwynne, all of which are worth reading.

Each book is a sad tale of conflict, misunderstanding, betrayal, and broken promises.  Beyond that it made me think about what were the realistic alternatives to what happened and the legacy that continues to this day as described by Naomi Schaefer Riley in her recent book, The New Trail of Tears: How Washington is Destroying American Indians.

Before returning to the Indians of the American West let's go all the way back to the initial European settlement of the Americas.  The chances of the Indians of the Western Hemisphere meeting Europeans on grounds of equal strength were fatally compromised at the beginning, when they were exposed to illnesses for which they had no immunity.  This unintended biological invasion diminished native populations between 70% and 90% across both continents within several decades of the first voyage of Columbus (for its impact on Mexico see Ten Years After: 1519-1529).  In 1620 when the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth they found deserted Indian villages along the coast, with most of the population gone after an epidemic fueled by contact with Portugese and English fishermen who had trawled the area over the previous two decades.

Various Indian attempts to repel the invaders in the 16th and 17th centuries failed, often because of disunity and rivalries among the tribes (see Bloody Brook and The Sudbury Fight).  One revolt was temporarily successful when the Pueblos drove Spanish settlers from New Mexico only to have their efforts reversed twelve years later (see Pueblo Revolt).

However, while Europeans cleverly manipulated tribal rivalries (Cortez' conquest of Mexico would have been impossible without the aid of tribes opposed to Aztec rule), Indians were capable of the same behavior.  In North America this meant exploiting the rivalry of French and Britain, allowing Canada west of Quebec and American west of the Appalachians to avoid European settlement for a century.  This strategy became doomed when France ceded its North American posessions to Britain when the French & Indian War ended in 1763.  While the tribes tried a variant of this strategy during the American Revolution, continuing until the end of the War of 1812 during which time many allied themselves with the British, it proved unsuccessful as the English eventually withdrew from contesting the ambitions of the new American nation.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rock Band

If you were ever curious about how Here Comes The Sun would sound on an electromechanical instrument that tosses rocks in the air and makes them vibrate by hitting them, here's your answer.  Via Vimeo:

Rock Band from Neil Mendoza on Vimeo.

And now, learn how to build your own version.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Magic Bus

As we plow through stuff stored away for years in preparation for our move to Arizona, we've come across many items bringing back memories.  Here's one - a flyer for the Magic Bus from the summer of 1978.

In May of 1978, I'd quit my job and gone to Paris, where the future Mrs THC was at the time,  working as an au pair for a French-American family, studying French, and living in a 6th floor walk up garret room with a primitive communal toilet down the hall.

During July we'd traveled to England and Scotland and, after a few weeks of recuperation from my badly sprained ankle (see The Highlands for more), set out south for another adventure.  We were backpacking, alternating camping and staying in cheap hotels as we had little money.  I'd brought all my saving (about $1200 which needed to cover expenses for five months plus my air fare back to the States). We traveled by train through France (I remember camping on an island in the Rhone opposite Avignon) and into Italy, visiting Florence and then rolling down its Adriatic Coast to Brindisi.  Italy was in the grip of the Red Brigades terror campaign and that may have prompted our unusual reception getting off the train at Brindisi.  We were welcomed by heavily armed Italian soldiers who escorted us as we walked the mile or so to the city's port to catch the ferry to Patras in Greece.

We couldn't afford a cabin so slept on the deck during the overnight trip, but it was wonderful waking up early in the morning to see the Greek coast gliding by.  I think it was by train we got from Patras to Athens where we stayed for several days (most of it with an old high school classmate of mine who was teaching at the American School), though before we found him we spent one night sleeping on a mattress on a fire escape at a crowded hostel.  Barb and I hiked up the Acropolis at dawn where she took this picture; back then there were no barriers and access was easy.
We did a side trip, again by train, to Mycenae and then took a hydrofoil to visit the island of Hydra.  Our final trip was to Samos, just off the coast of Turkey, on a ancient ferry that had seen prior duty in the North Sea till it was no longer fit for those rough waters, and listed the entire way across the placid Aegean.

By the time we returned to Athens it was late September and we were almost out of money.  Surveying out options for getting back to Paris, the only route we could afford was the Magic Bus, which ran three times a week from Athens to London.  Two of their routes went via Paris and we chose the one going through Italy.  It was $40 for a 48 hour ride in a rickety, un-air conditioned bus (or maybe it was $48 dollars for a 40 hour ride; this memory thing is tricky) that had 48 seats.

I came across this recollection from someone who rode the Magic Bus in 1975 and it matches up well with our memory:
You had to find a certain doorway in a side street off Syntagma Square, climb four flights of rickety stairs to a scruffy office where 1,700 drachmas changed hands. Your name was laboriously and inaccurately added to a passenger list and you were handed a scrap of paper which purported to be a ticket.
We set off on a late Friday afternoon, heading north towards the Yugoslav border where a jackbooted uniformed guard carrying a firearm got on the bus and carefully inspected passports.  When he got to the few Americans aboard he took our passports, left the bus and only returned with them awhile later.

The Magic Bus drove day and night, only stopping for food and bathroom breaks about every eight hours (some of the male passengers brought along their own private arrangements to help deal with the latter issue).  Most of us carried our own food supply, since nobody had extra money to indulge in expensive cafeteria food available at the stops along the highway.  Much of our trip remains a blur as we became increasingly exhausted.
Image result for Magic Bus from athens to london(Travelers with the Magic Bus in 1976, from Flickr)

Initially we sat towards the middle of the bus but we had two obnoxious guys behind us who never started talking so eventually we able to get seats closer to the front which give us a close view of the most memorable moment of the journey.

It was on the highway in France, somewhere between Lyon and Paris.  There were two drivers on the bus, both Greek, who switched on and off every few hours - did I mention they always switched while the bus was moving to save time?  A loud argument erupted - what it was about we didn't know since it was all in Greek.  Both drivers were shouting and finally the one driving stood up to argue with the other - there was no one at the wheel as we careened down the highway!  The passengers all started yelling and finally the driver returned to his seat so we survived to write this in 2017.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

It's Gotta Be Rock 'n Roll Music

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it "Chuck Berry" - John Lennon
He was there at the beginning. Maybelline (1955), Roll Over Beethoven (1956), Too Much Monkey Business (1956), School Days (1957), Rock and Roll Music (1957), Sweet Little Sixteen (1958), Johnny B Goode (1958) with the most seminal guitar riff in rock:


For covers of Johnny B Goode by The Stones, Elvis, AC/DC, Prince, The Grateful Dead, Green Day, George Thorogood, The Sex Pistols, Buck Owens, Judas Priest, The Who, Coldplay, Jimi Hendrix and The Killers listen here.

And let's not forget Carol (1958) and Little Queenie (1959).  The most influential of rock's early pioneers.

Chuck Berry gone at the age of 90.

Here he is torturing Keith Richards in the 1986 film Hail! Hail! Rock n Roll, for which Keith served as musical director for the notoriously prickly Berry, preparing for a concert on his 60th birthday.   Once they get rolling it's pretty good. 
Chuck Berry & Keith Richards - Oh Carol from Music Management USA on Vimeo.

La La Land

Caught this multiple Academy Award winner on a flight from Phoenix to Detroit.

My verdict: Big thumbs down.

Trite, predictable, pretentious and boring, another Hollywood celebration of itself.  I've liked the stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, in other films, but here they prove they can't sing or dance and Stone, in particular, is miscast and quite bad.

The film makers borrowed liberally from two French films of the mid-60s, The Young Girls of Rochefort and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but misplaced the charm of those movies, a charm tied to a specific time and place.  Quite a misfire by the same writer and director who made Whiplash, a wonderful film.

The only time the movie comes alive is when the character played by Gosling joins a band led by John Legend and we see a concert scene which is 100% better than the mundane musical dreck we get in the rest of the film.   And the film looks great throughout, it's just the substance that is lacking.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Reason Why

And the GOP proposal is a failure, in part due to its own ineptitude, in part due to Obamacare adding yet another entitlement and difficult to undue, buying into the fundamental top-down approach of Obamacare, and the inherent political intractability of the issue as noted by Barro.