Friday, August 31, 2012

The Adam Dunn Conundrum

Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox is a big guy.

6'6'', 285 lbs.  As the baseball fans reading this blog know he is also a national treasure for those of us who love oddball baseball stats.  Here's one - in 57% of his plate appearances this year he's walked, struck out or hit a homer.

Adam always had a limited set of skills - hit homers (400 so far) and draw walks.  Could hit around .250.

Last year he became one of the worst full time players in major league history as he hit only .159 and almost stopped hitting homers (only 11).  He had no business playing on a major league club.

Then early this year he had what was billed as a resurgence, hitting .240 in mid-May and stroking homers again.  That's faded somewhat but if you look quickly at his stats it still looks like a substantial performance improvement.

2011:  415 AB, 11 HR, 42 RBI, .159 Avg, .292 OBP, .277 Slg, .569 OPS
2012:  461 AB, 38 HR, 88 RBI, .204 Avg, .335 OBP, .484. Slg, .819 OPS  

Two significant points on Adam's 2012 performance:

First, all of his improvement is related to the 27 additional HRs he's hit so far this year.  No other part of his game has improved.  In fact, the rest of his offensive stats looks remarkably the same if you take away the 27 HRs:

YEAR   AB     H     2B   HR   BB   SO    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
2011      415    66     16     11     75    177  .159   .292    .277     .569
2012      434    67     15     11     92    188  .154   .302    .267     .569

He's the same guy except he got his home run stroke back.

Second, on May 20 this year Dunn was hitting .247 with 23 extra base hits in 146 at bats.
In his 315 at bats since, he's hitting .184 with 30 extra base hits.  He is reverting back to his 2011 performance.

Will he be playing in the majors next year? 

Henri Ennui Reflects

The return of Henri, the existentialist cat, who is even more depressed than back in April.

For more on Henri, this is the original post.

And now, for his current reflections:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Great Moments In International Law

Yesterday was the 84th anniversary of the Kellogg-Briand Pact which in popular parlance "outlawed war" and got its authors (the American Secretary of State and French Foreign Minister) the Nobel Peace Prize.  The 1928 Pact provided for "the renunciation of war as an instrument of foreign policy".

Along with France and the United States there were eventually about fifty signatories including the Italy, Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union.  Of course, it is thanks to this pact that Europe and the rest of the world had its long peace of the 20th century (other than WWII and some other minor hiccups).

In reality it is a reminder that nations will always pursue what they determine to be in their best interests regardless of whatever sentiments may be expressed in these meaningless international accords.

This 2011 article from the Council On Foreign Relations blog on the occasion of the 83rd anniversary provides more background.  If you read it you'll see that the "sounds good" pressures that led to the Pact have been replicated in many of the international treaty campaigns of recent years.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Monday Morning Wake Up

This will get your pulse racing.

Hundred Mile High City by Ocean Colour Scene (1997).  If you saw Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels you may remember it from the soundtrack.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Queen Of The South

"The telephone rang, and she knew she was going to die."

This is the first sentence of The Queen of the South, a 2002 novel by the Spanish writer, Arturo Perez-Reverte.  A few years ago, a friend recommended The Club Dumas by Perez-Reverte which I enjoyed and started me on a binge of reading his novels.  I've now read eleven.

The Queen of the South is his best work (most of the folks I know who've read his books agree).  The boyfriend of a young Mexican women, Teresa Mendoza, is involved in the drug trade.  Things go badly and she flees to Spain to become a new (but not completely different) person.  Her new life becomes notorious and the narrator of the novel is a journalist trying to reconstruct it.  It's one of those books where both the plot and the main character keep you equally engaged.  The Washington Post said of it:
"Full-speed ahead narrative, outsized characters, and a degree of intellectual seriousness not ordinarily associated with bestseller list fiction."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Announcing Your Presence With Authority

Another good observation from Bull Durham (almost as meaningful as "if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball".

Of course if you are going to announce your presence you want to be more successful in the delivery than Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh.

Some musical acts have done it successfully.  I'm talking about the ones where you felt the excitement upon hearing the first single or the first cut off their first album or CD from someone you'd never heard of before.  Not just a good song but something that immediately made you sit and and think - "listen up, this is something different".  You wanted to go out and tell your friends. In each case (except the last one), I heard the song before ever seeing the band or singer.

Five examples:

Purple Haze by The Jimi Hendrix Experience which I first heard on WNEW-FM (either Scott Muni or Roscoe played it).  The guitar sound unlike anything I'd ever heard  - are those actual notes he's playing? - combined with the bizarre lyrics.

Good Times, Bad Times by Led Zeppelin.  Not their best song (not even on that first album) but what a forceful way to "announce your presence".  Listen to the intro, Plant's voice kicking in and then the insane guitar break and the guitar riffs at the end.  All crammed into less than three minutes.

With A Little Help From My Friends by Joe Cocker.  His first release.  The voice overpowering and unique, converting a light-hearted Beatles pop romp into an anguished plea in 3/4 time.  Brilliant.

Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.  I first heard this on the car radio and it was electrifying -it literally sent a sensation up my spinal cord into my brain with the opening riff.  Who was this?  Where did that sound come from?  Then I saw the video.  The best song of the 1990s.  And if you really want to know what the words are check out this earlier post.

I Need More Love by Robert Randolph & The Family Band.  A more recent entry from 2005.  This was the song I used as the first post for this blog.  I happened to be skipping around the TV one day and momentarily stopped on VH1 Soul and was about to move on when this video started.  I got hooked by the opening bass riff and then the feeling was amplified when the whole band kicked in.  Next I started hearing a guitar but couldn't see a guitar player and then realized that incredible sound was from a steel pedal guitar!!   As soon as the song ended I googled these guys to find out who they were.  Then I started buying their records and finally saw them in concert - one of the best live acts you'll ever see.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Life And Fate

Big topic for a blog post, isn't it?  We'll start with the anniversary of a battle but this is really a story about a novel and its author, a man of courage.

Seventy years ago today, the Battle of Stalingrad began and remorselessly ground on until February 2, 1943.   It was the turning point of the Nazi-Soviet war of 1941-5*.  At its start the German army was in the midst of a large-scale offensive that took it to the banks of the Volga River and to the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains.  In November, the Soviets counterattacked and from then till the end of the war in May 1945 the offensive momentum remained with them (with the brief exception of the July 1943 Kursk offensive by the Nazis).

When the German offensive began in June 1942, the Soviet oil fields and not Stalingrad had been the major objective.  The city eventually became an obsession for both Hitler and Stalin because it bore Stalin's name, having been renamed from Volgograd after the triumph of the Bolsheviks in the early 1920s.

The scale and carnage of the battle are overwhelming.  During the 139 days of fighting an estimated two million soldiers and civilians were killed and wounded (during all of WWII, approximately one million Americans were killed or wounded).   There was little mercy on either side; the Germans took very few Soviet prisoners and of the 91,000 Germans who surrendered at the end only 5,000 lived to return to their homeland, most of whom were not released until eight to ten years after the end of the war.  (German prisoners)

The Battle of Stalingrad is the centerpiece of Life And Fate by Vasily Grossman (1905-64), one of the greatest novels of the 20th century    and a book that the Soviet regime thought as dangerous to its existence as The Gulag Archipelago. The story of its writing and publication is as stirring as the novel itself.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jumpin' Jive

This is the dance routine Fred Astaire called "the greatest movie musical sequence ever seen".  It stars the Nicholas Brothers (Fayard & Harold) and it's from the finale of Stormy Weather, a 1943 film.  The film was made back in the days of Hollywood segregation and features an all-black cast including Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (who co-starred in the early Shirley Temple films), Lena Horne, Dooley Wilson (the As Time Goes By piano player from Casablanca - another 1943 release), and Cab Calloway and Fats Waller playing themselves.

The first 1:30 of this clip features Cab Calloway (who also appears in the Satchel Paige post) leading his band on the tune Jumpin' Jive.  The Nicholas Brothers take it from there.  The last sequence (starting around 4:00) is astounding.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Cause Of Happiness

"That's me and I don't want to be nobody else. They know I'm there in the cause of happiness."

Louis Armstrong in 1965 explaining his approach to showmanship.  From Terry Teachout's blog

For the post on Armstrong's life and music go here.

The Expendables 2

"Doing a film like this is like having a dinosaur as a house pet - you know it's going to be extinct pretty soon, so enjoy it while it's here"
- Sly Stallone in a recent interview

The first new movie I reviewed on this blog was Monsieur Lazhar, a sensitive French Canadian film about a North African immigrant in Montreal and his new job as a teacher at an elementary school where the young children have just gone through a traumatic event.  The next new film reviewed was Bernie, an offbeat indie comedy, featuring Jack Black as an assistant funeral director in East Texas.

So it was natural that my third review would be of The Expendables 2

The sequel to, (what else?), The Expendables (which I also saw) stars Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

I'm pretty certain they came up with the plot (something about five tons of buried Soviet-era plutonium in an abandoned Albanian mine) in about ten minutes and wrote the dialogue over the course of an afternoon.  The movie makes absolutely no sense.  I enjoyed it.  These guys know what you are expecting and they deliver.

Now let's get on to the important stuff:

Most implausible plot point:  Dozens to pick from but after much deliberation it's a three way tie:
1.  After a huge fire fight in a Nepalese city in the midst of an arid plain, The Expendables escape by a zip line which ends in a jungle.
2.  Stallone crash lands a large cargo plane into the opening of a mine.  There is no explosion and everyone on board is uninjured.
3.  In a wild melee in an airport terminal amidst hundreds of panicked passengers all of the thousands of bullets fired by The Expendables miss the passengers and only hit bad guys (and they are very bad, so they deserved it).

Best cameo:  Chuck Norris, no question and believe me, I am not questioning Chuck.  Best part is that he actually uses in his dialogue a Chuck Norris fact from the Chuck Norris Facts website.  Here are my favorite Chuck Norris Facts:
  • Chuck Norris counted to infinity - twice
  • There is no theory of evolution - just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live
  • There is no chin behind Chuck Norris' beard.  There is just another fist.
  • When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he's not pushing himself up, he's pushing the Earth down.
  • Chuck Norris doesn't wear a watch.  HE decides what time it is
  • Outer space exists because it's afraid to be on the same planet with Chuck Norris.
Most amazing Chuck Norris Fact: Chuck Norris is now 72 years old.

Most difficult to understand actor:  Tie between Stallone's incomprehensible muttering and Jason Statham's accent.

Biggest muscles: Terry Crews

Best planner:  Also Terry Crews.  A very good meal planner.  You might want to hire him if you are having a banquet.

Best ability to keep head tilted without ever changing expression even when shooting:  Yu Nan.  She's the girl in the film.  They let one in.

Hardest to guess if there is any difference between the actor on and off screen:  Dolph Lundgren

Most Expendable of The Expendables: Liam Hensworth

Best sunglasses:  Jean-Claude Van Damme

Most inventive name for a bad guy:  Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme)

Smallest car with biggest guys:  Willis and Schwarzenegger in a Smart Car touring around the inside of an airport terminal spraying bullets.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sail Away

Yesterday the U.S.S. Constitution sailed under its own power for the first time since 1997 and for only the second time in more than a century.  Commissioned in 1797, it's the world's oldest active naval ship.  Here it is in Boston Harbor yesterday.

The USS Constitution sets sail Sunday across the Boston Harbor, commemorating the anniversary of her victory over a British frigate during the War of 1812. If you haven't seen the Constitution it's well worth a visit if you're in the Boston area.  When you go aboard the ship make sure to go below and then imagine 450 men as well as livestock living there for months on end.

In 1830, the Constitution was scheduled for decommissioning and scrapping.  The ship was saved when a leading Bostonian, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr  (father of the famous early 20th century Supreme Court justice) read an article about it in the paper and was moved to write a poem that was first published in Boston and then republished by papers across America eventually leading to a reversal of the decision.

Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;--
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.

Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,

Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee;--
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk

Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

Bring Back Tug Of War

As an Olympic sport.  I'm on board.  You?  Everyone would watch.  No kidding.
(1908 Olympics)

From Bill Simmons' mailbag on Grantland where The Sports Guy (SG) answers questions from his lunatic fan base.  The whole mailbag is as good as this one Q&A so go read it.  You'll also get Simmons' opinion on whether the 2012 Olympic Basketball Team could have beaten the 1992 Dream Team.  The man knows basketball.

Q: Tug of War was an Olympic sport from 1900-1920. Check it out. How have they NOT brought this back? The strategic considerations are endless — and probably meaningless. I'm pretty convinced that virtually no insight or understanding is even remotely necessary to form an opinion about Tug of War. In other words: this is perfect for sports/entertainment media. Threshold decision — do you form a national team from scratch or draw from your country's Olympic delegation, with Tug of War held just before the closing ceremonies? I favor the latter. Maybe someone like Regis could be the coach. Or you could go a different direction and have Bobby Knight stand there with his hands on his knees — face beet-red — screaming "pull! pull! pull!" over and over again and then punch Ryan Reynolds or whatever squishy celebrity gets pushed onto the team by the marketing guys. All that being said, if it were solely up to me, the choice for coach would be obvious — Martin Kove. Initially, I figured you'd need a men's, women's, and mixed categories. But really, we should just let each country decide who to put on their squad and let things ride. Rope don't lie, as Rasheed Wallace (and possible Tug of War sideline reporter?) might say. Finally, I would like to see a throwback USA-USSR match. For whatever reason, the IOC decided to dump Tug of War in 1920, just as the Bolsheviks were consolidating their grip on power in Russia, depriving the world of decades of American-Soviet matches that would have made the Cuban missile crisis look like an episode of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. At the very least, there wouldn't be any boycotting. The 1980 hockey team is a footnote if, also that year, the Americans had gone to Moscow and beat the Soviets at Tug of War — on their own commie soil. There's just no way you boycott when Tug of War is on the program. Put simply — the absence of Tug of War for the past century might very well be one of the greatest travesties in Olympic history. Easy as it may be to hang your national pride on the performance of a bunch of pre-teen gymnasts once every four years, there is nothing more fundamental to national identity as Tug of War. It is the consummate sport for a global competition in which it is still okay to make distinctions solely based on nationality. Actually, it's not okay to do this, especially if you have a Twitter account. Which makes Tug of War all the more important. I know the chances of this email seeing the light of day are as slim as Tug of War ever making it back to the Olympics. But if there is any place where futile, mildly interesting, and extraordinarily dorky bouts of activism can surface briefly before being buried beneath a 5,000-word dissection of the last episode of Downton Abbey, it's Grantland. Tug of War in 2016.
— Scott Stone, Washington, D.C.

SG: I don't know if that was the greatest Mailbag question of all time, but it's certainly on the short list. Anyone growing up in the 1970s remembers those epic tug-of-war battles that concluded both The Superstars and Battle of the Network Stars — in both cases, wild horses couldn't have dragged me away from the TV when they were happening.
Here's how I think it could work: On the night of the Closing Ceremony, the two countries ranked no. 1 and no. 2 for total medals have a tug-of-war showdown. Ten people on each team — five male, five female — that have to come from 10 different sports/events. In other words, you couldn't stack your team with three weight lifters or whatever. Oh, and everyone participating in the tug-of-war HAD to have won gold medals. And there's a weight limit per team — you can't exceed, say, 2,000 pounds for your 10 athletes. So let's say our team ended up being Kevin Love, Jordan Burroughs, Ryan Lochte, Ashton Eaton, David Boudia, Missy Franklin, Allyson Felix, Misty May-Treanor, Candace Parker and team captain Abby "I'm a total badass and there's no way we're losing this" Wambach. And we were battling 10 Chinese gold medalists for the tug-of-war gold. Um … you'd turn the channel during this? Scott Stone, you're an American hero.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


We spent last week in Maine on Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park, staying at our usual rental in Somesville in the middle of the island.   We still love going up there after 30 years.

The Island has the only mountain range on the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. as well as the only fjord on the East Coast (Somes Sound, the fingerlike intrusion into the center of the island).

You can see a long way from some of the mountains.

Mount Desert has a lot of rocks.  Hard rocks - that's why the glaciers didn't wear 'em down.
The village of Seal Harbor with the fog bank coming in.

Our favorite place to eat.  The operator of Keenan's Kitchen used to own a restaurant in Bass Harbor, closed it and then left for a few years.  He came back last summer with this truck.  Specializes in Cajun and BBQ.  Have some of the shrimp & sausage gumbo (mine also had lobster thrown into it). You can find him on the pullover about 1 mile beyond the turnout for Bass Harbor and just before the turnoff for Bernard (there's only one road in the area so you can't miss it).

There are smaller islands just off of Mount Desert.  This is from the dock on Great Cranberry as we were waiting for the mail boat to take us back to Mount Desert (you can see the tallest peaks, Cadillac (to the right) and Sargeant (in the center).   And below is looking back from the dock up Great Cranberry's main street giving you a glimpse of the stir of daily activity.
Bar Harbor is the biggest and busiest town on the island.  I'll spare you the downtown crowds and instead show you this deceptively tranquil picture looking from the harbor side park onto the harbor.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Through The Universe

Travel about 1.3 billion light years and through 400,000 galaxies (each point of light) in about two minutes.  Then think about it and you.  The relative clustering and spatial relationships of the galaxies are accurately portrayed. Done by Miguel Aragon of Johns Hopkins University with Mark Subbarao of the Adler Planetarium and Alex Szalay of Johns Hopkins via Open Culture and NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Did You See The Frontpage NY Times Story on Jon Corzine?

Obama Justice Department Refuses to Charge Large Campaign Donor; Questions Raised About Political Influence

"In a controversial decision which has already raised questions about possible White House political influence, the Justice Department announced today it would not pursue criminal charges against Jon Corzine.  Corzine, a major Obama contributor in 2008 and a contribution "mega-bundler" in this year's campaign, continues to claim he has no knowledge of what happened to the missing $1 billion in MF Global customer funds.  The announcement has already prompted concerns from government ethics public interest groups regarding the Justice Department's handling of a case involving a prominent and wealthy Wall St. supporter of the President, about whom Vice-President Biden said "when we wanted to know how to fix the economy the first person we called was Jon Corzine, and we followed his advice".

Oh, sorry, I just woke up from a dream in which President Obama was a Republican. 

Let me look around - ah, here's the actual NY Times story; took awhile to find as it was in the business section

No Criminal Case Is Likely in Loss at MF Global

A criminal investigation into the collapse of the brokerage firm MF Global and the disappearance of about $1 billion in customer money is now heading into its final stage without charges expected against any top executives.
After 10 months of stitching together evidence on the firm’s demise, criminal investigators are concluding that chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the money to disappear, according to people involved in the case.
The hurdles to building a criminal case were always high with MF Global, which filed for bankruptcy in October after a huge bet on European debt unnerved the market. But a lack of charges in the largest Wall Street blowup since 2008 is likely to fuel frustration with the government’s struggle to charge financial executives. Just a few individuals — none of them top Wall Street players — have been prosecuted for the risky acts that led to recent failures and billions of dollars in losses.

I'm certainly glad they went out of their way to explain just how hard it was to build a criminal case.  They did have one mention of party affiliation further down in the article.  No mention of fund raising or the person in the White House at all.  I'm sure it's in that spirit of fair play where they don't want to unduly influence an ongoing political campaign.  You can read the whole article here.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Yesterday's One Hit Wonders (1964-68) post is rocketing up the charts and just about to overtake Road Trip as the #1 most-read post on this blog.  My thanks to the regular readers, the folks more recently visiting via Assistant Village Idiot and other new readers. I appreciate your taking the time to stop by.

For the newer readers if you want to poke around a bit more here are links to the 10 most popular posts after Road Trip (or click on one of the Labels at the bottom of each post to see posts on similar topics).

All Possess Alike Liberty Of Conscience
Take Me Out Of The Ballgame
Don't Look Back
Let's Get Started
Homer Simpson's Paradox
Derek Jeter's Diary
They Came Dancing Across The Water
I'm Shipping Up To Boston
The Last Full Measure
Tear Down This Wall

Thursday, August 16, 2012

One-Hit Wonders Of The 1960s

Last week I proposed my nominee for the best one-hit wonder ever.  Now we'll go back to a four year period spanning the period from the arrival of the Beatles in America (February 1964) to the spring of 1968 which was a gold mine for one-hit wonders.

The Rules

  • I have to like the song.  There are a lot of one-hit wonders which I don't care for so you won't see songs like Keep On Dancin' by The Gentrys, Five O'Clock World by The Vogues or Psychotic Reaction by Count Five.
  • Excludes bands or artists with successful album careers who happened to only have one hit single.
  • In some cases I've included artists who had two minor hits (like The Merry Go Round) or one huge hit and a minor hit (like Percy Sledge).
  • If you don't like the rules, too bad.  It's my blog.
Away we go (in rough chronological order):

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Managing The Boss

Things Have Changed Management Consulting LLC brings you the fourth in our series on effective management techniques.  Earlier parts of the series can be found here, here and here.

Sometimes a good boss can get a bit out of hand.  What's the best way to handle it if you are a subordinate?  Simple, go to their spouse and ask them to intervene!

This blog is a great admirer of Winston Churchill but he could be a bit difficult to work for sometimes.  Another way to put it is that he drove a lot of people absolutely crazy and they found working for him exhausting (read the memoirs of British cabinet officers and members of his military staff for plenty of evidence of this).  After ascending to the Prime Ministership on May 10, 1940, Winston was under a lot of pressure what with the fall of France, getting the British army out of Dunkirk, the evacuation of Norway and all that other nasty war stuff which wasn't going very well and his behavior deteriorated under the stress.

Apparently some of his staff went to his wife, Clementine, the one person he would occasionally listen to, and she wrote him this missive in late June of 1940.  It turns out she was a very engaging writer.  Take a read and then you can utilize this technique the next time you have an opportunity! 

From Letters of Note:
10 Downing Street,

June 27, 1940

My Darling,

I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know.

One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me & told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough sarcastic & overbearing manner — It seems your Private Secretaries have agreed to behave like school boys & 'take what's coming to them' & then escape out of your presence shrugging their shoulders — Higher up, if an idea is suggested (say at a conference) you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming. I was astonished & upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with & under you, loving you — I said this & I was told 'No doubt it's the strain' —

My Darling Winston — I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not so kind as you used to be.

It is for you to give the Orders & if they are bungled — except for the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury & the Speaker, you can sack anyone & everyone — Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm. You used to quote:— 'On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme' [Trans: One can reign over hearts only by keeping one's composure]— I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love as well as admire and respect you —

Besides you won't get the best results by irascibility & rudeness. They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality — (Rebellion in War time being out of the question!)

Please forgive your loving devoted & watchful

I wrote this at Chequers last Sunday, tore it up, but here it is now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Johnny Pesky came East to join the Red Sox in the spring of 1942.  He stayed in Boston until he passed away yesterday just shy of his 93rd birthday.  With the death of Ted Williams in 2002, Johnny became the living symbol of Sox history.  For decades before, his gregarious personality had made him loved in Boston.

This April, during the 100th anniversary celebration at Fenway Park, the most touching moment (of many such moments) came at the end when Johnny and his teammate Bobby Doerr (94 years old) were wheeled out on the field by Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield, accompanied by David Ortiz (the symbol of the 21st century Red Sox).Johnny Pesky

Here's a wonderful appreciation of Johnny by Gordon Edes at

"He was born -- Sept. 27, 1919 -- on the day Babe Ruth played his last game in a Boston Red Sox uniform. He was teammates with Ted Williams, managed Yaz and Tony C., sparred with Dick Stuart, shared a microphone with Ned Martin, coached Jim Rice and Fred Lynn, hit fungoes to Nomar, wept tears of joy with Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling, and with Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr this past April was an honored guest at the 100th anniversary of Fenway, escorted to the center of the diamond by Jason Varitek and David Ortiz.

More than anybody else, Johnny Pesky embodied the Red Sox. More than anybody else, Johnny Pesky loved the Red Sox. More than anybody else, Johnny Pesky shared that love with anyone who ever asked for a picture, an autograph, a smile, a story. And often, you didn't even have to ask."

Read the whole article to get a better appreciation of the man.

(UPDATED) Joe Posnanski weighs in

"Nobody who ever played or coached or watched baseball loved it more than Johnny Pesky. And you want to be around that kind of love. I think this is always true; life is more thrilling when you are around people who love something, whether it’s Mozart or Nine Inch Nails, modern art or pro wrestling, Greek mythology or baseball."

We will always have the Pesky Pole in Fenway.  Unofficially named in 1950, a few years ago the Red Sox officially designated the right field foul pole in Johnny's honor.

With Johnny's passing, Bobby Doerr is now the last survivor of the four friends from the 40s Red Sox; Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny and Bobby.  UPDATED:  Their 60 year friendship was the subject of David Halberstam's book, The Teammates (2004).

Do You Like To Take A Yo-Yo For A Ride?

Sign In Stranger from Steely Dan.

A tasty, and somewhat delirious, blend of guitar and piano riffs and flourishes.  I think they came up with those first and then decided to write some random lyrics around them.  Have you heard about the boom on Mizar Five?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Here Come Two Words For You

Caught part of Midnight Run (1988) on cable recently and it reminded me how much I enjoyed it when it saw it years ago.  It's one of the roughly 700 Hollywood "buddy movies" done in the 1980s.

What makes it stand out from most of those films is the inspired casting of Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin as the odd buddies.  DeNiro is all about tension and anger; as Grodin says to him in the film "you have two forms of expression, silence and rage".  In contrast, Grodin is one of the best underreacting actors ever.  He does most of his "acting" with his eyes - lots of the time nothing else is moving.

The plot's simple.  DeNiro is a down on his luck ex-cop and bounty hunter who is sent to find the accountant (Grodin) who stole the mob's money and has now jumped bail.

The supporting cast is also excellent: Dennis Farina as the mob boss (a role he's nailed in many films), Yaphet Kotto as the somewhat bemused FBI guy,  John Ashton as a rival bounty hunter (you know him from the Beverly Hills Cop movies) and Joe Pantoliano as the bail bondsman (a role that mostly calls for yelling into the telephone). Lots of funny dialogue throughout the film.

You can find out where the title for this post comes from by watching this short clip all the way to the end.

And here's the trailer for the film:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Misremembering History Part III

Rather than the often repeated adage that the victors write the history of an event, the story of anything is actually determined by the unswerving adoption of one version of it, and the telling of that version by a determined cadre of writers.  In time, the version with the most persistent adherents becomes the "truth".
- David & Jeanne Heidler in Henry Clay: The Essential American (2010)

Part 1 of this series showed how the same event can be misremembered in different (and erroneous ways).  In Part 2 I took my personal experience with seeing Inherit The Wind as a child and how it influenced my view of the events upon which it was supposedly based.

In Part III, we'll do some exploration of the actual event upon which Inherit The Wind was based in order to rescue the historical figures from the caricatures they became in the play and to see the pitfalls in trying to neatly cast past events into today's political context.  History is actually much more complex and interesting when we don't try to shoehorn it into our preconceived categories.  As mentioned in the last post, many of the best insight on this history can be found in Edward Larson's 1997 book, Summer For The Gods.

Inherit The Wind was based on the Scopes "Monkey" Trial which took place in Dayton, Tennessee in July  of 1925.  The play and books by influential historians such as Richard Hofstadter (who has done great damage to generations of college students) portray the story as angry, narrow-minded Fundamentalist bigots against the forces of liberal reason and tolerance.  I happen to think teaching evolutionary theory is a good idea but that portrayal is a gross distortion of reality and does a particular disservice to the motivations of Williams Jennings Bryan.

The Background
During the 1920s there were efforts in many states to pass laws forbidding the teaching of evolutionary theory in public schools.   Two things triggered this.  First, arguments between some religious denominations and Darwinists had been heating up over the past two decades.  There is still controversy over who started it, but there were advocates in both the scientific/academic and religious communities who were looking for a fight.  Second, public high schools (the battleground for the teaching of evolution) were rapidly expanding.  In 1890 there were fewer than 200,000 students nationwide in public high schools.  By 1920 there were nearly two million.  Tennessee, which had fewer than 10,000 high school students in 1910, had more than 50,000 in 1920.  What these students were to be taught was becoming a more pressing issue.

Legislative efforts were successful in a small number of states including Tennessee which passed its law in early 1925.  It was part of a larger package of laws which constituted a massive education reform bill that laid the foundation for state supported public schools and which were signed into law by the progressive Gov. Peay.  Violation of the ban on teaching evolution carried a $100 fine but no jail time.  William Jennings Bryan had lobbied against having any fine attached to violating the provision on the teaching of evolution.  No one at the time expected it to be a statute under which prosecutions would occur. 

However, the American Civil Liberties Union, looking for a test case, placed an ad in Tennessee papers offering to defend anyone prosecuted under the Act.  The people of Dayton decided to take them up on it.  While some were actively interested in challenging the law, many others saw it as a good opportunity to create publicity and generate business for the town.  Rather than the contentious, divided populace portrayed in the play, the time of the actual trial presented a festive atmosphere according to reporters like HL Mencken. The key players in Dayton recruited a young, part time schoolteacher named John Scopes to be the defendant and agreed to pay any penalty imposed on him.(John Scopes)

Dayton was a small town in East Tennessee and part of the only Republican enclave in the Deep South.  Bryan won every southern state in each of his three presidential runs but never carried Rhea County in which Dayton was located.  (Dayton in 1925)  The town was also heavily Methodist in a state dominated by Baptists. (As a side note, the Baptist Convention meeting in Memphis just before the trial refused to add an antievolution plank to the denomination's statement of faith).

Once the ACLU came into the case, William Jennings Bryan, the country's leading opponent of the teaching of evolution agreed to become part of the prosecution's team.  And through some very complicated machinations, Clarence Darrow, the most famous criminal defense lawyer in the U.S., joined the defense team.  When this happened the trial became the biggest story in the country and was also followed heavily in Europe. (Darrow and Bryan) A deluge of reporters descended on Dayton.

Why Evolution?  Why Bryan?

In 1925, 65 year old William Jennings Bryan was one of the best known people in America.  He had run unsuccessfully three times as the Democratic party's presidential candidate (1896, 1904, 1908).  A remarkable orator (his "Cross of Gold" speech at the 1896 convention secured him the nomination) he is considered the first Populist to run for President.  Under Woodrow Wilson, he became Secretary of State, resigning in 1915 when, as a pacifist, he became convinced Wilson was maneuvering the country into entering the First World War.

As a Populist, Bryan campaigned successfully in support of four constitutional amendments; Direct election of senators, the Federal income tax, Women's Suffrage and Prohibition.  Doesn't sound like a guy who fits the Inherit The Wind template. So, why in the 1920s did he undertake leadership of the crusade against the teaching of Darwinism and why did he think it was consistent with his other views?

The first, and probably subsidiary reason, was Bryan's belief in "popular sovereignty".  Bryan had always campaigned against big business and the banks and on behalf of the common people. When the Supreme Court overturned some of the early progressive labor laws, Bryan supported (unsuccessful) legislation to limit judicial review.  He supported the Progressive move towards the use of popular referendums.  It was his strong belief that the people were entitled to what they wanted and he saw the evolution issue in the same way.  According to Bryan:

"It is no infringement on their freedom of conscience or freedom of speech to say that, while as individuals they are at liberty to think as they please and say what they like, they have no right to demand pay for teaching that which parents and the taxpayer do not want taught"

The deeper reason was Bryan's concerns about the implications of Darwinism.  Bryan was a committed Christian, pacifist and believer in the dignity of every human being.  As a matter of religious faith he rejected evolutionary theory but beyond that he believed Darwinism and its doctrine of "survival of the fittest" threatened the dignity and perhaps even the very existence of the weakest of the human flock.  Bryan saw a direct connection between the excesses of capitalism and militarism which he had denounced throughout his career and Darwinism and, as early as 1904, had called it "the merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak".

One event and one trend since those 1904 remarks had reinforced Bryan's concern.  The event was the First World War.  Watching this slaughter appalled Bryan (and many others).  He saw German militarism as Darwinian selection in action and read the words of Vernon Kellogg in his book Headquarters Nights recounting his discussions with German and concluding that "Natural selection based on violent and fatal competitive struggle is the gospel of the German intellectuals".  Bryan saw the modernist wing of the Progressives, led by Woodrow Wilson willing to go down this same road.

It is striking to see how much Darwinism was "in the air" of politics at the time.  Below are excerpts from Woodrow Wilson's key 1912 campaign speech "What is Progress?" which espouses a Darwinian approach to American government:

"Now, it came to me, as this interesting man talked, that the Constitution of the United States had been made under the dominion of the Newtonian Theory. You have only to read the papers of the The Federalist to see that fact written on every page. They speak of the "checks and balances" of the Constitution, and use to express their idea the simile of the organization of the universe, and particularly of the solar system,—how by the attraction of gravitation the various parts are held in their orbits; and then they proceed to represent Congress, the Judiciary, and the President as a sort of imitation of the solar system. . . .

Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop. 

All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when "development" "evolution," is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine."
The trend provided an even stronger affirmation of Bryan's fears about Darwinism.  It was the growth of the new science of eugenics.  What was eugenics?  Well, the high school textbook used by John Scopes was A Civic Biology by George William Hunter.  In his textbook, Hunter defined eugenics as "the science of improving the human race by better heredity".  According to A Civic Biology:

"If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading . . . Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibility of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race"
The prior edition of Hunter's textbook contained language specifically citing biological deficiencies of African races.

Eugenics had many scientist adherents in the United States and in England who believed that the human race could be made better via selective breeding so we could have progressively better people to create a more progressive and scientific world.  One of those leading scientists, AE Wiggam, expressed the connection between the teaching of evolution and eugenics:

"until we can convince the common man of the fact of evolution . . . I fear we cannot convince him of the profound ethical and religious significance of the thing we call eugenics"

By 1935, more than 30 states had laws mandating sexual segregation and sterilization of persons regarded as eugenically unfit.  The most notorious expression of support for eugenics was in 1927 by the leading Social Darwinist on the Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, who in his opinion for the Court upholding Oklahoma's sterilization law wrote "three generations of imbeciles is enough".  The only dissenting vote was cast by Pierce Butler, the lone Catholic on the Court.  However, within a few years WWII and the revulsion against Nazi law and experimentation would put an end to the eugenics movement (though a revival of eugenics under another name is conceivable with modern advances in biology and genetics).

Thus the 1920s saw the heyday of both the eugenics movement and the rise of antievolutionary forces which is what led to Dayton in 1925.   Bryan expressed his pithy view when commenting on the latest discovery of purported early human remains:

"Men who would not cross the street to save a soul have traveled across the world in search of skeletons".
Even earlier than eugenics, the antievolutionary legislative struggle would peak as every additional state in which they were proposed rejected the bills in the late 1920s.

Final Notes On The Trial And Its Aftermath

The ACLU and Darrow differed on trial strategy.  The ACLU wanted to approach it as a free speech case but that was not Darrow's interest.  As a militant atheist who did not believe in free will, he wanted to use the trial as an opportunity to directly assault Christianity and its beliefs about the creation of the universe and of the human race.  There was a great deal of discomfort about this by ACLU supporters but through a complicated series of events, Darrow seized control of the trial strategy and was cleverly lable to lure Bryan to the stand where he cross-examined him viciously on Biblical inconsistencies (by the way, you'd want Clarence Darrow defending you if you were on trial) .

This prompted a note to the ACLU from a Congregational Church official who supported the challenge:

"May I express the earnest opinion that not five percent of the ministers in this liberal denomination have any sympathy with Mr Darrow's conduct of the case"

and from Edwin Mims of Vanderbilt University, another supporter of the ACLU:

"When Clarence Darrow is put forth as the champion of the forces of enlightenment to fight the battle for scientific knowledge, one feels almost persuaded to become a Fundamentalist."

The jury quickly returned a verdict finding Scopes guilty.  Bryan offered to pay the $100 fine.  The local school board offered to renew his contract for another year but Scopes decided to go to graduate school, attending the University of Chicago and becoming a petroleum engineer.

Five days after the end of the trial, William Jennings Bryan passed away while taking his afternoon nap.(Bryan funeral services)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

It Was Not Your Fault, But Mine

Sometimes I like guessing what came first in a song - words or music?  This one was easy.  These guys had to have come up with the lyrics for the chorus first and then had to write a couple of verses and a bridge to make it a song.  (Warning: NSFW)

Little Lion Man by Mumford And Sons (2009).  I bet you figured out they're British.  Their first album, which contains this track, hit #2 in the UK and US and was #1 in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.  This video has 33 million views on YouTube.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pueblo Revolt

August 10, 1680 was the start of a little known episode which became the most successful American Indian revolt against European settlers in what is now the United States.  It took place in what is now the State of New Mexico.

Nuevo Mexico was founded as a province of New Spain in 1598 with its capital at Santa Fe, years before the English settlements at Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620). In the 1520s Cortez had conquered the Aztec empire based in Mexico City and by the 1540s Coronado was leading an expedition to the Southwest and Great Plains searching for the mythical cities of gold.  It was the further search for gold that brought the Spanish to the Rio Grand valley at the end of the century.  Nuevo Mexico became an isolated outpost for the Europeans with several hundred miles separating its southernmost settlement from the northernmost towns in the rest of New Spain.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Best One-Hit Wonder?

I think it's 867-5309/Jenny by Tommy Tutone, a hit in 1982.


Good guitar riffs?  Check 
Catchy melodic hooks?  Check
Memorable lyrics?  Let me simply say this:  "867-5309", or "For a good time call" or "For the price of a dime I can always turn to you" or "I tried my imagination but I was disturbed"
Addresses issues of major societal importance?  Not so much, except perhaps for a select age and gender demographic.

The number has its own entry in Wikipedia and these are some of the recent sightings so you can see the song has staying power (hey, it's Wikipedia so we know its accurate, right?):

  • In 2003, Southwest Junior High School had to change the school phone number due to repetitive calls asking for Jenny. This was in area code 704.
  • Brown University, which in 2002 owned the number in the 401 area code, transferred the number to Gem Plumbing & Heating,[8] a local business in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Gem began using the number in advertising campaigns both in Rhode Island and in eastern Massachusetts (area code 617). Gem trademarked the number in 2005.
  • In 2004, Weehawken, New Jersey resident Spencer Potter picked up the number for free after discovering to his surprise that it was available in the 201 area code, hoping it would improve his DJ business. Unable to handle the overwhelming volume of calls, he sought to sell the number on eBay in February 2009. Although bids reached $1 million, his inability to confirm the identity of the bidders led him to sell it privately to Retro Fitness, a gym franchise with a location in Secaucus, New Jersey that felt the 1980s origin of the number tied in perfectly with their business's retro theme.[4]
Common misconception - Tommy Tutone is NOT the name of the lead singer, it's the name of the band.  The lead singer's name is Tommy Heath.

This is Tommy and the gang in one of those typical really bad early 80s music videos.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Close Shave

This may be the best commercial ever.

I should note that the safety practices in the workplace may need to be improved.

This is the actual website for the business

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Don't Look Back

On this day in 1956, 57,000* people crowded into the Orange Bowl in Miami to watch a AAA minor-league baseball game between the Miami Marlins and Columbus (Ohio) Jets.  It was the largest crowd* in minor-league history.  Why were they there?  To see fifty year old Satchel Paige pitch.  He won 6-2, pitching into the 8th inning and hitting a three-run double.

But why Satchel Paige?

Satchel Paige's story encompasses the story of race in America in the 20th century.  A man excluded from major league baseball during the prime of his career became in his later years a much beloved figure, a continuing marvel to ball fans and an inspiration to the older demographic.

As MB Roberts noted on
"If more is better, then Satchel Paige was the best.
He threw more pitches for more fans in more places for more seasons than anyone else did. Black or white. Then or now.

Satchel Paige
Satchel Paige amazed barnstorming white major leaguers with his array of pitches.
He threw mostly strikes. He was charismatic. And like the pink, drum-banging bunny who came along later, he just kept going and going and going."
Satchel was born in 1906 (though he liked to play games with reporters about his birth date) and became a star pitcher in the Negro League in the 1920s and 1930s with the Kansas City Monarchs.  Major league baseball had been segregated since 1887 when Cap Anson, the star player and manager of the Chicago White Sox, made it clear he would not allow his team to take the field to play any team with black players.  Despite some efforts over the years by people like John McGraw (manager of the New York Giants) the color bar remained in place.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Curiosity Travels "More Than 350 Miles" To Land On Mars

Uh . . the news anchor was a little bit off - Curiosity actually traveled more than 350 million miles to land on Mars early this morning.  Here's the story of the landing and what happens next:

No wonder the folks in the control room at NASA were so excited.  The task of landing the Rover was extremely complex and if any one operation in a long chain of actions had gone wrong it would not have succeeded.  It's way beyond my comprehension to understand those complexities but it is pretty cool.

This is my recent post on the mission which includes a video explaining the technical challenges.

More Nudging

In an April post I reviewed Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein  (it's short so I've just copied it below).

This is an abstract of a recent article in The Review of Austrian Economics by Niclas Berggren which specifically references Nudge.  I believe the portions I've highlighted below support the basic premise of my review.  It's about who gets to make the decisions.  Cass Sunstein has just announced he is leaving his role as White House Regulatory Czar to return to Harvard Law School.   By the way, within the confines of his role in the Administration he has done a decent job, certainly compared to many of the possible alternatives.


This study analyzes leading research in behavioral economics to see whether it contains advocacy of paternalism and whether it addresses the potential cognitive limitations and biases of the policymakers who are going to implement paternalist policies. The findings reveal that 20.7% of the studied articles in behavioral economics propose paternalist policy action and that 95.5% of these do not contain any analysis of the cognitive ability of policymakers. This suggests that behavioral political economy, in which the analytical tools of behavioral economics are applied to political decision-makers as well, would offer a useful extension of the research program. Such an extension could be related to the concept of robust political economy, according to which the case for paternalism should be subjected to “worst-case” assumptions, such as policymakers being less than fully rational.

Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink

Nudge (2009) by Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein

Problem Statement:  We, The People, are too stupid to know what's best for us.

Premise:  Trendy, but sketchy, social science can be used to develop policies of "libertarian paternalism" to make sure We, The Stupid People, make the right choices.

Action Plan:  Apply these techniques via government run by the tenured liberal arts faculty from elite colleges (they're the only ones smart enough know what those "right" choices are) who can teach your children well and send tuition bills to the parents when they run low on bucks.  Yeah, what could go wrong with that?

Know what I mean?  Say no more.

Monday Morning Wake Up Call

From the Glasgow band, The Fratellis (2006)

Sunday, August 5, 2012


This week marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Milton Friedman.  There were plenty of articles marking the date and I wasn't going to post anything but then ran across this appreciation on National Review Online by Kevin Williamson which captured what I enjoyed about Friedman's approach (and, in passing, what I disliked about Ayn Rand).

When reading Williamson's piece, excerpted below (you can find the whole thing here), it oddly enough reminded me of Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth Of Nations, even though Smith would not have thought of himself as a libertarian (for that matter, I don't consider myself one either).  Smith considered himself to be a moral philosopher, not an economist.  In fact, the book he wrote before Nations was The Theory of Moral Sentiments.  As P.J. O'Rourke noted in his book on Smith:

"Adam Smith did not think we are innately good any more than he thought we are innately rich. But he thought we are endowed with the imaginative capacity to be both, if we're free to make the necessary efforts."

That struck me as a Friedman like sentiment.  Of course, O'Rourke also noted that Smith's books fit in the category of "Works Which Let's Admit You'll Never Read The Whole Of".

Smith and Friedman both remind us that the aggregate individual decisions of a free people are actually the most powerful and efficient force for collective action in any society.  As always, it is about who makes the decisions.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

I Can Identify With This

Which is what worries me.
From Assistant Village Idiot:


I am rereading "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" and find I am physically unable to read it to myself, however hard I try.  I cannot even merely mouth the words but must at minimum whisper dramatically, playing the scene.

And I must be Guildenstern.

And I must reread - respeak - sections that did not go as well as hoped, until I have the right sound.

My oldest son, when he was eight, nine, ten years old,  used to ask who I was talking to when we were driving in the car.  I'm accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature, Jonathan...I'm arguing with your mother about vacations - I'm winning this time...I am preaching sermon to a group of fundamentalists who will never ask me to speak to them...

He stopped asking, after awhile.  I can't imagine this is likely to improve as I age.  It seems to be getting worse. 

For those not familiar with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, it's an early play by Tom Stoppard.  It's the Hamlet story told from the viewpoint of two minor characters in Shakespeare's play and it turns outs Hamlet's motivations can be even more puzzling if you are IN the play rather than just watching it. I saw the play on Broadway and it was hilarious.  Wonder how it will hold up on a reread today?

Friday, August 3, 2012

This Is The End (Of Reading Rainbow)

Channeling Jim Morrison, this is Jimmy Fallon & Co doing a spot-on imitation of The Doors.

As long as we're in Jimmy Fallonland, here he is with The Roots and Carly Rae Jepsen doing a version of her (very) annoyingly catchy tune Call Me Maybe, using an array of unusual instruments.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

On The Road

Early morning, August 1972.  Chunky, Rags and I have just started our cross-country road trip.  As we pass the Darien Service Area on the Connecticut Turnpike this song is playing.  Chunky and I miss our friend.