Sunday, September 30, 2012


We're talking about real dialogue not Modern English.

Dennis Lehane had a column in the Journal last week about writing great dialogue.  An excerpt:

"Near the end of the film "The Wild Bunch," the aging outlaw Pike Bishop says only, "Let's go," to impel himself and three other men to head off to certain death (and kill hundreds of other men while they're at it). Legend has it that the director Sam Peckinpah and screenwriter Walon Green were ordered by the studio to include a scene in which Pike explains the details of their final, doomed gambit. Under protest, Green wrote the scene and Peckinpah shot it, and then (so the rumor goes) overexposed the film so that Warner Brothers was forced to go with the original version.
Richard Yates said that great dialogue was as much about what wasn't said as what was. Which is to say, as in most things literary, less = more."

I can still picture Pike Bishop (played by William Holden) saying that line and was going to embed the scene in this post.  But if I did all you'd hear is that line followed by a lot of shooting and blood flowing and it wouldn't make sense.  The line worked perfectly because of everything that came before in the movie. You knew exactly why he said "Let's go" and what it meant without any further explanation.

Lehane also cites Richard Price's Clockers (a terrific book) for its "pitch-perfect" dialogue.  Lehane's not a slouch in the dialogue department either.  I prefer his earlier Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro novels like Gone, Baby, Gone (Ben Affleck directed an outstanding version of it), Sacred and A Drink Before the War to some of his later books.  Shutter Island was an incredible book but it's a pretty shattering read - I did it once, never again.

A couple of other fine exemplars of dialogue writing are George V Higgins (who merits his own post) and Elmore Leonard (see my review of Raylan).  Incidentally, the adaption of Leonard's stories about Raylan Givens, a deputy US Marshall working in Harlan County, Kentucky, is one of the best current series on TV - Justified.  I hadn't seen the show but Barb is a fan and persuaded me to watch three seasons worth on a Kindle Fire this summer and now I can't wait for the fourth season beginning next January.  The characters, particularly Timothy Olyphant who plays Raylan, look and talk like they stepped out of a Leonard novel.   If you do decide to watch it you should start at the beginning as the story builds throughout.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Not sure I've got anything to add (or should add) to this.  Honeysuckle Rose by Anita O'Day, written by Fats Waller.

Friday, September 28, 2012

They Told Me . . .

. . . that if I voted for John McCain, we'd have an idiot as vice-president . . . and they were right! (via Instapundit)

Star Wars Outtakes

Actually, this is a 1964 photo taken in the Nevada desert.  Pictured are, from left to right, astronauts Frank Borman, Neil Armstrong, John Young and Deke Slayton.  They are modeling parachute silks and look like the inspiration for the Jedi Knights.

  Frank Borman was the commander of the Apollo 8 mission which was the first to orbit the moon and transmitted back the dramatic photos of the Earth.

You all know Neil Armstrong.

John Young was the first person to make six spaceflights, including commanding a Gemini mission, landing on the moon during the Apollo program and piloting the first Space Shuttle flight.

Deke Slayton was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts (of "The Right Stuff "fame) but was grounded in 1962 by a heart murmur.  He went on to become NASA's Director of Flight Crew Operations, selecting the crews for each mission, including the first landing on the moon.  He was finally cleared for space operations and in 1975 was the docking module pilot for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

The Reach Of Rome

For all of you who've been wondering "were there large Roman villas in the Cilicia region of Turkey?" you now have your answer!  An archaeological team from the University of Nebraska has uncovered a huge (1600 square feet) mosaic in southeastern Turkey (near the Syrian border).  It is nearly 2,000 years old, fronting what was an open-air pool and is the largest Roman mosaic ever discovered in the region. The area had been considered a backwater within the Roman Empire so the discovery of the mosaic and the associated building site have illuminated the extent to which Roman influence penetrated further than previously thought.  This is consistent with other recent archaeological and demographic studies of the Roman period.  At its peak, the Empire covered all or most of 33 modern countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe and the extent of prosperity, urbanization, economic interaction and common culture appears to have been much greater than realized by earlier historians.  Newer population studies have shown a much larger density of population across the Empire.  For instance, in Britain, the population reached a peak in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD that it would not match again until more than 1,000 years later.

You can read more on the mosaic here and see more about it in this video:

Previous posts on Rome can be found at:
In Case You Were Wondering
When In Rome
Rome Reborn

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Modern English

Dialogue  =  The process by which a group is instructed as to what is permissible for it to say and think about a particular topic

Ideologue  =  An idealist with whose ideals you disagree

Origins Of The Minutemen

Sheriff Andy Taylor with the Mayberry version of how the American Revolution started.  I learn something new every day!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Most of the newer pop singers don't hold much of an appeal for me - although I do like a couple of Rihanna tunes (see Songs For The Aged for instance).

Then I heard this striking song by Shakira.  Amazing contralto voice (among other attributes).  Since I don't understand much Spanish I don't have a clue about what the song is about and don't want to know.  Weird video though - what's with the wings?

If you want to see a much better Shakira video take a look at Hips Don't Lie.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Forever Free Part 3: A Letter From Mr Jourdon Anderson

(Last of a three part series)

Since we've been talking about the Emancipation let's look at the perspective of a former slave.  We have a unique opportunity to do so thanks to Jourdon Anderson, a freed slave, and to Letters Of Note which brought this to our attention.

According to Letters:

"In August of 1865, a Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee, wrote to his former slave, Jourdon Anderson, and requested that he come back to work on his farm. Jourdon — who, since being emancipated, had moved to Ohio, found paid work, and was now supporting his family — responded spectacularly by way of the letter seen below (a letter which, according to newspapers at the time, he dictated)."

The letter is well worth reading in full - it ends with one of the best last lines ever.

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can.  I have often felt uneasy about you.  I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house.  I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable.  Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living.  It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee.  Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this.  I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me.  I am doing tolerably well here.  I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well.  The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher.  They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly.  We are kindly treated.  Sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee.  The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson.  Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master.  Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville.  Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you.  This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future.  I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years.  At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars.  Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to.   Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio.  If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future.  We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense.  Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows.  Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls.  You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine.  I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters.  You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood.  The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.
Jordan Anderson
 For more on Jourdon Anderson see this article from The Daily Mail

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Forever Free Part 2: Why?

(Part Two of a Three Part Series)

The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves who were at the time beyond the reach of Union arms.  So what was the role of slavery as a cause of the Civil War?  Some have argued that the real cause was state's rights, tariffs, or Northern economic domination and aggression.  They quote (accurately) numerous statements by President Lincoln, and other Northerners, that the war was about Union, not slavery.  On the other hand, as Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural:

These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest.  All knew that this interest was somehow, the cause of the war.
It's important to distinguish between the cause of the war and the goals for which the parties fought in the war because they take you down different paths.  Understanding these differences helps to make sense not just about the war, but also about the course of Reconstruction.

I think it clear that the cause of the civil war was slavery.  There was no economic interest or tariff issue, in and of itself, that would have led the Southern states to secede.  When South Carolina provoked the nullification crisis over tariffs in the early 1830s, no other Southern state joined it (it was South Carolina's fiery leadership in the tariff and slavery disputes that led James Petigru, a South Carolinian opponent of secession, to remark "South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum"). Interestingly, it had been thought that in the wake of the 1830s crisis, nullification was dead as an issue in American politics, but it has been resurrected in the guise of the "sanctuary cities" movement to shield illegal immigrants from federal law enforcement.

As for state's rights, it was a cudgel to be used when convenient to protect Southern interests and something to be discarded when it did not.  The first time in American history that Federal legislation was used to override the authority of State courts was with the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act as part of the Compromise of 1850.  The Act, set up a federal court system in the Northern states to address the legal issues around escaped slaves, was enacted at the insistence of the Southern states.

There are abundant statements by Southern statesmen during the Secession Crisis of 1860-1 that the preservation of the institution of slavery was the driving force for secession - they weren't trying to hide it.  From the South's perspective, in order to preserve slavery, slavery needed to be expanded.  If not, the South could not maintain its veto power in the U.S. Senate where slave and free states were currently balanced.  Preservation of the status quo within the United States was unacceptable.  Only expansion of slavery to the Western states or via new acquisitions like Cuba or Santo Domingo could ensure slavery's longer term future.

The clearest expression of the Southern view was by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephen's speech of March 21, 1861 in which, quoting from the Liberty Law Blog, he called the Founders’ ideas “fundamentally wrong,” for(Alexander Stephens) they “rested upon the assumption of the equality of races.”  His account of the Founding era’s opinion of slavery was unequivocal:

 “It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away.”  
 He then went on to praise the new Confederate Constitution:
"Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.  This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth".
Stephens is a fascinating figure. Initially opposed to secession, he had openly violated Georgia law and caused local scandal by teaching some of his slaves to read and write, as well as allowing a few to travel on their own, unaccompanied by a white man, yet he could utter the sentiments quoted above.

A good example of the Northern perspective was expressed by Ulysses S Grant in his Personal Memoirs.  Written as he was dying in 1885, the book is one of the landmarks of American literature.

"The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery. . . . 

Slavery was an institution that required unusual guarantees for its security wherever it existed . . . Hence the people of the South were dependent upon keeping control of the general government to secure the perpetuation of their favorite institution. . . .  They saw their power waning, and this led them to encroach upon the prerogatives and independence of the Northern States by enacting such laws as the Fugitive Slave Law . . . Northern marshals became slave-catchers and Northern courts had to contribute to the support and protection of the institution.

Prior to the time of these encroachments the great majority of the people of the North had no particular quarrel with slavery, so long as they were not forced to have it themselves.  But they were not willing to play the role of police for the South . . ."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Shall Be Then, Thenceforward, And Forever Free

 (First of a three part daily series) 

With these words one hundred and fifty years ago today, President Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.  Although the Proclamation, when it became effective on January 1, 1863, only freed slaves in Confederate occupied territory (an action which could not be effective since by definition the Union army did not occupy that territory), it was the first step on the tortured path towards ending slavery.  Despite the Proclamation and the passage, within a few years, of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution it was to be another century before the promise of full freedom and equal rights for the former slaves and their descendants was to be redeemed.

The issuance of the Proclamation transformed the Civil War.  In May of 1862 it looked like the end might come soon for the Confederacy.  The Union had captured the largest port in the South, New Orleans, closing the outlet of the Mississippi River. In the key western theatre of Tennessee, Union forces captured Forts Henry and Donelson, repulsed the Confederate army at Shiloh, occupied Nashville and Memphis and were poised to advance into Mississippi and Alabama.  Most importantly, in the East, in a daring move, Gen McClellan had transported the Army of the Potomac to the Yorktown peninsula and advanced to the gates of Richmond.  If the war had ended in May or June it would have done so with the Confederate states rejoining the Union and slavery left intact.

What happened between May and September?  In the West, the Union armies became bogged down and failed to advance and then in late summer Confederate forces charged out of eastern Tennessee invading Kentucky, capturing its capital (Frankfort) and almost reaching the Ohio River and the outskirts of Cincinnati.

In the East, Robert E Lee took over the command of the Army of Northern Virgina and in late June launched a series of attacks which drove Gen McClellan back from Richmond and left his forces bottled up.  Then, in an audacious move, Lee rapidly marched his army into northern Virginia and in late August shattered a Union army under Gen Pope at the Battle of Second Manassas, only 35 miles from Washington.  Within a few days Lee crossed the Potomac River and invaded Maryland.

At the same time, Britain and France, both of which would have been happy to see a new nation emerge to rival the United States, began to hint about possible recognition of the Confederacy and offering to mediate a peace between the two nations.

The President needed to do something to change the game and the Confederate momentum.  He was dependent upon the Union armies for the latter but the decision to issue the Proclamation and its timing was something he could control.  In July he circulated a draft to his Cabinet which was not enthusiastic.  But from Lincoln's perspective the Proclamation had the potential to do accomplish dual goals.  By issuing a preliminary Proclamation, with a delayed effective date, he gave Southerners a lot to think about because he was placing its main economic asset (slaves) at risk, a risk they could only mitigate by rejoining the Union before the effective date or by Southern victory.  It also served as a potential deterrent from foreign intervention since it would make it more difficult for Britain and France to support the Confederacy if ending slavery became a clear war goal for the North.

Lincoln was also Constitutionally constrained in the actions he could take regarding slavery.  As President he had no authority to alter the status of slavery as a Constitutional matter other than in his role as Commander in Chief, but in that role he was powerless regarding slavery in the four slave states that had not seceded.  Thus, the Emancipation was limited to those portions of the Confederate states not occupied by Union forces as of January 1, 1863. 

Despite the reluctance of his Cabinet, the President insisted he would issue the Proclamation once the Union army had sufficient success in the field.  The Battle of Antietam on September 17 gave Lincoln enough of a victory to allow him to fulfill his promise five days later (see also Larry And Mark's Excellent Adventure).

Tomorrow:  What Was The Civil War About?

Friday, September 21, 2012

True Happiness?

Since we've been on an Elvis Costello related roll the past couple of days let's continue and ponder the philosophical issue raised by him in a song from 1978:

I said "I'm so happy I could die"
She said "Drop dead" then left with another guy

(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes
This reminds me of another dilemma posed by Ray Davies of The Kinks in the song Lola.

I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man
And so is Lola

So is Lola glad or a man or both?

This blog does not hesitate to take on the really important issues in our society!  Someone has to.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Best Is Yet To Come

From Tony Bennett.  Let's hope he's right.  Listen to Tony slide around the beat.  And for you vinyl fans this YouTube is for you!
We had the opportunity to see Tony live in April 2008 at 30 Rock in NYC (thanks to my friends at NBC Universal for the tickets!)  It was for the Elvis Costello hosted Spectacle show on the Sundance Channel (from which yesterday's post was taken).  The format was an hour long interview interspersed with musical numbers.

Tony was 81 at the time and made it clear, in a very charming way, that he was running the show, and not his friend Elvis.  If he felt like answering Elvis' questions he did; if he didn't he just talked about whatever he felt like talking about and Elvis was happy to let him roam.   Bennett may be the most relaxed human being I've ever seen.  Of course, as he said to Elvis, when his son became his manager more than 20 years ago it freed him up to spend all his time doing the two things he loves - singing and painting.  Painting?  Yeah:

Tony's voice is not what it once was and when he started his first song "The Way You Look Tonight" my immediate thought was "wow, his voice is really shot" and then things quickly changed and by the end I was thinking "wow, his voice may be weaker but this guy really knows how to sing a song".  It was just beautiful.

Did I mention that Tony was running the show?  We were on the set used for Saturday Night Live but they closed about 2/3 for this taping so it was a pretty intimate setting with only about 150 of us in the audience.  We were in the third (and last) row to the left of the stage and noticed after sitting down that we were right behind Diana Krall, the jazz singer who's married to Elvis.  We heard her mention to the person next to her that she hadn't played at all since the birth of her twins six months before so I think she was genuinely surprised when Tony called her out of the audience to play and sing with him.  Here it is.
A wonderful night.  Thanks, Mr Bennett.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Brilliant Mistake

It was a fine idea at the time
Now it's a brilliant mistake

I think we can all find many situations where that thought applies.  From Elvis CostelloBrilliant Mistake and Things Have Changed were the finalists for the name of this blog.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bloody Brook

On September 18, 1675 Captain Thomas Lathrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was leading sixty soldiers and about twenty teamsters with wagons loaded with food in an evacuation of the Connecticut River valley village of Deerfield, Massachusetts.  As they came to a small brook the lead soldiers stopped to rest to allow the wagons to catch up.  For unexplained reasons, Captain Lathrop allowed his men to set aside their arms in order to gather grapes "which proved dear and deadly grapes to them" in the words of Increase Mather.  While relaxing the group was attacked by several hundred Nipmuc Indians. (19th century photo)  Sixty of Lathrop's force (including Lathrop) were killed along with an unknown number of Nipmucs and the scene of the battle became known as Bloody Brook.  It was one of the larger battles of King Philip's War.

Wait a minute.  "King Philip"?; War in Massachusetts?

King Philip's War started on June 20, 1675 when a band of Pokanokets Indians raided Swansea, Massachusetts.  By the time the war ended in the fall of 1676 it had become, in terms of its consequences and the relative loss of life, the most significant conflict between Indians and European settlers in US history.  And it didn't take place on the Great Plains or in the deserts of the Southwest (for another, more successful, Indian revolt occurring five years later see Pueblo Revolt) - it was in New England.

Although the war "started" with this attack, its origins went back fifty years to the original English settlements in Plymouth (1620) and Boston (1630) and the tangled history of provocations and misunderstandings between the settlers and the native Indian tribes.  King Philip himself is an example of this complex history.  He was the younger son of Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoag tribe, who had befriended and helped the Pilgrims at Plymouth during the colony's struggling early days.  Philip's Indian name was Metacom but at the request of Massasoit's elder son, Wamsutta, the Plymouth authorities gave both sons English names which is how Metcacom became Philip and Wamsutta was renamed Alexander.(No contemporary image of Philip exists)   For years, both sons moved back and forth between Indian and English societies.  Alexander succeeded his father as Sachem until he died in mysterious circumstances while in English custody in 1662 (current modern speculation is that he had appendicitis and his death was hastened by medical malpractice by an English doctor)  Philip became the new Sachem but his brother's death along with many other incidents led to his (and other Indians) increasing disaffection with their treatment by the English. 

During the war, more than half of the 90 English settlements in New England were attacked and at the peak of Indian success, in the spring of 1676, it seemed possible that the only settlements left in English possession might be those on the Atlantic coast.  The death rate for the English was twice that of the Civil War and 8X the rate in World War II.  Thousands of the surviving settlers became destitute (New England's entire English population was only 52,000 at the time) and aid was hurriedly sent to the colonies from England and Ireland. 

Rhode Island was devastated, with Providence and Warwick converted to pillaged ghost towns.  Interior Massachusetts was largely abandoned with towns like Worcester, Deerfield and Marlboro destroyed and Sudbury (only 20 miles from Boston) and Chelmsford heavily damaged.  All the settlements in Maine were destroyed with the exceptions of York, Kittery and Wells.  Connecticut suffered the least, with only Simsbury burned.

The outcome was even more disastrous for the Indians.  An estimated 15% of the tribal population (including Philip) were killed.  Many of the survivors were sold into slavery and transported to the West Indies and others sent to Bermuda where many of their descendants live today.  Others migrated to New York and Canada.  For the remnants, the pre-war relationships with the English would never be restored - though these were difficult before 1675, the situation became much worse in the aftermath of the war.

The impact of the war along with the continued French and Indian raiding threat from Canada slowed the settlement of interior New England for decades. Worcester, abandoned in 1675, was not resettled until 1722.  Even six decades later, when Robert Rogers (founder of Rogers Rangers) was born in Methuen, Massachusetts it was still the northern limit of English settlement - only 50 miles northwest of Boston.

In contrast, it was only 42 years from the end of the Mexican War with its acquisition of the American southwest along with the settlement with England that brought us the Oregon territories to 1890 and the end of the Indian wars in the West.

The best account of the war is King Philip's War: The History And Legacy Of America's Forgotten Conflict (1999) by Eric Shultz and Michael Tougias. Shultz and Tougias also do a good job tracing the different views of Philip throughout American history and from whom the quotes below are excerpted.

For most of the century after the War, Philip was regarded as a villainous figure with, for example, Reverend William Hubbard describing him as
"a savage Miscreant with Envy and Malice against the English"
 Reading some of the references to Philip makes him sound like kind of a Keyser Soze figure for New England children.

After the Revolutionary War and for much of the 19th century a different, and more sympathetic, Philip was portrayed.  In Philip of Pokanket, Washington Irving wrote of him:

"Moved to hostility by the lust of conquest . . . He was a patriot attached to his native soil . . . a prince true to his subjects, and indignant of their wrongs . . . "

By the late 1800s, antiquarian Samuel Adams Drake was writing:

"In his own time he was the public enemy whom any should slay; in ours he is considered a martyr to the idea of liberty . . . "

By the mid-20th century historians were presenting a more tempered view of Philip as:

"more futile than heroic, more misguided than villainous"

And then in the latter part of the 20th century came the revisionist wave portraying Philip as:

"the innocent victim of Puritan skullduggeries".
 In the end I think Shultz and Tougias get it right when they summarize these transformations:

"Like his portraits, descriptions of Philip's character often more adequately reflected the bias of the times than the life of a real flesh-and-blood man struggling to adapt to his rapidly changing world."

Monday, September 17, 2012


Assistant Village Idiot had a recent post reminding me of one of my pet peeves - truncating either axis on a chart like that below giving a visually misleading impression.  This is what AVI has to say:

"One of my favorite deceptions to point out WRT graphs. As we are talking about millions of people and long-term trends, this drop in participation may indeed be alarming. It is a four-point drop in how many of us are gainfully employed, after all. But the zero-point of this graph is 63.5, and the hundred-point is 67.5, exactly the size of the change, not 0-100 percent. Visually, it tells us that nearly everyone worked twelve years ago and now, no one does.

Naughty, naughty."

The point isn't that this trend isn't alarming.  This is a labor participation rate that is less than we've had in more than half a century.  But you can play too many games when you truncate like this.

It's not just in the charts themselves that this tactic is employed.  I remember an article in the New York Times several years ago (in a recent search I've been unable to find it on the Interwebs!) about climate change which has stayed with me as a great example of the misuse of a time sequence of data.

One of the facts cited in the article to support a claim about the reality of global warming was that Alaska had seen a 6 degree F increase in temperature in the 30 years since 1975.  This is an accurate statement.   However, because of my interest in the subject I was familiar with the underlying data (unlike most of his readership) and knew this was nonetheless misleading.  What wasn't said in the article was that this entire change happened between 1975 and 1980 and that there had been no increase in temperature in Alaska since that time.

This is the actual data from the Alaska Climate Research Center at the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks.  The chart is included in a paper interestingly enough entitled "The First Decade Of The New Century:  A Cooling Trend For Most Of Alaska.
So what's going on here?  What caused the huge change in the mid to late 1970s?  According to the Alaska Climate Research Center it was a change in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), an ocean-current phenomenon which alternately brings warmer or colder water into the North Pacific with a big impact on Alaska's climate.  The PDO changes every 30 to 40 years.  By the way, according to the Center's website the slight cooling trend noted in the chart above has continued in 2010 and 2011 (As an aside, I've seen similar date-truncated charts used in the opposite way to "prove" there is no warming).  Once you start looking around you can find examples to this approach to data everywhere.  In fact, think how much fun you could have with the data on this chart if you could pick your start and finish dates!

My guess is that the Times writer never actually saw this data and did not intend to be purposefully misleading.  As a long-time Times reader (before I finally gave up on it a few years ago) it's clear most of its reporters are uncomfortable with numbers and statistics and the reporter was probably just fed some summary information by an advocacy group during his search for examples to support the thrust of his article.  He fell into the trap of thinking that data is like an ornament to hang on a wall, a decoration to make the house look nice; not something that deserves thought and examination in and of itself.

All of us are prone to grab onto and trumpet data that supports something we already believe in.  That's when you need to be very careful and ask what's the scale being used; why were the specific start and end dates selected; is it statistically significant?  Sometimes things ARE too good to be true.

A good new blog devoted to these issues is Bad, Data, Bad.

Monday Morning Wake Up

A 1968 live version of What'd I Say by Ray Charles performing in Paris.  The song had been recorded by Charles ten years earlier and was his first cross-over hit even though some radio stations refused to play it because it was "suggestive".   The song grew out of an improvisation during his stage show and you can read more about its origin at Open Culture.  Ray's made a prior appearance on this blog.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

If There's A Crud Exception To Freedom, We Are Only 10% Free

From Ann Althouse:

"Imagine if you had to make a good movie or a well-written book to have the freedom to disseminate it. What power the critics would have! They could be expert witnesses at our blasphemy trials.

"90% of
everything is crud," said Theodore Sturgeon. It's Sturgeon's Law... to which I humbly offer the Althouse Corollary:

If there's a crud exception to freedom, we are only 10% free."

On the other hand, isn't it great that after the last election the Dixie Chicks were finally released from Gitmo and they gave all the confiscated copies of Fahrenheit 911 back to Michael Moore?

UPDATE!  Via Instapundit:

On a related note see Jon Corzine

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Opportunity Bacons

. . . reach out and seize it!

Man driving coast to coast with no cash or credit cards and only armed with a trailer full of bacon to use as his currency.  We are greatly disappointed that New England is not on his itinerary.  Smart marketing by the folks at Oscar Meyer.

This link taking you to the article contains some more tasty video.

Tip of the hat to THC reader Dr Rob for spotting this!

Man Drives Across USA, Only Uses Bacon As Currency

Josh Sankey needs your help.
In a clever marketing move by Oscar Meyer, they have put him in a trailer, filled it with piles and piles of bacon and are seeing if he can make it coast-to-coast only using their bacon as currency.
No coins, no bologna. Just bacon.
“I need your help. I’m driving from NY to LA with no cash and no cards—just a trailer full of Butcher Thick Cut Bacon to barter with you for everything I need," Josh explains.
On their website, you can propose a barter, see what he needs, and follow his antics on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Down To The Waterline

No money in our jackets
And our jeans are torn
Your hands are cold
But your lips are warm

From Dire Straits.  Saw them play this on their first US tour in late '78 or early '79 at the Paradise Club in Boston.  I can listen to Mark Knopfler's guitar for hours and we'll do some more posts featuring his playing.  Along with his Dire Straits and solo career he's also written several film scores.

My favorite is Local Hero (1983).  Set in the Scottish highlands, it's about an American oil company's attempt to buy a small Scottish village so it can build an oil terminal - that is, to the extent the movie is about anything because it just sort of ambles along in a low-key humorous way.  The stars are Peter Riegert ("Boon" in Animal House) and Burt Lancaster in one of his last films.  We'd camped in the area where the film is set while on a trip in the U.K. in 1978 so it provided a little extra jolt to see some of that beautiful coast again.

The movie was the centerpiece of a trio of films directed by Bill Forsyth in the early 1980s, the first being Gregory's Girl and the last Comfort And Joy, which is about the rivalry of two Glasgow ice cream companies and the secret to making ice cream fritters.  All are set in Scotland (we only understood about half the dialogue in Gregory's Girl) and we really enjoyed all of them.  None of them had a traditional story arc and I saw a quote that said something to the effect that Forsyth made films "using the scenes other directors would cut".  After that he went off to Hollywood, lost his mojo, and never made anything watchable again.

To see how Knopfler's music works together with Forsyth's direction here's a clip from Local Hero.  It's the last scene, but don't worry it doesn't spoil anything if you want to see the whole film sometime.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Foreign Affairs

I'd been planning to do some posts on the blogs listed on my blogroll on the lower right and with the current turmoil in the Middle East it looks like a good time to highlight two of them.

Michael J Totten is a journalist who post 911 decided to spend a lot of time on the ground in the Middle East.  He started in Lebanon in the wake of the Cedar Revolution and wrote an excellent book, The Road To Fatima Gate, laying out the complexities of Lebanese factionalism and explaining how the revolution failed and how Hezbollah became the dominant faction in the country.  And also about the street tussle he and Christopher Hitchens got into with some thugs in Beirut.

His strength is that he spends time with a wide variety of people in the countries he visits, not just the usual politicians and sources.  His blog has had a lot of interesting reporting recently from Libya and Tunisia.

I think the best combined international and domestic policy blog is Via Meadia, run by Walter Russell Mead, a professor at Bard College.  I've previously recommended it because of its domestic policy posts (see End Of The Blue Social Model) but he also covers a wide variety of international issues, including recent Middle East events (see The Day The Roof Fell In)

On a related note, last night I attended a talk at Yale (ah, the advantages of living close to a University Town) by Einat Wilf, a member of the Israeli Knesset.  At one time she was a foreign policy advisor to Shimon Peres and in 2009 was elected to Parliament as a member of the Labour Party. She is now part of a small faction, led by Ehud Barak the former Prime Minister, that last year split from Labour to form the Independence Party and became part of the Netanyahu governing coalition.

Her topic was Israel and The Arab Spring.  Below are some of the highlights of her talk and Q&A.  It is important to note that as a member of the Government she was clearly being very cautious and careful in her speech and in how she answered questions.  I'll try to refrain from editorializing and just report her comments.  

  • The Arab Spring is about sweeping away the post WWI order in which many of the states were established out of the rubble of the Ottoman Empire.  In the short term it is not about democracy.  She is hopeful that will come but it will be a 10-20 year process.

  • Israel should try to be like Switzerland in this period.  Neutral and not dragged into the turmoil as the Arab states sort out their future.  She said this is the current government's policy and they are trying to be low key even on issues like the increased violence on the Sinai border.

  • During this period while the rhetoric may get worse from some of the Arab states, things are likely to remain peaceful with Israel while those states work out their staggering domestic problems.

  • Right now there is no prospect for resolution of the Israel-Palestinian dispute.  Her point is that the Palestinians will never go against the tide of Arab history and at a time when Egypt is moving from a "cold peace" to merely "non-war" and when Jordan is becoming more hostile to Israel there is simply no way forward on peace talks.

  • Wilf believes two indicators of progress to follow in each Arab country are the treatment of women and Christian minorities.

  • She mentioned the need for Westerners to understand the region better.  She spoke of being in a meeting with Sen John Kerry a couple of years ago after one of his visits to Syria.  Kerry was a believer in the theory that Bashir Assad was a moderate reformer, primarily because he was a "secularist" which had certain favorable connotations in the West.  He apparently didn't understand that because Assad is an Alawite, a member of what is considered a heretical sect by Sunni Islam that his only choice was to be a secularist, but not for the reasons we in the West expect.  In any event, we know how that turned out.

  • She also said there is very little the West can do to impact events in Syria and many of the other states.

  • In response to a question about Iran she made some interesting comments.  She believes the regime of the Mullahs will eventually fall and when it does the transition to true democracy in Iran will be faster than in the Arab world because of the higher educational level of the Iranian population.  For Israel the critical question is the pace of the "Regime change clock" versus the "Nuclear clock".  Israel's policy is to buy time until hopefully the regime change clock alarm rings.

  • In response to a question about how the Obama Administration's attitude is viewed in Israel she made two statements.  At the working security/defense/intelligence level she said the relationship is closer than it has ever been.  She said at the top level the difference is that Obama believes that goodwill gestures will be reciprocated while Netanyahu thinks this is a fundamental misunderstanding about the regimes they are dealing with and that Obama's gestures are seen as signs of weakness (see, for instance, Obama's Cairo Speech in 2009 - that's not Wilf, that's me editorializing - sorry, couldn't resist).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

No Voter Fraud Here!

She probably couldn't afford to get an ID.

From Maryland

Democrat withdraws from 1st District congressional race after allegations she voted in two states

Rosen says she registered in Fla. to support friend there

Wendy Rosen, the Democratic challenger to Republican Rep. Andy Harris in the 1st Congressional District, withdrew from the race Monday amid allegations that she voted in elections in both Maryland and Florida in 2006 and 2008.

Minor Swing

It's 1937.  A smoke filled small jazz club in Paris.  You're there because you've heard about a new jazz band Quintette du Hot Club de France featuring a gypsy guitarist, Django Reinhardt and the French violinist Stephane Grappelli.  Let's take a listen.

Django is considered one of the first European jazz musicians with a unique guitar style developed in part after he was caught in a fire in 1928, burning much of his body and partially paralyzing two of the fingers on his left hand.

Heavily influenced by the recordings of Louis Armstrong, whom he referred to as "my brother", he was a true musical innovator.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Iron Law Of Bureaucracy

This explains a lot.

Formulated by the science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle:

In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.

With a reformulation: any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

In other words, any large bureaucratic organization eventually is run by those most focused on perpetuating and strengthening the organization regardless of its original intended purpose, indeed, even if it is detrimental to its original intended purpose.

Monday, September 10, 2012

I'm Hungry, You?

Where's dinner?  If you're hungry there's more at Serious Eats.

Which reminds me - when we're in Wisconsin we always stop at Culver's for a
Bacon Butter Burger!!  I swear that they soak the buns in a tub of butter.  It doesn't get any better!!The Butterburger Story

Effective Learning Techniques

It helps to be a wildebeest.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lessons In Anti-Trust Law

This blog remains committed to expanding the horizons of its readership (see, for instance, Estate Planning For The Undead).  In furtherance of this mission we present to you this excerpt from the seminal 1958 lecture on anti-trust law by "The Old Perfessor", Casey Stengel.  In addition to his academic responsibilities Doctor Stengel also held the position of Manager, New York Yankees at the time.

Doctor Stengel's lecture was given at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Anti-Trust and Monopoly Subcommittee to which he was invited to testify in light of his recognized expertise* in the field.  It is believed, though it is not certain, that Doctor Stengel's statement was in support of maintaining baseball's anti-trust exemption.

At the end of this excerpt you can also hear some additional commentary from Assistant Perfessor Mickey Mantle.

Listen to an Excerpt from Doctor Stengel's lecture.

You can find the entire transcript of Doctor Stengel's talk by clicking here.

*At the time of his testimony Doctor Stengel had won six World Championships and hit .368 for the 1922 New York Giants as well as two game-winning home runs for the Giants against the Yankees in the 1923 World Series.

His home run in game one was the first World Series roundtripper hit in Yankee Stadium and was a dramatic inside-the-park job stroked with two out in the ninth inning to give the Giants a 5-4 victory.  At the time it was one of the most famous home runs in baseball history and provoked waves of overwriting by New York sportswriters topped by this from Damon Runyon:

This is the way old Casey Stengel ran . . . 
His mouth wide open
His warped old legs bending beneath him at every stride
His arms flying back and forth like those of a man swimming with a crawl stroke
His flanks heaving, his breath whistling, his head far back

Friday, September 7, 2012

London Calling via Reddit

On September 7, 1940 the German Air Force launched what became known as The Blitz with a daylight raid on London consisting of 348 bombers and 617 fighter aircraft.  The Blitz lasted until May 16, 1941.  During that time more than 100 major city raids were conducted with London targeted 71 times (including 57 nights in a row at one point), Birmingham, Liverpool and Plymouth hit eight times each and twelve other cities also being struck.  More than 40,000 British civilians were killed and more than 1 million homes destroyed.

The change in German strategy that led to The Blitz, although horribly destructive in its results, may actually have saved Britain. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Smoky Joe Versus The Big Train

In May, this blog featured Ty Cobb going into the stands to beat up a fan in a game that took place in the 1912 season in the post Take Me Out Of The Ballgame.

Continuing the story of the 1912 season, one hundred years ago today the most publicized game of the regular baseball season was played at Fenway Park.  It was a staged pitching duel between Walter Johnson (The Big Train) of the Washington Senators and Smoky Joe Wood of the Boston Red Sox. 

The American league pennant race was over by that time.  The Red Sox held a 13.5 game lead over the second place Philadelphia A's and a 14 game lead over the Senators.  But earlier in the season, Johnson set an new American League record by winning 16 games in a row, a streak that had only ended with a relief loss on August 26.  Now, Smoky Joe had won 13 straight, threatening Johnson's brand-new record.  Public interest in both of the pitchers was enormous and the ball clubs saw the opportunity for a huge gate and lots of publicity.  Even before the start of the 1912 season, Johnson was acknowledged to be the best young pitcher in the American League and now, with his streak, Smoky Joe was challenging The Big Train for that title.  The Senators were coming into Boston to play the Red Sox and Walter Johnson was scheduled to pitch in his normal rotation on September 6, but Smoky Joe was not due to start until September 7.  Nonetheless, in order to set up the match, the Red Sox agreed to move Joe's start up and pitch him on three days rest.
 Unique 1912 Walter Johnson and Joe Wood War of 1912 Original Photo - From Johnson's Estate(Wood & Johnson before the game)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Take The Night Train To Memphis

. . . leave while you can

A little bluegrass pick me up from Dolly Parton and a group of bluegrass all-stars including Alison Krauss (subject of a future post), members of Union Station, Sam Bush, Brian Sutton and Stuart Duncan.  This was a TV appearance from about 10 years ago.  Dolly's decided to become a cartoon character in recent years but she can still really sing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

But Anyway

Fun music from Blues Traveler (1994) featuring the virtuoso harmonica playing of John Popper and the bass playing of the late Bobby Sheehan.  The video is from the closing credits of Kingpin, a Farrelly Brothers (Dumb And Dumber, There's Something About Mary) movie starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid and Bill Murray in a moving portrayal of the conflict between professional bowling and the Amish.

Old Masters

Last night on the MLB Network I watched the San Diego Padres play the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine.  I like baseball, but that's not the reason I watched the game.  It was for the pleasure of listening to Vin Scully's voice.  If you think you don't know Vin Scully's voice, you're wrong.  You know it.

Vin Scully is 84 now and has been announcing Dodger games since 1950 (starting under the tutelage of the  great Red Barber). His voice is a little thicker now and with age he now limits himself to Dodger home games and when they are on the road in California, Arizona or Colorado but he is as sharp as ever when it comes to baseball.  He still works the game alone, as he's done since Barber left the booth in 1953 - which is unique among today's sports broadcasters.  And he still gets excited - last night it was about the Padres rookie pitcher, Andrew Werner, who came out of the Frontier League and was making his third major league start.  Werner threw first pitch strikes to 20 of the first 22 batters and Vin made sure to let us know how well the kid was doing. (Werner went 6 innings and struck out 8; the Dodgers rallied to win 4-3 in 11 innings)

It's wonderful to listen to Scully on the TV but his voice is best appreciated on radio (preferably in a car).  His tone and cadence are immediately recognizable. Always measured and in control, it fits with the pace of baseball.  He knows when to talk and when not to.  Joe Posnanski captured it best in a 2010 profile (can't find the full interview on the internet so no link):

Like water out of a shower head. No announcer in the history of sports has used crowd noise more musically than Scully. Can it be a coincidence? Sinatra used to say that his musical instrument was not his voice, it was the microphone. Scully uses crowd noise as his orchestra. When Henry Aaron hit his 715th home run, Scully was there, and he called the home run, and then he took off his headset, walked to the back of the room, and let people listen to the crowd cheer. Like water out of a shower head. “What could I have said that would have told the story any better?” he asks. And he pauses: “You know what? I still love listening to the sound of a crowd cheering. Don’t you? Don’t you just love that sound?”
Listening to him today takes me back to my childhood - that he is still doing this and I'm now retired is astonishing.

This is one of Scully's best known moments - calling the 9th inning of Sandy Koufax's perfect game on Sept 9, 1965 - "there's 29,000 people in the ballpark and a million butterflies" (this video also includes some added background on the game by Scully in a 1995 interview).

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Man In The Long Black Coat

There are no mistakes in life some people say
And it's true sometimes you can see it that way
But people don't live or die, people just float
She's gone with the man in the long black coat.

Believe it or not Bob Dylan did some decent tunes after the mid-70s.  This one is from 1989:

And, of course, there is a Dylan song from 2000 from whence the title of this blog is taken.

Walking Across Switzerland

If you're sitting at home wishing you were a world traveler here's a blog you might want to check called Walking Across Switzerland.  It's by an older American guy who is, well, walking across Switzerland right now via the Alpine route.  Wonderful pictures and commentary.  If you take a look scroll back to the start of his journey.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Presidential Knife Fight

No, I'm not referring to the 2012 presidential election.  I'm referring to something that had not previously occurred to me:

In a mass knife fight to the death between every American President, who would win and why?

The question was posed over at the HistoricalWhatIf forum at by someone with too much time on their hands (sounds familiar).

In the interests of ensuring authenticity several conditions were established:

  • Every president is in the best physical and mental condition they were ever in throughout the course of their presidency. Fatal maladies have been cured, but any lifelong conditions or chronic illnesses (e.g. FDR’s polio) remain.
  • The presidents are fighting in an ovular arena 287 feet long and 180 feet wide (the dimensions of the [1] Roman Colosseum). The floor is concrete. Assume that weather is not a factor.
  • Each president has been given one standard-issue [2] Gerber LHR Combat Knife , the knife [3] presented to each graduate of the United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course. Assume the presidents have no training outside any combat experiences they may have had in their own lives.
  • There is no penalty for avoiding combat for an extended period of time. Hiding and/or playing dead could be valid strategies, but there can be only one winner. The melee will go on as long as it needs to.
  • FDR has been outfitted with a [4] Bound Plus H-Frame Power Wheelchair, and can travel at a maximum speed of around 11.5 MPH. The wheelchair has been customized so that he is holding his knife with his dominant hand. This is to compensate for his almost certain and immediate defeat in the face of an overwhelming disadvantage.
  • Each president will be deposited in the arena regardless of their own will to fight, however, personal ethics, leadership ability, tactical expertise etc., should all be taken into account. Alliances are allowed.
The best analysis is from blogger Face In The Blue.  It's quite entertaining and worth reading the whole thing.

Here's a little sample:

3) Thomas Jefferson. I’d like to say he’d make a good show of it, but he was a bit of dandy… Middle of the pack, but his dying words would be incredibly quotable.

4) James Madison. He’s just too short. I’m sorry: You need reach in a knife fight. The bravado of the philosophy behind Manifest Destiny only gets you so far. He’ll die early, and his small corpse will be one of the least important tripping hazards as the battle wears on.
 I think his picks for the final three, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, are pretty solid.  Who would you pick?

Lincoln may have been the strongest president, with lots of experience with blades and fighting as a younger man and he certainly had the advantage of a long reach which is a critical advantage in a knife fight.  His only problem would be if he got into one of his introspective and brooding moods.

Jackson may have been the toughest, most brutal and vengeful president.  As a younger man he fought a duel against an expert marksman, allowing him the first shot.  Jackson was hit in the chest, near the heart, after which he shot and killed his opponent.  The bullet, deemed too dangerous to remove, remained in his chest for the rest of his life.  A few years later he was involved in a tavern brawl (which he provoked) against the Benton brothers, Jesse and Thomas Hart (later a five term US Senator from Missouri) in which he was shot twice more. While in the White House, he narrowly escaped death when an assassin's pistols misfired at pointblank range and Jackson then beat the man with his cane.  A powerful combination of rage and skill which would be great assets in the knife fight.

Teddy came to the presidency only three years after leading the Rough Riders charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American war.  As a youngster he overcame physical disabilities, becoming a real cowboy and he remained in splendid physical condition as President.  Even after the presidency he led an expedition down the River Of Doubt in Brazil (called that because no one knew, before Roosevelt, its origins) and a year long safari in Africa where he faced personal danger numerous times.  And, as far as dealing with pain - during the 1912 Presidential campaign he was shot in the chest in Milwaukee just prior to a scheduled speech.  Despite the protests of his aides he insisted on giving the speech, which lasted for more than an hour as blood seeped through his shirt, before agreeing to go to the hospital.