Thursday, January 31, 2013

Meet Me On The Equinox

Meet me on the Equinox
Meet me half way
When the sun is perched at it's highest peak
In the middle of the day

By Death Cab For Cutie:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Final Baseball Nickname Post

. . . at least for now.

This is hard for me as a Red Sox fan, but two of my final three are - yes - New York Yankees.

"Yogi" Berra
    We are used to it now after almost 70 years, but how unusual it must have been at the time for Lawrence Peter Berra, growing up in The Hill, an Italian neighborhood in St Louis during the 1930s, to be called Yogi.  He got the name from his childhood friend Bobby Hofman who had seen a movie about an Indian snake charmer and thought his buddy resembled "the yogi".

    Today, Yogi is 87 and often best remembered for looking rather funny, his Aflac commercials and his various Yogiisms ("it ain't over till it's over", "when you come to a fork in the road, take it" etc), some of which he said and some of which he didn't, including "I really didn't say everything I said" which apparently he did say.  Most of what he did say sounds odd at first but usually makes sense when you think about it.  As Nolan Ryan said "if Yogi had gone to college, they would have made him talk clearer, but not better".

   What sometimes gets lost is that Yogi Berra was one of the three best catchers in major league history (I'll leave it to you to argue among yourselves about where within those three he ranks).   Bill James wrote that it was not a coincidence that the Yankees achieved their greatest success, five consecutive world championships, when Yogi was in his prime.

   Birdie Tebbetts, then the manager of the Cleveland Indians, told about asking Casey Stengel in the early 1960s (Casey was the Mets' manager by then) about how he achieved his incredible success with the Yankees.  Tebbetts wrote that Casey responded:

'Birdie, I never play a game without my man in the lineup' . . .I'm thinking he's talking about DiMaggio, he's talking about Mantle, he's talking about this guy and that guy, and suddenly I realize he's talking about Yogi Berra. 
I had the privilege of meeting Yogi a couple of years ago and while he's slowed down he is still funny and a class act.  You'll also enjoy visiting the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center on the grounds of Montclair State University in New Jersey.  Yogi and his wife, Carmen have lived in the neighborhood since the late 1940s.

And as we found out in 2010, Yogi still insists he tagged Jackie Robinson out at the plate in the 1955 World Series!

Don "Stan The Man Unusual" Stanhouse
    I always loved this nickname which was a clever play on Stan "The Man" Musial.  Stanhouse had a ten year career from 1970-80 but got his nickname near its end when he was a star reliever with the Baltimore Orioles (he also had another nickname as you'll see below).  I'll just let Mike Klingaman of The Baltimore Sun tell you about Don in this 2009 article and end with a few pictures capturing his awesomeness.

"Catching Up With . . . former Oriole Don Stanhouse

It has been 30 years since he starred on the mound, a master of comic relief for the Orioles. Was there ever a closer like Don Stanhouse, the big righthander with the Harpo Marx hair, the wacky demeanor and a knack for making every save an adventure?
 The stopper for Baltimore’s 1979 American League champions, Stanhouse won 7 of 10 games, saved 21 more and compiled a 2.85 earned run average. But it was the way he pitched – creating a jam, then escaping it – that drove Orioles manager Earl Weaver nuts.
"He (Weaver) would bring me in, then disappear down the tunnel and start chain-smoking his Raleighs," recalled Stanhouse, who was nicknamed "Fullpack" for that reason.
 In the AL playoffs, with the Orioles enjoying a 9-4 lead over California, Weaver summoned his frizzy-haired All-Star in the ninth. Stanhouse promptly surrendered four runs before ending the game with the bases full.
Later, asked why he hadn’t yanked Stanhouse, Weaver replied, "I still had three cigarettes left."
 Acquired in 1978, Stanhouse perked up the Orioles’ clubhouse with his quirky looks, offbeat antics and a panache right out of Woodstock.
"I’m pretty on the inside," he’d say. "When they took X-rays of my head, they found flowers."
 He dressed in black, drove a black Cadillac and furnished his apartment as if the Addams family lived there. He kept a stuffed gorilla atop his locker and a "Happy Feet" welcome mat beneath it. Teammates knew it was game time because Stanhouse uncorked a primal scream after warm-ups."

"The Iron Horse" - Lou Gehrig
     Has there ever been a more fitting baseball nickname?  Strong, dependable, indestructible.  Pulling the load and never complaining.  For thirteen seasons, from 1926 through 1938, that was Lou Gehrig.  2,130 games in a row, a record considered unbreakable until Cal Ripken came along.  Perhaps the strongest man in baseball at the time. 

      He was so strong that even after his body began to break down with the first onset of ALS (or Lou Gehrig's Disease, the only name we knew it by as kids) in the spring of 1938 he was still able to play a full season of major league baseball that year (see Jonathan Eig's Luckiest Man (2005) for a discussion of when the disease started and its physiological effects) which is astonishing since ALS is a deterioration of the neurological system which in ballplayers has to perform at the highest level.

     By the next year, the disease had taken its toll and on May 2, 1939 Lou pulled himself out of the Yankees lineup.  On July 4, 1939, the Yankees held Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at which he gave his "luckiest man on the face of the earth" speech.  Two years later he was dead at the age of 37.

Watch Lou Gehrig in his prime

With further apologies to Turkey Mike, Dr Strangeglove, Gavvy, Dazzy, Noodles, Chili, Cookie, Big Six, Gettysburg Eddie, The Duke of Tralee, all the Rubes - Marquand, Bressler, Waddell, Benton, Schauer, Foster, Parnham, Walker, Oldring - Tomato Face, Bubbles, Piano Legs, Wahoo Sam, Tom Terrific, Arky, Schoolboy, Sliding Billy, The Commerce Comet and The Freshest Man On Earth.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Surely, You Must Be Joking

On our long strange trip from the dismal, dispiriting and depressing second term of Bush 43 into the bizarro world of the current administration, THC has been able to pinpoint the moment when we stopped being a serious nation.

It was when the financial services reform bill of 2010 was bedecked with the official title as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and nobody raised an eyebrow nor was there any public or media outrage.

So the major bill enacted by the US Congress to reform our financial system was named after the Senator from Connecticut who not only protected the mortgage companies who exploited gaps in the housing system as it careened toward disaster, but also received favorable treatment on his own mortgages from them, and the Representative from Massachusetts who not only blocked any attempt at reform of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in the years proceeding 2008 but actively promoted their expansion while assuring us they posed no undue risk.

Here they are in all their glory:
(Chris Dodd (D) - Countrywide Financial)(Chris Dodd (D) - Irish "Cottage")
(Barney Frank (D) - Fannie Mae)

And what did it accomplish?  Dodd-Frank is a classic in the genre of "it's more important to do something" than to do something that actually makes any sense.  The final bill is a random grab-bag of reforms that had been on the wish list of every self-designated public interest group for the past two decades, most of which had nothing to do with the 2008 crisis.

The two meaningful steps that could have been taken weren't:

1.  Winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

2.  Breaking up the largest banks because of the inherent risk they pose to the US economy.

You may have heard that Dodd-Frank ends "too big to fail" (it even states that in the intro to the Act!) but that is simply not true as many commentators have pointed out.  Instead, it actually gave the largest banks a competitive edge against the smaller banks because the market now understands they will never be allowed to fail.

So instead of tackling the two key issues we ended up with a 2,000 page bill, a new unconstitutional bureaucracy (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) and a deluge of regulations which are already way behind schedule and will undoubtedly contribute to whatever the next financial crisis may be.

In a serious country Dodd and Frank would be publicly shamed.  Instead, Chris Dodd is now the President of the Motion Picture Association of America with a base salary of $1.5 million a year from his new wealthy patrons.  Barney Frank retired from Congress with an inflation-protected pension (unlike private sector retirees) that starts at $130,000 a year.

. . . and stop calling me Shirley!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

More Baseball Nicknames

These are the next three of my Top 9 favorite baseball nicknames.

  "Death to Flying Things" - Bob Ferguson
     They had some ornate nicknames in the early days of baseball, and Bob Ferguson's was one of them.  It was Ferguson's prowess as an infielder that led to his nickname.  As a member of the New York Mutuals in 1871, he was one of the leading instigators in the organization of the first fully professional baseball league, The National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, and became its President from 1872 to 1875 even while remaining a player for the Brooklyn Atlantics.

     When the National Association folded after the 1875 season he joined the new National League as a Director and player-manager for the Hartford (CT) Dark Blues, later taking the same role with the Troy (NY) Trojans (1879-82).

     In an age where baseball was tainted with gambling and drinking, Ferguson was known for his honesty and integrity, becoming an umpire after his playing career ended.  He was also bad-tempered (he was also called tactless) which contributed to his lack of longevity in any of his roles.         

"Shoeless Joe" Jackson
     One of the saddest of baseball stories.  Banned from baseball after the 1920 season for his role in the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal as one of eight players accused of consorting with gamblers to throw the World Series (although he hit .375 in the games), Jackson came back into the general public's consciousness with the 1982 publication of Shoeless Joe, Shoeless Joe (novel).jpgW.P. Kinsella's novel and then the hit movie based on the book, Field Of Dreams (1989).  The truth about his role in the scandal remains murky.  He admitted to agreeing to become part of the conspiracy for a $10,000 payment but whether he actively did anything to affect the outcome of the games remains unclear.

     As a rookie with the Cleveland Indians in 1911 he hit .408 and had a lifetime average of .356 (second only to Ty Cobb) in his shortened career, including .382 in his last season.  With the advent of the "live-ball" era in 1920 who knows what his career would have been like if it had lasted another few years. Babe Ruth called him the greatest hitter he'd ever seen and modeled his swing on Joe.

     Joe Jackson was an illiterate mill hand from Greenville, SC.  He received his nickname when after playing a minor league game in spikes which he was not used to wearing his feet blistered and he played the next game in his stocking feet.  When he got to the majors, the nickname stayed with him because the sportswriters felt it fit his image as a country bumpkin. 

      Of course, this gives me an excuse to insert the final scene from Field Of Dreams which has its unique power - every guy knows what I'm talking about.

Sal "The Barber" Maglie
"He scares you to death. He's scowling and gnashing his teeth, and if you try to dig in on him, there goes your Adam's apple. He's gonna win if it kills you and him both." 
- the Cincinnati Reds' Danny Litwhiler  SABR Bio Project
"On the mound, Maglie had a gaunt look, a grim expression, a stubble beard, a great curveball -- and a high, hard one that earned him the nickname Sal the Barber."
- from the New York Times obituary (1992)
Salvatore Maglie didn't need multiple razor blades to give you a close shave if you were facing him.  While he reveled in his on-field reputation, off the field Sal was known to be a genial and easy going guy.(as Giant)

Between WWII and then his banning from major league baseball due to his jumping to the Mexican League in 1946, Maglie didn't make his major league debut until he was 33 (other than a very brief 1945 stint).  He started the 1950 season as a rookie reliever for Leo Durocher's New York Giants.  Mid-season, Leo inserted him into the starting rotation and he went 18-4, at one point throwing four shutouts in a row.  In 1951, he had his greatest season going 23-6 and playing a key role in the Giants miracle comeback from 13 1/2 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers

As his career wound down he had one more time of glory when mid-season in 1956 he signed with the Dodgers, going 13-5, throwing his only no-hitter and leading the team to the pennant.(as Dodger)

After retiring as a player, Sal remained in baseball for several years and was the pitching coach for the 1967 Boston Red Sox "Impossible Dream" team.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Taking Responsibility

My post earlier today in which I wrote that "they" claimed it was a real photo of the Na Pali cliffs reminded me of an outstanding example from a few years ago of an individual stepping up and taking responsibility, something we're sorely lacking today.  On September 23, 2004 USA Today reported that Andrew Wilson of Branson, Missouri had persuaded a judge to give him permission to legally change his name to They (no surname).

Wilson said that people are always saying things like "They do this" or "They're to blame for that" and that it was time that someone was willing to take responsibility and he was the guy to do it.

You can find the full story here.

Na Pali

Is this computer-generated?  They claim it's of the Na Pali cliffs on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.  From Love These Pics via Twisted Sifter

Friday, January 25, 2013

Baseball Nicknames

It's Hot Stove League time again.  Let's talk baseball nicknames.  Below are my nine favorite nicknames, though I could have easily expanded it to my top 100.  What are yours?

Of course the King of Nicknames, as he still is of everything Baseball, is George Herman Ruth - The Babe, The Bambino, The Sultan of Swat, The Maharajah of Mash, The Colossus of Clout and a hundred more.  Just as Babe personally outhomered every other team in the American League one season, he may have had more nicknames than all of the players on any one team.

With apologies to Ducky-Wucky Medwick, The Yankee Clipper, Hit Em Where They Ain't, The Flying Dutchman, Goose Gossage, Mudcat Grant, Catfish Hunter, Double X, The Mad Hungarian, Spaceman Bill Lee, The Bird, The Big Hurt, The Big Unit, The Say Hey Kid, Oil Can Boyd, The Peerless Leader, Little Eva, The Georgia Peach, The Big Train, The Fordham Flash, The Reading Rifle, The Wild Horse Of The Osage, Poosh 'Em Up, Big Poison, Little Poison, Boom Boom Beck, Dizzy, Daffy, Bobo, Satchel, Stuffy, Gabby, Frenchy, Minnie, Pie, Yaz, Maz, Bucketfoot Al, The Man, The Splendid Splinter, Hondo, Stretch, Daddy Wags, The Toy Cannon, Sudden Sam, Hammerin' Hank, The Wizard of Oz, Pudge, Cool Papa and Pietro Redlight District Distillery Interests (Pete Browning, a star on the 1880s Louisville Colonels team and a certain Hall Of Famer but for his career being considerably shortened by the off-field interests reflected in his nickname), here are my favorites.  We'll start with three today and cover the other six in follow up posts.

Hugh "Losing Pitcher" Mulcahy
     During the radio-era, announcers would give the final score of the game (Dodgers 5, Cardinals 3) and then say "Winning Pitcher A"; "Losing Pitcher B".  Hugh Mulcahy was the ace starting pitcher for four seasons (1937-40) with the hapless Philadelphia Phillies and his record was 8-18, 10-20, 9-16 and 13-22 which is how he got his nickname.  The Phillies finished seventh in 1937 (in an 8-team league) and then eighth the next three seasons with records of 45-105, 45-106 and 50-103.  That's why Hugh was the ace of the staff.  He also had some control problems leading the league in walks in 1937 and in hit batsmen and wild pitches in 1939.  Hugh's streak of futile seasons ended when he became the first major leaguer drafted into the military before WWII on March 8, 1941.
     In 1939 and 1940, one of Hugh's fellow Phillie pitchers was the above-mentioned Walter "Boom Boom" Beck who reportedly got his nickname from the sound of the line drives hit off of him smacking into outfield walls for doubles.

"El Guapo" - Rich Garces
      A Red Sox fan favorite during his stint in Boston (1996-2002), Rich Garces was a portly  reliever who got his nickname when one of his teammates thought he resembled the bandit in The Three Amigos (1986) who was called "El Guapo" (the handsome one).  You can judge for yourself but I don't see much resemblance:
El Guapo was quite good for several seasons as a setup reliever but his major league career abruptly ended when the Red Sox demanded he lose weight during an off-season.  Garces complied but lost so much arm strength he was never effective again.
(El Guapo with El Guapo bobblehead)

"The Human Rain Delay" - Mike Hargrove
     For twelve seasons (1974-85), Mike Hargrove exasperated pitchers and fans with his excruciating array of twitches, uniform straightening routines and stepping out of the box plate appearances that went on so long he was named "The Human Rain Delay".  I still remember listening to some of his at bats on the radio and they went on forever.  On top of that, Hargrove was a very patient hitter, drawing a lot of walks so in a typical at bat he saw a lot of pitches and he performed his routine before every single one.  With all that he had a decent career, hitting for average and compiling a high on-base percentage playing primarily for the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians.   Here he is in all his glory:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hotel California

The definitive version of Hotel California from the Gipsy Kings (I cannot listen to the original any more).  From the soundtrack of The Big Lebowski.  One of the recurring themes of the movie is Jeffrey Lebowski's (aka The Dude, His Dudeness, El Dudereeno) hatred of The Eagles which finally gets him into trouble:

The Gipsy Kings are from southern France but they sing in Spanish and most of their parents are gypsies who fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War.  The only version of Hotel California I found on YouTube features an unchanging picture of Jesus Quintana, a very unsavory bowler from the movie  Let's go listen:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tilt Shift Boston

A tilt-shift film of Boston, one of our favorite cities.  The best way to explain the tilt-shift effect is that it makes real-life and real-size things look like miniatures.  If you'd like a more technical explanation read here Little Big World is the outfit that made this and you can go to its YouTube channel to see more of their odd travelogues from around the world. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Clapton Plays The Blues

Eric Clapton is a great guitarist but throughout his career in live performances it often sounds like he's mailing it in.  This is one time when he doesn't.

The song is Double Trouble by Otis Rush and Clapton's guitar playing (and singing) is powerful and emotional from start to finish.  It's from his February 2008 concert at Madison Square Garden with Steve Winwood.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Since it's Martin Luther King Day, we'll use this post to talk about someone who helped set the stage for Dr King's work, Thurgood Marshall (1908-93).  Marshall, and his colleagues at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), developed the legal strategy which over a period of 20 years eventually led to Brown v Board of Education (1954), a case argued by Marshall, who won 29 of the 32 cases he argued at the Supreme Court.

Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore, the son of a railroad porter and a teacher who instilled in him the importance of education.  Originally intending to be a dentist when he went to college he became involved in desegregation efforts and decided to switch to law.  He wanted to attend the University of Maryland Law School but could not because blacks were barred from admission and instead went to Howard University School of Law.  A decade later he was the lead lawyer on the lawsuit in which the Maryland courts ruled the University of Maryland's admission policy unconstitutional.

In 1936, while still in private practice he began working with the NAACP and became it's Chief Counsel in 1940.  The NAACP's strategy was to use the law and the Constitution to case by case win incremental victories that would ultimately lead to the overturning of Plessy v Ferguson (1896).

Marshall argued and won critical cases including:

Chambers v Florida (1940) overturning Florida murder convictions against four blacks on the grounds their confessions were compelled.  

Smith v Allwright (1944) which overturned the Democratic Party's use of all-white primaries in Texas and in other states.

Shelley v Kraemer (1948) which decided that racial covenants were unenforceable in real estate.

Sweatt v Painter (1950) which ruled that the racial bar on admission to the University of Texas Law School was unconstitutional.

McLauren v Oklahoma State Regents (1952) where the Court found that public institutions of higher learning could not provide different treatment to a student solely based on race.

It is a tribute to Marshall and his colleagues and the resiliency of our legal system and the principles set forth in the Constitution that the strategy succeeded.  When Dr King began his work in 1955 there was still much to do but the legal foundation had been established.

And if you are looking for a good book on Dr King and the civil rights movement the essential reading is Parting The Waters: America In The King Years (1954-63) by Taylor Branch.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Earl & The Man

After hearing that on Friday Earl Weaver was ejected from a game for the final time at the age of 82 (appropriately enough while on a Baltimore Orioles fantasy cruise) I began putting together a little post.  Then, this morning I woke to the news that Stan "The Man" Musial had passed away at 92.
59topps-150Stan Musial

Earl and Stan make for quite a contrast.

Earl, the career minor leaguer.  Stan, one of the greatest ballplayers of the past 125 years.

Earl, cantankerous, ornery and opinionated.  Stan, quiet, contained and graceful.

Earl, hated by every umpire and barely tolerated by many of his own players.  Stan, beloved by his teammates and everyone else in the game, including the Brooklyn Dodgers fans who gave him the nickname "The Man" in tribute to his ability to hammer Dodgers pitching.  Musial was once voted by Cubs fans as their favorite ballplayer beating out even Ernie Banks!  Bob Gibson called him "the nicest man in baseball".  Gibson himself was not nice. 

What they had in common was that they were both admired and respected.  Earl, as one of the greatest managers in baseball history with the Baltimore Orioles and Stan for a long career with one team (St Louis Cardinals) during which he performed at a peak of excellence for 15 years, enjoying a 22-year career with the club.

Anyone reading the Bill James Baseball Abstract in the early 1980s would not be surprised by anything they read in Michael Lewis' Moneyball (2003).  Why?  Because James repeatedly told us about Earl Weaver's managerial philosophy which was the same as Billy Beane's with the Oakland Athletics twenty years later.

  • Walks and homers are always good.

  • Bunting and stealing are not good most of the time.

  • It doesn't matter whether someone "looks" like a ballplayer.    

Here's Joe Posnanski on Earl Weaver as a manager.

For your enjoyment here is one of Weaver's classic umpire rants.  An expurgated version of this event was used in Ken Burns' Baseball; this is the real thing.

Today, Stan Musial is not remembered as vividly as his American League contemporary, Ted Williams.  Williams, with his explosive temperament and love of being the center of attention, was always great newspaper copy.  Stan Musial quietly went on with his business.  That business included a fine combination of power (475 homers), speed (lots of doubles and triples), a great batting eye (a .331 lifetime average) and amazing consistency season after season.

After he retired, Stan and his wife, Lillian, stayed in St Louis, becoming an institution in the city.  Lillian passed away last year after 71 years of marriage.
This is my favorite Stan Musial story because it gets to the essence of the man.  During an All-Star game in the 1950s, Stan noticed that the National Leagues' white and black players stayed separate in the clubhouse before the game - in those early years of baseball's desegregation this wasn't unusual.   Stan saw the black ballplayers (including Mays and Aaron) playing poker among themselves and, went over, sat down, and asked to be dealt into the game.  After a couple of hands it was clear to all of them that Musial had never played poker before and had just joined them to make a point to everyone in the clubhouse.

Here's a link to Joe Posnanski which takes you to two beautiful articles on Stan.  He clearly loved The Man.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Whole Wide World

Pretty cool new website, Stochastic Planet, which randomly selects a part of the globe (land-based) every day and then posts a picture of the closest spot to that location.

Here's today's picture from Bie, Angola:
13.369921°S, 16.727903°E
Bié, Angola

photo by Rafal TarnasAnd a few days ago from Vilhelmina Muncipality, Sweden (didn't realize anywhere in Sweden looked like this)
65.150007°N, 15.030914°E
Vilhelmina Municipality, Sweden

photo by Fritz

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fat Bass

"Bass" as in guitar, not fish.

The "fat" bass sound was pioneered in funk and R&B about 40 years ago.  A fat bass note is the sonic equivalent of schmearing cream cheese on a bagel.  If you're writing musical notation a fat bass note would take up more than the usual allotted space for a note, sagging down a couple of lines.

Larry Graham of Sly & The Family Stone(a great live band) played a key role in popularizing this style.  But before that he was the first bass player to use the "slap-pop" style of playing on a hit single.  Wikipedia describes the style as coupling:
". . . a percussive thumb-slapping technique of the lower strings with an aggressive finger-snap of the higher strings, often in rhythmic alternation. The slap and pop technique incorporates a large ratio of muted or "dead" notes to normal notes, which adds to the rhythmic effect."
You can hear it on Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

The best example of Larry's fat bass technique can be heard on the band's #1 hit from 1971, Family Affair.  Just listen to the wallowing bottom:

Alert and observant THC reader, Dr Rob, has pointed out that on this song, Sly Stone seems to be channeling Bill Clinton in the sound and phrasing of his vocal, as well as much of the lyrical content, and indeed, at times I think there is an eerie similarity.
But how could Sly be channeling Bill Clinton when, at the time, Clinton was an unknown student at Yale Law School?  After pondering this for several days I now think the answer is clear.  What we have is the first documented real-life example of what Arthur C Clarke wrote about in his famous science-fiction novel, Childhood's End - a collective unconscious memory of a future event!  An ur-Clinton had been buried in Sly's subconscious as a memory passed down hundreds of generations which was somehow unlocked in 1971.  There's a Riot Goin' On, the album on which Family Affair appears, is notorious for the difficulty of its recording due to Sly Stone's incredibly drug-addled condition and perhaps that had something to do with unlocking this "future memory".  How remarkable it is to see proof of concept in such an unlikely circumstance.

Sly's drug habit bring us full circle back to Larry Graham.  Larry finally quit the band in 1972 due to Sly Stone's increasingly erratic behavior which included failing to show up for concerts and threatening to have Larry killed.

Graham formed a new band, Graham Central Station, and also went on to have a modestly successful solo career in the 1980s with one single making the Top 10.  Over the past two decades, Larry has frequently collaborated with Prince and often plays with him on tour.  Larry and Prince also share a spiritual connection.  In 1975, Graham became a Jehovah's Witness and in 2001 he persuaded Prince to also become a Witness. 
(Larry Graham today)(Prince/                                                                                                                                    Larry)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Stopped Making Sense

Maybe it stopped making sense before this but . . .

If you remember way back in time (a couple of weeks ago), Congress agreed with President Obama's proposal to increase taxes on "millionaires and billionaires", which translated into English means if you make more than about 200K and have a net worth of less than $1 million.  You may have read that the tax increase kicks in at 400K (singles) or 450K (married) but because of new limits on the ability to take deductions the tax increases actually begin to kick in at a much lower level.

This tax increase will bring in about $60 billion a year.

Guess what?  This week, Congress just spent the first year's take!

The Sandy Relief Bill will cost $60 billion.  But it's "off-budget", so we don't need to worry about it adding to the deficit (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)!  Except it's real dollars and we'll need to borrow to afford it.

Actually, it's not all for Sandy.  Only about $26 billion is for relief from the storm.  The other $34 billion includes funds for Head Start, a new roof for the Smithsonian, support for Alaskan fisheries, and funding for future natural disasters.  If you want an insight into additional political shenanigans regarding whether Sandy is classified as a "hurricane" or a "tropical storm" and the financial implications of this classification read this post by Roger Pielke Jr.

The bill passed the House with unanimous Democratic support and 49 Republican votes.  But the real story is that the Republican leadership which runs the House could have prevented a vote on the pork-laden bill until the junk was stripped out of it.  Instead, they facilitated the amendment inserting the pork.

So here's where we stand on fiscal responsibility:

The Democrats have given up any pretense of caring.  They just talk about the rich and fairness and ignore the math.

The Republicans want to keep up the appearance of caring but when push comes to shove (and Governor Christie (R) can push quite hard) they don't really want to fight and when their local R's want the money it will flow.

Demosclerosis strikes again!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Getting From Here To There

This is the first in a series of maps showing the change in travel times across the U.S. from 1800 to 1930.  The rate of travel in 1800 isn't much faster than it was in 500 BC, then in one century it changes dramatically.  In some parts of the world porgress was actually reveresed.  In 200 AD travel from London to York in Britain on the Roman road network was faster than the same journey in 1700.

rates of travel in 1800s

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Morning Wake Up

Perk up to Machines by Lothar & The Hand People, which almost became a hit single in 1968.  Lothar was the name of the band's theremin.  A prophetic tune speaking to our modern-day angst.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

For Our Own Good

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
                                                                   C.S. Lewis 

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) was the author of The Chronicles Of Narnia and a friend of JRR Tolkien.   

Here's how it starts on a small scale.  From Portlandia (a very funny show) via Assistant Village Idiot.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Death Star Petition Update

A few days ago I reported on the 25,000 signature petition submitted to the White House asking that the U.S Government design and build a Star Wars type "Death Star".  The White House has just responded, declining to proceed with the project.  After review of the Administration's statement (parts excerpted below) I find myself in reluctant agreement based primarily upon my significant underestimation of construction costs.  My estimate was $7 quadrillion while the Administration says the cost would be $850 quadrillion, more than 100 times higher.  Even with my proposal to use the plunder from conquered planets to pay off the cost I now think this would be an unacceptably low ROI.

Official US Government Response

This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For

By Paul Shawcross

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

Lester Bangs

One of our dedicated THC readers has written to tell me that I remind him of Lester Bangs "except without the NyQuil" (Bangs died in 1982 of an overdose from a drug mixture, in which NyQuil reportedly played a part).

Not quite sure how to take this, I decided to reacquaint myself with the oeuvre of Mr Bangs and after our review you can decide by answering the Survey at the bottom of this post.

Lester Bangs, born in 1948, became, starting in the late 1960s, one of the first renowned rock critics, writing vociferously, expressively and without restraint about rock music.  He's mentioned by R.E.M. in It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) - in the same line where they also mention Leonid Brezhnev and Lenny Bruce.  And I do remember reading him.

If you saw Almost Famous, you saw Phillip Seymour Hoffman play Bangs, whom the character based on the young Cameron Crowe (the film's director) sought out as his mentor.  Here are a couple of scenes featuring Bangs:

The music playing in the background of the first clip is Sparks by The Who.

  This next clip contains a great line from Bangs pointing out that rock musicians are "trying to buy respectability for a form that is gloriously and righteously dumb".
The real Lester Bangs was not as good-lookin' as Hoffman:
(The real Bangs)
In the next clip you can listen to Bangs slagging Roxy Music (as well as David Bowie (he comes in about 50 seconds into it)Bangs influenced a lot of today's pop culture writers.  Here are two recent articles (which also include excerpts from his writing:
The New Yorker, August 21, 2012:  How Lester Bangs Taught Me To Read
Slate, August 29, 2003:  The Skeptical Believer

So, now that you've watched and read everything:

Does Mr THC remind you of Lester Bangs?

A.   No
B.   Yes
C.   Yes, but without the NyQuil

Friday, January 11, 2013

Dancing With James

James Brown, that is.  Now that I'm (mostly) retired, I can spend hours practicing my dance moves following the instructions of the master!  Check it out.  
And this is James Brown in one of the best duets you will ever hear - with Luciano Pavarotti.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Honest Inception

I saw Inception when it came out and enjoyed it even though it was ridiculous.  Now Honest Trailers has produced its ersatz trailer (below) for the film which revels in its incoherence.  The very last line also occurred to me when I saw it since it reduces the entire premise of the film to nonsense.  Click here for the real trailer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sittin' In The Morning Sun

On January 8, 1968 Stax Records released (Sittin' on) The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding.  It became his first #1 single, holding the top spot on the charts for four weeks.  Otis never knew it.  He had died on December 10, 1967 when the small private plane he was traveling in crashed into a lake in Madison, Wisconsin just after he had finished a concert.  Forty-five years later it remains a song that everyone knows.  In 1999 it was named as the 6th most performed song of the 20th century by the music publisher BMI.

In a recent Wall St Journal article, several of those involved with the production of the song spoke about Otis and the making of the recording.  One of these was Steve Cropper, who co-wrote Dock Of The Bay with Otis.

Cropper recounted that when Otis came into Memphis in November 1967 he called and said "Crop, I've got a hit, I'm coming right over" and they sat together and finished the song.  Otis told him that he started writing the song when he was in San Francisco and producer Bill Graham let him stay on his houseboat in Sausalito.

The core of musicians on the recording were the members of Booker T. & the MGs, with Booker T Jones on keyboards, Duck Dunn on bass, Al Jackson on drums and Cropper on guitar.  For you comedy fans, Cropper and Dunn were also part of The Blues Brothers Band in the late 70s.  Having an integrated band, as Stax did, in the mid-60s Deep South was highly unusual but it resulted in some of the most memorable singles of that era.  Along with Redding, the band also backed Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and Eddie Floyd among others.

Cropper went on to say that when Otis showed up with the song he sang the verse that went:

Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evening come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch them roll away again

Cropper objected, "Otis, hold on.  If a ship rolls, it will take on water and sink" and Otis replied "That's what I want, Crop".

He then goes on to tell this story:

Years later, I was in Sausalito on tour and found myself at a place by the bay having a hamburger.  I was watching the water when my eye caught something.  The ferries crossing from San Francisco turned a little as they came in, creating a rolling wave to cushion their arrival at the pier.  That's when it hit me.  Otis had been watching the ferries rolling in. 
By Otis Redding standards Dock Of The Bay was laid back and mellow.  He'd made his reputation as a bluesy, soulful singer (he was also a talented songwriter, including composing Respect, Aretha Franklin's monster hit) as well as being a dynamic and riveting live performer.  His performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival in July 1967 had been his breakthrough to a broader white audience.

This is Otis performing Try A Little Tenderness in London.  It picks up mid-song but it captures his electric style.  You can also see Dunn and Cropper backing him up.

Monday, January 7, 2013

He May Be Right

From Frank Zappa

“It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice — there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.”

 (via Ed Driscoll)

Long Hard Times To Come

Tomorrow night is the premiere on the FX Network of the fourth season of Justified, our favorite TV show, about which I've posted before.  It's based on the stories of Elmore Leonard and features great characters like Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowther plus snappy dialogue that does a fairly good job of capturing Leonard's distinctive cadence.

Here's the theme song, Long Hard Times To Come, which combines bluegrass and rap as performed by Gangstagrass.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Jersey Campaign

On this date in 1777, General George Washington and his Continental Army arrived in Morristown, New Jersey ending a two week campaign that reversed the trajectory of the American War Of Independence.  We tend to think of events, in retrospect, as inevitable, but winning our independence was not.  Contingency plays a role.  So do people, as discussed in Churchill Ascends.

The best popular account of those weeks can be found in David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing (2004) from which the quotes below are taken.

The last half of 1776 was a miserable time for Washington, his army and the cause of independence.  Nothing had gone right since the publication of the Declaration on July 4.  During the summer, Washington, with an army 20,000 strong, prepared to defend New York City and Long Island from a large British force which had set up its base on Staten Island.

Then, in a series of battles from late August till mid-September, Washington was outgeneraled and his army routed from Long Island and Manhattan.  Further disasters ensued over the next two months capped by the British invasion of New Jersey on(Retreat from Long Island to Manhattan)   November 18.  For the next two weeks the British and their Hessian contingent chased the shrinking American force across the state (the chase was led by General Cornwallis who would surrender to Washington five years later at Yorktown).  By early December the remnants of the American army had crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.  Only about 3,000 men were left with Washington.   An American observer watching his army walk past in rags remarked:
"if the War is continued thro the Winter, the British troops will be scared at the sight of our Men, for as they had never fought with Naked Men."

The British believed the war was nearing an end.  There were many dark days for the American revolutionaries during the war, but the days of early December 1776  were the darkest.  It was during this period that Washington wrote to his brother, John Augustine Washington:

"If every nerve is not strained to recruit a new Army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up."

Nonetheless, Washington and many of his men were determined to fight on and willing to take desperate risks to keep the rebellion alive.  As they observed the British forces go into winter quarters across New Jersey they began to search for an opportunity to strike back.

While they did so, other events conspired to provide them support.  The Pennsylvania militia mobilized and joined Washington.  In New Jersey there were spontaneous uprisings in Hunterdon County and South Jersey as armed groups assaulted isolated British outposts and foraging parties.

And Thomas Paine provided timely inspiration.  Paine had already become renowned for his pamphlet Common Sense by the time he joined the American army as a volunteer in July 1776.  On the retreat across New Jersey he decided to write another pamphlet and completed a draft by the time the Delaware was crossed.  He called it The American Crisis and its opening words still resound today:

"These are the times that try men's souls.  The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis shrink from the service of his country, but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

The American Crisis was first published in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 19, 1776 and as a pamphlet four days later.  It was immediately distributed to the camps of the army.  James Cheetham, one of Paine's bitterest political rivals, wrote that it was:

"read in the camp, to every corporal's guard, and in the army, and out of it had more than the intended effect . . . Militiamen who had already tired of the war, and straggling from the army, returned.  Hope succeeded to despair, cheerfulness to gloom, and firmness to irresolution."

On December 22, Colonel Joseph Reed, Washington's adjutant, sent the General a letter recommending a crossing of the Delaware and an attack on one of the British outposts.  The unusual bluntness in his letter reveals the desperate and stressful nature of those days.  In urging the attack, Reed wrote:

"even a Failure cannot be more fatal than to remain in our present situation.  In short some enterprise must be undertaken in our present Circumstances or we must give up the cause."
 "Our affairs are hasting fast to ruin if we do not retrieve them by some happy event.  Delay now equals to a total defeat.  Be not deceived general with small flattering appearances; we must not suffer ourselves to be lulled into security and inaction . .  Pardon the Freedom I have used, the Love of my country, a Wife and four Children in the Enemys Hands, the Respect and Attachment I have to you - the Ruin and Poverty that must attend me & thousands of others will plead my Excuse for so much Freedom."

That evening after receiving the letter, Washington held a council of war and a decision was made to cross the Delaware on Christmas night and attack the Hessian garrison at Trenton early on the morning of December 26.

The attack required a hazardous night crossing of the partially frozen river, followed by a ten mile march on poorly maintained icy roads, all of which had to be done without detection in order to surprise the Hessian garrison.  It was accomplished successfully and most of the  Hessian force was killed or captured.  The attack gave rise to the famous, and famously inaccurate, painting below (the legend is a more contemporary addition).
 1america_christmas-480x358After its victory the army recrossed the Delaware to replenish its supplies but on December 30 they made yet another difficult crossing and set up positions around Trenton.  A large force of British regulars had advanced from New Brunswick but on January 2 it was repulsed by the Americans at the Second Battle of Trenton.  That evening, while Cornwallis regrouped for another attack, Washington made the daring decision to march that night around the British flank and attack Princeton.

The next day the Americans defeated the British in a battle fought in large part on the current campus of Princeton University.  At a critical moment in the fight, Washington led a charge mounted on his white horse, a clear target for the British.  One of his soldiers wrote his wife of that moment:

"I shall never forget what I felt at Princeton on his account, when I saw him brave all the dangers of the field and his important life hanging as it were by a single hair with a thousand deaths flying around him.  Believe me, I thought not of myself."

The British retreated to New Brunswick immediately after the battle and Washington took his army to Morristown where it established winter quarters.  But that was not the end of the fighting.  Over the next ten weeks the Jersey Rising took place in the northeast part of the state.  Local militia, irregulars and Continental army detachments fought more than thirty engagements with the British and finally drove them completely out of the state.  The crisis was over.

1777 brought more challenges with the fall of Philadelphia followed by the winter at Valley Forge but that year also saw the surrender of an entire British army at Saratoga.  There was never any question that we would keep fighting.