Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hurtin' With Johnny Cash

Mr Cash was born on this date in 1932.  He burst on the country music scene in the mid-1950s with songs like I Walk The Line and for the next twenty five years had a successful run on the country and pop charts and even hosted a network TV show in the late 1960s, enticing Bob Dylan into a rare appearance.

By the early 1980s times had changed and his records stopped selling.  He was dropped by Columbia Records, his long-time label and went through a rough patch both artistically and physically, including double bypass surgery and a recurrence of the drug problems that plagued him in the 1950s and 60s.  His artistic resurrection was to come from an unusual direction.

In 1993, he was approached by producer Rick Rubin, founder of Def Jam Records and launcher of the careers of groups like Public Enemy, Run - DMC and The Beastie Boys.  After leaving Def Jam he'd gone on to produce for heavy metals bands like Slayer and Danzig and alternative rock acts like The Jesus And Mary Chain, all of which (Rubin) were about as far from Johnny Cash's music as you can get.  Rubin persuaded Cash to sign with his American Recordings label and to do albums that featured on Johnny on vocals, guitar and piano with only occasional instrumental backup and recording songs by other artists picked by Rubin and Cash and arranged by Rick.

The partnership proved to be very successful with Johnny recording six albums during the last decade of his life, achieving critical and public success and winning several Grammy Awards.  During this period his health was deteriorating due to a neuro-degenerative disease and diabetes but the music and his wife of more than thirty years, June Carter, kept him going.  Apparently everyone expect Johnny to pass away before June but she died unexpectedly in May 2003 after heart surgery.  Johnny died in September.

From Letters Of Note here are two notes Cash wrote, one on the occasion of June's 65th birthday in 1994 and the second shortly after her death in 2003.

Let's listen to three songs from Cash's recordings with Rick Rubin.  His voice is ravaged, rough and soulful.

The first is Solitary Man a song written by Neil Diamond in the mid-1960s (and one of his first hits).  It was also used in the closing credits of the 2009 movie, SolitaryMan, starring Michael Douglas in one of his patented cranky older guy roles.  It's quite a good film but despite the linked trailer it is definitely not a bouncy feel-good film.

The second is the Tom Petty tune I Won't Back Down.

The final one and the most emotionally wrenching and stunning music video I've ever seen is Hurt, written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.  The combination of the lyric and the visual, with a visibly sick and aged Cash contrasted with his younger vibrant self, is overwhelming.  It was done less than a year before the deaths of Johnny and June (who also appears in it) and his daughter, Roseanne Cash, called it a "living eulogy" and said that they showed it to her before the public release so she would be prepared.  It's the last thing in this post because I've found that it doesn't work anywhere except as the final song.  When I placed it in the middle of one of my custom CDs it just brought everything to a halt because you cannot listen to another song for awhile. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sometimes You Eat The Bar

. . . and sometimes the bar eats you.

A case in point:

On this day in 138AD the Roman Emperor Hadrian named Antoninus Pius as his successor.  Later that year, Hadrian died of natural causes, and Antoninus reigned for the next 23 years.  Antoninus is still  remembered as one of the few "good" Emperors and had a mostly peaceful reign, dying of old age in 161AD, leaving Rome to his successor Marcus Aurelius (mostly known today for being played by Richard Harris in the movie Gladiator).


On this day in 50AD, the Roman Emperor Claudius named Nero, the 14-year old son of his third wife, Agrippina, as his successor.  Four year later Claudius died, poisoned by Agrippina, according to Tacitus.  Nero ascended to the throne, killing Brittanicus, Claudius' son by his second wife and later (again according to Tacitus) his own mother, Agrippina.  Nero became one of Rome's most despised Emperors and was removed by a rebellion in 68AD in which he committed suicide.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Dogs And Cats Living Together

Just as Bill Murray prophesied catastrophes of Biblical proportions in Ghostbusters, including "dogs and cats living together" so we now are faced with similar predictions about sequestration if it occurs, as scheduled, on March 1.  My advice - calm down.

(White House Spokesperson Jay Carney)

As THC pointed out in The Fiscal UnCliff - A Guide For The Perplexed, sequestration only triggers a $9 billion reduction in the federal budget year over year.  That is a 0.25% reduction out of a $3.6 trillion budget - in other words, instead of $100, the government can only spend $99.75.  All of the other figures you see tossed out are using baseline budgeting which always assume increased spending and counts as a cut anything less than that inflated number.  This has nothing to do with the real world - you know what I'm talking about if you've ever had to manage a household or business budget.

Let's take an example from ABC News about how this really works.  The Department of Transportation (DOT) has a 2013 budget of $74.2 billion.  If sequestration occurs its budget will be reduced to $73.2 billion.  However, in 2012 DOT spent $72.6 billion so even if sequestration occurs its spending still increases by 0.8% but despite that the Administration is claiming DOT's budget is being cut!

This chart sets out the longer-term consequences which are minimal:

The "bad consequences" you are reading about are from the bureaucratic playbook on how avoid budget cuts - threaten to cut the things in your budget that people like the best while refusing to cut those things that are truly expendable.

As Jonah Goldberg has written:

"Democrats are saying that if Uncle Sam doesn't get a bigger raise, government won't be able to function . . . That's junkie logic. It's the mindset that says you can't cut back on beer but if you don't get more money you'll have to cut back on the kids' diapers."
Also remember that when the President speaks about a "balanced solution", which always seems to rely heavily on yet more tax increases, that his math is also not related to the real world.  Although he would like people to forget it, the Republicans already agreed to a $60 billion annual tax increase at the end of 2012.  If you take that $60 billion and add the $9 billion in sequestration cuts you have a total of $69 billion in annual deficit reduction of which 87% comes from increased revenues.  It's the spending side where there is a lack of balance.

Sequestration was President Obama's idea during the 2011 budget negotiations and he was the one who insisted on it because, as Bob Woodward reported on page 339 of The Price Of Politics, half the cuts would come from Defense and thus, "There would be no chance the Republicans would want to pull the trigger and allow the sequester."

Although Defense is only 18% of the Federal budget it will take 50% of the reductions in sequestration.
Sequestration can work if the Administration wants it to work instead of using it to panic the public with horror stories.  Here's hoping the Republicans have the guts to let it happen.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Exquisite Dead Guy

Relax and sing along with They Might Be Giants!  The song is from the 1996 album, Factory ShowroomAccording to the band, Exquisite Dead Guy is:
"A song of admiration for a departed hero. The title is inspired by the name of a parlor game of the Surrealists, "The Exquisite Corpse", in which players take turns constructing a sentence word by word without seeing what has already been written. "

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Clarence & Ruth

It's been frequently noted that despite heated legal disagreements reflected in frequent 5-4 decisions on key issues, there has been an historically unusual degree of collegiality among the justices of the Supreme Court over the past two decades.  This has been attributed to the temperament of the justices as well as the deliberate efforts of the late Chief Justice Rehnquist who sought to cultivate a comfortable atmosphere, including instituting luncheons after the weekly case conferences where it is forbidden to talk business.

A few days ago, Justice Clarence Thomas visited Harvard Law School and was interviewed by Dean Martha Minow and it's now available on YouTube.  The subject of collegiality comes up often and Justice Thomas speaks very affectionately about Justices Ginsburg, Kagan and Breyer specifically.  Breyer and Thomas sit next to each other during oral arguments and, as it turns out, joke with each other (Dean Minow remarks that she has watched them whispering to each other and chuckling).  According to Thomas, Breyer also likes to doodle during the arguments.

Justice Ginsburg is apparently one of the justices everyone else likes.  It's also been widely reported that she and her late husband were particularly close to the Scalias.  Thomas also mentions that one of the other justices (sounds to me like it was probably Scalia) said about Ginsburg that "she makes all of us better judges".

The entire interview is well worth watching (it's 70 minutes long, but if you have less time start at about the 44 minute mark when Dean Minow asks the Justice who are the people he most admires).  Thomas has a compelling personal story and he draws upon it as he gives advice to the students.  I'll highlight some of his remarks below the video.

Thomas talks a lot about the actual mechanics of opinion drafting and it is fascinating.  He mentions that when he came on the Court, Justice Whizzer White told him "you must have a routine" and Thomas certainly does.

He mentions that you "need people who can disagree in a way that moves things forward" when talking about the types of law clerks he hires for each term.

For inspiration, Thomas reads Justice Harlan's dissent in Plessy v Ferguson (1896) which upheld segregation laws and which he notes was also Justice Marshall's favorite.  Thomas quotes this passage from Harlan's dissent:
"The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country.  And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth, and in power.  So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time, if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty.  But in the view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens.  There is no caste here.  Our Constitution in color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.  In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.   The humblest is the peer of the most powerful.  The law regards man as man and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved...." 
 He notes that Harlan was the only Southerner on the Court that decided Plessy.

Regarding collegiality, the Justice remarks that despite his stodgy northern New England image, former Justice Souter was an amazingly good storyteller. 

He has very pointed views on the need to ask questions in oral argument (as is well known, he almost never asks a question) and on how opinion should be written.  It sounds like on both subjects the Justice who is most his opposite is Scalia although his name never comes up.

He tells the audience that earlier in the day he mentioned to Dean Minow that in his radical phase he demonstrated outside Harvard Law School in 1970.

I don't know whether the students found this encouraging or discouraging but he mentions that he made his final student loan payment during his 3rd term on the Supreme Court!

In response to a question from a student he speaks about how hard it can be sometimes to stick to deciding a case based upon the law and precedent and not on how he personally might resolve it.  He mentions that some of the cases where that had come up "would surprise you" but the only ones he specifically mentions are the Haitian refugee decisions.

Thomas describes himself as "quite introverted" and that the "loss of his anonymity" was the hardest part of the job.

He did not grow up speaking English and it was not until his mid-30s that he felt completely comfortable speaking Standard English.

This last comment goes to Justice Thomas' personal story.  Born in the poor black hamlet of Pinpoint, Georgia which lacked sewerage and paved road in the segregated South of the 1940s, Clarence Thomas grew up speaking Gullah, a mixture of English and West and Central African dialects and was raised by his grandparents.  He tells the story of his youth and of his later life until his entrance onto the Court in 1991 in his remarkable autobiography, My Grandfather's Son (2007).  It's an candid and sometimes unflinchingly self-critical account which was noted by many reviewers at the time.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said it "lays bare the darkest, most painful moments of his life, with candor almost unheard of in public figures" and The Washington Post comments "a fascinating glimpse into a tortured, complex and often perplexing personality".  Thomas writes of his anger and radicalism as a young man, his failed marriage and drinking problems as well as the lessons taught him by his grandfather and in Catholic School that helped him persevere.

If you drew a Venn diagram of people who've read My Grandfather's Son and Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama, I think I'd be one of the few who has read both (I'm convinced based on discussions with many who purchased Dreams From My Father that not many have read it).  I've often thought that you could do a semester college course just discussing the two books, both by young men whose fathers abandoned them, and the issues of race, class, culture and family that they raise.

Early in his career, Justice Thomas took an unfair beating from his opponents over his alleged lack of competence for the job and was commonly viewed as someone who would automatically follow Justice Scalia.  However as Jan Crawford Greenburg revealed in Supreme Conflict (2007) the real story was much different and right after joining the Court, Justice Thomas persuaded Scalia to change his vote in two cases, and today he is considered an intellectual leader on the Court even by those opposed to his views (see, for example, his concurring opinion in McDonald v Chicago (2010), in which he revived the history behind the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment and laid the legal foundation for a possible future overturning of the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) which eviscerated the clause leaving it almost meaningless).

If you'd like to get a better idea why Justice Ginsburg is so liked by her colleagues, is featuring a series of short vignettes with her in which she also speaks of the collegiality of the court as well as her career (including the challenges facing a young woman lawyer at a time when professional opportunities were limited) and about her beloved late husband Marty.  You can find them here.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The First Guy

It's Washington's Birthday today so THC is linking back to All Possess Alike Liberty Of Conscience, George's epistle to the Jewish Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island.  The letter, along with his 1775 instructions regarding religious liberty, written to Benedict Arnold on the eve of his invasion of Canada, reflect his wisdom and generosity of spirit.

And You Thought The Housing Bubble Was Bad

THC remains committed to providing you timely information in order to help you prioritize your life activities so please take note:
Scientist have announced that if the Higgs-Boson particle identified last year is real their calculations indicate that the universe will end without warning when we are destroyed by a bubble!!!  According to the NBC News story "Will our universe end in a big slurp?" this prospect was a big topic of discussion at the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The article quotes Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist at Fermilab:

"If you use all the physics that we know now, and we do what we think is a straightforward calculation, it's bad news . . . It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable."

It goes on to say:

"He said the parameters for our universe, including the Higgs mass value as well as the mass of another subatomic particle known as the top quark, suggest that we're just at the edge of stability, in a "metastable" state. Physicists have been contemplating such a possibility for more than 30 years. Back in 1982, physicists Michael Turner and Frank Wilczek wrote in Nature that 'without warning, a bubble of true vacuum could nucleate somewhere in the universe and move outwards at the speed of light, and before we realized what swept by us our protons would decay away'."

Lykken puts it slightly differently:

"The universe wants to be in a different state, so eventually to realize that, a little bubble of what you might think of as an alternate universe will appear somewhere, and it will spread out and destroy us."

Somehow that phrasing doesn't make me feel better.

On the other hand, Lykken says that this alternate universe would be "much more boring" so it'll be a drag to be around afterwards anyway.  Till then I'm gonna party like it's 1999.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Real Blood, Sweat & Tears

On this date in 1968, Blood Sweat & Tears (BS&T) released its debut album, Child Is Father To The Man.  The album only reached #47 on the Billboard Charts but it's a remarkable record which holds up well today in contrast to the reconfigured Blood, Sweat & Tears which shot to #1 with its second album the following year, a record I find unlistenable now.  I listened to that first album many times in 1968.

The band was the brainchild of Al Kooper and was a pioneering fusion of rock, soul, folk and jazz.  The sound was unique and the production brilliant - listen to it today on a good sound system and you will appreciate it.  It was the best-sounding record of its time - sonically, the only comparable album was Sgt Pepper which came out the prior year.  I found Rolling Stone's review of April 27, 1968 :

"This album is unique. More precisely, it is the first of its kind — a music that takes elements of rock, jazz, straight blues, R&B, classical music and almost anything else you could mention and combines them into a sound of its own that is "popular" without being the least bit watered down."

More recently, writing at Allmusic, critic William Ruhlman wrote of the album that it:

". . . is keyboard player/singer/arranger Al Kooper's finest work . . .an album on which he moves the folk-blues-rock amalgamation of the Blues Project into even wider pastures, taking in classical and jazz elements (including strings and horns), all without losing the pop essence that makes the hybrid work.  This is one of the great albums of the eclectic post- Sgt. Pepper era of the late '60s, a time when you could borrow styles from Greenwich Village contemporary folk to San Francisco acid rock and mix them into what seemed to have the potential to become a new American musical form . . .This is the sound of a group of virtuosos enjoying itself in the newly open possibilities of pop music. Maybe it couldn't have lasted; anyway, it didn't. "
Al Kooper was a songwriter and studio musician.  Before BS&T, he'd written This Diamond Ring which became a #1 hit for Gary Lewis & The Playboys and was part of the studio band on Bob Dylan's classic albums records from 1965 and 1966, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde (all three released in a 14-month period!).  On Like A Rolling Stone that's Kooper playing the swirling organ.

When Kooper put together BS&T he added a four man horn section with players from jazz backgrounds in addition to the traditional bass, drum, guitarist and keyboard configuration resulting in an 8-person band, highly unusual for the 1960s.  And he made sure you heard every instrument on the album.  It's one of the best recorded records of the 60s.

In addition to tunes composed by Kooper and guitarist Steve Katz, he also found and recorded songs from new, upcoming songwriters like Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Tim Buckley.

Kooper's talent was in songwriting, producing and arranging.  He was the lead vocalist on the album and it's clearly not his strength.  After Kooper left the band over "creative differences", a couple of months after Child Is Father To The Man was released, his successor on vocals, David Clayton-Thomas, proved to be a much accomplished singer but the band quickly morphed into a much more pop and less innovative sound.

You can hear the whole album by clicking on the BS&T link at the top of this post.  Here are some selected cuts:

My Days Are Numbered 

I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know.  The album's masterpiece.  Once again, listen carefully to the arrangement as it builds during the six minutes of the song.  Also tells you how much times have changed - Kooper sings "I could be President of General Motors" like it's a big deal!   Amy Winehouse did a fine cover of the song.

The Modern Adventures Of Plato Diogenes & Freud A song that only could have been written at this particular time in the 60s.  The use of strings in this type of arrangement on a rock album was very rare - and it's better done than Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles recorded a year earlier.  Some maniac recently made a video for it and posted it to YouTube:

So Much Love.  The closing song on the album, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Maintain A Positive Attitude

Nothing like a "can do" attitude to keep hope alive.  Also useful in business planning!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Best First Lines of Novels

Here's someone's list of the 100 Best First Lines Of Novels.  "Call me Ishmael" is #1.

Number 79 is from one of my favorite books:

"On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen."
These lines are from Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, published in 1981.  It's set in the distant future in what used to be the Kentish countryside in southeast England after an unknown calamity has reduced mankind to a primitive remnant. Riddley is the main character and it's about his journey to puzzle out his existence and find a renewed spark for humanity.

The entire book is written in the stytle of the first sentence so it can be a difficult read at the beginning (for instance, "puter leat" is "computer elite") but once you get into the rhythm of the fractured English you can make sense of it more quickly.

When it came out the New York Times called it "extraordinary, haunting  . . . fiercely imagined" with "lighting by El Greco and jokes by Punch and Judy".  It's vivid, memorable and moving.  And very funny at times.  I've read the book three times over the years and it's well worth the time it takes to get used to the language.
 (Russell Hoban)

I've often thought of the author, who died in 2011, as the novelistic equivalent of a "one-hit wonder".  Riddley Walker was a big success.  I read his next novel, Pilgerman (set at the time of the First Crusade) but did not find it to be very good and never read anything else by him again.  But Russell Hoban had a long career writing both adult novels and children's books.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Feels Like This Around Here

Camille Pissarro - Road at Eragny, Winter (1885)From fuckyeahimpressionism a site featuring some lesser known paintings by impressionists.  This is Road At Eragny, Winter [like he needed to add that!] painted in 1885 by Camille Pissarro.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lincoln Douglass

Frederick Douglass that is, not Stephen Douglas.

Last year I joined the Civil War Roundtable of Fairfield County which features speakers on Civil War topics about eight times a year.  This week, Larry (this Larry, not that Larry) and I saw David Blight, Professor of American History at Yale and Director of the Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, who spoke on the relationship between Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
 (Prof Blight)
Douglass is one of those figures in American history about whom I've always meant to read more about.  Several months ago I read Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass, a small 100 page book, which Douglass wrote in the early 1840s, several years after escaping from slavery in Maryland.  It opens with these words:

"I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot County, Maryland.  I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it.  By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant."

By the start of the Civil War, twenty years later, Frederick Douglass was a leading abolitionist and the most famous black man in America and indeed, in the entire Western World.  Professor Blight is one of the leading experts on Douglass (I believe he would consider himself the leading expert) and has a new biography coming out on him in 2014 which I'll certainly purchase.

Blight spoke to Douglass' reaction to Lincoln at different points in time and it was a reaction that varied from suspicion, frustration, anger and disappointment to admiration, appreciation, support and even a little starstruck.  He also told us of the three Lincoln-Douglass meetings.  The first in 1863 when Douglass showed up unannounced at the White House and had a forty minute conversation with the President in which he urged Lincoln to equalize the pay of blacks in the Union Army with the pay of white soldiers.  The second, at Lincoln's invitation, in August 1864 when the President feared he would not be reelected and asked Douglass, to his astonishment, to organize an effort to smuggle as many slaves as possible out of the South before George McClellan became President.  The final meeting was in March 1865, when Douglass decided to attend Lincoln's inauguration and they met at the White House, where Lincoln asked him what he thought about his speech.  Of those meetings Douglass later wrote:

“in his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color."

Shortly thereafter, he was invited by the President to join him for tea in a one on one meeting which Douglass declined because of a speaking engagement, a decision he later regretted.  Blight used the three eulogies Douglass gave for Lincoln, in 1865, 1876 and 1893 to show both how his view of Lincoln changed or perhaps, more accurately, why he chose the particular Lincoln to speak about in each eulogy.  Most interestingly in the 1865 and 1893 speeches he called Lincoln "the black man's President" while in the 1876 speech, given at the unveiling of a Lincoln statute in Washington DC with an audience including President Grant, his Cabinet and most of the members of Congress he used different terminology:

He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men . . .You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity.(Statue dedicated in 1876)
According to Blight, Douglass took this approach to try to shame the political attendees into taking action to protect the freed blacks in the South who were being threatened with violence (in the worst of these episodes about 100 blacks were killed in a massacre at Colfax, Louisiana).  This effort was unsuccessful as the last vestiges of Reconstruction ended in early 1877.

Professor Blight has a wonderful presentation style.  He's obviously very practiced in public speaking but comes across as very informal, throwing in funny asides, modulating his voice and conveying the complexity and emotion of the relationship between the President and the former slave.

In doing a little research for this post I came across two items, one touching and the other disturbing. 

The former was that after Lincoln's assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln gave Frederick Douglass the President's favorite walking cane, a gift treasured by Douglass and still on display in his home in Washington.  A gift from the daughter of a slave-holding family who had several brothers and half-brothers fighting for the Confederacy.

The disturbing item was stumbling across a document called African American Voices Lessons Plans with a specific lesson plan entitled Spinning Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln intended for 11th and 12th graders in the Miami-Dade Country School District in Florida. Admittedly, I may be missing some context (the lesson plan is, for instance, undated) since I could not find the larger file from which this came as most were password-protected but here's what the lesson plan does:

  • Its focus is on identifying inconsistent political messages from Lincoln and Douglass in which students play the role of "spin doctors" [the lesson plan uses this terminology] to reinterpret "historic statements they made for the purpose of maintaining their good public image".

  • The lesson plan asks the teacher to explain to students the role of public relations experts and "how in American politics public relations experts are cynically regarding as 'spin doctors'".
  •  The lesson plan goes on to link to "other documents concerning Douglass' public statements about President Lincoln and President Lincoln's ever changing views on slavery and race relations".  One link takes you to Douglass' 1876 eulogy in which he refers to Lincoln as "preeminently the white man's President" but not to his 1865 and 1893 eulogies in which he calls him "the black man's President".  
  •  A second link takes you to the website of the Lew Rockwell Institute, an extreme libertarian organization which has a compendium of hostile and embarrassing quotes with no context or sense of chronology about, and made by, Lincoln on many subjects including race and slavery.

  • The lesson plan concludes with two pages of quotes from the Rockwell Institute, all of which are Lincoln remarks hostile to slave emancipation and against equality.    

The net effect is to show a Lincoln who is unambiguously hostile to blacks and raising the question of whether Douglass was a hypocrite to deal with him.  It's indoctrination, not education.  Did Lincoln say different things at different times?  Yes.  Did he say some  things that were offensive to Douglass and that would be considered so today?  Yes.  But this lesson plan only shows one limited set of these views and provides no context of what was going on in the Civil War at the time or of Lincoln's arguments against slavery going back to the 1850.  A student would have no idea why Lincoln and Douglass acted the way they did at different times.

With the release of the movie Lincoln and some of the discussion around it I've become aware that there are several different strands of Lincoln hatred and negativity.  They come from across the political spectrum but what they have in common is their refusal to accept that slavery was the cause of the Civil War.  You have the Southern heritage crowd who view the Confederacy as a Noble Cause and insist slavery wasn't really that bad or, at least, no worse than the plight of Northern "wage slaves".  Then you have a subsection of libertarians who view Lincoln as a dictator and the father of big government who wanted the war.  There's a branch of progressives, including some historians and African-Americans, who see Lincoln as driven by capitalist ambitions and a desire to see Northern industrialists triumph over working people (they like to refer to him as a "railroad lawyer") and who didn't really care about race or slavery issues.

Sometimes it's hard to tell who is from which of these groups.  I had a recent online encounter with someone viciously hostile to Lincoln (they said they were "neutral" on whether his assassination was good or bad) who at first I thought came from the Southern heritage crowd before realizing he was on the extreme left (he thought Occupy Wall Street was too moderate) and viewed Lincoln as a representative of oligarchic capitalism - sort of a proto-dictator.  That's how you can end up with an African American history lesson plan linking to the Rockwell Institute.  It's the worldview of someone like Howard Zinn in A People's History Of The United States which was described by a liberal historian as "cynicism masquerading as history" and that's what the Miami-Dad lesson plan is designed to instill - cynicism.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Funny Valentine

Don't change your hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine, stay
Each day is Valentine's Day

My Funny Valentine from the 1937 Broadway show Babes In Arms, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Here are two very different covers of the song.

Frank Sinatra from the 1950s (the girl is his daughter, Nancy Jr)

This is Elvis Costello's version from 1978.  It has a more chilling tone.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lincoln's Birthday

Let's do away with Presidents Day and bring back Lincoln and Washington's birthdays as national holidays.  Presidents Day means nothing and we should instead honor our two greatest presidents.

Happy birthday, Abe.

And don't forget, today is also Charles Darwins' birthday.  Born the same day and year as Abe - February 12, 1809. 

Separated at birth?

Monday, February 11, 2013

No Wonder California Is In Trouble

This may explain a lot:

"Everybody with half a brain is coming to California!"
    - Governor Jerry Brown talking about his state's competition with Texas.

From Orange County Register

Gravity Is A Mistake

The Institute for Centrifugal Research has developed a series of increasingly sophisticated amusement park rides over the past 30 years, beginning with the famous Spherothon in 1982, as part of a project to designed to increase cognitive abilities of young children though some of the results "have been a little too extreme to publish".  To appreciate the Institute's groundbreaking work take a look at the whole thing:Via David Thompson

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Late Night Driving Music

So, what do you do when it's 2AM and you've still got a 100 miles to drive before you reach your destination?  What I do is make a CD called "It's 2AM and I've still got 100 miles to drive" and pack it with songs to keep me alert and awake so I don't hit a bridge abutment.
Because it's a CD it won't cover the whole 100 miles but the adrenaline should keep you going for the last few minutes.

Only one rule, no more than two songs by the same artist (hey, I know it's about staying alert and alive but you need to have some standards, and if I didn't the CD would only contain live cuts by The Who).  It also helps if you can sing along with it - gets oxygen to the brain (at least that's my theory).

There's No Action - Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1978)

Sometimes I phone you when I know you're not lonely
But I always disconnect it in time
Ain't Nothing Wrong With That - Robert Randolph & The Family Band (2006)
Hard to decide between this and The Thrill Of It or I Need More Love.

867-5309/Jenny - Tommy Tutone (1982)
 My favorite One Hit Wonder.

7 And 7 Is - Love (1966)

Relentless.  Punk before there was punk.  In late 1967, Love released one of the classic rock albums of the decade, Forever Changes, with a much different sound.  How different?  Well, the song titles were still strange but take a listen to Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale

Hey Jealousy - Gin Blossoms (1993)
My nominee in a prior post for best upbeat rocker with the most downbeat pathetic lyrics.

And you can trust me not to think
And not to sleep around
If you don't expect too much from me
I might not let you down
The Real Me - The Who (1973)
My choice for best bass line in a rock song.  John Entwhistle plays lead bass guitar.  If you have a good subwoofer crank that thing up.  The drumming's not too shabby either.

Portrait Of A Cigarette - Discount (1997)
A 90s pop-punk band from Vero Beach, Fla.  Sorry, but you can't find this on YouTube or iTunes.  Got it off of a mix my son made while he was in high school.  Only a minute and four seconds long but it's dynamite.  Trust me.

The View From The Afternoon - Arctic Monkeys (2006)
From their UK #1 debut album.

Ain't Talking 'Bout Love - Van Halen (1978)

You know you're semi-good lookin'
And on the streets again
The kings of the stupid lyric/giant guitar sound thing.  Eddie plays some monster chords.  Hey, hey, hey!!

White Riot - The Clash (1977)
From their first album.

Sweet Hands - Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (2005)
Read more about Grace in the post He Came Dancing Across The Water.

Lipstick Vogue - Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1978)
You can find it in Fear Is Here To Stay, Love Is Here For A Visit.

Flathead - The Fratellis (2006)

A peppy bunch of Scottish kids.

In The City - The Jam (1978)
Saw them perform this live in London the year it was released.  You can hear the influence of The Who.

Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing - Chris Isaak (1995)
Oh yeah. See Boogie Fever post.

My Way - Los Lonely Boys (2006)
By Henry, Jojo and Ringo.  Not Sinatra's tune (which was written by Paul Anka).  See prior post.

Bad Motor Scooter - Montrose (1973)
An early heavy rock band.  Ronnie Montrose on guitar and the pre-Van Halen Sammy Hagar on vocals.

I'm Just A Girl - No Doubt (1995)
I'm not but Gwen Stefani ("a typical prototype") certainly is.  A great power pop tune.

Hundred Mile High City - Ocean Colour Scene (1997)

From the sound track of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

The Kids Aren't Alright - The Offspring (1998)
 When we were young the future was so bright
The old neighborhood was so alive
And every kid on the whole damn street
Was gonna make it big in every beat

Now the neighborhood's cracked and torn
The kids are grown up but their lives are worn
How can one little street
Swallow so many lives
I dunno - rock on!

My Generation - The Who (1965)
Broke a lot of new ground:

1.  The bass solo.  Unprecedented in 1965 and still amazing to listen to today.
2.  Three key changes.
3.  Lyrical content and de-de-de-delivery.
4.  That drum/guitar insanity at the end.

A massive hit in the UK and flop in the US just like their next three singles, Substitute, The Kids Are Alright and I'm A Boy (with its chorus of "I'm a boy, I'm a boy, but my ma won't admit it, I'm a boy, I'm a boy, but when I say I am I get it")

Bullet With Butterfly Wings - Smashing Pumpkins (1995)
Watch them perform the song live on French TV in The World Is A Vampire.

La Grange - ZZ Top (1973)

What was going down in that shack outside La Grange?  See the Boogie Fever post.

All Along The Watchtower - The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)

Electrifying cover of the haunting Dylan tune. 

I'm Shipping Up To Boston - Dropkick Murphys (2005)
Lyrics by Woodie Guthrie.  The music is not.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Van Lingle Mungo

Pitchers and catchers start reporting for spring training tomorrow so this will be my last Hot Stove League post.  We'll end with a little jazz music called Van Lingle Mungo.

Van Lingle Mungo was a fireballing hurler for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1931 to 1941 before ending his career with two seasons on the New York Giants.  From 1932 to 1936 he was a star, leading the National League with 238 strikeouts in 1936.  The Dodgers were a mediocre team and over the last four seasons of this period Mungo racked up 25% of the team's victory total. The following year he hurt his arm and never recovered although he hung on in the majors for another six years.  Over the course of his career he won 120 games and gained quite a reputation for fighting and drinking.

Van Lingle Mungo, was written by jazz pianist Dave Frishberg in 1969 and features the names of many ballplayers from the 1930s and 40s - in fact, with the exception of the words "and" and "big" the lyrics consist entirely of ballplayer names. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

It's Winter

Wind is picking up and more snow coming down.

But it's OK with Coco.

How To Order Dinner

Along with pontificating on the events of the day, giving you historical perspective, honoring baseball and posting funny pictures and music videos, THC is committed to helping you to solve your everyday practical problems.  I'm sure one of the toughest issues we all confront is when we go to a restaurant that we've been to many times before and must decide - do I order my favorite dish or try something else on the menu?  How do you decide when to order a new dish and when to go with your favorite?

Thankfully, one of the world's most famous physicists, Richard Feynman (1918-88), worked on the problem.  You can find the answer here.  THC is glad to have the opportunity to make your life better!

Some of you may remember Richard Feynman from this famous moment in the shuttle Challenger investigation.  In addition to winning the Nobel Prize, Professor Feynman was a noted bongo player, sketch artist and practical joker.
You'll hear more about Feynman in future posts.

This still leaves me with a related problem.  When we go to our favorite neighborhood restaurant, Savin Rock Roasting Company in West Haven it's difficult to decide whether to order the specials or something off the standard menu.  The specials are usually great, but when I've ordered off the set menu those dishes have also been excellent, including the best pastrami I've ever eaten.  I guess I need to find another physicist.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


On this date in 1943, the six-month battle on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, came to an end.Image048

For America, Guadalcanal was an unexpected and unplanned detour from its initial strategy in the Pacific in World War II but it provided an unexpected and rare victory during the first part of the war.  It was also psychologically important as it punctured the myth of the invincibility of the Japanese soldier.

For Japan, Guadalcanal was also an unexpected event and a severe shock to the military, many of whose leaders felt it was the turning point of the war. 

From December 1941 to May 1942, Japanese forces ran amok in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, capturing Burma, Malaya and Singapore, the Dutch East Indies (today's Indonesia), the Philippines, Hong Kong, islands across the Pacific as far east as the Marshalls and Wake Island and occupied the northern shore of New Guinea.

The next move by the Imperial Navy was to occupy the Solomon Islands chain, southeast of New Guinea, as the first step in a campaign to cut the supply lines from the United States to Australia.  The next steps were to be the occupation of Fiji, New Caledonia and Samoa.

Although in early June, the US Navy, relying on decoded Japanese naval communications, sank four Japanese carriers at the Battle of Midway, the Japanese Navy still remained dominant in the Pacific.  But the support of the Japanese Imperial Army was minimal for the Pacific Campaign.  The Army's focus remained the war in China which had been going on since 1937* and the Army only released a small number of troops to support the Solomons offensive, thankfully for the US. 

Strategic: Guadalcanal was used by the Japanese to assault shipping and communications lines between the U.S. and Australia and New Zealand. The Allied victory there gave the Americans a crucial footholdImage from The Daily Mail UK

On June 8, 1942, the Japanese landed a small force on Guadalcanal to begin construction of an airfield designed to help interdict American supplies to Australia.

America's original strategic plan in the Pacific was to delay offensive military action until its fleet of new, larger aircraft carriers began to become available later in 1943 and then to use the American fleet in a central Pacific offensive, bypassing the Solomons and New Guinea.  The delay was also due to the decision to direct 85% of the US war effort towards defeating Germany.

However, Admiral Ernest King, the Director of Naval Operations, successfully argued the need to keep the supply line open to Australia and convinced President Roosevelt, despite the opposition of Army Chief of Staff George C Marshall, that it could be done solely with the Navy and Marines.  To that end, the First Marine Division was designated for the operation which began with an unopposed landing on the island on August 7, 1942.  The small Japanese force melted away into the jungle. This successful and peaceful start to the operation was not to continue.

On the night of August 8, Japanese cruisers moved down "The Slot" (the channel between the western and eastern Solomons) and sunk three US Navy cruisers and an Australian cruiser.  It was the worst surface naval engagement loss in US history.  The Navy, concerned about further attacks both on sea and from the air (which the Japanese also dominated) withdrew from the Solomons leaving the Marines on their own. Take a minute and put yourselves in the shoes of a young Marine when the Navy pulled out.  The Marines were left with short supplies, limited to two meals a day and then hit with an epidemic of dysentery.

Nonetheless, the Marines and Navy Seabees continued working on the airfield (now named Henderson Field) which was completed on August 20, receiving its first fighters on that day.  At about the same time the Japanese began shipping infantry forces to the island in order to recapture the airfield.  And most evenings, the Japan navy would be offshore shelling the airfield and the Marines.

[For the account of a now 100 year-old pilot who flew a P-40 fighter from Henderson field see this article .  John Thompson received the Navy Cross for his actions.]

Over the next 3 1/2 months five major naval engagements were fought near Guadalcanal with the Americans getting the worst of it early on, including the sinking of the Wasp and the Hornet (from which General Doolittle launched his raid on Tokyo in April), leaving the US with only two other carriers in the Pacific.  The final engagements, however, were American victories.

On land during the same period, the Japanese launched two major and unsuccessful attacks on Henderson field and the Americans and Japanese had countless other encounters resulting from raids and patrols.  

[To get an idea of what it was like to be a Marine read the Guadalcanal Journal of the late James Donahue which was recently put online by his family.  An excerpt:

Again I can thank God for letting me live. We were digging three alternate gun positions in case the Japs break through. We were not given any condition. Suddenly, Fisher spotted 30 Jap bombers just about over us. We grabbed our helmets and ran like hell. Where we were running, I do not know, just trying to get out of reach of the bombers. It can’t be done because no one knows where they are going to bomb. Mugno and I finally spotted a small foxhole and we dove in. Just then we heard them dropping. All the time I was repeating, “Hail, Mary.”]

By mid-December the Japanese decided that Guadalcanal could not be recaptured and began evacuating their forces, completing this in early February.

There were about 7,000 American casualties, including 1,700 dead, during the campaign.  In addition about one-third of the Marines contracted malaria.  About 31,000 Japanese were killed.  A lengthy and very good summary of the entire campaign can be found on Wikipedia.

Guadalcanal was unusual for the Pacific war.  The battle lasted much longer than the rest of the island fighting (which could usually be measured in days or weeks), with the exception of the 1944-5 campaign in Luzon in the Philippines which was a much larger island.  The battle also provided the first glimpse for the American public of what the war was really like (though it would still be a profound national shock when 1,000 Marines were killed in the three-day battle of Tarawa in November 1943 compared to 1,700 in six months on Guadalcanal).  In February 1943, Life Magazine ran a lengthy photo essay on Guadalcanal and its frankness created quite a stir.  Below are some of the photos (some are taken from a Daily Mail UK story using the Life photos).  You can find all of the photos here.
 Exhausted: U.S. Marines wait on the beach for a troop ship to pick them up and take them home after four months of hard fightingMarines waiting to be shipped out after four months on the island.
Picture of a burned Japanese head on a disabled tank.
Horrifying: This image of a Japanese soldier's burned head staked on a tank shocked the nation and became a symbol of the brutality of the Battle for Guadalcanal
American Grave

* It is often forgotten now, but America ended up in WWII because of its support of China in its resistance to the Japanese invasion.  Our support of China and the 1940 invasion of Indochina by the Japanese triggered the Roosevelt's Administration's decision to embargo sales of oil and other critical materials to Japan.  It was the critical need for oil to supply its Navy that triggered the Japanese decision to invade Southeast Asia and seize its oil fields and attack Pearl Harbor.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you,
To the depths of the ocean where all hopes sank, searching for you,
I was moving through the silence without motion, waiting for you,
In a room with a window in the corner I found truth.

- Shadowplay by Joy Division (1978)

Joy Division was one of many British bands, such as The Clash and The Buzzcocks, inspired by The Sex Pistols.   The band, started by four kids from Manchester, became one of the forerunners of what was called the "post-punk" movement using more melody and employing changes in sound dynamics to build tension (for a later use of this technique see Nirvana on songs such as Smells Like Teen Spirit).  At the time I was not listening to their music and, in fact, only heard Shadowplay for the first time a couple of years ago.

Joy Division's short run was ended by the 1980 suicide of its lead singer, Ian Curtis, whose marriage was dissolving and who had been recently diagnosed with epilepsy but continued performing despite doctors advice.  The remaining band members eventually formed New Order which had some popular success in the 1980s.

The band has remained a point of fascination for music fans and been the subject of two feature films, 24 Hour Party People (2002) and Control (2007) as well as a recent documentary, Joy Division.

Here they are in all their brooding magnificence on Granada TV performing Shadowplay.  Interesting dancing moves by Ian Curtis and a compelling, yet stark and simple, guitar riff.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

This weekend we went to see a movie that we normally would have avoided, Silver Linings Playbook.  A friend who has reliable taste in movies recommended it and we quite enjoyed ourselves.  An upbeat film about mentally disturbed folks!  Actually, I think the subtext of the movie is that anyone who is a Philadelphia Eagles fan is mentally disturbed (but then, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia).
The movie is about a young man (Bradley Cooper) who is released to his mother, against doctors' advice, after an eight month commitment in a mental hospital due to a breakdown and a violent incident and his attempts to reconstruct his life.  While there are some implausible plot points the film is a nice mix of serious material and humor and the movie gets funnier as it goes along.

Excellent cast.  Cooper, who I've always thought of as a comic actor does a good job in the lead.  Robert DeNiro plays his father and for the first time in years he actually turns in a nuanced performance.  Jennifer Lawrence, who I'd never seen before, is absolutely terrific and Chris Tucker, who  disappeared for a couple of years, does a very nice job as Brad's fellow mental patient.