Friday, May 31, 2013

An Ancient New Pitch

There is always something you've never seen before in baseball and 28-year old Los Angeles Angels pitcher Robert Coello has come up with a pitch last thrown perhaps 90 years ago.  It's thrown with a forkball grip (see below) but with no spin so it has knuckleball type action and unpredictability.This is what it looks like as it is released.Angry-knuckler-4_mediumAnd here below it is skidding towards the plate.  It handcuffs the batter and the catcher and the umpire is so startled he calls it a ball when it is clearly a strike.  It's taken years for Coello to learn to throw the pitch with some semblance of control but so far this year he's had great success.  In 10 1/3 innings, he has given up only six hits and one walk while striking out 18.

Jeff Pasan wrote an article about the pitch, which Coello has taken to calling the WTF since "Catchers call it that.  Hitters say it", noting that:

"Whereas other pitchers impart backspin on their splitters and the traditional forkball from masters such as old-style fireman Elroy Face had a tumbling effect, a la curveball, Coello's finds a happy medium: When he throws it right, it doesn't spin at all.

Physicist Alan Nathan, a professor at the University of Illinois who studies baseball and has a particular interest in the knuckleball, hadn't ever seen a pitch like Coello's. His preliminary theory on the pitch: His thumb on the underside of the ball exerts backspin, counteracting the tumbling effect his top fingers put on the ball and balancing the torque so perfectly that the pitch has a knuckleball effect with superior speed (around 80 mph)."

It has fascinated baseball historian Rob Neyer so much he's written two articles about the pitch, the first of which is titled "Robert Coello Is Throwing an Ancient New Pitch".  Neyer claims that the last major league pitcher to throw a forkball with knuckleball type action was Bullet Joe Bush with the New York Yankees in the 1920s.  He's also suggested that rather than calling it the WTF, a "knorkball" or "forkleball" might be better.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

First Balkan War

One hundred years ago today the Treaty of London was signed ending the First Balkan War which, along with the Second Balkan War, would be the "table setters" for the outbreak of World War One (ultimately triggered by the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife in Sarajevo by Serbian nationalists on June 28, 1914.

The First Balkan War saw Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro (the Black Mountain, birthplace of Rex Stout's famous fictional detective, Nero Wolfe) team up to drive the Ottoman Turks out of Europe. (Nero Wolfe)  Its significance for WWI was that its outcome settled Serbia's southern expansionist claims and allowed it to refocus to the north on its fellow-Slavs ruled by Austria-Hungary.

The Ottomans had first expanded into Europe in 1354 and since the early 15th century had dominated most of the Balkans (Bulgaria, Greece, Albania and the former Yugoslavia), extending their rule at its peak in the 17th century to Hungary, Romania and parts of what are now the southern Ukraine and Russia. 

As the Ottoman Empire declined during the course of the 19th century, Romania became independent and three states that had disappeared four centuries before, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece, were recreated, though geographically smaller than their current versions, and the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina were occupied by Austria-Hungary.

By 1912, the Ottoman's rule (also known as Turkey) had been reduced to Albania, Macedonia and Thrace.  The map below shows the situation as of that date:

Montenegro, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia believed the time was ripe to strike since the Ottomans were preoccupied fighting Italy which had invaded Libya (then a part of their empire) and the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean, which included Rhodes, as well as facing an Albanian revolt.

Although they were united in their desire to beat the Turks their respective nationalist goals were incompatible.  The biggest problem was Macedonia - the Bulgars thought the Macedonians were Bulgars, the Serbs thought they were Serbs and the Greeks believed they were Greeks.  None of them thought there was any such thing as a Macedonian.  Nonetheless, the four Christian nations entered an alliance known as the Balkan League to fight the Turks.  A complicating factor was the ongoing revolt of the Albanian Moslems along the Adriatic Coast, who sought independence from the Turks.  They were supported by the Serbs although both the Albanians and Serbs claimed the Turkish province of Kosovo (they still do a century later).

The war began with attacks by the Balkan League in October 1912 and by March 1913 the Turks had been thoroughly defeated.  The Treaty of London eliminated Turkey from Europe with the exception of Istanbul and a very small hinterland around the city.(Destroyed village)

(Bulgarian infantry)
Bulgaria expanded substantially, gaining extensive territory to the south, a slice of Macedonia and large stretches of coast along the Aegean and Sea of Marmara.  Serbia expanded to the south taking Kosovo and another slice of Macedonia.  Montenegro gained part of the Sanjak of Novibazar (you can look it up), Albania's independence was recognized and Greece expanded northwards gaining the key port of Salonika which had fallen to the Turks in 1430 as well as a portion of Macedonia.  This was what the map looked liked at the end of the war.

But even before the end of the First Balkan War, the groundwork was laid for the next war.  Bulgaria made it clear that it was dissatisfied with its share of Macedonia and intended to reach a "fairer" settlement even if force was needed.  In response, Greece and Serbia concluded a secret alliance on May 1, 1913 (before the Treaty of London was signed).  Russia, a close ally of both Bulgaria and Serbia, interceded to try to mediate a settlement but was frustrated by Bulgarian intransigence and withdrew.  Two weeks after the Treaty of London was signed, Bulgarian forces attacked the Greek and Serbian armies in Macedonia and the Second Balkan War began.

Strangely, in making its war plans the Bulgarians did not take into account the possible actions of the Turks and Romanians.  The Turks had an obvious interest in regaining some of their recently lost territories and the Romanians had a long standing grievance over a slice of land known as the Dobrudja which lay south of the Danube and adjacent to the Black Sea and which was currently part of Bulgaria.

The war lasted only six weeks and was a disaster for Bulgaria.  The Greeks and Serbs won the battles in Macedonia.  The Turks launched a successful attack and the Romanians invaded and almost reached Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, before the Bulgarians agreed to a ceasefire.  In the resulting settlement, Bulgaria lost its slice of Macedonia, the Dobrudja, part of the territory recently ceded by Turkey and its access to the Aegean was limited to a harborless stretch of coast (and they were to lose even this in the aftermath of WWI).  Greece, Serbia, Albania and Montenegro all gained territory.

This map shows both the 1912 status (outlined in green) and the boundaries after the second war:

The festering resentment of Bulgaria against its former Allies led it to join the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey) in the First World War.  Initially it seemed like a good decision.  In 1915, Bulgarian forces, along with those of Austria-Hungary and Germany, crushed Serbia and it was able to occupy most of Macedonia.  They also threatened the Greek port of Salonika and, after Romania foolishly declared war on Austria-Hungary in 1916, attacked and reclaimed the Dobrudja.  But it all went wrong in the end.

A Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, including Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia, was created after WWI but it shattered during the bloody wars of the 1990s.  Macedonia is now an independent country although Greece objects to its use of the name.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


THC had not thought about this movie for awhile but happened to stumble across something (see here) that brought it all back.

When THC was a kid, WOR-TV, Channel 9 in New York City ran Million Dollar Movie.  Every week the feature movie would be shown twice each evening and several times on Saturday and Sunday.  It was where I first saw Godzilla and King KongRodan created a sensation when it premiered on Million Dollar Movie.  Made by Toho Studios in Japan, Rodan was released in the US in 1957, and my guess is that it made its Channel 9 debut in 1958 or 1959.  I (and my friend Tim) thought Rodan was simply the best film ever made and watched it 5 or 6 times that week.  It must have attracted a good audience because it was featured several times thereafter on Million Dollar Movie.  Or maybe it was just cheap to show.  You can decide - here's the US trailer:

Rodan later went on to do a series of buddy films with Godzilla & Mothra.  You can read more about Rodan's powers and life story here.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Death Of Captain Waskow

For Memorial Day

Ernie Pyle was the most popular American correspondent of WWII, and the most admired and respected by American soldiers because he spent his time on the front lines, not at headquarters.  His most famous column, published on January 10, 1944, recounted the death of Captain Henry Waskow near San Pietro, Italy on December 12, 1943.  American forces landed at Salerno on the Italian mainland in September 1943 and after initially advancing quickly up the peninsula their advance slowed to a crawl by late fall.  Waskow's death occurred near the beginning of six months of grinding combat contained within an area of less than 200 square miles to the north of Naples (an area about the size of the borough of Queens in New York City, so small that it took us less than 5 minutes to traverse via fast train earlier this month), culminating in multiple Allied assaults on, and the destruction of, the ancient Benedectine monastery at Monte Cassino which finally fell in May 1944. The Battle of San Pietro was also the subject of a powerful and moving documentary by director John Huston.  It was approved for release by Army Chief of Staff George C Marshall over the objection of some Army officers who disliked its realistic portrayal of combat and the death of American soldiers.  The 143rd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division, which is mentioned frequently in the film, is the unit in which Capt Waskow served.

Pyle's column on Capt Waskow was reprinted nationwide and read on the radio by some of the most popular broadcasters of the time.
(Capt Waskow)
AT THE FRONT LINES IN ITALY, January 10, 1944 

In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them. But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.

Capt. Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He had led his company since long before it left the States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him. 

"After my own father, he came next," a sergeant told me.
"He always looked after us," a soldier said. "He’d go to bat for us every time."
"I’ve never knowed him to do anything unfair," another one said. 

I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow’s body down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley below. Soldiers made shadows in the moonlight as they walked. 

Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came lying belly-down across the wooden pack-saddles, their heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking out awkwardly from the other side, bobbing up and down as the mule walked. 

The Italian mule-skinners were afraid to walk beside dead men, so Americans had to lead the mules down that night. Even the Americans were reluctant to unlash and lift off the bodies at the bottom, so an officer had to do it himself, and ask others to help. 

The first one came early in the morning. They slid him down from the mule and stood him on his feet for a moment, while they got a new grip. In the half light he might have been merely a sick man standing there, leaning on the others. Then they laid him on the ground in the shadow of the low stone wall alongside the road. 

I don’t know who that first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don’t ask silly questions.
We left him there beside the road, that first one, and we all went back into the cowshed and sat on water cans or lay on the straw, waiting for the next batch of mules.
Somebody said the dead soldier had been dead for four days, and then nobody said anything more about it. We talked soldier talk for an hour or more. The dead man lay all alone outside in the shadow of the low stone wall. 

Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there, in the moonlight, in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting. "This one is Captain Waskow," one of them said quietly. 

Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the low stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally there were five lying end to end in a long row, alongside the road. You don’t cover up dead men in the combat zone. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody else comes after them. 

The unburdened mules moved off to their olive orchard. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually one by one I could sense them moving close to Capt. Waskow’s body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him, and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear. 

One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, "God damn it." That’s all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came. He said, "God damn it to hell anyway." He looked down for a few last moments, and then he turned and left. 

Another man came; I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the half light, for all were bearded and grimy dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain’s face, and then he spoke directly to him, as though he were alive. He said: "I’m sorry, old man." 

Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said:
"I sure am sorry, sir." 

Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there. 

And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone. 

After that the rest of us went back into the cowshed, leaving the five dead men lying in a line, end to end, in the shadow of the low stone wall. We lay down on the straw in the cowshed, and pretty soon we were all asleep.
Capt Waskow is buried in the Rome-Sicily American Cemetery and Memorial in Nettuno, Italy, about 38 miles south of Rome, along with 7,859 other American servicemen.  Henry Waskow was 25 years old when he died, one of eight children from a poor Baptist family in Texas.  He was an outstanding student, president of his High School Class and took 2nd prize in a statewide oratory contest.

Waskow's last letter, written to his parents and sent to his sister for opening only in the event of his death, was made public 15 years later and read in part:

"I will have done my share to make this world a better place in which to live.  Maybe when the lights go on again all over the world, free people can be happy and gay again . . . If I failed as a leader, and I pray God I didn't, it was not because I did not try."

The death and destruction he witnessed at San Pietro left Pyle greatly depressed and he abandoned the front lines for Allied headquarters in Caserta, Italy where he drank heavily, in despair that his writing could not convey to the American public back home what he had witnessed. He drafted the piece on Waskow but, feeling it was inadequate, did not submit it until was persuaded to do so by a friend.   Pyle went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize in 1944 but he had enough of the war and returned to the United States in late 1944.  Nonetheless, in early 1945 he felt compelled to join our troops in the Pacific after receiving many requests from the soldiers, sailors and Marines there to tell their story.

On April 18, 1945 Ernie Pyle died instantly when hit in the head by a Japanese machine gunner on the small island of Ie Shima, just west of Okinawa.  (Ernie Pyle)(Pyle's funeral)

Two months to the day after Ernie's death, The Story of G.I. Joe was released.  Filmed with Pyle's approval before he went to the Pacific, the movie tells a fictionalized version of Captain Waskow's company and ends with the death of the captain (called Walker in the film and played by Robert Mitchum).  To play Pyle, the army was persuaded to release Burgess Meredith from service.  It is about as gritty a film as you will find made during the war.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Bird

On the evening of May 25, 1976 a friend and I went to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play the Detroit Tigers (thank goodness for so I could figure out the exact date).  The game remains a vibrant memory for two reasons.

First, at that time of the year a night game can get pretty cold if the wind is blowing off the water and it was that night.  According to Baseball-Reference the game temperature was 48 but with the strong breeze it felt a lot colder - by the 7th inning there was no more hot coffee to be found in the park!  I've seen a lot of games in Fenway but that night was the coldest I've ever been at the park. 

Second, from our seats up the third base line, we watched quite a pitching duel between Luis Tiant ("El Tiante") and a little known Tigers rookie, Mark Fidrych.  Fidrych was a Massachusetts native, hailing from Northboro near Worcester. Tiant was the most entertaining pitcher of that era, having transformed himself after an arm injury from a flamethrowing fastball pitcher in the late 60s to a crafty hurler with a variety of entertaining deliveries, including turning his back completely on hitters.  Here is Looie's windup:
That night, both pitchers threw complete games with Tiant winning 2-0.  The winning blow was a two-run homer by Yaz in the 4th.  Tiant struck out 8 (including slugger Willie Horton three times) and ended the game by striking out pinch hitter Dan Meyers on an off-speed pitch.  Though he lost, Fidrych pitched well, giving up only 6 hits and two walks.  The rookie only struck out one batter but he induced grounder after grounder with only 4 balls reaching the outfield.  The game only took 1:57 which was fortunate since we were freezing.

At the end of the game, Fidrych had a season record of one win and one loss.

I also saw Fidrych pitch on his return to Boston on June 24, 1976.  Since the loss in Boston, he'd won his next five starts (including four complete games) and had become known as The Bird for his eccentric antics, including talking to the baseball, getting on his knees to sculpt the mound, as well as his resemblance to the Sesame Street character and his enthusiastic and upbeat nature. He was in the big leagues and he was having fun - lots of fun and his exuberance got everyone's attention.  He was also a fine pitcher.  It seemed like everything he threw that year was low with a lot of movement.

This time it was 86 degrees at game time and The Bird beat the Sox and Rick Wise 6-3 with another complete game.  The first time I saw Fidrych was happenstance but on this night I was in the bleachersand we came to see The Bird.  Over the first three innings he blanked the Sox, giving up only one hit.  Then, in the bottom of the 4th, with the Tigers leading 1-0 he seemed to unravel.

Cecil Cooper led off with a long triple to centerfield.  Doug Griffin grounded out but Cooper scored on the play.  Fred Lynn then hit a line drive home run.  The next batter, Carl Yazstremski, walloped another line driver homer.  Jim Rice hit a long fly to the warning track in deep right for the second out and Carlton Fisk followed with a sharp liner to left field for a single.  Three runs had scored and 5 of the 6 batters had hit the ball hard off of Fidrych.  Then, as suddenly as it started it was over as he got Dwight Evans to hit a popup in foul territory near third base. 

Over the next five innings The Bird was back in control, giving up only two singles, while the Tigers scored five times.  The game ended with Fidrych striking out Rico Petrocelli.

With his next start, on Monday Night Baseball against the New York Yankees on June 28, The Bird became a certified nationwide sensation.  You can get a sense of the excitement he generated by watching him get the last out of that game and the Tigers crowd going nuts (announced by Bob Uecker who still broadcasts the Brewers games). 
It was a magical year for The Bird as he finished with a record of 19 wins and 9 losses, leading the league in ERA and being named Rookie Of The Year.

But in spring training the next year, The Bird hurt his knee and then injured his rotator cuff.  He tried over the next four seasons to come back but could never pitch effectively again and by 1980 was out of baseball.  Mark Fidrych returned to his home town, working as a contractor hauling asphalt and gravel with his truck.  By all accounts he remained an animated, enthusiastic and optimistic person.  A friend played with him in a pickup basketball game in the 1980s and said he was a lot of fun, congratulating everyone on good plays.

Tragically, he died in 2009, at the age of 54 when the truck he was working on fell on him.  Here is Peter Gammons reminiscing about The Bird.  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Better Days Are Coming

Better days are on the way

Cause you know and I know

It can't get no worse

Courtesy of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, written by Steve Van Zandt of the E Street Band and The Sopranos.  I think Van Zandt had something different in mind when he wrote the song in 1991 than I have when listening to it today.

I am also reasonably certain that the train that Southside Johnny mentions that he plans to catch is not high-speed rail.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Stonewall's Left Arm

For those of you who thought I was joking with my reference to Civil War maniacs.  Well, here we are at the location where Stonewall Jackson's left arm, but not the rest of him, is buried. 


Monday, May 20, 2013

A Dipsomaniacal Apathy

Larry and Mark just completed their second excellent Civil War adventure (for the first one see this), spending 2 1/2 days traipsing the Chancellorsville battlefield with their fellow maniacs.

Chancellorsville is the Virginia battle of early May 1863 at which Union General Joseph Hooker (Hooker) snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and where the generalship of Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson reached its pinnacle though tragedy immediately followed.  (Jackson) It is a very different type of battlefield from Gettysburg, with its dramatic topography and easily recognizable features, and Antietam, compact and sitting under picturesque South Mountain.  The area around Chancellorsville is mostly flat and most of the battle took place in an area known as The Wilderness, a 70 square mile area of tangled brush, small trees, impenetrable overgrowth with few roads and fewer recognizable features.

President Lincoln appointed Hooker commander of the Army of the Potomac after removing Ambrose Burnside who had led the federal troops to the disaster at Fredericksburg in December 1862 and then the farcical and demoralizing "Mud March" the following month.

Hooker was a braggart, self promoter and heavy drinker (more on that below) but energetic and aggressive which is what Lincoln sought in a commander and he was willing to take risks with him, as the President neatly put it in his letter of Jan 26, 1863:

Major General Hooker:

I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appear to me to be sufficient reasons. And yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which, I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and a skillful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality . . .  I have heard, in such way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship . . .

Yours very truly
A. Lincoln

The new commander took a number of steps that revitalized the army and developed an innovative strategy for getting at the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Lee, which was nestled safely behind two rivers.  In late April, Hooker launched the Army of the Potomac around Lee's left flank, crossing both the Rapidan and Rappahannock Rivers and reaching the Chancellorsville crossroads, ten miles from Fredericksburg, before Lee realized what was happening.(Hooker's sweep into Lee's rear)

Victory seemed within Hooker's grasp.  With 130,000 Federals outnumbering the 60,000 Confederates more than 2 to 1 a further aggressive advance would compel Lee to either fight on ground of Hooker's choosing or retreat.  Instead, on the afternoon of May 1, as soon as the Union vanguards hit Southern resistance a mile beyond the crossroads, Hooker ordered them to retreat and take up defensive positions thus losing the initiative and mystifying his own subordinates.  By retreating into the Wilderness he negated his huge numerical advantage.

While Joe Hooker stayed immobile to the frustration of his Corps commanders, Lee and Jackson met on the night of May 1 to plan the most dramatic strategic coupe of the Civil War.  Lee had already divided his army once, leaving 10,000 men to hold the heights at Fredericksburg against 25,000 Union troops.  Now he decided to divide it once again.  The following day, Jackson was to take 30,000 men and march 12 miles via small tracks in the Wilderness to assault the right flank of the Union army.  Meanwhile, Lee, with 14,000 soldiers would bluff the 75,000 Union troops facing him into thinking he was going to launch an attack when, in reality, Lee could have easily been destroyed if Hooker attacked.  Lee would have flunked any Army war college course with this approach.  It should never have worked but he knew his opponent.(Flank march, red line at far left)

On the late afternoon of May 2, Jackson launched his flank attack on the unsuspecting troops and demolished the Union 11th Corps and, as night fell, reached a point within a mile of the Chancellorsville crossroads.  Jackson planned to make a further attack that evening to cut the Union army off from the river crossings in its rear and thus surround it.  Riding out in front of his men in the darkness to reconnoiter a route, Jackson was mistaken for the enemy and was struck by a volley of fire from his own troops.  Wounded three times, he was taken to a field hospital where his left arm was amputated and he was evacuated to recuperate, dying eight days later.  With Jackson gone plans for the night attack were abandoned.

Jackson's wounding is one of the great "what ifs" of the Civil War.  Could he have succeeded with the night attack?  If he were alive two months later, would the Confederates have seized Cemetery Hill at the end of the first day of fighting at Gettysburg?  For those of us who admire Stonewall's generalship but like the way the Civil War turned out it was a good thing that happened that night at Chancellorsville.

The following morning of May 3 saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the Civil War with 17,000 casualties as the Confederates captured the Chancellorsville crossroads (with more bad generalship from Hooker contributing greatly) and to the eventual withdrawal north of the Union army.  Hooker would be replaced as commander six weeks later by George Meade, just before Gettysburg.

Hooker's performance was simply appalling.  A brilliant strategic plan, executed well at the start and then a complete abdication of leadership at the critical moments when victory was clearly achievable.  In fact, Hooker could have still won the battle after Jackson's flank attack.  In contrast, Lee was daring and confident, winning a battle against great odds.

Our primary guides on the tours were Ed Bearss, the 90 year old Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, who can still lead us in marches across the battlefield (see last year's post for more on Ed) and Bob Krick, who for 31 years was the Chief Historian at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park (NMP) and is one of the leading experts on the Army of Northern Virginia.  The NMP covers four battlefields (Fredericksburg, Dec 1862, Chancellorsville, May 1863 and The Wilderness and Spotsylvania, both in May 1864). 
                                 (Krick (Blue Hat), Bearss (White Hat)

We listened to them debate whether Hooker was drunk at Chancellorsville or whether he was just suffering the side effects of recently stopping his drinking.  There is historical evidence on both sides of the question and one of the contemporary observers who subscribed to the side effects theory described Hooker as lapsing into "a dipsomaniacal apathy" during the battle.

The Chancellorsville and Wilderness battlefield border on each other.  In fact, Jackson's flank march goes directly through the area that, a year later, saw some of the bitterest fighting in the Wilderness.  There is an eerie symmetry to the battles.  On May 2, 1863, Jackson was mortally wounded by his own troops riding out on reconnaissance having just completed his successful flank attack.  A year and four days later, Lee's other great Corps commander, James Longstreet was severely wounded by his own troops as he rode in front of them on reconnaissance having just led a successful counterattack.  Longstreet would survive and return to command late in the year but was not available to Lee when his strengths as a defensive commander would have counted for the most during the summer 1864 Overland Campaign.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Times They Are A Changin'

Somehow this makes THC feel older than watching some of the 60s bands today.  This is Mick Jones from The Clash in 2009 at a showcasing of his memorabilia in the Chelsea section of London.

Here's what Mick and the rest of the group looked like in 1983:

The Clash featuring Paul Simonon, Mick Jones, Pete Howard and Joe StrummerAnd here is he doing Train In Vain and Should I Stay Or Should I Go?  One of the YouTube comments describes it as "Mr Rogers singing The Clash".  First up, is Train In Vain.Next is Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

And here's The Clash in full power mode from 1980 doing London Calling and Love In Vain.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Keeping Yourself Amused

Two sites THC has recently discovered where you can endlessly amuse yourself:

GeoGuessr:  Gives you a picture of a random location in the world and you need to figure out where you are.  Use the controls to maneuver around and see if you can find anything that might orient you.  My highest score so far is 7790 and I've come within 150 km of picking the right spot.  It's harder than I thought.

Streetview Zombie Apocalypse:  Just put in your address, watch the zombies start swarming and see how long you can stay alive! 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Real Major Tom

"Here am I sitting in a tin can"

David Bowie's Space Oddity featuring the vocal stylings (and slightly modified lyrics) of astronaut Chris Hadfield beamed from the International Space Station (the music was recorded on earth).

A 25-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, Hadfield flew on two Space Shuttle missions before becoming Commander of Expedition 35 on the International Space Station which he entered on December 21, 2012 (he returns to Earth today).

He was also Chief of Robotics for the NASA Astronaut Office (2003-6) and Chief of International Space Station Operations for NASA (2006-8).

Monday, May 13, 2013

Master Blaster

Stevie Wonder turns 63 today.  It was hard to narrow it down but these are my three favorite Wonder tunes.

I Was Made To Love Her (1967)

Classic Motown bass line and what a great vocal break in the middle!  Stevie was 16 when he co-wrote this.

Boogie On, Reggae Woman (1974)

Incredibly catchy, rhythmic song.  Try making your body motionless while listening to it.  Just try!  You can't do it.  And just listen to the harmonica playing by Stevie.  He also does the infectious bass line on a Moog synthesizer.

Master Blaster (1980)

Another great rhythm tune.  This is a live version but with bad syncing between the vocal and the video or else it's another live performance that they matched with a different performance.  Written as a tribute to Bob Marley.  Great vocal tongue twisting by Stevie at the end.

Here's my favorite song written by Stevie Wonder that became a hit for someone else:  Tell Me Something Good by Rufus with the great Chaka Khan on vocals.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Anchorman Rumble

Favorite scene from Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy - the rumble in which the news teams from five San Diego TV stations face off.  A little-known incident from the anchormen wars of the 1970s.  Best line is from the Public Broadcasting Team (led by Tim Robbins) - "no commercials, no mercy!".
If you haven't seen the rumble itself you'll have to do that on your own.  To whet your appetite this is the discussion in its aftermath.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Our Recent Trip

Here I am relaxing in Italy.  Just got back today.(Actually from IWDRM but we really did get back from Italy today)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Heavy Guitar

I stand up next to a mountain 
And chop it down with the edge of my hand
In prior posts we've explored the mysteries of Fat Bass and Fat Guitar.   Now's it's time for Heavy Guitar and this is the heaviest guitar song - The Jimi Hendrix Experience doing Voodoo Chile Slight Return from their final album, Electric Ladyland (1968).  Listen to the monstrous soul-shaking sound from Hendrix's guitar and you will understand the essence of Heavy Guitar.

Absorb his opening guitar figure and then listen to what he does 32, 42 and 50 seconds into the song and the shredding guitar starting at 1:56, followed by a passage where you can hear his individual guitar strings about 2:35 into the song.  There are other great Heavy Guitar songs but none better over the past 45 years.

The great guitarist Joe Satriani said of Hendrix's playing on this song:

"It's just the greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded. In fact, the whole song could be considered the holy grail of guitar expression and technique. It is a beacon of humanity."

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Antikythera Mechanism

In October 1900, sponge divers off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera found this relic on the seabed.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download 
the highest resolution version available.For over half a century, scientists made little progress understanding what it was.  Today, with the use of modern technology and renewed scientific interest (papers published in Nature in 2006, 2008 and 2010) we know that the Antikythera Mechanism was built in Greece (possibly on the island of Rhodes) during the 1st century BC and was probably being transported to Rome when the ship it was on sunk.

The Mechanism is housed at the Greek National Archaeological Museum in Athens.  It's made of bronze, mounted in a wooden frame and contains at least 30 different gears and has over 2000 inscribed characters.  The device has forced a re-evaluation of the level of technology available in the Classical World as its technical sophistication was not approached again in the Western World until the first mechanical astronomical clocks were built in the 14th century AD.

The current prevalent theory is that the Antikythera Mechanism was a differential gear arrangement designed to calculate planet, sun and moon positions based upon input data.  In essence a mechanical analogue computer.  Below are pictures of a replica of the device:
Next is a video of a working reconstruction of the Mechanism.If you'd like to know more, this article from The Guardian contains videos on the recent scientific investigation as well as a LEGO reconstruction!

The new research on the Mechanism, along with other discoveries in recent decades, illustrate that the Classical World was more technologically advanced, with a more integrated economy and more densely populated than had been previously thought.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Louie Louie Turns 50

Fifty years ago this month, the song that became the staple of every teenage garage rock band in the 1960s, Louie Louie by The Kingsmen, was released.  The song, written by Richard Berry, inspired hundreds of cover versions as well as the renowned 1987 Louie Louie Marathon by radio station KFJC which over 63 hours played 800 different versions of the song.

Berry wrote the song in 1955 and released it as a single in 1957 without much success.  It was a sea chanty style ballad about a Jamaican sailor returning to his girl (listen to his version).  In 1960 Rockin' Robin Roberts and The Wailers (a US, not Jamaican band) released a version which had local success in the Northwest where it remained popular. In April 1963 two Portland, Oregon bands, The Kingsmen and Paul Revere & The Raiders (who went on to greater success in the mid-1960s) recorded competing versions at the same studio.  The Kingsmen version was released first by a small record label and achieved some chart success.  However, it was the October 1963 re-release by Wand Records, a bigger label, that propelled its popularity.  The record entered the Billboard Top 10 in December, peaking at #2, remaining in the Top 10 until early February (when The Beatles took over the charts). (The Kingsmen)

The Paul Revere & The Raiders version initially achieved more local success in the Portland area and after it was released by Columbia Records became more popular in the Western United States but after the re-release of The Kingsmen version, Mitch Miller of Columbia, who hated rock n roll, halted all promotion of the Raiders single.  Here's the Raiders version.
The Kingsmen's version of Louie Louie achieved notoriety because of its allegedly obscene lyrics (and I can tell you as a teenager in the 60s I was confidently told by older teens exactly how obscene they were) which resulted in several radio stations refusing to play it and a ban announced by the Governor of Indiana.  I heard that the FBI also investigated the song for alleged obscenity but always thought that was an urban myth.  Well, it turns out they did and the The Smoking Gun obtained the documents!  The FBI concluded that it was:

"unable to interpret any of the wording in the record and, therefore, could not make a decision regarding the matter"
These are the real lyrics:

Louie Louie, me gotta go
Louie Louie, me gotta go

Fine little girl she waits for me
Me catch the ship for cross the sea
I sail the ship all alone
I never think I'll make it home

Three nights and days me sail the sea
Me think of girl constantly
On the ship I dream she there
I smell the rose in her hair

Me see Jamaica moon above
It won't be long, me see my love
Me take her in my arms and then
I tell her I never leave again

The Rockin Robin Roberts version introduced the "yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah" and the "c'mon let's go" at the end.   And with that, here are The Kingsmen, complete with indecipherable lyrics, wild guitar break and the lead singer coming in too early after the break!
The larger cultural impact of the song can be seen in this clip from Animal House.And here are The Kinks, riding the tidal wave of their first hit single, You Really Got Me, performing Louie Louie in 1965.  This version carries some significant rock lineage.  The producer of The Kinks was Shel Talmy, who was also the first producer for The Who.  He encouraged The Who to emulate The Kinks guitar sound on Louie Louie and you can hear the results in The Who's first hit single, I Can't Explain.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Baths Of Caracalla

After years of planning and restoration, the underground tunnels beneath the Baths of Caracalla in Rome have been opened to the public.  The Baths were built in the early 3rd century AD by the Emperor Caracalla and were the largest public baths in Rome.  They also contained gardens and a large library.  We saw the above ground part of the baths on our prior visits to Rome and hope to see the new section this year.(Caracalla)

Caracalla was a nasty piece of work.  His father, Septimius Severus, led a successful revolt and became emperor in 193AD, ruling until 211.  When he died he bequeathed the empire to his sons, Caracalla and Gaeta, advising them on his deathbed to "be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn everyone else".

Ignoring the first part of the advice, Caracalla quickly had his brother killed and then set off for the eastern part of the Empire where he committed a litany of brutal acts, including a massacre of the male inhabitants of Alexandria, the reasons for which still mystify historians.  In 217, during a campaign against the Parthian Empire in Mesopotamia, Caracalla was murdered by one of his guards while going to the bathroom by the side of the road.
Nice baths, though.

Video via Rogue Classicism:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Places I Didn't Know Existed. Vol. 2

From Boing Boing
Tofugu has a short article on this unusual and beautiful Japanese island: Aogashima.
Aogashima (“blue island”) is a tropical, volcanic island in the Phillipine Sea. Despite being over 200 miles away from the country’s capital, Aogashima is governed by Tokyo. In fact, a whole stretch of tropical and sometimes uninhabited islands called the Izu Islands are technically part of Tokyo. Volcanic islands? Not typically what comes to mind when you think of Tokyo.
As you might imagine, Aogashima isn’t the most crowded place in the world. As of this year, only about 200 people live on Aogashima. The island only has one post office and one school.
There are two ways on and off the island: by helicopter or by boat. There’s only one, small harbor where the boats go in an out of, and it seems to be a little unreliable. Because Aogashima is so remote and isolated, it can sometimes be hard to get a boat to or from the island safely.
A fellow named Izuyan has been traveling to isolated islands of Japan and taking excellent photos. See: Flickr set for Aogashima.
Japan’s Hidden Tropical Island: Aogashima(Via imgur)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Chesterton's Fence

A cautionary note from GK Chesterton

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it".
 Chesterton continues (and how can you not take advice from a guy who looked like this):

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.
Good advice, though I suspect that Chesterton and I might set the bar at different heights for when certain types of reform are justified.

While Chesterton's suggested query can be seen as common sense, in the post-modern academic theory in which our culture marinates the question often never arises in the first place. In a world which contextualization driven by race, gender, ethnicity and class and overlaid with concepts of social justice is deterministic, the individual reasoning their way to an answer "doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world of ours" (see Bogart (1943)).  If it is the categories we fit into that lead to the structure of our world there is no need to ask Chesterton's question about the use of an institution or a law.  History does not matter since ascertaining the correct context will lead you to the correct, and possibly new and revolutionary, answer without any reference to the past.  Kind of like Cambodia Year Zero.

Oddly enough, while post-modern theory is hostile to the role of the individual, its postulates actually leave societies more susceptible to the manipulation of highly skilled and motivated individual demagogues.