Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Tablecloth Rules

The Red Sox own the first two decades of every century in major league baseball.  They won in 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1918 and now they've won in 2004, 2007 and 2013.  Bodes well for the rest of the decade though, based on past performance, the rest of the 21st century may present some challenges.

The power of the Lucky Tablecloth has been demonstrated once again!  The three years when we have remembered to place it on the kitchen table before the first game of the playoffs have all resulted in Red Sox championships.  The three times we failed to get in on in time (2005, 2008, 2009) the Sox were eliminated.   It is possible that the performance of the Red Sox players may also have been a contributing factor.  All credit goes to Mrs THC who was inspired to purchase the tablecloth and ensure its placement in exactly the right spot in our home.   Here is how it looked this morning:

Now it must be carefully cleansed (which cannot happen during the playoffs), folded and stored in a secure location.  Oh, and our new puppy which we are getting in two weeks will be named Koji.

From Fenway last night.  We made it through the traffic jams and were in Row 41 (of 49) in the right field bleachers. Great crowd and atmosphere.  Lots of singing starting off with the Dropkick Murphys singing the National Anthem sounding like four guys in a Boston bar and then performing I'm Shipping Up To Boston.  I'll upload some videos when I have more time.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Two For The Books

As we await the start of Game 5 of the World Series, we should appreciate that Games 3 and 4 ended in  ways that never happened before in baseball's century-plus postseason history.

The Hardball Times carried an article written after Game 3 on the Top 12 bizarre endings for World Series games.  The author rated Game 3, which ended on a walk-off obstruction call (and how weird does that phrase sound to a baseball fan!), as #1 but then had to add an update after Game 4, which ended on a pick off play, which he rated as # 10.  So the 2013 World Series already has two of the top 13 bizarre game endings in series history and has spawned its own twitter feed speculating on how Game 5 may end; I saw my favorite elsewhere - aliens land on the field in the 9th and are promptly signed by the Dodgers to megabucks long-term contracts.

Game 3:
World Series

The former #1 was the almost no-hitter thrown by Bill Bevens of the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1947 Series.  Bevens had control problems all day, walking ten, but did not give up a hit until with two outs in the ninth, Cookie Lavagetto hit a double driving in the winning run.  The game ended with Bevens losing the no-hitter and the game.

My personal favorite is rated #10, the seventh game of the 1926 World Series which ended with Babe Ruth thrown out trying to steal second!  This game is also famous for the relief appearance of Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander in the seventh inning.  Alexander, a 39 year old future Hall of Famer, had pitched a complete game victory for the St Louis Cardinals the day before, when he was unexpectedly called in to face Tony Lazzeri of the Yankees with the bases loaded and two out.  He struck out Lazzeri, retired the Yankees in order in the eighth and then retired the first two Yankees in the ninth before walking Ruth who decided to try to steal second.

With Game 4's ending, the Red Sox have been involved in 5 of the Top 13 (38%) bizarre endings even though they've only played in about 12% of World Series games since 1903.

Problem Solved

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

- Philip K Dick (1928-82)
Philip K Dick was a prolific science-fiction writer whose works have been made into eleven motion pictures, with three more on the way.  Among the best known films based on his writings are Blade Runner (from his story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau and A Scanner Darkly.  Among his other books is The Man in the High Castle, an alternate history in which Germany and Japan occupy America after winning World War II.

Dick himself often had a tenuous hold on reality.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Walk On The Ocean

From Toad The Wet Sprocket (1992)

We spotted the ocean at the head of the trail
Where are we going, so far away
And somebody told me that this is the place
Where everything's better, everything's safe

Walk on the ocean
Step on the stones
Flesh becomes water
Wood becomes bone

And half and hour later we packed up our things
We said we'd send letters and all those little things
And they knew we were lying but they smiled just the same
It seemed they'd already forgotten we'd came

Now we're back at the homestead
Where the air makes you choke
And people don't know you
And trust is a joke
We don't even have pictures
Just memories to hold
That grow sweeter each season
As we slowly grow old

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tasty Landscapes

Yesterday's post on the shaping of the Boston landscape leads naturally to more discussion of landscapes.  In this case it is landscapes or "foodscapes" made of food by the artist and photographer Carl Warner.  These are not computer generated images; Warner actually meticulously builds each landscape.  This is The Great Wall of Pineapple:
great-wall-of-pineapple-carl-warner  This is Stilton Cottage:
Stilton-Cottage-carl-warner My personal favorite; Meat Factory:
For more click here

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Filling Boston

Boston is one of America's great examples of urban landscaping.  The topographical transformation of the city during the 19th century is striking (and impossible to duplicate today in light of existing environmental laws).  In the 17th and 18th centuries, Boston was a peninsula linked to the mainland by only a narrow stretch of land that could be blocked by one gate along what is now lower Washington St.  Below is a map of the city as it existed in 1775.  Starting from the east (right side) of the map there is no East Boston, just Noodles Island.  As you move clockwise the area where Logan Airport is today is part of Boston Harbor.  To the south of the Boston peninsula most of today's South Boston does not exist, there are just tidal flats.  To the southwest, the area of the city now known as South Bay, is, in fact, still a bay.  Moving due west and just north of Boston neck there is a tidal flat instead of the Back Bay/Commonwealth Avenue area.  Boston Commons is the shoreline and what is today the Public Gardens is part of a tidal flat.  To the northwest Cambridge exists but the area where MIT is today is underwater and to the northeast Charlestown sits on a narrow peninsula. 

It was this geography that made the British position defending Boston impregnable after the battles of Lexington and Concord.  From June 1775 to March 1776, the revolutionary army sat outside the city unable to attack until Henry Knox managed to haul 40 cannon from Fort Ticonderoga in New York across Massachusetts in the midst of winter and emplace them on Dorchester Heights south of the city forcing the British to evacuate.

The Boston peninsula was also much different in the late 18th century.  Today's North End, where Paul Revere lived, was another itself a small peninsula attached to the rest of Boston by a neck of land that occasionally flooded at high tide.  The shoreline and docks were much different.  Faneuil Hall Marketplace, a popular tourist destination today, is now several hundred feet from the harbor but back then was on the shoreline.  Long Wharf, which is still long and juts into the harbor, at that time started near Faneuil Hall and extended almost a 1/2 mile into the harbor.  Today's Beacon Hill was called Trimountain with three peaks, Pemberton, Beacon and Mt Vernon, which became a source of fill material for the early 19th century landfill projects with each peak losing 60 to 100 feet of its original height.

Many of Boston's landmarks are on reclaimed land including Fenway Park, the Prudential Center and Hancock Building, the grid of streets in the Back Bay, the old Boston Garden and North Station, the Public Gardens, Copley Square, MIT, the Science Museum, the Hatch Shell, Storrow Drive, the North End wharves and the JFK Library.

This graphic, courtesy of Boston College, shows the transformation.
The filling projects were driven by two considerations.  First, and of most importance, was providing room for an expanding population and commercial growth as Boston prospered after the revolution and throughout the 19th century.  Second was to address the tidal flats which became brackish, fetid backwaters over time as the refuse of the city accumulated.

The largest and most challenging project was the reclamation of the Back Bay from 1857 to 1894 (area 7 on the graphic above).  The tidal flats had always been a nuisance but the building of a Mill Dam across the area in 1814 exacerbated the problems, including the buildup of sewage.  The fill for the project came from the hills west of Boston, with the primary source being gravel pits in Needham (where THC lived from 1980 to 1992).  At its peak, 3500 railroad cars a day of gravel were being moved from Needham to the fill site!  The layout of the streets was inspired by the work of Baron Haussman who created the great boulevards of Paris during this same period.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

King Harvest

. . . has surely come.

The Band, performing live in a basement, from 1970.  A wonderful group that made a lot of great music, topped by its second album, also called The Band, on which King Harvest appears.  Every song on this album is outstanding. Featuring Robbie Robertson on guitar, Rick Danko on bass, Richard Manuel on piano, Garth Hudson on keyboards and multiple other instruments and on drums, Levon Helm (subject of one of THC's first posts; Slow Down, Willie Boy).  Only Robbie and Garth are still with us.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Keeping Your Health Insurance?

The last time we heard from Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog he was telling us of his travails with the National Forest Service in the midst of the partial government shutdown (see Games People Play and More Games).  Today, we learn of his health insurance adventures:

So Much For Being Able to Keep My Health Insurance
Blue Cross just wrote me that our current health insurance policy will not be renewable for next year.  Unfortunately, I have actual health insurance rather than pre-paid medical care (meaning that it has a high deductible and pays for catastrophic things rather than aromatherapy visits).  Kathleen Sebelius does not think what I have is "real insurance" so she and Obama have banned it, despite promising that if I like my health insurance I would be able to keep it.

The truth is that under the Affordable Care Act the very wealthy will do just fine and the poor will get subsidies and become a solid voting bloc in opposition to any reform of the system (see Demosclerosis).  Everyone else got played for rubes and suckers. The sad thing is this was predictable at the time the legislation was enacted.

Taking A Bath

Baths at KhenchelaTHC follows all things Roman and according to the BBC it turns out that in Khenchela, Algeria there is a 1st century AD bath house that is still in active use although it did require repair several hundred years ago after an earthquake!

The BBC reporter notes:

"I had come to look at the Roman baths in Khenchela and had overlooked the fact that for many of the local population the attraction was not the ancient architecture or remarkable state of preservation but the fact there was a free and plentiful supply of hot water - still feeding into two open air baths.

The daily ritual of public bathing is still clearly alive and well in Khenchela.
In fact, as I stepped over the stretched legs and passed reclined bodies dangling their legs in the sea-green water, I got the impression nothing had really changed since the baths were constructed in the first century AD. Only the more recent Ottoman brickwork, the newly constructed changing room doors and the numerous brightly coloured plastic buckets gave the game away.

The important social function of a bathhouse has also been retained - family issues are discussed and resolved and jokes and stories are told to echoing laughter and the sound of a slapped thigh, back or hand."

Khenchela is near the Tunisian border and was part of the Roman province of either Africa or Numidia which was heavily RomanizedMap of Algeria and one of the richest areas of the Roman Empire.  The BBC article also contains this picture of the ruins of the nearby ancient city of Djemela.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Was World War II A Bad TV Show?

Hmmm . . . This one has been around for awhile.  It's a classic rant from Squid314 which starts out complaining about the implausibility of Dr Who scripts and then accuses the History Channel of being a worse offender with its "so-called World War II" which is described as a show with an "overwritten collections of tropes impossible to watch without groaning". 

You should read the whole thing but here are key parts of Squid's case:

I wouldn't even mind the lack of originality if they weren't so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we're supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren't that evil. And that's not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese.

Not that the good guys are much better. Their leader, Churchill, appeared in a grand total of one episode before, where he was a bumbling general who suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Ottomans of all people in the Battle of Gallipoli. Now, all of a sudden, he's not only Prime Minister, he's not only a brilliant military commander, he's not only the greatest orator of the twentieth century who can convince the British to keep going against all odds, he's also a natural wit who is able to pull out hilarious one-liners practically on demand. I know he's supposed to be the hero, but it's not realistic unless you keep the guy at least vaguely human.

Probably the worst part was the ending. The British/German story arc gets boring, so they tie it up quickly, have the villain kill himself (on Walpurgisnacht of all days, not exactly subtle) and then totally switch gears to a battle between the Americans and the Japanese in the Pacific. Pretty much the same dichotomy - the Japanese kill, torture, perform medical experiments on prisoners and the Americans are led by a kindly old man in a wheelchair.

Anyway, they spend the whole season building up how the Japanese home islands are a fortress, and the Japanese will never surrender, and there's no way to take the Japanese home islands because they're invincible...and then they realize they totally can't have the Americans take the Japanese home islands so they have no way to wrap up the season.

So they invent a completely implausible superweapon that they've never mentioned until now.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Earl Weaver Stands Corrected

Earl Weaver, the former long-time manager of the Baltimore Orioles, was famous for saying he liked an offense based on walks and three run homers.  After the American League Championship Series that ended last night THC believes that John Farrell, manager of the Red Sox, would amend that to say that he prefers an offense built on walks and grand-slam homers.

On to St Louis!  The Lucky Tablecloth remains in place on Day 17.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

September 1780

On this date in 1781, the British army at Yorktown, Virginia commanded by Lord Cornwallis surrendered to the American and French forces lead by George Washington.  Although the Revolutionary War did not formally end until the signing of a peace treaty in April 1783, the capitulation at Yorktown was the effective end of the war.  We know the outcome of the revolution but the participants did not, which seems like an obvious statement but is a useful reminder that in order to understand events we need to remember how it looked to those involved.  It's a humbling experience that should cause us to reflect on the limits to our ability to predict the future course of events.

The American Revolution did not follow a straight trajectory from its start on April 19, 1775 with the fights at Lexington, Concord and then along what is now known as Battle Road as the British retreated to the safety of Boston, to its end at Yorktown.  After the initial victories at Concord, Bunker Hill and the British evacuation of Boston in March 1776, the next few months saw the nadir of the war for the Americans with the loss of New York (see Washington Crossing the East River) and the retreat across New Jersey, salvaged at the end by the dramatic events at Trenton and the Jersey Rising which forced the British to retreat to New York (see The Jersey Campaign).

The following year saw the British army occupy the American capital of Philadelphia but also a resounding patriot victory (spearheaded by General Benedict Arnold) at the Battle of Saratoga in upper New York state, a victory which triggered the formal entry in 1778 of France into the war as an American ally.  Later that year the British evacuated Philadelphia, leaving New York city as their main base in the North.

With all of that, if you looked at the American situation at the end of September of 1780, less than 13 months before Yorktown, a successful end of the war looked nowhere in sight.  In fact it was the most perilous time for the revolution other than the dark days of late 1776.

After the retreat from Philadelphia in 1778, the British decided to embark on a "southern strategy" to detach the southern colonies (Georgia, South and North Carolina and Virginia) from the rebellion.  The first step was the occupation of Savannah, the only sizable settlement in Georgia, in December 1778 but the major push did not begin until early 1780.

In early 1780, the British sent a fleet and army to seize Charleston, South Carolina, the largest port in the southern colonies.  After a five week siege the American army commanded, by General Benjamin Lincoln, surrendered his 5,000 soldiers, the largest American surrender of the war.  The British followed up with a land invasion of South Carolina and seized the entire colony by the end of May 1780.  In response, Washington sent General Horatio Gates, who gained unfair renown as the Hero of Saratoga having stolen credit from Benedict Arnold, along with some experienced regiments from his army.
Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Gates combined the American regulars with local militias and advanced, against the advice of his officers, into South Carolina.  Aware of the American movements, General Cornwallis quickly advanced and on August 16, 1780 shattered Gates' army at the Battle of Camden.  Gates fled the scene on his horse, leaving his army behind and ending his career in disgrace.  With no effective resistance left the southern colonies lay open to the British.
File:Revolutionary War - Major Operations in the South
But it was not only in the South that events looked grim.  Washington's army had been sitting for two years positioned in a ring around New York City, stretching from New Jersey through New York and into Connecticut.  Units were understrength, pay and supplies from the Continental Congress were in short supply and morale was low as there looked to be no end to the war.

Then, on September 25, 1780, came what Washington later said was the most grievous personal blow he received during the entire war - the discovery of the treason of Benedict Arnold.

Arnold had been the outstanding American battlefield commander of the early part of the revolution.  However, in the course of his critical role in the victory at Saratoga he was badly wounded and spent much time recuperating, including a stint in 1778 at Philadelphia where he became entwined with the Loyalist community.  A great leader of men on the battlefield, off it he was prone to bitterness, excessive pride and envy, becoming entangled in endless disputes with other American field officers and tempted by the great riches promised by the British who approached him through his Loyalist contacts.

George Washington still considered Arnold a friend and confidant and when he asked Arnold his preference for his next appointment, Arnold requested command of the garrison at West Point on the Hudson River.  West Point was the key defensive point    (Arnold) on the river, blocking British access to the upper river.  Washington named Arnold as commander at West Point and Arnold began planning to turn the site over to the British who would then advance up the Hudson, severing New England from the rest of the colonies.  These plans were very far advanced when a British spy, Major John Andre, was discovered by American soldiers.  Arnold, alerted to the capture of Andre, escaped before the Americans realized he was a traitor, but West Point was saved.
(West Point & The Hudson)

So as the month of September 1780 ended here is how the situation looked from an American perspective.

  • The British were on the verge of capturing the Southern colonies as organized American resistance had evaporated.
  •  The American army in the North had completed two full years in a stalemate.

  • The Continental Congress had proved itself ineffective and had lost the respect and confidence of its own army.
  •  The American commander had been profoundly shocked to find that a man he trusted and relied upon was a traitor.
Yet only a little more than a year later the revolutionaries had triumphed, a reminder of the importance of contingency in history and the limits of predicting final outcomes based upon current trends.

And it helped that Washington was about to make one of his most inspired moves, sending General Nathanael Greene to rebuild an American army in the south and that a bunch of irate Scots-Irish settlers on the western side of the Appalachians were about to come storming across the mountains into the Carolinas; but that's a story for another time.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Norman Geras

One of the blogs on the THC blogroll which you can see (on a PC or iPad, not on a cellphone) in the lower left corner of my blog is Normblog.  Normblog is Norman Geras, a British Marxist and it's the only large circulation blog which has a link to THC which may surprise you since if you've read my political posts you know I am definitely NOT a Marxist.  Today I'm saddened to learn that Norm passed away after a lengthy struggle with prostate cancer.   I will miss him.

I'd corresponded with Norm on several occasions and urge you to take a look at Normblog.  Norman Geras  was a person of goodwill and humor with a generosity of spirit.  His lack of snark and the seriousness and respect with which he engaged with opposing views encouraged those of us who sometimes disagreed with him to nonetheless take the time to read him and think about what he had to say.  His interviews of other bloggers and his music and movie posts as well as his philosophical and political musings are worth reading.

What first caught my attention about Norm was that he was part of a small group of committed leftists who rejected moral relativism and believed in the importance of Western values.  Others in this category would include Brits like Nick Cohen and the late Christopher Hitchens (who became a U.S. citizen) and Americans like Paul Berman and Bruce Bawer (the last one is admittedly very difficult to characterize).  Oddly I often felt more of a kinship with them than with many of today's progressives who seem embarrassed and apologetic about the Western tradition and resist thinking through the implications of their current beliefs.  They were definitely out of step with the prevailing trends in liberal/left circles and at times came under heavy fire from their former comrades for pointing out some of the absurd beliefs they held.  They stood their ground when attacked I have great respect for all of them for doing so.  Even among this group, Norm stood out because of his congenial personality and way he made Normblog a friendly place to gather and it is why so many of us across the political spectrum had such affection for him and mourn his passing.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mogura No Uta

The fifth game of the Red Sox - Tigers series is about to start so it's appropriate to do a little entrance music post.  This is what Junichi Tazawa, the Sox set up reliever, enters to.  It's Mogura No Uta, some Japanese reggae by Express.  The title roughly translates as "Song of the Mole" and comes from the name of a Japanese manga (comic book) about a cop who has infiltrated a criminal gang for purposes of destroying it.  It's pretty catchy listening to it when you're sitting in Fenway.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


A common musical theme, the best known version of a song by this title is One by Three Dog Night (U2's song by the same name is a close second), a big hit in 1969.  The song was written by Harry Nilsson, a mostly-forgotten figure now, but a well known songwriter and singer in the late 60s and early 70s and one of the first popularizers of Randy Newman songs.  His two biggest hits were covers, Everybody's Talkin' At Me (from the film Midnight Cowboy) and the bombastic Without You, true 70s dreck.  This is a great Nilsson original, Without Her (you really should listen to the linked clip).  He was also a drinking buddy of John Lennon and Ringo Starr and worked on recordings with all four of the former Beatles.

My favorite cover of the song is by Aimee Mann.  This is her 1995 version (later featured in the movie Magnolia).  You may remember Aimee as the bass player and lead singer for Til Tuesday which had a hit with Voices Carry in the 1980s.

Here's her version of One (the woman in the video is not Mann).

And this is her 2009 version of Voices Carry.

Aimee also played one of the German nihilists in The Big Lebowski.  Another of the nihilists was portrayed by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers while Peter Stormare played the lead nihilist (can you have a lead nihilist?).  During his prior Coen Brothers appearance in Fargo, Stormare inserted Steve Buscemi into a wood chipper.  And, to close the circle, Buscemi plays the gentle and constantly perplexed Theodore Donald "Donny" Kerabatsos in The Big Lebowski but he is not inserted into a wood chipper in that film though, as in the previous movie, his remains end up scattered on the ground.