Friday, November 29, 2013

Warm Heart Pastry

For the day after Thanksgiving, as you contemplate assaulting massive amounts of leftovers, here is a tasty treat for you - Warm Heart Pastry from Mike Heron's 1971 solo album, Smiling Men With Bad Reputations.  Heron had been a member of the Incredible String Band and this was his initial solo effort.  The cut is notable for his backing band on the track - Tommy and the Bijoux, consisting of Pete Townsend on guitar, Keith Moon on drums and Ronnie Lane (from Small Faces) on bass.  You will instantly recognize Townsend and Moon's playing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pi v Pie

With Thanksgiving being tomorrow, THC thought this might help avoid confusion around the dinner table.
From Grant Snider

Monday, November 25, 2013


Not a word THC would normally apply to movie directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne but a recent viewing of The Searchers (1956) revealed more going on than seen in my earlier casual viewing.

Today, The Searchers is acclaimed as Ford's best movie and Wayne's finest performance as the dark, bitter and obsessive Ethan Edwards.  The American Film Institute voted it the best film Western (2007) and in 2008 the 12th best American film ever.  In 2012 the British Film Institute rated it as the 7th best film based on a survey of international film critics.

The movie starts with Ethan's return, in 1868 after eight years away in the Civil War and then Mexico, to the isolated Texas farmstead of his brother Aaron and Aaron's wife Martha, played by Dorothy Jordan.  After a Comanche raid in which Aaron and Martha are killed and their daughters, including 8-year old Debby kidnapped, Ethan embarks on a years long quest to find, and possibly kill, them.

Watching the movie recently what jumped out at me was the suggestion that Ethan and Aaron's wife, Martha, had a relationship and the possibility that Debby was Ethan's daughter.  There is no direct reference to this in the film but it all fits in with the Wayne character and his reaction to the murders and kidnapping.

Here is a very short scene from early in the film when Ethan and the Reverend Captain (of the Texas Rangers) Samuel Johnson Clayton (played by Ward Bond, who those of a certain age remember from the TV series Wagon Train) are preparing to leave in response to the report of a Comanche raiding party nearby.  Watch the interaction between Ethan and Martha and the studious way that Rev Clayton avoids looking at them.
And this is the opening scene of the movie when Aaron, Martha and their family welcome Ethan back after years away.

And just for the joy of watching great film making here are the opening and closing sequences which mirror each other.  Don't forget to watch John Wayne's pigeon toed walk away at the end.

An extra added bonus is, like many of the Ford westerns, it's shot in Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border.  The location is part of the Navajo reservation.  THC and family had the opportunity to visit Monument Valley in June 1998 and bounce around in the back of a Navajo pickup truck for three hours touring the Valley.  It was spectacular and we saw many locations clearly identifiable from Ford's films. Go there.

We stayed at Gouldings Lodge, the only motel within 30 or 40 miles and where Ford's cast would stay when shooting the films nearby.  When you step outside your door you felt you were in one of his movies.
Goulding's Lodge

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Songs I Didn't Like To Admit I Liked Vol. 2: Tears For Fears

The first installment of this intermittent series featured a Glen Campbell song from the 60s.  Now let's move to the 1980s.

Tears for Fears bugged me.  I don't know if it was the way the two guys who ran the group (Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith) looked.  Maybe it was their first hit single in the US, Shout, which I didn't like then or now.  Whatever it was I never warmed up to them.  Even though I liked the two followups to Shout, Everybody Wants to Rule the World and Head Over Heels, - not that I ever purchased any of their records!

1985 was a good year for the band.  Their album, Songs from the Big Chair, unleashed three hit singles - Shout was one of the biggest records in the world that year, Everybody hit #1 in the U.S. and Head reached #3.

Their videos for all of these songs were pretty lousy and I didn't like their singing voices.  But they wrote great melodies and whoever did the arranging was pretty clever.  Everybody also has that sparkling lyric couplet:

I can't stand this indecision
Married with a lack of vision

I was surprised to find that Tears for Fears sold 25 million albums in their career.

Another 80s song was suggested to me by dedicated THC reader, LDC, and yes, it was a song I refused to admit I liked at the time - Harden My Heart by Quarterflash.  Released in late 1981 it hit #3 in early 1982 and spawned a truly awful music video which is embedded below.  I urge you to watch the whole thing - it even has a guy with a flamethrower!  Quarterflash was formed by Rindy and Marv Ross who met and married while at Western Oregon University in the 1970s.  Rindy sang and played saxophone and Marv wrote the songs and played guitar.

Harden My Heart was their only big hit but Rindy and Marv are still together and touring as Quarterflash.  Below the 1981 video you'll find a YouTube of them playing the same song in 2011.

The original video (complete with flamethrower guy and lead singer looking awkward in a leotard):

And this is Quarterflash 2011:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Theatre of Dionysos

At Thorikos, near Athens.  Built in late 6th/early 5th century BC.  From Archaic Wonder

The Oldest Ancient Greek Theater: The Theater of Dionysos at Thorikos
Thorikos was an ancient fortified city in the Laurion mining district of Attica and was one of the original 12 Attic deme (burgs or subdivisions of Athens) that were according to legend, unified by Theseus, the mythical founder-king of Athens.
During the later part of the Peloponnesian War, by 412 BC, the town had become fully fortified by a wall and at least 7 gateways to protect the valuable Laurion mining district and the coastal sea lanes.
Mining in Thorikos dates back to around 3000 BC. After the exhaustion of the mines of  Laurion and the destruction of Thorikos by the Roman general Sulla in 86 BC, the area was abandoned temporarily. It was reinhabited during the Roman period until the 6th century AD, when the countryside of Attica was deserted due to the Slavic invasions.
The site of Thorikos had been inhabited since the Neolithic period (c. 4500 BC). Prehistoric and Mycenaean settlements existed on Velatouri Hill where the acropolis is now. Tombs of the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age are found on the lower slopes of the hill, beneath the Classical levels.
The theater was constructed between 525-480 BC and sits below the acropolis, on the south slope of Velatouri Hill. It is unique due to its shape which comprises an elongated layout with an oval orchestra and is the earliest theater ever found in Greece.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The 5% Solution

The President and others in his Administration, as well as many in the media, persist in stating that the grandfather rule issue involving the cancellation of healthcare insurance policies only impacts the 5% of Americans who have individual policies.  The government estimates that 7 to 10.5 million of these people will lose their coverage.

But worse, it is a continued and deliberate "incorrect promise" (to use the Orwellian terminology of the NY Times).  As THC pointed out recently, the majority of all healthcare plans, individual and group, small business and large business, are expected to be non-compliant with Obamacare by the end of 2013 and thus lose grandfather status.

Just as a reminder, here is one example of many times the President made his "incorrect promise".  This was at the Annual Meeting of the American Medical Association on June 15, 2009 where he stated:

“no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what. My view is that health care reform should be guided by a simple principle: fix what’s broken and build on what works.”  
Further evidence of this deliberate deception can be found in the brief filed by the US Department of Justice (which, THC believes, is still part of the Administration) on October 17, 2013 in Priests for Life v Department of Health & Human Services.  The case revolves around the Administration's insistence that religious institutions must have insurance plans that, directly or indirectly, provide contraceptive and abortion services to employees regardless of religious objections.  The plaintiffs seek a permanent exemption from those provisions of the law.  In arguing that the exemption sought by the plaintiffs undermines the government's interests the DOJ dismisses the significance of the temporary exemption granted to insurance plans in general (at page 27):

And, unlike the permanent exemption plaintiffs seek for employers that object to the regulations on religious grounds, the grandfathering provision's incremental transition does not undermine the government's interests in a significant way [Citations omitted].  Even under the grandfathering provision, it is projected that more group health plans will transition to the requirements under the regulations as time goes on.  Defendants [Department of Health & Human Services] have estimated that a majority of group health plans will have lost their grandfather status by the end of 2013 [Citations omitted].  Thus, any purported adverse effect on the compelling interests underlying the regulations will be quickly mitigated, which is in stark contrast to the permanent exemption plaintiffs seek.

What this means in English is that the termination of most individual and group plans has been a "compelling" government interest "in a significant way" ever since the passage of the law.  It is part of the design of Obamacare, not a flaw.

What we are seeing are not "unintended consequences" of the law; they are the intended consequences.

Oh, by the way, how's the "you will be able to keep your doctor" part of that promise going?  Not too well, according to today's Washington Post.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's speech honoring the dead who gave "the last full measure of devotion" fighting to preserve the Union at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the start of a 76-hour battle in which 1,000 Americans gave their last full measure of devotion; a battle on a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean which, while ultimately achieving its goal, did so at a price that shocked the US Navy, the Marine Corps and the American public.

Last week some 2,000 or 3,000 United States Marines, most of them now dead or wounded, gave the nation a name to stand beside those of Concord Bridge, the Bon Homme Richard, the Alamo, Little Big Horn and Belleau Wood. The name was "Tarawa." (Time Magazine, December 6, 1943)

In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Imperial Army and Navy seized islands across the central Pacific to create a fortified barrier against any counterattack by the United States.  Since the end of World War One, Japan had already controlled the Marianas Islands under a League of Nation Mandates.  They quickly moved to capture the Philippines to the west, the Solomons and New Guinea to the south and the Marshall and Gilbert Islands to the east.

The Japanese offensive ground to a halt in the summer and fall of 1942 with the defeat of its carrier fleet at the Battle of Midway in June (and despite its capture of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands off of Alaska), the failure of its plan to capture Port Moresby on the south coast of New Guinea when the US Navy suffered a tactical loss but strategic victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May and then with the Marine landings on Guadalcanal in August, initiating a land/sea campaign that lasted until February 1943 when the Japanese withdrew the survivors of its garrison.

U.S. war planning had always focused on a central Pacific offensive designed to defeat the Japanese navy and seize its strongholds in the Marianas as the key to achieving a decisive victory in the war.  Military doctrine required both sea and land-based aviation in order to support this offensive.  With the Gilbert Islands serving as both a shield to the Marianas and with aviation fields within flying range of those islands, the U.S. Navy determined it was necessary to first capture the Gilberts and, in particular, Tarawa Atoll, which included the island of Betio with its landing strip.

Betio, the largest island of Tarawa Atoll, is about two miles long, 800 yards wide at its broadest with a highest elevation of only 10 feet above sea level, located on the equator about 2,400 miles southwest of Honolulu.

The Japanese knew the Americans were coming and spent 15 months fortifying Betio and placing a 4,800 man garrison (about 2,600 soldiers, a 1,000 strong Japanese construction battalion and 1,200 Korean slave laborers).  As described in an article in the Marine Corps Gazette:

Concrete and steel tetrahedrons, minefields, and long strings of double-apron barbed wire protected beach approaches. The Japanese also built a barrier wall of logs and coral around much of the island. Tank traps protected heavily fortified command bunkers and firing positions inland from the beach. And everywhere there were pillboxes, nearly 500 of them, most fully covered by logs, steel plates and sand. 

The island's geography and hydrography favored the defense. Betio was flat-machinegunners could cover the perimeter with simple traverse-and a barrier reef blocked boat intrusions at low tides. The Japanese placed mines, concrete tetrahedrons, and double-apron barbed wire offshore; surrounded most of the island itself with a log and coral seawall then built integrated systems of mutually supporting gun positions just beyond (and often within) the seawall (see p.64). In the end, there were 500 pill-boxes and bunkers on the island, most protected by layers of coconut logs, steel plates, and sand. - See more at:
The flat terrain meant that the entire island could be covered by interlocking fields of fire from the Japanese machine guns.  And all of this in an area smaller than New York's Central Park.
Battle of Tarawa: The Marines Assault Betio, 20th November 1943 . (From History Of War.Org)
This was to be the first amphibious landing against opposition in the Pacific campaign (at places like Guadalcanal, the Japanese had faded away into the jungle upon the American landings and from there launched counterattacks).  The landing force was to be the 2nd Marine Division which had fought at Guadalcanal.  Because of the battle casualties plus the large number of marines who caught malaria during that campaign only about half of Marines in the division that would land on Tarawa had been at Guadalcanal.

Two issues dominated the planning.  One was the length of the naval bombardment before the landing.  Because the Navy feared a sortie by the Japanese fleet the plan was to spend the minimum amount of time for the bombardment which was limited to three hours, a decision that upset the Marines.    

The second was how to get the Marines from the ships to the beach.  Tarawa, including Betio, is an atoll surrounded by a coral reef several hundred yards from the island.  Any attacker needed to be able to get over the reef and into the shallow lagoon in order to land.  This required landing on a high tide, which was normally five feet above the reef, because most of the American landing craft had a draft of four feet.  

The Navy bombardment by sea and air began on the morning of November 20, 1943.   Despite its abbreviated nature many of Naval planners expected it to be decisive.  According to one account, an admiral boasted:

We do not intend to neutralize [the island], we do not intend to destroy it, Gentlemen, we will obliterate it.
 For the watching Marines it was an awesome sight and many expected resistance to be minimal.  According to the same account:

Staff Sergeant Norman Hatch, a combat photographer, thought to himself, "we just really didn't see how we could do [anything] but go in there and bury the people . . . this wasn't going to be a fight." Time correspondent Robert Sherrod thought, "surely, no mortal men could live through such destroying power . . . any Japs on the island would all be dead by now."
But the bombardment was ineffective against the well-entrenched and protected Japanese defenses. 

Then came the problem with the tides.  What the planners were unaware of was that twice a month there were unusual high tide conditions at Betio that left only three feet of water over the reef and it turned out that the invasion had been scheduled during one of these periods.  With many of the landing craft left stranded on the wrong side of the reef, Marines had to disembark and struggle on foot across the shallow lagoon under heavy rifle, machine gun, mortar and artillery fire with many being killed or wounded.  Those who made it to the beach were pinned down against the log seawall. It took six hours before the Marines were able to advance off the beach. The Americans had a bit of luck during that first afternoon when the Japanese commander and his entire staff were killed by a naval artillery shell while moving in the open between command posts.  While we were unaware of this event, it disrupted the Japanese chain of command and left each unit on its own for the rest of the battle.

The next two days were a gruesome and slow process of eliminating the enemy strongpoints.  The Japanese refused to surrender requiring each pillbox to be reduced at a heavy cost requiring the first large scale deployment of flame-throwers by American forces. The severity of the fighting led to four Marines receiving the Medal of Honor, three of them posthumously.  One of these was 1st Lt. Sandy Bonnyman.  His relentless determination and that of those who fought with him was replicated across Betio on those three days.

Alexander "Sandy" Bonnyman was born in 1910.  His father owned a coal company and Sandy graduated from Princeton in 1932.  When the war started he was 31 and exempt from the draft with a wife and three young daughters but in July 1942 enlisted as a private in the Marines.  Joining the 2nd Marine Division he served on Guadalcanal, seeing combat and becoming a corporal and then receiving a field promotion to 2nd Lieutenant.  In September 1943, Bonnyman became a 1st Lieutenant and was appointed Executive Officer of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines' Shore Party for the Tarawa attack.

Sandy Bonnyman's Medal of Honor Citation tells of his actions during the battle when he led the attack on the largest fortified strongpoint on the island:

Acting on his own initiative when assault troops were pinned down at the far end of Betio Pier by the overwhelming fire of Japanese shore batteries, 1st Lt. Bonnyman repeatedly defied the blasting fury of the enemy bombardment to organize and lead the besieged men over the long, open pier to the beach and then, voluntarily obtaining flame throwers and demolitions, organized his pioneer shore party into assault demolitionists and directed the blowing of several hostile installations before the close of D-day. 

Determined to effect an opening in the enemy's strongly organized defense line the following day, he voluntarily crawled approximately 40 yards forward of our lines and placed demolitions in the entrance of a large Japanese emplacement as the initial move in his planned attack against the heavily garrisoned, bombproof installation which was stubbornly resisting despite the destruction early in the action of a large number of Japanese who had been inflicting heavy casualties on our forces and holding up our advance.

Withdrawing only to replenish his ammunition, he led his men in a renewed assault, fearlessly exposing himself to the merciless slash of hostile fire as he stormed the formidable bastion, directed the placement of demolition charges in both entrances and seized the top of the bombproof position, flushing more than 100 of the enemy who were instantly cut down, and effecting the annihilation of approximately 150 troops inside the emplacement. Assailed by additional Japanese after he had gained his objective, he made a heroic stand on the edge of the structure, defending his strategic position with indomitable determination in the face of the desperate charge and killing 3 of the enemy before he fell, mortally wounded.

By his dauntless fighting spirit, unrelenting aggressiveness and forceful leadership throughout 3 days of unremitting, violent battle, 1st Lt. Bonnyman had inspired his men to heroic effort, enabling them to beat off the counterattack and break the back of hostile resistance in that sector for an immediate gain of 400 yards with no further casualties to our forces in this zone. 

He gallantly gave his life for his country.
AlexanderBonnymanBW (Sandy Bonnyman)
Sandy Bonnyman was also the first and, to this day, the only Medal of Honor recipient to be photographed during the action for which he received the medal.  The photo below shows the emplacement being stormed by the Marines led by Bonnyman who is standing at the center right, silhouetted by the smoke, on top of the bunker; he is the Marine furthest advanced in the picture.

Marines storm Tarawa. Gilbert Islands." WO Obie Newcomb, Jr., November 1943.
The photo was taken by Corporal Obie Newcomb, a Marine Corps photographer who, according to an article by Joseph M Horodyski in WWII History Magazine, "quickly realized he was in the presence of someone unusual and decided to follow the lieutenant's assault with his camera".

Bonnyman led an improvised team of 21 Marines in the assault, eight of whom died along with Bonnyman.  One member of that team was Corporal Harry Niehoff, who is quoted by Horodyski in his account.  Niehoff said of Bonnyman, whom he did not know prior to November 21, "He just showed up.  Until that time we were being held up with no gain to show for it".   Late that afternoon, Bonnyman led an unsuccessful assault on the Japanese bunker and then spent the evening planning how to renew the attack the following morning.  Niehoff was next to Bonnyman when he died.

Obie Newcomb, in a letter to Bonnyman's family, wrote:

He didn't have to go up to take that blockhouse but there was no stopping him.  It was a perfect hell hole and the boys needed a little urging when things started to break.  I can still see him waving the boys up over that blockhouse and hear his southern voice urging them on.
Bonnyman was buried on Betio and the exact location of his body remains unknown (you can see a 2009 CNN story about the search of his grandson for his remains).

Tarawa was declared secure at 1330 on November 23.  One thousand Marines were dead and another 2,100 wounded (about 25% of those who landed on Betio).  Of the 3,600 Japanese only 17 wounded survivors were captured; all the rest were killed.  129 of the 1,200 Korean laborers survived.

Although some other earlier American campaigns in the war had higher casualties they had been incurred over much longer time periods; 3,000 dead and wounded in just three days was a shock to the public and caused an uproar at home.  In fact, Time's edition of January 17, 1944 mentions that "Navy spokesmen last week tried to correct the impression at home that Tarawa's cost had been too high".  To give some perspective on why this reaction occurred in late 1943 when we had been at war for almost two years remember that America was in WWII for 44 months but more than 70% of U.S. combat casualties occurred in the 13 months from May 1944 through May 1945.  The worst was yet to come.

The subject of American casualties remained sensitive enough that it required President Roosevelt's personal approval to show dead American soldiers in a documentary released in March 1944, With the Marines at Tarawa, which won an Academy Award in 1945.   The documentary, which you can watch below, shows the dead Marines at about 15 minutes into its 20 minute running length.  Also, at about 9:25 I believe it shows the bunker attacked by Sandy Bonnyman and at 8:40 you can see the first footage of the war showing both American and Japanese soldiers in combat in the same frame. Much of the footage was taken by Norman Hatch, a Marine Corps camerman.  You can see Hatch interviewed on his experience at Tarawa here.

Ten weeks after the fall of Tarawa and the Gilbert Islands, American forces seized the Marshall Islands and then, in July 1944, the Marianas.  While many lessons were learned and improved techniques employed in future landings, Tarawa was also an accurate predictor of the terrible toll that would be taken on American forces at Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and other islands as the advance continued across the Central Pacific.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In Great Deeds Something Abides

You'll be hearing a lot about that other speech today.  It wasn't half-bad (and you can listen to Charles Laughton's recitation posted by THC here) but thought we'd give you an alternative Gettysburg speech.

Remarks of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at the Dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3, 1889

In great deeds something abides. On great fields

something stays.  Forms change and pass; bodies

disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the

vision-place of souls.  And reverent men and women from

afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not

of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things

were suffered and done for them, shall come to this

deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of

a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the

power of the vision pass into their souls.

JL Chamberlain (1828-1914); Colonel, 20th Maine Regiment at Gettysburg, being awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in defense of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863; breveted Brigadier General after a wounding presumed to be fatal at Petersburg, June 1864; returned to action, leading his brigade in the assault at Quaker Road, March 29, 1865, during which he was shot in the chest and breveted Major General; three days later once again leading his brigade at the battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865; designated to receive, on behalf of the Army of the Potomac, the formal surrender of the officers and soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia, April 12, 1865; President of Bowdoin College; elected four times as Governor of Maine

Saturday, November 16, 2013

You Light Up My Life

What??  Yep, it's that song.  Performed by Patti Smith in 1979 on the show Kids Are People Too.  A different, and much more interesting, take on the song.  We've featured Patti before.  The song starts at around 3:10 in the video; before that Patti answers questions from the kids.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Just arrived home with our new lab puppy, Koji.  She's nine weeks old.

Our thanks to Koji Uehara for the inspiration!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

And They Said George W Bush Was Stupid?

"What we're also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy"

- President Barack Obama at today's press conference 

You trusted this guy to redesign American's healthcare system from top to bottom?

Actually, he's lying again.  Obamacare was designed to complicate insurance so as to make sure that most Americans lost their existing coverage - they needed to be able to get the unsubsidized policyholders to pay more in order to fund those who would be getting the subsidies.  And it is not just the 5% at risk of losing coverage, consisting of individual policyholders, that he mentioned today - he's lying about that also.  The chart below is from the Federal Register of June 17, 2010 and is the estimate by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) of the percentage of employer (not individual) policies which would lose grandfather status under the rules proposed by HHS. [Update:  I may have been too harsh in my characterization of certain statements as "lies"; according to yesterday's NY Times the preferred nomenclature for this type of statement by the President is "incorrect promise" - I think they were serious when they wrote this.]


The mid-range HHS estimate is that by 2013, 51% of employer plans would lose grandfather status, with the low estimate being 39% and the high estimate 69%.  What is happening is not a surprise but it is the reason effective implementation of Obamacare was delayed until after the 2012 election.

The fundamental design of Obamacare, and indeed, of the overall policy of this Administration, can best be understood if you think of America as being governed by the tenured faculty of a liberal arts college which guides its young and impressionable students and when it requires more funds sends another tuition bill to the parents.

Breaking News

President Obama announces that you "stupid" consumers can keep your "substandard" policies from "bad apple" insurers for another year!   No enforcement of the individual mandate just as previously announced for the employer mandate.

But what about the children (TM)?

Wait, I thought I kept hearing in September from Harry Reid and others during the attempt to defund Obamacare that it was sacrosanct and "the law of the land"?

Wonder how the media and the Democrats (for the most part the same group) would have reacted if, during the 2012 campaign, Romney announced that if elected he would not seek repeal of Obamacare but merely not enforce any of the provisions?

In related news, the Administration also announced there will be no IRS enforcement of tax related laws and regulations for the next year.

We can now see the results of a toxic mix of bad ideas, arrogance and lack of practical experience.

Speaking of which, this announcement triggers yet another cascade of practical problems but since the Administration is more interested in the politics and shifting the blame to the insurers, rather than figuring out how to undo the mess it created, this disaster will continue for awhile longer until some adults finally step in.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Musical Instrument Museum

While in Phoenix last week we visited the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) at the recommendation of The THC Daughter.  It turned out to be one of the most entertaining museums we've been in.  We only saw part of the exhibits and will be returning on future visits.

MIM features instruments and music from around the world.  One of its best features is the audio system you are given upon admittance.  There is no need to fiddle with any dials - as you approach the video at each exhibit it automatically links into its music.

The top floor exhibits music from every region and most countries of the world, showing common instruments and featuring clips of typical music.
My favorite music on this floor was from Mali - three guys playing lutes!
My favorite instrument was this South African guitar with a body made from a can of Castrol Oil.
If you're curious about the instruments and music of Tajikistan this is the museum for you.
The only country exhibit with no instruments is North Korea.

Let me hear your balalaikas ringing out!

At this museum Serbia coexists peacefully with its former Yugoslavian neighbors.
This exhibit of German/Swiss Brass Band instruments reminded us of being in Chamonix, France in 1977 under the shadow of Mount Blanc when the future Mrs THC had a raging fever and a loud oompah-band playing very late at our hotel drove us from our room on the second floor ever upwards till we found an unoccupied, and unlocked, room on the top floor where we spent the rest of the night.
Looking for accordions?  MIM has got 'em.
You can see conventional organs:

Or, my favorite, a Hammond B-3, which, when played through a Leslie speaker, appeared in many classic 60s and 70s tunes.  This is Greg Rolie of Santana playing the Hammond on Soul Sacrifice.

Here's a collection of foot pedals for electric guitars!  OK, I guess I was getting a little carried away.

The bottom floor of MIM features special exhibits.  Women in Rock, which starts with the blues singer Bessie Smith, was open while we were there and along with an exhibit featuring several other musicians including Eric Clapton, Roy Orbison and Dick Dale (the King of Surf Music) as well as a room featuring automated music including this beauty:

MIM is located on the outskirts of Phoenix but well worth taking your time to see it if you are in the area.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, the event that led to the creation of Veterans Day when that war ceased at 11am on the 11 day of the 11th month of 1918.

This past Saturday, the last 4 survivors from Jimmy Doolittle's April 1942 raid on Tokyo raised a toast  from a 117 year old bottle of cognac.  Pictured are three of the four in Dayton, Ohio at what was said to be their last reunion.
And for today here is Ray Charles with his version of America The BeautifulThis is the only version of this song that should ever be played.  THC selected it because Charles decided to start the song with the infrequently sung second verse which is particularly appropriate for this day. From the Dick Cavett Show in 1972; take it away, Ray.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Neighborhood

When traveling we only stay in the finest areas!  We are in Phoenix visiting The THC Daughter and down the street from our rental condo are these two businesses on opposite corners of the street.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturn From Above

And THC didn't even know there was an "above" in space!  From Astronomy Picture of the Day. Taken by the Cassini spacecraft and capturing the shadow cast by the dark side of the planet on its rings.  Best viewed on PC or Tablet, not on mobile phone.See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Friday, November 8, 2013

NBA Season Opens

The NBA season actually started on October 29 but there were more important sporting events occurring at that time so THC delayed this post.  And since it is serving as just another excuse to post Larry Bird videos the timing isn't really that important anyway.

The first is a 23 second video of Bird hitting a game-winning shot in 1985.  While not one of his most remarkable shots it deserves watching because the call is by Johnny Most who had a one of a kind announcing style.
THC happened to be on a flight with Johnny Most in the 1980s and we spoke for awhile at the back at the back of the plane.  He was a very nice guy (and chatty!) and his voice sounded exactly the same as when he broadcast a game so all our fellow passengers heard every word he said.

The second video is a Bird trash-talking classic when he told Xavier Daniels of the Pacers that he was going to make the game-winning shot off him and then proceeded to do exactly that.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Francesca Calls The Civil War

If you've ever listened to Mike Francesa on WFAN (660AM) in NYC you'll recognize both his distinctive vocal style and insufferable arrogance in this spot-on parody in which he announces the Civil War and comments in his usual manner on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  Also featuring an Abraham Lincoln who sounds just like Bob Shepherd announcing a Yankees game.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Neutral Milk Hotel

From the 1990s come Neutral Milk Hotel which released two albums and then disappeared only to reform recently and start touring again.  The force behind the band, based in Athens, Georgia (also home to REM, the B-52s and Southern Culture on the Skids) was guitarist, singer and songwriter Jeff Mangum.

Their second album, In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, released in 1998, received critical raves and some people actually purchased it (including THC Jr which is how THC first heard them).  This is the title song, sonically weird, with offbeat semi-delirious lyrics, which combine to produce a beautiful and wonderful effect.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Is The Problem Or Is There A Bigger Problem?

Yesterday's Washington Post carried a long article " How political fear was pitted against technical needs" laying out how the battle over how to handle the implementation of Obamacare was won by the existing HHS bureaucracy and the President's political team who opposed Treasury, OMB and outside health experts who wanted someone with business, technology and insurance experience to oversee a focused effort.  That "victory" ultimately led to the fiasco of but THC believes the story has implications for the fate of Obamacare as a whole.

The article keys off a May 2010 memo written by David Cutler, an outside healthcare expert who supported Obamacare, and sent to Larry Summers.  As Cutler states in the article “They were running the biggest start-up in the world, and they didn’t have anyone who had run a start-up, or even run a business”.  Cutler's memo is worth reading in whole but it is basically Management 101 advice as well as a scathing personal indictment of the capabilities of the HHS bureaucrats placed in charge of the project.

An excerpt:

I am writing to relay my concern about the way the Administration is implementing the new health reform legislation. I am concerned that the personnel and processes you have in  place are not up to the task, and that health reform will be unsuccessful as a result . . .

You should also note that while this memo is my own, the views are widely shared, including by many members of your administration (whose names I will omit but who are sufficiently nervous to urge me to write), as well as by knowledgeable outsiders such as Mark McClellan (former CMS administrator) and Henry Aaron (Brookings). Indeed, I have been at a conference on health reform the past two days, and have found not a single person who disagrees with the urgent need for action . . .

When a corporation needs to move in a new direction, it sets up a new structure to focus on where it needs to go. You can’t change the culture by piling new responsibilities onto a  broken system. I believe you need to follow this model. 

This advice was rejected by the President with the now-visible consequences but while the Post concentrates on the technical issues around the concerns raised by Cutler's memo are broader, raising questions not only about the further implementation of the law but, by implication, about the very premises upon which it was structured.

The success of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) rests upon the ability of HHS, IRS and other agencies to promulgate over 1,000 regulations that can mesh together seamlessly and be modified as needed in our dynamic society to reflect a constant stream of new data, human behaviors, medical research and technological innovation to meet the expressed goals of the law - reducing premiums, providing better health outcomes and reducing the number of uninsured while at the same time guaranteeing that if you like your health plan you can keep it and if you like your doctors you can keep them (OOPS - guess that guarantee part already expired!). 

As such it is very different from a relatively simple program like Social Security, which was enacted with a 12 page bill compared to the 2,0000+ page ACA behemoth.  If Social Security was like the ACA it would have a convoluted set of regulatory rules over what you could spend Social Security money on and then payments would be made directly by the government to say, your grocery store, along with restrictions on what the grocer could charge.  And there would be a list of ten items you would be required to purchase with your Social Security.   Instead, the ACA is a top-down structure requiring the perfect regulators to make the perfect decisions in order to deliver the promised results but it's been entrusted to the people who gave us

If you read Cutler's memo and/or have had any experience with the regulatory mechanisms of our government would you want to place a bet (or the health of your family) on that scenario being successfully implemented? . . . I thought you'd say that (and you are not alone, see, for instance, the recent Rasmussen poll reporting that 37% of Americans think zombies would do a better job than the Federal government in running the country, with another 26% being undecided - personally, having seen Shaun Of The Dead, THC is in the undecided category, although it should be noted that Rasmussen also reports that "Americans who expect a zombie apocalypse express a lot less confidence in the federal government").  

But the biggest problem of all is the flawed structure of the law.  The key statement from Cutler's memo is:

"When a corporation needs to move in a new direction, it sets up a new structure to focus on where it needs to go. You can’t change the culture by piling new responsibilities onto a broken system."
That is precisely what the Affordable Care Act does and is why it will fail in its goal of improving healthcare and lowering costs as David Goldhill compellingly argues in his new book Catastrophic Care.  Goldhill is an executive and describes himself as a Democrat who was mobilized into studying the healthcare system through the incident that gives the book its subtitle "How American Health Care Killed My Father" (though by expanding the web of those dependent on government subsidies it may be able to maintain itself politically for awhile).  By building on the existing tax treatment for insurance and the flawed structures of Medicare and Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act will accentuate, not solve, the existing problems.  THC will be soon do a post outlining Goldhill's argument in more detail.

Much of what is happening right now is predictable; HHS in its 2010 regulations both predicted it and made sure through the tightening grandfather requirements that it would happen (as CNN reports this was known at the time; in 2010, Senate Democrats unanimously vote rejected a Republican bill to block implementation of the HHS restrictions).  And the issue is bigger than the 5% of individual policyholders who are being hit in the first wave.  The grandfather restrictions apply to all policies including small business and employer policies and all will be impacted over the next 18 months.  In the preamble to its 2010 regulations HHS estimated that more than 50% of all policies in the US will lose grandfather status and, as you are reading in the media and many of you, including THC, know from friends and families policies are being cancelled and alternatives cost more with more restricted access to doctors.  The HMO is back, except it is being run by the government and the people David Cutler complains about in his memo!

To add insult to injury we also hear the President and his supporters saying the cancellations are due to "bad apple" insurers and "stupid" consumers.  This is a lie (for additional lies read this or you can hear the official Administration explanation here) .  For instance, a policy can have all required coverage and its premium be stable but if the deductible structure changed in any amount since 2010 it is nonconforming.  Or, as some policyholders have found out, the policy can be completely conforming except it does not have, for instance, maternity coverage.  It's irrelevant that they are a 55 year old single male, their policy is still cancelled.

THC's sister is one of those people.  She has been notified that the small business plan her family has now  will be cancelled when it is up for renewal in early 2014.  She has been purchasing on the small business market for many years and is extremely knowledgeable about how to evaluate medical coverage and cost aspects of competing plans and she was very happy with her current plan.  Having heard her discuss health insurance issues on many occasions THC is confident she is much more competent to evaluate and purchase health insurance than Barack Obama, Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi, all of whom managed to exempt themselves from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. 

THC believes that this is likely to be the Democrat's "Best And Brightest" moment on domestic policy just as Vietnam was for them on foreign policy.  Which, if it happens, will still leave us with the challenge of figuring out a better solution.



Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sweet Jane

THC was not a big Lou Reed fan but Sweet Jane from his Velvet Underground days still sounds good.

Ridin' in a Stutz Bearcat
You know, those were different times!
Oh, the poets they studied rules of verse
And those ladies, they rolled their eyes

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Lincoln Highway

One hundred years ago yesterday, The Lincoln Highway was dedicated as the first transcontinental automobile route across the United States running from Time Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.  The popularity of the auto grew rapidly during the first decade of the century (and Henry Ford was about to open his first Model T moving assembly line on December 1, 1913) but the state of the nation's roads was dismal.  Although a Good Roads Movement had started in the 1870s, led by bicyclists, most roads outside urban areas (and America was much less urbanized than today) remain unimproved (that is, ungraded) dirt roads that were nearly impassable in bad weather and dirty, dusty and bumpy the rest of the time.

In 1912 there were approximately 2.2 million miles of rural roads in America of which only about 190,000 miles (less than 9%) were graded and covered with gravel, macadam or concrete.  At that time the Federal Government had no responsibility to maintain roads, nor did most states.  To the extent government undertook road construction and maintenance it was at the local and county level and much of the unimproved rural network was privately built.

The Lincoln Highway was conceived by Carl G Fisher (1874-1939), an Indiana businessman who began his career as a bicycle shop owner and later ran Prest-O-Lite, a manufacturer of carbide gas headlights, which he sold to Union Carbide in 1913, and was also one of the primary investors in the newly opened Indianapolis Motor Speedway.(Fisher)

Fisher's original idea was for the Coast To Coast Rock Highway, for which he would raise ten million dollars in private funds to provide materials to local communities who would take responsibility for construction.  He was unable to raise the funds, the key impediment being the refusal of Henry Ford to contribute as he believed government should be paying for road construction, although he did succeed in getting large contributions from the presidents of Goodyear and Packard Motor Company and they founded the Lincoln Highway Association.                                         (Lincoln Highway near Everett PA)

With less funding the original plans were scaled back to designating the route of the highway and funding selected improvements.  The task was formidable given the state of the roads.  On July 1, 1913 a convoy of 17 cars and 2 trucks set out from Indianapolis to determine the best route to the West Coast.  Thirty four days later the vehicles reached San Francisco.

The official route, 3,389 miles through twelve states, and only half of it paved in any form, was announced later that summer and it was named after President Abraham Lincoln, the first national monument named after the president, the Lincoln Memorial not being dedicated until 1922.

Much of the route remained unimproved for years.  In 1919 the famous US Army Motor Transport Corps convoy followed the Lincoln Highway for most of its two month trek from Washington DC to San Francisco.   The convoy consisted of 81 vehicles and 282 officers and enlisted men including a young Lieutenant Colonel, Dwight D Eisenhower, who thirty-five years later as President would initiate the Interstate Highway System. (Army  Convoy)
During its journey, there were 230 road incidents (repairs, accidents), nine vehicles were disabled and 21 soldiers injured.  On only four days did the convoy exceed an average speed of 9 mph.  An estimated 3 million people watched the expedition pass by.
(Lincoln Highway, Wyoming 1920)

The Lincoln Highway was the first named highway but it inspired many more during the next few years which encouraged motoring but caused great confusion among motorists.  Resolution occurred in 1925 when the American Association of State Highway Officials, with the support of the Lincoln Highway Association and the approval of the United States Secretary of Agriculture created the numbered highway system that is still in use today.

With the numbering system in place, the Lincoln Highway Association disbanded in 1927 (it was refounded in the 1992 and you can find its website here).  Most of the route of the Lincoln Highway became part of US 30 (although the road was been rerouted over time so that only about 25% of today's US 30 follows the old Lincoln Highway).  The initial section in New York and New Jersey largely follows US 1 while much of the Highway west of the Rockies became the original US 40 and 50.

For more information see:
Lincoln Highway Association
Lincoln Highway in Wyoming
Lincoln Highway in Nevada 
Lincoln Highway in Nebraska 
Lincoln Highway in Indiana
Lincoln Highway in Illinois  
Lincoln Highway in Iowa