Friday, February 28, 2014

Maybe She Really Could See Russia From Her House

During the 2008 election season Sarah Palin stated:

After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama's reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence, the kind of response that would only encourage Russia's Putin to invade Ukraine next.

A statement for which she was mocked in Foreign Policy magazine.

And here are today's headlines.

NOTE:  THC had to recheck this with but Sarah Palin never said "I can see Russia from my house!".  It was actually said by Tina Fey doing a Sarah Palin impression on Saturday Night Live.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The British Invasion: Breakout

Part two of the series:
The second half of 1964 saw the breakout from the bridgehead established by The Beatles and the first wave of British artists.  The music also gets more interesting as it quickly evolves.

Once again, it starts with The Beatles.  On July 6, the movie and the song, A Hard Day's Night, premiered and by August 1 it was #1 in the U.S.  With its unusual opening chord and sharper guitar sound it was a step forward for the band.  Here's the song over the opening credits of the movie.

The next big British song was really different, The House Of The Rising Sun by The Animals which hit #1 in early September in the United States and was a global smash becoming one of the top five selling records worldwide for the entire year.  A reworking of an old American folk song (click here to hear the first recorded version from 1933), there were several unusual aspects of the record:

  • The length of over four minutes at a time when a three minute song was considered long.  Many AM stations played an edited version that was less than three minutes.

  • The subject matter, considered very racy for the time.

  • The raw vocal by Eric Burden.  There may have been singing like this on some of the Chicago blues records of the 50s but those were not being played on mainstream AM radio and no white singer had sounded this way.

  • The swirling, relentless organ arrangement by Alan Price which added to the feverish atmosphere of the recording. 

A great record then and now.  A couple of years later, the bass player, Chas Chandler, discovered a guy named Jimi Hendrix playing in a London club and went on to produce his first three albums.

Replacing The Animals on top of the American charts was a native-born son, Roy Orbison, with Oh, Pretty Woman.  In an interesting twist from August 1963 to December 1964 Roy Orbison was the only American artist to top the British charts and he did it twice.

Meanwhile The Stones were still trying to break through with It's All Over Now.  They didn't.

Next up was one of the great novelty songs of the year, Do Wah Diddy by the band Manfred Mann.  The man, Manfred Mann, was a South African jazz pianist who played keyboards with the band Manfred Mann while the over the top vocal on the song is by Paul Jones who, two years earlier, turned down Keith Richards and Brian Jones when they asked him to be the lead singer in the band they were forming (Paul is currently President of the National Harmonica League of Britain - seriously).  The tune was written by Americans Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich who also composed Da Doo Ron Ron, Be My Baby, River Deep, Mountain High and Leader of the Pack.

The next two big singles were groundbreaking and still sound great decades later.

You Really Got Me by The Kinks (for more than you will ever want to know about the band see Kinkdom) was an out of control rocker built around power chords and considered by some to be the first punk or heavy metal song.  Despite persistent rumors that Jimmy Page played the guitar solo it was Dave Davies, brother of composer and lead singer Ray Davies, who performed the spasmodic, fractured and frantic solo.

Then there was She's Not There by The Zombies.  All of a sudden we have a jazzy electric piano and syncopation.  Where did that come from?  And the breathy vocal.  Very cool song.

Late in the year, The Rolling Stones finally scored their first top 10 in America with Time Is On My Side but their real breakthrough would not be until the release of Satisfaction in May 1965.

The year closed with three notable events.  First was The Kinks followup hit, All Day And All Of The Night, essentially a reworking of You Really Got Me.

Second, the emergence of the third British wave with I'm Into Something Good by Herman's Hermits.  Unfortunately, this third wave was not as innovative and pop definitely triumphed over rock as Herman's Hermits had a string of hits in 1965 and were joined by bands like Freddie & The Dreamers and Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders.

The third was the release of the first Beatles single since A Hard Day's Night, an innovative recording called  I Feel Fine, which starts with guitar feedback (the first hit single to feature it) and then slides into a snappy guitar riff, great harmonies and some good drum work by Ringo in the break.  It reached #1 during the last week of 1964 while the B side, She's A Women also became a top 10 hit.  During 1964 The Beatles had 30 different singles on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The British Invasion: The Initial Assault

First of a two part series:

At the beginning of January 1964 the top five singles on the Billboard charts were:

1. There, I've Said It Again by Bobby Vinton
2. Louie, Louie by The Kingsmen (for more see Louie Louie Turns 50)
3. Dominique by The Singing Nun
4. Since I Fell For You by Lenny Welch
5. Forget Him by Bobby Rydell  

Then, on December 26, 1963, Capitol Records released I Want To Hold Your Hand by The Beatles and   everything changed.  In this post we'll cover the first half of 1964 and in the next, the second half of the year which saw some big, and interesting, changes in the music coming from across the Atlantic.  To the extent we listen to the first British invasion records from early in that year it is mostly because of nostalgia while some of the music from the second half still stands on its own fifty years later.

I Want To Hold Your Hand topped the Billboard charts on February 1 and stayed there for seven weeks to be replaced by She Loves You on March 21 and Can't Buy Me Love on April 4 which held the top spot until Louis Armstrong knocked it off on May 9 with Hello, Dolly!

In March 1964, 60% of all singles sold in the United States were by The Beatles.  On April 4 when Can't Buy Me Love became #1, The Beatles had the five of the top selling singles (the others were the first two #1s along with Twist And Shout and Please Please Me) and 13 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, a record that still stands.  Over the course of the year, The Beatles topped the charts for twenty weeks with six different singles.  It wasn't just the singles with The Beatles; their albums actually had good songs on them, a rarity for that time (see Beatlemania).

The Beatles blew off the doors and a platoon of British artists followed them.  The first one after The Beatles to reach the charts was Dusty Springfield with I Only Want To Be With You (a U.K. hit in 1963), followed later in the spring by Wishin' And Hopin' written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (for more on Burt and Hal see Is Christopher Walken The Burt Bacharach of Acting?).

The first British band, other than The Beatles, to have a hit were The Searchers with Needles And Pins which mixed a rock and folk style (a year later The Byrds would adopt a similar style).  The song was written by two interesting American characters; Jack Nitzsche, who worked with Phil Spector, played keyboards on some of the early Rolling Stones records and did the choral arrangement for You Can't Always Get Want You Want and Sonny Bono, yes, the Sonny & Cher guy.

The first British band to challenge The Beatles for supremacy and the first to knock them off the top of the charts back in the U.K. were The Dave Clark Five.  They made loud, simple music and Dave Clark on drums made Ringo Starr look like Buddy Rich.  THC remembers watching them on Ed Sullivan.  Their first two hits were Glad All Over and Bits And Pieces.  They had six million selling singles in the U.S. during the year though none topped the charts.
Also in that first wave were The Beatles buddies from Liverpool, Gerry And The Pacemakers who had a smash hit with their ballad Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying.

There were also some oddities like Little Children by Billy J Kramer And The Dakotas which is kind of a creepy song.

Where, you may ask, were the Rolling Stones?  They weren't much of anywhere in 1964 as they kept releasing singles and not cracking the top 20 in America.  Their first release early in the year was Tell Me.  The period when The Beatles and The Stones went head to head only lasted from late 1964 to the beginning of 1967 (for the full story see Beatles/Stones Face Off Parts One and Two).

Monday, February 24, 2014

Wage Slaves

Groucho Marx stakes out a position on the minimum wage:

What makes wage slaves?  Wages!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gut Feeling

Bob Casales, the lead guitarist of Devo, passed away last week.  Here he is along with the rest of the gang performing Gut Feeling at a concert in France during 1978.

Are we not men?  We are Devo!

Ngram Games

Google Ngram is fun to play with.  Here is a comparison of mentions in books from 1850 to 2008 of three of the leading American political figures of the pre-Civil War era, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John C Calhoun with two figures active at the same time but less well known in that era, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.  Take a look at the trend over time.

Friday, February 21, 2014


We Don't Need Another Hero from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the final installment of the Mad Max trilogy, is one of the finest examples of a movie theme song.  The lyrics and the music fit right in with the film, instead of feeling like something just stuck into the film.  Plus, they've got Tina Turner, who played Aunty Entity in the movie, on vocals.  The music video also does a good job integrating the themes of the film into the song.

Out of the ruins
Out from the wreckage
Can't make the same mistake this time
We are the children
the last generation
We are the ones they left behind
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change
Living under the fear till nothing else remains

We Don't Need Another Hero was written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle who had previously composed Tina's huge comeback hit, What's Love Got To Do With it.

Beyond Thunderdome (1985) is a fine film but THC thinks it the weakest of the trilogy.  The production quality and editing is definitely better, perhaps due to bigger budgets or director George Miller learning his craft but it does not maintain the unflinching view of the future of Mad Max (1979) and The Road Warrior (1981).  Because Beyond Thunderdome pulls its punches it does not have the emotional impact of the earlier films and some of the finale's best scenes, like the train chase at the end, are reworkings of uniquely creative scenes from the earlier films. 

THC saw The Road Warrior before seeing Mad Max and without much foreknowledge about the contents of the film.  Thirty years later, the post-apocalyptic world it portrays has been the subject of countless (and mostly bad) films but, at the time, it was unique in its vision and seeing it was a very disorienting and shocking experience capped by the most thrilling chase sequence THC had ever seen.  It also had one of the most memorable final shots and lines in filmdom and is my favorite of the series.
The first film, Mad Max, is much cruder in terms of directorial quality and suffers from a terrible dub job but it is also very powerful and, particularly towards the end, contains some disturbing material which explains how Max became the character you see in the final two movies.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Reverse Mussolini Fallacy

From Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy

The Mussolini Fallacy is believing that, because Mussolini made the trains run on time (if he did), that excuses his other acts. The Reverse Mussolini Fallacy is believing that, because Mussolini made the trains run on time, making the trains run on time is bad.

A good point for all of us to keep in mind, including THC.  At times we so dislike or are so irritated by the person making a statement or taking some action that we are tempted to take the exact opposite position or express our opposition in an overstated way designed to provoke outrage on the other side, even if it does not represent what we really think.  It's better to avoid employing the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Satchmo At The Waldorf On Broadway

Terry Teachout's one-actor, one act play, Satchmo At The Waldorf, is coming to Broadway, opening on March 4.  Go see it if you have the chance.

In October 2012 we saw Satchmo at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven and it was a memorable experience.  John Douglas Thompson (seen above) is stunning as Louis Armstrong, his manager Joe Glaser and, briefly, Miles Davis. Here's what THC wrote at the time about the play.

THC also wrote about Pops, Teachout's biography of Armstrong, in this post.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Happy Presidents Day

Since Congress eviscerated the traditional holidays for Lincoln and Washington's birthdays and created the amorphous blob called Presidents Day we need to celebrate appropriately.

First, in celebration of America's diversity let's applaud Groupon's decision to issue coupons honoring President Alexander Hamilton since it would be very non-inclusive to limit President's Day to actual Presidents.  After all, Hamilton was an excellent Secretary of the Treasury, though not a good shot.

Next, since we no longer have holidays to honor the greatest of our Presidents and others like focusing on our worst Presidents, let's take a moment in the spirit of the day to recognize some mediocre Presidents.  We'll keep it bipartisan and focus on the 19th century.

First up is John Tyler.  Elected as vice-president in 1840 as part of the first successful Whig Party ticket along with William Henry Harrison, running on the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!", Tippecanoe being a battle Harrison won against an Indian confederation back in 1811.  Tyler assumed the presidency after Harrison caught cold while giving his inaugural address, dying a month later.  Unfortunately, though elected on Whig ticket, Tyler, a Virginian, was actually a Democrat.  During the remainder of the term he managed to alienate everyone in his own party; his cabinet resigned and the Whigs expelled him from the party, as well as everyone in the Democratic party and he was denied renomination in 1844.

Next is Franklin Pierce from New Hampshire, a Democrat elected in 1852.  He presided impotently over the sectional conflicts that eventually led to the Civil War.

Finally, here's Benjamin Harrison, a grandson of William Henry Harrison.  A Republican elected in 1888, we can think of absolutely nothing of interest to say about him.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Really Long Jump

In 1960, U.S. Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger Jr set a record by parachuting successfully back to Earth from an altitude of 19 1/2 miles.  In October 2012, Felix Baumgartner broke the record by parachuting from an altitude of more than 24 miles.  You can watch the amazing descent below.  And talking him down on the radio was 84 year old Joe Kittinger Jr!

On his descent, Baumgartner reached a speed of 843 mph becoming the first human to break the sound barrier unaided by a machine.  Baumgartner is an Austrian with a long history of daredevil jumps including the first BASE jump from the Millau Viaduct which was the subject of a THC post last year.

Joe Kittinger retired from the Air Force in 1978 with the rank of Colonel.  In 1972 his F-4D Phantom was shot down over North Vietnam and he served 11 months as a POW in the "Hanoi Hilton".

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's The Law

(via Never Yet Melted)
At least that was the President and other Democrats repeatedly said last year when Republicans spoke of repealing or not funding the Affordable Care Act, most prominently during the failed attempt at defunding in late September.

But that's old news.  Now the law is whatever the President says it is regardless of the actual legislative language (and don't forget that people working less is good as long as someone else is paying for it).  The latest of many examples is the temporary exemption from the ACA employer mandate for businesses employing between 50 and 99 people, an exemption for which there is simply no provision in the law.  Or, as Charles W Cooke at National Review Online wrote "Obama Frees America From The Tyranny Of Law".   

If you don't get what Cooke is writing about, he created a helpful thought experiment in another piece entitled "Democrat, Media, Slam President Romney Over Healthcare Changes: Worst Abuse of Executive Power Since Bush Admin, Dems Say".  Here's an excerpt but you should read the whole thing as it gets even better:

Washington D. C. — In a move certain to please his conservative supporters and infuriate his critics, President Romney announced this afternoon that his administration would make yet another change to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In a terse release, posted without fanfare to the Department of Health and Human Services website, officials revealed that the law’s employer mandate would be suspended until 2016 for all businesses that employ between 50 and 99 people.

The move comes hot on the heels of news that the agency would not be enforcing the provisions in the law that require Americans to buy approved health insurance until after the next election. Now, as then, a simple explanation was forthcoming. “The president won,” a White House aide told National Review Online. “His disdain for the law was ratified by the people. Now he’s going to fundamentally transform it.”

“This is an utter disgrace,” griped Senator Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.). “This law was passed through Congress, signed by the previous president, and upheld by the Supreme Court.”

Schumer’s colleague, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, described the Romney administration’s behavior as “the nuclear option.” “This abuse of executive discretion is beyond the pale,” Reid fumed. “I’m a lawyer, I know.”

For a THC-composed example of the utility of such thought-experiments see Did You See The Frontpage NY Times Story on Jon Corzine?  

To compound its lawlessness the implementing regulation issued by the Internal Revenue Service requires that businesses can only obtain the exemption if they certify under penalty of perjury that they have not taken any actions to reduce the number of employees in order to qualify for the exemption.  In other words, you can only qualify for the ACA exemption if you certify you have taken no actions in order to qualify for the exemption!  And, by the way, the legal authority for such certification  does not exist in the law - they're just making stuff up, folks.  Now you have an illegal action by the President, followed by a regulatory requirement with no legislative justification which if you violate makes you potentially subject to criminal prosecution!  You can find the entire regulation here (all 227 pages of it).

The proliferating exemptions and "enforcement discretion" actions of the Administrations demonstrate how desperate it is to extract itself from the morass it created for itself with the ACA.  THC thinks the ACA is bad policy but at least the proponents argued that its component parts worked together to provide coverage and control costs.  The ad hoc demolition of the law by the Administration tears apart even that rationale as the remnants of the ACA simply make no sense anymore; it is an incoherent mess (to be precise, THC always thought it was incoherent, but now it's incoherent even on the terms of its proponents).  The Administration's strategy seems to have been reduced to doing whatever it needs to survive the mid-term elections, consequences be damned.  As David Harsanyi observes, Obamacare Is Just Another Word For Laws We Ignore Together.

But the problems created by the Administration's belief that it can selectively apply and enforce the ACA and other laws, including immigration laws, poses bigger problems for our representative democracy than just those involving Obamacare.

Those problems are part of the progression THC has watched as we've passed from the dismal and depressing years of the Bush administration to the bizarro world of the Obama administration.

There are consequences associated with the Administration's actions:

1.  They destroy the trust needed for political compromise, a necessary ingredient for stability in politics and to sustain our constitutional structure.  Most legislation is crafted with some degree of compromise.  You give something to get something.  Once it is in place it is the law and the government authorities will enforce all its provisions in good faith.  From its bastard birth, as the only major piece of social legislation in American history passed on a partisan basis (both Houses even refusing to hold hearings on Republican alternatives)*, the ACA has been a problem-child in this respect.  But the problem has been greatly compounded by the Administration's implementation approach (as well as its unilateral actions to suspend enforcement of other statutes).

[* Note:  Although the votes in favor of the ACA were all from one party, the opposition in the House was bipartisan.]

Think of it this way.  If you are interested in negotiating a solution to a problem (immigration, for instance) you have provisions you will want in the bill and provisions you may oppose.  In any compromise both sides get and give up some things.  However, if you fear that the provisions important to you that were incorporated into the final legislation are not going to be implemented or enforced by the Administration of an opposing party, why would you be inclined to compromise?  You would be a fool to do so, since you would be giving up something and not getting what you were promised in return. THC would not trust this Administration, or any administration, that had this pattern of behavior.

2. They lower the bar, making this behavior more acceptable for future Administrations, regardless of party.  That's human nature (and politics as well).  Once barriers are broken it is hard to rebuild them and the voices of the "turn-about is fair play crowd" may prevail (they are already shouting, see President Obama Is Giving Conservatives All The Tools They Need To Transform The Country).  From a policy perspective, THC might like to see future Administration not enforce certain provisions of certain laws but thinks this would be a bad choice as a constitutional and governance matter.

On the other hand, THC does look forward to 2017 and President Walker's 30-year "temporary" suspension of the remaining provisions of Obamacare as well as the new enforcement forbearance regarding the provisions of the Tax Code!

In other good news, THC thinks that this exemption along with the rest of the adhocracy around implementation of the ACA ensures that the Administration's legal assault on the rebellious Little Sisters of the Poor and the Hobby Lobby will fail.  Under the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the AdministrationAn Image SlideshowAn Image Slideshow must show that when it imposes a "substantial burden" on the free exercise of religion it must show a "compelling government interest".  Given the widespread use of exemptions given to millions of others it seems that the Administration now has an insurmountable burden in demonstrating why such exemptions are not proper in these cases.

Despite the "good news" something is terribly awry with this Administration and it is pathetic to see so little media interest in the fundamental issue of the legality of the steps taken by the President and the lack of interest in thinking about its impact on the ability of the American constitutional structure to operate.

UPDATE In this interview George Washington Law School University professor Jonathan Turley explains why the President's approach poses a danger regardless of your political beliefs.

TURLEY: I'm afraid this is beginning to border on a cult of personality for people on the left. I happen to agree with many of President Obama's policies, but in our system it is often as important how you do something as what you do.

And I think that many people will look back at this period in history and see nothing but confusion as to why people remained so silent when the president asserted these types of unilateral actions. You have a president who is claiming the right to basically rewrite or ignore or negate federal laws. That is a dangerous thing. It has nothing to do with the policies; it has to do with politics.

KELLY: Why is it so dangerous? What' so bad that will come of this?

TURLEY: Well, you know, a system in which a single individual is allowed to rewrite legislation or ignore legislation is a system that borders on authoritarianism. I don't believe that we are that system yet. But we cannot ignore that we're beginning to ignore a system that is a pretense of democracy if a president is allowed to take a law and just simply say, 'I'm going to ignore this,' or, 'I'm going to shift funds that weren't appropriated by Congress into this area.'

The president's State of the Union indicated this type of unilateralism that he has adopted as a policy. Now, many people view that as somehow empowering. In my view, it's dangerous, that is what he is suggesting is to essentially put our system off line. This is not the first time that convenience has become the enemy of principle. But we've never seen it to this extent. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sheridan County Finally

(from PDN Photo of the Day)

The December 8, 2013 edition of the New York Times Magazine carried a story entitled "America At Its Plainest" with the subheading:

"The very middle of the country is gorgeous from the air - and a very hard place on the ground.  So what makes people stay?"

It tells the story of the land and people of Sheridan County in Nebraska's Western Panhandle.  Sheridan County is just north of the town of Alliance in Box Butte County, which THC and family has visited several times and greatly enjoyed and reported on in the Carhenge post. Sheridan County runs north all the way to the South Dakota state line and the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation.

The family of THC's father-in-law settled in Sheridan County in the late 19th century, lured by the promise of the Homestead Act; if you farmed a 160 acre section for 5 years you were granted the property.  It was a tough life as the land was not nearly as productive as the lands of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana from where they came and the weather, particularly the winters, was brutal, but they stuck it out, even through the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.  The county seat of Rushville, featured in the story, was where my father-in-law was born in the only hospital in the area.

Sheridan County is half of the size of Connecticut and its current population is only 5,469 or about 2 people per square mile.  The population peaked at 10,793 in 1930 just before it was hit by the Depression and the Dust Bowl.

A couple of quotes from the locals:

"I've heard people say 'Gee, there's nothing out here'.  What does that mean?  There's no Walmart.  No McDonald's?  That means there's nothing?"

"I think there are a lot of creative people out here.  Our kids would play with spark plugs, sticks in the ground.  I think you have to have a certain amount of boredom to create.  One of our sons paints; another son does welding.  People here create things from what is around them.  The openness and the distance between people inspires possibility."

You can read the article online here (with a different title) and see a remarkable photo essay here.
(From PDN Photo of the Day)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

We Are Uncool

The recent death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman reminded THC of his pitch-perfect portrayal of rock journalist Lester Bangs in Almost Famous.  Bangs was the subject of a previous THC reader-inspired post.  This is one of my favorite scenes from the movie:

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool"

Sunday, February 9, 2014


THC just finished reading One Summer: America, 1927, Bill Bryson's meandering and entertaining tale of events from May through September of that year.  It was an eventful time: starting that spring with the Mississippi River flood, the greatest in American history, with the river at flood stage for 155 days, Babe Ruth chasing his 1921 record of 59 homers in a season, the famous Dempsey-Tunney Heavyweight Title Match (the "Long Count") attended by 150,000 in Chicago, the filming of the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer, the first demonstration of a new technology called television, the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti after six years of appeals (accompanied by anarchist bombings in protest) and the start of the sculptures on Mt Rushmore with the dedication attended by President Calvin Coolidge who was in the midst of a three month summer holiday in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Yes, this was an America where the President could take a three month vacation (he only worked five hours a day when at the White House anyway).  Staying at the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park, the accommodation for the President and his wife consisted of a sitting room and a bedroom with a bathroom down the hall.  By all accounts, he had a wonderful summer.
   (Coolidge at Mt Rushmore)
(Coolidge, center, on vacation)
America was rapidly changing in the 1920s becoming more urban, with more leisure time (the average workweek decreasing from 60 to 48 hours during the course of the decade).  Newspapers were the most common media route for news with most cities having three or four papers (New York City had twelve) and commercial radio, which didn't exist at the start of the decade, took off so that by its end almost every household had one.

Bryson's book would only be a string of entertaining anecdotes (and it is inhabited by many more interesting and eccentric characters than just those mentioned above) without the one thread holding it together from start to finish; the adventures of Charles Lindbergh and his fellow aviators and America's reaction.  In 1927 there were no commercial airlines in the United States (though there were many in Europe by that time) and the country's aviation infrastructure was still minimal with major cities like San Francisco and Baltimore without  airfields and most airfields in other cities being rudimentary semi-graded dirt pastures.
Although Lindbergh is often remembered as the first person to fly across the Atlantic non-stop that's incorrect.  In 1919 two English pilots, Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown, flew from Newfoundland to Ireland, nearly 1900 miles.  They did it in a Vickers Vimy which Bryson describes as "little more than a box kite with a motor", with an open cockpit and flying through weather bad enough that on six occasions  Brown had to crawl out on the wings to clear the air intakes of ice.
(Alcock and Brown arrive in Ireland!)
The following year a $25,000 prize was announced for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris, a distance almost twice that covered by Alcock and Brown in their journey.  The race to win the prize heated up in 1926 and Bryson makes it and other attempts at long-distance flying the backbone of his story.  In doing so we learn just how dangerous flying was and extraordinary the accomplishment of Lindbergh.

THC knew flying was risky in the 1920s but the mortality rate in One Summer is staggering. From the book here's my informal scorecard:

Attempted flight from New York to Paris on September 21, 1926.  Plane crashed on takeoff.  Two dead and two survivors.

In the spring of 1927 there were three teams trying to be the first to complete the route to Paris leaving from New York.  All failed to even reach the starting line:

On April 16 the plane commanded by Richard Byrd, who might have been the first to reach the North Pole by air the prior year, along with a crew of three, crashed on a test flight.  The co-pilot, Floyd Bennett, was severely injured while the others escaped with minor injuries. The plane was demolished.

On April 24 a two-man plane piloted by Clarence Chamberlin crashed on a test flight, again destroying the plane but no one was killed. 

On April 26 the third contender, with Noel Davis and Stanton Webster flying, crashed enroute to New York, killing both.

On May 8, two pilots attempted to fly the reverse route from Paris to New York, considered much more difficult because of prevailing winds.  They were Charles Nungesser (a WWI ace fighter pilot and a national hero) and Francois Coli.  They took off, were spotted leaving the French coast and then never seen again.

The same week, three French airmen attempted a nonstop flight from Senegal across the Atlantic to Brazil.  One hundred twenty miles from the Brazilian coast they sent a radio message announcing their arrival in an hour.  They never showed up. 

Later in the year, Paul Redfern attempted to fly nonstop from Brunswick, Georgia to Rio de Janeiro.  He was last seen flying over the Caribbean near Dutch Guinea. 

Another try was made that fall to make the Atlantic crossing from east to west with a plane taking off from Wiltshire in England with a British pilot and co-pilot and as passenger, the 62 year old Princess Anne of Lowenstein-Wertheim-Fredenburg (an English countess who became a princess by marriage) who had funded the flight and insisted on going along.  The plane disappeared over the Atlantic.

Around the same time, Old Glory, a plane owned by the publisher William Randolph Hearst, took off from Old Orchard Beach, Maine on a planned nonstop trip to Rome with three aboard, including the editor of Hearst's Daily Mirror, never to be seen again.

Two Canadian military pilots attempted to fly from Newfoundland to London and promptly disappeared.

Worst of all was the Dole Pacific Race on August 16.  The Dole pineapple family offered a $25,000 prize to the winner of a race from Oakland to Oahu.  Earlier in the summer, the first nonstop flight on this route had been done by two US Army pilots Lester Maitland and Albert Hegenberger (they survived), taking 26 hours.  A second successful flight was completed a couple of weeks later although it ended with the plane crashing on Molokai (the two occupants survived).
(Maitland and Hegenberger)
Three race competitors died in crashes flying to get to Oakland for the start of the race.  Another plane crashed in San Francisco Bay on its approach.  Of the eight planes ready for the start of the race, four either never got off the ground or turned back shortly after takeoff.  Of the remaining four, two made it to Hawaii and the other two disappeared.  And one of the pilots searching for the two missing planes also disappeared.  In all ten people died in connection with the race. 

If all this happened today how many Congressional investigations, government enforcement actions, private lawsuits and new regulations would be triggered?

Of all of these attempts, the only solo flight was by Charles Lindbergh, twenty five years old at the time.  Lindbergh flew for the first time in 1922 and within a month he was wing walking and parachuting.  Like most pilots he had some crashes but he walked away from all of them.  Without formal flight training he nonetheless was one of the most experienced pilots in the country by 1927.  He set his sights on winning the race to Paris but his plans to obtain a plane fell through though he had raised $15,000 from backers in St Louis (by comparison, Byrd raised $500,000 for his flight).  Scrambling to find an aviation company that could build a plane from scratch he found Ryan Airlines in San Diego, California and construction began on The Spirit of St Louis on February 23.(from

The plane design was bare bones using mostly proven technology except for a new air-cooled engine.  Because of its design, the pilot had no direct forward view and no brakes or radio.  The cockpit had only eleven gauges, but no fuel gauge and although the plane looked like it had a metallic external skin in fact only the cowling was metal with the rest being metallic-painted pima cotton stretched over a wood and steel skeleton; Bryson likens it to "crossing the ocean in a tent".

The first test flight of The Spirit of St Louis was on April 28.  Now Lindbergh had to get the plane from San Diego to New York, no small feat.  On May 10 he left San Diego for St Louis arriving the next day.  It was the longest solo flight by an American pilot to date and he became the first person to fly through the Rocky Mountains at night.  He then flew on to New York completing the fastest cross-country flight by anyone.

Packing five ham and chicken sandwiches and a quart of drinking water but no lifeboat or emergency supplies, Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island on May 20, 1927.   Flying between 10 feet and 10,000 feet along his route, he landed, as planned, at Le Bourget airfield outside of Paris thirty three hours and thirty minutes later.  He'd eaten only one of his sandwiches.
Charles Lindbergh & The Spirit of St. Louis(Lindbergh, Roosevelt Field, May 20 from )
(Spirit of St Louis in Smithsonian)
And that's when the mania started.  Lindbergh expected to have a quiet arrival, wire his mother that he'd arrived, wondering if anyone would speak English, arrange lodgings and for a new set of clothes.  What greeted him that evening were more than 100,000 Parisians, who had been alerted to his arrival when Spirit of St Louis was spotted over Ireland.  The mob rushing to his plane lifted him out of his cockpit and began to carry him off though he finally made his escape with the help of two French aviators and eventually was rescued by the family of the American ambassador who took him to the US embassy.

Word flashed around the world.  Next day's New York Times devoted its entire first four pages to the flight.  After being awarded the Legion d'Honnor by the President of France, Charles Lindbergh (and his plane) returned to Washington DC on the USS Memphis, a navy cruiser sent for him by President Coolidge.  After a ceremony in Washington with the President, on June 13 Lindbergh borrowed a plane and flew himself up to New York (can you imagine that today?) for the largest ticker tape parade in the history of the city (a record that remains intact to this day) with an estimated four to five million New Yorkers attending. On that day the first sixteen pages of the New York Times were filled with stories about Lindbergh, aviation and the parade and it was not until almost a month later, on July 12, that a Times failed to have an aviation related story on its front page.

Lindbergh agreed to undertake a three month flying trip around the U.S. to promote aviation.  In the Spirit of St Louis he flew 22,350 miles to 82 cities and 125 parades in his honor.  It is estimated he was seen by thirty million people (25% of the population).  It was near-miracle that no one was hurt as Lindbergh was landing blindly with a plane without brakes as crowds would inevitably surge onto the field as he arrived.  As img191Lindbergh flew from city to city the impact was profound as Bryson reports:

Lindbergh repeated these feats day after day, safely, punctually, routinely, without fuss or sweat, as if dropping in by air were the most natural and sensible way in the world to arrive at a place . . . By the end of summer, America was a nation ready to fly - quite a turnaround from four months earlier, when aviation for most people simply meant barnstormers at county fairs and the like, and the United States seemed unlikely to ever catch up with Europe.

But it came at a cost.

From the moment he left his room in the morning, he was touched and jostled and bothered.  Every person on earth who could get near enough wanted to grasp his hand or clap him on the back.  He had no private life anymore.  Shirts he sent to the laundry never came back.  Chicken bones and napkins from his dinner plate were fought over in kitchens.  He could not go for a walk or pop into a bank or drugstore.  If he went into a men's room, people followed . . . No part of his life was normal, and there was no prospect that it ever would be again.

Tough for anyone but worse in Lindbergh's case.  He was shy, taciturn and extremely (some would say obsessively) private by nature.  He was also uninterested in other people and any activities other than flying.  For a person like that to be unable to escape the spotlight was unbearable and eventually left him contemptuous of most other people and hating the press.

For the next few years Charles Lindbergh was the best known person in the world.  It all ended tragically with the kidnapping and death of his infant son in 1932 and the trial of the kidnapper in a circus-like media atmosphere in 1935.  To escape he and his wife moved to Europe where they remained until the outbreak of WWII.

In the later 1930s and early 1940s, Lindbergh became a controversial, and finally a highly unpopular, figure due to his pro-German views, support of isolationism and his flirtation with anti-Semitism. 

But that was all in the future in 1927 and perhaps it's best to end by honoring the magnitude of his accomplishments which Bryson does well:

Maintaining your bearings by means of dead reckoning means taking close note of compass headings, speed of travel, time elapsed since the last calculation, and any deviations from the prescribed route induced by drifting.  Some measure of the difficulty is shown by the fact that the Byrd expedition the following month - despite having a dedicated navigator and radio operator, as well as pilot and copilot - missed their expected landfall by two hundred miles, were often only vaguely aware of where they were, and mistook a lighthouse on the Normandy coast for the lights of Paris [and they crash landed on a Normandy beach].  Lindbergh by contrast hit all his targets exactly - Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, Cap de la Hague in France, Le Bourget in Paris - and did so while making calculations on his lap while flying an unstable plane.

That achievement alone makes him unquestionably a candidate for greatest pilot of his age, if not all ages.  He was the only pilot that year to land where he said he would.  All the other flights that summer - and there were many - either failed, made forced landings on water, or came down without knowing where they were.  He seemed to think that flying to Le Bourget was the most normal thing in the world.  For him, in fact, it was.