Saturday, May 31, 2014

Long Takes

In movies a Long Take is an unbroken shot lasting a minute or more which follows the characters as they move through a scene.  This is an entertaining video from Vimeo on Steven Spielberg's use of the technique.
The Spielberg Oner - One Scene, One Shot from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

And this is one of the most famous long takes in movie history - the opening scene of the 1958 film Touch Of Evil directed by Orson Welles.  The movie had a terrific cast including Charlton Heston as the Mexican drug prosecutor, Janet Leigh as his American wife, Marlene Dietrich and Welles, playing the corrupt sheriff on the American side of the border town.  The movie was not successful when released but is now considered masterful and it is. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Quote Investigator

"Never was so much misattributed by so many to so few" - Mark Twain

Yogi Berra and Winston Churchill are probably the people most often mistakenly cited as the source for catchy quotes with Mark Twain running a close third (see the above slightly altered Churchill quote misattributed to Twain). 

Wikiquote is a great resource for finding quotations but it can be unreliable in its sourcing.  Snopes can sometimes be a help in figuring out if someone really said something but this is not its main purpose.  Recently THC came across Quote Investigator, a useful website solely devoted to unearthing the sources of famous quotes.  It was while searching for a quote usually attributed to George Orwell:

"People Sleep Peacefully in Their Beds at Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready to Do Violence on Their Behalf"

It turns out that while Orwell said things similar to this, the actual quote is only about twenty years old.

The site is searchable by using the names of those to whom a quote is usually attributed and the discussion is usually very enlightening.  It is less about debunking and snark than illuminating the often complex process by which a quotation can derive from several sources.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wrote A Song For Everyone

Wrote a song for everyone,
Wrote a song for truth.
Wrote a song for everyone
And I couldn't even talk to you.

For 2 1/2 years beginning in January 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival, ignited by the songwriting, guitar playing and singing of John Fogerty (who had a voice that could peel paint), ruled the AM radio airways.  CCR had a run of nine straight Top Ten singles:

CCR never had a #1 but four of its singles reached #2 - Proud Mary, Bad Moon Rising, Green River (THC's favorite) and the double-sided hit Traveling Band/Who'll Stop The Rain (Billboard changed its system in 1970 to count sales of both sides of a single together in putting together its charts)

A fifth single hit #3 - Down On The Corner; it's flip side Fortunate Son hit #14.  This was in 1969 before Billboard changed its rules and it might have made #1 under the new rules.

Up Around The Bend/Run Through The Jungle hit #4, Sweet Hitch-Hiker #6 and Have You Ever Seen The Rain?/Hey Tonight was #8.  

They also released five albums in 23 months all of which reached the Top Ten.
(Green River album cover)
But today we'll focus on the lesser known songs of CCR, so we'll also skip over heavy FM playlist songs like Born On A Bayou, Keep On Chooglin' and Susie Q.

When THC first heard CCR he thought they had crawled out of the swamps of Louisiana but it turns out they're from suburban California and had scuffled for years (mostly playing as The Golliwogs) before achieving "overnight" success.  Which brings us to our first song for today, Lodi.

If I only had a dollar, for ev'ry song I've sung.
And ev'ry time I've had to play
While people sat there drunk.
You know, I'd catch the next train back to where I live.
Oh ! Lord, I'm stuck in Lodi again.

CCR never played in Lodi, a town in California's Central Valley, but Fogerty liked the way the name sounded and it stood in for the endless procession of bars and clubs he'd played in over the years as a struggling musician.  The lyrics catch the pathos of the singer wondering if he's doomed to play this circuit forever.

Next up is Bootleg which THC has featured before and should be taught in college as part of any Political Science curriculum for its astute analysis of public policy:

Take you a glass of water
Make it against the law.
See how good the water tastes
When you can't have any at all.

Our next tune is Penthouse Pauper featuring paint peeling guitar lines in addition to the paint peeling vocal.  Listen to how Fogerty makes his guitar sound like a hacksaw when he signs "If I was a hacksaw, my blade'd be razor sharp".

We'll wrap this up with Wrote A Song For Everyone, the lyric featured at the top of this post.  Written after a tiff with his wife over needing to spend more time with his young son, Fogerty wrote this about the clash between family and his profession.  The reference in the lyric to "Richmond" is to Richmond, California a Bay Area town near his home.
If you'd like to hear how Fogerty sounds more recently on a non-Fogerty composed song this is Screamin' Jay Hawkins' I Put A Spell On You from a live show in the late 1990s.  The drummer is Kenny Aronoff who hits the skins harder than anyone who isn't named John Bonham.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Before The Big Bang

THC always wondered what happened before the Big Bang.  Question answered! (via Never Yet Melted)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Moving An Army

When reading about the Civil War it seems like almost every planned maneuver fails or takes much longer than anticipated.  While THC has read about the logistical difficulties encountered by the armies, actually seeing what they faced is a more powerful experience.

On our recent tour of The Wilderness, Bob Krick took us to one of the few existing sections of the few roads that crossed the battlefield in 1864.  This particular section would have been used by the Union Army.  Now imagine trying to move tens of thousands of soldiers, thousands of wagons and horses and heavy artillery along this narrow track so that you could reach an area to launch an attack. Imagine the dust created and the amount of mud churned up if there is even a little rain.  And, if you are thinking "why didn't they just spread out more and go through the fields?" the answer is that with the exception of a few isolated clearings there were no fields.  Most of it was a mixture of low-growth forest (20 feet high) with thick brush in between the trees.  It's surprising anyone got anywhere.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Bloody Angle

"I don't expect to go to Hell, but if I do, I am sure that Hell can't beat that terrible scene." 
For Memorial Day

For last year's post see The Death Of Captain Waskow

THC spent last weekend in Virginia, along with his friends Larry and Bob, and about forty other Civil War nuts, on a tour of The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, two of the battles of the Overland Campaign of 1864.  Our guide was the knowledgeable, entertaining, and acerbic Robert Krick, Chief Historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park for 31 years until his retirement in 2002. It was a beautiful Virginia weekend with sunny skies, a high temperature of 70 and very little humidity.  The battlefields, particularly Spotsylvania, looked bucolic.
Standing at the portion of the Confederate line attacked by Federal forces on May 10 and looking towards The Bloody Angle at the end of the road.  It didn't look this nice 150 years ago this month.  Below are two survivor accounts of the sacrifices made on that field.

The Battle of the Wilderness was two days (May 5-6).  Spotsylvania was two weeks (May 8-21). Major fighting took place on May 8,10,12, 18 and 19, while on the other days there was constant skirmishing, shelling and sniper fire.  For instance, on May 9 Union Sixth Corps Commander John Sedgwick was killed by a sharpshooter firing from 600 yards away.  Sedgwick was the most senior Union officer killed during the war and the incident occurred as he was trying to reassure his men who were ducking the sniper.
Sedgwick was killed while standing in the spot where this picture was taken.  The shot likely came from a sniper in the clump of trees located in the far distance beyond the upper left side of the Stop sign.

The field fortifications built during the battle dwarfed those of previous battles making the scene look like something from the First World War and other 20th century battlefields.File:CSGräbenSpotsylvania.JPG
(Spotsylvania, The Bloody Angle)

Within those two weeks it was the events of May 12 that stood out in everyone's recollection both at the time and after the war. The center of the Confederate line at Spotsylvania was what became known as The Muleshoe, a protruding salient about a mile in depth and width, vulnerable to Federal attack on three sides

To take advantage of that vulnerability a large Federal force under the command of General Winfield Scott Hancock launched a surprise attack at dawn on May 12.  The Union troops stormed the Rebel positions by using an unusual tactic.  Instead of arraying themselves in line and firing volleys as they approached, the Union regiments aligned in deep columns and charged, not stopping to shoot.  The rapid pace of the Union attack led to initial success, aided by Robert E Lee's decision to remove cannon from the salient the night before, and the rainy weather preventing many of the Confederate rifles from firing.

The Confederate line was shattered.  Quickly responding, the Rebels began to counterattack and regain some of the lost ground.  Lee needed his men to buy some time while he constructed a new defensive line at the base of the salient.  In one area a Mississippi and a South Caroline brigade fought their way back to the original breastworks.  For the next 20 hours they and the Union forces on the other side were locked together in the most sustained, bitter fighting of the war at what became known as The Bloody Angle.
(Looking at The Muleshoe, which is along the heavy treeline, from the Union position.  The Bloody Angle is at the far right.  We took a nice walk over to it but, then again, no one was shooting at us.)

It rained throughout the day and evening of May 12.  Trees shattered by artillery fire (though one 22-inch oak was cut down solely by musket fire a dramatic event at around midnight noted in most of the surviving accounts; its stump still on display at the Smithsonian) stood over a morass of mud which became deeper as the day wore on and to which was added, as one soldier noted, a mixture of "blood and brains".  On the Confederate side the breastworks were taller than a man.  Behind were traverses; trenches dug perpendicular to the breastwork, with three sides shored up by logs with the Rebel troops huddled inside, isolated from the traverses on either side of them described as like "being in a three sided log cabin without a roof".  This configuration led to each group of men in each traverse fighting their own battle for hours on end.

On the other side of the breastworks was a short level area and then a slope leading down to a gully.  As long as the Federal troops stayed in the gully, Confederates could not shoot them unless they themselves stood on top of the breastworks.  Thousands of Union soldiers eventually huddled there.  But all through the day, the Union troops would regroup and launch another charge followed by a  Confederate counterattack and when that happened the fighting was at pointblank range.  The ferocity was such that the Bloody Angle is one of the few instances in the war where a large number of bayonet wounds documented.  As we walked those green fields it was hard to imagine the courage and fortitude it took those brave Union soldiers to venture charge after charge, for hour on end, against those fortifications.

Here are the recollections of two soldiers, one Union and one Confederate both of whom saw much combat during the war and for each The Bloody Angle stood out in uniquely in its horror.

From Hard Marching Every Day by Private Wilbur Fisk, 2nd Vermont Regiment

But the most singular and obstinate fighting that I have seen during the war, or ever heard or dreamed of in my life, was the fight of last Thursday [May 12] . . . The rebels were on one side of the breastwork, and we on the other.  We could touch their guns with ours.  They would load, jump up and fire into us, and we did the same to them . . . Some of our boys would jump clear up on to the breastwork and fire, then down, reload and fire again, until they were themselves picked off. . . . I visited the place the next morning and though I have seen horrid scenes since this war commenced, I never saw anything half so bad as that.  Our men lay piled one top of another, nearly all shot through the head.  There were many among them that I knew well . . . On the rebel side it was worse than on ours.  In some places the men were piled four or five deep, some of whom were still alive . . . I have sometimes hoped, that if I must die while I am a soldier, I should prefer to die on the battle-field, but after looking at such a scene, one cannot help turning away and saying, Any death but that.
The Overland Campaign post tells of the toll taken on the Union army during these weeks.  In a letter of January 1, 1865, Fisk looks back on 1864 and reports that the start of the campaign on May 4, 1864 his brigade had 3,899 men fit for duty and had suffered 3,086 casualties over the next eight months.

As awful an ordeal for the Union soldiers, at least many who survived were rotated away from the Angle during the hours of fighting.  For the Southerners it was worse.  Those who were there at the beginning stayed until the end; there was no relief.

From A Mississippi Rebel in the Army of Northern Virginia by Private David Holt, 16th Mississippi Regiment

Soon the Yanks made a determined charge with fixed bayonets . . . The breastwork was in a bog, and to make a charge in such a place against a line of fierce men close up, who have no idea of giving way, was more than those gallant Yanks could do.

Many of them were shot dead and sank down on the breastworks without pulling their feet out of the mud.  Many others plunged forward when they were shot and fell headlong into the trench among us.  Between charges we cleared the trench of dead and wounded and loaded all the guns we could get hold of for the next charge.  I was shooting seven guns myself . . . Many times we could not put the gun to our shoulder by reason of the closeness of the enemy, so we shot from the hip.

All the time a drizzling rain was falling.  The blood shed by the dead and the wounded in the trench mixed with the mud and the water.  It became more than shoe deep, and soon it was smeared all over our clothes.  The powder smoke settled on us, while the rain trickled down on our faces from the rims of our caps like buttermilk on the inside of a tumbler.  We could hardly tell one another apart.  No Mardi Gras Carnival ever devised such a diabolical looking set of devils as we were.

After describing an incident when a Union officer came forward during a lull in the fighting to request they surrender and was shot down by another Rebel and how his Orderly Sergeant died next to him after being hit in the head by a bullet ricocheting off a tree, Holt talks of how men broke under the unending stress writing of an episode when a man in his company broke down and tried to surrender to the Yankees before being shot down by a comrade who was afraid that once one man surrendered others would follow:

I will not mention the name of that man who raised the white flag.  He was a good soldier, but allowed himself to be overcome by the horror and terror of the situation.  Nor will I mention the name of the comrade who shot him.  He was his friend.

Sometime that night, around 3-4am, the brigade finally withdrew from its position leaving Holt, who had fallen asleep, behind, assuming he was dead.  Awakening a few minutes later, Holt took a last look around him:

I don't expect to go to Hell, but if I do, I am sure that Hell can't beat that terrible scene.

Moving "double quick" he caught up with his unit:
We halted in a pasture and broke ranks.  Then came the reaction.  All moved by the same impulse, we sat down on the wet ground and wept.  Not silently, but vociferously and long.  Officers and men together . . . We washed our hands and faces in pools of rain-water.  We were covered with bloody mud from head to foot.  Soon we got rations of corndodger and fried bacon, but not a man could eat. 
After the war, David Holt was ordained as an Episcopal priest and archdeacon.  Wilbur Fisk became a Congregational minister. 


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Carmine Said One Boy . . . Here Are Two

From The Freshman (1990).  Matthew Broderick as The Freshman with Frank Whalley as his sidekick (he also played the young Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams).  And Maximilian Schell as the exotic chef, Larry London, who also sings "my heart swims in blood" in this clip.  Carmine Sabatini was played by Marlon Brando.And someday, THC hopes to find a clip from this movie of Bert Parks singing Maggie's Farm.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Expendables 3

Just what we've all been waiting for - the third installment of the series featuring creaky aged action stars in ridiculous plots with silly dialogue - it is magnificent in its own twisted and bizarre way.

You'll see a lot of familiar faces - Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Arnold Schwarzenegger along with some new folks; Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Kelsey Grammer.

Opening on August 15.  We'll see you there!

Here's the first trailer and below that, for those of you new to The Expendables, is THC's August 21, 2012 review of Expendables 2.

The Expendables 2

"Doing a film like this is like having a dinosaur as a house pet - you know it's going to be extinct pretty soon, so enjoy it while it's here"
- Sly Stallone in a recent interview

The first new movie I reviewed on this blog was Monsieur Lazhar, a sensitive French Canadian film about a North African immigrant in Montreal and his new job as a teacher at an elementary school where the young children have just gone through a traumatic event.  The next new film reviewed was Bernie, an offbeat indie comedy, featuring Jack Black as an assistant funeral director in East Texas.

So it was natural that my third review would be of The Expendables 2

The sequel to, (what else?), The Expendables (which I also saw) stars Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

I'm pretty certain they came up with the plot (something about five tons of buried Soviet-era plutonium in an abandoned Albanian mine) in about ten minutes and wrote the dialogue over the course of an afternoon.  The movie makes absolutely no sense.  I enjoyed it.  These guys know what you are expecting and they deliver.

Now let's get on to the important stuff:

Most implausible plot point:  Dozens to pick from but after much deliberation it's a three way tie:
1.  After a huge fire fight in a Nepalese city in the midst of an arid plain, The Expendables escape by a zip line which ends in a jungle.
2.  Stallone crash lands a large cargo plane into the opening of a mine.  There is no explosion and everyone on board is uninjured.
3.  In a wild melee in an airport terminal amidst hundreds of panicked passengers all of the thousands of bullets fired by The Expendables miss the passengers and only hit bad guys (and they are very bad, so they deserved it).

Best cameo:  Chuck Norris, no question and believe me, I am not questioning Chuck.  Best part is that he actually uses in his dialogue a Chuck Norris fact from the Chuck Norris Facts website.  Here are my favorite Chuck Norris Facts:
  • Chuck Norris counted to infinity - twice
  • There is no theory of evolution - just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live
  • There is no chin behind Chuck Norris' beard.  There is just another fist.
  • When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he's not pushing himself up, he's pushing the Earth down.
  • Chuck Norris doesn't wear a watch.  HE decides what time it is
  • Outer space exists because it's afraid to be on the same planet with Chuck Norris.
Most amazing Chuck Norris Fact: Chuck Norris is now 72 years old.

Most difficult to understand actor:  Tie between Stallone's incomprehensible muttering and Jason Statham's accent.

Biggest muscles: Terry Crews

Best planner:  Also Terry Crews.  A very good meal planner.  You might want to hire him if you are having a banquet.

Best ability to keep head tilted without ever changing expression even when shooting:  Yu Nan.  She's the girl in the film.  They let one in.

Hardest to guess if there is any difference between the actor on and off screen:  Dolph Lundgren

Most Expendable of The Expendables: Liam Hensworth

Best sunglasses:  Jean-Claude Van Damme

Most inventive name for a bad guy:  Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme)

Smallest car with biggest guys:  Willis and Schwarzenegger in a Smart Car touring around the inside of an airport terminal spraying bullets.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Shanghai Time Shift

A quarter century of staggering change - Shanghai in 1987 and Shanghai in 2013 (from The Atlantic, by Reuters photographer Carlos Barria).  More precisely you are looking towards the east from the older Puxi section of Shanghai towards the newer Pudong district.  THC spent considerable time in Shanghai from 2000 to 2012 and the only thing about the 2013 picture that doesn't capture Shanghai is that the sky is clear and blue which is a rarity.  Though the air quality is bad and it can be a crazy place at times it remains one of THC's favorite cities.  It's like New York City on steroids.

The odd looking structure towards the left is known as the TV Tower, one of the first large structures built in Pudong.  The very tall building in the center that looks like a can opener is the Shanghai World Financial Center (1614' tall) which has the highest observation deck in the world.  Just to the left of it is the Jin Mao Tower which houses a Hyatt Hotel on the 53rd to 87th floors (THC stayed in it) and features an incredible buffet.

To the right (and under construction at the time of this photo) is the Shanghai Tower, the tallest building in China at 2073 feet and 121 stories.  In front of the Tower you'll see a building labeled Aurora.  Look to its left towards the river and there is a smaller golden colored building which is THC's favorite hotel in the city, the Shangri-La.

Along both sides of the river are very attractive and open walkways where you should take a stroll if you make it there.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Solving Income Inequality

Apparently Income Inequality (TM) has become quite an ISSUE for some folks.  THC never heard much about it until a couple of years ago (though he recently reported on the highly educated efforts of Harvard and MIT to address this pressing issue in a post of April 1, 2014), but in the interests of keeping our devoted readership informed we wanted to let you know that Michael Totten, intrepid foreign correspondent and keeper of the Dispatches blog, has, in his recent travels, stumbled upon a solution that has, until now, eluded the sheltered and provincial people of America.

At City Journal, Totten reports on his recent visit to Cuba, part of an ongoing series the rest of which can be found at Dispatches.  According to Totten, it turns out that Cuba has successfully solved income inequality by imposing a maximum monthly wage of approximately $20 a month!!  Seems like a solution that is simple, cutting through the Gordian Knot of complexity which some reactionaries throw up to avoid addressing the ISSUE.
(Havana from City Journal)
In its empathetic approach towards the issue the Cuban government has taken creative steps to ensure that inequality does not arise again particularly as the regime has selectively opened small parts of its economy to  foreign companies.  Totten reports on the experience of Melia International, the Spanish company hired to manage Havana's tourist hotels.  Before signing its contract Melia insisted it wanted to pay its Cuban workers a "decent wage" in the range of $8-10 an hour.  The government agreed, but to spare its citizens from any resulting inequity it insisted that Melia pay the wage directly to the government which in turn pays each worker 67 cents a day.  We can only applaud such dedication and the satisfaction it must provide to the people of Cuba!
(Havana from Dispatches)
Totten does claim in passing that:

Cuba isn’t a developing country; it’s a once-developed country destroyed by its own government.

But that is surely an uncharitable remark and a small price to pay for eliminating inequality!*

* Certain government officials do make substantially more than the maximum wage but we all recognize that those in the Revolutionary Vanguard need adequate resources to allow them a single-minded focus on the welfare of The People. (Havana from Dispatches)

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Peutinger Map

We have very little graphic evidence of how the ancients viewed the geography of their world.  The only "map" which has survived in its original form from the Roman world is the Peutinger Map (or Table as some prefer to call it) with dimensions of 22 feet long and only 1 foot wide (fragments of a giant wall map of Rome, known as the Marble Plan, created in the early 2nd century AD, have also have been found) .  Below is the far left (western) portion of the map which ends in a damaged and lost section.
The first documented reference to the Map is in the will of Conrad Celtes, dated January 24, 1508, in which it is referred to as the Itinerarium Antonini Pii (after the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, 138-163AD).  Celtes bequeathed it to the German collector and scholar Konrad Peutinger.  The original is now in the possession of Austria's National Library in Vienna where it has resided since 1737.

How Celtes located the map remains uncertain.  The best current analysis indicates his copy was made by a German monk in the 13th century and based upon the Roman original or an earlier copy of the original.

The map contains over 4000 place names including over 500 cities and schematically shows the road routes (the straight red lines as shown below) between cities which is why it is often described as an Itinerary.  It also portrays major mountain ranges and rivers.  It is not orientated like a map today.  Because of its narrow width and long length the actual locations of parts of the Roman world are distorted.  In the European section, northern and eastern Europe are shown on the top, Italy in the middle and North Africa on the bottom.  It can take awhile for the casual observer to figure out what they are looking at when they view the map.

When the original was made is another subject of controversy.  The most comprehensive recent publication on Peutinger is Rome's World: The Peutinger Map Reconsidered by Richard JA Talbert (2010) and its accompanying website.
Rome(Depiction of Rome on Map)
Talbert believes that the original was made in the early 4th century for display purposes, not for actual use while traveling, and shown in the throne room or other prestigious public places used by one of the Tetrarchs - Diocletian, Maximium, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus.

The section below shows in detail  the schematic layout of the map.  In this segment, the top section is the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea (modern day Croatia and Albania).  Below it is the "boot" of Italy.  Next is a very elongated Sicily and then North Africa.

Below is the section showing the Bay of Naples with Neapoli (Naples), Oplontis and Pompei.  It even shows Sorrento and the Amalfi Peninsula. 

Below you can look at the entire map courtesy of the Tabula Peutingeriana entry in Wikipedia.  Just keep scrolling across (the section in white on the left end is a reconstruction).  At the far upper left side is Thule (Iceland), Hibernia (Ireland) and Caledonii (Scotland).  Below it is the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa.  It ends with India and Sri Lanka on the far right.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Etta Place

(The Sundance Kid & Etta Place, NY 1901 via
Katharine Ross as Etta Place with Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid/ Douglas Kirkland, CORBIS(Katherine Ross as Etta Place)

In Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Katherine Ross played Etta Place, the girlfriend of The Sundance Kid, played by Robert Redford.  But who was Etta Place? To this day, no one really knows. 

The things we know for certain about Etta are very limited.  Her birth date is unknown though Pinkerton Detective Agency reports place it between 1878 and 1882.

Her real name is not known.  The maiden name of the mother of Harry Longabaugh (the Sundance Kid) was Place but no one knows if Etta was a relative or merely took the name.  And Sundance and Etta may or may not have been married.

In the movie she's portrayed as a schoolteacher but it's considered more likely that Sundance met her in a Texas bordello in 1900.

We do know that in February 1901 they were in New York City where the picture above was taken and from which they sailed to Argentina (not Bolivia as depicted in the movie) where they purchased land and began ranching.  Place owned 2500 acres herself becoming the first female landowner in the country which had just changed its laws to allow women to own land.

It's known that in 1902 and 1904 Sundance and Etta made return trips to the United States evidence of which was later uncovered by the Pinkertons.

Also considered reliable is that in 1906 Etta returned alone to the United States, landing in San Francisco.  It is speculated that as the Pinkerton's grew closer to Butch and Sundance and they fled to Bolivia she tired of life on the run.  Butch and Sundance died in a Bolivian shootout in 1908.

The last semi-reliable sighting of Etta was in 1909 when a woman matching her description visited the American counsel in Valparaiso, Chile seeking help in obtaining a death certificate for Harry Longabaugh.

After that, she disappears.

There are many theories about what happened to Etta and her real identity, but that's all they are - theories, none of which convince THC.  The best summary can be found at

THC is also pretty confident that Etta never rode on a bike with Butch Cassidy while someone sang Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Mynah Birds

Neil Young and Rick James in the same band?  You mean Neil Young of Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills Nash & Young and a long solo career and Rick James, the master of funk and of the immortal tune Super Freak, one of the most frequently sampled songs of the past 30 years (and there's even a bluegrass version)?

Yep, sorta like Neil Young doing Sexy And I Know It!

In the summer of 1964 a young AWOL American sailor turned up in Toronto, Canada.  Rick James was an aspiring musician who loved the Rolling Stones and by August he'd put together the first lineup for The Mynah Birds.  Over the next two years, before being arrested by U.S. authorities for desertion and spending a year in prison, James had a rotating lineup for the band.  Included among his band mates were two musicians who later became part of Steppenwolf (Born To Be Wild), Nick St Nicholas and Goldy McJohn, and one of the founding members of Buffalo Springfield, bassist Bruce Palmer.  It was Palmer who in January 1966 introduced James to Neil Young, a Canadian guitar player.  Young joined The Mynah Birds who were signed by Motown Records as its first rock n roll act.

In early 1966 The Mynah Birds recorded an album for Motown but Rick's arrest led it to shelve the record.  Palmer and Young headed out to Los Angeles where they met Stephen Stills and Richie Furay, forming Buffalo Springfield later that year.

And here are The Mynah Birds with It's My Time co-written by James and Young which was to be the first single from the album.

THC was vaguely aware of this history but it was reading the recent post in Open Culture and the obsessively detailed story of the band as compiled by Nick Warburton that filled in the details.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I Won't Dance

Lesson #2 from Fred Astaire's masterclass: "You Don't Need To Have A Great, Or Even Good, Voice To Be A Great Singer".  For Lesson #1 see Puttin' On The Ritz and for a particularly relevant related post see Putin On The Ritz.

Originally written for a Broadway show by Jerome Kern (music) and Oscar Hammerstein and Otto Harbach (lyrics) the lyrics were rewritten by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh for the 1935 film Roberta starring Astaire and Ginger Rogers (along with Irene Dunn and Randolph Scott).  In the film Fred and Ginger perform it as a duet but the version below is all Astaire (you can find the movie version here which features an entertaining piano solo by Fred to kick it off).

Kern, Fields and McHugh had quite the songwriting resumes.  Kern was responsible for Ol' Man River, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and The Way You Look Tonight (the last co-written with Fields) while Fields and McHugh also teamed up to write On The Sunny Side Of The Street and I Can't Give You Anything But Love.

As an extra bonus, listen carefully to the lyrics and discover how the prescient Astaire lays the groundwork for a successful product liability defense decades down the road.

Overland Day By Day

If you are interested in learning more about the Overland Campaign about which THC recently posted, Brooks Simpson, a noted Civil War historian, is writing daily about the campaign on his blog Crossroads, often highlighting lesser known aspects.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sexy And I Know It

In our continuing effort to drive up readership, this is the second post in a row containing the word Sexy in its title in a blatant and perhaps pathetic attempt to attract attention for THC on internet search engines.  Watch Jimmy Fallon channeling Neil Young on a version of LMFAO's Sexy And I Know It along with an appearance by a surprise guest.  Fallon is terrific with his musical impersonations (see This Is The End (of Reading Rainbow) for another example).  You'll find Sexy via this link

For the uninitiated, LMFAO is a rapper duo consisting of an uncle (Redfoo) and nephew (SkyBlu) and Sexy And I Know It was a #1 hit for them in 2011.  Redfoo's real name is Stefan Kendal Gordy and he's the youngest son of Berry Gordy Jr, the founder of Motown Records.LMFAO, 2011.jpg

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sexy Beast

The THC Wife and Friends have never forgiven him for dragging them to see Sexy Beast when it was released in 2001.  That occasion resulted in the revocation of his movie recommendation privileges for quite some time.  But, as THC has occasionally reminded them over the years (before they start yelling at him), none of them have ever forgotten the film; it stays in one's memory whether or not you want it to.

Sexy Beast stars Ben Kingsley as Don Logan, a rancid, rabid, repulsive, relentless and, at times, very repetitive, London gangster.  This ain't Gandhi.

Don has traveled to the south of Spain to convince a recently retired baddie named Gal (Ray Winstone who played Jack Nicholson's sidekick in The Departed), who spends most of his time, along with his wife and another former gangster couple, sunning himself by the pool at their villa, to return to London for a big job requiring his expertise.  Don will not take no for an answer.

You can watch some clips and make up your own mind.  WARNING:  Most of these are NSFW or most other venues.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bacon Lollipops With Maple Syrup

Last night was very good.  The organizers of the meeting THC is attending in Cincinnati arranged for a visit to the Great American Ballpark, home of the Cincinnati Reds.  While the Reds weren't playing there last night (they were in Fenway playing the Red Sox) we had a fantastic tour of the ballpark capped by a dinner overlooking the field and featuring the above mentioned Bacon Lollipops With Maple Syrup - a remarkable tribute to American culinary creativity.  THC indulged himself with Lollipops though he will probably avoid any type of bacon for awhile until the haze from last night abates.

Q.  So where is the picture of the Bacon Lollipops?
A.  Uh, well we ate them all before we realized we should have taken a photo.







Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Aurelius Polion Writes Home

The newly translated letter is from an Egyptian soldier named Aurelius Polion while he served as a volunteer Roman legion in Europe.A Rice University graduate student has deciphered a letter found in 1899 in Egypt, written by a lonely Roman legionnaire to his family (story via Rogue Classicism).  The soldier, Aurelius Polion, was born in an Egyptian village and volunteered for the Roman army.  The letter is likely to have been written sometime between the late second century and mid-third century AD and illustrates the vastness of the Roman Empire.  Born in a remote village on the Nile River, Polion was likely stationed in Pannonia, an area that included most of modern-day Hungary west of the Danube River.

The letter, written to his mother, sister and brother conveys his annoyance at their failure to respond to earlier letters:

“I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf. I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind. But I do my part writing to you always and do not cease bearing you (in mind) and having you in my heart. But you never wrote to me concerning your health, how you are doing. I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you.

This video shows the graduate student, Grant Adamson, explaining his work on the letter.

And here is Adamson's scholarly paper published in The Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Overland Campaign Begins

In early March of 1864, a slight (5'7", 135 lbs) and slightly disheveled and unassuming man, accompanied by his 14-year old son, checked into Willard's Hotel near the White House.  The clerk told him that only one small room was available to which the man responded that he was fine with that.  It was not until he signed the register "U.S. Grant & son, Galena, Ill" that the clerk realized who his guest was and arranged for larger quarters. 
Grant 1868(US Grant, 1868, from Crossroads)
Grant had been summoned East to meet for the first time with President Lincoln.  General Grant had captured Fort Donaldson and Henry on the Tennessee River in early 1862, the first substantial victory by Union forces in the Civil War, captured Vicksburg in July 1863 in one of the most brilliant and daring campaigns of the war (see July 4, 1863) and led the relief of a besieged Union army in Chattanooga culminating in the rout of the rebel Army of the Tennessee in November 1863.  A West Point graduate who saw service in the Mexican War (which he considered an unjust conflict) and who later, when his career stalled and he was posted to Northern California descended into drunkenness, resigning from the Army and at the start of the Civil War reduced to working as a clerk in his father's leather goods store in Galena, Illinois, Ulysses S Grant was about to become the first person to receive the rank of Lieutenant General since George Washington and placed in command of all Union forces in the United States.

Lincoln had been searching for a general who would not be afraid to fight and not be intimidated by Robert E Lee and felt that in Grant he had found his man.  They were opposites.  Lincoln towered by almost a foot over Grant.  Lincoln was eloquent, an endless fount of anecdotes and humorous tales, while Grant was taciturn and uncharismatic but they developed a close and mutually admiring partnership over the next thirteen months.

Before he had been formally offered command of the armies, General Henry Halleck had solicited  his strategic ideas on the 1864 campaign in the East.  For those who think of Grant as just being a bloody blutcher (an image his Vicksburg campaign should have dispelled) his response to Halleck on January 19, 1864 is enlightening because he proposed an indirect approach to force General Lee to evacuate Virginia:

I would respectfully suggest whether an abandonment of all previously attempted lines to Richmond is not advisable, and in line of these one be taken further South. I would suggest Raleigh North Carolina as the objective point and Suffolk as the starting point. Raleigh once secured I would make New Bern the base of supplies until Wilmington is secured. A moving force of sixty thousand men would probably be required to start on such an expedition . . .

From Weldon to Raleigh they would scarsely meet with serious opposition. Once there the most interior line of rail way still left to the enemy, in fact the only one they would then have, would be so threatened as to force enemy him to use a large portion of his army in guarding it. This would virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee. It would throw our Armies into new fields where they could partially live upon the country and would reduce the stores of the enemy. 
Grant's proposal was rejected because Halleck and Lincoln were preoccupied by Lee's potential countermoves and feared that Grant's plan would leave Washington DC too vulnerable.

The plan Grant eventually developed involved five coordinated campaigns all to start on the same date, May 4, 1864.  By coordinating attacks he believed it would prevent the Confederacy from transferring troops between areas and increasing the chances of a Union breakthrough.

Three of the five campaigns were subsidiary:

An attack by General Banks, based in New Orleans and coordinated with the US Navy, upon the Confederate port of Mobile, Alabama.

An advance by General Benjamin Butler from southeastern Virginia to threaten both Richmond and Petersburg.

A campaign by General Franz Siegel to clear the Shenendoah Valley of Confederate forces.

The two main campaigns:

General William Tecumseh Sherman, commanding the Armies of the Cumberland, Tennessee and Ohio to advance from Chattanooga to Atlanta.(Sherman)

The Army of the Potomac under General George Meade to advance across the Rapidan River and upon Richmond, forcing Robert E Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia into a battle to defend the capital of the Confederacy.  This advance was to become known as the Overland Campaign.

(Four of the five campaigns, as planned)
Since 1861, President Lincoln had been used to being involved in the details of the campaign plans of the Army of the Potomac.  With the advent of Grant he lessened his preoccupation with those details.  On April 30, 1864 he wrote Grant:

Executive Mansion
Washington, April 30, 1864

Lieutenant General Grant.

Not expecting to see you again before the Spring Campaign opens, I wish to express, in this way, my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it. The particulars of your plans I neither know, or seek to know. You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon you. While I am very anxious that any great disaster, or the capture of our men in great numbers, shall be avoided, I know these points are less likely to escape your attention than they would be mine. If there is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it.
And now with a brave Army, and a just cause, may God sustain you.

Yours very truly
A. Lincoln

Grant's originally planned to return to the West when the 1864 campaign began.  However, the more time he spent in the East, the more he recognized the political aspects of the war and the fixation of Union politicians upon the Army of the Potomac.  With a Presidential campaign about to get underway those political stresses would only become more intense and Grant decided to stay in the East and travel with the Army of the Potomac creating an awkward situation with General Meade, the nominal commander of that army.

Moreover, in the West, Grant had a subordinate he fully trusted, General Sherman.  The two of them had developed a close relationship during the course of the campaign in 1862 and Sherman, then and in the future was a great admirer of Grant.  Like Lincoln and Grant, Grant and Sherman were contrasting personalities who worked together well.  Sherman was never a great battlefield commander and deliberately avoided entangling his army in large battles but he had a strategic view that was much more sophisticated than most other military men of that era.

Grant's instructions to Sherman were simple:

You I propose to move against Johnston's army, to break it up, and to get into the interior of the enemy's country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.

He left all the details to Sherman. 

The three secondary campaigns quickly went awry.  Before undertaking the Mobile expedition, General Banks was directed to undertake a campaign along the Red River in western Louisiana which ended in a debacle and ended any thought of an assault on Mobile (though the harbor forts were finally taken by Admiral Farragut of "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" fame, in August 1864).

General Butler incompetently managed to get his entire army bottled up at Bermuda Hundred, a small spit of land along the James River, by a numerically inferior enemy force where he remained isolated for many weeks until rescued by Grant.

In the Shenandoah Valley General Siegel's advance was abruptly halted in mid-May when defeated by a scratch Confederate force at the Battle of New Market and events in the valley quickly cascaded into a disaster for the Union climaxing with Jubal Early's July 1864 raid into Maryland which reached the outskirts of Washington DC.

Meanwhile, Sherman's campaign was launched on time and did make progress, albeit agonizingly slowly in May and June.
And one hundred and fifty years ago today, on May 4, 1864, Grant and the Army of the Potomac began crossing the Rapidan River.  The next forty days, through June 12, were filled with unrelenting violence, disappointment and long casualty lists, spreading gloom across the North and leading Lincoln to believe he could very well lose the upcoming election.  During those weeks the Army of the Potomac fought eleven battles, including three large and grim fights:  The Wilderness (May 5-6), a confused, sprawling struggle where the thick brush (The Wilderness, from Dickinson College) and scraggly second-growth forest caught fire, burning to death hundreds of wounded men, Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21) which culminated in a 19-hour face to face struggle across an earthen and log wall, the longest continuous such fight of the war, and Cold Harbor (June 1-12) with Union charges across open ground recognized as so hopeless by the soldiers that before its start they pinned notes containing their names to the backs of each others uniforms so they could be identified when killed and, of which, Grant later wrote "I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made".
grant 52164 closeup(Grant, center, May 21, 1864, Crossroads)

Those forty days saw the Army of the Potomac suffer 60-65,000 casualties which, when added to an estimated 35,000 Confederate causalities, makes it among the bloodiest campaigns in American history, the only comparisons being the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne Forest in WWI (Sept 26 - Nov 11, 1918) with 125,000 casualties and the Battle of the Bulge in WWII (December 16, 1944 - January 25, 1945) with 90,000 dead, wounded and captured (and remember that the population of the U.S. was 3 and 4 times larger in the latter two campaigns).

As horrible as those weeks were they also demonstrated that with Grant in charge, the war had changed.  Just a year earlier when General Joe Hooker crossed the Rapidan and was defeated at Chancellorsville he quickly withdrew back across the river (see A Dipsomaniacal Apathy).  At The Wilderness, the Army of the Potomac was defeated but instead of retreating, Grant ordered a further advance which when the troops recognized they were marching south instead of north, led them to cheer.  Spotsylvania was a bloody stalemate (he wired Lincoln at one point during the battle "I propose to fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer") but again Grant moved south, again trying to outflank Lee and after the defeat at Cold Harbor he made his most daring and risky move which we'll cover in a post next month.

Grant and the Army of the Potomac won none of the battles in this campaign, yet by late June they had pinned down Robert E Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia into static warfare in which the Confederacy could not prevail.

Abraham Lincoln by all accounts was a gentle and kind soul as amply evidenced by his life and career before the Presidency.  During the war one of his responsibilities was to review and sign the death warrants for deserters and those who committed infractions such as sleeping while on guard duty.  He agonized over each one, irritating Secretary of War Stanton and the military commanders because he used every opportunity he could find to commute the death sentences. His was a sensibility capable of composing the most reflective and religious political sermon in American history, the Second Inaugural Address. Yet in U.S. Grant he finally found the general he had always sought, a commander as committed as he was to delivering the sustained and deadly violence that he was convinced was the only way to defeat the Confederacy and reunite the Union.