Thursday, July 31, 2014


Early this morning my dad Simon passed away at the age of 93 after a brief illness. Until recently he'd been in good health and spirits.  We were fortunate to have him with us for so many years and that he was able to spend so much time with his grandchildren. My first memory of Dad, which I told him about just a couple of weeks ago, was of driving with him (he loved to take us on drives) while he sang (which he also loved to do) Skidamarink a Dink a Dink and I've Been Working on the Railroad. The picture is of him holding me a looonngg time ago.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Via MentalFloss:

A map of Pangea, the super continent that existed about 200-300 million years ago, with the countries of today superimposed upon it.

At the time what is now the east coast of the United States was bordered by Morocco and Mauritania.

What was to become Asia was missing the entire Indian subcontinent and Tibet.  They were stuck with Madagascar, Somalia, Antarctica and Australia before separating and beginning their drift north slamming into the rest of Asia and giving birth to the Himalayas from the resulting collision.

And South America and Africa fit together quite nicely don't you think?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Can You Follow?

Jack Bruce, best known for his work with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in Cream, created some of the most wonderfully weird music of the 1970s when he embarked upon a solo career.  His first three  albums, Songs For A Tailor, Harmony Row and Out Of The Storm, combined gorgeous melodies, soaring vocals and outstanding musicianship with the bizarro lyrics of his co-composer Peter Brown (the pair also wrote some of Cream's best known songs including White Room, Tales Of Brave Ulysses and most of Sunshine Of Your Love; Clapton wrote the chorus).  Some of the song titles from Bruce's solo albums give a glimpse of their sensibilities:

Never Tell Your Mother She's Out Of Tune
Weird Of Hermiston
Pieces Of Mind
The Consul At Sunset
He The Richmond
Boston Ball Game 1967
Escape From the Royal Woods

Though THC was a fan, the albums were not big sellers and Bruce's solo career never recovered.

Can You Follow? captures all of these elements in a mere one minute and thirty eight seconds.  THC will leave you to figure out what on earth this song is about.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Roman Villas

But not modern ones; reconstructed villas from the days of the Roman Empire.  Two fine examples from Following Hadrian, both located in Germany.

The first is the Villa Borg in the Saarland of Germany (near today's border with France).  This area, west of the Rhine, was conquered by Julius Caesar in the first century BC during his campaign to subjugate Gaul but it was only late in the first century AD that Romanization fully occurred.  During the centuries of Roman rule (which lasted till the mid-fifth century) the climate was in a warm phase and agriculture and wine-production flourished and the region prospered with economic stimulus provided by the supply demands of large garrisons of Roman legionaries and auxiliaries posted along the nearby Rhine.

The Villas Borg is a reconstruction based upon the floorplans of several nearby villas and represents a typical large-scale house and grounds during the 2nd and 3rd century AD.  Take a look at some of the pictures from Following Hadrian.

Villa Borg © Carole RaddatoVilla Borg © Carole Raddato
The reconstructed resting room next to the baths, Villa Borg © Carole RaddatoThe second villa is located in Aschaffenburg, Germany.  Unlike the Villa Borg, which began construction in the 1990s and only opened in 2008, The Pompeiianum dates from the mid-19th century and was built by order of King Ludwig I of Bavaria who was inspired by the excavations at Pompeii.  Aschaffenburg itself was on the very edge of Roman occupied Germany from about 85-235AD but did not have a villa culture, so the reconstruction does not reflect local history.

The original 19th century reconstruction was heavily damaged by Allied bombing in WWII and underwent a total rebuild and opened to the public in 1994.  From Following Hadrian some more photos.
Pompejanum, Aschaffenburg, Germany © Carole RaddatoThe Atrium, Pompejanum. Aschaffenburg, Germany © Carole RaddatoSummer triclinium with wall painting, Pompeiianum, Aschaffenburg, Germany © Carole RaddatoPainting from the Tablinum, Minerva Preventing Achilles from Killing Agamemnon, Pompeiianum, Aschaffenburg, Germany © Carole Raddato

Friday, July 25, 2014

Forgotten Americans: John Dickinson

"Experience must be our only guide.  Reason may mislead us."

- John Dickinson addressing the Constitutional Convention (1787)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tweeting World War II

Here's something THC just stumbled across (courtesy of Harry's Place) and consistent with our motto - "surfing the web so you don't have to" - we present WW2 Tweets From 1942 which is "live tweeting" what happened on this date in 1942 and for the next four years.  An entertaining and creative concept and you don't have to join Twitter to follow.

The most recent tweet:

Japanese march on narrow Kokoda Trail, 60km over 11,000ft Owen Stanley Mountains, guarded by handful of Allied troops

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

From The BBC Files

Was just watching BBC World News which THC does when he wants to know the official line of the Global Left.   According to the BBC, the “International Community” (who are those guys?) has two demands right now:

1.  Ukrainian separatists must stop launching missiles which threaten commercial aircraft and the Russians must stop supplying such missiles.
2.  Israel must stop attacking those who are launching missiles which threaten commercial aircraft.  No mention as to what those who are supplying such missiles should do.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Dodge City Peace Commission

On July 21, 1883 the National Police Gazette ran a picture which has since become one of the most famous photographs of the western frontier.  It depicts members of the Dodge City Peace Commission who were involved in the Dodge City (Kansas) War of 1883, a war settled without any shots being fired.
Dodge City Peace Commission (from

There are two names THC is sure most of you will know, Wyatt Earp (1848-1929) and Bat Masterson (1853-1921).  The tale of Wyatt's adventures in Tombstone, Arizona is told in OK Corralapalooza.  Bat Masterson was an old friend, meeting Wyatt when he was a deputy sheriff in Dodge City in the 1870s and then following him to Tombstone for a while.  After spending time as a lawman, as well as having several brushes with the law, Masterson ended up in New York City where, in 1908, he was appointed Deputy US Marshall for the Southern District of New York by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt who had become an acquaintance.  From 1903 Bat also was a sportswriter and columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph writing three weekly columns and eventually becoming editor of the sports page.  He died at his desk in 1921 just after completing his final column and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Like Earp and Masterson the others are of a type; at various times lawmen, gamblers, gunfighters, miners, buffalo hunters, miscreants and wanderers.

Luke Short (1854-93) was a cowboy and gambler who sold whiskey to the Indians and murdered several Sioux in the process.  He met Wyatt and Bat in Dodge and in 1881 was hired as a faro dealer by Earp in Tombstone where in a notorious incident he shot Charlies Storms outside the Oriental Hotel.  After the 1883 Dodge City War he migrated to Fort Worth, Texas where he shot and killed Longhair Jim Courtwright, the town's former marshal.  Short was acquitted of murder charges and died peacefully a few years later. 

Charlie Bassett (1847-96) was the former Dodge City Marshal who hired Wyatt Earp as a Deputy.  After leaving Dodge, Charlie went to New Mexico and then prospected for gold in Montana before returning to Dodge for the 1883 War.

Neal Brown (dates unknown) was a half-Cherokee lawman in Dodge while WH Harris was another friend of Earp, a gambler in Tombstone and, at the time of the war, Vice President of the Dodge City Bank.  He committed suicide in 1895.  Frank McLean (spelling varies) has never been convincingly identified.

WF Petillon is the joker in the deck.  The court clerk of Ford County and later editor of the Dodge City Democrat, he was not a member of the Commission and merely asked to be part of the picture because of the presence of so many famous (and/or notorious) characters.  In another photo of the Commission taken at the same session Petillon is replaced with Bill Tilghman (1854-1924).
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries Tilghman may have been the most famous of all the Dodge War participants. Born in Iowa he became a buffalo hunter before moving to Dodge in 1875 where, though a teetotaler, he opened a saloon and met Earp and Masterson.  After Dodge to become a scout for the US Cavalry, Masterson later hired him as a Deputy Sheriff.  By the late 1880s he'd become one of three Marshals in the Oklahoma Territory where he was responsible for apprehending hundreds of outlaws and participating in high profile incidents such as the Battle of Cimarron (1889) and capturing the notorious Doolin Gang in 1895.  Retiring in 1910, he was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate and a year later became Police Chief of Oklahoma City.  After retiring from that job he was persuaded at the age of 70 to become Marshal of the Cromwell, Oklahoma a lawless, violent town.  It was there that Tilghman was shot and killed by a corrupt Prohibition Agent.  A month later the entire town was burned down by unidentified arsonists.  The 1992 Bruce Willis film Last Man Standing is based on a mutated version of the events at Cromwell. Bat Masterson said of Tilghman "he was the greatest of us all".

My thanks to for some of this biographical information. 


It was because of Luke Short, the friend of Wyatt and Bat.  What follows is primarily based upon the well-documented account of Casey Tefertiller in Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend.

Dodge City was founded in 1872 and for its first decade was the rowdy terminus for Texas cattle drives.  Cowboys would bring the cattle into town where they could be loaded onto railroad cars and shipped to the slaughterhouses in Chicago and when they arrived those cowboys were ready for a good time and it seems like just about every famous Western lawman and outlaw passed through there at one time or another.  Its wildest days were in the 1870s when Earp, Masterson, Bassett, Tilghman and Short were in town and met each other.

In 1883 Short returned to Dodge City where he become part-owner of the Long Branch Saloon.  If the name sounds familiar it's because its the name of the saloon operated by Miss Kitty in Gunsmoke, the longest running series in TV history, which was set in Dodge.  Short's co-owner was WH Harris.
(Miss Kitty with Marshal Dillon)
For several years there had been a political battle for control of the city between a group known as the Dodge City Gang, led by Bat Masterson, and another faction led by Ab Webster, the current mayor and owner of the rival Alamo Saloon located next to the Long Branch.  In early 1883 a mayoral election occurred in which the Gang's candidate was WH Harris and Webster's handpicked choice was Larry Deger, a former city marshal, who the election by a vote of 214 to143.

In the next month the new mayor and town council enacted ordinances banning prostitution and policeman (and Deger ally) Lou Hartman went to the Long Branch and arrested several women.  Realizing that the prostitutes at the Alamo and other saloons had not been arrested, Short strapped on his guns and went to the jail where Hartman, recognizing him, fired and missed. Short fired back, narrowly missing Hartman who tripped and fell, but thinking he had killed the policeman, Short returned to the Long Branch where he barricaded himself until surrendering the next morning after being persuaded Hartman was unharmed.  Short and several associates were charged with assault, denied counsel and marched to the train station, told they were undesirables and given their choice of trains and destinations to leave Dodge.  Short chose to go to Topeka and wired his friend Bat Masterson.  Bat returned from Colorado to join Short and they proceeded to Kansas City where they met with Kansas Governor Glick, another of Bat's many friends.

Called to the state capital by the Governor, WF Petillon supported Short's charges and Glick engaged in several angry telegraph exchanges with Mayor Deger and Sheriff George Hinkle.  Short later said the Governor advised him to return to Dodge but afraid to do so alone, Bat Masterson returned to Colorado to persuade his old friend, Wyatt Earp to come to Dodge.  Wyatt agreed and started pulling together his friends to accompany him.

The confrontation at Dodge and Earp's looming approach created a newspaper sensation.  On May 15 the Kansas City Journal reported Masterson's return which it said would soon be followed by:

"a few other unpleasant gentlemen who are on their way to the tea party at Dodge.  One of them is Wyatt Earp, the famous marshal of Dodge, another is Joe Lowe, otherwise known as "Rowdy Joe"; and still another is "Shotgun Collins"; but worse than all is another ex-citizen and officer of Dodge, the famous Doc Holliday"

This, like many other newspaper reports, was inaccurate; Doc Holliday and other notorious characters did not come to Dodge.  But Earp, with his friends Charlie Bassett, Neal Brown and several others, including Texas Jack Vermillion who accompanied Wyatt on the Vendetta Ride near Tombstone in 1882, did show up.  Getting off the train fully armed and marching up the main street of Dodge to the Long Branch they were sworn in as deputies by constable Prairie Dog Dave Morrow, a supporter of Short, thereby legitimizing their continued carrying of weapons in town.

Earp met with Webster and Deger, whom he knew from his earlier Dodge days, along with the town council, announcing that his purpose was to ensure that Short and Masterson could return and stay as long as they liked if they obeyed the law.  The council offered to allow Short to return for ten days to complete his business but refused to allow Masterson back.  Earp left without saying a word.

Wyatt wired Short and Masterson to come to Dodge.  Both arrived fully armed and refused efforts by a deputy sheriff to get them to surrender their guns.  By this time Webster, Deger and the council members were worried that events had run out of their control and completely intimidated by Earp.  Wyatt arranged for his friends to meet Webster and Deger in the street where they shook hands.  With that, Short and Masterson were welcomed back to town to stay as long as they desired and the Dodge City War ended.

Soon afterwards, the anti-prostitution ordinance was repealed and life returned to normal.  By the end of the year Masterson and Short had left Dodge for good.  The ending is reminiscent of the opening scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when, to avert a gunfight, Butch asks a gambler who's accused Sundance of cheating to ask both of them to stay and continue the game.  The gambler finally does so and Butch thanks him but says they have to be going and he and Sundance leave without bloodshed.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Renaissance And The Cuckoo Clock

From The Third Man (1948) directed by Carol Reed and starring Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, smuggler and seller of ersatz penicillin in the post-World War II rubble of Vienna (where it was filmed) and also possibly a murderer, and Joseph Cotton as Holly Martins his naive friend who comes from America to find him.  In this scene, near the end of the movie, Holly finally meets Harry who enlightens him on his cynical view of human progress. 

A movie worth seeing.  Great dialogue and acting along with striking black and white cinematography and a memorable score which you can hear on this clip.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ballpark Tour 2014

Larry and I just completed our third annual ballpark tour visiting four ballparks in five days, none of which we'd been in before.  That makes 14 parks for our three tours (for past reports see here and here).

Ballparks Visited

St Louis                Busch Stadium            Seating Capacity:  43,975       Opened: 2006
Kansas City          Kauffman Stadium      Seating Capacity:  37,903       Opened: 1973
Dallas/Ft Worth    Globe Life Stadium     Seating Capacity:  48,114        Opened: 1994
Houston                Minute Maid Park        Seating Capacity:  40,963       Opened: 2000

Game Results

July 9     At St Louis            Cardinals 5, Pittsburgh 2                   Attendance: 43,941    Time: 3:24
July 10   At Kansas City      Detroit 16, Royals 4                          Attendance: 21,775    Time: 3:17
July 12   At Texas                Los Angeles Angels 5, Rangers 2     Attendance: 37,253    Time: 3:17
July 13   At Houston            Boston 11, Astros 0                         Attendance: 20,681     Time: 3:23

This year we saw the two biggest blowouts of our tours; the Tigers destroying the Royals 16-4 and the Red Sox beating the Astros 11-0 in a game that was not as close as the final score.

We observed a significant discrepancy between announced and actual attendance at every ballpark, with the possible exception of Kauffman Stadium.  For instance, at Busch Stadium the announced attendance was only 34 less than the capacity of the park and that's why we ended up in the last row of the last section of the upper left field deck.  It looked like at least 20% of the seats in the stadium were never occupied though the tickets had been sold.  The two blowout games also left few folks by the 9th inning (Larry and I stay to the end of every game).  At Kansas City there were probably only 3-4,000 hardy souls and certainly fewer than 5,000 in the 9th of the Astros-Red Sox game.  We were also surprised to see a large number of Cardinals fans leaving Busch after the seventh inning stretch.

Best Fielding Play:  Actually it was two plays by Rangers rookie left fielder Jake Smolinski.  In the second inning robbing Josh Hamilton with a diving catch and making an even better play at a critical moment of the game in the third when Albert Pujols came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out.  Pujols smashed a line drive into the left-center field gap which looked like a guaranteed bases clearing double when Smolinski made a great diving catch.  You can watch both of them here.  We were sitting on the left field line and can attest to the difficulty the sun was posing for fielders. 

Pirates second baseman Neil Walker gets an honorable mention for two outstanding plays against the Cardinals including one on which he roamed into left center to catch a pop fly.

Best Effort For the Least ResultsLorenzo Cain, right fielder for the Kansas City Royals.  In the 16-4 stomping by the Tigers the only Royals player to impress us was Cain.  He went 0 for 5 but hit the ball very hard four times and made a couple of fine outfield plays running down line drives.
  (Lorenzo Cain is my name . . . )

The Ballparks

I've become easy to please.  I liked 'em all and would gladly go back to each one.

Busch is located right in downtown St Louis which we like.  Great atmosphere and good seat layout.

The Royals stadium is suburban with a bucolic and relaxed atmosphere resembling some of the spring training parks I visited in Arizona.  Very pleasant to walk around the park prior to the game particularly in the outfield and the fountains are a beautiful touch.  Easy access and parking.

The Texas Rangers stadium also is in a suburban location but is constructed in a closed-in design which makes it feel like an urban park.  The interior walking area where the concessions are located reminds one of an older stadium but has a lot more room in the concourse.  Parking was incredibly easy both coming in and going out.

Minute Maid in Houston is located just on the edge of downtown and . . .  well, it's different. We'd never been in a domed stadium with the dome closed and it was a little unsettling.  The sound was odd.  You could hear the bat hitting the ball very distinctly but the crowd noise sounded subdued (of course that could have been due to the nature of the game we saw).  It felt a bit like watching a game in a mall.  But the seat configuration and sight lines were very good for the most part and I did like the choo-choo train in left field and the concessions area and concourse were spacious and clean.  

Best Scoreboard:  Minute Maid Park, Houston.  Lots of information in visually easy format.  The out of town scoreboard was the best I've seen.

Player You Most Wish Had Retired After Last SeasonRaul Ibanez, Royals.  Ibanez has had a good major league career with more than 2,000 hits and 300 homers over nineteen season but is now 42 years old.  After starting the season with the Angels, Kansas City recently picked him up for reasons that are hard to fathom.  Entering the game hitting .150 in almost 200 at bats he looked completely over matched at the plate and badly misplayed two balls in left field.  It was sad to watch.

Most Ridiculous Game:  Red Sox beating the Astros 11-0.  The Sox had 27 base runners including 17 in the first 5 innings.  The Astros turned five double plays (and nearly a sixth) and the Boston hitters blew a lot of other opportunities to drive in runners or the score could have easily been 18-0.  The 'Stros managed all of three singles but balanced that by committing three errors and managing zero walks and twelve strikeouts against Clayt Buchholz who entered the game with an ERA above 6.00.

The Seats

Our seats in the last row of Busch provided good sight lines except for deep left and left-center fields located right beneath us.  Great value for $12.

At Kauffman we purchased $50 tickets ninety minutes before the game and ended up in the second row on the left field line halfway between third and the foul pole. 

For the Rangers game we bought $55 tickets about five hours before the game and sat in the same location as Kauffman except we were in the first row (we did better than Bob Uecker).  Of course our seats were in the sun, it was 97 degrees at game time and they'd moved the game up to 6:15pm so we didn't dare go to sit in our seats till the second inning for fear we would melt.

At Minute Maid we purchased $60 tickets in advance which got us into the first row in the upper deck on the first base side.  Tickets like those we had at the Kansas City and Texas games were selling for $128.  We found out from some Astros fans that the ballclub doubled ticket prices with the Red Sox coming to town.
(Big Papi swinging)

Loudest And Most Annoying Music:  Busch Stadium.  Turn it down!

Most Unintelligible Public Address System:  Kauffman Stadium.  Couldn't understand a word.

Best Former Name For A Ballpark:  Minute Maid Park was originally known as Enron Field when it opened in 2000.  The Astros owners had to pay Enron creditors $2.1 million in order to be able to drop the name!  I would have preferred if they'd kept it to remind us of the Roaring 90s.   

Some Unsolicited Advice For Major League Baseball

The game times were much longer than our prior tours averaging 3:20 while in 2012 the average was 2:59 and a mere 2:40 last year - in fact, every game this year was longer than any game we saw in 2012 or 2013.  Baseball needs to do something to speed up the pace.  One immediate fix is enforcing the amount of time between when the pitcher gets the ball and when he throws which is supposed to be 12 seconds when the bases are unoccupied but which is never observed.  In one agonizing sequence I timed the very slow and deliberate Pirates pitcher Brandon Cumpton pitching to Matt Holliday of the Cards who, between every pitch, likes to meander around the stadium before getting into the batter's box and then proceeds to squirm and fidget before settling in.  For three consecutive pitches the intervals were 25, 30 and 28 seconds.  Even if you changed the rule to allow the pitcher 15 seconds in all circumstances between throws but enforced it games would be shortened by 20 minutes.   

Best Ballpark Food: The beef brisket at Broadway BBQ in Busch Stadium.

Best Food Away From Ballpark:  Lunch at Arthur Bryant's BBQ in Kansas City, MO.  I had about a pound of rib tips with fries and red cream soda.  They threw in a loaf of bread in case that wasn't enough.   Here, see for yourself (photo taken after I'd already made headway on the meal).

We could not eat a meal for 24 hours afterwards which disrupted our plan to go the following day to Oklahoma Joe's BBQ in Kansas City, Kansas as we were still incapacitated meaning we missed this:
HomeScreen_8-21g short bottom.jpg
We'll go there next time.

Most Unexpected Scenery:  The Flint Hills, Kansas. Cruising along on I-35  between Topeka and Wichita, just south of Emporia, we came across this sign on top of a small ridge Flint hills kansas.jpgand suddenly we were plunged into emptiness.  We saw no dwellings for the next 25 miles and our vista extended at least 30 miles in every direction.  The Flint Hills are an eroded form of bedrock containing bands of flint running through east-central Kansas from near its northern border to the northern part of Oklahoma in a swath nearly 200 miles long and 80 miles wide at its maximum or about three times the area of Connecticut.  Because the land was unsuitable for farming it was never plowed and used primarily for grazing cattle leaving it as the most dense coverage of intact tallgrass prairie in North America.  It didn't look quite this green but this picture from the National Park Service Tallgrass Prairie Preserve website gives a good idea of the contours of the land.
The setting sun over the Flint Hills casts shadows across the wide expanse of tallgrass prairie.

Best Non-Ballpark Attraction:  The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.  Go.  Kansas City was home of the Monarchs, one of the most successful Negro League teams and also where, in 1920, the first independent Negro Baseball League was organized.  The museum is small (you can see the whole thing in 90 minutes) but extremely well done taking you through the entire history of African-Americans in baseball from the Civil War through the first decade after Jackie Robinson integrated the sport in 1947 (for more see 42 and, by the way, did anyone else notice Jackie's widow, Rachel, who turns 92 next week, sitting with Bud Selig at Tuesday night's All-Star Game?) which means it tells the larger story of African-Americans in American society during those years.  It honors the accomplishment of those who played in the Negro Leagues and leaves you wondering how Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Martin Dihigo, Satchel Paige (of whom you can read more in Don't Look Back) and others would have fared if given the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues during their prime.  It was an odd period when black players couldn't play in the Majors but at the same time Satchel Paige was barnstorming with white pitchers Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller throughout the 1930s and 1940s on tours to which they drew black and white fans in numbers that exceeded the attendance of most major league games.

Worst Non-Ballpark AttractionNew Orleans where we spent the last night and morning of our trip.  Some advice for those of you who have not yet made it to the city - don't bother, at least if you are beyond college age.  It's hot, humid & fetid.  This was my second visit and I just don't get the appeal of the place. Yes, I know that a lot of great music came out of the city but, and this is very important so please pay attention - you can now hear that music in many other places in America (for one of the best read Pops).

West Coast in 2015!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Reality Bites

We're starting a new series here at THC Central: Reality Bites.  Inspired by this quote from Canada's National Post which is running stories on Toronto's troubled streetcar network:

I used to be a big supporter of the streetcar until I started riding it every day,” said Steve Tartaglia, who regularly rides the streetcar from Liberty Village to King and Adelaide. He called his commute an “absolute circus.”

THC realized the phenomenon of supporters of various government initiatives finding that reality is coming back to bit them has been a theme for awhile on this blog so we're creating a new Reality Bites tag so you can quickly access such classics as these:

From a June 7 post:

I’m at the breaking point,” said Gretchen Gardner, an Austin artist who bought a 1930s bungalow in the Bouldin neighborhood just south of downtown in 1991 and has watched her property tax bill soar to $8,500 this year.

It’s not because I don’t like paying taxes,” said Gardner, who attended both meetings. “I have voted for every park, every library, all the school improvements, for light rail, for anything that will make this city better. But now I can’t afford to live here anymore. I’ll protest my appraisal notice, but that’s not enough. Someone needs to step in and address the big picture.”

And this from Oct 13 of last year:

But people with no pre-existing conditions like Vinson, a 60-year-old retired teacher, and Waschura, a 52-year-old self-employed engineer, are making up the difference.
Both Vinson and Waschura have adjusted gross incomes greater than four times the federal poverty level -- the cutoff for a tax credit. And while both said they anticipated their rates would go up, they didn't realize they would rise so much.

"Of course, I want people to have health care," Vinson said. "I just didn't realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally."


Monday, July 14, 2014

From The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently place online 400,000 high resolution digital images of objects from its collections.  The quality of the images is remarkably good.  Below is "The Beeches", an 1845 painting by Asher Brown Durand of the Hudson River School.  Image from Twisted Sifter.  You can view the Met's online collection here.

highlights from the met's collection (24)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Songs I Didn't Like To Admit I Liked Vol 4: Van Halen

For the three prior installments in this series go here.

Actually, THC is stretching things a bit in this post.  It's not about a song - it's about a band.  And it's about a band that THC has sometimes admitted to liking.  But the THC Son and Daughter have both informed their Dad several times over the years that they are embarrassed by his fandom and he has been asked to be quiet about it, especially in their presence.

Of course, I'm talking 'bout Van Halen.

There is something alluring about the loony lyrics and antics of David Lee Roth and the innovative guitar confections of Eddie Van Halen which culminated in their classic album 1984 which featured great songs like Jump, Panama and the subtle message tune, Hot For Teacher.
Here's a highlight from the Roth era: Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love ( with the lovely sentiment "you know you're semi-good lookin'")

Now, for the really embarrassing part.  THC is also a fan of some of the music Van Halen made with Sammy Hagar on vocals who took over the departure of Diamond Dave.  THC was already familiar with Sammy from his work with the early metal band Montrose (listen to this live 1974 version of Bad Motor Scooter).
THC is particularly enamored with two songs from the Hagar era.  First up is Finish What Ya Started with a very uncharacteristic and very cool guitar part from Eddie.
Second is Right Now which features a catchy and creative keyboard riff from Eddie, who did keyboards on all the Van Halen records (for instance, Jump) along with handling guitar duties.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Reality Meets Jurassic Park

For those of you worried that a genetically reconstructed Tyrannosaurus Rex with a ravenous appetite could be unleashed in an American city you can rest a little more easy.  The experts at What If? have calculated how many humans a day a T Rex would need to consume to survive if it was let loose in New York City and it turns out it only needs to eat one adult every two days so your odds of survival are pretty good!  In the alternative the T Rex could survive on a daily regimen of 80 McDonalds hamburgers.  You can double check their calculations here to reassure yourselves.
(from What If?)

So, one less thing for you to worry about.  Now, what are they doing to make sure a random asteroid doesn't crash into Earth and end all human life, particularly if Bruce Willis is not available?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We Need A Taxpayer Financial Protection Bureau

One of the many foolish provisions of the Dodd-Frank legislation passed by the US Congress in 2010 and gleefully signed into law by President Obama was the establishment of a brand new Federal bureaucracy, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) whose mission was to address issues that had nothing to do with the 2008-9 financial crisis (for more see Surely, You Must Be Joking)

What's the first thing a new Federal bureaucracy needs?  A new headquarters building, of course!  So the CFPB budgeted $95 million for renovations on the building it was taking over in downtown Washington DC from the Office of Thrift Supervision (another Federal bureaucracy dissolved by Dodd-Frank).  A new agency could not reasonably be asked to take over intact and "as is" a building soiled by the presence of another agency and thus an extensive renovation was required.

For what happened next let's turn to the recent report of the Inspector General (IG) for the Board of Governors charged with oversight of the CFPB (as reported by The Fiscal Times and you can find the full report here). 

In its letter of June 30, 2014 the IG concludes:

- The scope of renovations has expanded and will now cost $215 million instead of $95 million.

- Although required by the CFPB's own internal guidance "a sound business case is not available to support the funding of the renovation".

- It was "unable to locate any documentation of the decision to fully renovate the building".

- The CFPB's own Investment Review Board "approved the business case for the building renovation in September 2013 even though it was incomplete".

In response, a CFPB spokesperson stated "Our priority is attending to the People's Business (TM) and to prevent the ongoing pillaging by our nation's financial services industry.  We were in the midst of developing and issuing over a thousand pages of new regulations defining the new mortgage disclosure form designed to protect homeowners and to clarify the confusing and deceptive mortgage disclosure requirements established by our predecessor federal agencies over the past thirty years which took a perfectly simple and understandable but unregulated form used for several decades and added layers of paperwork to it.  Our new form simplifies this process by ending informed complexity and numerous pages of information to . . .  oh, where was I?  Ah yes, the IG report is a distraction from this important business and is obviously driven by racism and the War on Women.  So there."  (satire alert, I think, on this paragraph)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Opera Scene From Shawshank Redemption

Wonderful scene from Shawshank.  The music is from The Marriage Of Figaro by Mozart.  That, in combination with the voice over from Morgan Freeman makes it perfect.  The shot of the prisoners in the yard is an indelible image.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hanging Out In Boston

We (THC and Missus THC and friends) went up to Fenway on Saturday to see the Red Sox play an evening game.  It was a wonderful late summer afternoon and we had some time so wandered over to Commonwealth Avenue and walked and sat for awhile on the Mall.  It was perfect.
Oh, and the game was pretty good except the Sox lost 7-4.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Long Live Rock n Roll!

Sixty years ago today, Elvis Presley walked into Sam Philips' Sun Studios in Memphis for his first recording session.  After spending some time muddling around Elvis, Scotty Moore and Bill Black recorded That's All Right which quickly became a regional hit though Elvis would not break nationally until the release of Heartbreak Hotel in January 1956 (for the full story see That's All Right).
Scotty, Elvis and Bill

In the three years after that seminal Elvis recording session all the basic building blocks of rock n roll were put into place via the first hit songs of several artists.  Before taking a look at the chronology, let's acknowledge two other 1954 recordings that helped start rock n roll - Shake Rattle n Roll by Big Joe Turner and Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley & The Comets.  The former reached #22 on the pop charts that year but while the latter had some chart success that year it did not become a mega-hit until it was re released in May 1955 after being featured on the soundtrack of the hit film Asphalt Jungle.

July 1955: Maybellene by Chuck Berry.  The first Chuck Berry Guitar Solo (TM) though not quite as polished as some of his later efforts (for instance, Johnny B Goode from 1958).  Berry deliberately and cannily targeted a white teenage audience with his songs, singing about cars, school, girls and just having fun, skillfully modulating the R&B sound in the process.  From his Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction:

"while no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Berry arguably did more than anyone else to put the pieces together. As rock journalist Dave Marsh wrote, “Chuck Berry is to rock and roll what Louis Armstrong is to jazz.” On “Maybellene” – Berry’s first single, released in 1955 – he played country & western guitar licks over a base of rhythm & blues. The distorted sound of Berry’s guitar captured the rough, untamed spirit of rock and roll."

In the live clip below you can watch Chuck doing his famous Duckwalk during the guitar solo.  On the other hand, maybe he just learned everything from Marty McFly

While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Berry arguably did more than anyone else to put the pieces together. As rock journalist Dave Marsh wrote, “Chuck Berry is to rock and roll what Louis Armstrong is to jazz.” On “Maybellene” – Berry’s first single, released in 1955 – he played country & western guitar licks over a base of rhythm & blues. The distorted sound of Berry’s guitar captured the rough, untamed spirit of rock and roll. The song included a brief but scorching solo built around his trademark double-string guitar licks. It kicked off Berry’s career in style and paved the way for a steady stream of classics over the next decade. - See more at:
November 1955: Tutti Frutti by Little Richard (aka Richard Wayne Penniman).  Manic and unrestrained hollering from the wild man of rock n roll.  Pat Boone had a couple of hits recording tamed versions of Little Richard tunes, including Tutti Frutti.  Little Richard is relatively restrained in the video below.

January 1956Blue Suede Shoes by Carl Perkins.  Rockabilly strikes!  Covered by many other artists, including Elvis.
Carl Perkins' 55 Gibson Les Paul(Photo from
January 1956Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley.  Elvis becomes ELVIS! The followup single was a little toe-tapper called Hound Dog.

May 1956 I Walk The Line by Johnny Cash.  The country sounds bleeds into the emerging rock era.

March 1957 Bye Bye Love by The Everly Brothers.  Mixing pop and country with gorgeous harmonies which later influenced The Beatles.
2014-01-06-byebyelovetheeverlynrothers.jpg(Photo from Huffington Post)

May 1957 Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On by Jerry Lee Lewis.  Jerry Lee shook up a lot of older folks with this and his followup hit Great Balls of Fire which were considered too raucous and overtly sexual.

May 1957That'll Be The Day by Buddy Holly & The Crickets (originally recorded summer 1956). Melodic rock pioneer.

Suddenly, it was over.  In late 1957, Little Richard announced that God had told him to repent of his secular music career and he enrolled in Oakwood College to study theology later becoming a minister before returning to rock n roll periodically over the years.  On March 24, 1958 Elvis was inducted into the Army and disappeared for two years, returning to release a lot of schlock until reviving his career with a 1968 TV special.  In May 1958 news of Jerry Lee Lewis' marriage to his 13-year old cousin became public and his career collapsed.  Buddy Holly died (along with Richie Valens and the Big Bopper) in a February 1959 plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa and in December of that year Chuck Berry was arrested, and later convicted, for alleged violations of the Federal Mann Act (transporting underage women for immoral purposes; THC can think of many comments to add here but has decided that prudent silence is the best course).  Meanwhile, after two further hits in 1958, Johnny Cash disappeared from the pop charts for five years though he continued to have reach the country charts and Carl Perkins faded away after his initial success, though he retained his popularity in England and The Beatles were later to cover several of his songs. Only The Everly Brothers continued to churn out hits without changing their style.

The one essential artist who just misses this time period is Ray Charles.  Starting in 1953, Ray had sixteen Top 10 hits on the R&B charts but had not cracked the pop chart Top 10 until the release of What'd I Say in July 1959 which introduced soul and R&B into the rock n roll mix.

A few of these pioneers are still around.  Chuck Berry is 87 years old and only recently stopped touring.  Little Richard is 81, Don Everly 77 and defying predictions Jerry Lee Lewis is alive and still playing at the age of 78. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Dying Presidents

It is well known that our second and third Presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died on the same day, July 4, 1826.  Less well known is that our fifth President, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831.  In the early summer of 1836 as the health of our fourth President, the 85 year old James Madison, worsened his doctors offered to do their best to keep him alive until July 4.  Rebuffing their efforts, the ex-President, who always preferred a low-profile, passed away on June 28.