Friday, August 29, 2014

More Cowbell

The gang over at Grantland (founded by Bill Simmons who wrote the book on NBA basketball - "literally" as Joe Biden would say) has been running a contest to determine the best Saturday Night Live cast member as the show celebrates its 40th anniversary.  It's been at least 20 years since THC was a regular viewer and maybe a decade since he's seen any SNL broadcast live so he feels a little out of the loop.  However, to no one's surprise Will Ferrell won beating out Phil Hartman in the final vote.

Most of all it gives THC an excuse to run one of his favorite SNL sketches "More Cowbell" a retelling of Blue Oyster Cult's recording of Don't Fear The Reaper Although Ferrell is fine as the lead cast member in the sketch he is outshone by his absurdly small and midriff-revealing shirt and most of all by the amazing stylings of Christopher Walken as the legendary imaginary producer Bruce Dickinson ("before we're done here, ya'll be wearing gold plated diapers") who also manages to be the only person keeping a straight face for the entire sketch (for more on Walken see Is Christopher Walken The Burt Bacharach Of Acting?)
Without further ado this link will take you to Hulu where you can watch More Cowbell.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Solving The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict By Setting A Good Example

THC's views on Israel and the challenges it faces in it neighborhood should be pretty clear if you read past posts (if not, go here).  As predicted in the post of March 20, 2014 Secretary of State Kerry's initiative failed, and deservedly so.  However, in light of the most recent ruckus and particularly in the vocal role of the European Union (EU) in being critical of Israel THC sees an opportunity.

The EU can both right an historical wrong and provide a platform to demonstrate that Jews and Muslims give live peaceably together.  How?  It's simple.  In 1492 the Spanish monarchs celebrated the elimination of the last Muslim kingdom in the Iberian peninsula by expelling the large Jewish community which had existed in the region for more than 1,000 years.  This edict was later expanded to Portugal during the period when the two kingdoms were united.  As for the Muslims, after decades of repression the last followers of Islam were forcibly expelled in 1609.  In both cases the property of the oppressed minorities was confiscated.

What better way for the EU to demonstrate its commitment to peace, the utility of "soft power" and proving it is willing to "have some skin in the game" than by having the current inhabitants of the Iberian nations withdraw from the occupied territories to their historic homelands in the north in Galicia, Asturias and Catalonia and returning the rest of the peninsula to the descendants of the Muslim and Jewish communities who called it home for centuries?  Here's what the new country (in green) would look like, though to represent its diversity in the modern world a new name would need to be selected.

(map from Wikipedia)

Wouldn't this be an incredible gesture by the EU?  Wouldn't it demonstrate its social responsibility?

Once the Muslim and Jewish communities have demonstrated they can live in peace with complete tolerance for each other THC is sure it will inspire a permanent solution to the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

So EU, whaddaya think?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wednesday Week

Just for today.  Wednesday Week from Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1979).

Oh what a letdown when the battle was finally won
One little breakdown and then it was over
I wish I had your confidence it's love and not coincidence
Do you say these words to everyone?

You're fantastic, you're terrific
Your excellence is almost scientific
You took the words out of my mouth
You put your tongue into my cheek
But I better lose my memory by Wednesday Week 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Finding Varus

(Tony Clunn with Roman coin from

In a world where credentialed experts dominate many fields let's take the opportunity to salute an amateur who solved a mystery that had puzzled many for centuries.  Tony Clunn, who died on August 3, 2014 at the age of 68, was a retired British Army major and Member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).  Tony's hobby while stationed at various posts across Europe was searching for Roman coins using a metal detector.  While posted in Germany in 1987 he decided to see if he could find remnants of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest or The Varus Battle (9AD) which no one had ever definitively located.

The difficulty in finding the battlefield lay in its history.  After completing the conquest of Gaul in the first century BC the boundary of the Roman Empire was along the Rhine River.  Starting in 12BC, Roman legions at the order of the Emperor Augustus crossed the river to begin the conquest of Germania.  Through a series of campaigns lasting two decades Germany as far as the Elbe River was nominally pacified.

In 6AD, Augustus appointed a friend, Publius Quinctilius Varus, to be governor of the new province of Germania.  Varus was an experienced administrator having previously served as governor of Africa and Syria but did not have much military experience.  In his new role Varus also commanded three legions (about 15,000 soldiers) and each year during the summer and early autumn he would lead them on a campaign within his province to ensure its quietude.  Many of the German tribes had supposedly become Roman allies and Varus' chief allied auxiliary was Arminius whom he trusted greatly.  On the return march from the Elbe to the Rhine in the rainy fall of 9AD, Arminius' advice to take a new and different route was accepted by Varus.  It was a trap.  Arminius had been working to create an alliance of Germanic tribes in order to revolt against the Romans.  When the trap was sprung the Roman legions were strung out in a long marching formation and trapped on a narrow path between wooded hills and a swamp. The battle last three days and resulted in the annihilation of the legions.  Varus committed suicide on the field and only about 400 Romans ever made it back to the Rhine.
(This map, from The Lost Fort, shows the lands between the Rhine and the Elbe; Kalkriese towards the top center is the location of the Varus Battle)

The battle spelled the end of Roman plans to conquer Germania and the border once again became the Rhine where it stayed for more than four centuries.  The destruction of three legions created a brief panic in Rome, awakening fears that the German barbarians might descend on the city but instead they reverted to their fractious infighting among themselves.  It was said that for months thereafter Augustus would wander his palace at night proclaiming:

Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!

The defeat prompted Augustus (who died 2,000 years ago on August 19, 14AD) to declare that Rome had reached its natural borders and had no need for further expansion. slingstones found at site)
At the time and, for that matter, until very recently, the Battle of Teutoborg Forest was considered a turning point in the history of Rome and of Europe because it spelled the end of Rome's attempt to conquer the entire continent.  More recently several historians have pointed out that Germania and the unconquered portions of Europe were too poor and unsettled to have made any economic sense for the Romans to occupy in the long run.  Even Gaul at the time of its conquest with its towns, small manufacturing and coinage was more advanced than Germania which lacked all three attributes. of the battle site from; you can see how the Romans were trapped between hill and bog)

Although a punitive Roman expedition reached the battle site a few years later there was no definitive description of the location and later writers gave conflicting accounts.  For over 200 years historians had argued over its exact location.  Clunn's discoveries of coins (none dated later than the year of the battle) and other artifacts led to a consensus that he had found the site.  Tony continued his work over the years (after retiring from the army in 1996 he moved to Germany) and eventually was able to trace the entire route of Varus' legions. cavalry mask found on battlefield from

The site of the battle, near the town of Osnabruck, has been turned into an Archaelogical Park & Museum

Bill Wyman, the former bass guitarist of The Rolling Stones, and a fellow archaeology and metal detection enthusiast paid tribute to his friend Tony Clunn at his website.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Diving Billy Hamilton

An acrobatic move by Billy Hamilton, the Cincinnati Reds rookie who is having an outstanding debut season.

billy-hamilton-buntThis Billy Hamilton is the second Billy Hamilton in major league history.  The first was also a speedster known as Sliding Bill Hamilton who played with the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Beaneaters from 1888 to 1901.  From 1893 through 1898, Sliding Billy hit .380, .403, .389, .366, .343 and .369, stole 100 or more bases on four occasions and once scored 198 runs in a season.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mount Cadillac

From our trip to Mt Desert earlier this summer.  Looking north toward the Maine coast from the summit of Mount Cadillac.  Bar Harbor is down there somewhere on the far right along the shore.  (Scroll along the bottom to see the entire photo.  It won't look nearly as good on a mobile device.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tom Petty: The Don Sutton Of Rock

Don Sutton is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  He won 324 games in a career that stretched from 1966 to 1988 and was always regarded as a very good pitcher but never a great pitcher.  Don won 20 or more games only once in his career (21 in 1976) but won between 15 and 19 games in eleven season.  He won 12 games in his rookie year and 15 games in his 21st season (1986).  Don never led the league in most games won.  He won the ERA title once in a season in which he won only 13 games (1980) and did not lead the league in any other major category.  Don played with five different teams during his career, Dodgers, Astros, Brewers, A's and Angels.  He was respected.  He was not an overpowering pitcher but had good stuff, good control and could always be counted upon to be steady and reliable.  Don was born in 1945 in Clio, Alabama, moved to Los Angeles when he joined the Dodgers as a rookie and maintained it as his residence.  When he joined the Dodgers his teammates in the starting rotation were Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

Tom Petty is in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. His recording career started in 1977 and is still going today but in Don Sutton terms the core of his career is from 1977 to 1995.  THC always considered him a solid, reliable rocker and doesn't think that anyone else ever considered him one of the all time greats of rock.  Never in my top five rockers at any point but always producing good rock n roll.  He never had a #1 album or single until his most recent album, Hypnotic Eye, released on July 29, 2014, reached the top spot.  He's played in five different recording configurations during his career, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Traveling Wilburys, Mudcrutch, in collaboration with Stevie Nicks and as a solo artist.  Tom was born in 1950 in Gainesville, Florida and moved to Los Angeles when his career took off and where he still lives.  In the Traveling Wilburys his bandmates included George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison.

Let's take a deeper look at the highlights of Petty's long career:

Breakdown becomes the first hit for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.  Simple and with a catchy guitar hook.

American Girl.  Catch the reference to Florida Route 441 which runs the length of the state.

Listen To Her Heart with the band channeling The Byrds.

Don't Do Me Like That with the Heartbreakers sounding like The Band.

Refugee, which remains a standard on Classic Rock stations.

Stop Draggin' My Heart Around with Stevie Nicks.  Released on her solo album and written by Petty and Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell.

The Waiting.  One of my personal favorites with a title inspired by a conversation with Roger McGuinn, one of Petty's biggest influences (via The Byrds).  THC saw Petty & The Heartbreakers play this live in July 1986 while on tour with Bob Dylan.  The show had five segments; Petty opening, Dylan doing a set, Petty back for another set, Dylan returning and then Dylan and Petty closing together.  Petty turned in a solid, enjoyable performance; Dylan was terrible. Found this live clip from the prior year of The Waiting and it is a much more dynamic version than the studio recording.  Skip the first 1:30 of the video as Petty is just talking about nothing.

You Got Lucky featuring an epically bad video from the early days of MTV.  Good lyric with attitude though.

Don't Come Around Here No More with its weird and unsettling video.

As part of the Traveling Wilburys, Handle With Care (written by George Harrison) becomes a hit.

End Of The Line by the Traveling Wilburys.

Petty releases his first solo album (Full Moon Fever) filled with strong tunes like Runnin' Down A Dream (which ends with a searing guitar solo by Mike Campbell), I Won't Back Down (with video featuring Ringo Starr and George Harrison; Harrison played on the recording, Starr did not), Free Fallin', A Face In The Crowd and an almost note for note recreation of I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better by The Byrds (to compare with the original click here).  It's Tom Petty's 20-win season. 

Learning To Fly and Into The Great Wide Open.with Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway appearing in ths video.

A new goodie on the Heartbreaker's Greatest Hits CD, Mary Jane's Last Dance with a video that has nothing to do with the lyrics but features Kim Basinger.  Smart lyrics and crunching guitar.
You Don't Know How It Feels with Tom doing his Neil Young thing. From Petty's second solo album.

You Wreck Me.  Yes, you do.

Scare Easy with his reunited first band, Mudcrutch, played over the closing credits of the movie Appaloosa.  For more on the song and movie see the post Scare Easy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Go Tell The Spartans

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

On or about this date in 480 BC the Battle of Thermopylae took place.  In a narrow pass King Leonidas of Sparta led a force of almost 7,000 Greeks against a huge Persian army led by the Emperor Xerxes.  The Persians, rulers of the Middle East, had crossed the Bosporus and were moving south with the intention of obtaining the submission of the Greek states and destroying Athens.  At the end of the second day after learning that his force had been outflanked, Leonidas dismissed most of the Greek allies and remained with a rear guard made up of the entire Spartan contingent of 300 plus 400 Thebans and 700 Thespians.  All of the Spartans and most of the other Greeks died.

Simonides of Ceos (556BC-468BC) composed the famous epigram which was engraved on a stone atop the Spartan burial mound at the site of the battle.  The second line is a reference to the requirement of Spartan law that its soldiers return victorious or die in battle.  The epigram has been translated in many different ways; the one above is the one I like best.
Though the Persians advance was slowed by Thermopylae as well as by the naval Battle of Artemisium which took place nearby at the same time and which inflicted substantial losses on the Persian fleet, they continued their advance and occupied and burned Athens.  At this desperate moment Athenian navy lured the Persians into a trap and demolished their fleet at the Battle of Salamis.  Though the Persian army did not retreat Salamis ended the threat of annihilation for the Greeks. The following year a large Spartan led coalition routed an even bigger Persian army at the Battle of Plataea liberating the occupied portions of Greece.

Thermopylae is one of the founding legends of Western civilization.  The sacrifice of the 300 (unfortunately the role of the allies has been downplayed) has resounded through the ages.  It was celebrated during the Classical Era (before 500AD) and in the modern era movies such as Go Tell The Spartans (about the Vietnam War) have referenced the event while films such as the recent 300 tell the story in a different and only remotely accurate way to a new audience.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Get On Up

(from New

(Chadwick Boseman)

Chadwick Boseman's first leading movie roles have been as Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get On Up, which we saw yesterday.  So where does he go from here to top these roles?  Boseman is remarkable in Get On Up.  Physically bearing little resemblance to Brown he captures the persona, the speech, the look and the dynamic singing and dancing of The Godfather of Soul in a performance that is precisely the opposite of what was called for in his role as Jackie Robinson.

Boseman is aided by a touching performance from Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd, his long time (and suffering) friend, and Dan Ackroyd as manager Ben Bart.
(both pix from
Best of all there is a lot of James Brown music and performances that are recreated and fully capture the experience of seeing him in his prime.  These are some of the finest movie recreations THC has ever seen of any performer.  It also takes the time to show some of the detail of how Brown invented modern funk in one of my favorite scenes (and here's the first true funk song - Cold Sweat, Pt. 1 (1967)).  The thrilling performance scenes are, in part, attributable to Mick Jagger, who served as a producer and was heavily involved in the musical aspects of the film.

The movie jumps around time wise, which is a good touch and shows the extreme poverty in which Brown was raised in the Georgia of the 1930s and early 1940s as well as his horrible home life but this is not exactly the normal redemptive story arc of many biopics.  Brown was certainly a brilliant artist but is portrayed as someone who, throughout his life, you would not want to be in a relationship with nor be a musician working for him.  He treated a lot of people very poorly. 

There are some awkward and dragging standard biopic scenes in the film but Boseman's performance and the music scenes make Get On Up well worth seeing.

For those who haven't seen much of James Brown at his peak, this is his legendary performance at the T.A.M.I. show in 1964, performing for a mostly white audience.  The Rolling Stones had to close the show after this performance which was the first time Brown and Jagger met.  If you don't have time to watch the entire 18 minutes, start the video at about the 13 minute mark and watch it from there.  The duo introducing Brown are Jan & Dean, known for their hits The Little Old Lady From Pasadena and Surf City.

(Brown & Jagger, backstage at TAMI)

And here you can watch a more mellow Brown performing a duet on It's A Man's World with Luciano Pavarotti about ten years ago shortly before both of them passed away. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Looking Smart

THC Management Consulting LLC has another installment in its spasmodic series designed to improve the management skills of its readership.  We feature 10 Tricks To Appear Smart During Meetings by Sarah Cooper.  Having deployed several of these "tricks' during his working career, THC enthusiastically urges you to read Ms Cooper's treatise.  Using these tricks will, no doubt, provide a turbo boost to your career!

Our favorites:

1.  Draw a Venn Diagram

3.  Encourage everyone to "take a step back".

5.  Repeat the last thing the engineer said, but very very slowly.

8.  Ask the presenter to go back a slide.

This stuff really works.  Read the whole thing.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lafayette's Tour

On August 15, 1824 Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Rod Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, Marquis de La Fayette, accompanied by his son, Georges Washington de La Fayette (whose namesake was his godfather), landed at Staten Island, New York to start what ended up being a thirteen month tour of the United States during which he traveled 6,000 miles while visiting all 24 states.  He had returned to America at the invitation of Congress and President James Monroe.  The reception he received throughout his trip dwarfed his expectations.  His presence touched a chord with the American people reminding them of the glorious days of the struggle for independence a half century before.

It was as the 19-year old heir to a family of ancient nobility from the Auvergne region of France that Lafayette made his first visit to a very different America landing in South Carolina on June 13, 1777.  Seeking vengeance against the English and glory for himself he had defied his King's explicit directive and come to join the American rebels.  Making his way to Philadelphia he persuaded the Continental Congress, which was dazzled to have a French noble coming to its assistance, to make him a Major General in the Continental Army, a commission viewed as honorary by the Congress but considered to be a real command by Lafayette.  Benjamin Franklin suggested that George Washington might use the young lad as an aide-de-camp and he made his way to the encampment of the Continental Army.

By 1824 Lafayette was the last surviving senior Revolutionary War commander and of the fifty six signers of the Declaration of Independence only three remained alive - Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both of whom were to die on July 4, 1826, and Charles Carroll of Maryland who lived until 1832 (Carroll did not begin his service in the Continental Congress until July 18, 1776 so did not participate in the vote for independence on July 2 and he was the last to sign the Declaration on August 2).  An era was ending.

As a side note, while researching the deaths of the signers, THC noticed what seemed to be a distinct pattern between the lifespans of the Northern and Southern signers which was confirmed by a more detailed analysis.  The average lifespan of the 24 signers from the six Southern colonies was 59.8 years while that of the 32 Northern signers was 70.9 years; 10 of the Northerners reached 80 years while only four Southerner lived that long and nine of the Southern signers were dead by 50 while only one Northerner failed to live into his fifties. It seems as though the many contemporary comments about the dissipative effects of climate and disease in the south were correct.

At first Washington and his commanders did not know what to make of the enthusiastic young Frenchman with his poor English but Lafayette had an innate charm and quickly all of the America officers along with Washington regarded him with affection.  The General did add him to his staff where he joined the other young aides, Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens, who became his fast friends.

During the tour, which included laying the cornerstone for the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston on the 50th anniversary of the battle with Daniel Webster giving a rousing speech, addressing a joint session of the US Congress and having his steamboat sink on the Ohio River near Louisville, Kentucky, Lafayette made many stops which must have stirred strong memories.  While in New Orleans in April 1825 he must have thought of President Jefferson's inquiry regarding his interest in becoming Governor of the Louisiana Territory after its purchase in 1803, an inquiry he turned down.  In Savannah, Georgia he laid the cornerstone for a monument to his great friend General Nathanael Greene (see October 1780).  Most of all there were the two trips to Washington's home and burial site at Mount Vernon in October 1824 and August 1825 and his presence at the first commencement ceremony at George Washington University in the District of Columbia.

As David Clary notes in his fine study of the Washington-Lafayette relationship, Adopted Son:

What was planned as a short visit to major cities turned into a . . . . procession.  The hysterical receptions were much alike.  He entered a town escorted by militia, through victory arches decorated with boughs and bunting; endured speeches by local dignitaries and greetings from Revolutionary veterans and the Society of Cincinnati; received poems and flowers from children; and made the rounds of dinners, Masonic banquets, schools and anybody else who wanted to hear him.  The nation went insane for the "last major general of the Revolution".

He left behind hundreds of places named Lafayette, Fayette or La Grange [his French home, thus inspiring ZZ Top's best song],  He sparked a new interest in the Revolution, inspiring worshipful biographies of the struggle's leaders.  He became a unifying, non-partisan influence during the fierce election struggle between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, both of whom he met.

Lafayette joined the Continental Army at a perilous time with the British Army beginning its move from New York to seize the new nation's capital at Philadelphia.  Pestering Washington for a command, the Marquis saw action at the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, a battle lost by the Americans, but in which he was wounded and distinguished himself for bravery.  Given a small independent command he defeated a Hessian detachment in November and then joined the rest of the army in its winter camp at Valley Forge.  The following year he again performed admirably at the Battle of Monmouth.  The charm that had worked with the officers of the Continental Army also seemed to extend to the American troops he now commanded and effectively led.
Most significant though was his relationship with Washington.  Before Lafayette was two years old he had lost his father, killed by an English cannonball at the Battle of Minden during the Seven Years War.  In the 46-year old Washington he found someone he could relate to as a father.  And the childless and notoriously reserved Washington reciprocated with an emotional openness that he rarely showed publicly.  Later in the war when a French emissary was visiting Washington he relied news of Lafayette (who at that time was back in France) and described the General's reaction:

Washington blushed like a fond father whose child is being praised.  Tears fell from his eyes, he clasped my hand, and could hardly utter the words: 'I do not know a nobler, finer soul, and I love him as my own son'. 

In February 1779, Lafayette returned to Paris to lobby for troops to be sent to America in addition to the financial aid being supplied by France.  After initially being imprisoned for several days for disobeying the King in going to America in 1777, Lafayette was released and, together with Ben Franklin, began relentlessly pressuring the Court and King to aid the Americans.  He achieved success when General Rochambeau embarked with 6,000 troops in 1780, troops without whom the Yorktown campaign would have been impossible.

Lafayette returned to America in March of 1780 and during the 1781 campaign displayed his finest generalship, first with a small advance detachment of 2,0000 soldiers leading Lord Cornwallis on a fruitless chase across Virginia and then playing an important role at the Siege of Yorktown.

Lafayette Returning to France in December 1781 he worked with the American envoy, Thomas Jefferson, on a trade agreement between the two nations before returning to the United States for the third time in 1784 on a trip which took him to all of the states with the exception of Georgia.  While in Baltimore he met James Madison, whom he had only known slightly during the war.  The two bonded and Madison decided to accompany the Marquis on his trip to New York and New England along the way negotiating a trade agreement with the Six Nations of the Iroquois.

During the 1784 trip Lafayette and Washington spent considerable time together and one topic of their discussions was slavery.  When Lafayette first came to America he was driven by hatred of the English and a desire for glory but his exposure to the ideas behind the Revolution and, most importantly, his discussions with Hamilton and Laurens brought him to a broader view of liberty and freedom and the impassioned Laurens convinced him of the need to abolish slavery. [NOTE:  In a prior post (Forgotten Americans: John Laurens) I wrote that Lafayette influenced Laurens in his views on slavery but upon further research am now convinced the influence was the other way around.] Even while the war was ongoing he advocated emancipation to Washington as well as joining the Abolitionist Society in France upon his return.  And for Washington, who had not given much thought before the war to the institution, his observations seeing free Negroes fighting for American freedom in the army he led resulting in him questioning slavery.  The year before his 1784 visit Lafayette sent a proposal for emancipation to Washington to which he responded:

The scheme, my dear Marqs. which you propose as a precedent to encourage the emancipation of the black people of this country from that state of bondage in wch. they are held, is a striking evidence of the benevolence of your heart.  I shall be happy to join you in so laudable a work.

They spoke further of slavery at Mt Vernon and during his remaining years, Washington refused to sell or break up any of the slave families he owned though his farming venture was operating at a loss and upon his death emancipated his slaves and provided for them.
File:Washington and Lafayette at Mount Vernon, 1784 by Rossiter and Mignot, 1859.jpg
(Lafayette & Washington, Mt Vernon 1784)
Lafayette had last seen America as a 26-year old when the country consisted of 3 million people in 13 states and territory bounded to the west by the Mississippi River.  Returning just before his 67th birthday, Lafayette visited a country with more than 10 million people in 24 states bounded to the west by the Rocky Mountains and the newly independent country of Mexico.  During that time the mean center of U.S. population had shifted from the East Shore of Maryland to what was to be the future state of West Virginia.

In the years since 1784 the Marquis had experienced much turmoil.  Imbued with the spirit of liberty, Lafayette was one of the leaders of the initial stages of the French Revolution which erupted in the summer of 1789.   Appointed commander of the National Guard of France he became more disenchanted as the revolution became more radical and his popularity suffered.  Although given command of an army when France declared war on Austria in 1792 he was quickly condemned as a traitor.  Realizing he faced death at the hands of the revolutionary tribunal he attempted to flee to Britain but was captured by the Austrians in August of 1792 and imprisoned for the next five years., center, with young Georges to the right)
At the same time his wife Adrienne and his three children were imprisoned in Paris. It was only the direct appeals by the American government undertaken at the instigation of President Washington that saved her from execution (though her sister, mother and grandmother were guillotined).  In January 1795, after the fall of the Jacobins, Adrienne and the children were released.  Adrienne took her two daughters and went to Austria and prevailed upon the Emperor to allow her and the children to join her husband in prison.

The Marquis' son, Georges, now 15 years old, was sent by Adrienne to America.  Georges arrival posed a potential diplomatic problem for the U.S. which wanted to maintain good relations with a French government which still considered Lafayette a traitor.  Washington's cabinet advised that the boy should be kept in Boston where he had landed and away from the President.  After initially agreeing, Washington brought the boy, first to Philadelphia and then finally to Mount Vernon to live as part of his family.  Clary recounts one observers comment that their first meeting "was like a tearful reunion between the elder man and his adopted son, because Washington adored the boy at first sight".  Georges was to live with Washington for the next eighteen months.  Clary reports that:

Visitors to Mount Vernon were amazed by the scene at dinner. 'A few jokes passed between the president and young Lafayette whom he treats more like a child than a guest'.
Washington also, again against the advice of his cabinet, wrote a personal letter to the Emperor of Austria seeking Lafayette's release which began:

It will readily occur to your Majesty that occasions may sometimes exist, on which official considerations would constrain the chief of a nation to be silent and passive in relation even to objects which affect his sensibility, and claim his interposition as a man.  Finding myself precisely i this situation at present, I take the liberty of writing this private letter to your Majesty; being persuaded, that my motives will also be my apology for it.

Meanwhile, Adrienne feverishly writing letters from her prison cell drummed up sympathy across Europe for the plight of Lafayette and his family and he was finally released from prison in October 1797. (Adrienne)  Returning to France in 1799 he refused to cooperate with Napoleon who returned the favor by viewing him with suspicion though he restored French citizenship to the Marquis.  In 1815 during the Hundred Days Lafayette was elected to the Chamber of Representatives and called for Napoleon's abdication, responding to Lucien Bonaparte's denunciation:

By what right do you dare accuse the nation of...want of perseverance in the emperor's interest? The nation has followed him on the fields of Italy, across the sands of Egypt and the plains of Germany, across the frozen deserts of Russia.... The nation has followed him in fifty battles, in his defeats and in his victories, and in doing so we have to mourn the blood of three million Frenchmen.

When the monarchy was restored after the fall of Napoleon, Lafayette continued to be viewed with suspicion because of his support of the 1789 revolution though he remained in the Chamber of Representatives.  In turn, Lafayette was discontented with the attempt to reimpose the old regime so the timing of America's invitation to visit could not have come at a better time.
Marquis de Lafayette. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.(Lafayette at time of 1824-5 tour)
Lafayette's tour also provided an opportunity to reunite with other survivors of the revolutionary era.  At Yorktown he was present for the 43rd anniversary of the surrender in October 1824 and joined veterans of the Battle of Brandywine in July 1825 while also returning to Valley Forge.  He also visited 89 year old John Adams (briefly) in Braintree, Massachusetts and stayed for several days with 81 year old Thomas Jefferson at Monticello whom he found "feeble and much aged" but with his mind still sharp.

On November 15, 1824 Adams wrote Jefferson (after a bitter 15-year breach in their friendship they began corresponding again in 1812; for background see Abigail Writes Thomas) about their recent visitor:

You and I have been favored with a visit from our old friend General La Fayette.  What a wonderful Man at his Age to undergo the fatigues of such long journeys and constant feasts.  I was greatly delighted with the sight of him and the little conversation I had with him.

[For an Adams memory of an earlier meeting with the Marquis see the endnote to this post]

During his first stay in Washington DC in December 1824, Lafayette made several visits to the White House to meet with President Monroe (it was at this time that Lafayette Park opposite the White House was named in his honor).  Returning to the capital in early September of 1825 he met with new President John Quincy Adams and after addressing Congress celebrated his 68th birthday at a White House banquet before leaving for France on September 7.

Lafayette's political life had not ended however.  In July 1830 he served as one of the rallying points for the revolution that overthrew the Bourbons for good and created a republican monarchy under Louis-Philippe.

The Marquis died on May 20, 1834 and was buried in a Paris cemetery.  His son sprinkled soil from Bunker Hill over the grave site.  President Andrew Jackson ordered that Lafayette be given the same funeral honors as George Washington.  Flags were flown at half-mast for 35 days, the chambers of Congress were draped in black and the country was asked to dress in black for 30 days.


Endnote:  On July 13, 1813 the cantankerous John Adams wrote Thomas Jefferson a letter containing this vignette from the 1780s:

It is very true, as you justly observe, I can say nothing new on this or any other Subject of Government.  But when La Fayette harangued You and me, and John Quincy Adams, through a whole evening in your Hotel in the Cul de Sac, at Paris; and developed the plans then in Operation to reform France: though I was as silent as you was, I then thought I could say something new to him.  In plain Truth I was astonished at the Grossness of his Ignorance of Government and History, as I had been for Years before at that of Turgot, Rochefaucault, Condorcet and [Ben] Franklin.

Adams had developed an antipathy to Franklin during their joint mission to France during the Revolution.  Adam's directness and bluntness clashed with Franklin's wily indirect strategies, though Franklin's approach proved the more effective with the French court.

As for Adams' view of Lafayette it is true that the Marquis was more noted for his passion, courage and unflinching devotion to liberty and freedom than for his attention to the philosophical nuances of political theory.  A revolution requires both.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Roman Singara

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the Islamic State in Sinjar, walk towards the Syrian border (from International Business Times)

Hearing in the past few days about the terrible plight of the Yazidis threatened with extinction by the crazies of the newly reconstituted Islamic Caliphate there have been numerous references to their seeking refuge by fleeing to Mount Sinjar which is the same Jebel Sinjar (and its neighboring city of Singara) that were once the frontier of the Roman Empire in Mesopotamia from 197AD to 363AD, yet another example of the enormous geographical reach of Rome.

The area was seized by the Emperor Septimius Severus during his campaigns of 197-8 AD against the Parthian Empire at the end of the second century AD becoming part of the new province of Mesopotamia which advanced Rome's borders to the Tigris River.

To protect the province Severus recruited a new legion, I Parthica, based on the city of Singara, and directed creation of a new defensive line the center of which was on the Jebel Sinjar (Mount of Sinjar) a highland about 70 miles long and more than 4,000 feet at its highest.  Additional outposts and fortifications were erected to protect the Roman positions which are shown in the map below taken from The Reach Of Rome by Derek Williams, a well-written study of the growth of the empire's frontiers and the strategies by which they were secured.

Most of the frontier (or limes as the Romans referred to it) was identified in two aerial surveys, the first by Pere Poidebard in 1925 and the second by Sir Aurel Stein in 1938.  Poidebard (1878-1955) was a French Jesuit who taught in Beirut and became fascinated by the ancient ruins of the Middle East and convinced that utilizing small aircraft he could see landmarks better than from the ground. (Poidebard from  Stein (1862-1943) is one of the classic characters of the age of  exploration.  Born in Budapest he spent many years in China before accepting a post in British India (and becoming a British citizen in 1904) from where he led several expeditions into Central Asia and China.  Learning of Poidebard's research he contacted him and was inspired to launch his own aerial survey starting in British ruled Iraq.  After years of struggle he finally convinced authorities to loan him a small open biplane from which he conducted a 700 mile survey of the Roman frontier from the Gulf of Aqaba in modern day Israel and Jordan to northern Iraq, following some of his observations with ground visits.  Williams writes:

Stein, now seventy-seven, was flying in open cockpits, bouncing in unsuitable vehicles over unspeakable surfaces and sleeping out in the freezing desert nights.

Standing portrait of Sir Aurel Stein and his dog Dash. © The British Library(Sir Aurel Stein from Victoria & Albert Museum)
Stein was still exploring at the age of 80 when he died on an expedition in Afghanistan. Through a series of mishaps most of Stein's aerials except for some of those of Iraq were lost and his full report was thought lost until it was rediscovered in the late 1970s.  

While the Singara area represents Rome's furthest eastern extent, the Empire's bounds to the southeast in Mesopotamia went even further.  In the same campaign in which he captured Singara, Severus also conquered the town of Dura Europus on the Euphrates and stationed a large garrison there.  The Romans located several smaller garrisons further downriver with the final outpost at Bijan, 1,900 miles from Rome and only 125 miles from Baghdad.

Dura Europus provides a unique window into a Roman town of that time because in 256AD the Persian King Shapur captured and destroyed the city which was then abandoned until rediscovered in 1918.  Excavations since have found a treasure trove of documents, artifacts, inscriptions and decorations which document a thriving site with a mixed Roman, Greek, Syrian, Jewish and Persian population.  Among the finds are the paperwork of the military garrison, military equipment and the remains of a Jewish synagogue.  This map, taken from the Atlas Of The Roman World by Tim Cornell and John Matthews shows the location of Dura and its geographical relationship to Singara.
Over its history northern Mesopotamia has played host to a multitude of sects and religions. In the last two millennium that includes Orthodox and Nestorian Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, Zoroastrians, Jews and the Yazidis among others.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rear Window

When Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window premiered in August 1954, THC was too young to see it and then it was out of distribution for decades as the movie rights were tied up in a dispute.  It was the mid-1980s before I saw it.  Loved the story and was transfixed by the amazing set as well as by Grace Kelly, an actress I never really "got" until seeing her in this film.

The movie is set during a New York City heat wave before air conditioning but it was filmed on a set in Hollywood.  The set is based on a real Manhattan location - 125 Christopher St.which is Ninth Street west of Sixth Avenue.  The set consists of 31 apartments of which twelve were fully furnished, and was 38 feet wide, 185 feet long and 40 feet high, the largest indoor set ever built at Paramount Studios.

Here is what it looked like in the opening scene:

And this is the set as it looks throughout the entire film (via Vimeo) as put together by:

Rear Window Timelapse from Jeff Desom on Vimeo.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot - Grace Kelly.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A King Of Comedy

Something from Robin Williams you may not have seen.  In 2006 entertaining our troops in Kuwait when Retreat is sounded. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Karlstejn Castle

The photo (by Mrs THC) is of Karlstejn Castle, about 25 miles from Prague, and taken during our recent trip to the Czech Republic.

The castle was founded in 1348 by Charles IV, King of Bohemia.  Not sure who the dresses are by.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Richard Nixon & Panda Sex

Yes, another shameless attempt to draw reader traffic to THC via web searches.  Although, come to think of it, perhaps we may not want the readers doing searches on those topics
NixonandPandas(from Open Culture)
In any event, on this 40th anniversary of President Nixon's resignation we thought we would bring you one of the more startling revelations of the Watergate Tapes which THC recently learned of via Open Culture: Nixon's tips on how to get pandas to have sex.

The President was concerned about the difficulties the two pandas, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing given to the US by the Chinese government as part of the reestablishment of relations between the two countries, were having in understanding how to have sex as a necessary prerequisite to generating baby pandas (for those THC readers who watched Anchorman you will already be fully knowledgeable on this subject).

As reported by Open Culture, the President was taped while on the phone with the foreign editor of the Washington Star, Crosby Noyes:

Nixon: The problem with, uh—The problem, however, with pandas is that they don’t know how to mate. The only way they learn how is to watch other pandas mate. You see?
Noyes: [laughs]
Nixon: And, so they’re keeping them there a little while—these are younger ones—
Noyes: I see.
Nixon: —to sort of learn, you know, how it’s done.
Noyes: Sure, learn the ropes—
Nixon: Now, if they don’t learn it they’ll get over here and nothing will happen, so I just thought you should just have your best reporter out there to see whether these pandas—
Noyes: Well, we certainly will—
Nixon: —have learned. So, now that I’ve given you the story of pandas let me let you get back to your more serious questions. [laughter]
Ah, the shocking things we are still learning about Nixon!

On August 9, 1974, THC was surprised to hear of Nixon's resignation.  He had been hitch hiking for two weeks across Canada and then down the West Coast, not hearing any news during that period.  On the ninth, he had gotten a ride in a pick up truck in Oregon's Cascade Range when the driver turned on the radio and we heard what THC thought was someone doing a parody imitation of Richard Nixon but it turned out to be the real thing - the rather odd talk he gave before leaving the White House. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Markers Of The Middle Class

From Instapundit

Clinton and Bush were both smart politicians, but there was one thing that both men got wrong. As Glenn Reynolds explained, they tried to expand the middle class by subsidizing things owned by middle-class people -- like college educations and homes -- assuming that middle-class status would come along with them. But in fact, homeownership was a result of middle-class values -- of being willing and able to save, and to defer gratification -- and not the cause of them.  Instead of expanding the middle class, dodgy home loans for people with no past record of saving merely led to unfunded investments and debt.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Hot Streaks: Ted Williams

THC likes to peruse  Recently while looking for the best hitting hot streaks for several players he stumbled across an amazing performance by Ted Williams.

When the 1957 season began Ted was 38 years old (and turning 39 in August) and by any conventional standard in the downhill phase of his glorious career which began in 1939.

He got off to a fine start that year.  When the All-Star break came on July 8 he was hitting .343 with an On-Base Percentage (OBP) of .476, a Slugging Percentage of .645 along with 20 homers and 45 RBIs.  A terrific performance for any player of any age. 

It's what happened next that makes the season remarkable.  After the All-Star break, in 172 at bats (along with 60 walks) Williams hit .453, slugged 18 homers, with an OBP of .594, Slugging .858 and ended up hitting .388 for the year, the highest average in the majors since he'd hit .406 in 1941 (and only exceeded since when George Brett hit .390 in 1980 and Tony Gwynn .394 in 1994).

Within that second-half performance is embedded yet another incredible feat.  On September 1, 1957 Ted pinch hit, striking out and the next day was out of the line up with what was reported as a bad chest cold, not playing again until September 17 when he hit a home run as a pinch hitter.  The next day, pinch hitting again, he walked.  After a day off the Red Sox began a series with the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.  In the 9th inning of the first game, Ted hit a pinch hit homer off Yankees ace Whitey Ford.  On the 21st he finally started a game, bashing a grand slam in his first at bat against Bob Turley and then walking three times on 12 pitches.  The following day he walked in his first at bat and then whacked another homer against Tom Sturdivant.  In nine plate appearances Williams hit four homers and walked five times going on set a major league record by reaching base in 16 consecutive plate appearances.

In 32 plate appearances after returning to the lineup on September 17 through the end of the season, Ted hit .667, including five homers, with a OBP of .812 and Slugging % of 1.629.  Not too bad for a guy who was 39 years old by then.

After looking at the 1957 season, THC became curious about the What If? of the career of Ted Williams.  Ted lost three years in his prime (1943-5) during WWI; missed almost half of the 1950 season after breaking his elbow making a catch in the All-Star game and then after playing a few games at the start of the 1952 season (and hitting a homer in his last at bat) was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, becoming the only major league player to serve in both conflicts.  During WWII, Ted had trained as a naval aviator but never saw action; Korea was to be different.  As a Marine Corps jet pilot Williams flew 39 combat missions, on one occasion crash landing his plane after it was damaged by enemy fire.  On many of his missions Ted flew as wingman for John Glenn, the future astronaut and U.S. Senator.

Returning to baseball in August 1953, Ted appeared in 37 games (starting only 25), hitting .407 with thirteen homers in only 91 at bats.  By the end of 1953 Williams had missed the equivalent of five full seasons during what is considered a players prime; the twelve years from 23 to 34 years old.  Then, on the first day of spring training in 1954 he broke his collarbone diving for a line drive missing the first 18 games of the season and then being out of the lineup for 20 more games in June. That was followed by missing the first 41 games of the 1955 season to attend to personal matters as his marriage fell apart. 

THC decided to pull together an equivalent Williams season during that period by combining Ted's 1952, 1953 and 1954 seasons along with his first 14 games in 1955 to come up with a nominal complete season of 708 plate appearances.  Here is his stat line:

For some context let's compare Ted's imaginary full season with the major league leaders in key categories for 1952, 1953 and 1954 [note: in 1954 for OBP and OPS the second place finishers are shown since Williams led the league even with his truncated season].

The reconstituted Williams season would have led the majors in all of those three seasons in Batting Average, On-Base %, Slugging %, On-Base + Slugging % and Wins Above Replacement (WAR), tied for first in home runs with Kluszewski's 1954 performance and third in RBIs.   Williams was also older than most of his top competitors.  He was 32 to 34 during these seasons while most of the leaders were under thirty - the only exceptions being Stan Musial, two years younger than Ted, 33-year old Jackie Robinson and the one-dimensional slugger, Hank Sauer, 35.

Using a conservative extrapolation, Williams lost 60 home runs and 200 RBIs due to his service in Korea.  If you add in the WWII years he's missing 165 home runs which would have given him 686, second only to Ruth at the time, and 560 RBIs, a career total of 2399 which would still be the major league record.