Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A View From The Coliseum

A View through Three of the North-Western Arches of the Third Storey of the Coliseum, by CW Eckersburg (1815 or 1816).  Eckersburg, from Denmark, created a series of paintings from his stay in Rome.  The three views represented below are not actually contiguous but were placed together to create harmony.  THC has been unable to find any writing documenting what we are seeing but thinks the left arch provides a view of the ancient Sacred Way to the ruins of the Roman Forum with the 4th century AD Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine just beyond the open hilltop.   If correct that means the buildings on higher ground behind the Basilica are those on the Capitoline Hill.

Also take a moment to look at the details of the masonry of the Coliseum itself.  Built in 72-80 AD by the Emperors Vespasian and Titus it remained in use for its original purposes into the early 6th century.  Thereafter it fell into disrepair though by the 13th century the Frangipani family had occupied the site and fortified the ruined stadium making it into their personal stronghold. Throughout the Middle Ages the Coliseum was used as a quarry with much stone and its entire marble facade removed for use elsewhere.

Image from Wikipedia.
See adjacent text.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The "Living" First Amendment

Althouse, the blog of University of Wisconsin law professor Ann Althouse is the most consistently entertaining of the blogs THC regularly checks in with.  You never know what she may choose to write about it (want to know why men should never wear shorts?  she'll tell you - often) and you can't predict the her viewpoint on anything in advances - in fact, THC suspects she delights in confounding her readers expectations; she'd probably find a way to take issue with the way THC wrote this post if she ever read it but it's that wide ranging interest in lots of subjects and how she comes at things from a different angle that make her so interesting; particularly because when it comes to politics she can't (and won't) be categorized in conventional Democrat/Republican or liberal/conservative terms.

A few days ago she wrote  "Liberals Used To Love The First Amendment" commenting on a column by Adam Liptak of the New York Times and using the first sentence from his piece as her title.  Now, for you Times readers THC has some advice.  Relying on Liptak for an accurate assessment of the best arguments of all parties in Supreme Court matters is like, well, it's like relying on Linda Greenhouse, when she was the legal correspondent for the New York Times to do the same.  And since Ms Greenhouse apparently monitors all mentions of her on the interwebs, THC gives her a shout-out! and reminds her that, as always, we will correct any mistakes in a post and do so promptly, as we have done in the past and in telling contrast to the practices of the obstinate and, dare he say, obtuse New York Times.

With that here is Althouse's piece:
"But that was in an era when courts used it mostly to protect powerless people like civil rights activists and war protesters," writes Adam Liptak in The New York Times.

“Corporations have begun to displace individuals as the direct beneficiaries of the First Amendment,” Professor Coates wrote. The trend, he added, is “recent but accelerating.”
Hmm. I don't know. In conlaw class, I was just teaching the great 1964 landmark case — that loved-by-liberals case — New York Times v. Sullivan. But, fortunately, I've got The New York Times to set me straight. Corporations are not people.

Okay. Thanks to Adam Liptak, a man I'm noticing only because the corporate platform of The New York Times elevates him high above all the poor and puny anonymities....

And I'm fascinated by this notion that the Constitution ought to mean what would make liberals love it. Hey, Supreme Court, why don't you make the Constitution lovable again? We used to love you, First Amendment, but you changed.
Ironically, back when Liptak's liberals loved the First Amendment, a big deal was always made about how it protects the speech you hate. That was the challenge, to love the freedom itself. Seems like you changed. 
By the way, in light of the phony larger narrative linking big companies and non-progressives (THC prefers this nomenclature since it covers conservatives (both social and economic), libertarians, classical liberals, Tea Partiers, the mainline GOPers, those who adhere much of the progressive line but demur at times (see, for instance, the notorious Koch Brothers) and just plain cranky people since we all look the same to progressives) peddled by the Times and its acolytes, note that according to David Plouffe, one of President Obama's senior strategists, that Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google (market cap $376 billion), played a key role in the President's 2012 campaign and that "on election night he was in our boiler room in Chicago".  THC is sure that the 230 times since then that Google lobbyists have met with White House officials, not to mention the 15 pages deleted at Google's request, at the last minute by the FCC from its recently published document asserting its regulatory authority over the internet have nothing to do with Schmidt's role as an enabler for the President.

A Baseball Story

Yet another beautiful piece from Joe Posnanski.  This one on Bobby Bragan and Jackie Robinson in contrast to his recent essay on the Miracle on Ice and Sophia Loren.  Take a few minutes to read it.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I'm Ready To Play Today

On Friday night THC (and the Mrs) visited Surprise Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers, completing his plan to see all ten spring training ballparks in the Phoenix area.  He has now revitalized his baseball viewing habits, seating techniques and ballpark eating strategies and feels ready for the regular season.

Surprise turned out to be THC's favorite stadium, although somewhat of a pain to get to.  The stadium itself is well-designed, with broad open concourses and food stands placed where you can also watch the action unlike some of the other parks (Hohokam, Peoria) where you have to go inside.  Parking is easy and very close to the stadium (see some pictures below).

The game featured the Royal's young star pitcher Yordano Ventura throwing seven no-hit innings.  Ventura's fastball was consistently between 96 and 99mph.  He also threw what might have been a slider around 92 as well as several different types of off speed pitches between 83 and 88 keeping the Seattle Mariners hitters off-balance all night.

Other THC favorites were Goodyear Ballpark (Cincinnati Reds/Cleveland Indians), Maryvale (Milwaukee Brewers) and Sloan Park, home of the Chicago Cubs and the largest stadium.  Special mention needs to be made of Camelback Ranch, home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox.  The park is terrific but is oriented southeast instead of northeast like the other parks.  The result is that if you are there are a day game there's little shade and you risk being burned to a crisp and your ashes swept up by the cleaning crew at the end of the day.  However, the Dodger training fields are idyllic with trees bordering them affording shade for spectators.

Friday, March 27, 2015

An Officer And A Spy


L'Affaire Dreyfus consumed French politics and society for twelve years from 1894 to 1906 terribly exacerbating existing political fault lines in the country.  In 1894 Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew whose family left Alsace after the Germans annexed it in the wake of the 1870-1 Franco-Prussian War was accused of delivering French military secrets to the Germans, tried by a court-martial, found guilty, sentenced to life imprisonment for treason (based on secret evidence that neither he nor his counsel ever saw or even knew about) and sent to Devil's Island off the coast of French Guinea in South America where he was kept in solitary confinement.  The prosecution and conviction also lit a fire under the smoldering anti-Semitism of French society.
Through a long, complex, implausible and almost theatrical chain of events the case against Dreyfus collapsed, causing a huge scandal for the French army and its supporters.

THC read some accounts of the affair but they were rather dry and the very complexity of the events drained them of their drama.  Other than the bare outlines, the final outcome and Emile Zola's J'Accuse, (published in 1898 and causing Zola, a Dreyfus supporter, to flee to exile in England to avoid imprisonment after being convicted of libel) THC remembered very little of the matter.
However, THC just finished reading An Officer And A Spy by Robert Harris, a novelistic retelling of the story and highly recommends it.  Harris is an accomplished writer of historical fiction.  His first book, Fatherland is set in the 1960s and takes place in a world where the Nazis won World War II and have supposedly resettled the Jews somewhere in the East in former Russian lands.  THC has read several of his other books including Pompeii and enjoyed them all.

In An Officer And A Spy, Harris tells the story of the Dreyfus affair from the viewpoint of Colonel Georges Picquart, named chief of French counter-intelligence shortly after Dreyfus' conviction.  Picquart, who had previously expressed anti-semitic sentiments uncovered evidence of the real spy in the French army, becoming convinced of Dreyfus' innocence in the process.  After taking the evidence to his superiors, Picquart was persecuted by the army which wished to keep the matter quiet. THC will not reveal any more of the events because it would deprive readers of the enjoyment of discovering the astonishing plot twists and of saying to yourselves "Could this have really happened? It is too implausible to occur in real life!"

How accurate is the novel?  Harris writes:
None of the characters in the pages that follow, not even the most minor, is wholly fictional, and almost all of what occurs, at least in some form, actually happened in real life.

Naturally, however, in order to turn history into a novel, I have been obliged to simplify, to cut out some figures entirely, to dramatise, and to invent many personal details.
THC is far from knowledgeable about the actual events of the affair but from what he has been able to ascertain from reviews, including those by historians, Harris' summary is fair and, in particular, the incidents that you will find most astounding (and appalling) in the book really did happen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Love This Plan!

THC Management Consulting LLC remains committed to helping the readership of this blog succeed in their professional careers.  As part of its continuing series Improving Your Management Skills we present the latest installment.

Even if you are a manager, most of you will work for yet another manager.  How then to handle one of the most common situations you'll face when your manager proposes what they clearly consider their latest bright idea but which sounds a little ill-advised to you?  Should you give them honest feedback?  Should you stay silent?  Nope - you want to get ahead!  With the able assistance of Bill Murray, THC Management Consulting LLC has developed its latest instructional video to help you turn this situation to your advantage!  Study it carefully.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I Want You Bach

The Piano Guys give us a mash up of the Jackson Five's I Want You Back and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Monday, March 23, 2015


THC's been feeling in an early 80s melodic pop mood today and who better to fill that need than  Squeeze?  Best known for their only US hit, Tempted, (co-written with Elvis Costello) they produced a slew of bright, snappy songs strewn with witty lyrics.  Here they are doing Pulling Mussels From A Shell:

For a couple of other examples listen to In Quintessence and Is That Love?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Decatur's Duel

Forty one years old, he was the most renowned naval hero of the early American republic, a man for whom cities in Georgia, Alabama and Illinois would later be named, when he was mortally wounded in a duel just outside the bounds of the District of Columbia on this date in 1820.  Stephen Decatur's name is linked with some of the most famous vessels in American naval history; Enterprise, Intrepid, United States and Constitution.  The circumstances of his death, at a time when most duels did not have fatal results, are still subject to much speculation.  Not only did his opponent and his second desire Decatur dead, but is it likely that Decatur's own second shared the same sentiment.
Stephen Decatur was born in 1779 to a seafaring family that had fled the British occupation of Philadelphia and relocated to Maryland.  Following family tradition there was no question that the young man would go to sea and in 1795 he enlisted in the fledgling American navy.  He served with distinction during the Quasi-War with France (1798-1800) but it was the First Barbary War that gained him national recognition.

The various Muslim corsair states of North Africa (modern day Algeria, Tunisia and Libya) had been capturing European ships and enslaving crews and passengers for centuries.  In the 18th century, their depredations extended to American ships traversing the Mediterranean with captives being held to ransom.  In 1801 Thomas Jefferson received authorization from Congress to dispatch a fleet to deal with the worst of these states, Tripoli, which almost simultaneously declared war on the U.S.

In 1803, Decatur served as captain of USS Enterprise, a 14-gun schooner and later of USS Intrepid, a larger vessel renamed after he had captured it from the corsairs.  Late that year a large American frigate, USS Philadelphia, ran aground in Tripoli harbor.  The crew was imprisoned by the Tripolitans and the ship refloated by the corsairs leaving the US navy worried that it would be used against it.  Decatur volunteered to lead a party to try to recover or destroy the ship.  On the night of February 16, 1804, disguised as Maltese sailors, his party entered the harbor.  Decatur led the boarding party onto the captured ship overpowering the guards.  Unable to get the ship away, Decatur had it set afire resulting in its explosion when the fire reached the powder magazine.  Decatur and his men escaped without suffering any fatalities.  British Admiral Horatio Nelson declared it "the most bold and daring act of the Age" and reported widely in the American press, the exploit made the young sailor a national hero.
http://www.navy.mil/1812/images/1812_8.jpg(USS Philadelphia)

In August 1804, Decatur played an instrumental role in the American attack on Tripoli.  During the action his youngest brother was killed by a Tripolitan captain who had feigned surrender.  Stephen led an assault on the corsair ship, boarding it and killing the captain in hand to hand combat.

For his accomplishments Decatur was formally granted the rank of captain, the youngest in American naval history.

With the War of 1812, Decatur returned to action.  Commanding USS United States on October 25, 1812 he fought one of the most famous sea engagements of the war, defeating the British frigate HMS Macedonian.  In 1814 he became captain of USS President, flagship of the American fleet, and outgunned and outnumbered in a fight against British ships in January 1815 (after the peace treaty ending the war had been signed) he was forced to surrender the President, being held prisoner for a month in Bermuda before returning to America.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0c/BirchBattleBetweenTheUnitedStatesAndTheMacedonian.jpg/300px-BirchBattleBetweenTheUnitedStatesAndTheMacedonian.jpg(United States v Macedonian)

Immediately upon the end of the War of 1812, President James Madison embarked upon the Second Barbary War, this time against Algiers which had continued to harass and capture American ships and citizens.  Decatur commanded the American fleet, capturing the Algerian flagship and negotiating a treaty with the Dey of Algiers, bringing an end to the Barbary Wars.

Returning to the United States, he settled in Washington, serving on the Board of the Naval Commission until his death.  He built the first private home on Lafayette Square, near the White House and it was at an 1816 dinner party in the District that he gave the toast for which he is still known:
Our country - in her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right, and always successful, right or wrong.
The origins of the duel in which was to die go back to 1807 when Decatur commanded the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia.  A British fleet showed up at the harbor entrance demanding the return of three alleged deserters who were serving on the USS Chesapeake, commanded by James Barron.  The Chesapeake set sail and encountered HMS Leopard which leveled a broadside killing three American sailors and forcing the surrender of the ship.  It was a humiliating experience for the young country and navy and one of the incidents that eventually led to the War of 1812.  Decatur served on the court-martial board which found Barron guilty and suspended him from the navy prompting the disgraced captain to leave America to live in Denmark.  At the start of the War of 1812, Barron petitioned to be readmitted to the Navy.  The petition was denied but Decatur unaware of the petition, publicly referred to Barron as a coward for remaining in Denmark during time of war.

Barron finally returned to the United States in 1819 and he and Decatur engaged in bitter correspondence resulting in Barron demanding a duel.  Decatur accepted and it was agreed that the duel would take place in Bladensburg, Maryland.
Why was dueling and the preservation of honor so significant a part of American culture in the early 19th century.  The concept of the duel goes back to ancient literature (see, The Iliad) and in the West was revitalized and formalized in medieval Europe.  For background see this piece from, of all places, the office of the Secretary of State for Missouri.  Some excerpts:
The duel usually developed out of the desire of a gentleman to rectify a perceived insult to his honor.  It was thought better to die respectably in a duel over an insult than to live on without honor.  The goal of the duel was not necessarily to kill the opponent, as much as it was to gain satisfaction.  This meant restoring one’s honor by demonstrating a willingness to face death. Duels began as a way to settle personal disagreements outside of a court of law.  A gentleman did not go to the courts with a personal issue, but took care of it himself.
Only gentlemen were thought to have honor, and therefore eligible to duel.  To maintain status and social standing a gentleman had to be willing to take his chances on the field of honor.  On the other hand, the Code Duello frowned upon men of unequal social class settling their differences by dueling.  If a gentleman was insulted by a person of lower class he would not duel him, but might proceed with a caning or cowhiding to humiliate his opponent.

However, any man who refused to duel could be “posted,” in an attempt to goad him into accepting a challenge.  The dueling tradition of posting was unique to the United States. A statement or accusation of cowardice would be hung in public places or be published as a handbill or appear in a newspaper.  Tame language by today’s standards, such slurs as rascal, scoundrel, liar, coward, and puppy were considered extremely disrespectful and were sure to prompt a duel.
It was this gentleman's code that led in 1804 to the most famous duel in American history at Weehawken, New Jersey where the Vice-President of the United States, Aaron Burr, mortally wounded the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.  Other prominent duels of the age include Andrew Jackson's in 1806 with Charles Dickinson in which Jackson was shot in the chest and then calmly aimed and fired, killing his opponent and Secretary of State Henry Clay's 1825 duel with Senator John Randolph which ended with both combatants unharmed after an exchange of shots.

Why Bladensburg?  For about twenty years beginning in 1819 the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds were the favored terrain for duellists in the region though dueling was illegal in Maryland.  Just outside Washington, easy to reach, secluded and with level terrain it was an ideal location.   In the first duel known to have taken place there a former US Senator from Virginia was killed.  One of the sons of Francis Scott Key, composer of the Star Spangled Banner died in an 1836 duel.   In 1838 a duel between two sitting Congressman in which one died led Congress to ban dueling within the District of Columbia but it was only with the coming of the Civil War that the Bladensburg duels ended.

It is the role of the seconds that has raised the most interest about the duel.  In dueling the seconds negotiated the terms of the duel on behalf of the aggrieved parties; location, weapons, procedures and rules.  Among their obligations was an initial responsibility to try to mediate a settlement of grievances and apologies prior to a duel or, in some cases, during a duel, after the combatants initially failed to kill one or the other.  As we'll see, in Decatur's case that obligation was not fulfilled.

Barron's second was Captain Jesse Elliot.  It was Elliot who had reported Decatur's public remarks about cowardice to Barron and who worked continually to agitate him about it.  Elliot had his own, albeit bizarre, motives to hate Decatur.  During the War of 1812, Elliot had been accused of negligence by Oliver Hazard Perry, the American commander at the Battle of Lake Erie.  Though Perry had since died, Elliot was convinced he had passed on letters with incriminating evidence of his actions to Decatur and Elliot worried that they could be released at any time (in reality, it appears Decatur had no such correspondence).
Ed elliotJD.jpg(Elliot)
Decatur's second was Commodore William Bainbridge.  Bainbridge and Decatur had been friends for years until Decatur had been given command of the American fleet in the Second Barbary War.  Bainbridge, who'd had a distinguished career including commanding the USS Constitution in its famous victory over HMS Java (he was also captain of Philadelphia when it ran aground in Tripoli harbor), was convinced Decatur had unfairly connived to deprive him of the command of the fleet and he became his self-declared enemy.   Conveniently, Bainbridge reconciled with Decatur just before the duel and was thus available as a second when Decatur's initial choice declined because of his opposition to dueling.

There appears to have been no attempt by the seconds to reconcile their principals and the rules of engagement they agreed on maximized the potential lethality of the encounter.  Most duels with pistols started with the combatants standing back to back, taking ten paces with firearms by their sides and then turning, raising their pistols and firing.  With all of that movement and turning the firing was often inaccurate.  In contrast, Decatur and Barron were carefully stationed facing each other  eight paces apart, took time to level and aim their pistols and then, with the count by their seconds, fired simultaneously.  The outcome was predictable as described in this excerpt from a longer account that can be found here:
After the shots were fired, both men were wounded severely. Afraid of dying, they made peace with one other. Barron explained his reasons for staying in Denmark (a sense of honor had kept him from expressing it before) and Decatur regretted his careless words. Barron forgave Decatur “from the bottom of his heart” and Decatur returned the sentiment, declaring that he did not fault Barron for his death. There was a sense between the two that they might have been able to be friends, had they been clear with each other and not advised so fervently to violence.

Barron survived his wounds and lived to be 83. Decatur was brought back to his home and died in “terrible agony” ten hours later.
The funeral was attended by President James Monroe, justices of the Supreme Court and most members of Congress.

Five U.S. navy ships have been named USS Decatur

Saturday, March 21, 2015

This Is My Street And I'm Never Gonna Leave It

This is my street
And I'm never gonna leave it
And I'm always gonna stay
Until I live to be 99
Cause all the people I meet
Seem to come from my street
And I can't get away
Because it's calling me
Come on home

- Autumn Almanac, The Kinks (1968)
And how right The Kinks were in their analysis of the habits of their fellow citizens.  Today's Telegraph (UK) reports that genetic studies show that modern Britons live in the same general areas they did in 600 AD!

Roman rule collapsed in Britain in the early fifth century and within a couple of decades the country fragmented politically.  At some point from the mid-fifth century onwards Angles, Saxons and Jutes from what are now Holland, Germany and Denmark began migrating across the North Sea and establishing their own small kingdoms in eastern Britain.  The divisions established at that time can still be traced genetically as shown in these maps from The Telegraph which tell a tale of remarkable stability the most striking of which is the boundary between Cornwall and Devon in England's southwest corner.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Carolina Butcher

That's what they are calling this newly discovered 9-foot meat-eating crocodile looking monster that stood on two feet during its heyday about 230 million years ago.
Croco-dinoThe scientists gave it the name Carnufex carolinensis since its remains have been found in North Carolina where it lived before the giant supercontinent of Pangea broke up about 200 million years ago.  THC prefers the English translation.

The Triassic era in which this creature lived sounds quite dog-eat-dog (that is, if dogs had existed back then) as described by scientists:
"The Triassic was a bit of an ecological Twilight Zone: too few plant eaters and an over abundance of predators meant that the hunters often became the hunted"

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Scrapbook Magna Carta

A 700 year old copy of the Magna Carta has been discovered in a scrapbook at a library in Kent, England.  Archivist Mark Bateson was looking for an ancient charter for the town of Sandwich when he stumbled across the document, a third of which is missing.

The original Magna Carta enshrined a 1215 agreement between King John and his barons.  The document is considered the original charter of English liberties, which grew and expanded over time.  The charter was reissued on several occasions, the last being in 1300 by Edward I (the bad king in Braveheart!) and the scrapbook copy is believed have been part of that last issuance.  It is one of only 24 copies of the Magna Carta known to exist.  This version was apparently stuck in the scrapbook by a Victorian official from the British Museum in the 19th century and then forgotten.
700-year-old copy of Magna Carta found in scrapbook

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Pitch

This afternoon THC was at the Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix to see a spring training game between the Oakland Athletics and the home team, the Milwaukee Brewers.  He managed to catch this shot of A's pitcher Sonny Gray in which you can see the baseball on its way to the batter.
Maryvale is quite a nice and small (7,000 seat capacity) ballpark.  Here's a photo from the outfield.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Miracle On Ice & Sophia Loren

Whaa? . . . Bear with me and let THC take a moment to explain.

THC's favorite sportswriter is Joe Posnanski.  He is not claiming that Joe is the best sports analyst or the most accurate sportswriter; what he does believe is the Posnanski is the best writer going today on sports.  He's a joy to read, capturing moments and feelings in a way that resonate emotionally with his readers.

His most recent post is about a documentary, Of Miracles And Men, by his friend John Hock and recently shown on ESPN's 30 On 30 series.  It's the story of the underdog 1980 U.S. Olympic's team's stunning upset of the world-dominating team of the Soviet Union.  THC will always remember that moment as will every American who saw it.  The twist is that Hock tells the story, and tells it with sympathy, from the perspective of the Soviet players.  THC recently saw Of Miracles And Men and recommends it to you.  We learn the story of the birth of the graceful Soviet style of hockey and of the men of the 1980 team and what has happened to them since that game.

Joe Posnanski tells us why be thinks that became known as The Miracle On Ice "will always be the singular sports moment in American history".  Along the way he writes of Hock's interview of Seva Kulushkin in which Hock asks how the Soviet sportswriter reported on all of the drama of the game.

Posnanski writes:

Kulushkin asked, “What is the drama?” And then he said this:
“Once a crazy kid kissed Sophia Loren. And he’s telling for the rest of his life, ‘Oh, I kissed Sophia Loren.
Dramatic pause.
“Ask Sophia Loren if she remembers.”
Another dramatic pause.
“Different point of view.”
I love everything about this quote. I love the imagery of it, of course. I love the small but visible bitterness that still lingers in it. I love the unintentional way that he reveals how painful that loss was.
. . .
We are cold-water throwers, all of us.

The Sophia Loren story is the greatest cold-water throwing I’ve ever seen. It’s utterly beautiful and brilliant. The Miracle on Ice was our seminal sports moment, the closest thing to Greek myth that we have. And he compares the U.S. to a kid kissing Sophia Loren. It’s beautiful. And it’s probably true too. The U.S. did kiss Sophia Loren. Only thing is: She remembers. She definitely remembers.
And for those of you of a younger age who may need a primer on the significance of Sophia Loren take a couple of minutes: 


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Blurring Lines?

THC didn't like Blurred Lines, the Robin Thicke hit, composed by Thicke and Pharrell Williams but is a little puzzled by the jury verdict finding it constituted copyright infringement of the 1977 Marvin Gaye song Got To Give It Up (another tune THC didn't care for) and awarding several million dollars to Gaye's estate.  You can find a more lengthy analysis in this article at Reason to which THC was pointed by a post at the terrific Coyote Blog.

THC's puzzlement is that while there are some similarities between the songs, the same can be said of most of pop music - nothing new about this flap, which is easily distinguished from the clear theft of a song (see the real story of Dazed And Confused for the difference).  In his post, Coyote embeds this amusing video by Axis Of Awesome to illustrate the point:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Arizona Travel Tips

THC and the Mrs took a little drive to Tucson to revisit the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum (about 15 miles outside the city).  If you're in Arizona do not miss it but go when it opens in the morning, which we did this time.  It'll ensure you don't roast in the sun later in the day.

As is our wont we didn't drive directly from Phoenix on the boring I-10.  Instead we went via the longer mountain route taking us through the mining towns of Superior and Globe and affording some spectacular views.  We also found some find food along the way (and let's take a minute to salute Yelp which we've found invaluable and reliable in our travels).  On our drive from the East Coast we had some great food in Monroe, Louisiana (gumbo) and Abilene, Texas (chicken piccata) at little local places we would never have found on our own.

On this trip, we had lunch at Porter's Cafe on the main street in Superior.  Since it was crowded, we ate at the bar and THC had a delicious BLT with about a half pound of crisp bacon and the Mrs had an excellent ham and fried egg sandwich.

This is the interior of Porter's:

The BLT!

And here is the exterior.  It's pet friendly.

Bustling downtown Superior in early afternoon.
We drove on to Globe and stopped for coffee at vida e caffe, located on a side street and had the best coffee and cappucino we've had in Arizona.

Later in the afternoon we crossed Capitan Pass (4983 feet) over which Kit Carson guided a U.S. Army dragoon detachment on its long march from Santa Fe to San Diego in 1846 at the start of the Mexican War.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Beep Beep Vol 2

As a follow up to his Beep Beep post, THC recently came across (via Twisted Sifter), the 9 Golden Rules of Chuck Jones, the creator of the Road Runner cartoons.  And here they are:



Sunday, March 8, 2015


THC has been troubled by the over reliance of people on satellite navigation systems whether in cars or phones.  Now it has been scientifically proven (as reported by the Daily Mail Online, a well-known and respected peer reviewed journal) that those dependent upon those devices are  . . . well, there's no gentle way to put this . . .  becoming dumber.

A few tidbits from the research:
Research published in April 2011 shows our growing use of satnavs stops us using the brain's sophisticated capacity for mapping surroundings as we pass them and building those impressions into a mental picture.
Dr Rosamund Langston, a lecturer in neuroscience at the University of Dundee who conducted the study, said that by using satnavs, we wither away our 'caveman' ability to familiarise ourselves with new surroundings by memorising snapshots of them.

At the beginning of a journey, a region of the brain called the entorhinal cortex mentally constructs an as-the-crow-flies line to the destination. Once we are under way, however, a different area of the brain computes the precise distance along the path to get there. This region is the posterior hippocampus, which is also known for its role in forming memory.
We increasingly rely on an electronic arrow to lead us through the world

Disturbingly, the study, published in the journal Current Biology, found that neither of these brain regions was active when the volunteers used satnavs. In fact, the volunteers' brains were much less active in general.

The hippocampus and entorhinal cortex are among the first regions to be damaged in age-related cognitive impairment and dementia associated with Alzheimer's disease. The concern must be that losing our ancient way-finding skills may make us more prone to such conditions.
As a reminder, the proper way to perform navigation on land is with a hard copy map which can be use to create a mental image of the terrain from the perspective of a bird high aloft with a 360 degree vista.  Exercise your entorhinal cortex!
THC anxiously waits additional insight on this pressing issue from the Official Science Advisor to this Blog, the THC Son.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

3 Second Dumplings

For those who liked Cannon-Fried Shrimp the same folks are back with easy to make recipe for 3 Second Dumplings.  No need to panic when guests show up unexpectedly! THC is particularly partial to this one because of the baseball connection. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Six Months In Rock: 1967 & 1968

While making a custom playlist of some of his favorite music from the 1960s, THC noticed what appeared to be a distinct chronological clustering.  With a little further research he identified a six month period from October 1967 though March 1968 with a fantastic concentration of top notch music spanning a wide variety of styles, sounds, instrumentation and lyrics.  Some, like the Jefferson Airplane and Steppenwolf, are hard to listen to today but most hold up well.  So let's get in the WAYBAC Machine.
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/3f/Waybackmachine3.png(Mr Peabody and his pet boy Sherman enter the WAYBAC Machine)

It's a bit surprising but we can ignore The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for these months.  The Beatles released Magical Mystery Tour in October 67, their weakest album and the singles were Hello, Goodbye (a silly and forgettable tune, though #1) and Lady Madonna (only slightly better but another hit, of course).  The only notable highlight was the presence of I Am The Walrus on the B-side of Hello, Goodbye.

The Stones were wandering in the desert in late 67 and early 68 releasing the ridiculous Their Satanic Majesties Request along with a series of forgettable singles.  Hardcore Stones fans are still pretending it never happened; THC is talking about you - GCP and Dr Rob! They were not to return to the Promised Land until the summer of '68 under the captaincy of Jumpin' Jack Flash.

We'll concentrate on the albums released in these months but before doing so, here are some of the best singles:

Dock Of The Bay.  Otis Redding,  Released after his death.  His first #1.  Perfection.  Listen to the ache in his voice.  For more see Sittin' In The Morning Sun.

Chain Of FoolsAretha at her best.  You told me to leave you alone . . . Whoa!  This is an alternative studio version of the single.

I Second That Emotion from Smoky Robinson & The Miracles and I Wish It Would Rain from The Temptations.

What A Wonderful World.  The last hit for one of the iconic musicians in American history, Louis Armstrong.

I Can See For Miles.  Facing financial ruin, Pete Townsend deliberately sets out to write a song for The Who designed to hit #1 in the U.S.  They fail, barely breaking the Top 10 with this guitar heavy song prompting discussions about whether the group should disband.  It's at this time that Keith Moon briefly joins up with Jimmy Page in a new band which Keith suggests calling Led Zeppelin.  When Keith returns The Who go into the studio to record this crazy "rock opera" that Townsend's written - yeah, like that'll sell!

Tighten UpArchie Bell & The Drells.  They're from Houston, Texas!  An infectious and classic one-hit wonder.  For more see One Hit Wonders 1964-68.

Soul Man from Sam & Dave.  Forget about the Blues Brothers; listen to the original.

Two big hits from the quavering voices of the BeeGees, Massachusetts (introduced by Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca) and Words (introduced by Ed Sullivan).  Somehow seems appropriate.

I Heard It Thru The Grapevine.  The original by Gladys Knight & The Pips (live on Soul Train), later to be a mega hit from Marvin Gaye.

Dance To The Music.  The first hit from Sly & The Family Stone.  A new and unique sound.  THC loved it.  You can read more about Sly and the band's downfall at Fat Bass, including side references to Arthur C Clarke, Prince and Bill Clinton.

And now


Each album discussed below was released between October 30, 1967 and February 21, 1968.
Disraeli Gears, the second album from Cream and the one that broke them as a big act in the U.S.  Contained their first American hit single Sunshine Of Your Love (though not one of THC's favorites) and a series of strong songs featuring the bizarre music of bassist Jack Bruce along with Peter Brown's insane lyrics; Tales of Brave Ulysses (live version - sharp hat Jack!); SWLABR, Dance The Night Away and We're Going Wrong (a concert highlight from their 2005 reunion tour).  For more on the odd pairing of Bruce and Brown see Can You Follow?

At the beginning of Cream's tour to support the album they were still playing small venues.  THC saw them in a half-filled local high school auditorium where they opened with Tales Of Brave Ulysses.  When they hit the opening chord all the fuses in the building blew!

And Ginger Baker is still NOT dead.  Unfortunately, Jack Bruce is, having passed last year.
Forever Changes by Love.  A wonderful, wonderful record that THC still listens to.  Love started in 1965 with a proto-punk sound on songs like 7 And 7 Is (with its ultra-cool ending)  For this album they adopted a more mellow and smoother tone. Beautifully produced and sounding which is a wonder because reportedly most of the band members were so under the influence of drugs that the individual songs had to be cobbled together in bits and pieces from various recording sessions (Arthur Lee, the vocalist and co-composer of many of the songs eventually spent more than a decade in prison on gun and drug charges).  The lyrics are preciously psychedelic as are the song titles:

Alone Again Or
A House Is Not A Motel
Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hillsdale
The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This

But put aside the silly titles and listen:

Between Clark And Hillsdale
Alone Again Or

  It all builds to the album's final song: You Set The Scene with its giddy 1967 style lyric
Everything I've seen needs rearranging
And for anyone who thinks it's strange
Then you should be the first to want to make this change
And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game
Do you like the part you're playing?
and playing itself out in a stirring horn coda.  And then, of course, the 60s fell off a cliff right after the period we are discussing.

The Child Is Father To The Man by Blood Sweat & Tears.  A debut album and the only version of BS&T you should listen to.  Al Kooper put 'em together and THC has written about the album previously so for more read and listen to The Real Blood Sweat & Tears.  The best produced record of the era and holds up well today.  Their later records were more much more popular but without Kooper they just weren't as good.  And Al is still around; catch up with him at New Music For Old People.
Buffalo Springfield Again.  Probably THC's favorite band at the time featuring the writing, singing and guitar playing of Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay.  Their debut album, Buffalo Springfield, had terrific songs but was horribly produced.  This was their next try and both the songs and production are excellent.  The tensions that were to break up the band later in 1968 were already evident as you can tell from some of the production notes which inform you that the band members were often not even recording in the same studio.  Every song is good, some are great.  The best:

Mr Soul (here badly lip synced on Hollywood Palace with the band goofing around).  Blazing guitar from Neil; "she said you're strange, but don't change and I let her".
Rock n Roll Woman.  Perfect pop.  Featuring soaring harmonies,  a blown-out Hammond B3 and some of Stills' best vocals.
Expecting To Fly.  Another Young penned song.  "There you stood on the edge of your feather, expecting to fly".
Bluebird.  By Stills with sparkling guitar work by he and Neil.
Mr Fantasy from Traffic featuring Steve Winwood.  Another psychedelic pop record featuring their biggest hit Dear Mr Fantasy ("play us a tune, something to make us all happy") on which Winwood, who normally played keyboard, lets rip with some memorable guitar riffs.  Other strong (and quirky) tunes include Coloured Rain, Paper Sun and Heaven Is In Your Mind along with Smiling Phases which later became a hit for the post-Al Kooper version of Blood Sweat & Tears.
Axis: Bold As Love by The Jim Hendrix Experience.  Contains two of his most beautiful songs, Little Wing (listen to an ethereal live version) and Bold As Love along with If 6 Were 9 and Castles Made Of Sand ("fall in the sea, eventually").  No one sounded like Jimi.
John Wesley HardingBob Dylan's first "comeback" album.   Dylan disappeared from public view shortly after his tour following the May 1966 release of Blonde On Blonde, allegedly because of injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident, but given the elusive nature of Bob no one has ever really been certain why.  A double album, Blonde On Blonde was the culmination of an astonishing 15 month period of creativity after Dylan went electric which also saw the release of Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965) and Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965).  On those albums were songs like Mr Tambourine Man; It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding); It's All Over Now, Baby Blue; Maggie's Farm; Subterreanan Homesick Blues, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues ("when you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Eastertime too", for a great live version with Dylan backed by The Hawks who later became The Band listen here); Like A Rolling Stone; Ballad Of A Thin Man; Queen Jane Approximately; Just Like A Woman; I Want You; Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 and Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.  Maybe he just needed a rest.

Harding was different; quiet and restrained with lyrics were pared down from the increasingly ornate style he'd deployed in the earlier albums.  Most of the songs were backed only by Dylan's acoustic guitar and harmonica.  THC picks:

All Along The Watchtower.  Haunting.  Covered by hundreds of musicians.  Listen to the original as well as the best cover (by Mr Hendrix) here

I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine
I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive with fiery breath
And I dreamed I was amongst the ones
That put him out to death
Oh, I awoke in anger
So alone and terrified
I put my fingers against the glass
And bowed my head and cried. 
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight.  "Bring that bottle over here". Wacky and relaxed.  He evens rhymes "moon" and "spoon"!
Gris Gris, the debut album from Dr John, the alias of Louisiana musician Mac Rennenback who's gone on to a long and storied career as a living historian and performer of New Orleans music.  A dreamy stoner's delight with the help of a magic gris-gris man who's just emerged from the swamp.  Featuring Gris Gris Gumbo Ya Ya and the hypnotic and indescribably weird (even by the standards of this very weird record) Walk On Guilded Splinters; "Walk through the fire, fly through the smoke, see my enemy at the end of a rope".  If you are not in a stupor when you start listening you will be by the end.
Steppenwolf, the debut album from, who else, Steppenwolf!  Contained the monster hit, perennial rock anthem and persistent movie soundtrack standard, Born To Be Wild (not linked here, just because), the birth of "heavy metal thunder" along with the overwrought Hoyt Axton saga, The Pusher.  Axton went on to write the awful Joy To The World, a smash hit for Three Dog Night, and to star as the dad in the movie Gremlins
After Bathing At Baxter's.  The followup to Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow album which launched the hits White Rabbit and Somebody To Love.  With Baxter's, the Airplane deliberately avoided coming up with another hit single instead opting for a woozy smorgasbord of sound and lyrics and in the process coming up with some classics for the new FM-band stations.  Best songs:  The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil, Watch Her Ride (from a Perry Como Special!), Two Heads ("Two heads can be put together, And you can fill both your feet with sand, No one will know you've gutted your mind but what will you do with your bloody hands?" - someone actually let them do this on TV) and their celebration of hippiedom, Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon (here at Woodstock, appropriately).

Later in 1968 THC saw the Airplane at the Fillmore East.  They sounded much heavier live than on record mostly due to Jack Cassidy's thundering bass lines.
The Who Sell Out.  Contains the afore-mentioned I Can See For Miles, Tattoo (see Live At Leeds), an ode to a young lady with special skills, Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands, the beautiful I Can't Reach You ("you're so alive and I'm nearly dead") and Rael ("the wretched in their millions, will overspill their borders and chaos will reign in our Rael") with riffs that would later be incorporated into Tommy.
Earth Music by The Youngbloods.  An underrated band, even at the time.  Best known, even today, for their worst song and only hit, Get Together.  THC wrote about them in Darkness, Darkness.  Featuring Jesse Colin Young's warm and pure vocals this album included a cover of Tim Hardin's Reason To Believe, the jug band influenced Euphoria and best of all, All My Dreams Blue.

THC got all these album at the time they came out with the exception of Gris Gris which he heard for the first time in the summer of 1968 and then purchased.

Let's close with one he didn't know about at the time though it was released in December 1967 to critical acclaim and low sales; Pandemonium Shadow Show by Harry Nilsson.   For more on Harry, who went on to become the only person to record with all four Beatles individually, along with references to Aimee Mann, The Big Lebowski and Steve Buscemi, see Ones.

The album title comes from Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes which is what Nilsson originally wanted to call the record but when he could not obtain the rights in time, named it after the mysterious carnival that arrives in a small 1920s Illinois town in the book - Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show.

As a boy THC read Something Wicked This Way Comes and loved it.  At the time he thought the book was about the Shadow Show.  Rereading it a couple of years ago after Bradbury died in 2012 he loved it once again but now realizes the threatening, heavily atmospheric and ultimately touching novel is really about something else - funny how time can change your perspective (see also, Charlie Freak for another example).

Nilsson's album contains two small gems that we'll end this post with; 1941 and Without Her.