Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Passenger

From Iggy Pop's 1977 album Lust For Life (with David Bowie helping on the chorus).  Also the theme song from Anthony Bourdain's current travel & food show on CNN.  He featured Iggy on a recent show - now 69 and retired with a condo in Miami, just hanging out and collecting social security.  Guess it beats smearing yourself with peanut butter and diving into a concert crowd. Who would have guessed? (2015) from (1970s) from here)

Bourdain's show is quite good.  He can be a real jerk at times and be intellectually inconsistent and nonsensical but he knows and accepts that about himself which makes it all work.  Plus he has interesting takes on interesting places.

The video is fun, loaded with lots of mostly familiar movie clips.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

All These Worlds Are Yours, Except Europa

The title is from the 1984 movie 2010, the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey and not nearly as good, except for the presence of Helen MirrenThis is the sequence where the phrase occurs.

Last year NASA released some high resolution photos of Europa, a moon of Jupiter, taken during the Galileo mission of the 1990s.  NASA also thinks there is a possibility Europa harbors life in the deep liquid ocean lying beneath its icy cover. To learn why watch the video embedded in this article.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Baths Of Diocletian

We've discussed the Emperor Diocletian before (see Diocletian Has A Very Good Day) and it was during his reign (284-305) that the largest public baths in Rome were built.  The baths covered an area about 1200x1000 feet or about 30 acres, accomodate 3,000 people at one time and included cold, warm and hot baths along with swimming pools, libraries and meeting halls.  Below is a reconstruction of the baths during the 4th century (from maquettes-historiques) at a time when Rome still had nearly a million inhabitants: the 6th century the baths were out of use as the City of Rome declined with the end of the empire.  Along with much of the rest of the city, the area around the baths was abandoned except for scattered dwellings, vineyards and farms.  This is a painting of the baths from around 1700 by Pieter van Bloemen (from wikipedia).
From later in the 18th century we have a painting of the cold baths (the Frigidarium) by Giovanni Piranesi (from Indianapolis Museum of Art).
Part of the Frigidarium can still be seen incorporated into the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.  You can see the original Roman columns in the photo below (from ookaboo) [Frigidarium of Baths of Diocletian, today Santa Maria degli Angeli]

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tell Me Something Good

You refuse to put anything before your pride
What I got will knock your pride aside  
Yes indeed, please do.  Chaka Khan & Rufus.  Co-written by Stevie Wonder.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Texas Rising

Texas Rising 
THC likes early Texas history (see Sam Houston: The Raven & The Alamo Series) so on Monday evening he got suckered into watching the first night of the three-part History Channel series Texas Rising covering events from the fall of the Alamo (March 6, 1836) to the aftermath of the Battle of San Jacinto (April 21, 1836) a time also known as the Runaway Scrape because of the retreat of the Texian army and the panicked flight of many Anglo families in its wake.

What a mess is Texas Rising!  Horrible dialogue, bizarrely misplaced geography, odd characterizations and historically unreliable. THC knows better than to expect complete historic fidelity in any work of popular entertainment but it's almost as though Texas Rising set out to deliberately mangle the saga of the Texas Revolution.  Here, have a look.  And carefully take in that first scene set on a cliff towering over the landscape, quite unlike anything you'll find in coastal Texas where these events took place.

In just the first few minutes last night we saw (1) the wrong date given for the fall of the Alamo; (2) the Alamo pictured as a formidable fortress rather than the rundown mission it was; (3) a miraculous "lone survivor" from the garrison's defenders and (4) a "freed" black man executed as one of the remaining six defenders captured at the end of the battle, even though no freed blacks fought with the garrison and the Mexican army took care not to kill the few slaves they found at the Alamo after their owners had been killed.  And further to that last point, later in the show we learn from Sam Houston himself that "Texas is slave free" which would have come as a surprise to the several thousand slaves owned by Anglo settlers.

It's too bad because they recruited quite a good group of actors including Bill Paxton (though he is terribly miscast as Houston), Brendan Fraser, Ray Liotta, Christopher McDonald (who achieved screen immortality as Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore), Jeremy Davies and Kris Kristofferson as President Andrew Jackson!  (Fraser, Liotta, McDonald, Davies below)
Brendan Fraser as Billy AndersonRay Liotta as LorcaChristopher McDonald as Henry KarnesJeremy Davies as Ephraim KnowlesKris Kristofferson as Andrew Jackson(Kristofferson)
If you're interested in that era of Texas just go read THC's posts.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Babe Hits Three And Says Goodbye

On Saturday May 25, 1935 the lowly Boston Braves, with a record of 8-19 played the Pittsburgh Pirates at Forbes Field.  A crowd of 10,000 showed up, many to see the Braves' 40 year-old, out of shape right fielder who entered the game hitting only .153 -  Babe Ruth.

By the end of the 1934 season the New York Yankees had made it clear to Ruth they would not bring him back for the 1935 campaign.  Nor would they make him manager, something Babe desperately wanted.  It was an unceremonious and unsentimental act by the club towards the star who made the Yankees the best brand name in baseball since joining them in 1920 and who remains, by any measure, the greatest player in the history of the game even 101 years after his debut. 

Instead, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert arranged, with Ruth's concurrence, to trade him to the Boston Braves of the National League. The Babe was excited about the opportunity.  He'd be back in Boston where his career started with the Red Sox in 1914 and Braves owner Judge Emil Fuchs made him a club vice-president and assistant manager, while leading him to believe he'd be the next manager.  In reality, the only interest Fuchs had in Ruth was as a gate attraction which meant he needed to take the field as a player., Ruth, Ruppert),800/0/default.jpg(Fuchs from digitalcommonwealth)

Two things quickly became apparent to the Babe in the early weeks of the season.  The first is that  his jobs were just for show; he had no role in the direction of the club and would never be made manager.  The second was that his playing days were over.  While Opening Day provided a wonderful moment when he homered off New York Giants star hurler Carl Hubbell, Ruth was awkward and slow in the outfield and he soon stopped hitting.  Entering the game on May 25, the Babe had only three hits in his last 44 at bats., odd-man out, from

Starting for the Pirates was Red Lucas, a pretty fair pitcher who won 157 games in his career. but he didn't have much that that day.  After walking the first batter who was bunted to second he faced Ruth who slugged a home run.  Lucas didn't make it out of the inning, being replaced by Guy Bush another good pitcher who won 176 games over a long career. Amazon)
Ruth came up again in the third and hit another two run homer.  In the fifth he singled home yet another run.

He came up for the fourth time in the seventh.  On a 3-1 count he launched a titanic soaring solo shot to right field.  It was the longest home run ever hit at Forbes Field and the first to leave the park, traveling more than 500 feet and hitting a house across the street.  It was the last of Babe's 714 regular season home runs. Post Gazette)

In the bottom of the seventh something occurred that would not happen today with a batter having already hit three homers and with the opportunity to come to the plate again.  Ruth was taken out of the game and replaced in right field by Joe Mowry who came to the plate in the 9th and singled.  Despite Ruth's four hits, three homers and six RBI's the Braves lost 11-7.

Bush, who had been a nemesis of Ruth's in the 1932 World Series when he was with the Cubs and plonked the Babe with a pitch, later recalled:
I never saw a ball hit so hard before or since. He was fat and old but he still had that great swing. I can't remember anything about the first home run he hit off me that day.  But I can't forget that last one.  It's probably still going.
In 1966, Bush wrote to a fan:
I feel proud that Babe Ruth hit his last 2 Home Runs off of me – as he more or less made Base Ball what it is to-day. He was by far the greatest of all players.
It was symbolically the Babe's goodbye to baseball.  Too bad it was not his real goodbye.  He'd promised Judge Fuchs that he would play out the rest of the road trip and he kept his word, though Fuchs didn't deserve the respect.  He appeared in five more games with two singles in nine at bats before announcing his retirement on June 2.  It wasn't pleasant. rarenewspapers)

By the end of the 1935 season the Braves record was 38-115, Fuchs had run out of money and the team was in receivership.

Babe Ruth was never given the opportunity to be a major league manager.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Death Of Captain Waskow

For Memorial Day: the 2013 post featuring Ernie Pyle's moving piece on the death of Captain Henry Waskow.  We remember and honor all Americans who died in military service.

(Captain Waskow)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Grand Review Practically

It was the great gathering.  The celebration of the end of four years of bloody conflict.  The celebration of the preservation of the Union.

With the Civil War coming to an end (only the formal surrender of Confederate forces in the trans-Mississippi region remained), at Secretary of War Stanton's suggestion, it was decided to honor the soldiers and lift the glum mood of the capital in the wake of the assassination of President Lincoln by holding a formal review of the armies which it scheduled for May 23 and 24, 1865.  The armies participating were the Army of the Potomac which arrived in the capital on May 12, General Sherman's Army, marching up from North Carolina, about 150,000 troops in all (the Union had more than one million soldiers serving as of the end of the war).

Presidential Reviewing Stand (from Library of Congress)
[Washington, D.C. Crowd in front of Presidential reviewing stand]
The Army of the Potomac marched for seven hours on the first day.  The second day saw Sherman's troops parade for six hours.

In May 1919, The Literary Digest ran an article on the review:
Four stands were erected in front of the White House . . . On the principal stand were President Andrew Johnson and his Cabinet, diplomats and envoys of foreign nations and Governors of States.  Lieutenant-General Grant occupied a position near the President.

All the school-children of the city, the girls dressed in white and boys in black jackets and white trousers were massed on the terraces and balconies of the Capitol and sang patriotic songs as the soldiers passed.

The soldiers presented a kaleidoscopic picture.  Their uniforms were soiled and faded.  There had been no brushing up for the occasion - they marched in the uniforms they had worn in the field. . . there were the pet animals of every description, dogs, donkeys, goats, pet wolves and even eagles that had been adopted by regiments as mascots . . . Freed Negro slaves who had been picked up in the field added motley color to the scene.
In something that would come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the individual (see Custer's First Stand), the Digest also reported on the sensation created by General George Armstrong Custer:
And General Custer furnished an unlooked-for thrill to the occasion.  His horse ran away and plunged wildly down the avenue through the scattering throngs, Custer's long yellow hair streaming in the wind, while women screamed and men shouted, expecting the General to be dashed to his death.  But he suddenly brought his horse to its haunches, leaned over, and picked up his hat from the ground and rode back to the head of his column amid the plaudits of the crowd.

In his Memoirs, Ulysses S Grant focused on the second day, perhaps because of his abiding affection for the men he'd led in the West before coming to Washington for the 1864 campaign:

Sherman’s troops had been in camp on the south side of the Potomac. During the night of the 23d he crossed over and bivouacked not far from the Capitol. Promptly at ten o’clock on the morning of the 24th, his troops commenced to pass in review. Sherman’s army made a different appearance from that of the Army of the Potomac. The latter had been operating where they received directly from the North full supplies of food and clothing regularly: the review of this army therefore was the review of a body of 65,000 well-drilled, well-disciplined and orderly soldiers inured to hardship and fit for any duty, but without the experience of gathering their own food and supplies in an enemy’s country, and of being ever on the watch.

Sherman’s army was not so well-dressed as the Army of the Potomac, but their marching could not be excelled; they gave the appearance of men who had been thoroughly drilled to endure hardships, either by long and continuous marches or through exposure to any climate, without the ordinary shelter of a camp. They exhibited also some of the order of march through Georgia where the “sweet potatoes sprung up from the ground” as Sherman’s army went marching through. In the rear of a company there would be a captured horse or mule loaded with small cooking utensils, captured chickens and other food picked up for the use of the men. Negro families who had followed the army would sometimes come along in the rear of a company, with three or four children packed upon a single mule, and the mother leading it.
 The sight was varied and grand: nearly all day for two successive days, from the Capitol to the Treasury Building, could be seen a mass of orderly soldiers marching in columns of companies. The National flag was flying from almost every house and store; the windows were filled with spectators; the door-steps and side-walks were crowded with colored people and poor whites who did not succeed in securing better quarters from which to get a view of the grand armies. The city was about as full of strangers who had come to see the sights as it usually is on inauguration day when a new President takes his seat.
The Grand Review

Spectators at Capitol
[Washington, D.C. Spectators at side of the Capitol, which is hung with crepe and has flag at half-mast during the "grand review" of the Union Army]Within days, the discharges began and the soldiers began returning home.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere

A new THC series on the 50th anniversary of the release of each of the early singles of The Who, all but one of which flopped in the United States.

We've already missed the first, I Can't Explain, released on January 15, 1965 and which reached #8 on the U.K. charts (for more on that song see Louie Louie Turns 50).

Their second single, Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere came out on May 21, 1965 and made it to #10.  Pete Townsend has always said this record much more accurately reflected The Who's live sound than did I Can't Explain.  It's more raucous and has more of that attitude The Who became known for.  Here are the boys bashing their way through it.The tattered remnants of The Who are just beginning The Who Hits 50 Tour.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The 1935 Bismarck All-Stars ndstudies; Bismarck Tribune, August 9, 1935)

"It was in Bismarck, N.D.  There was a white man out there named Neil Churchill who liked baseball.  He was an auto distributor and he wanted a ball team for Bismarck.  He was fulla ambition for baseball for his town. . . . He gave me three autos.
In [1935] Churchill got a team together and that's my team of all-stars.  Never was such a team.  Man, couldn't beat that team.  Hit and field and, boy, did we have the pitchers.  We was a mixed team, colored and white.

We won the first Wichita semi-pro tournament and they barred us from playing.  No mixed teams.  Why, we was just too good, that's all.  But nobody paid no attention to us when we went into that National Tournament, but did we wallop 'em all.  Nobody could touch us.  And boy did them Bismarck people like us.  Those farmers that were our fans came to town with hats full of money to bet on us

That was the best team I ever saw; the best players I ever played with.  But who ever heard of them?"
- - Satchel Paige, from the Chicago Daily News, 6/18/43 (via North Dakota Integrated Baseball History)

Prior to 1947, organized professional baseball in the 20th century (both major and minor league) was segregated, leading to the formation of several Negro baseball leagues (for more see Forgotten Americans: Cumberland Posey Jr & Sr).  But during this same period there were some integrated teams at the semi-pro level (paid ballplayers on teams that arranged games among themselves outside of a formal league structure), particularly in Minnesota and North Dakota.  The best of these teams was the 1935 Bismarck team.  Though occasionally referred to as the "Churchills" after the team owner and manager, the team had no formal nickname and was often called simply The Bismarcks in the local papers.

As you can see from the picture above, the team was fully integrated with the core squad of six black and five white players.  The black players included three all-time greats from the Negro Leagues, Satchel Page, Hilton Smith and Theodore Roosevelt "Double Duty" Radcliffe, the first two of whom are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Satchel Paige (standing, center in the photo), arguably the greatest Negro League pitcher, was the team's star attraction.  He'd pitched briefly for the Bismarcks in 1933 but in 1935 they had him for the entire season.  Paige was maybe baseball's first true free agent.  Because he drew both whites and blacks he was able to cut his own, very lucrative, deal with teams and jump from team to team throughout his career.  His stint with the Bismarcks was no different.  He'd start and pitch a complete game every four or five days but would pitch one or two innings in most of the other games.  At one point, the Bismarcks played 32 games in 27 days and he pitched in all of them.  He usually received a salary plus a share of the gate.  For more about his remarkable, and long, career (he last pitched in the majors in 1965 at the age of 59, throwing three innings of shutout ball) see the post Don't Look Back.

Hilton Smith (standing, far left in the photo) was for long stretches Paige's teammate and fellow pitcher on the Kansas City Monarchs.  As quiet and reserved as Paige was colorful and flamboyant (his antics were resented by many Negro League players) he labored in Satchel's shadow even though many thought he was as good, or better, as a pitcher.  From 1939 to 1942 he posted records of 25-2, 21-3 25-1 and 22-5 and Bill James rated him as the best Negro Leagues pitcher in three seasons.

Double Duty Radcliffe (standing, far right in the photo) was both a pitcher and catcher, hence the nickname bestowed upon him by Damon Runyon, (for more on Runyon see Lessons In Anti-Trust Law - yes, that is correct) and played (and sometimes managed) in the Negro Leagues from 1928 through 1954, dying at the age of 103 in 2005. 

The other black players were:

 Quincy Troppe, a catcher who played in the Negro Leagues from 1932 to 1949.  He briefly played in the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians as a 39-year old rookie in 1952.  On May 3 he teamed with pitcher Sam "Toothpick" Jones to form the first all-black battery in American League history.  Troppe's son became a professor at the University of California and biographer of Miles Davis.

Barney Morris and Red Haley who had briefer careers in the Negro Leagues.

The star white player was Vernon "Moose" Johnson who Churchill hired away from the Sioux City club of the Single A Western League where he'd hit 24 home runs in 235 at bats.  Moose had astonishing power.  The problem was he drank heavily and keeping him sober was a big challenge.  In the photo at top, Moose is just to the right of Satchel Paige.  What is unusual for that time is that Moose's hand is resting on Satchel's shoulder showing a degree of comradeship across racial lines that was rarely displayed publicly.  After hitting 25 home runs in 192 at bats for Bismarck, Vernon went back to the minor leagues after the '35 season ending his professional career in 1944.

The other white players were Don Oberholzer, Joe Desiderato (an outstanding batsman), Al Leary and Ed Hendee.

THC has been unable to find reliable season records for the team and players but suffice it to say they won a lot and lost infrequently but the pitchblack baseball website has a wonderful summary with plenty of highlights and hijinks featured.

The climax of the season occurred in mid-August when the Bismarcks participated in the first National Semipro Championship tournament held in Wichita, Kansas, a tournament that continues to this day under the name of the National Baseball Congress Tournament.  The great Honus Wagner was guest of honor for the event and joined Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson on the rules committee.  Thirty two teams participated and the Bismarcks won the trophy sweeping all seven games they played.  Satchel Paige appeared in five games, winning four and striking out 60, a tourney record that still stands.  For the season it is reported that Paige's record was 30-2 while pitching 331 innings.
(from pitchblack baseball)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Knowing What You Know Now

Having spent a little time recently watching CNN and other media outlets it appears the most important issue in the 2016 Presidential campaign is what Republican candidates think of the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003 "knowing what you know now".  While THC admits finding some amusement watching the fumbling of Jeb Bush as he attempts to formulate precisely the right response, it also strikes him as a rather odd inquiry.  Perhaps a better one would be "given America's experiences in Iraq since 2003 what lessons do you draw for the future?".

The other curious aspect of the recent media inquiries is that none of the Republican candidates voted on the Iraq War resolution or were in significant and relevant policymaking positions at the time.

However, there is one announced candidate who not only voted on the Iraq war in 2003 but also played an important role in the other two key decision points regarding Iraq - the debate over whether to adopt the strategy known as the Surge in 2007 and the decision to completely withdraw from Iraq in 2011.  That candidate is Hilary Clinton. CBS News)

Ms Clinton was a United States Senator in 2003 and 2007 and Secretary of State in 2011.  Therefore THC anxiously awaits a surge of media inquiries along the following lines:
“Senator Clinton, in 2003 you voted in favor of the Iraq War and later admitted it was a mistake.

In 2007, you led the opposition in the Senate to the Surge and called those who developed the strategy liars.  Four years later President Obama remarked: “We remember the Surge and we remember the Awakening -– when the abyss of chaos turned toward the promise of reconciliation“. Based on what you know now would you have still opposed the Surge?

In 2011, as Secretary of State, you supported the President’s decision to withdraw American forces based upon his assessment that Iraq was now “stable and self-reliant” due to the success of the Surge. Based on the rise of ISIS, the collapse of the Iraqi Army and what you know now would you still have supported the withdrawal and the President’s assessment?”
Let's start a countdown clock until the media starts asking.  If Ms Clinton is smart (and we already know she's "likable enough") she'll respond: "what difference at this point does it make?"  The media can then nod approvingly and start attacking Republican candidates for being fixated on the past and not having a positive agenda for the future.  Sounds like a win-win strategy.

In the meantime, this is The Official Position Of This Blog on the 2016 election - No more Bushes, no more Clintons.

Yogi & Rachel

Yogi Berra turned 90 on May 12.  He doesn't get out or say much anymore but here he is with a visitor last week - Rachel Robinson, 92, Jackie Robinson's widow and quite a lady (see 42).  Yogi still thinks he tagged Jackie out stealing home in a famous and controversial play during the 1955 World Series between the Yankees and Dodgers.  The photo of Rachel and Yogi below was taken at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey; it's worth a visit if you have the time.

In 2010, THC and LDC had the pleasure of visiting the Yogi Museum to watch a World Series game with Yogi and his family.  A gracious man and a wonderful family.
(Photo from NY Post)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Traveling The World

Sitting at home and like to view pictures of beautiful sights all around the world?  Planning where you'd like to go next?  Take a look at It's A Beautiful World which hosts gorgeous photos, continually updated.  Relaxing to just browse through. Here are some samples:

(Antigua, Guatemala)
(Geological Park, Chongqing, China)
(Above Grindelwald, Switzerland - THC's been here)
(Shaftesbury, England)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Your Worst Nightmare

Ever have one of those dreams where you find yourself in a classroom and all of sudden a test is announced that you haven't studied for?

Now, pretend you are a major league ballplayer, a right fielder, in this case.  It's a tie game in extra innings.  There's a runner on third when a very routine, lazy fly ball is hit your way.  As you go to catch it you stumble and fall down for no apparent reason in front of thousands of people and the winning run scores.  That's what happened last night to Gregory Polanco of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  You can watch the very embarrassing moment here.

Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out

This is Aleksei Arkhipovsky.  Hadn't heard of him until someone posted a video to the timeline of a friend on Facebook (which, as you all should know, was invented by the CIA; if not already aware please read THC's expose The Truth Behind Facebook).  Began listening to him on YouTube.  He's Russian from the Krasnodar region if that should mean anything to you and is considered "the Paganini of the balalaika" - I don't know what that means either, but take a listen.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Everyday I Have The Blues

From BB King; RIP.  In 2:17 you get the classic BB King vocal style with trademark BB guitar licks (it's all about the tone).  THC had the pleasure of seeing him play in the mid-1970s at a concert in Worcester, Massachusetts. [Update: An even better version.]

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Amazing pictures of the recent eruption of Calbuco volcano in Southern Chile.  More can be found here.  Maybe the folks in Pompeii just stood around and watched as well; nothing on YouTube from them, though.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Not A Root Cause: Really

A few hours after yesterday's post, President Barack Obama, in what appears to be a direct response to THC, remarked in at a Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Poverty that increased divisions in society are leading wealthier people to send their children to private schools (like the President whose children attend the elite private Sidwell Friends School while at the same time ending a program under which poor children in the District of Columbia received vouchers to attend private schools) and thus spurring disinvestment in public sector goods like education.
“Kids start going to private schools, kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks, an anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together.”
Let's look at some evidence.  The first two charts from the US Department of Education and the last from the OECD and all via Powerline.

Education expenditures up about 300% in constant dollars over the past 50 years.
Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 4.20.06 PM
Enrollment is up only about 35%.
Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 4.21.07 PM
Per pupil expenditures for selected countries.  U.S. does well comparatively.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 6.27.19 PM

As mentioned yesterday, these same types of charts were used in the healthcare debate to argue that the United States was spending too much.

THC has seen this same argument about more spending made for decades regardless of the evidence.  It's getting a little tiring.

William Voegeli's 2010 book, Never Enough, had as its thesis that there is no limiting principle in today's liberalism.  Its only constant is that whatever is being spent on a social program is Never Enough, a war cry reflecting the bizarre mindset of the Washington political world where increases in spending are denounced as "cuts" and "slashing budgets"; for more see The Fiscal Uncliff.

Isn't it time for some people to become reality-based?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Not A Root Cause

The recent riots in Baltimore resurrected a common notion that the solution to social problems is always to spend more money on any particular issue; in this case, education.  Here's an example from Jon Stewart of The Daily Show on April 28:
"If we are spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan's schools, we can't, you know, put a little taste Baltimore's way".  [See note at end of post on factual accuracy]
THC thinks Mr Stewart is missing the point. Here is the spending on Baltimore schools per pupil compared to one of the best performing school districts in the country, the Fairfax County Schools of northern Virgina, courtesy of Marginal Revolution (via Coyote Blog).  Baltimore spends $17,196 per pupil while Fairfax spends $13,593.
“If we are spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools, we can’t, you know, put a little taste Baltimore’s way. It’s crazy.” - See more at:

“If we are spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools, we can’t, you know, put a little taste Baltimore’s way. It’s crazy.” - See more at:
“If we are spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools, we can’t, you know, put a little taste Baltimore’s way. It’s crazy.” - See more at:
school data2 THC checked the figures for the Amity School District within which he resides and which is one of the highest rated districts in Connecticut and found per pupil spending to be $17,545, about the same as Baltimore's.  The nationwide average cost per pupil is $12,198.

The other item to note is that in Baltimore, 81% of the costs are being paid by the state and federal government, not by local taxpayers, while in Fairfax only 25% of costs come from those sources, so that taxpayers across the country, as well as in Maryland, are already making quite a contribution already to the Baltimore schools.

How much money you spend on something is not often a good measure of the quality of the result you will obtain.  If it were our healthcare system would have the best outcomes in the world.  Yet many of the same people who decry the cost of healthcare because it does not give us the results they would like and thus are proposing ways to spend less, insist that continuing to spend more on education will give us the results we want, even though American spending on education has grown steadily for four decades with stagnating performance.  Spending is a very poor metric when it comes to addressing the kind of issues Baltimore faces.

[NOTE] And by the way, Stewart's assertion is factually incorrect as the Washington Post noted.  On an annual basis the Federal government spends more on Baltimore schools than it did in any year on schools in the entire country of Afghanistan!

“If we are spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools, we can’t, you know, put a little taste Baltimore’s way. It’s crazy.”
–Jon Stewart, “The Daily Show,” April 28, 2015
- See more at:

“If we are spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools, we can’t, you know, put a little taste Baltimore’s way. It’s crazy.”
–Jon Stewart, “The Daily Show,” April 28, 2015
- See more at:

Monday, May 11, 2015

Things Do Get Better: Air Pollution Edition

Comparison of Growth Areas and Emissions, showing that between 1980 and 2013, gross domestic product increased 145 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 95 percent, energy consumption increased 25 percent, and U.S. population grew by 39 percent. During the same time period, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants dropped by 62 percent. The graph also shows that between 1980 and 2012, CO2 emissions increased by 14 percent.(Source: US Environmental Protection Agency)

THC always scratches his head when someone complains about how bad pollution is and how it's getting worse.  The chart above from USEPA shows what's happened in air pollution in America since the Clean Air Act and Amendments were enacted in the 1970s.

Bottom line is emissions decreased by 62% even as population grew, the economy got bigger and we used more energy.

The decrease in emissions meant huge improvements in air quality.  From EPA these are the improvements in air quality from 1980 through 2013 for the six air pollutants targeted by the Clean Air Act:

Carbon Monoxide      84%
Ozone                        33%
Lead                          92%
Nitrogen Dioxide       58%
Particulates               34%
Sulfur Dioxide           81%

The reductions have occurred on a continuing basis; from 2000 to 2013:

Carbon Monoxide     59%
Ozone                       18%
Lead                          60%
Nitrogen Dioxide       40%
Particulates               30%
Sulfur Dioxide           62% 

In addition, emissions of Volatile Organic Chemicals (think solvents) were reduced by 54% and emissions of Air Toxics declined by 62% in just 18 years from 1990 to 2008. 

Something to remember the next time you see an article claiming that some type of illness is on the increase because of air pollution.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Unintelligible R.E.M.

R.E.M. hailed from the same place as the B-52s, Athens, Georgia.  The band had two distinct styles; songs on which you could not understand Michael Stipe's lyrics and those on which you could (Losing My Religion and Everybody Hurts are good examples of the latter).  THC much preferred the former style.  R.E.M. were at their best when they featured jangling guitars, good melodies and Stipe's mumbling vocals buried into the mix.

Burying the vocals in the mix dominated the early R.E.M. records in the 1980s.  It didn't mean that the listener couldn't make out any words in the murk.  Indeed, words and even phrases could be interpreted but there were always passages when you simply could not make out what they were saying.  And, back then, there was no internet to quickly search out lyrics.  It also ensured that you often had no idea what the song was about, which in some cases may have been for the better.

This is Hyena from Life's Rich Pageant (1986).  Have fun with the lyrics.

And from the same album, These Days.

One of their earliest tunes, Pretty Persuasion from Reckoning (1984).

My personal favorite, Driver 8 from Fables Of The Reconstruction (1985) which does have a partially intelligible lyric:
The walls are built up, stone by stone,
The fields divided one by one

I saw a treehouse on the outskirts of the farm
The power lines have floaters so the airplanes won't get snagged

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Real Maximus (Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus from staticflicker)

The 2000 film Gladiator starred Russell Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius, Roman general and confidant of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (see At Vindobona), who is betrayed by Aurelius' son and successor, Commodus, his family murdered, and he sold into slavery before returning to Rome as a gladiator.

THC is a fan of the movie and believes it would not have been nearly as good with anyone other than Crowe in the role of Maximus.  He gives the appearance of seriously studying Stoicism in preparation for the role, seeming to exist as someone of that 2nd century AD era, giving the movie a grounding in reality (or at least the appearance of reality).  Along with LA Confidential and Master And Commander it is one of THC's favorite Crowe roles.

The gravitas Crowe embodies as Maximus is important since, in many respects, the plot of the film, while well executed and entertaining, is pure historical fantasy.

Marcus Aurelius (d. 180 AD) is considered the last of five "good emperors", the others being Antoninus Pius (d. 161), Hadrian (d. 138), Trajan (d. 117) and Nerva (d. 98 after a reign of only two years).  It is of this period that Edward Gibbon wrote of (with a bit of hyperbole) in his History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire (1776):
If a man were called upon to fix that period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the deaths of Domitian [96] to the accession of Commodus [180]. 
In the film Aurelius is shown offering to appoint Maximus as his successor; a reluctant Maximus only agreeing to think it over at the Emperor's prodding.  Meanwhile, Commodus, Aurelius' 18-year old son, gets wind of the offer and kills his father, ascending to the throne, and persecuting Maximus and his family.

Maximus is also portrayed as a former lover of Commodus' sister, Lucilla, and upon returning to Rome as a slave and gladiator he forms an alliance with her and members of the Roman Senate, slaying Commodus in gladiatorial combat in the Coliseum, returning Rome to the rule of the Senate and its former glory before dying. Aurelius from

In reality Marcus Aurelius clearly designated Commodus as his heir, breaking with the tradition of the other "good" emperors, who had no sons and whose heirs were all adopted men of mature age and experience varying from the early 40s to mid-50s.  Aurelius, believing that his young son having been tutored by the best classical scholars, would be a ruler worthy of his father (who was one serious minded dude, if you are in doubt read Meditations); and having no clear alternative acceptable to both the army and Roman elites made the decision with terrible results.

Unlike the movie which portrays the rule of Commodus as being relatively brief, the real Commodus reigned for twelve years.  And rather than finally bringing his father's wars across the Danube to a successful conclusion with the addition of the new provinces Aurelius planned to add north of the river, he withdrew the Roman legions after negotiating treaties with the Germanic tribes, allowing him to return to Rome and enjoy the pleasures of the city which were more attractive to him than the business of ruling.  While his rule was not off to a sparkling start it rapidly deteriorated after 182 in the wake of a failed assassination attempt.  Like many of the younger Roman emperors (Caligula, Nero and Caracalla) he descended into paranoia and irrational behavior, arbitrarily executing those he perceived as threats.

Near the end he arrived at megalomania, annointing himself the new Romulus, and ritually refounding and renaming Rome as Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana.  Along the way he renamed   the twelve months of the year in honor of the twelve names he had given himself.

Although Commodus did take to fighting in ceremonial gladiatorial combat in the Coliseum (which horrified the elite of Rome), he was not killed in the arena as depicted in the movie.  On December 31, 192 he was strangled in his bath by Narcissus, a sometimes wrestling partner and personal trainer, at the behest of Commodus' mistress and others who had become terrified of him.

Unlike the film, the Senate was not restored upon the death of Commodus.  Instead Rome was plunged into civil war until Septimius Severus seized control and, together with successors from his family, held power until the last of the line was murdered in a military revolt in 235, plunging Rome into a half-century of chaos (see Diocletian Has A Very Good Day).

There is no direct historical match for Maximus but there is a figure who has some of his aspects - Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus, who reportedly turned down three offers of rule during his lifetime, and was married to Commodus' sister Lucilla (yes, the same as in Gladiator, though this Lucilla was 10 to 12 years older than her brother, and one of 14 children of Aurelius and his wife, Faustina the Younger).  Pompeianus was older than the character portrayed by Crowe, about 55 years of age at the accession of Commodus, but like Maximus he was an outsider.  Maximus is a Roman of Spanish descent while Pompeianus hailed from a Syrian family which obtained Roman citizenship under the Emperor Claudius (41-54) and he was the first to become a Roman senator.

Pompeianus served in the Parthian wars in the east during the first part of Aurelius' reign probably as a legionary commander before becoming governor of Pannonia (modern Hungary).  While there the barbarian war began and he assisted Marcus Aurelius in repulsing the initial invasion, becoming a close advisor to the Emperor in the process.

When Aurelius' younger co-emperor Lucius Verus (another echo of Gladiator) died in 169 he left behind a wife, Marcus' daughter Lucilla (they had a son, also named Lucius Verus but while a young son of Lucilla's named Lucius Verus is an important character in Gladiator, the real child Lucius died  before Commodus became emperor).  In a demonstration of his respect for Pompeianus, Aurelius arranged for him to marry Lucilla (who did not want to marry Pompeianus because of his age and lower rank, and though she bore him three children their relationship was otherwise not close) and also reportedly offered to make him co-emperor in place of the deceased Verus, an honor refused by Pompeianus who continued as the emperor's lead general for the rest of the barbarian wars of his reign. from Wikipedia)

When his brother-in-law Commodus became emperor, Pompeianus unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to remain on the Danube in order to achieve final victory.

In another echo of Gladiator among those implicated in the assassination plot of 182 was Commodus'  sister Lucilla who was exiled, and then murdered the following year on orders from her brother.  Pompeianus was not believed to be part of the conspiracy and was not prosecuted, instead choosing to retire from public life.  His estrangement from Lucilla may have saved him as it her from disclosing the conspiracy to him.

Upon the death of Commodus in 192, Pompeianus returned to Rome and was offered the opportunity to become emperor which he again refused.  Pertinax, the next emperor, was murdered after only three months and succeeded by Didius Julianus who bribed the Praetorian Guard to gain their support.   Julianus' rule quickly began to crumble as the armies of his rival Septimius Severus neared Rome and in a desperate move he asked Pompeianus to be his co-emperor.  Once again, Pompeianus smartly refused.  Julianus was murdered after only 66 days, and Severus reigned for the next eighteen years.

Pompeianus died the next year in his late 60s.

The limited nature of our historical sources makes it difficult to assess the accuracy of the accounts of the period or to give us a rounded picture of Pompeianus.  Though he may have been offered the role of co-emperor, he might not have survived for long if he'd agreed.  As an outsider he would have inevitably have been subject to the more than the usual intrigue surrounding most emperors.  It was this failure to create a stable system for succession that led to so much turmoil for much of the empire's history.  Nonetheless, according to the sources we do have, Pompeianus seems to have had a temperament and sense of duty similar to that of the fictional Maximus.

We'll close with Now We Are Free from Gladiator.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


On the horizon
The landscape's burning red . . .

Well everybody love to dance around the heat and fire
Oh lightnin' strike twice
Hey everybody bask in the afterglow . . . 
An intriguing song from the B-52s (1989)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Willie Turns 84!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_970/alg-willie-mays-ps-46-jpg.jpg

Happy birthday Willie Mays!  My favorite baseball player (and my dad's).

Catching Willie Mays in a rundown is like trying to assassinate a squirrel with a lawnmower

- Bill James

Let's sing along on his birthday!
(L to R, Stan Musial (Cards), Mays, Vernon Law (Pirates), Eddie Mathews (Braves), Ken Boyer (Cards) in 1960, probably at the All-Star game)  For more on Stan Musial and his role in welcoming black players into the major leagues see Earl & The Man.

And let's do a peak performance retrospective as we did recently with Eddie Collins.  Willie's peak was a bit shorter - 13 seasons.  After his rookie season in 1951, Mays spent two years doing military service, returning in time for the 1954 season.  From then until the end of the 1966 season was a run of sustained brilliance with a higher peak than Collins.  Here's what it looks like:

1954 - 1966 (figures in parens are number of seasons)

WAR Position Players:  Top 4 for all 13 seasons; 11 seasons #1 or #2

Batting Average:  Top Ten (9)

On-Base %: Top Ten (13); Top 5 (8)

Slugging:  Top Five (13)

Runs:  Top Ten (13), Top Five (11)

Total Bases:  Top Five (13)

Home Runs:  Top Ten (13), Top Five (11)

RBIs: Top Ten (12)

Walks: Top Ten (10)

Stolen Bases: Top Ten (10), Top Five (7)

OPS+: Top Ten (13), Top Five (12)

Putouts: Top Four (13), 10 seasons #1 or #2

Assists: Top Four (12), 7 seasons #1 or #2

Double Plays: Top Four (11), 7 seasons #1 or #2  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Clippers 111, Spurs 109

THC couldn't let Saturday night's magnificent Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs pass without comment even if it is belated.  This was an incredible Round 1 NBA Playoffs matchup and would have made for a great finals.  The first six games were close and hard played but Game 7 took it to a higher level.  We watched from the tip-off to the end and neither team let up for a minute.  There were 31 lead changes, including 12 in the fourth quarter (it seemed more like 4,365).  It was as good an NBA game as we could remember seeing and it was sports at its best.

We like both teams.  Chris Paul and Blake Griffin of the Clippers are amazing to watch but we can never root against the 39-year old Tim Duncan, one of the ten best players in the league's history and a class act.  And at the top of this post you can watch how it ended with Paul, who pulled a hamstring early in the game, scoring over Duncan.   

Monday, May 4, 2015

Fun With Numbers: The U.S. Census

Last December the United States Census Bureau released its estimate of state populations as of July 1, 2014.  The big news was that Florida passed New York as the third most populous state.  As you would expect, this prompted THC to take a dive into census data and he has now resurfaced to submit this report.

New York was dethroned as the most populous state in 1970 when California captured the title.  The Empire State had a long run as #1 after surpassing Virginia in the 1810 census.  As early as 1800 New York contained more than 10% of all Americans and it remained above that mark through the 1880 census, peaking at 14% in 1840.  From 1890 through 1920 the state had between 9 and 10 percent of the U.S. population before again breaching the 10% line in both 1930 and 1940.  New York still had more than 9% of the population through 1970 but as of 2014 the state contains only 6.1% of Americans, a seismic change in demographical terms.

In 2014 the most populated states are California, Texas, Florida and New York but in 1940 New York had almost as many people (13.48 million) as the other three combined (15.22 million) with California ranked #5, Texas #6 and Florida #27. Here is what's happened in the 74 years since then:

                      1940      2014
New York     13.48      19.75
California       6.91      38.80
Texas             6.41      26.96
Florida           1.90      19.89

Taking a broader look at the Northeast, we see similar trends for the New England states; Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.  In 1850 these states constituted 12.2% of the nation's population.  By 1940 this shrunk to 6.2% and today it stands at 4.6%.  There's also been a big demographic shift within New England. THC was surprised to find that until 1890 the population of Maine was larger than that of Connecticut (today CT is almost 3X the size of Maine).  In fact in 1840 the three northern states (Maine, NH and Vermont) had almost as many people as the three southern states (1.078 million v 1.157 million) whereas in 2014 the three northern states have 3.27 million people compared to 11.18 million in the southern states.
(From wikipedia)

We can also trace these demographic changes through the steady movement of the mean center of U.S. population since the first census.  In 1790 it was in Kent County, Maryland on the east side of Chesapeake Bay, not far from Delaware.  Through the 1920 census the center moved continuously due west reaching Owen County in western Indiana.  Since then it's turned southwest, plunging through Illinois, crossing the Mississippi south of St Louis and reaching Kent County in southwestern Missouri.  If you extrapolate the path out a few decades it leads directly to Bentonville, Arkansas, the home of Walmart.  THC is sure this is no coincidence! center of US population from redfishuniversity)

Another way to see the demographic shift is to compare trends in New England with those of the four Southwestern desert states (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah).

In 1940, the six New England states contained 8.23 million people while the four desert states had a total of 1.69 million with all four ranking between the 40th and 48th most populous states.  Today both regions have the same population; New England with 14.69 million, the desert states with 14.60 million.

In 1940, Arizona was #43 with 499,000 people.  Today, Arizona with 6.73 million is the 15th most populous state and will likely move into the #14 position this year, passing Massachusetts.  Nevada was #48 with 110,000 and today is #35 with 2.84 million while New Mexico moved from 41 to 36 and Utah from 40 to 33.

The census also tracks our transition from an agrarian to urban society.  In 1880, Iowa was the 9th most populous state with 1.62 million people or 3.22% of the nation's population.  The state held the #10 position in both the 1890 and 1900 census.  Today Iowa is #30 with 3.11 million or 0.97% of the population.  The THC family has done its part to contribute to this shift as Mrs THC originally hails from Iowa City.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Steady Eddie Collins gasoline alley antiques)

Eddie Collins was born on May 2, 1887 at Millerton, New York adjacent to Connecticut's Litchfield County.  He reached the majors in 1906 for a few games with the Philadelphia Athletics, becoming their regular second baseman in 1908 at the age of 21, a position he retained until traded to the Chicago White Sox after the 1914 season.  He remained with the White Sox through the 1926 season when he returned to the Athletics for his final four years (in the last three appearing in only 48 games).

Collins was one of the greatest second basemen in baseball history.  He had over 3,000 hits, a batting average of .333 and on-base percentage of .424 (still the 12th highest figure ever) along with stealing 741 bases (being #2 in this category as of the time of retirement).  As of the start of the 2015 season he is 10th in career Wins Above Replacement (WAR).  He was also an excellent defensive player and had a reputation as one of the smartest players in the game. hardball times)

Eddie was also a winner.  In the ten years from 1910 through 1919 he played in six World Series, hitting .328.  More importantly, he was one of the White Sox players who did not take money to throw the 1919 series.

But what recently caught THC's eye was Eddie Collins' consistency over this career.  He played at a top level of performance for eighteen seasons (1909-26).  Some of this is an artifact of the times as his career spans the transition between the deadball (1903-19) and liveball eras (1920 on) so he did not suffer the type of statistical decline that you would expect in the early 1920s as he got older.  On the other hand, he still remained among the top performers even on a relative basis.

From 1909-26 (figures in parens are number of seasons):

WAR Position Players:  Top Ten (15), Top Five (10)

Batting Avg: Top Ten (15), Top 5 (10); batted between .344 and .349 in seven seasons.

On-Base %: Top Ten (18), Top Five (13); OBP between .441 and .461 in eight seasons

Adjusted On-Base + Slugging %: Top Ten (13), Top Five (9)

Walks: Top Ten (14), Top Five (11)

Stolen Bases: Top Ten (17), Top Five (13)

Singles:  Top Ten (15), Top Five (11)

Put Outs (2B): Top Five (17), 1st or 2nd (13)

Assists (2B): Top Five (17), 1st or 2nd (7)

Double Plays (2B): Top Five (17), 1st or 2nd (10)