Sunday, January 31, 2016

Boston Accents

Trailer for the upcoming film Boston Accents, starring Seth Meyers and probably directed by Ben Affleck.  It looks like it'll be wicked awesome.  And if you want the literary take on how Bostonians talk read Eddie Coyle's Friend: George V Higgins.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Bridge At Alcantara

Bridge Alcantara.JPG(from wikipeda)

By this time it should be evident that THC enjoys Roman history (of the empire & republic eras) as well as Roman roads, and, for that matter, roads of any type (see The Lincoln Highway and Forgotten Americans: Edmund de Smedt).

The Roman bridge at Alcantara was built between 104 and 106 AD in the reign of the Emperor Trajan, whose family hailed from Spain.  The arch in the middle of the bridge bears the inscription Pontem perpetui mansurum in saecula ("I have built a bridge which will last forever") as well as Trajan's multiple titles.  Although some reconstruction has occurred over the centuries, including one of the arches destroyed in 1809 during the Peninsular War between France and Britain.

616 feet long and 26 feet wide the bridge is located on the border of Spain and Portugal.  No mortar was used in its construction.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mr Knox's Cannon Arrive wikipedia)

They rolled the 59 guns onto the Commons in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the headquarters of General George Washington and his Continental Army.  It was 240 years ago on January 27, 1776.  It was Henry Knox, a 25 year old Boston bookshop owner, member of the Sons of Liberty and participant in the Boston Tea Party of 1773 who had suggested transporting the cannon captured in May 1775 by Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold and the Green Mountain Boys when they seized the British forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point in New York, northeast of Albany. ad for Knox's bookshop, from Wikipedia)

Knox, a self-taught engineer, met George Washington when he'd arrived in Cambridge in July 1775 and the two immediately hit it off.  While some thought Knox's plan to transport heavy cannon on oxen-pulled sledges for 300 miles across rough roads and paths and over the Berkshire Mountains in the middle of winter a harebrained scheme, Washington recognized the importance of having heavy artillery in forcing the British army to evacuate Boston and approved Knox's proposal. hulettsonlakegeorge)
Knox and his men arrived at Ticonderoga on December 5, 1775 and immediately began moving what Henry referred to as "the noble train of artillery".  Six weeks later, after crossing mountains and rivers and battling snowdrifts the cannon reached Cambridge.  Today, you can follow Knox's epic journey through the plaques along the Henry Knox Trail, installed in 1926 on the 150th anniversary.
The cannon did bring an end the British occupation.  In March, Washington ordered the cannon secretly installed on Dorchester Heights within gun range of the harbor and town.  The British commander quickly realized his position was untenable and, on March 17, 1776, evacuated Boston, giving Suffolk County (containing the City of Boston) the excuse in 1938 to declare St Patrick's Day (oops . . . meant to write Evacuation Day), an official holiday.
Henry Knox went on to a distinguished career, becoming a Brigadier General, commanding the Continental Army's artillery and serving alongside Washington until the end of the war.  Knox commanded the troops who entered New York City when the British evacuated it as the last act of the war on November 21, 1783.  Knox served from 1789 to 1795 as the first Secretary of War under the new government established by the Constitution and died in 1806.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

They All Laughed

They all laughed at Christopher Columbus
When he said the world was round
They all laughed when Edison recorded sound

Music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin.  Composed for the 1937 film Shall We Dance starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  This version sung by the mellifluous Ella Fitzgerald.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Ballad Of A Thin Man

. . . in which THC is Mr Jones
You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To all give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations.
You've been with the professors
And they've all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You've been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald's books
You're very well read
It's well known.

But something is happening here
And you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones ?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Things Have Changed

Yes, they have.

From Scott Sumner at The Money Illusion.

In 1986 Ted Kennedy voted to cut the top income tax rate to 28%.  In 1987 the NYT advocated eliminating the minimum wage.  In the 1990s Paul Krugman spoke up for sweatshops.  By 1999 he was ridiculing the idea that Japan should rely on fiscal stimulus, when monetary stimulus was the obvious choice.  In the 1990s lots of liberals favored ideas such as a progressive consumption tax, and health savings accounts. They favored free trade agreements.  I miss the 20th century.

Eight years ago the minimum wage was $5.15/hour, and people were proposing a 40% increase to $7.25/hour.  Cynics said, “if $7.25 is such a good idea, why not $15?”  The minimum wage advocates said that this sort of reductio ad absurdum argument was ridiculous, no one is advocating $15/hour.  Until now.  So I’ll ask the obvious question—if $15/hour is such a good idea, why not make it $30?

Speaking of which, THC has read accounts of the arguments over President Kennedy's proposal for deep cuts in personal tax rates which he claimed would to stimulate the economy and were opposed by many Republicans concerned about budget deficits; the tax cut was passed in 1964 after JFK's death.

Sumner is an economist focused on monetary policy and who is not pleased with either Democrats or the GOP.  He blames the Great Recession (not the housing bubble) on the tight money policies of the Fed.  THC does not understand everything he writes about but finds him useful to check in with on a consistent basis.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Trump Emojis

. . .  and after yesterday's post, in the spirit of bipartisanship, we offer you (once again) the One & Only:


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Getting Ready For The Big Game

Nice to see Peyton Manning taking a little time from his preparation for the upcoming Broncos-Patriots AFC Championship Game this Sunday.  He's always had a great reputation for being willing to help kids. [UPDATE: The original video has been removed from YouTube.  I found another one that has part of the clip which I've posted below.  Let's see how long it lasts.]

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Man Who Sold The World

It's difficult to do a good cover of a David Bowie song.  Here's one done right - The Man Who Sold The World infused with Nirvana's characteristic melancholia from MTV Unplugged.
We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when
Although I wasn't there, he said I was his friend
Which came as some surprise I spoke into his eyes
I thought you died alone, a long long time ago
Oh no, not me
I never lost control
You're face to face
With The Man Who Sold The World
I laughed and shook his hand, and made my way back home
I searched for form and land, for years and years I roamed
I gazed a gazely stare at all the millions here
We must have died alone, a long long time ago
Who knows? not me
We never lost control
You're face to face
With the Man who Sold the World
And don't forget astronaut Chris Hadfield's great take on Space Oddity done from the International Space Station.

And finally, from the opening night of Bruce Springsteen's 2016 tour just a couple of days ago, is Rebel, Rebel.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Letter From A Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter from a Birmingham Jail is worth reading and pondering in its entirety.  Discussing so eloquently race, just and unjust laws, natural law and the responsibility and obligations of society and individuals, it will reward your investment of time and thought.

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants--for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.
I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies--a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle--have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger-lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.
I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Published in:
King, Martin Luther Jr.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Dude, Let's Go Bowling

(photos from Lebowski Fest)

And look who's at the lanes!  It's Saddam, the Big Lebowski and Liam.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty

. . . in which, along with Mr Cobb, appearances are made by Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Willie Mays and Michael Jordan, along with a brief explanation from Walter of The Big Lebowski regarding a key concept.

(Ty Cobb, Peconic public broadcasting)

How do we come to know what we know?

The burgeoning academic field of "memory" and "memory studies" proceeds along two tracks.  The first is exemplified by This Republic Of Suffering (2008) authored by Drew Gilpin Faust, now president of Harvard University, in which she explored how the dead of the American Civil War were remembered by the survivors and the next generation.  It examines how and why we choose to remember and shape those memories.

There is a second, trendier and more radical, track that rather than studying the process of memory, seeks to construct new memories.  Wilfred M McClay, a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma disapprovingly quotes the views of historian John Gillis (professor emeritus, Rutgers), to the effect that memory has "no existence beyond our politics, our social relations and our histories", adding "We have no alternative but to construct new memories as well as new identities better suited to the complexities of a post-national era".  In other words it is the duty of the historian not just to study memory but to construct new memories of the past so as to encourage others to want a future world in accordance with the historian's desire.

In The Killing Of History: How Literary Critics And Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past (2000), the Australian historian Keith Windschuttle, critiques what he sees as a very disturbing trend in the Western academic approach to history:
. . . the newly dominant theorists within the humanities and social sciences assert that it is impossible to tell the truth about the past or to use history to produce knowledge in any objective sense at all.  They claim we can only see the past through the perspective of our own culture and, hence, what we see in history are our own interests and concerns reflected back at us.  The central point upon which history was founded no longer holds: there is no fundamental distinction any more between history and myth.
In one sense, the intellectual havoc wreaked on the study of history by the disciples of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and the nihilist approach of semiotics inspired deconstruction would seem to differ from either of the tracks of memory studies described before, but as Windschuttle notes, when combined with the rise of cultural studies the result is what Professor Gillis advocates; the erasure of the past and the construction of new memories consistent with current prevailing academic social theory.
Derrida main.jpgFoucault5.jpg(Derrida (L), third baseman, Amarillo, Texas League; Foucault (R), shortstop, Hamburg, Hanseatic League)  

This is also a topic touched on in this blog's Misremembering History series.

. . . and sometimes it's simpler

As a dedicated fan of baseball and its history, THC has always known that Tyrus Raymond Cobb, who played from 1905 to 1928, and is still considered one of the five or ten greatest players in baseball history, was possibly a psychopath or at least a sociopath, hated by all his fellow ballplayers, uncontrollably violent (killing at least one man and perhaps as many as three) as well as a virulent racist.  In a 2012 post (Take Me Out of the Ballgame), THC wrote of Cobb that he was "a generally unpleasant and violent guy . . he was also a virulent racist (even for a period when racism was not uncommon)".

How did THC come to that conclusion?  Well, for one thing, it was in the air.  It's the kind of thing that knowledgeable baseball fans say to each other when the subject of Cobb arises.  It comes up casually in books on other ballplayers and events; here's Timothy Gay in his biography, Tris Speaker: The Rough And Tumble Life Of A Baseball Legend (2006) which THC just completed reading:
"Cobb . . . was a scary sociopath.  The mere sight of black people so filled him with rage that, on several occasions, he brutally pistol-whipped African American men whose only offense was to share a sidewalk with him."
Cobb was not always considered an insanely violent figure from a Gothic horrow show, though he'd always had a reputation as a tough, fearsome ballplayer, known for getting into fights.  The turning point was sportswriter Al Stump.  In 1960, Stump was asked by Cobb to work with him on an autobiography published soon after Ty's death on July 17, 1961, My Life In Baseball: The True RecordMy Life presented Cobb as he wished to be remembered but in the December 1961 edition of True Magazine, Al Stump began publishing a very different account of the recently deceased ballplayer entitled Ty Cobb's Wild 10-Month Fight To Live:
The article, published in three installments, depicted Cobb as feisty and ill-tempered as ever, downing painkillers and scotch, and living in his Atherton, California, mansion without electricity because of a minor billing dispute with Pacific Gas and Electric Company. “When I wouldn’t pay,” Stump quoted Cobb as saying, “they cut off my utilities. Okay—I’ll see them in court.” Carrying more than a million dollars in stock certificates and bonds in a paper bag (he’d gotten rich investing in Coca-Cola and General Motors stock), as well as a loaded Luger, Cobb checked into hospitals and berated doctors and staff for treatment, only to demand that Stump smuggle in liquor for him or sneak him out on late-night visits to bars and casinos. Stump said he complied with Cobb’s wishes because he feared for his own life. (, August 30, 2011)
Stump also claimed Cobb told him: “In 1912—and you can write this down—I killed a man in Detroit.

The True magazine article won the Associated Press award for the best sports story of 1962.  Biographies in the intervening years, while not as outrageous in style as Stump's True article, reinforced the image it created - the best known being Ty Cobb, by Charles Alexander, published in the 1980s, which emphasized Cobb's racism.

Three decades later, Stump, who always claimed My Life In Baseball was a "cover-up", went back to the well again to write a full biography of Cobb which contained even more lurid tales, Cobb: The Life And Times Of The Meanest Man Who Ever Played Baseball (1994), a book in which a later biographer describes Stump as portraying Cobb as a "monster in superstar's clothing".  It was this book that became the basis for the 1994 movie, Cobb, starring Tommy Lee Jones and directed by Ron Shelton (who also wrote and directed the best baseball movie ever made, Bull Durham).  The movie depicts Cobb as a vicious, racist, violent, crude, out of control and a generally horrible person who commits a murder and, as a 74 year old suffering from cancer, attempts to rape a Reno cocktail waitress.  It certainly influenced THC; he left the theater thinking it was probably a bit exaggerated but seemed to capture the essence of the man.

By the time Charles Leerhsen began researching his terrific 2015 biography, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, which THC highly recommends, the Cobb as monster image was embedded in our consciousness.  Leerhsen recounts that when he spoke with Ron Shelton about his film, Shelton confidently assured him that "It is well known that Ty Cobb may have killed as many as three people".

Possibly contributing to all this was that Cobb was a southerner from Georgia (a rarity in baseball in those days, dominated by players from the northeast and midwest), raised during the peak of Jim Crow and lynchings, known to have quite a temper and so those tales we all heard fit into our preconceptions of what someone from that milieu must have been like.

Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty is proudly revisionist and achieves its goal in forcing the reader to rethink their views of Cobb.  Along with being a straight forward biography it is also a personal assault on the credibility of Al Stump, with the author scathingly commenting "The only things coauthor Al Stump explored deeply were Cobb's reserves of Scotch and bourbon".  The book is well researched, using original sources and to the extent THC has been able to double check citations and based on his review of other baseball historian's reactions, it appears accurate.

Cobb was fiercely competitive, reacted quickly to any perceived insult, intimidated fellow ballplayers, fought often and was disliked by many, but did not kill anyone, was not an attempted rapist, didn't wave a gun at hospital staff during his final illness, didn't pistol whip African-American men and had no antipathy towards African-Americans beyond the nonetheless appalling normal amount of racism of white Americans in that era. He was equal opportunity when it came to violence.  While in THC's view, Leerhsen occasionally goes too far in trying to rehabilitate Cobb - there are some specific instances in the book where he tries too hard to absolve or explain away Ty's behavior - THC is willing to grant the premises in the first sentence of this paragraph though after a while the reader gets it - Stump made a lot of stuff up - so he could have eased up on the Stump-bashing once he established that point.  But there was also a core of violence in him, and many who encountered him, including fellow ballplayers, feared Ty Cobb.  And yes, maybe he was a little crazy though he clearly does not meet the definition of a psychopath or sociopath.

In this interview and video Leershen summarizes his conclusions.

So, if Cobb was not a monster, who was he?

While reading the book, two athletes kept coming to mind: Willie Mays and Michael Jordan.

One of the best aspects of the book is it rekindled THC's interest in Ty Cobb, the ballplayer who at the time of his retirement, had more hits, doubles and stolen bases than anyone, who still holds the record for highest career batting average (.366) and in the first election to the Hall of Fame in 1936 received more votes than Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson.  Leerhsen brings his accomplishments and, more importantly, his style of play to life.   It must have been thrilling to see the man in his prime and as exciting as it is to read about it, one is left wishing we had more than the few surviving fragments of film of Cobb in action.  In particular, his daring and disruptive base running reminds THC of reading (and watching the limited video) about the base running exploits of Willie Mays, who decades later was greatly admired by Cobb.  The book is full of vivid and exciting descriptions of Cobb's disruptive style of play and is worth reading just for these.  Here's one example from the 1911 season:
"Cobb singled, went all the way to third on Crawford's routine infield groundout, 'easily beating Pat Newman's hurried and inaccurate throw', then trotted home on Jim Delahanty's sacrifice fly.  Two innings later, he turned a badly handled infield roller into a double, went to third on a fielder's choice, and scored the tying run on a Delahanty single . . .  The following week . . . Cobb had three steals, including a swipe of home that succeeded despite the four Clevelanders who had him trapped in a rundown - until he spun away and slide across the plate . . . ".
Leerhsen recovers for us the many statements of admiration for Cobb from his fellow ballplayers.  Few considered him a friend but they did respect him.  As George Sisler remarked "The greatness of Ty Cobb was something that had to be seen and to see him was to remember him forever", Explaining why Cobb had fans in every rival city, famed sportswriter Heyward Broun wrote: "because he gave them more for their hard-earned ticket than any man alive or dead".

To understand Cobb as a student of the game, listen to his insights when interviewed in 1930 by Grantland Rice, the most famous sportswriter in America in those days:

THC thinks Leerhsen correct in his observation regarding Ty's approach to the game that "the role he assigned himself as an offensive player - to be the cause of worry in the opposition.  He did this not by running wild on the base paths but by seeming to run wild. "  Ty believed it was useful to be wild, unpredictable and a bit crazy out there.  The trouble was two-fold; it led players and other watching to think he really was that way and, in fact, he really was that way even though he didn't think of himself that way.

The resemblance to Michael Jordan is in his obsessive competitiveness.  Jordan thrived on the rage he built upon encountering any slight, real or imagined, as did Cobb.  Both were hypersensitive to criticism, even if not meant as criticism.  In his lunatic and brilliantly entertaining epic, The Book Of Basketball, Bill Simmons describes Jordan as having a "competitive disorder" and being "pathologically competitive".  Simmons compares the men he considers the two greatest players in NBA history, Bill Russell (#2) and Jordan (#1) this way:
Russell embraced his biggest foe [Wilt Chamberlain], befriended him and allowed him to shine in meaningless moments, even as he was secretly ripping out the guy's heart without him realizing it. Jordan settled for tearing out hearts and holding them up like the dude from [Indiana Jones and the] Temple of Doom.  He wanted his rivals to know it was happening.  That's what he loved most - not the winning as much as the vanquishing.  Russell just loved winning.
When Leerhsen writes of A's manager Connie Mack warning his players "Don't get Cobb mad" it brings to mind Simmons comment on Jordan:
Jordan's opponents learned to leave him alone by the mid-nineties, leading to a phenomenon unlike anything else we've witnessed before of since: Michael became basketball's version of a sleeping tiger.  In a league full of smack-talkers, chest thumpers and yappers, incredibly, he remained completely off-limits. 
Simmons tells of an exhibition game when a rookie started talking smack to Jordan and his coach pulled him aside with the admonishment, "Never talk to him.  You hear me?  That's the one guy you don't talk smack to!"

Cobb had notoriously shaky relations with his teammates though by 1912 Leershen tells us "They had come to realize that for their own mental health, they just had to accept that he'd always be drawing lines in the sand, overreacting and generally making things more complicated".

Jordan was the same way, brutally demanding and grating on his own teammates (you can read more about that in The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith).  And, like Cobb, Jordan could sound unhinged at times, ranting about the dark forces arrayed against him; even in his induction speech at the Basketball Hall of Fame he couldn't let it go Simmons called it"an off-the-cuff, uncomfortable, petty, biting, rambling, vindictive, score-settling speech during what's meant to be nothing more than a celebration".  On second thought, even Cobb wouldn't have gone as far as Jordan in his HOF speech.
Ty Cobb Terrile Beauty - Conlon photo of Cobb stealing third base(Charles Conlon's famous photo of Cobb stealing third base in 1909)

The reader is left with the impression that Cobb found playing in the majors to be a grind. Ty was very smart, observant and a constant student of the game, always looking for a little edge.  "I believe in putting up a mental hazard for the other fellow", he said, " Every play was a problem of some sort".  He didn't engage in the partying and drinking common among ballplayers of that era (though he was a gamber), concentrating on thinking about the game and planning his next gambit.  Fielder Jones, manager of the St Louis Browns, remarked of Cobb, "Every time we have a [team] meeting I hold him up as an example of what quick thinking and intelligence will do for a man."

"He fought for every point and fought his fellows if they did not battle as hard for victory as he had", wrote sportswriter Hugh Fullerton, "I sat behind Cobb on the clubhouse porch . . . watching him instead of the game.  He moved before each pitch, and leaped in one or another direction each time a ball was thrown, never still for an instant and always tensely observant of every move on the field."

The basics of Cobb's personality were in place before he joined the Detroit Tigers in 1905.  Leerhsen's research on Cobb's family and upbringing brings us a new perspective on that personality.

Cobb's father, William Herschel (WH) Cobb was descended from hill country Cobbs in North Carolina.  WH's grandfather, William Alfred Cobb "was a Methodist minister who tested the patience of his parishioners by preaching to Indians and white alike, then pushed the congregation around the bend by preaching against slavery" which led to being run out of the county in 1848.  Ty's grandfather, John Franklin Cobb, was an antislavery Republican.

Unusually for those times, Cobb's father was a college graduate, first in his class, and went on to enter politics.  His attitudes about race were unusual for that time and place.  In 1901 at a meeting of the Georgia Agricultural Society he explained, "History teaches that three systems of controlling people have been tried: slavery, serfdom and education and that the first two have been dismal failures."

Elected to the State Senate, WH Cobb opposed a bill that would have forbid tax revenue generated by whites from being used to pay for Negro education stating, according to Leerhsen, "the negro had contributed to the upbuilding of the state, and that he had an interest in our government.  . . He said that we ought to be generous with the negro and help him to become a useful and helpful member of society".  The proposal was narrowly defeated.

WH Cobb later became editor of his hometown paper, the Royston Record, owned by a self-described abolitionist and printed on the owner's brother's press, a man who boasted of having been "the only man in Georgia who voted for Abraham Lincoln."

Obsessed with baseball, at an early age Ty displayed the temperment problem which was to plague him for his entire life.  In 1901, his father, whom Ty idolized, wrote his 15-year old son advising him to "Conquer your anger and wild passions that would degrade your dignity and belittle your manhood."

And then, while playing in the minor leagues and only three weeks before being elevated to the majors by the Detroit Tigers, Ty's mother shot and killed his beloved father on the night of August 8, 1905.  What precisely happened that night remains murky more than a century later.  What is known is that WH Cobb had told his much younger wife that he was leaving to visit an outlying farm and would not be returning home that night, but he came back that evening and was outside the family home when his wife shot him from inside.  Unlike the portrayal in the Stump book and the movie Cobb, his father was killed by a pistol shot, not a shotgun, and was on the ground, not second floor balcony.

Rumors were rampant that Amanda Cobb had been having an affair and WH's announced overnight visit to the farm was just a ruse to obtain evidence of her infidelity.  His family demanded justice and Amanda was indicted for voluntary manslaughter with her husband's family telling people they would present evidence of her cheating at trial.  However, when the trial occurred in March 1906 (with Ty in attendance), no such evidence was presented and in a single day it was over and Amanda acquitted.  Ty never spoke publicly of the matter during the rest of his life.

It was with this additional burden that 18-year old, sensitive and quick to take offence Ty Cobb entered the major leagues.  The game he entered was a much more violent one than we are accustomed to today.  One observer counted 355 assaults on umpires by players and fans in the course of the 1909 season and brawls between rival teams and even teammates were frequent occurrences.

The major league life was wild and woolly on a daily basis.  As Bill Veeck noted years later:
"Wake up the echoes at the Hall of Fame and you will find that baseball's immortals were a rowdy and raucous group of men who would climb down off their plaques and go rampaging through Cooperstown, taking spoils, like the Third Army bustling through Germany".
One of the normal components of that life was hazing by veterans of rookie players.  This could often be brutal, but in Leerhsen's account, "What seems certain is that Cobb's hazing was harsher and went on for far longer than the typical rookie's".   In 1906 it got so bad manager Bill Armour took the unusual step of intervening to stop the harassment of the Tigers young star.

Ty's background and personality contributed to triggering the intense hazing.  He was a southerner in an ethnic northern game, in an era where regional differences were more pronounced than today.  He was relatively well-educated and well-read compared to most ballplayers - on his first visit to Washington with the Tigers, Ty visited the Library of Congress (and he was an astute investor and businessman, becoming the first millionaire ballplayer by the time he retired).  He was just different in his attitudes. Sportwriter EA Batchelor observed "that Ty came from a higher social plane than had spawned the bullies made them all the more determined to drive him off the squad".  And further feeding his antagonists was that it quickly became clear to them that their needling, pranks and insults really got to Cobb.  Leershen writes, "He never rolled with life's punches, rather, he led with his chin . . .  Sticks and stones broke his bones and names would always harm him".  In the view of his teammate, future fellow Hall of Famer and long-time rival, Sam Crawford "He came up with an antagonistic attitude, which in his mind turned any little razzing into a life-or-death struggle".

It all led to Ty's still mysterious absence from the club for six weeks late in the season for which, in Leerhsen and others, the likely explanation was an emotional collapse leading to hospitalization.  Whatever happened, Ty's innate character combined with his terrible first full year in the major leagues made for combustible mixture.  As Grantland Rice, a friend and admirer, wrote years later:
When I first met Cobb I found him to be an extremely peculiar soul, brooding and bubbling with violence, combative all the way, a streak, incidentally, he never lost.    
Throughout his career, though much less after he retired, he reacted quickly to any perceived insult.  In commenting on his penchant for fighting Leerhsen writes:
. . . he provided such a dizzying array of examples to choose from - fights with complete strangers, fights with teammates, fights with rival players, fights with hotel employees shopkeepers, and rowdy cranks [fans] . . .
The author goes on to provide an account of his behavior over a short period during the 1916 season; fighting with Buck Herzog of the Giants both on and off the field; an incident in Comiskey Park when, angered by a called third strike, he threw his bat into the stands; flinging a handful of dirt into the face of a Senators pitcher; and being pulled out of stands in St Louis by teammates and police before he could pummel a heckler.

There are also the stories of Cobb sharpening his spikes and deliberately spiking other players.  For the most part, Leerhsen debunks that successfully but he also makes it clear that as an opposing player you had best not get in what Ty thought was a space he had a right to and quotes a number of players to the effect that Cobb did not deliberately injure other players.  As Burt Shotton put it:
"Cobb was the roughest, toughest player I ever saw, a terror on the base paths.  He was not dirty, though.  I never saw him spike a player deliberately.  But if you ever got in the way of his flying spikes, brother, you were a dead turkey." sportscollectordaily)

A story told by Ossie Bluege best captures Cobb's personality on the field. Early in his career, Ossie, third baseman with the Washington Senators from 1922 to 1939, encountered Cobb, then in his late 30s when Ty made a base running error and was caught dead between 2nd and 3rd. Bluege came over to tag him when:
". . . he just threw himself at me with spikes in the air.  He didn't slide.  He just took off and came at me in midair, spikes first, about four or five feet off the ground, so help me just like a rocket.  He hit me in the upper part of the arm, and cut my shirt sleeve".  Bluege hung on to ball.  Next day, Cobb comes up to him during batting practice "sweet as apple pie".
"Son", he said "I hope I didn't hurt you"
"I'm alright", I said
"Good", he said.  Then the look in his eyes changed just a little, his face got mean, and he said, "But remember - never come up the line on me."
It was being potentially humiliated in front of everyone as a result of his baserunning mistake that led to the spiking.  Cobb simply could not abide the embarrassment.

A former A's pitcher, Rube Bressler, interviewed in The Glory Of Their Times, best summarized Cobb's approach to the game:
"'I never saw anybody like him.  It was his base.  It was his game.  Everything was his.  The most feared man in the history of baseball.'"
As to race, Leerhsen does not uncover anything unusually virulent about Cobb's attitude.  It is also probably safe to assume that while Leerhsen cannot find any statements by Cobb on race during his playing days, he likely had the same attitudes of most whites that blacks were inferior.  He did have fights with blacks, but then he fought with everybody.  Moreover, the author debunks the motivating factors in several of these instances and, regarding two of the most brutal cases, discovered that Cobb's opponent were white and not black as had always been reported. As an aside, the book reports the typically awful and bigoted way blacks were reported on in the white media of the time. 

Whatever his attitudes about race when he was younger, by 1952 he was telling a reporter:
 "I see no reason in the world why we shouldn't compete with colored athletes as long as they conduct themselves with politeness and gentility.  Let me say also that no white man has the right to be less of a gentleman than a colored man.  In my book, that goes not just for baseball but for all walks of life".  
He praised Roy Campanella as a "great catcher" and after Campanella was paralyzed in a auto accident and the Dodgers played a benefit game for him, Cobb wrote Dodger owner Walter O'Malley thanking him "for what you did for this fine man".  He also called Willie Mays "the only player I'd pay money to see". with Don Newcombe, 1950s)

Aware of his reputation for toughness and how people regarded his behavior, Cobb was forever protesting he was misunderstood but seemed incapable of fundamentally changing that behavior.  "It wouldn't be far off the mark to say that Cobb spent the first half of his life trying to seem unhinged" Leerhsen comments, "and the second half explaining he had been acting deliberately the whole time".

He was consistent to the end.  Leerhsen interviews someone who was a medical student at the time of Cobb's last hospitalization at Emory Hospital in Atlanta and with him daily for those last two months.  He confirms that Cobb did not keep a gun in his room nor cash and securities on his night stand, contrary to Al Stump's assertions but goes on to add, "He was a real redhead with a hair-trigger temper" who couldn't tolerate incompetence or "the lack of that drive for excellence that was so much a part of the Cobb philosophy.  He was an unusual man with a keen mind and yet he could never put up with people who didn't, like him, strive to excel."'

While Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, effectively debunks the worst of the Cobb stories and recreates the vitality and excitement he brought to baseball, he remains someone you might not want to invite to your dinner party and there is an underlying sadness to the tale.  "He was a man who needed a tremendous amount of love", one of his grandchildren told Leerhsen ,"but who nevertheless pushed everyone away".

One of the big things that the movie Cobb got wrong about the man is the Tommy Lee Jones portrayal of him as someone who was arrogant and wanted crowds and opponents to hate him.  In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (2001), James may have come closer to the truth, writing of photographs he'd seen of Cobb with a crazy look on his face:
It is not an angry look; it is, rather, a look of acute embarrassment, a look of inadequacy.  Ty Cobb's racism and his anger, I believe, were fueled not by smugness or even resentment, but by an unusually intense fear of his own limitation.  No one is more macho than a man who feel inadequate; no one walks straighter than a man who is half drunk.  When Ty Cobb felt threatened he lashed out at the world.  He felt threatened a lot - but as long as he wasn't challenged, he was a very nice man.
Well, maybe Bill went a bit far with that last phrase.  Now, go read Leerhsen's book.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Monte Irvin

Monte Irvin, one of the first African-Americans to play major league baseball and the oldest living veteran of the Negro Baseball Leagues passed away on Monday, a month before his 97th birthday.  Monte Irvin was a great ballplayer. Baseball Hall of Fame)

Joining the Newark Eagles in 1938 as a 19-year old, by 1940 Monte was a star in the Negro Leagues.  Like many of those players he was unable to play in the still-segregated major leagues during his prime years.  Things slowly changed after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and two years later the now 30-year old Monte was signed by the New York Giants and assigned to their top-level farm club in Jersey City.  Tearing up the league and hitting .373, Irvin was called up to join Giants at the end of the season hitting .224.

The start of the 1950 season found Monte back in Jersey City where in the opening weeks he hit .510 (yes, you are reading that correctly) prompting his recall to join the big league team.  It took Monte a bit to adjust to the majors.  On August 13 after 210 at bats he was hitting only .243 with an OPS of .754 when he caught fire for the rest of the campaign, hitting .372 with an OPS of 1.103. 

Big things were expected of Monte the following year as these excerpts from THC's 1951 Giants Yearbook demonstrate.

Monte delivered, hitting .312, hitting 24 homers, driving in a league leading 121 runs and with his fiery leadership, playing a key role in the Giants historic comeback from 13 1/2 down in mid-August to tie the Brooklyn Dodgers on the last day of the season, forcing a playoff which they dramatically won.  Irvin finished third in the MVP voting and also comprised 1/3 of the first all black outfield in the major leagues along with Hank Thompson and young rookie Willie Mays.

As you can see, Monte's performance led to a bigger spread in the Giants 1952 Yearbook but he broke his ankle early in the season.

Irvin returned to have another fine year in 1953 but age was beginning to catch up with him and 1956 was his last year in the big leagues.  Monte was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.Willie Mays released this statement upon Monte's death:
I lost someone I cared about and admired very, very much: someone who was like a second father to me.  Monte was a kind of guy that you had to be around to get to know.  But once you became friends, he always had your back.  You had a friend for life.

Monte Irvin was a great left fielder.  Monte Irvin was a great man.  I will miss him. 
(Monte & Willie)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Affordable Housing

Via Marginal Revolution is this letter from a resident of Stockholm to residents of Seattle which is considering a rent control ordinance which asks:
Seattle, you need to ask your citizens this: How would citizens like it if they walked into a rental agency and the agent told them to register and come back in 10 years?
Accompanying the letter is a map provided to rental applicants by the Stockholm City Council's rental housing service.  The numbers next to the names of the residential districts represent waiting times in years to obtain an apartment. There is actually not much surprising in the contents of the letter as the experience it relates is similar to jurisdictions in the United States such as San Francisco and New York City which have combined rent control with restrictive zoning and then seen property costs and non-rent controlled prices skyrocket along with shortages of access to rent-controlled units.  The only thing surprising about it is the surprise the proponents of rent control express over the results.  Of course, like most Progressive initiatives, the failure of regulation to achieve the desired results does not lead it proponents to rethink their basic propositions; instead it is used to justify further government intervention.  Progressivism is not a learning ideology.

Monday, January 11, 2016


David Bowie RIP.

In the 1970s, while living in Berlin, Bowie wrote Heroes, inspired by the sight of a couple embracing in front of the Berlin Wall.   On June 6, 1987, two years before the Wall opened and six days before Ronald Reagan's Tear Down This Wall speech, Bowie sang Heroes in Berlin on a stage that backed up to the Wall.  Here he remembers that concert in a 2003 interview (from Songfacts):
"I'll never forget that. It was one of the most emotional performances I've ever done. I was in tears. They'd backed up the stage to the wall itself so that the wall was acting as our backdrop. We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn't realize in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I'd never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did 'Heroes' it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer. However well we do it these days, it's almost like walking through it compared to that night, because it meant so much more. That's the town where it was written, and that's the particular situation that it was written about. It was just extraordinary.

We did it in Berlin last year as well – 'Heroes' – and there's no other city I can do that song in now that comes close to how it's received. This time, what was so fantastic is that the audience – it was the Max Schmeling Hall, which holds about 10-15,000 – half the audience had been in East Berlin that time way before. So now I was face-to-face with the people I had been singing it to all those years ago. And we were all singing it together. Again, it was powerful. Things like that really give you a sense of what performance can do. They happen so rarely at that kind of magnitude. Most nights I find very enjoyable. These days, I really enjoy performing. But something like that doesn't come along very often, and when it does, you kind of think, 'Well, if I never do anything again, it won't matter.'"

And just released four days ago is a video for the song Lazarus, from his recent album.  Its opening words; "Look up here, I'm in heaven".