Wednesday, March 30, 2016

New York 1911

THC first saw this walking through the National Gallery of Art last year and was taken by the energy and dynamism depicted in the painting by George Bellows (1882-1925), known for his artwork capturing the urban life of New York City.

There is so much going on here.  It's a winter scene.  In the background are the first generation of skyscrapers, with advertisements plastered on some of them and we can see the smoke rising from their heating vents.  There are two streams of traffic, snarled at an intersection at the right.  Moving towards us is a streetcar, while another exits on the left.  It is 1911 so we still see horse drawn transport.  You can feel the vibrancy of a fast-growing city.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Getting Sardonic With Elvis (Vol 3)

For Parts 1 & 2.
So there he was on a water bed
Drinking a cola of a mystery brand
Reading an airport novelette
Listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Requiem"

He said before it had really begun
"I prefer the one about my son
I've been wading through all of this unbelievable junk
And wondering if I should have given the world to the monkeys"
God's Comic   

So you bay for the boy in the tiger skin trunks
They set him up, set him up on the stool
He falls down, he falls down like a drunk
And you drink till you drool
And it's his story you'll flatter
You'll stretch him out like a saint
But the canvas that he splattered
Will be the picture that you never paint
Deep Dark Truthful Mirror

Ever since you left I have been trying to
Compose a "baby, will you please come home?" note, meant for you
As I clear away another untouched TV dinner
From the table I laid for two
My Brave Face (composed with Paul McCartney)

Here lie the records that she scratched
And on the sleeve I find a note attached
And it's so like Candy
"My Darling Dear it's such a waste"
She couldn't say "goodbye, but I admire your taste"
And it's so like Candy
So Like Candy (composed with Paul McCartney)

She was smitten from the first
By a curious fellow
She said "I love the way you talk"
And with her flounce she announces
"I love the way that you pronounce it - marshmallow"

Well he looked like one of those
Who would take off his clothes
Like he would peel a tangerine
No one's been known to decline this
Once he has found out what your sign is
My Mood Swings

Oh, if I could just become forgetful
When night seems endless
Does the extinguished candle care
About the darkness?
This House Is Empty Now (composed with Burt Bacharach)

Maybe I was washed out
Like a lip-print on his shirt 

Since I lost the power to pretend
That there could ever be a happy ending
That song is sung out
This bell is rung out
God Give Me Strength (composed with Burt Bacharach)

And so this had to be
Painted from memory
Funny, now I can see
How looks can be deceiving
Painted From Memory (composed with Burt Bacharach)

And it's the same every year
Seems that I remember it as something more
But you know how children can grow, so strange
I still adore you

What if we never learn from our mistakes?
But then, you'll never know how my heart aches 
Tears At the Birthday Party (composed with Burt Bacharach)

And you're such a people person
Alibi, alibi
And I will be true to you forever
Alibi, alibi
But you're stupid and you're lazy
Alibi, alibi
Maybe we can make the future better
Alibi, alibi

You don't fit the body that you're trapped in
Alibi, alibi
Papa's got a brand new
Alibi, alibi

But if I've done something wrong there's no "ifs and buts"
'Cos I love you just as much as I hate your guts

Bells are chiming for victory
There's a page back in history
They came back to the world that they fought for
Didn't turn out just like they thought

Nine years later a child is born
There's a record, so you put it on
Nine years more, if we're lucky now
Nine-year-old puts his money down
Every scratch, every click, every heartbeat
Every breath that I held for you
There's a stack of shellac and vinyl
Which is yours now and which is mine?

Bass and treble heal every hurt
There's a rebel in a nylon shirt
But the words are a mystery, I've heard
'Til you turn it down to 33 and a 1/3

If only dust could gather into lines of chalk
Around a silhouette detective fiction walks
For it's the only witness that can testify
Can I spit out the truth?
Or would you rather just swallow a lie?

One wine-bar vamp with the polythene face
Ein Panzer Kommander with no hair in place
The crooked battalions drilled holes in the square
15 Petals

"Abel was able," so Vivian said
Her shoulders flung forward
Her lips in a purse
She talks like the beauty that she never was
Of the fabulous wild nights that she never has

In a certain light he looked like Elvis
In a certain way he feels like Jesus
Everyone dreams of him just as they can
But he's only the humble Delivery Man

Geraldine blushes and brushes away
The cigarette ashes that Vivian scatters
Stares out of the window at the things that she says
While gossip within her competes the widow

Ever since he's gone, she feels like crying all the time
She knows for sure, Vivian is lying
Now she has a daughter to raise as she can
And she just wouldn't trust that Delivery Man

Ivy puts down the ghost story she's reading
Looks up at that face on the wall
Thinking about how her father lay bleeding
Shot in the back 'cos orders were misleading
And how a flag and a medal don't have any meaning

On the 5th of July as they tore down the fair
And he'd seen all the local girls who were worth kissing
With the smell of the gunpowder still in air
They noticed that Abel and Ivy were missing

In a certain light he looked like Elvis
In a certain way he seemed like Jesus
He said "Why can't you be kind to me like you were meant to be?
When they let me out, I had a brand new identity
Now everyone dreams of me just as they can
I want to be your Delivery Man"

In a certain light he looked like Elvis
In a certain way he seemed like Jesus
In a certain light he looked like Elvis
In a certain way he felt like Jesus
The Delivery Man 

Is this is not a pretty tale?
Is this not a riddle?
A bow shoots arrows through the air
A bow drags notes from a fiddle
But who is the beau of young girl's heart?
How Deep Is The Red?

Now if you catch my eye and you find that it runs down your leg
It's like striking a match pretty hard upon a powder keg
They tell you from the borders to the waters of the gulf
If you take all the sugar you will end up in the sulphur

The women in Poughkeepsie
Take their clothes off when they're tipsy
But in Albany, New York
They love the filthy way I talk
Until they gargle with the finest champagne
They can't get the grape and the grain
It's not very far from Sulphur to Sugarcane

Up in Syracuse
I was falsely accused
But I'm not here to hurt you
I'm here to steal your virtue
Down in Bridgeport
The women will kill you for sport
But in Worcester, Massachusetts
They love my sauce

The women in Poughkeepsie
Take their clothes off when they're tipsy
But I hear in Ypsilanti
They don't wear any panties
Once they gargle with the finest champagne
They hitch up their skirts and exclaim
It's not very far, sugar
It's not very far, sugar
Pour a little sugar on me, sugar
It's not very far from Sulphur to Sugarcane
Sulphur To Sugarcane


Friday, March 25, 2016

The Nutmeg State Dials For Dollars

As Connecticut descends further into the morass of debt (a tale told before by this blog), even after the past five years have seen the two largest tax increases in state history, our legislators are seeking even more inventive ways to squeeze cash from the ever diminishing pots of money left.  And it is diminishing.  Just recently, two of Connecticut's 15 billionaires left the state for the more tax-friendly environs of Florida and two more are considering making the move. These exits will have a materially significant impact on the state's finances.

Today's Wall St Journal reports that the Democratic president of the state Senate has proposed taxing the investment profits of Yale University's $25.6 billion endowment, the second largest in the country after Harvard (some have referred to Yale and Harvard as hedge funds that operate educational institutions as tax shelters).  Senator Martin M Looney stated:
"It is our hope that these rich schools can use their wealth to create job opportunities, rather than simply enrich themselves."
And, of course, what better way is there to create job opportunities that to give state government more money?

It's actually a pretty smart move by the money-hungry legislators.  Most corporations can more easily move their headquarters out of state, as General Electric is in the process of doing, but Yale is pretty much stuck in New Haven.  In the case of Yale, not only is its endowment not taxed, but the impoverished city of New Haven cannot levy property taxes on the university.

The Journal quotes a senior Yale official responding that the proposal is "plainly unconstitutional" and the university "would defend its constitutional right of non-taxation".  He also tried to defend the university by pointing out its pittance of an annual payment to New Haven of only $8.2 million from an institution that owns the bulk of the valuable property in the city.

But isn't this a moral, as well as legal question?  What about the children? And shouldn't Yale, a university at which many of its faculty have taken the lead in fighting income inequality do something affirmative to help the state?  After all, Yale is just one of 1,141 universities and colleges in the United States, yet its endowment is almost 7% of the total endowment of all of those institutions of higher learning and more than 70 times the average endowment.  Surely, they can spare a little?

Shouldn't Yale's administration listen to Yale's Institute for Social and Policy Studies which has campaigned so feverishly on the issue?

Shouldn't the administration listen to Thomas Pogge of Yale's Global Justice Program, who has said that inequality "undermines the social fabric"?

And to Robert Schiller, Yale Professor of Economics, who has argued that increased taxation should be used to attack inequality?

As well as to Yale University Press which has published numerous tomes on the scourge of inequality?

In addition to sharing the benefits of its endowment with the needy, it would be a noble gesture of all Yale faculty agreed that they would turn over any income in excess of the average household income in the state ($65,753) to go to a fund that would be shared among those making less than the average.

As a spur to action let us look at the concrete steps taken by Harvard and MIT to address this subject.

We await Yale's more considered response.

UPDATE:  Just after publishing this post, THC ran across William Russell Mead's take at his essential blog at The American Interest.  It's titled Blue Civil War Escalates, based on Mead's continuing series about the failure of the Blue Social Model:
Connecticut Democrats are going after Yale, for the same reason Henry VIII went after the monks and Willie Sutton went after the banks.

. . . desperate cities and states—caught between the unpayable pension promises created by decades of irresponsible governance, bloated workforces organized into unions that keep asking for more, poor residents wanting and needing more basic services, and rich residents threatening to flounce out of town unless they get more ‘amenities’—have no choice but to scrounge under the couch cushions for extra cash. And university endowments are a prime target.

Once Henry VIII discovered that you could squeeze gold coins from wealthy monastic foundations, he decided to squeeze harder. American politicians are no stupider than he was, and the need for revenue to feed Big Blue Machine is continuing to grow. The people who rule the Ivory Tower should start to take note.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


monemvasia-13(from amusing planet)

Many of the seaports of the Mediterranean, particularly in its eastern end, that played such a large part in the history of Europe and the Middle East from 1000 BC until the 18th century, are now much diminished, and often forgotten relics. One of these is Monemvasia on its island, connected today only by a narrow causeway to the Greek mainland.  In its 14th-17th century heyday it may have been home to as many as 40,000 inhabitants.
(from vacations to go)

The town was a latecomer as an historic port town.  The island was only severed from the mainland by an earthquake in 375 AD and the town itself was not founded until the 6th century by refugees from the mainland seeking the protection the Byzantine Empire could not afford them, from the Slavic and Avar invaders of Greece.
(from huffington post)

By the 10th century it was a thriving port.  In those days, the Mediterranean was dominated by galleys, which stuck near to the coast and needed to seek ports frequently to take on water, so itineraries tended to be between closely situation ports.  With its location, Monemvasia was ideally suited as a stopping point for traffic between Venice, Genoa, Amalfi and other Italian seaports and Constantinople, Thessalonica and the harbors of Asia Minor.

Monemvasia's island provided protection and security.  It is about 1 km long and 300 meters wide with a hill rising to about 500 feet.  In those days, there was a lower town, which still exists, and an impregnable upper town (now abandoned).
(from amusing planet)

As the Byzantine Empire began its long decline in the 13th century, Monemvasia became part of the Despotate of Morea (the Peloponnese).  With the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and of the Despotate in 1460, both to the Ottoman Turks, Monemvasia decided to seek protection by turning itself over the the great seafaring state of Venice.  In 1540, Venice ceded Monemvasia to the Ottomans, before briefly taking it back between 1690 and 1715, when it returned to the Turks.  In 1821, Monemvasia was the first town liberated in the Greek War of Independence.

Today, the town is a popular tourist destination.  Here's a Rick Steeves video to prove it!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Some Days

Some days THC still feels just like Calvin, not like his dad.

Calvin and Hobbes

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"Carmine Said One Boy, Here Are Two!"

We recently caught the last half of The Freshman, a 1990 film starring Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick.  We'd seen it in the theater in its initial release and once or twice over the years and seeing it again reminded us of what a funny and sweet-natured film it is.

Matthew Broderick, plays Clark Kellogg of Vermont, who has just arrived in New York to attend NYU.  Brando plays Carmine Sabatini in what you might think is a funny take on his Godfather role, but we are corrected by Carmine's nephew, Vic (Bruno Kirby), who tells us that it's the other way around, the Godfather character was based on Mr Sabatini.  Broderick is terrific as the naive, but quick on his feet, Vermonter, while Brando is simply brilliant in his slyly funny send up of Don Corleone and there is a lovely scene in which the by-now gargantuan Brando glides serenely across the ice at a skating rink.

There is a dearth of good clips from the film on YouTube, but a few are below.  Unfortunately, there is no footage of Bert Park's singing the Bob Dylan classic, Maggie's Farm.  The title of this post is derived from the first clip, in which Broderick and a friend have just delivered a Komodo Dragon (it's a long and funny story) to gourmet chief Larry London, played by Maximilian Schell (who seems to be channeling Peter Sellers).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Avebury from english

Located in the United Kingdom, Avebury is not as well known outside England as its neolithic cousin, Stonehenge, which is twenty miles to the south.  Today, Avebury is a small village that looks the same as it did when THC and friends were there in 1978.  We were in the midst of a bicycle tour which started with us embarking from London on the train with our bicycles and disembarking in Oxford.  We'd ridden up into the Cotswold Hills and then headed south via Cirencester to Avebury.  After Avebury, we headed to Winchester where my friends took a train back to London and I headed west for the Mendip Hills, Glastonbury and Bath.

When we arrived in Avebury late that afternoon, we inquired at the local pub, The Red Lion, located where the roads intersect in the center in the photo above) whether there was a B&B in the village.  We were informed that there was but the lady who ran it was not taking in boarders at this time, though we were given directions to our home down the street and told we were welcome to talk with her.  I don't remember her name (though I do remember she had red hair) and though she confirmed what we were told in the pub, she seemed to realize we have few alternatives and decided to take us in.  I think we paid $7 a night. Avebury pub from

Over the next couple of days we explored the Avebury stone circle, walked up to the ancient Ridgeway Track looming above the village, saw West Kennet Long Barrow and visited the mysterious Silbury Hill.  I seem to also remember we met some bloke at the Red Lion who took us back to his place to listen to music and drink more beer.

Avebury was constructed during the third millennium BC.  It's a henge consisting of a large circular bank, about 1,100 yards in circumference, along with an internal ditch perhaps 12-15 meters wide the outlines of which can be seen in the picture at the top.  Within the henge is a large stone circle.
(from Gazette and Herald UK)

Leaving the henge in a southeasterly direction is a 2.5 kilometer long thoroughfare bordered by large stones (only a few of which remain), known today as West Kennet Avenue and traces of a similar avenue leading to the southwest have also been found.
Lying to the southeast, about 1 1/2 miles from the village, Silbury Hill is a 131 foot high artificial hill, constructed of chalk rubble and earth a bit earlier than the Avebury circle.  The purpose of Silbury Hill as well as the rest of the Avebury complex remains a riddle, but the amount of labor and time required to construct all of it would have been enormous and indicates the agricultural society of that time had enough wealth and central authority to commit such a large amount of its resources to a generations long project.

(Silbury Hill from dorwynmanor) the time Britain's Iron Age began around 800 BC, the Avebury complex was no longer in use for whatever purpose it was originally constructed.  During the Roman occupation of Britain (43AD - 410AD), the site attracted tourists.  It then disappears from until showing up in some 10th century Anglo-Saxon records.  Eventually the area became associated with the works of the Devil and in the 14th century the demolition of the stone circle and avenue began by local villagers.  It continued sporadically reaching a peak of destruction in the early 18th century before preservationists were able to halt this activity.

Below is a sketched reconstruction of the original monument by the 18th century antiquarian William Stukeley, who played a key role in saving what was left.  (From

Friday, March 18, 2016

Hundred Mile High City

From Ocean Colour Scene.  A big hit in the UK and a terrific song if you're driving at 2am, you're tired and you still have one hundred miles to go.  It's also the theme song from Guy Ritchie's 1998 debut film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  Ritchie's first two films (the second was Snatch) are loads of fun to watch and introduced THC to Jason Statham and the great Vinny Jones.  Both films are about low-life London gangsters and they're basically the same movie except Snatch features Brad Pitt as a gypsy boxer with an incomprehensible accent, which is saying something because most of the dialogue is pretty unintelligible, and the memorable, and sorely missed, Dennis Farina.

Vinny Jones (from Mirror UK)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pont Neuf

THC particularly likes this 1872 painting of Pont Neuf by Auguste Renoir as he and the Mrs have walked across the bridge on many occasions over the past forty years.  It is from the perspective of an observer in the lower floors of one of the buildings on the Right Bank of the Seine (the side the Louvre is on), looking towards the buildings on Ile de la Cite on the left and, on the right, the equestrian statue of Henry IV who inaugurated the bridge, the oldest in Paris, in 1607 (unfortunately, the statue is partially obscured by the side column of this blog).  Between the buildings and the statue you can see the buildings of the Left Bank in the background.

One our last trip to Paris, the apartment we rented was a half-block down a Left Bank street, the view of which is blocked by the tree to the right of the Henry IV statue.

In the foreground, with a light colored hat, cane and greenish pants, is Renoir's brother Edmond, who the painter asked to delay some people in the street as he outlined the scene.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Baseball Analytics: SKYNET Is Activated

I attended the fifth annual Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Analytics Conference held in Phoenix from March 10-12.  Among the 250 to 300 attendees, were several noted seminal figures in the development of baseball analytics and baseball history.  It was a thrill to see a couple of rows ahead of me, John Dewan, Dick Cramer and John Thorn sitting together.

For those not familiar with the topic, analytics is:
"the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data [and] relies on the simultaneous application of statistics, computer programming and operations research to quantify performance."
Analytics are used in many fields of human activity.  In baseball, the best known of the analytic approaches is sabermetrics, the empirical analysis of the sport or, as Bill James described it, "the search for objective knowledge about baseball". 

Readers of this blog are aware by now of THC's love of baseball history.  He also started reading Bill James in the early 1980s and has followed developments on the analytical side, although some aspects in recent years have been a bit mystifying to me. The conference was a good opportunity to immerse myself in its current status, though I'll admit that the math in a couple of presentations went over my head.

The format of the conference is a mixture of panels and research presentations.  The panels include analysts, baseball front office personnel - this year from the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Giants, Mariners and Padres as well as the new General Managers for the Reds (Dick Williams) and Angels (Billy Eppler, with whom I was particularly impressed, despite the fact that he used to work for the Yankees).  The panels were outstanding.  I've attended a lot of conferences and it evident that a lot of thought went into the topics and the mix of panelists and the three moderators, Brian Kenny of MLB Network, Vince Gennaro, President of SABR, and Mike Ferrin from Arizona Diamondbacks/MLB Network Radio, did a terrific job asking questions and keeping the discussions on an interesting track.

Also participating on the panels were four former major leaguers, all now analysts for either ESPN or MLB Network; Aaron Boone, who once did a very bad thing to a pitch from Tim Wakefield; the  blunt and sarcastic Dallas Braden (winner of the much coveted Best Facial Hair trophy); (Aaron Boone, Eno Sarris from FanGraphs, Dallas Braden and Mike Ferrin, from Sports Illustrated for Kids)

the startlingly spontaneous and unfiltered Eric Byrnes - you never knew where he'd land when he launched one of his verbal excursions, but following the trajectory was always entertaining and informative; and Alex Cora, who was very insightful (more on Alex, below).

I'll lay out my main takeaways from the conference, followed by a summary of some of the more interesting panels and presentations and ending with some odds and ends that you might find entertaining. 



Last season was the first in which STATCAST collected data on every major league game.  In terms of the sheer amount of data points it is revolutionary.  Gennaro mentioned that 99% of all the data in baseball history had been collected in the first game of the 2015 season.  Most of us see STATCAST during MLB Network game broadcasts and on its shows - things like the speed and track of an outfielder as he runs to field a ball, but it is much more than that.

Statcast, developed by Major League Baseball Advanced Media, collects data using high-resolution optical cameras and radar equipment that has been installed in every major league ballpark.  It measures the position of every player in the field at all times and the position and movement of the ball.  Among the many specific items it measures:

- Spin rate on pitches
- Pitcher arm slots
- Pitcher position on rubber
- Exit velocity for batted balls
- Launch angle when ball is struck by bat
- First step reaction time for fielders when balls are hit
- Outfielder speed and route efficiency

If you want to know more here is a primer on Statcast as well as its homepage.

The data dump is enormous but what it means is another thing altogether.  Several speakers mentioned that the key now for clubs is to figure out what data is actually useful.  Compounding the difficulty is that there is only one year of STATCAST data at this point, so determining what is normal or average performance is premature in most instances.  What it means is still to be determined, but it looked to me like we've entered a new world of information.

The only thing we need to fear is if STATCAST, like SKYNET, becomes self aware and starts running the game.

(2027 Philadelphia Phillies roster?)

Process v Outcomes

I was struck by the implications of STATCAST combined with some of the advanced neurological and physical work being done by some of the presenters.  For instance, Jason Sherwin of Decervo is measuring how the visual system is connected to the neural system by measuring pitch recognition and the differences between the neural decision to swing and the physical initiation.

Many of the existing sabermetrics measure results (WAR, for example) and are focused on the relative evaluation of players.  The data from STATCAST and the emerging technologies to measure visual, neural and other physical systems have an additional element that can be used to train and develop players.  Quite a few of the baseball front office panelists as well as the ex-players stressed the importance of this process oriented data.  It will require some new skill sets in order to convey it in useful form to players, but the overall feeling was it may be more accepted by players compared to outcome measurements.  In addition, because STATCAST is visual, as well as measured, it is less "black-box", thus improving the conversation with users.  A couple of panelists noted that Statcast has already changed the nature of the conversation between coaches and players and the potential opportunity for players to use it for their own improvement is enormous.

On a cautionary note, Eric Byrnes, responded to Vince Gennaro's claim that the new STATCAST data will help coaches be more effective with players.  While endorsing analytics in general, Byrnes remarked that: "Some of the greatest hitters are some of the dumbest guys I've ever met", adding that hitting is a reactive event and you can mess someone up by trying to put too much in their head.

Growth of Team Analytics Capabilities

One speaker likened finding the most important data amidst the mass of newly available data to "not looking for a needle in a haystack, but rather looking for THE needle in a huge stack of needles.

The data avalanche is precipitating the further growth of existing club analytics operations and prompting the last holdouts, clubs like the Tigers and Phillies, to set up analytics groups over this past off-season.

Along with math and statistics backgrounds, clubs are looking for people with training in physics (not physical therapy, physics), database construction, knowledge of programming languages like Python and data visualization.

There's an arms race in baseball operations, not just on the mound.  Everyone is searching for how to use this new data and someone is going to end up with the competitive advantage if they can figure it out.  It was noted that the investment cost for analytics is very small compared to the enormous cost of player salaries and the potential return on that investment can be very high.

The Joey Votto Thing

Votto's name must have come up more than all other ballplayers combined, and it happened each day.  As most baseball fans are aware the Votto Thing is the controversy around Joey's refusal to swing at any pitch outside the strike zone, even with runners in scoring position.  Votto has remarkable command of the strike zone and ends up taking a lot of walks.  Eno Sarris of FanGraphs related a conversation with Votto in which he said that by maintaining plate discipline he can extend his career.  Another panelist mentioned that Votto told him that he tried getting more aggressive and pulling the ball for about a month to get "cheap" home runs but it didn't work, so he went back to his normal approach.  This article by an ESPN writer who attended the conference contains more details.

(Joey Votto, not swinging)


Defensive Metrics Panel (Alex Cora, ESPN, John Dewan, Owner, Baseball Info Solutions, Caleb Peiffer, Manager Baseball Ops, Seattle Mariners)).

This ended up being primarily a discussion on how defensive shifting was changing baseball.  Dewan pointed out that only a few years ago the Tampa Bay Rays led the majors, shifting 200 times in a season.  In 2015 the Rays and Astros each employed shifts about 1400 times and every team in the league shifted more than 200 times.

Dewan stated that his analysis showed "the more you shift, the more runs you save" (about 20-25 for the Rays and Stros last year) and that extreme shifts (where the SS is on the first base side of second) were much more effective than partial shifts (where the SS moves towards second, but remains on same side).

Alex Cora made several intriguing comments regarding shifts.  He mostly favors increased use, but says the biggest problem is the loss of double plays because shifted infielders are playing in unfamiliar positions. He added that teams are now beginning to practice turning double plays and making relay throws from shift positions.
                                                            (Alex Cora)

Cora went on to say that the skill sets for most infield positions are different because of shifting.  First basemen need to be more explosive moving to the bag and able to handle awkward throws.  Second basemen need to be quick coming in and have a better arm than traditional players at that position  Third basemen must be more athletic because they will sometimes be playing SS or 2B - quick reflex but slow moving sluggers as third basemen are less valuable.  Shortstop skills are the only ones that remain the same.  Overall, that's why utility men who can effectively play all infield positions are becoming more valuable.

The new rule on sliding into 2nd was discussed.  The rule restricts types of slides but also eliminates the phantom double play and makes whether the second baseman or shortstop touched the bag reviewable.  Cora, who played a lot of SS and 2B, hates the new rule.  He said he only touched second about 5% of the time during his years in the majors and that by forcing the fielder to do so it will actually increase the risk of collision.

Unintended Consequences of Rising Strikeout Rates (Rob Mains,

An interesting presentation that started by noting that 10 of the top 13 years in baseball history for frequency of batters Hit By Pitch (HBP) have occurred since 2000, with the other seasons all occurring before 1910.  As a side note, fans my age grew up hearing about how "in the old days" pitchers threw more high and inside, but Mains pointed out that the lowest HBP rates in baseball history are between 1925 and 1950, with frequency less than half of today's.  According to Mains, it is related to the rising strikeout rates, which have reached epidemic proportions with 21% of at bats resulting in a strike out. 

The most significant discovery by Mains is that 2014 and 2015 were the first years in baseball history when more at bats ended with the pitcher ahead of the count than the batter.  He found that when an at bat ended with pitchers ahead in the count there were a statistically significant fewer sacrifice flies and more hit batsmen and wild pitches (the latter was 3x more likely).  Mains also noted that doubles, triples and home runs were reduced by a statistically significant number when pitchers were ahead, though not singles.

Mains concluded that the critical factor is not overall worse control of pitches, as 2014 and 2015 saw the fewest walks since 1968, but rather that with pitchers ahead of the count more, they expanded the zone, which he demonstrated with head maps showing distribution of pitches when pitchers were ahead and behind - the difference was striking.  The result was with more pitches off the plate, inside and out and low in the zone there were more opportunities for hit batsmen and wild pitches.

As with all these research projects, ideas for further analysis were prompted by the presentation.  Given that pitchers are throwing faster than ever, is there a correlation between pitching speed and increases in wild pitches and hit batsmen?

Hidden Gold on the Diamond?  The Contribution of the Relative Age Effect to Talent Estimation Errors of High School Players in the June MLB Draft (Robert Brustad, Professor, School of Sport & Exercise Science, University of Northern Colorado)

Brustad's analysis focused on how age on draft day for high schoolers was relevant to subsequent performance, taking as its starting point that astute drafting of high schoolers has proven more difficult than drafting of college grads.  The difference in ages at the high school level doesn't seem like much (a year in most cases is as much as it gets) but Brustad remarked that at that age there is huge variability in maturation, physical and mental.  Older high school players tend to perform better, but based on the data Brustad presented, baseball teams overvalue current performance vs potential performance.  He found that the youngest quartile of draft players in the 2005 through 2012 drafts had more than twice the major league WAR value of the oldest quartile.  In seven of eight years, the youngest quartile performed best (in the eighth it was one of the middle quartiles). This was the same result an earlier study found for the 1965-96 drafts, prompting Brustad's comment that he was surprised teams had not learned anything in the intervening years and remain poor at talent projection.

Quantifying the Impact of Injuries on Playing Time and Performance (Joe Rosales, Baseball Info Solutions (BIS))

Realizing there was very limited injury information (outside of the Disabled List) being systematically collected, at the beginning of the 2015 season BIS began constructing a comprehensive injury database, including things like each time a batter fouled a ball off his body. Rosales reported on the first year's data.  BIS tracked about 4700 incidents of which fouls off body (1375), struck by ball/bat (1246) and Hit By Pitch (1003) constituted nearly 80% with no other category having more than 200.  Not surprisingly, catchers bore the brunt, having nearly 25% of the total incidents (pitchers were second with about 8%).  The five players with the most incidents were all catchers:

Salvador Perez (80)
Francisco Cervelli (66)
Russell Martin (53)
Derek Norris (50)
Stephen Vogt (47)

About 90% of the catcher events were being hit by foul balls or bat swings.  Nearly 40% of the impacts were to the head.  Perez had both the most head impacts and games with multiple head impacts.  Rosales noted that in the week after a game with multiple head impacts, catchers experienced a significant decline in offense.  While he noted it was a small sample size, he raised the question of whether these impacts were having a cumulative effect.

The only other significant finding was for 14 days after a pitcher had a head impact, he lost about 1 MPH off his fastball.  As more data is collected in future years, additional studies may lead to more insight.

Regarding Perez's abilities, in another panel discussion, one of the participants told of a conversation with Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer in which he said the reason his team had such great success in preventing runners going from 1st to 3rd on singles was due less to the outfield throwing arms than to Salvador Perez.  In the case of almost every opposition runner reaching first, that team's 1B coach warned them about getting too long a lead because of Perez's ability to do a snap throw to first.

(Salvador Perez, injured; photo from CBS Sports)

Splitting Range, Positioning, and Throwing in Defense (Scott Spratt, Baseball Info Solutions)

Spratt presented improvements in calculating Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) that better take into account positioning and what happens once balls are fielded by breaking down components into Range, Positioning and Throwing.  Some of the results were eye-opening.  At shortstop, all of Andrelton Simmons performance came from range and throwing, while his positioning was very poor.  Didi Gregorius was the opposite, performing poorly on range and throwing but outstanding in positioning with a net result close to that of Simmons.  Francisco Lindor's numbers in every category were amazing, based on his half season.

At second, Jose Altuve had poor range, good positioning and phenomenal throwing stats.  Among third basemen, while Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado were the best overall, Kyle Seager was #1 in throwing.

Another interesting analysis was the difference in how teams saved runs defensively,  Spratt compared the breakdown for the Giants and Indians.  The Giants infield saved 34 runs, 14 via Range, 19 by Throwing, but only one by Positioning.  In contrast, the Indians saved 19 runs, with the 21 saved by Positioning, offset by two by Throwing and -4 in Range.

How Big Data and Analytics is Impacting Baseball's Business Operations (John Fisher, Senior VP, Ticket Sales & Marketing, AZ Diamondbacks, Ryan Gustafson, VP, Strategy & Innovation, SD Padres, Dan Migala, Chief Innovation Officer, PCG & Sports Desk Media)

Baseball business operations cover everything a franchise does not involving the actual play of the team and player development and contracting.  Operation of the stadium, ticketing, merchandising and cable, radio and web presence come under business ops.  While every club know has a baseball analytics group, only about half the teams have business analytics groups, though the number is growing.

The need for analytics is that unlike most other major sports, baseball teams rely on local resources for the bulk of their funding.  NFL teams get 80% of their revenue from the league (derived from TV, sponsorships and merchandise), while with most baseball teams it is the opposite, and apparently concessions and parking are relatively small monetary sources.  John Fisher remarked that 54% of the Diamondbacks revenue comes from ticket sales, placing a premium on understanding customers and retaining and growing season ticket holders.  He mentioned that 12 hours after the signing of Zach Greinke was announced he got an email from the team owner, telling him he needed to generate a lot more revenue!

Fisher and Gustafson walked us through several analytical tools they are using to increase revenue, including predictive models of the the lifetime value of potential customers to their franchises and, in the Diamondbacks case, how a new look at season ticket holder data led them to completely revamp their approach towards retention.

One tidbit from the Diamondback was their realization that their hard core, baseball savvy customer base attended games Monday through Thursday, while the weekend demographic was different, has led them to different approaches to what is displayed on the scoreboards - with the weekday scoreboards, featuring more player and statistical information.  The Diamondbacks also introduced new uniforms this season, more along college lines, to attract younger fans.!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_635/lvuniforms5s-4-web.jpg


Dallas Braden remarked how great a teammate Yoennis Cespedes was when both were with the A's.  He made everyone in the lineup feel better.

Billy Eppler (Angels GM, who spent eleven years with Yankees):
- Gene Michaels is the best evaluator of talent
- The best advice he got was from Brian Cashman - don't make decisions in first 24 hours after something good or bad has happened.
- He also quoted Alex Rodriguez urging him to be more open about how management evaluates players; "tell the players what you value, they will make themselves that way".  Alex certainly did.

Several of the ex-players talked of the importance of team chemistry and having a positive workplace beyond whatever is measured in the metrics.  Gennaro spoke of his interviews with players in which they all stressed the importance of this, particularly because of the isolating nature of the batter/pitcher confrontation, positive team situations were highly valued. founder Sean Forman, responding to a question about the controversy over Ty Cobb's career hit total: "when I get to heaven, I'll see God's Baseball-Reference and finally know what Ty Cobb's hit total really was".

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Harvey Houses

A few days ago, THC and the Mrs stayed at La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona on our last evening before arriving in Phoenix.  La Posada is a complete restoration of the Harvey House hotel built in 1929.  The Harvey Houses are a real piece of Americana and an integral part of the story of the Americanization of the Southwest.

Seventeen year-old Fred Harvey emigrated to the United States from England in 1853.  For years he worked in the food industry, opening and running restaurants and food supply businesses and built a reputation for honesty, service and cleanliness. Fred Harvey.jpg With a handshake deal in 1876, Harvey and the Atichison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad began a long partnership that endured until 1963.  At many of the stops along the line, Harvey and the railroad constructed Harvey Houses, a combination of restaurant, hotel and origination point for tours of the sights of the American Southwest.  Eventually there were to be 84 Harvey Houses, known for their high quality food and service, catering to wealthy and middle class travelers.  The operation became so large that Harvey operated its own refrigerator railcars on the Santa Fe and the Harvey Houses are considered the first restaurant chain to operate in the United States.

The Harvey Houses were also known for their wait staff which was completely female (and white) and known as The Harvey Girls (and also the title of a hit 1946 movie, starring Judy Garland and Angela Lansbury, set at a Harvey hotel, which tells you how embedded the brand was in American culture in the early 20th century).

The Harvey company was also fairly unusual for the time, employing a female architect, Mary Coulter, to design several of the Houses, including the one at Winslow.

La Posada is a fun place to stay.  The restoration is impressive, the rooms are well-decorated (we stayed in the Emilio Estevez room)
and it still serves as an Amtrak station.  And it's only one block away from a guy standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.

Friday, March 11, 2016

George Martin

It was through George Martin that my generation became aware of what a record producer could contribute to the sound of a band or musical artist.  Lennon and McCartney were brilliant songwriters and the exuberance of the early Beatles recordings were unique for their times but it was the collaboration with Martin that created the Beatles sound as we will always remember it.

This is a remembrance of Martin, posted by Ringo Starr on his Facebook page.

We have created a beautiful tribute reel of 3-mins with many of the artists and producers from the series talking about Sir George. P&L R***
Posted by Ringo Starr on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

This was unthinkable before The Beatles and Martin.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Does Cutting Health Costs Hurt Workers?

A provocative piece from Megan McArdle's excellent blog, Cut Health Costs or Help Workers. You Can't Do Both.  Here's her thesis:
The country seems fragmented as never before. And yet there are two things that everyone can seemingly agree upon: Something needs to be done about the parlous condition of the working class, and we need to get a handle on health-care costs.

Go to a Rust Belt city or a medium-size town somewhere and start talking to folks about how they’re doing. There’s something you’ll quickly notice about the people who tell you their family is doing OK: a whole lot of them work in health care. They are the registered nurses, the LPNs, the physical therapists, the home-health-care aides, the X-ray technicians, the phlebotomists. They work at a local hospital, or a nursing home, a doctor’s office, or maybe for the school system.

Their jobs are well-paid for their educational level and the local cost of living. The work is also very stable, for an aging society needs a lot of health care, and since it is generally reimbursed by third parties, demand does not fluctuate with the business cycle as strongly as, say, demand for hairdressing or construction. And if one employer should close down, there will always be another hospital or doctor’s office somewhere that needs workers.

Health-care jobs are for today what manufacturing jobs were for our grandparents: a guarantee that you’d never get rich, but never go hungry, either.
Now, you can point out in response that anytime you cut costs you may be placing workers at risk but THC thinks Megan's point is that this is an issue of scale.  Her impressions resonate with what THC has seen in several small cities and towns.

THC likes articles that make him sit back and think a bit.  Read the whole piece.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Media's Worldview Of Liberals & Conservatives

Three articles that have recently come to THC's attention perfectly illustrate the worldview of liberal American media outlets when it comes to their treatment of the different parties and political philosophies as well as their lack of self awareness.

First up, from USA Today, is Sanders Makes Democrats Look Like Polarizers, from Dan Carney, an editorial writer for the paper.  His main point is that Bernie Sanders is making Democrats look as bad as the Republican are.  To illustrate his point he reminds us of recent history:
The last time a Republican — George W. Bush — was in the White House, he received Democratic support for most of his priorities. For better or worse, some Democrats voted for his 2001 tax cuts, his No Child Left Behind education act, the Iraq War authorization, the Medicare drug law, a 2004 corporate tax holiday, a stimulus measure passed in early 2008 and the financial rescue plan (aka bank bailout) passed later that year. In fact, Bush only once faced an immovable wall of Democratic opposition on a significant legislative issue — over his proposed partial privatization of Social Security.
Let's flesh that out a bit.  Not only did "some Democrats" vote for his No Child Left Behind act, that bill resulted from negotiations between President Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy.  As far as some Democrats voting for the Iraq War authorization, it was actually half of the Senate Democrats, including the current Vice-President and the two Secretaries of State in the Obama Administration.   The Medicare Drug Law, passed with Democratic support, was the largest new Federal benefit program since the Great Society. And, let's not forget Bush's unsuccessful attempt to pass immigration reform working in collaboration with many Democratic Senators.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Carney omits any mention of the Patriot Act, passed by overwhelming majorities in both parties.

In the upside down world that Carney exists in, this is evidence of Democratic bipartisanship but somehow not Republican bipartisanship.  And, by the way, if all of this bipartisanship was going on in the Bush Administration why were so many Democrats denouncing him as a right-wing extremist?  On domestic policy, George Bush was a centrist.

Carney then goes on to contrast Democrat bipartisanship with "polarizing" Republicans.
When Barack Obama moved into the White House, the GOP was in no mood to reciprocate. Not a single House Republican voted for his stimulus measure. Not a single Republican of either chamber voted for Obamacare (though one senator, Olympia Snowe of Maine, voted for it in committee before being prevailed upon to change her position when it reached the floor).
Let's look at the actual history.  On the stimulus we have the notorious White House meeting on January 23, 2009, where the newly inaugurated President Obama met with Republican congressional leaders.  GOP suggestions regarding the stimulus, were abruptly rejected by Obama with the admonition that "I won" the election.  The ignorance and arrogance in that statement was staggering.  Yes, Obama won his election, but so did the Republicans meeting him that day.  It was an insulting rejection of bipartisanship in stark contrast to George Bush's dealings with Congressional Democrats.

And on healthcare, what Carney conveniently omits is that when the new Democratic controlled Congress began work on healthcare reform in 2009, there were numerous Republican proposals for changes to the healthcare system.  The Democrats refused to hold any hearings on any Republican proposals or to allow proposed amendments and House Speaker Pelosi took great pride in that the final result was solely a Democratic product.

Carney then proudly lands what he seems to think is his knockout punch:
And that was before things got really bad. After the 2010 elections, Republicans took control of the House, and any semblance of the GOP playing the role of loyal opposition went out the window.
Is he really that ignorant of what happened in 2006, when the Democrats regained control of Congress and quite openly stated their goal was to stop any legislative initiatives from President Bush, which including blocking a proposal for stricter pollution control laws because the Democrats did not want to give Republicans any public victories in the environmental area?

Next up is The Complete Guide To Fleeing Donald Trump's America by Meg Warner of the liberal New York Daily News.  THC was alerted to this article by Powerline, and read it as he and Mrs THC are planning their escape in the event either The Donald or Hillary wins.  The article evaluates several candidate countries and then, in an interesting turn for an open borders pro-immigration paper, then goes on to note the difficulties with getting work permits and visas in order to enter another country legally:
Unfortunately, you can't just pick up everything you own and move across the globe. You're going to need the right documents.

Work visas through a job are likely the most secure option but they're difficult to obtain. The long process starts with applying for a job in your wannabe home. In most countries, the employers must rule out locals who may be better-suited for the job before extending an offer to foreigners.
With a job offer in hand, you can apply for a work visa sponsored through your new employer.

Application requirements and process timelines vary dramatically from country to country, and work visas need to be renewed frequently.

Most nations require a foreigner to work for several years before attempting to apply for permanent residency or citizenship. Singapore, on the other hand, offers a way for foreigners to earn permanent residency right away. The nation's Professionals/Technical Personnel and Skilled Workers Scheme allows expats to apply for residency as soon as they get their work passes.

If you want to go one step further and become a citizen of another nation, get ready for a long road. That requires a lengthy legal process that starts with a temporary visa that turns into permanent resident status. Tina Turner became a Swiss citizen in 2013, relinquishing her U.S. citizenship along the way, after living abroad for nearly two decades.
One is left wondering after reading this - wouldn't any American demanding all immigration be in accordance with US laws and following the types of standards in this article be denounced as a racist by Democrats?  Or is the Daily News subtlety trying to hint that Americans seeking to flee this country utilize channels to skirt the laws since it's so darn hard to immigrate into other countries?

We'll close with the New York Times, with, no surprise, possibly the most reprehensible example, which THC learned of via Althouse.  The article is Racism Charges in Bus Incident, and Their Unraveling, Upset University at Albany by Vivian Yee.  Here's the background on the story according to the Times:
The allegation set social media ablaze, sowing shock and outrage as it went: Three black students at the University at Albany had been attacked on a city bus by a group of white men who used racial slurs as other passengers and the driver sat silently by.

The Jan. 30 episode, reported to the police, would draw hundreds of people to a campus rally against racism; an emotional response from the university’s president; and even the attention of Hillary Clinton, who condemned the attack on Twitter.

Surveillance videos did not support the accounts of the young women, Ms. Burwell, Alexis Briggs and Ariel Agudio. Neither did the statements of multiple fellow passengers. Rather than being victims of a hate crime, the authorities said, the women had been “the aggressors,” hitting a 19-year-old white woman on the bus.
All three pleaded not guilty on Monday to misdemeanor assault charges; 
OK, seems straight forward, albeit disturbing but then Yee throws in this bizarre and gratuitous comment:
It was a turnabout tailor-made to delight conservative media outlets and to ignite social-media recriminations.  
What??  She's managing to imply that conservatives think all racially charged claims are false, which is a false statement itself, and that somehow, people of other political persuasions would not be disturbed about the initial claims and how quickly many people jumped to the wrong conclusion.  It's as though Yee was distraught that the original story didn't hold up that she needed to get a shot in at conservatives when it fell apart that would make liberal Times readers take at least a little comfort.

This kind of framing is common at the Times.  When allegations of a scandal involving Republicans are raised, the Times focuses on the substance of the scandal.  When it's allegations of a scandal involving Democrats, the Times focus is on the Republicans playing politics by alleging the scandal.

And, see also, their infamous and hilariously inaccurate shot at South Carolina Republicans in the wake of the horrible shooting at the Charleston AME Church.

The problem is not the bias at the Times and these other publications.  If you listen to Rush Limbaugh or read National Review, The Nation or Mother Jones, those outlets are very open about their political leanings.  It is the pretense of objectivity that is so irritating and dishonest about the Times and its fellow travelers.  As Mickey Kaus observed said several years ago, the Times could solve its problem by changing its masthead from "All The News That's Fit To Print" to "A Crusading Liberal Newspaper".

Monday, March 7, 2016

Gettin' Sardonic With Elvis Costello (Vol. 2)

For Vol. 1 and to understand what the heck this is about, go here.  These selections are from the five Elvis Costello albums released between 1982 and 1988.
Sheep to the slaughter
Oh, I thought this must be love
All your sons and daughters
In a stranglehold with a kid glove
She's got eyes like saucers
Oh, you think she's a dish
She is the blue chip
That belongs to the big fish
Big Sister's Clothes

The little corporal got in the way
And he got hit by an emotional ricochet
It's a bit more now than dressing up dolly
Playing house seems so melancholy

On your marks, man, ready, set
Let's get loaded and forget
Shot With His Own Gun

All the muscles flex and the fingers curl
And a cold sweat breaks out on the sweater girl
Oh, he's all hands, don't touch that dial
The courting cold war weekend witch trial
Strict Time

The teacher never told you anything but white lies
But you never see the lies and you believe
Oh, you know you have been captured
You feel so civilized
And you look so pretty in your new lace sleeves
New Lace Sleeves

Love on the never never dreams don't come cheap
I don't close my eyes when I go to sleep
White Knuckles

You need protection from the physical art of conversation
Though the fist is mightier than the lip it adds the aggravation

Are you so superior, are you in much pain
Are you made out of porcelain?
When they made you they broke the cast
Don't wanna be first, I just wanna last
You'll Never Be A Man

The long arm of the law
Slides up the outskirts of town

Curious women running after curious men
Curiosity didn't kill the cat, it was a poisoned pen
But there's not much choice between a cruel mouth
And a jealous voice

Well, well, fancy that
Millions murdered for a kiss me quick

Pretty Words

Almost blue, it's almost touching
It will almost do
There is part of me that's always true, always
Not all good things come to an end
Now it is only a chosen few
Almost Blue

It's the last thing I want to do
Pull the curtains on me and you
Pull the carpet from under love
Pull out like young lovers do
You swore you wouldn't shout
If it's not your punch, then it's your pout

I crept out last night behind your back
The little they know might be the piece I lack
Came home drunk, talking in circles
The spirit is willing, but I don't believe in miracles

I feel like a boy with a problem
I can't believe you've forgotten
Sleeping with forgiveness in your heart for me
Boy With A Problem

We fight so frail
Making love tooth and nail
You give me the kiss of my life
I might even live to tell the tale
Kid About It

I would have waited all my life
Just to make love out of something other than spite
But the beauty is the beast you're baiting
Should be really worth the waiting
Little Savage

History repeats the old conceits
The glib replies, the same defeats
Keep your fingers on important issues
With crocodile tears and a pocket full of tissues

Charged with insults and flattery
Her body moves with malice
Do you have to be so cruel to be callous?
Beyond Belief 

She said that she was working for the ABC News
It was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use
Her perfume was unspeakable
It lingered in the air
Like her artificial laughter
Her mementos of affairs

It was a fine idea at the time
Now it's a brilliant mistake
Brilliant Mistake

OK, a warning before this next one.  The lyrics are creepy; add the music and it becomes the scariest love song you'll ever hear.  Awhile ago, THC featured Fiona Apple doing a completely psycho version.  You can guess the title.

Oh my baby, baby, I love you more than I can tell
I don't think I can live without you and I know that I never will
Oh my baby, baby, I want you so it scares me to death
I can't say anymore than I love you, everything else is a waste of breath

I want you, you've had your fun, you don't get well no more
I want you, your fingernails go dragging down the wall
Be careful, darling, you might fall

I want you, I woke up and one of us was crying
I want you, you said, "Young man, I do believe you're dying"
I want you, if you need a second opinion as you seem to do these days
I want you, you can look in my eyes and you can count the ways

I want you, did you mean to tell me but seem to forget?
I want you, since when were you so generous and inarticulate?
I want you, it's the stupid details that my heart is breaking for
It's the way your shoulders shake and what they're shaking for

I want you, it's knowing that he knows you now after only guessing
It's the thought of him undressing you or you undressing
I want you, he tossed some tattered compliment your way
I want you and you were fool enough to love it when he said, "I want you"

I want you, the truth can't hurt you, it's just like the dark
It scares you witless but in time you see things clear and stark
I want you, go on and hurt me then we'll let it drop
I want you, I'm afraid I won't know where to stop

I want you, I'm not ashamed to say, "I cried for you"
I want you, I want to know the things you did that we do too
I want you, I want to hear he pleases you more than I do
I want you, I might as well be useless for all it means to you

I want you, did you call his name out as he held you down?
I want you, oh no, my darling, not with that clown, I want you
I want you, you've had your fun, you don't get well no more

I want you
I want you

I want you, every night when I go off to bed and when I wake up
I want you, I'm going to say it once again 'til I instill it
I am goin', goin' feel this way until you kill it

I want you
I want you
I want you

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sufferings In Africa,204,203,200_.jpg(from amazon)

Abraham Lincoln said the books that most influenced him growing up were the Bible, Aesop's Fables, Pilgrim's Progress, the Parson Weems biography of George Washington, the Life of [Benjamin] Franklin and James Riley's, An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce.  All except the last would be familiar (at least in name) to modern readers, so THC has done the work of reading Riley's work on your behalf.

The full title of Riley's Narrative, today more commonly known as Sufferings In Africa is:

An Authentic Narrative 
of the Loss of the


Wrecked on the Western Coast of Africa, in the Month of August, 1815


An Account of the Sufferings

Of Her

Surviving Officers and Crew

Who Were Enslaved by the Wandering Arabs on the Great



Observations, Historical, Geographical, &c.
Made During the Travels of the Author While A Slave To
The Arabs, and In The Empire of Morocco

Late Master and Supercargo   

First published in 1817, Captain Riley's narrative tells of the wreck of his ship off the coast of what is now Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, illegally annexed by Morocco in the 1970s.

James Riley, born in Middletown, Connecticut on October 27, 1777, in the midst of the American revolt against England, labored on farms in that town between the ages of 8 and 14.  Although his parents wanted him to learn the trade of a mechanic, Riley, in his own words "having become tired of hard work on the land, I concluded the best way to get rid of it, was to go to sea and visit foreign countries", shipped on board a sloop bound for the West Indies at the age of 15.  Eventually he assumed command of his own vessel, sailing out of New York harbor, prospering until his ship was seized by the French in 1808 during the Napoleonic Wars.  Remaining in France until the end of 1809 he put his stay into good use, learning to read, write and speak French and Spanish (on later journeys he was to acquire some ability with Italian, Russian, German and Portuguese).

He encountered difficulty in regaining prosperity, struggling to support his wife and four children, despite voyages to South America, New Orleans, the West Indies, Spain and Portugal, before his career went completely aground with the start of the War of 1812.  When the war ended, he was given the opportunity to command the brig Commerce, sailing out of Hartford, Connecticut.  After first sailing to New Orleans, the Commerce then went to Gibraltar with a cargo of tobacco and flour.  Leaving Gibraltar on August 23, 1815, with a cargo of brandies and wines along with two thousand dollars, Riley planned to make for the Cape Verde Islands to take on a load of salt before returning across the Atlantic.

It was on this leg of the trip, that the vessel went offcourse in dense fog and wrecked on the African shore.  All eleven of the crew made it ashore, to find themselves in a barren land.  After one man was killed on the landing beach by natives, Riley and the rest of the crew escaped in a small, damaged boat on which they traveled several days further south before being wrecked again.  After several days traveling on the desolate shoreline, they made their way further inland and found themselves dying in the desert.  Discovered by wandering Arabs they were enslaved and distributed among various families.
(from public domain review)

Riley's account of the three months from the wreck to his redemption are harrowing in its day by day detail.  The first part of his journey through the desert was particularly brutal, as stripped of clothing, exhausted, hungry and thirsty, he is driven to looking for a rock to dash his head in with.  It's almost unbearable to read at times and difficult to understand how the captives survived. His salvation comes when he encounters Sidi Hamet, who purchases him, along with, at Riley's plea, four of his companions.  Hamet pledges to return Riley to the city of Mogadore (modern day Essaouira in Morocco), where Riley has told him a foreign consul will pay ransom money.  Hamet is portrayed as a sympathetic and honorable figure, though he also tells Riley that if they complete the journey and there is no ransom he will slit the Captain's throat.  Though not as extreme as the first part of the journey, the travels with Hamet remain dangerous, with robbers threatening to take the slaves, food often in short supply, and desperate times aplenty.  According to Riley, he and Hamet developed a bond, particularly as Riley learned some basic Arabic. lines show Riley's journey, from dean king)

The descriptions of the lands, people and customs are fascinating and it's enjoyable to see Riley's attempts to spell some words; he tells us of delicious Cubbub (Keebab) at one point.  In response to a messenger Hamet sends to Mogadore, Riley receives a letter from William Willshire, the British Consul.  The letter is worth the price of the book.  Willshire has agreed to pay the $920 ransom (a large sum in those days) out of his own funds, in hope of eventual reimbursement and writes Riley, whom he does not know:
I trust there is no occasion for me to say how truly I commiserate and enter into all your misfortunes: when God grants me the pleasure to embrace you, it will be to me a day of true rejoicing. - I beg you will assure every one with you of my truest regard; and with sentiments embittered by the thoughts of the miseries you have undergone, but with the most sanguine hope of a happy end to all your sufferings, I subscribe myself, with the greatest esteem, my dear Sir, your friend, William Willshire.
Upon reaching Mogadore and Willshire's hospitality, Riley immediately began to write his account of his time since the shipwreck.  He also reports that Willshire insisted on Riley and his companions being weighed.  Riley was only 90 pounds, compared to his normal 240 (early in the book he describes himself as a "stout boy").
Ramparts of Essaouira.JPG(Mogadore, now Essaouira, 2008, from Wikipedia)

Although Riley is unsparing in writing of his captors brutality he also describes positive aspects and there are several Arab characters, besides Hamet, who are favorably portrayed.  Even as he recuperates, he asks Hamet to tell him in detail of his two caravans journeys across the Sahara to the fabled Timbuktu, an account he includes in his narrative.  One of those travels ended in disaster, of a caravan consisting of 1,000 men and 3,000 camels, only 21 men and 12 camels made it to Timbuktu.  Riley is also astounded to find that the Arabs navigate across the featureless, trackless desert by means of the stars, and remarks that their knowledge is even greater than his, as an experienced sailor. He also admires some Arab customs and observes that the Arabic language:
is spoken with great fluency, and is distinguished for its powerful emphasis, and elegant cadence.  When they converse peaceably, (and they are much given to talking with each other) it thrills on the ear like the breathings of soft wind-music, and excites in the soul the most smoothing sensations; but when they speak in anger, it sounds as hoarse as the roarings of irritated anger . . . 
But in the end, the desert dominates, creating a brutal world:
Such is the wandering Arab of the great African desert; his hand is against every man, and consequently every man's hand is against him. 
The details of Riley's description of the terrain and of Arab life have held up well over time with the only discrepancy his tendency to overestimate the distances covered in each day's travels.  Even some aspects of his account that triggered some skepticism at the time have been proven correct, including the drinking of camel urine in desperate situations.

Riley returned to the United States in 1816 and his Narrative was published the following year.  It sold quite a few copies, with eighteen printings between then and the Civil War (there was also an English edition and French and German translations), and Riley became a national celebrity, meeting with Secretary of State James Monroe.  Even more than the book sales, it was the newspaper reports (including excerpts from the Narrative), its inclusion in anthologies and the use of the tale in a popular series of children's books that kept the book and its author in the public eye for years as pointed out in an intriguing 2007 article by Donald J Ratcliffe and published by the American Antiquarian Society.  Even Henry David Thoreau mentions Riley in his works and James Fenimore Cooper praised the book.
Title page of Riley’s Narrative, with a portrait of Riley on the left(from spotlights)

Sufferings In Africa can be read as a rip-roaring travel yarn, a marvel of human endurance, a ethnographic travelogue, but it is also about slavery.  We don't know for certain if this aspect made a direct impact on young Lincoln, but the book and its author did become associated with the anti-slavery cause (Riley favored emancipation, followed by transport back to Africa).

THC has not been able to find out much about Riley's later life.  He did move with his family to Ohio, near state line with Indiana, founding a town and in 1824 was elected to the Ohio General Assembly, and he continued to make occasional sea voyages.

And he never forgot William Willshire.  Willshire was only 24 years old when sent by an English trading house to Mogadore in 1814.  In addition to representing the trading house, he was also British Vice Consul and agent for the American Consul General in Tangier.  One of the duties of the deeply religious consul was to rescue and ransom English and American captives, and over the years he was to exert himself beyond all expectations to do so. According to some sources, Riley and Willshire became business partners and the U.S. Congress voted him its thanks for his role in the rescue. Riley named his third son, William Willshire Riley in honor of the consult and named the town he founded in Ohio, Willshire (it still exists).  Riley visited Willshire in Mogadore in later years and reportedly purchased a home in the New York for him in anticipation of a planed move to America, a plan cut short by James Riley's death while at sea in 1840.  Willshire and his family's prosperity ended when a French fleet besieged Mogadore in 1844, triggering a raid by Arab desert tribesmen, who sacked the town and robbed Willshire of everything.  Though he subsequently became British consul in Adrianople (in the Ottoman Empire) he died impoverished in 1851. One of Riley's sons called Willshire "an honour to his nation and an ornament to mankind".

In 2003, author Dean King sought to recreate Riley's journey and he discusses what he found in this National Geographic article.

Friday, March 4, 2016


The Who Singles

Today is the 50th anniversary of the UK release of Substitute, the 4th single from The Who.  Like its predecessors, I Can't Explain, Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere and My Generation, Substitute was a hit in the UK, rising to #5 on the charts and a flop in the United States, which still wasn't ready for the aggressive, hard-hitting sound of The Who.

And it wasn't just the sound that was aggressive:
Substitute your lies for facts
I can see right through your plastic mac
I look all white, but my dad was black
My fine looking suit is really made out of sack

Substitute me for him
Substitute my coke for gin
Substitute you for my mum
At least I'll get my washing done
The song went on to become one of the staples of The Who's live act.