Thursday, December 14, 2017

Madame Blatavsky And The Birth Of Baseball

Captain Abner Doubleday (1819-93) fired the first cannon shot in defense of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.  He went on to serve with the Army of the Potomac, being wounded twice, and eventually promoted to Major General.  His finest moment was on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, when he assumed command of the First Corps after the death of General John Reynolds, holding the field for several hours against superior numbers of Confederates, and allowing time for the rest of the Union Army to reach the scene. (General Doubleday from SABR)

Abner was also, according to an official baseball commission finding in 1907, the originator of America's first national pastime, drawing up rules for a contest held in Elihu Phinney's cow pasture in Cooperstown, NY in 1839.  It's the reason the Baseball Hall of Fame, which officially opened on the 100th anniversary of Doubleday's game, is located in that bucolic upstate New York town.
(First Hall of Fame induction in 1939; front row L to R; Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Cy Young; standing L to R; Honus Wagner, Pete Alexander, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie, George Sisler, Walter Johnson; Ty Cobb arrived too late for the photo)

Of course, Doubleday did not invent baseball, indeed there is no evidence he was even in Cooperstown at the time, though he did have cousins who lived there.  The direct lineal ancestor of today's game grew out of the sport played in the New York City area earlier in the 19th century.  The American birthplace was urban, not rural.

How, and why, was the Doubleday myth accepted?

Answer: Albert G Spalding

Albert Spalding was one of the stars of early organized baseball in the 1870s, pitching for the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association starting in 1871.  Dissatisfied with the loose running rules of the Association, in 1876, Spalding played a key role in organizing the National League.  After becoming one of the first players to use a glove he founded the Albert G Spalding sporting goods company, which still exists.  Albert proved to be even more of a success as a businessman than as a ballplayer. as ballplayer, 1870s)

To help promote the business, Spalding published the first set of the official rules of baseball and an annual guide to the sport which became the "bible" of baseball.   In 1888-9 he put together a team of National League stars to undertake the first world tour to popularize baseball (and his company).  In 1900 President McKinley appointed him the US Commissioner for the Summer Olympics.

In 1905 when baseball pioneer Henry Chadwick wrote an article claiming that baseball derived from the English game of rounders, Spalding, as the most powerful man in baseball and an American patriot decided something must be done to establish the American origins of the game.  He organized what became known as the Mills Commission, named after the former National League president and close friend of Spalding, Abraham Mills, though for all practical purposes Spalding ran everything.

After announcing the commission and a public plea for information on the origins of baseball, Spalding received a letter from Abner Graves, a mining engineer in Denver, claiming claiming he was present as a child when Abner Doubleday approached a group of boys in Cooperstown with his newly developed rules of baseball back in 1839.  The letter is nonsensical and baseball historians have dismissed its accuracy yet it led directly to the 1907 conclusion of the commission establishing baseball's origin with Doubleday in Cooperstown.  You can find the full text of the Graves letters here.

It turns out there is a previously unknown connection between Albert Spalding and Abner Doubleday that may explain why Spalding pushed the Cooperstown story.   The connection was laid out for the first time in David Block's magisterial opus, Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search For the Roots of the Game (2006).  Block traces back the near and distant relatives of baseball to Europe, and England in particular.  His hypothesis is that the direct lineal ancestor of baseball is an English game called stool ball which, by the early 1700s had evolved into base ball which was a very rudimentary form of what became today's game.  Carried to America by colonists a variant of base ball was played in the encampments of George Washington's Continental Army. A Little Pretty Pocket Book, published in England (1744), image from Wikipedia)

The book also contains a chapter by David's brother Philip regarding his research into Spalding and Doubleday.  It turns out both were heavily involved in the Theosophical Society.  The Theosophical Society was the first organization in the United States devoted to the study of Eastern (Asian) thought and religion.  Founded in 1875 in New York City by Madame Helena Petrovna Blatavsky, who arrived from Russia two years previous, Abner Doubleday served as vice-president and then president of the Society from 1879 to 1884, remaining actively engaged until his death in 1893.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.jpg(Madame Blatavsky; Wikipedia)

Prior to arriving in America, Blatavsky traveled widely, including to India as well as claiming she was sent by The Masters of Ancient Wisdom to Tibet where she was trained to develop her own psychic powers.

The tenets of Theosophy are difficult for me to understand so I'll settle for this excerpt from Wikipedia and let the reader make of it what they will:
One of the central philosophical tenets promoted by the Society was the complex doctrine of The Intelligent Evolution of All Existence, occurring on a cosmic scale, incorporating both the physical and non-physical aspects of the known and unknown Universe, and affecting all of its constituent parts regardless of apparent size or importance. The theory was originally promulgated in the Secret Doctrine, the 1888 magnum opus of Helena Blavatsky.[7] According to this view, humanity's evolution on earth (and beyond) is part of the overall cosmic evolution. It is overseen by a hidden spiritual hierarchy, the so-called Masters of the Ancient Wisdom, whose upper echelons consist of advanced spiritual beings.

Blavatsky portrayed the Theosophical Society as being part of one of many attempts throughout the millennia by this hidden Hierarchy to guide humanity – in concert with the overall intelligent cosmic evolutionary scheme – towards its ultimate, immutable evolutionary objective: the attainment of perfection and the conscious, willing participation in the evolutionary process. These attempts require an earthly infrastructure (such as the Theosophical Society) which she held was ultimately under the inspiration of a number of Mahatmas, members of the Hierarchy.

In addition to the stated objectives, as early as 1889 Blavatsky publicly declared that the purpose of establishing the Society was to prepare humanity for the reception of a World Teacher: according to the Theosophical doctrine described above, a manifested aspect of an advanced spiritual entity (the Maitreya) that periodically appears on Earth in order to direct the evolution of humankind. The mission of these reputedly regularly appearing emissaries is to practically translate, in a way and language understood by contemporary humanity, the knowledge required to propel it to a higher evolutionary stage. 
Interested in spiritual matters from a young age, Doubleday subscribed to the Transcendentalist journal, The Dial, after graduating from West Point.  Upon retiring from the army in 1873, Doubleday decided to devote his time to spiritualism.  After reading Blatavsky's book Isis Unveiled, which he praise for its "marvelous erudition" and "the most novel explanations given in the work in regard to the psychical and spiritual phenomenon", Abner sought the author out and joined the Theosophical Society.  He also continued to pursue his spiritual interests outside the group translating into English two French books on magic and the occult.

Block notes that Doubleday continued to be a supporter of Madame Blatavsky:
"even after she came under numerous attacks by her enemies, including charges that she fraudulently produced psychic phenomena and allegations of alcoholism and other immoral behavior."
In 1880, Blatavsky and the society's co-founder, Henry Steel Olcott moved to India where they became associated with Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform movement.  They also visited Ceylon where it is reported they became the first Westerners to officially convert to Buddhism.  Blatavsky also created controversy in India being accused of fraud related to her alleged production of paranormal phenomena.  In 1885 she returned to Europe where she wrote The Secret Doctrine which she claimed to be a commentary on ancient Tibetan manuscripts.  She died in 1891.

When Doubleday died the society's journal noted that the general had "many strange psychical experiences of his own".  Harper's Weekly also noticed his interest in the occult in its obituary:
"Since his retirement he has lived quietly at Mendham, New Jersey, writing more or less for magazines on military subjects and studying the occult sciences.  He was one of Madame Blatavsky's first converts, and was a firm believer the theosophical theories . . . No one could take with him on this subject without realizing that he was perfectly honest in his faith.  Whatever a skeptic might think of the founders of the society, he could not help believing that this old soldier was a genuine Buddhist, and found much consolation in the religion which he had embraced towards the end of his life."
Interestingly, Doubleday's funeral cortege was accompanied by a military honor guard from the Lafayette Post of the Grand Army of the Potomac under the command of, none other than, Colonel Abraham Mills, the post commander, National League president, and later chair of the Mills Commission!

It turns out that Albert Spalding was also a prominent member of, and major financial contributor to,  the Theosophical Society.  Spalding became involved in the 1890s through his second wife, Elizabeth, a close aide of Katherine Tingley who had established a Theosophical enclave at Point Loma in San Diego in 1897.  Elizabeth had been a disciple of Madame Blatavsky and became close with Tingley, her successor as head of the U.S. Theosophical Society.  In fact, when Spalding received Graves's 1905 letter he and his wife had been living for several years in a palatial mansion in the Point Loma community.  It must have seemed a ready made solution for Spalding; Graves confirmed the very American birth of baseball, and its originator was a fellow Theosophist!

(Theosophical Society buildings at Point Loma from saveoursandiego)
In his research, Philip Block uncovered a 1905 article in the Loma Point community's weekly newspaper, four months after Spalding received the Graves letter.  The article references the Graves letter and, referring to Doubleday, notes:
"It is of interest to note the fact that it is to this stanch Theosophist, well known army officer and author, that the national game of Base Ball owes not only its name, but also in large degree its development from a simpler sport; or indeed, according to some writers, its very invention."
Two years later, Spalding, writing from his home at Point Loma, addressed the Mills Commission and endorsed the Doubleday story:
"I am very strongly included to the belief that Cooperstown, N.Y., is the birthplace of the present American game of Base Ball, and that Major General Abner Doubleday was the originator of the game."
The Commission, chaired by Spalding and Doubleday's mutual friend Abraham Mills, duly ratified this conclusion.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Allenby Enters Jerusalem

On December 11, 1917, General Edmund Allenby, commander of British forces in the Middle East entered Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate.  As a sign of respect he dismounted from his horse and walked into the city, as shown below.  It was the emotional and symbolic culmination of a campaign launched from the Suez Canal against the Turks a year earlier.

Jerusalem, part of the Ottoman Empire since 1517, consisted only of the Old City and a few buildings outside the walls.  Since the latter part of the 19th century its population had been majority Jewish for perhaps the first time in over a thousand years.

A few days ago President Trump rightfully extended United States recognition to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, recognizing the reality of the past seventy years.  Contrary to many predictions, the American announcement has not triggered widespread outrage in the Muslim world.

The context of the President's announcement is better understood in the context of one of the final actions of President Obama's administration.  In a small and spiteful act, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry maneuvered the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which effectively denied Jewish rights to East Jerusalem, including the walled city, the Jewish Quarter and to Judaism's holiest sites, and allowing the Palestinians in adding yet another set of unreasonable demands to any future peace negotiations. 

In contrast, President Trump formally fulfilled the provisions of a 1995 law, passed by Congress by a 93-5 vote and signed by President Clinton, declaring  “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”   Since then presidents have signed waivers every six months deferring action on the law.

The United States Senate reaffirmed the law just six months ago by a unanimous vote.  The co-sponsor was New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer who, two months ago, attacked President Trump for not keeping his campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem:
 “This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, yet with 2018 fast approaching, the U.S. still hasn't moved the embassy or made clear its commitment to Israel's capital…President Trump's recent comments suggest his indecisiveness on the embassy's relocation. As someone who strongly believes that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, I am calling for the U.S. Embassy in Israel to be relocated to Jerusalem. Moving the embassy as soon as possible would appropriately commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Jerusalem's reunification and show the world that the U.S. definitively acknowledges Jerusalem as Israel's capital.”
In taking this bipartisan action the President was more circumspect and diplomatic than Senator Schumer.  The Senator supports an undivided Jerusalem, while the President was careful to say that his action involved no predetermination of the ultimate boundary of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Breaking The Barrier

On October 14, 1947, Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager became the first human to break the sound barrier, flying the X-1.  Yeager was an Army Air Corps pilot in WWII.  After shooting down a German fighter plane, Yeager was shot down over France in March 1944.  Helped by the French Resistance he escaped over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain and was back in England by May.

At the time, pilots who had been shot down, worked with the Resistance, and made it back to England were forbidden to fly further combat missions.  Yeager was able to obtain an audience with General Eisenhower to plead his case and was allowed to return to combat.  In October 1944 he shot down five German fighters in one day.

In 2012, on the 65th anniversary of his 1947 flight, 89 year old General Chuck Yeager flew in a two-seater F-15 fighter, breaking the sound barrier once again.  Best comment on the video: "he barely can get into the cockpit, his steel balls block the way".

In 2017 the 94 year old Yeager remains active on Twitter.

You can watch a theatric version of his 1947 flight in this clip from The Right Stuff.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Things I Had Not Known Part 781

The United Postal Union (UPU) was founded in 1874, currently has 192 member countries, and is now run under the auspices of the United Nations.  The UPU meets every four years to set terminal fees for postage between its members with each country getting one vote.  Under the UPU scheme countries that are considered poorer or less developed pay less for shipping to countries considered richer or more developed.

The result, as reported in a recent eye-opening article in Forbes, has created an astonishing situation in which freight rates from China to the United States are less than shipping within the United States created a huge competitive advantage for Chinese manufacturers and shippers because, under current UPU rules, China, the second largest country in the world, is in the same category as poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa!

According to Forbes: “The cost to ship a one-pound package from South Carolina to New York City would run nearly $6; from Beijing to NYC: $3.66.”  At the same time, the shipping rates from the U.S. to China are outrageous, and often preclude American customers from returning defective products.  That same one-pound package would cost about $50 to send via USPS International Mail from New York City to Beijing.

American merchants, already facing higher production costs, are further penalized even in dealing with their American customers.  Here's one example:
Becca Peter from Lopez Island in Washington state is in a similar situation. She sells something called Washi tape via a website called “at some of the lowest prices of any U.S.-based small business.” But these low prices are nothing compared to what Chinese competitors can sell at. While Peter must charge a flat $3.50 for shipping, Chinese merchants are selling versions of the product with all fees and and shipping charges included for a total price of $2.
And shipping internationally?  Fugeddaboudit!
It costs less than $4 to mail a 9-ounce parcel from China to Toronto or London. If I want to mail a 9-ounce parcel to Toronto it would cost me $14.73. If I wanted to send that same package to London it would cost me $21.38. 
As the author points out: 
As you browse through the listings on sites like Amazon and eBay it is almost impossible not to be amazed at how cheaply China-based merchants are selling products for: xlr cables for $.99, a necklace for $.78, 10 watch batteries for $.78 -- all with postage included.
My default position on international commerce is to favor free trade.  And I don't begrudge China becoming more prosperous and more people moving out of poverty, and am happy for my friends there.  But it is very clear that the existing trade rules, whether involving the UPU or the WTO are simply not "free" trade and have been successfully manipulated by China to the detriment of American citizens.  When China gained admission, with U.S. approval (in an enormous miscalculation by the administration of President Bush), to the WTO in 2001 it was supposed to herald a new day of trade benefiting both nations.  Instead, China has been skillfully able to use the WTO rules and its tribunals to pry open U.S. markets while keeping theirs relatively closed.

As several studies have pointed out it is the sheer scale of China's production boom that makes it unlike any other country which entered the WTO.  Some estimates are that up to 2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost to China's onslaught in the first decade of the 21st century.  The suddenness and scale of China made it impossible for the U.S. to adjust gradually to change.  That's why a free trade agreement with countries with much small economies and manufacturing sectors are much easier to deal with.

And that doesn't even get to the intellectual property (IP) issues American companies face with China.  Those seeking to do business in that country are forced to turn over IP to the government in order to obtain access, and the outright theft of IP by Chinese companies is rarely punished by that country's legal system.

I saw some of this first hand during my many trips to China.  It's a fascinating place and I'd like to visit again.  But something has gone terribly wrong in our trade relations.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Case Of You

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Joni Mitchell live.  From the album Blue (1971).  I can't find words.

Monday, November 20, 2017

County Fair

It's riffmaster Joe Walsh's 70th birthday today!  We've written before of his approach to metaphysics which is reprised here:
You know, there’s a philosopher who says, “As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos, and random events, non-related events, smashing into each other and causing this situation or that situation, and then, this happens, and it’s overwhelming, and it just looks like what in the world is going on. And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely crafted novel. But at the time, it don’t.”
Building upon that insight we present County Fair, a further Walshian inquiry into the fate of humanity and the meaning of life.  Plus it's got some nifty riffs. 
Found an old puzzle that somebody quit
Try to fit pieces and hope that they fit
But they're going together so slowly
It may take me forever to know
And it's only a puzzle 

Parts of the puzzle will never be found
And even though pieces are gone
It's a county fair picture
Part of me's there
Some of the pieces are still at the fair
And it may be forever

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Talk Of The Town

One of the finest songs from the Pretenders, featuring the incomparable vocals of Chrissie Hynde.   This 1980 video is of the original band lineup.  In 1982 lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott died from cocaine abuse. The same year bassist Pete Farndon was fired by the other band members for his out of control drug habits and he died shortly thereafter of an overdose.  Chrissie, along with drummer Martin Chambers, goes on.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Texas Invades New Mexico

Yes, it happened and eventually got to the point where an American president threatened to use U.S. troops against Texas.

It started with the Texas War of Independence in 1836, at the end of which the Republic of Texas became a nation and the Mexican army withdrew (for more on the war, read Remember (My Visit To) The Alamo! series, and Sam Houston: The Raven).  The treaty signed by Santa Anna left the boundaries of Texas ill-defined and the refusal of Mexico, after Santa Anna's removal from office, to recognize Texas as an independent nation created an unstable situation where Texas was both expansionist and constantly worried about the prospects of another Mexican invasion.

Most Texians asserted that their country's western boundary extended to the Rio Grande and encompassed all of present day New Mexico and Colorado east of that river.

(From wikipedia)

Initially the situation was contained by the Republic's first President, Sam Houston, who did not press boundary issues and followed a policy of reconciliation with Mexico as well as with the powerful Indian tribes in the area.  Limited to one term by the Republic's constitution, Houston was succeeded in December 1838 by Mirabeau Lamar who was elected to a three year term.  Lamar's policy was of aggressive expansion, hostility to Mexico (going as far as sending support to an independence movement in the Yucatan), and undertaking of punitive expeditions against the tribes.

In 1840, Lamar appointed three Texians living in Santa Fe as commissioners and sent them a letter they could use to invite the people of Neuvo Mexico, then part of Mexico, to join the Republic of Texas.  The overture was not successful and the following year, Lamar decided to send an expedition to Santa Fe, despite the opposition of the Texas Congress.  The expedition was to be initially presented to New Mexico authorities as for the purpose of commerce but its real purpose was to seize control of the lucrative trade of the Santa Fe Trail and to annex New Mexico.  Lamar's deception was fairly obvious as the "trading" expedition was accompanied by five companies of infantry and one of artillery under the command of General Hugh McLeod, a West Point graduate.

(Mirabeau Lamar, from wikipedia)

Three hundred and twenty one men set out from Austin in June 1841.  They had little knowledge of the route to Santa Fe, at one point mistaking the Wichita River for the Red River and following it in the wrong direction for twelve days.  Food supplies ran low and they lacked sufficient water.  One attack by Kiowas killed five soldiers, while another attack resulted in the expedition losing all its cattle and a large number of horses.  These troubles were exacerbated by the desertion of their two Mexican guides who made way to Taos where they warned Governor Manual Armijo of the approaching Texians.

Armijo quickly mobilized more than 1,000 soldiers and advanced east, surrounding the main body of hungry, weary and thirsty Texians near Tucumcari.  McLeod and his men surrendered on October 5, without firing a shot.  Over the next ten weeks the prisoners were marched to El Paso, then to Mexico City, and finally imprisoned in Veracruz.

Lamar's tenure, which ended in December 1841 was a disaster between the failure of his Mexico policy, the wars caused by his Indian policy and the decrepit finances of the Republic.  After annexation, Lamar served in the state legislature and was appointed by President Buchanan as minister to Nicaragua and later Costa Rica before dying in 1859.

The US minister to Mexico intervened on behalf of the prisoners and was able to obtain their release in April 1842.  After his release, Hugh McLeod served in the Texas legislature and married a cousin of Mirabeau Lamar.  A fierce opponent of Sam Houston (for a quarter century Texas politics was about whether you were for or against Houston) McLeod joined the Confederacy, serving as colonel in Hood's Texas Brigade before dying of pneumonia in Virginia in early 1862.

In the meantime tensions between Mexico and Texas exploded.  In March 1842, Mexican troops occupied Goliad, Victoria, and San Antonio causing panic across Texas.  Though the occupation forces soon retreated, San Antonio was reoccupied by the Mexicans for several days in September.   Sam Houston, reelected president in December 1841, order a punitive expedition towards the Rio Grande, apparently more to appease Texian public opinion than to engage in pitched battles.  After capturing Laredo the expedition's commander ordered a retreat but more than 300 Texians refused and, under the leadership of political opponents of Houston, decided to cross the Rio Grande.  They were defeated in a battle near the town of Meir with thirty killed and the rest captured.

While being marched to Mexico City, the Texians made a mass escape eluding capture for seven days.  An enraged Santa Anna (president, once again) ordered their execution.  The Governor of the state of Coahuila refused to obey the order which was finally modified to require the execution of every tenth man, to be determined by the drawing of lots.  On March 25, 1843 seventeen of the prisoners were shot.  Many of the survivors died in prison while others were released from time to time, with the last obtaining their freedom in September 1844.

Meanwhile, Texas made two additional attacks on Nuevo Mexico in 1843.  Charles Warfield, fur trapper and Texas army officer, led 24 men in a retaliatory campaign, attempting to seize Mora, New Mexico (northeast of Santa Fe).  Driven off, his band later murdered Mexican trader Antonio Jose Chavez, on the Santa Fe Trail.

This was followed in the same year by an expedition of 200 men led by James Snively, quartermaster of the Texas army, to attack Mexican merchants on the Santa Fe Trail and, if possible, seize the town.  In June, Snively's band defeated a unit of Mexican soldiers. However, their was broad dissatisfaction with Snively among his men and the command voted to divide itself.  Several days later Snively's command unexpectedly encountered a troop U.S. Army Dragoons under Capt Philip St George Cooke which had been sent to protect Mexican caravans on the trail after the killing of Chavez.  Cooke informed Snively he was on American territory  Though Snively protested he was on Texas territory, Cooke surrounded the Texan camp and disarmed the men, ending the expedition.

Phil Cooke was a noted Indian fighter, and served under George McClellan was a cavalry commander during the Peninsula Campaign in 1862.  He was removed and sent to non-combat posts, in part because of the army's humiliation when Cooke's son-in-law, Jeb Stuart led his cavalry command on a successful ride around the entire Union Army.   You can still buy Cooke's memoirs on Amazon:

Snively went on to join the California Gold Rush in 1849, moving on to the Arizona Territory in 1858 where he played a role in organizing Yuma County while continuing to prospect.  He eventually settled in the Phoenix area and was killed by Apaches while exploring near Wickenburg, Arizona in 1871.

In 1845, Texas agreed to be annexed by the United States but it was not the end of its aspirations to expand its border westwards.  The following year General Philip Kearny seized Nuevo Mexico which became part of the United States with the end of the Mexican War in 1848.  Texas continued to assert that its western boundary was on the Rio Grande, actually sending a commission to organize Santa Fe County under Texas Law, prompting local citizens to file a petition with the American government to allow New Mexico to be organized as a territory.

New Mexico now became part of the greater crisis over slavery that engulfed the Union.  With the legal status of slavery in both California and New Mexico in question and Texan claims regarding borders the situation once again became explosive.

In March 1849, President Zachary Taylor took office.  Taylor, hero of the Mexican War and Louisiana slave owner was expected to look favorably on the expansion of the peculiar institution but, to the South's surprise and outrage, Taylor proved a fierce opponent to slavery's expansion into the territories.  To end the dispute, President Taylor urged the citizens of California and New Mexico to draft constitutions, apply for statehood, and avoid becoming territories.

(President Taylor, from

Tempers grew hotter.  Texans who favored both territorial and slavery expansion began to agitate to secure their Rio Grand boundaries by force, with the Governor of Texas threatening to send troops to Santa Fe, as well as threatening secession.  In February 1850 Taylor met with Southern leaders and warned them that anyone "taken in rebellion against the Union, he would hang ... with less reluctance than he had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico."  He ordered reinforcement of U.S. Army garrisons in New Mexico and instructed that any attempt by Texas to assert its claims to New Mexico be met with force.

Taylor began writing a message to Congress about the crisis but never finished it.  After an Independence day ceremony and picnic at the White House, the president fell ill, dying five days later.  His successor Millard Fillmore, was a much less formidable character, and Congress reasserted itself eventually passing a series of measures that became known as the Compromise of 1850.  The first bill passed, on September 9, was the Texas and New Mexico Act which established the current boundaries of Texas, made New Mexico a territory and allowed it to choose whether to be slave or free when it became a state (which did not happen until 1912), and provided that the United States would pay off $10 million of the debts of the Republic of Texas (which had teetered on the edge of bankruptcy throughout its nine years of independence).

With that the dispute between New Mexico and Texas came to a close.
Though with those Texans you can never be sure.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Veil Nebula

From Astronomy Picture of the Day.  The Nebula is the remnant of a supernova and about 1,500 light years from earth.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Red Hot Chili Peppers Carpool Karoake

The Red Hot Chili Peppers drive around with James Corden singing songs and having fun.  Along the way Anthony Kiedis and Corden wrestle on someone's lawn.  I like that they start on with my favorite Chili Pepper song, Don't Stop.  You can hear the full song here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Last Of The Four Friends

He was the oldest living major league player, the only one left who'd played against Lou Gehrig.  Bobby Doerr died yesterday at age 99.

They came to the Red Sox within a few years of each other, Doerr in 1937, Ted Williams two years later, Dom DiMaggio in '40, with Johnny Pesky joining them in 1942.  They were all West Coast kids at a time when that was more unusual for baseball; Doerr from LA, Williams from San Diego, DiMaggio from the Bay Area and Pesky an Oregon native.  They became life long friends and they all lived long lives, Dom passing at 92, Pesky making it to 93, while Ted at 83 went first and youngest.

(Below, Williams, DiMaggio, Doerr, and Pesky)

The Hall of Fame second baseman for 13 seasons for the Red Sox retired at the age of 33 after injuring his back, returned to the West Coast, and became an Oregon farmer.

(Below, DiMaggio, Doerr, and Pesky throw out first ball, Game 2, 2004 World Series; Williams passed in 2002)
Image result for bobby doerr

Bobby Doerr lived long enough to be at Fenway Park for its 100th anniversary in 2012, a park that was only 25 years old when he made his debut.

(Below, Doerr and Pesky at 100th anniversary, behind them are Varitek, Big Papi, and Wakefield.)
Image result for bobby doerr

Monday, November 13, 2017


Last week I attended a talk by Prof Kyle Longley of Arizona State University on the subject of the Versailles Treaty of 1919 and its long term aftermath.  Prof Longley did a nice job in a short time laying out how the Treaty laid the groundwork for WWII and events into the 21st century, with special emphasis on Eastern Europe, the Middle East, China and Indochina.

Prof Longley is well respected in the field and, having checked his background before attending, is of the Progressive persuasion and it was two aspects of Progressive historicity, and the contradictions they present, that unexpectedly struck me during his talk.  The first is the concept of agency, which in the social sciences refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices, a concept that becomes particularly tricky in Progressive terms as it can be turned on and off as best aligns with Progressive political theory.  One example is that of African-Americans.  During the recent decades many historians of the Civil War and Reconstruction have rightfully emphasized the agency of slaves and of recently freed slaves.  Prior to this period, slaves had primarily been portrayed as passive recipients of freedom.  Modern historians have emphasized the actions many slaves took to achieve their freedom and fought as soldiers in support of the Federal cause, though like many such revisions some historians have now gone too far in ignoring non-black actions in this regard.  However, at the same time, in a Ta-Naheisi Coates' world of white privilege and Black Lives Matter we are assured by academics that African-Americans in the 21st century have far more circumscribed agency than slaves in the 1860s, a bizarre and ahistorical take on reality.  As an aside, writing this I am reminded Help Me To Find My People, a touching and illuminating book by North Carolina State University history professor Heather Andrea Williams about the search by newly freed slaves trying to locate the wives, husbands, and children from whom they were separated through sale by their masters before the war.

Agency came up in Prof Longley's description of the creation of new states in Eastern Europe and the Middle East though he did not use the term directly.  Longley believes, rightly in many cases, that these new nations had severe problems from the beginning because of how boundaries were drawn, a fault he ascribed to the winning powers, specifically Britain and France.  However, while Britain and France did play their part, they were also besieged by competing delegations from many different nationalities pleading their cases at Versailles.  They were active lobbyists for their conflicting claims, whether Poles, Hungarians, Bulgars, Serbs, Croats, Romanians, Arabs, and a multitude of others.

A specific example comes from the Arab world.  Though the magic words Sykes-Picot often start and end the conversation on post WWI borders in the Middle East, the situation was much more complicated.  While the British and French were trying to use the Arabs, various factions of Arabs were trying to use the British and French in support of their claims against fellow Arabs.  The Hashemites portrayed in Lawrence of Arabia promoted themselves as the leaders of the Arabs, a role much disputed by others.  In fact, after the end of the war they were ejected by the Saudi tribe who rule Arabia to this day, leaving the Hashemites the consolation prizes of Jordan, which they still rule, and Iraq, from which they were deposed in 1958.  There never was any good boundary solution in the post-war Middle East.  The British and French may have made a hash of it, but so have the locals in the decades since.  To pretend the solution was the creation of a new mythical Arab nation in an area which last saw such rule in the 10th century is simply romantic nonsense.

The other concept is multiculturism.  I don't think Prof Longley viewed his presentation as an indictment of multiculturalism, but it certainly was.   In his presentation, Longley repeatedly condemned the Allied leaders and mapmakers at Versailles for jamming together incompatible peoples and cultures in their settlements of both Eastern Europe and the Middle East.  He emphasized how foolish it was to ignore cultural differences in the creation of new states.  Yet Progressives turn around and urge multiculturalism and diversity as their preferred dominant value in Western societies.

Multiculturalism, at least as defined by Progressives over the past few decades, is different from a multi ethnic and multiracial society.  We've built, not without difficulty, a successful multi ethnic and racial society in the United States.  I'm certainly part of that mix and proud to be so.  But the traditional American approach and, indeed, the approach of Progressives until the late 1960s, was an assimilationist and nationalist approach to ethnicity and race (as discussed in a prior THC post) based upon common American values and pride in country.  Modern Progressives view multiculturalism as an end in itself, rejecting assimilation, nationalism and pride in our tradition of liberty and self-reliance.  The modern definition is a recipe for creating a new Yugoslavia; why anyone would have that goal.  We should learn from the truth of Prof Longley's observations; societies consisting of members of different cultures when left to their separate ways and undigested into some level of core common values, are societies based on unresolved tensions and grievances and inherently unstable.  Identity politics as practiced today are a recipe for societal disaster.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Will The Circle Be Unbroken
Growing up in the northeast I wasn't exposed to country music though, as a fan of The Byrds, I'd heard their take on the genre in 1968's Sweetheart of the Rodeo.  The first time I remember really listening to old-time country was with the release of a triple album in 1972 - Will The Circle Be Unbroken.  The album cover was unusual - it pictured some old fogey (actually Union Admiral David Dixon Porter); the long list of names was hard to read and made it hard to tell whose record this was, and the prominent display of Confederate flags makes it questionable whether it would be released in this form today.

The album was recorded in August 1971 as a project of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a California-based group of country-rockers who'd had a minor hit in 1967 with Buy For Me The Rain and more success with the 1969 release of a cover of Jerry Jeff Walker's Mr Bojangles.  Their idea was to bring the band together with some of the icons of traditional country music to, as the album cover states, "form a new Circle".  It took some persuading to get the participants together, but the result was memorable - 38 songs, all recorded on the first or second takes, and snippets of in-studio conversation.  On all the tune, the Dirt Band provides the core instrumentation..

The featured country artists:

Mother Maybelle Carter (1909-78) of the famous Carter Family act and mother of June Carter, the second wife of Johnny Cash.  Known for her guitar and girlish voice.

The popularizer of the three finger banjo picking style, Earl Scruggs (1924-2012), with his breakthrough country hit of 1949, Foggy Mountain Breakdown.  Many of us non-country listeners first heard him on The Ballad of Jed Clampett.

My personal favorite, Doc Watson (1923-2012) whom THC has posted on before, with his marvelous guitar picking and resonant and comforting singing and speaking voice.

The famous country fiddler, Roy Acuff (1903-92).

Merle Travis (1917-83), singer, songwriter, and inventor of travis style picking guitar.

The King of Bluegrass, the guitar and mandolin playing Jimmy Martin (1927-2005).

The album also introduced master fiddler Vassar Clements (1928-2005) to a wider audience.

And now, let's listen to some music.

A Merle Travis composition, Dark As A Dungeon, featuring Merle on vocals.

A Jimmie Driftwood song, Tennessee Stud, with Doc Watson on vocals and guitar with Clements on fiddle.

The Hank Williams standard, I Saw The Light.  Roy Acuff vocals, Earl Scruggs banjo, Watson guitar, and Clements on fiddle.

Maybelle Carter singing Wildwood Flower, written by her brother-in-law AP Carter.  Earl Scruggs on banjo, and Maybelle on autoharp.

Earl's Breakdown with, no surprise, Earl Scruggs on banjo and Clements on fiddle.

Will The Circle Be Unbroken.  Maybelle Carter vocals on first verse, Jimmy Martin on second, Roy Acuff on third.  Watson & Travis on guitar, Scruggs on banjo, and Clements on fiddle.  The original version of the song by composers Ada R Habershon and Charles H Gabrieldates to 1907.  The version below was rewritten in the 1930s by AP Carter with new lyrics and a modified chorus.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Cool And Uncool

Thoughts for the day:

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool“.
The late Seymour Phillip Hoffman as rock critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous (2000)
. . . what Frank Sinatra projected was cool. And here is where the damage was done. Frank invented cool, and everyone followed Frank, and everything has been going to hell ever since.
The late Michael Kelly in The Washington Post, May 20, 1998

Kelly, a talented journalist who died in 2003 when the Humvee he was riding in overturned during the invasion of Iraq, went on to write:
“Cool said the old values were for suckers. Cool was looking out for number one always . . . Cool didn’t go to war: Saps went to war and anyway, cool had no beliefs it was willing to die for . . . Cool was a cad and boastful about it: in cool’s philosophy, the lady was always a tramp, and to be treated accordingly . . . Before cool, being good was still hip; after cool, only being bad was.
Quite a legacy. On the other hand, he sure could sing.”
I'm a great admirer of Frank Sinatra the singer, particularly of his 1950s Capitol Records recordings  as you can tell from my 14 posts on the man, but I like these sentiments about cool and uncool, though it seems like over the past decade we've moved on to snark as the dominant sentiment.

I've been unable to determine if the Seymour Phillip Hoffman quote was written for the Lester Bangs character in Almost Famous, or if Lester actually said it and it was inserted into the script years later.  In any event, for those of us who read his work it sounds like something Bangs could have written.

Almost Famous captures the feel of 1973 and the generosity, humor, and understanding it shows to all of its characters makes it a joy to watch.  It's not a surprise since the screenwriter and director was Cameron Crowe who, a quarter century before, was the 15 year old neophyte rock journalist portrayed in the film, and Bangs had been his mentor. Hoffman's performance is marvelous (his tone and cadence is just like that of Bangs).  Here is a compilation of his scenes from the movie, which contains many wonderful nuggets of advice.  The song playing in the background at the beginning of the clip is Sparks from The Who album Live At Leeds, one of the best pieces of live rock ever recorded - give it a listen. The quote used at top can be found at the end of the video.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

White Bird

Looking for something on YouTube I came across this 1968 tune from It's A Beautiful Day.  I hadn't heard it in many years and it captures well the spirit and sound of the times.  It takes me back. Led by David LaFlamme on electric violin and vocals, accompanied by his wife Linda on vocals, the band had a unique sound.  Listen to the violin solo beginning around 3:55.

I saw the band perform at the Fillmore East in May 1969 as one of the opening acts for The Who when they premiered Tommy in the U.S.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Padres-Braves Brawl Of 1984

Braves-Padres-brawl-AP.jpg(from The Sporting News)

I recently attended a three day meeting sponsored by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) in Scottsdale, organized around the Arizona Fall League (AFL) schedule.   Along with attending two AFL games and seeing Max Scherzer inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame we also heard from several speakers, including four former major leaguers, all of whom hated the decision to take Rich Hill out of the second game of the World Series after pitching only four innings:

- Del Unser; 15 years as a major league player, long time Philadelphia Phillies farm director and scout, just retired after 51 years in major league baseball.  Said Micky Lolich was the toughest pitcher he faced.  Del resorted to trying to bunt on him but Lolich knocked him down after every attempt.  He also told some funny stories about being a rookie on the Senators team managed by Ted Williams.

- Ed Lynch; 7 years as major leaguer, and former GM of the Cubs.  Got a law degree after he retired as player.  Told us the Mets could see that Calvin Schiraldi was scared when he came into Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The man knows his baseball history.
 (Ed Lynch at Scottsdale Stadium)
- John D'Acquisto; 10 year veteran, now working for  After retirement got a doctorate in exercise science and physiology and is also a talented artist.  Being an investment adviser did not turn out so well and he served four years in prison for fraud.  His talk was so entertaining I downloaded his well-reviewed book, Fastball John.
And Terry Kennedy.  Terry grew up in baseball.  His father, Bob, played 16 seasons in the majors and then worked for another 36 years as scout, farm director, manager of the Cubs, and as a GM.  He was also Ted Williams' flight instructor during WWII.

Terry played 14 seasons in the majors with his best years in San Diego from 1981 through 1986, including the 1984 NL pennant winners, and was a four-time All Star.  Other than Gary Carter, he caught the most major league games in the 1980s.  He's been a minor league manager for the Cubs and currently serves as an advance scout for the Chicago team.

In his very entertaining talk Terry covered a lot of ground but it was an audience question that inspired me to dig back into the 1984 brawl.

It was August 12, 1984 and the Padres were leading the NL West by eight games.  They were in Atlanta that day and it was typical August weather, hot and humid.  The Sunday afternoon game was delayed by rain and when it finally started the Braves pitcher, Pascual Perez, promptly hit Allan Wiggins, the lead off batter for the Padres.  In the dugout Kennedy, who was catching that day, asked manager Dick Williams if he wanted the Braves lead off hitter, Jerry Royster, plunked in retaliation.  Williams instructed Terry that it was the "****** pitcher" he wanted hit.  That directive led to four bench clearing incidents, three on-field fights, the ejection of 13 players and coaches, the suspension of both managers, and the arrest of five fans.

Perez came to bat in the second but avoided getting hit by pitcher Ed Whitson.  Kennedy remarked that Perez was so skinny and slinky he was hard to nail with a pitch.  The benches cleared but at that point the players just milled around.  In the fourth Whitson threw three pitches at Perez, who dodged each one, leading to the ejection of the pitcher and Williams.  It was here that a unwritten rule of baseball was broken.  If you throw once at a guy and miss him it's over.  But it was never over for Dick Williams - that's just the way he was.

In the sixth, new Padres pitcher Greg Brooker tried and failed in his mission to hit the elusive Braves pitcher, leading to his ejection along with acting Padres manager Ozzie Virgil along with the first on-field fight.

By then the game was teetering on the brink of anarchy and everything finally came apart in the 8th when Craig Lefferts hit Perez on the elbow, earning an immediate ejection.  The ensuing fight led to the ejection of Braves manager Joe Torre and many other players.  Padres player Champ Summers charged the Braves dugout to get at Perez, who had retreated there for protection, only to be restrained by Bob Horner (who was on the DL!).  At that point, a fan dumped beer on Summers and others fans jumped onto the field to enter the brawl.  Order was restored, but only briefly.

In the top of the 9th, Braves reliever Donnie Moore deliberately hit Graig Nettles triggering yet another melee.  The umpires ordered both dugouts cleared of all players who were not in the lineups and the game finally wound to a conclusion with the Braves winning 5-3.

Torre was suspended for three games; Williams for ten, along with a $10,000 fine.  Torre was still enraged after the game, likening Williams' actions to Hitler!  Terry Kennedy still seems embarrassed by the fiasco although he said having Williams suspended for ten games was heaven for the team.  He, along with most of the other Padres, hated their manager, though Terry admitted that after being a manager years later he better understood what Williams was trying to accomplish.

Interviewing Kennedy at the SABR event was our local chapter president, Barry Bloom, a baseball writer since 1980.  Barry currently writes a column for, but in 1984 was covering the Padres for a San Diego paper.  After writing that Dick Williams should be suspended for the rest of the season for his role in precipitating the brawl, Williams ejected Bloom from his office and the team voted 24-1 to not allow the writer in the locker room.

Watch some entertaining videos of the 1984 game below.  The player in the dugout without a shirt is Ed Whitson, who'd been ejected earlier.  You can catch a glimpse of a Padres player on the top of their dugout attempting to get at Braves fans - that's Kurt Bevacqua.

Monday, October 30, 2017

115 Days In Rock

(a reworking of a post from a few years ago)

I think for each of us who love music there is a particular time and place where it most connects with us. While putting together a mix of some favorite tunes from the 60s, I realized many were released in a very short time from October 30, 1967 through February 21, 1968.

There were many fine singles on the charts during those months, including Dock of The Bay (Otis Redding); Dance To The Music (Sly & The Family Stone); What A Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong); and Chain Of Fools (Aretha takes it to another level with her alternate take), but I'm going to focus on 15 albums released in that period.

It's a bit surprising but we can ignore The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In October The Beatles released their weakest album, Magical Mystery Tour, while the Stones were wandering in the desert, releasing the ridiculous Their Satanic Majesties Request. Hardcore Stones fans are still pretending it never happened. They were not to return to the Promised Land until the summer of '68 under the captaincy of Jumpin' Jack Flash.

October 30, 1967
Buffalo Springfield Again
November 1967
Forever Changes (Love)
Disraeli Gears (Cream)
Days Of Future Passed (The Moody Blues)
After Bathing At Baxter's (Jefferson Airplane)
December 1967
Axis: Bold As Love (Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Mr Fantasy (Traffic)
Pandemonium Shadow Show (Harry Nilsson)
Earth Music (The Youngbloods)
The Who Sell Out
John Wesley Harding (Bob Dylan)
Songs of Leonard Cohen
January 1968
Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf)
Gris-Gris (Dr John)
February 21, 1968
Child Is Father To The Man (Blood, Sweat & Tears)

I still listen to Buffalo Springfield Again featuring the writing, singing and guitar playing of Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay. Their debut album, Buffalo Springfield, had terrific songs but was horribly produced. This was their next try and both songs and production are excellent. The tensions that were to break up the band later in 1968 were already evident as the production notes inform you that the band members were often not even recording in the same studio. Every song is good, some are great. The best:
Mr Soul. Blazing guitar from Neil; "she said you're strange, but don't change and I let her".
Rock n Roll Woman. Perfect pop. Featuring soaring harmonies, a blown-out Hammond B3 and some of Stills' best vocals.
Expecting To Fly. Ethereal. Another Young penned song. "There you stood on the edge of your feather, expecting to fly".
Bluebird. By Stills, with sparkling guitar work by he and Neil.
Forever Changes by Love. A wonderful record that remains a favorite of mine. The band started in 1965 with a proto-punk sound on songs like 7 And 7 Is. For this album they adopted a more mellow and smoother tone. Beautifully produced and sounding which is a wonder because reportedly most of the band members were so under the influence of drugs that the individual songs had to be cobbled together in bits and pieces from various recording sessions (Arthur Lee, the vocalist and co-composer of many of the songs eventually spent more than a decade in prison on gun and drug charges). The lyrics are preciously psychedelic as are the song titles, capturing the silliness of 1967:
Alone Again Or
A House Is Not A Motel
Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hillsdale
The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This
But put aside the silly titles and give it a listen.

Disraeli Gears, the second album from Cream and the one that made them as a big act in the U.S. Contained their first American hit single Sunshine Of Your Love and a series of strong tunes featuring the music of bassist Jack Bruce along with Peter Brown's insane lyrics; Tales of Brave Ulysses; SWLABR, Dance The Night Away and We're Going Wrong (a concert highlight from their 2005 reunion tour), and Albert King's Born Under A Bad Sign. I saw them play in a half-empty high school auditorium during their early 1968 tour in support of the album.

I was not a big fan of The Moody Blues but there is no doubt that Days Of Future Passed is is a classic rock album.  Tuesday Afternoon or Nights In White Satin, anyone?
After Bathing At Baxter's. The followup to Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow album which launched the hits White Rabbit and Somebody To Love. With Baxter's, the Airplane deliberately avoided coming up with another hit single, instead opting for a woozy smorgasbord of sound and lyrics. Good at the time but it's aged badly. Best songs: The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil, Watch Her Ride (from a Perry Como Special!), Two Heads ("Two heads can be put together, And you can fill both your feet with sand, No one will know you've gutted your mind but what will you do with your bloody hands?" - someone actually let them do this on TV) and their celebration of hippiedom, Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon (here at Woodstock, appropriately).
Saw the Airplane at the Fillmore East in November 1968. They sounded much heavier live mostly due to Jack Cassidy's thundering bass lines.

Axis: Bold As Love by The Jim Hendrix Experience. Contains two of his most beautiful songs, Little Wing and Bold As Love, along with If 6 Were 9 and Castles Made Of Sand ("fall in the sea, eventually"). No one sounded like Jimi. Links all removed from YouTube, but if you can find the live version of Little Wing from the Albert Hall concert, listen to it.

Mr Fantasy from Traffic featuring Steve Winwood. Another psychedelic pop record featuring their biggest hit Dear Mr Fantasy on which Winwood, who normally played keyboard, lets rip with some memorable guitar riffs. Other strong (and quirky) tunes include Coloured Rain, Paper Sun and Heaven Is In Your Mind along with Smiling Phases which later became a hit for the post-Al Kooper version of Blood Sweat & Tears. Pandemonium Shadow Show, Harry Nilsson's quirky debut album, was released to critical acclaim and low sales. Without Her (with its distinctly non-rock orchestration) and 1941 (with orchestration sounding like a mashup of Pet Sounds and Sgt Pepper) are the best known tunes. Nilsson went on to write Three Dog Night's smash hit, One (Aimee Mann's version is the one I prefer). Harry is also the only person to record with all four Beatles individually. The album title comes from Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes which is what Nilsson wanted to title the album but when he could not obtain the rights in time, named it after the novel's mysterious carnival that arrives in a small 1920s Illinois town - Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show.

Reading the Bradbury novel at 12 or 13 years old I thought it wonderful.  Rereading it a few years ago I loved it just as much but realized it was really about something different than I thought all those years ago.  Funny how your perspective changes with age.

Earth Music by The Youngbloods. An underrated band, even at the time. Best known, even today, for their worst song and only hit, Get Together. Though their finest song is 1969's Darkness, Darkness, Earth Music is their best album, featuring Jesse Colin Young's warm and pure vocals. Included are a cover of Tim Hardin's Reason To Believe, the jug band influenced Euphoria and best of all, All My Dreams Blue.

The Who Sell Out. Contains I Can See For Miles, Tattoo (Live At Leeds version), an ode to  Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands, the beautiful I Can't Reach You ("you're so alive and I'm nearly dead") and Rael ("the wretched in their millions, will overspill their borders and chaos will reign in our Rael") with riffs that would later be incorporated into Tommy. Finally got to see them in concert twice during 1969.

John Wesley Harding. Bob Dylan's first comeback album. Dylan disappeared from public view shortly after his tour following the May 1966 release of Blonde On Blonde, allegedly because of injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident, but given the elusive nature of Bob no one has ever really been certain why. A double album, Blonde On Blonde was the culmination of an astonishing 15 month period of creativity after Dylan went electric which also saw the release of Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965) and Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965). On those albums were songs like Mr Tambourine Man; It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding); It's All Over Now, Baby Blue; Maggie's Farm; Subterranean Homesick Blues, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues; Like A Rolling Stone; Ballad Of A Thin Man; Queen Jane Approximately; Just Like A Woman; I Want You; Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 and Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again. Maybe he just needed a rest.
Harding was different; quiet and restrained with lyrics pared down from the increasingly ornate style he'd deployed in the earlier albums. Most of the songs were backed only by Dylan's acoustic guitar and harmonica. My picks (no links to originals as they are gone from YouTube):
All Along The Watchtower. Haunting. Covered by hundreds of musicians. Listen to the best cover (by Mr Hendrix) here.
I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine/ Alive with fiery breath/ And I dreamed I was amongst the ones/ That put him out to death/ Oh, I awoke in anger/ So alone and terrified/ I put my fingers against the glass/ And bowed my head and cried
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight. "Bring that bottle over here". Wacky and relaxed. He evens rhymes "moon" and "spoon"!

I'm not a big fan but Songs of Leonard Cohen was his influential first album so attention must be paid!  If you listened to early FM radio you heard Suzanne a lot. And then he goes wild (at least for Leonard Cohen) with So Long, Marianne.

Steppenwolf, the debut album from, who else, Steppenwolf! Not a strong album, but listed here because it contained the monster hit, perennial rock anthem and persistent movie soundtrack standard, Born To Be Wild (not linked here, just because), the birth of "heavy metal thunder", along with the overwrought Hoyt Axton saga, The Pusher. Axton went on to write the awful Joy To The World, a smash hit for Three Dog Night, and to star as the dad in the movie Gremlins.

Gris Gris, the debut album from Dr John, the alias of Louisiana musician Mac Rebennack who's gone on to a long and storied career as a living historian and performer of New Orleans music. A dreamy stoner's delight with the help of a magic gris-gris man who's just emerged from the swamp. Featuring Gris Gris Gumbo Ya Ya and the hypnotic and indescribably weird (even by the standards of this very weird record) Walk On Guilded Splinters; "Walk through the fire, fly through the smoke, see my enemy at the end of a rope". If you are not in a stupor when you start listening you will be by the end.,Sweat%26TearsChildIsFathertotheMan.jpg

One of the best sounding records of the era (it still sounds great today), Child Is Father To The Man was Blood Sweat & Tears debut record. From Rolling Stone's review:
"This album is unique. More precisely, it is the first of its kind — a music that takes elements of rock, jazz, straight blues, R&B, classical music and almost anything else you could mention and combines them into a sound of its own that is "popular" without being the least bit watered down."
It was not until the release of their second album in late 1968 that they achieved big record sales, but Child remains the best work done by the band. BS&T was the brainchild of Al Kooper, founder of The Blues Project and session man (and self-promoter) extraordinaire - that's him playing the swirly organ on Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone.

Kooper recruited top notch jazz horn players to add to a traditional rock band lineup. Working with John Simon, one of the best producers of the 60s, Kooper wrote most of the songs for the album and also demonstrated a great ear for new, and little known, talent choosing to do covers of songs by Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson. He was also responsible for the creative arrangements for each song. Al's one weakness is also apparent on the record. He insisted on being the lead singer, and he was lousy at it. His refusal to relinquish that role lead to the rest of the band turning on him and he was forced to leave, being replaced by David Clayton-Thomas for the second album.

My Days Are Numbered
I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know (listen to how the arrangement builds throughout the song)
I Can't Quit Her
So Much Love/Underture

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The JFK Files

The recently released government documents on JFK's assassination contained this bombshell:

(courtesy of Jim Geraghty of NRO)

For what really happened read these THC posts.

The Farthest Outpost

The reach of Rome was enormous, extending further than commonly recognized today.  It's even more impressive given the slow pace of travel 2000 years ago.  We've discussed Roman penetration into the northern part of what is now Saudi Arabia, but the empire maintained a garrison several hundred miles further south, near the entrance to the Red Sea, on the Farasan islands close to the border of Saudi and Yemen (see maps below). Their presence introduces us to a Roman world not solely defined by the borders of empire drawn in solid lines on a map but to a much broader world of commerce and interconnection extending well into the Indian Ocean.

Although there are some obscure references in classical literature to a Roman presence in the southern portion of the Red Sea, it was only confirmed with the 21st century findings of two inscriptions on the islands.  These show the island was first garrisoned during the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD) and the presence likely continued for several decades, possibly into the third century AD.

The outpost was 600 miles from the nearest Roman port, Berenice on the Egyptian side of the Red Sea, 1,200 miles south of Alexandria, 3,000 miles from the city of Rome, and more than 4,000 miles from Hadrian's Wall on the northern borders of the empire.

To understand why there was a Roman presence deep in the Red Sea we need to discuss Rome's eastern expansion and the critical economic role played by its trade with southern Arabia, India and, to a lesser extent, Ethiopia and Somalia.  It was during the 1st century BC that Rome first came into extensive direct contact with these areas.  Pompey the Great's campaigns during the 60s resulted in Syria and Judea becoming provinces and client kingdoms of Rome.  Caesar's victory in the civil war with Antony and Cleopatra led to Egypt becoming a Roman province in 30 and Nabataea, with its famous capital of Petra, situated east of the Sinai and south of Judea, submitting as a client kingdom.

The civil war settlement created opportunities and problems.  At the end of the war there were sixty Roman legions still in the field, perhaps more than 500,000 soldiers including auxiliaries.  Augustus needed to disband some of these units but also find a way to field a large enough army to protect the expanded borders of the empire.  His solution was to create a professional, paid army of 28 legions (nearly 300,000 including auxiliaries).  Soldiers would serve for 20 years and upon retirement be granted a pension.

Where would the funds come to support the army?  Estimates are that perhaps 70% of the Empire's annual spending was needed to pay for the army.  Rome had relatively light taxes on its provinces and many of the newly acquired border lands did not provide enough revenue to support the legions stationed there.  The light taxation was part of the deal which kept newly conquered lands quiescent and willing to assimilate into Roman ways.

Part of the solution was Egypt, an astonishingly wealthy land by classical standards, with a flourishing agricultural sector and trading connections to the East.  Egypt alone may have contributed 1/3 of the revenue of the Roman Empire and in the immediate wake of Augustus' annexation increased Rome's revenue by more than 50%.  Egypt was so important that Augustus, and his successors, retained it under their direct rule.  Roman senators were not allowed to visit Egypt except if permitted by the emperor and its governor was always appointed from the lower equestrian class.

By that time, Egypt had already opened up direct trade with India from the Red Sea ports of Myos Hormos and Bernice.  In 118 BC, a Ptolemaic ship had rescued an Indian sailor blown off course in the Indian Ocean.  From him, they learned the secrets of the monsoon winds and how to use them to sail in the late summer for India and return in late winter.  At the time of the Roman conquest perhaps a couple of dozen ships were sailing each year from Egypt to India or to points in between where Indian traders would meet them.

But with Rome's increased wealth and the exposure of its upper classes to the exotic goods of Arabia Felix (modern Yemen and Oman) and India, trade exploded.  By the first century AD over 100 ships a year were sailing directly from Egypt to India with countless others visiting points between in Africa and Arabia.  To accomplish this, the two ports were improved and Rome established and protected a road network from the town of Coptos on the Nile to the ports.  Travelers were required to have government issued permits in order to travel from Coptos to the ports.

It was a twelve day sail down the Nile from Alexandria to Coptos and seven to twelve days further to the ports.  The army established watering stations and garrisons to protect caravans from raiders.  Along the trail extensive commercial operations could be found - granite and porphyry quarries along with emerald and gold mines.  Along with trade goods the road network also allowed for support of the working populations in the ports (it's been estimated that 500 camel loads a month were required to support Berenice).  This required a substantial investment in infrastructure and commitment of sizable military forces.  It was paid for by a 25% tax on all imports (this contrasts with a 2.5% tax on goods traveling between Roman provinces, a tax from which Italy was exempt).  The revenue from the tax became a substantial contributor to the budget of the empire and aided in maintaining the legions.

What was it that attracted the Romans?  The best description of this trade can be found in The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean: The Ancient World Economy and the Kingdoms of Africa, Arabia and India (2014) by Raoul McLaughlin (some of the conclusions the author draws regarding the relative economic value of the trade and its economic contribution to the Roman state are made on very sketchy and extrapolated data and should be used with caution, but his overall picture of the trade is enlightening).

McLaughlin writes:
"Eastern goods transformed Roman culture by offering new food flavorings, perfumes, medical remedies, jewellery styles and clothing fashions.  As Piny the Elder observed, 'people used to gather their ingredients from home and there was no demand for Indian pepper and these other luxuries that we now import from overseas'."

"The town houses and country villas of wealthy Romans were stocked with fashionable ornamental furniture made from ebony and other exotic woods, embellished with bright turtle shells veneers and ivory inlays.  These materials were used to make dining couches, centrepiece tables and more private furniture, including beds."
Another concise description of trade can be found in the New Testament: Revelations 18:23 (early Christians referred to Rome as Babylon).  I've boldfaced those items obtained from the eastern trade:
"your businessmen are the most powerful in the entire earth and with your bewitchments you have deceived all the nations of the world . . .. merchandise of gold, silver, jewels, pearls and fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, ivory, articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh and frankincense".
The last three on the list were primarily supplied by Arabia Felix, which obtained the Latin designation of Felix because of what was viewed as its favorable climate, its protected geography (to the north lay the desert and to all other sides the ocean), and the wealth generated by its products (which also included gold and gems).  Some of the incense crops could also be found in Somalia, while pearls came from both the Red Sea and India.  India was the source of spices, of which the most important was pepper, along with gemstones which McLaughlin describes as "a stunning range of gems with a bewildering variety of colours and attractive properties."

There were also other exotic imports from the area such as wild animals from Ethiopia and Somalia and tortoise shells.  More mundane items also show up.  Rome's monumental structures required enormous amounts of cut marble and it was discovered that the best cutting sands to aid in the process came from Ethiopia prompting it to become a major import.

Roman ships also sailed down the east coast of Africa as far as Zanzibar to trade.  They routinely visited the Tamil kingdoms of south India, where Roman artisans and ex-soldiers were recruited to serve as carpenters and mercenaries for the royal families.  The chief port of the area had a permanent Roman presence, including Jews and early Christians, that grew into the thousands in the late fall when the ships arrived with the monsoon.

In 52 AD direct communication was opened between Rome and Taprobane (Sri Lanka) when a freedman of the Alexandria trader Publius Annius Plocamus was caught in gale, swept out to sea.  The freedman obtained an audience with the king, who was impressed enough to send an embassy to Emperor Claudius.  Claudius gave a gift of red coral, a material highly valued in India and Taprobane, to the embassy which was donated by the king to a Buddhist temple which remained celebrated as a treasure from "Romanukha"  in local literature a thousand years later.  Direct sailing from Egypt to Taprobane commenced and soon Roman ships began exploring up east coast of India.  By the early second century Ptolemy listed sixty cities and ports on the east coast all the way to the Ganges Delta in Bengal and Bangladesh.  The most venturesome of Roman captains made it as far as Tamala on the northwest edge of the Malay peninsula.

The demand during for goods during the first and second centuries AD caused the trade to grow and it generated huge profits for businessmen (one pound of incense cost the equivalent of 50 days of wages for a skilled labourer) and substantial tax revenues for the empire.  The demand was so high that the second century orator Aristides proclaimed:
"there is clothing from Babylon and ornaments from the barbarian world beyond . . . there are so many cargoes from India and Arabia Felix that you might imagine that their trees have now been left bare . . ."
There was always a delicate economic calculation in determining whether it was more valuable to the empire to annex new territories or whether it was more profitable to maintain trade arrangements from which more substantial tax revenues could be derived.

In the time of Augustus (at least until the disaster in the Teutoberg forest of Germania in 9 AD) the balance weighed in favor of expansion.  After the acquisition of Egypt and Nabataea becoming a client kingdom Rome became fully aware of the wealth of Arabia Felix.  The Nabataeans in particular maintained a lucrative land and sea trade, serving as middlemen for the incense trade.  Augustus decided to conquer Arabia Felix and specifically the kingdom of Sabea in the mountains of northern Yemen, which lies approximately across the waterway from the Farasan Islands.

To accomplish this task the Roman governor of Egypt, Aelius Gallus, led an expedition in 25 BC.   A fleet was built to support the effort and two legions marched overland from Nabataea.  A march of 80 days brought them several hundred miles south nearing the Sabean capital.  But severe disease (possibly scurvy) struck Gallus' force and he ordered a retreat.  Upon his return Gallus advised Augustus that Arabia Felix could not be conquered by soldiers from the Mediterranean, putting an end to Roman expansion into Arabia.  However, one beneficiary byproduct to Rome was that its campaign destabilized the Sabean regime which was overthrown.  The new rulers of the Saba-Himyarite Kingdom were friendly to Rome, opening their ports to direct trade.

Over the next century, relations between the Saba-Himyarites, Nabataeans, and Romans remained cordial.  The Nabataeans patrolled the Red Sea coast protecting their ships from pirates and trade prospered.

In 106 AD the situation changed.  With the death of the Nabataean king, Emperor Trajan decided to annex his lands and make it the Roman province of Arabia.  Rome took over direct management of the trade routes.  Soon thereafter we have the first inscription documenting the Roman garrison on the Farasans.  Whether the Romans took over a pre-existing Nabataean fort, were invited by the Saba-Himyarites, or just decided on their own to occupy the islands is unknown.  The troops were a detachment from Legio VI Ferrata, whose home base was in Nabataea.

The specific purpose of the Roman garrison can only be speculated upon.  The islands were only 60 miles from the main Saba port of Muza and 120 miles from the important Ethiopian port of Adulis on the western shore of the Red Sea.  It was also not too far from the rich pearl fisheries in the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb at the southern entrance of the Red Sea.  The garrison, along with elements of the Roman fleet, could have helped suppress pirates and protect the nearby ports, pearl fisheries, and Nabataean trading settlements in Somalia, as well as serving as a customs outpost.

Trajan may have had a longer term plan in mind as well.  In 115 Trajan invaded Parthia, captured its capital and reached the Persian Gulf.  If he had succeeded in maintaining that conquest, it's possible that reviving Roman plans to occupy Arabia Felix may have been next and the Farasan garrison might have been an advance force.

However, with Trajan's withdrawal from Parthia any such plans were cancelled though the Farasan garrison remained in place.  What did change is how it was garrisoned.  The second inscription recently discovered dates to 143-44 and is by garrison commander Castricius Aprinus, described as Prefect of the Port of Farasan and of the Sea of Hercules (Bab-el-Mandeb). The title indicates the formality of Roman occupation and its wide ranging scope.  Aprinus is also from the Roman legion stationed in Egypt.  The change is a likely indicator of the relative decline in the importance of Nabataean trade and the growing significance in Egypt's connections with the East.

We have no evidence on when the Farasan garrison was withdrawn.  Perhaps, now that the two inscriptions have been discovered additional archaeological work may help answer that question.

There is one last intriguing aspect of Rome's connection with the East.  In 166, the chronicles of China's Han Dynasty record a Roman delegation from Marcus Aurelius having an audience with the Han Emperor.  There are two schools of historical thought about this "delegation".  One that it was merely a group of Roman merchants who branded themselves as a formal embassy to obtain access to the emperor, the second that Marcus Aurelius really did send an embassy on a merchant ship possibly to seek Chinese support in his planned expedition against Parthia.  There was to be no followup from Rome.

A couple of years before the Roman delegation reached China, the Han army on its northwest frontier suffered an epidemic outbreak of disease.  Up to a third of China's soldiers may have died.  The epidemic moved west along trade routes, reaching Parthia and then infecting the Roman armies in the East who has they returned carried the disease into Rome's European territories.  What became known as the Antonine Pandemic killed untold millions in the Roman Empire, weakening its armies and economy.  At the same time, the invasions of Germanic tribes across the Danube began, even penetrating into Italy at one point.  Countering this threat was to preoccupy Aurelius until the end of his reign in 180 (events portrayed in a fanciful, and very entertaining, way in the movie Gladiator).  Though Aurelius ultimately triumphed, Rome's treasury was exhausted.

Trade and eastern connections were further damaged by the events of the third century.  Rome went through a chaotic period from 235 to 284 with civil war and almost fifty emperors and pretenders.  The Parthians were overthrown by the Sassanians who posed a greater threat to Rome.  The most powerful of the Indian kingdoms Rome had traded with also broke up during this century leading to more unsettled conditions, and the Han dynasty collapsed in 220 leading to a long period of instability in China.

Behind all this was a long term economic conundrum that Rome could not solve.  Rome's appetite for eastern luxury goods was insatiable.  But while there were certain goods desired in Arabia and India in exchange (wine, red coral, furniture, tableware, art) it was not enough to pay for Roman imports.  The difference had to be made up by gold and silver bullion (often in the form of coins).  By later in the second century Rome's primary sources for both, much of which were located in Spain, were in decline, leading to both devaluation of currency and difficulty in financing imports.  At the same time, as trade declined Rome's tax revenue from imports also declined impacting its ability to support the army.