Saturday, September 30, 2017

Words Of Wisdom

From Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

I endorse his thoughts below.  We have a remarkably resilient society in the United States, but all societies, including ours, have breaking points.  Constructing and maintaining a civil and civilized multi-ethnic society, is a unique achievement, but one that has not been easy, and we should not take it for granted.

SO I SPOKE AT AN EVENT TONIGHT, TALKING ABOUT CIVILIAN DISASTER RELIEF AND SOCIAL COHESION, and a guy came up to me afterward saying that since Robert Putnam found that diversity is associated with decreased social trust, how did I feel about a bunch of white people going off to start their own country. (My response: Unenthused). But you see this sort of thing on the Internet enough that some people believe it, and while Putnam’s point is supported by research, I don’t think it actually supports the solution. “Diversity,” I suspect, is one of those things that actually is a social construct. If you make people hyperaware of their differences — as is done on college campuses today — you can make things much worse than they otherwise would be. (See also Tito’s Yugoslavia). If you encourage people to think about what they have in common, you can make things much better. And where it suits their interests, politicians will create ethnic cleavages. (Hutus and Tutsis are both “black” in American conception, but politicians were still able to inflame passions that led to genocide.) My prediction is that if you created some sort of racially segregated society, politicians would soon be at work finding other differences to inflame, differences that nobody’s even aware of now. The only real answer is a strong social norm that supports, for example, our common humanity and, in this country, our common Americanness. This seems to be what ordinary Americans believe, and act upon, but politicians will do whatever it takes to gain power. Keeping politicians in check is the key to getting along. Can we do more of that?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Aja Drums

The recent passing of Walter Becker induced a fit of Steely Dan listening on my part.  This is one of my favorite bits of musicianship on a Dan recording; Steve Gadd's drums on Aja.  This is a cover by Joe Nocella (one of the nice touches is that Joe responds to most of the comments on the video).  It's just lovely, particularly from 3:00 on.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sure Looks Hot

Taken from cockpit of Air National Guard C-130 preparing to drop fire retardant on forest fire near Fresno, California on August 29, 2017.  From Strategy Page.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cool, And Not Cool

Keeping your cool.  Watch it all the way.

And not cool:
A Coolidge man remained hospitalized Friday after surviving a rattlesnake bite to the face while trying to show off to friends at a party by attempting to cook the reptile on the barbecue.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Louis Armstrong Tells Off Ike

Sixty years ago yesterday.  In the wake of tension over integration of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.  For the backstory, read this THC post from 2012.  Newspaper courtesy of the Louis Armstrong Museum in Queens.  Go visit!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Los Lobos: The Wolves Survive

We last saw Los Lobos perform in 1987, headlining a show at Great Woods in Massachusetts at which The Smithereens were the opening act.  We caught up with them again on Friday night at the refurbished Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Los Lobos formed in East Los Angeles in the early 1970s when singer/guitarist/composer David Hidalgo met Louie Perez (guitar) in high school.  Soon joined by Cesar Rosas (guitar) and Conrad Lozano (bass), and Steve Berlin (sax and keyboards) in 1984, they toiled away for a decade before beginning to break through with Will The Wolf Survive? in 1984, becoming a huge act with the release of the soundtrack for the film La Bamba, the biopic about Richie Valens, in 1987.

Although La Bamba hit #1, Los Lobos continued to follow its own path, with an eclectic mix of music, refusing to be categorized.  Though never repeating the commercial success of La Bamba, they've continued to make new and good music for the past 30 years.  I've always thought of The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival as making Americana music.  I put Los Lobos in the same category.  They've taken the elements of The Band and CCR and added some updates reflecting modern America. Listening to their records you hear straight ahead rock n roll, blues, folk, and traditional Mexican, with dashes of zydeco, jazz and country, along with occasional REM style jangling guitars.  They sing about faith and the struggles of people while having fun at the same time.

The lineup we saw on Friday included drummer Enrique "Bugs" Gonzales who joined in 2011 and, though missing the dynamic Cesar Rosas, delivered a fine show.  Hidalgo's tenor voice was as strong as it was decades ago; it's still one of the great instruments in American music, and the band can really rock.  Berlin had some fine sax solos and Hidalgo and Perez traded guitar licks, peaking with searing work on a cover of Neil Young's Cortez The Killer.

We had a wonderful time at the concert; I only wish the set included some of the more offbeat songs and lovely ballads from their repertoire, a couple of examples of which you can listen to below:

And the guys in the band really don't like Paul Simon.  For why read this.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Wind River

We saw it last night.  We are definitely not moving to Wyoming.

Acting: Good performances by all, including the astonishingly uncharismatic Jeremy Renner as a tracker and hunter working for the Fish & Wildlife Service, Elizabeth Olsen, the Olsen non-twin, as an FBI agent and native Floridian, Graham Greene, an actor who makes every film he appears in better, as the tribal police chief, and Gil Birmingham as the grieving father of the girl whose death on the Wind River reservation sets the plot in motion.

Screenplay: Dialogue, when we could understand it, veered wildly from solid to overly simple and also included too much forced revelation of backstory. 

Plot: Because so much of the dialogue was incomprehensible, it was difficult at times to tell who was who and who had done what to whom.  If you know what I mean.

Best Line:  The tribal police chief responding to the FBI agent's suggestion they get backup; "This isn't the land of backup Jane, it's the land of you're on your own."

Summary:  Decent film, primarily because of performances.  Wanted it to be better.  It wasn't.


Most incomprehensible dialogue in a non-Christopher Nolan film.  Perhaps they speak a different language in Wyoming.  I saw it with four other people.  None of us could decipher much of the dialogue.  Should have had subtitles.

Most off-putting tagline at end of film.  Tacked on to a good closing scene it completely spoiled the mood, though obviously intended to convey the message this was a "serious" film.

Movie that most makes you want to drive a snowmobile at 80 mph.  U.S. winner only.  Global award retired 20 years ago by Jackie Chan's First Strike

Best medical explanation of why it is not good to run fast in the snow at -20F in your bare feet.

Best misdirection through editing by use of a couple of very short cuts to one individual.  Happens towards end of film and involves local non-tribal police officer.  I thought the movie was being overly obvious about what was going to happen but that's what they were trying to make you think.  They then took things in a different direction.

Most ludicrous gunfight inserted to work screenplay out of plot trouble in supposedly serious film.

Film most disliked by Wyoming Office of Tourism.

Here's the trailer (bonus - you can actually understand the dialogue!)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Selling Stonehenge

Stonehenge advert in Country Life - 1915

In 1915 you could have purchased Stonehenge, along with 6400 acres on the Salisbury Plain and a sumptuous country home. for 6600.  I learned this from a recent article in the British journal Country Life, which documents the life and property of England's upper class, and carried the original adverts for the property's sale more than a century ago.

The oddest thing from today's perspective is according to the 1915 brochure the Stonehenge portion of the property was really an afterthought.  Take a look at the full ad:
Stonehenge advert in Country Life - 1915

Fortunately the lot containing Stonehenge was purchased for 6600 British Pounds (somewhere between $650,000 and $4 million in today's dollars) by Cecil Chubb who gifted it to the nation in 1918.  Born in a nearby village, the son of the local saddler and harness maker, Chubb attended Christ College, Cambridge and became a wealthy barrister.

The Country Life article also includes a picture of the site and neighboring roadway taken in 1977. 
Stonehenge in Country Life - 1977

1977 was the year THC along with the future Mrs THC visited Stonehenge.  Arriving before the site opened in the morning, Mrs THC ventured onto the property where she was evicted by a local policeman.  Somewhere we have photos and someday we may find them.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Failure Of Imagination

In May 2002, Condoleezza Rice said, "I don't think anyone could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center."

Yet in 1994 Algerians hijacked an Air France airliner with the intention of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower.  French officials tricked them into landing in Marseilles to refuel, where they were overpowered.  In 1995, police in the Philippines uncovered an al-Qaida plot (in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was involved) to fly a plane into CIA headquarters.

We even had a 1996 major Hollywood production, Executive Decision, starring Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, and Halle Berry, in which Islamic terrorists hijacked an international flight with the intent to making into a bomb to be delivered to Washington DC.  It was a pretty good film.

We would be better off in thinking about threats to have a team made up of Disney imagineers, Hollywood screenwriters, and science fiction writers to supplement our intelligence agencies which have failed so often.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Duellists

Two men trapped by their code of honour.  One, an aristocrat, feeling bound by the code though he sees it as ridiculous.  The other, aspiring to the upper class, using the code to validate his rise as well as meeting the needs of his obsessive personality.  Triggered by an absurd incident, leading to a nonsensical affront to honor and resulting in several duels fought over a fifteen year period among two officers of Napoleon's army.

Based on a Joseph Conrad short story, The Duellists (1977) was Ridley Scott's (Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) directorial debut.  The story, editing and stunning cinematography make it worth watching.  The only negative are the American actors (Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel, Christina Raines), some notably miscast (Carradine, Raines), striking a jarring note in this period piece.

During the Russian campaign.

Ending.  Spoiler alert!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Japan Surrenders

General Douglas MacArthur remains a controversial presence in American history.  Franklin Roosevelt was wary of the man, distrusting his ambitions, while Harry Truman fired him (for more, read Truman Fires MacArthur).  His fellow generals, even those who admired his military talents, could not abided his naked ambition and unceasing self-promotion.  Amidst the turmoil and controversy of his career, his rule of Japan from 1945 to 1950 stands as an undisputed high point.  It all began on September 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Japan announced its capitulation on August 15 but the official surrender ceremony and signing of the documents took two weeks to arrange.  General MacArthur's words on that occasion were thoughful, measured, and worthy of the best in the American tradition.

We are gathered here, representatives of the major warring powers—to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored. The issues involving divergent ideals and ideologies, have been determined on the battlefields of the world and hence are not for our discussion or debate.

Nor is it for us here to meet, representing as we do a majority of the people of the earth, in a spirit of distrust, malice or hatred. But rather it is for us, both victors and vanquished, to rise to that higher dignity which alone befits the sacred purposes we are about to serve, committing all our people unreservedly to faithful compliance with the undertakings they are here formally to assume.

It is my earnest hope and indeed the hope and indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past—a world founded upon faith and understanding—a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish—for freedom, tolerance and justice.

The terms and conditions upon which the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces is here to be given and accepted are contained in the Instrument of Surrender now before you.

As Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, I announce it my firm purpose, in the tradition of the countries I represent, to proceed in the discharge of my responsibilities with justice and tolerance, while taking all necessary dispositions to insure that the terms of surrender are fully, promptly and faithfully complied with.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Put The Blame On Mame

From the film Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford.  Rita sings a soulful version of Put The Blame on Mame.  Hubba hubba!  Below the embed you can find a link to another version of the song from the same film (which also played a role in The Shawshank Redemption).

Cabaret version of Put The Blame On Mame.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Firth Of Fifth

There was a lot of bad progressive rock in the 1970s.  It got so bad that punk and new wave arose in reaction, so it was worth it.  There was some prog rock that was good amidst all the bombast and dreck.  I was a fan of early Genesis, before Peter Gabriel led them into the pretentious Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, then left the group, and Phil Collins took over.

This is Firth of Fifth from Selling England By The Pound.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Houston Flooding

Interesting tweets on Houston flood control from some random dude.

Some excerpts:

I read it on the internet so I know it must be true.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Mahatma Speaks

"Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink."

- Martin Michael Lomasney (aka "The Mahatma"), 1859-1933
Martin Michael Lomasney.png

Ward boss, alderman, state representative, and state senator, Martin Lomasney had a long career as a Boston politician.  The son of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine, Lomasney worked as a lamplighter and health inspector before entering politics.  He survived a 1894 assassination attempt which wounded him in the leg.

His cautionary advice was well suited to the world of Boston politics.  He was never indicted.

In 2012 Boston's West End Museum held an exhibit on Lomasney.  From its website:

When Lincoln Steffens, a New York journalist known for investigating corruption in municipal government, came to Boston to spend time with Lomasney, he found a man who was an exception to the rule. Steffens said Lomasney was probably the best public servant he had ever met, that he was scrupulously honest and wholly committed to his constituents. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote of Lomasney, "He lived a simple, low-key life, renting a small apartment and wearing the same old battered straw hat year round, but to the people of the West End he was a god. Arriving early each morning at his headquarters, Lomasney worked 365 days a year, caring for his people in all phases of their lives".

A lifelong bachelor, Lomasney dedicated his life to building his political machine through a base of unwaveringly loyal aides and constituents. According Suffolk University History Professor Robert Allison, "Lomasney would walk the city every night, often greeting immigrants as they arrived on Boston docks. He was very bright and invested a lot in real estate. In fact, he's responsible for the Boston Garden being built".

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Viewers Guide To Ken Burns' Vietnam

The latest in Ken Burns' series of PBS documentaries premieres on September 17.   The subject is the Vietnam War.

I participated in protests against the war, including the Washington DC event in November 1969, which drew an estimated 500,000 people, and at the University of Wisconsin in May 1970 in the wake of the invasion of Cambodia.

Burns' co-producer Lynn Nozick says of the documentary:

"I think the country is ready to have the conversation we never really had about the war . . . "
I find that a puzzling statement since we had an exhausting, more than decade long conversation about the war.  Does it really mean the film makers are dissatisfied with the outcome of that conversation?  Which, in turn, raises the question of whether the intent of the documentary is to generate what normal people would consider to be a conversation, or whether it is intended to meet the current progressive definition of a conversation which is "a one-sided dialogue in which you are instructed on what to think and say".

There actually is a rich opportunity to examine and re-examine all facets of the American experience in Vietnam and it can be done in a way that does not lead a viewer to any specific conclusion, whether they were, or are, pro or anti-war.  Here are some things to look for in judging whether the documentary intends to generate a real and open conversation:

Compare the documentary's comparative use of adjectives and adverbs regarding Americans, the South Vietnam government and its supporters, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnam government and its supporters.

In describing origins of the war, how are Viet Cong (VC), National Liberation Front (NLF), and the North Vietnam government portrayed?  Are they predominantly communist or nationalist?  Are the VC and NLF portrayed as independent actors or creatures of the North Vietnam government?

How is the interplay between LBJ's domestic and Vietnam policy in 1964-5 portrayed?  (For more on this and the point below see Dereliction of Duty).

Is there a distinction made between issues on which the Johnson administration misled or lied to Congress and the American public in 1964-5 (Gulf of Tonkin, costs of the war, whether Americans were in combat) and those on which it was telling the truth (the extent of North Vietnam communist infiltration into the South and its control of the VC and NLF)?

How are anti-war demonstrators portrayed?  Is the ideological component driving many of the leaders adequately explained?  My observation is that there were three main groups of protestors.  The first, and most numerous, were those who thought it the wrong war for America; the second actually thought the communists were the good guys and wanted them to win (John Kerry was in this group); and the third, and by far smallest, thought the communist revolution needed to be brought back to America (Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn fit in this category).

How is the role of African-Americans in Vietnam portrayed, and what statistics are used?

Regarding the Tet Offensive, how are the military, psychological and media aspects portrayed?

How are temporal aspects of the war portrayed?  Are distinctions made between the different strategic situations and options open to decision-makers in the mid-1950s, 1964-65, 1968, 1972 and 1975?

How is the aftermath of the war in Southeast Asia treated; Cambodia Year Zero, the boat people, South Vietnamese reeduction camps?

Who are the main talking heads for the series and what is their background?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Failure Of Politics

I'm feeling pretty grumpy.

Trump needs to go.  He is unfit for office.  I think he knows it too - why else would he have set himself on fire over the last week?

GOP leaders are incompetent, ineffectual, and scared of their own shadows.

And the Democratic party of the 21st century is increasingly irrational and authoritarian.  Progressives, pose the greatest long term threat to the Republic because of their totalizing vision of the role of politics in society and their intolerance of opposing viewpoints.

I'm grumpy because of the across the board failure with no sense of a path to repairing the damage.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Seeing Loving

I finally saw Loving, the film about the interracial marriage in Virginia of Mildred and Richard Loving, which led to a landmark Supreme Court case in 1967.  I wrote about a review of the film by my friend Titus, back in February.  It is a touching, understated, not preachy, and well acted film, definitely worth your time.  Some quotes from the Titus review which capture the film's spirit.

This is a story about Americans and respects their desire to have lives apart from the great motions and actors of politics . . . The movie is everything popular movies these days are not: slow, black & white, tender and protective of private life, cautious and serious about public things, interested in and respectful of American lives.

The rights they claim have to do primarily with the privates lives they prefer to live and they incline therefore to preserve as much privacy as possible, when it comes to public things and legal quarrels. Within these boundaries, the movie makes the effort to bring out the suffering of the Lovings and the quiet dignity with which they withstood it. The danger that bitterness or resignation could corrupt their family life, that it could poison their love or the minds of their children is real, but it is never treated as more important than they are. Their normality, if we can call normal that to which people aspire, is luminous for that reason.

To the largest extent now possible to American cinema, this is a movie about what human beings embody and not what they stand up for, or what they believe they stand up for.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

All Alike Possess Liberty Of Conscience

227 years ago on this date . . .
(a reworking of a previous THC post)   

Moses Seixas was a man with a plan in the summer of 1790. Forty six years old, the son of Portugese Jews who emigrated to Rhode Island, Moses was warden of Newport’s Tauro Synagogue. President George Washington was making his first visit to Rhode Island, and Moses was determined to use the occasion to obtain express acknowledgement of the enfranchisement of American Jews under the new Constitution.

Washington’s visit also had a plan behind it. The prior year, he had undertaken a lengthy visit to the northern states, as part of his strategy of drawing the new nation together and creating more popular acceptance of the new Federal government (he would tour the southern states in 1791). Rhode Island was not part of that tour, because it had yet to ratify the Constitution. The recalcitrant state, under pressure from the new federal government and neighboring states, along with the promise of a visit from Washington and Vice-President Thomas Jefferson, became the last of the original 13 states to ratify on May 29, 1790.

Sexias was to get what he wanted from his letter, but the President’s response expressed additional thoughts that are worth reflecting upon today.

On August 17, Moses sent a letter to the President, welcoming him to Newport on behalf of “the children of the stock of Abraham“, expressing their happiness in having the “invaluable rights of free Citizens“, and adding:
“we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People – a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance – but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship.”
The President’s responded the following day, echoing the warden’s phrasing but adds its own distinctive sentiments:
“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United states, which give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
Much commentary on the letter, particularly by liberal historians, focuses on the passage that the Government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance“, but its importance is deeper in its link to America’s founding principles. It is found in two sentences which do not have a counterpart in the Sexias letter. The first:
“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.”
The passage expresses two concepts:

First, the American version of “tolerance” is not something bestowed by a dominant group, or individual, upon other groups, because that kind of tolerance is revocable upon the discretion of the dominant group or individual. Bestowed “tolerance” was the concept used in most other societies in that age (and still used in many countries) but in Washington’s sense “tolerance” is that which we owe to each other as equals. In other “tolerant” societies of the time, the Jewish Community would be considered supplicants; in Washington’s they are equals.

Second, the source of what we owe to each other as equals are our “inherent natural rights“. These rights are not created by the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. It’s the other way around – these rights predate those documents and are a source for the text and ideas behind them. Specifically, the Constitution is not a document describing the rights of citizens – those inherent natural rights are so broad as to exceed any attempt to catalogue them in a document. Rather, the Constitution is a delineation of the specific powers delegated by the citizens, who hold those inherent rights, to the government in order for it to perform certain designated functions.

It was 25 year old James Madison who first pointed out how these concepts worked together in May 1776, during the debate on Virginia’s new state constitution. The draft constitution contained a Declaration of Rights, including a clause on religious liberty drafted by George Mason, providing that “all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion“. Madison objected to the use of the word “toleration” because it implied toleration was a gift from government rather than an inherent natural right. Mason agreed and the draft was amended to read “all men are entitled to the full and free exercise” of religion. This approach is now embodied in our Constitution.

As for Washington, his views were not something newly formulated in 1790. In 1775, shortly after the Continental Congress named him commander of its military forces, he approved a plan to invade Canada. The civilian population of Canada, which the British had taken from France only twelve years prior, was almost exclusively Catholic, a religion detested by most American Protestants at that time. On September 14, 1775, Washington sent instructions to Benedict Arnold, commanding the American expedition about to start its epic campaign through the backwoods of Maine to Quebec. He directed Arnold to respect the religious beliefs of the Canadians. This, in and of itself, was not remarkable – doing so was wise strategy when the Americans were trying to get the Canadians to join them in the revolt against Britain. It was the way Washington expresses himself that is striking:
“While we are Contending for own own Liberty, we should be very cautious of violating the Rights of Conscience in others; ever considering that God alone is the Judge of the Hearts of Men and to him only in this Case they are answerable”
The second significant sentence:
For happily the Government of the United states, which give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
In this passage, the President emphasizes the duty of every American is to be a good citizen by supporting the new Constitution. Thought Washington does not refer specifically to the Constitution, he had freely expressed that this was the underlying purpose of his visits (eventually to all 13 states), and he seized every opportunity to promote it. The Constitution, not a common religion, nor anything else, was to be bind all citizens together.

Both letters are worth a full read as they express their sentiments using the wonderful phrasing characteristic of that time, a writing style that only a generation later had fallen out of favor. I particularly like Washington’s closing lines:
” . . . while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
Moses’ closing words aren’t too bad either:
 “And, when, like Joshua full of days and full of honour, you are gathered to your Fathers, may you be admitted into the Heavenly Paradise to partake of the water of life, and the tree of immortality.”
You can find the full text of the Seixas letter here, and Washington’s full response here.

As a final note, it is often overlooked that Moses Seixas wrote a second letter to President Washington on August 17, 1790. This letter was on behalf of King David’s Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, of which Seixas was Grand Master, and contained greetings from one member of a fraternal order to another member.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Lunch At The Google Cafeteria

Via Rod Dreher

The clip below is from The Lives of Others (2006), an unforgettable film.  Please see it if you have not already done so.  Set in communist East Germany during the 1980s it documents how the regime effectively imposed itself on the way its subjects not only acted, but on how they thought. This scene take place in the cafeteria for the Stasi, the country's secret police organization.

Since the controversial memo on Google's diversity program that resulted in the author's firing was actually solicited by the company as part of its internal discussion, and only became public when circulated externally by those who were offended by it, one is also put in mind of the Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom Campaign of 1956, run by Mao Tse Tung and the Chinese Communist Party.  That campaign solicited critiques of the country and the regime's programs, supposedly as a way to guide improvements.  Instead it was used encourage dissidents to expose themselves so they could be punished with prison or execution.

What is happening at Google is tied in with some large societal trends.  In a recent Wall St Journal article Mark Lilla, a Columbia professor, and well-known liberal Democrat, wrote about this change:

As a teacher, I am increasingly struck by a difference between my conservative and progressive students. Contrary to the stereotype, the conservatives are far more likely to connect their engagements to a set of political ideas and principles. Young people on the left are much more inclined to say that they are engaged in politics as an X, concerned about other Xs and those issues touching on X-ness. And they are less and less comfortable with debate.

Over the past decade a new, and very revealing, locution has drifted from our universities into the media mainstream: Speaking as an X…This is not an anodyne phrase. It sets up a wall against any questions that come from a non-X perspective. Classroom conversations that once might have begun, I think A, and here is my argument, now take the form, Speaking as an X, I am offended that you claim B. What replaces argument, then, are taboos against unfamiliar ideas and contrary opinions.
In a New York Times piece shortly after the presidential election (which I wrote about), Lilla first made his argument against identity politics, and its increasingly repressive and authoritarian nature, and was attacked by many progressives, including a professor at Columbia Law School who likened him to David Duke.  His critique is perceptive but I doubt it will gain much traction with 21st century progressives.

Who are the brain police?  I think I know.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I'm Not Going Back To Woodstock

I'm not going back to Woodstock for awhile
Though I long to hear that lonesome hippie smile
I'm a million miles away
From that helicopter day
No I don't believe I'll be going back that way
Neil Young at his most disheveled and dissolute.
The opening lines:
It's too dark to put the keys in my ignition
And the morning sun has yet to climb my hood ornament
And I also haven't been back to Woodstock for awhile, and don't believe I'll be going back that way.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

You Be The Judge

Even for someone who doesn't like the Yankees, it's been fun watching Aaron Judge this year.  And this year's Home Run Derby, which he won, was my favorite.

It's going to be interesting to see how Judge does over the rest of the season.  Here are two sets of numbers:

Plate Appearances  95/118

At Bats  89/93 

Hits  15/15

Doubles  2/1

Triples  0/0

HR  4/5

RBI  10/12

BB  9/24

SO  42/43

Batting Average  .179/.161

On Base %  .263/.339

Slugging %  .345/.333

The first set is from Judge's abbreviated 2016 rookie season, when he looked overmatched against major league pitching.  The second set is Judge's performance since the All-Star break.  The numbers are very close.

Before the All-Star game Judge was hitting .329 with an on base % of .448, and slugging .691.  Is he in a temporary slump and can he make the adjustments to get back to his form of earlier in the season?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Right Response

Senator Ted Cruz on the white supremacist march and violence in Charlottesville:

“It’s tragic and heartbreaking to see hatred and racism once again mar our great Nation with bloodshed. Heidi’s and my prayers are with the loved ones of those killed and injured in the ongoing violence in Charlottesville. The First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans to speak their minds peaceably, but violence, brutality, and murder have no place in a civilized society.

The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate. Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.

These bigots want to tear our country apart, but they will fail. America is far better than this. Our Nation was built on fundamental truths, none more central than the proposition ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.'”
This guy gets it right too:

I Must Go, My Planet Needs Me

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Road Trip!

Turns out that Carhenge is located precisely on the line of the full solar eclipse on August 21.  Coincidence? I think not!  Located just outside the bucolic Nebraska Panhandle town of Alliance, Carhenge has been the subject of a previous THC post.  Special events are planned for the occasion.  Take a drive and join the fun.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wichita Lineman

Glenn Campbell passed away a couple of days ago at the age of 81.  I've written about Wichita Lineman before as part of my Songs I Didn't Like To Admit I Liked Series.  Originally released in 1968, this version is from a 1988 collaboration between Campbell and Jimmy Webb (the composer).  Lyric, melody, vocal and arrangement come together in an impeccable form.

Extra added bonus!

Here's Glenn doing an instrumental version of Ain't No Sunshine.  The whole thing is marvelous but the solo, beginning around 47 seconds in, is something else.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Continue With Style

Useful advice when facing a desperate situation.  From The Eiger Sanction,  a 1975 film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood.  Unfortunately the guy who offers up this wisdom does not make it.

Monday, August 7, 2017

McDowell Mountains

The McDowell Mountains are along the northeast edge of the Phoenix metro area and top off around 4,000 feet.  You are looking at the northern end of the range in this photo taken by Mrs THC a couple of days ago.  We'd just left the place where we'd had dinner, came over a little rise and saw this view.  It's about a 20 minute drive from our home.

We took the first photo in the Arizona monsoon post while in front of the mountain on the far left, looking in a northeasterly direction.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Proposed 13th Amendments

Slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in the Senate on April 8, 1864, the House on January 31, 1865 (Steven Spielberg's Lincoln centered on the House vote), and ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865.

But before the successful 13th Amendment, there were two failed 13th Amendments, the first of which is an historical curiosity, the second of historical impact and interest.

The first attempt at a 13th Amendment was passed by overwhelming majorities in the Senate and House in April and May of 1810, and submitted to the states for ratification.  The proposed amendment, referred to as Titles of Nobility, would have stripped American citizenship from anyone accepting a title of nobility, pension, present, office, or emolument from "any emperor, king, prince or foreign power".

We have no written record of any debate in Congress over the amendment, so the reasons for its proposal and passage remain debated.  There was a long history, dating back to the 1780s of state suspicion of foreign powers and of those beholden to them who might seek to reimpose monarchical rule.  Soon after ratification of the Constitution, some states did propose amendments along these lines but no action was taken by Congress.

The 1810 revival of the subject was likely due to continued wariness of Britain, as well as suspicion of Emperor Napoleon, then at the height of his power, compounded by the presence in the U.S. several years earlier of Jerome Bonaparte, the Emperor's younger brother, who married an American with whom he had a son.  Jerome later returned to Europe where his brother installed him as King of Westphalia, while at the same time ordering him to divorce his wife. 

Ratification was required by 13 states at the time in order for adoption of the amendment.  By early 1812, eleven states had ratified.  In December of that year, New Hampshire approved the amendment but in the intervening months Louisiana had been admitted to the Union, raising the threshold to 14 states.  No additional state ratified, and with the preservation of the U.S. under the terms of the 1815 Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812 with Britain, and the fall of Napoleon later that year, the motivation behind the amendment had disappeared.

The second proposed 13th Amendment to pass Congress arose from attempts to stop secession and avoid a civil war.   The 36th Congress, which reconvened in December 1860, had frantically searched for a resolution to the secession crisis.  More than 200 resolutions on slavery and 57 Constitutional amendments were introduced before the proposed amendment passed.  Known as the Corwin Amendment because it was introduced in the House, which narrowly passed it with the required two-thirds vote on February 28, 1861, by Republican Congressman Thomas Corwin, it was designed to reassure the slave states regarding the status of slavery.  Corwin is little remembered today, but at the time was very well known, having previously served as governor of Ohio, a U.S. senator, and Secretary of the Treasury (and later named by President Lincoln as Ambassador to Mexico, a nomination well received by Mexico since, Corwin, like Lincoln, opposed the Mexican-American War).  Its text:
No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.
The language tracks that of the Constitution in avoiding direct mention of "slavery" and protects slavery in perpetuity in those states where it was already established by state law.
 TCorwin.jpg(Thomas Corwin)

Introduced in the Senate by the fiercely anti-slavery senator from New York, William Seward, Lincoln's rival for the Republican presidential nomination, and later his Secretary of State, it was passed with no votes to spare on March 2. 

By the time the Amendment passed Congress, the seven states of the Deep South had seceded; South Carolina (December 20, 1860), Mississippi (January 9, 1861), Florida (January 10), Alabama (January 11), Georgia (January 19), Louisiana (January 26), and Texas (February 1).

Two days after the Senate vote President Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated.  In his address he spoke to the Corwin Amendment:
I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service ... holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.
For Lincoln the Corwin Amendment merely stated what he already believed; the Constitution did not provide any authority to the Federal Government to interfere with slavery in the states where it already existed.  That is why he did not object to it and what he meant by "holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law".

Three states quickly ratified the amendment; Kentucky (April 4); Ohio (May 13); and Rhode Island (May 31), but events on the ground made it irrelevant.

On April 12, Confederate forces at Charleston, SC opened fire on the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter.  President Lincoln's willingness to respond with force to suppress the rebellion prompted the four states of the Upper South to secede; Virginia (April 17), Arkansas (May 6), North Carolina (May 20), and Tennessee (June 8).

As a legal matter, the effectiveness of the Corwin Amendment, if it had been ratified, remains a source of contention for scholars, with some maintaining it could never be altered while others argue a subsequent Constitutional amendment could revoke the Corwin Amendment, as was done with the Prohibition Amendment regarding alcohol.

It could also never have persuaded the states that had already seceded to rejoin the Union.  There could not be completely confident a subsequent Constitutional amendment could not override Corwin; they already had a complete guarantee now that they had seceded and adopted a Constitution explicitly recognizing slavery as a founding principle of the new nation; and the proposed amendment did not address their overriding fear that if they remained in the Union but slavery could not be extended to new territories, its continued existence could not be guaranteed - and they were very aware that this last concern was the explicit strategy of the Republican Party - contain and then slowly strangle slavery.  For example, there is nothing in the Corwin Amendment that would have prevented Congress from repealing the Fugitive Slave Act.

The Corwin Amendment would also have posed a problem for Republicans if it had prompted the seceding states to rejoin the Union.  The Dred Scott decision (1857) had upset the Constitution's delicate balancing act by declaring that blacks, slave and free, could not be citizens of the United States, free states could not prevent slaves from accompanying their masters, and that Congress had no power to forbid slavery in the territories. Overturning Dred Scott was at the heart of the Republican Party platform, and President Lincoln ignored the decision when he took office, ordering the issuance of passports to free blacks who had been denied them by the State Department on the ground they were not citizens.  It is difficult to see how the turmoil over slavery could have been quelled with both the Corwin Amendment and Dred Scott in place.

As often happened, Lincoln got to the heart of the matter in a letter he wrote to his friend Alexander Stephens of Georgia while he was still President-elect.  Lincoln and Stephens became friends when they both served in Congress during the late 1840s.  After Lincoln's election they initiated a conversation by letter in an attempt to find some way to head off secession.  Thought Stephens opposed secession, when Georgia left the Union he agreed to become Vice President of the Confederacy.  Lincoln wrote
Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears.  The South would be in no more danger in this respect than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, however, this does not meet the case. You think slavery is right and should be extended; while we think slavery is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Hardy As Churchill

Further to my post of a couple of days ago about the passing of British actor Robert Hardy, some more interesting aspects of his life and career:

His tutors at Magdalene College, Oxford were CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien!

Entering the Royal Air Force late in World War II, he was sent to Texas to train as a fighter pilot.  The war ended before he was deployed.

He never had any training as an actor.

I ran across this edited clip of Hardy giving some of Churchill's famous speeches in the BBC series, The Wilderness Years, the period from the late 1920s to 1939 when Churchill was an outcast within his own Conservative Party, and mistrusted by the opposition.  I'd seen the series when it was broadcast in the U.S. (I think in the early 1980s) but had forgotten just how good Hardy was as Churchill.  It's the finest Churchill I've seen on screen.  Hardy captures everything about the man - his speech patterns, his gestures, the way he carried himself.

The clip is also interesting as a window onto Churchill.  His rhetoric was always formidable, but one of the reasons he ended up in the wilderness is that we could deploy recklessly, in forlorn and unworthy causes.  The first speech we see here is his opposition to any attempt by the British government to alter the existing arrangements under which India was part of the Empire.  On this issue, Churchill was simply wrong.

It was with the coming to power of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party in 1933, that the man and his rhetoric were matched to the perfect issue.   Listen to excerpts from speeches in 1933 and 1934.  The '34 speech is on Germany's growing strength in the air.  Along with his main point, the need for Britain to maintain air superiority, two other aspects struck me.  The first was his perceptive point on the use of deterrence; the second his, in retrospect, overestimate on the damage enemy bombers could cause Britain.  In this, Churchill represented the conventional wisdom that "the bomber always gets through" and would inflict unthinkable and catastrophic damage in very short time.  The reality in the early years of the war was that however horrific the physical destruction and loss of life was during the Battle of Britain, it was only a small fraction of what had been projected, and the effect was not to destroy morale, but rather to strengthen it.

The excerpts close with Churchill's 1936 speech in the wake of German reoccupation of the Rhineland and his magnificent speech after Britain and France sold out Czechoslovakia at the Munich conference in the fall of 1938.  If you do nothing else, listen to that speech which starts about 18 minutes in to the video.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Arizona Monsoon

Mrs THC snapped this photo on Monday afternoon.  We were driving (about 10 minutes from home) when we saw this storm to the northwest of edge of the Phoenix metro area.  It's typical of what happens in July, August, and September during the monsoon season here, when the wind switches around to the south and southwest and brings up moisture laden water from the Gulf of California where it collides with the heated summer air of Arizona.  Storms build up in the afternoon in the mountains surrounding Phoenix and then start moving through the area.

June saw endless cloudless days with temperatures as high as 122 downtown and 118 even where we live about 1000 feet above downtown, with afternoon humidity below 10% (and as low as 3%).  At its worst, it's like being inside a pizza oven.  On July 10 everything changed.  Humidity began to rise with afternoon lows between 30% and 50%, we saw more and more clouds, and average temperatures dropped by 10-15 degrees.  Then came more frequent downpours of rain, lighting, rainbows, and dramatic sunsets.

Yesterday afternoon was the worst the metro area has seen so far.  Huge 65,000 foot high thunderheads formed and moved through much of the area bringing rain, lightning and 60 mph winds.  And that wasn't all.  On the southern edge of the metro area we had a haboob; a several hundred high foot wall of wind blown sand moving across the land.  Real Biblical stuff.  Below is a photo of a haboob (not today's).
Below are some photos Mrs THC took from our place in the aftermath of yesterday's action.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

All Creatures End

Robert Hardy passed away yesterday at the age of 91.  He played crusty Yorkshire Downs veterinarian Siegfried Farnon in the BBC series (1978-80, 1988-90) based on the book All Creatures Great and Small.  I loved both the book and the TV show.   Hardy also frequently portrayed Winston Churchill, most famously in another BBC series, The Wilderness Years, and was also featured in the Harry Potter series.

This clip is from the All Creatures episode set on the day in 1939 Britain enter the Second World War, showing Siegfried with his son Tristan.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Turnaround And Hot Streaks

As of May 23, 2017 it certainly looked like Andrew McCutchen, the star outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was trending down in his career performance.  From 2012 through 2015 McCutchen was considered one of the best players in baseball, accumulating a slash line (batting average/on base %/slugging % of .313/.404.523, winning one MVP award and finishing in the top five the other three seasons.

Andrew finished the 2015 season on a bit of a down note, hitting only .211 in his last 17 games, but it seemed like the typical funk any batter goes through in the course of a season.  Then came 2016 season.  It was a miserable year from start to finish.  McCutchen's slash line was .256/.336/.430 and his range in the outfield was diminished.

When he started 2017 it was even worse.  Through his first 45 games the slash was .200/.271/.359.  Going back to his slump at the end of 2015, McCutchen was hitting .242 in 822 at-bats.  This looked like something more than just a temporary slump.  It looked like he'd established a permanent, and lower, level of performance.

Since May 23 something has happened.  Over the past 57 games he's batted .389.  Where he had walked 17 times and struck out 34 in 187 plate appearances before that date, he's walked 37 times and struck out 36 in 227 plate appearances since then, with a Ted Williams-style on base percentage of .489.  The outfielder had 14 extra base hits in 170 at bats as of May 23; he's amassed 30 in 190 at bats since then, with a slugging percentage of .721.

Is the current McCutchen just someone on a hot streak who will revert to his performance of earlier in the season?  Has he made some adjustment at the plate?  What is going on here?  Or is it just one of those things?


And then we have Jose Altuve, Houston's diminutive second baseman, who is not recovering from a down period but simply getting hot..  Last year, Jose was batting .311 on May 27, before embarking on a 73 game span through August 20 during which he hit .402 (a streak I wrote about at the time). with Aaron Judge)

This year Jose was at .291 on May 26.  In the 53 games since he's hit at a .430 pace (with .485 on base and .655 slugging), including a 24 game streak where he average .510 (52 for 102).  Hitting safely in 49 of 53 games, Altuve's had 15 contests with 3 or 4 hits, and smacked two hits in another  15 games.  Let's see how long he can keep it up.

Monday, July 31, 2017

That Passed Quickly

50 years ago this week, Light My Fire by The Doors became the #1 single in the U.S.

Saw them play at Danbury High School around that same time.

Here's an excerpt from a NPR interview with keyboardist Ray Manzarek, originally broadcast in 1998, in which Ray explains how The Doors put the song together, how and why it was cut from the seven minute album version to 2:45 single, and why the instrumental break was inspired by The Sound of Music.  The link takes you to the transcript and audio.  Listening to the audio is much more fun.

And here's the original complete version:

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dunkirk Revisited

Further thoughts prompted by discussions I've been having about the movie.

Common themes between Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and Dunkirk are becoming more apparent to me.  In my prior post I referred to The Dark Knight as the finest superhero movie ever made.  My reasons?

It's a serious film (while being entertaining at the same time), unlike most of the DC and Marvel comic book movies which are more about plotting to get characters A, B, and C to points D, E and F, and thus ready for the next sequel.

It contains a monumental, and very disturbing, performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker.  We'd become used to The Joker in the TV series (played by Caesar Romero), or by Jack Nicholson in the early Batman films as an evil, but mostly comic character, and certainly not very frightening. The Dark Knight strips away the comic element and we are left only with an evil core which Ledger inhabits unnervingly well, making it hard to watch at times.  This Joker would leave Romero and Nicholson in an alley with their throats slit.  Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lechter in The Silence of the Lambs look like the junior varsity in comparison.

Most importantly, it is the best movie about the War on Terror.  It asks us, when faced with evil that seeks to destroy our society and knows no boundaries to its behavior, how is a civilized society to respond, what are our options, and what are the costs of each course of action in human terms and for the future?  It does so not by preaching about a specific answer, or by setting up straw men.  It does so by making us unflinchingly confront those actions, the consequences, and the costs; both for society and individuals.  It leaves it to the viewer to render their judgment.

And what about Dunkirk?

WARNING: If you are still planning to see the film don't read further as it contains plot spoilers.

In a more subtle way, Dunkirk also explores themes related to sacrifice and the costs of decisions that must be made.  It arises in the relationship between the actions of the Spitfire pilot and Tommy, the soldier, raising questions about the duty to obey orders/rules and the consequences of both obedience and disobedience. 

Both characters disobey orders, and exchange physical locations in the course of the film. The pilot disobeys for noble reasons, ending up on the beach that Tommy has spent the movie ignobly trying to escape, and is captured by the Germans, thus sacrificing himself. Tommy ends up back in England, where the pilot started his day, where he begins to understand the significance of what he has endured and we see the possibility he might act differently the next time.

Kenneth Branagh’s expository role lays out the dilemma Churchill and the War Cabinet faced and why the rules were in place. They needed to rescue as many soldiers as possible from Dunkirk, but also to minimize the loss of ships, planes and pilots so desperately needed for the Battle of Britain, which is why so little of the RAF was committed to air cover over the beaches, and why the Spitfire pilot is ordered to return to Britain after a set amount of flying time.  The Spitfire pilot disobeys in order to destroy a German bomber and is lost, though his very actions while disobeying, allow for Tommy, who has disobeyed the entire movie in his desperation to escape the beach, to ultimately return to Britain and fight on.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Klein Variations

In our continuing search for unusual statistical accomplishments in baseball, I undertook to explore extreme performances for an individual during a season.  My focus was on the career of Chuck Klein, star of the Philadelphia Phillies in the late 1920 and early 1930s, who has appeared in a prior THC post, Baseball Scorecard 1939.
Klein-Chuck phn 1928(Klein from Philly Sports History)

Klein posted phenomenal home/roads splits, hitting well over .400 from 1929 through 1933 in the comfy confines of the Baker Bowl while averaging more than .100 points less on the road.  His home/road splits became more extreme over time.  Below are the splits, home first, then road, including his 1928 partial rookie year.

1928:  .380/.330
1929:  .391/.321
1930:  .437/.332
1931:  .401/.269
1932:  .423/.266
1933:  .467/.280

Next step was to look at Klein's splits against left and right handed pitching.  Here I found a surprise.  Since Chuck hit left-handed, I expected him to be consistently better against right-handers, but he learned to hit southpaws better over time.  These are his splits, right handers listed first:

1928:  .374/.324
1929:  .391/.291
1930:  .405/.375
1931:  .370/.280
1932:  .362/.396
1933:  .367/.482  

Since his highest Baker Bowl average was .467 in 1933 and his best split was when he stroked .482 against lefties the same year, I decided to look at how Klein hit southpaws in his home park that year, when he won the Triple Crown, leading the National League in homers, RBIs, and average.  The next step was to go to Baseball-Reference and go through all boxscores and play by play accounts for the entire Phillies home schedule to determine how many left-handers Klein faced and how he performed against them.

The results?  Over 19 games and 47 at bats, Klein hit .532 with an on-base percentage of .560 and slugging .936.  Among his 25 hits, Chuck racked up eleven doubles, a triple, and two home runs. After going 1 for 5 in the Phillies home opener against lefty Watty Clark, Chuck hit .571 in his final 18 games against southpaws, going 18 for 24 at one point.  He also went 3 for 4 against future Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell.

Klein may have actually hit higher than .532 against lefties in 1933.  On September 23, the Boston Braves were in Philadelphia for a game in which Chuck went 3 for 4 with a double.  Braves lefty Tom Zachary pitched one inning in relief, giving up two hits.  This is the only game involving a lefty pitcher for which I cannot find play by play.  If one of Klein's hits was against Zachary (the pitcher who surrendered Babe Ruth's 60th home run in 1927) his average would be .542.

The 1933 Phillies were a bad team, finishing 60-92, landing them in 7th place in an eight team league.  Not surprisingly their attendance was awful, with an average of only 2,180 fans attending each home game.  The worst days may have been when the New York Giants came to town in early August and trampled the Phillies by identical 18-1 scores in consecutive games.

Friday, July 28, 2017


Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is not a good movie; it is a great movie, which I became aware of only a few minutes into viewing.  That was unexpected for me.  I found it well told, intense, and very moving.  And you are on the edge of your seat for the entire film.  Go see it in a movie theater, preferably an IMAX.  Seeing it on the small screen will not do it justice.

Nolan is a talented film maker going back to his debut with Memento.  He's also made Inception, Interstellar, Insomnia and The Dark Knight trilogy (the second of which, The Dark Knight, is by far the best superhero movie ever made).  Like those films, Dunkirk looks amazing (there is apparently no, or very little CGI) and it also contains Nolan's trademark intertwined, time twisting plots (in this instance, three such) which ends up working in this context, though there were a few minutes late in the film where I thought it might end up too much.

What we see, for the first time, is Nolan bringing his touch to real events; The miraculous evacuation from May 26, 1940 through June 4, 1940, of 338,000 British and French troops surrounded by the German Army in (late May 1940, which at the same time was a military disaster for Britain.  This is not The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far where we go back and forth between the battlefield and grand strategy discussions.  Nolan is focused on the soldiers, aviators and sailors (including the civilians who took their craft into danger at Dunkirk).   He utilizes Kenneth Branagh sparingly as a senior British naval officer for a few quick bursts of exposition scattered throughout, but that's it.  At one point we hear the famous conclusion of Churchill's "we shall fight them on the beaches" speech, but via a young soldier reading it aloud from a newspaper.  The exposition is enough to alert us to the terrible decisions Churchill and his War Cabinet made during those days, and the human costs of those decisions, specifically to withhold much of the Royal Navy and Air Force from support of the evacuation because of the need to conserve precious resources for Hitler's anticipated invasion of Britain.

Nolan has come in for some criticism for his approach.  We never see the Germans.  No one talks about Nazi horrors.  There is not much historical context. Not all of his British characters (and this is a very British film) are heroic or noble.  But it is a noble and patriotic film, filled with love of country, love of Britain.  By the end, even those characters who are confused about the meaning of what they've endured, at least glimpse its significance when they return home.

Dunkirk also captures another aspect of the war.  We know how WW2 ended.  In late May 1940 no one knew how it would end, nor what would happen next and the movie is true to that.  There is a contingent aspect to history, as their always is moving forward, though hard for us to grasp looking back.  Unbeknownst to most of Britain at the time, Churchill's War Cabinet debated from May 25 to May 28 whether to respond positively to Mussolini's offer to mediate between Britain and Germany.  Churchill, who only became Prime Minister on May 10, was adamantly opposed to negotiations (see Churchill Ascends).  He finally carried the day, telling a meeting of his full Cabinet on May 28:
If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.
The emotional heart of the movie are a Spitfire pilot played by Tom Hardy, who probably says fewer than 50 words during the movie, and Mark Rylance as a father who takes his small pleasure boat, along with his son and son's friend to Dunkirk.  Rylance's character (who I found from listening to my friend Titus's splendid podcast on the film, is based on Charles Lightoller, second officer of Titanic, who performed heroically during its sinking in 1912 and in 1940 set off on his yacht to rescue soldiers at Dunkirk) is laconic but he proves as eloquent as Churchill with his few words.  The  most interesting role choice by the director is Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), an unheroic soldier desperately seeking a way off the beach.  Nolan takes some risks with the audience here but pulls it off.

Excerpts from Winston Churchill speech in Parliament, June 4, 1940

When, a week ago today, I asked the House to fix this afternoon as the occasion for a statement, I feared it would be my hard lot to announce the greatest military disaster in our long history. I thought-and some good judges agreed with me-that perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 men might be re-embarked. But it certainly seemed that the whole of the French First Army and the whole of the British Expeditionary Force north of the Amiens-Abbeville gap would be broken up in the open field or else would have to capitulate for lack of food and ammunition. These were the hard and heavy tidings for which I called upon the House and the nation to prepare themselves a week ago.

Nevertheless, our thankfulness at the escape of our Army and so many men, whose loved ones have passed through an agonizing week, must not blind us to the fact that what has happened in France and Belgium is a colossal military disaster.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

That New Breed Thing

He ain't no drag
Papa's got a brand new bag
Released in July 1965, Papa's Got A Brand New Bag was James Brown's first single to hit the Top Ten in Billboard's Hot 100.  It had a different sound than any Top Ten song to that date.  With its emphasis on the first beat ("The One"), Brown delivered a brand new bag of Funk.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ten Years After: The Ottomans Come A'Knocking (Part 3)

The long awaited final installment of the three part series regarding six events which transformed the course of history between 1519 and 1529.

The first part covered the New World - the entrance of Cortes into the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, and the coming of smallpox to the American mainland.

The second discusses two turning points in the Reformation; the excommunication of Martin Luther (January 1521), and Henry VIII's decision to pursue marriage with Anne Boleyn (February 1526).

The last event is also entangled with continental politics, particularly the impact of the Sack of Rome in May 1527 by the forces of Charles V, the Hapsburg monarch who also became Holy Roman Emperor.  For our last installment we will backtrack a bit to 1525.

The Queen Mother Writes The Sultan

The early 16th century in Europe saw interminable warfare among the royalty of Europe with one of the fiercest rivalries between Francois I of France and the Hapsburg (and Holy Roman) Emperor Charles V.  In late 1524 Francois led an army into Italy, seizing Milan and laying siege to Pavia.  In February 1525 an army sent by Charles to relieve the siege completely smashed the French force and captured Francois.

Even before the Battle of Pavia, Francois sought seeking allies among the enemies of the Hapsburgs, entering into an alliance with Poland the very year he invaded Italy.  But with his defeat and capture the need became even more urgent.  Even while the King was in captivity, the Queen Mother, Louise of Savoy, dispatched an emissary to Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, carrying a letter imploring the Sultan:
“ I had left my son’s freedom to the fairness of Charles. But, he is insulting my son. I entreaty you to make my son free with your great world sovereignty, and grand power that the world recognised”.
All├ęgorie de la r├ęgence de Louise de Savoie - Gestes de Blanche de Castille BNF Fr5715.jpg(Louise of Savoy)

Suleiman responded:
“You! Francois, the King of French province! [Note the reference to France as an Ottoman province!] You have sent a letter to us with your ambassador and informed us about the enemy that entered to your country and imprisoned you. So, you asked our favour for your freedom. It is not bizarre for a sovereign to be defeated or to be imprisoned. Do not worry about it. We have taken our arms and have been riding our horses for days and nights. Every thing will be as the God wishes”.
Though the Ottoman probably did not need a solicitation to justify his next move, the Queen Mother's plea and the promise of an alliance provided a proper causus belli.  The history of Ottoman expansion in Europe was covered in The Song of Jan Sobieski, but to quickly recap; the Ottomans first ventured into Europe in 1354, smashed the Serbian state in 1389, defeated the Crusades mounted in 1396 and 1444, and captured Constantinople in 1453.  Nonetheless, until 1525 their depredations (excepting a brief excursion into southeastern Italy in 1480) had been restricted to the remote and barbarous Balkans.

Between the Balkans and the Hapsburgs in Vienna lay the Kingdom of Hungary.  Already under threat from the Ottomans who had seized Hungary's southernmost fortress at Belgrade in 1521, Louis II, King of Hungary and Bohemia had agreed to a marriage alliance, wedding Mary of Hapsburg in 1522.

Fulfilling his pledge, Suleiman set forth with his army from Istanbul in April 1526.  Four months later, on August 26, 1526, the Ottomans slaughtered the Hungarian army at Mohacs.  Among the dead was the Hungarian king.  The kingdom was shattered, most to fall under Ottoman rule while a sliver in the north and northwest came under Hapsburg sway. The path to Vienna was now clear and France and the Ottomans had established an alliance that was to last for almost three centuries.

Suleiman Retreats From Vienna

On October 15, 1529 the Sultan lifted the three week siege of Vienna and, amidst the autumn rains, began the long trek back to Istanbul.  He had set out that spring with great expectations but the gigantic force of infantry, cavalry and artillery, Muslim and Christian had been hampered in its advance by endless rains and flooding.  It was not until September 8 that Buda had been captured and Vienna not reached until late September.  Tunneling and mining failed to bring down the walls, as did direct assault.

If Vienna had fallen the way into central Europe for the Turks would have been open.  Even with this failure, the expectations of Christian Europe were that Suleiman would return, and return soon.  The threat remained.  The reality was it was an unrecognized turning point.  The Turks returned for a second siege, but not until 1683.  In the interim was a century and an half of back and forth.  In the Mediterranean, the Knights of Malta defeated the Turkish invasion of 1565 (read, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of), and the Ottoman fleet was defeated at Lepanto in 1571.  Though the French alliance paid off, as during the 1540s the Turkish fleet wintered in Toulon, and dominated the sea, seizing tens of thousands of slaves in its ceaseless raiding.  But for the first time in almost two centuries, the Sultans were not constantly advancing.  Europe had a breathing space.


The ten years from 1519 to 1529 saw the European conquest of the Americas made inevitable by the ravages of disease, the Catholic Church challenged after twelve centuries as the ruling faith of Europe, new dynamic of faith and conflict within Christianity created, and the beginning of the end of the remorseless Ottoman threat, all of which set the stage for the era of European world dominance.


Along with the six events profiled in this series, I researched another which, as it turned out, fell just outside this period but which had consequences that continue to ripple through history; the transport of sub-Saharan African slaves to the Americas.  The scale of this transfer was such that until the mid-19th century more Africans than Europeans had cumulatively come to the New World since 1492.

"Africans" had been present from the start as part of the initial Spanish and Portuguese expeditions to the New World.  However, they were either Moors; Arab or Berber captives from wars in North Africa or seized from ships, or in some instances, Moorish slaves from sub-Saharan Africa captured, in turn, by the Spanish or Portuguese.

Although there is reference to a 1502 slave transhipment from sub-Sahara Africa it appears the beginnings of the systematic trans-Atlantic trade was in 1517 or 1518.  Over the next 300 years, 10-11 million Africans were imported with more than one million others dying during transport.

Of these about 47% went to Brazil and 32% to the British and French sugar plantations in the Caribbean.  Another 17% were transported to Spanish possessions (two-thirds to Cuba).  The colonies (and later states) that were to constitute the United States account for about 389,000-407,000 (or 4%).

Sub-Sahara Africa also saw another large slave trade to the east and north with an estimated 10-20 million slaves transported to the Muslim countries of North Africa and the Middle East over a period of one thousand years.  During those same years, an estimated one million Europeans were enslaved by corsairs sailing from the Barbary states of North Africa.  There was also a lively slave trade during the Dark Ages of European slaves taken from the pagan areas of Germany and the Baltics during the Crusades to bring those areas to Christianity, sold via France to Muslim traders in Spain, as well as a well-established trade by Vikings selling captive slaves to the Turkish and Abbasid caliphates.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Dutchman In Rome

Born in Amerfoort, Holland in 1653, Caspar van Wittel left the Netherlands in 1674 for Italy, residing primarily in Rome, where he died in 1736.  He became well known for his urban landscape paintings, many of which juxtaposed the remnants of imperial Rome with the reality of the shrunken city at the beginning of the 18th century.

I've always been taken with this particular piece which shows the Arch of Titus with the Palatine Hill on the left.  It's a reminder both of durability and fragility.  The structure, though damaged remains, but the city and Forum surrounding it are mostly long gone, as well as those who built it.  The humbleness of the inhabitants we see is also a reminder of the transitory nature of things.  The Arch straddles the Sacred Way.  Triumphal processions would approach it up a slight incline having just passed by the Colosseum, 300 yards away.  Straight in front of them, down another slight incline was the Roman Forum, the heart of the empire.

To the left, the Palatine Hill was crowned by an enormous sprawling complex of Imperial Palaces clad in marble.  In 1700 we see the Palatine covered in trees, and scattered people walking through the ruins around the Arch, with a horse walking down the path from the Palatine.  The once carefully paved Sacred Way reduced to a rough dirt path.  The Arch itself is no longer maintained and is slowly eroding away.  The monumental buildings surrounding it long ago had their marble cladding stripped and their exposed cores left to crumble.  For more on the deterioration of Classical Rome over the centuries read Belisarius Enters Rome.

The inscription on the Arch reads:
The Senate
and the People of Rome
to the late revered Titus Vespasian Augustus
son of the late revered Vespasian
The monument was erected by the Emperor Domitian (81-96), the younger brother of the Emperor Titus (79-81), the sons of Emperor Vespasian (69-79), who constituted the Flavian Dynasty.  Vespasian, an experienced and stern soldier came to power in the wake of the overthrow and subsequent suicide of Nero (54-68) and amidst the turmoil of the Year of the Four Emperors when it was demonstrated that the legions far from Rome would be the decisive force in choosing the new emperor.

As a ruler, Vespasian was strict and personally austere, a complete contrast to the profligate,  undisciplined and disliked Nero.  Vespasian had his predecessor's hated palace, The Golden House, turn down, filled in its lake and on its former location had the Flavian Amphitheatre (better known to us as the Colosseum) built for the people of Rome.  Succeeding him, Titus was more charismatic and popular and his early death due to illness was a shock.  The Arch was built shortly after Domitian's accession to the throne.  Domitian was also initially popular but sank into paranoia and more and more irrational acts unlike he was assassinated in a conspiracy led by his own wife who feared for her life.

Much of the decorative aspect of the Arch commemorates the accomplishment for which he was most honored by Romans; his crushing of the Jewish Revolt in 67-70 and the sacking and complete destruction of the great temple in Jerusalem.  In the photo below the picture you can see a depiction of the great menorah being removed from the temple as a trophy of Rome's victory.  When I first saw the Arch in person it created quite a mixture of emotions for me.  Thousands of Jews were enslaved by the end of the rebellion and many of them brought to Rome where they worked as part of the labor force constructing the Colosseum.  Some may still have been around to work on the Arch of Titus.

Much of the exterior of the Arch a tourist sees today is not the same as that painted by Wittel three hundred years ago.  By the early 19th century there had been so much further degradation of the structure that in 1822, at the direction of the Pope, it was completely rebuilt in travertine.  The inscription, however, is the original.

The menorah being carried away.
Image result for arch of titus location map

As it looks today:
By Rabax63 (Diskussion) - Own work (Original text: Eigene Aufnahme), CC BY-SA 3.0,