Monday, June 19, 2017

I'd Like To Walk This Path

Painting by Paul Emile Pissarro (1884-1972), son of the French artist Camille Pissarro.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

My dad with me in 1951 or 1952.  Thank you.

The Missing Red Sox 1st Baseman: 1972-1983

In December 1971 the Boston Red Sox traded 27 year old first baseman George Scott to the Milwaukee Brewers.$_58.JPG
In December 1976 the Boston Red Sox traded part time DH and first baseman Cecil Cooper (who turned 27 two weeks later), to the Milwaukee Brewers for 32 year old George Scott.

Looked at solely from a first baseman to first baseman comparison the trades were a disaster for the Red Sox.  From 1972 through 1983, Brewers first basemen accumulated 52.4 WAR (4.4 average/season) and averaged 136 OPS+ compared to 22.4 WAR (1.9 average/season) and a 106 OPS+ average.  They managed to let the Brewers have Scott during his peak years, getting him back as he entered a speedy decline and trading Cooper just before he emerged as a star.

The deals look even worse when you just look at the years when the Sox had someone other than Carl Yastrzemski as their primary first baseman.  Yaz played first from 1973 through 1976 and while Scott was a bit better with WAR of 17.5 and OPS+ of 133, Yaz was not too far behind with 14.9 WAR and 128 OPS+.

But look at 1972 and 1977-83.  Over those eight seasons, Brewers first baseman accumulated 34.9 WAR and 137 OPS+ compared to 7.5 WAR and 95 OPS+ for the Sox.  Red Sox first basemen in those years (with WAR and OPS+) compared to the Brewers:

1972:  Danny Cater (1.0/85) v George Scott (4.9/124)                
1977:  George Scott (2.4/114) v Cecil Cooper (2.7/113)
1978:  Scott (0.2/83) v Cooper (3.0/133)
1979:  Bob Watson/Yaz/Scott (2.6/110) v Cooper (3.7/133)
1980:  Tony Perez (0.6/108) v Cooper (6.8/155)
1981:  Perez/Dave Stapleton (1.7/100) v Cooper (4.2/151)
1982:  Stapleton (0.6/87) v Cooper (5.6/142)
1983:  Stapleton (-1.6/76) v Cooper (4.0/138)

The first Scott deal looks somewhat better when you evaluate it in totality.  That trade involved nine players but boiled down to Scott for outfielder Tommy Harper and starting pitcher Marty Pattin.  In 1972, Pattin got off to a 1-7 start, then won 16 of his last 22 decisions and becoming a key part of the Sox's pennant run that ultimately fell a half game short of the Detroit Tigers.  Harper had a respectable season but you can argue that the Sox might not feel that bad about the trade as of the end of 1972.  Their real mistake was trading Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater to replace Scott.

In 1973 Pattin became an ineffective pitcher but Harper had an outstanding year playing center field, stealing 54 bases and accumulating 4.7 WAR.  Pattin was gone after the season and Harper never had another good year for the Sox.

The trade that brought Scott back to Boston in December 1976 was a complete disaster.  The Sox gave up Cecil Cooper to get Scott and Bernie Carbo.  Bernie had been with Boston for the '74 and '75 seasons and was traded to the Brewers in June 1976 for Bobby Darwin and Tom Murphy.  Darwin's slash line for the Sox that year was 179/216/349, walking twice and striking out 35 times in 106 at bats, one of the worst batting performances in baseball history.  Murphy, a reliever, had a 6.75 ERA in 16 appearances.

While Cecil Cooper became a star, Scott had one decent year with the Sox, and then a season and a half of rapid decline before being dealt to Kansas City.  He retired after the 1979 season.  Carbo had an okay year in 1977 as a part-time player (2.3 WAR), before falling off rapidly in 1978 and being sold to the Cleveland Indians in mid-season. 


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Four Home Runs

On the morning of Friday, June 17, 1977, the Boston Red Sox were a half-game behind the New York Yankees, and starting a three game series with the New York squad that evening at Fenway Park.  Though the Red Sox had lost the night before to the White Sox, they'd won nine of their last eleven games.

Arriving three hours before the Fenway gates opened, my friends and I joined the line to buy $1.50 bleacher seats.  It was a full house that night with 34,557 in attendance.  Our seats were 10 to 15 rows behind the bullpens in right-center.  It wasn't hot but it was very humid, and pretty unpleasant in the concession area underneath the bleachers.
Fans lined up outside Fenway Park on June 19, 1978, waiting for the sale of bleacher seats to a Red Sox-Yankees game.
 (Standing outside Fenway waiting for bleacher seats for Yankees game to go on sale in 1978, we aren't in the photo but, I regret to say, we probably looked like that; from Boston Globe)

Bill Lee started for the Sox (watching Lee and Luis Tiant pitch was a joy, though Lee was never the same after he hurt his shoulder in a 1976 Sox-Yankees brawl). Mickey Rivers singled and Thurman Munson reached on an error by third baseman Butch Hobson (a common occurrence that year and next) but the Yanks didn't score.

Rick Burleson led off the bottom of the first against Catfish Hunter and lifted a fly ball that barely got over the Green Monster.  Fred Lynn then stroked a line shot into the right field bullpen.  After Rice and Yaz were retired, Carlton Fisk hit a no-doubter way over the Monster.  And then George "Boomer" Scott strode to the plate and hit the one I remember most vividly.  It quickly arced  astonishingly high, seeming to be twice the height of the left field wall, as it majestically floated serenely out into the night.  We went nuts.
(George "Boomer" Scott; the Sox traded him to the Brewers where he had his best years, then got him back just as he was starting his decline, giving up Cecil Cooper who had a string of seven outstanding seasons with the Brewers, photo from ESPN) 

Ken Clay came in the relieve Catfish and induced Bernie Carbo to fly out.  We were up 4-0 and the game looked like a breeze, until Bill Lee gave up three in the top of the second and one more in the third before being replaced by Bob "Steamer" Stanley.

The Sox broke the tie in the fifth when Fred Lynn scored on a ground out by Yaz.  In the seventh Boston added two more on back to back home runs by Yaz and Fisk, going on to win 9-4 and capturing the top spot in the AL East.

Illustrating one of the big changes between the 1977 and 2017 games, Sox closer Bill Campbell pitched the last three innings. 

On Saturday, the Sox won 10-4, hitting another five home runs.  That was the day Billy Martin took Reggie Jackson out of the game because of a perceived lack of hustle leading to a blow up in the dugout between the two.!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_750/reggie15a-4-web.jpg(from NY Daily News)

The next day was an 11-1 Red Sox romp with the Boston team adding another six homers.  It was part of a ten game span in which the Sox hit a major league record 33 homers.

The games were played in only 2:27, 2:38 and 2:23.  By comparison, game times for the August 2016 series in Fenway between the teams were 3:02, 3:13 and 4:15 (and yes, that last one was only a 9 inning game).

The Sox went on to sweep a four game set against the Orioles, adding another nine homers and increasing their division lead to 4.5 games.  They then lost nine in a row.

Boston closed out the season winning 21 of its final 29 games, finishing 97-64 but it was only good for a second place tie with Baltimore which won 25 of its last 34 games.  The Yankees won 100 games, capped by winning 40 of 50 between August 7 and September 28.

Watching a Red Sox-Yankees game in the Fenway bleachers in those years was quite an experience.  We hated the Yankees with a white hot passion.  It was different than the 90s and 00s Yankees.  We hated that team, not the players (we made an exception for A-Rod); we actually admired Rivera and Jeter, though we'd never admit to the latter .  In the 70s we hated the players as well as the team - Nettles, Munson, Jackson, Rivers, Piniella, Gossage, led by archvillian Billy Martin along with big mouth George Steinbrenner.

I'd been in the bleachers the prior year when batteries were thrown at Mickey Rivers in centerfield.  I couldn't see the idiots who were doing it but the stands quickly flooded with police to get the situation under control.  Fights were always breaking out (we came close to getting involved in one). It didn't help that the bleachers would be full 90 minutes before the game with everyone drinking beer.

One memory, which I think is from the June 17 game, is of Reggie Jackson running out to right field at the start of the game.  Everyone in the bleachers rose and gave him a standing boo.  Reggie stood there looking at us, with his hands on his hips, laughing.  He didn't care about getting booed as long as we were paying attention to him.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dylan Leftovers

The recent post on Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize acceptance speech reminded THC of how songs seemed to flow from him in the 1960s, many of which he did not record at the time.  The remarkable thing about the unrecorded tunes is that most of them were not throwaways and some have become among his most enduring songs. You can enjoy some of them below.

I Shall Be Released

A standard recorded by many.  This is the all-star version performed at the end of The Band's 1975 Last Waltz concert.  Joining The Band are Dylan, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ronnie Wood, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and Dr John,

They say everything can be replaced
They say every distance is not near
So I remember every face
Of every man who put me here

They say every man needs protection
They say every man must fall
So, I swear I see my reflection
Somewhere inside these walls
Yonder stands a man in this lonely crowd
A man who says he's not to blame
All day long I hear him hollering so loud
Just crying out that he was framed
I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

Wheel's On Fire

Co-written with Rick Danko of The Band and one of my favorite Dylan songs.
Wheels on fire/rolling down the road/best notify my next of kin/this wheel shall explode

Love Is Just A Four Letter Word

Recorded by Dylan's former lover, Joan Baez.

Quinn The Eskimo

Recorded by Manfred Mann and released as a single in 1968 reaching #1 in the UK and Top Ten in the U.S.

The Ballad Of Easy Rider

All he wanted/was to be free/ and that's the way/it turned out to be
Co-written with Roger McGuinn of The Byrds and the closing song from the 1969 movie, Easy Rider.  Watching the movie recently I found it unbearably boring and unwatchable.

Tears of Rage

A beautiful song, co-written with Richard Manuel of The Band.

We carried you in our arms
On Independence Day
And now you'd throw us all aside
And put us on our way
Oh, what dear daughter 'neath the sun
Would treat a father so
To wait upon him hand and foot
And always tell him "No?"
Tears of rage, tears of grief
Why am I the one who must be the thief ?
Come to me now, you know
We're so alone
And life is brief.


You Ain't Going Nowhere

Recorded by The Byrds.  Very funny.  Very odd.  Great chorus.

When I Paint My Masterpiece

First recorded by The Band.  This version by Emmylou Harris.

And let's conclude with Elvis Presley singing Dylan's Tomorrow Is A Long Time.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Origin Of Moral Fiber O'Daniel)

Over the years THC has read speculation about moral dissolution as the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire (false) and other associations of failed morality linked to the course of history.   However, his own research has found the origin of moral fiber to be surprisingly recent.  "Moral fiber" was apparently invented in the early 20th century by the American politician Pappy O'Daniel.

We recently uncovered a transcript and recording of the pivotal moment during an exchange between Vernon T Waldrip and Pappy O'Daniel.
Vernon T. Waldrip: "I can't switch sides in the middle of a campaign. Especially to work for a man who lacks moral fiber."
Pappy O'Daniel: "Moral fiber? Why, you little pasty-face sumbitch. I invented moral fiber! Pappy O'Daniel was displaying rectitude and high-mindedness when that egghead you work for was still messing his drawers!"
You can listen to the recording here


Sunday, June 11, 2017


Mowing the lawn was on Theunis Wessels to-do list, and he's a man focused on completing his tasks.  Wessels, who lives in Three Hills, Alberta, proceeded to start mowing while his wife Cecilia took a nap.  Cecilia was awoken by their 9-year old daughter who was upset after seeing a nearby tornado and watching her dad refuse to come inside.

Cecilia took the photo.  Theunis finished mowing the lawn.  The tornado never came closer and Theunis never felt threatened, assuring his wife and daughter "I was keeping an eye on it."   (Full story)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Ranking Beatles Songs

Over at Vulture, Bill Wyman (not the metal detecting amateur archaeologist Bill Wyman) takes us through his personal ranking of all 213 songs by The Beatles, a fundamentally silly but entertaining exercise.  In the process it becomes apparent he does not appear to actually like most Beatles songs.  He particularly undervalues their songs from the post She Loves You and pre-Revolver era, with what I think is a deficient appreciation for the lovely melodies and harmonies of many of those tunes (unfortunately it is very difficult to find original Beatles on YouTube so no links on this post).

Here's the full list.  Have a go at it yourself.

At the bottom end he makes some inexplicably bad choices.  Ranked last at #213 is Good Day Sunshine; not top-flight but far from their worst, though he correctly puts the execrable She's Leaving Home from Sgt Pepper at 204.

I'll Be Back at 189?  Listen to the harmonies.  A gorgeous tune.  The same with No Reply at 173.

And he then has I Don't Want To Spoil The Party and Yes It Is at 176 and 161, respectively.  Both "minor" songs from the 1965 era, but both with beautiful harmonies, melodies and lyrics.

I'm A Loser is 146 on his list, an obvious mistake.  It's one of the Top 50 Beatles songs.

Ranking Tell Me Why at 127 and calling it "a bit . . . eh" illustrates the difference between Wyman's taste and mine.  I love Tell Me Why.  The lyrics are trite but the sheer exuberance of the performance makes for exhilarating listening.  Lennon's vocal is astonishing good and once again, we have great harmonies.

Wyman has the terrible Fool On The Hill at 107, higher than We Can Work It Out (109), another classic by the Fab Four, easily surpassing Fool with lyrics, melody, harmonies and arrangement.

On the flip side, I agree with many of his Top 50 with some exceptions.  The Long And Winding Road (45) is lousy and bloated by Phil Spector's overproduction.  Too bad it was their last single.  And Your Bird Can Sing (33) is not terrible, but not top-notch.  I Saw Her Standing There at 21 and Lovely Rita (19) leave me shaking my head.  Nowhere Man (17) was one of their worst singles.  George Harrison's Something (13) is quite good but doesn't come close to Here Comes The Sun (16) his best effort with the band.

The author ranks the Abbey Road medley as 22 through 29, but that's too easy.  The second side contains brilliant songs like You Never Give Me Your Money, along with miserable pieces like Sun King, and several song fragments.

Here's his Top 10 with my comments.

10. Rain.  Don't know if it's Top 10 but it is an under appreciated song and definitely Top 25.
9.   Eleanor Rigby.  Yes.  And Giles Martin's re imagining the song for the Love album is even better.
8.   Norwegian Wood.  Good but not Top 10.
7.   Here, There and Everywhere.  One of my least favorite Beatles songs.
6.   Dear Prudence.  OK, but not great.
5.   Please Please Me.  Their second single and first #1 in the UK.  It captures the excitement of the early Beatles.  Great tune.
4.   She Loves You.  Nope.
3.   Penny Lane.  Catchy.  Outstanding production and instrumentation. Not Top 10.
2.   Strawberry Fields Forever.  Yes, Yes, Yes.
1.   A Day In The Life.  As a 16-year old I would have said yes but don't feel it's held up well over the years.  As a musical historical artifact it is a milestone but no longer a Beatles Top 10 for me.  

I've never done my own formal ranking but a few years ago put together a playlist with the Beatles songs I most like listening to repeatedly.  It has 52 songs so it's basically my top 25% of their songs.  Here is the list chronologically from earliest to latest (with Wyman's rankings in parens):

Twist & Shout (43)
Please Please Me (5)
I Saw Her Standing There (21)
It Won't Be Long (133)
All I've Got To Do (159)
All My Loving (92)
Tell Me Why (127)
Things We Said Today (73)
I'll Cry Instead (37)
You Can't Do That (53)
I'll Be Back (189)
No Reply (173)
I'll Follow The Sun (122)
I'm A Loser (146)
I Feel Fine (63)
I Don't Want To Spoil The Party (176)
Every Little Thing (198)
What You're Doing (168)
Help! (36)
You're Going To Lose That Girl (57)
Ticket To Ride (18)
The Night Before (77)
Drive My Car (38)
Day Tripper (30)
We Can Work It Out (109)
What Goes On (174)
You Won't See Me (71)
If I Needed Someone (83)
Rain (10)
I'm Only Sleeping (84)
Eleanor Rigby (9)
Tomorrow Never Knows (12)
She Said She Said (11)
Doctor Robert (121)
For No One (34)
Strawberry Fields Forever (2)
With A Little Help From My Friends (86)
Fixing A Hole (150)
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (68)
Hey Bulldog (89)
Blackbird (31)
Back In the USSR (47)
Happiness Is A Warm Gun (110)
Revolution (56)
Long Long Long (147)
Everybody's Got Something To Hide, Except Me & My Monkey (144)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (32)
Here Comes The Sun (16)
Mean Mr Mustard (24)
Polythene Pam (25)
You Never Give Me Your Money (22)
Let It Be (15)

Looking more closely at the list I realize 35 of 52 are from the pre-Sgt Pepper era (1963-66).  

Now that I'm obsessing about Beatles songs, I went back through the entire list and identified those of their songs I do not like and am okay never hearing again.  It totalled 74 tunes, including eleven covers, several singles (Lady Madonna, All You Need Is Love, Nowhere Man, Love Me Do, Yellow Submarine, Hello Goodbye, The Long and Winding Road, and The Ballad of John and Yoko), along with a bunch of Harrison songs (seven, to be exact).  That leaves 139 songs I like and can listen to repeatedly or 65% of everything they recorded.  A pretty good batting average.

Friday, June 9, 2017


I've noticed that Progressives have a way of projecting their fears, yet being the ones to actually act in the way they claim others are always preparing to do.  It reminds me of Tom Wolfe's remark "that the  dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe".

Some recent examples:

During the campaign we were deluged with anxiety about the violence of Trump supporters.  Yet it was Trump rallies that were disrupted, sometimes violently, by Sanders and Clinton supporters.  To my knowledge there were zero incidents in which a Sanders or Clinton rally was disrupted by Trump supporters.

Immediately after the election were were deluged with reports for hate crimes supposedly committed by Trump supporters.  Unfortunately for the left, almost all of these were actually perpetuated by Progressives.  I guess the good news is that the perpetrators were diverse; white males, women, African-Americans, Moslems etc.  It probably got embarrassing for the Left when four African-Americans kidnapped a disabled young white man and beat him while yelling anti-Trump slogans.  I also suspect few on the Left were aware of the incident in Ithaca, NY when a mentally disturbed man murdered someone because he thought his victim was Donald Trump.  You can be assured that if the murder was of someone the deranged individual thought was Hillary Clinton we would have had days of media coverage about it, blaming Trump for creating an atmosphere conducive to violence.

And since the inauguration we have been deluged by fears of Trumpian repression, but so far the only examples are of non-Progressive speakers at college campuses being prevented, sometimes violently, from speaking.

We've also been deluged by other fears of Trumpian repression, now that he is president.  Fat chance of that happening because the permanent bureaucracy is Democratic and the media will be happy to report on anything untoward the moment it happens.  This is in contrast to how it works in a Progressive administration.  President Obama only had to utter a few thoughts about Citizens United and his political enemies and the Internal Revenue Service was on the job denying tax exemptions to opponents of the administration, while the New York Times attempted to convince us nothing unusual was going on.  

The reason for the fears expressed by Progressives it that it is precisely what they would do if they were in power.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Dylan On The Value Of Classic Literature

Bob Dylan just gave his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature which he was awarded recently.  It sounds like Dylan, or at least like the Dylan of his engaging collection of autobiographical tales, Chronicles; Volume I.
When I first received this Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was. I'm going to try to articulate that to you. And most likely it will go in a roundabout way, but I hope what I say will be worthwhile and purposeful.
With that opening he describes being entranced as a teenager by Buddy Holly.
If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I'd have to start with Buddy Holly. Buddy died when I was about eighteen and he was twenty-two. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related, like he was an older brother. I even thought I resembled him. Buddy played the music that I loved – the music I grew up on: country western, rock ‘n' roll, and rhythm and blues. Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre. One brand. And Buddy wrote songs – songs that had beautiful melodies and imaginative verses. And he sang great – sang in more than a few voices. He was the archetype. Everything I wasn't and wanted to be. I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone. I had to travel a hundred miles to get to see him play, and I wasn't disappointed.

He was powerful and electrifying and had a commanding presence. I was only six feet away. He was mesmerizing. I watched his face, his hands, the way he tapped his foot, his big black glasses, the eyes behind the glasses, the way he held his guitar, the way he stood, his neat suit. Everything about him. 
He tells of being exposed to Leadbelly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and the New Lost City Ramblers and thus why, "When I started writing my own songs, the folk lingo was the only vocabulary that I knew, and I used it."

But the bulk of his lecture is about how classic Western literature informed his sensibilities and views of the world.
But I had something else as well. I had principals and sensibilities and an informed view of the world. And I had had that for a while. Learned it all in grammar school. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by. I took all that with me when I started composing lyrics. And the themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally. I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard, and these themes were fundamental. 
There were three books in particular that influenced him; Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.

On Moby Dick:
Everything is mixed in. All the myths: the Judeo Christian bible, Hindu myths, British legends, Saint George, Perseus, Hercules – they're all whalers. Greek mythology, the gory business of cutting up a whale. Lots of facts in this book, geographical knowledge, whale oil – good for coronation of royalty – noble families in the whaling industry. Whale oil is used to anoint the kings. History of the whale, phrenology, classical philosophy, pseudo-scientific theories, justification for discrimination – everything thrown in and none of it hardly rational. Highbrow, lowbrow, chasing illusion, chasing death, the great white whale, white as polar bear, white as a white man, the emperor, the nemesis, the embodiment of evil. The demented captain who actually lost his leg years ago trying to attack Moby with a knife.

We see only the surface of things. We can interpret what lies below any way we see fit. Crewmen walk around on deck listening for mermaids, and sharks and vultures follow the ship. Reading skulls and faces like you read a book. Here's a face. I'll put it in front of you. Read it if you can. 

All Quiet on the Western Front:

All Quiet on the Western Front was another book that did. All Quiet on the Western Front is a horror story. This is a book where you lose your childhood, your faith in a meaningful world, and your concern for individuals. You're stuck in a nightmare. Sucked up into a mysterious whirlpool of death and pain. You're defending yourself from elimination. You're being wiped off the face of the map. Once upon a time you were an innocent youth with big dreams about being a concert pianist. Once you loved life and the world, and now you're shooting it to pieces.

All that culture from a thousand years ago, that philosophy, that wisdom – Plato, Aristotle, Socrates – what happened to it?  It should have prevented this. Your thoughts turn homeward. And once again you're a schoolboy walking through the tall poplar trees. 

The Odyssey: 
He's always being warned of things to come. Touching things he's told not to. There's two roads to take, and they're both bad. Both hazardous. On one you could drown and on the other you could starve.

In a lot of ways, some of these same things have happened to you. You too have had drugs dropped into your wine. You too have shared a bed with the wrong woman. You too have been spellbound by magical voices, sweet voices with strange melodies. You too have come so far and have been so far blown back. And you've had close calls as well. You have angered people you should not have. And you too have rambled this country all around. And you've also felt that ill wind, the one that blows you no good.   
And closes by musing on what songwriting is about:
John Donne as well, the poet-priest who lived in the time of Shakespeare, wrote these words, "The Sestos and Abydos of her breasts. Not of two lovers, but two loves, the nests." I don't know what it means, either. But it sounds good. And you want your songs to sound good.

When Odysseus in The Odyssey visits the famed warrior Achilles in the underworld – Achilles, who traded a long life full of peace and contentment for a short one full of honor and glory –  tells Odysseus it was all a mistake. "I just died, that's all." There was no honor. No immortality. And that if he could, he would choose to go back and be a lowly slave to a tenant farmer on Earth rather than be what he is – a king in the land of the dead – that whatever his struggles of life were, they were preferable to being here in this dead place.

That's what songs are too. Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They're meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare's plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, "Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story." 

He doesn't mention it directly but Dylan is a savvy guy and I think he knew what he was doing with this paean to classic Western literature at a time when it is under assault by the forces of post-modernism and multiculturalism which seek to install a stultifying conformity of thought under the guise of tolerance and diversity.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Heart Of An Athlete

Former Angels star and batting champion Rod Carew is still recovering from a heart and kidney transp(Rod Carew, LA Times)
Konrad Reuland sits on the Ravens bench during an exhibition game against Atlanta.(Konrad Reuland, LA Times)

A moving story from the Los Angeles Times.  In December 2016 29 year old NFL tight end Konrad Reuland died from a ruptured aneurysm.  Three days later 71 year old baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew received Konrad's heart.
“Something in me, I don’t know why, but maybe it’s a mother’s instinct . . . I just laid my right ear on his chest and listened to his heart beating all day, from morning until we had to leave,” Mary said. “I memorized it. And I said, ‘I hope I get to hear this again one day.’ ”

Less than three months later, Mary stood arm-in-arm with her husband, Ralf, and youngest son, 24-year-old Austin, in the backyard of their San Juan Capistrano home, eagerly awaiting the first meeting with the man who received Konrad’s heart and a kidney in a 13-hour operation on Dec. 16.

From a walkway on the side of the house on that sunny Thursday afternoon emerged Rod Carew, the 71-year-old Hall of Fame baseball player, holding the hand of his wife, Rhonda, as he ambled toward the Reulands.

Carew, who survived a massive heart attack in 2015, hugged the Reulands. After some small talk, they moved inside, where Rod, sitting on the family room sectional, handed Mary a stethoscope belonging to Ralf Reuland, a doctor.

Mary placed the device on Carew’s chest and listened for about 15 seconds. Her eyes reddened as her head sank into Carew’s shoulder.

“It was comforting in a way to hear that again, knowing that part of Konrad is still here,” Mary said. “I didn’t know until this happened that every heartbeat, like a fingerprint, is unique. It was definitely Konrad’s heart in there.”

Read the whole story.

Carew was, along with George Brett, the outstanding hitter for average in the American League during the 1970s.  I saw him play in person at a game in Fenway Park on September 3, 1980.  I decided late in the afternoon to go to Fenway to see the game and being on my own and with the Red Sox not the draw they are today (attendance was only 22,340) was able to get a seat close to the field between home plate and the Red Sox dugout and so closely observe the batters.

Mike Torrez started for the Sox and Carew hit a two run line drive homer off him in the first inning.  In his next at bat he lined out to center, and then lined singles to left-center and center.  What I remember is how easy he made it look.  He didn't seem to swing hard, standing there almost casually, waiting for the pitch to reach him, smoothly swinging and hitting the ball hard in each at bat.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris and Babe Ruth swatted sixty home runs.  On December 3, 1927 Blind Willie Jefferson (1897-1945) recorded Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground at a studio in Dallas, Texas for Columbia Records.

The title comes from a 1792 hymn by an English clergyman.  Jefferson's version does not use lyrics and he plays a slide guitar in a style that inspired generations of future musicians.  Dark Was The  Night is one of 27 musical samples chosen for the Golden Record placed on the Voyager space vehicle launched in 1977 and now somewhere in interstellar space.  If Voyager encounters aliens this is what they'll hear.  Wonder what they will think.

Blind Willie recorded 30 songs in five recording sessions between 1927 and 1930 and enjoyed some commercial success.  However, with the advent of the Depression the market for this music collapsed. Jefferson was one of many Negro musicians promoted by the Reverend Gary Davis in the late 50s and early 60s as part of the American folk revival.

Here's another Blind Willie tune, Nobody's Fault But Mine.

I'm Back!

Things are settling down at the new THC HQ so hoping to get back on a relatively frequent posting schedule.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Relocating THC

THC headquarters is in the process of relocating from Connecticut to Arizona so our global staff has been pretty busy recently meaning blogging will continue to be very light for the entire month of May. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Death Of A Clown

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus will do its last show on May 21 at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, ending a 150 year tradition of traveling circuses.  Ringling resulted from the combination of three 19th century circus shows.  Cooper & Bailey was founded in the 1860s and merged with PT Barnum's show in 1881.  In 1884 the five Ringling brothers founded their circus in Baraboo, Wisconsin and eventually, in 1907 purchased Barnum & Bailey.

From the early 20th century to the beginning of World War Two was the heyday of the circus.  In those days, the circus would roll into town for a one night stand,  Hundreds of workers would erect the tent city, which they would disassemble after the show and move on to the next town.

In honor on its demise, let's listen to Death of a Clown, composed by Dave Davies of The Kinks.

My makeup is dry and it cracks 'round my chin
I'm drowning my sorrows in whisky and gin
The lion tamer's whip doesn't crack anymore
The lions they won't bite and the tigers won't roar

So let's all drink to the death of a clown
Won't someone help me to break up this crown
Let's all drink to the death of a clown
Let's all drink to the death of a clown

The old fortune teller lies dead on the floor
Nobody needs fortunes told anymore
The trainer of insects is crouched on his knees
And frantically looking for runaway fleas

Let's all drink to the death of a clown
And if you are yearning for the circus, visit the Ringling Brothers museum in Sarasota, Florida, something we've done twice.  The property, formerly owned by John Ringling, contains a fascinating museum recounting the history of the circus in America as well as an elegant museum featuring 14th-17th century European art collected by Ringling and his wife.

The museum highlight is the 3,800 square foot, 44,000 piece Howard Brothers Circus, a recreation of the Ringling Brothers show from 1919-1938.  It is the creation of 80 year old Howard Tibbals of Ohio, who began work on it in the 1960s, and continues to add to it today. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017


THC came across another memento of our 1978 trip to Greece (see The Magic Bus for the prior instance); this photo by the future Ms THC:
                              (Acrocorinth by Ms THC)
We'd arrived in the port of Patras that morning on the overnight ferry from Italy (we'd slept on deck as we could not afford a cabin), and then caught a train to Corinth.  For some reason we cannot remember we decided to visit the Acrocorinth, taking a cab up to the gates and then walking further up the hill and around the ruins.  We also saw the view you can see in the photo below.

(Corinth and Gulf of Corinth from Acrocorinth)

The Acrocorinth is an acropolis built on a ]isolated mountain rising nearly 2,000 feet above the plain of Corinth.  Positioned near the entrance to the Peloponnese it provides an ideal defensive site.
Image result for map of acrocorinth and peloponnesus

The first fortifications were built on the site around 600 BC, and over the years was occupied by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Franks, Venetians, Ottomans and then again, after 1822, by Greeks.   It is the largest castle in Greece and one of the largest in Europe with its perimeter walls covering about two miles.

(Corinth with Acrocorinth by Carl Anton Joseph Rottman, 1847

The most dramatic event in its history was a siege which lasted from 1205 to 1210.  In 1204, the Fourth Crusade, under Venetian and Frankish leadership, ended up seizing Constantinople and dispossessing the Byzantine emperors, instead of going to the Holy Land.  In the ensuing chaos, the local area governor, Leo Sgouros, occupied the Acrocorinth, which was then besieged by the Crusaders.  The castle fell in 1210.  Sgouros committed suicide by jumping from one of the cliffs.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Posted Without Comment

From Jim Geraghty's (of National Review Online) daily newsletter:
“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump told Reuters in an interview Thursday.This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”
When discussing health care in February: “Very complicated issue…. I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
After the House GOP canceled the vote on the American Health Care Act: “We learned a lot about the vote-getting process. We learned a lot about some very arcane rules in obviously both the Senate and in the House.”
Discussing North Korea with Chinese president Xi Jinping:
Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said.
“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Mr. Trump recounted. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power [over North Korea], but it’s not what you would think.”
Earlier this week, discussing NATO:
“So they asked me, Wolf ... asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO’s obsolete — not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO — NATO is obsolete, and I said, “And the reason it’s obsolete is because of the fact they don’t focus on terrorism.”

Thursday, April 27, 2017


As he lay on the stony, bare ridge rising above the old, walled city bounded on the other side by the blue sea, waiting to give the order to advance, he might well have marveled on how life moves in unexpected ways.  Twenty two years before, he'd been a farmboy from Connecticut, a 19 year old sergeant recently discharged from the Continental Army.  And now, on April 27, 1805, he was about to lead American forces in the new republic's first land battle outside its boundaries, in the country we know today as Libya(1).
Led by 'General' William Eaton, one of the strangest invading forces in history set out across the desert near Tripoli to avenge American honor.
(The Marines storm Derna, painting by Charles Waterhouse)

Born in 1764, William Eaton was one of 13 children of a Woodstock, CT farming family.  At sixteen he ran away to join the Continental Army from which he was discharged in 1783 at the conclusion of America's war of independence.  Graduating from Dartmouth College in 1790, Eaton was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army two years later, seeing action against the Indians in the Northwest Territories and Georgia, before resigning in 1797 as a result of a controversial episode involving his commander.  By then he'd already come to the notice of Secretary of State William Pickering who recruited Eaton for secret work.  In turn, that brought him to the attention of the new President, John Adams, for whom he also undertook a sensitive assignment (the country and its government were much smaller then allowing this circumstance to arise).  Eaton's success allowed him access to more public positions and he requested and was granted appointment as U.S. Counsel to Tunis.  Why Tunis?  Eaton had been fascinated by Arab culture and Islam since he was a child and had even taught himself some rudimentary Arabic.  For the 33 year old it was an adventure and exciting way to seek his fortune in a land he'd dreamt about for years.

Tunis was one of four Barbary States, the others being Morocco, Algiers and Tripoli, which made their living by piracy, seizing ships, ransoming cargoes and crews to European states and the new United States, as well as conducting slave raids along the Mediterranean coasts of Europe.  Various Muslim states in North Africa had been doing so since the 8th century (see The Song of Jan Sobieski, Part I for more background).

Led by 'General' William Eaton, one of the strangest invading forces in history set out across the desert near Tripoli to avenge American honor.(map from warfare history network)

The Barbary States were an ongoing problem for the American republic.  With a very small navy, it was unable to adequately protect American commercial vessels in the Mediterranean.  At times, the U.S. agreed to pay tribute to the states to allow for passage, but for many owners it remained too dangerous to enter these waters and American commerce suffered as a result.

Arriving in 1799, Eaton befriended its ruler, the Bey, and agreement was reached on a revised treaty in early 1800.  Later that year he was asked to join negotiations with the Bey of Tripoli, the most unruly of the Barbary states.  Arriving in January 1801, Eaton found the situation going from bad to worse as the Bey kept increasing his demands.  On May 14, the Bey declared war on the United States.  Without knowledge of this event, an increasingly aggravated President Thomas Jefferson decided on May 15 to send an American naval squadron to try to cow the Barbary States.  The squadron, which departed the following month, also carried a complement of Marines, on their first potential combat mission.

Eaton, returning to Tunis, struck up a friendship with Hamet Karamanli, the elder brother of the Bey of Tripoli, who had been overthrown by his younger brother and, understandably, sought revenge.  During this period, Eaton also raised funds for himself and Hamet through some murky trading ventures, in the course of which he borrowed funds from the Bey to finance his business.  It resulted in the end of his career as Counsel for in March 1803, Commodore Morris of the U.S. Navy ventured into Tunis to negotiate return of a Tunis merchant vessel seized by the Americans.  Instead the Bey seized Morris and his men, demanding to be repaid the monies he'd loaned to Eaton.  The outraged Morris and Eaton managed to raise the funds.  After repayment, the Bey expelled Eaton from Tunis and Morris denounced him.

Eaton returned to Washington where he tried to interest President Jefferson in a scheme to replace the Bey of Tripoli with his brother Hamet.  Not much attention was given to this plan until news of dramatic events reached America.  Since 1801, the American squadron had negotiated successfully with Morocco and Algiers, but Tripoli had remained intransigent.  In 1803, the Americans began a blockade of Tripoli, but the effort went awry in October when the frigate Philadelphia went aground, was captured by the Tripolitans and converted into a floating gun battery to aid in defense of the harbor.  It was a humiliating turn for the United States.  In February 1804, Lt Stephen Decatur led a daring night time raid in which the Philadelphia was burnt (for more on Decatur read Decatur's Deal).

All of this heightened American anger with Tripoli and President Jefferson agreed to Eaton's plan to make Hamet Karamanli the new Bey.  He authorized $40,000 and 1,000 rifles for Eaton and giving him the title of U.S. Naval Agent for the Barbary Coast (Eaton gave himself the title of General when he reached the area).

Eaton set off to find Hamet, going first to Egypt where he was believed to be.  Landing in Alexandria with eight U.S. Marines (commanded by Lt. Presley O'Bannon) on November 26, 1804, Eaton set off for Cairo.   Working with a cast of colorful characters, the Naval Agent got Hamet out of a scrap with the Turkish authorities who ruled the country and persuaded Karamanli to join his scheme.

Over the next three months they recruited a motley army.  There were Eaton and the eight Marines.  Hamet had about a hundred men.  Eaton and O'Bannon hired Greek, Turkish, English, Spanish, French and Indian mercenaries and Hamet persuaded about 400 other Arabs to join the merry band.  On March 8 they left Alexandria for Derna, 600 miles away.  Including camel drivers and Bedouin horsemen and their families who joined along the way, they may have been 1,000 in the expedition by the time they reached the area of Derna in late April.  Accounts of their trek make it sound like a miracle they made it given the mutual hatreds of varied groups making up the army and demands for payment by the baggage train drivers which led to Eaton and others giving them all the monies they had.

On April 26, the expedition took up positions around Derna and Eaton sent a note to the commander of the garrison demanding his surrender, ending his note with "I shall see you tomorrow in a way of your choice", to which the garrison commander responded succinctly , "My head or yours".

(Modern Derna from wikipedia; from this ridge Eaton looked over the town)
Port of Derna.jpg

Eaton planned a two pronged attack for the 27th.  O'Bannon's Marine and the mercenaries, about 60 in all would storm the barricades while Hamet's horsemen, about 200 in total, would attack from the south.  Eaton would command the two cannon of his small army.  Three American ships were offshore, Argus, Hornet and Nautilus, to provide cannon support.  O'Bannon's outnumbered force was pinned down until Eaton led a charge that caused the defenders to flee.  Entering the town, the Americans seized the fort and raised the Stars & Stripes for the first time on foreign territory in time of war.  Hamet's force also entered Derna, capturing the governor's palace.  The fighting was over in two hours.  Two Marines were killed and Eaton shot in the wrist.

The Bey's forces made two attempts to recapture Derna, the first on May 13 and the second on June 11.  Both were repulsed.  But Eaton was not to enjoy his victory.

On June 3, the Bey had signed a peace treaty with the United States.  It ended piracy by Tripoli but it also allowed the Bey to remain in power.  Hamet was to continue in exile.  Eaton was ordered to leave Derna and abandon his local followers.  Returning to the U.S., Eaton, now broke, denounced the treaty and drinking heavily, began roaming the streets dressed as a Bedouin.  His discontent made him easy prey for Aaron Burr who was launching his conspiracy to invade Mexico and possibly detach the western states from the Union.  Though Eaton eventually broke with Burr and denounced his scheme he was ruined.  Retreating to Maine, destitute and drunk, William Eaton died in 1811. (Presley O'Bannon)

For his bravery at Derna, Lt Presley O'Bannon was presented with a Mameluke Sword by a grateful Hamet Karamanli.  The Sword is still the model for the dress sword used by the Marine Corps in the 21st century.  It was the Battle of Derna that gave us "to the shores of Tripoli" in the Marine Corps hymn.  O'Bannon resigned in 1807.  Moving to Kentucky he served as a Representative and Senator in the state legislature.  He died in 1850.

Derna is currently controlled by the Shura Council of Mujahideen who seized it from the Islamic State (ISIS) in June 2015.

(1) Some of you may be saying, "What about our invasion of Canada"?  You know your history, but the American invasion of Canada during the Revolutionary War took place in 1775-6 before the Declaration of Independence (for more on that episode read, Why Canada Is Not Part of The United States).

Babe Ruth Day

By the spring of 1947 it was evident that Babe Ruth was very sick, though it was not widely known he'd been diagnosed with throat cancer from which would die in August 1948.  Gaunt from the loss of considerable weight, his hair gone grey, the Babe had difficulty walking unaided.

Baseball Commissioner "Happy" Chandler designated April 27 as Babe Ruth Day and 58,339 fans jammed into Yankee Stadium to celebrate the greatest player in the game's history.  The Commissioner announced that Ruth was taking on a new assignment as director of baseball for the American Legion, and the Bambino was introduced by Larry Cutler, a 13-year old American Legion player.  Babe's remarks follow:

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

You know how bad my voice sounds -- well it feels just as bad.
You know this baseball game of ours comes up from the youth. That means the boys.
And after you're a boy and grow up to know how to play ball, then you come to the boys you see representing themselves today in your national pastime, the only real game -- I think -- in the world, baseball.
As a rule, some people think if you give them a football, or a baseball, or something like that -- naturally they're athletes right away.
But you can't do that in baseball.
You've gotta start from way down [at] the bottom, when you're six or seven years of age. You can't wait until you're fifteen or sixteen. You gotta let it grow up with you. And if you're successful, and you try hard enough, you're bound to come out on top -- just like these boys have come to the top now.
There's been so many lovely things said about me, and I'm glad that I've had the opportunity to thank everybody.
Thank you.
Sportswriter Jimmy Cannon reported on the event in the next day's edition of the New York Post:
The camel’s hair cap was flat and big on his head and his face was angular and creased. The camel’s hair coat blew loosely in the draught and there was no belly beneath his belt. The collar of the green shirt billowed out from the emaciated neck and the cigar was out in his left hand. The tan on his face seemed unnatural because he didn’t look like a man who had been out in the sun.

There was a guy on each side of him and they moved in close and braced him when they approached the stairs and the specials and peanut guys stood back and shook their heads as he passed. They know, as everyone who has ever read a sports page knows that the money he had drawn as a Yankee had built this stadium. Now the greatest Yankee of them all walked as a stranger under the stands and that’s the only part of a park a ball player really knows besides the field.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

You Work With What You Have

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”

“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.” 

- Philip Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

Another Day In Baseball

Watch Chris Coghlan of the Toronto Blue Jays somersault over Yadier Molina of the St Louis Cardinals and reach home plate.  It happened last night.  In recent years we've seen this happen in the NFL a couple of times but, to my knowledge, it's never happened in baseball before. You can also watch it here.

It also prompted this tweet:

It was all part of what one writer called "The absolute craziest, strangest and saddest night of the season.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Today's the 100th birthday of the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald.  Ella was so good she could even intimidate Frank Sinatra, who thought her the premiere vocalist of the time and would not record with her because he felt he could not measure up.  The purity of her voice and tonal control across her broad vocal range remains remarkable.

Two songs for today.  The first is Bill Strayhorn's Lush Life with its difficult melody.  On this version the great Oscar Peterson is on piano.  The second is the upbeat They All Laughed.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pictures Of Lily

Possibly the oddest (along with I'm A Boy) of the many odd singles released by The Who.  About a young man who becomes enamored of pictures stuck on his bedroom wall by his dad and is disappointed to find the young woman is long dead, Pictures of Lilly, released in the UK on this date in 1967 was another hit for the band, reaching the Top Five.  Released two months later in the US, it was yet another flop in that market.

Pictures of Lily was the eight single by the band, all of which reached the UK Top Ten.  It was their seventh failed single in the US, only the previous release, Happy Jack, achieving chart success.

It's likely that the Lily referenced in the lyrics is the actress Lillie Langtry, mistress of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), who died in 1929.
(Lillie Langtry from wikipedia)

I used to wake up in the morning
I used to feel so bad
I got so sick of having sleepless nights
I went and told my dad
He said, "son now here's some little something"
And stuck them on my wall
And now my nights ain't quite so lonely
In fact I, I don't feel bad at all
I don't feel so bad at all
Pictures of Lily made my life so wonderful
Pictures of Lily helped me sleep at night
Pictures of Lily solved my childhood problems
Pictures of Lily helped me feel alright
Pictures of Lily
Lily, oh Lily
Lily, oh Lily
Pictures of Lily
And then one day things weren't quite so fine
I fell in love with Lily
I asked my dad where Lily I could find
He said, "son, now don't be silly"
"She's been dead since 1929"
Oh, how I cried that night
If only I'd been born in Lily's time
It would have been alright
Pictures of Lily made my life so wonderful
Pictures of Lily helped me sleep at night
For me and Lily are together in my dreams
And I ask you, hey mister, have you ever seen
Pictures of Lily?


Here are the boys goofing through a lip-synced version of the song on British TV:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Madison On Property

A common modern criticism of the Founding Fathers is the claim that their priority in establishing the new nation was the protection of accumulated material wealth, aka "property" above all.  The early 20th century historian Charles Beard was the first to make the allegation and it's becoming an increasingly favored trope of Progressives and Marxist historians.

In reality, the definition of "property" was much broader in the late 18th century.  Property refers not just to land, equipment or money in a bank.  It is the ownership we have in our mental existence and in the right to try to better ourselves. The best example of what was actually meant by the term was set forth by James Madison in a short essay published in the National Gazette on March 29, 1792 which you can read in full here.

Madison informs his readers that the term has both a particular application to "external things of the world" as well as a "larger and juster meaning" which:
. . . embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the same advantage.
Included in this larger meaning Madison references:
. . . a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.

. . . a property of particular value in his religious opinions

. . . equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them

. . . a property in his rights
Madison goes on to say, "Conscience is the most sacred of property".

The role of government is to protect property of every sort.  A just government "impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own."  In contrast, an unjust government denies to "its citizens that free use of their faculties, and free choice of their occupations, which not only constitute their property in the general sense of the word; but are the means of acquiring property strictly so called."

Madison's thought is echoed several times in the speeches of Abraham Lincoln, where he uses the term "liberty" instead of "property" in support of the right to free exercise of labor and ambition.

The more restrictive meaning of the term "property" that arose in the 20th century was not an accident. By doing so it allowed Progressive thinkers and Marxist demagogue to impugn the ideas of the Founding and to set the stage for the artificial distinction between economic rights and personal liberty pioneered by the Supreme Court in the 1930s, in which rights in the former were severely restricted.

Ironically, as noted by Walter Dellinger (Solicitor General during the Clinton Administration) in The Indivisibility of Economic Rights and Personal Liberty, "the New Deal Court's elimination of any effective protection of economic rights seriously weakened the bases for protecting personal liberty as well", noting that the shaky rationale of Justice Douglas' "inept opinion" in the contraceptive ban case of Griswold v Connecticut was made necessary by the evisceration of economic rights.  As Dellinger points out, it was the justices accused by the New Dealers of being reactionaries in the 1930s, who in the prior decade wrote the decisions in Pierce v Society of Sisters and Meyers v Nebraska overturning state statutes which discriminated on ethnic and religious grounds, relying on theories of economic liberties. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Length Of The Game

The growing length of baseball games has become a frequent complaint in recent years, and the Commissioner's Office has shortening their duration a priority.  I also would like to see shorter games. 

In writing posts on mid-1970s games I saw in Fenway, I noticed how quick they were.  Mark Fidrych's duel with Luis Tiant took 1:57, while the game featuring Jim Rice's monster home run was over in 2:07.  Most recently I was researching a 3-game Red Sox-Yankees series I watched from the bleachers in June 1977 (subject of an upcoming post).  The game times were 2:27, 2:38 and 2:23; shocking for those of us accustomed to the four hour marathons these team routinely played in the 21st century.  The average game length in MLB increased from 2:29 in 1974 to 3:09 in 2014.

All of which prompted a deeper look at the length of Red Sox games in 1977 and 2016.  Bottom line: counting only nine inning games, in 1977 you were almost 17 times more likely to attend a game lasting less than 2:30 than in 2016.  In 2016 you were almost 8 times more likely to attend a game lasting more than 3:15.

The details:
The 1977 Red Sox played 154 nine inning games.
The 2016 Red Sox played 151 nine inning games.

Games Less Than 2:30
1977:  70 (45.5%)
2016:   4 ( 2.6%)

Games More Than 3:15
1977:  7   (4.5%)
2016:  53 (35.1%)

Games Between 2:30 & 3:15
1977:  77 (50.0%)
2016:  94 (62.3%)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Dereliction Of Duty

"The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C, even before Americans assumed sole responsibility for the fighting in 1965 and before they realized the country was at war, even before the first American units were deployed."

from Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam by HR McMaster (1997)
General HR McMaster, President Trump's National Security Advisor (NSA), holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of North Carolina and his doctoral thesis was later published as Dereliction of Duty.  The book is a detailed, scathing indictment of the decision making of President Lyndon Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the time of President Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 to the introduction of large numbers of American combat troops into Vietnam in July 1965. McMaster from wikipedia)

I decided to read the book to (1) learn more about this period of history, which I've spent little time on in recent decades, and (2) to gain some insight into our new NSA.  On the latter point, I came away feeling that McMaster is much better qualified for the role than his most recent predecessors, Michael Flynn and Susan Rice.  His approach to the roles of civilian and military advisers on national security issues is sound and it looks like he will not hesitate to stand up for his own views.  Of course, writing a book criticizing others does not guarantee you will not repeat their failures when put into the same position.

While McMaster's research is exhaustive, large parts of this ground have been plowed before, all the way back to the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971.  Nonetheless, it is a useful albeit depressing reminder of that history given added impact by McMaster's outrage as a serving officer on the failure of the Joint Chiefs during that critical time.

As an aside, reading Dereliction of Duty reminded me of two aspects of the Pentagon Papers publication.  When he learned of the New York Times plans to publish the documents, President Nixon's first reaction was to do nothing, as he felt publication would expose the flawed decision making and deceptions of his Democratic predecessors that had gotten America into the mess in Vietnam, leaving Nixon to clean it up.  Ultimately persuaded by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that the precedent of having such top secrets leaked created a bigger problem, Nixon approved the government lawsuit seeking to prevent publication, a claim rejected by the Supreme Court.  Nixon should have followed his initial instincts.  By filing the lawsuit the focus of the story became the Nixon Administration, not its predecessors.  The second point is that the Supreme Court ruling is often misunderstood as a total victory for freedom of the press.  In fact, while the Court rejected prior restraint and allowed the publication to proceed, it also made it clear the Times remained subject to potential criminal prosecution as a result.  The Nixon Administration tried to pursue this route until it was persuaded by the Justice Department that no jury in New York City would vote to convict.

McMaster's focus in Dereliction is the decision making process and he does not directly address the substance of the preferred Vietnam policy nor does he clearly indicate his belief as to the right policy.  I infer from some of his remarks that he may believe that military intervention under any circumstances was doomed to failure but I could be misreading him.  Because of the process focus it becomes especially important to always keep in mind the underlying substance.  You can get the process right and still be completely wrong on the substance.

Cast of Characters

Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).  Initiated on an informal basis by President Roosevelt during WWII, it gained formal status under the National Security Act of 1947.  In the early 1960s the JCS consisted of the Chairman, the Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Air Force, the Chief of Naval Operations and the Marine Corps Commandant.  Its purpose was to advise the President, Secretary of Defense and the National Security Council (NSC) on military matters.

JCS Members: 1963-65

General Maxwell Taylor, Chairman (1962-64); appointed in 1964 as Ambassador to South Vietnam
General Earle Wheeler, Chairman (1964-70) and Army Chief of Staff (1962-64)
General Harold Johnson, Army Chief of Staff (1964-68)
Admiral David McDonald, Chief of Naval Operations (1963-67)
General Curtis LeMay, Air Force Chief of Staff (1961-Jan. 1965)
General John McConnell, Air Force Chief of Staff (1965-69)
General David Shoup, Marine Corps Commandant (1960-63)
General Wallace Greene, Marine Corps Commandant (1964-67)

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (1961-68), former President of Ford Motor Company

Presidents John F Kennedy & Lyndon Baines Johnson

The Kennedy Prequel

While the critical decisions leading to making Vietnam an American war were during the Johnson Administration, actions by his predecessor paved the way.  The early 1960s were the height of the Cold War.  Growing up in that time many of us felt a nuclear war was distinctly possible, even likely.  In April 1961 saw the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, followed immediately by Fidel Castro's formal announcement that Cuba was a socialist state.  Early June was the Vienna Summit between Kennedy and Khrushchev, a disaster for the young president whose weak performance emboldened the Soviet leader.  Later that summer was the Berlin Crisis, with Soviet and American tanks facing each other at Checkpoint Charlie, followed by the building of the Berlin Wall. In October, the Soviets tested a 57-megaton H-bomb, to this day the largest explosion ever created by humans, with a fireball 5 miles in diameter, 1,600 times the combined power of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, and capable of inducing 3rd-degree burns sixty miles away.  The next year brought us the Cuban Missile Crisis. And guerrilla wars were brewing in Laos and South Vietnam.

The tension was reflected in American popular culture.  1962 saw the release of The Manchurian Candidate.  That same year two best selling novels were Fail Safe, in which Moscow and Manhattan are targets of atomic bombs, and Seven Days in May, about an attempted military coup in the United States.  At the same time, director Stanley Kubrick was beginning work on a movie based on the 1959 novel Red Alert as well as being a satiric take on Fail Safe, released in 1964 as Dr Strangelove, the same year as the film versions of Fail Safe and Seven Days in May.

When JFK took office in January 1961 there were 900 American military advisers in South Vietnam.  The French had been evicted from Indochina in 1954 and Vietnam temporarily divided.  Planned elections did not occur due to the actions of South Vietnam president Ngo Dinh Diem and the United States, primarily because of concern they would result in a victory for the Communist government of North Vietnam.  Although there were attempts at the time and since to portray the Viet Cong insurgency in the south as nationalist led and the North Vietnamese government as more nationalist than communist it is clear from documents and testimony now available that both were much more communist than nationalist, though they skillfully played the nationalist card to gain support from their countrymen and internationally.  From the beginning, the Viet Cong organization was directed by the communist North and the goal always remained unification as a communist state.  For more on the North Vietnamese communist decision making process read Hanoi's Road to the Vietnam War: 1954-65 by Pierre Asselin.

JFK held little regard for departing President Eisenhower's policy of reliance on nuclear deterrence and reduction of conventional military forces.  The incoming president was enamored of new ideas around flexible response and unconventional warfare as better strategies to confront the communist threat.  One of the best known of the proponents of these new ideas was General Maxwell Taylor.  Taylor, commander of the 101st Airborne Division in WWII and Army Chief of Staff from 1955 to 1959, retired from active service because of his disagreements with Eisenhower. Taylor from wikipedia)

Within three months of taking office, JFK faced a humiliating fiasco with the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation designed to overthrow Fidel Castro.  Kennedy, furious with what he felt was misleading and ineffectual advice from the CIA and the JCS, asked Maxwell to lead an investigation on the causes of the failure.  This led to Taylor's return to active service as military representative to the President, an irregular position allowing JFK to bypass the JCS, who he increasingly distrusted.  A year later the President regularized Taylor's role by naming him Chairman of the JCS.  Along the way, the general became close friends with both the JFK and his brother Bobby (who named one of his children Matthew Maxwell Taylor Kennedy), as he later also did with LBJ.

The contrast between the nature of Taylor's relationship with the Kennedys, and later LBJ, and that of General George C Marshall with FDR, is striking.  Famously, FDR promoted Marshall to Army Chief of Staff over senior officers, despite the general having been the only military officer to disagree with him during a meeting regarding a presidential proposal (for more on the incident, read Management Lessons).  And while Marshall eventually became an admirer of FDR, their relationship during WWII was strictly professional.  Marshall and the president never socialized or interacted other than on military matters.

With Taylor's help, JFK began implementing his new anti-communist strategy and the place he picked was Southeast Asia; first Laos and then South Vietnam, where the number of American military advisers increased to 16,000 by the time of his death in 1963.

The events of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962 reinforced JFK's distrust of the JCS, as well as enhancing the prestige of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the auto executive who brought management systems and quantitative analysis to the Pentagon.  Throughout the crisis, the president resisted pressure from the JCS for military action against Cuba, instead following the path of "gradual pressure" advocated by McNamara, resulting in a peaceful and successful resolution. "Gradual pressure" referred to step by step ratcheting up of pressure which could be carefully controlled and which would compel an opponent to react in a predictable way until such time as the situation could be resolved.

JFK's next step in diminishing the role of the individual members of the JCS was to name Taylor as its Chairman in 1962.  The combination of Taylor's personal relationship with the president and his bureaucratic skills allowed him to dominate the JCS.  And, according to McMaster, Taylor arranged to have Earle Wheeler appointed Army Chief of Staff (and eventually his successor as Chairman), precisely because he was not a strong personality and leader.  McMaster characterizes Wheeler as lacking "the drive and energy to discharge his responsibilities to the fullest". Wheeler from history central)

The Taylor-Kennedy relationship, and the resulting marginalization of the JCS, as well as of the National Security Council (NSC) is, in McMaster's view, the fundamental mistake in the structure of the decision making process, one that carried over to the Johnson Administration.  In contrast, McMaster thinks the process driven system of the Eisenhower years was a better approach. 

Despite the growing American presence in South Vietnam, conditions continued to deteriorate and the performance of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) failed to improve.  Becoming increasingly disenchanted with the Diem regime, both for its military failures as well as alienation of the country's Buddhist majority Kennedy sanctioned a military coup (an action opposed by Lyndon Johnson) which took place on November 1, 1963 and resulted in the deaths of Diem and his brother.  Three weeks later, John F Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald (for more on the assassination read A Cruel And Shocking Act, and you might want to take a look at a fanciful and interesting fictional take on the Diem and Kennedy deaths by former CIA operative Charles McCarry in Tears of Autumn).

What many participants failed to realize at the time was Diem's overthrow would saddle the United States with responsibility for the successor government and the war itself.

The Johnson Years

Two days after becoming President, LBJ met with Ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge and asked him to inform the country's new leader, General Minh, he was "Not going to be the president who saw Southeast Asia go the way China did", referring to China's fall to the communists in 1949. LBJ was haunted by the fear that losing Vietnam would politically destroy his new administration.  Johnson's priorities were domestic, not international - win election in his own right in 1964 and pass Civil Rights and Great Society legislation.

McMaster puts it this way:
"What Johnson feared most in 1964 was losing his chance to in the presidency in his own right.  He saw Vietnam principally as a danger to that goal.  After the election, he feared that an American military response . . . would jeopardize chances that his Great Society would pass through Congress. . . McNamara would help the president first protect his electoral chances and then pass the Great Society by offering a strategy for Vietnam that appeared cheap and could be conducted with minimal public and congressional attention."
Johnson would see the Civil Rights Act enacted in 1964, win an overwhelming victory over Barry Goldwater that November, and obtain passage of the Great Society legislation the following year, but by mid-1965, Vietnam had grown from a nuisance to a land war in Asia with 150,000 US troops on the ground or enroute to that country.  It would ultimately cost LBJ his presidency, and nearly 60,000 Americans their lives.
                                                   (from THC family collection)

Over that 20 month period all of the critical decisions were made leading to the war and its result.  In McMaster's telling it took a president unsure of himself, distrustful of others (his National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy later wrote, "he was . . . the wariest man about whom to trust that I have ever encountered"), and unwilling to think long-term, always focused on Vietnam as a tactical, not strategic issue; a defense secretary too sure of himself and contemptuous of military advice; and an ineffective JCS, riven by interservice rivalries, too wary of confronting civilian leadership with the implications of its policies and too cowardly to resign when they knew those policies would fail, that together led to the failure in Vietnam.  In the end, they didn't just deceive Congress and the American people, they deceived themselves.

From the start there were major problems with the decision making process.  The first was the structural one, which marginalized the JCS, allowing McNamara (who comes off worse than anyone in McMaster's account) and Taylor to play them and screen unwanted opinions from the president, including deliberately misrepresenting the opinion of the JCS to LBJ.  Taylor and McNamara's efforts were aided and abetted by dysfunction within the JCS; lack of strong leadership and a situation where each member had his own solution to Vietnam involving an enhanced role for their branch of the service.  Looming over everything was a fundamental disagreement on objectives and strategy that was never resolved even as the military situation in South Vietnam deteriorated further in 1964 and early 1965.

It is striking how clearly in 1964 and 1965 the goal of civilian leadership had already become merely preventing a communist victory in the short run and maintaining US credibility, regardless of the eventual outcome, in the longer term.  Planners rationalized that committing the US military to a war in Vietnam and losing would be preferable to withdrawing, "They believed that if the US demonstrated that it would use military force to support its foreign policy, its international stature would be enhanced, regardless of the outcome."  This was expressed most directly by NSA McGeorge Bundy at a White House meeting on February 7, 1965 when supported sending American combat troops even though a favorable outcome was as low as 25% because he was 100% sure that, even if it failed, the policy would be worth it to preserve American credibility.

For a president who saw both withdrawal and major escalation as politically problematic, McNamara's strategy of "gradual pressure" seemed ideal.  Its successful application in the crisis of October 1962 misled officials to believe it would work in very different circumstances in Southeast Asia.  The Secretary was convinced that traditional military conceptions of use of force were irrelevant, "Aim of force was not to impose one's will on the enemy but to communicate with him.  Gradually intensifying military action would convey American resolve and thereby convince an adversary to alter his behavior."  McNamara believed he could precisely calculate the amount of force needed to achieve American objectives.

For the JCS, graduated pressure made no sense and would end up creating a worse situation for the United States.  As early as January 22, 1964 a JCS memo declared "victory" should be the goal and recommended bombing key North Vietnam targets and mining sea approaches.  The memo argued we were fighting in the enemy's terms and would ultimately need to commit US troops.  LBJ made it clear he would only commit enough to avoid South Vietnam losing the war. 

There were two different world views in play;
Those who believed in the application of systems analysis to military strategy thought it incorrect to argue that the enemy "will do his worst".  Instead planners should assume that the enemy "is in much the same position as we" and will "adapt his behavior". 
McMaster writes of the view that controlled, rational application of military force would result in the United States and its adversary reaching "simultaneously a judgment about what is the most reasonable choice for us to make and what is a reasonable choice for him to be making". As he concludes, they "failed to consider that Hanoi's commitment to revolutionary war made losses that seemed unconscionable to American white-collar professionals of little consequence to Ho's government", or, as lead JCS planner, Lt. General Goodpaster, told McNamara in the fall of 1964:
Sir, you are trying to program the enemy and that is one thing we must never try to do.  We can't do his thinking for him. from wikipedia)

By November 1964, the frustrated JCS wanted McNamara to tell the president a "disaster" would occur under current policy but were put off by McNamara's promises (never fulfilled) of a change in course.  The JCS never forced the issue, despite its misgivings, leading to the situation McMaster describes:
Instead of considering what deepening American involvement in Vietnam might ultimately cost or voicing individual doubts, the Joint Chiefs compromised, listing actions that would contribute to the war effort, and contented themselves with gaining incremental approval for them.  Everyone - the president, his closest civilian advisers, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff - had taken the path of least resistance.  As a result the most difficult questions about the nature of American involvement in Vietnam remained unanswered . . .
All of which was compounded because "Because the Great Society constrained the exploration of policy options in Vietnam, the probable consequences of the favored course [gradual pressure] - received relatively little attention." 

What is appalling is how much of what later happened in Vietnam was predicted by several of the participants.

The Army and Marine Corps JCS members independently concluded it would ultimately take 500-700,000 US troops and several years to prevail under gradual pressure, yet the JCS itself never undertook such a detail analysis and never informed the president of these views (though McNamara was aware).

In April 1964, the JCS war games division undertook an exercise to analyze the results of gradual pressure against North Vietnam; "In response to US military action, North Vietnam and the Viet Cong raised the tempo of attacks in the South and conducted terrorist attacks on US installations and personnel."  The officers who played North Vietnam in game banked on a lack of American resolve to see the effort through.  Participants concluded that America was underestimating North Vietnamese resolve and believed there were only two solutions, withdrawal or doing enough to convince the enemy "we really mean business".  McNamara rejected the results because they did not meet his criteria for systematic and quantitative analysis.

Another war game exercise was conducted in September 1964 at which observers included McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Under Secretary of State George Ball and Walt Rostow (Director of Policy Planning, State Dept.).  The results were similar.  Gradual pressure starting with increased air attacks resulted in the North Vietnamese escalating the ground war.  Bombing had minimal effect because of the enemy's low logistical needs and it stiffened their determination.  By game's end ten American combat divisions were deployed in Southeast Asia and an invasion of North Vietnam was being contemplated.  Participants concluded that escalation would erode public support in the US and that America would withdraw rather than risk protracted war.  The conclusions were never seriously studied because disengagement and escalation were ruled out (interestingly these were the two options presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was talking about at the same time).

Newly inaugurated Vice President Hubert Humphrey requested an intelligence briefing on the situation in Vietnam which he received on February 1, 1965.  He was concerned enough to send a memo to LBJ pledging that while he would support any decision made by the president he was concerned about deepening American involvement.  He said there was little hope for success and the United State would become "prisoner of events" and unable to maintain public support, citing the example of the Korean War.  Humphrey suggested the president's November landslide victory put him in a strong position to distance himself from Vietnam.  LBJ's response was to block any further intelligence briefings of the VP and exclude him from any deliberations on Vietnam.

In April CIA Director John McCone told that president that unless the US was willing to take out North Vietnamese airfields, aircraft and infrastructure ground troops should not be committed.  Once again LBJ rejected the advice and McCone resigned in frustration several weeks later.  It is at this point JCS Chairman Wheeler should also have resigned, in the opinion of McMaster.

A month later, McCone's successor, William Raborn sent a memo to the president advising that by sending combat troops, the US would be pinned down and face only bad choices.  The president forwarded the memo to Clark Clifford, presidential advisor and elder statesmen.  Clifford responded that troops should be kept to a minimum, warned Vietnam "could be a quagmire" and urged LBJ to pursue a negotiated settlement.

Johnson himself recognized the risks very early, telling McGeorge Bundy in May 64: 
 . . . looks like to me we're getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me.  I don't see what we can ever hope to get out of this.  It was the biggest damn mess that I ever saw . . . It's damn easy to get into a war, but . . . it's going to be harder to ever extricate yourself . . .
Yet the president never came to grips with his own misgivings and remained unwilling to discuss the long-term with all of his advisers.  He never comprehended the fatal flaw in McNamara's gradual pressure strategy, that once ground combat troops were committed "the actions of the Vietnamese communist forces would determine the level of American effort necessary to prevent a collapse of the South Vietnamese regime."  In other words, the initiative would shift to the communists to determine whether and when escalation would occur.

Reviewing the sequence of events, with the growing sense by many of the participants (with the exception of McNamara) that the United States was on the wrong course, reminds me of similarities to Japan's decision to go to war with the United States in 1941 (for more read Japan Decides On War).

As 1965 started the pressures grew even more intense.  The president was obsessed with his planned Great Society legislation, which he saw as his legacy, more than ever seeing Vietnam as an issue that needed to be politically controlled resulting in his approaching it as a tactical, not strategic issue, not realizing that his lack of a strategy would result in locking him into a course of action.

Since the summer of 1964 there had been increasing discussions among his advisers about committing ground combat troops, though formal discussion was deferred until the election was over.  With LBJ's overwhelming victory, discussions on ground troops moved to the forefront.  Maxwell Taylor, by then Ambassador in Saigon, strongly opposed the move believing it would remove any motivation by the South Vietnam government to improve its own military, encourage them to let the United States carry the burden of the war, and transform it into an American war which would not be viewed favorably by most of the South's populace.  The ambassador also thought that the rationale for initially introducing combat troops could be used to justify unlimited additional deployments, precisely what happened.

The March 1965 Viet Cong attack on the American base at Pleiku in the central highlands region, near the Cambodian border, killing 8 servicemen and wounding 115, triggered the next step.  By the end of the month, Johnson approved the introduction of combat troops though, once again, there was no true strategic discussion between the president and his advisers.  The JCS limited itself to discussing tactical matters and as to the president, McMaster writes:
The president, however, would refuse to consider or even to acknowledge the consequences of his decisions, and thus still imagined that he could pursue a policy of gradual escalation without involving the US in a major war.
F77-20(Aftermath of Pleiku attack, from Healy Library, UMass Boston)

And, in McNamara's view, ground troops were just another element in gradual pressure, just like air power.

February also marked the beginning of bombing of selected and very limited targets in North Vietnam.  Though Bundy recommended the president speak to the American people about the bombing as a "major watershed decision", he rejected the advice.

By April 13, the president ordered a change in the mission of ground troops from providing security to offensive operations but directed this be kept secret from Congress and the public. In a meeting that month, LBJ instructed General Wheeler, ". . . to come back here next Tuesday and tell me how we are going to kill more Viet Cong."  Marine Corps Commandant Greene wrote of that meeting, "the president does not seem to grasp the details of what can and cannot be done in Vietnam!"  Nonetheless McMaster notes, "Killing more Viet Cong was a tactical mission which the JCS accepted".

Just six days before, LBJ gave a speech at Johns Hopkins University outlining a proposal for Vietnam, North and South, promising American support for Vietnam's own Great Society program, a proposal that was completely delusional in light of the realities and only emphasized Johnson's failure to view Vietnam in anything other than an American context.
(Marines coming ashore at Da Nang, 1965 from Hampton Roads Naval Museum)

In response to LBJ's request, Wheeler recommended deploying an additional 180,000 troops  The president, once again seeking the middle ground, authorize 82,000 on April 22.   On May 11, with one North Vietnamese division in the south and another on the way, the communists launched an offensive.  In early June the unstable South Vietnam government fell in yet another coup.

Throughout this period, the administration denied any change in the mission of ground troops.  This was not the first case of misleading by the administration.  The prior August, after the Gulf of Tonkin incidents, the administration and McNamara specifically misled and lied to Congress about the background of the incident and American involvement in South Vietnam attacks in the north (though the administration was correct in its assertion that the Viet Cong and National Liberation Front in South Vietnam were merely vehicles for the communist party of North Vietnam and that North Vietnam was directing their actions as well as infiltrating personnel into the South). 

Then, on June 8, a state department official asked about the mission responded that US forces would be used in offensive combat operations, prompting a NY Times editorial expressing surprise that "the American people were told by a minor State Department official yesterday, that, in effect, they were in a land war on the continent of Asia".  In response, White House Press Secretary Reedy stated "There has been no change in the mission of US ground combat units in Viet Nam in recent days or weeks".

Meanwhile, the situation on the ground was becoming so desperate, General Westmoreland cabled Washington asking for even more troops to avoid a disaster.  At a June 11 NSC meeting, the president approved an increase to 123,000.  His remarks illustrate continuing confusion about the situation and America's goals:
We must delay and deter the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong as much as we can, and as simply as we can, without going all out.  When we grant General Westmoreland's request [for 175,000], it means that we get in deeper and it is harder to get out.  They think they are winning and we think they are.  We must determine which course gives us the maximum protection at the least cost'."
All of which begs the question, for what purpose?

Events moved to a climax in July.

In early July, while McNamara and Wheeler were on trip to Vietnam the other members of the Chiefs met with House Armed Services Committee members in the offices of Chairman Mendel Rivers.    Under repeated questioning Army Chief Johnson said 250,000 troops would ultimately be needed, half the number he had already privately told others he thought was necessary.   Rivers asked why SAM sites and air bases had not been targeted, a question which the Chiefs, with the exception of Marine Commandant Greene, evaded.  They generally downplayed the significance of the new troop commitments.

According to McMaster, Greene, "torn between loyalty to the president and responsibility to the American people",  called the committee's lawyer later that day and told him the US was on the verge of a "major war" that would involve 500,000 troops, take at least five years, and cause a large number of American casualties. Greene from wikipedia)

In addition, the JCS had recommended a mobilization of reserves occur to backfill American forces so the country would have some ability to respond if urgent contingencies arose elsewhere in the world.  The president, not wanting to heighten scrutiny on the significance of his actions, refused.  The JCS went along though Army Chief Johnson told McNamara that "the quality of the Army is going to erode to some degree that we can't assess now", another accurate prediction.

In late July, in advance of a press conference at which the president would announce the deployment of additional troops, he met with Congressional leaders.  One of the concerns was the potential budget impact on the deployment.  The administration was aware it would cost an additional $12 billion (at a time when the entire Defense budget was only $55 billion), a figure which could endanger the planned spending for the Great Society.  At the meeting, the budget increase was understated by $10 billion.  As presidential aide Jack Valenti later wrote, "the last thing that Lyndon Johnson wanted was to make public his strategy about the Great Society and the war." Further at that matter McNamara lied about the number of troops being deployed (cutting it in half) and denied troops were already engaged in combat operations.  General Wheeler sat silent during the briefing.

On July 28, Lyndon Johnson told America of the troop deployment but assured the country that his action "did not imply any change in policy whatever".  By the end of 1965, 200,000 American troops were deployed in Vietnam.

Robert McNamara's focus on quantitative analysis led to the public reports that all of us remember from that era.  We were given a weekly tally of the number of Americans killed, along with the number of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese killed (always much higher than American), along with some other statistics on pacification.  It gave everyone a false sense of what was actually happening in the war.

At the same time, the weekly tabulation revealed the cost to America in the lives of its soldiers.  In November 1965 came the first major combat between the US and North Vietnam; a four day battle in the Ia Drang Valley during which 237 Americans were killed and 4 went missing (the battle is the subject of the 2002 movie, We Were Soldiers, starring Mel Gibson).

By early 1968, troops levels were a little over 500,000.  Almost 20,000 Americans were dead.  At the end of January, the communists launched the Tet Offensive and 480 Americans were killed in one week, with more than 16,000 deaths that year.  General Westmoreland requested an additional 206,000 troops to stabilize the situation but President Johnson refused to authorize any further increases.  On February 29, McNamara resigned.  On March 31, Johnson announced he would not seek reelection in 1968.

McMaster quotes a very insightful comment by Idaho Senator Frank Church on President Johnson's approach to Vietnam.
He [LBJ] played a role between the doves and the hawks, and he did it much the way he used to conduct his majority leadership.  He did it on the notion that here was some middle ground, always, on which the majority of the votes could be secured.  That was true in the Senate where you have to find that consensus in order to enact legislation.  But I think the role of the president is different from that of a senator and that this was a matter of policy that could not be cut down the middle.   
Earlier in this piece I mentioned a contrast between FDR and JFK/LBJ in their use of advisers, including the JCS.  There were other contrasts.  Roosevelt directly engaged his military leaders and they had some extremely heated and prolonged discussions, Marshall even threatening to resign at one point.  Yet the process forced discussion of the essential issues, something missing in the 1960s and it says something for the willingness of Roosevelt to engage and of Marshall, King and Arnold to be much more direct than their successors twenty years later.  Roosevelt and the Chiefs also had Harry Hopkins, a figure for which there was no equivalent in the 1960s.  Hopkins played a critical role as a back channel, trusted by everyone, who could help resolve issues (for more read, Who Was Harry Hopkins?).  Instead, McNamara and Taylor eliminated any back channels; everything was funneled through them, a danger in any organization.

McMaster's verdict on McNamara: 
McNamara refused to consider the consequences of his recommendations and forged ahead oblivious of the human and psychological complexities of war.
And on the JCS:
The Chiefs' inability to overcome the service parochialism that had plagued the JCS organization since its inception undercut their legitimacy and made them vulnerable to Taylor's and McNamara's tactics.
The JCS were unable to articulate effectively either their objections or alternatives . . . failed to confront the president with their objections to McNamara's approach to the war . . . accepted a strategy they knew would lead to a large but inadequate commitment of troops, for an extended period of time, with little hope for success.

The five silent men on the Joint Chiefs made possible the way the United States went to war in Vietnam.
The result was "American soldiers, airmen, and Marines went to war in Vietnam without strategy or direction."


Dereliction of Duty has some shortcomings.

You can easily tell its origin as a thesis.  It could have used better editing to reduce duplication and simplify the narrative.  For instance, as the story moves into 1965 there is a lot of talk about proposals for troop deployment, but the numbers are inconsistent and it is often not clear whether the figures relate to additional troops or include those already deployed.  It would help the narrative to have cleared this up.

The book could have also used some additional Cold War context.  As bad as the decision making process was, it becomes somewhat more understandable, if not excusable, if you are familiar with ongoing tensions with the Soviet Union and China.

I would have also liked to see more background on the individual members of the JCS to get a better flavor for their personal roles in the debacle.  Curtis LeMay, the gruff and outspoken Air Force Chief of Staff was a JCS member until January 1965.  My impression from readings elsewhere is that his advice was always aggressive but always focused on enhancing the role of the Air Force.  He is not mentioned often in the narrative, and the Chief of Naval Operations is almost absent from the book.