Monday, February 27, 2017

Favorite Baseball Movies

Spring training has started.  The world reawakens.  And over at Bill James Online, Daniel Marks has written a lovely piece summarizing the consensus on the best baseball movies, along with defending Field of Dreams, his, and many others #1 pick, but a movie also detested by many.  First, the results, second, my take and finally, the "problem" of Field of Dreams.

The first list is from a Bill James Online Poll:

1.  Field of Dreams
2.  Bull Durham
3 (tie): Eight Men Out
3 (tie): The Sandlot
5.  A League of Their Own
6.  The Natural
7.  Moneyball
8.  Major League
9.  Bad News Bears
10. Bang the Drum Slowly

The second list is a combination of 20 other lists and contains 9 of the ten listed above.

1.  Bull Durham
2.  Field of Dreams
3.  The Natural
4.  A League of Their Own
5.  The Bad News Bears
6.  Eight Men Out
7.  Moneyball
8.  The Sandlot 
9.  Major League
10.  The Pride of the Yankees

My take.  I've seen all 11 movies and there's only one bad film on these lists; The Natural.  I couldn't stand it.  It's the bizarro version of Field of Dreams, which continually teetered on the verge of being silly and maudlin but managed to mostly make the right decisions in telling its story, while The Natural mostly made the wrong ones.  Trying way to hard to be mythic it compounded its problems by changing the end of Bernard Malamud's novel, thus killing its point.

Like pretty much everyone else, Field and Bull Durham are at the top of my list, with the latter my #1 pick (only marred by Tim Robbins' inability to throw a baseball properly), though the former is the one that tears me up at the end every time I see it.  All the rest are fine films but who knows how they sort out?

There are a lot of good baseball movies out there.  Ones that didn't make the list include 42, The Rookie and Fever Pitch Cobb is definitely not on my list.

Most of Marks' piece explains why Field of Dreams is not really a baseball movie.  He's right and his analysis is insightful, though I disagree about the James Earl Jones speech at the end; it really was clunky.  Some excerpts.  You should really read the whole piece, particularly the part where he tells us why what Bill James created was like what author WP Kinsella did with Field of Dreams.

But first; everyone knows Kevin Costner starred in the top two movies on this list.  Who is the only other actor to star in two of the Top Ten films?  Answer at end of post.

And now, back to Marks: 
It’s not a fictional drama, it’s not a dramatization of real events, it’s not a comedy.  The genre it belongs in is fantasy.  It belongs in the same class as films like "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Princess Bride", films like that. . .  Saying that "Field of Dreams" is a baseball film contains some truth to it, but I think it’s a little like saying that "The Wizard of Oz" is a witchcraft film.

See, the film is indeed about second chances.  But, not just any second chances.  It’s not about getting another chance to do something that you weren’t able to do before.  It’s about getting second chances directly related to decisions that the characters themselves made, second chances related to regretful decisions or errors on their part. 

Look at the main characters more closely, their background stories, and their connection to the Field of Dreams that offers them a second chance:

  • Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) and his father John (Dwier Brown) – their relationship deteriorated over time due to their respective actions and behavior, and they never reconciled.

  • Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) – an author who loved baseball and writing, but over time became cynical and reclusive.

  • Moonlight Graham (Burt Lancaster as the old Graham, Frank Whaley as the young Graham) – A fringe ballplayer who only made one appearance in the Majors and never got a turn at bat, and then hung it up to become a doctor.  He didn’t regret his choice, because he knew that being a doctor was his calling, but he always wondered about what it might have felt like had he stuck with baseball a little longer and had the chance to take a turn at bat.

  • The 8 Black Sox players – Found guilty of throwing the 1919 World Series, banned from the Majors forever for their actions.

What do these characters all have in common?  They all made choices that, to one degree or another, they regretted, because those decisions caused them to lose something they loved, whether it was a relationship, a passion, an opportunity, or a livelihood.  The Field of Dreams is not simply some kind of Nirvana where all the dead players can regroup and play together in peace and harmony while re-living their glory years.  It’s a place for second chances, most definitely…..but specifically it’s a place that provides second chances for those who have erred in the past, a chance to right a wrong of their own doing.  A chance for redemption.  A chance for absolution, if you will.  A place of forgiveness.

Answer:  James Earl Jones; Field of Dreams and The Sandlot

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Juan Seguin Returns To The Alamo

 February 25, 1837, San Antonio, Republic of Texas

Precisely a year earlier, on February 25, 1836, Captain Juan Seguin left the besieged Alamo at the order of Colonel William Travis.  He carried with him a request for help from the army gathering under the command of Sam Houston at Washington-on-the-Brazos.  Making his way without detection through General Santa Ana's forces, which had arrived in San Antonio on the 23rd, Sequin made his way to Houston, but the general was determined not to allow his small and unready army to encounter the well-trained Mexican force. Seguin, San Jacinto museum)

In a predawn assault on March 6, the Alamo fell and all its defenders killed ((for more on the myths and controversies surrounding the Alamo read Remember (My Visit To) The Alamo)).  The victorious Santa Ana resumed his march eastward, seeming on the verge of extinguishing the rebellion, when six weeks later at San Jacinto, near present day Houston, his force was destroyed by the Texian army led by Sam Houston.  Juan Seguin led his men bravely in the fight and was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Seguin was born in 1807 at Bexar (later San Antonio), the largest town in Texas, then part of a province within the Spanish Empire of the Americas.  His family was one of the most prominent in Texas and of tejano (Texians of hispanic descent) origin.  In the 1820s, after Mexico obtained its independence from Spain, Juan's father, Erasmo worked with Moses Austin and his son, Stephen, on facilitating the settlement of thousands of Anglo settlers from the United States.  In 1829, Juan was elected Judge of San Antonio and became Alcade (Mayor) of the town in 1834.  Jim Bowie, the Louisiana adventurer who'd settled in Texas and married the daughter of another prominent local family. became a close friend.

When the Texas Revolution began in the fall of 1835, the Juan sided with the revolutionaries as did most Texas tejanos.  At the time the divisions were not between anglos and tejanos but rather about whether Mexico should operate on a federal or centralized basis.  Santa Ana had sought power pledging to be a federalist, but upon attaining the presidency quickly became a centralizer.  Along with Texas, several other Mexican provinces also rebelled at the same time.

Juan Seguin participated in the storming of San Antonio on December 5, 1835 and then worked with Bowie in preparing the defense of the Alamo.
Robinson to Houston - Page 1(1837 letter from James Robinson, VP of the Texas Provisional Government to Sam Houston, recommending Juan Seguin for an appointment)

Following San Jacinto and the capture of Santa Ana, the Mexico army retreated south of the Rio Grande but refused to recognize the independence of Texas.  In November 1836, Lt Col Seguin took over command of the Texian garrison at San Antonio.  In late February, he organized a  ceremony to bury the remains of the defenders from the 1836 battle.

After Santa Ana captured the Alamo he ordered the bodies of the defenders collected in three locations inside and just outside the walls and had them burned.  It is unclear what happened to the remains over the next year, but in February 1837, Seguin ordered the remaining ashes and bone fragments collected and had a Bexar carpenter make a coffin.  Juan caused the lid to be inscribed with the names of Crockett, Travis and Bowie (though it was impossible to identify the remains).

Seguin ordered church bells to peal throughout the day and led a procession through the street of the town to the Alamo.  Three volleys were fired over the casket.  Addressing the crowd in Spanish, he proclaimed (according to an account published several weeks later in the Columbia (later Houston) Telegraph & Register):
Companions in Arms!! These remains which we have the honor of carrying on our shoulders are those of the valiant heroes who died in the Alamo. Yes, my friends, they preferred to die a thousand times rather than submit themselves to the tyrant's yoke. What a brilliant example! Deserving of being noted in the pages of history. The spirit of liberty appears to be looking out from its elevated throne with its pleasing mien and point to us saying: "There are your brothers, Travis, Bowie, Crockett, and others whose valor places them in the rank of my heroes." Yes soldiers and fellow citizens, these are the worthy beings who, by the twists of fate, during the present campaign delivered their bodies to the ferocity of their enemies; who, barbarously treated as beasts, were bound by their feet and dragged to this spot, where they were reduced to ashes. The venerable remains of our worth companions as witnesses, I invite you to declare to the entire world, "Texas shall be free and independent or we shall perish in glorious combat."
Later that year Juan Seguin was elected to the Texas Senate, serving until 1840, but the alliance between tejanos and anglos was beginning to weaken.  Two factors were at play.  The first was the flood of American settlers moving to Texas in the wake of obtaining independence, many of whom brought with them prejudices against tejanos and catholics.  Second, the continuing threat of further attacks on the new republic by Mexico.  Caught in the middle were tejanos, increasing mistrusted by their fellow citizens of the Texas republic.
(from fine art america)

Sequin was once again serving as mayor of San Antonio when matters came to a head in 1842.  In January, Mexico announced its planned invasion of Texas (in part in retaliation for a failed Texian invasion of New Mexico the prior year), offering amnesty to anyone who did not resist.  In early March, the Mexican army seized Goliad, Refugio and Victoria and, on March 5, captured San Antonio, which it held until March 9 before retreating (Mexican forces would again occupy the town from September 11 through 20 of that year).  Juan Seguin and his family were among those who fled the invasion.  However, there was a growing clamor among the anglo settlers that unfairly portrayed Juan as a collaborator with the invading forces (to which the Mexican commander contributed by claiming Seguin was still a loyal Mexican citizen).  He was forced to resign in April and to protect himself and his family, fled to Mexico.

When Santa Ana learned of Seguin's presence he offered him a choice - prison or joining the army.  Seguin joined and served for the next six years until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, after which he returned to Texas.  Seguin remained politically active in the 1850s and 60s, but conditions continued to worsen for tejanos.  Eventually (at some point between the late 1860s and 1883 according to various sources), Juan moved to Nuevo Laredo, in Mexico just south of the Rio Grande where his son was mayor, where we live until his death in 1890.

In recent decades his role in helping Texas obtain its independence has been increasingly recognized and Juan Seguin is now celebrated as a Texas hero.  On July 4, 1976 his ashes were returned from Mexico to be reburied in the Texas town of Seguin, named in his honor in 1837.

(Status of Juan Seguin, Seguin, Texas, from andrew butler photo)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The State v Harold Israel

I sometimes write and read with the sound of the TV low in the background.  A few weeks ago, a movie had just started on TCM when I heard the narrator's voice mention something about "a city in Connecticut".  That caught my attention (it doesn't take much to do that).

The movie was Boomerang!, released in 1947, and one of the first films directed by Elia Kazan, who went on to do On The Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire and East Of Eden.  Boomerang!, starring Lee J Cobb, Dana Andrews and Karl Malden, starts with the murder of a priest walking on a street.  An ex-GI and drifter is eventually accused of the killing with local police and the coroner's office pressing the case.  The state's attorney is brought in to prosecute, but in a surprising twist begins to have doubts about the case and eventually presents to the court the case against the prosecution, leading to the dismissal of charges.

As is my habit, I checked wikipedia to find out more about the film during my viewing.  Boomerang! is based on a true story that occurred in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1924.  A popular Catholic priest, Father Hubert Dahme, was gunned down at the intersection of High and Main Street, in the center of the city, on the evening of February 4.  Someone walked up behind him and shot him in the head.  Father Dahme's funeral was attended by 12,000 people.

Although initial eyewitness testimony was confusing a week later Harold Israel, a 21 year old former soldier and vagrant, was arrested in the nearby city of Norwalk.  Israel was already in custody on a gun-possession charge, and the investigation by the police and the coroner revealed his gun was of the same make as that which killed Father Dahme, the ballistics on the deadly bullet matched the gun, he was identified by seven eyewitnesses and, after two days of interrogation, he confessed, though he later recanted.

In those days, the counties in Connecticut were still functioning governmental authorities (these powers were removed in the 1960s).  The state's attorney for Fairfield County, responsible for criminal prosecutions, was Homer Cummings.   Born in 1870, Cummings already had a distinguished career.  A graduate of Yale Law School, Homer was three times elected mayor of Stamford in the early 1900s.  In 1909, along with Charles Lockwood, he founded the law firm of Cummings & Lockwood. which for most of the 20th century was the largest firm in the state.  In 1914, Cummings was appointed state's attorney for the county.  Homer was also a powerful player in the state's Democratic party, with aspirations for higher office, and was also a member of the Democratic Party's National Committee at the time of these events.,_Harris_%26_Ewing_photo_portrait,_1920.jpg(Cummings)

Because of the popularity of Father Dahme and the brazeness of the crime, shooting a priest on a city street, the case generated enormous publicity and most were convinced of the guilt of Harold Israel.  The prosecution's case was of huge public interest and the Court was jammed when Homer Cummings rose to speak on May 27, 1924.   Fortunately, the full transcript of the presentation of the state's attorney can be found in the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, Vol 15/Issue 3 (1925)

The introduction to the Journal account of the proceedings contains an introduction by William Maltbie, Judge of the Superior Court in Hartford.  Judge Maltbie informs the reader that the state's attorney is appointed by the judges in his jurisdiction, and the judges are nominated by the governor and serve an effective life tenure.  He goes on to write:
The method of appointment of the state's attorney has made that office one of high honor, and, despite the small salaries provided by law, the very leaders of the bar have been willing to assume its onerous duties; so it has removed the office from the stress of politics and the vagaries of popular feeling and given the opportunity for the untrammeled exercise of independence in judgment and action.
After summing up what seemed to be overwhelming evidence of guilt, including eyewitnesses identifying Israel as the man they'd seen fleeing the shooting; Israel taking the police to his room and showing them a spent cartridge, later identified as for the bullet that killed Father Dahme; the positive identification of Israel's .32 caliber revolver as the weapon which fired the fatal bullet; as well as Israel's confession, Cummings told the Court: "There did not seem to be a vestige of reason for suspected for a moment that the accused was innocent."  However, he then added:
. . . there were sufficient circumstances of an unusual character involved to make it highly important that every fact should be scrutinized with the utmost character and in the most impartial manner.  It goes without saying that it is just as important for a state's attorney to use the great powers of his office to protect the innocent as it is to convict the guilty.
Cummings then proceeded to conclusively demolish each leg of the case against Israel.
(Harold Israel)

Regarding the confession, Cummings introduced the statement of three physicians who examined Israel and concluded that at the time of his confession, after two days of questioning and deprived of sleep, he was "totally incapable of rendering a coherent, dependable statement" on top of being:
. . . of low mentality of the moron type, quiet and docile in demeanor, totally lacking in any characteristics of brutality or viciousness, of very weak will and peculiarly subject to the influence of suggestion.
I think they'd phrase this differently today.
Once Israel recovered from the interrogation he had been steadfast in maintaining his innocence according to Cummings.  The state's attorney then introduced convincing evidence that the cartridge found in Israel's room was not fired by the accused's revolver and proceeded to deconstruct the credibility of the eyewitness testimony, including relating attempts by he and his assistants to perform identifications at the scene under the exact conditions the witnesses faced.

Attorney Cummings then took on the matter of ballistics.  For this purpose he used the testimony of no less than six experts (it probably helped that in those day Connecticut was the home of the American firearms industry), of whom four were from the Remington Arms Company, one from the Winchester Arms Company and the sixth a nationally renowned expert used frequently by the New York City Police Department.  He reported that the experts were:
. . . not only of the opinion that there is no evidence that the mortal bullet came out of the Israel revolver, but they are clearly of the opinion that the mortal bullet came out of some other unknown weapon.
This opinion was based on the distinctive difference between the markings and grooves on bullets fired by the Israel revolver compared to those on the mortal bullet.  Further, Israel's revolver was in bad repair and frequently misfired when held at the angle at which the murderer held his weapon (as determined by the path of the bullet through the victim's head).  In fact, in an experiment, the Israel revolver misfired 18 times in a row when held at the angle of the Father Dahme shooting.

Homer Cummings then told the court:
In view of what I have said about every element of the case, I do not think that any doubt of Israel's innocence can remain in the mind of a candid person.
The Court quickly approved the entry of a nolle prosecution in the case and Harold Israel was a free man. 
Related image

It is difficult at this distance to judge exactly how and why Cummings and those in his office decided on this course of action.  It is clear that an enormous amount of time was spent by Cummings and his assistants in trying to determine what actually happened on the evening of February 5, rather than merely trying to build the best case for the prosecution.  Whatever the motivation and from whom ever initially raised doubts about the case, the result does honor to Cummings and his team.

Bridgeport police were surprised and outraged by Cummings' action and he also received some criticism from within the Democratic party.  However, his actions were also praised by others as the model for how a prosecutor should act.  In 1933 he was appointed Attorney General of the United States by President Franklin D Roosevelt, serving for six years.  Cummings died in 1956 at the age of eighty six. 

Feelings about the unsolved case remained raw in Bridgeport and, in 1946, when Elia Kazan sought film Boomerang! on location in the city he was denied permission by the authorities.  Instead, Boomerang! was shot in nearby Stamford, where it also had it premiere on March 5, 1947.

Harold Israel lived until 1964, reportedly marrying and being steadily employed with no further encounters with the criminal justice system.  The murder of Father Dahme was never solved. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The AuthaGraph World Map

You cannot accurately represent the global of the Earth on a flat map.  The most common flat map projections grossly overestimate the size of land masses near the poles such as Greenland, Antarctica and Siberia.  Recently, Japanese architect Hajime Narukawa came up with an award winning approach to minimize distortion, the AuthaGraph World Map.

As you can see, the map does away with most of the distortion at the poles and gives a better sense of the scale of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  While it emphasizes how far South America is from Asia, it deemphasizes how close it is to Africa. It also makes it easier to visualize the Great Circle airplane routes.

For more, watch this:

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Kashmir Riff

One of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock history is from Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin's Kashmir.  Here Jimmy tells The Edge and Jack White of its origin.

And here is the full recording.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Highlands

Ms THC and I spent some time in the Scottish Highlands in July 1978.  We'd rented a car in central London.  This was a mistake as driving on the wrong side of the road out of London as your first experience in England is not a good idea.  We made it without mishap, though the roundabouts were a real challenge as getting through them challenged my every natural driving instinct.  After stops in England, we ended up in Edinburgh, camping in its outskirts.  I remember encountering a waitress in a restaurant downtown and not being able to understand a word she said.  She was speaking English with a Scottish accent.

From there we headed first north, into the Highlands and Inverness and then west to the wild Atlantic Coast of the highlands.  Once we got to the coast the main roads were only one lane wide, with turnouts every half mile so that cars could pass each other, in the rare instance you encountered someone driving in the opposite direction.   We ended up that day in Gairloch, where we took a little side road (B8021) along the coast.  Finding a cottage/farmhouse near Carn Dearg we knocked on the door and asked if we could camp in their yard (a really big yard).  The occupants said it was fine with them so we set our tent with spectacular views south over the ocean to the Isle of Skye.  This video is of an area within a few hundred yards of which we camped (we were on the other side of the road close to the water).

It was a beautiful sunny late afternoon.  That time of the year, dawn is at 3am, and we awoke in a blanket of fog which began to break up 4 or 5 hours later.

Highlands. from Joren de Jager on Vimeo.

The next day we headed south on the A832 taking us a bit inland.  This part of Scotland is like "Wyoming by the sea".  Treeless, small mountains and tablelands, occasional glens and all with the ocean nearby.  We stopped at a large tract of parkland, and while Ms THC read her book near our car, I hiked into a valley.  Unfortunately while jumping from rock to rock, I fell and badly twisted my ankle (and thought I might have broken it).  It being the Highlands, no one was around, and Ms was out of shouting distance.  I crawled for the next two hours until I finally got the attention of Ms.

I needed some medical attention but a further complicating factor was I'd done all the driving so far but obviously could do no more.  So Ms THC took over driving a stick shift on the wrong side of the road.  We eventually found a doctor, practicing out of a trailer by the side of the highway.  He bandaged me up, informed us that he did not think I'd broken my ankle but advised going to the hospital on Skye for an x-ray.  By that time it was pretty late and we weren't getting to Skye that day.

Instead, Ms had the challenge of driving us over the highest paved road in the United Kingdom, through a pass with cliffs on one side and a sheer drop on the other, to the little town of Applecross where we camped by the sea that night.

The next day, we put our car on the ferry to Skye, made it to the hospital, which confirmed there was no break, and decided to splurge and stay at a Bed & Breakfast in Portree, the main town on the island.

I walked with a cane for the next 2-3 weeks but we both fondly remember our time in the Highlands.  It'd be nice to visit again.  We do hope the food will be better; it was terrible in '78, unless you liked oat cakes.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Beer & BBQ

Continuing our them from yesterday.  Melrose, Louisiana.  June 1940.  For more wonderful pictures from the 1930s and 40s, see Messy Nessy


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bus Story

In 1943, Esther Bubley, a photography program graduate working at the Office of War Information in Washington DC, received a four week assignment to document bus travel in the South and Midwest.  This was wartime America.  Gasoline rationing was in effect, so bus riding had soared in numbers.  Her photos document a long-gone America.  Below is a sampling - you can find more at Mashable.



Rome, Georgia


Memphis to Chattanooga


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

'Retha Retires

Hey Nineteen
That's 'retha Franklin
She don't remember the Queen of Soul
Hard times befallen the soul survivors
She thinks I'm crazy, but I'm just growing old

- Hey Nineteen, Steely Dan
Aretha Franklin announced her retirement last week.  Time is moving along.

I remember when she exploded on the music scene.  She'd spent six years with Columbia Records where they tried to make her into a mainstream artist singing pop standards.  It didn't work.  In early 1967, she signed with Atlantic Records which let her be what she was.  From the spring of 1967 through the fall of 1968 she had eight consecutive Top Ten hits.  In order:

I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
Respect (written by Otis Redding)
Baby, I Love You
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman 
Chain of Fools
(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone

And finishing with a single on which both sides made the Top Ten; The House That Jack Built and I Say A Little Prayer.

This is an alternate take of Chain Of Fools, substantially different than the version that was released in 1967.  Listen to Aretha's opening.  It is so good, it'll send chills down your spine.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

My Grandfather & The Great Emancipator

The February 12, 1949 edition of the Stamford (CT) Advocate carried nine headlines above the front page fold.  Illustrating the importance of local newspapers and their breadth of coverage in that era, five of the stories were international (mostly related to the new Cold War), two concerned events in Washington DC, and one reported on 4,000 people marooned by heavy snow in Idaho and California.  The only local story, accompanied by a photo, was headlined "Grocer Says Union Tactics Force Closing Of Business".  The grocer was my maternal grandfather, Nathan Cohen (I've written previously of my paternal grandfather, RMS Republic and Our Grandfather Louis, and maternal great grandfather, Our History and My History).

When I was growing up in Norwalk, Connecticut in the 1950s and 60s, my grandfather owned a toy store in nearby Stamford.  I remember the distinctive aroma of wooden floors and shelves as you walked in.  The decor was minimalistic, even by the standards of the time.  There was a soda machine in the front that dispensed glass bottles.  As a treat, my grandfather would occasionally take me on his Sunday trips to the Bronx to visit toy wholesalers.  Grandpa was tough, direct, interesting and smart. I thought the world of him.

It must have been sometime in the mid or late 60s that I learned from my mother how Nate came to be running a toy store, and why he had no employees.

Born in 1898 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Nate Cohen (sometimes called Nat) moved to Stamford by the early 1920s.  For years he carefully saved his money while working as a butcher for a wholesaler, and preparing to strike out on his own.

In 1935 he opened a credit and delivery store at 907 Main Street in downtown Stamford, converting it to Cohen's Self-Service Market six years later, one of the first self service markets in that part of the state.  Self-service markets were a relatively new development.  In a traditional store, the shopper went to a counter and told a clerk what they wanted.  The clerk would then bring the requested goods to you.  In a self serve store, the shopper walked the store and brought the items they selected to the clerk (the first patent for a Self Serving Store (US 1,242,872) was issued on October 9, 1917 to Clarence Saunders of Memphis, Tennessee.  Saunders went on to open a chain of stores which he named Piggly Wiggly).

Nate's store was successful enough to support his wife and young daughter (my mom).  They were never wealthy; he and my grandmother lived in a one-bedroom, three room apartment when I was growing up, but Nate took great pride in the business he'd built.  And as the business grew he added three or four employees.

Local 1507 of the Retail Clerk's International Association approached him in 1938, asking that he  allow his employees to join the union.  Nate "had no objection . . . because I felt that the labor union movement generally was a good thing for this country" and asked his employees if they wanted to join. They did, and he signed a one-year contract.  Each year he asked his employees and, with their consent, signed annual contracts until 1949.  Throughout, he always paid his employees higher than the union scale.

In the intervening years, Stamford grew rapidly, its population increasing from 49,000 in 1940 to 74,000 by 1950, as part of the great post-war suburban boom that saw Connecticut's population soar by more than 75% from 1940 to 1970.  The city was enjoying prosperous times.

When it came time for the annual renewal at the end of 1948, three of Nate's employees told him they didn't see the need for the union, so he declined to enter into another contract.  In response he was warned to sign "or else".  He chose "or else".  Grandpa didn't like being threatened and he stuck by his decisions once he made them.

On February 1, 1949 the union called a strike but only grandpa's newest employee, hired three months before as a favor to a family in the neighborhood, walked out, starting a one-man picket line.  But that wasn't the problem; it was the other union tactics.

Nate told the Advocate:
. . . truck drivers who have tried to make deliveries have been threatened and intimidated to such an extent that they not only are afraid to bring supplies to my store, but are even afraid to leave such supplies some place else where I could go and pick them up myself.
My mother told me what her father did not tell the Advocate; one of the drivers had been badly beaten by union thugs.

Nate added that he had tried to get supplies from other retailers but they were warned to stop helping him "or else".  He also reported to the police that men were watching his house and trailing him where ever he went during the day.  Within 10 days business dropped by 40% as he ran out of supplies on his shelves.

According to my mother, the beating of the driver greatly upset my grandfather and he decided he could not put other drivers or his employees in danger.  He decided to close the store, announcing it in an open-letter that took up 1/3 of an inside page of the Advocate and published the same day as the story.  He also told the Advocate "that a small neighborhood grocery story cannot now carry on under union domination".   When asked about his future plans, Nate told the paper, "I don't know what I'm going to do now.  All I know is that I can't continue this way".

The full text of his eloquent letter can be found below, but here are the closing paragraphs.
What would you do?  I am a little man trying to earn a living.  The men with me are loyal to me.  All we want is to keep going and make enough to provide for our families.  I have no money to go on fighting for a principle.  I guess I am just like a million other shop-keepers, who if they found themselves some day caught in a bewildering situation like mine would do just what I am forced to do now, shut up shop.

It is hard to give up what you have built up over many years, but I must do just that, close up my business.  Therefore, with regret I have to announce that my store and market will close its doors the evening of Saturday, February 12, 1949 - the birthday of the Great Emancipator.
The Retail Clerks Union merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters in 1979 to form the United Food and Commercial Workers Union which today has 1.3 million members.

Grandpa soon opened the toy store, but vowed never to hire another employee.  He was a man of his word.

While rummaging through my attic, I came across the Stamford Advocate of February 12, 1949 and remembered the story my mother told me decades before.  I wish I'd had the foresight to ask my grandpa about it before he passed in 1973. 
To the Friends and Customers of Cohen's Self-Service Market:
I am putting this in the paper to explain to you all my position, because it is impossible for me to talk to each one of you personally.

For many years I have been running a neighborhood grocery store and market at 907 Main Street, Stamford, Connecticut.  I have tried hard to give you the best at the right prices and you have shown that you liked what I was doing by giving me your trade.  I want to thank you.

You know my store.  It is not large, just myself and three helpers, but I am proud of it. I believe that you enjoyed trading here with [illegible] as a friend and neighbor on a personal basis, and I tried hard to please you, which I must have done or else you would not have given me more and more of your trade each year.

Before the war, an organizer of the Retail Clerk's International Association, Local 1507, approached me and said he would like to organize my helpers.  I had no objection and helped him because I felt that the labor union movement generally was a good thing for this country.  I still feel that where there is no direct contract between the owner and those working for him that a union is all right.  Anyway, I signed a contract and have signed one every year since until this year.  I now have NO contract with the union, as the last one expired the first of January, 1949.

Ten years is a long time -- long enough to learn a lot.  One is that a small neighborhood grocery story cannot now carry on under union domination.  I have certainly given the matter a fair trial, ten years of it.  I have always paid those who worked for me more than the union scale.  We were happy working together in our store where we could talk things over at any time.  We certainly have no need for an outsider to come in and tel us what we should do whether we like it or not.  We felt we could get along by ourselves without outside interference and therefore I informed the union that I thought it best not to sign up for another year.

I am not going to complain as that would only make matters worse.  Name calling has never done any good as far as I have ever seen, and besides I can't afford to spend the money to print such stuff.  So here is what happened and here is what I have decided is the only thing I can do.

I was told to sign a contract for the year 1949 "or else".  I chose the "or else".  The union called a strike on me to make me sign.  I then had four men in the store besides myself.  One had been with me for four years and another for ten years.  The two others for only a short while.  One man who had been with me only three months walked out.  He started a one man picket line.  Three out of the four refused to go on strike and are here helping me run the store.

My friends and neighbors have been willing to come in the front door of my place but goods have to come in the back door or else in a very short time I would have nothing to sell.  As I said before, I am not going to make a list of all my trouble.  All I will say is that though there is no real strike, through there has been no election, and although I have no contract with the union, truck drivers who have tried to make deliveries have been threatened and intimidated to such an extent that they not only are afraid to bring supplies to my store, but are even afraid to leave such supplies some place else where I could go and pick them up myself.

What would you do?  I am a little man trying to earn a living.  The men with me are loyal to me.  All we want is to keep going and make enough to provide for our families.  I have no money to go on fighting for a principle.  I guess I am just like a million other shop-keepers, who if they found themselves some day caught in a bewildering situation like mine woud do just what I am forced to do now, shut up shop.

It is hard to give up what you have built up over so many years, but I must do just that, close up my business.  Therefore, with regret I have to announce that my store and market will close its doors the evening of Saturday, February 12, 1949 - the birthday of the Great Emancipator.

                                                    Gratefully yours,
                                                             NAT COHEN

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Friday, February 10, 2017

Finding Real News

If you want to get a better understanding of hot button political issues, the best thing is to read overtly partisan press or blogs.  Read outlets like The Nation and Mother Jones on the left and those like National Review Online and the Powerline Blog on the right, or check out Reason or Cato from the libertarian perspective.  You'll hear the best arguments from all sides, not just the best from one side.

The worst place to go to understand these issues is from media that bills itself as objective, whether it be the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN or Fox News.  Most of the time you will end up knowing less about the issue after you've read their analysis.

The other thing you should do, if you have the time, is read original documents, not just what someone is telling you about them.  Let's take a recent example to see what we can learn.

There was a great deal of media coverage about a report issued by American intelligence agencies on January 6, 2017 about Russian influence in our recent President election.  You can find the declassified sections of the report report here.  Below are some of the questions and observations I would have liked to see in the "objective" press, but from my reading and observation were not raised.  But first, I'll give you my amateur assessment of the Kremlin's interest in the presidential election.

I think it probable that the Kremlin favored the election of Donald Trump.  I base that on:
  • Trump's favorable personal comments about Putin.
  • Trump's history of favorable views of authoritarian strongmen.
  • His refusal to condemn Russia for aggression in Crimea and Ukraine or murdering its political opponents.
  • Trump's view of Russia as a potential ally in the Middle East and the fight against ISIS. 
  • The presence, in the early stages of his campaign, of senior aides known to have favorable views of current Kremlin leadership.
Factors countering that view:
  • The widespread assumption in the American intelligence community that the Kremlin is in possession of the Hillary Clinton emails giving them potential leverage if she were elected.
  • The controversial dossier about Donald Trump's activities in Russia that was purported to come from Russian intelligence sources and which, though it did not become public until after the election, was in widespread circulation among media hostile to Trump prior to the election. 
A possible factor countering that view:
  • How did the Kremlin rate the chances that a Clinton presidency would continue the policies of the Obama presidency which was ineffective in opposing Russia?
Despite these counter factors, if I were betting, I'd bet on the Kremlin favoring Trump, though I don't consider it a certainty. 

One other point before discussing the intelligence report; I have little patience for those jumping on Trump about his views of Russia, which I do not share, but who enjoyed President Obama's snarky remark in 2012, "the 1980s are calling, they want their foreign policy back", responding to Mitt Romney's view that Russia was a serious threat to America; who ignored Obama's remarks, caught off-mic, to Russian Prime Minister Medvedev that he "would have more flexibility" after the 2012 election; who had no objection to Obama's reneging on promises of missile defense for Eastern European countries in order to obtain Russian cooperation on Iran, and his shutting down of a 2015 State Department initiative to combat Russian disinformation because he wanted "not to upset the Russians" about cooperating on Syrian peace proposals; and who blamed George W Bush for bad relations with the Kremlin and supported Hillary Clinton's naive "reset".

I'd also recommend reading my post from December on Gleb Pavlovskiy's views on Putin, Trump and Obama.

AND NOW, the report, issued by the CIA, FBI and NSA.

Key Judgments from the Report:
We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.  Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.  We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.

Moscow's approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia's understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates.  When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency.

Moscow's influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations such as cyber activity with overt efforts by Russian government agencies, state-funded media, third party intermediaries, and paid social media users or "trolls".  Russia, like its Soviet predecessor has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focusing on US presidential election that have used intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin.

Russia's intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 US president election, including targets associated with both major US political parties.

DHS [Department of Homeland Security] assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.
In summary, the report concludes:
The election vote was not hacked (though based on at least one poll, more than half of Democrats believe, based on media coverage, that Russia actually did hack into the vote counting).

Moscow was trying to influence the election, as Russia and its Soviet predecessor have done in the past.

In doing so, Russian cyber operations were directed against both parties.

Moscow's goal varied from undermining Clinton's credibility in light of her expected election to helping Trump win the election.
Now let's look at some of the aspects of the report that should have raised questions or comment in the media:

1.  The report states that its conclusions were with a high degree of confidence by the FBI and CIA, while the NSA's were made with a moderate degree of confidence.   The NSA is the only one of the three with access to signals intelligence.  What were the reasons for the differing levels of confidence between the FBI/CIA and the NSA?  This is of particular import because the information cited in the body of the report for the FBI/CIA conclusion almost exclusively consists of publicly available data (publications, Kremlin press statement or public statements by Putin associates).

2.  Regarding the Kremlin's goals in 2016, the phrasing of the report is puzzling.  The report states that Russia "aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible" but also that when it appeared Clinton would win the election, "the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency".  The language seems to imply that there was an early period when Russia was trying to help Trump win, followed by a switch when the Kremlin thought Clinton would win.  Is this a correct reading?  Can the agencies tell us when this switch occurred and why?  Did it occur before or after Wikileaks released the DNC and Podesta emails (disclosures which the report concludes "did not contain any evident forgeries"?  Since Trump trailed consistently in all polls from the time he clinched the Republican nomination through election day, on what basis did the Kremlin make a different assessment at some point?  When did the Kremlin not think Clinton was likely to win the election? In other words, during which periods was the Kremlin trying to help Trump win, as opposed to damaging a future Clinton presidency?

3.  The report places the Kremlin's 2016 influence campaign in an historical context, citing prior Russian and Soviet efforts to influence American presidential elections, though it also concludes the Kremlin took this to an unprecedented level in 2016.  I would have liked to see some questions about this aspect of the report.  Did the Kremlin seek to influence the 2012 election and, if so, in whose favor?  Did the Kremlin seek to influence the 2008 election and, if so, in whose favor (we know that Kremlin spokespersons denounced John McCain, and Republicans in general, during the course of that election)?  Do the intelligence agencies have information they can release about the reported contacts in 1983 between Senator Edward Kennedy and Communist Party Secretary Andropov regarding coordinating efforts to defeat President Ronald Reagan in his re-election bid? The report contains this disclosure:
In the 1970s, the KGB recruited a Democratic Party activist who reported information about then presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter's campaign and foreign policy plans . . .  
Can the intelligence agencies shed any additional light on this incident?  Is there additional information regarding past Russian and Soviet election influencing that can be publicly shared?

4.  Did the agencies make an assessment of Kremlin goals in the cyber attacks against the Republican Party?   What, if any, information was obtained in these attacks?  Was information obtained that was not released during the course of the election?

5.  The report alleges that, through RT Americas TV, the Kremlin waged a propaganda campaign in support of Occupy Wall Street, the protest movement that also drew support from a diverse array of American politicians including President Obama, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and David Duke.  Can the agencies provide any additional information in support of this claim?

6.  The report alleges that, through RT Americas TV, the Kremlin waged a propaganda campaign in support of the anti-fracking movement, with a goal of damaging energy development in the United States. Can the agencies provide any additional information in support of this claim?



Thursday, February 9, 2017

Aladdin Sane

From David Bowie in 1973.  Mike Garson's piano, which builds into a crazy solo, makes an otherwise musically uninteresting song memorable.  Garson had just joined Bowie's band for what was supposed to be eight weeks, but ended up playing tours with him for decades.  He said of recording Aladdin Sane:
I had told Bowie about the avant-garde thing. When I was recording the Aladdin Sane track for Bowie, it was just two chords, an A and a G chord, and the band was playing very simple English rock and roll. And Bowie said: 'play a solo on this.' I had just met him, so I played a blues solo, but then he said: 'No, that's not what I want.' And then I played a Latin solo. Again, Bowie said: 'No no, that's not what I want.' He then continued: 'You told me you play that avant-garde music. Play that stuff!' And I said: 'Are you sure? 'Cause you might not be working anymore!'. So I did the solo that everybody knows today, in one take. And to this day, I still receive emails about it. Every day. I always tell people that Bowie is the best producer I ever met, because he lets me do my thing.

And here is Garson talking about his collaboration with Bowie and approach to music. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Restoring The Floor Of The Second Temple

Recently, Israeli archaeologists have been able to recreate some of the geometric floor tiles of the Second Temple, built by Herod the Great, and destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish Revolt of 66-73AD.  The reconstruction came through the painstaking reassembly of thousands of fragments discarded as rubbish by the Islamic Waqf which governs the Temple Mount, site of the Second Temple.  After the Israelis conquered East Jerusalem in the 1967 War, a conquest triggered by Jordan's attack on Israel, Israeli authorities, in an effort to minimize religious tension, vested authority over the Temple Mount with Islamic religious institutions.  Jews have been paid back by the Waqf's insistence that there never was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount and by its efforts to get rid of any evidence of a Jewish presence by excavations designed to destroy and/or remove such evidence.  You can read more about this remarkable reconstruction in this article in Haaretz.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Trump's Progressive Tropes

O’Reilly: Do you respect Putin?

Trump: I do respect him but —

O’Reilly: Do you? Why?

Trump: Well, I respect a lot of people but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world — that’s a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea.

O’Reilly: But he’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer.

Trump: There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent. You think our country’s so innocent?

O’Reilly: I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers.

Trump: Well — take a look at what we’ve done too. We made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.

O’Reilly: But mistakes are different than —

Trump: A lot of mistakes, but a lot of people were killed. A lot of killers around, believe me.
The above is from Bill O'Reilly's interview with President Trump which was broadcast on Fox News Sunday. 

What is striking is the President's deployment of a rhetorical trick routinely used by President Obama and which I've harshly criticized; it's just as bad when Trump indulges in the same.  Taking the view that America has done business with some pretty bad dudes before because we needed to do so light of the bigger picture is defensible.  Taking potshots at your own country is beneath a president.

Before Obama, it had never been used by an American President, being mostly restricted to academia.  It's the deflection of any criticism of the shortcomings of foreigners by bringing in the alleged shortcomings of America, no matter how inaccurate.  To be sure, Trump has not yet utilized the other half of the trick, which is criticizing America without any non-American context.  For more on the technique as used by Barack Obama, read Rhetorical Tricks.

And, like President Obama's rhetoric, Trump's statement is one that American progressives would applaud if made by a Democrat since it is all about taking America down a peg.   In fact, because Trump is not an ideologue of the normal categories of American politics with his political thoughts over the past 20 years coming from across the political spectrum, he often makes references with a leftish tinge (for another example, read What Would Otter Do?).   He believes President George W Bush lied about WMD in the run up to the Iraq War.  It also showed up during the primary campaign when he raised the possibility that Ted Cruz's father, an anti-Castro Cuban, had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.  What was missed at the time, even by those who criticized the remark, was the broader context.  The allegation against the senior Cruz is part of the feverish conspiracy theorizing by the Oliver Stone type leftists who believe JFK was murdered by anti-Castro Cubans in revenge for the President's perceived lack of support for the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961.  In their world, Lee Harvey Oswald was either a patsy, manipulated by the anti-Castro Cubans into believing he was acting on behalf of Castro, or a long-time deep cover CIA operative whose defection to the USSR had been directed and planned by American intelligence.

I am a firm believer that good temperament is key to a successful Presidency.  FDR and Ronald Reagan had the best temperaments of our 20th century presidents, followed by Dwight Eisenhower, and I continue to have big concerns about Donald Trump's temperament and stability, along with his lack of depth in understanding many of the largest issues he faces.  I've been heartened by the quality of a number of Trump's appointments like Mattis, Tillerson and Sessions (Flynn and Bannon, not so much).  Nikki Haley, the new U.N. ambassador, delivered a strong attack on Putin and Russia last week and the nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, is a spectacularly good selection.  The bottom line is this administration will depend even more than most on the quality and influence of the best of its appointees, rather than the instinctive reactions of the president.   The long-term forecast remains uncertain.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

That's A Catch!

Actually two catches on the same play by Patriots receiver Julian Edelman.  Incredible game.

Hey Bulldog

One of the lesser known Beatles songs and one of my favorites, Hey Bulldog was composed and recorded in February 1968.  WARNING: Contains barking.  Whimsical sounding, but the lyrics are quite serious. Solid guitar riffs, catchy rhythms and fun interplay between Paul and John, particularly towards the end of the video.
Sheepdog, standing in the rain
Bullfrog, doing it again
Some kind of happiness is
Measured out in miles
What makes you think you're
Something special when you smile
Childlike, no one understands
Jackknife, in your sweaty hands
Some kind of innocence is
Measured out in years
You don't know what it's like
To listen to your fears
You can talk to me
You can talk to me
You can talk to me
If you're lonely, you can talk to me
Big man, walking in the park
Wigwam, frightened of the dark
Some kind of solitude is
Measured out in you
You think you know me, but you haven't got a clue

Tennis Balls

I've written before of my favorite Shakespeare on film, Kenneth's Branagh's Henry V.  Branagh was only 28 when he directed and starred in the movie.  The best way to watch it is with a copy of the play in hand.  It is only then you can appreciate the director's brilliance in his adaptation.  You can see what he edited out, what he transposed and what he imported from Henry IV, Part Two into the film.  You can also see his choices in how to bring the play to life in cinema.  An astounding piece of work.

This scene is from early in the play.  Henry has just heard from his advisers a convoluted and fanciful justification for his claim to the throne of France in addition to that of England.  He knows it is a sham, but it is enough for him to proceed with his planned invasion.  Then, an ambassador from France is admitted for an audience with the King.  Observe how Branagh portrays the changing mood of the Henry, initially seeming quite subdued which makes his eventual outburst even more powerful.  Throughout the film, Branagh's Henry is a man of many moods and it is hard to tell how much of it is real, how much the King is stage managing for the effect on others but it is fascinating to see from start to finish.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Maps And More Maps

I'm a sucker for maps. A good map will prompt me to sit there and look at it for hours.  Just purchased an Arizona Gazette and a map of the Phoenix/Tucson region today.  Anyway, I've got hours of more map gazing ahead of me due to two recent discoveries.

First, courtesy of avid THC reader JS, is the Perry-Castenada Library Map Collection at the University of Texas, featuring European history maps from the late 1700s through World War Two.

If you were wondering what the Baltic Lands looked like in 1220, here you go: How about the Balkans and Asia Minor in 1355?

And we mustn't ignore Greek and Phoenician settlements in the ancient Mediterreanan.
Second, the CIA recently released maps it created as far back as the late 1940s.  This is an article from Open Culture describing the project and here's the collection itself.

Cuban missile sites, September 1962.
Soviet GDP by regions in 1953:

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Chilkoot Pass

No matter how tough your winter has been, these folks had it tougher.
People with gear on their backs stand in a single file line headed uphill with a snowy backdrop.

(Photo from National Park Service)

1896 saw the start of the Klondike Gold Rush, when gold was discovered along the Klondike River in Canada's Yukon Territory.  Over the next three years, up to 100,000 prospectors and adventurers made their way to Dawson in the Yukon, before the bubble burst and the next gold rush occurred in Nome, Alaska.

There were several routes to the goldfields.  More than 30,000 chose to come by boat from Seattle and other West Coast ports to Skagway and Dyer, Alaska and then trek by foot and river the 600 miles to Dawson.
Route to the Klondike

(Via wikipedia)  

There were two trails from this area, White Pass from Skagway and Chilkoot from Dyer.  About two thirds attempted the Chilkoot.  Canadian authorities required anyone entering the territory to bring one year of food supplies and this, along with the prospecting equipment, weighed about a ton, requiring multiple trips along the Chilkoot to hand carry everything.  The photo below shows the Chilkoot Pass.  To the front is The Scales, the Canadian border station at the entrance to the pass.  To the left are The Steps, which were hacked out to provide a faster, though steeper, path through the pass.  The photo at the top of this post, shows the ascent of The Steps.
Historic photo of people at the scales and climbing the pass