Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Moonlight Graham

Moonlight Graham.jpg(Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, from wikipedia)

I recently caught the last part of Field of Dreams (1989) on TV.  It remains highly rewatchable.  If you haven't seen it, I won't describe the plot because it makes the movie sound ridiculous, while it is really wonderful.  And it is about much more than baseball.

For some reason, it got me interested in the background of Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, one of the movie's characters.  I already knew that the real Archie Graham played in the outfield for two innings in a June 1905 game after being called up from the minors to join John McGraw's New York Giants.  It was his only major league appearance and he never batted.  In the 1970s, author WP Kinsella ran across a mention of Moonlight Graham and when he wrote Shoeless Joe (the book on which Field of Dreams is based) he included him as a character.

What I had not realized was how closely the fictionalized version of Moonlight Graham in the movie was to the real Archibald Graham.

In the movie, Graham's one appearance with the Giants takes place in 1922.  He later retires from baseball and moves to Chisholm, Minnesota, becomes a doctor and dies in 1972.  Doc Graham, as he is known, becomes a beloved figure in that small town, with a sterling reputation, and devoted to his wife Alicia, who always wears blue.  Doc always walks with an umbrella.  In one scene, Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) interviews older townsfolk about Doc Graham and they tell endearing stories of him.  In another scene, Terrence and Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) go to the local newspaper where a reporter reads to them from Doc Graham's obituary.

It turns out the real Archibald Graham was a college graduate, unusual in baseball in those days, and got his medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1905, the same year he played for the Giants, and after seeing an ad for a doctor, moved to Chisholm, Minnesota where he became the beloved Doc Graham, married Alicia, who always wore blue, and he always carried an umbrella.  Doc Graham died in 1965.  The anecdotes used in the movie are from the life of the real Graham, and the reporter in the film is reading from his actual obituary.

From the Chisholm Free Press & Tribune (1965)
"And there were times when children could not afford eyeglasses or milk or
clothing. Yet no child was ever denied these essentials because in the
background there was always Dr. Graham. Without any fanfare or publicity,
the glasses or the milk or the ticket to the ballgame found their way into
the child's pocket." [This was the portion read in Field of Dreams]

From a 2005 article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

While still new in Chisholm, he grew sweet on Alicia Madden, a
schoolteacher. She was a farmer's daughter from Rochester, and they married
in 1915.

They never had children. Instead, they showered their affection on every
child in town -- he as the full-time doctor for the public schools for more
than 40 years, she as the director of countless community plays.

They built a house that still stands in southeast Chisholm, on the fringe of
a neighborhood known as Pig Town, for the livestock kept by the hardscrabble
immigrant miners' families.

"That was Doc," said Bob McDonald, who grew up in Chisholm and has coached
high school basketball there for 44 years. "He and Alicia could have lived
up with the high and mighty on Windy Hill, but they chose to be among the
common people."

McDonald remembers a wiry, athletic man, dapper in an ever-present black hat
and black trench coat, walking everywhere and always swinging an umbrella.
Yes, he said, Alicia did always wear blue.

On the opening night of all of her plays, Graham would sit in the same seat
in the back of the high school auditorium, a dozen roses in his lap,
Ponikvar said.

People were poor, but schools used mining company taxes to meet needs. Under
Doc's care, kids got free eyeglasses, toothbrushes and medical care. He
lectured them on nutrition, inoculated them, rode their team buses, made
20-year charts of their blood pressure, swabbed their sore throats, made
house calls if they stayed home sick.

He bought apartment houses but charged rock-bottom rents, and no rent to a
single mother and her eight children, Ponikvar remembers.
"Doc became a legend," she wrote when he died. "He was the champion of the
oppressed. Never did he ask for money or fees."

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Summit

Today's the Trump-Putin summit.  Last year Walter Russell Mead, writing in The American Interest, had an interesting take on Trump's policy towards Russia.  Mead is a mainstream foreign policy expert, who seems to be an old-style liberal.  I have no idea who he supported in the 2016 election.  Mead pointed out:

If Trump were the Manchurian candidate that people keep wanting to believe that he is, here are some of the things he’d be doing:
  • Limiting fracking as much as he possibly could
  • Blocking oil and gas pipelines
  • Opening negotiations for major nuclear arms reductions
  • Cutting U.S. military spending
  • Trying to tamp down tensions with Russia’s ally Iran
He then goes on to note that while these were President Obama's actual policies, Trump was doing the opposite in each area.

From a policy perspective not much has changed since then.  As noted here a couple of days ago, the United States has just entered into an unprecedented joint security arrangement with Sweden and Finland designed to address the Russian threat.  The President just caused a storm of controversy by accusing Germany of becoming too economically dependent upon Russian natural gas and has been demanding our NATO allies increase defense spending.

On Friday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a Trump appointee, gave a speech at the Hudson Institute in which he said cyberthreats were our #1 security risk, and that the threat came from China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia, calling Russia as "no question . . . the most aggressive".

However, I am uncertain how this summit will turn out.  I was not convinced of the need for it in the first place (I think the meeting with Kim was much more justifiable).  My concerns are linked back to the last paragraph in Mead's piece:
America needs an intellectually solvent and emotionally stable press to give this president the skeptical and searching scrutiny that he needs. What we are getting instead is something much worse for the health of the republic: a blind instinctive rage that lashes out without wounding, that injures its own credibility more than its target, that discredits the press at just the moment where its contributions are most needed.
While I fully agree with Mead's sentiment regarding the press, and believe the situation has only gotten worse since he wrote, I think it also fair to point out that I don't consider the president "intellectually solvent and emotionally stable" (unfortunately that was not on offer from either candidate in 2016).

Most of Trump's actions, and certainly the actions and words of those in his administration, whether Coats at DNI, Pompeo at State, and Mattis at Defence have been consistent in confronting Russia.  The problem is Trump's own statements are erratic, unpredictable, often hard to decipher, and he is the ultimate decider.

In addition, Trump's personality poses a risk in a one on one meeting.  He is not an ideologue, he is transactional.  Unlike Putin, he will not be knowledgeable in the details of issues or their back history, but he believes in the ability to do deals on a personal basis.  These characteristics are very similar to those of President Franklin Roosevelt in his dealings with the Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union.  FDR was not ideological, had a vague notion that our two systems would somehow converge in the future, and believed he could charm Stalin into moving in America's direction.  While FDR was a superb wartime leader, his complete misunderstanding of Stalin and the Soviet system would like have had significant negative repercussions if he had survived to serve out his term.

And Trump has one additional trait beyond FDR's - he is susceptible to flattery.  As he himself has said, if you say something nice about him he'll say something nice about you.  It led him to make some of those atrocious statements about Russia during the election campaign, statements reminiscent of Obama's apologetics to foreign countries.  What that means for the Putin meeting we will find out, but I wish it was not happening.

UPDATE:  Well, my worst fears were realized.  First, we had last night's disgraceful tweet blaming problems with Russian-American relations solely on the United States followed by Trump's awful performance at the press conference with Putin.  I'll end with this from the conservative blog Powerline:
Trump seems unable to handle that truth. All that matters to him is the absence of any suggestion that his 2016 victory was tainted. Thus, he puts his own ego ahead of the national interest in responding to a Russian assault on our democratic process. That’s disgusting.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Ballpark Roadtrip 2018

After seven long, grueling years, THC and LDC reached the end of their quest to see games at all thirty major league ballparks, with our recent visits to Denver Seattle, and San Francisco.  For all of our annual trip reports go here.

Ballparks Visited

CITY
NAME
CAPACITY
OPENED
Denver
Coors Field
50,944
1995
Seattle
Safeco Field
47,715
1999
San Francisco
AT&T Park
41,915
2000


Game Results
DATE
SCORE
ATTENDANCE
TIME
July 3
Rockies 8, Giants 1
48.072
2:51
July 5
Mariners 4, Angels 1
32,128
3:22
July 8
Giants 13, Cardinals 8
38,855
3:47
July 9
Giants 2, Cubs 1
(11 innings)
38,024
3:09


Winding up our travels with visits to three outstanding ballparks was a treat.  As nice as Coors and Safeco are there is no doubt that AT&T is the best stadium we've seen (excepting, of course, Fenway - hey, THC is a Red Sox fan, what'd you expect?), edging out PNC in Pittsburgh.  We enjoyed AT&T so much we changed our plans and went to a second game there the following day.  Adding to the enjoyment was going to games with two old friends from high school and with the THC Son and his girlfriend.

(Old Friends - MG, LDC, and THC)

AT&T gets the #1 rating by virtue of the views (our right field seats in the upper part of the upper deck featured views of McCovey Cove, San Francisco Bay, the Oakland Bay Bridge, and the SF city skyline), the sight lines to the field (excellent from anywhere we looked in the stadium), and the food which ranks with Petco Field in San Diego (try the tri-tip steak sandwich in the food area behind the center field scoreboard).

The July 3 game at Coors Field featured a spectacular fireworks display at the end of the game which drew a huge crowd (second biggest to the Rogers Centre in Toronto).  We had to wait for a least a half hour after the end of the game as they emptied the bleachers, moving fans onto the field, because the fireworks were launched from the back of the bleachers.  We were close enough to have debris fall on us.

Photos and our annual awards follow.

COORS FIELD

SAFECO FIELD

Seahawks and Mariners stadiums.

Mike Trout hitting a double.


AT&T Park

AWARDS

Best Pitching Performance
Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs made it look easy on July 9 against the Giants, pitching 8 innings of five hit ball, walking nobody and fanning eight.  Very few hard hit balls and a game he should have won 1-0, but for the joint efforts (or non-efforts) our next award winners.

Best Heads Up Play & Worst Fielding/Lack of Hustle Play
Alen Hanson/Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez.  In the bottom of the 5th, with the Cubs leading 1-0, Pablo Sandoval hit a weak ground ball on which Rizzo made an error catching the throw.  The next batter, Alen (that's really how he spells it) Hanson hit a grounder, forcing Sandoval at second. Hendricks made a pick-off attempt on which Rizzo made an error.  Rizzo and Javier Baez showed a lack of hustle getting to the ball, allowing Hanson, who turned on the jets, to score all the way from first.  Watch the play here.

Best Pitching Performance By "Who Is That Guy?"
Antonio Senzatela was recalled from the minors by the Rockies on July 3, in time to start that night's game.  We had no idea who he was, but he tossed seven innings of three-hit shutout ball.  Unfortunately, Antonio gave up six runs in six innings in his next start.

Most Enjoyable Player to Watch
Pablo (The Panda) Sandoval.  He doesn't look capable of playing the field and falls over a lot but he was very effective at third base.  Pablo also hit a three run homer into McCovey Cove (see next award) on July 8, and the next day had the walk-off game winning single in the 11th inning.  To the chagrin of this Red Sox fan, Panda was more productive in those two games than during his entire Red Sox career (look up "debacle" in the dictionary and you'll find his Sox free-agent contract).

Most Home Runs Into A Water Body
And the winner is McCovey Cove, the inlet behind the right field stands at AT&T Park.   Two balls reached the Cove on July 8, Sandoval's homer and a smash by Matt Carpenter of the Cards.  One was picked out of the water by a kayaker, the other by someone onshore with a fishing net.

Most Exciting Player
Dee Gordon of the Mariners hit a triple and can that guy fly!  He also made a tremendous play at second to stifle an Angels rally.  Watch his catch here.

Best Repeat Performance Arguing Balls & Strikes
Baseball's best player (I'm required to write that) Mike Trout usually doesn't get too excited but he twice got into an argument with the ump on called third strikes.  Trout has a pretty good eye (he leads the AL in walks) so he probably had good reason to be upset.  He lost both arguments.

Best Game To Take Someone To Who's Never Seen A Game Before 
The Giants-Cardinals game which the Giants won 13-8.  Lots of action which gave old-guy THC plenty of opportunity to explain the details of the game to a novice, who kindly pretended to pay attention.

Best Ballpark For A Willie Mays Fan
As my readers know, Willie Mays is my favorite player, so you know the answer.



Best Drive

From south of Portland, Oregon to Petaluma, California (over two days).  We drove through the Willamette Valley and then the mountains and valleys of southern Oregon on I-5 before turning off at Grant's Pass and heading towards Crescent City, the northernmost town on the California coast, where we stayed overnight.  The next day, we took Route 101 along the coast until it turned inland south of Eureka, got off for thirty miles to drive the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt State Park, and then followed 101 to Ukiah and through the wine-growing valley to the south.

The Sunday morning drive the next day on 101, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through San Francisco, and the on I-280 to Palo Alto wasn't too shabby either.

Most Exciting Drive 

LaHonda Road in Woodside, CA.  Several miles of twisting, turning and narrow pavement, with sheer drops along the side, up the mountains to Skyline Drive which runs along the spine of the peninsula south of San Francisco.

Biggest Tree


Best Place To Watch Junkies Shooting Up 

Courtyard Marriott Pioneer Square in Seattle.  Very nice room but it was in rear of hotel, facing an old brick building with broken windows.  Glancing down into the alley below we saw one apparently homeless person doing odd stuff with scraps of something scattered on the pavement and who was soon joined by another person sitting several feet away who was clearly shooting up.  Actually, a lot of downtown Seattle, particularly near the Pike Street Marketplace was occupied by a motley collection of characters and it was pretty grimy.  Like NYC in the 70s although we walked a lot of the city outside the immediate downtown area and it was quite pleasant.




Saturday, July 14, 2018

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Bad, Bad Thing

Recipe:
1 John Lee Hooker riff
A tablespoon of seductive vocal stylings
A mess of suggestive lyrics
A cup of rockabilly guitar
Two spoonfuls of vocal and musical modulations

Result:
A tasty Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing by Chris Isaak.

I think it was very bad indeed.




Thursday, July 12, 2018

Things That Make You Go Hmmm . . .

Found this interesting in light of the uproar over the recent NATO summit.

Just became aware (thanks to Austin Bay at Strategy Page) that in May, the Swedish and Finnish Defence Ministers came to Washington and signed a Trilateral Agreement with the United States regarding the national security relationship between the three countries, in response to what is seen as a growing threat from Russia. Neither country is a member of NATO.

While the US has had informal bilateral agreements in the past with each country this is the first time America has joined in a tripartite agreement. Among the items agreed to was a joint military exercise in 2021 to be hosted by Finland.

Announcing the agreement, Secretary of Defence Mattis praised the two European nations for “providing a steady anchor of stability in a region more tense as a result of Russia’s unfortunate, unproductive and destabilizing choices from the Ukraine to Syria.

Here is an article from a Finnish paper on the agreement.
And one from a US publication.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Justice Kennedy Channels Calvin Coolidge

I was struck by a passage in Justice Kennedy's concurring opinion in NIFLA v Becerra, the Supreme Court decision of last week striking down California's attempt to mandate pro-abortion messages be provided by anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers.  It made a point similar to that of President Coolidge in his 1926 speech on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  Though Kennedy refers to the Constitution and Coolidge to the Declaration both warn of the dangers of progressive thinking which ignores the founding principles of this country.

Justice Kennedy:

The California Legislature included in its official history the congratulatory statement that the Act was part of California's legacy of "forward thinking".  But it is not forward thinking to force individuals to "be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view they find unacceptable".

It is forward thinking to begin by reading the First Amendment as ratified in 1791; to understand the history of authoritarian government as the Founders knew it; to confirm that history since then shows how relentless authoritarian regimes are in their attempts to stifle free speech; and to carry those lessons onward as we seek to preserve and teach the necessity of freedom of speech for the generations to come.  Government must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions.  Freedom of speech secured freedom of thought and belief.  This law imperils those liberties.


President Coolidge:

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
The
The Califo

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Having A Bad Century

On or around June 23 of the year 942, a strange looking army of horsemen arrived outside the city of Lerida in the Caliphate of Cordoba.  The strangers were Magyars, from the area now known as Hungary, on their westernmost raid during the late 9th and early 10th centuries, having already passed through the lands that are now today Austria, Italy, and France.

Though the Caliphate was Muslim, most victims of the pagan Magyars were Christian, and for Christian Europe the period from the early 9th century to the mid-10th was one of constant threats that must have seemed potentially devastating.  It was during this same period that in addition to the Magyars, Vikings (Norsemen) were rampaging across much of the continent, and the Caliphate of Cordoba was at its peak of power while Muslim raiders from North Africa were launching attacks along the northern shores of the Mediterranean.

First to emerge as a threat was Islam (much of this story can also be found in the THC post The Song of Jan Sobieski).  A faith unknown to Europe in 630, a century later it had destroyed the Persian Empire, conquered the most prosperous part of the Byzantine world, and spread across North Africa, reaching the Atlantic, hopping over the Straits of Gibraltar, occupying the Iberian peninsula and the south of France (for an explanation of how Islam was given the opportunity to expand read A Great War).

By the mid-8th century the struggle between the Christian and Muslim worlds seems to have stabilized.  In the east, the Byzantines had recovered enough to at least halt Muslim expansion from gaining a permanent foothold on the Anatolian plateau.  In the west, Charles Martel threw back the invaders at the Battle of Martel, the Muslim occupation of lands north of the Pyrenees ended, and a few decades later Charlemagne crossed those mountains and reconquered Catalonia.

That stability ended early in the next century when a new threat arose in the central Mediterranean from the new consolidated Muslim state controlling what is now Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria.  In 827 the Muslim conquest of Sicily began.  At the same time a wave of Islamic piracy was unleashed all over the Mediterranean world.  Freebooting Muslim raiders established their own mini-states in southern Italy, and hired themselves out to Christian rulers on the Italian peninsula where they fought other Christian states while, in their free time, looting the local inhabitants.  In 846, a Muslim fleet even attacked Rome, looting St Peters, and further attempts on the city were made into the early 10th century.

The raiders captured Christians to take back to Africa for sale as slaves.  Though coastal inhabitants in Italy were most at risk, raiders also penetrated into Greece, the Balkans, France, and even into the Alps.  In 889, Muslim pirates arrived in the Gulf of St Tropez in Provence.  On a plateau a few miles inland they occupied the fortress of Frexinet.  From there they, at times, occupied the Alpine passes to Italy, and the towns of Grenoble, Nice, and Toulon, until being expelled in 973.

The Vikings were next to appear on the scene.  Their first appearance outside their native homelands in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, was in 793 when they descended on the island of Lindesfarne, off the coast of Northumberland in the north of England, looting its holy monastery, and killing its inhabitants.  One English chronicler of the time wrote "Never before in Britain has such a terror appeared".

More than a century of terror followed.  The light and versatile Viking sailing ships allowed the raiders to appear out of nowhere.  Their boats not only roamed the oceans but were able to penetrate far upriver and threaten inland cities.  All of the British isles were under constant attack and Vikings conquered large parts of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

France was frequently attacked with violent assaults far up both the Loire and Seine Rivers.  During the 9th century, Paris was twice subjected to siege which was only lifted upon hefty ransom payments by the French king.  Finally, in 911 Viking raiders captured Normandy, creating a permanent base from which England and Sicily would be conquered in the following century.

The Iberian peninsula, both Christian and Moslem ruled was also a target with Lisbon and Cadiz the subject of attacks, as was Italy where Pisa was sacked and Florence threatened.

In Eastern Europe, the Vikings penetrated the Russian river network and created the state of Rus, based in Kiev.  The Rus rulers carried out a lively trade with the Islamic Caliphate, sending Slavic slaves and furs south in return for finished goods and luxuries from Moslem lands.

The last of the threats to materialize was that of the Magyars, who are better known today as the Hungarians.  The Magyars originated as a nomadic tribe from the great Asia steppes that stretch from the Dnieper River to the borders of China.  Sometime around the 4th or 5th centuries AD they migrated west of the Ural Mountains to the area of the Volga River, becoming subjects of the Khazar Khanate.  In the early 9th century they began moving further west under pressure from attacks by other nomads.

Around 860 they began raiding across the Carpathian mountains into Hungary and in 895, under their leader Arpad, began a full-fledged invasion of the Carpathian basin on both sides of the Danube.  Superb mounted archers their tactics overwhelmed slow moving and more heavily armored opponents and they soon established their own state, from which they began raiding more deeply into Europe.  Until 955 they had an consistent record of success, destroying or evading forces sent to oppose them. 

The Magyars penetrated Austria, Bavaria, Silesia, Burgundy, Alsace, and Provence.  They ventured deep into Italy, reaching Apulia in the peninsula's heel, and, as noted above, even venturing into the Caliphate of Cordoba. In the East, the Balkans were easy prey and the horsemen even reached the suburbs of Constantinople.

It was Otto the Great, King of East Francia, who finally and decisively halted the Magyar raids in the west when he defeated the nomads at the battle of Lechfeld in Bavaria during August 955.  Confined to the Hungarian plain and Transylvania, the Magyars began building a more stable, and less threatening state.  Coverting to Christianity by the end of the century, the Pope recognized Stephen I (later St Stephen) as the first King of Hungary in 1001.

The Magyar raids

Friday, June 22, 2018

Carpool Karoake With Paul McCartney

James Corden visits Liverpool with Paul McCartney.  Corden's carpool karoake series is always great fun but this one is really special.  Worth watching the entire 23 minutes.


Monday, June 11, 2018

The Young Man's Working Life

A couple of the bloggers I regularly read recently posted on the jobs they've worked over their lives which prompts this post.

From the time I was about 10 or 11 years old through the spring of my senior year in high school (1969) I worked at the family store in the Noroton Heights section of Darien, CT, owned by my uncle and my dad.  Founded by my grandfather Louis in 1923, my Uncle Bill, ten years older than my Dad, took over running Stoler's in 1933, after Louis' sudden death via heart attack.  That year my then 13-year old father took on the job of delivering newspapers across Darien in the mornings before he went to school.

My first work experience was going in with my father early on Sunday mornings to help him and the crew assemble and deliver the New York papers.  It was a thrill for a young boy to get up at 4am on Sunday and go with his dad to the store.  The Sunday papers were the largest editions of the week with many inserts and sections that were delivered to newsdealers separately and then assembled for delivery and to sale at the store.  In particular, the New York Times was a bear to put together, and we had hundreds to assemble as Stoler's at that time had the home delivery rights for the New York papers for the entire town of Darien.

On days when the weather wasn't bad we sat outside with the various sections/inserts piled in front of us on the sidewalk in front of the store and then laboriously put them together.  It was always dark when we started but light by the time we finished. Once assembled we loaded them into vans and cars for the drivers to take them on their delivery routes.  Sometimes I rode with the drivers to help them make the deliveries.  Other times I stayed at the store with my dad.  Around 8 and 9am my uncle would come in and my dad and I would go home.

Within a year or two I was working occasional Saturdays and every summer at the store.  I often worked checkout (we had two or three registers at the front of the store). The store itself was a forerunner of a Walmart type store, though much smaller of course, though much larger than a neighborhood newstand or a 7-11 type store of later years.  Stoler's sold newspapers, magazines, records, greeting cards (a huge section of the store run by my dad), cigarettes (big sellers in those years), toys, small household goods, a limited amount of clothing, school supplies, and paperback books.

I also worked stocking shelves and in the office and remember being paid $1/hour (in cash!).   Basically, whatever my dad and uncle needed me to do, I did.  One job, at the end of the day, was to take a locked bag or bags, filled with cash and receipts to the drop box at the bank next door to our store.  Looking back on it the office was quite chaotic and disorganized and it's hard to figure out how the place actually ran! 

We always had a radio on in the office and warehouse if it was World Series time,  I remember listening when Mickey Mantle hit a tenth inning home run off Cardinals reliever Barney Schultz to give the Yankees a victory in Game Three of the 1964 series (I just double checked and the game was on a Saturday, so I would have been working).  Thankfully, the Cards came back and beat the Yanks in the series.

I always liked working at the store, but my dad would often remind me that he did not want me to end up working there when I was older.  It was his life, but it was not the one he wanted for his children.

I knew my father worked hard but only as I grew older did I truly register the extent of this workload.  From the time he graduated high school in 1939 until about 1970, with the exception of his wartime service, he worked 6 1/2 days a week with a couple of weeks vacation.  Monday though Saturday it was from 7am to between 6 and 7pm. Every other Sunday he went in at 4am to prepare papers for delivery and then went home around 8 or 9am when his brother came in.  The weeks his brother came in early, dad would come in at 8 or 9am and stay until closing up around 1230 or 1pm.  The only times I can remember our entire family having dinner together was an occasional Saturday evening and regularly on Sunday.  I don't know how he did it.





Sunday, June 10, 2018

Bodhisattva (Yet Again)

We've visited this song several times because it contains my favorite Steely Dan guitar solo, courtesy of Denny Dias, one of the least known of the great guitarists of rock.  I spent some time looking at cover versions of the solo on YouTube.  Most weren't very good.  Then I came across the one below by Tom Lane.  It's the closest I've seen to Dias, almost capturing his tone, and to my ear only a little off in a couple of places.

Most impressively, Lane attempts the four phrases at the end of the solo, unlike most others who don't even try.  Lane has a lot of other outstanding covers which you can find by going here.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Closeness

From Assistant Village Idiot:

My friend Milan at work, a Serb, was correcting one of the other people in his lunch group. I believe it was Jelena, an Albanian, but it was one of the many folks from the Balkans we have working in environmental services at the hospital. She had talked a bit wistfully about how her village was close when she was young, and there were always people to go talk to and be with, but now she does not have friends close, and her family farther away than she would like. Milan's brow darkened.

We are close together because was for safety. You go out of village alone, maybe someone kill you, rape you. We are together, always together like animals to hunt. You come here you see this one French,* that one from somewhere Africa, friend for you but not close. But not kill you.
*Milan lives in Suncook, I think, so French-Canadian is likely 

Friday, June 1, 2018

They Can't Take That Away From Me

Written by George and Ira Gershwin and first performed by Fred Astaire in the Astaire/Rogers film Shall We Dance, my favorite version is by Frank Sinatra, arranged by Nelson Riddle.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Six Seconds

For Memorial Day . . . 

Excerpt from speech by Lt Gen John Kelly on November 13, 2010:

Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, left, and Cpl. Jonathan Yale were killed April 22, 2008, by a suicide bomber in Ramadi, Iraq.
(Corporals Jordan and Yale)

[O]n April 22, 2008, two Marine infantry battalions, 1/9 “The Walking Dead,” and 2/8, were switching out in Ramadi. One battalion was in the closing days of its deployment, the other just starting its seven-month combat tour. Two Marines, Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 respectively, one from each battalion, were assuming the watch at the entrance gate of an outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines.

The same ramshackle building was also home to 100 Iraqi police, our allies in the fight against terrorists in Ramadi – known at the time as the most dangerous city on earth, and owned by al-Qaeda.
Yale was a dirt-poor mixed-race kid from Virginia, with a wife, a mother and a sister, who all lived with him and he supported. He did this on a yearly salary of less than $23,000. Haerter, on the other hand, was a middle-class white kid from Long Island. They were from two completely different worlds. Had they not joined the Marines, they would never have met each other, or understood that multiple Americas exist simultaneously, depending on one’s race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, education level, economic status, or where you might have been born. But they were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible, and because of this bond they were brothers as close – or closer – than if they were born of the same woman. The mission orders they received from their sergeant squad leader, I’m sure, went something like this: “OK, take charge of this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass. You clear?” I’m also sure Yale and Haerter rolled their eyes and said, in unison, something like, “Yes, sergeant,” with just enough attitude that made the point, without saying the words, “No kidding, sweetheart. We know what we’re doing.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry-control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq.

A few minutes later, a large blue truck turned down the alleyway – perhaps 60 to 70 yards in length – and sped its way through the serpentine concrete Jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated, killing them both. Twenty-four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards away collapsed. The truck’s engine came to rest 200 yards away, knocking down most of a house down before it stopped. Our explosive experts reckoned the blast was caused by 2,000 pounds of explosive.

Because these two young infantrymen didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers in arms. When I read the situation report a few hours after it happened, I called the regimental commander for details. Something about this struck me as different. We expect Marines, regardless of rank or MOS, to stand their ground and do their duty, and even die in the process, if that is what the mission takes. But this just seemed different.

The regimental commander had just returned from the site, and he agreed, but reported that there were no American witnesses to the event – just Iraqi police. If there was any chance of finding out what actually happened, and then to decorate the two Marines to acknowledge their bravery, I’d have to do it, because a combat award requires two eyewitnesses, and we figured the bureaucrats back in Washington would never buy Iraqi statements. If it had any chance at all, it had to come under the signature of a general officer. I traveled to Ramadi the next day and spoke individually to a half-dozen Iraqi police, all of whom told the same story. They all said, “We knew immediately what was going on as soon as the two Marines began firing.” The Iraqi police related that some of them also fired, and then, to a man, ran for safety just prior to the explosion. All survived. Many were injured, some seriously. One of the Iraqis elaborated, and with tears welling up, said, “They’d run like any normal man would to save his life. ”What he didn’t know until then, and what he learned that very instant, was that Marines are not normal. Choking past the emotion, he said, “Sir, in the name of God, no sane man would have stood there and done what they did. They saved us all.” 

What we didn’t know at the time, and only learned after I submitted both Yale and Haerter for posthumous Navy Crosses, was that one of our security cameras recorded some of the attack. It happened exactly as the Iraqis described it. It took exactly six seconds from when the truck entered the alley until it detonated. You can watch the last six seconds of their young lives. I suppose it took about a second for the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was going on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. No time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them to do only a few minutes before: “Let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.” It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up. By this time, the truck was halfway through the barriers and gaining speed.

Here the recording shows a number of Iraqi police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and rational men they were, some running right past the Marines, who had three seconds left to live. For about two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines firing their weapons nonstop. The truck’s windshield explodes into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tear into the body of the son of a bitch trying to get past them to kill their brothers – American and Iraqi – bedded down in the barracks, totally unaware that their lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground. Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder-width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could. They had only one second left to live, and I think they knew. The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God. Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Brendan's Death Song

A little change of pace from the usual Red Hot Chili Peppers style, Brendan's Death Song, from their 2011 album I'm With You, is about Brendan Mullen, a long time friend of the band who gave vocalist Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea their first break in 1983.  Brendan was managing an LA club at the time, liked their demo tape, and booked them as an opening act.

Mullen remained friends with the band over the years and was in the midst of working on a documentary on the Chili Peppers when he died suddenly from a stroke in October 2009, which was also the day the band began work on I'm With You.  On receiving news of Mullen's passing, the band started jamming and eventually came up with this song.

At about the 2:50 mark of the video you can see a photo of Brendan on the hat of one of the mourners.  The lyrics mention "Kateri", a reference to Kateri Butler, Brendan's companion the last sixteen years of his life.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Too Many Tears

I first saw Buddy Guy perform at the Fillmore East in the fall of 1968.  There he was coming down the aisle at the Fillmore playing the guitar behind his back.  He remains one of the great showmen of the classic blues.

Too Many Tears is from the 72 year old Guy's 2009 album, which features many fine collaborations but this tune is the standout.  On my first listening the female vocalist brought me up short; what a great voice, but who was it?  I went to the tiny print on the CD and discovered it was Susan Tedeschi of whom I'd never heard.  Too Many Tears made me a fan and I've since enjoyed many of her recordings, both solo and with her husband, the amazing slide guitarist, Derek Trucks.

That's Derek playing slide on this cut.  Enjoy. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Death Of Stalin

How do you make a comedy featuring a man who murdered millions of people with the aid of his willing accomplices?  By making it a very dark comedy.  There are some laugh out loud moments but most of its funniest moments also prompt flickers of horror.  The Death of Stalin manages to remind one of the deaths of millions but avoids lingering on the crushing reality in an effort to focus on the how ridiculous it all was.  It is also not a political film, portraying Stalin's reign in personal, not ideological terms, though for those who know the full history of those terrible times it is a searing indictment of communism.

Verdict of History:  A very good film.  It often feels like an episode of The Sopranos, featuring Stalin's Politburo as Tony's made Mafia men.  Outstanding casting, particularly Simon Russell Beale as the cynical and loathsome Laventri Beria, Jason Isaacs as World War Two hero Marshall Zhukov, and Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, underestimated as a clownish peasant by his colleagues but who would ultimately triumph over them all.

Many of the most absurd scenes in the film are historically accurate, or at least, mostly accurate.

Stalin was left to lay unattended on the floor for hour after his stroke, because even though the guards outside his room heard him fall to the ground they were too scared to violate his instructions to not enter the room.

Once discovered, the still living dictator lay for several more hours in a puddle of his own urine as terrified Politburo members debated over what to do next.

After the daily drunken evenings at Stalin's dacha outside Moscow, Khrushchev really did come home and dictate to his wife what jokes Stalin liked and disliked so he could review the notes in the morning when he was sober.

Molotov (played by Michael Palin) really did denounce his own wife when Stalin ordered his arrest and Beria really did release her after Stalin's death.

The opening scene in which Stalin wants a recording of a Moscow orchestra recital, inducing panic on the part of the producers really happened.

Laventri Beria was truly as loathsome as portrayed, and Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) as stupid.

The Death of Stalin has been banned in Putin's Russia.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

If I Were A Rich Man

Fiddler on the Roof had its Broadway opening on September 22, 1964 starring the incomparable Zero Mostel as Teyve the milkman in a play based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, set in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in Russia during the first decade of the 20th century.  Fiddler ran for a then-record 3,242 performances and Zero's performance set the template for every future Tevye.

For Mostel, Fiddler was his third, and biggest, theater success of the 1960's, beginning with Eugene Ionesco's absurdist play Rhinoceros in 1961, followed by A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1962.  In a reversal of the plot surrounding Mostel's role as a failing Broadway producer in Mel Brooks' 1968 debut film, The Producers, investors in Fiddler made $1,574 for every dollar invested.

My parents took me to see Fiddler when Zero was still in it and I still remember the event (which I believe was mandatory for every Jewish family in the New York metropolitan area because so many of our families emigrated from that part of Russia amidst the turmoil of those times).  There is nothing on YouTube from the original Broadway cast but I found this from his appearance at the Tony Awards show in June 1965.  You can see for yourself what a force of nature Zero was onstage.  It's also the reason he was not cast in the film version of Fiddler.  The director felt that anytime Mostel was onscreen he would draw all the attention to himself to the detriment of the other performers.




Fiddler on the Roof continues to be performed around the world.  It is particularly popular in Japan which at first glance seems odd but the author of a recent article in Tablet explains:
Fiddler opens with a song celebrating tradition, but the bulk of the show is about the difficulty of maintaining those traditions—and, perhaps, the futility of trying—in the face of a modernizing culture. And it ends with the family, filled with a mix of hope and fear, taking off for whole new world(s) where the old rules don’t apply and the new rules, if there are any, are not yet clear.

So maybe Fiddler resonates in Tokyo not only because it’s a family drama about fathers and daughters, or a universal tale about modernity, but because Japanese history does, in fact, include a chapter about dislocation from a sepia-toned “old world” and an uncertain journey to a “new world” where the traditional rules no longer applied. Tevye and his daughters had to leave Anatevka and even move across an ocean to find their new world. The Japanese stayed put, but the new world came to them just as surely, with the same uncertain mix of hope and fear.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Your Money Or Your Life

Sometimes a successful joke only works when the comedian has developed a well-defined persona.  That was the case with Jack Benny who had enormous success on radio, TV, and in his live act from the 1930s until his death in 1974.  Benny's stage persona was of a vain, insufferable, and incredibly cheap man. By all accounts the real Benny was a warm, gracious, and generous.

(Benny's trademark look)
Image result for jack benny hand on elbow

That's why, along with Benny's impeccable timing, this joke works so well.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Why Scooter Libby Was Pardoned Now

Until the strike on Syria was announced this evening (I guess I'm just an old-fashioned guy but I sure would like to have seen a Congressional authorization of force), the big news of the day was President Trump's pardon of former VP Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby, convicted in 2007 for making a false statement during the Valerie Plame investigation.

It’s not widely recognized that the current situation is the second time James Comey has launched a special counsel at a Republican administration. The first was during the GW Bush administration. When Joe Wilson first published his “16 Words” op-ed in the New York Times, and then his wife, Valerie Plame (that’s in Joe Wilson & Valerie Plame, the “we’re not anti-semites, we just don’t want Jews running everything” couple), was outed to Bob Novak by an administration source as a CIA agent, and AG Ashcroft recused himself (sound familiar?), his deputy Comey saw an opportunity to get his arch-nemesis Dick Cheney.

Comey and Cheney were at crosshairs because of their differing views on the War on Terror and the role of the CIA/FBI and surveillance (I was closer to Comey than Cheney on the substance of their disagreement). Comey, convinced the source of the leak about Plame was Cheney or one of his staff, decided he could use the situation to nail the Veep, and so appointed his friend Patrick Fitzgerald (who was also godfather to Comey’s daughter) as special counsel and set him loose.

Unfortunately within a couple of weeks, Fitzgerald knew the source of the leak was Richard Armitage.  The problem was Armitage worked for Secretary of State Colin Powell, not Cheney. Moreover, Armitage and Powell were also opposed to Cheney's take on the War on Terror (and it appears no law was broken by the Armitage disclosure, as he was unaware that she may have been an undercover agent, though even her actual status remains in dispute). So instead of winding up his investigation, Fitzgerald asked Armitage not to disclose his role and proceeded to spend the next year setting perjury traps for Cheney and his staff, finally nabbing Libby. I would be shocked if Fitzgerald acted on his own without consulting his supervisor, James Comey.

For more background on the Comey/Cheney dispute read this this 2007 post from Tom Maguire who covered the investigation and trial extensively.  He describes Fitzgerald as a torpedo dropped in the water by Comey “towards the USS Cheney

Whether you can objectively determine whether Libby actually committed perjury is difficult.  The question centered around one of those who heard what from whom and when controversies in Libby's various conversations with media personalities like Tim Russert.  For what it's worth, one of the chief prosecution witnesses, Judith Miller, has since recanted her testimony, stating she was misled by the prosecutors and today released a statement called Libby's pardon "long overdue".  Of course, getting a conviction was not difficult with a DC jury when the defendant is an aide to an unpopular Vice-President.

That’s why Trump is pardoning Libby. It’s a direct rebuke of Comey’s sleazy machinations, which the sitting President has direct experience with.  After all, Comey admitted he told the president on three occasions he was not under investigation, yet at the same time was leaking unfavorable takes on the Chief Executive to the New York Times, but not leaking the accurate news that the president was not under investigation.  He was also party to using the Steele Dossier, cooked up by the Clinton campaign in collusion with Russian intelligence in order to convince a FISA Court (which was not fully informed of the Clinton connection) to issue a surveillance authorization on Carter Page which would give the government broad access to the Trump campaign.  And then, to top it off, when Comey briefed the incoming president on the Steele Dossier he didn't tell him of the Clinton campaign involvement!

It is also likely that another motive for the pardon is to send a message to Trump associates that he stands ready to pardon them.  I hope he does not follow through on that.  Or at least, that he makes distinctions among them.  There is a difference between a Michael Flynn, caught in the same type of dubious perjury trap as Scooter Libby, and Paul Manafort, who may have illegally enriched himself through bank and tax fraud.


In retrospect the Wilson/Plame story is also a precursor to today's Russian collusion story in the lack of mainstream media interest in anything that would interfere with the preferred narrative.

For instance, I was always struck that no one in the media asked why Joe Wilson waited to make his revelation only in July 2003, after the initial conventional of the war was over and Saddam Hussein deposed, since he’d made his Africa trip more than a year earlier.

Let’s look at the timeline:

Joe Wilson is sent by the CIA to West Africa in February 2002 to investigate allegations that Saddam is trying to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Oddly, it appears the CIA never asked him to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

On October 11, 2002, the Senate voted to authorize the President to use force in Iraq. Half of the Senate Democrats, including Biden, Kerry, and Clinton, supported the authorization.

On January 28, 2003, President Bush gave the speech that later became known as the “16 Words” speech because of his reference to Saddam’s efforts to obtain yellowcake in Africa.

The Iraq War began on March 20, 2003.

Joe Wilson’s op-ed in the NY Times appeared on July 6, 2003.

As to the substance of Wilson's accusation that Bush lied about yellowcake in his January speech here is the Washington Post reporting in July 2004 on a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report on the matter (this is before the WaPo publicly announced its aspiration to smother democracy in darkness). From the article:
Wilson’s assertions — both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information — were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report.
In any event, why, if Wilson thought Bush had a “lack of candor” in his January 28 speech did he not raise his concerns before the start of the invasion in March? I think it is because of Wilson’s own views about Saddam’s capabilities, and internal Democratic party politics.

Specifically, in a talk Wilson gave in the fall of 2002 to an audience in DC (I listened to a recording of it years ago, and am trying to find it on the internet once again), he believed Saddam had significant chemical and biological warfare capabilities. In fact, he opposed the invasion for two reasons. First, he thought the US would suffer significant casualties because of Saddam’s WMD capabilities, and second, he didn’t want American “boys and girls” dying on behalf of Israel (I don’t think he was referring to Israeli Arabs when he was making that statement).

Further, Wilson was interested in Democrats being successful in the 2004 election cycle.  If he went public with his concerns prior to the invasion, it would have put a lot of public pressure on Clinton, Kerry, and Biden to declare whether they would change their authorization vote and demand another vote. Since none of them knew how the war would turn out and whether WMD would be found that would have put them in an untenable position with a lot of political risk, a position none of them wanted to be in.

It was only politically safe for Wilson to make his accusations after the invasion when little WMD, and no nuclear material, was found.

The other important element in the specific timing of publications by the New York Times was that it created a media frenzy right in the middle of George Bush’s trip to sub-Saharan Africa. Since the media narrative was that Bush was a racist, there was a need to divert attention from his obvious concern about, and commitment to, improving conditions in Africa. The Wilson story also helped to overshadow President Bush’s speech at Goree Island in Senegal, the most remarkable speech by an American president on race and slavery since Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.


Joe Wilson wasn’t the only one in his family concerned about Jews. In 2017, Valerie Plame’s long-standing history of similar views finally became public over her endorsing tweet of an article entitled “America’s Jews are driving America’s wars”, published on a website that also carried articles like “It’s time to rethink David Duke”.

There are two interesting aspects of the 2017 tweet, which, once again, was not an aberration by Plame. First, it led to her resignation the Board of the Ploughshares Foundation. Ploughshares is the leftist foundation that worked with the Obama Administration to create what Ben Rhoades, President Obama’s right hand man on the Iran Nuclear Deal, called the “echo chamber”, a coordinated effort to help sway public opinion, an effort that included accusations of dual loyalty by American Jews.

Secondly, the Wilson/Plame worldview also obscured differences between American neo-cons and Israel on foreign policy. During the run up to the Iraq War the Sharon government in Israel told the Bush Administration that it thought Saddam was successfully contained and that Iran was a much bigger threat. Once it was clear that Bush was set on prioritizing Iraq, Sharon directed his officials to stand down on the basis that as an American ally, Israel needed to support the United States. In other words, causation was the opposite of Wilson/Plame’s accusations.

The same dynamic occurred during the Arab Spring in 2011 when many neo-cons supported the uprisings, while the Israeli government did not.

You would probably not be surprised to hear that American media did not report on Wilson and Plame's troublesome views on Jews.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Facebook

I’m so old I remember when a presidential campaign using Facebook data, and getting help from Facebook in doing so, was considered cool and hip, while the campaign that didn’t use Facebook data was considered a bunch of old fogey losers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Complex Or Complicated?

An intriguing essay from the always interesting Arnold Kling (you should make Askblog a regular stop) on the differences between something that is complicated and something that is complex.  The failure to distinguish between the two can lead to bad decisions and outcomes by individuals, companies, and government.

Kling starts by referring to a recent article by Jordan Greenhall for the proposition that:
With complex problems, we need to lower our expectations about our ability to arrive at fully satisfactory solutions.
Greenhall offers this illustration: the behavior of a simple bumblebee is complex, because it has response mechanisms that we do not fully understand; but a Boeing 747 is merely complicated, because its behavioral range is limited by a design and structure that we understand and can model. 
He then goes on to talk about economics and the (misnamed) "social sciences".
When I was a graduate student in economics in the late 1970s, we were trained as if the economy is complicated, but not complex. We were told that if we learned enough mathematics and statistics and applied these tools, then eventually we could predict and control economic outcomes.

In fact, economic behavior is complex. There are too many causal factors, feedback loops, non-linear effects, and unprecedented phenomena involved to enable economists to control the economy precisely and reliably. Often, the best mathematical models are not even useful, as was dramatically shown a decade ago by the failure to anticipate the financial crisis and its aftermath.

In fact, complexity is a challenge in all of what we unfortunately call “the social sciences.” The very term social science gives the impression that human behavior is merely complicated, so that social outcomes can be predicted and managed by experts.

Many complicated problems have been solved by human beings and by our powerful computing tools. But I think this creates the expectation that we can solve complex problems as well. By understanding the difference between complication and complexity, we can take a more realistic view.
And perhaps, by understanding those differences, it will induce some humility in those who think they can solve any problem.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Family

Posting has not occurred during the past few days as THC and the Mrs traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota for the wedding of the THC Daughter and the new THC Son-in-Law (SIL).  Although both parties to the wedding live in Phoenix, the parents of the THC SIL live in Bismarck and are unable to travel so the Daughter and SIL decided on a small wedding there, followed by a larger reception in Phoenix in two weeks.  We applaud them for their decision; it was the right thing to do and the SIL's parents are delightful folks whom we enjoyed meeting.

The wedding day was one to remember.  It was 25 degrees, windy, and snowy.  It was also a lovely and beautiful day that we will all treasure.

And here are the newly wed couple at their reception dinner.  The Mrs and THC are very happy also.




Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Parting The Waters

If you are interesting in reading a fine combined biography of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr through the time of the March on Washington, and the tale of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s, I recommend Parting The Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Tears Of Rage

I've always been intrigued by the first lines of Tears of Rage:
We carried you
In our arms
On Independence Day
But it's only in recent years I've given more thought to the full lyrics of this touching song, its most transcendent version by The Band (below performing it at Woodstock, a performance I witnessed), and most recently relistened to it again, prompted by the discussion of the song in a podcast on The Band at National Review (it's a wonderful and insightful discussion on one of our best American bands, and certainly the best American band consisting of four Canadians and a guy from Arkansas).

Bob Dylan wrote the lyrics in 1967 and then approached Richard Manuel of The Band to do the music, which explains why it's melodically so different from most Dylan songs.  Dylan and The Band were in the midst of the casual recording of what became known as The Basement Tapes.
You can watch and listen to Garth Hudson, along with Robbie Robertson the only surviving members of The Band, talking about the recordings here.

According to Manuel (via the blog Untold Dylan):
“He came down to the basement with a piece of typewritten paper … and he just said, ‘Have you got any music for this?’ … I had a couple of musical movements that fit … so I just elaborated a bit, because I wasn’t sure what the lyrics meant. I couldn’t run upstairs and say, ‘What’s this mean, Bob: Now the heart is filled with gold as if it was a purse?”
Although some view the lyric as a metaphor, it can be read directly as the story of a father, anguished and heartbroken by his daughter's rejection, a rejection to which his own actions may have contributed.  It's unusual by the tenets of pop music and even by Dylan's standards which tended to be more caustic.  Manuel's soulful vocal adds to the pain in the lyrics.  Dylan was married in 1966, the year his son Jesse was born.  His daughter Anna arrived on July 11, 1967, a week after Independence Day.  From what I can determine of the hazy chronology of The Basement Tapes, Dylan wrote the lyrics after her birth.  In Dylan's autobiographical Chronicles: Volume 2, he talks of the 1966-67 period as one when he used the excuse of a minor motorcycle accident to withdraw from the pressures of his adoring public, and instead spend time with his young family.  This may have been the origin of the remarkably mature and thoughful lyric.

Richard Manuel is a tragic figure.  Painfully shy and introverted, he wrote or co-wrote several beautiful songs on The Band's first two albums, including Whispering Pines, When You Awake, We Can Talk, and Lonesome Suzie.  After The Band's initial success he plunged into alcohol and drug abuse, contributing much less to the group's remaining albums.  In 1986 he killed himself.


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 must I always be the thief?
Come to me now, you know
We’re so alone
And life is brief

We pointed out the way to go
And scratched your name in sand
Though you just thought it was nothing more
Than a place for you to stand
Now, I want you to know that while we watched
You discover there was no one true
Most ev’rybody really thought
It was a childish thing to do
Tears of rage, tears of grief
Must I always be the thief?
Come to me now, you know
We’re so low
And life is brief

It was all very painless
When you went out to receive
All that false instruction
Which we never could believe
And now the heart is filled with gold
As if it was a purse
But, oh, what kind of love is this
Which goes from bad to worse?
Tears of rage, tears of grief
Must I always be the thief?
Come to me now, you know
We’re so low
And life is brief