Sunday, April 28, 2019

Red Green

A few evening ago we saw Red Green at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Phoenix.  Red (Steve Smith) is now 74 and he's appropriately named it the "This Could Be It Tour".   From 1991 to 2006 Red had a show on Canadian Public TV.  The show, set in the Possum Lodge (Latin Motto - "When all else fails, play dead") somewhere in the woods of Canada, featured Red and his picturesque friends who pontificated on life, the married life, and the life of the handyman, which usually involved copious amounts of duct tape.  You can watch Red in action in this previous THC Post,  The All Wheel Drive Car 

At the Orpheum most of the audience (including us) wore plaid shirts.  A good time was had by all and Red left us with his trademark words of wisdom, "always keep your stick on the ice".

You can watch Red build a Hummer below.  Naturally, duct tape is involved.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Edge Of Western Civilization

Red Hot Chili Peppers performing Californication.  Nice intro by John Frusciante (guitar) and Flea (bass).  Flea's skeleton costume is a homage to #1 rock bassist John Entwhistle of The Who who often wore the same.  By the way, the drummer is NOT Will Ferrell.  A band I'd very much like to see in concert.  [Well, that was quick.  In the 24 hours between when I did the post and when it went live, the Vevo video was removed from YouTube!  You'll have to make do with this video of the boys having some fun performing Dani California.]  Update to the Update - It's back on YouTube!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Mueller Report Mischaracterizes Intelligence Assessment On Russian Interference

The Mueller report rewards close reading. After an initial quick read through I’ve been making my way slowly through selected portions, most recently focusing on the Obstruction section and the events from early January 2017 until Robert Mueller’s appointment on Special Counsel on May 17, 2017 (and about which I'll be writing more in a few days).

I’d read the publicly available portions of the Intelligence Community assessment on Russian interference during the 2016 election, released on January 6, 2017, and wrote a post on it in February 2017.   When reading the Mueller report’s characterization of it something struck me as wrong which was confirmed upon a rereading of the 2017 document. Not surprisingly, the mischaracterizations all help reinforce the desired Democratic narrative regarding the election.

For purposes of the analysis below I take at face value the assertions made in the intelligence assessment though questions have been raised regarding its overall validity, as well as to whether DNI Clapper used an unusual process designed to "stack the deck" in selecting analysts who worked on the document – for now we’ll ignore those issues.

At page 234 the Mueller report states:
Following the briefing [of President-elect Trump on January 6], the intelligence community released the public version of its assessment, which concluded with high confidence that Russia had intervened in the election through a variety of means with the goal of harming Clinton’s electability. The assessment further concluded with high confidence that Putin and the Russian government had developed a clear preference for Trump.
We have a simple story here – Putin preferred Trump, worked to assure his election, and the “intelligence community” concluded this with “high confidence”.

However, the actual conclusions of the Intelligence Assessment were more nuanced:
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.
The 2017 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 implies 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. Unfortunately the report does not provide an assessment of when this switch occurred and why. 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?

By omitting the Intelligence Community assessment that at some point the Kremlin assessed that Clinton would win and changed its objectives, the Mueller report contributes to the preferred Democratic narrative that the Kremlin caused Clinton to lose.

Moreover by reporting the 2017 assessment reached its conclusions with “strong confidence”, the Mueller report again mischaracterizes. Despite continued media reports that 17 intelligence agencies were involved in the assessment, the report released by DNI Clapper relies on analysis by only three – FBI, CIA, and NSA.  The 2017 report actually states its conclusions were reached with a high degree of confidence by the FBI and CIA, while the NSA’s were made with only a moderate degree of confidence. The NSA is the only one of the three with access to signals intelligence but there is no explanation of why the agencies reached their conclusions with different levels of confidence.

The 2017 assessment also provides useful context that is missing in the Mueller Report. It cites prior Russian and Soviet efforts to influence American presidential elections, though it also concludes the Kremlin took this to an unprecedented level in 2016.

The assessment also states that, through RT Americas TV, the Kremlin waged two propaganda campaigns during the second Obama Administration. The first, 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. The second, in support of the anti-fracking movement, with a goal of damaging energy development in the United States.

And there is one final mystery, not addressed in either the 2017 Intelligence Assessment or the Mueller Report. Why, if the Kremlin had such a strong preference for Donald Trump, was it feeding damaging information about Trump to the Clinton Campaign via Christopher Steele’s operatives? It’s an obvious question for anyone trying to look objectively at the 2016 election. The studied avoidance of this question, particularly in the Mueller Report, is yet another signal of something terribly wrong with the Special Counsel's investigation.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Old Days

Start your day taking the ferry to lower Manhattan and then walk uptown with the crowds.  Wander over the Brooklyn Bridge later in the day and enjoy a serene ride on the Rosedale back home.

It's 1911 and the footage was taken by Svenska Biografteatern, a Swedish film discovery.  Restored, synched to natural speed and with ambient sound added it makes for a relaxing 11 minute tour.

Along with the ferry and the Brooklyn Bridge, you'll see the Flatiron Building, which still stands, and scenes of Chinatown, and along 5th avenue.  You can watch the recently popular automobiles navigating the streets between streetcars and horse drawn wagons and carriages.  And the film is so clear you can see the plentiful piles of horse manure!

In a scene midway through there is a touring car, with a white family and a black driver (the steering wheel is on the right!).  The vehicle is a E-M-F Touring Car, registered to Mrs F Lochwicz, 548 Eighth Street, Brooklyn (the clearly visible license plate allowed someone to do the research).

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Riff

As part of its continuing service to our readers, this blog provides the excerpt below for those about to embark on lengthy driving trips.  It's a ten hour loop of the famous sax solo from Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street, the #1 song in the U.S. for a month during the summer of 1978.  The solo, composed along with the rest of the song by Rafferty, is played by Raphael Ravenscroft.  It's hard to get out of your head once it starts.

Don't say this blog never did anything for you!

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Unified Field Theory Of The 2016 Election

I wrote this last June and thought I'd posted it but just realized failed to do so.  I think it holds up well now that the Weissman/Mueller report has been released.

Now that the IG Report has rained downed yet another blow to the Trump-Russia collusion fantasy, and we know that everything breathlessly reported to us for the past two years by the NY Times/WaPo/CNN has been inaccurate, and the much-maligned (by those same outfits) Rep Nunes has proven the most accurate source, we can see how this all happened in three simple steps, though it turned out to be a huge miscalculation by the Clintons, the Democrats, and the media.

Step One: Encourage Donald Trump To Seek The GOP Nomination
The Clinton campaign and its allies figured Trump would be the easiest opponent to beat, and even if he didn’t get the nomination, would raise havoc with the rest of the GOP field.

Bill Clinton speaks with Trump urging him to get into the race.

Democratic media ensures Trump gets enormous coverage (remember when CNN was the Trump Network 24/7) while ignoring the rest of the GOP field.

[UPDATED:  I thought at the time and still think that when Trump announced he was running he did not expect to win the nomination.  I think his reasons for announcing were:

1. Enhancing the Trump brand - he's been brilliant at that.
2. He'd been spouting off on politics for years and threatening to run and, because of his age, this was probably his last chance.
3. He hated Jeb Bush the GOP frontrunner.
4. He likes to have fun.

Nor do I think that when he won the nomination did he expect to win the election.] 

Step Two: Get Hillary Out of the Email Mess To Clear The Decks For Her Campaign
Obama sends clear public message to his “wingmen” at DOJ and the FBI that Hillary has not committed a crime. (How this intervention alone did not trigger special counsel, independent of the DOJ, is still unfathomable).

The FBI/DOJ treats Hillary investigation with kid gloves. Destroying evidence? No problem! You need immunity? No problem! Need to have fact witness (Cheryl Mills) masquerade as Clinton lawyer and sit in on witness interviews? No problem!

Write draft exoneration memo before interviewing Clinton.

Have McCabe massage the draft memo to eliminate language that otherwise indicates Clinton committed crime, as well as embarrassing reference to Clinton sending classified emails to Obama while in Russia.

Ensure AG Lynch knows Comey will exonerate Clinton, before she announces she will leave decision to him.

Step Three: Beat Trump
This is the easiest step of all! Trump’s an idiot; how can Hillary possibly lose! Just to make sure, help compound Trump’s ineptness regarding his stupid statements on Putin and Russia with an insurance policy via leaks to press regarding Manafort and Page and their supposed active connections with Russia (which turn out to be completely false). Use innuendo about DNC email leaks, Wikileaks, and the Russians, to further impugn Trump campaign. Make sure your allies at DOJ and FBI never examine DNC server.

The other benefit for the Clintons is that the attacks on Trump help obscure their problem with the tens of millions of dollars coming to the Clinton Foundation from corrupt Russian oligarchs with Kremlin ties.

And now we have the perfect contrast between the amateurish Trump campaign and the professional Inside the Beltway Clinton campaign.

Amateurish failure: The Glimmer Twins, Fredo Trump Jr and Jared from Subway, meet at Trump Tower with Russian lawyer tied to Putin. Nothing comes of it, except 2017 headlines in the Democratic press.

Professional success: Clinton campaign uses cut-outs. Hires Perkins Coie, which hires Fusion GPS, which hires Christopher Steele, who hires folks to collude directly with Kremlin intelligence sources. Resulting product is filtered to sympathetic parties in press, DOJ, and FBI (and, as we know now, used to obtain FISA warrant to surveil the Trump campaign).

And here’s where the missteps began to accumulate. By late summer, Hillary looks like a certain winner. Obama decides not to make a big deal of Russian efforts to interfere with election by creating havoc, because with a Hillary victory seemingly a lock, raising it has the potential to backfire politically and help Trump. Same thing with the Steele dossier. Selective leaks and intimations in the press of Trump-Putin connection are enough to keep the issue alive, without adding to it direct release of the dossier.

Finally, Comey, certain of Clinton victory, decides to announce reopening of email investigation based on Weiner laptop since he know she will still be cleared and wants issue over so as not to taint her victory.

Post-Election Change of Strategy
When the unthinkable happens and Hillary loses, use your assets in government and media to destroy the Trump presidency and spin up the Russia connection out of thin air.  And, if you're at DOJ and the FBI, to cover your tracks now that the unexpected has happened.  It now looks like yet another massive miscalculation backfiring on its perpetrators. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019


I was driving across the burning desert
When I spotted six jet planes
Leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain
It was the hexagram of the heavens
it was the strings of my guitar
Amelia, it was just a false alarm
Joni Mitchell from 1976. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Comey Knew

Image result for nothing to see here gif

Reading the Weissman Report* can be rewarding if you’re already familiar with many of the other relevant documents publicly available, and know how to interpret the tortured verbiage of the report which is designed to imply all sorts of things that the authors would have liked to be able to prove but were unable to do so.

Remember the Steele Dossier that became a big media splash when it leaked the day after FBI Director Comey briefed president-elect Trump on selective portions (the salacious parts involving his personal behavior) in January 2017?  The Dossier that was the basis for the four FISA Warrants issued regarding Carter Page? The predicate on which this entire Russia collusion story was based?

There is no mention of the Steele Dossier in Volume 1 of the report, the section dealing with collusion!!

It is simply astonishing and a demonstration of the bad-faith with which the investigation was conducted that in Volume 1, which purports to be about Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election, there is NO mention of the only documented instance of collusion and coordination between Russia and an American presidential candidate, even though the contents of the document were leaked to the American press and used by the Obama Administration to obtain a FISA warrant to access the communications of a Trump adviser.**

There is a passing mention to the Steele Dossier in Volume 2, the obstruction section, referring to it containing unverified allegations. Most of the other references in Volume 2 concern how angry President Trump was about the allegations in the dossier. And who can blame him since they were false!

However, there is one very intriguing reference to the dossier on Page 246 concerning a private dinner Comey had with the President in late January of 2017. Here’s what the report states:
The President brought up the Steele report that Comey had raised in the January 6, 2017 briefing and stated that he was thinking about ordering the FBI to investigate the allegations to prove they were false. Comey responded that the President should think carefully about issuing such an order because it could create a narrative that the FBI was investigating him personally, which was incorrect.
Some thoughts on this:

If you are wondering what the source is for this conversation it is, according to the report, Comey’s memo of January 28, 2017 written to himself!

Pretty clever 5-D move by Trump in his campaign to obstruct justice! (just joking)

Most importantly, it demonstrates it was very likely Comey knew the Steele Dossier allegations (and about its origins) were false way back in January 2017.  Why else would he be trying to persuade the President of the United States not to pursue an investigation of the allegations about him personally, allegations Trump knew to be false?

Because an investigation would have defused the ongoing campaign of Comey and his associates to find something, anything, to pin on Trump or at least seriously disrupt the new administration.

Because an investigation also ran the risk of bringing into the open that the dossier was paid for by the Clinton campaign, done at the direction of Fusion GPS (which at the same time was lobbying on behalf of Russian oligarchs tied to Putin), and compiled by Steele who used his contacts to get information directly from Russian intelligence!

Because an investigation would have also undermined the basis for the continued wiretaps of Carter Page and anyone associated with him.

And if the truth about the dossier became known we never would have had a Special Counsel.

As to what the Kremlin wanted out of the dossier read my post What Was Putin Up To in 2016.  Bottom line - Putin saw the election as a win-win, though like everyone else he expected it would be Hillary, so during the campaign the goal was to agitate Trump voters who would pose a continuing problem for Clinton after her expected victory.  And after Trump's unexpected victory the emphasis changed to creating and amplifying dissatisfaction among Clinton voters.  Regardless of who won, Putin could use the aftermath to create more havoc and dissension about America's government.  With the aid of the Democratic Party, its media allies, and its credulous supporters, Putin could not have been more successful if they'd been paid agents of the Kremlin.


*I refer to it as the Weissman Report because Andrew Weissman was running the show on a day to day basis. Robert Mueller was a figurehead. He was safe in that role because of his institutional devotion to protecting DOJ and the FBI and preventing any criticism of those agencies (a trait many who’ve dealt with him, like Boston civil rights and criminal defense lawyer Harvey Silverglate, have recognized for years) and he’s also proven, possibly because of that institutional devotion, to be easily duped by those working for him, whether it be the grossly corrupt Boston FBI office in the 80s, or the HQ FBI which relentlessly pursued an innocent man in the anthrax investigation during the 2000s.

Both Mueller and Weissman’s involvement in this investigation has also been unethical. Mueller is a long time colleague of Comey and an ally of his during the Cheney Wars and should have been recused from the investigation, and the same for Weissman, with his record of unethical conduct, his blatant partisanship on behalf of Hillary and the Democratic Party, and being among those briefed on the Steele Dossier in the fall of 2016 while he was at DOJ.

I believe the role of Mueller (former FBI Director and senior DOJ official) and Weissman (senior DOJ lawyer and former General Counsel of the FBI) was twofold; protect the origins of the Steele Dossier and the involvement of those at DOJ and FBI in its use to further the Russian collusion theory, and try to goad Trump into further actions that would, in their view, constitute obstruction of justice.  I base this on their almost certain knowledge at the time of Mueller's appointment in May 2017 that the Steele dossier allegations were baseless.  Moreover, by that time the FISA warrants on Carter Page had been in operation for more than seven months, the FBI investigation for nine months (and possibly for more than a year depending on who Joseph Mifsud was working for when he met with George Papadopolous in London in April 2016), and Peter Strozek's text message (who'd been involved from the start in the FBI investigation) to Lisa Page as he was considering an offer to join the Mueller team in May 2017 that there was "no big there there".

Supporting evidence for this is that once Mueller was fully in charge he did not ask the Page FISA Warrant be extended; it expired in September 2017.  A tip off to anyone following the case that there was no collusion should have been the text of the indictments of Manafort and Papadopolous and the failure to indict Page.  Normally, a prosecutor building a bigger conspiracy case would have an indictment include the offense being plead to, as well as allegations of the defendant participating in a large conspiracy in order to set up their cooperative testimony when the next case was brought against the "higher-ups".  That language was missing in the indictments.

The other tip off for me is when no collusion indictment was filed prior to the fall of 2018.  Since the purpose of the Mueller investigation was to undermine the Trump administration and an indictment would have been the perfect vehicle for that, its absence signaled there was no case, so Mueller chose the alternative route - keep the investigation going through the campaign season in order to keep it alive as an issue for the Democrats.

** A further example of bad-faith is in the report's treatment of the Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016 to which it devotes 12 pages.  This was when Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya who had promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton but instead lobbied for their support in repealing the Magnitsky Act which sanctioned some Putin supporters in Russia.  Trump J and Kushner took no action on the request.  This would have been a perfect point to bring in the Steele Dossier since Veselnitskaya had retained Fusion GPS, the firm retained by Perkin Coie on behalf of the Clinton campaign, and which, in turn, hired Christopher Steele to assemble the dossier, to lobby for repeal of the Magnitsky Act and Veselnitskaya met with Fusion GPS head Glenn Simpson right before, and right after the Trump Tower meeting!  Instead, the report contains no reference in the text or footnotes to Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, or Steele.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Dark Knight

Why's he running, Dad?

Because we have to chase him.

He didn't do anything wrong.

Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him... ... because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a Silent Guardian... ...a Watchful Protector.  The Dark Knight... " 
The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan's brooding 2008 take on the War on Terror is one of the finest movies of the 21st century and probably its best big budget film.  Thought provoking but never steers you to a clear conclusion - it makes the viewer do the work.  What is the proper balance in  protecting society? How far would you go in breaking the norms in order to protect? When faced with horrible choices how would you decide?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Senator Foote Draws His Pistol

In the chamber of the United States Senate, on April 17, 1850 Senator Henry S Foote (D-Mississippi) drew a pistol on Senator Thomas Hart Benton (D-Missouri) as Benton charged across the floor at him.

Senator Foote (1804-1880), appointed to the upper chamber in 1847, had a violent history and was a firm believer in the Southern code of honor.  By 1850 he had engaged in at least four duels, been wounded three times, and also had a fist fight with his Mississippi senatorial colleague Jefferson Davis.

Nor was the nearly seventy year old Missouri senator a stranger to violence.  In 1817 while still living in Tennessee, Benton twice dueled Nashville attorney Charles Lucas, mortally wounding him in their final encounter.  And more famously, Benton and Andrew Jackson along with several others tangled in a notorious street brawl in Nashville in 1813.  Jackson attempted to shot Benton and failed, but Benton succeeded, wounding Jackson and leaving the future president with a bullet he carried in him the rest of his life.  A decade later Jackson and Benton reconciled and Benton became one of Jackson's greatest political supporters.

Congress was a much more physically threatening environment in the decades leading up to the Civil War.  Of course, political violence in the new republic started even earlier. In 1804 the sitting Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr, mortally wounded the former Secretary of the Treasury (Alexander Hamilton), but as sectional strife grew after 1830 violence constantly loomed in the House and Senate with fist fights, duel challenges (mostly initiated by Southerners), and occasional duels, in one of which a Maine Congressman died, a tale told in the new book The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War by Joanne S Freeman.

The occasion of the events of April 17 was the debate over the issues that resulted later that year in the Compromise of 1850.  Foote was and Benton had been owners of slaves and both opposed abolition, but while Foote was a full throated advocate for its expansion, Benton opposed expansion of the institution, in an 1849 speech stating:
“My personal sentiments, then, are against the institution of slavery, and against its introduction into places in which it does not exist. If there was no slavery in Missouri today, I should oppose its coming in.” 
Benton, along with Sam Houston, were the only senators from slave holding states to oppose expansion.  As such Foote, and other southern senators, saw Benton as a traitor and used the rancorous debates as a vehicle to expose Benton and perhaps cost him his chance of being reelected in 1851.  Two weeks prior, Foote had leveled a series of personal insults at Benton, accusing him of being a coward and daring Benton to challenge him to a duel, repeatedly asking him "Do you abide by the code of honor?"  Benton restrained himself for some time, having disavowed dueling after killing Lucas in 1817.

On the 17th Foote renewed his onslaught of insults and accusations of cowardice.  As Freeman describes in her book:
Foote threw the charge at Benton, but had gotten only halfway through the insult when Benton sprang to his feet, kicking aside his chair so violently that he toppled a glass from his desk  .  .  . on seeing Benton head his way . . . Foote retreated backward down the aisle toward the vice-president's chair, pistol in hand . . .

Henry Dodge (D-WI) [for more on Henry Dodge read Forgotten Americans: Henry Lafayette Dodge] tried to restrain Benton, who dramatically bared his breast and yelled, "I have no pistols. Let him fire." . . . At this point, a senator grabbed Foote's pistol and locked it in his desk, and for the moment the fireworks were over.
The next day the Senate gallery was jammed as spectators came to see if there would be further fireworks, but they left disappointed.  A Senate committee appointed to investigate the incident came to no hard conclusions, simply admonishing the parties to behave themselves.

Benton's attempt at a nuanced approach towards slavery, steering between the expansionists and the abolitionists failed, and he was defeated in 1851 ending thirty years as Missouri's senior senator.

And the violence in Washington continued to escalate with the most famous incident occurring on May 22, 1856 when South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks entered the Senate chamber, confronted abolitionist Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, and nearly beat him to death with a cane.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Sad Day

(Drone Photo of Notre Dame today)

The spire is gone, along with the roof.  Is the Rose Window still there?  Fortunately, much of the church under the vaults remains intact and the front facade remains.  You don't have to be Catholic or Christian to feel the loss.  Notre Dame has religious, cultural, and historical status.  I will not see it fully restored.

My first visit was in 1977.  In 1978 when I had time to wander the city on my own I would often stop and sit inside the cathedral for a few quieter, and cooler, moments.  Sometimes I observed mass being held for a few parishioners.   At that time there were times of the day when relatively few tourists were inside or queued outside.  As we returned over the years the plaza in front of the facade became more crowded and the lines to get inside longer.  Our last visit we just walked around the outside.

The other big change in recent years was the visible military presence on the plaza and patrolling the nearby streets.

Some photos from our most recent visit in 2018:

From 2015

Sunday, April 14, 2019

In Bruges

I saw In Bruges on its theatrical release in 2008 and recently watched it again on a plane flight.  It is highly recommended!  Written and directed by Martin McDonagh it is a very, very black comedy (the trailer below overemphasizes the comedy to the detriment of its serious side, and the serious violence of the film).  The leads, two British criminal sent to the preserved medieval city in Belgium on a mysterious assignment by their boss (Ralph Fiennes) are played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.  I'm not a big fan of Farrell's but he is splendid and touching here.  Gleeson is, as always, excellent.

Bruges itself is the brunt of many of the film's jokes but like the film it stands for something more serious - Purgatory, where the two characters are stuck as they await instructions, or is it a final judgement?

The more serious themes of the film have some similarity to a movie written and directed by Martin's brother, John Michael McDonagh, Calvary, also starring Gleeson who is magnificent in his searing portrayal of an Irish priest who shows what it means to truly be a priest.  Calvary is one of the most moving films I've ever seen; you can read my review here.   And once you've watched In Bruges you can view this video discussing the theological aspects of the movie.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Res Gestae

Image result for caesar augustus
The Res Gestae Divi Augustus (Deeds of the Divine Augustus) is how Rome's first emperor wished to be remembered, and it was not as an emperor.  It is a rendering of his accomplishments, of which the original (now lost) was inscribed in front of his mausoleum in Rome.  Fortunately, copies of the Res Gestae were distributed throughout the Empire and nearly complete or partial copies have been found in many locations with the most complete version at a temple in modern day Ankara, Turkey.  An English translation can be found here.

Augustus is the towering figure in Roman history.  As Octavian, the 19-year old adopted nephew of the assassinated Julius Caesar, and as heir to Caesar's fortune, he was originally underestimated by both Caesar's opponents like Brutus and Cicero, as well as by the man who seemed Caesar's political heir, Marc Antony.  Over the next thirteen years, until 31BC, Octavian/Augustus outmaneuvered everyone, ending civil war, reuniting the Roman state, and emerging as its undisputed head, a position he retained until his death 45 years later.

Cleverly, he positioned himself as restoring the Roman Republic but, in reality, Augustus marked the final death of the Republic and came to be considered the first Roman emperor.  The Res Gestae can be read as a propaganda document, memorializing the role of Augustus as restorer of the peace, servant of the Republic and Senate, benefactor to the people and City of Rome, expander of Rome to unprecedented dominion, and recognized in that role by the submission of neighboring states and kingdoms.

The Res Gestae contains 35 paragraphs of accomplishments, in twelve of which Augustus emphasizes actions done in accordance with the wishes of the senate and/or people along with several instances where he declined honors:

Twice he is given an ovation for his victories, along with three triumphs but "when the Senate decreed more triumphs for me, I sat out from all of them".  He declined offers of dictatorship from both the senate and people.

Augustus reminds readers that at the end of the civil war:
. . . having obtained all things by universal consent, I handed over the state from my power to the dominion of the senate and Roman people.  And for this merit of mine, by a senate decree, I was called Augustus . . . After that time, I exceeded all in influence, but I had no greater power than the others who were colleagues of mine in each magistracy.
He spends ten paragraphs listing his bequests and building on behalf of the people, including large payments to the Roman plebs and towns, and the establishment of many military colonies in Italy and elsewhere.  Four times he "helped the senatorial treasury with my money", though in reality his accounts and those of the state were so intermingled it was difficult to tell where monies came from.   The rebuilding of many of Rome's temples and prominent buildings is described in great detail as well as the eight gladiator shows in which about 10,000 men fought and the 26 hunts of "African beasts in the circus, in the open, or in the amphitheater; in them about 3,500 beasts were killed".

The document relates with evident pride the punishment of his adoptive father's murderers:
I drove the men who slaughtered my father into exile with a legal order, punishing their crime, and afterwards, when they waged war on the state, I conquered them in two battles.
Note the statement that his activities were done by "legal order" and his enemies "waged war on the state", not Augustus.

Of more import to Romans, was his expansion of their boundaries.  Wars were carried on in Europe, Africa, and Asia during his long reign:
I often waged war, civil and foreign, on the earth and sea, in the whole wide world, and as victor I spared all the citizens who sought pardon.  As for foreign nations, those which I was able to safely forgive, I preferred to preserve than to destroy.
Like Caesar, Augustus was magnanimous in pardoning those who fought against him, apart from those who murdered Caesar.
About five hundred thousand Roman citizens were sworn to me.  I led something more than three hundred thousand of them into colonies . . .
The emperor is referring to the legions raised during the Civil War.  It was important to demobilize most of them, yet a settlement had to be found so the soldiers would be satisfied and not cause further disturbance.  This Augustus accomplished by establishing military colonies for settlement and paying generous stipends for their service.  The remainder were formed into 28 permanent legions (Rome's first standing army) and distributed among the frontier provinces.
I extended the borders of all the provinces of the Roman people which neighbored nations not subject to our rule.
He completed the subjugation of Spain and advanced the borders of Rome to the Danube in modern day Austria and Hungary.  The astonishing wealth of Egypt was added to the Empire and, in a humble-brag states that while he could have made Armenia a province he instead installed a local king who served as an ally.  There is no mention of the tragic misadventure in Germania, where three legions under Varus were slaughtered by the local tribes five years before the death of Augustus, a setback the led him to direct the remaining legions to fall back to the west bank of the Rhine.

Adding a whiff of adventure in the farthest lands he adds:
By my order and auspices two armies were led at about the same time into Ethiopia and into that part of Arabia which is called Happy [Felix], and the troops of each nation of enemies were slaughtered in battle and many towns captured.  They penetrated into Ethiopia all the way to the town of Napata, which is near to Meroe; and into Arabia all the way to the border of the Sabaei, advancing to the town of Mariba.
Neither of these expeditions resulted in permanent conquest.  The Ethiopia expedition, under Gaius Petronius, traveled well into modern Sudan before withdrawing.  The Arabian campaign was a disaster with an army commanded by Aelius Gallus advancing into modern Yemen before being destroyed by disease (for more on Rome in Arabia read The Farthest Outpost).

And those not directly ruled by Rome recognized the greatness of its domain:
Emissaries from the Indian kings were often sent to me, which had not been seen before that time by any Roman leader.  The Bastarnae, the Scythians, and the Sarmatians [from the steppes north of the Black Sea] .  .  . and the kings of the Albanians, the Iberians, and of the Medes [the last three in the Caucasus], sought our friendship through emissaries.

To me were sent supplications by kings: of the Parthians . . . of the Britons, Dumnobellaunus and Tincommius . . . King Phrates of the Parthians [Rome's greatest enemy] . . . sent all his sons and grandsons into Italy to me, though defeated in no war, but seeking our friendship through the pledges of his children.
He ends with this:
When I administered my thirteenth consulate [2 BC], the senate and Equestrian order and the Roman people all called me father of the country, and voted that the same be inscribed in the vestibule of my temple, in the Julian senate-house, and in the forum of Augustus under the chariot which had been placed there for me by a decision of the senate.
It was a masterful political performance that last more than a half-century.  On the surface, Augustus restored order and the role of the Senate and people while, in reality, he manipulated and controlled the state, drastically changing the course of Roman history.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Gimme Some Money

Image result for spinal tap

Before going on to great success as Spinal Tap, Nigel Tufnel, David St Hubbins, and Derek Smalls were known as The Thamesmen and had a minor hit in the fall of 1965 with Gimme Some Money.

The real band, Christopher Guest (Tufnel), Michael McKean (St Hubbins and most recently as Chuck McGill in Better Call Saul), and Harry Shearer (Smalls) rose to fame in Rob Reiner's 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap in which they played the members of Spinal Tap.  For the next twenty years they occasionally toured as Spinal Tap, the actors playing the role of a rock band - fortunately they are all quite capable musicians.

The music they write is pitch perfect for each of the genres they are spoofing, though the lyrics give the game away:
Your face is okay
But your purse is too tight
I'm looking for pound notes, loose change, bad checks, anything
Gimme some money, gimme some money 
Gimme Some Money has a sound and style that could only fit in a narrow window from the spring of 1965 until the end of the summer of 1966.  They get everything right; the garage band sound, McKean's nasally and snide vocal, the specific tone of Guest's lead guitar, the cheesy organ, the drumming style (in this case supplied by Ed Begley Jr), and the long fade, including the hand clapping and the guitar soloing at the end.  These guys know their musical eras so Gimme Some Money echoes songs like She's About A Mover (Sir Douglas Quintet), Pushin' Too Hard (The Seeds), Gloria (Shadows of Knight), Dirty Water (The Standells), and Hey Little Girl (Syndicate of Sound).

Oh, and don't forget to turn the volume up to 11 before you listen.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Threefold Fate

Threefold Fate is the band in which my neighbor Jason plays guitar, sings, and composes.  From their recent release here are three terrific tunes; Ghosts and Gods, The Flood, and Taste the Sun.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Helicopter Hang

Jackie Chan turns 65 today.  Happy birthday Jackie!  In honor of this auspicious occasion here is Jackie telling the story of his famous helicopter hang scene from Supercop, filmed in Kuala Lumpur.

First, here's the scene (the girl in the scene is the fabulous Michelle Yeoh):

And now Jackie tells the story:

Jackie Chan acts out, retells helicopter stunt in "Supercop" [8:04] from r/mealtimevideos
And for those wanting more this is Michelle Yeoh's motorcyle leap from the same film.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Bergen Brothers

Brothers Marty and Bill Bergen were born in the central Massachusetts town of North Brookfield, Marty in 1871 and Bill seven years later.  I became interested in Bill after reading an article yesterday, and researching Bill led me to his brother.  The article was on the plight of Chris Davis, the (former) slugger now with the Baltimore Orioles who is in the midst of an 0 for 38 hitless streak spanning the end of the 2018 season and beginning of this year's.  Mentioned was Bill Bergen's 0 for 45 streak which for more than a century set the major league mark for futility (broken by a 0 for 46 stint in 2010 and 2011 by Eugenio Velez).

Bergen's struggle in 1909 was not an aberration.  Debuting in 1901 with the Cincinnati team and after three seasons moving to the Brooklyn Superbas (later Dodgers) for another eight, Bergen was regarded as one of the finest defensive catchers in the major leagues due to his extraordinary quickness and throwing ability.  Though he caught less than 1,000 games he still ranks 9th among all catchers in career assists.  Each of the eight ahead of him caught at least 300 more games and his ratio of assists to games caught is higher than any of them.  In nine of his seasons he had more than 100 assists (only 5 of 13 Hall of Fame catchers have even one) and in 1909, the year of his record hitless streak he totalled 202.

Image result for bill bergen baseball

Unfortunately, once he got in the batter's box it was a different story.  His lifetime batting average was .170, making him the only player in major league history with more than 2500 plate appearances (Bill amassed 3229) with a average below .200.  Nor did he make up for it with power collecting only 45 doubles, 21 triples, and 2 home runs for a career slugging percentage of .201.  Did he make up for it with a keen batting eye, allowing him to reach base on walks?  No again, receiving only 88 base on balls in eleven seasons (versus 421 strike outs) for an on-base percentage of .194.

Bill's offensive high point was the 1903 season with the Reds when he hit .227, the first and last time he averaged more than .190.  Over his last six years (1906-11) he hit .159, .159, .175, .139, .161., and finally .132.

It seems appropriate that Bergen ended his epic 1909 hitless streak by getting an infield hit!  In his final campaign (1911), Bill had a 1 for 40 streak during which his average dropped to .111.  He "broke out" of the slump by getting a single off Christy Mathewson; not too shabby.

As pathetic as his offense was, Bill survived because the Deadball Era placed a premium on a good fielding catcher with a strong arm at time when teams played for one run at a time and liberally employed the stolen base and hit and run play.  Bergen also had the reputation as a pleasant and personable guy and good teammate.

After leaving the major leagues, Bill played several seasons in the minors before returning to Worcester, Ma (the big city about 15 miles from North Brookfield) where he died in 1943.

Bill Bergen learned the trade of catching from his older brother Marty, whose own story is one of the most tragic in baseball's history.  After growing up and playing ball for his local independent club (where one of his teammates was Connie Mack) Marty made the majors in 1896 and for the next four years was the primary receiver for the Boston Beaneaters (later the Braves).

The Beaneaters fielded a strong team in those years, finishing 4th in 1896, 2nd in 1899, winning the National League pennant in 1897 and 1898, and Marty was considered a key factor in their success with the Sporting News calling him "the greatest throwing catcher the game ever produced".

Unlike his younger brother, Marty was also a passable hitter, with a lifetime batting average of .265, on base percentage of .299, and slugging .347, all somewhat below normal for that era, but not atrociously bad like Bill.

However, also unlike his younger brother, Marty was not pleasant, personable, nor a good teammate.  From his SABR biography here are just a few of the troubling aspects of Marty's personality:
“Martin Bergen, the young backstop…is unpopular with his fellow players on the Boston team. Bergen is a sullen, sarcastic chap, never associates with the players, and always nurses a fancied grievance. His disposition handicaps his playing talents.”

Near the end of the 1898 season, Bergen threatened his teammates after an altercation on the bench. He declared that he would “club them to death” at the end of the season. He slapped teammate Vic Willis in a St. Louis hotel dining room.

Another wire article described Bergen as, “the hardest man in the National League to manage.” The writer described Bergen as “the erratic catcher of the Boston club, who has deserted the club annually since his connection with it and always at a time when his services were most needed. His grievances are fanciful. Of a moody disposition he imagines that his fellow players are leagued against him and are intent on bringing about his downfall. The contrary is the case. Manager Selee and his players have treated the great backstop with unusual consideration.”

According to The Boston Braves: 1871-1953, by the end of 1899 some did not want him to return to the club, plus several were seriously concerned about their safety around the disgruntled player.
Marty returned to his wife and two children in North Brookfield at the end of the 1899 season.  That fall, his local physician Dr Dionne, concerned about his patient's health visited Marty's home.  According to Dionne's later statements:
He confessed to Dionne that he had “strange ideas” and said he was afraid that he was “not right in the head.” Bergen admitted that he couldn’t remember much about the past baseball season. All he remembered was that a man came up to him after his last game and congratulated him on a fine performance and gave him a cigar. Bergen was afraid to smoke the cigar because he believed it was poisoned. He was also concerned that Dionne and his wife were trying to poison him. He refused to take any medicine they gave him if he didn’t first mix it himself.
Shortly thereafter, Bergen became convinced the National League was paying Dr Dionne to kill him.

On the cold morning of January 19, 1900, Marty awoke early and began to prepare to light a fire in the stove.  He never lit the fire, instead picking up an axe.  He killed his wife with the blunt side of the axe as she struggled to get out of bed.  Marty then murdered his three year old son in bed with the sharp end and cornered his six year old daughter in the kitchen killing her with the blunt side.  Standing in front of the kitchen mirror, Marty cut his throat with a razor, falling dead next to his daughter.  The family was found later that day by Marty's father.

The only ballplayers to attend the Bergen family funeral on January 28 were Sliding Billy Hamilton, centerfielder for the Beaneaters and later Hall of Famer, and Connie Mack.

The next year Bill Bergen made his major league debut.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Watch What You Say

The scene is from The Lives of Others (2006), a film set in the East Germany of the 1980s.  It takes place in the cafeteria of the Stasi, the security police of the communist state.  The young man sitting down at the table is a Stasi trainee.  The two older men at the table next to him are senior Stasi officials.

There are increasing swathes of American life where this same scene is being played out.