Monday, December 30, 2019

Cool Rides

San Antonio, Christmas season 1939.  1940 Plymouth facing camera, 1936 Dodge near garage, 1934 Ford near gas pumps on right.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Good Reading (2019)

I saw one of those "list your 5 favorite books you read in 2019" things online which sparked this list, a couple of which I've mentioned before, so in case you are looking for something to read:

The Path to Power by Robert Caro.  The first of his 4 volume (to date) biography of Lyndon Johnson.  The best political biography I've ever read.  Worth reading even if you think you're not interested in LBJ or even hate him.  A riveting study of how political power is accumulated and exercised and the astonishing personal drive, energy, and ambition it takes to achieve.

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe.  The Troubles in Northern Ireland, an investigation into the disappearance of the mother of several young children during the 1970s, and a revealing and, at times, shocking story of the tangled loyalties and betrayals that took so many lives and changed the lives of those who survived.

In Hoffa’s Shadow by Jack Goldsmith. Goldsmith’s stepfather is Chuckie O’Brien who worked for Jimmy Hoffa for decades and has long been suspected of involvement in his death. While I already knew Goldsmith as a Harvard Law School professor who led the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice during President GW Bush’s first term, I had no idea he was related to O’Brien. This is both an informative and touching story about the Hoffa years, the investigation of his death, and also of Goldsmith’s relationship with his stepfather, who he adored when growing up, disowned as a young man in order to further his career, and ultimately reconciled with.  It's also an expose of some of the FBI's more unsavory law enforcement techniques over the decade and its impact on how Goldsmith now thinks about government tactics in this area. And perhaps, perhaps, the reader will learn the truth about Chuckie O’Brien and Jimmy Hoffa.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The fictional story of a Russian nobleman who returns after the Revolution and in 1922 is sentenced to permanent residence in the Metropolitan Hotel in Moscow which, should he ever attempt to leave, will result in his execution.  At times charming, at times terrifying.

Labryinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The final book of his four volume The Shadow of the Wind series which I’ve read over the past two years. Set in Barcelona from the early 1920s to the early 1960s, it centers around a bookshop and a strange, hidden locale – The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Combines mystery, compelling characters, the tortured history of Spain during those years, and a touch of the Gothic (which I usually don’t care for but works here).

Friday, December 27, 2019

Don't Be A Kulak Day

Today is the 90th anniversary of Josef Stalin's declaration of war on the kulaks.  Or, as he put it in his own inimitable style on December 27, 1929, the goal of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was "liquidation of the kulaks as a class", adding "Now we have the opportunity to carry out a resolute offensive against the kulaks, break their resistance, eliminate them as a class and replace their production . . ."

On January 30, 1930 the Communist Party Politburo formalized the decision in a resolution entitled, "On measures for the elimination of kulak households in districts of comprehensive collectivization".  Under the resolution all kulak family members were to be placed in one of three categories:
To be executed or imprisoned
To be internally exiled to remote regions of the USSR
To be used as forced labor in their local regions
All kulak property was to be confiscated regardless of category.

The term "kulak" in the late Russian empire referred to peasants who owned at least 8 acres of land but after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 became more vague over the next decade, and by the time of Stalin's announcement meant any peasant who owned land or livestock, had tenants on their property, or sold surplus food on the open market.  Communists viewed these kulaks as obstacles to collectivization, accusing them of hoarding grain and livestock. Whatever an individual kulak believed or how they acted was irrelevant, as a class they needed to be eliminated.  To put it as Stalin thought about it, whatever a kulak subjectively thought or did, looking at it objectively (as Stalin did) they would ultimately be an opponent of true communism and needed to be dealt with in a preventative manner.

Stalin's announcement was not the first time kulaks were declared an enemy of the Bolsheviks.  In August 1918, during the Russian Civil War, as the Bolsheviks tried to gain control over the rebellious countryside, Lenin issued a directive:
"Hang (hang without fail, so the people see) no fewer than one hundred known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers. [...] Do it in such a way that for hundreds of versts [kilometers] around the people will see, tremble, know, shout: they are strangling and will strangle to death the bloodsucker kulaks".
No one has an accurate account of the numbers of kulaks killed or exiled as a result of the 1930 resolution.  Estimates of the dead range from 700,000 to several million (accounting is difficult since the dekulakization process overlaps with the related Soviet induced famine in the Ukraine during those years).  Documents examined after the fall of the USSR indicate that 1,803,392 persons were sent to labor camps in 1930 and 1931 with only 1,317.022 actually arriving at their destinations.

Economically, the agricultural sector of the USSR never recovered, with the Soviets needing to import grain and food stocks for the remainder of its existence.

Similar debacles occurred in every other communist state, though varying in the degree of violence, with the worst examples being Pol Pot's Cambodia and Mao's China.  Cambodia saw a quarter of its population die in four years, while Mao's anti-landlord campaign from 1949 to 1953 resulted in several million deaths.  I have a Chinese friend whose grandfather, a local landlord in the Shanghai area, was sentenced to 25 years hard labor after the communists came to power.  He died in a camp.  Decades later the family discovered that prior to Mao taking power in 1949, their grandfather had supported and helped fund the communists.  It didn't save him once they took power.  In a socialist world, class distinctions are much more important than individual actions.  The category your rulers place you in determines your fate.  A lesson to keep in mind.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Library Burns

About six in the morning of December 24, 1851, when the Captain of the Capitol Police unlocked the doors to the United States Capitol, everything seemed fine.  Two hours later, he smelled smoke and upon opening the doors to the Library of Congress, which in those days was housed in the Capitol, realized it was on fire.  Though great efforts were made to subdue the fire and save the contents of the library, almost everything in the main hall was destroyed - paintings, sculptures, and 35,000 of the 55,000 volume collection.  The cause was a faulty chimney flue.

It was not the first time the library burned.  Opened in 1800 in the nation's new capitol, by 1814 it contained about 3,000 volumes, all consumed in the fire set by the British when they briefly occupied the city in August 1814.  The seeds for the rebuilt collection were from Thomas Jefferson's library at Monticello which, I believe, was the largest private collection in the United States.  Immediately upon hearing of the congressional library's destruction, the former President offered to sell his books to the country.

Congress accepted the 6,487 volumes in January 1815, paying Jefferson $23,950.  It was a good deal both for the country and for the perpetually debt-ridden former president (who died in 1826 heavily indebted).  About 2/3 of the Jefferson collection was lost in the fire of 1851.

The restored library was reopened on August 23, 1853.

Excerpts from a contemporary account published in the National Era, a DC newspaper:

National Calamity

Our whole city is intensely excited by the great calamity which has just fallen upon the Capitol.  The Library of Congress, with its rich collection of valuable books, public documents, precious manuscripts, paintings, busts medals, and other works of art, is in ashes.

The loss to the nation is great, and, to a certain extent, irreparable. This was probably, on the whole, the best library in the United States; it was enriched by the choice collection of works brought together by the care, discrimination, and taste of Mr. Jefferson, and had been an object of deep interest and regard to successive intelligent committees of Congress, who were intrusted with the duty of superintending its management, and adding annually to its treasures.

During the sessions of Congress, the beautiful hall of the Library was the daily resort of the lovers of letters, science, and art, from every State of the Union, and from foreign lands, where they always met with the kindest attentions from the gentlemanly Librarian and his assistants, who never failed to open to visiters all the objects which would serve to gratify their taste, curiosity, and intelligence.

Great efforts were made, not only by the fire companies, but by all classes of our citizens, to save the Library: but in regard to the books, papers, and works of art, which occupied the main hall, their efforts were without success. A large portion of the contents of the smaller room is reported as saved, though not without damage. The fire companies had been fatigued by a fire at a late hour the night preceding, so that they arrived late, and much time was lost in bringing the engines to a position which would render their powers available.

We have been told that about thirty-five thousand volumes of books have been destroyed, the estimate being derived from the number saved, the contents of the Library being about fifty-five thousand volumes. A number of valuable and excellent paintings also perished. Of these, were portraits of the first five Presidents, by Stuart, an original portrait of Columbus, a second portrait of Columbus, one of Peyton Randolph, one of Baron Steuben, one of Baron de Kalb, with a fine picture of Cortez, and one of Judge Hanson, of Maryland.

The fine busts of Jefferson, Lafayette, and General Taylor, with a bronze one of Washington by Mills, are also rendered worthless. To repair as far as may be this loss, will require a large amount; and we hope, when this amount shall have been expended, all will be done that can be done by human invention to preserve the Library of the Nation.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Happy Hanukkah



Sunday, December 22, 2019

New Cannonball Record

On November 10 and 11 of this year, Arne Toman, Doug Tabutt, and Berkeley Chadwick set a new cross country Cannonball Run record of 27 hours and 25 minutes, driving from Manhattan to Los Angeles, achieving an average speed of 103mph, with a peak speed of 193mph.

The first Cannonball was run in 1971 and many times since.  It is, of course, highly illegal but it sure sounds like fun!  The trio drove a specially modified Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG.  Running the Cannonball doesn't just require modifying the engine, it also means changing the fuel system (they only stopped twice for fuel), as well as state of the art radar detection systems.  They also used a team of volunteer spotters across their route to spot law enforcement.

You can learn more from watching this highly entertaining video, at least entertaining for those of us who enjoy cars, speed, and thwarting law enforcement.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Rudie Can't Fail

Forty years ago this month, The Clash released their landmark double album London Calling, packed with great tunes including the title song, Guns of Brixton, The Right Profile, Lost In The Supermarket, Train In Vain, Spanish Bombs, Clampdown, and this ska/punk mashup:

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Why Wasn't The Clinton Campaign Investigated In 2016?

Sometimes the best way to determine bias is to look at what didn’t happen . . .

I am starting to slowly, very slowly, make my way through the 480 page report by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice regarding the FBI and DOJ role regarding the Russia investigation and the obtaining of four FISA warrants regarding Carter Page so I'm sure I'll have more to say on the matter, but having listened to IG Horowitz's Senate testimony and read analyses from the few sources I trust, there is no doubt he's confirmed what I've been writing about for the past year or so - we are seeing the biggest political scandal certainly of my lifetime, and perhaps in American history.

Having read the terms of reference from the report, a finding of political bias would only have been made if direct testimonial or documentary evidence was discovered (as in a document that said "I hate Trump, I know this is illegal, but will do anything to defeat him".  In his testimony Horowitz has consistently stated his report did not rule out bias, stating that the only explanations for the FBI/DOJ behavior were incompetence, gross negligence, or intentionality (bias) and he was not in a position to decide among the contenders.

I'll take a different approach and look at the dog that did not bark.
Using the standards employed by the FBI and DOJ in 2016 regarding the Trump campaign, for which the IG report has informed us that the standards for opening an investigation are very low, let’s look at Hillary Clinton and her campaign in that light:

During the 2016 campaign, one candidate employed a series of cut-outs to develop a dossier on the opposition candidate. The dossier claimed to include information sourced from Russian intelligence sources, information damaging to the reputation of the opposition candidate. At the same time, the candidate’s lead contractor (Fusion GPS) was representing a Kremlin-tied Russian oligarch in efforts to get the U.S. Congress to repeal sanctions damaging to Russia.

Contents of the dossier were leaked to the media, and representatives of the candidate met with FBI and DOJ officials in order to prompt them to take action against the opposition candidate based upon a dossier containing information from Russian intelligence, all in an effort to influence the 2016 election.

These were the actions of the Clinton, not Trump, campaign.

Now, let’s go back a few years to add some context that should have triggered further concern at the FBI and DOJ during 2016.

In 2008 both Democratic primary candidates (Obama and Clinton) denounced President Bush for damaging relations with Russia and Putin and both pledged to improve American relations with Russia.

In 2008 Putin openly endorsed Obama (the Kremlin hated McCain).

Upon becoming Secretary of State, H. Clinton proudly announced the “reset” in Russian relations, after blaming their breakdown solely on the actions of the prior administration.

During her term as SoS, H. Clinton urged American high tech companies to become involved in a new tech center in Moscow, touted as Russia’s version of Silicon Valley, a tech center which several years later was identified by American intelligence as a den of Russian technology spying.

During her term as SoS, H. Clinton approved the controversial transfer of ownership of 20 percent of America’s uranium supply to a Russian oligarch with Kremlin ties.

During her term as SoS, H. Clinton’s husband was paid $500,000 for a speech in Moscow and the Clinton Foundation received tens of millions of dollars in contributions from Russian oligarchs with Kremlin ties, including the one who ended up owning a portion of America’s uranium.

While still SoS, the Kremlin openly supported Obama’s 2012 reelection bid, in return for which Obama mocked Romney’s assertion that Russia was an enemy, and was caught on open mic promising Putin’s stooge that he would be more “flexible” after the election; positions supported by H. Clinton.

After H. Clinton left the SoS role, it was discovered that her private server, set up in violation of government regulations, was not secure, and government investigators concluded it was likely that hostile foreign governments had access to her communications. Was this just reckless behavior or was it designed to possibly allow the Russian government to have access?

There is certainly enough on the record to have justified the investigation of the Clinton campaign for potential coordination with the Russian government and, if such coordination occurred, to determine whether it was opportunistic, if Hillary Clinton had been compromised by the Russians, or was even a Russian asset.

When one looks at the skimpy and fraudulent justification for the Trump investigation, I think it fair to look at the Clinton campaign the same way. The difference in treatment during 2016 is strong evidence of political bias, particularly in light of the FBI Director's extraordinary action in deciding not to recommend pursuing criminal charges against candidate Clinton regarding her email server by reading an intent requirement into a statute that had no such requirement, less than a month before the official opening of the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Silo

We were twenty five miles south of Tucson, off I-19 the road to Nogales, Mexico.  To the east, we could see a striking range of sharp, ragged edged mountains looming above Green Valley.  To the north were the mountains behind distant Tucson.  A hundred feet below a control room where, from 1963 to 1982, two keys could be turned and 58 seconds later a Titan II missile emerge from a silo under us, a missile which 30 minutes later would deliver a 9 megaton nuclear warhead (500 times the explosive power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945) to a target in the Soviet Union.

The THC Son and I were visiting the only intact Titan II missile silo remaining (including an actual Titan II), the rest decommissioned and destroyed even to be inoperable. It was a reminder of the era in which I grew up, in which a nuclear armageddon was always looming, with global destruction minutes away.  In the backs of all of our minds was the notion of a catastrophic end to civilization.  No one foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union without war.  Thank God we made it through and can visit the silo as the relic of a past era.

Only 54 Titan II's were ever operational.  During the same time frame the U.S. installed about 1,000 Minutemen missiles, each of which was ultimately equipped with three warheads, capable of independent targeting, each of which had only about 1/20 the payload of the Titan II.

The Titan II was installed in three groupings of 18 missiles each, located in Arkansas, Kansas, and the Tucson area.  The 18 Tucson missiles were installed over a region about the size of the state of Rhode Island, controlled operationally from Davis-Monathan Air Force Base on the outskirts of the city.  In the event of a Soviet strike Tucson would have been the target of a massive nuclear attack.

The installation consists of three sections.  You enter through a staircase and go through two sets of massive steel doors in order to enter a 250 walkway that extend from the command center to the missile silo.

The command center sits on massive springs designed to isolate the area from the outside of the chamber.  The reason was so it could survive a nearby nuclear strike.  At the other end of the walkway was the 140 tall missile silo.

The commanding officer and their subordinate each had a launch key for two switches separated by several feet.  Both keys had to be installed and turned in order to start the launch sequence.  From the keys turning to launch only took 58 seconds.  If, in the interval, the President reversed his order to launch there was nothing that could be done to stop the sequence.

The Titan II was fueled by two highly flammable and explosive chemicals, which needed to be delivered and stored separately.  Operation and maintenance was very dangerous.  During its years of service 58 contractors died in accidents, 53 in one incident I was startled to learn about for the first time.  I'm shocked by the scale of this disaster and have been unable to determine whether it was publicly reported at the time.

On August 9, 1965 55 civilian contractors were performing maintenance in a silo near Searcy, Arkansas.  A ruptured line ignited a fire, generating toxic smoke.  Only 2 of the contractors survived.  You can find the recollections of one of the survivors in this 2015 newspaper article.  I also located an extensive incident report which you can find here.  Although the military blamed the accident on sloppy practices by the contractor, this passage jumped out at me:
Project YARD FENCE modifications included the flushing of Hydraulic System 2, located on Level 6 of the sile. The flushing system had been operating at 500 pounds per square inch pressure with a flow of 110 gallons per minute through a pari of hoses leading from the surface hydraulic reservoir and pubp. At the time of the accident, these hoses were arrached to the Hydraulic System 2 panel on Level 2 quadrant 4. The hoses ran within 14 inches of a welding operator who was attaching a triangular stiffener plate to the existing web stiffener on a support for the Motor Control Center 1 platform. The contractor personnel locator board showed the welder to be on Level 3. The location of the weld was in an extremely awkward position that was only accessible working from Level 2, kneeling on the floor, leaning through the guardrails, and reaching around the hydraulic lines to the stiffener plate. A hardhat located on Level 2 at the welding operation site confirmed that the welder had been on Level 2.

The accidental contact of the welding rod to the hose caused the failure of the exterior metal braiding. Thus weakened, the braiding no longer prevented the interior teflon hose from rupturing, spraying, and atomizing the fluid into a mist that permeated Levels 2 and 3. The heat for the just welded fixture or the heat from the electrode touching the metal braiding was significantly higher than the 200 degree fahrenheit flash point of the fluid and served as the ignition point. 
 I've been involved in accident investigations and it looks to me like the root cause was in the design of equipment within the silo, with the proximity of the hydraulic lines to the stiffener plate and in such a configuration as to force the welder to perform his operation in an awkward position with very little tolerance for error. This was an accident waiting to happen. I've been unable to find if the DoD redesigned the configuration after the incident.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

My Friend

I've waited to write this to give me time to regain my bearings.  Early December was the most emotionally up and down period of my life.  On the evening of December 2 our first grandchild was born (the little dude is doing just fine - definitely best baby ever).  The next morning our daughter joked that with his curly hair and big round face he looked just like my best friend.  The following day my best friend of 50 years suddenly died and I flew back East to be with his family.

Larry (or Chunky as I knew him) Church was best man at our wedding (his only words of advice before the ceremony, "don't lock your knees") and the guy I did all the ballpark tours with (in 2019, having run out of ballparks, we did WW2 museums) and our last conversation over Thanksgiving was to plan our 2020 trip (Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, the Little Bighorn Battlefield and then Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments).

I still remember my first encounter with him in February 1968 and so much more over the ensuing decades.  Driving cross country in 1972 with our late friend Rags; listening to a lot of loud music throughout, celebrating births of children and significant events in our lives; rooming with his dad for almost a year in 1999-2000 in the old Church family home when I was starting a new job in CT; during our years back in CT a zillion holiday dinners and meals out (many at Savin Roasters in Milford) with Barb, Chunk and his wife Beth (whom I've known since we were both 8 years old).  Endless discussions of history, rock n roll, and, of course, baseball, attending the Red Sox victory parade in 2004, and being in Fenway in 2013 when the Sox won the World Series.  And so much more.

All this amid a continuing torrent of talk and stories from Chunk (though as the years went by I learned to hold my own - at least I told myself that).  At the funeral service his brother Randy eulogized him as "the Babe Ruth of talk and conversation", a perfect description.  Did I mention the endless puns, both good and bad, usually accompanied by an extraordinarily long build up?

He delighted in being confounding and a contrarian, but always with a smile.  I am certain he would have enjoyed the funeral service at the Congregational Church presided over by both a Pastor and a Rabbi (with several other rabbis in the audience), a service filled both with laughter and tears, and kicked off with a rendition of It Ain't Necessarily So, which he once sang solo in the church (after asking the pastor's permission - if you don't know why, google the lyrics), but then he left us a lot of material to work with. 

How he touched people during his life was demonstrated by the turnout for his service; a church filled to overflowing.  I'm a fan of Michael Connelly's novels featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosch.  Bosch has a mantra, "Everybody counts, or nobody counts".  It was the same for Chunk in both his personal life and career as a lawyer.  When you were with him, you had his full attention, he listened, he took you seriously, and you could count on him (except to be on time!).  And always with cordiality and courtesy.

As my friend Mark Gerhard said, "Love is everywhere and Chunky spread it like sunshine".  (Mark's 94 year old mother wrote a lovely tribute published in the local paper)

For me, I find myself reading or watching something and, as happened so frequently for so long, thinking, "I need to tell Chunk about that."  I miss my friend.

Us in 1974
 At our daughter's wedding reception (2018)
 Dodger Stadium (2014)
 Quintessential Chunky
 Cover of our debut album (1972): Chunk on far left, Rags third from left, me third from right.
 Attorney Church in his summer attire
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Boris Actually

Boris Johnson's Conservative Party just won a yuuge victory over Labor, led by anti-semite Jeremy Corbyn.  Maybe this ad did it.  Apparently a spoof on a scene from the movie Love Actually which I've never seen.  And yes, that really is Boris Johnson.  

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Red Jacket

My dad was born on December 5, 1920. Dad loved wearing red; shirts, sweaters, pants, hats, and for the last decade or so of his life, a bright red windbreaker jacket. Me, not so much. In fact I have always disliked wearing red. The closest I’d come was my blue Boston Red Sox cap with its red B.

Shortly after dad passed in 2014 my sister and I got together to go through his things. When we came across the red windbreaker I impulsively told her, “I’ll take it“. It was the only piece of his clothing I kept.

Now when we get cool mornings and evening in Arizona (yes, we do occasionally get them) I often put on dad’s red jacket before going out and each time I smile and remember. I often think of my first memory of him when I was 3 or 4. We are in the car, dad’s driving and he’s singing. Dad loved singing to my sister and I and he loved driving around. He had a standard repetoire – including I’ve Been Working On The Railroad, Skin a Marink a Dink, Take Me Out To The Ballgame, and all four military service songs. We learned them all, sang along and never tired of them. As I write this I can hear his soft and smooth singing voice. I’ve inherited his love of singing (I’m not very good but have a wider range of tunes) and, like him, enjoy going on drives with no particular destination in mind. And now my son has the same driving habits.

So I’ll continue to gladly make this exception to my aversion to red clothing. Just don’t ask me to wear anything else red.

And now we’re making new memories. Three days ago our first grandchild was born to our daughter and son-in-law. I wore the red jacket to the hospital. Dad would appreciate that.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Next Gen

The Next Gen family prototype arrived last night - the THC Grandson, our first grandchild.  Baby, along with the THC Daughter and Son-in-Law are all doing fine.  And so are the little dude's grandparents.  And, extra added bonus, the THC Son was in town for Thanksgiving and got to see his new nephew before leaving.  We are all very happy.