Saturday, February 29, 2020


Coronavirus prompts me to write something I've meant to do a post on for a while.  National priorities to avert catastrophes. By priorities I mean something I am willing to see the country spend considerable resources on in order to avert mass destruction and devastation, and for which we will not have adequate reaction time once it occurs.

Viral - Early detection, containment, and vaccines are a priority.  There will be other potential pandemics arising and some will have the potential to be much worse.
Bacterial - The need is to develop new antibiotics as so many of our existing ones are becoming less effective.

The probability of a devastating strike on Earth is small in any 100-year window but it is also an inevitable occurrence at some point as we know from the historical record.  Development of detection and destruction systems is essential - Bruce Willis and his roughneck crew may not be around the next time the need arises.

While I support the United States undertaking these efforts they would be easier if there is some degree of international cooperation.  The coronavirus crisis may make this more difficult.

The virus is going to bring to a head the discussions around globalization, trade and, specifically, China's role.  Since Xi's ascension to leadership in 2014, China has become more assertive in international affairs, becoming territorially aggressive, beginning to interfere in other countries, becoming bolder in stealing intellectual property and seeking to dominate world trade rather than being a major participant and beneficiary.  We've seen the Trump administration push back on the economic side of the equation and the European Union has belatedly, and more cautiously, joined in.

This latest crisis highlights the lack of trust we have in the Chinese government in terms of its handling, and the possible origins of the virus, and our dependency on China as a critical part of the supply chain for the Western World.  I think this will accelerate efforts to decouple Western economies for China and, at a minimum, make sure we have domestic capacity to produce critical items.  If that happens China is not going to react well which will increase tensions further and may make even more difficult international cooperation on the big issues listed above.

You might notice that climate change is not on my list.  That is because its consequences, whatever they may be and whatever else you may be hearing, are not catastrophic.  It is not an extinction event, changes will be gradual over decades, and there will be time to adjust.   Even the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which issues the "official" report every few years estimates that under the most dire circumstances global GDP will be about 8% less than it would have otherwise been in 2100.  Though that is trillions in shortfall the models predict a much wealthier world even with climate change.

Moreover, most of what you read (including the latest US Climate Assessment) uses IPPC modeling scenario 8.5 which predicts global CO2 emissions far above current trends.  The scenario was a "worst case" when developed 15 years ago and its predictions are even further divorced from reality today.  It is designed to provoke scare scenarios.  Other IPPC scenarios more in line with current emission trends show temperature increases that are more moderate and impacts less severe.  Despite this most academic studies are based upon scenario 8.5.  

For a more detailed discussion on the background and implications of the use and misuse of this scenario you can read these pieces by Roger Pielke Jr here and here and here.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Baroque Rock

Perhaps "Classical" classic rock might be a better term but, in any event, the origins and brief heyday of this pop mode are in the mid-60s, when musicians began incorporating melodies, instrumentation, and arrangements from Baroque and the Romantic periods into popular music.  I still enjoy the sound of these recordings.

It starts in the fall of 1965 with the near simultaneous release of Yesterday by The Beatles and Lovers Concerto by the Motown group, The Toys.  Both became immediate smash hits - on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart for October 30, 1965, Yesterday is #1 and Lovers Concerto #2.  Yesterday, featuring just Paul on vocals backed by a string quartet, was a startling departure for The Beatles and rock music in general.  As for Lovers Concerto, while the instrumentation was pure Motown, the melody came directly from Minuet in G Major by Christian Penzold (1677-1733) a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach.

In December, The Beatles released Rubber Soul containing In My Life with its unusual harpsichord solo, a baroque instrument which began to see more use in pop songs.  That same month, the Rolling Stones, at the beginning of their imitative Beatles phase and after, no doubt prodding by their panicked manager and producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, decided to mimic Yesterday by releasing a string sweetened version of As Tears Go By, originally written for, and released by, Marianne Faithful, the year before but with a more pop/folk arrangement.

July 1966 saw the release of what many regard as the quintessential baroque rock song, the melancholy Walk Away Renee by the Left Banke:
Just walk away Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
Now as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me it cries
The Left Banke followed this up with one more baroque single in late 1966 before breaking up, Pretty Ballerina with its gorgeous oboe solo.

The month after Walk Away Renee was issued Revolver by The Beatles hit the airwaves with two entries in this category, the best known being Eleanor Rigby, recognized as a remarkable accomplishment at the time, along with For No One.  The version below of Eleanor Rigby is a reimagining, using the original recorded tracks, created by Giles Martin (son of George) with the approval of Paul & Ringo for the Cirquedu Soleil show Love which is based upon the music of The Beatles.

1967 and early 1968 saw the last burst of the initial wave of baroque rock.  May saw the release of Procol Harum's first single A White Shade of Pale, a monster worldwide hit with a majestic vocal from Gary Brooker and would reprise elements of the sound in 1969's A Salty Dog.

The end of the year saw the release of Harry Nilsson's album, Pandemonium Shadow Show (named in homage to the strange and disturbing traveling circus at the center of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes) featuring, among other tunes, Without Her, with a wonderful arrangement of strings and woodwinds.

Child Is Father To The Man, the debut album of Blood, Sweat & Tears released in February 1968, produced by John Simon (who also produced the first two albums by The Band) and arranged by the band's founder Al Kooper, remains one of the best sounding albums of the 60s.  Kooper put together a talented group of musicians to create a unique blend of rock, pop, blues, and jazz and had a great ear for new songwriters finding tunes by little known, at the time, composers Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, and Tim Buckley, and he was also a good songwriter in his own right.  Unfortunately, Al couldn't sing a lick and his stubborn insistence of being lead vocalist led, after the album's release, to a revolt by the other band members and eviction from his own group, after which they recruited David Clayton-Thomas as vocalist and went on to great commercial success, though in my estimate the first album with Kooper remains their finest despite his vocal limitations.

The result was an eclectic collection of songs with the oddest being a Kooper composition, The Modern Adventures of Plato, Diogenes, and Freud, with the string arrangement making an appropriate capstone to this era.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Johnny Appleseed

From Joe Strummer (better known for his earlier work with The Clash) & the Mescaleros.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Working With The Materials At Hand

“I suppose a great statesman should use in the best way he can the worst materials as well as the best that are within his reach and, if possible, make them all subserve the great purposes he has to accomplish.”
Major General John Schofield, Forty-Six Years in the Army
I found the quote from Schofield in a new book, Caught in the Maelstrom by Clint Crowe, about the Indian Nations in what is now Oklahoma, during the Civil War.

After serving in the Trans-Mississippi (including Oklahoma) and later under Sherman and Thomas, Schofield became Secretary of War for several months under Presidents Johnson and Grant and, from 1888 to 1895, Commanding General, United States Army. The context of the quote was Schofield’s recounting of his struggles with corrupt Union politican/generals and contractors who defrauded both the army and Indian allies and of President Lincoln’s actions and inactions in dealing with the bad actors.

Schofield’s observation points to an ever present tension and challenge in political leadership.

Caught in the Maelstrom tells the tale of the Indian nations caught up in the tumult of the Civil War.  The tribes themselves, predominately Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Creek, were themselves divided, as some of them were slaveowners and indeed, several, including the Cherokee, initially decided to support the Confederacy.

Those divides, in which pure blood Indians tended to side with the Federals and mixed-breeds with the Confederacy, led to a civil war within the Civil War with organized Indian military units on both sides.  The only Indian to attain the rank of General during the war was Stand Watie, a Cherokee and commander of a Confederate cavalry unit.  Watie's was the last Confederate field unit to surrender, on June 23, 1865, ten weeks after Lee's surrender at Appomatoxx.

The corruption described in Crowe's book wasn't contained to just skimming off the top.  Most of the Indians' valuable cattle herds were rustled by Union connected thieves.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

One Shot

You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime 

Eminem, "Lose Yourself" 

AG William Barr has publicly stated he expects John Durham to complete his investigation in late spring or summer.  It is not the only ongoing investigation (see below) related to Russia.  Whether the Russia collusion hoax, the greatest political scandal of my lifetime, involved just unethical, biased, incompetent and grossly negligent behavior or also included illegality remains to be seen, but this is the one shot to get this done.

In completing the task, Barr faces some headwinds, three regarding completion of the investigation and fourth, the ability to followup on the results.


The sheer number of threads to the Russia collusion issue, and the number of investigations connected to it, makes this a huge undertaking. We have the announced investigations into the origins of the Russia collusion story, the Flynn prosecution, and activities in the Ukraine during 2016, and it is unclear to what extent other topics which could easily be included are, in fact, part of ongoing investigations such as the Mueller team probe, the Obama administration “unmasking” in 2016, any connection between Obama administration Section 702 surveillance abuses and the Russia matter, and the connection between the effort to clear Hillary Clinton in the email matter in order to free her to take on Trump in 2016. It’s easy enough for all of us to have our opinions (I sure do), it’s a lot harder to be slogging through the terrain facing enemy fire and obstacles while capturing the details needed to make a case. The complexity is compounded by the next factor.

Mueller could have filled his Goon Squad a hundred times over with willing and trustworthy partisan volunteers from Justice and the intelligence community. Barr, Durham, and now Jensen are in much different situations. They have few upon whom they can place their reliance and trust and are also capable investigators and lawyers. They’re in enemy territory surrounded by government employees just looking for a way to take them down. My guess is they are by necessity working with very small teams which further extends the time frame for completing the work.

The President 

The question is whether Barr can put up with the President's tweets and lack of discipline long enough to bring this to a conclusion.  He's already told the President to knock off tweeting about pending cases and then, just this morning, Trump was tweeting about the need for a retrial of Roger Stone.  I suppose the President thought he was being clever by quoting that idiot Andrew Napolitano, but Barr may reach a breaking point.  If he goes, there is no ready successor who knows the bureaucracy, understands the extent of the rot exposed by the Russia collusion hoax, has the guts to take it on, and can be quickly confirmed.*

The Election

Even if there is a report and indictments prior to the election any trials, needed agency reforms, reorganizations, and firing of embedded partisans will have barely started by January 20, 2021. If Donald Trump is not re-elected you can count on this whole scandal being flushed down the memory hole as if it never existed. If there is no accountability for what happened it will be impossible for any future President to govern if the federal bureaucracy does not approve of them; it means an end to a functioning democratic republic; it means the bureaucrats who see the Federal government as THEIR possession, not that of the American people, will have won.

That Barr's efforts are shaking up The Resistance is demonstrated by the increasingly hysterical attempts to quash and undermine his investigations as demonstrated by the recent letter from ex-DOJ employees demanding Barr's resignation.  The know their world is at risk from those investigations and they must be thwarted, by any means necessary.  Their reaction also demonstrates the truth in Holman Jenkins' observation about Trump's opponents:
To show what a liar he is, his enemies entangle themselves in lies.  Democrats have turned themselves into a party of Adam Schiffs, who, whatever his previous virtues, now is wholly defined by his promotion of the collusion canard. 

Ditto the media.  In their eagerness to traffic in falsehoods about Mr Trump, his media critics lend him strength.  We face the weird prospect now of a world-class scandal involving the FBI and the intelligence community being aired even while much of the press is committed to being part of the coverup. 
It didn't bother the signatories to the letter when AG Eric Holder proudly proclaimed himself President Obama's wingman and demonstrated the truth of that statement time after time.

It didn't bother them when President Obama obstructed justice by proclaiming Hillary Clinton's innocence on 60 Minutes in the midst of an ongoing investigation.  Where were the calls for Special Counsel to be appointed because the integrity of DOJ had been compromised by Obama's actions?

It didn't bother them when 43 Inspector Generals of federal agencies sent an unprecedented open letter to Congress in 2014 complaining of the Obama administration's obstruction of ongoing investigations, obstruction spearheaded by DOJ.

It didn't bother them when AG Holder was found in Contempt of Congress for failure to produce documents in order to carry out his missions as the President's wingman.

It didn't bother them when AG Holder smothered the investigation into the attack by Democratic partisans embedded at the IRS upon their political opponents.

It didn't bother them when the Russia collusion story, which they'd cheered on and accepted uncritically for three years collapsed, exposing at best incompetence, gross negligence, and bias and at worst, criminality by DOJ and the intelligence agencies.

It didn't bother them when it turned out it was the Clinton campaign that had colluded with the Kremlin and then used that information to manipulate credulous employees of the FBI and DOJ to approve an investigation of their political opponent.

It didn't bother them when IG Horowitz's report on the FBI investigation exposed massive fraud in the obtaining of FISA warrants against members of the Trump campaign.

No, the only thing that bothered them is AG Barr objecting to four politically partisan prosecutors making a manifestly unfair sentencing recommendations.

The fact that more than 1,000 ex-DOJ employees signed this ridiculous letter proves how deep the rot is in DC.  It will take some strong and determined people to bleachbit** the bureaucracy and the only chance of that happening is if Donald Trump, with all his manifest flaws, is reelected.  We only have one shot.

*   This afternoon Trump had a good and, for him, reflective, comment regarding Barr:
"I do make his job harder. I do agree with that," Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews, where the president was preparing to fly to California. "He's a very straight shooter. We have a great attorney general and he's working very hard."
** Hillary reference

Monday, February 17, 2020

That Russia Thing: Unanswered Questions

There are many questions for which we still don’t know the answers regarding the Russian collusion hoax. Here are four critical questions about its origin which, if answered, would fill in a lot of the blanks and tell us if this fiasco involved "just" unethical conduct, bias, gullibility, gross negligence and incompetence or also included illegality.  After the Mueller report was issued I posted a much longer list of questions (which you can read here), some answered by the December 2019 IG report. At this point we can only hope Durham answers the questions below.

Who was Joseph Mifsud acting on behalf of and what was said in his meeting with George Papdopoulos?

The alleged content of the Mifsud-Papadopolous and Downer-Papadopoulos conversations was the predicate for the FBI opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation on July 31, 2016.

Mifsud was the Maltese academic, publicly connected with Western intelligence services (particularly British), who approached the young, naive wannabe and newly appointed Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopolous in March 2016. On April 26, 2016 they had a conversation in which Papadopolous says Mifsud told him the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousand of emails. Mifsud denied this when interviewed by the FBI.

The Mueller investigation found, no doubt to its frustration, no evidence that Papadopolous informed anyone else in the Trump campaign about any statement made by Mifsud regarding the Russians having dirt or emails regarding Clinton.

Here’s what we know about who Mifsud was not working for:
The Horowitz report found no evidence, including in FBI databases, that Mifsud was an informant for that agency.
The Mueller report found no evidence Mifsud was an asset of Russian intelligence or acting on its behalf.
There are three other possibilities:
Mifsud freelancing on his own behalf trying to enhance his reputation and make connections for the future.
Mifsud acting on behalf of a “friendly” Western intelligence agency worried about the foreign policy of a potential Trump Administration.
Mifsud acting directly, or indirectly, on behalf of an American intelligence agency.

Who was Alexander Downer acting on behalf of and what was said in his meeting with George Papadopoulos?

In early May 2016, Alexander Downer, a senior Australian diplomat with intelligence service experience and with links to the Clinton Foundation, invited Papadopolous to meet him in a London bar. During the conversation, which Papadopolous believes was recorded by Downer, he allegedy mentioned the emails obtained by the Russians – allegedly according to Downer that is, as Papadopolous denies discussing the subject with Downer. On July 26, 2016, Downer reported the conversation to the FBI claiming P had told him the Trump campaign had received indication from the Russian government it could assist the campaign by release of information damaging to Clinton. This report triggered the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

Note that P’s statement regarding his discussion with Mifsud does not mention any indication that the Russian could assist the campaign, while Downer makes that specific claim. Further, Downer stated he decided to report the conversation ten weeks after it occurred after hearing about the hacking and public release of the DNC emails which occurred in July. Both the Mueller report and the Horowitz IG report place the alleged Papadopolous-Mifsud conversation in the context of the DNC email hack while the more obvious context is Hillary Clinton’s emails that she had destroyed to thwart the investigation, an event which was publicly known in April. Most people, myself included, assumed the Russians and/or Chinese had the missing Clinton emails and would have assumed that was what Mifsud was referring to.
Why was a senior Australian official contacting a junior Trump staffer?

Was it on his own initiative or at the request of others?

Was his conversation recorded? If so, does it support the claims he made when later reporting it to the FBI?

Does the connection made by Mueller and the FBI between the conversations and the DNC hacking make sense or was it invented after the fact to justify the initiation of Crossfire Hurricane?

Can the discrepancies between the accounts of Papadopolous, Mifsud, and Downer regarding the Clinton emails be reconciled?

Did this all start with the intelligence community trying to get Michael Flynn?

I originally thought Flynn was a bad appointment, someone who’d made some careless mistakes between the time he left the Obama administration and joined the Trump administration. Looking back I was wrong. Flynn was one of the few people in the administration who was both a Trump supporter, not just someone who wanted to “manage” Trump, and knew how the DC bureaucracy worked. He would have been very helpful to the President in those initial months when he had almost no one around him he could trust and who knew how DC worked. And he was a danger to the intelligence community because he’d made clear that the current structure was inefficient, incompetent, and needed to be slimmed down which meant a loss of power, influence, and jobs for those agencies. He needed to be taken out of action.

There is some evidence this effort to take out Flynn started as long ago as 2015. The travails and smearing of Russian emigre and Cambridge academic Svetlana Lokhova may have been ground zero for this effort, and present at the inception was U.S. intelligence agency asset Stefan Halper who turns up later interacting with Papadopolous, Carter Page, and others in what appears to be efforts to entrap them.
Was there an effort to specifically “get” Flynn and his conversation with the Russian ambassador merely an opportunity to do so?

Was Stefan Halper tasked to do this and, if so, by whom?

What is the background to the January 2017 Intelligence Community assessment regarding Russian interference with the 2016 election?
How was the assessment completed unusually quickly – only a month after being requested by President Obama?

How were the analysts selected and by whom? Was this the normal process?

Why was the assessment limited to three agencies?

What was the underlying evidence for its conclusions? Was any of the underlying evidence part of the now discredited Steele Dossier?
[By the way, the appendix to the intelligence assessment asserts the Kremlin supports the anti-fracking movement in the U.S. – Putin must be very pleased with the Democratic candidates for the 2020 election.]

And as long as we are talking about Russia . . . two more things

One of the factors in the recently announced DOJ decision not to charge Andrew McCabe for making false statements in connection with his leaks regarding the investigation of the Clinton Foundation is the difficulty in successfully prosecuting anyone seen as a opponent of Republicans in the District of Columbia (for some good analysis on the decision read this and this).  Donald Trump received 4% of the District's vote in 2016.  Voters, and potential jurors, don't just dislike Trump, they hate him and view his administration as an illegitimate occupying force that has no business being in control of THEIR government.

With the ongoing investigations and the likelihood that most indictments would need to be filed in the District we are faced with a true challenge for democracy.  Is it possible to successfully prosecute opponents of Donald Trump in the nation's capital?  If not, we are in big trouble as a country.

Secondly, I'd been meaning to write about this but an article in Red State beat me to it.  It's about Dana Boente of DOJ, who is now General Counsel of the FBI and has been neck deep in dubious activities regarding the Russia probe.  The chronology outlined in the piece is accurate and yet another illustration of how difficult it is to untangle the efforts to try to unseat Trump and why those only relying on the anti-Trump advocacy of the media don't even begin to understand what happened.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Lights Out

Image result for betelgeuse star

Something is going on with red supergiant star Betelgeuse (not the guy in the movie).  It's getting unusually dimmer at an unprecedented rate.  Astronomers have already predicted that the star will explode in a supernova sometime in the next 100,000 years; perhaps it is entering its death throes.

Since Betelgeuse is 700 light years from Earth it is already possible it exploded at some point in the past seven centuries and we just don't know it you.  That time travel stuff is tricky.

Better keep an eye on things.  You can read more here.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Gentlemen

Director Guy Ritchie returns to the form he exhibited in his first films, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch (with a hilariously unintelligible Brad Pitt).  That's a good thing.  Like those movies, The Gentlemen mixes violence, comedy, and an incredibly twisted plot where you can't tell who is running what scam on who until the end.  And it is incredibly offensive by Woke standards, thanks goodness.

The Gentlemen takes awhile to get going, at least by Ritchie standards, but it's worth waiting for it to get rolling.  In the lead roles Matthew McConaughey and Charlie Hunnam are quite good but supporting actors Colin Farrell and an amazingly smarmy Hugh Grant steal the show.  And the elegant Michelle Dockery from Downton Abbey is a hoot as McConaughey's elegant but steely tough wife.  To say more would be to give too much away.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Same Old Serpent

On the occasion of the 211th anniversary of the birth of the Great Emancipator . . .

From speech given on July 10, 1858 by Abraham Lincoln at Chicago.  In responding to a speech by Stephen Douglas, Lincoln reminds us that the great proposition of the Declaration makes those who arrived in America after the War for Independence equal to those descended from the patriots who fought in that struggle and that it is a principle that admits no exceptions.

We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these [Independence Day] meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other, and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations.

But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration [loud and long continued applause], and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world. [Applause.]

Now, sirs, for the purpose of squaring things with this idea of “don’t care if slavery is voted up or voted down” [Douglas’s “popular sovereignty” position on the extension of slavery to the territories], for sustaining the Dred Scott decision [A voice—“Hit him again”], for holding that the Declaration of Independence did not mean anything at all, we have Judge Douglas giving his exposition of what the Declaration of Independence means, and we have him saying that the people of America are equal to the people of England. According to his construction, you Germans are not connected with it. Now I ask you in all soberness, if all these things, if indulged in, if ratified, if confirmed and endorsed, if taught to our children, and repeated to them, do not tend to rub out the sentiment of liberty in the country, and to transform this Government into a government of some other form. Those arguments that are made, that the inferior race are to be treated with as much allowance as they are capable of enjoying; that as much is to be done for them as their condition will allow. What are these arguments? They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of king-craft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden.

That is their argument, and this argument of the Judge [Douglas] is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent, and I hold if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man? If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it and tear it out! Who is so bold as to do it! [Voices—“me” “no one,” &c.] If it is not true let us tear it out! [cries of “no, no,”] let us stick to it then [cheers], let us stand firmly by it then. [Applause.]

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Man From The Train

On Monday morning June 10, 1912 a neighbor noticed the chores were not done at the Moore house and their chickens were squawking in the coop.  She knocked on the door, found it locked, and called Ross Moore, brother of the head of the Moore family, who had a key.  While waiting she was able to force open the door and went into the house.  Inside eight people lay dead, murdered by an axe wielding killer.

At the time, Villisca, Iowa, located in the southwestern corner of the state, was a town of about 2,000 people with Montgomery County in which it was situation having a population of 17,000.  For the prior twenty years the county averaged one homicide a year.

The Villisca murders remain unsolved.  The dead were Josiah Moore and his wife Sarah, well respected members of the community, along with their four children, and two young girls, friends of Moore's nine year old daughter, staying overnight at the house.  All had been struck, most multiple times, with the blunt side of an axe head, the murders evidently being committed during the night.

I normally don't read true crime books but made an exception for The Man From The Train because the authors are Bill James and his daughter Rachel McCarthy James.  Bill James is the father of baseball sabremetrics and someone of whom I've written several times on this blog.  He is also fascinated with unsolved murder mysteries and had already written a prior book on the topic when The Man From The Train was published in 2017.

Initially James started from the premise of trying to solve the Villisca murders but along the way the story became much bigger.  He and his daughter believe they have identified a previously unknown serial killer, active from 1898 through 1912, who slaughtered entire families across the U.S.  They identified fourteen attacks in which 59 people were murdered as definitely done by The Man From The Train, another seven attacks in which 30 died as probably by the same killer, and eight other incidents in which 27 died as possibly by the same man.

The name given to the killer derives from his pattern of arriving by train at isolated hamlets and small towns, getting off, murdering a family and then hoping another train, leaving before anyone realized a crime had been committed.  The murders were committed with the blunt end of an axe and usually around midnight.  James assembled a list of 33 common characteristics of the murders, some mundane, some puzzling, some perverse.

The Man From The Train combines an account of the killings, the detective work by Bill and Rachel to undercover the story, and a tale of America at the start of the 20th century.  Along with playing to Bill's analytical skills in examining each incident as to whether it was part of the pattern, the book explains well why a serial killer could operate without detection for so long.  It was an era before mass communication, when many small communities even lacked newspapers (particularly in the southeast), where police investigators were unknown.  The amateur nature of the investigations, combined with prejudice against the poor, the transient, and, in the south, against blacks led to terrible miscarriages of justice, including lynchings, legally sanctioned executions, and lengthy prison sentences for innocents.

At book's end the authors reveal what they believe to be the first killing in the series and the identity of The Man From The Train.

The James make a compelling case and I highly recommend the book.  My only reservation is that, at times, I find Bill's writing style, which has always been idiosyncratic, to be irritating and could have used an editor.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Redemption Song

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds
This is a wonderfully done new video version for Bob Marley's Redemption Song, recorded in 1980, a year before his death.  Johnny Cash and Joe Strummer did a stunning cover of the song in 2001, shortly before both of them passed.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020


From Ann Althouse this morning:
I remember when Trump was the weirdest thing around. But the reaction to Trump out-weirded him. 
Meanwhile, in Iowa, Democrats managed to suppress their own vote.  Weird.