Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Welcome To The Neighborhood

Residential street in Milwaukee.  June 1941.  Looks like a Stay at Home order was in effect.

Shady Pretty: 1941

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


Like many other folks, we are not getting out much.  Our daughter is an ER doc at two area hospitals so we are unable to see her, our new grandson, and son in law for a while because of the risk.  I've had a couple of days when, other than my daily 3 or 4 mile walk up and down our local hills, I haven't left our property.

Yesterday, we decided to take a drive out to Bartlett Lake.  There are only two natural lakes in the state, and Bartlett is not one of them, being formed by a dam on the Verde River.  Though it is only a 35 minute drive it feels like another world.  Fifteen minutes north of us the Phoenix metro area ends and beyond it's just mountains, hills and washes along the edge of the Sonoran Desert.

Not a lot of traffic and few people at the lake, so it was easy to keep our distance from people.  And we made sure not to pick up hitchhikers!  We've had a lot of rain this winter, so in a week or two the wild flowers along the road on the way to the lake will be spectacular.

The first photo below is on the road to the lake, about 8 miles away, the second from an overlook close to the lake.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Stairway To Dolly

Until a couple of days ago I had no idea this existed - Dolly Parton performing her version of Stairway To Heaven from a 2002 tour!  Reportedly, this is Robert Plant's favorite cover of the song.  Dolly brings a different feel to the tune, a mix of bluegrass and gospel (with a revival feeling at the end), and makes it her own, less mystical, more religious and inspiring in tone than the original.  And stick around and listen to her band play Dolly off the stage at the end.

Friday, March 20, 2020

A Few Thoughts

Regarding Mr Corona.

1.  The Chinese government could have prevented this.  I'm not talking about its handling of the virus when it broke out in Wuhan; the origin is years ago.  After the SARS outbreak in 2003 everyone was aware of the potential danger of a coronavirus pandemic and everyone knew SARS originated, and future coronavirus epidemics likely to originate, from the wildlife farms and wet markets of China.  I spent a lot of time in China from 2000 to 2011 and after SARS I was told the government would not shut down those farms and markets because it would cause too much social turmoil.  In investigating accidents we try to get to the root cause.  The root cause of this pandemic is the Chinese government's failure to take action years ago.  The world should demand China shut these farms and markets down*.

2.  Currently Chinese government media is sending three messages to its citizens and to the world.  First, that the government's handling of COVID-19 was a success.  Second, that China's action bought time for the rest of the world to get ready.  Third, the virus may have been caused by the United States.

The truth is China's bungled handling caused suffering for its own people and delayed recognition by the rest of the world about this dangerous situation.  The deliberately misleading messages by China's government only amplifies its responsibility for this outbreak.

3.  I believe if China is successful in reopening its country and economy can be done without another major outbreak of COVID-19 that is a good thing for the world because it shows it can be done.  I'd also felt confident we would know in a timely manner if there was a resurgence of the virus, despite China's efforts to control information.

I still feel we will know but we may learn less timely.  China's recent expulsion of Western reporters is critical, because they relied on a large string of Chinese stringers to help gather information and stories and try to figure out what is really going on.  Most of that is now gone.  In addition, China is taking even more steps to control all media and information in the country and going after dissenters more quickly than even a few months ago.

4.  With the exception of a few East Asian city-states and countries the rest of the world seems to have been caught flat-footed by the pandemic.  The United States passed legislation in 2003 (in response to the threat of bioterrorism after 9/11), subsequently amended in 2007 and 2013.  Over the past 17 years billions have been spent in what we were told was preparedness for a pandemic.  Yet, as we find now, the basics of medical response and care are completely inadequate.  Where are the stockpiles of N95 masks, surgical masks, face shields, respirators and many other basic items that would be required for any type of pandemic?  And this pandemic, as bad as it is, is far from the worst case.  We were woefully unprepared at so many levels for this.**

5.  Societal and business shutdowns are unsustainable for more than 2-4 weeks.  If we can buy a little time by slowing down the increase in cases in order to build up critical supplies, make progress on evaluating potential treatments, and plan better that's fine, but it is not a long-term solution.  To do this we need more than public health experts.  We need people experienced in logistics and project management.  And we've a history of incredible improvisation and creativity under pressure - we need to eliminate any roadblocks to unleash it.

The economic and human costs of shutting down are simply too great.  We are going to have to plan to phase in reopening the economy starting no later than mid-April.  While social distancing remains important, some semblance of normal life has to resume, even at potential risk to some (and as someone who is close to 70 with one of those underlying conditions placing one at higher risk, I still think it needs to be done).  It may mean older people and/or those with underlying conditions may have to remain relatively confined but the rest of the country cannot continue in shut-down mode because while, if successful, we can somewhat control the spread of COVID-19, it is not going away.

In announcing the New York shutdown yesterday Governor Cuomo made a grave mistake in describing his intent in doing so when he stated, “I want to be able to say to the people of New York — I did everything we could do, and if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”  Lives will be lost if no actions are taken but lives will also be lost whatever course of action is chosen.  That is why these are terrible times - there is a cost to any choice we make.  But choose we must.

And, longer term, some changes will be coming regarding globalization as well as requiring people across the political spectrums to rethink their prior assumptions.  More on that in a future post.

Some thoughts below from John Cochrane and Arnold Kling about both the "return to normalcy" and to what I think of as things that will not return to normal.

First up, Mr Cochrane
Shutting everything down and staying home for a few weeks is a sledgehammer. OK, our leaders have to hit a virus with a sledgehammer when they have nothing else up their sleeve. But it cannot last. Businesses will close, people will lose jobs, the economy will not be there to start up again.

Needed fast: a plan to open up the economy again in a virus-safe way.  Every business should be (and likely is) working hard to figure out how to operate in a virus-safe way. Federal state and local government need to be working 24 hours a day during the next few weeks to promulgate virus-safe practices. Not because they are particularly good at it, but because they are the ones shutting things down, and their permission is needed to reopen, fully or partly. People also will want the confidence to know that businesses they patronize are compliant. You've got two weeks -- figure out what combination of personal distancing, self-isolation, testing, cleaning, etc. will allow each kind of business to reopen, at least partially.

The option to force everyone to stay home and close all "non-essential" business for three or six months is simply not viable, at least for a disease something short of the bubonic plague. The option to wait two or three weeks and then start thinking about what it takes to allow, say, the local dry cleaner to reopen, which will take another month or so, is simply not viable.

Take two weeks. Find out who has it and who doesn't. Test test test. Isolate, put out the embers. And reopen. Slowly, cautiously, partly. But reopen.

I have kept public health and economics separate, but they no longer are. Shutting down the economy is a public health measure. The costs of this measure are astronomical -- at least a trillion dollars per month. As yourself what the government could have done with a trillion dollars to nip this in the bud. Please, next time, be ready. Massive testing, identifying cases, contact tracing, isolating areas with known cases, early and hard might have cost a lot of money and disruption. Even 100 billion dollars now looks like a very small sledgehammer. 
And now for Mr Kling
Game 1 is figuring out a winning strategy and executing it.
Game 2 is figuring out what you need to do to get a promotion.

In peacetime, the generals who rise to the top are the ones who play Game 2. In wartime, you need to find the Game 1 players.

The peacetime bureaucrats seem to be causing a lot of difficulty for the folks who are trying to play Game 1 against the virus. You need to find a way to route around them. There should be a Game 1 player to head up each of the following:

1. Hospital Logistics. Their job is to get hospitals the equipment they need, whatever it takes to do it. Presumably someone with a military background, although there is some expertise at places like Amazon.

2. Treatment Protocols. They should issue a “default protocol” for doctors to use if they want to use it. But they should encourage doctors who want to try different protocols to try them and document the results. You want to revise the “default protocol” as new information comes in.

3. Testing Strategy. Their job is to see that testing yields useful overall information in addition to information that is useful for individual treatment decisions.

4. Vaccine R&D. Eliminate roadblocks, direct funding.

5. International liason. Ensure that we learn from other countries and help them as much as we reasonably can.

6. Public Communications. Make sure that communication is clear and credible.

7. Financial Maintenance. Make sure that the priority is forbearance that works its way through to individuals and businesses. Not following the standard rule book.

*Though the high probability is the source of this particular coronavirus was a Wuhan wet market, there remains the possibility it originated in sloppy handling practices at China's only Level 4 Safety Biolab, which is known to have been doing research on coronaviruses, and is also located in Wuhan.

China has a string of incidents regarding safety failures at lower level labs, including the sale of lab animals by low paid technicians to local wet markets.

Research on coronaviruses, which is also done at labs in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere is conducted for purposes of developing vaccines and also can be done for bioweapons purposes.

** Some good news for Arizona today.  Gov Ducey announced arrival of first shipment from national stockpile including 60,000 N95 masks and 26,000 face shields.  According to news reports this is 25% of AZ's allocation from the stockpile.  If the stockpile is based on population that means it contains about 12 million N95 masks and 5 million face shields.  This sounds like a lot, but because this is one-use PPE it will be used up quickly if COVID-19 is a big as feared.  Hopefully, it is enough to buy time to get supply chains running at max in a few weeks.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


"Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others."

Winston Churchill

Monday, March 16, 2020

Baseball Withdrawal Syndrome

For those trying to cope with the postponement of the baseball season, I offer you this consolation.  This website contains radio broadcasts of hundreds of games from 1934 through 1973, starting with the 1934 All-Star game, the second ever played, at the Polo Grounds.  It was in this game that Giants hurler Carl Hubbell struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin, all future Hall of Famers, in succession, a feat that stunned the baseball world.  Enjoy!

Hubbell's famous sequence begins in the top of the 1st.  Lead off batter Charlies Gehringer hit a grounder past second baseman Frankie Frisch which was misplayed by centerfielder Wally Berger, allowing Gehringer to reach second on a close play.  Hubbell then walked Heinie Manush to put runners on first and second with Babe Ruth coming to the plate!  At that point player/manager Bill Terry and the other infielders gathered at the mound for a discussion.

Hubbell struck out the Babe on a called third strike and went to 3-2 on Lou Gehrig.  Gehrig swung and missed but Gehringer and Manush pulled off a double steal (another close call at third that led to a beef with the umpire) putting runners on second and third with Jimmie Foxx at bat.  Foxx went down swinging.

And I'd forgotten that Frankie Frisch led off the bottom of the 1st with a home run.  What a exciting start to the game!

In the top of the second, Hubbell struck out Simmons and Cronin before going to two strikes on Bill Dickey who then lashed a single.  Pitcher Lefty Gomez was then fanned by Hubbell.

In the introduction to the game the announcer mentions Babe Ruth's intention to retire at the end of the season.  Babe was coaxed out of retirement by a promise from the owner of the Boston Braves that he'd become the team manager, a promise made in bad faith, and the disappointed Ruth finally retired in June 1935 (for more see Babe Hits Three And Says Goodbye).

It really was a star-studded game.  All nine American League starters (and three of the reserves) are in the Hall of Fame as are all of the National League starters (along with five reserves) with the exception of Wally Berger.

An unusual aspect of the game from today's perspective is that three of the starters were player/managers: Bill Terry (Giants),  Frankie Frisch (Cardinals), and Joe Cronin (Senators).

I'm Not Talking

And that's what I got to say.

1965 recording by the Yardbirds.  That's Jeff Beck on guitar.  Jeff's predecessor as guitarist in the group was Eric Clapton.  A little later Beck was joined by Jimmy Page on guitar and then after Beck left, Page served as the solo guitarist for the band.

Composed by Moses Allison who also wrote Young Man Blues, later covered by The Who.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Change Game

In the fall of 1962 I watched on our black & white TV, along with my parents, the reports of violence at the University of Mississippi in protest of the enrollment of James Meredith as its first black student.  Updates came throughout the evening, we heard about the National Guard entering the campus, and the death of two people.

At the time I did not realize a significant and much more positive event regarding race relations took place only several months later, on March 15, 1963, involving Mississippi State University (MSU).

This was still a year before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when resistance against integration was still strong across the South.  Mississippi State fielded consistently strong basketball squads, winning the SEC championship in 1959, 1961, and 1962 but the state's unwritten policy prohibited them playing in the NCAA tournament where they would face integrated teams.

MSU won the SEC again in 1963.  This time coach James "Babe" McCarthy and university president Dean Colvard were determined their team would play in the tournament.  Despite their protests, the University Board and the Governor refused and a state judge was persuaded to issue a temporary injunction to prevent the team from leaving.  What happened next is told in an ESPN.com article:
But in perhaps the best end-around in sports history, Colvard directed McCarthy to head for the Tennessee state line and stay in Memphis while he traveled to Alabama for a speaking engagement to prevent the injunction from being served. The next day, an assistant coach ferried the freshmen and some of the reserve players to a private plane as decoys and, when they saw that the coast was clear, called for the rest of the team to join them.

"That was the nerve-racking part," Shows said. "We didn't have our coach. We didn't have half our team. We didn't know if we were going to be able to play the game. But it wasn't us boys. Don't build us up. It was Dr. Colvard and Coach McCarthy. Those two men had the backbone."

The plane carrying the players arrived in Nashville, where McCarthy and athletic director Wade Walker had flown into from Memphis. Reunited now, the MSU traveling party flew a commercial flight to East Lansing.
In a regional semifinal game on March 15, 1963 , Mississippi State played 24-2 Loyola, a squad with several black players.  Loyola won 61-51 and went on to win the national title.  When the Mississippi State squad returned home a postgame newspaper survey found that Mississippians were overwhelmingly in favor of letting the team play the game.

In the photo above Loyola captain Jerry Harkness (R) shakes hands with Mississippi State captain Joe Dan Gold (L).  Harkness and Gold later became friends and when Gold died in 2011, Harkness attended the funeral.  The photo above was placed next to his friend's casket.

Good Advice

And bipartisan!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

South Korea Response

There are countries and areas which took early action regarding the coronavirus and, to date, have been successful in preventing it from getting a foothold, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong.  There are countries which have reacted slowly and we are seeing the results, primarily in Europe, and the United States may also end up in that category.

China took late, and draconian, actions mostly impossible for many other countries, including ours, to replicate.

There is only one country where the illness began to take off but which seems to have substantially slowed the growth rate of new cases and that is South Korea.  As of this morning it has 8,086 with only 107 added in the past 24 hours.

Below is a summary from another source of the actions that country has taken, along with some fortunate circumstances that have helped.  Even with that, and with a younger profile and lower risk profile of active cases, the death rate is currently at 0.9% which is nine times higher than the rate for the average flu season and five times the rate the U.S. had during its most serious recent flu season (2017-18).

Public health measures carried out. South Korea has a population of 50 million compared to 330 million in the U.S.
  • over 200,000 tests carried out since testing started; the capacity to do 20,000 tests/day with 6-24 hour turnaround times
  • the innovation of drive-through test centers
  • swift deployment of telephone consulting services and thermal cameras set up in buildings and public places to detect fever
  • dedicated centers and hospitals centralize specialized equipment and personnel, while keeping the virus out of regular hospitals
Measures after infections exploded on the third week of Feb (from fewer than 60 on Feb 19 to 3150 by Feb 29), because of a chain of infections related to crowded services by a Christian sect, the Shincheonji:
  • widespread testing of the church’s 211,000 followers – priority testing on those w/ symptoms; then testing on those who were asymptomatic to ensure they weren’t latent carriers; description from a public official, “very aggressive case isolation & case tracking”
  • helped by the cooperation of a highly centralized religious organization w/c was able to provide the location of its facilities and the personal information of its members
  • case tracking via CCTV data mining and credit use patterns
The good luck:
  • By coincidence, on Dec 2019 public health officials did a “table-top exercise” on a coronavirus outbreak
  • the sect Shincheonji targets Koreans in their 20s and 30s, so the explosion from less than a hundred to more than 3,000 occurred among a less vulnerable segment of the population
Young people may not fall gravely ill and be less vulnerable, but they can clearly spread the virus to those who are vulnerable.

Addendum: It was precisely the South Korean government’s aggressive public health effort that enabled them to keep their cities open, including Daegu, the worst-hit by the virus and thus avoid the lockdowns China and Italy have had to impose.

Friday, March 13, 2020

It's Time For This

People are crazy
Times are strange
I'm locked up tight
I'm out of range
I used to care
But Things Have Changed

Thursday, March 12, 2020

More Twists And Turns?

President Trump looked and sounded terrible last night.  I've never seen him like that.  Maybe we was just tired but he's also been hanging around some foreign politicos who've now tested positive for the coronavirus.

And Joe Biden is mentally deteriorating in front of our eyes.

Is it possible by the time voters go to the poll in November neither one is a candidate?


The President's speech last night, that is.

I had no problem with any of the specific proposals the President made.  Many of them are needed.  But there was a giant hole in the middle - specific actions to stop gatherings and events with large numbers of people, whether legal under the President's authority or just strongly making recommendations and setting an example (stopping his rallies for two months and asking all politicians to do the same), were absent.

Stopping travel from Europe is fine but of marginal impact.  Travel is already collapsing.  The real issue is that COVID-19 is already here in the United States and widespread.  The most important issue for the country is taking steps to stop the exponential growth (case tripled in the past three days), make the top of the curve as low as possible, and bend the curve down.  The math is simple; every day is critical.  The failure to do so will put unbearable pressure on our healthcare system and deaths will skyrocket as we've seen in Italy.

The world is conducting a real time experiment in competing approaches to dealing with COVID-19.  China's draconian actions have stemmed its growth, at least for now.  We'll see what happens as that country reopens for business.  Using aggressive, but far less draconian, strategies Hong Kong, Taiwan, and now South Korea and others have had some success.  Italy was reactive and we are seeing the results; the rest of Europe sat around and watched for two weeks - in the past six days cases in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Spain increased sixfold and deaths/critical cases increased 8x.

The good news is that a lot of organizations are taking action on their own.  Yesterday morning we cancelled our monthly meeting of the Scottsdale Civil War Roundtable (I'm on the Board).  It seemed commonsense to us that bringing together 250 people (average age around 70) with a speaker who just got off a plane from Ohio was not a good idea.

This morning Mrs THC and I made our last supply run to Costco.  It was much more crowded than during our other recent visits.  It looks like yesterday's events (NBA, March Madness, Tom Hanks) may have created a needed tipping point, the moment when, as Martin Lawrence said to Will Smith in Bad Boys 2:

Stay safe!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Never A Story Of More Woe

In the prologue Shakespeare ensured we learn that Romeo and Juliet have died.  Seeing how they arrive at that fate makes for tragedy.  Tonight is episode 3 in Season 5 of Better Call Saul.  Having watched Breaking Bad we know the fate that awaits Jimmy McGill (aka Saul Goodman, aka Gene Takavic) and Mike Ehrmantraut but the knowing enhances the sense of tragedy surrounding the series.  It's entirely fitting that in a recent article Michael Brendan Dougherty concludes, "Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad prequel is the most heartbreaking drama ever to appear on TV."

This is the penultimate season of the show.  We've seen Mike (Jonathan Banks), a corrupt Philadelphia cop seek redemption for the death of his son by moving to Albuquerque and supporting his daughter in law and granddaughter but in doing so he's become deeply emeshed in criminal and increasingly violent activities at the direction of fast-food chicken franchise owner and meth kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), also a lead character in Breaking Bad.

Meanwhile small-time con man Jimmy has tried going straight, or as straight as he can, as a lawyer though being thwarted at every turn by his own stray instincts and his brother Chuck (brilliantly played by Michael McKean - David St Hubbins in Spinal Tap) a highly respected lawyer in one of the largest local firms.

While we know the fate of Mike and Jimmy, we don't know Jimmy's final fate as know from a series of flash-forward's to Jimmy's post Breaking Bad life as Gene Takavic, assistant manager of a Cinnabon in a Omaha mall, fearing every moment that someone will discover his real identity.

What we don't know are the fates of two new characters that we've grown to care deeply about.  Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) involved in the meth trade is an associate of Mike's and Gus Fring.  Yet he dislikes the business and is desperately trying to protect his father, who condemns what his son does but has been placed in danger because of it.  Nacho has an air of sadness and fatality about him.  And he does not appear in Breaking Bad.

Nor does Kim Wexler (the great Rhea Seehorn), Jimmy's fellow lawyer, friend, roommate, and kind of girlfriend.  She's the one person whose approval Jimmy values, at least at times.  She is also from the same kind of hardscrabble background but is more dedicated to the pursuit of the law and following the rules.  Every follower of the series prays nothing bad happens to Kim but we all know something happens to prevent her from appearing in Breaking Bad.  Daughtery tells us, "Showrunners report getting agonized letters and messages from fans pleading with them not to hurt her or bring her to an awful end".

The pace of Better Call Saul is slower and more methodical than Breaking Bad.  It takes it's time getting where it is going because the accumulation of detail is so important.  It's also because:
Vince Gilligan, the creator of the televisual worlds of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, has an unusual talent: he is brilliant at showing us work. What does it feel like to test fast-food sauce recipes, to push a mail cart around an office, to make a cement walkway, or to highlight relevant items in a laborious legal discovery process? What does it look like to cook up meth? In his hands, the work of men and women becomes weirdly gripping.
The law plays an important role in Better Come Saul.  For both Chuck McGill and Kim Wexler it provides structure and rules for lives that might have otherwise become chaotic.  In contrast, Jimmy McGill finds himself unable to abide by those constraints.  Tragedy lies ahead.

How Did Davy Die?

Three days ago marked the 184th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo in San Antonio.  This is a reworking of a post from several years ago . . .

James Bowie, William Travis and David Crockett ascended into legend with their deaths at the Alamo on March 6, 1836. We have a pretty good idea how the first two perished. Bowie, immobilized and delirious, likely with typhoid fever, was killed in his bed while Travis was shot in the head early in the fight while directing fire from a cannon on the north wall. But what about Crockett, who in 1836 was the only nationally known figure at the Alamo?
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/David_Crockett.jpg(David Crockett; Wikipedia)
David Crockett (he called himself David, not Davy) rode into San Antonio on February 8 as a former three term U.S. Congressman from Tennessee, who after being defeated in the last election declared “You can all go to Hell, I’m going to Texas” and set out to establish a new life. On his ride he was joined by about 30 friends and adventurers. Arriving after the revolution began, and finding land grants available for those joining the rebel forces, he and his compatriots quickly signed up.

Crockett though, was more than just a former Congressman. He was the first popular folk character from America’s west, and its most nationally known figure, other than Andrew Jackson.  David Crockett, born poor, a frontiersman, hunter and scout went into politics, initially as an ally of Jackson, and later as his fierce opponent over the distribution of federal lands and removal of the “civilized” Indian tribes from the southeast, a policy Crockett opposed, being the only Congressman in the southeast to vote against the funding measure (an opposition shown in the Disney series), and about which he wrote, “I believe it was a wicked, unjust measure“.

The character Davy Crockett, arriving in Washington in 1827, quickly became known for his entertaining storytelling and anecdotes and was converted into a figure of popular entertainment around whom myths and legends grew. Many plays were staged with Davy or a thinly disguised version of him as the centerpiece, the most popular of which, Lion Of The West, premiered in New York City. From 1835 through 1841 Davy Crockett’s Almanack was published and in 1834 Crockett added to his renown with the publication of A Narrative Of The Life Of David Crockett, Written By Himself which became a best seller and sparked a nationwide speaking tour (Crockett was particularly popular in New England).http://blog.nyhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Crockett_1837_32.jpg(From NY Historical Society)

Of Crockett’s actions during the siege, which began on February 23, we have little information; on the 25th Travis noted in a message to Sam Houston “The Hon. David Crockett was seen at all points, animating the men to do their duty“, and Susannah Dickinson remembered Crockett playing his fiddle to entertain the garrison. Did Crockett, by rank only a private, play a significant role in planning the defense and leading the men during the siege? It is impossible to know but the very limited evidence is suggestive since after the first two days Bowie was incapacitated with fever and Crockett a famous and popular figure two decades older than Travis.

Our best information, from early in the siege, is Crockett and his men were stationed behind a hastily erected wooden palisade fence that ran at an angle from the southwest corner of the Alamo mission church to the start of the south wall, making it a particularly vulnerable spot if attacked. In the darkness of early morning on March 6 the Mexican assault breached the north and south walls first and then swept across the open plaza as some of the surviving Texians retreated into the Long Barracks. The last rebels left out in the open would likely have been Crockett and his men near the church. Did they die fighting by the palisade? Did some try to seek refuge in the church? Had they moved their post by then? Or were Crockett and some of his men among the up to 60 Texians who may have tried to escape by going over the walls near the palisade only to be cut down on the open prairie by the mounted Mexican lancers waiting for them?
(The palisade at which Crockett and his men were stationed started at the right side – from the viewer perspective – of the Alamo mission church)

What are our sources for the end of the Alamo? There are several Mexican ones, of which more below. We also have accounts of various riders sent out with messages from the Alamo before March 3 and the stories of the few civilian survivors spared by Santa Ana, the most prominent of which were Joe, William Travis’ slave, and Susannah Dickinson, wife of one of the defenders. Joe was with Travis until he was killed then going into the church, joining Dickinson. Both Joe and Dickinson reported seeing Crockett’s body near the church, surrounded by dead Mexican soldiers, as they were being escorted out after the fighting ended. It remains unclear how long after the fighting ended this occurred, but their observations are consistent both with Crockett dying in combat or being executed at the end of the battle.

After that it gets murkier. The best account I’ve found is Sleuthing The Alamo by James E Crisp, a professor of history at North Carolina State University (and Texas native). Sleuthing The Alamo is an outstanding way to learn about how historians do their job. Crisp takes the controversy around Crockett’s death along with an alleged racist speech (which turned out not to be) by Sam Houston and brings you along for the ride as he traces the origins of various stories and documents, going back to the primary sources to get as near to the truth as possible. It’s a short, very illuminating book, written in an engaging personal and non-academic style.

After the fall of the Alamo various stories were quickly in circulation about the fate of Crockett, with some newspapers reporting he went down fighting, others claiming Davy was captured and executed, and a couple even reporting his escape!

There were two other events giving these reports some context.
  • On March 27 the Mexican army massacred about 350 Texians at the coastal town of Goliad. These soldiers had surrendered a few days earlier under a promise of clemency. The local Mexican commander, General Urrea, protested vigorously against the execution order from Santa Anna, who sent an officer from San Antonio to oversee the killing.
  • At San Jacinto on April 21, 1836 Sam Houston defeated a detachment of the Mexican army capturing several hundred men, including Santa Anna and other senior commanders, most of whom were imprisoned on Galveston Island until their return to Mexico.
As early as March 11 news reached the Texian army in Gonzales about the end at the Alamo. On that same day Sam Houston wrote a letter stating “After the fort was carried, seven men surrendered and called for Santa Anna and quarter. They were murdered by his order.

The June 9, 1836 edition of the New York Courier and Enquirer carried a letter from a correspondent in Galveston Bay who purported to convey an account from an eye witness:
After the Mexicans had got possession of the Alamo, the fighting had ceased, and it was clear day light, six Americans were discovered near the wall yet unconquered, and who were instantly surrounded and ordered by General Castrillon [a senior Mexican commander] to surrender, and who did so under a promise of his protection, finding resistance any longer in vain – indeed, perfect madness – Castrillon was brave and not cruel, and disposed to save them. He marched them up to that part of the fort where stood “his Excellency” [Santa Anna] . . . David Crockett was one of the six. The steady fearless step and undaunted tread, together with the bold demeanor of this hardy veteran -“his firmness and noble bearing“, to give the words of the narrator, had a most powerful effect on himself and Castrillon . . . Castrillon addressed “his Excellency” – “Sir, here are six prisoners I have taken alive; how shall I dispose of them?” Santa Anna looked at Castrillon fiercely, flew into a most violent rage, and replied “Have I not told you before how to dispose of them? Why do you bring them to me?” At the same time his brave officers drew and plunged their swords into the bosoms of their defenceless prisoners!!
Sergeant George Dolson served as an interpreter with the Texian army on Galveston Island. On July 18, his superior officer asked him to attend the deposition of an unnamed Mexican officer. The next day he wrote a letter to his brother in Michigan in which he described what happened, published by the Detroit Democratic Free Press in September (though no written record of the deposition has been found). Dolson wrote of the Mexican officer:
He states that on the morning the Alamo was captured, between the hours of five and six o’clock, General Castrillon, who fell at the battle of San Jacinto, entered the back room of the Alamo, and there found Crockett and five other Americans, who had defended it until defence was useless. They appeared very much agitated when the Mexican soldiers undertook to rush in after their General, but the humane General ordered his men to keep out, and, placing his hand on one breast, said “here is a hand and a heart to protect you; come with me to the General-in-Chief, and you shall be saved.” . . . The brave but unfortunate men were marched to the tent of Santa Anna. Colonel Crockett was in the rear, had his arms folded, and appeared bold as the lion as he passed my informant. Santa Anna’s interpreter knew Colonel Crockett, and said to my informant, “the one behind is the famous Crockett“. When brought in the presence of Santa Anna, Castrillon said to him, “Santa Anna, the august, I deliver up to you six brave prisoners of war.” Santa Anna replied, “who has given you orders to take prisoners, I do not want to see those men living – shoot them.” As the monster uttered these words each officer turned his face the other way, and the hellhounds of the tyrant dispatched the six in his presence, and within six feet of his person.
These stories of survivors being executed after the battle are also consistent with an account published in Mexico City in 1837 by Ramon Martinez Caro, Santa Anna’s personal secretary during the Texas campaign (though it does not mention Crockett):
Among the 183 killed there were five who were discovered by General Castrillon hiding after the assault. He took them immediately to the presence of His Excellency who had come up by this time. When he presented the prisoners he was severely reprimanded for not having killed them on the spot, after which [Santa Anna] turned his back upon Castrillon while the soldiers stepped out of their ranks and set upon the prisoners until they were killed . . . We all witnessed this outrage which humanity condemns but which was committed as described. This is a cruel truth, but I cannot omit it.
Caro had been imprisoned at Galveston. Could he have been the source for the Dolson letter?
Throughout the rest of the century and into the middle of the 20th there continued to be parallel stories of Crockett going down fighting, alongside those those of his being executed. The giant 1905 painting in the Texas Capital shows him swinging a musket as the Mexican soldiers closed in. At http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/alamo/crockett-alamo.jpgnearly the same time Teddy Roosevelt described Crockett’s last minutes in his 1895 book, Hero Tales From American History (as quoted in Crisp’s book):
. . . the last man stood at bay. It was old Davy Crockett. Wounded in a dozen places, he faced his foes with his back to the wall, ringed around by the bodies of the men he had slain. So desperate was the fight he waged, that the Mexicans who thronged round him were beaten back for the moment, and no one dared to run in upon him. Accordingly . . . the musketeers loaded their carbines and shot him down. Santa Anna declined to give him mercy. Some say that when Crockett fell from his wounds, he was taken alive, and was then shot by Santa Anna’s order; but his fate cannot be told with certainty, for not a single American was left alive.
And, as late as 1934 the frontispiece of the popular book The Adventures of Davy Crockett was a painting of a bound Crockett being brought to Santa Anna (below).
In 1955 two events happened that transformed the Crockett story. One had an immediate impact; the other was a time bomb that would detonate two decades later.

The first was the broadcast of Walt Disney’s three part series, Davy Crockett: King Of The Wild Frontier which transfixed the American public, including 4-year old Gumby Mark. The series ended with Davy fighting to the end against the Mexican attackers. Disney established an indelible image in our minds of an heroic Davy who would never surrender, and it was an image we liked.

The second was the publication in Mexico City of the diary of Jose Enrique de la Pena by Jesus Sanchez Garza. De la Pena (1807-40), a Colonel in the Mexican army, was present at the Alamo. How the diary (or more properly an account based upon diary entries) came into Garza’s hands has never been determined. The publication received little notice in the United States at the time, but controversy about it exploded in 1975 when an English translation by Carmen Perry was published. I’ve read the 1997 edition of the translation with an introduction by Professor Crisp, published as With Santa Anna In Texas.

Before discussing de la Pena, there was another Mexican memoir first published in 1966. Lieutenant Colonel Jose Juan Sanchez Navarro briefly mentions the attack: “by six-thirty in the morning not a single enemy existed . . . some cruelties horrified me among them the death of an oldster whom they called Cocran“. While there was a Texian defender named Robert Cochran he was only twenty six years old. Could Navarro have been referring to Crockett who would have turned 50 that year and was one of the oldest Texians in the Alamo?

And what does de la Pena have to say?
Some seven men had survived the general carnage and, under the protection of General Castrillon, they were brought before Santa Ana. Among them was one of great stature, well proportioned, with regular features, in whose face there was the imprint of adversity, but in whom one also noticed a degree of resignation and nobility that did him honor. He was the naturalist David Croket, well known in North America for his unusual adventures, who had undertaken to explore the country and who finding himself in Bejar at the very moment of surprise, had taken refuge in the Alamo, fearing that his status as a foreigner might not be respected. Santa Anna answered Castrillon’s intervention with a gesture of indignation and, addressing himself to the sappers, the troops closest to him, ordered that they shoot them. The commanders and officers were outraged at this action and did not support the order, hoping that once the fury of the moment had blown over these men would be spared; but several officers who were around the president and who, perhaps, had not been present during the moment of danger, became noteworthy by an infamous deed, surpassing the soldiers in cruelty.They thrust themselves forward, in order to flatter their commander, and with swords in hand, fell upon these unfortunate, defenseless men just as a tiger leaps upon his prey. Though tortured before they were killed, these unfortunates died without complaining and without humiliating themselves before their torturers. It was rumored that General Sesma was one of them; I will not bear witness to this, for though present, I turned away horrified in order not to witness such a barbarous scene. . . I confess that the very memory of it makes me tremble and that my ear can still hear the penetrating, doleful sound of the victims.
Close-up of the top of the José Enrique de la Peña Narrative Top(Section of the de la Pena manuscript mentioning “Croket” in fifth line)

The 1975 publication found fertile ground in the turmoil of that decade, setting off heated debate between revisionist historians, who delightedly took it as proof the beloved hero was a sniveling coward and used the diary’s claims as part of a more general attack on American values and traditions, and those who insisted that an American hero like Crockett would have fought to the death rather than surrender and de la Pena’s claims must therefore be fraudulent. The debate over the legitimacy of the diary and of de la Pena’s writings about Crockett continues to this day, though it probably peaked in the 1990s.

Taking the account on its face, why would de la Pena, who by 1837 was in prison, write it? The edition I read is about 190 pages of which less than one page contains the Crockett account and the entire siege and attack is covered in just twelve pages. It was intended as a denunciation of Santa Anna and some of his senior commanders who, in de la Pena’s view, neglected the welfare of their soldiers and conducted a strategically foolish campaign resulting in the loss of Texas. The very reason he was in jail was for participating in a failed rebellion against Santa Anna’s government.

His introduction reveals to us an angry and anguished young man:
. . . the accumulation of lies told to falsify the events, . . . the ignorance, stupidity, and cruelty displayed by the ministry and the commander in chief in this war . . . the honor and self-esteem of every military man who participated, so deeply hurt by the great inaccuracies in official records as to dates, deeds and places; and above all the honor of the country, deeply compromised by its leaders and no less by the truth and the atrocity of its crimes – these are the principal causes which compelled me to publish the diary . . .
The infamies that have occurred in this campaign, infamies that must have horrified the civilized world and whose memory will continue to provoke pain for many years hence, should not remain hidden. In referring to them, I shall thrust aside my personal feelings, and my friends will cease to be friends from the moment that I publish the evils committed against my country and the deeps perpetrated against humanity.
De la Pena is scathing about the lack of preparation for the march into Texas and Santa Anna’s strategy of dividing his army instead of concentrating it for an advance up the coast, but his anger reaches a fever pitch when writing of what he, and other officers, believed was a completely unnecessary attack on the Alamo (he claims Mexican commanders had information that Travis would have surrendered if no relief came from Houston’s army within the next two days), leaving many soldiers dead and hundreds wounded and suffering terribly without any medical treatment because of Santa Anna’s failure to bring doctors and medical supplies with the army.

Above all, he was horrified by the killing of the Alamo survivors and the massacre at Goliad, a horror shared by many other officers. De la Pena believed it a criminal act dishonoring the army and also counterproductive, inciting even more resistance by Texian rebels who knew their only alternatives were to win or die. A Mexican patriot who condemned the Texas rebellion and believed it could have been defeated, de la Pena also refers frequently to the bravery of the rebels and their fair and honorable treatment of Mexican prisoners. From his perspective the purpose of telling the tale of the death of Crockett and his fellow survivors was to show the despicable Santa Anna, and his description of their deaths is followed with this lament:
To whom was this sacrifice useful and what advantage was derived by increasing the number of victims? It was paid for dearly, though it could have been otherwise had these men been required to walk across the floor carpeted with the bodies over which we stepped, had they been rehabilitated generously and required to communicate to their comrades the fate that awaited them if they did not desist from their unjust cause. They could have informed their comrades of the force and resources that the enemy had.
Jose Enrique de la Pena died in 1840 at the age of 33 before he could publish his broadside about the loss of Texas. Santa Anna (1794-1876) was president of Mexico eleven different times from 1833 through 1855 during which he lost not only Texas, but the entire northern territory of his country to the United States during the Mexican War (1846-8) and living, during one of his many periods of exile on Staten Island in New York.

Some of those who contesting the authenticity of the de la Pena papers have raised valid points (you can get a sense of the back and forth by reading this). One of the most instructive lessons for me has been about the limitations of relying on translations of materials originally written in other languages. It turns out that several points of apparent contradiction in the English version of de la Pena’s work disappear when one goes back to the original Spanish, and that a previously unknown document written by de la Pena and located at Yale University in 1994 provides additional corroboration for his story. While I do not think the question has been, or ever will be, completely resolved (for instance, de la Pena’s account of the death of Travis is inconsistent with other evidence) my judgement is that, on balance, the evidence favors the authenticity of the diary and of de la Pena’s account of the Alamo. While we will never know for certain the exact circumstances it is likely that David Crockett was among those executed at the end of the battle, though Davy Crockett still lives on.

As for me, I like to think of Crockett’s end being as portrayed in the underrated 2004 movie, The Alamo. That’s my version of Davy.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Old-Man Project

Ann Althouse has an intriguing post up this morning which starts with a quote from a recent article by John McPhee in the New Yorker.  She remarks that it is part of:
. . . a collection of "saved-up, bypassed, intended pieces of writing as an old-man project, the purpose of which is never to end" — modeled on Mark Twain's "old-man project," his autobiography.
Althouse concludes:
McPhee's idea of the "old-man project" is that it's a way to stay alive, so it's not just long and sprawling. It's impossible to finish. That's the idea. I get it. It's like blogging. 
I get it too.

Viral Reflections

President Trump's first move in response to Covid-19 was a good one - stopping air travel from China.  We now have enough global experience to show that taking actions to reduce exposure early (see, for instance Taiwan and Hong Kong) is more effective than waiting and reacting (see, for instance, Italy).  For more on the comparison read here. This is critical - Covid-19 is going to spread but the speed and extent of its spread impacts whether the healthcare system can withstand the strain and the outcomes for those infected.

Since then the response has not been as good.

The testing fiasco (that is, the lack of testing) seems to have derived from post 9-11 legislation designed to give FDA more control over developing tests for new emerging biological threats.  When Covid-19 emerged labs were forbidden from developing and using tests for detection without FDA approval and, as with any bureaucratic procedure that is time consuming.  As a result, a crucial month was lost before FDA granted an emergency exemption from its rules, published in early January 2017.  This letter of February 28, 2020 to Congress from a coalition of testing labs explains the dilemma.  On March 4, the Administration granted waivers.

In addition, though this is more unclear to me, it appears that the CDC is still unduly restrictive in the criteria it is setting for testing potential infected people.

The President also needs to change his tone.  I don't care whether the CDC people think he is brilliant, as he recently boasted, nor that his Gallup poll numbers on his handling of the crisis are above the comparable ones for President Obama, as he recently tweeted.  I also read the transcript of his recent interview with Sean Hannity.  Although he came in for unjustified criticism of the substance (I thought his statements were literally accurate and/or reasonable) the overall tone was this was not going to be serious or long-term and I think that a bad mistake.

President Trump needs to take some immediate actions that will establish the correct tone and encourage state and local governments as well as other institutions to take action on preventative measures.  First, announce he is cancelling his rallies for the next two months and urging all other politicians to do the same.  Second, build upon the guidance CDC issued on its website on Thursday urging older adults and those with chronic conditions to stay at home as much as possible, and state that publicly as well as urging them to not fly.

Here in Arizona the first "community" case was identified two days ago - a women who works in a healthcare facility in Maricopa County (Phoenix metro) and has now infected her family.  It's clear that Covid-19 is here yet as of this morning only 56 people in the state have been tested (I don't know whether this is because of restrictive CDC criteria or decisions at the state level).  The good news is the state is publishing updated statistics every morning on a dedicated website.

As for us, we are hunkering down, laying in some supplies, trying to avoid large gatherings, and going to stores either early in the morning or later in the evening.  And, worst of all, it looks like I attended my last spring training game of the season on Friday.

On a longer term note, this experience also points out our vulnerability with global supply chains, particularly those portions located in China.  It turns out that a very high percentage of our pharmaceuticals and intermediates are manufactured in China and that supply could easily be disrupted.

For many years, as part of economic development for Puerto Rico, American pharmaceutical companies were given tax breaks for locating manufacturing facilities on the island, a tax break eliminated in the 1980s resulting in most of those companies leaving.  It's time to reconsider that strategy both for Puerto Rico and other economically challenged areas in the United States.

Friday, March 6, 2020

I Agree

Sometimes someone says something so stupid (how's that for alliteration?) that it also illustrates a bigger issue.

The segment shows an experienced TV broadcaster Brian Williams and a member of the New York Times Editorial Board expressing their horror that Michael Bloomberg spent more than $1 million per every American during his aborted presidential campaign.  As anyone remotely familiar with math can immediately tell, that figure can't be right.  In fact, Bloomberg spent $1.53 per American

For more than 40 years I was a regular reader (and often a subscriber) to the New York Times before ceasing to be a regular reader around 2005.  As I grew more and more frustrated with its reporting I tried to focus on other aspects of the paper to keep me entertained and reading.  For instance, comparing adverbs and adjectives used in articles to describe Democrats versus Republicans/conservatives.

The technique I used most regarded the evident innumeracy of Times reporters and editorial writers. Both then and now, the Times runs many stories that are essentially prettified versions of Progressive advocacy group press releases because it's easy, fits with the preconceptions of Times reporters and editors, and provides comfort food for its readers.  The stories were usually filled with figures and statistics to "prove" their case.  I used to enjoy reading through those stories to identify the places where the numbers or statistics failed to back up, or even contradicted, the case being made in the written narrative.  It was easy pickings.  Times reporters seemed to have no concepts of statistical significance, margins of error, percentages, or the various tricks advocacy groups can play with numbers.  In Progressive parlance, the Times failed to "interrogate" the information.

It points out the difference (and not just restricted to the Times or the Left) between those of us who believe numbers and statistics have a value of their own and need to be objectively assessed versus those who see them as just something to adorn an argument or article with and have no distinct value of their own.

In the case above the tweet that caused the excitement fit neatly into their worldview and they are clearly uncomfortable with basic math so they rolled with it.  And these are the folks who want to instruct us on how to live every part of our lives.

And no wonder Democrats think billionaires can pay for everything!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

A Good Feelin' To Know

In the wake of the 1968 breakup of Buffalo Springfield, Richie Furay created Poco, as well as the country-rock genre.  It always puzzled me why they didn't have more commercial success.  With its trademark exuberance and harmonies this is A Good Feelin' To Know is from their 1972 album of the same title.