Friday, December 31, 2021

Test Your Smarts as You Head into 2021

Smarter Every Day, Which Way Will the Water Go?

The video of the experiment itself is fun and entertaining and worth watching, but Destin notes at the end that Steve was actually saying the same thing he was — they were actually in agreement but stating things slightly differently. 

Therefore he needs to listen more completely and intentionally when he thinks he disagrees with someone because he might be stuck on hearing what he thinks they are saying, which he frames in opposition to his claim, making them “wrong” and him “right”. 

It’s polarization created by your mind, not necessarily by the words people use or the ideas they are stating.

A lot of people could stand to take that advice about a lot of things. If you cannot restate a summary, clearly and concisely, of the opposing viewpoint and its supporting theories and ideas, then you do not understand it well enough to continue discussing it, so you need to drill down further on understanding first. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Raise ‘Em Up on Country Sunshine and Blow Up Your TV


For some reason early this morning the song “Country Sunshine” popped into my head. 

I couldn’t even tell you who sang it, but the chorus lyric “I was raised on country sunshine” echoed through my head. 

Appealing idea, no? “Raised on country sunshine”

Seems to me that we as parents have failed our kids by outsmarting ourselves into believing kids belong anywhere but outside as much as possible. They do not really need constant shuttling from here to there in a motor vehicle, since they generally have two feet and can put one in front of the other. 

Yes, they might get kidnapped on the way to school, but only if you watch too many movies and read too many news stories that amp up your fears and pump up your “fight or flight” adrenaline response, inventing risk in your head that is essentially zero in the real world. 

Be careful with undoing thousands of years of acquired evolutionary social knowledge; it’s fragile, and there might be unintended consequences from messing with it, is all I’m saying.

Turns out “Country Sunshine” is by Dottie West. Ah, yes, she’s a legend. 

Dottie West, “Country Sunshine”

Here’s a nice live version from a TV show.

Refreshing and very similar in outlook and attitude to John Prine’s “Spanish Pipedream” about living the simple life.

Blow up your TV
Throw away your papers
Go to the country
Build you a home
Plant a little garden
Eat a lot of peaches
Try to find Jesus
On your own

John Prine has a wonderful economy with words — very visual with a “you are there” feeling. That’s the definition of great songwriting.

Dottie West is of course a very well-known country star from “back in the day” but I had never really listened to her catalog before — I’ll be diving into that these next few days. Already started, in fact, and while some of it is pretty “commercial” as they say, I’m mostly okay with that, because 60s and 70s country is some of the best type of “commercial” pop music ever made, with legendary singers and songwriters and production. There’s a place for that, sometimes.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Back Story on a Story Song

Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” was a true story about his running into his high school girlfriend several years later at a convenience store while back home visiting his family at Christmas.

This style of song is not really my thing, but the back story is somewhat interesting. 

Back in the day I liked Fogelberg’s earlier songs like “Part of the Plan” … 

… plus a few others. Later when he became hugely popular his singing and the general pop style of his songs did nothing for me. 

But upon hearing “Hard To Say” a few years ago and turning it up loud in the car — maybe hearing it for the first time, or listening closely for the first time, I don’t really know — it instantly became my favorite tune of his. By far.

This is just a great piece of music, especially the production, arrangement and band. Fogelberg’s vocals are far more relaxed and in control, but the band and arrangement, especially the guitar fills, carry the song.

He grew up in Peoria and both his parents were musicians — his hit “Leader of the Band” was a tribute to his father who was band director and music teacher at Peoria Woodruff High School, Pekin High School, and Bradley University. 

He died way too young, of cancer at just 56 years of age, in 2007.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

2021 in Review, Ozzy Man Edition

There’s not that many people I would trust to sum up 2021 — but Ozzy Man is definitey one of them.


Monday, December 27, 2021

75 Years Ago, the Flamingo Hotel Opens

New York mobster Benjamin“Bugsy” Siegel opens the Flamingo Hotel and Casino on December 26, 1946.

Things did not go well at first — he lost $300,000 in the first week of operations, and it closed one week later.

It re-opened March 1, 1947 — but within a few months Siegel was murdered, by persons unknown — cough the New York mob cough — for skimming profits. 

Allegedly. Wink, wink.

Thus dawned a 40 year run of mob control of the casinos and hotels there:

During the 1950s and 1960s, mobsters helped build the Sahara, the Sands, the New Frontier and the Riviera. Money from organized crime combined with funds from more respectable investors—Wall Street banks, union pension funds, the Mormon Church and the Princeton University endowment. Tourists flocked to the resorts—8 million a year by 1954—drawn by performers such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Elvis Presley, and by rows of slot machines and gaming tables.

The alleged mobsters who allegedly murdered Bugsy Siegel were most likely, allegedly, the Meyer Lansky faction of the alleged New York mob. Today there's a restaurant named Bugsy and Meyer's. So after running way from its "colorful" mob history for decades, Las Vegas flipped over to recognize it and — of course — commercialize it.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas from Me and My Family — and from Kacey Musgraves Too


She’s got a good Christmas album “A Very Kacey Christmas” — discovered via the SiriusXM Country station — and here’s three of my favorites.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”


“Mele Kalikimaka”

“Present Without a Bow” — a new Christmas song (or at least I had never heard it) that I really like

The whole album is very good, with top notch production, great vocals by her, and she makes each song her own, whoever else recorded it in the past.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

This last week has been very trying for us, with health challenges for our family and adapting to new realities and finding the strength to do that.

So it seems like an especially good time to highlight this great Alan Jackson album “Precious Memories” which is filled with gospel hymns he grew up singing with his family in church.

Here’s just one example, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”

Awesome story behind the making of this album — he wanted to thank his mother for her guidance in his faith, and recorded this entire album without her knowledge and gave her the CD for Christmas. 

If you like this one, you’ll like the rest too.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Ryan Bingham “I Don’t Know”


As a big fan of “Yellowstone” I was first introduced to singer and musician Ryan Bingham as an actor, and he does a fine job with that too.

He contributed several songs to the “Crazy Heart” soundtrack (2009) and this is one I like a lot, “I Don’t Know”.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Classic NFL Photos From Back in the Day

The legendary Lance Alworth making a leaping grab over (equally legendary) Chiefs DB Fred “The Hammer” Williamson.

From a great Twitter account by NFL historian Kevin Gallagher @KevG163 that publishes — every day — classic NFL and AFL photos mainly from the 50s, 60s, and 70s plus a few that are newer or older.

Many are absolute classics like this one. Lance Alworth was famous for his leaping catches — that’s why his nickname was “Bambi”.

As a fan of sports photography of any kind, but especially from that era, and even more especially football and baseball, one of favorite childhood possessions is a book of photos like these from the AFL called “The Other League”. I still have it, I think. I’ll look for that today.

Photo above from this tweet

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Abe Deserves Better and So Do We

We found some change in the car recently and some of the coins had weird buildup on them, so I did a little “money laundering” with a wire brush. 

This is the result. Pretty disgraceful. That’s Abe Lincoln’s face, dude, and it’s half gone.

Even the lowly penny used to have a little weight to it and engraving that looked good, befitting a unit of currency.

Pennies have always been at least 95% copper (excluding a short window from 1856-1864 when they were 88% copper) since 1793 when originally issued. 

Until 1982, when they were changed to 97.5% zinc with copper plating and reduced in overall weight from 3.11g to 2.5g.

Nothing like this would ever — could ever — happen to pennies when they were 95% copper. They might tarnish and get dirty over time, but a little copper cleaner would make them bright and shiny like new, most of the time.

Like this. Notice the difference with the engraving quality, in particular. Real money looks like this, not like that embarrassment above.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

On This Day in 1900 Quantum Theory is Born

German physicist Max Planck creates an entirely new understanding of the behavior of sub-atomic particles, which classical physics had so far been unable to explain, by publishing his “blackbody radiation” paper:

Through physical experiments, Planck demonstrated that energy, in certain situations, can exhibit characteristics of physical matter. According to theories of classical physics, energy is solely a continuous wave-like phenomenon, independent of the characteristics of physical matter. Planck’s theory held that radiant energy is made up of particle-like components, known as “quanta.” The theory helped to resolve previously unexplained natural phenomena such as the behavior of heat in solids and the nature of light absorption on an atomic level. In 1918, Planck was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on blackbody radiation.

I’ve read a fair bit on quantum physics but it was a long time ago ... so going from memory here, don’t shoot me, I’m only the blogger ... 

Energy (light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation) was discovered to have mass like physical matter, meaning it could be affected by gravity, among other things. It sometimes acts like a particle, sometimes like a wave, depending on the experiment you perform — think about that for a second, you as an observer affect the results.

Picture two billiard balls on a pool table, a white cue ball and a black 8 ball. Picture yourself hitting the cue ball to then hit the 8 ball, and all the places each ball can end up and how quickly they get there.

Classical Newtonian physics says you can know exactly where each ball will end up and how fast each will get there, based on a bunch of variables like the mass and speed of the cue ball, friction, gravity, etc. Plug the right numbers in and your experiment should match exactly, if you do it right. It’s a system with predictable outputs.

Now picture subatomic particles, two electrons for example, doing the same type of collision. Quantum physics (quantum mechanics in this case) says instead that you cannot predict with absolute certainty any of those outcomes, you can only assign probabilities like “95% chance of ending up in this area but only 35% in that”, etc. 

Not only that, you cannot simultaneously measure both the speed and position of any subatomic particle in motion accurately, and the more accurately you measure one, the more inaccurate the other.

Suddenly, science had to grapple with uncertainty. Lots and lots of it. 

This was a seismic shift in not just the world of science, but in philosophy and especially our understanding of the limits of knowledge. 

We thought we knew everything about how the world worked until then, and people today are making the same mistake, and people tomorrow will make it too.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Max Verstappen Wins First Formula 1 Driver Championship

The drama here was incredible — the entire season came down to one lap at the end of the last race between two drivers who had the exact same number of points over the season. 

Lewis Hamilton had led the entire race and was clearly the fastest driver in the fastest car on that day at that track — but with just 4-5 laps remaining a crash caused a yellow caution flag, allowing the cars to bunch together again with Verstappen right behind Hamilton. The big question: would the race stewards let the race end that way, under a caution (ie “extremely boring”), or go green again and see what happens?

This situation created a problem for Hamilton and his Mercedes team — they had gambled early (lap 14 of 58) that with the faster car they could finish the race on the hard compound tires (avoiding the need to pit again) but that left them exposed for this situation:  Verstappen, with fresh soft compound tires compared to Hamilton’s older hard compound tires, and now right behind Hamilton instead of 10 seconds behind, was very well positioned to pass on any tight corner. 

Mercedes was stuck IF the caution was lifted.

This article explains what happened next:

Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes dominated the event from the first lap until the penultimate one, but Max Verstappen’s Red Bull took the victory – and thereby the championship – on the last lap under circumstances Mercedes believed were invalid.

The controversy began on Lap 52, six from the end, when Nicholas Latifi – battling with Mick Schumacher’s Haas – crashed his Williams into the Turn 14 barriers. At this point Hamilton was leading Verstappen by 11s and was well on his way to an unprecedented eighth world championship.

Safety Car. With the field slowed to the Safety Car pace, it’s the perfect opportunity to get onto new tyres for the restart. Unless of course you are leading the race by less time than it would take to get into the pits, make your tyre change and accelerate back out again still leading. Eleven seconds wouldn’t have been enough to do that. In this situation, pitting Hamilton would always have triggered Red Bull into leaving Verstappen out there, in the lead with the race almost over.

Mercedes had to leave Hamilton out there – on hard compound tyres which had been on since Lap 14. Hamilton was potentially looking at a last-gasp restart for the race and the championship with his rival sitting right on his gearbox on a brand new set of softs. Of having his title taken from him by random fate.

But… it seemed like it might not come to that. As the car and the debris were removed, we were running out of laps. It seemed entirely possible that the race would end under the Safety Car. In the last couple of years there has been a general agreement with the teams that the Race Director should always endeavour to have the race ending under green flag conditions, even if only for a lap or two, as at Baku earlier this year.

The video above shows how it played out.

Congratulaions to Max Verstappen — one of my favorite drivers — on his first ever World Championship. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Friday Music: Four Strong Winds, Neil Young, and Ian Tyson

My introduction to singer and guitar player Ian Tyson was via Neil Young’s cover of “Four Strong Winds” back in 1979 on his “Comes a Time” album.

This is Neil Young at his best, showing his roots growing up as a rural Canadian kid influenced by pure cowboy culture in the form of a simple but powerful and poignant song about wanting to try just one more time to rekindle a dying love, but resigning yourself to moving on, because you’ve been “over this a hundred times or more”.

Pay special attention to the chorus, which is wonderful.

The chorus:

Four strong winds that blow lonely
Seven seas that run high
All those things that don't change
Come what may
If the good times are all gone
Then I'm bound for movin' on
I'll look for you if I'm ever back this way

Neil’s version is a keeper, but make no mistake, this is an Ian Tyson song. He performed together as a duo with his then-wife Sylvia for quite a few years in the 60s, and this was a hit for them in 1963, but that version is very “folky” and not really my style; I like his solo work much better. He has released many many albums as a solo artist, and is quite good on his own.

This version of “Four Strong Winds” (of several) seems best to me.

As I learned from listening to Ian’s catalog on Spotify, cowboy music is a whole vibe: simple, tuneful, funny story songs, with no pretense at all. 

I love everything about all of that.

Here’s a funny and sweet story song that is great fun and will stick in your head for hours after, “Navajo Rug”.

His catalog is full of gems like this:  “The Coyote and The Cowboy”, “Eighteen Inches of Rain”, “Magpie”, “Jaquima to Freno”, and many more. If you like any of his music you will like nearly all of it. 

The Coyote and The Cowboy

Eighteen Inches of Rain

Here’s Ian with his ex-partner Sylvia in a reunion for Canadian TV from 1986 doing “Four Strong Winds”.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Stories We Need to Tell: Pearl Harbor

Yesterday was December 7th, the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today is December 8th, the 41st anniversary of the murder of John Lennon by a deranged fan.

One of the best measures of a culture is how well it passes stories from generation to generation that revere those who came before, especially those who died heroically doing something bigger than themselves. 

Do parents and teachers instruct every schoolchild on these events and the heroes that died doing something bigger than themselves? 

Do those kids grow up holding these stories close to their hearts, knowing that it’s their job to pass them on to their own kids? 

Does the wider culture reinforce these stories with poems, books, essays, music, movies, etc.?

With Pearl Harbor, I don’t see much of any of that happening.

As a culture we seem more focused on the murder of a former Beatle than on one of the worst military disasters in our history. Yes, Pearl Harbor was 80 years ago, but that’s irrelevant, because cultural stories become more important over the years, not less. 

This is part of the problem:  we are far too focused on the recent past at the expense of the distant past. That’s a good way to lose track of who we are as a people. We must keep close to our hearts those things that really matter to our survival as a people and as a culture.

Culture must be viewed as a living, breathing thing that needs care and attention or it will die. If few people know who and what came before them, they have no culture or history to speak of, and will commence to dishonor all of it. It’s happening right now, in fact.

The grim details of the attack:

The base was attacked by 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft (including fighters, level and dive bombers, and torpedo bombers) in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. Of the eight U.S. Navy battleships present, all were damaged, with four sunk. All but USS Arizona were later raised, and six were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. A total of 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded.

On the same day the Japanese launched coordinated attacks on “... the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong.”

Seven separate air and sea operations on the same day, all successful. This was all part of a grand plan to establish an empire of their own in the Pacific by taking as much strategic territory as possible in surprise attacks right away and then force the Allies to take them back, one by one, at tremendous cost. 

The fact that these stories make people uncomfortable is really the whole point. John Lennon was a hero to many, but some things worth passing down to future generations cannot be sung and played on guitar. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Rick Beato Interviews Tommy Emmanuel

One of my favorite musicians interviewing another of my favorite musicians.

I love interviews with musicians but this one is especially good and it’s for these two reasons:

  • His playing, which is exquisitely beautiful as always
  • His personality, which is so positive and encouraging and completely free of ego or conceit, and one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet

Monday, December 06, 2021

“How Many Divisions Has the Pope?”

He Had a Lot, Back in the Day, As It Turns Out

Via Twitter I learned that Giovanni Battista Bugatti was the “official executioner for the Papal States” for almost 70 years and executed over 500 people.

Wait a minute ... the Papal States? Who and what is that?

Turns out that until 1870 there used to be a set of city-states called the Papal States — modern-day central Italy, mostly — under direct sovereign rule of the Pope for over 1100 years, from 754 AD until 1870. 

To give you an idea of how chaotic and messy the local politics of the time were, a Kingdom of Italy had been formed in 1861 (part of Italian Unification) from several independent city-states, but the new parliament could not seat itself in its own capitol city of Rome because it was controlled by the French military in support of the Pope and his Papal States. This lasted nine years, until 1870 and the Capture of Rome

The details behind this will make your head spin.

In July 1870, the Franco-Prussian War began, and by early August, Napoleon III recalled his garrison from Rome. The French not only needed the troops to defend their homeland, but were concerned that Italy might use the French presence in Rome as a pretext to join the war against France. In the earlier Austro-Prussian War, Italy had allied with Prussia, and Italian public opinion favored the Prussian side at the start of the Franco-Prussian War. The removal of the French garrison allowed France to remain neutral and eased tensions between France and Italy.

With the French no longer manning the Pope's walls, widespread public demonstrations demanded that the Italian government take Rome. But the city remained formally under French protection, and an attack would still have been regarded as an act of war against the French Empire. Furthermore, Prussia had gone to war in an uneasy alliance with the Catholic South German states that it had fought against (alongside Italy) just four years earlier. Although Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck was no friend of the papacy, he knew any war that put Prussia and the Holy See in opposing alliances would upset the delicate pan-German coalition needed for German unification. For both Prussia and Italy, any misstep that broke the pan-German coalition risked Austro-Hungarian intervention in a wider European conflict.

Above all else, Bismarck made every diplomatic effort to keep Prussia's conflicts of the 1860s and 1870s localized and prevent them from spiraling out of control into a general European war. Therefore, not only was Prussia unable to offer any sort of alliance with Italy against France, but actually pressured Italy to remain neutral and keep the peace on the Italian peninsula, at least until Prussia's conflict with France had passed. Moreover, the French Army was still regarded as the strongest in Europe – and until events elsewhere took their course, the Italians were unwilling to provoke Napoleon.

It was only after the surrender of Napoleon and his army at the Battle of Sedan that the situation changed radically. The French Emperor was deposed and forced into exile. The best French units had been captured by the Germans, who quickly followed up their success at Sedan by marching on Paris. Faced with a pressing need to defend its capital with its remaining forces, the French provisional government was clearly not in a military position to retaliate against Italy. In any case, the new French Republic was far less sympathetic to the Holy See than the Empire and did not possess the political will to protect the Pope's position.

The Capture of Rome on September 20, 1870 marked the end of an era:  the poor Pope had no territory left to rule over but the actual church property — St Peter’s Basilica, the papal residence, and the Vatican itself — until 1929 when Mussolini created and handed over Vatican City

Because, really, how can a major world religion be led by someone who is not also leader of a sovereign nation? 

European history is filled with nastiness like this, where constant war and conflict from constantly changing alliances between competing kingdoms and church bodies (especially the Pope) blurred the lines —there weren’t any lines, really — between religious and state power and control. 

It was a long, bloody, chaotic, miserable struggle and looking back now it’s very easy to see two things:

  • how the momentum for the idea of separation of church and state could organically arise from this messy stew
  • where European collective guilt for centuries of war comes from — they’ve known a constant state of war for thousands of years, due at least in part to the toxic brew of autocratic rule (by men instead of by law) inextricably mixed with religion 

Friday, December 03, 2021

Friday Art

Edouard Cortes, “Triumphal Arch View”

Camille Pissarro, “Le Valhermeil, near Pontoise, 1880”


Kind of a chaotic week around here so I missed Tuesday and Thursday daily posts — but going forward I’ll have both more time and less chaos, so that’s a good thing.

Who has two thumbs and is semi-retired now?

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Twenty Years Ago Today: Enron Declares Bankruptcy

Enron Declares Bankruptcy Dec 2, 2001

A subsequent SEC and DOJ investigation determined that Enron “inflated its earnings by hiding debts and losses in subsidiary partnerships”.

The Enron bankruptcy and investigation also took down Arthur Andersen (the CPA firm that Enron used) convicted of shredding documents related to the SEC investigation. 

However Andersen appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, where the justices voted unanimously that the jury had been given incorrect instructions which lowered the bar for conviction so far that the government apparently destroyed a major business for ... following its own document retention policy. 

From Wikipedia:

Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote the opinion for the court, and was joined by all associate justices. In the court's view, the instructions allowed the jury to convict Andersen without proving that the firm knew it had broken the law or that there had been a link to any official proceeding that prohibited the destruction of documents. The instructions were so vague that they "simply failed to convey the requisite consciousness of wrongdoing", Rehnquist wrote. "Indeed, it is striking how little culpability the instructions required." Rehnquist's opinion also expressed grave skepticism at the government's definition of "corrupt persuasion"—persuasion with an improper purpose even without knowing an act is unlawful. "Only persons conscious of wrongdoing can be said to 'knowingly corruptly persuade,' " he wrote.

But the decision to overturn the conviction was far too late to fix anything, because the conviction meant they were required to surrender their CPA license in 2002 and the Supreme Court decision to reverse it didn’t happen until 2005.

Let’s keep in mind that it’s entirely possible that both of the following are true: a) the verdict was wrongly decided and b) Andersen was still guilty as hell on all kinds of other things. 

For example, uncovering the fraud that Enron was perpetrating for years and years. Isn’t detecting fraud the whole point of Certified Public Accounting? It’s essentially a fraud prevention service to protect investors and stockholders. 

Something was broken here, at the very least, and there is also the conflict of interest created when companies offer both consulting services and auditing services and might sweep some things under the rug to avoid disrupting the far greater cash flow from the consulting gig.

But ultimately Enron investors and stockholders got smoked, audit or not. The stock fell to under $1 in November 2001 after reaching a high of $90 in mid-2000. Many employees lost their entire retirement savings, thanks to putting all of it into company stock which is of course very unwise — but still not as unwise as running a corrupt business that defrauds stockholders.

But it goes even deeper than that: Merrill Lynch, J P Morgan Chase, and Citicorp all paid huge fines — $335M total — to allegedly help perpetrate the fraud — “without admitting guilt”, of course. No, we’ll just pay these giant fines instead of paying dividends to shareholders, but we are definitely NOT admitting guilt. Why do you ask? Who would ever connect those dots?

So there’s a lot of blame to go around here. 

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Van Morrison “Bright Side of the Road”


Simple but spiritually meaningful lyrics in a high energy tune, and you can even dance to it, as my wife just did.

From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road
We'll be lovers once again on the
Bright side of the road

Little darlin', come with me
Won't you help me share my load
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road

Into this life we're born
Baby sometimes we don't know why
And time seems to go by so fast
In the twinkling of an eye

Let's enjoy it while we can
Won't you help me sing my song
From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road

From the dark end of the street
To the bright side of the road
We'll be lovers once again
On the bright side of the road
We'll be lovers once again on the bright side of the road