Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Paying Tribute




The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a solemn and important ritual and one of the few “must see” events in my life, and that’s been true for over 50 years since I saw it for the very first time as a kid age 10-11.

One of my favorite podcasts, The American Story, explains why it matters in this week’s excellent episode Known But to God

My advice: take 6 minutes out of your life to nourish your soul. You’ll be glad you did.


Monday, May 23, 2022

Amazing Ancient Civilzation of Petra, Jordan

 


Discovered via Archaeology & Art — Twitter is actually good for something if you use it right — with this amazing photo.



They carved it out of a mountain. 

2100 years ago — at least — by hand. 

The Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who not only carved amazing buildings and art from solid rock, but created a luscious green oasis in a desert by mastering rainwater retention.

They specifically chose this location because it was a natural fortress with only small openings through the mountainous desert terrain, and because it was on an incense trade route. 

And so it became a prosperous city, carved out of the mountains.

They carved this out a mountain too.



More





Friday, May 20, 2022

This Week in 1873, Patent for Blue Jeans Issued

 

149 years ago today a U. S. patent is granted to Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket Openings”, i.e. for the use of rivets to strengthen the weak spots around the pockets.

Details from history.com — and if you end up confused about who actually invented blue jeans, you’re not alone, the underlined could have been worded more clearly:

In 1872, he wrote a letter to Strauss about his method of making work pants with metal rivets on the stress points—at the corners of the pockets and the base of the button fly—to make them stronger. As Davis didn’t have the money for the necessary paperwork, he suggested that Strauss provide the funds and that the two men get the patent together. Strauss agreed enthusiastically, and the patent for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings”–the innovation that would produce blue jeans as we know them–was granted to both men on May 20, 1873.
It was Davis, not Strauss, who invented jeans with rivets. 

Two main factors drove their popularity — miners and railroad workers — and the amount of ancillary economic activity those two fields generated in the mid- to late-1800s is nearly impossible to imagine today. 

Is there another name — other than Jesus himself, and ignoring world leaders— that became as famous worldwide as Levi Strauss? Michael Jordan maybe? Muhammad Ali? It’s a pretty short list.

Wikipedia tells the story with much greater detail:

In his tailor shop, Davis made functional items such as tents, horse blankets and wagon covers for the railway workers on the Central Pacific Railroad. The fabric Davis worked with was heavy-duty cotton duck cloth and cotton denim which he bought from Levi Strauss & Co., a dry goods company in San Francisco. To strengthen the stress points of the sewn items he was making, Davis used copper rivets to reinforce the stitching.

In December 1870, Davis was asked by a customer to make a pair of strong working pants for her husband who was a woodcutter. To create suitably robust pants for working, he used duck cloth and reinforced the weak points in the seams and pockets with the copper rivets. Such was the success of these pants that word spread throughout the labourers along the railroad. Davis was making these working pants in duck cotton and, as early as 1871, in denim cotton. Before long, he found he could not keep up with demand.

Davis had previously applied for patents for other inventions. Realising the potential value in his reinforced jeans concept, in 1872, he approached Levi Strauss, who was still his supplier of fabric, and asked for his financial backing in the filing of a patent application. Strauss agreed, and on May 20, 1873, US Patent No. 139,121 for "Improvements in fastening pocket openings" was issued in the name of Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss and Company. That same year, Davis started sewing a double orange threaded stitched design onto the back pocket of the jeans to distinguish them from those made by his competitors. This trademark feature became Registered U.S. Trade Mark No. 1,139,254.

Apparently the only reason that Levi Strauss instead of Jacob Davis became a household name was that Strauss funded the patent application process, even though the invention itself, the rivets to strengthen the pants, was Davis’.


Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Aquifers, Wells, Spillways and Dams, How Do They Work


How Wells and Aquifers Actually Work 



Near failure of Oroville Dam in 2017 — I remember hearing about it and watching video of the spillway falling apart. 




Quoted: Thomas Sowell



The most basic question is not what is best
but who shall decide what is best.

Thomas Sowell 


This should be obvious — especially to an American — but as a people we continue to not get it. 

This was the whole point of starting a new nation with power vested in the people to control their government rather than the other way round. 


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Don’t Ignore Potassium

 

The amount and balance of minerals in your body is very important for your health in many ways —and part of hydration too.

Potassium a Critical Mineral (aka “Electrolyte”)


Monday, May 16, 2022

This Week in History: Seven Years War Begins in 1756

 

Well, 1754 actually — but everything else about this war is confusing too.

We call it the French and Indian War here in the U.S. — but that name vastly under-represents the global nature of it, involving all European powers including Russia, fought on 4 continents, and ending with 1.3 million dead, mostly civilians.

This was actually the first World War, as this video makes very clear.

Seven Years War Summarized on a Map



Confusing and chaotic, as with everything else about European history, where endless entanglements, alliances, and power struggles between kingdoms produced the conditions for war. But that was just the way it was, across the entire world, since forever — until 1776 when a bunch of upstart punks decided there had to be a better way. 

This war also set the stage for the American Revolution by leading Britain into tremendous debt which caused them to tax the colonies (Sugar Act of 1764, Stamp Act of 1765, etc), leading directly to the “taxation without representation” battle cry. 

Another move by the British that upset the colonists was the Proclamation of 1763, prohibiting settlement of territory west of the Appalachians by anyone but the British government, supposedly in response to Native American raids on British forces by Chief Pontiac — although I’m not sure I see how putting the  colonists in a box does anything to stop war against Native Americans. Here’s what the above link says about it:

Acknowledging that “great frauds and abuses have been committed,” the proclamation furthermore prohibited settlers from buying tribal territory. Instead, only the crown could now make such purchases. “We shall avoid many future quarrels with the savages by this salutary measure,” said General Thomas Gage, who commanded all British forces in North America.

Stand back and admire the pure diplomacy just oozing from that quote.

In this list of 10 things about the Seven Years War you probably don’t know, we learn that the French Acadians migrated to Louisiana from Canada because the British forced them out during the Seven Years War, and that’s how Louisiana ended up as Cajun Country.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Comparing Two Fuel Additives on a Lawnmower

 

If you have ever spent any time in an auto parts store you have seen the bewildering array of additives, cleaners, and other potions for fuel, oil, transmission, power steering, coolant, hydraulic brakes, etc.

Maybe some of them even work — who knows? I sure don’t, and generally steer clear of magic solutions of every kind … it’s in my DNA, I can’t help it.

But for some reason one day last year I spent like 20 minutes looking at these products, figured “why not?”, and bought some Marvel Mystery Oil and added it to my fuel for a few weeks. 

It’s supposed to clean your fuel system, heads, valves, etc, along with increasing MPG. It seemed to help with mileage, but I didn’t check it that carefully, so I could very easily be mistaken on that.

This guy tries it on his lawnmower, along with a well-known competing product, Seafoam. He even hooks up a compression tester — but this is a little over my head since I don’t know how to interpret the results. Too little is bad, but so is too much, I think.

Seafoam vs Marvel Mystery Oil



Compression testing a lawnmower with some interpretation of the results — the numbers are specific to the motor, which makes sense. These numbers are published by the manufacturer.



An overview of compression testing and what it diagnoses — but for a car, not a lawnmower.




Thursday, May 12, 2022

Honoring My Mom

 

We had a beautiful service for my mom on Monday at Georgia National Cemetery. 

For now, these two musical tributes …

“I’ll Fly Away” from Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch



“Amazing Grace” from B. J. Thomas


Sunday, May 08, 2022

Tunnel Under the River? Sure, Why Not?

 

The early leaders of Chicago took on their Civil Engineering challenges with gusto, raising the city 6-10’ to alllow installation of a sewer system in the 1860-70s and digging a vast network of tunnels under downtown streets to move goods between buildings and businesses more efficiently by avoiding gridlocked city traffic.

But wait, there’s more.

They also drilled tunnels under the Chicago River to relieve traffic issues when the drawbridges were up, which was often.



The tunnels proved ineffective and were eventually closed due to how steep and dark they were, but the fact that they tried it at all tells us a lot. 

Related posts:

Saturday, May 07, 2022

This Week in 1966: Willie Mays Breaks NL HR record

 


Willie Mays breaks the National League Home Run record with number 512 breaking Mel Ott’s record of 511 — also with the Giants.

Which is of course over 200 fewer than Babe Ruth’s total of 714. 

Hank Aaron had 406 at the time and would go on to lead the league with 44 that year, and pass Mays in 1972 and ultimately break the most cherished and sought after record in professional sports — the Babe’s — on April 8, 1974.

Mays finished with 660 after retiring at the completion of the 1973 season (with the Mets).

But ultimately every career home run total discussion gets around to Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, the only two guys to hit 700+ HR in the pre-steroid era.

When Babe Ruth retired at the end of the 1935 season, with 714, the guy in 2nd, Lou Gehrig, was 336 behind (from what I can tell by piecing it together at the wonderful baseball-reference.com site).

714   Babe Ruth 

378   Lou Gehrig (still active - career total 493, retired during 1939 season)

302   Jimmy Foxx (still active - career total 536, retired 1947)

242   Mel Ott (still active - career total 511, retired 1947)

And Ruth is still the all-time leader in Slugging Pct and OPS, after 86 years, despite Bonds, Griffey Jr, ARod, and all those kinds of guys we hear about all the time for the last 20 years. 

In fact the top 3 in Slugging Pct have remained unchanged for 60 years: Ruth, Williams, Gehrig. 

Top 3 in OPS? Ruth, Williams, Gehrig.You could make a solid argument those are still the three greatest hitters of all time. 

Of course many other great hitters — who would later end up very high on the all time HR list at retirement in the 50s, 60s, and 70s — had yet to play a single inning, like Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Matthews, and Ernie Banks.

Hank Aaron, by the way, is still the career RBI leader with 2297, with 301 more than Barry Bonds in the same number of seasons. He retired nearly 50 years ago. 

But the most impressive career RBI total based on per-season productivity has to be Lou Gehrig with 1995 in only 17 seasons — 16 is closer to reality since he only played 8 games in ‘39 with just 1 RBI — compared to Aaron’s 23, and with over 4000 fewer plate appearances (9,965 vs 13,941). That’s 124 RBI per year, every year, for 16 years in a row.

Harmony by the Fire

 

Last night it was a beautiful Spring evening so we used our fire table at our new digs for the first time. 




For our listening pleasure and for reasons unknown I called up “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” on Spotify. As albums go, this is one of my oldest “friends”.

I got this when it came out in 1973, and played it all the time for a couple of years. Classic album, classic cover.

Obvious hits all over it, but there are several unknown gems, like “Harmony”.


Thursday, May 05, 2022

Music Memories from My Childhood Home



 

My mom loved music and dancing and so my young childhood years are filled with many warm memories of fun songs and happy music filling our space and time.

One of my favorite memories, in fact, now that I think back on it.

She’s gone now, two weeks today in fact, and I find that revisiting some of this music makes me both happy and sad at the same time, if that is possible to imagine. That’s just how that works, I guess. 


Trini Lopez Live at PJs from 1963 — “America”



Same album, “Bye Bye Blackbird”



Her initials were “PJ” so “Live at PJs” held special meaning. 

The whole album is full of fun, upbeat, danceable, singalongs like these, plus his relentless driving rhythm guitar and charisma and energy — it can be streamed here on YouTube.


Al Hirt, “Java”



Al Hirt, “Tansy”



I just listened to the whole thing front to back for the first time in at least 50 years. Still great. The whole album can be streamed here on YouTube.




This Week in 1469: Machiavelli Born

 

Niccolo Machiavelli became widely known for publishing “The Prince” in 1513 as a pamphlet — the book was not published until 1532, posthumously, 5 years after his death in 1527.

The Prince is about ruthless amoral power politics, using war, violence, and religion as tactics, and so his name became synonymous with such nastiness — but ironically it was not autobiographical, it was about a Papal States prince (and Cardinal in the Catholic Church) named Cesare Borgia. 

Niccolo Machiavelli himself was far less calculating, and was even marginalized and shunned by his connected political “in group” from 1512 until his death in 1527 … too ethical I suppose?

So who is Cesare Borgia, the guy so ruthless and amoral that he inspired a book that defines it?

Well, he was just one of several illegitimate children of a Catholic Church Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia — who was elected Pope Alexander VI in 1492

Takeaway #1 — Cardinals decided that a guy with not just one but several illegitimate children would make a fine Pope. 

Good ol’ Rodrigo had clout as a member of the prominent House of Borgia (in modern day Spain) and became a Cardinal shortly after his uncle was elected Pope Callixtus III in 1455.

And since nepotism runs in families, naturally when Rodrigo was elected Pope, he installed his 17 year old son Cesare as Cardinal. 

Takeaway #2 — The same guy who inspired “The Prince” was an entitled, power-hungry, rich beneficiary of nepotism and a Cardinal in the Catholic Church at age 17.

You can see where this is going. I’ll stop here. Read on if you like using links above, there’s plenty more of this kind of unpleasantness. 

Takeaway #3 — Funny how the entire backstory to “The Prince” is Catholic Church corruption, nepotism, illegitimate children among leadership, etc — but this is not more widely known and flies completely under the radar when people invoke Machiavelli to talk about amoral leadership. 


Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Remembering Rush Album “Moving Pictures”

 

Since Rush released “Moving Pictures” in 1981 it has sold 7 million copies worldwide and 5 million in the US alone.



Several songs from it got major airplay, such as “Tom Sawyer”, “Limelight”, and “Vital Signs”, plus an amazing instrumental “YYZ” — the Toronto airport code — which uses a time signature (5/4) that matches those same letters in Morse code.

Here’s “YYZ”.



Pretty cool song, with definite jazz-rock influences — sounds a lot like major jazz fusion bands of the 70s, such as Jean-Luc Ponty or Return to Forever. Apparently Al DiMeola was a major influence on guitarist Alex Lifeson, and you can hear that.

The album grew out of song ideas they created during sound checks while on tour for their previous album “Permanent Wave”. After that tour ended in 1980 they developed these ideas into actual songs at Ronnie Hawkins’ farm in Stony Lake, Ontario and went back into the studio to record it later that year.

As musicians they are all amazing and pretty much set the bar for the power trio rock band. I especially liked their string of albums from 1980-82, “Permanent Wave”, “Moving Pictures”, and “Signals”. 

Here are three of my favorite Rush tunes, first “Subdivisions” https://youtu.be/EYYdQB0mkEU 

“Spirit of Radio” live at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2013) https://youtu.be/7o9pWOGn9Yg

“Closer to the Heart” https://youtu.be/kyhW2v0NDM0 notable mainly as a showcase for the musical chops of Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart.

Even though I was never a big fan — the vocals push me away, sorry Geddy Lee — this was a mega-talented band with a distinctive sound and something to say, and they left a major legacy.

In 2021 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Moving Pictures” they reissued it as a special boxed set.


Monday, May 02, 2022

Amazing 19th Century Engineering

 

Chicago was home to an incredible number of amazing engineering feats in the mid- to late-1800s.

The city was settled on low-lying flat ground at the shores of Lake Michigan — a swamp, essentially — so as a result muddy streets and unsanitary conditions quickly became a huge problem, and a cholera outbreak in 1845 killed 6% of the population. 

Clearly the city could not grow further without major improvements. 

They needed a sewer system to handle draining away both sewage and surface water — but in a swamp, gravity is your enemy, not your friend. 

The sewer system had to be above the current streets. So they raised the streets, the buildings, all of it. Over about 20 years, starting in 1858.



They raised an entire downtown city block, several feet, all at once, in four days, while people were conducting business inside the buildings. In the 1860s.

Earlier post about the large underground tunnel network, largely forgotten until 1992 when the river above started draining into it and flooded many downtown buildings.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

RIP Naomi Judd

 

A “victim of mental illness” as stated in the official statement from her daughters Wynona and Ashley. 

We can only guess what that means — but in any case, she’s gone now.

She was 76.

The Judds were scheduled to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame yesterday.

Songs like these are the reason why.


Mama He’s Crazy



Why Not Me



Give a Little Love



Friday, April 29, 2022

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

 

It’s Spring and that means time to fire up the lawnmower. Unless you’re like me and sold it as part of a moving sale … 

In any case knowledge of all things mechanical is always interesting and potentially useful, and this video includes tips on the proper way to tip over your lawnmower. If you’ve ever tipped it over to the spark plug side — to drain fuel for winter storage, sharpen the blade, clean the bottom, etc — you quickly learn that was the wrong side to tip it over to when oil fouls the plug.

How to Tip Over Your Lawnmower


Thursday, April 28, 2022

Re-watching “Mad Men”

 

Ever since I watched “Mad Men” during its original run every week I have wanted to watch it again, from the beginning, to fill in more of the details I had missed due to starting in season 2 (or maybe it was late in season 1).

But it wasn’t important enough to pay for the privilege. Then recently I discovered a way to watch it for free (see end of post for details). 

This show is so unique and I like almost everything about it:  the early 60s vibe and visual details, the straight ahead no-nonsense dialogue, the classic men’s look of suits and ties and white starched shirts, the focus on adults doing adult things in an adult world, the peek into the old school Madison Avenue advertising world, the period piece feel with glimpses of New York City and therefore America at its cultural peak during the transition from the Eisenhower 50s to the JFK early 60s, before the decline that started with the JFK assassination in 1963 and continued with Vietnam, social unrest, riots, more assassinations, Watergate, impeachment/resignation, rampant inflation, etc.

I suppose whether that was a cultural peak or not is up for debate. Feels that way to me.

One of the many solid actors on the show is Robert Morse, who played Bert Cooper, one of the owners of the advertising firm, and who passed away on April 21 at age 90.

He was a bit of a character, an oddball really, especially for a managing partner. But this served as a useful counterweight to the relentless intensity of the Don Draper character. 

Morse originally made his name by starring in the 1961 Broadway hit play How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (and winning a Tony Award for it), and in 1967 played the same role in the film version.

This Mad Men scene is hardly typical of the show, or Bert’s character, or Don’s. But it’s memorable and remarkable because it is so different. 



To watch it for free, create an account with IMDBtv and watch on the IMDBtv app or via Amazon Prime Video (which includes IMDBtv).

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Mid-AB Adjustments


Now that he’s on the Yankees Anthony Rizzo would normally be included on the list of players I do not care for — it’s just in my DNA, there’s nothing I can do about it.

But he’s a tremendous teammate and leader, and on his off days from the day job he personally visits sick and dying children through his foundation, with no fanfare or advance publicity. That’s a strong clue to his character.

Plus he lives forever immortalized in Cubs history for catching the final out of the 2016 World Series, and has saved countless errors for his teammates with some of the best glove work at first base that you will ever see.



And then on top of all that he is an extremely smart professional hitter.



Seems to me there are many major league hitters too stubborn and wedded to their particular approach, preventing them from making such mid-AB adjustments, even though that limits your opportunities to grow individually and help your team in important situations. 

Rizzo is also known for choking up with two strikes, especially with runners on base or with two outs, a common sense move that nearly all hitters were coached to use for decades but rarely use today. This is not progress. It should be standard practice, because it’s a team-first approach.

He ended up 3 for 4 with 3 HR, a walk and 6 RBI in the game in the video above, a great week for any player at any level.

Okay fine he may be a Yankee but I still love the guy … please don’t let this get around.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Linda Ronstadt Became a Huge Star Almost Overnight in the 1970s (part 3)


After several years on the road playing stadiums she got restless and decided to try show tunes, and auditioned for a Broadway play in 1981, “Pirates of Penzance” with Kevin Kline. She got the role and was nominated for a Tony award, because of course she was.

Then in the mid-80s she got restless and pivoted again — pivot #4 by my count — and recorded some high quality pop/jazz standards with Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra.

Here’s a good example, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” from her first such album. Not quite Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughn — very few singers are, of course — but still really good. 



“Am I Blue”, the type of song Frank Sinatra made famous, and she’s fantastic on it.



Listening to these two tunes makes it obvious that she had the voice to have made a whole career in that vein, which is saying something, because such songs rely heavily on pure vocal chops. 

Very few singers have ever made this transition successfully, after starting in a pop/rock style and being hugely successful there and filling stadiums, rather than starting with gospel/jazz/show tunes — I cannot think of a single one. Can you?

But she was not done pivoting yet — she released country/bluegrass/Americana albums as a trio with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, and traditional Mexican music which was part of her family heritage, and duets with Aaron Neville and Cajun musician and singer Ann Savoy. 

She says that everything she sang professionally was something she heard often, and sang with her family, before she was 10 years old.

This tells us that she was authentic to the core, because her entire career was a tribute to her love of singing instilled by her entire family as a young child. Could there be a better better way to create warm lasting memories from childhood than to sing traditional cultural music in harmony with your parents and siblings, and extended family? I cannot imagine one.

Sadly she was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy after discovering that her voice was deteriorating, sometime in the 2000s. She’s still with us, and can talk, but stopped performing in 2009. She turns 76 this year on July 15.

A very good 2019 documentary “The Sound of My Voice” about her career — and the substantial career risks she took by going solo, then to arena rock, then to Broadway, then to torch songs, then to the trio with Dolly and Emmylou, then to traditional Mexican music — is very much worth watching, and she is immensely likeable in it.

Over these last few weeks as I have learned so much about her, my respect for her has grown quite a lot, as not just an unbelievably great singer but as an artist who refuses to be confined to one style of music and is driven to stretch and take chances, over and over and over again — and yet is somehow nearly perfect at all of it. I really cannot think of anyone else quite like her, male or female. 

Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Pretty Clever

 

Van Gogh Down by the River



Via the Twitter

I blogged about the famous original here.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Chicago Tunnels Forgotten History

 


Thirty years ago Chicagoans learned all about this forgotten tunnel system on April 13, 1992 when the Chicago River would start draining into it after a crew installing wooden pilings in the riverbed accidentally punched a hole through the ceiling of the tunnel system.



Friday, April 22, 2022

Laughter is the Best Medicine

 

Drew Carey absolutely slays in his first Tonight Show appearance (Nov ‘91).



Enjoy your weekend and don’t forget to hug your loved ones.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Steely Dan on VH1 Storytellers

 

 

First rate musicianship across the board … guitars, drums, and bass especially.

Plus Walter Becker’s overall vibe, with the jacket and tie and the way he moves while he plays guitar, and those background singers sound great and look even better.

The Q&A with the audience is pretty funny, especially when the entire audience laughs at the question about where the band’s name came from, since they were already in on the joke. This band has always had a unique bond with their audience and it shows here, it comes across like a group of old friends who all get all the jokes and obscure references. 

The first two tunes are among my favorite Dan records, Peg (4:05) and Kid Charlemagne (9:50)

It’s 45 minutes well spent.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Life Changes Coming Up

 

We’re moving out of state next week and as a result our life has been a little chaotic recently. 

Boxes everywhere, always more stuff to throw out, calling utilities and insurance companies and movers, organizing changes to every service imaginable.

In some ways that extra layer of chaos, change, and uncertainty is a good thing to distract us from the vague sense of dread that we are all starting to feel, increasing little by little as the days pass. It’s not paralyzing, but it’s there.

Right now, at 7:44am on Wednesday April 20, we’re at exactly T - 7 days on the countdown. 

We all know that the move itself is the best thing we can do for our own future and important things like being close to family and a lower cost of living and a more secure future. We’ve talked about it a lot, my wife and two (remaining) adult children and me, and we are 100% on board with the goal and long-term benefits of moving away from our longtime home base. 

But the things you know in your head sometimes fight with your emotions, which have a stubborn undeniable power over your world.

To add to all that, our two young adult sons will stay behind — one has already moved out but lives nearby and the other will live with him for the Summer — meaning that my wife and I become empty nesters at the same time we move 3 and 1/2 hours away. Still, this is good for them, and they know that, and need that and want that.

We’ve lived here for 22 years, raised our three kids here, made friends here, put down roots here. We’re “dug in” as the Kevin Kline character explained to his friends in The Big Chill. 

But now we’re choosing to dig in somewhere else, where the future lies, for multiple reasons. 

The next few months will be a challenge for all of us in multiple ways, and there will be some tough days and unexpected emotions that bubble up out of the blue, but out of such challenges we learn and grow and sometimes find unexpected delights too.

If you’re not on the path towards the future you see, what are you doing?

Monday, April 18, 2022

Joe Pesci Was a Musician Before He Hit the Big Screen

 

Actor Joe Pesci always wanted to be a singer, played guitar in several bands, and helped put The Four Seasons together? 

I did not know that!



As the video notes, when The Four Seasons received a Tony Award for “Jersey Boys” they invited Joe up on stage in recognition of his import role in their history — he was the guy that introduced Bob Gaudio to Frankie Valli.



Joe Pesci played guitar for several bands in the 60s — here he is on guitar in “Little People Blues” with Vincent & Pesci from 1972. Pretty good stuff.



“Vincent” is Frank Vincent who was also a skilled musician (drums, keyboards, trumpet) and found steady work as a studio musician for several years in the 60s before teaming up with Joe in their own group, first as a “lounge” musical act, then as a comedy act, then both comedy and music, until 1976. 

Both Frank and Joe appeared in a relatviely unknown movie in 1976 named “The Death Connection”. Robert DeNiro saw it and told Martin Scorcese about them, Scorcese cast Pesci in “Raging Bull” in 1980, and that was the big break he needed.

Frank Vincent also played in several movies with Pesci. In “Goodfellas”, Pesci whacked Vincent. In “Casino”, Vincent whacked Pesci. Vincent later played a major part in The Sopranos.You’ve probably seen him before — here’s the two of them together, from “Goodfellas”.






The Most Important Map in “American” History is from 1755

 


The man who created it is John Mitchell who was a physician and a botanist before being asked to consolidate various smaller regional and state maps, ship journals, etc into one comprehensive larger map.

It was apparently, according to this video, a factor in starting the French and Indian War due to its depiction of French forts in British territory. 

It even helped to start the Toledo War over the Ohio-Michigan border in 1835 by showing the southern end of Lake Michigan too far north — and those folks still hate each other.

Technically it’s a map that belongs in British history because it was commissioned by the Earl of Halifax and America was still just a set of British, French, and Spanish colonies.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About President Lincoln’s Assassination

 


 

Just about everyone knows that John Wilkes Booth shot the president at Ford’s Theatre during a play and then broke his leg jumping down onto the stage and escaped but was later cornered and killed.

But here’s ten things I’ll bet you didn’t know … (I also didn’t know a few of these until now):

  1. President Lincoln and his wife had seen Booth in a play at Ford’s Theatre in 1863
  2. Booth was leader of a sizable conspiracy (7 men) to kidnap President Lincoln 3 weeks prior to the assassination that failed when Lincoln changed plans 
  3. This kidnapping plot had been planned since mid-1864 and while it sounds crazy it was intended to offer Lincoln’s return in exchange for Confederate prisoners, after General Grant had stopped doing prisoner exchanges that year as a way to pressure the Confederate side since they were more manpower-constrained
  4. After the Confederates surrendered on April 9, 1865, Booth changed the plot to assassinate Lincoln and Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward on the same night to throw the entire Union government into chaos
  5. The attack on Vice President Johnson never materialized when the man who was supposed to kill him chickened out
  6. The attack on Secretary Seward did occur but also failed since he was only wounded 
  7. Booth encountered no resistance since the president’s bodyguard had abandoned his post… in other words the president of the United States, widely hated by the side that just surrendered after a bloody and divisive 4 year war, was out in public completely unprotected
  8. Booth broke his leg because he landed his entire body weight on his left foot after the boot spurs on his right leg got caught in the flag attached to the presidents box above the stage
  9. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was invited to attend but backed out because Grant’s wife had “recently been the victim of Mary Todd Lincoln’s acid tongue and wanted no part of a night on the town with the first lady”
  10. The other 3 people in the president’s box were killed or committed to insane asylums over the next 20 years — Mary Todd Lincoln and Major Rathbone both committed, and Clara Harris killed by Rathbone, her husband
Links

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Celebrating Al Green Who Turns 76 Today


Probably the only pastor in history with a great YouTube channel full of classic Soul and R&B that also includes a playlist named “Babymakers” — it’s a pretty good bet that there are people walking around today who were conceived while Al Green was playing in the background. 

The many videos available on YouTube clearly show how seeing Al Green live in the 70s was very close to a religious experience. 

Exhinit (A) is “Sha La La (Make Me Happy)” live on Soul Train … and holy smokes this is a hot performance (the audio and the mix isn’t great but you can just see and feel the temperature in the room).

Watch Al starting at 1:40 and listen to him hit that high note and sustain it at around 1:50.



Mesmerizing. This guy could teach a master class on working a crowd into a fever pitch from the stage.

His band is the legendary Hi Rhythm Section plus the Memphis horns of Stax records — and clearly they could lay down a groove. 

But as great as those guys were, Al Green’s success was clearly due to his incredible singing voice and pure charisma and dynamic personality on stage playing to a crowd. He’s got a ton of videos from shows like “Soul Train” and “The Midnight Special” and they’re all pretty much like this: hot.

Here’s the studio version which is more dynamic and cleaner musically.  



The whole album is great, and starts with this tune followed by “Take Me to the River”, one of his most iconic and well known songs.

Happy Birthday Al!

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

What is Juneteenth?


The U.S. government declared “Juneteenth” a new federal holiday in 2021 to commemorate June 19, 1865 when Union forces ordered Confederate dead-enders on the remote western frontier in Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, i.e. the abolition of slavery in former slave states.

For symbolic meaning I would suggest that a far more important date in history would be April 9, 1865 when Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virgina surrendered at Appomattox, because that day changed the course of history as the clear “before vs. after” date that history pivots on. The Civil War was over — although it took several weeks for other generals of other state armies in the field to stop fighting, but that’s the nature of wars in the 19th century, well before Twitter.

That day ended 4 years of an ugly brutal war that split apart families, villages, regions and states with a level of red-hot violence and hatred that led directly to the assassination of President Lincoln just five days later. It was pivotal in American history — and in world history too. 

But it wasn’t really over, despite 600,000 war dead and a fractured society, because it took another 100 years to address the more intractable issue: institutionalized racism in the halls of power, especially the federal and southern state governments.

The list of ways that the U.S. Supreme Court in particular, along with the various southern state governments, dug in their heels against treating blacks like human beings is long, varied and painful to review, and even worse, stretches well over a century.

Three examples to illustrate the point.

(1) 

Dred Scott vs Sandford in 1857 declared that all persons of African descent — not just slaves — are not entitled to any rights that citizens enjoy, by definition:

“… are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States”

Well. Good to know. Here’s a good video explaining why the decision was so epically awful. 



(2)

The Reconstruction amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th) in the postwar years 1865-70, specifically the Citizenship Clause of the 14th, were intended to restate the founding principles of the country and overcome wrong-headed decisions like the above — but went unenforced and essentially ignored in southern states where they were needed the most. Who has Constitutional oversight to force states to comply with federal law? The Executive Branch of the federal government. But they did nothing, probably because there was in fact no real way to enforce federal law at that time.

(3)

Plessy vs Ferguson — settled in 1896, over 30 years after the end of the Civil War — could have put all that to rest but chose instead to enshrine the caste system of “separate but equal” as settled law. This single decision ratified the “Jim Crow laws” era and set the course for almost 70 more years of enforced segregation.

It was not until 1954 that segregation and “separate but equal” were finally recognized as illegal with “Brown vs. Board of Education” — but even that was not enough to pull the dead-enders forward into the 20th century, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

So it took 100 more years after the war ended to accomplish what the Emancipation Proclamation set out to do.

Juneteenth as a holiday makes sense, perhaps, as a Texas day of remembrance — and was declared a state holiday for that purpose in 1980. 

But as a national holiday? 

The days we choose to memorialize as a culture become the stories we tell in the future, and it’s not really that I’m against telling the Juneteenth story as much as I’m wondering who’s going to tell the story about government denying rights to black people for another 100 years. That’s the story that needs telling.

For completeness here is the actual text of the order of June 19, 1865.

Head Quarters District of Texas
Galveston Texas June 19th 1865.
General Orders
No. 3.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

By order of Major General Granger

Monday, April 11, 2022

Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon

 

Fans of acoustic guitar may know the name Leo Kottke who released an amazing, original and groundbreaking album named “6 and 12 String Guitar” in 1974. 

He’s widely recognized as a fingerpicking legend, especially on 12 string, and has carved out a legacy for himself because of it.

In the mid-2000s he teamed up with Mike Gordon, former Phish bass player, to make incredible and original music like this. 



They have released two albums together, “Sixty Six Steps” in 2005 and “Noon” in 2020 (from which the songs in above video are taken).

I’m more familiar with “Sixty Six Steps” so here’s a few tunes from that one.

“Rings”, instantly recognizable to me but not sure who did it originally … turns out it was Lobo from 1974.



“Living in the Country”



“Sweet Emotion”, the Aerosmith classic. Takes awhile to get going but I applaud the effort to do something different to make a well-known song their own.







Sunday, April 10, 2022

3 Point Shot Breaking the NBA?

 

This video explains the evolution of the impact of the 3-point shot in the NBA but despite the title, it only superficially discusses whether it is breaking the NBA or not.



Analytics drove this change when the management of the Golden State Warriors — in Silicon Valley, dontcha know — decided to pursue this style of play around 2008-09

The reason for emphasizing the three-pointer: to increase offensive efficiency as measured by points per 100 possessions.

By essentially replacing some two-pointers with three-pointers, especially if you can shoot well above 33% on those threes, you can squeeze more points from an equal number of possessions. It’s just math: shooting 50% on two pointers is the goal, so if you can shoot sbove 33% on threes you get more points for a given number of shots.

This de-emphasizes the mid-range and low-post game across the league, causing changes in who teams draft and what skill sets they want, which means those changes have already rippled through the college game too.

All of that is expected as a natural consequence of making the three-pointer the focal point of the offense. 

But as always there are unintended consequences, which can change things in radical and surprising ways, and some of that is definitely happening here.

The following are just my observations, the way the game looks different to me, and listed in order of importance for me personally: 

  • Creates stagnation and reduces cutting and player movement away from the ball — many if not most posessions are four or five guys all standing 20+ feet from the basket near the three point line, with little cutting or movement away from the ball 
  • Reduces offensive rebounding opportunities and the effort and attitude that goes with that, which makes teams more passive overall and results in a lot of boring “one and done” possessions where no offensive player is within 20 feet of the rebound
  • Defense becomes less of a factor since closely defending players 24 feet from the basket is risky
  • Creates potential over-reliance on outside shooting, which some days is just not there, as every fan already knows has always been a risk — but now it’s even bigger

All big negatives for me. Others may disagree and I get that, but as a fan I have strong preferences for a very active style of play with lots of movement away from the ball (back door cuts etc), strong defense and high levels of effort and “want to” especially on the boards — and if you take much of that away, and there’s a lot of standing around, I start to lose interest.

For me, and many others I suspect, it’s just become a much different and less appealing game, even if others like it the same or even more.



Saturday, April 09, 2022

Today in 1865: Gen. Robert E. Lee Surrenders, Ending U.S. Civil War

 



History.com explains.

In retreating from the Union army’s Appomattox Campaign, the Army of Northern Virginia had stumbled through the Virginia countryside stripped of food and supplies. At one point, Union cavalry forces under General Philip Sheridan had actually outrun Lee’s army, blocking their retreat and taking 6,000 prisoners at Sayler’s Creek. Desertions were mounting daily, and by April 8 the Confederates were surrounded with no possibility of escape. On April 9, Lee sent a message to Grant announcing his willingness to surrender. The two generals met in the parlor of the Wilmer McLean home at one o’clock in the afternoon.

Note the extremely generous terms of surrender:

Lee asked for the terms, and Grant hurriedly wrote them out. All officers and men were to be pardoned, and they would be sent home with their private property–most important, the horses, which could be used for a late spring planting. Officers would keep their side arms, and Lee’s starving men would be given Union rations.

Grant said “[The Rebels] were now our countrymen. We did not want to exult over their downfall”.

It’s very apparent from reading Grant’s account of the surrender in his memoirs that his immense respect for General Lee and their shared West Point heritage got in the way here:

… I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us ...

We soon fell into a conversation about old army times. He remarked that he remembered me very well in the old army; and I told him that as a matter of course I remembered him perfectly, but from the difference in our rank and years (there being about sixteen years' difference in our ages), I had thought it very likely that I had not attracted his attention sufficiently to be remembered by him after such a long interval. Our conversation grew so pleasant that I almost forgot the object of our meeting. After the conversation had run on in this style for some time, General Lee called my attention to the object of our meeting, and said that he had asked for this interview for the purpose of getting from me the terms I proposed to give his army.

Five days later President Lincoln was assassinated. Grant won two terms as president starting in 1868 and was a key leader in the Reconstruction effort, which Johnson (Lincoln’s vice president) had resisted.

I’m a little surprised that this day is not more widely known, remembered, and commemorated since the U.S. Civil War was one of the bloodiest and ugliest wars in our history. 

Thursday, April 07, 2022

German Unification, Prussia, and Napoleon

 

Following on my earlier posts on Prussia and Napoleon this video on German unification from 1805-1918 ties those together and hints at how unbelievably chaotic that part of the world was throughout the 19th century.

As with all History Matters videos, it throws a lot of details at you very quickly, so on first viewing it’s more important to absorb the major themes, which the narrator provides in a helpful summary at the end.



For me, growing up the United States in the latter half of the 20th century, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend how tribal and fractured Europe has been since … well since forever really.

The path to The Great War (WWI) always seemed so haphazard and indecipherable to me, before learning about this backstory of near-constant war, tribal, national and religious alliances, shifting kingdoms and borders, treaties signed and violated every 20 years, culture shocks from the American and French Revolutions, and regional power struggles.

This video lays it all out — the stage for WWI was set for decades, if not centuries. 

The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was more a symptom of all the prior conflict than a cause of the conflict that followed, and the messy balance of power that existed after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 turned into absolute German dominance by the 1870s and 1880s. At that point it was just a matter of time.

My earlier posts on Napoleon and Prussia:

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

A Few Artworks by Raoul Dufy

 

Raoul Dufy was a French painter born in 1877 at Le Havre, Normandy who was part of the Post-Impressionism movement and helped push it in new directions by emphasizing even brighter, bolder colors than Van Gogh, Gaugin and others, eventually leading to the “Cubism” of Picasso and many others.


Homage to Claude Debussy, 1952


 


Boats at Martigues, 1908





The Racecourse of Deauville, 1950


 


Trouville, 1907




Links

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Ted Lasso and his Epic and Often Hilarious Quotes

 

Jason Sudeikis is Ted Lasso, an American football coach with a relentlessly positive can-do attitude and a “down home” demeanor who talks a mile a minute and smiles 24x7 — and also somehow gets hired to coach a British soccer team despite zero knowledge of the sport. 

The reason for that has to do with the new owner, a divorced woman named Rebecca who becomes owner as a result of the divorce and wants to make the team as horrible as possible to get back at her ex. Rebecca might need a life coach, not just a soccer coach.

It’s really an ensemble cast with several supporting characters, all of them developed and explored in some depth over the two seasons released so far, and almost all of them very likable. Except Nate. You’ll see why if you watch it.

It’s my favorite type of show: comedy with real human stories woven into it. Like real life: comedy and tragedy all mixed up in a stew.

    His quotes have become one of the centerpieces of the show. Here’s a list of 65 Ted Lasso quotes from which I pulled a “Top Twelve” of my own below.

    Since he’s a coach, the main themes are leadership and putting the team first, but he delivers them with self-deprecating humor so it hits a little different. 

    This video shows examples of his leadership.



    Some of the best scenes from season 1.



    He does a few quotes in every show and at first they catch you off-guard because they seem so random and odd but after a few episodes you start looking for them in anticipation. 

    Top Twelve Ted Lasso Quotes

    1. Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn't it? If you're comfortable while you're doing it, you're probably doing it wrong.
    2. I feel like we fell out of a lucky tree, hit every branch on the way down, ended up in a pool full of cash and Sour Patch Kids.
    3. Be honest with me. It's a prank, right? The tea? Like when us tourist folks aren't around, y'all know it tastes like garbage? You don't love it. It's pigeon sweat.
    4. On Rebecca attending team branding meetings: I always feel so bad for the cows, but you gotta do it; otherwise, they get lost. That was a branding joke. If we were in Kansas right now, I'd just be sitting here waiting for you to finish laughing.
    5. For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It's about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.
    6. If I didn't have any confidence, I never would've worn pajamas to my prom and ended up in jail the rest of that night.
    7. You two knuckleheads have split our locker room in half. And when it comes to locker rooms, I like 'em just like my mother's bathing suits. I only wanna see 'em in one piece, you hear?
    8. You know what the happiest animal on Earth is? It's a goldfish. Y'know why? It's got a 10-second memory. Be a goldfish.
    9. I'm not sure what y'all's smallest unit of measurement is here, but that's about how much headway I made.
    10. On scones: It's like a muffin, except it sucks all the spit out of your mouth.
    11. Boy, I love meeting people's moms. It's like reading an instruction manual as to why they're nuts.
    12. Guys have underestimated me my entire life. And for years, I never understood why. It used to really bother me. But then one day, I was driving my little boy to school, and I saw this quote by Walt Whitman, and it was painted on the wall there. It said, 'Be curious, not judgmental.' I like that.


    Monday, April 04, 2022

    Rick Beato Talks with Buck Dharma about “Don’t Fear the Reaper”

     

    More Cowbell !!

    I liked this song the first time I heard it upon its release in 1976 — that guitar riff is killer and it only gets better from there — and later of course the tune grew to legendary status when SNL cleverly came up with the “more cowbell” skit, which they discuss on the video.



    Buck Dharma — real name Don Roeser — looks great for a guy in his 50s, especially since he’s 74. 

    An interesting interview, and Don is likable. He was born in 1947 and his father was a jazz saxophonist so he heard a lot of jazz as a child, and then decided to become a musician when the British Invasion hit our shores in early 1964. He went to college for Chemical Engineering but dropped out to start the band that would become Blue Oyster Cult.

    For “Don’t Fear the Reaper” he wrote the riff, the lyrics, and arrangement, so this is all him. He even recorded the demo himself on a multi-track TEAC tape deck that he had just bought.

    Here’s the original. As Rick notes, the cowbell is much more buried in the mix and barely noticeable in the song itself, as we would expect; it was only the comedy skit that makes us now think it’s so prominent.



    The SNL skit.


    Sunday, April 03, 2022

    Reminder: It’s Good to be Alive

     

    Jason Gray is here to remind us of this important fact.



    Gratitude


    We all need a reminder about that sometimes. 

    So right here right now
    While the Sun is shining down
    I wanna live
    Like there’s no tomorrow
    Love
    Like I’m on borrowed time
    It’s good to be alive

    We are always living and loving on borrowed time, we just don’t realize it.

    Friday, April 01, 2022

    At Daryl’s House to Hear the Live Music

     

    About ten years ago I discovered that Daryl Hall (of Hall and Oates) had a cool idea for a TV show: invite musician friends, old and new, to play music at his home just for fun. 

    “Live From Daryl’s House” was born in 2007 as internet-only but moved to cable in 2011 where I discovered it soon after. The best places to watch it now are YouTube (of course) and the episode archive at the show’s website (click above link).  

    Lots of great music on this show: Daryl Hall’s band is top notch and can play any style you can think of, and so they mesh well with the guests who range from the O’Jays and Cee Lo Green to Joe Walsh and Jason Mraz to the Neon Trees and Elle King and Fitz and the Tantrums. 

    A little bit of everything, and the inevitable result is that you hear some musicians you’ve never heard before, always a good thing.

    Joe Walsh, “Life’s Been Good”



    One of the all-time great guitar intros, and then funny lyrics making fun of certain rock ‘n roll musicians whose lifestyle choices could have been better.

    I’ve got a mansion
    Forget the price
    Never been there
    They tell me it’s nice
    I live in hotels
    Tear out the walls
    I have accountants
    Pay for it all
    They say I’m crazy
    But it takes all my time
    I’m just looking for clues
    At the scene of the crime

    Here’s a tune with Kevin and Michael Bacon of “The Bacon Brothers”.



    I literally knew nothing about this band before — but they’ve done 10 albums over 23 years and Michael is a composer who made a name for himself as a singwriter in Nashville in the 70s. 

    Here’s Cee Lo Green doing “One on One” sounding like he was born to sing this song.


     

    Kenny Loggins, "This Is It".

     

     

    With John Oates and G.E. Smith, “The Weight”



    Fitz and the Tantrums, “Breakin’ the Chains of Love”.



    Here’s another tune from that show, “Picking Up the Pieces”. I like this band.



    There’s so much more but you get the idea: have some fun making music and creating something new and fresh in a relaxed setting. Highly recommended, obviously. 



    Thursday, March 31, 2022

    Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia: On the All-Time List of Military Disasters

     

    Near the Top, I Think

    As we all know by now, invading Russia just never works out. But in 1812 Napoleon had yet to try it, he was undefeated for nearly 20 years, and besides, he was Napoleon.

    But mainly he was pissed at Czar Alexander II for withdrawing from a trade blockade against the British and decided it was a good idea to invade a gigantic country with the largest army ever assembled to that time, 500,000 men, planning to quickly overwhelm the Russians with that huge army and force Alexander to the bargaining table. 

    And waiting until late June to get started.

    That plan did not work out. See if you can guess why.

    The Russians, like Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman in the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle”, used a rope-a-dope strategy, retreating and luring Napoleon’s Grand Armee deeper and deeper into the interior of Russia as the calendar advanced, abandoning cities and burning all the crops and supplies to starve and demoralize enemy forces.

    All the way to Moscow, which they also burned. 

    By now it’s September. Tick, tock.

    Napoleon waited in Moscow several weeks for a surrender that never came, and by then it was the middle of October and the French were forced to retreat with no way to survive the winter. 




    But it was already far too late, and the retreat was horrific, with a starving and exhausted army, an early and cold winter, aggressive counter-attacks by Russian forces during the retreat, and no food or supplies to be found along the way. 

    By late November it was chaos, every man for himself. Tens of thousands deserted, the wounded left behind. They resorted to stacking dead bodies to block the wind and crawling inside the carcasses of dead horses for warmth.

    Only 100,000 returned to France, the other 400,000 - 500,000 troops dead, deserted, left behind, or captured. 

    In the annals of military disasters, this one is way up there near the top. Hitler would learn it all over again at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-3.

    Links