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

Today in 1814: Napoleon Defeated, Paris Falls

 

One of the most fascinating people in history, by 1807 Napoleon had conquered, annexed or strong-armed nearly all of Europe.

Shrewd and ambitious, he took advantage of the chaos after the French Revolution:  promoted all the way to commander of the entire French military at 26, and ran a successful coup to run the country at 30 in 1799. 

He fought more battles than Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar combined, according to the Why Napoleon? page at the Napoleonic Historical Society, calling him “the most famous self-made man in history”, and they make a good case for it.

I recommend reading the Napoleon page at history.com and watching the short and entertaining video at the top to get a good summary of his impressive accomplishments away from the battlefield too: leading the country out of chaos, building Paris into a beautiful city of parks and boulevards, creating the French banking system and setting up a “fair and modern” legal code that’s still in use today.

But he was headed straight for the rocks in a major way.

Starting in 1812 his armies suffered a string of crushing defeats — the first and the worst, by far, was the disastrous and infamous invasion of Russia in 1812 (more on that soon). Then in 1813 after other nation-states saw an opportunity and joined together to fight his forces, he lost decisively at the Battle of Leipzig. By March 30, 1814, those enemy forces marched into Paris and Napoleon abdicated. 

In less than two years he went from the most powerful ruler in the world to isolated, shamed and defeated. 

The next 15 months were, um, interesting. In April 1814 he was exiled to Elba, a tiny island in the Mediterranean — but escaped with the help of 1,000 supporters and returned to Paris triumphant in March 1815, at which time Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia began to prepare for war. So Napoleon raised an army and by June he invaded Belgium but suffered another epic defeat in June at Waterloo, whereupon he was handed over to the Brits and they exiled him again, this time to St Helena in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

He died there in 1821.

Links


Linda Ronstadt Became a Huge Star Almost Overnight in the 1970s (Part 2)


The song that really put her on the map was “You’re No Good” in 1974, a remake of a Betty Everett minor hit from 1964. Andrew Gold played drums, keyboards, and guitars (including the solo). 

Surprisingly, it was her only #1 hit.

“You’re No Good” studio version.



The live version (below) is first rate with an incredibly hot band with Andrew Gold on guitar and Richie Heyward of Little Feat on drums and Skunk Baxter of Steely Dan (later the Doobie Brothers) on congas, plus legends Ronnie Spector and Clydie King on backing vocals. Listen to the interplay between the congas, drums, and guitar starting around 1:20 in.



The next several years were a barrage of hit single after hit single, playing stadiums on tour, becoming an overnight star with lots of magazine covers and TV appearances.

But for me her ballads are where she really lets loose and showcases her true range of vocal skills. 

Here’s one of the best, “Lose Again”, and this video, with her and the band recording it live in studio (or appearing to), is mesmerizing.



Within the first ten seconds she has already shown her tremendous power, range, and tone. That’s all her natural voice and talent. No Auto Tune, no Pro Tools, no nothing. Just her voice and a microphone.

“The Tracks of My Tears”, the 60s hit by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles.



Again, the combination of range, power, and pure tone … it’s hard to believe anyone can sing that well. Like, is that a real person?

Her best known ballad, “Blue Bayou”, originally by Roy Orbison.



Part 3 coming soon.

Part 1 is here.

One of the Greatest Movies You’ve Never Seen: “Secondhand Lions”


Secondhand Lions from 2003. Here is the trailer.

Sometimes you watch some movie you’ve never heard of and wonder why it isn’t much more widely known and admired, this is one of those.

Set in the early 60s, it stars both Michael Caine and Robert Duvall as a couple of crazy old (and apparently rich) uncles who take in a young boy relative (played by Haley Joel Osment) — whose mother manipulates and abandons him — and teach him what being a man is really all about: courage, honor, sacrifice, and virtue.

The story is timeless and classic — it feels like it was lifted straight from the 1950s — and you grow to like the characters you’re supposed to like and dislike those you’re not. 

The uncles have led quite the adventurous life, if we can believe all their stories — we’re never quite sure, and various people float rumors about their past and where they got their cash, but then we slowly realize it doesn’t really matter if a story is strictly 100% true or not if it inspires people and captures their imaginations and teaches them about what they should aim for and what is important in life.

Family-friendly, with life lessons and humor and larger-than-life characters. Did I mention that Robert Duvall and Michael Caine are in it?

Quote from the Robert Duvall character “Hub”: 

"Sometimes, the things that may or may not be true, are the things that a man needs to believe in the most. That people are good, that honor, courage and virtue mean everything, that power and money, money and power mean nothing, that good always triumphs over evil, … that love … true love never dies."

Here’s that scene.



A wonderful tale, masterfully told, with excellent acting all around, and a real throwback to when movies instilled valuable life lessons.

It’s available to buy or rent on YouTube and Amazon along with other ways to watch it, and does play on cable occasionally (that’s how I first saw it about 10 years ago).

Links


Linda Ronstadt Became a Huge Star Almost Overnight in the 1970s

 

I had never heard of her and then suddenly she’s the queen of the pop charts — and with good reason.

An excellent singer with a rich, powerful voice steeped in multiple styles of music from a very young age, she made two excellent choices in 1973-4 that changed everything for her: a new manager and producer, Peter Asher, and an ace studio musician and arranger who played multiple instruments, Andrew Gold. 

Looking back I realize two things now about her music: 1) I actually like her ballads better than her rocked-up numbers because they showcase her amazing singing talent the best, and (2) because the biggest hits with the most radio airplay were the rocked-up numbers, I was a little lukewarm on her overall, back then.

Live and learn, grasshopper. Live and learn.

She formed the Stone Poneys at age 18 in 1964 with some musician friends — their biggest hit was “Different Drum” (written by Michael Nesmith of The Monkees) in 1967.



By 1969 she went solo but over the course of several albums over the next several years she struggled to find a consistent style and enough quality material — usually this points squarely at the manager and/or producer — but did make two solid singles that made a dent in the Country charts, “Long, Long Time” and “Silver Threads and Golden Needles”.

“Long, Long Time”, her first solo hit from 1969, a straight ahead country crooner similar to Patsy Cline.



“Silver Threads and Golden Needles” from a TV show around 1974 with The Eagles (her backing band for a bit around 1971).



The Eagles were on their own path to stardom, obviously. But those two solo tunes showed her potential — to make near-perfect pop/rock/country records, she just needed a top-tier manager and producer, and ace studio musicians.

Enter Peter Asher and Andrew Gold to completely transform her sound and quality of material. 

As a result lots of people liked it and bought millions of records, and by the next year she’s playing stadiums and arenas, the first female ever to do that. 

She also became the first female with five platinum albums in a row (1 million copies sold).

More on this next week.

170 Years Ago This Week: Uncle Tom’s Cabin is Published, Fueling the Abolitionist Movement

 

And becomes the best-selling book of the 19th century in the U.S. (besides the Bible).

You can read the summary of the plot here — but far more interesting historically is the impact it had.

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote it in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which threw gas on the fire, exacerbating a long-running sore point between free and slave states — how much are people in free states obligated to help return escaped slaves to their owners? How legally liable can they be? It quickly turns into a thorny question with conflicts between states, and between federal and state law.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin resonated with the public because it told a dramatic story about contemporary moral struggles with a noble Christian slave protagonist, and in telling that story made a convincing case that slavery was fundamentally incompatible with Christianity.

The book is best understood not as an isolated incident but as part of the abolitionist movement started in the 1700s in both the Colonies and Britain and was fueled by two major forces, the Enlightenment and Christianity — and it directly opposed the very big business that the slave trade had become since the 1500s. 

The slave trade was very big business not just for the British but for the Dutch, French, Portuguese, and Spaniards in the West Indies, South America, and United States. It was global, and a key piece of colonial power.

The entire economies in many of these places depended on slavery and the slave trade — this was well before the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century that would transform every modern economy in the world. This means that in addition to moral questions around slavery and the slave trade there were very powerful economic interests with little incentive to do away with it. 

The British were the leading edge of the abolitionist movement and the first to abolish the slave trade (1807) and then the practice itself (1833). Prominent figures were James Oglethorpe, William Wilberforce, and several other Brits.

Oglethorpe was a British soldier and MP who founded the colony of Georgia in 1732 (as a place to send “the unemployed and the unemployable”) and outlawed slavery there for a time from 1735 to 1750.

Wilberforce was a British MP who, after becoming an Evangelical Christian in 1785 and the main abolitionist in Parliament, was a prime driver behind the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807 and then the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 in Parliament. 

But there’s so much more and I encourage clicking one or more of the links below.

Somehow the British, at one time the largest slaveholders in the world, get little recognition for their role in abolishing slavery throughout their lands. They also avoided fighting a Civil War over it, probably because it was more of a Colonialism issue than an internal regional conflict.

More on the U.S. role in the abolitionist movement soon. 

Recommended listening: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast in general and his most recent episode on the Atlantic slave trade, it’s fascinating and insightful, as always. I learned a lot and I’m only halfway through (it’s nearly 6 hours in length, so you have to break it into consumable chunks).

Recommended video for context:


Links:

 

Random Music For Your Enjoyment

 

Steely Dan, "Your Gold Teeth"



A deep cut from their second album, “Countdown to Ecstasy” in 1974. 

For non-Dan fans, I would suggest that the vocals are not really where you should focus your attention; listen for the instrumental fills, the percussion, the interplay between the musicians, the chord progression, the solos … very much like listening to jazz. 

Go one level deeper than usual.

The first solo break is at 2:44 — keyboard first, then guitar, nearly two minutes.

Speaking of jazz, I learned yesterday that the theme from the TV show “Taxi” … 



… is a shortened version of “Angela” by Bob James — and he just released a new video performance of it, live in studio, 3 weeks ago.


 

A palate cleanser — Linda Ronstadt, “Lose Again”. I could listen to this song every day, and lately, I have been doing just that. Amazing vocals.



Another classic from Linda, “The Tracks of My Tears”, originally by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.



More to come on Linda.

Andrew Gold: You May Not Know the Name, But You Know His Music

 

Recently while doing research I learned that one of the musicians on “On and On” — one of the very few songs I really dislike — was Andrew Gold on guitar.

In case his name is not familiar, he had two pretty sizable hits in the late 70s, “Lonely Boy” (‘77) and “Thank You For Being a Friend” (‘78), both of which I remember well and still like to this day.

Here he discusses how “Lonely Boy” came together, followed by the single itself.



They worked out this song on the road over many months while opening for Linda Ronstadt and finally perfected it to the point that they started to get standing ovations — in the middle of the song. 

After the tour was over they recorded the single “live” in the studio — in one take, no doubt — and you can really hear the energy on the record. It just pops.

By that time he had already became a force in the LA music scene after helping Linda Ronstadt as songwriter, musician, arranger and producer on her big mid- and late-70s albums starting with “Heart Like a Wheel” and her first big (and only #1) solo hit, “You’re No Good”. 

Wikipedia explains in more detail:

By the early 1970s, Gold was working full-time as a musician, songwriter and record producer. He was a member of the Los Angeles band Bryndle, alongside Kenny Edwards, Wendy Waldman and Karla Bonoff, releasing the single "Woke Up This Morning" in 1970. He played a major role as multi-instrumentalist and arranger for Linda Ronstadt's breakthrough album, 1974's Heart Like a Wheel, and her next two albums. After Ronstadt's Hasten Down the Wind, Gold began a career as a solo artist. Among other accomplishments, he played the majority of instruments on "You're No Good", Ronstadt's only No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, and on "When Will I Be Loved", "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave", and many other hits. He was in her band from 1973 until 1977, and then sporadically throughout the 1980s and 1990s, performing at some of her concerts.

In other words, a lot of that recognizable “hitmaker” sound you hear on those classic Ronstadt records is Andrew Gold (still in his early 20s) playing many of the instruments and doing most or all of the arranging.

The music industry relies on people like him to do the heavy lifting of putting the finishing touches on studio recordings — but who get zero credit. 

Here he is discussing the making of “You’re No Good”, followed by the song itself. He played drums, keyboards, and guitar (including the “George Harrison thing” solo as he calls it).



Following this huge success he started his solo career in 1975 but continued to play a major role in her sound through ‘77 and in her touring band, off and on, through the 80s. 

Like the title character in “Lonely Boy”, Andrew Gold was born in the summer of ‘51, had a sister born in ‘53, and left home in ‘69 — but he insists the song is not about him and that he had a very happy childhood. He says he just picked the dates that matched his own life to add details and structure to the song.

Here’s “Thank You For Being a Friend”, later adopted as the theme for “Golden Girls”.



He passed away at just 59 years old in 2011 of complications from kidney cancer. 


For the curious, this is the post I was researching when I found he played guitar on “On and On”:  Songs So Bad They’re Great.

Formula 1 Season is Underway: Charles Leclerc wins at Bahrain

 

Congrats to him and to the Scuderia Ferrari team for winning their first race since 2019 and taking the top 2 spots with Carlos Sainz finishing second. 

Race highlights (click photo to go to formula1.com site for the video):



A lot has changed for the sport this year, with new F1 rules to increase competition making it easier to pass and using new fuel formulation, E10.



One of the biggest changes is that new fuel “E10” which is 10% ethanol, a formulation similar to what you and I buy at the local pump — believe it or not these high performance cars use fuel very close to our old friend 87 octane regular unleaded — which burns at a different temperature (unsure if hotter or colder) affecting combustion especially during low fuel conditions. 

Such as, at the end of the race, which is when both Red Bull cars suffered mechanical failures and dropped out, on lap 55 (Max Verstappen) and 56 (Sergio Perez) in a 57 lap race, resulting in zero points for either driver and the team itself, after starting P2 and P4. 

This video says it was due to that fuel combustion temperature issue.



Obviously they have some work to do.

Next race is this weekend at the Saudi Arabia Jeddah Corniche circuit — not many turns and lots of straights.





5:47am and Already on my Second Cup of Coffee


Awake for an hour already, but that’s okay — I did sleep well for 5 and 1/2 hours and that works for me, no matter what the “experts” say. 

Maybe it’s just me — although I doubt it very much — but listening to experts on how much sleep one needs is silly when your own mind and body sends you very clear signals on a daily basis for a variable that changes from day to day. 

As long as I feel good when I wake up, the rest is details. Sleep is to rest and recharge — if I feel rested and recharged, I’m good. The number of hours it took to get me there is immaterial. Who cares?

But what is there to do at 5:47am, you ask? Well I enjoy — actually I require — peace and solitude in the morning and so for me this is not an issue. Usually I have coffee and play a puzzle game like Solitaire or Sudoku, or listen to music or a podcast, but here are more things one could do:  read a book, pray, check online stuff, clean and organize your desk (or tackle some other 20 minute task that you “never have time for”), write an email to someone you haven’t connected with in a while, make a list for what needs done today or this week, etc. 

As always, the only limiting factor is your imagination. 

What if I get tired later? Well, then I get tired later. If I don’t, I don’t.

And I’ve also learned over the years, getting more sleep can easily become too much sleep and results in feeling groggy and out of it. We all have our “normal” amount of sleep that we like best and works well for us, but at least for me, there are some days I need either more or less than my normal amount. Who knows why? I don’t waste time trying to understand everything.

It’s all about feeling rested or at least “good enough” when you’re awake. Whatever amount of sleep gets you there on that day, that was the right amount.

In some ways this is just like my dad who woke up by 4:45 nearly every day, no alarm required. Early morning was “his” time:  he would make coffee, read the paper and do the crossword puzzle, listen to WGN-AM talk radio — Wally Phillips, just like every other adult in the midwest — plan his day, and just generally enjoy the quiet and solitude. 

Quiet and solitude. This is becoming a lost art, with smartphones, cable news and our strange and unhealthy need to know what’s going on halfway around the world, right now. 

It’s a radical thought these days, but taking time every day to live fully in the present, in your own physical space, and shut out the noise that disrupts your life is pretty important too. Maybe even more important than the hours of sleep we get, sometimes. 

It’s almost like our parents knew better. Crazy, huh? 


Unexpected Delights: Rachael Price


Rachael Price, "Can't Find My Way Home"



Incredible version of this great song. Play it again, is my recommendation.

Steve Winwood wrote this song when he was 20 years old. What were you doing when you were 20 years old? Not writing songs this great, probably. Here’s my post on Steve Winwood’s Musical Genius.

Enjoy your March Madness weekends and good luck, especially if you picked Kentucky!

Bryan Cranston is Even Better Than You Know

 

On Sunday while out doing stadium stairs I listened to the Bryan Cranston episode of the “Smartless” podcast — and learned several new things about him as an actor and as a person, all of it positive.

His childhood was difficult, especially after age 11 when it turned into a bit of a nightmare. 

His dad could not keep steady work as an actor so the family had big ups and downs from year to year: a memorable quote from the podcast, “one year we got a built-in swimming pool, the next year we couldn’t afford the chemicals for it”. 

This kind of chaos was a pattern but it got worse: a “foreclosure” sign on the front door and his dad abandoned them at around the same time. 

He was 11 years old, with two siblings.

Then his mom, unable to deal with all that, put more energy into finding another man than being her kids’ mother, and started drinking to excess.

Number of parents he could now count on: down to “none”.

So he moved in with his grandparents and somehow despite all of that stayed out of trouble in high school — even more surprising, he decided to become a police officer after taking an aptitude test, and went on to earn a police science degree at community college, graduating first in his class. 

As part of fulfilling his elective requirements he took an acting class, and never looked back.

On the podcast he was asked how he was able to overcome all the bad examples his parents set — his dad unreliable and finally gone, and his mom drinking — and he answered that at least now he definitely knew what not to do. While he didn’t come out and say this, you still need a certain type of adaptability in your genetic makeup to do that — and not everyone has it.

Despite all that turmoil he’s been married for 32 years now. He seems to have figured it out on his own pretty well.

He also told a story about learning how to approach auditions — with confidence and being who you are and doing the role instead of trying out for it, desperate and needy and playing it the way you think they want you to. This is great advice for life and careers in general, not just acting. You have to be who you are, which of course first requires understanding who you are and what you stand for.

Then he told a story about being the “no drama” guy on the set, and showing leadership by confronting anyone who makes it “all about me”. 

I always liked him as an actor, from recurring roles on Seinfeld and King of Queens to a starring role in Malcolm in the Middle and then of course Breaking Bad — which I didn’t watch until last year, very late to the party on that one. 

My list of Hollywood folks that I truly admire as people is pretty short, but he’s on it now.

He just turned 66 last week.

“Smartless” is Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett doing interviews with surprise guests — only one of them knows at the start of each show who the guest is — and having laughs along the way. 

Fans of “Breaking Bad” or “Better Call Saul” may also enjoy the Bob Odenkirk episode (April ‘21) — I know I did.

Smokey Robinson, Rob Thomas, and Wyclef Jean “Live at Daryl’s House”

 

“Sara Smile” followed by “Ooo Baby Baby” with Daryl Hall and his band.



Catch those vocal harmonies … holy smokes. I might have to listen to this a few times today. 

Here’s Rob Thomas doing a great version of “She’s Gone”.



The variety on this show is one of the best things about it — here’s Wyclef Jean on “No Woman No Cry”.



Collaboration and mutual respect between musicians playing live is a really cool thing to watch.

My respect for Daryl Hall as an artist grew quite a bit from watching Live From Daryl’s House over the years, and will write more about it soon — but if you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend going to the show’s website or YouTube channel and poking around a bit. 

Julius Caesar Assassinated on this Day in 44 BC

 

So that would be … 2022 + 44 … 2066 years ago? A long time ago, let’s put it that way.

He was stabbed by 30-60 senators. That’s quite an assassination plot to keep secret, with that many people involved, and nobody leaked it.



Britannica.com summarizes:

His ambition had driven the Roman world into civil war, but his military genius had seen that contest settled in his favor. Ultimately, Caesar was undone by his own magnanimity, for when it came to his political opponents, he was generous and forgiving to a fault. The leaders of the plot to kill him were former enemies who Caesar believed had come to support him.

More on Julius Caesar here. One of the most famous people in the history of the world. Our month of July is named after him, and he (along with Aleaxndrian astronomer Sisogenes) created the Julian Calendar which is nearly identical to the Gregorian Calendar we use today, and was used across the world until the 16th century, when in 1582 Pope Gregory modified it to fix errors introduced by Sisogenes who had assigned the length of the solar year incorrectly at 365 and 1/4 days, too long by 11 minutes and change. 

Over 1600 years this adds up and the seasons get all whacky. To re-align the seasons, Pope Gregory used the dates from 325 AD — the year of the First Council of Nicaea that essentially established Christianity as the “official” religion of the Roman Empire — which is why we have the first day of Spring on March 21 today. Fun fact!

In any case we’ve all probably heard the saying “beware the Ides of March”, a line directly from William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. But what exactly is the “Ides of March”? Where did that even come from?

Wikipedia tells us that — as one might suspect — it’s related to the cycles of the moon and each month has 3 key dates:  the Nones, the Ides, and the Kalends.

  • The Ides of any month is the 13th (for 30-day “hollow” months) or 15th (for 31-day “full” months) and corresponds to the full moon 
  • The Nones are 8 days before that and correspond to the quarter moon 
  • The Kalends are the first of the month and correspond to the first sliver of a crescent moon after the new moon.

In Ancient Rome, March was the first month in the calendar, so the Ides of March was the first full moon of the new year.

And on a personal note, my late father would have been 85 today. Miss you, Dad.

Shipwrecked HMS Endurance from 1914 Antarctica Expedition

 

Yep That Must Be The One


The name Ernest Shackleford may sound familiar — he led several expeditions to Antarctica in the early 1900s. This ship was part of the third one, and as you can see, it didn’t go well.

The first two expeditions did not fully meet the goals so he organized a third — but instead it turned into almost two years of unbelievable hell on Earth. Somehow all 27 of them survived, but when you read the full story and think about all they had to overcome, it’s nearly impossible to believe that nobody died.

They left South Georgia Island (several hundred miles east of the Falklands, in the South Atlantic) on December 5, 1914 — that’s the middle of Summer in the Southern Hemisphere — and within 2 days were surrounded by ice, and within 6 weeks were trapped in it. They had no choice but to wait for winter to come and go and the thaw that they hoped would follow. 

But in October the ship, after months of being pushed this way and that by moving sea ice, was finally gashed open and started taking on water. Forced to abandon the ship and set up camp on ice floes, over the next few weeks they unloaded as much vital cargo as possible and tossed everything else overboard. Within four weeks it sunk in 10,000 feet of water. That’s it in the picture above, just found last week.

During all that time, Shackleford showed great leadership to keep morale up and project confidence:

Shackleton, wrote Alexander Macklin, one of the ship’s surgeons, “did not rage at all, or show outwardly the slightest sign of disappointment; he told us simply and calmly that we must winter in the Pack; explained its dangers and possibilities; never lost his optimism and prepared for winter.”

In private, however, he revealed greater foreboding, quietly expressing to the ship’s captain, Frank Worsley, one winter’s night that, “The ship can’t live in this, Skipper … It may be a few months, and it may be only a question of weeks, or even days … but what the ice gets, the ice keeps.

Believe it or not, their nightmare had barely begun. I could summarize it here, but to get the full impact of how amazing it is that nobody perished in this 20 month adventure, you should read about it here: Voyage of the James Caird.


MLB Lockout is Over

 

Day 99 Agreement Reached, Let the Free Agent Frenzy Begin!

Opening Day is April 7.

Here’s a quick summary of changes for this season from mlb.com. Also, a video summary from CBS Sports.



They will play a full 162 game schedule and missed games (originally scheduled March 31 - April 6)  will be made up in a 3 game series at the end of the year plus doubleheaders during the season. 

Spring training starts today, First games tentatively March 18 (next Friday).

Summarizing that mlb.com summary plus my thoughts:

  • Postseason goes from 10 teams to 12 and the top two seeds get byes in the first round (“Wild Card round”) and the other four play a best-of-three to move to the Division Series round, with no re-seeding — probably makes more sense this way than the stupid game 163 play-in game, but get ready for a lot of late October and early November baseball even in cold climates
  • NL adopts DH — After almost 50 years of AL-only DH, the NL succumbs to the pressure and I’m ambivalent about this, because although it is nice to not be forced to watch (most) pitchers hit, the rule has a big “unintended consequences” effect on other parts of the game — especially late in games — that make it a little too offensively-oriented for my taste, plus creating roster spots for “all hit no field” players who look like they should be playing beer-league softball 
  • Extra innings return to old rules with no man on 2nd to start the 10th and each inning after — I liked the man on 2nd rule and thought it improved the game, because who needs 14 inning games in May and June? The season is long enough already, and more injuries especially in the bullpen is nobody’s first choice.
  • For 2023, they will create a new committee to decide on potential rule changes such as "a pitch clock, limits on defensive shifts, larger bases and the automatic ball/strike system". This Joint Competition Committee will be 4 players, 6 MLB reps, and one umpire, and decisions it renders can be implemented with 45 days notice to players..

There are new minimum salaries and a bunch of boring Rule 5, arbitration and service time changes listed there too. They have tabled the International Draft talks for now. Details like this are not sports, they are labor negotiation, and why any sports fan cares about that I’ll never understand. We’ve been slowly conditioned to accept lawyers representing rich people arguing with each other as “sports”. 

The complete list of changes is here.

Final comment:  I’ve weathered many of these strikes and lockouts before, but for some reason this year I am disgusted with both sides. I’ve just had enough of the whining by the players about “manipulating service time” even though the ballclubs have followed the rule as written and agreed to by the MLBPA, and about paying the young players more when the star players expect long-term deals at $50M per year, and the owners raising ticket prices to stratospheric levels and moving to subscription-only TV, and the obsession with stats and the way it has changed the game for the worse, and Astros cheating without paying much of a price, and all manner of other things. This sport is still great when they don’t screw it up but they’re screwing it up before our eyes, and the demographic trends for their fan base are not good. When you’re heading for a cliff, the first thing to do is take your foot off the gas. 

Well This is Unexpected

 

Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire dance to Led Zeppelin

Well, I can’t not click on that! It obviously has 4 things going for it:

  1. Rita Hayworth 
  2. Fred Astaire 
  3. Led Zeppelin 
  4. Rita Hayworth (duh) 



A fun and idiosyncratic video, yes, but note also the technical achievement on the editing side. It's amazing. Note how well the music matches up with the tempo and feel of the music. It just fits together. That takes both creative vision and techincal ability.

Somebody had to think of this and put this together — many many hours of work I’m sure — just for fun, and we all get to enjoy it.

Rita Hayworth is one of the most beautiful women to ever grace a screen anywhere. That’s my take and I’m not taking it back.

Against all odds I actually like old school dancing in movies from back in the day. Not many people appreciate this fact: dancers are athletes. That’s primarily what I admire about it, the amazing leg and core strength and power combined with finesse and control. Especially Gene Kelly. James Cagney, too — watch Yankee Doodle Dandy if you have not seen it yet, he’s amazing

Songs So Bad They’re Great


The other day this scene from “Animal House” popped into my head.



That guy playing guitar? Stephen Bishop, who had a hit with the awful “On and On” in 1977.



I couldn’t even finish watching the video, so you’re welcome to do the same. These lyrics …

So he takes a ladder
Steals the stars from the sky
Puts on Sinatra and starts to cry

As an old friend used to say, “gag me with a pitchfork!”

But every so often it’s fun to look into the past and remember the worst parts of pop culture, things that are so bad they’re great.

This one’s on my list, plus “Seasons in the Sun” which somehow became the #1 song on the legendary WLS Big 89 countdown for 1974 — and I was already sick of it that very night while listening to the countdown, so nearly 50 years later you can imagine what I think of it now. 

Others that come to mind:

  • “Muskrat Love”  — the whole song is a joke, apparently, but it’s hard to tell sometimes
  • “Heartbeat, It's a Love Beat” — The DeFranco Family was “Canada’s answer to the Jackson Five, the Osmonds, and the Partridge Family” and that pretty much says it all
  • “One Bad Apple” — it’s truly painful to listen to little Donny Osmond trying to sing like Michael Jackson, please just make it stop you’re hurting my ears
  • “The Night Chicago Died” — gets special mention for referring to the “east side of Chicago” which of course is in Lake Michigan

So many others of course but I don’t want to torture you any further, this is quite enough for now. More later.

Feel free to email me the “so bad it’s great” songs that you remember best, and I’ll add them here. 

Here’s the full list of WLS Big 89 Countdowns year by year, for reference. 


51 Years Ago Today: Ali vs. Frazier

 

“The Fight of the Century” 

That was how it was promoted, and that’s what it was

One of the biggest title fights in heavyweight history featuring two undefeated champs (first time in history) and Ali’s first title fight in almost 4 years after his title (won from Sonny Liston in 1964) was stripped for refusing induction into the military.

The build-up and hype and drama before this fight was incredible, talked about for months. And so often, what that leads to is disappointment. Not this time.

15 rounds, two great boxers, electricity in the air, and a rare knockdown of Ali in the 15th.

Frazier won by unanimous decision but afterwards he looked more like the loser of the fight from Ali’s quick and punishing jabs. There’s a famous photo of Frazier post-fight with giant welts above and below both eyes, but I can’t seem to find it online. 

A good breakdown of the fight.



The 15th round knockdown of Ali.



The entire fight.



Both fighters were also Olympic gold medalists — Ali (known by his given name Cassius Clay at the time) in 1960 and Frazier in 1964. Here’s an article about their Olympic wins.

George Foreman won gold in 1968, and between the three of them they would pass the world title amongst themselves for many years to follow as the most dominant heavyweights throughout the late 60s and 1970s. This period was a highlight in heavyweight boxing history.



Remembering Prussia

 

No, not Russia … Prussia

Here's another entertaining video from History Matters — I laughed out loud a couple times at the graphics, especially the clock with "War With France" at every hour — about how Prussia just sort of evaporated away over the course of several decades from the 1860s through 1932.



"If you look at the clock you'll see that it's time for War With France" …



So as with all of European history this story is insanely complicated, chopped up into little fiefdoms, duchies, territories, and kingdoms with cultural borders that sometimes match sovereign borders and sometimes do not. Never-ending war is the obvious result, and that's what they had.

The two most well-known Prussian leaders from that time, at least to me, were Otto von Bismarck and Carl von Clausewitz.

Clausewitz of course is one of the most famous military strategists in history responsible for the saying "war is politics by other means" plus many other advancements in military theory. From Wikipedia:

He stressed the dialectical interaction of diverse factors, noting how unexpected developments unfolding under the "fog of war" (i.e., in the face of incomplete, dubious, and often completely erroneous information and high levels of fear, doubt, and excitement) call for rapid decisions by alert commanders. He saw history as a vital check on erudite abstractions that did not accord with experience. In contrast to the early work of Antoine-Henri Jomini, he argued that war could not be quantified or reduced to mapwork, geometry, and graphs. Clausewitz had many aphorisms, of which the most famous is "War is the continuation of politics by other means."

"Fog of war" requiring rapid decisions by alert commanders ... history as a vital check on erudite abstractions that do not accord with experience ... war cannot be quantified or reduced to mapwork, geometry, and graphs ... yep, that all checks out.

He was way, way ahead of his time, and is at least one key reason that Prussia has the reputation of having been an advanced military power.

Otto von Bismarck presided over the unification of Germany in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War and served as Chancellor of that newly-unified state until his death in 1890, leading the continent politically during that time. 

Bismarck's diplomacy of Realpolitik and powerful rule at home gained him the nickname the Iron Chancellor. German unification and its rapid economic growth was the foundation to his foreign policy. He disliked colonialism but reluctantly built an overseas empire when it was demanded by both elite and mass opinion. Juggling a very complex interlocking series of conferences, negotiations and alliances, he used his diplomatic skills to maintain Germany's position.

A 19th century European leader who disliked colonialism and had to be pushed into it … imagine that. 

Also, a question:  is it possible that having one strong, skillful, diplomatic leader like Bismarck to guide a place like Europe — a violent chaotic mess for centuries — is a better bet than the NGO system that followed after WWI? Something to ponder.

European history fascinates me, with all the intermarried royalty and competing ethnic tribes and the Pope and constant war and evolving borders and a near-total lack of any kind of rights for citizens or even the idea of “citizen”. Growing up in America in the late 20th century, it seems nearly impossible to envision what life was like for people forced to live under those conditions, and serves as a reminder that we should be careful what we wish for when we demand “progress”.

History Matters has another video on the early history of Prussia from it’s start in 1525 that I will cover in the next couple of weeks.

Adventures in Music Copyright Infringement

 

Rick Beato compares the two songs at the root of a copyright infringement case brought by a reggae band named Artikal Sound System against Dua Lipa.


 

This one sounds like obvious theft to him, and to me too, though most of the time it’s really difficult to figure out if a chunk of a song melody is actually stolen or just created independently in a very similar way.

As George Harrison claimed in his defense that “My Sweet Lord” was not a rip-off of The Chiffons “He’s So Fine” (which he lost) you as a creative person in the process of writing a song may hear a chord progression or “hook” in your mind and believe that you created it instead of recycling something you’ve heard before.

How can anyone really tell which one it is, after the fact? In Harrison’s case the songs were seven years apart (1963 vs. 1970) — does anyone really believe that he set out to purposefully steal the melody of a song from seven years earlier? That seems a stretch. But he lost the case and had to pay nearly $2M to the plaintiff, Bright Tunes, and in 1976 released a clever and satirical song about the whole experience, “This Song”, that went to #25 in the US.



The lyrics are funny and so is the video — note how the judge’s gavel, the court reporter’s keystrokes, etc, are all in sync with the music, the horn section sits in the jury, etc.

This song came to me
Un-knowing-ly

It turns into a minute-long full-on barrelhouse R&B saxophone/horns/piano jam at 1:40 in, which is quite fun.

Usually these copyright infringement cases are extremely difficult for at least two reasons: (1) the lawyers trying the cases and the judges deciding them are never experts on creating music, and (2) there are only so many ways to arrange notes and chords in any key that sound pleasing to the ear, i.e., merely establishing that two songs are identical or nearly so in that specific way is not necessarily hard evidence of theft, it just means they ended up sounding similar, and there are non-criminal ways for two songs to end up sounding similar.

It seems worth noting that you can only copyright songs themselves but not their titles, presumably because we want to allow multiple songs titled exactly the same to allow creative expression to thrive. I’m not sure I get how this situation is much different, or different at all. Do we want to punish people for writing similar melodies and chord structures if they are tuneful, pleasing and memorable? 

Here are the two songs at the heart of the George Harrison case, listen for yourself and see what you think, and keep in mind it’s only the basic melody and chord structure that are at issue; ignore the intro, solos and musical breaks, and slight tempo differences.

First, The Chiffons “He’s So Fine” from 1963.



George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord”




Getting Started with Soldering Copper Pipe


One skill I’ve wanted to learn for a long time is soldering copper pipe. Here’s a good video explaining the basics and what supplies you will need.


  

You will need:

  1. Propane torch (I’ve already got one with a built-in igniter, they’re only $15-20 and very handy to have around) 
  2. Wire brush to clean and smooth inside of fittings (different sizes required per size of pipe, 1 in, 3/4 in, etc) 
  3. Sandpaper to clean and smooth outside of pipe
  4. Soldering flux and brush to apply it
  5. Lead-free solder (must use lead-free 95/5 on water supply lines, which is nearly always how copper is used here in the U.S., while drain lines are typically PVC, the cheap white plastic stuff) 
  6. Cloth and miscellaneous clean up rags 

I’ve already got a little bit of soldering background from electronics a long time ago and as the video shows, the principles are the same:  heat up the material where the solder needs to go to create the connection, and let the heated material do the work of melting the solder. 

With plumbing joints, the video says to heat the bottom of the joint first first — the part where liquid solder would flow to — because if you heat the top first, liquid solder will flow to a cold area and not bond properly. 

What is flux, and why do you need it? 

In soldering of metals, flux serves a threefold purpose: it removes any oxidized metal from the surfaces to be soldered, seals out air thus preventing further oxidation, and by facilitating amalgamation improves wetting characteristics of the liquid solder. Some fluxes are corrosive, so the parts have to be cleaned with a damp sponge or other absorbent material after soldering to prevent damage.

Without flux, the solder either will not stick, or will weaken over time. You must apply it each time you heat up the joint, including when re-soldering over existing work.

I’ll get the rest of this stuff and some copper pipe to practice on, and post an update with some photos and maybe even a video. 

“Getting Fooled Again” is a Pattern, Unfortunately


“Won’t Get Fooled Again” is an anthem for people who decide not to Buy The Bullshit any more.



Governments around the world and throughout human history specialize in using lies to justify war and — of course — send everyone else’s kids, husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters to fight it. It’s not quite important enough for them to have any skin in the game, you see. 

After several iterations over a few decades of this, you’ve heard it all before and just don’t want to play that game — Buy The Bullshit — any more. 

Especially when the “news” you read and see and hear is crafted and filtered and massaged and censored to create a narrative, i.e., it’s a sales job, 100%. Believe it if you like, but never assume you’re hearing anything close to Truth.

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again

An excellent example of getting fooled again was the Tet Offensive in January-February 1968 when the Viet Cong (Communist-backed guerilla fighters in the South) plus North Vietnamese regulars launched their biggest offensive of the entire Vietnam War against all of the biggest cities in South Vietnam including Saigon and Hue plus several military bases. 

The Tet Offensive took the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces by surprise — because the ground war prior to that had been fought mostly in the jungle and countryside — and as a result the VC captured most of these targets on the first day, but within a few days all cities except Hue were recaptured. Hue was the last to be recaptured, on February 24, less than 4 weeks after the start of Tet.

As a military operation it was a colossal failure for the Communists: they suffered 10x the casualties (approximately 100,000 total killed, wounded, captured, or missing) and captured no territory, and failed to achieve the primary goal of igniting a popular uprising in the South. 

But it did achieve an even bigger, more strategic and completely unanticipated goal in the U.S.: a relentless stream of slanted “bad” news for Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, and the rest of the U.S. media to cover every night — especially since the embedded journalists spent nearly all their time in those same targeted cities which had appeared peaceful before Tet due to the guerilla war fought mainly in the jungle. 

Suddenly their world was on fire — to be expected when covering war — and they told that story effectively but neglected to tell the “all is peaceful again and the Communists suffered an epic defeat” story less than 4 weeks later.

This inaccurate coverage did two hugely important things:  (1) it drove popular opinion decisively against the war, causing President Johnson just a few weeks later to drop out of the presidential contest in November as an incumbent, and (2) as a result the North Vietnamese changed their strategy to inflict maximum casualties so that the American news media would propagandize for them every night, changing hearts and minds with bloody, depressing pictures and video. 

To this day the Tet Offensive is incorrectly seen as a big military victory that swung the war, when in fact it was a big military loss that was spun into a public relations victory by an actively “on the other side” U.S. media.

Over the next few months the country was rocked by one crisis after another. In early April Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. In early June, after winning the California primary and on a glide path to the nomination and very likely election victory, Robert Kennedy Jr was assassinated. In August the Democratic Convention became a violent, out-of-control riot in the streets, mostly driven by SDS subversives who were the major force in the anti-war movement as well. 

We will never know for sure, but it’s interesting to ponder how the rest of that year, and the decades to follow, might have unfolded differently if not for that one factor that seemed to start it all:  spinning the Tet Offensive military victory into a defeat.

Considered against the backdrop of this story plus hundreds like it, “pickup my guitar and play just like yesterday” and then deciding not to get fooled again sounds like pretty good advice.