Taking Chance

 

Memorial Day reminds us of sacrifice and so today would be the perfect day to watch this  great movie, “Taking Chance”.

Here’s the trailer: Taking Chance trailer

A true story about a young man Chance Phelps who died much too young and the Marine who volunteers to escort the body back home to Wyoming for burial. 

It began as a wonderful and touching human interest story “Taking Chance Home” written by LtCol Michael Strobl USMC, posted at a military blog that I read regularly back in 2004 called blackfive.net.

I saw “Taking Chance” upon its release in 2009 and then again on Saturday and it has lost none of its emotional power.

There were many movies made about our adventures and mis-adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan but most were manipulative and exploited death to hammer home political points. That’s gross.

But if you like raw and emotionally powerful stories told well, about honoring sacrifice, with characters you quickly grow to like and respect, you’ll not do better than this one.

A scene that did not make it into the movie but is excellent nonetheless.



PFC Chance Phelps was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and promoted to Lance Corporal.

Here’s the real Lt Col Strobl discussing the making of the movie.



Free on HBO Max and you can rent it on Amazon. 

Everything I Need, and Some Things I Don’t

 

Zac Brown Band, “Homegrown”



I’ve got everything I need
And nothing that I don’t


The song stands on its own but the best thing for me is that lyric which is actually great life advice, if you’re looking for it.

It took me about 5 decades to realize it — or maybe to turn into one — but I am a minimalist (or “minimalist-adjacent”) who likes less stuff around me for better mental and emotional health.

But the process of living your life, especially raising a family, brings a constant flow of stuff in the front door, and after a couple decades the “it might be useful someday, put it in the basement” system stops working and you suddenly realize that “something new comes in, something old goes out” is far superior.

The only thing I would care about saving in a house fire — after family and pets of course — is photos. Everything else can be replaced. 

But we have SO many photos … and most of them just sit in boxes in a dark closet 24x7x365. 

So I ask myself, what good are they, like that? Who does that help? What value are they adding to our lives? Almost zero.

Photos are only useful when you look at them. This is obvious but it raises an important point: the time that these photos spend sitting in boxes is a series of missed opportunities.

Each of us only has so much time here on this planet — opportunities missed are opportunities lost.

 

Little did I know as a kid listening to Elton John in the early and mid-70s that I was getting a master class in melody writing, arrangement and piano. 

One great example is “Tiny Dancer” which grew an entirely new audience in the 2000s because it was used in a key scene in “Almost Famous”:  the band is near a breakup and in constant conflict and might not even finish the current tour, for the usual reasons: personality conflicts, power struggles, strains of life on the road, etc. Then this happens …



That’s very powerful storytelling, combining music with visuals to show everyone on the bus growing closer in the span of 3 minutes just from singing together … it makes me both smile and tear up every time I watch it.

Rick Beato gives a music expert’s opinion on What Makes This Song Great.



It was never a hit single because it was over 6 minutes long, and makes us wait two and a half minutes for the chorus — but there were lots of great songs that were too long for Top 40 radio. 

Official video from the Elton John channel:



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.


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 of a mountain too.



More





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’.


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. 


This Week in 1954: Supreme Court Overturns Its Own Disastrous Decision


May 17, 1954 was the day that Brown vs. Board of Education ended “federal tolerance of racial segregation".

Ironically, it was issued one day shy of the anniversary of the historically awful “Plessy vs. Ferguson” 1896 decision that it overturned..

All during the post-Civil War era there was exactly one institution with both the power and the duty to force change on Southern states: the federal government. 

All three branches had both the power and the duty: to pass laws, to enforce them, and to uphold them. 

But empirical evidence shows us that the federal government was either a) okay with entrenched Southern institutional racism, or b) too powerless and afraid to do anything about it.

Blame Southerners and their culture, of course. It was their system, they built it, and they own it. 

But the federal government was empowered to fix it, as a basic question of Constitutionally-guaranteed human rights, and for whatever reason did not, and must not escape accountability.

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”)


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.

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 (on my 2007 Honda Accord V6). 

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.




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


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:

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).

The list at that time:

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 in 1935 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 Mays, Mantle, Williams, Musial, Killebrew, F. Robinson, Matthews, and 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”.


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. 


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.


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.

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