Sunday, March 31, 2024

Caro Emerald, Recent Discovery


A week ago Saturday while driving and listening to my excellent local jazz station KCCK 88.3 the jock played this great Latin Jazz tune, “A Night Like This” … 

Caroline Esmerelda van der Leeuw is from the Netherlands and sings Latin Jazz with a touch of R&B as part of Caro Emerald. 

Their debut album Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor, featuring this as one of the singles, went to #1 for 30 consecutive weeks on the Dutch charts in 2010, the longest run ever.

Here’s a full performance by them from 2010 at the North Sea Jazz Festival.

They released another album or two but sadly are no more.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Freddie King, “Hideaway”

This one song from 1960 launched him to legendary status over the next several years among white blues players like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Winter, and countless others.

I nearly always prefer these gritty, raw performances by the original artists, especially with this style of blues made famous by Freddie plus several others like Magic Sam (one of my favorites) and B.B. King.

They invented and perfected a variation on 1940s and 50s R&B dubbed West Side Blues, or Uptown Blues, with an uptempo, energetic, danceable groove, often featuring horns — and they are the best at it.

More about him, and the TV show he appeared on here, coming up over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Say Hi to Simba


He’s friendly and chill. He likes people and will let anyone pet him. Like a dog, in many ways.

Of course he likes sitting in boxes, and bags. Every cat seems to like this, and for us it’s endlessly entertaining. Put a box on the floor, wait a couple minutes, and he’s sitting in it. Just looking at you like “ha, look what I did!”

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

William Zinsser on Writing


Anyone who has ever had to write anything for anyone can gain something from these videos and the books they are drawn from.

Personally I have been through both of these journeys — to write well, and writing to learn — separately from these books.

Writing to learn, I discovered quite by accident, is the best reason to write, at least for me. Now I write to amuse and inform myself, I write to learn by researching and tying threads together, and I write to organize thoughts and test my own assumptions about a topic. It’s quite energizing and I feel like I understand a little bit more around the world around me every day.

You have to understand a topic to write clearly about it. If you find you have trouble writing about it, you probably don’t understand it well enough quite yet. That means go back and learn more, and then come back to the writing.

Of course a secondary goal is to entertain readers enough that they want to come back next time. But I find that, for me, if I flip the goals around and make that the primary goal, the magic goes out of it.

Writing to Learn

Top notch advice, all of that.

Then there’s the one thing every single human wishes they could do better: write well.

Believe it or not, everyone can become a much better writer by following some rules and being disciplined about cutting out unnecessary words. Use active voice and present tense. Eliminate long words when short ones will do. Etc.

Clarity is king.

It’s more of a craft than an art, and that means everyone can learn enough to be better.

Only prodigies can sit down and just write once and be done with it. Jack Kerouac famously did that with “On the Road”, writing the whole thing on a single sheet of rolled up paper. Put that out of your mind; it does not work like that.

Here’s how it does work. On Writing Well.

I have not read either of these books, but know the concepts within them very well. 

Monday, March 25, 2024

Elton John Turns 77 Today


Born on this day, March 25, in 1947

It’s easy to take an amazing artist like Elton John for granted, but he’s been a legend for 50+ years now and his music was a big part of my musical education as a teenager.

To pick just one year from his peak in the 1970s, these three songs are all from 1973, when he released two albums, “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. Both reached #1 in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. Three singles reached either #1 or #2 in the US, and a fourth reached #12. 

It was a pretty solid year for him.

Always one of my favorite Elton John songs, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, live at Dodger Stadium, 1975.

Just Elton and piano, bringing the beauty of the melody of “Daniel” to the forefront.

I love the way he says “sure” without hesitation and just sits down to play this masterpiece that means so much to the guy in the audience as a tribute to his long gone dear friend.

For me the real difference maker was the quality of the album cuts, like “Blues for Baby and Me”. All of his albums in the early- and mid-70s had several such quality songs.

I could go on and on and on — we’ve only covered songs from 1973 here! 

A description of Elton John’s musical legacy from Wikipedia.

John has more than fifty top-40 hits on the UK Singles Chart and US Billboard Hot 100, including nine number ones in both countries, as well as seven consecutive number-one albums in the US. He has sold over 300 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He is the most successful solo artist in the history of the US Billboard charts. His tribute single to Princess Diana, "Candle in the Wind 1997", a rewritten version of his 1974 single, sold over 33 million copies worldwide and is the best-selling chart single of all time. In 2021, he became the first solo artist with UK Top 10 singles across six decades. Among John's numerous awards, he is one of 19 entertainers to win the EGOT, which includes an Emmy Award, five Grammy Awards, two Academy Awards, and a Tony Award. He also won two Golden Globes, a Laurence Olivier Award, and the Kennedy Center Honor. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, and is a fellow of The Ivors Academy. He was knighted by Elizabeth II for services to music and charity in 1998 and was appointed a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in 2020, being invested at Windsor Castle in 2021 by the Prince of Wales.

Seven consecutive number one albums.

His YouTube channel is chock full of great videos, and well worth digging into.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Silk Road

In 130 BC the Han Dynasty opened trade with the West, so this is considered the start date for the Silk Road and for truly global trade, but it had ancient origins even before that.

The Silk Road (a.k.a  “Silk Routes” because it was actually many trails, not just one road) was a major trade route for over 1500 years until it was blocked by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 due to a blockade against China.

When I was in school they talked about Marco Polo and the Silk Road together, quickly and superficially, but the Silk Road was open for 1400 years before Marco Polo, a mercantilist from Venice, explored the entire Asian world visiting many countries as the foreign emissary of Kublai Khan for over 20 years, from 1269-1291, and wrote a book about it, “The Travels of Marco Polo”. 

That book opened European eyes and culture to China and the “Far East”. 

During that same time frame, the 13th Century, the Mongol Empire expanded dramatically, extending from the Sea of Japan to the Mediterranean Sea, the largest contiguous land empire in history. The Silk Road, therefore, was completely controlled by one empire during the travels of Marco Polo.

The key driver of this explansion was Genghis Khan, grandfather of Kublai Khan.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Quotes by and about Willie Mays

Lots of good quotes by Willie, but I want to highlight this one:

I always enjoyed playing ball, and it didn't matter to me whether I played with white kids or black. I never understood why an issue was made of who I played with, and I never felt comfortable, when I grew up, telling other people how to act. Over the years, a lot of organizations have asked me to be their spokesman, or have wanted me to make speeches about my experiences as a black athlete, or to talk to Congressmen about racial issues in sports. But see, I never recall trouble. I believe I had a happy childhood. Besides playing school sports, we'd play football against the white kids. And we thought nothing of it, neither the blacks nor the whites. It was the grownups who got upset ... I never got into a fight that was caused by racism." In Say Hey : The Autobiography of Willie Mays (1988)

Exactly right. 

I am not a fan of “activists” and other troublemakers demanding that athletes and others in the public eye enlist their pet social causes. That’s using people, and it’s presumptuous and rude and arrogant as hell. 

More from the Say Hey Kid:

  • Baseball is a game, yes. It is also a business. But what it most truly is, is disguised combat. For all its gentility, its almost leisurely pace, baseball is violence under wraps.
  • I didn't think like that, about best seasons. What if you thought '97 was your best year — what would you do now? I never looked back. I couldn't dwell on last year's season. I always looked forward. I never worried about what other people were doing — except the guy I was playing against.
  • I can't tell you about moments because I wasn't into that. I just played every day and enjoyed what I was doing. When I made a great catch it was just routine. I didn't worry about it. Winning was important. Winning.

These quotes show that he was 100% dialed in. 

He had conquered the mental part of sports, which is always the hardest part to conquer. That’s a big part of being able to play for a long, long time, as he did.

Gil Hodges:

I can't very well tell my batters don't hit it to him. Wherever they hit it, he's there anyway.

And finally, Leo Durocher:

I never saw a f*cking ball get out of a f*cking ball park so f*cking fast in my f*cking life

LOL, well, it does get the point across!

Baseball Almanac has many, many baseball quotes here

I’ve written about Willie before, just use the search box at the right side of this page.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Today in 1871: The Search for Dr. David Livingstone Begins


Livingstone was a Scottish doctor, missionary, and explorer with extensive travels in Africa starting in 1840 who left the U.K. in 1865 to discover the source of the Nile. He was quite the leader and a true hero of the Victorian Age:

Livingstone was married to Mary Moffat Livingstone, from the prominent 18th-century Moffatt missionary family. Livingstone came to have a mythic status that operated on a number of interconnected levels: Protestant missionary martyr, working-class "rags-to-riches" inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader, and advocate of British commercial and colonial expansion. As a result, Livingstone became one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th-century Victorian era.

Why was he so focused on finding the source of the Nile? He wanted to gain enough power to combat the evils of slavery, specifically the Arab slave trade: 

"The Nile sources", he told a friend, "are valuable only as a means of opening my mouth with power among men. It is this power [with] which I hope to remedy an immense evil."

More details on the Arab slave trade. Like most people, I was unaware until reading about this today that Livingstone’s primary motivation was ending slavery as part of his Christian missionary goals and lifestyle.

By 1871 he’d been gone 6 years with no word, and people were curious. So the publisher of the New York Herald sent a journalist named Henry Stanley to find him. 

Stanley himself had led an interesting life too:

At age 28, Stanley had his own fascinating past. As a young orphan in Wales, he crossed the Atlantic on the crew of a merchant ship. He jumped ship in New Orleans and later served in the Civil War as both a Confederate and a Union soldier before beginning a career in journalism. […] After setting out from Zanzibar in March 1871, Stanley led his caravan of nearly 2,000 men into the interior of Africa. Nearly eight months passed—during which Stanley contracted dysentery, cerebral malaria and smallpox—before the expedition approached the village of Ujiji, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Sick and poverty-stricken, Livingstone had come to Ujiji that July after living for some time at the mercy of Arab slave traders. When Stanley’s caravan entered the village on October 27, flying the American flag, villagers crowded toward the new arrivals. Spotting a white man with a gray beard in the crowd, Stanley stepped toward him and stretched out his hand: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

Livingstone led an amazing and adventurous life, and was one of the main early explorers of the entire African continent. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.

From Wikipedia, his travels from 1851 until his death in 1873, part of the Scramble for Africa.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

99 Years Ago and Still the Deadliest Tornado in U.S. History


March 18, 1925:  The Tri-State Tornado killed nearly 700 people

Estimated later to be an EF5 with winds topping 300MPH at times, it ripped through southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and southwestern Indiana following this track.


A small tornado that touched down near Ellington, Missouri gained momentum over the course of the afternoon. In the three-and-a-half hours that followed, it ballooned to record widths and speed. At one point, observers calculated that it was a full mile wide, and it maintained an average speed of 62 miles per hour and a top speed of 73 miles per hour.

The devastation in Illinois in particular is on a scale that is difficult to comprehend. 

  • Murphysboro:  243 dead, 623 injured (total of 866) and much of the town destroyed 
  • 541 dead and 1423 seriously injured in one 40 minute stretch in Murphysboro, De Soto, Hurst-Bush, and West Frankfort 
  • Multiple communities wiped completely off the map 

695 total dead, still the deadliest tornado, with the longest track (over 200 miles on the ground), 99 years later.

A collection of sobering photographs can be found at the NWS site for the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, like these:

Monday, March 18, 2024

Chris Rea, Still Making Good Music 46 Years Later


Chris Rea popped up out of nowhere it seemed with “Fool (If You Think It’s Over)” in 1978.

He wrote it for his little sister, who had just suffered her first heartbreak. 

Produced by Gus Dudgeon — Elton John’s legendary producer — it was “slicked up” and that helped it hit #1 for 3 straight weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart in America, but it was not really his style:

I've still got a piece of paper and on the original lyrics it says: ''Fool (If You Think It's Over).' Song for Al Green. 96 beats per minute. Al Jackson, drums.' And that's what 'Fool' was always meant to be. So, I don't know where that rhythm box came from. But we survived that."

Al Green!? I would love to hear what that could have turned into!

But he is a slide guitar player at heart, and that is the only song he’s ever recorded that he didn’t play guitar on. It got airplay on lots of different formats, but did squat in the UK, his home turf.

He fought against this dichotomy for several years, drifting a bit musically and getting away from the bluesy, soulful, guitar-based sound he was more comfortable with. This interesting interview explains that and more.

Chris eventually rediscovered his roots with songs like this from 1986.

He says the song is about where he and his (future) wife consummated. Good to know!

“The Road to Hell” has 33M views on Youtube right now, his most popular video.

“Chisel Hill” is one of his favorites, from the 1985 “Shamrock Diaries”, his comeback album, of sorts.

So the bottom line is, his only big American hit is really not who he is, even though it's a pretty good song, and if you like him at all, his other output is worth checking out on YouTube or a streaming service.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Why So Many Conifers Up North?


I’ve always wondered about this… obviously the short answer is “because they adapt to the northern habitat better than deciduous trees”, but why is that, exactly?

A good short intro on the differences between the two types.

More nerdy details in this one.

Conifers are cone-bearing seed plants …

The great majority are trees, though a few are shrubs. Examples include cedars, Douglas-firs, cypresses, firs, junipers, kauri, larches, pines, hemlocks, redwoods, spruces, and yews. [...]

Although the total number of species is relatively small, conifers are ecologically important. They are the dominant plants over large areas of land, most notably the taiga of the Northern Hemisphere, but also in similar cool climates in mountains further south. Boreal conifers have many wintertime adaptations. The narrow conical shape of northern conifers, and their downward-drooping limbs, help them shed snow. Many of them seasonally alter their biochemistry to make them more resistant to freezing. While tropical rainforests have more biodiversity and turnover, the immense conifer forests of the world represent the largest terrestrial carbon sink. Conifers are of great economic value for softwood lumber and paper production.

Deciduous meanwhile

In the fields of horticulture and botany, the term deciduous means "falling off at maturity"and "tending to fall off", in reference to trees and shrubs that seasonally shed leaves, usually in the autumn; to the shedding of petals, after flowering; and to the shedding of ripe fruit. The antonym of deciduous in the botanical sense is evergreen.

Generally, the term "deciduous" means "the dropping of a part that is no longer needed or useful" and the "falling away after its purpose is finished". In plants, it is the result of natural processes. "Deciduous" has a similar meaning when referring to animal parts, such as deciduous antlers in deer, deciduous teeth (baby teeth) in some mammals (including humans); or decidua, the uterine lining that sheds off after birth.

Friday, March 15, 2024

18th Century Wooden Warships and How Were They Built


Always been fascinated by sailing ships in general and especially warships… 

Meanwhile if you ever use expressions like “carried away”, “mainstay”, or “bitter end”, you’re using old sailing expressions without realizing it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard


God Save Us From Regulators

I’ve always questioned the overall wisdom of adding ethanol to fuel, for several reasons, but Engineering Explained really dives into numbers and studies and other details. It’s not a pretty picture.

“Regulators” promised it would cut CO2 emissions, but it’s not at all clear that is the case, and use of ethanol might even generate more CO2.

He takes the idea of regulators seriously in order to dissect the particulars of how it’s working out, and I’m glad he does, because those questions definitely need answers. Somebody needs to nail their foot to the floor on these prognostications and prescriptions. God knows nobody else will do it.

But I often like to back up even further and wonder about the very idea of “regulators”, because over many decades we have been conditioned to bestow unearned respect on regulators, the same respect we give Science. 

You know, serious, smart, sober guys with white lab coats who are only interested in uncovering Truth. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Peru’s Geography is Amazing


Deserts, Rainforest, Mountains, Volcanos … The List Goes On and On

Ancient Incan cities too. And terraces for farming on mountainsides. Nazca lines in the desert.

Something for everyone!

Monday, March 11, 2024

The Three Degrees


Seems Hotter Than That

Most everyone knows their biggest hit “When Will I See You Again” from 1974.

It hit the Top 10 in the U.S. and #1 for two consecutive weeks in the U.K., making them the first female group to do that since The Supremes ten years earlier in 1964.

From the same album, “Year of Decision”.

Here’s one from the following year, “Take Good Care of Yourself” from 1975. How this song was not a hit in the U.S., I do not understand. It was a Top 10 hit in the U.K. however.

This song is instantly recognizable to anyone who was alive in 1973, TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) by MFSB — legendary house band for Philadelphia International Records — and featuring The Three Degrees on vocals. 

They did another version that became the theme song for Soul Train, also called TSOP. I love this song. 

Sunday, March 10, 2024

107 Years Ago, Czarist Russia Era Ended by Revolution


Things Did Not Go Well After That for the Romanovs

Czar Nicholas II had a tumultuous reign from his coronation in 1896.

A few days after his coronation in 1896, nearly 1,400 of his subjects died during a huge stampede. They had gathered on a large field in Moscow to receive coronation gifts and souvenirs, but the day ended in tragedy. It was a disturbing beginning to Nicholas’ reign, and his bungled response earned him the nickname “Nicholas the Bloody.” 

The devastation from The Great War is hard to wrap one’s brain around.

Then, in 1914, Russia was drawn into World War I but was unprepared for the scale and magnitude of the fighting. Nicholas’ subjects were horrified by the number of casualties the country sustained. Russia had the largest number of deaths in the war—over 1.8 million military deaths, and about 1.5 million civilian deaths.

The war eroded whatever semblance of control Nicholas still had over the country. Without men at home to farm, the food system collapsed, the transportation system fell apart, and the people began to riot.

3,300,000 casualties … the highest number ever suffered by any nation in any war in human history at the time. Russia surpassed it’s own record in WWII with over 20,000,000 casualties. These numbers seem largely incomprehensible today.

The revolution began on March 8, 1917 with rioting and demonstrations escalating into violent armed conflict and within days the government collapsed.

The imperial government was forced to resign, and the Duma formed a provisional government that peacefully vied with the Petrograd Soviet for control of the revolution. On March 14, the Petrograd Soviet issued “Order No. 1,” which instructed Russian soldiers and sailors to obey only those orders that did not conflict with the directives of the Soviet. The next day, March 15, Czar Nicholas II abdicated the throne in favor of his brother Michael, whose refusal of the crown brought an end to the czarist autocracy.

The new provincial government, tolerated by the Petrograd Soviet, hoped to salvage the Russian war effort while ending the food shortage and many other domestic crises. It would prove a daunting task. Meanwhile, Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik revolutionary party, left his exile in Switzerland and crossed German enemy lines to return home and take control of the Russian Revolution.

Lenin takes control, and the Romanovs are murdered a few months later.

Finally, late at night on July 17, 1918, the Romanov family was awoken and told to get ready for another move. Still hoping to escape, the women packed up their things and put on clothing into which they had sewn precious jewelry, religious icons and a large amount of money. Then, unexpectedly, their captors turned on them, attacking them first with bullets, then with the butts of guns, bayonets and even their own heels and fists. All seven of the Romanovs—and the last gasp of the Russian monarchy—were dead.

What may have looked like an impromptu murder was in fact a carefully planned act of violence. For days, the Romanovs’ Bolshevik captors had been preparing the house for the murder, including stocking up on benzene with which to burn the corpses and sulfuric acid with which to maim them beyond recognition.

More on the executions. 

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Break-Up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 1800s


Chaotic European History

How chaotic? This chaotic.

It’s important to understand that much of the instability in the modern world is due to the mess that Europe was, and created around the world over centuries, and owns still to this day.  

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

LOL with Ozzy Man


This guy always makes me laugh

Monday, March 04, 2024

Supertramp’s First Breakout Album


Crime of the Century from 1974

Most bands, even top bands with excellent musicians, only have one or two really, really good albums in them — and for Supertramp, formed in 1970, this is definitely one of them.

The singles “Dreamer” and “Bloody Well Right” had some success but several other songs either received airplay on AOR stations or should have, such as “School” and my favorite, “Hide in Your Shell”. 

The album itself sold very well in Canada, the UK, Australia, and Germany, and hit #38 in the US.

“Hide in Your Shell”

The band had struggled to hit their stride in years prior, due to shifting lineups and trying to create a defining sound, both of which changed dramatically in 1973 when they found the lineup that worked and when one of the co-leaders and main songwriters Roger Hodgson started using electric piano to fuel his creativity. This album is the result.

Seemed to work pretty well.

Hide in Your Shell, School, and Dreamer were all written by Roger Hodgson. Turns out he had written a lot of great material a few years earlier, when he was 19, including Dreamer and two of the best-known songs that the band would not record until several years later for Breakfast in America (the title track and “The Logical Song”). 

This interview with him is well worth reading. It shows that he already had formed a lot of pretty mature views for a 19 year old. 

His lyrics work especially well for teens and young adults who are starting to question their place in the world. That’s exactly where I was when this band was popular in the late 70s, and this album in particular bings to mind a very specific time and place in my life, and pleasant memories with one particular friend, who loved this band and this album in particular.


Sunday, March 03, 2024

This Week in 1872: Yellowstone Named First National Park


March 1, 1872

First explored by John Colter starting in 1807, on his return trip from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 

He is considered the first “mountain man” and so by definition he led quite the adventurous life, establishing trade with several Indian tribes and escaping an attack by the Blackfeet tribe by running naked and bloodied through the wilderness until his lone pursuer nearly caught him, only to be killed by Colter (later known as “Colter’s Run” in a retelling by Washington Irving and others).

When he finally returned to St. Louis in 1810 he told tales of steam rising from the Earth — describing geysers — which many people of course did not believe, coining the derisive term “Colter’s Hell” to describe it.

The area would remain largely untouched and un-explored until 1871:

The key to Yellowstone’s future as a national park, though, was the 1871 exploration under the direction of the government geologist Ferdinand Hayden. Hayden brought along William Jackson, a pioneering photographer, and Thomas Moran, a brilliant landscape artist, to make a visual record of the expedition. Their images provided the first visual proof of Yellowstone’s wonders and caught the attention of the U.S. Congress.

Within months it was declared the first national park.

A 45 minute National Geographic video:

Friday, March 01, 2024

New Music Friday: Mild Orange

Mild Orange, “Freak in Me”

I love the groove in this tune, and the way it slowly adds layer upon layer of guitars. Just a cool sound, that is relaxing yet energetic at the same time. That’s kind of their thing, apparently.

Mild Orange is four guys from New Zealand who met in college and formed the band in 2016. From Wikipedia

Mild Orange originates from Dunedin, New Zealand. The band was originally formed by early childhood friends Josh Mehrtens and Josh Reid who met in kindergarten and by chance met again in university, and later joined by Tom Kelk and Jack Ferguson. All four members hold degrees from the University of Otago. [...] According to the band, the name Mild Orange was chosen because 'The colour orange can cause one to experience a heightened sense of optimism, a boost in aspiration, and a stimulation of warmth and happiness

Here they are live and acoustic. I like how they let the music “breathe” by leaving a little space between the notes.

Found via YouTube which can be a great way to discover quality bands and musicians that are worth hearing. Here is the Mild Orange channel.