Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Obit watch: August 23, 2017.

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Leo Hershkowitz is another one of those people I hadn’t heard of until the NYT published his obituary. And he’s also another one of those people I would have liked to have coffee with, though our politics might not have been in alignment.

Mr. Hershkowitz was a historian and an archivist. Over the years, he rescued a lot of municipal documents that were just going to be thrown away:

Among the treasures he discovered were the city’s financial records for the funeral of Abraham Lincoln — held at City Hall on April 19, 1865 — including the undertaker’s bill for $1,000 and another bill, for $20, from James Ayliffe of Trinity Church for composing a funeral dirge and playing the church’s chimes…
And, from bundles of papers earmarked for disposal by the city comptroller’s office, he saved coroner’s records from the late 18th and early 19th centuries that recorded infanticides, suicides, drownings — and the killing of Alexander Hamilton by Aaron Burr in a duel across the Hudson in Weehawken, N.J.

He also wrote a book called Tweed’s New York: Another Look in which he argued:

Rather than portraying him as corrupt, Professor Hershkowitz determined that Tweed had been the victim of illicit machinations at his embezzlement trial; that he had shown more vision about the city’s growth than some reformers; and that he had been prosecuted to deflect attention from Republican corruption in Washington. Indeed, he said, the trial prosecutors arranged with Gov. Samuel J. Tilden of New York to handpick a judge who was prejudiced against Tweed.

(As the Times notes, the thesis that Boss Tweed was framed by evil Republicans trying to cover up their own corruption was not met with universal approval by other historians.)

He was 92.

And by the way, paper of record, where’s your damn Brian Aldiss obit?

Now I’m only falling apart…

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Tales from the bizarro world.

Monday, August 21st, 2017

I saw a story this morning that I was sort of vaguely keeping track of, but didn’t consider blogging. Yesterday, the FBI, BATFE, and Houston police blocked off a street in a Houston neighborhood, brought out the robot, and were telling people to stay inside:

The FBI said it was “lawfully present conducting law enforcement operations” that are “in the interest of public safety,” according to an agency statement. “Since the matter is ongoing, we are unable to provide additional details at this time.”

Then the other shoe dropped. Apparently, there’s an explosives aficionado who lives on the block. And said gentleman tried to blow up a Confederate statue in Herman Park.

When confronted Saturday night in the park, he tried to drink some of the liquid explosives but spit it out, officials said.
Federal authorities said one of the tubes contained nitgroglycerin and hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, HMTD, a “highly explosive compound” used as a primary explosive. Nitroclycerin, in its purest form, is a contact explosive.

I describe the gentleman in question as an “explosives aficionado” because the police previously raided this house (and a couple of others) in 2013:

The following year, the younger [Andrew Cecil Earhart – DB] Schneck was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading guilty in federal court to knowingly storing explosives. In 2016, a judge released him from probation ahead of schedule.

What really grabs me about this is the whole “he tried to drink the explosives” angle. I can’t find much information about the health effects or toxicity of HMTD. But everyone knows nitro is a potent vasodilator (that’s why they give heart patients nitro pills) and that exposure can cause severe headaches.

And even if he managed to choke it all down, couldn’t BATFE or the FBI analyze the dregs in the container? Guy doesn’t exactly strike me as the sharpest knife in the drawer. Though the fact that he was able to make and transport nitro without converting himself to chunky kibble makes me think he deserves some credit. (It looks like HMTD is fairly easy to make, the ingredients are mostly readily available, and it’s not quite as unstable as TATP.)

Obit watch take 2.

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Noted British science fiction author and SF historian Brian Aldiss has passed away.

Aldis was one of Britain’s most respected science-fiction writers, author and editor of more than 100 books, including novels, non-fiction and poetry. His 1969 short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film AI: Artificial Intelligence.

Oddly, we were just discussing Mr. Aldiss at dinner Saturday night, though I don’t think any of us were aware of his passing: the discussion was more about his book Trillion Year Spree (a mammoth history of SF) and the possibility of it being updated.

(Hattip: Pat Cadigan on the Twitter.)

Late night thoughts.

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and she said something that triggered a mental connection. And then some other stuff happened that triggered some more connections. This is another one of these posts where I was thinking out loud when I wrote this, please forgive me if it goes astray.

I didn’t live back in the old days – 30s – 60s – but my impression (based on what I’ve read) is that, as a child, you were valued somewhat based on physical skills. That is, you were expected to be able to run, hit, and catch reasonably well. (Ruark talks about this a little in The Old Man and the Boy.) If you couldn’t, you were looked down upon by your peers. If you were actually physically incapable (lost a leg or an arm) you may have been looked upon with some pity rather than condescension, but there was still a feeling that the non-physically skilled were somehow inferior. It seems like that lasted well into the 1970s and possibly even into the late 80s.

(Question: what were the expectations for girls? I don’t have a good answer, not ever having been a girl.)

At some point, this changed. Physical skill, while still valued, began to be supplanted by other skills, specifically video games. If you couldn’t run, hit, or field well, being good at rescuing the princess from another castle or whatever the frack Sonic did could still gain you some level of respect. I don’t know exactly when this change started: I feel like it was after I went off to college, but before things changed again.

I still see parents getting their kids into sports, but soccer seems to be the thing now. And that seems to me to be less about the sport – there’s not that much talent required, just run and kick ball – and more about tiring the little s–ts out for a while so Mommy and Daddy can get stuff done. (There are other exceptions, such as Little League and youth football, but I have the impression that those sports are driven by parental nostalgia. “I loved Little League when I was a kid! Surely my kid will love it, too!”)

The third change was the growth of the Internet. Once that became commonplace and everywhere, it didn’t matter if you could run, hit, field, or what you were good at. If you had some kind of specific area of interest – something you were good at, something you were obsessed with – the Internet enabled you to find people just like you. Nobody knew you were a dog, or an awkward teenage boy. We accept you, one of us, one of us.

I used to think that was a good thing. I still do: I think it’s great that those awkward teenagers can find people who are just like them. I think the Internet has done a wonderful job helping people who are shut-in or disabled or just socially awkward interact with others. I think it’s incredibly empowering, and a good antidote to bullying and ostracism.

But recent events have me wondering: have we also built a bunch of individual echo chambers? Now that everyone can find people just like them, have we devalued social interaction and the ability to get along with other, different people? Are we raising generations of otaku?

I don’t want to seem like a cranky old man longing for a return to the good old days. There were bullies and thugs and cheaters and generally not nice people back then, there are now, and there always will be. “There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation.”

But could this be part of the reason why we have LARP Nazis?

Timing. The secret of comedy.

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Remember that blog post from yesterday about the Toepperwein/Frye book?

I didn’t know anything about this at the time, and didn’t find out until great and good friend of the blog Karl (also official firearms trainer of WCD) sent along a link to the NRA Blog.

Ad Toepperwein’s Colt Target Revolver.

As you know, Bob, I’m a Smith and Wesson man myself, but I have to admit that is a pretty Colt.

After Ad and Plinky’s son Lawrence arrived in 1904, Plinky decided to slow down with her shooting career and began taking up bowling seriously. For Ad, this was heresy and he challenged his wife to a shoot-off to see if she had lost any of her skills. Plinky was still in her best form and was reported to have beaten Ad in two of the three matches that day.

She sounds like the kind of person very few people are lucky enough to find.

This also gives me a chance to mention something I forgot yesterday: Mr. Toepperwein was a native Texan, born in Bourne (between Austin and San Antonio), died in San Antonio.

(Also: I noticed that I wasn’t consistent in the spelling of his last name: “Toepperwein” versus “Topperwein”. I probably ought to go back and clean that up a little, but I’ve seen it rendered both ways in other sources. The NRA Blog says “Folks at Winchester weren’t slow to capitalize on the husband and wife combination and dubbed the pair, the ‘Famous Topperweins’. Ad had lost an ‘e’ from his surname with Winchester advertising, but had gained an enthusiastic partner.”)

Brief book note.

Monday, August 14th, 2017

This is not a review or an endorsement, since I only picked this up yesterday and haven’t read it yet. But I do want to put in a quick plug for it: it was published last year by Texas Tech University Press and I am afraid it has already fallen into obscurity. I didn’t know anything about it until I stumbled on a copy at Half-Price Books.

Shooting for the Record: Adolph Toepperwein, Tom Frye, and Sharpshooting’s Forgotten Controversy is a book about Topperwein, Frye, exhibition shooting, and the world record controversy.

Back in the old days, the various gun companies paid “exhibition shooters” to travel around the country and put on shooting demonstrations with their products. Adolf “Ad” Topperwein was a shooter for Winchester (along with his wife, known as “Plinky”). At one point, Mr. Topperwein held the world record for aerial shooting: “…more than 72,000 hand thrown blocks 2½ inches in diameter, and missing only nine“.

Then Tom Frye came along. Mr. Frye was an exhibition shooter for Remington, and was a little younger than Mr. Topperwein. In 1959, he used the then newly introduced Remington Nylon 66 rifle to shoot 100,010 wooden blocks over a 14-day period, hitting 100,004 of them and breaking Mr. Topperwein’s record. However, Mr. Topperwein apparently felt that Mr. Frye’s setup wasn’t entirely fair: specifically, the distance Mr. Frye was shooting at was too short, and Mr. Frye’s throwers were using a different technique that made it easier for him to hit. (Also, the Nylon 66 was much lighter, and thus easier to hold for long periods, than the Winchester rifles that Mr. Topperwein used.)

As I said, I haven’t read the whole book yet, but I did get through the author’s preface. One of the things that interested him about the Frye/Topperwein controversy was that Mr. Frye may have actually been using “performance enhancing drugs” in his record attempt, predating Barry Bonds by about 40 years.

This book pushes a couple of my hot buttons. In the past couple of years, I’ve become more interested in the 20th Century exhibition shooters, like the Topperwins and Frye and Herb Parsons and others. (There’s a pretty good DVD, “Fast and Fancy Shooters“, that has vintage footage of some of these people at work. Link goes to Amazon, but I was able to find it cheaper on eBay when I bought it.)

In addition, I have my own personal reasons for being interested in Mr. Frye: one of these days Real Soon Now, I’m going to finish the long post I started a while back about my Nylon 66, Tom Frye, and childhood nostalgia.

In general, out of my group of shooting friends, I think I’m the most interested in shooting history of the bunch. I expect this to be a swell addition to my library, and I encourage anyone who has a set of buttons like mine to pick up a copy.

On a semi-related side note, you know who else is interested in firearms history? Karl of KR Training, official firearms trainer of Whipped Cream Difficulties. I bring this up here because he’s been working on a series of “Historical Handgun” courses: the first one was a 1/2 day course he ran this past weekend, and he has a full day class coming up in September. For personal reasons, I can’t attend, but I’m looking forward to the two-day version of the class he plans to run sometime in 2018.

In the meantime, though, he’s got some blog entries up: an after action report on the 1/2 day class, discussion of the FBI’s qualification course circa 1945, and even a couple of book reviews. I encourage my readers to give Karl’s blog some affection, even if you do live too far away to enroll in his classes.

(I think it’d be kind of fun, though, if Karl could develop this into a sort of standard curriculum and share it with instructors in other regions. It might be fun to have people all over the country running these classes and showing how it was done in the old days. Heck, maybe we could make this a thing, like cowboy action shooting and the zoot shooters: combat matches with “appropriate” guns from different eras. This could be a whole bunch of fun.)

Headline of the day.

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Fruitcake From Robert Scott Expedition Is ‘Almost’ Edible at 106 Years Old

“almost” edible. So pretty much the same as a regular fruitcake.

(Thank you. I’ll be here all week. Try your waitress and remember to tip the veal.)

Hello, Dali.

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

Headline of the day:

Exhumation of Dali's remains finds his mustache still intact

Obit watch: July 20, 2017.

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

I’ve been going back and forth on this one for a few days, and finally decided it was worth noting here.

Jean-Jacques Susini passed away on July 3rd. To borrow the paper of record’s description of him, Mr. Susini was “a fiery leader of a right-wing terrorist group that opposed Algerian independence from France who was twice condemned to death in absentia for plots to assassinate President Charles de Gaulle of France”.

More:

He was arrested and tried for helping to organize the so-called Week of the Barricades, which turned to bloody rioting. He fled to southern France during a court recess and later to Spain, where he joined the Secret Army Organization, an underground band of right-ring military and civilian extremists that used terrorism tactics to fight against Algerian independence.

Independence finally came to Algeria in 1962, but Mr. Susini was nonetheless involved in plotting to kill de Gaulle later that year and again in 1964. Details of the first attempt — in which de Gaulle’s Citroën was raked by machine gun fire outside Paris but he was unharmed — were used by the novelist Frederick Forsyth to open his 1971 thriller, “The Day of the Jackal.” The film adapted from the novel two years later opened the same way, with de Gaulle and his motorcade attacked by gunmen.

I know this is probably a sign of real geekdom, but I’m still fascinated by the struggle over Algerian independence and would love to find a good history. Wolves in the City: The Death of French Algeria sounds interesting, but it’s pricey.

James Byron Haakenson was killed sometime around August 5, 1976, though his death was not announced until yesterday.

Mr. Haakenson was one of John Wayne Gacy’s victims. His body was unidentified until DNA test results came back earlier this week.

There are six Gacy victims that still have not been identified.

Close call.

Monday, July 17th, 2017

The last sentence would have made me snort coffee out of my nose, if I had actually been drinking it at the time.

(Obits to come.)

Happy Bastille Day, everyone!

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Missed Gavrilo Princip Day, but I didn’t want to let this one get past me.