Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Obit watch: January 17, 2017.

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Eugene Cernan, Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and Apollo 17 astronaut. NYT. NASA.

Hans Berliner, master chess player and prominent developer of early game playing computers (such as HiTech and BKG 9.8.)

Mr. Berliner was an expert at correspondence chess, in which moves can be sent by postcard or, more recently, over the internet. Players have days to think about each move, and games usually last months or even years. When Mr. Berliner won the Fifth World Correspondence Chess Championship, the final began on April Fools’ Day in 1965 and did not end until three years later.

Obit watch: January 12, 2017.

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Roy Innis, head of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

I’m just going to put this out there: he was an interesting guy.

Though court decisions and new laws banned discrimination in education, employment and public accommodations, Mr. Innis was disillusioned by that progress, saying integration robbed black people of their heritage and dignity. He pronounced it “dead as a doornail,” proclaimed CORE “once and for all a black nationalist organization” and declared “all-out war” on desegregation.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Innis toured Africa, visiting Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Julius Nyerere in Tanzania and Idi Amin in Uganda. He made Amin a life member of CORE and predicted that he would lead a “liberation army to free those parts of Africa still under the rule of white imperialists.” He later urged black Vietnam veterans to assist anti-Communist forces fighting in Angola.

He supported Nixon and Reagan’s presidential campaigns, and the Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

Mr. Innis acknowledged that his loss of two sons to gun violence in New York — Roy Jr., 13, in 1968, and Alexander, 26, in 1982 — influenced his decision to oppose gun control and defend citizens’ rights to carry arms in self-defense. He became a life member and a director of the National Rifle Association.

He also supported Bernard Goetz.

A favorite of conservative talk shows, Mr. Innis twice engaged in televised scuffles in 1988. On “The Morton Downey Jr. Show,” he erupted at challenges to his leadership and shoved the Rev. Al Sharpton to the floor. On “Geraldo,” he choked John Metzger of the White Aryan Resistance, who had called him an “Uncle Tom,” and the host, Geraldo Rivera, suffered a broken nose in the ensuing brawl.

I heartily endorse this event or product. (#15 in a series)

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

My “Secret Ops of the CIA” calendar arrived today. (Previously.)

The WP, for once, wasn’t wrong: it really is a beautiful piece of work, and I think it is worth every penny the creator is asking for it.

(My favorite entry? April. Because 1) my birth month, 2) Stingers, 3) Charlie Wilson.)

Quick random notes.

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

Well, found my 2017 calendar. (Okay, it is a little expensive, and I already have a Gunsite 2017 calendar that I picked up in Tulsa. But I’m taking a flyer on the CIA one because the thumbnails of the art look incredible: I’m seeing this described as more of an art book that you hang on the wall. I’ll do a follow-up once I get it.)

(By way of.)

I’ve never liked the Philadelphia Eagles, but this story makes me feel a bit better about them: Quarterback Carson Wentz bought his offensive line a present.

Each of them is getting a personalized Beretta shotgun.

“I like to go clay shooting and stuff,” added Brandon Brooks. “All I’ve got is a home defense tactical shotgun, short-barrel, so I was looking for one of these.”

The great thing about this? Not only is a cool present, but it should make all the right people’s heads explode.

Obit watch: December 29, 2016.

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

The Grim Reaper finally caught up with Vesna Vulovic (or Vesna Vulović). She was 66 years old, and had managed to outrun him for nearly 45 of those years.

If that sounds callous, well, Ms. Vulovic had an amazing story. You might even remember it if you were an obsessive reader of the Guinness Book of World Records when you were young.

Ms. Vulovic was a flight attendant on JAT Flight 367 between Stockholm and Belgrade on January 26, 1972. She had actually swapped places with another girl and wasn’t originally scheduled to work this flight. As we see so often in movies and television, this never ends well…

An hour into the flight, the plane, a DC-9, blew up over the Czech village of Srbska Kamenice. As others were believed to have been sucked out of the jet into subfreezing temperatures, Ms. Vulovic remained inside part of the shattered fuselage, wedged in by a food cart, as it plunged.
Trees broke the fall of the fuselage section and snow on the hill cushioned its landing.

Ms. Vulovic is believed to have fallen 33,000 feet, which (according to Guinness, at least) is the longest documented fall survived without a parachute. She was badly injured, but Ms. Vulovic was the only survivor of Flight 367. It is generally believed that the plane was blown up by a terrorist bomb in the forward cargo hold.

But an investigation by two reporters in Prague in 2009 challenged that account. They concluded that the DC-9 was mistakenly shot down by the Czechoslovak Air Force at an altitude of only 800 meters, or about 2,625 feet.

I think the Wikipedia page (I know, I know) on Flight 367 has a fairly good explanation of why this theory is bolshie bushwa. Here’s a hint: the black boxes…

…which provided the exact data about the time, speed, direction, acceleration and altitude of the plane at the moment of the explosion. Both black boxes were opened and analysed by the service companies in Amsterdam in the presence of experts from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Dutch Aviation Office (Raad voor de Luchtvaart).

I could buy a couple of Communist countries being in on the conspiracy. But the Dutch?

Sometimes there’s just nothing you can say. Debbie Reynolds: NYT. LAT. A/V Club.

Obit watch: December 9, 2016.

Friday, December 9th, 2016

John Glenn roundup: NYT. Lawrence. WP. Sweet story about Mrs. Glenn: they were married for 73 years. LAT. NASA Glenn Research Center.

(My dad worked at the Glenn Research Center a long time ago; so long ago, it wasn’t called the Glenn Research Center back then.)

Edited to add: Borepatch on Glenn. NYT obit for Greg Lake.

Meta obit watch.

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

John Glenn obits to come tomorrow, after everyone has had a chance to write and correct them. I’m sure the NYT obit has been in the can for a while now – it wouldn’t surprise me if at least one of the credited writers has died or left the paper – but sure as god made little green apples, there will be at least one correction.

Obit watch: November 26, 2016.

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Scum sucking dictator Fidel Castro is burning in Hell.

NYT. WP.

Cuban geopolitics is a little outside of my area of specialization (though I did stick a toe in those waters when I was taking “Modern Revolutions” with Dr. Sanchez back in the St. Edwards days). If I see any smart takes while I’m out and about I’ll try to link them here.

Edited to add: Various takes: Tam. Lawrence. Amy Alkon.

Edited to add 2: by way of a retweet from Popehat on the Twitter, the Miami Herald obit.

While I’m thinking about it, can I put in a plug for Stephen Hunter’s Havana? Not that it’s completely historical or anything, but I did think it was a fun book. (And Castro is a pivotal character in it.)

Intersectionality.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

At the weird intersection of book collecting and weapons geekery: a facsimile edition of the I.33 manuscript, a legendary 14th century combat manual.

Only £750. And that’s the cheap edition.

I can think of one person whose wheelhouse this would sort of be in: he’d probably buy two copies and resell one, except this is a little outside of his specialty…

(On a totally unrelated note, the Lame Excuse Books web page has been updated, and a new catalog is in progress. Books from Lame Excuse Books make fine presents for the holidays.)

(Hattip on I.33 to Hognose over at Weaponsman.)

At the weird intersection of gun crankery and entertainment history:

There are two things I enjoy doing when Mike the Musicologist and I go to Tulsa (well, three, but the shopping is really the whole point of the trip, so it doesn’t count):

  • Visiting with folks from the Smith and Wesson Collector’s Association.
  • Visiting the NRA Museum table. Especially if Jim Supica is there.

I didn’t see Mr. Supica this time, but we hung around the table for a bit and I picked up a few postcards, one of which contained the following odd bit of history.

I kind of knew Sammy Davis Jr. was a gun owner and collector (probably from reading his Wikipedia entry). What I didn’t know was that Mr. Davis was a serious fast draw practitioner. Serious.

Photo by way of Gabby Franco's blog, linked.

Photo by way of Gabby Franco’s blog, also linked.

That’s one of Mr. Davis’ Colt Single Action Army revolvers. The rig was custom made for him by the great Arvo Ojala, holster maker and consultant to the stars. Mr. Davis was fast enough that he did his own gun work for many of the TV shows he guested on.

Here’s some vintage film of Mr. Davis at work:

Quoting Gabby Franco:

It was said that in a holster-pulling match with fellow enthusiasts Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Davis was easily the odds-on favorite.

Mr. Davis and Mr. Martin apparently were not the only fast draw artists in the Rat Pack: according to the back of the postcard (which, sadly, I’ve dropped in the mail and don’t have in front of me), Mr. Davis and Frank Sinatra had a fast draw competition with a new car as the stakes. And Mr. Davis won.

“I was beaten by my friend Mel Torme, who also collects Colts.” !!!!

(And Dr. Brackett too? The earth was full of giants in those days: or, more likely, a lot of these folks learned fast draw as a way to get roles in the endless parade of TV westerns.)

I’ll leave you with a short NRA “Curator’s Corner” video about the Davis gun.

George Patton probably would have disapproved of the pearl grips, but Mr. Davis does not strike me as someone who was in much need of external validation, even from a WWII general.

Obit watch: November 19, 2016.

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

Dr. Denton Cooley, former UT basketball player and one of the greatest surgeons ever.

Why not have a drink?

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

I might have to pick up a bottle of Millard Fillmore United States Brandy, if I find it in a local liquor store.

Granted, it isn’t quite “Look for the smiling face of Archduke Ferdinand on every bottle!”, but history has its own set of charms.

Also by way of the NYT:

The Seelbach is named after the Seelbach Hotel (today the Seelbach Hilton), a storied century-old lodging in downtown Louisville, Ky., that is mentioned briefly in “The Great Gatsby.” Shortly after being put in charge of the hotel’s bar and restaurant operations in 1995, Mr. Seger declared that he had discovered a recipe for a pre-Prohibition cocktail that was once the hotel’s signature drink. He tested it, liked it and put it on the menu.
The news media soon picked up on the tale, and within a few years, the Seelbach cocktail was regarded as a rescued classic. It’s a tantalizing back story, one that has charmed cocktail writers and aficionados for years, and there’s only one thing wrong with it: None of it is true.

Obit watch: October 26, 2016.

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Bob Hoover, possibly the greatest pilot ever, has passed away at the age of 94.

I don’t think that statement is hyperbole, though I suspect I might get arguments from some people.

Even General Yeager, perhaps the most famous test pilot of his generation, was humbled by Mr. Hoover, describing him in the foreword to Mr. Hoover’s 1996 autobiography, “Forever Flying,” as “the greatest pilot I ever saw.”
The World War II hero Jimmy Doolittle, an aviation pioneer of an earlier generation, called Mr. Hoover “the greatest stick-and-rudder man that ever lived.”

“Well, if he was such a hot stick, why wasn’t he the one who broke the sound barrier?” Answer: because he got crosswise with his superiors for doing some unauthorized low-level flying, so they put him in the chase plane for Yeager. When Chuck freakin’ Yeager says, “I want you to have my back on this one”, well…there’s your sign.

“Nazis?” Yes:

As a pilot with the 52nd Fighter Group, based in Corsica, Mr. Hoover, a lieutenant, flew 58 successful missions before his Spitfire fighter was shot down by the Luftwaffe in February 1944. He spent 16 months in Stalag Luft I, a prisoner of war camp in Germany reserved for Allied pilots.
Mr. Hoover and a friend escaped from the camp in the chaotic final days of the war, according to his memoir. Commandeering an aircraft from a deserted Nazi base, they flew it to freedom in the newly liberated Netherlands, only to be chased by pitchfork-wielding Dutch farmers enraged by the plane’s German markings.

He went on to become a hugely popular performer on the air show circuit:

Mr. Hoover’s trademark maneuver on the show circuit was a death-defying plunge with both engines cut off; he would use the hurtling momentum to pull the plane up into a loop at the last possible moment.
But his stunts were not foolhardy. Each involved painstaking preparation and rational calculation of risk. “A great many former friends of mine are no longer with us simply because they cut their margins too close,” he once said.

I regret that I never saw him perform: somehow, it just never seemed that he came anywhere near me in Texas. (There’s video of part of his routine on the NYT page.)

I did read, and liked, Forever Flying. There’s a story in there that I sometimes pull out and tell to younger technicians who have messed up and feel bad about it.

The story goes: Mr. Hoover was flying back from an airshow and stopped to have his plane refueled. He took off again, and very shortly after takeoff, the engines quit. By dint of superior airmanship, he managed to land the plane: nobody on board was killed or even injured, but the plane was pretty much a total loss.

When Mr. Hoover removed the gas cap, he found out what the problem was: as I recall, the guy who filled the plane put in the wrong type of fuel. (I want to say he put in jet fuel instead of aviation gasoline, but don’t quote me on that: I don’t have the book in front of me.)

So Mr. Hoover hikes back to the airfield, and the guy who filled up the plane is staring off into the distance looking like the whole world has come down on him. Because he realizes he screwed up Bob Hoover’s plane.

And Mr. Hoover comes over, puts his arm around the guy, and says, “Son, I just want you to know: nobody was hurt. The plane got bent, but we can replace that. I have another plane coming in tomorrow morning, and when it gets here, I want you to be the one who puts fuel in it…

…because I know you’re never going to make that mistake again.”

By all accounts I’ve read and heard, he was a pretty kind gentleman, too. 94 is a good run, but the world is still a smaller, lesser place today.