Archive for the ‘History’ Category
Over the decades, the city of Los Angeles has named more than 1,000 noteworthy spots as architectural and historic landmarks: the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, the Theme Building at LAX, the entry gates of Chinatown.
The latest entry into the pantheon of architectural and historic landmarks?
Now I’m kind of hungry.
Obit watch: William Stevenson, most famous as the author of A Man Called Intrepid.
(I remember Intrepid being all over the place when I was growing up. Oddly, given my interests at the time, I never got around to reading it.)
Also among the dead: noted Texas historian and author T.R. Fehrenbach.
Trial update #1: Pavel Dmitrichenko has been convicted in the acid attack on Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin. Dmitrichenko was a Bolshoi soloist, who (according to the WP) felt that Fillin was not giving him “the best parts”. He’ll do six years in prison. Yuri Zarutsky, the man who actually threw the acid, will serve 10 years. Andrei Lipatov, the driver, will serve 4.
Trial update #2: I am keeping an eye on the Bell/Spaccia trial. It went to the jury before Thanksgiving, and, as far as I know, the jury is still deliberating. (There wasn’t much to report towards the end; just the usual “Rizzo did it”.) I suspect the holidays threw things off quite a bit; stay tuned for details as I get them.
Trial update #3: The trial of Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli started yesterday. Ramos and Cicinelli were police officers with the Fullerton police department: they are charged with beating Kelly Thomas to death. (Previously. Graphic image warning.)
Jim over at the Travis McGee Reader made a good point a few days ago: both Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis died on this date 50 years ago, but it seems like they got lost in the shuffle. (Although, according to Wikipedia, “In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis will be honoured with a memorial in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.” Good.)
(If I was going to have a fantasy dinner party, I’d actually have two: one with C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton. I have a tremendous admiration for both men, and think it would be fascinating to sit and talk with them.)
And the day before, Robert Stroud passed away. I’d have to go back to the morning papers from the 22nd to see what kind of play Stroud’s death got, but if he got lost in the shuffle, I’d have to say “Good”.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell my readers (all of whom are strong, smart, and if they have children, their kids are all above average) this, but for those who may be coming here for the first time and don’t know: contrary to popular belief and “Birdman of Alcatraz” (both the book and movie), Robert Stroud was a nasty piece of work. Bill James offers a pretty pithy summary in Popular Crime:
Stroud, among his other charming qualities, liked to write violent pornography in which he fantasized about abducting, raping, and murdering small children. Alvin (Creepy) Karpis, a famous criminal from the 1930s who was confined with Stroud at Alcatraz, wrote in his account of life on Alcatraz that Stroud talked constantly about raping and killing children, and insisted that he wasn’t bluffing: if he had gotten a chance, he would have done it. This led to a Kafkaesque scene at a parole hearing for Stroud in 1962. Outside the building protestors marched, holding placards demanding the release of the kindly bird doctor portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the movie, while inside the hearing parole officials dealt with a distinctly disturbed old man who mumbled about getting out of prison soon because he had a long list of people he wanted to kill and not much time left to kill them.
(And, yes, Stroud may have been abused by the prison system. Even nasty pieces of work deserve humane treatment and the protection of the law. But between the book by Gaddis, which is basically hagiography, and Babyak’s Bird Man: The Many Faces of Robert Stroud, which I think has a different set of biases, it is hard to tell how much actual mistreatment Stroud suffered, and how much of it was inflated or even invented by Stroud and his fan club.)
Herbert Mitgang, reporter and editor for the NYT, and author of Dangerous Dossiers, has died.
I don’t remember where I was at the time. It was about 18 months before I was born, so depending on your belief in reincarnation…
I’m about 70-30 on the “Oswald acted alone” front. (I used to be about 60-40, but as I get older, I get more skeptical of conspiracy theories.)
My main reason for leaning that way is that I just can’t believe anybody would be able to keep a conspiracy the size of the alleged JFK one secret for 50 years.
“But altered evidence! Faked documents!” Well, maybe. But once you start letting all that stuff in, you’re really going down the rabbit hole to the point where truth and fiction are completely inseparable and indistinguishable. That way lies madness. Maybe I’m naive, maybe I just want to bury my head in the sand, but I’d rather believe Oswald acted alone than believe in a giant national conspiracy led by The Cigarette Smoking Man (or someone like him). “Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.”
I wish I could recommend a good JFK book to you, but I’m not that well read in the literature. Heck, I haven’t even been to Dallas and toured the Sixth Floor Museum, though that is on the agenda for sometime soon.
On the other hand, James also recommends Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK, which made me go “Whaaat?”. I remember when that book came out. Admittedly, I didn’t read the whole thing: I thumbed through it in the bookstore, and flipped to the end to see how it came out. I thought this was a completely crazy theory then, and I still think so now. James spends a fair amount of space detailing the “Mortal Error” theory and why he finds it convincing; I think there are a lot of questions James simply ignores or glosses over. (tl,dr version of the theory: Oswald got off two shots, but JFK was actually killed by a negligent discharge from a Secret Service agent’s AR-15.)
(And I owe you guys a longer discussion of Popular Crime.)
Here are two of my favorite related videos. CBS News hires sharpshooters and attempts to recreate the shooting. (Bonus: the dulcet tones of Dan Rather, for those of you who have been missing the sound of his voice.)
And I’ve referenced this before, but I don’t think I’ve ever embedded it, and the link I did use is broken, so: Penn and Teller explain why JFK’s head moved the way it did, using a honeydew melon, fiberglass tape, a Carcano rifle, and a pink pillbox hat.
Jay Zeamer was a pilot. But he wasn’t a great one. He had problems passing his check tests, especially when it came to the “landing” part. He managed to get into B-17s and started flying as a “fill-in” pilot and on photoreconnaissance runs.
But nobody wanted to fly with him. So he created his own crew by gathering up every…
… misfit and ne’er-do-well in the 43rd Air Group. As another pilot, Walt Krell, recalled, “He recruited a crew of renegades and screwoffs. They were the worst — men nobody else wanted. But they gravitated toward one another and made a hell of a team.”
But they didn’t have a plane. So they grabbed onto a dilapidated B-17 that had been flown in for spare parts and somehow rebuilt it into flying condition. The base commander thought this was a pretty good thing, and intended to assign the plane to another crew.
Not surprisingly, Zeamer and his crew took exception to this idea, and according Walt Krell the crew slept in their airplane, having loudly announced that the 50 caliber machine guns were kept loaded in case anyone came around to ‘borrow’ it. There was a severe shortage of planes, so the base commander ignored the mutiny and let the crew fly – but generally expected them to take on missions that no one else wanted.
Zeamer and crew called the plane “Old 666″. And yes, they took on the missions no one else wanted.
Even among the men of a combat air station, the Eager Beavers became known as gun nuts. They replaced all of the light 30 caliber machine guns in the plane with heavier 50 caliber weapons. Then the 50 caliber machine guns were replaced with double 50 caliber guns. Zeamer had another pair of machine guns mounted to the front of the plane so he could remotely fire them like a fighter pilot. And the crew kept extra machine guns stored in the plane, just in case one of their other guns jammed or malfunctioned.
My kind of guys.
Meanwhile, by way of Insta (who draws a different conclusion than I do): W. Joseph Campbell, author of Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism, writes about Orson Welles, “War of the Worlds”, and the question of whether there really was a mass panic.
General Risner, who was promoted to the rank of brigadier general at his retirement in 1976, was shot down in September 1965 during a mission to destroy a missile site. Then a lieutenant colonel, he turned out to be the highest-ranking officer at Hoa Lo Prison, which American prisoners of war called the Hanoi Hilton. For the first five years — after which higher-ranking officers came to the prison — he helped organize inmates to make complaints about the conditions and to boost morale.
General Risner spent a total of seven and half years in Hoa Lo Prison, more than three of those in solitary confinement.
One of his major acts of defiance was helping to organize a church service in 1971, even though he knew he would be punished. As guards led him away to yet another spell in solitary confinement, more than 40 P.O.W.’s sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” to show support. He was later asked how he felt at that moment.
“I felt like I was nine feet tall and could go bear hunting with a switch,” he said. In 2001, a nine-foot-tall statue of General Risner was installed at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to commemorate that declaration.
Shon Washington is going to do four years in state prison. You may remember Mr. Washington as the man who looted the Christmas Bureau. (Previously.)
While searching for a good link on the Washington story, I ran across this:
72 bottles over 16 months is 4.5 bottles per month, or a little over a bottle per week. Or, if you want to look at it another way, 23 gallons over 16 months is 1.4375 gallons, 184 ounces, or 5441.53 ml per month. Assuming a 30 day month, that’s a little over 6 ounces of vodka a day. Or somewhere between two and three stiff drinks.
If you drive drunk with an open bottle in your car, you have a problem. If you have two stiff drinks a day, do you have a problem? I’m not so sure. (One of the current comments on this story calls out the hidden assumption that she drank it all herself, rather than having parties, having friends over, another family member drinking some of it, etc.) And it bothers me a little that the attorney was able to get records of her purchases from Twin Liquor. I buy from Twin Liquor; is some lawyer going to be able to subpoena records of my purchases? Should I start paying in cash?
(Another hidden assumption: she only bought from Twin Liquor, and not from Spec’s, or any of the dozens of other liquor stores around town.)
I was taught you should say only good of the dead.
By way of Lawrence, I have learned that General Vo Nguyen Giap, described by the NYT as “the relentless and charismatic North Vietnamese general whose campaigns drove both France and the United States out of Vietnam”, has died.
(I’ll have to go back and look: did the NYT ever describe Hermann Göring or Erwin Rommel as “relentless and charismatic”?)
He was tireless, honest, and smart, and getting smarter all the time as he made a strong team stronger. His subordinates responded well to his leadership, but he wanted more. He would encourage and recruit the hardheaded, iconoclastic, passionate original thinkers whom others would often dismiss as too much trouble. They not only followed him, they challenged him to be better. They pushed him. They questioned him. They constructively, fearlessly voiced dissent if warranted. He did the same with me. That’s a mark of superlative subordinates; they make their bosses better leaders.
–Henry A. Crumpton, The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service
Apropos of nothing in particular, there’s a story in Theodore Rockwell’s book, The Rickover Effect, that I’ve been thinking about.
The setup for this is that Rockwell and another member of Rickover’s team have been aboard one of the nuclear subs, doing an inspection and quizzing the crew about what they know and remember from their training. In this particular case, the inspection wasn’t perfect; the chief they’re talking to in this excerpt spent several minutes trying to find the answer for a problem he could have solved with basic math and a slide rule in seconds.
I turned to walk away, but the chief called after me, hesitatingly. “Sir, I have to tell you something.”
“I want you to know something. I was in the Navy for nearly fifteen years before this program came along. I was a typical sailor like in the movies. You know the type. If the average human being uses 10 percent of his brain, I was using 1 percent. Everybody figured sailors were supposed to be stupid, and who were we to argue? Now I’m working my tail off, but I’m alive. Y’know, I’m actually a thinking human being. And I think about how I just threw away fifteen years of my life because nobody kicked my ass. You know what really woke me up? On my old ship we didn’t have toasters, ’cause sailors are too dumb to work toasters, right? So we had cold, hard, dry toast from the galley. Then one day we had toasters on the tables. And I asked around, How come? And you know what I found out? They said Captain Rickover had told the top Navy brass that if sailors were smart enough to run a nuclear power plant, they could damn well run a toaster. [Emphasis added - DB] And I said, There’s a guy I want to work for. And I – well, I wanted you to know that you’ve done that for a lot of guys, ’cause I wasn’t the only one. Thanks.”
He turned away, and I was really touched. But all I could say was, “Thanks, Chief. I really appreciate your telling me that. Good luck to you.”
What do I want you to take away from this? Well, here’s a question for you: those people you ask to work on equipment that costs tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands or even millions? Do you think they’re too stupid to run a toaster? Or do you trust that they can make their own toast?
(“Toaster” is not a metaphor here. Except to the extent that it is. But as I said, this is apropos of nothing in particular.)
Also: “I just threw away fifteen years of my life because nobody kicked my ass.” That’s worth thinking about, too; are you letting people throw away their lives, or are you kicking their asses and challenging them to be great? Even if it means they might be great someplace else?