Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Torn from the pages of the NYT.

Monday, August 8th, 2016

Two stories from the NYT that aroused my interest, for different reasons:

Emperor Akihito of Japan wants to step down from the throne. But it isn’t that simple. There’s no provision in the law that allows him to step down and have his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, take over the throne, so the Japanese government would have to change the law. But the Emperor can’t ask for that directly, because that would be meddling in politics. So he has to hint that he’d like the law changed. But people are concerned that if the government does change the law, they would be exerting undue influence over the throne. So Japan has a mess to sort out, one that’s also tied up with the question of allowing women to take the throne, and what the role of the Emperor should be in present day Japanese society.

One of the things that I found most striking about this article was a reference – which appears to have been deleted from the current version of the article, but there are comments mentioning it – to Crown Prince Naruhito’s wife, Masako, Crown Princess of Japan, who according to the article (this is also backed up some by Wikipedia) has lived in virtual seclusion for the past fifteen years battling crippling depression. That’s about the saddest thing I’ve heard in a long while.

Story number two: a man named Neil Horan, who lives in London, was upset that Vanderlei de Lima was selected to light the Olympic flame.

Why?

Neil Horan shoved Vanderlei de Lima into the crowd during the 2004 Olympic marathon, probably costing him the gold medal. (De Lima ended up winning the bronze.)

Horan has gained bursts of infamy for his public exploits. He is a defrocked Irish priest who has made an occasional habit of interrupting sports events. He frequently appears at demonstrations, wearing a green beret and a green vest — the same outfit he wore when he interrupted the Olympic marathon — claiming that the second coming of Jesus is near. In 2009, he appeared on “Britain’s Got Talent,” and his Irish dancing earned him an invitation to the second round, until executives realized who he was. He does not dispute the label as an eccentric.

I believe “asshole” is actually the word the paper of record is looking for here. But what reason does Horan have for being so worked up?

He said that he has sent de Lima two letters of apology, in Portuguese, but has never had contact with him since the fateful day in Athens. (After the 2004 Games, Horan said he planned to go to Brazil to apologize in person, but he faced charges of indecency with a child. He was acquitted by a jury later that year.)

“It’s extremely sad that he never responded to my apologies, nevertheless acknowledged them,” Horan said. “I would like to meet him and his family. But absolutely no response. I condemn him for this. He miserably failed in basic manners of human decency and courtesy.”

That’s funny. I would have said the person who failed in “basic manners of human decency and courtesy” was Horan, when he pushed an athlete that had done nothing to him into a crowd and ruined his chance at winning the race.

Seriously. This guy is upset because the man he wronged refuses to accept his apologies, or even contact him. That’s not surprising; that’s the kind of behavior you expect from delusional assholes.

“As if I was just some sort of pop star looking for attention,” Horan said. “I see it as a personal attack on me, my Christian mission and Christ himself.”

The question on my mind is: why did the NYT chose to devote space to the rantings of an attention-seeking nut?

Random notes: August 1, 2016.

Monday, August 1st, 2016

I’ve observed that sometimes the NYT will run nice obituaries for people who weren’t famous – the type of person whose passing would usually escape the paper of record’s notice, except that they were a community figure in their neighborhood or something very much like that.

The man who lost his voice was a gentle man who didn’t ask terribly much of life. He lived in a miniature space in a single-room-occupancy residence on the corner of 74th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan, above J. G. Melon, the popular restaurant and bar known for succulent hamburgers. And he was a New York story.

Another nice story from the NYT: Shannon Beydler and Kevin Hillery were married July 3rd. Ms. Beydler is a judicial clerk and a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps Inactive Ready Reserve. Mr. Hillery attended the Naval Academy.

But in the spring of 2011, during an off-road adventure race with three friends in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a storm blew in as he was biking down a hill; a tree hit his head and rolled down his back, crushing his spine. Mr. Hillery was airlifted to Charlottesville, Va., where he underwent surgery.
During months of rehabilitation, he wondered if he would ever be able to get back to the Naval Academy. Less than a year later, Mr. Hillery did just that, graduating with his class — the first paraplegic to do so in the school’s 170-year history.

See also, by way of Instapundit: “Can the New York Times Weddings Section Be Justified?”

Ace of Spades had a sidebar link over the weekend to the semi-finalists in the Texas State Fair fair food competition.

“Bacon Wrapped Pork Belly on a Stick”? Isn’t that just bacon-wrapped bacon on a stick? “Buffalo Chicken Jalapeno Poppers”? Can’t you get those at Chili’s? “Injectable Great Balls of BBQ”? Don’t know, don’t want to know, don’t believe the word “injectable” should ever be used with a food item. “Deep Fried Bacon Burger Dog Sliders on a Stick”? “Loaded Bacon Mashed Potato Egg Roll”? Okay, now these people are just stringing random words together; those last two sound like something that was auto-generated by a Perl script.

Historical note: today is the 50th anniversary of the UT Tower shootings. I haven’t written much about that, and won’t: other people have done it better, and this year’s anniversary is even more politically fraught than usual. (Today is also the day that the university’s new rules on campus concealed carry take effect.)

I haven’t gone through this, and am not sure if a login is required (or if you can get away with private browsing), but here’s the Statesman‘s 50th anniversary coverage. Noted: A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders by Gary Lavergne (the definitive book on the shootings) is available in a Kindle edition.

Happy Bastille Day, everybody!

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

No, I haven’t forgotten. I just had trouble finding anything to put here this year. Old jokes are old.

Enjoy your holiday. Be careful storming prisons. Don’t drink wine and drive: you might spill it and stain the seats. And please accept this rather interesting Weaponsman post on the Chauchat machine gun as our nod at history for this year’s holiday.

Questions. We’ve got questions.

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

Prompted by various things, including recent events and other people’s travels:

  1. Why did the FBI feel compelled to announce they’ve abandoned the search for D.B. Cooper?
    Is it possible they’re playing a long game here?
    “Olly olly oxen free. Come out, D.B. Cooper!”
    “Hi, I’m Dan Cooper.”
    “Hi, Dan. You’re under arrest.”
    “Hey, wait! That’s not fair! You called ‘olly olly oxen free’! No takebacks, you cheater!”
    (I would ask why they were still pursuing him after 45 years – I thought the statute of limitations would have run out long ago – but, per Wikipedia (I know, I know) there’s a John Doe indictment in absentia against Mr. Cooper.)
  2. More of a rhetorical question: I didn’t know there was a Cleveland Museum of Natural History. I don’t think I did, anyway: if I ever went, I was very young. I’ll have to make a point of going next time I’m up Cleveland way. (And it is my turn.)
  3. Speaking of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, why is Balto, the famous Alaskan sled dog who took the diptheria serum to Nome, in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History?
    (I know what the more or less “official” answer is: Balto died in what’s now the Cleveland Zoo. And why was Balto in Cleveland in the first place? Because the children of Cleveland and the Plain Dealer collected pennies to purchase Balto and the other dogs, because they were allegedly badly treated after being sold to a “dime museum”. It just seems odd. If George Kimble had been a resident of Houston, or a graduate of UT, would Balto be in Texas now?)
  4. Have I linked to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History before?
  5. Why doesn’t the CMNH want to return Balto to Alaska? I kind of get the idea that Alaska may have forfeited rights to Balto, given the way that he was supposedly treated. But I’m not sure I blame the state, or Balto’s first owner, for what they did. Also, it was a long time ago in another country: wouldn’t it be nice to give Balto back?
  6. Another rhetorical question: I was unaware of the Balto/Togo controversy. It wasn’t covered in the children’s book I read about the serum run when I was a lad. (In case you were wondering: Togo’s skin is in Alaska, while his skeleton is at Yale.)
  7. What’s Balto’s Bacon Number? The Oracle says 3. But I’m not convinced: if you were voiced by Kevin Bacon in an animated movie based on your life, shouldn’t that lower your Bacon number?
  8. There were three Balto movies?
  9. What was the name of that children’s book about the serum run, anyway? I know it was non-fiction, and I swear it had a blueish cover, but I can’t remember the name. I’d kind of like to find a copy.

Obit watch: July 11, 2016.

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Sydney H. Schanberg, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, passed away on Saturday.

Mr. Schanberg was a correspondent for the NYT who covered the fall of Cambodia.

In the spring of 1975, as Pol Pot’s Communist guerrillas closed in on the capital, Phnom Penh, after five years of civil war in Cambodia, Mr. Schanberg and his assistant, Dith Pran, refused to heed directives from Times editors in New York to evacuate the city and remained behind as nearly all Western reporters, diplomats and senior officials of Cambodia’s American-backed Lon Nol government fled for their lives.
“Our decision to stay,” Mr. Schanberg wrote later, “was founded on our belief — perhaps, looking back, it was more a devout wish or hope — that when the Khmer Rouge won their victory, they would have what they wanted and would end the terrorism and brutal behavior we had written so often about.”

That didn’t quite work out the way Mr. Schanberg hoped. He was eventually thrown out of Cambodia and returned to the United States, but he never forgot Mr. Dith.

Overwhelmed with guilt over having to leave Mr. Dith behind, he asked for time off to write about his experiences, to help Mr. Dith’s refugee wife and four children establish a new life in San Francisco and to begin the seemingly hopeless task of finding his friend.

Dith Pran escaped Cambodia in 1979 and made his way to the United States. He and Mr. Schanberg got back together, Mr. Schanberg got him a job as a photographer with the NYT, and wrote an article for the NYT magazine, “The Death and Life of Dith Pran”. That became a book, and eventually the movie “The Killing Fields”.

“I’m a very lucky man to have had Pran as my reporting partner and even luckier that we came to call each other brother,” Mr. Schanberg said after Mr. Dith died in 2008. “His mission with me in Cambodia was to tell the world what suffering his people were going through in a war that was never necessary. It became my mission too. My reporting could not have been done without him.”

Obit watch: July 3, 2016.

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

I’ve been running flat out for the better part of the past two days, and haven’t been near a real computer, so I want to get these up before I crash.

I really don’t have anything profound to add to the flood of Elie Wiesel appreciations. I haven’t read Night, though I know I probably should at some point.

Michael Cimino. I also haven’t watched a single Cimino movie, though I do have the Criterion director’s cut edition of “Heaven’s Gate”. I do plan to watch that at some point, but we watched “Spartacus” (also the Criterion edition) recently and thought that was long: “Heaven’s Gate” in the director’s cut is about 30 minutes longer. A/V Club.

Finally, Robin Hardy, director of the “good” (or maybe just “not batshit insane”) version of “The Wicker Man”.

Happy 3rd of July.

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

Even though it is full of the usual anti-fireworks crapola we hear every year around this time – the same anti-fireworks propaganda that has been ruining the holiday and the country ever since I was in the single-digit age range – I wanted to note the NYT‘s “A History of Fireworks Mayhem on the Fourth of July” because:

A lazy man’s quick historical note.

Friday, July 1st, 2016

Tam is eloquent.

WeaponsMan is factual.

Happy Gavrilo Princip Day!

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

I let Bloomsday get past me this year. (I swear, next year, I will do the “Happy Bloomsday” cards.)

I didn’t want to let this one pass without note, though it took the NYT to remind me that today was the day.

As always, we tip our hat in the direction of great and good friend Guffaw, the originator of Gavrilo Princip Day. May he and the rest of my readers enjoy the rest of the holiday.

(As for myself, I plan to celebrate in a non-traditional fashion.)

110 years ago yesterday…

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

Missed it by that much.

On June 25, 1906, Harry Kendall Thaw, professional heir and nutcase, walked up to noted architect Stanford White on the roof of Madison Square Garden (during the opening night of something called “Mam’zelle Champagne”) and shot White in the head.

NYT coverage 1. NYT coverage 2.

When I call Thaw a “nutcase”. I mean that quite literally: historical evidence seems to show that he had a long history of mental problems, and that his enormously wealthy family spent a a great deal of money covering for him. Indeed, the Thaw trial is an early (though not the first) example of the interaction between great wealth and criminal justice.

It is also claimed that Thaw’s family spent a lot of money smearing White. Specifically, Thaw’s supposed motivation for the murder was that White had “ruined” Evelyn Nesbit when she was 16. Ms. Nesbit later went on to become Thaw’s wife: she supposedly told Thaw all about her affair with White, which drove Thaw crazier than he allegedly already was…

The end result was that Thaw went through two trials. The jury hung in the first one, and found him not guilty by reason of insanity in the second one. Thaw was sent to the Matteawan asylum for several years. In 1913, he walked out of the asylum and escaped into Quebec. He was eventually extradited back to the US, where he received a new sanity hearing, was found “not guilty and no longer insane”, and was released. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested and confined again for beating a 19 year old boy. He was released in 1924 and died in 1947. Thaw obit from the NYT.

Evelyn Nesbit died in “relative obscurity” in 1967. NYT obit.

I actually had hopes and plans for doing a much longer and better post on this, but they didn’t pan out. I’ve had trouble laying my hands on the source material I wanted to find. (And I still haven’t been able to find out what gun Thaw used, alas.)

So I’m going to be a little lazy and point to:

The website for the American Experience documentary “Murder of the Century”. It does not have the film available for streaming, but it does have the transcript and background material.

The Thaw trials from Douglas Linder’s “Famous Trials” website. This is actually a website that I keep forgetting about, even though it has been around since 1995, so I’m glad to be able to bookmark it here. Professor Linder has spent the past 21 years documenting everything from the trial of Socrates through Thomas More, Aaron Burr, our old pal Big Bill Haywood, and all the way up to George Zimmerman. This isn’t the be-all end-all website for most of these trials, but it serves as a good jumping-off point if you want to do more research.

(If those NYT links don’t work for you, would you please send an email or leave a comment? I think they should work, but I’m not 100% sure.)

Obit watch: June 25, 2016.

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

Michael Herr, author of Dispatches. This is supposed to be one of the great Vietnam War books: I personally haven’t gotten around to reading it.

Things I did not know:

He contributed the narration to “Apocalypse Now,” Francis Ford Coppola’s epic adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” and with the director Stanley Kubrick and Gustav Hasford wrote the screenplay for “Full Metal Jacket” (1987), adapted from Mr. Hasford’s novel (“The Short-Timers”).

Bernie Worrell, legendary keyboard player.

His stint in the 1970s as keyboardist and music director in groups led by George Clinton — Parliament, Funkadelic and their eventual merged identity of Parliament-Funkadelic, or P-Funk — taught generations of musicians and listeners that synthetic sounds could be earthy and untamed.

Later on, of course, he played with the Talking Heads. I think this clip has some good shots of Mr. Worrell in action with the Heads:

He played, and played with, whatever technology was available to him at the time: piano, electric piano, clavinet, Hammond organ, as well as Moog, ARP, Yamaha and Prophet synthesizers. What he brought to every piece of technology was a human element: quirks and syncopations, complex structures and outbursts of anarchy. His oft-repeated advice to young musicians was “hands on” — to keep the human touch in music rather than depending on machines.

A/V Club.

Random notes: June 24, 2016.

Friday, June 24th, 2016

The Baltimore Sun recalls a time when terrapin was “the signature delicacy of Maryland cuisine”.

(Linked here because: my favorite chapter in The Old Man and the Boy is towards the end, where the Old Man takes The Boy up to his friend’s in Maryland. They stop off along the way and have a proper meal of canvasback duck, terrapin stew, and various kinds of “iced tea” – this being at the height of Prohibition. So, yeah, I have a vague desire to try terrapin stew sometime.)

I intended to link this earlier in the week, but forgot until the On Taking Pictures podcast reminded me: 20×24 Studio is closing down “by the end of next year”.

The significance of this is that 20×24 is the home of the largest Polaroid camera ever made:

The camera, the 20-inch-by-24-inch Polaroid, was born as a kind of industrial stunt. Five of the wooden behemoths, weighing more than 200 pounds each and sitting atop a quartet of gurney wheels, were made in the late 1970s at the request of Edwin H. Land, the company’s founder, to demonstrate the quality of his large-format film. But the cameras found their true home in the art world, taken up by painters like Chuck Close and Robert Rauschenberg and photographers like William Wegman, David Levinthal and Mary Ellen Mark to make instant images that had the size and presence of sculpture.

But Polaroid no longer produces instant film: the company bought “hundreds of cases” of the 20×24 film, and hoped to reverse engineer it:

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years now, and I understand the importance of the history maybe better than anyone else,” said Mr. Reuter, who is also a photographer and filmmaker. “But there is a time when things have to come to an end. These are not materials that were designed to last indefinitely, and the investment to keep making them would be huge, multimillions.”

20×24 Studio.

Pavel Dmitrichenko is hoping to rebuild his ballet career, after being out of the dance scene for about two and a half years.

Why was he out? Injury? No, actually, he was in prison.

And why was he in prison? He was convicted of plotting the acid attack against Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin.

Mr. Dmitrichenko now labels the whole affair pure fiction. It was all a plot, he said, by Mr. Filin and his allies in the Bolshoi to remove him from the scene because he was vocal about their corrupt practices and would not be intimidated.
The revisions spill out in dizzying, not to say implausible, succession: He never spoke to Mr. Zarutsky about Mr. Filin. He denied that he admitted as much in court. Ms. Vorontsova was not his girlfriend. He even raises doubts that there was any acid attack since Mr. Filin has little noticeable scaring and can drive, despite the seeming lack of an iris in one eye that he keeps hidden behind sunglasses.