Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Historical note, suitable for use in schools.

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Fifty years ago today, on October 17, 1966, members of the New York Fire Department responded to a fire at East 22nd Street in Manhattan.

The firefighters didn’t know where the fire was burning (though the smoke was obvious) so some of them went into the building at 23rd Street. The idea was to bring hoses in and hit the fire from behind.

What was burning in the 22nd Street building, a subsequent investigation showed, was paint and lacquer that had been stored in the basement by an art dealer. What the firefighters who went into Wonder Drug & Cosmetics, at 6 East 23rd Street, across from Madison Square Park, had no way of knowing was that the store and the 22nd Street building shared a basement, and that an interior basement wall had recently been moved to give the 22nd Street building more underground storage space.
That meant that the drugstore’s thick floor was poorly supported, and as the fire burned below it collapsed, sending 10 firefighters plunging into the basement. Two others were caught by the flames that quickly roared up to the first floor through the huge hole left by the collapse.

12 firefighters were killed that day. At the time, it was the worst loss of life in the history of the NYFD.

I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, but there’s a short documentary (produced by the department) about the fire on the NYFD Foundation website.

From Wikipedia, the names of the dead:

Deputy Chief Thomas A. Reilly, FDNY 3rd Division
Battalion Chief Walter J. Higgins, FDNY 7th Battalion
Lt. John J. Finley, FDNY Ladder Co. 7
Lt. Joseph Priore, FDNY Engine Co. 18
Firefighter John G. Berry, FDNY Ladder Co. 7
Firefighter James V. Galanaugh, FDNY Engine Co. 18
Firefighter Rudolph F. Kaminsky, FDNY Ladder Co. 7
Firefighter Joseph Kelly, FDNY Engine Co. 18
Firefighter Carl Lee, FDNY Ladder Co. 7
Firefighter William F. McCarron, FDNY 3rd Division
Firefighter Daniel L. Rey, FDNY Engine Co. 18
Firefighter Bernard A. Tepper, FDNY Engine Co. 18

(I can’t find an official NYFD memorial page. There’s a unofficial historical site,, that does have a memorial page.)

(Does anyone remember being in elementary school and having to watch fire safety films? You know, how to behave when the fire alarm goes off and your school is burning to the ground? Was that only a thing in the mid-1970s? Or even just in certain parts of the country? It seems to me in the distant mists of memory that we were always watching one fire safety film or another when I was in elementary school.)

Obit watch: September 28, 2016.

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

For the historical record, Shimon Peres. NYT. WP.

Herschell Gordon Lewis, noted film director (“Blood Feast”, “Two Thousand Maniacs!”). A/V Club.

Random notes and a whole bunch of obits: September 19, 2016.

Monday, September 19th, 2016

I didn’t have much to say about the Mew York attack because:

1) I was busy Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday.
b) It was an emerging situation that I don’t think blog posts could have done justice to.
III) I didn’t have anything to add.

I still don’t have much to add (except that I went “Holy s–t!” when I read about this morning’s shootout), but I did think this was kind of interesting: the NYT on the finding of the second device and taking it away in a “total containment vessel”:

The total containment vessel is essentially an inside-out diving vessel, Lt. Mark Torre, the commanding officer of the department’s bomb squad, said in an interview in July. “Instead of keeping the pressure out and keeping you alive in five fathoms of water, it keeps the pressure in,” he explained. Should a bomb explode inside, tiny vents allow pressure to escape. “It sounds like a hammer hitting a piece of steel,” he said.

I don’t remember if the APD has one (or even if we talked about that during the bomb squad presentation) but I’ll try to ask next time around. I keep thinking I should do a post on the APD bomb squad, bomb squads in general, and the weirdness thereof. (Did you know: you can’t just have a bomb squad? Even if you’re a police force. In some cases, even if you’re a major metropolitan police force, as opposed to East Podunk that has six officers and makes their entire budget off of catching speeders where the limit drops from 70 MPH to 25 MPH. Nope, no bomb squad for you.)

I made note of most of the big obits over the weekend, but there are quite a few others that I think are worth observing and commenting on.

NYT obit for W.P. Kinsella.

Charmian Carr, who was the eldest von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”, was in “Evening Primrose” with Anthony Perkins…and that was pretty much it. No snark intended, but I bring this up because: I keep thinking about a new series spotlighting actors and actresses (but most of the ones I’ve found so far are actresses) who had very short careers – like one, maybe two, at most a small handful of credits – and then left Hollywood for whatever reason. I’m thinking the first entry may be sometime in October.

James Stacy, TV actor. He was in a series called “Lancer” that ran for three years and which I have no memory of. Not long after “Lancer” ended, he was hit by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle: Mr. Stacy lost a leg and an arm, and his passenger was killed. He kept working in what the NYT describes as “specialized” roles, though his career was interrupted by a suicide attempt and prison time for child molestation.

Howard E. Butt Jr.. oldest son of the founder of the HEB grocery chain. HEB is huge in this part of the country, and Mr. Butt, Jr. was in a position to take it over. Except…

But Mr. Butt, a Southern Baptist, who as a college student and lay minister had led a Christian youth revival movement, wrestled with the dual pressures of the business and his spiritual pursuits. That struggle led to severe depression, which he later discussed openly.

He ended up turning leadership of the chain over to his brother, ran the family foundation, and continued his ministry.

At the same time, he continued to encourage the evangelical movement to engage other Christians, even those unaffiliated with a particular church. In 2000, he began giving a one-minute radio homily, a segment he titled “The High Calling of Our Daily Life,” which highlighted the role that faith has played in the successful careers and personal lives of ordinary people. His homilies were carried on 3,000 stations in every state, reaching millions of listeners.

I used to catch this on KLBJ-AM when I was driving to work at Dell and still listened to the radio.

Duane Graveline, who I’d never heard of before. And neither had my mother, who was an adult during this time. Dr. Graveline was an astronaut:

With much fanfare, the space agency named Dr. Graveline one of six new “scientist-astronauts” on June 26, 1965. The group included two physicians, two university teachers, a research physicist and a geologist, Harrison H. Schmitt, who would later walk on the moon and become a United States senator.

He was in the program for about two months. A month in, his wife announced she was divorcing him. Shortly after that, he “resigned”:

In his memoir, Donald K. Slayton, one of the original seven astronauts and a longtime NASA official, said: “The program didn’t need a scandal. A messy divorce meant a quick ticket back to wherever you came from — not because we were trying to enforce morality, but because it would detract from the job.”

I don’t recall Dr. Graveline being mentioned at all in any of the histories of the space program that I’ve read (and I’ve read several). It sounds like he had some issues: he was married a total of six times and lost his medical license twice. The first time, it was suspended for two years after “a large number” of Demerol went missing. The second time, it was revoked permanently “over allegations that he had sexually abused children” (though not, apparently, ones that were patients of his).

C. Martin Croker, animator and voice actor. I was most familiar with him as the voices of Zorak and Moltar on “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”. I’d include a clip here, but the one I want to use is actually on the A/V Club page. And: according to the A/V Club, most of the “Space Ghost” episodes are now up for free streaming on the Adult Swim website.

Don Buchla, one of the early electronic music innovators. I’d never heard of him (perhaps because Bob Moog got all the press). I’ll try to remember to ask Todd next time I see him if he was familiar with Mr. Buchla’s work.

Mr. Buchala and Mr. Moog were contemporaries:

In the early ’60s, the better-known Robert Moog, who died in 2005, and Mr. Buchla arrived independently at the idea of the voltage-controlled modular synthesizer: an instrument assembled from various modules that controlled one another’s voltages to generate and shape sounds. Voltages could control pitch, volume, attack, timbre, speed and other parameters, interacting in complex ways.

Part of the reason Mr. Moog may have gotten more press was that he put keyboards on his machines. Mr. Buchla “wanted instruments that were not necessarily tied to Western scales or existing keyboard techniques. To encourage unconventional thinking, his early instruments deliberately omitted a keyboard.”


Mr. Buchla’s instruments had modules with more colorful names, like Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator, Quad Dynamics Manager and, for his random-voltage noise generator, Source of Uncertainty.

Damn. I want a “Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator”.

In 1965, with $500 from a Rockefeller Foundation grant made to the Tape Music Center, the composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender commissioned Mr. Buchla to build his first voltage-controlled instrument, the original Buchla Box.
It included a module that would transform both avant-garde and popular music. Called a sequencer, it vastly expanded the concept and functionality of a tape loop by generating and repeating a chosen series of voltages, enabling it to control a recurring melody, a rhythm track or other musical elements. It would become an essential tool of electronic dance music.

Obit watch: September 1, 2016.

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

There’s a nice obituary in today’s Statesman for Tom Anderson, who passed away a few weeks ago.

Mr. Anderson was the carillon player at the University of Texas since…well, since Jesus was a private:

He played from 1952 until 1956 while a graduate student. In 1967, a year after he returned to UT to work in the international office, where he was assistant director, UT President Harry Ransom asked him to serve as carillonneur, and he continued to play until about three years ago.

I never met Mr. Anderson, but I remember when we toured the Tower some years back, he came up in conversation: the tour guide told us that he always said he was going to keep playing until he could no longer physically make the climb.

He was 93 when he died.

Marvin Kaplan has also passed away. He is perhaps best remembered as Henry Beesmeyer on “Alice”. though he was also in “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and “The Great Race”.

Finally, I intended to note this one earlier in the week, but the past few days have been hard. Jeremiah J. O’Keefe passed away on Tuesday. He was 93.

Mr. O’Keefe was a Corsair pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323, the “Death Rattlers”. During the course of his first combat mission, on April 22, 1945, he shot down six enemy planes.

The squadron claimed 23 of the 54 Japanese planes downed that day. Two other Death Rattlers also scored five or more kills. Maj. Jefferson D. Dorroh Jr., the squadron’s executive officer, downed six planes. Maj. George C. Axtell Jr., the commanding officer, scored five. An article on the battle in Time magazine carried the headline “One Deal, Three Aces.”

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.


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.