A Star in the Night

When I was a kid December 20th was a significant date. It meant that the long countdown to Christmas was about to conclude and the Magic Day was almost at hand.

Five more days.

Of course, now that I’m well past my childhood days, December 20th seems to have arrived out of the blue. How did it get this late so early?

No matter.

I wish you all a Happy Holiday, and my gift appears in the video below. Unless you are a faithful viewer of TCM, you have probably never seen this Oscar-winning short from 1945. Set in the Southwest, it is a faithful retelling of the Christmas story on two levels. All the traditional symbols are there, albeit in a very American style, and so is the message of Christmas: Love begets love, and if it doesn’t start with you, then who?

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Common Nonsense

This past weekend, the Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, imposed a curfew from midnight to 5:00 a. m. in an effort to “combat the coronavirus.” Asked why he chose this time frame for the curfew, the Governor replied that it was “common sense.”

Maybe someone should inform the Governor that midnight to 5:00 a.m. is the time of day when the fewest people are out and about, and therefore, there is the least likely opportunity to spread Covid. In fact, the Governor’s curfew hours are the opposite of common sense, whatever that term may be. “Northam sense,” maybe?

He went on to add, “I’ll also say something that my parents taught me when I was younger, and that is nothing good happens after midnight.” This kind of scientific analysis will no doubt have Covid on the run before the year is out. Too bad my father isn’t governor of Virginia. His curfew was 11:00 p.m. He would have reduced our Covid vulnerability by 16.66 percent. He certainly reduced my make-out time, but that’s because his curfew overlapped the prime time for making out. Of course, Ralph should have followed his parents’ advice before going to those after-midnight costume parties in college and med school. Typical of a politician to want us to follow his parents’ advice, but refused to follow it himself.

In fact, when any politician uses the argument of “common sense” to advance a cause, what he or she is actually admitting to is that he or she has absolutely no understanding about the subject at hand. It would be more intellectually honest if they simply yelled, “Just ‘cause!” which is an abbreviated version of “Just ‘cause I said so!” Which is really getting at the heart of the matter.

Governor Northam may want to stop exercising his “common sense” and read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense in order to acquaint himself with the need to resist tyranny, a state of human affairs which often takes its first baby steps in the form of curfews. But, then, suppose you were Governor of Virginia? And suppose you were an idiot. But I repeat myself.

Secret footage of Governor Northam’s Coronavirus task force.

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The Frederick Keys and What Used to Be

I just found out that the Frederick Keys will no longer be a minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. Instead, they will be part of the six-team MLB Draft League, a summer, collegiate wooden bat league that will feature many high-end prospects. It will be similar to the Valley Baseball League, but these players will be from the major colleges and the league will be supervised by Major League Baseball. All of this is part of the restructuring of the minor leagues, which I fully understand and fully support.

It is sad news, nevertheless. Must everything in my life change or disappear, even down to an A ball team in the Carolina League?

The Keys began as an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles—my team—and remained an Oriole affiliate for their entire existence. Such lengthy associations are rare in minor league baseball.

Martha and I attended the very first Keys game when they debuted in 1989 at McCurdy Field, and the roster featured a young third baseman named Pete Rose, Jr. Becky and I attended the 2005 Carolina League All-Star Game in 2005 and were thrilled when a young Oriole prospect named Nick Markakis was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Martha and I went to the 2019 All-Star game in Frederick and got autographs from Oriole prospect Michael Baumann among others.

We saw lots of players come and go, some you’ve heard of, most you have not. Two of my favorites, you have not. Blaine Sims was a left-handed pitcher who was signed to a professional contract after pitching a game for the Rebels down in New Market one night. His grandparents—Honey and Dino—were regular listeners to our broadcast over the Internet and when Blaine was eventually assigned to Lynchburg, we went out to watch him pitch. I took video of Blaine facing his first batter in the Carolina League. That can be seen here.

Kevin Brown had been a third baseman/outfielder with New Market. He didn’t even start when he first arrived, but he kept at it, always working at his craft, and eventually signed to play professionally. He was assigned to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and we would go to Frederick to watch him play and to visit. Despite being old enough to be his father, it still made me feel little-boy cool that he would leave us tickets and we would get to visit with him. And he was grateful to see a friendly face in the visiting crowd, and hear that his old hitting coach, Mo Weber, was doing well.

Kevin Brown on-deck, June 11, 2015.

Harry Grove Stadium holds other memories, too. Martha and I went to see Field of Dreams projected onto a big screen near second base. Seeing that movie in a real ballpark was a hauntingly beautiful experience. Becky, Sarah, and I went to see a WWE wrestling card one night, when all three of us were going through a pro wrestling phase. (Where have you gone, Moondawg Spot?)

My buddy Al’s dad used to have season tickets to the Keys, and I would meet the two of them occasionally. Don, an old friend from my youth group days, and I reconnected at Harry Grove, and for three years, I arranged a night at the ballpark for my dance family. We can still do that, of course. Heck most of my fellow dancers go for the food and the fellowship anyway, and wouldn’t know what level of baseball they’re watching. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s wonderful, but for me and for Martha, there will always be a little sense of what used to be and isn’t anymore.

Martha and me at the 2019 Carolina League All-Star Game.

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Is Our Past Our Future?

Perhaps nothing destroys a political system more quickly and efficiently than paranoia. The situation can be grave enough when one party to a quarrel believes the worst of the other, when it pictures its opponents as conspirators. But when both sides see the other as ruthless, treacherous, and unwilling to abide by the rules, then all room for compromise disappears.

These words were written by author T. J. Stiles, but not about today’s America. They appear in Stiles’ award-winning, 2002 biography, Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War.

Stiles’ theme is that one cannot know Jesse James without having a thorough understanding of the immediate time and place in which he lived, which in Jesse’s case, means not just in Missouri, but in Clay County, Missouri, a jurisdiction almost bordering Kansas. When his older brother, Frank, rode off to fight alongside other secessionist Missourians in the spring of 1861, Jesse was 13 years old, and Clay Countians had already been fighting Kansas Jayhawkers on and off for seven years. The social dynamics of Missouri were complex to say the least with cosmopolitan St. Louis in the east and “Little Dixie” running along the Missouri River which bisects the state. It wasn’t just a matter of slave-holders versus abolitionists; indeed, more than a few slave owners believed that it was the Union who would best preserve slavery.

This post is not meant to be a book review, but at least a thimble full of the above background is helpful, because our social dynamic is also quite complex, and the quoted lead paragraph does apply to the United States today.

So:

Have we arrived today where Missourians arrived in 1861? Has all room for compromise disappeared? If so, what are you going to do about it?

One final thought: Stiles points out that as 1862 dawned, there was no middle ground. Those who tried to stand that ground were consumed by both sides.

Food for thought that is hard to digest.

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Never Do a Tango With an Eskimo

Today’s entry is a story of discovery, although it’s possible that I’m the last person to discover this particular discovery, namely, the song, “Never Do a Tango With an Eskimo.”

I often listen to 1940s Radio, a wonderful Internet station broadcasting commercial free from Great Britain that plays music from the 1920s through the early 1950s with a special emphasis on swing. 1940s Radio loves the American classics, but also—as one would expect—plays plenty of British music from that period. The other night, “Never Do a Tango With an Eskimo” came floating across the Internet pond and into my ears for the first time.

In a sweat to learn all about this song, I turned to YouTube and there, much to my surprise, were 13 different videos all featuring this tune, which was originally released in 1955 by one Alma Cogan. Who was she? (Or am I the only one who has never heard of her before as well?) According to her Wikipedia page she “was an English singer of traditional pop music in the 1950s and early 1960s. Dubbed the ‘Girl with the Giggle in Her Voice,’ she was the highest paid British female entertainer of her era.” She charted a huge number of records in Britain many of which were covers of American female singers such as Rosemary Clooney. “Never Tango With an Eskimo” reached #7 on the U. K. singles chart, by the way.

I would love to know what inspired writer Tommie Connor to pen such a fun ditty, and you DO know Tommie Connor, though probably not by name. Connor is the author of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Clearly, the man had an impish sense of humor. (No doubt there is some busybody out there right now ready to be offended by the use of the term Eskimo or for that matter, offended that some Brit with a penchant for penning odes to an affair between a housewife and a mythical gift-giving being, culturally appropriated the tango in an effort to, of all things, make people smile. If such people would kindly book passage on a rocket and launch themselves into space, many of us would contribute towards the cost of the ticket. But I digress.)

There are videos of Alma singing “Never Do a Tango With an Eskimo,” but I have chosen a dance video from a 2013 episode of the British television show Strictly Come Dancing for your enjoyment. The song is played in its entirety, and the dancing is sure to bring a smile to your face. Let’s be about the smiles.

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Sophie Tucker

When last we spoke in this blog, I stated that I would return to the subject of Sophie Tucker. As I had mentioned, Sophie had been arrested for singing bawdy dance songs such as “The Grizzly Bear” and the “Angle Wiggle Worm,” and any dance that draws the disdain of the class of people known as “dance masters,” always piques my interest. I remember hearing about Sophie Tucker since I was a child—Sophie died in 1966 at age 80, so our lives overlapped by 9 years—but I had no idea really who she was. Turns out, she was something, indeed.

She was Mae West before there was a Mae West. She sang bawdy songs, a phenomenon that today we would label as “empowering female sexuality.”  (We like to append serious sociological labels on such things these days, apparently in an attempt to squeeze every last drop of joy from the thing, but I digress.) I get the distinct impression that Sophie sang such songs because they were fun and funny, but with the understanding that “funny” often contains truth expressed with a smile. The lyrics were direct, but not explicit as are today’s lyrics which sound more like instructions on how to insert Tab A into Slot B, which come to think of it, is a great title for a Sophie Tucker song.

Most famously, Sophie came to be billed as “the last of the red hot mamas” having recorded “Red Hot Mama” in 1924 and “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas” in 1929. This latter song is particularly hilarious and I would invite you to click on this link for the full lyrics. Here is a sample:

Now it may be snowing,

But when I get going,

Oh baby, I’m hot!

You can keep your collegiate charmers,

Their lovin’ isn’t worth a dime!

Away up in Alaska where the natives freeze,

An Eskimo left my hut in his BVD’s!

Sophie loved her fans and regularly sent personal notes inviting them to shows. She also corresponded with many GI’s during World War II. By all accounts, she was a very warm person—one might say that she was not only a red-hot mama, but a red-hot friend as well.

Sophie was a large woman, who thought nothing of her size. “I Don’t Want to Get Thin” from 1929 is one of her recordings, which also include “Life Begins at Forty” from 1947. The themes expressed in these songs might strike us as rather “modern,” but they are simply a reflection of a person who was happy to be who she was and didn’t question it. One is tempted to say that Sophie Tucker was ahead of her time, but it is more accurate to say that she was timeless.

If you enjoy stories about larger-than-life people, then you should get to know Sophie further. Visit the Sophie Tucker website and also watch the 2014 documentary, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker, which is detailed on the website and available on Netflix and YouTube.

With that, I leave you with this, a typical Sophie Tucker song, sure to bring a smile.

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The Devil on the Dance Floor Once More

The folks who lived 100 years ago, at least the ones who considered themselves keepers of the community standards, cast a very disapproving eye on dancing. In a January entry of this blog, I noted that the Winchester Star ran a clipping in their “Out of the Past” feature from January 17, 1920 in which the dance masters of America had grown apoplectic over dances such as the “half-Nelson, body hold, and shimmy lock.” In July of 2019, I discussed the commandant of the Virginia Military Institute’s warning to his charges not to bring any “unidentified girls” on campus for the final ball of 1919, especially if the cadets planned on doing the “Shimmy” or “cheek dances.”

Today’s edition of “Out of the Past” (September 28, 2020) features yet another such story. It seems that a reader of the Star who lived in New York, sent our Winchester paper a clipping from the New York Times stating that one Dr. John Roach Straton, in a sermon to his charges at Calvary Baptist Church, declared that he favored extending prohibition to dancing. Yes, he meant that Prohibition with a capital P. “These dances have come from the underworld of Paris, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, and Oriental cities,” said Dr. John Roach Straton, who then named the “French Can-Can, Argentine Tango, Boston Dip, Fox Trot, Turkey Trot, Bunny Hug, Jazz-Shimmy, The Cheek to Cheek, and the Grizzly Grapple.” Stratton, by the way, was a very famous minister during his day and has his own Wikipedia page.

My second thought upon reading this was that the next erotic Fox Trot I do will be the first erotic Fox Trot I’ve ever done. (The dance was only six years old in 1920, by the way.)

My first thought was I have to know all about the Grizzly Grapple. Lo, and behold, Sonny Watson’s streetswing.com has an entire article on the “Grizzly Bear,” which is clearly the same as the Grizzly Grapple. A couple would basically bear hug each other and then imitate the movements of a bear. No doubt the bear hug part was what the good reverend and others found problematic. The article also features a brief video illustrating part of the dance, as well as a nice history, noting that Sophie Tucker was arrested “for singing the ‘Grizzly Bear’ and the ‘Angle Worm Wiggle.’”

A video of Sophie singing “The Grizzly Bear” appears below. The lyrics reference San Francisco, which must have been a particular den of iniquity (must have been a bear’s den) since streetswing.com notes that the Bunny Hug, Turkey Trot, and Texas Tommy also began there.

I don’t know who Sonny Watson is, but his streetswing.com is a treasure trove of information on old dances. The entry for the Boston Dip, which was developed in 1870, notes that the “Boston dances’ were slow waltzes, and the Dip was just a dipping variation in the Boston, “done by a huge step that would make the knees bend or ‘Dip’ the body down and was danced with the partners holding their hands on each other’s hips.”

I’m pretty sure that it was the hip holding that sent Dr. John Roach Straton into the stratosphere of moral indignation regarding the Boston Dip. Indeed, he informed his congregation that “It is a well-known fact that a large proportion of girls who fall come to their moral ruin through the dance, especially the public dance halls.” This is demonstrably false; otherwise, boys would have been lining up to take dance lessons.

So, what have we learned here today? One, that Dr. John Roach Straton was 100 years too early in his quest to rid the world of vulgar dancing. Vaguely suggesting something sexual on the dance floor is a far cry from Cardi B. Two, Sonny Watson’s streetswing.com is a great site and if you are interested in these old swing dances, then click on the link and explore! Three, I need to further investigate Sophie Tucker, whose song, “Red Hot Mama,” includes the lyrics, “I could make a music master drop his fiddle; make a bald-headed man part his hair in the middle, ‘cause I’m a red hot mama, and I’ll have to turn my damper down.” Then, there’s “Makin’ Wicki Wacky Down in Waikiki,” but I’ll save that subject for another time.

 

 

 

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California’s Climate Change Non-Sense

Recently the Governor of California and Senator Kamala Harris posed for a photo in front of a smoky, charred background, and proclaimed that “climate change is real,” meaning that climate change contributed to the wildfires currently raging throughout the state. The argument goes that the fallen timber that has accumulated on the forest floors is dryer because of higher temperatures, and therefore more likely to ignite.

This is non-sense.

You don’t have to be a scientist to reason this out, you only have to answer a few common sense questions, the first one being how long does it take for firewood to dry? This article, one among many, suggests that it can take anywhere from 3.5 months to 3 years for firewood to dry depending on the type of wood and the climate. For most wood in most places one can estimate that it takes 9-12 months to dry. Cut ends dry faster, so it is universally recommended that firewood be cut in lengths of approximately 16 inches. This article suggests that humidity level is actually more important than temperature. The drier the climate the faster the drying time. A commenter on this thread wrote, “I wish I had the source but I remember reading that wood doubles its rate of drying for every 20F increase in temp outside.” In other words, for every 5F increase in temperature, wood will dry 25% more quickly. I can’t find any verification for that, but let’s throw it onto our information pile.

Let’s go way out on a limb (pardon the expression) and assume that every branch and log on the Golden State’s forest floors is no longer than 16” and that the variety of wood lying there takes one year on average to dry. Let’s add to that an assumption that California’s average temperature has risen 5 degrees in the last 10 years. Applying those assumptions, one concludes that the trees and branches that have died nine months ago are as dry as if they had been lying there for one year, or in other words, as dry as they need be for optimum burning. That is an incredibly small percentage of the total amount of fuel that has been lying on the forest floor for decades. The wood that was there 9 months ago adds nothing to the climate change argument for the simple reason that wood cannot get dryer than dry.

Sasha Berleman, a fire ecologist, explained to Mother Jones in 2017 that “We have 100 years of fire suppression that has led to this huge accumulation of fuel loads.” Fire suppression means that California and the Federal government have spent their time and our tax money fighting small fires instead of managing them. The preferred management method according to this fact sheet from the California Environmental Protection Agency is through prescribed burns, which have been performed on only 11.3% of California’s forests between 2008-2018, according to this article. While the (relatively) small fires are being suppressed, the fuel for catastrophic fires continues to accumulate. All this is true whether the climate is changing or not. Anyone who has ever seen a brush fire or even built a large bonfire knows that once you get it going, it will burn whatever you throw on it no matter how wet or green the wood may be.

Clearly, climate change has nothing to do whatsoever with the wildfires currently raging in California. If we are going to “follow the science,” then by all means let’s follow the science, remembering that science is an ongoing process which constantly develops, modifies, and abandons theories based on newly observed facts. It’s not a religion, though talk of “deniers” (read heretics) and faith that excludes facts demonstrate that climate changers are adherents to a creed, not science.

Yes, the climate changes. That’s why there are fossils of sea creatures in West Virginia and palm trees once grew near the Arctic Circle. Of course, one of the primary tenets of science is drawing conclusions from a proportionately sized sample. Temperatures and other data have been collected in the modern sense only since 1880. The Earth, and its current climate are a tad older than that. Drawing conclusions based on data collected over the last 140 years is irresponsible. It’s not really science, and the wild conclusions based in part on such limited data is the Climate Change religion’s version of the Apocalypse.

Data must not only represent an adequate sample size, it must be put into perspective. The fact that Texas has “more forest and higher temperatures than California” yet “rarely struggles with fires,” and obviously shares the same climate, provides a little—actually, a great deal—of perspective. Likewise, the fact that the acreage consumed by wildfires so far in the United States exceeds a little over 7 million acres, which is not even half of the acreage consumed by wildfire in most years between the mid-1920s through the mid-1940s. In 1930 and 1931 wildfires consumed over 50 million acres.

Michael Shellenberger, who was named a Time magazine “hero of the environment” in 2008, and who has serious concerns about what is now taking place, writes that many scientists are simply wrong about the effects of climate change and, therefore, are wrong about potential solutions. Just this past November, he wrote,

Sometimes, scientists themselves make apocalyptic claims. “It’s difficult to see how we could accommodate a billion people or even half of that,” if Earth warms four degrees, said one earlier this year. “The potential for multi-breadbasket failure is increasing,” said another. If sea levels rise as much as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts, another scientist said, “It will be an unmanageable problem.” 

Shellenberger notes that the Netherlands have “managed” the problem of living below sea level for 400 years.

These scientist-evangelists are doing their best to put the fear of Climate Change in their believers, but Shellenberger’s article is a profound and compelling antidote to such fevered thinking. Once more, here is the link. I urge you to read it. I urge Gavin Newsome and Kamala Harris to read it as well, but I suspect the palm trees will return to Canada before that happens.

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A Pilgrimage to Bedford

Martha and I recently visited the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, which as regular readers of this blog know, is one of our favorite places. Now that the Bedford Boys Tribute Center has opened on North Bridge Street, Bedford has become more of a mecca than a destination.

4,415 poppies frame the flag.

The reason for our most recent visit was a display of 4,415 poppies—one for every casualty on June 6, 1944. The flowers may have been plastic (poppies are out of season), but the inspiration they provided is very real. As we strolled through the Memorial, I found myself taking photos of the same statues and vistas that I always do, and I realized that it is because that while the emotions they inspire are not new, those emotions are always renewed; always fresh and immediate.

The Bedford Boys Tribute Center adds a great deal to the immediacy. To visit the center is to exist in multiple times all at once. This non-profit museum is not only the caretaker of the Boys’ relics, but of their memories, and indeed, of the love that the town still feels for their 20 sons, husbands, and brothers who lost their lives on D-Day. Linda and Ken Parker, the caretakers (I cannot call them owners—one does not own the collective memory of a community) are to be commended for their work and their effort to write the story of the town’s healing. That healing, by the way, is an ongoing process.

Of course, if you have an interest in World War II, you should visit Bedford. If, however, you are inspired by sacrifice and you love America, then you should take a pilgrimage to Bedford.

There is no such thing as a “lifeless” statue here.

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Basement Baseball and Book Reviews

There has been a baseball tournament of some sort or another taking place in my basement since March 23rd. The first, which I reported on in April, pitted the 1971 American League teams against one another—this is because those are the teams I ordered when I purchased my Strat-O-Matic baseball game back in 1972, when I was 15. At least, I think I was once 15, but that life might have been a movie I saw once. The Baltimore Orioles won this tournament.

I enjoyed that so much, I bought all the 1941 teams and set up a tournament for them. The Boston Red Sox won the American League bracket, while the Brooklyn Dodgers won the National League bracket. The Dodgers then defeated the Red Sox in the Championship Series 4 games to 3. (In real life, the Dodgers lost the 1941 World Series to the New York Yankees.)

Naturally, I had the 1971 Orioles play the 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers—the Birds lost in 6 games.

I am keeping the ball rolling, so to speak, by creating a Best of the Worst Tournament that pits the 8 worst teams from both years against each other. All of these teams were wiped out in the first round, so these players will get a little more playing time. Sadly, for you Washington baseball fans, Senators teams from both years qualified. So did both Philadelphia teams from 1941. In fact, the ’41 Senators (with a real-life .455 winning percentage) have already eliminated the Phillies 3 games to 1 in the opening series of Round 1.

That fourth game was # 125 overall.

The average time of game is around 25 minutes. I could tell you for sure, but it’s not a statistic that I care that much about, even though I record it for every game. If you’d like any teams stats, the Tournament All-Star teams or League Leader stat sheets, feel free to request them.

Professional baseball has been non-existent or a mess this year, but in my basement, it’s fun and free.

***

As for the “book review” portion of this post, please leave one, especially for Swing Time, which you may not have had time to do yet. It helps a great deal with the Amazon rankings, and, of course, I appreciate it very much. Click on the link, sign in, and leave your review! Doesn’t have to be long—a sentence will suffice.

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