Sep 20

Two campus notes, just before the full moon

Checked my mailbox on campus today and there was a little poster tube there. It was from the Office of the Bicentennial. The university, early this year, celebrated its 200th anniversary and, while it was a bit abbreviated because of the coronavirus shutdown, we’d been marking the event for a few years.

From time to time I had the good fortune to help them with this or that, and someone there was kind enough to send me a little thank you. I got a nice poster and some cool lapel pins:

So my question is, can I wear those in 2021?

Meanwhile, there’s baseball going on. And today I used my awesome powers to put three simultaneous playoff games on the big screen:

No one was there to watch them, because few people come into the building these days under the university’s wise safety precautions. But just as it is weird to consider 16 teams in baseball’s post season, it seemed normal to put sports on the big screen.

I wonder what they showed on that screen 200 years ago.

Ha! That’s a trick question! That building is only 103 years old! Back in 1917 you would have watched the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants in the World Series. The Sox, who won the series, were managed by a man named Pants Rowland. The Giants were managed by John McGraw, he of the bony old fingers.

Did you know there was a real Moonlight Graham? Burt Lancaster put poetry to the thing, but his is a beautiful and common tale, even without the book or the film. (The one inning the real Graham played in was a bit earlier than the film, in 1905. He passed away in 1965.)

There’s a book about him. Let me know if he ever made it down this way.

Sep 18

Sports as culture and 9/11

Showed part of this in class today.

Thought a lot about almost everyone on campus doesn’t have a clear personal memory of that day. And that’s both good and unfortunate. Maybe documentaries and all of the many media opportunities we have make it seem both far away and close at hand.

Fewer people, about quarter of America now, know of the hundreds or thousands of small personal moments like this:

The jets would be armed within an hour, but somebody had to fly now, weapons or no weapons.

“Lucky, you’re coming with me,” barked Col. Marc Sasseville.

They were gearing up in the pre-flight life-support area when Sasseville, struggling into his flight suit, met her eye.

“I’m going to go for the cockpit,” Sasseville said.

(Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney) replied without hesitating.

“I’ll take the tail.”

It was a plan. And a pact.

And there’s a full generation of people for whom the large, greater, moment onboard United 93 is only a piece of history. That’s the way of it. That’s the way of time. The way of moving on.

You wonder if it always happens that quickly. Did someone feel like this in December of 1958 when they read about another anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor? Did people have a similar reaction in the fall of 1934? Was it like this in the early 1880s? Of course news come so fast now that seemingly endless wars and almost-secret wars seldom get any attention at all. Of course pivot points in history are inevitably due to be swallowed up.

But through it all, Ray, there’s been baseball.

I should have played that in class, too.

Jul 17

‘Now batting … Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II’

Any guesses on why this path is important?

Trick question, the sidewalk itself isn’t important, but the property is quite meaningful. You can find out why on the most recent addition to the historic markers site. And if you want to read all of the markers I’ve collected from my bicycle, well you’re just a special history fan yourself, aren’t you? You can see them all, in reverse chronological order, right here.

A quiet day at work, a quiet evening with food from the grill. I spent some time writing.

And I read the scariest story of the day, something Michael Lewis got in Vanity Fair, that reads like it is the first chapter of his next book. Lewis has his detractors, but he can put words down. And if even a third of this story is feet-down accurate, this is disturbing. And so an almost-random six paragraph selection:

(T)he Trump White House asked the D.O.E.’s inspector general to resign, along with the inspectors general of the other federal agencies, out of the mistaken belief that he was an Obama appointee. After members of Congress called to inform the Trump people that the inspectors general were permanent staff, so that they might remain immune to political influence, the Trump people re-installed him.

But there was actually a long history of even the appointees of one administration hanging around to help the new appointees of the next. The man who had served as chief financial officer of the department during the Bush administration, for instance, stayed a year and a half into the Obama administration—simply because he had a detailed understanding of the money end of things that was hard to replicate quickly. The C.F.O. of the department at the end of the Obama administration was a mild-mannered civil-servant type named Joe Hezir. He had no particular political identity and was widely thought to have done a good job—and so he half-expected a call from the Trump people asking him to stay on, just to keep the money side of things running smoothly. The call never came. No one even let him know his services were no longer required. Not knowing what else to do, but without anyone to replace him, the C.F.O. of a $30 billion operation just up and left.

This was a loss. A lunch or two with the chief financial officer might have alerted the new administration to some of the terrifying risks they were leaving essentially unmanaged. Roughly half of the D.O.E.’s annual budget is spent on maintaining and guarding our nuclear arsenal, for instance. Two billion of that goes to hunting down weapons-grade plutonium and uranium at loose in the world so that it doesn’t fall into the hands of terrorists. In just the past eight years the D.O.E.’s National Nuclear Security Administration has collected enough material to make 160 nuclear bombs. The department trains every international atomic-energy inspector; if nuclear power plants around the world are not producing weapons-grade material on the sly by reprocessing spent fuel rods and recovering plutonium, it’s because of these people. The D.O.E. also supplies radiation-detection equipment to enable other countries to detect bomb material making its way across national borders. To maintain the nuclear arsenal, it conducts endless, wildly expensive experiments on tiny amounts of nuclear material to try to understand what is actually happening to plutonium when it fissions, which, amazingly, no one really does. To study the process, it is funding what promises to be the next generation of supercomputers, which will in turn lead God knows where.

The Trump people didn’t seem to grasp, according to a former D.O.E. employee, how much more than just energy the Department of Energy was about. They weren’t totally oblivious to the nuclear arsenal, but even the nuclear arsenal didn’t provoke in them much curiosity. “They were just looking for dirt, basically,” said one of the people who briefed the Beachhead Team on national-security issues. “‘What is the Obama administration not letting you do to keep the country safe?'” The briefers were at pains to explain an especially sensitive aspect of national security: the United States no longer tests its nuclear weapons. Instead, it relies on physicists at three of the national labs—Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia—to simulate explosions, using old and decaying nuclear materials.

This is not a trivial exercise, and to do it we rely entirely on scientists who go to work at the national labs because the national labs are exciting places to work. They then wind up getting interested in the weapons program. That is, because maintaining the nuclear arsenal was just a by-product of the world’s biggest science project, which also did things like investigating the origins of the universe. “Our weapons scientists didn’t start out as weapons scientists,” says Madelyn Creedon, who was second-in-command of the nuclear-weapons wing of the D.O.E., and who briefed the incoming administration, briefly. “They didn’t understand that. The one question they asked was ‘Wouldn’t you want the guy who grew up wanting to be a weapons scientist?’ Well, actually, no.”

In the run-up to the Trump inauguration the man inside the D.O.E. in charge of the nuclear-weapons program was required to submit his resignation, as were the department’s 137 other political appointees. Frank Klotz was his name, and he was a retired three-star air-force lieutenant general with a Ph.D. in politics from Oxford. The keeper of the nation’s nuclear secrets had boxed up most of his books and memorabilia just like everyone else and was on his way out before anyone had apparently given the first thought to who might replace him. It was only after Secretary Moniz called a few senators to alert them to the disturbing vacancy, and the senators phoned Trump Tower sounding alarmed, that the Trump people called General Klotz, on the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, and asked him to bring back the stuff he had taken home and move back into his office. Aside from him, the people with the most intimate knowledge of the problems and the possibilities of the D.O.E. walked out the door.

And, finally, John Jay is trending. Apparently this is a left fielder for the Cubs, though of course I thought of the first chief justice of the Supreme Court. So I decided to make an all Supreme Court baseball team:

OF: John Jay
OF: Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II
OF: Bushrod Washington
3B: James Iredell
SS: Benjamin Cardozo|
2B: Salmon Chase
1B: Thurgood Marshall
C: Melville Fuller
P: Hugo Black
DH: Harold Hitz Burton

Relief: William Howard Taft
Relief: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Closer: Oliver Wendell Holmes

Holmes has to make the team, of course, but he has to also wear his bushy mustache. And Harold Hitz Burton was an obvious and inspired choice for DH. And my team probably can’t hit for power, and they have no real speed, but they make up for all of that with their clubhouse presence.

UPDATE: Of course it has been pointed out that I left off perhaps the most athletic jurist on the court. Byron White was an All Pro in the NFL before turning to the law. And he was an All-American on the football field at the University of Colorado, as well. The Whizzer also hit .400 for the Buffaloes. I wonder what he thought about free agency…

Sep 16

Well that happened in a hurry

I say this at least once a year, but maples are quitters:

And this is way too early for the first leaf to have turned and let go of the branch to find its way to the ground. I found it on the sidewalk outside of our building on campus this morning. I’m noting the date and time, should anything come of it.

Found this repop poster on the wall at lunch today. While I find it too early for the leaf turn, this is right on time.

Even if the poster is wrong — Game One was at Yankee Stadium — it is eerily right on time. Game One of the 1932 World Series was on September 28th. This happened 84 years and one day ago.

The Yankees won. Some 41,000 fans saw the Yankees take the lead with a Lou Gehrig, and then they really poured it on in the final three frames. Red Ruffing pitched a complete game, striking out 10 Cubs.

So that’s timing, for you.

On the 29th, in Game Two, the Yankees won 5-2 and Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez got the second win of the Series. That game took one hour and 46 minutes to complete, and is not the shortest on record. (That’d be an 85 minute contest in 1908.) Babe Ruth saw his last Yankee Stadium World Series game. Ruth’s supposed called shot took place in the third game, in Chicago.

Through all of this, the Cubs wouldn’t hold a lead for more than a half-inning until Game Four, but even that couldn’t stand up. They got swept. But look at the Cubbies now, right?

May 16

Not a bad Friday

From this afternoon’s 34-mile ride in Columbus, Georgia. That’s Alabama on the left shore, by the way.

And that marks 80 miles for the week so far.

This guy knows how to pick a motorcycle helmet.

At James Brothers, our local bike shop. This beautiful machine is a Felt AR3. List price is $3499.

And this exquisite monster is a Felt IA time trial bike. If you guys want to chip in and buy me a new bike this one lists at $4999.99.

Baseball! And a cell phone shot. You can actually see the baseball.

Not bad at all.