Photopost: Cooperstown


My son and I took an overnight trip during spring break to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  This is my fourth trip to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.  I have mixed feelings about Cooperstown.  On the one hand, Cooperstown is an absolutely gorgeous village and its fun to drive the winding roads through scenic farmland to get to the town and its excellent museums.  On the other hands, the story of baseball being invented in Cooperstown is completely fabricated, and places with much better claims on being the place where baseball was invented in New York City, New Jersey, and New England would be a lot easier to get to for most visitors.  Cooperstown needs the Hall of Fame more than the Hall of Fame needs Cooperstown.

That being said we had a great time walking through the town that was largely empty of people, visiting the baseball memorabilia stores, and taking in the exhibits at the Hall of Fame.  I took a lot of photographs including the plaques of all my favorite Hall of Famers and posted them in this web album.

A stately church building.
A cheerful yellow house.
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League uniforms.
The hats worn by Nolan Ryan for each of his no-hitters.
Statue of Ted Williams.
The Phillie Phanatic trapped in a glass box.
Peter pays due reverences to the 2018 World Series Champion Red Sox exhibit.

 

Podcasts of the Week Ending May 4th


30 for 30 Podcasts :: Ahead Of Their Time: Long Ball Soccer

This story tells of how Charles Reep used statistical analysis to create a new style of playing soccer, and doomed English football to mediocrity for a generation, because the math was off.

WBUR News :: Do Prosecutors Have Too Much Power?

Laws in the 80s and 90s that took away discretionary power from judges inadvertently gave those powers to prosecutors instead, and now America’s criminal justice system is not operating in the fair and just manner it should.  Author Emily Bazelon and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins talk about the problems of overly powerful prosecutors and possible reforms.

BackStory :: Red in the Stars and Stripes

Comrades, socialism has a long and illustrious history in the United States.  Did you know that Milwaukee had a socialist mayor all through the 1950s?  I’m pretty sure it didn’t get mention on Happy Days.

99% Invisible :: Uptown Squirrel

Squirrels are so commonplace among urban fauna that most people give them very little thought.  But in the 19th century, squirrels were considered exotic and weren’t found in urban parks at all.  This episode explores how that changed and why it’s important to investigate scientifically the squirrel populations in places like New York’s Central Park today.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending April 14


The Memory Palace :: Jackie Mitchell

The story of the first woman to play on a professional baseball team, most famous for pitching in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees and striking out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Hidden Brain :: Radically Normal: How Gay Rights Activists Changed The Minds Of Their Opponents

The acceptance of LGBTQ people in the United States has improved radically in a short period of time.  Hidden Brain explores what brought about the change in attitudes, and questions why other groups discriminated against have not seen as much positive change.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Birdsong

Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?  Perhaps because they have something important to say.

99% Invisible :: Froebel’s Gifts

The origins of kindergarten date to the late 18th-century when Friedrich Froebel came up with the idea of teaching young children through the structured use of educational toys.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Movie Review: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice (1989) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “I” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “I” documentaries I’ve reviewed are I Am Big Bird and I Am Not Your Negro.

Title: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
Release Date: 1989
Director:William Greaves
Production Company: William Greaves Productions for the American Experience
Summary/Review:

Ida Bell Wells was born into slavery during the Civil War.  After emancipation her parents were active in politics during the Reconstruction period before segregation laws were established. When her parents died of yellow fever, Wells became a teacher to support her siblings. A turning point in her life came in 1884 when Wells was asked to leave the ladies car and go to the crowded smoking car on a train.  She was dragged from the train as white women passengers jeered her.

Wells became a journalist and wrote articles about anti-segregation and began investigating lynching.  The stories of lynchings of black men insisted that they were killed in response to their sexual assaults on white women.  Wells uncovered that in reality the victims of lynching owned property that white men desired or ran businesses that competed with white-owned businesses.  Wells received so many death threats in response to her investigative journalism that she relocated to Chicago.  There she continued to remain a journalist and activist against segregation and for women’s suffrage.  In fact she was a gadfly even to prominent African-American activists like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois

This documentary is a straightforward, low-budget approach that features historic images and commentary from contemporary experts (including a descendant of Ida B. Wells).  The best parts of this production are excerpts from Wells’ writing read by Toni Morrison.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

This documentary was made 30 years ago, but Wells’ life and mission are still not as well-known as they deserve to be.  In the past few years, there have been efforts to bring Wells’ legacy into the broader cultural consciousness.  This movie is a good primer on her life and signifigance.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Look into the project to build and Ida B. Wells Monument in Chicago, and perhaps make a donation.

Source: Kanopy

Rating: ****


 

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Book Review: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train by Howard Zinn


Author: Howard Zinn
Title: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train
Narrator: David Strathairn
Publication Info: Tantor Media, Inc, 2017 (originally published in 1994)
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

I received an advanced review copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

This book serves as an autobiography of the historian and activist Howard Zinn, and intersects with America’s history of inequality and imperialism, as well as the work of activists towards justice and equality.  Zinn grew up poor in Brooklyn and worked at the Brooklyn Naval Yard where he formed bonds with the other laborers.  He signed up with the Army Air Force during World War II in order to fight fascism, but was also exposed to segregation in the armed forces and participated in a napalm bombing raid in France that he felt was more of a show of American military might than a strategical necessity.

Zinn began his academic career at Spellman College in Atlanta in 1956 where he served as a mentor to Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman.  He also became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, serving as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  Zinn was fired for insubordination in 1963, and accepted a professorship at Boston University in 1964.  Zinn’s arrival BU coincided with the movement against the war in Vietnam of which he became an active leader.  Zinn’s courses were extremely popular but he also had to contend with prickly and conservative BU president, John Silber.

Despite the dominance of inequality and opression in the world, Zinn remains optomistic.  He sees the changes made in people in the various movements as a net positive.  He notes that while tyranny is a danger in a short term it also will be defeated by the people in the long term.

Recommended books: This is an Uprising by Mark Engler
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Hidden History of Boston by Dina Vargo


Author: Dina Vargo
Title: Hidden History of Boston
Publication Info: Charleston, SC : The History Press, 2018.
Previously Read by the Same Author: Wild Women of Boston
Summary/Review:

Historian and fellow Boston By Foot Guide Dina Vargo writes about overlooked in moments in Boston history in her second book. This book includes dark moments in Boston history like anti-Catholic Pope’s Night riots, the boy serial killer Jesse Pomeroy, and the Tyler Street Massacre in Chinatown.  It also covers disasters like the Summer Street Trolley Disaster, the Pickwick Club collapse, and the Zoo Shipwreck.  All is not grim in Boston history, though, as this book also cover civil rights activists William Monroe Trotter activism that went straight up to President Woodrow Wilson and the settlement house social worker who became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart.  If you like Boston history, this book is a quick and fun read from which you might learn a thing or two.

Recommended books: The Fever of 1721 by Stephen Coss, The Wilderness of Ruin by Roseanne Montillo, Boston Riots by Jack Tager, and The Boston Irish: A Political History by Thomas H. O’Connor
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Dylan Goes Electric! by Elijah Wald


Author: Elijah Wald
Title: Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night that Split the Sixties
Narrator: Sean Runnette
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2017)
Previously Read by the Same Author: Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues and How the Beatles destroyed rock ‘n’ roll : an alternative history of American popular music
Summary/Review:

Elijah Wald is one of my favorite music writers for his ability to break down commonly held beliefs about popular music and show the reality of musicians and their music in the context of their time.  Dylan Goes Electric! does the same for the notorious moment at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival when Bob Dylan played amplified rock music, the crowd was outraged, and Pete Seeger tried to cut the cables to his amplifier with an ax.  Pretty much everything told about that night is incorrect, or at least incomplete.

Dylan’s performance, significant as it was, could not provide enough material to fill an entire book.  What this book is instead a history of the Folk Revival in the 1950s and 1960s with a focus on key figures like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie among others.  Wald also traces the history of the Newport Folk Festival and how it grew and changed in the years from its origin in 1959 to 1965.  Finally, Wald also details the early career of Bob Dylan, from his early influences in blues and R&B, to his quick rise to becoming a widely-renown folk musician, and his discomfort with fame and being the “voice of his generation.”

At the heart of all three stories – the Folk Revival, the Newport Folk Festival, and Bob Dylan – is a conflict between the ideas of authenticity and music for music’s sake, and the lowbrow ideas of pop music and commercial success.  Wald details that the Newport Folk Festival welcomed performances of electric blues and R&B bands while being uncomfortable the collegiate pop-style folk music of the Kingston Trio.  And while the festival promoted workshops that presented the music of rural folk performers, it was the young, urban and pop-oriented folk musicians drew the largest crowds.  As a result of the conflict over the meaning of folk music, new genres such as folk rock and singer/songwriter emerged.

Bob Dylan’s electric performance turns out not just to be a defining moment in Dylan’s career but part of a bigger story within American folk music, and a conflict that in many ways continues to this day. The stories of what actually happened that night are so disjointed, because the meaning of what happened is different to many of the people involved (and those who hear about in later retellings).

Recommended books: Baby, Let Me Follow You Down: The Illustrated Story of the Cambridge Folk Years by Eric Von Schmidt, Where Have All the Flowers Gone by Pete Seeger
Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending March 9th


BackStory :: Oh, Bloody Hell

You ever wonder about the history of profanity in America? This podcast’s got that shit covered.

Code Switch :: When Disaster Strikes

Inequality rears its ugly head in America in many ways.  Code Switch explores how disaster aid is biased in favor of white, prosperous homeowners and against poorer, people of color who rent.

WBUR CommonHealth :: New Gene Therapy Shows Promise For Patients With Sickle Cell Disease

Gene therapy at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Hospital is working to cure sickle cell disease.

Fresh Air :: The White House And Its ‘Shadow Cabinet’ Of Fox News TV Hosts

How Fox News has becom the state media of the fascist administration in the White House.

99% Invisible :: The Known Unknown

The Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington Cemetery is meant to represent the remains of military lost in war that cannot be identified, but in the case of the Vietnam War, the remains buried there were in fact known and only slowly revealed to the family.

60 Second Science :: Warm-Blooded Animals Lost Ability to Heal the Heart

Warm-blooded animals are able to regulate body temperature thanks to Thyroid hormone, but it also prevents warm-blooded animals from being able to regenerate heart tissue.

Throughline :: American Shadows

A history of conspiracy theories in the United States going back to the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: American Passage: The History Of Ellis Island by Vincent J. Cannato


Author: Vincent J. Cannato
TitleAmerican Passage: The History Of Ellis Island
Narrator: Jonathan Hogan
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2009)
Summary/Review:

American Passage offers a comprehensive history of Ellis Island from the 1890s to today.  Cannato’s thesis is that the history of Ellis Island as an immigration inspection station parallels the history of American attempts to restrict immigration.  Prior to Ellis Island opening in 1892, there had been few restrictions against immigration in United States history, with the Chinese Exclusion Act of a decade earlier being the first major restriction legislated by the Federal government.

The opening of Ellis Island itself was part of a Federal immigration reform effort that began with taking over the state immigration inspection station at Castle Garden in 1890.  The move to Ellis Island was prompted by three factors.  One, the need for an isolated location to screen passengers for infectious diseases.  Two, to isolate newly arrived immigrants from the scam artists who gathered around Castle Garden. And three, to similarily keep immigration agents seperate from the temptation of bribery and corruption that occurred in lower Manhattan.

While the earliest exclusions of immigrants were for disease and disability, movements soon grew to agitate for greater restrictions on immigration, often based on prejudice and fearmongering.  Immigrant aid societies often stood up to defend immigrants, there were also a good number of naturalized citizens and descendants of immigrants who saw the current immigrants as inferior.  Much of the discrimination was against immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Laws would be made to exclude immigrants based on political beliefs, the suspicion that an immigrant would become a “public charge,” eugenic ideas of intelligence, and moral turpitude.  Major politicians in both parties seemed to straddle the line between welcoming immigrants and stricter restrictions.  Interestingly, three consecutive Presidents (Roosevelt, Taft, & Wilson) ended up vetoing one of the anti-immigrant crusaders greatest desires, a literacy test. Another interesting reform proposal was to create equality by having all immigrants – not just those from steerage – screened at Ellis Island, but was quickly shot down by the elites from first and second class who did not want to mingle with their “inferiors.”

It should be noted that despite all these efforts to restrict immigration, only 2% of the arrivals at Ellis Island were denied entry.  The lack of staff and resources meant that the flood of immigrants passing through each day received only cursory inspection.  And many of the agents were sympathetic to the new arrivals and did not follow the regulations to the letter of the law.  When eugenecists were conducting research on Ellis Island, the immigration station’s doctors were angered that their research interpreted that natural confusion of immigrants in a stressful situation as a sign of inferior intellectual capacity.

By 1924, the anti-immigration forces pushed quota acts through Congress, ending mass immigration. Around this time, the numbers immigrants crossing the borders of Mexico and Canada began to surpass those entering through New York.  Requiring potential immigrants to go through screening at American consulates in their country of origin, also slowed the number of new arrivals.

For its final three decades of operation, Ellis Island served primarily as a detention center.  Noted anarchist Emma Goldman spent her last days in America at Ellis Island before deportation.  Suspected Axis sympathizers – primarily German-American – were rounded up in the early days of the United States entry into World War II.  During the Cold War it would hold communists, or those suspected of communist sympathies.  Ellis Island closed as an immigration and detention center in 1954 as the United States entered into a period of low immigration.

The buildings on Ellis Island fell to ruin over the ensuing decades with various proposals for what to do with the island put forth from time to time.  One of the more interesting ideas came from an organization of African American capitalists who hoped to use the island as a utopian community to help recovering addicts and criminals prosper by producing goods for sale.  The Nixon administration gave a lot of support to the idea as a way that Republicans could make connections with Blacks in a way that was opposite to the Great Society reforms.

Ellis Island would eventually be renovated as kind of a side project of Lee Iacocca’s public-private partnership to renovate the Statue of Liberty for its centennial in 1986.  Cannato discusses the efforts to make a proper museum and shrine that places Ellis Island in its proper historical context.  The idea that immigration is a shared part of American heritage is one that is questioned by people descended from indigenous peoples, those brought to America by force and enslaved, and even Anglo-Saxon Americans who see their ancestors as “settlers” rather than immigrants.

I thought this book was an interesting overview of Ellis Island, although it does have a top down focus.  Cannato offers a lot of detail about the careers of the directors of Ellis Island and the actions of various politicians and elites from Presidents on down.  I would like to also read a book that offers more of the perspective of immigrants passing through Ellis Island, and those detained for longer periods, as well as the everyday employees.  I think that would make a good complement to this otherwise excellent history.

Recommended booksThe Detonators: The Secret Plot to Destroy America and an Epic Hunt for Justice by Chad Millman, Five Points by Tyler Anbinder
Rating: ****

The Great Molasses Flood Centennial


Today is the 100th anniversary of strangest disasters in history, the Great Molasses Flood in Boston’s North End.  On January 15, 1919, a 2.3-million gallon tank of molasses on the Charles River waterfront burst open and sent a wave of the sticky, brown fluid into the working-class, immigrant neighborhood.  It’s a quirky story, and one that lends itself to jokes along the lines of “a sticky situation” and “slow as molasses in January,” but the disaster had catastrophic human cost.

21 people died in the molasses flood, crushed by the force of the wave or smothered by the sticky goo forced into their noses and mouths.  Another 150 people were injured, some trapped in the molasses as it cooled as rescue workers attempted to fight through the congealed mass to reach them. Buildings were damaged and demolished, including a firehouse that was pushed off it’s foundations by the wave.  The damage to the neighborhood was extensive, and it took teams of workers several weeks to clean up the molasses.

Panorama of the Molasses Disaster site. Photograph: Globe Newspaper Co. (creator). Boston Public Library.

I noted earlier that this storage tank was built in a working class, immigrant neighborhood, and as a result the victims were Irish and Italian laborers and children.  Not only was it dangerous to have an industrial structure in a residential neighborhood, but the substandard construction of the tank was directly responsible for the disaster.  The owner of the tank, United States Industrial Alcohol, was forced to pay out a large settlement in a class action suit and the government more stringently enforced regulation of industrial construction in the wake of the disaster. And yet, even today, the poorest among us – especially people of color and immigrants – suffer the most from industry’s callous disregard of human life.  I recently listened to a podcast about Africatown – a community in Alabama created by formerly enslaved people – which is suffering from pollutants dumped by a nearby paper mill. As I remember the victims of the Great Molasses Flood, I also think of how even today there are poor communities in America suffering from the effects of factories and refineries adjacent to their homes, illegal dumping of pollutants in their water, and interstate highways cutting through their neighborhoods.

The centennial was commemorated this morning with a ceremony at Langone Park, a baseball field in the North End where the tank once stood.  Participants in the event stood in a circle recreating the circumference of the tank.  Photo via Adam Gaffin (@universalhub) on Twitter.

There are a lot of resources available should you wish to learn more about the Great Molasses Flood. One of the best articles I’ve read covering the anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood is by Cara Giaimo on Atlas Obscura.  Other articles on the anniversary were published in The Boston Globe and The Guardian.  Archaeologists from the University of Massachusetts-Boston recently performed a geophysical survey to find the foundations of the tank.  Scientific American studied the physics behind the disaster.  The definitive history of the Great Molasses Flood is Dark Tide by Stephen Puleo.  Dennis Lehane also included a fictional account of the disaster in his novel The Given Day.  The Hub History podcast episode on The Great Molasses Flood is also worth a listen.  Finally, The Dead Milkmen recorded a musical tribute to the disaster.