Friday, August 27, 2010

An October Evening in Osceola, Arkansas in Late June, 1938

On a Saturday night in late October of 1938, my father saw something at the local movie theater. This was so long ago that it was then called the "picture show." In those days, blacks sat in the balcony and whites sat down below. My father saw something that caught his eye. In his 15 years, he had never seen so many black men lined up to buy a ticket. It was not until the next day that he discovered the reason. That was the night the newsreel would show the replay of the second Joe Louis Max Schmelling championship fight. I feel sorry for anyone who got there late. The fight lasted only two minutes and eight seconds.

My Career as a Sexual Advisor

I often tell friends that in doing criminal defense work, many of my clients ask me to be their sexual adviser. I tell them what they ought to do, and they respond, “Look buddy, if I want any of your f***ing advice, I’ll ask for it."

The Night Bobbie Played Dirty Pool

When I was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, one of my favorite shipmates was Bobbie Jeremiasen. She was a cryptographic technician, mechanical, and trained to repair cryptographic equipment, which meant she was one smart young lady. She was also one of the most incredibly beautiful women I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Needless to say, she was quite a popular young woman, partially due to the fact that she was the unofficial manager and mascot of the Navy football team, and every guy in the barracks had a crush on her. In January of 1984, I had a once in a lifetime experience. While walking through the Meade Post Exchange, I passed the magazine rack and did a double take, a triple take and a quadruple take. My jaw went slack as I asked myself, “Good God, is that Bobbie on the cover of Playboy?” Long blonde hair: check. Porcelain clear complexion: check. Bright blue eyes: check. Beautiful white smile: check. Dimple in the chin: check. Plus Bobbie had a figure that would make an actual hourglass jealous.

I actually looked on the inside cover of the magazine and found the name Kimberly McArthur. Later that day I asked Bobbie if she ever modeled under the name McArthur. It was not until sometime later when I found out that Kimberley McArthur had been the 1983 Playboy of the Month. She was 5’4” and Bobbie was 5’10” (and yes, I’m the only guy who would’ve looked at that).

At the end of the season, when the Navy football team won the base championship, I presented Bobbie with a Navy blue and gold football jersey with her name printed across the back and bearing the number 10. (Bobby is one of the few women I’ve seen who could wear a number 10 and nobody would snicker).

There are a few more stories about Bobbie that stand out in my mind. One night Bobbie’s boyfriend was playing pool with another guy, and for reasons I cannot fathom, Bobbie decided she was not getting enough attention. That evening, she was wearing black hot pants and a hot pink halter-top. That was enough to turn any guys head. Bobbie had had more than a few drinks and was about two sheets to the wind. Every time her boyfriend’s opponent would line up a shot, Bobbie would bend over the pool table and wiggle and giggle. This drew quite a crowd. Every time Shocking Blue sings, “I’m your Venus” with the lyric “Makin’ every man a mess,” I think of the show Bobbie put on that night. I have no idea what Bobbie was drinking that night, but if I did I’d order a few cases of it.

I have no idea who won that game, but I distinctly remember stepping outside to cool off with other awestruck young sailors, some of whom literally howled at the moon. And I will kindly note that, as much as we appreciated Bobbie’s shenanigans, nobody laid a hand on her.

Sometime later though, Bobbie inadvertently touched off the great Fort Meade Army Navy pissing contest. I heard this story straight from Bobbie. She told me that her Army supervisor had approached her when everybody else was out of the office, placed his hands on her shoulders and said, “I could make things a whole lot easier for you around here,” and briefly touched her breast. Shortly thereafter somebody stepped into the office and Bobbie made a hasty exit. She reported what happened and the fecal matter hit the proverbial fan. Big time.

The Navy command wanted that soldier court-martialed; the Army argued that he should only lose a stripe and be demoted. I understand he was ultimately given a fault transfer and shipped over to Germany with a notation on his permanent personnel record reporting what had happened. One more incident like that and he would be out of the service with a dishonorable discharge. The fact that he was a married man with children might have played some part in that resolution. I will add that there are few things more pathetic than a man in his mid 30’s with no prior experience other than that sort of dishonorable discharge. Have fun getting a job with a record of sexual assault.

P.S. For the Navy barracks 1983 Christmas party, Bobbie showed up as always looking awesome: black slacks, white sweater, and a gold metallic belt. I happened to speak with the executive officer of the Navy detachment, a Commander. I nodded towards Bobbie and commented, “I guess you’ve been hearing quite a bit about her, haven’t you sir?” “Who’s that?” he asked. “That’s Petty Officer Jeremiasen,” I said. The commander replied, “Oh, so that’s who she is.” He also made a comment to the effect that the offending soldier had very good taste but incredibly bad judgment. The reason I like this story is that the Commander did not know who Bobbie was.

I also want to note for the record, and I also heard this from Bobbie herself, that I never heard anyone in a Navy barracks say anything like, “Oh, she must have been asking for it.” Indeed, when I spoke with Bobbie and mentioned that I would really like to get my hands on the guy who had groped her, she cheerily informed me that if I wanted to kick that guy’s ass I would have to stand in line. She’d gotten the same offer from a few other guys.
All things considered, I’m proud of the fact that both the navy officers and enlisted men behaved with decency and respect.

P.P.S.: Bobby if you’re reading this and you’re single, call me.

A Tre Story of Blind British Justice

While attending the Notre Dame Law Center in London in 1985-1986, I read a newspaper story about a man who decided to improve his economic prospects by becoming a bank robber. He wasn't going to let the fact that he was completely blind stop him. He managed to go into a bank and hand a teller a note that read "My partner has a gun on you." (Apparently, there was no partner.) No word on who drove the getaway car. He was soon apprehended and sentenced to probation.

The next day, I read a newspaper editorial excoriating the judge for only giving the blind bandit probation. (To my English readers: no, neither the original story nor the editorial was published on April 1st.) Twenty-five years later, I still find that editorial amazing. Of all the things I find frightening, blind bank robbers armed only with a threatening note do not make the top five hundred. Furthermore, if that guy ever re-offended, exactly how hard would it be to catch him? (A blind man with a note? Does that match the MO of any other bank robbers?)"

I would have recommended that he try something else for excitement. Like sky diving. (Of course, that would be pretty scary for the guide dog).

A True Lakota/ Jewish Joke

Back in 1985, I read in the London Times, that a Jewish lady had married a member of the Lakota tribe and they had a son. Thirteen years later, he had his Bar Mitzvah ceremony the same day as he had a Lakota ceremony recognizing him as a man of the tribe. (How they found a rabbi in South Dakota is an interesting question). I considered this for a moment and then gave the news to a law school classmate named Trudell Guerue, who is something like 15/16 Lakota. (He says that both of the extreme ends of his alimentary canal is French and everything else is Sioux.) I then added, "Things are gonna be rough for that kid"
"Because for the rest of his life, people are going to be telling him, 'That's don't *look* Siouxish!'"

Then of course, there was the Black fellow who married a Japanese lady. Every December 7th, their children would invade Pearl Bailey.

A Muslim/ Mormon/ Baptist Joke

The neat thing about this joke is that it is multipurpose- you can make it about a Muslim, a Mormon, or a Baptist. All three of those faiths proscribe alcohol.

The story goes that a guy with a long history of being a terrible drunk, converted to (pick one of the three) and learned that he could only drink alcohol if it was necessary to save his life. Late that night, he was found wading through a swamp yelling "Here, Snake! Here, Snake!"

Naomi Campbell and a Box of Rocks

A friend recently e-mailed me to point out that few people outside the business can recognize uncut diamonds and that Ms. Campbell probably had to forgo a lucrative modeling assignment. True on both counts. However, while I would not expect Ms. Campbell to identify uncut diamonds on the beach, seeing as how unidentified parties delivered "dirty pebbles" to her hotel room, after she met with a group of African leaders, she had to be dumber than a box of rocks to not at least take those stones to a jeweler.
Furthermore, since I make a living subpoenaing people to court who are none to happy about missing a day of work, I have NO patience *what*so*ever* with a supermodel who is a millionaire dozens of times over, who doesn't care to testify in, not a murder case, but a *mass* murder case. Furthermore, from the testimony of other witnesses, it is quite clear to me that Ms. Campbell repeatedly perjured herself, and she should go to prison for a great many years, though sadly, she won't. Naomi Campbell is not just stupid, she is *evil.*

My Brother Gets the *Perfect* Job

My younger brother Mark taught school for one year after graduating from college, then worked as a cabinet maker after that. Unfortunately, like many people these days, he's hit some rough times. He was laid off and had been collecting unemployment for several months. Just last night, however, I learned that not only did he get a job, but I think it's the one he's perfectly qualified for. He lives in Greenwood County, Kansas, a largely agricultural area. He'll be driving a truck that spreads.....manure.

Of course, I'm sure that some people would say that as a lawyer, I'm in the same business.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Danny and the Juniors and Shabbat

Danny and the Juniors big hit from 1958,“Let’s Go To the Hop,” is one of those tunes you just can’t get out of your head. A few years later a revisionist did a version called “Let’s Go Smoke Some Pot.” For some reason, when I recently heard a rabbi lamenting the fact that a decreasing number of young Jewish people were attending Shabbat services, I thought maybe he’d benefit from a more imaginative use of popular music.

*Note to readers: I have no idea where this bit of composition comes from, or what it means.

Bah bah bah bah, bah bah bah bah
Bah bah bah bah, bah bah bah bah, at Shabbat!
When the dreidel starts a spinnin’ well the fun is just beginning at Shabbat.
You can read from the Torah, maybe light a menorah, at Shabbat.
Come on girls and boys, don’t act like all the goys,
Do the Judaic sensation that’s sweepin’ the nation at Shabbat.
Let's go to Shabbat, let's go to Shabbat (Oh baby)
Let's go to Shabbat, let's go to Shabbat...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Big Surprise at Pearl Harbor

A recently had lunch with professor Byerchen and as usual it turned out to be a very educational experience. A few days ago, Pat Buchanan wrote a column on the subject of the proposed Islamic center being built 2 blocks from Ground Zero. He stated that if Japanese Shintoists wanted to build a temple in any of the fifty United States that would be no problem, but if they tried to construct one on Ford Island, directly opposite the wreckage of the USS Arizona, there would be a major uproar. After what Professor Byerchen said to me, you could have knocked me over with a feather. As we talked about the Islamic center and I related Buchanan’s comments, he told me that there were already two Shinto shrines near Pearl Harbor and close by the wreckage.

Happily enough, the tone of those small temples were not “All hail the Son of Heaven Hirohito,” but more in the spirit of “We attacked and killed your people, and then you attacked and killed our people, and we’re sorry about that. It was a bad thing.” After hearing that, I had to completely revise my opinion about the Manhattan Islamic center. While I would be a whole lot more comfortable if they built it one mile away, on the other side of Broadway, they are certainly entitled to build it on private land.

Furthermore, Frank Rich makes an excellent point in a recent NYT op ed column (I don’t think much of either Rich or the NYT, but he’s got a point in this one). He observed that if we are fighting a war in an entirely Islamic country like Afghanistan, it does not make general Petraus’ job any easier to hear about protestors trying to block the construction of an Islamic center in the United States.

Wilhelm Hübner’s Moment of Fame.

Many years ago, I saw a film clip of Adolph Hitler decorating a group of Hitler youth outside the Reich’s Chancellery in Berlin on March 20, 1945, just 41 days before Hitler’s death. Hitler had stopped to talk with one boy. Hitler youth were supposed to be 15 but this kid looked to be about 12, since he was a head shorter than Hitler and Der Führer was only 5 foot 9. Hitler smiled and patted the youngster on the cheek. Over the years I’ve often wondered who that kid was and what happened to him. I recently found out that his name was Wilhelm Hübner and the reason why Hitler smiled at him was that he learned that Hübner had been decorated for serving as a messenger runner, which was the exact job Hitler had been decorated for with the Iron Cross First Class during WWI. I also learned that Hübner survived the war and was still alive 40 years later when he was interviewed for a documentary called The Fatal Attraction of Adolph Hitler.

Marcus Wayne Chenault and the Kings

\In my hometown of Upper Arlington, there’s a restaurant located a few hundred yards from the high school I attended called the MCL Cafeteria. Two of my brothers and I once worked there as busboys. Since it tends to cater to a “mature” clientele, it is now sometimes referred to as the “Medicare Lounge.” When my younger brother Mark was working there, one of his fellow busboys was a young black man named Marcus Wayne Chenault. Mark doesn’t remember ever speaking to Chenault, but he remembered that Chenault once claimed that one day, we would be reading about him.

Indeed we did, because in the early 1970’s, Marcus Wayne Chenault travelled down to Atlanta, Georgia, walked into the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and shot Martin Luther King’s mother to death. He had a list of names in his pocket that included Aretha Franklin. What his motivation in doing this could have been, I have no idea. And Chenault took his secret to the grave. He died in prison. I’m rather glad about that, but I fear that some day some idiot conspiracy theorist will accuse me of having been part of a conspiracy against Ms. King. After all, I did work in the same restaurant with the assassin, didn’t I?

The lesson I draw from this is that sometimes there really are lone nuts who do amazingly stupid and violent things. A great many people are convinced that James Earle Ray was part of a conspiracy to kill Dr. Martin Luther King. This is a subject with which I have some familiarity because my Criminal Law Professor at Notre Dame, G. Robert Blakely, was Chief Counsel to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He interviewed Ray and tripped him up repeatedly in the story Ray was trying to sell. If I were going to rub somebody out, I certainly would not hire someone like Ray as a triggerman. Of Ray’s 70 years on this earth, 38 of them (over half) were spent in prison. He got two years for armed robbery in Chicago, four years at Leavenworth for a Post Office robbery, and 20 years at the Missouri State Penitentiary for armed robbery. He managed to escape after seven years of the 20-year sentence by hiding in an enormous bread container. Several months after King’s assassination, he was arrested in London’s Heathrow Airport while trying to make his way to Rhodesia.

I once saw a documentary on the murder site in Memphis. The producers measured the distance from the room Ray was staying in to the balcony of the hotel where Martin Luther King died. The distance was only 72 yards. That would be an impossible shot with a pistol, but for anyone with even the slightest skill with a rifle, it would be difficult to miss at that range. And in 1977 and again in 1979 Ray demonstrated that he had not lost any of his talents as an escape artist. In 1977, Ray and six other inmates managed to break out of the Tennessee maximum-security facility. At the time, several members of the civil rights establishment claimed that this was proof of a huge conspiracy, and that someone was going to eliminate Ray to keep him from talking. That prediction turned out not to be accurate. Ray and all his accomplices were recaptured within 72 hours. After another escape and recapture in 1979, Ray spent the rest of his life in Brushy Mountain, dying of complications related to hepatitis after serving 29 years of a 99-year sentence.

I recently learned that for his part in the escape, Tennessee added one more year to his prison sentence. I think someone at that Tennessee penitentiary has an excellent sense of humor.

Aside from being an inept armed robber and a fairly talented escape artist, Ray was also good at spinning yarns for people unwary enough to listen to him. Shortly before he died, Ray met with one of Martin Luther King’s sons, who told him that he was not the shooter. Dexter King later said that he was convinced that Ray was not guilty of murdering his father. Speaking to someone who has examined the record closely, I can only imagine that Ray had a very good chuckle when he got back to his cell, seeing that while he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison, at least he had totally fooled one of his victim’s sons. One of the reasons people want to believe that there was a huge government conspiracy to kill Martin Luther King Jr. is that they don’t want to accept that such an historic figure could be killed by as evil a non-entity as James Earle Ray. Or, for that matter, as Marcus Wayne Chenault.

Our Worst President Ever

I recently read that Ron Paul’s son, Rand, who is running for Congress in Kentucky has denounced Barack Obama as the worst president in American history. (Give me a freakin’ break. I have been hearing that said about every president since I can remember, which would include John Kennedy.) I will venture that George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy all had the chance to be America’s last presidents: had they failed in their respective challenges, the United States would no longer exist. A few months ago, I had lunch with my favorite history professor from OSU, Allen Byerchen, and we discussed this very matter. He asked me who I thought had been America’s worst president. I stated that it depended on your definition of worst. There is no doubt in my mind about the worst human being to have ever been president. Say what you like about any of his colleagues, only one president has ever been accused of being a serial rapist.

As far as who did the worst job of discharging his duties as Chief Executive, I told Professor Byerchen that it would very difficult to top either Abraham’s Lincoln’s predecessor or his successor. James Buchanan sat on his hands for seventy days as a lame duck president, taking no action after South Carolina seceded from the Union. Had Buchanan acted decisively, America might have been spared a bloody civil war. And our 17th president, Andrew Johnson, arrived at his inauguration as Vice President on March 4th, 1865 staggering drunk, much to the chagrin of Lincoln and the entire inaugural crowd. A month later, Johnson became president and proved to be so abrasive in his dealings with Congress that he wound up being the first President ever to be impeached. I then asked Professor Byerchen whom he would pick, to which he replied, Dick Cheney. Prof Byerchen is a brilliant man with a very sharp sense of humor.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bill Millen: His Bagpipes and His Postwar Career

On June 6, 1944, thousands of Allied troops stormed ashore at Normandy. One of them, Bill Millin, a 21 year old private attached to the First Special Service Brigade (the British Commandos) went ashore armed with . . . a set of bagpipes. His CO, Brigadier, the Lord Lovat had asked him to. When Millin pointed out that the War Office had forbidden battlefield piping after so many pipers had been killed in the First World War, Lord Lovat replied, "Ah, but that is the *English* War Office. You and I are both Scottish, so it doesn't apply."
So, when Private Millin stepped off the landing craft at Sword beach in water deep enough to make his kilt float, he was playing his bagpipes. And as he walked across the beach amid machine gun and mortar fire, he was still playing his bagpipes.
Later in the day, Lord Lovat led his unit inland to relieve a group of paratroopers who had seized a key bridge far inland at midnight the night before. By 1pm, they'd suffered a lot of casualties and were no doubt wondering if anybody was ever going to come to relieve them, when in the distance, they heard Millin's bagpipes playing "Blue Bonnets over the Border." It was Millin walking down the middle of the road beside Lord Lovat. This incident was immortalized in the film The Longest Day, although Millin did not get to play himself.
Millin later met a great many German soldiers who told him that they had had a clean shot at him, but did not fire at him because they figured he was "off his head." A great many of his comrades called him a "mad bas***d" too. Brave? Crazy? Both? Or maybe crazy like a fox: 4,400 Allied soldiers died on D-Day, but happily, Millin was not one of them. A few days later, his bagpipes were damaged by a piece of shrapnel, but Millin himself was unhurt. Millin's bagpipes are now in the Imperial War Museum.
Today, I learned something I simply could NOT make up. After leaving the Royal Army, Millin had a medical career working as a psychiatric nurse. Perhaps he had great empathy and understanding for his patients. ("Hey, you think *you're* crazy? TOP THIS!)
It strikes me as a amazing that a man who faced that much danger managed to live long enough to see the 66th anniversary of D-Day: he died earlier this month. At his funeral, I really hope they played "Scotland the Brave."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Barry McGuire Pop Quiz

What was the number 1 pop hit 45 years ago this September 25th--following the Beatles' "Help" and The McCoys "Hang on Sloopy"? The answer is: Barry McGuire's *one* hit "Eve of Destruction." I heard that tune on an oldies station recently and chuckled to myself that no doubt fifty years and even a hundred years from now, someone, somewhere, will be playing that song. But I'll tell you over and over again my friend, I don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

The McNaughton Test: I Could NOT Make This Up!

Readers will recall that on July 21, I had to deal with a rabid warthog in human form who was screaming at my client, and repeatedly threatening me. Happily enough, Judge Yarbrough had Deputy Clarke escort her and her male companion from the courthouse.
I *distinctly* remember the Judge telling both of them that if he heard one more word from *either* of them he'd give them 30 days in jail. I was admitted to the bar 22 years ago, and this is the first time I've ever heard a judge come down on someone that hard. I wrote about that incident on my blog entry, "Fracas on the Sixth Floor."
Last week, the perpetrator filed a complaint against me with the Columbus Bar Association.
Anyhow, I just learned that Ms. Warthog's male companion was named...wait for it... McNaughton. Not just McNaughton, but *Daniel* McNaughton. No, I did NOT make that up. At this point, I suspect that all lawyers reading this are cackling, and if non-lawyers bother to Google the name "Daniel McNaughton," they'll get a good laugh too.
Hmmm . . . so I suppose the question is, did Mr. McNaughton suffer from a defect of reason as to not know the nature or quality of his action or, if he did know it, was he unaware that what he was doing was wrong?

An Illinois Joke

What did one Illinois prison inmate say to another Illinois prison inmate?
"I think the food here was better here when *you* were Governor."
Today, former Illinois Governor Ron Blagojevich was convicted on one felony count (the jury deadlocked on 23 other felony counts--another jury will decide those). Blago is the *4th* Illinois Governor in the past 40 years to be convicted of a felony. (Three Democrats and one Republican, for anyone keeping score.)

James Doohan's Lucky Strike

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, James Doohan (the future "Scotty" of "Star Trek") was a young Royal Canadian Army captain, who went ashore on Juno beach in the first wave. Just before midnight, he was hit by a burst of machine gun fire. One bullet hit his right hand and took off his middle finger (in later years, I suppose he had to flip off William Shatner left handed), another hit his knee, and another struck him full in the chest. However, a cigarette case Doohan was carrying stopped the bullet. James Doohan is the only person I've ever heard of who could say that smoking saved his life.

Captain Kirk and the Klingons

Has it ever occurred to any other Star Trek Geek (STG) that maybe the reason James Tiberious Kirk loathes Klingons so much is because his toupee is made of live Tribbles? And am I the only STG to be depressed, while watching Captain Picard, that even in the 24th century, there *still* wouldn't be a cure for male pattern baldness?

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Favorite Gay Bar

I got everybody's attention with the subject line didn't I?
As everyone knows, there is a proposal to build an Islamic Center a few blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan. I think that while that is legal, it is grossly inappropriate. I think it is exactly the same as if Japanese Shintoists tried to build a temple of Ford Island at Pearl Harbor right next to the wreck of the USS Arizona.

So, I was delighted to hear that Greg Gutfeld, the host of Redeye, has announced that he intends to build a gay bar next door to the mosque- with one floor devoted to gay Muslims- no alcoholic drinks allowed. I *fervently* hope Mr. Gutfeld follows through on his plan- and maybe erects a flagpole flying a gigantic rainbow flag enscribed with the Muslim declaration of faith.

The Rapacious Jesse James and the Heroics of Joseph Lee Heywood

Popular legend has depicted Jesse James as a sort of American Robin Hood. The historical truth is a great deal different. Jesse James and his brother Frank got their start fighting with Confederate forces under William Quantrill during the Civil War. Very few people understand exactly how vicious that conflict came to be in the Kansas-Missouri border area. After the war, Jesse and his brother Frank were members of a gang that claimed they were only robbing from Republican business interests. Reviewing that gang’s paper trail makes for very depressing reading. They had an absolutely ghastly record of killing innocent bystanders. Some historians calculate that Jesse James was responsible for killing fifteen men himself before he met his end when a member of his gang, Robert Ford, shot him in the back of the head at point blank range to claim a bounty offered by a railroad company. I consider that to be a important PSH (Public Service Homicide).

The James brother’s most famous bank robbery took place in Northfield, Minnesota on September 7th of 1876. The James’ claimed that they picked out that particular bank because it was owned by two ex-carpetbaggers, Adelbert Ames, who had been Republican governor of Mississippi during Reconstruction, and his father-in-law, Congressman and US Major General, Benjamin Butler. On that fateful day in September, the two James brothers, three Younger brothers, and two other men rode into Coffeeville intent on robbing the First National Bank, which had 12,000 dollars in its vault. Their plan hit a major snag when they ran into the bank’s assistant cashier, Joseph Lee Heywood, who told the gang members that the bank’s vault had a time lock and that he could not open it. In the present day, in our age of FDIC guaranteed deposits, no one could possibly expect a bank employee to show that kind of fortitude. However, in those days money lost in a bank robbery was simply gone. Heywood knew he was protecting the life savings of his entire community. Joseph Heywood proved himself to be a very brave man: despite having his skull broken by a pistol butt, having a knife held to his throat till it drew blood, and then having a bullet fired an inch from his head, Heywood continued to insist that he could not open the vault.

No good deed goes unpunished. Before the James gang left the bank, one of them shot Heywood in the head, killing him. He left a wife and young daughter. By this time, the James gang discovered that they had picked wrong town’s bank to rob. A great many town’s people had grabbed rifles and shotguns and started firing at the outlaws. One was killed on the spot, three other gang members were wounded, and one townsperson was killed. The James brothers tried to make a clean getaway but soon learned that just about everyone in that part of Minnesota was coming after them. The gang split up. A posse surrounded the Younger brothers and one other gang member, Charlie Pitts, and they simply shot Pitts on the spot. The brothers received 25 year prison terms. One of them died in prison; the other two served out their sentences, but one, upon learning that his terms of parole required that he not leave Minnesota, took the easy way out and committed suicide (have you ever tried living in Minnesota?). Cole Younger actually managed to live into old age and in his dotage went on the lecture circuit with Frank James. Two former blood thirsty sociopathic killers became much in demand speakers. Go figure. There are a couple of extraordinary ironies about the James family saga. One of them is that Jesse James had a son, Jesse junior, who was only six years old when his father was killed. He grew up to be a lawyer, changed his name (gee, I wonder why), and moved to California where he died in 1950.

Every September 7th, Northfield, Minnesota celebrates the defeat of the James gang. The final irony is that, as a result of a shoot out that cost five men their lives and that led three men to go to prison to serve long prison sentences, and due to Joseph Heywood’s heroics, the James gang got away with a grand total of $26.70. Five men died for that.

Two Ted Williams Stories

The comedian Billy Crystal relates that he once met retired Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams in the 1990’s when Williams was a very old man. He said to Williams, “I have a home movie of Robin Roberts striking you out in a game in Yankee stadium back in 1951. Without a moment’s hesitation, Ted Williams replied “Curve ball low and away.”

A former co-worker of mine once told me that one day in the 1950’s, his father and a bunch of his friends from school were playing sandlot baseball in Boston when a white Cadillac Escalade pulled up and a very tall man (about 6’ 3”), slender but very powerfully built, stepped out and asked the boys for directions to a particular address in the neighborhood. After getting directions, the tall stranger got back in his Cadillac and drove off. Most of the kids didn’t give the matter much thought; however one of their class mates was absolutely awestruck. He said to his playmates, “Don’t you know who that was?” After they replied that they didn’t know, he said emphatically “That was Ted Williams!” This led to considerable discussion as to what exactly Ted Williams would have been doing in that neighborhood, on that particular sandlot, on that particular day. It was not until quite some time later that my friend’s father learned the truth about that incident. Ted Williams had at times a very prickly personality and feuded with Boston sports writers for his entire 22 year career. However, anyone familiar with Boston’s most famous charity, the Jimmy Fund, knew that Williams was active with that organization from his rookie year until long past his retirement, and was ultimately immortalized with a statue honoring this commitment. With absolutely no fanfare, Williams was on his way to visit a young boy who had suffered horrendous burns; Ted was going over to the kid’s house to play catch.

Moral of the story: if you have any regard for your long term reputation, never miss a chance to be nice to sick and handicapped kids. People will remember that half a century later, even long after you’re dead and gone.

Joey Giardello: One Fight, Two Paychecks

Anyone who saw Denzel Washington in his Oscar-winning performance playing Rueben Hurricane Carter saw the film open with a depiction of Carter’s fifteen round fight with Joey Giardello for the Middle Weight world championship. The Hollywood version of the fight ends with Carter pummeling a defenseless Giardello on the ropes, bloodied and clearly out on his feet. The decision for the fight goes to Giardello, obviously a horrendous racist injustice. That’s Hollywood for you.

Anybody interested in the truth can watch the entire fight on Youtube and can see for themselves that at the end of fifteen rounds, Giardello was scoring repeatedly with his left jab and with good body shots. Not only did he win the fight by unanimous decision, almost every newspaper man covering the fight thought Giardello was a clear victor. Perhaps most importantly, Reuben Carter himself was quoted saying that he thought he had won the fight nine rounds to six, though he never contested the decision. A far cry from the lopsided contest depicted by the movie.

I don’t know all the facts of the Reuben Carter case, but it occurs to me that if Hollywood is willing to lie so egregiously about the outcome of the prizefight, maybe Reuben Carter really was guilty of murder.

A Korean War Story: The Black GI's Secret Weapon

In late 1950, when Chinese troops entered the Korean War, the United States Army was still segregated. In the debacle of the Yalu River (the Amnok River in Korea), one all black unit was overrun and several Black GI’s were taken prisoner. Their Communist Chinese captors immediately recognized the potential for a major propaganda coup. They tried to force those black soldiers to make propaganda broadcasts denouncing American racism. Those black soldiers were smart enough to realize that they were between a very big rock and a very hard place. The Communist Chinese army had absolutely no respect for the provisions of the Geneva convention and a great many American POW’s either died of disease or starvation or were simply shot out of hand. The prisoners also knew that if they cooperated with the Chinese, they would certainly face courts martial if they ever got back to the States. Their solution would be obvious to anyone who saw the comedy Airplane! They resorted to jive talking their Chinese interrogators who learned their English from Christian missionaries and not from homeboys back home. So, the Chinese after being repeatedly told that they were “jive ass turkeys” who “ain’t got no clue about what be goin on,” eventually concluded that their prisoners were head cases that weren’t worth bothering about.

Joe Namath's Alabama Nickname

When Joe Namath played quarterback for the New York Jets, the sports writers nicknamed him Broadway Joe. Unless you’ve read his ghost written autobiography (I Can’t Wait ‘til Tomorrow ‘Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day), you don’t know the nickname he picked up his freshman year at Alabama. Namath had grown up in integrated Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and had attended desegregated schools. Many of his classmates had been black. I can only imagine that Bear Bryant must have been extremely impressed with Namath’s ability to go so far north to recruit a quarterback prospect. Very soon after his arrival at Alabama, which at that time was still segregated, one of Namath’s classmates pointed to a picture Namath had of his high school home coming queen and her court. Naturally Joe had been dating the home coming queen. The classmate pointed to the picture and asked, “Namath is that your girl?” Apparently Namath wasn’t paying attention because that ill-intentioned young redneck had been pointing not at the homecoming queen (Namath’s girl) but a black girl who was a member of the queen’s court. Showing all of the sensitivity for which 18 year olds are famous, word rapidly spread across campus that the Pennsylvania kid was a N****r lover, or just plain “n****r.” This made Namath’s life quite unpleasant for a while until he demonstrated an amazing throwing arm that could hit receivers on the numbers with a perfectly thrown spiral up to forty yards out. The term of derision rapidly became one of respect and even awe as in “Damn that n****r is something else,’ that n****r can throw like you wouldn’t believe.”

When news of this got around, Namath relates, some natives of Montgomery were astonished when Namath took off his helmet and they saw that he was white. Whenever I hear a “civil rights” activist state that white people do not have any idea what its like to be called n***r, I think of Joe Namath, who I believe is entitled to say, “Not so fast…”

A Samurai Competition

On the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, there has been a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Japanese and a great deal of guilt mongering from American liberals. It is my firm opinion that destroying the imperial Japanese regime was one of the best things the United States has ever done. By way of illustration, we can take a look at the series of Onaka Mainichi Shimbun newspaper stories completed on December 13, 1937.

It concerned a friendly competition between two Japanese army sub lieutenants, Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda. The two of them had engaged in a friendly competition to see which one of them could behead 100 Chinese first. The story relates that Mukai had decapitated 106 people, whereas Noda had managed only 105. Since they weren’t sure who had made it to 100 first, they decided to up the bet to 150. The article actually said that apparently the competition was “neck and neck.” Some Japanese revisionists have tried to dismiss this incident as an urban legend, but there is a Japanese writer who relates that Noda gave a speech at the writers elementary school describing his sword play, even admitting that only a few of the men he beheaded were in combat. All the rest were prisoners.

I’m happy to report that after the war both Mukai and Noda were tried and convicted of war crimes and executed by hanging, not decapitation. Considering the kind of institutional ethos that would tolerate much less celebrate those kind of atrocities, I think one of General McArthur’s wisest moves in directing the occupation of Japan was confiscating all samurai swords.

The First Shot at Pearl Harbor

Early on the morning of December 7th, 1944, the USS Ward (DD-139), an old four-stacker destroyer left over from WWI, was patrolling outside the entrance of Pearl Harbor. Lookouts spotted a small submarine trying to enter the channel, and the Ward’s commanding officer William Outerbridge ordered the gun crews to open fire. The Ward’s log indicates that at 0652, the ship’s gunfire sank the submarine. Outerbridge then reported the incident to Pacific Fleet headquarters. Unfortunately, the duty officer disregarded that warning (Outerbridge, a naval academy graduate class of 1927, was a rookie skipper, so he was the Cassandra of Pearl Harbor). Its hard to say how differently the Day of Infamy might have gone that day if higher ups had heeded his warning.

For many years, some historians doubted Outerbridge’s story until August 28, 2002, when the wreck submarine was located just five miles off the Hawaiian coast (and seven miles inside American territorial waters). What is truly frightening is that today some Japanese revisionists try to argue that America actually started the Pacific war because the Ward fired the first shot. They ignore the fact that that Japanese midget submarine was 3,000 miles from Tokyo. With such people it is vain to argue. There was one more striking irony about the history of the USS Ward. Outerbridge soon received another command (the USS Obrien, DD-725: the hull number certainly indicates how much the US Navy expanded during WWII). Exactly three years to the day after Pearl Harbor, the USS Ward was hit by a kamikaze pilot off the Philippines. The crew could not bring the resulting fires under control and had to abandon ship. It was Captain Outerbridge’s duty to sink his old ship by gunfire.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lomax on Bridge Over the River Kwai and McArthur on Japanese Swords

A few years ago, I read Eric Lomax’s memoir, Railway Man. Mr. Lomax had been an officer in the Royal Army during WWII who had the extraordinary bad luck to be stationed in Singapore in February of 1942. Because of that ill-fated deployment, he spent three and a half years as a Japanese POW. I found his book to be extremely harrowing to read. Lomax’ title is a reference to the death highway the Japanese army forced POW’s to build from Thailand to Burma. About a third of all POW’s in Japanese hands died. The average man lost 61 pounds of body weight. The payoff to all this is in the ironic postscript to Lomax’ narrative: in the memoir, Lomax describes his feelings, years after the war, of watching the film Bridge over the River Kwai. I know that many people in the Armed Forces dislike some of the films that Hollywood makes, but for Lomax, it was incredibly galling to see William Holden et al. playing POW’s: actors who looked like they hadn’t missed a meal in years portraying prisoners who were living on the brink of starvation. It’s only today, with CGI, that you could have anything remotely approaching realism in a film about those Japanese POW camps.

PostScript: I recall an article in an English language newspaper in Japan about two Japanese officers in Nanking in December in 1937. You know what these young fellows were doing? They were having a contest to see which one could cut off the most heads with their samurai swords. They wanted to see who could get to100 first, but they lost track of each other over the ensuing months. One got to 105 and the other got to 106. Later they had a do-over and they decided to see who could get to 150 first. The happy postscript to this episode was that both men were captured as war criminals and hanged.

Postscript to the postscript: In a stroke of brilliant and entirely appropriate (but not uncontroversial) military insight, McArthur required all Japanese officers to surrender their swords.

Stalin's Quip at Potsdam

As someone who takes the study of history quite seriously, it seriously ticks me off when I hear revisionist historians blaming FDR and Truman for the outbreak of the Cold War. I have no patience for that position; I think people who espouse it are dangerously naive about the nature of Joseph Stalin’s regime. Stalin was a man given to pithy, ironic comments. At the Potsdam conference on the outskirts of Berlin in July of 1945, a diplomat asked Stalin if he was happy now that Russian troops had occupied Berlin, after all, just three and a half years earlier, you could hear the sound of German artillery fire inside the Kremlin and at one point, German troops were only seven miles away.

Stalin smiled and said, “Czar Alexander made it to Paris.”

Anyone who thinks Stalin would’ve been satisfied with making it to Paris are, well . . . did I mention dangerously naive?

Baby Bryant, All Grown Up and Wise Beyond His Years

I have upon occasion had the experience of seeing daughters of friends of mine—who I first met when they were just rambunctious little munchkin—grow up to be young women, but until recently I never had the experience of seeing someone (a young lad) who I had seen as an infant grow up to be considerably bigger than I am. Since I’m a smidgeon under 6’3” and weigh over 200 pounds, it hasn’t happened very often. One of my fondest memories is a visit I made in March of 1990 to some friends of mine who live in a suburb of San Diego. I distinctly remember my friend Barbara picking up her not yet four- month-old son Bryant and tucking him into his stroller, all while his six year old sister was commenting indignantly, “You’re keeping us waiting, Bryant Edward Wheatley.” I thought to myself, “That’s a pretty savvy six year old. She knows she can’t yell at her Mom, but she’ll yell at her infant brother!”

Twenty years later, I got to make another trip to San Diego and boy-oh-boy has Bryant grown up. I’d seen him a number of times in the interim, and I’d know that from Kindergarten through high school, he’d always been the biggest in his class. His mother is 6 feet tall barefoot, and I tease her that its no wonder she married the man she did, she must like standing on tip toe when she kisses him. I also kid her that on the first day of school she would need to make sure that her son carried a copy of his birth certificate to school: otherwise his teacher might think some college kid was sneaking into her middle school class. And then she’d better get busy baking several dozen cookies because I imagined that all the new kids in school would take one look at that *ginormous* young fellow and stand in line to make friends with him. I mean, if you’re friends with the biggest kid in the school, who’s going to mess with you, right?

I hadn’t seen Bryant for several years and I was amazed at how much that kid has grown. He now towers over not only me but his father as well, and upon shaking hands with him I couldn’t help but notice that he has spent a whole lot of time in a weight room, so I’m not going to challenge him to an arm wrestling match. People might start calling me leftie. I’m happy to report that Bryant is a very pleasant, amiable, and well-mannered young gentleman, and I’m very glad of that. The thought occurred to me that if he had a long memory and a nasty sense of humor he just might pick me up, toss me in the air, bounce me on his knee a couple of times, and then start pinching my cheeks, saying “You’re such a cute middle-aged guy! Yes you are! Yes you are!” Considering what positively, preternaturally powerful paws that kid has, I would probably develop jowls that would make me look like a basset hound.

During my visit, I heard something from Bryant’s mom that made me do a double take. She and I went on a pizza run (a tip to old folks who want to make a hit with the younger set, be a provider of large quantities of pizza. That usually goes over quite well.) Barbara commented to me that her son used to be friends with some of the kids who worked at the pizza parlor (which incidentally produces the largest pizzas I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I thought 21 inches was big. This place makes pizzas close to a yard across. That managed to hold Bryant and his two sisters for a while, although the next day I didn’t see a single leftover slice).

Anyhow, on our way back to the house, Bryant’s mom commented to me that he had once been friends with some of the kids at the pizza place, but since they had gotten into drugs, he decided that he wanted to have absolutely nothing to do with them. I considered asking Barbara if I could borrow her son for a couple of days and take him back to Columbus, as I know several hundred teenagers who need to follow his good example. I’m delighted to report that Bryant is not just a physical giant, but he is a moral and intellectual giant as well.
So how do you get a kid that good? It helps when he has really outstanding parents.

The (Other) Waco Kid

For anyone of my generation, one of the greatest comedies Mel Brooks every made was the 1974 film Blazing Saddles. Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder made a great comic team as Sherriff Bart and his side kick the Waco Kid. While it is a great film, I think it would have been even better had Mel Brooks managed to cast his first choice for the role of the Waco kid (drum roll please. . .). Originally, Mel Brooks wanted John Wayne for the part.

I read in Aissa Wayne’s book, John Wayne: My Father, that when the Duke received the script he laughed uncontrollably but told Brooks that while he was going to be the first one in line to see the movie, he figured it might hurt his image if he was in it. The mind boggles at the thought of the Duke doing the Waco Kid’s soliloquy:

I musta’ killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille. Then one day I heard a voice behind me, “Reach for it mister!” So I whirled around and it was a six year old kid…. Well, I threw down my gun and I walked away…. And then the little bastard shot me in the ass. So I limped to the nearest saloon, crawled inside a whiskey bottle and I've been there ever since.”

Leo Durocher Finishes Where!?

I recently learned from an English correspondent that Leo Durocher’s most famous quote, “Nice guys finish last,” has made it across the Atlantic.

I know the full story of that quote, and it’s pretty interesting. Before WWII, Durocher was managing the Brooklyn Dodgers and when famed radio sports announcer Red Barber commented about Durocher’s abrasive personality, Durocher pointed across the field to the dugout of the Dodger’s rivals, the New York Giants. He commented about his opposite number Mel Ott, “Has anybody ever seen a nicer guy than Mel Ott? But look at where they are, in 7th place. That’s where nice guys wind up, in 7th place.” Since the American League only had eight teams, they were very close to last place, so that’s how Durocher’s comment was remembered.

Leo Durocher cultivated a reputation as being a complete SOB, an evaluation with which opposing teams, just about every big league umpire (Leo "the Lip" Durocher managed to get thrown out of the game on 95 different occasions, which still places him in the top ten all time) and of course all three of Durocher’s ex-wives would emphatically agree. However, Durocher also deserves to be remembered for his words as Dodger manager. In 1946 when Jackie Robinson joined the team, he informed his players, “I don’t care if that guy is white, black, purple, or has stripes like a zebra. If he can play, he’s on the team.” Soon thereafter, Durocher was fired by the Dodgers and took the same position with his erstwhile rivals the New York Giants. In later years, Jackie Robinson commented that while he and Durocher had traded insults on any number of occasions, Durocher never made a single racial comment (not even one).

Durocher’s axiom of nice guys finish last ultimately came back to bite him in the derriere in a way that he never would have suspected. Towards the end of his career, Durocher did a stint managing the Chicago Cubs and, to his chagrin, the Cubbies wound up in last place, whereupon all kinds of people enjoyed taunting him with “Hey Leo! Way to show what a nice guy you are!”