Friday, January 31, 2014

The Swimsuit Issue Issue

For the last 40-some years, I’ve been enjoying America’s most spectacular bit of cheesecake: the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, which always sets off a mini firestorm in February.  Puritans, some feminists, and some athletic purists get riled about young women modeling swimsuits at beach resorts around the globe. I never had a strong opinion about the matter, until this past year when some “genius” at Sports Illustrated (SI) decided that, since they had conducted photo shoots with models on six different continents, they would do one on the seventh — Antarctica. 

I would like to point out that I know something about extremely cold weather.  I spent 5 winters in Alaska and 1 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (where the temperature frequently stays below 30 degrees F for weeks on end).  I was genuinely horrified to learn that SI asked Kate Upton to pose in a bikini on an Antarctic beach where, even in the summer time, can be 30 below.  I was further horrified to hear Ms. Upton report that, at times, she felt dizzy during the shoot.  I will refrain from any smart-aleck comments on how dizzy she had to be to agree to the shoot in the first place.  It sounds to me that Ms. Upton was in danger of suffering from hypothermia.  In the first place — and I realize that I might get some ribbing at expressing concern for Ms. Upton who is by now a millionaire dozens of times over — anyone who asked a another human being to subject herself to that kind of cold while only partially dressed should either be publicly horse whipped or subjected to that same treatment themselves. 

At the beginning of this month, I went shopping to get my father a 2014 calendar and I very pointedly avoided buying the one that SI published.

A Depressing Statistic

I happened to look up the 11 American cities with the highest per capita murder rates last year, as well as their ethnic demographics and I have to say they make me deeply pessimistic about this country’s future.  Read them and draw your own conclusions.

A Good Cop’s Record

Some of my readers might recall that a man who was once quite literally “the boy next door,” Rod Wittich, joined the Columbus Police Force a bit over thirty (30) years ago and has served as Patrol Officer, Patrol Sergeant, Sex Crimes Investigator, Internal Investigator, and now Patrol Lieutenant.  In my humble opinion, Rod Wittich is a very good cop.  He has told me something about his career that I regard as a big case of good news/bad news: he saw every person he ever arrested for a sex crime convicted, but never anyone he arrested for domestic violence.

Bethel Break Up

I spent five years in Bethel, Alaska working as a public defender.  Bethel, Alaska is a town which is, geographically, closer to Siberia than it is to Anchorage (399 miles to the east).  Bethel is located on the banks of the Kuskokwim River and when the river is frozen the only way to get to Bethel is to fly in (unless you have an absolutely hellaciously good all-terrain vehicle or are a fanatical sled dog musher).

Every year there is a major celebration when the ice breaks up.  The townspeople put a device out on the ice, and when the instrument registers movement, it’s party time!!  The break-up festival has been going on since 1924 and has been celebrated (with very few exceptions) every year since.  I offer the following statistics and people who want to argue climate change can make of them what they want.  I will note that the earliest break up Bethel has experienced was April 24th back in 1940 and the latest was June 3rd in 1964.

Clerical Decline

I recently learned that in 1965 there were almost 200,000 nuns in the United States; approximately 1 in 1,000 Americans.  Today that figure is 60,000; one of every 5,000 Americans.  The average nun in the United States is almost 70, so that decline is going to become even more precipitous.  In 1965, there were 58,000 Catholic Priests in the United States.  Today the figure is 30,000 and 50% of them are over 70.  Some people are calling this a crisis for the Catholic Church.  I regard this as a very encouraging outbreak of common sense. I have, at times, pointed out to my classmates at Notre Dame Law School, that until the last century or two, the best and the brightest of all Europe (until the reformation) and in majority Catholic Countries after that, never had children.  What are the long-term genetic consequences of centuries of selective breeding for stupidity? (Discuss amongst yourselves.)

Coincidental Name

Back in May 2011, when the Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan, I commented that, while I’m reluctant to second guess the men on the scene, it would have been a great thing to capture Osama Bin Laden since he would be great source of intelligence.  After they captured Osama Bin Laden, I commented that I approved of the Navy giving him a proper burial at sea; quoting Nietzsche, “Whosoever fights monsters should take care that they not turn into one.” A Jewish friend of mine emailed me back opining that Osama Bin Laden should have been wrapped in bacon. I get it.  Hedy wants something really, really, really bad to happen to Bin Laden. (Is everybody with her on that? Show of hands please. Yep, I thought so.)

However, while I wholeheartedly concur with Hedy’s antipathy towards that murdering scumbag, I seriously doubt that she knew that one of my Notre Dame law school classmates was a very fine lady named Hilary Bacon.

Molotov’s Last Job

Besides giving his name to the Molotov cocktail (Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, 1890 –1986) was probably the second most powerful man in the Soviet Union in the past 15 years of Stalin’s regime.  Learning about Molotov gave me a whole new insight into the absolute horror of life under Soviet rule.  Molotov was frequently required to countersign Stalin’s execution and arrest lists.  One day, Stalin gave Molotov an exile order with Molotov’s wife’s name on it.  Molotov later wept, but he did not dare even protest that order. After Stalin’s death, Molotov wound up on the wrong side of a power struggle with Nakita Khrushchev’s faction and found himself stripped of his title of Foreign Minister.  He then received a dramatic demotion.  He was sent to be the Soviet Ambassador in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia — 3,669.7 miles and 4 times zones from Moscow. After a couple of years in that post, Khrushchev had Molotov expelled from the Communist Party.  While Molotov wept at the news, he was by Soviet standards incredibly lucky.  He had another 25 years to live and did not receive a bullet in the back of the head as had the millions of other Soviet citizens whose death warrants he had cosigned.

P.S.  While researching Molotov I came across an amazing coincidence about Molotov’s wife.  She was Jewish and one of her childhood friends was a woman now known as Golda Meir.

Nashville Mystery

I’ve already written about the Civil War experiences of my paternal grandfather’s father, Lt. William T. Mitchell of the 3rd Tennessee Infantry Regiment.  He joined that unit in April of 1861 and resigned his commission September 4, 1864 (Getting to Know My Great Grandfather).  I’ve never been able to find his letter of resignation, but it turned out to be a good career move.  The next seven months were not good ones for the men of the army of Tennessee.  Last year I read a book about the 3rd Tennessee regimen and learned that by mid-December of 1864, that unit which originally consisted of almost 900 men was down to 21 men and 3 “colored servants.” Even that late in the war, more than 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the confederate army still had black men attached to that unit as servants.  I’ve often regretted that my great grandfather did not keep a diary.  I also wish those “colored servants” had left some record behind.  It would be fascinating to learn what they were thinking.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Baby Mitchell x 3

Several years ago, the daughter of one of my favorite professors at Ohio State married a young black man named Sean Patrick Mitchell.  When she had her first child, I got to kid her and the rest of her family that I was deeply honored that they had named the child after me.  Well, the kid’s name is Mitchell, isn't it?  By the time she'd had her third kid, that gag had gotten a bit old.  Now, at this point, I imagine a great many people are saying, “Oh how wonderful!”  Well, not so fast.  My friend’s daughter, shortly after delivering her third child, made the very alarming discovering that while her husband professed to love her and his children; apparently, he loved his crack pipe more.  She finally threw him out of the house, got a divorce and is getting her life back on track while raising three biracial children. 

That story reminds me of the wisdom Ralph Bunche showed more than 50 years ago while at a high society dinner party when the subject of civil rights came up.  An elderly lady asked Bunche (not realizing that he was a light-skinned black man), “would you want your daughter to marry a Negro?”  Bunche considered the question for a moment and then replied, “Well, not just *any* Negro.”

Phoebe Ann Mosley’s Brush with Destiny

Phoebe Ann Mosley grew up in a very poor farm family in Ohio in the 1800s.  I can only imagine that she frequently had conversations with her mother that went something like this:

“Hi Mom what’s for dinner tonight?”
“I don’t know Phoebe. Have you shot anything?” 

From a very early age, Phoebe developed absolutely extraordinary skills as a marksman, because, for her family, it was quite literally a matter of shoot something or go hungry.  Many years later, she crossed paths will Buffalo Bill Coty and her future husband Frank Butler.  She then achieved legendary status under the stage name of Annie Oakley.  While there are many legends that have grown up around Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, as a sharp shooter, Annie Oakley was the genuine article.  One of her stunts was to shoot the ash off a lit cigar at 20 paces, which she was able to do on a regular basis. One night while touring Europe, Buffalo Bill asked for a volunteer from the audience to hold the cigar.  To the crowd’s absolute horror, Kaiser Wilhelm, the emperor of Germany, came forward.  I have no information as to whether Annie had been drinking the night before, but I’m sure that everyone in the audience and in the Wild West troop held their breath until Annie did indeed shoot the ash off of Kaiser Bill’s lit cigar.  About 20 years later, when America entered the First World War, Annie Oakley wrote Kaiser Wilhelm to ask if he would care to repeat that stunt. She received no reply.

Book of Lamentation/Consolation

In 588 B.C. the Babylonian army took Jerusalem and destroyed Solomon’s temple.  The prophet Jeremiah lived in a cave nearby and spent many years writing what is known as the Book of Lamentations.  He could see the ruins of the temple from where he lived and for such a devout man it must have been an absolutely heartbreaking sight.

There’s no way for me to send a message back to him.  But if I could, I'd like to pick up a phone and have a conversation that went something like this:

“Hey Jerry, it’s Kent.  Yes, this is a device which sends messages from the distant future and translates English into Hebrew, but never mind. Look Jerry, I understand that you are totally bummed out about the temple being destroyed.  That’s a tough one.  But I've got some good news for you, guy: you are going to live long enough to see that temple rebuilt and it will then stand as one of the great architectural wonders of the world for the next six centuries.

“I was afraid you were going to ask me that.  Look, Jerry, the question of rebuilding a third time is still under discussion today, 2600 years later; but here’s some consolation for you: even though the stones of that temple have been destroyed, the people of your tribe have managed to survive for 2600 years and to spread throughout the world even to lands you never even knew existed. There are those who speak Hebrew and practice Judaism in Israel even today.  Furthermore, they've kept their faith living in lands 20 times further from Jerusalem than Babylon is, and Babylon is a land only known through scholars of ancient history.  You see, faith is not about the building.”

The Mike Wallace Question

Many years ago, Mike Wallace appeared on a panel discussion program along with Peter Jennings and the moderator asked the question: If you were accompanying a unit of enemy soldiers in the field and an American unit was about to walk into an ambush they had set, would you try to warn the Americans?  Peter Jennings’ initial reaction was that he would try to do so.  At that point, Mike Wallace jumped all over Jennings’ case; going into a tirade about professional ethics.  I find it extremely ironic that a Canadian citizen showed more concern for American servicemen’s lives than did a former U.S. Navy Officer.  To me, this raises an interesting question: If American troops ever find an American journalist embedded with a unit of foreign fighters, what should they do with that journalist?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Day after Woody’s Last Day

Some of my readers know that one of the greatest experiences of my early adulthood was getting to be friends with Ohio State’s legendary football coach, Woody Hayes.  As a child, I’d been terribly un-athletic (and my brothers always exhibited great sensitivity and understand about that fact), and the fact that I got to hang out and discuss history with a man as famous as Woody put me on cloud nine.  The last day of Woody’s life, he had breakfast at the faculty club, with two Yale PhDs (including Professor Williamson Murray, a man I’d introduced to Woody years before). On the night of March 11, 1987, Woody went to sleep in his own bed and never woke up. I could think of a whole lot worse ways of dying than going out like Woody did.  In the days after Woody’s passing, there was a joke circulated around Columbus that death didn’t dare come for Woody in the day time.  If it had, there would have been one helluva fight.

It was not until later that I learned that Woody had been scheduled to go over to a local elementary school and give a talk to a group of 5th graders on March 12th. That still strikes me as great tribute to Woody’s character.  He genuinely cared about education and young people (or “youngsters” as he had always called them).  The Columbus Dispatch did a photo of the 5th grade class looking sad because they missed their chance to meet Woody.  When word of this got back to Archie Griffin, Ohio State’s legendary 2-time Heisman trophy winner, he went over to the grade school and gave a talk to the kids.  I’m reminded of something Woody once said: “Archie Griffin is finer human being than he is a football player, and he’s the finest football player I’ve ever seen.”

Jarron Collins

I see that Jason Collins is very much in the news since he came out as the NBA’s first openly gay player.  There has been considerable comment on the fact that he has not been able to sign a contract with any NBA team.  To this I point out that it is hardly news that a 35-year old player who has been with 6 teams in 12 years in the NBA would have difficulty making an NBA roster.  If Mr. Collins did sign a contract, he would not be the oldest player in the NBA, but he would definitely qualify for elder statesman status.  While listening to some pundits speculate on this matter, I asked the question, “What if Jason Collins had a twin whose sexuality was straight?”  Would he be able to get an NBA contract?”  Well, low and behold, he does have a twin brother named Jarron.  They are both 6’11,” they both played college ball at Stanford, and they are both currently without an NBA contract.  To the question of: “Is Jason Collins being discriminated against because of his sexual orientation?” I would say it has not been proven.

The America’s Later Career

I imagine that almost everyone has heard of the America’s Cup named after the ship that won a yachting competition held off the south coast of England back in 1851. When Queen Victoria heard that an American ship named the America had won the race, she asked, “Who won second place?”  The yachting official’s response was, “Madame, there IS no second place!”  For well over a century, the America’s Cup served as the source of an intense rivalry between filthy rich yachtsmen on both sides of the Atlantic who clearly had entirely too much time on their hands. 

I recently learned that the good ship America had an interesting post-racing career.  It served on both sides in the American civil war. When the war broke out, some wealthy southerners put the America into service as a blockade runner, until 1862 when they scuttled it to keep it from falling into Union hands.  Union forces promptly managed to raise and repair the America and put it work enforcing the blockade.  Sadly the America has not survived to this day.  It burned in a warehouse fire after serving many years at the U.S. Naval Academy.  I have always regarded yachting as the perfect sport for millionaires with a great deal more dollars than sense.

Defending My Secretary

My secretary is a wonderful woman of a certain age named Marie Flynn, who supplements her social security income by doing my typing.  My good friend Doug Dougherty told me many years ago, that if you want to be a successful lawyer, take care of your secretary first.  I have tried to take that advice to heart.  

A few months ago, Ms. Flynn told me she was completely puzzled by a letter she received from someone she’d never heard of before.  I glanced at it briefly and it seemed to be in the tone of “Hi there, how are you, you’re so wonderful I would love to hear from, etc. etc. etc.” I was just as puzzled as she until I examined the envelope and noticed that the return address included a *six* digit number. It then dawned on me that Marie had received a fan letter from a guy doing time in a Maryland prison.  At that point, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry (I assure one and all that Marie does not make a habit of socializing with convicted criminals).  I IMMEDIATELY dictated a letter to Marie’s would-be suitor informing him that if he ever wrote her again I would pursue both legal action and administrative remedies.  I signed it, including my Ohio Supreme Court registration number.  I then called the prison and notified the corrections officer in charge of the prison’s intelligence section that this guy was trying to scam my secretary.  We have not heard from that convict Casanova since.  

Be advised: no one knows exactly how nasty I can get until you start messing with my secretary.

$40 in Olongapo

Back in December of 1989, I was on board the U.S.S. Leahy when it pulled into Olongapo in the Philippines, so I can say that I have seen, first-hand, exactly what jerks American teenagers can be when they are around young women who are desperate to feed their families.  I abided by the great unwritten law of ships visiting Olongapo: Don't take a camera ashore because somebody might cram it down your throat.  I remember having a Coke at one of the Olongapo bars.  One of the local girls chatted with me and I wound up just giving her a $20 and told her to take the rest of the night off.  The Filipino girls are built like American middle school girls.  I can see being nice to them, but I kept things G-rated.

I did, after all, wind up spending $40 on a gal in Olongapo by the name of Chat Cruz. Some of my readers will rightly suspect I am throwing a curve ball.  I found out she was an unmarried woman with 3 children, so I invited her, her three kids and her mother out to dinner. The tab for a first rate dinner in Olongapo came to $40.  Afterwards, as I walked them home, her youngest — a little boy of about 6 — reached up and caught hold of my little finger as we walked. I couldn't help but wonder how he would cope with his life’s challenges in the years ahead.  Unsurprisingly, nobody ever mentioned anything about those children’s father(s).

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Arkansas Question

My father grew up in Osceola, Arkansas; a county seat town in the extreme northeastern corner of the state.  He once mentioned to me that when he was growing up some of the stores were owned by Jewish families and that one local merchant had a flower bed in the shape in the Star of David.  I did a bit of research on the internet and, while there had been many Jewish families in Mississippi County, there had never been enough of them to organize a synagogue.  My slightly warped sense of humor and equally warped curiosity got the better of me.  I wondered what would be the reaction of a good Jewish family if one of their children was accepted at the University of Arkansas who’s mascot is the razor back hog.  I did some more web surfing and found out that there was a Jewish student association at the University of Arkansas.  I sent that association’s president a very polite email inquiring if they had any problem with the mascot.  I received a very nice reply: “We like cheering for them we just don’t eat them.” I wonder if they qualify as the “kosher hogs?”

John de Lancie

Back in 1974, the BBC put on a 13-part miniseries entitled “The Fall of Eagles,” which described the end of the imperial dynasties of Germany, Austria, Hungary and Russia. 

One of my favorite professors from my days at Ohio State, Alan Beyerchen, appeared on a panel discussion at the local PBS TV station with two other professors, commenting on the episodes.  He told me that he didn’t mind speaking about “The Fall of Eagles,” but he certainly hoped that his and his colleagues’ commentary would not become known as “The Rise of Turkeys.”

One of the best performances on that miniseries was Patrick Stewarts’ depiction of Vladimir Lenin.  I recently watched one of those episodes again and was surprised and amused to see that one of Lenin’s rivals in In one of the pre-revolutionary communist party caucuses was portrayed by John de Lancie, the actor who portrayed Q in Star Trek: The New Generation.  I found myself chuckling, “those two are destined to meet in a different life in a different century.”  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Name Change?

While listening to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speak, I wonder if I am the only one who thinks she might want to consider changing her name to Sheila Sherman Grant.

Nuclear Pyramid

If someone asked me to complete a cruise on a Soviet-built nuclear submarine, I would reply that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet together do not half the amount of money it would take for me to run that risk.  Not only are catastrophic accidents all too common in the former Soviet submarine fleet, radiation leaks are so common and so severe that the hazardous pay premium that soviet sailors on those vessels receive is properly referred to “childlessness pay.” On the other hand, I had absolutely no problem at all spending two months on board a nuclear powered U.S. Navy vessel.  I taught History and English on board the USS George Washington CVN-73 from July to September, of 1994.  Similarly, I would have no safety concerns whatsoever about riding on an American nuclear sub.  I once asked my brother Bruce if his opposition to nuclear power extended to the nuclear Navy.  When he said, “yes,” I politely asked him if he’d given any thought to the cost of replacing ten Nimitz-class carriers (which go for several billion dollars apiece). He had no response.  The U.S. Navy has commissioned about 190 nuclear submarines and we haven’t lost one since the Scorpion in 1968.  I’d say, “You’re in a whole lot more danger driving on any American highway than you are on a Rickover-designed submarine.” The total number of accident-free reactor years the U.S. Navy has amassed now exceeds 5,000 — a period longer than the pyramids have been standing.

Riot Control

I see that in Russia, a group of women activists protesting against the Putin regime have named themselves “Pussy Riot.”  I think that shows they have a real gift for the dramatic. Some of those women have been in and out of prison and, whatever their political agenda, I cannot begrudge them very considerable physical and moral courage. I hope I don’t sound like a total jerk when I say that, if I heard of group in my neck of woods call “Pussy Riot,” I would first find out what they wanted and then do just about anything to make them happy.