March 14, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 PM

THERE ARE NO TRANSNATIONALISTS:

How the EU infantilises national politics: Italy's political chaos is the inevitable consequence of being ruled by others (Tim Parks, 14 MARCH 2019, UnHerd)

Since ratification of the Maastricht treaty in 1993 Italy has been governed by alternatĀ­ing centre-Right and centre-Left governments, the former mainly represented by Berlusconi and the latter Prodi, then Renzi. Committed to following the Maastricht criteria and later the European Fiscal Compact in relation to annual deficit, overall debt, and various other key economic parameters, they had little room for manoeuvre. The result was that, despite a rhetoric of profound ideological division, Italians got used to seeing very little difference in economic policy whoever the party in government.

Prior to the introduction of the Euro in 2002, this situation was made palatable by a fairly steady 1.5% growth rate, comparable with Germany and the rest of the EU. After 2002, however, Italy began to lose ground, and between 2007 and 2017 it had an annual GDP decline of 0.6% compared to a German growth rate of 1.2%. In 10 years, a 20% difference in economic performance has opened up between Italy and its main trading partner, and relative salary levels have fallen drastically.

Between 2008 and 2015 Italy lost 15% of its manufacturing base and the sector's workforce shrunk by 18%. Meanwhile the construction industry shed 25% of capacity and lost 30% of its workforce. Unemployment stands at 10%, while youth unemployment is over 30%.

Most of all, there is no sign of progress and no positive future to look forward to. Every time a government seeks to follow an expansionist policy it is swiftly reminded by Brussels of the need to abide by the rigid Fiscal Compact. Sanctions are threatened and, worse still, Italian government bond rates are forced up in relation to German bonds increasing public borrowing costs, alienating foreign investors and generally worsening an already depressed situation.

This might be acceptable if Italians felt there was any democratic process that could alter EU policy. This is not the case. The idealism that drove the Maastricht process is long gone. European elections are seen as little more than an opinion poll for national parties, with no sense that the European Parliament could function as an instrument for improving economic prospects for Italy.

As the EU came to be seen more and more as an externally imposed necessity, rather than a community Italians are enthusiastically part of, it was inevitable that new parties would emerge taking an anti-European stance and criticising the leaders of the mainstream parties for abject compliance with Brussels.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 PM

THE DRAGON HAS NO TEETH:

How Africa is converting China: China's mass investment in Africa is having an unintended religious consequence at home (Christopher Rhodes, 13 FEBRUARY 2019, UnHerd)

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens have gone to work in Africa, where they have encountered foreign cultures that leave many of them feeling alienated. For some of these disaffected Chinese workers, a source of comfort has come from religion, most notably the Evangelical Christianity that pervades much of sub-Saharan Africa. Evangelicalism prioritises conversion of non-believers, and the Chinese, heavily discouraged from practicing religion at home, are attractive potential converts.

Many local African churches have reached out to Chinese workers, including incorporating Mandarin into services.  A number of Chinese, in turn, have welcomed the sense of community and belonging that these Christian churches offer. And a small but growing number of ethnically Chinese missionaries from Taiwan and other countries are specifically targeting Chinese nationals in Africa, preaching to them with a freedom they'd never be allowed in the People's Republic.

Many of these Chinese workers are returning home, and they're bringing their newfound religion with them.  Visitors to the coastal province of Fujian, for example, now hear South African accented English and see houses adorned with crosses.  African migrants are also moving to China in larger numbers, many of them practitioners of very evangelistic forms of Pentecostal Christianity who are willing to flout the rules placed on religious activity in China.

This new dynamic is creating a headache for the Communist Party, which heavily regulates state-recognised religious bodies and considers non-sanctioned religious activity illegal. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM

THE GREEN OLD DEAL:

Large-scale solar power set for double-digit growth: Goldman Sachs (Henning Gloystein, 3/14/19, Reuters) 

Utility-scale solar power capacity is expected to grow by double digits globally in 2019 and 2020, driven by expansions in the United States, Europe, Middle East and China, U.S. bank Goldman Sachs said on Thursday.

Solar power is the fastest growing source of electricity generation, taking market share from fossil fuels like thermal coal and natural gas as governments and companies increasingly introduce clean energy targets.

"We expect the combination of lower costs for solar and favorable policy support providing a multi-year runway for utility-scale to drive meaningful upside to the market," the U.S. investment bank said in a research note.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM

DONALD WHO?:

Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi-led war in Yemen (JORDAIN CARNEY - 03/13/19, The Hill)
 
The Senate broke with President Trump on Wednesday over the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, paving the way for a veto showdown with the White House.

Senators voted 54-46 to pass a resolution requiring the president to withdraw any troops in or "affecting" Yemen within 30 days unless they are fighting al Qaeda.

GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Steve Daines (Mont.), Mike Lee (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Todd Young (Ind.) voted with Democrats on the resolution. 

The chamber first passed the resolution in December, but it did not pass the GOP-controlled House before the end of the 115th Congress and was reintroduced this year.

The Shi'a are our allies; the Salafi the enemy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM

THERE IS NO SYRIA:

Syria's Assad struggles to reap spoils after military gains (Tom Perry, 3/14/19, Reuters) 

"I agree with Assad - the war is not over. The regime is not in any imminent danger of falling but the challenges are immense, politically, economically," said David Lesch, an expert on Syria and author of "Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad".

On its current course, he sees Syria becoming more like the crisis-hit African country of Sudan where the state exercises limited control and autonomous regions are beyond its grip.

"The question is does Bashar al-Assad -- and the people around him -- realize this is their future?" he said.

In his speech, Assad said Syria faced four wars: the military conflict, economic "siege", a struggle against corruption and what he described as a battle on social media where he said Syria's enemies were waging a propaganda campaign.

Addressing shortages of gas and other supplies, he acknowledged "the choking crisis" of late and likened economic sanctions to a war in which battles were lost and won.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM

FIND A FEW YOU LIKE AND YOU'LL EVEN WALK MORE:

MICHAEL CONNELLY ON COLD CASES, POLICE STORIES, AND HIS NEW PODCAST: With 'Murder Book' Connelly Has a New Approach to Crime (DWYER MURPHY, 3/14/19, Crime Reads)

Dwyer Murphy: You've written dozens of novels, some of the most celebrated and popular crime fiction around, not to mention the TV series. What drew you to the idea of making a podcast?

MICHAEL CONNELLY: I've been listening to a lot of podcasts, especially in the last couple years. I do a lot of walking, and at some point I switched over from listening to music to listening to podcasts. So I've been thinking about them. Also, it has something to do with what's going on in the world today. Journalism is under fire from different parts of the political world, and that seemed to reawaken some of my journalism genes. I haven't been a reporter in twenty-five years. But I wanted a chance to tell true stories. I've been lucky enough to have detectives who help me get my novels right. And these detectives, they're working real cases, they have real stories. I thought a podcast might be the right storytelling venue where I could have them tell some of their stories.

What was the initial research for this? How did you come across the case?

It has to do with the way I research my books. I hang out with a small cadre of detectives--three detectives, give or take--and we have breakfast. I don't come with an agenda or a notebook and there's no tape recorder on the table. We just have breakfast. These detectives, they're great storytellers. And they also want to update each other on the cases they're working. They forget I'm even there.

This story--the murder case against Pierre Romain--came out of those conversations. I was hearing about Romain and the strange things that had happened in this case, which was spread out over thirty plus years. It felt like it could work as a podcast. Also, I had the access. The case had different lead detectives over those three decades, and I knew them all. I also heard second hand that the judge in the case read my books, and I thought, maybe he'll let me record in court.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM

FROM UNFIT TO SERVE TO UNFIT TO BE SERVED:

When The Commander in Chief Is 'Unfit,' What's a General to Do? Jim Mattis' Resignation Was Just a Beginning. (James Kitfield, Mar. 9th, 2019, Daily Beast)

"The warrior in Jim Mattis never quit on a mission in his life, but I could tell by the tone in his voice that day that he had reached his breaking point," Cohen said in an interview. He noted that Mattis had been increasingly at odds with the president on a list of weighty issues, from Trump's frequent contention that the NATO alliance is a swindle and the European Union "a foe," to his inexplicable deference to Putin in preference to his own intelligence community. "Knowing Jim Mattis and seeing Trump's fickle and impulsive leadership, and the shameful mental abuse that he routinely inflicts on his top advisers, I think Mattis only stuck around for as long as he did out of a strong sense of patriotism. But at some point you have to ask yourself if you can do the job and still maintain your sense of integrity."

In the short interim since the Mattis resignation the nation has endured the longest government shutdown in history, for instance, and President Trump delivered a State of the Union address in which he conjured a national security emergency out of an immigrant caravan on the southern border, while announcing a second summit with North Korea's truly threatening dictator Kim Jong Un, who Trump has "fallen in love" with over Kim's "beautiful letters."  

In late January, leaders of the U.S. Intelligence Community testified before Congress and publicly contradicted the president's claims that a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons is no longer a threat, that ISIS has been defeated, and that the situation at the southern border with Mexico amounts to a national security emergency.

In the interim U.S. policy in the Middle East has also predictably devolved into strategic incoherence, with top Trump administration officials traveling to the region and announcing long-term conditions for the withdrawal of the 2,000 U.S. troops that is already well underway, and then backtracking after being contradicted by President Trump's tweets.  In another jarring break with civil-military tradition, U.S. Central Command chief General Joseph Votel recently publicly disagreed with his commander-in-chief's decision to pull troops out of Syria, stating unequivocally in an interview with CNN that ISIS has not been defeated. Then Trump reversed course yet again and announced that roughly 400 U.S. troops would be staying in Syria after all, along with allied partners.

In mid-February, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Europe and lashed out at the United States' closest and most important NATO allies for failing to fall obediently in line behind the Trump administration's unilateral decision to abandon a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, and then warned of a growing divide in transatlantic relations that is already acutely felt in Europe. Trump also officially declared a "national emergency" on the southern border in an effort to bypass Congress and build a wall with taxpayer money, an assault on Congressional authorities and the Constitution's separation of powers that a bipartisan group of 58 former senior intelligence, diplomatic and national security officials denounced as unjustified and a serious erosion of presidential credibility "with foreign leaders, both friend and foe."

To cap off the tumultuous month, Trump's late-February summit with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam collapsed in disarray, with Trump abruptly walking away from the negotiating table and foregoing a planned signing ceremony and North Korea resuming construction at a long-range missile testing facility.

Meanwhile, a number of media outlets recently reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will soon complete his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and possible Trump campaign collusion in that effort, even as Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen testified before Congress and alleged under oath that his former boss was involved as president in criminal activity.

Defense Secretary Mattis' resignation-in-protest may have sunk quickly beneath that tsunami of headlines, but it is viewed as an important marker by some of the nation's most respected former flag officers and national security officials precisely because the issues it highlighted put the current chaos and rapidly mounting crises into context. Their willingness to break with the nonpartisan tradition of even retired U.S. military and intelligence officials and speak out is due in part to the historic nature of the resignation and the respect accorded Mattis as one of the preeminent warrior intellectuals of his generation of military leaders. But his resignation is also notable for the critique of the commander-in-chief that accompanied it, and the belief by many stewards of U.S. national security that it largely explains why America and the alliance of free peoples that it professes to lead feel so dangerously unstable right now, with worse very likely to come.

"If we have someone who is as selfless and committed as Jim Mattis resigning his position, walking away from all the responsibility he feels for every service member in our forces, and he does so in a public way like that, we ought to stop and say, 'Okay, why did he do it?'" said retired General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and a Special Forces pioneer who was behind the 2006 killing of arch terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Speaking to ABC News' Martha Raddatz, McChrystal suggested that "we ought to ask what kind of commander-in-chief he had that Jim Mattis, 'the good Marine,' felt he had to walk away."

In the interview, McChrystal left no doubt that he believes the commander Mattis walked away from is not only fundamentally dishonest, but also "immoral." That assessment provides a "pretty good summary of what most generals think about the President's character," Admiral James Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, wrote recently in Time Magazine. Stavridis attributes the exodus of Mattis and the other generals in Trump's inner circle to the president's chronic lack of discipline, indifference towards preparation and expert opinion, impulsive decision-making even on matters of great consequence, and instinctively dismissive attitude towards allies.

"I think Secretary Mattis clearly felt that Trump's attitude toward our allies hurt the U.S. position in the world, but the Syria pullout-done without benefit of a coherent interagency process-was the final straw," Stavridis wrote me in an email.

Retired Lt. General Mark Hertling formerly commanded the U.S. Army Europe, and he was an assistant division commander in Iraq. "I was not really surprised by Mattis' resignation, because I had been wondering what was taking him so long given how frequently Trump was walking his top advisers to the edge in terms of ethics and morality," he said in an interview. "What worries me now is that Trump has created an absolutely toxic leadership environment that has driven good people like Mattis away, and the replacements and those who remain have shown no courage nor inclination to push back against the president's worst impulses. Instead Trump has created a cabal of like-minded people who share his worldview and are loyal only to him, and I am very concerned how that dynamic will play out if the administration confronts a real crisis not of its own making."

Indeed, the issues surfaced by Mattis' resignation-in-protest, and others raised by a host of former senior officers and national security experts who have recently seconded his critique, deserve a close examination precisely because of the existential stakes.

Their writ starts with a backstabbing and chaotic White House-chronicled in meticulous detail in books like Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury, Bob Woodward's Fear and Cliff Sims' Team of Vipers-that has driven away capable and experienced officials, made it difficult to replace them with qualified successors, and routinely produces haphazard decision making that sows chaos and interagency confusion.

Their case includes the president's stubborn disregard for factual truth, skewing real-world policies on issues ranging from North Korea's nuclear weapons to the supposed "defeat" of ISIS, and Trump's insistence on viewing everything through a partisan prism that politicizes all issues and erodes public trust in non-partisan institutions such as the U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The critique also highlights Trump's belittling and transactional approach that has badly undermined venerable alliances, even as Trump maintains chummy and inexplicably obsequious relations with murderous dictators, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un.

Taken together, Defense Secretary Mattis' first ever resignation-in-protest and the issues it has surfaced represent the worst crisis in civil-military relations since the 2006 revolt of the generals against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's mismanagement of the Iraq War.  In that instance eight senior retired generals made headlines by publicly calling for Rumsfeld's resignation on the grounds that he was on the cusp of losing a major war, with potentially devastating consequences for U.S. national security. Given that the target of today's critiques is the commander-in-chief himself, the stakes are exponentially higher, and the warnings even more dire.

"I'm not sure that a lot of my fellow Americans fully appreciate the fact that there are only two people in the country who can give a lawful order to launch a military strike and start a war, and one of them just resigned to protest the poor judgment of the other," retired General Barry McCaffrey, former commander of U.S. Southern Command and a decorated combat veteran, said in an interview.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM

NO THIRD MAN FOR THE TUB?:

"The Most Expensive Bourbon Ever Made": Four barrels, two hurricanes, and one epic yearlong voyage: Two weeks ago, the first leg of Jefferson's Journey ended with a tasting in Kentucky (TOM WILMES, February 14, 2019, Garden & Gun)

On June 6, 2016, Jefferson's Bourbon cofounder Trey Zoeller began a grand experiment. He and boat captain Ted Gray loaded two freshly filled barrels of bourbon onto a 23-foot Sea Pro and set off from Louisville, Kentucky, on a journey that took them down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, through the Gulf of Mexico and around Key West, and up the Atlantic coast to New York City. Two identical barrels remained in Kentucky to age under normal conditions. Would the voyage change the whiskey?

The answer would have to wait--until two weeks ago, when the first chapter in Jefferson's Journey bourbon came full circle during a comparative tasting event held at the Frazier History Museum in Louisville. "It was a hell of a fun project," Zoeller says, "and a testament to what people went through back then."

Buoyed by the mature-beyond-its-years character and faint salinity of another Jefferson's bourbon, Ocean--barrels of which are aged at sea--Zoeller sought to recreate conditions under which Kentucky whiskey historically traveled to market by flatboat, putting in just below the Falls of the Ohio and floated downriver to New Orleans and ports beyond. Zoeller's hypothesis is that, while surrounding whiskey-producing states share a similar geology and climate to Kentucky, travel by boat is what gave bourbon made in the Bluegrass State its singular character and reputation. The effects of wind, water, temperature extremes, and time all caused the whiskey to constantly come into more contact with the charred insides of the barrels as it floated downstream.

It took Zoeller and Gray fifty-eight days to motor from Louisville to New Orleans, averaging 4.8 knots and "using just enough power to navigate the rivers and the locks," Zoeller says. Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees for seven straight days. They landed in New Orleans in August and transferred the two barrels onto a slightly larger boat. Before they could depart, however, a tropical storm socked the coast and "rocked the hell out of our barrels," Zoeller says. The leading edge of Hurricane Hermine caught up with them in Tampa Bay, further damaging the exposed barrels and warping and popping the barrel heads. Zoeller syphoned the bourbon into two new barrels in Key West, and high-tailed it for Ft. Lauderdale as Hurricane Matthew loomed in the distance. The category-five storm destroyed the boat they'd contracted to transport the bourbon on the final leg of its journey, so they wintered in Ft. Lauderdale and later hitched a ride the rest of the way. They landed at New York's Chelsea Piers on June 6, exactly one year from their departure date.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 AM

LINGUA FRANCA:

ARMS AND THE MAN (TOM JUNOD, 6/14/93, Sports Illustrated)

There are many ways to measure a man. There are as many ways, in fact, as there are men, and the manlier the man, the more specific, the more exacting, the more outlandish the measure. A librarian, for example, might measure his manhood by the simple fact that he lifts weights, while a weightlifter has to measure his by how much weight he lifts. A strong man may have to prove that he is tireless, a tireless man that he can endure pain, a man who can endure pain that he can administer it, and so on, until we arrive at the most rarefied stratum of masculinity, reserved for men who have distanced themselves from the merely strong and merely tireless and can lay claim to that antique and enduring title: he-men.

Dave Patton is a he-man, but he is only the product of all the he-men who came before him.

Moe Baker of Bristol, Conn., was one. How do we know? Because Baker, according to his partisans, not only had 18-inch forearms but could also jump straight out of a 55-gallon drum without ever touching the sides. Cleve Dean, a 600-pound hog farmer from Georgia, was a he-man, too, because he could pick up a full-grown sow under each arm and walk around. Ed Jubinville of Chicopee, Mass., was a he-man because he had mastered the art of muscle control and could make, say, his left pectoral muscle flop around like a fish pulled fresh from the sea. And the legendary Mac Batchlor, from Los Angeles, was a he-man because he could fold four bottle caps in half simply by placing them on his fingers and closing his fist. Like all the great exemplars of their breed, these men grew impatient with the standard measures of manhood and chose to define themselves by feats so specific, demanding and utterly useless that no one ever thought to follow.

The he-man, however, faces a problem precisely because he is one of a kind. What, after all, is the measure of a man among men who have developed their own measures? Would Baker be expected to hoist hogs, or would anyone try to jam Dean into a 55-gallon drum and demand that he jump out of it? No, clearly they had to develop a basis of comparison, a means of communication beyond the babel of their own stunts, and so it was that Baker, Davis, Jubinville and Batchlor, along with a host of others, one as manly as the next, became pioneers in the sport that Dave Patton has mastered: arm wrestling.

Arm wrestling! The lingua franca of he-men! What boy has not measured his impending manhood by pitting his arm against the arms of his fellows? What barroom, what truck stop, what union hall, what locker room cannot sing of the sweat and tears that flow from an epic "pull," as the arm wrestlers sometimes term their matches? Arm wrestling calls to the man who is strong from lifting weights and the man who is strong from digging ditches; it calls to the man whose arm is as thick as a python and the man whose arm is as thin as a cable; to pretty boys and to boys whose prettiest features will always be their tattoos; to big men, to little men and to women of almost feral intensity; to the drunk and the sober, to the screamers and the shy...and, on this morning, on a Manhattan street corner occupied by one of the greatest arm wrestlers in recorded history, it calls to a cross-section of the residents of New York City, which means every kind of person in the world.

But who in the world would arm wrestle Dave Patton? He hasn't lost in something like 12 years. He may weigh only 160, yet his shoulders and neck are so developed that he sometimes looks hunchbacked. He has been known to knock an opponent off his feet with the force of his pull. He works out incessantly, with true he-man specificity, doing 756 biceps curls per session, jacking himself into a state of Pure Pain, concentrating not on his arms--anybody can have big arms!--but on his tendons. The tendons, the hand: these are the weakest parts of the body, and these are what Patton attacks when he arm wrestles, stealing his opponent's strength, short-circuiting the shoulder, bypassing the biceps, reducing the biggest man to his smallest muscles and then humiliating him.

Patton loves that, taking down the big men. He used to go by the nickname Giant Killer, until the spectacle of his beating men twice his size stopped being a surprise, and aficionados simply recognized him as Dave Patton, the master--the master of technique, the master of mind games, "the master of all things," in the words of one opponent. And yet...as the New Yorkers pass him by in their grand, grotesque parade, what they see is not an athlete, a champion, a master; what they see is a fellow manning a sort of lemonade stand of machismo, a fellow who could not weigh much more than...well, 160 pounds...and so they line up to take their free shot at him and collect their thousand bucks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 AM

EFFICIENT COLLISIONS:

The Physics of Fungos (David Kagan, March 5, 2019, Hardball Times)

Maybe you don't know what the heck a fungo is. It is a bat designed specifically to hit balls tossed upward by a hitter as opposed to balls thrown by a pitcher. For example, a coach might use a fungo to hit balls for infield practice. A sample fungo is shown below. Why would a fungo be any different than a bat used by a player in a game? That's where the physics comes in.

Think about the Home Run Derby. In about two minutes, a slugger takes roughly 25 swings. At that point, he almost always calls "time out" because he is exhausted. Now, imagine the situation of some poor coach who needs to hit fly balls to his outfielders for half an hour. A fungo bat is designed to address that and make it easy to hit pop flies or grounders with minimal effort.

Let's try to understand how this is accomplished. Perhaps you've never noticed, but it is far easier to swing a bat if you hold it on the barrel as opposed to grabbing the handle. Physics tells us that it is always easier to get an object rotating if more of its mass is closer to the center of rotation. Why then do players insist upon using the handle?

You know the answer: if batters swung using the barrel, pitchers would routinely snap off the handle of the bat. Also, when you hit something with a tool like a hammer, you want as much of the mass as possible "on the business end" as it were.

Since a fungo bat isn't designed to hit a pitched ball, it can be much thinner than a regular bat. After all, a batter facing a pitcher must change the incoming 95 mph pitch into a ball leaving the bat with a 95-mph exit velocity. That total change in the velocity is 190 mph-95 mph to bring the ball to rest momentarily on the bat plus another 95 mph to speed it back up again the other direction. However, a coach hitting a ball after an upward toss needs only to change the velocity of the ball from zero to 95 mph.

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 AM

PRECISELY THE SAME:

MAKING A PITCH FOR CRICKET (JOHN FOWLES, 5/20/73, Sports Illustrated)

Britain and America were created, as every serious historian knows, just to see how profoundly two cultures sharing a common language can fail to understand each other. Nowhere is that more clearly demonstrated than in the malignant mutual travesty that concerns our respective summer games. You smugly know we English are impossible because of our attachment to the incomprehensible ritual of cricket; we smugly know you Americans will never grow up because of your seriousness over a game we reserve for beach picnics. You don't even call it by its proper name, which is rounders. One plays rounders with a moribund tennis ball and any old bit of wood for a bat. Every decent Englishman knows that, and that "baseball" is sheer Yankee gall--trying to hide a stolen patent under a new trade name. Of course, every decent American, who equally knows baseball was handed straight from God to Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown in 1839, will spit on such a foul imputation.

Alas, poor truth. Chauvinists from either side who go to bat for the kind of view above can be retired to the bench very fast indeed by any dispassionate historian. There is hard textual evidence that baseball was played in England, and under that name, well back into the 18th century. But Americans can take heart. The farther back one goes, the closer the two games seem to interweave and the plainer it becomes that we are dealing with a pair of twin brothers. It is not at all certain which is the senior sibling. My own guess is that the shadowy father, the Ur-game, was a good deal more like his emigrant son Baseball than the introverted child who stayed at home.

They say an intrepid British secret agent once peered out of a Siberian forest at the mind-bending sight of a meadow of white-clad figures disporting themselves before an English village--thatched cottages, ancient pub and all the rest. But our man guessed in a flash what he had stumbled on: a KGB spy school designed to counter the most fiendish of all British cover-blowing techniques--the request for a brief rundown on the finer points of cricket.

Faced with the same task I know exactly how those would-be Soviet espionage aces must have felt. I can only pray that the basecricketballese I have had to resort to, and which will undoubtedly cause a few major coronaries among elderly British purists, does give some idea of our game. I am not, however, going to get into one grisly swampland where many brave essayists have met a tragic end: explaining the detailed rules. All Americans need understand is that whatever the obvious superficial differences between the two modern games, they are both about precisely the same things: pitching and batting, catching and fielding, running and tagging bases. What is fascinating indeed is this remarkable similarity at heart and the considerable difference in present-day ethos and practice, and what that paradox has to say about our two nations.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM

"PRETTY FAIR COUNTRY PITCHING":

KID K: IN 1952, RON NECCIAI, 19, STRUCK OUT 27 BATTERS IN NINE INNINGS: The three greatest pitchers [Branch Rickey had] known...were Christy Mathewson...Dizzy Dean...and Ron Necciai.  (PAT JORDAN, 6/01/97, Sports illustrated)

After two undistinguished seasons, mostly in Class D, Necciai was surprised when the Pirates invited him to their spring training camp in San Bernardino, Calif., in 1952. He had caught the eye of Branch Rickey Jr., the Bucs' farm director and son of the club G.M., the previous season at Salisbury in the North Carolina State League. Necciai had lost his first seven games that year, but on the day Rickey came to town, the righthander had struck out nine batters in a six-hit victory. After the game, Rickey admonished him. "You oughta be ashamed of yourself, playing with these babies," he told Necciai. "Your ability is so superior to theirs you should beat them every time out. Now, if you straighten up your act and win a few games, I'll send you someplace where you can make some real money."

So in the spring of 1952 Necciai was in San Bernardino, but with no expectations of making the Pirates, which was probably why he did so well. "I didn't know why I was there," he says. "I didn't know anything as a pitcher. Just hand me the ball, and I'd throw it." Underestimating his own talent was to be a lifelong habit.

He had seemed to assure himself a spot on the Pirates by pitching five shutout innings against the National League champion New York Giants. On the train ride east after the team broke camp, it dawned on Necciai that he would be starting the '52 season in the big leagues, at the age of 19. He began to worry. He threw up his food. He spit up blood. His weight dropped below 150 pounds. When the Pirates stopped in New Orleans for some exhibition games, Necciai was too weak to pitch in one of them. He was sent ahead to Pittsburgh, where the team physician, Dr. Norman Ochsenhirt, diagnosed Necciai's ulcer. He prescribed a diet heavy on cottage cheese and melba toast, and gave Necciai some black pills--Banthine--which helped neutralize the acid in his stomach. The pills and the diet made him feel better, but he was too skinny and weak to stay with the Pirates. The club wanted to send him to New Orleans of the Class AA Southern Association to regain his weight and strength, but Necciai objected. He wanted to go instead to Bristol, where George Detore was the manager.

The Bristol pitcher was always a little short-tempered on days he was scheduled to start. Little things bothered him, and then his stomach would begin to burn. Sometimes Harry Dunlop, his catcher and close friend, would help Necciai take his mind off his nerves by kidding him about the girls at the local women's colleges. But most of the time Necciai would end up taking one of those black pills. He often ate breakfast alone--boiled eggs and dry toast--and read The Sporting News. He would then sit on a bench outside the Hotel Bristol and while traffic passed, turn to the back pages to check the endless columns of statistics of other low minor leaguers like himself. At noon, when his teammates were probably shooting pool, he might go alone to a movie and lose himself in the darkened theater for a few hours. This day was a cool one, good for his stomach, he thought.

When Necciai got to Trayer's for his afternoon meal, Dunlop was waiting for him. They ate together: the tall, gangling, high-strung pitcher and the slightly shorter, squatter, loquacious catcher. Often Jack Trayer let them eat for free. After lunch they went back to their rooms to pack for the game and set off on foot through town toward Shaw Stadium. Bristol was a nice, friendly town, a town without pressure.

Before the game, Necciai sat in the dugout next to manager Detore to discuss the evening's pitching strategy. Detore told him in a gruff voice how many curveballs he should try to throw for strikes and what he should throw in various situations. Necciai listened and nodded to Detore while watching the sun set beyond the outfield fence, which was painted with advertisements for King's Quality Clothes and Burrough's Home Furnishings and the Bristol Furniture Company.

In many ways, this was the part of the game the pitcher loved most--sitting there, listening to his manager tell him what to do. He liked the way the manager ordered each game for him. It calmed him, took the pressure off. He had only to take the mound and do what he was told. But even more than that, the pitcher just liked sitting there, listening to the gruff, older man who was like a father to him.

"When the Pirates wanted to send me to New Orleans to regain my strength," says Necciai, "I told them I didn't want to go. I said, 'Where's George Detore?' They said he was at Bristol. So I said, 'Then I want to go to Bristol.' I knew if anyone would take care of me, it would be George. He was a fantastic man. Great with kids. Strong, tough, confident. I used to sit next to him on the bench whenever I could. I'd talk his ear off. About anything. Whenever I couldn't do something the way he wanted me to, it used to eat me up. He always calmed me down. I was his fair-haired boy. He made sure I ate right and didn't overexert myself. He mapped out everything for me. How many pitches I'd throw in a game, how many games I'd pitch before I moved up. The time was getting near. I knew the Pirates were going to move me up soon, and in some ways I didn't want to leave George behind. Like I said, he was like a father to me."

"He said that?" says George Detore, now 80, at his home in Utica, N.Y. "I'm flattered. Ronnie was always a good boy, but he was never sure of himself. He never let it out. He kept it bottled up inside. Still, he never complained."

Necciai had signed as a first baseman at a Pirate tryout at Forbes Field in 1950. His first assignment was to Salisbury. Detore, a former catcher with Cleveland, was the manager. "I saw the kid couldn't hit a whole helluva lot," says Detore, "so I made him into a pitcher."

Necciai had pitched briefly at Monongahela High, near Pittsburgh, but his mound career had ended abruptly when he lost control of a fastball and broke a batter's ribs. His coach took him out, and Necciai rarely pitched again until he got to Salisbury. He wasn't successful there, either.

"I walked everyone in sight," says Necciai. He was quickly shunted to Shelby of the Class D Western Carolina League, but after only a few days, he packed up and went home. "I really don't know why I left," he says. "I guess I thought I'd never make it. There were hundreds of D leagues then, and I was just one of thousands of players. Baseball was never really a passion of mine. To be honest, I never did have any passions. Baseball was just something to do. I was just an average kid drifting through, and it didn't seem to make much sense to stay."

Back in Monongahela, Necciai got a job in a steel mill outside of town. He labored beside men who would spend most of their working lives there. That sobered him up pretty quickly. Baseball didn't seem like such a bad life after all, so the next year he again found himself in Salisbury with Detore. After his slow start, the Pirates were ready to release him. Necciai himself was ready to go. He was barely able to support himself on his $150-a-month baseball salary. Detore, however, was not ready to quit on the tall, nervous pitcher. He convinced the Bucs they should keep Necciai for a little while longer, and then he convinced Necciai to stay by making him the team's bus driver for an extra $90 a month. "He was a pretty fair bus driver," Detore remembers. "But he still wasn't much of a pitcher. One game he gave up something like 12 runs in the first two innings. By then, even I was ready to quit on him."

But first Detore decided to give his young pitcher one last try. He put the boy on a warm-up mound one day and told him to throw the ball as hard as he could. Necciai threw a few mediocre fastballs, and Detore threw up his hands in disgust. "Chrissakes, son! Can't you throw any harder than that?" he said.

Necciai nodded.

"Then why the hell don't ya?"

"Because in high school I broke a guy's ribs," Necciai said. "My coach made me promise not to throw that hard again."

Detore was disbelieving, but he told the boy to cut loose one time anyway. As Necciai began his motion Detore started to walk away. Necciai fired. The ball rocketed off the catcher's shin.

"It was a bullet," Detore says. "He had it all along. Then I told him to throw a curveball as hard as he could."

"Watch this!" the pitcher said. The ball exploded straight down just as it reached the plate. Detore was stunned.

"Buddy," he said. "You got it."

"He had a smooth, overhand motion," Detore remembers. "He threw without effort. Now, his curveball he threw different from any other pitcher I ever saw." All efforts at teaching Necciai a conventional curveball had failed. It was only when he was allowed to throw it the way he felt most comfortable that it exploded downward. Instead of rolling his two fingers over the top of the ball to give it downward spin at the point of release, Necciai would fling his curveball with the back of his hand toward the batter in much the way a young boy flips a yo-yo to make it sleep. Only Necciais curveball didn't sleep. It dropped like a duck shot on the wing.

Necciai won four of his last six decisions at Salisbury and then was sent to New Orleans where, inexplicably, he seemed to lose his stuff. He finished the season with a 1-5 record and an 8.45 earned run average. Still, Rickey remembered Necciai from that night in Salisbury and invited him to the Pirates' spring training camp at San Bernardino.

While the Welch Miners were taking batting practice, the Bristol pitcher began to warm up along the leftfield line. After a few throws, Necciai could tell he didn't have his good stuff this night. He told his bullpen catcher he doubted he would be able to go nine. Necciai didn't seem to notice the Welch batters, and if he did, it didn't bother him much. He never pitched against batters in a game. He pitched according to the plan Detore mapped out for him on the bench. Midway through his warmups, Necciai felt a burning sensation in his stomach. The burning got worse as he began to sweat in the cool night air. When he finished, he walked back to the dugout and told Detore his ulcer was acting up. Detore told him to give it a shot anyway. "See how far you can go, son," he said.

Necciai did as he was told. He was starting a professional baseball game for only the 21st time in his life. The fans were still entering the small ballpark, with its slatted wooden bleachers. Some of them were buying hot dogs and popcorn, and others were still settling into their seats by the time Necciai retired the first three Welch batters. He struck out one on a called strike, and two swinging. He walked off the mound to a smattering of applause.

Bristol scored in the bottom of the first when the Welch starter walked four of the first five batters. Necciai retired the Miners in order again in the second inning on two swinging strikeouts and a routine ground ball to shortstop. Bristol scored another run in the second. The first Welch batter in the third reached base when the Bristol shortstop bobbled a grounder. Then Necciai bore down. He struck out the next three batters, two swinging, one looking.

Returning to the dugout, Necciai sat beside Detore and complained that his stomach was burning badly. He was throwing a lot of pitches, he said. It seemed as if every count was reaching 3-1. The more pitches he threw, the more heated he became and the more his stomach burned. The manager told him to hang on as long as he could. He sent the batboy, whom the players knew as Choo-Choo, to the clubhouse for some milk and cottage cheese. Necciai forced it down.

As the fourth inning began. Gene Thompson, the Bristol Herald Courier sports editor, got up from his seat in the press box. He had covered Appalachian League games for almost 20 years, and this game didn't seem much different from any other. Because he had already assigned a reporter to cover the game, he went back to his office.



Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM

IF IT TASTES LIKE BEEF, IT'S BEEF:

Beyond Meat just launched a plant-based product for beef lovers (RINA RAPHAEL, 3/06/19, Fast Company)

Beyond Meat is venturing well beyond its popular plant-based burgers and chicken strips. On Tuesday, the meat substitute producer announced Beyond Beef, a new product meant to taste, feel, and smell just like ground beef.

The latest SKU contains no antibiotics, hormones, gluten, soy, or GMOs, and boasts 25% less saturated fat than beef. It's made with a blend of pea, mung bean, and rice proteins meant to rival the popular ingredient found in empanadas or tacos.

"We've long had our eye on creating a versatile product that enables consumers to enjoy all the benefits and versatility of ground beef while tapping into the human health, environmental, and animal welfare benefits of plant-based foods," Beyond Meat founder and CEO Ethan Brown said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

"WHERE I LOST IT":

AN EX-PITCHER DISCOVERS THE HARSH REALITIES ABOUT LIFE AFTER BASEBALL (PAT JORDAN, 4/14/86, Sports Illustrated)

Johnny was a mason and a Lithuanian nationalist and the first man I worked for after I left baseball (the phrase I always use). I was a $45,000 bonus baby, a pitcher with the Milwaukee Braves in 1959, and after three years of uncomprehending failure, I was given my unconditional release. I was 21 years old.

As a mason he dealt in bricks and stone and concrete. He did not like athletes, he said. Not even ex-athletes. They were too soft. And compared to him, I guess I was. At 48, he had the smooth, muscular body of a man who has worked hard all his life. He was small, with not an ounce of fat on him, although his leathery skin was a bit slack, like a shrinking man's. He had a high-cheekboned Slavic face with narrow blue eyes and short reddish brown hair. His grandfather had been a mason in Lithuania; his father had been a mason in Lithuania, and, after fleeing the Russians, became a mason in America. Now Johnny, too, was a mason, known for the fastidiousness of his work.

Occasionally he poured foundations for office buildings or built walls of concrete blocks, but mostly he built fireplaces and chimneys for expensive homes in Fairfield County, Conn. To build a fireplace and chimney of used brick, alternating the different shades to be esthetically pleasing, was an art, he said. And Johnny considered himself an artist. Technically, I guess, he was a craftsman, but in his mind, he equated neatness, a sense of design and the ability to work quickly--and without a plumb--with art, not craft. By extension, he considered his laborer an artist, too. He was always telling me about some Italian or Slovak immigrant who had kept him supplied with bricks and mortar as he worked up the side of a house building his chimney.

"And he always left the job spotless," Johnny would say as he walked off.

At the time I thought he was crazy and that all a laborer did was sweat like a mule. I had been working for him for only two days, and by my own admission, I was a lousy mason's laborer. We were building a chimney on a $200,000 colonial, and with each hour I fell further and further behind with the bricks and mortar. It was partly because I had no enthusiasm for the job, partly because it was more physically demanding than any job I had ever had and partly because I was terrified of climbing the maze of rusted pipes and brackets Johnny called his scaffold. Often he settled it on uneven ground so that it wobbled. Sometimes it toppled over. He liked to tell me about the "trips" he had taken over the years and seemed actually proud of them as if they were proof of his courage. His most recent trip--three stories--had shattered bones in his right leg and required an enormous white cast that went up to his hip. That was why he was so desperate for a laborer, he said, even one as worthless as myself.

On this day he had built his scaffold to the second floor, but by midafternoon a strong breeze had come up. From the ground I could see the top of the scaffold swaying left and right past the half-completed chimney. Johnny stood on its rotted planks with a brick in one hand and a trowel in the other, waiting for the wind to blow him past the chimney so he could slap down his mud and brick. Then he waited for the wind to blow him back so he could level the brick with a tap of his trowel. He worked steadily like this all afternoon, taking on a rhythm with the wind. I was terrified. Whenever I had to climb the ladder resting against the scaffold, I wrapped my arms completely around it as if it were a bony lover. I carried a bucket of mud or some bricks in one hand and slowly worked my way up that ladder a step at a time. When I reached the top, I dumped my mud or bricks in a heap and hurried back to solid ground.

But it wasn't just the difficulty of the work or my fear of heights that caused me to fall behind on those first few days. In the process of mixing mortar, my thoughts would drift and for long moments I would lean, motionless on my shovel, lost on some distant pitcher's mound in Palatka or McCook or Way-cross, trying to discover just where and how I had misplaced such a promising career. I would rummage through my past, reliving each season, each game, each pitch, expecting to come to a point where I could say, "There! Right there! That's where I lost it!" Then I would be able to trace my failure to where I was now. A mason's laborer. A bad one at that. I had been out of baseball only a few weeks and I still harbored fantasies of making a comeback if I could locate the point where it had all begun to slide away.

In the midst of such reveries, Johnny would jolt me back to the present with his trowel. He liked to work with the bricks piled to his left and slightly behind him and the mortar tub to his right. Whenever he slashed his trowel into the mortar tub and it was empty, it made a clanking noise. Johnny would keep clanking that trowel against the sides of the tub until I rushed up the ladder with fresh mortar. How I hated that sound! Each clank echoed his observation that all athletes were soft. At first I just cursed him silently and took my time bringing up his mortar. But soon that noise became a reminder that I could not handle even so menial a job as this. I decided one day to silence that trowel forever by mixing mortar faster than Johnny could use it. But no matter how feverishly I worked, I could not still that trowel, and by the end of the week I was exhausted and defeated.