Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Today's Blog Post Is L' ennui-Épreuve

Full disclosure: this blogger read the last sentence in today's post and translated the French as "You will not have any regrets." Google Translate rendered the sentence from French to English as "You will not regret anything." Then, the blogger started writing about his foreign language study in college and decided it was ennuyeux. Robert Lane Green is multilingual. This blogger is multi-stupid. If this is the (fair & balanced) vérité, so be it.

[x Intelligent Life]
Which Is The Best Language To Learn?
By Robert Lane Greene

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For language lovers, the facts are grim: Anglophones simply aren’t learning them any more. In Britain, despite four decades in the European Union, the number of A-levels taken in French and German has fallen by half in the past 20 years, while what was a growing trend of Spanish-learning has stalled. In America, the numbers are equally sorry. One factor behind the 9/11 attacks was the fact that the CIA lacked the Arabic-speakers who might have translated available intelligence. But ten years on, “English only” campaigns appeal more successfully to American patriotism than campaigns that try to promote language-learning, as if the most successful language in history were threatened.

Why learn a foreign language? After all, the one you already speak if you read this magazine is the world’s most useful and important language. English is not only the first language of the obvious countries, it is now the rest of the world’s second language: a Japanese tourist in Sweden or a Turk landing a plane in Spain will almost always speak English.

Nonetheless, compelling reasons remain for learning other languages. They range from the intellectual to the economical to the practical. First of all, learning any foreign language helps you understand all language better—many
Anglophones first encounter the words “past participle” not in an English class, but in French. Second, there is the cultural broadening. Literature is always best read in the original.

Poetry and lyrics suffer particularly badly in translation. And learning another tongue helps the student grasp another way of thinking. Though the notion that speakers of different languages think differently has been vastly exaggerated and misunderstood, there is a great deal to be learned from discovering what the different cultures call this, that or das oder.

The practical reasons are just as compelling. In business, if the team on the other side of the table knows your language but you don’t know theirs, they almost certainly know more about you and your company than you do about them and theirs—a bad position to negotiate from. Many investors in China have made fatally stupid decisions about companies they could not understand. Diplomacy, war-waging and intelligence work are all weakened by a lack of capable linguists. Virtually any career, public or private, is given a boost with knowledge of a foreign language.

So which one should you, or your children, learn? If you take a glance at advertisements in New York or A-level options in Britain, an answer seems to leap out: Mandarin. China’s economy continues to grow at a pace that will make it bigger than America’s within two decades at most. China’s political clout is growing accordingly. Its businessmen are buying up everything from American brands to African minerals to Russian oil rights. If China is the country of the future, is Chinese the language of the future?

Probably not. Remember Japan’s rise? Just as spectacular as China’s, if on a smaller scale, Japan’s economic growth led many to think it would take over the world. It was the world’s second-largest economy for decades (before falling to third, recently, behind China). So is Japanese the world’s third-most useful language? Not even close. If you were to learn ten languages ranked by general usefulness, Japanese would probably not make the list. And the key reason for Japanese’s limited spread will also put the brakes on Chinese.

This factor is the Chinese writing system (which Japan borrowed and adapted centuries ago). The learner needs to know at least 3,000-4,000 characters to make sense of written Chinese, and thousands more to have a real feel for it. Chinese, with all its tones, is hard enough to speak. But the mammoth feat of memory required to be literate in Mandarin is harder still. It deters most foreigners from ever mastering the system—and increasingly trips up Chinese natives.

A recent survey reported in the People’s Daily found 84% of respondents agreeing that skill in Chinese is declining. If such gripes are common to most languages, there is something more to it in Chinese. Fewer and fewer native speakers learn to produce characters in traditional calligraphy. Instead, they write their language the same way we do—with a computer. And not only that, but they use the Roman alphabet to produce Chinese characters: type in wo and Chinese language-support software will offer a menu of characters pronounced wo; the user selects the one desired. (Or if the user types in wo shi zhongguo ren, “I am Chinese”, the software detects the meaning and picks the right characters.) With less and less need to recall the characters cold, the Chinese are forgetting them. David Moser, a Sinologist, recalls asking three native Chinese graduate students at Peking University how to write “sneeze”:

To my surprise, all three of them simply shrugged in sheepish embarrassment. Not one of them could correctly produce the character. Now, Peking University is usually considered the “Harvard of China”. Can you imagine three PhD students in English at Harvard forgetting how to write the English word “sneeze”? Yet this state of affairs is by no means uncommon in China.

As long as China keeps the character-based system—which will probably be a long time, thanks to cultural attachment and practical concerns alike—Chinese is very unlikely to become a true world language, an auxiliary language like English, the language a Brazilian chemist will publish papers in, hoping that they will be read in Finland and Canada. By all means, if China is your main interest, for business or pleasure, learn Chinese. It is fascinating, and learnable—though Moser’s online essay, “Why Chinese is so damn hard,” might discourage the faint of heart and the short of time.

But if I was asked what foreign language is the most useful, and given no more parameters (where? for what purpose?), my answer would be French. Whatever you think of France, the language is much less limited than many people realise.

As their empire spun off and they became a medium-sized power after the second world war, the French, hoping to maintain some distance from America and to make the most of their former possessions, established La Francophonie. This club, bringing together all the countries with a French-speaking heritage, has 56 members, almost a third of the world’s countries. Hardly any of them are places where French is everyone’s native language. Instead, they include countries with Francophone minorities (Switzerland, Belgium); those where French is official and widespread among elites (much of western Africa); those where it is not official but still spoken by nearly all educated people (Morocco, Lebanon); and those where French ties remain despite the fading of the language (Vietnam, Cambodia). It even has members with few ties to French or France, like Egypt, that simply want to associate themselves with the prestige of the French-speaking world. Another 19 countries are observer members.

French ranks only 16th on the list of languages ranked by native speakers. But ranked above it are languages like Telegu and Javanese that no one would call world languages. Hindi does not even unite India. Also in the top 15 are Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese, major languages to be sure, but regionally concentrated. If your interest is the Middle East or Islam, by all means learn Arabic. If your interest is Latin America, Spanish or Portuguese is the way to go. Or both; learning one makes the second quite easy.

If your interests span the globe, and you’ve read this far, you already know the most useful global language. But if you want another truly global language, there are surprisingly few candidates, and for me French is unquestionably top of the list. It can enhance your enjoyment of art, history, literature and food, while giving you an important tool in business and a useful one in diplomacy. It has native speakers in every region on earth. And lest we forget its heartland itself, France attracts more tourists than any other country—76.8m in 2010, according to the World Tourism Organisation, leaving America a distant second with 59.7m. Any visit there is greatly enhanced by some grasp of the language. The French are nothing but welcoming when you show them and their country respect, and the occasional frost that can greet visitors melts when they come out with their first fully formed sentence. So although there are other great languages out there, don’t forget an easy, common one, with far fewer words to learn than English, that is almost certainly taught in your town. With French, vous ne regretterez rien. Ω

[Robert Lane Greene is a business correspondent for The Economist. He received a a B.A. in International Relations and History from Tulane University. Then he won a Marshall Scholarship and completed an M.Phil. in European Politics and Society at Oxford University. He is fluent in German, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Danish, and conversant in Russian, Arabic and Italian. His most recent book is You Are What You Speak (2011).]

Copyright © 2012 The Economist Newspaper

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Skool Daze In 21st-Century Texas

The Lone Star State is in a world of hurt. The Dumbos in the State Legislature cut funding for public education and enacted a number of get-tougher testing mandates. On top of that, Ricky Dumbass returned from his ass-kickin' on the presidential primary circuit to opine that a special session of Lege to restore education funding was unnecessary because Texas was already "spendin' $10K per student annually." Read Paul Burka below and discover that Dumbass fudged the figure upward and — besides that — Texas still is below the national average in annual spending per pupil. If this is (fair & balanced) relief to be retired from the Texas ed-biz, so be it.

[x TM]
Class Warfare
By Paul Burka

[Note: another article by Paul Burka will shed some light on the current war on education in the Lone Star State; read it here.]

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Three days before Christmas, attorneys representing a coalition of 63 school districts delivered an unwelcome present to state officials: legal documents that would trigger the latest in a series of lawsuits over the way Texas finances—or more accurately, fails to finance—its public schools. The delivery was unwanted, but it was not unexpected. The ongoing battle between the state and its financially strapped school districts has become a story with a theme but no ending, dating back to the first successful school finance lawsuit, in 1984, Edgewood Independent School District et al. v. Kirby et al. (William Kirby was the commissioner of education at the time). Since then, Edgewood v. Kirby has been contested more times than the estate of J. Howard Marshall [II]. David Thompson, the lead attorney for one of four groups of school districts that are suing the state, likens the long series of lawsuits to the Harry Potter novels: each one starts where the last one leaves off, and in the end, they fit together. Unfortunately, in school finance there is no philosopher’s stone that can turn bad policy into good.

It is, alas, all too easy to get lost in the intricacies of school finance and to lose sight of what is at stake, so let’s be clear at the outset: the argument is over nothing less than the future of Texas. When schools are underfunded, as they have been since at least 2005, students don’t learn. When students don’t learn, they emerge from high school unprepared for college. When they aren’t ready for college, they risk joining the 75 percent of adults in Texas who don’t have a college degree (the national average is 72 percent). When they lack a college degree, their chances of finding a secure place in the state’s workforce diminish accordingly.

And yet the process of financing public education remains the most intractable problem in state government. It never goes away, and it defeats nearly everyone who attempts to puzzle it out. Governors on both sides of the aisle have called some of the state’s most prominent citizens into service to work on the issue—John Connally brought in Houston lawyer (and soon-to-be Watergate special prosecutor) Leon Jaworski; Mark White turned to billionaire H. Ross Perot; Rick Perry relied on a longtime friend, former state comptroller John Sharp—but the basic problem has so far defied solution, and the legal fight never ends. In suit after suit, the issue is the same: Does the state’s approach to funding public schools violate the Texas constitution of 1876, which demands “the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools”? In the initial Edgewood ruling, the Texas Supreme Court decided that the answer to this question was yes and established the precedent that an efficient system required that “children who live in poor districts and children who live in rich districts must be afforded a substantially equal opportunity to have access to educational funds.” This is an admirable and often expressed sentiment, and yet it has been immensely difficult to convert sentiment into reality.

Inequity is sewed into the fabric of the state. It doesn’t take a law degree to understand that students who live in districts with considerable property wealth (archetype: the North Dallas enclave of Highland Park) have a funding advantage over students who live in districts with low property values (archetype: Edgewood, a district of mostly frame homes on San Antonio’s West Side). When districts seek to raise revenue locally by levying taxes on property, those with high property values can rake in the money, even if their tax rates are low. Those with low values can never catch up, even if their tax rates are high.

No one doubts that the system lacks fundamental fairness. Of the nine school finance lawsuits that have come before the Texas Supreme Court, the plaintiffs have won every case but one, in 1995. (That year, the court ruled that the school finance system was indeed constitutional, a decision that spared incoming governor George W. Bush the battles over school finance that had plagued several of his predecessors, including Ann Richards.) The most recent school finance case, 2005’s West Orange-Cove v. Neeley, was decided again for the plaintiffs. Justice Nathan Hecht, the author of the opinion, began on a weary note: “Once again this Court is called upon to determine whether the funding of Texas public schools violates the Texas Constitution.” The answer was unsurprising. Further down in the opinion, Hecht resorted to a metaphor to explain the failings of the current system:

In some areas of the state, education resembled a motorcycle with a 1,000 gallon fuel tank, and in other areas it resembled a tractor-trailer rig fueled out of a gallon bucket. Some vehicles were flooded, some purred along nicely, and some were always out of gas. A fleet of such vehicles is not efficient, even though a few of them may reach their destinations.

The schools have chalked up some victories. In 1993 the court decided that wealthy districts could be required to allow the system as a whole to “recapture” their excess property values and share them with poorer districts, a policy that became known as “Robin Hood.” And yet, as Hecht’s opinion implied twelve years later, where a child lives is still the best measure of the quality of education he or she will receive. True equity remains elusive. The reason for this is simple: money, honey. The Supreme Court can scold the Legislature for not heeding its warnings that the school finance system is teetering on the edge of failing to meet constitutional requirements, but if ever there was a horse that can be led to water but not forced to drink, it is the Texas Legislature. As powerful as the Texas Supreme Court is, the reality is that it can only decide winners and losers. It can’t order the Legislature to raise taxes or spend money.

Consider recent history. In the years following the court’s 2005 decision, the increasingly conservative Legislature’s enthusiasm for supporting public education became less evident, not more. At times, it was undetectable. In 2006, for example, lawmakers adopted a funding mechanism that effectively capped a district’s revenue at whatever its current level was. That mechanism, known as “target revenue,” remains in effect today, and funding to individual school districts remains frozen at those 2006 levels. Then, last year, lawmakers opted to cut $5.4 billion from public education, an action that is without precedent in the history of Texas budgeting, prompting the current lawsuit. “This case is about broken promises,” David Thompson says.

Yet the villain in this drama is not an evil antagonist like Lord Voldemort. It is ourselves. We elected the people who designed the system—the members of the Texas Legislature over the past quarter century. And we stand by while they fail to fix the problem. The constitution and the case law speak clearly about what is required, but in session after session, our lawmakers dig in their heels and refuse to respond. Meanwhile, the underlying issues that propel the cases into the courthouse continue to get worse.

The differences between Texas in 1984 and Texas in 2012 are stark. Education in Texas today requires more money than it did 28 years ago. We are living through a demographic tsunami that has brought huge changes to the state. Enrollment is increasing at the rate of almost 90,000 new students a year. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of languages and dialects are spoken in the schools, making the constitutional standard of “a general diffusion of knowledge” far more difficult to achieve. Critics say that money alone will not solve the problems schools face today, but without more money there is little hope of achieving the constitutional goal. The amount spent per pupil in the 2009–2010 school year was $9,227, and that was still $1,359 below the national average. One can only shudder to think how far Texas will slip when the 2011 budget cuts are factored in.

The schools are victims of a double whammy. At the same time that the Legislature was reducing funding to districts, it was also (to its credit) increasing the standards that students are expected to meet, instituting a more rigorous curriculum, tougher graduation requirements, and new accountability mandates that place additional burdens on schools. All of this requires better instructional materials and improved training of teachers. Higher standards and less money—a lot less money—do not make an efficient system, and once again, the schools will almost surely win their case. Indeed, the lead defendant in the lawsuit filed in December, education commissioner Robert Scott, all but acknowledged that the schools have a point in a speech he gave to the Texas Association of School Administrators in early February. Calling the current testing regime a “perversion of its original intent,” Scott apologized for the billions in budget cuts. He received a standing ovation

Sometime in the upcoming months, the case of Fort Bend Independent School District v. Robert Scott will be tried in Travis County. The state will lose. The case will move on to the Court of Appeals and then on to the Supreme Court. Years will pass. Little will be settled. After 28 years, we are still fighting over many of the same points. And yet, in the time between the first Edgewood case and the Fort Bend case, Texas has undergone profound demographic changes. That schools are the first public institutions to be affected by this is what makes school finance such a critical issue. It compels us to address a situation that many Texans remain ambivalent toward: the profound cultural changes taking place within our state. But if the political system turns its back on today’s students, what kind of future can Texans expect? Ω

[Paul Burka joined the staff of Texas Monthly in 1974, one year after the magazine's founding. He was born in Galveston, graduated from Rice University with a B.A. in history, and received a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law. Burka is a senior executive editor and a political columnist at TM.]

Copyright © 2012 Emmis Publishing /dba/ Texas Monthly

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Monday, February 27, 2012

The Sexological Question O'The Day: Are The TRW (True Republican Women) Coming?

The Dumbos/Teabaggers are focused on the nation's V-Jay Jays and have become lost in their own limitless stupidity. Today's 'toon from Tom Tomorrow allows this blog to feature a comic-s- section along with periodic editorial cartoons. If this is a (fair & balanced) virtual Reuben Award, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
A New Controversy Erupts
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

(Click to embiggen — H/T to Daily Kos) Ω

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly.

Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002.

When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001.]

Copyright © 2012 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Roll Over, Al Stump! Make Way For Gilbert King!

Tyrus (Ty) Cobb sneered at major league baseball players prior to his death in 1961; the sole exception was the 5-tool center fielder playing for the San Francisco (and earlier, New York) Giants: Willie Mays. Ty Cobb opined that he would pay to watch Mays play the game. The proper follow-up would be to ask if Willie Mays would have paid to see Ty Cobb play. If this is a (fair & balanced) reconsideration of a misanthrope, so be it.

The Knife In Ty Cobb’s Back
By Gilbert King

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In 1912—and you can write this downI killed a man in Detroit.”

Al Stump, commissioned in 1960 to ghostwrite Ty Cobb’s autobiography, My Life in Baseball: The True Record, would say it was a boozy, pill-induced, off-the-record confession—a secret revealed by the Detroit Tigers great as he spent the last painful year of his life battling cancer. The confession never made its way into the book Stump was writing for Doubleday & Company. With Cobb insisting on editorial control, Stump claimed, his role was to help the ballplayer give his account of his legendary but controversial life and career, even if the effort might be self-serving. It was, after all, Cobb’s book, he said, so the sportswriter filed the murder confession away with the rest of his notes.

Instead, the autobiography offers an account of a comeuppance rather than a killing, an encounter more in line with the “Nobody can pull that stuff on me!” persona that the baseball legend still liked to project at age 73. In that version, Cobb was riding in his car with his wife, Charlie, to the railway station in Detroit to catch a train for a Tigers exhibition game in Syracuse, New York, when three men waved them down. Thinking they might be having some trouble, he stopped to help. Immediately, the men attacked Cobb, who slid out of the car and began to fight back. “One of the mugs I knocked down got up and slashed at me with a knife,” the book says. “I dodged, but he cut me in the back. I couldn’t tell how bad it was. But my arms were still working.”

Cobb says the men retreated as he chased one of them down, “leaving him in worse condition than he’d arrived in.” Another one returned and cornered Cobb in a blind passageway. “I had something in my hand, which I won’t describe [Cobb was known to carry a “big Belgian revolver” at the time], but which often came in handy in Detroit in the days when it was a fairly rough town. I used it on him at some length. If he still lives, he has the scars to show for it. Leaving him unconscious, I drove on to the depot.”

By 1912, Cobb had established himself as one of the baseball’s biggest stars, and he would eventually be recognized as one of the greatest to ever play the game. When the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted its inaugural class in 1936, he received more votes than any other player, including Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Matthewson and Honus Wagner. By all accounts, he was fiery, belligerent, mean-tempered and capable of violence. But did he kill a man?

Violent confrontations were a recurring theme in Cobb’s life. He broke into major league baseball with the Tigers in August 1905, just three weeks after his mother, Amanda Cobb, had been arrested on charges of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Cobb’s father, William Herschel Cobb. Amanda Cobb said she thought her husband was an intruder trying to enter their house through the bedroom window when she shot him twice. But there had been rumors in town that William suspected his wife of infidelity and had unexpectedly returned home late that fateful evening, when she believed him to be out of town. During her trial the following year, prosecutors carefully questioned Amanda Cobb about ambiguities over the time that had lapsed between shots, but she was ultimately acquitted.

Stories of Cobb’s racial intolerance were well-documented. In 1907 during spring training in Augusta, Georgia, a black groundskeeper named Bungy, whom Cobb had known for years, attempted to shake Cobb’s hand or pat him on the shoulder. The overly familiar greeting infuriated Cobb, who slapped him and chased him from the clubhouse. When Bungy’s wife tried to intervene, Cobb turned around and choked her until teammates pried his hands off her neck. In 1908 in Detroit, a black laborer castigated him after he accidentally stepped into some freshly poured asphalt. Cobb assaulted the laborer on the spot, knocking him to the ground. The ballplayer was found guilty of battery, but a friendly judge suspended his sentence. Cobb paid the laborer $75 to avoid a civil suit.

Just three months before the three men attacked him in Detroit in 1912, Cobb assaulted a New York Highlanders fan at Hilltop Park in New York City. The fan, Claude Lueker, was missing all of one hand and three fingers on the other from a printing press accident, but he spent the entire game heckling the Detroit players. After enduring taunts that were “reflecting on my mother’s color and morals,” Cobb reported in his autobiography, the Georgia native had had enough. He jumped the rail along the third-base side of the field and climbed 12 rows of seats to get to Lueker, whom he slammed to the ground and beat senseless. Someone screamed for Cobb to stop, pointing out that the man had no hands. “I don’t care if he has no feet!” Cobb yelled back, stomping Lueker until park police pulled him off. American League president Ban Johnson, who was at the game, suspended Cobb for 10 days.

Ty Cobb died on July 17, 1961, at age 74, and Doubleday rushed to get his autobiography onto bookshelves two months later. The book sold well, but in December 1961, True magazine published a story by Al Stump, “Ty Cobb’s Wild 10-Month Fight to Live,” offering a lurid, behind-the-scenes and supposedly true portrait of the Georgia Peach. “The first book was a cover up,” Stump said later. “I felt very bad about it. I felt I wasn’t being a good newspaperman.” With Cobb dead, Stump had decided that it was time to release the ballplayer’s supposedly private confessions and utterances. In the True article, Stump recalled Cobb’s visiting the cemetery in Royston, Georgia, where his parents were buried. “My father had his head blown off with a shotgun when I was 18 years old—by a member of my own family,” Stump quoted Cobb as saying. “I didn’t get over that. I’ve never gotten over that.”

The article, published in three installments, depicted Cobb as feisty and ill-tempered as ever, downing painkillers and scotch, and living in his Atherton, California, mansion without electricity because of a minor billing dispute with Pacific Gas and Electric Company. “When I wouldn’t pay,” Stump quoted Cobb as saying, “they cut off my utilities. Okay—I’ll see them in court.” Carrying more than a million dollars in stock certificates and bonds in a paper bag (he’d gotten rich investing in Coca-Cola and General Motors stock), as well as a loaded Luger, Cobb checked into hospitals and berated doctors and staff for treatment, only to demand that Stump smuggle in liquor for him or sneak him out on late-night visits to bars and casinos. Stump said he complied with Cobb’s wishes because he feared for his own life.

As to the incident in Detroit in 1912, Stump quoted Cobb as saying he killed one of his attackers, beating the man with the butt of his Belgian pistol, then using the gun’s sight as a blade and “slash[ing] away until the man’s face was faceless.” The writer also quoted Cobb as saying: “Left him there, not breathing, in his own rotten blood.” In a later biography of Cobb, Stump added that a few days after the attack in Detroit, “a press report told of an unidentified body found off Trumbull Avenue in an alley.”

At the time, press reports did mention an attack on Ty Cobb. An Associated Press dispatch the following day described an attempted robbery of Cobb by three assailants who “were under the influence of liquor.” A “battle royal” followed, the report said, and one of his would-be robbers pulled a knife and slashed Cobb in the back, after which “all three men made their getaway.” The Syracuse Herald reported that on the day after the attack, Cobb got two hits in the exhibition game against the Syracuse Stars but did not exert himself because of “a severe knife wound in his back.” Other reports had blood seeping through Cobb’s uniform.

Police in Detroit, however, knew nothing of the attack. When Cobb later described the incident to reporters, he said he’d suffered only a scratch near his shoulder. And photographs of Cobb taken during the game in Syracuse show no signs on blood.

Doug Roberts, a lawyer and former prosecutor, had doubts about Stump’s account and did extensive research into the incident for a 1996 article for The National Pastime, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Society for American Baseball Research. After examining autopsy records at the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s office and after combing through all of the Detroit newspapers from the time, Roberts concluded that Stump’s claim that an unidentified body had been reported in the press was not true. Roberts also found no record of any deaths due to blunt force trauma in Detroit in August 1912.

Twenty years after Ty Cobb died, a large amount of Cobb memorabilia was being shopped around to collectors—from mundane personal items, such as his hats, pipes and dentures, to objects of historical importance, such as his diary. The man behind the sale of these items was none other than Al Stump, who was believed to have cleaned out Cobb’s mansion after the ballplayer died. Memorabilia mega-collector Barry Halper acquired a significant portion of the artifacts, and in 1999 Halper decided to sell his baseball collection through Sotheby’s, the auction house in New York, which printed catalogues with descriptions of the Cobb memorabilia. But collectors and historians began to suspect that Cobb’s diary had been forged (which the FBI later confirmed), along with hundreds of letters and documents that supposedly bore Cobb’s signature. Sotheby’s removed the items from auction. The sheer number of artifacts available led one memorabilia dealer to conclude, “Stump was buying this old stuff from flea markets, and then adding engravings and other personalizations to give the appearance of authenticity.” (Later, collectors and curators accused Halper of selling other fake or stolen memorabilia, leading one Boston collector to describe him as the “[Bernie] Madoff of memorabilia.” Halper died in 2005.)

One of the items on offer was a double-barreled shotgun Amanda Cobb had purportedly used to kill her husband. In Stump’s True magazine piece, the author quoted Cobb as saying that his father’s head was “blown off with a shotgun.” The shotgun, which Cobb had supposedly had engraved and used on many a duck hunt, was one of the big-ticket items included in the Sotheby’s catalogue. Ron Cobb (no relation to Ty), an adviser to the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, Georgia, was shocked that such an artifact would suddenly surface after so many years. He began an investigation and discovered that during the inquest, Amanda Cobb had told the Franklin County coroner that she shot her husband with a pistol. The coroner ultimately concluded that William Herschel Cobb died of a wound from a pistol bullet. There was no mention of a shotgun in any of the records. Ron Cobb could only conclude that Al Stump had twisted history for personal gain.

Stump’s True magazine article won the Associated Press award for the best sports story of 1962 and went a long way in cementing the public’s memory of the baseball great. “From all of baseball, three men and three only appeared for his funeral,” Stump wrote at the end of his story, as if Cobb died a despised man who had alienated opponents and teammates alike. But the Sporting News reported that Cobb’s family had told friends and baseball officials that they wanted his funeral (held just 48 hours after he died) to be private and requested that they not attend, despite offers from several baseball greats to serve as pallbearers. Most of Cobb’s closest baseball friends were, in fact, already dead by 1961.

Doctors, nurses and hospital staff who attended to Cobb in his final months later came forward to say they never observed any of the rude or abusive behavior attributed to Cobb in Stump’s article. And a friendship-ending argument Stump described in a dramatic scene between Cobb and Ted Williams never happened, according to Williams. “He’s full of it,” he said of Stump.

In addition, it should be noted that Cobb’s views on race evolved after he retired from baseball. In 1952, when many whites from the Deep South were still opposed to blacks mixing with whites both in and out of baseball, Cobb was not one of them. “Certainly it is O.K. for them to play,” Cobb told a reporter. “I see no reason in the world why we shouldn’t compete with colored athletes as long as they conduct themselves with politeness and gentility. Let me say also that no white man has the right to be less of a gentleman than a colored man, in my book that goes not only for baseball but in all walks of life.” In his last year of life, Cobb may have shown a cantankerous side, but it seemed reserved for the state of baseball, which he saw as over-reliant on the home run and lacking in players of all-around skill. Willie “Mays is the only man in baseball I’d pay to see play,” he said not long before he died.

Baseball historians such as Doug Roberts and Ron Cobb point to Stump’s role in perpetuating the myths, exaggerations and untruths that taint the memory of Ty Cobb. Indeed, the 1994 Hollywood movie "Cobb," starring Tommy Lee Jones, was based on Stump’s account of the time he spent with Cobb in the last months of the ballplayer’s life. Asked why he wrote another book on Cobb, Stump told a reporter shortly before he died, in 1995: “I guess because I had all this leftover material and I thought, ‘What am I going to do with all this?’ I think I did it for the money.”



Charles C. Alexander. Ty Cobb (1984). Ty Cobb with Al Stump. My Life in Baseball—the True Record (1961). John D. McCallum. Ty Cobb (1975). Al Stump. Cobb: A Biography (1994).


“Ty Cobb’s Wild 10 Month Fight to Live,” True: The Man’s Magazine; December, 1961, Al Stump. “Ty Cobb Did Not Commit Murder,” The National Pastime: A Review of Baseball History, the Society for American Baseball Research. 1996, Doug Roberts. “The Georgia Peach: Stumped by the Storyteller,” The National Pastime: A Review of Baseball History, The Society for American Baseball Research. 2010, William R. Cobb. “A Quest To Learn The Truth About Ty Cobb Author Al Stump Has Spent Much Of His Life Getting Close To The Baseball Legend,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 1, 1995, Michael Bamberger. “Al Stump, 79, Sportswriter and Chronicler of Ty Cobb’s Life Dies,” The New York Times. December 18, 1995; The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor,MI, August 12, 1912. Syracuse Herald, Syracuse,NY, August 13, 1912. “How Racist Was Ty?” William M. Burgess III’s Ty Cobb Memorial Collection,; “Hauls of Shame Releases FBI Report on Fake Ty Cobb Diary,” July 1, 2011, Peter J. Nash, Ω

[Gilbert King has written about Supreme Court history and the death penalty for the New York Times and the Washington Post, and he is a featured contributor to Smithsonian magazine’s history blog, Past Imperfect. His book, The Execution of Willie Francis was published in 2008. More recently, he has written Devil in the Grove (2012). Gilbert is also a photographer whose work has appeared in Glamour and New York Magazine, as well as international editions of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, and Elle.]

Copyright © 2012 The Smithsonian Institution

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Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Roll Over, Cotton Mather! Make Way For Jenny McCarthy, Bill Maher, & Oprah!

Full Disclosure: This blogger has two grandchildren living in a suburb of Indianapolis — a potential ground zero of a measles pandemic. Charles P. Pierce ain't funny today. He writes about the mania that would confound Cotton Mather (promoter of smallpox innoculation in 1721). Not quite three centuries later, the fools and loons on both sides of the aisle (Right & Left) have joined the Anti-Vax movement. Foolishness and cant abound in our times. If this is (fair & balanced) dumbfoundedness, so be it.

[x Esquire]
The Politics Blog: The Intended Consequences Of Fake Science
By Charles P. Pierce

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The blog is fond of quoting the bard, Guy Clark, who once wrote, "Lord, you'd think there's less fools in this world."

Comes now this report that we nearly had a measles pandemic in Indiana, with the Super Bowl as Ground Zero, because of the traction that the anti-vaccination crowd has gained in the public at large. (The reason we didn't have a pandemic was that so many of the people at the Super Bowl had been vaccinated.) Old childhood plagues are making a comeback. It's also not promising, as the WaPo report points out, that pediatricians have started telling their anti-vaccination patients to go climb a tree.

This is a real-world consequence of our tendency to enable nonsense to the point that it actually has an effect on public policy. This is a real-world consequence of our current taste for non-science, or anti-science, to borrow a useful term from the history of Mother Church. This is the public-health face of climate-change denial, to name only the most obvious parallel. Create your own "science," sell it enthusiastically, get enough people to believe it so that the teenage bookers at cable news notice the dust you've kicked up, and you've got yourself a movement, regardless of what the people who actually know what they're talking about think.

The state health authorities in Indiana have released a list of possible places where the victims of the outbreak may have contracted the disease. Several of them, including the College Park Church in Indianapolis and a basketball tournament for homeschooled children, are intriguing because of the cross-pollination between fundamentalist Christianity and the anti-vaccination movement. In 2005, a young Indiana woman came home from a mission trip to Romania and kicked off another measles outbreak within the congregation of her church. According to the CDC report on that outbreak:

However, there was less agreement that children should receive all recommended vaccines and that childhood vaccines in general and the measles vaccine in particular are safe. Most believed that childhood vaccinations may cause serious side effects or learning disabilities. All believed in the right to refuse vaccines, but were open to alternatives such as quarantine or staying out of school or work during an outbreak. All reported that they had access to enough information on vaccination.

The reasons cited most often for not receiving measles-containing vaccine included: a preference for naturally acquired infection, advice from an alternative health-care provider, media, personal religious objections to vaccination, the belief that vaccines are unsafe or unnecessary, and a fear of getting the disease from the vaccine. The same reasons were cited most often when respondents were asked about vaccines in general.

Which brings us to the question of "religious exemptions," which seem to be all the rage today.

In 1985, across the border in Illinois, there was a measles outbreak at Principia College, a Christian Science institution. There were 112 confirmed cases and three deaths associated with that outbreak. Between that episode and 1994, there were four large-scale measles outbreaks at Christian Science institutions around St. Louis. By the way, Principia College still maintains a religious exemption from the requirements of Illinois law mandating proof of vaccination.Instead, Principia students can present an "accommodation form" stating their religious objections to vaccination.

A number of states are drafting bills that would allow parents to opt out of mandatory vaccination programs for "philosophical reasons," up to and including, one suspects, "Something I heard from Jenny McCarthy/Bill Maher/Oprah Winfrey/some radio paranoid." Or, "I read about it on the Intertoobz." This is extremely not promising. Ω

[Charles P. Pierce is a 1975 graduate of Marquette University, where he majored in journalism and brewery tours. He was delighted to combine his vocation and his avocation once again when he returned to Milwaukee to cover the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer.

He attended graduate school at Boston College for two days. He is a former forest ranger for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and still ponders the question of what possesses people to go into the woods and throw disposable diapers up into trees.

He began his journalism career writing bowling agate for the Milwaukee papers, and remains justly proud of his ability to spell multi-syllabic, vowel-free Eastern European names. He has written for the alternative press, including Worcester Magazine and the Boston Phoenix, and was a sports columnist for The Boston Herald. He was a feature writer and columnist for the late, lamented sports daily, The National. He has been a writer-at-large for a men's fashion magazine, and his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the LA Times Magazine, the Nation, the Atlantic, and The Chicago Tribune, among others. Although he is no longer a contributor to Eric Alterman's Altercation, he remains a devoted reader. He is a frequent contributor to the American Prospect and Slate. Charlie appears weekly on National Public Radio's sports program "Only A Game" and is a regular panelist on NPR's game show, "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me." Since July 1997 he has been a writer at large at Esquire, covering everything from John McCain to the Hubble telescope, with more than a few shooting stars thrown in between. In April 2002, he joined the staff of the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.]

Copyright © 2012 Hearst Communications, Inc.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

The Stooges Redux

The Three Stooges were a vaudeville and comedy act of the early to mid–20th century best known for their numerous short subject films. In their slapstick films, the Stooges were commonly known by their first names: "Moe, Larry, and Curly" and "Moe, Larry, and Shemp," among other lineups. Moe was Moe Howard, Larry was Larry Fine, and Curly was Jerome Howard; Shemp Howard replaced his brother, Curly, after Curly suffered a debilitating stroke. In all, there were 220 3 Stooges short films released between 1934 and 1967. While considering the Dumbo version of The Stooges, listen to the song that should precede any appearances by these clowns:

[x YouTube/CountMall]
Three Stooges Theme Song
By Columbia Pictures

If this is (fair & balanced) snark, so be it.

[x RS]
Arizona Debate: Conservative Chickens Come Home To Roost
By Matt Taibbi

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How about that race for the Republican nomination? Was last night's debate crazy, or what?

Throughout this entire process, the spectacle of these clowns thrashing each other and continually seizing and then fumbling frontrunner status has left me with an oddly reassuring feeling, one that I haven't quite been able to put my finger on. In my younger days I would have just assumed it was regular old Schadenfreude at the sight of people like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich suffering, but this isn’t like that — it's something different than the pleasure of watching A-Rod strike out in the playoffs.

No, it was while watching the debates last night that it finally hit me: This is justice. What we have here are chickens coming home to roost. It's as if all of the American public's bad habits and perverse obsessions are all coming back to haunt Republican voters in this race: The lack of attention span, the constant demand for instant gratification, the abject hunger for negativity, the utter lack of backbone or constancy (we change our loyalties at the drop of a hat, all it takes is a clever TV ad): these things are all major factors in the spiraling Republican disaster.

Most importantly, though, the conservative passion for divisive, partisan, bomb-tossing politics is threatening to permanently cripple the Republican party. They long ago became more about pointing fingers than about ideology, and it's finally ruining them.

Oh, sure, your average conservative will insist his belief system is based upon a passion for the free market and limited government, but that's mostly a cover story. Instead, the vast team-building exercise that has driven the broadcasts of people like Rush and Hannity and the talking heads on Fox for decades now has really been a kind of ongoing Quest for Orthodoxy, in which the team members congregate in front of the TV and the radio and share in the warm feeling of pointing the finger at people who aren't as American as they are, who lack their family values, who don’t share their All-American work ethic.

The finger-pointing game is a fun one to play, but it’s a little like drugs — you have to keep taking bigger and bigger doses in order to get the same high.

So it starts with a bunch of these people huddling together and saying to themselves, "We’re the real good Americans; our problems are caused by all those other people out there who don’t share our values." At that stage the real turn-on for the followers is the recognition that there are other like-minded people out there, and they don’t need blood orgies and war cries to keep the faith strong — bake sales and church retreats will do.

So they form their local Moral Majority outfits, and they put Ronald Reagan in office, and they sit and wait for the world to revert to a world where there was one breadwinner in the family, and no teen pregnancy or crime or poor people, and immigrants worked hard and didn't ask for welfare and had the decency to speak English – a world that never existed in reality, of course, but they're waiting for a return to it nonetheless.

Think Ron Paul in the South Carolina debate, when he said that in the '60s, "there was nobody out in the street suffering with no medical care." Paul also recalled that after World War II, 10 million soldiers came home and prospered without any kind of government aid at all — all they needed was a massive cut to the federal budget, and those soldiers just surfed on the resultant wave of economic progress.

"You know what the government did? They cut the budget by 60 percent," he said. "And everybody went back to work again, you didn't need any special programs."

Right — it wasn’t like they needed a G.I. Bill or anything. After all, people were different back then: They didn’t want or need welfare, or a health care program, or any of those things. At least, that’s not the way Paul remembered it.

That's all the early conservative movement was. It was just a heartfelt request that we go back to the good old days of America as these people remembered or imagined it. Of course, the problem was, we couldn't go back, not just because more than half the population (particularly the nonwhite, non-straight, non-male segment of the population) desperately didn't want to go back, but also because that America never existed and was therefore impossible to recreate.

And when we didn’t go back to the good old days, this crowd got frustrated, and suddenly the message stopped being heartfelt and it got an edge to it.

The message went from, "We’re the real Americans; the others are the problem," to, "We’re the last line of defense; we hate those other people and they’re our enemies." Now it wasn’t just that the rest of us weren't getting with the program: Now we were also saboteurs, secretly or perhaps even openly conspiring with America’s enemies to prevent her return to the long-desired Days of Glory.

Now, why would us saboteurs do that? Out of jealousy (we resented their faith and their family closeness), out of spite, and because we have gonads instead of morals. In the Clinton years and the early Bush years we started to hear a lot of this stuff, that the people conservatives described as "liberals" were not, as we are in fact, normal people who believe in marriage and family and love their children just as much as conservatives do, but perverts who subscribe to a sort of religion of hedonism.

"Liberals' only remaining big issue is abortion because of their beloved sexual revolution," was the way Ann Coulter put it. "That's their cause — spreading anarchy and polymorphous perversity. Abortion permits that."

So they fought back, and a whole generation of more strident conservative politicians rose to fight the enemy at home, who conveniently during the '90s lived in the White House and occasionally practiced polymorphous perversity there.

Then conservatives managed to elect to the White House a man who was not only a fundamentalist Christian, but a confirmed anti-intellectual who never even thought about visiting Europe until, as president, he was forced to — the perfect champion of all Real Americans!

Surely, things would change now. But they didn’t. Life continued to move drearily into a new and scary future, Spanish-speaking people continued to roll over the border in droves, queers paraded around in public and even demanded the right to be married, and America not only didn't go back to the good old days of the single-breadwinner family, but jobs in general dried up and you were lucky if Mom and Dad weren’t both working two jobs.

During this time we went to war against the Islamic terrorists responsible for 9/11 by invading an unrelated secular Middle Eastern dictatorship. When people on the other side protested, the rhetoric became even more hysterical. Now those of us outside the circle of Real Americans were not just enemies, but in league with mass-murdering terrorists. In fact, that slowly became the definition of a "liberal" on a lot of these programs – a terrorist.

Sean Hannity’s bestseller during this time, for Christ’s sake, was subtitled, Defeating terrorism, despotism, and liberalism. "He is doing the work of what all people who want big government always do, and that is commit terrorist acts," said Glenn Beck years ago, comparing liberals to Norweigan mass murderer Anders Breivik.

And when the unthinkable happened, and a black American with a Muslim-sounding name assumed the throne in the White House, now, suddenly, we started to hear that liberals were not only in league with terrorists, but somehow worse than terrorists.

"Terrorism? Yes. That’s not the big battle," said Minnesota Republican congressional candidate Allan Quist a few years ago. "The big battle is in D.C. with the radicals. They aren’t liberals. They are radicals. Obama, Pelosi, Walz: They’re not liberals, they’re radicals. They are destroying our country."

In "Spinal Tap" terms, the rhetoric by the time Obama got elected already had gone well past eleven. It was at thirteen, fifteen, twenty…. Our tight little core of Real Americans by then had, over a series of decades, decided pretty much the entire rest of the world was shit. Europe we know about. The Middle East? Let’s "carpet bomb it until they can’t build a transitor radio," as Ann Coulter put it. Africa was full of black terrorists with AIDS, and Asia, too, was a good place to point a finger or two ("I want to go to war with China," is how Rick Santorum put it).

Here at home, all liberals, gays, Hispanic immigrants, atheists, Hollywood actors and/or musicians with political opinions, members of the media, members of congress, TSA officials, animal-lovers, union workers, state employees with pensions, Occupiers and other assorted unorthodox types had already long ago been rolled into the enemies list.

Given the continued troubles and the continued failure to return to good old American values, who else could possibly be to blame? Where else could they possibly point the finger?

There was only one possible answer, and we're seeing it playing out in this race: At themselves! And I don’t mean they pointed the finger "at themselves" in the psychologically healthy, self-examining, self-doubting sort of way. Instead, I mean they pointed "at themselves" in the sense of, "There are traitors in our ranks. They must be ferreted out and destroyed!"

This is the last stage in any paranoid illness. You start by suspecting that somebody out there is out to get you; in the end, you’re sure that even the people who love you the most under your own roof, your own doctors, your parents, your wife and your children, they’re in on the plot. To quote Matt Damon in the almost-underrated spy film "The Good Shepherd," they became convinced that there’s "a stranger in the house."

This is where the Republican Party is now. They’ve run out of foreign enemies to point fingers at. They’ve already maxed out the rhetoric against us orgiastic, anarchy-loving pansexual liberal terrorists. The only possible remaining explanation for their troubles is that their own leaders have failed them. There is a stranger in the house!

This current race for the presidential nomination has therefore devolved into a kind of Freudian Agatha Christie story, in which the disturbed and highly paranoid voter base by turns tests the orthodoxy of each candidate, trying to figure out which one is the spy, which one is really Barack Obama bin Laden-Marx under the candidate mask!

We expected this when Mitt Romney, a man who foolishly once created a functioning health care program in Massachusetts, was the front-runner. We knew he was going to have to defend his bona fides against the priesthood ("I’m not convinced," sneered the sideline-sitting conservative Mme. Defarge, Sarah Palin), that he would have a rough go of it at the CPAC conference, and so on.

But it’s gotten so ridiculous that even Santorum, as paranoid and hysterical a finger-pointing politician as this country has ever seen, a man who once insisted with a straight face that there is no such thing as a liberal Christian — he’s now being put through the Electric Conservative Paranoia Acid Test, and failing!

"He is a fake," Ron Paul said at the Michigan debate last night, to assorted hoots and cheers. And Santorum, instead of turning around and laying into Paul, immediately panicked and rubbed his arm as if to say, "See? I’m made of the right stuff," and said, "I’m real, Ron, I’m real." These candidates are behaving like Stalinist officials in the late thirties, each one afraid to be the first to stop applauding.

These people have run out of others to blame, run out of bystanders to suspect, run out of decent family people to dismiss as Godless, sex-crazed perverts. They’re turning the gun on themselves now. It might be justice, or it might just be sad. Whatever it is, it’s remarkable to watch. Ω

[As Rolling Stone’s chief political reporter, Matt Taibbi's predecessors include the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke. Taibbi has written Spanking the Donkey: On the Campaign Trail with the Democrats (2005); Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire (2007); The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics & Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire (2008); and Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History (2010). Taibbi graduated from Bard College in 1991.]

Copyright © 2012 Rolling Stone

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