Monday, January 31, 2011

Red Auerbach: Basketball’s Game Changer


The only correct actions are those that demand no explanation and no apology.
Red Auerbach

Basketball is like war in that offensive weapons are developed first, and it always takes a while for the defense to catch up.
Red Auerbach

Natural abilities are like natural plants; they need pruning by study.
Red Auerbach

Red Auerbach [1917-2006]: “He who believes in nobody knows that he himself is not to be trusted.”
Photo Credit: Steve Lipofsky
Source: Basketballphoto

We need more people like Red Auerbach, who placed  ability above politics, and in doing so made sure equality was a word  that meant something. In 1950, as  rookie coach with the Boston Celtics, Auerbach made American professional basketball history by drafting the league’s first African-American player, Chuck Cooper.

He didn't stop there, finding talent where it existed, and added new African-American players to his squad, including Bill Russell, Tom Sanders, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, and Willie Naulls. In 1964, these five players became the first African-American starting five in the National Basketball Association.

Auerbach spent 60 years in basketball, truly one of its pioneers, the majority, 57 years, with the Boston Celtics. One of his most astute moves as a coach was bringing Bill Russell to the Celtics
Auerbach carefully crafted a competitive team, and his moves culminated with an April 29, 1956 transaction that sent Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan to St. Louis for the Hawks’ first-round pick; with that selection, the Celtics chose Bill Russell. This blockbuster trade would spur the Celtics into the most dominant franchise in pro basketball history and helped spawn the legend that is Auerbach and the Celtics.
There’s more. When Auerbach gave up coaching to become the Celtics general manager in 1966, he appointed Bill Russell as his successor. Russell became not only the first African-American NBA coach, but the first African-American coach of any professional sports team.

To put things in perspective, Auerbach’s coaching decisions were all taking place against the the fight for civil and equality rights in the U.S.,  led by Martin Luther. King. Jr., the noted civil rights leader. But Auerbach was oblivious to what was taking place politically.

His interests were primarily basketball. “First of all, I had no idea that I started five black players until a writer pointed it out to me a few weeks later,” Auerbach said. “It didn't make a difference to me what color any of my players were. I was putting the five best players out on the court so that we could win.”

And win he did. He ran a simple offense of seven set plays, and never had a league-leading scorer. Even so, under his guidance he compiled an  incredible record of 938-479 (.662) in the regular-season and an equally impressive 99–69 (.589) in post-season  play, the former ranking fifth in NBA history.

In various capacities, as a coach, and front-office man, Auerbach enjoyed 16 NBA championships, says the Boston Globe:
Auerbach coached the Celtics to nine NBA titles in the 1950s and ’60s, including a record eight in succession from 1959-66. He then moved to the front office, where he was the general manager, president, vice chairman of the board, and franchise guru, helping the team to seven more championships, the last in 1986. Auerbach was, truly, an NBA original, starting in the league when it opened for business in 1946, as coach of the Washington Capitols.
 Growing Up in Brooklyn, NY

Arnold Jacob Auerbach was born to Marie Thompson and Hyman Auerbach  in Brooklyn, New York, on September 20, 1917. He was one of four children the couple raised. Hyman was a Russian-Jewish immigrant from Minsk (now Belarus), and Marie was American-born. The father had left Russia when he was 13.

The couple owned a dry-cleaning business in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, which is where Arnold spent his whole childhood, a walk across the bridge from the gyms and playgrounds of the Lower East Side. He was called Red since his early years, for his flaming red hair. Auerbach first attended PS 122 (primary school), and then played basketball as a 5-foot-10 guard at Eastern District High School, where he was named on the all-scholastic second team in his senior year.

In 1937, Auerbach left New York for good, attending George Washington University in Washington, D.C, on a basketball scholarship, where he was not only excelled on the court, but in the classroom. (Apart from a stint in the navy, Auerbach has lived in Washington since then, only maintaining an apartment in Boston) He graduated with a M.A. in 1941. It was then, under coach Bill Reinhart, that he started to understand the importance of the fast break in basketball, in which three forwards quickly go down the court against two defenders.

He married Dorothy Lewis in the spring of 1941 and they had two daughters, Nancy and Randy. He began coaching St Albans Prep School and Roosevelt High School in Washington, DC, and then, in 1943, he joined the US Navy for a three-year hitch, where he coached its basketball team in Norfolk, Virginia. 

Auerbach spent the first three seasons of his pro career with the Washington Capitols (1946–49) before moving on to the Tri-Cities Hawks for one campaign (1949–50). Walter Brown, who owned the struggling Boston Celtics, appointed Auerbach to lead the squad into what would ultimately become the greatest franchise in pro basketball annals. Auerbach became coach of the Celtics in 1950.

He would remain with the Celtics for the next 57 years, until his death in 2006.

Auerbach with his trademark cigar
Source: AP File photo, 1966
Cigars & Chinese Food

Auerbach is known for a couple of things besides basketball and coaching the Celtics to victories: cigars and Chinese food. In a story, Red Auerbach: True Stories and NBA Legends, which NPR reported in November 2004, we get a glimpse on why Chinese cuisine became paramount in Auerbach's travels:
Throughout his nomadic life as a basketball coach, Red Auerbach had always eaten Chinese food after games. His reasoning was simple: in almost any NBA city, there was always a Chinese restaurant that had late-night carryout. He would call ahead, pick the food up on his way back from the arena, and eat it in his room. What's more, because he always asked for the food steamed, it didn't sit heavily in his stomach the way some other food might. He slept easily and woke up feeling fresh and ready to make the trip to the airport and on to the next city. 
Auerbach loved Chinese food so much that at one time he was part-owner of a Chinese restaurant in Boston. Then there's the cigars. He became known for smiling and lighting his cigar, a Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur, at court-side when his beloved Boston Celtics were assured a victory. That gesture undoubtedly infuriated many people, notably opposing players, but Auerbach was his own man.

He was known to be abrasive and opinionated, but many successful people share such traits. He was also loyal to his players. Auerbach was cut from a different cloth, from a generation of hard-nosed, big-hearted men. All those traits defined him. And he was successful in what he did, including grooming talent. Fourteen of his players are in the Hall of Fame, and thirty became coaches. That's no small achievement.

And for the little boy who grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, winning was everything. As Hall of Famer K.C. Jones, who played and coached for the Celtics, once said: "He had such a high degree of intelligence. But at the same time, he just wanted to win. It didn’t matter if it was at basketball or anything else. We used to play racquetball and he would cheat and be foaming at the mouth. He did whatever it took to win."

Among his many honours was the following: inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969; named by Professional Basketball Writers Association of America as the greatest coach in the history of the NBA in 1980; voted one of the NBA’s 10 Greatest Coaches in history in 1996, inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame; and the symbolic retirement of his number 2 jersey in January 1985 at the TD Garden, the home of the Boston Celtics.

Arnold ‘Red’ Auerbach died of a heart attack in Washington, DC, on October 28, 2006. He was 89 years old. He had a traditional Jewish funeral, except one small touch:  Auerbach's casket was draped in Boston Celtics green, in keeping with his quip that the "Boston Celtics are a way of life."

Auerbach was buried at the King David Memorial Gardens in Falls Church, Virginia, a Washington suburb, on October 31, 2006.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dateline 2032: The Life of JAC03225: Part 5


In Part 4, JAC03225 is at the library doing research to complete his doctoral dissertation in ancient history. He's distracted by his imminent visit to his father at Evergreen Residence. Some repressed memories emerge to the surface of his being.


For now, at least, that meant focusing on what was most important and essential at the moment—completing his dissertation. It was the next step in his planned journey, one that he meticulously planned and had planned for him. And it was a fine plan, not to be easily dismissed or disputed. He continued to scroll through the Index of Books in the archives, and noticed a section that received very little hits, analogous to a book sitting in the dusty archives of an ancient library.

“Well, well, look at what we have got here,” he muttered to himself. I can’t believe it. I have not seen this in at least seven, eight years, ever since my first introductory survey course as an undergrad”:
This great nation will never be intimidated. People will continue to live as they have always lived, working hard, playing hard, going to worship services and, most important, for prosperity and economic stability, to go shopping. Good People everywhere will continue to show their patriotism and their allegiance to the Dream, by shopping, now more than ever.

President Jackson A. Marshall,
December 15, 2018: In Collected Sayings: Vol 1:23
That’s not unusual. Shopping is written in the Constitution under Article 4. Do No Harm. JAC03225 wondered why President Marshall would have to mention shopping. After all, that’s what most people did after work. Go shopping. They didn’t have to be reminded. They loved to shop, and they shopped hard, like they worked and played. It was odd that the President had to tell people they had to shop. After all, wasn’t shopping not only written into the DNA of each citizen, but a patriotic duty?

He remembered, rather dimly however, that in one of his graduate level classes, sparsely attended in the online universe, that a number of erudite specialists speculated on the issue. Many different reasons were raised and discussed at conferences and in esteemed journal proceedings.

One popular theory held that it might have been the shock of the attacks. Ancient peoples obviously thought differently than the enlightened times of today, thanks to the advances in science and in particular the progress brought about the leading evolutionists. Now, good peoples everywhere do their patriotic duty without question.
Pledge of Allegiance

I give my allegiance to the State and to its Great Leader, may he have good health and good fortune. We will serve him and the State with faithful, willing and cheerful hearts. We praise the State and The Great Leader for faithfully and a willingly giving himself to making our society true, good and free from the ills of hate and intolerance.

We thank with grateful hearts the scientific intellect shown by the Great Ancients of Aristotle, Bacon, Darwin, Jesus, Moses, Newton, and Paul; the patriotic heroism displayed by the Founding Parents of Presidents Jackson A. Marshall, Sarah L. Pears, and Paul S. Macintosh; and the wisdom and humility of the Great Leader, without whom we would not have the peace, freedoms and good fortunes that we all now cherish and enjoy.

We give thanks, as well, to the gods of Scientific Spiritualism with which we place our faith. Long Live the State. Long Live Freedom. Long Live the Great Leader.
The pledge of allegiance is said by every schoolboy and schoolgirl from kindergarten onward. It is said daily, first thing in the morning, saluting the flag of the State, while facing northward. JAC03225 couldn’t really argue about the benefits of Scientific Spiritualism, or SS. It was a marriage of Science and Religion, offering the best of both thought-views

In his research, he had read about the old religious wars between science and religion, how religion had staunchly resisted the theories of evolution and other advances in thinking.
Love seeketh not itself to please
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its case
And builds a Heaven in Hell despair
The marriage was a good one, and although not perfect, it was a reasonable accommodation given the alternatives that history proved so destructive to humanity, and the preservation of the natural order of things. It brought peace, stability and good fortune. Could things be better?  

No one of sane mind would even consider thinking otherwise. It would be as foolish as thinking that the earth is flat, or that the sun spun around the earth, or that the Great Leader was fallible. All were equally ridiculous and dangerous ideas to consider, let alone voice publicly.

JAC03225 was in no position to argue against such thinking. He didn’t have the inclination nor the luxury. And what sense or purpose would it afford him, anyway? Nothing really, other than a foolish intellectual exercise that dilettantes and indigent classless people engaged in as a test of the State’s patience and tolerance. And it was a foolish symbolic gesture that led to civil unrest and mass round-ups anyway. And the outcome is as predictable as it is futile.

Bitter experience is often a great teacher. It did his father no good, a prominent academic, a tenured full professor and dean of the department of ancient history at AIM U. He was both esteemed and loved. Holder of a prestigious academic chair, winner of a number of international honours, including the Winston Churchill Prize in History, the world’s top honour for a historian, his father was well-placed for even greater honours.

Many pundits thought that he was positioned to become the University President in 2020, when the serving president would step down at the mandatory retirement age of seventy-five. He was the right age, over sixty, but less than seventy, a good fit in order to serve the five-year term, renewable of course. He held all the right qualifications and knew all the right people, having spent the last thirty-five years building contacts and relationships with the right people.

And then his fateful irrational decision to lead a dissident group. He never explained the full reasons to JAC03225 or his mother, who died a few years ago. He said it was best they did not know of the plans, and it was for their own protection. His father was caught, tried, stripped of all his honours, titles and degrees, classified as a traitor, and as such sentenced to death.

So were the many other collaborators, distinguished professors and intellectuals, who all underwent speedy trials held in secret, the state citing reasons of national security. The outrage was palpable. “TRAITOR" was the headline in large boldface type above a photo of his father, and the judgment was just as swift in all the media editorials: "The nation is shocked by these acts of treason from the highest places,” all the leading media voices said with indignation and certainty on the day the arrest was announced. 

Retribution was quick and decisive, in keeping with the tenor of the times. All were quickly and disgracefully executed by the state, including both MEL03226’s father and favourite uncle.

But JAC03225’s father survived that fate. The memories of who he once was had some effect. It was only his once sterling reputation and the petitions from the international community of academics and political leaders, including the then-leader’s brother, that caught the ear of the President. Out of pity, perhaps, his sentence was commuted to twenty-five years at a re-education camp far from the capital.

The authorities allowed JAC03225 a few moments with his father. Before he left for the Burlington Mall Camp, his father said:
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow human. You were born to live free and with individual dignity. And to always do the right thing whenever it is in your power to do so, even if it costs.  Democracy is too important an institution to allow personal gain to overshadow it. I leave you with a clear conscience.” With that, he put his hand on his shoulder, and then lightly caressed his cheek. “Always remember this, my son, I love you.

That was the last real conversation, the twenty-year-old JAC03225 had with his father, who was then led by two guards, bound in chains and handcuffs and wearing an orange jumpsuit, down the long corridor to the waiting white unmarked prison van. If he allowed himself, he could recall that last visit. But he rarely gave himself that luxury. He couldn’t. There was too much at stake. He allowed the memories to fade and dim to that one last meeting. That was all that was left, it defining his father.
L'homme est libre, et partout il est dans les fers / Man is born free, and yet everywhere he is in chains.
Time passed, and JAC03225 and his mother agreed to not talk about his father, the shame and humiliation too great to bear. They lost everything, notably their social position, their home, their money and their way of life. Friends shunned them. His mother had to take a menial job for the first time in her life. JAC03225 had to work for a couple of years to raise the money to attend university, no longer having the privilege of a free education. 

Mother and son slowly built and reclaimed their lives, a task made more difficult by having lost their network of people they had once considered friends. But these were dangerous times, and few wanted to associate with the family of a traitor. Except for other families of traitors. MEL03326’s mother and JAC03225’s mother became good friends, sustaining and encouraging each other during the difficult times. As did their two sons, who had even more in common and developed a bond, a mutual trust and an affection for each other.

That helped ease the stigma.  As did, in a strange way, the legal and social restrictions placed on the family. Since his father was classified as a traitor, he was allowed no visits and no communication whatsoever. JAC03325 easily adapted to the new reality before him. He learned not to enter into any political discussions and not to speak too freely, except with his good friend. So, JAC03225 had to rely mostly on himself, relishing hard work and the need to focus on his goals and objectives. And that he did with a type of joy and abandon.

JAC03225 worked hard, very hard, fifty to sixty hours a week, every week for years. He never let up. He lived and survived by work. He achieved many honours in university, including many scholarship and academic awards. And now he was positioned to follow in his father’s academic footsteps, teaching in the same department his father once had done with excellence, that is, all before his fall from grace.

When he was released early under the general amnesty of the Great Leader in 2030, two years ago, his father was old and frail, not half the man he used to be. It was the first time JAC03225 had seen his father in more than ten years. No doubt, his appearance shocked him: a shrunken frame of a man with glazed over far-away stare.

His father, given his failing health and condition, was immediately transferred to Evergreen Residence, an assisted-living facility nearby. It held only old political prisoners, and his father neatly fit the bill. He was all but forgotten by everyone, except his son, his only son.

MEL03226 had told him about it in confidence, that when he had to arrest and do the round-ups of the malcontents, the unhappies the street class, the underclass, the crazies, the unbalanced, and the general trouble-makers who not only misunderstood what a good citizen was but incited others to break the law, he felt good about his job. “It makes me damn proud to wear the badge of a state security officer,” he would say, while caressing his state-issued weapon, a high-powered laser gun.

“After all, our job is to serve and protect,” which was not only his motto, but that of the State Security Services. On his uniform, it was inscribed in bright blue letters, on a patch over his heart.

When MEL03226 became the captain of Perimeter Security, an elite unit of State Security Services, for the capital of Elysium a few years ago, he confided to JAC03225 that his duty was chiefly to serve and protect the elites, which was an open secret. "It comes down to this. If we get two calls, one from an elite and another from an ordinary citizen, we respond to the elite first... always. Why would it be any other way?"

Indeed, why?

To be continued next week (Part 6):

Copyright (c) Perry J. Greenbaum, 2010. All rights reserved.

Author's Note: This is a work of fiction. While the author might have been inspired by some true-life events, names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee: Why Don't You Do Right?

Lyrics: Kansas Joe McCoy (1936)
Artist: Peggy Lee
Song: Why Don't You Do Right?
Recorded: July 27, 1942

This version of the song made Peggy Lee famous, and launched her singing career. It sold over 1 million copies and brought her to nationwide attention.  Here are some musical notes from Wikipedia:
Peggy Lee often stated that Green's recording was extremely influential to her music. In a 1984 interview she said:
"I was and am a fan of Lil Green, a great old blues singer, and Lil recorded it. I used to play that record over and over in my dressing room, which was next door to Benny's (Goodman). Finally he said, 'You obviously like that song.' I said 'Oh, I love it.' He said 'Would you like me to have an arrangement made of it?' I said, 'I'd love that,' and he did."
Why Don't You Do Right, which was not the biggest hit Goodman and Lee put out (it only reached  no. 4 on the Billboards), defined Lee's sultry and rich vocal style early on in her career. Lee left Goodman in 1943, having married guitarist Dave Barbour.

Her intention was to retire from the music industry and focus on homemaking, but she continued receiving offers to return to the music world, largely due in part to the success of "Why Don't You Do Right?"

Ultimately she returned to singing, and collaborated off and on with Goodman throughout her career. They recorded an alternate version of "Why Don't You Do Right?" in 1947.

Why Don't You Do Right?
By Kansas Joe McCoy

You had plenty money, 1922
You let other women make a fool of you
Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too

You're sittin' there and wonderin' what it's all about
You ain't got no money, they will put you out
Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too

If you had prepared twenty years ago
You wouldn't be a-wanderin' from door to door
Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money too

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Big Bad Wolf

"Oh, grandmother, what big ears you have!"
"The better to hear you with"
"Oh, grandmother, what big eyes you have!"
"The better to see you with"
"Oh, grandmother, what big hands you have!"
"The better to grab you with"
"But, grandmother, what a dreadful big mouth you have!"
"The better to eat you with"

Conversation between the little girl and the wolf
in "Little Red Riding Hood," The Brothers Grimm, 1812

We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be —the mythologized epitome of a savage ruthless killer – which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.

Farley Mowat, Canadian conservationist and author,
Never Cry Wolf : Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves (1963)

Throughout the centuries we have projected on to the wolf the qualities we most despise and fear in ourselves. 
Barry Lopez, well-known U.S. nature writer

Little Red Riding Hood: The Big Bad Wolf is about the deceive the innocent girl.
Illustration by Carl Offterdinger, end of the 19th century.
Source: Published by Wilhelm Effenberger (F. Loewes Verlag), Stuttgart, end of the 19th century.

I was reading Little Red Riding Hood to my two-and-one-half-year-old  son yesterday. And it got me thinking about the narrative and what it says. Now, I do not want to overly deconstruct a fairy tale, nor am I saying that this fairy tale is bad for kids. I am not suggesting that at all. What I am saying, however, is that I noticed how the fairy tale is a simple children's morality story of good and evil.

The well-known fairy tale positions the wolf in the narrative as bad, or as some some would say, evil. Although there are various versions, the plot has the wolf eat the grandmother, disguise itself in the grandmother's clothing, with the aim to deceive Little Red Riding Hood long enough to gain her trust, and then eat the little girl.

It is only her cries or screams that are fortunately heard by a hunter, who saves the girl by slaying the Big Bad Wolf. The grandmother escapes unharmed from the wolf's belly and, in some versions, the girl, too.

In this simple morality tale, the wolf is bad; the girl is pure innocence and the hunter good. Now, I am not trying to quibble here, but I happen to like wolves and think they are beautiful and noble animals who are only acting according to their instincts and design.

So, this begs the question on where wolves gained such a reputation as duplicitous conniving animals who ought to be slaughtered. For one, we need look no further than the perennial best seller, the Bible. Wolves are referenced thirteen times in the Bible as symbols of greed and destructiveness. And during medieval times in Europe, the belief in werewolves only added to the wolf's woes.

Wolves are predators and they have certainly been the bane of farmers and ranchers worried about protecting their sheep and chickens and other livestock. Even so, there are humane measures available besides the need to shoot wolves.

Even so, I suspect that wolves have gained a bad reputation far exceeding whatever damage and heartache they cause farmers. This is most evident in the United States southwest. For example, legislators in Montana and Idaho want the wolf removed from the federal Endangered Species Act. But I am now acting as the advocate of the wolf and I say this: Do they deserve the reputation as the worst of all animals? And, equally important, should we not let good science have precedence over local and regional politics?

Wolf As Endangered Species 

The Grey Wolf (Canis lupus) was added to the federal list of endangered species in the United States, in 1974, in accordance with the U.S. Endangered Species Act (1973), administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service., which reports:
Gray wolves once lived in much of the contiguous United States. They were only absent from a portion of California,the southwest corner of Arizona and from the red wolf range in the southeastern United States. By 1974, when gray wolves were listed as an endangered species, their breeding range had been reduced to a small corner of northeastern Minnesota and Isle Royale, Michigan.

Individual wolves were periodically observed in the West, but there were no breeding packs. Recovery efforts have since restored the wolf to many areas of its historic range, including portions of the Southwest, the Rocky Mountains, and the western Great Lakes Region.
According to a 2006 census, there are an estimated 11,000 grey wolves in the U.S., half residing in Alaska, which is not covered by the Endangered Species Act. Worldwide, there are an estimated 200,000 wolves in 57 countries, compared to approximately 2 million in earlier times.

Howling Wolf: Dakota, a grey wolf at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust, howling on top of a snowy hill: 6 April 2008. "We humans fear the beast within the wolf because we do not understand the beast within ourselves": Gerald Hausman, U.S. author.
Photo Credit: Retron
Yet, politics plague the wolf, and it matters little which political party is in power. For example, both the Bush administration (Republican) and the Obama administrations (Democrat) agreed that the grey wolf ought to be removed from the list of endangered species across the Northern Rockies while maintaining protections in Wyoming.

In August 2010, the U.S. District court overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) decision to remove grey wolves in the Northern Rockies from the endangered species list.  One of the principals of the lawsuit Defenders of Wildlife said: "The court’s ruling makes it clear that decisions under the Endangered Species Act should be based on science, not politics."
There are a number of other organizations fighting to ensure wolves remain on the list, including Endangered Wolf and Sierra Club,, to name a few.

Myths die hard. The myth of the Big Bad Wolf survives, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, and has done so for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It will take producing a different narrative, which writers like Farley Mowat, Barry Lopez and Gerald Hausman, among others have done.

It will also take a new series of books for children. So, I vote for a new series of books, something in the order of the Beautiful Noble Wolf. What do you think?

Note: I am still fine-tuning the schedule for this blog, and, accordingly, I am making some small changes. Great Scientific Advances will move to Thursday from Wednesday, and now be called Great Advances in Science. In addition, I also plan to have a Guest Blogger series beginning in February 2011.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Louis Pasteur: The Tenacious Scientist

Great Advances in Science

“There does not exist a category of science to which one can give the name applied science.
There are science and the applications of science, bound together as the fruit of the tree which bears it.”
Louis Pasteur
Correspondance de Pasteur 1840-1895
(1940), Vol. 1, 315

“Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Science is the highest personification of the nation because that nation will remain the first which carries the furthest the works of thought and intelligence.”
Louis Pasteur,
Toast at a Banquet of the International Congress
of Sericulture, Milan, 1876

“Where are the real sources of human dignity, freedom and modern democracy, if not in the concept of infinity to which all men are equal?”
Louis Pasteur,  
Discours de réception de Louis Pasteur (1882)

Portrait of Louis Pasteur: At his laboratory in 1885, around the time that he developed the vaccine against rabies.
CreditAlbert Gustaf Aristides Edelfelt (1854-1905); at the Symbolisme Hall at the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris. 
Source: Wikipedia

Louis Pasteur's contributions to bettering humankind are among the greatest and well-known in the modern era. A French chemist and bacteriologist of the 19th century, Pasteur is famous for deriving the germ theory of disease and developing the process of pasteurization, which bears his name. Personal tragedy, the death of three of his five children, contributed to his drive to understand the causes of diseases.

At that time, it was hard to convince people, including some scientists and many doctors, that germs existed. If anything, Pasteur was tenacious and persistent, particularly if he thought he was right. Which he proved to be.

Louis Pasteur was born in Dole, France, about 400 kilometers south-east of Paris, on December 27, 1822, to Jean-Joseph Pasteur and Jeanne Roqui. His father was a tanner. It is perhaps ironic or surreptitious that the tanning process requires microbes to prepare the leather for processing. At the time Louis Pasteur was a child, few people knew about the existence of microbes, or germs. Pasteur's work as a scientist a few decades later would change all that. (A time-line can be found here.)

A few years after his birth, the family moved to the nearby town of Arbois. Pasteur completed a Bachelor of Science degree at the Royal College in Besançon in 1842, after which he studied at the École Normale Supérieure, an elite college that trained teachers for colleges and universities. Pasteur obtained his master of science degree in 1845, and earned a doctorate in sciences in 1847. His doctoral thesis was on crystallography, the study of forms and structures of crystals.

After serving briefly as teacher of physics at Dijon Lycée (a secondary or high school) in 1848, he became professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg. There he met Marie Laurent, daughter of the university's rector. They subsequently married on May 29, 1849, and had five children, only two of whom survived to adulthood. The other three died of typhoid. Such provided him sufficient inspiration to find how diseases formed, and to find ways to make the world safer from diseases like typhoid, which killed many.

In 1854, at the age of thirty-one, Pasteur became professor of chemistry and dean of sciences at the new University of Lille. In 1856, Pasteur returned to Paris to became manager and director of scientific studies of the École Normale Supérieure, his alma mater.

Soon thereafter he began devoting his time to some of the problems that local industries were facing. For example, one producer of vinegar from beet juice wanted to find out why the vinegar sometimes spoiled. There were similar problems with both wine- and beer-making

Pasteur then meticulously collected samples of fermenting juices and examined them under a microscope. What he noticed would change not only the way we viewed the process of fermentation, but lead to safer ways of conducting surgery, says
He noticed that the juices contained yeast. He also noted that the contaminant, amyl alcohol, was an optically active compound, and hence to Pasteur evidence that it was produced by a living organism ("living contagion").
Pasteur was quick to generalize his findings and thus to advance a biological interpretation of the processes of fermentation. In a series of dramatic but exquisitely planned experiments, he demonstrated that physical screening or thermal methods destroyed all microorganisms and that when no contamination by living contagion took place, the processes of fermentation or putrefaction did not take place either.

"Pasteurization" was thus a technique which could not only preserve wine, beer, and milk but could also prevent or drastically reduce infection in the surgeon's operating room.
Or, simply put, certain micro-organisms causes each kind of fermentation, and that when other microorganisms get into the liquid, they can cause the souring or spoiling. Pasteur with his elegant experiment also showed that germs not only cause milk to sour, but also cause infectious diseases. Pasteur found that he could kill many micro-organisms in wine by heating and then rapidly cooling the wine—a process now called pasteurization. 

Pasteur encouraged doctors to sanitize their hands and equipment before surgery. Before his findings, few doctors or their assistants would wash their hands or consider sterilizing their equipment. Pasteur's findings, for example, caught the attention of Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, He then developed antiseptic methods for surgery in the 1860s, which included sterilizing surgical instruments and cleaning wounds, thus leading to reducing post-operative infections and making surgery safer for patients.

Pasteur also developed a vaccine against anthrax in 1877; and in 1885 he developed the first vaccination against rabies in humans. The vaccine was first tested on animals, and with success. But they required a human to test its efficacy. On July 6, 1885, a young boy, nine-year-old Joseph Meister, had been bitten by a rabid dog, and was brought to Pasteur. The boy almost certainly would have died an agonizing death if nothing was done, thus Pasteur took the risk on using his untested vaccine on the boy.

As Pasteur said:
The death of this child appearing to be inevitable, I decided, not without lively and sore anxiety, as may well be believed, to try upon Joseph Meister, the method which I had found constantly successful with dogs. Consequently, sixty hours after the bites, and in the presence of Drs Vulpian and Grancher, young Meister was inoculated under a fold of skin with half a syringeful of the spinal cord of a rabbit, which had died of rabies. It had been preserved (for) fifteen days in a flask of dry air. In the following days, fresh inoculations were made. I thus made thirteen inoculations. On the last days, I inoculated Joseph Meister with the most virulent virus of rabies.
Needless to say, the rabies vaccine was a huge success, and Pasteur became not only a national hero, but an international success His fame made it easier to open the Pasteur Institute, in 1887, for rabies research, prevention, and treatment. Donations came pouring in from all over the world. 

And so did the honors. "For his contributions to various medical fields, Pasteur was made a member of the French Academy of Medicine – one of the only men to do so who wasn’t actually a medical doctor," says

Pasteur had suffered a stroke in 1868, and complications from it contributed to his death decades later. Louis Pasteur died  in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, on September 28, 1895. He was 72.  He was initially buried in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, but his remains were re-interred in a Neo-Byzantine crypt at the Institut Pasteur in Paris in 1896.

Pasteur achieved much in his life. He once explained the secret to his success: "Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity."

Note: I am still fine-tuning the schedule for this blog, and, accordingly, I am making some small changes. Great Scientific Advances will move to Thursday from Wednesday, and now be called Great Advances in Science. In addition, I also plan to have a Guest Blogger series beginning in February 2011.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cat Stevens: Morning Has Broken (1972)

Cat Stevens sings “Morning Has Broken,” a traditional Christian hymn, with words by English author Eleanor Farjeon and set to a traditional Gaelic tune, “Bunessan,” with additional music by Rick Wakeman (who plays piano). It is found on the album, Teaser and the Firecat (1971).

Teaser and the Firecat (1971)
Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

Morning has Broken
Eleanor Farjeon & Rick Wakeman

Morning has broken,
like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken,
like the first bird
Praise for the singing,
praise for the morning
Praise for the springing
fresh from the word

Sweet the rain's new fall,
sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew-fall,
on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness
of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness
where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight,
mine is the morning
Born of the one light,
Eden saw play
Praise with elation,
praise every morning
God's recreation
of the new day

Morning has broken,
like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken,
like the first bird
Praise for the singing,
praise for the morning
Praise for the springing
fresh from the word

Roy Orbison: Oh, Pretty Woman

Black & White Night Concert (1987): Roy Orbison [1936–1988] is backed by Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Tom Waits, kd lang, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, JD Souther, T Bone Burnett, Steven Soles, and Jennifer Warnes in this concert finale. Recorded September 30, 1987 at the Ambassador Hotel's Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles, 
Via: Youtube

Written by: Roy Orbison & Bill Dees
Recorded: Nashville, Tenn
Released: August 1964
Album: 45 single; the B-side has "Yo Te Amo Maria"
Label: Monument 851

As for Oh, Pretty Woman, Wikipedia says,
[I]t rose to No. 1 in the fall of 1964 in the U.S. and stayed on the charts for 14 weeks; it hit No. 1 in the UK as well, spending 18 weeks total on the charts. The single sold over seven million copies.[6]

Orbison's success was greater in Britain; as Billboard magazine noted, "In a 68-week period that began on August 8, 1963, Roy Orbison was the only American artist to have a number-one single in Britain. He did it twice, with "It's Over" on June 25, 1964, and "Oh, Pretty Woman" on October 8, 1964.

The latter song also went to number one in America, making Orbison impervious to the current chart dominance of British artists on both sides of the Atlantic"[42] .
Roy Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas, on April 23, 1936. After he received a guitar from his father at age six, his career path was set: he would be a singer, and that he was. As for his trademark dark sunglasses and black clothes, there is an explanation:
Orbison was very shy and suffered from severe stage fright; wearing sunglasses helped him hide somewhat from the attention. The black clothes and desperation in his songs led to an aura of mystery and introversion.[6] [30][ 31].

Years later, Orbison said: "I wasn't trying to be weird, you know? I didn't have a manager who told me to dress or how to present myself or anything. But the image developed of a man of mystery and a quiet man in black somewhat of a recluse, although I never was, really."
Roy Orbison's life was marred by tragedy, including the death of his first wife and two of his children in separate accidents.The songs speak about loss, and also about love. They all speak of matters of the heart, particularly related to the courtship between man and woman. Love Sought. Love Lost. This is a recurring theme in both great literature and in popular culture. Love and Tragedy are great influences on music and popular culture.

Undoubtedly, Roy Orbison influenced many rock and pop singers, including Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Robin Gibbs of the Bee Gees. It thus comes at no surprise that Rolling Stone magazine placed Orbison at number 37 on its list of The Greatest Artists of All Time; and number 13 on its list of The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time in 2008. In 2002, Billboard magazine ranked Roy Orbison 74th in its list of the Top 600 recording artists of all time.

Oh, Pretty Woman
By Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

Pretty woman, walking down the street
Pretty woman, the kind I like to meet
Pretty woman
I don't believe you, you're not the truth
No one could look as good as you

Pretty woman, won't you pardon me
Pretty woman, I couldn't help see
Pretty woman
That you look lovely as can be
Are you lonely just like me

Pretty woman, stop a while
Pretty woman, talk a while
Pretty woman, give your smile to me
Pretty woman, yeah yeah yeah
Pretty woman, look my way
Pretty woman, say you'll stay with me
'Cause I need you, I'll treat you right
Come with me baby, be mine tonight

Pretty woman, don't walk on by
Pretty woman, don't make me cry
Pretty woman, don't walk away, hey...okay
If that's the way it must be, okay
I guess I'll go on home, it's late
There'll be tomorrow nigh, but wait
What do I see
Is she walking back to me
Yeah, she's walking back to me
Oh, oh, Pretty woman

Note: I am still fine-tuning the schedule for this blog, and accordingly, I am making some small changes. Great Scientific Advances will move to Thursday from Wednesday. In addition, I also plan to have a Guest Blogger series beginning in February 2011.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Marc Chagall: The Jewish Modernist

 Great Artists

Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love.
Marc Chagall 

The dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world. In this long vigil he often has to vary his methods of stimulation; but in this long vigil he is also himself striving against a continual tendency to sleep.
Marc Chagall
When I am finishing a picture, I hold some G-d-made object up to it — a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand — as a final test. If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there's a clash between the two, it's bad art.
Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall [1887-1985]: Chagall as a young artist in his early thirties. The photo taken in Paris, 1921.  Chagall was born Moshe Shagal in Liozna, Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire. It was near the city of Vitebsk, which had 66,000 inhabitants, half Jewish. Chagall once said:  "Work isn't to make money; you work to justify life."
Photo Credit: Photographer unknown.

Marc Chagall has been described two ways, as a major artist of the 20th century, the last of the modernists; and equally as a painter of Jewish themes that depict, in highly poetic and haunting, if not unreal images, life in the Russian city of Vitebsk at the turn of the twentieth century. Such images have been well-captured in such paintings as I and the Village (1911), The Fiddler (1913), The Praying Jew (1914) and Over Vitebsk (1920).

Chagall created original works in almost every artistic medium, including painting, stained glass, tapestries and fine art prints. Many had biblical themes and motifs, which was natural for a man who says that "ever since childhood, [he] has been captivated by the Bible."  His were paintings of the heart, as is clear in the quote above. Chagall's interest were in the human aspects of love, in all its innocent forms. His paintings, in vibrant colors also capture the child-like wonder around him.

His works, particularly his paintings and stain-glass pieces, have established Chagall, art critic Robert Hughes says, as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century." Chagall does that honor justice, but he was also an artist whose themes, although Jewish in particular, stretched far beyond the canvas to reveal universal themes of suffering, love and passion.

In his art, he has managed to use the particular to convey the universal, a creative approach that he has taken throughout his artistic life, a thought that Michael J. Lewis brings out in Commentary magazine in October 2008:
It has always been difficult to untangle Chagall's two interlocking reputations—as a pioneer of modernism and as a major Jewish artist. To be sure, he was both. He experienced modernism's golden age in Paris, where he forged a highly personal synthesis of Cubism, Symbolism, and Fauvism that was widely influential and that would, after a certain period of incubation, give rise to Surrealism. At the same time, he was most emphatically a Jewish artist, whose work was one long dreamy reverie of life in his native Vitebsk.
The Beginning

Marc Chagall was born Moishe Shagal in Liozno, a suburb of Vitebsk, Russia, on July 7, 1887, the eldest of nine children born to Khatskel Chagall and Feiga-Ita Chagall, a family of observant Jews. It was a close-knot community, and his father and mother were cousins. His father was a herring merchant, and his mother a housewife, running the house, a highly traditional family.  Like all traditional Jewish families, the young Chagall learned Torah and Talmud, the essentials of Judaism.

Vitebsk had a population of 66,000, half of its inhabitants Jewish. It has been described as a picturesque city of churches and synagogues, called the Russian Toledo", after the former cultural center of the Spanish Empire. Little of the city survived the destruction of the Second World War, including its inhabitants, which numbered only 118 people out of a original population of 240,000 before the war.

The young Chagall saw his father work hard, carrying heavy barrels but earning only 20 roubles a month. Chagall would later incorporate fish motifs "out of respect for his father", says Jacob Baal-Teshuva in his excellent biography on Chagall, Marc Chagall: 1887-1985 (2008). In an earlier autobiography, My Life, which he wrote between 1921 and 1922 when he was 35, Chagall recounts further on his childhood: 
Day after day, winter and summer, at six o'clock in the morning, my father got up and went off to the synagogue. There he said his usual prayer for some dead man or other. On his return he made ready the samovar, drank some tea and went to work. Hellish work, the work of a galley-slave. Why try to hide it? How tell about it? No word will ever ease my father's lot... There was always plenty of butter and cheese on our table. Buttered bread, like an eternal symbol, was never out of my childish hands.
Despite prohibitions in Orthodox Judaism for making images, the young Chagall was destined to become a painter. With his mother's support, and despite his father's disapproval, Chagall pursued his interest in art, going to St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1907, to study art with Leon Bakst at the Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting.

Between 1910 and 1914, Chagall lived in Paris, to further his education. There, he came in contact with leading Cubist, Surrealist, and Fauvist painters, as well as many Russian émigrés. During this period, Chagall painted many of his most-known paintings that incorporated shtetl, or village life, using strong and bright colors to convey a dreamlike, non-representational quality that fuses fantasy with religion. The figures float freely above the harsh reality below them.

Chagall made many moves during the early years, predominantly to escape repression and oppressive political regimes. During the First World War, Chagall returned to Russia, chiefly because he missed his fiance. In May 1915, Chagall married his first love, muse and inspiration, Bella Rosenfeld, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler in Vitebsk.

As he described in his autobiography: "Her silence is mine, her eyes mine. It is as if she knows everything about my childhood, my present, my future, as if she can see right through me." She would become the model for his famous series of paintings that showed flying figures. In 1916 the Chagalls had a daughter, Ida, which would be their only child.

White Crucifixion (1938): As Chagall says:  "I did not see the Bible, I dreamed it. Ever since early childhood, I have been captivated by the Bible. It has always seemed to me and still seems today the greatest source of poetry of all time."
Artist: Marc Chagall, 1938

Life Together Abroad

In 1922, the Chagalls wisely left Russia and settled in France until 1941  During World War Two, the Chagalls barely escaped Nazi-occupied France for the United States, and arrived in New York City on June 23, 1941. The next day, Germany invaded Russia. 

With bad news about the wartime atrocities reaching Chagall, more bad news followed of a personal nature followed. His beloved Bella died of a viral infection on September 2, 1944, the war a contributing factor for an inability to get medicine to treat her. Chagall was devastated after the death of the love of his life, and stopped painting for a year.

Although he respected America, he missed France, and returned in 1948. In July 1952, he remarried, to a woman of similar Russian-Jewish background, Valentina (Vava) Brodsky.

One of his most famous paintings is White Crucifixion (1938). Chagall painted it in protest to the policies of the ruling Nationalist Socialist Party in Germany, says the AMICA Library:
Both as a Jew and as an abstract artist,Chagall was a target of Hitler's art censorship policies. His dealer in Germany,Herwarth Walden, was forced to close his Berlin gallery (Der Sturm), cease publication of its influential newsletter, and flee to the Soviet Union in 1932.

In 1937, the Nazis undertook a systematic inventory of modern art in German museums, removing some 16,000 works unacceptable to their taste to use in propaganda campaigns, to destroy, or to sell outside the country. Four works by Chagall were among those included in the 'Jewish' room of the infamous 'Degenerate Art' exhibition staged in Munich at the end of 1937, which mocked deviations from Nazi Party art standards.
The painting powerfully shows the suffering of Jesus, not only as a particular Jew, but also as representative of the Jewish people as a whole. His suffering is part of a long history of suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, including crusades, pogroms and other nationalistic and religiously centered attacks.

Jesus is shown undergoing the cruel death of crucifixion while wearing a prayer shawl, symbolic that his singular crime was being Jewish. This captured the leading sentiment of the time. Chagall was sadly prescient on where such policies of nationalism would eventually lead to: attempted genocide of a people.

When Chagall returned to Europe in 1948, he saw first-hand the swath of destruction, and learned more about the death camps that destroyed lives, peoples and nations. War rarely has any real victors, and none for humanity's sake. Chagall's art of this period tried to bring humanity together, having seeing the evils and destruction brought about by the narrow and intolerant views of nationalistic ideologies.

Chagall died in Saint-Paul de Vence, France, on March 28, 1985. He was 97.  He is buried at the  Saint-Paul Town Cemetery, Provence, France. Chagall left us a rich collection of work that has universal appeal.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Babe Ruth: Baseball's Savior


How to hit home runs: I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball...The harder you grip the bat, the more you can swing it through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I've got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.
 —Babe Ruth, in Words of Wisdom by William Safire

The greatest name in American sports history is Babe Ruth, a hitter.
Ted Williams

"There will never be another Babe Ruth. He was the greatest home run hitter who ever lived. They named a candy bar after him.
Reggie Jackson

Babe Ruth in 1921. In 1921 Ruth hit 59 home runs, batted .378, achieved a slugging percentage of .846 and led the Yankees to their first American League championship. Ruth's name became synonymous with the home run.
Photo Credit: George Grantham Bain. Source: United States Library of Congress
Even people who don't know baseball know the name Babe Ruth, a man emblematic of the Roaring Twenties in America. He was a larger-than-life figure who rescued major league baseball from the doldrums and established the New York Yankees as a team to watch. Between 1914 and 1935, all eyes were on Ruth, a commanding figure on the field, where he belted 714 home runs in a 22-year career, establishing many records along the way, including 60 homers in one season in 1927.

It would take decades to best both records and many others that he established during his long and illustrious career. Although he started off in Boston with the Red Sox and ended his playing days in Boston with the Braves, his 15 years with the New York Yankees, between 1920 and 1934, established his reputation as baseball's most exciting player, one who knew how to have fun and win.

For many baseball experts that distinction holds true. Ruth, the famed No. 3, ranks as the greatest baseball player in history, an honor that two respected baseball authorities have bestowed upon him: The Sporting News, and the Society for American Baseball Research, or SABR.

He also changed baseball, not only rescuing it from the the dishonor brought about by the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, but also establishing it as a game that could suddenly change with one swing of the bat. In today's parlance, Ruth was a true game-changer:
Ruth is credited with changing baseball itself. The popularity of the game exploded in the 1920s, largely due to his influence. Ruth ushered in the "live-ball era, as his big swing led to escalating home run totals that not only excited fans, but helped baseball evolve from a low-scoring, speed-dominated game to a high-scoring power game.
At the peak of his career, he earned an unprecedented $80,000 a season (1930 & 1931), twice what any other ballplayer was earning in the midst of the Great Depression. President Hoover earned $75,000 in 1931. When questioned on why he should make more than the president, Ruth responded in Ruthian fashion: "What the hell has Hoover got to do with it? Besides, I had a better year than he did."

Of course, Ruth, who was six-foot-two and weighed 215 pounds, was a natural slugger. But sometimes forgotten was that Ruth was also an exceptional pitcher, which is how he started his career with the Boston Red Sox on July 11, 1914. He played only a few games that season, but won a spot on the starting rotation in 1915.   

He had the most wins as a left-handed pitcher in baseball from 1915-1917. The Red Sox won the World Series in 1915, 1916 and 1918. Ruth's pitching mark was 89-46 with the Sox. Despite such pitching stats, his hitting ability was too great for the team to ignore, and Ruth played the outfield between pitching starts. By 1919 he played solely in the outfield, in right field.

The Beginnings

Born George Herman Ruth, Jr. on February 6, 1895, in Baltimore, Maryland. Ruth was raised in a poor waterfront neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, where his parents, Kate Schamberger-Ruth and George Herman Ruth, Sr., owned a tavern. The parents, of German origin, raised their kids as typical Americans. Babe Ruth was one of eight children born to the couple, and one of only two that survived infancy.

His early life is well documented, a kid needing attention and love, and his parents unable to direct his energy and meet his needs. Ruth was wandering the streets, drinking and chewing tobacco and getting into mischief with the police. At age seven, his parents sent him to  St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a Catholic orphanage and reformatory that became Babe's home until he left at 19 to play professional ball.

The school's discipline was precisely what Ruth needed. In addition, there was baseball and Brother Mathias, a monk who became a father figure to the young Ruth. Brother Mathias likely saved Ruth's life, so to speak, and directed the young boy with the right loving touch. Baseball was the answer, and one could say that baseball owes some gratitude to the Baltimore monk for forming the Babe, baseball's eventual savior. As puts it:

Mathias, along with several other monks of the order, introduced Ruth to baseball, a game at which the boy excelled. By the time he was 15, Ruth showed exceptional skill both as a strong hitter and pitcher. It was his pitching that initially caught the attention of Jack Dunn, the owner of the minor league Baltimore Orioles. At the time, the Orioles groomed players for the major league team known as the Boston Red Sox, and Dunn saw promise in Ruth's athletic performance.
Only 19, the law at the time stated that Ruth had to have a legal guardian sign his baseball contract in order for him to play professionally. As a result, Dunn became Ruth's legal guardian, leading teammates to jokingly call Ruth "Dunn's new babe." The joke stuck, and Ruth quickly earned the nickname "Babe" Ruth.
So explains the origins of one of the most famous nicknames in baseball and sport. We can't mention Ruth and not mention one of the most ill-conceived trades in baseball history. On December 26, 1919, Harry Frazee, the Red Sox's owner, sold Ruth to the New York Yankees for what was essentially a cash deal. It was a great catch, however, for the Yankees. During Ruth's 15 years with the team, his exploits help lead the Yankees to seven World Series rings, solidifying his reputation as the game's greatest player.

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig pay a visit to West Point Military Academy, May 6, 1927.
Photo Credit: United States Military Academy at West Point (USMA)
Source: US National Archives

The Called Shot of '32

One of the most famous stories, or myths about Ruth is the "called shot" during Game 3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in 1932, Ruth's last World Series.. It was the top of the fifth inning, and Ruth was at bat. The count evened at 2 balls and 2 strikes. Ruth made a gesture that seemed to say he was going to hit the ball out of the park for a home run. And on the next pitch, a slow inside  curve from pitcher Charlie Root, Ruth belted a towering homer to the centerfield bleachers

Even so, it might not have happened just that way, although it persists in baseball lore. Here's what John P. Carmichael records Babe Ruth saying about the called shot in My Greatest Day in Baseball:

Aw, everybody knows that game, the day I hit the homer off ole Charlie Root there in Wrigley Field, the day October first, the third game of that thirty-two World Series. But right now I want to settle all arguments. I didn't exactly point to any spot, like the flagpole. Anyway, I didn't mean to, I just sorta waved at the whole fence, but that was foolish enough. All I wanted to do was give that thing a ride... outta the park... anywhere.
Yet, fans like the legend, chiefly since it makes Ruth, an already larger-than-life figure, even larger, a superhero of baseball. And in some fashion he is. His exploits on and off the field are the stuff of legends. Ruth loved kids, and he often acted like a bid kid himself. "Kids and me get along fine," he once said. Such might explain his popularity and fame.

Despite his amazing stats, Ruth might not be baseball's best all-around player (Willie Mays), or even the best natural hitter (Ted Williams), but he is precisely what professional baseball needed in the 1920s. He rescued baseball from the doldrums, and helped make it America's Pastime.

That reason alone makes Ruth baseball's most remembered and loved figure, and one of the greatest personalities in professional sports. "He was a circus, a play and a movie, all rolled into one," said teammate Lefty Gomez. "Kids adored him, Men idolized him. Women loved him. There was something about him that made him great."

He hit his last home run on May 25, 1935, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The Yankees had traded Ruth to the Boston Braves on February 26, 1935, a team that was then losing a lot of games. That May afternoon, he hit three home runs. The last one, no. 714, was a fitting career end to a great slugger; it was the first ball ever to be hit completely out of that park. "At that point in baseball history, no other player had ever hit even half that many," says"It was a record that would stand for nearly four decades."

Ruth retired from baseball a week later on May 30, 1935, at age 40. For many years after, he waited for a phone call from some team to secure a manager's position. That call never came, making him somewhat of a tragic figure. Ruth died from cancer of the nose and mouth on August 16, 1948, in New York City.  He was 53. The fans played homage to a great player, says
 Over 100,000 fans paid their respects at Yankee Stadium, where he lay in rest. Grieving fathers held up their sons for a final look at the face of the greatest player in baseball history. Ruth's old teammates volunteered as pallbearers and the flag at Yankee Stadium flew at half-mast.
His funeral was two days later at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, and Ruth was buried in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne in New York. Babe Ruth has been called many things, including the Sultan of Swat and the Bambino. To the list I humbly add the Savior of Baseball.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dateline 2032: The Life of JAC03225: Part 4


In Part 3, JAC03225 meets his childhood friend, MEL03226, a State Security officer, while waiting for the shuttle bus to take him to the library, where he plans to work on his doctoral thesis. They part amiably, yet JAC03325 is bothered by thoughts that he has not done his civic duty, as he always dutifully has done.

JAC03225 walked to the very back of the bus, and sat on a seat by the window, the thoughts of the conversation with his good friend still fresh in his mind. He began second-guessing himself. He pulled out his media appliance and took a look at it. “It’s tired-looking, worn out, and possibly outdated.” Should I line up now and get the newest appliance? he thought to himself.

After all, that’s precisely what he had been doing every six months: line up, wait patiently for his turn at the counter, and get his retina scanned, which would securely identify him and remove the funds from his bank account. And then he would be handed a brand-new appliance, one that suitably matched his DNA profile.

It wasn’t that the service was bad. It wasn’t, at least that was the case lately. It had improved exponentially since all the service androids had their programs rewritten with an improved brand from a competing vendor. In the past, some androids were, say, lacking the courtesies expected in a society that outwardly valued politeness, courtesy and doing the right thing. Now, all the androids were programmed to be courteous and friendly. It was written in to their programs.

He had a few hours to kill before visiting his father at the Evergreen Residence, which was conveniently located on Evergreen Crescent, a few blocks from the library where he was now headed. But before he visited his father, he had to stop by the State Museum’s Official Archives & Records section, on Patriot’s Boulevard, to do some research on his thesis. JAC03325 was trying to quickly complete his dissertation for his doctorate in Ancient History.

The shuttle bus’ driver announced that Patriot’s Boulevard was the next stop. “Patriot’s Boulevard is the next stop,” the announcement said. Announcements were made in a perfunctorily manner every three minutes.

Patriot’s Boulevard was lined on both sides with similar rectangular-shaped massive stone structures, consisting of government buildings, museums and, most impressive of all, the official residence of the Great Leader and his wife. Although no one could be sure. Many parks dotted the boulevard. It was also where the State Museum was located.

He exited the bus at the stop and rode the people mover that transported him to the front desk, manned faithfully by Andrea the Android, an attractive enough young woman of recent vintage.

He handed her his media appliance, and he went through the routine biometric voice, hand and retina scan, both for ID purposes and to examine his borrowing record, privileges and level. It took 30 seconds to establish that he was a U4, the fourth-highest rank. Professors were graded as U-3, political leaders and high-ranking officials as U-2, and the top business and political elites as U-1. The Great Leader had no rank. “I wish there was better, faster technology,” he thought to himself. “It needs improvement, an update.”

“You are free to enter,” Andrea said. You can enter level 2. He entered the speed elevator, and in a few seconds he was at level 2. It was row upon row of screens, thousands of them, sectioned off by category and field of study. He knew where to go, to screen AF228: History of the Ancient World. He entered his biometric and DNA information, and he was cleared, once again.

He took out his hand-held media device and downloaded the information that he was seeking. While he was waiting, he looked around. Dozens of others were doing the same, downloading information on to their media devices. Some were red, some were blue, and some were green. But they were all the same shape and brand: three-by five rectangles of hard plastic, chrome and lithium. For some reason, he he studied their faces, taking note the differences among them.

A butterfly entered his line of sight, which he could see through the plate-glass window. It stopped briefly on the window ledge, near to where JAC03225 was reading, and then fluttered off, gracefully yet with purpose:
STAY near me--do not take thy flight!
A little longer stay in sight!
Much converse do I find in thee,
Historian of my infancy!

Yes, people were not all the same, yet each shared similar needs. But why think about that now? he thought. Admittedly, he was tired, yet he did not wish four years of hard work for his doctorate, 35-hour weeks of research and writing, to go to waste. When he was born, the biometric staff had taken his DNA analysis. This was done at ages three, five and nine to ensure statistical congruity. By age ten, he, like all his peers, knew with a high degree of statistical confidence what his profession would be.

Further scientific personality tests and profiles later confirmed the empirical analysis. He was destined, programmed by his genetic code, to become a professor of Ancient History. That’s what his DNA analysis, and later on his personality profile, had suggested he was best suited for. It took years of wars and scientific and academic studies and research to come to the consensus that people who were happy were the best citizens. That the pursuit of happiness was a right due all citizens, all peoples of the world. It made everyone peaceful and happy.

A few cynics said it made people complacent, but the majority of citizens considered such people troublemakers, freethinkers, and destined for an unhappy existence, if not something far worse. A few of them lived on hand-outs, begged and played forbidden music on the streets, and did not go to school or have any jobs. But they were eventually caught and set straight. It was for their own good.

A good well-paying job at the Abraham Isaac Moses University for the Advancement of Historical Thought awaited him upon completion of his doctorate. The elites just called it AIM University. There was an old ditty, a silly limerick of unknown attribution, which made the rounds, an inside joke among academics. It went like this, a resonance of academic snobbery:

I teach at Aim U.
And am proud I do
What About You?
If You’re Not at Aim U
You might as well
Throw in the Shoe
Such silliness, but it was a necessary release from the stress of work and study. But it was worth it all. There was the added prestige of being part of the Intelligentsia of an Ivy-League university, one of the top 10 universities in the State. And the perks were equally important: real wood-panelled office with leather chairs and couches and a wooden credenza. A professor was more equal than others, and did not have to suffer the same choices as everyone. It was written into the Constitution, Article 5: Respect the Elites.

AIM University, as it was known worldwide, was the place to advance your career, notably in ancient history. Its slogan was catchy, too: “My AIM is true.” And it had a song, whose words went something like this:

Alison, I know this world is killing you.
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.
My aim is true.

No one could explain the words origins, or who Alison was, although many scholars tried to come up with the origins of the song. It seemed to have always existed. Scholars offered various explanations on who Alison was and what its internal message was, whether it had a hidden cryptic meaning. As to what was meant by “I know the world is killing you,” well, there were various schools of thought that held opposing views. The consensus was, however, that the meaning in these words were significant, deep and worthy of fuller scholarship. An interdisciplinary approach was needed. That meant more funding. Hip, hip hooray!

Perhaps JAC03225 could eventually cash in on such scholarship. To break the code would be a coup,a great accomplishment and a feather in his young cap.

To be sure, great scholarship was being carried out at Aim U. Small wonder that it placed seventh among all the Universities worldwide, a scientific ranking established by Real Rankings Report, or R-cubed, a well-regarded and well-read journal published daily on BS. The ranking was scientifically accurate to one percentage point, 19 times out of 20.

This was hard data, and not something that could easily be ignored. What a future awaited JAC03225. It now was all within his grasp. A well-paying secure and prestigious job. A marriage to a perfectly matched mate. A family with beautiful kids. It was all written in to his DNA code and personality profile. All he had to do was follow his scientifically predicted destiny. And, of course, there was one little requirement on his part: JAC03225 had to make sure that he did the right thing.


To be continued next week (Part 5):

Copyright (c) Perry J. Greenbaum, 2010. All rights reserved.

Author's Note: This is a work of fiction. While the author might have been inspired by some true-life events, names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.