Friday, January 29, 2010

A Poem

Just to shake things up a little bit, I'm going to post a poem that I wrote. This is the first poem I've written in quite a long time.

things my dad told me

the christmas bonus is a
silver-cloaked dagger
of the capitalist mentality

i’m gonna break that finger

your grandfather died today

look at that rock strata

you can do anything
you put your mind to

basketball is supposed to be
a finesse game

i’m gonna turn you over my knee

it’s not what you want that does you good,
it’s what you get

houston has the tallest building
in the world,
outside of a downtown area

cum is an abbreviation for the word
cummaconium
which is the milk babies drink
from their mother’s breast

eric davis is lazy

the gummi bears show
is for babies

men and women
do it for pleasure,
and because it feels good

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kentucky Wildcats Undefeated? No.

In November, shortly after the start of the college basketball season, I made a prediction that the UK Wildcats men's basketball team could potentially go undefeated.

At the time, they were 6-0, but had achieved that only after a few nail-biters against not-so-great teams, including a win over Miami of Ohio thanks only to a buzzer beater.

After that, UK went on to win all their non-conference games and their first four conference games, good enough to get them to #1 in the rankings and the only undefeated team in the nation, at 19-0. It was the best start a UK men's basketball team has had since the mid-1960's.

Unfortunately, about 30 hours after officially achieving that #1 ranking, they collapsed and lost to South Carolina, who was only 11-8 coming into the game (and had lost three in a row).

Despite my immense disappointment in losing so abjectly such a short time after finally achieving a #1 ranking, I am still fairly happy with how Kentucky has performed this year. When I predicted in November that they would go undefeated, I certainly recognized that the chances of that happening were extremely slim. At that time, I would have been pleased to know that they'd go on to win their first 19 games - certainly more than what most people, even the most optimistic, would have expected from such a young team (three of their five starters are freshman and they have no senior starters).

In that post, I said that for Kentucky to be great this year, they would need to start showing some signs of cohesion and team chemistry - something they showed very little of in those first six games. The Wildcats have done just that, and I believe that's the reason they didn't lose a game until last night. Interestingly, I think it's fair to say that in their loss last night, they looked very similar to how they looked in the first few games of the season - no cohesion, no chemistry. It's as if the pressure and prominence of being #1 caused them to regress. I was struck, in fact, by how they almost looked like they didn't even really want to be out there. They looked lethargic at times, like they somehow weren't in the mood to play ball. Clearly the media attention was getting to them.

I most definitely am not worried, however. They will rebound from this loss, like any good team does, and a loss or two (or three or four) certainly doesn't spell the end of their championship hopes.

I have to admit to a bit of personal disappointment too. In the last few weeks, a lot of people have been talking about UK going undefeated all year. That's to be expected when a team is 19-0 and are the only undefeated team left in college basketball. But in November, when I predicted an undefeated season, and laid out my argument why it was possible, there were most definitely not very many people talking about such things, or taking such talk very seriously. I have to admit the idea of looking prophetic appealed greatly to me - imagine the kind of exposure I might have been able to get if UK had gone on to an undefeated season? Bragging rights to the extreme, and all that.

Oh well. I'm not a prophet. But in any case, it was fun while it lasted.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Eddy's Story

Note: You'll notice rather quickly that this post is written quite differently than most of the things I write. In writing this account, I experimented with a narrative technique pioneered and made famous by Kurt Vonnegut. Readers familiar with Vonnegut's work will no doubt recognize the style, and will also no doubt recognize my efforts as a cheap imitation of that style. So it goes. Still, I chose to write the story like this in order to challenge myself by trying on a different set of literary clothes, and also as a sort of tribute to the genius of Mr. Vonnegut.

Also, for the faint of heart, please note that near the bottom of this post, I have posted a picture in black and white that is extremely gory.

This is a true story.

----------

Eddy was born in 1864.

Eddy, dressed like a girl, together with his proud parents

His father was famous and his grandmother was even more famous. She was known around the world. They even named an era after her. Eddy didn’t know that when he was born, though. To him, she was just the funny old lady who smelled.

Eddy was named after his grandfather, but Eddy never knew him; he was already worm food when Eddy was born. His grandfather had been pretty famous too, but only because he was married to Eddy’s grandmother. They put him on tobacco boxes.

Eddy was born two months early, which is really early. They thought he would die, but he didn’t. Sometimes babies born that early don’t die. This is why people don’t like late term abortions. It’s a real live baby in there, etc.

Look: Eddy and his brother Georgie were only a year apart. Because of that, they were close. Georgie was pretty smart, but Eddy was known as the dummy of the family. A teacher once called him “abnormally dormant.”

Eddy was abnormally dormant, as you can see in this photograph

Doctors and such who specialize in that sort of thing say being born at seven months gestation can cause learning disabilities, etc. Or maybe Eddy just had bad genes. Either way, his family was concerned about how dumb he was.

When he was thirteen, Eddie almost died. He got typhoid, which is caused by ingesting poop. Funnily enough, his grandfather, famous on tobacco boxes, had died from typhoid too. It probably came from bad water. Water in the 19th century often had poop in it. Eddy didn’t die though. He probably wished he had.

When Eddy was sixteen, he joined the navy. His family hoped it might give him some good structure, teach him a thing or two about life, etc. He got to sail all over the world. His brother Georgie was with him. They got tattoos together in Japan, which was a pretty popular thing for sailors to do back then.

When he was 18, Eddy went to college. He was still abnormally dormant, but he got into a prestigious school because his grandmother was famous. They didn’t make him take tests or anything. They just let him go to school there. One of his teachers was a homosexual poet, etc., who later lost his mind and starved himself to death at age 32.

A homosexual poet

When Eddy left college in the 1880’s, he joined the army. He pretty much hated the army, but he did like to play polo. So he joined the cavalry. They let him play a lot of polo, evidently.

Look: Eddy was probably gay. It may have started with the gay-poet-who-would-later-go-crazy-and-starve-to-death tutor, or he may have just been born that way. Doctors and such who specialize in that sort of thing say gay people are born gay. Pastors and such say that’s not true, etc.

In any case, Eddy had a good friend named Arthur. Arthur took care of Eddy’s horses, and maybe a few other things, etc. Arthur got in big trouble in 1889 when police found out that he was paying men to have sex with him. He had to go to France to keep from going to jail. Gay men like France, evidently.

Most people figured Eddy was paying men to have sex with him too.

Lucky for Eddy, his family was rich and powerful, and they kept Eddy from ever getting charged with the crime of homosexuality.

Homosexuality was a crime back then.

Eddy's family was so rich and powerful, they had a painting done of themselves. Eddy is the dandy on the far left.

Eddy decided to get away from the scandal by going to India. He feasted with maharajahs and rode elephants. He also shot a lot of animals with a high powered rifle. Like polo, he really enjoyed killing animals. He found it to be a lot of fun, etc.

While he was in India, he met a married lady and apparently had sex with her. Maybe he was trying to prove he wasn’t a homosexual. In any case, she claimed her son was Eddy’s love child. Eddy’s family said that was preposterous. She later went crazy and died.

By now it was 1890 and Eddy’s family decided it was high time he get settled down and marry. This would ensure that he had children, but it would also make everyone believe he wasn’t gay.

Because Eddy’s family was rich and powerful, they set him up with a rich lady from Eastern Europe. Her name was Alexandra, because all Eastern Europeans in the 19th century were named either Alexander or Alexandra, depending on their genitalia.

This person was Eastern European, and had a vagina, so her name was Alexandra

Eddy asked Alexandra to marry him, but she said no. She probably thought he was gay and abnormally dormant.

Eddy was irritated, but he shouldn’t have felt too bad. Alexandra later got what was coming to her in a bad, bad way.

Look: Alexandra dumped Eddy to marry a rich and powerful man named Nicholas. Nicholas later became the Tsar of All Russia (in Russia, they call their king a “tsar”). Nicholas was really unpopular though, and in 1917, hungry terrorists called Communists overthrew the country. They took Nicholas and Alexandra, and their five children, out into the woods and fired about a hundred bullets at them. One of the bullets tried to take up the same space as Alexandra’s head. It entered above her left ear and exited above her right ear, etc. Then they stabbed her a bunch of times, because it seemed the thing to do. She died.

She probably should have married Eddy.

In any case, Eddy next went after a French girl. Her name was Helene. But she was Roman Catholic and Eddy’s family was Protestant. And in Eddy’s family, you just flat out did not marry a Catholic, because Catholics were idol-worshippers.

Helene was an idol-worshipper, as evidenced by her hat

Helene apparently really, really liked Eddy, though. So she offered to become a Protestant. Eddy’s family thought this was fantastic. But Helene’s family was outraged. They were pretty sure Protestants were going to hell, and no daughter of their family was going to burn with pagans, infidels, witches, and Protestants.

So Eddy was left holding his bag. It’s no wonder he was visiting male brothels. Etc.

In his defense, Eddy doesn’t seem to have been put off too much by all this. Apparently he wasn’t terribly choosy in a wife. Which makes sense if he was a raging homosexual.

Eddy, a raging homosexual

In December of 1891, Eddy finally struck gold. A lady named Mary agreed to marry him. Everybody was really happy. Third time’s a charm and all that. His famous grandmother remarked that Mary was “charming, sensible, and pretty,” which is exactly what any good woman should be.

Under this dress, Mary is wearing sensible shoes

A month later, in January of 1892, Eddy got the flu.

He died.

Mary ended up marrying his brother. Such is life.

Everybody was pretty upset about Eddy dying. He was abnormally dormant, and he liked to have sex with men, but people were still pretty upset. Like all people who die suddenly, everyone pretended that all the bad things had never been said, and instead said nothing but good things about him. It was like that for Michael Jackson too. Guilt is a dirty, dirty thing. Etc.

Michael Jackson, a homosexual pedophile

Eddy had been dead for a long time when the first person said he was Jack the Ripper. Most people who knew about Eddy thought that was preposterous. Sort of like when he said he wanted to marry a Catholic.

Here’s how the theory went: Eddie was a pervert. He liked to have sex with men and women. Doctors and such who specialize in that sort of thing call those people “bisexual.”

Bisexual people have a flag. This is it.

We already know about Eddie and the male prostitutes. Eddie also liked to partake of an occasional bangers and mash with anonymous hookers in London’s Whitechapel district. After one particularly rousing session of sexual intercourse for money, his sperm mated with an ovum, causing a baby to be produced in a prostitute’s womb.

This was a bad thing. So Eddy killed her.

Mary Jane Kelly did not survive this encounter

Problem was, she had some hooker friends who knew his dirty secret. So he killed them too. He discovered that he liked it a lot, etc. He also cut up their bodies and removed some organs, just for the sheer joy of it.

Eddy probably wasn’t Jack the Ripper. But it’s a fun story to tell.

Look: You’re probably wondering who the hell Eddy is.

If Eddy hadn’t died in 1892, he would have become the King of England in 1910.

Prince Eddy, in a photograph that drove the boys crazy


Eddy's brother, Georgie, who got to marry Eddy's fiance' and take Eddy's throne when Eddy conveniently died

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Conan, and Generation X, Got Screwed

NBC is run, evidently, but a bunch of douchebags.

When Conan O'Brien first came on the air back in the early 90's, I wasn't much of a fan. He was always set up to appeal to the late night college crowd, and I was a part of that crowd during his early days, yet I didn't really appreciate his humor.

Over the years, however, he's come to grow on me and I was glad to see him move into the Tonight Show spot (not that I watch the show much, but it was nice knowing he was there if I wanted to tune in).

I never really understood why NBC wanted to get rid of Leno and give the Tonight Show to Conan, but it didn't really bother me that much - I assumed Leno was ready to move on. It's only in recent days that I've learned that Leno never wanted to leave in the first place. NBC just wanted to keep Conan and they thought the only way they could do that would be to give him the Tonight Show.

When I heard that Leno was going to do a 10 pm show, I thought what probably most other people thought - that it would be a flop. Not because Leno isn't funny, but simply because that sort of show at 10 pm is just too unusual for mainstream pop culture to embrace.

But to turn around and give the Tonight Show back to Leno and more or less leave Conan holding his bag...it's a total WTF moment. A prime example, I suppose, of very poor leadership on the part of NBC.

I'm glad Conan is bilking NBC for nearly 50 million dollars. That's the price they deserve to pay for being so stupid. And not only is Conan walking away with more money than he could ever spend, but he'll also get another show on another network and probably be quite successful. So good for him. Boo for NBC.

I don't know if Leno deserves to be viewed as the bad guy in all this, but the whole situation has definitely put a bad taste in my mouth towards him - and I've always been a Leno fan. It seems to me that the decent thing would have been to simply admit that his 10 pm show failed and move on. Go to another network. Open a comedy club. Start a sitcom. Whatever. But to go back and take his old show back from the person it had been rightfully given to? That's just crappy. I kind of hope his ratings stay in the toilet.

My sister pointed out that this is a prime example of the continued antagonism between the Baby Boomers and Generation X. Leno is definitely a Boomer (born in 1950), and Conan (born in 1963) is from the earliest days of Gen X. And while Leno has always been geared toward that older, Booomer crowd, Conan has definitely always been geared toward the Gen X crowd.

In society, Gen X is characterized by constantly living in the shadows of their Baby Boomer forebears. The Boomers just won't go away, and Gen X is finding itself squeezed out of prominence by the Millennials (or Generation Y). So Gen X is stuck in limbo. It can't compete with the Boomers before it, or the Millennials after it.

You see this illustrated in so many things in society. Consider "Prince Charles Syndrome" (another example given to me by my sister). Queen Elizabeth represents the Boomers (she's not a Boomer, of course, but she came to the throne in the middle of the Boomer era of the early 50's), and Prince Charles represents Gen X (again, he's not a Gen Xer himself, but he represents them in this analogy). The old bitty won't die, so he's left holding his bag for all these years, waiting to become king. But now it's been so long that his son, William (who represents the Millennials in this analogy), is starting to overtake him in prominence and there is talk that William might as well just succeed Elizabeth, because Charles is so irrelevant now.

Or consider the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. If you know anything about the HOF in recent years, you'll know that there has been a distinct stigma in the last decade against players from the 1980's and early 1990's. They aren't "historical" enough to be talked about in the same sentence with Ruth, Gehrig, and Mays, and they seem to pale in comparison to the steroid-fueled players of the 2000's. So again you have the Boomers represented by the "old time greats," and you have the Millennials represented by modern players who have become machines on the field, and squeezed out in the middle, holding their bags, are the players from the Gen X era - the 1980's and early 1990's.

I don't know about you, but as a Gen Xer, I'm getting tired of holding my bag.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Tragedy in Kentucky

November 7, 1825.

A Monday.

Two hours past midnight.

A dark, moonless night, lit only by a wash of stars overhead.

A masked figure stands in the shadows on Madison Street, his eyes fixed on a nearby home. The house sits cloaked in the gloom of deepest night. The street is quiet. Two men sidle past on their way home from the taverns. One of them laughs and the sound seems small in the overbearing silence of the night.

A dog barks somewhere in the distance.

Earlier, lights had burned inside the windows of the home on Madison Street while the family entertained guests for the evening. Sometime after midnight, another visitor had arrived, but he stayed only a few minutes before leaving with a companion. Shortly thereafter, the family and their remaining guests had retired to their bed chambers, the lights inside the house extinguished.

Now, in the hour when man’s spirit is in its lowest ebb, the masked figure moves forward, creeping around the house to a rear door. He extends a fisted hand and raps three times against the wood. The noise seems deafening in the midnight silence.

Within moments, the shuffle of footsteps sounds from within the house, then a muffled voice.

Who’s there?

The reply is simple: Covington.

This is a familiar name to the man on the other side of the door. There is the sound of a lock being drawn back. The door swings cautiously open.

The masked figure sees that no candles have been lit inside. The interior of the house is bathed in darkness.

What Covington is this? the homeowner asks, not recognizing the figure in his doorway.

John A. Covington, comes the reply.

I know a John W. Covington. I do not know you.

The masked figure takes a step back so that his countenance is awash in starlight. In one motion he removes the hat and scarf obscuring his face.

The homeowner peers at the man on his doorstep, his face going pale with recognition. He takes an involuntary step backward.

Great God! It’s him!

SOLOMON SHARP

Solomon P. Sharp [was] one of the ablest and most eloquent men Kentucky ever knew.
~ Former U.S. Congressman and Kentucky Secretary of State Ben Hardin, 1849



The son of a Revolutionary War veteran, Solomon Sharp must have shown promise from an early age. Born in 1787 in rural Virginia, in a time when everything outside Boston and Philadelphia was rural, Solomon’s family moved west to Kentucky around 1798, settling in the burgeoning town of Russellville.

Kentucky was, at the time, the western frontier of the new nation, and Russellville was an infant town, founded not long before the Sharps of Virginia arrived. Educational pursuits there must have been difficult indeed.

Despite that, young Solomon seems to have excelled in self-education. He learned Latin and Greek. He studied history, philosophy, rhetoric, and law. By the age of twenty-two he was a practicing attorney in Russellville. That same year, he ran and was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Sharp very quickly became a rising star in Kentucky politics. He served three 1-year terms in the General Assembly before putting his political career on hold to join the state militia in the War of 1812. Enlisting as a private, he attained the rank of colonel within just a few months. That same year he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and went on to serve two terms in Washington before returning to the Kentucky legislature in 1817.

Regarding Sharp’s time in Washington, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina – who would later serve as vice-president under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson – asserted that Sharp was the “greatest mind…from beyond the [Appalachian] mountains” to serve in the U.S. Congress. President James Madison, who served during Sharp’s tenure, made similar remarks, stating that Sharp was “the ablest man of his age who has represented the west.”

In 1820, Sharp moved his now booming law practice to Kentucky’s capital in Frankfort. The following year, he was named the state’s attorney general, an appointment that was reconfirmed when a new governor took office in 1825.

Later that same year, Sharp won a seat in Kentucky’s legislature again, and on the evening of November 6, 1825, the day before the opening of the General Assembly, Sharp’s supporters agreed to nominate him for Speaker of the House.

Now in his mid-30’s, Sharp must have felt that good things were on his horizon. Already a former U.S. congressman and state attorney general, now nominated for Kentucky Speaker of the House – Sharp must have believed that his star would continue to rise. Perhaps the future might hold a gubernatorial run. Maybe another term in Washington. He must have foreseen that his colleague and fellow Kentuckian Henry Clay would run for president again – perhaps Sharp could be his running mate.

But none of that would ever come to fruition.

A skeleton in Sharp’s closet was about to show up on his back porch.

JEREBOAM O. BEAUCHAMP



Born in southern Kentucky on its border with Tennessee in 1802, Jereboam Beauchamp, like Solomon Sharp, seems to have shown intellectual promise from a young age. Recognizing his son’s abilities, his father – a farmer of humble means – sought to give Jereboam a classical education and sent him to a school near Glasgow, Kentucky. This school was a new institution, established around 1810 with the legislative support of a young congressman and lawyer from nearby Warren County – Solomon Sharp.

Beauchamp studied there for several years and impressed the headmaster enough that he eventually fell into the role of preceptor, teaching and tutoring the younger students.

It is unclear when Beauchamp and Sharp first became acquainted, but it must have been around 1819, about the time Beauchamp was finishing his education.

Considering a career in law, Beauchamp had come to admire the charismatic lawyer and politician and had spoken to friends about studying under him. Word evidently got back to Sharp about this bright young man from Glasgow, and Sharp offered to help him in any way that he could.

But before any of that could happen, Beauchamp’s opinion of Sharp would take a sudden and irrevocable nosedive.

A SORDID SEX SCANDAL

In 1820, the name Anna Cooke became a familiar one in the popular consciousness of Kentuckians.



During the summer, news reports surfaced suggesting that Ms. Cooke – the daughter of a prominent Bowling Green family – had given birth to the illegitimate (and stillborn) child of Solomon Sharp, who was married with children.

Sharp vehemently denied the rumors and his popularity and prominence in the state kept public sentiment on his side. Anna Cooke was castigated and written off as a harlot and publicity hound, and the ruin to her reputation forced her into virtual seclusion at her family estate in Bowling Green.

Jereboam Beauchamp was, evidently, scandalized by these events. He was acquainted with a former companion of Ms. Cooke – a man who apparently unquestioningly believed her story – and he convinced Beauchamp that Sharp was a lying villain.

Beauchamp seems to have become obsessed with the situation. Hearing that Anna Cooke had been forced into seclusion, he traveled to Bowling Green to seek her out. Whether his initial motivation was romantic or professional (he was studying law by this time and might have believed the case ripe for a lawsuit), he very quickly became enamored with Anna Cooke. Despite the fact that she was old enough to be his mother (sixteen years older, to be exact), the feeling was mutual and the two quickly became romantically involved.

The following year, when Beauchamp proposed marriage to her, she accepted on only one condition – that he defend her honor and challenge Solomon Sharp to a duel. Beauchamp seems to have been all too eager to do just that.

It is unclear, however, whether any challenge was ever actually made. Beauchamp later claimed that he met up with Sharp around 1822 and laid down the challenge, but that Sharp refused out of fear, even going down onto his knees to beg for his life.

It seems that very few people ever took this claim very seriously.

Beauchamp also claimed that after realizing that Sharp would never agree to a duel, he decided to simply assassinate him. Realizing that he could not pull the deed off in bustling Frankfort (where Sharp now resided), he contented himself to wait until Sharp came to Bowling Green. However, on two different occasions Sharp visited the town and was gone before Beauchamp could put any plan into action. So he began sending letters to Sharp under a pseudonym, claiming to have a land dispute in Bowling Green for which he needed legal counsel and asking when Sharp would be in the area. Sharp eventually responded to one of these letters, but without giving him any clear indication when he would arrive.

As with Beauchamp’s claim about the proposed duel, it is unclear whether any of this actually took place. Beauchamp later tried to portray the entire plot as a simple honor killing: Sharp had dishonored Beauchamp’s wife, so Beauchamp had to kill him.

Yet others have suggested that Beauchamp simply made these stories up and never seriously considered killing Sharp until just a few months prior to the deed. His reason for inventing these stories of previous attempts on Sharp’s life was simple: he was covering up his involvement in a nefarious assassination conspiracy that descended on Kentucky’s capital in the summer of 1825.

THE NEW COURT/OLD COURT CONTROVERSY

The mid-1820’s represent perhaps the most politically unstable era in all of Kentucky history. A nationwide financial panic had occurred in 1819, and it had been felt especially hard in Kentucky, where numerous banks had collapsed and countless debtors found themselves unable to meet their financial obligations.

This situation created two highly polarized political camps in Kentucky – the so-called Relief faction made up of politicians who wanted to suspend debts owed to creditors in an effort to put more money into the pockets of taxpayers, and the so-called Anti-Relief faction that felt such a move would only harm the economy even further. The polarization between these two camps cannot be overestimated. Political infighting was vicious and frequently personal, and the two sides were all but brawling in the streets to gain the upper hand of political power in Frankfort.

In 1820, the Reliefers gained a majority in the legislature and immediately began passing laws viewed as favorable to debtors and unfavorable to creditors. The Anti-Relief faction challenged the constitutionality of these laws and the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in their favor in 1823, striking the laws down as unconstitutional.

This, of course, was seen as a major victory for the Anti-Relief faction, but the majority Reliefers were not to be outdone. They first attempted to remove the three justices of the Court of Appeals by passing resolutions against them. This required a two-thirds vote, however, and the Reliefers had only a simple majority in the General Assembly and could not garner the votes required to remove the justices.

Their next step, then, was more dramatic.

Bolstered by the 1824 gubernatorial victory of Reliefer Joseph Desha, the General Assembly voted to abolish the Court of Appeals altogether by repealing the law that had established it. This only required a majority vote. Once they had accomplished this, they merely created a new law establishing a new Court of Appeals, this time with four justices. These four justices were hand-picked by Desha and confirmed, again by simple majority, by the General Assembly. These new justices, sympathetic to the Relief cause, immediately overturned the rulings of the previous Court of Appeals and reinstituted the Relief faction’s legislation.

Needless to say, this unprecedented move set off a major crisis in Kentucky politics. The Old Court, together with its supporters from the Anti-Reliefers, refused to acknowledge the legality of the New Court. When ordered to turn their records over to the New Court, they refused, which prompted the clerk of the New Court to break into the offices of the Old Court and steal the records he was able to find.

The Old Court continued to convene and pass laws throughout 1825. What had been the Relief faction versus the Anti-Relief faction became the Old Court versus the New Court. With two courts claiming legitimacy and the state split into polarized factions, the entire state was on the verge of schism and possibly even descending into a sort of intrastate civil war.

It was in the midst of this firestorm in 1825 that Solomon Sharp resigned as state attorney general and accepted the nomination to the state legislature. He was a New Court man, and his supporters must have known that if he could win a seat, his popularity – both among voters and among his peers – would ensure his appointment as the Speaker of the House.

The Old Court faction, however, understood this as well. They recognized that it was vitally important to keep Sharp out of the 1825 General Assembly, and they acted quickly and remorselessly.

Shortly after Sharp was named as a candidate, rumors of his infidelity with Anna Cooke began to be circulated again. One of Sharp’s most vociferous political enemies – a wealthy lawyer and Old Court supporter named John Waring – began circulating pamphlets that not only reminded people of Sharp’s bastard child with Anna Cooke, but also made the accusation that Sharp had denied the child was his by suggesting that it was a Mulatto – that is, fathered by a black man.

In this day and age, we recognize interracial relationships as normal aspects of a sexually healthy society. But in the 1820’s, especially in a slave-state like Kentucky, accusing a white woman of having a black man’s child was just about the worst insult imaginable.

Like other aspects of this story, it is not at all clear that Solomon Sharp ever actually made any such accusation about the race of the child he was accused of fathering. But Waring’s purpose in publicizing this story was to make Anna Cooke look like the innocent victim of a vicious attack on her character by an ambitious politician willing to go to any lengths to avoid a career-damaging scandal.

Waring, it might be worth pointing out, also sent several death-threats to Sharp during this time, and was widely known to be a ruthless and violent individual. He was charged with disturbing the peace on more than a dozen occasions, he was known to have shot his own cousin to death in a dispute, and in 1835, he stood trial for murdering a prominent rival lawyer. Though there was no question that he had done the deed, three juries deadlocked over the question of self-defense, and a fourth acquitted him. He was murdered himself a few years later at the hands of one of his many professional, political, and personal enemies.

So it is not outside the realm of possibility – and in fact may be very likely – that Waring invented the story of Sharp accusing Cooke’s child of being fathered by a black man.

In any case, there can be no question that Jereboam Beauchamp believed every word of it. Now, not only had Sharp dishonored Beauchamp’s future wife by giving her a child out of wedlock, but he had also publicly accused her of copulating with a black man.

As far as Beauchamp was concerned, Sharp had to die.

And that, of course, may have been exactly what Old Court supporters were hoping for.

THE ASSASSINATION

On the first weekend of November, 1825, with the new General Assembly set to open on Monday and nominate Solomon Sharp as Speaker of the House, Jereboam Beauchamp traveled from Bowling Green to Frankfort.

The capital was bustling with activity in anticipation of the new legislative session, and Beauchamp was not able to find lodging at any of the local inns or taverns. Ironically enough, he ended up renting a room from the warden of the local prison. Telling the warden and his family that he was ill, he retired to his room early, then slipped out again after the family had gone to bed.

Traipsing through the city, he went first to Sharp’s house, which he found empty. He then went to a local tavern where he knew Sharp had been meeting earlier with colleagues. Sharp was still there when he arrived, but Beauchamp managed to have his back turned when Sharp left, and he missed him. Once he realized Sharp was gone, he went immediately back to the legislator’s house, but Sharp was still not home. Beauchamp decided to wait for him, planning on killing him before he ever made it inside, but while the young assassin was reconnoitering in the rear of the house, Sharp came in through the front door and evaded him again.

At this point, Beauchamp must have been having second thoughts. He knew Sharp was not home alone – his wife, his brother, and several out of town guests were inside with him. Beauchamp could easily enter the house and pull off the deed, but not without being seen and possibly apprehended.

The thought of the vile rumor he believed Sharp had spread about Anna Cooke, however, must have spurred him on. He resolved to wait until long after everyone had gone to bed, then pose as a family friend seeking a place to bunk for the night.

Beauchamp’s account of what took place on Sharp’s doorstep (as depicted in the introduction) is almost certainly an overdramatized and distorted version of what really happened.



In Beauchamp’s account, he is in charge throughout the confrontation, holding Sharp by the wrist until he sinks to his knees, then taking him by the throat and slamming him against the wall before plunging a dagger into the legislator’s heart while he begs for mercy.

No one knows for certain what took place; Mrs. Sharp witnessed the entire thing but she never gave public testimony about it. What is undeniable is that Beauchamp stabbed Sharp a single time, the blade entering (according to the criminal report) “two inches below the breastbone” and causing instant death (likely by severing the aorta).

THE AFTERMATH

Beauchamp and his wife had planned an elaborate escape to Missouri, but they were unable to pull it off. Within four days he had been arrested for Sharp’s murder. Few people, however, seem to have believed that he had acted alone. Popular sentiment suspected that Beauchamp was merely the love-struck hit man for an Old Court conspiracy, and the two prime suspects were the aforementioned John Waring and a man named Patrick Darby – another lawyer who was a prominent Old Court supporter. Darby was known to have made several public statements prior to the assassination implying that if Sharp was elected, he wouldn’t live to take his seat.

In the end, very little admissible evidence was found that could link Waring and Darby to Beauchamp. Darby, in fact, became a key witness for the prosecution, after he personally interviewed a number of people in Beauchamp’s hometown who testified that Beauchamp confessed the killing to them. Despite this, many people suspected Darby of either being the killer himself, or being the mastermind.

Beauchamp’s trial took place in May of 1826. There was very little physical evidence connecting Beauchamp to the scene, but the testimonies about his confessions to friends, and Mrs. Sharp’s identification of him by the sound of his voice, were difficult for the defense team to overcome. Their primary argument was that Darby, and not Beauchamp, had committed the crime, with Darby’s motivation being political.

The jury didn’t buy it. After only an hour of deliberation, they returned a guilty verdict and a recommendation for execution. (One of Beauchamp’s lawyers, incidentally, was the man mentioned previously that John Waring would later stand trial for murdering).

Beauchamp was originally due to face the gallows in June of 1846, but the judge agreed to delay it until July so that Beauchamp could write his own account of the crime. This account was published after his death as “The Confession of Jereboam O. Beauchamp.” By that time, he clearly recognized that there was no sense in denying his involvement in Sharp’s murder.



His confession, however, did not put rumors to rest that Patrick Darby had somehow been involved in the plot to kill Solomon Sharp. Accusations flew back and forth among Old Court and New Court supporters, with the New Court faction steadfastly believing that Patrick Darby (an Old Court stalwart) had masterminded the killing. Solomon Sharp’s wife and brother believed this as well. The issue reached such a fever pitch that one newspaper even suggested that the New Court faction had masterminded the killing so that they could blame it on the Old Court faction!

Patrick Darby eventually brought a series of defamation lawsuits against several legislators of the New Court, as well as Solomon Sharp’s widow and brother. Darby died, however, before any of the suits went to trial.

CONCLUSION

After Beauchamp was sentenced to death, Anna Cooke was granted permission to stay with him in his cell while he awaited his execution. Twice during that time they attempted, like Romeo and Juliet, to commit suicide together by overdosing on laudanum. Both attempts failed.

On the morning of Beauchamp’s execution, July 7, 1826, Cooke smuggled a knife into the cell. After asking the guard to turn his back while Cooke changed clothes, Beauchamp and his wife stabbed themselves. Anna’s wound was more severe than her husband’s, and she died within a few minutes. Beauchamp, however, was hurried out of his cell and rushed to the gallows with a bleeding wound in his abdomen. Too weak to stand on his own, he was held between two men while the noose was placed around his neck and the trapdoor was sprung.

The bodies were turned over to Beauchamp’s father, and the two lovers were buried arm-in-arm inside the same coffin. A poem Cooke had written the night before was etched into the tombstone, which is still in place in the Maple Grove Cemetery in Nelson County, Kentucky.



Jereboam O. Beauchamp was the first person legally executed in the state of Kentucky.

By 1826, Old Court supporters had gained control of the legislature again, but they were initially unable to completely reverse all the changes the New Court supporters had made. One proposal to fix the problem called for the resignation of the entire General Assembly, the governor and lieutenant governor, and all seven justices of the two competing courts. Not surprisingly, this measure was rejected. However, in December of that year, the Old Court-dominated General Assembly finally garnered enough votes to repeal the earlier changes. Governor Desha, a New Court supporter, vetoed the measure, but the General Assembly overrode it. Three new justices were installed on the Old Court, and in a move toward reconciliation, one of these new justices came from the now abolished New Court.

In 1829, the 77 decisions rendered during the New Court’s tenure were declared null and void, and a century after that – in 1935 – those 77 decisions were formally stricken from Kentucky common law.

Solomon Sharp was buried in Frankfort.



His epitaph reads: “Solomon P. Sharp was assassinated while extending the hand of hospitality on the morning of November 7, 1825. What thou knowest not now, thou shalt know hereafter.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

McGwire Insists Steroids Didn't Enhance Performance

Yesterday, I posted about Mark McGwire's admission that he used steroids throughout his career.

In that post, I noted that I appreciated his sincere apology and that it had renewed my opinion of him. I also stated, however, that I still felt that he did not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, because whether he has apologized or not, that doesn't change the fact that he cheated by giving himself a competitive advantage using banned substances.

Last night, Bob Costas interviewed McGwire on the MLB network. In that interview, Costas asked McGwire if steroids helped him to hit more home runs in his career than he would have without steroids.

I was disappointed in McGwire's reply.

He essentially said that he did not feel that steroids had enhanced his ability to hit home runs. He argued that his ability to hit home runs was a natural gift, given to him - in his words - by "the man upstairs," and thus steroids did not increase his home run totals.

By his account, McGwire took steroids in order to heal more quickly from injuries and to feel 100% when he was on the field. He talked about his numerous injuries throughout his career and argued that he had taken low dose steroids in order to recover better from those injuries. Essentially, he argued that the steroids helped him to play more often, and to feel healthier when he was on the field.

There is a disconnect here that should be pretty obvious. First of all, if steroids helped him to heal more quickly so that he could play more often, and if steroids helped him to feel better when he was on the field, then that, by definition, was a competitive advantage that steroids gave him. Those who did not take steroids simply had to play through the pain or miss more games due to injury. Playing more often, and feeling 100% when you play, will naturally increase your overall productivity. So even if the benefit of steroids on Big Mac's home run total wasn't a direct influence, it still had a clear and legitimate indirect influence.

Secondly, if he genuinely believes that steroids didn't have a direct influence on his home run totals (by giving him extra strength, bat speed, etc.), then he is surely the only person under that delusion. But if he does, in fact, genuinely believe the steroids didn't directly enhance his play, how can one explain his guilt and contrition? If you've read the statement he made, he makes it clear that he feels an enormous amount of guilt over what he did. He apologizes several times. He says he wishes he had never played in the steroid era. He clearly regrets his steroid use immensely. Furthermore, in the Costas interview, his contrition is even more obvious. He actually broke into tears at one point. He apologized to his teammates, to Bud Selig (commissioner of MLB), to the fans, to his coach, to all MLB players, and to the Maris family. He even called Roger Maris's widow to apologize personally to her.

How can that sort of guilt and contrition be explained if McGwire doesn't acknowledge that the steroids gave him a competitive advantage and helped him to ultimately hit more home runs and break Maris' record?

I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I don't think he's lying when he says that he doesn't think the steroids gave him an advantage. I think he just hasn't fully connected all the dots. I don't think he has fully faced the ramifications of what he did. I don't think he has fully put two and two together. I don't think he has considered the fact that taking steroids in order to feel better is the same thing as taking steroids in order to have a competitive advantage, and a competitive advantage, by definition, means that his productivity (like home run totals) was increased due to steroids.

I feel sorry for Big Mac. I still accept his apology, I still feel like he is sincere, I still feel like he genuinely feels guilty. I just don't think he has yet been able to face the reality of what his steroid use really means in regards to his career and his productivity as a player.

Monday, January 11, 2010

McGwire Admits to Steroid Use



Mark McGwire, who is returning to Major League Baseball this year as the hitting coach for his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, has issued a statement today admitting that he used steroids throughout much of his career, including in 1998 when he broke Roger Maris's home run record.

"I wish I had never touched steroids," McGwire said. "It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize." (Read the whole statement here)

In 2005, McGwire tarnished his reputation when he testified before Congress and continually refused to answer their questions about steroid use, repeating that he didn't want to "talk about the past."

McGwire before Congress in 2005

Once considered by many to be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, he has failed to get even half the number of required votes in his first several years on the ballot.

In his statement, he made clear that his purpose in coming clean now was because he is getting ready to return to the field as the Cardinals' hitting coach. But one has to wonder if he's not hoping to do a bit of damage control with the Hall of Fame too.

A lot of people that I've heard comments from seem unimpressed. One baseball fan I know called him a "loser" and said that McGwire "doesn't count now."

I have a bit more compassion. I appreciate his openness and willingness to make the admission and apologize. In my eyes, it restores his reputation. It doesn't mean that what he did is okay or that we can just forget about it now, but it does make me feel more kindly towards him now than I have for the last 5 or 6 years.

It's important not to unfairly punish McGwire for sins that half of baseball was guilty of committing in the 1990's and early 2000's. That doesn't mean McGwire gets a free pass, but it's not like he was the only one doing it.

Having said that, I still am patently opposed to him getting into the Hall of Fame. Apology or no apology, it doesn't change the fact that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

But I can at least have the compassion to forgive someone who has admitted his transgressions and apologized.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

No Terrorist Attacks Under Bush?

Outside of presidential elections, I don’t typically do much politically-based blogging, but I recently read about an issue that I felt warranted a bit of attention from my sharp intellect, quick wit, and poignant rhetoric.

(Yes, that was a little joke. I do those every once in a while.)

Recently, a couple of high-profile Republicans, making the talk show rounds, have been repeating what seems to be a new party “talking point”: that there were no terrorist attacks during the Bush presidency, as there have been now during Obama’s presidency. The obvious point is that the country was safer under Republican control – a point that is clearly being made in light of the Congressional midterm elections set to take place later this year.

Now, I said only that it “seems” to be a talking point because I do not want to jump to a conclusion. It may not be an official talking point at all, and may just be that both Republicans in question simply made the same assertion independently.

In any case, the two figures are Rudy Giuliani, former NYC mayor and presidential candidate, and Dana Perino, former press secretary for George W. Bush.

Perino made the statement talking to Sean Hannity of Fox News after the Fort Hood shootings. Her comment was fairly straightforward: “We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.”

Giuliani’s statement was similar, given to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News: “We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We’ve had one under Obama.”

In case it is not already clear, the troublesome thing about these statements is that they are, quite obviously, not true. The worst terror attack in U.S. history occurred during the Bush administration – the 9/11 hijackings.

But they weren’t counting that, you might argue. Everything changed after 9/11, and obviously the context was about the War on Terror in the wake of 9/11. What they meant is there were no terrorist attacks on the U.S. after 9/11 under Bush.

Okay, fair enough.

Problem is, it’s still not true.

There were the anthrax attacks and the so-called “Shoe Bomber” attack of late 2001. In July of 2002 there was a terrorist shooting at the Los Angeles airport, carried out by a Muslim against a group of Jews. Two people were killed and several others were wounded. Later that year, the Beltway Sniper shootings occurred in Virginia, carried out by a Muslim convert who called his actions a “jihad” against America. Finally, a Muslim stating his desire to exact revenge for Muslim deaths around the world drove his vehicle into a group of pedestrians on the campus of UNC in 2006. Fortunately, no one was killed.

What’s perhaps even more troubling about the statements of Giuliani and Perino is that neither of their interviewers corrected them. Now, I don’t say that to suggest that Hannity and Stephanopoulos are both in on some big Republican conspiracy to rewrite history about terrorism under George Bush. But their lack of correction simply shows how easily a misstatement (whether intentional or not) can go undetected and therefore be presented to an audience as truthful.

How many Americans would hear the phrase “There were no terror attacks in the U.S. during the Bush administration after 9/11” and agree that it was true? It doesn’t take a Gallup poll to realize that the answer to that question would likely be in the millions. Memories are short, and history is easy to rewrite when pundits can make false statements on national television and not even be corrected by their interviewers.

Terrorism is a problem facing the world right now. It is a problem that the Bush administration had to tackle, and it is one that the Obama administration has to tackle. In my opinion, it’s underhanded enough to imply that Obama is to blame for Fort Hood or the Underpants Bomber, but it’s downright dirty tricks to suggest, untruthfully, that America saw no terrorism under George Bush, and use that to draw the conclusion that Obama has made America less safe.

It’s so dirty, in fact, that I might even go so far as to call it character assassination.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Tunguska Event

The morning of June 30, 1908, dawned crisp and clear at the tiny village of Vanavara, deep in the Siberian wilderness. Situated on the apex of an acute northern bend of the Stony Tunguska River, Vanavara was a muddy little trading post for natives and Russian settlers in the remote, forested region.

Vanavara on the shores of the Stony Tunguska River

Already a week into summer, it was mild in the tundra region of Vanavara that morning, and Semen Semenov, a local farmer, stood outside his cabin preparing for the days’ work. Though only a few minutes past 7 o’clock, the sun was already arcing into the dome of the sky; late June sunrise in that northern latitude would have been around 3:45 a.m.

As he stood in the lee of his little ramshackle dwelling, he suddenly saw an immense bright light split the sky to the north.

An artist's rendition

As he watched in horror, he saw fire billowing up above the trees in the distance, and within seconds he was knocked down by a wind so hot that it seemed to flay his skin. It felt as though his very clothes were on fire.

Struggling to regain his feet, he began to hear thunderclaps like an artillery barrage. He instinctively covered his head, the superheated furnace blast of wind still whipping around him like the breath of hell.

His wife came staggering out of their little cabin, reaching for him to drag him inside as a sound like fifty freight trains roared down from the distant taiga. The ground shook like an earthquake and the flames billowed higher and higher into the northern sky, turning the forested landscape into an inferno.

* * *

What Semenov and countless other eyewitnesses experienced in the hinterlands of central Siberia that day has baffled scientists for over a century. Semenov’s story is even more amazing when you learn that he was not at the epicenter of the explosion; the village of Vanavara was roughly forty miles away.

As with any major event, the eyewitness accounts vary dramatically, but a general sense of what happened can be pieced together from their stories. Around 7:15 a.m. local time, a massive fireball – as bright as the sun, certainly too bright to look at directly – streaked through the cloudless sky trailing an enormous cylinder of smoke behind it. It seemed to crash into the earth where it set the horizon on fire. Rushing hot wind tore across the landscape, and numerous eyewitnesses described the accompanying sounds the same way Semen Semenov did – like an artillery barrage. Not just a single explosion, but a series of explosions. The explosions caused an earthquake that registered 5.0 on the Richter scale. The subsequent cloud of dust and debris rose so high into the atmosphere that it created a phenomenon known as “bright nights” all across Europe. For several nights subsequent to the blast, cities as far away as London reported such brightness levels at night that one could stand outside and read a book. This phenomenon is caused by the divergent rays of the sun – coming from the other side of the globe – reflecting off dust high in the atmosphere.

Odd as it seems, no scientist – even in Russia – seems to have taken much of an interest in this singular event. It occurred in a deeply rural area of Russia many hundreds of miles from civilization; in fact, the area was so sparsely populated, there were no known fatalities from the blast. Furthermore, the region was inhabited mostly by native Evenki people, and the Tsarist government of St. Petersburg was not particularly concerned about the plight of natives on the backwater tundra of its empire.

It seems to have created somewhat of a stir for several weeks throughout Europe, then it was mostly forgotten.

It was not until the 1920’s, after the Russian Revolution and the fall of the empire, that the first scientists began to legitimately study the Tunguska Event.

These first scientists found the locals in Tunguska highly superstitious about the area, refusing even to guide them to the epicenter for fear of godly wrath. Scientists, however, did eventually find their way to the epicenter, and what they found there shocked them.

It had long been assumed that the explosion was caused by a crashing meteor. Based on eyewitness testimony and newspaper accounts, that seemed to make the most sense.

Yet there was no crater at the epicenter site.

Indeed, no crater has ever been found to this day. Instead, scientists found only miles of mown down trees, splayed out around the center in a butterfly pattern covering over 800 square miles.

Photograph taken in the 1920's

Paradoxically, many of the trees near ground zero were still standing, stripped of bark and foliage and burnt black. How could a meteor create a blast zone of over 800 square miles, have enough force to knock people to the ground forty miles away, set off an earthquake that measured 5.0 on the Richter scale, and create a dust cloud that lit up cities some four thousand miles away, yet leave no visible crater and even leave trees standing upright in the vicinity of the epicenter itself?

By the 1940’s and the dawn of the nuclear age, scientists began to take note of the similarities between the blast pattern of the Tunguska Event and the blast pattern created by nuclear tests. One researcher during that time went so far as to speculate that a nuclear-powered spacecraft from Mars had crashed there in the Siberian tundra.

Researchers eventually concluded that the explosion was equal to roughly 15 megatons of TNT – or about 1000 times more powerful than the nuclear explosions that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Furthermore, it happened, like a nuclear explosion, in midair – roughly 5 miles above the earth’s surface.

But what was it?

Modern scientists believe that the Tunguska Event was caused by a “low-density asteroid.” This is a fancy way of saying that it was sort of a mix between an asteroid and a comet. An asteroid differs from a meteor in that a meteor is space debris, usually metallic, left over from the formation of the galaxy, while an asteroid is a piece of rock from a larger, planetoid body. A comet, on the other hand, is made up of ice and various gasses and may have a rocky core.

The asteroid hit the earth’s atmosphere at a very low angle of deflection. This is the reason why it didn’t detonate on contact with the atmosphere, as most space rocks do. It skimmed through like a stone on a pond. Speeding through the upper atmosphere, the asteroid’s shape caused an enormous amount of drag against its surface, heating it into a virtual fireball. Because of the low density composition of the asteroid, it was unable to withstand this immense heat and exploded. The “artillery barrage” reported by so many eyewitnesses indicates that not just one, but many explosions occurred, breaking the asteroid up into virtual dust before it impacted the surface of the earth. Roughly the size of a small office building, the midair explosion caused a blast pattern not unlike what is seen with a nuclear detonation – the pressure from above is exerted equally on the surfaces of the trees directly below the blast, leaving many of them standing upright. But as the blast radiates outward, trees farther away from the epicenter are knocked down like matchsticks. In the case of Tunguska, an estimated 80 million trees were felled by the blast.



The most disturbing aspect of this event, of course, is its intensity. The Tunguska Event, in fact, is the most intense earth impact by an extraterrestrial body in all of known human history. Had it occurred above a major metropolitan area, millions of lives would have been lost. Most of the earth’s surface, of course, is water, and even most of earth’s land surface is not densely populated like an urban area. Still, a Tunguska-like event over Chicago, for instance, would level every structure and kill every living thing in a 35-mile radius.

Modern observatories, of course, monitor near-earth objects in an effort to stay ahead of the curve and identify any potential city-killers like the Tunguska asteroid, or even planet-killers like the meteor that helped put an end to the dinosaurs.

But it’s hard not to wonder if one might not slip through the cracks. Indeed, is there any reason to suppose that in all the vastness of space, we would manage to get a glimpse of an approaching mega-meteor before it hit?


The epicenter of the Tunguska Event as it looks today

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Hall of Fame Results



The Hall of Fame results were just announced, and only Andre Dawson got in. I couldn't be more happy of course, growing up watching Dawson play.

But I'm immensely disappointed that Barry Larkin only pulled 51% of the vote (you have to have 75%). How can such a good player miss out on so many ballots?

Robbie Alomar also didn't get in, which is a travesty as well.

What the hell is wrong with the sports writers of the BBWAA? They induct Ozzie Smith on the first ballot - a player who was a fantastic fielder but had minor-league talent on every other aspect of major league baseball - yet look past Robbie Alomar and Barry Larkin? Absurd and outrageous.

Either way, congrats to one of my childhood favorite players, the Hawk. It's about damn time.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Baseball Hall of Fame

On Wednesday, this year's baseball Hall of Fame inductees will be announced. For those not intimately familiar with the process, it tends to create the same sorts of heated debates and controversies that the BCS selections create every year in college football.

The biggest problem is that the entire process is flawed. Hall of Famers aren't chosen based on statistics. They aren't chosen based on perceptions from other players or managers or owners or anyone else who actually works within the industry. They are chosen based on the subjective opinions of sports writers. Specifically, members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that sports journalists are all incompetent douchebags. But its clear that they are not the ideal group to be selecting members of the Hall of Fame. Just because someone is a sports writer doesn't mean he has extra special information that your average baseball fan doesn't have. Fact is, a given sports writer is just as likely to be biased and uninformed as anyone else. Someone may cover the local MLB team in the local paper, but that does not mean he/she has any special insight into players who played on other teams, in other leagues, in a different era.

That last point is especially poignant - the issue of players from different eras.

A player must be retired for five years before he can appear on a ballot. That, of course, is to give time for his "legacy" to sink in. If a player receives at least 5% of the vote, he will remain on the ballot for the following year. 5% is not much, so many players remain on the ballot for many years. Twenty years have to pass before a player loses eligibility. Thus, in 2010, for instance, there could be players on the ballot who retired as far back as the mid-80's - long enough ago that some of today's BBWAA members were only children at the time. Are they really qualified to be making the decision?

The fact is, it has become more and more obvious in recent years that there is a distinct bias among modern BBWAA members against players from the 1980's. The reason for this is because of the performance-enhancing drugs boom of the mid-1990's and the resulting scandal of the early 2000's. Suddenly 40 homers in a season wasn't such a big deal. Suddenly a slugging percentage of .500 was ho-hum. Offensive numbers skyrocketed as a result of widespread cheating, and even though we now know what happened and why, it hasn't changed the perceptions that resulted from those steroid-enhanced numbers of the 1990's and 2000's. It's left us with the perception that those players from the 1980's - the guys who played in the last generation before the steroid boom and who are now the players on the Hall of Fame ballots - it's left us with the impression that these guys weren't all that great. So you have top player after top player after top player from the 1980's and early 1990's who are languishing on the Hall of Fame ballots year after year because they are being judged against the drug-enhanced power numbers of the modern era instead of against the era in which they played.

A prime example is Andre Dawson.



Here is a player who won one MVP award and was runner-up MVP two other times. He won the Rookie of the Year award. He won eight gold gloves. He was the first player to really combine consistent power with consistent speed, hitting double digit homers and stealing double digit bases in 12 seasons. He hit over 400 home runs (again, pre-steroids era) and stole over 300 bases. He had nearly 1600 RBI. He was an 8-time All Star. He was a 4-time Silver Slugger. In 1987, he lead the league in both homers and RBI.

The fact is, Dawson was among the very best players of his era. Any discussion, circa 1988, of the "best player in baseball" would most definitely have included Dawson. He was among the best of the best.

Yet he has languished on the Hall of Fame ballot for nearly a decade now. A decade!! It's unbelievable that someone who so dominated his sport and his position for so long could end up being so overlooked by today's baseball writers. He is a prime illustration of the kind of bias we have today in this post-steroid scandal world.

Andre Dawson, for what it's worth, will probably get in this year. He only missed by a few votes last year. And new candidate Roberto Alomar will probably be a "first balloter" this year as well. Barry Larkin deserves to be a first balloter, but my guess is that he will not make it this year in his first chance.



Despite being the premiere shortstop of his era (famous but one-tool Ozzie Smith notwithstanding), Larkin is just one of those underrated players that people tend to overlook. He played in the shadow of the more familiar Ripken and Smith, and the the last few years of his career he was overshadowed by the rise of the power-hitting shortstops like Jeter, A-Rod, Tejada, and half a dozen others. But make no mistake, Larkin's overall numbers are better than any of his shortstop peers during the prime of his career (roughly 1987 to 1997).

Jayson Stark, writer for ESPN, wrote a fantastic article last week about Larkin and why he deserves to be in. If ever member of the BBWAA read this article, I think he'd get in to the Hall of Fame tomorrow on his first ballot. But not every member of the BBWAA will read it. Here's the link: Underrate Larkin Deserves Spot in Hall

If I was a member of the BBWAA, my ballot would have Larkin, Alomar, Dawson, and Atlanta great Fred McGriff.

Monday, January 04, 2010

New Layout

So if you actually visit my blog, as opposed to reading the feed in Facebook, email, a feed reader, etc., you'll notice that I've dramatically altered the layout of my blog. I've been tired of the old template for quite a long time, and wanted something more customized and personal, but I've just not had the time or inclination to get all involved customizing a layout. I'm HTML challenged, so it's not a simple or necessarily enjoyable task for me.

I'm still getting used to it, however, and have not yet fully decided if I'm pleased or not. I may keep tinkering with it.

The other thing you will notice is that I've changed my profile picture to show an actual picture of myself, and I also have added a crossword puzzle gadget below the main post body. You can play the daily crossword right from my blog, and it updates every day. So those of you who enjoy online crossword puzzles, please visit often! :)

Finally, make sure to check out the ads that you find at the bottom of my posts. Believe it or not, sometimes they actually take you to interesting and/or relevant sites. It's not all total garbage. And of course I make a bit of money if you click :)

Sunday, January 03, 2010

2009 Reading List

I'm ashamed to admit that I only completed 22 books in 2009. That may seem like a lot by most people's standards, but for someone who considers himself a "reader," that's not particularly good. Of course, considering that I spent all year going to school full time, doing 25 hours a week of clinical rotations, working 20 hours a week first at Target and later Gap, moving two or three times over the course of the year, taking part in family duties and household responsibilities, two months of commuting between cities throughout the week, and studying for my boards for the last four months of the year - considering all that, I guess it's not such a bad feat to have completed 22 books.

In addition to that, I didn't read any short works this year - those 200-250 page novels that you can get through in a day or two. I usually pepper my reading list throughout the year with books like that. Every book I read this year, however, was a full length work of either fiction or non-fiction.

So anyway, enough blithering. Here's the list:

World Without End – Ken Follett…1/21
This was the sequel to Follett's hugely successful book "Pillars of the Earth." Although this one wasn't quite as good as Pillars, it was still a fantastic book. I would put Pillars among my top 3 favorite novels of all time. This one could probably go in the top 10 - certainly the top 20. Set in the 1300's, it takes place about 200 years after the events of Pillars of the Earth, but takes place in the same town, with the same monastery at the center of events.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling…1/27
Having started the Harry Potter series rather later than most, I didn't read the final Harry Potter until January of 2008. As I recall, despite being roughly 600 pages, I read it in about three days. Prior to reading #7, I had slowly been reading all the others, having started in the spring of 2007. I enjoyed #7 so much, I decided to read the entire series again (it didn't hurt that I had no "to be read" books on my shelf at the time, either).

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling…1/31

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling…2/10

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling…2/14

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling…2/27

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling…3/13

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J.K. Rowling…3/21

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling…3/26
As you can see, I ended up reading Deathly Hollows not just twice in one year, but twice in about two months. It was really interesting to read the whole series through a second time, all right in a row with no break in between. Caught a lot of things that I certainly didn't catch the first time.

The Burning Shore – Wilbur Smith…5/26
Having already completed one 7-book series in 2009, I decided to start another series of books, this one a 5-book series by Wilbur Smith known as "The Countneys of Africa" series. Starting with The Burning Shore, the story begins in World War I and follows the Courtney family up through the mid 1980's. This was actually my second time reading The Burning Shore - the first time was over a decade ago, but I was never able - back then - to read any of the other books in the series because, at the time, they were out of print.

The Invernova – S.A. Alenthony…6/30
The Infernova is a novel in verse - an epic poem. Written by a friend of mine, it is an atheist's reworking of Dante's Inferno. While I am not an atheist, I found the book to be entertaining and extremely well-written, and it certainly touches on a lot of important themes and forces its readers to face a lot of unpleasant, but important, issues.

Power of the Sword – Wilbur Smith…7/22

Rage – Wilbur Smith…8/21

A Time to Die – Wilbur Smith…8/31

Golden Fox – Wilbur Smith…9/10
These were books 2-5 of the Courtneys of Africa series. The last two books are interesting because they are backwards chronologically. A Time To Die takes place in the 1980's, whereas The Golden Fox - published last - takes place in the 1970's. The whole series is really good - top-notch historical fiction - and although they are novels, the books give a really intimate and informative glimpse into the history of South Africa and Apartheid.

The Codex – Douglas Preston…9/22
I've been a fan of Douglas Preston for quite a while, having read all the books he has co-authored with Lincoln Child. This was my first foray into reading one of his solo novels, however. As much as I love his co-authored books with Child, I was disappointed with The Codex. It wasn't terrible or anything, it just wasn't anywhere near the quality of his books with Lincoln Child. Very poor character development, weak dialogue (in some places, horribly weak dialogue), trite and predictable antagonists, and a silly plot. I was quite surprised with how weak I felt the book was, because I had always imagined that Preston was the primary voice in the Preston-Child novels. Now, I'm not so sure.

The Birth of Christianity – John Dominic Crossan…10/4
This book took me about 5 months to read. It's not the kind of book that someone with an average interest in Biblical scholarship would want to read, but for a graduate student, a theologian, or a lay person like myself with an intense interest in Biblical scholarship, this work is a "must read." Crossan describes his vision of how Christianity began, focusing his conclusions on the first decade or so after Jesus' death - that "dark age" of Christian history. He concludes that Jesus' followers continued on teaching in his name - recalling Jesus' sayings and teachings, and going throughout Galilee and Judea as itinerant prophets, much as Jesus had been before them. He describes the "prophets and the householders" - the prophets being the wandering and homeless teachers (like Jesus) and the householders being the oppressed Jews they were teaching to. Key to his conclusions are the texts of the Gospel of Thomas and a text not widely known outside of academic circles called the Didache. He also discussed the Gospel of Peter in great detail.

Cemetery Dance – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child…10/11
After the disappointment of Douglas Preston's solo novel mentioned above, the new Preston-Child book was a welcomed relief. This novel centered on their recurring character, Special Agent Pendergast of the FBI, and his investigation into a voodoo cult in New York City.

Timeline – Michael Crichton…10/18
Published (if I recall correctly) in 1998, this was the last Michael Crichton novel that was worth reading. I've stated elsewhere my feelings about Crichton and his literary decline, so I won't go into it here. But either way, this was my second time reading Timeline, and it was every bit as good as I remember it being the first time. It's about a group of archaeologists excavating a medieval site in France who get the opportunity to go back to the 13th century and actually visit the town they have been excavating. A really good high-tech sci-fi action/adventure novel.

The Origin of Satan – Elaine Pagels…10/27
A great book for a general audience outlining beliefs in Satan and how they have changed and morphed over the years. She starts with the ancient Hebrews and traces ideas about Satan up through the present day, paying particular attention to how beliefs about Satan impacted the New Testament.

Rabbi Jesus – Bruce Chilton…12/6
This is the first Chilton book I've read. I had mixed feelings about it. Chilton is a noted Jesus scholar, but this book is unlike any scholarly book about Jesus that I've ever read. It is written almost like a novel. It's got a very strong narrative language to it, starting with Jesus' birth and going up through his death. It's subtitled "An Intimate Biography" and that is very apt. It is a true "biography" of Jesus. Unfortunately, Chilton doesn't really do much in the way of supporting many of his assertions. He seems to only be interested in the 4 Gospels of the New Testament - he apparently gives them precedence over any other texts in regards to understanding the historical Jesus. Furthermore, he seems to believe that anything in those 4 Gospels is "fair game" for drawing conclusions about the historical Jesus - although he is by no means a "Biblical literalist." He doesn't believe in a virgin birth or a physical resurrection, for instance. Yet pretty much any story in the Gospels is fair game for evaluating some historical aspect of Jesus' life. Just to give you an idea of what I mean - he rejects the idea that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, but he believes the Bethlehem birth tradition came from the fact that Jesus' mother was from Bethlehem of Galilee. There's no historical evidence to support this, of course, other than the fact that a town called Bethlehem did exist in Galilee in the 1st century. The book is full of extremely tenuous conclusions like that.

However, I thought that his general profile of Jesus in a Jewish context of purifying Israel was right on target. He provided new and profound insights about Jesus and his message of purity, one that has somewhat changed my own perspective about the purpose of Jesus' life and what his "mission" was really all about.

Eternal Life: A New Vision – John Shelby Spong…12/17
This is what Spong says is his last book. It's the last book of his contract, and he apparently doesn't see himself writing anything else. Aptly, then, it's about death and eternal life. Spong, of course, does not believe in heaven and hell and rejects any traditional images of the "afterlife." What he discusses instead is the timelessness and "eternity" of consciousness, and how we can touch eternity by opening our conscious minds through loving wastefully, living fully, and being the best we can be. He believes that consciousness will survive beyond our deaths because consciousness is eternal. He doesn't pretend to know what living eternally as part of the "universal consciousness" will actually look like - will we know ourselves, our friends, our loved ones? - but he instead focuses on how it can change one's life in the here and now.

Serene Musings Books of the Year, 2005-2015