Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jack the Ripper: Case Solved

Well, maybe.

I recently DVR'd a show on the National Geographic Channel called Finding Jack the Ripper, where a retired British police detective investigates the case and attempts to see if he can discover anything new.  His name was Trevor Marriott, and apparently this show was actually based on a book he published in 2005 outlining his theories.

I didn't expect to be particularly impressed - it was just a reality docudrama, after all.  As it turns out, he made an incredibly well-reasoned and convincing argument for a suspect that - as far as I know - has never been involved in any Jack the Ripper investigations in the past.


Most people, of course, are at least vaguely familiar with the story of Jack the Ripper.  To give a brief overview, the story begins on balmy London night in late August, 1888, when a prostitute named Mary Ann Nichols was brutally murdered with a knife.  A week later, another prostitute - Annie Chapman - was killed, and her uterus was removed by the murderer.  

About three weeks after that, by now the end of September, two more prostitutes were killed on the same night - Elizabeth Stride and Catharine Eddowes.  Virtually since the night it happened, there has been disagreement as to whether Elizabeth Stride was actually murdered by Jack the Ripper.  Unlike his other victims, she had no mutilations to her body - only her throat was cut.  Those who believe she was indeed Jack the Ripper's victim argue that he was interrupted as he went about his deed, and therefore had to find another victim - Catharine Eddowes - whom he killed about 45 minutes later.  Others, however, doubt that the murderer could have pulled both murders off in the period of time necessary.  Together with the lack of mutilation or other telltale Ripper signs, this leads them to the conclusion that Stride, in fact, was the victim of some other person.

Jack the Ripper's murder spree ended about a month after the double murder of Stride and Eddowes.  In the first week of November, 1888, a fifth prostitute - Mary Kelly - was murdered, and her body was mutilated to such a degree as to be hardly recognizable as human.  The black and white photograph of her body is, to say the least, highly disturbing.

Following the murder of Mary Kelly, Jack the Ripper disappeared, apparently never to be heard from again.  Theories have abounded as to why the murders suddenly stopped, with the most obvious being that the Ripper himself died before he was able to kill again (the Whitechapel district of London, where the murders took place, was NOT a place you wanted to be in the late 1800's - people died there every day from murders and fights and all manner of violent causes).

Over the years, there have been literally hundreds of suspects identified, mostly by amateur enthusiasts and the occasional independent investigator.  None has ever garnered widespread support, and I doubt this latest suspect will either.  But the argument is an interesting one.    


Trevor Marriott, the police detective who has put forth this new suspect, has always believed that Jack the Ripper was most likely a merchant seaman - that is, someone who was frequently coming and going from the nearby shipyards.  This would help explain the sudden start to the crimes, the periods of time between murders, and the subsequent abrupt ending to the killing spree.  It is also true that many of Whitechapel's prostitutes made their living largely by serving sailors who were temporarily in port.  It's not a stretch to imagine that the murderer might have been a sailor, and this has been a popular theory almost since the time of the original investigation.   

Starting from this point, Marriott began investigating possible suspects.  He eventually centered on a German sailor named Carl Feigenbaum.     

Who is Carl Feigenbaum?  

Well, nobody, really.  He was executed in 1896 for murdering a woman in New York City, and while his lawyer claimed in an interview on the day of the execution that he believed Feigenbaum was Jack the Ripper, no one took him seriously and Feigenbaum was more or less forgotten as a suspect.  Until Trevor Marriott came along, anyway.

Marriott discovered that Feigenbaum had, in fact, worked for a German merchant shipping company in the 1880's, ending his stint there in the early 1890's before settling in the U.S.A.  

Combing through the records of this shipping company, Marriott was able to determine the exact dates in which Feigenbaum had been employed - and the dates included the late summer and early autumn of 1888.  

He was further able to comb the shipping records of the port in London where he believes the Ripper would have been based.  His first goal was to find out if any one ship - of any nationality - was in port on each of the days the Ripper struck.  He found only one ship that met this criteria, but it was only in port on 3 of the 4 murder days (recall that two murders took place on the same day, resulting in 5 victims killed on 4 different days).  

This ship, as it turns out, was a ship owned and operated by the company Feigenbaum was employed by, and it was a ship that he was known to have worked on.  

Furthermore, on the 4th day in question - the day in which the first ship was not in port - there was ANOTHER ship of the same company that was in port.  

This means that the shipping company which Feigenbaum worked for in late 1888 had ships in port on each of the days of the Ripper murders.  Furthermore, there were other Ripper-like murders around Europe and North America in the few years following the Whitechapel murders, and in each of those cases, Marriott was able to confirm that a ship of this German merchant company had been in port at the time.  Ultimately, he identified something like 20 different Ripper-like murders (including the 5 in London) that occurred in large cities around the world, beginning in 1888 with the Ripper murders and going up through 1892, in which ships of this German shipping line were in dock at the time of the murder.  

I don't know about you, but that's a pretty amazing discovery, particularly considering that it seems to be exactly this period - about 1888 to 1892 - that Feigenbaum was working for the shipping company in question. 

Marriott's next step was to see if he could actually confirm that Feigenbaum was on these ships when they were in port.  Finding those records could conceivably prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Feigenbaum was, in fact, Jack the Ripper.  The coincidence would be too great.

Fortunately, the company in question kept very detailed records of the men who worked on their London-bound ships.  However, the company's records from the three months in which the Ripper murders took place in London were mysteriously absent from the archives.  This was true despite the fact that, apparently, the records before and after that stretch were relatively complete.  Marriott has theorized that perhaps Feigenbaum's lawyer got possession of them, although that's purely speculation.  What is not speculation is that the records which could conclusively confirm or deny whether Feigenbaum was in London on the days of the murders have been lost.  

After Feigenbaum's stint as a merchant seaman, he seems to have settled in the U.S. and worked as a florist in Wisconsin before ultimately moving, about 1894, to New York City.  It was there that he eventually murdered a woman and was sentenced to death for it.  The murder was very much "Ripper style," with a long-bladed knife used to slit the woman's throat with a double slash.  The long-bladed knife and the double slash throat cut are two of the hallmarks of the Ripper murders.  The woman's body was not mutilated, but that could be because Feigenbaum was caught in the act by her son and forced to run.  He was later caught by police.  

As noted above, Feigenbaum's lawyers told newspapers on the day of Feigenbaum's execution that he believed Feigenbaum could be connected to Jack the Ripper.  He went on to say that he would "stake [his] professional reputation" that a proper investigation would tie Feigenbaum to London and Whitechapel in late 1888. 

He also told the press that Feigenbaum had confided to him that he had "suffered for years" from an "all absorbing passion" that caused him to want to brutally murder and mutilate women.  When this "passion" came on him, Feigenbaum apparently said, he was "unable to control" himself.  

This, of course, is perfectly consistent with what criminal psychologists would now recognize as the hallmark of a serial killer - the uncontrollable urge to kill.

Feigenbaum's lawyer went on to say that he had looked up some of the dates of the Ripper murders, and then asked Feigenbaum about where he was on those dates, without telling him why he wanted to know.  Feigenbaum, said his lawyer, confirmed that he was in London on the days in question.

This story apparently made a minor sensation at the time, and was reported in many newspapers around the country, but the theory never caught on, and within a few years, Carl Feigenbaum had basically passed out of the consciousness of Ripper investigators and enthusiasts.  


Marriott finalized his theory by asserting that the Ripper-like murders which had been taking place in various places around the world during the late 1880's and early 1890's pretty much ended after the arrest and execution of Carl Feigenbaum.  As a final piece to the puzzle, that certainly seems to seal the deal.

However, as one can imagine, many experts are still not convinced.  I found a website devoted to the case where the author analyzed Marriott's conclusions extensively and ultimately stated that he thought Marriott was wrong.  

Without those all important records that actually show Feigenbaum's name as part of the crew of a ship that was actually in port during these various murders, it is difficult to say that the "case is closed."  

I personally have always found it odd that so many Ripper enthusiasts seem to assume that the murderer must have moved on to some other place and kept on murdering.  Invariably, this "other place" always ends up being America, and it's not an accident that the enthusiasts who tend to support these theories are American.  The case is so fascinating to so many people that it almost seems as though American enthusiasts resent that the murders happened in London and want desperately to be able to claim Jack the Ripper as their own.

In all likelihood, Jack the Ripper was some tramp who lived on the streets of Whitechapel, snapped one day and started murdering, then ended up dead himself in a bar fight or a mugging, or was perhaps arrested and put in jail for some other unrelated crime, and thus passed out of history without anyone ever knowing any better.  That's the simplest answer, anyway, and the simplest answer is usually the right one.  

Still, this newest theory about Carl Feigenbaum is noteworthy simply because it seems, on the surface anyway, to have some solid evidence behind it, even if that evidence is only circumstantial.  

Friday, April 22, 2011

Notes from the Cave

After working 9 days straight, I finally had a day off today.  But I'm right back tomorrow for a ten hour shift, followed by a 12-hour third shift on Saturday night.  Working a lot of days in a row is bad enough, but the switching back and forth between 1st and 3rd shift really, really sucks.  In short, I'm too old for this shit.

On Sunday afternoon (after I got up from sleeping after working all night), I got all my stuff together to mow the lawn for the first time this year.  As many of you know, we sold our last house in June of 2009, and had been in an apartment since then, up until February of this year.  So this was not only the first mow of the year for me, but also the first in about two years.  The lawn equipment had been in storage all that time.

I went out and got new gas cans (the old ones were gone - probably thrown away when we moved), filled them up with gas, then mixed oil into the second container (the weed eater requires a gasoline/oil mix).  Got my mowing outfit on and got prepared to set about mowing for the first time the largest yard that I've ever owned.  I started on the weed eater, and it fired up like normal and all was good.

Then I put the gasoline into the lawn mower.

Almost immediately I saw liquid begin to drip from the filter.  I kept pouring for a few more seconds before I realized that the gasoline was leaking back out.  My first thought was that it was a bad fuel line - maybe dry rot from sitting idle for two years.  But upon closer investigation, I saw that it was actually leaking out of an iron tube connecting from the filter to the engine itself.  Obviously some O-ring or gasket inside the engine has broken and is leaking gasoline.  So not only did I not get my lawn mowed - which was badly in need of it - but I also have to get the damn mower fixed - and it's a relatively new mower.  I think I bought it in 2008, which means I only used it for one season and maybe two months of another.  And, of course, this is the busy season for lawn mower repair.  My father-in-law has his in the shop right now and they told him it would be three weeks.

Tonight I borrowed a neighbor's mower and mowed the front, but the back is still basically a jungle.

Earlier this week, I began working out a new idea for a collection of short fiction.  It's been a while since I've written any fiction, and I've always tended to struggle somewhat with short stories because in many ways they are harder to write than long fiction.  But my idea is based on all the genealogical research I have done on  There are so many interesting vignettes about ancestors and their life events that they fairly beg to be fictionalized.   So I am going to start a series of short stories - maybe 12 to 16 total - and put them into a collection, yet to be titled, about real people and events from American history.  Rather than writing about famous people and events - which is what informs most historical fiction - these stories will be about average, every day Americans from across 400 years of American history.  Of course I will include a lot of stories about my own ancestors, but I don't want it to be top-heavy with my own family, so I have asked a number of friends and co-workers if I can research their families on to find interesting tidbits to write stories about.  Already I have found several stories from among my friends' family lines that would make for good short stories.  Ultimately, it will be interesting to see if this pans out or if it fizzles into that nebulous world of artistic plans and ideas that never come to fruition.

On the reading front, I finished James Rollins' Altar of Eden - it was typical pop thriller fare, predictable and formulaic as all get out, but entertaining enough for a week's read.  I've now moved on to the second book of Sharon Kay Penman's 12th century trilogy, called Time and Chance.  It picks up pretty much where the first book left off, in the mid 1150's, a few years into the reign of Henry II and his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.  It will apparently focus mostly on Henry's relationship, and ultimate falling out, with his chancellor and later Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.  (Click that link for a short 2006 post I made about Becket's murder.)

I've simultaneously started reading a very thick collection of short stories by Rudyard Kipling.  For those who don't know, Kipling is one of England's most famous writers, easily the most famous British writer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He was born and lived much of his life in British-controlled India, and as such became a prominent voice for the waning days of British imperialism there.  He only wrote a few novels, focusing instead on short stories and poetry - of which he wrote literally hundreds of each.  His most famous collection of short stories, in America anyway, is The Jungle Book.

The very first story in this collection I'm reading is a story from 1885 called The Dream of Duncan Parrenness, and in it is a quote that immediately stood out to me as one of those "great quotes" from literature.  It immediately struck a chord with my own experiences, and I must have read it over five or six times:
Yet there be certain times in a young man's life, when, through great sorrow or sin, all the boy in him is burnt and seared away so that he passes at one step to the more sorrowful state of manhood.
It sort of gives me chills even reading it now again.  He managed, in this one sentence from a relatively obscure story from his early life, to sum up beautifully the universal experience of men reaching adulthood.  It doesn't necessarily happen when you turn 18, or 21, or 25.  But it happens, and once it does, there's no going back.

Have any of you heard of this New York Times bestseller called Heaven is for Real?  I've read about it recently. I guess this kid had a near-death experience at age 4, and now he and his parents (and no doubt a ghost writer) have written a book to give people encouragement about what awaits them after death.  Not surprisingly, the boy's father is an evangelical minister, and the boy's trip to heaven included visits from Jesus and John the Baptist.

What I want to know is this: How come people who have near death experiences always have them within the bounds of their own spiritual heritage?  In other words, how come Christians don't ever experience Muslim or Buddhist heaven, and vice versa, and how come Hindus never see Jesus during their near death experiences?  I might be inclined to believe a near-death experience if it happened to a Christian, but they saw Mohammed, or it happened to a Buddhist, but they saw Jesus, or it happened to a Jew, but they saw Osiris, and then converted to the new religion on the spot.  THAT would be impressive.  A Christian seeing John the Baptist, or a Buddhist seeing Buddha, however, is not so interesting.

Of course, I suppose the reason this book is such a hit is because it happened to this 4-year old who wouldn't have had the same sort of religious knowledge that the rest of us have.  Yet magically he saw Jesus and John the Baptist - figures he undoubtedly would have heard talked about by his minister father and in Sunday School.  Isn't it amazing that he didn't run into Shiva or Mohammed or Zoroaster or Zeus - figures he almost certainly had never heard of?  Again, had this 4-year-old seen Shiva, ultimately leading to the mass conversion from Christianity to Hinduism of his entire family, including his evangelical minster father, THEN I would be mightily impressed.

He also, apparently, met up with a sister he didn't know he had, learning only later that his mother had miscarried a girl (how she could have known it was a girl, so early in a pregnancy, is anyone's guess, I suppose).  Of course, even though he may not have been consciously aware, at age 4, of his mother's past miscarriage, it's a virtual certainty that he had heard his parents talk about it and had stored it away subconsciously.

But then I suppose I'm just a jaded old skeptic who likes to pee on people's parades.

Perhaps I should read the book before criticizing it - I'm sort of breaking one of my own rules here - but I simply have never seen or read anything to make me suppose that near-death experiences are likely to be anything other than a function of neural activity in a dying and oxygen-starved brain, which causes people to see familiar things.  These stories are interesting, even amazing, but I haven't ever been persuaded to suppose there is anything supernatural going on.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Notes from the Cave

Not much to talk about this week.  I know I said something to that effect on my last Cave entry, but it's really true this time.

We started a new schedule at work this week, and it's taking some getting used to.  I was supposed to work 6 to 2:30 today, and showed up at 8 a.m. because I'm not used to that earlier shift.  Tomorrow (which is really today, since it is past two in the morning) I work second shift.  Then I work a swing shift on Friday, followed by the night shift on Saturday.  Then I'm back to an 8 a.m. shift next Monday.  It's no wonder I got confused.

In the last few weeks, I passed my 1-year anniversary with my employer.  In the past, a 1-year anniversary would have seemed significant, but I guess as you get older and move from career to career, as I have done, it's not that big of a deal anymore.  This is particularly true since there are so many people I work with who have been with the hospital for 20 and 30 and even 40 years.  One year doesn't seem like much up against that.  And I'm still the low man on the totem pole for seniority.  I am literally dead last.

My stomach issues, which I have mentioned in the past, seem to be settling down a bit.  I hesitate to say they are "resolved," but for now, I've been doing okay for the last few weeks.  I did have to take some Advil a few days ago, but it was just that one day.

I had to get some work done on my car last week (my car is not REALLY a van, that's just my Twitter joke), as my check engine light had been on for almost two months.  I was worried it was going to be something major - I guess you always worry about that when you aren't sure what it is.  It turned out to just be some kind of "sensor crank" or something, and it only cost a few hundred bucks.  That's a few hundred more than I had, but at least it didn't need a whole new transmission or anything, which is what I had feared.

My oldest daughter and I have been on one of our Rock Band II streaks this week.  We will get on streaks like this where we play every day for a week or two, then won't play for several months.  She's the drummer,, and her favorite songs to play include Eye of the Tiger, Hungry Like the Wolf, We Got the Beat, and, strangely enough, Psycho Killer by the Talking Heads.  That was a song I'd never even heard until I got Rock Band.  She also likes Round and Round, Spoonman, and Man in the Box.  I think my favorite one to play is The Middle, by Jimmy Eat World.  (They were on Conan a few weeks ago, and I loved the spot he did as a commercial that night before the show.  He said something to the effect of: "We're going to have Jimmy Eat World tonight.  Don't worry, Jimmy no really eat world.")  That probably doesn't sound as funny written out in my blog post as it did when Conan delivered it.

I finally finished the book I've been reading since January - When Christ and His Saints Slept, by Sharon Kay Penman.  It was historical fiction, set during "The Anarchy" - the 12th century English civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maude.  If you love historical sagas set in the Middle Ages, this one is for you.  It's actually the first in a trilogy, with the second two books continuing with the reign of Henry II and his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.  These books are right up my alley because they are set during the 12th century - my absolutely favoritest period of English history.  The second and third books are on my shelf to be read.  The only downside, of course, is that this book took me two months to read.  It's a virtual encyclopedia.  I'm now onto some lighter fare in James Rollins' most recent thriller, Altar of Eden.

I'm not sure how I feel about the category headings.  Not sure if I'll keep doing that.  In any case, that is all.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Rush in Louisville: A Review

On Tuesday evening, I saw my 7th Rush concert since 2004, this time in Louisville, Kentucky.  This show, at the new KFC/YUM Center, marks the 6th different venue I’ve seen them in.  Seven shows in six years may seem like a lot to some, but it’s painfully few compared to the hardcore fans among which I count myself.  I know people who have seen twice that many just on this tour alone. 

I always like getting to these shows early, to avoid parking woes and to find out where my seat is without fighting enormous crowds of people.  It also allows me to find close parking, and thus get out quicker when the show is over and avoid the heavy exit traffic. 

The new KFC/YUM Center sits right on the Ohio River in downtown Louisville
I arrived about two hours before the show and was able to park for $10 in a parking garage that was across the street from the venue.  It was a nice, newer garage, with a covered walkway leading virtually right up to the arena.  Considering I passed public lots two or three blocks down that were also $10, I thought this was a pretty nice find.  Of course, being two hours early helps.

The venue itself is very nice.  The acoustics inside were fantastic, and I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking about going to a concert there.  The sound was very crisp and clear, with little to no distortion.  I think this is the reason why my ears were only ringing very mildly at show’s end – in the past, I’ve sometimes had ringing ears for several days after an indoor concert.  The area around the venue is clean and new and well-lit, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable, even walking out to my car at 11 pm.

Prior to the show, I hung around outside, and there was a cover band playing Rush and Ozzy songs in front of a bar.  Turns out, the drummer was 11, the guitarist 12, and the bassist/keyboardist a 17-year-old girl wearing fishnet stockings and blue hair.  Considering their age, they were quite good.  During their cover of Tom Sawyer, the girl played keyboards with one hand while playing bass with the other – simply “hammering” the open strings at the right time.  They did a fine rendition of The Spirit of Radio, as well as a cover of Ozzy’s Crazy Train. 

As for the real Rush show, it was excellent, as always.  I try not to be one of those fans who claims every show I go to is the “best I’ve seen yet!”, but I have to say that they did seem to be more “into it” – for lack of a better phrase – than in some other shows I’ve seen.  This was probably due to the fact that the crowd was more “into it” than most.  One of my biggest complaints about Rush concerts is that the fans usually don’t move around much – they do stand throughout the show, and certainly cheer the songs, but there is never a lot of dancing and or jumping or fist-pumping or other various gyrations that you expect to see at a rock concert.  I’ve always chalked this up to the fact that most shows are populated by older people (Rush has been around since the mid-70’s), and 50-year-old fat guys aren’t as prone to head-banging and other forms of physical expression as, say, a 20-year-old would be. 

My standard for this has always been the crowd at Rush’s performance in 2002 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  This was Rush’s first trip to Brazil, and the final stop there was filmed for a DVD called Rush in Rio.  This DVD, by the way, is actually Rush’s best-selling “album” of all time, certified seven times platinum by the RIAA last September. 

In any case, on the Rush in Rio DVD, the crowd of 40,000 was absolutely unbelievable.  You can see them throughout the show cheering and whooping and yelling and dancing and jumping and raising their hands and singing along and generally acting like a Brazilian soccer crowd.  They even “sang along” to one of Rush’s instrumentals, a song called YYZ, humming in unison to the familiar melody.  At one point, during the instrumental part of the song Freewill, the crowd spontaneously started bowing in rhythm with hands outstretched, like subjects making obeisance to a god (in this case, three gods). 

Compared to this crowd, American crowds are dead on their feet. 

In any case, the crowd for the Louisville show on Tuesday was a lot more “into it” than I have seen in the past (maybe this is why Rush seemed more “into it” too).  Nothing like the Brazilians, of course, but not exactly zombies either.  This always makes the show more enjoyable and makes you feel more free, yourself, to whoop and cheer and jump without looking stupid (of course, it’s that self-conscious feeling, so common among Americans, that causes no one to do it in the first place). 

As always, there were humorous videos before and after the performance, as well as themed lighting and pyrotechnics.  They actually are using more pyrotechnics on this tour than I remember them using in the past.  Lots of flame cannons and explosions, and even some minor fireworks.  

One unexpected explosion, during the line “like a lucky shot in the dark” from the song Marathon, nearly gave me a heart attack.

During one song early on (unfortunately, I can’t remember which one), guitarist Alex Lifeson played a very prominent and noticeable wrong note during one of his riffs.  He made a funny face and then humorously “scolded” his left hand. 

Someone actually managed to catch a photo of this and posted it online.
Neil Peart’s drum solo was unbelievable.  It’s always unbelievable, of course.  Anyone who knows a Rush fan probably is familiar with exclamations of how incredible Neil Peart is.  If you go to a concert and watch his drum solo, you’ll know why.  And you almost have to see it, because it’s somewhat indescribable.  During one part, he plays a song on his electric marimba and accompanies himself on drums. 

The same person who took the picture above also took this one, and the next one.
 To borrow a phrase I once read from an interview with Geddy Lee, Neil’s ability for complete “limb independence” is just staggering.  Most people’s brains can’t allow them to do what Neil Peart does.  Try patting your head with one hand, rubbing circles on your stomach with another, drawing an X in the dirt with one foot, and drawing a square in the dirt with the other foot.  All at the same time.  That’s the sort of thing Neil Peart does on the drums.

As for Geddy Lee’s bass playing, he seemed to be more “in the zone” and doing a bit more improvisation than I’ve seen in the past.  

With as good as Neil Peart is on drums, sometimes Geddy and Alex get overlooked for their own superior playing.  But make no mistake, they are both among the best on their own instruments.  That’s what makes Rush so incredible – it’s three virtuosos all coming together in the same band and making music that just blows you away. 

Geddy’s voice sounded pretty good.  It’s a fact that he is nearing 60 years old, so obviously he’s not the wailer he was in his youth.  But considering his age, not to mention the mileage, he still does a remarkably good job night after night.  He seems to struggle more noticeably on the run-of-the-mill parts than on the really high, difficult sections.  I suppose that is the result of focusing.  He “relaxes” somewhat during the easy parts, so sometimes his voice quavers a bit, but he gets mentally ready for the tough parts, and manages to hit the notes squarely.  During Freewill, which includes some of his highest vocal ranges (“Each of us, a cell of awareness,” and so on), he absolutely nailed it, belting it out like he was still 30.  It was so good it gave me goose bumps, and the crowd cheered mid-song – something you don’t often hear (although it happened a lot at this show). 

They finished with a nice encore that included old favorites La Villa Strangiato and Working Man.  They played the opening of Working Man slowed down, like you might expect from an “unplugged” version of a song.  Before Geddy started singing, I wasn’t even sure what they were playing.  They played it like that for about one verse, then suddenly ripped back into the normal, chest-thumping, ear-jarring version, and it totally blew me and the rest of the crowd away.  One of the best parts of the whole concert.

When the show was over, I bolted straight for the door while the ending video played.  I could still see and hear it as I walked out, so I didn’t miss anything, and as soon as it ended I was out the arena door, into the entry hall and back outside.  This allowed me to get to my car quickly and experience not one iota of exit traffic.  I was on the Interstate within about 10 minutes of walking out of the arena, if even that. 

All in all, it was another great Rush experience, made even better by the great Louisville crowd, the nice, concert-friendly arena, the clean, safe, well-lit area of downtown Louisville where the venue sits, and, of course, the boys themselves, the Trinity, the greatest band on earth, RUSH!!   

Monday, April 04, 2011

Follow Me On Twitter


I've tried Twitter in the past and quit, but I'm going to start a new Twitter account (actually, it's the same one I always had, but it's been renamed).  It's based  on a post from Lisa LeBon's blog about some creepy dude in a van who stopped randomly in front of her house and asked her if he could buy her car (which is not for sale).  She hilariously referred to him as the Psycho Van Creeper, and I've decided to take on the name in Twitter (I briefly flirted with the idea of changing the name of my blog to this).  It was too long for Twitter, however, so I had to change "psycho" to "syko."

Anyway, you can follow me @SykoVanCreeper on Twitter now, if you want.  I can't promise I will keep up with it, though.  

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys?

So a group of us were talking about Target the other day.  I don't recall exactly how it got brought up, but one of  the more opinionated people piped in to say she never shops at Target because it is owned by "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."  By this, she meant it was a French-owned corporation, which is why she refuses to shop there.

There are a lot of things wrong with this statement, but I want to focus on two: 1) the notion that Target is French-owned, and 2) the notion that the French are "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."  

To begin with, and to put it simply, Target is an American corporation founded in the 1960's in Minnesota.  It is about as French as I am - which is to say,  not at all.  It is based in Minneapolis.  It is not now, nor has it ever been, a French company.

I'm not sure where the notion comes from that Target is French, but it is apparently a common one because there is a brief article about it on - a website that specializes in confirming or debunking rumors and urban legends.  I wonder if it's not based on something as silly as the fact that a lot of folks colloquially refer to Target with a French accent: "Tar-zhay."

Regardless of its origins, it is totally and irrefutably false.  

Secondly, and in my opinion much more importantly, is it appropriate to refer to French people as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys?"  More to the point, did the French surrender impotently to the Germans in World War II?  

I googled this phrase and discovered that it was apparently first used on an episode of The Simpson's back in the mid-1990's, and was revived during the period of anti-French sentiment that preceded the start of the 2003 Iraq War.  Although it's been a while, I've heard it used before.

In any case, like any derogatory word or phrase, I find it highly offensive.  Unlike other offensive terms, which are frequently just based on linguistics (consider the N-word, for instance, which is a bastardization of "negro," which itself comes from the Latin word for "black"), this derogatory phrase about the French is based on a completely false notion about something that happened 70 years ago, before most of us were born.  Even if it were historically justified (which it is not), it would still be ridiculous to use it as a way of characterizing, and thus negatively stereotyping, an entire nation of people, most of whom, like us, weren't even alive when the event in question took place.  

It would be a little like calling every modern person from the American South a slave-beating racist, and thus refusing to shop at stores based out of southern states.
For those of you who might be historically impaired (that's a little joke, by the way), let me give you a little background on what, exactly, this phrase is referring to, and why it is insidiously false. 

In World War I, France suffered 1.6 million deaths, including 300,000 civilian deaths.  Those may just be sterile numbers on a page, but think about them for a moment.  1.3 million military deaths is more than all the military deaths in all the wars that the U.S. has ever fought in its entire history, including both sides of the Civil War.  300,000 civilian deaths would be like the entire city of Cincinnati, Ohio, being wiped out.  

There were also over 4 million French soldiers wounded.  

This was just one war, from 1914-1918.  And without going into an analysis of World War I, let me just say that these people all died for nothing.  World War I gained nothing for anyone.  It was a family quarrel between monarch cousins in Britain, Germany, and Russia.  

Just 20 years later - the very next generation - it all happened again, coming right on the heels of a major worldwide depression.  How "in the mood" would you have been for another war? 

In any case, Germany, under Hitler, invaded France in 1940.  Despite the claims of phrases like "surrender monkey," France did not lay down its weapons and surrender.  Countries like Austria surrendered.  Austria opened its capital city and let the Germans in without shedding a drop of blood.  

In France's case, they fought the Germans and got beat, plain and simple.  They were beaten by a superior military, and a superior military plan.  There may be no glory in defeat, but being defeated militarily, and just turning tail and surrendering, are two different things.  Furthermore, France was not alone in the Battle of France.  Britain was there too, and they fled in a mass retreat from Normandy, leaving the majority of their military equipment behind to be requisitioned by the Nazis.  But I don't ever hear anyone calling the British "surrender monkeys."  

From mid-May to mid-June, 1940, the French military lost about 85,000 soldiers.  That's significantly more than the U.S. lost in all of World War I.  I'd like for some mouthy American to stand face-to-face with one of the descendants of those 85,000 French soldiers killed in the Battle of France, and call them "surrender monkeys."  85,000 soldiers don't die surrendering.  

After the French were defeated by the Germans, they did indeed sign an armistice and Germany became their virtual overlords.  So they stopped fighting, right?  And old Uncle Sam had to bail them out, correct?  


If not for the French Resistance, which operated underground for the next five years, the Normandy Invasion in 1944 - America's crowning achievement - would never have happened.  Brave and heroic French men and women made it possible for thousands of brave and heroic Americans and British to invade Europe and defeat Hitler.  As many as 20,000 men and women of the French Resistance died fighting to undermine the Germans during the war.  Cheese-eating surrender monkeys?  Maybe the cheese part.  

Furthermore, French soldiers continued fighting in many areas for the remainder of the war, with another 50-60,000 being killed in action.  Cheese-eating surrender monkeys?

Maybe the cheese part.

Finally, another 270,000 French civilians perished during the duration of the war.  Cheese-eating get the point.

All told, France lost over 500,000 men and women in World War II, about 1.3% of its entire population.  Neither the U.S., nor the U.K., lost that many, and both those countries had larger populations, meaning their percentage of population losses were even less (about 0.9% for the U.K., and roughly 0.3% for the U.S.).

What that means, of course, is that France paid a much bigger price for World War II than either of the other western Allies.    

These facts hardly justify calling them "surrender monkeys," even in jest.

Unfortunately, the stereotype persists and will no doubt continue to persist.  In an odd turn of events, I took a break this evening from writing this post to eat dinner with my family.  A commercial came on for the upcoming film Arthur, starring Russell Brand.  In the commercial, a scene is shown where a woman kisses him roughly.  He says something like, "What was that?"  "A French kiss," the woman replies.  Brand's character then jokes, "The French surrendered.  That was more German."  

The French fought and died against the Germans.  They didn't lay down their weapons and invite the Germans to tea.  They were defeated by a superior military, who struck unexpectedly in a style of warfare that led Germany to victory after victory early in the war, over a lot more countries than just France.  By 1942, Germany held virtually all of western Europe and half of Russia.  It wasn't only France who got beaten.  Britain survived only because they were not connected by land, and even then they just barely avoided defeat by the German blitzkrieg.   

If not for French underground resistance fighters, who died in the tens of thousands, Normandy would never have happened, and Europe may never have been freed from the Nazis.   

It's time to put this insidious and ignorant stereotype about the French people and their actions in World War II to rest.  

Friday, April 01, 2011

Is Coach Cal a Cheater?

John Calipari, head coach of the UK Wildcats, is perhaps the most hated coach in all of men's college basketball.  Go onto virtually any article about the Wildcats on or, and there will always be "Calipari haters" mouthing off about what a dirty cheater he is.

These two comments, for instance, were made recently by posters in the Sports forum on a messageboard I frequent:
John Calipari is as crooked as a college coach can be. The last two colleges he's coached have had serious violations and sanctions. Somehow the NCAA lets him continue to coach and punishes the team after he conveniently leaves.
Agreed. The worst kind - a cheater who weasels his way out.
For those who don't know, this is based on the fact that the two previous teams he took to the Final Four - UMASS in 1996, and Memphis in 2008, had their tournament victories that year vacated (that is, stricken from the official record) by the NCAA because of infractions by star players - Marcus Camby for UMASS, and Derrick Rose for Memphis.  Camby turned out to have received gifts from an agent - a big NCAA no-no - and Rose had falsified his college entrance scores.

In both of these cases, Calipari was cleared by the NCAA of any wrongdoing.  In fact, he was never even suspected of wrongdoing by the NCAA, because there was absolutely no evidence to suggest he had anything to do with it.  In the case of Derrick Rose, the NCAA had actually investigated his test scores and cleared him to play, only to change their minds later.

I've said before that if Calipari was guilty of anything, it was only in not being aware of what was going on.  But that hardly makes him the most crooked coach in college sports.

The fact is, it is simply fashionable to hate Calipari.  Why Calipari?  Well, I'm not sure, other than he's been extremely successful and is hands down the best recruiter in the nation.  When you have that kind of success - particularly on the recruiting front - people just make assumptions.  I actually had a negative impression of him myself before he came to UK - but after he arrived, I did a little investigating for myself, and was forced to change my opinion because I realized it was neither fair nor consistent.

The fact is, there have been no less than 38 NCAA Division I coaches who have had tournament appearances vacated.  Calipari has had two.  But well-regarded coaches like Jim Calhoun and the beloved Jim Valvano are on that list too.  Valvano, in fact, had not one, but three tournament appearances vacated during his career.  But he won a heart-warming championship as an underdog in 1983, and later heroically fought cancer and established a prominent cancer research foundation, so no one ever mentions his vacated tournaments.  Jim Calhoun not only has had a tournament vacated, but was also sanctioned this year by the NCAA and will have to serve a 3-game suspension next season for not fostering an "atmosphere of compliance" with NCAA regulations.  

Another figure on the list who has had 3 tournaments vacated is Steve Fisher - who won a championship with Michigan in 1989.  This year, he got a lot of positive press for taking San Diego State into prominence and a deep tournament run.  But he's not a "big name" coach, so no one pays any attention.  Certainly no one is calling him the most crooked coach in America.  

Other prominent coaches on the list are Steve Lavin, currently of St. John's, the highly-respected Lute Olsen of Arizona, and Eddie Sutton.

The point here should be clear.  A lot of coaches over the years have had tournaments vacated, including several current coaches.  Steve Fisher of San Diego State has the most of any current NCAA Division I coach - and the tournaments (including two Final Fours) he vacated with Michigan in the mid-1990's involved not just one player, but 4, and he ultimately was fired for his own involvement.  Joey Meyer, formerly of DePaul, has the most vacated tournaments, with four straight from 1986 to 1989.    

I said it already, but it bears repeating: it is simply fashionable to dump on Calipari.  He's prominent, he's highly successful both in coaching and recruiting, and his 2008 Memphis program is the most recent one to have a tournament vacated.

For people who don't know any better, or who just need a reason to hate the Wildcats (hey, when you're the best, a lot of people aren't going to like you), the facts of the matter don't really matter much at all.