Pretty Blue Planet

04 The Earth with the International Space Statio in the lower foreground, from STS-118.

This is a stunning collection of images from space: PrettyBluePlanet. Enjoy.

Posted in Earth Science, International Space Station, Personal, Space | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Wednesday’s Book Review: “Race and Reunion”

race-and-reunion2Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. By David W. Blight. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

One of the most powerful elements of historical study in the last thirty years is the nature of memory. The analysis of how stories about the past become a master narrative, and what lessons they teach those interested in the subject, has been a growing area of concern in American history. This memory is constructed gradually over time as people reflect on the meaning of what has transpired, and much of what emerges is not so much a fable or falsehood as it is a kind of poetry about events and situations that have great significance for the people involved.

The memories over time become more significant than the cold, hard facts of the past, insofar as they are recoverable at all, and become the essential truths of the past for the members of a cultural group who hold them, enact them, or perceive them. But what does it say about a society in which the falsification of memory is overt, as David Blight suggests in this elegant depiction of the past?

David Blight’s Race and Reunion is a stunning analysis of the manner in which a specific master narrative about the Civil War was constructed through its memory in American consciousness. He starts his book with a discussion of the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg in 1913, and how the theme of reconciliation and shared valor were emphasized rather than the divisive issues of slavery, human rights, and treason that the war was really about. He asked the pointed question: “What had the 50 years since the battle meant?” (p. 11). The answer, Blight finds, is that the reasons for the war—the prohibition of slavery beyond the borders where it already existed, the morality of owning another human being, and the nature of human dignity and rights, treason, and armed rebellion—had been consciously recast as a “war between the states” in which the fundamental divisions were over fine points of constitutional law.

In the process the welfare of former slaves had been abandoned, restrictive laws had emerged to control the African American population, and the race issue in the United States—still one of the most difficult issues of the nation—was ignored in favor of white reconciliation and sectional harmony.

With considerable eloquence and not a little bitterness Blight goes on to trace the rise of a pro-Southern master narrative that ignored racism, and its manifestation in slavery, as the REASON behind the war. As he does so his anger manifests itself, and I found his indignation a moving force in Race and Reunion. He rightly concludes that this stolen memory of the reasons for this “strange, sad war” represents a true malignancy on the soul of America. Notwithstanding some, such as Frederick Douglass, William Tecumseh Sherman, and U.S. Grant, who sought to keep alive the spirit of reform that the war bespoke, a wellspring of pro-Southern sentiment calculated to alter the memory of the war among most Americans reinterpreted this great reform effort.

Virtually the opening salvo of this “revisionism” came with the 1870 publication of Jefferson Davis’s memoir and its emphasis on constitutional issues and property rights. The legend of the “Lost Cause” soon followed. Blight asserts five major components of this pro-southern argument that found expression in the latter nineteenth century:

  1. The valor of the southern soldier.
  2. The stability and tranquility of the culture of the Old South with happy and fulfilled participants whether slave or free.
  3. The Southern past must be defended and celebrated against all alternative constructions that were by definition prejudiced and malevolent.
  4. The causes of the war revolved around constitutional issues and northern harassment of those legal positions, violating Southern states’ autonomy. Moreover, the war had virtually nothing to do with the institution of slavery.
  5. Slavery may have existed in the Old South, but it had been a benign institution in which those who participated in it lived fulfilling and peaceful lives.

Throughout Race and Reunion Blight notes the consistent theme of white supremacy that motivated the creation of this memory of the Civil War. Perhaps it is not difficult to believe that former Confederates would assert these arguments to justify their actions. What is perplexing, however, is the ease with which Northerners, including many participants in the war, accepted this as the master narrative of the war. Most were motivated by self-interest in commerce and industrialization, never questioning that some things might be more important and that not to understand and act on them make us less than we should ever allow ourselves to become.

In the end, Northerners easily pardoned themselves for abandoning the freed slaves by noting that the ending of chattel slavery was enough; never mind its replacement with restrictive Jim Crow laws and forms of economic slavery. Reunion and reconciliation at any price was better than on-going conflict.

Moreover, and Blight suggests as much, did the North capitulate to the “Lost Cause” reinterpretation of the Civil War because it was as racist as the South? Did the people recollecting the war miss the point of it all, and if so was it intentional? No question, racism is still with us in this country, and manifestations of it appear to be on the upsurge. Attitudes of disdain and calls for curbing of civil liberties based on little more than race and ethnicity abound in the America of the early twenty-first century. What does the unfinished journey somberly chronicled in David Blight’s Race and Reunion signal for the future?

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Announcing the Space Policy and History Forum #17, September 14, 2015

Artist’s conception of lunar mining, after 2020, artwork by Pat Rawlings. Many believe that the resource rich Moon may one day sustain human efforts to remain in space indefinitely.

Artist’s conception of lunar mining, after 2020, artwork by Pat Rawlings. Many believe that the resource rich Moon may one day sustain human efforts to remain in space indefinitely.

Announcing the Space Policy and History Forum #17

If NASA can put a man on the Moon, why can’t NASA put a man on the Moon?

by Charles Miller, NexGen Space

Charles Miller of NexGen Space will report the results of a NASA-funded study that provides evidence that disproves the widely-held opinion that an American-led human return to the Moon must cost taxpayers $100 Billion or more and that a permanent base on the Moon must cost hundreds-of-billions-of-dollars.

NexGen assembled a team of former NASA executives and engineers who assessed the economic and technical viability of an “Evolvable Lunar Architecture” that leverages commercial capabilities and services that are existing or likely to emerge in the near-term.

The NexGen team evaluated the technical feasibility and economic affordability of a concept that was designed as an incremental, low-cost, and low-risk method for returning humans to the Moon.  The ELA strategic focus was commercial mining of propellant from lunar poles where it will be transported to lunar orbit to be used by NASA to send humans to Mars.  The study assumed A) that the United States is willing to lead an international partnership of countries that leverages private industry capabilities, and B) broad adoption of public-private-partnership models proven in recent years by NASA and other government agencies.  The study included an independent review by a team that included many former senior NASA executives (such as Joe Rothenberg, Chris Kraft, and Tom Moser), former astronauts, and space policy professionals.


Charles Miller is the President of NexGen Space LLC, which provides client-based services at the intersection of commercial space, civil space, national security space, and public policy.  His clients include NASA, DARPA and many private commercial space firms.  He also serves as a senior advisor for Renaissance Strategic Advisors, as the Executive Coordinator of the Alliance for Space Development, and teaches an online course on commercial space for HeatSpring. Mr. Miller is co-founder Nanoracks LLC, a disruptive venture that has delivered more than 250 customer payloads to the ISS. Miller served as NASA Senior Advisor for Commercial Space from 2009 to 2012, where he advised senior NASA leaders on commercial space options and strategies. He is also the co-founder and former President and CEO of Constellation Services International, Inc., which was a leading competitor for commercial ISS cargo delivery in the early 2000s. In the 1990s, Miller was the founder and President of ProSpace, known as “The Citizens’ Space Lobby”.  Under Miller, ProSpace was instrumental in the passage of space-related legislative initiatives, including the Commercial Space Act of 1998, and funding for NASA’s X-33 and X-37 projects, and the U.S. Air Force’s RLV Technology Development program.

Date and Time

September 14  (Monday), 4:00-5:00 P.M.

Location, Parking, and Acces

The presentation will be held at the National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., 4:00-5:00 p.m. Space is limited to 50 attendees, so please RSVP to Roger Launius,,to get your name on the list. This will be for for access to the 3rd floor of the Museum, where we will be meeting in the Director’s Conference Room. You may check in and obtain a badge for access to the building at the guard desk just to the right as you enter the Independence Ave. doors. If you have any questions regarding access, please contact Roger. Parking is not available in NASM, and is limited elsewhere; we recommend using the Metro system for travel to the National Air and Space Museum—the Smithsonian and L’Enfant Plaza stops are close by.

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Perceptions of Belief in a Flat Earth

This is a wood engraving by an unknown artist that first appeared in Camille Flammarion's "L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire" (1888). The image depicts a man crawling under the edge of the sky, showiing it as a solid hemisphere, to look at the mysterious Empyrean beyond. The caption underneath the engraving (not shown here) translates to "A medieval missionary tells that he has found the point where heaven and Earth meet."

This is a wood engraving by an unknown artist that first appeared in Camille Flammarion’s “L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire” (1888). The image depicts a man crawling under the edge of the sky, showiing it as a solid hemisphere, to look at the mysterious Empyrean beyond. The caption underneath the engraving (not shown here) translates to “A medieval missionary tells that he has found the point where heaven and Earth meet.”

It’s a wonderful thing, the imagination of humankind. It has brought us the wonders of science and technology, the ideals of freedom and democracy, the inspiration to question, and the desire to help others, to name only a few positive attributes of the human imagination. It also fosters sometimes weird, esoteric, and just plain wrongheaded ideas.

One of those, at least in the current world in which evidence to the contrary abounds, is the persistent belief that the Earth is flat. The idea of a flat Earth has always been with humanity, and evidence to the contrary has not always been persuasive for those with a desire to believe the Earth is flat.

While this might have been an easily accepted concept from the perspective of humans limited to the surface of this planet this is not so much a rational perspective in the modern world. As recently as 1945 this belief was listed as the second of “twenty critical errors in history” in relation to the idea that Columbus proved that the world was round. He didn’t, anyone educated knew differently, so did sailors and travelers around the globe.

Still the belief persist. There are fascinating individuals such as Samuel Birley Rowbotham (1816-1884), who took the pseudonym “Parallax,” and began what he called “Zetetic astronomy” to promote a flat Earth theory. This “Zetetic” theory has fueled the modern concept of the flat Earth and it persists with formally organized groups to the present. Sometimes those adopting this belief, such as Wilbur Glenn Voliva and his followers in the utopian community of Zion, Illinois, were motivated by biblical fundamentalism.

Leo Ferrari, the philosophy professor who co-founded the Flat Earth Society in 1970.

Leo Ferrari, the philosophy professor who co-founded the Flat Earth Society in 1970.

Others, not so much. One of the most interesting organizations in this arena was the Flat Earth Society of Canada, organized in 1970 by Professor Leo Ferrari, St. Thomas Aquinas University. Ferrari took a decidedly post-modern approach to this subject and argued for personal decisions about the nature of the Earth. He asked everyone to overturn the authority of experts in favor of their own observations, and asked if individual perceptions were that the Earth was round or flat. It represented a fascinating and cockeyed perspective on modern society, made all the more so by outrageous street theater from Ferrari’s group.

At some level, this insistance on a belief that is clearly disprovable represents one of the most interesting aspects of our post-modern society. Who is to say what is true? does one decide for oneself, or does one trust in the authority of others, presumably specialists who know more about the subject.

A fascinating issue to be considered when thinking about such things as belief in a flat Earth, it seems to me, revolves around issues of scientific versus other types of authority. A hallmark of the scientific revolution was the privileging of scientific knowledge over other types—political, religious, economic, social, or cultural. Deference to this authority reached a zenith in the middle twentieth century, as it embedded intrinsically into the philosophy of Progressivism at the turn of the twentieth century emphasizing professionalism and scientific and technological expertise over politics in the solving of national problems.

A backlash occurred through several avenues, epitomized by one critic, Ralph E. Lapp, who characterized the rise of the scientific and technical elite as The New Priesthood, stated in his 1965 book. He urged Americans not to abdicate their political power to these elites, whom he believed were no better prepared to give answers than anyone else. “Like any other group in our society, science has its full share of personalities—wide-gauge and narrow-track minds, sages and scoundrels, trail-blazers and path-followers, altruists and connivers,” he wrote. “To say that science seeks the truth does not endow scientists as a group with special wisdom of what is good for society” (pp. 227-28).

A representation, with tongue firmly in cheek, of a flat Earth.

A representation, with tongue firmly in cheek, of a flat Earth.

In addition, the juxtaposition of the forces of modernity in relation to the concept of a flat Earth and the emergence of postmodernity, might also affect understandings. Historian of science Paul Forman suggests that trends from modernity, with its emphasis on the authority of experts, to postmodernity, with a tendency toward rejection of rule-following and questioning of what constitutes both knowledge and the authority to decide it, have been profound in the last few decades of the twentieth century.

Such an alteration of perspectives may have affected significantly the manner in which ideas about the flat Earth have been accepted or not in Western Civilization.

At some point I hope to do more with this subject. I am pursuing research for a book entitled “Envisioning the Earth: Conceptions of this Planet from the Flat Earth to Gaia.” I hope to do more with the flat Earth concept there. Ideas are welcome.

Posted in History, Lunar Exploration, Personal, Religion, Science | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Scientific Legacy of Fred Hoyle”

The Scientific Legacy of Fred HoyleThe Scientific Legacy of Fred Hoyle. Edited by Douglas Gough. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Fred Hoyle was the astronomer nobody knows. One of the most interesting and provocative scientists in his field in the twentieth century, Hoyle made important discoveries in astronomy, astrophysics, and astrobiology. In particular, he broke ground in such areas as the evolution of the universe, the accretion of stars, and modern cosmology. Sir Fred died in 2001 at the age of 86 and this book is the result of a conference held in celebration of his life and work in 2002. Edited by Douglas Gough, a colleague of Hoyle’s at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, the twelve chapters of this book was written by colleagues and friends.

In the first chapter, dealing with Hoyle’s scientific legacy, Wallace Sargent attributes much of the current state of knowledge about the universe to the mind of Fred Hoyle while noting that his scientific work involved considerable creative thought, especially his efforts in nucleosynthesis, stellar evolution, and cosmology. This overview introduces several other chapters on individual areas explored by Fred Hoyle, all written by other scientists rather than historians.

Had historians been represented in this book, it might have turned out quite differently. For example, a full review and analysis of Hoyle’s insistence on the legitimacy of the “Steady State” thesis of the universe versus the “Big Bang” is not to be found here except in the most general terms. Hoyle’s persistence in the “Steady State Universe” in the face of building and eventually overwhelming evidence supporting the “Big Bang” is one of the most fascinating episodes of his career. While The Scientific Legacy of Fred Hoyle represents a useful tribute to the life of an esteemed colleague, it leaves open more questions than it answers.

Posted in Science, Space | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Might a Global History of Space Exploration Look Like?

The International Space Station in 2012.

The International Space Station in 2012.

I would like to know the answer to this question. I would also very much like to hear what others think about the answers to this question. I have been contemplating this issue. Here are my thoughts thus far.

By its very nature space exploration has a resonance beyond national borders; at a fundamental level it is an activity that transcends national claims and appeals to global sensibilities. For centuries before Sputnik humanity has engaged in a virtual exploration of space through astronomical observation aided by astounding scientific and technological advances. In the more than fifty years since the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, moreover, more than 6,000 functioning satellites have been launched into Earth orbit and beyond—some to the farthest reaches of the Solar System—and more than 540 people have traveled in space.

Space exploration is intrinsically transnational; circumscription by national borders is a meaningless concept when faced with the realities of the longue durée of the endeavor. Regardless, our understanding of space exploration has been largely rooted in the framework of national(ist) narratives and geopolitical prerogatives; this has largely been because nation-states have dominated the historical conceptions of the undertaking. It is time to move past this limited, national historical framework.

For too many individuals the perceived apotheosis of space exploration remains the heady days after Sputnik, when the United States and the Soviet Union competed to trump the other in a series of progressively more complex feats in space. The Cold War space race retains its mystique, either as a benchmark that subsequent accomplishments could never equal or as an anomaly never to be repeated.

It has, in fact, become virtually impossible to think of space exploration without allusion to the halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s and equally inconceivable for historians to interpret the exploration of space without regard to this nationalistic emphasis. But if we focus on a longer duration since about 1800—and view space exploration as something greater than a part of geopolitical rivalry—it takes on a more complex trans- and internationalist hue, as well as offers an opportunity to focus on more engaging economic, business, public/private, and international efforts.

I would like to undertake a study of this subject. My goal would be to develop a fully-rounded concept of a global history of space exploration in the longue durée of the last two centuries, offering perspectives on the way in which the relationship between national identity and space exploration has affected understanding of the history of space exploration; in fact, how it has been fundamental to it. This discussion would be intended as a starting point to revisit both the history and the historiography of space exploration and suggest some new avenues of investigation that move beyond formulations rooted in the Cold War space race.

This would require the exploration of various aspects of this theme and could possibly result in a fully developed work that might serve as a catalyst for future studies moving beyond current knowledge to a global history of the subject. In my estimation we would nee to characterize the story in a fundamentally different manner. It requires mastery of several broad subjects: scientific and technological innovation; financing and economics; business, corporations, and broad organizational interactions; cooperative ventures of all types; space exploration as a global phenomenon; and the characteristics and evolution of transnational arrangements. There may also be several other themes explored that are yet to be defined.

So, what would a global history of space exploration look like?

Posted in Space, International Space Station, Cold War Competition | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

A Typology of Empires throughout History

Istanbul; for centuries it was the crossroads of empire.

Istanbul, crossroads of empire.

I have been studying quite a lot about empires of late; their commonalities, differences, and circumstances. They may all look different, but a remarkably similar in perception. Merriam-Webster defines an empire as:

a (1): a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority; especially: one having an emperor as chief of state (2):  the territory of such a political unit.

b:  something resembling a political empire; especially:  an extensive territory or enterprise under single domination or control.

Despite this seeming commonality, empires have had various types of governments, economies, religions, cultures, etc. They have existed in different times, divergent locations, and with strikingly disparate ambitions. While the people living within those empires believed that encompassed all of the power worth considering, today most of them look surprising small, challenged, and fragile. Even the most successful of the world’s empires were less than omnipotent, even at their most powerful.

When one peels back the layers, furthermore, I would suggest that there may have been only four types of empires in recorded human history. These four types I believe encapsulate all of the empires about which we have any knowledge. This typology may be satisfactory only to myself but let me outline my four types.

The Roman Empire at its height in 117 CE.

The Roman Empire at its height in 117 CE.

First, there are the “classical” empires of Western Civilization. Some of the most well-known in this category include the Roman Empire, the Ming dynasty of China, and the Ottoman Empire. The type of empire was built on the control of land, especially continuous land, and the bounty that came from it. There might be some divergences between empires of the type; especially the Mediterranean empire of Rome with its huge “lake” in its center and the enormous land mass of China; but the critical aspect of the empire was its ability to control land from outside threat and internal dissension. Its bureaucracy, justice system, economics and trade all made the sustaining of the empire possible, sometimes for very long periods. Usually a combination of internal dissent and external threat eventually took these empires down.

Second, the “mercantile” empires established by Europe after 1500 were distinguished from the “classical” type by the maritime emphasis they possessed. These empires relied on trade. Especially in Asia and Africa, European activities were limited to seizing labor, maintaining bases and depots but not much in the way of colonial settlements, and the extraction of wealth. They may have supplanted the local elites, but more often than not they incorporated local leaders into the power structure and together overcame the solidity of tribes or other local political and economic systems. In reality, however, the true power of these “mercantile” empires rested on the oceans and seas, were corporate in structure, and had very few outposts such as Bombay and Calcutta, Batavia and Macao, Madras and Goa.

Third, at the same time “settler” empires emerged under European suzerainty especially in the Americas. Spanish, French, English, and Dutch settlers established first slave labor societies in the Caribbean and then on the American continents. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries many of these colonies gained their independence, establishing a separate type of governmental, economic, social, and political structure modeled on the former mother country’s system. They may have then gone on to establish their own form of empire.

The British empire at its height.

The British empire at its height.

In other parts of the world, which had been dominated by “mercantile” empires from Europe, furthermore, also transformed in some cases into “settler” empires. The British in Africa, Australia, and parts of Asia offer an especially good example of this transformation. By the latter part of the nineteenth century, perhaps the high point of empire for that island nation, the British dominated every aspect of global economics and politics. It took two world wars, economic recession, and the rise of pro-democracy movements in the latter half of the twentieth century that led to the demise of the British empire.

Fourth, an age dominated by “ideological” empires emerged in the Cold War era based less on the occupation of land than on the ideological influence of other rulers and nations. The United States was the best example of this new imperial structure. It spent enormous effort influencing other nations to side with them in their rivalry with the Soviet Union. It also formed alliances, built bases world-wide, and deployed troops around the globe to ensure its hegemony.

Does this typology make sense to readers. What am I missing?

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Path to the Greater, Freer, Truer World”

SwindallThe Path to the Greater, Freer, Truer World: Southern Civil Rights and Anticolonialism, 1937-1955. By Lindsey R. Swindall. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014.

This is a moderately interesting, marginally satisfactory study of two organizations operating between the 1930s and the 1950s. Both the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC) and the Council on African Affairs were formed in 1937, arising largely out of socialist (sometimes communist) sentimentalities sparked by the Great Depression and the efforts of the New Deal to aid suffering Americans. Both ended rather abruptly, the SNYC in 1949 and the Council of African Affairs in 1955, in no small part because of the Red Scare and the targeting of leftist organizations.

Lindsey R. Swindall narrates the story of these two organizations, their involvement with African American leaders such as Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois, and their ideals, their messages, their initiatives, and their successes as well as failures. She is enamored with the publications of these organizations and the intellectual nature of their arguments. She is also focused on the Pan-African nature of how both organizations approached their endeavors. This, of course, was especially the case with the Council on African Affairs, which was firmly in the middle of the anticolonial movement then underway in various colonies in Africa. World War II advanced this cause much more than any group in the United States could hope to do, but this Council advanced the larger cause as much as anything by calling consistent attention to it.

Swindall is at her best in her pen pictures of leaders in these organizations. She is a biographer of Paul Robeson, Paul Robeson: A Life of Activism and Art (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013), and as one might expect her characterization of this intrinsically fascinating individual is compelling. She also profiles writer Lorraine Hansberry, a mainstay of the Council on African Affairs’ periodical, Freedom, which provided urbane and thoughtful perspectives on what was happening in Africa. Beyond her longstanding role working with this organization, she was also the author of A Raisin in the Sun (1959). Unrelentingly Marxist, Hansberry was fascinated with activities in Africa and sought to bring to the African diaspora knowledge of events on the continent.  Swindall’s short biography of Hansberry and her efforts is excellent.

Aside from a modestly interesting dual-discussion of two organizations over about a twenty year period, this book will be useful largely to those who are investigating what Swindall calls the “long civil rights movement.” One of the differences of opinion that has motivated historians of the American civil rights crusade has been periodization. When did it start, and when did it end? What characterized its various aspects, etc? Historians can endlessly debate these questions. Eschewing the specifics of this debate, Swindall notes that the civil rights movement did not begin in 1954 with the Brown vs. Board of Education decision or the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. It goes back much earlier, Swindall notes, and both the SNYC and Council on African Affairs were significant parts of those earlier efforts.

Fair enough. This is a reasonable history of these two organizations, but little more. It is not, unfortunately, a well-rounded study of the African anticolonial movement in the U.S.; if that is what the reader is seeking, seek it elsewhere. Moreover, it is also not a full-blown history of the struggle for civil rights in the American South—even during the period between 1937 and 1955—so if readers are looking for that story, also look elsewhere.

Posted in History, Politics, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Are Your Favorite Baseball Rivalries?

Most sports rivalries are a wonderful thing. They stimulate excellence on the field, the court, the ring, the links, whatever the place of competition. They generate attention from even the most casual observer of the sport and the activities of its players. Who didn’t tune in to watch the Soviets play the Americans in hockey during the Olympics; not only was it a great rivalry on the ice it also held enormous geopolitical resonance. Who doesn’t care about the Michigan/Ohio State football game?

The Juan Marichal/John Roseboro Bat Incident took place in a game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 22, 1965.

The Juan Marichal/John Roseboro Bat Incident took place in a game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 22, 1965.

But what about Major League Baseball rivalries? The most serious incident in one of the most heated rivalries took place fifty years ago on August 22, 1965, when Juan Marichal, a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, hit Los Angeles Dodgers catcher John Roseboro over the head with his bat. Earlier in the game, Marichal had knocked down Dodgers Maury Wills and Ron Fairly. Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax refused to retaliate but when Marichal came up to bat Roseboro returned pitches to the mound by throwing just past his head. Marichal then hit Roseboro twice in the head with his bat. A 14-minute brawl ensued before order could be restored.

Most rivalries don’t get this heated, but I have taken the opportunity to offer my top ten MLB rivalries over the course of professional baseball. Some you will agree with, others probably not so much.

  • New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox: This is a natural, the two teams have competed, each with their own diehard fans, since the first part of the twentieth century. One became the dominant team in the American League and at least until recently the other was the lovable bunch that came close often enough to keep their fans always anxious for next year. Really bad blood exists between them. Bucky Dent will forever have a “bleep” as his middle name.
  • New York/San Francisco Giants vs. Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers: Another natural with a history of tough head to head competition and a lot of bad blood. Juan Marichal beating John Roseboro in the head with a bat was the most violent incident in any game but the rivalry has been persistent and there were still probably few Dodger fans who cheered the Giants in 2010 as they won their first World Series since 1954. Any what about those World Series victories in 2012 and 2014? I doubt the Dodgers. who have not taken a World Series since 1988, enjoyed them very much.
  • Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals: There have been a lot of one-two finishes in the division where both of these teams play, with the Cards usually getting the better of it. But even if both teams are lousy, the intensity of the rivalry shows through at their games. With both teams playing well in 2015 the rivalry will be as intense as ever.
  • New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves: This rivalry, always present since the birth of the Mets, really took off when the Braves rose to dominance in the NL East in the early 1990s. Lots of nastiness on the field, but nothing compared to what took place in the stands. I was once in the middle of a fight at Shea Stadium between Mets fans and some Braves afficionados. I had beer spilled on me, but otherwise escaped untouched.
  • Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Mets: Like the Braves, the Phillies and the Mets have also squared off on some titanic struggles. With one team on the decline and the Mets on the rise perhaps this rivalry will cool off, but I doubt it.
  • New York Yankees vs. Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers: These two teams have met 11 times in the World Series, more times than any other pair of teams, with the Yankees taking all but three of those matchups. I look forward to another World Series between them, but who knows when.
  • Chicago White Sox vs. Cleveland Indians: These teams have usually not been all that good, but in the 1940s and 1950s and then again recently they have battled each other mightily.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Baltimore Orioles: There is not much of a rivalry today, but these two teams were just about the best in baseball in the 1970s and they played two memorable World Series in 1971 and 1979. I had a hard time deciding who to root for; they were both such inviting teams.
  • Oakland As vs. the rest of MLB: It’s hard to see it now since the A’s are not the team of old, but the A’s of the early 1970s and the late 1980s-early 1990s were hated. They had great players, some of whom were just plain ornery, and most of the time they not only won but dominated the other team.
  • Bad News Bears vs. Yankees: Yes, I know it’s not the MLB, but its still a good rivalry and in something as subjective as this list, why not. Besides, maybe Engelberg made it to the MLB under an assumed name.

This has been a fun list to compile. I hope you enjoy it. What are your favorite rivalries?

Posted in Baseball, Oakland A's | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Western Air Express and the First Scheduled Passenger Services Across the Rocky Mountains

WAE LogoI have long been interested in the rise of aviation in the American West during the 1920s. Accordingly, several years ago I began to investigate  Western Air Express, later renamed Western Airlines, which emerged as a pioneer air carrier proving passenger services between the West Coast and the Midwest. Although originally an air mail service, its leaders quickly grasped the potential profitability of providing regularly scheduled passenger service through Salt Lake City and the Great Basin as transit across the United States.

Just five weeks after beginning scheduled air mail operations, the company carried its first passengers. The Salt Lake Tribune on April 17, 1926, enthusiastically applauded the creation of a scheduled passenger service, noting that “The schedule calls for departure from Salt Lake at 10:10 a.m. (Mountain Time) and arrival at Los Angeles at 5:25 p.m. (Pacific Time) after a stop at Las Vegas.”

Ben Redman and J.A. Tomlinson pose at Salt Lake City before boarding Western Air Lines first passenger flight on May 23, 1926.

Ben Redman and J.A. Tomlinson pose at Salt Lake City before boarding Western Air Lines first passenger flight on May 23, 1926.

Passenger service finally started on  May 23, 1926, and the company’s first traffic manager, James G. Wooley, boasted before the flight that it was the first “regular commercial aerial passenger traffic in America.” Wooley commented to the Tribune on May 22, 1926, that “the new service will cut 19 hours from the traveling time between Los Angeles and eastern points and that Salt Lake will become an important junction for both air and rail travel.” He also thought passenger flights would bring prominent visitors to Utah and lengthen their stay since they would be able to decrease their traveling time.

The first passenger was Ben F. Redman, chairman of the Aviation Committee of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and a major stockholder in Western Air Express. He had lobbied long for the distinction, using his influence in the company to secure the first flight. He made that first airline reservation with a $20 check as a deposit on the $90 one‑way ticket. Another Salt Lake City resident, John A. Tomlinson, accompanied Redman on the flight.

The Douglas M-2, which differed from the M-1 mainly by replacement of the original tunnel radiator with a frontal type, became the first type of aircraft to fly passengers by Western Air Express.

The Douglas M-2, which differed from the M-1 mainly by replacement of the original tunnel radiator with a frontal type, became the first type of aircraft to fly passengers by Western Air Express.

Outfitted with coveralls, leather helmets, goggles, and parachutes, they climbed into the open compartment atop a bag of mail on a Douglas M‑2 biplane behind pilot Charles N. “Jimmy” James. They received box lunches and portable toilet facilities—a tin can. The aircraft took off at 9:30 a.m. and after a short stop at Las Vegas arrived by 5:30 p.m. at Los Angeles. On the same day the first commercial air passengers from Los Angeles also arrived in Salt Lake City. They were A. B. Nault and P. Charles Kerr, both prosperous Los Angeles businessmen.

This marked only the beginning; regularly‑scheduled passenger service grew rapidly thereafter. By the end of 1926, Western Air Express had carried 209 passengers at a profit of $1,029. Included among those first passengers was the first woman passenger, Maude Campbell, from Salt Lake City, who flew about two weeks after Redman’s May 23 flight. Other airlines operating throughout the region expanded into the passenger service after Western’s experi­ment. By the end of the decade, Varney Transport routinely flew passengers into Portland and Seattle, connecting from Boeing Air Transport which had the San Francisco to Chicago air routes. Pacific Air Transport, National Park Airways, and several other smaller companies operated passenger service through the Salt Lake City hub.

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