Beer League

April 29, 2010

In 1881 baseball’s National League was six years old and, being still too young to know better, put in place strict mandates controlling its players’ on- and off-field antics. Its president, William Hulbert, was a Victorian of the dustiest and most boring caliber.

Hulbert knew the nation looked to his league as exemplar of the game and its reputation was certainly not going to be tarnished on his watch. Ball players’ dress and language were moderated, drinking was outlawed during the season, and National League ballparks were forbidden to sell alcohol of any type.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings (precursors to the Red Sox) were promptly expelled from the League after Hulbert got wind of beer sales at their games; St. Louis, Louisville, and Hartford clubs were next. A half-dozen others were similarly booted, or quit the League in protest on behalf of beer.

The handful of rogue clubs banded together under the American Association banner, setting themselves sternly in opposition to Hulbert’s Puritan frumpery. The Association became quickly known for its eagerness to sell beer at, and its athletes’ eagerness to drink beer during, baseball games. Fans re-christened it The Beer & Whiskey League and games began to sell out.

Chief among the upstart league’s proponents was outfielder Curt Welch, of the St. Louis Browns. Welch kept his own beer in the Browns dugout during games and ran back there to drink it as often as he could: between innings, between outs in the middle of innings, when pitchers were being changed, and whenever he wasn’t busy with anything else. Welch frequently took bottles with him out to the field, carrying one each in the two back pockets of his uniform.

Pat “Diesel” Deasley, also a Brown, was another formidable boozer; so were pitcher Elmer Smith and Louisville’s Toad Ramsey, who was once fined $50.00 for “cavorting with scarlet women.” George “Rube” Waddell, who tallied 349 career strikeouts and made money in the off-season wrestling alligators, spent all of his first signing bonus on beer in one weekend. Often low on cash after games, Waddell would steal that day’s game ball and trade it for drinks that evening. Connie Mack, who managed Waddell’s team, tried once to curtail the pitcher’s drinking by dropping a worm in his whiskey, pointing out how it wriggled in pain and died.

“Do you know what that means?” Mack asked Waddell.

“Sure,” said the pitcher. “It means I won’t get worms.”

The American Association lasted only nine years; it disbanded in 1891 and its players either retired, were re-absorbed by the National League, or hung up their spikes and pursued beer elsewhere.

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Twain on Cigars

April 25, 2010

In lieu of original writing, please enjoy Mark Twain’s essay Concerning Tobacco, re-printed below. The author’s legendary cigar habit (estimated at one hundred per month) is rumored to have been come by when he was nine years old and a local tobacconist agreed to pay him in cigars for running daily errands.  

As concerns tobacco, there are many superstitions. And the chiefest is this–that there is a STANDARD governing the matter, whereas there is nothing of the kind. Each man’s own preference is the only standard for him, the only one which he can accept, the only one which can command him. A congress of all the tobacco-lovers in the world could not elect a standard which would be binding upon you or me, or would even much influence us.

The next superstition is that a man has a standard of his own. He hasn’t. He thinks he has, but he hasn’t. He thinks he can tell what he regards as a good cigar from what he regards as a bad one–but he can’t. He goes by the brand, yet imagines he goes by the flavor. One may palm off the worst counterfeit upon him; if it bears his brand he will smoke it contentedly and never suspect.

Children of twenty-five, who have seven years experience, try to tell me what is a good cigar and what isn’t. Me, who never learned to smoke, but always smoked; me, who came into the world asking for a light.

No one can tell me what is a good cigar–for me. I am the only judge. People who claim to know say that I smoke the worst cigars in the world. They bring their own cigars when they come to my house. They betray an unmanly terror when I offer them a cigar; they tell lies and hurry away to meet engagements which they have not made when they are threatened with the hospitalities of my box.

Now then, observe what superstition, assisted by a man’s reputation, can do. I was to have twelve personal friends to supper one night. One of them was as notorious for costly and elegant cigars as I was for cheap and devilish ones. I called at his house and when no one was looking borrowed a double handful of his very choicest; cigars which cost him forty cents apiece and bore red-and-gold labels in sign of their nobility. I removed the labels and put the cigars into a box with my favorite brand on it–a brand which those people all knew, and which cowed them as men are cowed by an epidemic. They took these cigars when offered at the end of the supper, and lit them and sternly struggled with them–in dreary silence, for hilarity died when the fell brand came into view and started around–but their fortitude held for a short time only; then they made excuses and filed out, treading on one another’s heels with indecent eagerness; and in the morning when I went out to observe results the cigars lay all between the front door and the gate. All except one–that one lay in the plate of the man from whom I had cabbaged the lot. One or two whiffs was all he could stand. He told me afterward that some day I would get shot for giving people that kind of cigars to smoke.

Am I certain of my own standard? Perfectly; yes, absolutely –unless somebody fools me by putting my brand on some other kind of cigar; for no doubt I am like the rest, and know my cigar by the brand instead of by the flavor. However, my standard is a pretty wide one and covers a good deal of territory. To me, almost any cigar is good that nobody else will smoke, and to me almost all cigars are bad that other people consider good. Nearly any cigar will do me, except a Havana. People think they hurt my feelings when then come to my house with their life preservers on–I mean, with their own cigars in their pockets.

It is an error; I take care of myself in a similar way. When I go into danger–that is, into rich people’s houses, where, in the nature of things, they will have high-tariff cigars, red-and-gilt girded and nested in a rosewood box along with a damp sponge, cigars which develop a dismal black ash and burn down the side and smell, and will grow hot to the fingers, and will go on growing hotter and hotter, and go on smelling more and more infamously and unendurably the deeper the fire tunnels down inside below the thimbleful of honest tobacco that is in the front end, the furnisher of it praising it all the time and telling you how much the deadly thing cost–yes, when I go into that sort of peril I carry my own defense along; I carry my own brand–twenty-seven cents a barrel–and I live to see my family again. I may seem to light his red-gartered cigar, but that is only for courtesy’s sake; I smuggle it into my pocket for the poor, of whom I know many, and light one of my own; and while he praises it I join in, but when he says it cost forty-five cents I say nothing, for I know better.

However, to say true, my tastes are so catholic that I have never seen any cigars that I really could not smoke, except those that cost a dollar apiece. I have examined those and know that they are made of dog-hair, and not good dog-hair at that.

I have a thoroughly satisfactory time in Europe, for all over the Continent one finds cigars which not even the most hardened newsboys in New York would smoke. I brought cigars with me, the last time; I will not do that any more. In Italy, as in France, the Government is the only cigar-peddler. Italy has three or four domestic brands: the Minghetti, the Trabuco, the Virginia, and a very coarse one which is a modification of the Virginia. The Minghettis are large and comely, and cost three dollars and sixty cents a hundred; I can smoke a hundred in seven days and enjoy every one of them. The Trabucos suit me, too; I don’t remember the price. But one has to learn to like the Virginia, nobody is born friendly to it. It looks like a rat- tail file, but smokes better, some think. It has a straw through it; you pull this out, and it leaves a flue, otherwise there would be no draught, not even as much as there is to a nail. Some prefer a nail at first.

However, I like all the French, Swiss, German, and Italian domestic cigars, and have never cared to inquire what they are made of; and nobody would know, anyhow, perhaps. There is even a brand of European smoking-tobacco that I like. It is a brand used by the Italian peasants. It is loose and dry and black, and looks like tea-grounds. When the fire is applied it expands, and climbs up and towers above the pipe, and presently tumbles off inside of one’s vest. The tobacco itself is cheap, but it raises the insurance. It is as I remarked in the beginning–the taste for tobacco is a matter of superstition. There are no standards–no real standards. Each man’s preference is the only standard for him, the only one which he can accept, the only one which can command him.


Correspondents afield, listlessly.

April 24, 2010

Final examinations are about to be administered at the Saint Louis University School of Law and your editorial staff is library-bound for the immediate future (and near-intolerable present). Infrequent dispatches forthcoming.

Correspondents afield, listlessly.


Like Clockwork

April 23, 2010

Lifted shamelessly from Reason.com, where Brendan O’Neil published it: Big Brother run amok across the pond.

In recent years Britain has become the Willy Wonka of social control, churning out increasingly creepy, bizarre, and fantastic methods for policing the populace. But our weaponization of classical music—where Mozart, Beethoven, and other greats have been turned into tools of state repression—marks a new low.

We’re already the kings of CCTV (closed-circuit television). An estimated 20 per cent of the world’s CCTV cameras are in the UK, a remarkable achievement for an island that occupies only 0.2 per cent of the world’s inhabitable landmass.

A few years ago some local authorities introduced the Mosquito, a gadget that emits a noise that sounds like a faint buzz to people over the age of 20 but which is so high-pitched, so piercing, and so unbearable to the delicate ear drums of anyone under 20 that they cannot remain in earshot. It’s designed to drive away unruly youth from public spaces, yet is so brutally indiscriminate that it also drives away good kids, terrifies toddlers, and wakes sleeping babes.

Police in the West of England recently started using super-bright halogen lights to temporarily blind misbehaving youngsters. From helicopters, the cops beam the spotlights at youths drinking or loitering in parks, in the hope that they will become so bamboozled that (when they recover their eyesight) they will stagger home.

And recently police in Liverpool boasted about making Britain’s first-ever arrest by unmanned flying drone. Inspired, it seems, by Britain and America’s robot planes in Afghanistan, the Liverpool cops used a remote-control helicopter fitted with CCTV (of course) to catch a car thief.

Britain might not make steel anymore, or cars, or pop music worth listening to, but, boy, are we world-beaters when it comes to tyranny. And now classical music, which was once taught to young people as a way of elevating their minds and tingling their souls, is being mined for its potential as a deterrent against bad behavior.

In January it was revealed that West Park School, in Derby in the midlands of England, was “subjecting” (its words) badly behaved children to Mozart and others. In “special detentions,” the children are forced to endure two hours of classical music both as a relaxant (the headmaster claims it calms them down) and as a deterrent against future bad behavior (apparently the number of disruptive pupils has fallen by 60 per cent since the detentions were introduced.)

One news report says some of the children who have endured this Mozart authoritarianism now find classical music unbearable. As one critical commentator said, they will probably “go into adulthood associating great music—the most bewitchingly lovely sounds on Earth—with a punitive slap on the chops.” This is what passes for education in Britain today: teaching kids to think “Danger!” whenever they hear Mozart’s Requiem or some other piece of musical genius.

The classical music detentions at West Park School are only the latest experiment in using and abusing some of humanity’s greatest cultural achievements to reprimand youth.

Across the UK, local councils and other public institutions now play recorded classical music through speakers at bus-stops, in parking lots, outside department stores, and elsewhere. No, not because they think the public will appreciate these sweet sounds (they think we are uncultured grunts), but because they hope it will make naughty youngsters flee.

Tyne and Wear in the north of England was one of the first parts of the UK to weaponize classical music. In the early 2000s, the local railway company decided to do something about the “problem” of “youths hanging around” its train stations. The young people were “not getting up to criminal activities,” admitted Tyne and Wear Metro, but they were “swearing, smoking at stations and harassing passengers.” So the railway company unleashed “blasts of Mozart and Vivaldi.”

Apparently it was a roaring success. The youth fled. “They seem to loathe [the music],” said the proud railway guy. “It’s pretty uncool to be seen hanging around somewhere when Mozart is playing.” He said the most successful deterrent music included the Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven, Symphony No. 2 by Rachmaninov, and Piano Concerto No. 2 by Shostakovich. (That last, I kind of understand.)

In Yorkshire in the north of England, the local council has started playing classical music through vandal-proof speakers at “troublesome bus-stops” between 7:30 PM and 11:30 PM. Shops in Worcester, Bristol, and North Wales have also taken to “firing out” bursts of classical music to ward of feckless youngsters.

In Holywood (in County Down in Northern Ireland, not to be confused with Hollywood in California), local businesspeople encouraged the council to pipe classical music as a way of getting rid of youngsters who were spitting in the street and doing graffiti. And apparently classical music defeats street art: The graffiti levels fell.

Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of an elite using high culture as a “punitive slap on the chops” for low youth has come true. In Burgess’s 1962 dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, famously filmed by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, the unruly youngster Alex is subjected to “the Ludovico Technique” by the crazed authorities. Forced to take drugs that induce nausea and to watch graphically violent movies for two weeks, while simultaneously listening to Beethoven, Alex is slowly rewired and re-moulded. But he rebels, especially against the use of classical music as punishment.

Pleading with his therapists to turn the music off, he tells them that “Ludwig van” did nothing wrong, he “only made music.” He tells the doctors it’s a sin to turn him against Beethoven and take away his love of music. But they ignore him. At the end of it all, Alex is no longer able to listen to his favorite music without feeling distressed. A bit like that schoolboy in Derby who now sticks his fingers in his ears when he hears Mozart.

The weaponization of classical music speaks volumes about the British elite’s authoritarianism and cultural backwardness. They’re so desperate to control youth—but from a distance, without actually having to engage with them—that they will film their every move, fire high-pitched noises in their ears, shine lights in their eyes, and bombard them with Mozart. And they have so little faith in young people’s intellectual abilities, in their capacity and their willingness to engage with humanity’s highest forms of art, that they imagine Beethoven and Mozart and others will be repugnant to young ears. Of course, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The dangerous message being sent to young people is clear: 1) you are scum; 2) classical music is not a wonder of the human world, it’s a repellent against mildly anti-social behavior.


Eggers Bullish on Papers

April 20, 2010

Speaking at The New School in Manhattan, author Dave Eggers was optimistic about the future of print media in the face of popular conversion to electronic news outlets.

But Eggers, who also edits McSweeney’s, emphasized the necessity of practical expectations for writers, editors, owners, and publishers. “The numbers can work out where you’re not going to lose your shirt, but that’s if you don’t automatically buy a building or sports team. Just be a little cautious and work within reasonable expectations, and people who are in it to make money can probably make money–as a lot of people still are.”

Eggers spoke on the occasion of the publication of the San Francisco Panorama, an over-sized newspaper he put out with Salon.com backer Laura Miller and Chris Ying, an editor and designer at McSweeney’s. Panorama was published partially in homage to the traditional newspaper, printed in broadsheet format and featuring reportage of public events, sports, books, and art, as well as a magazine insert. It ran about 300 pages and sold for $5.00 at newstands and $16 in bookstores. The initial printing sold out in one day.

Eggers pointed to the independent mindset as an asset to successful print papers, stressing stylistic quality and interesting opinions as the antidote to the immediacy of internet news sources. “You’re not going to be necessarily breaking news, but if you can summarize that like how the Wall Street Journal does on its front page and have in addition to that longer, definitive features, then you will have the readership to be able to maintain this model.”

The appeal and salvation of printed media, turned out by professional journalists instead of amateurs in slippers, is a niche appreciation for quality over quantity. “It’s about scale. There might not be 500,000 subscribers but with 10,000 daily readers you can make a go of it. That’s where you can maintain a distinct editorial voice.”


Rugby: Dartmouth 20, Toulouse 17

April 17, 2010

Dartmouth defeated European visitor Universite de Toulouse in a close (20-17) match this week, the DRFC’s third in five days. Despite the language barrier (a Frenchman refereed), the Dartmouth side ended the first half with 20 unanswered points.

Toulouse fought back hard in the second half, notching 17 points of its own before the final whistle. Dartmouth Co-Captain Paul Jarvis commented that his team needs “to continue to improve on our set pieces and our breakdown skills. Toulouse was able to impose their style of play on us in the second half, but overall the match was a great test for a very young team, and highlighted areas for improvement and skills that need to continue to be developed.”

For his part, the French coach was very complimentary of the American side, albeit in French, calling the DRFC “athletic, and very tough.”

Dartmouth has two more scheduled matches this Spring, both against Boston-area men’s clubs: historic rivals Mystic River, and the Boston Irish Wolfhounds.


Rugby: Dartmouth 25, Delaware 19

April 16, 2010

In one of its closest matches in recent memory, The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club bested the University of Delaware by a score of 25 – 19, affording Dartmouth’s new regime the chance to prove itself against a fast, physical Delaware side.

The match was the first of the Spring season for new officers and starters, having transitioned into leadership slots as this year’s graduating seniors took a back seat. New talent like Will Lehmann ’12, co-captain Paul Jarvis ’12, and Tommy Brothers ’11 took advantage of their time to shine, working in tandem to notch a late-game try and converting the earned kick for points.

“I think we made it too easy for Dartmouth’s defense,” said Delaware coach Bjorn Haglid, making reference to the quick turnover opportunities taken advantage of by Dartmouth during the game.  “However, support play is what really defined Dartmouth’s success out there; in many cases, it had our guys looking for the second-phase offload more than the initial tackle, which made them a very difficult side to defend against.”