Monday, March 28, 2011

The Bustin' Babes vs. The Larrupin' Lou's

A recently discovered video of Babe Ruth [far left] and Lou Gehrig [far right] is the latest example of motion-film images from baseball's pre-digital history.
One of the great thrills I get - that don't involve some form of sexual act - is watching old-time baseball players on film. Those short-films with Ty Cobb [asshole, though he was], Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig et al truly fascinate me. Those films of actual games are even better. About ten or fifteen years ago PBS raised a lot of money with a series called When it Was a Game - images culled together from personal collections of color film that players took of one another before games during the 1930s. It was fabulous.

So, I was excited to hear about the latest discovery of a short film from 1927 capturing Ruth and Gehrig during a moment of rest on one of those baseball barnstorming tours that stars of the day used to do to make some real money.

Something I was surprised to read was that - despite my memory - there really are very few moving images of Babe Ruth. Indeed, even Major League Baseball’s large archive contains less than an hour’s worth. The recent discovery points out that there may - in fact - be a bevy of Ruth footage still buried in basements or stashed in attics across the country.

The discovery of which I write came from a cellar in Illinois. It shows Ruth in his prime and is shot from close range, sitting atop a pony while wearing a child’s cowboy hat and muttering into a home movie camera. It also captures an incredibly young-looking Lou Gehrig - known for his dignified demeanor - holding children and unabashedly smiling like a little boy.

The images were part of eight reels of 16-millimeter film found in excellent condition. It included three-and-a-half minutes of Ruth and Gehrig wearing the uniforms of their barnstorming teams. The film is thought to have been shot with a high-end home movie camera in or around Sioux City, Iowa, on October 18, 1927 — 10 days after the Yankees completed a four-game World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Part of the charm of finding the film is that it occurred immediately in the aftermath of what may be the greatest season a baseball team ever had. The 1927 Yankees finished 110-44. Ruth, 32-years old at the time, hit 60 home runs that year, a record that stood for 34 years. Gehrig, who was 24, hit 47 home runs — more than anyone to that point other than Ruth — and was the American League Most Valuable Player.

Of course, the film finding also brings home the reality that much of baseball’s history predates the digital age. Because of that, some of the sport’s best players and moments were captured only through stories and still photographs. Recently, though, there have been some jewels discovered. In 2009, Major League Baseball received a few seconds of video of Ruth playing right field at Yankee Stadium, something archivists had not seen before. Just last week, the MLB Network unveiled newly received clips thought to be a sort of instructional film from 1924 with Ruth, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson. And last year, the only known full copy of the television broadcast of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, featuring Bill Mazeroski’s game-winning home run that pushed the Pirates past the Yankees, was found in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar.

Yet, even as thrilling as such discoveries are, most of them tend to be grainy and shot from a distance. On those films, Ruth is often identifiable only by uniform number or his unmistakable barrel shape or his famous swing. This most recent discovery is different. Standing outside a large brick home - or perhaps a public building - in the shade of large trees, Ruth and Gehrig posed and chatted among a dozen or two well-dressed men, women and children. There is a rare close-up of Ruth without his hat, talking to the camera. Behind him, Gehrig held a small boy and gave him a peck on the cheek. Christy Walsh, who managed the tour and was considered the first major sports agent, is seen in a few seconds close up, too. At one point, Ruth recoiled from a backpedaling pony and laughed. He pulled the cowboy hat off a young boy dressed in Tom Mix-era cowboy regalia and mugged for the camera. The portly Ruth climbed aboard the pony, which looked barely sturdy enough to support him.

The film came to light thanks to R. C. Raycraft, who bought the films for an undisclosed amount from an antiques dealer who purchased them as part of an estate sale. Raycraft, whose family runs the 3rd Sunday Market, an antique show in Bloomington, Illinois, told the New York Times he had not decided if he would sell the film. He may donate a copy to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, if the Hall thinks it can be put to good use. Neither the Hall nor Major League Baseball have seen the film, but each is interested.

It is uncertain just how rare or valuable the film is, but a photograph of Ruth’s and Gehrig’s barnstorming teams, the Bustin’ Babes and the Larrupin’ Lou’s, from a game in Des Moines and dated October 17, 1927, sold in December for $33,000. And that was just a photograph.

The 1927 tour began two days after the World Series and consisted of 21 games strung from Providence, Rhode Island to Los Angeles. It was so big that local schools actually closed for the occasion so that the kids could see heroes that they could only otherwise read about or listen to on the radio.

The tours were pure bedlam.

Indeed, thirteen games had to be called early because the mobs disrupted the action. "Every time a fly or grounder went past the infield, there was a race between the outfielder and the spectators on the fringe of the crowd," the New York Times reported from one game. Ruth, who occasionally pitched, had a .616 batting average and hit 20 home runs. Gehrig hit .618 and had 13 homers. The tours were a way for big-name players to cash in on their popularity. While Ruth earned a $70,000 salary from the Yankees in 1927 [the equivalent of $857,388 in 2009 dollars], he matched it on the cross-country tour. Gehrig, too, reportedly doubled his $8,000 [$97,987 in 2009] salary, though he was about to get a new Yankees contract paying him $25,000 [$306,210 in 2009] a year. The men signed thousands of baseballs, tossing them to fans in the stands and occasionally from their train as it rolled through towns across the country.

The Sioux City Journal of October 19, 1927, described a chaotic scene at the previous day’s game. About 5,000 people crammed into the minor league park, and “2,000 youngsters became so unmanageable in their desire to get a close-up that the game was called early in the ninth inning." Indeed, during a rush of fans in the seventh inning, "Lou probably saved the life of a little fellow who was trampled to the ground in the rush by carrying him across the diamond to safety," the Journal reported.

In Nevada last week, Ruth’s grandson Tom Stevens, now 58, watched a portion of the film a few times. Stevens is the only child of 94-year-old Julia Ruth Stevens, one of Babe Ruth’s two daughters (one each from two marriages) and the only one still alive. "My mom is the best living authority on him from a personal standpoint, certainly," Stevens told the Times.

But Stevens is a Ruth encyclopedia, too, and a close guardian of his grandfather’s reputation and myth, as passed from his mother. "That’s really pretty good video of him," Stevens said. "But it’s not remarkable that he’s out and about with people. He commonly did that. That’s part of the reason people felt as affectionately about him as they did." Stevens was born four years after Ruth died in 1948, but enjoyed the portion of the film showing Ruth playing with the children. "I think he was most comfortable and most at home with kids," Stevens said. "They say he was just a kid at heart. And I think that’s true."

And, in this latest video clip, he still is.

copyright 2011 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

One Score

The 316th ESC Rifle Team took part in the 21-gun salute at a memorial on February 25, 2011, held to remember those killed in a 1991 SCUD missile attack
Recently, a 20th-anniversary passed that went largely unnoticed by mainstream media. It was a score of years after a seldom-remembered war, one largely overshadowed by the conflagration that followed it 12 years later. For those personally touched by that day 20-years ago, however, the date was noted solemnly and with reverence.

It was February 25, 1991, when 29 soldiers of the Greensburg, Pennsylvania-based 14th Quartermaster Detachment - an Army Reserve water purification team on deployment in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, during the First Gulf War - were killed when an Iraqi Scud missile struck the barracks. In addition to the 29 fatalities, 99 other soldiers were wounded. The attack was the single-largest loss of American lives during the short war.

On February 25, 2011, one of the father's of a fallen soldier - Frank Mayes - was part of a memorial honoring the victims. Mayes' daughter - Christine - enlisted directly from high school, where she spent a three-year tour of Germany. Shortly after her transitioning to the Army Reserves and beginning her college studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Mayes' Army Reserve unit was called to serve in Operation Desert Storm, the First Gulf War. According to her father, Mayes loved being a soldier.

Twenty years later, Mayes - joined by his wife, Darlene, and their two surviving daughters - were among the more than 200 people gathered in a tent outside the Army Reserve Center in Greensburg for a memorial service and wreath-laying ceremony to mark the solemn anniversary.

As typically happens at this event, there was a politician handy to say some self-serving words and pause for a photo-op for his campaign web site. "It's times like this that bring forth vivid memories as if this happened moments ago," said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy [R, Pa.]. Not exactly the Gettysburg Address, huh?

But the ceremony was not for Murphy's 2012 reelection run. It was for the families who live with the memory of lost loved ones. Paula Boliver Wukovich was a mother of two young children when her husband, vehicle mechanic Spc. John A. Boliver Jr., was killed in the Scud attack. The family had celebrated daughter Melissa's first birthday while visiting John at Fort Lee, Virginia, for deployment training the week before he left. Melissa is now 21. Paula Wukovich says son Matt, now 22, closely resembles John, except he's got red hair. "These were people. These weren't just names and a toll of a bell," Wukovich said after the memorial ceremony. "They had lives and families and people who loved them, and we don't want to forget that."

Kevin Keough was 10 years old when his brother, Spc. Frank S. Keough, deployed with the 14th Quartermaster at age 23. The brothers' birthdays were 13 years and one day apart, and as Kevin Keough gathered with his mother and other siblings at the memorial two weeks ago, he thought of his own children -- a young son, plus twin girls due in late April. "It's a shame because [my children will] never know him, and that part I hate," Keough said. "The circumstances, the things that he did for our country, I love and respect. It just, it hurts because I'll never get him back, you know?"

There was another man in attendance at the 20-year anniversary of the tragedy. Unlike those who were killed, however, he is not American. Cpl. James Newman, of the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force, was part of an infantry regiment on a routine perimeter patrol in Dhahran and happened to be driving toward the barracks when the Scud missile hit. Newman's four-man team arrived within minutes and began the difficult process of rescuing bodies, administering first aid and trying to clear remaining ammunition stores. "You're reflecting, [and] all of a sudden, all the pictures come back -- the smells, the sounds -- and it's like it happened yesterday," Newman recalled at the memorial. "You'll never forget that."

Nor should we.

copyright 2011 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Get Your Hands Off My Light Bulb

The only way you'll get this light bulb [above] from me is out of my cold, dead hands.

Just to be clear: I really don't give a damned about my carbon footprint. My forefathers didn't, so why should I? I mean, you're telling me that they got to take advantage of all the great inventions [coal, gasoline, being able to read at night] and I can't? Screw that. Let my kids figure it out - that's why I pay taxes to pay for their public education.

Every time I see something that is 'green' - no trays in the cafeteria, silverware recycled from used toilet paper, etc - I want to vomit. Perhaps nothing sets me off more, though, than those ridiculous-looking so-called 'light bulbs' that look like something you get at Mr. Softy. I hate them. If there was a stronger word in the English language than 'hate', I'd use it. So, 'I fucking hate them' will have to do.

For one thing...well, like I said: they look like ice cream [or whatever they put in Mr. Softy]. For another, you get more illumination from a Charlie Sheen sermon than you do from these monstrosities. At my previous office, they replaced all of my lighting with these things and I ended up lighting candles and setting furniture on fire just to see at night.

Somehow, I missed something in Congress a few ago that may mean every light bulb I ever see is one of these 'green' bulbs. It'll be great for the eyeglass, contact-lens and lasik-surgery industries. Apparently, a 2007 bill - passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Bush - will make the old, familiar and loveable [not to mention light-emanating] incandescent bulb subject to strict 'efficiency standards' next year. One of the causalities will be the 100-watt incandescent bulb.


You better start hoarding them now - as, indeed, some are. If you have an Easy-Bake Oven from Hasbro, particularly, you better buy them up. Otherwise, Junior will be cooking in the dark - which is how fires get started, I think.

While the law does not outlaw incandescent bulbs or dictate that consumers must use the ridiculous-looking spiral-shaped compact 'fluorescent' lights, it does intrude into my life by limiting the amount of light allowed to be emitted per watt of power used. Thus the currently effective 100-watt bulbs must become 25% more 'efficient', meaning that its makers are forced to design new bulbs.

I never in a million years thought that I would be on the same side of an argument as one of Congress' preeminent assholes, Rep. Joe Barton [R, Tex.]. Barton is against just about everything except oil companies and making himself filthy rich. Plus, he had the audacity to oppose the 2006 Combating Autism Act and publicly apologized to British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward in 2010 for what he called President Obama's "shakedown" of the oil industry.

So, it's clear the guy is a prick. Still, on this issue, the prick and I are on the same side. Who knew it would take a light bulb to put us there? Barton has sponsored a bill to reverse the new light bulb guidelines. "From the health insurance you’re allowed to have, to the car you can drive, to the light bulbs you can buy, Washington is making too many decisions that are better left to you and your family," Barton said when he introduced his bill in January.

Plus, a convenient fact dismissed by environmentalists is that the supposedly 'green' bulbs are actually health hazards because they contain mercury. So, they're 'green' unless they break. While some tree-huggers try to discount the danger by saying the mercury in a single fluorescent bulb is less than what some power plants throw into the atmosphere while generating the electricity it takes to light one incandescent bulb, I'm reminded of the great Archie Bunker line: when Gloria tells him that 60% of those murdered in the U.S. in the previous year had died of gunshot wounds, Archie says, "Would it make you feel better if they was pushed outta windows?"

I'm now not only on the same side of the issue as a bastard like Barton - I'm on the same side as the lunatic-fringe Tea Partiers! My head is spinning. One of their darlings - Rep. Michele Bachmann [R, Minn,.], introduced a bill to repeal the light bulb law in 2008, and did so again this year. I apparently missed learning about the light bulb law after the President's January State of the Union Adress...then again, I missed the Address, too. Anyway, Bachmann gave the Republican response to President Obama's Address. In her response, one of the things she blasted was the light bulb nonsense.

Another Tea Bagger - Sen. Rand Paul [R, Ky.] - said not only did he resent the light bulb standards but he also blamed the government for poorly working toilets in his house because of the regulations on how much water they should use. Once again: whoever thought I'd be on the same side as a wacko like Paul? I hate those goddamned toilets. You may as well shit on the living room floor for all the good these new toilets do.

Oh, and these light bulb regulations have already affected the American economy. Last fall, General Electric closed its last major United States plant producing the old-style incandescent bulbs, in Winchester, Virginia. I wonder if those out-of-work employees are worried about their carbon footprint. Indeed, nearly all of the compact 'green' fluorescent bulbs are made in Asia. While some United States manufacturers say they will retool former factories to make other energy-efficient bulbs, you'll forgive me if I'm a bit doubtful.

Meanwhile, the clueless Energy Department says the energy savings from these curly-Q bulbs are 'significant'. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy Kathleen Hogan told a Senate committee this week that - by meeting the new lighting standards - consumers could save nearly $6 billion in 2015. I don't even know if I'm going to be alive in 2015, lady. Get your fucking hands off my light bulb.

Hogan later made a statement that makes one wonder where she pulled that $6 billion figure from anyway. Hogan told the same committee that a household that upgrades 15 current incandescent bulbs could save about $50 a year. Wow! A whole $50?!?!? How much would we save if we just went back to lighting candles?

Candles are cheaper than current halogen incandescent bulbs, which now cost about $1.50 each. Another 'green' wonder - the LED bulb - can cost $20 or more each. While it is true that the LED bulb has only recently been introduced [and, thus, one assumes they'll eventually go down in price], and that they supposedly can last ten years or more, the fact is: I like changing a light bulb. Why the hell should I have to wait ten years to do so?

So, now, in addition to the bedroom and my pocket, I want the government's paws out of my light bulbs. Amy Ridenour has the right idea. She is the president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative group, and has already hoarded about 100 old-style incandescent light bulbs in her basement. She hopes to have several hundred by the time the new standards go into effect on January 1, 2012. Her hoarding, she told the New York Times, is primarily driven by concerns about the mercury in the compact fluorescent bulbs. Her middle child, a 10-year-old son, is autistic. "He’s knocked over quite a few lamps," she said, and broken plenty of light bulbs in the process. Since I'm not convinced that mercury doesn't contribute to autism, I'm with her.

That's especially true in that the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] actually issues detailed instructions on how to clean up a broken fluorescent bulb because of the potential for spilling mercury. In fact, because of the mercury, the EPA recommends recycling used fluorescent bulbs rather than disposing of them in household garbage.

You know what? Recycling was cute when it was cans, glass and newspapers. It's just a real pain in the ass now, and the novelty - like the days of the effective light bulb - is over.

copyright 2011 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Kingdom For A Bed

Seattle socialite Cynthia Stroum [above] nearly led to diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Luxembourg War to request Afghanistan or Iraq.

A little-noted diplomatic disaster nearly led to a number of U.S. diplomats descending into the middle of a war zone rather than enjoy safe careers in a country the size of Rhode Island. The reason has to do with the age-old practice of rewarding large contributors to presidential campaigns with plum ambassadorships in countries that are irrelevant. The list of diplomatic incidents that can be traced to this practice is literally endless. It's the latest example that I write of today.

The contributor was Cynthia Stroum, a Seattle-business executive who made significant financial contributions - directly and through fund-raisers - for President Obama and other Democrats during the 2008 campaign. Her reward was the position as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg - a country as internationally significant as New Jersey.

Her tenure was less than John Quincy Adams-like, however. It ended when she quit in early-February. A day later, the details of her time in Luxembourg came out, reading reads a How to Empty an Embassy manual. With a little The Devil Loves Prada thrown in.

It turns out that Stroum managed through creating personality conflicts, hurling verbal abuse and making unbelievably funny expenditures of U.S. tax dollars that - for a wealthy woman - are a bit seemly. Her running of the embassy was so bad that embassy staff requested transfers to Iraq or Afghanistan. Think about that for a second.

Lest you think that Stroum earned her personal fortune,it was her father's dough. Sam Stroum was a Seattle philanthropist who made a fortune in the auto-parts business and felt bad enough about it to donate money to get his name on buildings through two charitable foundations. He died in 2001.

The latest move by people in trouble is to send e-mail responses to reporters rather than actually speaking with them. This is actually brilliant, as journalists aren't exactly known for getting quotes 100% accurate - unless they're also stenographers. So, in an e-mail response to the Seattle Times, Cynthia Stroum described the circumstances of her departure from Luxembourg as "unfortunate" and said she had filed a rebuttal to the negative report with the State Department. Her service in Luxembourg, she wrote, gave her new respect for the work done by the diplomatic corps and an admiration for the people of Luxembourg and the ruling family there. I don't doubt that: my guess is she'd never heard of either Luxembourg or the State Department before the appointment.

Stroum also wrote, "The initiatives that I chose to focus on were what I believed to be in the best interest of the relationship between Luxembourg and the United States, and I'm proud of the links connected especially with businesses here in my home state of Washington."

Stroum's appointment had been promoted by Sen. Maria Cantwell [D, Wash.], who said at Stroum's confirmation hearing, "I have known Cynthia for many years, and I know that I can say this with experience: She will be an outstanding representative for our country," Cantwell said. Needless to say, Cantwell's had no comment since Stroum's departure.

Others, however, had much to say. In a report by the Inspector General's Office, investigators found that the Luxembourg embassy "has underperformed for the entirety of the current ambassador's tenure. At present, due to internal problems, it plays no significant role in policy advocacy or reporting, though developments in Luxembourg are certainly of interest to Washington clients and other U.S. missions in the NATO and EU communities." Well, that last part is horse shit, but they have to say that.

The IG's report portrays a corrosive atmosphere at the small embassy, with Stroum running roughshod over staff, threatening to read their e-mails and largely spending her time taking advantage of job-related perks. "The bulk of the mission's internal problems are linked to her leadership deficiencies, the most damaging of which is an abusive management style," the report said. "Those who have questioned or challenged some of the ambassador's actions state that they have paid a heavy price in the form of verbal abuse and been threatened with dismissal," it said.

To give you an idea as to how bad the situation was the Inspector General recommended the State Department dispatch medical personnel to Luxembourg to test the stress levels of embassy employees. It said at least four staffers quit or sought transfers to Iraq and Afghanistan - exchanging a posh diplomatic appointment in a country with plumbing to spend time in a barren war zone.

President Obama nominated Stroum in 2009 to the post in Luxembourg - a nation of 500,000 people, about the size of Rhode Island. Aside from her experience as an investor, 'entertainment producer' and 'philanthropist' active in numerous charities, Stroum's only qualification for the post was her generous contributions to Democratic politicians and causes, particularly Obama. Financial reports say Stroum donated the maximum personal amount to Obama's campaign while after having also donated $2,300 to the failed presidential campaign of former then-Sen. John Edwards [D, N.C.]. More importantly, though, as a fundraiser she was responsible for raising at least $500,000 for Obama, putting her among his top money generators. It didn't hurt that Stroum also had been a generous supporter of local Democrats like Cantwell and her fellow Sen. Patty Murray [D, Wash.].

The Inspector General said it had learned in interviews with embassy staffers that Stroum, shortly after her arrival in Luxembourg, discussed with them "the importance she attaches to the perquisites of" being an ambassador. She was particularly concerned about the state of the ambassador's residence, which was being renovated, it said. Renovation time!

Because of that renovation, Stroum ordered an embassy official to spend time - it turned out to be six weeks - seeking out temporary housing for the ambassador. Over those six weeks, the official - using contacts in Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and France and two officials from the U.S. Embassy in Brussels - screened 200 properties and visited 30-40.

They found only four that met the ambassador's requirements, and she rejected all of them all anyway, before an 'acceptable' residence was found.

Other highlights from the report include the fact that Stroum spent $2,400 to fly with an aide to a Swiss "professional school," whose graduates have gone on to work for Buckingham Palace and similar places, to interview candidates to replace a caretaker and a fired chef. She had the embassy purchase $3,400 in wine and liquor a day before the 2010 budget year ended in an effort to spend the rest of its annual entertainment budget rather than turn it back over to to the government for FYE 2011. This despite the fact that the State Department - like just about every other business - has rules that say embassies are not allowed "to use excess year-end funds" to buy items unless they are used in that year.

Stroum was reimbursed for the purchase of a new bed because she "preferred a queen bed to the king-size bed already provided." So, it wasn't that she needed a bigger bed - she wanted a smaller one. The embassy twice asked the State Department to reimburse the amount but was denied because it was a personal choice. Despite the refusals, the No. 2 official at the embassy signed off on a reimbursement "out of program funds."

Presumably, now that she's back in Seattle, she's in a comfortable bed.

copyright 2011 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A New Hero of the Stupid

WARNING: This photo, on the right, of Rep. Christopher Lee [R, NY] will turn your creep-meter purple. The photo on the left shows Lee with his shirt on. The meter will be slightly less than purple.

Word came yesterday that our old, dear friend, Sen. John Ensign [R, Nev.] is going to rob us of six more years of fodder by not running for reelection in 2012. Ensign's announcement reminded me that I filed away a story I wanted to write about back in early February. Ensign's pending departure is the perfect time to bring out that file.

On February 9th, Rep. Christopher Lee [R, NY] resigned from Congress but accepted the Hero of the Stupid 2011 Award from Evil B. Why did he feel the need to stop dining at the public trough? Well, like many middle-aged guys with blue balls, he went onto Craiglist to try to get laid. Oh, I neglected two things: he's married and he emailed shirtless photos of himself to a potential suitor.

Lee's brilliance made his second term in Congress one of the briefest in the 221-year history of the institution. The scandal broke on Rather than giving us days of brilliant blog fodder, however, the cowardly bastard submitted his letter of resignation to the House Clerk in just a few hours.

At least he left us a statement of contrition to chuckle over: "It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York. I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness. The challenges we face in Western New York and across the country are too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, and so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately."

In what must have been a bit of a shock to his sensibilities, Lee was outed by the recipient of the emailed photos. Of course, looking at one of the photos [above], I can see why she felt the need to dime him out: it was probably the greatest service to her nation that she'll ever do. The woman - from Maryland - emailed the photos to Gawker. Lee was responding to a Craiglist ad the woman had placed that asked quaintly: "Will someone prove to me not all CL men look like toads?" No, I have no idea what CL means. I've been wracking my brain and the only thing I can come up with is Centenarian Loser.

Lee responded to the ad with an email claiming to be a 40-year old divorced lobbyist. Lee is actually 46-years old but the good news is he probably will soon be a divorced lobbyist.

The disturbing photos show Lee flexing what would apparently be his muscles. One of the emails described him as a "fit fun classy guy." He also sent them from his own personal Gmail account, making it about as easy to track him down as it would have been if he'd taken the photos from the Speaker's lectern of the House.

It took the woman approximately 30 minutes to match the photos to Lee's official Congressional portrait [on Wikipedia]. It took her slightly less time to email the material to Gawker.

Lee had a completely undistinguished career in two-plus years. He generated many press releases by taking advantage of a tragedy when a plane crashed into a house in Clarence, part of his Buffalo-area district, on February 12, 2009, killing 49 people aboard the plane and the home's owner. Ironically, the pilot of that plane was the winner of the Hero for the Stupid 2009 Award. Lee promised to launch an investigation to get to the bottom of the tragedy. His constituents are still waiting.

Lee's exit triggers a special election, which prickly Gov. Andrew Cuomo [D, NY] must call. Lee was first elected in 2008 with 55% of the vote. Lee was then reelected in 2010 with 74% of the vote.

New York is the state that keeps on giving: Lee's resignation comes almost a year after Rep. Eric Massa [D, NY] resigned his seat in western New York's 29th Congressional District amid an investigation into whether he sexually harassed male staffers.

By the way, we're now accepting applications for the Hero of the Stupid 2012 Award. Tell a friend.

copyright 2011 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

For One Brief Shining Moment...

No male was closer to President Kennedy [right] than his brother, Robert Kennedy [left]. JFK named RFK as his Attorney-General in December 1960 during the presidential transition, which led to much hue and cry about nepotism. RFK's persona as Attorney General was a far cry from the one he maintained during his 1968 presidential campaign.

Today comes news - shocking to no one - that in 1961 during a 'fact-finding' mission for his brother in Chile, Ted Kennedy rented a brothel for an evening for a finding of facts of another kind. While that certainly wouldn't have raised an eyebrow with President Kennedy, 50 years later the news about the then-29-year old younger Kennedy is about as welcome in Camelot as one of JFK's numerous battles with syphilis.

It is a timely story, too, because it is just the latest - albeit unwanted - news item 'celebrating' the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's inauguration. The story also explains why the Kennedys have been reticent to allow access to 54 crates of records from the Kennedy presidency that sit stacked in a vault at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The crates are individually sealed and labeled, and are so closely guarded that even the library director - Thomas J. Putnam - is prohibited from taking a peek.

God only knows what treasure troves await historians in those boxes. They include some of the most important records of Cold War history: diaries, notes, phone logs, messages, trip files, and other documents from Robert F. Kennedy’s service as U.S. Attorney General. They include details about RFK's roles in the Cuban missile crisis and as coordinator of covert efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro.

In this anniversary year, the battle between the library and the Kennedy family has come out in the open. So far, the Kennedys have refused to grant permission for researchers to freely review the crates and their contents.

Not surprisingly, historians - a prickly group of anti-social misfits to begin with - are miffed. "The RFK papers are among the most valuable, untapped archival resources of foreign policy and domestic history left to be excavated," Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at George Washington University’s National Security Archive, told the Boston Globe last month. Kornbluh has been told to sod off several times in his attempts to gain access to the papers. "This history is immediately relevant to the ongoing debate over U.S. policy toward Cuba," he added. "I look forward to the day — hopefully sooner than later — that access to the RFK papers contributes to advancing that debate."

Don't hold your breath, Pete.

Access to the papers is tightly controlled by Robert Kennedy’s ninth child, Matthew Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, a lawyer designated by his mother, Ethel, to take on the responsibility. In a written response to Globe questions via email, Max Kennedy denied that access to the papers is closed, saying he has "selectively granted full access" to prominent biographers, including Evan Thomas and Robert Dallek. While I'm a big fan of Thomas and have read every one of the works of Dallek, both of them have also been accused by other historians of being Kennedyphiles.]

Max Kennedy also wrote, "There are many requests to see them, and frankly, many of those requests come from people with poorly-conceived projects. It is my responsibility, as custodian of the papers, to grant use responsibly." Of course, what the Kennedy family considers 'poorly-conceived projects' may be a bit biased. Kennedy, however, also wrote, "That does not mean that every book must be cloyingly positive; I do not think that for a moment, and I would be doing a disservice to my father if I acted that way. But I do believe that historians and journalists must do their homework, and observe the correct procedures for seeking permission to consult the papers, and explain their projects."

The JFK Library itself would like to make the documents available, director Putnam said, but current law stipulates that it must first get a signed deed from RFK’s heirs before the documents can be made widely available. "We are still in long-term negotiations with [the Kennedy family] to get that deed," said Putnam, who is an employee of the National Archives and Records Administration, which would be responsible for reviewing the records to protect information that could harm national security. "We can’t fully process papers that we don’t own."

Now, let me say here that I happen to revere both JFK and RFK - flaws and all. JFK had the good fortune - as morbid as that sounds - to die long before most of the secrets of his private life and medical maladies were known. And RFK had the good fortune to live long enough to overcome and rise above his image as an angry unscrupulous strong-armed enforcer for his older brother to become a champion of civil rights and social programs, and as a strong opponent of the Vietnam War.

It is that 1968 image that RFK's family seeks to preserve. The RFK of 1968 is not in those boxes, however. Instead, it is the 1961-1963 RFK who abused power and broke laws in an effort to assassinate Castro and project what he deemed to be the interests of President Kennedy - at any cost.

"Obviously this was not the sort of thing [Robert Kennedy] wanted to come out," Sheldon Stern, former director of the Kennedy library’s American History Project, told the Globe. "The Kennedys are especially sensitive about this stuff."

The papers are so closely guarded that they were never fully shared with government investigators after JFK's assassination. They are part of a trove of documents that RFK ordered removed from the White House in the first few hours after his brother's death. Indeed, by the time President Johnson returned to Washington with the body of President Kennedy, the documents were gone. They were shielded from the Warren Commission and subsequent congressional inquiries into Cold War era intelligence activities for the last 50 years.

For those unfamiliar with the history, after John Kennedy was elected President in 1960, he chose his younger brother Robert to be Attorney General. Robert Kennedy had ruthlessly - and successfully - run his brother's presidential campaign and was JFK's most trusted adviser and confidant. As Attorney General, RFK took on an especially prominent role in White House decision-making and foreign policy - not spheres for the nation’s top law enforcement least in the previous 180+ years of the government's history.

The known details of RFK's most controversial activities begin after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 when JFK put him in charge of secret efforts to undermine the communist government in Cuba, including Operation Mongoose, the CIA-led effort to assassinate Castro or topple his government.

"Operation Mongoose was a covert operation to destabilize the Cuban government and [RFK] was the person in charge,’’ Philip Brenner, a professor at American University, told the Globe. "It is very unusual for an Attorney General to be in charge of an international covert operation."

Today, Robert Kennedy’s own Deputy Attorney General, Nicholas D. Katzenbach [who succeeded him as Attorney General in the Johnson Administration], said he believes the records should not be treated any differently than other government documents from the time. "I am with the historians on this. I think all the records should be made available," Katzenbach told the Globe. "People should understand. Historians can get new perspectives if that is what the records show. Bobby might have recorded his phone calls. There would be notes of conversations with the president. He was wrong on Cuba, I think, for the most part, but it seems to me this length of time after the events it is time to make them public."

There are many reasons historian want access to the documents. "The main acts of the Kennedy presidency involved Cuba and we still don’t have the most important records," historian Lamar Waldron told the Globe. "We could flesh out many details about coup plans. We might also learn more about JFK and RFK’s desperate attempts in November 1963 to find a back-channel, peaceful solution to the Cuba issue."

For 50 years historians have speculated as to why John Kennedy handed his Attorney General the anti-Cuba portfolio in the first place. It involved the violation of so many domestic laws you needed the top law enforcement officer to oversee it," American University's Brenner said. The covert operations relied on Cuban operatives in Miami who traveled back and forth for meetings or to ferry explosives and guns. "[The operatives] did not go through customs and that’s violation of the law. Robert Kennedy could make sure the FBI or Immigration and Naturalization Service didn’t interfere."

Precedent regarding the treatment of past Attorneys General records supports making them public. According to the Justice Department, the official files of the nation’s top law enforcement officers are housed "in a variety of locations, including presidential libraries, the Library of Congress, and university libraries."

The fact that the papers will no doubt show RFK in a light far different from his later life is what remains the sticking point. Still, the fact is that most of us are intelligent enough to discern that all humans are complex, even heroes. As Katzenbach said, "I think the things [RFK] said when he came to the Justice Department would be different" when he died. "I don’t see why historians shouldn’t know that."

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