50 Years Collecting Dust

50 Years Collecting Dust

The 1936 Olympics in Berlin introduced basketball as a completion.  Between 1936 and 1972, the U.S. Men’s Basketball Olympic team compiled a record of 63 wins and zero losses.  The Soviet Union took home the silver or bronze medals in 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968.  The resentment from the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries toward the U.S. team grew as fiercely as the Cold War.  50 years ago this week, in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the Soviets displayed the lengths to which they would go to dethrone the Americans.

Of course, it is amazing that the 1972 Olympics continued after the terrorist attacks left 17 dead, including 11 members of Israel’s Olympic delegation.  These terrorist attacks started as a hostage situation in the Olympic Village where all athletes resided.  Members of the U.S Men’s basketball team described how German police in sweat suits could be seen running around the Olympic Village.  The facts that they appeared significantly older than the athletes and they carried machine guns kind of gave away the otherwise undercover sweat suit appearance.  Scheduled for four days after the attacks, the U.S. team members were not certain whether the basketball finals would, or even should, be played.

But, the Gold Medal game between the U.S. and Soviet Union took place and it remains one of the greatest controversies in the history of the Olympics.  The contest was close, and concluded with multiple “do-overs”; missed foul calls some might claim were missed intentionally; and assistance for the Soviets not from their players or referees or Soviet coaches, but rather someone in the stands who directly interfered with the game.  Years later, it was reported that the Soviet Union had, a few months before the Olympics, “bestowed gifts” on the man from the stands who so dramatically interfered with the game.

Olympic cheaters and scandals are not novel.  However, most cheaters who have been caught appeared likely to have acted on their own or, at least, without knowledge or assistance from the country they represented.  Steroid use and doping scandals appeared almost routine in the 1980s and 1990s.  In the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, the Marathon was held in sweltering heat.  American runner, Fred Lorz, rested after the nine mile mark and then decided to hitch a ride for the next 11 miles.  He then finished in first place on foot.  Easily discovered, Lorz was stripped of his Gold Medal.  Boris Onischenko, the favorite to win the Pentathlon in 1976, suffered disqualification from the Olympics after the first event of the Pentathlon when officials discovered that Onischenko’s epee sword registered strikes without ever touching an opponent.  Boris the Cheat rigged his fencing sword to register hits with a button he controlled.

Yet, not all scandals involved individual cheaters.  In 1980, in the Moscow games, the Soviets opened large stadium doors while Polish pole vaulter, Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz, attempted his vaults so the wind tunnel effect would adversely impact his performance.  While on the podium claiming his Gold Medal, Kozakiewicz gave the crowd and the Soviet hosts the Bras d’honneur salute.  Sounds like Kozakiewicz might have been raised in Jersey and attended my grade school.

The 1972 Olympic Men’s Basketball final may top them all.  Not only was there conspiracy among many, but there was also the brazen and cavalier attitude in carrying out the screw job three times until it finally succeeded.

For those a generation removed, there was a time when the Olympics mandated amateur status of all athletes.  In basketball, that meant that the U.S. team consisted of college players and not an NBA Dream Team squad.  For the Soviets and their allies, “amateur status” equated to their finest basketball players who all just happened to be career soldiers with their exclusive military assignment to play basketball for their country.  Despite facing these finely honed professional teams who played together for years, the rag tag U. S teams in the Olympics remained undefeated for 36 years.  The 1972 U.S. team easily reached the Gold Medal game.

In the game, the Soviets held a 10 point lead with 10 minutes to play.  The Americans, lead by future NBA No. 1 pick Doug Collins, charged back with their aggressive style and cut the lead to one point with time winding down.  Three players were ejected in the final minutes for their overly zealous fouls.  Collins drove to the hoop with seconds remaining with a Soviet defender essentially throwing Collins off the court.  The referee awarded Collins two free throws for the foul with 3 seconds remaining.

The Soviets had one time out remaining at that point.  Collins sank the first free throw to tie the game at 49.  The television footage confirmed that the scoreboard showed the Soviets still with their one time out.  No horn sounded from the official scorer’s table to signal a time out.  No light appeared on the scorer’s table signifying a time out was called by the Soviet bench.  Collins was handed the ball by the referee and Collins calmly sank the second free throw.  U.S. took the lead 50-49.

Timeouts could not be called after free throws under international rules.  The Soviets had to in-bound the ball and run a play with 3 seconds remaining.  The Soviet player passed the ball in to a teammate.  The Soviet coach then left the designated coaching area and raced to mid-court yelling that he had called a timeout.  The referee stopped the game with one second left on the clock.

The referees conferred at the scorer’s table to sort out the mess when Dr. Renato William Jones left his seat in the stands and ran onto the court.  William Jones engaged the referees demanding that 3 seconds be placed back on the clock with the Soviets awarded the ball.  The referees listened and the Soviets were awarded a “do-over”.  To be clear, William Jones was not a referee in the game.  William Jones was not a referee at all.  William Jones held no official Olympic post.  William Jones attended the game as did all other fans in his capacity as a fan.

Yet, in the international basketball community, Dr. Renato William Jones was far from a nobody.  William Jones was a founding member and Secretary General of the Federation International of Basketball Amateur (FIBA).  William Jones spent decades advancing organized amateur basketball, mostly in Europe.  For all the good he did for the sport, William Jones made no secret of his animosity toward Team USA and the NBA.

Jones later admitted that he had no authority and no standing to interfere in the game, but he believed he had to right a wrong.  Amazingly, the referees completely caved in and did exactly as Jones instructed.  The game clock was re-set to 3 seconds.

During the delay, the Soviets had time to set up a play and they even substituted players.  Tom McMillan, the 6 foot 11 inch center for the U.S., defended the in-bounds pass.  McMillan forced a short in-bounds pass by the Soviets with the player forced to take a long shot with time expiring.  The shot missed with no time left and the U.S. ahead by a point.  Game over!

Not so fast.  Jones, still on the sidelines and still somehow involved, advised the refs that the game clock was not properly re-set to 3 seconds before the the do-over play.  The refs would need to do-over the do-over again.  The refs complied despite the fact that any delay in starting the game clock on the do-over only favored the Soviets in providing extra time.

On the third attempt which was the second do-over, before giving the ball to the Soviet player for the in-bounds pass, the ref moved the 6’ 11” McMillan back a few feet from the out of bounds line.  That step allowed the Soviet player the ability to throw a pass over McMillan and the length of the floor.  The Soviet in-bounder then stepped on the line while throwing a full court pass which, of course, succeeded with the Soviet center hitting a game-winning layup with time expiring.  The third time was the charm for the Soviets.

The U.S. dutifully appealed these actions and the results of the game.  The appeal was blocked when the three then Soviet allies — Poland, Hungary, and Cuba — voted against consideration of any appeal.

Concerning his involvement, Dr. Renato William Jones famously stated: “The Americans have to learn how to lose, even when they think they are right.”  William Jones, perhaps the most knowledgeable person in the arena on basketball rules, claims he was consumed in “getting this right.”  In interfering with the game and demanding multiple do-overs for the Soviets, William Jones overlooked the following.  The Soviet coach leaving the coaching box constituted a technical foul never called.  The Soviet coach stepping on the court during play constituted a technical foul never called.  The Soviet coach calling a timeout in between or after free throws constituted a technical foul never called.  The Soviets substituting players after the free throws for the do-over constituted a technical foul never called.  The referee moving McMillan back from the end line was wrong.  The Soviet player stepping on the line during the in-bounds pass constituted a violation never called.  It appears that the only item for Dr. Jones to get right would be the final score which favored anyone except the U.S.

In subsequent investigations of these relationships, and after the death of William Jones, reporters from Bloomberg confirmed that the Soviet Union “bestowed gifts” on Dr. Renato William Jones two months prior to the 1972 Olympics.  Given his open animosity toward the American team, perhaps William Jones needed no additional encouragement to assist an opponent of the U.S Men’s Basketball program.  Details of this payoff may not be well understood, but the actions have not been denied by Jones’ defenders or Russia.

The 1972 U.S. Men’s Basketball team refused to take the podium and refused the Silver Medals.  The medals remain in the offices of the International Olympic Commission collecting dust for 50 years now.  The Soviet team has been hailed as heroes in Russia.  In 2017, the movie Going Vertical was released in Russia which tells the story from the perspective of the Soviet Union.  The bravery of Soviet players standing up to the Americans is noted throughout while Dr. Jones stands as a defender of the rules who demanded only fair play.  Apparently the myriad of technical fouls and rule violations by the Soviets, as well as the bribery money paid to Dr. Jones, failed to even merit a mention in this film.  Why allow the facts to get in the way of a good story?

50 years later, can the 1972 basketball game between the U.S. and Soviet Union assist in resolving conflict?  Most fundamentally, the experience of this U.S. Olympic team reminds us that risk can never be fully evaluated.  For any litigation or dispute sought to be settled, the parties must be reminded that resolution brings certainty and finality, but proceeding in litigation involves inherent risks.  Many risks can be identified and some of those matters can even be quantified.

For instance, it may be reasonable to speculate that referees would miss fouls or violations in a basketball game.  The Soviet player stepping on the line on the in-bounds pass may fall in this category even if part of a game-winning play.  It is more difficult, but still possible, to foresee that the referees would miss illegal player substitutions by the Soviets at critical moments.  However, it is neither reasonable nor realistic to foretell a person from the stands charging the court then interfering with the officiating of the game – and doing so multiple times.  This scenario could only be dreamed up in a work of fiction, but yet it took place in plain sight with the world watching it live on television.

But such is the world of litigation.  On the eve of a trial involving serious personal injuries and substantial property losses, the judge announced that each weekend, he plays golf with three of the plaintiffs’  lawyers.  The judge sees no issue with such purely social outings, but wanted to place the issue on the record just for clarity.  When this happened to me, I thought the judge should simply have stated: “For those not already aware, the fix is in.”

In discussing the uncertainties of litigation risk, it is important to reflect on the obvious such as how legal positions may be impacted with evidentiary rulings or how themes may resonate with juries.  It remains perhaps more critical to explain that the unanticipated and even unknown Dr. Renato William Jones may come out of the stands with only 3 seconds left to take away your victory. Be careful about what you do not know and cannot control.

The Two Plinys

The Two Plinys

Dateline:  Early morning, August 24, 79 AD, Misenum, Italy.  Roman Naval Commander, Pliny the Elder, discusses the days affairs with his nephew, the Roman poet and administrator, Pliny the Younger.  Let’s listen in.

Pliny the Younger: “Uncle.  I miss the old August when it was called ‘Sextilis’”.

Pliny the Elder: “Now, Nephew.  Show some respect for Augustus Caesar who renamed Sextilis.  You just want to say a name which sounds like a dirty word.”

The Younger: “Those Roman rulers are sure full of themselves.”

The Elder: “Be careful, Nephew.  Remember that those powerful rulers made me Naval Commander and you Administrator.  Who do you think pays for all those in vogue tunics you wear each weekend while partying across the bay in Pompeii?”

The Younger: “Speaking of Pompeii, look at that large, dark cloud rising over Mount Vesuvius.  Could that be a volcanic eruption?”

The Elder: “I doubt it.  We had no foreshadowing of such events.  Mother Nature would send us a signal before the volcano erupts.”

The Younger: “What about the constant earthquakes over the last four days?”

The Elder: “Boy, those were strange.  But only if we had some warning about Mount Vesuvius.”

The two Plinys watched as the ash cloud rose 98,000 feet from Mount Vesuvius over Pompeii.  Even Naval Commander Pliny could no longer deny what they were witnessing.  Pliny the Elder ordered his ships to prepare for a rescue mission across the Bay of Naples to assist with evacuation of Pompeii by sea.

As he neared the coast, Pliny the Elder was met met with a thick shower of ash, hot cinders, lumps of pumice, and pieces of rock falling from the sky.  In response to the helmsman’s advice to turn back, Pliny the Elder declared: “Fortune favors the brave!”  The ships were lost to fire falling the sky; Pliny the Elder suddenly died from either a heart attack or stroke; and his crew escaped on land walking along the coast to safety.

We know of these events because of the eyewitness accounts and stories in letters Pliny the Younger penned to Roman historian Tacitus.  Pliny the Younger noted the initial massive explosion and ash cloud with flaming fallout on Pompeii and surrounding areas.  While lives certainly were lost then, the remaining residents of Pompeii could still seek to escape the area by sea or by foot even with one to two-inch superheated pieces of pumice raining down.

It was not until early the next morning, August 25, that pyroclastic surges spewed forth from Vesuvius.  These rapid moving, dense and exceedingly hot masses destroyed all in their paths from the volcano to the sea.  When the 570 degree F molten rock cooled, Pompeii had been leveled with a new coastline along the bay.  Anything left in Pompeii, whether people or property, was lost in the pyroclastic surges.

I had been under the mistaken impression that the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD presented as a sudden and cataclysmic event.  I recall photographs of ash covered and preserved victims discovered millennia later in everyday life scenes as if instantaneously struck by the volcanic eruption.  Yet, those in Pompeii experienced four straight days of increasingly stronger earthquakes before the explosion on August 24.  No precautions were taken.  The toxic ash cloud reached almost 100,000 feet with flaming embers and rocks then instantly falling on Pompeii.  Still no full scale evacuation.  By the next morning, many people inexplicably remained in Pompeii.

I understand that modern technological advances were not available in 79 AD.  There were no municipal early warning systems.  Jim Cantore was not available to report from the side of the volcano.  Nonetheless, between the four days of earthquakes and ash explosion, all had notice to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible.  Some, of course, had no alternative but to stay.  Perhaps they cared for elderly or infirmed who could not be moved.  Perhaps they were the First Century version of first responders.  Perhaps their masters prevented them from fleeing.  These people were among the more than 1,000 lost in Pompeii alone.

Mount Vesuvius stands as the only active volcano on the European mainland.  Certainly, eruptions over the past few millennia taught us lessons about the consequences of placing population centers near an active volcano.  As for Pompeii and the surrounding areas, 600,000 currently live in the defined danger zone of Mount Vesuvius and an additional 3,000,000 reside in the range of those who may be significantly affected by an eruption.  Mount Vesuvius is the most densely populated volcanic region in the world.  Even Jim Cantore and the Weather Channel may not be able to save those guys.

Arrgh! ‘Tis Pirate Radio My Friend!

Arrrgh!  ’Tis Pirate Radio My Friend!

England.  1964.  Rock-N-Roll is a teenager growing from the Do-Wopp ’50s bands to Elvis, and now to England’s own Beatles.  Beatle-mania is sweeping through Europe and heading toward the United States.  Yet, you can almost never hear a song from the Beatles on the radio in England.  The BBC holds a monopoly on the British airwaves, and, due to their longstanding agreements, will only play recordings of artists for a few hours a week (and at very odd hours).  Do not worry, the BBC can, and does, use its own orchestra to play renditions of Beatles songs.  Oh, boy!

Enter Radio Caroline.  Ronan O’Rahilly secures an ocean trawler, outfits it with studio equipment for a radio station, and adds a 100 foot high transmission tower.  O’Rahilly anchors the vessel three miles off the coast of England in international waters and blasts Rock-N-Roll.  The DJs live aboard for two or three weeks at a time and appear as early forms of some crazy radio crew with different, outlandish personalities and cult-like followings.  Being in international waters, no radio license is required.  Hence, Radio Caroline is considered Pirate Radio.

Radio Caroline is an instant hit.  In fact, it is so successful that two boats are deployed with the Caroline North and Caroline South.  Full radio coverage for England!  Let the Beatles, Stones and all their friends rock on.  Other ships from different companies join the mix and soon the BBC is challenged by the Carolines, Radio London, Radio 270, and Radio Scotland.  Being operated by DJs and musician types, keeping a radio station afloat while on the high seas was not always easy.  In one instance, the Caroline North lost power for half a day when someone plugged in a toaster which was one too many amps for the electrical system.   

Radio Caroline had no problem attracting advertisers as their audiences, while not official, numbered in the millions.  The Pirate Radio stations also saved substantial sums as they played music royalty-free in international waters.  Instead of outrage in not receiving royalties, record companies and rock artists themselves sent their works directly to the Pirate Radio stations and requested that their songs be added to the playlists.  In fact, a number of record companies offered additional “encouragement” to have their artists’ music played on air.  The blatant bribery practice became known as “Payola”.  Many artists saw it as a badge of honor to support Radio Caroline as no support was forthcoming from the BBC.  These artists made cameo appearances on the Carolines.

The stodgy BBC could not help but take notice of the upstart Pirate Radio stations.  Yet, the BBC made no changes in their own programming or approach until 1967.  The BBC played the “If you can’t beat ‘em, destroy ‘em” card in 1967.  The BBC lobbied Parliament alleging that Pirate Radio stations posed a threat to shipping interests.  The Pirate Radio signals might interfere with emergency shipping radio frequencies.  Ah, the good old BBC worried about the safety and well-being of shipping so much that it lobbied for new maritime laws.  That sounds right for the business of the BBC.

In addition, the BBC argued on behalf of the Rock-N-Roll artists, the very same artists the BBC refused to play on its stations, claiming it unfair that these artists did not receive royalties.  As noted, these artists and their record companies voluntarily sent their music to the Pirate Radio stations and enticed the stations to play the music.  It appears that this newfound “moral outrage” for the benefit of others drove the BBC.

Parliament passed the Marine Broadcasting Offenses Act in 1967 making it a crime to broadcast radio signals into England which could possibly interfere with emergency shipping frequencies.  The penalty for any broadcaster, including the DJs themselves, was 400 Pounds and two years in jail.  The Act would take effect on August 15, 1967.  In response, Radio London, Radio 270, and Radio Scotland ceased broadcasting on August 14, 1967.  Place those stations in the “beat ’em” category.  At the stroke of Midnight, Radio Caroline proudly announced that the Carolines remained on the air and continued with Rock-N-Roll songs.  For a number of months, Radio Caroline continued with no enforcement action against the owners or the DJs.  Radio Caroline, the sole remaining Pirate Radio station, became more popular than ever.

Within the next year, the BBC then played its “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” card.  BBC launched its own full time Rock-N-Roll channel.  The BBC reached out for the Pirate Radio DJs and offered substantial pay for a job with no legal risk and not having to live of a ship for weeks at a time.  Many DJs left for the BBC.  At that point, O’Rahilly could have declared victory, claimed that he forced the BBC to change formats, and folded up his operation with a nice profit.  Unfortunately, O’Rahilly refused to let go and watched as he lost his DJs, and then lost sponsor after sponsor as the audience continued to shrink.  A few years later, the Carolines were sold off for scrap by the creditors.  An inglorious ending, but somehow fitting for a Rock-N-Roll story.

In later years, when asked how he came up with the name Caroline for his ships, O’Rahilly told the story of a photograph of a very young Caroline Kennedy playing under JFK’s desk in the Oval Office.  Caroline wore a wide smile while all the grown ups had to pause with the business of running the United States government while a child played.  That is what O’Rahilly wanted: have fun while totally disrupting the business of radio.  Perhaps Pirate Radio off the coast of England became a shipwreck of sorts, but O’Rahilly got his Caroline moment.

A Spaniard on the Far East

A Spaniard in the Far East 

August 6, 1945.  An atomic bomb explodes over Hiroshima.  August 9, 1945. A second atomic bomb explodes over Nagasaki.  These events directly lead to the end of World War II less than one month later.  While the estimates vary greatly, at least 20 million military personnel and over 40 million civilians were lost in WWII.  Japanese occupation forces in China were responsible for the deaths of 3 million soldiers and over 10 million civilians.

At Hiroshima, approximately 140,000 died with the blast of Little Boy with an additional 70,000 later passing from radiation poisoning and cancer attributed to the bomb.  For Nagasaki, the numbers are 40,000 dead due to the blast and another 40,000 later deaths from the Fat Man bomb.  I cannot imagine the moral debate which had to unfold to determine dropping nuclear weapons on civilian centers.  The bombs brought a swift end to the war, ended Japanese use of biological and chemical weapons, stopped further genocide, and avoided the planned invasion of mainland Japan with anticipated six figure fatalities.  And still, leaders needed to decide whether to obliterate civilian populations of two cities.  Humanity should never be in a position to confront such Hobson’s Choices.

There is no celebration with the anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  There may be relief in what was definitely avoided.  Soldiers and their loved ones may have gratitude for the end of conflict.  There may be sadness for lives lost.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki should stand as reminders of precisely where the atrocities of WWII lead us.

This year, I was determined to find some different way to remember these events.  I discovered Pedro Arrupe.  Pedro studied medicine in his homeland of Spain where he grew up among the elite of society.  Although an excellent medical student, he left school to become a Jesuit priest, and he did complete a doctorate in Medical Ethics.

In the late 1930s, the Jesuits assigned Father Arrupe to missionary work in Hiroshima, Japan.  Arrupe did not believe that he connected with the Japanese community and he considered seeking a different post.  On December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese struck Pearl Harbur, the authorities arrested Father Arrupe while he celebrated mass.  Father Arrupe was imprisoned and charged with being a spy (imagine that, detaining someone who does not look like you and raising suspicion just because they look different — good thing no one was ever interred here in that way!).

On Christmas Eve, while still imprisoned, the very few converts and supporters of Father Arrupe gathered outside his cell and sang Christmas carols.  This gesture to console the very person whose job it was to console others renewed Arrupe’s faith and convinced him to remain in Hiroshima after his release one month later.

Father Arrupe resided with other missionary priests just outside Hiroshima.  He recalled August 6, 1945 in the following way: “The pendulum stopped, and Hiroshima remained engraved in my mind.  It has no relation with time.  It belongs to motionless eternity.”

With Arrupe’s residence just beyond the core blast zone, but still heavily damaged, authorities told Father Arrupe and his colleagues not to enter the blast zone as there is a gas in the air that kills for another 70 years.  Father Arrupe’s response:

“It is at such times one feels most a priest, when one knows that in the city there are 50,000 bodies which, unless they are cremated, will cause a plague.  There were besides 120,000 wounded to care for.

Of course, when one is told that in the city there is a gas that kills, one must be very determined to ignore that fact and go in.  And we did.”

Father Arrupe and his seven brother Jesuit priests converted their novitiate into a makeshift trauma center.  As front line workers, they immediately recovered and treated 200 injured people and then addressed scores more thereafter.  Arrupe, with his medical training, instructed others how to provide care.  These caregivers proceeded with no concern for their own well-being.

There it is!  Humanity, sacrifice and compassion.  Even in some of the darkest moments in human history, we can discover stories confirming these traits.  Father Arrupe, with his medical training and compassion as a missionary priest, survived an atomic explosion and lead a recovery effort.  Father Arrupe, the person who despondently almost gave up his mission just a few years before, became the right person at the right time, in part, due to Christmas carols.

I have always heard that only cockroaches and lawyers could survive a nuclear blast.  That may be true, but we need to add the human spirit to the equation.

In the Summertime . . .

In the Summertime . . .

Summertime simply means more music in our lives.  It could be driving with windows down or sunroof open which causes us to play music instead of listening to podcasts and news.  With weekend getaway trips and vacations, we want to hear familiar and favorite songs.  Maybe we are anticipating the upcoming outdoor concert and want to tune up.  Summer music just makes us feel better and keeps us in a good mood.

And, our Summer music is different than our perennial favorite songs.  Try this:  make a list of your ten favorite songs which you would gladly listen to over and over.  Then make a list of your ten favorite Summer songs which make you feel good during the hotter months.  For most everyone, I suggest there would be little cross-pollination between these lists.

I made a list of my top Summer songs and quickly recognized that they fell into distinct categories.  The list includes classic summertime songs which would be included in any Billboard Greatest Summer Songs List.  But, for me, the list surprisingly included many songs that had nothing to do with Summer except some Summer association in my own mind.  I have ordained these non-seasonal songs as part of my own Summer songs for some reason.

So, here are my categories of Summer songs and some reasons why, for me at least, they relate to June, July and August.

Ode to Summer

This category is the simplest to explain and understand.  These songs ooze Summer with many appearing on that Billboard Hits of Summer list.  

Zac Brown Band:  Island Song

The Drifters:  Under the Boardwalk

Cheryl Crow:  Soak Up the Sun

Blotto:  I Wanna Be a Lifeguard

Ottis Reading:  Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

For this classic Summer feel, the song need not be excessively high energy, although Blotto’s Lifeguard classifies as such.  Summer can be captured with a chill out vibe.  The whistling in Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay makes you long for a lazy afternoon just taking in all that surrounds.  There is no agenda for Summer.

Summer Feel Good

These songs were not entirely or necessarily about Summer.  Yet, during the Summer, these songs just sound better.  They make you bop along with their upbeat and ever carefree nature.  They may sound good in other months, but they make you feel good in the Summer season.  For me, this group includes:

Martha and the Vandellas:  Dancing in the Streets

B-52s:  Love Shack

Katrina and the Waves:  Walking on Sunshine

They Own Summer

These artists, through their music, are eternally linked to Summer.  You could easily pick among a dozen or more of their songs as feel good Summer songs.  But each list must have limits:

Jimmy Buffet:  Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

Bob Marley:  One Love

The Beach Boys:  Kokomo

Not The Beach Boys, but the choice of Kokomo is the most surprising for me on the entire list.  I honestly think that Kokomo is a fairly bad, trite song.  The lyrics are shallow.  Yet, when I hear it, I find myself bouncing along to the melody.  For all the logical reasons not to like the song, Kokomo transports you to Summer all over tropical landscapes.

Time and Place

This category has nothing to do with Summer, but everything to do with summertime in my mind.  These songs would differ on each person’s own list as personal to him or her.

Meatloaf:  Paradise By the Dashboard Light

Bruce Springsteen:  Sherry Darling

When I hear Paradise By the Dashboard Light, I am transported back to 1980s Summer Monday afternoons at Mary’s Husband’s Pub down the Jersey Shore.  Summer Monday afternoons meant Turtle Races at Mary’s Husband’s which served as an excuse to miss work and drink beer during the daylight hours.  The DJ played a well-worn playlist of crowd favorites with Paradise among one of the last songs.  When Paradise played, the upstanding, fine young gentlemen would dutifully serenade the women in conjunction with Meatloaf with tales of unending love:

“I couldn’t take it anymore when the feeling came upon me like a tidal wave

I started swearing to my god and on my mother’s grave

That I would love you to the end of time

I swore, I would love you to the end of time.”

With both the girls and boys concluding by screaming at each other:

“So, now I am praying for the end of time 

To hurry up and arrive

‘Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you,

I don’t think I can really survive.”

Ahh.  America’s future doctors, lawyers and investment bankers busy on a Summer Monday afternoon.

Sherry Darling is a different tale.  My buddies and I were diehard Springsteen fans long before it was fashionable to be fans of The Boss.  I lost track of the number of times I saw Springsteen play during the 1980s.  For some reason, I distinctly remember Bruce playing the band favorite, fun, upbeat, “Get the girl and get outta here” Sherry Darling at every Summer concert.  I am fairly certain that Springsteen surely played that song at some point when I saw his shows in the other three seasons, but I cannot recall one such instance.  For me, Sherry Darling embodies all the joy and camaraderie of attending Springsteen concerts with my friends in the Summer.

Whether a true Summer classic, a Summer feel good song, or a “take me back to a special time and place” ballad, what is on your own Summer music list?

Selfies or Self-Centered?

Selfies or Self-Centered?

Recently, an American tourist fell into the volcanic crater of Mt. Vesuvius.  The tourist, scraped and bruised, held on for his life dangling above a 1,000 foot fall to the base of the crater and his most certain demise.  When rescued by Italian authorities, the tourist claimed that he lost his footing while trying to take a great “selfie” of himself on the edge of the crater of the famous, and still active, volcano.  A selfie.  Not: “I wanted to experience the breathtaking awesomeness of the volcano.”  Not: “Nature inspired me and I had to get closer.”  Nope.  A selfie.  Why is it always an “American tourist”?

Just how did this American tourist Darwin warned us about get into this position?  The first step appeared to be freeing himself from the oversight of any pesky tour guide or park official while hiking the designated trail near the volcanic edge.  The second step involved literally walking past the multi-lingual warning signs instructing all not to pass and not to get any closer to the carter’s edge as conditions were not safe.  The third step involved finding a prime location on the edge of Mt. Vesuvius’ crater.

By prime location, I mean a spot where a selfie taken with his cell phone would show off Mt. Vesuvius’ crater and our hero, presumably grinning from ear to ear, but precariously balancing on the edge of the crater.  Of course, my years of legal training kick in to think that this very same selfie would confirm the complete disregard of safety notices and trespassing while simultaneously firmly establishing the tourist’s liability for damages and costs for his rescue.  The American tourist did not count on the fourth step of losing his footing and falling into the crater.  While he was saved, we can only hope he dropped his cell phone deep into the volcano for its demise.

Amazingly, there is no real outrage for this incident or conduct.  The response for an extreme selfie gone wrong is more along the lines of “Oh.  Another one?”  Recall that a year or two ago, selfies of people “planking” on the edges of balconies or mountain cliffs went viral.  Taking selfies at the very top of extremely tall structures, buildings or famous attractions is a “thing”.  For perspective, between 2008 and 2021, there have been 379 recorded “selfie”-related deaths.  That figure translates to one death every 13 days — all completely avoidable.  We appear fascinated with recording our own stupidity.

Perhaps I am completely out of touch with new societal norms.  Perhaps — no, definitely — I am not part of the cool crowd.  Then, perhaps, my frontal cortex is actually fully developed and functioning properly.

Whatever the reason, the next time I am at the beach and I see folks posing waist deep in the water with their cell phones held high for a selfie, I am not going to root for the next wave to crash their photoshoot.  However, I am not going to root against the wave either.  Let’s be safe out there folks as I have three boys who, based on their ages, lack one fully developed frontal cortex between them.  They do not need to be encouraged by the next American tourist.

Who Cheers for the Bad Guy?

Who Cheers for the Bad Guy?

Early 1930s.  Great Depression in full swing.  New Deal relief still only theoretical.  The banks which have not failed continue to foreclose on defaulted mortgages at record pace.  With distrust of the government and absolute resentment of banks, it becomes easier to appreciate the romanticizing of Depression era Gangsters.

Bonnie & Clyde.  Pretty Boy Floyd.  George “Baby Face” Nelson.  Ma Barker.  And Public Enemy No. 1, John Dillinger.  These thieves and their gangs predominantly targeted banks throughout the Midwest.  They were no mobsters of the likes of Al Capone, Meyer Lansky or Albert Anastasia.  They did not belong to some larger syndicate.  Rather, these gangs were free-lancing opportunists sticking it to what is left of the establishment, especially banks.

The 1930s social media, otherwise known as newspapers and news reels at the movies, push the narrative of Gangsters as modern day Robin Hoods.  J. Edgar Hoover, at the Bureau of Investigation (soon to be renamed the FBI), responds with publication of his Public Enemies List naming bank robber, escaped prisoner and murderer John Dillinger as the first Public Enemy No. 1.  Across the nation as movie house news reels carry stories of this Public Enemies List, movie-goers cheer images of John Dillinger and hiss at images of federal agents.

But Robin Hoods?  That analogy clearly was half correct.  These gangs knew how to “rob from the rich” banks.  The bank robberies appeared well-prepared with knowledge of time before police could arrive, detailed casing of banks by pretending to be federal officials, established get-away routes including gasoline cans hidden in hay fields for refueling, and prepared safe houses for laying low hundreds of miles from the latest heist.  However, the stories of “and give to the poor” are virtually non-existent.

Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd stands out as the only one of the bunch who might be able to claim Robin Hood status.  During bank robberies, Pretty Boy Floyd would burn or otherwise destroy mortgage documents at the bank in an effort to free others of their debts.  These acts may not fit squarely into the “and give to the poor” category.  Yet, among this collection of Gangsters, Pretty Boy Floyd appears at least marginally concerned with others.

Before canonizing Pretty Boy Floyd as a saint, we should recognize that he robbed 30 banks and killed at least 10 people along the way.  After John Dillinger’s death, Pretty Boy Floyd deservedly became Public Enemy No. 1 until federal agents killed him in late 1934.  Speaking of John Dillinger, he also killed at least 10 people while robbing a mere 24 banks.  Dillinger does get credit for also improbably robbing four police stations before being gunned down in July 1934.  The scorecards for our other named media darlings:

Bonnie & Clyde.  15 banks robbed (but countless gas stations and local stores also held up).  Dramatically killed by countless bullets by law enforcement in May 1934.  Onlookers at their death tried try to take body parts as souvenirs.

Ma Barker.  Oversaw the Barker – Krepis gang credited with 11 bank robberies.  The actual number of bank robberies is not known as Ma Barker rotated gang members with different hits on banks.  Ma Barker made it all the way to 1935 before being gunned down.

George “Baby Face” Nelson.  The number of bank robberies is not entirely clear.  Baby Face Nelson functioned for a while as part of John Dillinger’s gang.  However, Baby Face Nelson was quite trigger happy and killed more federal agents than anyone else.  John Dillinger refused to work with Baby Face Nelson after a few bank robberies considering Baby Face Nelson “too dangerous” to be around.  Law agents killed Baby Face Nelson in 1934.

The era of the romantic Gangster rose quickly in 1930 and ended with an avalanche of federal bullets between 1934 – 1935.  Perhaps this short duration adds to the romanticism.  Yet, I do not recall Robin Hood having killed so many along his journey. One point is clear:  J. Edgar Hoover did not react well to America hissing at him while cheering the bad guys.  Maybe people already knew that J. Edgar Hoover was not such a good guy after all.

Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea

Summer weekends.  Time to escape the New York City area for the Jersey Shore, the Catskills, or Montauk.  The Upper Crust of society venture to their get-away “cottages” in The Hamptons.  Then there are the highest of high society who give no concern to traffic jams or crowds on the beach as they retreat to their well-stocked, well-hidden, palatial and ultra-private compounds on Martha’s Vineyard.  They arrive by their private planes on their own schedules for a sun-drenched weekend of fun and frolic.

Until it all goes sideways.  Friday night, July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr. sits at the controls of his personal plane at a small New Jersey airfield as he pilots off to Martha’s Vineyard together with his wife, Carolyn, and his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette.  JFK, Jr.’s plane crashes into the Atlantic Ocean seven miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.  Five days later, the aircraft and its three passengers are located at the bottom of the sea.

Lost with John John and his family was a sense of hope for the future of America.  In the 1990s, America was transitioning from political leaders defined by World War II and the Cold War to a new and younger generation.  Bill Clinton was in the White House as the youngest U.S. President since John F. Kennedy.  The future looked bright for young politicians such as newly minted U.S. Representative and future Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, 38 year old Indiana Governor Evan Bayh, and University of Stanford Provost, Condoleeza Rice who was in her thirties.  The brightest star among these young constellations remained John F. Kennedy, Jr.  He had the name and pedigree.  He had the looks.  He became engaged in causes.  He had the Kennedy political machine at his disposal.  He avoided all the messiness the other Kennedy family members appeared to attract.  JFK, Jr., was well-positioned to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Senator and even beyond.

Perhaps John John would have failed miserably as a politician.  Maybe he lacked the ambition to take the reins of leadership.  I doubt it.

What may have been different if the plane made it all the way to Martha’s Vineyard without incident on that summer night?  Would America have been introduced to little known first term U.S. Senator Barack Obama as the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention?  If Senator Obama’s fortunes were altered, would then Senator Joe Biden eventually become Vice President and then positioned to run for President?  Were the political fortunes of so many others altered with JFK, Jr.’s fateful flight?

So many of us have emblazoned in our minds the image of 3 year old John John saluting his father’s coffin during the funeral procession.  We also recall the handsome young up-and-coming 38 year old Kennedy on the cusp of embarking on a life of public service from 1999.  Just imagine if we could interject into the current American political climate the gravitas and maturity of a 61 year old JFK, Jr.  Regardless where you might stand on his politics, the presence of this older JFK, Jr. would have to result in the temperature in the room coming down by at least a few degrees.  Opportunities lost.

I Got Guys from New Jersey . . .

I Got Guys from New Jersey . . .

St. Peter’s College Peacocks mens basketball program continues its improbable journey through the NCAA Tournament.  Truly against the odds as a 15 Seed out of 16, they beat the University of Kentucky Wildcats in the opening round of the Tournament.  They followed up this biggest win in school history by defeating Murray State Racers in the second round.  The Peacocks now face the Purdue Boilermakers in the Sweet 16.  Whether called Cinderella or David taking down Goliath, the Peacocks remain on a magical trip which may well continue.

Personally, I prefer the David versus Goliath analogy as David actively defeats the six cubit high giant.  The Peacocks have been taking down the giants of college basketball.  No doubt should exist as to St. Peter’s College status as David.  St. Peter’s, a Jesuit Catholic college, has approximately 2,100 students.  The school is nestled in an urban setting in Jersey City not exactly in the most desirable area.  The school caters mostly to commuter students, many of whom are among the first generation in their families to attend college.  St. Peter’s College is a minority majority student body.  As detailed below, the college’s gym is tiny compared other Division I schools and the basketball team must share the facilities with all other sports and even intramural activities.  

Yet, some commentators opine that there no longer exist true David versus Goliath scenarios in college basketball.  The Transfer Portal in college basketball allows student athletes much more freedom to transfer between and among college programs.  The pundits claim that this dynamic has benefitted some smaller schools in attracting basketball talent.  Notably, these same pundits generally fail to acknowledge that larger schools seek to cherry pick or poach proven and talented players from smaller programs.  Regardless, I think it remains beyond dispute that St. Peter’s classifies as a true David.

David Versus Goliath By the Numbers

So far, in the NCAA Tournament, St. Peter’s College played and defeated Kentucky and Murray State.  In this Region of 16 teams, St. Peter’s received the 15th Seed.  Kentucky, with its amazing season with victories over top-ranked programs, was ranked number 2 in the Region.  Murray State, winners of 21 straight games, was ranked 7th.  St. Peter’s  will now play Purdue, ranked 3rd in the Region.

Kentucky was an 18.5 point favorite to beat St. Peter’s

The entire athletic department budget for St. Peter’s College, for all sports, is $7.2 million.  In comparison, the base salary for Kentucky Coach John Callipari is $8.5 million.  Kentucky’s athletic department budget is a staggering $140,000,000.  Murray State’s athletic budget is $14,700,000.  Purdue, the next opponent of the Peacocks, boasts an athletic department budget just over $100,000,000.

St. Peter’s basketball team does play in a new, modest multi-purpose recreational facility commonly called the Run Baby Run Arena.  The basketball court serves as the court for volleyball and other sports as well as basketball.  With collapsible bleachers, the Run Baby Run Arena can seat 3,200.  While the Run Baby Run Arena was being built the last few years, the St. Peter’s team practiced at a local high school gym with no heat and no shot clock.  Home games were played wherever St, Peter’s could locate an available nearby court.  Just envision Kentucky five star prima donna recruits and Coach Callipari’s perfectly tailored suits in that environment.

At the University of Kentucky, home games are played at Rupp Arena which seats well in excess of 20,000.  The Kentucky practice facility built in 2007 cost $30,000,000 or more than 4 years’ of St. Peter’s athletic department annual budgets.  The Kentucky practice facility includes separate basketball courts for men and women programs, weight rooms dedicated for use by athletes and lounges.  Does not appear to be any multi-use facilities at Kentucky while the St. Peter’s team needs to schedule practices around a dodgeball tournament at its gym.

Purdue, a/k/a Goliath III, has 35,000 undergraduate students.  The number of alumni of St. Peter’s cannot match that figure.  St. Peter’s President notes that the school has 34,000 living alumni, but many more if you count the deceased alumni in the school’s 150 year history.

By any metrics, St. Peter’s ranks among the smallest Davids standing toe-to-toe with largest of the Goliaths.

The Deck Remains Stacked Against All the St. Peter’s of the World

St. Peter’s College gained an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Championship.  Admittedly, St. Peter’s was one of the top teams in the MAAC this year.  However, St. Peter’s and all other MAAC schools chased Iona College all year long.

Iona, coached by Rick Pitino making his against-all-odds comeback bid as a college coach, assembled a top group of players at Iona, and ran away with the MAAC regular season.  Iona beat Tournament teams Alabama and Yale along the way as well as St. Peter’s.  Unfortunately for Iona, they lost during the MAAC Conference Tournament.  Iona immediately became beyond consideration for an at-large bid by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee for the field of 68 teams.  Iona stood with a record of 25-8 after winning the regular season MAAC Title.  Yet, the Selection Committee debated only whether to accept the 7th and 8th place teams from the Big Ten Conference or the 6th place team from the Big East instead of the first place team from the MAAC.  The system actively works against teams from a conference like the MAAC.

The point remains that St. Peter’s only way into the NCAA Tournament was to win the MAAC Championship, which it did.  The reward: a 15 Seed and date to play college basketball superpower Kentucky.  As to those “Power Five” conference teams which finished so low in their leagues, they were invited to the Tournament, but now find themselves back at home after losses.  The Peacocks play on in the Sweet 16.

The NCAA Tournament Committee assigned St. Peter’s to the East Region in the Tournament.  That action appears appropriate for a Jersey school UNTIL you recognize that the first and second round East Region games for St. Peter’s were played in that great east coast city of Indianapolis, Indiana.

The University of Kentucky student fans would need to endure a grueling 3 hour drive to reach Indianapolis.  The poor Murray State fans would have to treck 4 hours.  St. Peter’s College students, so fortunate to be assigned to the East Region, would only have to drive a mere 11.5 hours to reach Indianapolis.  Courtesy of the NCAA Tournament Committee, Kentucky and Murray State essentially enjoyed “home games” in these contests.

Jersey Attitude

The basketball coach for St. Peter’s, Shaheen Holloway, embraces and embodies the spirit of the school.  Recruiting predominantly in New Jersey and New York City, Holloway put together a group of tough, chip on the shoulder ballplayers apparently loyal to him, to each other, and to the school.  These players have been passed over by the larger, established basketball programs the likes of which St. Peter’s now defeats in the Tournament.

After victories against Kentucky and Murray State, a journalist asked Coach Holloway whether his players were intimidated heading into contests with top tier basketball programs.  Holloway, himself a product of Jersey City and former Seton Hall University player, responded:  “I get guys from New Jersey and New York City.  You think we’re scared of anything?”

There it is.  Classic Jersey Attitude.  Blue Blood basketball teams as the competition?  Athletic budgets 10 or 15 times larger than your own?  Practice facilities much nicer than your own new gym?  NCAA rules and processes intended to defeat you off the court?  Eleven and a half hour road trip for your fan base?

Ahh.  Fagetaboutit.  The St. Peter’s team plays with Jersey Attitude.  They drive the ball to the basketball rim against much taller players.  They routinely out-rebound the much taller opposing team.  They are scrappy.  One of their players sports a bandage above his eye due to an elbow thrown by one of his own teammates during practice.

Any “us against the much larger world” mentality goes well beyond the St. Peter’s players and their coach.  The student body at a college such as St. Peter’s fairly quickly understand their own instant bonds.  Upon graduation, they become part of the St. Peter’s for life clique.  Without sounding like a cult, they are a community and remain there for each other.

I get it.  I attended Saint Bonaventure University, a small Catholic school isolated in its own way (mostly geographic).  There are no fraternities and sororities and no need for them.  At a school of that size, you get to know just about everyone.  You essentially become one big fraternity, and in my case, the Bonaventure Family.  The sense of community transcends the time you attended as you possess shared experiences with so many who attended decades before and after your own time in the Enchanted Mountains.  

Years ago, my uncle introduced me to a his buddy who graduated from St. Bonaventure about 15 years before I even attended the school.  We spoke for a half hour over a beer or two and my uncle watched in amazement.  My uncle noted that listening to our conversation, someone would think that we had lived across the hall from each for years in the same dorm while attending classes together.  My uncle commented that our bonds appeared instantly.  I corrected him and told him that the bonds were actually always in place.  We only needed an introduction.

About four years ago, St. Bonaventure’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Tournament and played its first game in Dallas, Texas.  I packed up my youngest son and we drove from Memphis to catch the game.  Before the game, a large outdoor bar and restaurant became the designated pre-game meeting area for Bona fans as well as fans of other schools playing at the arena.  Although we were well over 1,000 miles from St. Bonaventure, New York, students and alumni well- represented the school.  My son kept asking if I knew these other folks in Bonaventure shirts as it appeared to him that we were long lost friends.  While we may not have met previously, we were indeed old friends.  Side note.  The bar ran out of beer and it was not the Texas Tech, TCU or Florida fans who drank the place dry.

Not only do you get to know so many others when attending a smaller university, you get to know your professors and they get to know you.  I am some thirty years removed from my time at Bonas and I remain in touch with some professors – at least those who have not yet retired.  We have become friends over the decades.  I travel back to assist with moot court competitions and gladly assist however I can do so.

While at St. Bonaventure, a few of us took a road trip to Michigan State University to visit my friend from high school.  We met up with my buddy when he was getting out of an Economics class.  He was exiting an auditorium with his fellow 150 or so classmates.  I was taking an Economics course that same semester, using the same textbook, but with a class size of about 15 students.  I had to explain to my Economics professor that I would miss Friday’s class because of the planned road trip to Michigan State.  If you did not make it to class at Bonaventure, it was easily noted by the professor.  You instantly became part of the fabric of the community.

A larger university setting offers tremendous benefits.  Some of those opportunities could never be available at smaller institutions.  Nonetheless, some of these smaller schools offer comradery and bonds which only grow stronger over time.  You share experiences on and off campus which all the students experience.  You graduate with a sense of self; a sense of place; and a sense of belonging.  You will forever belong to that community.  It remains special, in part, precisely because it is small and the school remains so dedicated to its mission.  

So, I am on board in rooting for the Peacocks.  They are fun to watch and they clearly enjoy playing with each other.  In any classic David versus Goliath story, nobody roots for Goliath.  Goliath has all the advantages.  Goliath holds all the resources and is even expected to easily dismiss any would be giant slayer.  When Goliath triumphs – as is typically the case – we respond with: “Oh, of course, no one could beat Goliath under these circumstances, especially not little David.”

Then, at rare times, David squeezes out a victory.  So far, the Peacocks have two victories and look to slay more giants before they are done.  Good luck to the Peacocks on behalf of all the smaller colleges and universities with equally insane alumni.  And if Lady Luck is not on your side, show ‘em some Jersey Attitude.  After this weekend, perhaps the St. Peter’s fans can cross the Hudson to Madison Square Garden to root for St. Bonaventure who just reached the Final Four of the NIT Tournament!  Let’s hope they all keep playing!

Ears, War and Snorkeling

Ears, War and Snorkeling

My wife reminds me that I possess a keen mind for collecting the most useless details and trivia.  She usually brings up that point when I cannot recall simple or quite useful bits of information such as account user names or passwords.  Frankly, who cares about mundane login credentials when you can read up on the War of Jenkins’ Ear.

Recently, I came across reference to the War of Jenkins’ Ear and must confess that I had never heard of it.  An actual war had not been taught or even referenced in all my years in grade school, high school, college or law school.  With a memory for ridiculous historic facts, surely I would recall a war started over Jenkins’ cut off ear.  If the War of Jenkins’ Ear were taught in my grade school, there would have been dire re-enactments of loss of a body part during recess.

This war must have been waged centuries or millennia ago between obscure and lesser known powers.  Wrong!  The war battled in the 1730s and 1740s with action seen in the Caribbean, Florida and Georgia.  Mid-1700s.  The Caribbean.  An ear at issue.  The War of Jenkins’ Ear must be a pirate war.

From the file of useless facts and details in my head, I know how important earrings were to pirates and pirate culture in the 1700s and 1800s.  Pirate gold hoop earrings were believed to provide relief from sea sickness (the pirates guessed incorrectly on that medical advice, but other metals such as copper could have curative powers).  Pirate earrings served as currency for ransom in kidnapping scenarios.  Pirate earrings provided a storage space for wads of wax needed for hearing protection when canons were in use.  Finally, pirate earrings would be cashed in upon the death of a pirate to purchase a casket and pay for burial.

So, clearly, loss of Jenkins’ ear, a pirate ear so necessary to hold the beloved pirate earrings, may somehow be the genesis of war.  Wrong, again!  Jenkins was no pirate.  Robert Jenkins captained a British merchant ship.  In 1731, while off the coast of Florida, Jenkins’ ship, the Rebecca, was boarded by a privateer loosely connected with the Spanish authorities.  This privateer, Juan de Leon Fandino, accused Jenkins of smuggling and cut off Jenkins’ left ear.  Fandino claimed to command the “guardia costa” (Spanish coast guard off Florida).  Not much else is known about Fandino beyond his operations being backed by the name, if not the might, of the Spanish Navy.  Sounds like an early form of a mob-style protection scheme.  Probably operated out of Miami.

Word of the Van Gogh incident on the Rebecca reached England with the encounter briefly mentioned in the press.  In fact, the entire incident appears completely forgotten until eight years later in 1739 when the matter was brought up in graphic detail, allegedly including the dismembered ear itself, in the House of Commons.

We will get into the 1739 events which breathed new life into Jenkins’ ear.  It helps to understand the geopolitical climate between 1731 and resurrection of the ear in 1739.  The British and Spanish enjoyed a love-hate relationship in the 1700s.  In conquering the world and spreading their empires, they mostly landed on truces or at least tolerance.  There were vast areas to plunder under the guise of exploration with low hanging resources to be taken by all.

Nonetheless, three factors stood in the way of this British-Spanish uneasy alliance: desire for greater power; France; and greed.

In 1732, one year after the ear removal, and entirely unrelated to that incident, England established its colony of Georgia in North America.  Georgia bordered the Spanish colony of Florida with both powers cautiously watching the potential intentions of the other.  Border skirmishes between Georgia and Florida continued in the 1730s with those incidents not escalating to major conflict.  The major conflict came much later when Georgia and Florida played their annual college football game known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.  Now that is a peace treaty with staying power!

In 1733, with this new threat to its sovereignty and shipping routes, Spain responded to the establishment of the Georgia Colony by elevating France to its primary trading partner.  Under the Pact de Famille between Louis XV and Philip V, France and Spain vowed to protect their trade routes.  During this period in the Caribbean, the Spanish authorities permitted free passage to French ships carrying contraband goods.  The Spanish stopped and searched British ships enforcing severe restrictions on goods.

The British value of trade (and pillaging) in the Caribbean took a serious hit in the 1730s.  Spain aligned itself more closely with France serving as an even greater threat to the British.  Yet, the British and Spanish maintained the peace.

Enter greed and the Port of Cadiz.  The Port of Cadiz in southern Spain served vital interests.  Imports of British goods, either destined for mainland Spain or the Spanish colonies, entered through the Port of Cadiz.  The Port also functioned as gateway to the Mediterranean Sea and valuable trade routes to Italy.  The leading merchants in London commonly referenced trade through the Port fo Cadiz as “the best flower in our garden.”  Those minor inconveniences in North America and the Caribbean held little sway in the larger British-Spanish mercantilism.

In the Caribbean, loss of access to markets and trade routes by the British remained hard felt at the South Sea Company — a Crown controlled enterprise.  In 1738, backed by the South Sea Company and perhaps even France, the Tory political party in England grew in strength arguing against the dangers of European “entanglements.”

In one effort to reduce these entanglements, the South Sea Company assisted in organizing the January 1739 Convention of Pardo which established a Commission to resolve the Georgia-Florida border disputes.  The proposed agreement included Spain paying the British 95,000 Pounds (present value of $15.2 mm USD) as damages for seized ships; and the South Sea Company paying King Philip V 68,000 Pounds (present value of $10.8 mm USD) as the king’s lost profits.

The South Sea Company balked and refused to pay King Philip V.  Instead, the company orchestrated the spectacle of earless Captain Robert Jenkins appearing before the House of Commons to recount the atrocities committed against him and all British people by the savage Spanish some eight years earlier.  While there is no official record in support, many accounts of Jenkins’ presentation include reference to showing off the severed ear.  The House of Commons declared the incident from 1731 an insult to Britain’s honor and a clear casus belli.  The South Sea Company cleared the path to a declaration of war in order for the British to fight for the company’s trade routes.

In October 1739, British ships in the Caribbean intercepted and attacked Spanish merchant ships.  The War of Jenkins’ Ear began.  The actual military conflicts in this war remained few with efforts primarily focused on port blockades or firing on port towns.  Yellow fever, and not military conflict, remained the cause of the vast majority of the 30,000 deaths in the war.  In 1740, the British laid siege to St. Augustine in Florida but abandoned that attack after supplies to St. Augustine could not be stopped.  In Georgia, the Battle of Bloody Mose witnessed the Spanish and free black forces repelling the British advance.

The War of Jenkins’ Ear limped along until 1742 when it became subsumed within the War of Austrian Succession.  In fact, both Britain and Spain removed their naval power from the Caribbean to support this larger European-based conflict.  No further Spanish-British military conflict followed in the Caribbean, but privateering attacks flourished.  Pirates got their foothold after all.

The War of Jenkins’ Ear did include one military disaster which continues to benefit us to this day.  In 1742, the HMS Looe captured a Spanish privateer vessel off the coast of Florida.  The Looe towed the captured ship passing just five miles south of Ramrod Key in the Florida Keys when it ran aground on a sand bar.  The HMS Looe sank with the Spanish ship then scuttled at the scene.  Today, that area, while technically a sand bar, is known as Looe Key.  Looe Key boasts the best snorkeling and scuba diving areas in the Keys.  I can add these facts to my useless historic and trivia knowledge base.

The War of Jenkins’ Ear surely was not in vain.  We must have learned something from a conflict between nations.  Perhaps the origin of war being entirely manufactured by the South Sea Company provides a lesson.  There it is.  Plain as can be.  We must be cautious about supposed justifications for conflict when the reasons are not patently obvious.  Since the 1730s then, we have not rushed into chaos based on made up or exaggerated stories, right?

Perhaps Collin Powell standing before the United Nations opining about Weapons of Mass Destruction is an exception.  Then there is Archduke Ferdinand as the executed scapegoat to start WWI.  We need to be cautious of untruths, large or small, from leaders of our institutions or the War of Jenkins’ Ear will be but another forgotten excuse for conflict to serve the interests of the very few.

Nonetheless, the War of Jenkins’ Ear may provide a teaching moment for mediation and conflict resolution.  Claims may not always be as they appear.  The South Sea Company used Jenkins and his severed ear to stir up the Tories who then did the work for the South Sea Company.  The stated reasons justifying war with Spain were the barbaric acts of all of Spain, forgetting that the incident involved one privateer from years ago.  The privateer may or may not have had the backing of local Spanish authorities.  Let’s not allow facts to get in the way of a good story and casting blame on the evil and aggressive Spanish Empire.

At times, mediators need to look behind or beyond the claims as presented.  Perhaps larger or other issues serve as the source of the conflict.  As importantly, perhaps other players or potential stakeholders stoke the embers of the claims presented by the parties.  There may be issues with competitors or larger economic concerns driving the claims.  Listen carefully to how the dispute arose and inquire whether other parties not involved in the claims stand to benefit either with the continued conflict or its resolution.  These issues beyond the four corners of the dispute before the mediator may need to be addressed in any successful resolution.

As for Captain Jenkins, he is immortalized in the War of Jenkins’ Ear.  Give credit to historians for naming the war as such because the War of The South Sea Company’s Manipulation and Greed simply does not have the same ring to it.