Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mazel Tov, Y'all: The Southern Roots of Jewish Politicians

One of my favorite stumpers when it comes to history trivia (I’m a big-time history nerd) is to ask who was the first Jewish cabinet member in the US. If you had trouble guessing, I’d go on to mention that this person also just so happened to be Attorney General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State.

Give up? Well, ever heard of a guy by the name of Judah Benjamin? If not, it may be because I’ve pulled a little trick on you. Though Benjamin actually fulfilled these duties in the geographical US, he was not, however, in the US government.

Confused? Benjamin was actually a Southerner, was active during the Civil War years, and was a part of the Confederate cabinet. Yup, those backwards and prejudiced Southerners made a Jew one of the most prominent persons in their government. And before the war even took place, they had also already elected him a state representative and senator, and a US senator as well. 

It wasn’t just him though. In fact, Jews positively thrived in the South, both before and after the war. Did you know, for example, that Niemann and Marcus (of the Dallas department store) were both Jews, that Adolph Ochs (who would later buy the NY Times) was born in Chattanooga, that the Straus brothers (who would later own Macy’s) grew up in Georgia?

Jewish Political Firsts and the South

Something I just uncovered lends further truth to this fact. I just so happened to be looking at a list in Wikipedia that noted Jewish political firsts in the US – first senator, governor, cabinet member, and so on.

I then started checking out some of these figures’ bios. Of the nine firsts that seemed particularly important (not, for example, the first female Jewish minority mayor), two-thirds of them were Southerners or had Southern roots. So, for the rest of this blog, I’ll just cover those personages, starting with the oldest first. Enjoy!


David Levy Yulee was Florida’s senator for two separate periods, from 1841-1845 and 1855-1861. Born in St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands, Yulee would immigrate to Florida as a child, spending almost all of the rest of his life there. 

Yulee was a plantation owner as well as a railroad developer. As a politician, he was a “fire-eater,” one of the more strenuous of the antebellum, pro-slavery Southerners.

Yulee represents our first instance of inter-marriage. He married a well-born Kentucky girl, and the two raised their children as Christians.

There is a town called Yulee in Florida (pop. 11,000). In addition, Levy County (pop. 40,000) is also named after him. 


Lewis Charles Levin was the Representative from Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District from 1845 to 1851. He was, however, born in Charleston, SC, graduated from the University of South Carolina, taught school in Mississippi, and practiced law in Kentucky and Maryland.

Levin was an prohibitionist and nativist, and ran on the Know-Nothing Party platform. In case your antebellum history is a little rusty, the Know Nothings were mostly known for being anti-Catholic. Levin was, in fact, behind riots in Philadelphia that involved dozens killed, hundreds injured, and multiple churches being burned down. 

Levin next claim to fame was being involved in a bribery scandal while running for the US Senate. He would eventually go mad, dying in a Philadelphia asylum.


Washington Bartlett sure doesn’t sound Jewish. In fact, Bartlett was not a practicing Jew, and had his funeral at the local Episcopal church. On the other hand, though, I never found anything that said that he was ever a convert to Christianity.

Anyhoo, Bartlett was the governor of California. He served in the year 1887, dying of the results of a stroke (or perhaps Bright’s Disease – sources conflict) after only 9 months in office. 

Prior to serving as governor, Bartlett was a state senator and mayor of San Francisco. Before politics, he was a book and  newspaper publisher and lawyer.

Oh, the Southern connection? Bartlett was born in Savannah and also lived in Tallahassee. He came to California as a 25-year-old, looking to find his fortune in the Gold Rush. 

Interestingly, he is often confused with Washington Allon Bartlett, who was also a mayor of San Francisco. Our guy was Washington Montgomery Bartlett.

NOTE: Some claim that the first Jewish governor was David Emanuel, of Georgia (1801). All evidence of this, however, seems to be conjectural. There appears to be no hard evidence that he actually was Jewish (and may have even been a Welsh Presbyterian).

Cabinet Secretary

If you don’t count Judah Benjamin, the first Jewish cabinet member was Oscar Strauss, Secretary of Commerce and Labor from 1906 to 1909, and appointed by Teddy Roosevelt.

Though born in Germany, Straus emigrated as a child to the small town of Talbotton, GA. At the end of the Civil War, he went North to go to college, never really returning to the South again.

Prior to his being Secretary, Straus was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and was on the international Court of Arbitration at the Hague. After being Secretary, he was again the Ottoman ambassador, ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York, and was chairman of the NY Public Service Commission.

As famous as Straus was, you may know the members of his illustrious family even better. A grandson, Roger, founded the publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux. And his brother Isidor was a US representative, part owner of Macy’s, and one of the more famous Titanic victims. 

Supreme Court Justice

Louis Brandeis was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1916 (by Woodrow Wilson), and served on it until 1939.

A Kentucky native, he left the Bluegrass State for Boston, where he attended Harvard Law School and then started  his own law firm. He was well-known for social justice causes, and was nicknamed the “People’s Lawyer” and the “Robin Hood of the Law.” 

He died only a few years after retiring, and is buried beneath the portico of the University of Louisville’s school of law (which also bears his name). He is also the namesake of Brandeis University, in his adopted hometown of Boston.

NOTE:  Judah Benjamin – yup, that guy again – was actually nominated to the Supreme Court, by Millard Fillmore, but declined the nomination.

Congressional Officer

Congressional officers include whips, leaders, and Speakers of the House. Eric Cantor, the only person on this list who is still alive, was the first two, but not the last.

Cantor was born and raised in Richmond, and represented the city as a state delegate and US representative. He was in the latter position from 2001 to 2014.

He was, however, defeated in 2014 – in the Republican primary no less – by Tea Party candidate Dave Brat. At the time of his resignation, he was the only Republican Jewish member of the US House. Currently, there is only one Jewish Republican in either branch of Congress, Lee Zeldin of NY's 1st Congressional District.

  • Mayor – Moses Bloom, Iowa City, IA
  • Presidential candidate – Barry Goldwater, AZ
  • Vice-presidential candidate – Joe Lieberman, CT

More Information on Southern Jews

Monday, November 9, 2015

Worst Confederate Generals

Everyone knows the Union had some real turkeys as generals. Burnside, Hooker, John Pope, Nathaniel Banks, Ben Butler... I mean somebody had to get trounced by Lee and Jackson and Forrest, right?

What most people might not realize, though, is that the Confederates had their fair share of losers as well. For every Lee, there was a Braxton Bragg.  For every Jackson, there was a Hood. For every Nathan Bedford Forrest, there was a Gideon Pillow. 

If you Google something along the lines of, say, “worst confederate generals,” you’ll find plenty of results. But a lot of what you’ll get is also just straight opinion. 

So, what I was interested in was seeing if there wasn’t a way that we could make this a little bit more objective. Let’s take a look …


So, here’s what I did:
  1. I went to Google and typed “worst confederate generals”
  2. I added all the results into a larger list
  3. I looked up each general on that list on Wikipedia
  4. I saw if they were in any major battles
  5. I narrowed it down to battles where they were in charge
  6. I went to the Wikipedia page for that battle
  7. I recorded whether they won, their strength vs. their opponent’s, and their losses vs. their opponent’s
I also made sure they weren’t just one-hit wonders. In other words, it was important that these guys were truly trusted with command. If, on the other hand, they got a single chance, blew it, and then retired to the farm, I eliminated them (sorry, John B. Floyd).

Put together, this gave me something concrete (and also pretty generally agreed on) to evaluate these guys.  In all, I was able to identify four “losers.” And they are…

#4  Sterling Price

This fellow’s a little on the obscure side. First of all, all his battles were west of the Mississippi. I’m talking names like Pea Ridge, Wilson’s Creek, Prairie d’Ane, and the Second Battle of Corinth. Not exactly the Confederate high tide at Gettysburg here.

How’d he do? Well, his overall record was 3-4. Not bad. 

Of his 4 losses, though, 2 were pretty darn ugly. At Ft. Davidson, he outnumbered the Federals by a factor of 8, but also suffered 8 times as many casualties. An almost identical result happened at Pilot Knob. I guess that’s what happens when you take on permanent fortifications. In his other losses, however, he was definitely outgunned.

In his victories, on the other hand, he never had less than twice the number of Federals. His greatest victory was probably Lexington, where he inflicted 3000 casualties, but lost only 150 men himself.

Overall, he lost the fewest men – 7550 – of any of the generals in this post. Of course, he never had that many troops engaged either. That said, he also led in fewest net loses - subtracting the number of his casualties from the number of his opponents’ gives us a mere 23.

  • Record:  3-4 (best)
  • Average strength vs. opponent:  330% (worst)
  • Average losses vs. opponent:  270%
  • Total losses:  7550 (best)
  • Difference in losses:  -23 (best)
  • Final word:  Most respectable loser?

#3  John Pemberton

John Pemberton is mostly known for losing Vicksburg. He’s not a one-hit wonder though, having also lost at Champion Hill and won at Chickasaw Bayou.

That loss at Vicksburg, though, is huge. I’m talking 32,700 casualties, 28,400 more than the Union. Ouch! Overall, that means Pemberton led the 4 losers in this post in net losses and loss percentage.

What’s interesting about Pemberton, though, is that he may well be the most hated Confederate general out there. Losing Vicksburg undoubtedly has a lot to do with that. That Pemberton was a Yankee, however, probably had a lot more.

Yup, this guy was born in Philadelphia and had 2 brothers who fought for the Union. He did, however, have a Southern wife and spent a number of years in the Army down South before the war. 

After the war, Pemberton was something of a man without a country. He originally settled in Virginia, but was never really comfortable there. He then returned to Pennsylvania, but was made to feel much the same. Of course, if he had been a winning general, he’d probably had his own monument on Richmond’s Monument Ave.

  • Record:  1-2 
  • Average strength vs. opponent:  50% (best)
  • Average losses vs. opponent:  280% (worst)
  • Total losses:  36,740
  • Difference in losses:  -28,090
  • Final word:  Big-time loser

#2  Braxton Bragg

Braxton Bragg is probably the most prominent general on this list. He was in command at such major battles as Chickimauga, Murfreesboro, Perryville, and Missionary Ridge. 

He also seems to have had no people skills whatsoever. He was famous for micromanaging his subordinates, fighting with them, and then blaming them for his own errors in battle. Nathan Bedford Forrest once told him, “If you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path, it will be at the peril of your life.” 

That said, 3 of his losses were really tactical victories. They’re only listed as losses because Bragg failed to follow up, even retreating in the case of Perryville and Murfreesboro. His other losses were pretty bad, a rout at Missionary Ridge and the loss of the last port open to the Confederacy, Ft. Fisher.

Overall, though, he was pretty evenly matched with his opponents, within 10% of both their strength and their losses. Also, though he generated 42,150 rebel losses, he also generated only 700 less Union ones.

  • Record:  1-4 
  • Average strength vs. opponent:  90% 
  • Average losses vs. opponent:  110% (best)
  • Total losses:  42,150 (worst)
  • Difference in losses:  -700
  • Final word: Bad wrap?

#1  John Bell Hood

Now, this one is rather interesting. On the face of it, John Bell Hood would seem to be the absolute worst, hands down. His only strategy seemed to be full frontal assault, no matter the situation. The worst example of this is Franklin, where he lost 6,250 men, 4,000 more than the Federals, in the span of a few hours. The same sort of thing happened multiple times, however, when he relieved Joe Johnston before Atlanta.

He also needs to be dinged on the wild goose chase he led the Army of Tennessee on after Atlanta. This would end, of course, in the total rout of his forces at Nashville … and the end of Confederate resistance in the West.

So, how bad was it overall? Well, how about an 0-9 record? That’s pretty telling. At the same time, however, he did not lose the most soldiers (Bragg did), nor have the biggest difference in losses (that would be Pemberton), nor have the worst odds in strength (Price) or the worst percentages of losses (Pemberton). I just gotta return to that 0-9 record though. That’s pretty darn hard to beat.

Now, what makes this so interesting is the number of people who still come to Hood’s defense. And I do have to agree with them that Hood was an excellent divisional commander, as well as displaying considerable personal bravery.

The numbers, though, don’t lie. Think about it. Would you want a pitcher with an 0-9 record on your baseball team? Would you be happy if your NFL team was 0-9 halfway through the season? 

  • Record:  0-9 (worst)
  • Average strength vs. opponent:  200%
  • Average losses vs. opponent:  260%
  • Total losses:  28,050
  • Difference in losses:  -14,700
  • Final word:  Biggest loser

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Baseball Season – T-o-o L-o-n-n-n-n-g

So, here it is, just a few days from the 11th month of the year and the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, and we’re all ready to start the Fall Classic. The weather in Kansas City will be in the low 50s, with a chance of rain. It's marginally better in NYC. Who knows, though, what it’ll be like 8 days from now, when the series wraps up. Maybe it’ll snow!

I mean, what says baseball more than mittens, parkas, ski masks, and thermal blankets, right? Seriously, though, I guess we should be thankful we’re not in Minnesota or Boston. 

So, if that doesn’t sound crazy enough for you, how about the fact that baseball goes for over 7 months, from April to November.  And if you add in spring training, that’s March through November – 8 months! Three-fourths of the year! Every season but winter!

Games? We all know there are 162 in the regular season. Add the postseason in, though, and that could be up to 181. Add in spring training, and we’re talking about maybe 215 games. I work fewer days that that!

A Modest Proposal

Geez, how did all this come about? I mean, wasn’t there a time when the season was only 154 games, and the postseason was only the World Series? That’s 161 tops, less than the whole regular season today.

So, how might we slim things down a little? Here are my humble suggestions …

Regular Season

How about if we just go back to that old schedule? Heck, it was good enough for Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, right? Should be good enough for Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. 

It also might make it easier to compare regular-season records as well. I mean, look what happened the first year they instituted the 162-game schedule. Ever heard of this guy named Roger Maris?

It might also make it easier to compare career records too. How many homers would Babe Ruth hit if he had played in 162 games a year? How many would Barry Bonds have hit if he played in 154? 

Suggestion:  revert to 154-game season
Savings:  3 days (and that’s saving a bunch of games at the beginning of the season too – no more Rockies in the snow)

Play-In Game

Next, we gotta eliminate that stupid play-in game. I mean, that thing is just so unfair. This year, for example, the team with the 2nd best record in baseball (Pittsburgh) was out on the first day.  I can’t wait ‘til the team with the worst record in the post-season wins it all. You know it’s going to happen. 

Mind you, I have absolutely no beef with the wild card. I think it was a brilliant idea, allowing teams that might have the 2nd best record in the league a chance to compete when they might otherwise be left out.

And I also have no beef against the one-game playoff … when the two teams are tied at the end of the regular season, that is. There is after all a long – and dramatic history – of these things. 

Further, what happens if the two wild-card teams just so happen to be tied at the end of the season? We’re then adding 2 more days. Sheesh!

Suggestion:  eliminate the play-in game
Savings:  2 days

League Championship Series

Next, we could make the LCS 5 games, instead of 7. There is precedent for that as well. In fact, best-of-5 was the format between 1969, when playoffs were instituted, and 1984. 

For some reason, the LCS went to best of 7 in 1985. That was okay, though, as there was only one playoff before the Series. 

In 1995, though, the League Division Series was also added. So, that’s an extra 5 games, plus all the travel. And now we’re playing in November!

It also means we’re getting pretty inconsistent as well. I mean, why is the LDS 5 and the LCS 7? Further, why is the old LCS 5 and the new LCS 7?

Finally, I think 7-game series also take something away from the World Series itself. Why not reserve 7-game series just for it? Let’s keep the Series special and unique.

Suggestion:  make the LCS a 5-game series
Savings:  2 days

In Sum

Overall savings:  7 days

What would the schedule look like? How’s this work for you:

  • LDS:  10/1 - 10/7
  • LCS:  10/9 - 10/15
  • WS:  10/17 - 10/25

Hey, we’d be done by now! And much warmer to boot.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

In Search Of ...

For eons, man has looked for answers to the great questions of life. What is its meaning? What is truth? How do you define beauty? How do I find inner peace? So, how come nobody just went to Google and searched on ‘em?

Yup, that’s what I did. I went to Google, and typed in those very words – “beauty,” “nirvana,” “inner peace,” “the meaning of life” ... Just to make things interesting, though, I did that on Google Images. Oh sure, there was lots of lame clip art and pretty obvious stock photography. But then there was this …

And just so you have some idea of where those strange images came from, I’m including some text I found explaining each one.

#15  Health

It's all Britney, bitch! Britney Spears sparked Photoshop rumors following her smokin' hot January/February 2015 Women's Health magazine cover and spread, but in a behind-the-scenes video posted by TMZ, it's clear the Queen of Pop really does look that good.  (US Magazine)

#14  Goodness

I stumbled upon this recipe on Pinterest and now my family loves these little No-Bake Balls of Goodness! For the original recipe from Smashed Peas and Carrots go to:  No-Bake Energy Bites. I’ve adjusted the recipe a bit. I have omitted coconut…not a lover of the stuff, and added 1/2 cup Nutella. Also, I used regular chocolate chips instead of mini.  (Cul de Sac Cool)

#13  Hope

Hope Dworaczyk
HEIGHT: 5' 10"
WEIGHT: 126 lbs
AMBITIONS: Continue to host and produce in the fashion and entertainment fields.
TURN-ONS: Intelligence & confidence. Also the ability to make me laugh.
TURNOFFS: Narcissism, negativity and insecurity.
MY FIVE FAVORITE FUNNYMEN: Seth Rogan, Vince Vaughn, Chris Rock, Dane Cook and Will Ferrell.
SOMEONE I LOOK UP TO AND WHY: My nana for the wisdom she has shared and the inspiration she continues to be.
WHERE I AM LIKELY TO SETTLE DOWN: Los Angeles or New York. It's impossible to choose between the two!
IF I WEREN'T A MODEL, I WOULD: Work behind the lens as a photographer

#12  Justice

This male model is the weekend man candy of your dreams. Ladies and gentlemen of the internet, please let me introduce you to Justice Joslin.  (BuzzFeed)

#11  Nirvana

Some of the greatest album cover photos were not exactly products of careful planning.

Take the now-infamous image of a naked underwater baby floating across the cover of Nirvana's ground-breaking "Nevermind" -- arguably among the most eye-catching album covers ever produced. It was "a fluke," said photographer Kirk Weddle.  (Huffington Post)

#10  Liberty

You'd probably think that a being over a hundred years old would wear a girl out, but not Lady Liberty. All those years and she's still looking as beautiful as ever and she's not showing any signs of stopping now. That's the sort of attitude every 4th of July celebration needs and you can bring that spirit to the party with this Womens Lady Liberty Costume. We're pretty sure if the forefathers were still around, seeing it would give them a nice and warm tingly "freedomy" feeling inside, or at least, that's how this costume makes us feel inside.  (Halloween Costumes)

#9  Inner Peace

This fresh herbal tea, made from the finest Egyptian chamomile, French lavender and lemon grasses, brews to a beautiful golden yellow with an aromatic, apple-like character. Inner Peace is a soothing, delicious experience for both the mind and body; and conveniently packaged in our exclusive Boca Tea Pyramids.  (Boca Java)

#8  Love

In celebration of her 49th birthday (on July 9th), here's a look at Courtney's fashion from back in the day -- we think she is fashion's original badass (sorry, Taylor Momsen). Between the tattered dresses, hot pants and bra-tops, these seven looks make it clear where punk style truly began.  (Huffington Post)

#7  Romance

The End of Romance, Antônio Diogo da Silva Parreiras (20 January 1860, Niterói - 17 October 1937, Niterói) … Brazilian painter, designer and illustrator.  (Wikipedia)

#6  God

Super Saiyan God (超サイヤ人ゴッド) is a Super Saiyan transformation that surpasses Super Saiyan 3. It appears in Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods and Dragon Ball Super, and it represents the other God in the Japanese title for the film: Dragon Ball Z: God and God (ドラゴンボールZ 神と神), as well as the reason for the plural "Gods" in the English title.  (Dragonball Wikia)

#5  Beauty

Ewww, the picture of that little girl all dolled up in make up and pink dress just creeps me out. It’s not what the kid wants, it’s more to the fact that those parents want it that way.  (Wordpress)

#4  Freedom

The Internet Defense League (IDL), a collection of organizations and individuals promoting Internet freedom across the world, wants to make its mid-July launch something special.

The plan? Collect $19,000 to fund at least five giant "catsignals" that will light up the night sky in cities around the world in a geeky nod toward Internet culture's love of cats and the simultaneous release of The Dark Knight Rises. (Mashable)

#3  Meaning of Life

Why are we here, what's it all about? The Monty Python-team is trying to sort out the most important question on Earth: what is the meaning of life? They do so by exploring the various stages of life, starting with birth. A doctor seems more interested in his equipment than in delivering the baby or caring for the mother, a Roman Catholic couple have quite a lot of children because 'every sperm is sacred'. In the growing and learning part of life, catholic schoolboys attend a rather strange church service and ditto sex education lesson. Onto war, where an officer's plan to attack is thwarted by his underlings wanting to celebrate his birthday and an officer's leg is bitten off by presumably an African tiger. At middle age a couple orders 'philosophy' at a restaurant, after which the film continues with live organ transplants. The autumn years are played in a restaurant, which, after being treated to the song 'Isn't It Awfully Nice to Have a Penis?' by an entertainer, sees the arrival.  (IMDb)

#2  Wisdom

Wisdom is a Hungarian power metal band from Budapest. Formed in the fall of 2001, the group is known for its practice of basing each song on a well-known quotation. Many of the band's lyrics and all of the album covers center on the story of an old man, a cult figure called Wiseman.  (Wikipedia)

#1  Truth

Ronnie Aaron "Ron" Killings (born January 19, 1972), better known by the ring name R-Truth, is an American professional wrestler and rapper. He is currently signed to WWE. Since working for WWE, he has been a one-time United States Champion and one time WWE Tag Team Champion with Kofi Kingston under his ring name, R-Truth, and a two time Hardcore Champion under the ring name K-Kwik. As R-Truth, he headlined five WWE pay-per-view events from 2010 to 2011, three times in world title contention. He has also worked for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling as K-Krush and later as Ron "The Truth" Killings, where he became the first African-American to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, a title he held on two occasions, in addition to becoming a two time NWA World Tag Team Champion and a one-time TNA World Tag Team Champion. (Wikipedia)