Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Back in the 70's as a freshman in college, I signed up for a course in macroeconomics.  It must have been a mandatory class.  There are few things in life that I find more boring than economics, so a course in macroeconomics could only be one thing: macro-boring.  And it was.  Deadly boring. 

Flash forward 40 years.  As a retiree with time on my hands, I often find myself "going down a rat hole" on the Internet and spending an inordinate amount of time on a random topic that has struck my fancy.  Imagine my surprise last week when that random topic was inflation!  I can't even recall what prompted this particular descent. The last thing I remember was reading an article containing a reference to hyperinflation in Hungary during World War II.  Mildly interested, I clicked on that link and the rest of my day vanished.   

Dissolution of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire
A Little History

Prior to World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire (a multi-national state) was the second largest country in Europe and one of the world's great powers.  Unfortunately it was allied with Germany and found itself on the wrong side of the Great War. At the war's conclusion, the Empire was dissolved into a number of independent sovereign states.  Hungary lost two-thirds of its population, over two-thirds of its territory, and was turned into a landlocked country.  The currency of the Empire, the Austro-Hungarian krone, was replaced in Hungary with the korona.  Due to the consequences of the war, the korona suffered a high rate of inflation until, with the assistance of the League of Nations, it was replaced in 1927 with the pengő.   In 1941, the pengő was worth about $0.20 USD.  Remember that exchange rate.  It will change a bit in the five years that follow.

World War I was disastrous to Hungary but World War II was even worse.  Once again, Hungary found itself allied with Germany.  For a few years, though, it managed to avoid the worst of the war's destruction.  This good fortune would not last. 
July 1941:  Pressured by Germany, the Hungarian army participates in the invasion of the Soviet Union, advancing deep into the Soviet Ukraine.

February, 1943:  The Soviet Union retaliates, crushing the Hungarian army in the Battle of Stalingrad.  The Hungarian army suffers more than 100,000 casualties and is effectively eliminated as a fighting force.

March, 1944: Suspecting that the Hungarian Prime Minister is negotiating an independent armistice with the Allies, Hitler orders the occupation of Hungary.

September, 1944:  The Soviet Union invades Hungary and the entire country becomes a battlefield until the end of the war. 

December, 1944:  The remnants of the Hungarian army are destroyed by Soviet troops in the Siege of Budapest.

February, 1946:  The Kingdom of Hungary is abolished and becomes the Second Republic of Hungary, a communist satellite state under the control of the Soviet Union. 
At war's end, Hungary was left in tatters. Almost half of it's national wealth was gone, a quarter of its industrial capacity had been lost, and most of its transportation infrastructure (roads, bridges, railways) had been destroyed.  Reconstruction was also hampered by the fact that Hungary had to pay reparations to the Soviet Union for its participation in the war.  

Hyperinflation Strikes

If I actually understood economics, I might be tempted to explain the concept of inflation at this point.  But I don't so I won't.  Suffice it to say that inflation refers to the decreased purchasing power of a nation's currency over time.  A certain degree of inflation is not necessarily a bad thing.  In the case of the United States, the goods and services that could have been purchased for $100 in 1920 would cost a little over $1,200 today.  That works out to an average annual inflation rate of 2.69% which isn't bad, especially since the average per capita income in the United States in 1920 was about $750 (it's now about $30,000).

Let's compare this to what happened in Hungary.  In 1941, its currency (the pengő) was worth approximately $0.19 USD.  By June of 1944 it was worth about $0.03 USD.  That means that it took over 6 times as many pengős in 1944 to purchase the same amount of goods that could be purchased in 1941.  That's not good but, as shown in the chart below, it got infinitely worse: 

Yep.  You're reading the chart correctly.  On July 31, 1946, $1 USD was equivalent to approximately 460,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pengős!  The Hungarian currency was experiencing hyperinflation the likes of which the world had never seen before and has not seen since.  In response, the Hungarian government started printing out banknotes of higher and higher denominations. 

One Thousand Pengő Note:  Issued July of 1945

One Million Pengő Note: Issued February of 1946
One Billion Pengő Note: Issued May of 1946

As inflation continued to skyrocket, the Hungarian government created a new term -- the milpengő, equal to 1 million pengős -- and issued the following banknotes in quick succession:

Ten Thousand Milpengő Note: Issued May of 1946
Ten Million Milpengő Note: Issued June of 1946
One Billion Milpengő Note: Issued June of 1946
Let's take a moment to examine that last banknote.  One billion milpengős is equal to one billion million pengős or 1 x 1015 pengős.  At the time it was issued, $1 USD was trading for 4.2 x 1016 pengős, meaning that it still required 42 of these notes to equal $1 USD!  

Sadly for the Hungarian people, the devaluation of the pengő continued at an even faster pace, resulting in another new term: the b.-pengő (pronounced bilpengo).  Now, you might think that a b.-pengő was equal to a billion pengős, but you'd be wrong.  It's actually equal to a trillion (1 x 1012) pengős!  And so it was that in July of 1946 -- within the span of a single week -- the Hungarian Treasury responded to this crushing inflation rate by cranking out its final pengő banknotes:

One Million B.-Pengő Note
One Hundred Million B.-Pengő Note
One Billion B.-Pengő Note
That last banknote is the highest denomination note that mankind has ever printed, equal to a billion trillion (1 x 1021) pengős.  Since $1 USD was trading for approximately 4.6 x 1029 pengős at that time, it required 4.6 x 108 or 460 million of these notes to equal $1 USD!  

There is an ironic footnote to this story.  The one billion b.-pengő banknote was printed but never issued to the public.  As a result, it has become a collector's item of sorts for numismatists.  It was worth only $0.000000002 when it was printed, but it's now auctioned on eBay for over $500!

 Now that would make a fascinating Economics class!

Sweeping up worthless pengő banknotes


In August of 1946, a new regime was installed in Hungary. A new currency, the forint, was introduced and backed by the return of Hungary's gold supply which had been taken by the Nazis during the war.  Hungary's infrastructure -- in particular, its railroads -- were restored and its economy returned quickly to its pre-war level. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

"Give me your huddled masses ..."

If the citizens of the United States were asked to vote on two symbols that best defined the nation, here's what would happen:
  1. Voter turnout would be about 40%.  That's America.  That's how we roll.
  2. The American Flag would get the most votes.
  3. The Statue of Liberty would get the second most votes.
I think it's safe to say that most Americans consider the Statue of Liberty a defining national symbol.  We are "Lady Liberty" with torch uplifted, welcoming immigrants to a new life and proclaiming, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free".   

But how can you reconcile this with the current national rhetoric surrounding Mexican immigration?  Rather than finding ways to help these huddled masses breathe free, many politicians (pandering to their constituents) are calling for higher walls, the repeal of the 14th amendment, more secure borders, deportation, drone surveillance, and no path to citizenship.  Rather than welcoming immigrants, they're actively denouncing them, wildly proclaiming that "they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists."  

What has happened to America?  What caused us to change?  Where are those ideals that our Founding Fathers and The Greatest Generation held so dear?

I'm kidding, of course.  Nothing has happened to America.  We're the same as we've always been.  Since the arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1620, virtually every nationality or ethnic group arriving in America has had to endure years of racism and discrimination before being grudgingly assimilated into American society.  Although the U.S. is often referred to as "The Melting Pot" the melting point is often very high and difficult to attain.  While virtually any nationality can be used as an example of this difficulty, let's take a look at what we did to the Chinese. 

Why the Chinese Emigrated to the U.S. 

The first Chinese began trickling into the U.S. around 1820.  Their immigration rate was so low, though, that only about 450 Chinese were living in the entire country in 1850.  Over the next 30 years that number would increase rapidly, driven in large part by the following events:
French political cartoon
The Opium Wars:  The two Opium Wars were conflicts between China and Great Britain over the Qing dynasty's attempt to suppress the opium trade.  Because of the ease in which the British defeated a much larger Chinese army, the end of the First Opium War (1839-1842) is referred to by Chinese historians as the beginning of the "Century of Humiliation".  The Second Opium War (1856-1860) was an even more devastating defeat for the Qing dynasty.  The resulting treaty legalized the opium trade, allowed foreign vessels to navigate freely on the Yangtze River, and allowed foreigners to travel to the internal regions of China.  Even more significant, it allowed British ships to carry indentured Chinese to the Americas.

The Taiping Rebellion
:  The humiliation of the Qing dynasty gave rise in 1851 to a highly nationalistic opposition force in China known as the "Taiping Heavenly Kingdom".  It was led by a charismatic visionary named Hong Xiuquan who believed that he was the younger brother of Jesus and had a duty to spread Christianity and overthrow the Qing dynasty.  This rebellion eventually expanded into a full-scale civil war which, by the time it ended in 1864, resulted in the death of between 20-30 million Chinese.  Thousands more fled the country to escape the intense poverty, sickness and social upheaval. 
Crop Failure of 1852:   A series of floods and crop failures ravaged southern China in 1852, leading to poverty and famine among peasant farmers.  As a result, over 20,000 Chinese emigrated from China to San Francisco in that year alone. 
The California Gold Rush:  To a Chinese peasant of the 1850's, life in China was simply abysmal.  Poverty and sickness were rampant.  Flood and crop failure were causing famine.  The Taiping Rebellion was bringing death and destruction.  The Qing dynasty was unraveling.  Imagine, then, hearing about a "Mountain of Gold" in the west coast of the United States, a destination that (while far away and expensive) was within their reach.  The period known as the California Gold Rush lasted from 1848 to 1855 and would entice many Chinese to make this trip.  By 1870, Chinese immigrants would account for over a quarter of all U.S. miners. 
The First Transcontinental Railroad:  As the Gold Rush subsided, a new source of labor continued to attract Chinese immigrants to California. Between 1863 and 1869 a 1,907-mile railroad line was constructed to connect the west coast at San Francisco with an existing eastern rail network in Iowa.  It is estimated that between 12,000 and 14,000 Chinese immigrants (about two-thirds of the entire work force) were used to provide the cheap manual labor that was needed.
As a result of these and other factors, the number of Chinese immigrants in the U.S. increased to approximately 25,000 in 1852 and to 300,000 by 1880.

Arrival, Acceptance and Discrimination
NY to California was
not easy in 1848!

By all accounts, the first Chinese to arrive in California in response to the Gold Rush were welcomed with open arms.  The reason?  California's non-native population in 1848 was about 1,000 and workers of any kind were in very short supply.  Moreover, until the Panama Canal was built 66 years later, it was actually quicker to get to California from China than it was to get to California from the eastern United States.  As such, Chinese immigrants were among the first workers to arrive. They were regarded as extremely industrious laborers who were happy to do menial tasks that others would avoid.  In the words of historian Henry Kittredge Norton:
"The result was that the Chinaman was welcomed; he was considered quite indispensable. He was in demand as a laborer, as a carpenter, as a cook; the restaurants which he established were well patronized; his agricultural endeavors in draining and tilling the rich tule lands were praised. Governor McDougal referred to him as “one of the most worthy of our newly adopted citizens.” In public functions he was given a place of honor, for the Californians of those days appreciated the touch of color which he gave to the life of the country. The Chinese took a prominent part in the parades in celebration of the admission of the state to the Union. The Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper, went so far as to say, “The China Boys will yet vote at the same polls, study at the same schools, and bow at the same altar as our countrymen.” Their cleanliness, unobtrusiveness and industry were everywhere praised."
By 1850, though, approximately 300,000 gold seekers had descended upon California.  Competition for work became intense and the Chinese began to be viewed differently.  Again, per Henry Kittredge Norton:
"The Chinaman was welcomed as long as the surface gold was plentiful enough to make rich all who came. But that happy situation was not long to continue. Thousands of Americans came flocking in to the mines. Rich surface claims soon became exhausted. These newcomers did not find it so easy as their predecessors had done to amass large fortunes in a few days. California did not fulfil the promise of the golden tales that had been told of her. These gold-seekers were disappointed. In the bitterness of their disappointment they turned upon the men of other races who were working side by side with them and accused them of stealing their wealth. They boldly asserted that California’s gold belonged to them. The cry of “California for the Americans” was raised and taken up on all sides."

Since the Chinese were not allowed to vote, the California legislature -- and Governor John Bigler in particular -- sided with the anti-Chinese movement. Bigler believed that the Chinese could never assimilate into American society and urged the legislature to "check this tide of Asiatic immigration."  Some of the legislation enacted during this period include:
The Foreign Miners Tax:  When initially enacted in 1850, this legislation levied a tax of $20/month on all foreigners engaged in mining.  After a revolt, it was lowered to $3/month, which was still over half of what a Chinese worker earned.  This tax would steadily increase over the years until it was finally ruled unconstitutional in 1870.
People v. Hall:  In 1854, the California Supreme Court ruled that Chinese Americans and Chinese immigrants could not testify against a white citizen. This freed a white man who had been convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a Chinese miner even though three Chinese witnesses had testified to the killing.  In essence, the ruling extended a provision in California's criminal code ("No black or mulatto person, or Indian, shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against a white man.") to include anyone of the Mongoloid race. 
Anti-Coolie Act of 1862:  Also referred to as the Chinese Police Tax, this law levied a fee of $2.50 "on each person, male and female, of the Mongolian race, of the age of eighteen years and upwards" that was engaged in a non-agricultural profession.  To make sure that there was no mistake, the law was subtitled, "An Act to Protect Free White Labor Against Competition with Chinese Coolie Labor, and to Discourage The Immigration of the Chinese into the State of California".  
Cubic Air Ordinance:  This ordinance, enacted in San Francisco in 1870, was aimed directly at the lifestyle of Chinese immigrants.  It required "every house, room, or apartment used for lodging within the limits of San Francisco, except public prisons and hospitals, to contain 500 cubic feet for each person residing in the lodging". Violations were punishable by a fine up to $500 and 3 months in prison.
Page Act of 1875:  While supposedly written to prevent anyone from “China, Japan, or any Oriental country” from entering the country "for lewd and immoral purposes" it had the effect of preventing almost all Chinese women from entering the country. The law classified as "undesirable" any individual from Asia who was coming to America to be a forced laborer, any Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all people considered to be convicts in their own country.
Other California laws prevented the Chinese from owning real estate, marrying a white person, or attending public school. 

Chinese Exclusion Act

Intense pressure from anti-Chinese groups in California and elsewhere culminated in the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act, signed into federal law by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882.  To this day, it represents one of the most draconian restrictions on immigration in U.S. history and was focused entirely on a single ethnic group.  The major components of this law: 
Halted Chinese immigration for 10 years:  "Be it enacted, that from and after the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act, and until the expiration of ten years next after the passage of this act, the coming of Chinese laborers to the Untied States be, . . . suspended; and during such suspension it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come, or, having so come after the expiration of said ninety days, to remain within the United States."
Prevented Chinese currently in the U.S. from becoming citizens:  "No State court or court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship; and all laws in conflict with this act are hereby repealed."
Deported Chinese found to have entered the U.S. illegally : "Any Chinese person found unlawfully within the United States shall be caused to be removed therefrom to the country from whence he came, by direction of the President of the United States."
Enacting this law in 1882 was a black mark on the nation, to be sure.  It would have been relegated to an historical footnote had it been quickly repealed or declared unconstitutional, but such was not the case.  On October 1, 1888, President Grover Cleveland exacerbated matters by signing the Scott Act into law.  It expanded on the Chinese Exclusion Act by prohibiting Chinese laborers who had temporarily left the U.S. from returning.  While the enactment of this law was wildly celebrated in California, it stranded an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Chinese who had left the United States planning to return.  In 1889, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of the Scott Act (Chae Chan Ping v. United States).

In 1892, the Chinese Exclusion Act was renewed for another 10 years.  As this extension approached expiration, American labor organizations lobbied for yet another extension.  The San Francisco Building Trades Council  argued that the very presence of Chinese workers in the marketplace dragged down the living standards of white workers.  In 1902, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) under Samuel Gompers published a pamphlet with perhaps the longest title in the history of pamphlets: "Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion -- Meat vs. Rice -- American Manhood against Asiatic Cooliesm -- Which Shall Survive?"  Here's an excerpt from it which pretty much establishes the tone:
Beginning with the most menial avocations they gradually invaded one industry after another until they not merely took the places of our girls as domestics and cooks, the laundry from the poorer of our white women, but the places of the men and boys, as boot and shoemakers, cigarmakers, bagmakers, miners, farm laborers, brickmakers, tailors, slippermakers, etc. In the ladies' furnishing line they have absolute control, displacing hundreds of our girls, who would otherwise find profitable employment. Whatever business or trade they enter is doomed for the white laborer, as competition is simply impossible. Not that the Chinese would not rather work for high wages than low, but in order to gain control he will work so cheaply as to bar all efforts of his competitor. But not only has the workingman gained this bitter experience, but the manufacturers and merchants have been equally the sufferers. The Chinese laborer will work cheaper for a Chinese employer than he will for a white man, as has been invariably proven, and, as a rule, he boards with his Chinese employer. The Chinese merchant or manufacturer will undersell his white confrere, and if uninterrupted will finally gain possession of the entire field. Such is the history of the race wherever they have come in contact with other peoples. None can withstand their silent and irresistible flow, and their millions already populate and command the labor and the trade of the islands and nations of the Pacific.
As a result of this national propaganda campaign, the Chinese Exclusion Act was not only renewed again in 1902, it was made permanent!  In fact, this blot on our national conscious remained in force until it was repealed by the Magnuson Act in 1943, two years after China became our ally in World War II.  But the Magnuson Act was only a small step forward.  It allowed only 105 Chinese immigrants per year and continued to deny property rights to Chinese Americans.  It was only until the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965 that a reasonable amount of Chinese immigration was granted. 
Illustration within the 1902 AFL pamphlet

In Closing ...

It may be hard to tell, but the point of this post was to actually cheer you up a bit.  As bad as the anti-Mexican immigration rhetoric is now, it pales in comparison to what was said and done to the Chinese 150 years ago.  It may also be heartening to know that back then -- like now -- there were people of reason and influence who saw through the hate and fear and tried to combat Chinese discrimination.  One such person was Mark Twain.  You might have heard of him.  Click here and read his thoughts on "the Chinaman" from his 1872 book called "Roughing It".  

Monday, July 27, 2015

Rube Goldberg lives!


Although I worked in IT-related jobs for my entire professional life, no one would ever call me a computer geek.  I know a little bit about a lot of different aspects of computers, but I'm not really a master of any of them.  That being said, this post will be just a tad geeky. 

It all started with a fantastic 60th birthday present that I got from Marilynn and the kids: a brand new top-of-the-line HP Spectre x360 laptop.  This thing is loaded, equipped with an Intel i7 dual processor, 8GB of memory, a 256GB Solid State Drive, three USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, a touch screen, and a 360 degree hinge that allows it to be used like a tablet.  Absolutely sweet!  PC Magazine agreed, giving it a 4 star "Excellent" rating in their March issue and naming it  "Editors' Choice: midrange convertible-hybrid laptop".   
The Spectre x360... in tablet mode!

I've been playing around with it for about three weeks now, and it's absolutely fantastic ... except for one teeny, tiny, itsy bitsy thing. Besides using it as a laptop and a tablet, I need to be able to use it as a standard desktop as well.  That means hooking it up to a scanner, an external hard drive and, most importantly, a large screen monitor.  Doing all of this was fairly easy, but it caused an unexpected and disastrous anomaly: my WiFi speed plummeted.  In particular, download speed dropped from over 75Mbps to under 2Mbps.  I kid you not. 

As a hack programmer, I've always enjoyed debugging my code.  I know that sounds weird, but I find it fun and oddly satisfying to locate my stupid mistakes and methodically correct them.  That's basically the technique I went through to attack this problem. 

I started with the anti-virus software.  I've been a Norton or McAfee man my entire life, so I was immediately suspicious of the Kaspersky anti-virus software that came with the Spectre.  All of the settings, though, looked fine.  Even completely disabling the software had no effect on WiFi performance.

I then reviewed all of the software that I had recently installed, particularly the freeware.  It was all from reputable organizations, but I uninstalled most of them anyway.  Once again, though, WiFi performance did not improve.

I then turned my attention to the ancient Epson scanner that I had just attached.  The installation had been a little bumpy, requiring a new driver.  I couldn't find a Windows 8.1 driver on the Epson website, so I grabbed the closest one they had:  a 64-bit Windows 7 driver.  The scanner worked fine but I decided to uninstall the applications and detach the scanner.  WiFi performance remained dismal.  

It was now way past lunch time and I needed a break.  Preparing to go downstairs, I disconnected the laptop from the large screen display and, instantaneously, WiFi response rocketed back to the 75Mbps level!  Somehow, using the HDMI port was interfering with WiFi communication!  It didn't make much sense, but at least I had something to google.

During lunch -- and in the space of about 15 minutes -- I found a whole host of possible solutions to my problem.  Some of them were absurd (reinstall Windows) but I found three solutions that seemed worth trying.  

Solution #1:  Change the WiFi Channel used by your wireless router.
Apparently, it's possible for the ambient HDMI signal leaking out of the cable to interfere with the WiFi signal.  Changing the channel, I was advised, might provide some relief.  After spending 15 minutes remembering how to connect to my router, I began by changing the channel from "Auto" to channel 1.  WiFi performance remained horrible.  I then changed it to channel 6 and performance improved a bit.  I then changed it to 11 ("these go to 11") and performance got even better, but still nowhere near where it should be.

I was willing to try anything!
Solution #2:  Wrap the HDMI cord in aluminum foil.  
I know you're thinking about the aluminum foil hats in "Signs" by M. Night Shyamalan, but this suggestion actually seemed to have merit.  I was using a fairly inexpensive HDMI cable and it's entirely possible that its shielding material wasn't the best.  Wrapping the cable wasn't a permanent solution, but it could point to the need for a better cable.  I gave it a try and performance did improve a bit more, but not enough.  

Solution #3:  Don't close your laptop lid.
I laughed out loud when I first saw this solution.  How could this possibly have any bearing on the problem?  Then I read other solutions that said the same thing.  No one provided a reason for why this might solve the problem, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. Amazingly, it worked!  WiFi performance zoomed back to the 75Mbps level!  But I didn't want my laptop wide open while I was using my large screen display so, as shown below, I used a pen to prop open the lid about an inch.  This seems to have done the trick.

Rube would be proud
In a few days, I should have a more aesthetically pleasing solution in place.  Although the Spectre x360 is loaded, it doesn't come with an Ethernet port.  So I purchased a USB-to-Ethernet adapter from Amazon for about $20.  Ambient HDMI waves will continue to bombard me while I'm in desktop mode, but I won't be using WiFi.  So it should all be good.

Postscript to the Postscript:
Amazon delivery was faster than I thought.  The Startech.com USB-to-Ethernet Adapter arrived late this afternoon It took about 2 minutes to install.  As soon as I plugged an Ethernet cable into it, the Spectre automatically switched to it from WiFi.  I then ran Speedtest three different times with the laptop closed and got the following results:

Yep, you're reading that right.  My download speed is now averaging about 126Mbps.  Excuse me for a moment while I consult a thesaurus.  I need a word stronger than "sweet".....
This laptop is now officially stupefying!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Worst Song on the Radio Now: Volumes 2 and 3

Volume 1 of this series was published way back in November of 2012 and it's astonishing that an additional five or six volumes haven't already been published.  There are so many bad songs on the radio!  Somehow, though, no song ever seemed to sink quite as low as Die Young by Ke$ha, so I held back.  That was a mistake. Not every bad song needs to be the "LeBron James" of bad songs in order to be honored.  Here are a couple of songs in the "Carmelo Anthony" class.

Volume 2:   Honey I'm Good

Andy Grammar
It usually takes a few listenings before a song starts to bug me, but this one did it on the first try.  Maybe it's because it reminds me of these two all-time horrible songs:

   Thank God I'm a Country Boy by John Denver
   Cotton-Eye Joe by Rednex
And then there's the lyrics. At first, I thought, OK, not so bad.  It's a song about a guy staying true to his "baby at home" despite being tempted by the women at the bar.  I still disliked it, but it was palatable fluff. The third or fourth time I heard it though, the lyrics started sounding darker and creepier:

 "I could have another but I probably should not."

The guy doesn't say he won't have another; he says "I probably should not" which means (as anyone who's ever had a few beers knows) that he will have another!  While it's not clear how many drinks this guy has had already, it must have been quite a few:

"It’s been a long night here, and a long night there."

What is clear, though, is that he hasn't been thinking platonic thoughts ...

"And these long, long legs are damn near everywhere!"

... and his thoughts appear to be getting worse:

"And you’ve got that ass, but..."

It's at this point that he straightens up and tells the woman, "You've got me all wrong, baby".  Somehow, though, I doubt very strongly that she has him all wrong.  He's already started to rationalize his position:

"Better men than me have failed, drinking from that unholy grail."

How it eventually will end
In essence, then, here's the picture being painted by this song:  A guy is drinking for hours at a bar while the woman that has "all of his love" is back at home.  Sounds a little dodgy, but, hey, it sometimes happens.  But this guy isn't at a sports bar with the boys watching the big game.  He's drinking heavily at what sounds like a singles bar and checking out the girls, to the point where he compliments the ass of the woman he's talking to!  Suddenly, he snaps to his senses and realizes that if he has just one more drink, "I might not leave alone."

Somebody better have a long talk with his baby at home.  Despite the bouncy music and cutesy refrain, this song is talking about a relationship that is one jack and coke away from disintegration.

Volume 3:  Go Big Or Go Home

American Authors
If you haven't heard this song yet, don't worry.  You will.  It was only released a couple of months ago and hasn't made it into the Billboard Hot 100 yet, but trust me, it'll be there before the month is out.  This band is a case study on how to make it big in the music world today.

They originally formed in 2006 under the name "Blue Pages" and labored in relative obscurity for 5 years, putting out mediocre pop songs such as Run Back Home.  In 2012, though, they went through a complete overhaul, emerging with a new patriotic name, a new market-focus sound (see the "Teen Girl Pop" formula described in Volume 1 of this series) and a smash hit called Best Day of My Life.  It opens with a rudimentary banjo riff (an attempt to attract the Mumford & Sons crowd?) and is simply loaded with repeated syllable hooks to the point of being laughable:
"Wo-o-o-o-o-oh" [x2]
"My li-i-i-ife"
This song is bad, but it isn't quite worthy of the coveted Worst Song on Radio Now award.  Go Big Or Go Home, though, is a tour de force of horribleness. 

It begins with the title.  The phrase "go big or go home" is a marketing slogan from the 1990's that turned into a hackneyed sports cliche years ago.  The fact that American Authors are latching onto it now tells you all you need to know about this band.  

Next, as dictated by the "Teen Girl Pop" formula, the song contains a mandatory repeated syllable hook, in this case, "Go big or go ho-o-o-o-o-me".  It's annoying, to be sure, but it's not enough.  What vaults this song into Worst status is the continuous stream of party-all-night-binge-drinking-live-for-the-moment lyrics that Ke$ha would be proud of.  For starters, there's this:
Giving my body all the things I need
Rescue me with a little whiskey
Staying out, don't need no sleep
I'll sleep when I'm dead; you can bury me
And then there's this:
I guess I'm going home
Cause all my cash is gone
I spent it all trying to feel alive
And finally, this:
Yeah, I got nothing to do tonight
I'm passed out on the floor
Up in the hotel bar
But it don't matter, cause I'm feeling fine
I'm thinking life's too short; it's passing by
So if I'm gonna go at all
Go big or go home
The message of this song is clear:  Life is too short.  You can't let it pass you by.  You need to "go big", and the best way to "go big" is to stay out all night, spend all of your money drinking whiskey until you pass out, and then get up and do it again and again.  And you can do this because you "don't need no sleep" which, as a double negative, is the only helpful (albeit unintentional) advice in the entire song.
Thanks, John...

Pretty crappy song, right?  Who in their right mind would want this to be their theme song?   The National Basketball Association, that's who!! For the last few months it has been featured in their NBA Playoff Promotions videos.  I wonder if John Abbamondi, Senior Vice President of Marketing for the NBA, listened to the lyrics of this song even once?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Farewell to Vin Scelsa and "Idiot's Delight"

I had a bittersweet "all things must pass" feeling this past weekend when I learned that Vin Scelsa had retired from broadcast radio on May 2.  Although that day had to come, it still came as a shock.  While I hadn't been listening to Vin with the same regularity as I had in year's past, I still downloaded a recorded version of his show every now and then in order to get my Vin-fix.  

WNEW DJ's in the 70's
I first became aware of Vin in the mid-70's, occasionally listening to his WNEW show on Sunday mornings.  I became an avid follower, though, in the mid-80's when his show moved to WXRK (K-Rock) and became known as "Idiot's Delight".   His show aired at 8pm on Sunday night and was scheduled to end at 2am, but when it would actually end was anyone's guess.  Since I had to get up and work on Monday mornings, I decided to invest in a dual cassette deck so that I could tape the last three hours of the show (I still rarely caught the end).  I listened to these tapes throughout the week while driving to and from work, noting the locations on the tape that contained particularly interesting songs.  When I got home, I copied these songs to a "Best of Vin" tape.  I did this for almost 12 years, resulting in 25 "Best of Vin" tapes and hundreds of excellent songs. 

It's difficult to describe "Idiot's Delight" to someone who has never actually listened to the program, but I'll try. First and foremost, of course, was the music. It was a "free form" program, meaning that Vin was not constrained by a station-dictated playlist.  He could play anything that he wanted: new music, old music, opera, country, rag time, Broadway show tunes, big band music, zydeco, world music.  I think you get the picture.  One thing about his program was certain:  you would hear at least one song each week that you would never hear anywhere else.  

If Vin really liked a new song, he might play it 2 or 3 times in a row. If a song had been covered by multiple artists, he might play a half-dozen of those covers in a row.  WXRK was a commercial radio station, so Vin was required to play commercials; but those commercials didn't have to come at a specific time.  As such, there were times that a set of music went on for 20-30 minutes without interruption.  Occasionally, Vin would apologize to the audience for the length of a set, saying that he had planned on ending it sooner but it just wouldn't stop, as though the set had a mind of its own. Within a set, Vin was the master of the segue and the audience played along, trying to figure out how a particular song related to the prior or (even more fun) trying to guess the song that was coming next.  

Larry Kirwan of Black 47 with Vin
As valuable as the music was, "Idiot's Delight" was much more than that.  If something of importance happened in the world, you wanted to hear Vin's take on it.  Whether it dealt with politics, religion, entertainment, current events or the death of a cultural icon, Vin's viewpoint was always worth listening to. These monologs sometimes went on for 15 minutes or more and were usually laced with his iconic and infectious laugh.  If you didn't like hearing Vin laugh, well, you couldn't be a fan of the show.  You also tuned in to hear Vin's  interviews.  If the guest was a musician, there would almost always be live music.  If the guest was an author, either Vin or the author would read a few passages from the author's new book. 

Vin put everything he had into his program;  he held nothing back.  When he was happy, we knew it.  When he was sad or depressed -- which happened from time to time -- we knew that as well.  He called himself the "Bayonne Butch" and the "Bayonne Bear" We knew his wife's name (Freddie) and listened to stories about his daughter, Kate, as she grew up.  All of this created an extremely loyal fan base that followed him from radio station to radio station.  That fan base became mobilized in the mid-90's thanks to an email-driven newsgroup called "The Idiot's Delight Digest" (IDD).  While the original digest no longer exists, the IDD continues to this day, having morphed into a Yahoo Group and a Facebook page. There is also a fan site called Vin!dication that contains a partial archives of Vin's shows, including one that dates back to 1976.  Such is the devotion that Vin inspired.  

While there may be a DJ somewhere in the world doing a show similar to "Idiot's Delight" I've yet to find it, either on the radio or on the Internet.  I have a feeling that I'll be downloading archived shows from Vin!dication for years to come.

Adios compañero ...

Happy feet - Paolo Conte
Prairie Town - Randy Bachman
Witchitai-to - Jim Pepper
Some Kinda Fatigue - Yo La Tengo
The Modern Dance - Pere Ubu
Fell off the Floor Man - dEUS
How Can We Hang On To A Dream - Tim Hardin
Complainte pour Ste Catherine - The McGarrigles
O Superman - Laurie Anderson
Nobody Cares About The Railroad Anymore - Harry Nilsson
A House Is Not A Motel - Love
Tarantella - Lounge Lizards
Everybody Knows - Leonard Cohen
Chase the Wind - Jimmie Dale Gilmore
Zack Attack Rap - Zachary Richard
Rhythm King - Luna
I Ain't Lyin' - The Skeletons
Badi-Da - Mark Lanegan
Honi Soit - John Cale
Nomads - High Llamas
I Love the Unknown - Clem Snide
Lorenz and Watson - Ryuichi Sakamoto
Just One Kiss - Beau Jocque
I Radio Heaven - Over the Rhine
Better Back Off - Marshall Crenshaw
Black Slacks - Robert Gordon
My Monkey Made a Man Out of Me - Candy Butchers
Toxic Girl - Kings of Convenience
Alleged - Beta Band
Parallel or Together - Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Nitro - Dick Dale
My Favorite Kiss - Frank Black
Hello In There - John Prine
It's The Little Things - Robert Earl Keen
If I Had Known - Greg Brown
Love Is All Around - REM
Azalea Festival - John and Mary
King of Beers - Too Much Joy
Hey Nonny Nonny - Violent Femmes
Walking Down Madison - Kirsty MacColl
Take A Look At My Heart - John Prine and Bruce Springsteen
Cafe Memphis - Willie Nile
Fallen - Philip Rambow
This Town Ain't Big Enough - Sparks
Burning Flies - Looper
City Drops into the Night - Jim Carroll Band
I Hate My Freakin' ISP - Todd Rundgren
Drink Too Much - Tom Clark and the High Action Boys
When Panthers Roamed in Arkansas - Kate Campbell
Funky Ceili - Black 47

Further Reading:


Vin Scelsa Idiot's Delight - Non Official Documentary


Friday, January 30, 2015

One Tough Marine

The Mullen household in the mid to late 60's was, to put it mildly, chaotic.  To begin with, there were 8 kids running around the house, four of whom were strong-willed teenagers. Occasionally, we also had our grandmother living with us, a woman who seemed to have been ill for most of her adult life. Mom did her best to keep the house running, but she was also the principal breadwinner of the family, working the third shift as a nurse at St. Francis Hospital.  

And then there was Dad.  In 1965, at the age of 42 and with a wife and 8 children, Dad decided to resign from a decent paying full-time job at IBM.  He borrowed $5,000 and purchased a woodworking business in Poughkeepsie, NY, from Wilbur Wise.  He did this despite the following facts:
  • He had no particular knowledge of the woodworking business;
  • He had no training in either Finance or Business;
  • He was already in debt, having purchased a home on January 15, 1964, in an excellent area of Poughkeepsie.
Why would Dad take a gigantic risk like this?  Because he suffered from a genetic disease that is now called Bipolar Disorder.  What's worse, he was also an alcoholic.  Below is an excerpt from a 2002 study by the National Institute of Health entitled Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism which describes the inter-relationship of the two:
"... symptoms of bipolar disorder may emerge during the course of chronic alcohol intoxication or withdrawal. For example, alcohol withdrawal may trigger bipolar symptoms. Still other studies have suggested that people with bipolar disorder may use alcohol during manic episodes in an attempt at self–medication, either to prolong their pleasurable state or to sedate the agitation of mania. Finally, other researchers have suggested that alcohol use and withdrawal may affect the same brain chemicals (i.e., neurotransmitters) involved in bipolar illness, thereby allowing one disorder to change the clinical course of the other. In other words, alcohol use or withdrawal may "prompt" bipolar disorder symptoms (Tohen et al. 1998). It remains unclear which if any of these potential mechanisms is responsible for the strong association between alcoholism and bipolar disorder. It is very likely that this relationship is not simply a reflection of cause and effect but rather that it is complex and bidirectional."
Hudson River State Hospital
Dad ended up selling the woodworking business back to Mr. Wise in 1968.  By then, he had been diagnosed with manic depression (as it was known back then) and forced to spend time in Hudson River State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital built in 1873.  I remember little of Dad's time in that institution, only that it was a scary place and that Dad always left there a shell of what he had been prior to entering. This was almost certainly due to psychotropic drugs and the liberal use of shock therapy.  In retrospect, it's hard to decide which condition was worse:  the manic/depressive Dad or the semi-catatonic Dad.  The semi-catatonic Dad was heartbreaking to see while the manic/depressive Dad -- dangerous, unpredictable, drunk, and ornery -- still had flashes of the man that he had been.  

Dad unsuccessfully battled both diseases until his death in 1988 from complications caused by liver failure.  He was 64.  One other thing to keep in mind as you read further: the estimated average age for the onset of bipolar disorder is the early 20's.

The Marine we never knew

When Dad was at his most manic alcohol was always involved, and he was an ornery alcoholic: verbally abusive, intimidating,  always threatening physical violence but rarely resorting to it.  For the most part, the damage he inflicted was psychological and emotional, but since we knew Dad had thrown a punch at Father Kenny (another hot-headed Irishman) we knew that he was capable of following through on his threats. His verbal harassment would occasionally take unintended comic turns.  It was always amusing to be called "a blithering idiot". And when he started riffing on the importance of paying attention to a point he was making by saying: "I want you to know it, understand it, comprehend it, realize it, ... etc.", you simply had to smile.  But you sure as hell made sure to hide that smile!  You knew that Dad was past reasoning with when he called himself "one tough Marine".  All of his sons knew not to challenge him at that point and to have an escape route planned, either using the back stairs in the kitchen or heading out the porch window in the TV room.

While we knew that Dad was "one tough Marine", that's about all we knew as kids.  Dad didn't talk about his time in the Corps at all.  It was only after he died that I began to learn isolated facts about his time in the military from his siblings.  I learned that he was a tail gunner and that he actually saw action in the war overseas.  Through my cousin, Danny Sears, I came in possession of Dad's dog-tags.  But most important, I learned that Dad received a dishonorable discharge of some sort.  None of his siblings could tell me exactly why Dad had been dishonorably discharged.  The best they could remember was that it had something to do with a stolen watch.  In 2005, I wrote away to the National Personnel Records Center and asked for information related to my father's discharge.  In response, I was sent a one-page document labeled Report of Separation that stated only that he had separated from the military on January 19, 1946, with a "bad conduct discharge".  While that didn't shed any new light, it did confirm that Dad had, indeed, been less than honorably discharged from the Marines.  At the time that was enough.  I filed the paper away and thought no more about it.

In late 2014 my sister, Annie, started badgering me to learn more about Dad's discharge.  Since I had recently retired from my job at Bristol-Myers Squibb and had begun dabbling in genealogy, Annie figured that I had "all the time in the world" to determine why Dad had received a Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD).  In this isolated instance, Annie was absolutely correct.

After a few hours of research on the web, I learned that I could petition the National Personnel Records Center for Dad's entire Official Military Personnel File.  The paperwork was minimal and it didn't cost much, but it took over three months for his file to arrive.  When I finally read through it, though, it painted a picture of a man who might very well have been "one tough Marine".  

The Marine he was

On April 29, 1942, at the age of 18, Dad submitted an application to enlist into the Marine Corps for a four year term.  He would last only three and a half years but, from the looks of his service record, his first two years showed promise:
  • May 11, 1942: Placed into Active Duty; ordered to report to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot  in Parris Island, SC.  
  • November 5, 1942:  Promoted to Private 1st Class.
  • April 7, 1943: Promoted to Corporal
  • January, 1944:  Attended Radio-Gunnery school for 10 weeks in El Centro, California  
  • January 20, 1944: Transferred as a Radio-Gunner to Marine Scouting Bombing Squadron 132 (VMSB-132) in El Toro Air Station, Santa Ana, CA;
  • February, 1944: Completed 2 week Operational Radar Training at Fleet Air Marine Corps Radar School in Santa Ana, CA.
But on April 10, 1944, Dad was involved in an incident that would mark the beginning of a downward slide.  According to his Service Record, he was charged with the following:
"Disobedience of the lawful order of his commanding officer."
His personnel file does not contain an official explanation on what the exact order was or how Dad disobeyed that order but, in a letter to the Navy, Dad described the incident in this manner:
"This incident was the discharging of a machine gun.  I had noticed the feed of my machine gun to be out of aline so I charged it to test the proper feeding of ammunition.  Due to the conditions under which I was operating, I neglected to clear and the gun discharged accidentally.  The gun was later proven to be defective."
Whether this is an accurate transcription of the event will never be known.  What is known is that Dad was found guilty by a Deck Court-Martial (DM) on April 14, 1944.  He was reduced in rank to Private 1st Class and had to perform 30 days of extra police duties (EPD).  Note that, in 1944, a Deck Court-Martial was an informal procedure used to judge minor offenses.  They were held with just one officer present, the Deck Officer (i.e., the officer on watch) who also represented the Captain. The results of these trials were rarely granted an appeal.   

On April 29, 1944, Dad was in trouble again.  This time, he was brought before a Summary Courts Martial (SCM), a more formal body consisting of three officers that handled offenses of a more serious nature.  Dad was charged with the following:
"Did on or about 29 April, 1944, wilfully take and use an automobile namely a Ford convertible coupe, the property of Norman LaBudda of Santa Ana, California, without the permission of the said owner, and in the absence of the said owner or his representative, and did proceed to use and transport himself in and about the city of Santa Ana, California, and the vicinity thereof."
On May 17, 1944, the SCM found Dad guilty.  Dad admitted to the incident in a letter to the Navy, stating:
"At this time I was charged with stealing an automobile.  I was on authorized liberty with a buddy at the time.  We had been drinking and in mischief, with no intent of malice, did appropriate a car not belonging to us or any one known to us.  My buddy was driving and we were involved in an accident the financial extent of which was $600.00 which my buddy and I paid in equal shares.  The incident was settled to the satisfaction of the car owner but we were later given a summary court with a resultant 30 day confinement and 90 day EPD."
Note that $600 was a hell of a lot of money back then, comparable to approximately $8,000 today.  There's no indication of where Dad got the money to settle that debt but, after almost two years of service without a blemish, he now had accumulated two disciplinary marks on his record in less than three weeks.  Note that one had occurred while under the influence of alcohol. 

After these two incidents, Dad's participation in the war effort intensified.  He was sent overseas into a combat zone in the Pacific (Micronesia) and his record remained clear until the end of the war.  Here are some relevant excerpts from his Service Record:
    USS Isabel
  • May 1, 1944:  Awarded the classification of Radio-Gunner (757F) 
  • September, 1944:  Joined Marine Air Group 45 (MAG-45)  .
  • October 14, 1944:  Joined Torpedo Bombing Squad 132
  • November 4, 1944:  Joined Wing Service Squad 1
  • November 22, 1944:  Sent into the field via the USS Santa Isabel; joined the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW); deployed to Ulithi Atoll in Micronesia
  • Ulithi Atoll
  • December 18, 1944:  Member of Scout Bombing Squad 245 (VSMB-245).  This appears to be the only aircraft squad in which Dad flew combat missions.  As far as I can tell, Dad would have been the tail gunner of a Dauntless SBD-5 Bomber, operating a M1919 Browning machine gun.
  • December 31, 1944:  Semi-annual Performance and Conduct Review;  received Good to Excellent marks with perfect scores for Obedience and Sobriety.
  • Dauntless SBD-5 Bomber
  • May 19, 1945 - September 30, 1945:  Per a note in his file from his Commanding Officer, J.E. Bell:  "Served as a regularly assigned crew member of combatant aircraft assigned to this squadron since 19 May 1945.  Participated in combat operations in the Western Carolines Area from 19 May 1945 to 30 September 1945."  
  • June 30, 1945:  Semi-annual Performance and Conduct Review;  received Good to Excellent marks with perfect scores for Obedience and Sobriety.
Because of his combat service, Dad earned the following awards:
American Campaign Ribbon: Awarded for service within the American Theater between December 7, 1941 and March 2, 1946.

Asiatic Pacific Ribbon: Awarded for service within the Asiatic Pacific Theater (Alaska, Hawaii, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and all of Asia) between December 7, 1941 and March 2, 1946.
Aircrew Insignia with 3 stars: Awarded to enlisted aircrew members who flew in combat; each gold star represented a combat mission.

World War II Victory Medal: Awarded to W.W. II military personnel.
Dad's service record and discharge papers also indicate that he was a "rifle marksman" and a "pistol sharpshooter".

The Marine's Fall
On August 15, 1945, the Japanese surrendered.  The war may have been over, but Dad's war with the military had just begun.  On September 26, 1945, Dad was tried and convicted by a Summary Courts Martial of the following offenses:
(1)  Attempted Fraud
(2)  Impersonating a superior officer
He was reduced to the rank of Private and given a Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD).  Dad provided the following explanation for his actions in a letter to the Navy:
"At this time I secured a watch at Ulithi Atoll.  I was in a flight crew and had never been issued a watch which I needed.  There had been general appropriation of needed articles, though unofficial, and I signed as a S/Sgt in order to secure a watch."
The watch in question was valued at approximately $13.  Today, that would translate into about $175.  His career in the military officially ended as follows:
  • September 28, 1945:  Rank reduced to Private. 
  • September 30, 1945:  Flight orders revoked.
  • October 1-28, 1945:  Awaiting transfer from Ulithi Atoll to the US (possibly confined in prison)
  • October 29, 1945:  Transported by the USS Zeilin from Ulithi Atoll
  • November 17, 1945:  Arrived in San Diego, California
  • November 29, 1945:  Assigned to various  Air Casualty Squads in San Diego
  • January 8-11, 1946:  Confined in military prison in San Diego, awaiting BCD
  • January 19, 1946:  Officially separated from the military.
Dad went down fighting though.  On January 16, 1946, he petitioned the Navy to review his Bad Conduct Discharge.  His letter can be found here along with a number of fairly impressive endorsements.  He obtained counsel and appeared before the Washington Headquarters of the American Legion in an attempt to upgrade the BCD.  On November 21, 1946, the Board of Review, Discharges and Dismissals, Navy Department, reviewed Dad's case.  On December 6, 1946, they concluded:
"The Board concludes that the petitioner's discharge is proper under reasonable standards of Naval Law and Discipline.  Petitioner was convicted by a SCM on 19 Sept 1945 for attempted fraud and impersonating a superior officer.  In order to enable him to procure a wrist watch he had misrepresented himself as one "Staff Sergeant Joseph J. H. Hueghs", a fictitious person and forged this name on a quartermaster memorandum receipt.  To enable him to misrepresent himself, he wore the insignia of a Staff Sergeant.  In view of the seriousness of the offense, it is the opinion of the Board that petitioner's discharge is proper."
It's interesting that Dad used a pseudonym of "Joseph Hueghs" in his caper.  That name was very close to that of his uncle, John F. Hugues, who was a chaplain and a Captain in the Navy at that time.

Though down, Dad was not yet out.  He had one final card to play. On July 15, 1946, he persuaded his congressman, the Honorable Hugh D. Scott, to write a personal letter to the U.S. Marine Corps in his behalf.  The letter, addressed to General Clifton B. Cates, Commandant, USMC, stated:
Rep. Hugh D. Scott
"If there is any possible way by which this matter can properly receive further consideration it will be much appreciated.  I have read the statement filed by Major Winston E. Jewson USMCR, under date of 20, March 1946, as well as a statement by 1st Lt. Orlo E. Stokoe, USMCR, of 26 March 1946, and am of the opinion they outline sufficient reason for more favorable action."
On July 15, 1946, Brigadier General R.R. Pepper responded for Commandant Cates as follows:
"Mr. Mullen's case was thoroughly reviewed by the Board of Review, Discharges and Dismissals on 21 November 1946, at which time the statements of Major Jewson and Lieutenant Stokoe were taken into consideration.  The board concluded that the bad conduct discharge awarded Mr. Mullen was proper under reasonable standards of Naval law and discipline and rendered decision that no change, correction or modification should be made.  .... I regret, in view of your interest, that further action is impracticable unless additional evidence can be submitted to substantiate a reopening of his case."
Having exhausted every reasonable avenue, Dad accepted his fate.  His Military Personnel File shows no further attempts to clear his record. In October of 1959 he applied for a job at IBM in Poughkeepsie and freely admitted to IBM Personnel that he had received a less than honorable discharge.   After Dad authorized the Marines to release to IBM "any or all information pertaining to my discharge", the Chief Warrant Officer of the Marines sent an email to IBM which stated briefly:
"Thomas Patrick Mullen ... was convicted by a summary court martial, approved 26 September 1945, for attempted fraud and impersonating a superior officer.  He was sentenced to be discharged from the U.S.Naval Service with a bad conduct discharge."
Satisfied that this incident in the life of a 22 year old Marine had no bearing on the job being offered, IBM hired Dad. 

A Futile Legal Struggle

During Dad's tenure in the Marines, discipline was governed by the Articles for the Government of the Navy, a collection of regulations that hadn't changed much since the 19th century.  To give you an idea of what Dad was up against, here's an excerpt from Article 4 of that code:
 "The punishment of death, or such other punishment as a court martial may adjudge, may be inflicted on any person in the naval service who ... disobeys the lawful orders of his superior officers"
In light of this, Dad may have gotten off easy!  Under intense pressure to modernize these regulations, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) was signed into law by President Truman in 1951.  The passage below (taken from a 2004 article in the Military Law Review) sheds some light on how the Navy used -- and possibly abused -- the courts-martial system during World War II:
First enacted in 1951, the UCMJ consolidated and revised the existing laws governing the separate branches of the service (the Articles of War (AOW) and the Articles for the Government of the Navy) into one standard code. These systems of justice were similar in many ways.  Both allowed for non-judicial punishment of enlisted service members, and for three levels of courts-martial, roughly equivalent to the three levels set out in the current UCMJ.  In the Navy, the three levels included the deck court-martial, the summary court-martial, and the general court-martial.  The Army had a summary court-martial, a special court-martial, and a general court-martial.
The most significant difference between the two systems was that the punishment at a Navy summary court-martial could include a BCD.  Up until 1948, the AOW had no such discharge; the only discharges Army courts-martial could adjudge were dismissals for officers and Dishonorable Discharges (DD) for enlisted members.21 The Navy’s pre-UCMJ BCD was not, however, considered serious punishment.  Although authorized as part of a court-martial sentence, the BCD was akin to the administrative discharges used today.  No apparent stigma attached to such a discharge.  The Navy separated thousands of sailors with BCDs during World War II (WWII) with no procedure for judicial appellate review.
Before enactment of the UCMJ, both the Naval and Army justice systems were seriously flawed.  The systems were intended to secure obedience and to ensure Soldiers and Sailors served the commander’s will.  Although both systems provided for courts-martial, the courts looked nothing like today’s courts. Courts-martial were merely a tool of the commander to carry out his intentions regarding discipline.  There was little, if any, relation to civilian criminal justice. Protecting the rights of the individual was not a primary purpose of the system.  As a result, great injustices were done in the name of discipline.
During WWII, over sixteen million men and women served in the armed forces. Commanders conducted over 2,000,000 courts-martial, resulting in many hundreds of thousands of convictions and stiff sentences.  After the war, individuals and institutions lobbied Congress for changes to the system, highlighting its flaws—defense counsel (DC) were not lawyers, law officers who presided over trials were not lawyers, sentences were unable to be revised and trial mistakes could not be corrected.  Some of the longstanding complaints were expressed to TJAG of the Army, Major General Crowder, in a letter from the Secretary of War following WWI.  In response to these criticisms, Congress, in 1947, attempted its first large-scale effort to reform the military justice system.
Based on this analysis, Dad's appeal in 1946 didn't stand a chance.  Curiously, the above analysis states that there was "no apparent stigma" attached to a BCD back then.  While Dad was able to obtain a good job with a major corporation, his BCD undoubtedly left him with a lifelong emotional scar.  It also prevented him from obtaining veteran benefits and from holding any type of job within the government.

Wrapping It Up

Like most soldiers of his time (or probably any time), Dad enjoyed an alcoholic beverage or two while off-duty or on liberty.  But there is no evidence to indicate that he was an alcoholic at that time. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary.  Dad received semi-annual Performance and Conduct Reviews throughout his military career and always received a mark of "Excellent" (5) for Sobriety. Whether or not he was in the grip of bipolar disorder at that time is a tougher question.  My own feeling is that he was, based upon the following (admittedly tenuous) logic:
  1. Dad was positively diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his early 40's.  The medical establishment now believes that the estimated average age for the onset of this disease is the early 20's.  Dad's first disciplinary incident with the military occurred when he was almost 21.
  2. Manic episodes are often accompanied by or intensified by alcohol.  Dad's second disciplinary incident with the military occurred while he, in his own words, "had been drinking and in mischief".
  3. Stress caused by drastic or sudden life changes, even positive ones, can trigger a manic episode.  Dad's third, and most bizarre, disciplinary incident occurred at probably the highest and most active point of his military career.  He was stationed at Ulithi Atoll, a combat zone in the Pacific, and participated on regular bombing missions as a tail gunner.  His performance on these missions was seen as exemplary.  He had recently received a good semi-annual Performance and Conduct Review.  Dad probably thought he was invincible.  
Cadet Mess Hall, West Point
I'll finally end this requiem with an experience that I had with Dad back in 1966 or 1967. Although I didn't know it at the time, Dad was solidly in the grip of bipolar disorder.

My brother, Tom, and I were on a tour of West Point with the Boy Scouts. We traveled there from Poughkeepsie in a bus with the other scouts and Dad met us there, driving down to the Academy in a car by himself. As we prepared to board the bus at the end of the tour, Dad asked Tom and me if we wanted to drive back home with him. Tom declined but I said yes, knowing that it would please him. After the bus left, Dad decided to reward me by taking me on his own personal tour. We walked around West Point for a few more hours, watched part of an Army football game, and stopped at a carnival on the way home.  It was probably the  greatest day I ever had with my father.  After walking around West Point for a bit, Dad announced that it was time for dinner and guided me to the famous Cadet Mess Hall. Once inside, we encountered a receptionist seated by a sign clearly stating that the Cadet Mess was available only to cadets and their official guests.  Dad didn't miss a beat.  He strolled up to the receptionist and said, "Excuse me, we're here to see Cadet Mullen.  When he shows, please tell him we're inside waiting for him."  And, with that, we walked inside.  While eating dinner we heard the receptionist repeatedly paging "Cadet Mullen" over the loudspeaker and had a good laugh. Today, though, I see that incident through a much different lens. At West Point, Dad had  undoubtedly been in the middle of a manic episode.  He wanted something and he wasn't going to let a damn fool military regulation stand in his way, even if he had to impersonate someone in order to get it.  In 1945, he wanted a watch.  In 1967, he just wanted to eat dinner. 

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