Remembering a Medal of Honor recipient

John Finn, one of the first Americans to take up arms against the Japanese when they bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts, died last week at age 100.

Finn was assigned to Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on that fateful Sunday nearly 70 years ago when he found himself firing at Japanese planes from an exposed position for more than two hours despite being hit 21 times by bomb and bullet fragments.

Finn was credited by some with single-handedly shooting down a Japanese aircraft, but he would later say, “I can’t honestly say (for sure) I hit any, but I shot at every damn plane I could see.”

Finn stayed at his post until he received a direct order to seek medical attention. He later said that when he got to the sick bay, he saw many men worse off than he was, so he returned to the armory and spent the rest of the day and night supervising the repair of damaged weapons in preparation for whatever came next, according to a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“I know this sounds corny, but on December 7, I was just doing my duty and what I had been trained and paid to do since I was 17 years old,” he said in a 1984 interview.

During the attack, Finn secured a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on a training stand in an exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy machine-gun fire from Japanese planes, his Medal of Honor citation says.

“Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy’s fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety,” it continues.

In military circles, Finn was comparable to a rock star, according to the Union-Tribune. “People clamored for a handshake or to have a picture taken with him wherever he went.”

Who dares question Pitchfork Bill Connor?

South Carolina political debate has a reputation for being particularly venomous. One need only read the back-and-forth banter on some of the better-known blogs to realize that there is a small but vitriolic cadre of political minions there ready to squelch any and all potentially negative views related to the candidate of their choice.

Take the recent endorsement of the Lieutenant Governor’s race by FITSNews. Probably the best-known and best-read political blog in South Carolina, FITS recently endorsed Columbia lawyer Bill Connor for lite governor.

After just a handful of comments from individuals who believed other candidates were better suited than Connor for Lieutenant Governor (two supported former state insurance director Eleanor Kitzman and one supported Lowcountry attorney Larry Richter), out came the long knives.

Hence, we got the following:

  • “Very nice call Fits. Bill Connor is certainly the guy to take on the status quo and several times has AFFIRMED his commitment to do so. Pay no attention to the naysayers (Ken Ard and Larry Richter staff), you made the right call.”
  • “It’s really an easy choice. Bill Connor has more qualifications for leading this state that any of the gubernatorial candidates and is light years ahead of Larry Richter and Ken Ard. It looks as though Ken Ard’s staff has already started on ya Fits. Give ‘em hell.”
  • “It’s a shame when a candidate such as Bill Connor stands on his platform and outperforms his opponents like Ken Ard they resort to negative attacks to try and steal an election. … When is Ken Ard going to answer to the fact that the tax raise he pushed so hard for actually benefits him personally because he owns land that will have to be purchased with this tax money? STOP with the negative attacks Ken Ard staff Katie Baham and Robert Cahaly. You’re insulting the process for electing candidates to office.”
  • “alwaysknocktwice, how’s it feel to be so desperate cuz your boy Ken Ard is so far behind you have to spread lies and rumors to try to win? More lies from Ken Ard, Robert Cahaly and Katie Baham. You better start trying to elect Ken Ard back to county council in Florence. Looks like that will be tougher than you thought.”
  • “You’ve taken a few rumors from people that despise Bill Connor because he supports tort reform and information generated by the Robert Cahaly sleaze machine and publicly slandering the next Lt Governor of South Carolina. Figured you for more common sense than that. … Give it a break. For over a year now Ken Ard and Robert Cahaly have been doing their best to slander Bill Connor and try to steal this election. They’ve offered no proof of anything nor has anyone come forward as an eyewitness.”  
  • “Your attempt to make him look bad is nothing but sour grapes over Ken Ard losing this election. You idiots have slandered and verbally assaulted Bill Connor for over a year and it’s brought you nothing but shame in the eyes of the voters. The people of South Carolina are sick and tired of those like you, Robert Cahaly and Ken Ard who try to win elections by making their opponents look bad instead of the joke of convincing the voting public that Ken Ard is the best person for the job. Judging from Ken Ard’s track record, he would be nothing more than a corrupt RINO tax and spender like several we have now. Ken Ard needs to start running as a democrat instead of trying to mislead the voters.”

Of course, as nearly all the comments about Connor – pro and con – are anonymous, it’s difficult to tell just who’s supporting him and who isn’t. But it’s telling that when an anti-Connor comment goes up on the South Carolina blogosphere, Connor and his camp are quick to point the finger at a rival rather than refute arguments, as though no one else could possible have an issue with him. (Sometimes someone on Connor’s side even throws in an anonymous threat or two, as well.)

But bring up the fact, as one individual did, that real soldiers don’t need to wear their military service on their sleeves through such actions as displaying their bronze star on their political website and using their uniform as an advertising gimmick, as Connor seems to, or that Connor drops names like a freshman coed at a sorority function, and it must be the work of a nefarious opponent, probably in league with the devil himself.

Question whether a candidate like Connor has ever met a payroll or even what his overseas military experience consisted of, and you’re all but lumped in with al-Qaeda.

So this is what passes for political discourse in South Carolina these days, at least on the Republican side: Concoct a message heavy on God, country and arch-Conservatism (much of which have nothing to do with the actual job of being Lieutenant Governor), and slam anyone who sees things differently, or, heaven forbid, calls you on your qualifications.

Media ‘watchdogs’ slumbering once again

As the Nikki Haley-Will Folks drama continues to play out, it’s been somewhat discouraging to once again note how deficient the mainstream media has been in its coverage of the story.

For example, on Thursday Folks, a noted South Carolina political blogger who did consulting work for Haley in the past, released nearly 1,000 pages of his personal cell phone records. They showed that he and Haley contacted each other more than 700 times between the beginning of 2007 and early this year.

Many calls came after 10 p.m. and some, both from Haley to Folks and vice versa, lasted an hour or more. There were at least four calls of two hours or more, including one that lasted nearly 3-1/2 hours, ending at around 3 a.m. Another lasted three hours exactly and ended around 2 a.m.

So how does The State, one of South Carolina’s largest newspapers, handle this? In a story with the inane title “Haley vs. Folks: Notes on how to handle a scandle,” the reporter does mention the volume of calls, but neglects to highlight the number of late-night calls or their length, which is perhaps the most telling aspect of this part of what’s been termed by some as “Haley-gate.”

Instead, The State goes with a statement from Haley’s campaign manager:

The lame thing here is the media. The public are accustomed to this notion that if there’s not a sex tape, or a dress with stains on, it’s not proof. Some sections of the public, that is. It took a lot to get Sanford to admit it, but most people must have had their suspicions for some time. Common sense dictates that a politician who has been accused of infidelity is probably guilty. The SMS messages, the email excerpts, these phone logs, the complete persistence of Folks… all make it very obvious that while he may be a bottom-feeder, something happened. It’s obvious to anyone who has ever read a newspaper. But he hasn’t presented hard proof. Journalists seem mostly unwilling to do anything themselves, but just sit and wait for others so they can report the news.

As I see it, the SMS messages should have been it, but a very weak media let it slide. Haley’s campaign couldn’t deny that the messages were real, because then Folks would immediately prove them liars by verifying them electronically and providing that evidence, and it would have been game over. Quite a dilemma for them. But instead of folding, they decided that the public, and the media, were very gullible. So they admitted the messages were real, but claimed – farcically! – that they represented standard operating procedures for a campaign trying to batten down a false rumour from being leaked. The media, instead of repeatedly and persistently attacking this ‘logic’ and showing it to be impossible, just reported their defence and they squeaked by. But a minute’s thinking it through shows it’s impossible:

The SMS messages include exchanges between Haley’s campaign and Folks. If the story was false, both sides of that exchange would know that. Asking how to ‘fuck up’ someone spreading a rumour that they both know is untrue makes no sense. If they knew it to be untrue, they could simply sue. If Folks sent Haley’s camp an SMS saying that he knew someone was about to run a story that he and she had once visited the Pope and gang-raped him, would they have been worried? No, because it’s untrue so nobody can prove it and will make a fool of themselves trying to smear her – poltically, an entirely unfounded smear is good for Haley, in fact. So if you still believe that Tim Pearson, Haley’s campaign manager, knew from discussing with Haley and Folks that the story was untrue, explain SMS messages like this one:

‘From: Tim Pearson
To: Will Folks
Sent: May 15, 2010 2:58 PM

I’m telling you man, we keep this under wraps and nh is going to win.’

That’s the question the media should be repeatedly and persistently asking the Haley camp to explain. They should also be laying out the logic of their massive contradictions very clearly, like I’m doing here, roughly, rather than hiding it all in a bunch of prevarications and ‘reporting’. The reporting here is about journalistic instincts. Anyone with any can see that Haley is lying – and that it can be very easily shown from what has already been produced. Stop waiting around for a sex tape or a dress. Do your jobs and nail a hypocrite running for public office with her very obvious and public lies.

It’s your job.

For a publication that was hellbent on bringing down Mark Sanford, The State sure has been going easy on Haley in terms of sizing up the evidence and asking the hard questions.

Is it because they don’t like Folks, who has repeatedly tweaked the paper’s nose with his irreverent swipes at the publication and occasional scoops, or is it simply that they can’t be bothered?

Will Columbia revisit folly of trolleys?

Five years after Columbia mercifully killed off its moribund trolley system, there is discussion of resurrecting the money-losing mass transit scheme.

Richland County Council is gearing up to let voters decide this November whether to raise the sales tax by one percent to fund transportation projects and the bus system, according to the (Columbia) Free Times.

“And with transportation on the table, Ric Luber, head of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism, has a request: Bring back the trolleys,” reports the Free Times.

“The 3 million tourists a year who come to Columbia need a way to get around the downtown areas, Luber says. And workers could use them, too. He’s proposed three compact routes that would run between Five Points, the Vista and Main Street. The idea is supported by many businesses in those areas. Outgoing Mayor Bob Coble also supports a trolley plan.”

How bad an idea is this? Five years ago, The State paper, which has long promoted mass transit, called for the trolleys to be discontinued.

At the time, the six trolleys, which cost about $600,000 a year to operate, averaged only about 69 rides per day at $1 a fare.

“Considering most riders take a round trip, it’s safe to assume only about 34 riders each day,” the paper wrote. “That’s not supportable. … they certainly aren’t a viable form of mass transit and don’t deserve continued funding.

“The trolleys, which began operating in 1997, have had plenty of time to prove themselves,” the paper added at the time. “They have always been largely empty.”

Mitzi Javers, head of the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, told the Free Times that the city always lost money on the trolleys.

“We made a lot of service changes and improvements” through the years, she said, “and it still did not justify the cost of operation.”

Javers estimates it would take $120,000 to refurbish four of the six trolleys and bring them back to operating condition.

Blackhawks overdue, but not by much

One of the unintended consequences of the rapid expansion that’s taken place in major US sports (baseball, football, basketball and hockey) over the past few decades is that with so many more teams, the odds of a club winning a championship have diminished dramatically.

Take the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers play game one of the Stanley Cup Finals Saturday. Should the Blackhawks prevail, it will be their first title since 1961. That team included such notables as Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall, Pierre Pilote and Reg Fleming, among others.

The Flyers aren’t a whole lot better, not having won the Cup since 1975.

But with 30 teams in the National Hockey League nowadays, going 35 years between Stanley Cup titles, as the Flyers have done, isn’t that much of an anomaly.

Statistically speaking, an NHL franchise should win a championship, on average, once every, oh, 30 years, right?

Unfortunately for Blackhawks fans, and fans of teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs (last title in 1967), Los Angeles Kings (no titles since the club started up in 1967), ; St. Louis Blues (founded in 1967 – no titles); Vancouver Canucks (founded in 1970 – no titles); Buffalo Sabres (founded in 1970 – no titles); and Washington Capitals (founded in 1974 – no titles), championship rarely average out in a nice even manner. 

Over the past 50 years, the Montreal Canadiens have won 13 Stanley Cups, the Edmonton Oilers five, the Detroit Red Wings four, the New York Islanders four, the Maple Leafs four (the last, of course, in 1967) New Jersey Devils three and the Pittsburgh Penguins three. That’s 36 of 49 championships (73.5 percent) spread among just seven teams since 1960.

Even the Flyers, who have gone 35 years without a Cup, could be said to be overachievers in terms of championships, since they’ve won two Cups since they began in 1967, an average of one every 21 seasons.

Stalin nixed two attempts on Hitler’s life

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin cancelled two planned Soviet attempts to assassinate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler during World War II, fearing that his replacement would make a separate peace with the Western Allies, according to a top Russian general.

A plan to attack Hitler’s bunker in 1943 and a 1944 plot involving an assassin who had gained the trust of the Nazi leadership were both called off on Stalin’s orders, General Anatoly Kulikov told a historical conference in Moscow, Reuters reported.

“A plan to assassinate Hitler in his bunker was developed, but Stalin suddenly cancelled it in 1943 over fears that after Hitler’s death his associates would conclude a separate peace treaty with Britain and the United States,” Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Kulikov as saying.

Kulikov, according to RIA, also said the Soviet Union had a second opportunity to kill Hitler in 1944 when the intended assassin managed to infiltrate Hitler’s entourage and had a high degree of trust among the German leadership.

“A detailed assassination plan was prepared, but Stalin cancelled it again,” RIA quotes the former general as saying.

Kulikov was Russia’s Interior Minister from 1995 to 1998 under President Boris Yeltsin. He said that the Club of Military Leaders, which he heads, would include details of the assassination attempts in a forthcoming book on World War II, according to Reuters.

According to historians, there were more than 40 attempts on Hitler’s life.

The German dictator killed himself on April 30, 1945, as Soviet forces closed on Berlin, effectively ending the war in Europe and setting the stage for the Cold War stand-off between Russia and the West.

An estimated 27 million Soviet citizens died in the 1941-1945 war with Nazi Germany.

When failure becomes a mark of success

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer knows a thing or two about home runs. He should. He’s given up more than 500 long balls during his 24-year Major League career.

In fact, Moyer is on the verge of breaking the late Robin Roberts’s record for homers surrendered – 505. 

“I’m not proud of this,” the 47-year-old Moyer told The Wall Street Journal

But, as the Journal points out in this piece reminiscent of Moyer’s artful approach to pitching, the record he’ll soon set is actually a mark of greatness:

“The pitcher at the top of the list, Mr. Roberts, who died this month, is in the Hall of Fame. So are Nos. 3 (Ferguson Jenkins), 4 (Phil Niekro) and 5 (Don Sutton),” writes the Journal. “Giving up that many home runs is a testament to longevity, a sign Mr. Moyer must have been doing something right to hang around this long. Indeed, he has the most wins, 263, of any active pitcher.”