July 24

1983 The Pine Tar Controversy

Baseball is a game with many rules, some written, some unspoken. One of those rules (Rule 1.10c) deals with the use of adhesive permissible on the handle of a bat. A grip-enhancer, such as pine tar, cannot be applied farther than 18 inches from the bottom of the bat. Any malefactor found to be using such an implement was (according to the regulations in effect in 1983) to be deemed out and ejected from the contest.

On July 24, 1983, the New York Yankees were playing the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium. In the top of the ninth inning, the Bronx Bombers were leading 4-3 with two out, one on, and famed stopper Goose Gossage and his bizarre moustache on the mound. Up strode George Brett, a prodigiously gifted hitter and tobacco chewer. The two future Hall of Famers performed the ritual glare before Brett fouled off the first pitch and then smote the second into the right field stands for a two-run home run and a 5–4 lead. 

Enter now the Yankee skipper Billy Martin – like fabled Odysseus, a man of many wiles. He drew the attention of the umpires to Brett’s bat and the officials determined that the pine tar extended a fatal 6″ too high. Brett was ruled out, his home run was cancelled, and the Yankees declared the winner.

Upon hearing this decision, Brett launched himself from the dugout and begged to differ so vigorously that he had to be physically restrained from raising his objections on umpire Tim McClelland’s person. Great was the snickering of the Yankees and deep was the woe of the Royals as the players exited the field. Yet our tale is not ended.

The Royals appealed the decision to American League president Lee McPhail. In a ruling as arbitrary as any made by a medieval pope, MacPhail decided that the penalties prescribed by 1.10c were null and void — the extensive use of pine tar was an aesthetic violation (it would mark the ball) and not one that gave an unfair competitive advantage. The game was to be resumed from the point of Brett’s home run. The Yankees protested with law suits, injunctions were issued, but the courts ruled that the rescheduled contest should be held on August 18.

Martin’s shrewdness was again in evidence. Before the first pitch was thrown, the ball was tossed to first base on the theory that Brett had not tagged the bag on July 24. The umpire ruled him safe. The ball was then thrown to second base on the theory that U.L. Washington, the base runner on when Brett hit his homer, had not not touched there. Again the ruling was safe — though neither call was given by an umpire who had been officiating in the original game. Martin, with the good sportsmanship that marked his entire career, naturally protested, but the pin-striped helmsman was stunned when the umpire crew chief pulled out a notarized affidavit, signed by all four umpires from July 24, vowing that Brett had touched every base. 

The Royals went on to win the game 5-4 with the Yankees declaring that they were playing under protest. The bat is now in the Hall of Fame and the penalties of the pine tar rule have been changed.

July 23

1888 Birth of Raymond Chandler

The English language owes much to American wordsmith Raymond Chandler who elevated the private eye into a cultural icon. Chandler was born in Nebraska to Maurice Chandler, an alcoholic father who soon abandoned his family, and Florence Dart, a devoted mother who had young Raymond educated at ritzy Dulwich College in England.

He served with a Canadian regiment during World War I but had difficulty finding his way in peacetime. Chandler had problems with alcohol, mommy issues, and holding a steady job. It was not until he was in his 40s that Chandler found his true métier, writing hard-boiled detective novels, a genre which he raised from pulp fiction to literary art. Gems like The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, and The Long Goodbye were turned into films. [By all means revel in the cinematic delights of the first two mentioned, graced by Dick Powell and Humphrey Bogart — but, at all costs, avoid Robert Altman’s unforgivable 1973 desecration of the latter.]

Here are some great Chandler lines:

Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.
It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.
Dead men are heavier than broken hearts. 
It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.
And his definition of the sort of hero the genre required, outlined in “The Simple Art of Murder”: Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.

July 22

Mary Magdalene

Confusion reigns supreme when it comes to investigating the real story of the saint known as Mary Magdalene. She is mentioned in the Gospels by name more often than almost any other follower of Jesus but she is often confused with an unnamed woman with a jar of ointment. She was present at the empty tomb but is better known for allegedly being the wife of Jesus. There is no reliable connection between her and a repentant prostitute but her name has become a byword for fallen women. Meet Mary Magdalene.

The first mention of this particular Mary — and there are a number of them surrounding Jesus — comes in the eighth chapter of Luke:

After that, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out—and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. 

She is then depicted as being at the crucifixion, as carrying spices to the tomb to anoint the body of the Lord and then as encountering the risen Christ. From this point things are far less certain. In the apocryphal Gnostic accounts, The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Philip and The Gospel of Thomas, she is treated as both important to the mission of Jesus and as his very intimate companion. The latter has this enigmatic passage:

Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go forth from among us, for women are not worthy of the life. Jesus said: Behold, I shall lead her, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Then at the beginning of the seventh century we see the creation of what becomes known as “the composite Magdalene” in which three women — the Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the penitent sinner — are merged. Pope Gregory in a homily conflates her with the repentant prostitute:

She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. What did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? . . . It is clear, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts. What she therefore displayed more scandalously, she was now offering to God in a more praiseworthy manner. She had coveted with earthly eyes, but now through penitence these are consumed with tears. She displayed her hair to set off her face, but now her hair dries her tears. She had spoken proud things with her mouth, but in kissing the Lord’s feet, she now planted her mouth on the Redeemer’s feet. For every delight, therefore, she had had in herself, she now immolated herself. She turned the mass of her crimes to virtues, in order to serve God entirely in penance.

Thus in Western medieval art Mary Magdalene is portrayed as an alluring, attractive woman with long red hair, often carrying a container of ointment. According to legend she and other disciples traveled miraculously to Gaul where they evangelized the south of France. Churches in Provence have longed claimed to possess her relics. The Eastern Church regards her as always chaste and living with the Virgin Mary in Ephesus until her death.



July 21

1899 Birth of Hart Crane

What is it about poets? Their lives seem so much more troubled and eventful than ordinary mortals. Ovid dies in exile; François Villon is tortured and banished; Christopher Marlowe is stabbed to death in a bar fight; adulterous, incestuous Byron dies in a civil war; Shelley dies at sea; Thomas Chatterton and John Keats die poor and young; Christopher Smart and Ezra Pound spend years in an insane asylum; Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, and John  McCrae perish in the trenches of World War I; Anne Sexton, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Sylvia Plath commit suicide; Garcia Lorca is murdered; Dylan Thomas drinks himself to death. And then there is Hart Crane.

Born into a prosperous family, the son of the inventor of Life-Saver candy, Crane dropped out of high school to become a writer. He soon attracted a supportive readership — his unhappiness was not caused by an unfeeling world. Since few poets have ever managed to feed and clothe themselves from the financial rewards of their art (Rod McKuen is a dishonourable exception), he relied on handouts, generous patrons, and long-suffering friends as he laboured to complete The Great American Poem, his answer to Virgil’s Aeniad or Eliot’s “The Waste Land”.

His homosexuality, which sought relief at the hands of sailors and other rough trade, brought him beatings rather than joy. His alcoholism and belligerence as a drunk earned him a spell in a Parisian jail. Crane’s one heterosexual excursion with painter Peggy Cowley ended unhappily and soon after that period, in April 1932, clothed in his pyjamas and a top coat, he threw himself off the railing of a ship on the Atlantic. His last words were “Goodbye, everybody!”

My favourite poem of this unhappy fellow is “My Grandmother’s Love Letters”.

There are no stars tonight

But those of memory.

Yet how much room for memory there is

In the loose girdle of soft rain.

There is even room enough

For the letters of my mother’s mother,


That have been pressed so long

Into a corner of the roof

That they are brown and soft,

And liable to melt as snow.

Over the greatness of such space

Steps must be gentle.

It is all hung by an invisible white hair.

It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.

And I ask myself:

"Are your fingers long enough to play

Old keys that are but echoes:

Is the silence strong enough

To carry back the music to its source

And back to you again

As though to her?"

Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand

Through much of what she would not understand;

And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof

With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.

July 20

Operation Valkyrie fails

By the summer of 1944 it was evident to all but Adolf Hitler that Germany was soon going to lose the war. The western Allies were ashore in great numbers in Normandy and were headed for Paris. In Italy, Rome  had fallen. At sea, the Atlantic had been scoured of U-boats and Germany’s few remaining capital ships dared not leave port. The Vaterland’s cities were being incinerated night (RAF) and day (USAAF) while the relentless push of the Red Army was driving the Wehrmacht and its allies back toward Berlin. 

The doom that awaited those who bore responsibility for starting the war and the revenge that would be wrought on Germany was clear to the officer elite. Some hoped that a new government, cleansed of Nazis, might be able to get better terms than Unconditional Surrender and some may even have thought of an Anglo-American-German alliance against the Soviet Union. A group of officers, dominated by those with aristocratic or Christian connections, planned to kill Hitler in his Prussian Wolf’s Lair (as close as he ever got to the Eastern Front) on July 20. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, head of the Home Army, was to place a bomb in the conference room near the Führer, and then radio his fellow plotters in Berlin when the assassination had been successfully carried out. 

Unfortunately, Stauffenberg had suffered the loss of an eye, one hand and fingers on he other and from a war injury and he was unable to prime all the explosives in the case. Moreover, an aide had nudged the bomb farther under a thick oak table which shielded Hitler from the blast. Worse yet, Stauffenberg thought that Hitler had been killed in the explosion and told the Berlin cabal to carry out their coup. Within hours the truth was known, and the conspirators were either dead (the lucky ones) or arrested to await torture and execution. The war would continue.

The best short book on the subject is “Countdown to Valkyrie by Nigel Jones. Ben Pastor’s Night of Falling Stars is an entertaining fictional account. Of Tom Cruise’s portrayal of Stauffenberg in Valkyrie, it is best not to speak.

July 19


Lady Jane Grey and the Protestant coup

Henry VIII’s desire to have a legitimately-born son to follow him in the Tudor dynasty led to all manner of marital distress, political turmoil, and the withdrawal of the Church of England from its subjection to the papacy. In 1544 Henry passed a scheme of royal succession. The throne, on his death, would pass to his only surviving son Edward (raised as a Protestant); if he died without children, the throne would go to Mary, his eldest daughter (and a Catholic); if Mary were to prove childless, she would be succeeded by Henry’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth (religiously ambiguous). Should all of his children die without issue, the throne would go to the successors of Henry’s younger sister Mary Tudor, the line which included Lady Jane Grey (1536-1554).

When Henry died in 1547, Edward VI instituted a Protestant national church, the beginning of Anglicanism as we now know it. For almost six years he legislated against Catholic practices, instituted a new Prayer Book, allowed clergy to marry, and placed Protestant ministers and professors in positions of power. In this he was supported by some, though by no means all, of the political class. By 1553 it was clear that Edward was not going to live long and steps were taken to disinherit Mary, still obdurately Catholic. Elizabeth was still, by law, considered a bastard and was thought to be religiously unreliable, so plans centred on Lady Jane Grey. Jane had been raised a firm Protestant and had been married off unwillingly to the son of the greatest Protestant noble, the Duke of Northumberland. In his “Devise for the Succession”, Edward sought to preserve Protestantism by placing Jane on the throne.

At Edward’s death in July 1553, the Protestants of the political class, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, had Jane declared Queen and set her securely in the Tower of London to await the result of the rest of the coup. The key was the arrest of Mary and Elizabeth to keep them from raising support for the legitimate line. Mary slipped through Northumberland’s fingers and assembled so many armed partisans and so much public goodwill that after nine days the coup collapsed. Mary promised religious toleration and, on July 19, Jane stepped down. By early 1554 Mary was well on the way toward the active persecution of English Protestantism. Jane, her husband, and father-in-law were considered too dangerous to live. On February 12, Jane went to the block to die, becoming a romantic martyr for the reformed cause.

July 18


The murder of Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia

The Holy Martyr Yelizaveta Fyodorovna was born in 1864 as Princess Elisabeth of Hesse, the grand-daughter of Queen Victoria and daughter of the Grand Duke of the German state of Hesse. As one of the most beautiful aristocrats of her generation, she attracted the romantic interests of princes and kings including the future Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, but she married into the Russian royal family. In 1884 she married the Grand Duke Sergei, younger brother of the Tsar and uncle of Russia’s last Romanov ruler Nicholas II. She converted to Orthodoxy from Lutheranism and was a well-accepted member of the upper reaches of Russian society when Alexei was made Governor of Moscow.

The Russian Empire in the early 20th century was full of political turmoil and revolutionary fervour, which made Alexei, a royalist hardliner, a favoured target for terrorist assassins. In February, 1905 a hit squad of the Socialist-Revolutionary party blew the Grand Duke to bits as he rode in his carriage through the streets of Moscow. Elizabeth went to the jail to speak with his murderer and begged for him to repent; she pleaded with the authorities to spare his life but the young man, poet Ivan Kalyayev, demanded the death penalty, saying that his death would be more beneficial to the revolutionary cause than that of the Grand Duke.

After this tragedy, Elizabeth forsook her high status, sold off her jewels and possessions, entered a nunnery and devoted her life to prayer and charity. She opened an orphanage and hospital and worked with the poor of Moscow’s slums. This counted for nothing after the Bolshevik Revolution broke out. In 1918 she was arrested by the Cheka, the Communist secret police, and was murdered along with her maid and another nun, and some high-ranking officials. She was thrown down a mine shaft and grenades tossed in to finish the job. Her body was later recovered and smuggled to China and then to Jerusalem where she and her husband had founded a convent. She is buried there. A statue of the Grand Duchess is one of 10 Martyrs of the Twentieth Century that stand above the west door of Westminster Abbey.

July 17


The Carmelite Martyrs

The French Revolution had begun in 1789 as a way to secure human rights for all citizens to enjoy, and its early days saw the triumph of middle-class liberalism: freedom of the press, freedom of religion, an end to feudalism and arbitrary arrest, under a constitutional monarchy. But soon it turned against the Catholic Church, confiscating its land, dissolving the monasteries, severing the ties with the papacy, and mandating that clergy serve a state church. This caused great consternation in the country and alienated King Louis XVI and many others from the Revolution. But radicals were prepared to go much farther and soon the Revolution turned against Christianity itself. Thousands of clergy were arrested, church services were forbidden, and a propaganda campaign of blasphemy and vilification was undertaken. Priests and nuns were forced to marry, the word “saint” was removed from streets and place names, tombs and monuments were desecrated and destroyed. “Religion”, said one radical, “is nothing but a mass of stupidities and and absurdity . . . A true republican cannot be superstitious; he bends the knee before no idols; he worships liberty alone; he knows no other cult than that of loving his country and its laws. The cross has become, in the eyes of the humanist thinker, a counter-revolutionary emblem.” In 1792 massacres of clergy began; these accelerated with the Terror of 1793-94.

In June 1794 a group of nuns living in a community in Compiègne was arrested for refusing to abjure their vows. Sixteen Carmelite nuns and lay sisters were taken to Paris for trial and were condemned to death. Most were middle-aged women, the youngest was 29 and two were 78 years old. On the evening of July 17, in the Place de la Nation, one by one, beginning with the youngest, the nuns mounted the steps of the guillotine to be beheaded. As they awaited their deaths they sang the psalm Laudate Dominum omnes gentes : O praise the Lord all ye nations! Praise him all ye people! For his mercy is confirmed upon us and the truth of the Lord remains forever. Praise the Lord! One by one, as their turn came to die, they kissed a little statuette of the Virgin and Child held out to them by Mother Theresa, their prioress, at the bottom of the stairs. Finally, she too, the last remaining alive, singing still, climbed up to be killed.

The constancy of these women very much impressed the crowd and added to the growing disgust of Parisians for the Terror, which was ended brutally less than two weeks later by the execution of its inventor Maximillien Robespierre and his henchmen. Francis Poulenc’s operatic masterpiece Dialogues of the Carmelites (1957) takes historical liberties with the story but is a powerful tribute to the martyrs.

July 16


The Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup

Early in 1942, the German government decided on a policy of exterminating Jews in the territories under their control by shipping them to death camps in eastern Europe. To do so in  France required the permission of the puppet French government in Vichy, which agreed that the German occupying forces could arrest foreign Jews, while French Jews would be scooped up by local police. After securing the agreement of the Vichy government, German officials and French police conducted roundups of Jews in both the occupied and unoccupied zones of France throughout the summer of 1942. The Vél d’Hiv was part of a series of roundups codenamed Opération Vent printanier (Operation Spring Wind) that took place across the country in spring and summer of 1942.

Preparations for the Roundup

Planning for the Vél d’Hiv roundup took place among René Bousquet, secretary general of the French national police; Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, Commissioner for Jewish Affairs under the Vichy Régime; SS-Hauptsturmführer Theodor Dannecker, head of Adolf Eichmann’s Judenreferat [Jewish Section] in France; and SS-Oberstürmführer Helmut Knochen, head of the German Security Police in France.

The Director of the local Paris Municipal Police, Emile Hennequin, sent precise expectations for the roundup to the police prefecture three days before the event. The roundup was originally set to take place from July 13–15, which included Bastille Day, the French national holiday. The holiday was not celebrated in the occupied zones of France, and in order to preclude local rioting, Nazi officials allowed French officials to delay the operation until July 16–17.

The German goal was that French police would round up 28,000 foreign and stateless Jews in the greater Paris area. They were to exempt “sensitive cases” such as British or American Jews. Although German authorities had originally agreed to exempt children under the age of 16, French Prime Minister Pierre Laval suggested for “humanitarian” reasons that children be arrested with their parents, unless a family member remained behind to care for them. Four thousand children were among those arrested in Paris.

In order to maintain a detailed record of the roundup, the police were to report the number of people they arrested each hour to their local prefecture.

July 16–17

Beginning in the early hours of July 16, French police rounded up thousands of men, women, and children throughout Paris. By the end of the day, the police had taken 2,573 men, 5,165 women, and 3,625 children from their homes. The roundup continued the following day, but with a much smaller number of arrests.

Approximately 6,000 of those rounded up were immediately transported to Drancy, in the northern suburbs of Paris. Drancy was at that point a transit camp for Jews being deported from France. The rest of the arrestees were detained at the Vélodrome d’Hiver (Winter Cycling Track), an indoor sporting arena in Paris’s fifteenth arrondissement.

Officials could have held few illusions of the unsuitability of the “Vél d’Hiv” for holding such a large population indefinitely. Early in the war, it had been used to intern German nationals, mainly refugees. In 1940 it housed interned foreign women. In both instances, conditions were deplorable.

Following the roundup of Jews in greater Paris, some 7,000 Jews, among them almost 4,000 children, were crowded together in the sports arena. There was scarcely space to lie down and the incarcerated Jews faced appalling circumstances. No arrangements had been made for food, water, or sanitary facilities. Only two physicians a shift were allowed in to treat the internees. The glass ceiling of the arena contributed to a stifling environment by day, as all ventilation had been sealed to prevent escape, and led to chilly temperatures at night. Parisian Quakers came to bring food and water.


After five days, Jews incarcerated at the Vél d’Hiv were transferred to other transit camps outside Paris. At Drancy, Pithiviers, and Beaune-la-Rolande, French police guarded these men, women, and children until transport to concentration camps and killing centers in the east. At the end of July, the remaining adults were separated from their children and deported to Auschwitz. Over 3,000 children remained interned without their parents until they were deported, among adult strangers, to Auschwitz as well.

German authorities continued the deportations of Jews from French soil until August 1944. In all, some 77,000 Jews living on French territory perished, the overwhelming majority of them at Auschwitz.

Postwar Trials

For his prominent role in the deportation of Jews from France, Pierre Laval, formerly the French Prime Minister, was arrested and tried after the liberation of France. He was shot by firing squad on 15 October 1945.

The fate of two German officials most involved in the Vél d’Hiv mirrored the common fates of high-ranking SS administrators. Theodor Dannecker was arrested by American officials in Bad Tölz, Bavaria, in December 1945, and committed suicide while in custody. Helmut Knochen, sentenced by a British court to 21 years in prison for a separate offense, was sentenced to death by a French court in 1954. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and Knochen was released on orders of French President Charles de Gaulle in November 1962.

In 1949, René Bousquet, secretary general of the French police, was found guilty for his role in the complicit Vichy government, but his sentence was immediately commuted for “having actively and sustainably participated in the resistance against the occupier.” In 1991, French justice authorities in Paris indicted Bousquet for his participation in the deportation of Jews from France. Christian Didier, a mentally ill individual, assassinated Bousquet in his home in Paris on June 8, 1993, before proceedings could take place.

Acknowledging the Role of the State and Police

On July 16, 1995, on the fifty-third anniversary of the Vél d’Hiv roundup, French President Jacques Chirac acknowledged the role the state and its police had played in the persecution of Jews and other victims of the German occupation. “France,” Chirac said, “land of the Enlightenment and of Human Rights, land of hospitality and asylum, France, on that day, committed an irreparable act. It failed to keep its word and delivered those under its protection to their executioners.”

This post is taken from the Holocaust Museum’s excellent website. https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10008213



July 15

St Swithun’s Day

Swithun or Swithin (d. 862) was an obscure bishop of Winchester in the mid-9th century. However, after his death he seems to have been quite active in the miracle department. On his deathbed, Swithun asked to be buried out of doors, where he would be trodden on by local folk and rained on. However, when the monks of Winchester attempted to remove his remains to a splendid shrine inside the cathedral legend says there was a heavy rain storm during the ceremony.

This led to the belief that if it rains on St Swithin’s Day (July 15th), it will rain for the next 40 days in succession, and a fine 15th July will be followed by 40 days of fine weather. The old rhyme says:

St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain 

For forty days it will remain. 

St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair 

For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.

A local variation says: If on St Swithun’s day it really pours/ You’re better off to stay indoors.

Unfortunately for the wisdom of our ancestors, this seems not to be borne out in fact. Since records began, not a single 40-day drought has occurred anywhere in the UK during the summer months, and there has been not one instance at any time of the year of 40 consecutive days of rainfall. According to the British Meteorological Society “the middle of July tends to be around the time that the jet stream settles into a relatively consistent pattern. If the jet stream lies north of the UK throughout the summer, continental high pressure is able to move in, bringing warmth and sunshine. If it sticks further south, Arctic air and Atlantic weather systems are likely to predominate, bringing colder, wetter weather.” The rhyme should read:

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain

For forty days, relatively unsettled there’s a fair chance it will remain

St Swithun’s day if thou be fair

For forty days, a northerly jet stream might result in some fairly decent spells

But then again it might not.