Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Grover Gift

This is what Allyson got me for Christmas. Pretty cool, eh? It's a genuine Grover Cleveland $20 bill. They were only issued for a short time around 1914. Personally, I think it would be a good idea to bring them back. Andrew Jackson gets on my nerves...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

DDT smelled good...

‎40 years ago this week in my hometown (Perkasie, Pa.) newspaper: "The Bucks County Mosquito Control Department will be phased out ... as of January 1st, 1971." That's because they were spraying DDT. As a small boy, I remember the "mosquito truck" making its rounds in the summer. My sister and I would sit in the front yard and breathe in the fumes as it passed by. Smelled great. Good times...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The President Is a Sick Man cover released...

The cover of my next book, The President Is a Sick Man, has officially been released! Here it is...

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Who's got Manson on speed dial?

So, Charles Manson recently got caught with a cell phone in his prison cell. For this, 30 days have been added to his life sentence. Coupla things... First of all, how does Charlie even know how to use a cell phone? When he went to prison, people who had worked with Alexander Graham Bell were still alive. (My brother's theory is that the instructions were hidden in the lyrics of the White Album.) Number two, who was Charlie calling? Was he calling collect? Who accepts a collect call from Charles Manson? More seriously, how did he get the phone in the first place? The whole story is so weird on so many different levels...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Shirley he will rest in peace

Sad to hear that Leslie Nielsen has passed away.I was 14 when Airplane! came out in 1980, and I thought it was the funniest movie ever made. And I still do. Leslie was a comic genius. He didn't even have to say anything. When you saw him, you laughed. We're going to miss you, Leslie.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Thanks to our friends Phil and Jill for a great Thanksgiving in New York. And it was great to meet their baby Fia - finally, just a week shy of her first birthday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Wrong Matt

Not sure if I've blogged about this before but... Last year I was promoting the Truman book. Had an appearance scheduled on a program on XM/Sirius satellite radio. I went to the studio in New York. Introduced myself to the receptionist. Took a seat in the lobby. A young woman came up to me a few minutes later. "Are you Matt?" "Yes, I am." She led me back to a studio. Everything was very fast paced. The producer was on the phone, the host was screaming at the producer, etc. Not the typical setting for an interview about a book about an obscure event in American history. ...

The host turned to me and said, "We're on in 90 seconds. First thing we're gonna talk about is Afghanistan." This struck me as odd. I wasn't often asked about Afghanistan while promoting a book about an obscure event in American history. I guess it showed on my face.

"You're Matt Taibbi, right?" the host asked me. No, I cofessed, I was not Rolling Stone's national political correspondent. I was hustled out of the studio, passing a breathless Matt Taibbi on my way back to my seat in the lobby.

Monday, November 08, 2010

I Found Harry's 1953 Chrysler!

Late breaking news... I sat in Harry Truman's 1953 Chrysler today! Yes, the very same one in which he and Bess had their "excellent adventure" in the summer of '53. The owners heard about my book and invited me to come see it. (Well, I sort of invited myself, but they were kind enough to say yes!) The documentation checks out - it's the car! It currently resides in a barn on a Kansas farm. I'm going to write all about it in a new afterword for the paperback version of the book coming out next spring... For now, here's a short video clip....


Saturday, November 06, 2010

In Their Own Words (Unless It’s Not)

As sure as the sun will rise, an ex-president will write his (and, eventually, her) memoir. George W. Bush gets his turn November 9 with the release of “Decision Points.” His publisher promises the book will be “strikingly candid,” but, if history is any guide, readers are likely to be disappointed.

James Buchanan wrote what is widely acknowledged as the first presidential memoir. Published a year after the Civil War ended, “Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion” is a tedious defense of his largely indefensible administration. In it, Buchanan continued to insist that Congress had “no power over slavery in the States.”

Succeeding exes have invariably followed Buchanan’s self-serving model.

Ulysses S. Grant famously wrote his memoir while dying of throat cancer. He dictated to a stenographer until the tumor grew so large that it was impossible for him to speak. Then he wrote furiously in longhand, completing the project just days before he died. Grant’s memoir was a commercial and critical success, but it barely mentions his scandal-plagued presidency, focusing instead on his more heroic exploits in the Civil War.

Grover Cleveland, a towering figure of Gilded Age politics, pointedly declined to write a memoir. Known as the Honest President, Cleveland perhaps thought better of undertaking a project certain to be fraught with prevarication. As he explained to a friend, Cleveland preferred his autobiography to be “written on [the] hearts” of his wife and children.

Harry Truman had a penchant for colorful language, and his presidency encompassed some of the most momentous events of the twentieth century. His memoir should have been a page-turner. Instead it was a bore. A small army of ghostwriters rendered Truman’s prose a bland imitation of the pugnacious president Americans had come to know. And Truman knew it. Across one page of an early draft he scribbled, “Good God, what crap!”

Another president who relied on ghostwriters with disappointing results was Ronald Reagan. His autobiography, “An American Hero,” was widely panned as a tepid tome at best. Whenever Reagan was asked about the book, he liked to joke that he hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet.

Alas, it appears the ex-presidential ghostwriter is here to stay. To help him write “Decision Points,” George W. Bush enlisted the help of Christopher Michel, a friend of his daughter Barbara’s from Yale who also worked as his White House speechwriter.

It remains to be seen if Bush’s memoir will be as “strikingly candid” as his publisher claims. But we already know that it will be strikingly lucrative. Memoirs have turned into a gold mine for ex-presidents. Bush reportedly received a $7 million advance from Crown - about $5 million less than Bill Clinton received from Knopf, but still nothing to sneeze at.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Truman's Apartment Building

Last night I gave a talk to the residents of 4701 Connecticut Avenue in Washington. That's the building where Harry Truman lived when he was senator and vice president (and where he spent his first night as president. It was a very cool event!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Election Day Upsets

With Election Day almost here (thank goodness!), the Fiscal Times has a short feature on four elections where the polls were wrong. Featured prominently is Harry Truman's 1948 presidential election. Click here to read the article, for which yours truly was interviewed and is quoted therein.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bethlehem, Pa., November 1935

Shorpy is an awesome website that features old photographs. Check it out. This is a photograph I just came across. It shows Bethelehem, Pa., in November 1935. My mom was born in Bethlehem in 1926, and it's fun to imagine her running around these very streets as a nine-year-old girl.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Statue of Liberty

Today (Oct. 28, 2010) is the 124th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. And who was the president who presided over the ceremony back in 1886? Grover Cleveland, of course!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Making Football Safer

Former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka has proposed an interesting solution to the growing problem of head injuries in football.

“If you want to change the game and get it back to where people aren't striking with the head and using the head as a weapon, take the mask off the helmet,” Ditka recently said. “A lot of pretty boys aren’t going to stick their face in there [without masks].”

Good idea, Coach, but why not eliminate helmets altogether?

It seems counterintuitive, but banning helmets might reduce head injuries. Modern helmets have given football players a false sense of security. Take away their headgear and they would be much less likely to, as Coach Ditka said, use the head as a weapon.

Players are taught to tackle with their heads up, and for a simple reason: It makes it easier for them to keep their eyes on their target. It also has the desirable side effect of preventing head and neck injuries.

But all too often players drop their heads when they tackle, effectively turning themselves into human missiles. The result, frequently, is a concussion--or worse. Just this month, a Rutgers University player was paralyzed after attempting to make a tackle headfirst.

Head injuries have long been a concern in football. At the turn of the last century, dangerous formations such as the infamous “flying wedge” were banned in an effort to make the game safer.

Helmets, however, are a relatively recent innovation. Some National Football League players went bareheaded well into the 1930s. The league didn’t even make helmets mandatory until the 1943 season. And the helmets the players wore back then were made of leather and afforded little protection relative to today’s behemoth headgear. So players still tackled with their heads up.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that a plastic helmet devised by the Riddell Company became popular. This technological “advance” may have done more harm than good. The hard shells began to make players feel invincible. Tacklers turned into missiles.

A helmet ban could be phased in, implemented first in youth leagues, then in high schools, then colleges, and, finally, the pros. It wouldn’t take that long, perhaps fewer than ten years. The generations pass quickly in football. This fall’s college freshmen were born in 1992.

Banning helmets would be a radical change, of course. Football “purists” would surely decry such a move as heretical. But if the NFL is as serious about reducing head injuries as it claims, the league needs to consider radical solutions. Besides, even players without helmets would still make bone-crunching tackles. They would just make them more safely.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

HTEA Paperback

The paperback version of HTEA will be coming out next spring. Pre-order it today at

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

My Brother's New Book

I guess writing runs in the family: My brother Tom has just published his first novel. Congratulations, Tom! Click here to read all about it, or, more importantly, to buy it. (I should also mention that my sister Ann was the first published author in the family!)

Monday, October 04, 2010

Still Paying for Wars

This article explains how Germany made its final reparations payment for World War I - yesterday. But if you think that's weird, consider this: Three people are still receiving Civil War benefits from the U.S. government. (They are the disabled adult children of veterans.) (Union veterans, of course.) So we still haven't finished paying for that war yet!

Let's Pizza!

Nice to see Let's Pizza get a mention on this list of weird vending machines. Earlier this year, Allyson and I encountered a Let's Pizza machine at an airport in Sicily, and we were surprisingly pleased with the product!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

By now you’ve probably heard about Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student whose roommate secretly videotaped him having sex with another man and posted it on the Internet. Clementi subsequently killed himself.

It seems that the most serious charge the roommate will face is invasion of privacy.

Which got me to thinking: Why aren’t there invasion-of-privacy registers, just like there are sexual-offender registries? People convicted of invasion of privacy would forever be barred from being employed in any capacity that would require them to handle personal, private, or sensitive information. They couldn’t work in retail stores, for example, since they wouldn’t be permitted to process credit card transactions.

This seems an appropriate punishment for someone who has egregiously violated another person’s privacy, as appears to be the case in the Rutgers incident.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Allyson and I went to the Nationals game yesterday (they beat the Astros7-2). The game began at 4:30, which, as far as I'm concerned, is the perfect starting time for a baseball game. We were home in plenty of time to catch the season premiere of The Office. ... Interesting article in the New York Times today. Turns out Bing Crosby recorded the NBC broadcast of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. The tape was recently discovered. It's the only known recording of the game. What caught my eye, however, is a photo accompanying the article. It shows Bing sitting at a ballgame with Frank McKinney. Harry and Bess Truman crashed at Frank's place on their Excellent Adventure. ... It's autumn in Washington. Today's expected high: 97. Ugh.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A few days ago I was the “guest speaker” for a class at a small college. I pulled into town a little early and stopped at a diner for lunch. I had a club sandwich, which was delicious. Then I drove to the college, arriving about fifteen minutes before the class was scheduled to begin. Suddenly, my tummy didn’t feel so good. Maybe it was the club sandwich, I don’t know. In any event, I was lucky to find a bathroom just in the nick of time.

I travel frequently, so I always carry a small medicine bottle containing the various medicines I might need in a pinch: a couple Aleve, the daily doses of my prescription drugs, etc. Among these medicines, fortunately, is Imodium AD. I hurriedly fished a couple out of the bottle. They looked a little different than I remembered, but I just gulped them down. This was an emergency.

I was just beginning my talk when I began to feel drowsy and realized what I’d done: I hadn't taken Imodium. I'd taken Unisom, an over-the-counter sleeping pill. I made it through the talk, fortunately, as well as the drive back to the train station. But I slept pretty well on the train ride back home.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Apparently there's a commercial currently running that says the Dodge Caravan "literally gave birth" to all other minivans. A C-section perhaps?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I went to the National Zoo this morning and shot a panda.

With a camera, of course.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Over the weekend we went to a memorial service for an old high school friend of Allyson’s who was killed in a traffic accident a couple months ago. When attending such a service, one inevitably begins to wonder: What will be said about me at my memorial service?

For the record, I do not believe the following things will (or should) be said about me, should I ever die:
He loved/had a joy for life.

He lived on the edge.

He lived life to the fullest.

He was patient.

He loved everybody he met.

He never daydreamed about mercilessly beating anybody who ever butted in front of him in lines.

He accepted with grace the shortcomings in others.

He loved to cook.

He loved the blues. My, how he loved the blues.

He was an optimist.

He always saw the good in people.

Don’t know the difference between its and it’s? Didn’t matter to him!

He despised trashy daytime TV. In fact, he hardly watched TV at all.

He thought Larry the Cable Guy was hilarious. And Jim Belushi was his favorite actor.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Here in Washington, a lot of sports fans will be following the Coolidge High School football team very closely this fall. That’s because Coolidge will be coached by – gasp! – a woman. Her name is Natalie Randolph, and she will make her head coaching debut tomorrow (Friday, August 27). (Click here to read a Washington Post article about her.)

But Ms. Randolph is not the first woman to coach a high school football team. As I recount in my book Last Team Standing, World War II labor shortages allowed women to make inroads in many previously all-male fields - including the resoundingly virile world of football:
In the fall of 1943, Bell Township High School in rural western Pennsylvania, apparently unable to find a qualified and willing male, hired a 22-year-old gym teacher named Pauline Rugh to coach the football team. Rugh was a recent graduate of Penn State, and she returned to her alma mater for a quick tutorial.”

“It is physically impossible to teach you all about football in three days,” Penn State coach Bob Higgins lectured her, “but we’ll get you started and then depend on you to ask questions as new problems arise.” In newspaper stories Rugh was invariably described as “comely.” Typical was what Red Smith, later a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, wrote in the Philadelphia Record: “As far as local records show, Miss Rugh is the first she-coach of a recognized team of males in the history of the sport. What’s more, she is reliably described as a tasty dish, a blonde with a couple of eyes like this, O O, and a throbbing contralto voice.”

Rugh seemed uncomfortable with all the attention. She did her best to avoid the reporters and “picture men” who camped on her doorway. Yet her attempts to shun publicity only stirred more interest in her story. “This,” noted the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Havey Boyle, “probably, is a technique that works in other feminine adventures, too, marriage being one of the more notable.”

Bell Township High School’s wartime experiment, however noble, failed. The team lost all eight games it played and was outscored 219-13 in the process.
Let’s hope Natalie Randolph’s season ends more happily!

UPDATE: When I was writing the book back in 2005-6, I searched high and low for Ms. Rugh but was unable to locate her. I just Googled her name and it turns out she passed away last year. Here's a very nice obituary.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thanks to the blog Surrounded by Books for a very nice review of HTEA.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The book is done! At the moment it is titled The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dares Expose the Truth. It's due to come out next spring. Over the next several months I'll be working with the publisher on typesetting, cover design, and other production issues. I'll also be working on a website for the book, and looking for promotional opportunities. I'm thinking about setting up a Facebook page for Grover's tumor, too.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Been crazy busy the past few weeks, settling into our DC apartment, finishing up the book, watching trashy daytime TV. Went up to Lancaster, Pa., yesterday to attend my nephew's wedding. (His dad, my brother Howard, gave a very sweet speech at the ceremony.) The manuscript for my next book (working title: The President Is a Sick Man) is due August 1. I'm headed up to Connecticut tomorrow to do some last minute research. Allyson began her training at the Foreign Service Institute today... At the wedding, my mom, whose memory is, uh, slipping, saw Allyson and asked me, "Who's the lady?" ... Our "unaccompanied air baggage" from Rome has finally cleared customs and is scheduled to be delivered today. I hope everything arrives in one piece. The cats are still adjusting to the new apartment. Mostly they sleep under the bed. ... Never had a DVR before. Wow! It's so great to be able to tape the Maury Povich show...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Big news for Yes fans: The band's 80s-era guitarist, Trevor Rabin, sat in with them for the encore last night in Los Angeles...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Well, it's almost over. Two years of swanky cocktail parties in Rome, where I, the writer-husband, downed martinis and tossed off bon mots like they were commas, while my diplomat-wife charmed intransigent foreigners with her beauty and wit. Er, that's how I thought it was going to be, anyway. In fact, we spent way too much time at home watching downloaded episodes of Top Chef and America's Next Top Model on iTunes. (Martinis, however, were still involved.)

But we did get out occasionally, and over the past week we've been saying goodbye to some of our Rome friends: the checkout guys at our local supermarket, the waiters at our two favorite restaurants (Olimpia and Sacro e Profano), the guys behind the counter at our bread-and-cheese place (just called Pane Formaggi), and, of course, the girl at our local wine shop, who always plied us with multiple free samples.

I've been telling people that the things I like about Rome, I like a lot. And the things that I hate about Rome... It's not a city that inspires ambivalence. It inspires frustration and awe in equal measures. There are a lot of things about Rome that I won't miss. But what a trip it's been to run errands and pass the Spanish Steps, or Trevi Fountain, or, most remarkable of all, the Pantheon, a building that has been in use for 2,000 years!

I've had my ups and downs here in Rome. My second book was published while I was here, and I am just finishing my third. I also spent a month in a neck brace because of a herniated disc. And then there was the root canal.

But living in Rome has been a remarkable experience, truly one of the highlights of our lives. It's hard to believe we lived here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The movers arrive tommorow. We are frantically dividing our wordly goods into four piles (storage, Mongolia, Washington, checked baggage). Next Thursday (1 July) we will fly back to DC with the cats, ending our Rome tour. It's been an eventful couple years, I'll say that. Rome can be maddeningly frustrating, but we will miss it...

Monday, June 14, 2010

This is a quick tour of our apartment in Rome, which we will be sad to leave on July 1.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Here's another nice review of HTEA by a blogger...

And another!

Only 22 days until we leave Rome...

Monday, May 31, 2010

Allyson and I are spending a few days at a wonderful little hotel in the Tuscan village of Piazze. But don't feel too jealous: I caught a cold here. ...

HTEA got a nice mention in the Joplin (Missouri) Globe recently, as well as a great review from a blogger who says my "detailed and ground truth-based reporting ... sets this work apart from just about anything that’s ever been written about Truman before." Really? Wow! ...

Finally, congratulations to our friends Neil and Laura on the birth of their baby girl. Welcome to the world, Kate!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Here's an excerpt from my forthcoming book about the secret operation on President Grover Cleveland in 1893:
On the morning of Saturday, September 9, a “general air of expectancy” permeated the White House. The doorkeepers and valets walked on tiptoes across the marble floors. Grover was behind his massive desk as usual, but he was clearly preoccupied. Just down the hall, in the master bedroom, his wife Frances was in labor. The family doctor, Joseph Bryant, was with her, and occasionally he would scribble a message on a small slip of paper and have it delivered to the president. Between these updates, Grover, as anxious as any expectant father, pretended to work. At eleven o’clock he sent a note to the War Department. The Marine Band was scheduled to perform a public concert on the White House lawn that afternoon. Grover asked the secretary of war to cancel it.

Childbirth was a dangerous endeavor in 1893. It killed one out of every one hundred women giving birth. (Today the rate in developed nations is one out of every 10,000.) Obstetrics was just emerging as a medical specialty. Physicians had begun replacing midwifes, but only among the upper classes. Obstetrical wards had been established in some hospitals in the 1880s, though only the urban poor, whose homes were generally small and unhygienic, gave birth in hospitals. Women of means would not begin having children in hospitals in large numbers until well into the twentieth century.

While we can never know the details of what happened in the master bedroom that morning, it’s safe to assume that certain Gilded Age conventions were adhered to. Even in the intimacy of childbirth, modesty ruled the relationship between doctor and patient. It’s likely Frances gave birth lying on her side with her knees pulled up to her chest. This is known as the Sims’ position, named for J. Marion Sims, a nineteenth century physician who pioneered advances in gynecology (albeit by experimenting on slaves). In the Sims’ position, the mother can avoid eye contact with the doctor, thereby (the reasoning went) preserving her dignity. Dr. Bryant, meanwhile, would be expected to avert his eyes from the main event. Doctors were encouraged to deliver babies “by touch,” so as to avoid offending women by looking at their genitalia.

By this cumbersome process, a healthy baby girl was delivered at noon. A few minutes later, Grover was summoned to the bedroom. Bryant informed him that Mrs. Cleveland had given birth to a “remarkably healthy and vigorous” girl. The mother, he said, was doing “wonderfully well.” The two men then shook hands warmly. Grover asked the doctor to keep the news to himself for the time being. Then he visited his wife and their newborn for about fifteen minutes before returning to his desk.

At two o’clock that afternoon, Grover finally broadcast the news. He informed his cabinet, and his secretary, Henry Thurber, told an Associated Press correspondent, “You can tell the world that we have a little girl baby here.” Soon telegrams and letters of congratulations were pouring in. The Clevelands would receive more than 17,000 in all. In a rare display of leniency, Grover gave the White House staff the rest of the day off.

The second Cleveland daughter was the first (and thus far only) child of a president to be born in the White House itself, though she was not the first baby born there. Nine other children had already entered the world within the historic walls of the presidential mansion. The first was Thomas Jefferson’s grandson, James Madison Randolph, in 1806. John Quincy Adams and Ulysses Grant each welcomed a grandchild there. John Tyler greeted two. And Andrew Jackson’s niece Emily Donelson gave birth to four children in the White House. (Since the birth of the Clevelands' daughter, only one other baby has been born in the White House: Woodrow Wilson’s grandson, Francis B. Sayre Jr., in 1915. Sayre became a prominent minister, serving twenty-seven years as dean of the National Cathedral in Washington. He died in 2008.)

Since the Clevelands already had a daughter, many Americans had hoped their second child would be a boy. “When the news that the … child was a girl spread through the city,” one paper reported, “there were many expressions of disappointment.” The proud parents, however, couldn’t have been happier. “She is a sweet baby,” Frances wrote to a friend, “looking much as Ruth did at her age, with dark eyes and hair. All here are pleased that she is a girl, however disappointed the nation may be.”

Six days later, the Clevelands announced the baby’s name: Esther.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Highlights (sort of) from my day trip to Milan, Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Thursday, May 06, 2010

When he won, he was gracious. When he lost, so often in extra innings with his teammates giving him no runs, he did not pout. Day after day he went out there and threw that high, hard one down the middle, a marvelously coordinated man doing his job. If he had pitched for the Yankees he might have won 350 games.
James Michener on Robin Roberts, who died today at 83

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

I happened to come across this article last week while doing some research at the Library of Congress. Entitled "Base Ball Players' Salaries," it's from the February 21, 1892, issue of a defunct newspaper called the New York Press.

Based on my extensive research (cough, Wikipedia, cough), it seems the American Association, a major league that competed with the National League, had recently folded. This left the players with very little leverage when it came to negotiating salaries, which had risen as high as $5,000 when the two leagues were competing.

The article was written by Sam Crane, a noted baseball writer at the time. According to Crane (who seems to have been sympathetic to the owners), some players were taking cuts of $1,000, and the reduced salaries would "put the game on a business basis and give the magnates a chance to pull out even at least."

It's worth noting that in 1892 the average (non-farm) worker made about $540, which means the average major league baseball player made (very roughly) about ten times the average worker. Today the average player makes about $3 million, and the average worker's salary is $55,000 (and the median is $27,500). So the rest of us have some catching up to do!

In any event, the article is an interesting bit of baseball history, and I especially like how it ends with "Diamond Dust," much like modern articles end with notes. (Just click on the pictures to see a full-size version of the article.)
Sorry I haven't posted in a while. Was traveling last week, doing some last-minute research for the book. Along the way I caught a cold...

Yet life goes on. Except for the world's oldest person, who has died.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

At the airport in Palermo recently, Allyson and I sampled one of Italy's more unusual varieties of pizza.

On my birthday last week I happened to be in the Sicilian town of Taormina, where I stumbled upon an appropriately named piazza...

Friday, April 02, 2010

Many thanks to Lynne at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont, who has made HTEA her "staff pick" of the month!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A reader from Kansas sent me Bess Truman's recipe for frozen lemon pie. It was in one of his mom's cookbooks. Bess thought the pie was a "perfect dessert for a bridge luncheon." So I made it. Well, actually Allyson made it. (For the complete recipe, click here.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Maratona di Roma/Rome Marathon, 21 Mar. 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Given my fascination with obscure historical events, I’ve always been curious about the Renaming of the Phillies That Didn’t Stick. Legend has it that after Bob Carpenter bought the Phillies in 1943, he renamed the team the Blue Jays, but the new moniker never caught on and was eventually dropped.

The other day (while I should have been doing something more productive), I found this AP article in the March 24, 1944 edition of the Lowell (Mass.) Sun, which (sort of) explains what happened. Here’s the gist of it:

In the winter of 1943-44, the Phillies held a contest to select a new “emblem” for the team. (What their old emblem was, or if they even had one, I have no idea.) The team received “over 5,000 letters proposing over 630 different emblems,” as well as a “healthy-sized stack of mail” from fans urging the team to remain the Phillies.

Apparently there was (and still is) some confusion as to whether the team was changing its name – or just adopting a new emblem. I believe it was the latter. Bob Carpenter never intended to change the team’s name; he was just looking for (as we say today) “better branding.”

Carpenter decided the new emblem would be a blue jay. And here’s where things get truly Philliesesque. It turns out there was a popular medication for corns and bunions called Blue Jay. (Here’s another ad.) This naturally led to much joking at the Phillies’ expense, which probably explains why, just before spring training began in 1944, Carpenter went out of his way to make it clear that the Phillies would remain the Phillies – and the blue jay was just an emblem.

In 1944 and again in 1945, the Phillies did wear this blue jay patch (or one much like it) on their uniforms. But after that it seems the rare Philadelphia blue jay flew away and was never seen again.

It was gratifying to see Genesis inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last night. Hopefully their induction will pave the way for Yes to be inducted, and soon. The hall has a clear bias against "progressive rock" bands. King Crimson also deserves induction. But first things first: The absence of Yes is criminal, particularly in light of some of the other inductees. Seriously, take a look at the list. It includes the Shirelles, Earth, Wind and Fire, Blondie, Grandmaster Flash, the Ronettes – you get the picture. Fine acts all, but Rock and Roll Hall of Fame material? I don’t think so.

Yes is worthy of mockery. The indecipherable lyrics, the album-side-long songs, the personnel changes so numerous they would fill a hundred pages of the Congressional Register. But, based on any single criterion – musicianship, songwriting, radio airplay, record sales, longevity, touring, influence – Yes deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And until they are, I won’t go. Not that anybody cares. But still...

(Incidentally, I took these pictures at a Yesshow in Anaheim in 2004. Woo hoo!)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nice to see Frances Cleveland (Grover's wife) get a mention in Walter Scott's Personality Parade in today's Parade magazine. But Walter (if that's his real name) missed an opportunity to tell a great story: Around 1947, Frances attended a dinner in Washington and was seated next to Dwight Eisenhower. Her place card said "Mrs. Thomas Preston," her name from her second marriage. Ike had no idea who she was until, at one point in the conversation, he said he was considering moving to Washington.

"Oh," Frances said, "I used to live in Washington."

"Really?" said Ike. "Where?"

"1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

That's when Ike realized he was seated next to Mrs. Grover Cleveland!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Here's an interesting article about the impact e-books are having on traditional book sales. Incidentally, it mentions HTEA...

Thanks to the blog Book Discussion With Myself for posting a very nice review of HTEA!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Here's a video my friend Neil made. (I helped him a very little bit.) It's a recipe for an Italian soup. I can attest that it's squisito!

Pasta e Ceci is a deliciously thick Italian soup that consists of pasta and chickpeas. This video demonstrates how to make it at home using an easy to follow recipe with commonly found ingredients. Buon appetito!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

A visit to the cat sanctuary in Rome, 6 March 2010. The private sanctuary cares for more than 200 stray and abandoned cats among the ancient ruins at Torre Argentina. For more information or to make a contribution, visit its website at

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A couple people have asked me about the story behind this picture. The truth is, there isn't much of one. I was working as a reporter at KWMU, the public radio station in St. Louis, and Kurt Vonnegut came in to appear on a program that was hosted by an old friend of his (Joe Pollack). He (K.V.) came into the newsroom and introduced himself to everybody. It was a very nice gesture. (That's my colleague Bill Raack, now KWMU's news director, in the middle.) Fortunately KWMU had a photographer on hand to capture the moment. Though as somebody pointed out to me, I should've taken my other hand out of my pocket...
Shaking hands with Kurt Vonnegut, St. Louis, circa 1997.

Friday, February 26, 2010

This is a trip my friend Neil and I made to the Mercato Esqualino in Rome, 26 February 2010. (Includes some helpful tips for shopping in Rome!)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hello, Idaho! I will be talking about HTEA on New Horizons, a program on Boise State Radio, Friday (26 Feb.) at 5:30 PM and Sunday (28 Feb.) at 11 AM. (The interview will also be available on-line next week.) Tune in, if you can!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thanks to the blog Middle of the Freakin Road for a very nice review of HTEA.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Buying a Light Bulb in Rome from Matthew Algeo on Vimeo.

I always complain about how hard it is to buy a light bulb in Rome...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, the U.S. men's ice hockey team's historic upset of the Soviet Union at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. I remember that day very well. I was 13, in the eighth grade, and a huge hockey fan. It was a Friday. The game was played in the afternoon, after I got home from school. What a lot of people don't remember is that ABC didn't broadcast the game live. It was tape-delayed until that night.

I was dying to know how the game was going, but my only option was to listen to CBS Radio News on KYW every hour for updates. Ah, life before the Internets. When I heard the U.S. had won, I freaked out. It made watching the game that night a lot less stressful. (If they'd lost, of course, I wouldn't have watched at all.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Here's an interesting article about being a tourist in North Korea...

Monday, February 15, 2010

I've posted a bunch of videos on YouTube. They will be of interest primarily to close relatives (two degrees of consanguinity or less). Others who find them interesting are to be regarded with utmost suspicion...
We have hot water again! Still no heat, but as they say here, piano, piano (little by little).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Our hot water heater died last Thursday, so we lost both hot water and heat. A repairman came on Friday, but he didn't have the right parts. He came again yesterday (Saturday) and made a temporary fix that lasted about six hours before it crapped out again. Should've taken that shower when I had a chance. Now it's been three days and things are getting a little, um, stale at chez Algeo...

Friday, February 12, 2010

I know, I know, it's nothing like you guys got on the East Coast, but it snowed in Rome today. Here's what it looked like inside the Pantheon...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I've come across some interesting stuff researching my book. Like this charming photograph. Don't worry, that lovely child isn't being abused (unless you consider that enormous bow on her head a form of abuse). Her name is Polly and she's posing for a 1914 book called Animal Experimentation and Medical Progress. She's the granddaughter of the book's author, William Williams Keen. Apparently the photograph is meant to show that some animal experiments, at least, are not cruel.
As I’m sure most of you already know, today is the 119th anniversary of Grover Cleveland’s famous Silver Letter. Yes, it was on the tenth of February in 1891 that the former president penned these immortal words in a letter to a New York business group:

“If we have developed an unexpected capacity for the assimilation of a largely increased volume of [silver], and even if we have demonstrated the usefulness of such an increase, these conditions fall far short of insuring us against disaster, if in the present situation we enter upon the dangerous and reckless experiment of free, unlimited and independent silver coinage.”

Wow! I don’t know about you, but it still sends a shiver up my spine every time!

Seriously, though… The wording may be cumbersome, but the Silver Letter signaled Grover’s commitment to the gold standard, the most divisive issue of the day. It also signaled his return to politics. Although he had been voted out of office in 1888 (despite winning the popular vote), he would run again in 1892 – and win, of course.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Allyson's sister and her husband visited us this week, and the four of us went up to the Cinque Terre for a couple days. On Monday we hiked from Corniglia to Vernazza, a four-kilometer trek through woods and over a mountain. About thirty minutes into the hike, we suddenly encountered four cats on the trail. They were very excited to see us. Apparently they thought we would feed them. Alas, we had no cat food on us. So, if you ever happen to hike this particular trail, you might want to bring some along!


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Allyson on the train home from Bologna, 18 January 2010.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My friends at Uni Watch recently reported that the Phillies will be breaking out their 1970s powder blue uniforms at least once this year. That is a welcomed development, for I consider the powder blue to be the best uniform in Phillies history – mainly because they wore it when I was a kid, and the Phillies meant everything to me.

The news also reminded me of a mystery that has long baffled me. It concerns the space inside the P on the Phillies’ uniforms in the 1970s and 1980s. Section 1.11(e) of the official rules of Major League Baseball says, “No part of the uniform shall include a pattern that imitates or suggests the shape of a baseball.”

In 1970, the Phillies unveiled a new uniform with a new stylized P logo – and, in the space inside the P there was clearly a pattern that imitated or suggested the shape of a baseball.

By 1976, however, the baseball inside the P on the uniform had disappeared, and that’s how it stayed until the late 1980s, when it mysteriously reappeared!

(Odder still: Around 1979, it seems the space inside the P was briefly changed to make it look less like a baseball.)

What happened? After several seasons did MLB officials suddenly realize the uniform violated the rules, forcing the Phillies to change it? If so, did MLB subsequently grant the team a waiver to put the baseball back inside the P? Or was it all just the vagaries of uniform design at the time, an inconsistency due to a serious lack of attention to detail (a not at all unlikely scenario)?

Anyway, it’s something that, in my slightly obsessive way, I have always wondered about...

UPDATE: My brother Howard points out that the uniform of the Seattle Pilots also depicted a baseball. Seems a little small to me, but probably in violation of the rule.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Check it out: The good folks at American Road magazine are having a contest to win a copy of my book. Of course, by now I'm sure you've already purchased several copies.

Allyson and I had a GREAT time in Bologna! It's a medieval college town with tons of great restaurants, bars, and museums. Highly recommended! On Saturday we had lunch at a great little place called the Drogheria, whose owner held court (entertainingly) throughout the meal. At another restaurant, only the men got menus with prices listed on them; the women got menus with no prices! On Sunday we went to a fascinating science museum at the university. It included a large collection of life size models of fetuses with various defects. Definitely a must-miss if you are pregnant or even *thinking about* having a child! (FYI, same goes for the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.) Anyway, we really did have a good time and the weather was perfect: gray and cold!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

HTEA got a very nice mention on the popular blog MetaFilter yesterday.
Happy New Year everybody! Been meaning to post something for a while but I've been lazy and don't have much news to report anyway. I've been working on the next book (ms is due in five months and one day!). Wrote about 2,500 words yesterday, not too bad. This weekend we're taking a short trip to Bologna, next week we have some company (Allyson's sister and her husband!). Time seems to be flying by lately...