Saturday, September 30, 2006

September 30

On 30 September 1938, the League of Nations expressed itself on the subject of aerial warfare directed against civilian populations. With the stench of Germany’s April 1937 assault on the Spanish city of Guernica still wafting beneath the noses of European leaders, the League reaffirmed previous international law and declared that such attacks lacked “military necessity” and caused only “needless suffering.” It furthermore insisted that nations who deployed air power must seek “legitimate” and “identifiable” objectives and that they must exercise extraordinary caution to ensure that civilians would not be “bombed through negligence.”

Although the League resolution passed unanimously, the use of “strategic bombing” to terrorize civilians had already achieved an extensive pedigree. Prior to the Guernica bombing -- which killed 1600 and wounded nearly 900 -- aerial warfare had already been used by most of the European belligerents during World War I. Although Germany’s zeppelin raids were most destructive during the early phase of the war, as explosive packets brought death to the streets of Paris and London, other nations would sustain the campaign of terror after the armistice. The English were without question the most flagrant proponents of “strategic bombing” during the era surrounding the Great War. Britain, in addition to carrying out retaliatory raids against German towns in 1917-1918, also bombed Egypt, Sudan, Constantinople, and Northwestern India during the war; afterwards, it carried out attacks against Afghan, Iraqi and Somali civilians, killing hundreds who presumably obstructed the march of civilization.

Air War Dresden Clean UpDuring the early 1920s, the Royal Air Force immolated Arab and Kurdish towns and deployed chemical weapons to suppress the Iraqi revolt against the British mandate. Arthur “Bomber” Harris, Squadron Leader of the RAF, presciently observed that the ungrateful Iraqis had learned “what real bombing means.” Within forty-five minutes -- a length of time Tony Blair would someday claim sufficient for Iraq to mobilize chemical weapons -- Harris bragged that “a full-sized village can practically be wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured" because they would have “no effective means of escape." Twenty years later, Harris would serve as head of RAF Bomber Command, from which post he authorized the notorious night-time raids against Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, and numerous other German cities where more than half a million civilians perished. Meantime, Japanese, German, and Italian planes choked the life out of targets throughout the Eastern Hemisphere, forever mocking the premise that this was a "good war."

Similarly priapic over the advantages of strategic bombing, the American pilot Billy Mitchell argued in the years after World War I that air power might be used to “go straight to the vital centers and entirely neutralize or destroy them.” On Mitchell’s view, which he drew from the repugnant theories of Italian strategist Giulio Douhet, any successful military campaign needed to target “the cities where the people live, areas where their food and supplies are produced and the transport lines that carry these supplies from place to place.” Although Mitchell died in 1936, his vision of aerial warfare -- and not that of the League of Nations -- would come to dominate the Second World War. Mitchell would no doubt have felt vindicated by his nation’s decision, in February 1945, to reduce itself to the standards set by its enemies and closest allies. Abandoning his own 1939 insistence that air attacks against civilians represented an "inhuman barbarity," Franklin Roosevelt permitted American pilots to annihilate German and Japanese cities, culminating in the decision by Harry Truman to unsheath the most grotesque weapon ever to descend from the air.

Brief Editorial Interruption

We should be ashamed.

Friday, September 29, 2006

September 29

499px-Munchen1The worst historical analogy ever was born on this date in 1938, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier achieved a momentous settlement in Munich with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The subject of their conversation was the fate of Czechoslovakia, whose Sudetenland -- a heavily industrialized, ethnically German region -- Hitler hoped to absorb into the Reich. On 29 September 1938, the four leaders signed the “Munich Dictate” (as it was known to Czechs and Slovaks), thus ceding “the Sudeten German territory” to Germany and temporarily avoiding a war that only Adolf Hitler was willing to contemplate at the time. On October 10, the German acquisition of the Sudetenland was complete; in addition to being deprived of 3.5 million citizens, Czechoslovakia lost nearly three-quarters of its electrical power and an equal proportion of its iron and steel production. Germany also acquired the massive Skoda industrial complex, one of the largest arms production facilities in the world. Within six months, the rest of Czechoslovakia had quietly slipped beneath German tracks.

Although “the lessons of Munich” have been mindlessly recited by subsequent generations of American political leaders, it is worth recalling Chamberlain’s actual intent in settling the crisis over Czechoslovakia. Far from “appeasing” Hitler simply to avoid war at all costs, Chamberlain hoped instead to reach a broader Anglo-German “understanding” that might nudge the Third Reich toward an Eastern conflict with the Soviet Union. Viewing Germany and England as “two pillars of European peace and buttresses against Communism,” Chamberlain offered to restrain his nation’s allies in the event such a war transpired. These alternative “lessons of Munich” -- including the folly of cajoling right-wing dictatorships to attack their enemies on the left -- were less frequently cited over the next several decades, as the United States exchanged promise rings with some of the most appalling regimes on the planet.

The Soviets, dismayed by their exclusion from the Munich conference, understood the “lessons of Munich” quite clearly and soon looked to reach an understanding of their own with the expanding German state. On 23 August of the following year, the disastrous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed; Poland vanished little more than a week later, with 75 million lives eventually to follow.

Among those killed during those horrid six years were 100,000 Jewish, Sinti and Roma civilians, shot and gassed by the German Einsatzgruppen C in Kiev, Ukraine, along with Soviet POW’s and patients from the Pavlov Psychiatric Hospital. The bodies were dumped in a majestic ravine in northwestern Kiev called Babi Yar. The Babi Yar massacre continued for months, but it commenced on 29 September 1941, sixty-five years ago today.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

September 27

balicolorFew events could be more depressing than the utter eradication of a species. On this date in 1937, the last of panthera tigris balica -- otherwise known as the Balinise Tiger -- is believed to have been shot at Sumbar Kima, West Bali. The adult tigress, like so many of her extinct relatives, was shot for sport, although the whereabouts of her carcass -- stuffed in whole or mounted in part -- have never been determined.

The smallest of the eight subspecies of tiger, the Balinese were ruined by a combination of trophy hunting and deforestation, the latter of which deprived it of the deer and monkey populations on which it relied for sustenance. The first of three species of tiger to disappear entirely from the planet, the Balinese tiger was later joined by the Javan and Caspian tigers, last sighted in 1983 and 1973, respectively. Three more subspecies -- the Sumatran, Siberian, and South China varieties -- currently teeter on the brink of extinction. Roughly 800-1000 Sumatran and Siberian tigers remain, while no South China tigers have been spotted in the wild since 1977. If the few dozen captive South China tigers survive, the reduction of their genetic diversity will forever assure the species of its endangered status.

Of the Balinese tiger, we have precious little evidence of their very existence. Worldwide, only eight skulls and five skins -- one of which was used for years as a rug -- have been catalogued by museums. No complete skeleton of the Balinese tiger has ever been assembled, and the only known photograph of the species is shown here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

September 26

ssc&D10Prior to the Second Vatican Council and other freewheeling reforms of the 1960s, observant Catholics used to set aside a few moments on September 27 to acknowledge the martyrdom of Saints Cosmas and Damian, who were beheaded during the Diocletian Persecution, somewhere in the vicinity of A.D. 303. The traditional calendar of saints listed September 27 as a festum semiduplex, one of the lesser feasts that mark the undulations of the year. For the past four decades, however, the Feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian have been downgraded to the category of “optional feasts,” and the headless twins have seen their feast day moved up to September 26.

Despite their relative obscurity in the canon of saints, Cosmas and Damian died spectacularly. Born in Arabia and educated in Syria, the brothers lived as healers in Aegea (in modern Celicia in eastern Turkey), where which they accepted no payment and thus became known as the “silverless” (anargyroi). According to legend, they performed the first limb transplant in medical history, grafting the black leg of a dead Ethiop onto the white body of a diseased Moor -- a miraculous scene commemorated in numerous paintings of the brothers. Denounced as Christians by two fellow doctors, Cosmas and Damian were rendered into the custody of Lysias, governor of Aegea, who ordered their torture on the expectation that they would either deny or recant their faith. After several unsuccessful rounds of brutalization -- during which the brothers survived drowning, roasting, flaying, and crucifixion -- Lysias at last ordered their heads to be severed from their bodies. Over the next few centuries, Cosmas and Damian emerged as the patron saints of physicians and surgeons as well as (in later years) hairdressers, barbers, midwives and apothecaries. Sometime before the tenth century, their skulls appeared in Rome and became the objects of the usual forms of reliquary veneration. In 1581, the skulls were moved to the Convent of the Clares in Madrid, where they currently reside.


On 26 September 2002, Canadian citizen Maher Arar, returning from a family vacation to Tunisia with his wife and two small children, was detained at JFK airport by US immigration officials acting on false information from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Two weeks later, the INS sent Arar to Jordan and then to his birthplace in Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured for nearly a year by interrogators determined to persuade Arar that he had ties to al-Qaeda. In November 2003, shortly after his release, Arar described his ordeal to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:
I thought first it was a dream. I was crying all the time. I was disoriented. I wished I had something in my hand to kill myself, because I knew I was going to be tortured, and this was my preoccupation….

And the second day, that's when the beatings started, because, you know, on the first day they did not find anything strange about what I told them. And they started beating me with a cable, electrical threaded cable, and they would beat me for three, four times. They would stop again, and they would ask questions again, and they always kept telling me, “You are a liar,” and things like that. So, the beating continued for the first two weeks. The most -- the most intensive -- the intensive beating was really the first week, and then after that it was mostly slapping, punching on the face and kicking.
Last week, a Canadian judge released a three-volume, 1200 page finding that cleared Arar of any connection to terrorism and chastised the United States for refusing to tell Canadian officials that Arar had been rendered to Syria.

In separate remarks last week, both Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez refused to apologize to Arar for the year he spent in Syrian custody.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

September 24

t9w5dhI consider, therefore, the prime mission of the ideal American commonwealth to be the perfection of the Aryan genius for political civilization, upon the basis of a predominantly Teutonic nationality[.] If such, in truth, be the transcendent mission of the American commonwealth, . . . what folly, on the part of the ignorant, what wickedness, on the part of the intelligent, are involved in the attempts, on the one side to sectionalize the nation, or on the other, to pollute it with non-Aryan elements. Both have tried, and both, thanks to an all-wise Providence, have failed; for both were sins against American civilization, and both were sins of the highest order.

— John Burgess, “The Ideal of the American Commonwealth”
Political Science Quarterly (1895)

Today we extend birthday wishes to CNN's Harvard-educated pseudo-populist Lou Dobbs, whose jowls undulate like two sacks of warm cheese curds as he reveals each night the latest alien menace infiltrating our southern border. Dobbs, who has described the Minutemen as a "terrific group of concerned, caring Americans," decided over a year ago to turn his show into a non-stop open mic night for nativist misinformation and vigilantism; since then, he has addressed the subject of immigration with a certain masturbatory frenzy, warning his viewers of the economic rot and cultural pestilence that will attend the endless, unthwarted flow of "illegals" to the United States. Declaring his sole allegiance to the unappreciated little (non-brown) guys, Dobbs lofts their xenophobic ressentiment to his shoulders and bears it, Christ-like, through the streets of middle America.

Happy birthday, Lou Dobbs -- you venal, race-baiting fuck.

Friday, September 22, 2006

September 22

iran-iraq-warOn this date in 1980, the longest conventional war of the 20th century commenced as the Iraqi army poured across the southwestern border of Iran. The two nations, which severed diplomatic relations three months before, had long-nurtured territorial disputes that intensified when Islamic revolutionaries deposed the secular dictatorship of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in February 1979. Iran and Iraq were each determined to assert hegemony over the Persian Gulf, although the conflict was more immediately indebted to specific disputes over the Shatt al-Arab/Arvandrud waterway (which divides the two countries at the mouth of the Gulf); the islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs (claimed by Iran); and the Iranian province of Khuzestan (an oil-saturated region that Iraq insisted had been unjustly ceded to Persia by the Ottoman Empire.) After the success of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader of the Islamic republic, declared his intent to support similar revolutions elsewhere -- beginning, perhaps, with his loathed neighbor to the west.

Neither the Soviet Union (which supplied 60% of Iraq’s arms and was fighting an Islamist movement in Afghanistan) nor the United States (embittered by the loss of its regional deputy, the Shah, humiliated by the capture of its Tehran embassy, and concerned for the safety of its Saudi allies) saw any reason to discourage Iraq from taking advantage of the instability across its border in Iran. Five years before, Gerald Ford’s Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger had encouraged Iran to attack Iraq over the Shatt al-Arab; the 1975 Algiers Accords temporarily suspended the border dispute and averted war.

Now, however, with the Shah’s army disbanded, Iran’s economy languishing in a state of disrepair, and a Kurdish revolt brewing in northwestern Iran, the two superpowers offered their quiet assurances to Saddam Hussein that they would not look unkindly upon an acceleration of hostilities between the two countries. US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski urged Carter to adopt a policy of “destabilization” in Iran, much as he had urged the “destabilization” of Afghanistan a year before. In a remarkable prequel to its own buffoonery 23 years later, the United States provided Iraq with satellite intelligence suggesting that a war against Iran would be quick and relatively painless, and that the Arabs of Khuzestan would welcome Iraq as their liberators. Obliging the wishes of his new sponsors, Saddam Hussein launched his invasion on September 22, citing the pretext of an Iranian assassination plot against Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz.

Over the course of the next eight years, Iran and Iraq would collaborate in the squandering of at least a million lives (with millions more wounded and displaced), at a cost of trillions of dollars -- some of which Saddam Hussein would eventually seek to recover from a smallish emirate on its southern border. As the United States “tilted” toward Iraq from 1980-1985, it offered $5 billion in economic aid to the Ba’athist dictatorship while encouraging its allies in Britain, West Germany and France to supply the Iraqis with tanks, missiles, artillery shells, fighter jets, and a variety of precursors needed to manufacture chemical weapons. Private companies in the US, operating under export licenses provided by the Department of Commerce, contributed samples of anthrax, E. coli bacteria, and botulism to the cause of “destabilizing” Iran. The US Centers for Disease Control provided Iraq with fourteen biological agents, including West Nile virus. By 1985-1986, the Reagan administration began to fear an Iraqi victory and began covert operations to supply Iran with intelligence (some of which was deliberately distorted) and weapons, including the notorious shipments disclosed during the Iran-Contra investigations.

In a remarkable turn of events -- for which the United States deserves no small amount of credit -- relations between Iraq and Iran have improved substantially over the past several years.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

September 21

Joseph_Smith_receiving_golden_platesAccording to Joseph Smith, Jr. -- founder of the Latter Day Saint Movement -- the angel Moroni appeared to him on the night of 21 September 1823, bearing important information about the location of numerous golden plates, on which the history of the extinct Nephite people had been inscribed. Moroni, the last of his race, claimed to have lived in North American during the late fourth and early fifth centuries after Christ; his people, he insisted, had traveled to North America from Israel a thousand years before. Moroni had been forced into seclusion by the vicious Lamanites, who were alleged to have killed anywhere from 10,000 to one million Nephite soldiers and civilians at the battle of Cumorah, located in present-day Ontario County, New York. During his last years of mortal existence, Moroni dedicated himself to completing the history of his people, which he recorded on the famous golden plates -- at least until he ran out of golden ore, the shortage of which forced his narrative to a speedy conclusion.

Quite conveniently, Moroni had buried the golden tablets in a stone box at Cumorah before his death; after whiling away his days as an angel for nearly 1500 years, Moroni at last decided to reveal his secret to a worthy confidant, a teenager with a history of proclaiming himself a "seer." Between 1823 and 1827, Moroni visited Smith numerous times and allowed him to translate the ancient tablets, which Smith claimed to have hidden in a barrel filled with dry beans (among other ingenious locations). Although no one else was allowed to view them, Moroni’s golden plates were eventually translated by Smith and published in 1830 -- to no small amount of acclaim and controversy -- as the Book of Mormon.


One hundred and fourteen years after Joseph Smith’s first encounter with Moroni, J.R.R. Tolkien published The Hobbit, an equally plausible tale involving dwarves, gnomes, wizards, and dragons, all of whom dwell in a fantastic place known as Middle Earth.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

September 19

GilecoryDetermined to extract a confession of witchcraft from Giles Corey, the magistrates of Salem, Massachusetts turned to an "alternate set of procedures" -- to use a more contemporary phrase -- when the 80-year-old farmer held his tongue, vowing neither to deny nor to confirm the charges that had been leveled against him five months previous, in mid-April 1692. On September 17, one man and eight women -- including Corey's third wife Martha -- had been condemned to die for colluding with the devil. Among other absurdities, Martha Corey was accused of "having familiarity with the Devil . . in the shape of a black man whispering in her ear" and of "afflicting" several young girls of Salem with bite marks and scratches, each of which the girls helpfully displayed to the assembled magistrates during the trial. Giles Corey, recognizing the accusations as a community hallucination, refused to join his wife in attempting to refute the charges against them.

By virtue of English common law, Corey could not be tried unless he entered a formal plea before a judge; by virtue of that same common law, a defendant who "stood mute" in this fashion could be subjected to peine forte et dure -- a "long and forceful punishment" that involved heavy weights being pressed upon the accused until he or she at last surrendered a plea. Three hundred and fourteen years ago today, Giles Corey was stripped and placed between two boards, after which heavy rocks were gradually placed atop Corey's feeble body. As the eyewitness Robert Calef recorded in More Wonders of the Invisible World (1700), "In pressing[,] [Corey's] tongue being forced out of his mouth, the Sheriff with his Cane forced it in again, when he was dying. He was the first in New England that was ever prest to death." According to legend, Corey's last words consisted of a simple request for "more weight."

Monday, September 18, 2006

September 18

re1Today is the 24th anniversary of the Sabra and Chatila massacres, carried out in West Beirut by Phalangist militias operating with the blessing and assistance of the Israeli Defense Forces. The militias – who represented a quasi-fascist political party rooted in Lebanon’s Christian community -- were retaliating against Palestinian refugees, whom they erroneously blamed for the assassination of the newly-elected president of Lebanon, the Phalangist Bashir Gemayel, four days earlier. The Phalangists were also determined to retaliate for Palestinian attacks against Christian villages like Damour, which had been ruined by PLO guerillas in February 1976. Israel, which had invaded Lebanon earlier that summer as part of its disastrous “Peace for Galilee” campaign, explicitly supported the Phalangist movement and offered its assistance as squads of militiamen entered the Sabra and Chatila camps late in the evening on September 17. Although the PLO had been evacuated from Lebanon under American cover three weeks before, Israel claimed to have reliable intelligence -- no doubt provided by Phalangist sources -- that as many as 3000 “terrorists” remained in West Beirut.

While Israeli forces surrounded the camps and illuminated the area with flares until dawn, Phalangist squads liquidated Sabra and Chatila, slaughtering as many as 1000 “terrorists” -- all of whom were deceitfully disguised as unarmed men, women, and children. In Pity the Nation, his dispiriting account of the Lebanese civil war, Robert Fisk described the scene the morning after:
Bill Foley of the AP had come with us. All he could say as he walked around was “Jesus Christ!” over and over again . . . . [t]here were women lying in houses with their skirts torn up to their waists and their legs wide apat, children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies -- blackened babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24 hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition -- tossed into rubbish heaps alongside discarded US army ration tins, Israeli medical equipment and empty bottles of whisky.

New York Times correspondent Thomas Friedman won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the massacre, which documented Israel’s complicity in the “incident,” the euphemism preferred by much of the American press at the time. Israel’s own investigation, carried out by the Kahan Commission, assigned “personal responsibility” to Defense Minister Ariel Sharon for the September 18 attacks; Sharon resigned shortly after the report’s release in February 1983.

Friday, September 15, 2006

September 15

On this date in 1935, the National Socialist Worker’s Party adopted two of the so-called Nuremburg Laws, bringing to unholy completion the segregation of Jews from the social, economic and political life of Germany. Rooted in bogus scientific claims about racial genealogy, the “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor” forbade marriage and sexual congress between Jews and “nationals of German or kindred blood”; denied Jews the right to employ German women in their homes; and prohibited Jews from hoisting the Reichsflagge (while permitting them to fly the blue and white Zionist flag, a legal protection intended to highlight the “international,” alien loyalties of the Jew -- and thus to further rationalize their exclusion and extermination). The “Reich Citizenship Law,” adopted the same day, defined a “citizen of the Reich” as one who is constituted with “German or kindred blood, and who, through his behavior, shows that he is both desirous and personally fit to serve loyally the German people and the Reich.” Full political rights were restricted only to such authentic specimens of German blood and character.


Nearly 30 years later, on 15 September 1963, the boundaries of race and citizenship were delineated in a most horrific fashion in Birmingham, Alabama. Determined to terrorize those who resisted the state’s Jim Crow laws -- the battery of exclusions that helped inspire the Nuremburg codes -- the city’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan planned and executed the destruction of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Just after 10:00 on that Sunday morning, a bomb ripped a hole through the east wall of the church, killing Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14). Investigators in Birmingham soon identified four men as the likely conspirators; although the local office of the FBI recommended the prosecution of Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry for the murder of the four girls, national director J. Edgar Hoover suspended the investigation, determining that the chances of achieving a conviction were “remote.” Fourteen years after the bombing, “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss was convicted of murder and sent to prison, where he died, unrepentant and continuing to claim innocence, in 1985. Blanton and Cherry were each sentenced to life in 2000 and 2002. Cash died, uncharged, in 1994.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

September 13

24mdsxThe 72-year British occupation of Egypt commenced on this date in 1882 with the decisive battle at Tall al-Kabir, where nationalist rebels led by Colonel Ahmad Urabi were crushed, ending their brief challenge to foreign domination. The Urabists and other forces objected to European intervention in the government and economy of Egypt, which was -- like many regions of the corroding Ottoman Empire -- increasingly indebted to foreign investors. During the middle decades of the 19th century, Egypt enjoyed informal independence from Ottoman control and embarked on a rapid modernization campaign that expanded education, initiated irrigation and communications projects, extended its railroad network and opened construction on the massive Suez Canal in 1869. All of these efforts were financed by European capital, which delivered loans equaling nearly 70 million British pounds between 1862 and 1873. At the same time, Egypt continued to sink more of its agricultural resources into cotton production, which offered equally massive benefits to overseas investors -- especially the British, whose textile mills swelled and churned.

By 1877 nearly 60% of Egypt’s national revenue was squandered in the service of these debts. Unable to meet its loan obligations, Egypt reluctantly permitted a commission of British and French officials to assume control over its economy; while European administrators operated with virtual immunity from local interference, Egyptian sovereignty evaporated. The Urabists, capitalizing on the popular displeasure created by European control, managed to assume the reigns of the ministry of war and sought the removal of the khedive, the pliable viceroys appointed by the Ottoman Empire. By early 1882, the Urabists controlled Cairo and most of the provinces. Anti-British riots erupted in Alexandria, with perhaps hundreds killed.

In July 1882, under the laughable pretext of restoring Egyptian sovereignty, the British shelled and demolished Alexandria. In August, Sir Garnet Wolsey landed with 20,000 soldiers in the Suez Canal Zone and marched against Cairo, where the Urabists remained in control. After his smashing victory at Tall al-Kabir on September 13, Wolsey reaffirmed Britain’s support for the authority of the khedive. Britain's civilizing mission lingered, selflessly shielding the nation’s rulers from the perilous wishes of ordinary Egyptians, until 1954.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11

Five years ago today, four airplanes -- hijacked by a small army of freedom-hating suiciders, lesbians, civil libertarians, Islamofascists (and their appeasers), stem-cell researchers, Francophiles, historical revisionists and unelected judges -- descended through the gaping national security hole pried open by Bill Clinton's eight years of distracted, fellated rule. While The Decider thumbed through a children's book about goats -- demonstrating how quickly ordinary life must resume if the terrorists are to be deprived of victory -- Hugo Chavez, Dan Rather, Michael Schiavo, Kofi Annan, the Dixie Chicks and Michael Moore each pondered how they might declare their hatred of America and freedom and frozen embryos. At an undisclosed location somewhere in the United States, Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Stephen Cambone raised their heads from the goats they were hungrily exsanguinating. Wiping their glistening lips, they nodded silently to each other and loped away. The American press corps, in an unprecedented gesture of patriotism, expressed their near-unanimous devotion to the cause of liberty by agreeing to suspend their disbelief for the next several years. In a Paris hospital, the first case of Bush Derangement Syndrome was diagnosed by a team of researchers who nevertheless failed to properly quarantine the patient and incinerate the corpse. Tony Blair, selflessly drizzling lighter fluid over his historical legacy, quickly assembled a care package filled with massage oils, scented candles, and a large, monogrammed dog collar. Hoping the American President would not find his gift too suggestive, the Prime Minister threw caution to the wind. "See you in Baghdad," he scrawled quickly on the outside of the package before giddily stuffing it in the nearest post box.

Meantime, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans; hundreds of ordinary Britons, Spaniards, Balinese service workers and Australian tourists; scores of Saudis, Jordanians, Pakistanis and Egyptians; and nearly three thousand American men and women watched the day's events with perhaps only the barest sense that they had fewer than five years before surrendering their lives -- as combatants or innocent bystanders -- to the stupidest war ever conceived.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

September 10

One hundred and nine years ago today, Steve Urich was shot and killed along with eighteen other immigrant miners in Lattimer, Pennsylvania. Urich, a Slovak by birth, was carrying an American flag and marching with over 400 anthracite workers toward the offices of Calvin Pardee, owner of several mines in Lattimer and nearby Harwood. The anthracite region of Pennsylvania had been in an escalating state of turmoil for weeks as mine owners refused to grant concessions demanded by their workers, thousands of whom walked off their jobs in a strike wave that rolled from McAdoo through Lehigh, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton on its way toward Lattimer and Harwood.

Typical of American mining regions, workers throughout Pennsylvania endured a combination of paternalism and open bigotry from their employers, who owned the shabby homes they rented and the stores that accepted undervalued company scrip for the overpriced goods sold within. Having arrived by the thousands to labor in the anthracite and bituminous fields, Slavic and Southern European immigrant workers earned significantly less than their Anglo counterparts and were required by state law to pay a 3-cent/day “alien tax,” helpfully deducted twice a month from their wages. When the Pennsylvania miners -- assisted by the United Mine Workers -- struck in 1897, mine owners responded with their predictable disregard for civil society.

On the afternoon of September 10, as four hundred unarmed miners approached the A.D. Pardee and Company colliery, scores of local English, Irish and German men -- deputized and armed by James Martin, sheriff of Luzerne County -- greeted the demonstrators with 44-caliber Winchester repeating rifles and metal-jacketed bullets. For reasons that no one has ever convincingly explained, the deputies opened fire on the crowd, spending 150 rounds in less than two minutes. As the miners’ bodies lay strewn about, several deputies walked through the carnage, kicking and taunting the wounded. In addition to the nineteen miners who died immediately, six more perished from their wounds over the next few weeks.

As a memorial erected in 1972 to commemorate the slaughter explains, “It was not a battle because [the miners] were not aggressive, nor were they defensive because they had no weapons of any kind and were simply shot down like so many worthless objects, each of the licensed life-takers trying to outdo the others in butchery.”

At her son’s funeral, the mother of slain miner John Futa, cried out ‘My boy is dead. My boy, who was my only support. He earned sometimes 75 cents a day. He was a good boy. He took care of his poor widowed mother. Now he is dead. The dog of a sheriff and the dogs of men killed him. They killed your people. . . . We must fight. We must avenge the death of our people.’’

On 2 March 1898, Sheriff Martin and 78 deputies were acquitted of murder after a month-long trial. The jury delivering the verdict was unblemished by any Polish, Lithuanian, Slovakian, Italian, or Hungarian presence.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

September 7

The human species descended another notch on the moral continuum on this date in 1940. On 7 September of that year, the German Luftwaffe launched an eight-month bombing campaign against the city of London, destroying a million buildings and obliterating 40,000 innocents in the process. German air forces -- which had been battling the RAF over the skies of England since July -- was retaliating, it was claimed, for Britain’s September 5 attacks on Berlin, raids that were themselves reprisals for German attacks in late August on several towns to the east and north of London. The first wave of destruction on the afternoon of 7 September was delivered by 300 bombers; later that evening, 180 bombers returned to pound the city until 4:30 the next morning. By dawn, 436 Londoners were dead and 1600 were wounded.

Margaret Hoffman, who was born three months before the air raids began, recounted her family’s experience when they rather unfortuitously took refuge in the area near the Port of London, which was the focal point of the German assault during that first night:
[T]he next thing the Germans bombed was the dock. They bombed it by day and night until even the water burned with the contents of the warehouses tumbling into the water. My grandfather had forbidden all his "children" -- all of whom were grown up with families – to go into the large warehouse down the road because he said it was a death trap. It’s funny what you do, though, to escape from noise and to get away from the scream of bombs. People crammed into the large warehouse, someone brought in a piano and local teachers and others organized singing to take people’s minds off the bombs. The warehouse received a direct hit and over 200 people were killed by blast. Others died not directly as a result of the bomb hitting them but they were crushed to death by the huge, heavy walls of the warehouse.

The American radio reporter Ernie Pyle filed dispatches from London throughout the blitz. In one of his more memorable commentaries, Pyle described the scene above ground:
I borrowed a tin hat and went out among the fires. That was exciting too; but the thing I shall always remember above all the other things in my life is the monstrous loveliness of that one single view of London on a holiday night -- London stabbed with great fires, shaken by explosions, its dark regions along the Thames sparkling with the pin points of white-hot bombs, all of it roofed over with a ceiling of pink that held bursting shells, balloons, flares and the grind of vicious engines. And in yourself the excitement and anticipation and wonder in your soul that this could be happening at all.


At least one species of animal had the good sense to become extinct on this date in 1936, four years before the atrocities commenced in London. The last remaining Thylacine -- a carnivorous marsupial popularly known as the Tasmanian Tiger -- expired in her sleep at Tasmania’s Hobart Zoo. “Benjamin,” as she was known, had been captured in 1924 along with her mother and two siblings, each of whom died within a few years of confinement. Benjamin spent her final years alone and poorly tended; a famous segment of black and white film shows her pacing back and forth in her cage, morose and delirious with boredom. She eventually died of exposure, as her unsheltered enclosure provided her no protection from the extraordinarily cold temperatures that descended on the night of September 6. Zoo officials decided not to preserve the body, explaining that the skin was in such terrible condition that even the wonders of taxidermy could not save Benjamin.

In 1936, a few months before they vanished forever, Thylacines -- a species culled by distemper and slaughtered relentlessly by farmers -- earned complete legal protections under Australian law. It is not known whether Benjamin died with a full appreciation of her nation’s benevolent stewardship.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Brief Commercial Interruption

I don't ordinarily seek to profit from the misdeeds of others, but exploiting the fantastically corrupt reputation of my state legislature brings me no guilt whatsoever. So buy something already.

Each purchase gets my daughter $1.50 closer to a college education -- or me $1.50 closer to my next cheap bottle of scotch. Either way.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

September 5

On 5 September 2002, George Bush spoke to community members in South Bend, Indiana. Amid boilerplate remarks on the economy and national security, the president observed that
[m]y biggest job . . . is to protect you, the American people. That's my biggest job now, is to secure the homeland, is to make sure that we're safe, is to make sure our American families are protected. That job still exists, and it's important today because there's still an enemy out there that hates us.

It is really important for all of us to communicate the right message to our children when we talk with these harsh words. But you need to tell your kids that these killers hate America because of what we love. And what we love is we love freedom. We love the fact that freedom can worship an--the freedom to worship an almighty God the way we see fit. We love our freedoms. We hold them dear, and we're willing to defend them. We love freedom to speak. We love freedom to assemble. We love freedom of the press. We love those freedoms.

That same day, Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director George Tenet presented a briefing to “select Congressional leaders” on classified intelligence related to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a nation that was alleged by the administration to pose a "gathering" threat to the United States. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott described the briefing as “interesting and troubling,” one that would offer leaders “a lot more to think about.” Majority Leader Tom Daschle characterized the 90-minute meeting as “helpful.”


A mere 209 years earlier, the French National Convention began instituting a series of measures designed to purge the nation of its internal and external enemies. Terror, the deputies declared, would henceforth be “the order of the day.” Within two weeks, the Law of Suspects was passed, enjoining the public to root out and disclose “enemies of liberty,” whose vague crimes were swiftly addressed in trials that were anything but scrupulous. Over the next fifteen months, tumbrels filled with such “enemies of liberty” were wheeled each day to Place de la Revolution, where -- if they were not beaten to death by jeering mobs along the route -- “the national razor” restored the balance of liberty. As many as 40,000 enemies of the revolution were dispatched in such fashion.

The “incorruptible” Maximilien Robbespierre -- leader of the Jacobin faction who oversaw la Terreur -- would eventually find his own head cleaved from his body in the name of liberty. Several months before his revolutionary career ended at the guillotine, Robbespierre explained to his partisans that the people of France faced a dire confrontation between tyranny and freedom. In his essay on “Terror and Virtue,” Robespierre explained:
The two opposing spirits that have been represented in a struggle to rule nature might be said to be fighting in this great period of human history to fix irrevocably the world's destinies, and France is the scene of this fearful combat. Without, all the tyrants encircle you; within, all tyranny's friends conspire; they will conspire until hope is wrested from crime. We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with it; now in this situation, the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people's enemies by terror.

If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent needs.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

September 3

Three years ago today, Paul Jennings Hill sat down to a hearty meal of steak with Hollandaise sauce, baked potato, broccoli, salad, and a jug of sweetened iced tea. For dessert -- which he ate minutes before the state of Florida executed him by lethal injection -- Hill enjoyed a frosty bowl of orange sherbet.

By the accounts of his supporters, the condemned would have found his last meal especially satisfying. Far from dreading his encounter with what Justice Harry Blackmun famously called “the machinery of death,” Paul Jennings Hill expected that his execution would lead him onward toward a fantastic “reward” in Heaven. Hill’s martyrdom, his unhinged mind told him, was earned for turning a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun on John Britton -- a Pensacola doctor who offered abortion services -- and his guard, James Barrett, in the parking lot of the Ladies Center on 29 July 1994. Britton, struck with four close-range blasts to the face and upper chest, was the second doctor to be shot at the clinic by assassins who believed themselves to be on a holy mission to protect the unborn. In March of the previous year, Michael Griffin emptied a .38 caliber handgun into the back of Dr. David Gunn. Less than a week after the shooting, the previously unknown Paul Jennings Hill appeared on Donahue to defend Griffin, his mouth expelling plume of righteous froth as he casually likened Dr. Gunn to Josef Mengele. The following month, Hill appeared on Nightline to endorse the good works of Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon, a serial arsonist and housewife who shot and wounded Dr. George Tiller at a clinic in Wichita, Kansas. A little over a year later, this self-described “slow learner” had followed up his words with deeds, affirming his own place in the hierarchy of violent zealots by receiving the first death sentence in American history handed down for the murder of an abortion provider.

Rev. Don Spitz of the Army of God -- a group that promotes to use of violence to thwart abortion -- befriended Hill during his years in prison. “He's totally ready," Spitz observed a week before the execution. “He's 100 percent willing. He's ready to give his life for the babies." On September 3, Spitz watched Hill die and later recorded the following stream of neo-medieval superstition:
Around 5:45 PM a large rainbow appeared over Florida State Prison, then around 6 PM a great storm arose and the sky turned black. I remarked to Paul's lawyer that this is like when Jesus was crucified. While I was in the observation room, the lights flickered a couple of times; this happened right before Paul spoke his 'last words'. I wondered if I would be sitting in the dark and started thinking whether the prison had back up generators; and if so, would they go ahead with the execution. From reports outside, both from media and Paul's friends, some long bolts of lightning happened around 6 PM, so close that smell from it was obvious. Another appeared to hit close to the prison itself. A few minutes after 6, the storm ended as suddenly as it started and then began a gentle rain. I personally do not think this was coincidence.

Precisely two years later, in what Spitz no doubt regarded as yet another moment of non-coincidence, Chief Justice William Rehnquist succumbed to thyroid cancer. Rehnquist -- who cast one of two dissenting votes in Roe -- was regarded by Spitz and other radicals as insufficiently supportive of their project. Most notoriously, Rehnquist voted with the majority in several cases in 1996 and 1997 that upheld “buffer zones” around family planning clinics, zones designed in part to prevent the kinds of attacks advised by the Army of God. Rehnquist’s death, to Spitz’ delight, cleared a path on the high court for the nomination of Samuel Alito.