Friday, September 28, 2007

September 29

After “liberating” the Philippines from Spanish control in 1898, the United States settled into its role as an imperial power by waging a long and brutal campaign against the Filipinos themselves, many of whom -- not surprisingly -- preferred independence to colonial submission.

Over the next three years, guerilla units nipped away at the United States military, whose brutality escalated with each passing month. Unable to quell the insurgency, American forces instituted concentration camps, torched villages, massacred civilians, and frequently bragged about their exploits in letters to family and friends back in the states. While the U.S. suffered more than 4000 deaths during the Philippine-American War, Filipinos themselves perished by the hundreds of thousands. While roughly 20,000 Filipino guerillas died in combat, as many as 750,000 civilians may have lost their lives in the fighting as well as by disease and malnutrition. Although the most important guerilla leader, Emiliano Aguinaldo, was captured in spring 1901, skirmishes continued in most regions of the archipelago for months and years afterward.

On September 28, 1901, several hundred Filipino bolomen attacked a company of American soldiers from the 9th Infantry Regiment while they gobbled their breakfasts in the town of Balangiga, located in the central Philippines on the island of Samar. Taken by complete surprise, scores of soldiers died in their mess tent before they could arm themselves. Witnesses who surveyed the scene after the attack described soldiers whose bodies had been dismembered and in some cases boiled. Several wounded soldiers were allegedly buried to their necks and covered with sugar and ants.

In the aftermath of the Balangiga ambush, US Marine Col. Jacob Hurd ordered his men to sack the island and turn it into a “howling wilderness.” As his fellow Marine Littleton Waller revealed during subsequent court martial proceedings, Smith insisted that
I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.
When asked to clarify the last sentence, Smith explained that ten years old was an appropriate threshold. Although Smith’s orders clearly were not administered to the letter, thousands of Filipino civilians were indeed killed by American forces over the next several months in retaliation for the 54 soldiers who died in Balangiga.

In time, the conduct of American soldiers on Samar led to Smith’s court martial for “conduct to the prejudice and good order of military discipline. After earning a guilty verdict, Smith was allowed to retire from the Marines with no further punishment. Upon his return to the US, Jacob “Howling Wilderness” Smith was received as a hero. Smith’s own medical officer defended his colleague, telling a San Francisco newspaper that
[i]t makes me sick to see what has been said about him (Smith). If people knew what a thieving, treacherous, worthless bunch of scoundrels those Filipinos are, they would think differently than they do now. You can't treat them the way you do civilized folks. I do not believe that there are half a dozen men in the U.S. army that don't think Smith is all right.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

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.



Wednesday, September 26, 2007

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:
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.
In mid-September last year -- four years after his ordeal began -- 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.

Following the report's release, both Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the UNited States' then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez refused to apologize to Arar for the year he spent in Syrian custody.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

September 25

In the pantheon of sadists who emerged from the second World War, the SS officer Klaus Barbie was among the worst. In his capacity as head of the Gestapo in German-occupied occupied Lyon, France, Barbie oversaw the interrogation, torture, deportation and murder of thousands of French civilians.

When he arrived at Lyon in 1942, Barbie was tasked with breaking the Resistance and liquidating the city of its Jewish population. Aided by right-wing French citizens who deplored Jews and communists with equal relish, Barbie settled into his mission with a zeal that had already made him notable within the ranks of the SS. While serving in his previous post in Amsterdam, for instance, Barbie had personally executed two ice cream peddlers, one of whom he bludgeoned to death with an ashtray.

In France, Klaus Barbie presided over the torture and murder of Jean Moulin, one of the great leaders of the Resistance; his men also captured nearly four dozen Jewish children who had found refuge in Izlea, a small village near Lyon. The children, whose location was disclosed by a French informant, were seized while drinking their morning chocolat and immediately shipped to the concentration camp in Drancy, where all of them perished in the ovens. Those two episodes were simply the of notorious of his crimes. More numerous, of course, were the mundane, daily atrocities that turned Barbie into a human monster. His unit’s police work was defined by “reinforced interrogation” techniques, carried out in the appropriately named Hotel Terminus. There, members -- alleged or real -- of the Resistance were beaten mercilessly in the interest of gathering intelligence; when physical violence (including rape) did not work, detainees were sometimes left alone with the mutilated bodies of previous “suspects.” Barbie himself participated directly and enthusiastically in the proceedings. He often brought his pet cat with him.

As one of Barbie’s victims recalled later,
[I] was strung up by the hands and feet, then suspended by a pole and immersed in cold water. And the strangest thing was that everything was normal. Here you were hanging naked over a bathtub while a secretary typed, and people told jokes, and someone smoked, and someone munched on a sandwich, and someone else looked out the window.
As Vichy France collapsed, Barbie contracted a venereal disease that quite likely saved his life. While Lyon fell and Barbie’s associates were captured, the Gestapo chief himself was bound homeward for treatment.

After the war, Barbie was put to use by the British as well as by the United States, whose CIA helped the war criminal escape to Bolivia, where he lived for more than three decades before at last being extradited in 1983. After standing trial for crimes against humanity, Barbie received a conviction and life sentence in 1987. A little more than four years later, on 25 September 1991, Klaus Barbie died of leukemia.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

September 24

I 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)

Lou Dobbs turns 62 today.

The life of Lou Dobbs is a familiar rags-to-shithead fable. After growing up in small towns in Texas and Idaho, Dobbs managed to earn admission and a full scholarship to Harvard. During his sophomore year, he found himself "mesmerized" during a debate between Paul Samuelson and Milton Friedman at MIT, and -- inspired by the evangelical, free-market warbles of the latter -- he soon chose a major in economics. By the mid-1970s, a series of meanders led Dobbs to journalism, and he eventually found himself with a job at CNN. Having toiled away the next two decades as a sycophantic financial correspondent, Dobbs -- like all fake populists -- eventually found glory by persuading himself that the republic faced coequal perils. In an era of Bush capitalism, Dobbs saw the nation's vitality sapped by venal, corporate aristocrats and their government abettors; at the same time, his viscera trembled as he watched a subproletarian army of gardeners, dishwashers and day laborers spill forth from Mexico and all points south.

These days, the ample jowls of Lou Dobbs can be seen every night of the week, undulating like two sacks of warm, curdled cheese as he charts the alien menace infiltrating our southern border. Dobbs, who once described the Minutemen as a "terrific group of concerned, caring Americans," decided over two years ago to turn his show into a karaoke machine for nativist misinformation and vigilantism; since then, he has addressed the subject of immigration with an angry, masturbatory zeal, warning his viewers of the economic rot, cultural disarray and biological pestilence that will presumably result from the endless, unthwarted flow of "illegals" to the United States. To lend "perspective" on these issues, Dobbs routinely offers air time to race-baiting trogs like Glenn Spencer of the American Patrol, Chris Simcox of the Minutemen, and Barbara Coe of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. In one of Dobbs' finer moments of racist demagoguery, he actually ran a map sourced to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that promotes the baseless rumor that Chicanos wish to recapture "Aztlan," the Mexican territory lost to the US in 1848. To be sure, adherents to such beliefs are not difficult to find -- and even less so now that Fightin' Lou has offered their ressentiment a higher amplitude and an undeserved aura of legitimacy.

Nice work, Lou.



Sunday, September 23, 2007

September 23

Like all good neurotics, Sigmund Freud spent much of his waking life -- and, of course, his non-waking life -- gripped by anxiety. Fitting for a man who pondered the centrality of the “death instinct” to human experience, Freud was especially preoccupied on his own mortality.

His own physician described Freud’s disposition toward death as “superstitious and obsessive,” a conclusion that probably understated the matter by several degrees. In a 1914 essay written on the subject of war and death, Freud famously observed that the unconscious
does not believe in its own death. It behaves as if it were immortal. We cannot imagine our own death and when we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still spectators, hence, no one believes in his own death.
Unconscious denials aside, Freud certainly appeared to “believe in his own death.” He once described his work as a “carcinoma,” and when bidding farewell to friends and colleagues, he would sometimes note that “you may never see me again.” Using numerology, he tried to calculate the age at which he would pass away; he made similar guesses based on hotel room numbers.

The death of his daughter Sophie in 1920 created what Freud described as an “irreparable narcissistic wound” -- a sorrow that would be intensified three years later when Sophie’s young son Heinele succumbed to tuberculosis. “For me,” he told a friend three years later,
that child took the place of all my children and other grandchildren, and since then, since Heinele's death, I have no longer cared for my grandchildren, but find no enjoyment in life either. This is also the secret of my indifference -- it has been called courage -- towards the threat to my own life.

The final years of Sigmund Freud’s life must have been unendurable. In 1938, as he struggled to complete his final book, Moses and Monotheism, the Nazis overtook Vienna, driving “the father of psychoanalysis” to London, where he soon lost his 16-year struggle with oral cancer, an affliction brought on by the thousands of cigars he smoked in his lifetime. He had already endured more than thirty dates with a surgeon, and by the end his mouth was little more than a jigsaw puzzle of crude prostheses; by Freud’s own account, eating and drinking unpleasant acts to behold.

In his biography of Freud, Max Schur -- Freud’s own physician -- described how his ailing patient begged for death at the end of his last, awful days:
"My dear Schur, you certainly remember our first talk. You promised me then not to forsake me when my time comes. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense any more."

When he was again in agony, I gave him a hypodermic of two centigrams of morphine. He soon felt relief and fell into a peaceful sleep. I repeated this dose after about twelve hours. He lapsed into a coma and did not wake up again.
On September 23, 1939, less than a month after World War II began, Sigmund Freud died at the age of 83.

Friday, September 21, 2007

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 (among other ingenious location) a barrel filled with dry beans. 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.



Wednesday, September 19, 2007

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."

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Monday, September 17, 2007

September 17

On this date in 1948, a small faction of terrorists carried out the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte, a United Nations mediator from Sweden who was tasked with resolving the territorial disputes that lingered the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The day before he was ginned down in his car, Bernadotte had released a second round of proposals for securing the existence of Israel and protecting the rights of Palestinians who had been displaced by the war. In addition to calling for the creation of two states in Palestine, Bernadotte proposed that their Jerusalem should be placed under international control and that refugees be allowed to return to their homes, in accordance with international law.

Bernadotte’s suggestions did not sit well with Lohamei Herut Israel (“Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”), a group initially formed during World War II with the intent of expelling Great Britain from Palestine. Lehi -- as the group was more commonly known -- carried out numerous bank robberies and dozens of assassinations over the course of its eight-year existence; its opposition to the British Mandate was so extraordinary that its leadership actually scoped out friendly relations with Germany during the war. Following British restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1939, radical Zionist groups such as Lehi hoped that Germany’s leaders -- whose anti-Semitism was already quite renowned -- might offer Jews quick passage to the Holy Land in exchange for the group’s cooperation in fighting a common enemy.

Lehi’s offers to assist the Nazis, however, were never acknowledged. After the war, the group continued to resist British influence in Palestine, even after it formally ended its mandate and surrendered its responsibility to the newly formed United Nations. Bernadotte -- whose assignment required him to balance the competing interests of numerous parties -- fell victim to a style of radicalism that would become all too familiar over the next six decades.

Ambushed by four members of Lehi who were riding in a jeep, Count Folke Bernadotte was shot in the chest and died instantly.

On the 30th anniversary of Bernadotte’s assassination, Israel and Egypt agreed to a treaty that ended the state of hostility that had existed between the two nations since the 1948 War. The Israeli Prime Minister at the time was Menachem Begin, who during World War II had been a member of Irgun, another anti-British paramilitary group. The Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, a former army officer, had also opposed Great Britain during World War II -- an opposition born out of 60 years of British colonialism in his homeland. Like Lehi, Sadat and the so-called Free Officers had sought an alliance with the Axis Powers, including Nazi Germany, during the war.

Meeting a fate that resembled Count Bernadotte’s, Anwar Sadat fell to assassins three years after the Cam David Accords were signed.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

September 14

On this date in 1986, Ronald Reagan appeared with his wife Nancy in a nationally televised address devoted to a “great new, national crusade” against drugs. This “crusade” was hardly new, however, having actually begun during the Nixon administration more than fifteen years before; what made the Reagan drug war “new” was its regressive, punitive emphasis and its reliance on public rhetoric that displayed a complete absence of insight into the motivations and experiences of people who actually use or abuse drugs.

Those rhetorical preferences were displayed throughout the Reagans’ 1986 speech from the comforts of the West Hall of the White House. While her husband encouraged Americans to avoid drugs because such behavior would soil the memory of those who died in Normandy, Mrs. Reagan addressed herself to the children.
And finally, to young people watching or listening, I have a very personal message for you: There's a big, wonderful world out there for you. It belongs to you. It's exciting and stimulating and rewarding. Don't cheat yourselves out of this promise. Our country needs you, but it needs you to be clear-eyed and clear-minded. I recently read one teenager's story. She's now determined to stay clean but was once strung out on several drugs. What she remembered most clearly about her recovery was that during the time she was on drugs everything appeared to her in shades of black and gray and after her treatment she was able to see colors again.

So, to my young friends out there: Life can be great, but not when you can't see it. So, open your eyes to life: to see it in the vivid colors that God gave us as a precious gift to His children, to enjoy life to the fullest, and to make it count. Say yes to your life. And when it comes to drugs and alcohol just say no.
Over the next two years, the Reagan administration urged along new laws that imposed federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, including sentencing guidelines that punished crack users -- who were overwhelmingly poor -- more harshly than those who possessed or sold powdered cocaine. Abroad, the US pursued “supply-side” policies aimed at eliminating drugs at their source; although nearly every available data indicates that such policies have no appreciable effect on the actual supply of drugs, their veneer of “toughness” has proved irresistible for successive American presidents.

Meantime, two of Reagan’s most cherished foreign projects -- supporting anti-Soviet Islamic fighters in Afghanistan and anti-government guerilla forces in Nicaragua -- could not have been carried without the assistance of drug sales. While poppy growers in central Asia and cocaine traffickers in central America helped bankroll the “freedom fighters” with whom the US was allied, the Reagan administration looked the other way, preferring instead to swell the capacity of American prisons and scorch the landscapes of poor nations in the Southern hemisphere.



Thursday, September 13, 2007

September 13

The 300-year-long demise of the Spanish empire began almost as soon as it had been consolidated in the 16th century; as much as anyone, King Philip II, who ruled from 1556-1598, bears responsibility for setting the nation on its slow, downward course. He presided over a nation that exempted the upper-classes and the Catholic church from taxation, a lopsided fiscal policy that placed disproportionate burdens on manufacturers and merchants. More catastrophically, Philip never saw a reckless foreign adventure he didn’t like. During his forty years on the throne, Spain lost three naval armadas in its war with England; suffered defeat at the hands of the French; and failed to suppress a revolt among the Dutch, over whom the Spanish King also ruled as Phillip of Hapsburg. Philip also participated in a costly -- though ultimately victorious -- naval struggle against the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean.

Broken by the cost of these various wars, and saddled with inflation resulting from his nation’s regressive economic policies, the quality of life for ordinary Spaniards declined as the crown itself enriched itself with silver and gold mined by slaves in Central and South America. Meantime, the Catholic king earned a well-deserved reputation for religious fanaticism, as he instituted harsh laws against Protestants within his realm, including the Netherlands. According to Philip’s wishes, heretics -- including those who provided heretics with food or shelter, or who did not deliver heretics to the crown -- were to be set aflame or buried alive. Although these edicts were not enforced with any real vigor or consistency, they inspired tremendous resentment throughout the Spanish realm.

King Philip II spent the last two years of his life suffering from gout, a disease that eventually took his life at the age of 71. No doubt recalling Spain’s predatory relationship with the Low Countries, Abraham Van De Velde, a 17th century Dutch minister, gleefully described the king's final days:
There was on his whole body no place where he was without pain, but only his shoulders. He could not move, he was full of boils from the soles of his feet to his armpits. He had seven open, continual running sores on two fingers of his right hand; he could not stand that anyone touched him; this lasted for a whole year. For the duration of six years he was plagued by rheumatism in his limbs, the extremities of his body. Above that he suffered of a consuming fever, which during the time of two years consumed and dehydrated his limbs. Furthermore, during the last of his life he was plagued with dysentery, which was so bad that during the last 22 days of his life they could not bathe him or even put clean sheets under his body. His stomach was upset in such a way that he suffered unquenchable thirst. He suffered continually of a headache, especially his eyes, which was caused mainly by the stench from his bed, which also caused foul-smelling breath.
King Philip II of Spain died on September 13, 1598.



Wednesday, September 12, 2007

September 12

On this date in 1942, the RMS Laconia took a pair of German torpedoes off the coast of West Africa. Within hours, the ship -- which had been carrying civilians, British sailors and Italian war prisoners -- drifted to the bottom of the sea along with hundreds of passengers who were either already dead or who soon would be. Meantime, roughly two thousand survivors struggled to reach the lifeboats that had not been destroyed by the torpedo blasts; others swam helplessly or clung to floating debris, hoping not to be gobbled by the sharks that lived nearby.

As it turns out, the German U-boat that scuttled the Laconia soon picked up most of the survivors, assisted by several other submarines that were ordered to join the effort by Kreigsmarine commander Karl Donitz. After a two-day rescue operation, the Germans had managed to pack hundreds of survivors into the ships -- above deck as well as below -- while roping lifeboats behind them to tow hundreds more. The German submarines then headed slowly toward the African coast, draped in flags of the International Red Cross. Although the U-boat commanders alerted other forces in the region that they were carrying survivors from the Laconia, the fleet was struck by bombs and depth charges from an American B-24 several days later on September 16. Hundreds of survivors perished as the U-boats submerged and US bombs obliterated several lifeboats. None of the U-boats was destroyed, and roughly 1500 passengers of the doomed Laconia survived the ordeal.

Although it could be -- and has been -- argued that the US attack on the German boats constituted a war crime, there is little legal ambiguity about the German response. In the wake of the attacks, Commander Donitz issued a notorious order that would later help to secure his conviction during the Nuremberg trials. The Laconia Order, as it became known, insisted that German U-boats -- which were already carrying out unrestricted naval warfare -- were no longer to assist survivors of their attacks:
All efforts to save survivors of sunken ships, such as the fishing out of swimming men and putting them on board lifeboats, the righting of overturned lifeboats, or the handing over of food and water, must stop. Rescue contradicts the most basic demands of the war: the destruction of hostile ships and their crews.

. . . . Stay firm. Remember that the enemy has no regard for women and children when bombing German cities!
The Laconia Order -- like so many other aspects of the Second World War -- openly violated the protocols of international law.

Nearly three years after the Laconia episode, Karl Donitz succeeded Adolf Hitler as the German head of state. It was his government, which lasted all of three weeks during May 1945, that ultimately surrendered to the Allies. Following the war, Donitz served a decade in Spandau Prison, the infamous West Berlin facility that also house Albert Speer and neo-nazi icon Rudolph Hess. Donitz’ prosecution was made all the easier because he refused to order that his naval archives be destroyed. As he explained to Guther Hessler -- a U-boat commander who also happened to be his son-in-law -- “we have a clear conscience.”

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11

Six 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, George Soros, 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. America's corporate 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; hundreds of Saudis, Jordanians, Pakistanis and Egyptians; and four thousand American men and women watched the day's events with perhaps only the barest sense that they had fewer than six years left before surrendering their lives -- as combatants or innocent bystanders -- to one of the stupidest wars ever conceived.

Monday, September 10, 2007

September 10

One hundred and ten 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.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

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. Seventy-one years ago today, 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.

This is a re-post of last year's entry

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

September 6

According to a long-time White House doorman named Theodore Pendel, William McKinley enjoyed a good handshake. In his 1902 memoir, Pendel explained that
[t]he President always took great delight in shaking hands with the people. He told one of the officials at the White House that he took more delight in shaking hands with the people than he did at one of the state dinners. It seemed to be a great gratification to him to meet the masses of the people.
Shortly after 4:00 p.m. on September 6, 1901, an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley in the chest and stomach while the president was presumably having the time of his life, shaking hands with his adoring public at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

Although it initially appeared that McKinley might survive his wounds, he eventually succumbed to pancreatic necrosis after eight lingering days. At his funeral, Rev. Morgan Dix -- son of former New York governor John Dix -- hyperbolized about the third presidential assassination in four decades. Calling attention to the perils of anarchism, Dix asked
will the nation fail to act as a great nation should, to deal as it ought to do with the most deadly foe that it has or ever can have? For if this foe prevails, the nation, the state, the law, the government will disappear forever and ever. Are we to forget what has thrown us into this present mourning and these tears? Are we to lapse into a fatal apathy, and let the preaching of murder and inciting to murder and the applauding of murder go on as before? Are the laws still to protect the very persons who hate and detest them and are banded together for the overthrow of society? It seems to me that the most solemn issue of the hour is as to what we have to do who remain—whether we are equal to the occasion. Are we now to fall back before this enemy, the last and most dangerous we have ever encountered or ever shall, and let things drift from bad to worse, in new instances of a passion which spares not one life that stands in its way?
Czolgosz, who was nearly beaten to death by infuriated bystanders after the shooting, was taken into custody and quickly tried for McKinley’s murder; to no one’s surprise, he earned a guilty verdict and a sentence of death, which was carried out on October 29, six weeks after McKinley's demise. At his electrocution, Czolgosz expressed no regrets and issued no apologies for the assassination.

"I killed the President," he said, "because he was the enemy of the good people, the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime."

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

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.”



Tuesday, September 04, 2007

September 4

The pace of the Cold War accelerated in 1949; within a matter of months, the Soviet Union announced its first successful nuclear weapons test and victorious communist forces announced the formation of the People’s Republic of China. As their ancestors had done in the aftermath of World War I, self-professed American patriots stiffened with vigilance, rooting out internal subversives and arraying themselves in defense of the “American way of life.” Among other things, such defenses apparently required that hundreds of drunken yokels attack musicians and concert-goers at a picnic grounds north of Peekskilll, New York.

The “Peekskill Riots,” as they came to be known, actually began on August 27, 1949, when a benefit concert performance by Paul Robeson was pre-empted by several hundred men who -- expressing their dissent from Robeson’s political views by smashing chairs and pounding bystanders -- prevented the event from taking place. During the weeks prior to the event, local newspaper editorials had combined with the ululations of the local Ku Klux Klan to whip the community into an anti-black, anti-Semitic, and anti-communist frenzy. Hostility toward the concert organizers and performers only intensified when the event was rescheduled for the following week. On September 4 -- with private security drawn from the ranks of nearby unions -- Robeson took the stage with Pete Seeger and other musicians, performing without incident before a crowd of 25,000. After the concert was over, however, the previous week’s violence resumed.

In a ballad written and recorded the following week, Pete Seeger recalled the skirmish:
There were 900 police, deputies and state troopers at Peekskill. They allowed the mob to form along a four mile line of road, and directed all traffic down this only exit, and then stood by watching while the hoodlums threw rocks through the windows of cars and buses. Heads were bashed in, eyes were cut by flying glass. Cars were overturned, and the people in them dragged out and beaten! And the police stood by and laughed! Hoodlum gangs went on a night-long reign of terror all through Westchester County clear down to 210th Street and Broadway. Then the police moved! They moved into the picnic grounds to beat up the trade union guards.
Although no one died, several hundred injuries were sustained during the two battles, whose effects were reported across the globe. An official investigation, ordered by Governor Thomas Dewey, insisted that communists bore the ultimate responsibility for the violence in Peekskill.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

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.

This is a re-post of last year's entry

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