Will and Ariel Durant

One of the local branches of the LA Public Library, the one on Sunset across from Wendy’s, is named after Will and Ariel Durant.

David Brooks grows wistful as he considers the Will and Ariel Durant project:

Between 1935 and 1975, Will and Ariel Durant published a series of volumes that together were known as “The Story of Civilization.” They basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The series was phenomenally successful, selling over two million copies.

I’ve taken a look at the first volume of the series,

and was astounded, amused, and delighted by what I found there.  Here’s an example.

When Will met Ariel Durant, her name was Ida, she was fourteen, and she was his student.

She was 15 at her marriage on Oct. 31, 1913, and came to the ceremony with her roller skates slung over her shoulder. Her husband was just about to turn 28. He called her Ariel, after the the imp in Shakespeare’s ”The Tempest,” and she later had her name legally changed.

(from Will’s NYT obituary).  In Our Oriental Civilization, Will makes the case for himself:

It’s pretty funny that we named the library after a pair of lovers whose romance would get the man arrested today.

On the other hand, that’s the kind of paradox of historical and civilizational change that Will Durant took so much joy in teaching about.

More from the NYT:

Dr. Durant consistently took a generally optimistic view of civilization, despite a growing belief that ”the world situation is all fouled up.”

”Civilization is a stream with banks,” he said in his precise voice. ”The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues.

”The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.”

Will and Ariel, from Wikipedia:


April 19. Patriots Day.

Worth remembering that the American Revolution started when the federal government sent troops to take away people’s guns and ammunition.

More men from Needham died on April 19, 1775, I believe, than from any other town except Lexington:

The detail in that footnote!  What she remembers, the old blind woman: how many of the soldiers had thrown away their coats!  It was under the will of this venerable lady that he first received a legacy!

History gets so much more interesting when you get into how do we know this?  what is the source?  who claims this?  who saw it happen?

The Needham Public Library.

Amos Doolittle wasn’t there but he showed up a few weeks later:

My favorite book on this topic is:

Tourtellot is really kind of funny when he rips into his least favorite patriot, vain old John Hancock:

that illustration up top from:

a British book – is there a pro-Redcoat bias?


O Pioneers!

Just finished reading:

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A strange thing to read, maybe.  Here is the story of how I came to read it.

Some years ago, filming the finale of The Office on Dwight Schrute’s farm:

dwights-farm

I looked around at the inland Malibu landscape and got to wondering if there could be a show about the pioneers: people who arrived on empty* land and built their lives there.

So as research I picked up the first book I thought of:

wc

Didn’t finish it.  Got distracted before I got off the third page, probably at first by my phone and then by my life.

A true Save The Cat

On the first page of O Pioneers!, there is a true Save The Cat situation.

save-the-cat

We’re in the middle of a blizzard, and Little Emil’s cat has gone up a telegraph pole, and he’s afraid it’ll freeze:

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Reunited

Down in Australia in August, I saw the cool Penguin Classics edition:

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and picked it up thinking, eh what the hell I should find out what happened to that cat.  

Well, I found out, and I found out what happened to Emil and his sister Alexandra for the next forty years.

I believe an error was made in choosing this quote for the front page:

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It isn’t the most interesting one from the book.  I might’ve chosen this:

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Or this:

quote-3

 

Or even, if we’re going re: ducks, this:

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Or this:

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This quote made me think of the news:

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Also can’t say that the epigraph is especially sexy:

micorwis

Perhaps it’s better in the original Polish.

Mickiewicz is bae?

Mickiewicz is bae?

But still I pressed on, and in the end, I gotta give it up to O Pioneers! 

The life of Willa Cather

Willa Cather must’ve been quite something.  She was born in Gore, Virginia, but as a girl she was brought to Red Cloud, Nebraska:

red-cloud

where she made a real impression:

red-cloud

Was Willa Cather a lesbian?

Willa Cather shot out of Nebraska like a rocket.

willa_cather_ca-_1912_wearing_necklace_from_sarah_orne_jewett

The closest relationships in her life were with women, and she lived with one Edith Lewis:

edith

for close to thirty years.  Some biographers hesitate to call her a lesbian, though, saying she never identified herself that way.

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie

Willa died in 1947.  She has a memorial prairie named after her, it’s the number 2 thing to do in Red Cloud, NE after her house:

willa-cather-memorial-prarire

it’s cool to have your own prairie

Willa on writing

O Pioneers! still holds up.  I found myself moved by it, and it’s short.  Cather has a way of summing up loneliness, heartache, longing, compassion, in a few short lines.

I went ahead and got Willa’s collected essays on writing.

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Here she tells how she came to write O Pioneers!, her second book:willa-3 willa-4 willa-5

She wrote in some opposition to the detail-filled writing of Balzac:

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Interesting point here:

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Red Cloud, Nebraska

Here’s a picture of downtown Red Cloud from Google Maps:

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About as solid a Trump country as you will find:screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-6-26-39-pm

As of 2000 the median income for a household in the city was $26,389, and the median income for a family was $34,038. Males had a median income of $26,364 versus $17,232 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,772. About 8.4% of families and 13.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.9% of those under age 18 and 10.1% of those age 65 or over.

Brave Companions

David McCullough has something moving to say about Red Cloud and Willa and her other famous book:

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from:

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I found O Pioneers! very moving and powerful, let me share with you why:

Warning: O Pioneers! spoiler

Skip this if you intend to read the book with suspense in mind.

But I doubt you will.  I found this the most moving passage, and worth all the reading.  Let me set it up for you:

Emil, he of the lost cat on page 2, grows up under the guidance of his older sister, Alexandra.  She’s really the focus of our story.  Carl, the local boy who saves the cat, is in love with her, but he can’t really take it out on the plains, so he goes off, and leaves her behind.  She’s left to care for her brothers.

Emil, youngest brother, does great.  He goes on to college at the University of Nebraska, while Alexandra stays to watch over the farm.  All the while Emil’s been in love with a neighbor girl, Marie.  She marries another man, though.

Still, Emil and Marie are in love.  Eventually Marie’s husband, Frank Shabata, finds his wife and Emil together. In a crazed rage he murders Marie and Emil both.

Alexandra, alone at age forty, is heartbroken, left adrift at the death of her brother.  But still, she feels sympathy for Frank Shabata, who’s been sent to prison in Lincoln for his crime.

Alexandra, lost and in pain, decides to go visit Frank in prison.  In afternoon/dusk, after arriving in Lincoln, she wanders the campus of the university, thinking of her murdered brother.  Desperate for any kind of connection, she runs into a student:

campus

Walt Whitman Reads: America

or

The Whitman Recording

The title of O Pioneers! comes from a poem by Walt Whitman.

Some years ago, a recording of Walt Whitman’s voice, said to have been recorded onto an Edison wax cylinder around 1889 or 1890, was rediscovered.

In these times when it seems maybe we lost our way, nationally, it made me feel good to hear this.  Forty-six seconds long:

 

 


Trump at Gettysburg

Pickett's Charge from a position on the Confederate line looking toward the Union lines, Ziegler's Grove on the left, clump of trees on right, painting by Edwin Forbes

Pickett’s Charge from a position on the Confederate line looking toward the Union lines, Ziegler’s Grove on the left, clump of trees on right, painting by Edwin Forbes

gettysburg-trump

Disgusted afresh with this one, from NY Mag: “Final Days: Trump’s advisers are working hard to plan their own futures while riding out the roller-coaster end of the campaign.” by Gabriel Sherman.

I mean, this is what happened at Gettysburg:

dead-at-gettysburg

An American president should not visit that place without some sober thought about how it came to be that 7,058 people murdered each other there in three days (perhaps our worst ever mass shooting?)

Starting to seem like Trump has never read

killer-angels

Or even Shelby:

stars

Has he not at least had Sam Waterstone read him the Gettysburg Address?:

The whole point of the Gettysburg Address, he might’ve reminded himself, was that we can’t let all this horror have no meaning, we must use it to remind ourselves of how we got here, what is good about us, what values we must work for.

UGH!  I’m with Ken Burns.

Also what about this:

gettysburg

I know everybody deserves a lawyer, but is it not a tad revolting that Ailes lawyer is Dukakis’ former campaign manager?

estrich

Maybe there’s more to the story, but this seems, from my distance, like an easy example of a valueless incestuous intertwined gaggle of political and media elites who care about nothing but staying in the game.

I’m sure in defeat Trump will have all the dignity of Lee:

lee

He was engaged in rallying and in encouraging the broken troops, and was riding about a little in front of the wood, quite alone–the whole of his Staff being engaged in a similar manner further to the rear. His face, which is always placid and cheeful, did not show signs of the slightest disappointment, care, or annoyance; a he was addressing to every soldier he met a few words of encouragement, such as, “All this will come right in the end: we’ll talk it over afterwards; but, in the mean time, all good men must rally. We want all good and true men just now,” &c. He spoke to all the wounded men that passed him, and the slightly wounded he exhorted “to bind up their hurts and take up a musket” in this emergency. Very few failed to answer his appeal, and I saw many badly wounded men take off their hats and cheer him. He said to me, “This has been a sad day for us, Colonel–a sad day; but we can’t expect always to gain victories.” He was also kind enough to advise me to get into some more sheltered position, as the shells were bursting round us with considerable frequency.

from the account of Fremantle, who was there, a version less dramatic than this one:

 


D*-Day

CAPA 1* the D is for Dave!

Happy birthday, tomorrow, June 6, to Dave King (the Great Debates co-host, not the Bad Plus drummer)

Dave King the drummer photographed by Wiki user Steve Bowbrick

Dave King the drummer photographed by Wiki user Steve Bowbrick

A promise made in Host Chat is a promise kept so here is a selection of D-Day readings for Davis.

scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

New Yorker's July 15, 1944 parody of the Bayeux Tapestry

New Yorker’s July 15, 1944 parody of the Bayeux Tapestry

The single best thing to read about D-Day

is online and free.  It is S. L. A. Marshall writing for The Atlantic in November, 1950.

SLA Marshall

During World War II, Marshall became an official Army combat historian, and came to know many of the war’s best-known Allied commanders, including George S. Patton and Omar N. Bradley. He conducted hundreds of interviews of both enlisted men and officers regarding their combat experiences, and was an early proponent of oral history techniques. In particular, Marshall favored the group interview, where he would gather surviving members of a frontline unit together and debrief them on their combat experiences of a day or two before.

CAPA 2

The article is called “First Wave On Omaha Beach” here is an excerpt:

Even among some of the lightly wounded who jumped into shallow water the hits prove fatal. Knocked down by a bullet in the arm or weakened by fear and shock, they are unable to rise again and are drowned by the onrushing tide. Other wounded men drag themselves ashore and, on finding the sands, lie quiet from total exhaustion, only to be overtaken and killed by the water. A few move safely through the bullet swarm to the beach, then find that they cannot hold there. They return to the water to use it for body cover. Faces turned upward, so that their nostrils are out of water, they creep toward the land at the same rate as the tide. That is how most of the survivors make it. The less rugged or less clever seek the cover of enemy obstacles moored along the upper half of the beach and are knocked off by machine-gun fire.

Within seven minutes after the ramps drop, Able Company is inert and leaderless. At Boat No. 2, Lieutenant Tidrick takes a bullet through the throat as he jumps from the ramp into the water. He staggers onto the sand and flops down ten feet from Private First Class Leo J. Nash. Nash sees the blood spurting and hears the strangled words gasped by Tidrick: “Advance with the wire cutters!” It’s futile; Nash has no cutters. To give the order, Tidrick has raised himself up on his hands and made himself a target for an instant. Nash, burrowing into the sand, sees machine gun bullets rip Tidrick from crown to pelvis. From the cliff above, the German gunners are shooting into the survivors as from a roof top.

Captain Taylor N. Fellers and Lieutenant Benjamin R. Kearfoot never make it. They had loaded with a section of thirty men in Boat No. 6 (Landing Craft, Assault, No. 1015). But exactly what happened to this boat and its human cargo was never to be known. No one saw the craft go down. How each man aboard it met death remains unreported. Half of the drowned bodies were later found along the beach. It is supposed that the others were claimed by the sea.

After the war, Marshall would write Men Against Fire:

men against fire

which claimed that only about 25% of American combat soldiers actually fired their guns at the enemy:

Marshall’s work on infantry combat effectiveness in World War II, titled Men Against Fire, is his best-known and most controversial work. In the book, Marshall claimed that of the World War II U.S. troops in actual combat, 75% never fired at the enemy for the purpose of killing, even though they were engaged in combat and under direct threat. Marshall argued that the Army should devote significant training resources to increasing the percentage of soldiers willing to engage the enemy with direct fire.

Marshall has been harshly criticized:

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General Marshall said soldiers who did not fire were motivated by fear, a desire to minimize risk and a willingness, as in civilian life, to let a minority of other people carry the load.

In his 1989 memoir, About Face, Hackworth described his initial elation at an assignment with a man he idolized, and how that elation turned to disillusion after seeing Marshall’s character and methods first hand. Hackworth described Marshall as a “voyeur warrior,” for whom “the truth never got in the way of a good story” and went so far as to say, “Veterans of many of the actions he ‘documented’ in his books have complained bitterly over the years of his inaccuracy or blatant bias”.

Omaha Beach was the worst of it, but experiences on D-Day were vastly different.

Twenty-one miles away on Juno Beach the Canadian Ninth Division landed with their bikes:

Picture: STF/AFP/Getty Images

Picture: STF/AFP/Getty Images

Leave it to Canadians to bring their bikes.  (900 Canadians died in a botched semi-practice D-Day in 1942).

Best Single Book To Read About D-Day

Looking around I can’t find my copy of Normandy Revisited by AJ Liebling:

January 1963, New York, USA --- A. J. Liebling, (shown in a January 1963 photo from files), whose caustic criticisma of American newspapers were published for 17 years in the New Yorker magazine under the title of "The Wayward Press," died on December 28th. He was 59. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS found here

Liebling, a vivacious fatso who had spent a lot of time in Normandy pre-war, describes going through with the Army and eating at spots he remembered from before.   Definitely a different kind of war corresponding.

This book

 

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was wildly popular for a reason: it’s thrilling, readable, and full of epic American hero stories.

Maybe starting with Andrew J. Higgins of Nebraska and Mobile, Alabama:

220px-Higgins1000p4

who developed shallow-draft boats for logging in the bayou (or for bootlegging?) and then took on the job of making similar boats for amphibious landings:

Higgins Industries

Higgins Industries

Anthony Beevor has a blunter take.  Major takeaway from his book:

Beevor

was that the Allies came up way short of their goals on D-Day.  Unsurprisingly, many of those who got off the beaches in one piece considered their work done for the day.  They were literally in Calvados,

Calvados it was pretty easy to find bottles of highly alcoholic apple brandy, and a lot of survivors got hammered at first opportunity.

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Who can blame them?  But the failure to achieve the ambitious goals had costs.  Caen was the biggest city around:

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British and Canadian troops had intended to capture the town on D-Day. However they were held up north of the city until 9 July, when an intense bombing campaign during Operation Charnwood destroyed 70% of the city and killed 2,000 French civilians.

From this Washington Post review of Beevor, some excerpts:

US Army medical services had to deal with 30,000 cases of combat exhaustion in Normandy,” and:

“Nothing . . . seemed to reduce the flow of cases where men under artillery fire would go ‘wide-eyed and jittery’, or ‘start running around in circles and crying’, or ‘curl up into little balls’, or even wander out in a trance in an open field and start picking flowers as the shells exploded. Others cracked under the strain of patrols, suddenly crying, ‘We’re going to get killed! We’re going to get killed!’ Young officers had to try to deal with ‘men suddenly whimpering, cringing, refusing to get up or get out of a foxhole and go forward under fire’. While some soldiers resorted to self-inflicted wounds, a smaller, unknown number committed suicide.”

But the single best book to read about D-Day I would say is The Boys’ Crusade by Paul Fussell:

Boys Crusade

Amazon reviewer Bill Marsano sums it up nicely:

It’s probably all that “good war” and “greatest generation” stuff that drove Fussell to write this book; he doesn’t have much truck with gooey backward glances, and that will probably make some readers mad. Well, you don’t come to Fussell–author of, among other things, “Thank God for the Atom Bomb, and Other Essays”–for good times. You come to Fussell for the hard stuff.

And here it is his contention that behind and beneath all that “greatest generation” nonsense was the Boys’ Crusade–that last year of the war in Europe when too many things went wrong too often. The generals who’d convinced themselves that this war would not be a war of attrition–i.e., human slaughter–like the last one found they’d guessed wrong. Casualties were horrifyingly high and so huge numbers of children–kids 17-19 years–old were flung into combat. And they were, with the help of the generals, ill-trained, ill-clothed and ill-equipped.

They were also faceless ciphers. As Fussell points out, the US Army’s policy was to break up training units by sending individual replacements up to the line piecemeal–one at a time–so they often arrived as strangers among strangers, often addressed merely as “Soldier” because no one knew their names. The result was too many instances of cowardice–both under fire and behind the lines–too many self-inflicted wounds to escape combat. Too many disgraces of every kind because the Army’s system, Fussell says, destroyed the most important factor in the fighting morale of the “poor bloody infantry”–the shame and fear of turning chicken in front of your comrades. Many of these boys–and Fussell is properly insistent on the word boys–funked because they had no comradeship to value.

This is not in the least a personal journal. Fussell was serriously wounded as a young second lieutenant; he was also decorated. But he wisely leaves himself out of this narrative. There’s no special pleading here, no showing of the wounds on Crispin’s Day. Instead this is a passionate but straightforward report on what that last year was like for the poor bloody infantry–those foot soldiers, those dogfaces, those 14 percent of the troops who took more than 70 percent of the casualties.

And yet there were those who stood the gaff, who survived “carnage up to and including bodies literally torn to pieces, of intestines hung on trees like Christ,mas festoons,” and managed not to dishonor themselves. They weren’t heroes, Fussell says, just men who earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, which was the only honor they respected. In a brief but moving passage, he explains why: It said they’d been there, been through it, and toughed it out.

Horrible as it is I found this book refreshing when I first read it, because it felt like somebody was telling me the unvarnished truth, which is that even for the good guys this was a series of catastrophes, fuckups, and massacres.

All Fussell’s books are good.  This one in particular I was obsessed with:

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and I talk about it in The Wonder Trail: True Stories From Los Angeles To The End Of The World, out June 14:

Those photos are by Robert Capa, who lost all but 11 of the 106 or so photos he risked his life shooting when the guy developing them was in such a hurry he fudged up the negatives.

Let’s give the last word to Fussell:

One wartime moment not at all vile occurred on June 5, 1944, when Dwight Eisenhower, entirely alone and for the moment disjunct from his publicity apparatus, changed the passive voice to active in the penciled statement he wrote out to have ready when the invasion was repulsed, his troops torn apart for nothing, his planes ripped and smashed to no end, his warships sunk, his reputation blasted: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.” Originally he wrote, “the troops have been withdrawn,” as if by some distant, anonymous agency instead of by an identifiable man making all-but-impossible decisions. Having ventured this bold revision, and secure in his painful acceptance of full personal accountability, he was able to proceed unevasively with “My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available.” Then, after the conventional “credit,” distributed equally to “the troops, the air, and the navy,” came Eisenhower’s noble acceptance of total personal responsibility: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” As Mailer says, you use the word shit so that you can use the word noble,and you refuse to ignore the stupidity and barbarism and ignobility and poltroonery and filth of the real war so thatit is mine alone can flash out, a bright signal in a dark time.

d-day-order

Happy Birthday Dave!

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Off We Go

Ted Lawson

Captain Ted W. Lawson of the Ruptured Duck

Watching Trumbo –> reading about 30 Seconds Over Tokyo

Before I knew it I was looking at the US Air Force’s photo archive specifically photos tagged “history.”

Several of the mission's 16 B-25B bombers are lined up on the deck of the USS Hornet (CV-8). In the foreground is tail No. 40-2261, which was mission plane No. 7, piloted by 2nd Lt. Ted W. Lawson. The next plane is tail No. 40-2242, mission plane No. 8, piloted by Capt. Edward J. York. Both aircraft attacked targets in the Tokyo area. Lt. Lawson later wrote the book "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo." Note searchlight at left. (U.S. Navy photo)

Several of the mission’s 16 B-25B bombers are lined up on the deck of the USS Hornet (CV-8). In the foreground is tail No. 40-2261, which was mission plane No. 7, piloted by 2nd Lt. Ted W. Lawson. The next plane is tail No. 40-2242, mission plane No. 8, piloted by Capt. Edward J. York. Both aircraft attacked targets in the Tokyo area. Lt. Lawson later wrote the book “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo.”
Note searchlight at left. (U.S. Navy photo)

Aviation history has never been a passion of mine but let’s just browse some of the highlights.  Pearl Harbor:

 A report entitled “7 December 1941: The Air Force Story” compiled by the Pacific Air Forces Office of History obtained this photo of Wheeler Air Field taken by a Japanese Empire pilot to record the battle damage to the U.S. Air Forces Dec. 7, 1941.


A report entitled “7 December 1941: The Air Force Story” compiled by the Pacific Air Forces Office of History obtained this photo of Wheeler Air Field taken by a Japanese Empire pilot to record the battle damage to the U.S. Air Forces Dec. 7, 1941.

Homeward bound:

Newly freed prisoners of war celebrate as their C-141A aircraft lifts off from Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1973, during Operation Homecoming. The mission included 54 C-141 flights between Feb. 12 and April 4, 1973, returning 591 POWs to American soil. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Newly freed prisoners of war celebrate as their C-141A aircraft lifts off from Hanoi, North Vietnam, on Feb. 12, 1973, during Operation Homecoming. The mission included 54 C-141 flights between Feb. 12 and April 4, 1973, returning 591 POWs to American soil. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Captain Mary T. Klinker:

Capt. Klinker was 27-years-old when she died April 4, 1975 when the first aircraft supporting Operation Babylife crashed. Klinker was the last nurse and the only member of the Air Force Nurse Corps to be killed in Vietnam. Capt. Mary T. Klinker was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal for Heroism and the Meritorious Service Medal.

Capt. Klinker was 27-years-old when she died April 4, 1975 when the first aircraft supporting Operation Babylife crashed. Klinker was the last nurse and the only member of the Air Force Nurse Corps to be killed in Vietnam. Capt. Mary T. Klinker was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal for Heroism and the Meritorious Service Medal.

Father and son:

 Staff Sgt. Shaun Meadows shares a laugh with his son after completing his jump June 14, 2010. Sergeant Meadows is assigned to the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Leah Young)

Staff Sgt. Shaun Meadows shares a laugh with his son after completing his jump June 14, 2010. Sergeant Meadows is assigned to the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Leah Young)

Fire retardant:

Approximately 3,000 gallons of fire retardant is deployed Oct. 25 over the Poomacha fire in North San Diego County, Calif. The C-130 Hercules and crew are assigned to the 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The aircraft launched from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Roy A. Santana)

Approximately 3,000 gallons of fire retardant is deployed Oct. 25 over the Poomacha fire in North San Diego County, Calif. The C-130 Hercules and crew are assigned to the 302nd Airlift Wing from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The aircraft launched from Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Roy A. Santana)

Water:

 On June 21, 1921, U.S. Army Air Service pilots bombed the captured German battleship Ostfriesland to demonstrate the effectiveness of aerial bombing on warships. At the time, the ship was one of the world's largest war vessels. Brigadier

On June 21, 1921, U.S. Army Air Service pilots bombed the captured German battleship Ostfriesland to demonstrate the effectiveness of aerial bombing on warships. At the time, the ship was one of the world’s largest war vessels.

An explosion 95 years ago:

An MB-2 hits its target, the obsolete battleship USS Alabama during tests. On Sep. 27, 1921, still operating with Mitchell’s provisional air brigade, the group’s MB-2 aircraft bombed and sank the ex-U.S. Navy battleship Alabama (BB-08) in Tangier Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Md.

An MB-2 hits its target, the obsolete battleship USS Alabama during tests. On Sep. 27, 1921, still operating with Mitchell’s provisional air brigade, the group’s MB-2 aircraft bombed and sank the ex-U.S. Navy battleship Alabama (BB-08) in Tangier Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Md.

Basic:

Basic cadets from the first Air Force Academy class line up for physical training here, the temporary location for the academy while permanent facilities were being constructed in Colorado Springs. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Basic cadets from the first Air Force Academy class line up for physical training here, the temporary location for the academy while permanent facilities were being constructed in Colorado Springs. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Starlifter:

 1970's -- MARCH 1978 -- 3/4 front view of a C-141 Starlifter assigned to the 710th Military Airlift Squadron (AFRES), 60th Military Airlift Wing, in flight over the San Francisco Bay en route to Travis AFB, CA. (Photo by Ken Hackman)

1970’s — MARCH 1978 — 3/4 front view of a C-141 Starlifter assigned to the 710th Military Airlift Squadron (AFRES), 60th Military Airlift Wing, in flight over the San Francisco Bay en route to Travis AFB, CA. (Photo by Ken Hackman)

How about Betty Gillies?:

 Mrs. Betty Gillies was the first woman pilot to be "flight checked" and accepted by the Women's Auxiliary Ferring Squadron. Mrs. Gillies 33 years of age, has been flying since 1928 and received her commercial license in 1930. She has logged in excess of 1400 hours flying time and is qualified to fly single and multi-engined aircraft. Mrs. Gillies is a member of the Aviation Country Club of Hicksville L.I. and is a charter member of '99, an international club of women flyers formed by Amelia Earhardt in 1929. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Mrs. Betty Gillies was the first woman pilot to be “flight checked” and accepted by the Women’s Auxiliary Ferring Squadron. Mrs. Gillies 33 years of age, has been flying since 1928 and received her commercial license in 1930. She has logged in excess of 1400 hours flying time and is qualified to fly single and multi-engined aircraft. Mrs. Gillies is a member of the Aviation Country Club of Hicksville L.I. and is a charter member of ’99, an international club of women flyers formed by Amelia Earhardt in 1929. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Cool. Here is My Girl, 1945.

 Mrs. Betty Gillies was the first woman pilot to be "flight checked" and accepted by the Women's Auxiliary Ferring Squadron. Mrs. Gillies 33 years of age, has been flying since 1928 and received her commercial license in 1930. She has logged in excess of 1400 hours flying time and is qualified to fly single and multi-engined aircraft. Mrs. Gillies is a member of the Aviation Country Club of Hicksville L.I. and is a charter member of '99, an international club of women flyers formed by Amelia Earhardt in 1929. (U.S. Air Force photo)

1940’s — A North American P-51 takes off from Iwo Jima, in the Bonin Islands. From this hard-won base our fighters escorted the B-29s on bombing missions to Japan, and also attacked the Empire on their own. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Goddard:

 EARLY YEARS -- Robert H. Goddard besides 1926 liquid- fueled rocket. The rocket is on top, receiving its fuel by two lines from the tank at the bottom. Goddard's rockets made little impression upon government officials at the time. (U.S. Air Force photo)


EARLY YEARS — Robert H. Goddard besides 1926 liquid- fueled rocket. The rocket is on top, receiving its fuel by two lines from the tank at the bottom. Goddard’s rockets made little impression upon government officials at the time. (U.S. Air Force photo)

That must be in New England someplace, believe it is near Auburn, MA:

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Look, I’m not saying these Air Force photos are any Record Group 80: Series: General Photographic File of the Navy, 1939-1945, the Air Force wasn’t around yet.  But some of them are great.  I mean:

Dr. John Paul Stapp, the fastest man on Earth:

 1950's -- Dr. John Paul Stapp was not only the "fastest human on earth;" he was the quickest to stop. In 1954, America's original Rocketman attained a then-world record land speed of 632 mph, going from a standstill to a speed faster than a .45 bullet in five seconds on an especially-designed rocket sled, and then screeched to a dead stop in 1.4 seconds, sustaining more than 40g's of thrust, all in the interest of safety.


1950’s — Dr. John Paul Stapp was not only the “fastest human on earth;” he was the quickest to stop. In 1954, America’s original Rocketman attained a then-world record land speed of 632 mph, going from a standstill to a speed faster than a .45 bullet in five seconds on an especially-designed rocket sled, and then screeched to a dead stop in 1.4 seconds, sustaining more than 40g’s of thrust, all in the interest of safety.

The Hop A Long to the Rescue:

 1950's -- An UH-19B Chickasaw at the Air Force Museum. Courtesy photo.


1950’s — An UH-19B Chickasaw at the Air Force Museum. Courtesy photo.

Can’t help but think of:

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Connecting:

 

1960s -- U.S. Air Force Sgt. Suzann K. Harry, of Wildwood, N.J., operates a switchboard in the underground command post at Strategic Air Command headquarters, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., in 1967. (U.S. Air Force photo)

1960s — U.S. Air Force Sgt. Suzann K. Harry, of Wildwood, N.J., operates a switchboard in the underground command post at Strategic Air Command headquarters, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., in 1967. (U.S. Air Force photo)


Hole

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 10.34.02 AM

from this bit about an ancient Mediterranean monolith.  Look you guys know I love monoliths but this one is failing to get me too excited.


FDR

FDR sailing

No man should run for president until life has driven him to his knees a few times.

Who does young FDR look like?


Interaction Ritual Chains

IMG_8424Got interested in the sociologist Randall Collins via his blog, which I think Tyler Cowen linked to.

Collins also wrote a book about violence.

Violence

If you find yourself in a bar fight, his main advice on avoiding “damage” seems to be:

1) maintain calm, steady eye contact.

2) speak in a calm clear assertive voice

3) assert emotional dominance, or at least hold your own, emotional dominance-wise.

Most of the damage gets done, says Collins (who watched hundreds of hours of tapes of bar fights) when you’ve already lost the emotional encounter.  Even worse if there’s a crowd.

At the heart of Collins’ micro-sociological theory is the concept of “confrontational tension.” As people enter into an antagonistic interactional situation, their fear/tension is heightened. These emotions become a roadblock to violence, and so flight and stalemate often result. Actual violence only occurs when pathways around this roadblock can be found that lead people into a “tunnel of violence.” Collins identifies several pathways into this tunnel, the most dangerous of which is “forward panic.” In these situations, the confrontational tension builds up and is suddenly released so that it spills forward into atrocities ranging from the Rodney King beating to the My Lai massacre, the rape of Nanking, and the Rwandan genocide. Other ways around the stalemate of confrontational tension are to attack a weak victim (e.g., domestic violence) or to be encouraged by an audience (e.g., lynch mobs). Clearly, these pathways can also be combined, as when a schoolyard bully is encouraged by a crowd of classmates or when forward panic is stimulated by a group of bystanders.

Best posts from his blog, I’d say:

Napoleon

this one, on Napoleon and emotional energy.

this one, on Tank Man, is very interesting (although it goes against some other ideas I’ve heard, like Filip Hammar’s claim that it was well-known in his neighborhood of Beijing that Tank Man had been binge-drinking for days leading up to this event.)

LoA

this one, about fame, network bridging, and Lawrence of Arabia, is just fantastic.

jc

So’s this one, about what we can learn from the gospel accounts of Jesus about charisma.

MBD

This one about Moby-Dick and bullfighting had some really interesting, new to me ideas.

I bought Professor Collins’ ebook, about emotional energy in Napoleon, Steve Jobs, and Alexander the Great.  Lots of good stuff in there.  And I got his magnum Interaction Ritual Chains.  That’s a bit drier, but I’m learning a lot:

FullSizeRender


The story of Cahokia

Anyone who traveled up the Mississippi in 1100 A.D. would have seen it looming in the distance: a four-level earthen mound bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.  Around it like echoes were as many as 120 smaller mounds, some topped by tall wooden palisades, which were in turn ringed by a network of irrigation and transportation canals; carefully located fields of maize; and hundreds of wooden homes with mud-and-straw plastered floors and high-peaked, deeply thatched roofs like those on traditional Japanese farms.

Located near the confluence of the Missouri, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers, the Indian city of Cahokia was a busy port.  Canoes flitted like hummingbirds across its waterfront: traders bringing copper and mother-of-pearl from faraway places; hunting parties bringing such rare treats as buffalo and elk; emissaries and soldiers in long vessels bristling with weaponry; workers ferrying wood from upstream for the ever hungry cookfires; the ubiquitous fishers with their nets and clubs.  Covering five square miles and housing at least fifteen hundred people, Cahokia was the biggest concentration of people north of the Rio Grande until the 18th century.

That is from the great Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations Of The Americas Before Columbus.  

IMG_5493-1

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  Every American should read it.

Cahokia is very close to St. Louis – it’s about thirty miles away between what’s now East St. Louis and Collinsville, IL.

I wanted to visit, but I didn’t have a car.  I explained the predicament to the Ethiopian taxi driver who picked me up at the airport.  I asked him if he’d pick me up, take me there, wait an hour and take me back.  So the next morning he took me out there.  He and I visited the Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center and Museum together.  We watched the award-winning 17 minute movie.  Cahokia Mounds is one of only 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the US, and they do a nice job.

“It was very interesting,” agreed the cab driver.

IMG_5330

The idea that native Americans built cities was and remains a challenging ideas to different views of what life was like here before 1492. It fights with both 19th century views of Indians as primitive savages, and later ideas that they were chilled out wanderers in perfect harmony with nature.

How many people lived at Cahokia?

6,000, say some archaeologists, 40,000 say others.  Charles Mann is really good at sorting through competing views of numbers, and if he says 1500 I’m prepared to believe him.  In the grandest view, the museum’s view, at one time Cahokia looked like this:

and like this:

How did Cahokia emerge?

Cahokia archaeology is wildly controversial.  But it seems like there’s more or less consensus that Cahokia grew up around the year 1000 in a “big bang.” Here’s Mann:

As the millennium approached, the American Bottom had a resident population of several thousand.  Then, without much apparent warning, there was, according to the archaeologist Timothy R. Pauketat of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, what has been called a “Big Bang” – a few decades of tumultuous change.

To his way of thinking, the Big Bang occurred after a single ambitious person seized power, perhaps in a coup.  Although his reign may have begun idealistically, Cahokia quickly became an autocracy; in an Ozymandic extension of his ego, the supreme leader set in motion the construction projects.

Don’t worry: there’s lots of arguing already:

[William] Woods [of U. Kansas, who spent 20 years excavating the mounds] disagrees with what he calls the “proto-Stalinist work camp” scenario.  Nobody was forced to erect Monks Mound, he says.  Despite the intermittent displays of coercion, he says, Cahokians put it up “because they wanted to.”

Who knows?  Julian Jaynes might say that these people just started building because the two hemispheres of their brain weren’t yet in alignment so they heard voices like schizophrenics:

 

But that’s a topic for another day.

At the Cahokia gift shop, I picked up a copy of Pauketat’s book:

IMG_5494

It’s terrific, just the right length.  Pauketat says:

Civilizations can rise and fall, to adapt Margaret Mead’s famous quotation, as a result of the actions of a small group of people combined with the inaction of many others. Making sense of these actions and inacations can be a difficult task for archaeologists, who must distinguish between how people lived and how they wanted to be perceived as living.  Cahokia’s big bang is a case study in how people can combine to great historical change.

OK, groovy – but why did this happen around the year 1000?  If I can jump ahead in Pauketat’s story: This combination of the cultural power of immigrants and the economic base of Old Cahokia [don’t worry about that], with its access to large amounts of easy-to-farm river bottom, was a recipe for explosive growth.  That explosion might have been sparked early one morning in 1054.

On that morning, recorded by a Chinese astrologer as July 4, a brilliant new luminary appeared in the sky.  It was a “guest star,” a supernova, a visitor in the constellation Taurus, visible today with a high-powered telescope as the Crab Nebula.  One of only fifty supernovas ever recorded – only three in our own Milky Way galaxy* – this nuclear detonation was the last gasp of a dying star.  The inaudible explosion discharged a billion times more energy than the small star had previously emitted, and that morning a brilliant beacon – four times brighter than Venus – appeared in the daylight adjacent to a crescent moon…

Whatever i might have meant to the native peoples, a New Mexican Mimbres valley potter commemorated the celestial event by painting a pot with a star ad the foot of a crescent-shaped rabbit, a representation of the rabbit many indigenous North Americans believed resided in the moon.  Ancient rock art in Arizona also appears to illustrate the supernova, as do petrogylphs in Missouri, which show the moon and supernova astride rabbit tracks.  And in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a map of the night sky in July 1054 was painted on the sandstone cliffs above a palatial-sized, multi-story Great House called Penasco Blanco, under construction at about the same time in the middle of the eleventh century.  The pictograph shows the exploding star next to a crescent moon and a human hand, the later possibly representing a group of stars still known among Plains Indians today as the Hand constellation.  Also in Chaco Canyon, construction began around this time on a massive new kiva, an underground ceremonial building, now called Casa Rinconada, just south of the largest Great House, Pueblo Bonito.

Pause for a sec.  This is a sexy theory: a supernova creates a new star, and everyone goes into a religious building frenzy.  But let’s take a look at the Penasco Blanco petroglyph.  Here is is, in a photo by Ron Lussier:

Could it be that we’re stretching things a BIT here?  That star/moon pattern appears in other petrogylphs that weren’t from the 1054 period.

Anyway, here’s some things we do know about Cahokia:

They had human sacrifices. 

Pakutet, talking about Cahokia’s “Mound 72”:

Over the next four summers, Fowler’s crew turned up pit after pit and row after row of human skeletons in other parts of the mound.  The lengths and widths of the pits were precisely suited to contain exactly the number of bodies interred within them.  The excavation of the largest pit was supervised by Al Meyer, who noticed the telltale signs of a tomb originally lined with logs (which had since disintegrated) as he dug around the pit’s margins downward to the bottom.  At the bottom were the remains of fifty-three sacrificed women, fifty-two of whom were young (most between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five).  The fifty-third individual was an “elderly” (thirtyish) female, whom Meyer thought of as “the matron,” sparking the notion that she had been the elder wife of some man’s harem.  Since there were no skeletal indications of how the women had died, it is likely that they were poisoned or strangled or that their throats had been slit…

Nearby were:

the bodies of thirty-nine men and women who had, without a doubt, been executed on the spot. In the dispassionate language of a forensic report, Rose describes: […]

Evidence of violence also distinguishes these burials from the other mass graves.  Three individuals had been decapitated prior to being thrown into the pit.  The heads were thrown in before the burials were covered.  Another male appears to have been incompletely decapitated

They played a game called chunkey.  

Man, read about Cahokia and you are gonna hear a lot about chunkey.  It was a game where you rolled a stone, and then tried to hit it with a spear.  It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s all over what little art we have from the Mississippian culture.  Pakutet has a lot more patience than me for the differences in various chunkey stones found at Mississippian sites:

Anthropologists seem to think that this was the same game native Americans were playing seven centuries later when whites first saw them.  Said Swiss painter Rudolf Kurz, who was traveling around:

they bet high; here you may see a savage come and bring all his skins, stake them and lose them, next his pipe, his beads, trinkets and ornaments; at last his blankets and other garments, and even all their arms, and after all that is is not uncommon for them to go home, borrow a gun and shoot themselves; an instance of this happened in 1771 at East Yasoo a short time before my arrival.

Rudolf Kurz

I’m telling you, the guys who get into Cahokia get deep into chunkey:

Emerson took the next step.  He worked with a geologist and an archaeometric specialist to develop, with the aid of the National Science Foundation, a new short-wave, infrared-light-beam method of measuring the mineral composition of rock.  Their device is called a Portable Infrared Mineral Analyzer (PIMA for short) and has the advantage of being able to precisely measure a specimen’s mineralogy without damaging it.  Functioning like a ray gun, the PIMA is powerful enough to determine where the Chunkey Player pipe and two dozen other Cahokia-style objects were made.  Between 2000 and 2003, Emerson and his team published their results: the red stone sculptures were made not from bauxite but from a raw material called flintclay, which could have been obtained only at a single source of stone originating from an outcrop as close as twenty miles west of Cahokia.

I gotta say, chunkey does not seem that fun to me that I can understand why they were shooting themselves over it seven centuries after it was invented but I’ve never tried it.

They had massive feasts.

Based on the sheer density of excavated remains, individual feasts that took place over the course of just a few days would have involved killing, butchering, and carting in as many as thirty-nine hundred deer, the use of up to seventy-nine hundred pots, and enough smoking tobacco to produce more than a million charred tobacco seeds.

I have no idea how much tobacco that is.  A lot?  Worth noting that Charles Mann points out that the tobacco back then was way stronger, possibly even slightly hallucinogenic.

Now as I’m reviewing Pakutet’s book I can’t help but be impressed by how much he likes archaeology.  here he is talking about a site that wasn’t even very important, it was basically twelve huts from poor people who lived miles away from Cahokia Central:

The trash itself was impressive, in both amount and type.

Imagine spending years digging up people’s trash from a thousand years ago so you could make discoveries like “THEY ATE DOGS!” and “THEY ATE MOSTLY CORN”!

At Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center they make a big deal out of “borrow pits,” places where they took the dirt to make the mounds.  Borrow pits? It’s like: “dude, do you mean holes?”

God bless you, archaeologists.  Some of the characters he describes were pretty wild:

[Preston] Holder also joined the armed forces.  He signed up with the navy and was sent to fight the Japanese.  Years later, he would tell stories about his time as a coast watcher on a small island in the Pacific.  The Japanese had established an airbase on one side of the island, he was stationed on the opposite side, and the people of Espiritu Santo, who had practiced head-hunting before the war, were trapped in between.  Holder, intrepid archaeologist that he was, apparently convinced the natives to revive their traditional practice, and they began taking heads again, this time preying on the unsuspecting Japanese troops.  Holder’s unusual ploy demoralized the Japanese, and when American forces finally retook the island in 1945, the Japanese were all too ready to surrender.

They were into a mythological birdman.

That was the only Birdman image I saw at the Interpretive Center, but artist Herb Roe has painted a more fanciful depiction of the Birdman supposedly crucial to the Mississippian culture or “Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.”

Now, what don’t we know about Cahokia?

What happened to them?

Nobody knows, seems to have collapsed around 1250.

Did they have any connection to the big cities that sprang up in Mexico?

There’s no evidence of it, really, unless you realllllllly stretch the birdman idea.  Some of the archaeologists got into the idea that the 52 human sacrifices has something to do with the Mayan calendar, but c’mon bros.

I find the idea of a pre-Columbian city in the what’s now United States fascinating, and the tantalizing, inevitably frustrating effort to sort out what was going on in a place that left no record is a cool mystery.  As usual, the history about the history is as good as the history.  Here we have archaeologists spending five years digging in the mud of Illinois to try and figure out why people 1000 years ago dug in the mud of Illinois.

On the other hand, what we’re talking about is some piles of dirt.

Anyway, glad someone’s working on it.

By the way, for more on the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, check out this great essay by John Jeremiah Sullivan.  

 

 


What was up with European witch trials in the Middle Ages?

This tweet by Chris Schleicher:

IMG_5226

got me to thinking.  What with plagues and beheadings and barbarians, droughts and wars and rumors of wars and all, it can feel like end times.  But there’s nothing new there, people have pretty much always thought it was end times.  In 2 Thessalonians Paul has to calm down the panicky Thessalonians that the second coming hasn’t already happened – he’s like guys, I promise, you’ll hear about it.

A good book on this subject is In Pursuit Of The Millennium:

The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (1957, revised and expanded in 1970) isNorman Cohn’s study of millenariancult movements.

Covering a wide span of time, Cohn’s book discusses topics such as anti-Semitism and the Crusades, in addition to such sects as the Brethren of the Free Spirit, flagellants, the Anabaptists, and the Ranters. The Pursuit of the Millennium concludes with a discussion of the theocratic king John of Leiden, who took over the city of Münster in 1534.

(You can, apparently, still see the cage where they left John’s body on the steeple of St. Lambert’s in Münster)

Germany is twisted.  Anyway: read Cohn in high school because I was interested in what kind of weird and creepy cults emerged from the bubonic plague.  Cohn doesn’t have a ton on that, if I remember, but he does have lots of interesting stuff about flagellating cults of penitents and so forth.  And he talks about the Children’s Crusade, a deeply sad event which is all the more intriguing because of how hard it is to sort out.

ANYWAY: went to wikipedia Cohn, and learned about another topic he was into: witch trials.  In this book:

Cohn tries to sort out what the hell was going on with medieval witch trials.

Within the book, Cohn argues that there never were any Devil-worshiping witches in Early Modern Europe, and that all of those persecuted for being so were innocent. In this he specifically rejects the Witch-cult hypothesis put forward by English scholar Margaret Murray, which argued that there really had been a witch-cult religion which had been pre-Christian in origin. Cohn notes that accusations of worshiping a beast-headed deity, eating children and committing incest were not new to the witches of Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, but had originally been leveled at Jews in the first century and then at Christians in the second, before being reused against Christian heretical sects like the Waldensians and the Knights Templar during the Late Medieval.

Now, the Margaret Murray hole is a great one to go down.  Basically, her argument was that there was a pre-Christian folk religion in England that worshipped a horned fertility god, and that witch hunts were Christian efforts to stamp this out.

Amazing book cover.

Murray’s is a great, exciting idea and it still can put a twinkle in the eye of deep English folk hippies.  But the prevailing historical view started to go at it:

In his 1962 work A Razor for a Goat, Rose asserted that Murray’s books on the witch-cult “contain an incredible number of minor errors of fact or of calculation and several inconsistencies of reasoning.”[75] He accepted that her case “could, perhaps, still be proved by somebody else, though I very much doubt it.”[75]Highlighting that there is a gap of about a thousand years between the Christianisation of Britain and the start of the witch trials there, he asserts that there is no evidence for the existence of the witch-cult anywhere in the intervening period.

That last part seems like the best argument to me – if there was a horn-god religion, why didn’t we hear about it before the 1400s?  But, of course, there were ancient pre-Christian religions in Britain:

In keeping with what was by then the prevailing academic view, [Ronald Hutton’s boo] disputed the widely held idea that ancient paganism had survived into the contemporary and had been revived by the Pagan movement. In turn, it proved somewhat controversial among some sectors of the Pagan community, with two prominent members of the Goddess movement, Asphodel Long and Max Dashu publishing criticisms of it.

The Murray “witch-cult hypothesis” was talking about Britain, but people picked up on it elsewhere:

During the 1930s and 1940s, Heinrich Himmler organised a branch of the SS to undertake the largest survey of witch-hunt trial records in Europe ever taken, with the dual aim of using it as anti-Christian propaganda, to claim that the inquisition had been a repression of an indigenous Völkisch Norse-Germanic nature religion, and as evidence for reconstructing that religion.

Ultimately it seems like your more serious British historians, going through more and more documents, picking away at Murray, found it didn’t hold up.  But that still leaves us with the question of what the fuck was going on with witch trials?

Down in Italy in the ’60s, Carlo Ginzberg started looking into benandanti:

The benandanti (“Good Walkers”) were members of an agrarian visionary tradition in the Friuli district of Northeastern Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries. The benandanti claimed to travel out of their bodies while asleep to struggle against malevolent witches (streghe) in order to ensure good crops for the season to come. Between 1575 and 1675, in the midst of the Early Modern witch trials, a number of benandanti were accused of being heretics or witches under the Roman Inquisition, and their beliefs assimilated to Satanism.

He suggested that these guys were in line with “shamanistic” traditions which anthropologists note all over the world.  Over in Hungary, Éva Pócs started getting into a similar idea:

But man, some people weren’t into it:

Writing in the journal Anthropos, T.O. Beidelman lamented that despite the huge amount of source material that Pócs had to work with, “No account whatsoever is provided to set these witch-hunts and trials (and thus the data at hand) into any kind of historical, cultural, or social contexts. We gain no idea of just what kind of materials may be found in these accounts, who transcribed them, or how these transcriptions may or may not relate to what actually occurred and just who believed what.” He argues that Pócs “displays little sense of proper historical procedures” in her method, and that she also “has little concern for any anthropological, sociological, or psychology theory”, remarking that ultimately the work is “essentially [a] folkloristic, neo-Frazerian account content to describe a large aggregation of terms, beliefs, and practices mainly with the aims of comparing them to materials from elsewhere in Europe… and of tracing the possible origins of such ideas and customs to earlier beliefs and customs of the pre-Christian or even prehistoric past.” He furthermore criticised the style of writing, claiming that it was “rambling and discursive”, to the extent that it became “the most serious weakness of this volume”. He similarly criticises the translation into English, asserting that it “reads poorly”.

Da-yum.

(Let me pause here to note I’m just digesting all this from wikipedia, Helytimes’ greatest friend, and haven’t read these books).

They got into the shaman idea in Germany, too:

Anyway, back in England, Emma Wilby at the University of Exeter picked up on this “shamanic” idea:

she has published two books examining witchcraft and the cunning folk of this period. In these, she has identified what she considers to be shamanic elements within the popular beliefs that were held in this place and time, which she believes influenced magical thought and the concept of the witch.

Wilby started digging into on something interesting, the confession of a witch named Isobel Gowdie, who was arrested around 1662, but apparently confessed without being tortured:

Wilby herself was able to obtain copies of the trial records, which had been presumed lost for two centuries, from which she concluded that Gowdie had been involved in some form of shamanic visionary trances.

Isobel sounds like an interesting lady:

A young housewife living at Auldearn, Highland, Scotland, her confession painted a wild word-picture about the deeds of her coven. They were claimed to have the ability to transform themselves into animals; to turn into a hare, she would say:

I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil’s name,
Ay while I come home again.

(sych: such; meickle: great)

To change back, she would say:

Hare, hare, God send thee care.

I am in a hare’s likeness now,

But I shall be in a woman’s likeness even now.

What was going on here?  Were these people psychotic?  Is a word like that even useful or transferable across centuries and cultures? Was there some kind of folk shamanism that stayed alive all over Europe through the Middle Ages?  Is that so different from what Margaret Murray was saying?

I don’t have time to sort it all out, but I’m glad somebody’s on it.

I’m just talking about Europe, too – the Salem witch trials are a whole different ballgame.  There you can get into theories about West Indian psychotropic hallucinogens, real estate dynamics, wild ergot poisoning, social politics, post-Indian wars PTSD, proto-feminism and fear of adolescent girls’ sexuality, and so on forever down the worm hole.

I guess my point is, 1) history is interesting and 2) dope book cover from Margaret Murray.

 

 

 


There’s hope for all of us!

It is easy to forget, but on the eve of the Russian Revolution, Stalin was in his late 30s and had nothing to show for his life. He had “no money, no permanent residence, and no profession other than punditry,” meaning that he wrote articles for illegal newspapers. He certainly had no training in statecraft, and no experience managing anything at all. The Bolshevik coup d’état of 1917 brought him and his comrades their first, glorious taste of success. Their unlikely revolution—the result of Lenin’s high-risk gambles—validated their obscure and fanatical ideology. More to the point, it brought them personal security, fame, and power they had never before known.

from here.


History As Emergency

Here then we arrive at the rub.  To sort the actions of the past, to begin to unthread them and lay them out on our examiners’ table, is accomplished only with time, patience, argument.

But Time, cruel as she is, doesn’t stop moving, not even for the historian.  In the thirty or forty years it may take historians to come to some preliminary judgment on the recent past, the game’s been going on.  The same mistakes have already been made.  It is no question of history repeating itself.  History repeats itself before it’s even history.  The scholar emerges from his library, steps out on the balcony, and announces: “ah!  look!  tyrants oppress!  fools stumble! vanity clouds judgment! fear leads us to folly!” The man in the street – if one can be bothered to look up – says “well done, sir, but while you were in your study, all that’s already happened again.”

… in this sense, the historian is running a race that can only be lost.  One could argue that the historian then should work quick as a doctor, his business as pressing as the surgeons’, rushing to prescriptions before the patient collapses.  I don’t contend as much, however, not merely because the historians’ business is done sedentarily.  No; I think we are best advised to work with a philosopher’s unsurprise.  Indeed, for a historian, unsurprise is the beginning of wisdom.

Francis Dunnam, “History As Emergency,” Twombley memorial lecture at Oxford (1938).


One of my bitch older sisters

emailed me just to mock me by saying she got to go see the dinosaur footprints out in western Mass.

which I’ve NEVER SEEN.

I’m telling you: they’ve been doing shit like this to me my whole damn life.  


No end to learning

Started out reading about the Hotel Nacional in Havana.

In 1933, after Fulgencio Batista’s coup against the transitional government, it was the residence of Sumner Welles, a special envoy sent by U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to mediate the crisis, and was the site of a bloody siege that pitted the officers of the Cuban army… against the non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Cuban army, who supported Batista.

Sumner Welles:

New York Times profile described him at the time he joined the foreign service: “Tall, slender, blond, and always correctly tailored, he concealed a natural shyness under an appearance of dignified firmness. Although intolerant of inefficiency, he brought to bear unusual tact and a self-imposed patience.”

He lived in this mansion, which is now the Cosmos Club:

The Cosmos Club is a private social club, incorporated in Washington, D.C. in 1878 by men distinguished in science, literature and the arts. In June, 1988 the Club voted to welcome women as members.

Since its founding, the Club has elected as members individuals in virtually every profession that has anything to do with scholarship, creative genius or intellectual distinction.

Among its members, over the years, have been three Presidents, two Vice Presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 32 Nobel Prize winners, 56 Pulitzer Prize winners and 45 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

(yes, Carl Sagan is a member of the Cosmos Club)

Let’s not get distracted though.  Sumner Welles went on to be Under Secretary of State from 1937-1943.

And then what happened?

In September 1940, Welles accompanied Roosevelt to the funeral of former Speaker of the HouseWilliam B. Bankhead in Huntsville, Alabama. While returning to Washington by train, Welles solicited sex from two African-American Pullman car porters.

Hard to imagine when he had Mrs. Welles at home:

He resigned.

In 1956, Confidential, a scandal magazine, published a report of the 1940 Pullman incident and linked it to his resignation from the State Department, along with additional instances of inappropriate sexual behavior or drunkenness. Welles’ explained the 1940 incident to his family as nothing more than drunken conversation with the train staff

About that top headline

About Frank Sinatra as Tarzan of the boudoir I have no further info.


Cudjoe Lewis

photo

Excitement about how terrific John Jeremiah Sullivan is reached me long ago but it took me awhile to get to this book and believe it for myself.  Now I’m a JJS belieber.

Enjoyed the book on a plane, a fine setting in all regards but one:

after you’ve finished reading the essay “Unknown Bards” – about certain mysterious bluesmen whose lives are vanished to history except for one recording – you have no way of listening to any of the songs mentioned, let alone the entire album Pre-War Revenants.

The collection’s only delimiting criteria would be that nothing biographical could be known regarding any of the artists involved, and that every recording must be phenomenal, in a sense almost strict: something that happened once in front of a microphone and can never be imitated, merely reexperienced.

On return to California a listening party was organized (thanks to Chennai office).

While listening to this amazing thing the question came up of: whether any people were alive in the American South at the time of these recordings (1910-1940, let’s say) who were born in Africa and brought over to the United States as slaves.

My expensive education paid off because I knew that the Atlantic slave trade was abolished in 1808, the first year that the U. S. Constitution allowed it to be abolished.   (Never hurts to remind your strict constructionists how much of what ‘the framers intended’ was “being allowed to own people.”  See Article 1, Section 9).

BUT the story’s more interesting.

Wiki:

Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis, or Cudjo Lewis (ca. 1840 – 1935), is considered the last person born on African soil to have been enslaved in the United States when slavery was still lawful.

Together with more than a hundred other captured Africans, he was brought on the ship Clotilde to Mobile, Alabama, in the United States in 1860 during an illegal slave-trading venture.

Cudjoe was the longest-lived survivor of all those who were brought aboard the Clotilde. He was believed to be the last slave born in Africa and brought to the United States by the transatlantic slave trade. Before he died, he gave several interviews on his experiences, including one to the writer Zora Neale Hurston. During that interview in 1928, Hurston made a short film of Cudjoe, the only moving image that exists in the Western hemisphere of an African transported through the transatlantic slave trade.

Hurston named the last eight of the Clothilde’s survivors as: “Abache (Clara Turner), Monachee (Kitty Cooper), Shamber, Kanko (who married Jim Dennison), Zooma (of Togo Tribe), Polute, Cudjo, and Orsey, or Orsta Keeby. Cudjo is the only one alive at present, a dignified, lovable, intelligent man.”

He died in 1935 at the age of 94, in Plateau (Africa Town), Alabama.

Could explore this forever.  Was he named after this man?*

The Library of Congress has audio recordings of slave interviews.

* alert reader “DS” calls my attention to a more likely explanation: Lewis was born on a Monday


Putzi Hanfstaengl

Found this in The Wise Men: Six Friends and The World They Made by Walter Isaacson & Evan Thomas:

McCloy was also responsible for the construction of The Pentagon, which became known as “McCloy’s Folly.”  One of his greatest difficulties was getting the plans approved by Roosevelt, who fancied himself an amateur architect.  He finally resorted to extortion.  The President had gotten himself in a bind involving an old Harvard classmate, Putzi Hanfstaengl, a German refugee who had returned to his native country and acted for a while as a court jester for Hitler.  Thinking he could pump useful information out of Hanfstaengl, Roosevelt had hims ent to the U. S. from England, where he was being held prisoner.  Hansfstaengl, however, turned out to be a fool, and Roosevelt wanted to get rid of him.  McCloy told a White House staffer he would find a safe sinecure for Hansfstaengl at an army base in Texas if FDR would approve the Pentagon blueprints.  It worked.  At a Cabinet meeting the following week, Roosevelt turned to McCloy and growled, “You blackmailer!”

This raises more questions than it answers and sent me to Putzi’s wikipedia page.

Hanfstaengl was so fascinated by Hitler that he soon became one of his most intimate followers, although he did not formally join the Nazi Party until 1931. “What Hitler was able to do to a crowd in 2½ hours will never be repeated in 10,000 years,” Hanfstaengl said. “Because of his miraculous throat construction, he was able to create a rhapsody of hysteria. In time, he became the living unknown soldier of Germany.”

Throat construction.  You can also read there the somewhat confusing story of a “prank” played on Hansfstaengl that led him to think he was about to get killed.

In 1944, Hanfstaengl was handed back to the British, who repatriated him to Germany at the end of the war. William Shirer, a CBS journalist who resided in Nazi Germany until 1940 and was in frequent contact with Hanfstaengl, described him as an “eccentric, gangling man, whose sardonic wit somewhat compensated for his shallow mind.”

Looks like a charmer.

In 1974, Hanfstaengl attended his 65th Harvard Reunion, where he regaled theHarvard University Band about the authors of various Harvard fight songs. His relationship to Hitler went unmentioned.

Anyway, this is a bit of a bummer post so here is a photo of sunny Florida:

IMG_6983


Diplomacy

from yesterday’s NY Times:

Mr. Ker­ry and Mr. Lavrov com­plet­ed the plan sit­ting by the pool at a Ge­neva ho­tel.

Lavrov:

At the Unit­ed Na­tions, he was known for his elab­o­rate, seem­ing­ly ab­sent-mind­ed doo­dling dur­ing lengthy meet­ings but al­so for a com­mand of the is­sues.

“He was a great doo­dler, but his mind was al­ways spin­ning away,” said Charles A. Du­elfer, who was dep­uty head of the Unit­ed Na­tions’ weapons in­spec­tors pro­gram in Iraq in the 1990s and fre­quent­ly met with Mr. Lavrov at the Unit­ed Na­tions head­quar­ters in New York.

…Mr. Lavrov, a chain-smok­er, is known as an old-school dip­lo­mat. He flat­ly ig­nored an ef­fort by Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Kofi An­nan to ban smok­ing in the Unit­ed Na­tions head­quar­ters, say­ing Mr. An­nan did not own the build­ing. He en­joys whiskey and cig­ars, and his hob­bies tend to­ward ac­tion sports like raft­ing and ski­ing.

He can show flashes of an­ger. When a pho­tog­ra­ph­er asked Mr. Lavrov, Mr. Ker­ry and the spe­cial en­voy, Lakhdar Brahi­mi, to pose af­ter a meet­ing in Ge­neva, Mr. Lavrov said: “You don’t give us or­ders; you just cap­ture the mo­ment.”

And:

The for­mer Aus­trian for­eign min­is­ter, Ur­sula Plass­nik, called Mr. Lavrov “one of the most knowl­edge­able and re­spect­ed for­eign pol­i­cy ac­tors in the glob­al vil­lage.” On her first visit to Moscow, she said, Mr. Lavrov was wait­ing for her out­side the leg­end­ary Café Pushkin with a bunch of yel­low ros­es.

Cafe Pushkin

Ursula Plassnik

The history books:

Geor­gi I. Mirsky, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the In­sti­tute of World Econ­omy and In­ter­na­tion­al Re­la­tions, said that the Syria plan was re­al­ly Mr. Putin’s but that Mr. Lavrov will get the credit.

“In his­to­ry text­books, it will be Lavrov and Ker­ry — Lavrov the great man, he saves Syria from Amer­i­can mil­i­tary strikes, and al­so saves Barack Oba­ma from a hu­mili­at­ing and em­bar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tion in the Con­gress,” Mr. Mirsky said. “He is a bu­reau­crat, he is a good dip­lo­mat. He knows the score. And he will nev­er ever say any­thing that will con­tra­dict the of­fi­cial line.”

Who is gonna read that boring ass history book?  Not me unless Margaret MacMillan writes it.

(AFP photo of Lavrov and Kerry from here, Lavrov smoking from here credited to Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters, top photo is the Intercontinental Hotel Geneva)


Handsome Devil

In 1899 companies were crazy.

This man, James Hazen Hyde, inherited the Equitable Life Insurance Company from his dad when he was 23.  The company had $400 million in assets.

A few years later he threw a crazy costume party.  J. P. Morgan and some other tricksters claimed he’d charged the party to the company, which I guess wasn’t true.  Hyde lost his job, and the tricksters got their  hands on the company themselves.

I hope he didn’t lose his good looks, though.

(Learned that from here and here and here).

 


History is crazy

From this review of this book, about an executioner in 16th century Germany.  Being an executioner was, needless to say, a bummer job and here’s how he ended up with it:

His own apprenticeship as an executioner was the result of a catastrophic fall in family fortunes, originating in an episode of almost cinematic vividness. In October 1553, the erratic and unpopular Prince Albrecht Alcibiades von Brandenburg-Kulmbach suspected three local gunsmiths of plotting against his life. Invoking an ancient custom, he commanded a hapless bystander to execute them on the spot. Frantz’s father, Heinrich, had no option but to carry out the commission and, tainted by the act, no options thereafter but to become a professional executioner.