Das Rabblemeister

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Thursday, November 11 — Armistice Day (1918), known in the U.S. as Veteran’s Day

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Don't you hate it when this happens? (Image from Gizmodo. For more info on what happened and to see some other captions for this image, click on the image.)

  • On this day in 1918, at 11am Central European Time — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 — a cease-fire went into effect that ended the fighting of World War I, which became known at the time at The Great War and The War to End All Wars. It had been a war so horrific — at times tens of thousands dead in one day, millions gassed with skin- and lung-searing poisons, millions more fallen to the new mechanical Grim Reaper, the machine gun. More than 8 million soldiers died, more than 20 million more were seriously injured or disabled, many millions of civilians dead from starvation, disease, genocide, and other calamities of war. The world was so shocked and horrified by war of such unprecedented scale and ferocity that it was certain mankind would never repeat such a thing. Or so it was thought, not realizing that within the Versailles Treaty that ended World War One lay the seeds of something far, far worse less than 30 years later.
  • In 1953, after World War II and the Korean War, an Emporia, Kansas shoe store owner named Alfred King thought it would be a good idea to extend the November 11 Armistice Day, which had become a U.S. holiday in 1938, to be a day to celebrate veterans of all wars, not just those from World War I. King’s campaign gained local and soon national support, a bill to implement it was passed by Congress in 1954 and signed by President Eisenhower. Thus on June 1, 1954 the American Armistice Day holiday on November 11 became Veteran’s Day. After the passage of the Uniform Holiday Act in 1971 Veteran’s Day was temporarily moved to be the fourth Monday in November, but by 1978 it had been moved back to November 11, where it remains today.
  • Want to be mayor of Lynchburg, South Carolina? The town’s mayor, in a spat with the City Council, resigned this past August, and last week an election was held for a new mayor. Unfortunately, no one wanted to run, so there was no one on the ballot. So the town had a do-over — but still no one wanted to run. But someone was elected anyway, even though no one was on the ballot. How did that happen? Can’t figure it out? Find out.
  • Unexpected opposition: A very powerful, and perhaps unexpected, opponent has spoken out against the Ground Zero Mosque: Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, it probably should: Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal is one of the most internationally influential, and certainly the wealthiest, member of the royal Al Saud family that reigns over Saudi Arabia, sometimes called the “the Warren Buffet of Arabia,” estimated to be worth $19 billion. The American-educated Prince stated:

“I am against putting the mosque in that particular place. And I’ll tell you why. For two reasons: first of all, those people behind the mosque have to respect, have to appreciate and have to defer to the people of New York, and not try to agitate the wound by saying ‘we need to put the mosque next to the 9/11 site’…The wound is still there. Just because the wound is healing you can’t say ‘let’s just go back to where we were pre-9/11’. I am against putting the mosque there out of respect for those people who have been wounded over there.”

  • Economics is boring, right? I mean, since the 1930s the biggest debate in economics has been between the theories of John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek, two old dead white guys who wrote boring books on economics theory. By the 1970s it looked like Keynes had won, but in the last 30 years Hayek has made a big comeback — but really, how boring is all this? Well, sometimes not boring at all.
  • The best saved for last: To those of you who have served your country in uniform — thank you. All the rest of us owe you a debt we can never repay. And I think I speak for a great, great many in saying we will never, ever forget.

Friday, November 5 — Guy Fawkes Night (from 1605), Iran hostage crisis (1979), Fort Hood Massacre (2009)

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Hugo Weaving as Guy Fawkes in the film "V for Vendetta." Click on the image for more info, including trailers.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Hulloa boys, Hulloa boys, let the bells ring.
Hulloa boys, hulloa boys, God save the King!

‘Tis the traditional date for Guy Fawkes Night in Merrie Olde England tonight, also known as Bonfire Night, which has become curiously linked to recent American politics. It was also the inspiration for the quirky and interesting film V for Vendetta, starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving (whose face is never seen in the movie). Worth watching, but first be sure to read up on Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot — you’ll appreciate the movie much more. 

Click on the image to learn more about the courageous Canadians who helped six Americans escape from the American embassy in Tehran in 1979.

  • Also on this day:
    • Iran hostage crisis: On this day in 1979 the American embassy in Tehran was seized by “students” who were remarkably keen and skilled at locating and spiriting away all the intelligence documents they could find. Sixty-six U.S. citizens were taken hostage, some were later released, others escaped, but 52 of them continued in captivity for 444 days, released just as Ronald Reagan was taking his oath of office on January 20, 1981. It’s also worth remembering the Canadian embassy’s role in spiriting out six Americans who were able to get away from the Iranians, doing so at great personal risk to several Canadian officials.
    • Fort Hood Massacre: It was on this in 2009 that U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan, armed with a Belgian FN 5.7mm pistol, walked into a medical building in Fort Hood, Texas, jumped atop a desk, shouted “Allahu akhbar!” and started shooting people, apparently indiscrimately. By the time he was shot and restrained (by a civilian police officer; soldiers are curiously required to be unarmed on base) Hasan had fired 214 rounds, killed 13 people and seriously wounded 30 more. Hasan had been in frequent contact with American-born Al Qaida imam Anwar al-Awlaki (believed to be in Yemen), who called Hasan a hero and that “fighting against the U.S. army is an Islamic duty.” The FBI had been aware of Hasan’s ongoing communication with al-Awlaki for some time, but dismissed it as harmless, probably Hasan doing research. Hasan is still awaiting trial.
  • Reading the classics: For readers of great literature, Amazon is currently offering, free for the download, 23 of the world’s great literature classics. Lots of good stuff there: Homer’s Iliad, War and Peace, Gulliver’s Travels, even a few boring-sounding chick books by someone named Jane Austen, whoever she is. They’re all in electronic book format usable not only in Amazon’s Kindle but also other e-book readers or on your computer or smartphone with free available software (you can look up the software — I’m not going to do all the work for you).
  • Banning ammunition violates the Second Amendment: Seems pretty obvious that if you have a right to buy and possess firearms (just affirmed by the Heller and McDonald decisions) then you also have the right to buy and possess ammunition. But apparently the wise sages who run the city of Washington, D.C. didn’t see it that way, and it took a decision of the D.C. Court of Appeals (Herrington v. United States, handed down yesterday) to explain it to them. Duh.
  • Can I do this too? Our oh-so-responsible Federal Government is set to run a $1.2-trillion deficit in the next year. To cover just the first six months of its over-spending, the Treasury will need to sell $600 billion in Treasury bonds. And because investors have been reluctant to keep buying those bonds, the Fed has announced that over the next 6 months it’s going to print $600 billion in new currency in order to buy those bonds. In other words, to pay for its over-spending the next six months, the government is just going to print paper money. If that doesn’t scare the lab samples out of you, you’re not paying attention.
    Of course that bit of news immediately caused the dollar to plummet, making its fall even steeper than it was before, making every dollar you have — in checking, savings, in your pocket — worth less and less each day the dollar’s slide continues.
  • On the lighter side of nuclear particle physics (you didn’t know there was one, did you?), turn up the loud, yo’, and check out the Large Hadron Collider Rap.

And on that phat rap attack — have a good weekend!


Thursday, November 4 — King Tut’s tomb found (1922), Hungary invaded by USSR (1956)

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The solid gold, exquisitely decorated burial mask of King Tutankhamun. He became Pharaoh at age nine, died at nineteen, cause still disputed. Click on the image for more about King Tut.

  • King Tut’s tomb was discovered by famed archaeologist Howard Carter on this day in 1922. Carter was working under the employ of Lord Carnarvon and waited until Lord Carnarvon arrived before entering the tomb together on November 26. Much excavation followed and it wasn’t until February 16 that the burial chamber was officially opened. On April 5, 50 days later, Lord Carnarvon died, giving a grand start to all the stories of “King Tut’s Curse.” After the opening of the burial chamber there was more excavation, not a few disputes, and Carter left the project. He returned in January 1925, but it still wasn’t until October 28, 1925 that the lid of the inner sarcophagus was removed and the mummy was first seen, almost three years after the entrance to the tomb was first discovered, more than 3000 years after the mummy had been placed in the tomb.
  • The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a popular Hungarian revolt against the Communist government that had been forcibly imposed by the USSR at the end of World War II. It was a spontaneous revolt that started on October 23 with student demonstrations. On October 24 Soviet troops and tanks stationed in Hungary moved into Budapest. But in daring street fighting by Hungarians often armed with no more than Molotov cocktails, Hungarian civilians were able to push back the Soviets troops and destroy, disable, and even take over some of the Soviet tanks. By October 28 the fighting was largely over and by October 30 a new popular government was being put in place. Political prisoners were freed and plans were laid for an open, multi-party democracy. A Hungarian delegation started negotiations for withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary and Soviet ambassador Yuri Andropov (later head of the KGB and Soviet prime minister) promised the USSR would not invade.
    On the night of November 3 the Hungarian delegation was invited to Soviet Military Command near Budapest to discuss withdrawal of Soviet troops. But around midnight the delegation was arrested and very early on the morning of November 4 the Soviets launched a massive invasion with 22 Army divisions, including the Soviet 8th Mechanized Army. They encircled Budapest and moved in, firing indiscriminately at both civilians and military targets. The Hungarian free government pleaded for help from other countries, but none came. The free republic was crushed within hours.
    Afterward the Soviets and Hungarian Communists conducted mass trials of over 22 000 Hungarians, many thousands were imprisoned, hundreds executed. Some of the leaders of the revolution sought asylum in the Yugoslavian embassy, were granted safe passage out of the country by the Soviets, but were then captured as soon as they left the embassy and taken out of the country. Several were later returned to Hungary, executed, and buried in unmarked graves.
    In 1991, after the fall of the USSR, the Russian government under Mikhail Gorbachev apologized to the Hungarian people for the brutal invasion of 1956. Boris Yeltsin repeated this apology in 1992, speaking before the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest.
  • Does Star Trek represent a fascist society? Perhaps Communist? Well, think about it:
    • There doesn’t seem to be a civilian government, politics, or free elections. All the top-level decisions seem to come from Star Fleet Command, so the United Federation of Planets looks to be an Earth-centered military oligarchy.
    • There’s never any discussion of money or finance, as if free enterprise were irrelevant or non-existent.
    • There’s a lot of racial conflict: Klingons vs. Romulans vs. humans vs. all kinds of other freaky species, almost all of which seem to prefer their own kind over others.
    • In the original series, at least, almost everyone in Star Fleet looks to be white. There’s a token Asian (Sulu), a token black (Uhura), a token eastern European (Chekhov), a token Vulcan (Spock), and that’s about it most of the time. In Star Trek: The Next Generation there was a greater variety of tokens, but by far the most common were still plain-vanilla white people, and even some of the token aliens (like Counselor Troi and all the Vulcans) looked remarkably just like plain vanilla white people with no more than maybe a weird ear or nose. Apparently Star Fleet is mostly a huge horde of of WASPy-looking white people. There’s more diversity in Iowa than there is in Star Fleet.
    • The Prime Directive appears to be inherently paternalistic, preferring to keep less-advanced people as quaint cultural exhibits rather than share with them potential labor- and life-saving technologies, thereby also preserving Federation supremacy of technology and power.
    • All the Star Trek series, more so the later ones, seem to assume lefty-chic ideology, in fact in all but the original series it goes largely unquestioned. On the other hand, religion is either banished or ridiculed (a conscious decision by series creator Gene Roddenberry).

Is it a silly discussion? Of course it is, but it’s fun and lots of people have put lots of energy into it — see here and here, for example. (For some other viewpoints, see here and here.) I mean, the whole point of Trekkie-ism is to pretend this stuff is serious, just as among devotees of Sherlock Holmes there’s a universal convention that it’s all to be treated as real history, even though they all know it’s not. FYI: There are similar debates about Star Wars society, with many arguing that the Empire is actually in the right. Great topic for endless over-the-net debate.

Some pictures are hard to explain. For more hard-to-explain pictures, click on the image. (A tip o'the hat to the blog MyPointless, linked from the photo.)

Friday, October 29 — Sir Walter Raleigh beheaded (1618); Black Tuesday, the great stock market crash (1929)

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  • October 29, an unlucky day: For some reason October 29 is the date for lots of bad things throughout history, not many good ones. Beyond Sir Walter’s beheading and the 1929 stock market crash, here are some more bad things that happened on this day:

    Hurricane Mitch, the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane in history, made landfall on this day in 1998. At the time this photo was taken Mitch had sustained winds of 180 mph, gusts considerably higher. Click on the image for more info about Deadly Mitch.

    • 1268 AD: Conradin (sometimes known as Conrad V, as in “the fifth”), the last legitimate heir of the Hohenstaufen dynasty of German and Holy Roman kings, was executed by Charles I of Sicily. Due to his father’s untimely death, Conradin had ascended to the throne at the age of two, making him the ruler of the Duchy of Swabia as well as King of Germany, Jerusalem and Sicily (yes, really). Lots of complicated Medieval politics and rivalries ensued, ending with brave Conradin riding to the rescue of Italy from the usurper Charles I, leading an army that included Italians, Spaniards, Romans, Germans, and Arabs (probably the last time all those agreed on anything). Unfortunately when he encountered Charles I in battle in central Italy he made a few mistakes and ended up having to hole up in Rome, where the Pope despised all Hohenstaufens but he was otherwise welcomed. But when Conradin tried to sneak out of Rome he was captured and eventually beheaded at the ripe old age of 16. That meant Germany was completely out of eligible Hohenstaufens, and thus ended the dynasty, which is why you’ve probably never heard of the Hohenstaufens or the preceding Conrads. (Before Conrad V there had been versions I, II, III, and IV. Version IV was Conradin’s dad, who died of malaria.)
    • 1390: First trial for witchcraft held in Paris (not the first ever, but the first in Paris), three people executed. One of them, Jehanne de Brigue, had admitted to using sorcery to cure a very ill man, claiming to have made a wax figurine of the man and “curing” it with poison from her pet toad. (In hindsight, it would have been such a good idea to leave out the part about the toad.)
    • 1863: In the American Civil War, the Battle of Wauhatchie (in Tennessee), one of the few night battles in that war. 112 killed, 632 wounded, 84 missing in action. At one point in the battle the Confederate troops, listening in the dark, heard a cavalry charge coming toward them and they fled; turned out it was a pack of Union mules stampeding. Such is the fog of war. These days with modern night-vision gear the Rebs could have seen the mules coming and called in a cluster-bomb air strike.
    • 1901: Leon Czolgosz, assassin of President William McKinley, was executed. Czolgosz, an anarchist back when that wasn’t just a code-word for “violent leftist,” shot McKinley on September 6, two bullets in the abdomen with a .32-caliber revolver. McKinley died on September 14, Colgosz’s trial started on September 23, he was convicted September 24 (the jury deliberated one hour — Colgosz’s guilt was never in doubt, only his sanity), and he was fried on the chair on October 29 — they didn’t mess around with a lot of appeals in those days.
      McKinley, a Republican, was the last Civil War veteran to be elected President. In that sense he was similar to George H.W. Bush (Bush the elder), also a Republican, who was the last World War II veteran to be elected President.
    • 1980: Certifiable fruitcake Mark David Chapman leaves his home in Hawaii for New York, where he will assassinate John Lennon on December 8. (OK, that one’s kind of a stretch. Throw me a bone.)
    • 1994: New Mexico native Francisco Martin Duran fires 40 shots at the White House with a Chinese SKS rifle before he is subdued by three bystanders who got there quicker than the Secret Service. Duran claimed he was trying to save the world by destroying an alien “mist” tied by an umbilical cord to an alien in the Colorado mountains. (I did not make that up.) A lot of people concluded he was just making up stories to cop an insanity plea. He’s serving 40 years.
      Clinton was having a bad year. Six weeks earlier another nut, Frank Eugene Corder, had tried to crash a perfectly good stolen Cessna 150 into the White House, but missed and augered into the South Lawn instead. (Friends of Corder later said he bore no ill will toward Clinton, he probably did it just for the publicity, possibly driven by alcohol and depression, perhaps inspired by Matthias Rust‘s famous surprise landing of a Cessna 172 in Moscow’s Red Square in 1987. Rust was a bit nutty too, though apparently a better pilot. But let’s get back to Clinton’s Bad Year.) Just a few days after Duran’s futile target practice on the North Lawn Clinton’s Democrats suffered a landslide mid-term defeat in what became known as the Republican Revolution, with Republicans winning 54 seats in the House, taking over the House for the first time in 40 years. They also won control of the Senate, the majority of governorships, and for the first time in 50 years controlled a majority of state legislatures. The country was very unhappy with Slick Willie’s all-out attempt to force passage of what became known as “HillaryCare.” (Sound familiar?)
    • 1998: The second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane in history, Hurricane Mitch, makes landfall in Honduras, where it dropped over 36 inches of rain in one city, as much as 75 inches in the mountains. Mitch killed at least 6500 (thousands more were missing, many buried in mass graves and never accounted for), and wiped out three quarters of the country’s transportation infrastructure, including nearly all bridges and secondary roads, to the point that existing maps of Honduras were declared obsolete. Altogether Mitch killed more than 19 000 people across Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Caribbean and destroyed the homes of 2.7 million people. Off the coast of Honduras it sank the windjammer Fantome, killing all 31 of the crew, an event that became the basis for the best-seller The Ship and The Storm by Jim Carrier.
    • 2005: Three coordinated bombings in Delhi kill 60 and injure hundreds more. The first bomb was detonated in front of a medical shop, the second in a bus, the third in a crowded market near a gas cylinder, which also exploded and started multiple fires.  The Islamist Revolutionary Front claimed credit.
    • Like I said, October 29 is a bad day all around. You should definitely do your best to avoid it.

And those are just a few of the bad things that happened on this day. Now on to some happier stuff, mostly:

  • The 2010 baseball season — a very unusual year: This year’s baseball season has been very unusual in some unexpected ways. No-hit games average less than two per season; this year there have been five so far, including one in the play-offs, and there will be some stellar pitchers in the upcoming World Series. Perfect games — games that are not only no-hitters but where no one gets on base at all, meaning no walks, no hit batters, nothing — are even rarer, so rare that until this year there had only been 17 in the entire history of baseball, less than one every seven years. But this year there have already been two, and there would have been a third but for what was later shown to be an umpire’s mistake. Conversely, home runs are way down — more than 20 percent lower than 20 years ago.
    So what’s responsible for this unusual season, which bodes more of the same to come? Interestingly, the one person most responsible is George W. Bush. And it’s a good thing. Politics Daily executive editor Carl Cannon has an interesting analysis.
  • The Stig Farm and the Isle of Clarksons: For those of you who watch the BBC show Top Gear, be aware that next week’s episode will feature a visit to the secret Stig Farm to pick out their new Stig. Turns out Stigs come in many colors, including pink. What color will the next one be? See this Jalopnik article for details. At the end of the article be sure to watch the video about the Isle of Clarksons, a small island peopled by Jeremy Clarkson-like creatures of all shapes and sizes, but all of whom have moppy hair, wear ill-fitting jackets, and pause…..in the middle….of sentences.
    • For those who read the foregoing paragraph with a befuddled look, Top Gear is a wildly popular British TV show that is nominally about cars, but is really much more about satire, irreverence, and poking fun at political correctness. Beyond that it’s very difficult to describe, in the same way that the show Seinfeld was very difficult to describe — you really have to see it to understand. In the U.S. it’s on the BBC America channel; just look for “Top Gear” and set the DVR to record a few shows. I should note that being interested in cars has very little to do with enjoying the show, in fact some of the people I know who enjoy it most have no particular interest in cars at all. This is not “Motor Trend Weekly.”
  • Black Thursday, Black Friday, Black Monday, Black Tuesday: In reference to the Black Tuesday cited in the title of this post, there’s a lot of confusion about which “black day” it was that the stock market (specifically the NYSE) crashed in 1929. And the fact is it did not crash on just one day.
    The market had peaked at 381 on September 3, then went into an unstable decline that saw it lose 17 percent in the period up to October 24, a day which became known as Black Thursday. (Due to time differences, in Europe it was known as Black Friday.) On that day the market started dropping from the open and fell precipitously until 1 pm, when a group of leading bankers held an emergency meeting and decided to stop the slide by bidding up blue-chip stocks. That worked and it stopped the fall that day, but the market still closed with a major loss of 13 percent on very heavy volume.
    But the halt in the slide wouldn’t last. Stories about the huge loss and the fears around it made headlines over the weekend, and on Monday the 28th many investors just wanted out of the market. What ensued was what became known as Black Monday, another 13 percent loss on very heavy volume, closing at 261. The next day, Black Tuesday, was the worst yet, a loss of 12 percent, down to 230, on volume so heavy that it broke all existing records and in fact Black Tuesday’s record volume stood as the all-time record for the next 39 years, not topped until 1968. It was a mad stampede for the door; everybody wanted out.
    The market continued to drop until November 13, when it bottomed at 198.60. It then rallied slowly for a few months, reaching 294 on April 17, 1930. But then it started sliding again and this time there was no stopping it. It slid steadily for more than two years, finally bottoming out on July 8, 1932 at a stunningly low 41 (forty-one), a level so low no one believed it could ever fall that low, a heart-rending 89 percent fall from its peak. And it would not return to its pre-crash levels until November 1954, more than 25 years after the 1929 crash.

And on that cheerless note at the end of this post full of doom — have a nice weekend!