Archive for the ‘history’ tag
Same argument raged when I lived in Austin – does everything old have to vanish to focus on what’s new and sleek? Les Ami, Captain Quakenbush’s, and many, many other institutions of the Austin I grew up in are no more.
Old Austin clashes with New Austin nearly every day, causing much worry among the city’s natives: Will these new condos and luxury hotels rub out everything that makes their weird city great? Will the shows for hipster musicians dry up? Is $10 guacamole really worth it?…
A generation of Austinites has unsuccessfully battled against losing iconic institutions like the Armadillo World Headquarters, Liberty Lunch and Las Manitas — all razed to make way for New Austin. But one developer is trying to prove that the old and new can cohabit.
For the last eight months, the developer, Transwestern, has been overhauling a seven-acre plot in South Austin. The area is a mess: bulldozers and excavators sit among tall piles of dirt and rock; 20-foot-high concrete piers jut out of the ground; and a jagged eight-foot trench is framed by hundreds of feet of orange-and-white highway barriers lining the road’s shoulder.
At the center of this chaotic scene sits an old, squat red building, dwarfed by pipes and slabs, looking like the last proud holdout in a world gone mad. This is the Broken Spoke, and it is arguably the greatest honky-tonk of all time. The Spoke, which was built by James White in 1964, has hosted everyone from Bob Wills and Willie Nelson to an unknown George Strait. It attracts tourists from Japan and England and celebrities from Hollywood. They gawk and drink and dance at the most famous club in a city that bills itself as the Live Music Capital of the World.
(click here to continue reading In New Austin, Accommodating the Broken Spoke Honkey-Tonk – NYTimes.com.)
Of the places mentioned in this NYT article, I’ve been in the Broken Spoke, eaten eggs many times at Las Manitas, and where I first stayed in Austin1 was a scant two blocks from the Armadillo2, but by far the biggest loss to me was Liberty Lunch. I went to probably over 100 live music events there, from the time I was a snot-nosed 15 year old in the mosh pits, up until I moved away. I saw punk rock, heavy metal, reggae, acts like Thomas Mapfumo, Burning Spear, Sonic Youth, Bob Mould, Timbuk3, yadda yadda. I would have seen The Pogues, circa 1989, but I got too drunk and fell asleep on the Congress Avenue bus. J’Net Ward was some sort of business partner at the restaurant I worked at to put myself through school3, and I always remember her being an all-around cool person.
Anyway, let’s hope the Broken Spoke doesn’t get plowed under too.
1938 Beer Baron Seized
BARCELONA — “Kid Tiger” Sikowsky, fugitive American beer baron, who has sought in vain to find refuge in most European countries, was arrested here yesterday [Jan. 11]. Sikowsky says he not only was a member of Al Capone’s gang, but that Capone, Chicago hoodlum and vice racketeer, was under his orders. Undesirable because of his criminal activities in America, and wanted there for income-tax invasion, Sikowsky has been ordered out of one country after another. The arrested man was allegedly invited to Spain, where he attracted the attention of the police by the way he squandered money. He is expected to be expelled from Spain as he was from Andorra. “I’m no criminal. I only owe some income taxes, that’s all. And say — tell me anybody who doesn’t try to dodge his taxes, anyway.”
Beer Baron Seized – 75 Years Ago – NYTimes.com
It’s one of favorite talking points of the good-’ol-boys power network that plotted beyond closed doors to destroy Bertrand Goldberg’s landmark Prentice Hospital: We don’t need Prentice because we’ll still have Marina City – if you two world-renowned masterpieces, why wouldn’t anyone not want to make it just one? (The next court hearing on the lawsuit to save Prentice is tomorrow, January 11th. Stay tuned.)
The irony of all this, of course, is none of these bulldozing power brokers who profess such love for Marina City have lifted a finger to give it landmark protection, allowing the indignities foisted upon this global symbol of the greatness of Chicago to continue unabated.
Trouble is, Hitler never made such a speech in 1935. Nor is there any record that he ever spoke these particular words at all. This little “speech” was obviously written for him, many years after his death, by someone who wanted you to believe that gun registration is Hitler-evil.
What he did say, 7 years later, was this: “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to permit the conquered Eastern peoples to have arms. History teaches that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by doing so.” So it’s fair to conclude that he believed “gun control” had its uses. But that’s quite a different thing from claiming that “gun control” was instrumental in the NAZI rise to power.
And the truth is that no gun law was passed in Germany in 1935. There was no need for one, since a gun registration program was already in effect in Germany; it was enacted in 1928, five years before Hitler’s ascendancy. But that law did not
The Myth Of Hitler’s Gun Ban « The Propaganda Professor
Interesting. I’ll have to get a better photograph of this place.
Much less well-known is the West Chicago Street Railroad’s (WCSR) former powerhouse, still standing in the West Loop at Washington Street and Jefferson Street. Equipment in this building drove two cables: one that pulled cable cars through the tunnel under the Chicago River along Washington Street and around the downtown and another shorter cable that pulled cars from Washington Street and Jefferson Street to Madison Street and DesPlaines Street.
This former WCSR powerhouse at Jefferson and Washington streets drove the cables that pulled West Side cable cars through the tunnel under the South Branch of the Chicago River and around two downtown loops. It is now the headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134. The building was vacated in 1906, and for decades it housed the Chicago Surface Line’s Legal and Accident Investigation Department. Subsequently, it was modified—more substantially, perhaps unalterably, than the NCSR’s powerhouse on LaSalle Street. Several dormers were added at the roofline, the rear portion of the building was extended, and the smokestack was removed. Most significantly, a large stone wall covers much of the first floor. Today, the building serves as headquarters for Local 134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which also hosts the monthly meeting of the 20th Century Railroad Club.
(click here to continue reading Cable Car Remnants | Forgotten Chicago | History, Architecture, and Infrastructure.)
Update: a better photo
Norquist’s actual power in Washington and within the GOP is illusory. In terms of stature and public prominence, he’s been a major beneficiary of the party’s opposition to tax increases – but he hasn’t been the driving force behind it. The real story of the GOP’s modern evolution on taxes played out in several stages, from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.
The first key moment was the advent of supply-side economics in the late ‘70s, the theory that minimizing income, corporate and investment taxes would result in perpetual economic growth that would benefit everyone. It was a fringe idea at first, championed by economist Arthur Laffer and a handful of Republican members of Congress, most notably Jack Kemp.
Republicans’ tax insanity – Salon.com
A book that I’ve been meaning to read as well…
I finally read John Kelly’s troubling The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People (iBook) Our problems feel small. Ireland lost one in three people in the late 1840s. At least a million died in the famine and its related illnesses; another two million fled for England, Canada, the United States or other ports of refuge.
But I kept coming back to U.S. politics anyway. Hauntingly, Kelly repeats the phrase that drove British famine relief (or lack of it): they were so determined to end Irish “dependence on government” that they stalled or blocked provision of food, public works projects and other proposals that might have kept more Irish alive and fed. The phrase appears at least seven times, by my count, in the book. “Dependence on government:” Haven’t we heard that somewhere?
In fact, the day after finishing Kelly’s book, I found Salon’s Michael Lind writing about the Heritage Foundation brief, “The Index of Dependence on Government.” It could have been the title of a report by famine villain Charles Trevelyan, the British Treasury assistant secretary whose anti-Irish moralism thwarted relief, but of course it was written by well-paid conservative Beltway think tankers. The very same day PBS aired a Frontline documentary revealing that our fabulously wealthy country has the fourth highest child-poverty rate in the developed world, just behind Mexico, Chile and Turkey.
And I couldn’t help thinking: we haven’t come far at all.
(click here to continue reading When right-wing blather killed – Salon.com.)
and Joan Walsh’s thumbnail review:
A brief overview is necessary: Kelly fights the notion that the British famine response was “genocide,” or even, as I put it in my book, “ethnic cleansing.” It was more benign and commonplace, he argues, though still cruel and deadly: An effort to use a tragedy to advance a political agenda, and to imagine God’s hand at work advancing that agenda, in matters that are well within the realm of human action to prevent or correct.
Famine Ireland combined the worst of feudalism and capitalism. Anglo-Irish landlords, given their land in “plantations” after decades of war in the 16th and 17th centuries to displace conquered Irish Catholics, were a big part of the problem. At least a quarter were absentee and only wanted the highest rents they could gouge; resident landlords preferred “conspicuous consumption” – Ireland enjoyed a million acres of deer parks and gardens – to building the infrastructure of modern agriculture.
So British leaders wanted to use the famine “to modernize the Irish agricultural economy, which was widely viewed as the principal source of Ireland’s poverty and chronic violence, and to improve the Irish character, which exhibited an alarming ‘dependence on government’ and was utterly lacking in the virtues of the new industrial age, such as self-discipline and initiative,” Kelly writes. Trevelyan told a colleague: God “sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson…[and it] must not be too mitigated.”
Sometimes I felt like quibbling with Kelly over his effort to refute charges that the famine response was a deliberate form of ethnic cleansing, given the way it was driven by centuries of crippling prejudice against Irish Catholics. But he’s right: It isn’t genocide when we don’t act to stop the deaths of people we don’t care about in the first place. Certainly some Irish leaders veered into crazy anti-British conspiracy theories. The famine even had its version of Jeremiah Wright: Irish revolutionary John Mitchel, who claimed the British government created typhus in laboratories and deliberately infected the Irish, much as Wright accused the U.S. government of spreading AIDS in poor black communities. I guess centuries of oppression can lead to some crazy, intemperate ideas.
Laura Miller adds:
The Irish economy was backward and precarious, but for Trevelyan the failure of the potato crop presented not a life-or-death crisis but an opportunity to forcibly modernize it. He agreed to a limited public works program (in which out-of-work laborers were paid a pittance to build roads to nowhere) because he believed it would break the peasant class of its reliance on barter and subsistence farming. The idea was to sell them corn imported from overseas because the grain couldn’t be cultivated in Ireland, thereby accustoming them to using money. However, when Ireland’s mercantile men objected to the price-depressing effects of government-funded grain, Trevelyan vowed not to sell it too cheaply, claiming that high prices would promote foreign imports.
These strategies amount to the 19th-century version of what Naomi Klein has dubbed the “Shock Doctrine”: an attempt to force economic reforms on a population reeling in the aftermath of a disaster. Kelly intersperses the nitty gritty of the shifting Irish economic situation with horrific glimpses of its human toll: streets jammed with gaunt, half-naked wraiths who had sold their clothes for food, families gathered mutely in miserable cottages to die, unburied corpses by the roadside, entire hamlets razed by landlords seeking to evict “dead weight” tenants they’d otherwise have to help. If only these unfortunates could have sought comfort in “Thoughts and Details on Scarcity”!
Recognizing that the British handling of the famine was “parsimonious, short-sighted, grotesquely twisted by religion and ideology” rather than deliberately genocidal is important because while powerful, paranoid, racist madmen like Hitler are relatively rare, our own time is replete with men like Trevelyan. The Moralists saw the famine as a combination of divine judgement on the Irish people and the market working itself out in accordance with God’s plan, an equation of brutal capitalism with pseudo-Christian piety that can be just as destructive as outright malevolence. That version of the story may not be as satisfying dramatically and morally as the one with the evil, homicidal Englishman, but it does do what history does best, which is to show us how not to repeat it.
(click here to continue reading “The Graves Are Walking”: Was the Great Potato Famine a genocide? – Salon.com.)
I moved to Chicago in 1994, and the heat-wave of 1995 surprised me. I was used to living in extreme heat in Austin, several of my cheap apartments didn’t have air conditioning. But Chicago was not culturally or politically prepared to deal with the heat of that summer. This year’s heat-wave was taken a lot more seriously by city officials, as Eric Klinenberg reports:
the most visible human drama of climate change is happening in cities. Cities are not merely the population centers where dense concentrations of people are trapped and exposed during dangerous weather events. They are also “heat islands,” whose asphalt, brick, concrete and steel attract the heat while pollution from automobiles, factories and air-conditioners traps it. City dwellers experience elevated heat at all hours, but the difference matters most at night, when the failure of high temperatures to fall deprives them of natural relief. For the most vulnerable people, these “high lows” can be the difference between life and death.
Americans began to take urban heat seriously after 1995, when a record-breaking heat wave — three days of triple-digit heat — baked Chicago. Ordinarily, heat waves fail to produce the kind of spectacular imagery we see in other disasters, like earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods. Heat doesn’t generate much property damage, nor does it reveal its force to the camera or naked eye. Heat waves are invisible killers of old, poor and other mostly invisible people. Until the summer of 1995, medical examiners and media outlets often neglected to report heat-related deaths altogether.
But the great Chicago heat wave changed things. It caused so much suffering that at one point nearly half the city’s emergency rooms closed their doors to new patients. Hospitals were not the only institutions stretched beyond capacity by the heat. Streets buckled. Trains derailed. The power grid failed. Water pressure diminished. Ambulances were delayed.
There were “water wars” in poor neighborhoods, where city workers cracked down on residents who opened fire hydrants for relief. There were surreal scenes at City Hall, where members of the mayor’s staff declined to declare a heat emergency, forgot to implement their extreme heat plan and refused to bring in additional ambulances and paramedics.
And there was Mayor Richard M. Daley, telling reporters: “It’s hot. It’s very hot. But let’s not blow it out of proportion,” while the morgue ran out of bays and the medical examiner had to call in a fleet of refrigerated trucks to handle the load. When the temperatures finally broke, 739 Chicagoans had died as a result of the heat wave.
Chicago learned from the disaster, and today it is a national leader in planning for the next acute heat emergency. The city compiles a list of old, isolated and vulnerable residents, and public workers contact them when dangerous weather arrives. City officials and community organizations promote awareness and encourage residents to check in on one another. The local news media treat heat waves as true public health hazards. Everyone knows how perilous the new climate can be.
Unfortunately, Chicago keeps getting reminders. In the early July heat wave, despite its improved emergency response system, Chicago reported more heat deaths than any other city or state. And this week the Union of Concerned Scientists released “Heat in the Heartland,(PDF)” a study that reports an increased incidence of dangerous hot weather throughout the Midwest in the past 60 years, including elevated evening temperatures and more heat waves lasting three days or longer. Along with Chicago, the report singles out St. Louis, Detroit, Minneapolis and Cincinnati as being at risk, but also cites public health research predicting more heat waves in towns and cities throughout the Midwest and Northeast.
(click here to continue reading Is It Hot Enough for Ya? – NYTimes.com.)
Rising temperatures are not just a concern for the future. Dangerously hot weather is already occurring more frequently in the Midwest than it did 60 years ago.
The report, Heat in the Heartland: 60 Years of Warming in the Midwest, presents an original analysis of weather data for five major urban areas — Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis, and St. Louis — as well as five smaller nearby cities.
The results from the analysis are clear: Hot summer weather and heat waves have been increasing in cities in the nation’s heartland over the last six decades on average. The report documents this trend, explores its health implications, and looks at what the largest cities are doing to adapt to these changes and protect their residents.
High temperatures can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and deadly heat stroke. Very hot weather can also aggravate existing medical conditions such as diabetes, respiratory disease, kidney disease, and heart disease.
Urban populations, the elderly, children, and people with impaired health and limited mobility are particularly susceptible to heat-related illness and death.
Now if only someone could come up with a good (non-financial) reason for the Tea Party and other GOP factions to support a national policy dealing with climate change…
Dr. Juan Cole discusses a bit of European history in context of Romney’s Aryan Nation remarks.1 Talk about dog whistles: Romney is talking to a very specific type of racist, whether intentional or not.
Anyway, Dr. Cole writes, in part:
I really dislike Nazi references. They are for the most part a sign of sloppy thinking, and a form of banal hyperbole. But there just is no other way to characterize invoking the Anglo-Saxon race as a basis for a foreign policy relationship, and openly saying that those of a different race cannot understand the need for such ties. It is a Nazi sentiment.
If you would like some evidence for what I say, consider Adolf Hitler’s own point of view:
For a long time yet to come there will be only two Powers in Europe with which it may be possible for Germany to conclude an alliance. These Powers are Great Britain and Italy.”
Of the two possible allies, Hitler much preferred Britain because he considered it higher on his absurd and pernicious racial hierarchy. Indeed, Hitler held Mussolini a bit at arms length while hoping for a British change of heart, a hope only decisively dashed in September, 1939, when Britain declared war.
Hitler complained that colonialism was in danger of diluting Aryan European strength, weighing down the metropole powers. He contrasted this situation with that of the white United States, blessedly possessing its “own continent.” Indeed, it is, he argued (genocidal crackpot that he was), Britain’s special relationship with the Anglo-Saxon-dominated United states that kept it from being overwhelmed by its subhuman colonials:
“we we too easily forget the Anglo-Saxon world as such. The position of England, if only because of her linguistic and cultural bond with the American Union, can be compared to no other state in Europe.”
The argument of Romney’s advisers has exactly the same shape as Hitler’s, only it is being made from the American point of view rather than the European.
And, if we had a Jewish president at the moment, couldn’t the Romney camp make exactly the same argument, that the person didn’t appreciate the importance of the Anglo-Saxon heritage and ties? Is this really the discourse you want to engage in just before you arrive in Israel?
Romney has to find out who told Swain these things, and fire them. He has to publicly disavow these racist sentiments. They pose the danger for him of raising again the question of his own attitude to African-Americans as a young man in the 1970s before the Mormon church stopped discriminating against them on the grounds that they bore the mark of Cain.
Beyond the distasteful resemblances of this white supremacist discourse to the worst forms of rightwing extremism, the allegation astonishingly neglects to take account of who Barack Obama is.
Obama’s maternal grandfather, Stanley Armour Dunham, had English ancestry (among others), and some genealogists trace him back to the Earl of Norwich, who was a surety baron of the Magna Carta. Moreover, Stanley Dunham served in the US military in London and then on the continent during World War II, and was involved in saving Britain from Nazi Germany. You’d think that would be a basis for pretty warm feelings. And remember, it was Stanley Dunham who actually raised Barack Obama; he did not know his father.
In contrast, the Romney clan’s only practical relationship to Britain aside from ancestry was trying to convince Scots in Edinburgh in the 1920s to give up alcohol and caffeine and become Mormons. Aside from explosive mirth, I don’t know what other emotion that record might evoke among English Anglicans of the sort Romney appears to want to rub up against, but it certainly would not be warmth.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that the whole idea of “Anglo-Saxon” England is a myth. Historical geneticist Eric Sykes has found in hisSaxons, Vikings and Celts that the genetic mix in England is not for the most part different from that in Wales and Scotland and Ireland. There are, here and there, signs of Norse or German (Angles and Saxons) settlement, but they are minor and have to be looked for and are mainly in the y chromosome markers, i.e. on the male side of inheritance. The women are virtually all “Celts.”
But even “Celts” are a historical construct as a matter of “race.” In his Seven Daughters of Eve, Sykes had found that almost all Europeans are descended from only seven women who lived sometime in the past 45,000 years, one of them from the Middle East. These seven haplotypes or genetic patterns show up in all European populations, including the Basque (in the mitochondria, the power plant of the cell, which is passed on through females and does not change in each generation).
There simply are no distinctive “races” in Europe.
(click here to continue reading Romney, and Aryan Racial Theory as a basis for Foreign Policy | Informed Comment.)Footnotes:
- quote: “suggested that Mr Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr Obama, whose father was from Africa. “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney” [↩]
Didn’t end up reading much of Ulysses, but still had fun photostrolling with some Flickreenos in Graceland Cemetery and nearby area. I had never been to Graceland Cemetery before, but it most certainly merits another visit, presumedly on a day where the temperature isn’t approaching that of the sun…
Click an image to embiggen, and probably learn more about it.
Paul Krugman muses on the dismal science a bit, and the dismal scientists known as structural economists
So what’s with the obsessive push to declare our problems “structural”? And, yes, I mean obsessive. Economists have been debating this issue for several years, and the structuralistas won’t take no for an answer, no matter how much contrary evidence is presented.
The answer, I’d suggest, lies in the way claims that our problems are deep and structural offer an excuse for not acting, for doing nothing to alleviate the plight of the unemployed.
Of course, structuralistas say they are not making excuses. They say that their real point is that we should focus not on quick fixes but on the long run — although it’s usually far from clear what, exactly, the long-run policy is supposed to be, other than the fact that it involves inflicting pain on workers and the poor.
Anyway, John Maynard Keynes had these peoples’ number more than 80 years ago. “But this long run,” he wrote, “is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the sea is flat again.”
I would only add that inventing reasons not to do anything about current unemployment isn’t just cruel and wasteful, it’s bad long-run policy, too. For there is growing evidence that the corrosive effects of high unemployment will cast a shadow over the economy for many years to come. Every time some self-important politician or pundit starts going on about how deficits are a burden on the next generation, remember that the biggest problem facing young Americans today isn’t the future burden of debt — a burden, by the way, that premature spending cuts probably make worse, not better. It is, rather, the lack of jobs, which is preventing many graduates from getting started on their working lives.
So all this talk about structural unemployment isn’t about facing up to our real problems; it’s about avoiding them, and taking the easy, useless way out. And it’s time for it to stop.
(click here to continue reading Easy Useless Economics – NYTimes.com.)
I vowed I was going to stop making drive-by posts1 like these, but here’s the quandary. I know next to nothing about economics and even economic history, so I can’t dispute or amplify what Dr. Krugman asserts. However, I like his turn of phrase, and his reasoning sounds plausible. Maybe in the future, I’ll be able to use this post as a footnote to a different post?
What do I know about partying or anything else?Footnotes:
- posts where I don’t add much to the discussion [↩]
InterContinental Chicago aka Medinah Athletic Club, originally uploaded by swanksalot.
South Tower, designed by architect Walter W. Ahlschlager. Click here for lightbox version.
The Medinah Athletic Club building was intended to combine elements of many architectural styles. At the eighth floor, its Indiana limestone facade was decorated by three large relief carvings in ancient Assyrian style. Each frieze depicted a different scene in the order of constructing a building, with Contribution on the south wall, Wisdom represented on the west wall and Consecration on the north. (According to an article in the Chicago Tribune from Sept 16, 1928 entitled “Building art inspires panels”:“The friezes were designed by George Unger, in collaboration with Walter Ahlschlager, and carved by Leon Hermant. The figures are costumed in the period of the building, which is that of an old fortress in Mesopotamia in Xerxes time, about 5th century BC.
The theme of the panels as explained by Mr. Unger, was inspired by the history of construction of any building. The south panel starts the story. Here a magnificent cortege is displayed. This panel, termed Contribution, signifies the getting together of treasures for the construction of the building. In the west panel, facing Michigan Avenue, a ruler is shown with his counselors and an architect is shown bringing in a model of the building planned. The north panel shows the consecration of the building after it has been built. A priest is sacrificing a white bull whose blood will be mixed with crushed grapes and poured into the earth. A monkey trainer and his animals are shown. Since the animals represented bigotry in the ancient drawings, they are shown here in leash as symbolic belief that bigotry has no place in the Masonic order.”) The figures in all three scenes are said to be modeled after the faces of club members at the time of its design. Three Sumerian warriors were also carved into the facade at the twelfth floor setback, directly above the Michigan Avenue entrance, and remain visible today.
The exotic gold dome, which is Moorish in influence, originated as part of a decorative docking port for dirigibles – a notion conceived before the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. Years later, the building would lose several feet with the dismantling of an ornamental canopy on the small turret north of the dome. This chimney-like structure was originally intended to assist in the docking of these air ships, but it was never put into use. Inside the dome, a glass cupola and spiral iron staircase resembling the top of a lighthouse led down to the hotel’s upper elevator landing.
Never took a good photo of this building before last month.
Fun for your May Day celebrations: pretend you are part of the black helicopter One World Cabal of Illuminati, as explained by The Straight Dope’s Cecil Adams:
Just exactly what event are the Russians and Red Chinese commemorating on May 1 each year? I have yet to find any birthday or important event relating to communism/socialism that occurred on May 1. Someone once told me, though, that May 1, 1776, was the birth date of a group called the Illuminati, which was alleged to be a clandestine group devoted to one-world government. Is it so? Please enlighten.
— Bob B., Dallas
Better grab yourself a sandwich and a beer, Bobberino; this is going to take a while. The Illuminati play a leading role in what is without doubt the muthah conspiracy theory of all time, stretching back at least two centuries and probably as far as the Pleistocene epoch, to hear some tell it.
Adherents of the theory, who for the most part are right-wing fruitcakes, claim it explains every social upheaval from the French Revolution of 1789 through the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Illuminati are said to be the guiding force behind a vast international cabal involving the Masons, German and/or Jewish socialists, the Bolsheviks, and revolutionaries of every stripe, whose principal aim is either the establishment of a totalitarian one-world government, the destruction of Western civilization, or both. This ain’t no foolin’ around, apocalypse fans.
Let’s start with the easy part. May Day, an international celebration of worker solidarity observed principally in socialist countries, traces its origins back to the eight-hour-day movement in the U.S., and specifically commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago, of all places. (We learn this, incidentally, from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.)
At an October 1884 convention in Chicago, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions, later to be reorganized as the American Federation of Labor, declared May 1, 1886, to be the date from which “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s work,” as opposed to the nine- or ten-hour days then prevalent.
Why May 1 is chosen is not clear. Among other things, it happened to be the date of the traditional May Day spring festival, celebrated in Europe (and parts of the U.S.) since medieval times. But other American labor groups had earlier suggested other days, such as the Fourth of July.
(click here to continue reading The Straight Dope: Does May Day actually commemorate the birth of the Illuminati?.)
Coincidentally–although some would say it’s no coincidence–May 1 is also the date that a secret society called the Illuminati was founded in 1776 by a Bavarian university professor named Adam Weishaupt. Although the group’s precise aims are a little murky, the Illuminati were apparently dedicated to the abolition of organized religion and the nation-state–in short, they were anarchists. Such ideas were not uncommon at the time; Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau had vaguely similar notions.
By and by it occurred to Weishaupt that he could multiply his influence by infiltrating existing lodges of Masons. The Masons, themselves a secret society, seem to have originated in England, and by Weishaupt’s time were well established throughout Europe. Although they were decentralized and had no overriding political program, the Masons had attracted a fair number of freethinkers, who to some extent took advantage of the group’s clandestine character to discuss Enlightenment ideas. Masons were suspected of being anticlerical, and had been condemned on several occasions by the Catholic Church.
Weishaupt’s minions succeeded in gaining influential positions in many Masonic lodges in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere. Characteristically, though, only the top leaders of the Illuminati knew the full extent of the group’s radical plans. Weishaupt, who claimed to have been inspired partly by the Jesuits, set up an elaborate hierarchy complete with secret signs, ceremonies, and codes in which members were gradually given additional knowledge as they rose in rank.
Eventually, though, some of the Illuminati quarreled, and disgruntled ex-members went to the authorities with lurid stories. In 1785, the alarmed Elector of Bavaria ordered both the Illuminati and the Masons suppressed. Numerous incriminating papers were confiscated and later published throughout Europe, creating a widespread panic that secret societies were plotting the violent overthrow of all civilization. This probably would have died down eventually, except for one thing: on July 14, 1789, the Bastille fell to a Paris mob, and the French Revolution began.
We now take leave of Reality, and enter the twilight world of Total Paranoia. Not much is known about what happened to the Illuminati after 1785. Some of them went underground, and several may have been involved in various plots over the following few years. Whatever the truth of the matter, rightists began churning out an immense volume of books and pamphlets blaming the Illuminati for . . . well, just about everything.
(click here to continue reading The Straight Dope: Does May Day actually commemorate the birth of the Illuminati?.)
Diplomacy hasn’t really changed that much over the years, has it?
In 1867, the British ambassador to Bolivia fell afoul of its dictator, Mariano Melgarejo, by refusing a glass of chicha, a cloudy drink based on fermented maize. Opting for cocoa instead, the ambassador got more than he asked for: Melgarejo, incensed, forced him to drink an entire bowl of liquid chocolate. He then paraded him three times around La Paz’s main square, tied up and seated back to front on a donkey, before shipping him back to London.
When the disgraced ambassador related his story to Queen Victoria, she was not amused at all. Her Majesty resolved to have the Royal Navy bombard Bolivia’s capital in retaliation. Consulting a map of South America, she soon discovered that La Paz lay far inland on the Andean altiplano, well beyond the reach of British cannon. So she simply marked the offending country with an X, pronouncing: “Bolivia does not exist”.
The story is related in the 1971 book “Open Veins of Latin America,” Eduardo Galeano’s critical analysis of imperialism in Latin America. The book rocketed up the best-seller lists when Mr. Chavez gave it to newly elected President Obama at a Summit of the Americas in April 2009.
Several variations of the original story exist, adding color but subtracting veracity: that Melgarejo invited the ambassador to the senatorial inauguration of his horse, or the official presentation of his new mistress; that he challenged the ambassador to kiss his mistress’s behind, or that the ambassador pooh-poohed the glass of chicha even though offered by Melgarejo in person; and that the dictator forced an entire barrel of cocoa down the ambassador’s throat.
(click here to continue reading How Bolivia Lost Its Hat – NYTimes.com.)
Virginia Woolf may have had a delicate appearance, but she was stronger than she looked.
The New Yorker recalls:
as Evelyn Irons recalled in an essay published in our pages in 1963, three members of the Bloomsbury Group requested a tour of the Daily Mail’s printing presses in 1932. “Look here, Virginia wants to see your paper being printed,” Vita Sackville-West had told Irons at the time. “Do you think you could arrange it?”
Irons, who later became a war correspondent and was the first woman journalist to reach Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, was then the editor of the Mail’s women’s page. (She would later be fired for “looking unfashionable.”) In that capacity, she had, the previous year, interviewed Sackville-West and the two women had begun an affair. According to Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Sackville-West, Irons was the subject of a number of Sackville-West’s 1931 love poems. “It seemed very odd to me that Virginia Woolf should want to see the mass-circulation Daily Mail being put to bed, but it could be arranged, and easily,” wrote Irons.
At nine o’clock one night the following week, Sackville-West, Woolf, and Woolf’s husband, Leonard, arrived at the Mail’s offices for their tour. “The whole evening had an unreal quality,” Irons recalled, and continued:
There they were, perched around the room like unfamiliar night birds: Vita Sackville-West, tall, intensely handsome, wearing her usual long, dangling earrings and smoking through a paper cigarette holder; Leonard Woolf, a dark, brooding man with aggressive eyebrows; and Virginia Woolf, recalling the moon in the daytime sky—ethereal, bone-pale, the eyes set deep in the skull. She was fifty, but age had nothing to do with her appearance; she must have looked like that forever. You might as well show those clattering presses to a ghost, I thought.
However, her guests were not there to hear anecdotes. Despite her ethereal appearance, Virginia Woolf had more than a passing interest in the working of the newspaper’s presses. To Irons’s surprise, Woolf engaged in lengthy and detailed discussions with the printers, handling their tools and often shouting to be heard over the noise of the presses. At one point Woolf even displayed her ability to read set type upside down. “We don’t often get ladies coming in from outside who can do that,” said one of the printers. The experience changed Irons’s view of Woolf:
There seemed to be little that was wan or mothlike, delicate or remote, about her now. Her long, slender fingers were smudged with black ink, and her behavior was that of a mechanically minded man.
(click here to continue reading Back Issues: Virginia Woolf Visits the Daily Mail : The New Yorker.)