Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Historical note, suitable for use in schools.

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Saturday was the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Dorchester.

The NYT has a nice article about the annual mass at St. Stephen’s in Kearny, New Jersey.

Before volunteering for the war in 1942, Father Washington had last served at St. Stephen’s church in Kearny, N.J., and each year, a Mass is celebrated in honor of him and the other chaplains, attracting veterans from near and far.

But keeping the memory of the four chaplains alive is growing more difficult. Each year, the number of living World War II veterans shrinks. According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were still alive in 2017.
They are dying at the rate of 362 per day, the department reports. Among the survivors of the Dorchester disaster, only one remains alive: Bill Bunkelman, who is in a nursing home in Michigan, Ms. Beady said.

In Mr. Hoffman’s pocket was a folded family tree that included the fate of Father Washington’s six brothers and sisters. One brother died in the war. Another went missing in action, but was later found shellshocked. His sister died as a teenager of a disease. His father died in the 1930s.
“I always think of his mother, and her suffering,” Mr. Hoffman said. “To me, that’s a forgotten part of the story.”

Historical note, emphatically NOT suitable for use in schools.

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

I didn’t realize this until I got a chance to look at today’s WP, but:

50 years ago today, Eddie Adams took that photo.

He believed he had taken far more worthy pictures, and that the execution photo was viewed out of context by most people: The slain Viet Cong prisoner was captured after he reportedly killed a South Vietnamese officer, his wife and six children.

Random notes: February 1, 2018.

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

There’s a really good profile in The Guardian of Mary Beard, Cambridge professor of classics and noted historian.

The timing on this amuses me, as I just finished SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome earlier this week. (And Amazon now has the paperback for a shockingly low price.)

The early history of Rome, the era of its fabled seven kings, is notoriously difficult to untangle. There are few, if any, contemporary sources. The whole story slides frustratingly away into legend, with the later Romans just as confused as we are about how an unremarkable town on a malarial swamp came to rule a vast empire. One way of handling this material might have been simply to have started later, when the historian’s footing among the sources becomes more secure. Instead Beard asked not how much truth could be excavated from the Romans’ stories about their deep past, but what it might mean that they told them. If the Romans believed their city had started with Romulus and Remus, with the rape of the Sabine women – in a welter, in other words, of fratricide and sexual violence – what can we learn about the tellers’ concerns, their preoccupations, their beliefs? According to Greg Woolf, “One of the things Mary has taught is to look at the window, not through it, because there isn’t really anything behind it.”

I’d love to meet Dr. Beard and spend some time talking to her. I suspect we’d disagree on a lot of contemporary issues, but I think she’d be a fun person to talk history with. One of the things I loved about SPQR was how much time she spent on things other authors don’t talk about: the daily lives of the poor, middle class, and other people who didn’t write long letters to their friends, to take one example. For another example, her discussion of the ancient bar in Ostia, with pictures of the “Seven Sages” and their profound advice. Or the discussion of early Roman dice games.

And some of Dr. Beard’s views on contemporary subjects are a bit surprising, at least to me:

She doesn’t feel damaged by scenarios that would plainly be unacceptable today, she said, though “on the other hand you’d have to be blind as a bat to see it didn’t work like that for everybody”. One of the great problems of today, she said, was deciding how far current rules of behaviour could be projected back on the past. This question also informs her academic work: she is more likely to point out how different we are from the Romans than how similar. “As soon as you say things were different 40 years ago, people start to say you’re a harassment denier. But actually, they were. I do not think that the lives of women of my generation as a class were blighted by the way the power differentials between men and women operated. We wanted to change those power differentials; we also had a good time.”

===

Llano is a town northwest of Austin, about 90 minutes away. It’s a small town (a little over 3,000 people in 2010). It is perhaps most famous as being the home of Cooper’s barbecue, one of the top 50 joints in Texas.

As a small town, Llano has a small police force. Which can be…a problem.

Chief Kevin Ratliff and officers Aimee Shannon, Grant Harden and Jared Latta — who make up almost half of the police department in Llano, a town about 60 miles northwest of Austin — were indicted on a charge of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor. Harden also was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record to defraud or harm the person he arrested, court records say.

The four officers are currently on leave. Another former officer was also indicted “on a charge of tampering with evidence and accused of destroying a digital recording of a drug crime scene on March 26”.

So what the hell happened?

The indictment regarding the chief and the three officers accuses them of unlawfully arresting Cory Nutt on May 2. Harden failed to state in his police report that “Nutt was inside his residence when he was arrested” or “that Cory Nutt was forced out of his residence and arrested,” the indictment says.

Officer Shannon allegedly threatened to tase Nutt as well. Nutt was charged with public intoxication, but the charges were dropped.

It sounds like the dispute boils down to: Nutt was drunk and probably making a scene, the officers responded, he stepped outside of his camper briefly and then went back inside, and the officers stepped up into his camper and arrested him for PI. At least, that’s the spin that two of the defense lawyers are putting on it.

However:

Harden was already on leave after a grand jury indicted him in December and accused him of tampering with dashboard camera footage during a DWI investigation in June 2017, according to a report from The Picayune newspaper in Marble Falls.

History repeats itself…

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

…first as tragedy, second as farce.

Obit watch: January 14, 2018.

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

Some more from the past couple of days:

Keith Jackson, legendary announcer.

Edgar Ray Killen is burning in Hell.

David Toschi passed away a week ago Saturday. FotB RoadRich mentioned this to me in the middle of the week – he saw it on a low-rent cable channel – but I had a lot of trouble finding a good obit. I couldn’t find the actual obit on SFGate: I was only able to get at an arthive.org version.

Anyway, “David who”? He was a famous San Francisco PD detective. He was one of the lead investigators on the Zodiac killings.

He was removed from the case after revelations that in 1976 he had sent several letters praising his own work to a San Francisco newspaper writer under fake names.
“It was a foolish thing to do,” he acknowledged at the time.

I don’t remember where I picked up this detail (maybe in the archive.org version), but that “newspaper writer” the NYT doesn’t name? Armistead Maupin, who was working as a reporter for the SF Chron at the time.

But that wasn’t the only reason he was semi-famous, at least among us common sewers connoisseurs:

Mr. Toschi was a personality in the police department even before his involvement with the Zodiac case, so much so that Steve McQueen had borrowed from him for the fictional police officer he played in the 1968 movie “Bullitt.”
“They literally were filming in my dad’s office,” Ms. Toschi-Chambers said. “My dad took off his jacket, and Steve McQueen said, ‘What is that?’ And my dad said, ‘That’s my holster.’ And Steve McQueen told the director, ‘I want one of those.’ ”

(I wonder what that holster was: and if it’s out of production, how much do vintage ones go for? There’s a discussion on defensivecarry.com, but I can’t judge how accurate it is.)

Clint Eastwood also drew on Mr. Toschi for his portrayal of the title character in “Dirty Harry,” Don Siegel’s influential 1971 movie about a San Francisco police inspector, Harry Callahan, who hunts a psychopathic killer. Mr. Toschi, though, was bothered by Callahan’s penchant for administering his own brand of justice. He is said to have walked out of a screening of the movie, which was released when the Zodiac investigation was in full swing.

(Damn shame. He missed out. And I still haven’t seen “Zodiac”.)

Edited to add: this might lead to a longer post later, but: there are certainly worse hobbies in the world than engaging in Steve McQueen cosplay. Though I will concede that could get expensive quick, especially if you go full “Bullitt” and start looking for a Mustang.

Obit watch: January 8, 2018.

Monday, January 8th, 2018

A roundup of obits from the past couple of days:

John Young, Gemini, Apollo, and Shuttle astronaut. NASA.

Jerry Van Dyke, noted television actor (“My Mother the Car”).

Peggy Cummins. She’s mostly forgotten now – she stopped acting in the 1960s – but she was the female lead opposite John Dall in the famous 1950 noir film “Gun Crazy”.

Start with a badass, end with a badass: Ulrich Wegener, founder of the German Border Protection Group 9 (aka Grenzschutzgruppe 9):

The unit, also known as GSG-9, was created after the September 1972 attack on the Summer Olympics in Munich, when Palestinian militants kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes. Ill prepared for terrorism, and lacking a tactical sniper team, the German police botched an attempt to rescue the athletes, who were killed, along with one police officer and five of the eight kidnappers.

One of his first accomplishments: Lufthansa Flight 181.

Around 2 a.m. on Oct. 18, Somali soldiers lit a fire 65 yards in front of the jet, creating a diversion. As the hostage takers entered the cockpit to see what was going on, Colonel Wegener and his commandos stormed the aircraft. Over the next seven minutes, three militants were killed and the fourth was wounded. Three passengers, a flight attendant and a commando were injured. But all 86 passengers, along with the four surviving crew members, were saved.

Later that night, three members of the Red Army Faction — Gudrun Ensslin, Jan-Carl Raspe and Andreas Baader — were found dead in their cells, having committed suicide, and Mr. Schleyer, the abducted executive, was murdered.

Briefly held by American troops as a prisoner of war, he returned home, to what became East Germany, to finish his schooling.
Caught handing out leaflets critical of the Communist government, he was jailed for 18 months. Upon his release in 1952, he fled to West Berlin, where he went on to join the police.

(I haven’t found a source I consider completely trustworthy for this, but there are reports that Colonel (at the time) Wegener also participated with the Israeli Sayeret Matkal in the raid on Entebbe.)

Obit watch: December 22, 2017.

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg.

WP obit for Clifford Irving.

Jerry Yellin. Mr. Yellin and his wingman, Philip Schlamberg, flew what turned out to be the last combat mission over Japan on August 15, 1945. Mr. Schlamberg never came back.

Historical note, suitable for use in schools.

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

I was so busy yesterday that I missed this, but December 6th this year was the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion.

For some reason, I don’t think this is generally well remembered, outside of Halifax anyway. I knew about it at a fairly young age, but that was because I read a first-hand account of it in a really old “Reader’s Digest” that one of my grandparents had around the house.

Halifax was a pretty busy port in December of 1917. There was a war on, after all. On the morning of the 6th, the SS Imo (a Norwegian flagged ship chartered to carry relief supplies for Belgium, but empty at the time) struck the SS Mont-Blanc, a French flagged ship, in a narrow section of the harbor.

The Mont-Blanc was heavily loaded with high explosives for the war effort, and also barrels of benzol. It sounds like the initial collision was at low speed, and damage to both ships was minimal.

At first.

But the collision started a fire on the Mont-Blanc.

The commotion soon brought out crowds in the largely working-class neighborhood along the narrows. Some survivors’ accounts described the immediate aftermath almost as if it were a fireworks display, with exploding barrels of benzol bursting in the sky. Many people, to their later harm, peered down at the harbor from the hillside neighborhood through windows.

At 9:04:35 AM local time (according to Wikipedia) the Mont-Blanc exploded.

Vince Coleman, the dispatcher for the rail line that ran along the front, feared the worst and telegraphed a stop order to a train heading for the city: “Munitions ship on fire. Making for Pier 6. Goodbye.” He died almost immediately afterward. The city, which was a hub for undersea cables from Europe, lost all communications with the rest of the world.

Over 2,000 people were killed. Somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 more were injured.

Plays, special exhibitions, films and events, as well as shop windows commemorating the anniversary, are spread throughout the city.

The shop windows are deeply ironic: an estimated 600 people were blinded by flying glass.

The explosion is estimated to have been the equivalent of 2.9 kilotons of TNT. (Little Boy, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, had an estimated yield between 12 and 18 kilotons. Wikipedia gives an estimate for the Grandicamp explosion in Texas City of 2.7 kilotons equivalent, but hedges that a bit.) Before the atomic bomb, this was the largest man-made explosion in history.

The ship was completely blown apart and a powerful blast wave radiated away from the explosion at more than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) per second. Temperatures of 5,000 °C (9,000 °F) and pressures of thousands of atmospheres accompanied the moment of detonation at the centre of the explosion. White-hot shards of iron fell down upon Halifax and Dartmouth. Mont-Blanc’s forward 90 mm gun, its barrel melted away, landed approximately 5.6 kilometres (3.5 mi) north of the explosion site near Albro Lake in Dartmouth, and the shank of her anchor, weighing half a ton, landed 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) south at Armdale.

The NYT has a good article up. Wikipedia entry.

Obit watch: December 6, 2017.

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

On my way out the door, but I wanted to get this up now because otherwise I don’t know when I will have time.

Christine Keeler. NYT. WP.

For folks of a certain age, the name almost certainly rings a bell. For those who don’t recognize it, Ms. Keeler was the central figure in the British “Profumo affair” of the early 1960s.

Ms. Keeler was the “party girl” — as she was often described — who had an affair with John Profumo, a star in the Conservative government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. The secretary of state for war at the time — some saw him as a future prime minister — Mr. Profumo had met Ms. Keeler at a party in 1961, when she was still a teenager and he was in his mid-40s.

Ms. Keeler had had multiple lovers, among them Cmdr. Eugene Ivanov, an attaché in the Soviet Embassy in London, and when that relationship came to light, government figures and MI5, the domestic intelligence agency, feared that her affair with Mr. Profumo might have created a grave security breach.

I may update this obit later.

Edited to add 12/7: strictly in the interest of history, and not for any prurient reasons at all, I thought I would include what the WP calls “one of the decade’s most famous images”:

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TMQ Watch: December 5, 2017.

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

The headline tells you all you need to know, in this week’s TMQ

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Obit watch: December 5, 2017.

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Officer Kenneth Copeland of the San Marcos Police Department was killed yesterday.

Officer Copeland was assisting other officers in serving a warrant, and was shot by the suspect. He was 58 and had four kids.

Officer Copeland is the first San Marcos PD officer to die in the line of duty.

Also among the dead: John Anderson, former Congessman from Illinois, perhaps most famous for his presidential campaign as an independant against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Headline of the day.

Monday, November 13th, 2017

These crabs can grow up to 3 feet, but did they eat Amelia Earhart?