November 23, 1932 Holodomor

“THE worst memory I have brought out of Russia is the children,” observed American consultant and charity worker Whiting Williams after a tour in 1933. “There was one youngster I saw in Kharkov. Half-baked, he had sunk, exhausted, on the carriageway, with the kerbstone as a pillow, and his pipestem legs sprawled out, regardless of danger from passing wheels.”

In 1928, Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin introduced a program of agricultural collectivization in Ukraine, the “Bread Basket” of the Soviet Union, forcing family farmers off their land and into state-owned collective farms.

Ukrainian “kulaks”, peasant farmers successful enough to hire labor or own farm machinery, refused to join the collectives, regarding such as a return to the serfdom of earlier centuries. Stalin claimed that these factory collectives would not only feed industrial workers in the cities, but would also provide a surplus to be sold abroad, raising money to further his industrialization plans.

Holodomor_Novo-Krasne_Odessa_11_1932.pngArmed dekulakization brigades confiscated land, livestock and other property by force, evicting entire families. Nearly half a million individuals were dragged from their homes in 1930-’31 alone, packed into freight trains and shipped off to remote areas like Siberia and often left without food or shelter.  Many of them, especially children, died in transit or soon after arrival.

Resistance continued, which the Soviet government could not abide. Ukraine’s production quotas were sharply increased in 1932-’33, making it impossible for farmers to meet assignments and feed themselves, at the same time. Starvation became widespread, as the Soviet government decreed that any person, even a child, would be arrested for taking as little as a few stalks of wheat from the fields in which they worked.

pic_giant_110913_D-2Military blockades were erected around villages preventing the transportation of food, while brigades of young activists from other regions were brought in to sweep through villages and confiscate hidden grain.

Eventually all food was confiscated from farmers’ homes, as Stalin determined to “teach a lesson through famine” to the Ukrainian rural population.

no-nb_blds_01867-beskåret-1200x1278.jpgAt the height of the famine, Ukrainians starved to death at a rate of 22,000 per day, almost a third of those, children 10 and under. How many died in total, is anyone’s guess. Estimates range from two million Ukrainian citizens murdered by their own government, to well over ten million.

Millions of tons of grain were exported during this time, more than enough to save every man, woman and child.

Holodomor, children.png2,500 people were arrested and convicted during this time, for eating the flesh of their neighbors. The problem was so widespread that the Soviet government put up signs reminding survivors: “To eat your own children is a barbarian act.”

Stalin denied to the world that there was any famine in Ukraine, a position supported by the likes of Louis Fischer reporting for “The Nation”, and Walter Duranty of the New York Times. Duranty went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his “coverage”, with comments like “any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda”. Such stories were “mostly bunk,” according to the Times. Duranty even commented that “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

1um1ow.jpgTo this day, the New York Times has failed to repudiate Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer.

Like many on the international Left, Canadian journalist Rhea Clyman had great expectations of the “worker’s paradise” built by the Communist state, where no one was unemployed, everyone was “equal”, and Everyman had what he needed. Unlike most, Clyman went to the Soviet Union, to see for herself.

Holodomor-Great-Famine-Ukraine-emaciated-horse-1932-1933-Alexander-Wienerberger-photographer.jpgTo do so at all was an act of courage.  single Jewish woman who’d lost part of a leg in a childhood streetcar accident, traveling to a place where the Russian empire and its successor state had a long and wretched history.  Particularly when it came to the treatment of its own Jews.

Virtually all of the international press preferred the comfortable confines of Moscow, cosseted in a world of Soviet propaganda and ignorant of the world as it was.

In four years, Clyman not only learned the language, but set out on a 5,000-mile odyssey to discover the Soviet countryside, as it really was.

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Rhea Clyman

Duranty’s idea of “good-bye” was the cynical offer, to write her obituary.

It is through this “Special Correspondent in Russia of The Toronto Evening Telegram, London Daily Express, and Other Newspapers“, that we know much about the government’s extermination of its own citizens in Ukraine.

To read what Clyman wrote about abandoned villages, is haunting.  And then the moment of discovery:  “They wanted something of me, but I could not make out what it was. At last someone went off for a little crippled lad of fourteen, and when he came hobbling up, the mystery was explained. This was the Village of Isoomka, the lad told me. I was from Moscow, yes; we were a delegation studying conditions in the Ukraine, yes. Well, they wanted me to take a petition back to the Kremlin, from this village and the one I had just been in. “Tell the Kremlin we are starving; we have no bread!”

A tall, bearded peasant was spokesman. His two sons and the rest of the men and women nodded approval at every word. The little crippled boy stood with his right hand on his crutch, translating everything he said into Russian for me, word by word.  “We are good, hard-working peasants, loyal Soviet citizens, but the village Soviet has taken our land from us. We are in the collective farm, but we do not get any grain. Everything, land, cows and horses, have been taken from us, and we have nothing to eat. Our children were eating grass in the spring….” 

I must have looked unbelieving at this, for a tall, gaunt woman started to take the children’s clothes off. She undressed them one by one, prodded their sagging bellies, pointed to their spindly legs, ran her hand up and down their tortured, mis-shapen, twisted little bodies to make me understand that this was real famine. I shut my eyes, I could not bear to look at all this horror. “Yes,” the woman insisted, and the boy repeated, “they were down on all fours like animals, eating grass. There was nothing else for them.”  What have you to eat now?” I asked them, still keeping my eyes averted from those tortured bodies. “Are all the villages round here the same? Who gets the grain?”” – Rhea Clyman, Toronto Telegram, 16 May 1933

22,000 of these poor people starved to death, every day.  Even then, many they believed the government in Moscow, was going to help.  If only comrade Stalin knew…

Today, the province of Alberta is home to about 300,000 Canadians of Ukrainian Heritage. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley once explained “Holodomor is a combination of two Ukrainian words: Holod, meaning hunger, and moryty, meaning a slow, cruel death. That is exactly what Ukrainians suffered during this deliberate starvation of an entire people“.

holodomor-1.jpgThe Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933 was opened in Washington, D.C. on November 7, 2015

Ukrainians around the world recognize November 23 as Holodomor Memorial Day, commemorated by a simple statue in Kiev. A barefoot little girl, gaunt and hollow eyed, clutches a few stalks of wheat.

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Here in the United States, you could line up 100 randomly selected individuals. I don’t believe that five could tell you what Holodomor means. We are a self-governing Republic. All 100 should be acquainted with the term.

 

 

November 22, 1942 Malign Governance

Taken individually, either power possessed the potential to destroy the world order.  The mind can only ponder the great good fortune of we who would be free, that these malign governments turned to destroying each other.

In the 18th century, the Founding Fathers gave us a Republic, centered on individual liberty, delegated and diffuse authority and checks & balances. Unique in world history, it was a governing model, based on an idea.

In this election year of peace and prosperity, news media and candidates alike speak of “Socialism”.  A top down ideology where individual liberty is subsumed by the collective, and cosmic chance is all that separates benign governance, from authoritarianism.

Two of the worst such ideologies rose up in the wake of the War to end all Wars.  One a murderous, authoritarian, collectivist ideology with international aspirations and class obsessions. The other a murderous, authoritarian, and collectivist ideology with nationalist aspirations and ethnic obsessions.

symbol-combo-1506965295.jpgTaken individually, either power possessed the potential to destroy the world order.  The mind can only ponder the great good fortune of we who would be free, that these malign governments turned to destroying each other.

The Nazi conquest of Europe began in 1938. Within two years, every major power on the European mainland was either neutral, or occupied.  Great Britain alone escaped Nazi invasion, as the shattered defenders of the island nation fled the beaches of Dunkirk.

The National Socialist “Thousand-year Reich” was allied for a time with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, thanks to the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact of August, 1939.

We in the west understand World War 2 in terms of European and Pacific “Theaters”.  Yet the most shattering conflict of this most destructive war in history unfolded not in those places, but the Eastern Front, between the two former allies.

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“Valhalla in flames, in an 1894 depiction by Max Brückner, one of the original set designers for the opera”. H/T Wikipedia

This was a Race war, Slav against Teuton.  The Ragnarök of Norse mythology.  The all-destroying Götterdämmerung of Wagnerian opera.  Of an estimated 70–85 million deaths attributed to World War II, approximately 30 million occurred on the Eastern Front.  95% of all Wehrmacht casualties between 1941 and 1944, took place on the “Ostfront”.  The former allies fought out the most ferocious battle of that bloodiest theater of the war, in the streets and the sewers of Stalingrad.

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Soviet soldiers on the offensive against German troops during the Battle of Stalingrad, February 1943. Zelma/RIA Novosti archive, image no. 44732 (CC BY-SA3.0)

Wilfred von Richtofen, cousin of the famous “Red Baron” of WWI, opened up with his heavy bombers on August 23rd, dropping over 1,000 tons of high explosive on Stalingrad.

Most of the cattle, grain and rail cars surrounding the city were shipped out, in advance of the German assault.  Government propagandists boasted of the “harvest victory”, and yet most of Stalingrad’s civilian residents remained, leaving the city short of food.  Making matters worse, the Luftwaffe bombed Volga River shipping, sinking 32 vessels and crippling another 9 in the narrow waterway.  The most vital link in the city’s supply chain, was cut off.  

In the beginning, Soviet defense suffered extreme manpower shortages.  One part of the early defense fell to the 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, a primarily female unit comprised of young volunteers with little training and the wrong weapons to engage ground targets. These women were all alone at this point with no support from other units, yet they traded shot for shot with the German 16th Panzer Division until all 37 AA guns had been wiped out or overrun. When it was over, 16th Panzer soldiers were amazed to learn, they had been fighting women.

1077th

Stalingrad was quickly reduced to rubble, with the German 6th Army controlling 90% of the city.  Still, the the Soviet defense held on.  General Vasily Chuikov commanding the weak 62nd army well understand the overwhelming power of the Blitzkreig and insisted on “Hugging the Enemy”, to nullify German air power.

With backs to the Volga, they fought for the very sewers of the city, men and women alike reduced to a primitive level of existence. The Germans called it “Rattenkrieg”. “War of the Rats”.  One German infantryman wrote home to his family, “Animals flee this burning hell of a city. The hardest stones do not last for long. Only men endure”.

As many as 80,000 Red Army soldiers lay dead by the middle of October, 1942. Counting German losses and civilian deaths, the battle cost a quarter million lives up to this point. And it was barely halfway over.Stalingrad

Ice floes in the Volga further cut off supplies.  Defenders were reduced to cannibalism as a massive Soviet counter-attack assembled on the German’s exposed left flank.

By November, General Georgy Zhukov had assembled over a million fresh troops and three Air Armies, for the assault on Stalingrad.  1,500 tanks and 2,500 heavy guns arrived fresh from the factory, many departing with paint, still wet.

The rumble of artillery, the “Great Soviet God of War” could be heard across the steppe as the Soviet counter-attack commenced in a blinding snowstorm on November 19, 1942.

German General Friedrich von Paulus sent a telegram to Adolf Hitler, requesting permission to withdraw.  The response from the Fuhrer:  the 6th Army should fight “to the last soldier and the last bullet.”  Von Paulus send a second telegram on the 22nd.  The 6th Army was surrounded.  stalingrad1

German forward movement came to an end on the Eastern Front in February, 1943, when 91,000 freezing, wounded, sick and starving Germans surrendered to the Red Army.

Even then, thousands of troops refused to lay down arms and continued to fight from the cellars and the sewers, holding on until early March.

Disease, death marches, cold, overwork, mistreatment, and malnutrition all took their toll on the prisoners.  Nearly 110,000 went into captivity following the Battle of Stalingrad.  Fewer than 6,000 lived to return to Germany.

German-soldiers-Battle-of-Stalingrad-January-1943
German soldiers, Battle of Stalingrad, January 1943 H/T Britannica.com

Nigh on 80 years later, my fellow Americans face one of history’s “hinge” moments.  Do we choose the self-governance of We the People, with all of its many warts and short-comings.   Or do we abandon self-government to cosmic chance, and the rule of a self-interested, few.

November 18, 1978 Drinking the Koolaid

The Jonestown murder/suicide of November 18, 1978 produced the largest loss of civilian life in American history, until the Islamist terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Those who knew him as a child remembered a “really weird kid“, obsessed with religion and death.  He’d hold elaborate, pseudo-religious ceremonies at the house, mostly funerals for small animals.  How Jim Jones got all those dead animals, was a matter for dark speculation.

1536936987137.jpegIt was depression-era rural Indiana, in the age of racial segregation.  Father and son often clashed over issues of race.  The two didn’t talk to each other for years one time, after the time the elder Jones refused to let one of his son’s black friends, into the house.

Jim Jones was a bright boy, graduating High School with honors, in 1949.  He was a voracious reader, studying the works of Stalin, Marx, Mao, Gandhi and Hitler and carefully noting the strengths and weaknesses, of each.

Jones married Marceline Baldwin in 1949 and moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where he attended Indiana University and later Butler University night school, earning a degree in secondary education.

Along-standing interest in Leftist politics heightened during this period, when Jones was a regular at Communist Party-USA meetings.  There he’d rail against the McCarthy hearings, and the trials of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Jones recalled he later asked himself, “How can I demonstrate my Marxism? The thought was, infiltrate the church.”

jim-jones-red-robe-ht-jef-180925_hpEmbed_21x16_992.jpg“Reverend” Jim Jones got his start as a student pastor at the Sommerset Southside Methodist Church but soon left, over issues of segregation.  He was a Social Justice Warrior in the age of Jim Crow.

636150546188409893-1492665.jpgThe New York Times reported in 1953, “declaring that he was outraged at what he perceived as racial discrimination in his white congregation, Mr. Jones established his own church and pointedly opened it to all ethnic groups. To raise money, he imported monkeys and sold them door to door as pets.”

Jones witnessed a faith-healing service and came to understand the influence to be had, from such an event.  He arranged a massive convention in 1956, inviting the Oral Roberts of his day, as keynote speaker. Reverend William Branham did not disappoint.  Soon, Reverend Jones opened his own mission with an explicit focus on racial integration. 

Thus began the Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ.

Jones’ integrationist politics did little to ingratiate himself in 1950s rural Indiana.  Mayor and commissioners alike asked him to tone it down, while he received wild applause at NAACP and Urban League conventions with speeches rising to a thundering crescendo:  “Let My People GO!!!”

Jones spoke in favor of Kim Il-sung’s invasion of South Korea, branding the conflict a “war of liberation” and calling South Korea “a living example of all that socialism in the north has overcome.

Jim and Marcelline adopted three Korean orphans, beginning what would become a family of nine including their only biological child, Stephan Ghandi.  The couple adopted a black boy in 1961 and called him Jim Jr., the Jones’ “rainbow family” a reflection of the pastor’s congregation.

jim-jones-family-pic-01-ht-jef-180925_hpMain_4x3_992An apocalyptic streak began to show, as Jones preached of nuclear annihilation. He traveled to Brazil for a time, in search of a safe place for the coming holocaust.  He even gave it a date:  July 15, 1967. On returning from Brazil, the “Father” spoke to the flock.  The “children” would have to move.  To northern California, to a new and perfect, socialist, Eden.

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Jim Jones preaching, 1971

For Jim Jones, religion was never more than a means to an end. ”Off the record” he once said in a recorded conversation, “I don’t believe in any loving God. Our people, I would say, are ninety percent atheist. Uh, we— we think Jesus Christ was a swinger…I must say, I felt somewhat hypocritical for the last years as I became uh, an atheist, uh, I have become uh, you— you feel uh, tainted, uh, by being in the church situation. But of course, everyone knows where I’m at. My bishop knows that I’m an atheist.

Faith healing.  The California days

Jones referred to himself as the reincarnation of Gandhi. Father Divine. Jesus, Gautama Buddha and Lenin. “What you need to believe in is what you can see…. If you see me as your friend, I’ll be your friend. As you see me as your father, I’ll be your father, for those of you that don’t have a father…. If you see me as your savior, I’ll be your savior. If you see me as your God, I’ll be your God.”

The years in California were a time of rapid expansion from Temple Headquarters in San Francisco to locations up and down the “Golden State”.  Jones hobnobbed with the who’s who of Democratic politics, from San Francisco Mayor George Moscone to Presidential candidate Walter Mondale. Even First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

“If you’re born in capitalist America, racist America, fascist America, then you’re born in sin. But if you’re born in socialism, you’re not born in sin.”

California Assemblyman Willie Brown called Jones a combination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis, Albert Einstein and Mao Tse Tung.  Harvey Milk wrote to Jones after one visit: “Rev Jim, It may take me many a day to come back down from the high that I reach today. I found something dear today. I found a sense of being that makes up for all the hours and energy placed in a fight. I found what you wanted me to find. I shall be back. For I can never leave.

Jim_Jones_shakes_hands_with_Cecil_Williams_-_January_1977
“Jones receives a Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian award from Pastor Cecil Williams, 1977” H/T Wikipedia

Meanwhile, Jones was building the perfect socialist utopia in the South American jungles of Guyana, formally known as the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project”.  Most simply called the place, “Jonestown”.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Marshall Kilduff wrote in the summer of 1977, telling a grotesque tale of physical and sexual abuse, of brainwashing and emotional domination. Chronicle editors balked and Kilduff published the piece in the New West Magazine.

That was when Jones and his congregation left town and fled.  To Guyana.

A long standing drug addiction became more pronounced in Jonestown where the preacher spoke of the gospel of “Translation”, a weird crossing over from this life to some other, finer plane.

Some 68% of Jonestown faithful were black at this time, congregants who somehow got something from this place, they couldn’t get at home.  Inclusion.  Fulfillment.  Acceptance.  Whatever it was, the cult of Jonestown was mostly, a world of willing participants.

Mostly, but not entirely.  Those who entered Jonestown were not allowed to leave.  Those who escaped told outlandish tales of abuse:  mental, physical and sexual.

Former members of the Temple formed a “Concerned Relatives” group in the Fall of 1977, to publicize conditions afflicting family members, still in the cult.

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Jonestown compound, Guyana

Concerned Relatives produced a packet of affidavits in April 1978, entitled “Accusation of Human Rights Violations by Rev. James Warren Jones“.  Jones’ political support began to weaken as members of the press and Congress, took increasing interest.

California Congressman Leo Ryan led a fact-finding mission that November, to see things for himself.  The Congressional Delegation (CoDel) arrived at the Guyanese capital on November 15, with NBC camera crew and newspaper reporters, in tow.

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Congressman Ryan arrives at Jonestown

The delegation traveled by air and drove the last few miles by limo, to Jonestown. The visit of the 17th was cordial at first, with Jones himself hosting a reception in the central pavilion.  Underlying menace soon came to the surface as a few Temple members expressed the desire, to leave with the delegation. Things went from bad to worse when temple member Don Sly attacked Congressman Ryan with a knife, the following day.

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NBC photographer Bob Brown took this shot, of the shooters

Ryan’s hurried exit with fifteen members of the Temple met no resistance, at first. The CoDel was boarding at the small strip in Port Kaituma, when Jones’ “Red Brigade” pulled up in a farm tractor, towing a trailer.   The new arrivals opened fire, killing Congressman Ryan and four others.  One of the supposed “defectors” produced a weapon, and wounded several more.

download - 2019-11-18T082734.667.jpgBack at the compound, Jones lost an already tenuous grasp on reality.

Fearing assault by parachute, lethal doses of cyanide were distributed along with grape “Flavor Aid” for 900+ members of the People’s Temple, including 304 children.

This wasn’t the first time the Jonestown flock believed they were ingesting poison, for The Cause.  It was about to be the last.

Jones spoke with an odd lisp which seemed to grow more pronounced, at times of excitement. You can hear it in the 45 minute “death tape“ below, his words sometimes forming a perfect “S“ and at other times, lapsing into a soft “TH” or some combination, of the two.

You can hear it clearly, in the recording.  Heads up dear reader.  If you care to listen, it’s 45-minutes of tough sledding.

Jonestown “Death Tape”.  November 18, 1978

The murder/suicide of November 18, 1978 produced the largest loss of civilian life in American history, until the Islamist terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Jones:  How very much I’ve loved you. How very much I’ve tried, to give you the good life…We are sitting on a powder keg…I don’t think that’s what we wanted to do with our babies…No man takes my life from me, I lay my life down…If we can’t live in peace, then let us die in peace.
Christine [Miller]: Is it too late for Russia?
Jones: Here’s why it’s too late for Russia. They killed. They started to kill. That’s why it makes it too late for Russia. Otherwise I’d said, “Russia, you bet your life.” But it’s too late.
Unidentified Man: Is there any way if I go, that it’ll help?
Jones: No, you’re not going. You’re not going.
Crowd: No! No!
Jones: I haven’t seen anybody yet that didn’t die. And I’d like to choose my own kind of death for a change. I’m tired of being tormented to hell, that’s what I’m tired of.
Crowd: Right, right.
Jones: Tired of it.
Unidentified Man: It’s over, sister, it’s over … we’ve made that day … we made a beautiful day and let’s make it a beautiful day … that’s what I say.

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“A lot of people are tired around here, but I’m not sure they’re ready to lie down, stretch out and fall asleep”. Jim Jones

 

 

 

November 17, 1558 Strange Beauty Secrets

The archaeological record suggests humans have been coloring their lips, for 4,000 years.

Popular ideas of what is beautiful have changed with time and place, but strange beauty secrets are as old as history itself.

Live-Persian-Miniature-Painting-12.jpgIn ancient Greece, blond hair was perceived as beautiful, probably because it was unusual. Women would lighten their hair using a mixture of ashes, olive oil & water, and sometimes arsenic.

Cleopatra used a lipstick of mashed up beetle guts and powdered her eyes with the dried excrement, of crocodiles.  She would bathe daily in the sour milk of donkeys, 700 of the animals kept on-hand, for the purpose.

The stuff was supposed to have smoothed out wrinkles and just might have worked too.  Soured lactose turns to lactic acid, capable of removing the top layer of skin.  The Greek princess-turned Egyptian Pharoah all but owned the hearts of the most powerful men of the age, but at a cost.  Burning your own skin off seems a tough way to go.

cleopatra-last-queen-egypt-main.jpgThe 12th century Queen Isabeau of France likewise favored the sour donkey milk routine, followed up by rubbing her skin with crocodile glands and the brains of boars.

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Empress Elisabeth of Austria, considered by many to be the most beautiful woman, on earth

History remembers Empress Elisabeth of Austria for helping to bring about the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, in 1867.  Less well known is the woman’s obsessive dedication to her own youthful figure and exceptional beauty.

Elisabeth would crush strawberries over her face, neck and hands, followed by a bath in warm olive oil.  She would sleep in a mask lined with raw veal.

Elisabeth emphasized her already slender figure by “tight-lacing” a leather corset, a practice which infuriated the mother-in-law who regarded the queen’s duty, as being perpetually pregnant.

Even after four pregnancies, on her death at age 60 at the hands of an Italian anarchist, the woman’s waist measured 18½”-19 inches.

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“Blood Countess Erzsébet Báthory

During the Heian period in Japan, 794 to 1185AD, a woman’s beauty was judged by the length of her hair. The ideal was considered to be about two feet below her waist.

The Hungarian “Blood Countess” Erzsébet Báthory who lived from August 7, 1560 – August 21, 1614, may be the most prolific female serial killer in history, bathing in the blood of as many as 650 virgins, to keep herself looking young.

Erzsébet’s four cohorts were convicted in the murder of 80, while the Countess herself was neither tried nor convicted due to her exalted rank. She was simply thrown into a cell on her arrest in December, 1610 and there left to die, four years later.

On a less macabre note, Mary, Queen of Scots, bathed in wine. Strange beauty rituals weren’t limited to women, either.  Novelist George Sands liked to soak himself in cow’s milk (3 quarts) and honey (3 pounds).

Nofretete_Neues_Museum.jpgNefertiti ruled as Egyptian Queen ca. 1351–1334 BC, the Great Royal Wife of Pharoah Akhenaten, predecessor to the great Tutankhamun. Nefertiti , her name translates as “The Beautiful Woman has Come”, would shave herself hairless from head to foot, donning a wig and lining her eyes with Egyptian kohl, a substance derived from lead. In case that wasn’t enough, Nefertiti would color her lips with a combination of seaweed and bromine nitrate, a plant-derived toxin so powerful, some believe the stuff to be the origin of the phrase, “the kiss of death”.

Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, was crowned this day, November 17, 1588.  As queen, Elizabeth followed a path taken by women for thousands of years, sporting the high forehead and daubing her face with a powder makeup called ceruse. High lead content made the practice deadly enough, but women would top it off with a rouge containing mercury, leading to an untold number of birth defects and miscarriages. It’s all but certain the combination of lead and mercury led to her complete loss of hair.  Small wonder she was the “Virgin Queen”.

Virgin Queen.jpgThe European quest for the perfect, porcelain complexion lasted well into the 19th century, for which some women ate clay.  The ladies of the French Court obsessed over flawless, alabaster skin, until the end of the 18th century. They would fake it with thick layers of white powder, made from white lead, or talcum powder, or pulverized bone.  Whatever they could get hold of. Combined with wax, whale blubber, deer fat or vegetable oil, the stuff had a nice, greasy consistency that stayed where they put it.

ots32styherapghk5a1539c073789Meanwhile, African women of antiquity favored lavender oil for its distinctive feminine scent and a red tea called Rooibos to keep skin looking young and supple. With its naturally high levels of zinc and vitamin D2, the stuff was an important defense against the hot African sun.

Marie Antoinette washed up with “Eau Cosmetique de Pigeon”, the stuff bearing the promise right there on the  label,  that every bottle contained no fewer than “eight pigeons stewed.”

55b1b8d611d27aa735b1fd0267fc1f33.jpgHers was a time of big hair, when hair was piled high on top of the head, powdered and augmented with the hair of servants and the fur of pets. The do was often adorned with fabric, ribbons or fruit, sometimes holding props like birdcages complete with stuffed birds and even miniature frigates, under sail.

It wasn’t just women’s hair, either. Fashionable European men of the 18th century wore wigs made of both animal and human hair, a practice that soon spread across the water and into North America.

The wealthy wore longer wigs, often powdered and curled while those who couldn’t afford them wore shorter versions, usually styled into a braided ponytail.

custer (1).jpgGeorge Edward Pickett, he of the famous charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, was acclaimed for his oiled and perfumed locks.  The “Boy General”, the youngest Civil War General in the Union Army, would anoint his hair with cinnamon oil.  A lock of George Armstrong Custer’s hair recently sold at auction, for $12,500.

Well into the 20th century, women and men alike chose between slicking their hair down with a greasy brilliantine, or spraying it with shellac dissolved in an admixture of water and alcohol.

Weird beauty tips are easy to find on-line.  Some say that Preparation H under the eyes reduces puffiness (I hear it works).  Hot pepper sauce applied to the roots of the hair will help it grow, (the jury’s out on this one). Some believe that urine works as an astringent to clear up acne, (it doesn’t), and rubbing your face with a potato dries up oily skin (that one’s false as well).

MIrrorTheme.jpgToday we look on past practices as bizarre, but maybe we shouldn’t. If those people from the past were to peer into their own future, they’d see spray tanning, teeth bleaching, and Brazilian bikini wax. They’d see people injecting the neurotoxic output of Clostridium Botulinum into their faces, and sticking metal objects through all manner of body parts.

You have to wonder what our own future will bring. Not even Nostradamus could have foretold tattooed grandmothers.

Ancient Beauty

 

November 15, 1963 Unintelligible at Any Speed

In 1955, singer-songwriter Richard Berry wrote a tune about a Jamaican sailor returning home to see his lady love.  It’s a ballad, a Caribbean-flavored conversation in the first person singular, with a bartender. The bartender’s name is Louie.

MI0001688683.jpgIn 1955, singer-songwriter Richard Berry wrote a tune about a Jamaican sailor returning home to see his lady love.  It’s a ballad, a Caribbean-flavored conversation in the first person singular, with a bartender. The bartender’s name is Louie.

The song was covered in Latin and and R&B styles in the 1950s, never becoming more than a regional hit on the west coast.

“Mainstream” white artists of the fifties and sixties often covered songs written by black artists. On April 6, 1963, an obscure rock & roll group out of Portland, Oregon rented a recording studio for $50, and covered the song.   They were The Kingsmen.  Lead singer Jack Ely showed the band how he wanted it played. Berry’s easy 1-2-3-4, 1-2, 1-2-3-4 ballad was transformed to a raucous 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3 beat.

The Kingsmen recorded the song in a single take. The guitar was chaotic, the lyrics difficult to make out.  The single was released by a small label in May and re-released by Wand Records in October.

Rock music is so mainstream now, it’s hard to remember the style was once considered subversive.  Decadent.  The impenetrable lyrics led to all kinds of speculation, driving sales through the 15th of November, all the way to the Billboard Top 100 chart.

louie-louie.jpgIt all went downhill from there.  “Louie Louie, me gotta go,” became in the fevered imagination, “Louie Louie, grab her way down low.”  Invented lyrics ranging from mildly raunchy to downright pornographic were written out on slips of paper and exchanged between teenagers, spurring interest in the song and driving record sales, through the roof.

Music critic Dave Marsh later wrote:  “This preposterous fable bore no scrutiny even at the time, but kids used to pretend it did, in order to panic parents, teachers and other authority figures. …So ‘Louie Louie’ leaped up the chart on the basis of a myth about its lyrics so contagious that it swept cross country quicker than bad weather.”

Concerned parents contacted government authorities to see what could be done. One father, a Sarasota, Florida junior high teacher whose name is redacted in FBI files, wrote to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy:

“Who do you turn to when your teen age daughter buys and brings home pornographic or obscene materials being sold along with objects directed and aimed at the teenage market in every City, Village and Record shop in this Nation?” The letter asserts “The lyrics are so filthy I cannot enclose them in this letter” and concludes with a plea, complete with four punctuation marks: “How can we stamp out this menace????”

louierfk1 (1).gifDad might have taken a breath.  The pop culture scene was not so steeped in filth, as he imagined.  The top television program of the time was the Beverly Hillbillies.  The top movie the Disney animated production, “The Sword and the Stone”.

Louie4.jpgThe FBI took up an investigation under the ITOM statute in 1964, a federal law regulating the Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material.  Investigators interviewed witnesses. They listened to the song at varying speeds, backward and forward.  The relentless search for lascivious material lasted two years and in the end, came up empty.

The FBI’s archival website contains 119 pages, covering the investigation.  In the end, the song was ruled “unintelligible at any speed”.

Inexplicably, G-men never interviewed Kingsmen lead singer Jack Ely.  He probably could have saved them a lot of time.  The lyrics never did measure up to the fevered imagination, of a Sarasota schoolteacher.

Louie Louie, with lyrics

The song has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including Paul Revere & the Raiders, Otis Redding, Motorhead, Black Flag and Young MC.  The best ever though, has got to be the Delta Tau Chi fraternity version from John Landis’ 1978 movie, Animal House.

“OK, let’s give it to ’em.  Right now”.

November 13, 1985 The Awful Story of Omayra Sánchez

Omayra Sánchez Garzón was a little girl on this day in 1985, a typical thirteen-year-old and one among many, living in Armero.  There is not enough meanness in all the world, to wish on anyone what this one little girl would endure for the next three days.

Fifty miles from the Colombian capital of Bogotá, the municipality of Armero was once home to 30,000 souls.  Long known as “Colombia’s White City”, Armero was at one time a major cotton producer, seat of the prosperous agricultural region located in the northern Tolima Department, of Colombia.

Today, the place is a ghost town.

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the “Armero Tragedy’, before and after

Some forty miles from Armero, the Nevado del Ruiz Stratovolcano in the Central Andes, is the site of three major eruptive periods since the early Pleistocene era.  The present volcanic cone formed some 150,000 years ago during the present eruptive period.  Known to locals as the “Sleeping Lion”, Nevado del Ruiz had not experienced a major eruption, since 1845.  140 years later, it was hard to imagine the thing presented much of a threat.

The eruption of November 13, 1985 was small by volcanic standards.  For its unsuspecting victims, it was a distinction without a difference.  Much as the ant may fail to notice.  He was crushed by a very small elephant.

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Nevado del Ruiz Stratovolcano

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD was later described in a letter written by Pliny the Younger, describing the catastrophe that killed the philosopher’s uncle.  The “Plinian Eruption” which killed the Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder would be repeated half a world away and some 2,000 years later, as a sleeping lion came to life.

The fast moving clouds of gas and volcanic material came in the dead of night, the “pyroclastic flow” super-heated to 1,000° Fahrenheit and racing  away from the cone at speeds as high as 430 miles-per-hour.  Next came the Lahars, the violent and terrifying mud flow of pyroclastic material, rocky debris and vast quantities of water released by the near-instantaneous melting of the Nevado del Ruiz glacier.  Imagine a wall of rocky mud coming at you at 22mph, only a little slower than Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s best 100-meter dash.  Usain Bolt just happens to be the fastest man who ever lived.

Mount Merapi Lahar, Central Java

Lahars flow at depths as great as 460-feet.  Vast, hideous walls of  mud, rock and debris the consistency of wet concrete, speeding down rivers and valleys.  The first of three lahars and the most powerful of that night wiped fourteen towns and villages from the face of the earth, killing as many as 20,000 in Armero, alone.

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Galungung Lahar, Indonesia

Omayra Sánchez Garzón was a little girl on this day in 1985, a typical thirteen-year-old and one among many, living in Armero.  There is not enough meanness in all the world, to wish on anyone what this one little girl would endure for the next three days.

Many years ago, I found myself pinned under a car while working on the engine.  The motor and transmission assembly, free of its mount, swung down and pinned my hand underneath.  It obviously hurt but, more than that, there was the strangest feeling of being…trapped.  Permanently pinned in place like an insect in a child’s science project, entirely denied the power of voluntary movement.  It may as well have been a locomotive, sitting there on my fingers.

Omayra Sánchez suffered her legs to be so trapped, pinned under the collapsed stony structure of her own home, legs entangled in the dead arms of her aunt and submerged up to her neck, in water.

Omayra Sanchez Vignette

The nation of Colombia was a basket case at this time, engaged in a fight for its life with Leftist guerrilla organizations such as the M-19 Democratic Alliance (19th of April Movement), and the FARC.  The Palace of Justice siege of less than a week earlier resulted in the murder of fully half the 25-member Colombian Supreme Court, as the Colombian military mobilized across the capital city of Bogotá.

Rescue efforts on the ground in Armero were frantic, disorganized and mostly local.  Official government assistance was all but, non-existent, pumps altogether unavailable.  Soon even supplies of simple hand tools such as stretchers, shovels and cutting tools, began to give out.  Foreign aid rushed in from nations from around the world but, for most victims, such well-intended help arrived, too late..

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After the lahar passed, Sánchez found herself buried in rubble. She managed to get one hand out of the wreckage as rescuers desperately worked to clear the wood, stone and debris from her upper body.  As the water rose, a tire was placed around her body to keep her from drowning.  Divers attempted to free her legs, but without success.  She was trapped.  Bilateral amputation was considered but there were no means, even to remove the water.  In the end, doctors determined the most humane course was to comfort this child as much as humanly possible, and let her die.

Colombian Ambassador to Portugal Germán Santa María Barragán was at that time a journalist and volunteer in the Armero rescue.  Barragán was with Omayra for much of her last three days.  Sánchez herself remained relatively positive throughout the ordeal, sometimes asking for sweets or soda, sometimes even singing to the journalist.  Some times she cried and others, she prayed.  Stuck there as she was she agreed to be interviewed, her face and her desperate plight quickly becoming known, around the world.

“Colombia and half of the world remained with the bitter sensation that Omayra Sánchez could have been able to continue living after remaining for almost 60 hours trapped from head to toe amidst the rubble of Armero. Her face, her words, and her courage, which streamed throughout the world on television and were a heartbreaking image in the largest newspapers and magazines of the United States and Europe, remained a testimony of accusation against those who could have at the very least made the tragedy less serious. – Germán Santa María Barragán in El Tiempo, November 23, 1985

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The color of her hands make it appear, as Sánchez is wearing gloves.  She isn’t.

French photographer Frank Fournier arrived at dawn on the 16th.  Omayra Sánchez had been in the water for nearly three days and nights by this time.  She was all but abandoned when Fournier first saw her, the whole place eerily silent, save for the occasional scream.

Fournier received vehement backlash for his pictures.  How could he do that, just taking pictures like that, without trying to help.  What are you, some kind of ghoul?  A “vulture”!?  Fournier himself had no means to help this girl, save to use his skill and his camera, to bring her story to the world.  He was a photographer.

Omayra Sanchez3

In her final hours, Sánchez began to hallucinate.  She asked the photographer to bring her to school.  She didn’t want to miss her lessons.  She had a math exam.  At one point she even told her rescuers, to go get some rest.

Omayra Sánchez was trapped for sixty hours with only head and shoulders above water, caught in a kneeling position and pinned under massive and impenetrable piles of bricks and masonry.  Her eyes reddened toward the end as her face swelled and her usually brown hands turned from pale, to white.

Two years later, the world held its breath for fifty-eight hours as scores of frantic volunteers worked ’round the clock, to free Baby Jessica from a West Texas well.  Omayra Sánchez waited sixty hours for a rescue, that never arrived.

Omayra Sanchez2

Red Cross workers desperately appealed to the Colombian government for a pump, and for help in freeing the trapped girl.  In the end there was no alternative but to stay by her side, and pray.   She died at 10:05am local time, from a combination of gangrene and hypothermia.  Three hours after Fournier took the picture above.

In time, the water subsided.  Those left alive moved away, to Bogotá or to Cali or a few kilometers north to the new town of Armero-Guayabal.  Armero itself is a dead place now, save for a few memorials marking important places such as hospitals, parks, and theaters.  And a small shrine, dedicated to one little girl.

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Little was left of Omayra’s family.  Her father was killed in the collapse.  Her aunt was dead.  Two-thirds of the town in which she had spent her short life, were gone.  85% of Armero itself, had ceased to exist.  From that day to this, the once prosperous “White City” of Colombia, remains a ghost town.

Omayra’s brother survived the disaster, with only the loss of a single digit.  Her mother expressed the forlorn anguish only the parent of a dead child, will ever experience: “It is horrible, but we have to think about the living … I will live for my son, who only lost a finger.”

November 11, 1921 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Passing between two lines of French and American officials, Sgt. Younger entered the room, alone.  Slowly, he circled the four caskets, three times, before at last stopping at the third from the left.  “What caused me to stop” he later said, “I don’t know.  It was as though something had pulled me”.  Younger placed the roses on the casket, drew himself to attention, and saluted.  This was the one.

Many years ago, Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck said “If a general war begins, it will be because of some damn fool thing in the Balkans“.

The Chancellor got his damn fool thing on a side street in Sarajevo, when a tubercular 19-year old leveled his revolver and murdered the heir-apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife on June 28, 1914.

In another time and place, such an event could have led to limited conflict. A policing action, in the Balkans.  Instead, mutually entangling national alliances brought mobilization timetables into effect, dictating the movement of men and equipment according to precise and predetermined schedules.

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German troops, leaving for the front

The hippie subculture of the 1960s produced an antiwar slogan based on the title of a McCall’s Magazine article by Charlotte E. Keyes. “Suppose They Gave a War and No One Came.”  In 1914, the coming war Had to happen.  If only because everyone was there.

The cataclysm could have been averted, as late as the last day of July. By the first of August, mutual distrust had brought events past the point of no return. By the time it was over a generation was shattered, a continent destroyed and a new century, set on a difficult and dangerous course.ruins.jpgSome 40 million were killed in the Great War, either that or maimed or simply, vanished.  It was a mind bending number, equivalent to the entire population in 1900 of either France, or the United Kingdom. Equal to the combined populations of the bottom two-thirds of every nation on the planet.  Every woman, man, puppy, boy and girl.

The United States entered the conflict in 1917, suffering casualties of 320,518 in only a few short months.world-war-i-100-year-anniversary-american-entry-legacy-1The idea of honoring the unknown dead from the “War to end all Wars” originated in Europe. Reverend David Railton remembered a rough cross from somewhere on the western front, with the words written in pencil:  “An Unknown British Soldier”.

In November 1916, an officer of the French war memorial association Le Souvenir Français proposed a national-level recognition for the unknown dead of the Great War.  Across the English Channel, Reverend Railton proposed the same.

The two nations performed ceremonies on the first anniversary of Armistice Day, the Unknown Warrior laid to rest at Westminster Abbey on November 11, 1920.  La Tombe du Soldat Inconnu was simultaneously consecrated under the Arc de Triomphe with the actual burial taking place, the following January.

Left to Right:  Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey, London.  La Tombe du Soldat Inconnu. lArc de Triomphe, Paris.

That was the year, the United States followed Great Britain and France in honoring her own, unknown dead. Four unidentified bodies were selected from the Aisne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Somme and St. Mihiel cemeteries and carefully examined, lest there be any clues to identity. The four were then transported to the Hôtel de Ville at Châlons-sur-Marne, and placed in a makeshift chapel.

Six soldiers were invited to act as pallbearers, each man a highly decorated and respected member of his own unit.  Outside the chapel, Major Harbold of the Graves Registration Office handed a large spray of pink and white roses to twice-wounded Sergeant Edward F. Younger, of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).  It was he who would perform the final selection.9664b-10-24-selection2bof2bworld2bwar2bi2bunknown2bsoldierPassing between two lines of French and American officials, Sgt. Younger entered the room, alone.  Slowly, he circled the four caskets, three times, before at last stopping at the third from the left.  “What caused me to stop” he later said, “I don’t know.  It was as though something had pulled me“.  Younger placed the roses on the casket, drew himself to attention, and saluted.  This was the one.

The body was transferred to a black casket bearing the inscription:  “An Unknown American who gave his life in the World War” and transported to the protected cruiser USS Olympia.

Flags at half-mast with stern bedecked with flowers, Commodore George Dewey’s former flagship during the Battle of Manila Bay, received the precious cargo and returned to the United States, arriving in the Navy Yard in Washington DC on November 9, 1921. There the flag draped casket was solemnly transferred to the United States Army, and placed under guard of honor on the catafalque which had borne the bodies of three slain Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley.Unknown_Soldier_at_the_Washington_Navy_Yard.jpgOn November 11, the casket was removed from the Rotunda of the Capitol and escorted under military guard to the amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. In a simple ceremony, President Warren G. Harding bestowed upon this unknown soldier of the Great War, the nation’s highest military decorations.  The Medal of Honor.  The Distinguished Service Cross.

Special representatives of foreign nations then bestowed, each in turn, his nation’s highest military decoration.  The Croix de Guerre of Belgium.  The English Victoria Cross. Le Medaille Militaire & Croix de Guerre of France.  The Italian Gold Medal for Bravery. The Romanian Virtutes Militara.  The Czechoslavak War Cross.  The Polish Virtuti Militari.

tomb-soldier-in-snowWith three salvos of artillery, the rendering of Taps and the National Salute, the ceremony was brought to a close and the 12-ton marble cap placed over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  The west facing side bears this inscription:

“Here Rests In
Honored Glory
An American Soldier
Known But To God”

Two years later, a civilian guard was placed at the tomb of the unknown.  A permanent Military guard took its place in 1926 and there remains, to this day.

In 1956, President Dwight David Eisenhower signed a bill to select and pay tribute to the unknown dead of WW2 and the American war in Korea. Selection and interment of these Unknowns took place in 1958.

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United States Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie

The Unknown from the American war in Vietnam was selected on May 17, 1984, but wouldn’t remain unknown, for long.

Advances in mitochondrial DNA led to the exhumation and identification of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie of St. Louis, Missouri, shot down near An Lộc, in 1972.

The Tomb of the Unknown from the Vietnam conflict remains empty.  It is unlikely any future war is capable of producing a truly “Unknown”.

So it is through bitter cold and scorching heat, through hurricanes and blizzards and irrespective of day or night or whether Arlington is open or closed, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier stands under guard.

This Guard of Honor is performed by a carefully selected elite body of the 3rd Infantry Division.  The “Old Guard”.  In service since 1784, the Tomb Guard is part of the longest-serving active infantry unit in the United States military.

Since the 14th-century, the cannon salute signified the recognition of a sovereign state and a peaceful intent, among nations.  The 21-gun salute is the highest military honor, a nation can bestow.   The Tomb Sentinel who “walks the mat” walks precisely 21 steps down the 63-foot black mat laid across the Tomb of the Unknown, signifying that 21-gun salute.   The Guard then turns east to face the Tomb, pauses another 21-seconds, before beginning the return walk of 21-steps.

The Tomb Sentinel will continue in this manner for a half-hour, one hour or two depending on the time of day, and the season of the year.  If you have witnessed the Changing of the Guard, you are not likely to forget it.  My brother and I were once privileged to experience the moment, in the company of an Honor Flight of WW2 veterans. If you’ve never seen the ceremony, I recommend the experience.

Back in 1919, AEF commander General John Pershing and Allied Supreme Commander Marshall Ferdinand Foch of France were adamantly opposed to the treaty, at Versailles. Germany had been defeated they argued, but not Beaten. Without destroying the German war machine on its own soil, Pershing believed the two nations would once again find themselves at war. Marshall Foch agreed, reading the treaty with the remark: “This isn’t a peace. It’s a cease-fire for 20 years!

He got that wrong.  By 36 days._MG_0016_1466631465932.jpg