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JULY  2017
Greed and Monopolies Take Over the Ship

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Friday, February 05, 2010

ABUIRARE!

I make no claims to understand the Byzantine logic of Catholicism, but I do feel empathy for Cardinal Robert Bellarmine. History records that it was Bellarmine who was the instrument of Galileo Galileo’s destruction. But the learned Cardinal was not an brainless evil little toady like Caccini, or a Machiavellian social tyrant such as Maffeo Barberini (aka Pope Urban VIII), and they both played far larger roles in bringing down the best brain in Europe since Pythagoras. And the Cardinal did write, early the fifteenth century, such revolutionary sentences as: “…Civil authority is instituted by men; (and that power resides) in the people, unless they bestow it on a Prince.” Such a stunning thought could almost have been written by Thomas Paine, a century and a half later. What Bellarmine wrote speaks of a faith that values logic and democracy. It is a brand of Catholicism which at times today feels nostalgic.
Things began to go ugly in the spring of 1615, when the Dominican monk Tommasco Caccini took it upon himself to journey to Rome. Caccini was very suspicious of mathematics, which he did not understand, and his intent was to throw what he saw as “money changers” out of the Vatican. On the surface Caccini was complaining about Copernican astronomy, but Copernicus was beyond earthy correction, having died in 1543. In fact this “dreadful fool”, as his own brother described Caccini, sought to overturn the dominance of the Jesuit order in the Church. This was a "cultural war".
Of course the Pope himself, Paul V (above), was a Jesuit, so Caccini aimed at a stand-in instead; Galileo Galilei. Caccini told the Holy See that Galileo had contaminated all of Florence with his heresies about the sun being the center of the solar system, and the moon not being a pristine celestial orb. Worse, Caccini alleged, Galileo was saying in public that God did not perform miracles. Caccini might be a “turbulent ignoramus”, as Galileo described him, and Pope Paul V might know that his own nose was being tweaked by the Dominican, but the church could not ignore the charges that had been made.
The pope turned to his most dependable cultural warrior, 73 year old Cardinal Robert Bellarmine. It had been the intellectual Bellarmine who had out maneuvered and isolated the clever James I of England over his English translation of the bible, and who had prosecuted the magician Giordano Bruno sixteen years earlier. They had been forced to put a wooden clamp on Bruno’s tongue to prevent him from shouting heresies while they burned him at the stake, but in the end Bruno was silenced. It is doubtful the Pope wanted Galileo silenced so absolutely, but he expected Bellarmine to remove the Flrointine as an irritant.
The problem was that Bellarmine was too much of an intellectual, and he understood enough about mathematics to know that Galileo’s numbers were right. When the old and ill Bellarmine interviewed Galileo, which he did three times, he fell under the genius’s spell. In the end Bellarmine provided the Florentine with a letter that allowed him to "discuss" the idea of a sun centered universe, so long as he did not claim publicly that it was fact and not mere opinion. Despite what Bellarmine and Galileo both knew to be fact, officially the Earth remained at the center of the universe because several Popes had said it was so. Robert Bellarmine would die in 1624, and later be named a saint of the church. But his letter of instruction for Galileo would prove to be a dead letter.
That letter rose from the dead after Pope Paul V died in 1621. He was followed by the brief and sickly Pope Gregory XV, and in 1623 by the energetic and energetically ignorant Pope Urban VIII, aka Maffeo Barberini. How Barberini’s mind worked was revealed in 1624 when he issued a Papal Bull, or pronouncement, making it a sin to smoke tobacco - not because it was unhealthful but because it often caused its users to sneeze, an act which Barberini considered similar to sexual ecstasy - which leaves me wondering about Signor Barberini’s boudoir habits.
For the next eight years it was war and not sin which occupied Barberini. If he was not fighting battles to extend the Church’s (and his families') dominions, then he was preparing to fight battles. Barberini turned the Vatican into an arsenal, and built a factory in Tivoli to supply it with weapons. And when the Holy See ran short of cannon Barberini had bronze ripped from the roof of that temple to the Roman Republic, the Pantheon, and melted into more cannon. As an unknown sage put it at the time, “That which the barbarians did not do, Barberini did” (in Latin – “quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini”).
But finally, with the printing of Galileo’s newest book, “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”, in February of 1632, the prosaic world of ideas captured Barberini’s attention. Seeing criticism of himself in Galileo’s arguements (and, honestly, it seems to have been there) Barberinii ordered the book seized and the printer arrested. And he ordered the Inquisition to investigate Galileo.
The Church had been at war with dissenters from the moment Christ died on the cross, and by 1542, when Pope Paul III established the “Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition” in Rome, that war had become formalized and institutionalized, replet with all the forms of torture, including waterboarding, and with all the advantages and disadvantages found in any bureaucracy.
By 1633, when an ailing Galileo was ordered to Rome (he arrived carried in a litter) to face the Dominican Cardinals who had been given responsibility for his inquisition, the machinery of correction had been perfected. To be charged was to be guilty. And the best that could be expected was humiliation and forgiveness.
Galileo thought his 1616 letter from Cardinal Bellarmine would protect him, but Bellermine was a decade dead. Instead the Cardinal’s letter would be the clamp used to silence Galileo’s tongue. Galileo was presented with an “official” copy of that letter which included a phrase – “Galileo agrees to neither hold, defend, nor teach the Copernican opinion in any way whatsoever” – that had not been in the original. Holding this forgery Galileo mumbled, “I don’t remember the clause “in any way whatsoever… ”. And then his voice fell silent. He must have understood at that instant that this Pope (and his army of sicophants) was willing to commit the sin of bearing false wittness to secure Galileo's conviction, or his death.
When presented with his false confession of his sins the old man signed. To have refused would have been to invite a death by fire. And in the last act of the farce Galileo was required to openly announced his “abiurare”, that he abjured and renounced the idea that the sun was at the center of the solar system. Later generations would insist the old left the court muttering his independence, but that is mere wishful thinking. The Pope used the power of Galileo's imagination, which had once opened the universe to all of humanity, to silence him. 
In exchange for his “abiurare” the old man was allowed to return to his home in Florence. But he was never allowed to write another word on science. He died in January of 1641, blind and gagged. It was a great victory for Barbarini.
It was not until October 31, 1992 – Halloween, 350 years later –that Pope John Paul II expressed the Church’s official regret at the way Galileo had been persecuted. John Paul admitted that the Earth does indeed revolve around the sun, once every year.
According to John Paul II, “The error of the theologians of the time…was to think that our understanding of the physical world’s structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture.” It seemed, at least for a time, that Catholicism would enter the twenty-first century in peaceful coexistence with science. Cardinal Bellarmine would have been pleased, but I’m willing to bet, more than a little wary.
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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

TOTTALLY INSANE

I do not agree with the jury. Their verdict was that Daniel Sickles was temporarily insane when he murdered his good friend, Phillip Key. But the jury was never told what a whoring booze-hound Daniel really was. They were only told what a whoring booze-hound Phillip was. The truth was both men were (in the words used to describe Phillip by one of Daniel’s defense lawyers), “confirmed and habitual adulterer(s)”, with the emotional maturity of a seven year olds and the sexual proclivity of bunny rabbits.
Before he was even twenty, Daniel Sickles (above) had been indicted for fraud. Still, his crimminal career didn't really get started until he was 26 and passed the New York State bar exam. He served a one year term in the State Assembly and then joined a N.Y. delegation tour of London, where he introduced his mistress, Miss Fanny White (under an assumed name) to the King of England. Back in the United States, in 1852, Daniel met his legal lady fair, his personal Alice Alquist from “Gaslight”, Terresa Da Ponte Bagiolo.
Terresa Sickles (above) was the perfect political wife. She was pretty, sophisticated and charming. She had very wealth parents. She spoke five languages. However, all this merely proves that a smart woman is just as likely to have terrible a taste in men as a dumb woman. Terresa’s only excuse in marrying Daniel (against her parent’s wishes) was that the poor child was just 15, when the 34 year old Daniel seduced and married her. She was three months pregnant when, in 1853, she and Daniel were married a second time, at her parent’s insistence, by the archbishop of New York.
Not that the religious ceremony influenced Daniel’s piggish behavior in the slightest. In 1856 Daniel was elected to the New York State Senate, which shortly thereafter censured him for giving a tour of those august chambers to Miss White, who was at this time identified as the operator of a popular N.Y.C. bordello. And when Daniel was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 1857, and he and Terresa  moved to Washington, D.C., he still maintained a suite at a Baltimore Hotel for his assignations with Fanny White, and other "soiled doves" in her employ.
Shortly after the legal couple moved, Daniel was introduced to Phillip Key, and the two struck up a friendship of kindred spirits. Key was living proof of the old adage about fruit never falling very far from the sapling. Phillip’s father, Frances Scott Key, had been so familiar with a certain popular drinking ditty (so difficult to sing that it was used as an 18th century sobriety test), that on the fly he converted it into our national anthem, translating “And swear by old Styx, that we long shall entwine, the myrtle of Venus and Bacchus’ vine” into “Oh, say, does that star spangled banner yet wave, Ore the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Phillip was forty-two year old widower at the time, with six children, and “the handsomest man in all Washington society”, according to Mrs. Clemet Clay, the biggest gossip in a town that still lives on gossip. At six feet tall, Phillip had “sad eyes and a languid charm” (according to Edward Pinchon who wrote a bio of Dan Sickles), and his “…fine figure, fashionable air, and agreeable address, rendered him extremely popular among the gentler sex”, according to Felix G. Fontaine, who wrote “The Washington Tragedy”. Key was also the Federal District Attorney for Washington, and thus a good man to know for anyone who might anticipate developing legal problems. Daniel had so far made a career out of developing legal problems, so he decided that Phillip Key was the perfect man to escort Terresa to Washington social functions while Daniel was “relaxing” in Baltimore with Fanny White, and others.
Friends tried to warn Daniel about Phillip’s reputation, and in March of 1858 Daniel had a confrontation with Phillip concerning accusations that were already bubbling up about his intentions toward Terresa. But Daniel came away from that meeting convinced that Phillip could be trusted. Evidently, Daniel assumed that Terresa could also be trusted.
Maybe the twenty year old girl was just fed up with Daniel’s philandering, and maybe it was payback. But whatever her motivation, according to Terressa’s own confession, “I did not think it safe to meet (Phillip) in this house, because there are servants who might suspect something….He then told me he had hired (a) house as a place where he and I could meet. I agreed to it.” The assignations took place at 888 Fifteenth Street in Washington, between K and L streets, in a run-down racially mixed neighborhood just around the corner from the Sickles’ rented home. “There was a bed in the second story…. The room is warmed by a wood fire. Mr. Key generally goes first… I went there alone.” And there, confessed Terressa, “I did what is usual for a wicked woman to do” Occasionally they also took carriage rides to various cemeteries, where, according to the coachman, “They would walk down the grounds out of my sight, and be away an hour or an hour-and-a-half.” Whatever they were doing out of sight, it was not enough, evidently, to wake the dead, or Daniel.
The torrid affair between Terresa and Phillip was one of the best known secrets in Washington, which has always been, at heart, the provincial Southern village it started out as. And it was only a matter of time before some moralizing busybody felt the need to drop Daniel an anonymous letter telling the whole sordid truth.. The dreaded day came on Thursday, February 24, 1859. Daniel showed the note to a friend, George Wooldridge, and then “put his hands to his head and sobbed in the lobby of the House of Representatives.”
On Saturday night, February 26th, Daniel confronted Terressa in her bedroom (they had separate sleeping arraignments, on different floors), and he forced her to write her confession in her own hand. This would later be reprinted on the front page of Haper's Weekly, a national newspaper. At about two the following afternoon, as Daniel was being comforted by another drinking buddy, Samuel Butterworth, he spotted Phillip Key walking slowly back and forth on the street in front of his house on Madison Place, waving a white handkerchief in the general direction of Terressa’s bedroom.
Daniel took the time to put on an overcoat, dropped a revolver and two derringers in the pockets, and went charging out on the street. He caught up with Phillip at the corner of Madison Place and Pennsylvania Avenue, just across the street from the White House. Daniel bellowed, “Key, you scoundrel, you have dishonored my bed. You must die!” Thereupon Daniel pulled a derringer and fired. Not surprisingly he missed. Phillip, who until that instant was unaware the affair had been discovered, grabbed for the gun, and the two men struggled for a moment while a dozen witnesses gapped in amazement. Phillip finally broke free and ran across the street, throwing a pair of opera classes to cover his retreat, and hid behind a tree.
Daniel followed, and produced a second derringer. This second shot hit Key in the thigh. The playboy dropped to the ground, begging, “Don’t shoot me”, and shouting, “Murder.”
Daniel finally pulled his revolver, and his third shot hit the tree. But the fourth shot, delivered point blank over the prone Phillip, blasted a hole in his chest as big as a silver dollar. The fifth shot misfired, and witnesses managed to restrain Daniel from delivering a ‘coup de grace.’ Not that it mattered; Phillip Key would soon be dead. Explained Daniel, when he was arrested, “He deserved it.”
It was the trial of the century! The prosecutor spoke of the “echoes of the church bells” still lingering in the air” while Daniel pulled the trigger over and over. The eight defense lawyers reminded the jurors that Daniel was “…in a state of white heat, (which) was too great a state of passion for a man to be in, who saw before him the hardened, the unrelenting seducer of his wife”. After a twenty day trial the jury was out for only an hour. A hundred fifty people attended Daniel’s victory celebration. He had been declared, officially, temporarily insane.
The only hiccup occurred when Daniel publicly forgave Terressa. The public, which had supported the heel, now suddenly turned on him. Americans were not offended at the murder, but at the show of marital compassion.Washington and New York society cut him dead.  Daniel would have been condemned to die in obscurity, remembered only as the first defendant to use the temporarily insanity defense in America, but the outbreak of the civil war saved his reputation. Terressa barely survived that war, succumbing to tuberculosis on February 5, 1867, at the age of thirty-one. She was buried with her parents, back in New York; free at last from her insensitive and violent husband.
Meanwhile, Daniel Sickles went on command one third of the Union Army at Gettysburg, a battle in which he lost a leg and almost cost the Union the war. He then proceeded to  to seduce a Spanish Queen, and to pilfer $27,000 from the funds raised to build a battlefield memorial at Gettysburg. There was talk of having the old reprobate arrested, but it would have been a public relations nightmare, and cooler heads prevailed. In March of 1914, there were rumors that Daniel had finally died. A reporter for the New York Times placed a telephone call to his home on Fifth Avenue. Daniel answered the phone himself. He had never felt better, he told the reporter, and denounced the rumors as a “damn lie.” Two months later he suffered a stroke and really died. He was buried with all honors. All past indiscretions were forgotten, if not forgiven.
And I believe that for every second of his 91 years of life , Daniel Sickles was totally and completely insane. There was absolutely nothing temporary about his mental condition, no matter what the jury said.
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Sunday, January 31, 2010

THERE'S A WAR ON!

I find it instructive that the citizens of Halifax, Nova Scotia have never obsessed over how the disaster of December 6th, 1917 could have happened to them. They have asked the obvious questions, but have been willing to quickly accept that they would never know the whole truth. In part this was because so many of those responsible were already dead, and in part because it was a time and a place where obsessions could not be tolerated. There was a war on, as the saying goes, and that explained the unexplainable, as you would know if you have ever considered the full implications of that phrase; “There’s a war on.”
Halifax exists because it is one of the largest, best protected ice free harbors in the world, a gift of the Sackville River. The Sackville rises in the center of “New Scotland” near Mt. Unijacke and meanders its way for 25 miles south eastward, spilling from one lake to another until it reaches the head of The Bedford Basin.
Here the Slackville disappears into a drowned river valley, a protected anchorage four miles long by two miles wide. At its southern end is “The Narrows”, which closes to a little less than a mile wide channel. In 1917 the town of Halifax, home to 50,000, rose on the steep hills along the west side of the Narrows, while the suburb of Dartmouth, with a population of 6,500, occupied the east shore.And beyond the bottleneck of The Narrows was Halifax Harbor, which opened directly to the North Atlantic. The ocean here is warmed by the nearby Gulf Stream Current, and the Great Circle commercial route is just one hour sailing time out to sea. That combination, the harbor and the nearby Great Circle Route, made Halifax a convenient place to rest and load coal before challenging the North Atlantic, or to recover after a harrowing voyage to the new world. And during World War One the Bedford Basin was the logical place for allied convoys to form up in hidden safety.
Early on the morning of Thursday, December 6, 1917 there were some fifteen cargo ships crowded into the Basin and several Royal Navy warships in Halifax harbor.
But atypical of all of these ships was the Steam Ship Monte Blanc; 3,121 tons, 320 feet long, and inbound for Bedford Basin. At any other time she would have been a pariah, and expected to unoad her cargo outside the port, on McNab's Island. But there was a war on.
The SS Mont Blanc was just out of New York carrying 2,300 tons of the explosive trinitrophenol (TNP), 200 tons of trintritoluene (TNT), 10 tons of gun cotton and 300 rounds of small arms ammunition. In addition she had 36 tons of the high octane Bezol fuel piled about her decks in 50 gallon drums. In short the ship was a floating bomb. And as the Monte Blanc approached The Narrows she found herself head-on to the outbound 5,043 ton, 430 foot long Norwegian SS IMO, running ballast, outbound for New York to load humanitarian supplies for occupied Belgium.
As the two ships approached they each signaled by ship's horns their intention to maintain course and speed. Then without warning the Mount Blanc turned to the right, as if moving to dock at a pier on the Halifax shore. Seeing this, the Imo (below) desperatly reversed her engines, intending to slow and give the Mount Blanc room. But the reverse spin on Imo’s propeller pulled her into the center of The Narrows, and directly into the path of the looming Monte Blanc.
It was 8:45 A.M., local time. The towns of Halifax and Dartmouth were just starting their work days. Large crowds stopped to watch as the two ships sounded their horns in alarm and drew inexorably together. Workers at the new rail yards up the harbor were drawn to the excitment. Everyone in town, it seemed, stopped what they were doing to witness the drama unfolding.
As if in slow motion the two ships struck. The Imo’s prow sliced into the starboard bow of the Monte Blanc. Benzol drums were thrown about Monte Blanc’s deck, spilling the corrosive fuel. Mont Blanc’s cargo hold was penetrated. For a long moment the two ships hung there in the middle of The Narrows. Then, as the Imo backed away, the scrapping of crumpled metal against torn metal, threw sparks. A fire quickly broke out aboard the Monte Blanc, ignited or fed by the Benzol, sending grey smoke skyward. Within 10 minutes the Mont Blanc’s forty man crew had been forced to take to  their life boats. Once there they shouted a warning for the Imo’s crew about their volital cargo. But none of the Imo's crew spoke French. The drifting burning hulk now brushed past Halifax’s pier six, setting it afire as she passed.
The Canadian Navy tug and mine sweeper "Stella Maris" joined the Imo in attempting to throw water on the fires, and the "Stella Maris" also sent a boat crew to attempt to take the abandoned wreak under tow.
Meanwhile the Box 83 alarm at the Halifax Fire Department sent men and equipment racing toward the harbor and the burning dock. They arrived there just after nine A.M., forcing their way through the growing crowd along the shore, all drawn there by the spectacular show.
But even now a few knew of the impending disaster. Mr. P. Vince Coleman, a dispatcher for the Inter-Colonial Railway yards just a few hundred yards inshore from the piers, not only saw the accident, but knew of the Monte Blanc’s deadly cargo as well. He and other workers in the yards ran for their lives. But then Coleman remembered that a train loaded with 300 passengers from Saint John’s was due to arrive in a few moments. He ran back to his post and tapped out the following message on the telegraph key, “Stop trains. Munitions ship on fire. Approaching pier six. Goodbye.” Every operator up and down the line heard that message. Then, precisely at 9:04:35 the line went dead.
In that instant, in a single white hot flash, the 3,000 ton Mont Blanc was converted into shrapnel - jagged sections of iron weighing from slivers to half a ton. They were ripped from the hull and sent spinning away at supersonic speeds. Part of the Mont Blanc’s anchor landed two and a half miles away.
At the center of the blast the temperature exceeded 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit, instantly converting the 40 degree sea water in The Narrows to steam. First a high pressure shockwave raced through the air at 500 feet a second, flattening everything within 4 square miles. Then a fireball took just 20 seconds to rise a mile into the air, where an enterprising photographer snapped a picture (above) from thirteen miles away.
Then a tidal wave 36 feet high swept back and forth across The Narrows, sweeping away everything onshore in its path. An entire Innuit village of 22 families on the Dartmourth shore was drowned by the wave. Windows were shattered 10 miles away. Buildings shook 78 miles distant. And the explosion was heard in Cape Breton, 225 miles to the east. Out of the tug Stella Maris’ crew of 24, only five survived. On board the Imo, the captain, the harbor pilot and five crew members were killed. The 430 foot long Imo was thrown against the Dartmouth shore like a toy in a bathtub (below), her bottom ripped out. Every other ship in Halifax harbor suffered casualities and damage.
Of the ten firemen who had just arrived at the dock, nine were killed, including the Fire Chief and Deputy Chief. The sole survivor, engine driver Billy Wells, wrote, “The first thing I recalled after the explosion was standing quite a distance from the fire engine…the explosion had blown off all my clothes as well as the muscles from my right arm.”
At least 2,000 people had been killed outright, and 9,000 wounded, not counting the Innuit dead. (Native Americans, quite simply, did not count.) More than 1,000 of those who witnessed the explosion were blinded by flying glass and slivers of wood and steel. Nova Scotia lost more of her citizens in that one instant than were killed in her army and navies in combat in all four years of World War One.
Slowly rescuers began to move into the devastated square mile, removing the dead, comforting the wounded and searching for survivors in the rubble of their homes and businesses. Then, as darkness began to fall that night, “…almost as if Fate, unconvinced the exploding chemicals…had struck a death blow to Halifax, was now calling upon nature to administer the coup de grace…”. It began to snow.
The worst blizzard in ten years buried the shocked port in several feet of snow and condemned untold injured to death by freezing.
Every year, the city of Halifax donates a Christmas tree to the city Boston, as thanks for the assistance which was rushed to them in the weeks after the explosion. And every year, on December 6th, from 8:50 A.M., to 9:25 A.M., there is a Memorial Service held  in Halifax to remember the victims of the largest man made explosion on earth ... which was superseded only by the first atomic bomb test in 1945, when there was another war on.
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