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Friday, January 18, 2013

GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN


I come home in the morning light,
My mother says "When you gonna live your life right?"
Oh ,mother,dear, We're not the fortunate ones,
And girls, They wanna have fun.
I am not sure how to describe the Pharaoh's women. Collectively they were called a harem, but today that title   conjures up Victorian images of sex starved coquettes waiting impatiently for the a few moments attention from their sugar daddy -  a male Egyptologist's fantasy if ever there was one. It also seems an inefficient use of resources, what with years of housing, feeding and clothing so many sperm receptacles when, in the end, only one really counted. Surely these ancient women, like modern women,  had to be multi-taskers. For example, we know the Pharaoh's harem had a very nice choir.
But besides harmonizing, the ladies of the harem must have earned their keep between reproductive sessions by cutting ribbons at temple openings, encouraging teenagers to just say no to drugs and reminding stone masons of their vital role in the Pharaohonic economy. Proof of the importance of women in Ancient Egypt can be found in events which occurred some 4,200 years ago, at the end of what is called "The New Kingdom" - which gives you some idea of how old Egyptian civilization really is. In the spring of 1167 B.C.E. Ramses III sat down to talk with his wives, and he did not get up again.
Usimare (Ramses III's real name) was a good example of the vagaries of picking a Pharaoh. He looked the part. He was tall for the age - about 5.8", smart, competent and dedicated. His reign should have been as successful as his idol's, Ramses II, who during his 67 years of rule (according to tradition) threw those freeloading Israelites out Egypt. But Usimare was also a really unlucky guy.  Just before he became Pharaoh a volcano in Iceland blew its top, and the shadow of its ash cloud damaged Egyptian crops for twenty years. The price of wheat skyrocketed. Outside of Egypt entire civilizations of farmers and fishermen became hobos, stealing that they could not buy, be it food or and new place to live. It is suspected the new  vagabonds  became the Phoenicians, among other names. Those who settled In the Middle East were called the Philistines, and spent a couple of hundred years bringing "tsuris" to the wayward Israelites -  or maybe that was visa-versa. In Tunisia they established Carthage, and a thousand years later became the Roman Republic's worst enemy. In Egypt they were called the Sea Peoples, and fighting them off left the treasury flat broke. That distant volcanic eruption wasn't Ramses III's fault, but he got the bill. He just wasn't lucky. He wasn't even lucky in his death.
The phone rings in the middle of the night,
My father yells "What you gonna do with your life?"
Oh,daddy,dear,
You know you're still number one,
But girls, They wanna have fun
By the spring of 1167 B.C.E., poor, unlucky and broke Ramses III was about 65 years old and had been Pharaoh for thirty-two years. He now dragged his entire court to Thebes for the five day celebration of his Heb-Sed, or Feast of the Tail of the Jackal. This was a cross between Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee and Carnival time in Rio. There were parades, dinners, banquets and lots of drinking, and on the fourth day the Pharaoh had to "run" a course and shoot arrows to prove he was still fit enough to be Pharaoh. What they would have done if the old boy had not been up to it, I don't know. But in the Old Kingdom they used to kill the king if he was too feeble. 
As I said, Ramses III's harem had of course come with him, headed by his new Great Wife Isis-Ta-hemseret. The harem had given Ramses III ten sons. Six of the potential Kings were still living,  including Isis' boy, 22 year old newly crowned Prince Heqamatre. But there was also Prince Pentaweret, who was Ramses's son with Queen Tey.   Now, Tey's two eldest sons had already died, and Penatweret was just a few months younger than Heqamatre.  But that slight seniority had moved Heqamatre next in line to be Pharaoh over Pentaweret. That also meant that Hegmatre's mother Isis had replaced Tey as the new Great Wife. Ramses III could have overridden these automatic adjustments in his royal household if he had felt one heir more suited than the other, but for whatever reason he did nothing. And that would prove to be a fatal choice because Tey was the kind of a girl who carried a grudge. She could have stared in the "Jersey Shore".
Well, she wasn't a girl, she was a grown woman who had given birth to three sons, and she was at least forty years old by now. Still, Tey must have been an impressive broad, because six of the other wives sided with her in this matter. And they were all the daughters of powerful families.
In addition, Tey had considerable support from the bureaucracy which maintained the harem. Chief of the Chamber, Pebekkamen, and his assistant were down with her plan, as well as Peynok, Overseeer Of The Harem and his scribe and seven royal butlers, who were all titled members of the bureaucracy. Tey also managed to draw the army into her conspiracy. The sister of an officer in the Nubian Archers, who was one of the "harem six", urged her brother to "Incite the people to hostility! And come thou to begin hostility against thy lord." Well, I suppose, she could have been more circumspect. In any case, Tey even had conspirators working inside the local cops, the Thebian police force. She was also attempting to seduce the head of the Egyptian Treasury, which was called The White House. And Tey even managed to enlist Iroi, Ramses III's personal priest-physician. But it appears he was the only priest who joined the conspiracy. And that may have made all the difference.
Some boys take a beautiful girl,
And hide her away from the rest of the world.
I wanna be the one to walk in the sun.
Oh, girls, They wanna have fun.
See, ancient Egypt was peppered with temples, large and small, and each had their priests and their grain fields to support them, and slaves to work those fields. They were like corporations are today. By the best estimates, 14% of the irrigated land and 2% of the population were owned by the temple priests. The temples also owned 500,000 head of cattle, 88 large ships and some 53 workshops and shipyards. And in 1167 B.C. E. all of this was tax exempt, which shifted more of the tax burden onto the nobles and peasants. Does any of this sound familiar?
Ramses III tried to reduce his expenses by replacing his bureaucrats and large parts of the army with slaves, supplied by independent contractors, a practice in current vogue with the American government. But Ramses III also contributed to this power shift to the priesthood by continuing the practice of donating large sums to the temples. Gold and silver went straight out of the government coffers and into the collection plates. Ramses III boasted on a temple wall, "I did mighty deeds and benefactions...for the gods and goddesses of South and North." Those benefactions hastened the bankruptcy of the national treasury. Familiar again, right?
Just three years before this original "Year of the Woman" the artisans working in the royal tombs had stopped work because their pay had stopped. It was like a Republican government shutdown. Ramses crushed this first worker's revolt in history as if he were the Governor of Wisconsin. But that wildcat strike indicated what was at stake. Tey was not just trying to make her son Pharaoh, she was trying to reverse what she saw as the decline of the power of The Pharaohs. They couldn't prevent the next volcano from exploding, but then they did not realize that is what had bankrupted the nation. They figured Ramses III had angered the gods somehow. And it was just a lucky break for Tey that what the gods wanted also favored her and her son.  The whole thing came to a head, say the ancient accounts, near the end of the Heb Sed, when Ramses III decided to spend a night sitting with the girls. And this was a seriously bad choice, because while he talking with "the girls" somebody cut his throat. 
It was a professional hit. The button man or woman sliced a three inch wound across the old man's throat, just beneath the larynx, so he could not call out for help. But it did not matter, since, in the words of the British Medical Journal which imaged Ramses III's mummy  in 2012, 'The extent and depth of the wound indicated that it could have caused the immediate death of Ramesses III.” Poor Usimare, er, Rasmes III. And it was clear how the people of Egypt felt about his murder, because for centuries afterward, Egyptians invoked Ramses III's name when seeking divine assistance in the case of snake bite. And like a snake, Ramses III lashed out after death against those who had stepped upon him.
In three very public trials conducted after the murder, twenty-seven men and six women were convicted of treason, including Tey's boy, Pentaweret.  Poor Pentaweret was slowly strangled. Then they wrapped his mummy in an "impure" goat skin. Said the Medical Journal, which also examined Pentawaret's remains, "He was badly treated for a mummy."  And he may have been the lucky one. Every one else, including Tey herself,  were slowly simmered to death on a barbecue, cooked until the flesh was just falling off their bones.  And then their bones were ground up and their ashes were scattered to the four winds, condemning the immortal souls of these original resurectionists to wander the after-life without a body. Tough, I know, but if you are going to shoot at the Pharaoh, you had better not miss. And there better be no witnesses, and the cops better be in on it, and the army better be backing you, and the priests, and..., well, you just better not even try it. 
And it is a shame Tey did get caught. In his will, Ramses III donated 86,400 slaves to the estates of the god Amun's temples. His son and heir, Isis' boy Heqamatre, became Ramses IV, but he ruled for just six years. And after his demise Ramses followed Ramses with such rapidity that the High Priest of el-Kab who had helped Ramses III celebrate his Heb Sed, was still in office when Ramses IX died in 1111 B.C.E. By then the priest were openly the dominant power in Egypt, and the country was run for their benefit, sort of like the bankers run America today. Egypt slipped into a centuries long dark age.  
When the working day is done,
Oh, girls, They wanna have fun.
Ah, if only Tey had been more circumspect, and more successful, then the New Kingdom might have lasted a few hundred years longer, and women might have played a bigger part in history, and history might have been more fun. After all, the girl just wanted to have fun.
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

SPEAK NO EVIL


I have absolutely no sympathy for Anthony Comstock,  a man described by a biographer as having  “no conspicuous talents and...boundless energy”.   His brother's death from wounds suffered in the three days of slaughter at Gettysburg, compelled Anthony to join the Union Army. But chance sent the Connecticut farm boy far from the crucial battles around Richmond, and he spent a year of isolation and boredom guarding the backwaters of St. Augustine, Florida. Most of his fellow soldiers considered him a bible thumping prig, who instead of simply refusing it, pompously poured his daily whiskey ration out on the ground. And the great lesson this “religio-monomaniac” took from the war that ended slavery, was that his fellow soldiers were addicted to pornography.
By 1861 there were almost 3,000 photographers in Paris, and 200 schools teaching the skill in London. And from day one, a significant percentage of these technicians found taking “dirty pictures” very profitable. Shortly after Gettysburg, another smug priss, General Marsena Patrick, had boasted in his diary of “burning up a large quantity of obscene books, taken from the mails.” And it wasn't just pocket editions of “Fanny Hill”, and the “Libertine Enchantress” that he burned. There were also the “barrack favorites”, the “carte de visite” french postcards – nude photos of women, which went for twelve cents each, and “London and Paris Volupuarties” engaged in actual sex, for $3 a dozen ($9 for stereoscopic views). Comstock found himself drawn to these “deadly poisons” - as he called them - “cast into the fountain of moral purity.”
By 1868 the muscular Comstock was a menial worker in New York City, making $12 a week as a porter for a dry goods store. He was a man "devoid of humor, lustful after publicity, and vastly ignorant “ who, by his own admission, spent many lonely evenings fearing “for the souls of the young men” who roomed with him. He joined the Young Men's Christian Association, and became convinced he faced “some of the most insidious and deadly forces of evil” in America. A nation racked by continued violence inspired by four bloody years of war saw pornography as a low priority. But Comstock did not share that opinion.
He quickly attracted the attention of the President of the WMCA, Morris K. Jessup, who had made his fortune as a banker for railroad tycoons. Jessup interviewed Comstock in his Madison Avenue mansion and liked what he saw. They made an unlikely pair. Jessup stood over six feet tall, and was a philanthropist to many causes. Comstock was short and brutally single minded. But for forty years Jessup was supportive of Comstock, with money and political influence, even creating the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice for the Christian warrior, when others in the WMCA questioned his tactics. (It is interesting to note that of all the social reform movements of the late 19th century, the Comstock's “Society” was the only one with no women in positions of authority.) Comstock would admit in his diary, “ Only one man thinks as I do and that is Mr. Jessup.”
With Jessup's support Comstock successfully lobbied congress for the Comstock Law, the last act of a lame duck congress on 3 March, 1873,  which made it illegal to send “obscene, lewd, or lascivious" material through the mail. The act also created a job of Special Postal Inspector for Comstock, allowing him define as pornographic anything mentioning birth control or preventing venereal disease. In Comstock's view, “God has set certain natural barriers. If you turn loose the passions and break down the fear (of unwanted pregnancies or disease) you bring . . . disaster.” His first year the new Special Inspector, always dressed in his black frock, traveled 23, 000 miles on a free rail pass, looking for sin in America. And luckily, since his job depended on it, he found it everywhere, and 24 states passed their own versions of "his" law, collectively called the Little Comstock Laws.
In 1872 Comstock won national attention when he went after Victoria Woodhull (above). She was no common pornographer, but a feminist who had run her own Wall Street brokerage firm and her “Weekly” newspaper -  in which Victoria argued,”When woman rises... into the ownership and control of her sexual organs, and man is obliged to respect this freedom...then will woman be raised” To highlight the hypocrisy of men making decisions about birth control, the “Weekly” published details of an extramarital affair by one of her critics, popular Brooklyn minister Henry Ward Breecher. The same day the article appeared, Victoria, her husband and her sister were all arrested. Reporting the affair, said Comstock, was spreading obscenity. Comstock's belligerent theatrics in the court room so offended some members of the jury, they hung. Still, the trial only increased the popularity of both Comstock and Breecher.
Comstock claimed he convicted 3,500 people of distribution of pornography and destroyed 15 tons of obscene books, including medical text books that displayed female anatomy charts or mentioned abortion. To Comstock, woman’s health was far less important than their moral purity. He also burned novels written by D.H. Lawrence and Theodore Dreiser. Comstock even tried to close down a play by George Bernard Shaw, whom he called an “Irish smut dealer”. Of the first twelve people convicted of violating the Federal Comstock law, 5 were pardoned by President Ulysses Grant, who had signed the law. And of the 105 people arrested for violating Comstock's federal anti-birth control campaign, all but 16 were found not guilty. In state courts Comstock fared much better.
He saw himself as “the weeder in God's garden”, but his critics saw him as “a first class Torquemada” and chief of America's “moral eunuchs.” In 1877 Comstock went after Massachusetts social activist Ezra Heywood for publishing a pamphlet about marriage called “Cupid’s Yokes”. The judge told the jury the pamphlet was too offensive to allow them to read it, and they sentenced Heywood to two years at hard labor in the Dedham jail. Six months later President Rutherford B. Hayes pardoned Heywood, but Comstock saw that as a challenge. He now persecuted Heywood, having him arrested four more times, once for reprinting two poems by Walt Whitman, and again for discussing a contraceptive device called the “Comstock syringe” . By the fourth arrest the sixty year old Heywood was broke and emotionally exhausted, and was convicted and sentenced to another two years of hard labor. This time there was no pardon. A year after he was released in 1892, Heywood died of tuberculosis he had contracted in jail. Comstock had won again.
Comstock boasted he had driven 15 people to suicide. His most famous victim was Ida Craddock, a free spirit and writer of fact based guides like “The Marriage Night” and “Right Marital Living”. After pleading guilty and receiving a suspended sentence in 1899, for to violating Illinois' Little Comstock Law, she was arrested under New York's version in 1892 and suffered three months in a workhouse. As she left that jail Comstock had her arrested again on Federal charges for the same offense. This time she was sentenced to five years at hard labor. And Comstock let her know, that as soon as she served that term, he intended on arresting her again.
The night before she was to enter prison, Ida Craddock put her head in the oven, turned on the gas jets, and then slit her wrists. In her public suicide note, Ida blamed her death on “This man, Anthony Comstock,...(who is) unctuous with hypocrisy...if the reading of impure books and the gazing upon impure pictures does debauch and corrupt and pervert the mind...(and) Anthony Comstock has himself read perhaps more obscene books, and has gazed upon perhaps more lewd pictures than has any other one man in the United States, what are we to think of the probable state of Mr. Comstock's imagination? ...The man is a sex pervert; he is what physicians term a Sadist...for nine long years I have faced social ostracism, poverty, and the dangers of persecution by Anthony Comstock..I beg of you, for your own sakes, and for the future happiness of the young people who are dear to you, to protect my little book...” Comstock insisted that her death was one of his proudest moments.
It was not Comstock's bullying, but his lack of self awareness that gradually weakened his grip on public morals. The final breaking point came in 1913 when Harry Reichenbach besieged Comstock with complaints about the Braun and Company gallery on west 46th street in Manhattan. The prig-in-chief found the sidewalk in front of the art gallery crowded with young men snickering and praising the beauty of a painting of a nude woman in the front window. Comstock stormed into the gallery and ordered the painting removed. The clerk, James Kelly, stammered, “But that is the famous “September Morn” by Paul Chabas”(above).  The work was famous, having won a medal of honor from the French academy of Painting just the year before. Undaunted, Comstock replied, “There is too little morning and too much maid”, and threatened to arrest the gallery owner, Philippe Ortiz,  if the painting was not removed.
Defiantly, Mr. Ortiz kept the painting in his gallery's front window for another two weeks, removing it only after the crowds jamming his studio had bought out every print of it.  Twenty years later in his memoir, “Phantom Fame”, Reichenbach admitted he had staged the entire thing, including hiring the young men to ogle the painting, as a publicity stunt for the gallery. Comstock, who was not in on the joke, had behaved as boorishly and brutally as expected.
Comstock died suddenly on the evening of 21 September, 1915. His monument was that during World War One the United States was the only nation not to supply its soldiers with prophylactics.. Instead, under Comstock's insistence, the Army and Navy  lectured its soldiers on abstinence.  As a result the American Army and Navy discharged 10,000 men who had become infected with sexually transmitted diseases, the largest single cause of American causalities during the war. It would be another 18 years before birth control could be openly purchased in the United States. Shadows of Anthony Comstock's warped vision have distorted American education well into the 21st century, in states that refuse to offer high school students sex education, opting instead for preaching abstinence - which has proved no more effective today than it had in the 19th century.  It seems that every prig,  Anthony Comstock was convinced he was the savior of civilization. And yet no prig ever saves anything,  except the tattered myth of morality..
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Sunday, January 13, 2013

PEACE - RUSSIAN INVASION


I am certain the attack was a total surprise in every way possible. In the south, the Russians came across the mountains and desserts of Mongolia, a path that seemed impossible because they could not be supplied through that line. What the Soviets did was something new, a method the U.S. would repeat in 1989 in Iraq. And as in Iraq the supply problems were over-come by airdrops. Soviet parachute troops captured Japanese airfields far behind the front lines and food and fuel were then flown in, turning them into supply depots for the advancing ground troops. The Soviets were clearly driving toward the city of Changchun, where they would meet the equally successful advance of the Soviet armies from the Far Eastern Front. Those pincers would together isolate the entire Japanese Manchurian Army. And there was nothing the Japanese troops could do to stop them.
For the first time the Japanese Army faced a ground campaign against a mechanized army, with troops hardened by four years of vicious warfare with Nazi Germany. If in 1941 the German soldier was the best in the world, by 1945 it may well have been the Soviet soldier for this type of warfare. In the invasion of Manchuria there were one and a half million of them, pouring into Japanese territory: eighty divisions, five thousand tanks, including 3,700 T-34’s, acknowledged as the greatest tank of the Second World War. The Japanese had never had any tank or anti-tank gun to counter the T-34. And there were almost 4,000 first line Soviet aircraft filing the skies. The Japanese had just 50 , 5 year old zeros left in Manchuria.
The Soviet offensive was violent and smart and merciless, which perfectly matched the personality of its planner and commander, Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky:, the man who had saved Moscow in 1941, and who had actually directed the Stalingrad counter offensive, and who had been planning this invasion since late 1944. He called the operation “August Storm”, and perhaps as a homage to Vaslevsky, American General Schwarzkopf called his 1989 similar operation “Dessert Storm”.
The one million Japanese troops in Manchuria and Korea were not prepared for what hit them. The best troops in the Kwantung Army had already been transferred to the Pacific and Burma meat grinders. They were now either dead or isolated and starving on bypassed islands or jungle outposts. Instead the Kwantung Army now contained a high percentage of new recruits. The units spent their time in drill and chasing guerrillas. The Imperial Staff was convinced that any Russian offensive could not be launched before October. So, they ignored warnings from the local commanders in Manchuria. And when the Soviet tanks sliced through the stunned Japanese border entrenchments on the morning of August 9th, there was nothing behind them to slow their advance.
In just 24 days the Red Army would capture all of Manchuria, make amphibious landings in northern Korea and capture Sakhalin Island and the Kuril islands, then part of Northern Japan. But a large part of this appallingly bad news was withheld from the "Big Six" by staff officers lower down the command chain, in part because they feared their superiors would become defeatist, in part to save their own necks, but mostly because the Japanese communications network had been damaged so badly by the Soviet blitzkrieg that the Japanese military staffs did not know a lot of the bad news themselves
The Japanese commander in Manchuria, General Otozo Yamada, was missing for the first 18 hours of the battle, unable to get back to his headquarters. But the battle developed just as Yamada had warned the supreme command that it would; disastrously.
On August 9th at about 10:30 in the morning Prime Minister Suzuli told the "Big Six" that the Emperor agreed with him; the war must be ended as quickly as possible now that Russia had joined the conflict. The Foreign Minister said he could not accept the American position given in the Potsdam Proclamation, because it would require the removal of the Emperor. (Again, no one in Japan had yet told the Americans that this was the primary sticking point.) Terms to be offered the Americans were still that, one, Japan would disarm herself, two, accept no occupation, and three, that Japan would conduct any war crimes trials of Japanese soldiers, and four, again, the Emperor must remain untouched.
It was all clearly fantasy, and the "Big Six" spent their time this morning arguing these points to be negotiated after the next great bloodbath. They argued until word arrived of the nuclear attack on Nagasaki: so much for the theory that the U. S. had only one bomb. There were now another 70,000 dead (with another 70,000 to follow within days). Still, when the "Big Six" ended their meeting they were still tied, three for continuing the war until Japan could score a "blood victory" against the Americans, and three for immediate surrender.
In fact the U.S. had enough plutonium for several more bombs. The assembly of nuclear weapons was not yet industrialized, but it soon would be. Manhattan Project Commander General Leslie Groves reported to the War Depart that another plutonium bomb would be ready for operations on the 17th or 18th of August and at least seven bombs would be available in time for the invasion of Kyushu, scheduled for September, now just a month away.
The plan was to use the bombs against the island's defenders, to "clear the ground" for American combat troops. But even assuming this worked, and ignoring the likelihood of massive radiation deaths amongst the American invaders, what would have been the cost of such a risky operation?
There were more than one and a half million American soldiers were poised for that invasion. American intelligence services now estimated there were an equal number of Japanese soldiers waiting on Kyushu for the American invasion.
It was assumed during the Second World War that any amphibious invader must have a three to one advantage to ensure victory. Given America's weapon and technical advantages, with one to one numbers, an American victory was still likely. But the casualty rate would probably have been close to the rate on Iwo Jima, where it had been one American for every two Japanese dead; or 1.5 million Japanese dead and wounded, and 750,000 American dead and wounded. Civilian casualties would probably have more than doubled the Japanese numbers. So, the American conquest of the southern half of Kyushu seemed assured., but at levels of death not seen before, even in the bloody Pacific.
That night, the Big Six met again, still tied at three-three. But this time the Emperor in person actually cast his vote, something never done before. The vote was three for continuing the war and four for peace. It would be peace. The next day Mr. Max Grassli, charge d’Affaires for Switzerland, sent to James Byrnes, the U.S Secretary of State, the following cable:.
“I have the honor to inform you that the Japanese Minister to Switzerland, upon instructions received from his Government, has requested the Swiss Political Department to advise the Government of the United States of America of the following:
"...The Japanese Government are ready to accept the terms enumerated in the joint declaration which was issued at Potsdam…with the understanding that the said declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler. The Japanese Government sincerely hope that this understanding is warranted and desire keenly that an explicit indication to that effect will be speedily forthcoming….In transmitting the above message the Japanese Minister added that his Government begs the Government of the United States to forward its answer through the intermediary of Switzerland….”   Honestly, it was far past time.
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