JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Friday, September 06, 2013


I would label William Justus Gobel (above) as the all time American politician most likely to be gunned down. On the plus side he was one of the smartest men ever to run for public office in Kentucky, far smarter than his Republican opponents – but also smarter than his own Democratic allies. He was too smart for his own good, as they say. He was cold, arrogant, and rude, and he had one of those sneering faces that just begged to be slapped. He was even described by a journalist who knew him as “reptialian”. He disliked shaking hands, and I can't picture any mother handing over her baby to be kissed by him for fear he would just swallow it head first.  Worse, the better you knew William Gobel the more a mere slap across his face left you wanting more. At least two people hated him enough to actually take a shot at him. And only one missed.
The first man to hate “William the Conqueror” enough to pull the trigger was banker John Sanford, whom Gobel had recently referred to in a local newspaper article as “Gonorrhea John”. On April 11, 1895 Sanford intercepted Gobel on the front steps of a bank in their home town of Covington, Kentucky. Sanford asked Gobel, “I understand that you assume authorship of that article?” “Boss Bill” confidently answered, "I do." Whereupon both men simultaneously drew pistols and took their best shots. Sanford's bullet ripped through Gobel's coat and trousers. Gobel's bullet ploughed right through the center of Sanford's forehead. The old Republican died five hours later. Gobel pleaded self defense and walked free.
Four years later “King” Gobel (above) found himself a distant third in a three way race for his party's nomination for Governor. It was clear that General P. Watt Hardin was within a few votes of securing the nomination. So “Czar” Gobel promised the third man, Col. W.J. Stone, that if he first dropped out in favor of Gobel,  he would then nominate Stone. It worked like a charm. After several fruitless ballots, Hardin was persuaded to step aside in the name of party unity, whereupon, per their deal,  Stone expected Gobel to resign as well. Instead,  Gobel had accepted the nomination. It was a brilliant move, and, of course, it also ticked off a lot of Democrats.
The donkey split should have ensured an easy Republican victory in the 1899 Kentucky election, but the elephants were also split, and it became a contest to see who was the least popular candidate, Senator Gobel or Attorney General William “Hog-Jawed” Taylor (above). By all accounts it was a dirty underhanded smear-fest of a campaign, with both sides calling up “private militias” to intimidate voters. But it seems that somehow, Taylor squeezed out a victory. A three judge elections board, all Gobel appointees, even said so, by a 2 to 1 vote. And in December “Hog-Jawed” was sworn in as Governor. But that was when Gobel charged voter fraud (which had been rampant on both sides) and moved things into the Democratic dominated state legislature, where it seemed certain that after a short “investigation” “King” Gobel would be declared the winner.
And that is where things stood at a quarter after eleven on the frigid Tuesday morning of January 30th, 1900, as Senator Gobel and two body guards walked across the courtyard in front of the state house. Just as “King” Gobel stepped around the fountain in front of the state house, five shots rang out. His security guards carried the badly wounded Senator into a nearby hotel.
Within hours of the shooting the investigating committee issued their report claiming that the election had indeed been stolen. An hour later Governor “Hog-Jawed” Taylor declared Kentucky to be in a state of insurrection, and put a pad lock on the capital building. What a mess. The Republican legislators met 100 miles to the south, in London, Kentucky. But they lacked enough members by themselves to form a quorum. On January 31st the Democrats, who had a quorum, met secretly in a Franklin hotel room, and voted Gobel as the new Governor.
On February 1st, “King” Gobel was sworn in and immediately signed an order ordering the state militia to go home, and the pad lock to be taken off the capital building. These were to be “William the Conqueror's” only official acts as Governor. He was tended by 18 doctors, and medicine by committee is never a good thing. His last meal was that Friday evening, and his last words were “"Doc, that was a damned bad oyster."  The next afternoon, Saturday, February 3, 1900, William Gobel died. He remains to this day the only American Governor to ever to be assassinated while in office...if he was ever legally in office.
The Democrats offered “Hog-Jawed” immunity from prosecution for his part (if any) in the assassination of Gobel, if he would just turn over the Governorship without a fight. Taylor's advisers urged him to say yes, but in the end he said no. And that was a mistake. Both sides agreed to accept the decision of the Kentucky Court of Appeals. And on March 10th that court voted in favor of the Democrats by 6 to 1. Ignoring his own previous promise, Tayor immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme court. Waiting for their decision, Taylor told a reporter, “I don't see how the courts can decide against me. If they do, I will stay here and fight. I will not run away.”. Immediately after this interview, “Hog-Jawed” slipped out the backdoor of the courthouse, crossed the Ohio River bridge into Indiana and never returned to Kentucky in his lifetime. And, F.Y.I., the Supreme Court refused to even consider Taylor's appeal.
Sixteen men were indited for William Gobel's murder – all of them Republicans. “Hog-Jawed” Taylor was one, but Indiana Governor James Mount refused to extradite him, saying, ““I do not believe a fair and impartial trial can or will be given Mr. Taylor.” And he was probably right. But then he was also a Republican. Of the remaining fifteen indicted co-conspirators, seven were never charged, three turned state's evidence and two were out-right acquitted. Only three  men were eventually convicted, but it took seven trials over eight years to get even that far. The Republican Secretary of State John Powers was convicted of masterminding the murder. Henry Youtsey was convicted of aiding and abetting, despite an insanity plea and many theatrics at his trial. And James Howard was actually sentenced to death for being the actual trigger man.
But in 1908 newly elected Republican Governor Augustus Wilson pardoned both Howard and Powers, and even the Hoosier convert, Taylor. Meanwhile, poor Youtsey, who had turned state's evidence after his conviction, was left to rot in jail. Finally, in 1919, the Democrats returned to the Governor's office in Frankfort, and the turncoat Youstey at last  received his pardon. Twenty years after William Gobel's murder, all of his accused and convicted murderers, were free again. Maybe if he had been more likable, they might have stayed in jail longer.
Eight years later, William “Hog-Jawed” Taylor died in his adopted Indianapolis. And I have to tell you, that although I do not approve of murder, if it hadn't been “Hog-Jawed” (and his allies) who had finally shot William Gobel, it would have been somebody else. That's just the sort of guy William Gobel was. Nobody deserves to be murdered. But some people just seem to insist upon it. 

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013


I believe that if Uthman ibn Affan had been a cruel and heartless man, millions of lives might have been saved, and history would have been kinder to today's followers of Islam. This is ironic because for most of his life Uthman had been a successful merchant, with a real talent for the cold heartless logic of an account book. It was only after he accepted the migrating embrace of Islam, and became the third Caliph, or “Commander of the faithful”, in 644 C.E.., that Uthman’s compassion for his fellow Muslims, inspired directly by the teachings of his friend and leader, the Prophet Muhammad, that Uthman's humanity lead to the greatest threat facing Islam today.
Muhammad died peacefully in 632, leaving his followers to make what they could of his life’s work. Abu Bakr, the first man to issue the public call to prayer in Mecca, was elected the first Successor of the Messenger of God, or Caliph,  Rasul Allah. During his two year reign he managed to put down rebellions, invade and begin the conversions of Iran, Syria and what is today Palestine. Abu Bakr died on Monday, August 23rd , 634, naming Umar as his successor. Umar, also known as Farooq the Great, ruled as the second Caliph for ten years, conquering the Persian Empire. He was attacked by an assassin at morning prayers in 644, and lived just long enough to name a committee to pick his successor. And as we all know, no good could can come from a selection committee.
The choice of the next Caliph fell to an election, or shura, amongst five men. Two stated publicly that they were willing to take on the burden of being Caliph; Mohammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Uthman, known as the “man of two lights” because he had married two of the Prophet’s daughters. In the shura among the remaining three, two split, one supporting Ali and the other supporting Uthman. This left the choice to Abd al-Rahman. He announced his decision at a public meeting at a mosque - Uthman. The general acclimation left Ali with little choice but to support his competitor. But he felt cheated.
Uthman was from the Umayyad clan, one of the 15 families within the Quraysh tribe of Arabs. The Umayyard were patricians, merchants and power brokers in the city of Mecca (above), a holy city long before the rise of monotheism. Nestled amongst mountains, 50 miles inland from the Red Sea, this oasis had been founded by Abraham himself. But the center of government for the new empire was in Medina, 200 miles north of Mecca. Here the power lay in the hands of the Hashemite clan – the family of Ali ibn Abi Talib..
Once in Medina, Uthman found himself in charge of a growing military and religious empire. But Uthman saw himself as primarily a religious leader. His behavior was so pious that even the Prophet himself had said of Uthman that “angels feel bashful before him.” Uthman was a handsome man and vain enough that he dyed his beard. Every time he smiled he flashed gold, a hint of his wealth. He was a patrician, and most of his close friends even within the faith, were also wealthy. And that was to prove his blind spot.
From the first day of his 10 year reign, Uthman was the target of complaints of graft and favoritism. Some of those complaints were probably true - in an expanding empire such growing pains were to be expected. And grumblings are always heard even under good government. But there was an undercurrent of discontent nurtured by the man who might have been Caliph, the Shiat Ali Talib. And in the eleventh year of Uthman’s reign, the whispers sparked into action, just across the Red Sea, in Egypt.
In 656 Uthman called for a special Hajii, the holy journey to Mecca each Muslim is expected to make at least once in their lives. This special Hajii was to be for those unhappy with Uthman’s reign. The Caliph publicly promised to listen to any complaints, and promised to solve the legitimate ones. For the shiat Ali this was bad news. Uthman possessed the personality to sway any dissident in his immediate presence. Something would have to be done about Uthman before the holy winter months filled Mecca with hundreds of thousands of his supporters.
In the summer of 656, 1,000 Egyptians arrived in Medina, and publicly begged Ali to accept the Caliphate; publicly he refused. It was a fine show of humility, and the Egyptians next moved on to Uthmans’s house and surrounded it. They announced that no harm would come to any Uthman supporter who did not resist them. And Uthman countered by instructing his supporters to offer no resistance to the Egyptians. He even freed his slaves, saying he did not wish any blood shed in his defense.
Thus began the most amazing 20 days in all of Islam. It reminds me a bit of Thomas Becket, calmly conducting vespers while the four knights closed in to slaughter him. At first Urthman was allowed to travel to the mosque and lead prayers, the Egyptians even praying with him. Then, angry words were exchanged between Uthman’s supporters and the Egyptians. Stones were thrown, one of them striking Uthman in the head. He was carried back to his house, bloody and unconscious.
Even now, when his supporters begged to be allowed to defend him, Uthman refused, insisting he did not wish to spill the blood of Muslims. But with the Hajii beginning, there remained the possibility that the thousands gathering at Mecca would be induced to march to Medina and rescue their Caliph. At least that was what worried the Shiat Ali. The decision was made to take action.
The siege of Uthman’s home became complete, shutting off even food and water. Finally, one night, as the Caliph was saying prayers with his wives, three Egyptians burst into the bedroom and began to strike the old man in the head with clubs and swords. His wife Naila attempted to block the blows, and lost her fingers. She was tossed aside, and Uthman was beaten to death.
It had been a political assassination, and the trauma it caused burdens Islam to this day. The supporters of Ali ibn Abi Talib, now called Shi'ite (from Shiat Ali) believe that Ali had been chosen by Mohammad, and that the Caliphs who preceded him, especially Uthman, were false leaders. The supporters of the murdered Uthman believe that the Prophet himself wished the leadership to be chosen by elections, by shura. And they take their name from that concept of a democratic religion: Sunni.
Ali finally achieved the rank and office of Caliph in 656, but it brought him little comfort. First he had to put down a rebellion by one of Muhammad’s wives, Aisha. Then, he quickly faced a more serious rebellion led by Mu'awiya Ummayad, the governor of Damascus and Uthman’s cousin. This time the battle was a draw, and in order to hold onto his hard won office, Ali was forced to compromise with the Sunni’s. But this offended the more radical shi'ites, who, in God’s name, had already murdered one Caliph. It was a small step for them, in 661, to murder a second, the very man they had committed the first murder for.
The Ummayad clan would later be almost wiped out by the Shi’ites of the Hashemite in the year 750 at the Battle of Zab. And while the Sunni are today the majority in Iraqi, the Hassemite Shi’ites are the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, and guardians of Mecca and Medina, ensuring that the majority of Muslims across the rest of the world today, are Shi’ites.
The reasons and justifications for and even the truth about the death of Caliph Uthmen would seem difficult to see clearly,l  fourteen hundred years later. But what is important is that his murder stands as yet another example of humans thinking they hear the voice of God, when in fact they are only hearing the echo of their own ego. And Muslims do not have the patent on that.
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Sunday, September 01, 2013


I offer proof there is no such thing as useless information, as illustrated by the fate of the 600 elite German paratroopers who floated down or thudded into rough glider landings on the dirt air field of Maleme in Western Crete, at about eight on the morning of May 20th, 1941. Six short hours later 400 of them were dead, killed by poorly armed, badly disorganized and under strength New Zealand infantry. And what largely killed those confident well trained, well armed Teutonic warriors was information uncovered forty years earlier and sixty miles to the east, written 4,000 years before men could fly.
The second imperial palace built at Knossos on bronze age Crete was so large visitors got lost in its labyrinthine corridors. It had been built for King Minos, and was occupied for over 400 years. It had hot showers, and flush toilets, and gardens. Its walls were adorned with colorful frescoes of sacred bulls, graceful women, and brave men. Its gold came 300 miles from Egypt, its olive oil 100 miles from Greece, its ceder throne, 400 miles from Lebanon. And then about 1375 B.C., this kingdom simply disappeared. Time eventually even wiped out its memory. For most of human history, people had no idea the acrobats of Crete were cartwheeling over the horns of bulls before Moses challenged Pharaoh. Then a British archaeologist went looking for a new meaning in his life.
Little Arthur Evans (above)  - he stood just five feet two inches tall - had always been fascinated with ancient history, but only ancient history. He almost failed his final exams at Oxford because he knew nothing that had happened after Richard the Lion Heart died, in 1199 A.D. Evans spent half his life as a dilettante archaeologist, digging about the edges of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. When his wife Margaret died in the spring of 1893, the heartbroken 43 year old Evans went digging with a new purpose. He used his inheritance to buy land already identified as a palace three miles south of the port of Heraklion on Crete.
Beginning in the year 1900, Evans spent six years unearthing the great palace at Knossos. Its murals were so exuberant, its architecture so confident, its wealth so obvious, that Evans was certain it had been the center of a great empire which rose and fell while the ancient Greeks were still barbarians. The record of its achievements and soul were right at hand, in the thousand or so clay tablets scattered about the palace. But they were written in what seemed to be two unknown languages, younger by a millennium than the cuneiform tablets of Sumer and Babylon, but older by a century than the oldest Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Evans labeled the languages Linear A and B. His obvious choice was to attack Linear B (above) first, since the majority of the tablets were in that language. But the best brains in England were unable to read the words. After more than a decade of study the only thing Evans was certain of, was that it was not Greek. After World War One more tablets with the same mysterious pictographic language were unearthed in the palaces at Pylos, Thebes, Corinth and Mycenae, on mainland Greece As the number of uncovered tablet shards approached 3,000, the best brains in the world were still unable to read them. How could you decipher an unknown language, once the authors and speakers, and everyone who ever read or spoke the language, was long dead?
For 1,500 years the most popular method to decipher coded messages was the one invented by the Syrian mathematician Al-Kindi - frequency analysis. In essence, he reduced the language to a math problem, figuring the most common letter used in each word, (in English it is, “e”) and working back from there. But none of the symbols used in Linear B appeared in any statistically significant variation. The diligent mathematicians Evan's hired simply did not have the resources to crack the puzzle of Linear B. But the effort did provide a good testing ground for new theories, just in time to deal with an ambitious electrical engineer who thought he had a great way to get rich.
His name was Arthur Scherbius, and in 1918 he marketed his new mechanical rotor device under the name “Enigma”. Pushing the letter “e” on Scherbius's keyboard turned a mechanical rotor (above) one spot forward. There were twenty-six spots on each rotor, so the letter produced by the rotor would be a different, totally random letter from the one input, determined only by the original position of that rotor. Putting the rotors in sequence would make the code practically impossible to break, unless you knew the starting setting of each rotor. And those could be changed either randomly or according to a schedule.  In 1926 Scherbius sold his machine to the German Navy, and the following year to the German Army, who thought the code was unbreakable.
And it might have been, but in 1928 a minor bureaucrat on the Army General Staff did something stupid. Instead of sending their new Enigma machine (above) to their embassy in Warsaw, Poland in a diplomatic pouch, he sent it by mail. When it failed to promptly arrive, the ranking German officer in Warsaw panicked, and asked the Poles to please look for the package. Intrigued, the Polish postal workers searched for, found and opened the box, and got their first look at the Enigma machine. Polish intelligence service spent a long weekend disassembling it and building a duplicate machine. Then they carefully repackaged the original and delivered it to the relived German embassy staff.
The Germans had little reason to worry even if they had known. With eight rotors wired in sequence, Scherbius had figured it would take 1,000 technicians using frequency analysis, 900 million years to try every possible combination of keys and rotor settings just to read a single message. And he was right. The Polish code breakers struggled with the machine for a decade, but came up with nothing. Finally in 1939, facing an impending German invasion, the Poles shared their duplicate Enigma with British Intelligence. And in 1941, a brilliant English mathematician named Arthur Turing, built his own electro-mechanical machine (above) which could try each of the millions of possible mechanical rotor settings on Enigma in a matter of hours. With that, it became possible to break the unbreakable German codes.
The first use of this British “Ultra Secret” was on April 28th, 1941, when their commander on Crete was given details of the coming German invasion. General Freyberg was not sure he could completely trust this new source, and divided his troops between the sea coast and the air bases, where Ultra said the attack would come. 
But enough men were guarding Maleme airfield on May 20th 1941 to slaughter the German units as they landed. British Prime Minster Winston Churchill pointed out that “"At no moment in the war was our intelligence so truly and precisely informed.” 
In the end it did not save Crete, because the German air force prevented General Freyberg from bringing his reinforcements back from the coast. Eventually German reinforcements swamped the New Zealanders and forced the British to evacuate the island.. The battle cost the British 3,990 dead and 17,000 captured. But it cost the Germans 6,698 dead, and 370 aircraft destroyed. Their decimated parachute battalions never made another massive combat drop.
A little over two months before the fall of Crete, little Arthur Evans (above) died in England, still convinced that Linear B was an as yet unknown language. And through the multiplying effect of tenure and graduate students, he was able to reach out from beyond the grave to influence the effort to decode his tablets for another generation. The solution, it turned out, had been offered by the 13th century Franciscan monk and philosopher Roger Bacon, from his study atop Folly Bridge (below). Bacon wrote, “Prudens quaestio dimidium scientiae”, or “Half the answer is asking the right question.”
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