Monthly Archives: June 2014

June 30, 1908 (Julian calendar/old style: a Tuesday)

The above picture was taken by a Russian expedition to the Tunguska site in 1927, finding trees littering the ground like toothpicks.

On this date, a large rocky asteroid or perhaps an icy comet entered the atmosphere traveling at an estimated speed of about 33,500 miles per hour and then detonated in the sky near the Podkamennaya Tunguska (Stony Tunguska) River in remote Siberia, Russia (60° 54′ 59″ N, 101° 57′ 0″ E). During its quick plunge, the 220-million-pound space asteroid/comet heated the air surrounding it to 44,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At 7:14:28 AM (local Siberia time), at a height of about 28,000 feet, the combination of pressure and heat caused the asteroid/comet to fragment and annihilate itself, producing a fireball and releasing energy equivalent to about 185 Hiroshima bombs. The aerial explosion explains why there was no impact crater – the great majority of the cosmic object was consumed in the explosion.

Reconstruction of the Tunguska Event. (William K. Hartmann)

The massive explosion packed a wallop. The resulting seismic shockwave registered with sensitive barometers as far away as England. Dense clouds formed over the region at high altitudes which reflected sunlight from beyond the horizon. As a result, night skies glowed, and reports came in that people who lived as far away as Asia could read newspapers outdoors as late as midnight. Recent studies of so-called night-shining clouds sometimes linked to space shuttle launches suggest that it was, in fact, a comet that caused Tunguska.

Locally, hundreds of reindeer, the livelihood of local herders, were killed, but there was no direct evidence that any person perished in the blast. Locals believed the blast was a visitation by the god Ogdy, who had cursed the area by smashing trees and killing animals.

Due to the remoteness of the blast and the chaotic conditions prevailing inside Russia at the time, the first scientific expedition to the area would have to wait for 19 years. In 1921, Leonid Kulik, the chief curator for the meteorite collection of the St. Petersburg museum, led an expedition to Tunguska. But the harsh conditions of the Siberian outback thwarted his team’s attempt to reach the area of the blast. In 1927, a new expedition, again lead by Kulik, reached its goal.
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This is rare, raw footage from the 1921 Tunguska expedition as well as modern day footage showing the aftermath of the huge Tunguska explosion in 1908.
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While testimonials may have at first been difficult to obtain, there was plenty of evidence lying around. Eight hundred square miles of remote forest had been ripped asunder. Eighty million trees lying on their sides in a radial pattern acted as markers, pointing directly away from the blast’s hypocenter. When the team arrived at ground zero, they found the trees there standing upright – but their limbs and bark had been stripped away. They looked like a forest of telephone poles.

Tunguska Event location (click for larger image).

Such “debranching” requires fast moving shock waves that break off a tree’s branches before the branches can transfer the impact momentum to the tree’s stem. Thirty seven years after the Tunguska Event, branchless trees would be found at the site of another massive explosion – Hiroshima, Japan.

References:

June 30, 1817 (a Monday)

Joseph Hooker (seated, far left) and on the ground next to him, Asa Gray – 2 of the first 3 men to whom Darwin revealed his theory of evolution by natural selection (July, 1877 U.S. Geological Survey at La Veta Pass, CO)

On this date, the physician, botanist, and biogeographer Joseph Dalton Hooker was born in Halesworth in the county of Suffolk, England. He trained as a doctor in Edinburgh, but his principal interest was in botany.

Joseph Hooker (1896)

Hooker was a close friend and supporter of Charles Darwin. When he realized that Alfred Russel Wallace was about to present his findings on evolution to the public which were similar to Darwin’s, he helped arrange for the shared presentation of Darwin ‘s and Wallace’s papers to the Linnaean Society of London in 1858.

Hooker came to America in 1877 to explore the flora of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. He traveled to Pueblo, Colorado with a group of colleagues including Asa Gray. Later, Hooker traveled to La Veta Pass, CO and camped with a group of naturalists and explorers. The group later traveled to the Sangre de Cristo range where Hooker and Gray conducted a plant survey and wrote a manuscript about their experience, The Vegetation of the Rocky Mountain Region and a comparison with that of other parts of the World (1880).

June 30, 1860 (a Saturday)

A cartoon from Vanity Fair depicting Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.

On this date, one of the most memorable dramas in the history of science took place at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford University. Darwin’s The Origin of Species had been published in 1859, but his health was not good enough to allow him to go to the Oxford meeting. However, Thomas Henry Huxley was there and it was he who so brilliantly debated Darwinism with Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of the Church of England. More than 700 people crowded into the lecture room on that day – so many, in fact, that the meeting had to be moved to the library of the University Museum. Wilberforce, having refused to regard monkeys as his ancestors, turned to Huxley during the debate and asked whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed descent from “a venerable ape.” Huxley took the challenge and is reputed to have answered, “If I am asked whether I would choose to be descended from the poor animal of low intelligence and stooping gait, who grins and chatters as we pass, or from a man, endowed with great ability and splendid position, who should use these gifts to discredit and crush humble seekers after truth, I hesitate what answer to make!”

June 29, 1935 (a Saturday)

On this date, Wendell Meredith Stanley announced the isolation of tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) as a crystalline molecule in the journal Science. For this feat, he later was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1946.

Stanley’s work had great significance for the ongoing debate about the scientific distinction between life and non-life. In 1937 Barclay Moon Newman noted that, “It has astonished the scientific world that a single molecule can be the causative organism of a disease. How can a crystal be made up of living molecules?” Stanley said in his Nobel Prize Lecture on 12 December 1946:

Reproduction, mutation and metabolic activity have long been regarded as unique and special properties of living organisms. When viruses were found to possess the ability to reproduce and to mutate, there was a definite tendency to regard them as very small living organisms, despite the fact that the question of metabolic activity remained unanswered. Because of their small size they could not be seen by means of the ordinary light microscope. Although. this fact puzzled some investigators, it was pushed aside and for over thirty years interest in virus research was centered about the discovery of new viruses and on studies of the pathological manifestations of viruses.

Then, around 1930, Elford… demonstrated that different viruses possessed different and characteristic sizes, and that some viruses
were as large as about 300 mμ, whereas others were as small as 10 mμ… The fact that, with respect to size, the viruses overlapped with the organisms of the biologist at one extreme and with the molecules of the chemist at the other extreme only served to heighten the mystery regarding the nature of viruses. Then too, it became obvious that a sharp line dividing living from non-living things could not be drawn and this fact served to add fuel for discussion of the age-old question of “What is life?”.

(…)

Needless to say, for a time there was great skepticism that the crystalline material could be tobacco mosaic, due chiefly to the old idea that viruses were living organisms… As a whole, the results indicated that the crystalline material was, in fact, tobacco mosaic virus.

Untitled

Stanley did not realize the importance of the nucleic acid component of TMV. Viruses today are recognized to be literally “parasitic” chemicals, segments of DNA or RNA wrapped in a protein coat. They can reproduce within cells, often with disastrous results to the host organism, but they cannot reproduce on their own, which is why they are not considered alive by biologists. Earlier ideas that viruses represent a kind of halfway point between life and non-life have largely been abandoned. Instead, viruses are now viewed as detached fragments of the genomes of organisms due to the high degree of similarity found among some viral and eukaryotic genes.

Stanley co-authored the book Viruses and the Nature of Life (1961).

References:

  • Angela N. H. Creager. The Life of a Virus: Tobacco Mosaic Virus as an Experimental Model, 1930-1965 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2002) p. 47.
  • Wendell Stanley, “Isolation of a crystalline protein possessing the properties of tobacco-mosaic virus” Science, vol. 81, issue 2113: 644-645 (1935).
  • Wendell Stanley and Evans G. Valens. Viruses and the Nature of Life (New York: Dutton, 1961).

June 28, 1971 (a Monday)

Church/State sign.

On this date, Lemon v. Kurtzman was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Although unrelated to the teaching of evolution, the Court established a set of legal criteria for determining whether a law violates the Establishment Clause. In order to be constitutional under the “Lemon test,” a law must have a secular purpose, not advance or inhibit religion, and not excessively entangle the government with religion. The Lemon test will be applied to subsequent cases on the teaching of evolution.

June 28, 1969 (a Sunday)

Stonewall Inn (Sept 1969) – The sign in the window reads: We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village—Mattachine

In the early morning hours on Sunday, 28 June 1969, police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a small bar located on Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Although mafia-run, the Stonewall, like other predominantly gay bars in the city, got raided by the police periodically.

But for some reason, the crowd that had gathered outside the Stonewall, a crowd that had become campy and festive and had cheered each time a patron emerged from the bar, soon changed its mood. No one knows for sure who threw the first punch. Some say it was a drag queen, while others claim it was a butch lesbian, who initially defied the police.

The first Stonewall Riot ended the morning of Saturday, June 28. That night the second riot broke out, as thousands of demonstrators — in the name of Gay Pride — flocked to the streets in front of and around the Stonewall Inn. Once again there were confrontations with the police until the early morning hours. Disturbances continued nightly for several days – the last occurred on the evening of Wednesday, July 2.

Stonewall Inn (2003)

Gay and lesbian activism certainly existed prior to this time, but the confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City catalyzed the movement and inspired gay men and lesbians to move their cause to entirely new heights utilizing entirely new tactics.

In 1999 the United States government proclaimed the Stonewall Inn as a national historic site. The following year, the status of the Stonewall was improved to “historic landmark,” a designation held by only a small percentage of historical sites.

Forty years after the Stonewall uprising, President Obama became the first president to recognize its significance by declaring June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month:

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:
A PROCLAMATION

Forty years ago, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Out of this resistance, the LGBT rights movement in America was born. During LGBT Pride Month, we commemorate the events of June 1969 and commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans.

LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society. There are many well-respected LGBT leaders in all professional fields, including the arts and business communities. LGBT Americans also mobilized the Nation to respond to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic and have played a vital role in broadening this country’s response to the HIV pandemic.

Due in no small part to the determination and dedication of the LGBT rights movement, more LGBT Americans are living their lives openly today than ever before. I am proud to be the first President to appoint openly LGBT candidates to Senate-confirmed positions in the first 100 days of an Administration. These individuals embody the best qualities we seek in public servants, and across my Administration — in both the White House and the Federal agencies — openly LGBT employees are doing their jobs with distinction and professionalism.

The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done. LGBT youth should feel safe to learn without the fear of harassment, and LGBT families and seniors should be allowed to live their lives with dignity and respect.

My Administration has partnered with the LGBT community to advance a wide range of initiatives. At the international level, I have joined efforts at the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Here at home, I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans. These measures include enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security. We must also commit ourselves to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic by both reducing the number of HIV infections and providing care and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS across the United States.

These issues affect not only the LGBT community, but also our entire Nation. As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
first day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.

BARACK OBAMA

Pride Guide 2009

In the forty years since the Stonewall uprising, its anniversary has been celebrated every June, officially or unofficially, in more and more places around the world. This usually involves a parade referred to as a “Gay Pride Parade.” To some non-homosexuals, reserving a day or month to be proud of being gay seems odd – as odd as a “Straight Pride Parade” for heterosexuals would seem.

However, the reason that Gay Pride is necessary today is that for centuries, homosexual men and women have been persecuted, prosecuted, tortured, and killed in many cultures for simply being who they are. Homosexuals were told that they are “worse than” the rest of the population and, conversely, heterosexuals believed that they are “better than” homosexuals.Gay Pride is an effort to tell society that homosexual people are neither worse than nor better than everyone else. In other words, Gay Pride is an effort to normalize the self-esteem of gay people, not to disrespect anyone else. If the tables are turned and straight people ever suffer similar oppression from homosexuals, then perhaps every straight person will understand the need for Pride events.

A Democratic Spring Ends: June 27, 1954 (a Sunday)

The Price of Bananas:

The Chiquita brand logo was commissioned in 1943 by United Fruit.

The Chiquita brand logo was commissioned in 1943 by United Fruit.

On this date, the democratically-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown by CIA-paid and -trained mercenaries, making way for the United States to install a series of military dictatorships that waged a genocidal war against the indigenous Mayan Indians and against political opponents into the ‘90s. Human rights groups estimate that, between 1954 and 1990, the repressive operatives of successive military regimes murdered at least 100,000 and probably more than 200,000 civilians.

In a radio broadcast in July 1954, Arbenz said:

They have used the pretext of anti-communism. The truth is very different. The truth is to be found in the financial interests of the fruit company [United Fruit] and the other U.S. monopolies which have invested great amounts of money in Latin America and fear that the example of Guatemala would be followed by other Latin countries… I was elected by a majority of the people of Guatemala, but I have had to fight under difficult conditions. The truth is that the sovereignty of a people cannot be maintained without the material elements to defend it…. I took over the presidency with great faith in the democratic system, in liberty and the possibility of achieving economic independence for Guatemala. I continue to believe that this program is just. I have not violated my faith in democratic liberties, in the independence of Guatemala and in all the good which is the future of humanity.

United Fruit, one of America’s richest companies, functioned in Guatemala as a state within a state. It owned the country’s telephone and telegraph facilities, administered its only important Atlantic harbor and monopolized its banana exports. A subsidiary of the company owned nearly every mile of railroad track in the country.

The fruit company’s influence amongst Washington’s power elite was equally impressive. On a business and/or personal level, it had close ties to the Dulles brothers, various State Department officials and congressmen, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, and others. Anne Whitman, the wife of the company’s public relations director, was President Eisenhower’s personal secretary. Under-secretary of State (and formerly Director of the CIA) Walter Bedell Smith was seeking an executive position with United Fruit at the same time he was helping to plan the coup. He was later named to the company’s board of directors.

Furthermore, in the early 1940s, United Fruit had brought on as its public relations counsel Edward Bernays, a diminutive man who had proven his ability to act big by convincing a generation of American women to smoke the cigarettes made by his client American Tobacco Co., luring a generation of children into carving sculptures from Ivory Soap bars made by client Proctor and Gamble, and generally tapping the ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, on why people behave the way they do, only to reshape those behaviors for the benefit of his paying customers.
 Bernays helped mastermind the propaganda campaign for his fruit company client to convince Americans that Arbenz was a Communist threat to the U.S., drawing on every public relations tactic and strategy he had refined since helping to convince Americans that Germany was a threat to the U.S. during World War I.
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A singing, dancing Chiquita banana, modeled after Carmen Miranda, became the symbol for the United Fruit Company. Through this sexy banana symbol, Latin America was feminized, creating images in Americans’ minds of a colonial Latin America with an indigenous population of topless women, which was of course not the case.

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The Eisenhower Administration painted the coup as an uprising that rid the hemisphere of a Communist government backed by Moscow. But Arbenz’s real offense was to confiscate unused land owned by the United Fruit Company to redistribute under a land reform plan and to pay compensation based on the vastly understated valuation the company had claimed for its tax payments. Arbenz “was not a dictator, he was not a crypto-communist,” said Stephen Schlesinger, an adjunct fellow at the Century Foundation and co-author of Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (1999). “He was simply trying to create a middle class in a country riven by extremes of wealth and poverty and racism,” Schlesinger said. Both Arbenz and his immediate predecessor, Juan Jose Arevalo, who was the first democratically-elected Guatemalan president, were motivated by the policies and practices of the New Deal; their support for labor and their actions towards American businesses must be viewed in this light and were never any worse than those of the Roosevelt Administration during the Depression in the United States.

In 1970, the United Fruit Company merged with AMK Corporation; the new corporation was called the United Brands Company. This company became Chiquita Brands International in 1990.

On 10 March 1999 during remarks made in the Reception Hall in the National Palace of Culture in Guatemala City, President Bill Clinton apologized for U.S. support of the Guatemalan military (but not for the 1954 coup), saying U.S. “support for military forces or intelligence units which engage in violent and widespread repression of the kind described in the report was wrong”. He was forced into this “damn-near” apology after the U.N.’s independent Historical Clarification Commission (Spanish: Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, or CEH) issued a nine-volume report called Guatemala: Memory of Silence [Conclusions and Recommendations archived here] on 25 February 1999.

Created as part of the 1996 peace accord that ended Guatemala’s civil war, the CEH and its 272 staff members interviewed combatants on both sides of the conflict, gathered news reports and eyewitness accounts from across the country, and extensively examined declassified U.S. government documents. The CEH concluded that for decades, the U.S. knowingly gave money, training, and other vital support to Guatemalan military regimes that committed atrocities as a matter of policy, and even “acts of genocide” against the Mayan people.

However, the Commission’s findings weren’t really news at all. That the Guatemalan military committed genocide and widespread atrocities had been widely known for many years. That the U.S. supported and trained the Guatemalan military had been a matter of public record. What was new here was the depth of documentation, and that the information was coming from an official source.

The CEH attributed 93% of the atrocities and 626 massacres to government forces, while only 3% of the atrocities were attributable to the guerrillas. (Responsibility for the remaining 4% could not be assigned with certainty.) Out of 200,000 documented victims, the CEH report found that 83% were indigenous. And worse, the vast majority of victims were non-combatant civilians. Merely trying to form an opposition political party was reason enough to be killed. So was being a trade unionist, a student or professor, a journalist, a church official, a child or elderly person from the same village as a suspected rebel, a doctor who merely treated another victim, or even a widow of one of the disappeared simply asking for the body.

Civil patrol members in northern Guatemala in March 1982. Civil patrols were established using local men forcibly conscripted by the government. This patrol had recently been supplied with U.S.-made M-1 rifles,  replacing their former shotguns and machetes.

Civil patrol members in northern Guatemala in March 1982. Civil patrols were established using local men forcibly conscripted by the government. This patrol had recently been supplied with U.S.-made M-1 rifles, replacing their former shotguns and machetes.

In fact, the same day that Clinton issued his damn-near apology, new documents obtained by the National Security Archive — a non-profit group of truth-seekers who do tremendous work obtaining and analyzing the internal records of things we aren’t supposed to know — were released that indicate that the U.S. was more intimately involved with the Guatemalan paramilitary than even the CEH report indicated.

These new documents proved irrefutably that as early as 1966, officials from the U.S. State Department, far from opposing the torturers, set up a “safe house” for security forces in Guatemala’s presidential palace, which eventually became the headquarters for “kidnapping, torture… bombings, street assassinations, and executions of real or alleged communists.” CIA documents also proved that from the very beginning, U.S. intelligence was fully aware that “disappearances” were actually kidnappings followed by summary executions. Rather than act to stop the slaughter, however, the U.S. State Department continued to provide tens of millions of dollars in aid. Once Ronald Reagan was elected president, covert money and support for the Guatemalan dictatorship soared, as did the atrocities. In fact, Reagan was the U.S. official most culpable for aiding and abetting the Guatemalan genocide.

In a muted ceremony at the National Palace in Guatemala City on 20 October  2011, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom turned to Arbenz’s son Juan Jacobo and asked for forgiveness on behalf of the state for the overthrow of his father in 1954. “That day changed Guatemala and we have not recuperated from it yet,” he said. “It was a crime to Guatemalan society and it was an act of aggression to a government starting its democratic spring.”

On 21 October 2011, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the organization Rights Action issued an open letter to President Obama [archived here] asking the administration to follow the example of the Guatemalan government and issue an apology on behalf of the U.S. government for its role in the coup d’état and subsequent human rights violations perpetrated by the Guatemalan state. It stated:

The willingness of the United States to support illegitimate governments in Latin America did not begin and unfortunately did not end with Guatemala. In fact, Guatemala was one of the most atrocious but still just one of the bloody, repressive and destabilizing interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean that the U.S. government supported over the last century. Unfortunately, this interventionism continues today. Your October 5, 2011 White House meeting with and pledged support for President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras in the aftermath of the June 2009 coup d’état and the subsequent illegitimate elections there is a cogent example of the United States’ continued wrongheaded policy approach to Latin America. Honduras is engulfed in a wave of politically motivated violence where scores of opposition activists and journalists have been murdered since the coup. Support for the repressive Lobo government is in direct contradiction to the nationwide peoples’ movement of Honduras which is demanding an end to impunity for the repression against their movement and accountability for the 2009 coup d’etat.

CCR and Rights Action concluded the letter by urging President Obama to change the course of his administration’s foreign policy in Latin America and to put his words into action by ceasing to actively undermine Latin American peoples’ right to peacefully choose their leaders democratically and have these decisions be respected by the United States.

Bodies of some of the 20 villagers killed near Salacuin, in northern Guatemala, in May 1982. The Guatemalan army blamed leftist guerrillas for this massacre; survivors of other attacks carried out in the same region during this period blamed the army.

Bodies of some of the 20 villagers killed near Salacuin, in northern Guatemala, in May 1982. The Guatemalan army blamed leftist guerrillas for this massacre; survivors of other attacks carried out in the same region during this period blamed the army.

On 12 January 2012, Efrain Rios Montt, former head of state of Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983, the bloodiest period in its history, appeared in a Guatemalan court on charges of genocide. During the trial, the government presented evidence of over 100 incidents involving at least 1,771 deaths, 1,445 rapes, and the displacement of nearly 30,000 Guatemalans during his 17-month rule. The evidence clearly showed that Ríos Montt had ordered soldiers to burn indigenous villages and kill Mayans.

On 10 May 2013, Rios Montt was found guilty and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The verdict was the first time in history in which a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide by a national tribunal in his or her own country. However, the victory was short-lived. On May 20, Guatemala’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, vacated the verdict against Ríos Montt and annulled all the legal proceedings that had taken place after April 19; a retrial may possibly occur in January 2015. During the week following Montt’s conviction, there had been forceful and repeated calls from CACIF, Guatemala’s powerful business association, for the verdict to be overturned, explicit threats made by Rios Montt’s lawyer of national paralysis if the Constitutional Court did not rule in Rios Montt’s favor, and bomb threats at the Constitutional Court and other government offices. Guatemala has to now decide if it wants to be known throughout the world as “The Land of Eternal Spring” or as “The Land of Eternal Impunity.”

As for Chiquita Brands International, it is just as corrupt as its predecessor.

In the late 1990s, in one of many chapters in the Colombian government’s decades-old dirty war with leftist guerrillas, more than 15,000 people in the northern region of Curvaradó were forced from their land. Those that followed were las mocha cabezas, meaning “the beheaders” — paramilitary death squads fighting as the military’s proxies. Thousands fled their massacres, bombardments, and executions. Behind the beheaders came the agribusinesses, which converted the territory into African palm plantations and cattle ranches under paramilitary protection. Thus began the cozy relationship between the corporations and the paramilitaries.

Chiquita had been operating in Colombia since the early 1960s through a wholly-owned subsidiary called “Banadex”. Between 1997 and 2004, officers of Banadex paid approximately $1.7 million to the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Spanish: Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC) in exchange for local employee protection in Urabá, a region north of Curvaradó. The AUC has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia’s civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country’s cocaine exports, although they are fighting the guerrilla insurgency in order to preserve the political and economic status quo in Colombia. No later than September 2000, Chiquita’s senior executives knew that the corporation was paying the AUC and that the AUC was a violent, paramilitary organization. Similar payments were also made to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as well as the National Liberation Army (ELN) from 1989 to 1997, both leftist guerrilla organizations, as control of the company’s banana-growing area shifted. Not only were the FARC and ELN targeting U.S. personnel, they were also fighting against U.S. political and economic interests in Colombia.

The FARC and the ELN were placed on the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 1997, while the AUC was added in 2001; on 14 March 2007, Chiquita Brands said it had agreed to a $25 million fine as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department for having ties to them. The plea agreement [archived here] claimed that the company had never received “any actual security services or actual security equipment in exchange for the payments” (see paragraph 23). Chiquita instead characterized itself as a victim of “extortion”.

But court documents subsequently obtained by the National Security Archive from the Justice Department and released as “The Chiquita Papers” in April 2011 show conclusively that Chiquita Brands International had, in fact, benefited from its payments — extorted or otherwise — to Colombian paramilitary and guerrilla groups. According to a 1994 legal memo, the general manager of Chiquita operations in Turbó admits that guerrillas were “used to supply security personnel at the various farms.” In a March 2000 memo, Chiquita lawyers describe a conversation with a company manager who said that it was absolutely necessary to make payments to right-wing paramilitary groups, not because of intimidation, but rather because they “can’t get the same level of support from the military.” It is still not known why U.S. prosecutors overlooked this clear evidence of culpability that they had in their possession while they were pursuing the case against Chiquita.

Even before “The Chiquita Papers”, there were other indications that the 2007 plea agreement was dishonest. On a broadcast of the U.S. news program 60 Minutes of 11 May 2008 [transcript archived here], correspondent Steve Kroft interviewed Salvatore Mancuso, former supreme leader of the AUC, in a Colombian maximum-security prison. Mancuso said the multinational Chiquita Brands agreed to pay the paramilitaries for their safety without threats:

Kroft: Chiquita says the reason they paid the money was because your people would kill them if they didn’t. Is that true?

Mancuso: No it is not true. They paid taxes because we were like a state in the area, and because we were providing them with protection which enabled them to continue making investments and a financial profit.

Kroft: What would have happened to Chiquita and its employees if they had not paid you?

Mancuso: The truth is, we never thought about what would happen because they did so willingly.

Kroft: Did [the company] have a choice?

Mancuso: Yes, they had a choice. They could go to the local police or army for protection from the guerrillas, but the army and police at that time were barely able to protect themselves.

Kroft: Was Chiquita the only American company that paid you?

Mancuso: All companies in the banana region paid. For instance, there was Dole and Del Monte, which I believe are U.S. companies.

Kroft: Dole and Del Monte say they never paid you any money.

Mancuso: Chiquita has been honest by acknowledging the reality of the conflict and the payments that it made; the others also made payments, not only international companies, but also the national companies in the region.

Kroft: So you’re saying Dole and Del Monte are lying?

Mancuso: I’m saying they all paid.

Kroft: Has anyone come down here from the United States, from the U.S. Justice Department, to talk to you about Dole, or to talk to you about Del Monte or any other companies?

Mancuso: No one has come from the Department of Justice of the United States to talk to us. I am taking the opportunity to invite the Department of State and the Department of Justice, so that they can come and so I can tell them all that they want to know from us.

Kroft: And you would name names?

Mancuso: Certainly, I would do so.

Mancuso had helped negotiate a deal with the Colombian government in 2003 that allowed more than 30,000 paramilitaries to give up their arms and demobilize in return for reduced prison sentences. As part of the deal, the paramilitaries must truthfully confess to all crimes, or face much harsher penalties. Since the interview aired, other jailed paramilitary leaders have corroborated Mancuso’s claims that they received protection money from Chiquita. At the time of the interview, Mancuso had been indicted in the U.S. for smuggling 17 tons of cocaine into the country. On 13 May 2008, Mancuso, along with 13 other paramilitary warlords, was unexpectedly extradited to the United States allegedly for failing to comply with the peace pact.

To distance itself from the scandal, Chiquita in June 2004 sold off its Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, which had provided the company with approximately 11 million crates of bananas every year. The company also partnered with Rainforest Alliance, which certified that all of Chiquita’s farms had fair health, labor, and environmental practices. However, Banadex was bought by Invesmar, the British Virgin Islands-registered conglomerate that is the holding company of a Colombian banana producer and exporter called “Banacol”. The $51.5 million deal included an agreement that Banacol would supply Chiquita with 11 million crates of bananas every year through 2012. And low and behold, Banacol in 2011 was Chiquita’s largest global supplier, accounting for 10 percent of Chiquita’s banana purchases, according to Chiquita’s annual statement to shareholders.

Banacol plantains in a Whole Foods in Charlotte, NC

Banacol plantains in a Whole Foods store in Charlotte, NC

When the displaced communities first began to return to Curvaradó in 2002, they found a desert of African-palm plantations and cattle ranches in place of the small farms that once dotted their land. Most of the palm crops are now dead — killed by a mysterious fungal plague — and a number of the businessmen involved in colluding with the paramilitaries are in prison, under investigation, or on the run. However, as the palm trees have withered, the banana companies have advanced. In 2009, Banacol announced plans for a government-backed $6.4 million project planting 2,470 acres of plantain in Curvaradó for sale on international markets.

A legal complaint [archived here] against Chiquita filed before a U.S. federal court in Washington on 22 March 2011 on behalf of victims of the AUC claims that the former Banadex management now runs Banacol, that workers continued under Banadex contracts as late as 2009, and that the farms sold to Banacol — which make up over 70 percent of Banacol’s Colombian land — continue to supply Chiquita. “Banacol has acted as [Chiquita’s] alter ego since 2004,” the complaint concludes (see paragraph 870). The new accusations have arisen in the Curvaradó region of Colombia, where the Rainforest Alliance says it does not certify Banacol farms as environmentally and socially responsible.

While Chiquita’s payments to the AUC ended by 2004, Banacol continued paying security companies that were used to launder payments to the paramilitaries until at least 2007, according to details from a Colombia Prosecutors Office investigation of Chiquita, Banadex, and Banacol, which was leaked to the press in 2009.

In Colombia, it is apparently business as usual for Chiquita Brands International.

References:

June 26, 2003 (a Thursday)

Scales of Justice

On this date, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Lawrence v Texas (539 US 558). This landmark ruling (6 to 3) struck down a Texas law that prohibited sodomy (that is, anal sex) between same sex couples. The Court had previously addressed the same issue in 1986 in Bowers v Hardwick (478 US 186), where it upheld a challenged Georgia statute, not finding a constitutional protection of sexual privacy.

The case arose when police received an anonymous tip of a disturbance in an apartment. The police went to and entered the apartment and discovered two men engaged in homosexual activity. The men were arrested and convicted under a Texas law that prohibits “deviate sexual intercourse.” They were fined $200. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed their convictions and rejected challenges to the Texas law based on both privacy and equal protection.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, held that the right to privacy protects a right for adults to engage in private, consensual homosexual activity. He said that this right is protected under the word “liberty” in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and is not trivial. Kennedy wrote:

The Court began its substantive discussion in Bowers as follows: ‘The issue presented is whether the Federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy and hence invalidates the laws of the many States that still make such conduct illegal and have done so for a very long time.’ That statement, we now conclude, discloses the Court’s own failure to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake. To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse…

When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice.

Justice Kennedy expressly analogized to Supreme Court precedents protecting the right to purchase and use contraceptives and the right to abortion as aspects of privacy. The Court concluded that:

Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.

Justice O’Connor, who had voted with the majority in Bowers, concurred in the judgment in Lawrence but said that she would not overrule Bowers. Instead, she would invalidate the Texas law because it applied only to same-sex couples. For her, the Georgia law in Bowers was different because it applied both to opposite-sex and same-sex couples. In some ways, O’Connor’s opinion was broader than the majority’s, for as Antonin Scalia noted in dissent, it explicitly cast doubt on whether laws limiting marriage to heterosexual couples could pass rational-basis scrutiny. O’Connor explicitly noted in her opinion that a law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples would pass the rational-basis test as long as it was designed to preserve traditional marriage, and was not simply based on the state’s dislike of homosexual persons.

However, O’Connor does not explain how a law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples could be designed to “preserve” (whatever that means) traditional marriage WITHOUT being motivated by the state’s dislike of homosexual persons. Furthermore, if a state provides nearly all the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples but calls it “civil union” or “domestic partnership”, its duplicity and prejudice become even more obvious by refusing to allow them to marry.

Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas, dissented. He said, with his characteristic hyperbole and hysteria, that the Court was not justified in overruling the precedent of Bowers v. Hardwick. Scalia’s dissenting opinion argued that states should be able to make the moral judgment that homosexual conduct is wrong and embody that judgment in criminal statutes. He also averred that State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers‘ validation of laws based on moral choices.

However, Scalia’s assertion is NOT true — proscribing adult incest can be justified on medical grounds, since children produced by such activity are more likely to suffer genetic disorders, and proscribing bestiality can be justified on grounds of animal cruelty. Also, it logically follows from Scalia’s reasoning that states should be able to make the moral judgment that interracial marriage is wrong and embody that judgment in criminal statutes – except that the Supreme Court has previously ruled those laws unconstitutional as well.

With Lawrence, Scalia concluded, the Court “has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda.” While Scalia said that he has “nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means,” Scalia argued that the Court has an obligation to decide cases neutrally. 

Of course, Scalia’s use of the term “agenda”, implying that the action against Texas is part of a wider, covert effort to legalize the activities he mentions above, debases homosexual persons, and his protestation that he has nothing against them only confirms his bias, or at least makes his self-professed neutrality suspect.

June 26, 1987 (a Friday)

From Article 5 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On this date, the United Nation’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into effect. Since 1998, each anniversary has been observed as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this day, we pay deep respect and tribute to all those around the world who have suffered and endured the worst torture.

The Convention obliges States to make torture a crime and to prosecute and punish those guilty of it. It notes explicitly that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.

As of June 1998, the Convention had been ratified by 105 States. These States parties are required to report to the UN Committee against Torture, a human rights treaty body set up in 1987 to monitor compliance with the Convention and to assist States parties in implementing its provisions. The Committee is composed of 10 independent experts who serve in their personal capacity and are elected by States parties.

These 105 States parties to the Convention against Torture are: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Yugoslavia.

Notice that China is a signatory to the Convention against Torture. Sixty years have passed since China invaded Tibet in 1949. From then until 1979, a total of  1.2 million Tibetans were brutally killed and more than six thousand monasteries razed to rubble according to a report by the Central Tibetan Administration. The situation over the years hasn’t changed as the Chinese government continues to subject Tibetan people to various forms of physical and mental tortures depriving them of human dignity and freedom, which all people are entitled to, irrespective of caste, color, creed and religion, by virtue of being a part of the same global family, that is, humanity.

The 2008 peaceful protests in Tibet against the Chinese government’s cruel policy resulted in hundreds of deaths, thousands of imprisonments, involuntary disappearances, and severe injuries to hundreds of Tibetans. The year 2010 saw immense political suppression on influential Tibetans after the post-2008 peaceful protests across the Tibetan region.

Freedom House published a special report dated 1 June 2011 entitled Worst of the Worst: The Worlds Most Repressive Societies that provided data on the countries that received the lowest combined ratings for political rights and civil liberties from the highly respected human rights organization. Hundreds of thousands of human beings in these countries languish every day in prisons or labor camps — generally in subhuman conditions and subject to physical or mental abuse — purely for their political or religious beliefs. In particular, the report is designed to direct the attention of the UN Human Rights Council to states and territories that deserve investigation and condemnation for their widespread violations. The report identified the territory of Tibet as one of the ten “Worst of the Worst” political entities in terms of human rights abuses.

The brutal clamping down on influential Tibetans by the Chinese government is a futile attempt to diminish or end the public influence on Tibetan civic and intellectual leaders, writers, and artists. Despite the recent incidents of harsh crackdown on Tibetans in Amdo Ngaba and Kardze by Chinese authorities, Tibetan people continue to carry out peaceful protests to demand freedom. Tibetans’ spirit for freedom and justice has never been bogged by tortures, brutalities, intimidation, or coercion.

Question:  In light of its persistent and pervasive violation of human rights, why does the United States government continue to give the People’s Republic of China “most favored nation” (MFN) trade status?

June 25, 1950 (a Sunday)

The War Without An End Begins:

North Korean Army tank regiment during the Korean War 1950-1953.

At 4:40 AM on this date, North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel and attacked South Korea. That same day, with the Soviet Union boycotting the proceedings over the representation of China by the Chiang Kai-shek government on Taiwan, the United Nations Security Council unanimously condemned the invasion with UN Security Council Resolution 82. By the next day, North Korean tanks reached the outskirts of Seoul.

Kim Il Sung, the North Korean leader, intended to bring all of Korea under communist rule. He nearly succeeded. South Korean forces offered little resistance to the invading North Korean army. This was because beginning in early 1949, the U.S. had begun to disengage from Korea in every way. On January 12, Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson, just 9 days before he would become Secretary of State, told the National Press Club that South Korea was not a vital part of the U.S. defense perimeter in Asia. The withdrawal was completed by the end of June 1949, with only about 400 advisers left behind to assist the South Korean government in the development of its military capabilities. As nationalists, Kim Il-Sung and Syngman Rhee (the South Korean leader) each was determined to unify the Korean peninsula under his own ideology. Congress became nervous that if too much aid were given to South Korea, Rhee would use it to invade the North, so they had sent light arms and armor, but withheld tanks and aircraft. In January 1950, the U.S. House defeated the Korean Aid Bill by a single vote, thereby cutting off all aid to South Korea.

Even so, the North Korean invasion came as an alarming surprise to American officials. And as far as they were concerned, this was not simply a border dispute between two unstable dictatorships on the other side of the globe. Instead, many feared it was the first step in a Communist campaign to take over the world. For this reason, nonintervention was not considered an option by many top decision makers. (In fact, in April 1950, a top-secret National Security Council report known as NSC-68 had recommended that the United States use military force to “contain” Communist expansionism anywhere it seemed to be occurring, “regardless of the intrinsic strategic or economic value of the lands in question.”)

As American troops pushed the North Koreans out of Seoul and back to their side of the 38th parallel, and headed north toward the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and Communist China, the Chinese started to worry about protecting themselves from what they called “armed aggression against Chinese territory.” Chinese leader Mao Zedong (1893-1976) sent troops to aid North Korea and warned the United States to keep away from the Yalu boundary unless it wanted full-scale war.

An armistice signed on 27 July 1953 between the adversaries allowed POWs to choose whether or not to be repatriated; drew a new boundary near the 38th parallel that gave South Korea an extra 1,500 square miles of territory; and created a 2-mile-wide “demilitarized zone” that still exists to this day.

But for sixty years, North Korea and its ally, Communist China, promoted the outrageous fiction that the U.S. and South Korea started the war. The Chinese people were educated to believe that the war was initiated by the United States and South Korea, and not by a fraternal communist state in the north. In Chinese propaganda, the Chinese war effort was portrayed and accepted as an example of China’s engaging the strongest power in the world with an under-equipped army, forcing it to retreat, and fighting it to a military stalemate. These successes were contrasted with China’s historical humiliations by Japan and by Western powers over the previous hundred years in order to promote the image of the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Apparently, in 2010, Communist China finally rewrote its history of how the conflict began to point the finger of responsibility at North Korea. As reported by The Daily Telegraph on 25 June 2010:

Until now, the Chinese have staunchly supported their North Korean allies, along whose side they fought in the war.

China previously insisted that the war was waged out of American aggression. The official title of the conflict on the mainland is “The War to Resist America and Aid Korea”.

Chinese history textbooks state that the Korean War began when “the United States assembled a United Nations army of 15 countries and defiantly marched across the border and invaded North Korea, spreading the flames of war to our Yalu river.”

The official Chinese media stated for the first time that it was North Korea that dealt the first blow. In a special report, Xinhua’s International Affairs journal said: “On June 25, 1950, the North Korean army marched over 38th Parallel and started the attack. Three days later, Seoul fell.”

At the time, The Global Times, a newspaper run by the CCP, said in an op-ed article [archived here]:

For a civil war that began in 1948 after two separate but hostile governments were established on the Korean Peninsula, and which escalated into an international war on June 25, 1950, who fired the first shot was not a decisive factor in determining the nature, process and outcome of the war. But in academic study, truth and facts should always be the key elements.

…It is high time to renew and strengthen efforts by Chinese scholars to discover the truth about the Korean War.

Significantly, the editors of the newspaper published an interview with Shen Zhihua [archived here], director of the Shanghai-based Center for Cold War International History Studies and a professor of history at East China Normal University, in which he stated:

In the past, the Soviets and North Korea blamed the “imperialist” US for launching the war. No one believes it now. South Korea, the US and some other countries, such as the UK and Australia, see the start of the war as North Korea’s moves against South Korea.

China doesn’t give a clear definition in textbooks, and just indicates that South Korea moved into North Korea in specific battles and supported the US army.

(…)

Kim Il-sung kept asking for Stalin and Mao Zedong’s approval to use force to take South Korea.

But at first both demurred Kim’s plan, as the Soviet Union didn’t want to aggravate tensions with the US, and China was concentrating on its own reunification. We can find evidence for this in the disclosed archive materials from former Soviet Union and China.

But in late January 1950, Stalin suddenly changed his mind and agreed to Kim’s plan to undertake military operations against South Korea.

He also called Kim to Moscow for secret talks. In the April talks, Stalin gave final approval to Kim’s plan to start the war.

Stalin agreed to Kim’s estimate that the US would decline to or not have enough time to intervene in the war.

But during the talks, Stalin repeatedly emphasized that Mao’s opinion on the plan must be solicited and the war could not be carried out without the [CCP]’s agreement…

…Mao had no choice but to agree to the common position of Moscow and Pyongyang, and said that if the US entered the war, China would send its own armies to assist North Korea…

Based on the above materials, the launching of the Korean War was originally Moscow’s and Pyongyang’s idea, but Stalin managed to foist responsibility on Mao.

Shen’s views essentially echo those of Western historians. [Although, despite the above developments, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China still maintains on their website, as of 25 June 2013, archived here, their bogus version of who started the Korean War.]

Meanwhile, North Korea continues promoting its own fictional view of the conflict. In two articles that appeared under the headline “U.S., Provoker of Korean War” [archived here and here], the country’s state news agency in 2010 accused Washington of starting the war with a surprise attack. “All the historical facts show that it is the US imperialists who unleashed the war in Korea and that the United States can never escape from the responsibility,” the Korean Central News Agency said.

References:

The Coup d’état of Zhao: June 24, 1989

On 19 May 1989, Chinese Communist Party Secretary General Zhao Ziyang picked up a bullhorn and urged student demonstrators to end their hunger strike against the Chinese government in the name of peace and national stability. This was his last public appearance.

On this date, a Saturday, Zhao Ziyang was formally ousted as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party weeks after voicing sympathy for student demonstrators at Tiananmen Square. Jiang Zemin replaced him, and Zhao spent the rest of his life under house arrest. His removal from power was “effectively a coup,” according to American diplomatic officer Raymond Burghardt, who was chief political officer in Beijing at the time.

During his 16-year confinement, Zhao was able to clandestinely record his memoirs on 30 one-hour cassette tapes. Recorded over his children’s music and Peking Opera tapes, Zhao numbered each one with faint pencil before passing them to trusted friends to be smuggled out in separate batches under the nose of his captors. The full contents, including audio clips, were published in Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang on 19 May 2009, more than four years after his death.

Zhao, a reformist who pleaded with China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to take a softer line with the protesting students, described the killings as a “tragedy”. Recalling the moment he finally knew his efforts to prevent bloodshed were in vain, Zhao wrote: “On the night of June 3, while sitting in the courtyard with my family, I heard intense gunfire. A tragedy to shock the world had not been averted, and was happening after all.”

Among the key passages of the book is Zhao’s account of the meeting on May 17 at the house of Deng Xiaoping at which it was decided – despite Zhao’s vigorous representations – to impose martial law and clear the square by force:

I had no other choice but to express my views to Deng personally, in a face-to-face meeting. Since I had asked for a personal meeting with Deng, only to have Deng call for a full Standing Committee meeting at his home, I realized that things had already taken a bad turn.

I expressed my views roughly as follows: “The situation with the student demonstrations has worsened, and has grown extremely grave. Students, teachers, journalists, scholars and even some government staff have taken to the streets in protest. Today there were approximately 300,000 to 400,000 people. Quite a large number of workers and peasants are also sympathetic. Besides the hot issues of corruption and government transparency, the main impetus for all these different social groups is that they want an explanation for how the Party and the government can be so coldhearted in the face of hunger-striking students, doing nothing to try to save them… If the hunger strike continues and some people die, it will be like gasoline poured over a flame. If we take a confrontational stance with the masses, a dangerous situation could ensue in which we lose complete control.”

While I was expressing my view, Deng appeared very impatient and displeased.

In the end, Deng Xiaoping made the final decision. He said: “Since there is no way to back down without the situation spiraling completely out of control, the decision is to move troops into Beijing and impose martial law”.

When the meeting adjourned, Zhao recalls that he left immediately, not pausing to talk further with his colleagues. “At that moment, I was extremely upset. I told myself that no matter what, I refused to become the General Secretary who mobilized the military to crack down on the students.” But Zhao accepted the likely consequences:

By insisting on my view of the student demonstrations and refusing to accept the decision to crack down with force, I knew what the consequences would be and what treatment I would receive. Mentally, I was fully prepared, I knew that if I persistently upheld my view, I would ultimately be compelled to step down. If I wanted to keep my position, or give up my post in some face-saving way, I would have to give up my viewpoint and conform. If I persisted, then I had to be prepared to step down.

Zhao died on 17 January 2005 in a Beijing hospital at 07:01 AM, at the age of 85.

June 23, 1912 (a Sunday)

Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Park, Manchester, England. The statue depicts Turing holding an apple in his right hand, a reference to the way he chose to end his life. That was Turing’s last message to the world, with clear parallels not only to the legendary scientific knowledge of Isaac Newton, but also to the biblical interpretation of forbidden love.

Alan Turing Memorial in Sackville Park, Manchester, England. The statue depicts Turing holding an apple in his right hand, a reference to the way he chose to end his life. That was Turing’s last message to the world, with clear parallels not only to the legendary scientific knowledge of Isaac Newton, but also to the biblical interpretation of forbidden love.


On this date, the mathematician Alan Mathison Turing was born. Turing was a genius and a visionary who foresaw the digital world in which we now live and who believed machines would one day think. In the eyes of scientists today, Turing sits alongside Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Charles Darwin at the table of scientific greats.

Turing’s first professional success came with publication of his paper entitled “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” (1936). In the course of solving Hilbert’s Entscheidungsproblem (Decision Problem), Turing invented the hypothetical device that became known as the Turing machine, and proved that some such machine would be capable of performing any conceivable mathematical computation if it were representable as an algorithm. Andrew Hodges, a biographer of Turing, describes it this way:

The concept of “the Turing machine” is like that of “the formula” or “the equation”; there is an infinity of possible Turing machines, each corresponding to a different “definite method” or algorithm. But imagine, as Turing did, each particular algorithm written out as a set of instructions in a standard form. Then the work of interpreting the instructions and carrying them out is itself a mechanical process, and so can itself be embodied in a particular Turing machine, namely the Universal Turing machine. A Universal Turing machine can be made do what any other particular Turing machine would do, by supplying it with the standard form describing that Turing machine. One machine, for all possible tasks.

It is hard now not to think of a Turing machine as a computer program, and the mechanical task of interpreting and obeying the program as what the computer itself does. Thus, the Universal Turing Machine embodies the essential principle of the computer: a single machine which can be turned to any well-defined task by being supplied with the appropriate program.

This is why Turing is given credit for having invented the principle of the modern computer.

But in the 1930s, when Turing began working on the Entscheidungsproblem, the word “computer” had a meaning different from the one it has today: it meant simply a person who did computations — that is to say, a person engaged in the active use of algorithms. Turing wrote:

We may compare a man in the process of computing a real number to a machine which is only capable of a finite number of conditions q1, q2, …, qR which will be called “mconfigurations”. The machine is supplied with a “tape”, (the analogue of paper) running through it, and divided into sections (called “squares”) each capable of bearing a “symbol”.

The point should be emphasized: Turing was not considering the computing machines of his day. No such machines existed at the time, only calculating devices too crude to undertake any complex mathematics, and certainly not programmable. He was actually modelling the action of human minds. The physical machines would come ten years later.

British mathematician Alan Turing, shown aged 16 at the Sherborne School in Dorset in 1928.

Turing is best known for his work in cracking the Nazi codes, which gave the allies a consistent intelligence advantage over the enemy, shortening World War II by years and saving millions of lives. “Turing arguably made a greater contribution to defeating the Nazis than Eisenhower or Churchill. Thanks to Turing and his ‘Ultra’ colleagues at Bletchley Park, Allied generals in the field were consistently, over long periods of the war, privy to detailed German plans before the German generals had time to implement them,” said Richard Dawkins. “After the war, when Turing’s role was no longer top-secret, he should have been knighted and fêted as a saviour of his nation. Instead, this gentle, stammering, eccentric genius was destroyed, for a ‘crime’, committed in private, which harmed nobody,” referring to Turing’s sexual orientation.

Turing also devised what is known today as the “Turing Test.” The Turing test is a proposal for a test of a machine’s capability to perform human-like conversation. Described by Alan Turing in the 1950 paper entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence“, it proceeds as follows: a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with two other parties, one a human and the other a machine; if the judge cannot reliably tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test. It is assumed that both the human and the machine try to appear human. In order to keep the test setting simple and universal (to explicitly test the linguistic capability of some machine), the conversation is usually limited to a text-only channel, such as a teletype machine as Turing suggested.

However, Turing was a gay man living in an era when the word still meant “happy” or “lighthearted” and anyone who acted on a homosexual impulse was subject to criminal prosecution, not only in England where Turing lived but in many other countries as well. Nevertheless, rather naive and somewhat unworldly, Turing was never particularly concerned to hide his sexuality, and throughout his life he spoke openly of his attraction to men.

In 1952, Arnold Murray, a 19-year-old recent acquaintance of Turing’s, helped an accomplice to break into Turing’s house, and Turing went to the police to report the crime. As a result of the police investigation, Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray, and a crime having been identified and settled, they were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.

Turing came to trial on 31 March 1952 and made no serious denial or defense, instead telling everyone that he saw no wrong with his actions. He was particularly concerned to be open about his sexuality even in the hard and unsympathetic atmosphere of his profession in Manchester, England. Turing was convicted of the same crime Oscar Wilde had been convicted of more than 50 years before. He was given the choice between imprisonment or probation, the latter conditional on his undergoing hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. To avoid going to jail, he accepted the estrogen hormone injections, which lasted for a year, with side effects including gynecomastia (breast enlargement). His lean runner’s body took on fat. His conviction led to a removal of his security clearance and prevented him from continuing consultancy for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) on cryptographic matters. At this time, there was acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents. In America, Robert Oppenheimer had just been deemed a security risk.

On June 8, 1954, his housekeeper found Turing dead, with a half-eaten apple left beside his bed; the previous day, he had died of cyanide poisoning. The apple itself was never tested for contamination with cyanide. The autopsy revealed that Turing’s stomach contained four ounces of fluid that smelt of bitter almonds: a solution of a cyanide salt. His death was not accidental; there was enough poison to fill a wine glass. Turing, thought the pathologist, had taken bites from the apple to make his last drink more palatable. Although he left no note, most believe that his death was intentional; Turing had himself spoken of suicide. His mother, however, strenuously argued that the ingestion was accidental due to his careless storage of laboratory chemicals. Biographer Andrew Hodges suggests that Turing may have killed himself in this ambiguous way quite deliberately, to give his mother some plausible deniability. Others suggest that Turing was reenacting a scene from “Snow White”, reportedly his favorite fairy tale. It has even been suggested that Turing’s suicide was in fact the work of the British secret service determined to remove a security risk.

Interestingly, in 1928 while a student at Sherborne School, Turing fell in love with a boy one year ahead of him in school, Christopher Morcom. The boys bonded over their shared passion for science. Unfortunately, on 13 February 1930, Turing’s beloved Christopher died at the age of 18 of bovine tuberculosis, which he had contracted years earlier when he drank tainted milk. His death profoundly affected Turing and may have spurred his intellectual achievements.

A letter sent from Alan Turing to Christopher Morcom’s mother.

In his biography of Turing, Andrew Hodges refers to an essay Turing wrote to the mother of his deceased boyfriend:

He fell in unrequited love with Christopher Morcom, a very talented youth in the school sixth form, and his longing for friendship brought him to communicate. A brief flowering of scientific collaboration perished when Morcom suddenly died in February 1930 of tuberculosis. Turing’s correspondence with the dead boy’s mother gives insight into the development of his ideas in the aftermath. He was concerned to believe the dead boy could still exist in spirit, and to reconcile such a belief with science. To this end he wrote for Mrs Morcom an essay [entitled ‘Nature of Spirit‘], probably in 1932. It is the private writing of a twenty-year-old, and must be read as testament to background and not as a thesis upheld in public; nevertheless it is a key to Turing’s future development.

The essay begins with a general account of the influence of developments in physics and quantum mechanics on the scientific conception of the universe, then moves quickly into the question of free will:

It used to be supposed in Science that if everything was known about the Universe at any particular moment then we can predict what it will be through all the future. This idea was really due to the great success of astronomical prediction. More modern science however has come to the conclusion that when we are dealing with atoms and electrons we are quite unable to know the exact state of them; our instruments being made of atoms and electrons themselves. The conception then of being able to know the exact state of the universe then must really break down on the small scale. This means that the theory which held that as eclipses etc. are predestined so were all our actions breaks down too. We have a will which is able to determine the action of the atoms probably in a small portion of the brain, or possibly all over it. The rest of the body acts so as to amplify this.

In stating the classic paradox of physical determinism and free will, Turing is influenced by Arthur Stanley Eddington’s assertion that quantum mechanical physics (“more modern science”) yields room for human will. Eddington asked how could “this collection of ordinary atoms be a thinking machine?” and Turing tries to find some answer.

There is now the question which must be answered as to how the action of the other atoms of the universe are regulated. Probably by the same law and simply by the remote effects of spirit but since they have no amplifying apparatus they seem to be regulated by pure chance. The apparent non-predestination of physics is almost a combination of chances.

Here, Turing says that although the atoms, in their action, “seem to be regulated by pure chance” (emphasis added), in fact they are “probably” subject to the same “will” by means of which we as human beings are able to control at least a small portion of our brains. Thus the “remote effects of spirit” have not, in fact, been banished.

As McTaggart shows matter is meaningless in the absence of spirit (throughout I do not mean by matter that which can be a solid a liquid or a gas so much as that which is dealt with by physics e.g. light and gravitations as well i.e. that which forms the universe). Personally I think that spirit is really eternally connected with matter but certainly not always by the same kind of body. I did believe it possible for a spirit at death to go to a universe entirely separate from our own, but now I consider that matter and spirit are so connected that this would be a contradiction in terms. It is possible however but unlikely that such universes may exist.

Then as regards the actual connection between spirit and body I consider that the body by reason of being a living body can “attract” and hold on to a “spirit,” whilst the body is alive and awake the two are firmly connected. When the body is asleep I cannot guess what happens but when the body dies the “mechanism” of the body, holding the spirit is gone and the spirit finds a new body sooner or later perhaps immediately.

As regards the question of why we have bodies at all; why we cannot live free as spirits and communicate as such, we probably could do so but there would be nothing whatever to do. The body provides something for the spirit to look after and use.

Alan Turing, 29th March 1951. Image supplied by NPL Archive, Science Museum (London, UK).

By the time of the publication of “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” in 1950, Turing had decided that artificial intelligence was possible — a machine could be built that could have the qualities of a human mind — which his now-famous test was designed to detect. In his paper he addressed an argument opposed to his view:

This argument is very well expressed in Professor Jefferson’s Lister Oration for 1949, from which I quote. ‘Not until a machine can write a sonnet or compose a concerto because of thoughts and emotions felt, and not by the chance fall of symbols, could we agree that machine equals brain — that is, not only write it but know that it had written it. No mechanism could feel (and not merely signal, an easy contrivance) pleasure at its successes, grief when its valves fuse, be warmed by flattery, be made miserable by its mistakes, be charmed by sex, be angry or depressed when it cannot get what it wants.’ This argument appears to be a denial of the validity of our test. According to the most extreme form of this view the only way by which one could be sure that a machine thinks is to be the machine and to feel oneself thinking. One could then describe these feelings to the world, but of course no one would be justified in taking any notice. Likewise according to this view the only way to know that a man thinks is to be that particular man. It is in fact the solipsist point of view.

The gist of Turing’s view now was that the existence of consciousness (“but know that it had written it”) is an illusion, a quality emerging from and ultimately to be explained by great complexity. His approach would not accept “intentionality” as any better an explanation than “spirit” or “soul”. In this conviction he is close to Buddhism. “I do not wish to give the impression that I think there is no mystery about consciousness,” he wrote. “There is, for instance, something of a paradox connected with any attempt to localize it.”

The mystery of how matter comes to support human mind was the burning theme of Alan Turing’s lifelong inquiry. In 1932, he believed that “spirit” could live on, and in a sense he proved that yes, it could. In the end, Christopher Morcom’s spirit lived on not in his body but in a wholly different form, in the work of Alan Turing.

References:

June 23, 1934 (a Saturday)

Police photographs of William Bayly taken in January 1934

On this date, William Alfred Bayly was convicted of murder in New Zealand despite the fact that the body of one of his victims was never found. Most of the evidence against Bayly consisted of trace amounts of human hair, bone, and tissue, representing a marked advance in the field of forensics.

I mention this historic event in jurisprudence to counter a fallacy that is often argued in what might seem to be an unrelated field – namely, evolutionary biology. Religious fundamentalists and creationists often argue that evolution can’t be true because no human being was around to see, for example, fish evolve into amphibians. If an eyewitness is necessary to “prove” evolution, how can someone be convicted of murder if not only is there no eyewitness, but even no corpse?!

This is how:

Sam and Christobel Lakey disappeared from their farm in Ruawaro, New Zealand, in October 1933, along with their rifles. Christobel’s body turned up on 16 October 1933 in a pond on the farm with terrible bruising to her face and head, and investigators then discovered fresh bloodstains in both an old buggy and a barn, leading them to believe that Sam had been shot and transported somewhere else.

One of the first suspects was William Bayly, who owned a farm adjacent to the Lakey’s and who was known to have had frequent arguments over fences and access roads with the Lakeys. Years earlier, he had been suspected of killing his cousin, but was released due to insufficient evidence. Suggesting to police that Sam Lakey had probably fled after killing his wife, Bayly soon dropped out of sight himself.

Meanwhile, detectives found the missing rifles buried in a swamp on Lakey’s property. Following up on a report that there had been thick smoke coming from a shed on Bayly’s property on the day that the Lakeys disappeared, investigators found pieces of hair and bones, ash, and shotgun lead in a large oil drum inside the shed. It appeared that Bayly had cremated Sam Lakey’s body in this drum.

Tests of the hair and bone fragments from the drum in the shed proved that they were human in origin. Bayly was found guilty and hanged in Auckland prison at 8 am on 20 July 1934.

Even today, juries are reluctant to return murder convictions without the presence of a corpse. That a New Zealand jury was willing to take this unprecedented step so many years ago speaks volumes about the quality and quantity of forensic evidence made available by the prosecution.

References:

June 23, 1894 (a Saturday)

On this date, the American biologist and professor of entomology and zoology Alfred Charles Kinsey was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1947, he founded the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, now called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Kinsey’s research on human sexuality profoundly influenced social and cultural values in the United States and many other countries.

The Kinsey Scale

Kinsey is generally regarded as the father of sexology, the systematic, scientific study of human sexuality. He initially became interested in the different forms of sexual practices around 1933, after discussing the topic extensively with a colleague, Robert Kroc. It is likely that Kinsey’s study of the variations in mating practices among gall wasps led him to wonder how widely varied sexual practices among humans were.

The Kinsey Reports — starting with the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948, followed in 1953 by Sexual Behavior in the Human Female — reached the top of bestseller lists and turned Kinsey into an instant celebrity. Based on his research, Kinsey concluded that:

The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform.

During this work, Kinsey developed a scale classifying sexual behavior, now known as the Kinsey Scale. The scale ranges from 0 to 6, where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual; a rating of 7, for asexual, was added later by Kinsey’s associates. It is important to note that Kinsey said in both the Male and Female volumes that it was impossible to determine the number of persons who are “homosexual” or “heterosexual”. It was only possible to determine behavior at any given time.

The 2000s have seen renewed interest in Kinsey. The musical Dr. Sex focuses on the relationship between Kinsey, his wife, and their shared lover Wally Matthews (based on Clyde Martin). The play—with score by Larry Bortniker, book by Bortniker and Sally Deering—premiered in Chicago in 2003, winning seven Jeff Awards. It was produced off-Broadway in 2005. The 2004 biographical film Kinsey, written and directed by Bill Condon, stars Liam Neeson as the scientist and Laura Linney as his wife. In 2004 as well, T. Coraghessan Boyle’s novel about Kinsey, The Inner Circle, was published. The following year, PBS produced the documentary Kinsey in cooperation with the Kinsey Institute, which allowed access to many of its files. Mr. Sex, a BBC radio play by Steve Coombes concerning Kinsey and his work, won the 2005 Imison Award.

June 22, 1633 (a Wednesday)

Galileo

On this date, the Florentine-Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei was compelled by the Roman Inquisition to recant the theory he held that  Earth travels around the sun.

June 21: 4,599,997,988 B.C.E.

The image above shows an example of what happens during the June solstice. Illustration is not to scale

On this date (approximately), the first June solstice occurred on Earth. It has happened with each revolution of the Earth around the Sun since then.

The solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth. To find the time of the solstice in your location, you have to translate to your time zone.

The June solstice occurs because Earth doesn’t orbit the Sun upright. Instead, our world is tilted on its axis by 23-and-a-half degrees, and as a result, Earth’s Northern and Southern Hemispheres trade places in receiving the sun’s light and warmth most directly. If the Earth’s rotation was at right angles to the plane of its orbit around the sun, there would be no solstice days and no seasons.

At the June solstice, Earth is positioned in its orbit so that our world’s North Pole is leaning most toward the sun. As seen from Earth, the sun is directly overhead at noon 23 1/2 degrees north of the equator, at an imaginary line encircling the globe known as the Tropic of Cancer – named after the constellation Cancer the Crab. This is as far north as the sun ever gets.

All locations north of the equator have days longer than 12 hours at the June solstice. Meanwhile, all locations south of the equator have days shorter than 12 hours.

The varying dates of the solstice are mainly due to the calendar system – most western countries use the Gregorian calendar, which has 365 days in a year, or 366 days in a leap year. As for the tropical year, it is approximately 365.242199 days, but varies from year to year because of the influence of other planets. A tropical year is the length of time that the sun takes to return to the same position in the cycle of seasons, as seen from Earth. The exact orbital and daily rotational motion of the Earth, such as the “wobble” in the Earth’s axis (precession), also contributes to the changing solstice dates.

Sunrise over Stonehenge on the summer solstice, 21 June 2005.

For us in the modern world, the solstice is a time to recall the reverence and understanding that early people had for the sky. Some 5,000 years ago, people placed huge stones in a circle on a broad plain in what’s now England and aligned them with the June solstice sunrise.

We may never comprehend the full significance of Stonehenge. But we do know that knowledge of this sort wasn’t isolated to just one part of the world. Around the same time Stonehenge was being constructed in England, two great pyramids and then the Sphinx were built on Egyptian sands. If you stood at the Sphinx on the summer solstice and gazed toward the two pyramids, you’d see the sun set exactly between them.

Cultures universally have had markers, holidays, and alignments – all related to the solstice. It has been universal among humans to treasure this time of warmth and light.

June 20, 1960 (a Monday)

Subpoena issued to Linus Pauling by the Internal Security Subcommittee of the United States Senate to appear before it at 10:00 Am on 20 June 1960.

Subpoena issued to Linus Pauling by the Internal Security Subcommittee of the United States Senate to appear before it at 10:00 AM on 20 June 1960.

On this date, Linus Pauling, who had in 1954 won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for study of the nature of the chemical bond and the determination of the structure of molecules and crystals, and his counsel arrived at 10:00 AM, as requested, at the New Senate Office Building in Washington D.C., but the Senate was in session, so Pauling’s hearing before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) was postponed until the following morning. The next morning, Pauling defied the U.S. Congress by refusing to name circulators of petitions calling for the total halt of nuclear weapons testing.

The FBI began to monitor Pauling in 1950, when he became a contract employee of the US Navy. As Pauling involved himself more closely with the peace movement, the FBI likewise began to monitor his activities more stringently.

By 1960 Linus Pauling had become a controversial political figure. His importance in the international peace movement was cemented in 1957 when he wrote the “Appeal by American Scientists to the Governments and Peoples of the World“, a petition against nuclear bomb testing worldwide. Pauling, along with more than 13,000 other scientists throughout the world, signed this petition in an effort to curb the deleterious health effects that nuclear bomb tests were causing to humans. This effort resulted in Pauling’s receipt of a second Nobel, the Peace Prize, in 1963.

An Appeal by American Scientists to the Governments and People of the World. January 15, 1958. Signed by Alfred Romer.

An Appeal by American Scientists to the Governments and People of the World. January 15, 1958. Signed by Alfred Romer.

Not only the FBI, but also the SISS had begun to keep tabs on Pauling’s peace work and ultimately subpoenaed Pauling in June 1960. The purpose was to investigate Pauling’s anti-Bomb petitions — how they were devised, who gathered signatures, and where the funding came from. The underlying question was: How had Pauling managed to get all those thousands of names without a large — possibly Communist — organization behind him? .

When he appeared before the committee with his lawyer at his side, Pauling answered all the members’ questions except one: a request to provide the names of everyone who had helped him circulate his petitions. Pauling, after conferring with his lawyer, refused to name names. “The circulation of petitions is an important part of our democratic process,” he told the committee. “If it is abolished or inhibited, it would be a step toward a police state. No matter what assurances the subcommittee might give me concerning the use of names, I am convinced the names would be used for reprisals against these enthusiastic, idealistic, high-minded workers for peace.” Pauling did not want the system to be curtailed “by representatives of defense industries who benefit financially from the cold war.” He knew he was risking a citation for contempt of Congress. But he was adamant. He was told in reply that the committee would give him a month to come up with the requested names.

By the time he was called back before the SISS on August 9, 1960, Pauling’s refusal to provide names to the committee had become a national issue. His petitions, he told the press, “were not Communist inspired. I inspired them.” He attacked the committee for attempting to stifle free speech. “Do you think anybody tells me what to do — with threats? I make up my mind. If I want to take a chance, I take a chance.”

His brave words masked deep concern. His refusal to cooperate with the Senate could cost him up to a year in prison. But by this time the McCarthy Era was nearing its end, and public opinion was beginning to swing away from knee-jerk support for anti-Communist witch hunts. The nation’s newspaper editorialists began writing in support of Pauling, with one calling the SISS investigation “superfluous,” and another editorialist writing “My blood tingles with pride now as I read Dr. Pauling’s refusal to bow to this bullying committee.” Pauling’s lawyer succeeded in postponing the next hearing until October, giving the Paulings time to travel and speak widely about the investigation.

Pauling was behaving more like an honored diplomat than a fellow traveler, speaking across the US and Europe, and meeting in Geneva with the American, British, and Soviet ambassadors. He attacked the SISS in every speech he gave. By the time his second appearance neared in the Fall, Pauling appeared to have marshaled public opinion behind him.

On the night of October 10, he was served with a subpoena to appear before the committee the next morning — and to bring the requested information about his petitions. The hearing room the next day was packed. He was asked again for the names of those who had helped him. “I am unwilling to subject these people to reprisals by the committee,” he said. “I could protect myself by agreeing, but I am fighting for other persons who could not make a fight themselves.” The committee counsel retreated, then turned in another direction, grilling Pauling for the remainder of the day about his affiliation with suspect groups. In the end the committee leadership, unwilling to make Pauling a martyr, backed down. Pauling never gave the names, and was never cited for contempt.

Despite Pauling’s dismissal by the committee, many articles continued to be published in newspapers and magazines around the country that decried Pauling as a communist supporter and criticized his refusal to release the names of the people who had help to collect signatures for the bomb test petition.

Although it was successful on the international level, the bomb test petition was controversial at home due to the conservative political climate at the time and the strong anti-communist sentiment prevailing during the Cold War. Pauling wished to collaborate with all citizens throughout the world on the petition, regardless of their governmental or economic system, a position that many saw as a potential threat to U.S. security. Indeed, in the eyes of some, opposition to nuclear bomb testing was equated with being a communist.

In an interview with Harry Kriesler on 18 January 1983, Pauling reflected about his advocacy of nuclear disarmament:

Kriesler: Were charges made against you that you were for unilateral disarmament? In a public debate there tends to be such a distortion of views that are so different from the conventional as yours were in the fifties.

Pauling: There were some irresponsible statements about me to the effect that I was working for disarming the United States, that I was taken by Soviet propaganda, and that sort of thing. Of course, I was speaking out contrary to the official opinion. If we had had a dictatorship in this country, I might well have been accused of the crime of seditious libel, which is used in dictatorships to suppress criticism. When I was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963, Life Magazine published an editorial with the heading “A Weird Insult from Norway — The Norwegian Nobel Committee Awards the Peace Prizes.” I think that the writer of this editorial thought that it was insulting to give the peace prize to someone who advocated something that was not the official policy of the United States government.

Kriesler: And, indeed, when you circulated a 1958 petition which was signed by 2,000 American scientists, and I think 8,000 foreign scientists from 49 different countries, there was government harassment, there was harassment in the press, and charges of working for the enemy.

Pauling: I first announced that 2,000 American scientists had signed the petition asking for cessation of the testing of nuclear weapons on the atmosphere where they were liberating radioactive fallout over the whole world that would cause defective children to be born and that would damage living human beings, causing cancer and other diseases. We asked that the nations make an agreement to stop testing of nuclear weapons. At that time, the government policy was not to make this treaty, it had not yet been decided, but pretty soon it was decided to make such a treaty. I think that I got a good bit of support but some criticism also. I’d written this petition together with Barry Commoner and Ed Condon. Ed Condon is a Berkeley man who was at that time Professor of Physics at Washington University in St. Louis; Barry Commoner was Professor of Biology at Washington University. We circulated the petition. Scientists from foreign countries began to send in signed copies of the petition, so my wife and I circulated it in foreign countries and ultimately turned over 13,000 signatures of scientists to Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld of the United Nations.

(…)

Kriesler: Do you feel that scientists have a special moral responsibility to make known these insights and mobilize public opinion?

Pauling: Yes. I think that scientists have a special responsibility. All human beings, all citizens, have a responsibility for doing their part in the democratic process. But almost every issue has some scientific aspect to it, and this one of nuclear war, or war in general, is of course very much a matter of science. Scientists understand the problem somewhat better than their fellow citizens. I think that scientists who are able to do it, who are in the position to do it, and who have the ability to do it, should help their fellow citizens to understand what the issues are and how they look at it, and should go beyond that and express their own opinions for the benefit of their fellow citizens.

(…)

Kriesler: What about the problem of science in the Soviet Union, and the problem of science and peace movements in the Soviet Union? One can compare, for example, your career here and your harassment by the government here with the situation of Sakharov, for example, or with the suppression recently of a burgeoning peace movement there.

Pauling: I was harassed, of course, in a less blatant way when my passport was refused at the time that the Royal Society of London had arranged a conference of scientists, a two day symposium, on the biochemistry of DNA, and on my ideas. I would be the first speaker. And the second speaker was my associate Professor Cory, and then there were talks from people from many countries for the next two days. I wasn’t there because my passport was withheld from me on the grounds that it was not in the best interest of the United States. A statement was made that my anticommunist statements hadn’t been strong enough. So, I didn’t get to go and to see the X-ray photographs taken by Russell and Franklin, which I would have seen if I had gone to London on that occasion [1]. And others. I was prevented from attending various scientific congresses. And, of course, I was threatened by the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate with a year in jail for contempt of Senate, when I was being harassed by the Internal Security Subcommittee.

[1] Footnote: Russell and Franklin’s X-rays would have shown Dr. Pauling that his research on the structure of DNA was based on a false hypothesis. By not attending the conference, Dr. Pauling was denied an opportunity to correct his ideas, leaving the field open to James Watson and Francis Crick, who received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their discovery.

What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

Finland’s Pasi Sahlberg is one of the world’s leading experts on school reform and the author of the best-selling “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland?” In this piece he writes about whether the emphasis that American school reformers put on “teacher effectiveness” is really the best approach to improving student achievement.

What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

Proceed with Caution: New Report Falls Short in Complex Task of Evaluating Teacher Education

Class Notes

A report by the National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ), released today, raises questions and offers judgments about selected teacher education programs in the US.  Although perhaps intended as a tool to guide program improvement and, ultimately, the quality of teaching in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, the report is deeply flawed and its findings need to be viewed with caution.

A few examples of the report’s errors are enough to cause concern.  First, the results are based on reviews of course requirements and course syllabi, which are not necessarily an accurate reflection of what is taught in teacher preparation programs; available literature on differences between intended and enacted curricula seems to have escaped NCTQ’s attention.  Furthermore, NCTQ does not link these proxy variables to observations of actual performance by teachers in elementary and secondary schools.   The NCTQ report relies heavily on intuition about these issues, but our…

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David Berliner on “A Nation at Risk”: Three Decades of Lies

Diane Ravitch's blog

Three Decades of Lies

We have endured 30 years of lies, half-truths, and myths. Bruce Biddle and I debunked many of these untruths in our book, The Manufactured Crisis, in 1995. But more falsehoods continue to surface all the time. The most recent nonsense was “U. S. Education Reform and National Security,” a report presented to us last year by Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice. A Nation at Riskhad us losing the political and economic races to the Soviet Union and Japan. Did we? No. Our economy took off, the Soviet political system collapsed, and Japan’s economy has retreated for two decades. So much for the predictions of A Nation at Risk.
NAR_Berliner (2).jpg
David C. Berliner

The newest version of this genre by Klein/Rice has us losing the military and economic races to China and others. But this odd couple seems to forget that militarily we spend…

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June 19, 1987 (a Friday)

Church/State sign.

On this date, Edwards v. Aguillard was decided. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court invalidated Louisiana’s “Creationism Act” because it violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

June 18, 1858 (a Friday)

Map from *The Malay Archipelago* by Wallace, showing the physical geography of the Archipelago and his travels. (The thin black lines indicate where Wallace traveled, and the red lines indicate chains of volcanoes.)

On this date, Charles Darwin received a paper from Alfred Russel Wallace, who was still at the Malay Archipelago. The paper was titled: “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type.”

Darwin was shocked! Wallace had come up with a theory of natural selection that was very similar to his own. The paper contained concepts like “the struggle for existence,” and “the transmutation of species.” Upon further examination Darwin saw that Wallace had some ideas about natural selection that he did not agree with. For one thing, Wallace tried to mix social morality with natural selection, proposing an upward evolution of human morals which would eventually lead to a socialist utopia (Darwin’s natural selection had no goal). What’s more, Wallace believed that cooperation in groups aided in the progress of mankind (Darwin saw natural selection as being influenced by competition). Finally, Wallace’s natural selection was guided by a higher spiritual power (there was no divine intervention in Darwin’s version).

June 17, 1864 (a Friday)

The Martian mummy hoax in 1864:

The story began in the 17 June 1864 issue of Le Pays, Journal de l’Empire, one of the most important French newspapers at the time of Emperor Napoléon III, as a letter sent by an unnamed correspondent to a French journalist; its title was “Un habitant de la planète Mars” [“An Inhabitant of the Planet Mars”]. Other letters were then published twice a month in that paper until 06 January 1865. And a book with the same title, by author Henri de Parville, was soon published in Paris, probably in April or May 1865, by Hetzel, who was from 1863 the publisher of Jules Verne; it had apparently both a hardback and a softcover edition. De Parville, whose full name was François Henri Peudefer de Parville (1838-1909), was a popular science writer, a contributor to some newspapers, an author (for instance, in 1883 he wrote a book about electricity and its applications), and a manager of a popular science magazine. He had apparently some importance, for a prize of the Académie des Sciences bears his name.

A Martian mummy, from the French astronomer Camille Flammarion (1881).

Besides a preface and a postscript by de Parville (hereafter P), which will be considered later, the book consists of the 14 letters sent to him by the unnamed journalist from Richmond (hereafter N = narrator); they bear no date, except for the last one, dated 27 September [1864] , which is the only one which did not appear in Le Pays.

The [alleged…] events take place in the “Arrapahys country, several miles from James Peak”; no other precise location is given, but the given route locates them probably somewhere in Colorado. (A quick Google search gives indeed the James Peak in the Arapaho National Forest, at some 60 km WNW of Denver.) Workers of (or for) the wealthy landowner Mr. Paxton are searching for oil in his estate. One day, they discover in a Paleozoic terrain a strange egg-shaped rock which measures some 45 yards [35 m] and the surface of which seems enameled. Mr. Davis, a geologist from Pittsburgh, begins its study. News of the discovery spreads, and interested people are arriving on the spot, despite its isolation and the war [the American Civil War, of course].

A scientific committee decides to dig a hole in the rock, in which they find a cavity, from which is extracted a white metallic jar bearing curious drawings, then several other such containers. Next a grave is discovered behind a metal plate. It contains the calcified mummy of a strange being:

some parts seemed carbonized and the short legs were damaged during the extraction, the head was intact, no hair, instead a smooth, coriaceous skin, a triangular-shaped brain,..[]…instead of a nose a short trunk, a small mouth with some teeth, two orbital cavities with the eyeballs removed in the past, as limestone had formed in there…

There are also some objects, particularly metal rods. The plate bears several drawings: ‘rhinoceros’, ‘palm tree’, “very successful representation of a star similar to the Sun as drawn by children”, other ‘stars’ which are identified as the planets and the biggest of which shows evidently the Martian origin of the being. Money is collected so that the work can be continued, with several meetings of the scientific committee on the site. It consists of specialists from various disciplines and is chaired by the geologist Newbold, and has some journalists as guests, including N. During the first meeting, a vote by the committee decides that the creature is an extraterrestrial.

In order that the whole world shares proofs of the event, Paxton decides to offer the engraved plate to the Royal Society in London and the mummy to the Institut de France in Paris, while the United States keeps the egg-shaped rock and the various artifacts. And N is assigned the mission to bring the mummy to France, he writes in his last letter to his friend P.

However, nothing comes during the following months. Here we must go
back briefly to the preface, where P had written that he had received the letters very mysteriously twice a month: early on the morning, opened on his desk. And we jump again to the postscript: six months later, another letter comes from Richmond, in which N wonders for not having received news from France, and this letter is signed… Henri de Parville! P wonders if de Parville had been his own correspondent, writing by night in some altered state. Last clue: his postscript is dated… 1 April 1865 (April Fool’s Day).

An identical story was published in La Capital, a Rosario, Argentina newspaper on 13 October 1877. This time the discovery, again attributed to Paxton and Davis, occurred near the Carcarana River, near whose banks the egg-shaped object lay half-buried. The body and related artifacts were put on display in a local tavern and later lost.

Many nineteenth-century newspapers routinely published outrageous yarns, often set in some distant place inaccessible to a skeptical reader who might seek verification.

The French “mummified Martian” hoax might have inspired the “Cardiff Giant,” the 10-foot statue planted and uncovered in 1868-1869 in an upstate New York farm as an alleged petrified ancient giant man. The “Cardiff Giant” was the creation of New York tobacconist and outspoken atheist George Hull. He decided to create the giant after an argument with a fundamentalist minister about the passage in Genesis 6:4 that there were giants who once lived on Earth.

References:

  • Jerome Clark. Unexplained!: Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurrences and Puzzling Physical Phenomena, 3rd Edition (Canton, MI: Visible Ink Press, 2012).
  • Henri de Parville. Un habitant de la planète Mars (Paris, France: J. Hetzel, 1865).

June 17, 1957 (a Monday)

Scales of Justice

On this date, Sweezy v. New Hampshire was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Background: On January 5, 1954, Paul M. Sweezy was summoned to appear before New Hampshire attorney general Louis C. Wyman for inquiries into Sweezy’s political associations. Under a 1951 New Hampshire statute, the state attorney general was authorized to investigate “subversive activities” and determine whether “subversive persons” were located within the state. Wyman was especially interested in information on members of the Progressive Party, an organization many politicians suspected of nurturing communism in the United States.

Sweezy said he was unaware of any violations of the statute. He further stated that he would not answer any questions impertinent to the inquiry under the legislation, and that he would not answer questions that seemed to infringe on his freedom of speech. Sweezy did answer numerous questions about himself, his views, and his activities, but he refused to answer questions about other people. In a later inquiry by the attorney general, Sweezy refused to comment about an article he had written and about a lecture he had delivered to a humanities class.

When Sweezy persisted in his refusal to talk about others and about his lecture, he was held in contempt of court and sent to the Merrimack County jail. The Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed the conviction, and Sweezy appealed.

Decision: The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction. The basis for the reversal was the New Hampshire statute’s improper grant of broad interrogation powers to the attorney general and its failure to afford sufficient criminal protections to an accused. The Court commented strongly upon the threat such a statute posed to academic freedom:

We believe that there unquestionably was an invasion of petitioner’s liberties in the areas of academic freedom and political expression — areas in which government should be extremely reticent to tread.

The essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident. No one should underestimate the vital role in a democracy that is played by those who guide and train our youth. To impose any strait jacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities would imperil the future of our Nation. No field of education is so thoroughly comprehended by man that new discoveries cannot yet be made. Particularly is that true in the social sciences, where few, if any, principles are accepted as absolutes. Scholarship cannot flourish in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.

June 17, 1911 (a Saturday)

The Republican and Ultra Conservative Roots of the Los Angeles Times

Harrison Gray Otis Statue, MacArthur Park, Los Angeles

To Harrison Gray Otis (1837-1917), Democrats weren’t the opposition but “hags, harlots and pollutants.” Members of organized labor were “skunks, pinheads, gas-pipe ruffians, rowdies, anarchists and deadbeats.” Elections weren’t routine political events in a democracy but apocalyptic choices between the forces of good and evil. He saw his growing list of enemies as more ink for his poison pen, resulting in more readers of his newspaper.

Otis’ first bully pulpit, the Santa Barbara Press, was a financial failure. In 1882, he bought a one-quarter interest in the new Los Angeles Daily Times. In 1883, Otis and entrepreneur H. H. Boyce became co-owners of the Times, now grown to eight pages, and formed the Times Mirror Company. Otis set about transforming the newspaper. As John Weaver writes in Los Angeles: The Enormous Village: “He dropped ‘Daily’ from the Times masthead, ordered up livelier headlines, doubled the telegraphic news coverage, made room for letters to the editor and added a column, ‘Political Points’ which collected editorial barbs aimed at Democrats by other Republican journals.”

“When you worked for the Times in those days,” Louis Sherwin later remembered, “you were not reporting for a newspaper; you were embattled for a Cause.” Otis took pride in his growing reputation as the most aggressive and unyielding foe of organized labor in America. He founded the Merchants and Manufacturers (M&M) Association—a league of local businesses created to keep the unions out. He rallied the M&M membership with his cry: “We say to capital: Here you can invest in safety! Don’t hover between the lines or I will count you as the enemy! Decide!”

As George E. Mowry writes in The California Progressives: “It is possible that no man in all the United States hated organized labor more, and it is certain that few did more to obstruct its advance.” For years, the Page 1 banner of the Times included the phrase, “True Industrial Freedom,” while editorials and news stories reflected Otis’ uncompromising opposition to the union shop. As John Weaver notes, labor leaders called Los Angeles “Otistown” because it was “the country’s most impregnable open shop fortress.” The burgeoning circulation of William Randolph Hearst’s pro-union Los Angeles Examiner reflected the growing anti-Otis constituency and explained in part how Los Angeles could simultaneously be the national headquarters for arch-conservative capitalism and a crucible for socialist politics.

In 1907, the American Federation of Labor levied a penny-a-month assessment on its membership to create a war chest dedicated exclusively to fighting Otis. On the national level, prominent citizens were declaring that Otis was an enemy of democracy and progress. No voice was louder or drew more applause than that of Theodore Roosevelt, when he wrote on 17 June 1911 in The California Outlook magazine:

[Otis is] a consistent enemy of every movement of social and economic betterment – just as he has shown himself the consistent enemy of men in California who have dared resolutely to stand against corruption and in favor of honesty… The attitude of General Otis in his paper affords a curious instance of the anarchy of soul which comes to a man who, in conscienceless fashion, deifies property at the expense of human rights… It may be quite true that the Los Angeles Times has again and again shown itself to be as much an enemy of good citizenship, of honest and decent government, and of every effective effort to secure fair play for working men and women, as any anarchist sheet could show itself to be.