Tuesday, October 03, 2017

What's it take to make an assault rifle "full auto"? Not so much ...

When you hear the NRA and is political clients say it's hard to get guns that will fire full auto, check out bump stocks, paper clips, and other ways to make an AR-15 fire full auto, or close enough. It will be interesting to see whether Paddock managed to get "real" fully automatic weapons or some of these variations. As if it would make any difference to the victims.

Mass Shooting at a Concert in 1903 - After Las Vegas, Republishing My Notes on the Winfield Massacre

This is excerpted from one of my Shadowland columns for Newsweek in 2003. I reread it this morning in light of the Las Vegas massacre, but also remembered Trump’s past remarks about how terrorism supposedly was eliminated in the Philippines ... 

The down-home massacre in Winfield, Kans., took me by surprise when I came across it the other night while reading up on the history of this small town near the Oklahoma border.

I'm in the middle of researching a novel about terror in the American heartland, but the story of Gilbert Twigg got me thinking about the cost of being an occupying nation.

Here's the tale. One fine summer evening just 100 years ago, Gilbert Twigg "deliberately fired into the crowd of promenading people, at Ninth Avenue and Main Street, as Camon's Band was in the midst of its regular weekly concert." Six people died that night, and four more in the following days. Many more were injured. Described in earnest detail by correspondents of The Winfield Courier, the scene of Twigg
Gilbert Twigg
 emptying his shotgun and rifle at the bustle-and boater-clad crowd unfolds like a production of "The Music Man" interrupted by a rampaging Rambo. "At the first shot fired, Clyde Wagoner's horn was shattered in his hand and at the next, Rev. Oliver fell from his chair on the band stand. It would beggar fancy to attempt to describe the suffering of the injured, and the sight of prominent young businessmen dying in pools of their own blood made strong men turn aside their heads. A handful of brains on the pavement in front of the Craig book store, with young Dawson [Biliter] laying within a few feet in a pool of his own blood, is a representative picture of the vengeance meted out to an innocent public by the demented man.

"After firing his first two shots, Twigg arose and each time he fired he took a step backward, until he was in the alleyway back of Craig's where he came face-to-face with night watchman George Nichols and Cal Ferguson, who out of the crowd of several thousand people, were the only men who displayed any disposition to follow the veritable human canon [sic], and then still believing himself innocent and the victim of plotting enemies, Twigg took his own life, rather than be taken alive."

Twigg, we can infer, was a paranoid. He was also an Army veteran of the American military occupation of Cuba and the Philippines that began four years before. "His military training came in good play," wrote the Courier. "He chose the one evening of each week when most people congregate in a central place, he chose the spot from which to fire with the skill of a general; he commenced firing at a range of about 125 feet from the band stand; he dropped on one knee at each fire, then retreated backward, while reloading, then dropped on his knee again and fired. These are the skirmish line tactics of the army...."

Of course, nobody remembers the Winfield massacre today. Just as most people don't remember the savage wars--what Rudyard Kipling called "the savage wars of peace"--in which Gilbert Twigg enlisted. The people of the Philippines, it turned out, did not welcome American occupation after the Spanish-American War, and "the deteriorating situation provoked an ugly reaction among some American soldiers, who committed atrocities such as torturing prisoners," according to "For the Common Defense," a scholarly history of the U.S. military by Alan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski. "The final pacification campaigns on Samar and in Batangas were brutal. The ghastly massacre of a U.S. infantry company in Balangiga, Samar, in September 1901 whipped Americans into a vengeful fury." How could these people be so ungrateful? Some hawks, who were known more forthrightly as "imperialists" in those days, blamed "false humanitarianism" for the debacle, and a general known as "Hell Roarin' Jake" Smith was dispatched to carry out a scorched-earth campaign. What were called "concentration camps" became a vital part of the strategy in those days, just as "strategic hamlets" would be important in Vietnam. ... (The column continues with the theme of occupation)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Remembering James Dickey on Father's Day

Thanks to Alex Ashlock and WBUR's "Here and Now" for re-posting—on Father's Day—this 2013 interview about James Dickey's life and his Complete Poems.

Chris and James on the ferry from Dover to Dunkerque, 1954
I also posted several previously unpublished family photos on our Our Scrapbook.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Two Very Different Stories About Race and Hate in America

The Hellfighters Who Cut Down Germans and Gave France Jazz

What the 369th had that set it apart was strong leadership by black officers as well as white— and the best damned band in the American Army.


This History Channel video tells the tale of Harlem Hellfighters in combat and draws on the graphic novel by Max Brooks, but, oddly, doesn't mention James Reese Europe and the powerful role played by his music.

Inside the Head of Dylann Roof, Jihadist for White Hate

Never-before-reported documents about Roof's psychological exams give us a look deep inside the 'logic' of this murderous white supremacist—and terrorists everywhere.


The Macron Files: Superstar, Shooting Star, or Black Hole?

France's new president, Emmanuel Macron, has made quite an impression since his election less than three weeks ago. But his greatest accomplishments have been on the proscenium of international politics, upstaging Presidents Trump and Putin. At home he's already facing scandals that seem to give the lie to his promise of squeaky clean government. So, it's too early to tell if he'll remain a superstar, is just a shooting star, or like his predecessor François Hollande will become a black hole in the French political firmament. But here, for the record, are several of my pieces about him from the last couple of months. 

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Macron Handed Putin His A**, These Outlets Tried to Save It
At 64, Putin's a quarter century older than Macron, and he looked lost and frustrated next to the outspoken 39-year-old French president.



Macron Gets Under Putin's Skin, Shows Up Trump
Like Donald Trump, if Vladimir Putin thought the new boyish French president would roll over, he was in for a big surprise when they met for the first time at Versailles on Sunday.


Here's How World Leaders Are Learning to Handle Donald Trump
Small concessions, flattery, simple language, cultivation of his advisors, a united front, and low expectations are key to managing the U.S. bull in the global china shop.


Macron's Man on Terrorism
The professor Marine Le Pen loathes and the jihadists want to kill hopes that France can break out of the cycle of fear and hate promoted by both ISIS and xenophobic populists.


Emmanuel Macron Vanquishes Marine Le Pen

An Obama-friendly centrist has just crushed a pro-Trump right-winger to become the next French president. But ... who is this outsider with all the inside connections?


Did Macron Outsmart Campaign Hackers?
While it's still too early to tell, so far the big document dump by hackers of the Macron campaign has not been damaging.


Le Pen Vanquished in Final French Debate
The final French presidential debate—the only head-to-head between centrist Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen—ended in a clear defeat for the far-right populist.


Fighting Back Against Putin's Hackers

Emmanuel Macron isn't just fighting a neo-fascist in his race for the French presidency. He's battling some of Vladimir Putin's most savvy hackers, too.


France's Centrist Candidate Bans RT
The centrist running against Marine Le Pen to become the next president of France has denied credentials to Moscow's 'propaganda organ' as reports of Russia's efforts to undermine him grow.


French Far Right and Center Face Off
Trump's tacit endorsement of France's far right may have backfired, as France's centrist candidate took the lead in the first runoff. But Le Pen is still standing.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Antarctica

This is an excerpt from a long, unpublished piece I wrote about Jacques-Yves Cousteau in 1993 after interviewing him multiple times over the previous four years. With Antarctica now conspicuously imperiled, it may be of particular interest.

... Cousteau took a long time to realize the political potential of his fame, and longer still to decide what to do with it. The antic activism of Greenpeace did not interest him, certainly. Cousteau didn't need to draw attention to himself by hanging banners on warships or dumping sludge on doorsteps. If he walked down the street he could pull a crowd. For years French polls have ranked him the most popular man in the country, and his office claimed it got 80,000 letters asking him to run for president in 1988.

Still, it wasn't until the fight for Antarctica that Cousteau realized just how much power he might have.

As he tells the story he was reading the International Herald Tribune one morning in 1988 when he noticed that several signatories of the Antarctic Treaty had given their initial approval in Wellington, New Zealand, to a convention on mining and drilling in the frozen continent. It would put severe restrictions on prospecting, but by providing a legal framework for claims, it could eventually open the door to exploitation. The United States and France fully supported the convention.

Cousteau knew this place, Antarctica. He and his son Philippe had gone there in 1972 and 1973 and been overwhelmed by its beauty. The stupidity of mining there, of doing anything that put this virgin continent at risk, seemed so manifest that he could not conceive why governments would approve such undertakings. The villains, he concluded, were bureaucrats who put their careers before the good of mankind. "The scribes are governing and not the governments," Cousteau declared. "The prime minister can say to his apparatchiks what he wants, when he is gone they do what they want."

One Tucker Scully, the State Department official who dealt directly with the Antarctic Treaty, became the target of Cousteau's special contempt. And after fifteen years working on the subject, the ever diplomatic Scully initially met the captain's criticisms with polite contempt. "Maybe it's time for new blood," he said in the corridors at a 1989 Paris conference on Antarctica. "But as of now thirteen agencies of the U.S. government concur in the positions we're taking."

Cousteau decided to go to the top. He personally lobbied French President Francois Mitterrand, as well as the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand. And finally Captain Cousteau went to Washington.

The fate of the frozen continent was not exactly a  burning issue on Capitol Hill. A handful of environmental  activists like Susan Sabella of Greenpeace and James Barnes of the Antarctica Project had followed the issue closely, hoping to defeat the Wellington Convention by working with congressional staffers, issuing reports, occasionally testifying before committees and laboring over every word of pending legislation. They were, essentially, creatures of the Hill, and when Cousteau hit town in his turtleneck and leisure suit he looked, to them, like someone from another planet. But there was no question he had an impact. "You have members of congress that go ga-ga. They bring their children out for pictures with him," said Richard Munson, a congressional staffer and environmentalist who wrote a 1989 biography critical of Cousteau. "This is generally a pretty cynical lot," said Munson, "but you see some of them treat him almost with reverence."

Occasionally, weary from a relentless schedule, Cousteau would muddle facts: 30,000 birds affected by a recent oil spill in the Antarctic suddenly became 30,000 birds killed. Cousteau described the Wellington Convention as secretly negotiated, when in fact Barnes had been able to follow its evolution for years. As the captain spoke before members of the House Foreign Affairs committee Sabella and Barnes shifted in their seats, stifling laughs. "I kept wanting to say 'point of information,'" said Barnes when it was over. "He doesn't understand the politics of it at all." But when Cousteau begged off on one question about Antarctica by saying "I am not a prophet," Congressman Wayne Owens of Utah allowed as how "some think you are." Nobody ever said that about Barnes or Sabella.

Cousteau had access no other Antarctic lobbyists ever had. Conservative senators opened their doors to him. Liberals embraced him. At a breakfast in the Rayburn building, a dinner in the Capitol, they listened to him expound not only on the fate of Antarctica, but on the future of the world. "Since I was born, the population of the earth has tripled. And it goes on. Every two years there is another France. Every 10 years, another China." There are, right now, more than 5 billion people in the world.  "It's a heavy, heavy threat. We weigh too much on the planet." Some scientists believe the earth can feed three times its present population. "But is the goal to feed more people and have them lead a miserable life or is it better to have fewer people lead a full life?" he asked. "If you have 12 or 15 billion people there will be no nightingales, no butterflies no et cetera. And you will have only a few animals -- cows, pigs, sheep -- to feed those people. Everything else will be destroyed."

Cousteau began, in fact, to preach his revolution.

"It is during this next hundred years that the future" -- of mankind, of the et cetera --"will be decided." Sure the cost of setting things straight will be high: women in the developing world have to be educated so birth rates will go down, the poor have to be convinced that their future security does not depend on the proliferation of their descendants. Something like a global welfare system needs to be created. "Urgency makes this possible," said Cousteau. "If the doctor tells you you have cancer you enter the hospital, even if you have to borrow money."

People have to get over the idea that consumption and contentment go together. Cousteau reserves special disdain for the notion of "sustained development" dear to most politically savvy environmentalists.  If American-style consumerist prosperity continues to be the model for the world's aspirations, in Cousteau's opinion all is lost. "Seven hundred million Americans, that's all that the earth could support: 700 million Americans, it means nobody else." The positive side of the Third World's underdevelopment is that "more than half the planet's human beings are not yet consumers."

All of which met with polite nods among the photo opportunists of the Hill, and drew particular attention from then-Senator Al Gore. For the future vice president, Cousteau was something special. The baby-boomer politician had grown up with him, just like the rest of us, then became a personal friend. "I first invited him to come and speak to the U.S. Congress twelve years ago, and I have spent a great deal of time with him," said the senator. "I was at his last birthday party in Paris." They may have different accents, but two speak much the same eco-visionary language, rattling off alarming statistics, trying to picture a world that works very differently from anything we've experienced before. At the end of Gore's best-selling book he writes about the effect his son's brush with death had on his views, and the impportance of "inner ecology." "We can believe in that future and work to achieve it and preserve it, or we can whirl blindly on, behaving as if one day there will be no children to inherit our legacy. The choice is ours; the earth is in the balance." All this sounds remarkably like Cousteau. 

In the end, on Antarctica, the captain -- and Barnes and Sabella, and Gore, and the rest of the environmentalists -- won. A complete moratorium was declared on prospecting as well as mining for the next half-century, and that was good enough for Cousteau. "It is a victory of good sense, really," he said later. "I have just been a soldier of good sense." But Cousteau, while he still laughs at himself, finds it hard to be humble. "I carry on piling up information and I've done that all my life," he said. "I'm in a position, and I didn't want it, it happened to me, where I know more about the environment than anyone else alive."

There are, of course, many environmentalists who would question this claim. Even Al Gore, who likes to quote authorities as varied as Aristotle, R.D. Laing and Carl Sagan, only mentions Cousteau once in his book, and then only in passing. He doesn't include a single work by the captain in his bibliography. It is as if, after all he has done and learned, all the photo opportunities and homages, in the end Cousteau is not to be taken seriously. His information is too general, his interests range too widely, his talents are too varied for the tastes of a world attuned to specialists. Perhaps there is no place for a Renaissance man in a post-modernist age. Perhaps the power of beauty has waned, or, perhaps, he has lost his sense of it.

Undeterred, the old man of the sea keeps lowering his lance and charging at the apocalypse, pursuing the all-important, all-consuming work that those closest to him are reluctant to disturb. "Utopia or death," he likes to say. The alarm has been sounded. There are only ten years left to save the world, he announced last year. That's nine years, now, and ticking. The message from his organizations is relenetless. Every young member of the Cousteau Society in the United States or l'Equipe Cousteau in France gets a regular dose of Cousteau's philosophy in "The Calypso Log." "All society is organized to exploit those who are not yet born," he tells his child-revolutionaries. "The future of the human species is in danger."

Friday, May 05, 2017

My Latest on French Elections, Plus The Turkish Threat and the Noriega I Knew

France’s Centrist Candidate Bans RT

The centrist running against Marine Le Pen to become the next president of France has denied credentials to Moscow’s ‘propaganda organ’ as reports of Russia’s efforts to undermine him grow.