Saturday, June 28, 2014

One Hundred Years

One hundred years ago today several shots were fired and a bomb thrown in a town I cannot even spell without help. Sarajevo. (That was my third attempt.) Gavrilo Princip, someone you never would have known had he not done this, (I did not even try with his name) killed the Archduke of Austria-Hungry, everybody got mad, and, long story-short, World War I started.

There were, of course, two sides, two alliances of countries. Germany, and Austria-Hungry, and on the other side France, Britain, and later America, along with all of the etc. nations.. But at the beginning, in the massive sweep of the original version of the German Blitz, as the armies prepared to tear across the French, Dutch, and Belgium country sides, the British deliberated their response, should they go to war or not?
A high official from Britain was speaking to a top French opposite number, and asked how many British soldiers would be useful to France in the war, without Britain officially joining it. They were, he said, considering a plan of limited action. Without hesitation, the French man responded “One, and we would take very good care to be sure he was killed.” He guessed, probably rightly, that if one British soldier had been killed, a thousand more would have been sent running by the public outcry to avenge him.
As Baghdad in Iraq stands, but stands perilously, threatened by ISIS, a group so militant, that Al Qaeda itself refuses to join up with them. America has sent or is still sending 275 “military advisers” to the area, for the defense of a city we won and then left.
It is interesting to think now of what that all but forgotten French leader said a hundred years ago now, in the great chess game that spiraled into the First World War. Mankind does not change very fast. One hundred years on from the “War to End All Wars” and we are still fighting. And one hundred years on we are still trying to use limited action. Will it work this time?
We may have to check the news next week to find out. In Britain, a hundred years ago, when the people of London did that, after the attempt at “limited action” they awoke to the London Times announcing that the “World is at War.”

Andrew C. Abbott

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Monkey Trial

Calvert City, KY— In 1925, Tennessee Code Annotated Title 49 (Education) Section 1922, otherwise known as the Butler Act, was signed into law by the governor of Tennessee. Hidden behind the notations, parentheses, and boring name of the act, was something big. In a sense it outlawed the theory of evolution.
The bill was introduced by representative, farmer, and father of ten, John Washington Butler, who was concerned about what his children were being taught in school. It prohibited the teaching that man came from lower origins. The ACLU at once wanted to challenge the law. But to do that, they had to have someone who had broken it. A group of men asked John Scopes to meet them in a drugstore.
John Scopes was not a biology teacher, but, for a few days, when that teacher had been sick, this sports coach had taken over the job. During that time he had taught from a textbook which taught evolution.
The case was to be held in Dayton, a small town with failing industry. Both sides brought in some of the biggest names in the nation. Former Secretary of State and candidate for president, William Jennings Bryan, along with the original boy named Sue, Mr. Sue Hicks, for the prosecution, and Clarence Darrow, for the defense.
Darrow took Scopes defense without pay. He was best known at the time for a defense which he had put up just the year before. Arguing against the death-sentence for two murderers who had killed a fourteen-year-old boy just for the thrill of it.
At once everyone came flocking to see. Reporters, vendors, pickpockets, and even a little monkey named Joe-Mindy, who brought his golf clubs with him, but was unable, due to his immediate popularity, to be able to play while in Dayton. He occasionally rested from his antics with free drinks from the drugstore where the whole scheme had been planned. He remains my favorite part of the trial.
The jury was sworn in after some back and forth, the judge prepared to preside, and everyone who was paying attention knew that not just John Scopes, but also evolution and creation was on trial. Perhaps that is why the title of the book in which the official court-record is found is called The Greatest Trial in the World.
 Andrew C. Abbott

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Iran Air Flight 655

Pikeville, TN – Baghdad stands. That phrase may not be true in a few days. In the city the local police are digging trenches, and getting ready for an attack that they fear from ISIS, (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), a group so militant that Al Qaeda will not join up with them.
Because of the situation, including the fact that Tel Affar has fallen, has caused two long time quasi foes to look towards each other, as possible allies in saving a state that has long been torn by dissention, and sits near some of the world’s largest oil reserves. This has raised a storm of comment, and forced talks at high levels about America being an alliance with a “long time foe.”
To understand our relationship with this volatile country, one must understand our past relationship. A key incident in this relationship, something the New York Times has called pivotal, happened in 1988.
On 3 July of that year, an Airbus A300 B2-203, flying for Iran Air, with 290 people aboard, including staff. The plane was flying its own territorial waters, and was making a signal to identify itself as a civilian plane. Three ships identified the plane. Two properly identified it as civilian, but the third, a rather jumpy ship, the United States Ship Vincennes, misidentified the flight as a warplane, and fired a missile, crashing the flight into the straits of Hormuz. There were no survivors.
America said they regretted the loss of civilian life, but never apologized, to my knowledge, to the Iranian government. Iran stated that that the ship did not, in fact, misidentify, but rather the Vincennes "hankered for an opportunity to show its stuff.” The Iranian government released a commemorative stamp of the affair, and the attack, which included the deaths of sixty-six children aboard the plane, did nothing to aid the already difficult relations between our two countries.
Since then, there have been multiple wars in the Middle East, killing hundreds of thousands, arguments over nuclear power, etc. Some of these rifts have healed. But this one it appears, has not.

Andrew C. Abbott

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Man who went blind in space

Chris Hadfield, Royal Canadian Air force Pilot, and the first Canadian to walk in space, speaks of the day he did that, going five miles a second, hanging by one hand to the International Space Station, when, suddenly, he went blind.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

America’s # 1 Problem: All Three Hundred Million of Them

French Lick, IN – The largest book I have ever read was 3,020 pages long. It took more than three months, many drinks full of sugar (probably too much sugar) and many visits to to find out what the author had just said.

The book was Edward Gibbon’s nonfiction historical work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in six volumes. My reason for reading it was to find out why superpowers fall, especially since I live in the world’s last existing one.
As you turn the pages of this massive work, you meet emperor following emperor, hear the names of generals who rise; some to the top post, and of others who fall, with one foot on the threshold of the throne room. In a book of this size you cannot expect to remember the names and individual backstories of the characters. In these pages you will read of the wars with the “northmen,” and of the midnight ride, through the forest, to save his empire, by Juliun the Apostate, as well as of the pride of Arp Arslan, the invader: as his captive who had escaped, Sir Joseph, ran at him, Arslan told his guards he would kill him himself, but he slipped, and was given a mortal blow. Amidst all these tells, in the small schemes sometimes seemingly disconnected, you find a pattern.
Like waves, hitting upon a beach, first you see the trough, the dark times, such as when Rome was founded, and the Etruscans came to rule with a heavy hand, when Romulus allegedly killed his own brother Remus for climbing over the walls of the city rather than going through the gates. But then you see the top of the wave, the good happy times, under good emperors and peaceful trade, such as the years of Julius Caesar. But the good times seem always to be followed by the bad again, like the fall of the wave, crashing upon the beach, and sinking down in the sea once more.
Right after Tiberius and his peaceful years, during which Jesus Christ walked the earth, we have emperor Nero, the sadist mental case who was, so go the stories, too much of a coward, in the end, to push his own suicide blade home, and had to order a slave to do it.
But these are just the headlines, the things that got remembered, the mile markers on the road to the fall of an empire. It was why it fell that I was interested in, however.
As my view may be guessed from the head of the article about America, so it was in Rome, it was always, from then to now, that the great events, while being led, perhaps, by a few, were the work of many.
No emperor, however unpopular, could reign if he was too unpopular, which is what happened the family of Vespasian came to power, overthrowing the warring factions after the fall of Jerusalem, the old class had become too unpopular, (maybe because Nero was one of them?) and was swept aside.
The reasons for these things, these events, is, in a way, more fascinating than the events themselves.
There is another big book, this one only in three volumes, although I have never quite had the stomach to finish it. It is Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia. In it, the man who discovered why every time you try to hit a hole-in-one, it always seems to fall short, (gravity, if you were wondering) gave three basic laws that govern movement.
One of them is “An object at rest will tend to stay at rest.” So it is with societies, things tend to stay the same for a long time. There can be a lot of difficulty in getting things going for reform, for transformation, and progress. Whether it is bureaucratic in nature, or “lack of funds,” lack of interest that is holding things up, etc.
But there is the other part of that law, which is also true. “An object in motion tends to stay in motion.” Such as the sudden race to minimize all our technology in size, whereas before we were perfectly fine with computers which would not fit in our living room, and weighed about as much a blue whale, now that society knows of a better way, people will not be caught dead without some small enough to fit into their hand, and smart enough to do eighteen things at once.
But, even as a countries greatest weakness is its people, its complex, difficult, often lazy people who always seem to vote someone in that everyone hates, its people are its greatest strength. Rome, Gibbon tells us, fell, not when the emperors and all their minions finally turned bad. The vast majority of them, it seems, were always bad. It did not fall to some great invasion of the “northmen.” It only crumbled, in the end, when its people just gave up, sat down, and watched it die.
America’s people do not look like they are going to do that anytime soon. All sorts of issues are constantly pointed out, and it is true, our massive country, with all its conflicting ideas, all its insane things it sells, buys, and even eats, probably looks to the rest of the world like some sort of otherworldly thing. But that is all the outworking of the differences, sameness, friction, and connections that hold together our number one strength. All three hundred million of them.
Andrew C. Abbott