February 7, 2011
February 7, 2011
February 7, 2011
During World War II, the famous German musicologist Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht belonged to the Feldgendarmerie division 683, which committed horrific murders on the Crimean peninsular
In Simferopol the capital of the Crimean peninsular, one of the largest mass executions of Jews during the World War II in the Southern Soviet Union began on 9 December 1941. In the days beforehand, the Jews had been rounded up into a number of the city’s buildings. Believing that they were to be resettled, they were then marched to the former headquarters of the Communist Party in the centre of Simferopol.
They were transported in a convoy of trucks to the execution site, a tank trench left over by the Red Army, approximately 11 km outside the city. There they were driven though a double lineup of sentry guards. They were made to remove their shoes, men were separated from women and children.
At the next station, the victims were forced to remove their outer clothing. And finally they reached the grave: small Erschießungskommandos or shooting units of no more than 12 men, each with an extra rifleman armed with a machine gun standing among them, opened fire with various degrees of accuracy, and anyone who was still alive at the end or tried to play dead, was killed with the so-called coup de grace. A Jewish Arbeitskommando standing in the grave was then forced to stack the corpses to make room for more bodies, which were being driven up relentlessly. On this and three further days, the 11, 12 and 13 December, at least 14,000 Jews were murdered in this way. It is no longer possible to establish the exact number because the killers did not bother to count: the point of the mass execution being to eradicate the Jews completely.
This crime in Simferopol, together with other similar mass executions, marked the early phase of the Holocaust, which at this point was not anonymous, mechanised annihilation, but actual killing in which victim and perpetrator were directly confronted with one another.
Various units were assigned to the operation. The process, which was at once collective and based on the division of labour, and in which all positions were in constant rotation, was obviously intended to vindicate the perpetrators. Feelings of individual guilt and responsibility could potentially be made to disappear within a large collective of perpetrators. However the perpetrators of this crime could be identified later. The investigation files of various German public prosecutors (easily accessible today for purposes of historical research in the Federal Archive in Ludwigsburg) make it possible to reconstruct these events, even if in many cases the investigations never led to actual trials…
February 7, 2011
This brutal winter has made sure that no one forgets who’s in charge. The snow doesn’t fall so much as fly. Cars stay buried, and feet stay wet. Ice is invisible, and every puddle is deeper than it looks. On the eve of each new storm, the citizenry engages in diligent preparations, rearranging travel plans, lining up baby sitters in case the schools are closed, and packing comfortable shoes for work so they’re not forced to spend all day wearing their awful snow boots.
One can’t help but feel a little embarrassed on behalf of the species, to have been involved in all this fuss over something as trivial as the weather. Is the human race not mighty? How are we still allowing ourselves, in the year 2011, to be reduced to such indignities by a bunch of soggy clouds?
It is not for lack of trying. It’s just that over the last 200 years, the clouds have proven an improbably resilient adversary, and the weather in general has resisted numerous well-funded — and often quite imaginative — attempts at manipulation by meteorologists, physicists, and assorted hobbyists. Some have tried to make it rain, while others have tried to make it stop. Balloons full of explosives have been sent into the sky, and large quantities of electrically charged sand have been dropped from airplanes. One enduring scheme is to disrupt and weaken hurricanes by spreading oil on the surface of the ocean. Another is to drive away rain by shooting clouds with silver iodide or dry ice, a practice that was famously implemented at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and is frequently employed by farmers throughout the United States.
There’s something deeply and perennially appealing about the idea of controlling the weather, about deciding where rain should fall and when the sun should shine. But failing at it has been just as persistent a thread in the human experience. In a new book called “Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control,” Colby College historian of science James Rodger Fleming catalogs all the dreamers, fools, and pseudo-scientists who have devoted their lives to weather modification, tracing the delusions they shared and their remarkable range of motivations. Some wanted to create technology that would be of use to farmers, so that they would no longer have to operate at the mercy of unpredictable droughts. Others imagined scenarios in which the weather could be weaponized and used against foreign enemies. Still others had visions of utopia in which the world’s deserts were made fertile and every child was fed.
“Even some of the charlatans had meteorology books on their desks,” Fleming said last week. “Most had simple ideas: for instance, that hot air rises. These guys’ll have some sense of things, but they won’t have a complete theory of the weather system. They have a principle they fix on and then they try to build their scheme from there…”
James Madison and the Dilemmas of Democracy: What kind of government did the Father of the Constitution envision?
February 7, 2011
In the roster of famous last words—from Goethe’s “More light!” to Nathan Hale’s “I regret I have but one life to give for my country” to John Maynard Keynes’s debonair “I should have drunk more champagne”—surely the final utterance of James Madison deserves an honored place. Bedridden with rheumatism at 85, the fourth president had spent 19 years in retirement at Montpelier, the columned brick Virginia plantation house where he had grown up since age nine or ten; where, as a young legislator, he had pored over history and political philosophy to help frame his plan for the United States Constitution; and where, as a 46-year-old ex-congressman, he had brought his wife of three years to live with his parents on their 5,000 rich Piedmont acres. That final morning in 1836, Sukey, his wife’s longtime maid, had brought him his breakfast, as usual; another slave, his valet Paul Jennings, got ready to shave him, as he had done every second day for 16 years; his favorite niece, the widowed Nelly Willis, sat by him to keep him company, as the June sun filtered through the twin poplars in the backyard and warmed the book-filled sickroom. The old man, his intellect as sharp as his body was worn, tried to eat but could not swallow.
“What is the matter, Uncle James?” his niece asked.
“Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear,” the president replied. And then, writes Jennings in a memoir of Madison published just after the Civil War, “his head instantly dropped, and he ceased breathing as quietly as the snuff of a candle goes out.”
A change of mind! How utterly fitting a farewell for the most cerebral of the Founders, the nation’s great political theorist, whose biography is, more than any other president’s, the record of his thought. How fitting, too, for a man whose intellectual journey has sparked debate for two centuries. Was the Father of the Constitution consistent? Did he shift his views—and if so, why?
And thereby hangs a most interesting, and most human, tale.
The liberty that Madison, a true Enlightenment intellectual, most hotly defended as the Revolution loomed was freedom of thought, man’s God-given birthright and the engine of human progress. At Princeton, he had wholly embraced the Scottish Enlightenment ethic of President John Witherspoon, an Edinburgh-educated iconoclast (like Madison’s beloved schoolmaster Donald Robertson) who strove to “cherish a spirit of liberty, and free enquiry” in his scholars “and not only to permit, but even to encourage their right of private judgment.” With teenage bravado, Madison upped the free-enquiry stakes: he persuaded Witherspoon to let him try to do two years of work in one, “an indiscreet experiment of the minimum of sleep and the maximum of application, which the constitution would bear,” an older and wiser Madison ruefully judged. Though he graduated in two years rather than the usual three, he stayed on for another because the effort had left him too ill to travel home. Finally back at Montpelier in 1772, he wrote his college friend William Bradford that he couldn’t settle down to choose a career. His illness, recurring with epilepsy-like seizures at times of stress, “intimated to me not to expect a long or healthy life,” he said, so it seemed silly to learn skills “difficult in acquiring and useless in possessing after one has exchanged Time for Eternity.”
But his lassitude had vanished when he wrote Bradford with sharply focused indignation in early 1774, shortly after the Boston Tea Party. A handful of Baptist preachers languished in jail in the next county “for publishing their religious Sentiments which in the main are very orthodox,” he wrote his Philadelphia friend. Locked up for their opinions! “I have squabbled and scolded[,] abused and ridiculed so long about it, to so little purpose that I am without common patience. So I leave you to pity me and pray for Liberty of Conscience to revive among us.” After all, he asked, echoing Doctor Witherspoon’s thunderous denunciations of “lordly domination and sacredotal tyranny,” what can you expect when you have an established church that tells everyone to believe and pray alike? Had the Church of England been established in the northern as well as the southern colonies, “slavery and Subjection might and would have been gradually insinuated among us,” since, without a clash of opinions, “Union of Religious Sentiments begets a surprizing confidence” that breeds “mischievous Projects.”
Two months later, with the dissenting ministers still locked up, he was still fuming, and he expanded his criticism in another letter to Bradford, later George Washington’s attorney general. His fellow Virginians were harming themselves as well as the ministers. They should imitate Pennsylvanians, who have “long felt the good effects of their religious as well as Civil Liberty. Foreigners have been encouraged to settle amg. you. Industry and Virtue have been promoted by mutual emulation and mutual Inspection, Commerce and the Arts have flourished and I can not help attributing those continual exertions of Genius which appear among you to the inspiration of Liberty and that love of Fame and Knowledge which always accompany it.” Freedom of thought and belief, of unbounded, even iconoclastic speculation, of invention and innovation, make up an indivisible whole. “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize[,] every expanded prospect.” There is no progress without intellectual freedom…
February 7, 2011
February 7, 2011