Home » History (Page 2)

Category Archives: History


Stamp out starving writers, buy their books!

We think you'll find something interesting here. There's lots to choose from. These posts just go on and on, backward through time. If you'd like to know whenever we post something new, you can get a feed from Critical Pages. If you type our address and add /feed/ at the end, that will do it. That's simply criticalpages.com/feed/ and you're on your way.

The Unreasonable Question about Iraq

Richard Perle
Richard Perle

We’ve now come to the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq and it appears that the story of that event isn’t being clarified, but simply smoothed over. Yes, we must focus on the world today and look forward to what lies in the future. But unless we are clear minded about what happened in the past,  unless we understand what went wrong and why, we’ll be making the same errors again.

Despite the fantasies of  Vice President Dick Cheney, there was no connection between the terrorist attacks of September 11 and Saddam Hussein. And despite the repeated announcements by President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, there was never any credible evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and planned to use them against the United States.

There was, of course, a lot of vague speculation and fanciful rumor about Saddam’s presumed biological and chemical weapons. And intelligence services of friendly nations with a common interest tend to reinforce each other. But intelligence estimates are only estimates; they are never absolute statements rendered with certainty. As a matter of fact, investigators sent into Iraq in the days just prior to the war found no such weapons, and objective reports from our own personnel found no reason to believe the weapons existed. That part of history seems to have been erased from the page. (more…)

Richard III, Slaughtered In Battle

Richard III of England
Richard III of England

The recent unearthing of the skeletal remains of England’s Richard III reminds us again that there was a time when leaders who ordered up a battle actually got into the bloody slaughter themselves. Richard, with his crooked back, one shoulder forever higher than the other, was in there hacking his way toward Henry Tudor when he was himself cut down.

The skeletal evidence dug up at Leicester fits with historical accounts and vividly suggests King Richard’s  final moments. The Royal Armouries’ Bob Woosnam-Savage has provided a possible scenario based on that evidence.  Richard either dismounted or his horse had been cut from under him—all we know for certain is that on horseback he had driven toward Henry in an attempt to kill him and was now on foot, covered in armor and fighting it out because there was nothing else to do. He was surrounded. At some point his armor was pierced, his helmet was torn away and he began to receive blows to his head. If you’ve seen videos of Muammar Gaddafi’s last minute, you have a good picture of what was going on. Richard was cut and battered by pikes, swords and knives. Finally, according to Woosnam-Savage, he was stripped of his armor and repeatedly bashed, including a stab to the buttocks of his now lifeless body. “This last, insulting blow could easily have been delivered to king’s body by an infantryman with a bladed weapon after it had been slung over the back of a horse, ‘with the armes and legges hanging down on both sides’, as he was borne to Leicester.”

Our leaders don’t join their soldiers in battle any more. And it probably wouldn’t reduce the number of wars if they did. But there would be a certain satisfaction in knowing that the person who had ordered the bloody carnage was down there, risking his life, just like the rest.

The Flexible Flyer

Flexible Flyer sledWe thought the Flexible Flyer sled was gone forever. True, it remained in memory, but we thought the Flexible Flyer was a victim of indifferent history, tossed on the pyre of worthless junk like the Rosebud sled that closes “Citizen Kane.” But fortunately we were wrong! The Flexible Flyer in the cellar is no longer lonely — Flexible Flyers are being made and sold today

The S.L. Allen Company of Philadelphia patented the Flexible Flyer in 1889. It was revolutionary, because you could actually steer the sled.  Prior to that, sleds were built like small sleighs — they had immovable runners. But the Flexible Flyer was flexible; the front section of each  runner could be aimed left or right by pulling on a wood crosspiece that was pivoted at its center and attached to the front part of the runners. Soon the Flexible Flyer was the most popular sled in the United States. The next improvement came in the late thirties or forties when the straight back end of each runner was twisted up and around until it faced forward and was bolted safely to the underside of a wooden rail.  Prior to that improvement, the back end of the sled was simply lethal. Fortunately, thick winter clothing prevented most kids from getting impaled.

The Flexible Flyer sled gradually disappeared from  sight in the 1960s when the S. L. Allen Company was sold.  Just about then the two-steel-runner sled began to be replaced, first by aluminum saucers, which were lighter and maybe safer than sleds though they had no steering ability,  and then by sheets of sturdy, bright colored plastic that were much cheaper and even safer than metal saucers — and they went down a snowy slope faster. That’s pretty much what you’ll find on the snowy slopes today. Sure, kids fall off and even when they don’t they bump into each other, but the chances of their getting badly hurt are minimal compared to what it used to be like on those old fashioned sleds.

Today we learned from NPR’s “Only A Game” that the Flexible Flyer is back. The company that ended up owning  S. L. Allen Company’s patent went bust and sold the Flexible Flyer rights to an old, old sled making rival of the S. L. Allen Company, namely the Paris Manufacturing Company, now known as Paricon. (The business started in South Paris, Maine – not France.)  The excellent and informative Flexible Flyer article  at “Only A Game” is by Doug Tribou.  The Flexible Flyer sled in the photo above comes from our childhood, which was a long, long time ago.

Thanksgiving 1620

Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey

Turkey is the main course at Thanksgiving dinner. And there’s good historical reason for that.  William Bradford, the leader of that band of separatist Puritans who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, recorded in his history of the plantation that “besides waterfowl, there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many.”

Our focus on feast and family at Thanksgiving generally obscures the staggering hardships that those settlers endured— those few who survived. Bradford gives us our description of it in his history, named simply, Of Plimouth Plantation. Here is an excerpt describing their plight.

Being thus passed ye vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembred by yt which wente before), they had now no freinds to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten bodys, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succoure. It is recorded in scripture as a mercie to ye apostle & his shipwraked company, yt the barbarians shewed them no smale kindnes in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians, when they mette with them (as after will appeare) were readier to fill their sids full of arrows then otherwise. And for ye season it was winter, and they that know ye winters of yt cuntrie know them to be sharp & violent, & subjecte to cruell & feirce stormes, deangerous to travill to known places, much more to serch an unknown coast. Besids, what could they see but a hidious & desolate wildernes, full of wild beasts & willd men? and what multituds ther might be of them they knew not. Nether could they, as it were, goe up to ye tope of Pisgah, to vew from this willdernes a more goodly cuntrie to feed their hops; for which way soever they turnd their eys (save upward to ye heavens) they could have litle solace or content in respecte of any outward objects. For sumer being done, all things stand upon them with a wetherbeaten face; and ye whole countrie, full of woods & thickets, represented a wild & savage heiw. If they looked behind them, ther was ye mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a maine barr & goulfe to seperate them from all ye civill parts of ye world.

Bradford’s wife, Dorothy, died while the Mayflower was at anchor in Provincetown Harbor and by the end of the first winter half the colonists had perished.

The  painting reproduced below, The First Thanksgiving, is  contrary to most of what we know about that occasion. The painter, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, was born in Philadelphia in 1863 and died in 1930. His fame rested on a series of 78 historical painting, entitled  The Pageant of a Nation.  However, his fame did not last and those works have been rightly criticized as being Romantic idealizations of events — precise in their details but often inaccurate in total.  The First Thanksgiving shows Wampanoag Indians with feathered headdress which, in fact, they didn’t wear. The details of the headdress are correct, but it belongs to a far different tribe;  the chair on the right is an accurate portrayal of a chair owned by William Bradford, the 17th century clothing is accurate, but probably not worn by the Puritans.  Whether a young woman would be serving the heathen native men of the area is doubtful. Certainly the trees would be bare in Plymouth, the weather would be, at best, quite chilly and the Europeans would not look so well fed, nor so healthy.  By the way, if you’re familiar with the name Jean-Léon Gérôme you may wonder what the connection is between that better known French painter this American. Jean Ferris’s father was a painter who admired Gérôme and gave that name to his son.

The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris


Standard Time

Harold Lloyd in Safety LastWe’re back on Standard Time now. That means you drive home from work in the dark. Hawaii and Arizona never left Standard time, so they don’t have to mess with their clocks. Some of us liked it better before the world began organizing time. Some of us right here at Critical Pages, for example, get suicidal when twilight creeps up in the middle of the afternoon.

But suicide isn’t necessary. A study by professors Paul Fischbeck, at Carnegie Mellon University, and others, found that after the time change pedestrians walking during evening rush hour are nearly three times more likely to be struck and killed by cars than before the change. Which is another reason we don’t like messing with the clock.

Fooling with clocks is always lethal. “The Monday and Tuesday after moving the clocks ahead one hour in March is associated with a 10 percent increase in the risk of having a heart attack,” says Martin Young. Professor Young is in the Division of Cardiovascular Disease at the University of Alabama (Birmingham), so he probably knows what he’s talking about. Furthermore, he says, “The opposite is true when falling back in October. This risk decreases by about 10 percent.”

In the old days — we’re thinking of the 1800’s here — every town and city set its own time. When the sun was directly overhead, that was twelve noon, so they set the big town clock to twelve and everyone in town set their timepieces by the local clock. That worked fine until railroads became an important feature of life. British railroads switched from local time to the time set by the British observatory at Greenwich, hence what we call Greenwich Mean Time. And by most folks it was called Railway Time. During the 1800’s the British and the French were competing to set standards — standards for weights, lengths, time, and where the zero meridian should be placed. The French wanted it to run through Paris. The British won out, so it runs through Greenwich. On the other hand, the French won on length and had the final word on how long a meter was.

But we digress, as usual.  The illustration for this post is a still from the 1923 movie “Safety Last” starring Harold Lloyd. It’s an example of how dangerous it is to mess with clocks. Check it out — if you have a few minutes of Standard Time.



Hysteria with Maggie Gallenhaal and Hugh Dancy
Hysteria with Maggie Gallenhaal and Hugh Dancy

You probably didn’t see Hysteria, the movie directed by Tanya Wexler.No great loss, as it’s a very silly comedy. On the other hand, if you’re facing a blank weekend and a lonely evening, a silly comedy will do. Maybe we should say right now that Hysteria is about the invention of the massage-vibrator. Yes, that one, the one used primarily by women for sexual relief. As the movie begins it announces that it’s based on “true events. Really.” Yes. Well. Sort of.

Hugh Dancy plays handsome Mortimer Granville — an enlightened doctor of the late 1800s who believes that germs exist and that washing your hands is a good thing to do if you’re a surgeon. In fact, his advanced ideas cause him to lose his job. Fortunately, he finds work as an assistant to Dr. Dalrymple, an upscale physician who caters to women diagnosed as having hysteria, a Victorian female problem with a collections of symptoms: insomnia, fatigue, sexual frustration and general nervousness.

Dalrymple’s successful cure consists of a discrete massage (masturbation is the word we’d use today) of the patient under something like a fancy red shawl that conceals what’s going on down there. Dr. Dalrymple happens to have two daughters: passive & conventional Emily, who lives with her widowed father, plays Chopin and studies phrenology, and feisty Charlotte, dramatized by Maggie Gallenhaal,  who has left home to work in an impoverished settlement house, educating children of the poor, taking care of the sick and injured, a bright energetic woman with advanced ideas about medicine and women’s rights and sex.  OK, you’ve got the setup.

But handsome Mortimer abruptly loses his smarts and, encouraged by his mentor Dr. Dalrymple, begins to court passive & conventional Emily! Young Dr. Mortimer becomes quite skilled at the massage cure for hysteria, so skilled that his patient list grows and he develops carpel tunnel syndrome. As it happens, his very rich young friend, Edmund St. John-Smythe, an inventor, is at work on a hand-held electric fan. It doesn’t work so well as a fan— it vibrates! OK, you get where the movie is  going with this.

Viewers can enjoy being aghast at the hypocrisy and willful ignorance of Victorian society (as portrayed in this cartoonish movie) and can anticipate with pleasure Dr. Mortimer’s last-minuet recognition that smart, cheerful Charlotte, who looks terrific in a strapless gown, and who believes in germs and the washing of hands, but doesn’t believe in hysteria, a woman who is vibrantly sexual and who will take a husband as an equal, yes, our Charlotte is the one he admires and loves —why, he’ll even go down on one knee in the snowy courtyard of the settlement house to propose to her! And she’ll accept.


There was a doctor Joseph Mortimer Granville who is credited with inventing the electric percussive massaging instrument, but he refused to use it to cure women suffering from “female hysteria,” an affliction which rose to prominence in Victorian times and was, indeed, treated as portrayed in this movie.

Oliver Wendell Holmes & Obama Care

Oliver Wendell Holmes
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Yes, you remember now, Holmes was a Supreme Court justice — but that was several decades ago, maybe a century ago, right? Just to refresh your memory, Oliver Wendell Holmes was an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932, when he retired at age 90. He’s one of the most widely cited Supreme Court justices. He often said that judges decide first and then look for the laws and precedents that will justify their decisions. He wasn’t being witty or making light conversation. In his very first law review article, written in 1870, he said, “It is the merit of the common law that it decides the case first and determines the principle afterwards.”

That may strike you as exactly the reverse of what should happen. But nothing that Holmes came across in his long life as a lawyer and judge made him change his mind. Indeed, he once told his fellow supreme court justices that he could take any established principle they wished to cite and he could use it to uphold or reverse any decision. Holmes may have spoken or written in ways that startle us, but by and large he was right in his view of how judges decide. Or how we all decide, for that matter.

You’ve noticed that Supreme Court decisions are generally not unanimous. Judging whether or not a law is constitutional requires that the justice interpret the Constitution. And — Surprise! — interpretations differ. Yes, old Oliver Wendell Holmes was right. Decide the case first and determine the principle afterwards.

We do need a national health insurance plan. Even Chief Justice John Roberts saw that right away. The reasoning came later, fashioned rather like a corkscrew, but it got the job done. We applaud the Chief Justice.


Foxglove – Poison & Cardiac Cure

Foxglove flowerThis unusual flower is called Foxglove. It’s also known as Purple Foxglove, or Lady’s Glove, and in Latin it’s named digitalis purpurea. The Latin and English names are related, more or less, by meaning, but they’re not translations of one to the other. The Latin digitalis purpurea means purple ring.

A ring and a glove, of course, fit smoothly over a finger, and you can see how each elongated bell-shaped blossom can fit neatly over a finger. In fact, kids when left to themselves are liable to poke a finger into those blossoms — until you rush up, shouting, “Those are poisonous! Don’t touch them!” Because, as a matter of fact, the entire plant from root to top is lethally poisonous.

The Latin digitalis is formed from the word digitus, which means finger, and even if you don’t know Latin you can probably see that it contains our word digit, which means finger or toe, and because we count on our fingers, the word digit also refers to any of the numerals from 1 to 9, and a long time ago we decided to include 0 in that group, too.

Wake up, we’re not through yet!  About 235 years ago, William Withering, a British doctor, noticed that people with dropsy, which was the name given at that time to the swelling seen in people afflicted with congestive heart failure — people with dropsy got better when given a certain herbal remedy. Withering discovered that the active ingredient in the herbal mix (it contained over 20 different herbs) came from Foxglove. The herbalists who compounded that concoction must have been skilled, because a bit too much of the Foxglove would have killed the patient.

William Withering was not only physician, but also a botanist, chemist and geologist. A brilliant man, he married a young woman who was a botanical illustrator, and they had three children. Withering died in 1799, age 58, and though he contributed to many branches of science he’s now remembered chiefly for his recognition of digitalis as a remedy for certain cardiac conditions.

We haven’t mentioned the different explanations of why the plant is called Foxglove. It’s too confusing. Besides, you may feel we’ve already gone on too long about that tall plant with the purple bell-shaped blossoms.

Astonishing News! Fed Says the Middle Class Has Become Much Poorer!

House of cardsThe Federal Reserve reports that the middle class has taken a financial beating. The report made the front page of the New York Times. The Times  called it  “much anticipated.” (Please stifle that yawn.) The Fed issues its Survey of Consumer Finances every three years; this survey is about consumer finances in 2010, so the report is already 18 months out of date.  OK, it isn’t news. You knew it all along — the middle class is going down the drain.

Here are the basics.  Most of the wealth of a middle-class family is bound up in its house. In general, a lower-class family doesn’t own a house; it pays rent forever and never gets to own the roof over its head. The upper class not only owns a house, it also has money in the bank and a portfolio of stocks, bonds and government securities. So when housing prices collapsed, it was the middle class whose finances collapsed.  Now you don’t have to read the Fed’s report.

But a little background information is helpful and here it is.  Sectors of the middle class began their long decline in the 1970s. The descent became general in the 1980s and has continued relentlessly since then. Middle class wages and salaries, when adjusted for inflation, have remained stagnant or declined for at least 30 years. The middle class standard of living didn’t appear to decline because married women streamed into the workforce, giving families a second earner, and when the continuing descent wiped out that, families used their credit cards to maintain their living standard, and when credit cards maxed out, they refinanced their homes which at that time had an inflated value. And when housing prices collapsed – well, you know the rest.

As for the upper class,  the top 20 percent of US families also suffered from the collapse and consequent recession – their 401K plans and their brokerage accounts took a dive. Stock prices fell roughly 50 percent from peak to trough from October 2007 to March 2009.  But since then equity prices have risen and, while fluctuating, they have essentially made up for what they lost. The upper class — have you noticed? — tends to do well, no matter what.

The Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances also showed that our middle class is still mired in debt. The number of families able to put some money aside in savings has shrunk while the number not saving so much as a dollar has increased.  Furthermore, the median amount owed has remained the same. Most people are not going to be able to retire their debts before they themselves retire

In conclusion,  here’s the Good and Bad news.  First, the absolutely bad news — the middle class is headed for a cliff.  Now, the sort of good news — the looming catastrophe isn’t in the same category as a hurricane or earthquake or tsunami. It’s not an act of nature, an act of God or a force majeure. The 30-year decline of the middle class is largely the result of the US economic system with its peculiar structural defects. It’s a human artifact. It can be changed.


We would have given credit for the graphic illustrating this post, but our search provided neither the artist nor the origin of the graphic.

Assassination and the 14th Amendment

Drones and targeted killings are discussed on editorial pages every day. But has the discussion been as targeted as the killings? Our colleague Jack Slack doesn’t think so. Here’s his take on the way these issues are being talked about:

America’s use of drones is in the news nowadays. And when it comes to discussing those small, unmanned aircraft, the focus is often on the virtually inevitable killing of innocent civilians near the actual target — collateral damage, as it’s called. But in fact, drones are way down the list when it comes to collateral damage. Using cluster bombs or a single 2,000 pound bomb against the typical drone target would kill many more innocent civilians.

America’s policy of “targeted killings” — called “assassination” by its critics — is also in the news. Drones are used for many purposes, but their use for targeted killings in the Afghan border region of Pakistan and in Yemen has led to heated opinions on the editorial pages of newspapers. The discussion often centers on the permissibility of assassinating members of al Qaeda and/or any other terrorist group, and whether the president or upper echelon leadership have had a “proper” review of the decision before assassinating people,

The proper topic of discussion should be whether it is constitutional to assassinate anyone. In other words does the U.S. Constitution provide due process to “all persons” under its jurisdiction? Or is the right to due process (habeas corpus) guaranteed only to citizens of the United States?

Section 9  U.S. Constitution reads: “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” That means when Rebellion or Invasion endangers public safety, then habeas can be suspended.   The U.S. Civil War was rebellion, terrorists are not invaders, nor revolutionaries. They are international criminals, not unlike the Mafia.

The 14th Amendment reads: …”No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The creators of the 14th Amendment were obviously well aware of the use of the words citizens and persons.

Aliens are entitled to constitutional protections. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution apply to aliens residing within the United States. As such, the courts guarantee aliens the right to due process of law and equal protection of the laws. Courts have generally construed the Fourth Amendment as applicable to aliens as well.  If a person exists under U.S. jurisdiction he is entitled to constitutional protections weather he is a citizen, legal or illegal alien.

In 1798, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume.”

 —Jack Slack

More Notes

The World Happiness Report, released by the United Nations, ranks countries on six key variables that support well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. This year, Finland is first, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland, followed by Netherlands, Canada,New Zealand, Sweden, Australia. The United States, which has never been in the top ten, silpped down four places from last year and is now 18th. President Trump may make American Great Again, but apparently not happier.