01 April 2020

1 April 2020


 1 April 12020 is April Fools’ Day. It’s also Anne McCaffrey’s birthday. The saint of the day is Melito of Sardis, a much-esteemed second century (10100s) writer whose works survive mainly in the form of quotations by later writers—Eusebius, for example. Melito concerned himself with the proper date for Easter, the superiority of Christian to pagan religion, and the canon of the Old Testament. In a work that likewise survives only as quotations Tertullian said that Melito was considered a prophet by many.

31 March 2020

31 March 2020


 31 March 12020 is the International Transgender Day of Visibility. It’s also World Backup Day, Day of Genocide of Azerbaijanis (Azerbaijan), Freedom Day (Malta), King Nangklao Memorial Day (Thailand), and Transfer Day (US Virgin Islands). And it’s 12 Farvardin 1399, 6 Sha’ban 1441, 22 Paremhat 1736, 11 Caitra 1942, 16 Mina 5120, 6 Nisan 5780, and JD 2458939. There appears to be no news; the pandemic has swamped everything else. Republicans in America are taking advantage of the focus on the pandemic to gut environmental regulations intended to help keep us alive long-term; even if we survive the novel coronavirus (and we [collectively] will) we may not make it through the heat death of the ecosystem that supports us. I can honestly face the certainty of my own relatively imminent demise with more calm than that of our species. Life goes on becomes an empty slogan if it is restricted to anaerobic bacteria and the like.

Rattlesnakes and Scorpions [guest post by Edward Fox, late March 1873]


A
nother ten days will probably elapse before the final settlement of the Modoc difficulties, whether it be peace or war. I have great faith, however, that the presence of the military in such close proximity to their stronghold will tend to make Captain Jack more reasonable in his demands, and perhaps result in his accepting the terms offered and the final settlement of that branch of the Modoc tribe on some distant reservation.
Major Edwin C. Mason, of the twenty-first infantry, is commanding the troops encamped on the east side of Tule Lake, about three miles from Captain Jack’s cave. His division comprises companies C, B and I of the Twenty-first infantry, troops B and G of the First cavalry and a detachment of the Fourth artillery, with two howitzers. The troops at this camp, consisting of troops F, K and H of the First cavalry, batteries E, A and M of the Fourth artillery, and two companies of the Twelfth infantry, leave here to-morrow en route for their new camp in the lava beds at the foot of the bluffs. Major Green, of the First cavalry, is in command of this division, and the entire army, amounting to about seven hundred men, is under the command of General Gillem, Colonel of the First cavalry.
We will camp to-morrow night at Klamath Lake, about half way between Van Bremer’s and the lava beds, and finish our journey on Tuesday. Major Mason reports that the lava beds swarm with rattlesnakes and scorpions, a class of reptiles that will not add to our personal comfort.
Boston Charley came in from the lava beds yesterday and returned to-day with the intelligence that the troops were coming up to see them. The members of the Peace Commission and General Canby will move to-morrow with the troops, and we shall probably have a big powwow with the Modocs before the end of the week.
Hooker Jim and three others of Captain Jack’s band were up at Yainax reservation the other day, and it is feared they were trying to seduce the peaceable Indians to join their party. The troops will make no aggressive movement until the Peace Commissioners have been allowed to exercise their talking faculties, but should moral suasion fail, measures of a warlike nature will be introduced.
[Another Fox/McKay dispatch. This one appeared in the New York Herald, the San Francisco Call and the Evening Bulletin on 5 April. It is written in Fox’s style. The text of the San Francisco papers is less garbled than the Herald version, which has “and platoons of rebels” for “a class of reptiles” and “but moral persuasion of a warlike nature will be introduced” for “but should moral suasion fail, measures of a warlike nature will be introduced”. sbh]

30 March 2020

30 March 2020


 30 March 12020 is a Bridge Public Holiday (Argentina), Shouter Baptist Liberation Day (Trinidad and Tobago), and Seward’s Day (United States). It’s Vincent van Gogh’s birthday. And it’s JD 2458938, 5 Nisan 5780, 5 Sha’ban 1441, 11 Farvardin 1399, and 10 Caitra 1942. (I hope everybody is keeping track.) President Trump has extended the federal guideline for sheltering in place until the end of April. And the American election is still going on, though it’s hard to tell sometimes. Polls are actually showing Biden with a lead over Trump, something I find hard to believe, and writers I otherwise respect are urging me (that is to say, their readers, of whom I am one) to vote for a candidate I absolutely despise to keep another despicable choice out. I have no idea what I’m going to do come November, assuming I am still alive and these are the alternatives. The one thing that makes me lean towards Biden is his promise last year to extend the new START treaty if elected, which Trump seems determined to scuttle. (For some reason Trump wants to include China in the treaty, despite its being in no way the equal of Russia or the United States. China isn’t interested, and there’s no valid reason why we should be either—at this point.) But for the Supreme Court neither one of them is any good. Biden’s picks (assuming that a Republican-controlled Senate even brings any of them to a vote) are likely to be bad, given his past track record, and his past record on the most essential tasks we face (slowing global warming, reducing income inequality, creating a health care system for all Americans, eliminating systemic bias against women and minorities…) is abysmal. It’s a bleak vision. If the choice is between two dystopias—Biden’s Corporate State vs. Trump’s Amerika for the Wealthy—I’ll pass. Blow them both up and start with a clean slate. Except that it won’t be clean, will it? Even now North Korea is moving ahead with nuclear weapons that can target America’s heartland, Afghanistan is falling back into the hands of those who facilitated the terrorist attack on New York in 2001, the so-called Islamic State is back in business, and Iran still backs its notion of revolution—soon with nuclear weapons as well. And no leader in sight. Cool.

29 March 2020

29 March 2020


 29 March 12020 is Boganda Day (Central African Republic), Day of the Young Combatant (Chile), Martyrs’ Day (Madagascar), National Vietnam War Veterans Day (United States of America), and Youth Day (Taiwan). It’s Eric Idle’s birthday. And it’s 10 Farvardin 1399, 4 Shaban 1441, 20 Paremhat 1736, 14 Mina 5120, 4 Nisan 5780, and JD 2458937 (assuming that I haven’t lost count somewhere). In the news I see that Trump is threatening to pull the license of broadcast stations that run political ads opposing his dictatorial regime—a remarkable performance for a supposedly American leader. It’s high time this criminal despot be deposed from the office he continues to defile and the job he refuses to do before more citizens die unnecessarily from his malfeasance and incompetence.

28 March 2020

Red Tape and Etiquette [guest post by Edward Fox, 27 March 1873]


[From the New York Herald, 1873; story possibly by Edward Fox]
Y
esterday General Gillem, Elder Thomas, of the Peace Commission, and a troop of cavalry made a reconnoissance of the country between Van Bremer’s Hill and the lava fields.
An interview was had with Boston Charley and Bogus Charley, both of whom came out under the bluffs and evinced a desire to say something. Bogus Charley desired the immediate return of the horses captured by Colonel Biddle, and further stated that he would have come out beyond the limits of the rocks to-day if he had obtained a horse to carry him. It is probable that the Commissioners will send to Yreka and get a new horse for him as a means of testing his sincerity.
Another of the Peace Commission will go out with the next scout, and then another, until these peace men have all viewed the promised land from the bluff. It is uncertain how long these gentlemen will stand on Indian etiquette and red tape; but they will probably thus remain until they have been thoroughly fatigued, when the official foot will be put down and this ridiculous farce be brought to an end.
The members of the Commission well know the terms on which the Modocs will make peace and whether these terms are acceptable to the government, and the general opinion prevails that they could so arrange matters as to make peace at once if they desired to bring the business to a close. What they intend to offer next is unknown, or when they expect to quit.
Some members of the Commission complain that they have been held back by authority and prevented from obtaining an interview with Captain Jack so as to thoroughly ventilate the questions at issue themselves. If there is any just ground for this complaint, which I am inclined to doubt, it would seem that there is a little jealousy between the military and civil powers, each, according to the latter, being desirous of the honor of concluding peace. I do not think that such is the case, although on several occasions it has looked that way. Canby is scarcely the man to encourage any such complication.
The Indians tell the interpreters that they will be willing to negotiate for peace if they can have their home on Lost River; probably they might even consent to go to Yainax reservation. Up to the present, however, no effort has been made to effect peace on these terms.
Lieutenant Boutelle and fifty-two recruits for the various cavalry companies arrived here yesterday via Yreka.
[This dispatch seems to have been sent by all three correspondents at the lava beds; it appears in Fox’s, Atwell’s, and McKay’s papers, though with minor variations. Where Fox, for example, suggests that the Commission would send to Yreka for a horse for Bogus Charlie, McKay substitutes a saw-horse and Atwell makes no comment. Where Fox refers to the official foot being put down Atwell has “It is uncertain how long the Commission will stand on etiquette and red tape, but probably until it is weary, when it will sit down and this ridiculous farce be ended.” (McKay’s version is nearly identical.) The observation that “Canby is scarcely the man to encourage any such complication” is found in Fox’s version alone. San Francisco Evening Bulletin, 28 March 1873; New York Herald, San Francisco Call, San Francisco Chronicle, and Yreka Union, 29 March 1873.]

27 March 2020

27 March 2020


 27 March 12020 is World Theatre Day. Notable people born today include Ferde Grofé and Thorne Smith. Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care. I scored a package of toilet paper today. Also powdered Gatorade. I am now returning to hiding from the novel coronavirus here in my basement room and hoping to hell that whatever I’ve got will clear up soon and I’ll start feeling better. (It’s very much the wrong set of symptoms for the disease I’m scared of, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about having it.) We are all manifestations of cosmic static. I can’t cope.

26 March 2020

Juniper Tree Conference [guest post by Edward Fox, 26 March 1873]


[From the New York Herald, 1873; story by Edward Fox]
T
he prospects of peace with the Modoc Indians are not very promising, as they appear to grow more independent every day, and consequently more grasping in their demands. Mr. Meacham still represents the Peace Commission at Van Bremer’s, and was joined yesterday by the Rev. Mr. Thomas, a newly appointed member sent by the Indian Bureau to practice the theory of moral suasion. Mr. Dyar is expected from Oregon every day. Judge Rosborough will come as soon as he can leave his court at Shasta. Great things are expected from the new peace delegates, but I am an unbeliever and maintain that the Modocs will not leave this section of the country until the military have exercised a little physical suasion. At present the Modocs are firmly imbued with the belief that they can “lick” all the soldiers that can be brought against them, and consequently intend remaining where they are.
As General Canby is evidently getting rather tired of the peace manipulations the troops will soon be moved into position surrounding the lava beds, and then some aggressive movements will be made in order to impress the Modocs with an idea of the number of soldiers that can be brought against them. It is expected that the mortars will have a very salutary effect on their weak nerves, as in the last fight they expressed considerable curiosity about the guns that “shot twice.” On that occasion, however, only a few shots were fired from the howitzers, and none of them took effect, only one shell bursting within their neighborhood and that about one hundred and fifty feet above their heads.
Last Friday [21 March] we made a reconnoissance of the lava beds in force and did not get back until midnight the same day. The object of the scout was to give Generals Canby and Gillem a chance to examine the country with a view to selecting a camp on Tule Lake somewhere near the foot of the bluffs. General Canby and aide-de-camp, Captain Anderson, Major Mason, Major Throckmorton and Major Thomas, of the Fourth artillery; Acting Assistant Surgeon Cabaniss, the Herald correspondent, Colonel Biddle and Lieutenants Cresson and Bacon, with Troop K of the First cavalry, left Van Bremer’s at half-past six A.M. and met General Gillem, Assistant Surgeon McMillin, Major Trimble, Lieutenant Rockwell, Colonel Perry, Mr. McKay and Troop F of the First cavalry, at the bridge over Willow Creek. The entire force, numbering over one hundred rank and file, then followed the trail to the top of the bluff overlooking the lava beds and were then dismounted. They arrived at this point about noon, and Generals Canby and Gillem got out their field glasses and took a good look at the lava beds that lay directly beneath them. The Indians were seen below us, moving about as if in rather an excited state, and gathering in about twelve or fifteen horses that were scattered over the plain. Presently three or four of them took up a position on a ledge of rock, about a mile from the foot of the bluffs, which appeared to be their first line of fortifications.
They began to shout to us in English, and finally asked one man to come down and talk, saying that he would not be hurt. Acting Assistant Surgeon Cabaniss was then sitting about half way down the bluffs, and when he heard their request he asked permission of General Canby to go and see what they wanted. The General answering in the affirmative, Dr. Cabaniss went down the hill and walked across to where the Indians were sitting behind the rocks. Looking through our glasses, we saw him shake hands with them and sit down for a talk. Presently one of the party got up, and, bringing out a white horse from behind the rocks, rode off in the direction of Captain Jack’s cave. Dr. Cabaniss then returned to the foot of the bluffs, and shouted up that he wanted another man to come down. I then got up and started down the hill, preceded by Lieutenant Moore, who was called back by General Canby and returned to the top of the bluff.
When I got about half way down I heard Dr. Cabaniss’ message, which was that a Captain Jack and Schonchin would talk with Generals Canby and Gillem at the juniper tree, half way between the foot of the bluffs and their present position. I passed the message on to General Canby who was seated at the top of the bluffs, and, after receiving his approval of the proposition, continued on and joined Dr. Cabaniss at the foot of the hill, and we both walked across to where the Indians were awaiting our return. They all shook hands with me when I arrived, and after setting my pipe on its rounds sat down and had a talk. There were only four Modocs on duty when I came up, and one of them, William, my host on the occasion of my former visit to the lava beds, was stripped to the waist and in full war paint. They occupied a rather ingenious fortification of about thirty feet front. It was originally a wall of rock about twenty feet high, with a projecting ledge about ten feet from the ground. On the edge of this ledge they had built a breastwork of loose rocks, about four feet high, which allowed them a space about three feet deep to work in, with the main rock at their backs. They were all armed, two with Springfield rifles, one with a Spencer carabine and the other with an old-fashioned Kentucky rifle. We sat some time talking, but, as none of those present spoke English well, gained no information of importance.
The messengers sent after Captain Jack returned shortly afterwards and said he was on his way, but wished to meet Generals Canby and Gillem nearer to his own camp. We, however, overruled that suggestion, stating that General Canby was a big Tyee and an old man, and therefore would not come any further than the juniper tree, which they had designated for a place of meeting. They finally agreed to stand to the old arrangement, and Dr. Cabaniss started for the Bluffs to get General Canby and General Gillem down to the appointed place. I remained with the Modocs, who were presently reinforced by Scar-faced Charley, Boston Charley, Wild Gal and several others. We presently saw General Canby and General Gillem come down the hill and sit down, awaiting the arrival of Captain Jack. Dr. Cabaniss then returned to where we were, and sat down in the circle. The Indians appeared rather nettled about the loss of their horses, and were rather particular in their inquiries who were the soldiers that took them away. I told them they were taken by a hundred new soldiers, hoping that the knowledge of such an addition to our forces might have a wholesome effect, but I am grieved to say they did not look very scared.
One gentleman, on hearing the news, passed his hand affectionately over a scalp of curly brown hair that covered his shot pouch, as if congratulating himself on the speedy acquisition of more of the same sort. This was too much for my refined and well educated wool to endure, and it gently raised my hat, as if it desired to remind me of the company I was in. I took the hint, and when I got back to Van Bremer’s had my hair cut off, thinking it might not wear well as a pouch cover. After waiting about an hour Captain Jack arrived, accompanied by the Curley-Headed Doctor, Steamboat Frank and about a dozen others. After shaking hands with the party I showed Captain Jack where General Canby and General Gillem were sitting awaiting his arrival.
He did not show any very great eagerness for an interview, and thought General Canby had better come where he was. To this motion, however, I put a most decided veto, but, in order to reassure him of his safety, said that Dr. Cabaniss and I would remain where we were as hostages for his safe return. He then appeared more satisfied and started to meet the Generals, accompanied by Scar-faced Charley, Steamboat Frank, the Curley-Headed Doctor and three others. Just as they were going I noticed that they had their guns and immediately told them they must leave them behind. To this, however, they objected; but finally, after I had explained that General Canby and General Gillem were unarmed, Scar-faced Charley set the example by laying down his gun, and the others did the same, with the exception of Steamboat Frank, who got sulky and asked me what I was afraid of. I told him I was not afraid, as I had come to see twenty of them, all armed, carrying guns, but General Canby was a big Tyee, and when he talked peace he came without arms and expected to meet Indians without arms.
This satisfied the others, but Steamboat was evidently in a bad humor, and sat down, refusing to go. The others started off, but before they had got half way I noticed that three of them had not taken off their revolvers. As they were then pretty near the place of meeting I thought it better to let them go on, trusting that there would be no contretemps to mar the harmony of the meeting. Our position would not have been very pleasant if one of those revolvers had gone off accidentally, as the soldiers on the bluffs would immediately have come tearing down to see what was the matter, and our scalps would probably have suffered before they were half way down.
The conference, however, concluded peacefully, and as soon as we saw Generals Canby and Gillem on their way back, we left our friends and started for the top of the bluffs. On the way we met Captain Jack and his party returning from the talk, and we stopped for a few minutes to find out the result of the conference. Captain Jack said he had not talked much and did not think that the soldier Tyees had much good to offer. He said he wanted peace and wanted to remain where he was. We then shook hands and left them pushing on up the hill to join the rest of the party. As soon as we got to the top of the hill we mounted our horses and started to return to Van Bremer’s. It was half past six P.M. when we left the bluffs, and our party did not get to Van Bremer’s until after midnight, after a ride of about forty-four miles.  General Gillem and party returned to Dorris’ ranch.
On the way back General Canby told me that he did not think Jack wanted peace unless he could get Lost River. Captain Jack told him as he was going away that if he had anything to give him he could send it down to the lava beds. General Canby asked him why they did not come out and meet the wagons according to their own proposal, and to that question he could not get an answer. The General is of the opinion that nothing can be done with the Modocs until they have experienced the power of the troops and thoroughly understand their position.
The Lost River troops marched last Sunday from their old camp and are now located on the east side of Tule Lake, about three miles from Captain Jack’s cave. The howitzers, under command of Lieutenant Chapin, are with them. General Gillem and the two troops of cavalry at Dorris’ are expected at Van Bremer’s to-morrow, and in a few days all the troops from the latter place will move into camp at Tule Lake, at the foot of the bluffs, about two and one-half miles this side of Captain Jack’s cave. The Modocs will then be between the two camps. Major Mason is in command on the east side and Major Green will take charge on this side. If the Peace Commissioners do not succeed with “moral suasion,” General Canby will probably try the power of the military. The attack will be made in skirmishing order, quietly, but firmly, and the troops will take their blankets and hold their position during the night. Under cover of night they will be supplied with rations and fresh water. The mortars will cover the advance of the troops and keep shelling Captain Jack’s stronghold day and night. These tactics will, I am satisfied, have more effect upon Captain Jack and his band than all the “moral suasion” of the Peace Commission and Indian Bureau combined. I return to Van Bremer’s to-morrow morning.
[The juniper tree conference occurred 21 March. The date of 23 March occasionally given for this event is based on Canby’s statement in a telegram dated 24 March that he “had an unsatisfactory meeting with Captain Jack yesterday afternoon” (Modoc War, p. 74). The telegram is clearly misdated. As it was received in Washington on the 25th, it can hardly have been written later than the 23rd, two days transmission time from the front to Washington being typical. The 24th would therefore be the date the telegram was sent from Yreka, not the date it was written. Correspondent Alexander McKay’s account of this expedition appeared only in the Yreka Union, 29 March 1873. The San Francisco Evening Bulletin, 25 March 1873, carried instead the Associated Press story derived from Fox’s account of events. Fox had carried General Canby’s dispatches to Yreka, writing this account and the earlier telegraphed dispatch there. He left Yreka 27 March, returning to the front. sbh]

26 March 2020


 26 March 12020 is Independence Day in Bangladesh. Notable people born today include Robert Frost, Bob Elliot, and Pierre Boulez. On various calendars of the world it’s 7 Farvardin 1399, 1 Shaban 1441, 17 Paremhat 1736, 11 Mina 5120, 1 Nisan 5780, and JD 2458934.
On this day in history, 11913, panic struck in Columbus, Ohio, when a rumor spread that a local dam had broken and the city was about to be inundated by flood water. The fear was not entirely unreasonable—the west side of the city was under water from torrential rainfall—but the east side, where the panic struck, was in no actual danger. One high-school student whose family was caught up in the panic remembered it vividly, telling it and retelling it with humorous embellishments in speakeasies and at parties, until eventually he wrote it up as part of as series of quasi-autobiographical sketches for The New Yorker. James Thurber’s “The Day the Dam Broke” has become a classic; I retold the story myself in seventh-grade speech class in early 11964.
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