30 November 2015


Rico's friend Kelley forwards this:
Rico says that whisky makes you think you're wise and strong...

Ancient Egypt, back again

The New York Times has an article by Kareem Fahim about Nefertiti:
For weeks, a group of explorers have scanned the walls of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings using radar and infrared devices, in the hopes that science might confirm one Egyptologist’s theory: that hidden behind a wall of King Tutankhamen’s burial chamber (photo) sits the long-sought tomb of Queen Nefertiti.
The prospect of such a discovery is beyond tantalizing, and would be as momentous a find as any here for almost a century, antiquities officials say. It would also come at a time when Egypt’s tourism industry, frozen by years of political unrest and fears of militant attacks, is in urgent need of good news.
For the noted Egyptologist, Nicholas Reeves, the tests could vindicate his arguments that two of the walls in the tomb of Tutankhamen, also known as King Tut, are likely to mask hidden rooms, and that the tomb itself was in fact an antechamber to a larger burial complex that belonged to Nefertiti, Pharoah Akhenaten’s powerful queen who, according to some theories, succeeded him as ruler of Egypt.
Reeves acknowledges that Egyptian officials, including some of his colleagues in the search, do not share the conviction that Nefertiti is waiting to be found in any undiscovered chambers.
For Egypt, there is much at stake. The government is desperate for the kind of earth-shattering archaeological find that would lure tourists back to its ancient monuments. Visitors have been driven away from everywhere in Egypt but its beaches, and in the last few weeks, the seaside resorts have emptied, too, after militants claimed responsibility for downing a plane full of Russian beachgoers in late October of 2014, killing everyone onboard.
With that gathering sense of urgency, the explorers emerged from Tutankhamen’s tomb this weekend, plainly exhausted by the work but carrying what they said was promising news: radar scans had provided strong evidence of hollow chambers behind the walls. Mamdouh Eldamaty, Egypt’s antiquities minister, said at a news conference announcing the findings that there was an “approximately ninety percent” chance that something— “another chamber, another tomb”— was waiting beyond the burial chamber. “I think it’s a very good result,” he said, adding that more analysis would be carried out over the coming weeks on the radar data to try to determine more precisely what is beyond the walls. After that, researchers may drill into the walls to get an even better look, though there is no set timetable for that step.
Hours after the news conference, the explorers returned to Tutankhamen’s tomb, where Hirokatsu Watanabe, the Japanese specialist carrying out the radar scans, surveyed an area outside the entrance to the burial chamber. Watanabe dragged his silver, battered-looking device back and forth across the dirt, as journalists followed his every move and another member of the team took notes.
Among those watching was Mustafa Waziry, the director of antiquities of Luxor. “I’m an archaeologist, I don’t know what it means,” Waziry said, speaking of the results of the radar tests. But the implications were clear. “If we discover something, it will turn the world inside out,” he said. “And they will come.”
He can only hope. Waziry and his colleagues have watched in anguish over the last four years as tourism in Egypt collapsed since the uprising against President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The year before the uprising, he said, twelve thousand people stood in long lines each day to visit the attractions in Luxor. By 2012, the number had plummeted to as few as three hundred a day, mirroring a broader disappearance across the country of treasured cultural tourists who spent generously on extended tours of Egypt’s temples and museums.
The numbers had recently started to inch upward, until the crash of the Russian plane, which increased security concerns at Egypt’s airports and caused several countries to either sever or restrict air travel to Egypt. “We are plowing the ocean,” Waziry said, as Watanabe packed up his equipment. “We need something like this.”
Reeves, who previously worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, set off the search with a paper last summer titled The Burial of Nefertiti? His starting point was an analysis of high-resolution color photographs of the tomb, published in 2014 by Factum Arte, a Spanish company specializing in art replication. “Cautious evaluation of the Factum Arte scans over the course of several months has yielded results which are beyond intriguing: indications of two previously unknown doorways,” he wrote. One was probably a storeroom, he said, and the other, on the tomb’s north wall, was likely a continuation of the tomb containing an “earlier royal internment, that of Nefertiti herself, celebrated consort, co-regent, and eventual successor of Pharaoh Akhenaten.”
Reeves cited other supporting evidence, positing that what is regarded as Tutankhamen’s tomb, which was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922, had, in fact, “been both initiated and employed for the burial of Nefertiti.”
When Tutankhamen died unexpectedly at the age of nineteen, about a decade after Nefertiti’s death, her tomb was reopened, and a portion of it reconfigured to accommodate the young king, according to Reeves.
At least one prominent Egyptologist believes that the entire project will turn up nothing. Dr. Zahi Hawass, a former Egyptian antiquities minister, who for years was the swaggering, public face of the country’s archaeological discoveries and a rainmaker for tourism, ticked off a list of reasons there might be nothing hidden behind the walls — and certainly, he said, not Nefertiti.
“I am an archaeologist for forty years,” Hawass said. “I can smell a discovery, and this is no discovery at all.” But despite his criticisms, Hawass acknowledged that “all of us are desperate for good news”. Whether a discovery was looming, or not, the search itself had begun to stir hope among the proprietors of Luxor’s empty travel agencies and markets.
Bahaa Youssef, who works as a travel manager at Sunrise Tours in the city, said the company was running out of inventive ways to make money. “Egypt needs big events, to make people look at us again,” Youssef said.
With their camera crews trailing, Reeves and his colleagues were at the very least creating a buzz, perhaps taking a page from Hawass, with his showmanship and grand pronouncements. “If we find what I think is there,” Reeves said, “it will be bigger than Tut.”
Rico says that they'll also need to whack a few ISIS cells in the Sinai before the tourists will come back...


Rico's friend Kelley reminds him of a recent anniversary, that of the massacre at Jonestown (photo):
The Jonestown Massacre, which had a death toll of just over nine hundred people, was the most deadly single non-natural disaster in US history until 11 September 2001. The Jonestown Massacre also remains the only time in history in which a Congressman was killed in the line of duty.
Founded in 1956 by Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple was a racially integrated church that focused on helping people in need. Jones originally established the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana, but then moved it to Redwood Valley, California in 1966.
Jones had a vision of a communist community, one in which everyone lived together in harmony and worked for the common good. He was able to establish this in a small way while in California, but he dreamed of establishing a compound outside of the United States. This compound would be fully under his control, allow Peoples Temple members to help others in the area, and be far away from any influence of the US government.
Jonestown: The Settlement in Guyana
Jones found a remote location in the South American country of Guyana that fit his needs.
In 1973, he leased some land from the Guyanese government and had workers begin clearing it of jungle. Since all building supplies needed to be shipped in to the Jonestown Agricultural Settlement, construction of the site was slow. In early 1977, there were only about fifty people living in the compound and Jones was still in the US. However, that all changed when Jones received word that an exposé was about to be printed about him.
The exposé article included interviews with ex-members. The night before the article was to be printed, Jim Jones and several hundred Peoples Temple members flew to Guyana and moved into the Jonestown compound.
Jonestown was meant to be a utopia. However, when members arrived at Jonestown, things were not as they expected. Since there weren't enough cabins built to house people, each cabin was filled with bunk beds and overcrowded. The cabins were also segregated by gender, so married couples were forced to live apart. The heat and humidity in Jonestown was stifling and caused a number of members to get sick.
Members were also required to work long work days in the heat, often up to eleven hours a day.
Throughout the compound, members could hear Jones' voice broadcast through a loudspeaker. Unfortunately, Jones often would talk endlessly on the loudspeaker, even through the night. Exhausted from a long day's work, members did their best to sleep through it.
Although some members did love living in Jonestown, others wanted out. Since the compound was surrounded by miles and miles of jungle and encircled by armed guards, members needed Jones' permission to leave. And Jones didn't want anyone to leave.
Representative Leo Ryan, from San Mateo, California heard reports of bad things happening in Jonestown, and decided to go to Jonestown and find out for himself what was going on. He took along his adviser, an NBC film crew, and a group of concerned relatives of Peoples Temple members.
At first, everything looked fine to Ryan and his group. However, that evening, during a big dinner and dance in the pavilion, someone secretly passed a note with the names of a few people who wanted to leave to one of the men from NBC. It then became clear that some people were being held against their will in Jonestown.
The following day, 18 November 1978, Ryan announced that he was willing to take anyone who wished to leave back to the United States. Worried about Jones' reaction, only a few people accepted Ryan's offer.
When it was time to leave, the Peoples Temple members who had stated they wanted out of Jonestown scrambled on board a truck with Ryan's entourage. Before the truck got far, Ryan, who had decided to stay behind to ensure that there was no one else who wanted to leave, was attacked by a Peoples Temple member. The assailant failed to cut Ryan's throat, but the incident made it obvious that Ryan and the others were in danger. Ryan then joined the truck and left the compound. The truck made it safely to the airport, but the planes weren't ready to leave when the group arrived. As they waited, a tractor and trailer pulled up near them. From the trailer, Peoples Temple members popped up and started shooting at Ryan's group. On the tarmac, five people were killed, including Congressman Ryan. Many others were severely wounded.
Back in Jonestown, Jones ordered everyone to assemble at the pavilion. Once everyone was assembled, Jones spoke to his congregation. He was in a panic and seemed agitated. He was upset that some of his members had left. He acted like things had to happen in a hurry. He told the congregation that there was to be an attack on Ryan's group. He also told them that because of the attack, Jonestown wasn't safe. Jones was sure that the government would react strongly to the attack on Ryan's group. "[W]hen they start parachuting out of the air, they'll shoot some of our innocent babies," Jones told them.
Jones told his congregation that the only way out was to commit the "revolutionary act" of suicide. One woman spoke up against the idea, but after Jones offered reasons why there was no hope in other options, the crowd spoke out against her.
When it was announced that Ryan was dead, Jones became more urgent and more heated. Jones urged the congregation to commit suicide by saying: "If these people land out here, they'll torture some of our children here. They'll torture our people, they'll torture our seniors. We cannot have this."
Jones told everyone to hurry. Large kettles filled with grape flavored Flavor-Aid (not Kool-Aid), cyanide, and Valium were placed in the open-sided pavilion.
Babies and children were brought up first. Syringes were used to pour the poisoned juice into their mouths. Mothers then drank some of the poisoned punch.
Next went other members. Some members were already dead before others got their drinks. If anyone wasn't cooperative, there were guards with guns and crossbows to encourage them. It took approximately five minutes for each person to die.
On that day, 18 November 1978, over nine hundred people died from drinking the poison, nearly three hundred of whom were children. Jones died from a single gunshot wound to the head, but it is unclear whether or not he did this himself.
Only a handful or so people survived, either by escaping into the jungle or hiding somewhere in the compound. In total 918 people died, either at the airport or at the Jonestown compound.
Rico says religion can be dangerous to your health..,

Quote for the day

"If we discover something, it will turn the world inside out.
And they will come."

Mustafa Waziry, an archaeologist in Luxor, Egypt, on the use of radar
and infrared devices to search for the tomb of Queen Nefertiti.

Cuba for the day

Lou Schwechheimer, leader of the Caribbean Baseball Initiative, playing catcher in a game
at Finca Vigía, the home of Ernest Hemingway.

The New York Times has an article by Dan Barry about baseball and Cuba:
A minibus of Americans rumbled through a city in transformation, past the run-down housing and round-the-clock construction, the sparsely-stocked bodegas and chic new restaurants, to a reception at the residence of the American chargés d’affaires. The hint of change teased the November night.
A few guests wore golf shirts embroidered with the brand names of sodas and snacks and auto parts. But the business of these men arriving by bus, all in dark suits or blazers, was of a different order: to have a major league team’s minor league affiliate based in Havana, perhaps as early as 2017.
Their plan was freighted with history. It would restore the professional baseball bond once shared by two countries long at odds, but it would be possible only in accordance with United States law and, these men insisted, with the full participation of Cuba.

Fidel Castro, third from left, with the Minneapolis Millers, a minor league club, in Havana in 1959. 
More than half a century has passed since the Havana Sugar Kings, a Cincinnati Reds affiliate, played in the Class AAA International League. Since the giddy gunfire of followers of the revolutionary Fidel Castro grazed a shortstop and a third-base coach at a game against the Rochester Red Wings. Since Havana won the 1959 Little World Series against the Minneapolis Millers (photo, above) at home.
The notion of returning to those days, absent the gunfire, may sound like pie in the sky, given the longstanding American embargo against Cuba. But President Obama and the Cuban president, Raúl Castro, announced plans last December to restore full diplomatic ties, a first hesitant step toward normalizing relations, and some see a chance for an exemption from the embargo: a baseball “carve-out”.
What’s more, this group’s enthusiastic leader, a veteran minor league executive named Lou Schwechheimer, has spent the last dozen years preparing for just such a moment.
He has secured the exclusive rights from Minor League Baseball to return professional baseball to Havana. He has assembled this group, called the Caribbean Baseball Initiative, which includes two highly regarded former American ambassadors. He has obtained the necessary licensing from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. He has raised considerable capital. And, very quietly, he has built a baseball empire.
As of this month, the Caribbean Baseball Initiative owns controlling interests in the New Orleans Zephyrs, a Miami Marlins franchise in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League, and the Charlotte Stone Crabs, a Tampa Bay Rays franchise in the Class A Florida State League. The group also holds a minority interest in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, a Yankees franchise in the International League.
None of these teams will be moved to Cuba, Schwechheimer said, although they may figure in various good-will initiatives he has in mind, including playing a Class AAA all-star game in Havana, providing much-needed baseball equipment, and sponsoring seminars on training and conditioning.
But he also said that “we have the financial resources to acquire additional minor league teams, one of which may ultimately wind up in Havana, but only at the appropriate time.”
Until that appropriate time, Schwechheimer and his associates plan to continue their minibus missions to Cuba, listening, explaining and seeking a partner in a joint baseball venture. “But only thoughtfully, respectfully, and when Cuba is willing,” he said. “We’re not going to be the ugly Americans.”
Schwechheimer’s Cuban mission sprang from a long-ago gathering of baseball lifers, swapping stories over drinks. A particularly informed hot stove league, you might say.
It was at professional baseball’s 2002 fall gathering in Tampa, Florida, and Schwechheimer, then a 45-year-old executive and part owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox, found himself with, among others, Frank Verdi, the third-base coach once winged by a Cuban bullet, and Harold Cooper, a onetime president of the International League, who began his career during the Depression, wiping the mold from a ballpark’s hot dogs with a vinegar rag.
As they recalled the days when Havana was part of minor league baseball, the high level of play, the passion of the fans, the Sugar Kings, one of the men, George Steinbrenner, challenged the young Schwechheimer to return Havana to the fold. Schwechheimer accepted. Soon he was sharing his vision with advisers at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where he was studying. Soon he was the keynote speaker at a conference in Havana, delivering a paper titled Your Baseball Stadium: A Front Porch to Havana and an Economic Development Opportunity for Cuba.
Since then, he has dedicated himself to having the International League once again live up to its name, a goal made all the more possible with Obama’s surprise and daring announcement last December of 2014 to “begin a new chapter” with Cuba.
“This is the moment in time,” Schwechheimer said. “And we’re closing in on it.”
But Schwechheimer faces a few daunting obstacles, said Juan A. Triana, a professor of economics at the University of Havana. For one, the “vertical permission” structure of Cuban bureaucracy can be exhausting, he said. For another, some hard-liners here have little interest in restoring ties with the United States. “It must be done step by step,” Triana said. “It could take one year, two years, three years.”
This was Schwechheimer’s fifth trip to Cuba, and many others are planned, including one next month. His patient confidence, he said, comes from believing that baseball is the “common denominator” in the Cuban-American equation, as well as from the directive he has received in meetings with State Department officials: “Be bold and engage”.
For five days, the men on the minibus kept to a crowded schedule of meetings with top-level American and Cuban officials, interrupted here and there with arranged moments of baseball good will.
They spent a good part of their time peering through tinted glass at the evolving Havana panorama: the New World utilitarian building blocks and crumbling Old World structures, the Che Guevara silhouettes and the restaurants with valet service, the northward view of the sea along the boulevard called the Malecón, toward Florida, ninety miles away.
All the while, their mantra was “respectful engagement,” with a side of “tranquilo”.
With Schwechheimer were a Rhode Island financier, a university professor of sports management, a veteran minor league executive, and three members of the Cohen Group, a high-voltage consultancy firm in Washington, DC: Tommy Goodman, a Spanish-fluent lawyer who handled the trip’s every detail, and two legendary American statesmen.
One, Marc Grossman, a former ambassador to Turkey, retired in 2005 as the State Department’s third-ranking official, serving as the undersecretary of state for political affairs. In 2011, Obama called the retired Grossman into temporary service as a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He roots for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The other, Jeffrey Davidow, has been the ambassador to Mexico, Venezuela, and Zambia, as well as the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. He retired in 2003 as career ambassador, the Foreign Service’s highest position, which, by law, can be held by no more than five people at a time. He follows the Boston Red Sox.
The two Foreign Service veterans had learned long ago how to hear what was not being said, how to deconstruct a handshake, how to use the tool of time, how to understand the value of patience.
For example, on the group’s first night in Havana, Schwechheimer treated several Cuban friends to dinner. He mentioned in passing that he would someday like to share his baseball plans with Antonio Castro, an orthopedic surgeon, one of the country’s most prominent baseball officials, and a son of Fidel.
It was quickly intimated that such a meeting was possible. The next night, one of Schwechheimer’s dinner guests, a former Cuban legislator, invited the Americans to the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba. There they were introduced, with some pomp, to the hotel’s manager, who said he would provide a private room for the meeting on the day it happened. Then the American entourage was led into a small theater to watch a long cabaret performance that seemed lifted from a 1940s MGM musical. Every so often, the legislator would raise his hand, and bottles of Cristal beer, bowls of olives, and trays of cured ham would appear.
For the rest of the five-day trip, a meeting with Antonio Castro seemed imminent. There were periodic cellphone calls to Goodman to stand by, prompting the American visitors to change out of casual clothes and into suits and ties. All the while, the two former ambassadors kept their expectations low. But the meeting never took place, further underscoring the sense that not all is what it seems in Cuba.
But Schwechheimer was unperturbed. A chat with Castro was never part of the original schedule. Besides, the group was already making headway in substantive meetings with Cuban officials in the ministries of culture and sports, as well as with the Cuban Baseball Federation, which governs the sport, and this would not be its last trip.
“Tranquilo,” Schwechheimer said. “We’ll be back.”
Besides, the visitors had more than enough to do in trying to navigate the decades-old distrust between the two countries, even in the limited sphere of baseball.
There is the Cuban resentment over the continuing and often risky defections of its ballplayers, including some of the top stars. Many believe this baseball drain has led to a decline in the quality of play in their country’s amateur games and on the national team.
There is also the thorny matter of compensation. Given the embargo, Cuba receives nothing when a defecting ballplayer, like Yoenis Cespedes or Yasiel Puig, signs a multimillion-dollar contract with a major league team, which is not the case when a Cuban plays in, say, Japan or South Korea.
The two countries, along with Major League Baseball, have been working to resolve the matter. Antonio Castro told ESPN last year that the current arrangement, which effectively forces Cuban ballplayers to sever ties with their native country, was “crazy”, but he also allowed that Cuba “has to budge” on the matter.
Once these issues are resolved, perhaps through an exemption to the embargo, Schwechheimer expects to be at the front of the line, offering affordable family entertainment, as well as jobs, to Havana. And, yes, Cuban ballplayers would be welcome to play in these minor league games, if they made the roster.
Schwechheimer said his group was not lobbying to change Cuban or American law. Its mission, he said, is to present its motives as honorable should Cuba someday say yes to the possibility of a minor league franchise, and to celebrate, through gestures of good will, the commonality found through a game.
“What Lou’s trying to do makes sense,” Davidow said. “It more than makes sense. It’s a good thing.”
To that end, the group gravitated toward various baseball-centric places in and around Havana. This is not difficult, given the game’s hold on the country, where baseball souvenirs are for sale at an open market in Old Havana, and black-and-white photographs of legendary Cuban ballplayers hang in a high-end, museum-like restaurant called San Cristobal Paladar.
Still, the growing popularity of soccer in Cuba was evident everywhere, especially on television. At one point, the minibus passed a soccer game being played on a baseball field, and someone half-joked: “The enemy”.
In addition, baseball remains intertwined with the complex diplomatic and political realities of Cuba, as evidenced by the reluctance of Cuban and American officials to discuss it.
A State Department official said in an email that the American Embassy in Havana was aware of the efforts by private institutions like the Caribbean Baseball Initiative to increase ties between the two countries, and described baseball as “an excellent avenue for sports diplomacy and creating good will between our peoples.” The official wrote that “the connections that our countries already have in baseball create a common bond, and the increased flow of players and friendly competition furthers the American goal of enhancing opportunities for the Cuban people.”
Officials for the Cuban Baseball Federation declined to speak on the record, and a request for comment from the Cuban Embassy was not answered. It was left, then, to a Cuban ballplayer to speak.
The player, Carlos Tabares, 41, is a star veteran for the Havana Industriales, the tradition-steeped Yankees of Cuban baseball. The stocky Tabares was found one day working out with a group of aspiring young players, his shirt sweat-soaked and grass-flecked after a series of sprints. He has had many teammates in his 24-year career, including two defectors who played in the 2015 World Series: Cespedes, of the Mets, and Kendrys Morales of the Kansas City Royals.
Tabares said he was happy for both men. Although sad to see his good friend Cespedes leave, he said he rejoiced in hearing of his former teammate’s success at the major league level. “I had many proposals myself when I was in my twenties,” Tabares said, perspiration beading on his shaved head. “But I would never do that to my family. What I would have lost for the major leagues. ...” As for the prospect of minor league baseball one day returning to Havana, Tabares said he welcomed it, of course. “It has to be that way,” he said.
One day the American baseball ambassadors were given a tour of Estadio Latinoamericano, home to the Industriales. In the bowels of that worn seventy-year-old stadium were pieces of Cuba’s baseball past: a marble tablet engraved with the names of Inmortales del BaseBall; the busts of two legends, Martín Dihigo and Adolfo Luque; a wall-size painting of Fidel Castro, in military fatigues, standing at the plate, bat in hand.
The Cuban baseball officials leading the tour allowed that they would one day like to build a hall of fame. Well, Schwechheimer responded, perhaps the Caribbean Baseball Initiative could help with that.
Another day, the minibus of Americans made a pilgrimage to Finca Vigía, the hilltop house where Ernest Hemingway lived and wrote and carved a crude baseball field among mango trees, so that his two sons and children from the area could play the game he loved. Often he would pitch to the boys, who were called the Gigi All-Stars.
Some new all-stars, young members of a local Little League team, were taking batting practice while waiting for their American visitors. Schwechheimer bounded out of the bus, grabbed a glove, and assumed the role of catcher.
For a little while, other matters were set aside. The logistics for the next trip. The plans for more meetings with top officials, including Antonio Castro. The challenge of getting past the diplomatic impediments, the bureaucratic obstacles, the more than half-century of mutual suspicion.
For a little while, before the rains came and the minibus of Americans left for the next appointment, the scrawny Minnie Minosos and Tony Olivas and Yasiel Puigs of the future smacked balls into the mango trees, and the former ambassador Davidow caught a foul ball in his straw hat, and Schwechheimer presented the boys with dozens of much-needed baseballs. They said bueno and “gracias, but the shared language was this game.
Rico says he'd love to see a game in Havana...

Baby, it'd cold outside (wear a hat)

The New York Times has an article by Troy Patterson titled The Winter Hat Trick:
When the temperature drops, no one can argue against the need for a hat. But is it possible to find a way to wear one that isn't ridiculous?
Rico says he has several (including a new one like the photo), and doesn't give a fuck how they look...

Movie for the day: IB

Frederich MayerHans Wijnberg, and Franz Weber
Mayer today
Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 war film Inglourious Basterds was partly based on a real story. During World War Two, some Jews really did volunteer to go into Nazi-occupied Europe to engage in espionage and sabotage. Unlike the strange and often idiotic Tarantino’s movie, however, the truth was far more bizarre. How bizarre? Imagine a Jew helping Nazis surrender peacefully to the Allies. And that was after they had tortured him.
Friedrich “Fred” Mayer’s father was a decorated war veteran for his distinguished service to the German Empire in World War One. Then the Nazis came to power. Being Jewish, the senior Mayer’s status couldn’t protect them, so the family emigrated to the US in 1938.
On 7 December 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, forcing America to enter the war. The next day, Mayer tried to enlist, but the military said no, as he was German, after all, and, therefore, an enemy alien.
But America desperately needed to beef up its military, so they let him join the 81st Infantry Division the following year. Mayer became an Army Ranger and went on to join the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor of today’s CIA.
Sent to Italy, he was teamed up with Hans Wijnberg, another Jewish-American whose family had been thrown into Auschwitz. There was also Franz Weber, a Catholic Austrian Wehrmacht officer and POW, who felt loyal to Austria, not to Nazi Germany.
Mayer was given command of Operation Greenup, charged with finding out how weapons were making it into Italy, then an Axis power. They found that Germans were using movable bridges on the Brenner railway that they hid in tunnels by day and used only at night. Thanks to their intelligence, the Allies were able to bomb over 25 supply trains trying to get into Italy. Greenup also discovered Hitler’s location, as well as that of Mussolini.
Their most daring operation, however, involved finding the Alpine Redoubt in Austria, a fortress where the German government could supposedly retreat to in the event of defeat. Though it turned out to be a myth created by fanatical Nazis, the Allies couldn’t have known that at the time.
Mayer, Wijnberg, and Weber (photo, middle) were parachuted with their supplies into Austria on 26 February 1945 in total darkness, which was why they ended up on the crest of the Sulztaler glacier some nine thousand feet up a mountain. Though they managed to retrieve most of their supplies, their skis were another matter entirely, forcing them to climb down in waist-deep snow.
Exhausted, they finally sledded their way down, something Mayer later claimed was the scariest part of the mission. Reaching the glacier’s foot, they holed up for three days at the Amberger hut (their original target) as they went over their plans. Then they boarded a Gestapo-infested train bound for Innsbruck, Austria (a major rail hub) where they were asked for their papers.
As if offended, Weber haughtily replied: “We’ve already been checked!”
Not wanting to mess with a Wehrmacht officer, the inspector moved on. The trio got off at the town of Oberperfuss near Innsbruck and split up. Weber stayed with his family, his fiancée’s mother took Mayer in, and Wijnberg stayed at a neighbor’s house.
Weber’s sister, Louise, was a nurse who gave Mayer the uniform and documents of a recently-deceased German officer. Modifying the papers so that Mayer’s picture appeared on it, he moved into her hospital to “recover”. His alias established, he then moved into the officer’s barracks, where he sent information to Wijnberg, the team’s radio operator. Thanks to his intel, the Allies knew the schedules of troop and munition trains and bombarded them accordingly.
In April of 1945, Mayer’s superiors needed info on an underground factory that made jet engines. He, therefore, transformed himself into a French electrician. Claiming to be on the run from the advancing Soviets, he got a job at the facility.
In mid-April of 1945, a black marketer whom Mayer dealt with was caught up in a Gestapo dragnet. Under torture, he told them about Mayer, so they broke down the latter’s door on 20 April 1945. Fortunately for Weber’s fiancée and her family, Mayer had found other lodgings before being captured.
They tortured him brutally, but he didn’t break. And although he was circumcised, the Gestapo thought nothing of it, since many non-Jews also practiced circumcision. It did convince them that he was a spy, since they knew most Americans were circumcised at birth. It wasn;t until they brought in the informant that Mayer finally admitted he was an American agent, but insisted that he worked alone.
Enter Hermann Matull. A German soldier, Matull had deserted and was caught by the Allies, who threw him into a POW camp. He then worked for Mayer till the Gestapo caught him. They showed him a picture of Mayer’s ruined face, but Matull was a world-class hustler before the war. His eyes grew wide, “You’re all as good as dead!” he gasped, shaking his head in disbelief. “Explain!” “That man’s a bigshot in the American military. The Americans will slaughter everyone who did this!” Considering how the Gestapo worked, they believed him.
Matull insisted that only someone as important as Franz Hofer (the local administrator) could get away with interrogating Mayer. Fortunately, Hofer realized that Germany would lose and wanted to save his skin, so he ordered Mayer brought to him. The Nazi governor wined and dined his Jewish captive, then explained that he wanted to surrender, but not to the Soviets. When the American 103rd Infantry Division of the Seventh Army closed in on Innsbruck on the morning of 3 May 1945, they were met by a car sporting a white bed sheet. Out jumped a bruised and battered Mayer, who offered the formal surrender of the entire region’s German Army.
Thinking he wanted revenge, the Americans later brought Mayer to a cell. Inside was the officer responsible for his “interrogation”. “Do what you want with me,” the man pleaded. “Just don’t hurt my family.”
Mayer was disgusted, “What the hell do you think we are? Nazis?” Then he walked out.
The GIs were not so merciful with the Gestapo, however, especially as some of them were Jews. So Matull hadn’t entirely lied.
For his bravery, Mayer received the Legion of Merit and a Purple Heart.
Rico says some history should never be forgotten...

29 November 2015

Tibet for the day

The New York Times has an article by Edward Wong about the plight of the Tibetans, swallowed whole by the Chinese:
When officials forced an informal school run by monks near Yushu, China to stop offering language classes for laypeople, Tashi Wangchuk looked for a place where his two teenage nieces could continue studying Tibetan.
To his surprise, he could not find one, even though nearly everyone living in this market town on the Tibetan plateau here is Tibetan. Officials had also ordered other monasteries and a private school in the area not to teach the language to laypeople. And public schools had dropped true bilingual education in Chinese and Tibetan, teaching Tibetan only in a single class, like a foreign language, if they taught it at all.
“This directly harms the culture of Tibetans,” said Tashi, thirty, a shopkeeper who is trying to file a lawsuit to compel the authorities to provide more Tibetan education. “Our people’s culture is fading and being wiped out.”
China has sharply scaled back and restricted the teaching of languages spoken by ethnic minorities in its vast western regions in recent years, promoting instruction in Chinese instead as part of a broad push to encourage the assimilation of Tibetans, Uighurs, and other ethnic minorities into the dominant ethnic Han culture.
The Education Ministry says a goal is to “make sure that minority students master and use the basic common language”. And some parents have welcomed the new emphasis on teaching Chinese because they believe it will better prepare their children to compete for jobs in the Chinese economy and for places at Chinese universities.
But the new measures have also stirred anxiety and fueled resentment, with residents like Tashi arguing that they threaten the survival of ethnic identities and traditions already under pressure by migration, economic change and the repressive policies of a government fearful of ethnic separatism.
The shift away from teaching Tibetan has been especially contentious. It is most noticeable outside central Tibet, in places like Yushu, about four hundred miles northeast of Lhasa, in Qinghai Province.
Many schools in these areas, home to nearly sixty percent of China’s Tibetan population, had taught mainly in the Tibetan language for decades, especially in the countryside. Chinese was taught too, but sometimes not until later grades.
“This is why almost all innovation in Tibetan literature, film, poetry and so forth, plus a great deal of academic writing, since the 1980s has come from Qinghai,” said Robbie J. Barnett, a historian of Tibet at Columbia University.
Continue reading the main story
But, in 2012, officials in Qinghai and neighboring Gansu province introduced a teaching system that all but eliminated Tibetan as a language of instruction in primary and secondary schools. They had backed off a similar plan in 2010 because of protests by students and teachers across Qinghai and Gansu, and even in Beijing.
Schools were ordered to use Chinese as the main language of instruction, which led to layoffs of Tibetan teachers with weak Chinese-language skills. And new Chinese-language textbooks were adopted that critics said lacked detailed material on Tibetan history or culture.
In March of 2012, a student in Gansu, Tsering Kyi, twenty, set fire to herself and died after her high school changed its main language to Chinese, her relatives said. She is one of more than a hundred Tibetans who, since 2009, have self-immolated in political protest.
Three years later, frustrated students are still taking to the streets. In March of 2015, high school students marched in Huangnan Prefecture in Qinghai. The local government accused the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, and “hostile Western forces” of tricking students to “defy the law, disrupt society, sabotage harmony and subvert the government”.
This month, a petition circulated on WeChat, the Chinese messaging app, calling on officials to open a Tibetan-language primary school in Qinghai’s provincial capital, Xining, which has had no such schools under Communist rule.
“Letting thirty thousand Tibetan children learn their mother tongue so they can carry on their own traditional culture is a very important matter,” said the petition, which got more than sixty thousand signatures before censors blocked it.
But Tibetan attitudes are complicated by the practical reality of living in a country where the Chinese language is dominant, and where parents and children sometimes prefer English as a second language of education, not a minority language. Some Tibetan parents worry that their native language and culture are dying, but nevertheless tell their children to prioritize Chinese studies, in part because the national university entrance exam is administered only in Chinese.
“The parents think that Chinese is most important for their children’s future,” said Phuntsok, a monk at a Yushu monastery told by officials to close its Tibetan classes this year. The government says it supports bilingual education. In practice, though, bilingual education now generally means using Chinese as the main language of instruction, while a minority language is taught as a separate subject.
Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan writer in Beijing, said that ,when she lived last year in Lhasa, she stayed by a kindergarten that promoted bilingual education. She could hear the children reading aloud and singing songs every day, but only in Chinese. “A lot of Tibetan people realize this is a problem, and they know they need to protect their language,” said Woeser, who studied Tibetan on her own after years of schooling in Chinese. She and others estimate that the literacy rate in Tibetan among Tibetans in China has fallen well below twenty percent, and continues to decline. The only thing that will stave off the extinction of Tibetan and other minority languages is allowing ethnic regions in China more self-governance, which would create an environment for the languages to be used in government, business and schools, Woeser said. “This is all a consequence of ethnic minorities not enjoying real autonomy,” she said.
The Chinese Constitution promises autonomy in ethnic regions, and says local governments there should use the languages in common use. In 1987, the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which encompasses central Tibet, published more explicit regulations calling for Tibetan to be the main language in schools, government offices, and shops. But those regulations were eliminated in 2002. These days, across Tibetan areas, official affairs are conducted mostly in Chinese, and it is common to see banners promoting the use of Chinese. Such efforts are in part a response to the Tibetan uprising in 2008, when anti-government rioting broke out in Lhasa and spread across the plateau.
“The government thinks people who go to ethnic schools have a stronger Tibetan nationalist identity,” Woeser said. “The government thinks if they switch the instruction to Chinese, then people will change their views.”
Monasteries have long served as educational institutions in Tibetan society, with monks and nuns among the elite few who could read and write before Tibet came under Chinese Communist rule in 1951. Until recently, many monasteries held classes on the written language for ordinary people, and monks often gave lessons while traveling.
But over the past two years, officials in many parts of the plateau have ordered monasteries to end the classes, though Tibetan can still be taught to young monks.
Tashi said he first learned to read and write Tibetan in primary school and from older brothers who had studied with a monk. He continued studying as a monk himself for three years, and in 2012, he took private classes in Yushu for a few months.
He thought he might take his nieces to those classes, but found they had been shut down. “My nieces want to become fluent in Tibetan, but don’t know where to go,” he said. “Our words will be lost to them.”
Rico says imagine if America tried banning the use of and the teaching of Spanish...

And, worse yet, the Dalai Lama has hinted that he might not be reincarnated, angering Beijing.

1947: UN votes for partition of Palestine


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Subject: 1947: U.N. votes for partition of Palestine

U.N. votes for partition of Palestine
Despite strong Arab opposition, the United Nations votes for the partition of Palestine and the creation of an independent Jewish state. The modern conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine dates back to the 1910s, when both groups laid claim to the British-controlled territory. The Jews were... read more »
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