From the November 20, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
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For J. Robert Oppenheimer, science was a series of trials.
The father of the atomic bomb, the theoretical physicist was never to be sainted like Albert Einstein. It’s possible (likely, even) the weapon actually saved lives during World War II, abbreviating the fighting by forcing Japan to surrender, but the unholy power released brought to mind the content of the first piece of Morse code ever sent: “What hath God wrought.”
Publishing a post about Richard Feynman the other day reminded me about his mentor’s literal trial during the McCarthy era, when Oppenheimer was accused of being a Communist sympathizer willing to secret nuclear knowledge to the Soviets. The scientist had been under surveillance by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI since the 1940s, with his phones tapped and office bugged, and in the following decade his security clearance was surprisingly revoked.
Oppenheimer certainly worked with and knew members of the Communist Party (his wife was one), but that wasn’t unusual in those days. The governmental action seems to have had less to do with fears of espionage than with witch-hunt hysteria and a power struggle among politicians and competing scientists, particularly his erstwhile friend Edward Teller. Oppenheimer fought his loss of credentials to no avail in a four-week trial, emerging with a reputation permanently reduced.
Two articles about the matter from the April 13, 1954 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the first about the suspension of clearance and the second a piece in which Einstein voiced support for Oppenheimer.
Edward R. Murrow interviews an understandably shaky Oppenheimer in the year after his trial. Under his direction, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton wasn’t only home to some of the finest young physicists in the world but also served as a salon of sorts to broaden the students’ thinking. T.S. Eliot, George Kennan and Jean Piaget were among the visitors who stayed for a spell. The university considered removing Oppenheimer from his post after the Communist controversy, but he ultimately retained his position until his death by cancer in 1967.
Tags: J. Robert Oppenheimer
From the December 18, 1926 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Jean-Martin Charcot believed there was an underlying problem. In the big picture, he was right.
The 19th-century physician, considered the “father neurology,” was pivotal in the understanding of ALS, Parkinson’s and other physical ailments, but it was his focus on neuroses that probably had the greatest impact on the world, through his own efforts and by those of his students.
In James Strachey’s introduction to a 1989 edition of Civilization and Its Discontents, he wrote:
Before his marriage, from October 1885 to February 1886, Freud worked in Paris with the celebrated neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, who impressed Freud with his bold advocacy of hypnosis as an instrument for healing medical disorders, and no less bold championship of the thesis (then quite unfashionable) that hysteria is an ailment to which men are susceptible no less than women. Charcot, an unrivaled observer, stimulated Freud’s growing interest in the theoretical and therapeutic aspects of mental healing. Nervous ailments became Freud’s specialty, and in the 1890s, as he told a friend, psychology became his tyrant. During these years he founded the psychoanalytic theory of mind.
It’s easy to look askance at Charcot’s dubious reliance on hypnosis (even he eventually though he overdid it) or Freud’s promotion of cocaine, but they were at that point essentially working in darkness, in possession of a few clues and searching for methods.
Charcot’s death was recorded in a September 10, 1893 article by Emma Bullet, Paris Correspondent of the Brooklyn Eagle. It includes a piece from an odd interview in which the doctor was asked if bicycling (which had only recently boomed in popularity) was healthy or injurious.
When Ezra Meeker passed away just over 88 years ago, he took with him a lot of institutional memory–and the institution was America.
A pioneer who traveled the Oregon trail in his youth in 1852 just before ferries and steamships thinned the herd moving west by cart and covered wagon, Meeker spent much of his dotage trying to ensure history would remember those who endured such treacherous crossings to open up the country. He wasn’t exactly a reenactor even if he always retained the raggedness of a pioneer and retraced the trip numerous times by ox-driven cart in the first decades of the twentieth century. Meeker was more a sort of traveling salesman, peddling a fascinating period of our history to Presidents and the public alike, not for personal gain but for posterity, urging the establishment of monuments to this epoch.
It’s important to note that in the big picture Manifest Destiny was a tragedy for Native peoples, though Meeker himself enjoyed a particularly good relationship with Indians, as they were then called, collaborating and trading rather than fighting. If only we’d followed that example.
An article announced the passing of Meeker’s own monumental presence in the December 3, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Much of Sven Hedin’s life was lived in public, but the truth about him is somewhat buried nonetheless, strange for a Swedish explorer who spent his life unearthing the hidden. His expeditions to Central Asia just before and after beginning of the twentieth century introduced the world to invaluable art and artifacts and folkways and cities that had been lost to time.
Hedin was admired for these efforts in all corners of the world, including the one occupied by Adolf Hitler. The geographer perplexingly returned the Führer’s admiration, believing in the Nazi leader’s nationalistic and traditionalist tendencies, which was obviously a catastrophic misjudgement. He was highly critical, however, of the Party’s anti-Semitism.
These protests brought trouble. Hitler seems to have blackmailed the famed explorer into publishing pro-Nazi tracts by imperiling some of Hedin’s Jewish friends still inside Germany. But it’s difficult to accept that Hedin encouraged Sweden to ally with Germany during WWII to save a few friends or even that he truly believed he could somehow compartmentalize various aspects of the uniformly deviant Third Reich. He just apparently didn’t want to recognize the evil. A disease of the eye caused Hedin to become partially blind in 1940, an apt metaphor for this period of his life.
Long before his political descent, Hedin penned an article for Harper’s about an unusual Tibetan custom in which monks passed their lives in subterranean isolation, a piece reprinted in the September 17, 1908 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
From the November 8, 1903 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
The French doctor-cum-novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline was always among the most troubling of artists, a brilliant writer and ardent anti-Semite. During the second half of the twentieth century, after the Nazis had been ground into dust, it was less a problem to embrace his brilliance. “Celine was my Proust!” exclaimed Philip Roth. William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Kurt Vonnegut and Henry Miller agreed.
The author’s thorns have sadly again grown as pointy as daggers in this neo-Nazi 2.0 moment, with his old interviews being re-run on viciously bigoted websites with Hitler-appropriate names. His greatness shouldn’t be denied, but his awfulness shouldn’t be forgotten.
In the 1934 Brooklyn Daily Eagle review of Journey to the End of the Night, his bruising, misanthropic war novel, George Currie writes of the rare level of fascination and controversy the book provoked in France.
A spectral, dissipated Céline cries during a 1957 TV interview. The following year, desperate for money as he always seemed to be, the author reluctantly allowed a re-issue of Journey, penning a preface in which he suggested the book’s graphic nature was the sole reason for the enmity he encountered, not at all acknowledging the role his numerous anti-Semitic tracts played.
From the March 7, 1890 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Charles “Chuck” Connors was full of life, and other stuff.
The so-called “Mayor of Chinatown” was an Irishman dubbed “Insect” by his neighbors until his penchant for cooking chuck steaks over open fires in the streets earned him a new nickname. An inveterate self-promoter, he was a tour guide, vaudevillian, boxer, bouncer and raconteur. Some of his stories were even true.
One that wasn’t: For a fee, he showed tourists “authentic” Chinatown opium dens, which were often merely apartments he rented and filled with “extras” paid to pretend to be dragon chasers. The crafty man realized that narratives about urban blight, told just so, could be commodified.
Although he initially wasn’t so appreciated by his Chinese neighbors, Connors eventually earned their esteem and his blarney was sadly missed when it was permanently silenced. An article in the May 10, 1913 Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced his death.
Famed attorney Clarence Darrow was an extremist when it came to criminality, believing in circumstance but not culpability. He saw law breakers the way the writer of a naturalist novel views characters, as prisoners of nature and nurture, incapable of circumventing either. Based on the remarks he made as reported in an article in the April 4, 1931 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Darrow would have treated all misdeeds as maladies, the perpetrators receiving treatment in hospitals rather than stretches in prison.
In a way, his contention has returned to vogue today thanks mainly not to philosophy but to science, with some neuroresearchers believing our brains, a conductor of algorithms of sorts, governing us rather than the other way around. From Yuval Noah Harari’s Home Deus:
Yet humanism is now facing an existential challenge and the idea of “free will” is under threat. Scientific insights into the way our brains and bodies work suggest that our feelings are not some uniquely human spiritual quality. Rather, they are biochemical mechanisms that all mammals and birds use in order to make decisions by quickly calculating probabilities of survival and reproduction.
Like most people I think the hardware that enables my consciousness allows me a range within which I can make decisions, but maybe my brain is just telling me that?
From the August 5, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
I can’t say the Russo-French “gland expert” Serge Voronoff was doing God’s work. The surgeon believed grafting monkey testicle tissue onto the testicles of men increased strength and improved appearance. He experimented with numerous other animals, believing, for example, that bull glands might contain the fountain of youth. He was a well-educated and respectable crackpot, lauded as a genius for the majority of the Twenties and Thirties, before being lowered abruptly from his pedestal.
The first two brief articles below from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle report on Voronoff while he was still widely respected, while the third shows him caught up in the sweep of history, forced in 1941 to leave behind his beloved monkey farm in France to flee fascists, who seized the primates.
From July 13, 1924:
From September 23, 1936:
From February 2, 1941:
From the February 5, 1889 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Explorer Percy Fawcett vanished for good in 1925 while searching for a lost ancient city he named “Z,” but his aggrieved wife kept hanging on his every word.
Mrs. Fawcett (née Nina Agnes Paterson) seems to have fallen prey to some hucksters while in an understandably weakened state of mind, because she came to believe her missing husband was talking to her telepathically through several mediums. It’s also possible her beliefs were influenced by a close friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Dole and Lady Doyle, two devotees of such hokum. Regardless of how the situation came to be, the “intel” convinced her to refuse widowhood, convinced the family would soon be reunited. A February 12, 1928 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle recalls the strange footnote.
Tags: Percy Fawcett
From the August 12, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
I still have no idea why “electronic brain” seems to have been the favored term for computers in the pre-1960s U.S. In fact “computer” was often treated like a haughty word to be mocked. Well, by any name, such a machine and its memory helped American Airlines keep track of reservations 64 years ago, according to an article in the July 13, 1952 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
From the November 17, 1901 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Fran Lebowitz once quipped that “genocides are like snowflakes, each one unique, no two alike.” The same can be said of the genocidal.
Benito Mussolini is the autocrat who most reminds of the political ascent of Donald Trump, though there’s no telling how the latter’s governance will play out, whether it will lead to the type of needless, but familiar, suffering that attends kleptocracy and ineptitude or whether something more cruel and unusual will develop.
Il Duce, like his spiritual descendant, was a vulgar cartoon of a man who survived saying outrageous things that would have made other men a feast for crows. His rise to power stunned onlookers who couldn’t believe the people would rally toward a murderous clown, but Mussolini’s mad lunge at the so-called elite resonated with the people.
Even the marriage of his eldest daughter, Edda, was an assault on the crown, as she wedded a non-royal Blackshirt to the delight of rank-and-file members of the Fascist Party. He was Galeazzo Ciano, not exactly a commoner but the son of a WWI military hero. The son-in-law was warmly embraced by Mussolini and became his Foreign Minister in 1936.
Romances, however, don’t always end well. In 1943, Ciano, who’d lost faith in his father-in-law’s governance long before, voted along with other members of the Fascist Grand Council to oust him from leadership. This unfavorable tally led to Mussolini’s dismissal, arrest and imprisonment. With the aid of Hitler, he was freed and restored to at least a semblance of power, though his spell was broken and fate all but sealed.
Before Mussolini was given his just deserts in 1945 and made to hang like bloody meat from the roof of an Esso gas station, he had his once beloved son-in-law executed by firing squad. Edda, who sided with her spouse, broke permanently from her infamous family, no reconciliation ever attempted during her long life.
April 10, 1995
Edda Ciano, 84; Daughter Disavowed Mussolini for Count
ROME, April 9— Countess Edda Mussolini Ciano, the eldest daughter and a close adviser of Italy’s Fascist dictator, whose husband was executed after he opposed her father’s rule, died Saturday in a Rome hospital, doctors said today. She was 84.
Countess Ciano had been ill for some time. The cause of death was cardiac arrest related to lung and kidney failure, the doctors said.
She was a close adviser to Mussolini during the 1930’s and was known for her independence at a time when Italian women had few rights.
Her husband, Count Galeazzo Ciano, was Mussolini’s Foreign Minister from 1936 to 1943. In July 1943, however, he voted against Mussolini at a Cabinet meeting that led to the dictator’s arrest and the fall of Fascism.
Under orders from Hitler, occupying German troops freed Mussolini and installed him as head of a puppet government. It found Count Ciano guilty of treason and ordered him executed. Countess Ciano’s pleas to her father and to Hitler were ignored, and her husband was executed by a firing squad in 1944.
After the execution, she disavowed her father and the family name.
“You are no longer my father for me,” she wrote to him. “I renounce the name Mussolini.” After the war, she lived in Rome, then broke her public silence about wartime events in 1975 with a book, “My Testimony.”
She is said never to have reached a reconciliation with her mother, Rachele, who died 15 years ago. Her mother was said to have blamed Count Ciano for Mussolini’s downfall.
The Cianos had three children — Fabrizio, Raimonda and Marzio. She is survived by Fabrizio and Raimonda.•
Robots seem to have been capable of offering rudimentary salutations to Madison Square Garden conventioneers more than eight decades ago, but a Broadway speech and Q&A in the Roaring Twenties by a robot named Eric may not have been entirely legit. The bucket of bolts could certainly gesture and nod, but his “voice” may have come from an offstage confederate via remote wireless, though no such possibility was entertained in a report about the unusual stage debut in the January 20, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The story:
From the October 12, 1903 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Oswald Mosley, the infamous founding leader of the British Union of Fascists during the 1930s, was the inspiration for “Mr. Oswald” in Elvis Costello’s 1977 “Less Than Zero,” maybe the single most scathing and slanderous song ever recorded. An economist-cum-aspiring-autocrat, Mosley was a vicious anti-Semite and xenophobe who managed to incite violence almost anywhere he went. He was in prison and then house arrest during the latter years of WWII, returning to politics in the ’50s and 60’s as a candidate for Parliament on anti-immigration platforms. Mosley never came close to winning office,and died in France in 1980, three years after the Costello excoriation.
A November 8, 1936 Brooklyn Daily Eagle report profiled Mosley at the height of his madness.
In 1967, David Front interviewed Oswald, who was then in his dotage.
Tags: Oswald Mosley