Type-A bureaucrat who professionally pushes papers in the Middle East. History nerd, linguistic geek, and devoted news junkie.
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How have I not heard of Elaine, Arkansas before?


It was yesterday, just yesterday, I read about the events that occurred there over 100 years ago. I attended respectable public schools, I went to two well-funded undergraduate universities, and I took courses in American history. I come from a blue-collar family with a deep devotion to unions and labor, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, land of the Wobblies, and was informally schooled in union history. I’ve long known who Joe Hill was. But Elaine, Arkansas? What was that about?

Well, as I learned only on 15 November 2021, just by chance, that in 1919 a group of black farmers, sharecroppers, met in a church to organize, form a union, and get better prices for their crops and hard work. Since this was intolerable to the wealthy white landowners who got rich off their labor, and since it was easy to inflame the poor whites in the region against their black neighbors, what followed was four days of slaughter.

When white leaders heard, they reacted with violence. Newspapers reported that white mobs, over four days, chased Black men, women and children, slaughtering them in Elaine and across the green farms and swamps of Phillips County.

All the Black farmers wanted were fair prices, but “that’s like the revolution has occurred because that threatens to shift the entire power structure of the South in the favor of Black farmers,” said Dr. Paul Ortiz, a history professor and director of the University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.

Historians say the massacre claimed five white lives and more than 200 Black lives, though the true number of Black deaths is unknown and some estimates put it much higher.

What? Furthermore, this was one incident in many which occurred over Red Summer, which I’d also never heard about. There were riots all across the Midwest and South, from Chicago, IL down to Port Arthur, TX. White people were rampaging. And I knew nothing about it.

Yesterday was humbling. I had no idea how ignorant I was. Sure, I’d heard of the Tulsa Massacre in 1921, but did not realize it was part of a vast evil wave of vicious, blatant racism.

But how? How could such horrific events by quietly buried?

White newspapers filled their front pages with sensational headlines about a Black uprising, ignoring the economic inequality at the core of the conflict.

As the U.S. has reckoned with its racist past, the 1919 Elaine Massacre — one of the deadliest acts of violence against Black people in American history — has drawn new attention, especially in the years surrounding its 100th anniversary. That year, hundreds of Black people were killed in at least 25 cities across the country, a violent siege today called “Red Summer.”

The cover-up orchestrated by Elaine’s wealthy white landowners and the government, aided by the white-centric reporting of white-owned newspapers, led to a scarcity of information about the massacre.

Headlines such as “VICIOUS BLACKS WERE PLANNING GREAT UPRISING” and “NEGROES HAVE BEEN AROUSED BY PROPAGANDA” were atop the front pages of the Arkansas Gazette on Oct. 3, 1919, and Oct. 4, 1919, respectively.

“NEGROES HAD PLOT TO RISE AGAINST WHITES, CHARGED,” read the front page of the Arkansas Democrat on the third day of the massacre.

Surely, the impartial American justice system would levy righteous retribution on the mob? Nope.

Despite the work of the Black press, white newspapers continued to perpetuate their false story. After hundreds of Black people were massacred, no white people were tried in their deaths.

Black people were rounded up, jailed in Helena and tortured until they confessed a role in the deaths of the five white people — part of a legal cover-up concocted by a committee of wealthy white farmers and businessmen appointed by the governor.

In the end, estimates range between 65-75 Black men were sentenced to long-term prison sentences and 12 were sentenced to death. A years-long legal battle fought by the NAACP resulted in two cases, one of which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (Moore v. Dempsey) while the other went to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The high courts agreed that the men’s due-process rights had been violated, and none of the 12 were executed.

Now I think of all the black people murdered in recent history, and it’s clear — this is the arc of our history. George Floyd could be murdered by an armed white thug on the most trivial of pretexts, and the press tells us that Floyd was “no angel”. Trayvon Martin can walk out to buy Skittles and come home to be shot to death by a vigilante…and we hear that he was “no angel”, either, and his murderer is acquitted. It’s all the same story, told over and over again, and echoed and reinforced by our incompetent, unprincipled media.

And so it goes.

Today, of course, the Republican party is animated by a fanatical desire to paper over our shame, to keep our kids ignorant of the systematic injustices perpetrated in this country by whiteness and white people for centuries. I also am the beneficiary of the historical crimes that bled black and brown people to give me some relative prosperity, but I have no desire to close my eyes to it — I want to know. It’s the only way we can end this cycle of oppression. All these complaints about CRT are nothing but attempts to blind us to the truth, and keep the hate going.

God damn it, I’m 64 years old and the media has succeeded in keeping me in the dark almost my entire life.

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Cleanup Complete At WWI Chemical Weapons Dump In D.C.’s Spring Valley

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At the beginning of World War I, the couple dozen students attending American University suddenly found themselves shunted off campus, their classes held at professors’ houses, while more than 1,000 chemists  and engineers flocked to what was then rural acreage in a sparsely developed corner of the District. Their mission: to develop and test deadly chemical weapons, including mustard gas.

Now, the most contaminated site from that era has been cleaned up, after two decades of work by the Army Corps of Engineers. The site, at 4825 Glenbrook Rd., NW, was one of the locations where chemicals and debris were dumped when the labs were dismantled after the war.

Amidst multi-million-dollar mansions on a leafy street in Spring Valley, the Army Corps set up a massive barn-like structure, 80 ft. long by 60 ft. wide, to prevent chemical agents from escaping while crews wearing full hazmat suits and oxygen tanks excavated the site by hand. At this one property, workers unearthed 556 “munition items,” 23 of which were filled with chemical agent, as well as 53 sealed glass containers of chemical agent. They also found and disposed of 2,139 pounds of laboratory debris and 7,500 tons of contaminated soil.

Six different chemical agents used only in warfare were unearthed at the Glenbrook Rd. property, including white phosphorous, arsenic trichloride, and magnesium arsenide. Arsine, a deadly gas, was found weaponized in 75 mm projectiles.

This photo, taken in 1918, helped the Army Corps determine the location of the largest disposal pit in Spring Valley, on what is now Glenbrook Rd. U.S Army Corps of Engineers

The location of the Glenbrook disposal pit was found with help from an old photo, found in a collection owned by Sgt. C.W. Maurer. On the back of the 1918 photograph, Maurer wrote:

“The Pit, the most feared and respected place in the grounds. The bottles are full of mustard to be destroyed here. In Death Valley. The hole called Hades.”

Army Corps spokesperson Cynthia Mitchell says it wasn’t unusual, in the early 1900s, to dispose of hazardous materials this way — dumped in disposal pits in remote areas.

“At that time, this was standard practice,” says Mitchell.

But in the years since WWI, the area became a posh neighborhood of sprawling homes set amid expansive lawns, many now valued at more than $5 million. This has complicated remediation efforts.

In 2012, in order to conduct the cleanup, the Army Corps demolished a 5,000 sq. ft. house on the Glenbrook property, which at the time was valued at more than $3.3 million, according to city tax records.

“Being able to accomplish this type of work in an area where private properties and a major university campus and public streets are directly in front of the site is extremely challenging,” said Mitchell.

The Army Corps structure is now gone, as are the chemical weapons, and the property, owned by American University, is nothing but an innocuous sloping residential lot covered with grass. (Disclosure: American University holds the license to WAMU, which owns DCist).

The now-empty lot at 4825 Glenbrook Rd. NW. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

During WWI, the project was known as the American University Experiment Station, or Camp Leach.  Numerous divisions were at work at the site. One division studied the efficacy of toxic compounds already in use in warfare in Europe and also tested hundreds of new substances for possible use, including new types of mustard gas. Another division tested gas masks and other equipment to protect American troops from gas attacks. Yet another division developed and tested explosives, including anti-aircraft weapons. Other divisions tested toxic chemicals on animals, including mice, rats, dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and rabbits.


A worker at the Glenbrook Rd. site. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The existence of underground remnants from the WWI laboratories was discovered in 1993 when a contractor digging a utility trench in Spring Valley found buried ordnance. Since then, 1,632 properties in the neighborhood have been tested for arsenic, which was used in several of the chemical agents. Of those properties, 177 were found to have high levels of arsenic — the Army Corps dug up people’s yards, removing the contaminated soil. Dangerous levels of arsenic were also found, and remediated, in the soil at the American University Child Development Center.

The work in Spring Valley is still ongoing, even with the most complex part of the cleanup completed. Of 92 private properties the Army Corps identified with possible buried ordnance in their yards, 85 have been remediated. Work on four more properties begins this month. Mitchell says the remaining remediation will likely be completed in 2 to 3 years.

The post Cleanup Complete At WWI Chemical Weapons Dump In D.C.’s Spring Valley appeared first on DCist.

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Building Block

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At first glance, quince can often pass as a larger version of its cousin the pear. But it becomes a bright golden yellow as it matures – hence, it’s longstanding nickname, “the golden apple.”

When the quince made its way west from south Asia and the Caucasus into Ancient Greece, the fruit quickly took to the soils of Cydonia (Κυδωνία), a town in northern Crete now known as Chania. This is a region that became famous in the ancient world for the production of the finest quinces. Known as “kodymalon” back then, this hard, yellow fruit is scientifically the Cydonia oblonga, so-named for its new Greek home.

The ancient Greeks made good use of them, both in savory and sweet dishes. Raw, it can be bitter or sour, but once cooked it becomes divinely sweet – a taste profile that very much symbolizes its place in Greek mythology and legend. For one, the quince tree is dedicated to Aphrodite. It famously received this honor in the Trojan War epic, which begins at the wedding of the goddess Thetis. All the gods were invited but one, Eris, the goddess of strife and discord. Eris was, unsurprisingly, offended and angry. Living up to her name, she tossed a “golden apple” into the wedding festivities. While that may seem tame as far as retribution may go, Eris had carved into the quince these words: “To the fairest.”

To whom was the fruit intended? A great dispute ensued over that answer, with Hera, Athena and Aphrodite as the main plaintiffs. Thus, the expressions “Eris apple,” “apple of discord” and “golden apple” were born, and are still used today to describe the core of an argument in modern Greek and English. The story continues with Paris of Troy – the most handsome mortal man – being tasked with making the decision on who deserved the quince in question. The three goddesses each presented him a gift, and Aphrodite’s offer of the love of the most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta, won Paris over. The rest might as well be Greek history.

When Aphrodite claimed and won the quince as her own, all of the qualities of the goddess were also attributed to the fruit. Aphrodite is often depicted (even in modern sculpture) holding a quince in her right hand – a symbol of love, beauty, fertility and devotion, like the goddess herself.

The ancient Greeks also used the fruit for its delicate aroma. The historian Plutarch wrote that Solon, the Athenian lawmaker, had brides take a bit of quince before their wedding to freshen up their breath before their first kiss! This is thought to be where several quince-related wedding and child-bearing folk traditions originated in the country. In parts of northern Greece, quince, pomegranates and apple were tied to a post that would accompany the groom and family members all the way to the church. As time passed, brides were chomping into quince at their weddings to ensure they’d have a baby boy.

Perhaps the sweetest of quince origin stories is that of its connection to marmalade. The ancient Greeks used quince to prepare the treat melimilon (μελίμηλον). Meli means “honey” and milo refers to “apple,” but just as the quince was known as the golden apple, the ancient Greeks use the word milo to refer to other fruit, like peach, apricots, etc. Melimilon was made by boiling quinces with honey. When it cooled, they noticed it would set beautifully due to its high pectin content, creating a version of what we know of today as quince paste, and the precursor to the making of traditional spoon sweets and marmalades.

The ancient Greeks made good use of quince, both in savory and sweet dishes. Raw, it can be bitter or sour, but once cooked it becomes divinely sweet – a taste profile that very much symbolizes its place in Greek mythology and legend.

The Romans adopted melimilon (calling it melimelum) and spread the recipe to other parts of Europe. In Apicius, the 1st-century collection of Roman cooking, we can find a recipe for preserving whole, honey-boiled quince in grape molasses. Quince also played a sweet role at Byzantine court, appearing in writing and studies of the eating habits of the time, where it was often combined with lemon.

Quince is used in most parts of Greece during autumn and winter, when it is in season. We do not generally eat it raw, as it can be dry, sour or bitter. But somehow, when cooked the right way and with the right ingredients, it transforms like magic – it is sweet and beautiful, and pairs well in an array of combinations.

The fruit is cooked with a variety of meat, usually pork, but also beef, poultry or game like wild boar. Pork with quince is a traditional Christmas dish, particularly in parts of northern Greece like Pelion, where a stew of quince and wine is made. Contemporary cooks will also often add non-native spices like ginger to make it even more festive. Quinces are also stuffed with minced meat (lamb goes well in here!) and rice, and then baked in the oven.

Pastes made from quince are still prepared around the country, and they can be eaten plain or paired with beautiful cheeses and wines. Quince marmalade is also still prepared everywhere, and the quince spoon sweet is among the most popular as it is less sweet than the others and goes particularly well with yogurt – a lovely snack you will come across in most parts of Greece during winter.

The festive holiday season means we are sure to make extra use of quince, as with other seasonal ingredients such as chestnuts. Often holiday turkey stuffing will include diced quince for an extra punch of fruitiness, and it tastes great with cured pork or sausage.

Another favorite treat is baked quince. They are made in various ways either plain, spiced with cinnamon and clove, spiked with wine or brandy, and cooked with either honey or sugar. Sometimes they are halved and stuffed with chopped nuts before they are baked. We also bake quince into pies or tarts, boil them in compote, poach them in wine, or add them to winter cakes and liqueurs. The taste of this fruit – no matter how it’s prepared – is so divine, it’s no wonder it could start a war. And that’s not even the whole story.

The post Building Block appeared first on Culinary Backstreets.

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Making coffee this morning made me think about brewing — not the process, but the English verb brew and its semantic evolution. In particular, it made me wonder again about nativist versions of semantic atomism, which hold that word meanings are (perhaps structured) collections of innate atomic features. Versions of these ideas go back thousands of years, but their most prominent recent exponent was Jerry Fodor.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article puts it this way:

Fodor was also a staunch defender of nativism about the structure and contents of the human mind, arguing against a variety of empiricist theories and famously arguing that all lexical concepts are innate. Fodor vigorously argued against all versions of conceptual role semantics in philosophy and psychology, and articulated an alternative view he calls “informational atomism,” according to which lexical concepts are unstructured “atoms” that have their content in virtue of standing in certain external, “informational” relations to entities in the environment.

As Sonja Schierbaum wrote in Ockham's Assumption of Mental Speech: Thinking in a World of Particulars:

Fodor argues that it is only possible to acquire the concept of doorknob by encountering doorknobs because there is a functional relation of the trigger (doorknobs) to the concept (doorknob): this functional relation is innate. That is, if there were no such innate function, then encountering doorknobs would not lead to the acquisition of the concept doorknob.

I've been puzzled about this idea ever since I first encountered (a version of) it more than half a century ago, in Katz & Fodor's 1963 book. It's one of the things that I had in mind when I wrote ("Language Log is #1 for stupid ideas", 4/6/2004):

[S]ometimes it takes a really smart person to have a really spectacularly stupid idea. You have to be smart to be able to think of some of the really complicated dumb stuff that people come up with, but that's not what I mean. I'm talking about the simple idea that is so obviously wrong that any half-wit can see that it don't have a chance, except for someone who is brilliant enough to work out the reasons that it's nevertheless deeply true. If the originator is also persuasive enough to get others to go along, then you've really got trouble. I'd give examples, but professional courtesy forbids it.

So, brew. The Wiktionary entry for the verb  offers 8 senses:

  1. To make tea or coffee by mixing tea leaves or coffee beans with hot water.
  2. To heat wine, infusing it with spices; to mull.
  3. To make a hot soup by combining ingredients and boiling them in water.
  4. To make beer by steeping a starch source in water and fermenting the resulting sweet liquid with yeast.
  5. To foment or prepare, as by brewing
    Synonyms: contrive, plot, hatch
  6. To attend to the business, or go through the processes, of brewing or making beer.
  7. (of an unwelcome event) To be in a state of preparation; to be mixing, forming, or gathering.
  8. To boil or seethe; to cook. (obsolete)

I'm not familiar with senses (2) or (3), except as some sort of figurative extension — but of course that's one of the ways that word meanings evolve.

The OED offers a very different ordering, giving sense 1.a. for brew as "Properly: To make (ale, beer, and the like) by infusion, boiling, and fermentation", and not getting to tea until sense 3.a. "transferred. ‘To make by mixing several ingredients’ (Johnson), as whisky punch; or by infusion, as tea."

But the OED's discussion of the etymology notes that

Compare broth n., and other derivatives, which show that the root brū had originally also in Germanic a wider sense than ‘brew’, apparently that of ‘make a decoction, infuse’.

Even in German, however, it seems that brauen is now reserved for beer, with aufbrauen maybe used for tea but not for coffee — I welcome correction from readers who know (varieties of German) better than I do.

In the various Romance languages, as far as I know, different words are used for beer-brewing and for coffee- or tea-brewing. Thus French brasser, whose original meaning is apparently "mix" or "move around", is used for brewing beer but not for preparing coffee or tea.

Meanwhile, English brewer and brewery are (I think) still linked to beer and such things — coffee shops and tea rooms are not breweries, even though brewing is crucial to their operation. In the other direction, French brasserie apparently started out meaning "brewery", and then developed to cover (certain kinds of) bars and restaurants.

My point? It doesn't make sense to me that beer, coffee, tea, etc. could be innate atomic concepts. And more abstract concepts like infusion or fermentation don't seem any more plausible. Unless I badly misunderstand — which is possible, since I'm a phonetician rather than a semanticist or a philosopher — the theories that lead to such conclusions are more like religious dogmas than scientific hypotheses.



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“[S]ometimes it takes a really smart person to have a really spectacularly stupid idea. “
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For cruciverbalists

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For the past five years I've been solving the crossword puzzles in the Los Angeles Times (and the New York Times) every day as a sort of mental exercise to keep my brain in shape.  This morning I was stunned to encounter an absolutely remarkable construction.  This is not a particularly difficult puzzle (Wednesday-level) and it can be completed by experienced crossword enthusiasts in 5-10 minutes.  But when you get to the final Down clue, a truly remarkable feature about the construction is revealed.

You can try it first (at the link), or read on below the fold for a minor spoiler/reveal about why this particular puzzle is so awesome...
The clue at 64-Down reads "Watcher... and homophone of a letter that appears exactly once in every clue and all but two answers."

Got that?  The letter "I" appears once and only once in every clue.

And... the letter "I" appears once and only once in every clue answer.

Except for two:  40-across and 64-down don't have one "I."  But of course 40-across does have one eye.

What fun to discover this at the very end.  And what skill it must have taken to assemble the words in the grid and devise clues with the appropriate restriction.
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Gratitude: A Leader’s Duty

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It’s around this time of year that we’re encouraged to give thanks for the good things in our lives. And while it might seem like a bit of a stretch in the midst of a pandemic, I think we can all find at least one or two things to be thankful for. For those of …

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