Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Battle of Testimonies: The Not So Innocent Building Seven

In this installment of History Books, we will once again be looking at Building 7 on the day of September 11, 2001. The focus is on the testimonies of two men: Michael Hess and Barry Jennings.

That morning, at 11:57 AM, Michael Hess was interviewed on UPN Channel 9 News. This interview took place on Broadway, about a block from City Hall. This was about six or seven blocks away from where Building 7 had once stood, where Michael Hess was rescued. The time and location of this interview is extremely important, so keep them in mind: Seven blocks away, 11:57 AM.

In his interview, Hess told the reporter about how he and another man had been trapped in Building 7. He spoke of how they ran downstairs to about the sixth floor when an explosion occurred that drove he and his companion back up to the eighth floor. Hess said that they were trapped for about an hour and a half before they were rescued by firefighters. No actual time line was given for the events that occurred. And as much as I had speculation, we can't do much more than that. He gave an interview at 11:57 about seven blocks away. Let's say it took about ten minutes to get rescued: out of the building, checked for wounds or cuts, etc. And let's say that it takes him about 10-15 minutes to walk the several blocks from Building 7 to Broadway where the interview was. That takes to about 11:32-11:37. Now, if Hess's account is accurate, if he was really trapped for an hour and a half, the explosion could have occurred no later than 10:00 AM. Of course, there is some slack in these estimations. But I'd say that's pretty close.

Rudy Giuliani wrote a book about his experience in the 9/11 catastrophe. He and Michael Hess were long time buddies, working in the same law firm together. In his book, he calls his friend affectionately, "Mike." Giuliani tells about Mike's experience in Building 7. Yet, he gives an interesting explanation. Giuliani claimed that the explosion that Hess experienced was really the North Tower collapsing and causing damage to Building 7 (just like the official story!).

However, the time line of these events do not add up. The North Tower collapsed at 10:29. If Hess's "hour and a half" is true, he would not have been rescued until 12:00 PM at the earliest, three minutes after he gave his interview several blocks away.

Maybe it was a timing issue? But even NIST absurdly claimed that the rescue of Michael Hess happened between 12:00-12:10 PM.

This all revolves around the explosion that he experienced. If you move to the time lines, you get an explanation for the explosion: the North Tower collapse. But the time lines do not make sense logically with Hess's interview at 11:57 AM.

Now, Michael Hess was not alone during his time in Building 7. Barry Jennings, a fellow Emergency Management worker, was with him the entire way. Jennings gave a testimony to Dylan Avery who produced the controversial film, Loose Change. Even before the release of the film, floating around on the Internet was Barry Jennings's partial testimony. He told Avery that he and Hess ran to the 6th floor, but an explosion blew them back. They were trapped on the 8th floor. So far, it matches with Hess's story. Jennings, though, gave a much lengthier amount of time during which they were trapped. He several hours. So we can deduce that, given Hess's and Jennings's testimonies, they were trapped between an hour and a half and three hours. A long time, I'd say!

Jennings, though, distinctly recalls getting the attention of firefighters on the ground. They headed toward him, but then turned and ran. A while later, they came back for Jennings. Again, they turned and ran. These two attempts and retreats aligned with the two collapses. Finally, the firefighters got to Hess and Jennings and led them to safety.

Here is the testimony of Barry Jennings:

To add on to the intense weight of this eyewitness testimony, Barry Jennings claimed that when the firefighters rescued him, they brought him through the lobby. Jennings didn't recognize it because it was so badly damaged. The fireman told Jennings to not look down because they were stepping over bodies.

Three major threats to the official account arise out of the testimony of Barry Jennings:
1. The explosion. According to Jennings's time line, the explosion occurred way before either building collapsed. Hess, although he later changes his story to fit Giuliani's account, originally backed up this explosion with his interview on UPN 9 News. The official story discounts any use of explosions.

2. If the collapse of the North Tower is what caused the damage to Building 7, how in the world could falling debris have destroyed the lobby to be unrecognizable? At this point, Building 7 was still standing, even though parts of it were burning. It doesn't make sense.

3. The official report said that nobody died in Building 7. Where did those bodies come from? Did Barry Jennings make that up?

At least one person died because of Building 7. After the BBC aired two different documentaries on WTC 7 (the first of which completely omitted Jennings and the second one distorting his testimony to fit the official time line), Jennings mysteriously died at the age of 53. Just two days before the NIST Final Version was released on August 21, 2008.

The reports said that Jennings died in a hospital of complications. Dylan Avery, the producer of Loose Change, hired a well known private investigator to determine the details of Mr. Jennings' death. After a week or two, the PI sent a message to Avery saying that due to the nature of the case, she would not be able to continue. And she refunded Avery's money.

I read this last part while relieving myself on the toilet, and I couldn't help but to tear up. Barry Jennings, a man who was brave enough to tell the world what really happened on September 11, is now dead. Do I think he was murdered? How could you not?

So, this post is dedicated to the memory of Barry Jennings. I know that it is not much. But if I can tell a small group of people around me about the things that he saw, about the truth behind the attacks on 9/11, maybe someone can be brought to justice. Maybe, just maybe, we can rally together and demand that better and clearer explanations be given to us. I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to keep you from dying in vain, Barry. But I am going to try my best to do something about it.

Rest in peace.

Friday, November 20, 2009

9/11 Take Two: Harry Potter and the Mysterious Building 7

Friends, you knew it was only a matter of time. And seeing as how right now I have no speaking voice, I thought I would turn to my writing voice to give more insight into our favorite tragedy: 9/11.
As you may or may not know, I have recently been hired by Borders. It is an easy job. I like being around books and I like making money. As I was shelving some new comers the other day, I stumbled across my old pal David Ray Griffin. Next to Contradictions was a new book entitled The Mysterious Collapse of World Trade Center 7 (Why the Final Official Report about 9/11 is unscientific and false). Whew! What a mouthful! And to make the book even more interesting, the subject is not WTC 7 itself. The entire book debunks the reports made about WTC 7. What a backwards and complex place this world is.

When I left off my last David Ray Griffin book, I was convinced that the government knew about the terrorist attacks and chose to do nothing about it, which to some is basically carrying out those attacks. I think they were wrong in doing so, but I found it hard to accuse them. However, Griffin is much more aggressive in this book and makes a compelling case for the "inside job" theory.

The first thing Griffin does is layout basic steps for a scientific investigation. Methods to which every scientist must adhere in order to create hypotheses, theories and conclusions. Failure to comply with these basic scientific rules results in scientific fraud. Some of these rules include never ignoring evidence, never have a predetermined outcome, always start with the most likely hypothesis, and so on. The reason he points this out is so that the reader can see just how far the investigators went to commit scientific fraud on the WTC 7 reports.

Don't forget those rules. I'll come back to them in a minute.

Now. If you remember from my earlier 9/11 posts, WTC 7 wasn't even mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report. Not once. Could it have been perhaps because the Commission was headed by Phillip Zelikow? Perhaps. But who is this bozo? Besides being the head of the "independent" committee looking into 9/11, he was also a close friend of Condoleezza Rice. He co-authored a book with her. He helped transition the National Security Agency into the Bush administration, and later acquired a job within said administration. Pretty independent, huh?
Well even if Zelikow was a nincompoop, at least the committee would get some independent experts in there to really investigate the WTC rubble. Almost. FEMA headed these investigations. FEMA stands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Oh, weird. Another Bush administration-led committee. Federal means government, you dumbos! Okay, okay. Well at least FEMA brought in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Yet, we find out that the ASCE was extremely limited in what it could do because of the strict guidelines imposed by FEMA and therein the Bush administration.

Okay. So let's say that nobody suspects Bush and Cheaney for the attacks on 9/11. Wouldn't it still be ridiculous to have that much of a biased sway on the investigation? NIST filed the final report on Building 7. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is a respected scientific community. . .but it is also a branch of the US Department of Commerce. Everywhere you turn, you run into a Bush-Cheany committee or organization running the investigations. Pretty clever, huh?

Back to science. Let's take a deeper look into what happened to WTC 7. Two planes hit two towers and both collapsed and some debris from the north tower may have caused some damage on building 7. Also, the official report says that there were small, manageable fires throughout the building, but the firefighters were told to not bother with it. And yet, WTC 7 collapses in a free-fall, just as the two towers did. We have to look at some facts here.

1. No high rise structure has ever fallen like that because of a fire or damage from an aircraft. EVER.
2. WTC 7 was not hit by an airplane like the towers. The official explanation for the towers' collapse was extremely hot jet fuel. No jet fuel in 7! What caused it to collapse?
3. Even the fires in the towers, fed by the jet fuel, could never have burned long enough or hot enough to reach 1500 degrees C (I don't know how to make the degrees sign).

So how can multiple small, manageable fires create enough heat and energy to take down a steel structure at free-fall speeds? The fires would have to be blazing incredibly hot for the same length of time at the specific points within the structure so that the beams could all give way at once. Highly unlikely.

Unless explosives are used.

Now if you watch a video of WTC 7 collapsing, it looks an awful lot like controlled demolition. That is, when explosives are placed on the structural beams of a building and it implodes in upon itself. In fact, there are many similarities between what happened to building 7 and a controlled demolition. Griffin lists them.
1. The collapse started from the bottom.
2. The onset of the collapse was sudden.
3. The collapse was total.
4. The building came straight down.
5. Its acceleration approximated that of a free-falling object.
6. Most of the concrete was pulverized into tiny particles, resulting in a huge dust cloud.
7. The building ended up in a relatively small pile of debris.

Scientifically speaking, when these similarities are present, that should be your jumping off point. Which is more likely: an unprecedented collapse of a building due to fire and damage on one section OR extremely similar characteristics between the building's collapse and a controlled demolition. Yet from the beginning, the NIST claimed that no explosives were used.

On what grounds? On what evidence? They began with a pre-determined theory, were influenced by their superiors since they were a branch of the Department of Commerce, and they completely ignored the fact that it was scientifically impossible for their theory to have actually occurred.

Either 9/11 is the biggest organizational disaster in the history of the world OR it is one of the most brilliant cover ups we have ever seen.

Oh! And how's this for some icing on the cake! How could someone get access to plant such explosives in the WTC towers and building 7?

How about Marvin Bush, George W. Bush's brother, who was the principal of Securacom, a company that provided security for the World Trade Center. Or maybe his cousin, Wirt Walker III, the company's CEO.

Inside job. All signs point toward yes. I'm anxious to see where Griffin will take me next.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Poetic Edda

Hello fellow history lovers. It has been a wild couple of months for me, and I have to admit that I have been slacking in my reading. I'm slowly making my way through Egil's Saga, which is very good but kind of slow. In between I have been reading the Poetic Edda, the sister and companion to the Prose Edda, as well as a birthday gift from my sister and brother-in-law.

I was excited to read the Poetic Edda because of how much I enjoyed the Prose Edda. In Snorri's Prose, they reference different prophecies and poems and such. But once I started to get into the first piece of the Poetic Edda, The Prophecy of the Seeress, I realized that the Prose Edda is really a sort of sparknotes for the Poetic Edda. The Prophecy is so hard to understand, especially with the countless kennings you find. A kenning is a characteristic and essential part of Icelandic poetry. It is a simple metaphor. An example is instead of saying Odin's name, one might say the son of Suttung. That's it. But because I don't have the cultural context or a list of all the things that is familiarized with different things, it's hard to follow.

There is good news, though. Following the Prophecy is The Sayings of Har, which resemble more of a Book of Proverbs than anything else. Except it is a little more loose and kind of goofy, not to mention totally pagan. In the introduction, the editor talks about how he tried to translate as best as they could. Even in English, I think this poem is written beautifully. I am going to write out a few lines so you can experience this wonder. During this part of the poem, Har is advising us who and what we should not trust. Incidentally, women keep showing up. Wonder why!?! But I am going to throw you in the middle here at my favorite part.

Fell wood in the wind, in fair weather row out to sea,
dally with girls in the dark-- the day's eyes are many--
choose a shield for shelter, a ship for speed,
a sword for keenness, a girl for kissing. . .

. . .A brittle bow, a burning fire,
a gaping wolf, a grunting sow,
a croaking crow, a kettle boiling,
a rising sea, a rootless trea,

A flying dart, a foaming billow,
ice one night old, a coild-up adder,
a woman's bed talk, a broken blade,
the play of cubs, a king's scion,

A sickly calf, a self-willed thrall,
the smooth words of a witch, warriors fresh-slain,

Thy brother's banesman, though it be on the road,
a half-burned house, a speedy horse--
worthless the steed if one foot he breaks--
so trusting be no one to trust in these!

-The Sayings of Har, Stanzas 82, 85-88

It's funny to think about these. When you read the Book of Proverbs, it all seems like common sense and words of wisdom that we all know but yea, it's helpful to be reminded. These may have been very similar in a totally isolated culture. Well, I guess not isolated because eventually the people spread across the globe. But far from the Roman reaches and before the Christian conversion. Women must have caused a lot of trouble back then because they area continually warning against their tricks.

Stupid women.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Iceland - A Preview

As I delve into the sagas of the Icelanders, I thought it might be a good idea to both recap and elaborate on how Iceland functioned and the world of the sagas.

These sagas were written mostly in the thirteenth century. But remember that they were oral stories passed down through generations and they referenced folks who lived in the ninth and tenth centuries. Not only that, but the stories began when Norway and Iceland were strictly pagan, and yet were written down only after their Christian conversion.

Norway didn't really have a written language. And a handful of families decided to flee Norway and the oppressive Harold Fine-hair to the newly settled Iceland. The winters were just as harsh as they were in Scandinavia, but because Iceland was an island, it was completely isolated, especially in the winter when the seas and rivers froze. The Icelanders were very aware and appreciative of their Norwegian roots and memorized the stories. When the missionaries showed up and taught them how to write, the farmers in Iceland went to town and copied down all of those famous stories. Yet, they are imperfect. While the sagas give little room for a personal narrative, it is obvious that the authors wrote somewhat hesitantly. Fascinated with their pagan roots but not a typical Medieval Christian, you get a very interesting and unique literary perspective.

From its foundation, Iceland was a bizarre independent, self autonomous island. The settlers hated being under a king, so they created this collection of expansive farms. Each farm had its own family and landed within a specific district. Each district had a few spokesmen. These spokesmen met a few times a year at the Thing. Then once a year, the spokesmen from every district met at the Althing. It was here where they would pass laws and punish those who broke the laws, etc. It worked relatively well. Your regular riff raff was there, of course, but all in all, the farmers lived peacefully spread out across Iceland.

In the ninth and tenth century, there were priests called godis. Later as Iceland was secularized and then Christianized, these godis became important figures in society. Some became the spokesmen at the Things, and others became judges. In a country where no executive branch of the government existed, it was strange that courts would become the cornerstone of the Icelandic life. Laws without anyone to enforce them. How impressive!

Right around the time that the sagas were being written, things started to heat up. There were about five prominent families who could claim roots back to Norway, and suddenly they began fighting for control of Iceland. And once again, there was this strange tension between the past and the future. This time instead of religions clashing, it was the distant stories of the trials of families struggling with Icelandic laws and their thirst for power while it was occurring in the present. What's strange is that the sagas, while not directly or specifically teaching anything, the stories do give lessons about different subjects. And while the Icelandic farmers were writing them down, the lessons were being ignored. The way of life in Iceland was coming to an end. The families were tearing society apart. And eventually they gave their allegiance back to the King of Norway and soon after the independent life of Iceland came to an end.

And so we begin to look into the world of the Icelandic sagas. I hope to keep this updated as I keep reading .

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Graduate School

I have been reading through the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda for my life-long study of Icelandic and Norse mythology, poetry, literature.

Dr. Torfi Tulinius answered my email and said that I am more than eligible for the one year Masters program at the University of Iceland. The coursework includes a lot of Viking classes!

So the question now is when and how do I pay for it.

Hang in there, history fans. Shouldn't be too long before another real post about Norse mythology or something else really boring that I love.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The End of the Vikings and the Beginning of My New Life in Scandinavia

I finished the lecture series. It was actually life-altering in a weird and nerdy way. I don't agree with part of his conclusion, but everything else was terrific.

The age of the Vikings came to end for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that by the twelfth century most of Scandinavia had gone Christian. And as the religion grew, the vikings were scolded and told that it's not a very good idea to go raiding on their Christian neighbors. That isn't a very Christ-like thing to do!
Another reason I kind of touched on in the last post. By this point, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are all independent kingdoms. The idea of raiding wasn't necessary anymore because they were all a part of the greater European economy. Trade was up. Cities were up and running. The art of ship building that made the vikings immortal had been lost. Times had changed and the viking raids were not essential or even intriguing any longer. Now it was the Christian monarch and killing each other for the throne and killing others for Christ. Also! In the 14th century, 2/3 of the population died from the black plague, so there really wasn't anyone left to raid.

This conclusion makes sense. But the Professor Harl goes on to say that the vikings were to blame for the Crusades. He doesn't say they forced anyone directly. But they did force Europe to organize. The vikings were experts at exploiting weaknesses. European kingdoms were seriously bashed by the vikings and had to figure out how to protect themselves. The feudal monarchs were a result. And they may have set the stage for the Crusades to happen. The violence they inflicted on Europe may have inspired the crusaders and the knights to turn the tables on their neighbors in the east. I do not, however, see any real connection between the vikings and the crusades that followed. Show me some evidence, Professor!!

As the lecture concludes, a new chapter of my life opens. My job at Weber is over in two weeks, which means there may be enough time to get one more audio book in before I quit. After that, I'm going Scandinavia. Last night I bought the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. Starting with the mythology and the legends seemed essential. I also picked up a collection of the Icelandic Sagas. I'm serious about this shit, dawg!

That means History Books will be downsizing to focus on the vikings and Scandivian history and anthropology. Hopefully you will enjoy what is going on here. I think Dave Orr is the only one who reads this, and I know that he is pumped.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Vikings Part 4: Cnut should have worn a condom

Fast forward.

The Holy Roman Empire has formed in what is today Germany. And now they are dishing out their own havoc on Denmark, trying to convert those heathens with violence, just like Jesus did. The Vikings in Denmark don't like being pushed around, so they look for an answer to their problem. Being the southern-most part of Scandinavia, they have to deal with all the kingdoms of Europe, those annoying kingdoms and empires with their Christian God. But it seems to work. So they create the kingdom of Denmark. I'm pretty sure it starts with Harold Bluetooth, or maybe his father. But Harold's son, Sven Forkbeard, eventually takes the throne. During his reign, the king of England massacres a good number of Danes. Sven will not stand for this, so he decides to conquer England. It is slow-going, but he manages to expel the king and many earls to Normandy. He dies in the middle of his campaign, and his son, Cnut, takes over as king.

Cnut heads over to finish up in England, defeated Edward Ironsides, and he becomes King of England. He decides to stay in England for most of the rest of his life. Harold, his half-brother, takes over for him in Denmark. England, by this time, is a very well run state. They produce a lot of revenue. So Cnut stays where the money is. Yet he still rules like an outsider. The people of England don't take to well to him. Neither do Scandinavians. This is mostly due to his adversary, Olaf the Stout in Norway. Olaf became a saint after he died, so you can imagine many people liked him. He had the poets on his side, and therefore was well known everywhere.

After years of battling, Olaf is finally defeated and kicked out of Norway. Cnut is elected at the All Thing to be the King of Norway. Now, here we have what was three entirely different territories under one man. Cnut had a potential empire at his fingertips. For some reason, though, he gave Norway to his oldest son, Sven, about 18 months after he was heralded as king. Sven quickly loses control of Norway, but for a brief moment in time there was a united empire in the North Sea.

Cnut dies in 1035. The events that follow his death are nearly impossible to follow. I made up a really awesome diagram on the computer that will make it even more confusing for you. I can't figure out how to post it, so here is a picture instead of the rough outline I drew when I should have been working.

Cnut leaves each of his three sons a piece of his vast empire. Sven had Norway. Denmark was left to Harthacnut, and England went to Harold Harefoot. For an English king, this was a very Scandinavian thing to do. Alfred the Great had started the tradition for Anglo-saxon kings to leave the entire kingdom to one heir. Scandinavian tradition cut up the kingdom and handed out parts to different successors. This was a recipe for disaster. Sven had been kicked out of Norway and died soon after. The people chose St. Olaf's son, Magnus, to take the throne. They wanted to shake off Danish rule for good, so they tried to take Denmark. Harthacnut had other things to worry about, so he concocted a treaty in 1038 that said that should he or Magnus die of natural causes, the other will inherit his kingdom. They were both young (Magnus at a ripe 10 or 11), and expected to live too long for this treaty to even matter to them. It was mainly so that Harthacnut could get Magnus off his back so he could focus on England.

Harthacnut was the obvious heir to the crown of Denmark. To him, England was under Danish rule, so it belonged to him. But Harold Harefoot wasn't going to stand for that. He quickly snagged the crown in England. So the stage was set. Harthacnut gathered his forces and prepared for an attack on his brother in England. But before he could make a move, Harold Harefoot died unexpectedly in 1040. Harthacnut was king of both England and Denmark by default. Here he had raised all this money and had nowhere to go. He then set his eyes on Norway to complete the empire his father had built. But in 1042, after partying too hard, he died before he could make a move! In just under seven years, all three of Cnut's sons had died, hadn't even reached the age of 25.

With the death of Harthacnut, it looked like the thrones of both England and Denmark were wide open. Magnus the Great, however, pulled out that gem, that treaty of 1038. According to it, he was the rightful heir to the throne of Denmark and therein England because Harthacnut had died naturally. Suddenly, the power shifted from the Danes to the Norse. Magnus quickly takes over Denmark and sets his eyes on England.

Here is where it starts getting crazy.

Two men pop up in Scandinavia. The first, Sven Estredsin, was a nephew of Cnut. He was a terrible warrior and lost nearly every battle he fought. But he was focused on one thing: Denmark. He did not care for Norway. He immediately challenged Magnus and shifted the kings focus on him instead of England. The second man was Harold Hardrade, a half brother of St. Olaf. He proposed to help Magnus fight Sven if the king agreed to split Norway between them. Magnus agrees and together they defeat Sven over and over. He keeps coming back! Before Norway can be carved up, Magnus dies! This is in 1047. And according to that pesky treaty of 1038, the kingdom is goes back to Harold Hardrade. Now, he has both Denmark and Norway. Sven, however, finally sneaks in and gets a hold of Denmark.


Go back to England. After Harthacnut died, Edward the Confessor, son of the king who Cnut had ousted, takes the throne. He is weak and is actually ruled by different earls and powerful families. Everyone knows Edward is on his way out. He dies in early 1066. There are quickly three suitors for the throne: Harold II, the son of Godwin, a powerful earl in England; Harold Hardrade, the king of Norway; and William of Normandy. All things considered, William and Harold II had no legitimate claims to the thrones. They were very weak connections. Harold Hardrade, the half-brother of St. Olaf, probably had the closest thing to a legit claim to the English throne. And of course, he is going to make the first move to get what is rightfully his.

Harold Hardrade takes a fleet of 300 ship filled with vikings to England and easily take York. Harold II takes his measly royal army and rides north to meet the Norse in what is the Battle of Stanford Bridge. Harold II annihilates Harold Hardrade's forces. Only 25 ships return to Norway with the few that survived. Before Harold can bask in his victory, William of Normandy invades in the south. Harold II rides down to meet him in the incredibly important and decisive Battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror comes out on top and thus England becomes a Carolingian feudal kingdom.

In the end, the three-piece empire developed into three distinct kingdoms. William took England and made it an official Christian kingdom. The kingdom of Denmark already existed, but it was taken over by the eternal loser Sven Estredsin. And even though he lost in England, Harold Hardrade left Norway to his family. Cnut was long forgotten and disliked by generations after.

Did you follow all that?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Vikings Part 3: Hey Columbus! The Vikings were discovering the New World before it was cool!

So many posts!
So much I've learned!
So many Vikings doing cool things!

The last few lectures on the recording have been following the vikings as the Norse and Danish push further west and the Swedes set up camp in the east. And let me tell you something: my mind was totally blown. I'm sure you've all heard the legendary stories about how vikings reached North America way before Columbus, but I never knew the details or even how it came about. And you know our wacky Russian nemesis? Born out of Scandinavian design! These guys could do it all.

Let's start with the vikings pushing west out of England. They knew that there was some land across the sea that they hadn't seen yet, but they weren't sure what it was. So eventually the vikings gathered up some ships and headed out and landed on a snow covered island that seemed hopsitable, but more importantly, uninhabited. They named it Iceland and set up camp. The geography seemed ideal for raising cattle and sheep but the pastures were limited. The interior of the island was this volcanic wasteland. So land started going fast.

What is incredible about the Icelandic settlement is the astounding amount of autonomy of not just for the four districts of the island, but for each individual farmstead. The people did not want a ruling government. They set up their farms and expected to be left alone. Every quarter, there would be what they called the "Thing." Respected men from the community would get together in their district and discuss problems and laws and so on. Every year would be the "All Thing." Here, the people would gather at one huge convention to make sure things were going smoothly in Iceland. And for the most part, they did. There was no governing body, no monetary system, and no taxes of any kind. There was a simple set of laws set down by the people that were to be followed. Even after Norway claimed Iceland as its own, the laws and way of life didn't change. Eventually, however, the land couldn't sustain the amount of people there. Ecologically, Iceland was being exhausted, which meant people were leaving and starving. It wasn't until 14th century when Denmark conquered Norway that laws were changed and Iceland as it had been was no more.

Scandinavians were used to harsh winters, but in Iceland, the ports and seas froze over so that for about five months, no trading could occur because of the impassible waters. The Icelanders, therefore, were forced to not only stock up on supply but also entertain themselves for a very long time indoors. They took to reciting the old Scandinavian stories and poems. There hadn't really been a Norse language to write them down, but now Icelanders had a language and had learned to write from Christian missionaries. So they started writing everything down. Most of what we know about Scandinavian folklore, myths, religious beliefs, comes from Iceland. The great family sagas also came from this tiny island. Geography influencing literature. Fascinating!

But, as I said, Iceland gets bogged down and overpopulated, so people start pushing west again. Erik the Red leads an expedition and lands on a giant ice-capped land mass. Only the west coast was inhabitable. Once again, there were no people. Only this time, the land was nowhere near as inviting as Iceland. So in order to get folks to come to his little settlement, he decided to deceive them. He called it Greenland. The settlement barely survived. It wasn't much too look at. Leif Erikson, Erik the Red's son, heard rumor of another island west of there that was covered in trees. So Leif took a small party out and accidentally found the New World. Covered in timber, they thought, this time foolishly, that they had found another island with nobody living there. This time, though, it was covered in timber. They lasted a short while until the Natives chased them out. They tried three different times to make the settlement last on the shores of modern day Canada. But between the harsh winter and the Natives, all attempts to settle on this land were abandoned. Keep in mind this is around 1009, nearly 500 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. So eat it, Chris!

While the party continued in the west, business was booming in the east. The Swedish vikings were tearing apart Eastern Europe with their mad river navigating. Their business was once again slaves. They would get into Eastern Europe, kidnap a bunch of Slavs, and float on down the river and sell them to the Muslims for silver. Now, at the beginning of this venture, the vikings and the Turks and Muslims were getting along quite well. There is evidence that the vikings were starting to adopt certain Turkish habits and customs. But this relationship came to an abrupt end. See, there were two different river systems that they would go down. The first one went down through Turkish territory and dealt with the Muslim Empire. The other went through Eastern Europe and Russia and emptied into the Caspian Sea and led them to the Byzantine Empire. The Muslim Empire started to crumble a little and there was a shortage of silver. So the vikings took off down the other river way, and that decision completely changed the landscape of Eastern Europe.

The Slavic people around Kiev were a bunch of numbskulls and kept killing each other, so they asked some of the vikings if they would come in to the area and rule over them. Pretty wacky when you think about the fact that these are the same people who had been stealing their neighbors and selling them into slavery. Nevertheless, the vikings set up shop in Kiev, which is in modern day Ukraine. They began trading more and more with Byzantium and eventually found their way into Constantinople. And they were very impressed. Scandinavia and Russia were untouched by the Roman Empire, so they had not seen any sort of organized city or city programs like what Constantinople offered. They liked it.

Three different times the vikings tried to sack the great Byzantine city. Not so much of hostility or hard feelings, but because it looked like a challenge. It was the most organized and defended place they'd seen so far. The first two times, they were thwarted. The third, however, they made impact on the city even though they did not succeed. A treaty was signed that gave the vikings great merchant rights in the city and all sorts of benefits. But the stipulation was that they had to convert to the Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Like most vikings, they saw the benefits of conversion and said yes even if they had their fingers crossed behind their backs.
What does this mean? Well, the vikings took that Eastern Orthodox Christianity with them back to Kiev, back to Eastern Europe and modern day Russia, which did not exist back then. They were so impressed by the cities and organization of Constantinople that they began modeling their settlements in a similar way. They began marrying Slavs and creating this hybrid culture with that specific religion. Out of these settlements, out of this culture and these people, Russia was born. The Russia that we know with its Orthodox church and it's Slavic-related peoples can trace its roots back to the first few cities set up by the vikings.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Vikings Part 2: Different Strokes for Different Folks

It's much too late to be starting this post, but I have too much information in my head. I need to write it out.
I've been continuing my journey with the vikings. I've been learning new things as well as being reminded of other segments of history that I have studied before, such as St. Patrick's role in Ireland or the way the Danes shaped England. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We need to start with some raids.

Viking raids began at the very end of the 8th century. They started drifted across the sea to Western Europe, which was then Gaul and the empire of the Frankish kings and so on. What pushed the vikings to travel such distances to raid and pillage and destroy and steal? I discussed in my last post how they wanted to venerate their ancestors by proving themselves in battle. That had something to do with it. But really the vikings were just clever bullies. They saw weaknesses and they decided to strike and take whatever they wanted. The slave trade was huge at this time, so these Norsemen would either take prisoners to trade or hostages to sell for ransom, along with precious religious items and all kinds of booty.

Eventually Charlemagne took the throne as king of the franks and later the Holy Roman Empire. He did a decent job of keeping the vikings at bay, but they still raided. Across the sea, down the rivers, through the towns, through the monasteries, into the churches. As soon as he died, his sons started fighting each other over who would get what territory. And the vikings, being the smart handsome bullies that they were, saw a weakness and went for it. Charlemagne was organized so it slowed the raids. But as soon as they saw disorganization, they went for the jugular. A whole new generation of brutal Scandinavians tore through Western Europe, reeking havoc.

The empire was too big to protect. The descendants of Charlemagne had to eventually break it up into smaller kingdoms, what became the feudal system as we know. The vikings indirectly invented, or at least set the stage for, the feudal system within autonomous kingdoms that were so well known through the Middle Ages. The raids continued, however, until finally a large chunk of what is now France was handed over to the Norwegians. You see, many of these raiders had been at sea and to battle many times over the last 15-20 years. They had acquired so much wealth and so many wives and slaves, they were ready to settle down. They were given Normandy, land of the North men. This slice of wonderful land became the guidebook for how to build your kingdoms in the Middle Ages. All kinds of kings and emperors could not get the dukes of Normandy to obey their rule. The vikings were left to do their own thing right next door.

The vikings got tired of Western Europe (and some, as we see, just decided to settle down), so they moved across the sea to the west and found England sitting all by its lonesome self. And man they tore that shit up! Raid after raid came through the island, causing mayhem to the highest degree. England was in even more chaos than Western Europe. A non-unified state, England consisted of four major territories with chieftains and clans battle each other for one reason or another. Again, perfect conditions for a viking invasion.

The Danes moved in on England pretty harshly. They took two of the four territories and were ready to take the most important at the time, which was Wessex. Alfred the Great was the military genius who finally beat the vikings and pushed them back to a certain line. Alfred said that the Danes could stay as long as they stopped bothering them and if they were baptized as Christians. The Danish vikings said, okay, but you have to let us keep our own customs and you have to pay us a lot of money. So the English paid the vikings to leave them alone. But something very interesting happened in England which did not happen anywhere else. Following the collapse of Rome and the subsequent viking raids, most places in Western Europe were falling apart at the seams and becoming less and less entangled with any sort of state or patriotism or country. England, however, banded together against the vikings, and by the end of the Viking Age, had unified the country under one king. Crazy!

Likewise, the vikings did rather odd things in England, too. Whereas in Western Europe, they tromped along and took what they wanted, or in the case of the Norse, were given a big chunk of land where they had their own little Norwegian community, in England, they settled in with the Celts and the Anglos and the Saxons. They adopted some pieces of their lifestyle, such as Christianity, but kept others like their love for Scandinavian legends and poetry.

Ireland, too, was hit hard by the vikings. But Ireland itself was an anomaly in this whole scenario. The reason for this is because although it was in the path of trade routes with Roman merchants, it was never a part of the Roman world. It sat on the fringes of society, picking up an interesting sect of Christianity and copying down books. Monasteries were the main learning and cultural centers in Ireland. Everything revolved around them. So of course, that's where the vikings liked to hit. The Irish were not exactly worse off than the Anglo-Saxons in England. They didn't have the organizational problems the way England had. Ireland was still a fragmented society of warrior clans. This impressed the vikings, who still had superior weapons for naval battle, but stayed out of the hinterland where the Irish were master ambush warriors.

The viking take on Ireland is yet again different from their previous two victims. Here, they practically conquer the majority of the island. But they don't do anything about it. Someone claims the throne, but no huge Scandinavian kingdom is set up like it could have been. The Irish pushed back and forced the vikings out of Dublin. The vikings hit back and so on and so forth.

Very strange, this life in Ireland. One of the biggest reasons the vikings like Ireland was because of its booming slave trade. Vikings would take Irish, Scots, Pict's, and many other European neighbors and sell them to the thriving Muslim empire to the south east. Slaves were the most sought after commodity during this time. And while later the Christian sea-kings thought it unwise to capture fellow Christians like themselves, most of the time the slaves were regular white skinned neighbors. Although, they were particularly fond of Eastern Europeans who eventually became named after their occupation: the Slavs.

What is bizarre to me is how inconsistently the vikings directly and indirectly changed the landscape of the world. The Danes pretty much completed the English language, but the Germanic languages of Western Europe hardly had any use for Scandinavian words. They settled in Europe and in Normandy, but left other places ruined and broken. Sometimes they took to Christianity, sometimes they didn't.
I have a few more episodes to go, but you can see why I needed to stay up late and get this pounded out.
See you in Valhalla.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Vikings Part I: Free Jazz

After my great bamboozle, I strapped in to take on Nicola Tesla head on. I was graciously interrupted by a handful of history sources all at once. First, the Michael Heckenberger book came in from the library. I was so stoked. It is some heavy reading, but awfully interesting. There will be more on this later, which will probably much more academic in style. It's that serious. Secondly, I came across two pieces of audio literature that I could not ignore. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is sitting on my ipod, patiently waiting for me to finish the lecture series on Vikings.
Yes, Vikings. What is so interesting about them? Well, I knew a little bit going into it. Those Scandinavians were essential in building a unified England as well as shaping the English language. We discussed them at length in History of England and even in the History of the English Language, two courses I loved (and excelled in) at school. Of course, the only thing I really remember was the idea of going "berzerk." The Vikings would get trashed then go raiding and pillaging. How awesome is that?
This lecture series can be found here: http://audiobookcorner.blogspot.com/2009/07/complete-history-of-vikings.html

The Vikings had their day between around 800 AD - 1100 AD. There are a few reasons why they dominated Europe and Russia. First, they had surpassed everyone in ship building. At this point, people were still using very small vessels that could not handle rough waters. The Scandinavians figured out how to build longships, using technology they borrowed from both the Celts and the Romans, and could successfully navigate rivers. Eventually they tamed the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. No one else had come to terms with the water like the Norsemen. So they had the upper hand in naval skills.
Not only did they have boats, but they had weapons and armor, too. Once again, borrowing ideas from Rome, the Scandinavians put their own personal spin on things (no, they never wore hats with horns). The would make fierce chain armor and tough helmets as many of them were expert smiths and metal workers. They were a hunting people, not an agricultural, so they knew how to use bows and arrows well. Their main income came from their timber trade, so they weren't too bad with an axe.
Another reason for their success was their sheer strength, especially when it came to survival. Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are home to some of the harshest winters anyone can imagine. Living that close to the arctic requires every bit of cleverness, strength, and wisdom you can muster. You must know how much food to stock up for the winter. You must know how to get across the land to trade. These people were experts at exploiting the northern climate for their advantage. And they became all the stronger for it.
The most intriguing advantage was the way that they were raised. Their belief system was all based on venerating and honoring their ancestors. They eventually came to enjoy the myths and stories of famous warriors who spent eternity in Valhalla, the Great Hall of the afterlife. Every viking was raised to believe in this, which meant that every male viking was bound to be a warrior of some type. They went into battle without fear of death, without cause or thirst for justice. While their Christian neighbors fought over beliefs and boundaries, these men showed up to fight simply to honor those who fought before them. The rest of the world found this terrifying. For three hundred years, no one could stop them or slow them. And even then it was a meager compromise that involved paying the vikings to leave England alone. With this attitude, their superior weapons and will to survive, as well as their knowledge of the waterways, the vikings traveling through western Europe and up into Russia, raiding villages, fighting anyone who dared.

The Scandinavians, like most civilizations, had oral traditions that passed down through generations. Many of these oral traditions were finally written down when our idiot ancestors finally figured out how to write. You may remember the Iliad or Beowulf or any other really long, boring story you had to reading in 11th grade English. These were memorized and recited and passed down. The vikings, however, had a super interesting way of using the oral traditions. There was the basic shell of the stories that people knew. Then, there was the meter and the form of the poetry in which it was to be recited. So you had the story and the form. But the way it was told was never word for word. The lecturer compared to jazz musicians. They have a song and style and a key, but each musician may put their own spin on a solo they give or take a classic song like "When the Saints" and put something a little different into it to spice it up. This is the way the vikings passed along their myths and stories until some idiot wrote it down. I love that. I've never thought of language in such beautiful terms.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

FAKE OUT 2009!!

Today, two different tangents crossed paths and made my mind go crazy in what became one of the greatest Zack Melton Bamboozles of his history life.

I have been trying to get my hands on The Ecology of Power by Michael Heckenberger. I went to the library to order through ILL. But I forgot what the title was, so I got on the internet to look it up.

Last night, I spent some time with my good friends Nate and Tiffany Woodard. Nate told me a really long story about getting verbally assaulted by a Marion cop, and when he finished, he went further to tell me all about Nikola Tesla. Now, I have to admit I didn't know anything about this guy except that maybe I remembered that weird electricity room scene in The Prestige. Needless to say I was captivated.

So as I am looking for Michael Heckenberger's book, I find an article the combines Tesla and Heckenberger. I was thinking this was some awesome Cat's Cradle shit coming to life. I scanned the article and saw something about Tesla's grid and Heckenberger's discovery in the Amazon (Lost city of Z), as well as Stonehenge other cradles of humanity.

I went ape shit. I was on the verge of unearthing one of the craziest and most important discoveries. This one writer, Doug Yuchey, pointed it out and I would take it from there. I would connect the dots and be heralded as a hero.

I got my Tesla book and marched out of there to hurry through a few errands so I could get down to business. When I arrived at my favorite WiFi hotspot, I got everything ready for a mind-blowing discovery. I went back to the website. But this time I slowed down and looked at the other articles this guy had published. UFO's. Atlantis. The dude is a crackpot. Here's what he was really saying. Tesla had a theory that 9 magnetic towers could be erected across the earth that could create wireless electricity. Doug Yuchey said it was very similar with these ancient civilizations. They had all been constructed similarly. Sweet. But instead of conducting electricity they were supposed to have opened up a utopic harmony that would allow the gods to dance around and move among us.

My hopes crushed, Tesla rolling in his grave, and my afternoon wasted, I decided to share here on History Books the joys and disappointments of being a passionate history lover. Sometimes she is beautiful and gentle and maybe can put her legs behind her head. Other times she can be mean and resentful and laugh at the size of your . . .intelligence.

Here's to you, history. Time makes fools of us all!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rule #1: Never rape a mobster's daughter

Before I share with you the craziest dude that ever lived, I would like to wrap up Z. I didn't think I would be able to. As the book continues it becomes apparent that Fawcett was a little nutty. He got really into Madame Klavatsky's spiritualism and as his surviving son Brian sifted through his late father's notes, it became apparent that Z could very well have stood for a realm that is not of this earth. A transcendental city in which you can obtain pure enlightenment. Some Buddhist bullshit. Literally hundreds of people were lost forever or died trying to find Fawcett and or his legendary city. So if this is a hoax, some religious mumbo jumbo, the world will be furious.
However. It ends on a good note. The author, David Grann, follows Fawcett's footsteps into the jungle. He learns that the bones that were claimed to be Fawcett's that surfaced back in the 1960's were in fact phony. Fawcett stood at a whopping 6'2. The skeleton was 5'7. The tribe who had taken responsibility for his death admitted that they had not killed him but had in fact helped him and warned him not to travel into the more harsh tribes' territories.
The author catches up with another anthropologist in the region, Michael Heckenberger, who has apparently been in the Amazon for nearly a decade. He leads Grann way out in the jungle, in the actual area where The City of Z was said to be around. He tells Grann to look around. Gran sees nothing but the trees and wildlife. But as he looks closer he realizes that he is standing in the midst of a an ancient plaza. It is hard to see because there are no stones, no logs, nothing rising high to mark the city. But there are marks on the ground. Heckenberger discovered roads, causeways, cites on which vast communities had lived. The roads all lead to the center circle, all bent at right angles. The people who built them knew what they were doing. An advanced civilization had lived in the Amazon. No one could find it because it had been built out of wood and mud and and material of the forest, so it all disintegrated. No ruins still marked where the buildings had stood. But the vegetation was different within the plazas than outside The roads were an obvious tip. Here, at last, was proof that Fawcett had been right all along. Maybe not the Z he had in mind, but the civilization he stood up for when everyone thought he was crazy.
Well, I guess he was a little crazy.
But not as crazy as Richard Kuklinski. As soon as I finished Z I began The Ice Man by Philip Carlo. It is the story of Kuklinski, a contract killer hired by the mafia. A little off the beaten path of my usual selection of history, but interesting nonetheless. The dude is a madman. By the age of 26, he had already killed 65 people. When he would get in a bad mood as a young man, he would travel from his home in Jersey City to Manhattan's west side where he would kill anyone who looked at him wrong. He killed bums and junkies and secret gay men. He always used different weapons, and, seeing as how he killed people no one really cared about, he was never questioned or linked to any murder.
His posse in Jersey City, The Coming Up Roses (brilliant name, by the way--I love it), started getting noticed as a rough and extremely violent crew. Richard was the leader of this serial killer group. He murdered without passion, without conscience. He began being noticed by the higher ups. Mafia men started contacted him and asking him to take out marked men. He did it with precise aptitude and enjoyed doing it. What created this monster? He often wondered that himself. He was born to a devout Catholic mother who did not care for anyone. When she wasn't at the church praying, she was being beaten up by Richard's father. Stanley Kuklinski beat his wife often and even hit his children. After a good while, he hit his first born son, Florian, so hard, he killed him. Killed his own son. Richard's mother helped to cover it up to make it look like an accident. Constantly being beaten up by his father, never shown affection, didn't even receive presents on Christmas. The man was raised with hatred and violence in his blood. It was only a matter of time.
Murder met his hands for the first time when he was 18 years old. He killed a neighborhood bully. Eventually he got married and had kids. He tried getting out of the underground lifestyle, but he made so much money and liked killing people. So he went back to doing what he did best. Murder. And he did it so often and in broad daylight. Yet he was NEVER linked to anything. Well, at least not yet. I'm a little over halfway through.
Here is my favorite story by far:
A guy raped a girl who was the daughter of someone related to the Gambino family. Richard was hired to kill the guy but he was to make him suffer first. So he drives down to Miami and stakes out the guy for a few days. He finally makes his move and abducts the rapist. He then drives out to the beach where he sits the guy down and tells him calmly that he will be killed and it will be slow and painful. First, he rips off the guys nuts with just his hands. Then he cuts of his ding dong and shows it to him. Then he starts slicing off stretches of skin with a hunting knife. Then he pours salt all over the wounds. Then he rips open the stomach with the knife. Then he puts a life preserver on the man and throws him into shark infested waters.
Holy shit.
I guess I am not learning any important lessons from this history book. There aren't things to really make me think and wrestle in my mind. But it's terribly fascinating. And disturbing. If anyone is interested in watching some interviews with Richard Kuklinski, you can see them here:

Life sure is full of wacky characters.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Lost City of Z

History books.
I am so sorry that I've forsaken you for so long.
I got wrapped up in Harry Potter, which, even though they are fantastic and I would have had plenty to talk about, they do not count as history.

I am nearly finished with The Lost City of Z by David Grann. The author goes back and forth between the life of Percy Harrison Fawcett and his own. Percy Fawcett was an Englishman who became obsessed with a legendary city in the Amazon. Much like, El Dorado, the city of Z was a rumor, a possible lost civilization. But unlike El Dorado, there weren't so many stories of gold and treasures. Sure, there were some, but Fawcett wasn't interested in that. Way ahead of his time, Fawcett was a pioneer anthropologist. He believed that the existence of the city of Z would disprove the belief that no civilization could successfully exist in the Amazon. The rest of the world watched as centuries of explorations unearthed the most savage and dangerous peoples. Still living in huts, still hunting with bows and arrows, still sporting nothing but a revealing loin cloth. From the conquistadors up through Fawcett's own travels, the Amazon proved to be impossible to cultivate, civilize or conquer.
But Fawcett discovered not only clues that pointed toward this city, but found tribes of Natives who had indeed been able to survive off the jungle for centuries. The last remnants of the people of Z? Perhaps. But Fawcett never returned from his 1925 exploration. He and his son were lost in one of the most famous disappearance in exploration history. Hundreds of people have tried to follow Fawcett's footsteps to either find him or his lost city. None have succeeded in the latter. Some claim to have found Fawcett's bones, but his story remains so intriguing and mysterious.
What would the implications be if that city were found? Would it have shifted the image of the people of South America? There certainly were vast and rich civilizations in Africa, yet the Europeans and Americans looked down at them as if they were subhuman. Would it make a difference if the city of Z were located? Sure, it would change the landscape of the Amazon. Does it matter now if we set the record straight after all that has been done to the Natives in the Americas? I don't know. I'd like for the city of Z to exist for the sake of Fawcett and those who believed so much in it, who resisted the teachings of the times that said the Indians were savages and uncivilized, for the sake of those who fought against the violence and discrimination of Indians.
More than the implications of city of Z was the crushing realization of what the first Great War meant to the people on Earth. Seeing the reactions of Fawcett was heartbreaking. He, like many Americans and Europeans before the war, lived in a crumbling religious world. Science was taking over and the Victorian era was coming to a close. Already the standards of the world were being questioned. Agriculture was being overtaken by industry. Cities were booming. The new world was on the rise. World War I was the straw that broke the camel's back. A very large and heavy straw. It's interesting that World War I gets overlooked because of the atrocities of World War II. And I don't wish to diminish either one of these terrible events. But the first war threw the world, especially Europe, into a terrible and desperate reality. Fawcett put it best when he said that it wasn't the Native Americans who were the savages. It was the Europeans. It wasn't the Indians who killed explorers for infiltrating their isolated villages. It was the rest of the world blowing each others' heads off because of a shaky set of ethnic and national alliances. It was not only the volume of people killed (as many as 25,000,000) that astonished the world, but it was also the fact that the whole world, not just two sides of a nation or two nations, were battling a losing fight for optimism, for faith, for the world. Was it really that devastating? Fawcett was an excited man who lived life to the fullest, who barrelled through the jungle and would hang on the brink of death because he loved the jungle and the prospect of making important discoveries. After he served in World War I, he would sit inside of his house with his head in his hands, his eyes glazed over without speaking to anyone.
Fawcett eventually snapped out of his distress, but not before his financial backers, including the Royal Geographic Society, were too depleted by the cost of the war to send him. He eventually got back to the Amazon, which was his sanctuary. The rest of the world was not so lucky. Not to be a pessimist, but it's pretty clear that the Great War damaged our self esteem and our belief in human kind that catapulted us into the War to End All Wars that catapulted us into the Cold War which catapulted us into Vietnam which catapulted us into Iraq which catapulted us into George W. Bush who catapulted us into cancer which catapulted us into a computer job in a cubicle.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Napoleon Bone n' Fart

Traditionally, the Pope accepts and crowns emperors and kings. But Napoleon gave the Pope permission to even attend his coronation. Here, we see a painting of Napoleon taking the crown from the Pope, symbolically turning his back to the Church, and crowning his beloved Josephine.
He didn't actually crown her, but put the crown on his own head.
It's a pretty bad ass move.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

You Said You'd Never Forget Part III: I'll Give You a Conspiracy Theory!

I finally finished 9/11 Contradictions by David Ray Griffin, and I have a lot to take in and to work through my brain. As you've already seen, the contradictions are obvious and unacceptable. What can I do? Would Dan Burton even listen to me? How could we move forward 8 years later when so much evidence relies on eye-witness accounts? I don't know. I think I will try writing a letter or lending him the book. We'll see where it goes. In this post, I am going to discuss the last couple of chapters that I found interesting and then leave you with the closing statements of David Ray Griffin in his book because it is extremely well said.

What new conspiracy have I stumbled upon? What contradiction is now keeping me awake at night in wonder? You can trace my night terrors to one man: Rudy Giuliani. I don't remember now if the then-mayor of New York City was praised or put down for his hand in the 9/11 mess. But after reading the last few chapters, if I were a New Yorker, I would be demanding some answers from this chump.

Giuliani was being interviewed by ABC's Peter Jennings about his day on 9/11. During the interview, Giuliani revealed that he had been told prior to the South Tower's collapse that the World Trade Center would be coming down and that he needed to get out. At first glance, this seems like a normal story. He is an important man and therefore rightly told to rush to safety. But there is a huge problem with what he said. If you look at the testimonies, the oral histories, of the firefighters, the rescue workers, the contractors, anyone who had a part in the building of or cleaning up of the towers, one man in the hundreds of accounts believed that the plane crashes would take the buildings down. No one saw it coming. Why? Those towers were built specifically to withstand the impact of an airliner. And never in the history of fires or plane crashes had a large building collapsed in that way. So, how, when all the fire fighters and emergency workers were pulling people from the buildings without the thought of collapse ever entering their heads, did Rudy Giuliani know for a fact that the buildings were going to come down?

Let's take a look at what happened. On the morning of 9/11, Giuliani was working in WTC 7 at the Office of Emergency Management. He was told shortly before the first building came down that he needed to get out. Yet, as we discussed, there were very few people who could even imagine that the tower would fall. And, as we will see, the very building he was in was left to the small, manageable fires that broke out and building 7 was leveled. Who told Giuliani that they were going to collapse? He never reveals this. And he later changed his story to where he felt the floor tremble and was told to leave after the first tower had come down. David Ray Griffin did a good job at outlining the information passed between the fire fighters that day, which shows a bizarre circle of the collapse foreknowledge. Giuliani claimed it was the fire fighters who told him he had to leave. The fire fighter command post was given a message from an emergency personnel who was given a message from his superior who was, in fact, the deputy director of the Office of Emergency Management. Therefore, Giuliani gave himself the heads up.

If Giuliani knew the towers were going to collapse, he either knew something we did not or he has a superior sense of what will happen. Never has the world seen a building collapse because of a fire. Yet, somehow he knew. If you look at the official story, the Commission says that the fires burnt so hot that it melted the steel. Science tells us, however, that a fire from the jet fuel of a plane will not burn hot enough to melt steel. Perhaps the fire was hot enough to weaken the steel so that it bowed. Even then, it is hard to believe that weakened steel would down a 100+ story skyscraper in a matter of 10 seconds. How, then, did these towers collapse? The Commission Report only gives us fire as a possible explanation. What about explosions? The Commission claimed that there wasn't enough evidence that anyone had even heard or seen explosions. Griffin points out that dozens of fire fighters, emergency workers, WTC employees, and many others heard and saw what appeared to be explosions before and during the collapse of all three buildings. One very popular account was the live interview with Barry Jennings. He told of how he and another man were trying to escape WTC 7 hours before the collapse. On the way down the stairs, an explosions took out part of the staircase. He and his companion had to climb back up to the 8th floor and wait for rescue. There, Barry claims he watched both towers fall. The first tower collapsed just before 10:00. Building 7 didn't fall until after 5 that evening. Yet, Jennings was blown back by an explosion before any of the other buildings fell. Not only did the Commission ignore most of Barry Jennings's testimony, they completely changed the time of his rescue to better suit their official timeline.

And you know what really weirds me out? Building 7 wasn't even mentioned in the Commission Report. One of the most bizarre aspects of that day wasn't worth discussing. How about the circle of information from Giuliani's Office of Emergency Management? How about how there were reported explosions in the lower half of the building when the explanation was that damage from the other towers were what caused it to collapse? How about the seemingly small fires that were in only a few floors and yet the fire department were told it was too risky and to let the building go? These things do not make sense.

And lastly, during the clean up at Ground Zero, there were numerous eye witness accounts of molten steel in the debris and rubble. Curse you Science!! If fires had caused the WTC to collapse, there should not have been molten steel left behind. As we saw, fire cannot burn hot enough, even when boosted by really awesome jet fuel. The only way that there could have been molten steel in the smoldering piles of what had been the World Trade Center is if something else had been added to the fire. Yes. If explosions had been used, molten steel would be expected. The Commission denied that there was any evidence of molten steel, despite those numerous accounts.

So. Dozens of accounts by journalists, television news crews, fire fighters, World Trade Center janitors, and many others of explosions, mixed with what looks very much like controlled demolition, mixed with molten steel, is not even significant enough to discuss in the Commission Report? You have got to be kidding me. And, as you will see, David Ray Griffin says that that, in itself, is a conspiracy theory.

"Shortly after 9/11, President Bush told the American people, perhaps especially Congress and the press, that they should not 'tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of 11 September.' Although we can probably all agree that such theories should be rejected, the meaning of the phrase 'outrageous conspiracy theories about 9/11' may not be immediately self-evident.
One's first reaction might be that the term 'outrageous' does not serve to distinguish some conspiracy theories about 9/11 from others, because all such theories are outrageous. However, the official account of 9/11, which Bush was advocating, is itself a conspiracy theory. A conspiracy is simply 'an agreement to perform together an illegal, treacherous, or evil act.' A conspiracy theory about some event, therefore, is simply a theory that it resulted from such an agreement. According to the official account of the 9/11 attacks, they resulted from a conspiracy involving Osama bin Laden and several members of al-Qaeda. The official account is, accordingly, a conspiracy theory.
We must ask, therefore, what would make such a theory outrageous. What are the criteria?
Within the philosophy of science, there are two basic criteria for discriminating between good and bad theories. First, a theory should not be inconsistent with any of the relevant facts. Many critics of the official account of 9/11 have faulted it for not fulfilling this criterion. They have argued, for example, that the damage and fires resulting from the impact of two airliners cannot explain why the Twin Towers and WTC 7 collapsed.
But many journalists and politicians have felt unqualified to make judgments on such matters, which involve technical issues, such as how buildings react to being hit by planes and how steel behaves when it is heated.
The other basic criterion of good theories, however, does not require any technical expertise. It simply says that a theory must be self-consistent, devoid of any internal contradictions. If a theory contains an internal contradiction, it is an unacceptable theory. If it contained a large number of such contradictions, it would be an outrageous theory.
The official conspiracy theory about 9/11, counting at least 25 internal contradictions, is clearly an outrageous theory. And yet this theory has been used to justify attacks on two countries, which have caused over a million deaths, including the deaths of thousands of Americans. This theory has also been used to justify extraordinary rendition, torture, warrantless spying, the denial of habeas corpus, and a general undermining of the US Constitution.
Given the extraordinary developments that have been justified in the name of the official story about 9/11, Congress and the press need to ask if the many contradictions in this story point to its falsity."

Friday, February 13, 2009

You Said You'd Never Forget Part II: Lost in Afghanistan

In George Orwell’s classic, 1984, there is a terribly unsettling scene in which the workers and members of the Party take part in what is known as Two Minute Hate. This fairly simple event is a part of the lifestyle these people have come to known. The face of Emmanuel Goldstein is projected in front of an audience while propaganda is being tossed around loosely. Goldstein is a character that is only mentioned and never actually seen in the novel, and he probably didn’t exist except as more propaganda. According to the story, he was once a party member but broke away and started the Brotherhood, whose sole goal was to take down the party. At the Two Minute Hate, the audience yells and screams and shakes their angry fists at the man and his revolutionary ideas. After the allotted time, they quiet down and go back to work. Bizarre!

Or is it? I read that book many years ago. But when I saw Osama bin Laden’s face on CNN and Fox News on a consistent basis, Orwell’s book was resurrected in from my memory. He was immediately pointed out as the brains and/or the money behind 9/11. He was handed the blame, but no one could find him for him to accept or reject the blame. But his image appeared everywhere. How the United States wanted us to hate this man! Had Emmanuel Goldstein come back to us in a turban and a long scraggly beard? At the time (remember, I was merely sixteen-years-old), I took for granted that what our government and media was telling us was true. There was evidence that Osama bin Laden had planned the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and, if the plane hadn’t crashed in Shanksville, Capitol Hill. And yet, after reading through 200 pages of Griffin’s book, I became aware that NO hard evidence had ever been presented that proved bin Laden’s guilt.

The Commission Report is built on the assumption that bin Laden was responsible for the attacks on 9/11, but there was never a single piece of paper presented by the government that showed beyond a reasonable doubt that our new Emmanuel was at the helm. Powell had promised a white paper with the evidence. When asked about the paper, Bush and Ari Fleisher avoided answering any questions. Eventually, the answer became, “we have evidence, but it is classified.” A skeptic reporter put in very good terms. When told that there was proof but that no one could see it, he replied, “So, you are telling there is evidence, but you cannot show us. We just have to trust that you are telling the truth.” Trust the Bush administration? As I’ve said before, I do not think that he is an evil man. But how could we possibly put our trust in those fiends of his? I guess it’s easy in retrospect to see how foolish we were. Maybe at the time, since his time in office had been so brief, we thought that he meant no harm. Maybe.

The press pushed and pushed the Bush administration for answers. They tried. Nothing. The United States demanded that Osama bin Laden be turned over. The Taliban and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia all agreed to do their part if evidence was provided that he had indeed had a hand in the attacks. President Bush said that there were going to be no discussions. I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sound like the way things work. In our society, you are innocent until proven guilty. Across the country, bin Laden’s face was being air brushed on t-shirts that said things like, “Wanted: Dead of Alive.” Now, of course, bin Laden was wanted for other things, most significant was his U.S. embassy bombing in east Africa. He had been on the FBI’s most wanted list for a long time. But something interesting happened, or, rather, didn’t happen: After our government placed the blame of 9/11 on bin Laden, the offense did not show up on his FBI profile. So the FBI reports said that he was wanted for his older offenses but not 9/11. When government officials were asked why the attacks were not on his file, they said childishly, that they don’t need to be because he is already wanted for those previous offenses. That doesn’t make any sense. If bin Laden was blamed for 9/11 in public, why wasn’t he blamed on paper? The Commission report said he did. The government said he did it. The FBI said he did it. But still to this day, he is wanted for the attacks on the American Embassy in 1998. OFFICIALLY.

What does the Commission have to go off of, anyway? The testimony of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM). According to KSM, he had taken his idea for 9/11 to bin Laden and together they picked the men and planned the attacks. KSM seemed to be the brains and bin Laden was more of an organizer, a respected terrorist who knew the ropes. Yet, how do we know what KSM’s testimony really was? The same government who tells us that bin Laden was involved is the same government who interrogated KSM. In 2006, some journalists tried to question KSM and the other detainees whose testimonies were what pointed out Osama bin Laden. No one was allowed to contact them. No one witnessed the interrogation. No one can say for sure that KSM actually said those things. Again, we have to trust our government.

What about the confession video? Not long after the attacks, a video was discovered of Osama bin Laden talking about his part in 9/11 and taking responsibility. This video, however, is of extremely poor quality. And if you look closely, you’ll see a few things that don’t quite add up. He looks much thicker, almost chubby. All other images of bin Laden, he is extremely thin. In the video, he is eating with his right hand. Bin Laden is left-handed. And on that right hand, there gleams a silver ring, something that bin Laden would not wear due to his extreme religious beliefs. Granted, these are small discrepancies, but so are all of the other contradictions surrounded the truth of 9/11.

To this day, no real, actual, hard evidence has been provided to the press or the public that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Osama bin Laden was the man behind 9/11. I could also same the same thing about Dick Cheney. But we needed, much like the people in Orwell's book, someone to hate, someone to focus on to distract us from the truth. I think at this point, I don’t care who is at fault, I just want to uncover the truth. It feels like it is pretty widely accepted that our government knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor with enough advanced noticed that they could stop it. But they didn’t. And we packed our bags and went to war. What would stop us from doing the same thing a second time? I think we did. But I don’t want to let it slip by into some weird schism in history. I want to remember 9/11 as an attack on my country, and I want whoever is responsible to be tried fairly by jury of their peers. We’re a long way from that. I will keep digging.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

You Said You'd Never Forget Part I

For the last few weeks, I have been tossing around different ideas for a Napoleon post. I have been listening to a pod cast about his life for the last couple months, but I have been a sparse attendee, catching pieces of his life in stretched-out spurts. There is so much to his life and it is so spread out that it is difficult to put down something interesting that is both coherent and worthwhile. I mean, the man was a genius but he did so many things, it is hard to keep them organized in my brain. Then I went on tour and sort of lost all of those ideas.

While in Florida, we stopped at a Barnes and Nobles. I was snooping around some nonfiction books, trying to find some good creative nonfiction, but nothing was grabbing my attention. So I stumbled up the escalator to the Social Sciences/ Culture section. I dropped to my knees in disgust of what awful looking books were there. While on the ground, I saw two words on the spine of a book that immediately engulfed my entire being: 9/11 Contradictions. That’s right. I am referring to David Ray Griffin’s open letter to Congress and to the press. This book, 9/11 Contradictions, is not a conspiracy theory book. Some of my friends might recall when I got home from tour this past May and I stayed up all night watching conspiracy theory videos on you-tubes. Many of these videos involved 9/11, and the oddities that occurred on that infamous day. Since then, and after I listened to the audio book, Hubris, the circumstances of September 11 have been super interesting to me.

David Ray Griffin is not a conspiracy theorist. His book is just what the title suggests: a record of the contradictions that exist between the official 9/11 Commission Report and the hundreds of different sources that existed before the report came out and that still exist today. He doesn’t draw any conclusions from the information he gives. Instead, he simply states the contradictions, backing them up with facts and explaining both sides and then asks Congress and the press to look deeper into why these contradictions exist and which version is the truth. Brilliant.

I am about 120 pages into the book, and so far I am utterly fascinated by the ignorance, arrogance, and sheer lack of honesty of the 9/11 Commission and its ridiculous report. Neither I nor Griffin is accusing the Commission of lying. But there are so many things that the Commission overlooked when compiling its data. One of the biggest pieces of information that was completely ignored was the testimony of Norman Mineta, the Secretary of Transportation. Keep in mind Mineta, in order to have this job, was a cabinet member, probably appointed by Bush. So he would have no motive to tarnish the Bush administration or its claims about what happened on that day. I would like to investigate Mineta a little more and see if there would be any reasons for him to want to disagree. I say this because his testimony differs so greatly from the Commission Report that the two radically different sequence of events could have happened that day. Not only that, but this testimony by Mineta was given to the Commission for its report. . . And it was completely ignored and not mentioned when the report was published.

It bothers me immensely that so much debate relies on one man’s testimony. But Griffin discusses different testimonies, articles, and news programs that back up Mineta’s account. The 9/11 Commission Report, though, is also backed up by other resources. So, it is very difficult for me to say that Mineta is telling the truth and the Bush administration is lying. I think is obvious that the Bush administration is trying to hide something, and they kind of dig their own grave by being overly suspicious. Another man gave an account that backs up Mineta’s testimony, and he was also mostly ignored. Richard Clarke put out a book about the events of that day of September 11 just before the Commission Report came out. What about these men tells me that I should believe their accounts instead of the official one? Well, for one, the Commission Report, the official story of 9/11, is filled with so many holes that it makes anyone want to believe in someone else. But I really want to find out more about these men before I put any stock into their stories.

My skepticism aside, Mineta tells an incredibly compelling and interesting story about what happened that day. The first warning signs of contradiction we see is when Dick Cheney shows up in the underground bunker beneath the White House. Official reports say that Cheney did not arrive until right around or after the Pentagon was struck, which was about 9:58. Mineta, however, as well as some other accounts, places Cheney there as early as 9:10. In fact, before the report came out, it was widely believed and accepted that Cheney had been down there that early. But the report said he didn’t arrive until just before 10:00. That is quite a difference! Why is this discrepancy important? It is important because if Cheney were there, he would be in charge of the Presidential Emergency Operation Center. Remember, Bush was in Florida sitting with his ding dong in his hand in some elementary school. Mineta’s testimony tells of an extremely bizarre encounter of Cheney that, if it is true, places Cheney in the underground bunker at at least 9:25, nearly a half-an-hour prior to the official time. In Mineta’s story, a young man, presumably a secret service man, approaches Cheney and tells him an airplane is heading toward Washington and is about 80 miles out. He then asks, “Do the orders still stand?” Cheney says yes. This occurs three times, each time the plane getting closer and closer. Each time Cheney says, yes, the orders still stand.

First of all, how do we know this conversation even occurred? Officially, Cheney was still somewhere else in the White House. But let’s say for a moment that Mineta is an honorable and honest man. The Commission Report says that the military had notice on only Flight 11, the first plane to crash into the WTC. The report says that there was no notice for the other three planes, the plane that hit the South Tower, Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon, and Flight 93 that was downed in Pennsylvania. By the time Cheney would have had this encounter, the first two planes had already hit the WTC. If this conversation did happen, then Cheney would have known about one of these two hijackings long before the crashes. Why wouldn’t he contact the military? If he was referencing Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon, there would have been plenty of time to get fighter jets in the air to shoot down the airplane (which is, in fact, protocol). And if this conversation did happen, what orders would they be talking about? Protocol was to shoot down hijacked planes that were suspicious of being used weapons. The orders from Cheney still stood, and yet Flight 77 still crashed into the Pentagon. Could the orders have been to not shoot? Is that why the young man continued to ask, because it wasn’t protocol? And what if it was Flight 93? The report still says that the military had no advanced notice of that flight.

As you can see by a simple discussion of what time Dick Cheney arrived in a room, so many questions are raised that really affect the outcome of that day. This is just the beginning. It is extremely frustrating to me because the Bush administration looks incredibly suspicious, and up until now, I did not suspect foul play. My take on September 11 is as follows:

I do not believe that our government planned or executed or caused the terrorist attacks on 9/11. I believe they are just that--terrorist attacks. But, I think because of the holes in 9/11 Commission Report and because of the retracted and changed testimonies and statements of Cheney, Bush, and others that our government knew full well of the events that took place and had time to respond accordingly and they did not. They turned their heads and let these atrocities take the lives of hundreds of Americans. Why would they do that? The answer is pretty obvious. Remember earlier in 1991 when Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, and many more hawks from the Republican army had their angry little hands in Iraq? Oh yes. Unfinished business.
As I stated in an earlier post, these hardliners really wanted to pin Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War with weapons of mass destruction charges and to get him out of power. But they didn’t have all the pieces they needed. After they left, it came out that he did indeed have biological weapons. So Bush leaves, Clinton comes in for 8 years but doesn’t bite. Bush Jr. comes home to the White House and Cheney and his handsome bullies are waiting, literally salivating, chomping at the bit, for a chance to get into Iraq and finish what was started. But they needed something huge to turn the page in their favor. Bam. September 11 knocks the American public off its feet. We are scared and we need help. In steps Dick Cheney, who fluffs up already faulty information about Iraq, and we’re back in just under two years.

Do I think our government caused 9/11? No. Do I think they turned a blind eye and allowed the events to occur as they did? You bet. Do I think Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld should be tried and punished for their actions? Yes. Do I think Bush is a terrible man? No, I think Cheney was pulling his dick most of the time. Pun intended.

There are so many things to discuss about this book by Griffin, so this will be Part I. Part II will come before too long and will most likely deal with the question of when the military was contacted or was it at all. In the mean time, I have a lot to think about. I want more than anything for the truth to come to light and for the criminals of this tragedy to be punished accordingly, but I don’t know what I can do. I have been thinking about writing my Congressman and asking him to look deeper into these questions because so much innocent blood has been shed between 9/11 and the war in Iraq and the war on terror, and I want it to end. Also, I am just really curious as to what really happened.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Going going back back to DC DC

It has been a while since I last updated. Since then, I have been keeping up with the podcast about Napoleon Bonaparte, and I listened to a book about Daniel Tammet, an autistic man with incredible abilities. That book is called Born on a Blue Day and I highly suggest checking it out.
Today, I started The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. Only a few chapters in, Obama caught me with an idea that I have been thinking about since I first heard his name mentioned back during the primaries.
This all goes back to an article I read in the New York Times. I read that around 131 veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars had come home and committed some sort of violence or murder. What an appalling number! In retrospect, this probably happens in all wars. But I hadn't been alive or socially aware during any others. So I began looking at the candidates' plans for getting out of Iraq. I wanted something that was quick and clean. We were in a tight spot. If we left too soon, things would be bad. If we stayed any longer, things would be bad. Either way, Iraq was fucked. So I read up on Hilary Clinton and John McCain and Barack Obama. The latter's plan seemed to me to be swiftest. He had an 18 month program that would get troops out of Iraq and back home where those people belong. That was my main reason in getting involved in this year's election. Our American troops shouldn't have to suffer in Iraq for a bullshit war, or go nuts in Afghanistan chasing a ghost.
I decided to do some further reading on Barack to see if he was a candidate I could get behind. You see, I voted for Bush in 2004 as a lesser of two evils deal, and I swore to never vote again unless I knew and agreed with most of what a candidate stood for. One of the articles I read brought up the moral battle in the United States and how Obama could be beyond that. Since the 1960's, when everything people knew was thrown upside down, the American people have been split between right and left. And that is fine. There have always been two dominate parties in the U.S. and there always will be. But what was happening was that people were getting away from the policies and moving toward moral stances, which is understandable considering all of the corruption Washington has seen. The author of this article says that unlike the rest of the candidates in primary, Barack is young enough and out of reach enough to side with the younger generations who are tired of that nonsense. His growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia may have given him a different perspective on the United States and how it works. This got me pumped. For the last few years, I swore of politics all together because it wasn't even about what was being done in the American legislature or how we can make our lives better. It was about abortion, gay marriage, and all of these social issues that are indeed important but that overshadowed things that were really going on--things that we are dealing with today, like the environment, the economic crisis, our dependency on oil. We were so busy throwing stones, we didn't see the hole we dug below our feet.
Barack Obama says in this book that politics is not about good vs. evil. Thank God someone else believes that. It is about people with different opinions coming together to find the best way to run our country. I was actually perturbed by some of my peers' reactions toward Obama being elected president. They were saying things like, "I'm afraid for my country," and "We better get ready for end times because the anti-Christ is here." How offensive! I think John McCain would have made a fine president. He's a smart man. I disagreed with some of the things he wanted to do with our country (not to mention his running mate was kind of a nut). I would have been bummed that Obama had lost, but by no means would I call McCain the anti-Christ simply because he has different views than me.
It isn't about good vs. evil. It's about the policies. I am not saying you don't have the right to be passionate about your party's stances. If you hate abortion, work towards ending abortion. But don't be hateful. If you want gay-marriage, work on getting some legislature passed. Talk to your congressman or woman. There will always be division. I know that. But we can have division and still be civil. You aren't evil because of the party you are associated with. You aren't evil because your Truth may be different than my Truth. Evil is a strong word. It should not be used lightly. But when someone says that all democrats are going to hell. . .that's awful. Is that not evil thinking? Someone who says all Republicans are rich and they hate the poor. That is stereotyping and completely ridiculous.
I know that Barack will not put an end to this social/moral rift. But I believe that he can usher in a new era of generations who are tired of quarreling about these things that really don't hold a lot of water when it comes to how our country is run. Maybe we can get back to disagreeing about taxes and the poor shape of our economy. Let's argue about education and how that should be run. Barack Obama will not fix these things for us. But my hope is that he can create a new playing field. He may be the breath of fresh air this country needs to shake the last 60 years of running in circles.
I like the title of his book. The audacity of hope. He's crazy for trying to change things. But here's hoping.