It’s been a few days. I didn’t have an internet connection …. “I ran out of gas. I… I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!” So I’ve missed a few opportunities to comment on ….. well whatever….. So I’ll mention a few events of note. Here at FOD, we only speak the truth – no alternative facts – no fake news! And the quote above is of course from Jake Elwood – one of the Blues Brothers.
On February 13, 1633, Galileo Galilei, the “father of observational astronomy“, the “father of modern physics“, the “father of scientific method“, and the “father of science” arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy for advocating Copernican theory. Nicolaus Copernicus first postulated and then published in 1543 the Sun was the center of the Universe, motionless, with Earth and the other planets rotating around it in circular paths modified by epicycles and at uniform speeds. Almost a century later, Galileo, faces an official Roman Inquisition in April of that same year. (below right). He agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Put under house arrest indefinitely by Pope Urban VIII, Galileo spent the rest of his days at his villa in Arcetri, near Florence, before dying on January 8, 1642. It gave him a lot of time on his hands, allowing him to continue with his observations. His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honor), and the observation and analysis of sunspots. Galileo also worked in applied science and technology, inventing an improved military compass and other instruments. His work influenced later scientists such as the English mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, who developed the law of universal gravitation. The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself. But sometimes it takes a long time for the vindication to take place. It was not until 1992, when the Vatican formally acknowledged its mistake in condemning Galileo. The middle finger from Galileo’s right hand, is currently on exhibition at the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy (photo right). I tell you, you can’t make up truth stuff like this. So maybe he got the last laugh!
I mentioned in the last FOD some observations from the Yalta Conference. After the the Battle of the Bulge, German armies were exhausted and by February, 1945 were retreating on all fronts. However, that was not enough. In the four raids conducted between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the German city of Dresden.
Those raids reduced the “Florence of the Elbe” to rubble and flames, and killed roughly 135,000 people. It was the single most destructive bombing of the war—including Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and all the more horrendous because little, if anything, was accomplished strategically. The firestorm created by the two days of bombing destroyed 90% of the city center. Dresden burned for many more days, littering the streets with charred corpses, including many children.
From reading some other accounts of the Yalta Conference I have always thought Winston Churchill‘s and Stalin’s decision to firebomb Dresden was more about revenge. For Churchill it was revenge for German attacks on London with V-1 and V-2 rockets. For Stalin it was Stalingrad. Plus Stalin was just a really bad guy. I don’t find where FDR, gravely ill at the time, offered an alternative plan.
The Semperoper, the Dresden state opera house, pictured left, reopened in 2007. It was destroyed during the bombing, and was rebuilt beginning in 1985. It reopened exactly 40 years after the bombing on 13 February with the same opera that was last performed before its destruction, Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber.
On February 14 around the year 278A.D., Valentine, a holy priest in Rome in the days of the Emperor Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II), was executed. Under the rule of, ‘Claudius the Cruel,’ Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. Concurrently Rome was under pressure from all parts of her empire. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military legions. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families. To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. It was the Executive Order of the day! Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270. Legend also has it that while in jail, St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it “From Your Valentine.” Because so little is reliably known of him, in 1969 the Catholic Church removed his name from the General Roman Calendar, leaving his liturgical celebration to local calendars. However he is still a saint in the church of Hallmark.
The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre is the name given to the February 14, 1929 murder of seven members of George “Bugs” Moran‘s North Side Gang during the Prohibition Era. It resulted from the struggle – between the Irish American gang, Bug’s North Side gang and the South Side Italian gang led by Al Capone – for control of organized crime and in particular prohibition in Chicago. Former members of the Egan’s Rats gang were suspected of a significant role in the incident, assisting Capone. When real Chicago police officers arrived at the scene, one of the victims, Frank Gusenberg was still alive. He was taken to the hospital, where doctors stabilized him for a short time. Police tried to question Gusenberg. Asked who shot him, Gusenberg, who had sustained fourteen bullet wounds, replied “No one shot me.” He died three hours later. After Capone was convicted and sentenced to prison for income tax evasion, he was transferred to the to the recently opened Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary off the coast of San Francisco, where he died. His cell (right) is cell 181 at Alcatraz.
Commodore Edward Preble had assumed command of the U.S. Mediterranean Squadron in 1803. By October of that year Preble had begun a blockade of Tripoli harbor. The first significant action of the blockade came on 31 October when USS Philadelphia ran aground on an uncharted coral reef and the Tripolitan Navy was able to capture the ship along with its crew and Captain William Bainbridge. Philadelphia was turned against the Americans and anchored in the harbor as a gun battery. On the night of 16 February 1804, a small contingent of U.S. Marines in a captured Tripolitan ketch rechristened USS Intrepid and led by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr. were able to deceive the guards on board Philadelphia and float close enough to board the captured ship. Decatur’s men stormed the vessel and decimated the Tripolitan sailors standing guard. To complete the daring raid, Decatur’s party set fire to Philadelphia, denying her use to the enemy. Decatur’s bravery in action made him one of the first American military heroes since the Revolutionary War. The British Admiral Horatio Nelson, himself known as a man of action and bravery, is said to have called this “the most bold and daring act of the age.” Even Pope Pius VII stated, “The United States, though in their infancy, have done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast than all the European states had done..
And remember that truth thing above? And – Remember the Maine! A massive explosion of unknown origin sinks the battleship USS Maine (ACR-1) in Havana Harbor, on February 15, 1898, killing 260 of the fewer than 400 American crew members aboard. One of the first American battleships, the Maine weighed more than 6,000 tons and was built at a cost of more than $2 million. Sent to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban revolt against Spain, she exploded suddenly, without warning, and sank quickly, killing nearly three quarters of her crew. The cause and responsibility for her sinking remained unclear after a board of inquiry investigated. Nevertheless, popular opinion in the U.S., fanned by inflammatory articles printed in the “yellow press” by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, blamed Spain. The phrase, “remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain”, became a rallying cry for action, which came with the Spanish–American War later that year. While the sinking of Maine was not a direct cause for action, it served as a catalyst, accelerating the approach to a diplomatic impasse between the U.S. and Spain. Admiral Hyman G. Rickover became intrigued with the disaster and began a private investigation, in 1974. Using information from the two official inquiries, newspapers, personal papers and information on the construction and ammunition of Maine, it was concluded that the explosion was not caused by a mine. Instead, spontaneous combustion of coal in the bunker, next to magazine, was speculated to be the most likely cause. Rickover published a book about this investigation, How the Battleship Maine Was Destroyed, in 1976. The Maine‘s mainmast part of a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Her foremast resides at the U.S. Naval Academy.
From the very beginning, three brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and their friend Al Jardine distinguished themselves by their vocal harmonies and early surf songs. They are one of the most influential acts of the rock era – the Beach Boys. Emerging at the vanguard of the “California Sound“, they performed original material that reflected a southern California youth culture of surfing, cars, and romance. The photo (left) is from their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I once heard it said, the Beach Boys were so famous because they never ventured into greater depth than a fast car, a beautiful girl or the perfect wave. And in the 60’s, what more did you need? After 1964, they abandoned the surfing aesthetic for more personal lyrics and multi-layered sounds. In 1966, the Pet Sounds album and “Good Vibrations” single vaulted the group to the top level of rock innovators and established the band as symbols of the nascent counterculture era. Brian Wilson rolled tape on take one of “Good Vibrations” on February 17, 1966. Six months, four studios and $50,000 later, he finally completed his three-minute-and-thirty-nine-second symphony, pieced together from more than 90 hours of tape recorded during literally hundreds of sessions. Again the truth prevails.