31 March 2009

Post 192

I think history is fascinating. I hate the discipline of history, and I severely doubt that I will take any more history classes than what I already have, but I love history. Because I am, in my intellectual pursuits, distrusting and cynical, I avoid reading history books of any kind as much as possible. But because I love history, I really enjoy reading historical books--that is, books from a given era talking about that era. Fewer degrees of separation that way. I think that's why my research assisting is so interesting to me.

Remember back in November when I quoted that old article that talked about the New Deal? Today's post is in a similar spirit, though the parallels with our day are not so obvious--are not, in fact, apparent, to my mind, at least I, for one, am oblivious to any that may exist. Today I will be quoting a book called The Web, written by Emerson Hough and published in 1919. The title page calls it, "A Revelation of Patriotism: The Web is published by authority of the National Directors of the American Protective League, a vast, silent, volunteer army organized with the approval and operated under the directions of the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Investigation."

"What is the American Protective League?" you ask? It was an organization that was active in America during WWI. On page 163 of The Web, Hough says that "the American Protective League had no governmental or legal status, though strong as Gibraltar in governmental and legal sanction." That's all the introduction I feel inclined to give you.

And now I will proceed to quote a lengthy bit from the book. Why am I doing this? Am I feeling really political right now? No. Really, I just feel I have found proof of things I was ranting about nearly a year ago, namely that we don't need fiction to fill the role of producing shock because real life has way more wow-me to it. So next time you feel inclined to pick up a dystopic novel, don't go for 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 or Brave New World--pick up The Web and open your eyes to the fact that reality is far more interesting than fiction.

I don't know how easily you'll find this book in a library (it is very old, after all), but it can easily be downloaded in a variety of formats from archive.org, so no excuses.

Now, a long quote. Pages 163-166, to be precise.


It is supposed that breaking and entering a man's home or office place without warrant is burglary. Granted. But the League has done that thousands of times and has never been detected! It is entirely naive and frank about that. It did not harm or unsettle any innocent man. It was after the guilty alone, and it was no time to mince matters or to pass fine phrases when the land was full of dangerous enemies in disguise. The League broke some little laws and precedents? Perhaps. But it upheld the great law under the great need of an unprecedented hour.

A man's private correspondence is supposed to be safe in his office files or vault. You suppose yours never was seen? Was it? Perhaps. It certainly was, if you were
known as a loyal citizen a true-blood American. But the League examined all of the personal and business correspondence of thousands of men who never were the wiser.

How could that be done ? Simply, as we shall see. Suppose there was a man, ostensibly a good business man, apparently a good citizen and a good American, but who at heart still was a good German as hundreds of thousands of such men living in America are this very day. This man has a big office in a down-town skyscraper. He is what the A. P. L. calls a "suspect." Let us call him Biedermacher.

About midnight or later, after all the tenants have gone home, you and I, who chance to be lieutenants and oper atives in the League, just chance in at the corridor of that building as we pass. We Just chance to find there the agent of the building who just chances also to wear the concealed badge of the A. P. L. You say to the agent of
the building, "I want to go through the papers of Biedermacher, Room 1117, in your building."

"John," the agent says to the janitor, "give me your keys, I've forgotten mine, and I want to go to my office a while with these gentlemen."

We three, openly, in fact, do go to Biedermacher's office. His desk is opened, his vault if need be it has been done a thousand times in every city of America. Certain letters or documents are found. They would be missed if taken away. What shall be done?

The operative takes from his pocket a curious little box-like instrument which he sets up on the table. He unscrews a light bulb, screws in the plug at the end of his long insulated wire. He has a perfectly effective electric camera.

One by one the essential papers of Biedermacher are photographed, page by page, and then returned to the files exactly--and that means exactly--in the place from which each was taken. The drawers and doors are locked again. Search has been made without a search warrant. The serving of a search warrant would have "queered" the whole case and would not have got the evidence. The camera film has it safe.

"Pretty wife and kids the fellow has," says the agent of the building, turning over the photographs which the simple and kindly Biedermacher, respected Board of Trade
broker, we will say, has in his desk. He turns them back again to exactly--exactly--the same position.

"Good night, John," he yawns to the janitor, when they meet him on the floor below. "Pretty late, isn't it?"

The three men pass out to the street and go home. Each of them in joining the League has sworn to break any social engagement to obey a call from the League headquarters at any hour of the day or night. Perhaps such engagements have been broken to-night by some or all of these three men. But no one has "broken and entered" Biedermacher's office.

In Central office some data are added to a card, cross-indexed by name and number also, and under a general guide. Some photostats, as these pictures are called, are put in the " case's " envelope. Nothing happens just yet. Biedermacher still is watched.

Then, one morning, an officer of the Department of Justice finds Mr. Biedermacher in his office. He takes from his pocket a folded paper and says, "In the name of the United States, I demand possession of a letter dated the 12th of last month, which you wrote to von Bernstorff in New York. I want a letter of the 15th of this month which you wrote to von Papen in Berlin. I want your list of the names of the United Sangerbund and German Brotherhood in America which you brought home from the last meeting. I want the papers showing the sums you have received from New York and Washington for your propaganda work here in this city. I want the letter received by you from seven Lutheran ministers in Wisconsin telling of their future addresses to the faithful."

"But, my God!" says Biedermacher, "what do you mean? I have no such letters here or anywhere else. I am innocent! I am as good an American as you are. I have bought a hundred thousand dollars' worth of Liberty bonds, some of each issue. My wife is in the Bed' Cross. I have a daughter in Y. W. C. A. I give to all the war charities. I am an American citizen. What do you mean by insulting me, sir?"

"John," says the officer to his drayman, "go to that desk. Take out all the papers in it. Here's the U. S. warrant, Mr. Biedermacher. Rope 'em up, John."

John ropes up the files, and the papers go in bulk to the office of the U. S. attorney on the case. Now, all the evidence is in possession of the Government, and the case is clear. Biedermacher is met quietly at the train when he tries to get out of town. Nothing gets into the papers. No one talks secrecy is the oath. But before long, the big Biedermacher offices are closed. Biedermacher's wife says her husband has gone south for his health. He has--to Oglethorpe.

You think this case imaginary, far-fetched, impossible? It is neither of the three. It is the truth. It shows how D. J. and A. P. L. worked together. This is a case which has happened not once but scores and hundreds of times. It is espionage, it is spy work, yes, and it has gone on to an extent of which the average American citizen, loyal or disloyal, has had no conception. It was, however, the espionage of a national self-defense. It was only in this way that the office and the mail and the home of the loyal citizen could be held inviolate. The web of the A. P. L. was precisely that of the submarine net. Invisible, it offered an apparently frail but actually efficient defense against the dastardly weapons of Germany. It must become plain at once that secret work such as this, carried on in such volume all across the country three million cases, involving an enormous mass of detail and an untold expenditure of time and energy, were disposed of meant system and organization to prevent over-lapping of work and consequent waste of time. It meant more than that there was needed also good judgment, individual shrewdness and of course, above all things, patience and hard work.

25 March 2009

Post 191

The Daily Show is not my favorite thing: Jon Stewart is often crude and rarely funny; when I catch a snippet here and there, I find myself giggling at his facial expressions and then chagrined as soon as he opens his mouth. Nevertheless, Mr. Stewart may be the most no-nonsense interviewer of this generation, and I always love to see him tearing holes in the deserving. So I give you Jon Stewart's interview with Jim Cramer--because it's pretty great.

One thing I'll say for Cramer: he had serious gumption to go up against the world's toughest interviewer and mediadom's most amazing team of footage collectors in front of a crowd that would only boo and hiss his every utterance. It took balls--balls I'm pretty sure he doesn't have any more.

Here's the unedited interview in three parts:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Jim Cramer Unedited Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesEconomic CrisisPolitical Humor

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Jim Cramer Unedited Interview Pt. 2
Daily Show Full EpisodesEconomic CrisisPolitical Humor

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Jim Cramer Unedited Interview Pt. 3
Daily Show Full EpisodesEconomic CrisisPolitical Humor

18 March 2009

Post 190

Google's technology frightens me--and I like it.

A couple days ago, for the first time ever, I bothered to glance at Google Reader's recommendations for me, and I found this blog. It is awesome.

And I'm going to end this post now so you don't tell yourself, "Oh, Schmetterling rambled on for so long, I just don't have time to follow any links right now!"

So go, my people, and enjoy literalness.

12 March 2009

Post 189

I'm in a hurry, but I collected these tidbits while I was scanning today so I could post them here. I have no time to comment on them, but I hope you see their value anyway. These are from various issues of THE INDEPENDENT in 1915:

10 March 2009

Post 188


So, I keep emailing myself the interesting things I come across while scanning articles, and I'm tired of them sitting in my Gmail inbox, so I'm posting them here.

First up, interesting surnames I've encountered: Popcorn, Raper, Wellborn.

Next, words that I encountered in the first 20 years of the 20th century that I assume I never would have encountered otherwise: concomitant, recrudescence, suffraget, mortifications, manufactory.

Now that that's out of the way, here's the really interesting stuff:

I thought that English spelling was standardized back around the time that the printing press was introduced to the British Isles, but I have found that that isn't exactly the case (though it's true for most things, I think). A magazine called The Independent used a lot of spellings in the early 1900s that nowadays would be considered wrong. The first I noticed were things like tho and thru, so I figured it was just some kind of spelling (like telegraphic syntax in newspaper headlines), but then I noticed that it wasn't just -ough sorts of words that were spelled differently. Here are all the ones I noticed:

tho, altho, thoro, thoroly, thorofares, thru, thruout

every one (used in a context where we would now use everyone)


My favorite spelling difference was the -t past tense. We still have it today in words like kept, but back in pre-WWI America, it was a lot wider spread. Here are words I found:

imprest, publisht, exprest, represt, drest, fixt, whipt, prest, wrapt, developt, equipt, trapt, mixt, discust, addrest, possest

Lest you think that this is some kind of ancient history, that the language is no longer changing because the rules are set, let me move us into a more recent time frame:

A few weeks ago, I was scanning articles from U.S. News and World Report in the 1980s (remember the Honda ad I posted?). I was shocked when I realized that USNWR didn't standardize its title capitalization until 1986. In the early '80s, the capitalization of words in article titles was totally arbitrary (for example, in an issue dated 15 July 1985, they printed an article called "TV: Does It Box In President in a Crisis?" Note that in is capitalized the first time but not the second time--isn't that crazy?? I find it fascinated that the first one gets capitalized by virtue of being an adverbial particle [I assume] and the second one is not capitalized because it's obviously a preposition. Amazing). But starting January 1986, the made a rule: just capitalize the first word unless you have a proper noun in the title (1986 titles include "How far will the price of gasoline drop—and how soon?" and "The new shape of Hollywood").

Cool, huh? Anybody? Anybody?

...nobody understands me....

Of more general interest, perhaps, are these quotes I lifted from various 1908 issues of The Independent:

"Into the office of District-Attorney Jerome there came one day a grief-bowed, broken-hearted old man." (Weird, weird, weird construction, I say.)

"He said little, being a dumb fellow by nature"

Have the United States Judges Adequate Salaries? (Article title. Would we ever write such an article these days?)

"That is what we need in fiction—more manual labor and less indecent mental dexterity." (Here here! Are you listening, Hollywood? I am talking to you!)

"There are the familiar roadside signs: 'Town limit. Motor vehicles limited to twelve miles an hour." Has any motor party ever taken such a warning seriously? The maximum placed by the inexperienced authorities is low, and no pretense of obeying is made.

"And what if violators are arrested? Some inconvenience, a few dollars' fine —and that is all, as a rule. It is part of the game. [...]

"It is certainly an absurd thing for the lawmakers to consume their gray matter in constructing statutes designed to prevent automobiles from going more than twenty miles an hour on the public roads, while at the same time and in the same jurisdiction manufacturers are permitted openly to - urge every one to buy their cars, war-ranted to maintain a speed of sixty miles an hour on those very roads!" (Hehe. We might say the same today, no? Are you listening, Ferrari? I am talking to you!)

And that's all I've got.

Don't you wish your job was cool like mine?

04 March 2009

Post 187

I've always admired the brainwork accomplished by those who are good at the Kevin Bacon game, but I've never been able to join in because I don't know that I've ever actually seen a Kevin Bacon movie and I'm pretty terrible and remembering who's been in what anyway. But today I caught the vision of it as I played with some guys at work. Even though I'm still Kevin-Bacon retarded, I know enough to connect him to Tom Hanks in Apollo 13, and I know a few tricks that allow me to connect Tom Hanks to just about anybody--but only so long as nobody enforces a set number of degrees. I can now fully appreciate just how awesome it feels to make the connection between seemingly unrelated celebrities, which I never really got before.

The only reason I bring this up, though, is this chain I came up with (there is probably a shorter way, if any of you who a more movie savvy than I am want to undertake it, but this is good enough for me):

Kevin Bacon was in Apollo 13 with Tom Hanks, who was in Cast Away with Helen Hunt, who was in As Good as It Gets with Greg Kinnear, who was in Little Miss Sunshine with Alan Arkin, who was in Marly&Me with Owen Wilson, who was in Cars with Cheech Marin, who was in Oliver&Co. with--you guessed it!--Billy Joel.

The Seven Degrees of Billy Joel--now there's a game worth playing!

Post 186

I've been thinking about habits lately, and I've decided that there's no such thing as a good habit. I can't think of one, at least. It seems like, once something becomes a habit, it can't be really good any more. I mean, I see it all the time in Mormon culture--even in my own life--that when, say, praying becomes a habit, you find yourself blessing the food when you're going to bed and praying by name for a prophet who died more than a year ago. When scripture study becomes a habit, it ceases to be study and is reduced to staring unseeingly at a word-covered page.

I suppose one might argue that something like exercise doesn't depend on ardent attention: if you get up every morning and go for a run, it'll do your heart some good regardless of how much you put your heart into it. [I intended that to be clever, but I think I missed my mark. Any suggestions on that?] But I disagree. If I set a goal to be able to do 100 push-ups in a go (ha! that'll be the day...), and I hop out of bed every morning and crank out some push-ups, I may very well see the day when I can do 100, but if, once I have achieved that goal, it becomes a habit for me to hop out of bed every morning and do 100 push-ups, then I cease to progress and merely maintain a new status quo. If I go out and habitually run every morning, my running will probably decrease in zeal over time until it is no sort of exercise at all.

I guess my biggest beef is with that motivational poster I see from time to time--something about thoughts becoming words becoming deeds becoming habits becoming destiny-defining character--because it's naught to me but a pretty little platitude, an emerald slippery-slide argument, charming fatalism. Furthermore, I've had a lot of thoughts that sublimated directly into actions without bothering to become words, and actions can similarly impact destiny without bothering to become habits or characteristics: just drive drousily one time and run over a young mother--you don't have to make a habit of it, you'll still go to jail.

And those are my thoughts for the day.

03 March 2009

Post 185

Bored? Do a Google Image search for 'carbage' and feel happy that you have better things to do with your time than some folks.