Zion Island 21.

Reichsarchiv.  Nachlasse Bach-Zalewski.  Private files–Miscellaneous.

 

Transcript of Recording.  Private meeting held in the office of General von dem Bach-Zalewski, beginning at 8:55 PM on 28 June 1948.

 

KG[1]: Heil Hitler!  Obersturmfuhrer Gerstein reporting as ordered.

 

B-Z: Heil Hitler!  Stand at ease.  Indeed, please take a seat.

 

B-Z: I have before me your personal file.  Your family background is rigorously patriotic and you joined the SA.  However, you joined only in July 1933.  You would be considered a “March violet” by many Old Fighters.  Then you managed to get expelled because of the conflict between your Christian religious beliefs and Party doctrine.  Then you–well your father and his friends—arranged for your re-admission.  Then you volunteered for the SS in 1941.  Your record is hardly that of a conventional SS-man.  Well, we take all kinds.  Still, you wish to comment?

 

KG: I am a German patriot.  I despised the Versailles Treaty and am happy to have seen it utterly overthrown.  I am a Christian.  My soul will be saved from Damnation if I follow the teachings of Our Savior Jesus Christ.  I do not think that either faith is incompatible with the other.

 

B-Z: I certainly hope not.  Your file states further that you are assigned to the “technical disinfection section” of the Institute for Tropical Medicine.  This brings you into contact with Dr. Mengele?[2]

 

KG: It does on occasion.  My position is very junior, but Dr. Mengele makes every effort to create congenial relationships among his staff, both German and non-German.

 

B-Z: Yes, yes, German and non-German.  I am told that you have been in contact—unofficially—with both residents of and visitors to our sunny dominion over palm and pine.  The name Schulte has been mentioned.[3]  There is also talk of a Hungarian.  Is this so?

 

KG: Mr. Schulte is here investigating possible copper mining.  Originally I trained as a mining engineer, before going on to medicine.  We met by chance on the train and fell into conversation on that matter.

 

B-Z: Ah, of course.  And this supposed Hungarian?  Does he—or she?—exist?

 

KG: Dr. Nyiszli[4] works as a pathologist at the Institute.  Dr. Mengele holds him in high regard for his technical competence in autopsies.  I have encountered him several times in the course of work.  Again, after studying mining, I turned to medicine.  That gave us a basis for conversation.

 

B-Z: The Institute of Tropical Medicine has need of a pathologist to conduct autopsies?  That’s not very encouraging.

 

KG: Much of Dr. Mengele’s own work at the Institute is, well,….. experimental.

 

B-Z: Is it indeed?  I didn’t realize that.  You know, that’s the problem with governments: they become too complicated.  The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.  Not from bad motives, you understand?  Just from compartmentalization and the pace of too much work.  Yet I am responsible for everyone and everything.  So, I am always glad to hear what is actually going on.  Rather like the private reports on opinion the SD once collected.[5]  I hope that you will feel confident in bringing me any little scraps of news you acquire about the Institute or Dr. Mengele.

 

KG: So far as it does not go against my duty.

 

B-Z: As a German patriot, as a National Socialist, as a Christian hoping for Salvation?

 

B-Z: As for your informal contacts, I have no reason to object.  Certainly, life here can feel very cut-off from the larger worlds from which we came.  Still, such reports, if they reached certain quarters, might be the source of some alarm, is it not so?  Seen in the context of your personal file, they might be misunderstood.  Despite Dr. Best’s efforts as governor, I hear that Neu Kaledonie is a big step down from this place.[6]  Dismissed.  Heil Hitler!

 

KG: Heil Hitler!

 

[1] Kurt Gerstein: b. 1905, Munster, German Empire.  Degree in mining engineering, then studied medicine.  Member of the Nazi Party 1933-1936, 1939—.  Enlisted in the SS (1941) with rank of Obersturmfuhrer, essentially a First Lieutenant.

[2] Josef Mengele: b. 1911, Gunzburg, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire.  Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Munich, 1935; M.D., University of Frankfurt, 1938.  Joined the Nazi Party in 1937, and the SS in 1938.  Military service with the Army (France, 1940), and then with the Waffen SS (Russia, 1941).

[3] Probably Eduard Schulte: b. 1891, Dusseldorf, German Empire.  From 1926, General Manager of the Giesche Trust industrial and mining conglomerate, Breslau, Germany.

[4] Miklos Nyiszli: b. 1901, Transylvania, Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Hungarian nationality from 1919.  M.D. 1929.

[5] Heinz Boberach, ed. Meldungen aus dem Reich 1938–1945. Die geheimen Lageberichte des Sicherheitsdienstes der SS, 17 vols. (1984).

[6] Werner Best, b: 1903, Darmstadt, German Empire.  Doctorate in Law, University of Heidelberg, 1927.  Joined Nazi Party, 1930, and the SS in 1931.  Close to Heydrich, he took a senior position in the Gestapo, and then, in 1939-1940, in the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA).  Following a conflict within the RSHA, from 1940 to 1942 he served as chief of the German administration in Occupied France.  In November 1942, following a further conflict, he was appointed Governor General of the German penal colony on the former French possession of New Caledonia.

Reckoning with Racism.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has ordered the removal of the portraits of four previous Speakers on the grounds that they had supported the Confederacy, either before or after serving in the office she now holds.  “There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honor for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy.”[1]  This may seem to some to be more like virtue-signaling than substantive change, but it’s a first step.  The United States does need to consider the place of racism in its past and present.  One question is how much truth-telling people want or can stand.

In almost every presidential election from 1852 to 1860 and from 1880 to 1976, the states of the Confederacy and then the former Confederacy voted Democratic.  What is true of presidential elections is even more true of Congressional, state, and local elections.[2]  For most of this period, the Democratic Party was a Southern-dominated party.  Only under unusual circumstances did the Democratic party manage to break out of its geographic and cultural isolation to win large numbers of states in other regions.[3]

The point is that for a hundred years the Democratic Party anchored its electoral base in the old Confederacy.  At times and in terms of political representation, it existed almost entirely as a regional party.  After 1876, the federal government conceded virtual “”Home Rule” to the South.  Southern Democrats imposed “Jim Crow” laws,[4] disfranchised African-Americans,[5] created and celebrated the mythology of the “Lost Cause,”[6] put up statues to “Johnny Reb” and to Confederate generals, and lynched with abandon.[7]  Prominent Southern Democrats included Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, who had proudly led a bloody attack on freedmen before representing South Carolina in the Senate.[8]  At the Versailles peace conference, Woodrow Wilson vetoed a Japanese proposal for a “racial equality” statement in the Treaty.  During the Great Depression, much of the New Deal’s aid to Southerners either tacitly or explicitly excluded African-Americans.  Later, the men who murdered Emmett Till and the jury that acquitted them were Democrats.  These examples barely scratch the surface.

In short, and to put it mildly, the Democratic party long resisted racial equality.  Indeed, until within human memory, it formed one of chief institutional exponents of race hatred in the United States.  How to address this issue?

[1] Emily Cochrane, “Pelosi Removes Portraits Tied to Confederacy From Capitol,” NYT, 19 June 2020.

[2] For presidential elections, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South#Solid_South_in_presidential_elections For gubernatorial elections, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South#South_in_gubernatorial_elections

[3] Notably in 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt’s insurgency split the Republican party, and between 1932 and 1948 when the Great Depression and the Second World War created a national emergency.

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws

[5] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disenfranchisement_after_the_Reconstruction_Era

[6] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Cause_of_the_Confederacy

[7] See, if you’ve got a strong stomach: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States

[8] Maybe Speaker Pelosi could try to repeal the Tillman Act (1907).

Down the Malay Barrier 5.

Many different threads of history knot in the case of the steamship “Jeddah.”

First, there is geography.  On the one hand, trade between the Far East and anywhere to the West (the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, East Africa, Europe) must pass through one of two narrow gates: the Sunda Strait (between Sumatra and Java) or the Malacca Straits (between the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra).  On the other hand, the southern edge of the Arabian peninsula, on the northern shore of the Indian Ocean, is a poor land called the Hadramaut.  It grows frankincense and not much else.  Then the River Clyde runs through southwestern Scotland.  Along its banks many shipyards grew up in the 19th Century.[1]  Clydeside became the heart of British ship-building.

Second, there is demography.  The Dutch held the Sunda Strait for centuries; in 1818, the English got the island and harbor of Singapore in the Malacca Straits.  They emphasized attracting Arab merchants already familiar with local people and trade.  It quickly became the hub of East-West trade.  At the same time, Hadhrami (people from Hadramaut) began emigrating to places all around the Indian Ocean.  Usually, they became merchants and sailors.  “Blood is thicker than water”: family networks were vital to success in long-distance trade.

Third, among the “pillars” of Islam, one is “Hajj”: the obligation to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the birth-place of Islam.  In Britain’s “Indian Empire” (today India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), in Indonesia, and in the Philippines, there were many Muslims.  Many of them made the “hajj.” Sea voyages offered the least inconvenient route, but the small sailing ships commonly used for the journey were uncomfortable, slow, and sometimes dangerous.  A second “pillar” is “Zakat”: the obligation to give charity to the poor.

These threads came together when Syed Abdul Rahman Alsagoff, a Hadhrami, arrived in Singapore in 1824.[2]  He went into the spice trade, where he prospered.  His son and grandson followed the trade.  The grandson, Syed Mahomed Alsagoff, possessed great wealth and engaged in generous philanthropy.  In 1870, Alsagoff ordered construction of a steam-powered passenger ship to carry Muslim pilgrims to and from Jeddah, the port-of-entry on the Red Sea for Mecca in the interior.  The ship was to be named the “Jeddah.”

Fourth, British ships and British sea captains were the best in the world.  In 1872 a Clydeside shipyard[3] launched the “Jeddah.”   Alsagoff hired British officers to command the ship.  For eight years it plied its trade between Singapore and Jeddah.

On 17 July 1880, the “Jeddah” sailed from Singapore with 953 pilgrims aboard.  By 3 August the ship was approaching the Red Sea.  Then a terrible hurricane blew up.  The ship began to leak, lost most of its power, and began to list to one side.  On 7 August, believing the ship would sink, most of the officers abandoned the ship—and the passengers—in a lifeboat.  They survived and reported the ship sunk.  But the “Jeddah” did not sink.  The remaining officers and the passengers worked to save the ship, then were rescued by a French ship.

Fifth, Authority and Responsibility cannot be separated without disaster following.  It is an unwritten law of the sea that captains remain aboard until everyone else has been saved, or go down with their ship.  The officers had betrayed this duty and became outcasts.  Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900) imagines the terrible fate of one of these men.

[1] Also a great many distilleries, although you shouldn’t combine the “twa”—boat-building and booze.

[2] The term “Syed” indicates that he was a descendant of one of the Prophet Muhammad and was, thus, of high status among all Muslims.

[3] David Byrne grew up there.  See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AINJTvRUk1w

Wondering.

I myself don’t doubt the veracity of sworn law officers.  I do worry that engaged members of the Counter Culture may question that veracity.  So, it is important to provide answers to ill-spirited charges.

 

New York Times story on FISA applications.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/23/us/politics/fisa-surveillance-fbi.html

 

New York Times story on “sloppiness” in filling out FISA warrant requests.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/31/us/politics/fbi-fisa-wiretap-trump.html

 

So, either:

  1. FBI agents were over-worked and made errors.
  2. FBI agents habitually cut corners in pursuit of FISA warrants because they’re over-worked. So, rake though all the warrant applications in order to free the unjustly accused/convicted?   If the Department of Justice is short-handed, maybe they could draft in some people from the Innocence Project?

 

Then there’s this.

New York Times story on “testilying.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/18/nyregion/testilying-police-perjury-new-york.html

 

 

Next Question.

A “ consensus among the “Crossfire Hurricane” agents and analysts … identified individuals associated with the Trump campaign who had recently traveled to Russia or had other alleged ties to Russia.” (IG Report, p. iv.)  These individuals were George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn.

 

“[I]mmediately after opening the investigation [31 July 2019], the Crossfire Hurricane team submitted name trace requests to other U.S. government agencies and a foreign intelligence agency, and conducted law enforcement database and open source searches, to identify individuals associated with the Trump campaign in a position to have received the alleged offer of assistance from Russia.”  (IG Report, p. iv.)

 

OK, sounds good.  We have learned that the CIA responded that Carter Page had been reporting to the CIA on his contacts with Soviet, sorry, Russian intelligence agents.  That’s not what the FBI told the FISA judge, but that’s what the CIA said.

 

What did CIA, the Department of State, and the foreign intelligence agency report about Paul Manafort?  Manafort had been a long-time assistant to thugs ruling Third World countries whom the United States wanted to flourish during the Cold War.  Did he also report on what he learned during this service?  What, if anything, did he report during his time assisting Yanukovych in Ukraine?

 

If the basic facts about Carter Page can be declassified, then why not those on Paul Manafort?

 

The Exhaustion of Liberalism?

Barton Swaim[1] describes modern liberal democracy in North America and Western Europe:

“Liberal democracies value divided governmental institutions, a regulated market economy, a generous welfare state, personal autonomy and the expansion of political rights to formerly excluded classes.”[2]

Both “conservatives” and “liberals” share these beliefs.  Where they differ is that “liberals” have a deep faith in the ability of government to improve the human condition, while “conservatives” harbor profound doubts.

The “liberal” achievement in Twentieth Century America has been immense: the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906); the enfranchisement of women (1920); the Social Security Act (1935); the Civil Rights Act (1964); the Food Stamp Act (1964); the Voting rights Act (1965); and the amendment of the Social Security Act to create Medicare and Medicaid (1965).  Most of these laws passed during brief periods when a fundamentally conservative country favored dramatic change.

Swaim sees the historical record as demonstrating the exhaustion of liberalism, although not of liberal democracy.  Much of the liberal agenda has been fulfilled.  There aren’t any more dis-franchised people to enfranchise—except for criminals and non-citizens.  Liberals have turned from defending free speech to curtailing it through campus speech codes, demands that social media censor speech that they characterize as “false,” and demanding that the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision be over-turned.  Increasingly, they place their trust in un-elected experts and bureaucrats to know better than do elected officials.  President Obama extended government regulation of business through federal agency rule-writing because he couldn’t get it through Congress, and President Trump is rolling it back in the same way.

Furthermore, he says, liberals haven’t passed any transformative legislation since the mid-Sixties.  The popular support among voters just isn’t there.  Instead, Swaim argues, liberal reforms have advanced along two lines since the Sixties.  On the one hand, liberal legislative reforms have become increasingly small-scale: the Clean Air Act (1970); the Clean Water Act (1972); and the Affordable Care Act (“Obama Care,” 2010).  On the other hand, and far more importantly, the Supreme Court has approved policies that would not have passed Congress: abortion (1973) and marriage equality (2015).

To the extent that the Democrats have “big ideas,” he says, they are not traditionally “liberal” but “radical.”  The “Green New Deal,” “Medicare for All,” and Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Plans-for-That all run well beyond conventional liberal policies.  Hence, the nomination of Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate for president in 2020 is the victory of the backward-looking “liberal” majority over the forward-looking “radical” minority.

Or perhaps not.

[1] South Carolinian (state flag has a half-moon on it that some people have interpreted as a closet endorsement of Islam); BA, University of South Carolina plus some study at the University of Edinburgh; speech-writer for the “intriguing” (HA!) governor, Mark Sanford; and now an opinion writer and book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal.

[2] Barton Swaim, “Joe Biden and the Slow Death of Liberalism,” WSJ, 11-12 April 2020.

Listening to the Impeachment Hearings.

First, there is no doubt that President Trump extorted the President of Ukraine to announce an investigation of Joe Biden.  He did so, apparently, to besmirch a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Second, there is no doubt that the Republican majority in the Senate is going to acquit Trump of both counts.  There seems to be a shrinking likelihood that enough Republican “moderates” will join the Democrats to even call witnesses.

Third, the obstruction of Congress charge seems ridiculous because the Democrats on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees never made any serious appeal to the courts.   The Trump administration has been sued many times.  They have fought it out in the courts.  Whenever they have lost, they have complied.

Fourth, once Trump has been acquitted, do the Republicans have any plan to keep him from doing some other outrageous thing?  Throw Mike Pence overboard at the convention and impose some really serious person as Trump’s second vice president?  Grit their teeth until Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been replaced with a conservative.  Behind these actions would be the implicit threat that “Next time, you dumb son-of-a-bitch, we will impeach you.”

Fifth, Trump’s defense has argued that many, perhaps most, political acts combine a legitimate policy interest with a politician’s selfish or self-absorbed personal interest.  Hence, these decisions can not be described as “corrupt.”  Democrats have countered that, under the law, any “corrupt” purpose overwhelms any legitimate purpose.  It renders the whole action “corrupt.”  Well, the Democrats have been bug-eyed with fear and rage since November 2016.  They talked a lot about “collusion” (their term, not Trump’s before they started using it on talk shows).  They raised high expectations that the Mueller investigation would prove that Trump had committed crimes that merited impeachment.  They tried to make a case for obstruction of justice after the Mueller investigation “failed to establish” (i.e. couldn’t find any proof of) such “collusion.”  They wanted Trump removed for political reasons that would advantage the Democrats and disgrace the Republicans.  By their own standards, that would seem to meet the definition of “corruption.”

Get Carter.

The Report of the Inspector-General of the Department of Justice on the beginnings of the Russia investigation makes fascinating reading.  There’s a lot of information in it, even only in the Executive Summary.  So, like the Mueller Report, it will take some time to digest.  However, little bits and pieces are worth a quick look.

How did the “Crossfire Hurricane” team select targets?  A “ consensus among the “Crossfire Hurricane” agents and analysts … identified individuals associated with the Trump campaign who had recently traveled to Russia or had other alleged ties to Russia.” (p. iv.)  These individuals were George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michel Flynn.

“[I]mmediately after opening the investigation [31 July 2019], the Crossfire Hurricane team submitted name trace requests to other U.S. government agencies and a foreign intelligence agency, and conducted law enforcement database and open source searches, to identify individuals associated with the Trump campaign in a position to have received the alleged offer of assistance from Russia.”  (p. iv.)

In August 2016, the other agency [apparently the CIA] had informed the FBI that Page was approved as an “operational contact” of the other agency from 2008 to 2013; that Page had provided information about his past contacts with a Russian Intelligence Officer, and that an employee of the other agency had judged that Page had “candidly described his contact with” the Russian intelligence officer.  (p. ix.)

In late September 2016 the OI Attorney had specifically asked the case agent whether Carter Page had a current or prior relationship with the other agency. In response to that inquiry, the case agent advised the OI Attorney that Page’s relationship was “dated” (claiming it was when Page lived in Moscow in 2004-2007) and “outside scope.” This representation, however, was contrary to information that the other agency had provided to the FBI in August 2016, which stated that Page was approved as an “operational contact” of the other agency from 2008 to 2013 (after Page had left Moscow). Moreover, rather than being “outside scope,” Page’s status with the other agency overlapped in time with some of the interactions between Page and known Russian intelligence officers that were relied upon in the FISA applications to establish probable cause. Indeed, Page had provided information to the other agency about his past contacts with a Russian Intelligence Officer (Intelligence Officer 1), which were among the historical connections to Russian intelligence officers that the FBI relied upon in the first FISA application (and subsequent renewal applications)…. Thus, the FBI relied upon Page’s contacts with Intelligence Officer 1, among others, to support of its probable cause statement in the FISA application, while failing to disclose to OI or the FISC that” Page was candidly reporting on thee contacts to the other agency.  (p. ix.)

Thus the October 2016 FISA warrant application “Omitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, …” (p. viii.)

So, I don’t understand why Attorney General William Barr is so upset.  I can certainly see that the FBI and Department of Justice need to update their policies and procedure to prevent unintended errors like these from occurring again.

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 5 December 2019.

  1. If Trump had a legitimate interest in repressing Ukrainian corruption–of which there is a great deal if we are to believe Transparency International–he would have sicced the Justice Department on the task. He didn’t. He set his personal pit-bull (if that doesn’t give offense to pit-bulls) on it.
  2. Hunter Biden has a chequered past, but–for some reason that is probably easily explained–a Ukrainian oligarch appointed him to the board of his company when Joe Biden was VPOTUS. Roughly, Hunter made as much in a month as I make in a year. The purpose wasn’t to enlist Joe Biden as a protector; it was to scare off Ukrainian prosecutors, who are mostly oligarchs-in-the-making.
  3. Intellectually at least, it is possible to distinguish between asking for an investigation of the involvement of Ukrainians–not the government as a whole–in the 2016 US election AND asking for an investigation of the Bidens. The latter is clearly wrong and probably illegal (although, thank God, I’m not a lawyer).
  4. In Politico and then in the New York Times, Kenneth Vogel has laid out a possible chain of connections between individual–but powerful and interested–Ukrainians and the Democrats in the 2016 campaign. These deserve to be investigated. They are fundamentally different from allegations about lost servers or “Crowdstrike.” They are at the heart of Republican Congressmen’s objections.  I have wondered if this is the origin of the decision to hire a law firm hire a consulting firm to hire Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump’s Russia connections. Did they investigate ONLY Trump’s Russia connections, rather than all his international dealings? If so, why?
  5. Commentators have explained away Adam Schiff’s management of the Intelligence Committee hearings by comparing them to a grand jury. But, as someone wise once said, “A good DA could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.” (See Nancy Pelosi: “A glass of water could get elected in Brooklyn if it said it was a Democrat.” Or words to that effect.)
  6. Normally, but it is so rare that maybe there is no “normal,” impeachment hearings are carried out in the House Judiciary Committee. Why did Mrs. Pelosi assign the heavy lifting to Adam Schiff, rather than to Jerry Nadler? OK, that’s and extraneous question, unless Pelosi thinks that Nadler wasn’t up to the work.
  7. Actually, it is pretty significant that the career professionals in the military and the State Department have “issues” with President Trump. This can’t just be dismissed as “bureaucrats of the Deep State.” OTOH, I haven’t read much about equivalent figures at the Treasury or Commerce Departments kicking back. Why is that?
  8. Donald Trump is a pretty appalling person. Leaving aside his persona and behavior—but how can one?—he has sent the United States down some wrong roads. Climate change most of all, but also dealing with the weenies in NATO.  OTOH, he was correct to confront the Peoples Republic of China over its trade practices; he was right to talk to the nut with the nuclear missiles and a bad haircut in North Korea; he was right to lean on the NATO allies to ante up, given the supposedly growing Russian danger in Europe; he was right to put the clutch down on the torrent of rules, regulations, and executive orders from the White House during the period when President Obama did not have a majority in either house of the Congress; and he was right to bring the US corporate tax to international norms.
  9. IF this goes to the Senate, THEN expect Hunter and Joe Biden, and Adam Schiff(under oath), and the “Whistleblower” to be called to testify in open session (with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as “judges” for month after month).  Also, Alexandra Chalupa, and the guy who liased between the Democrats and Ukrainian informants.

Four Eyes 3 December 2019.

How come you can’t see as well as do other people?  ‘Cause you’re near-sighted.  How come you’re near-sighted?  It’s because your eyes got mushed out of shape.  Why did your eyes get mushed out of shape?  “Cause you read a lot: there’s a strong correlation between short-sightedness and IQ.  Read a lot, do well on tests.  “Gentlemen don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”   Why not?  ‘Cause smart women scare stupid guys, that’s why.

How long has this been going on?  Probably since the dawn of mankind.[1]  People invented “lenses” to improve vision as early as 700 BC.  This was pragmatic: they didn’t understand the science or the causes of failed vision, but they had some idea what to do about it.

So, what happened to people with bad vision in the many days ago?  They got treated as blind.  “Blind” actually is a relative term: even today only about 10 percent of people classified as “blind” can see nothing at all.  So, before glasses, there were a lot of “blind” people. The best you could hope for was bumping into things and getting yelled at by your sister-in-law.  (OTOH, you couldn’t see Thomas Kinkade paintings.)  Worse stuff could happen.  (See: Breughel, “Parable of the Blind” with everyone pitching into a ditch; see: “Old Blind Pew” in Treasure Island, trampled to death by the horses of the revenue men while he tap-tap-taps with his stick along the road outside the Admiral Benbow Inn.)

In 1263 the Medieval English polymath Roger Bacon mentioned that people were using “lenses” to improve their weak sight.  What he meant were glass spheres that had been cut in half.  In 1286 somebody[2] in northern Italy—who is a lot more important to me than is Columbus—invented spectacles.

Then, in 1604, Johannes Kepler, who also was interested in astronomy, got interested in optics.  Kepler figured out that concave lenses correct for near-sightedness and convex lenses correct for far-sightedness.  Things moved ahead fast in the Seventeenth Century.

In the late Eighteenth Century, Philadelphia became the center of progress on optical enhancement in America.[3]  Diagnosis and prescription were pretty rough-and-ready, but people were so glad to be able to see anything at all that they didn’t complain.

In 1843 somebody had the bright idea of making a whole bunch of different lenses and packing them into a diagnostic case for spectacle-makers so that they could figure out what was right for each individual.  In 1862 Hermann Snellen invented the eye-chart to measure vision.  (Ever since old people have been memorizing FELOPZD to fool the DMV.)  In 1888 the first contact-lenses were made.  Then along came Henry Ford and his Model-T car.  Lots of people took to the roads, but many of them couldn’t see very well.  Personal injury attorneys loved this, but a bunch of people thought drivers should have to take a vision test.  In 1938 came plastic contact lenses; in 1952 came the first soft contact lenses, but the Food and Drug Administration did not approve their sale until 1971.

Ignacio Barraquer (1884-1965), a Catalan-Spanish doctor, invented most of modern cataract surgery.  His son Jose Barraquer (1916-1998), a Spanish-Columbian doctor, and Svyatoslav Fyodorov (1927-2000), a Russian doctor, invented what we think of as Lasik surgery.

[1] Do dogs and cats and fish get near-sighted?  Probably, but then they get eaten.  So, the genetic element doesn’t get passed along.

[2] We do not know his/her name.  Every over-muscled moron in the Super Bowl gets a jeweled ring, but we don’t know who invented eye-glasses.  Zoro-H-Aster!

[3] You didn’t get people complaining about how unfair it was, how people were altering Nature’s plan, how it would lead children astray, or saying that people should get rid of their yellow Benjamin Franklin bracelets.