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Henry Kissinger, War Criminal, Dead at 100

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Henry Kissinger died on Wednesday at his home in Connecticut, his consulting firm said in a statement. The notorious war criminal was 100.

Measuring purely by confirmed kills, the worst mass murderer ever executed by the United States was the white supremacist terrorist Timothy McVeigh. On April 19, 1995, McVeigh detonated a massive bomb at the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children. The government killed McVeigh by lethal injection in June 2001. Whatever hesitation a state execution provokes, even over a man such as McVeigh — necessary questions about the legitimacy of killing even an unrepentant soldier of white supremacy — his death provided a measure of closure to the mother of one of his victims. “It’s a period at the end of a sentence,” said Kathleen Treanor, whose 4-year old McVeigh killed. 

McVeigh, who in his own psychotic way thought he was saving America, never remotely killed on the scale of Kissinger, the most revered American grand strategist of the second half of the 20th century. 

The Yale University historian Greg Grandin, author of the biography Kissinger’s Shadow, estimates that Kissinger’s actions from 1969 through 1976, a period of eight brief years when Kissinger made Richard Nixon’s and then Gerald Ford’s foreign policy as national security adviser and secretary of state, meant the end of between three and four million people. That includes “crimes of commission,” he explained, as in Cambodia and Chile, and omission, like greenlighting Indonesia’s bloodshed in East Timor; Pakistan’s bloodshed in Bangladesh; and the inauguration of an American tradition of using and then abandoning the Kurds. 

“The Cubans say there is no evil that lasts a hundred years, and Kissinger is making a run to prove them wrong,” Grandin told Rolling Stone not long before Kissinger died. “There is no doubt he’ll be hailed as a geopolitical grand strategist, even though he bungled most crises, leading to escalation.  He’ll get credit for opening to China, but that was De Gaulle’s original idea and initiative.  He’ll be praised for detente, and that was a success, but he undermined his own legacy by aligning with the neocons.  And of course, he’ll get off scot free from Watergate, even though his obsession with Daniel Ellsberg really drove the crime.”

No infamy will find Kissinger on a day like today. Instead, in a demonstration of why he was able to kill so many people and get away with it, the day of his passage will be a solemn one in Congress and – shamefully, since Kissinger had reporters like CBS’ Marvin Kalb and the New York Times‘ Hendrick Smith wiretapped – newsrooms. Kissinger, a refugee from the Nazis who became a pedigreed member of the “Eastern Establishment” Nixon hated, was a practitioner of American greatness, and so the press lionized him as the cold-blooded genius who restored America’s prestige from the agony of Vietnam. 

Not once in the half-century that followed Kissinger’s departure from power did the millions the United States killed matter for his reputation, except to confirm a ruthlessness that pundits occasionally find thrilling. America, like every empire, champions its state murderers. The only time I was ever in the same room as Henry Kissinger was at a 2015 national-security conference at West Point. He was surrounded by fawning Army officers and ex-officials basking in the presence of a statesman. 

Seymour Hersh, the investigative reporter who was the most prominent exception to the fawning coverage of Kissinger, watched journalistic deference take shape as soon as Kissinger entered the White House in 1969. “His social comings and goings could make or break a Washington party,” Hersh wrote in his biography The Price of Power. Reporters like the Times’ James Reston were eager participants in what Hersh called “an implicit shakedown scheme” – that is, access journalism – “in which reporters who got inside information in turn protected Kissinger by not divulging either the full consequences of his acts or his own connection to them.” Kissinger’s approach to the press was his approach to Nixon: sniveling obsequiousness. (Although Kissinger could vent frustration on reporters that he never could on his boss.) Hersh quotes H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, remarking that Kissinger was the “hawk of hawks” inside the White House, but “touching glasses at a party with his liberal friends, the belligerent Kissinger would suddenly become a dove.” 

Reviewing one of Kissinger’s litany of books, Hillary Clinton in 2014 said Kissinger, “a friend” whose counsel she relied upon as secretary of state, possessed “a conviction that we, and President Obama, share: a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.” Kissinger told USA Today within days that Clinton, presumed then to be a president-in-waiting, “ran the State Department in the most effective way that I’ve ever seen.” The same story noticed a photograph autographed by Obama thanking Kissinger for his “continued leadership.” 

It’s always valuable to hear the reverent tones with which American elites speak of their monsters. When the Kissingers of the world pass, their humanity, their purpose, their sacrifices are foremost in the minds of the respectable. American elites recoiled in disgust when Iranians in great numbers took to the streets to honor one of their monsters, Qassem Soleimani, after a U.S. drone strike executed the Iranian external-security chief in January 2020. Soleimani, whom the United States declared to be a terrorist and killed as such, killed far more people than Timothy McVeigh. But even if we attribute to him all the deaths in the Syrian Civil War, never in Soleimani’s wildest dreams could he kill as many people as Henry Kissinger. Nor did Soleimani get to date Jill St. John, who played Bond girl Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever.

KISSINGER’S ASCENT OCCURRED THROUGH AN OBSCENITY THAT TIME CANNOT DIMINISH. In 1968, Lyndon Johnson agreed to peace negotiations with the North Vietnamese in tacit recognition of the nightmare he, building on the works of his two immediate predecessors, brought to life in Vietnam. Kissinger, an influential Cold War defense intellectual at Harvard, had access to members of the diplomatic delegation to the Paris talks. He used it to feed information from the negotiations to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign – a campaign whose defeated GOP rival, David Rockefeller, Kissinger advised; and despite Kissinger’s closer political ties to the coterie around Hubert Humphrey, Nixon’s Democratic rival. 

Nixon ran for president claiming to have a secret plan to end the war. His advisers told Hersh they were deeply afraid that Johnson and Hanoi would reach an accord before the election. It would save lives in Vietnam, American and Vietnamese, but it would undermine Nixon’s hopes of exploiting the explosion in domestic antiwar sentiment. Nixon gratefully took what Kissinger gave him to make the U.S.’ proxy regime in Saigon, whose regime peace would destabilize, more intransigent. No agreement was reached until 1973, and the war ended in American humiliation with Hanoi’s 1975 victory. 

“It took some balls to give us those tips,” Richard Allen, a foreign-policy researcher on the Nixon campaign, later reflected to Hersh. After all, it was “a pretty dangerous thing for [Kissinger] to be screwing around with the national security.” 

Every single person who died in Vietnam between autumn 1968 and the Fall of Saigon – and all who died in Laos, and Cambodia, where Nixon and Kissinger secretly expanded the war within months of taking office; as well as all who died in the aftermath, like the Cambodian genocide their destabilization set into motion – died because of Henry Kissinger. We will never know what might have been, the question Kissinger’s apologists, and those in the U.S. foreign-policy elite who have stood in or who imagine themselves standing in Kissinger’s shoes, insist upon when explaining away his crimes. We can only know what actually happened. What actually happened was that Kissinger materially sabotaged the only chance for an end to the war in 1968 as a hedged bet to ensure he would achieve power in Nixon’s administration or Humphrey’s. A true tally will probably never be known of everyone who died so Kissinger could be national security adviser. 

Once in the White House, Nixon and Kissinger found themselves without leverage to produce a peace accord with Hanoi. In the hopes of manufacturing one, they came up with the “Madman Theory,” the idea that North Vietnam would negotiate peace after they came to believe Nixon was adventurous and bloodthirsty enough to risk anything. In February 1969, weeks after taking office, and lasting through April 1970, U.S. warplanes secretly dropped 110,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia. By summer 1969, according to a colonel on the Joint Staff, Kissinger – who had no constitutional role in the military chain of command – was personally selecting bombing targets. “Not only was Henry carefully screening the raids, he was reading the raw intelligence,” Col. Ray B. Sitton told Hersh for The Price of Power. A second phase of bombing continued until August 1973, five months after the final U.S. combat troops withdrew from Vietnam. By then, U.S. bombs had killed an estimated 100,000 people out of a population of only 700,000. The final phase of the bombing, which occurred after the Paris Peace Accords mandated U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, was its most intense, an act of cruel vengeance from a thwarted superpower.

Cambodia, like Laos before it, was a formally neutral country, meaning that bombing it was an illegal aggression under the United Nations Charter. But beyond the control of Prince Sihanouk, the North Vietnamese used Cambodian territory for the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a weapons pipeline not unlike the one America is currently operating for Ukraine. In April 1970, following a coup by American client Col. Lon Nol that overthrew Sihanouk, Nixon ordered U.S. troops in Vietnam to invade Cambodia outright. In the air or on the ground, they were unable to destroy the trail, only human beings. Those who survived reacted. “Sometimes the bombs fell and hit the little children, and their fathers would be all for the Khmer Rouge,” a former Khmer Rouge cadre told historian Ben Kiernan, founder of Yale University’s Genocide Studies Program.

Nixon and Kissinger’s failure in Cambodia prompted in 1971 the U.S.-South Vietnamese invasion of Laos, another failure. Kissinger later blamed defeat on the U.S.’ clients, rather than, say, people like himself. “In retrospect, I have come to doubt whether the South Vietnamese ever really understood what we were trying to accomplish,” Kissinger wrote in his memoirs. 

At the time, the secret bombing of Cambodia was a startling offense that prompted substantial political backlash when it became public. One of the articles of impeachment against Nixon prepared by the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 held that bombing Cambodia was a constitutional usurpation of Congress’ war powers. But on July 30, the committee ended up rejecting the article, 26 votes to 12, and it never became part of the coalescing impeachment effort that stopped with Nixon’s resignation. 

Forty years later, and likely as a consequence, U.S. presidents routinely bomb countries the U.S. is not at war with. They provide the barest minimum of disclosure that the bombs have fallen, and often not even that. When the U.S.’ declared wars fail, as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, their architects and stewards blame the client militaries and governments that they propped up. They cover their troop withdrawals with futile bombing campaigns that kill people so American statesmen can save face. Whether he realized it or not, when President Biden in July 2021 blamed the Afghans for losing the Afghanistan war – “the Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight” was a typical line – he was reaching for Nixon and Kissinger’s template. 

KISSINGER PLAYED A ROLE IN THE DEATHS OF SO MANY DIFFERENT PEOPLES that treating each with due consideration requires writing a book. Here is one example among many of the sort of carnage Kissinger inflicted indirectly rather than by edict. In 1971, the Pakistani government waged a campaign of genocide to suppress the independence movement in what would become Bangladesh. Pakistan’s Yahya Khan, an architect of the genocide, was valuable to Nixon’s ambitions of restoring diplomatic relations with China. So the U.S. let Khan’s forces rape and murder at least 300,000 people and perhaps three million. “We can’t allow a friend of ours and China’s to get screwed in a conflict with a friend of India’s,” Nixon quoted Kissinger shrugging. 

That perspective typified Kissinger. The Cold War was a geopolitical balance amongst two great powers. The purpose of Cold War statecraft was to maximize American freedom of action to inflict Washington’s will on the world – a zero-sum contest that meant restricting the ability of the Soviet Union to inflict Moscow’s – without the destabilization, or outright armageddon, that would result from pursuing a final defeat of the Soviets. That last part explains much right-wing hostility toward Kissinger. Kissinger represented anticommunism without ideological zeal. He was an energetic, even relentless practitioner of the Cold War, the theater of anticommunist conflict. But like George Kennan before him, Kissinger thought viewing the Cold War in ideological terms missed the point. The point was American geopolitical dominance, something measured in impunity and achieved by any means necessary. That permitted Nixon and Kissinger the creativity to reopen China, something Nixon would have demagogued anyone else for attempting. 

Reopening China was by far the greatest achievement of Nixon’s foreign policy. It was the rare geopolitical initiative where Kissinger was a mere facilitator. Sy Hersh, in The Price of Power, calls Nixon “the grand theoretician” of rapprochement with Beijing, with Kissinger Nixon’s “occasional operative.” Kissinger’s dramatic, secret July 1971 trip to Beijing in advance of Nixon’s visit probably renders that description parsimonious. But, writes Hersh, “there is no evidence that Kissinger seriously considered the question of an American-Chinese rapprochement before his appointment as Nixon’s national security adviser.” Once it happened, Kissinger became an overnight celebrity, the sort of person destined to be shrouded in myth and apology

Kissinger might not have been motivated by hatred of communism. But he was a reactionary who empowered and enabled the sort of reactionaries for whom anticommunism was a respectable channel for America’s racist and exploitative socio-economic traditions. His chief aide on the National Security Council was a rabid anticommunist militarist, Army Col. Alexander Haig, a future secretary of state for Ronald Reagan. When Kissinger came under attack from neoconservatives and others on the right who couldn’t tolerate detente with the Soviets and rapprochement with the Chinese, neither he nor they recognized that both of them were driven by the Cold War forces that Kissinger stoked when convenient. 

Most important of all the reactionaries was Nixon, without whom Kissinger would have lacked power, and from whom Kissinger would withstand any indignity. 

Nixon was one of the original Cold War demagogues, the men who never hesitated to identify communism with Black people and the “Eastern Establishment” liberals who postured as allies. His escalation in Vietnam, along with the secret bombing in Cambodia he revealed in a televised address, prompted a resurgence of the antiwar movement. Nixon exploited the mass protests by contrasting them with the “silent majority” of loyal Americans. Instead of ending the war, as he had campaigned on doing, and silencing or co-opting the antiwar movement in the process, Nixon inflamed a culture war to distract from it. It was an echo of his infamous “Southern Strategy” to harness for the Republican Party the electoral benefits of white backlash to the civil rights movement.

Nixon was not subtle about who he meant by the Eastern Establishment. When the media seized upon the U.S. massacre at My Lai, Nixon remarked, “It’s those dirty rotten Jews from New York who are behind it.” Nixon’s White House counsel, John Erlichman, recalled Nixon talking about “Jewish traitors” in front of Kissinger, including “Jews at Harvard.” Kissinger would assure the boss he was one of the good ones. “Well, Mr. President,” Erlichman quoted him responding, “there are Jews and Jews.” 

Kissinger maintained his standing in part by savaging the Eastern Establishment from which he emerged. It was not entirely cynical. Kissinger shared with Nixon a contempt for the “defeatism” and “pessimism” of those who flinched at the unsavory Vietnam War they once supported. He rationalized his purges of the NSC bureaucracy and his marginalization of the State Department – measures that made him indispensable to foreign policy, and to Nixon – as protecting American power from those who lacked the confidence to wield it. It is revealing that amongst those who make U.S. foreign policy, Kissinger’s perspective is not considered ideological.  

Kissinger’s consolidation of bureaucratic control was punitive and paranoid. He used the fear of internal leaks to get the FBI to wiretap his staff and the journalists he suspected of receiving their information. Yet the Eastern Establishmentarians around Kissinger, on his staff or in the press, followed him like a puppy seeking an ear scratch. His coldblooded American exceptionalism was the perfect tone for speaking to a shaken ruling class. Anthony Lake, who would go on to become national security adviser to Bill Clinton, finally quit in May 1970, alongside his colleague Roger Morris. Their breaking points were the Vietnam escalation, Nixon’s alcoholism and the surreptitious White House wiretaps that Nixon also pursued to enforce loyalty. But Lake and Morris opted not to go public. “I consider the failure to do so to be the biggest failure of my life,” Morris told Sy Hersh for The Price of Power. “We didn’t do so on the single calculation that it would destroy Henry.” Weeks later, Kissinger, via Haig, had the FBI wiretap Lake. 

IN SOUTHEAST ASIA, KISSINGER DESTROYED. But in Chile, he helped build a template for the world in which we currently live. 

On September 4, 1970, Chileans elected the democratic socialist Salvador Allende president. Allende’s program was more than redistributionist. It demanded reparation from the U.S. for exploiting it. Chile is rich in copper, and by the mid-1960s, 80 percent of its copper production was controlled by American corporations, particularly the firms Anaconda Copper and Kennecott. When Allende nationalized mining assets held by the two companies, Allende informed them he would deduct estimated “excess profit” from a compensatory package he was willing to pay the firms. It was this sort of unacceptable policy that prompted Kissinger to remark, during an intelligence meeting about two months before Allende’s election, “I don’t see why we need to stand idly by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

Kissinger meant that there must never be an example of a country in America’s sphere of influence delivering socialism through the ballot. “Henry saw Allende as being a far more serious threat than Castro,” Kissinger staffer Morris told Hersh. “Allende was a living example of democratic social reform in Latin America.” 

Kissinger and the CIA had decided to overthrow Allende just days after Allende’s election. Upon learning what was in motion, the U.S. ambassador in Santiago, Edward Korry, who was second to none in opposing Allende, cabled Kissinger that “to actively encourage a coup could lead us to a Bay of Pigs failure.” An “apoplectic Kissinger” told Korry to stay out of the way, according to Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: The History of The CIA. When the CIA failed at what Korry termed a Rube Goldberg gambit to get the Chilean Congress to stop Allende from taking office – that’s right, the CIA tried a January 6 in Chile – Haig urged his boss to purge “the key left-wing dominated slots” in the agency. 

Korry was wrong in the end. Kissinger’s policy of overthrowing Allende – “Why not support extremists?” he spitballed in a December 1970 White House meeting with the CIA’s covert-operations chief, Tom Karamessines – paid off on September 11, 1973, when a military junta took power, prompting Allende’s suicide. He would be among the first of 3,200 Chileans to die violently under the 17-year regime of Augusto Pinochet and his Caravana de la Muerte, to say nothing of the tens of thousands tortured and imprisoned. “In the Eisenhower period, we would be heroes,” Kissinger told Nixon in a telephone conversation days after the coup, and the same week he denied at his Senate confirmation hearings that the U.S. played any role in it. 

The coup was only the beginning. Within two years, Pinochet’s regime invited Milton Friedman, Arnold Harberger and other economists from the University of Chicago to advise them. Chile pioneered the implementation of their agenda: severe government budgetary austerity; relentless assaults on organized labor; privatization of state assets, including health care and public pensions; layoffs of government employees; abolition of wages and price controls; and deregulation of capital markets. “Multinationals were not only granted the right to repatriate 100 percent of their profits but given guaranteed exchange rates to help them do so,” Grandin writes in his book Empire’s Workshop. European and American bankers flocked to Chile before its 1982 economic collapse. The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank loaned Pinochet $3.1 billion between 1976 and 1986. As Corey Robin has documented, Friedrich von Hayek’s neoliberal Mont Pelerin Society held a 1981 meeting in the very city where the junta plotted the replacement of democratic socialism with a harbinger of today’s global economic order.

Pinochet’s torture chambers were the maternity ward of neoliberalism, a baby delivered bloody and screaming by Henry Kissinger. This was the “just and liberal world order” Clinton considered Kissinger’s life work. 

He was no less foundational in pushing the frontiers of where American military power could operate. It turned out the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos, which lasted years, represented a template. When Nixon in 1970 revealed the secret bombings, it was a step too far even for Thomas Schelling, one of the Pentagon’s favorite defense academics, who called them “sickening.” As Greg Grandin writes in Kissinger’s Shadow, the Cambridge-to-Washington set was not prepared in 1970 to accept that the U.S. had the right to destroy an enemy “safe haven” in a country it was not at war with and to do it all in secret, thereby shielding a war from basic public scrutiny. After 9/11, those assertions became accepted, foundational pillars of a War on Terror permitting four presidents to bomb, for 20 years, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Libyans, Syrians and others.  

Kissinger met with Pinochet in Santiago in June 1976. It was a time of rising U.S. congressional anger at Pinochet’s reign of terror. Kissinger informed the general that he was obliged to make an anodyne criticism of Pinochet to forestall adverse legislation. “My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world,” Kissinger said, according to a declassified cable, “and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government which was going Communist.” Three months later, U.S. diplomats warned Kissinger about Operation Condor, an international campaign of right-wing assassinations pursued by the anticommunist regimes of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Kissinger “has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter,” according to a September 16, 1976 cable. Five days later, a car bomb emplaced by Pinochet’s agents detonated along Washington D.C.’s Embassy Row, killing Orlando Letelier, Allende’s foreign minister, and his American co-worker, Ronni Moffitt. 

In 1999, Pinochet was arrested in London through an effort by Baltazar Garzon, a Spanish judge investigating Operation Condor. Kissinger urged the British not to extradite the general. “​​I would be very happy if Pinochet was allowed home,” he told an interviewer. “This episode has gone on long enough and all my sympathies are with him.” Two years later, the administration of George W. Bush responded contemptuously to the Chilean Supreme Court’s efforts to compel Kissinger to testify. “It is unjust and ridiculous that a distinguished servant of this country should be harassed by foreign courts in this way,” an official told the Daily Telegraph. The paper noted that Kissinger was an “informal adviser” to Bush, as he was to many presidents.

The Bush administration’s declaration of protection for Kissinger, coupled with his rejection of the Rome Treaty on the International Criminal Court, extinguished a glimmer of hope that Kissinger would someday join Pinochet under arrest. It was always a fantasy. The international architecture that the U.S. and its allies established after World War II, shorthanded today as the “rules-based international order,” somehow never gets around to applying the same pressure on a hegemonic United States as it applies to U.S.-hostile or defiant powers. It reflects the organizing principle of American exceptionalism: America acts; it is not acted upon. Henry Kissinger was a supreme architect of the rules-based international order. 

In that regard, Kissinger was singular but was by no means unique. Kissinger built upon  foundations constructed by Henry Morgenthau, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Paul Nitze, the Dulles brothers, the Bundy brothers, JFK – you could go back to Albert Thayer Mahan and Teddy Roosevelt if you wanted; or James Monroe; or, depending on how fundamental you think empire is to America, 1619. He and Nixon chose to escalate in Vietnam and pursue the destruction of Cambodia. But the Pentagon Papers showed that the Vietnam War was the result of compounding decisions made in the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The Vietnamese guerilla and justice minister Truong Nhu Tang writes in his Viet Cong Memoir that Kissinger, whose intellect he praises, “inherited a conceptual framework from his American and French predecessors…that led him to disaster.”  

Kissinger and Nixon turned that into Watergate – as Grandin pointed out earlier in this story, Watergate began with a demand for vengeance on Daniel Ellsberg, the anti-Kissinger, for leaking the Pentagon Papers. Watergate was a grim demonstration, for neither the first nor the last time, that the crimes America commits abroad have a dialectical relationship with the crimes that America commits at home. Infamy has as many fathers as victory. 

That, ultimately, is why Kissinger died a celebrity, with the wealth necessary to get taken in by Theranos. It is why Roger Morris and Anthony Lake opted against telling the country that the commander-in-chief was an alcoholic who was secretly surveilling his real and imagined critics. Whatever Kissinger’s origins, whatever rants about Jewboys he had to endure, Kissinger was an exemplar of the self-confident geopolitical potency that America’s elites, whatever they might personally think of Henry Kissinger, want America to make the world respect. When the Roger Morrises and Anthony Lakes and Hillary Clintons see Henry Kissinger, they see, despite what they will rotely and euphemistically acknowledge as his flaws, themselves as they wish to be. 

Kissinger lived for over half a century in the world he had made. He was its hubris: he could see that the Iraq war would be a disaster, but he went along with it anyway, declaring: “the case for removing Iraq’s capacity of mass destruction is extremely strong.” Kissinger’s calculation, expressed in the noblest possible way, is that acceptance of an impending disaster is the price of influencing and hence mitigating it. His accomodation to the inevitability of political decisions he thought were folly hearkened back to his 1968 embrace of Nixon. What were the lives of Vietnamese, Cambodians or Iraqis compared to Kissinger’s opportunity to help shape history? 

But Iraq, and the broader War on Terror that Kissinger wanted expanded lest it “pete[r] out into an intelligence operation while the rest of the region gradually slides back to the pre-9/11 pattern,” presaged the world Kissinger made coming apart at the foundations. The man who repositioned U.S. foreign policy as a wedge between Russia and China lived long enough to see the February 4 Declaration uniting Moscow and Beijing. The reactionary forces he encouraged at home and abroad are showing the world that the rules-based international order is about capitalism, not democracy. 

Whatever bitterness Kissinger, in his final days, experienced over the erosion of his enterprise is little comfort to his millions of victims. America denied them the closure Kathleen Treanor experienced when America, declaring justice, ended Timothy McVeigh. 

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DNA Lounge: Wherein we need you to floor it.

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Yesterday the Mayor's Office announced that the Entertainment Relief Fund will be getting a $3M endowment, which sounds great until you do the math. If they were to divide that among all of SF's nightclubs, I think that would keep all of us alive for like, 3 or 4 weeks.

Their plan of record for getting money into this fund is still "maybe a friendly billionaire will step up", so don't hold your breath on that. And the Federal "Save Our Stages" fund has still distributed $0.

So with no money to speak of, and still no plan for distributing it, San Francisco's financial support for nightlife is still very much in the "thoughts and prayers" category.

However! Vaccines have actually been happening!

That's exciting.

Last week we had a meeting talking through some re-opening scenarios. Like, once we get word from the Government that we're allowed to re-open, how much notice do we think they'll give us? Based on past experience, we're guessing six days. So what's our plan on re-staffing on such short notice? And what if they tell us we can only run at 10% capacity or something? Do we just ignore that and stay closed? Or try to do... something... that won't pay the bills but might be juuuust slightly better than being dark?

Anyway, it's all pretty bleak, but at the same time kind of exciting to be acknowledging the idea that this might actually be over some day, and we might actually have a business again, even if we have no real guess as to when that might be.

Since it's possible that we might be open again in... let's say, months rather than years? Let me just throw this long-shot idea out there one last time...

How would you like to buy us a new dance floor?

Tearing up and replacing the dance floor is a multi-week process. In the Before Times there never would have been a time when it would have been practical for us to be closed for that long. That means that there is literally no better time to do it than right now, except for the fact that we don't have any money. It would be a shame to let this downtime go to waste, but that's what we're gonna do, unless a noble benefactor appears.

When we installed this floor over 20 years ago, it was a festive pancake of neoprene and plywood over a concrete base, but all that dancin' in the intervening decades has left it no longer springy, not to mention the hundreds of layers of paint atop the now-splintering and divotted plywood... And the need for re-painting only becomes more frequent as the plywood further frays. Really, it's time.

So, wanna buy us a dance floor? It'll probably only cost fifteen or twenty grand. Think of the bragging rights! The nobility of being the one who saved the orphanage. Hell, we'll give you a plaque if you want.

Who's in?

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1224 days ago
I'd like to see Marc Andreesen pony up.
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1225 days ago
This changes everything.
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In-Depth: The Eerie Beauty Of The Apple Watch Solar Face, And The Anatomy Of Nightfall - HODINKEE


There were 10 basic Apple Watch faces when the Apple Watch launched in 2014, and since then, the number has increased significantly, to put it mildly. Today, there are 31 groups of faces, which range from Activity to X-Large, and if you include all the variations in each group and then add in all the possible permutations of colors and complications, you get a total which is, if not too many to count, certainly laborious to calculate. Indeed, if you like the Apple Watch at all, you can probably find almost anything to suit your mood or a change of taste (and if you want to add in the number of different experiences you can create with all the possible strap variations, the number becomes truly astronomical).

My personal favorites have always included some of the astronomically oriented Apple Watch faces, including the planetarium face (which lets you see the positions of all the planets past, present, and future by turning the crown). The original version of the Solar face was the Solar Graph, which shows the Sun's elevation in the sky, as well as the time of sunrise, solar noon, sunset, twilight, and nightfall proper. Solar noon is of interest as it is the moment when the Sun is actually at its zenith, which is generally not at noon on the clock. This is due to the fact that civil time is the time across an entire time zone, and the problem is worsened in parts of the world that observe daylight saving time.


The Solar Dial, launched with the Apple Watch Series 5.

As of WatchOS 6, which was introduced last September, there is a new Solar watch face. This one is simply called the Solar Dial, and it is a remarkably charming thing. It has been described as a miniature sundial for the wrist, but it is rather more like having a sundial and the Sun itself on your wrist, both at the same time. Moreover, it bears a certain resemblance to some rather exotic complications found in mechanical watches, about which more later.

The Solar Dial consists of a 24-hour dial with 12 (noon) at the top and 24 (midnight) at the bottom. An hour hand moves once around the dial per day, and attached to the hour hand is miniature representation of the Sun. The portion of the dial that's in light blue represents the number of daylight hours, and the portion in dark blue, night; the boundaries between each section mark sunrise and sunset. Opposite the Sun on the 24-hour hand is a smaller dial which shows the hours and minutes, in either an analog or digital format. The four corners of the watch face are taken up with customizable complications (in my case, from the upper left clockwise: world time, date, activity tracker, and workout). 


Tapping the Solar Dial watch face will allow you to see whether it's day, or night, or one of the various phases of twilight. You can also see how many hours of daylight there are.

The color of the sky also changes depending on the time of day, and during the twilight hours, you get a very pretty transition from blue, to a deeper blue, to a lovely pale pink as the solar disk begins to sink below the horizon. You can rotate the crown to show you what time sunset takes place, as well as the various phases of twilight. You'll also see, in yellow numbers in the sub-dial, how many hours it is from the current time to sunset, or other solar astronomical events.


You'll also notice that for both dawn and sunset, there are a total of four small dots spanning the period of time during which the sky goes from sunlit to completely dark. Above, the 24-hour hand and Sun disk are at Sunset. Sunset is very specifically defined, as is sunrise: They are the moments when the upper limb (edge) of the Sun's disk disappears below, or appears above, the horizon. (The precise definition is the moment when the edge of the upper limb is tangent to the horizon line). Interestingly enough, because of the refraction of the Sun's image in the Earth's atmosphere, at the moment of visible sunset from an observer's position, the Sun is actually already just slightly more than one solar diameter below the horizon.

However, the disappearance of the Sun's upper limb below the horizon does not mean night falls instantly, like someone shutting off a light switch. Instead, it is the beginning of a period called twilight. Twilight is the period between sunset and true nightfall, when the last bit of sunlight finally vanishes, and the sky becomes completely dark. Twilight, as it turns out, is further divided into three phases: Civil Twilight, Nautical Twilight, and Astronomical Twilight, and it is the phases of twilight, plus sunset, which are indicated by the four dots clustered at sundown. As each type of twilight darkens, it reaches its Dusk phase, which marks the transition into the next Twilight period. (The word twilight, incidentally, is Old English in origin ... appropriately enough for a term describing visual obscurity, it is unclear what the prefix "twi" actually means; the word may mean, "half light.")

In order, therefore, the sequence starting at Sunset is: Sunset, Civil Twilight, Civil Dusk; Nautical Twilight, Nautical Dusk; Astronomical Twilight; Astronomical Dusk ... and finally, Night proper. This is followed by Solar Midnight, which is the moment when the Sun is at its nadir on the celestial sphere from the standpoint of the observer. 


Day, Night, and what comes in between. Graphic, T. W. Carlson.

Particularly in the days before ubiquitous nocturnal electrical lights, experiencing the fall of night must have been a source of anxiety – you can only light so many candles, and the fading of light from the sky must have always had a faint miasma of death about it. The civilized person in us is sure the Sun will come up again, but in our animal hearts, we are perhaps less certain. Shakespeare captured the irrational mood of the hours of darkness well in that darkest of plays, Hamlet, with the titular character's soliloquy: 

"Tis now the very witching time of night, When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes outContagion to this world: now could I drink hot blood,And do such bitter business as the day

Would quake to look on."

Twilight has its own rich vocabulary, including the word crepuscular; "that which is related to twilight." Animals that are chiefly active during the twilight of dawn or nightfall are called crepuscular animals; my favorite of these, and maybe yours too, is the firefly. 

Of the three Twilights – Civil, Nautical, and Astronomical – it is Civil Twilight which seems to have the most nebulous history (to make a feeble joke). Civil Twilight seems to have been defined fairly recently, historically speaking; the term is not attested in English until 1817, when Thomas Leybourn wrote, "All these notions are extremely vague, and refer less to the astronomical twilight, than to that other twilight which allows to labour and to read, which was first mentioned by Lambert, and named by him civil twilight." Leybourn was referring to the Swiss mathematician and physicist, Johann Heinrich Lambert, who died at 49 in Prussia in 1777 and who is famous for, among other things, the first proof that π is irrational.


Civil Twilight begins immediately at sunset.

Merriam-Webster has a lovely short essay on the history of the concept of Civil Twilight, which mentions that as recently as the early 20th century, there were at least six different definitions of it. Practically speaking, the definition of Civil Twilight had less to do with astronomy, and more to do with defining how late in the day work could be done, indoors or out, without resorting to artificial light. 


Civil Dusk is the last and darkest phase of Civil Twilight.

The accepted definition of Civil Twilight today is that it begins at Sunset (which by definition is an instantaneous moment in time) and that it lasts until the geometric center of the Sun is 6º below the horizon. Civil Twilight is not only an astronomical event – it is also important in fields as diverse as aviation and law. Here in the United States, the FAA defines night, and the additional regulations pertaining to nighttime aircraft operations, as the period between the end of Civil Twilight and the beginning of morning Civil Twilight. Civil twilight is also used in some jurisdictions to determine whether or not a crime has been committed at night or not, as the penalties for nocturnal malfeasances may be more severe than those committed during the day. (One wonders what the rationale for this might be. Certainly, the distinction is unlikely to matter to the victim of a burglary – perhaps the view is that in operating at night, the criminal is somehow cheating, or demonstrating a lack of nerve, and therefore more morally culpable?)

The second of the three Twilights is Nautical Twilight, and as you might imagine from the name, it is of special relevance to mariners. Nautical Twilight begins at the exact moment that Civil Twilight/Dusk ends, when the geometric center of the Sun is 6º below the horizon.


Nautical Twilight: stars begin to appear, horizon still visible.

The term "Nautical" in Nautical Twilight gives a clue as to what it means from an observational standpoint. For celestial navigation, one of the numbers you need is the elevation of a celestial body above the horizon, particularly well-known reference stars. Nautical Twilight is the period during which it starts to get dark enough that such stars begin to become visible in the sky, but also during which there is still enough residual light in the sky for the horizon line to be visible. 


Nautical dusk: horizon becomes invisible, navigational observations no longer possible.

This is something I had never particularly considered about celestial navigation, but of course, if what you need to navigate is the azimuth and altitude of a star, and you're using the horizon as a reference, you actually don't have all that much time in which to work as it has to be dark enough for the star in question to be visible, but not so dark that you can't see the horizon anymore. As you get closer and closer to Nautical Dusk, it gets harder and harder to make out the horizon and eventually it becomes impossible. Modern sextants (the navigational instrument used for measuring celestial altitudes) often incorporate an artificial horizon, which allows you to take sightings even when the horizon can't be seen. 

Nautical Twilight ends when the Sun's geometric center is 12º below the horizon – that is the actual moment of Nautical Dusk and the beginning of Astronomical Twilight. Nautical Dusk and Dawn were, historically, the moments when military operations had to halt and defensive positions assumed, or when operations could commence, as those moments were when available light had fallen below the minimum needed to engage the enemy, or had increased to the point that maneuver was possible.

Astronomical Twilight begins when the Sun's geometric center is 12º below the horizon and ends when it reaches 18º below the horizon.


Astronomical Twilight is perhaps the most poetic of the three from an experiential standpoint – it's the period when the stars really come out. While Civil Twilight and Nautical Twilight are both driven, definitionally, by practical considerations (how late you can work, and the requirements of celestial navigation, respectively) astronomical twilight is based purely on celestial observation. I suppose if it has a practical consideration, it is only to naked-eye astronomers, and of all the sciences, I have always found astronomy to be the most reassuringly abstract. Certainly, it does not produce the sort of we-never-stopped-to-think-if-we-should moments that you get with things like genetics or nuclear physics.

The moment in which astronomical twilight begins is at Nautical Dusk, when the geometric center of the solar disk is 12º below the horizon, and it ends at true nightfall, when the geometric center of the solar disk reaches 18º below the horizon. During this period, the faintest stars visible to the naked eye become gradually visible (6th magnitude). Unfortunately, those of us who live in large cities generally don't have an opportunity to experience Astronomical Twilight, thanks to light pollution.

There are also three twilights associated with the morning hours, which go by the same names – Astronomical Twilight, Nautical Twilight, and Civil Twilight – which begin when the Sun is 18º below the horizon and which end at dawn. The Solar Dial also shows the moment of true Solar Noon and true Solar Midnight, which represent the zenith and nadir of the Sun's position in the sky, respectively.


A Challenge To The Watchmakers

A complaint that I often hear about the Apple Watch is that "it is not really a watch," (which sometimes seems to me a way of saying, "I don't like smartwatches and I reject them as utterly irrelevant to what makes a watch enjoyable, relevant, and ethically and morally defensible"). For me, one of the most interesting things about the Apple Watch is that you can have lots of different experiences depending on how you customize the various faces and depending on which one you choose to spend time with. I think the Solar Dial creates a very watch-like experience – perhaps more than any of the other dials.

However, as a fan of astronomical complications, I can't help but wonder if this sort of complication couldn't be realized in a mechanical wristwatch or pocket watch. A "Three Twilights" watch would be a wonderful thing – we already have sunrise and sunset complications, and there are watches which show the moment of true solar noon as well. One of these is the out-of-production but very much lamented (by me, anyway) Jules Audemars Equation Of Time – a stunning complicated timepiece that will wash the taste of Royal Oaks out of your mouth like nothing else. It shows the time of sunrise and sunset, as well as true solar noon and the Equation of Time, and it is a perpetual calendar to boot.


I haven't actually dug deep enough to find out if you could drive a Three Twilights complication directly off a sunrise-sunset complication, but there are a couple of watches that point in that direction, including the Krayon Everywhere watch and the Ochs Und Junior Day/Night. Both use systems of moveable fan-like shutters to show whether the Sun is above or below the horizon, and they bear a family resemblance to how the position of the Sun is shown in the Apple Watch Solar Dial. Since the duration of the Twilights is based on geometry, it seems to me that at least theoretically, it might not be too difficult to engineer such a complication (which would, like the sunrise/sunset complication itself, probably need to be made for a specific location).

Such a thing would be enormously charming, and it would be if not completely new, at least a most interesting new variation on the sunrise/sunset complication. But, for now, I give the Apple Watch Solar Dial a lot of credit for taking the properties of the smartwatch and using them to create a very captivating experience. The luminosity of the display and its ability, as night falls or sunrise dawns, to display different colors, as well as the general composition of the dial, makes for something much richer and far more emotionally evocative than the mere delivery of information. And too, it gives us a chance to reflect on what darkness and light have meant, and continue to mean, culturally and historically. There is something irresistibly compelling about having a little model universe on your wrist.

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1299 days ago
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David Brooks: ‘The Rotting of the Republican Mind’

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Good column from David Brooks over the weekend:

For those awash in anxiety and alienation, who feel that everything is spinning out of control, conspiracy theories are extremely effective emotional tools. For those in low status groups, they provide a sense of superiority: I possess important information most people do not have. For those who feel powerless, they provide agency: I have the power to reject “experts” and expose hidden cabals. As Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School points out, they provide liberation: If I imagine my foes are completely malevolent, then I can use any tactic I want.

Under Trump, the Republican identity is defined not by a set of policy beliefs but by a paranoid mind-set. […]

What to do? You can’t argue people out of paranoia. If you try to point out factual errors, you only entrench false belief. The only solution is to reduce the distrust and anxiety that is the seedbed of this thinking. That can only be done first by contact, reducing the social chasm between the members of the epistemic regime and those who feel so alienated from it. And second, it can be done by policy, by making life more secure for those without a college degree.

“You can’t argue people out of paranoia” nails the deep dark conundrum we face. A good example, from his NYT op-ed page colleague Maureen Dowd, who for years now has turned over her Thanksgiving column to her Republican brother, a supposed conservative. This tradition of Dowd’s drives many readers nuts, but I have always enjoyed — well, no, not enjoyed, but appreciated — it for the insight into how a large group I’m not a part of, and generally disagree with, thinks. This year, Kevin Dowd revealed himself to be well on his way to Kookville:

The Democrats remain mystified by the loyalty of Trump’s base. It is rock solid because half the country was tired of being patronized and lied to and worse, taken for granted. Trump was unique because he was only interested in results.

Yes, yes, Trump’s base remains united behind him because they’re … tired of being lied to. That’s it. It’s certainly not that they’re tired of being told truths they do not want to hear.

A word of caution to Fox News: Your not-so-subtle shift leftward is a mistake. You are one of a kind. Watching the quick abdication of Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum following the election (joining an already hostile Chris Wallace) was like finding out my wife was cheating.

This treachery that Kevin Dowd equates to his wife cheating on him was acknowledging that Joe Biden soundly beat Donald Trump in the election. That’s not a leftward shift. It’s a statement of fact. A truth, inconvenient or not.

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1332 days ago
David Brooks opining on a state of affairs he's *totally* not responsible for in any way.
1321 days ago
I guess this is how they “win”?
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