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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Atlanta Goes Bananas

When is a banana not a banana? When does it become an instrument of oppression? According to Tim Chitwood of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, an Atlanta-area woman, Gwen Stewart, apparently feels that banana-wielding police officers are too offensive to even talk about. Now James Taranto has officially designated the incident a kerfuffle. Allow us to be the first to dub the affair "Bananagate."

How did it begin? Where will it end? According to Chitwood:
"She [Stewart] saw two police officers eating bananas as she passed them on a bus going to the Columbus Civic Center, where people gathered for the Jan. 15 [Martin Luther King Day] march. The police department that day had sent around a snack van to feed officers working security for the event.

Stewart says she and others found the bananas deeply offensive [n.b.]. She complained to the police and to the mayor, and the mayor sent her a Jan. 22 letter of apology, which she never got because the address was wrong.

When I wrote a column about this Jan. 28, I relied on city officials' assessment that Stewart was offended because racists have compared black people to apes, at times, and in the context of a civil rights march, the bananas might be taken as a symbolic slur.

But I've since talked to Stewart twice by phone, and she would not tell me why she was insulted, and apparently she never told the mayor, either. In his letter to [US Congressman, Tom] Price, [Columbus Mayor, Bob] Poydasheff writes: 'Incidentally, through all of my communication with Mrs. Stewart concerning this matter, she has never told me why she was offended by the officers' conduct.'

Stewart tells me she shouldn't have to explain that. People should know why that's offensive, and if they don't, then they need to find out. But they're not going to find out from her -- even though she's the one complaining about it.

So these public officials are writing letters about a complaint from someone who won't explain why she complained. And they aren't the only ones writing about it, and neither am I."
So we can only speculate about reasons for Stewart's complaint. Apparently the problem was the policemen's bananas qua bananas. As Chitwood notes above, the initial suggestions that racism was involved are in question now. Commenting on Chitwood's January article that first broke the "Bananagate" story, the provocative Neal Boortz noted:
"Now I know what you're thinking. You're wrong. The officer wasn't playing with the banana. He wasn't holding it or eating it in any manner that might be considered to be sexually offensive or suggestive in any way. Insert banana. Bite. Chew. Swallow. Repeat. Grow strong bones. Just that simple."
While we await the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to sort things out, let's gather the low-hanging fruit. We suggest that Ms. Stewart avoid the supermarket produce section and take action to protect herself in the future. Forewarned is forearmed. Fortunately for us all, the power of the internet makes it relatively easy to find out how to defend yourself against a man armed with a banana.

Jeff Jarvis: Ward Churchill and Bill Maher

Bill Maher had Ward Churchill on his show as a guest. Jeff Jarvis watched it so we wouldn't have to. In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, "What a maroon." (We're not talking about Jeff. You can take your pick between the other two.) Via Roger L. Simon.

Two Arrests in Armanious Murders in NJ

A break in the case of the Coptic Christian family murdered in New Jersey:

Ex-Cons Accused of Brutally Murdering Family "The family of devout Coptic Christian Hossam Armanious was found stabbed in their home on January 14th, setting off religious tension between Muslims and Coptic Christians in the area.

But now it appears that this all came down to a couple of ex-cons--former drug dealers--who were greedy and desperate for money.

At this hour, two suspects in the case are being held on $10 million bail, and prosecutors say this case is being considered for the death penalty."
As it should be.

UPDATE: Robert Spencer has some "final" comments on the case at Jihad Watch.
UPDATE2 (3/6): Some background information on the history lived by Coptic Christians in Egypt from Hugh Fitzgerald.

Friday, March 04, 2005

If You Are Ever Cornered by a Grizzly Bear...

try playing dead. It might work. If it doesn't work, at least it will be good practice.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Best of the Web and The Daily Show

We find The Daily Show on Comedy Central to be occasionally funny and frequently irritating. However, in the interest of family harmony we often end up watching it anyway.

If we can help it, we never miss James Taranto's Best of the Web Today at the free, online Wall Street Journal site, OpinionJournal.com. In fact the worst thing about weekends is that BotW is only published Monday through Friday.

In the linked article, published yesterday, Taranto transcribes an interview of Nancy Soderberg by Jon Stewart that aired Monday on The Daily Show. Both the interview itself and Taranto's commentary are not to be missed. Stewart gets some amazing revelations out of Soderberg (and out of himself as well).

The Future of Computing

I've always been a bit of a technophile, so naturally this article appealed to me:

Wired: Mind Control

For those of you on a schedule I'll just say that it relates to brain implants and the ability to control computers, and hence motors, gears, and a wide variety of mechanical objects, simply by thought. Personally I've always felt that this would be the ultimate end of the computer revolution, a meshing of carbon and silicon based processors (read: brains and microchips). The ethical and philosophical implications are staggering, not to mention what kinds of "hacking" might occur in a world where our very minds are remotely accesible, but for the time being this technology is in its infantile stages. What really irritates me is the political implications.

I should preface this by saying that I am very near the "innovation at any cost" camp in this matter, but still what frustrates me is the way that government feels it always has a part to play in this. As the article mentions, funding for this particular project was acquired through the Defense Department (an organization notorious for science-fiction schemes, some of which I must say are quite successful, i.e. nuclear weapons, while others not so, i.e. bat-bombs). I really have no major problem with this aspect, but I do have one with the FDA regulating an operation occuring between two consenting parties. Leaving aside the fact that the FDA is the Food and Drug Administration, I fear that their meddling will ultimately set back quite significantly a technology that promises to reverse paralyzation without the methodical issues raised by such things as stem-cell research.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocation absolute expulsion of government from this process, but I'm saddened to think of all the life-saving technologies like this held back years or decades because bureacrats in Washington try to control them or just impede a public release.

Al Jazeera and The Arab Street

Ali of Free Iraqi has not been a fan of Al Jazeera, but he's arguing persuasively that the station has had an unexpected, profoundly positive impact on the current dynamics of the Middle East. This was not exactly the impact they intended and it doesn't mean they've joined The Good Guys, but there it is:
"However, even before that both channels [Al Jazeera and Al Arabyia] offered a great service to democracy and freedom in the ME even when they wanted exactly the opposite! For example, Al Jazzera focused, as part of its coverage for the 'deteriorated situations in Iraq' on every single demonstration against the interim government or the American presence in Iraq even if it was 10 people that are demonstrating! But this coverage, that was missed in the official Arab media most of the times, showed the Arab street an unusual scene. 'Arab' citizens demonstrating freely against their government and the supposed brutal occupiers under the eyes of police!

These days we hear every now and then about demonstrations almost everywhere in the Arab world. Excuse me, but this is far from usual! I haven't seen *any* demonstration against Saddam all my life and similarly I haven't heard of any in Syria or Saudi Arabia prior to the 9th of April. Most of us think it's what happened in Iraq that encouraged Arabs to demand more rights, but how could Arab citizens know the details of what's happening in Iraq if it wasn't for Al Jazeera and Al Arabyia? They don't watch western media, and the official TVs and newspapers give you only one point of view, that of the government, while Al Jazeera with all its bias host Iraqi officials and receive phone calls from Iraqi citizens on their talk shows. They twist facts, favor conspiracy theorists but in the end the audience gets more than one point of view and that's a crucial difference."
Read the rest.

It's a very insightful post, and he's made us re-evaluate our own opinions of Al Jazeera. The law of unintended consequences strikes again. Those in the TV business in the West have long known that the pictures often tell a different story from the words in a newscast. Sometimes that's bad, but sometimes it's A Good Thing.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Free Muslims Against Terrorism

Is Islam really a "Religion of peace" ("RoP" in blogtalk)? Osama and his ilk promise to kill us all and anyone else, including Muslims, who disagrees with them. They do this in the name of Allah and quote Islamic justifications for the unjustifiable. Certainly most Muslims lead non-violent lives, and many are disgusted by the jihadis. Unfortunately, there are also large numbers of Muslims who support the jihadis directly or tacitly sympathize with them.

Too many Muslim organizations in the West focus mainly on protecting Islam from negative reactions that are the consequences of actions carried out by Muslims in the name of Islam. While groups like CAIR give some lip service to condemnation of terrorism, it's clear they see their main duty as Defending the Faith and the Faithful against "anti-Muslim bias." They reflexively reject any anti-terrorism measures that impact any Muslims. When a Coptic Christian family in New Jersey was brutally executed in the same ritualistic fashion used by Muslims against Copts in Egypt, CAIR was there right away to insist there is no reason to suspect religion was involved in any way.

The group Free Muslims Against Terrorism seems to be a completely different sort of organization.
"Muslims against terrorism and extremism
The Free Muslims Against Terrorism is a nonprofit organization made up of American Muslims and American Arabs of all backgrounds who feel that religious violence and terrorism have not been fully rejected by the Muslim community in the post 9-11 era.

Free Muslims was created to eliminate broad base support for Islamic extremism and terrorism and to strengthen secular democratic institutions in the Middle East and the Muslim World by supporting Islamic reformation efforts.

Free Muslims promotes a modern secular interpretation of Islam which is peace-loving, democracy-loving and compatible with other faiths and beliefs. Free Muslims' efforts are unique; it is the only mainstream American-Muslim organization willing to attack extremism and terrorism unambiguously. Unfortunately most other Muslim leaders and organizations believe that when it comes to terrorism, the end justifies the means.

Other Americans have spoken up against terrorism, but never before has this message come with such clarity from Muslims or Arabs. Muslims are the only ones who can solve the problem of terror in Islam, and sadly until the founding of this Coalition, they were the only group who had not definitively spoken up against the use of terror.

Please join Free Muslims. We welcome all, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish.

Taking our religion back one Muslim at a time
We believe in the re-interpretation of Islam for the 21st century where terrorism is not justified under any circumstances.
We believe in the separation of religion and state.
We believe that democracy is the best form of government.
We believe in the promotion of secularism in all forms of political activity.
We believe that equality for women is an inalienable right.
We believe that religion is a personal relationship between the individual and his or her God and is not to be forced on anyone."
This is a very welcome, forthright approach to the situation, and we applaud Free Muslims Against Terrorism. Until Muslims forcefully reject jihadism and violence in the name of Islam wherever it occurs, the world will continue to be subject to this scourge. If Muslim groups in the West will not do this, can those in the Muslim countries be expected to behave differently?

Last night we were at a concert listening to a Modest Mouse song that is (mildly) critical of God, calling Him a "control freak." It occurred to us that no sane Christian is likely to find this to be grounds for killing the group (or the crowd for singing along). Moreover, if some deranged lunatic did kill anyone in in the name of Christ for this "blasphemy," it would be universally, immediately, rightly condemned by Christians. We look forward to the day when the same can be said for Muslims.

We hope that with the leadership of Free Muslims Against Terrorism and increased freedom in the Middle East, Muslims can drive violence out of Islam. Muslims, after all, have the most to gain from the change.

Your Invisibility Cloak Is Ready

I know it's here somewhere. Just give me a minute to find it. Dang! Now where did that thing go?

Maybe someday, according to Nature (hat tip: AmyG): "Engineers devise invisibility shield - Philip Ball
Electron effects could stop objects from scattering light.
The idea of a cloak of invisibility that hides objects from view has long been confined to the more improbable reaches of science fiction. But electronic engineers have now come up with a way to make one.

Andrea Alù and Nader Engheta of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia say that a 'plasmonic cover' could render objects 'nearly invisible to an observer'. Their idea remains just a proposal at this stage, but it doesn't obviously violate any laws of physics.

'The concept is an interesting one, with several important potential applications,' says John Pendry, a physicist at Imperial College in London, UK. 'It could find uses in stealth technology and camouflage.'

Cloak of many colours
Types of invisibility shielding have been developed before, but these mostly use the chameleon principle: a screen is coloured to match its background, so that the screened object is camouflaged.

For example, inventor Ray Alden in North Carolina has proposed a system of light detectors and emitters that project a replica of the scene appearing behind an object from its front surface. Researchers at the University of Tokyo are working on a camouflage fabric that uses a similar principle, in which the background scene is projected on to light-reflecting beads in the material.

But the invisibility shield proposed by Alù and Engheta in a preprint on arXiv1 is more ambitious than this. It is a self-contained structure that would reduce visibility from all viewing angles. In that sense it would be more like the shielding used by the Romulans in the Star Trek episode 'Balance of Terror' in 1966, which hid their spaceships at the push of a button."
There are a few "catches" apart from the hypothetical aspect. The effect is wavelength dependent, so the object would still be visible with other light wavelengths. Also the size of the object must be similar to the wavelength of the light, so better start working on your shrink ray if you want to escape detection with visible light. :-D

Monday, February 28, 2005

The People's Republic of Lincoln Wants Your Property

Even here in the Red States of the Great American Desert it's hard to keep the government out of people's pockets. This is bad enough when the confiscation occurs directly through taxation for government programs and projects. It's worse when the government uses the power of eminent domain to take the property of private citizens who don't wish to sell. Even more pernicious is the growing tendency to use eminent domain for private projects, as the city of Lincoln is now considering.

The right of a person to his property is fundamental to a free society. What is the point of the pursuit of happiness if it's only catch and release? Sadly, the courts have chipped away at property rights over the years. There is essentially no limit in a legal sense to the level of taxes that can be imposed on the citizens.

Eminent domain has long been seen as an essential tool for the Public Good, allowing the government to purchase private property for legitimate public uses: streets; schools; parks; etc. The vast potential for abuse has also been recognized as well, so courts have required a clear public purpose for the takings. "Fair compensation" has always been required, although what is the meaning of "fair price" when the owner is unwilling to sell? Gradually, the definition of "public use" has become so broad as to be all but meaningless. As Tycho wrote, the SCOTUS is presently reviewing a key case of emminent domain abuse.

Lincoln, apparently keen to get going before the practice is ruled unconstitutional, wants to take property so that a private developer can build a luxury hotel. The "public purpose?" Well, er, uhh, umm... it will creat jobs and tax revenue for the city. Yeah, that's it. That's our story and we're sticking to it.

The proposal is now up before the city council in a public hearing, which is televised tonight. There were quite a few articulate citizen-opponents of the use of eminent domain for the project. There was also no shortage of supporters of the project arguing that it could only be done with eminent domain. Essentially no one seems to oppose the project itself, if eminent domain is not included.

The mayor seems to be manuevering to get eminent domain in the project, but "only as a last resort." This suggests she doesn't have the votes to get it through straight up. Several speakers have bought that as a compromise, but others see it (as do we) as a fake compromise, as it would still be hanging over the head of the property owners.

The promised benefits seem to us to be Pie in the Sky, as there is no shortage of hotel space in the city at present.

Looking at the public statements of the council members, we don't think it will be close. The project will be approved, but without eminent domain authority. The developer has said the project is not practical without eminent domain, which begs the question of its true economic value.

UPDATE: At 1:45AM the council unanimously adopted the amendment to remove eminent domain authority from the project. While it could theoretically be added later, the votes just aren't there. The people have spoken, and the city has heard them.

Mark Twain on the French

We do love the French, and as Sen. Joe Biden says, we're not being facetious. We've generally found the French to be warm and friendly, particularly those who live outside of Paris. The key is making an effort to speak French to them. Still we enjoy a good joke about the French as much as the next person.

In fact our favorite piece by Mark Twain is an account of his encounter with the great French dueling tradition. It is from A Tramp Abroad, Chapter 8:

The Great French Duel [I Second Gambetta in a Terrific Duel]
Much as the modern French duel is ridiculed by certain smart people, it is in reality one of the most dangerous institutions of our day. Since it is always fought in the open air, the combatants are nearly sure to catch cold. M. Paul de Cassagnac, the most inveterate of the French duelists, had suffered so often in this way that he is at last a confirmed invalid; and the best physician in Paris has expressed the opinion that if he goes on dueling for fifteen or twenty years more--unless he forms the habit of fighting in a comfortable room where damps and draughts cannot intrude--he will eventually endanger his life. This ought to moderate the talk of those people who are so stubborn in maintaining that the French duel is the most health-giving of recreations because of the open-air exercise it affords. And it ought also to moderate that foolish talk about French duelists and socialist-hated monarchs being the only people who are immoral.
But it is time to get at my subject. As soon as I heard of the late fiery outbreak between M. Gambetta and M. Fourtou in the French Assembly, I knew that trouble must follow. I knew it because a long personal friendship with M. Gambetta revealed to me the desperate and implacable nature of the man. Vast as are his physical proportions, I knew that the thirst for revenge would penetrate to the remotest frontiers of his person.
I did not wait for him to call on me, but went at once to him. As I had expected, I found the brave fellow steeped in a profound French calm. I say French calm, because French calmness and English calmness have points of difference. He was moving swiftly back and forth among the debris of his furniture, now and then staving chance fragments of it across the room with his foot; grinding a constant grist of curses through his set teeth; and halting every little while to deposit another handful of his hair on the pile which he had been building of it on the table.
He threw his arms around my neck, bent me over his stomach to his breast, kissed me on both cheeks, hugged me four or five times, and then placed me in his own arm-chair.
As soon as I had got well again, we began business at once.
I said I supposed he would wish me to act as his second, and he said, "Of course." I said I must be allowed to act under a French name, so that I might be shielded from obloquy in my country, in case of fatal results. He winced here, probably at the suggestion that dueling was not regarded with respect in America. However, he agreed to my requirement. This accounts for the fact that in all the newspaper reports M. Gambetta's second was apparently a Frenchman.
First, we drew up my principal's will. I insisted upon this, and stuck to my point. I said I had never heard of a man in his right mind going out to fight a duel without first making his will. He said he had never heard of a man in his right mind doing anything of the kind. When he had finished the will, he wished to proceed to a choice of his "last words." He wanted to know how the following words, as a dying exclamation, struck me:
"I die for my God, for my country, for freedom of speech, for progress, and the universal brotherhood of man!"
I objected that this would require too lingering a death; it was a good speech for a consumptive, but not suited to the exigencies of the field of honor. We wrangled over a good many ante-mortem outburts, but I finally got him to cut his obituary down to this, which he copied into his memorandum-book, purposing to get it by heart:
"I DIE THAT FRANCE MIGHT LIVE."
I said that this remark seemed to lack relevancy; but he said relevancy was a matter of no consequence in last words, what you wanted was thrill.
The next thing in order was the choice of weapons. My principal said he was not feeling well, and would leave that and the other details of the proposed meeting to me. Therefore I wrote the following note and carried it to M. Fourtou's friend:
Sir: M. Gambetta accepts M. Fourtou's challenge, and authorizes me to propose Plessis-Piquet as the place of meeting; tomorrow morning at daybreak as the time; and axes as the weapons.
I am, sir, with great respect,
Mark Twain.
M. Fourtou's friend read this note, and shuddered. Then he turned to me, and said, with a suggestion of severity in his tone:
"Have you considered, sir, what would be the inevitable result of such a meeting as this?"
"Well, for instance, what WOULD it be?"
"Bloodshed!"
"That's about the size of it," I said. "Now, if it is a fair question, what was your side proposing to shed?"
I had him there. He saw he had made a blunder, so he hastened to explain it away. He said he had spoken jestingly. Then he added that he and his principal would enjoy axes, and indeed prefer them, but such weapons were barred by the French code, and so I must change my proposal.
I walked the floor, turning the thing over in my mind, and finally it occurred to me that Gatling-guns at fifteen paces would be a likely way to get a verdict on the field of honor. So I framed this idea into a proposition.
But it was not accepted. The code was in the way again. I proposed rifles; then double-barreled shotguns; then Colt's navy revolvers. These being all rejected, I reflected awhile, and sarcastically suggested brickbats at three-quarters of a mile. I always hate to fool away a humorous thing on a person who has no perception of humor; and it filled me with bitterness when this man went soberly away to submit the last proposition to his principal.
He came back presently and said his principal was charmed with the idea of brickbats at three-quarters of a mile, but must decline on account of the danger to disinterested parties passing between them. Then I said:
"Well, I am at the end of my string, now. Perhaps YOU would be good enough to suggest a weapon? Perhaps you have even had one in your mind all the time?"
His countenance brightened, and he said with alacrity:
"Oh, without doubt, monsieur!"
So he fell to hunting in his pockets--pocket after pocket, and he had plenty of them--muttering all the while, "Now, what could I have done with them?"
At last he was successful. He fished out of his vest pocket a couple of little things which I carried to the light and ascertained to be pistols. They were single-barreled and silver-mounted, and very dainty and pretty. I was not able to speak for emotion. I silently hung one of them on my watch-chain, and returned the other. My companion in crime now unrolled a postage-stamp containing several cartridges, and gave me one of them. I asked if he meant to signify by this that our men were to be allowed but one shot apiece. He replied that the French code permitted no more. I then begged him to go and suggest a distance, for my mind was growing weak and confused under the strain which had been put upon it. He named sixty-five yards. I nearly lost my patience. I said:
"Sixty-five yards, with these instruments? Squirt-guns would be deadlier at fifty. Consider, my friend, you and I are banded together to destroy life, not make it eternal."
But with all my persuasions, all my arguments, I was only able to get him to reduce the distance to thirty-five yards; and even this concession he made with reluctance, and said with a sigh, "I wash my hands of this slaughter; on your head be it."
There was nothing for me but to go home to my old lion-heart and tell my humiliating story. When I entered, M. Gambetta was laying his last lock of hair upon the altar. He sprang toward me, exclaiming:
"You have made the fatal arrangements--I see it in your eye!"
"I have."
His face paled a trifle, and he leaned upon the table for support. He breathed thick and heavily for a moment or two, so tumultuous were his feelings; then he hoarsely whispered:
"The weapon, the weapon! Quick! what is the weapon?"
"This!" and I displayed that silver-mounted thing. He cast but one glance at it, then swooned ponderously to the floor.
When he came to, he said mournfully:
"The unnatural calm to which I have subjected myself has told upon my nerves. But away with weakness!
I will confront my fate like a man and a Frenchman."
He rose to his feet, and assumed an attitude which for sublimity has never been approached by man, and has seldom been surpassed by statues. Then he said, in his deep bass tones:
"Behold, I am calm, I am ready; reveal to me the distance."
"Thirty-five yards." ...
I could not lift him up, of course; but I rolled him over, and poured water down his back. He presently came to, and said:
"Thirty-five yards--without a rest? But why ask? Since murder was that man's intention, why should he palter with small details? But mark you one thing: in my fall the world shall see how the chivalry of France meets death."
After a long silence he asked:
"Was nothing said about that man's family standing up with him, as an offset to my bulk? But no matter; I would not stoop to make such a suggestion; if he is not noble enough to suggest it himself, he is welcome to this advantage, which no honorable man would take."
He now sank into a sort of stupor of reflection, which lasted some minutes; after which he broke silence with:
"The hour--what is the hour fixed for the collision?"
"Dawn, tomorrow."
He seemed greatly surprised, and immediately said:
"Insanity! I never heard of such a thing. Nobody is abroad at such an hour."
"That is the reason I named it. Do you mean to say you want an audience?"
"It is no time to bandy words. I am astonished that M. Fourtou should ever have agreed to so strange an innovation. Go at once and require a later hour."
I ran downstairs, threw open the front door, and almost plunged into the arms of M. Fourtou's second. He said:
"I have the honor to say that my principal strenuously objects to the hour chosen, and begs you will consent to change it to half past nine."
"Any courtesy, sir, which it is in our power to extend is at the service of your excellent principal. We agree to the proposed change of time."
"I beg you to accept the thanks of my client." Then he turned to a person behind him, and said, "You hear, M. Noir, the hour is altered to half past nine. " Whereupon M. Noir bowed, expressed his thanks, and went away. My accomplice continued:
"If agreeable to you, your chief surgeons and ours shall proceed to the field in the same carriage as is customary."
"It is entirely agreeable to me, and I am obliged to you for mentioning the surgeons, for I am afraid I should not have thought of them. How many shall I want? I supposed two or three will be enough?"
"Two is the customary number for each party. I refer to 'chief' surgeons; but considering the exalted positions occupied by our clients, it will be well and decorous that each of us appoint several consulting surgeons, from among the highest in the profession. These will come in their own private carriages. Have you engaged a hearse?"
"Bless my stupidity, I never thought of it!" I will attend to it right away. I must seem very ignorant to you; but you must try to overlook that, because I have never had any experience of such a swell duel as this before. I have had a good deal to do with duels on the Pacific coast, but I see now that they were crude affairs. A hearse--sho!
we used to leave the elected lying around loose, and let anybody cord them up and cart them off that wanted to. Have you anything further to suggest?"
"Nothing, except that the head undertakers shall ride together, as is usual. The subordinates and mutes will go on foot, as is also usual. I will see you at eight o'clock in the morning, and we will then arrange the order of the procession. I have the honor to bid you a good day."
I returned to my client, who said, "Very well; at what hour is the engagement to begin?"
"Half past nine."
"Very good indeed.; Have you sent the fact to the newspapers?"
"SIR! If after our long and intimate friendship you can for a moment deem me capable of so base a treachery--"
"Tut, tut! What words are these, my dear friend? Have I wounded you? Ah, forgive me; I am overloading you with labor. Therefore go on with the other details, and drop this one from your list. The bloody-minded Fourtou will be sure to attend to it. Or I myself--yes, to make certain, I will drop a note to my journalistic friend, M. Noir--"
"Oh, come to think of it, you may save yourself the trouble; that other second has informed M. Noir."
"H'm! I might have known it. It is just like that Fourtou, who always wants to make a display."
At half past nine in the morning the procession approached the field of Plessis-Piquet in the following order: first came our carriage--nobody in it but M. Gambetta and myself; then a carriage containing M. Fourtou and his second; then a carriage containing two poet-orators who did not believe in God, and these had MS. funeral orations projecting from their breast pockets; then a carriage containing the head surgeons and their cases of instruments; then eight private carriages containing consulting surgeons; then a hack containing a coroner; then the two hearses; then a carriage containing the head undertakers; then a train of assistants and mutes on foot; and after these came plodding through the fog a long procession of camp followers, police, and citizens generally. It was a noble turnout, and would have made a fine display if we had had thinner weather.
There was no conversation. I spoke several times to my principal, but I judge he was not aware of it, for he always referred to his note-book and muttered absently, "I die that France might live."
"Arrived on the field, my fellow-second and I paced off the thirty-five yards, and then drew lots for choice of position. This latter was but an ornamental ceremony, for all the choices were alike in such weather. These preliminaries being ended, I went to my principal and asked him if he was ready. He spread himself out to his full width, and said in a stern voice, "Ready! Let the batteries be charged."
The loading process was done in the presence of duly constituted witnesses. We considered it best to perform this delicate service with the assistance of a lantern, on account of the state of the weather. We now placed our men.
At this point the police noticed that the public had massed themselves together on the right and left of the field; they therefore begged a delay, while they should put these poor people in a place of safety.
The request was granted.
The police having ordered the two multitudes to take positions behind the duelists, we were once more ready. The weather growing still more opaque, it was agreed between myself and the other second that before giving the fatal signal we should each deliver a loud whoop to enable the combatants to ascertain each other's whereabouts.
I now returned to my principal, and was distressed to observe that he had lost a good deal of his spirit. I tried my best to hearten him. I said, "Indeed, sir, things are not as bad as they seem. Considering the character of the weapons, the limited number of shots allowed, the generous distance, the impenetrable solidity of the fog, and the added fact that one of the combatants is one-eyed and the other cross-eyed and near-sighted, it seems to me that this conflict need not necessarily be fatal. There are chances that both of you may survive. Therefore, cheer up; do not be downhearted."
This speech had so good an effect that my principal immediately stretched forth his hand and said, "I am myself again; give me the weapon."
I laid it, all lonely and forlorn, in the center of the vast solitude of his palm. He gazed at it and shuddered. And still mournfully contemplating it, he murmured in a broken voice:
"Alas, it is not death I dread, but mutilation."
I heartened him once more, and with such success that he presently said, "Let the tragedy begin. Stand at my back; do not desert me in this solemn hour, my friend."
I gave him my promise. I now assisted him to point his pistol toward the spot where I judged his adversary to be standing, and cautioned him to listen well and further guide himself by my fellow-second's whoop. Then I propped myself against M. Gambetta's back, and raised a rousing "Whoop-ee!" This was answered from out the far distances of the fog, and I immediately shouted:
"One--two--three--FIRE!"
Two little sounds like SPIT! SPIT! broke upon my ear, and in the same instant I was crushed to the earth under a mountain of flesh. Bruised as I was, I was still able to catch a faint accent from above, to this effect:
"I die for... for ... perdition take it, what IS it I die for? ... oh, yes--FRANCE! I die that France may live!"
The surgeons swarmed around with their probes in their hands, and applied their microscopes to the whole area of M. Gambetta's person, with the happy result of finding nothing in the nature of a wound. Then a scene ensued which was in every way gratifying and inspiriting.
The two gladiators fell upon each other's neck, with floods of proud and happy tears; that other second embraced me; the surgeons, the orators, the undertakers, the police, everybody embraced, everybody congratulated, everybody cried, and the whole atmosphere was filled with praise and with joy unspeakable.
It seems to me then that I would rather be a hero of a French duel than a crowned and sceptered monarch.
When the commotion had somewhat subsided, the body of surgeons held a consultation, and after a good deal of debate decided that with proper care and nursing there was reason to believe that I would survive my injuries. My internal hurts were deemed the most serious, since it was apparent that a broken rib had penetrated my left lung, and that many of my organs had been pressed out so far to one side or the other of where they belonged, that it was doubtful if they would ever learn to perform their functions in such remote and unaccustomed localities. They then set my left arm in two places, pulled my right hip into its socket again, and re-elevated my nose. I was an object of great interest, and even admiration; and many sincere and warm-hearted persons had themselves introduced to me, and said they were proud to know the only man who had been hurt in a French duel in forty years.
I was placed in an ambulance at the very head of the procession; and thus with gratifying 'ECLAT I was marched into Paris, the most conspicuous figure in that great spectacle, and deposited at the hospital.
The cross of the Legion of Honor has been conferred upon me. However, few escape that distinction.
Such is the true version of the most memorable private conflict of the age.
I have no complaints to make against any one. I acted for myself, and I can stand the consequences.
Without boasting, I think I may say I am not afraid to stand before a modern French duelist, but as long as I keep in my right mind I will never consent to stand behind one again.
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