July 19: Rebuild With Stone

Today I decided to venture into the cross-cutting details of three seemingly unrelated events in history that all occurred on today in history; July 19th. Together they are the story of two fires, two cities, and a raid that I hope display a stubborn human persistence to rebuild.

July 19, 1845 – New York City

In the center of downtown Manhattan, the third floor of a local whale oil business burst into fire, the flames quickly spreading to neighboring buildings. Due to the time of night, it would be another half hour before the fire alarm rang.

With the NYC Fire Department still existing only as a volunteer organization, the fire crew was impressively unprepared to deal with the fire until joined by retired chiefs and neighboring fire departments. By 1:00pm that afternoon, over a thousand homes in Manhattan had been destroyed and thirty people killed. As the day carried on, reports of looting during the fire began to trickle in.

Though tragic as it were, compared to the city’s earlier great fires, casualties were drastically lower, as were damages to property—largely thanks to city regulations calling for wood buildings to be replaced with brick and stone.

Eight decades later in New York City, a thirty-year-old Air Force pilot named Jimmy Doolittle began to grow in repute for his unsurpassable flight speed records; he zoomed around and past the city—flying past those newly built sparkling art deco skyscrapers—iron fortresses constructed over the ashes of the prior century’s two great fires of New York City. As he demolished flight speed records from Washington, D.C., to Boston, his flight records in New York catapulted him into the gaze of the nation’s growing military leadership. Doolittle’s fate in the future of the nation’s armed forces had been cemented.

Decades later, that striking young pilot had worked his way up to being a wartime general coordinating attacks through Rome and Tokyo in World War II. General Doolittle’s military prowess was near unrivaled in the air.

July 19, 1943 – Rome, Italy

With Allied forces closing in on Fascist Italy from North Africa and via the Mediterranean, fearful Italian citizens began to crowd into Rome due its perceived status as the “Eternal City”—a city seemingly invincible due to its paramount historical significance and relative dearth of military installments. Nearly every major western European city had been bombed repeatedly by this point in the war’s progression. Nevertheless, as the war ran on, American military advisers began to mull over the merit of conducting an air raid over the historic city. Opting to conduct strikes over the San Lorenzo district of Rome, a pivotal convergence point for essential coastal Italian railway lines, American forces bombed Rome in the morning of July 19, 1943, with targets on factories and military sites.

General Doolittle not only partly oversaw the bombing of San Lorenzo, but participated in it, flying over the city with bombers.

The bombing of Rome was hotly debated among military and religious officials. Allies had gone out of their way to avoid bombing Rome so as to not cause upset over the tarnishing of a site sacred to Catholics.

In spite of the increased risk to bomber pilots, American forces ultimately decided to airdrop flyers through Rome one day prior, warning of the bombing and urging citizens to take shelter. The end result was that the bombing took hundreds of miles of railway out of service and deteriorated Mussolini’s image, serving perfectly toward the goals of the bombing.

Despite its touted success and efforts to avoid areas of high civilian population, numerous historical and papal artifacts had been damaged. The death toll was estimated to be around 1,600 and much of the population of the San Lorenzo quarter of Rome were anti-fascists. Ultimately, the air raids over Rome helped invigorate Italian resistance fighters in their efforts to overthrow Mussolini.

July 19, AD 64 – Rome, Italy

Not half a mile away from the neighborhood of San Lorenzo, sit the ruins of the Circus Maximus–Rome’s grand chariot stadium of antiquity. On the night of July 19, AD 64, fires of unknown origin spread from the Circus Maximus out through the city. The fire would go on to rage for nine days in total–destroying two-thirds of the city in the process.

Some leads put the blame of the fire on Roman Emperor Nero while other historians cite Nero as having been outside of Rome during the fire. Adding to the confusion, Roman historian Tacitus and early Christian church tradition record Nero blaming and subsequently persecuting Christians for the fire while many modern historians point to the otherwise anecdotal nature of such speculation.

Emperor Domitian: The Proto-Mussolini

Nearly twenty years after the fire of Rome, most of the Circus Maximus had been rebuilt to its previous splendor and continued to host the grand and elaborate races it had been known for in its days of the Roman Republic. Atop the restorations and at the helm of Rome itself stood Rome’s new emperor, Domitian, gazing over the races of the Circus Maximus from a newly constructed elevated viewpost, exclusive to him. Domitian’s stature above the stadium exemplified his image among the citizens of Rome—autocratic, callous, unsympathetic, ruling with an iron fist from afar.

Unpopular for his distant and dictatorial rule, Domitian was assassinated by court officials in AD 96. Just as Mussolini’s body was unceremoniously thrown around two millennia later, court nurses unceremoniously cremated his body. He was posthumously condemned by the Roman Senate as a cruel, tyrannical ruler. As his charismatic and well-liked adviser, Nerva, assumed the throne, Domitian’s death and disposal marked the end of the second Roman imperial dynasty—a period of backstabbing and imperial cult revivalism that would only truly see a resurgence with Mussolini two millennia later.

Assuming the throne at an old age, Nerva reigned only a year before dying from natural causes. His son, Trajan, cemented his legacy as a good and just ruler. Hell, the name of their dynasty is “The Five Good Emperors” (kudos to Roman historians for originality).

Trajan Rebuilds

Under Trajan, Rome’s borders reached their greatest extent—spanning from England to Anatolia and Egypt. Trajan’s rule saw the razing of the built-up pomp and autocratic rule set up under Domitian and his predecessors.

Trajan started with the Circus Maximus. Fearing further fires, he rebuilt the stadium out of stone. Trajan’s last and most popular modification was the demolition of Domitian’s elevated viewpost above the stadium. From then on, the Roman emperor—for centuries to come—would view the games from a stature shared with the common Roman citizen.

Today; July 19, 2019 – Rome, Italy

Today the ruins of the Circus Maximus operate as a park venue in the city center for concerts, events, and rallies. Throughout the year, music is often heard resonating throughout the historic site.

Still heard ringing through the field of the Circus Maximus today are the songs of Francesco De Gregori, known as Il Principe dei cantautori, “The Prince of the singer-songwriters” for his poetic lyrics. Starting his music career in 1972, De Gregori is still active, putting out music at the age of 68. After a lull in his career, De Gregori published his bestseller album, Titanic, in 1982. The final song on the album is titled San Lorenzo, and acts as a lament of the July 19, 1943 bombing of the namesake Roman neighborhood. Below is a translated excerpt from the song:

“And one day, you believe, this war will end,

peace will return and butter will abound and we will go to lunch on Sundays,

outside Porta, in Cinecittà, today pity is dead,

but one fine day it will be reborn and then someone will do something,

maybe get married.”

De Gregori takes the highlighted clause of the excerpt—pity is dead—from the title of a famous anti-fascist song, “Pietà l’è morta”, written by esteemed Italian resistance fighter Nuto Revelli during the fight against Mussolini’s regime. Sung on frigid Alpine mountain tops and hummed amidst secret café schemes in Rome by underground partisans seeking to liberate their homeland from an autocracy of a new kind of elevated viewpost over Rome’s citizens, Revelli’s legacy lives on in De Gregori’s lament of the anti-fascist Roman quarter. 

With the Circus Maximus and fires of old as witness, history doesn’t just go away into the recesses of minds and history books. Consequences remain; effects persist; history repeats itself when not paid heed to. The best that can be done to do away with the fires and rubble of yesteryear is to rebuild with stone. So keep in mind, if you’re ever by the grounds of the Circus Maximus and hear the lyrics and piano accompaniment of that De Gregori song, you’re listening to the tale of a city experienced in rebuilding by stone.

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Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings: Not People ‘Over There’

On one fine afternoon in the summer of 2017, my cousin treated my mother and I to lunch at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel during a visit to Colombo, Sri Lanka. The smell of the warm sea breeze greeted us as we stepped out from our vehicle while out past the hotel grounds lay that briny cauldron of foam we call the Indian Ocean. My cousin and I settled down to catch up over recent events and we chit-chatted away, her telling me about her two daughters’ antics at swim class.

It was by all means, a pleasant afternoon.

But no post goes on about the pleasantries of one quaint little afternoon meal by the sea.

This morning, as worshipers came together in prayer for Easter Sunday services, three churches and five hotels across Sri Lanka were subject to a series of terrorist bombings. The Cinnamon Grand was one of the hotels bombed. The bomb went off meters away from where my cousin and I were seated two years prior, discussing trivialities of the day.

On a related note, I have an eye for plants; they’re usually among the first things I spot when I arrive someplace new—and one of my favorite plants is the frangipani tree. I’ve always thought that their awkward, spindly, grey branches made them look a little alien-like. In season, they bloom modest but charming five-petaled flowers that range from white and yellow to deep pink and red. The Cinnamon Grand had a gorgeous frangipani tree that littered its flowers around on the grassy opening in front of the building.

I currently attend an international school in Malaysia whose gorgeous campus also looks out over a stretch of ocean—the historic Strait of Malacca. It’s far more placid and tranquil than the mighty cauldron of foam that greeted me two years ago in Sri Lanka, but it’s still part of the same ocean system.

Dotted about near the ocean-side of my campus are a splattering of frangipani trees that greet me every day as I make my way down to my school’s seaview cafeteria for lunch. They wave their spindly, grey-ish alien arms at me as I try my best to get to the front of the lunch queue.

But why talk about trees and bodies of water?

As I write this, the death toll in Sri Lanka grows higher and higher. When I began this post a half-hour ago, the death toll was reported at 207. As I write this line, the death toll stands at 215. Those are numbers—and numbers often seem to mean little. A tragedy an ocean away in some foreign country may concern you a little. You see it on the news, you shake your head, you mutter something under your breath about the cruelty of life, and you go on your way scrolling through Facebook.

Six months before sitting down with my cousin at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel, I visited Colombo to attend a wedding reception at the Intercontinental Hotel—now named the Kingsbury Hotel.

To be brutally honest—I absolutely hated the event. I knew hardly anyone there, and was averse to the generic reaction of older relatives talking down to me, telling me they remembered seeing photos of me when I was four years old.

By far, the highlight of that night was seeing my cousin’s baby boy and getting to pinch his chubby little cheeks. I try to play the calm and collected teenage boy who has better things than babies to pay heed to—but I can’t help but dork out over babies with a full face just ready to be squished.

This morning at the Kingsbury, a bomb went off just one floor below where that wedding reception was held. Alongside the Cinnamon Grand, the Kingsbury was one of the five hotels targeted in the Easter bombings.

Fortunately, none of my family was harmed in this morning’s attacks. But it sure does make you think—why not my family? Far too often we subconsciously succumb to the just-world fallacy—the unconscious tendency to believe that the natural course of the world is for good to be rewarded and bad to be punished. I think it’s part of the reason that numbers mean so little. It’s just a natural psychological tendency of thought.

It takes something visual to snap us out of our ingrained group-thinking apathy. A photo of relatives tearfully mourning the dead. An image of an effigy of Christ splattered in the blood of worshipers. Whatever it is—something needs to remind you that those victims far away aren’t really all that far away from you. For me, it was the thought that there’s absolutely no reason those killed this morning weren’t my family. It was the idea that this morning, before they were so brutally killed, worshipers and travelers looked out towards the same vast expanse of water that I too had looked out upon two years prior. The idea that as my friends returned from their Easter morning services, somewhere in Sri Lanka, the same couldn’t be said.

Numbers are distant. The world becomes a far smaller place when you can think of the faces of babies whose cheeks you pinched, of the trees that waved their branches at you, and of the oceans whose shore wake called out to you.

A Very Opinionated Rant: A Look At Some Worrisome Aftermath

Think of him what you may, Brett Kavanaugh is now an Associate Justice in the highest court of the land. To many Americans, the notion that a man embroiled in allegations of sexual assault can attain such office is a most reprehensible predicament—symptomatic of deep-running problems in the fabric of American society.

Continue reading “A Very Opinionated Rant: A Look At Some Worrisome Aftermath”

If Dems Don’t Win the House in November, Can They Kiss 2020 Goodbye?

YM: Today I am allowed the mighty pleasure of featuring an analytical piece from Mark Sasse—a jack of many trades; master of all—but a man I recognize firstly as an early impetus for my interest in politics and related matters.

Mark W Sasse is a novelist and award-winning playwright who loves to dabble in the frivolity of political speculation when not knee-deep in the creative arts. His new novel The African Connection is book two in his low fantasy thriller series The Forgotten Child Trilogy. In his former life, he taught history and English in both Vietnam and Malaysia. He currently teaches theatre in Saudi Arabia. When he’s not writing or teaching, he’s cooking spicy Asian food or watching baseball. Check out his work on mwsasse.com

Mid-term elections are volatile. Almost always. They historically display the cantankerousness of the American electorate with pristine clarity. Mid-term elections are like the shiny new Christmas toy that finds itself dunked in an April mud puddle simply because you’ve become bored with it. That’s what happens. Two years after a presidential election is just enough time for the euphoria of “change” and “hope” and “greatness” and all other election slogans to wear thin to such a degree that the populace brutally penalizes the president’s party to let the other jokers have their turn messing things up. It’s a cynical cycle without question. The numbers back this up very clearly. Let’s take a look at the data before conjecturing their meaning for 2018.

Continue reading “If Dems Don’t Win the House in November, Can They Kiss 2020 Goodbye?”

Florida: The Name of the Game

In what looks to be the most expensive Senate race this election cycle, incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson seeks to retain his seat amidst Class I elections that pit the Democratic Party against the worst Senate map any party has seen in the last half century—facing what looks to be his stiffest electoral competition yet.

The Rhetoric and Play

Nelson’s re-election campaign pivots largely on a combination of appealing to moderates and popularity among the more politically energized youth. As a southern Democrat originally elected in 1978, Nelson has never been very liberal or progressive like many of his Senate colleagues, so the threat of base turnout is very real.

Rather than an attack specifically against Trump and Capitol Hill Republicans, Nelson’s message gives off old-school vibes of “Washington isn’t doing enough”. Through campaigning on a purportedly poor federal reaction to natural disaster and Scott’s poor track record in a state where the environment is a crucial factor, Nelson seems to have covered a bit of ground with the new progressive Democratic base as well as not turning away moderate or otherwise undecided voters.

Speaking of undecided voters, Scott doesn’t seem to be doing very well with them. Though the governor has a massive edge in terms of name recognition among constituents, this may in fact be the decisive factor that acts against a Scott victory. Close affiliation with Trump and unpopular flabbergasts in past years decidedly put off still-undecided voters (yes, they actually do exist in this race). Surmising that this is a notable factor, Scott could counteract this by running to rile up turnout among his conservative base, which seems to be the case in his cautions of the fate of America if a Democratic majority Senate were to come to power.

What You Clicked For

Florida Senate 2018 Map

But enough talking. You’ve waited. And here they are. Lone Umbrella’s county outcome prediction maps for the Florida Senate race are complete!Outcomes involved in creating these maps:

  • 2016 Florida Senate election—Murphy vs. Rubio
    • Rubio won this one with the largest raw vote in Florida history and a margin of eight points.
    • Opponent Patrick Murphy was a relatively popular and charismatic Democrat, but name recognition put the ball in Rubio’s court—along with his incumbency advantage.
Florida Senate Race 2018

County Prediction Map | Population Adjusted
  • 2012 Florida Senate election—Nelson vs. Mack
    • Early polls indicated Mack with a lead over incumbent Senator Nelson.
    • Progression of the race showed a vulnerable Nelson with a three to seven point lead.
    • Election night showed Nelson very comfortably cruise to a victory by well over a million votes and a margin of 13 points.
  • 2016 Presidential election in Florida—Trump vs. Clinton
  • 2014 Florida gubernatorial election—Scott vs. Crist
    • very tight race. Scott won by a mere sixty thousand votes; a margin of less than a percent.
    • Though a tight margin for an incumbent governor, Crist was a notable opponent well known among Floridians as Republican-turned-Democrat former governor of the state.