The Nation

March 19, 1917: Congress Adopts Daylight Saving Time

Ask those killed by the French army’s suppression of the Paris Commune (the subject of yesterday’s Almanac entry) or the Iraqis whose lives are still upended by the US invasion of 2003 (the twelfth anniversary of which we’ll observe tomorrow) whether time heals all wounds, but the politicization of the Daylight Saving Law, passed by Congress ninety-six years ago today, does seem to have somewhat abated in the intervening century. The Nation supported the law, but one of its readers a few years later adamantly did not. Speaking for the many farmers who opposed the law (and tried to repeal it in 1919) because it messed with their schedules, Lillian Beardsley of Connecticut sent the following letter to the editor:

To the Editor of The Nation:

Sir: I have read with regret your editorial reference to the Daylight Saving Law. I am accustomed to the one-sided view which the daily newspapers take of this law, but while my acquaintance with The Nation is not of many months’ standing, I am surprised to find it championing this most vicious and class-discriminatory piece of legislation. The law is vicious, in the first place, because it inflicts hardship and financial loss on the farmer, and the farmers are the hardest-working and poorest paid (according to capital invested) of any class. Agriculture is the basic industry upon which all others depend, and even though the farmers are a minority they should have first consideration in such a matter as this, and their decision should be final. In the second place, the law discriminates against the great mass of long-hour laborers, because their lighting and heating bills are increased. I know, because I live in a ten hour town.

Lillian R. Beardsley; New Britain, Connecticut

March 19, 1917

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

March 17, 1969: Golda Meir Becomes Israeli Prime Minister

As Israelis go to the polls today, they might not be aware that it was on this very day forty-six years ago that Golda Meir was elected prime minister. Back in 1956, Dan Wakefield, a young journalist whom Nation readers knew better for his reports on the civil-rights movement, traveled to Israel as the magazine’s correspondent. His article of August 4, 1956, was a profile of the then–foreign minister, known then as Golda Myerson.

Mrs. Golda Myerson is a tall, sturdy woman of fifty-eight whose appearance and speech bear little resemblance to the image that has been assigned her in the press since she replaced Moshe Sharett as Israel’s foreign minister in mid-June. The many reports and editorial analyses have made her either a shadow or a mirror of David Ben-Gurion, and promoted the impression that the shadow would follow or the mirror reflect a more “war-like” attitude on the part of the Prime Minister. The interpretations have left little room for Mrs. Myerson as a person or a diplomat—and her own approach to war and peace…. The new foreign minister of Israel is a woman with a proven ability at saying “no” to great-power governments. In the days when the British mandatory government had cut off large-scale Jewish immigration to Palestine, Golda Myerson was one of the foremost workers in conducting the illegal immigration of Jews, and in promoting active armed resistance against the mandate government. Her simple philosophy of the problem became the byword of Jewish action against the government: ‘We have no alternative.”

March 17, 1969

To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.

March 12, 2009: Bernard Madoff Pleads Guilty

It is hard to think of any writer living or dead more fit than Alexander Cockburn to comment on the Ponzi scheme for which Bernie Madoff admitted culpability in a guilty plea six years ago today. When the news broke in late 2008, Cockburn wrote:

We need the brush of Caravaggio to depict the awful scene where—at least on their lawyer’s account—the sons of Bernard Madoff confronted the errant paterfamilias, who informed his offspring that the cupboard was bare, the investors had been duped and all these years he’d been running “a giant Ponzi scheme.” But this time, reversing Caravaggio’s terrifying image, it was the old man who was bowed over the sacrificial rock and the sons with knives raised to dispatch their white-haired progenitor, turning him in to the FBI. Of course, there have been unkind souls eager to suggest that the three men had been working cheek by jowl for twenty years and that Bernie and his boys were in cahoots on the triage as an exercise in damage limitation. To such cynics I saw, “Pshaw!”

On the other hand, I lend a more receptive ear to those who say that at least some of Madoff Sr.’s clients were not so naive as to believe he had a virtuous investment model that permitted him to report 10-12 percent annual returns on capital invested, through boom and bust. They thought Madoff indeed had a secret model, but one coming in the distinctly unvirtuous form of insider information.

The most gullible marks are those who preen themselves as being privileged accomplishes in a profitable conspiracy where they have no personal exposure to legal sanctions. Madoff’s prosperous victims fatally miscalculated the dimension of the swindle. As instruction on how to get through life in one piece, Madoffgate is proof of the old rule: the more elegant the tailoring, the more handsomely silvered the distinguished locks, the more innocently rubicund the visage, the more likely the hand covertly fishing for one’s wallet.

March 12, 2009

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March 5, 1871: Rosa Luxemburg Is Born

Rosa Luxemburg, founder of the Spartacus League, brutally murdered by proto-fascists in January 1919, was born on this day in 1871, just two weeks before the Paris Commune took hold. Two months after her death, in its new International Relations Section, basically an aggregation of press clippings and documents from overseas, The Nation published the full text of the Spartacist Manifesto: “Arise and face the struggle! Arise and act!” In 2011, Vivian Gornick reviewed a collection of Luxemburg’s letters, under the headline, “History and Heartbreak.”

When I was a child, Rosa Luxemburg’s name would sometimes be mentioned with awe in my slightly irreverent left-wing household. Who was she? I’d ask. A great socialist, I’d be told. She criticized Lenin. She was assassinated. For years I thought the Soviets had murdered her. In a sense, I wasn’t so far off. In 1931 Joseph Stalin had Luxemburg “excommunicated” from the canon of Marxist heroes. If she’d been living in his Russia she’d certainly have been eliminated. No revolutionary as independent-minded as she could fail, come the revolution, to be denounced as a counterrevolutionary….

There she was: a girl, a Jew, a cripple—possessed of an electrifying intelligence, a defensively arrogant tongue and an unaccountable passion for social justice, which, in her teens, led her to the illegal socialist organizations then abounding among university students in Warsaw. In the city’s radical underground, she opened her mouth to speak and found that thought and feeling came swiftly together through an eloquence that stirred those who agreed with her, and overwhelmed those who did not. The experience was exhilirating; more than exhilirating, it was clarifying; it centered her, told her who she was….

On January 15, 1919, the police came for her. She thought she was being returned to prison, and was actually relieved; the last two months had been a waking nightmare. She got into the car without a protest, was taken to army headquarters for purposes of identification, then returned to the car, where she was shot in the head.

March 5, 1871

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March 4, 1933: Frances Perkins Becomes the First Woman in the US Cabinet

On this day in 1933, the day FDR was inaugurated as president, the Senate confirmed his appointment of Frances Perkins as secretary of labor, making her the first woman to become a member of the cabinet. The Nation’s Oswald Garrison Villard, editor until earlier that year, wrote in his column “Issues and Men” (to which title he cheekily added, for this occasion, “And a Woman—Frances Perkins”) that he, a longtime feminist, would be forever grateful to FDR for the appointment.

Really, the news that Frances Perkins is to be appointed to the Cabinet of the United States is one of the most inspiring and encouraging events of recent years. My mind is running far back as I write. I am thinking of the pioneers who first declared that woman was man’s equal in all respects and as such entitled not only to vote but to hold any office within the gift of the American people. How they were derided, how they were laughed at, how they were subjected to vile abuse, and even physical assault!….

I am particularly pleased that Frances Perkins…has kept her maiden name although happily married and the mother of a most promising daughter. In this hour of depression when the pernicious doctrine is being preached that married women should be debarred from employment by the local, State, and federal governments if there happens to be a husband or another male member of the family who is also working, it is wonderful, indeed, to have Franklin Roosevelt pick not only an extraordinarily able woman of proved ability in public office, but one whose husband is also a wage-earner. That ought to stop a great deal of the mischievous propaganda which could only work infinite harm if it should lead to the adoption of this proposal as a nation-wide policy. No State has the right to deny a woman a job, not even in times of unemployment, if she wants it, has earned it, and is capable of doing it well. Here we have another one of those real issues of personal liberty that ought never to be abridged by sex, or race, or color….

When I think of Frances Perkins’s point of view and attitude, her humanity, wisdom, and statesmanship, it seems to me that she will be an angel at the Cabinet in contrast with the sordidness and the inhumanity of her predecessors. I, for one, pledge myself here and now never to cease to be grateful to Franklin Roosevelt for this brave and just and wise action—no matter what fate may have in store for him and his Administration.

March 4, 1933

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February 28, 1993: The Feds Raid the Branch Davidian Complex in Waco, Initiating a Long Siege

Federal agents, suspecting an obscure, cultish group called the Branch Davidians of illegally hoarding weapons in their compound in Waco, Texas, raided the complex on this day in 1993, triggering a gun battle that killed ten people. A long siege ensued, ending in a violent, military-style assault on the compound that killed seventy-six, including the group’s leader, David Koresh. A week before that final conflagration, Robert S. Fogarty, editor of The Antioch Review, wrote an article for The Nation titled “‘Cults,’ Guns and the Kingdom” (April 12, 1993), alleging that the showdown did not need to begin or end as violently as it did. Rather, Waco was the symptom of a disease that, as any glance at the morning headlines shows, plagues American still.

The historical record is replete with examples of millennial expectations, prophetic utterances and outlandish activities that have resulted in confrontations with authority and destructive behavior…. David Koresh thus has a lot of history to work with, and there is no telling which part of the tradition he will turn toward in the end. What does distinguish his standoff at Waco from other “retreat” communes is his reliance on weaponry to protect his vital interests (like the Mormons’) rather than on the courts, as the Shakers and the Oneida Community did. If the Branch Davidians (who seem to prefer to be called Koreshans) were rightfully called a sect [rather than a cult] we could then focus on the legal issues: They are defending their holy turf with guns, protecting their Messiah with an arsenal. They seem to have stockpiled their weapons as easily as they stockpiled feed for their animals. Lax Texas gun laws made all this possible, but the Koreshans are not just the product of some Texas tendency to shoot things out. Rather, they reflect our national preference for force over persuasion, our belief that bullets should be as free as words. If guns were more tightly controlled the confrontation at Waco might have been waged by a prophet forced to throw verses from Revelation against his detractors rather than the 8,000 rounds of ammunition and hundreds of automatic and semiautomatic weapons he has in readiness. Just think of all the pamphlets Koresh could have issued and the great debates the citizens of Waco could have had with him over texts and interpretations. Instead, we all sit and wait to see which side has the greatest firepower and who will get killed. It doesn’t take a prophet, a psychologist or a cult deprogrammer to see that a little gun control might have gone a long way toward preventing an apocalyptic confrontation.

February 28, 1993

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February 27, 2008: ‘National Review’ Editor William F. Buckley Dies

On this day in 2008, William F. Buckley, founding editor of National Review, passed from this life to the next. Yet even back in 1988, in a review of William F. Buckley: Patron Saint of the Conservatives, by John Judis, rabble-rouser Robert Sherrill had already suggested that Buckley no longer walked among the living (“Squire Willie,” June 11, 1988). When Nation editor Victor Navasky asked Sherrill to do the review, Sherrill responded: “What I like about this assignment, it’s a good old-fashioned hatchet job.”

If it is true that the evil men do lives after them, William Francis Buckley can be assured a certain kind of immortality. Or perhaps it is going too far to say that he did evil. That is probably too active a word. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he lived off evil, as mold lives off garbage. The garbage he is particularly associated with is that which began accumulating in the right-wing alley about forty years ago: McCarthyism, which Buckley took part in by writing speeches for Senator Joe and by praising with majesterial cliches (“McCarthyism is a movement around which men of good will and stern morality can close ranks”); and the long-forgotten manifestoes of the Young Americans for Freedom, a frenzied campus movement which he helped found in 1960; and his pious defense of the kooks of the John Birch Society as “some of the most morally energetic self-sacrificing and dedicated anti-Communists in America.” In those days Buckley lent his name—as adviser or supporter or officer—to virtually every major crackpot right-wing movement in America, and his ideological soulmates were a group that long ago were banished to history’s padded cell….

Today Buckley does not live off right-wing garbage or anything else because he is quite dead, and has been dead for at least fifteen years. At least that’s my theory. But because the right wing is so sentimentally attached to its old shills, Buckley has been put away in hypothermal storage in the hopes that medical science someday will be able to defrost him and reactivate his brain. Meanwhile, the pretense that Buckley lives is carried on from time to time through stories about him, or ghosted under his byline, in such mortuary trade journals as New York and The New York Times. As for the two-bit actor who plays Buckley on Firing Line, Lord knows he is a poor imitation, thinking he fills the part merely by uttering unintelligible gibberish through pursed lips while fiddling with pencil and clipboard.


February 27, 2008

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February 21, 1972: Nixon Goes to China

President Richard Nixon’s trip to China is remembered today as a remarkable act of bravery, leadership and principle. But count on The Nation to asks the whys and the wherefores, the hows and whens. The magazine had long championed recognition of China and normalization of diplomacy—indeed, had resisted the attempt to “hold” China to begin with, and did not think of another country as something that was ours to “lose.” In this editorial, “Question Time” (March 13, 1972), the editors demanded an accounting for Nixon’s severe about-face: the same questions could be asked, in different terms, of every American leader since.

Now that the President and his traveling troupe have returned, we know what we could reasonably have assumed before he left—that the main importance of the journey was the fact that he made it. There are of course fringe benefits: a direct line of commucation; the hope of cultural, journalistic, educational and scientific changes; the possibility of eventual recognition and formal relations; and beyond that, trade and tourist opportunities….

What is conspicuously lacking—and it is odd that amidst the flood of comment it has gone unnoticed—is a clear, persuasive statement of the reasons for his turnabout. Part of the ethics of leadership in a democratic society is to display a minimal amount of candor; without it, communication becomes a travesty. The Executive is obliged to offer the people, for their understanding and possible comment and criticism, some idea of how he reaches decisions on key issues. In the present case, we are entitled to a statement of the evolution—assuming there has been an evolution—of Mr. Nixon’s thinking and a definition of the position he now maintains. For Mr. Nixon, personally this trip would seem to reflect a reversal of political veiws. Has he changed his mind?… He has not said that he mde a mistake when he embraced the position of the China Lobby. He has not said that he regrets the expenditure of all those billions in a vain effort to encircle, frustrate, annoy and possibly topple the Chinese regime…. He has not said that he regrets the basis of U.S. policy toward China, which was a prime factor in setting the stage for the war in Vietnam. What specifically does the President think today about such matters as these? Has U.S. policy been mistakenly geared to the idea of containment? Has that idea failed in the East, as it has failed elsewhere? Was it a mistake to make such extensive and binding commitments to Chiang Kai-shek, who is now in a position to accuse us of bad faith? Was it a mistake to try to keep China in the internatational doghouse for those twenty-two years?… Bismarckian, Metternichean politics will not work in a society like ours. That is why Vietnam blew up in the faces of Mr. Nixon’s and Dr. Kissinger’s predecessors. People want to know. In China and in the Soviet Union, they also want to know, but are shy to say so. Here, however, “why” and “how” and “when” are perfectly respectable words. It is the President’s obligation to hear them and to respond.

February 21, 1972

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February 12, 1924: George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ Premieres in New York

Gershwin’s premiere, on this day in 1924, of his “Rhapsody in Blue” is considered the “stepping-out” of jazz, the moment of its acceptance by classical music and mainstream white society. Reviewing the performance for The Nation was Henrietta Straus, the magazine’s “musical critic,” in “Jazz and ’The Rhapsody in Blue’” (May 5, 1924).

Mr. Paul Whiteman and his Palais Royal Orchestra gave a concert recently in Aeolian Hall to show the development of jazz…. It was, according to their leader, “a purely educational experiment.” But he might have added that as an educational experiment it was a revolutioanry and successful beyond the wildest dreams of educators…. There was nothing unfamiliar in the spectacle of an American boy playing with extraordinary ease an original composition of terrific rhythmical difficulty and of individual power and beauty, and winning immediate recognition for his achievement. But to the musician trained in other schools there was something very new and exciting and moving in this utter abandonment of all emotional reserve. And there was also, perhaps, a secret and overwhelming realization that he had been caught napping, that a distinctive and well-developed art having obvious kinship with the world-thought of today had grown up, unheeded, under his very ears while he had been straining his auditory nerves to catch the echoes of sound three thousand miles away….

It was, on the whole, a curious orgy of unrestrained laughter and tears, in which East and West met and merged with strange, half-caste results…. In “Rhapsody in Blue,” which takes its title from the Negro phase of jazz, one heard a dialogue between American slang and expressions as elemental as the soil. This work was indeed an extraordinary concoction gathered together during the month preceding its performance. It began with a braying, impudent, laughing cadenza on clarinet and ended with its initial motive, a broad and passionate theme worthy of Tchaikovsky…. The form was haphazard, and the playing often ineffectual, but its substance marked a new era. With it all one cannot but wonder whether this now Slavic, now Oriental element in jazz is not due to the fact that many of those who write, orchestrate, and play it are of Russian-Jewish extraction; whether, in fact, jazz, with its elements of the Russian, the Negro, and the native American is not that first distinctive musical phase of the melting-pot for which we have been waiting so long and which seems to have such endless possibilities. Certainly, Mr. Whiteman and Mr. Gershwin have, in the meantime, added a new chapter to our musical history.

February 12, 1924

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February 11, 1916: Emma Goldman Is Arrested for Distributing Information About Birth Control

On this date in 1916 Emma Goldman was arrested for distributing information related to what her compatriot, Margaret Sanger, had called in the title of a pamphlet Family Limitation. She was imprisoned for two weeks. Less than a year earlier, The Nation had profiled her in an ongoing series called “Notes from the Capital” (June 28, 1917). Goldman would later be deported to Russia on the charge of inciting people to avoid the draft for the World War, but she quickly grew disillusioned with the Bolshevik regime. Later, in the early 1930s, Goldman became a Nation contributor herself.

Recent events in Petrograd and Kronstadt must have brought rare comfort to the soul of Emma Goldman, prophetess of anarchy—the real article, warranted one hundred per cent, pure, name stamped on every package…. In the United States, whither she came with relatives as a young woman, she first emerged from obscurity in 1893, when she was arrested on a charge of inciting to riot by a speech made at a gathering of habitual miscontents in Union Square, New York….

The trial served to bring out in a most illuminating way her vagaries on various subjects, including the facts that she was an atheist and a disbeliever in all government and law, divine or human; that her pet hobby was that the rich are the oppressors of the poor and the ultimate cause of all the suffering and crime in the world, against which the poor are justified in revolting…and that her mission in life was to make the poor understand that the well-to-do are accountable for their poverty, and thus to promote the social revolution….

Most newspaper readers are so accustomed to thinking of Emma Goldman as simply a human firebrand that it is hard to make them realize that by calling she is a dress-maker and a trained nurse. She is a small, wiry woman, about fifty years old, who might be passed anywhere in a crowd without notice. Her sharp black eyes, intense expression, and rather coarse mouth have nothing distinctive about them at the first glance, though they become more significant with familiarity, and her eyeglasses, framed in part by sharply marked brows, give her an air of active mentality which is lacking in some others of her general type. Her face is too symmetrical to be classed as that of a natural “crank,” but you have only to talk with her for five minutes in order to discover how strong an appeal the theatrical side of social chaos makes to her. Smiles she reserves mostly for sneering purposes.

February 11, 1916

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