Monday, May 31, 2010

Five Deadliest U.S. Military Operations

On Memorial Day, we remember those — very young men, for the most part, and older men, and women too — who died on behalf of our country. They're still dying — and equally important, they're not dying, but are coming home with life-altering physical and emotional damage.

The Wounded Warrior Project offers resources and support to severely injured servicemen and women, and to their families and caregivers. The Veterans Administration exists "to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and for his orphan," and you can see a few more ways to do that here.

I started to call this post "Five Deadliest Battles," but people define battles in different ways, and keeping it narrow would have excluded the first operation on this list.

1. The Battle of Huertgen Forest. Germany, September 1944–February 1945; approximately 33,000 Americans dead, severely injured, or otherwise incapacitated. The longest battle in the history of the United States Army was also the longest battle on German ground during the Second World War. The Huertgen Forest is an area of about 50 square miles on the border of Germany and Belgium; the badly-outnumbered German army (80,000 troops vs. 120,000 Americans) was determined to hang onto the land as a staging area for its planned Ardennes Offense (which became the Battle of the Bulge). The Germans lost 28,000 troops, of whom 12,000 were killed, but managed to hang onto the territory long enough to launch their last major Western Front attack from there.

2. The Meuse-Argonne Offensive (Battle of the Argonne Forest). France, September–November 1918; approximately 117,000 American casualties, with 26,277 U.S. soldiers killed. The biggest, deadliest battle of the First World War was launched by the American First Army, under General Jack Pershing, and the French Fourth Army, under General Henri Gourand, against the Germans under Georg van der Marwitz. It was the first battle of the Grand Offensive that eventually broke the Germans' Western Front, including the Fifth Battle of Ypres, the Battle of St. Quentin Canal, and the Battle of the Canal du Nord. Although this was the war's deadliest battle, approximately twice as many American soldiers (53,000) died of influenza between 1918 and 1919.

3. The Battle of the Bulge (Ardennes Offensive). Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany, December 1944–January 1945; approximately 89,500 American casualties, of whom 19,000 were killed. After the grinding misery of the Battle of Huertgen Forest, the Germans concentrated their forces for a decisive attack on the Allied lines along the Western Front. The plan was to break the British-American line in the Ardennes Forest and march on Antwerp, Belgium, then to spread out again and surround the Allied armies, forcing a surrender. Thank God, it didn't work. Because of the number of troops involved (more than 840,000 men in four Allied armies, as many as 500,000 German soldiers), the Battle of the Bulge was the bloodiest of the Second World War, killing 3,000 civilians as well as the 19,000 American soldiers, at least 200 British soldiers, and German casualties of between 67,000 and 120,000. On January 7, 1945, Hitler agreed to withdraw German troops from the Ardennes. Winston Churchill called it "the greatest American battle of the war," to be "regarded as an ever-famous American victory."

4. The Battle of Okinawa. Ryukyu Islands, Japan, April–June 1945; 12,513 American soldiers killed, 38,916 wounded, 33,096 non-combat losses. The bloodiest battle of the Pacific War raged even as the Allied armies celebrated victory in Europe (V-E Day: May 8, 1945). The island of Okinawa, 340 miles from "mainland" Japan, was to be the Allies' base for air operations during the planned invasion of Japan. The Battle of Okinawa began with the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific theater: 183,000 Army soldiers and Marines, supported first by the British Pacific Fleet, then by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, and finally by the U.S. Third Fleet. The Battle of Okinawa was fought on air, land and sea. As many as 150,000 civilians on the island died, some as a result of suicide orders (with hand grenades) distributed by the Japanese military. Ninety percent of the buildings on the island were destroyed. Having conquered the island, the Allies established a military base there, and Kadena Air Base on Okinawa is still the U.S. Air Force's hub in the Pacific.

5. The Battle of Gettysburg. Pennsylvania, July 1–3, 1863; 3,155 deaths on the Union side, 4,708 on the Confederate side. After the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee famously said, "It is well that war is so terrible. Otherwise we would grow too fond of it." He was coming off a win at the battle of Chancellorsville when he led the Army of Northern Virginia up through the Shenandoah Valley to Pennsylvania, possibly with the idea of eventually taking Philadelphia. Union troops led by Major General Joseph Hooker pursued them, but it was General George Meade who engaged Lee's army at Gettysburg. More than 50,000 troops were injured or killed by the end of the three-day battle. Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address in November of that year, at the dedication of a cemetery that held both Union and Confederate dead. (Most of the Confederate dead were removed, years later, and reburied at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA.)
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Five Words I Don't Know How to Pronounce

My passive vocabulary — words I recognize or use in writing, but don't use in conversation — is, like most people's, much larger than my active vocabulary.

Although I applaud the desire to build one's vocabulary, people are generally better off using words they're comfortable with, in both writing and speaking. One common mistake of aspiring writers is the idea that sophisticated writing requires fancy words. In fact, the most sophisticated writing is the clearest. Nothing distracts a reader more than having to look a word up; if you really need a word that will be unfamiliar to most readers, try to make its meaning clear in context.

These are five words I might throw around on paper, but won't say aloud for fear of sounding ignorant.

1. Banal. It's reassuring that I'm not alone on this one. The American Heritage Dictionary gives three acceptable pronunciations — rhyming with canal, anal, and withdrawal — a note adds that H.W. Fowler, sixty years ago, recommended a pronunciation that rhymed with panel. "When several pronunciations of a word are widely used, there is really no right or wrong one," the discussion concludes. It's easier to say "trite."

2. Medieval. I pronounce it incorrectly, I know — it's a four-syllable word, and I elide it to three because the pronunciations that are allegedly correct (mee-dee-EE-vul in American English, MED-ee-ee-vul in British English) sound wrong to me. I can't say this word aloud without saying it two or three times, testing the sound of it. I do know how to say "Middle Ages," although "chivalric" has a similar issue of not knowing where the stress falls (the dictionary prefers "shiv-AL-ric," but says "SHIV-al-ric" is okay too).

3. Misanthropy. I started to use this word in conversation earlier this week, to describe my current frame of mind, and realized that I did not know where the stress should fall. The word misanthrope emphasizes the first syllable; the word philanthropy emphasizes the second. The dictionary says that misanthropy should sound like philanthropy, with the stress on the second syllable, but two people I asked said that sounded wrong to them, so I'm saying "free-floating hostility" instead.

4. Prerogative. Most people skip right over that first "r," and I do too — to the extent that I spelled the word wrong in a city-wide spelling bee more than 30 years ago. (Who knows how my life might have changed if I'd won that spelling bee? But I digress.) I do know how to pronounce this word. It just brings back painful memories to pronounce it correctly, so I avoid it.

5. Sherbet. It's pronounced "SHUR-bit" — it is — but most people I know say "shur-bert," with the stress equally distributed between both syllables, or even "shur-BERT," with the emphasis on the second syllable. In fact, American Heritage gives "sherbert" as an acceptable second spelling, with the second syllable stressed. Did you know this word means different things in the US, the UK and Australia? In the US, it's a fruit-flavored frozen dessert, made with little or no dairy or maybe egg whites instead of dairy; in the UK, it can also be a carbonated drink made of sweetened fruit juice; in Australia, it is "an alcoholic beverage, especially beer." The dictionary explains the distinction between "sherbet" and "sorbet," a fruit-flavored ice, but I think I'll just stick to sorbet.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Five Books I've Read or Listened to Lately

My original plans for this weekend are in ruins, thanks to the need for some big work on my ten-year-old VW Beetle. I had hoped that my usual mechanics could do it this morning — which would make it just barely possible that I could go to Washington for the weekend — but the job requires a trip to the dealer, and they can't see me until first thing Friday morning. After that, of course, I won't have any money to go anywhere.

On the bright side, it'll give me a chance to do a little catching up on my to-be-read pile, and I've got a movie pass card burning a hole in my pocket. Here are five recent reads/listens, which are a mixed bag.

1. Thomas Perry, STRIP. An aging strip club owner with a sideline in money laundering gets robbed one night, and launches a campaign against the man he believes responsible. Of course he's got the wrong guy, who has reasons of his own for taking offense. Meanwhile the real bandit's got a new and deadly sidekick, and sees no reason to stop robbing the man who was such an easy target the first time. The plot is a dazzling piece of clockwork — Perry's a master — but has so many moving parts that we have little time to get to know any of the characters, which made it hard for me to root for any of them.

2. Mark Kermode, IT'S ONLY A MOVIE: Reel Life Adventures of a Film Obsessive. I don't care how pathetic this sounds: one of the highlights of my week is the Friday podcast of Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo's Film Review program from BBC Radio 5. Mark Kermode, who holds a Ph.D. in horror — well, a Ph.D. in English for which he wrote a thesis on horror fiction — is as cranky about movies as only a disappointed lover could be, and he's also hilarious. I laughed out loud on almost every page. This book won't be available in the U.S. until November, but the friend who lured me into the Cult of Kermode kindly sent me a copy.

3. Martyn Waites, SPEAK NO EVIL. Thirty years after her 11-year-old self murdered a little boy, Anne Marie Smeaton is ready to tell her story to former journalist Joe Donovan, now running his own PI agency. When another young boy is murdered, however, Donovan is not the only one wondering about the connection between that death and the woman who used to be Mae Blacklock. Meanwhile, Donovan's long-term search for his missing son moves toward its own startling resolution. Martyn Waites (who's a pal) is one of a handful of authors I trust with material this dark. He has an uncanny empathy for even the most vicious of his characters; what he says here, once again, is that violence begets violence and cruelty leads to cruelty, but it is possible to break the cycle.

4. Elizabeth Peters, BORROWER OF THE NIGHT. Historian Vicky Bliss competes with her colleague and suitor David to find a legendary medieval shrine in the ancestral home of the Drachensteins. Vicky Bliss is Nancy Drew grown up, which is fun for the most part but also made me grateful the Nancy Drew books weren't told in the first person; a little of that preternatural self-confidence goes a long, long way. Unfortunately I listened to this one on audiobook, with a reader (Susan O'Malley) who made no attempt at the German pronunciations. The mispronunciation of Gräfin (Countess) started as distracting, became annoying, and by the end of the book was infuriating.

5. Tom Knox, THE MARKS OF CAIN. Separate investigations lead a lawyer and a journalist on quests to discover the truth about the Cagots, an ancient race of untouchables, persecuted throughout history. At various points in this book, people are scalped by hair-twisting, flayed alive, microwaved, burned at the stake, and eaten by sharks. I can't recommend this book, but it's strangely compelling. Clunky prose, implausible coincidences, horrific violence and anti-Catholic paranoia can't overwhelm the power of the true stories that inspired the novel: the tragedy of the Cagots, the Namibian genocides, the bizarre research of Eugen Fischer — a guilty pleasure for a summer afternoon could have been extraordinary in the hands of a better writer.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Five Favorite Bob Dylan Covers

Happy birthday to Mr. Bob Dylan, who is 69 today and probably never expected to live this long. I'm glad that he did. His work of recent years is as strong as his earliest stuff; I particularly love Time out of Mind.

At the risk of drawing accusations of heresy, however, I will say that Dylan's songs often sound better when other people sing them. He's a unique stylist, but it's an acquired taste. These are my five favorite versions of Bob Dylan songs, as covered by other people. Leave your own recommendations in the comments section.

1. "I Shall Be Released," The Band. Sorry, no other version of this song comes close. Nina Simone's cover is also amazing, but this is the definitive version.

2. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," Warren Zevon. Recorded near the end of his life as part of Zevon's last studio album, The Wind, this version rips your heart out and stomps it through a grate. Zevon's plea "Open up, open up" as the song fades is almost too painful to listen to.

3. "Sweetheart Like You," Guy Davis. My favorite song off my second-favorite Dylan album, Infidels (favorite: Blood on the Tracks), covered by a blues master you need to be listening to.

4. Rosanne Cash, "Girl from the North Country." If you have not yet acquired The List, you're missing out. Rosanne Cash covers 13 songs from a list of 100 Essential Country Songs her father gave her when she was 18; John Leventhal's spare, crystal-clear production makes it sound like we're in the studio with her.

5. Bryan Ferry, "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall." This particular cover got sold for a television commercial, and while I object to that (and can't even remember the product being advertised), it ensured that many more people heard it, which is no bad thing. It says a lot about Dylan's genius and versatility that his songs can be covered as everything from classic country to post-punk pop.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Five Things I Want to Do This Summer

Today felt like the first real day of summer, making me want to knock off work early for a beer or two on the deck at Gritty's. I didn't; I'm (still) behind on my work, and anyway I couldn't think of anyone who'd agree to meet me in Freeport.

But it made me focus on the miracle that is summer in Maine, a magical time that lasts 12 weeks if we're lucky. My life's in transition again, and this may well be my last summer in Maine. I'd like to figure out a way to split my time between Maine and a place that has public transportation and streetlights and more temperate winters, but that's a lot to hope for, and not practical on my current income.

So I've been thinking a lot about what I want to do up here this summer, and these are the top five. If you're interested in coming along for any of these excursions, get in touch; everything's more fun in good company.

1. The Skowhegan Drive-In. I don't need just company for this, I need a ride; the road to Skowhegan is too dark for me to drive myself. Movies start at dusk, and the theater runs double features every night in summer. This weekend it's Diary of a Wimpy Kid followed by Date Night, for six bucks a person.

2. Quebec City. I still haven't been, and it's only four and a half hours from Augusta. I've heard it's like Paris, but friendlier, less expensive, and with better food.

3. Mt. Katahdin/Baxter State Park. I still haven't seen a live moose, and Baxter State Park is my best bet. Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine, and so well-loved that reservations are required to park at the trailheads. It's a two and a half-hour drive from Gardiner.

4. Lubec. It's the easternmost town in the contiguous United States, a small town with a museum and a lighthouse and some cafes and not much more. It features prominently in the novel DARK HOLLOW by John Connolly. It's three and a half hours from Gardiner.

5. The Red Sox at Fenway. I've seen the Red Sox play, of course, but never in Boston. Games are consistently sold out, which means buying tickets from a broker like StubHub; I just checked, and prices go from $9 to $2,698/ticket. Yow.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Five Books Every Educated American Should Have Read

The other night at pub trivia, my friend Jason said he planned to spend much of the summer (he works for a prep school) catching up on classics he should have read in school, but didn't. He's a few years younger than I am, and fell into that iconoclastic period of American education where school boards decided to abandon The Canon in pursuit of diversity — which was not a bad idea, but as usual went too far, as bureaucracies tend to do.

He asked me to put together a list of the books I thought an educated adult should have read, here in the United States in 2010. Of course, five isn't enough; off the top of my head I can come up with 20, and wouldn't have much trouble getting to 100. But these five are my own desert-island books, the books I think are essential to a basic understanding of our place in the world. This is, by definition, an arbitrary list; leave your own suggestions in the comments section.

1. The Bible. Jason said, "The whole Bible?" It's my survey course, so I say yes, the whole Bible. You can skim over the begats, and I won't quiz you on the dietary laws in Leviticus — but the Bible has been used for so many purposes, good and bad, that you can't understand much about Western Civilization unless you've read it. Everything from our ideas about property to our concept of marriage is rooted in the Old Testament, and not enough people who claim to be Christian have actually read the New Testament. It's not really that long, either. If you can't handle the small type, try the Lego version.

2. The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Robert Fagles translation is the one you want, although the Samuel Butler one is probably easier to find. If you feel intimidated, hunt down a copy of Clifton Fadiman's version for kids, The Voyages of Ulysses, which I read to tatters in third grade, or find the audiobooks read by Derek Jacobi and Simon Prebble. You will be amazed by how deeply these stories influence the way we see the world.

3. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Not my favorite Dickens (that would be Bleak House) or my favorite book about the French Revolution (a tough call, but I think it would be The Black Tower by Louis Bayard), but a uniquely important snapshot. A Tale of Two Cities tells us not only about the French revolution but about traditional British attitudes toward France; the ideals of the Enlightenment; and the best and worst of human nature. My prep school assigned it to eighth grade boys, while the girls read Jane Eyre, so I didn't read it until I was an adult (though I probably pretended to have read it earlier, having seen the movie).

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I think I've said this before, but it may be a mistake to assign this book to high school students. When I first read it as a high school junior, I loved the romance of it, but understood only a tiny fraction of the story Fitzgerald was telling. It is a parable of the American dream, the idea that we can be whoever we want to be — the green light at the end of Gatsby's pier. Like all true classics, it's a book that changes with the reader; at 44, I'm reading a completely different book from the one I first read at 14.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Almost everything you need to know about human nature is distilled into this book, which is another one that changes as the reader ages. I was thinking about To Kill a Mockingbird just this morning, when I watched the video of Rand Paul's conversation with Rachel Maddow about the Civil Rights Act. To Kill a Mockingbird lays out some basic truths that Rand Paul seems unaware of: 1. Some people will never do the right thing. 2. Some people will do the right thing even when you don't expect them to. 3. The law exists to try to even the playing field between groups 1 and 2.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Five Elements of Garage Fug

This morning I did something I hardly ever do: I parked my car in a garage. I tutor on Tuesday mornings, and my student's driveway was occupied by trucks, so her landlord waved me into one of two spaces in the building's garage.

It had been quite a while since I parked in a private garage (as opposed to, say, the garage at Portland International Jetport), but its distinctive smell hit me with all the force of memory. You could blindfold me in my sleep and dump me somewhere, and I'd know it if you left me in a garage. You know the smell; if you take a minute, you can conjure it right now.

But what is it? What goes into that unique garage funk? I've come up with five separate elements; if you can think of more, leave them in the comments section.

1. Cardboard. This morning, it was the first separate odor I identified: the smell of old cardboard boxes, which is not quite woody and not quite dusty but somewhere in between, and definitely brown. Even the cleanest garage has a couple of cardboard boxes, so every garage smells at least faintly of cardboard.

2. Motor oil. As I've heard several TV reporters covering the Gulf oil spill remark, oil has a distinctive smell, and it's nothing like gasoline. It's black and greasy, intense, dark. Your car smells like motor oil, but you don't notice it when the car's outside. Put the car in a closed space, and the scent becomes concentrated.

3. Mold. Few garages are climate-controlled or moisture-proof. Mold is inevitable. In closed spaces, you often smell it before you see it.

4. Old grass or hay. Most people store their lawnmowers in their garages, and lawnmowers smell like lawns even in winter. Homeowners in Maine could make a lot of money if they let apartment-dwellers like me inhale the scent of their lawnmowers in the dead of winter.

5. Gasoline. The scent of gasoline is powerful, and lingers. I detest it; my twin sister loves it. Regular soap is not always enough to get rid of it; you need to override it with a stronger counter-scent, such as vanilla, lemon, or vinegar. Vinegar, in fact, will override almost any unpleasant scent, but can leave a tang of its own.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Five Movie Trailers I Saw This Weekend

After saying for weeks that I needed to go to the movies, I took Saturday afternoon off for a matinee of Iron Man 2 with my friend and theater colleague Richard. Richard hadn't seen the first Iron Man movie (which I loved), and found some elements of the sequel confusing. I thought the sequel had a couple of howlers (how does Mickey Rourke get to Monaco? And how does he manage to hang onto that toothpick all the way from prison to New York?), but it's Robert Downey Jr. and a bunch of stuff blowing up, so it worked for me.

As the first of the summer blockbusters, Iron Man 2 was preceded by six previews of coming attractions — but one of those was for Shrek: The Final Solution — er, Shrek Forever After — and you already know everything you need to know about that movie. Or at least, I already know everything I need to know about that movie.

1. The A-Team. Really? Really? 19,000 unemployed screenwriters in Hollywood (WGA West had 19,354 members last year, and let's say 354 were employed), and this is the best they can do? They've updated it from the TV show in that this A-Team are Iraq war veterans, and includes a woman (Jessica Biel). Plus, I assume the special effects are better. But it's hard to imagine shelling out $10 to see a movie version of something I can watch for free on late-night cable.

2. Inception. In this thriller directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight), Leonardo di Caprio plays a thief who learns people's deepest secrets through their dreams. His last job, however, is to implant something in people's minds using the same methods — something that seems very dangerous to the external world as well as their internal ones. The trailer reminded me of David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, which is enough to make me want to see it in the theater.

3. Grown Ups. Adam Sandler, David Spade, Kevin James and Chris Rock play childhood friends reunited for a summer vacation with their families. Dennis Dugan (Happy Gilmore, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Cybill Shepherd's impulse marriage on "Moonlighting") directs. You've seen this movie before. I've seen this movie before. I strongly suspect I saw most of the best jokes in the trailer. I'll probably see it in the theater anyway.

4. The Last Airbender. Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode, co-hosts of my favorite movie review show (available as a BBC podcast) have made several references to this movie in the past weeks. Until I saw this trailer, I had no idea what they were talking about, but apparently it's already getting lots of promotion over there. Simon & Mark made it sound ridiculous before I knew anything about it, but this trailer sealed the deal. Directed by M. Night Shymalan, it's based on a kids' TV show I've never seen. The young Aang must fulfill his destiny (as the Last Airbender) to save his people from the domination of the Fire Nation. The only reason I'd pay money to see this would be Cliff Curtis, who plays the Firelord and looks — well — smoking hot in the preview.

5. Super 8. A sci-fi movie by J.J. Abrams, produced by Steven Spielberg. That's all I took away from the trailer, and it seems to be about as much as anyone knows. IMDb says they're not filming until the fall, and it's not due for release until sometime next year. But now all of us know the title, and I've even mentioned it in my blog. Such is the power of previews.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Five Random Songs

It's been a while since I posted one of these lists, too.

1. "Makin' Whoopee," Frank Sinatra. Perfect for a rainy morning. Where's my coffee? One drawback of living alone is that there's never any chance someone else might have made me some. Dizzy would do it, but he doesn't have thumbs, he can't reach the counter, and he is hopeless at measuring.

2. "Baby Seat," Barenaked Ladies. A song for everybody who's graduating this weekend. You can't live your life in the baby seat . . . "If you think growing up is tough/Then you're just not grown up enough, baby."

3. "You Don't Treat Me No Good," Sonia Dada. The Shuffle is doing me right this morning, and thanks again to my friend Art, who first gave me this album. Why wasn't this band huge? The handclaps alone would make this song genius, but the words are brilliant, too, and you may have to excuse me for a moment while I dance around the kitchen. Here, join me:

4. "Ada," The National. Heard the latest National album yet? Go here, fast; it's only going to be up for another day or so. And then go buy it. These guys need to prosper.

5. "Driver 8," REM. I close my eyes and it's 1985 again, and I've pulled yet another all-nighter just because it seemed like the thing to do. "And the train conductor says, Driver 8, take a break." But we're still a ways away . . .

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Five Newest Countries

Teilhard de Chardin might have thought the age of nations was past, but recent history suggests otherwise. The collapse of the Soviet empire and its Balkan satellites led to a new round of nation-building over the past 20 years, and it's not over yet. Nationalist movements remain active all over the world, mainly in areas where existing borders are relics of arbitrary colonial decisions. Globes and maps should come with dry-erase markers.

1. Kosovo, 2008. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia, which still does not recognize this status. The declaration of independence was based on a UN-backed plan that Serbia did not agree to. The UN administered Kosovo from 1999 to 2008; since 1999, a NATO-led peacekeeping force (the Kosovo Force, or KFOR) has sought to maintain "a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin." The current force numbers just under 10,000 troops, provided by 31 countries. The capital of Kosovo is Pristina; its government is a parliamentary system headed by Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, an ethnic Albanian. Sixty-eight members of the United Nations have recognized Kosovo's independence, including the United States, Canada, and almost all of Europe, including Turkey. Russia and China do not.

2 and 3. Serbia, 2006, and Montenegro, 2006. This is a portion of the world that has never gotten along. You and I (assuming you are not a member of a Balkan ethnic group) would not be able to look at a group of people and identify individuals as Serb, Croatian, Turkish, Albanian, Montenegran, Bosniak, etc. — but they can. Serbia was one of six republics unified under Marshal Tito as Yugoslavia; when Yugoslavia collapsed in the 1990s, the fragment of the old Yugoslavia that remained was a loose confederation of Serbia and Montenegro. Those two countries declared independence from each other in June 2006, ending "Yugoslavia" forever. The capital of Serbia is Belgrade; its government is a parliament, currently headed by Prime Minister Mirko Cvetković. Montenegro's capital is Podgorica, and its prime minister is Milo Đukanović.

4. East Timor (Timor-Leste), 2002. East Timor, known as Portuguese Timor, was a colony of Portugal from the 16th century until 1975. Nine days after East Timor declared its independence, it was invaded by Indonesia troops, and annexed as a province of Indonesia in 1976. Nationalist guerrillas fought a 23-year war for independence, culminating in a UN-backed referendum for independence in 1999. This led to further violence and the intervention of international peacekeeping forces, but the UN oversaw negotiations to create a new government, and East Timor joined the United Nations in 2002. Stability in the region remains precarious — East Timor's president, Jose Ramos-Horta, could have made yesterday's list as the survivor of a 2008 assassination attempt. The capital of East Timor is Dili. Its official languages are Tetum, a language spoken only in East and West Timor (part of Indonesia), and Portuguese.

5. Palau, 1994. Palau is a 177-square mile island nation in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 500 miles east of the Philippines and 2,000 miles south of Tokyo. The English first landed in Palau in the 18th century, and it was claimed by Britain, Spain, and the German empire. Pope Leo XIII ruled that it belonged to Spain, but gave Britain and Germany trading rights. As part of the Spanish East Indies, Palau was administered by the Philippines until 1899, when Spain ceded it to Germany after the Spanish-American War. Japan seized Palau in 1914, and kept it under a League of Nations mandate after the Great War ended. This made Palau strategically important during the Second World War; the island of Peleliu was the site of a major battle in November 1944, with the highest casualty rate of any battle in the Pacific. From 1947 to 1994, Palau was part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, administered by the United States. Palau voted for independence in 1994, while maintaining close ties to the United States under the Compact of Free Association. Its capital is Ngerulmud; its President is Johnson Toribiong, who holds J.D. and LL.M. degrees from the University of Washington.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Five Failed Assassination Attempts

Today is the 29th anniversary of Mehmet Ali Agca's attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II, in Saint Peter's Square in Rome. Today is the Feast of the Ascension, and it's also the anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima; the Pope had been standing in an open car, on the way to his weekly public audience with visitors. Agca's four shots hit the Pope and two tourists, a 58-year-old woman from Buffalo, NY and a 21-year-old woman from Jamaica. The older of the two women was seriously injured, shot in the chest and abdomen, but all three victims survived.

A Secret Service agent I met years ago told me that we don't hear about the vast majority of assassination attempts that are foiled before the would-be assassin ever gets near his or her target. I'm willing to believe that, but wonder how they count "attempts;" how advanced does a threat or a plan need to be before it's considered an attempt? I suppose that in today's environment even the most casual, joking threats are taken seriously.

Here are five assassination attempts that got pretty far, but did not succeed.

1. Queen Victoria, June 20, 1887. The "Jubilee Plot" was a plan to blow up Westminster Abbey, Queen Victoria and half of her cabinet on the 50th anniversary of her coronation. Newspapers reported the discovery of several bombs in Westminster Abbey in the days before June 20. Fenians — Irish nationalists — were blamed, and two Irishmen were sentenced to 15 years in prison for their role in the plot. The chief organizer, however, was one Francis Millen — who, as it turned out, was an undercover British agent. Millen, a member of the Irish republican organization Clan na Gael, was supposed to encourage sedition in order to identify and discredit or capture Fenian revolutionaries. It appears that this was less a real assassination attempt than an elaborate conspiracy to embarrass Charles Stewart Parnell and the Home Rule advocates. Millen was allowed to "escape" to the United States.

2. Adolf Hitler, July 20, 1944. The "20 July plot" was a failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler at Wolf's Lair, his field headquarters in East Prussia, and overthrow the Nazi government. Plans for the attack began as early as 1938, and earlier attempts failed in 1942 and 1943. The participation of Lieutenant Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg, a decorated veteran of the North Africa campaign, gave the conspiracy new focus. Colonel Henning von Treskcow proposed adapting the "Valkyrie" plan, for restoring government in the event of a breakdown in central command, for a coup after Hitler was assassinated. The plan was that Stauffenberg would plant a bomb in a briefcase at one of Hitler's conferences, which he managed to do on July 20. The bomb exploded, killing four, but Hitler survived with only minor injuries. In the wake of the bombing the Gestapo arrested more than 7,000 members of the German resistance, and executed almost 5,000 of them. Hitler killed himself on April 30, 1945, two days before the fall of Berlin.

3. Harry S. Truman, November 1, 1950. President Truman was living at Blair House, across the street from the White House, because the White House was undergoing major structural repairs. He was napping on the second floor when two Puerto Rican nationalists, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, tried to enter Blair House by killing the guards at the front door and in a guard booth on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue. Collazo shot Capitol Hill police officer Donald Birdzell in the knee before he was taken down with shots to the head and arm. Torresola put four bullets into Officer Leslie Coffelt in the guard booth, mortally wounding him, and shot White House police officer Joseph Downs in the hip. Going to Collazo's defense, Torresola shot Birdzell again, then ran out of ammunition. Coffelt, dying of his wounds, managed to stagger out of the guard booth and kill Torresola with a shot to his head. Collazo recovered from his wounds and was sentenced to death, which Truman commuted to life in prison. Jimmy Carter pardoned Collazo in 1979; he returned to Puerto Rico, and died in 1994.

4. Leonid Brezhnev, January 22, 1969. Viktor Ilyin, a Second Lieutenant in the Soviet Army, deserted and made his way to Moscow with two stolen handguns. He stole a police officer's uniform from his uncle and went to Red Square, where Brezhnev was scheduled to appear at a ceremony honoring cosmonauts Alexey Leonov, Valentina Tereshkova, Georgy Beregovoy and Andrian Nikolayev. Mistaking the cosmonauts' sedan for Brezhnev, Ilyin fired with both guns. He killed the driver and wounded Beregovoy; Brezhnev was completely unharmed. Ilyin was found insane and committed to a mental hospital for 20 years.

5. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, April 30, 2009. April 30 is the Dutch national holiday of Koniginnedag (Queen's Day), which celebrates the birthday of Queen Beatrix (although her actual birthday is in January; celebrating your birthday when you want is a perk of royalty). Last year, a 38-year-old man named Karst Roeland Tates, with no criminal record and no history of political activism, drove his car at high speed into a parade that included Queen Beatrix, her son and heir Prince Willem-Alexander of Orange, and several other members of the Dutch royal family. The royal family was unhurt, but eight people were killed, including Tates himself. Tates left no note or anything to explain his actions.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Five Favorite Websites

I'm still digging out from under this to-do list. In the absence of substantive content here, I recommend these five websites, which I love and visit regularly. To avoid discriminating among my friends, I have no personal connections to any of these.

Leave some recommendations for me in the comments section, once I have time to fritter away again.

1. NPR's Exclusive First Listen. I gave up my Rolling Stone subscription years ago, and Pitchfork makes me feel old. Most of the new music I listen to these days comes from friends or from one of two websites, and this is one. I turn it on in the morning and play it straight through, like a radio. Streaming through my speakers right now: Harvey Milk's A Small Turn of Human Kindness, which I otherwise would never have heard, but is perfect for my mood this morning. (Sloppy metal dirge-like bellowing, since you ask. But with a sense of humor.) And when you've finished listening there, check out RCRD LBL for more.

2. Classic Reader. A recent discovery, this website offers thousands of public-domain titles for online reading or download (with free registration). It's like being handed the keys to the library; a dozen P.G. Wodehouse titles I haven't read, at least ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart, the collected works of E. Phillips Oppenheim, an Edith Wharton novel I'd never even heard of . . . even Geoffrey Strong by Gardiner's own Laura E. Richards, which I plan to read this weekend. (The first page has already grabbed me: "'You young firebrand!' he said. 'Do you think you are going to take this village by storm?'")

3. The official website of the Academy of American Poets offers a poem-a-day subscription service, as well as online bios and a large archive of poems (and not just by Americans). You can search for poems by author, title or topic; a search for "dogs," for example, produces citations for 66 poems, everything from the Iliad to Mark Strand.

4. Busted Halo. My relationship with the Catholic Church feels like one that many adults have with their families of origin; I go away, I come back, I get fed up and leave again, I trust that it will have my back when I need it and I'll defend it even when it breaks my heart. Busted Halo, "an online magazine for spiritual seekers," understands this. Run by the Paulists, it offers compassionate, funny and practical information for people who trust that God is not quite done with us. Visits there feel like phone calls home used to, when I was in college.

5. Wonders & Marvels. An endlessly fascinating blog about cool stuff from the past; recent posts discuss luxury prisons in 19th-century England, tulipomania, and Elizabethan cross-dressing. I have never visited this site without noting the titles of at least two more books I'd like to read, and the site frequently offers book giveaways. Not that I need any more . . .

Monday, May 10, 2010

Five Books I've Read or Listened to Lately

Headed to Boston this afternoon for Robert B. Parker's public memorial service, and I'm not taking the computer with me. You can't imagine the anxiety this will cause me, but it's for the best. It will give me the chance to read a couple of actual books, and it will be the first step in reducing my online time, which I need to do for a whole host of reasons. I've made some real progress on my to-do list in the past several days, but a few projects remain outstanding. If you're waiting on something from me, be of good cheer: the end is near, and my to-do list should be clear by the end of the week.

It's been a month since I posted a reading list, which is symptomatic of a lot.

1. Robert Goolrick, A RELIABLE WIFE. In turn-of-the-century Wisconsin, a young woman with a past arrives to become the mail-order bride of the town's wealthiest man, who is fleeing demons of his own. This passionate Gothic is almost hallucinatory in its power, twisting and turning and treating its characters with all the seriousness they demand. The story takes several startling twists before reaching its shocking — but fully justified — conclusion.

2. Maeve Binchy, HEART AND SOUL. The lives and loves of people involved with a Dublin cardiac clinic, featuring several characters who originally appeared in earlier books (Scarlet Feather, Quentins, Nights of Rain and Stars). Literary comfort food, a nice book about nice people overcoming the usual obstacles — but at times this book felt more like notes for a novel than a fully-realized narrative. If you're a fan you'll enjoy it, but this is not the Maeve Binchy novel to start with.

3. P. J. Tracy, SHOOT TO THRILL. The computer geniuses of Monkeewrench are back after too long an absence, and this time they're working for the FBI. A serial killer — or possibly a group of serial killers — is posting live video of his murders to social networking sites, and the Monkeewrench crew is racing to track down the source. A couple of these murders happen in Minneapolis, which brings Detectives Rolseth and Magozzi into the mix. As usual, the pleasure of this book is the time spent with its characters, especially Detective Leo Magozzi, whose point-of-view dominates. You'll enjoy this book more if you've read at least one of its predecessors (Monkeewrench/Want to Play?, Live Bait, Snow Blind, Dead Run).

4. Lisa Lutz, THE SPELLMANS STRIKE AGAIN. In this fourth (and possibly final?) series entry, Isabel Spellman's quest to bring down a rival PI leads to her determination to free a wrongly convicted prisoner, which doesn't really have anything to do with her sister Rae's campaign to free another wrongly convicted prisoner, except that both files came from the office of their brother's girlfriend, Maggie, who used to date Rae's friend Henry, whom Izzy used to have a crush on. And the Spellman parents are acting strangely, and things keep disappearing from the Spellman home, and Isabel's mother makes her agree to a series of blind dates with lawyers . . . until everything becomes clear, cases are more or less resolved, and they all live happily ever after. Tremendous fun, and if this really is the last Spellman book, I'll be sad.

5. John Connolly, THE WHISPERERS. Cheating, because I read this in manuscript, and skimmed the UK edition that arrived last week only enough to see that it's essentially the same book I read in January. Either way, Connolly's latest Charlie Parker novel is one more advance in a series that gets sharper and deeper with every book. This time out, the Maine-based PI investigates the suicide of a recently-returned Iraq war veteran, and discovers a smuggling ring that is transporting uniquely dangerous goods across the US-Canadian border. The author's a friend, and I had a front-row seat for some of the research for this book, so I can't pretend to be objective — but it worked for me as both thriller and social history, a deeply compassionate look at the plight of the men who went to war and came back changed. It's out now in Europe, and will be available in the US in July.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Five Words that Make My Skin Crawl

Today's post is a shameless repurposing of a comments thread on my Facebook page, as suggested by Yvonne Nolan.

I started it by taking a break from editing a manuscript to express my visceral dislike of food adjectives used to describe anything other than food. In fact, I usually cringe even when these words are used to describe food.

Every writer I know has words like these — words that for whatever reason cause irritation, almost pain, similar to fingernails on a blackboard. My younger sisters can't stand the sound of any word that describes a clothes fastening; if I ever want to make them squeal, all I have to do is sneak up behind them and whisper the word "clasp."

I'm a little nervous about listing mine here, because I know you'll think it's funny to drop these words into email exchanges and conversations with me. I ask you, in all seriousness, not to. These words really do affect me like a baby crying or the squeak of a balloon being dragged across plastic, and I don't have much of a sense of humor about being tortured. Does anyone?

We'll make this a trust exercise. Leave your own most-loathed words in the comments section.

1. Yummy. The word itself disgusts me, but I especially loathe it when used to describe a human being. If I want to make myself queasy (and why would I?), all I have to do is think about that scene in The Wedding Singer where Christine Taylor says this word after kissing Adam Sandler. Ugh.

2. Hubby. Something about this diminutive strikes me as insufferably smug and intolerably cute. I might feel differently if I were married, but I doubt it. I doubt it very much.

3. Crisp. I've mentioned this before, I think; I love the apples, but cannot say the name (Honeycrisp) aloud. Something about the way the word ends makes all the hair on my arms stand up, and not in a good way.

4. Utilize. This was, without exaggeration, the favorite word of a former boss of mine, and it was all I could do not to fly across the table at him during staff meetings. Pay attention: "utilize" is never a better word than "use." It doesn't make you sound smarter. It doesn't sound more professional. It just makes you sound like a pretentious jargoneer. I would take it as a personal favor if you would promise me today never to use it again.

5. Moist. Do I need to explain this? Do I really? Its use to advertise things like cake mix baffles me. I do not want to eat anything that's moist. I don't want to touch it. I don't want to look at it. I don't want to hear it squelching or imagine its clammy texture. Get it away from me, now. Please. Thank you.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Five Brilliant Orson Welles Projects

Today is the birthday of Orson Welles, who would be 95 if he were still alive. By the time I was aware of him, Orson Welles had already become an eccentric parody of himself, someone who was famous for reasons the new generation didn't quite remember — but this was a man who, by the time he was 25, had played Tybalt on Broadway, created a major acting company, incited nationwide hysteria with his "War of the Worlds" broadcast, and made Citizen Kane. He was still only 43 when he made Touch of Evil. By the time he made those Paul Masson wine commercials in the late 1970s ("We will sell no wine before its time"), he was 20 years past his best work.

Not that he stopped working. A look at his IMDb filmography is even a little startling, especially the news that his voice will narrate a 3-D film coming out later this year. Film snobs might be horrified, but Orson Welles would have loved the possibilities of 3-D; the old magician would have found something cool to do with it, something surprising and tricksy and expensive.

His brilliance and his restlessness sometimes made it look to the rest of the world as if he weren't serious, or lacked focus or staying power. Certain things seemed to come easier to him than to his contemporaries, so it looked to them as if he weren't working as hard — but he did more between 1940 and 1958 than most actors and directors can imagine doing in their lifetimes.

1. "The Mercury Theatre on the Air," 1938. Orson Welles' first big commercial success came in radio, as the voice of Lamont Cranston, "The Shadow," in 1937-38, and as a director of an early radio adaptation of Les Miserables. "The War of the Worlds" broadcast was only one episode of this radio series, which ran weekly from July to December 1938. The program featured radio adaptations of classic stories, beginning with Dracula and ending with Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey. "Dracula" is pretty easy to find online, and I've heard "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" (don't listen while you're driving; you'll be blinded by tears), but would like to hear the entire series at some point.

2. Citizen Kane, 1941. Sometime in the last decade or so it became fashionable to suggest that Citizen Kane might be overrated. I'm sorry, that's just ignorant. Citizen Kane was among the first movies that used the medium to create a new form of storytelling. The shifting points of view alone were a brilliant advance that we now take for granted. Citizen Kane is a story that could only be a movie; it's not a play adapted to the screen, it couldn't be a novel, it's not a radio play. It's a whole world in 119 minutes, and it's gorgeous and funny and sad and still really entertaining, 70 years on. If you've never seen it on a big screen, you've missed something.

3. The Lady from Shanghai, 1947. I almost feel I have to apologize for this movie, because it's nearly wrecked by Orson Welles' decision not only to cast himself as the male lead but then to play that role with an "Irish" accent that sounds like nothing on God's green earth. (Welles' earliest professional theater experience was actually at the Gate in Dublin, as a teenager. It's weird that he couldn't pick up the accent, but seriously: you tell me if he sounds like anyone you've ever heard.) Anyway, The Lady from Shanghai succeeds despite Welles' performance, being a film of shadows and angles and reversals. Welles' insistence that Rita Hayworth bleach her hair, controversial and eccentric at the time, turns out to have been inspired. She never looked more beautiful, and she never looked less like "Rita Hayworth," the movie star. What makes this movie for me, though, is Everett Sloane's performance as her wealthy husband, Arthur Bannister; the way he calls his wife "lover" makes my skin crawl even now.

4. Touch of Evil, 1958. This film was famously recut by the studio, and Welles' intended version wasn't seen until 1998. I would need to attend a seminar to understand how and why the 1998 version is better than the 1958 version. The earlier version might not have been precisely what Welles wanted, but it's still a great film, and in some ways easier to watch than the re-cut (I know, I know; that's not the point, except sometimes it is). It's cool to go to Venice (CA) and see the buildings Welles filmed, immediately recognizable. But Welles' performance as corrupt police captain Hank Quinlan is what makes this film for me. He's such a terrifying wreck of the boy he was in Citizen Kane, the scene where Marlene Dietrich tells his fortune ("You haven't got any") is chilling.

5. The Muppet Movie, 1979. No, seriously; this was my first real exposure to Orson Welles. He played Lew Lord, the Hollywood producer who (spoiler!) gives the Muppets their big break, in a hilarious cameo that seemed to bring Welles' entire career full circle. Once upon a time Welles had been Kermit, a frog with a dream. It seems totally appropriate that this was one of his last screen appearances. I love that he agreed to do this.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Normal service to resume shortly

Burnout. Noun. 1 a : exhaustion of physical or emotional strength usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration b : a person affected with burnout.

Sorry, folks. Everything is taking longer than it should, and I need to narrow my focus this week until I don't feel so overwhelmed. Suggestions for remedies are welcome.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Five U.S. Treason Cases

I'm going to stop apologizing for the intermittent blogging schedule around here, while also promising to do a little better in the weeks ahead. The return from Los Angeles, in the immortal words of my brother Ed, kicked every ass I had, and I came home to a sick dog, a broken car, some missed deadlines, and the one-and-only weekend of Gaslight's "Evening of One Acts," which opened last night and closes tonight. (Yes, tickets are still available. Click here for details.)

Among the marvels and wonders I saw at the LA Times Festival of Books was a blizzard of flyers advertising a May Day rally by the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. May Day is, of course, the international socialist holiday, but the word "revolution" caught my eye, especially because the flyer used the word "overthrow" as well — not in specific terms, but in vague sometime-in-the-future language.

Like most over-educated young women, I went through a phase of embracing the communist ideal, which in my case consisted mainly of a belief that people should share their material possessions and agree to behave well toward each other. While I still believe that, I no longer see it as a valid basis for government, because 40+ years of empirical evidence have shown me that sometimes people just suck. Government exists for this reason: to restrain people's worst impulses (greed, lust, rage, paranoia, carelessness) and minimize the effects of those impulses on the general population.

In that context, treason is a strange concept. The quotation above the auditorium in Georgetown University's Intercultural Center, which opened my freshman year, is Teilhard de Chardin: "The age of nations is past. It remains for us now, if we do not wish to perish, to set aside the ancient prejudices and build the earth." I believed that when I was 16, I believe it now. But given that nations do still exist, and that nations do not respect human rights equally, laws against treason expect us to defend our own nation's principles and integrity against those who would subvert or overthrow it. At the same time, the First Amendment gives us the right (if not the obligation) to challenge those principles — so where does the line fall?

The Constitution is actually pretty clear on this. Article III, Section 3: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court." It's a high standard, and in the 234-year history of the United States, the Federal government has only prosecuted about 30 treason cases. Here are five of the most interesting.

1. United States v. Aaron Burr, 1807. Aaron Burr was a brilliant and charismatic soldier and lawyer who served as Attorney General of New York (1789-91) before being elected to the U.S. Senate, defeating Alexander Hamilton's father-in-law and starting a lifelong feud. Burr tied Thomas Jefferson in electoral college votes for the Presidency in 1800, throwing the election into the House of Representatives. Jefferson ultimately won, making Burr Vice President under the system at the time; this election led to the 12th Amendment, which separated the elections for President and Vice President, creating the "ticket" system that survives to this day. Blaming Alexander Hamilton for his loss of the Presidency and a subsequent defeat in a run for the New York governor's seat, Aaron Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel in 1804, and killed Hamilton with his first shot. Indicted for murder, he fled to South Carolina, but eventually returned to Washington to complete his term as Vice President. A year later he lit out for the territories, where he apparently intended to rally the western states (meaning, at this point, those states east of the Mississippi and west of the original 13 colonies) to secede from the Union with himself as head of a new Republic. President Jefferson denounced the scheme with an October 1806 proclamation, and had Burr arrested in Mississippi in January 1807. Burr escaped, was recaptured in Alabama, and stood trial for treason in May 1807. He was acquitted after a six-month trial, and left for several years in Europe immediately after that. He returned to the U.S. quietly in 1812, and died in 1836 at the age of 80.

2. Virginia v. John Brown, 1859. All the seeds of the Civil War were present in this suit, which tried the violent abolitionist John Brown for murder, inciting slaves to insurrection, and treason — but treason against the commonwealth of Virginia, not treason against the Federal government. Accounts conflict, but at least one contemporary account quoted the trial judge, Richard Parker, as telling the jury that he would not express his feelings about one who would "invade by force a peaceful, unsuspecting portion of our common country, raise the standard of insurrection amongst us, and shoot down without mercy Virginia citizens defending Virginia soil against their invasion." Nope, he didn't want to influence them . . . the jury took only 45 minutes to convict Brown of treason, and he was hanged a month later, on December 2, 1859. Interestingly, the trial was held in Charles Town, which became the capital of West Virginia when that part of the state chose to remain with the Union after the rest of Virginia seceded.

3. United States v. Tomoya Kawakita, 1948–1952. Tomoya Kawakita was born in the United States in 1921, but went to Japan with his father in 1939 to study at Meiji University. After Pearl Harbor, he stayed on to finish his education. He became a translator for the Japanese government in 1943, translating orders to American prisoners of war at a mine in Kyoto province. When the American occupation forces arrived in 1945, he served as a translator for them. He returned to the U.S. in 1946 and went back to school at USC, where a former POW recognized him as someone who had tortured American prisoners. Kawakita was charged with treason, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. He appealed this conviction all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that he had renounced his U.S. citizenship while in Japan and could therefore not be guilty of treason to a country he no longer owed allegiance to. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously, in its 1952 decision Kawakita v. United States, that a U.S. citizen owes allegiance to the United States and can be punished for treasonable acts voluntarily committed regardless of dual nationality or citizenship. President Eisenhower commuted Kawakita's sentence to life in prison; President Kennedy pardoned him in 1963 on condition that he be deported to Japan for the rest of his life.

4. United States v. Iva Ikuko Toguri D'Aquino, 1949. She called herself "Orphan Ann" on an English-language radio show broadcast to Allied soldiers in the South Pacific during World War II, but the soldiers always called her "Tokyo Rose." She was born in Los Angeles to Japanese immigrants in 1916. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in zoology. She was a registered Republican, and voted for Wilkie in 1940. In June 1941, she sailed for Japan to visit relatives with only a Certificate of Identification, not a passport; once in Japan, she applied to the U.S. Consul for a passport, but was not issued one before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December. Pressured to renounce her U.S. citizenship, she refused to do so. She found work as a typist for a Japanese news agency, then for Radio Tokyo, and was pulled into "The Zero Hour," a program hosted by prisoners of war under duress. She refused to say anything on the air against the United States, and in fact she never did; her radio broadcasts were comedy sketches and music introductions. She never even read the news. Nevertheless, she was arrested after the war. Pregnant, she asked to come back to the United States so that her child would be born here, but the government denied this request, and the child died soon after birth. U.S. military authorities finally brought D'Aquino back to the United States in 1948, to stand trial on eight charges of "overt acts" of treason. After what was then the longest and most expensive trial in U.S. history, D'Aquino was convicted of a single count of treason and sentenced to ten years in prison. (She served in the same facility that later housed Martha Stewart, the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson, West Virginia.) Paroled in 1956, she moved to Chicago. Her husband, a Portuguese citizen of Japanese-Portuguese descent, was banned from the United States, and they never saw each other again. Revelations of perjury in Toguri's trial led to President Gerald Ford granting her an unconditional pardon in 1977 and restoring her U.S. citizenship. The World War II Veterans Committee gave her its Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award in 2006, citing "her indomitable spirit, love of country, and . . . example of courage." She died later that year.

5. United States v. Adam Gadahn, 2006. In October 2006, the Department of Justice announced its first treason indictment in more than 50 years. The target of the indictment is Adam Gadahn, an American-born spokesman and operative for al-Qaeda. Gadahn was born Adam Pearlman in Oregon in 1978. His father changed the family name to Gadahn when he converted to Christianity, before Adam was born. Adam was homeschooled until the age of 16, when he moved to his grandparents' home in Orange County, California. There he got a job in a computer store and started studying Islam; he converted to Islam in 1995. Authorities believe he moved to Pakistan in 1998 and married an Afghan refugee. He stopped communicating with his family in 2001, around the time that al-Qaeda's media arm, As-Sahab, released its first video — a production Gadahn is believed to have been heavily involved in, if not responsible for. Since 2004 he has appeared in several al-Qaeda videos as "Azzam the American," threatening attacks on other world cities and denouncing the United States, Israel, and Zionism. Most recently, he appeared in a March 2010 video that called for American Muslims to follow the example of Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, in taking up arms "to reap the rewards of jihad and martyrdom." Still at large, he is on the FBI's Most Wanted list.