Posts Tagged ‘December 9’

Nobel Lousiest

Posted in General, On This Day on December 9th, 2012 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

December 9, 1868:  Birth Announcements in Breslau, Prussia

Frau Haber died in childbirth, sparing herself a very unpleasant acquaintance.  Unfortunately for the rest of us, the infant would not take hint.  Fritz (1868-1934) would grow up to achieve the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  His synthesis of ammonia was ostensibly for use in fertilizer–as the Nobel Committee gullibly commended him; however, its chief application was for high explosives.  There is a reason why terrorists like to buy large amounts of ammonia-rich fertilizer.  Herr Haber does have his admirers.  Indeed, without Haber’s ammonia synthesis, Imperial Germany would have run out of artillery shells before the end of 1914.  World War I might have been known as the “90 Day War.”

Of course, you could say that Haber’s work was misused by the military.  However, ammonia synthesis was not the limit of Haber’s genius.  He was also the pioneer of poison gas, creating chlorine gas in 1915.  There is little likelihood of its pacifist intent.  Indeed, Haber supervised its “introduction”  on French troops at Ypres.  The Kaiser was so impressed that he made Haber a captain in the imperial army.  Haber’s wife was not as enthusiastic.  Horrified by Haber’s work, she killed herself.  Haber didn’t bother attending her funeral.  He was off to the Eastern Front to introduce chlorine gas to the Russians.

Despite Haber’s genius, Germany did not win the war.  So he returned to the pursuit of pure, disinterested, amoral science.  In 1926 Haber invented a fumigant gas known as Zyklon B.   Its chief use was from 1942 to 1945 in a number of German resorts.  Haber’s relatives would have been guests there and possibly had the therapeutic  benefits of the gas.  (It arrests the aging process.)

Unfortunately for Haber, the Fuhrer was not as grateful as the Kaiser.  Since none of Haber’s works included a method to regenerate a foreskin or mutate Aryan genes, the scientist was distinctly unwelcome in Nazi Germany.  Haber would have gladly organized “Jews for Hitler” but the Nazis did have a few standards. Fritz Haber had to leave the Third Reich.  The Nobel Laureate received offers of sanctuary and employment from laboratories and universities around the world.  Ignoring its killed alumni, Cambridge University enticed him to come; but Haber was miserable.  If anything could break his heart, it was Germany’s rejection of him.  Haber left for Switzerland, just a few mountains away from his beloved militarism and jackboots, and there he died in 1934.

Let us hope that he is now in a Reich where the Bunsen Burners never run out of fuel.

And for a more likable person:


The Speechwriters’ Hall of Martyrs

Posted in General, On This Day on December 9th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

December 9, 1674:  Edward Hyde’s Permanent Writer’s Block

Edward Hyde (1609-1674) may have been the most miserable speechwriter in history. I don’t mean that he was the worst: a fifth century Roman orator named Sidonius Apollinarus has that distinction and could be the reason that “ad nauseum” is a Latin term. No, Edward Hyde was likely the most frustrated, unappreciated and persecuted practitioner of “executive communications.” (That is the corporate designation for speechwriters; it sounds impressive but discreetly vague, avoiding the impression that our clients require ventriloquists.)

Our poor, sorry Hyde wrote speeches for Britain’s King Charles I. If you are familiar with his Majesty’s autopsy report, you can deduce that the speeches obviously were not a success. No, Hyde was not beheaded, too; speechwriters are never worth killing. But Hyde endured humiliation, disgrace and exile–and that was by his fellow Royalists.

Charles I felt that he had the Divine Right to bully and suppress Parliament; however, he also felt that good manners required some justification for his conduct. Of course, you can not expect a busy King to spend hours scribbling on parchment, nor could you really expect a Stuart to write an intelligible paragraph. So Edward Hyde offered his literary assistance to the King. Hyde had been one of Parliament’s few moderates. He was neither an obtuse Royalist nor a fulminating Puritan. When the Civil War began, however, he preferred traditional tyranny to the unforeseen excesses of a Parliamentary mob.

Working with Hyde, the King issued a series of proclamations and pamphlets that justified the Royalist cause in a persuasive and moderate voice. Charles may even have believed those balanced and temperate words while he was with Hyde. However, when Charles was in the company of his more belligerent advisors–particularly his battle-axe of a wife, the malleable monarch did what they told him. That created a dismaying dichotomy: Charles had the voice of reason and the actions of a thug. Worse for Charles, his belligerent advisors were far better at starting wars than winning them.

But the war faction did have one success: blaming Hyde. His moderate writings allegedly sullied the the dignity of the monarchy: a king does not need reason. If you believed the Queen, Hyde was as great a danger as Cromwell. For his demeaning rationality and treacherous temperance, Hyde became a pariah at the Court. A man of Hyde’s character was obviously unfit for government, but he did seem a suitable choice as the official guardian (babysitter) for the Prince of Wales.

Unfortunately, being the moral authority to the future Charles II, Hyde had another hopeless task. At least, Hyde was not required to write speeches to justify and rationalize the young Prince’s misadventures in Britain and France, the debts and the illegitimate offspring. (If only he had, Hyde would have been the pioneer of Restoration Comedy. ) In fact, after the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II bestowed an earldom on his hapless but loyal guardian. The new Earl of Clarendon was further appointed to the Royal Council where he once again proved a political naif but a convenient scapegoat. Hyde ended up in exile again; he had plenty of free time to write his memoirs. On this day in 1674, Hyde had a permanent writer’s block.

At least Hyde died with an Earl’s title and income. Most of us will not have that comforting a retirement package. Edward Hyde may have been most miserable speechwriter in history but he was a successful failure.