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  INCOMING! MAY 31, 2005.  


Welcome back from the Memorial Day weekend. If you were paying attention over the holiday, you would have noticed on Sunday that a woman named Danica Patrick led and nearly won the Indianapolis 500 before falling behind with only six laps to go. She still made history as the first woman to ever lead the race, although ABC did its best to condescend to both her gender and its audience by continually cutting away to reactions shots of Patrick's mother. (She may also the only Indy racer to ever appear in the New York Post on the day of the race wearing a leather jacket and bikini, which highlighted her oh-so-patriotic stars-and-stripes tattoo nicely.)

In any case, the summer season is officially underway. You may now wear white and leave work promptly at 2 p.m. on Friday (only if you're in publishing, suckers.)

Considering we're a nation at war (by this point, it would be nice to know with whom), you should paused for at least a moment yesterday to remember the sacrifices the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have made for us, and also the sacrifices of the Gulf War, Vietnam, and on back all the way to the French and Indian War (yes, we were still a colony then, but if it weren't for those brave colonists we would all be speaking French.) But you probably just tossed another burger or dog on the grill without giving it a moment's thought.

So make up for it today by pausing the remember the Union dead in the Civil War Battle of Cold Harbor, which began on this date in 1864. The Army of the Potomac, now under the de facto command of Ulysses S. Grant, had marched south into Virginia earlier that month with the goal of destroying Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. After a pair of major battles (The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse) and a number of skirmishes, Grant had managed to



move his army within 10 miles of the Confederate capital of Richmond. Near a hotel named Cold Harbor, Lee's troops dug in to await Grant's next attack.

When Grant arrived on the battlefield, he ordered a frontal assault on the Confederate trenches without even bothering to scout the extent of their fortifications first. The Union rank-and-file were no fools. Since these were the days before dogtags, many pinned notes including their names and hometowns on their backs to expedite the identification of their corpses after the battle. They needed them. The main assault lasted 90 minutes, during which 31,000 Union troops suffered 7,000 casualties. A soldier shooting at them later wrote in his journal that it was "simply murder." A Union soldier's journal found after this battle contained this prescient last entry: "Cold Harbor. I was killed." Think about how it must have felt to write that sentence with such awful certainty. Think about it for just a minute.




There's a new sheriff in town at the United Nations. Former Deputy Defense Secretary and neocon überhawk Paul Wolfowitz assumes the presidency of the World Bank today. He shouldn't expect much of a celebration on the east side of Manhattan today -- his nomination by President Bush back in March shocked member nations and most of the World Bank's 10,000-strong staff.

Wolfowitz was one of the leading architects of the invasion of Iraq and the Bush administration's ... unilateral approach to foreign affairs. His enemies on the left have groused that nominating him to run the World Bank (one of the world's most powerful NGOs) is a classic fox-guarding-the-henhouse affair. But the World Bank's enemies would take that a step further and argue he's actually perfect for the job.

In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, published last fall, a former economist/consultant named John Perkins came clean about his two-decade career as an extortionist of developing countries. In order to convince them to accept loans from the World Bank which they could never possibly repay, economic hit men like himself parachuted onto the scene and cooked the books, Enron-style, to assure the local leaders they could. Then, in exchange for securing those loans,


Perkins and his cohorts extracted promises to hire U.S. companies, award concessions, etc. And when those countries ultimately couldn't pay (like Indonesia), the World Bank essentially foreclosed on them. Now, would you want Paul Wolfowitz sitting across the desk from you while you sign your mortgage? Thought so.




For all you non-Catholics who were mystified why a man who was maybe best known at his death for opposing all forms of birth control for all time, anywhere, was mourned by billions this spring, this is why: On this date in 1979, the seeds of a peaceful revolution against the Soviet empire were planted, and Pope John Paul II was the man who sowed them.

On June 2, 1979, the relatively new Pope -- a Polish native who had been born Karol Wojtyla, visited his homeland for the first time upon assuming the papacy. An unimaginably large crowd of a million Poles were waiting to greet him in Warsaw -- keep in mind that the country was still deep behind the Iron Curtain -- and after an open-air Mass in the center of the city, he gave a speech in which the central message was: Do not be afraid. He never said out loud what it was that they shouldn't be afraid of, but he got his point across.

A year later, shipyard workers in the city of Gdansk went on the strike. The Pope gave his support and instructed the Polish church to do the same. The strike became a movement named Solidarity, and the Soviet puppet regime soon declared martial law. Priests began participating in the strikes, and one was murdered by government officials. Solidarity became the first successful act of open resistance to the Soviet system, and when the Berlin Wall finally fell a decade after the Pope's visit, Solidarity leader/freely elected Polish president Lech Walesa made it clear that the Pope and his clergy had been their inspiration.

So now you know.






If this edition of Incoming! has been heavy on the history and serious matters, that's because the high school national championship of quiz bowl kicks off today in Chicago. Imagine a team version of Jeopardy! -- four players armed with buzzers race to answer as many trivia questions as they can in under 20 minutes. This national championship, run by a company named NAQT is one of several held each school year, but this one might be the biggest -- 96 teams from across the country (and one from China) are settling in tonight for the first of three days of non-stop nerd-on-nerd competition.

Who's the headmaster of Hogwarts? Which vice president succeeded Andrew Jackson? Who wrote The Devil's Dictionary? Yes, you had better things to do with your weekends in high school, but just look at where you went to college.




Friday also marks the 100th edition of The Week in Craig, which might be 99 more than Amy Blair ever expected to write. The Black Table is throwing a party for her on Saturday night. Go and tell her you wrote a Missed Connection about her once. She'll like that.


Greg Lindsay will proudly be enabling nerdiness this weekend as a volunteer staffer at the NAQT High School National Championship Tournament this weekend in Chicago. Yes, you may point at laugh at him the next time you see him.


INCOMING! runs every Monday on The Black Table.