Sunday Roast: Memorial Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

~Lt Col John McRae

This is our daily open thread — In Memoriam of those service members who died while serving their country.

Sunday Roast: 1968

In 1968, my family was living outside of the U.S., in a little place no one has heard of since, namely Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  I was nine years old and only beginning to become aware of the world outside family, neighborhood, and school.

I was the kind of kid who was outside from morning ’til the street lights came on, so television — especially the news — was way down my list of interesting things to do.  Dad turned on the six o’clock news every night, and I began to realize that the world (the U.S., my world) was burning — literally.

By the time we left Gitmo, I was going on eleven years old, and I knew two things for sure:

  1.  War is bloody and horrible and fucked up, and we need to find a better way to deal with our disagreements.
  2.  People need to be able to stand up for themselves and their rights — civil or otherwise — and speak their minds, without being beaten, fire hosed, or killed.

I was a naive child who thought we’d have these things figured out by the time I had children.  Ha!  Said children are 28 and 33 years old, and just look at what we’ve done to this country…hell, the world.

I am ashamed.

This is our daily open thread.



The Watering Hole, Monday, March 21, 2016: How The Right Gets The Left Wrong

John Hinderaker and Jeffrey Lord, two men who can best be remembered from me mentioning their names at the start of this blog post without the word ‘miscreant’ attached to either of them, are at it again. And by “it” I mean “spreading falsehoods about Liberals”. I was going to use the word “lying,” but then somebody would say it’s not really lying because they honestly believe it’s true. Fine. It isn’t true, it’s false, so I said they were spreading falsehoods. Whether they knew they were falsehoods or not is irrelevant, because they still spread them. But if it makes you feel any better, I think they knew they were falsehoods when they spread them like manure. I say that because I don’t think they’re entirely stupid, and you would have to be entirely stupid to believe the things they said about Liberals and MoveOn.Org recently. [Full disclosure: I am a member of MoveOn.Org. I had my picture used in a commercial they ran several years ago. I wish I could find it.] So I think they know they were spreading foul-smelling crap when they sprinkled it throughout their columns. Because they know their fans just eat that shit up, on account of that’s much easier than having to actually think about it. And Conservatives do not like to put a lot of effort into their thinking, which explains their Conservatism. (Science has been able to document many ways in which Conservative and Liberal minds differ. Read more about them here. Truth be told: the science does not support the idea of Conservatism being a bastion of curious, inquisitive, intellectual discovery. Or even one of just trying to learn the basic truth about things.)

A little over a week ago in Dayton, OH, a man named Tommy DiMassimo attempted to get up on the stage where Donald Trump was speaking but was stopped by the Secret Service. This, and this alone, is probably the only indisputable fact one can glean from Hinderaker’s column. By his third sentence (first if you don’t think the incident itself could accurately be described as “scary”), Hinderaker was already spreading the lies. “His intent was unclear, but there was every reason to assume he intended to injure or kill Trump.” Really, Hinderaker? “Every reason” to believe that? Look, I know you Conservatives are accustomed to seeing danger everywhere, but the only explanation for why you think he meant Trump harm is Projection. You assume he meant Trump harm because in your mind, if you ever rushed a stage, it would be to injure or kill someone. So that must be the reason this guy did it. Hinderaker offers no other explanation for why DiMassimo did what he did, only his personally limited imagination.

Framing is everything in today’s political discourse. With attention spans being so short – SQUIRREL! Sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah. Attention spans are short and time is limited, so the Conservatives want you to spend as little time thinking as possible and just react. And the best way for them to do that is to lay the groundwork for what they’re about to say and force you to accept it, process it, and reply to it within the framework they’ve presented it. From this point on, Hinderaker wants you to view the entire incident as a violent attack. If you reject that framing, nothing else he says or, by extension, what Lord says later, will make any sense. Not only is Hinderaker projecting in this column, he’s shining a bright burning light on his own cognitive dissonance. He has already admitted he has no idea why DiMassimo tried to get up on stage, but that doesn’t mean to him he can’t he know exactly why he did it. DiMassimo boarded the stage for an unclear purpose that must have involved injuring or killing Trump. Lacking the intellectual capacity or imagination to come up with any other reason for DiMassimo’s actions, Hinderaker goes for the violence motive, another trait of Conservatism. (If it were me, and I was able to get to Trump, I would have mussed up his hair in front of everybody, so that he would have had to look ridiculous putting it back together.) So now he hopes that in your mind, we’re talking about a violent person. This is important because he’s about to launch into a rambling, anti-intellectual, anti-tax, anti-union, anti-regulation, and anti-LBGTQ diatribe transferring every lie he can think of about DiMassimo onto every Liberal in America. I’m not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but it’s plain to me that Hinderaker has insecurity issues so severe he has to lash out at anyone he perceives as differing from the image he has in his mind of what it means to be a man. And given his propensity for projection, it’s not hard to imagine why. And as bad as Hinderaker’s column was at reflecting reality, Jeffrey Lord took it to an even lower level.

Lord opens with a link to MoveOn.Org‘s site. Despite everything he’s about to make up about them, the first thing you notice on theri website is a request for donations. “Join our nonviolent campaign standing up for love and democracy, and against Trump’s bigotry and incitement, by making a contribution today.” Then Lord immediately calls us “the new Ku Klux Klan. The newest leftist incarnation of that old leftist formula that combines racism with violence to push the progressive agenda.” I have noticed more and more Conservatives using the term “leftist” in their comments, probably because it’s reminiscent of the term “Communist.” I’m guessing this was Frank Luntz’s idea, but who knows? (Luntz is the “pollster born in Hell” to whom I referred in my song parody “Republicans Lie“.) This is another falsehood, of course. Communism involves a level of Authoritarianism many Liberals reject (but which many Conservatives find appealing, oddly enough.) Lord’s lies continue. “The American Left has a horrendous history of flat out racism and bigotry, liberally salted with violence. From the 19th and early 20th century Klan,…”

I’m stopping him right there. Lord has done what I’ve seen many Conservatives do when I’m hanging out on the Twitter: He presumes that because the KKK was founded by Democrats, that it was founded by Liberals. Nothing could be further from the truth. You cannot look at someone’s political affiliation alone, without context or reference to a year, and know what that person’s political leanings were. A Republican of 150 years ago was likely to be a Liberal just as a Democrat of that time was likely to be a Conservative. The KKK was founded by Conservatives who happened to be members of the Democratic Party. They were white supremacists and they were ugly human beings and their actions were in absolutely no way defensible. They were violent, reprehensible troglodytes, and they are nothing like we Liberals in MoveOn. I have never heard of a single MoveOn event where someone was targeted by the organization for violence. Yet that was the entire purpose of the KKK getting together – to direct violence against someone. And whether they think it matters or not, it is a fact that Trump has the support of many of the major groups today who believe in that for which the KKK stands. Even State Senator David Duke (R-LA) supports Trump. David Duke would never join an organization like MoveOn. I cannot conceive of how anyone with an IQ in the three-digit range would equate MoveOn with the KKK, so I have to believe Lord does not have one.

Based on nothing but Hinderaker’s character assassination of DiMassimo, Lord then declares that he is “absolutely typical of the American Left.” He also points out that DiMassimo’s a Bernie Sanders supporter, but if he’s “typical” of the American Left and he supports Sanders, why is Hillary Clinton ahead in the delegate count? But I digress. Lord goes on to give a distorted history which paints all liberal activists as violent (because of the few violent actions of a few extremist liberal groups) before circling back to the Klan as being liberal. Then he tries to paint us as the racist ones by completely mischaracterizing and distorting an article he quoted. When students at the University of Illinois Chicago decided to organize a protest against the appearance of Donald Trump, MoveOn “chipped in money to get signs and a banner printed and blasted out an email to members in the Chicago area encouraging them to join the protest.” The protest was promoted on Facebook and about 1.5 million people saw it. Out of that number, about 1% pledged to show up. The end result of the protesters’ efforts was the last-minute cancellation of the event, out of a misplaced fear for the candidate’s safety. But that’s not the way Lord chose to frame it. “Got all that?, in the finest traditions of the Klan, organized a mass shutdown that was specifically directed to people because of their race.” If that’s what you got then you didn’t read the same story I did. MoveOn did not organize that protest as the story he quoted clearly said. His proof that this was “directed to people because of their race” is the sentence “Hundreds of young, largely black and brown people poured in from across the city, taking over whole sections of the arena and bracing for trouble.” Note the logical fallacy he employs: Just because hundreds of people of color showed up to protest the event, the call for the protest must have been directed only at people of color. Then there’s the idea that when the KKK organized something directed at people because of their race, it was done for the exact same reason, and with the exact same level of support of those people, as when MoveOn organized an event specifically directed at people of color, even though they did no such thing. MoveOn didn’t organize the event, and they didn’t direct their efforts to people of color. And if MoveOn ever WERE to direct their organizing at people of color, it wouldn’t be for the purpose of killing and lynching them, or setting fire to their homes. But that is how people like Jeffrey Lord and John Hinderaker see us. Because it’s what THEY would do.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss the KKK, Hinderaker, Lord, Trump, or anybody else like them.

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 7, 2016: Look At The Ideologies, Not The Party Names

As I get into my occasional Twitter fights with conservatives, I find that many still believe the false notion that the Democrats and Republicans of today have the same ideological position on the Left/Right-Liberal/Conservative scale as the parties of the same names did 150 years ago. Nothing could be further from the truth. For these people, political ideological history ends about fifty years ago. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t happen, and the famous Southern conservative, pro-segregationists of the Democratic Party didn’t switch to join the Republican Party (cough, Strom Thurmond.) So now along comes Dinesh D’Souza with a movie trying to make that very same bad argument. It’s idiotic and shallow. It completely ignores the content of Republican policy today and how it compares to 1860 Democratic policy. And worst of all for them, it’s hardly an intellectual argument at all since even I can debunk it, and my only intellectual achievement was to be an inactive member of MENSA for two years.

Yes, the people who founded the KKK were proud registered Democrats. They were also very much conservative in their political ideology. Yes, the Democrats of the 1860s supported Slavery, but that’s because they were conservative and they were white supremacists. (They said so.) The Founders of the KKK and the supporters of Slavery were Conservative White Supremacists who happen to be registered politically as Democrats. At that time, racists and white supremacists had a home in the Democratic Party. They were not as welcome in the Republican Party, which was founded to end Slavery. The people who wanted to form this new party made a famous public appeal to, among others, “Free Democrats” (meaning Democrats who didn’t support Slavery), to join them.

More than a hundred years later, after passage of the Civil Rights Acts and Voting Rights Acts under a Democratic president, the conservative white supremacists felt they were no longer welcome in the Democratic Party, and left to join the Republican Party. Not all of them, but many of them. So it’s extremely wrong and intellectually dishonest to argue that the Republican Party of today would still support the abolition of Slavery and the elimination of groups supporting white supremacy. Not when white supremacists are openly supporting the Republican front runner in the presidential race. And why would one of the most famous victims of the KKK, civil rights icon Representative John Lewis, join the Democratic Party if he felt the KKK was still welcome there? Can any of you people who believe the two parties have always been the same ideologically throughout their histories explain that? As for “re-labeling” this ugliness as “the South” and trying to bury it there, it’s because that’s where it happened.

It’s time this country confronted the simple fact that while all Americans are entitled to their choice of representation in government, their criteria for choosing that representation is not required to be fact-based, or logical, or in the best interests of the country as a whole. And we have a lot of people in this country who hold very, very ugly views about their fellow human beings, in part because they don’t view their fellow human beings as fellow human beings. Do we really believe these people’s views should determine how this “land of the free” should be run? Do we really want a country dedicated to the stupid and baseless concept of racial supremacy? Why do we not confront this ugliness every time it rears its head? Why do we pretend it’s okay to believe some races are better than others, to the point where you write those into your judicial opinions and they become the law of the land? And why do we pretend that the level to which we find this ugliness is not higher in conservatives than it is in liberals? Even conservatives like D’Souza are so embarrassed by this part of themselves that they’re in denial, and projecting it onto their ideological foes, we liberals, saying we’re the real racists, we’re the real intolerant ones because we liberals won’t tolerate intolerant conservatives. If you understand what words mean, then you know that makes no logical sense at all. But that doesn’t matter to them. Because it doesn’t feel right to them to blame their ideology for their racist opinions. Because that would mean they might have been wrong all this time. And that just can’t be right to them. So it must be us Liberals who are to blame for America’s Ugliness. And we continue to pretend Conservatism itself isn’t part of the problem, when it very much is at the root of all that is wrong and ugly about America. Today’s Congressional Republicans happen to be extreme conservatives, but there was a time when they were extreme Liberals. And they did some of their finest work for America back then. It’s a true shame those Liberals would not be welcome in today’s GOP. Lincoln would weep.

Sunday Roast: Taino Genocide Day

This is a few years old, but still pertinent, as Thom scrapes away at the white-washing — literally and figuratively — of the life and actions of Christopher Columbus.  It’s absolutely sickening, and a horrifying indicator of the coming genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Thank goodness the holiday isn’t until Monday — you have time to get to the mall for that big sale.

This is our daily open thread — Barf.

Sunday Roast: Mt St Helens anniversary

May 18, 1980, thirty-five years ago tomorrow, Mt St Helens in Washington State went off like a bomb, killing 57 people and turning hundreds of square miles of beautiful forest into a wasteland.

Here’s a handy dandy graphic from the Wiki page of what happened during the blast:

I was living near Lake Shasta at the time, and working at the K-Mart just off I-5 in Redding.  I was amazed at the uptick in the numbers of travelers going north; we could tell who they were because they were buying stacks and stacks of crappy K-Mart air filters for their cars.  My thought was, “Why drive into that mess on purpose?,” but I guess they had their reasons — maybe selling crappy air filters to the masses.  😀

Thankfully, no one in my family was living in northern at the time.  My parents and younger sister moved to Moscow the next year, so they could establish residency before my dad started law school in 1982.  To hear the old people around Moscow tell it, they received anywhere from a couple inches to 12 feet of ash.  As much of a nightmare as it was, I’m pretty sure it was closer to a couple inches than it was to a foot — let alone 12 feet.

Exciting times!!  My inner geology geek was pinging like mad…

This is our daily open thread — where were you the day Mt St Helens went off?

The Watering Hole, Saturday, January 24th, 2015: “I Like Ike”

Two score, fourteen years and one week ago, on January 17th, 1961, President Dwight David Eisenhower gave his farewell address to the nation. Although made famous by Ike’s coinage of the term “military-industrial complex”, his speech also contains commentary that, IMHO, is just as relevant today about other issues, and helps to demonstrate just how far today’s Republicans have strayed from reason and responsibility. The over-religious tone of several of Ike’s comments is off-putting for many of us, but those sections reflect how Republicans have twisted the ‘in god we trust’ idea into the unrecognizable form we see today. While lengthy, here is the entire speech:

“My Fellow Americans:

Three days from now, after half a century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.

This evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen.

Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all.

Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the Nation.

My own relations with the Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and, finally, to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years.

In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the national good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the Nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with the Congress ends in a feeling, on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.II

We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.III

Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.

Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology-global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle-with liberty at stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small,there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research-these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we which to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs-balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage-balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between action of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of stress and threat. But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. I mention two only.IV

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peace time, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United State corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been over shadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system-ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.V

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we-you and I, and our government-must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.

Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose difference, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war-as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years-I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.

So-in this my last good night to you as your President-I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find somethings worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.

You and I-my fellow citizens-need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nation’s great goals.

To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing inspiration:

We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”

This is today’s Open Thread. Have at it!

The Watering Hole, Saturday, January 12, 2013: There’s Truth, and There’s What Some People Believe

We have a serious problem in America. Too many of our fellow countrymen believe things that are just plain demonstrably untrue. I’m not referring to religious beliefs, which presents its own set of misguided believers (did you know that over the past thirty years, Gallup polls have consistently shown that around 45% of Americans believe that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?), I’m talking simple facts. It sure surprised me to learn that about one in five Americans believes the Sun revolves around the Earth. I always thought that one was a “no-brainer” and I guess for those one in five, it’s true – they have no brain.

That’s not to say that intelligent people can’t believe something highly unlikely or, in the opinion of some people, highly implausible. A National Geographic poll from last year found that about 80 million Americans (about 36%) believe UFOs exist. Scientists will tell us this is highly implausible. They are certain no intelligent, sufficiently advanced life exists elsewhere in our own solar system, so any extra-terrestrial life forms must come from another star system. But because of the vast distances between stars (our nearest neighbor is roughly 25 trillion miles away), it would require faster-than-light travel to get here, and that, they claim, is scientifically impossible. FTR, I am not of this belief. I believe that vast distances can be traveled, but we just haven’t figured out a practical way to do it yet. And while I am not one of those who believes aliens crashed landed in Roswell, NM, over 65 years ago and our government covered it up, I do believe we are not alone in the universe and that it is entirely possible that we have been visited before by extra-terrestrial life. When I was a kid, my mother and sister came home from shopping saying there were three green lights in the sky that seemed to follow them home. Of course, many people perceive lights in the sky to be following them, especially when those lights are far away. I looked outside and could see them myself. To this day, I have no idea what they were, but since there were three of them, and not one, and they were much bigger than a small dot, I knew they couldn’t be the object most commonly mistaken for a flying saucer.

The good news is that while roughly 36% of Americans believe that UFOs exist, only about a fourth of that number (8%) identify themselves as Tea Party people. This is way down from April 2010 when 24% proudly called themselves Tea Party people. The things they believe make no sense at all, and what’s worse is that they’ll desperately hang onto those false beliefs no matter what we try to tell them. One of their heroes is a charlatan named David Barton. Barton is a self-professed “historian” who looks for ways to distort the historical record in an attempt to convince people that the United States of America is not a secular nation but a Christian one, not simply because three-quarters of our citizens self-identify with some form of Christianity, but because the Founding Fathers were Christians, not Deists, who wanted everybody to practice Christianity. (Which version is never made clear.) His most recent book, “The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson,” was so full of errors that the publisher withdrew the book from publication. (Barton apparently bought back all his books from there original publisher, Thomas Nelson, and then tried to pass them off as coming from Barton’s own publishing company, Wallbuilders.) Barton claims that “much of the disputed material within his book could easily be clarified if not for the editing performed by publisher Thomas Nelson. Much of the removed material, Barton argued, contained supporting information for those facts which have been questioned.” Did that deter Barton or his followers? No. One of his most ardent supporters, one who quoted him all the time and gave him a forum to spew his lies, is Glenn Beck. Beck has decided that his publishing company, Mercury Ink, will publish Barton’s book. Barton said the new edition “will not include any substantive changes, but I will rephrase some things to remove any potential confusion.” I’m pretty sure the only confusion that exists is in your own mind, David, where you believe yourself to be a legitimate historian. It doesn’t help your case that Newt Gingrich, a known distorter of facts and reality, thinks highly of your work as an historian. I also wouldn’t be proud to have Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas and presidential candidate, introduce you with comments like, “I almost wish that there would be something like a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, forced—at gunpoint, no less—to listen to every David Barton message.” Gee, I should be forced to listen to David Barton at gunpoint? And this from an ordained minister?

David Barton is just one glaring example, but there are others. Sadly, some of them walk the Halls of Congress in between writing and voting on laws that govern the entire nation. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), when asked in an interview with GQ magazine, “How old do you think the Earth is?” ducked the question and gave a lame answer which simply proved he had no idea and couldn’t be bothered to find out:

I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

Rep. Paul Broun, speaking at the 2012 Sportsman’s Banquet, which was held in a church, told the crowd, “God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, the big bang theory; all of that is lies straight from the pit of hell.” The article goes on to say, “Broun, a Republican from Oconee County, is a medical doctor and running unopposed in District 10 on the November ballot. He serves on the Congressional science and technology, and homeland security committees.” A medical doctor who thinks that stuff he was taught about embryology was a lie serves on a Science committee.

Worse still is the right wing denial of climate change, which is unquestionably real and caused by human activity, something about 97% of climatologists who took part in an online surveyed confirmed. Let me try to explain this as best I can. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been burning a hell of a lot more coal and oil than they did before. When the coal and oil stays in the ground, the carbon within it stays in the ground with it. When you burn it, the carbon dioxide goes up into the atmosphere and eventually comes down into the Earth’s oceans. Carbon dioxide holds heat very well (which is why it’s called a greenhouse gas), and this means the Earth’s oceans are warmer. When storms form out over the ocean, they get energy from warm waters, so as they pass over warmer waters, the storms tends to pick up in intensity. This is what produces those intense summer and winter storms we’ve been seeing in recent years. It’s not that climate change is causing the storms (which is one way right wing climate change deniers distort the facts), it’s that climate change is making the storms we get stronger. Climate change is one reason why Hurricane Sandy was so devastating. But having climate change deniers sit on Congressional committees that deal with Science is a recipe for a nation ill prepared to deal with the effects of climate change, which include rising sea levels that threaten everybody who lives on the coasts. It’s almost as if these people equate having an opinion with having a valid opinion. Science, and reality, don’t work that way.

So what can we do? I don’t know. The challenge we face is that telling people the truth doesn’t seem to work, especially when it comes to political matters (which ought to be based on facts and science). Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (whose great paper “What Makes People Vote Republican?” I highly recommend) said in a recent interview

Political views aren’t like views about factual matters. If you believe that it’s faster to drive to the airport than take mass transit, and I give you evidence that mass transit is faster, there’s a good chance that I’ll change your mind, because your goal is actually to get to the airport more quickly. With political and moral questions, our goal isn’t “the truth.” That’s why it’s always vital to bear in mind the importance of group membership when trying to understand political differences. Political beliefs act as badges of membership, badges that say who we are and give us a sense of meaning and purpose. They’re badges that we display to show our moral character. So simply refuting someone’s views about global warming or needle-exchange programs or abortion or anything else will have little effect, because people aren’t going to betray their team because you show them evidence that they’re wrong.

The only solution I see is to not vote for Republicans until they start accepting that Reality is not what you decide it is, but what it actually is, no matter how much it contradicts what you would like it to be.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Reality, climate change, Republican refusal to accept facts, or any other you choose. Just don’t lie to me.

Sunday Roast: Astoria Column

Photo by Zooey

My eldest son and I took a drive to Astoria when I was in Portland for his birthday in August.  Neither of us had any idea this column was there, but we caught a glimpse of it through the trees as we were exploring the town, so we made our way there.  That’s when we found out it’s called the Astoria Column, and it was built with money from the Astor family, to commemorate the town’s role in their business success.

125-foot (38 m)-tall column stands atop 600-foot (180 m)-tall Coxcomb Hill and includes an interior spiral staircase that leads to an observation deck at the top.[1] The spiral sgrafitto frieze on the exterior of the structure is almost seven feet wide, and 525 feet (160 m) long.[1] Painted by Electus D. Litchfield and Attilio Pusterla, the mural shows 14 significant events in the early history of Oregon with a focus on Astoria’s role including Captain Gray’s discovery of the Columbia River in 1792 and the Lewis & Clark Expedition.[1]

Designed to resemble the Roman Trajan’s Column, the Astoria Column was built of concrete and has a 12-foot (3.7 m) deep foundation.[4] Built at a cost of $27,133.96, the tower has 164 steps to the top, where there is a replica of the State Seal of Oregon.[4]

It’s pretty cool when you come across things you never knew were there, especially on such a beautiful day.

This is our daily open thread — Have you lately made any new discoveries?


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” –George Santayana.

In 1818, the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

Ozymandias was a fictional character, but even Shelley’s fourteen line sonnet provides a compelling “historical” tale of the rediscovered visage of a fallen leader in a fallen land, and reminds the reader of the truth in Santayana’s observation. For me, the combination brings to mind the current American political season along with the (far too oft-repeated) myth of American Exceptionalism which, when examined through history’s unbiased eye falls on extremely hard times. In that vein, I offer a (somewhat lengthy) perspective, one based on truth and historical reality rather than on popular mythology. Does one dare to hope that we as a nation might catch on before it’s too late? I can only suggest that based on current signs, optimism is tricky at best. Still, it can’t hurt to try. Right? Following is an admittedly narrow — but historical — preview of tomorrow’s American interregnum, a reflection on the potential consequences of our emergent period of diffuse groping and political stumbling.

For at least a thousand years prior to the early sixteenth century European invasion of the Americas, intellectually-advanced aboriginal populations were leaving their indelible marks on human culture and knowledge.  Whether Inca, Maya, Aztec, Hohokam, Salado, Mogollon, Sinagua, Anasazi, Iroquois – to name but a few – their cultural remnants persist in ways which both puzzle and enlighten those of us whose ancestry is far less remembered, far less culturally profound.  The Iroquois Nation has been called ‘the oldest participatory democracy on Earth’, and there are more than casual evidences that ideas contained in the Iroquois Gayanashagowa, their ‘Great Binding Law’, were incorporated into the Constitution of the United States by America’s founding fathers.  Few argue the immensity or accomplishment of, e.g., the Mayan culture, and we can only speculate about what might have been lost when the Spanish Padre Diego de Landa saw to the destruction of countless ancient Maya texts, codices and documents on the basis that they were ‘heathen’ works.  That the great pre-Columbian cultures in the Americas were highly advanced in astronomical observation – far moreso than their European contemporaries who were barely escaped from their own religious Dark Ages – is seldom questioned.  And yet, the first order of business of the invaders was to destroy, plunder, and pillage – and, of course, ‘save’ the heathen by converting them to whichever version of Christianity they brought with them.

In the American Southwest, the Great Cultures escaped the wrath of the invaders, they had already disappeared a hundred or more years prior to Columbus’s “discovery”; their descendants remained, however, and faced the original onslaughts of both soldier and priest.  The Hopi, Zuni, and Pima all suffered at the hands of the Spanish military and religious cadres, as did the relative newcomer (Athapascan) Navajo and Apache peoples.  Overall, the scenario covering the nearly 700 years from 1200 C.E. to Geronimo’s surrender in 1886 (which heralded the cessation of the Indian Wars in the Southwest) reflected a period of immense change for indigenous peoples, though the change was not of singular cause.

The younger Anasazi cliff dwellings in northern Arizona  – known today by the Navajo names Betatakin and Keet Seel – were constructed in the early- to mid-1200s and were abandoned about 1300, probably due to the protracted drought which began circa 1276 but which apparently built upon accumulated effects of a fifty year drought that desiccated the landscape between 1130 and 1180.  Drought in arid lands, even when brief, imposes a severe impact on local populations – an obvious proposition, but one which is all too easily ignored or dismissed until it’s too late; a lengthy drought must invariably prove fatal.

When the Spaniard Francisco Vasquez de Coronado rode north in 1540 in search of the rumored Seven Cities of Cibola, he first encountered the Zuni villages in present day New Mexico.  After looting, raping, pillaging, and plundering the Zuni, Coronado’s representatives located the Hopi village of Awatovi in Arizona, and eventually met with Hopi representatives in Oraibi.  There were no obvious riches there, however, so contact was intermittent until 1598 when Juan de Oñate arrived and arranged that the Hopi formally agree to become subjects of the King of Spain.  In 1629 the Franciscan Missionaries arrived and began the task of converting the Hopi to Christianity, a task which, to this day, has never been accomplished; the Hopi were (and have remained) strong enough in their own beliefs to resist the calling of the white man’s God, to resist participation in what the Hopi came to refer to as the “slave church.”

In 1680, the proud descendants of the Anasazi – Hopi, Zuni, the Taos pueblo, et. al. – came together in revolt against the ruthless Spaniards, the Castillas.  Every pueblo in the region revolted, and by the time it was all over some 500 Spaniards were dead, including 29 missionaries; churches, along with government and church records, were destroyed, and the remaining Spaniards fled to safety in Mexico.  By the spring of 1700, however, the Spanish priests had returned and managed to baptize 73 residents of Awatovi.  Not long thereafter, the other Hopi villages banded together, attacked Awatovi, killed its residents, destroyed the village, and purged themselves once and for all of the “slave church”; Awatovi remains in ruin to this day.

Meanwhile, far to the south, Spanish Jesuit missionaries were busy establishing visitas and building churches in Mexico’s Pimeria alta, the land of the upper Pimas, now southern Arizona.  The Pimas were hunter-gatherers who some believe to have been descendants of the once grand Hohokam civilization which a few hundred years earlier had prospered along present day Arizona’s Gila and Salt rivers.  The Hohokam were accomplished farmers and builders of extensive irrigation canal networks in the desert valleys adjacent to the perennially-flowing rivers.  Though no one knows for certain, it’s thought that it may have been a consequence of too much water rather than drought which finally forced the Hohokam to move on. The Salt River Valley demonstrated the problem to early anglo farmers when, by virtue of the free-flowing river and irrigation of peripheral acreage, the subsurface water table rose high enough to force salt to the surface which killed the crops (high water tables are no longer a problem – ground water pumping has drastically lowered them, sometimes to depths which have cause substantial land subsidence).  Similarly, before the Salt and Gila Rivers were controlled by upstream dams, flash floods in periodic wet years often inundated their adjacent flood plains which have long been considered to be choice and easily irrigatable farmland.

Given the strange hydrological proclivities and paradoxical precipitation deviations of the northern Sonoran Desert, it becomes almost as simple a task to propose, as reason for the disappearance of the Hohokam, too much water as it does to propose drought.  Perhaps we’ll never know for sure. In any case, what is certain is that the Hohokam, the Anasazi and all other advanced pre-Columbian civilizations once indigenous to the present day American Southwest disappeared, each and all within the same approximate time frame.  The artifacts and ruins each culture left behind are compelling to archaeologist and historian alike, and most surely speak of peoples who understood that their position in the natural world was neither greater nor lesser than that of any other life form, that they, too, were simply a strand in Nature’s web of life.  These were intellectual peoples who were well-advanced in a great many ways, ways which the white invaders, themselves recent refugees of a multi-century Christian-insisted medieval darkness, would not begin to either appreciate or master for several centuries to come – if, indeed, ever.

Enter now the year 2012 C.E., more than 500 years beyond the ‘discovery’ by Europeans of the Americas; much has changed even as much remains the same.  The white race has brought its people, its culture, and its religion to this new world and has superimposed each on top of the peoples, cultures, and religions which were here long ago.  The United States has become the world superpower which many seem to believe has long been its due; but in spite of the nation’s power and ‘wealth’, all is not well.  North America’s once presumed inexhaustible resources and riches have been slowly exhausted and spent, and Nature seems to have become a bit angered by extractive and polluting practices which are slowly overcoming all efforts, however bold or feeble, thus far expended on means to either preserve, protect, or even restore lands, forests, wetlands, etc.  It’s often noted that the U.S.A. contains roughly five percent of the Earth’s total population but is using nearly twenty-five percent of Earth’s resources, all in effort to preserve a ‘standard of living’ which is variously referred to as elevated, prosperous, extravagant, or wasteful.

In post-invasion North America, lines were eventually drawn on maps in order to define the boundaries of Canada, the USA, and Mexico, the three separate nations that today embrace the continent which was historically home to hundreds of separate cultures – Peoples – but with no distinct borders.  Among their numbers, those aboriginal cultures ranged from cosmopolitan and intellectually advanced ‘civilizations’ to the more primitive hunter/gatherer tribes, but all shared at least one apparent near-constant philosophical concept: a genuine religious sense of integration with Nature, with the Earth Mother herself.  Such a philosophy was in direct contrast with the incoming European Christian idea that man had been granted, by the Judaeo-Christian God, dominion (and, by extension, ownership) of Nature’s entire.  The clash was inevitable, and very quickly the lives of Native American tribal nations across the continent were irrevocably altered by the emergence of a capitalistic economy wherein the land, water, animal, and plant resources that historically sustained native cultures became simple commodities in market support of ever-increasing numbers of white Europeans and their descendants.  The invaders brought disease, guns, and insurmountable numbers; with ultimate victory ensured, they signed treaty after treaty with the tribal nations, and forthwith broke treaty after treaty, always in selfish pursuit of riches the lands offered.

By the mid-twentieth Century, the remnant populations of nearly all aboriginal North Americans were confined to reservations (‘reservation’ now synonymous with lands the newly-emplaced ‘Dominant Culture’ presumed to be valueless for either habitation or resource exploitation), many of which remained bastions of human poverty and hopelessness within a nation that had, by the mid-twentieth century, come to be defined by its now white majority as “… one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”  The words rang hollow to the victims of the fledgling superpower’s presumed and so-called “Manifest Destiny” even as the reservation residents were force-fed the white man’s culture and religion, even as the now Dominant Culture did its best to erase or destroy all vestiges of native culture, mythology, legend, and belief.

Nevertheless and despite myriad local indiscretionary behaviors, America initiated, in the latter half of the twentieth century, a ponderous progression in the direction of human rights for minority peoples.  The 1964 Civil Rights Act demanded equal treatment under the law regardless of skin color, or gender, or national origin (for some, a series of radical concepts both then and now); but never has there been an effort to reverse the rescinded treaty obligations with aboriginal tribal nations, all of whom were forced, post-conquest, to make do with what little was left to them.  In spite of the attendant hardship, many tribal nations have finally found ways and means to enrich their financial coffers by offering both services and resources which satisfy Dominant Culture’s consumption urges: whether via gambling casinos or oil, gas, and coal leases, tribal nations have learned to take advantage of the mega-society’s inbred gluttony and greed.  In result, there finally are accumulating tribal financial resources which may, eventually, relieve at least some of the poverty and the intellectual starvation which has been the result of long-term and enforced privation.

Today, America’s facade is that of a world superpower, an advocate of democracy and freedom for all people everywhere, a facade which represents the presumed envy of all who covet personal and societal wealth and prosperity.  But there remains a firm, albeit well-concealed, hollowness implicit in those claims.  As with an old storefront sporting new siding and fresh paint in the midst of an otherwise deteriorating mining town, a glittering facade can easily mask rusted plumbing and crumbling foundations in the basement, dry rot in the walls and rafters, plus aid the concealment of a healthy population of roof rats in the upstairs clerestories, maybe even an infestation that covers the entire top floor. Unfortunately – and sadly – it doesn’t take much creative thought to apply that entire metaphor to present day America, circa 2012 C.E.

There are curious undercurrents in today’s America, undercurrents that far too many deem to consider the norm, but which are, without a doubt, serious harbingers of unpleasantries that lurk just over yon hill.  The undercurrents arrived with the European invaders in the early years of the sixteenth century, and have since come to be seen as noble traits, but sans the traditionally attendant noblesse oblige, those well-understood obligations of nobility.

When, in 1519 Hernán Cortés and his Spanish Conquistadores arrived in Mexico, he was welcomed by the Aztec leader Moctezuma in Tenochtitlán as Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec version of the bearded white god who was commonly a part of the mythology throughout pre-Columbian America.  Cortés soon betrayed Moctezuma’s hospitality, however, as he laid siege to Tenochtitlán; by 1533, with Cortés’s victory complete, all of Mexico was claimed by the Spanish Crown.  Of course, Cortés was not by any measure a god, he was simply a warrior in search of gold and its power implicit. He was also a sworn agent of The Great (Christian) Commission to “make disciples of all nations”, to Christianize the heathen savages which populated the entire of the North American continent.  Cortés was not alone in either mission; virtually all contingents of European immigrants brought approximately the same agenda to serve upon all who inhabited the New World, and over the next several centuries, European immigrant colonists arrived with regularity and in sufficient numbers to alter forever both the natural and cultural face of the continent.

In 1756, John Adams wrote that when European colonists first arrived in America, “… the whole continent was one continued dismal wilderness, the haunt of wolves and bears and more savage men.  Now the forests are removed, the land covered with fields of corn, orchards bending with fruit and the magnificent habitations of rational and civilized people.”  Those same “rational and civilized people” and their descendants soon spread across that continent, from ‘sea to shining sea’.  As they did so, they presumed to conquer the “dismal wilderness” by, in effect, exterminating all of the “wolves and [grizzly] bears” and by killing/exterminating all of the “savage men” – and women, and children – who got in their way (some might consider the word genocide to be an adequate descriptor of that gruesome reality) .  They staked claim to the land and its resources as they went along, and in the process destroyed natural assets which had supported tribal nations for untold centuries.  The buffalo population on the Great Plains, for example – long the principal sustenance of the Plains Indians – was reduced from approximately fifteen million to only a few thousand – in less than ten years. Why?  For sport, and/or for the buffalo’s tongue and robe which each brought a few dollars on the open market.  That slaughter is perhaps one of the most revealing records of colonial atrocity available, and serves to describe, both then and today, the mores and values – or lack thereof – of America’s emergent and now Dominant Culture.

With (and during) the conquest of the continent, Nature was set aside.  In the process, a great many species became extinct (the passenger pigeon and prairie chicken are oft-cited two of many), and hundreds, perhaps thousands more, are ever-increasingly endangered; wild lands have been tamed, rivers dammed, forests logged and clear-cut; vast prairies have been converted to farmlands or paved over as cities; waters are polluted or contaminated with common industrial waste products and with esoteric (often indestructible) man made chemicals; air pollution over large cities has become legendary, and extractable resources which once seemed inexhaustible have been exhausted, or nearly so.  Meanwhile, underground aquifers are drying up even as golf courses are watered daily; widespread use and aerosolized discharge of chlorofluorocarbons has resulted in a huge ‘hole’ in the earth’s protective ozone layer over the south pole, and though efforts have been made to reduce the release of ozone-destroying chemicals, the reality is that it will take Nature a hundred or more years to reverse the damage already done; carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are both causing and exacerbating a global warming trend to the point where the polar ice caps are melting and the ocean levels are slowly rising.  There is, quite literally, no end to the list of problems the Dominant Culture is bringing down upon itself, and for what good reason?

Wealth, of course.  Wealth as defined by money, by dollars.  Wealth equates, to the simplistically minded, with power; power – dominion – is primal to any sense of accomplishment in the Dominant Culture, and in the Dominant Culture, dominion is considered to have been granted to Human by none other than God Himself – the Judaeo/Christian/Islamic God, that is.  Dominion approves and enables the generation of wealth; generation of wealth requires consumption, which requires production, which requires extraction of resource.  Consumption is, therefore and by definition, fundamental: the more consumption, the more wealth for some, the better for all.  Waste, trash, garbage, litter, end products of production or discarded products themselves are all inexorably tied to consumption – which yields wealth, which IS power.  Therefore, waste is never contraindicated and resources ARE there to be used, not conserved.

Hernán Cortés brought the wealth/power/dominion equivalence with him from Spain and put it to good use in his conquest of Tenochtitlán. In the subsequent Spanish explorations, conquests, and Christian missionary forays into what is now the American Southwest, others carried the banners with equivalent zeal.  Today, in both New Mexico and Arizona are many remnants of the Spanish period including place names, architecture styles, and mission churches either still active, or in ruins.  But here the Spanish, too – and their religious converts – were ultimately overwhelmed by America’s Manifest Destiny and have, as such, become parcel of and subservient to the Dominant Culture.

As I write this, the American Southwest — the historical venue of those advanced civilizations we refer to today as Hohokam, Sinagua, Salado, Mogollon, and Anasazi — is at least fifteen years into an ever more severe drought, and no end is in sight.  Scientists have suggested it could last anywhere from twenty or thirty years to even a thousand years or more.  And though it’s quite likely that a thousand years is a bit of an extreme guess, in practical terms it really won’t make much difference if the lower range of twenty to thirty years proves accurate.  Fifty-odd years ago, for example, the state of Arizona’s human population was barely over a million; today it’s well on its way to topping six million.  Phoenix, its capital city, has grown to become the fifth largest city in the United States, and even though more than half of Arizona’s current population lives in the greater Phoenix metro area, the pressures of supporting such a huge metroplex are spread across much of the rest of the state, the Southwest itself, and especially the watersheds west of the Great Divide in Colorado.  Note the word: watersheds.

Water.  Water is the key, the ancient key, to arid land civilization. Water. Today, Lake Powell, the upper reservoir on the Colorado River formed behind Glen Canyon dam, has more than once shrunk to less than forty percent of capacity, low enough to force reductions in hydro-power generation, low enough to severely restrict recreational boating on the lake itself because of high and dry marinas, and low enough to expose ancient ruins which have been underwater since the floodgates on the dam were first closed in the middle 1960s.  Spring runoff from snow melt in the Colorado Rockies has been reduced for the majority of the last fifteen years because of drought.  Downstream, Lake Mead’s level will slowly shrink as well, more rapidly once releases from Powell either slow to a trickle (or cease completely if/when the lake should completely dry up and become nought but a reminder of better times and wetter climes).  The so-called Lower Basin States (Nevada, Arizona, and California) are strongly dependent upon water allocations from the Colorado River; however, when crunch time arrives, Arizona is, by virtue of the Colorado River Compact, the first loser – California is legally entitled to preferential treatment and will be the last to suffer from shortages.

One wonders if the current situation isn’t somehow similar to that which arose in the thirteenth century, when drought apparently finalized the fate of the Anasazi.  If the current drought persists “only” as long as the Anasazi’s final drought (24 years, from 1276-1300 C.E., based on tree ring data), will Phoenix and other desert population centers find the means to survive?  Was it ever a wise choice to construct cities which are home to millions atop arid desert plains?

What of the huge forests which cover much of the West’s higher elevations?  In the last decade, millions of acres have burned, the bulk of the fires courtesy of Human’s carelessness with matches, cigarettes, campfires, etc.  If forests don’t burn, will their weakened trees further succumb to pine bark beetle infestations which have already claimed millions of trees in just the last few years?

Time will, of course, provide all of the answers.  Meanwhile, it seems terribly obvious that Human may do well to reconsider the fundamentals of his presumed dominion over Nature; he might also consider the possibility of seriously evaluating the collective impact of his constant assaults on the natural world, consider restructuring his culture and society in order to be less environmentally intrusive.  Perhaps the time has come for Dominant Culture to assume the philosophies of life which guided aboriginal peoples, behavioral concepts which allowed them to prosper, to run free, for however many millennia they existed before the European invasion and conquest called a halt to the idea of living in balance with the Earth.

Much work must be done; dare we hope for leaders wise enough to understand the problems, to take positive action toward equitable solution?  If recent history is predictive, the answer is very likely a resounding NO!  In November, 1980, C.E., a new tyranny assumed control of America’s destiny, of her future.  Across the ensuing years, the emphasis has been singular: to reward political patrons with legal favors which honor corporate America even as they spit upon the common man.  Meanwhile, religious fundamentalists – Christians – have gained a new foothold of political power and are using that power to insist the nation take a course which honors class hatred and bigotry.  They attempt to subvert science in favor of their own mythology: that hollow, biblical, Creationist agenda which proclaims Human to be of divine origin and therefore unique – and worthy of dominion – amongst and over all of life.  The first eight years (at least) of the 21st century bore witness to the mass overturning of environmental progress with new roads in roadless areas, huge increases in timber cutting, relaxation of air and water pollution standards, habitat destruction, and cessation of protections for endangered species.  The wave of destruction initiated by, among others, John Adams’s “rational and civilized people,” has returned, but with heightened and renewed energy. The likelihood that Human has finally signed his own warrant has increased proportionateley; Nature has begun to fight back, after all, and Nature will not lose.

Meanwhile, we ponder Human’s arrogance, once again, through the words of the poet Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

Fiction? Historical record?  Predictive metaphor? Whichever be the case, it’s at least as thought-provoking as are any of the multitude of Genesis myths which seem to underlie the philosophical imperatives of today’s grossly imperfect Dominant Culture.  If it’s indeed true that Ozymandias offers an accurate reflection of the consequences of arrogant leadership, and if the reward for such arrogance is “two trunks of legless stone” with a “shattered  visage” lying “half sunk” in the sand, then America’s current leadership has surely been described, the nation’s ultimate fate defined and cast in stone.   All should be advised that to find Shelley’s “visage” which sports a “frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command” we need look no further than Washington D.C., and to the person(s) therein ‘in charge’ of this country, “leaders” who are, each and all, completely true to the spirit of Ozymandias himself.  Q.E.D.: quod erat demonstrandum.

The times are once again dark and dangerous; there is much work to be done.

The Watering Hole, Thursday, September 6th, 2012: Speech! Speech!

Over the last several days, through the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention, most of us political junkies have seen way too many speeches. There have been good speeches, bad speeches, and ugly “speeches”. And there have been a couple of great speeches. Tonight, President Barack Hussein Obama will need to give a great speech when accepting the nomination.

I ran across a treasure-trove of other historical political speeches at a site called “The American Presidency Project.” This website is just chock-full of archival information – check out the varied offerings on the “Document Archive” sidebar – including but not limited to:

All of Mitt Romney’s campaign speeches, from June 2nd, 2011 through August 14th, 2012;
All of President Obama’s campaign speeches, from July 5th, 2012 through August 22nd, 2012;
Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speeches, from Abraham Lincoln’s letter of acceptance in 1864, through Mitt Romney’s speech on August 30th, 2012 (the site will be updated to include President Obama’s acceptance speech);
– Transcripts of all of the Republican Presidential Candidates debates – yes, all twenty of them!

For pure historical fascination alone, this website is invaluable; but I believe that its value for us today, during this Presidential election, is its usefulness for fact-checking, quote-verifying, and flip-flop tracking.

This is our Open Thread – enjoy!


The Waltering Hole, Monday, June18th, 2012: Bannerman Castle, Revisited

I don’t often read the local “Southern Dutchess Focus” of the Poughkeepsie Journal newspaper, but this past Saturday’s cover caught my eye. The color photo dominating the page was headlined: “Concerts, tours set on island”; in the photo, a couple of tables full of people are dining near a hedge in the forefront, with part of a castle ruin looming beyond the hedge. I immediately thought of Bannerman Castle, about which our own WaltTheMan had once written, and a quick glance at the caption under the photo confirmed that it was, indeed, Bannerman Castle.

Bannerman Castle on Bannerman Island (officially “Pollopel Island”)

The historic castle, built in 1901 by military supplies dealer Frank Bannerman, was severely damaged over the decades by explosion, fire, and, eventually, neglect. In 2011, fundraising and lobbying efforts were begun by the Bannerman Island Trust. According to a February, 2011 article in Private Island News (always part of my daily reading, how ’bout you?):

The castle on Bannerman Island – also known as Pollepel Island – is under the domain of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The primary public action group is the Bannerman Castle Trust, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness of the castle’s plight and stabilizing the structure itself – which has decayed more and more with every winter on the stormy Hudson. It will take a lot of work to bring the castle back to its former glory – but at this point, the Trust would be happy with just keeping its hollow remains standing…
Picturesque boat tours around the island are becoming popular, and the Trust offers “hard-hat” tours of the ruins with all proceeds going towards restoration.”

According to the Poughkeepsie Journal‘s article, this year the Bannerman Castle Trust’s goal is to collect at least $150,000 in donations:

“This summer will be an important one for the Bannerman Castle Trust. By Sept. 12, the group needs to raise $150,000 to secure a matching $150,000 grant from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund…To attract more visitors to Bannerman Island this summer, a new touring experience has been created allowing people to take a self-guided tour; afterward they can enjoy a boxed lunch from a local restaurant, and hear live music. The “boxed lunch” tours will be on the third Sunday of every month through October.”

WaltTheMan had made me aware of an historical landmark in my area of which I had been previously ignorant. I think that the least I can do to thank Walt would be to help the Bannerman Castle Trust reach its fundraising goal. By doing so, I’d feel that I was, in a very small way, making Walt proud.

This is our daily open thread — comment on anything you want!

The Watering Hole: March 19 — The San Juan Capistrano Swallows

From the Wiki:

The Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) is a migratory bird that spends its winters in GoyaArgentina but makes the 6,000-mile (10,000 km) trek north to the warmer climes of the American Southwest in springtime. According to legend the birds, who have visited the San Juan Capistrano area every Summer for centuries, first took refuge at the Mission when an irate innkeeper began destroying their mud nests (the birds also frequent the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo).[118] The Mission’s location near two rivers made it an ideal location for the swallows to nest, as there was a constant supply of the insects on which they feed, and the young birds are well-protected inside the ruins of the old stone church.

In addition to all that, it would have been my Mom’s 73rd birthday today.  She used to tell us about the swallows returning to Mission San Juan Capistrano each year, just for her birthday.  Happy Birthday, Mom!

This is our daily open thread — better late than never!

A fundamental lie

By Guest Blogger, Hoodathunk.

Lots of talk these days.  Politics, religion, religious politics.  Some things just naturally go together to their mutual benefit.  Like peanut butter and jelly, or peanut butter and chocolate or Irish whiskey and coffee, or, well you get my drift.  Religion and politics really fall into the category of oil and water, fire and ice, or life and death.  This melding has been something that has been tried many times in Western history and the results have never benefited mankind in general.  You would think that by now we would know better, but such is not the case.

The reason for this is, IMHO, there are a great many people out there who claim to be Christian, but lack the comprehension of basic Christian teachings.  Somehow they keep coming up with the idea that this Jesus fellow was about fighting.  I suspect much of this is due to reading the rather violent Old Testament and some of the books of the New Testament written by folks who never really met the man and that, over the years, interpretations and editing have tweaked the message in the divinely inspired book to fit the more militaristic aspects of human society.

The New Testament is filled with contradictions.  This is to be expected because much of the information was written down a generation after it happened or later.  For me, this places the Bible into legend.  None of it was written by the man himself and, IIRC, only one book was written by someone who actually was with him.  But in spite of this, there is one thing that remains pretty constant and that is the legend of that last week.  Up until then Jesus had done a good job of side stepping the whole Messiah issue.  I suspect it was because there were several factions in the Jewish community who were chomping on the bit, looking for a warrior king like David to lead them so they could get rid of the Romans.

That wasn’t Yeshua’s bag.  He was Gandhi, 2,000 years before Gandhi.  He was the original counter culture revolutionary.  Love, not war.  His teachings were all about suffering anything in this world because it would get you a penthouse in the next.  Read the Sermon on the Mount.  The only slight step out of character was the thing with the money changers in the Temple, and even then his anger was at the money.

So now we are down to the big fundamentalist lie.  The monstrous Christian lie, propagated over the centuries in the name of political power and control and spitting in the face of the man who supposedly founded their religion justified by one act — His dying.  In the final days there were several opportunities for him to either walk away or rally his supporters to fight for him.  He begged his father to take the cup from him, to let him live and finally said, “Into your hands, Father.”  Pilate gave him two chances to duck.  Herod gave him one.  In the end, in all accounts, he bore his cross, suffered and died because of his belief.  Didn’t ask anyone else to do it for him.  Didn’t call up the warriors to defend him.  He died for his teachings.

Had he done what his followers are calling for today and have all across the centuries there would have been a huge revolt in Israel.  The Jews were primed for the return of their warrior-king Messiah.  Blood would have flowed and in the end Judaism would have probably died.  If you don’t agree, check out Masada and the Diaspora.  Might have survived as a minor religion.  Christianity would never have been born.  Rome would have pounded Palestine into submission in their very efficient and brutal fashion.

But the bottom line is the heart of the one legend that shows in the various books of the Bible.  Jesus died for his beliefs.  Didn’t fight for them, didn’t go to war for them, he accepted and died for them.  You can pick any other reading from any other book to try to explain, justify or whatever but the bottom line is Jesus so believed in what he did that he was willing to die for it.  All by himself, not behind a wave of warriors, just him.  Sort of how it always comes down to it, every person is always faced with one last thing.  One on one, with their maker.

No mulligans.

The Watering Hole: March 25 — Big day in history!

Francesco Guardi

According to the Wiki, so many interesting things happened on this day in history!

421 – Venice, Italy is born at twelve o’clock noon, according to legend.

1306 – Robert the Bruce becomes King of Scotland.  (I bet he was wearing a kilt…)

1655 – Saturn‘s largest moon, Titan, is discovered by Christiaan Huygens.

1811 – Percy Bysshe Shelley is expelled from the University of Oxford for publishing the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism.

1911 – In New York City, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire kills 146 garment workers.

From the amazing beauty of Venice, to the discovery of a planet millions of miles away, to the terrible tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, March 25 was a very busy day in history.

Some interesting people were born on this day as well…

1867 – Arturo Toscanini, Italian conductor.

1908 – Sir David Lean, English film director.

1911 – Jack Ruby, killer of Lee Harvey Oswald.

1914 – Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize winner and American agriculturalist.

1934 – Gloria Steinem, American feminist and publisher.

1942 – Aretha Franklin, American singer.

1947 – Elton John, English singer and songwriter.

1982 – Danica Patrick, American race car driver (now House knows when to send that birthday card).

And many more!

This is our daily open thread — What’s going on in your world today?

Sunday Roast: Don’t know much about…

I heard about Kenneth C. Davis, and his site Don’t Know Much About® on Thom Hartmann’s radio show a few days ago.  I love this sort of thing — the kind of things you don’t hear about in grade school or high school history, because it’s just too unpleasant, controversial, or just plain shocking.

Re the 19th Amendment: American women as far back as Abigail Adams—who admonished her husband John to “Remember the Ladies” when he went off to declare independence—had consistently pressed for voting rights, but just as consistently had been shut out. It was not for lack of trying. But women were fighting against the enormous odds of church, Constitution, an all-male power structure that held fast to its reins, and many of their own who believed in a woman’s divinely ordained, second-place role.

Re majority misrule: The Founders and the Framers honored democracy and the will of the people. But they also recognized the danger of rule by a mob. That is why they wrote a Constitution.

Re “mosques,” memorials, and burning convents: It was August 1834 and the place was Charlestown, Massachusetts, outside Boston. The “threat” then came from a Roman Catholic convent where Ursuline nuns ran a private school for girls called Mount Benedict.

But the Ursuline Convent stood near sacred ground – the site on which the Bunker Hill Monument was being built. To many Americans, the Ursuline compound nearby was an affront, a symbol of a foreign faith that was evil, hateful and a threat to the nation.

On the night of August 11, 1834, a few hundred locals descended on the convent.  As the nuns and their young charges cowered, both the convent and school were ransacked and torched by the mob.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Can we break the pattern…please?  We’ve done things a certain way for our entire history, are we not able to see that this is problem?  Come on, people — get a frickin’ clue!

The Adventures of Science: Theo The Pipe Smoker

Anthropology along with Archeology were  interesting to me even when I was still very young. I never had a horror of human bones, I grew up next to the cemetery and was watching graves being dug out all the time. Bones were just bones to me.

So, of course, I was intrigued, when I first heard about “Theo the Pipe Smoker”. The Natural History Museum of Basle, Switzerland came up with the project of trying to identify one of the skeletons that were unearthed from the church of St. Theodor’s (hence the name “Theo”) cemetery. One of the skeletons had a very conspicuous, round hole in its teeth, a sign that the deceased was a passionate pipe smoker.

But there was more to be found out. The cemetery was in use from 1779 until 1833,  4’334 people died in that part of Basle and were registered in a church book. Theo was most probably one of them. The skeleton was that of a male person, which can be easily determined examining the pelvis. That finding reduced the number of possible names to 2’200. Next, the age. Theo was fully grown, but still relatively young 28 to 32 years of age. Only 127 names fit the bill. Another 16 names could be taken out because their burial site was known.

In the end 12 names were identified through various processes who could be Theo.

Mitrochondial DNA samples had been isolated and the lucky fact that there is a certain mutation in two places of the genome, which is shared by only about 1% of the general population  in modern Europe, ultimately lead to the point where the public can help fully identify the person. The museum has through genealogical research identified 14 persons who may have been relatives of Theo and now asks the public to provide information on these people. One of the fourteen may have a relative out there, whose DNA will show he is related to Theo and thus, by going back through genealogy, tell us who really was the Pipe Smoker of Basle.

History and Science beat CSI any time IMHO.

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The only known moving images of Anne Frank

In the grainy black and white YouTube video, Frank is shown leaning over the balcony to watch an eager young newlywed couple as they walk past the sidewalk adjacent to the Amsterdam apartment Frank lived in before she and her family moved into the annex behind father Otto’s office to escape Hitler‘s regime.

The July 22, 1941 video is the first-ever released film image of Frank. It was given to the Anne Frank House from the married couple, who lived on the same floor as the Franks.

NBC DFW, via Raw Story

The Watering Hole: August 28 – Saint Augustine

On this date in 1565, Saint Augustine, Florida was settled by the Spanish under Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. It is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in what is now the continental United States. Pictured below is the Castillo de San Marcos which was the center of defense under Spanish rule.

Not only are there history and beautiful beaches here, but legends abound. I have the remnants of an ancient American Indian encampment on my spare lot – historically protected. A few miles south is Fort Matanzas where the Spaniards repelled all French and  British aspirations for a conquest of the Florida peninsula.

Welfare and the Pursuit of Happiness

This is an excerpt from an essay I’ve written in 1988 for a political theory seminar at Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians-University. The whole thesis is 30 pages and I surely will not bore you with all of that. That means, however, I will have to leave out the many quotes and make it an abstract.

I reanimated the essay in the first place, because there is such a gap between how we Europeans feel about public welfare and the way it’s almost demonized by many Americans. The current discussion about health care in the US obviously stresses the discrepancy.

The starting point for the analysis was looking at two expressions. “Welfare” and “The Pursuit of Happiness.” Both terms play a major role in the French and the American revolutions. How come they mean such different things?

The French Revolution was sparked by unbearable social injustice. People were starving and the aristocracy wallowed in pleasures. Here the writings of the enlightenment fell on fertile ground. And the call for reform grew louder and louder but in the end the monarchy wasn’t reforming quickly enough, if it ever was reformable at all. The Revolution brought on the first test of the  enlightenment’s ideas practical merits.

The concepts of welfare and happiness had merged increasingly in the political theories of the 18th century in France. Individual happiness was soon considered equal to the liberty of gaining property and thus prosperity. Finally there grew an understanding that those, who were not capable of supporting themselves needed to be provided with work, or when unable to work, needed to be alimented.

Jean Jacques Rousseau the protagonist of  happiness as the foundation of  any society asked for the promotion of general happiness by ensuring equality not only in rights but in “indulgencies,” too. For him, happiness was an emotional phenomenon which couldn’t be codified but he defined the happiness of a society as the sum of the happiness of  her individuals. So he called on the rulers to “Make the people happy!” Property as a means to happiness was for him an unavoidable fact, but on the other hand, the root to all evil.

While these and other theories didn’t require a change in regime yet — Necker and Turgot two finance ministers of Louis XVI tried some reform of the monarchy partly along those lines — Antoine Marquis de Condorcet went a step further. He already propagated a form of insurance, designed to protect workers from misery. And he demanded free of charge public schooling to fight the inequality in education which was at the root of  the poverty of the masses.

The French pre-revolutionary society was still an agrarian feudal system and thus wealth was equal to the possession of land. So, to cure the moral consequences of inequality, more even-handedness of the distribution of property was necessary. While Rousseau and Montesquieu were still focusing on allaying the consequences of the existing system, the rather obscure French philosopher Abbé Morelly broke entirely with it. No one was to own more than he needed and everybody was to be employed and alimented by the state.  Education had to be aimed at erasing the concept of individual property.

Welfare and well-being were ultimately defined as economic well-being and thus only the elimination of social inequality would be the road to general happiness.

Consequentially the Declaration of  the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) and the French Constitution of 1791 showed provisions which accepted the social responsibilities of the state. Soon in 1793 a much more radical constitution indicated the shifts in power from the moderate Montagnards to the more radical Jacobins. Society now was deemed responsible for not only moderating inequality but for actively disposing of it.  Two years later, however, after the fall of the Sans Culottes the constitution of 1795 did away with all that and marked temporarily the end of social justice as a foundation of society.

But the idea of economic equality never went away again. Most Europeans cherish the security a welfare state (no it is not necessarily a cuss-word here) provides.

The situation in North America was different. While a quite densely populated France couldn’t provide for it’s people anymore, a whole continent was at the disposal of the American pioneer settlers, to explore and exploit.

The political writings of American revolutionaries work much more along the line of lex naturalis. They based their political theories on the assumption that man surrenders a certain amount of liberties to a civil government in exchange of protection against the possible cruelties of life. As the “state of nature” in which no one is subject to anybody is the state of perfect liberty and independence, the assignation of parts of those liberties forms a contract. The English King had broken his contract and thus gave Americans the right to rebel. The American Revolution was much more a fight for political liberty than a struggle for economic equality and focused on the premise that being given the liberty to attain wealth and the protection of property  is in itself sufficient to ensure equal chances for success. The Pursuit of Happiness is part of man’s natural make-up and so the helping hand of a civil government is not called for.

America today, however is not the America of the pioneers. The country is densely populated and the wealth the country has to give has already been distributed a long time ago. Not unlike in France in the 18th century there is an upper class, almost aristocratic in its demeanor, and a dwindling middle class on the verge of losing their ability to fare for themselves. And there are a huge number of poor which are virtually excluded from the American Dream.

What do you think? Is it time to rethink the ideas of the French philosophers and put those to the test?

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Texan Fundamentalists battle History

After attacking Darwinism to a degree that children are now taught creationism in school the next line of attack is History. Never mind facts, never mind that you can’t succeed in a world based on scientific knowledge without that

knowledge. No one says science shouldn’t be critically acclaimed, but Texan children will be suffering an education that leads straight back to the pre-scientific era.

The Christian right is making a fresh push to force religion onto the school curriculum in Texas with the state’s education board about to consider recommendations that children be taught that there would be no United States if it had not been for God.

Members of a panel of experts appointed by the board to revise the state’s history curriculum, who include a Christian fundamentalist preacher who says he is fighting a war for America’s moral soul, want lessons to emphasise the part played by Christianity in the founding of the US and that religion is a civic virtue. (read all)

I’m afraid they won’t stop there. What’s next?

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The Watering Hole: July 21 – Hermínio da Palma Inácio

Hermínio da Palma Inácio

Hermínio da Palma Inácio

Hermínio da Palma Inácio  was the leader of the first hijacking of a commercial aircraft. On the 10th of November 1961, five man and one woman boarded the TAP Super-Constellation called Mouzinho de Albuquerque carrying in their hand luggage 100 000 pamphlets protesting against the Portuguese dictator Oliveira Salazar and urging the people to rise for democracy. Half an hour after take-off, Palma Inácio stormed in to the cockpit and with a revolver threatened the flight crew to follow his orders.

As the flight continued to Lisbon the crew told that there wasn’t enough fuel to return to Morocco, but Palma Inácio was an experience aircraft mechanic and had a license for commercial flight, so he checked the records and confirmed that the plane had been fueled in Casablanca. When arriving to Portela Airport, permission was asked to land, and just before touchdown, the pilot initiated a go-around at low altitude. The plane was depressurized and by the emergency windows the leaflets were thrown over Lisbon and Faro.

He then allowed the plane to return to Morocco, apologized to the passengers, presented all the ladies onboard with a rose, and then vanished.

Hermínio da Palma Inácio died on July 14th, 2009.

Great Adventures in History – The Chinese Armada

Zheng Hes Travels

Zheng He - His Travels

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A hundred years before Christopher Columbus or Vasco Da Gama sailed the high seas to discover new sea routes and new continents along the way, there was a most unique man who ventured from China to Africa in a fleet of vessels of incredible proportions.

Zheng He was not of Chinese origin but a Muslim Mongol born in the Central Asian province of Yunnan, far away from any port and any seafaring environment. In 1382 the Chinese overthrew the Mongols and Zheng He was abducted and brought to the imperial court of prince Zhu Di as an eunuch. He rose to one of the top advisors after he helped to topple  Zhu Yunwenand.  Zhu Di became the Yongle Emperor.

An era of knowledge, trade and discovery began. The Yongle emperor built a fleet of 300 wooden ships which dwarfed easily the kind of vessels Europeans had built to conquer the oceans. Apart from the huge treasure ships, there were water ships, that carried tanks with drinking water and fish. Ships with earth to grow vegetables as a provender for the up to 28’000 crewmen. Ships which held the horses for the military. Hospital ships, too.

Unlike the travels of the Conquistadores, who were sent out to rob the riches of the newly discovered continent America, the fleet of Zheng He was chiefly designed to establish trade relations with the regions they sailed to and were a very expensive endeavor for China. The Chinese vessels were treasure ships insofar as they held treasures to give away to the foreign countries to establish trade relations and to bring back whatever gifts were sent from those foreign countries. However, Zheng He never hesitated to use the overwhelming military force if he felt it was necessary. The sea-routes were infested with pirates and the impressive military prowess of Zheng He’s fleet soon put an end to that.

After a sequence of natural disasters the new emperor Hongxi felt China could no longer afford to keep this fleet and it swiftly fell to ruin. Only one new trip, the seventh,  was made under Hongxi’s successor the Xuande emperor to reestablish peaceful relationships with Malacca and Thailand. But China ultimately lost its status as a world superpower and chose isolation instead. Zheng He’s logs were destroyed and until the 1930’s next to nothing was known about this fascinating Chapter in naval history.



And the following documentary

Part 2/5 , 3/5, 4/5, 5/5

History IS Repeating Itself

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h/t: Mike’s Blog Roundup at Crooks and Liars.

Some choice snippets from an article by Robert Freeman over at AlterNet. Do read the whole thing. It’s mind boggling.

In early 1919, Germany put in place a new government to begin rebuilding the country after its crushing defeat in World War I. But the right-wing forces that had led the country into the War and lost the War conspired even before it was over to destroy the new government, the “Weimar Republic.” They succeeded.

World War I left Germany utterly devastated.

The economy was destroyed.

As a result of the failure of the right, the German people elected a moderately leftist government to lead the nation’s rebuilding. It was named the Weimar Republic for the city in which the new post-imperial constitution was written.

It was at this time that the right wing made its crucial decision. Despite its shocking, naked failure over the prior decade, despite the horrific devastation it had wrought on the German people, despite the discrediting of everything they had purported to stand for, they would fight Ebert, his new government, and its plans for recovery. They would do everything they could to make sure that the new government failed.

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Bye Bye Bozo…

Creator of Bozo the Clown, Alan Livingston died yesterday at the age of 91.

Did you know that he was also a music executive at Capitol Records? And that he was responsible from bringing the Beatles to America?

From the AP:

Alan W. Livingston, the music executive who created Bozo the Clown and signed the Beatles during his tenure as president of Capitol Records, has died. He was 91.

Livingston died Friday of age-related causes in his Beverly Hills home, said his stepdaughter, Jennifer Lerner.

Livingston began his multifaceted career in show business as a writer and producer of children’s read-along record albums for Capitol Records. He came up with the Bozo the Clown character for the 1946 album “Bozo at the Circus,” which became a hit and spawned a cottage industry of merchandise and the television series featuring the wing-haired clown.

When he moved into executive positions at Capitol Records in the early 1950s, Livingston signed Frank Sinatra, then at a low point in his career, and introduced him to arranger Nelson Riddle. Together, the pair produced “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “Young At Heart,” which led to Sinatra’s comeback.

Livingston left the record label in the late 1950s to work in television, where he produced the western series “Bonanza.” He returned to Capitol Records as president in the 1960s, when he signed the Beach Boys and Steve Miller and the Band.

When Livingston heard the Beatles song “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” he agreed to release the single and brought the Fab Four to the United States in 1964 to promote it. Capitol, which was partly owned by the Beatles’ record company EMI in the United Kingdom, earlier had rejected the group’s initial hit singles as unsuitable for the American market. More…

Episode of Bozo the Clown – Part 1 of “Bozo at the Dog Show”:

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