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The Capitalist Crucify the Old Man - 1880's


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Friday, February 19, 2010


I was surprised to learn that the tobacco plant did not evolve until just after the last ice age, only about 8,000 years ago. Its innovative strategy for survival against the surge of new insects and herbivores the warmer weather had created, was the elevated production of an insecticide called nicotine. It sicken and killed any bugs or mammals which might pause and try munching on it.
But this strategy for defense played right into the human trait of becoming addicted to things that are bad for us. By 2,000 years ago the Mayans were using tobacco to get a rush from nicotine. But their favored method of delivery – as an enema – limited the distribution of the drug, not to mention the mobilty of the users. Still, the way these two life forms meshed together, like gears in a machine - a plant which produced a poison to protect itself and a creature which tended to become addicted to poisons – may be the ultimate proof that humans bring out God's sense of humor. Which makes sense since it seems that humans seem to bring out God.
In 1492 Columbus arrived, uninvited,  in the new world and the natives presented him with a canoe filled with fruit and “dried leaves”. The natives were probably hoping Christopher would set the canoe on fire while sitting in the canoe and smoking the leaves. Instead the Spaniards ate the fruit and threw the leaves away; no word on what they did with the canoe.
However a later Spanish explorer, Rodrigo de Jerez, who was in Cuba dreaming of gold and the good life, tried “drinking” the smoke from the burning leaves. He was immediately addicted. When he brought his new addiction back to Spain with him, he was arrested and thrown into a dungeon. When he was finally released 7 years later, the streets of Seville were crowded with addicts merrily puffing away in public. Ironic, huh.
By 1577 English physicians were recommending tobacco as a treatment for toothache, worms, lockjaw and oddly enough, cancer. In 1603 they petitioned the king to make tobacco a controlled substance, not because it was unhealthy but because they were not getting their cut of the profits. And in 1610 Sir Francis Bacon made a note that he really wanted to quit smoking but was finding it really hard to do. It would take another three hundred and fifty years before the American Medical Association would come to the official conclusion that nicotine is addictive.
In 1612 John Rolf harvested Virginia’s first crop of tobacco. Three years later his first shipment hit the streets of London. The result was similar to the introduction of crack in American inner cities in the 1980’s. By 1618 there were “…7,000 shops, in and about London, that doth vent tobacco”, according to Mr. Barnaby Rich, a tobacco addict.
As the weed spread around the globe, many governments set a zero tolerance level. Sultan Murad IV executed 18 smokers a day for ten years. It did not work. Czar Alexis sent first time smokers to Siberia with their noses slit. Second time smokers were executed. That did no good.  In China if you were caught carrying tobacco with the intent to distribute the penalty for a first offense was decapitation. There is no record of any second time offenders, so in that regard the zero tolerance worked. And yet, the weed still thrived as a personal sin, even in China. Those who advocate the standard American approach of punishment first, toward cocaine and marijuama, might want to consider the Chinese failure with tobacco. It seemed there was only one thing that would make smokers stop smoking.
Lung cancer was first described in 1761 by, appropriately enough, Giovanni Morgagni. He was the inventor of pathology. He described it as a rare affliction. And even a century later, the disease accounted for only 1% of all cancers.
However, less than a century after that, (by 1927) as cigarette smoking became more common, lung cancer had climbed to 14% of all autopsies. Dr. Fritz Lickint made the first statistical link between smoking and lung cancer in 1928. Five years later the prestigious “Journal of the American Medical Association” began carrying advertising for cigarettes in their own publication. And, oddly enough, research into smoking and cancers, began to fade from the pages of that publication.
The addictive quality of tobacco should have been obvious from the actual advertising campaigns used to sell cigarettes. “Not a cough in a (rail) car load”, “More Doctors Smoke Camels than any other Cigarette”, “L and M cigarettes. Just what the doctor ordered”... "Making smoking 'safe' for smokers” (who else would it be safe for?), and my favorite,  “We're tobacco men ... not medicine men”.
And the rationalization approach was also big along Madison Avenue, the advertising venue of choice in mid-twentieth century America. "When smokers changed to Philip Morris, every case of nose or throat irritation--due to smoking--either cleared up completely or definitely improved”, “That must be why my mother started smoking Pall Mall's when she was 15”. And then there was the confusing yet illogical approach. “39,468 dentists say, "Smoke Viceroy Cigarettes.” Who cares what dentists say about lung cancer? If those catch phrases didn’t drive people away from tobacco, nothing could.
Consider the particular brand of cigarettes called “Marlboro”. It was first introduced in 1924 and marketed as an upscale cigarette for women (“Mild as May”). It struggled as an “also-ran” until Phillip Morris reintroduced it as a filtered cigarette.
The new advertising campaign featured a craggy faced cowboy working the range, with the theme music from “The Magnificent Seven” swelling underneath. By 1957 Marlboro was the best selling cigarette in the world. The only problem was that the original “Marlboro Man”, Carl Bradley, actually smoked a different brand of cigarettes (“Kools”). Luckily for Phillip Morris, Carl was thrown off a horse into a pond and drowned before anybody found that out.
Of the approximately one dozen men who replaced Carl in print and television ads over the next forty years, three of the "Marlboro Men" died of lung cancer (Wayne McLaren, David McLean and Dick Hammer). By the 1970’s the brand was unofficially known as “Cowboy Killers”. But that didn't seem to hurt sales. I used to smoke them myself.
Today, with 1/3rd of the world’s population still smoking tobacco, chewing tobacco or inserting tobacco enemas, 4,000 Americans still die each year (5.4 million world-wide) from tobacco caused cancer, strokes, or house fires caused by smoking. The number of fires caused by tobacco enemas is thought to be insignificant, but I remain suspicious of this meathod of nicotine delivery.
Under heat Cigarettes (or little cigars) convert the nicotine fortified tobacco contained in modern cigarettes into 60 various carcinogens, and 96% of all lung cancer patients each year describe themselves as moderate to heavy smokers.
These figures mean that smoking tobacco has killed far more people than smoking marijuana. And yet, despite this, every day we send people to prison for selling the “gateway drug” while the only tobacco related criminals in jail are those caught avoiding state cigarette taxes. Yea, God must be having a real laugh over his experiment with tobacco.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I have to say that Mansa Musa made quite an entrance. He materialized out of the Sahara heat shimmers like a mirage in 1324. His unexpected arrival stunned the Islamic potentates of Cairo and Mecca out of their smug self assurance, and shocked the European Christians out of their complacency. Because when Mansa paused in Cairo to stock up on souvenirs, he paid in gold. And he bought a lot of souvenirs. Mansa was leading 80 camels just to carry his gold. He came from a land whose ancient name was Kaya Magha, which meant “King of Gold”. And Mansa was certainly that. Mansa spent so much gold on his Hajji, that for the only time in all of recorded history, the price of gold in all of Europe and Africa and the Middle East was determined by one single man. And no one had ever heard of Mansa before, nor of his kingdom of Mali, nor of the city he claimed to have come from, the mysterious and mythical, Timbuktu. In the Berber language of the desert tribes, the name means “the well at the end of the world”.
The river Niger begins as a tiny spring in the West African highlands of Ghana, just 150 miles from the Atlantic. But the Niger immediately turns its back on the ocean and instead flows eastward. As it does the river collects vast amounts of gold, which could easily be extracted from the waters.
Dugout canoes then carried the gold downstream, following the river’s arc to the north, penetrating the desert. At the peak of that arc, in Timbuktu, slabs of salt, mined from the blistering floor of the heart of the Sahara, and carried 500 miles across the sands on camel back, were exchanged for the gold.
The salt was then transferred to other canoes for distribution a thousand miles further south in the equatorial heart of black Africa. There, the final commodity, slaves, were  exchanged for the salt and then marched, locked in shackles, back upstream.
And it was at the point of contact between the two worlds, the Arab north and the African south, that the economic ties were joined. And at about the same time that William the Conquer was winning the battle of Hastings, the village of Timbuktu was founded.
What made this trade possible, what made the city of Timbuktu possible, was the Niger River and an extraordinary pack animal, the Arabian camel (Camelus dromedarius). This ungulate with three stomachs evolved in North America, but went extinct there about 1 million years ago, at the start of the ice ages. By the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, its new home range was the arid and unforgiving Arabian Peninsula.
This amazing beast can lose up to 40% of its body weight, and can gulp down, up to 21 gallons of salt laden brackish water within 10 minutes; either of which behavior would kill a lesser creature. Its mouth and throat are so soft that it can ingest thorns and bare branches without injury. Its huge soft padded feet allow it to climb sand dunes with ease. Its long eyelashes and double eyelids allow it to survive the most fierce sand storms on earth. Known in Arabic as a Jamal, the camel can easily carry 200 pounds of cargo for twenty miles a day through blistering heat. And it can do it for fifty years.
The camel was first domesticated in Arabia about 3.500 years ago, and by the time they were introduced into the Sahara by Arab traders about the second century A.E, there were few wild dromedaries left. It was these ships of the desert, combined with the great river, which built the greatest of West African kingdoms, Mali.
Mansa was the second Musa (or “King of Kings”) from Mali to go on Hajji. His predecessor, Kankan Musa, had appointed Mansa as his Deputy King when he began his pilgrimage. But the desert had swallowed Kankan and his party without a trace, and after a year of silence, in 1307, Mansa had been crowned Musa of Mali, Emir of Melle, Lord of the Mines of Wangara, conqueror of Ghanata and Futa-Jallon, and quite possibly the richest man in the world. Only Genghis Kahn ruled a larger empire.
Mali was a multiethnic and multi-religious kingdom larger than Western Europe, and containing some 400 cities and uncounted villages. Timbuktu was the gateway for Islam into Mali. There it thrived alongside shrines to Sango, the thunder God, and Legba, messenger to all the African gods. A devout Muslim, Mansa felt no need to convert all his subjects. Instead, when he retuned to Mali in about 1325, he was inspired to rebuild Timbuktu, already a mud brick metropolis of 100,000 people.
Mansa brought an architect from Muslim Spain to design his new palace, as well as the mud brick Djinguereber Mosque (above), where 2,000 people took their daily prayers. The cities’ University of Sankoré began attracting world class astronomers and mathematicians and Islamic scholars. A Mali proverb observed, “Salt comes from the north, gold from the south…but the word of God and the treasures of wisdom are only to be found in Timbuktu.”
The city was famous for its libraries. Leo Africanus, an Islamic historian, wrote that in Timbuktu, “There is a great demand for books, and more profit is made from the trade in books than from any other line of business.” The scholar Ahmad Baba claimed that his personal library was one the smaller ones in the city, containing only 1,600 books. The entire city and its environs was said to hold during the golden age of Mali perhaps 10,000 ancient, pre-Islamic manuscripts. Book copying was a big business in Timbuktu.
Musa ruled his kingdom for perhaps 25 years. He died about the year 1337. The city of Timbuktu was ruled by his descendents for another century, until the empire of Mali was replaced by the Sunni empire, which was more African than Muslim. But the stories of so much gold attracted the interest of European monarchs, and in the sixteenth century Portuguese “explorers”, pushing down the coast, reached out and destroyed Timbuktu without ever seeing the city. First contact diseases killed thousands. Armies from Morocco then killed more when they captured the weakened city in 1591.
But although the Moroccan leader Ahmad I al-Mansur hungered for the wealth of Timbuktu, he had no conception on what that wealth was based. In 1593 he began to dismantle the economic engine by first exiling the scholars, men like Ahmad Baba, because he considered them “disloyal”. For the first time it its history ignorance reigned in Timbuktu. The economic engine had lost its spark, and slowly died.
When Europeans finally arrived in the nineteenth century they were shocked to discover the mysterious and romantic city of Timbuktu was a dusty backwater, little more than a local market town, slowly being reclaimed by the desert from which it had sprung.
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Sunday, February 14, 2010


I can describe the exact moment of conception. On the evening of September 22nd, 1880, Father John O’Malley was sharing a meal with American journalist James Redpath. At some point in the meal the priest noticed that the American had stopped eating. When queried, Redpath explained, “I am bothered about a word. When a people ostracize a land grabber..." And Redpath struggled for a moment, before explaining, "But ostracism won't do" The priest, according to Redpath, "tapped his big forehead, and said, 'How would it do to call it "to boycott him?” Mr. Redpath wrote, “He was the first man who uttered the word, and I was the first who wrote it.” (Talks About Ireland, 1881) And thus was born another contribution to the English language. Of course the meaning of this invention requires a little explination.
Freed from its incubator in the central highlands of Mexico, 'Phytophthora infestans', the Potato Blight, arrived in Ireland in the 1830’s. By then the humble potato had become the primary food for the 8 milion people of Ireland. It could be grown almost year round. It produced so much protein per square foot that a family could be supported on a quarter of an acre of land. Then, in the decades after 1845, the blight created "The Starving Time". Each year more and more of the crop was consumed by the moldy blight.  By 1855 20% of the population of Ireland had starved to death, and another 20% had emigrated.
The British government struggled to respond to the disaster with church based relief, but politics now compounded the human misery. Potatos were molding away in the fields. But wheat, which was growing healthy and abundant in Ireland, was too expensive for the starving Irish to buy, thanks to the Corn Laws. These were duties (taxes) charged on imported grain. This was done to protect the Irish landowners from having to compete with cheap American wheat. But by 1880, of the four million souls still surviving on the emerald isle, fewer than 2,000 owned 70% of the land. The three million tenant farmers own nothing, and over the two previous years their rents had been increased by 30%. The very life was being squeezed out of them.
Meanwhile, most of the largest, wealthiest landowners, those benefiting from the Corn Laws, were absentee landlords, Englishmen and women who hired local farmers to manage their distant estates. “Captain" Charles Cunningham Boycott was one of these local farm owners/managers. Those tenants who could not pay were evicted by the managers. Those who were evicted usually died. To argue it was not intended as “genocide” misses the point. Ireland was teetering on the edge of a revolution.
On Tuesday, July 3rd, 1880, three men emptied their revolvers into the head and face of twenty-nine year old David Feerick, an agent for a absentee landlord, outside of the village of Ballinrobe, County Mayo. No one was ever charged with the murder. In early September, outside of the same village, “Captain” Charles Boycott, who owned 4,000 acres himself, called on the tenants to harvest the oat crop of Lord Erne, whose larger property he managed.
“Captain” Boycott would be described by the New York Times (in 1881) as 49 years old; "a red faced fellow, five feet eight inches tall, the son of a Protestant minister who had served in the British Army." He earned his title of Captain not in the military but for his daring attitude in sport. The day he called them back to work Boycott also informed the tenants that their wages were being cut by almost half. The tenants simply refused to work.
The Boycott family and servants by themselves struggled for half a day to cut and harvest the oats before admitting defeat. Mrs. Boycott then appealed to the tenants personally. They responded to her by bringing in the oat crop before the winter rains ruined it.
On September 19th, Charles Stuart Parnell (above), an Irish politician, addressed a mass meeting in the town of Ennis. Parnell called on the crowd to shun any who took over the property of an evicted tenant. “When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must show him on the roadside when you meet him, you must show him in the streets of the town, you must show him at the shop counter, you must show him in the fair and the marketplace, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him severely alone — putting him into a kind of moral Coventry — isolating him from his kind like the leper of old.” Unstated, was the reality that this was a religious war, the Catholic south of Ireland against the Protestant north and England.
On September, 22nd, a local process server, accompanied by police, issued eviction notices to eleven of "Captain" Boycott's tenants. The tenants were not surprised. One told a local newspaper, “He treated his cattle better than he did us.” The server would have issued more eviction notices, but a crowd of women began to throw mud and manure and the agent and his police escort had to retreat into the Boycott home. That night, in the house of Father O'Mally, the word "Boycott", as a verb, was invented.   It was put to immediate use.
The next morning, September 23rd, a large crowd from Ballinrobe (above) marched to the Boycott home and urged the servants to leave. By evening the Boycotts and a young niece living with them, were alone in the house.
A letter written by “Captain” Boycott was published in the London Times. It made no mention of the raising of rents, only of the refusal to pay those rents. It made no mention of the cutting of salary, only of the refusal to work. It did detail in full the travails of Captain Boycott and his family. His mail was not being delivered. He was followed and mocked whenever he left his farm. “The shopkeepers have been warned to stop all supplies to my house. I can get no workmen to do anything, and my ruin is openly avowed…”
 Harpers Weekly Illustrated News for December 18, 1880, recorded what happened next. “A newspaper correspondent first started the idea of sending assistance to Captain Boycott…one person alone promised to get together 30,000 volunteers. Mr Forester, Chief Secretary for Ireland, at once vetoed the project of an armed invasion…
"It was accordingly decided to pick out some fifty or sixty from the great number of Orange (Protestants) from northern Ireland who were anxious to volunteer. Under military protection (of 1,000 troops) these men harvested Captain Boycott’s crops… The cost of this singular expedition was about ten thousand pounds…”
It took two weeks under military guard for the inexperienced Ulster men to bring in the crop of turnips, wheat and potatoes, valued by Boycott as worth about three hundred and fifty pounds. Mr. Parnell estimated the harvest had cost the English government “one shilling for every turnip.”
Boycott left Ireland with his family on December 1, 1880, traveling in the back of a miltary ambulance and escorted by soldiers. His exit had been achieved by nonviolence. He never returned. Some one described his exile as the “death of feudalism in Europe".
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