The same old bullshit, for 2 hundred years. First it was the Catholics - German, Italian and Irish - and then Asians, and then Jews. Whose next?


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Friday, January 14, 2011


I am not surprised that it was old John Crittenden (above) who offered the last real chance to avoid the violence and bloodshed of the American Civil War. He was from the border state of Kentucky, and was used to straddling fences. He had spent his entire life as a politician, devising one compromise after another. But having brought America to precipice of civil war by one compromise piled upon another, he could see no solution except by another compromise. But the unpleasant truth was and is, that a compromise is not a solution. It is a way of avoiding a solution. And for four score years America had been avoiding the solution to slavery.
From March 4, 1837, when Andrew Jackson handed over the Presidency to Martin Van Buren, until March 4, 1861 when Lincoln took the oath, eight men occupied the White House. Two of them had died while in office – William H. Harrison and Zachary Taylor. But of the remaining six - Van Buren, Tyler and Polk, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan (above) - not one of them won a second term. For two decades the American electorate was looking for something else.
That fall of 1860 the Northern Democrats nominated Senator Stephen Douglas, The Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell (but only because their first choice, John Crittenden, said he felt he was too old), the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln (above), while the Southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckenridge. Reading the election results did not seem to make anything clearer. As Bruce Catton, points out in “The Coming Fury”, “Breckenridge, the supposed candidate of the secessionists, had indeed carried 11 (slave) states, but he had lost such powerful slave states as Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri…”
But of course, the American electoral system is not merely a popularity contest. With 293 Electoral votes available, the winner in 1860 had to secure at least half – 146 1/2 votes. Douglas won 12, Bell won 39, and Breckenridge won 73. But Abraham Lincoln won 180. As Wikipedia points out, Lincoln would have still have won in the electorial college “…even if the 60% of voters who opposed him nationally had united behind a single candidate.” Still, there were many who simply refused to see any clear choice in those numbers.
In the lame duck congress, convened after the Republican victory, Senator John Crittenden (above) rose to offer the nation one more chance to avoid a bloodbath. The old man – at 73 he was the oldest man in the Senate –had crafted a course of action he was assured would placate the firebrands in the South. And all that was required were six amendments to the constitution.
First, slavery would be forever prohibited north of the Missouri border, all the way to the Pacific. But in exchange for this, black slavery would be likewise forever “protected” south of that line. Second, slavery was to be permitted on all military bases, even in Free States. Third, slavery would be allowed in Washington, D.C. Fourth, the interstate slave trade was to be unimpeded, even in the Free States. Fifth, the Federal government must compensate all slave owners for all runaway slaves. And sixth, no further amendments restricting slavery could ever be considered. This was to become the bedrock foundation document of the United States. It was called the Crittenden Compromise.
The offer of this “compromise” produced, amongst other effects, a powerful debate on the floor of the Senate, between the advocates for slavery and the sworn enemies of the institution. Republican Senator Edward Baker of Oregon, a long time close friend of President elect Lincoln, demanded to know where in the constitution South Carolina had the right to secede from the Union. He was answered by Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana, described by a Republican senator as “A Hebrew with Egyptian principles.” The states, said Senator Benjamin, “…have reserved to themselves under the Constitution….every right not expressly denied to them by the Constitution”. Thus, their right to secede was to be found “…in the ninth and tenth amendments to the Constitution.”
But the “charismatic and controversial” Senator Baker disagreed, contending the constitution “…is made by the people…not the States.” The inveterate gambler then went over to the attack. Enumerating the six proposed amendments, and the Northern “sins” they were to rectify, Baker pounded home his point. “…you say we rob you; you say we intend to establish a cordon of Free States around you; you say that we are persistent in what we do on this point…you say that the difficulty seems to arise chiefly from a difference in our construction of the Constitution.” Judah Benjamin interjected, “The charge is not that Congress does it, but that the States do it.”
Baker swirled his cape in front of his opponent. “Very well,” he said. “The great champion of the South… admits that there is no ground of complaint that the Federal Government ever has attempted to interfere with the existence of slavery….But it is said that the Northern States, the Western States, in other words, the Free States, do so interfere. Again we deny it. The fact is not so. The proof cannot be made.”
Senator Benjamin (above) now thought he had his Northern foe pinned. He reminded the Senate of the raid against Harpers Ferry by John Brown. And then, he added, “A man…in Massachusetts who, in public speeches, declared that he approved of (John Brown)… and the people of Massachusetts, by an enormous majority, elected him their Governor.” Judah then charged that “…it is the desire of the whole Republican party to close up the Southern States with a cordon of Free States…”
Baker was now moving like a picador, pricking his foe, and feeding his temper. “See how gloriously we advance, step by step,” he announced. “We abandon now the charge that Congress does it; we abandon now the charge that States do it; we abandon now the charge that the individual members of the Northern and Western communities as a body desire to (do it)…but we insist tenaciously and pertinacious (insist) ….that, as a people, we desire to circle the slave States with a cordon of free States, and thereby destroy the institution of slavery…” But was that, asked Baker, a reason to destroy the union of states? “I say, yes,” blurted out Benjamin. Replied Baker, “And I say…no!”
The Republican Party rejected the compromise, disingenuously describing it as so badly written that it “…amounts to a perpetual covenant of war against every people, tribe and state owning a foot of land between here and Tierra del Fuego.” But the New York Times would later (February 6, 1861) more accurately denounce Senator Crittenden’s work because “it has too much the appearance of a device to destroy the Administration in advance of its accession to power…And when the Democrats demand its adoption by the Republicans, they demand, in effect, that they shall abdicate the government which has been committed to their hands, and put in power, not the Democratic Party, but the (Breckenridge) faction.”
In the end, none of the words mattered. The Republicans made certain the Crittenden Compromise was never officially considered by the entire Senate, even though they never offered an alternative. And when, in January, Crittenden presented his “Compromise” again, this time to the new Congress, the new Republican majority replaced it with an assertion that, as Lincoln phrased it, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” It was a fundamental point upon which Lincoln and the Republican Party were not willing to compromise.
Just short of a year after the great debate, Edward Baker, serving as a colonel in the Union Army, would die in a foolish and pointless battle at “Ball’s Bluff” in Virginia. Willie, the President’s eldest son, composed a poem in his memory. “There was no patriot like Baker, So noble and so true; He fell as a soldier on the field, His face to the sky of blue. No squeamish notions filled his breast, The Union was his theme, 'No surrender and no compromise...”
Judah P. Bejamin would later be known as “the Brains of the Confederacy.” After resigning from Congress he would become first the Confederate Attorney General, then its Secretary of War, until he was forced to resign. In 1862 he was named Secretary of State, and remained in that post until the end of the war, when he managed to escape to England. There he passed the bar and established a pofitable practice. He died in 1884, in Paris.
In a way, it was the great compromiser, John Crittenden, who suffered the most because of the war he had tried so hard to avoid. He was able to keep the war out of his own state. But one of his sons and a grandson fought for the South, while two other sons and another grandson fought for the union. The old man was exhausted by his life’s work, and died while running for re-election, in July of 1863, three weeks after the great Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. And what we remember is that for all its pain and horror, to its 600,000 dead on both sides, the Civil War gave birth to the America dream we share today. Can any of us honestly say we would have prefered an America in which John Crittenden had been succesful and the war had been avoided, all in the name of compromise?
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Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I am certain that some will think this story much a moo about nothing. But it behooves us to consider the implications of what without focus, seems like a simply grazy observation. Zoologists Sabine Begall and Hynek Burda of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany have made the startling discovery that at any given instant on any given day, two out of every three cows standing in fields all over the earth have steered themselves along North-South magnetic lines, as if they were oversized leather covered compass needles. We don’t yet know for certain if they are headed for the North Star or aiming with their dairy-air southward, but we now know that those of us with frontal mental lobes, single chambered stomachs and just two teats apiece have been missing the meat of this story for the last 10,000 years.
The word “cow” derives from the Latin word ”caput”, meaning the head, which is the ancient way of counting cows, as in “Me and Tex are driving five hundred head to Abilene”. Clearly it was the head of the living cow that Gandi was thinking of when he wrote, “The cow is a poem of pity…She is the second mother to millions of mankind.” She is also, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the source of 18% of the world’s methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. And that, surprisingly, does come from the head end. Almost one third of the world’s oversupply of cow burps (the primary source of methane) comes from India’s 280 million sacred cows. Cows belch so much because they re-chew their cuds, regurgitating and re-digesting the cellulose over and over again. So the first secret of cows is that every cow is bull-limic.
The emotional life of the average Daisy or Bessie has been described as comparable to a potato on sedatives. But complexity was always hidden just beneath the hide. The American Humane Society has taken note that if one herd member is shocked by an electric fence, the entire herd avoids the wire. English linguistic bull artists have noted that cows moo in local dialects and inflections. And it has long been common knowledge that ungulates form their own bovine breakfast clubs. Three or four females establish lifelong bonds, a cow herd within the herd, or a “curd” if you will. Daisy actually enjoys a rich emotional life, nurturing animosities against her fellows, developing b.f.f.'s, and perhaps even chewing over the bovine equivalent of the Stephen Sondheim conundrum, “Is this all there is?"
This shared self-obsession of our two species matches the obsession of Bessie with a subject familiar to many obsessive humans; sex. Eric Idle has described cows as the “…librarians of the animal world; mild by day, wild by night." And John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry at Bristol University in England, describes cows as “gay nymphomaniacs”. The “curds” constantly cowlick one another. And a single Bessie in “heat” can set off a Daisy chain of cow girls “mounting” herd mates in a riot of bovine dominatrix behavior. Unseen by inattentive humans, a pasture of grazing Gurneys is in reality a seething mass of bored libidos on steroids. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “pasteurization”.
Few have ever denied that individually cows process a certain personal magnetism. Their sheer bulk demands respect, if not religious devotion. These are not cuddly creatures. The 1.3 billion cows alive at this moment are ponderous moovers and shakers, and udderly unimpressed with humanities’ crème-de-la-crème, logic. Every dairyman has herd that cattle tend to face uphill, into strong winds or turn their flank steak to the sunny side on a cold morning; and that all seems plausible. But the idea that these cow hides might be hiding some kind of mystical, new-age ferris sensitivity seemed, until recently, to be an oxymoron. But scientists seeking out the magnetic orientation of hills created by the European ground mole (Talpa europaea), stumbled over the meaty idea that perhaps larger mammals might also be influenced by something other than human magnetism.
German researchers examined Google Earth photographs taken at the same local time of day, observing some 8,510 individual cows in 308 separate herds on five different continents, at essentially the same moment. And the humans stumbled upon this udderly amazing fact; cows got magnetism. Generally, at any given moment, 70 % of the cows in any herd are standing about five degrees off of true North-South orientation. In Oregon State, closer to the North Pole, the deviation of cows is all of 17.5 degrees. In the southern hemisphere (Africa and South America) the alignment was slightly more north-eastern, south-western. Still, adjusted for latitude, 70% of all cows point toward the magnetic pole, and this is much too large a percentage to be a mere homogenized coincidence. The next question is, of course, why have cows got magnetism?
Cows are not migratory, but they once may have been. Cows share a common ancestor with whales, the “Pakictids”, which 53 million years ago had a whale’s ear and a cow’s teeth in a really ugly little dog’s body, sort of a Mexican hairless meth addict with hair. Could this ancient proto-cow have been the source of the current magnetic deju moo? It could.
So it seems, upon rumination, that we owe cows an apology, that to err might be human but to forgive could be bovine. But stop the stampede for animal rights. My guess is we could be apologizing to Daisy and Bessie “auf die Ewigkeit warten”, as they say in Germany, and it would make no difference because Daisy and Bessie are not particularly interested in our moo-tivations, because cows are just as conceited as we humans are. And in the final rendering the squeaky veal always gets the oil. Holy, cow!
P.S. The brilliant photographs are from the creative mind of Glen Wexler, in "The Secret Life of Cows”.
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Sunday, January 09, 2011


I am glad I was not there on that Easter Sunday, March 26th, 1894, when what the press would call “Coxey’s Army” set out from Massillon, Ohio. It would have been depressing. It was raining and it was cold, and only 86 men showed up to begin a march which was intended to change the course of American democracy. On the plus side, they were joined by 42 reporters from various newspapers, just about one reporter for every two marchers. The press corps was further augmented by four Western Union telegraphers and two line men. At any time or place they could tap into a telegraph line, and begin sending urgent dispatches about the progress of the army. William Stead, from the magazine Review of Reviews, noted that “Never in the annals of insurrection has so small a company of soldiers been accompanied by such a phalanx of recording angels.” It would quickly develop that he was one of the more sympathetic angles.
"The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick," said the Witch, "so you cannot miss it. When you get to Oz do not be afraid of him, but tell your story and ask him to help you. "
History records that they were singing new words (written by Carl Browne) and set to the tune sung as Sherman’s Army burned its way across Georgia. “Hurrah, Hurrah, we’ll sing the jubalee, Hurrah, Hurrah, for the flag that makes you free, So we sing the chorus now, Wherever we may be, While we go marching to Congress.” But if they did sing,it was not for long. At least they waited until after noon for it to warm up before they even began their treck.
First there came a man on foot carrying an American flag, who the press duitfully identfied as a “negro”, thus mocking Coxey’s determination to treat all races in his army with equal respect. He was followed by Carl Browne, mounted on a white stallion, and bedecked in his buckskin jacket and a huge western hat. Behind him came the financial supporter and ideological inspiration for the march, Jacob Coxey, ridding in a Pheaton buggy, drawn by a matched pair of magnicent white horses. And behind him came the “army”, all 86 of them on foot or bicycle. But who were “them” really?
Professor Hourwitch from the University of Chicago actually tried to find out. Later, when the marchers had grown in number and in fame, he polled 290 of them. Their average age was 31 years old and on average they had been unempoyed for five months. Almost two thirds were skilled mechanics, but less than half of those were union members. There were 88 Democrats in the army, 39 Republicans and 10 who declared themselves to be members of the Populist party. One in four had needed charity to survive the winter just passed. The study also noted that five or six were of “questionable character”.
"After a few hours the road began to be rough, and the walking grew so difficult...The farms were not nearly so well cared for here as they were farther back. There were fewer houses and fewer fruit trees, and the farther they went the more dismal and lonesome the country became."
The New York Times noted in their dispatch that by the end of the first day’s march of just eight miles, ending outside of Canton, Ohio, twenty-five men had “dropped out”. Another paper noted that of the “seventy-five stragglers” who had begun the march, several had spent the prevous night in the local jail, and were released just before the march had begun. And calling the marchers “stragglers” was one of the kinder characterizations. Routinly they were identified as “bums”, or “tramps”.
But four days before the march began the magazine “The Coming Nation” noted, “There is to be a presidential election this year; in view of which it may be well to remark-- That workingmen will not be taxed less under a Republican president than they have been under a Democrat. That there will be no more opportunities open to labor in the next four years than there have been in the past four…That there will be no more flour in the bin with a McKinley in the White House than there has been with a Cleveland….We admit that this is rather a gloomy forecast; but experience warrants it and events will justify it.” They certainly did.
What Coxey wanted from the Federal government was not charity. He wanted half a billion dollars to be spent on building and improving roads. We know today, as the beneficiaries of the interstate highway system, that the investment in infrastructure Coxey was promoting would improve the nation, would create new wealth by creating new opportunities for business and in the short run provide honest work for the unemployed. But the tired, old, plaintive ideological repetions were heard just as loudly in 1894 as they are today - that surface roads built by the government were somehow less “moral” than the railroads, privately owned but each built and run as government endorsed monopolies, and usually funded by government backed bonds; that somehow the sweat expended building a government owned road was less moral than that produced building a privately owned railroad. One was moral, but the other was not, in the eyes of the wealthy, who, of course, owned and had invested in the current technology - the railroads.
Put in such stark black and white imperatives the argument may seem absurd to us today, and, in fact there are indications it seemed just as absurd to the citizens of 1894. But at issue was not what the average American thought, but what the bought and paid for politicians in Washington and the various state capitals were willing to publicly consider. For, much as they are today, the press and the politicians, to their mutual advantage, avoided any honest and open discussion of middle ground, preferring instead to debate positions that most people considered absurdist extremism.
But the cause of the common man, championed by Coxey and Browne, was not helped by the men Browne had brought in to be his Marshals, the second tier leaders of the group. David McCullaum was an economic author who, under the no de plume of “One of the Dogs”, a supposed Cherokee Indian, had written a pamphlet entitled “Dogs and Fleas”. Mr. One also claimed to subsist only on oatmeal. Then there was Cyclone Kirtland, an astrologer who predicted the army would be “invisible in war, invincible in peace.” Beside him loomed Christopher Columbus Jones, who always wore a silk top hat, which merely accented his five foot tall frame. There was also the trumpeter named “Windy” Oliver. Together they all more closely resembled a circus side show than a political movement.
But the most disturbing of all them all was a man known only as “The Great Unknown”. It was not a name chosen at random, but self promoted. “The Great” was always followed about by a woman who always wore a veil and never spoke. But the catch was that Carl Browne knew who the Great Unknown was. He was an ex-circus barker and a current patent medicine “faker” named A.B.P. Bazarro.
Before the march, The Great (and his wife) had concoted their “blood purifyer” in a makeshift lab and mass production line on the near West side of Chicago. In this earlier life, like a traveling infomercial, Bazarro had  made his living providing a show, featuring testimonals and a protracted sales pitch. And once the crowd was captured, and while they were resting their buying muscles, Browne would make his appearance and pitch his ideas of going off the gold and silver standards, and union organizing. Bazarro knew the monitary possibiities of mixing politics with a sales pitch. He was also the self elected “Great Wizardo” of the “American Patriots”, a self created political oganization. But politics seems to have been, to “The Great Unknown”, much as it is to FOX News, just another marketing ploy.
Oh; and to make it easier for the newsmen, The Great Unkown let it be known that he would also answer to the name of “Smith”. So he became known as the Great Unknown Smith. The newspaper men might be forgiven then, for treating these desperate men as if they were members of a sideshow confidence game. Some of them had been, and recently.
Except. of course, that required that at the same time they belittle and dismiss the millions of their desperate fellow citizens whose plight the march was trying to publicize.The crime was that the news media of 1894, like the media of today, were perfectly willing to ignore the drama, and instead protray the march as a joke.
"Am I really wonderful?" asked the Scarecrow.
"You are unusual," replied Glinda"
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