FEBRUARY 2017

FEBRUARY  2017
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?

Translate

Amazon Contextual Product Ads

Friday, March 22, 2013

PAYBACK


I should point out that when Martin Van Buren (above) was humiliatingly dumped into an Indiana hog wallow, ruining a very expensive pair of pearl gray trousers and coating his elegant frock coat with everything a happy swine leaves behind in a porcine sauna, it wasn't entirely fair. Of course “The Red Fox of Kinderhook” was far too crafty a politician to admit he had been humiliated. That would just draw more  humiliation. As the venomous Virginia politician John Randolph observed, Martin Van Buren always “rowed with muffled oars.” But everybody knew this traffic accident had been staged as payback for Van Buren having insulted Hoosiers. What goes around comes around. And it was useless to point out that the insult had mostly come from Van Buren's predecessor, the still popular Andrew Jackson.
Even the frail shadow of federal authority which existed in 1828 was too much for incoming President Andrew Jackson (above). Over his two terms, Jackson did his very best to attack "big government",  in all its endeavors except the ones of which he approved. Jackson vetoed a new charter for the National Bank - precursor of the Federal Reserve - which left the entire banking system unregulated. He streamlined the sale of public lands, which energized land speculators and overcharged yeoman farmers. He cut entire programs out of the Federal budget, and insisted the states take over many others. And at the same time he backed the Seminole Indian nation into a war.
But it was not until three months after his successor Van Buren's inauguration in March of 1837 that these pigeons came home to roost. The massive real estate bubble suddenly popped. Over half of the nation's unregulated banks suddenly failed. And by January of 1838 half a million Americans were unemployed. Or to put it more simply, suddenly it was prom night and Martin Van Buren was dating Carrie. And like Carrie's date, Van Buren then made things worse by slashing out at everything in sight. Oh, he continued the unending expensive Seminole war. But he insisted on killing Federal funding for the National Road, which had reduced mail time between Washington and Indianapolis from several months to less than a week. Van Buren was so doctrinaire he even sold off the construction workers' picks and shovels. And for frontier farmers trying to get their produce to market, that made any economic recovery that much harder.
See, once across the Ohio border, the $7,000 a mile construction costs for the National Road was supposed to be supplied by land sales. But when the real estate bubble popped in 1837, that funding evaporated. Maintenance for the 600 mile road was paid for by the tolls of four to twelve cents per ten mile section (the equivalent of $2.50 today), paid by the 200 wagons, horseback riders, farmers and herds of livestock that used each section of the road every day. But after 1837 that $36,000 a year (almost a million dollars today) had to do double duty, finishing the road and providing maintenance for the road already completed  And it was not enough.
Particularly in Indiana, there were long sections beyond the two urban centers, ((Indianapolis and Richmond) where farmers using the road to drive their livestock to market faced forests of 14 inch high tree stumps. These provided clearance for the farmers' and emigrants' high riding Conestoga wagons, but between the stumps, the road bed was in such bad shape that constant repairs to their equipment bankrupted many of the 200 stagecoach lines trying to survive in Indiana. And every frontier farmer and businessman knew exactly who was to blame for all of this –“President Martin Van Ruin”.  As a result, in the election of 1840, in Hendricks County, (just southwest of Indianapolis), and along the National Road, Van Buren received 651 votes, while Whig candidate William Henry Harrison received 1,189 votes. Nationwide, Van Buren carried just 7 of the 26 states.
Normally this Hoosier hostility would not have lasted long, but just six months after taking office, the new President Harrison died of a pneumonia, and all previous assumptions had to be rethought . The Whigs had picked John Tyler as Vice President, mostly to get rid of him. Now, disastrously, he was the head of their party. The overjoyed Democrats began referring to Tyler as “His Accidency.” The adroit and dapper Martin Van Buren began thinking he could avenge his defeat and take the road back to the White House in 1844. All he needed was a cunning plan, which he just happened to have. 
In February of 1842, Van Buren (above) journeyed to Nashville, Tennessee, for an extended visit with his mentor Andrew Jackson, hoping some of Old Hickory’s popularity would rub off on him. It did not. Heading north, Van Buren then set off for a tour of the frontier states. He was well received in Kentucky, and the pro-slavery areas around Cincinnati, Ohio, but the closer he got to Indiana the more reserved the crowds became.
In early June he was met at the Indiana border by 200 loyal Democrats, and gave them a speech at Sloan's Brick Stage House on Main Street (the National Road) in Richmond, Indiana. But the vast majority of the local Quakers remained skeptical. And while Van Buren was speaking, noted the Richmond Palladium newspaper, “...a mysterious chap partially sawed the underside of the double tree crossbar of the stage...so that it would snap on the first hard pull…”
The next morning the stagecoach and its distinguished passenger headed for Indianapolis, the “Capital in the Woods”. But just two miles outside of Richmond, while bouncing over ruts and stumps, the carriage splashed into a great deep mud hole. And when the horses were whipped to yank the carriage out, the weakened cross brace snapped. Dressed in his silk finery, Martin Van Burn was forced to disembark into the foul waters and wade to shore.
There was no indication of any further sabotage on Van Buren's 74 mile ride across the mostly open prairie, which took the better part of three days. The ex-President and future candidate made it to the Hoosier capital in time to keep his appointments and make his speeches over the weekend of June 9-10. He took two more days to make political contacts, shaking hands and trading confidences, before, on Wednesday, June 13, he boarded yet another mail coach for the 75 mile journey to Illinois. But just six miles down the road, Van Buren had to pass through the Quaker bastion of Plainfield, Indiana.
The town earned its name from the “plain folk” who had laid out the town ten years earlier on the east bank of White Lick Creek. This Henricks county town was straddled by the National Road, which provided Plainfield's livelihood. Less than a quarter mile up Main Street from the  ford over the "crick", amidst a stand of Elms, the Quakers had built a camp ground and built a meeting house. And here, that Wednesday morning, were gathered several hundred Wigs and Quakers, in their “Sunday, go to meeting clothes”, to see the once and maybe future President ride past. The crowd may have even been increased because the driver of this particular leg of the President's journey was a local boy, twenty-something Mason Wright. Soon, the crowd heard the blast of the horn from Mason's lips, warning of the VIP's bouncing approach down the gentle half mile slope toward White Lick Creek.
The disaster occurred abruptly. The coach rushed into view, with Van Buren's arm waving out of the coach's open window, while Teamster Wright whipped the horses to move faster. Faster? Shouldn't he be slowing down to let people get a view of the President?  And then, just as carriage came abreast of the center of the campground, the coach was forced to veer to the right to avoid a large "hog waller" mud hole in the very center of the dilapidated National Road. And as if  it had been planned, the right front wheel bounced over the hard knuckle of an exposed bare Elm root. The the carriage teetered for an instant until the rear wheel clipped the same root. The teetering coach then careened past the point of no return.  Mason Wright leaped free while the coach crashed heavily onto its side into the very center of the smelly, sticky, hot black hog waller. Martin Van Buren had been dumped again.
A Springfield Illinois newspaper would note a few days later, “He was always opposed to that road, but we were not aware that the road held a grudge against him!” Wrote a more bitter Wig newspaper, “the only free soil of which Van Buren had knowledge (of) was the dirt he scraped from his person at Plainfield.”  The driver and witnesses blamed the Elm (above), which could not defend itself. Van Buren was uninjured, but once again had to extricate himself from his injured coach. After pouring the mud and other unidentified muck from his boots, Van Buren made his way on foot further west along the National Road to Fisher’s Tavern, at what is now 106 E. Main Street. There, Mrs. Fisher helped the President clean up his pants and coat, and wash the mud from his wide brimmed hat.
Back at the campground. the honest Quakers helped to right the stage, re-attach the horses, and carefully and respectfully deliver the coach to Fishers to collect the President. But it is hard to believe that, as Mr. Van Buren splashed across White Lick "crick" many of those Quakers were not smiling with the sly satisfaction of a job well done. 
A few days later Teamster Mason Wright was awarded a $5 silk hat, although it was never explicitly stated it was for his skill in staging a stage crash - call it political slapstick. But the tree who's root had provided the fulcrum for the prank would forever more be known as the Van Buren Elm.  In 1916 (above) the Daughters of the American Revolution even gave the tree a wooden plaque of its own.
But the hard winter of 1926 brought the Van Buren Elm down, and a local doctor lamented, “The many friends of the old historic tree are loath to have it removed from their midst.”
Van Buren (above) made it safely to Illinois without further accidents. He was  met a few miles outside of Springfield by a small delegation of legislators, including the young Abraham Lincoln. But Mr. Van Buren was never elected to public office again. The judgement of Hoosiers stood firm.
The Quakers' Meeting House still stands among the stand of Elms at 256 East Main Street (corner of Vine) in Plainfield.  After the original Buchan Elm fell, a replacement was planted, and it received a bronze plaque (above).  This inspired a local grade school to be named for the dapper Democrat who stumbled in their town, and a street was named after him as well. But in Plainfield the National Road (now U.S. Route 40), is still called Main Street. That is true of many Midwestern towns bisected by the National Road. It truly was America's Main Street. And Martin Van Buren had been wrong about that.
 - 30 -

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A WOODEN LEG NAMED SMITH



I recently read that the historian Bernard Lewis was once considering writing an essay on economics, but confessed he couldn't get past his own first paragraph. He had written, “In the history of human thought science has often come out of superstition. Astronomy came out of astrology. Chemistry came out of alchemy. What will come out of economics?” Its such a good joke, Lewis figured saying anything else would just be repeating himself. Luckily, I have no such inhibitions. But then I also have no problem describing the World War One slaughter of Armenians as a holocaust, which Professor Lewis refuses to do. I guess we all tend to underestimate the power of our own psychology to confuse us...much as the ideologues of economics continue to do.
“Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.”
The Wealth Of Nations
The godfather of capitalism was the fatherless Scotsman, Adam Smith (above). He presented to the world a “large nose, bulging eyes, a protruding lower lip, a nervous twitch, and a speech impediment” He had no love life that we know of, admitting “I am a beau in nothing but my books” And he wrote just two books – which was good because he was a really boring writer. He may be the most quoted lest read author since Moses. He wrote “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”, first published in 1759, and “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, first published in March of 1776 - a month before the start of the American Revolution.
“If [justice] is removed, the great, the immense fabric of human society... must in a moment crumble into atoms.”
The Theory Of Moral Sentiments
I give the date for the first publications of Smith's books because he never stopped re-writing them. Where the modern author fixes his mistakes by issuing an entirely new manifesto, yearly, Smith reworked his books until he ran out of time. There were four editions to “Moral Sentiments”, and five editions of “Wealth of Nations”. And with each edition they got longer, and more verbose. More than one reviewer has described “Wealth of Nations” as“tedious” and Thomas Jefferson recommend readers consult another author because he “treats the same subject on the same principles, but in a shorter compass and and more lucid manner” than Smith did.
“To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers…who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”
The Wealth Of Nations.
The defining moment in American economics was the great depression. Fundamentalists adhere to the Old Time Religion of Roosevelt's New Deal; in time of business down turn, government should prime the pump, putting money into circulation to fuel a business recovery. Reform Theorists, like the Chicago School, contend the New Deal was actually a total failure. The key to economic stability, in their view, is faith in private enterprise and distrust of government enterprise. Why the generation which actually experienced the depression and recovery refused to believe the New Deal was a failure, is never explained in their ethos. And they expend a great deal of energy ignoring the godfather of capitalism, Adam Smith, when he virtually screams in both of his methodical works, that private enterprise, if left to its own devices, may be relied upon to destroy its own markets.
“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities...”
The Wealth Of Nations.
Of course the first thing you notice when reading Adam Smith is that he never uses the word “capitalism ”. It had not been invented yet. And neither had the word psychology. But both were Professor Smith's subject when he wrote: “Every individual... intends only his own security; and...intends only his own gain, and he is in this...led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” And thus we meet Smith's magical “invisible hand”, used ever since he wrote that sentence to justify the greed, waste and “gluttony of the wealthy”, to quote Adam Smith. But that same invisible hand, says Smith, must also be guiding the tyranny of a socialist majority - for the greater good. It is the balance of the two which Smith promotes in his works, not a domination of one over the other. At times he seems to be channeling thinkers like Karl Marx - from a century in front.
“Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods....They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”
The Wealth of Nations..
Dubious legend says that Adam Smith was once awakened from a muse to the sound of church bells. Dressed only in his nightshirt, he had walked, lost in thought, fifteen miles from his home on High Street in Kirkcaldy (below), to the outskirts of Durnfermline (above), Scotland. To have made that journey he would most likely have followed the Invertiel Road southwest to the village of Dalgety, before turning north west to Durnfermline. If he had done so, why did no one from Dalgety stop the lunatic wandering about in his night shirt? The story reads like the old joke about the man with a wooden leg named Smith. The punch line is "What is the other one called?"  But the two towns did play an important role in Smith's thinking.
“The man of system…seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that...every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it.”
The Theory Of Moral Sentiments,
Durnfermline had been the ancient seat of Scottish royalty, and had caught the first wave of industrialization, growing rich by mass producing the luxury damask weaves. But the feudal center had been outstripped by the hand looms of the port city of Kirkardy, which had tripled its output of simple linen over ten years (1733 -1743). As a youth Smith had thus seen first hand the power of capitalism to create and to waste, both markets and the lives of the workers and consumers. He admitted that his invisible hand was always ready to pick a pocket, even if only its own. And the legislature he derided in the above example might be a liberal “socialist” body, or a tea party of the faithful. Neither brand of political theatre impressed Adam Smith. He  believed in the bible, and in particular its ancient warning about the love of money being the root of all evil. He knew, and preached, that capitalism was not about the "job creators", but about the workers, the middle class - created by capitalism and feeding capitalism. They are the wealth of a nation - not gold or stock values. Without a healthy, growing middle class there can be no capitalism. 
“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”
The Wealth Of Nations
- 30 -

Sunday, March 17, 2013

QUEEN OF DENILE - Part Six


I know the bust of Nefertiti is not sentient. It is not aware of its surroundings or of itself. But at its core it is limestone, the compressed bodies of billions of single celled living creatures, coral and plankton, that once had some chemical level of awareness. And I have imagination enough to dream of a universe where any life, once having been sparked, deserves respect. And I can dream of what it must have been like for cold stone to have the sculptor's warm hands cut and file and shape and soften its surface, combining in some small way his imagination, his life, and the life of Queen of the Nile with the stone.
In Thutmose's universe his stone and plaster image of Neferetiti became one of the five parts that made up the living woman; Ib, (her emotional heart), Sheut (her ever present shadow), Ren (her living name), Ba (her personality) and Ka (what we would call her soul). It is thought her left eye was left unfinished in order to prevent the capture of Nefertiti's Ka by the bust. But could it not be that the stone and plaster image had its own Ka, or heart or shadow? And if so, what must have it been like to have emerged from the darkness of nonexistence, to be born and instantly to have been loved, even revered for decades, before being abruptly thrown to the floor, abused and defiled, and abandoned and forgotten, and buried in sands for 3, 000 long dark empty years.
And then the light returned. Meticulously, the sand was brushed away, and once again human hands touched her surface, lifted her up, and human eyes fell upon her shape and color, and human imaginations saw her image, as a visitor from eons past. And then, in what must have seemed like a startlingly violent instant, she was traveling, whisked 2,000 miles from the place of her creation, into a new temple, a temple dedicated not to a god, but to the Ka of humanity, to that one part of humanity that no other creature on Earth has ever possessed but humans: our imagination. It seems that the bust of Nefertiti has enjoyed a most eventful Akh, or afterlife. She does indeed, live again.
When they first brought her to the Neuss (New) Museum, on Museum Island in the Spree River in Berlin, Germany, it was a re-dedication. The building had been erected in the 1840's, and was, like the Pharaoh’s new capital, a technological innovation – at the time. Instead of plaster, the New Museum was built with concrete poured over iron supporting rods with a brick exterior. The first floor contained Egyptian and German collections, and plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculptures (below). 
But the arrival of the Queen inspired changes. The central Greek courtyard was given a glass roof, and converted into space to display Ludwig Borchardt's collections from Akanetan, referred to by its modern Arabic name of Armarna. And it was here (below) that Nefertiti found her new home. It just did not prove to permanent abode.
In January of 1933 a new Pharaoh came to town: Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany. His new Reich minister, Herman Goring, began looking for a way to quickly and cheaply improve Germany's diplomatic standing in the world. At the time Egypt was nominally ruled by the debauched King Fariouk Fouad, but the real power was still Britain. And it occurred to Goring that returning the pilfered bust of Nefertiti on the occasion of his coronation, the King would look favorably upon German diplomatic entreaties. Letters were even exchanged. But when Adolf got wind of the idea he killed it because he was convinced Nefertiti looked to be a member of his mythical“Aryan master race” And that was, as far as I can tell, the last good thing Hitler did for Germany until he shot himself.
Adolf confidently started the Second World War on September 1st, 1939, and even though Goring had assured citizens that Berlin would never be bombed, in an abundance of precaution Nefertiti was boxed up and temporarily locked away in the vault of the Prussian Governmental Bank. Then, on the night of August 25, 1940, 70 obsolete British bombers dropped 21 tons of bombs on Berlin hitting empty fields and damaging some houses. The worst injuries were some cuts and bruises, and the bombers never came near to hitting the airport, which has their target. 
The biggest causality was Hitler's equilibrium. He ordered the construction of three massive anti-aircraft gun towers about the city. The largest (above) was built in the Tiergarten park, adjacent to the Berlin Zoo. It was 7 stories tall to allow the guns clear fields of fire. The walls were of reinforced concrete 26 feet thick, the ceilings were 16 feet thick. It was so large it could shelter 5,000 civilians, and many of Germany's most valuable artistic treasures, including Nefertiti, were moved there in the fall of 1941. And there she stayed, hidden again, as safe as if she were still buried in the Egyptian sands, for another four and a half years, until the Soviet armies approached Berlin.
On March 6, 1945 Nefertiti made yet another trip, this one of 200 miles southwest to the rolling hills of the Thuringian Forest, where she was left for safe keeping 2,100 feet below ground level in a salt mine under the village of Merkers-Kieselbach. Late in March she was joined by 100 heavy woolen coats, 100 tons of gold bars, 550 bags of German currency (above) and 27 Rembrandt paintings. Two weeks later the entire cache was captured by soldiers of the 3rd American Army under General George S. Patton. Within days the entire treasure was transferred another 100 miles southwest to a bank vault in Frankfurt. There was so much loot that it took 2 convoys of 17 heavy trucks each. Being capitalists, the Americans shipped the gold first.
After Germany surrendered on May 5, 1945, the Queen of the Nile was moved to Wiesbaden, Germany, on the north bank of the Rhine River. Here they brought her out into the light again to be examined by experts, and the public was even allowed to gaze upon her face. There she remained, transferred into German control, until 1956, when she was moved to the Dahelem museum in the American sector of Berlin. She could not return to Museum Island because the Neuse had been blasted to ruin during the war (above), and besides, the island was in East Berlin, the zone controlled by the Soviets.  When the East Germans demanded she be handed over, the West Germans decided to transfer her to the Egyptian museum in the Charlottenburg neighborhood of Berlin. And there the Queen stayed for almost forty years - a human life time, but a blink of her single eye to Nefertiti - until 1989, when the East German government collapsed. In October of 1990 Germany was officially one nation again, and Berlin one city, and it became a matter of national pride for the Germans to return their queen to her throne.
In 2005 the German government began a 295 million Euro dollar rebuilding of the Neuse, under a plan drawn up by English Architect David Chipperfield - after all, it was the English who blew up the museum in the first place. And in 2009 the Queen once again held court in the Neuse Museum in the German capital. Her journey from the banks of the Nile to and from and to the banks of the Spree has been described as both “adventurous and beyond comparison”, and earning her the number two spot on Time Magazine's list of “Top ten plundered Artifacts”. Egypt still wants her back, and Germany still intends upon keeping her. And while one identity is barely 200 years old and the other goes back 4,500 years, both countries view Nefertiti as a national icon.
If you think about it, its a crazy situation, because she isn't really the queen of the Nile. She is limestone and plaster and paint, an image of a one time queen of a long dead empire that culturally has little in common with either nation. And if, like Pinocchio, she were to arise tomorrow morning, as a real woman, she would be a very confused lady, no matter which city appeared before her eyes. So far she has not had the afterlife she envisioned. And it may get stranger yet.
- 30 -   

Blog Archive

Amazon Deals