JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Friday, September 13, 2013


I think of him as one of those self-made right-wing technocrats, who used his fortune to finance an ultra-conservative agenda - a Ross Perot or the Koch brothers. In this case the technology was the telegraph, and the agenda was the 19th century version of Islamaphobia - Anti-Catholicism.  Samuel Finley Breese Morse (above) learned to fear the 'Bavarian Illuminati' from his Protestant father's Sunday sermons. As an adult Samuel proselytized that the Roman Catholic Church was flooding America with Irish and German Catholic immigrants to establish a new Vatican City in the Mississippi valley. Wrote Morse, “Surely American Protestants...(will) discover...the cloven foot of this subtle foreign heresy. They will see that Popery is...a political as well as a religious system; that...differs totally...from all other forms of religion in the country.” In 1836 Morse ran for Mayor of New York City. He lost big. But the poison he was peddling (and funding) would take root.
It sprouted into full flower in the congressional elections of 1854, catching on “like measles”, according to one Democrat. The organization was officially known as “The American Party”, but commonly refereed to as the Know Nothings, because its members were coached to respond to all questions by admitting only, “I don't know”, and because, frankly, in the eyes of their critics, the members didn't seem to be very bright. Membership was limited to white males of proven English heritage, and usually evangelical Protestants,. And although most of the new candidates had never been active in politics or held public office before,  they won 61 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. They elected a governor and all the other posts open that year in Massachusetts and Maine. They controlled the state legislatures in Pennsylvania and most of New England. They gained advantage in Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky and Tennessee by taking no position on slavery. This hurt them in the deep south, as did violence and murders in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Boston, New York, Columbus, Cincinnati and New Orleans. Still, the Know Nothings looked certain to capture the White House in 1856. And then came Bloody Monday in Louisville, Kentucky.
They held three elections in Louisville in 1855. On April 7th, voters threw out the incumbent mayor, who had converted to Catholicism, and elected a Know Nothing replacement and a majority on the city council. They followed this a month later by electing a Know Nothing majority of county court judges. Then the school board fired every Catholic teacher, save one. The Know Nothings were feeling both confident and paranoid - it was the nature of the party and the movement. Now another Know Nothing, Charles Morehead, was favored to win the governorship on yet another election, Monday August 6th. On the night before, 1,500 Know Nothings staged a torch light march through Catholic neighborhoods, warning them “to keep their elbows in” come morning.
Maybe no one other than Reuben Thomas Durrett (above) could have made the nation face the truth about the Know Nothings. Others wrote about it, but they lacked his resume. R.T., as he preferred to be known, was a defense attorney, and familiar with arguing unpopular causes. He was “intellectually and physically...a magnificent man.” More than that he was a poet, and a lover of truth and history. He had a 50,000 volume personal library. And 300 years earlier, his French Protestant ancestors had barely escaped the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in France. So when the political spin machine tried to smother every honest voice in Louisville, it was R.T. who validated the reality. “To my mind,” he wrote, “the whole secret of the success of this disgraceful affair was...that the Know Nothing sympathizers were prepared and armed for the conflict...”
According to R.T., the thugs, hired as “special police”, formed a gauntlet in front of the polls. If a would-be voter were an immigrant from Germany or Ireland he was presumed to be Catholic, and was “... ordered by one of the bullies to leave...” And if he refused, “...he was attacked by the whole mob, severely beaten and driven away. If the man showed fight, his life was in great danger. “ Recently ousted Mayor James Speed watched the beatings on the courthouse lawn from eight in the morning until six. “It was not fighting man to man, but as many as could fall upon a single Irishman or German and beat him with sticks or short clubs...” The clubs were specially made with lead weights in their tips, and mass produced. In the afternoon Speed was told 200 shotgun wielding “Germans” had captured a polling place. Speed knew this to be a fantasy and said so. But the informant, a judge, “replied with warmth showing that he believed it to be true.” About four in the afternoon, things went from bad to worse.
Two Catholic activists, Theodore Rhodes and David Doughtery were warning everyone in their east side neighborhood to stay off Main Street. They stopped at Micheal O'Connor's grocery store, at the corner of 10th street and warned him to close. As they came out of the store a man ran up to them. Basil Rhodes, Theodore's father, who was a block away, saw the man shoot his son dead. The gun shot drew Know Nothings from all directions, and it quickly became common knowledge that the reverse was true, that a Catholic had killed a Know Nothing. What followed was wholesale murder.
The worst of it was Quinn's Row, a block of 12 three story row houses along Main between 11th and 12th streets. Around eight that evening a Know Nothing mob set fire to a ground floor corner grocery run by a family named Long. Recorded a Catholic newspaper, “Seeking to escape...the wretched inhabitants reached the street only to meet death in another form. As soon as one appeared at a door he was fired at...” Mr. Long and two of his sons died that night, as did several of the residents of the upper floor apartments. “A number were taken off badly wounded, and others...returned to the burning houses, preferring rather to be burned than to meet the infuriated mob. One man escaped in woman’s clothes, was detected and shot. Another, who came out covered with a blanket, and, leaning on the arm of his wife, was torn away, and deliberately shot.”
While the first building was still raging, the feed store next door and its apartments went up, followed by a vacant house, then a tobacconist. Noted the newspaper, “How many of these miserable people thus caged in their own houses were burned alive there can be no computation.... Two men were hanged from their banisters of their own homes and also consumed in the flames.” In the last structure on the street, a rooming house, Patrick Quinn, who owned the entire block, was driven outside like the others. Recognized because of his investments around the city (and his brother who was a priest) , he was singled out, beaten to death, and his corpse was thrown back into the fire.
The official version said that 22 people had been killed in the entire city on Bloody Monday It is much more likely that the number was at least 100. The death toll would have been higher but in the German district one of the first buildings looted was Armbruster's brewery. The rioters got so drunk they could only satisfy themselves with torching the building before passing out. The new Know Nothing Mayor, John Barbee, managed to save two Catholic Churches from the rioters, but no one was ever prosecuted for the murders, the beatings or the arson. In response the despised immigrants voted with their feet. Ten thousand left Louisville over the next few months, almost 25% of the cities' population. In the city left behind businesses failed, unemployment soared and city coffers dried up. Charles Morehead was easily elected governor. but it was the classic tale of “be careful what you wish for”.
Most of the Irish moved to Chicago. Typical was ex-Mayor Speed, who became active in Republican Party politics and served in the Lincoln administration. The Germans mostly moved to St. Louis and Milwaukee, and some to Kansas City, Kansas – ensuring that state would remain in the Union come the Civil War. It was that war which put the entire Know Nothing movement into perspective.
The Civil War made the Know Nothing agenda obsolete. Immigration was the great enemy in the eyes of Samuel Morse. But the actual cause of the war was the industrial revolution, and the refusal of one half of the nation to recognize mechanization was making human slavery obsolete. The mathematician Alfred Whitehead observed, “The major advances in civilization....all but wreck the societies in which they occur.” And in his book “War and Peace in the Global Village” Marshall McLuhan explains why that is so. “When one has been hurt by a new technology, when the private person or corporate body finds its entire identity endangered...it lashes back in a fury of self-defense...But... the symptom against which we lash out may be caused by something about which we know nothing.” McLuhan calls that symptom “Phantom Pain”, and compares it to the agony amputees report they feel in missing limbs.
Although America has institutionalized such cultural revolutions, and has succeeded by taking advantage of them in the past, that does not make our politics, and did not make the politics of our ancestors, any easier to live with. Politics are never a solution. Politics are only another symptom.
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Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I consider it the most important two feet of clay in the entire world. Without those two feet a great city never would have existed, Teddy Roosevelt would very likely have remained a one term president, and the American Century would have maybe never happened.
The two feet had to be clay because clay is impervious to water, which is ironic since clay is created by soaking limestone in the black acidic waters of a quiet lake, one probably surrounded by a forest, such as today’s Wisconsin Dells (above). If the clay had been less than two feet high, the clay would not have mattered. If it was much more then two feet high then Lois Jolliet would have returned from exploring the Mississippi by a different route and the Mississippi would have been a different river. Fourteen inches of clinging, grasping clay is what made the American nation what she is today, because they had to be overcome, and they could be overcome. And the lakes that produced that clay were the remains of Lake Chicago, predecessor to today’s Lake Michigan.In 1818 fur trader Gurdon Hubbard, working for Roosevelt’s American Fur Company, made his first trip following the south fork of the ‘Shikaakwa’ (or slunk weed) River from the village of “Chicago” on Lake Michigan, up river, southward until the stream gave out. From there Hubbard was forced to  “portaged” for another seven miles.“Our empty boats were pulled up the channel," wrote Hubbard, "and in many places, where there was no water and a hard clay bottom, they were placed on short rollers, and in this way moved along until the Mud Lake was reached, where we found mud thick and deep, but only at rare intervals was there water….” Fighting off swarms of leeches and clouds of mosquitoes, it took Hubbard three days to reach the clear flowing water of the Des Plaines River -  three days to cover seven miles. But the Des Plaines ran into the Illinois River which carried Hubbard and his bateau’s 12 tons of trade goods into the very hinterland of the Continent, beyond the reach of the glaciers.Three times over the last 300,000 years glaciers have ground across North America, successively scrapping the landscape bare and then recreating it on their retreat. When the last of the Wisconsin glaciers paused 20,000 years ago, they left behind a north-south trash heap ridge of sand and clay called the “Valparaiso Terminal Moraine”.North of that ridge, a melt water lake formed, one day to be named Lake Michigan. The moraine blocked the drainage from this lake into the Mississippi River system to west and south, so the waters sought another new path to the ocean , heading east for the Saint Laurence River, and giving birth 12,000 years ago, to Niagara Falls.The dream of breaching that moraine was first achieved by the 96 mile long Illinois and Michigan Canal in 1848. It drained the Mud Lake and provided locks to lift the narrow canal boats and their 100 ton loads 35 feet up to the level of the Des Plaines River at Joliet. From there another series of locks provided an easy journey so Michigan apples could be sold in St. Louis and New Orleans. The canal created Chicago as a transportation hub.But the growth of Chicago presented its own challenges. By 1867, the 300,000 citizens of Chicago had so fouled their Lake Michigan shoreline, that to reach clean drinking water they were required to tunnel two miles out under the lake. The success of these big government projects, the water tunnel and the canal,  encouraged the dream of breaching the moraine in a more grand fashion and converting Chicago from a mere lake port into a seaport. To sell the plan to conservative investors, sellers also pitched the idea of reversing the flow of the Chicago River, so that it could be used to carry Chicago’s waste water away from the lake, which was the source of the cities’ drinking water.On Saturday, September 3, 1892, Frank Wenter, President of the new Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago, turned the first ceremonial shovel of earth in the village of Lemont, Illinois, which was to be the central point of the Sanitary and Ship Canal.The new canal, built in the name of progress and “clean water”, would excavate 44 million cubic yards of clay and stone to create a passage 28 miles long, 202 feet wide and 24 feet deep, which would terminate, for the time being, in a dam at a new town  named Lockport, Illinois. It would take eight years to finish the work and the final cost would prove to be $45 million.The New York World newspaper examined the social changes this ‘progress’ brought to the sleepy village of Lemont(below). Out of the town's 9,000 residents “…4,000 are gamblers, thieves, murderers or disorderly women. There are 100 saloons, 40 gambling houses, 20 dance houses and three theaters…Everything is running wide open and licensed...Within three months 30 dead bodies have been found…and no one has been punished…Every Sunday excursions of the worst classes go to Lemont from Chicago.”Businessmen in Missouri were not slow to awaken to the threat the new canal posed to their wallets, should locks later be installed to allow ocean going ships to follow the canal all the way to the Mississippi. St. Louis had lost the race with Chicago to become the rail center of the nation even before they realized there was a competition. They did not want the Mississippi to become a secondary trade route as well.So as the Chicago Sanitary Canal approached completion, St.Louis businessmen began to raise concerns about Chicago sewage, now flowing south, befouling the drinking water of towns along the Mississippi. In response, in 1899, the Metropolitan Sanitary District launched a study which claimed that the Illinois River had cleared itself of Chicago’s sewage before it reached Peoria, where the Illinois joined the Mississippi. Besides, the study alleged, St. Louis drew most of their drinking water from the Missouri River, not the Mississippi.Still, on Wednesday, January 17, 1900, the state of Missouri formally asked the United States Supreme Court to grant an injunction to stop the canal from being filled and opening. To forestall the Supreme Court, on Sunday, January 21, the directors of the Sanitary District tried to quietly and quickly make it a fait accompli. The Chicago Tribune explained why that did not prove a simple thing to achieve.“…B.A. Eckhart was the first to reach the narrow watershed at Kedzie Avenue and Thirty-filth Street. He jumped out of his carriage, dragging with him a set of new shovels for the trustees…."I had an awful time getting these shovels at this time of day."…a dredge was already hard at work throwing up the clay from the cut…. Less than eight feet (of ice and frozen clay) separated the waters of the lakes from the waters of the Mississippi…It was exceedingly slow work, for the clay was like a rock…Four large charges of dynamite were placed in the ridge…A few fugitive pieces of clay did fly into the air. But as a grand opening it was a failure…."Then the ambitious trustees, armed with their shovels, descended into the cut and began to push away the pieces of clay and ice which held back the lakes…With the regularity of a pendulum the arm of the dredge swung back and forth….The ice from the river rolled in and blocked the channel…"Push the ice...away with the arm." shouted the foreman…The (dredge) arm dropped behind the ice gorge and then with resistless motion swept the whole of it into the Mississippi Valley. .... "It is open! It is open!" went up from scores of throats as the water at last (flowed)…Like school boys on a vacation, the drainage officials waved their arms and shouted.”It was done. On May 2, 1900 Admiral George Dewey, hero of the battle of Manila, dedicated the official opening. But it would not be until 1907 that a lock would be built (above) to control the 36 foot drop from the canal level at Lemont to the Des Plaines River, and complete the dream of ocean going ships reaching the Mississippi via Chicago.Soon after the canal opened the construction techniques, such as the locks used to raise and lower ships over the Valparaiso Moraine, would be used by many of the same engineers in the construction of the Panama Canal (above). It was that endeavor, championed by Teddy Roosevelt, which ushered in the American Century. The lesson here is that no human endeavor, be it the creation of the Sanitary and Ship Canal, or manned space flight, is ever truly a wasted effort, even if the future profit is not immediately apparent.And the Chicago canal proved something else as well. As recorded by William C. Alden in the 1902 “Chicago Folio” for the U.S. Geological Survey Atlas of the United States (volume #81), excavations for the canal and its locks unearthed the story of the entire continent.Beneath the clay and beneath the limestone was the bedrock of Chicago; “Potsdam Sand stones”. That sequence explained the history of the place. Chicago ultimately sits upon beach sands, the bottom of an ancient shallow sea. We know it was shallow because above the sandy bottoms corals grew, and left their lime rich skeletons hundreds of feet thick atop the sand stones. And then the sea had been replaced with a freshwater lake, surrounded by forests, whose leaves fell into the waters, turning the waters acidic, and converting the top layer of the limestone to clay.And then the glaciers had come, and scrapped across the clay, piling it up in a terminal moraine, which prevented the waters of the lake from finding their own way to the Mississippi river, until humans arrived and stood upon their two feet of clay and thought, "I can do this. I shall do this". And it was done.
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Sunday, September 08, 2013


I doubt you would have ever heard of Roger Bacon (above), except his fat Italian friend Gui Foucois, was named Pope Clement IV in 1265 A.D. And Clement the Fat was famous for only three things. First, that he was really fat. Secondly, he really hated Jews. And third, he ordered the “brilliant, combative, and somewhat eccentric” Franciscan Friar Roger Bacon to write a compendium of philosophy and science, Bacon's “Opus Majus”. On its vellum sheets Friar Bacon laid the foundation for our modern world, beginning with the startling suggestion that since humans are made of the same stuff as the stars, we should be able to understand the heavens Further, Bacon argued that all languages share rules of grammar, hinting that they must at one time have had a common ancestor. Seven hundred years later, Bacon still appears to be right about both of those ideas.
It makes you wonder how far Bacon's mind might have taken him (and us) had not fat Clement IV died just three years, nine months and twenty days after becoming Pope. With Clement's early demise Roger Bacon lost his financial and moral support, and the Catholic Church lost its compromise leader. Roger probably went right on thinking great thoughts, but since the Cardinals would not chose Clement's successor for three years, Europe had to wait another two hundred years for The Renaissance Roger was trying to midwife into existence. The Black Death putting half of Europe in mass graves did not help, but the singular death of the anti-Semitic fat man was a real blow to the evolution of humanity.
The theory of a Universal Grammar, first postulated by Roger Bacon and most recently by Noam Chomsky, is supported by the existence of “cognates”. These are words (about one quarter of the English language) which share  “the same linguistic family or derivation”, - “la misma familia lingüística o derivación” (Spanish), “a mesma família lingüística ou derivação” (Portuguese), “la stessa famiglia linguistica o derivazione” (Italian), “la même famille linguistique ou dérivation” (French), “la mateixa família lingüística o derivació (Catalan), “din aceeasi familie lingvistice sau derivare” (Romanian) - across several languages. The reality of UG makes the work of code breakers possible, and made the ultimate goal of Alice Elizabeth Kober also seem possible. Poor girl..
On the day in 1928 that 18 year old Alice Kober (above) received her Bachelor's Degree from Hunter College in Manhattan, she confidently announced she would decode Evan's mysterious Linear B language. It was not that Alice was arrogant. As far as I can tell she had no ego about her science. But she was very, very, very smart. And she knew it. She got her Phd from Columbia in 1932, excavated in Greece, and in 1940, landed a job via mail as an assistant to Sir John Linden Myers, professor of Ancient History at Liverpool University. Myers had worked directly under Evans. And when age and illness had forced Evans into retirement, Mayers took over his work on Linear B. .
Professor Kober agreed the mother tongue of Minoan was probably Etruscan, a culture that dominated the northern Italian peninsula after about 700 B.C. The rational as handed down from Evans to Myers and now Alice, was that because the Linear B inscriptions were found on Etruscan amphora at several Minoan sites on Crete. Professor Myers went to work for the Royal Naval Intelligence service, and that left Alice, now a professor herself at Brooklyn College, as the leading expert on Linear B. And she decided to make a fresh start.
Alice chose our old friend, frequency analysis. She knew the 90 characters generally acknowledged as Linear B, did not represent a phonetic alphabet like modern languages, but rather a symbolic one, closer to Egyptian hieroglyphics Evans himself had suggested it might use voice inflection to define tenses, with the nouns changing their endings to fit past, present and third person perfect. But that also made a paper translation all the more difficult. So Alice began to collect every crumb of information she could about all of the 90 most probable Linear B symbols, as well as the two hundred possible ones. And she taught herself ancient Greek, Akkadian, Sumerian, Sanskrit and Egyptian.
Had this been a modern research project, Alice would have input it all into a computer. But the world's first one of those had just been built to crack the German Enigma codes, and its very existence was so secret, the allies officially referred to it as the “Ultra Secret”.  So Alice had little choice but to use 3X5 inch “index cards”. When the war caused a shortage of those, she scavenged paper from old calenders, greeting cards and catalogues, even stealing library index cards. She carefully cut her detritus into homemade 3X5 cards, and filed them into handmade drawers constructed from empty cigarette cartons her tobacco addiction provided.
Alice explained the problem in a 1948 paper published by the American Journal of Archeology. “People often say,” she wrote, “ that an unknown language written in an unknown script cannot be deciphered. They are putting the situation optimistically. We are dealing with three unknowns: language, script and meaning.... Forty years of attempts to decipher Minoan by guessing....have proved that such a procedure is useless. Minoan cannot be deciphered, because we do not know if "Minoan" existed....If, as seems probable, it was a highly inflected language, it should be possible to work out some of the inflection pattern.” And she ended the paper with a warning about speculation. “When we have the facts, certain conclusions will be almost inevitable. Until we have them, no conclusions are possible.
After a full day of teaching, Alice would return to her home in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, which she shared with her widowed mother. There is no record she ever had a romantic life. Perhaps Alice was gay, or had little sexual drive. But for whatever reason, her life was clearly devoted to Linear B. After dinner and grading papers, she would engage her opponent. Said one writer, familiar with her work, “She suffered no fools. She demanded precision of herself and others. She spoke and wrote in no-frills, spin-free English, direct and blunt, prickly and undiplomatic”.
I wonder what old King Minos would have thought, had he caught a glimpse of Alice around a corner in the labyrinth of ages, her research scattered across the kitchen table, a cigarette balanced on the edge of an ashtray, its smoke curling romantically to the ceiling, as Alice shuffled and rearranged the 186,000 cards she had created, and the symbols and notes they contained. Like an alchemist she was trying to conjure an ancient world out of what came to be called her “Triplets”, three-word sets she had uncovered, with similar suffixes. Figuring out an entire language out of that would be a real magic act. And she darn near pulled out a rabbit
Prophetically, Alice had delivered a lecture on Linear B in 1948, in which she did speculate about the doors a solution to Linear B might unlock - and might not.. “We may find out if Helen of Troy really existed, if King Minos was a man or a woman...On the other hand, we may only find out that Mr. X delivered a hundred cattle to Mr. Y on the tenth of June 1400BC.” After learning of her terminal diagnosis, Alice wrote to a colleague, “The important thing is the solution of the problem, not who solves it. ” She died on May 16, 1950, at the age of just 43, with the great mystery of her life unresolved..
Just after the end of the war in Europe, in 1945, Alice met the solution. She had traveled to England, to visit with her mentor Professor Sir John Myers. He had arraigned a brief meeting with what he thought was a promising young mind interested in Linear B, an architecual student named Michael Ventris (above). The meeting did not go well. Alice was an academic, the daughter of blue collar parents, respected for her hard won achievements in science and the byzantine politics of academia. Micheal was the son of a wealthy family, raised by mother influenced by the cold and imperial psychiatrist Carl Jung. They were both socially inept to a degree and managed to say just the wrong things to each other. But being socially inept, they did not hold it against each other, and exchanged a few letters over the next five years, all strictly on the topic of Linear B. And that was where the solution would be found, in the unpleasant pauses in the conversation.
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