Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Panic in the Streets

There is a great deal of anger in America.  People are outraged.  Hysteria has become common place.  Almost everywhere we find politicians, political pundits, friends and even family members making outrageous comments about how this or that will destroy America.

While rhetoric such as this may seem comical at times, the anger is very real, and it is rather scary.  Consider the recent raid by Michigan police on individuals described as “a group of apocalyptic Christian militants who were plotting to kill law enforcement officers in hopes of inciting an antigovernment uprising.” And, in case you missed it, the  Department of Homeland Security reports a rise in activity among such groups, which is common during economic hard times.

America’s current panic attack, like so many in our history, is the result of a variety of forces, including political propaganda designed to turn ordinary folks into an angry mob.  Mobs, like mad dogs, do not listen to reason, they just attack.

History is filled with angry mobs and propaganda designed to panic the common man.  Consider the Boston Massacre, an event that helped start the American Revolution.  Five colonists died, and as many as nine others were wounded, but was it a massacre?   No.  Evidence suggests that it was a terrible accident committed by frightened British soldiers confronted by an angry mob. 

Propaganda has been used many times in the past to create panic among the populous in order to crush the campaigns of labor activists, civil rights workers and others promoting peaceful change.  The Loray Mill Strike, as I described in a recent essay, is just one of thousands of such events that can be found in our history books – except of course in Texas, but I digress. 

In a world of instantaneous communication, a single sound bite has the potential of starting a revolution, especially when people do not take the time to think about the information being presented, simply accepting or rejecting it based on the source, and  passing it on.

Do we really want another American Revolution?

Monday, March 29, 2010

1929 Loray Mill Strike Remembered

For a taste of one of the events explored in my forthcoming book -- Strike! The Radical Insurrections of Ellen Dawson -- please read my essay on the Loray Mill Strike published today by the History News Network.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

So Much History on a Single Stone

Recently, on one of my Edinburgh “walkabouts,” I discovered Rosebank Cemetery in Leith. The cemetery dates back about a hundred and fifty years, not particularly old for this part of the world.

Rosebank is of interest because it contains a memorial and the graves of soldiers killed in the Gretna Rail Disaster of 1915, when 226 people, mostly members of the 7th Battalion of the Royal Scots, were killed in an accident near Glasgow that involved five different trains. It is the deadliest railway accident in the history of the United Kingdom. Because it occurred during World War I, when news has highly censored by the government, the disaster is not well known. The orange colored memorial features a large Celtic cross and bronze plaques with the names of the soldiers who died on their way to the trenches of France.

As I wandered about Rosebank, examining various tombstones and snapping photographs of things that caught my eye, I was struck by one particular stone. There on a single marker, broken as so many are, was the tale of a single Scottish family, all dead for more than a century.

The stone tells the story of David Wishart Watt, born around 1822, in Leith, Edinburgh’s thriving port of the time. He was first married to Elizabeth Gordon, a woman very close to his own age. Elizabeth died on July 28, 1866, at the age of 43, after having suffered the lost of three of their young children – Joseph on July 21, 1856, Agnes on November 23, 1856, and a second daughter named Agnes on December 1, 1865.

Watt remarried quickly, as was common in those days, needing a mother to care for his children. His second wife, Alison Wight, was approximately 10 years younger than he, but she died within three years, on September 5, 1869. In the years that followed, Watt lost three more of his children. Alfred died on May 25, 1878 at the age of 18, Joseph died on the day after Christmas in 1880 at the age of 23, and Frederick Niven died in London. Watt, lived on until June 11, 1900, when he died at the age of 78, having outlived two wives and six children.

There is much history on that single stone and yet it leaves so many unanswered questions. This is the frustration faced by historians, especially those of us who are fascinated with the lives of ordinary men and women. We must try to reconstruct the past from the tiny bits and pieces of information that survive more by chance than intent.

© 2010 by David Lee McMullen

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Racism in the Arizona Desert

Arizona legislators want illegal immigrants arrested on sight, charged with vagrancy just for being in the state. Given its location, one can safely assume that most of these illegal immigrants are from Mexico.

I will ignore both the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty and the fact that such a bill, if passed and enforced, will certainly cause problems for those economically advantaged folks in the state who knowingly underpay illegal workers to tend their gardens, clean their homes, care for their children, work in their sweatshops and do hard labor for construction companies.

Instead, I will go straight to the history books and ask one basic question: “What makes these land-grabbing gringos think they have the right to enact such a law?”

For thousands of years the area we now call the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico belonged to Native Americans, people who roamed freely across territory now divided by international borders.

Then, with the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th Century, most of this area fell under the control of Spain. The Spanish were a lot like the modern day Arizonians who support this bill, greedy folks who rammed their religion down the throats of the Native Americans, enslaved them and stole their land.

In the early 19th Century, as the Spanish Empire crumbled, Mexico won its independence. Unfortunately, the new Mexico government acted a lot like the old Spanish government, at least in their treatment of Native Americans.

In the 1840s, the U.S. intentionally started a war with Mexico for the purpose of stealing territory – specifically modern day California, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Texas. While most gringos barely recall the war, it still has a bitter taste for many Mexicans.

Some may suggest that Mexicans are not Native Americans, but they are wrong. Today, 90 percent of Mexicans are at least part Native American and 30 percent are full blooded. That’s a far larger number than among people living in the United States, where we did our best to eradicate Native Americans.

Personally, I think this Arizona proposal should be stamped in red with one word – Racist! Of course, I lived in Mexico for almost a year, and I know that the majority of Mexicans are friendly, hard working folks who make good neighbors. Too bad most people in the U.S. don’t understand that. North America would be a much better place if the U.S. treated Mexico with the same respect it treats Canada.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Three Days a Week

To my millions of readers (Yeah, right!)
I have decided trying to write something every day is too much work for an old brain, or a young brain for that matter, so I am going to shoot for three days a week.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Football, Ballet and Evolution

This weekend The Sunday Times of London presented readers with a question. “Why do we idolise footballers when ballet is so much harder? and sexier.” Since I have long appreciated both, I found myself wondering why. Perhaps the answer is as simple as “football is a contest for men” (said with a deep baritone voice) and “ballet is for girls” (said in a soft melodic voice), although I suspect not. If one looks at the history, these seemingly ridiculous responses do offer a clue.

Football, or variations thereof, date back to our earliest recorded times. Evidence suggests primitive versions of the game were played by the ancient Chinese, Greeks and Romans. Like the gladiators of the old Roman Circus, modern football is a violent contest of strength and determination, providing great rewards to the victorious, shame and dishonor to the vanquished. It is also easy to draw comparisons between football and war. Games are like battles, seasons are campaigns. Coaches study military tactics. Spectators, dressed in team colors, join the combat, screaming from the sidelines and fighting among themselves. Football brings out the beast within us, our savage side, and it is driven by our insatiable desire to destroy the enemy, to win at any cost.

Ballet is relatively new, dating to the courts of the Italian Renaissance, a time when humans began to reacquire at least a modicum of civility after the period in European history known as the Dark Ages. The audience at a ballet tends to be better mannered, better dressed and certainly more reserve in their appreciation of a performance. A ballet combines the arts of movement, music and stagecraft, usually telling a story. Without a single spoken word, ballet can solicit the full range of human emotions, including sexuality. And, as The Times noted, ballet is performed by individuals who are superior athletes, men and women who endure great pain in their quest for perfection.

Football allows us to reach back to the days of our earliest ancestors. It appeals to our animal instincts. Ballet, by contrast, offers a window to the future, to a world of beauty, sensitivity and civility that humans have yet to achieve. Sadly, the popularity of one, as opposed to the other, says a lot about our current stage of evolution.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Truly Historic Moment

Despite an annoying overuse of the word by sportswriters, this is truly an historic moment. For only the third time in the past 75 years, the United States has taken a meaningful step toward making America a more caring nation. And once again it took a Democratic Congress, with the leadership of a Democratic President, to make it happen.

Passage of Health Care Reform is a major step toward assuring that every American has access to basic health care, something that is long overdue, and the credit must be given to President Obama and the Democrats in Congress.

Universal health care is not a new idea. It was a plank in the Socialist Party platform at the beginning of the last century. It has been established in some form for more than half a century in most of the major industrialized countries around the world, where it seems to work well. Unfortunately, America has had to fight the greed of an insurance industry that profits from sickness and disease.

Twice before, Democrats have provided the leadership necessary to help those Americans most in need. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt and a New Deal Congress created Social Security, providing security for the elderly, widows and their children. During the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson, pushed Medicare through Congress, helping to guarantee medical care for the old, the disabled and those most in need.

While I am no great fan of the two party system, and the Democrats had done some pretty sorry things in the past, they deserve an enormous amount of credit for providing this nation with the essential elements of a basic social safety net.

Interestingly, to find the only point in time when Republicans did something of comparable value, one must go back 150 years, to the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln and a Republican Congress freed the slaves and helped African Americans begin their journey toward true equality.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Armageddon? Sexual Abuse and Deaths of Note

John Boehner, the minority leader of the House of Representatives, said yesterday that the health care reform bill is Armageddon because it will destroy America. What happened to words like bad, not so good, or wrong? Must everything be a disaster of global proportions in order to gain our attention? Extremes are part of the problem these days. Once you say something will destroy America, there really isn’t much room for negotiation or compromise. One is stuck out on a limb where it is either do or die. This is one of the reasons why media clowns like Glenn Beck are so popular. Everything, no matter how trivial, is the final straw, the one that will send our world crashing toward eternal damnation.

Switzerland has joined the growing list of nations caught up in the global scandal associated with the sexual abuse of children by agents of the Catholic Church. In the United States, the church has already paid more than $2 billion in compensation to the victims. In Ireland, the charges of abuse cover a period of more than sixty years, dating back to the 1930s. The pope has apologized for what he calls these “sinful and criminal” acts, but has yet to punish the offenders. The church seems to be continuing its “go and sin no more” charade, pretending that backward collars make pedophiles acceptable members of society.

Two deaths of note – Liz Carpenter, 89, a journalist and public relations person best known as Lady Bird Johnson’s press secretary, she was a feminist with a bawdy sense of humor, a breast cancer survivor and a surrogate mother in her seventies. Steward Udall, 90, Interior Secretary during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, was a defender of American’s natural resources. He helped the government preserve almost 4 million acres, including four new national parks, and was instrumental in saving Carnegie Hall from the wrecking ball.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

States' Rights, Iraq and Tiger Woods

In case you’ve missed it, what with all the Tea Parties, some conservatives are dragging out their old warhorse – States’ Rights. Across the nation, state officials are preparing to nullify federal health care reform, exempt their states from federal gun laws, seize federal land, and prevent the federal government from using National Guard forces. This is really nothing new. It is a tug-of-war that has been going on since the first constitutional conventions and, looking back over the past 200 plus years, the Federalists generally seem to come out on top.

Yesterday marked the seventh anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. The human cost of this war is enormous. More than 4,000 Americans have died, another 30,000 Americans have been seriously wounded and, taking the most conservative estimate, more than 150,000 Iraqis have died. And it isn’t over yet. This war was branded – an advertising term picked up by the military – as Operation Iraqi Freedom. Catchy little title used to promote the neo-con’s regime change strategy of trying to build pro-American governments in the Middle East. Interestingly, in this month’s Iraqi election, the followers of the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr emerged with the potential of playing a key role in the next Iraqi government. You’ve got to be careful when you give people the vote, they have a way of voting for what they believe, not what you think they should believe.

Would somebody please explain to me why I should care what Tiger Woods does with the rest of his life. He acts like the male version of Britney Spears – too much money and too little sense. Of course, that can be said about a lot of celebrities these days. Perhaps it is time to start taxing stupidity.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thoughts about the News of March 19, 2010

It looks as if Congress is finally going to pass some sort of health care reform, probably not the best possible bill, but legislatures are about compromise, not quality. Interestingly, the Republicans are still refusing to play. They are sticking to their old abstinence policy of “Just say no.” Perhaps the final product would have been better if they had tried to work with the Democrats on this issue. The divisiveness of American politics continues to hurt us all.

Another sex scandal in the Catholic Church. The current Pope was head of the German archdiocese when it ignored a doctor’s warning about a priest abusing young boys. One must wonder how a group that is so concerned about the unborn, can be so unconcerned about the sexual abuse of young boys.

Fess Parker died. He played Davy Crockett in the Disney television series, a craze that swept America in the mid-1950s. Bad history, but great television from my childhood. Back then, every guy my age wanted to wear a coonskin cap, carry a rifle named "Ole' Betsy" and fight for Texas at the Alamo.