Government shuts down newspaper after four days


Buying ink by the barrel is the easy part. Getting the newspaper printed and on the streets can be a rough be business.  We take it for granted today that freedom of information is a Constitutional protection; it was not always that way even in America.


News the government could not use.

The first newspaper printed, Public Occurences, both Forreign and Domestik, hit the streets of Boston, Massachusetts on September 25, 1690 and was shut down four days later when the governor and council deemed the news printed was “sundry, doubtful” and contained “uncertain Reports.”  They also said in the decree that stopped the presses that they “do hereby manifest and declare their high Resentment and Disallowance of said Pamphlet.”

Ooo, “high resentment and disallowance.” Is that just another way of putting your fingers in your ears and repeating over and over again: I hate what you’re saying and don’t believe a word of it.

The old English writing style of the time, sounds so much more civilized using those long words with multi-syllables that just roll off the tongue like water coming down a rain spout instead of those short harsh staccato-sounding words we use today.  Much more elegant then yapping: “fake news” over and over again like a chained dog.

The end result for Public Occurences was quick and effective as the governor and his minions went about collecting and destroying all copies of the printed pamphlet. Today there is only one copy and it is stashed away in a British Museum.  This, however, was not the first time Benjamin Harris, the editor of Public Occurences, ran into government troubles with his publishing. He left Britain with similar governmental/publishing problems.

In his first and only issue of Public Occurences Harris stated three objectives. The first “that Memorable Occurences of Divine Providence may not be neglected or forgotten as they too often are.”  I am not sure what a memorable occurrences of the divine providence would be or how they are forgotten. There is, however, a story about how “The Devil took advantage of a Melancholy widower.”  This, “despite neighbors looking in on him” the old man managed to get “into the Cow-House” where they “found him hanging by a Rope…he was dead with his feet near touching the Ground.”

Public Occurences even had a health beat story about small pox ravaging the Boston area, along with other various “Epidemical Fevers and Agues (that) grow very common, in some parts of the Country.” There was even a story about two fires, one that burnt five or six houses and nearly took down the “South-Meeting-House.” All of this sounds like any “eyewitness” news report at Six O’clock with film at 11.  Hardly news that could be considered “high Resentment and Disallowance” and enough of a reason to shut down a newspaper.


A royal cocks-man and Sun King? Louis XIV

Maybe the governor and council took umbrage to the story of the sexual exploits of the French royalty.  Nothing new here. Although we lack royalty, our news is coated with sexual peccadilloes of our elected officials and business leaders. Maybe Harris knew way back in the 17th Century that sex sells. But shutting down a paper because it was reporting on the sexual indulgences of the French king does not make much sense. The French and English had been battling each other for centuries in Europe and now it is spilling over into the New World and India.  Beside the French were Catholic and the British at this point were, for the most part, Protestant with a strong dislike of the Pope.  Again nothing new here.  It was not until 196o that we elected our first Catholic president; and he had to make a public affirmation he was not under the papist spell of Rome.  No collusion there.

“I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none;

Harris’s second goal was a little easier to understand. He writes “That people everywhere may better understand the Circumstances of Public Affairs, both abroad and at home.”  There was a story about the abuse and mistreatment of captured French soldiers and clashes and revenge for the numerous acts of barbarity with and against Native Americans.  This preoccupation of Native Americans would consume not only the colonial British but non-Native Americans for well into the 19th Century.  Both sides were recruiting these “miserable Savages” to fight into what really was a global struggle between the French and British.

Maybe what really ticked the governor off was Public Occurences carried a story about possible abuses of French prisoners and Native Americans by the British. Again, nothing really new here.  In any war there is always a few miscreants who enjoy witnessing the discomfort and sufferings of their enemies.  Just think of the pictures of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison after Shock and Awe. So,  maybe the governor and council did have beef with Harris in not wanting the people to understand the particular circumstances of affairs “both home and abroad.” Sometimes it is best if the public just does not know what is really going on, or give them just all the news they see fit to print.

An Iraqi scare crow? Not hardly.
Harris also stated that his paper would print the kind of news that could at times assist people in their “business and negotiations.”  Sound like the Nightly Business Report in a pre-bull stock market era. Maybe Harris was a forward thinker in a time of growing a colonial Mercantilism system; and the governor and council felt a closed economic system would be a better benefit for the status quo investor.

Finally, and I think this is the kicker that put him over the edge with the authorities, was that Harris felt that something had to be done with the “Curing, or at least the Charming of that Spirit of Lying, which prevails amongst us.”  And with that spirit Harris says “nothing shall be entered, but what we have reason to believe is true, reparing to the best fountains of our Information.” However, if that information is incorrect he promises to correct incorrect misinformation.

Some called him “Tricky Dick” and he was known to play quick and loose with the news of the day, and had his run ins with the press.

Harris, though, takes it one step further with that belief that had to shake the powder right off governor’s curled wig.  In what could have been the first attempt at investigative journalism, a Colonial 60 Minutes, he says his paper will take “pains to trace any such false Report so far as to find out and Convict the First Raiser… (and) expose the Name of such person as A malicious Raiser.” What a concept.

It was not the news or Harris’s mission that brought his press to a halt after a four-day run.  It was the rules and regulations of the time. Harris simply printed his broadside “Without the least Privity or Countenance of Authority” The governor added the council was “strictly forbidding any person or persons for the future to Set forth any thing in Print without Licence first obtained from those that are or shall be appointed by the Government to grant the same.” What better way to stamp out “fake news,” or control any news and information, then have those with the most to hide determine who gets a license to print?

Hence, one hundred years later James Madison would add to what we now know as the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights that: Congress shall make no law …prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

No matter how much the powers to be claim the information to be “sundry, doubtful” and containing “uncertain Reports.” or squawking “fake news.”

Some websites to see:



Its 20/20: Trump in 2020



It does not matter who the Democrats run for president in 2020. It does not matter if the Russians meddle in the election.  Donald J. Trump will win a second term. There are five reasons why he will win. Six if you live in a flyover state and seven if you have stocked a block house with survival gear for the coming Apocalypse.

Hawley and Smoot raised tariffs on 20,000 imported goods in 1930.

It has nothing to do directly with his Administration’s policies, those are side shows. It is not because he is the incumbent or the economy is humming at 5 percent. That is helpful. It has nothing to do with tax cuts and tariffs. Our country was founded on the belief of not paying taxes so tax cuts are nothing new. Tariffs, ask any high school student and they might remember the Smoot/Hawley Tariff. But I can almost guarantee with 90 percent accuracy that the name is all they will remember.


It is not immigration either.  Pick up any history book and we can find a period of time were somebody did not care for those coming down the gang plank to the New World.  Check out the Know Nothings of the 1840s. (see the June 2016 blog The Know Nothings Ride Again)

An old interpretation to Native Americans


President Trump will win because of the drama.  It is a story, a TV show that practically writes itself with Donald Trump cast in the lead role. It is similar to the movie, The Natural when the “slimy reporter” Maxwell Mercy, tells the aging ball player, Roy Hobbs, whether he wins or loses he is going to make Mercy a great story.

In literature, there are five characteristics that make a good story good; just ask any middle schooler in a Language Arts class.  They will be able to draw a graphic organizer depicting the basic character, hook, setting, plot, conflict with rising action and resolution.  Some have added elements like theme, and point of view but let’s not complicate the matter more than it already is.

Now some critics will argue about which characteristic is the most important in driving a good story. Some say that believable characters are needed; others will say it is the conflict within the plot that drives a story. With this administration conflicts abounds.  The storyline can jump from one tweet to another. One day it can be a crime drama with indictments being handed out and lawyers making all sorts of counter claims. It could be billed as a modern-day Salem Witch Hunt. “Dunk him! See if he floats!”

Salem Witch hunt trials.


Other days it could easily be a suspense romance with salacious love interests or an erotic romance playing out in public with hushed-jilted lovers and the stoic wife quietly standing by her man.  Or is she?

It could be a story of man against man or then just as easily, man against society: the news media, portrayed as the enemy of the people and the murky conspiratorial “deep state” trying its best to destroy the hero and all the values the hero stands for.

The story also has an epic quest. Epic quests like in Star Wars make the story.  Quests are necessary for a hero to flourish.  The greater the evil threat the greater the hero.  For it is the enemy that really defines the hero. What makes Luke Skywalker a Jedi?  He turns Darth Vader, the “baddest” dude in the galaxy, from the dark side.  From Darth Vader’s first appearance there was no need to explain how bad this guy was.  We all knew it from the beginning. Who can argue with a hero’s epic quest to “make America great again.” Even if the causes of America’s demise are as nebulous as the gases pulsating from the Crab Nebula.

It would be hard to classify this administration’s show as a comedy; a lot of late night shows seem to find the lighter side of this administration. I am not sure if this show could be classified as a dark comedy, blue comedy or obscene comedy. It is definitely not a slap stick although it could be argued it has some of the same elements as the Marx Brothers’ movie Duck Soup.  It is hard to deny that all of these comic elements are taking place.

Although it could hardly be called a spy thriller.  It reads more like Smily’s People than the Bourne Identity,  it does have a foreign intrigue to it. Maybe more like the Cohen Brothers movie Burn after Reading or maybe the Bond flick,  From Russia with Love.

Looking back into the future?

Others may see this as a tragedy; or an Armageddon film where dumbfounded scientist, generals and politician are completely surprised by the appearance of a large asteroid coming straight for earth.  It could be some sort of cataclysmic weather-related event that will change the earth’s geo-economic powers into dying dinosaurs. An end game where the monkeys come down out of the trees and claim their true inheritance.  It is the end of civilization as we know it. A real-life Planet of the Apes.



All of these elements make up many popular paperback books, movies and TV shows.  The Trump Administration combines all of those elements. It defies a genre. So, what makes this different?  Like any good book or a successful show, it is the believable characters. And ther are no shortage of these. There are Nazis, incompetent politicians, front stabbers, smarmy attorneys, babbling press secretaries, lurking women, bumbling family members and plenty of antagonists like the “Fake News,” The Supreme Leader (Iran’s Ali Khamenei). Or my favorite: Dear Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un, Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, and Commander of the Korean People’s Army. Comic Book writers did not make this stuff up but it reads like a superhero battling evil. Just look in any “fake” newspaper. These characters secret villainy and conflict.

And then there is a hero: Donald J Trump. Although, some will argue that Trump does not fit the bill as the hero; and to many, he is completely miscast in role. But a story has to have a hero or an anti-hero to make the self-proclaimed quest to Make America Great Again a quest.

And just about every Sunday there is a new weekly hook to bring the audience back into to the drama. Trump, as the hero, gives people hope to believe in revenge for past wrongs; anticipation that mysteries will be solved; and that all the treachery of past adminstrations will be tamed.

Pundits and politicos may analysis this administration and pollsters may interpret the numbers on how popular the president is politically. But when it comes to selling soap, President Trump knows what the audience wants. And people are riveted to the drama.

Expect four more years in 2020. Just like the TV show LOST, where people had no idea of where the storyline was going, they tuned in, because they liked not knowing. The show, like this administration, practically writes itself. The problem, like LOST, is in the long run most viewers were disappointed in the ending.




Dueling Pistols without the Tweets

The Hero of New Orleans not only fought the British but at least 100 duels


“My God! have I missed him?”  These may have been Charles Dickinson’s last words as he looked about 20 paces from a still standing Andrew Jackson.

What started as horse racing bet gone awry, ended up as a war of words traded publicly and not via a tweet or social media.   Jackson called Dickinson a “coward and an equivocator.” Dickinson replying with a statement in the Nashville Review saying Jackson was a “worthless scoundrel” and a “poltroon coward.” And just to add some sting to the whole affair, Dickinson did not hesitate to take a swipe at Jackson’s wife, Rachael, and their marital status.

In a time before Twitter and social media,  scurrilous personal remarks could find a person, like Jackson and Dickinson, standing early one morning at Harrison’s Mills on the Red River in Logan, Kentucky starring down the barrels of loaded dueling pistols.

Dickinson was a noted crack shot and his bullet hit its mark. This 70 caliber tweet hit Old Hickory square in the chest. Jackson, however, was just too stubborn to fall.  Honor demanded a re-tweet. His shot, like Dickinson’s shot, hit its mark.  Dickinson would bleed to death and Jackson would carry around a bullet inches from his heart for the rest of his life. Eliciting a remark from an amazed doctor at the duel how Jackson managed to stand after taking a slug to the chest.

Before there were laws outlawing dueling, there were rules for how duels were to be conducted so that honor could be defended and upheld. In the Irish Code of Duello there are 25 rules outlining the proper order of restoring honor to those who feel slighted. Rule Seven is a tough one, and more than likely got Alexander Hamilton killed on the Heights of Weehawken, New Jersey. It states that “no apology can be received in any case after the parties have actually taken the ground without exchange of fires.”

It is ironic, both Tennessee and New York had laws at the time against dueling.  Both the Hamilton/Burr duel and the Dickinson/Jackson duel had to be fought in neighboring states.

Bladensburg, Maryland was a hot spot for settling disagreements

Dueling hearkens back to classical times when established codes of honor existed: Medieval knights and damsels in distress or the Western sheriff standing down a hired gun. A code of honor, no matter how misguided we view it today, created standards on how an individual can earn honor, respect and maintain rank, particularly within a group. This respect is predicated on the “assumption” that there is equality among those who adhere to the code. It also lets everybody know when they crossed a line and the prescribed consequences that could follow after that line was crossed.

But maybe in the age of tweets and social media there is no code of honor among tweeters. Today elected leaders can exchange banalities like calling a Congressman a liar and a leaker with the same ease as ordering a pizza online. Disparaging someone’s charter online may or may not have the same repercussions as in days gone by.

For instance, one would think that the floor of the Senate would be a safe haven for social comment.  But for one Senator, it held no sanctuary  for disparaging the character of fellow senator. In 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks took his cane to Senator Charles Sumner’s head on the Senate floor after Sumner insulted his relative, and fellow South Carolinian, Senator Andrew Butler.  Sumner said that Butler had taken a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean,” added Sumner, “the harlot, Slavery.”

According to the Senate Select Committee charged with investigating the bludgeoning, “The cause of the assault was certain language used by Mr. Sumner…which Mr. Brooks considered libelous to the State of Carolina and slanderous to his near kinsman.”

If Representative Brooks thought Sumner was a man of honor or a gentleman who adhered to a code, he may have challenged him to a duel. Instead,  he beat him about the Senate floor like an unchained dog with his cane, which is not an appropriate dueling weapon. There was no mutual respect and hence no shame in Brooks’ action.

However, when rude behavior deforms the rule of law and overwhelms proper deportment; and when a  Congressman’s actions , like Brooks’, goes unchallenged and unpunished the the rule of law becomes contorted.

Today, forget about simple etiquette there is little chance that the sender of a slanderous tweet will be publicly canned.  At worst the miscreant may lose his or her job. Shame may have been served but what about the besmeared character and honor of the victim in a time with?

Merriam-Webster says that etiquette is a French word meaning “ticket” or “label attached to something for identification.”  The French borrowed  the word etiquette from Spain where it refers “to the written protocols describing orders of precedence and behavior demanded of those who appeared in court” … “court ceremonies” “as well as the documents.” 

A bitter twitter

The French took it one step farther and applied it to “proper behavior.”  When it comes to to today’s social media there seems to be no etiquette.  It is our version of the wild, wild West without the horse and saddle. There is no code of honor among those who tweet.  This is self-evident when leaders tweet insults demeaning the character of an individual by calling them repeatedly crooked; disparaging their physical appearance by calling them fat or little; or questioning their intelligence by calling them a clown or a real dope. 

So, now it is alright to identify or tag  somebody as disabled, fat or any other school yard attribute meant to malign an individual for ridicule. There is little repercussion but a collective social media laugh.

There is no credible argument for dueling in 21st Century. It is archaic as believing in the curative properties of mercury or bleeding a person to release the accumulation of black bile in the body.  Today, we disagree with these drastic health beliefs just as much as we do dueling a way to settle an argument and maintain one’s honor, respect and integrity. The problem is complete lack of  mutual respect and a lack of shame for crude behavior.  We have no minimum standard of honor and civility just continuing downward spiral of degradation.

But just maybe there is hope after all.  ABC canceled  Rosanne Bar’s top-rated show after she tweeted a dishonorable tweet of a former government official. This was a serious foot-in-mouth racist tweet that was supposed to be taken as humor but wildly missed its mark.  For ABC,  this tweet could amount up to $60 million in lost revenue.  Fortunately for Rosanne, there is no Preston Brooks  around to beat her about the head with a cane.  Or worst, an Andrew Jackson ready to take her to the dueling grounds and educating her on the Irish Code of Duello.

Some websites to visit


It all started with Night Baseball


New York Mets playing a home game at Citi Field

It was in May of 1935 that Major League Baseball played its first night game in Cincinnati. Night baseball was a big deal at the time but after the preforming enhancement era of baseball, it is now one of those firsts that falls onto the “who cares” pile of baseball history.

It could be argued that night baseball opened the game up to many firsts.  But for the Reds, that night game was just one of 154 that they played that year and the tens of thousands that have been played since.


Once there were lights, it was not too long before there were cameras; and after cameras commercials. The first televised MLB baseball game played on August 26, just four years after the first night game.  W2XBS in Manhattan broadcast a double header between visiting Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The NBC station used just two cameras so it is safe to say there were no slow motion replays or umpire reviews   If a manager questioned a call he did it the old fashion way: getting into the umps face with a wad of chewing tobacco bulging in his cheek.

In 2008, as if the game was not  moving slow enough, MLB decided to allow umpires to review calls using instant replay.  At least when managers disputed calls it brought some excitement to the game.  Watching umps review calls is like watching your kid play a video game.

It will not be long before umpires, referees and other officials are replaced with robotic movable field cameras controlled by a band of nerds and geeks buried deep with in the bowels of the stadium. I am sure that drones will soon be introduced to the game in some form or capacity.

Do not get me wrong, I still love the game. Watching it on TV has faded away for me like a foul ball slowly drifting into the left field stands, bouncing off outstretched hands of fans, to be pursued by a bunch of kids like a pack of dogs chasing a fox; ending with the ball held high for all to see like Achilles dragging Hector’s body around Troy. This triumphant ritual will be repeated throughout game.

The Triumphant Achilles

The major concern of late is the length of the game.  With modern technology: lights indoor stadiums; a game can go on from sun up to sun set. Unless it is the 2002 All-Star Game where both leagues ran out of players. I for one do not want to sit in front of TV the better part of the night watching beer and car commercials. And I will not go on about listening to the yammering of the talking heads behind the mike.

In an effort to cut down on the length of the game Major League Baseball is trying to rid itself of some of its long held traditions.  One ritual that MLB curbed is visits to the pitcher’s mound. I long lost interest in baseball before the new rule to limit how many trips emissaries can make a to the pitcher’s mound before a pitcher has to leave the game.

Most fans know when a pitcher is done. Shuttling out various players and coaches to talk to a hammered hurler is not going to change the situation before the manger with the hook yanks him off the mound.

Sure, those little junkets can eat up time.  And really, how much strategy was being discussed? Everybody knows it is a stall tactic to give the relief pitcher a chance to get warm. It seems ridiculous to drag out the inevitable.  After all, gone is the four-pitch intentional walk.

Ah, but some argue that this is where the real thinking of baseball is made. Those tough decisions managers had to make in the daylight before TV and the Designated Hitter era. Managers had to mull over when and how to pull his pitcher for the best pitcher-batter match-up, the double switch on where the new pitcher should bat in the lineup.

All of this cogitation requires counter cogitation in the other dugout, too.  Does the opposing manager pull his batter for a switch hitter to check the other manager’s moves?   It is a chess match played on a diamond—so they say.  Oh for the sake of these chess like-managerial decisions:  The King’s Pawn Opening, The Catalan Gambit or the Sicilian Defense.

In 1968 Bob Gibson pitched 47 consecutive scoreless innings and had a 1.12 earned run average

Two things are taking place in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Baseball games are becoming low scoring events, and the American League is losing attendance, which means lost revenues.  Remember, this is a time before the plethora of sport channels and ESPN. Only a couple of MLB teams could wrangle a multi-million dollar TV deals.

Two quick fixes occurred.  One, MLB lowers the pitcher’s mound. This was followed by the American League taking the bat out of the pitcher’s hands and replace him with a real hitter, a Designated Hitter to boost offense and excitement. Charles Finley, owner of the Oakland Athletics quest for the DH came true in the 1973 season.


I personally do not care one way or another about the DH. I do think it shows how out-of-touch baseball is with itself. I have come to accept the fact that just about every league in baseball (and softball) except the National League and the Nippon Central League are holdouts. The DH has been around for 45 years and I do not think it is going anywhere.   The game loses a certain symmetry when one team plays the game slightly different than they normally play. It would be like one chess player starting the game without it one of his knights.

What I found more maddening about the slow pace of MLB games, besides the endless amount of commercials,  is the batter stepping out between every pitch. I do not think sky divers check and adjust their equipment as much as a batter does between pitches.  The constant adjusting of every accouterments a batter has on; tightening re-tightening of batting gloves, elbow pads; adjusting the jock; and holding his hand up to the ump while he is digging back into the batter’s box. I do not think the Aztecs went through this much ceremony when they were sacrificing virgins to their gods.

The same goes for the pitcher who steps off the rubber, shakes off the catcher two and three times.  First of all, how many pitches does the pitcher have? And the catcher only has so many fingers and hand gestures to send out signals as to what pitch to throw. How many combinations and permutations of pitches can he throw to one batter? This is not British Intelligence at Bletchley Park trying to crack the German’s Enigma code during World War II. Throw the ball for god’s sake.

There were other events that killed my interest in MLB.  Free Agency changed the game.  I do not begrudge the players for making the big bucks.  The Reserve Clause was a modern throw back tying players to a plantation much like a serf to the Lord’s Feudal Manor. You play here and die here unless the owner trades you.

Then there was the 1994 strike when a season was canceled and no Fall Classic was played. And in an attempt, bring back interest inter-league play followed. The first inter-league game was played on June 12, 1997. The Texas Rangers lost 4-3 to the visiting San Francisco Giants.

Major League Baseball, being the statistical abnormality that it has grown to be, keeps track of such now meaningless stats as the American League a positive 1,714 run-differential and .529 winning percentage over the National League in inter-league play. Really?  Who cares about stats after the performance enhancement era of baseball? Maybe me, but not now.

I use to be a die hard American League fan.  I grew up outside Washington DC as a Senator fan.  At that time, Washington was in the American League. For Senator fans, any hope of getting out of the cellar and to the World Series was clinched by mid-May.  As Charles Dryden wrote in 1904 that: Washington was first in war, first in peace and last in the American League.

Being a Senator fan I hated the damn Yankees. This puzzled my Mother when it came to the World Series.  How could I hate the Yankees all year and then root for them in the World Series.  It did not matter what American League team played in October–which now seems like November. The team could have been the ship of fools piloted by the devil himself. I did not care so long as they could beat the National League. So maybe inter-league play had a lot to do with me losing interest in MLB.

During my youth, I suffered mightily. In 1963 both leagues had won 17 All-Star Games.  In the next 20 years the American League would only win two. It was not until last year did the American League finally evened the score with 43 wins a piece.

And who thought of  tying the All-Star to the World Series with the winning league getting home field advantage.  Baseball fans knew that the All-Star game was a stand alone game full of league pride prior to inter-league play. Inter-league play, free agency and commercial TV has turned it into some sort of Red Carpet Gala of stars in cleats.

Baseball, like so many things has to change with the time. But the real killer is TV.  It is TV the lets us watch so many games but it is lights that let us watch night baseball. Television dictates the game itself. Television and its corporate sponsors literally has changed everything in American culture. Television uses baseball as the vehicle to sell more insurance, cars and beer. The game becomes secondary. Once advertisers figured out how to market their product to MLB, the game was never the same.  MLB will tinker with the rules and rituals of the game to make Madison Avenue happy.  And it all became possible when lights came on way back in 1936 and night baseball became a reality.

Some websites to check out.



Fake News, The Bully Pulpit and the Truth?

New words and phrases are always coming into use and out of use. It is interesting how unrelated words are combined into a meaningful phrase like “bottomless pit,” “exact replica,” and  “speed trap.” When broken down these sorts of word combos really do not make sense but if you are pulled over along a stretch of road with other drivers for exceeding the “suggested” speed limit the word combo “speed trap” is very self evident in more ways than one. Not so much bottomless pit.

A recent word combo,  “fake news” is making the rounds of late.  When the two words fake and news are combined it seems obvious what is being conveyed.  But what really is fake about the news?

The most vociferous user of the term fake news is President Donald Trump and his friends. Presidents and politicians have always used vague combo-words, catch phrases and cliches to have specific meanings easily understood by the masses.  Pithy word combos can create an image like Theodore Roosevelt’s “Square Deal.”  Franklin Roosevelt built off Teddy’s word combo to create a “New Deal;” Kennedy had his “New Frontier” and Johnson built off of Kennedy’s Camelot image with his “Great Society.”  And who can forget George Bush’s  oxymoron “Compassionate Conservative.”  Granted all of these are catchy campaign slogans that try and boil complex issues into one pot without real specifics. Fake news is more of a rallying cry.

President Trump’s use of the FAKE NEWS, emphasized in all caps, is meant to register his contempt for established media outlets. His use of Twitter hammers home his views to any negative news story that criticizes him or goes against what he believes to be true. Twitter amplifies the president’s “bully pulpit.” 

There is nothing wrong with using the media to get your message across. Presidents have been doing this as far back as the 1800’s. President Thomas Jefferson was tired of the partisan pummeling he was receiving from John Fenno’s  Gazette of the United States. He and James Madison decided to hire Philip Freneau to edit a Republican newspaper, The National Gazette, to hit back at Alexander Hamilton and his Federalists. No more free unanswered shots.

Neither paper lasted more than a few years.  It is not until the 1830’s that mass media begins to take off with the Penny Press.  Steam presses and advertising made daily newspapers cheap and available to the public.  One of the first presidents to realize the importance of mass media was Teddy Roosevelt.

As a writer, Teddy knew the power of the written word.  He knew how to position himself in front of cameras for what we would call today a photo op.  And he developed the office of the presidency into what he called the “bully pulpit.” A place to expound on his progressive policies. But time has changed the meaning of that term “bully.”

Today, the word bully as noun, is a brutish person that goes around intimidating the weak and feeble. As a verb it is the act of brow beating (another good two-letter combo) and tormenting the timid.

However, at the turn of the 19th Century when Roosevelt, the 26th President, used the phrase, bully was a superlative meaning grand or excellent.  The presidency was an outstanding (another good word combo) office for pushing the  president’s agenda.

Other presidents, like, Teddy’s cousin, used the new media of the day.  FDR used the radio to his advantage in explaining his “New Deal” policies to the public. In the 1960’s TV added to John Kennedy’s prestige.  Television, however, did not enhance Johnson and Nixon’s image. In fact, it helped topple their presidencies.  It was Ronald Reagan, an actor turned politician, that became the “great communicator” using TV as the ultimate bully pulpit. So President Trump using Twitter is nothing new.

However the term fake news is interesting because on the face of it, it seems that there is no doubt in what the message is saying.  But fake news can be like beauty: it is all in the eye of the eye of the beholder. It can also be like pornography in that most people know it when they see it. But do they really? Fake news that is.

What is counter intuitive (another good word combo) is that often for something to be fake, it usually is based on some sort of truth.  For instance, there is only one real Mona Lisa but easily thousands of replicas.  It would be hard to call them fakes–but they are. The big difference is everybody should know that if they have a Mona Lisa it is not the real one. The term “replicated news”  does not come out with the same meaning as fake news. However, we are not replicating but realizing the possibility that some of the news is not 100 percent factual. But then when are we ever working with 100 percent certainty on anything.

Thoreau did not say it was fake just the same-old-same-old.

When it comes to news. we could look at David Thoreau’s impression when he wrote “all news is gossip and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.”

That is rough on old women considering most of the people doing the loudest yammering today about the news, fake or otherwise, are not doing it over tea and would never classify it as gossip.–fake maybe. And usually, it is media-squawking heads who are the main purveyors in distorted one-sided news (another good word combo).

When a President attacks the news media with claims of  “fake news”  it can be interpreted as an attack on free speech and freedom of the press.  Teddy Roosevelt wrote that “Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity where the people are themselves free.”

He also wrote that a president should be supported or opposed “to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency.” To believe there should be no criticism of the President, and that “we should standby the President no matter if he is right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

The real problem is not “fake” but interpreting what is the truth. Teddy wrote that: “Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him (the president) or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.:”

Here in lies the dilemma. In today’s distorted, vindictive political climate trying to determine if a statement is true or just antagonistic to one’s cherished beliefs and opinion can bring out the cry “fake news!”  At one time people believed the Earth was flat and the Moon was made out of green cheese.


The Mars Intergalactic 300

Elon Musk now has the fastest car in the solar system. His Tesla red Roadster is on  a multi-million mile track racking up more miles then all the 24 Hours of Le Mans combined.  The problem is there is nobody racing him. It is believed that his roadster is about 1.3 million miles from Earth and heading to Mars at more than 43,000 mph.

There has been a lot of talk about privatizing space exploration.  If privatizing space is a goal what is needed is a real space race like the Daytona 500.  It could be the Mars Intergalactic 300.

Racing or exploration requires funding. Christopher Columbus had to shop his idea of getting to India by going west for years before he found any takers.  It was not until a couple of Spanish royals put up the money for his journey that fell well short of India but opened up a whole new world to the Old World.

The first English colony in North America was privately funded. The Virginia Company was a joint stock  company, the granddaddy of today’s corporation. The problem the Virginia Company faced was the start up cost of getting a colony up and running. This was a Herculean task considering the company was out looking for gold but found starvation instead.

But it was also is a need for speed. Jamestown was out of communication with its  investor for at least six months out  of the year.  A trip back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean was always an iffy proposition — just ask those who were involved in the lost Roanoke colony.  It put the Jamestown Colony in financial distress from the beginning. It was quickly going down for the third time when King James decided that his friends and investors, and his name sake endeavor, were to big to sink into the Virginia swamps.  James’ investment in keeping the company from going up in smoke paid off handsomely later when tobacco became Virginia’s first cash crop.

Once it was realized that money could be made, Europeans made for their sailing ships and started out on the open seas in what some history books call a search for God, gold and glory. Deep space exploration, however, is different. Just existing in a space environment is a serious life challenge and not as easily over come as seen at the movies or on TV.

The beeping Basketball Ball size satellite that was the jump ball in the Cold War space race.

The race to space started in October 4, 1957 when the Russians chucked an 184 pound Sputnik satellite into low Earth orbit.  From there it was a race to put the first man in space with the eventual goal of getting to the Moon. In all actuality it did not start until 1962 when President John Kennedy dropped the starter’s flag in the race to the Moon.

Unlike the New World, the Moon did not yield the same sort of riches that Columbus and other early explorers sought out.  Going to the Moon was a scientific expedition.  Six Apollo missions brought back almost 850 pounds of rocks but no gold. This was several tons short of what the Spanish could haul out of the New World on one ship.  But maybe some where in a far away galaxy there is a planet called El Dorado where gold flows like lava out of volcano. That would jump start a space race.

A 15th Century sailing ship could carry between 100 and 250 tons of cargo at a top speed of 8 knots–weather permitting.

Gold might be a little more problematic and closer to Earth on Mars but still well out of reach. Recent Lunar probes indicate the possibility of water and other compounds on the moon. But anything of value might as well literally be on its dark side.

Another difference with Old World exploration and space explorations is that there are no alien heathens to convert. Early religious zealots took a keen interest in converting those they though were godless.

As for Glory, Musk has basked in blasting a red roadster into space but that is not the same thing as racing to the moon.  His launch created a lot of interest but it could soon be a a faded dream. Who now can name more than half of the of the 12 men who have walked on the Moon. The last man left the Moon when Apollo 17 ‘s Lunar Module blasted off its surface in December of 1972.

Apollo 11 Lunar Module, The Eagle leaving the Moon.

What is needed for future space exploration is a genuine space race with a need for speed. Forget about exploration for the time being.  Let’s get some guys ready to race some real space roadsters across the solar system.

In the early days it was just two countries, the United States and the USSR,  that were locked in the race to the Moon much like Spain, England and France were vying for New World colonies in the 15th and 16th Century.  Once Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took that one giant leap or small step, the space race for all practical purposes was over.

This is not to say space exploration has stopped because it has moved forward in a methodical scientific way. The only real competition was to see what science experiment could be packed on the limited space available on the Space Shuttle or to see who would replace who on the three-person International Space Station.

But space exploration is about the long haul. The Cassini–Huygens mission  took 20 years to complete and was a combined effort between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency ending in September of 2017 after Cassini dove through the rings of Saturn plunging into the ringed-planet’s atmosphere.

But in today’s world of instantaneous gratification 20 years is a dog’s life and then some.  What is needed is another race that captures the need for speed and the competitive imagination of an interested audience, and not necessarily a race to plant a flag on Mars. But an honest, down to Earth drag race or NASCAR/ Formula 1 circuit with sponsors and a winner’s purse to the victor.

Once around Venus, twice around Mars.

Look what racing has done for the car. Henry Ford’s Model T was one of the first affordable cars but speed was not really one of its attributes.  It’s 20 horse power, 177-cubic-inch (2.9 L) inline four-cylinder engine could muster a top speed of 40–45 mph.  This is a far cry from the 200 mph some high performance cars can reach today.

According to the website Fastest Cars Zero to 60Times there are only a handful of cars that can boast getting to 60 mph in under two seconds. One of the cars is the prototype 2020 Tesla roadster that is boasting getting to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds and boogieing down the quarter-mile drag strip in 8.8 seconds.

Auto racing has given the car Anti-lock brakes, aerodynamic design, fuel injection, dual overhead cams and semi-automatic electrohydraulic transmissions just to name a few innovations that supply the need for speed. If man is going to conquer the final frontier, it is going to be a need for speed.  What better way than to open up space to team racing. We need race teams that will come up with propulsion systems that put space beyond impulse power and into hyper-drive or at least to warp factor 1.

Scientists, space nerds and computer geeks could gather from around the world to design space crafts much like air craft designers and manufacturers did in the 1950’s to come up with a plane that could break the sound barrier. Its the need for speed.

The Bell X-1 chasing that demon in the sky.

It appears that we are at the same sort of stage in transportation that explorers faced in crossing the vast expanses of Earth’s oceans during 15th Century.  Early explorers were subject to the seasonal winds and weather.  Their journey’s were confined to what could be stowed on board small ships with schedule stops for resupply for long journeys. Distances were conquered with bigger and faster ships with dependable mechanical propulsion making sailing against the wind possible.

If man is to reach out farther into space, the need for speed is needed in covering those vast distances of outer space.

The Mother of all Shutdowns

Romulus leads Rome to victory

So we endure another governmental calamity: the federal government shutting down. With our love for drama nothing sells better than doomsday stories.

Shutting the government down is nothing new. At the beginning of the 5th Century BC Rome’s under class, the plebeians,  decided they had enough of upper class, patrician rule. They simply stomped out of Rome setting up a possible doomsday scenario.

The plebeians pitched camp on the Sacred Mount demanding that their rights and interests be addressed.  Since plebeians made up most of the soldiers in the Roman Army at the time, and since the expanding Roman city-state was constantly at war with one of its neighbors, the plebeians figured it was a good time to initiate negotiations in what could easily be called the first pre-union, sit-down strike in history. Oh, and it left Rome some-what defenseless.  Always a good bargaining chip to play in the art of the deal.

It would be a far stretch to call this the first socialist demonstration but the march out of Rome started a 200 year Struggle of Orders or the Conflict of Orders.  It  was the classic rich, noble, land-holding aristocrats versus the poor workers and farmers that also included a few non-noble well off citizens in the plebeian fold. Like most privileged-ruling elites throughout history, Roman patricians controlled most of the wealth and simply closed governmental doors behind them once they overthrew and consolidated power from the Etruscan kings who once ruled over them.

We have no Etruscan kings to overthrow.  In fact, historians are not sure what really happened to the Etruscans after the Romans wrestled control from them.  Just like the past, though, we do  have a burgeoning group of (patrician) billionaires with “charitable” trust funds that have put a firm down payment on our republic. And, although they may not shut the government down per say, their sponsored-elected elites have no problem pulling the power plug for them. This allows them to avoid the embarrassment of stomping across the Potomac like a bunch of demonic minions cast out the promised land.

Government shut downs are not new. They do seem to happen more often.  Shut downs occurred in Gerald Ford’s and Jimmy Carter’s administrations in the 1970’s and again in the ’80s  during Ronald Reagan’s administration; and twice under Clinton and once under Obama.

This does not include the numerous primate-like chest thumping rituals  the two parties  demonstrate across the aisle at one an other. Each side threatening to let the banana bunch in the middle rot so nobody gets any bananas. This lopsided-logic that a bunch of rotten bananas is worth more than one good banana is baboon backwards. And then when the media gets into the swing of things the treetop chatter soon becomes a blame game of he-said, she-said, “what about…”  and “I know you are but what am I…” in an ever spiraling drama filled-debate to sell a story and keep everybody agitated.

Caesar crossing the Rubicon The beginning of the end to the Republic?

Now most of us have heard about the fall of the Roman Empire but not so much about the fall of the Roman Republic.  The Roman Empire got started during the 1st Century BCE. It was teetering when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River after being in Gaul. His return to Rome created a free for all civil war on who would control Rome.  Shortly there after, and for all practical purposes, Rome’s government shut down as various factions fought it out not with ballots but armies.

We are all familiar with Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE.  Two of Caesar’s stanch allies, Mark Antony and Octavian, vindicated his death and defeated Caesar’s assassins:  Brutus  and associates. Mark Antony and Octavian then divided the former Republic between them.  But two men with  grand imperial plans soon proved that greed gets the better of any governmental agreements.  It was to be a short-lived arrangement and could be argued a pre-imperial shut down. Octavian later defeated Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BCE to become sole ruler of the newly-founded empire.  The Roman Senate then made him princeps or “first citizen” and gave him the name Augustus. After nearly a century of civil wars the Republic was dead.

The Age of Augustus and the Birth of Christ And the death of the Repbulic

The Republic, however, began in 509 BCE when the Romans over threw of the Etruscan kings who had ruled over them for hundreds of years. Once free of the Etruscans, the Romans established a republic. One institution that carried over from the overthrow was the Senate.  This appointed body of 100 well-heeled advisers to the king was soon to be expanded to 300 of Rome’s noblest and wealthiest men.

One thing that did not carry over was a codified system of written law.  This is not to say that these patricians of the Republic were not civic or legally minded; it was more about their interest in maintaining their social position, wealth and prestige in the new republic the than putting  something legal in writing.

As Rome expanded and defeated other near-by enemies, it began creating new cities and a complex society.  Rome’s influence was growing beyond the Tiber River. Security was a prime concern as Rome had to continually defend itself against the various tribes and Gauls that would attack and plunder Rome. The security of the Republic fell on the shoulders of the farmer/soldier — the plebeian.

One vexing problem to the citizen soldier was debts.  It was not uncommon for plebeians to lose everything, including their freedom, from debt accrued while serving in the army defending the Republic. Since the Roman army at this time was made up of mostly farmers, and since Rome was at war most of this time, soldiers were not around to bring in a crop.  Also, Rome’s  invading  and marauding enemies could lay waste to soldiers’ farms putting them further in debt.

These continued wars meant that a farmer could be called into service at any time. Not only was this farmer still responsible for paying his taxes, he was also responsible for his military kit: weapons, armors etc.  Eventually these citizen-farmer/soldiers fell further into debt.  The debt left him with only one asset: his person as collateral for his debt.

There were several options open to the creditor.  However, there was very little wiggle room for the defender of Rome who now found himself in debt to his patrician overlord. The insolvent soldier could find himself without his farm, in prison, flogged or as a patrician’s indentured servant working off his debt.

Rome’s military success also brought in more public land for the growing Republic.  The problem was that these newly acquired large tracts of lands were often rented out to the wealthy patricians and not to the debt-ridden farmer/soldier. The classic scenario of the rich get richer simply because they can.

Another consequence of  Republic’s military success  was immigration. With less land available more people began to crowd into Rome increasing the urban populations. Despite the increase in the plebeian population, they were still under represented in government. The were also out voted at the polls. Roman voting was broken down in an electoral-like tiered-class structure that was heavily skewed in favor of the patrician classes with the plebeians voting last.  With majority rule it was not uncommon for the election to be decided well before the plebeians even had a chance to vote.

Laws posted on the Twelve Tables in Rome.

Eventually the plebeians were able to convince the patricians to give them government representation in the newly created office of tribune.  Tribunes had had veto power over laws. Rome also established the Twelve Tables in 450 BCE. On these tables laws and procedures were written down for all to read creating a “rule of law.”  It was the beginning of codifying Roman laws much like Hammurabi’s codes.

Unlike the plebeians march out of Rome 2,500 years ago, our governmental shut downs   are political grand stand events. It is the play of recalcitrant politicians fighting to get 15 minutes of stage time. The shut down quickly ends out of fear that maybe the plebes will realize  that we  do not need a group of spoiled patricians prancing around trying to fix some self-created government crisis.


Thomas Paine and Common Cents

President Ford dances with Queen Elizabeth on July 17, 1976.

I am curious as to how much Americans actually know about British history.  There is a certain amount of British history that intertwines with American history. After all we have fought two wars against them at least three wars with them. A real love-hate relationship. But nothing is more confusing than keeping track of the aristocratic power grabs and titles handed down from generation to generation. Not so here. Its all dollars and common cents.

In school we in America study The Magna Carta and how a bunch of discontent barons forced King John to sign The Great Charter way back in 1215, almost 400 years before our own history starts.  These rebellious aristocrats demanded certain rights from the king that would eventually evolve into our own Bill of Rights.

It was 560 or so years later in January of 1776, that Thomas Paine’s Common Sense hit the newsstands in the Colonies.  Washington D.C. was still a swamp on the banks of the Potomac River and the Beltway was not even a dirt road. K Street was not even a lobbyist’s dream.  Paine’s pamphlet created a stir across the Colonies with his rousing attack on the British hereditary monarchy.

Paine took direct aim at the king,  writing that “exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture.” Paine felt the monarchy was “one of those evils, which when once established is not easily removed.”  (Much like an old incumbent  Senator from West Virginia.)  Paine said people submitted to kings out of superstition, fear or just a chance to cash in on the king’s plunder.

According to Paine monarchy  “was the most prosperous invention the Devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry … Heathens paid divine honors to their deceased kings, and the christian world hath improved on the plan by doing the same to their living ones.”

This is harsh stuff flying in the face of an ill-gotten belief at the time in the Divine Right of Kings.  This contrived political doctrine brought about a spiritual-religious belief in kingly absolutism. Unlike the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, who were considered gods, more enlighten medieval thinkers realized that kings were god-like and derived their right to rule from God.   It was sacrilegious to question an infallible God, who in his infinitesimal wisdom, would never place just any mere mortal on the  thrones of His Earthly kingdoms. If God was above the law it only made sense that his kings were, too. Hence, a democratic belief in elections and the rule of law no matter how much they would cost.

Even though we may disapprove of monarchical rule we do have a fascination with royals.  No matter how many times I watch TV shows like the Crown, Victoria, Wolf Hall or the Tudors, I just cannot keep track of all the comings and goings of Henrys, Edwards, and Georges. It becomes an Abbot and Castello routine of “Whose on the Throne?” Elizabeths not so much, there are two, right.

British history also devolves into the plethora of lower ranking lords that spill out of the ruling houses  Yorks and Lancasters followed by Hanovers and Windsors (and a pair of Oranges tucked in there somewhere). And of course, all the revolving, ascending and descending Dukes and Earls that would make up the House of Lords.

William the Conqueror, the original “Stormin”Norman.

Being Colonials, and out of touch with royals for the better part of two centuries, we have no idea to the ranking of such lords and ladies.  Who would really know that a Duke is higher on the pecking order then a Marquess followed by Earl, Viscount, and finally Baron. I am not sure how these titles are handed out.  I believe it started in 1066, after the Norman Conquest.  William the Conquer started dividing England up into manors (hence to the manor born) which he then turned over to his Norman barons. No doubt with certain allegiance of loyalty and fidelity expected in return.

The oldest English Earl is the Earl of Arundel, which dates back to the 1100’s. There was at least 16 or 23 Earls of Arundel, depending on how they are counted,  Around 1620 the Earl of Arundel became the Duke of Norfolk.  The titles have remained in the FitzAlan/Howard family and there have been 18 Dukes of Norfolk.

The Duke of Wellington looking rather regal.

The only dukes I am familiar with is the Iron Duke, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo; and Gene Chandler the self-proclaimed Duke of Earl. This fictitious bastardized title comes from his 1963 hit-single, now an Oldie Goldie, Duke of Earl.

Paine writes in Common Sense that some believe “that hereditary succession” prevents civil wars. This, he says, “is the most barefaced falsity ever imposed upon mankind.” At the time of his writing Paine claimed that Great Britain had gone through 30 kings, eight civil wars and 19 rebellions.

Paine was a real rebel-rouser ending up in the French Revolution

The War of Cousins or as we know it, The War of the Roses was a 15th Century, 30-year war pitting the Houses of York and Lancaster at one another.  Each side captured each other’s champion or forced defeated leaders into exile. A stable form of government?   Paine says there is nothing so uncertain as “the fate of war and the temper of a nation, when nothing but personal matters are the ground of a quarrel.”  Adding that Parliament  is”always following the strongest side.”

Paine did not hang around after the Revolutionary War to help get the rebellious Colonies a working form of government. This was left to men who had a keen understanding of British history. In fact, their insight into British history, politics and economics had them include a Nobility Clause in our Constitution that simply states:

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.

Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief with really “deep pockets.”

Of course just because Congress does not officially pass out princely positions does not mean they do not exist otherwise in this country. It took the British centuries to establish a stable peerage. In the New World it is not so formal. This is not to say we are not with out squabbling, rich non-entitled ruling elite.We have billionaires that can spend close to $100 million to buy themselves an “elected” titled position; or at the very least put a strong down payment on getting the right man an elected-peerage.

After 200 plus years as a republic we never created a Lord Protectorate to hand out riches to loyal followers. Here wealth was not inherited, it was created.  And with that the levers of power often go to the highest bidder. To paraphrase Paine, nothing tempts the fate and the temper of a nation than personal greed  ground in a good political  quarrel — with Congress “always following the richest side.”

We may not have titled barons sitting in Congress but we do have a few billionaires buying their way into the Beltway.



The more things change, the more they stay the same


‘”Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Some believe that this quote came from George Santayana. We are more familiar with:  “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it;” — or become bamboozled by it.

Repeating history is a great device for storytelling. For those that were around in the 1980s, and somewhat sentient, may remember a wacky professor turning a 1982 model DeLorean into a time machine.

Director Robert Zemeckis took movie goers Back to the Future, which started at present day in 1985 and then jumped back in time to the 1950’s, all the while Marty McFly and Doc Brown were desperately trying to keep the space time continuum from unraveling.  In later squeals they leap into the future and then follow it bounding all the way back to the Wild West.

In 2004 J.J. Abrams confounded TV viewers with dueling, multiple realities in the series LOST. This show left viewers bouncing around the globe in variety of individual realities crisscrossing and spinning out of control like the pattern on a dye-tied tee shirt.

Those that are lost and do not know they are lost, usually remain lost.

In 2009 Abrams went to the big screen with Star Trek movies.  He took the original Star Trek series’ timeline and wrapped it around like the strips on a candy cane in such a way that there are now two Spocks inhabiting the universe. This was not the first time the Star Trek crew found themselves in a different time or alternative universes. It is easy to beguile a movie goer who is looking to be entertained. History, however is a different matter.

History has all the dramatic characteristics of a good novel without a DeLorean  time machine or movable island that turns time and space into Helter Skelter. History does this naturally. It is  like a sidewinder snake moving forward in a zigzagging way, pushing and pulling its way through time.

It was a turbulent time after World War II.  The war ended in a mushroom cloud. The United States was the only atomic power. But, in August of 1949 the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb. The proliferation of this weapon of mass destruction created a real sense of Armageddon.   For the United States the big question was how did the Soviets get atomic bomb making technology so soon? A hint; it was not from the Internet or Facebook.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg sharing secrets with the Russians.

The Soviets got it the old fashion way.  The  bomb secrets came from Communist infiltrators and spies  in sensitive position in the United States government. Senator Joseph McCarthy made his mark hunting down communists inside and outside of government. Eventually, two former communist party members, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were rooted out, convicted of espionage, and later executed for being spies.

Currently there is no “Red Menace” threatening the United States. But, all through 1950’s the United States  was fully immersed in the “Red Scare” and fully immersed into what would become a the Cold War.  President Harry Truman was faced with charges that his government was infested with communist spies and sympathizers while he was dealing with a what some called  a communist monolith intent on engulfing the Free World. President Dwight Eisenhower dealt with the Soviets orbiting satellites;  and President John Kennedy went about as far as the two countries could go without actually launching an all out nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Soviets came into being overthrowing 500 years of entrenched, albeit inept, Romanov’s rule quickly and efficiently. They pushed this empire out of the way to create what President Ronald Reagan would call the “Evil Empire.” Starting with storming the Czar’s Palace in 1918,  they have become experts at toppling governments.

After World War II the Soviets were determined to spread communism and  control as much of  Europe as they could grab using the Red Army to stuff ballots and police voter fraud.  One by one the Soviets toppled one Eastern European government after another creating a block of communist countries later known as the Warsaw Pact. And it was deja vu  ever since  with tanks rolling into Hungry in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1969, and Afghanistan in 1979.


The original Soviet “hackers” invading Poland in 1939.

Today, it would be hard to argue that Russian motives have changed.  It appears as if we are “back to the future.” The difference now is there is no Berlin Wall. There is no overt threat of the Russian  Army  marching in with tanks to back up the ballot box.  Unless it is in the Ukraine or Syria.

What was once done straight forward with T-72 tanks  is done so much easier and quicker and stealthier with social media. An over zealous, miscreant hacker on social media cannot launch an errant missile “accidentally” shooting down a civilian airliner. Instead he can post all the needed propaganda aimed at unsettling an election and sowing general discord.

The interesting twist to  this is the invaded country does all the heavy lifting.  It provides the internet and social platforms and most of the personell  in which the Russians can launch their hacking and fake news attacks from.  Once the fake news is posted, the likes pass it along. Eventually talk radio and TV talking heads start bloviating, arguing and  agreeing on what set of misinformation is “true. ” They give the phoney news legs that it can run with.

Eventually, certain  less alert, partisan-elected officials begin pontificating the one-sided merits of the fabricated information completely unaware they are defending the Russian motives in around-about way. People are easily duped.  Even the Bible tells us “there is no new thing under the sun.”   Meanwhile,  the snake slithers on..

There is a debate if it was Mark Twain or Winston Churchill who said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants (boots) on.”  It really does not matter who gets attribution.  With instant messaging a lie, or fake news can move about the globe almost instantaneously and with exponential speed.

Obsolete Russian mechanical trolls and bots

What is interesting to witness is how easy it is to see the people duped into the misinformation, misconceptions and misinterpretations of Russian intentions. This, despite 100 years of historical evidence of Russian meddling into foreign governments. A snake does not change despite shedding its skin. It stays a snake.

Recently a Justice Department Special Prosecutor looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, has arrested four Americans and interviewed many others for not being forthright with what appears  ill-advised negotions with Russian officials during the 2016 election. Mere snake-bitten novices playing with experts.

Carl Sagan wrote  that “One of the saddest lessons of history is, “If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”


Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark“


Symbols: Stand up, Sit down or Take a Knee

Traditionally in football when a player’s knee touches the ground he usually has the football and that means the ball is down and the play is over. The trend, however, seems to be when a player takes a knee it is an indication that the player’s career is over.

Several years ago, Tim Tebow created a stir with taking a knee after the play was over when he scored a touchdown.  This was a  spiritual gesture, a more solemn form of celebration that was even given the term Tebowing. Tebowing, imitated on and off the field, was not the typical end zone celebration of spiking the football or the myriad other end zone dances performed after crossing the goal line.

Bronco players Tebowing.

A couple of seasons ago Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee before the game actually started. He took his knee in protest during the National Anthem. Kaepernick wanted to bring attention “to the oppression of people of color.” A gesture that has caused national attention and earned Kaepernick status as a Public Enemy Number One right there with wanted men like John Dillinger and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis.

Ironically, both of these quarterbacks were released and have not taken a knee in any NFL huddle for several seasons. Their actions could easily be interpreted as a symbolic gestures. According to a symbolic gesture is an  act that has no purpose or effect other than to show support, respect, etc. And I guess this is where we run into the debate on how to show support and respect.

In most cases symbolic gestures are spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment responses. We are more familiar with simple use of hand gestures during polite conversation. This can morph quickly into the more animated hand gesture accompanied with the vein popping, red-faced, eye-bulging action of flipping off a driver who just cut you off in traffic. These sorts of gestures are easily understood; others, not so easy.

Symbolism is a way of expressing intangible ideas and concepts with recognizable material objects, which can be open to various interpretations and misconceptions. It could be like beauty is “in the eyes of the beholder.” It could be as Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter said in trying to determine pornography  by simply saying he could not define it “but I know it when I see it.”

Franklin thought it looked like a Turkey but it looks more like a Blue Jay that just got beaned.

When The Continental Congress decided to design a seal for the newly united colonies, they went to its go-to guys who did a bang-up  job on the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Three of the best philosophical, scientific and legal minds of the time. Basically the Congress took a pass on the seal for six years as different artistically-gifted colonials took a shot at creating the symbols acceptable to a finicky Congress.

So what do we see when we see a symbol?   Franklin thought one of the first proposed seal’s depiction of the Bald Eagle looked more like a turkey. Jefferson’s vision for the seal was an illustration of Pharaoh in his chariot chasing Moses and the Hebrews across the Red Sea with the motto: Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God as part of the seal.  I am not sure how that would play out today.

Pharaoh being swallowed up while Moses receives divine protection.

It eventually took three shots to get the symbols on The Great Seal that The Continental Congress wanted to represent the its beliefs and and values to future generations of Americans. On June 20, 1782 Congress approved the seal as we know it today. Everything on the seal from the colors, the 13-step pyramid with the ever watching eye in the sky on the reverse side symbolize a belief in the new nation.  Even the Latin phrases: “One out of many (or from many)” and  “New order of ages” are meant to represent the ideals of 1776. A sort of 18th Century flash forward to the present is a reminder of the symbols from the past meant to guide us into the future.


Although the Great Seal was a thoroughly thought-out process sometimes symbolic traditions come along haphazardly.  For example, how did the knee-jerk tradition of bestowing God’s blessing on somebody who just sneezed get its start?

Wikimedia Commons

According to Baseball Reference  The Star Spangled Banner was first played at a baseball game  in May of 1862 at the Union Grounds in Brooklyn. The United States Navy started playing the Star Spangled Banner at official functions in 1889.  In 1916  President Woodrow Wilson signed an executive order making the Star Spangled Banner the National Anthem.

A half-of-a-century after the game at Union Grounds, The Star Spangled Banner made it back to the playing field. On September 5 during the 1918 World Series game in Chicago a band played the Banner. It just so happened they played it when everybody in the ball park would be standing for the traditional 7th Inning Stretch. A sailor on leave snapped to attention and the crowd followed suit. It has been played at World Series games and Opening Day ceremonies ever since, with one caveat: A band had to be present.

We have to remember that this was a time when the public address systems were in their infancy and was more likely a strong-lunged man with a megaphone.

Symbolism sometimes has a haphazard way of coming together.  I am not sure if Tebow or Kaepernick ran their decision to take a knee before a Congressional committee. More than likely they just did it as a symbolic gesture. Whether we stand up, sit down, take a knee or just shut up, the gesture, as a symbol, is always up for interpretation.