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 Merriam-Webster.com 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.

Wikipedia

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.

 

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/09/24/colin-kaepernick-vs-tim-tebow-a-tale-of-two-christianities-on-its-knees/?utm_term=.892a4a41d66c

https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=5

https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/27807.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/06/12/us/washington-talk-briefing-tribute-to-cia.html

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/american-myths-benjamin-franklins-turkey-and-the-presidential-seal-6623414/

http://time.com/4955623/history-national-anthem-sports-nfl/

conventihttps://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/The_Star_Spangled_Banneron

http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-star-spangled-banner-200-anniversary-20140912-story.html

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After the Revolution we can all go back to Moscow

Recent news reports have the Russian hacking-election interference investigations moving at a faster pace as spat of subpoenas have been sent out and search warrants executed. Congress has socially invited Facebook and Twitter execs into closed door sessions to explain their unwitting role as social director for Russian election meddling.

The real issue is not if the Russians trolled, hacked or bo(t)ught their way into the 2016 Presidential election through a sea of social media. It was probably more about how easy it was to get so many “likes” while posting ads and fake news.

The open format of social media has made election meddling a lot easier.  It always has been the mission of the Communist International  to spread their brand of Marxism throughout the world.  And let’s face it, there has been a Communist Party in the United States, CPUSA, since the 1920’s.  The CPUSA has ran a presidential candidate starting with William Foster in 1924 and ending with Gus Hall in 1984.

Ironically, according to Marxist.org both men received the same vote counts of 36,386 votes. Voter fraud? In 60 years of presidential elections the CPUSA ended up exactly were they started.  But those were tough times to get any sort of mainstream media buy.

Communists supported former FDR’s  Vice President, Henry Wallace, who ran as the Progressive candidate in the 1948 election.  There were two other socialist candidates running in the that election. And although none of them received a single electoral vote, they did pull in 65,000 more votes than Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrat States-Rights’ Party, which managed 39 electoral votes. It seems ironic that these two political opposites now form the vocal bases of both the Democrat and Republican parties.

For most of its existence, CPUSA received financial support from the Communist International, the Comintern.  The Comintern pushed for world communism but suspended its efforts in 1943 in a show of allied support in World War II. It was not until 1989 that the Soviet Union stopped funding the CPUSA. Funding that the FBI knew about and tracked.

Membership in the CPUSA  was never more than 100,000 members, most of whom probably went underground when Senator Joseph McCarthy started his “Red” baiting.  And no doubt, McCarthy snared a few vocal socialists sympathizers he could paint as being red into his bear traps.

According to a CIA research report, The Soviet Union and Nonruling Communist Party, “Almost all nonruling communist parties received some form of direct or indirect financial support from the Soviet Union.” For instance, in 1978 the Philippine communists received $50,000 from the Soviet Union while in 1981 the Soviets helped the French communists with “400,000 tons of oil at low price for profitable resale.”

Granted, it could be argued that placing ads or fake news on social media sites may not be legally or illegally construed as “direct or indirect support” to a political party. But it is a form of influence. In any case, it would fall somewhere under the First Amendment particularly, after Citizen United, where the Supreme Court ruled money is free speech. Talk about a double speak.

Today, Moscow has no need to get a KGB operative into a CPUSA meeting. What may have been done face-to-face in a semi-covertly fashion between a KGB agent and an American comrade can now reach the masses and be done through social media; all the while under the auspices of protected speech.  Trolls and bots have replaced trained spies and handlers from the Motherland.

What were once the scoffed at voices deep in the political backwoods are now roaring crowds on main street thanks to social media. They can now blast their message from a bed in New Jersey or from Red Square in Moscow.

With the advent of social media and other instantaneous posting sites  Russia, or anybody else can influence just about any election in any country at anytime.  To think otherwise is contrary to history. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’ll catch all bad content in our system. We don’t check what people say before they say it, and frankly I don’t think society should want us to. Freedom means you don’t have to ask for permission first.”  Where was this idea during the McCarthy hearings.

Some websites to see:

http://www.npr.org/2017/10/02/555103005/facebook-surrenders-russian-linked-influence-ads-to-congress

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000496805.pdf

http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/government/elections/president/timeline.htm

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26126325

http://money.cnn.com/2017/09/21/media/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-russian-ads/index.html

 

Those Krazy Kims: Like Father Like Sons

 

Again, with the North Koreans.

North Korea fired another missile over Japan. There must be some sort of rhyme or reason to their actions.  One time they shoot one high and short that lands in the Pacific near a school of tuna and the next time it is low and long with boasts about taking out the multiple Starbucks on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  The last missile was low and long and could have reached Guam if it was pointed in that direction.

What puzzles me, is the logic to all of this missile popping.  Either the North Korea is board certified-crazy or it is your little brother on the side of the house playing with matches.  It is like

A steely-eyed Missile Man?

a group of boys with bottle rockets aiming them to land on their neighbor’s front porch just to piss-off the old fart that lives there.

At this time, I am going to go with crazy just because it is extremely cold there. I know this is unfair.  A lot of the world’s population lives in cold places.  You do not see the Swedes shooting missiles over Norway and into the Norwegian  Sea.

North Korea, however, is the strange family.
They live in the house on the end of the only dead-end street in the neighborhood.  Nobody passes in front of the house because nobody has reason to go down there. The mailman does not go down there. On a rare occasions a dim light can be seen in an upstairs window. They home school their kids. They ignore all Home Owners Association regulations – their garbage just appears on the curb at random times and the only time you see them is when they come out yelling and screaming, waving a meat cleaver while chasing the local stray cat stupid enough to wonder into their yard.

But then maybe it is a daddy thing.  On September 9, 1948 Kim IL-sung became the leader of North Korea. He held various titles of authority during his life but when he died on July 8, 1994 he was elevated to “Eternal President of the Republic.”  From the time Grand Dad took control of Korea we have had 13 Presidents.  And yes two of them were daddy and son. I do not know but I am sure following the Eternal President was a tough act Kim Jong-il to follow.  Maybe Kim Jong-un is just trying to live up to his Grand Dad’s Korean War carnage with his missiles and earn a larger than life statue in Pyongyang.

A father pointing the way to his son. The Mansudae Grand Monument

The Eternal President of the Republic invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950 in what he termed the “Fatherland Liberation War.” Two days later the United Nations sanctioned military action against the invasion. If not for Chinese intervention Kim IL-sung may have spent the rest of his eternal life in an exile’s grave in the Soviet Union or China.

The war, however,  turned into a “meat grinder,” one of attrition.  It was a modern day World War I with jets.   An armistice was signed on July 1953 that created a Demilitarized Zone and from there we have sat watching the Kim Dynasty’s dementia grow as it is being passed down from father to son. Instead of diplomats and generals maybe we need a couple of shrinks and couch.

The United States has had some experience in dealing with dynasties.  After all we won our independence from George III — the House of Hanover.  We fought the “divine wind” in the Pacific during World War II that brought the “heavenly sovereign” of Japan back down to earth.

But North Korea is different. Diplomatic or military options may not be the best way to deal with today’s  30 something adult male with missiles and launch codes. It may be better to treat the youngest Kim as you would your nephew who has not emerged from his parent’s basement since the last version of Call of Duty was released.

The problem is nowhere on the planet has anybody come up with how to deal with these cellar dwellers. Parents have quit sending food down to them.  They have turned the lights out on them and have tried not to think what they do with their waste products. Their dedication to duty has their six-inch Howard Hughes’ finger-nailed claws clutching a controller like life itself depends on it.

Instead of treating North Korea as  a militarily,  it should be considered it an insane asylum. Instead of sanctions the UN should Baker Act Kim Jong-un. After nearly 70 years of Kim rule, maybe its time to send in the guys wearing white coats and carrying straight jackets.  Then herd the lot them off to a padded cell.

 

 

Minute Man III pic AF.mil

Call of Duty pic Flickr

All other Wikimedia and Wikipedia

 

 

Ghosts and Monsters

As a kid I never believed in ghosts.  Monsters  were a different story.  Ghosts to me were ethereal and despite all the Halloween hype just did not scare me.  Monsters, on the other hand, had me under the bed with the dog. They are more tangible to reality  especially if they were from outer space where anything close to science or myth could be justified.

Now that I am older I have come to believe in ghosts but not in the sense of haunted mansions or dancing spirits in graveyards at night.  Ghosts are ambiguous and unexplained but usually there is an attempt to rationalize or explain what appears to be a physical appearance.  Too often we find ourselves like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of OZ with his eyes closed babbling his mantra: Oh, I do believe in spooks.

Aliens on a mission

Monsters on the other hand have a more realistic aspect.  Where a ghost may materialize through a wall a monster can take the wall down.  Monsters have a mission.  Godzilla came to destroy Tokyo. Invaders from Mars were attempting to conquer and enslave Earth. The Predator was dropping in from deep space for his annual hunting trip to stalk humans in the jungle. This has more fear to it then something that just goes bump in the night.

History has its monsters.  Some have been immortalized in fiction like Count Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. Others are immortalized just for their ferocity and barbarity like Attila the Hun.  And monsters are not restricted to certain eras of time. We have had our modern-day monsters like Hitler and his Nazis with their death camps and Pol Pot in Cambodia with his killing fields. Who knows, Kim Jong Un could become one.

Some historical monsters never become ghosts. They have made the transformation from human straight to monster.  Their place in history is secured much the way Benedict Arnold’s name is synonymous to the word traitor.   It does not matter what heroic deeds Arnold did during the Revolutionary War, his selling out to the British is what he is  remembered for. And in Arnold’s defense most people could not tell you what he actually did. Monsters cannot escape their moniker.

In most cases it does not take long to identify monsters. This is nothing new.  It did not take Romans long to begin removing images of Nero and the pulling down of his Golden Palace after he was determined to be an enemy of the public. It could be argued that Nero knew the Praetorian Guard was coming for him and decided to kill himself and save them the trouble.

A slightly tainted Nero

American colonists in New York pulled down a statute of King George III and turned his majesty into bullets to be fired at Red Coats.  Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution destroyed statutes of Alexander the III, changed the name of St. Petersburg and went so far as to kill Czar Nicholas III and his entire family. Other unloved potentates managed to see the pitchforks and torches in the distance and got out of town a few steps ahead of the mob.

But those were obvious monsters. Historical ghosts have managed to move through eddies of time, appearing and then fading back into the mists. It is during these historical séances that ghosts can be immortalized in granite; their earthly forms captured for eternity.

The problem with these marble monuments and men is that a change in the historical perspective can easily transform a ghost into a monster.  A shift in the accepted historical narative can radically change the continuum.  This can cause “a recalculating” on the direction history takes in the present. An obvious result is the pulling down of these idolized statutes from their plinths and turning  them into monsters.

Ghosts venerated in their time are subjected to historical decay. Their deeds are turned into history and legend and then materialize as bronze men on raised granite-marble pedestals . Exposed to the elements the bronze will oxidize and change color. Without proper care the statute will corrode away. But what happens when the people’s perspectives about these marble men disintegrate?    Ghostly beliefs of the past become perceived monstrous deeds of the present.

 

All photos Wikimedia commons

 

 

 

Citizenship, Voting, and Corporations

 

scene_at_the_signing_of_the_constitution_of_the_united_states-2

On March 6, 1857 the Supreme Court made what is undoubtedly the worst decision in the history of the court.

In a 7-2  decision, the court, with four slave-holding judges, ruled that a slave taken from a slave state into a free state does not make that slave free.  The Court’s ruling also undid all of the previous Congressional compromises that attempted to control the spread of slavery saying those compromises were unconstitutional.

In America we can equate freedom with liberty, and rights with citizenship, and the right to vote as the holy sacrament of citizenship. A quick review of American history will show that America has been dealing with some aspect of citizenship (and voting) from the time a group of erudite revolutionaries  sat down in Philadelphia to scrap the short-lived and inefficient Articles of Confederation to our very present time of illegal residents, refugees at the gates and radicalism within our borders.

Prior to devising a new government the Framers dealt with overthrowing the most powerful potentate of the time, so when it came to crafting a new constitution it was all about keeping monarchical tyranny at bay. They were more concerned with Spaniards radicalizing slaves  to run off to Spanish Florida than thinking about who would be crossing the Mississippi River border or who would become a subversive citizen.

At first there was no real debate about citizenry: white property-owning males were full-blown citizens with voting rights. Everybody else was subject to some sort of restrictions.  For instance, Blacks were on one end spectrum as slaves without rights; women were somewhere in the middle as non-voting citizens with possible property rights; Native Americans were treated as hostile land owners without property rights.

It took the Framers of the Constitution only four paragraphs into the Constitution to create a controversy that would last decades and would take a Civil War to settle. In Article I, Section 2 the Framers started to hammer out a a taxation and representation compromise.  A revolution was fought over those fighting words.

locke
Enlightenment thinker John Locke Wikimedia Commons

Right off the bat  we are hit with the whopper of all compromises — our original sin as a country. In the Declaration of Independence we blamed slavery on the king of England. But in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia there was no king to blame. The sin was so flagrantly against our founding “Lockeian” principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of property and so defining, that the Framers would not call it what it was: Slavery.

This compromise is interesting because it is based on regional differences that divided the country as well as economic profits from the slave trade and exports of slave-labor-produced goods that united the country. There was no way to get around it. They were hoisted up on their own Revolutionary rhetoric. Now they had to figure out how a country dealing with progressive ideas on representation and taxation could get a government to politically work in a nation with  half of the country using a business plan based on economics from the times of the Pharaohs.

slave_sale_poster-1
Slavery: getting the job done for 5,000 years. Wikimedia Commons

 

Not having a crystal ball and dealing with their own prejudices at the time the Framers settled the matter by basing representation and taxation with a fractional counting compromise. The Framers started with a whole, then subtracted, and then reduced it.
Taxation with representation would sum up on “the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years,  excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons. The “Indians not taxed” must be parenthetical that was thrown in at the last moment when somebody asked, “What about the last of the  Mohicans?”  Indians not being property and hence not taxed-taxed would be excluded.

Dred Scott Decision was without a doubt one of the worst the Supreme Court has ever made. Wikipedia

So basically at the start of the new government there were five types of native-born Americans:  Free Persons; those bound to Service for a Term of Years, usually life; non-taxed Indians; women and free Blacks. This leads to the question what is a taxable Indian.

As far as voting was concerned that was left up to the individual state to determine who could and could not vote.

Well-intentioned people with a plan using twisted logic can be just as dangerous as somebody with no plan.  The plan may seem sound at the time but ends up creating a timed-coil spring ready to fly out of its box like bees in a kicked-over hive.

All three branches of our government have dealt with who is a citizen from time-to-time. The Constitution gives Congress the power “To establish uniform Rule(s) of Naturalization.” Congress first exercised this power during the French Reign of Terror with the Alien and Sedition Act that extended the number of years a person had to be a resident before becoming a citizen. But when there is a void in one branch of government (unless one branch happens to be Congress) another branch of government will be glad to step in and kick the hive over.

By the mid 1850s Kansas was bleeding in a precursor to the Civil War and the Supreme Court took its turn to kick the hive in Dred Scott v Sandford decision. After numerous Congressional compromises starting with the Missouri Compromise on how to keep the Three-Fifths Compromise intact and in control of the ever expanding country and slavery, the Supreme Court said the Constitution gives slaves absolutely no rights and hence Congress has no authority to control slavery.

taney
Chief Justice Roger B. Taney Wikimedia Commons

In fact Chief Justice Roger B Taney went so far as to say that if anything, the 5th Amendment protects those that own slaves by saying, “no person … (shall) be deprived of life liberty, or property without due process of the law…” Not the slaves’ life, liberty or property but the owners. Slaves were bought and sold and as far as Taney was concerned “they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

It took a Civil War to free slaves and the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 to make them citizens. The “right to vote” would come in 1870.

 

Suffragists parade down Fifth Avenue, 1917. Advocates march in October 1917, displaying placards containing the signatures of more than one million New York women demanding the vote. The New York Times Photo Archives
Suffragists parade down Fifth Avenue, 1917.
The New York Times Photo Archives

Through the years the Federal government has expanded citizens’ rights.  African Americans still needed the Civil Rights Movement to see that their natural born rights of life,liberty and the pursuit of happiness were enforced. Women have always struggled as second class citizens. Congress passed the 19th Amendment and on August 18, 1920 women were given the right to vote along with their citizenship.  After nearly a decade of fighting in Vietnam, 18 year-old draftees secured the right to vote for all 18 year olds when Congress passed the 26th Amendment in 1971.

uh-1d_helicopters_in_vietnam_1966
Vietnam 1966 Wikipedia

And what about the non-taxed Indians? Finally, after being chased clear across the continent, Native Americans finally received due process.  It would take the Indian Citizen Act passed on June 2, 1924 to make them citizens and “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States.  Native Americans might argue, with some success, that they were always subjected to the jurisdiction of the United States (particularly the Army) and usually at the end of gun barrel.  Native Americans might be citizens but some states up until 1957  refused them the right to vote.  I am sure this was just a mere technicality, a parenthetical, that was somehow over looked.

photograph_of_general_william_t-_sherman_and_commissioners_in_council_with_indian_chiefs_at_fort_laramie_wyoming_ca-_1_-_nara_-_531079
After beating the Rebels, Gen. Sherman pow-wows with Native American Chiefs. It is safe to say voting rights were not discussed. — Wikimedia

So who is next up for expanded citizenship?  How about corporations. In the “Bizarro World” of jurisprudence and so-called activist judges,  corporations have been getting more and more individual rights, despite not being mentioned in the Constitution.  It seems a non-human corporation would fall more under John Locke’s definition as “property.”

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United vs The FEC, corporations got a whopper of a deal. Although they were not given the right to vote they got something more valuable:  the unlimited First Amendment right to buy speech to influence the vote.

flicker
Money for nothing and speech for free. Flicker

Corporations have always had certain legal rights to guide their boards and investors.  But this ruling gives the non-human corporations the personal right of free speech. The court once again used twisted logic saying that money is free speech.  Money by its very nature, is never free.

The court ruled that not only is speech protected but so is the speaker even if that speaker is not human. So what about the penniless barking dog next door?

Like Taney’s ruling dismissing Congressional compromises, The Citizens United ruling did away with all campaign reforms dating back to 1907.  This allows corporations and unions to contribute (buy) as much (free speech) as they want and spend it on political campaigns. The logic says the more money available to the speaker the more free speech that speaker has, which does not make sense politically or economically. If speech is free why does a corporation need unlimited amount of money to buy more speech? Money is the kissing cousin to just about everything good or bad.  It’s the coiled spring in the box.

With this ruling corporations will never need the right to vote so long as money equals free speech.

Some web sites to visit

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/dred-scott-decision

https://www.oyez.org/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/the-best-and-worst-supreme-court-decisions/

https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-205.ZS.html

http://www.civil-war.net/pages/1860_census.html

 

 

 

 

 

Fact, Fiction or Alternative Fact

mark-twain-391120_960_720

Mark Twain, an American storyteller, journalist, essayist and pundit said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” According to the American Press Institute, “Creating a good story means finding and verifying important or interesting information and then presenting it in a way that engages the audience.”

https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/journalism-essentials/makes-good-story/good-stories-use-detail/

The recent presidential campaign has been nothing but engaging audiences with good stories.  What could be more engaging than debating that size matters. The campaign started out debating the size of a candidate’s hand all the while alluding to his manliness.  It would not be unseemly then to begin the new presidency with a debate on the size of an inauguration crowd. The question most Americans really want to know is: So now who has the bigger crowd? This time there is no debate — we have pictures!

inagu
USA Today

The media says not so big.  Others say it was huge. Never let a few facts get in the way (even if its thirty or forty thousand people). It is obvious that the president’s press secretary is not concerned. He said “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” And a new term is buzzing around: alternative facts.

Uh? The English Oxford Living Dictionaries say a fact is “a thing that is known or proved to be true.” Gravity is a fact: What goes up must come down. There is no gray area between the leap and sudden impact to be debated.

Maybe the alternative fact is the speed at which an object falls. The speed of a falling object can depend on the rotation of the Earth, the mass of the object and altitude. Maybe there is an  Equatorial Bulge factor to consider when estimating the size of a crowd in Washington D.C. on a particular day that can skew the numbers.

However, using the logic that it is possible to debate the speed of a falling man, while he is falling, one might be able to agree then that something that is blatantly false or untrue is not necessarily a lie. But at what point does a falsity become a lie?  And if it becomes a lie then what kind of lie is it? Is it one of omission or commission?  Is it a little white lie or a bold face lie?  And then it comes down to who is telling the lie and even the intent of the lie.  Is it coming from your investment broker on the merits of your investment portfolio? Is the lie coming from a goal oriented sociopathic liar; a compulsive liar who lies out of habit; or the twice-bitten husband telling his wife her hair looks good?

And then there is the “big lie. The whopper that no one questions because it has just enough plausibility, embarrassment and is so outrageous that it has to be true: like NASA faked all the moon landings and they were a Disney production shot on a Hollywood back lot with a young George Lucas watching.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201502/expert-guide-lies-and-liars

http://www.compulsivelyingdisorder.com/5-different-types-of-liars/

 

Nazi Germany knew something about lies, particularly the “Big Lie.” Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister for public enlightenment and propaganda wrote:

_joseph_goebbels
Reich Chancellor Joseph Goebbels

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/joseph-goebbels-on-the-quot-big-lie-quot

 

The Economist says the world has “entered an era of ‘post-truth politics’.” Maybe we have moved back to schoolyard days of “liar, liar pants are on fire, nose is long as a telephone wire.” But then who uses a land line anymore.

According to The Economist, “There is a strong case that, in America and elsewhere, there is a shift towards a politics in which feelings trump facts.”  With new technology, social media, fake news and false assertions now fly through cyber space at warp speed. Today there are fewer traditional editors and gatekeepers available to verify and fact check the onslaught of information. We live in a time when any tweeter or wiki-leaker can set thousands of pants on fire with the simple word “send.”

jackalope
A Jackalope that did not get away.

It is much easier for lie to be tweeted than spoken face-to-face.  Words lack the changing and shifting body language, the lack of eye contact, the beads of sweat on the forehead or the change in pitch of the voice as those words are spoken.

http://www.sellingpower.com/content/article/?a=4256/lies-and-deception-in-selling

With an untrusting public being bombarded with facts and fiction The Economist says, “some politicians are getting away with a new depth and pervasiveness of falsehood. If this continues, the power of truth as a tool for solving society’s problems could be lastingly reduced.”

http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21706498-dishonesty-politics-nothing-new-manner-which-some-politicians-now-lie-and

The lunatic fringe has always been out there. They have been like a pack of ravenous wolves circling the herd. Now they are attacking at the core of truth. The fringes are now among the herd and have turned opinion into fact and feelings into reason. Once the fringe runs down the truth; the truth can then be separated into alternative facts and disseminated for mass consumption.

winston_churchill_in_a_jeep_outside_the_german_reichstag_during_a_tour_of_the_ruined_city_of_berlin_16_july_1945-_bu8950
Churchill outside the  Reichstag after the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945.

Winston Churchill, as the war-time Prime Minister of Great Britain, knew something about dealing with the “big liars” of World War II.  He said:  The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.

Hacking, Cooping, Ratfucking and a Quasi War

When it comes to the alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic Party the question is not did the Russians hack the Democratic Party during the election. The real question is more why wouldn’t they hack.

binghamlg
The County Election, 1852 by George Caleb Bingham

Disrupting elections is an American tradition. Why have states been babbling on about voter fraud and passing laws for tougher voter identification? Candidates and their backers have been trying to game the outcome of elections in this country since the first wagon loaded with barrels of hard apple cider was served up gratis for showing up at the polls. There was nothing wrong with Election Day liquor so long as it was not served up by a foreign power.

In the 1840s Baltimore political gangs took election canvassing to newer heights that went beyond stealing election ballots, bribing judges and outright voter intimidation. There was the practice called “cooping.”  “Potential voters” were swept up and steered to a local tavern where they were sequestered and plied with booze until Election Day.  Then they were paraded from one polling place to another polling place to vote.  In some cases the inebriated sots where taken back for a quick change of clothes as a change of identity so they could vote again thus giving true meaning to voting early and often.

poe
The tale to tell is what happened to Poe on Election Day.

There has been speculation that the mysterious death of America’s first detective writer, Edgar Allan Poe, was shrouded in such voter fraud.  Four days before his death Poe was found on Election Day, in what was believed to be a drunken state, outside of Ryan’s 4th Ward Poll watering hole, a tavern known as Gunner’s Hall.  Some Poephiles believe Poe, who was already in poor health, was dragooned into one of these gang-related Election Day cooping efforts.  Once he had fulfilled his civic duty he was cast out on to the street. But these efforts, although coordinated to affect the election’s outcome, were not perpetuated through a foreign power.

http://www.eapoe.org/geninfo/poedeath.htm

Most American high-schoolers are familiar with the New York City machine The Tweed Ring. William Tweed managed to take control of New York City politics. It was estimated in 1877 that Tweed had stolen between $25 million to $45 million from New York City.  The “Boss” ran a Big City Machine that controlled the loyalty of the voters through graft, jobs, and city projects.

city-machine
Votes go up graft comes down.

Just about every big city has had some sort of machine.  Kansas City had Thomas Pendergast.  Pendergast was the Chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Party. In the latter half of 1920s and through the ‘30s he was able to get friendly politicians elected to office. In fact one friend made it as far as the US Senate and then on to the Oval Office: Harry Truman.  Before his ascent to the presidency Truman was known as the Senator from the State of Pendergast. But both Tweed and Pendergast’s penchant for skirting the law led to convictions.  Tweed was convicted on 204 counts of corruption and Pendergast for income tax evasion. Both served time.

In more recent times we can see that the 2016 election between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton was close. Clinton received around two million more popular votes than her opponent.  However, her margin of popular vote was a Whopper with fries compared to John F. Kennedy’s 1960 victory.  Richard Nixon lost the popular vote to John Kennedy by a .17% margin or just fewer than 114,000 votes. In most states the margins were as thick as a spider’s web. After the election there was speculation that the Cook Country Democratic boss, Richard Daley, served up the presidency to Kennedy with an overwhelming Democratic vote tally.

Does the name Donald Segretti ring a bell, probably not?  He was one of many of President Richard Nixon’s dirty tricksters – or a ratfucker. In a time before hacking and the social media platforms of Twitter, Facebook and email, dirty tricksters would use the letter heads of political opponents. Once the letter head was acquired then fraudulent statements or “fake news” could be circulated. There were various fake letters circulated from one Democrat accusing another Democratic candidate of having sexual affairs and children with teenagers to being mentally unbalanced. This was just the beginning of the Watergate scandal that would soon turn the word “gate” into a suffix for any major scandal. Most recently Deflategate where New England Patriot quarterback was accused of tampering with the air pressure in footballs used in a championship game.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/watergate/articles/101072-1.htm

The most famous of these letters was the Canuck Letter.  This was a forged letter from the Nixon Campaign that appeared in the Manchester Union Leader newspaper two weeks before the New Hampshire presidential primary election.  The letter attributed disparaging remarks about French-Canadians to Democratic candidate Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine. The letter and the ensuing events, with Muskie accused of crying during a speech before the Manchester Union Leader building in a driving snow storm, led some to believe that the letter sunk Muskie’s hopes for a run for the presidency in 1972.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoEEs9cD4JI

There was at least one time when foreign diplomats openly tried to influence American public opinion. It was in the turbulent times of the new republic after the Revolutionary War.  Events in France led to the Reign of Terror and the beheading of Louis XVI and his wife.  Before long the newly formed French Republic was at war with every European

adet
Pierre Adet

monarchy – and urging its fellow republic, the United States, to join in.  France, using the 1778 Treaty of Alliance as leverage, tried to enlist American support for France’s war against Great Britain. French diplomats like Edmond Genet and Pierre Adet began to outfit privateers in American ports to attack British shipping. They tried to enlist Americans to their cause to invade Spanish territories and even possibly Canada.

 

Prior to the 1796 election Adet wrote several letters trying to influence public opinion. In one letter he indicated that if Thomas Jefferson was not elected president there could be war with France. He also leaked terms of the recently negotiated Jay treaty with Great Britain that was up for ratification in the Senate and tried to influence the Senate’s vote. In one letter Adet said that this treaty indicated that America was no longer a neutral country.

President Washington was trying to guide the young country to neutral waters despite the strong sentiments for France, particularly among members of Jefferson’s newly founded Republican Party.  This was a time of sharp partisan politics as Federalists and Alexander Hamilton leaned towards England. The two parties clashed in Congress over many issues.

https://www.ewu.edu/Documents/CSBSSW/History/Conlin/Conlin_American_Mission_Adet.pdf

Despite Adet’s meddling, John Adams won the 1796 election and America eventually fought an undeclared war called the Quasi War with France.  It was also a time when Federalists in Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Alien Act gave the government new powers to deport foreigners.  It also increased the residency requirements.  Immigrants were eligible to vote after five years of residency but the new law increased residency  for new immigrants to 14 years.

The Sedition Act was aimed more at budding growth of partisan newspapers, particularly Republican newspapers.  The Act basically prohibited public opposition to the government. Those who “write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the government could  and did face fines and imprisonment.  More than 20 Republican editors of newspapers were arrested with some being jailed.  The law was later repealed during Jefferson’s first administration.

http://www.ushistory.org/us/19e.asp

Getting back to Russian hacking, why not? American elections are an invitation for influence peddling and meddling, mudslinging, and misstatements. Now some 400 pound man in New Jersey can affect the presidency from his bed, only getting up for a bag of Doritos and a Mountain Dew.

 

See All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward https://books.google.com/books?id=6MYYI_LNfWsC&pg=PA137&lpg=PA137&dq=canuck+letter&source=bl&ots=10tTA_hwCe&sig=jUax5YntQMQI0uo-AE-zk0nHgls&hl=en&sa=X&sqi=2&pjf=1&ved=0ahUKEwiG-_SS0LDRAhVGWCYKHd1cA70Q6AEIeTAT#v=onepage&q=canuck%20letter&f=false

 

 

 

 

Ostracized or Exiled

 

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Lincoln Memorial

In the highly charged campaign-election atmosphere, Donald Trump promised to drain the D.C. swamp — starting with Hillary Clinton.  His supporters chanted throughout the campaign to “lock her up,” which sounds better than “ostracize her!”

The tone in the transition period, however, has changed dramatically from assigning a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton’s improprieties from Trump’s first day in office to more of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address were Lincoln advocated “malice towards none, with charity to all.”   President-elect Trump must have been channeling Lincoln, a president who presided over a severely divide country, when he said: “I don’t want to hurt the Clinton’s, I really don’t, she went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.”

With that said, and since we are in what appears to be a wave of populism, there is one way to drain the D.C. swamp without legal prosecution but through the ancient Greek practice of ostracizing those who may have stepped out of favor with the voting public.

The Athenians practice ostracizing their leaders on an annual basis. The Greeks often sent off some of their most illustrious leaders into 10 years of exile.  In fact, Themistocles, the chief advocate and designer of Athenian naval power, who defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, was sent into exile. Despite his forward thinking in preparing Athens for the upcoming struggles with the Persian Empire, he did not survive accusations of “bribery, sacrilege, and a suspicious association with a Spartan traitor.”

In the 1770s Boston was a hotbed of democratic “populism.”   It was not an unusual sight to see a Sons of Liberty inspired-crowd put the hot tar to some poor British official. After being administering the feathers, the misguided official was then regally escorted out of town on a rail. Once the Revolutionary War started, many “loyal” colonists opted for self-exile rather remain unfaithful to their king and face the possibility of mob reprisals.

The Sons of Liberty knew a thing or two about putting democracy into action. A mob can be a beautiful thing if it is controlled but, in the wrong hands extreme mischief can spiral into anarchy as when angry Massachusetts’ farmers decided to close down the courts to keep the state from reposing their property for back taxes.  When their attempt failed, one of the chief instigators, Daniel Shays, chose voluntary exile when he fled to Vermont to avoid prosecution.

portrait_daniel_shays
Revolutionary War Army Captain Daniel Shays

These pre and post-Revolutionary War experience in inciting the people, and dealing with tyrannical Royal governors, must have given the framers some disconcerting thoughts when it came time to amend the Article of Confederation. Instead of amending a loose confederation of states they decided to create a tighter federation of states.  They created a hybrid form of government splitting governmental power between a central government and states and putting various political philosophies that incorporated checks and balances, separation of powers, (specifically in creating a separate judicial system) and a Bill of Rights into a Constitution that protected the people and the powers to be from each other.

The framers of our Constitution borrowed liberally from past political thinkers from Locke, Rousseau, and Montesquieu; but sending citizens deemed undesirable into exile was not incorporated into the Constitution. The framers also understood the difficulties the Greeks had in keeping a pure democracy from turning into a tyranny and they no doubt understand the slow fade that took the Romans from a republic to an empire ruled by a soon to be gods.

clement_vallandigham_-_brady-handy
Vallandigham

During the Civil War Clement Laird Vallandigham, a former Congressman from Ohio and an anti-war Democrat, who some believed was a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, was banished to the Confederacy.  In the opening months of 1863 when the Civil War still hung in the balance, the Union Army issued General Order 38. The order curbed the right to express anti-government sentiments or to convey sympathy for the enemy.

 

Vallandigham, being the good Copperhead spoke out against Lincoln and the war in a Columbus, Ohio speech.  Union General Ambrose E. Burnside promptly had him arrested, tried by a military court, convicted and sentenced to two years in a military prison all the while avoiding a civil trial. Lincoln however, showing some charity for Vallandigham, commuted the sentence and exiled the former Ohio Congressman to the Confederacy.

The Southerners were probably no more interested in having him around sent him off to Bermuda. From there Vallandigham made his way Canada and ran unsuccessfully for governor of Ohio from Canada. Vallandigham eventually crossed the border and returned to Ohio. He returned after Lincoln had won the 1864 election. Lincoln, however, ignored his return and deemed Vallandigham’s pro South rhetoric and activities no longer a nuisance as Union armies began surrounding Richmond.

Lincoln was dealing with a divided country that some would say was in open rebellion.  Others might say they were defending their rights and homes from an over reaching federal government.

Most Americans who choose to go into exile do so to avoid criminal prosecution.  After falling out of favor for killing Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr slithered out West to look for new empires to create. His activities there ran him afoul with the Jefferson Administration.  Burr was later arrested and brought back East and tried for treason and found innocent. He later fled to Europe to avoid creditors. Some may say Davy Crockett went off into self-exile after losing his election for Congress by saying, “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

david_crockett
David Crockett

A modern day financial flight to exile was millionaire financier and Richard Nixon supporter, Robert Vesco, who some have said was the “the undisputed king of the fugitive financiers.” He fled the United States in 1973 for Costa Rica and eventually died in Cuba.  A more familiar flight from justice is Edward Snowden the Booz Allen NSA subcontractor who leaked secret NSA surveillance documents to the press. He has made Russia his home.

Lost elections, criminal charges and convictions might be one way to encourage certain evasive creatures to leave the quagmire of D.C. But any attempt to drain the D.C. Swamp of certain entrenched reptiles may be as futile as trying to lure escaped pythons and boa constrictors to leave the Everglades.

Mayhem is Everywhere

mayhem

About 40 years ago my dad once said you can go insurance broke. He said that  in time when the median price for a new house was under $70,000. It was time when a mid-size sedan did not need “gap” insurance to cover the immediate drop in value of a new car when its tires hit the street. It was a prehistoric era when a doctor’s visit could be paid in cash and HMOs were just crawling out of the primordial ooze that would eventually evolve into a renaissance of what we now know as affordable healthcare.

In 2014 insurance companies spent a shade over $5 billion in advertising trying to convince customers to buy products that in most cases are mandated by law as in automobile insurance or workers’ compensation insurance. In most states rates are controlled and overseen by an insurance commissioner. In some cases this is an elected official of the consumer for the consumer. Elected or appointed he is the Kommissar for the insurance industry.

This $5 billion is a paltry sum compared to the $16 billion that car companies spend in a market unregulated by a commission. It is less than the nearly $8 billion the Personal Care Products industry spends to convince consumers which $15 four-bladed transforming shaver is the best.

Advertising creates an image of a company and draws customers to its products like Sir Speedy and Mister Peanut. For $5 billion the insurance industry has created some interesting characters to represent them. There is a talking lizard with a British accent. Nothing embodies insurance more than a talking lizard. When it comes to selling there is nothing more convincing than a talking, beguiling reptile to move a product. Just ask Eve.

Hunting and gathering coverage for a discount

And what kind of message is being sent with those poor, luckless cave men trying to be hip. Neanderthals are constantly getting a bad rap. Life was not so simple for them back in the Stone Age either. And what kind of comment is being made about the insurance buying consumer? Are we Homosapians or just sophisticated Cro-Magnon men with over large deductibles ?

evolutionchart

 

Then there is the Abdominal Snowman chucking a car-crushing snowball, a fictional accident waiting to happen. Who needs a 500 pound snowball? Golf-ball size hail is a car killer. And everybody loves babies. Nothing makes me want to buy insurance more then giant, diaper wearing,  crying baby that really is a car. This commercial has to be an outgrowth of the old TV sitcom “My Mother the Car.” This was a show that ran in 1965 that TV Guide said in 2002 was the second worst show of all time.

Then there is mayhem everywhere: The one Stooge of the insurance world.  Exploding water heaters and gas grills to recalculating map directions, it is no wonder the cavemen packed it up for a more simpler time. And who can forget white-clad gal who makes buying insurance look as easy as fighting off the mass hordes at a Super Wal-Mart on payday.

stages

And let us not forget the nifty slogans of good hands and good neighbors. Smart consumers may want to forgo their 15 minutes of fame and use it to save money on insurance because as my old man once said “you can go insurance broke.” And if you are not there yet just check out what a COBRA payment would be.

 

2000px-Supply-demand-right-shift-demand_svg

I am not sure of the economics of all this. Is it supply and demand or demand and supply? Is it because there is no snap in the price elasticity of demand?  Or maybe when it comes to insurance there is no inferior good. Who knows, but there seems to be a correlation to a product’s need to how absurd its  commercials are. People have to buy most insurance — a captive consumer — so let’s make it as entertaining and ridiculous as possible.

Space, still the Final Frontier

Rendering_of_Orion_Exploration_Flight_Test_1

Last month the Orion Crew Module was flown to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The Orion space craft is designed to take four astronauts beyond low Earth orbit and on to Mars. But before any deeper voyages into space the Orion is scheduled to take a test spin around the  moon sometime in 2018.

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/orion/index.html

Ironically  it is the near, disastrous flight of  Apollo 13 that holds the record for the farthest voyage from earth: 248,655 miles.  The Orion will go just a bit farther from Earth. The distance to Mars may vary depending on the position of the two planets.  It could be as close as 34 million miles or as far away as 250 million miles. In any case it will be more than a small step or giant leap to get there.

http://www.space.com/24701-how-long-does-it-take-to-get-to-mars.html

Apollo 13’s record setting distance was the unintended consequences of a slight malfunction in an oxygen tank giving us that famous saying: “Houston we have a problem.” The tank exploded due to a frayed wire forcing the crew to shut down the command module and abort a lunar landing. In order to return to earth Apollo 13 looped around the moon in a free return trajectory sending it beyond the low elliptical lunar orbit of 70 to 200 miles as planned.

After 56 hours of surviving in 30 degree temperatures in the Lunar Modul, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert splashed down on April 17, 1970 proving any landing you can walk away from, or in this case float away from, is a good one.

apollo13

April is a first for other maned space flights. On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin in Vostok I became the first human in space. Yuri’s one lap around the Earth at an altitude of 187 miles took all of  108 minutes.  On May 5 twenty-three days later Alan Shepard’s 15 minute canon ball shot in Mercury 7 boosted him 116 miles into space before he splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. A year later President John F. Kennedy dropped the starting flag for the race to the moon.

Twenty years after Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth John Young and Robert Crippen were the first astronauts to take the Space Shuttle Columbia out for a spin.  Young had flown in the Gemini and Apollo programs. Young, like Lovell had flown to the moon twice.  Young, however, as commander of Apollo 16 got his chance to walk on the moon.

Space_Shuttle_Columbia_lands_following_STS-28_in_1989

 

Young and Crippen pushed The Columbia for close to 55 hours and 37 orbits at an altitude of 168 miles above the Earth. It was the first of 27 successful flights for The Columbia.  It’s 22 year career would end when it disintegrate on reentry on February 1, 2003.

There is no race to Mars, as of now. The Orion missions will, however, take space flight from out of the shallow end of space to at least somewhere on the way to the deep end.