We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Wednesday, December 10. 2014
Sometime in 1996, I was scuba diving off the Outer Banks. Between dives, the boat captain and I had a conversation. His view was that in 20 years, water would be big business. I found that humorous, but as time passed, it struck me it has become a major industry. Or has it?
We spend little time considering something so basic, so essential, to life. It seems like something we don't really have to think about. Water is, after all, plentiful. But it takes considerable work to make it as plentiful as it is.
While water is handled as a public utility, the reality is there is a huge market for it and it is, as the captain suggested, big business. But it's always been big business, we just don't pay much attention to it because it's always available.
I had no idea the NY Public Library was built on the remains of the Croton Reservoir...
Walsh: Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.
Sunday, December 7. 2014
Mrs. BD snapped this pic of one of the wonderful tiles in NYC's Astor Place subway station."In the mid-to late-19th century, the area was home to many of the wealthiest New Yorkers, including members of the Astor, Vanderbilt and Delano families"
Why beavers? Because John Jacob Astor, at one time the wealthiest man in America, made his fortune in beaver pelts (and wisely went on to invest his beaver wealth in NYC real estate).
Why the Waldorf-Astoria? Because Johann Jakob Astor was an immigrant from Waldorf, Germany.
Friday, December 5. 2014
Thursday, December 4. 2014
He then took each to the side for a personal word.
Perhaps not as meaningful as his farewell speech to the troops, but the depth of his relationships which grew from the war followed him for years to come. Many continued to visit him at Mount Vernon. For obvious reasons, he will remain the only US President elected unanimously by the Electoral College.
Wednesday, December 3. 2014
When we hear how terrible politics are today, we fail to understand just awful they were in the early 1800's. It's not so much that things are bad today, but we should consider as a nation we went through a period of relatively limited political differentiation for quite some time from the Depression until about 1980. The political turmoil we are experiencing today isn't too different from our early years as a nation, much of which was mimicked at the turn of the 19th century. Adams held office at a time of massive partisanship, bickering and outright slander, at times.
John Quincy's years in the White House were spent trying to find things to do to keep himself occupied, since nothing he would propose could ever make it through Congress, such was Andrew Jackson's chokehold on the legislative branch. He was often ridiculed in the press, and often the butt of jokes during his tenure. Yet he persevered and was the only president to ever return to the House of Representatives (Andrew Johnson returned to the Senate).
John Quincy accomplished more before, and after, his presidency than most individuals of any stripe are capable of achieving. He was a master negotiator, a magnificent statesman, and a strong believer in the rights of man. He campaigned relentlessly to free the slaves upon his return to Congress, which led to the famous "Gag Rule," named after one of his comments. Despite being gagged, Adams was an expert Parliamentarian and found ways to have his voice heard.
He was the first US ambassador to Russia, and well liked there due to his role as secretary, at the age of 14, to Francis Dana from 1780 to 1783 in St. Petersburg. He worked hard, along with his father, to gain independence from Britain.
Adams was a promoter of education and science. We can thank him for the development of the Smithsonian Institute. Adams prevented Smithson's funds from being divided for political spoils and putting them to work for the country and education.
He was the first president ever photographed (the first sitting president to be photographed was William Henry Harrison in 1841, Adams' original picture was destroyed and he had new ones taken in 1843).
We often overlook many of our presidents, for obvious reasons. Some are larger than life. It's possible John Quincy was larger than our imagination, mainly because his term in office left him as an asterisk for many schoolchildren. "The son of a founding father and first child of a president to attain that office" is how I learned about him. His lack of effectiveness in office may have led to him being overlooked after years had passed, but it doesn't diminish his impact on our nation. We owe quite a bit to him.
Thursday, November 27. 2014
Wednesday, November 26. 2014
How did they celebrate their first year and their first harvest in the fall of 1621, when they sat down with their Cape Cod Wampanoag friends?
"Deer and wildfowl." What else? We don't know. I don't think they had the grain to brew their beloved beer until the next year. What we do know is that these folks had been through a nasty voyage in a rotten, leaky boat, landed at the wrong place - remember, they were headed to the Dutch New Amsterdam area - which was better idea. They managed to scrape out a living, thanks to the Indian's education (these folks weren't farmers, anyway) as they watched their family members die.
Only 53 of the original 104 immigrants survived until fall, 1621. Then they gave thanks to God. Thanks for what? Thanks, I think, to God for being there with them through thick and thin.
It's always been a wonder to me that they didn't all catch the next flight from Logan back to Leyden. Trust in God is strong stuff, and many of us are not strong enough to handle the powerful grip of God. Thanksgiving is about putting our faith in the Lord, or trying to - and nothing else. God Bless us, and America, please, and make us Pilgrims in our own time, in our own ways.
Saturday, November 22. 2014
This is a re-post:
One historical detail I picked up in reading Philbrick's wonderful Mayflower is that the Pilgrims only permitted civil marriage ceremonies - no religion involved, and no preacher present.
As Calvinists, the Pilgrims/Puritans/Separatists of colonial New England viewed the Anglican sacraments as Papist, and thus representative of the Anti-Christ - and they meant it. As a consequence, Congregational Churches, the heirs of the Puritan movement, still have no sacraments per se, although many have liberalized (or backslided?) to the extent of doing baptism, communion - and, of course, weddings which, even if not technically sacramental, are viewed as sacred vows. People long for a touch of the sacred and sacramental.
It is fascinating to be reminded that our nation's deepest roots are in Calvinist theocracy: pre-enlightenment, for better or worse. They viewed the Indians as equals (though living in spiritual darkness), but they hung some Quakers in Boston as blasphemers (but mainly tried to just send them away).
They even hung an ancestor of mine, who ran away from her husband and kids in Kingston, Rhode Island and was caught on a trail outside of Boston, headed north. Her crime? She refused to return home. We suspect she was not overly fond of her husband, who had previously been suspected of throwing his first wife overboard on the way to Rhode Island in 1640.
Friday, November 21. 2014
I have been perusing this out of print book: Truro - Cape Cod, Landmarks and Seamarks by Shebnah Rich (1888). I have a copy of the book, and wonder how in the world it got online.
Cape Cod began growing in European (English) population around 1630.
Farming and fishing were the main occupations. The soil was rich then due to the old forests. Today, there is no topsoil left. By 1750 there were few trees left on the Cape due to lumbering, land clearing for farming, and for fuel. The scrub oak and pine that predominate today is not the tall virgin hardwood forest that the colonists encountered.
Everybody grew things and raised animals. There was not much cash except from fishing and boat-building, and there were no shops. Main subsistence crops: orchards, maize, pumpkin and squash, root vegetables, beans, rye. No wheat, no flour, no sugar unless very wealthy - but there was molasses from the West Indies. Also, pigs, steer, milk cows, chickens, and horses for transportation. Cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries grew wild. There were plenty of deer and rabbits too, and of course abundant shellfish. Beans with a little pork was a standard meal. People baked their bread once a week, made of mixes of corn (maize) and rye flour. Food: Early American food and drink
When you slaughtered a hog or steer, you shared the meat with neighbors. They did the same.
You were allowed to shoot a wolf or a "problem Indian" but the Indians were not much of a problem and soon settled into Indiantowns and learned English. King Philip's War was not a big deal on Cape Cod.
A village Meeting House served many purposes including local government meetings and church. Most of the early congregations were "united," ie Methodist and Congregational worshipping together. In the early days there was a hot market for pastors and Harvard began grinding them out in 1636 to meet the demand. Like the Boston colonists, the Cape Codders were not Puritans like the Plymouth group.
Other than local rules made in town meetings, there was no "government" in evidence at all. Town officials were by vote, and volunteers. There were no police but there were informal militias. Every adult male citizen was required to own a firearm (mostly matchlocks). Later on, recruiters would pass through towns demanding recruits for the French and Indian War. The structure of grammar schooling varied widely from village to village.
Truancy from church was a crime. So was swearing. Sunday church services generally had two one-hour sermons and around an hour of prayer. The service was around four hours in all. No music, of course, and no communion. Those were Papist things. Each church had a guy assigned to wake up drowsers with a long stick with a feather on one end (for the ladies) and a knob on the other end (to conk the drowsy men on the head). A fun task, no doubt.
Thanksgiving: There were fall harvest Thanksgiving feasts all over the Cape. Nothing to do with the original Pilgrims, just a traditional harvest time thanks to God. The Pilgrim Thanksgiving? They had very little to be thankful for with half their group dead in that first winter, but they were anyway. Remember, they were headed for the already established town of New Amsterdam (New York), not Massachusetts. Got blown off course.
There were windmills all over the Cape, very early. Their main purposes were making corn or rye meal, or for filling up salt flats for salt production (to make salt cod).
Fishing meant mostly Cod on George's Bank, but later Mackeral too. Some guys were fishing schooner skippers by 25. Some of them went on to be transoceanic ship captains. There was some near-shore whaling, and the occasional stranding of a pod of Blackfish (aka Pilot Whales) was hitting the jackpot.
Death: Mainly infectious diseases of early childhood. Some TB in young adulthood. Also, puerperal fever killed a lot of wives so men often went through a series of them. After that, fishermen drowning was the main cause - which provided widows for the widowers. If you escaped those things, most people lived into their 80s. (Those childhood death rates and accident death rates are what skews old-time life expectancy data and thus the averages are meaningless.)
Illumination and heat: Fireplaces for heat, and one in the kitchen for cooking. Wood stoves came much later. Bayberry candles, whale oil lamps.
Transportation, etc: Roads were terrible. Transportation was mainly by water and to be a town you needed a harbor. With its fine harbor, Provincetown was the largest on the Lower Cape. Early on, there was regular travel and mail, via Boston packets.
We might consider these settlers poor and deprived, but all they saw was abundance, faith, and hope. Life was hard and highly uncomfortable (by our standards), and was expected to be. You fended for yourself. If judged utterly helpless, the church came to your aid.
Housing: The history of colonial housing is an interesting one, mostly borrowed from England and from Holland in areas around New York. However, the rural Cape Cod cottage was an American invention and typical on colonial Cape Cod. No plumbing. Every village had an amateur post and beam carpenter in an era where most trades were amateur and everybody was a farmer, including schooner skippers, pastors, and doctors.
Photo on top is the Jonah Atkins house, Truro, Mass.
Thursday, November 20. 2014
Here is a recent article from Ephemeral New York on Five Points.
Wednesday, November 12. 2014
Our urban hike just won't go away. Yesterday, Bird Dog posted pics of Trinity Church. Today I'm posting one location we didn't happen to visit. It was on the original agenda, by the time we got to Washington Square, taking a swing west would have added too much time to the walk. Spirits were high, but it seemed too much to ask. There's always next year.
As a young arrival in New York, I was single and had small amounts of cash to spend on entertainment. There were plenty of ways to find that entertainment at South Street Seaport, midtown in some of the (much more expensive) watering holes, Greenwich Village, and even portions of the West Village. In particular, The White Horse Tavern (warning - the full article, if you wish to read it, requires joining the site, but there is plenty in the portion I've linked to) was one of my favorite places to go after work on Thursday and Friday. For some reason, I never stopped in on the weekends.
Continue reading "The White Horse Tavern"
Tuesday, October 7. 2014
Saturday, September 27. 2014
In the US, I can easily see California and Texas as their own countries. They were never envisioned at the beginning anyway. Either one would be more of a nation than Canada, Australia, or Austria. Smalleer governments are more accountable and more responsive.
Even Spain could break into its constituent parts if the empire permits a vote.
Dismantling Empires Through Devolution - Democracy is not the most potent political force of the 21st century.
Should the American civil war have been subject to a confederate referendum first?
Sunday, August 31. 2014
Wednesday, August 20. 2014
Friday, June 6. 2014
Sunday, June 1. 2014
Reading Plutarch (especially in English), is a delight. Plutarch on Demosthenes.
When you read his biographies, you learn as much about Plutarch (c. 75 AD) as you do about his subjects. His somewhat-contrived Parallel Lives was a best-seller of its time, and it is still selling.
Wednesday, May 28. 2014
It began as the Rogue's Gallery, a series of pictures of New York's most notorious criminals, around 1857, some 20+ years after the first photograph was developed. No doubt as the cost of photography fell, the role of a photo as an effective police tool became apparent. It was a critical innovation of Chief Inspector Thomas Byrnes, a man known for aggressive police work, in the 1880s. Byrnes is also known as the developer of "The Dead Line" and "The Third Degree".
The Dead Line referred to an imaginary line drawn across Manhattan at Fulton Street, and based on the concept that criminals would be interested in the banks and jewelry stores south of said line. Any known criminal south of this line would be arrested on sight. In a day and age when 28 detectives were available to investigate the crimes among 2 million inhabitants, the money south of this line dictated policy.
Byrnes' most notable case was linked to one of the most famous serial killers of all time. Byrnes had claimed that Jack the Ripper would find it impossible to operate in New York City without being caught in 48 hours. Those words would haunt him.
Continue reading "Thomas Byrnes, Chief Inspector"
Sunday, May 25. 2014
Since it's Sicily Month at Maggie's, on this Decoration Day weekend I am reviewing the Allied invasion of Sicily, July 1943.
2300 Americans died in that invasion. Did the Sicilians want us there? Of course not.
At that point, I think it was the most massive invasion by sea in history.
I reflect on all of the historical invasions of Sicily by sea - the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Moslems, the Norman Vikings, the Spanish (barely an invasion), and the take-over by Italy (again, hardly a serious invasion but Italy did send military forces to annex Sicily). Uniquely, the Allies didn't invade to own it and had no aspirations to, but it was a strategic, temporary necessity.
(Reader reminded me that I omitted the Romans and the Byzantines. Too much to keep track of. Everybody wanted to own Sicily, and all of that history is still right there, right down to the Phoenician fortifications, the Greek temples, the Norman castles, the Roman cities, and the couscous and the mosques - and even Greek temples - converted to churches.)
Image is the historic flag of Sicily - most interesting flag in the world.
Saturday, May 10. 2014
Thursday, May 8. 2014
Tuesday, May 6. 2014
Gwynnie gets to spend part of her summers protecting a unique forest preserve in the Sierra Nevada range in a valley which was once used in the summers by the Martis Indians (see The Martis Indians: Ancient Tribe of the Sierra Nevada by Willis Gortner). According to Gortner and others, the Martis occupied the region from a time of global cooling and increased rain around 2000 BC to about 500 AD, when the climate again changed and became drier. Also at about that time, more aggressive tribes like the Paiutes had developed the bow and arrow which required obsidian not found in the area. There could have been conflict with the Paiutes or the Washoe to the East, or with the gentler gatherers, the Maidu, to the North. It was the Maidu which occupied the valley after the Martis departed to an unknown fate.
The Martis Complex left their mark on the land, however, in the form of what scholars call “High Sierra Abstract-Representational petroglyphs” as shown in the picture. All petroglyphs are on horizontal or sloping granite bedrock, with none on cliff faces or boulders, and each site has an unimpeded view of at least three peaks.
Sunday, May 4. 2014
Wednesday, April 30. 2014
Tuesday, April 29. 2014
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