Tag Archives: politics

662. Slavery

I am not a professional historian, but as a student of history, with an MA in that field, I consider myself bound by some of the same rules of accuracy. What follows is based on long study, but it is also very much an overview. Any expert could shoot a few holes into this, but they would be very small and local holes in a basically correct summary.

Slavery has been around forever and everywhere. The Romans had it. Native American’s had it. The long centuries when Eastern Europe went back and forth between the Christian world and the Muslim world produced slaves in vast numbers. We Americans can’t really understand the institution unless we see more than just the Southern plantation.

The America which gave us today’s race relations was British America. In Spanish America and French America the story took different turns. To understand slavery in what was to become the U.S.A., we need to look first at a couple of examples of what was happening before blacks arrived.

The British Navy was mostly a slave institution, though never called that. The officers chose to be there; the men, especially in wartime, did not. A few volunteered, and mostly regretted it, but the bulk of naval crews were impressed. That means picked up by armed bands and forced into service. Kidnapped, in other words, but legally since the government was doing the kidnapping.

(Not unlike Selective Service, come to think of it.)

Once on board, they were subject to punishment without trial, given inadequate food, and brutally flogged at the whim of their officers. They were taken away from their families for long periods and frequently killed or maimed in combat. If they lived long enough they would be released back into civilian life, so it was not true slavery.

At first this system lacked a racial component, but as time went on British merchant ships came to be manned primarily by sailors from India. If you read Sherlock Holmes you will find Lascars (Indian sailors in the British fleet) everywhere in Victorian England. This allowed conditions on board to remain so vile that only the destitute would sail. The same thing happened in America, where American officers and crews gave way to American officers with foreign sailors, for the same economic reasons.

Back on land, during the early days of the British American colonies, the rich took passage, but the poor had to bind themselves to pay for transportation. They became semi-slaves for a set period of years, but a bound person could look forward to eventual release. The system had a class component, but not a racial one, and was not permanent, so it wasn’t true slavery.

A system existed in south-western India which is worth looking for because of what it lacks. I will be a little vague here since this is from a treatise I read while getting my first MA in the mid-seventies. I’m presenting it from memory. In that area of India, low caste people were bound into a complex relationship with upper castes. The upper caste owned the land; the lower castes worked it. Sometimes when a family fell into debt and was on the verge of starvation, the father would sell himself into slavery to save his family. This was called lifetime indenture, because the man became a slave, but his family did not.

That is a huge difference, and is the reason I offer it in contrast to what happened in America.

When the first Africans arrived as slaves in 1684, forced labor had already existed for a long time in Britain and British America. With the arrival of blacks from Africa, we finally reached the full-fledged American system. It consisted of involuntary servitude for life, followed by the same for a slave’s children, all defined by race, with few (none, in a practical sense) rights to reasonable treatment. A corollary of the system was the treatment of slave women as brooders, and their children as a crop to be sold.

Ugly. All the forms of near slavery were ugly, but this was particularly foul. The full system had all the ills of previous systems with none of the restraint, and it lasted until the Civil War.

And then all the problems were over — we wish.

Lifetime indenture was ended but the ones who had built the country with the sweat of their unpaid faces were not compensated. Racial disdain became worse. The KKK was invented. Jim Crow laws were passed.

One aspect of this which has only recently come to the attention of the general public is re-enslavement through the judicial system.

Immediately after the Civil War, white southerners found a way to get back some of their power and some of their slaves. They simply arrested and imprisoned newly freed blacks, then rented them out. They invented the chain gang. If you are trying to find historical reasons why blacks fill our prisons and why our police are so often corrupt, chances are pretty good your research will lead you to those events.

That is a quote from the post 88. John Henry which examines the claim that the folk-hero was really such a prisoner.

Eventually came the Civil Rights movement which finally brought a legal end to discrimination. That’s why this post is coming on Martin Luther King Day. But the Civil Rights Act, like emancipation, was a start, not a completion.

Are things better than they were? Of course. Are they good enough? Not on your soul, or the nation’s soul. There is still much work to do.

659. Leap Boy’s Last Word

On February 29th, 2016, I wrote Leap Boy For President about a kid, born on Leap Day of 1952 and named Leap Alan Hed. Take a moment to say that with a middle initial. Childhood taunts about his name made him a rebel, some joker put him up as a write-in candidate for President in 2016, and he won.

It was a pretty good joke at a time when there were more Republican candidates for the nomination than there are in that flock of turkeys which shows up in my yard every week or so.

The piece wasn’t anti-Trump. I wasn’t worried about The Donald in the least. No one at the end of February of 2016 had any idea he would make a showing in the race.

At that time I was worried about Hillary, hoping she wouldn’t win the Democratic nomination, and scanning the available Republicans in hopes of finding one I could vote for.

Did I mention that I’m registered as an independent?

By July of 2016, Trump was looking likely and so was Clinton. Reasonable candidates were falling to the wayside in droves and Election Day was looking more and more like a no-win situation. Looking back after all this time with Trump, it is hard to remember how unappealing Hillary was.

So I resurrected Leap Alan Hed, and provided a series of posts through the summer and fall about the poor schmuck who was railroaded into standing as a write-in candidate against his will, hounded by the press, and beloved by those who wouldn’t take his “No!” for an answer. He eventually went underground, hid from the world, and won anyway — then ran for the border to keep from being inaugurated.

On the night before the election, I gave Leap the last word. We found him sitting around a fire with a bunch of homeless guys, wondering about what would happen the next day. He was still in hiding, but his companions had recognized him from seeing his picture in the papers. One of them asked his opinion.

Leap said, “They won’t vote for me. They aren’t that stupid, no matter how frustrated they have become. They will vote for Hillary and God knows what that will mean. Or they will vote for Donald, and everybody knows what that will mean.

“In a few days, or maybe a few weeks, I’ll be able to surface again and get back something like a life of my own. I just hope there’s a country for me to go back to.”

Leap’s companion said, “I don’t have a life to go back to. I can’t vote for you, or anybody else. You have to have an address to vote and I haven’t had an address in years. But I would vote for you if I could.”

“Why, for God’s sake? Why?”

“Because you aren’t him and you aren’t her, and anybody else is better. Somebody has to do the job. At least you don’t want it, and that means something.”

“If nominated, I won’t run. If elected, I won’t serve.”

“I don’t think so. I think you would come out of hiding and do your duty.”

Leap shook his head, and just said, “No.”

“Its going to be Donald or Hillary or you,” the other said.

Leap sighed. He said, “No good can come of this.”

Truer words were never spoken.

658. Non-Political ?

Like 2020, 2016 was also the year of a Presidential election. I had a new blog designed to bring in readers for my upcoming novel Cyan and I had no intention of writing on politics. I was planning to share some of the things I had learned in decades of writing while drumming up customers. The last thing I wanted to do was make half of my readers mad at me.

Not that I had any readers yet, so early in my blogging career, but I hoped to soon.

Life has a way of changing our plans. My neutrality lasted about a month, from mid-August until mid-September. Then I had to interrupt my sequence of blogs between 10 and 11 to say:

This is not normally a political blog, but as I am a citizen, there are times to speak out. The post originally scheduled to be here will appear tomorrow.

Have you ever asked yourself, “How could Germany have been fooled into following Adolph Hitler?” The answer is on your television this morning, and it is Donald Trump.

I called him out for his fear-mongering, but added that I didn’t see him as evil, just foolish. I subsequently changed my mind about that.

Still I couldn’t see spending much time on someone who had no chance of winning. That was another error in judgment, both about how effective Trump would be and about how much time I would spend yelling at him.

On February 29th I celebrated the end of Black History Month with a bit of whimsy that would grow into a long series of posts about an imaginary Presidential candidate. I’ll remind you about that on Wednesday.

By Election Day things looked pretty well settled on a Hillary win. I had never been impressed by her either, so on September third I wrote a post to be placed election day, making these predictions:

By now you know who won this time around . . . As of today, Hillary’s win seems certain if she doesn’t stumble, but she stumbles a lot. It could still be Donald. You know the outcome. So do I, but I didn’t when I wrote this.

Here is what I do know, now, September third. Whoever was elected yesterday will be a one-term president.

You’ve heard every talking head for the last year say that no two candidates in history have been so hated and feared as Donald and Hillary. Almost everyone dislikes one or the other; a sad majority dislikes them both.

So the question arises:  who will win the Presidency in 2020? You can be sure it won’t be Donald or Hillary, no matter who won yesterday.

If your candidate lost yesterday, take heart. Whoever your party chooses in 2020 will win – barring another match-up of turkeys, and what are the chances of that happening again?

If your candidate won yesterday, tough luck.

Well, that is what it looked like in September of 2016. I’m not so sure that prediction was any better than the others I made during the campaign. I just hope I got that one right.

657. 366 Days

Welcome to 2020. It’s leap year again. That makes it a little more than four years since I started this blog.

Leap year is that calendrical oddity brought about by the fact that the rotation of the Earth on its axis does not neatly coincide with the revolution of the Earth around the Sun, leaving us with a year which is 365 and a fourth (approximately) days long. We compensate for it by adding one day every four years to the shortest month, making it still the shortest, but a little longer. Then we call it Black History Month because we can’t find a shorter month to do the job.

Snarky? Yeah, get used to it.

The last time we had a February 29th — which would be 2016 — I was mentally and morally tired. I had just completed more than a month of writing posts on the morality (actually, the lack thereof) of racism in America, in the world, and in two created worlds. It meant a lot to me, and I was proud of the results, but it wasn’t easy to write and it wasn’t fun.

For a break,  I wrote a comedy piece on February 29th about a kid who was born on leap day and ended up running, against his will, for president. I’ll remind you about the details next Wednesday

I began the Black History Month series on Martin Luther King Day of 2016 with a post called Whiter Than White that stated my position, and continued on to February 25. I was writing four posts a week in A Writing Life at that time, as well as another four in Serial. Don’t ask me how I managed.

The result was twenty-three A Writing Life posts in six weeks, all devoted to Black History. For most of that time, Serial was running in a novel-in-progress called Voices in the Wall, which was about the underground railway. That eventually ran thirty-four posts.

I have spent a lot of time since on issues of race, often Latino and sometimes Japanese, Chinese, or Native American, but those have been mostly connected with the latest stupidities out of Washington, or anniversaries of stupidities past. My position on race — black, white, or purple — was already pretty well laid out by the end of February, four years ago, so I don’t think I’ll have much new to add this year.

If you want to browse those posts, go to any page of A Writing Life, go to the right column and slide down to Archives, January 2016 and then February 2016.

Here is a navigational hint. On days when A Writing Life and Serial both appear, Serial is posted ten minutes earlier. That is part of an organizational scheme that didn’t work, but ended up grandfathered into everything. The result is that the two blogs of this website alternate when you work your way up a month’s archive. Pick AWL or Serial and skip the other, then come back later. Otherwise you’ll get whiplash.

654. The Anchor Baby

This was presented two Christmases ago, and I have chosen to repeat it here. President Trump’s attack on latino immigrants is out of the headlines while he fights impeachment, but it has not gone away. Everything I said two Christmases ago is still relevant.

In English we call him Joseph, in Italian he is Giuseppe, in Basque he is Joseba, in Spanish he is just plain Jose.

In English we call her Mary, in Hebrew she is Miryam, in German she is Maria, and also in Spanish.

In English he is Jesus, in Cornish he is Jesu, in Italian he is Gesu, and in Spanish he is Jesus again, but pronounced Hey-sous.

We are going to walk with these three in this sermon for the Christmas season.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went, every on into his own city. And Jose also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, to be taxed with Maria his espoused wife, being great with child.

Of course that could be written as Joseph and Mary, but surely they are the same couple, in any language. Jose was a carpenter. He built things out of wood to feed his family, and he paid his taxes like everybody else. All the world was to be taxed, and he had to go back to the place from which his people came.

Where would that be? Perhaps a land with cities named Sacramento for the Holy Sacrament, or maybe Atascadero, Alameda, Camarillo, El Segundo, or Escondido. Perhaps cities like Fresno, La Mesa, Madera, or Mariposa show where his people once lived. Certainly they must have lived in cities like Los Angeles, Merced, Paso Robles, Salinas, or San Francisco. Even if his people no longer own the land, certainly the city named after him, San Jose, must once have belonged to his people.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

I think Luke shortened this a bit. Was there only one inn in Bethlehem? We can see the young couple, going from place to place, Jose leading, Maria on a burro since she cannot walk so late in her pregnancy. Everywhere they are turned away. Are all the sleeping places truly full? It may be. Or perhaps something about the two of them, perhaps the color of their skin, makes the innkeepers turn them away. Luke does not tell us.

I see migrant housing everywhere I go in California and I think, perhaps, a manger was preferable.

Now they are in a place where their people once lived, but in which they are no longer welcome. And here, their Son is born.

Donald Trump would call Him an anchor baby. I wonder what He will call Trump, when they finally meet.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

To all people. ALL people. Imagine that!

647. A Prayer For Those Who Need it

A Prayer for Those Who Need It

Dear God,

We thank you for the food before us
We thank you for those who grew the food
We thank you for those who keep us safe
We thank you for our freedom,
         and for our Constitution.

Forgive us for the ways in which we have failed you
          by failing our fellow man.

Help us reunite the families we have separated
Help us succor the allies we have abandoned
Help us accept our own children,
          born beyond the border,
          but ours since childhood
Help us to accept the refugees,
          crying out just beyond the wall
Help us to free those incarcerated
          guilty of believing
          that we would give them
          the refuge we had promised.

Help us to see clearly,
          all the ways that we have failed you
          by failing our fellow men.

And forgive this nation.
          God knows we need it.

643. Apollo 12

Everybody knows about Apollo 11, especially since its fiftieth anniversary last July. And then there’s Apollo 13 which was crewed by Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon, with Gary Sinise working hard in the simulator. Or so America remembers it.

Quiz: match the actual Apollo 13 astronauts with the actors who played them.

Answers: Jim Lovell (commander), Fred Haise (lunar module pilot), and Jack Sweigert (command module pilot). Ken Matingly was the astronaut who got bumped for a disease he didn’t have.

That’s it. The average American knows one flight, one movie, and may vaguely remember something about the Bible being read from the moon. It was lunar orbit, actually, on Apollo 8.

There were six moon landings; five of them are essentially forgotten. Apollo 12 was the second landing, and today it has reached its fiftieth anniversary with none of the mega-hype we saw in July. If Apollo 11 had aborted at some point, and Apollo 12 has succeeded exactly as it did, all the hype would be today, and no one would remember Neil Armstrong.

Query: who was the next person to fly the Atlantic solo non-stop after Lindbergh. Answer: I have no idea, either.

For the record, the crew of Apollo 12 consisted of Pete Conrad (commander), Alan Bean (lunar module pilot), and Dick Gordon (command module pilot).

The countdown for Apollo 12 started at midnight Nov. 9th, 98 hours before scheduled launch. Zero and liftoff, was reached after several holds, some planned, some not, at 16:22 GMT (22 minutes after noon, local time) fifty years ago today.

36 seconds into the fight, Apollo 12 was struck by lightning. 52 seconds into the flight, it was struck again.

Every light on the boards went on at once. No one had seen such a display of dismay on any flight or in any simulation. Conrad said, “I don’t know what happened here; we had everything in the world drop out.”

NASA had made the launch despite a thunderstorm, for reasons no one seems to be able to nail down. The surge of power from the two strikes caused most of the electrical system to shut down, rather like a home surge protector shutting down power to save a computer. The crew rode out the emergency until they reached a stable orbit, then got to work reestablishing their connection to the fuel cells.

As if that weren’t enough, the automated navigation system was no longer working. They had to use a sextant (a high tech one, of course) to establish their position by shooting a pair of stars.

Two hours and fifty three minutes after liftoff, the final stage of the Saturn V fired again and put them on a trajectory for the moon.

*          *          *

The moon landing was routine — which is to say, very much like Apollo 11 — which is to say, scary as hell.

They did not have a computer data overload like the one in Apollo 11 that made it look like they were going to crash. They had already had their electrical overload on liftoff.

They came down precisely where they were supposed to. What made it a scary-same-as was that the immediate area where they had planned to land was covered with small craters and boulders, and they had to search around for an area that wasn’t. Conrad flew the LEM while Bean kept his eyes on the instruments. As he swung them around toward his left, the LEM tilted crazily. Then Conrad found a clear spot and came down to land.

Landing on the moon throws up a storm of dust and small particles that obscure the ground and can damage the spacecraft. In the low gravity, it all takes a while to settle. One of the probes on the four feet of the lander touched the moon, a light came up on Bean’s board and he relayed the message. Conrad cut the rocket and the LEM fell, slowly due to the low gravity, to the moon’s surface.

As planned, not counting having to search for an alternate landing site.

Here’s a side note on what it is like to want to know things. I have been aware since the sixties that the LEM balances on the thrust of its rocket engine, and moves sideways to find a place to land. But how did it move sideways? Were there side thrusters like the ones which move big ships away from the dock? Was the main engine gimbaled? No, it turns out, the whole craft is tilted, so the main engine can move them sideways, operating like a helicopter.

So how do they tilt the LEM? Do they use the same attitude thrusters that change its orientation in space? That seems likely, but I’m not sure. Learning one thing just makes me curious to learn another.

Once they were down, there was work to do. In addition to the exploring and sample collecting like Apollo 11, they also set up the ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package) which would continue gathering and relaying information long after their moon walks were over. Conrad and Bean did two moon walks, and on the second one walked to the nearby Surveyor III spacecraft, the unmanned soft landing vehicle which had surveyed their landing site two years earlier. They removed a few parts for analysis back on Earth.

Once their time on the lunar surface was over and the LEM upper stage had rejoined the CSM, the LEM descent stage was given a controlled burn by remote control, then allowed to crash back to the lunar surface. This gave a test “seismic” event to calibrate the ALSEP. So if anyone mentions those six LEM descent stages still sitting on the moon, you can tell them no, there are five.

Apollo 12 splashed down late on November 24th. By the time it was launched, politicians were already dismantling Apollo, and America was yawning. We set out to beat the Russkies and we did it, so why were we still going to the moon?

Politics and public opinion work that way; science doesn’t. No one ever did one experiment and said he had the answer to any problem. No geologist ever looked at one tiny patch of ground and said he understood the whole Earth. Fifty missions would not have been too many to settle scientific questions about the moon, especially since each mission would have likely generated new and deeper questions.

Nevertheless, after November of 1969, only four more missions would land on the moon. Apollo 13 would fail to land, and Apollos 18, 19, and 20 would be cancelled.

Pete Conrad went on to command the first manned mission to Skylab. He died in 1999. (For information on Skylab, see posts 297, 298, and 299.)

Dick Gordon was backup Commander to Apollo 15 and was scheduled to finally land on the moon as Commander of Apollo 18, until it was cancelled. He died in 2017.

Alan Bean Commanded the second manned mission to Skylab and was backup Commander for the Apollo-Soyuz mission. He died in 2018.

After leaving NASA, Bean studied art and became a painter of lunar subjects. He said, “I’m the only man who can paint the moon, because I’m the only one who knows whether that’s right or not.”

There are about a million books on Apollos 11 and 13, but locally I could only find one book on Apollo 12. Fortunately, that one was full of Bean’s own recollections and paintings. See Apollo: an eyewitness account.