Posts

The Continental Divide

Continental Divide

Back when I went to school more than a half century ago, we learned that the Continental Divide is the principle hydrological divide of the Americas.  In plain English, that meant that the U.S. waterways west of the Divide basically flowed into the Pacific Ocean or the Bering Sea.  The U.S. waterways east of the Divide basically flowed into the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, the Continental Divide is a question.  It is not a geography question.  Today, the Continental Divide is a social question.  Do Black lives matter?  The United States was formed by rich white folk, for rich white folk, so, the simple answer to the question is “No”.  Unless you like to listen to music.

If you like music, then Black lives do matter.  From Jazz to Motown to Hip Hop, Black Americans were the backbone of American music.  Where would our music be without, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Michael Jackson, Prince, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Thelonious Monk, Jay-Z, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Eubie Blake, Wynton Marsalis, George Clinton, Muddy Waters, Isaac Hayes, Erykah Badu, Otis Redding, Lauryn Hill, Count Basie, The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Ma Rainey, Mariah Carey, Robert Johnson, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Ben E. King, the Drifters, the Coasters, Jelly Roll Morton, Tina Turner, Charlie Parker, Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Little Richard, Kendrick Lamar, and Marian Anderson, to name just a few American black musicians?

Maybe you don’t listen to music.  So, then Black lives don’t matter, unless you like comedy.

If you like comedy, then Black lives do matter.  Where would our American comedy be without Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, Redd Foxx, Bill Cosby, Katt Williams, Tracy Morgan, Chris Tucker, Mike Epps, Arsenio Hall, Leslie Jones, Eddie Griffin, Mo’ Nique, Moms Mabley, Charlie Murphy, Marlon Wayans, DeRay Davis, Patrice O’Neal, Sherly Underwood, Michael Che, Bruce Bruce, David Alan Grier, Lavell Crawford, Paul Mooney, Flip Wilson, Jamie Foxx, Sinbad, Tom Davidson, Tyler Perry, Aries Spears, Sommore, Nipsey Russell, Luenell, Jay Pharoah, Shawn Wayans, Whoopi Goldberg, Dick Gregory, Wanda Sykes, D. L. Hughley, Robin Harris, Tiffany Haddish, Bill Bellamy, Deon Cole, Keenan Ivory Wayans, John Witherspoon, Robert Townsend, and Hannibal Buress, to name just a few American black comedians?

Maybe you don’t like music or comedy.  Then Black lives don’t matter, unless you like sports.

If you like sports, then Black lives do matter.  Where would our American sports be without Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Muhammed Ali, Jesse Owens, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Wilma Rudolph, Bill Russell, Jack Johnson, Tiger Woods, Jim Brown, LeBron James, Jackie Joyner Kersee, Kobe Bryant, Tommie Smith, Hank Aaron, Magic Johnson, John Carlos, Florence Griffith Joyner, Joe Louis, Gabby Douglas, Venus Williams, Willie Mays, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Simone Biles, Alice Coachman, George Foreman, Wilt Chamberlain, Walter Payton, Barry Bonds, Colin Kaepernick, Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, Carl Lewis, Fritz Pollard, Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie, Sonny Liston, Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, Satchel Paige, Mike Tyson, Michael Johnson, Joe Frazier, Emmitt Smith, Curt Flood, Sugar Ray Robinson, Charlie Sifford, Ernie Davis, and Tony Dungy, to name just a few American black athletes?

Maybe you don’t listen to music, or like to laugh, or enjoy any sports besides ice hockey and Curling.  Then, Black lives don’t matter, unless you like movies.

If you like movies, then Black lives do matter.  Where would American movies be without Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Sidney Poitier, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, Cuba Gooding, Jr., James Earl Jones, Danny Glover, Laurence Fishburne, Ossie Davis, Terrence Howard, Louis Gossett, Jr. Richard Pryor, Wesley Snipes, Billy Dee Williams, Jamie Foxx, Michael Clarke Duncan, and that’s just a few of the male American black actors?  Black America also gave us Halle Berry, Angela Bassett, Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Diahann Carroll, Dorothy Dandridge, Taraji P. Henson, Regina King, and, of course, Oprah Winfrey, Cicely Tyson, Octavia Spencer, Queen Latifah, Phylicia Rashad, Lena Horne, Jennifer Hudson, Hattie McDaniel, and Whoopi Goldberg to name just a few American black actresses.

Maybe you don’t listen to music, or like to laugh, or watch sports or movies.  Maybe you are just an asshole who doesn’t like anything.  If you’re an asshole, who doesn’t like anything, then Black lives don’t matter, unless you like money.

If you like money, then Black lives do matter.  Where would the American economy be today without the millions of slaves who worked hard to build the economy of this young country, even though they personally didn’t get a share of it.

Where is the Continental Divide?  It used to run through places like Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.  Now, it runs through the minds of Americans.  It is the separation between those who realize that it took a lot of Americans from a lot of different backgrounds centuries to make this country great, and those who think that our greatness was built in the last three years by some guys wearing red hats.

Black lives matter.  White lives matter.  Yellow lives matter.  Brown lives matter.  Red lives matter.  One Orange guy, well, his life matters, too, until November.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

 

 

 

The Sounds of Silence

Naturally, I’m a big fan of writing, but some of my favorite writing is not designed to be read in a quiet well-lit room.  It is meant to be spoken aloud.  I like listening to speeches.  They’re not always the work of one person.  Some are, but most require the combined efforts of many speech writers, and this collaboration only helps to make them better.

When we remember famous people, we often link them to their most famous speeches.  Think of Martin Luther King, Jr. and you will recall his “I have a dream” speech.  Think of John Kennedy and you may recall the words from his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”  Think of Jesus, and the word of the Sermon on the Mount might spring into your memory.  “Do unto others, as you will have them do unto you.”  That was a classic speech.

Abraham Lincoln is linked to a classic speech of his own, his “Four score and seven years ago” Gettysburg Address.  That’s probably one of the rare speeches that many people have memorized in its entirety.

Some memorable moments from famous speeches turned into moments that the speakers would probably wish we would forget.  George H.W. Bush was haunted by his “Read my lips.  No new taxes” speech.  Bill Clinton gave many great speeches, but the line he spoke that most of us remember is “I did not have sex with that woman.”  Richard Nixon is linked to the ironic phrase from his “Checkers” speech, “I am not a crook.”

Some great speeches were delivered by actors, and I don’t just mean the speeches of Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I’m talking about actors in movies.  Michael Douglas in The American President, letting Sen. Bob Rumson know that “this is a time for serious people and your 15 minutes are up.”  Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday encouraging his team to “fight for every inch,” and the future “Senator” Blutarsky mobilizing his frat brothers with his stirring oratory, “Nothing is over until we decide it is.  Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

Bluto's speech

I like speeches and this month I am getting plenty.  We have both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions providing dozens of them.  I don’t always agree with the speakers, but I enjoy watching them try to build their cases.  Normally, the speeches at a convention take 3-4 times longer than they should.  Every sentence is punctuated with phony “spontaneous” applause and cheering.  This year is different.  The virtual conventions are providing noise-free speeches.  Nobody is hooting, hollering, waving a sign, or releasing red, white, and blue balloons during the speeches.  There are no interruptions for incessant cheering.  All we get is the message.  We can agree or disagree, but, this year, we are getting the words without all the noise, the thin silver lining in the big dark Covid cloud.

You can now go to YouTube and listen to all the convention speeches in just minutes instead of days.  You can find the message that resonates with you, and, like Simon and Garfunkle, visions can be planted in your brain, within the sounds of silence.  Then all you have to do is vote, and that is how you can make your own speech and let your voice be heard.

 

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

 

 

Stranger in Paradise

Stranger in Paradise

Since mid-March, I’ve been spending a lot of time at home.  Haven’t we all?  One of the things I’ve been doing to prevent “cabin fever” is spending time in my backyard, and, there, I’ve been accompanied by my music.

When I was a little asthmatic boy, the doctors suggested to my parents that I should play a wind instrument.  I chose the clarinet, because it was light and easy to carry.  I took lessons for years, but pretty much wasted the money my parents were paying for those lessons.  I never really got any good at playing the clarinet, and I never showed any signs that I would ever get better at it.  However, my lungs were getting stronger, and I was getting bigger and healthier.  The clarinet seemed to have had its day with Benny Goodman, though, and I was tired of it.  So, I asked my parents for a saxophone.  The saxophone was one of the popular instruments in Rock ‘N’ Roll.  The other was the guitar, but I had no aptitude for that instrument.  At least the saxophone was something like the clarinet.  Much to the annoyance of my neighbors who had to listen to me practice, my parents bought me the bigger, louder instrument.

Of course, I wanted to be in a Rock ‘N’ Roll band, and, so, I joined one.  Since none of the other band members wanted to sing, and there were only a handful of instrumentals, the job of lead singer became mine.  They let me play my saxophone on two songs, Tequila by the Champs and Summertime, from the musical Porgy and Bess.  I wasn’t very good at those two songs, but it didn’t matter since we rarely played them in public.

Then I joined the Navy and as soon as I got to boot camp, I auditioned for the Boot Camp band.  They really weren’t that picky, so I got in.  They really weren’t planning ahead too well, either, when they accepted about a dozen saxophone players for a marching band that only really needed about four.  So, I was in the band, but I never played a note.  That didn’t matter to me though, the important thing was that I wound up in a company composed of musicians, and other “special” people.  We had guys on the precision drill team, and other people of dubious special talent, who were not in the service for our ability to lay waste the enemy.  For us it was Boot Camp Lite.  Every time our company was scheduled for the obstacle course, I told our Drill Instructor, Gunner’s Mate Chief Jordan, that I had band practice.  I never once had to go on the infamous obstacle course.

After that, I didn’t play an instrument for 45 years.  Then I moved to Lancaster and decided to give it another try.  I bought a clarinet and saxophone, but they sat in the closet until Covid-19 hit.  During the first few months of isolation, I started to play both instruments, and for a laugh I posted songs on Facebook.  It didn’t take me long to reach the same level of mediocrity that I had attained as a child, but, this time, it was fun.  And now we have YouTube.  There were dozens of videos available to teach me the things that poor Don Felice Alfino struggled in vain to teach me as a child. I can now play 7 notes on the saxophone that I didn’t even know existed back then.  I found “back-up” tracks on the Internet that allow me to play along with other musicians.  The “Music Minus One” orchestra contains every instrument but the saxophone.  So, theoretically, the orchestra is complete when I play along.  Theoretically, that is.  They usually finish a song when I am about 3/4s of the way through it.  It’s going to take some time for me to actually be able to play with them, but time seems to be the one thing we all have plenty of.

I may not sound too good yet, but I bought a couple different background cloths that, at least, make me look good, and as Billy Crystal would say, it’s better to look mah-vel-ous than to actually be mah-vel-ous.

 

Billy Crystal
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE — Episode 17 — Pictured: Billy Crystal as Fernando Lamas during “Fernando’s Hideaway” skit on April 13, 1985 — Photo by: R.M. Lewis Jr./NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

 

Product Placement

We’ve gotten used to seeing Product Placement in the movies and on TV.  There was even a movie that was totally financed by products strategically placed in the movie.

Greatest Movie Ever Sold

But now this trend seems to be spreading to the oval office.

We’re building the wall, and Goya is paying for it.

But, Americans should know that Product Placement in the Oval Office is nothing new.  Presidents have been using their Office to shill for many products over the years.

Bush - Texas chainsawClintons - Magic ShopGeorge Washington - DentistryJimmy Carter - Billy BeerLincoln - HaberdasheryObamas - Fake IDRon and Nancy Reagan - ClairolTeddy Roosevelt - Rough Rider CondomsThomas Jefferson - Slave Auctions

And now even Presidential hopefuls are getting in on the action.

Joe Biden with Mask

Do you keep accidentally sticking your foot in your mouth?

Then, do what I do.  Wear a Johnson & Johnson Mask.

So, America, don’t be worried by recent product placements in the Oval Office.  It takes a lot of money to fund a Presidential campaign, and corporations are just trying to help us out.

Buy America.  Uh, I meant, Buy American.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

 

 

Tag Team Politicians

 

Kanye West and Trump

Did you hear that Kanye West is now running for President? I think it’s a conspiracy that he cooked up with Donald Trump. I don’t think Trump has to worry about anyone in his fanbase switching their vote to Kanye, but, I bet they’re hoping to siphon off many of the Black votes that would normally be cast for Joe Biden. I hate to admit it, but I think it’s actually a clever maneuver. It’s double clever, because Joe can’t counter the move. Which Biden supporter could enter the race, to siphon off Trump votes without costing Biden votes? I can’t think of anybody.

But there is something spectacular that Biden could do. I double checked the 22nd Amendment. He could ask Barack Obama to be his running mate. Obama can’t run for President again, but he can run for Vice-President, or any other elected office he chooses. During the current “Perfect Storm” of crises I’d much rather see a team in the White House that has proven that they can weather serious storms, than reality show stars, who only cause storms. It’s time for the American people to value competence over TV fame in their elected officials. I think that Biden-Obama would be a winning team. They might not get the Kardashian vote, but they’d get my vote, the Democrat vote, the Black Vote, some Republican votes, and probably Taylor Swift’s vote, too.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

My First Car

The online group, which is helping me find a silver lining in these days of isolation, posed the question for today.  What was your favorite car?  I was reminded of my first car.
Well, as some of you may know, the last time I drove a car, Jimmy Carter was the President.  I just didn’t enjoy all the driving restriction here in the U.S., not after experiencing the ultimate freedom and joy of driving in Germany, where, there was basically just one rule, at the time I was there, try not to kill anybody.  Of course, even that rule was more or less just a guideline when you were driving on the world-famous Autobahn, where car crashes involving more than a hundred cars were not uncommon.
Crash on Autobahn
 
I didn’t have a car when I was a kid growing up in South Ozone Park, New York.  After joining the Navy, I drove my girlfriend’s car in Florida, after she patiently taught me how to drive it.  I drove a military jeep in Alaska, but I didn’t get a car of my own until I was in Germany.  I bought my first car for 90 Deutsche Marks.  The rate of exchange at that time was 4 Marks to the Dollar, so it cost me $22.50.  This was in incredible bargain.  The car was easily worth $30.
 
You know how they describe a fully-equipped car as “loaded”?  This was a totally unloaded VW bug.  It was missing quite a few things, like a battery, upholstery, and third gear.  So, I pimped my ride by putting towels on the seats and a psychedelic poster on the rusted inside roof.  All I had to do was remember to park it on a hill so I could get it started, and it was a dream (of nightmarish proportions).
 
I didn’t like to take it on long trips. By “long trips” I mean further than I could walk back from if it broke down, but it would usually get me to town and back if I couldn’t get a ride with someone else.  Otherwise it sat in the base parking lot, but even there, it came in handy.  Whenever I was confined to the base, which happened all too frequently, my girlfriend would visit and we could make out and drink beer until we saw the officer of the day coming for his hourly visit to make sure I was in the barracks.  At that point, I would race to my bunk for “bed check.”  After he left, I would go back out to the car for another 50 minutes of making out and drinking.  It made being confined to the barracks almost a game.
 
But, all good things must come to an end.  One late night I was driving back from a party, and I was flying.  Relatively speaking of course.  Flying was impossible in this vehicle, but I was going as fast as the car would go.  I sped around a turn and there, right in front of me, was Bambi.  I slammed on the breaks, and they, of course, locked.  The car instantly swerved off the road, rolled over two and a half turns, and when it stopped moving, I found myself in the back seat area.  (It didn’t actually have a back seat, either.)  The roof was crushed in and I couldn’t get the door open.  I was afraid it might explode, if not from gas, then from the alcohol on my breath.  I kicked out the back window and ran about a hundred feet.  I hit the ground and covered my head.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bambi watching me, and I screamed for it to get away quickly.  I waited a couple minutes, but unfortunately the car didn’t explode.  So, I wound up having to give a farmer with a tractor 40 Marks to haul it off the property to the junk yard.  Like Bambi though, I walked away without a scratch.
 
So, driving in the U.S. never matched the thrills I had driving in Germany, and I quickly gave it up, which brought a big sigh of relief from the local police and  a traffic court judge  But I will always have fond memories of my first car, that old VW bug.
rusty-Beetle-300x225
This is not my car, but it looked just like it.
Peace & Love, and all of the above.
Earl

They Call Me Mellow Cello

Until the sudden disappearance of the Lancaster Library and their vast DVD collection, I watched about 10 movies a week. I considered it film school, and I recently learned in a Masterclass with Aaron Sorkin, that it, indeed, is film school. I’m not going to try and deduct my couch and TV off my taxes though. Choose your battles, I say.

One thing I noticed during many of the movies, was the extraordinary use of the cello in the film score. I wished I could play one. Then came the lockdown. So, if ever there was a time to learn, this was it. I ordered a cello online and it recently arrived.

Cello - 01

It didn’t come with any instructions, but it didn’t need any batteries, and I had 2 beginner cello books I’d also purchased online. I did the minimum assembly required.

 

The first day, I couldn’t get any sound out of the cello.  I thought maybe it was broken, and I made sure to save the giant cardboard box that it came in.

 

The second day, I got sounds, but nothing musical.  Maybe it’s just defective, I thought, as I wondered if I would have to call Customer Service to get an authorization number to return it. I worked in shipping for a while at Cyber Medical many years ago.

 

The third day, I got a couple sounds that resembled musical notes.  I guess whatever might have jarred loose during shipping must have settled down. Maybe it’s not broken. It just needed time to settle.

 

The fourth day, I was getting notes out of every string.  I still can’t play those first two notes of the Jaws Theme, which I tried to figure out for at least an hour, but I was learning some other things.  On the C string, the thickest string, I was able to make noises that sounded like whale songs, maybe, or perhaps, more likely, whale farts.  On the thinnest string, the A string, I was able make a sound like a dying mosquito.  Those are my favorite kind of mosquitos, so I liked that sound.

 

So, this is where I should now be playing London Bridges, Frere Jacqua, or something like that, but, let’s face it, that’s boring.  I ended yesterday’s Saxophone practice with The Star-Spangled Banner, so that was on the music stand when I sat down today. So that was my project for the day.

 

By the end of today’s session an astute neighbor might have recognized five notes I was playing on the cello as being eerily similar to the first five notes in the Star-Spangled Banner.  I’m getting the hang of it.  Purple Haze might be a little tougher to learn, but the journey of many miles must begin with the first step.

 

After that, Freebird!

 

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

 

Where the Wild Things Don’t Roam

 

I just checked, and it’s been over a month since I posted a new blog. There’s no baseball, no roller derby, and the liquor stores are closed, so I haven’t had any of my favorite subjects to write about.

How are you all doing? I hope you’re safe and well. I spent a year stationed on Adak, Alaska when I was in the navy, so isolation is easy for me. At least I’m not freezing my ass off this time. Sure, there’s the danger of death, this time, but I’m taking as many precautions as possible. The last time I left my apartment was to go to the mailbox to mail the May rent check, and I didn’t come in contact with anyone along the way.

I haven’t been indoors all this time, though. I’ve got a back yard and that has become my playground. What I’ve been playing is musical instruments. When I was a kid, I played the clarinet and saxophone to get me over a history of Asthma. It worked, as far as the Asthma goes. Musically, it wasn’t as successful. After 5 years of music lessons I still wasn’t much past the beginner level.

When I moved here to Lancaster I decided to go back to playing, so I bought a clarinet and saxophone. I practiced the clarinet for 45 minutes, 3 times a week. I only got the saxophone out one time. It was so loud, and I was so bad, that I decided that the quieter clarinet was enough punishment for my poor neighbors.

Then Covid-19 hit, and I wound up in isolation, social distancing to the extreme. I have a heart condition and I’m a former Asthmatic, so I tried to stay as far away from the Corona Virus as I possibly could, especially since it appeared that old people with health problems were the most likely to wind up in a morgue if they caught it.

So, I started playing the clarinet every day in my backyard. After a while, I decided that it was time to try the saxophone again, and this time, I stuck with it. Now, I play either the clarinet or the saxophone for 3 hours a day. Then, I decided that I would get one of those Casio keyboards with built in rhythm makers to accompany me. That virtual drummer made playing more fun, but I kept looking at the keyboard and thinking I should give that a try, too. What the hell, I thought, even if I suck at it, it’s quieter that the saxophone.

I turned out to be right. It was much quieter that the saxophone, and I did suck at it. But the beauty of having a lot of time on my hands to practice, is that I no longer suck at it.  Now, I’m just plain bad. But you know what? It’s still a lot of fun. Today I was having a blast playing the old Troggs hit, Wild Thing. If you’re not old enough to remember the Troggs, you probably still know the song from the baseball movie with Charlie Sheen, where the fans nicknamed him Wild Thing. I don’t play the whole song, just those same Rock n Roll chords that have been the backbone of Rock for ages, C, F, and G.

“Wild thing, you make my heart sing.” Music, they say, has charms that soothe the savage beast. It’s working for me. And the keyboard came with headphones, so the neighbors wouldn’t even know I’m playing it, if they didn’t hear me occasionally belting out, “Wild Thing, I think you move me.”

A trio of instruments wasn’t enough for me though. I looked at my stimulus check and said to myself, “Self, it’s not going to stimulate the economy just sitting there.” So, I went online and bought a cello. It’s supposed to arrive this week. I love movies and a cello is one of the ubiquitous instruments in movie soundtracks, so I might use it to do my own little musical improvisation for my three screen plays.

Of course, I don’t know how to play the cello, but if a guy named Yo-Yo can learn to play it, I figure I should be able to learn it too. I ordered all the self-instruction booklets I can find.

So, my backyard has become my recording studio, and I’ve posted some of my clarinet and saxophone solos on Facebook. I’m almost ready to post my first keyboard effort, too. My friend Tilda asked me if I would play the Theme from Mahogany, Do You Know Where You’re Going To. I practiced it for a few hours today, and I can play the beginning of the song fairly well. Another couple days of practice and I should be able to play the whole song. Right now, I play a version that is a blend of the beginning of the Diana Ross song, and then it goes into Wild Thing. No two songs were ever less likely to mix in a medley. It’s not normal, but these are strange times we’re living in, and normal just doesn’t exist anymore. I’m thinking of getting a YouTube account. Maybe I’ll inspire another former musician to break out their old instrument and play. Or better still, maybe some scientists will hear me play and work harder to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, so that I can go back to the bars and stop making all that racket in my backyard.

 

Peace & Love and all of the above,

Earl

 

James Buchanan’s Birthday Party

7bar - James Buchanan - 02

On Thursday I attended James Buchanan’s 229th birthday party online. It will be replayed on the LancasterHistory website in about a week. In the meanwhile you can view the trailer for Raising Buchanan, which they previewed.  It is a light-hearted portrayal of a desperate woman who kidnaps the un-entombed corpse of our 15th president and tries to ransom him to get out of her financial straits. It will be released on May 5th on iTunes, and it will be available in DVD and Blu-ray formats.

James Buchanan served the Country for almost a half century, earning himself the nickname, “The Old Public Functionary.”  He unsuccessfully sought the Presidency in 1844.  He tried again in ’48 but didn’t get the nomination.  He tried again in ’52, but was denied for the third time.  So, he figured he was never going to be President, and when he was in his sixties, he accepted what he thought would be the final position in his illustrious career of public service. He accepted, what was considered political exile, the post of Ambassador to Great Britain.

When he returned from Britain, however, he was just about the only Democrat not tainted by the Kansas-Nebraska Bill brouhaha, and the country offered him the election on a silver plate.  By that time, he was 65-years old, and the life expectancy of a man of the time was about forty.  He, actually, almost died from National Hotel Disease (like Legionnaire’s Disease) right before he took office, and he was still very ill when he took the Oath of Office.  Because of his age and health, he announced in his inaugural address that he would not seek re-election.  That was his biggest mistake.  He made himself a lame duck President, and Stephen Douglas tried to use the opportunity to take over the Democratic Party, causing a split in the party that opened the door for the new guys on the block, the Republicans to win Congress in 1858 and the White House in 1860.

Two days after his inauguration, The Supreme Court issued their infamous Dred Scott Decision. Buchanan knew ahead of time what the decision of the Supreme Court was going to be.  He knew that they voted 5-4 against freeing Dred Scott from slavery, with an absolute regional bias in their decision.  The 5 Southern judges voted against Dred Scott and the 4 Northern judges voted for his freedom.  Knowing that this strict North/South split-decision would only divide the country even more, Buchanan begged one of the Northern judges to change his vote, so that the final decision would be a more impressive 6-3 decision, without the strict regional bias.  He didn’t change the outcome of the Supreme Court Decision.  He only wanted to make that decision more acceptable to the American people, in hopes that they would accept the decision, obey the law, drop the slavery agitation, and let him and the nation concentrate on other pressing problems, of which there were many.

Historians have crucified him for getting involved in the Supreme Court decision, as that is an absolute no-no today, but back then it was a common practice for the Supreme Court to share their decisions ahead of time with political leaders. James Buchanan’s reputation wound up taking a beating that should have been delivered to the Supreme Court.  They made the bad decision, not him, but they had one big advantage that politicians don’t have. The Constitution states that Justices “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.” This means that the Justices hold office as long as they choose and can only be removed from office by impeachment.  They don’t have to win elections.

Buchanan felt that because slavery was Constitutionally legal, there was nothing he could legally do about it, and besides, he felt, it would only be a short time before the South would have to bow to world pressure and drop it on their own. Iceland outlawed slavery way back in 1117, but it wasn’t until late in the 18th century that the idea started to spread from country to country like wildfire. In 1777, the State of Vermont, an independent Republic after the American Revolution, abolished slavery. The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded in Britain in 1787. The U.S. Constitution banned the slave trade, effective in 1808. In 1792 Denmark banned the import of slaves to its West Indies colonies, although the law only took effect from 1803. Haiti won independence and ended slavery there in 1804.

In 1807, Britain passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, outlawing British Atlantic slave trade. In 1811, Spain abolished slavery, including in its colonies, though Cuba rejected the ban.  Sweden banned slave trading in 1813. A year later, the Netherlands banned slave trading. France banned slave trading in 1817, but the ban was not effective until 1826.

In 1819, Portugal abolished the slave trade north of the equator. Britain placed a naval squadron off the West African coast to enforce the ban on slave trading. In 1823, Britain’s Anti-Slavery Society was formed. In 1833 Britain passed the Abolition of Slavery Act, ordering the gradual abolition of slavery in all British colonies. Plantation owners in the West Indies received 20 million pounds from the British government in compensation for their freed slaves. Then in 1833, Great Britain and Spain signed a treaty prohibiting the slave trade.

In 1846, the Danish governor proclaimed emancipation of slaves in Danish West Indies, abolishing slavery there. In 1848, France abolished slavery. In 1851, Brazil abolished slave trading.

So, Buchanan hoped that slavery was destined to become a non-issue. He often mentioned that long before the Civil War, the State of Virginia came close to abolishing slavery in the state legislature. Then Nat Turner’s Slave revolt in 1831 brought that idea to a screeching halt.  Radical Abolitionists were at work trying to spark a race war, and that struck fear in all Southern hearts   Most Southerners didn’t own slaves, but they all greatly feared what might happen to them and their families if 4 million slaves were suddenly freed overnight, especially if they were given guns.

Buchanan believed that if the Abolitionist would just calm down, slavery, as an institution, would die out on its own. But the Abolitionists didn’t calm down.  They grew even more vociferous with the publication of Harriet Beacher Stowe’s fictional play Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Simon Legree is an extremely cruel plantation owner who sees his slaves as nothing more than feelingless objects to be used or abused as he pleases. He beats his slaves and rapes the women. This work of fiction was all the evidence radical Northerners of the time needed to “prove” that every single slave holder was like Simon Legree and had to be stopped immediately by any means possible.

The Constitution allowed slavery in the South, but the North was, nevertheless, inflamed by the idea that it was their moral obligation to end the institution immediately.  I guess they forgot that it was mostly the ships built in New England that brought the slaves to America in the first place.  “There’s nothing worse than a reformed drunk.”  Anyhow, by itself, ending slavery is a very noble goal, but they decided to do it, not legally, but by superseding the law and using any means possible, and that meant killing. “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free…” The South just wanted to be left in peace. The North wanted war. They were spoiling for a war, especially since they felt they could easily win the war in three months or less.

When the South severed its ties with the North, the South did not invade the North to fight for their independence. They simply left the Union and tried to peacefully form their own government, a government that took their safety and the safety of their families way more seriously than the Union did.

The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence states that, “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

This is what the South tried to do, but the North wouldn’t let them, because of their highly-aroused sense of moral outrage at the institution of slavery.  Many ardent Abolitionist, like John Brown at Harper’s Ferry tried to arm the slaves and urge them to kill their masters. To me, this is comparable to the bombing of abortion clinics and the murdering of surgeons to show your moral outrage at the legalization of abortion. It was moral outrage on steroids, and it led to the inevitable Civil war that killed more than 650,000 Americans, not to mention how countless many more lives it ruined.

Buchanan served in his State legislature.  Then he was a Congressman, a Senator, Ambassador to Russia, Secretary of State, Ambassador to Great Britain, and finally President.  He was also offered an appointment to the Supreme Court by a few Presidents. Very few people have done more for this country than James Buchanan, yet historians continue to mock him as the worst President ever.  I place a lot of the blame on Jean Baker, who wrote a very unflattering biography of James Buchanan.

In my opinion, Buchanan was just unfortunate to get the Presidency at one of the worst possible times to be President.  Civil War was already raging when he took office. There was bloodshed in the Kansas territory over the slavery question, and hundreds were killed.  Buchanan had to send troops to bring law and order to the territory. Religious conflict caused Mormons on their way west to be killed for their beliefs, and then they revenged the killings by massacring a group of Non-Mormons passing through Utah on their way to California. Buchanan sent troops to restore order in Utah. He also tried to buy Alaska from Russia, so that he could invite the Mormons to live there in peace. He was a President who wanted peace, when the North badly wanted a war.  They called him a Doughface, a derisive name used against anyone who had any sympathy for the South.

There is, also, little talk by historians about the numerous foreign policy triumphs during his Presidency. I’ll have to cover that in another rant.

Happy Birthday, President Buchanan

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

 

An Editorial from Mother Nature

Mother Nature

Covid-19 is my way of saying, I’ve had about 1 million years of watching hominins to think about it, and I want my dinosaurs back. You guys, with your fancy weapons, your ubiquitous wars, and all the destruction you caused to my Planet, you really disappointed me. Some of you must leave now, and when I say “some,” I mean a whole lot of you a*holes.
I spent almost 5 billion years working hard to make this planet spectacular, and you shitheads are destroying it in a generation. I know, your God tells you He made the whole universe in six days. Just between us, He hasn’t been right in his head since the Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago. He was right next to it when it went off. Some people, like myself, believe he might even have caused it. I told him about my plan to thin the human herd with a virus, and He suggested a flood or a fire. He’s old school. He doesn’t get the concept of accomplishing a mission without a lot of property damage. Do you know how hard I have to work to clean up after a flood?  He doesn’t.  He doesn’t do shit around here anymore.
Anyway, to get back to business. I don’t like what you’ve done to the planet, so I’m redecorating the place. It used to have lots of trees and all sorts of animals. Now, everywhere I look, all I see is you fuckers pouring pesticides onto every living thing. With the exception of the penguins, who probably live in places that are too cold for your comfort, you’ve pushed just about every other species out of their natural environments and sent them either to your zoos or your restaurants. You deforested my land, spoiled the water, and polluted the air. I want my forests back. I want my jungles back. I want my clean air and clean water back. You burned down my rainforests to make more room for cattle just so you can stuff more Big Macs down your big fat throats. I’ve had it with the lot of you, and this has nothing to do with the homosexuals. Actually, they’re my favorites, simply because they don’t reproduce.
So, consider this virus as just my way of spring cleaning, thinning the herd, and Making Earth Great Again.
I’m sorry it has to come to this. I just hope the rest of you buttwipes learn your lesson from this and behave from now on.
Love,
Mom
All I can add to that is to remember, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”  Be careful.  Be kind.  Cooperate, and be safe.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,
Earl