THE WAR TO END ALL WARS ENDED 99 YEARS AGO

I am 70 years old. For my entire life — all seventy years — there has been a war going on somewhere. Usually, the US has been involved in it — or is about to become involved. I keep hoping, if I live long enough, there will come a day when there is no war in the news. When the U.S. has no fighting men dying somewhere for reasons no one will remember a decade later.

The irony is, it would be much easier to count the years during which we have not been at war. There have been far fewer of them.

War doesn’t seem to be working out well. Maybe we should try something else?

Right now is the 99th anniversary of the end of World War I, supposedly “the war to end all wars.” Instead, it was closer to “the war to begin all wars.” Many of the wounds the world suffered then are still festering today. It ended at eleven in the morning, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year in 1918.


11-11-11


I intentionally posted this at precisely eleven in the morning. I didn’t know if anyone would notice, but I noticed.

I would like to see a world without war … but I’m not holding my breath.

DESPERADOES: RIDING WITH THE DALTONS – RON HANSEN

Desperadoes: A Novel, by Ron Hansen

This is not a new book. It was released again on Kindle in May 2013. Desperadoes has been available in soft or hardcover (currently, only soft) since 1997.

I love western movies and have since I was a kid. I’ve read a lot of “western” novels too over the years, enjoyed some, didn’t much like others. Over all, I prefer this genre as cinema rather than on the printed page. Nonetheless, I was drawn to this book after I realized I know very little about the personal lives and motivations of these notorious bandit gangs of the turn of the century wild west.

Until this book, I hadn’t realized the James boys, the Youngers, Coles and the Daltons were all related. Cousins, it turns out. This led me to interesting speculations about the relative importance of DNA versus environment in character formation. The familial relationships certainly present some intriguing possibilities. Perhaps the cousins were all copying each other’s “feats.” The story hints that there was at least some jealousy by the Daltons of cousin Jesse’s fame.

Desperadoes is well-written and feels authentic, so much so that I found myself asking how much of this was “made up” and how much was historical.

The answer is that although a lot of it is fact, a lot of it isn’t. Fiction and fact are beautifully woven throughout the story until it is difficult to tease them apart. Nonetheless, this is a novel, so if you are want history, this isn’t it. On the other hand, if you are more interested in the psychological profile of these characters and the feeling of being transported to another time and place, this might be exactly the right book. Sometimes fiction contains more truth than “only the facts” can convey.

Whether you enjoy the book will depend on if you can find a way to emotionally connect with any of the characters. All of the Daltons and their close associates lack a moral compass as well as a fundamental understanding of right and wrong. Even granting that they came from backgrounds of extreme deprivation — and their role models were as depraved as they themselves became — it’s hard to understand the characters’ rapid, virtual overnight, transformation from relatively decent people and officers of the law into rustlers, bank robbers and sadistic thrill killers.

Despite occasional actions that could be interpreted as “gallant” or at least decent, their primary goal was attention. Fame. They wanted to be feared and recognized. Towards that end, they also stole money but money was never a primary motivator. To achieve this end, there were no lines they would not cross, no rules they would not break. At no point is there any feeling that it mattered a whit to any of them how many people’s lives they ruined or ended. They were sociopaths (maybe psychopaths — I’ve never been entirely clear on the difference), utterly lacking in empathy except for one another … and there were limits to that, too.

The story is told in the first person by Emmett Dalton, the one brother who survived. He went out to Hollywood where they were happy (apparently) to pay him big bucks to “advise” and provide authenticity to the making of movies.

Of all the bandits — all his brothers and cousins — only he remained alive to “cash in” on the notoriety.

Ironically, they started as lawmen. While still functioning in that capacity, they began rustling horses. They didn’t think there was anything particularly wrong with it. It wasn’t that they didn’t know it was illegal, but the whole “right” and “wrong” thing seems to have been rather hazy to them. Moreover, working as a sheriff or deputy sheriff was so poorly paid they actually couldn’t live on the money. So they initially considered horse-stealing a way to supplement their incomes. They eventually were caught though only big brother Gratton (Grat) (probably mildly retarded) was arrested for rustling. Grat spent a bit of time in jail, but was ultimately released. A trial would have embarrassed the judge who had employed the Daltons as lawmen. He didn’t want it known his employees were horse thieves. Except that everyone knew. It just wasn’t official — and never became official.

The Dalton boys’ decision to become an outlaw gang was exactly that: a choice. They were not forced into a life of crime. They genuinely enjoyed being outlaws and criminals. They liked beating people up, breaking their body parts and killing them, sometimes just because they felt like it. No sense of remorse is forthcoming through the voice of the narrator.

Emmett, as the first-person narrator, supposedly was privy to every moment of the life of his brothers. This is a bit hard to swallow unless the other gang members spent all of their free time telling Emmett everything they had done since they’d last talked. You have to suspend your credibility or there’s no way to get into the book.

Memento Mori of the Dalton Gang. Left to right...
Left to right: Bill Power; Bob Dalton; Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the Dalton lads (there were 15 brothers and sisters and you never learn what happened to most of the others) Bob is the true glory hound. Grat is a big dumb guy who seemed to not have any thoughts about much of anything. Emmett, two years younger than Bob, is his older brother’s passionate admirer. His adulation of his Bob Dalton was unlimited, though to Emmett’s credit (?), he did occasionally think up an interesting crime to commit, so he was not without a degree of personal creativity. He also appeared to be, of the gang, the only one with any capacity for love — in a severely circumscribed way.

Then there’s Bob’s psychopathic girlfriend, Eugenia Moore who was the real brains of the outfit, though perhaps brains is too strong a word.

As you can probably tell, I didn’t like the characters. There is a high probability that the author has captured the essence of these people accurately, but accuracy alone wasn’t enough to make me enjoy being in their company. Ultimately, if I can’t relate to at least one character in a book, it’s difficult for me to enjoy the story. I spent the first half of this book looking for a redeeming feature in someone. I spent the rest of the book wishing I’d never started reading it in the first place.

English: Grave of Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton and ...
Grave of Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton and Bill Power (Photo: Wikipedia)

This was Ron Hansen’s first novel. He has written a dozen or so since then and he is highly regarded. I have no argument with his skill as a writer and perhaps I would like his later novels and non-fiction better than Desperadoes.

I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps the nature of the material fore-ordained my response. Sadistic, vicious sociopathic killers are not romantic. I don’t find a trip through their minds pleasant or fun. Interesting is as good as I can give it.

They make my skin crawl. But other people obviously did like the book and it has received some excellent reviews on Amazon. If you can read it as a case study of a bunch of old-timey criminals, you might like it better than I did. It is well-written and thoroughly unpleasant at the same time. I guess that’s what you get when you write about outlaw gangs, even when you write really well.

CORDELL HULL, PEACEMAKER – FROM INSIDE THE MIND OF A HISTORY PROFESSOR

FROM INSIDE THE MIND OF A HISTORY PROFESSOR – 

SBI: A THINNING CROWD


Last year, I was asked to write an article about Cordell Hull for the Tennessee Baptist History Journal. During the process, I did quite a bit of research. However, the best part of the assignment was the day I spent at his birthplace. My parents joined me on the drive through the back roads of Tennessee, and we spent the day looking at the scenery and talking about all kinds of things.

The article was recently published, but I could find no online resource. Instead of sharing a link, I decided to share the article. Oh, if you have never heard of Cordell Hull, then let me introduce you to the man.

In 2013, the State of Tennessee proposed the demolition of the Cordell Hull Building, which has housed government employees since the 1950s. Uproar ensued as preservationists and citizens expressed outrage toward the plan, and, after furious debate, state officials determined that renovation of the Cordell Hull Building was the best option.

Despite the intensity of the argument, few people mentioned the person for whom the building is named. Perhaps that was because Middle Tennessee is dotted with places named in his honor: Cordell Hull Dam, Cordell Hull Lake, Cordell Hull State Park. Perhaps it was because people who argued against the demolition of the building did not realize the important role he played in the history of the United States and the history of the world. As Harold B. Hinton wrote, “There are scores of Tennesseans who have helped mightily in the building of the United States, and Cordell Hull must be numbered among them.”[1]

On October 2, 1871, Cordell Hull was born in a log cabin on a twelve-acre farm rented by his sharecropper father, Billy.[2] In his memoirs, Hull described Olympus, the nearest community, as “the only store in the entire section. This was also the post office.”[3] This was also the rural setting from which he learned the value of hard work and from which his love for learning began.

Hull’s childhood was filled with days working with his siblings in his father’s fields. They cultivated oats, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, corn and made molasses to give all of that a sweeter flavor.[4] When his father bought a larger farm and built a store, Hull continued to assist the family economically. At age eleven, he clerked at the store, and, as Hull wrote, “Sometimes a customer would come in and ask for the man in charge. I would reply proudly, ‘I am the man in charge.’”[5] His father agreed, as he once stated, “Cord was always just like a grown man, from the time he could walk.”[6]

Hull also helped his mother, Elizabeth, with spinning, weaving and milking the cows.[7] However, it was from his mother that he gained his love for learning. Hull wrote:

With all her work, however, she taught us our A B C’s and the first portion of Noah Webster’s old blue-back speller, which was current for generations in all public schools. She required us children to read the Bible as much as possible, and she herself read it constantly.[8]

Obviously, religion played an important role in the daily life of the Hull family, and Cordell Hull looked fondly upon this foundation of his faith. In his memoirs, he recounted:

The people of our section were mostly Primitive Baptists and Methodists…We had to go between one and two miles to the Primitive Baptist church on Wolf River, though sometimes services were held in private homes. The preacher was generally a farmer who tried to make a living on a farm and also undertook to preach. He was known locally as “the preacher.” Members of the church gave a little toward paying the preacher but not much.[9]

Hull continued:

Sometimes they had a preacher come from a distance and then they held splendid meetings. People went to the church from far and near. They walked or rode on horseback or in wagons and carts. There were no buggies in the ridge country at that time. Young men joined up with girl friends and went together to church. The boys wore stiff-standing paper collars, which on hot days were pretty well wilted down by the time they got to church walking or riding. I shall never forget the solemnity and fervor with which those people sand the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.”[10]

He also remembered the important role of faith in local society when he wrote:

If a person was “skeptical,” he was promptly discovered and branded as an infidel, which rendered him somewhat unpopular and at that time deprived him of the right to testify under oath. Such persons were few and far between. The social life in the ridge country revolved largely around the church.[11]

Hull’s work ethic; thirst for knowledge; and strong faith served him well as his world expanded through higher education, but, at a time when rural families often chose one son to pursue a professional career, he first had to convince his father with what Hinton called “the most important speech in his life.”[12] Local parents established a debating society because, as Hull wrote, “they were deadly earnest that their children should get the utmost from their schooling.”[13] In 1885, Hull took his turn at the podium and argued that George Washington was more important to American history than Christopher Columbus. In front of a crowded room, he won the contest, and his father decided that his son “should go away to the best school he could afford,” which was the Montvale Institute in Celina, Tennessee.[14]

From Montvale, Cordell Hull matriculated to a normal school in Bowling Green, Kentucky and, after a few semesters, transferred to the National Normal University in Lebanon, Ohio.[15] Normal schools specialized in training students to become teachers. Despite this training, Hull wanted to study law, and his father rented an office in Celina where his son could begin reading the law.[16]Lawyers had been learning in this fashion for decades, however, in last decades of the 19th Century, the American Bar Association asserted that more rigorous training was needed.[17]

In 1891, Hull enrolled in the law school at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, an institution with the reputation of developing some of the nation’s best legal minds.[18] As Hinton wrote in his biography of Cordell Hull, “Ever since the Civil War many of the greatest figures in Tennessee’s legal and political life have had their principal training at Cumberland.”[19] Hull recalled, “When I went to Congress sixteen years later I found in Washington four or five Senators, one Justice of the Supreme Court and twelve to fifteen Congressmen who were graduates of Cumberland University.”[20]

In addition to his academic growth, Hull gained experience outside the classroom that prepared him for the future. At age fourteen, he attended his first court session and first became interested in law. At age seventeen, he read his first newspaper, the Nashville American and listened to the ideas of men who gathered at the general store. From them he learned that “a person can’t ever amount to something unless he stands for something.”[21]

When Hull traveled to Bowling Green, he rode a train for the first time, and, when he attended school in Lebanon, Ohio, he first experienced life outside of the South.[22] However, his political career began back home when he was asked to speak at a rally. The organizers ran out of speakers but remembered his previous debate performance. At age sixteen, Hull spoke in support of Grover Cleveland for president of the United States. Cleveland lost, but, a few years later, Hull was elected Chairman of the Clay County Democratic Committee.[23]

In 1892, Hull ran for the State Legislature. While not yet old enough to hold office, his birthday would come before the general election. Until that time, he had to face a formidable opponent for the Democratic nomination. Realizing that he could not win in a party convention, Hull maneuvered his opponent into a primary election. He bought and horse; stumped throughout four counties; and carried each one.[24] He also won the general election and served in the State House until 1897.[25]

SEE ORIGINAL ARTICLE INCLUDING REFERENCES: Cordell Hull, Peacemaker – Direct comments to the original author, please!

MyHeritage DNA – THE LEAST EXCITING DISCOVERY OF 2017

It was my anniversary present — from me to we.

Garry and I don’t need much, at least not much I can afford. The big things are out of our price range — new toilets or a chair lift anyone? Otherwise, we have as many little things as any couple our age could possibly need … or want … or have room to keep. But then, I saw all these DNA thingies and I thought “Well, that would be different.”

So we sent them our DNA and discovered … nothing much. Not a surprise in the package.

I am Jewish. Really. From top of head to tip of toes. Garry is a bunch of European plus a goodly chunk of Africa.

I am almost entirely Ashkenazi with a wee bit of Sephardi and a hint of Baltic — probably the guy no one talks about. I had been hoping for something more entertaining and certainly more information. Some minimal analysis would have been a nice touch. What we got were numbers and a map. No analysis. Not even a summary paragraph. Nor reference material or links or anything to work with.

Garry was more entertaining than me, but nothing shocking. We knew about the Irish grandparents … and we figured there were more Europeans, too. Thus to no one’s surprise, Garry’s DNA is a broad brush across Europe and Africa.

Garry even has a 1.7% Ashkenazi Jewish in there (maybe we’re related?) … and a 2.1% Middle Eastern component. I, on the other hand, am Jewish. Except for that tiny bit of Baltic. So where does my weird B+ blood type come from?

I am disappointed. The results are so skimpy. Within the limits of what they did, I suppose they are accurate — but it doesn’t feel like they did anything. Apparently if you want real information, they want more money. A lot more money. But the thing is, if this is all the information they retrieve from the DNA, they aren’t going to give us deeper information no matter how much money you give them. All they will do is run your family tree information against other family trees and look for matches. If that’s what you want, join Ancestry.com. You’ll probably get more information there than here.

They offer links to “relatives” here, but if you want to get in touch with them — well that costs more. Of course.  There were more links for me than for Garry, but that’s because Ashkenazi Jews are closely related and have been studied rather more than most groups. Otherwise, the information MyHeritageDNA gets seems more dependent on how much data you give them than anything they retrieve from your DNA. If you tell them a lot about your family, they can scan other family trees for related information — but it’s not based on your DNA. The complete absence of any analysis — literally no analysis — made it feel like I was just getting back information I already knew. Shallow doesn’t begin to describe it.

This wasn’t supposed to be an expensive visit to Ancestry.com. This was supposed to be a DNA analysis. Now, we know we are exactly who we thought we were. Wow.

MyHeritageDNA doesn’t dig for information. If what you are looking for is something that will agree with what you know, this might be just what you need. If you are looking for a deeper or broader understanding of your ancestral history … well … this ain’t it. 23andMe gets better reviews for about the same price. Ancestry.com gets reviews just like this one, but provides nominally more analysis of results — but at a price.

Of course, any analysis would be more than I got. Also, there a very new one called Insitome DNA Test Kit: Neanderthal Genetic Traits Profile (Ancestry) powered by Helix which sounds really interesting. It’s slightly more expensive (not much), but apparently provides a lot more information.

Meanwhile, it’s official. We are us. Will the thrill never end?

BORN ON THE BLACKSTONE

America: Born Bankrupt


America was born bankrupt. We won the revolution, but lost everything else. Our economy was dependent on Great Britain. We produced raw material, but Great Britain turned those materials into goods for the world’s markets.

Battle of Lexington and Concord revolution

Not merely did we depend on the British to supply us with finished goods we could not produce ourselves, we depended on British banks, British shipping, and British trade routes.

Everything has a price and we had no money. We had hoped we could reach an agreement with England short of war and had there been a less intransigent monarch on the throne at the time, we might have been able to do so. Despite the Massachusetts “Sam Adams faction” who were hellbent for battle, most colonists felt at least some allegiance to England.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

We had no “American identity” because there was no America with which to identify. Nor was the yearning to breathe free burning in every heart. What the colonists of North America wanted was simple. They wanted the rights of free Englishmen. We wanted seats in British Parliament. We wanted the right to vote on taxes and other policies that affected colonial life. A deal should have been reached, but George III was not a sensible, reasonable or judicious king.

The result was war, the staggering loss to England of their wealthiest colonies and birth of a new nation.

That we won the war was astonishing. We had little in the way of arms and no navy. We were sparsely populated. Existing militias were untrained, undisciplined, little better than rabble. That George Washington was able to turn this into an army was no mean feat. No wonder they wanted him to be the first President.

French military support enabled us to beat the British. It was a loan, not a gift. We agreed to pay it back, so the French revolution was an unexpected and deeply gratifying development. It was like having the bank that holds your mortgage disappear taking your mortgage with it. It vastly improved our debt to income ratio. When Napoleon came to power and suggested we repay our war debt, we said “What debt?”

Our shipping industry was in its infancy. We had few ships or sailors, minimal access to world trade. The British ruled the seas and being soreheads, refused to share it with us. It would take many years before we could challenge their ascendancy on the seas.

What Did We Have?


Slaves and land. Sugar and rum.

If you who think slavery was an entirely southern institution, you’re wrong. Although slaves lived mostly in the southern colonies, they were brought to these shores by New England sea captains, held in New York, Boston, and other northern cities, sold to slavers at markets in the north, then sent south to be sold again to individual owners. The entire economy of the nascent country was based on slaves and their labor. The institution of slavery could not have persisted had it not been supported by business interests in the north.

The new-born United States had, for all practical purposes, no economy. We were pre-industrial when European countries were well into the modern industrial period. We had no factories. We had no national bank, currency, credit, courts, laws or central government. Our only thriving industries were rum and slaves.

Although there was an abolitionist movement, it was tiny, more sentimental than real.

North and south, slaves made their owners rich. North and south, fortunes were made selling human beings, then profiting from their labor. When it came time to write the Constitution and transform a bunch of individual colonies into one country, the Devil’s compromise was needed. Abolishing slavery would doom any attempt to pass the constitution … so slavery became law. The groundwork was laid for the bloodiest war America would ever fight.

It would twist and distort American history, shape our politics, society, culture, and social alignments. Its legacy remains with us today and probably always will.

So How Come We Didn’t Find a Better Way?


Question: If our Founding Fathers were so smart, how come they didn’t see that slavery would come back to bite us in the ass?

Answer: They knew it was wrong and knew that it would result in civil war. In other words, they did knew it would bite us in the ass. They could keep slavery and form a strong nation — or eliminate slavery and end up with two weak countries, one slave, one free. They chose what they thought was the lesser of the two evils.

Was it the lesser evil? Hard to say and it’s a bit late to second guess the past. It was clear from the get-go there was no way we were going to form a nation if slavery was made illegal. From private writings by members of the continental congress, it’s clear they knew the issue of slavery would eventually be resolved by war. Long before 1776, slavery was the polarizing issue in the colonies. So “The Great Compromise” was put into place, the Constitution was approved and a later generation fought the war.

The Right Thing went head-to-head with The Bottom Line. The Right Thing lost. Imagine that!

Eighty years later, 630,000 lives (more or less) would be the butcher’s bill for the compromises made in 1789. An ocean of blood would be the cost of ending America’s traffic in human lives. Many more years would pass before this country’s non-white population would see anything remotely resembling justice, much less equality.

When you dine with the Devil, bring a long spoon.

So About Those Mills …


Slaves, rum, and sugar — the triangle of trade that kept America’s economy alive — was profitable for plantation owners, sea captains, and other slave traders, but it didn’t generate a whole lot of entry-level job opportunities for average working people. A lot of people needed work, even more needed trade goods and dependable sources of income.

Most people didn’t own ships and if they did, were disinclined to take up slaving. It was never a profession for “nice folks” and a fair number of people found it distasteful. Decent people might live off the labor of slaves, but the actual process of buying and selling human beings was more than they could stomach.

So as great political and legal minds gathered in Philadelphia to draft a document to build a nation, other great minds were seeking ways to make money. It’s the American way.

Renovated into elderly and affordable housing, the old Crown and Eagle mill in Uxbridge is beautiful today.
The Crown and Eagle Mill today, renovated into elderly, affordable housing.

In one of the stranger coincidences of history, the Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789 while simultaneously, the American Industrial Revolution took shape on the banks of the Blackstone River.

Moses Brown had been fighting his own war. He was battling the Blackstone. With a 450 foot drop over a 46-mile course — an average drop of about 10 feet per mile — the Blackstone River is a powerhouse. Not a wide river, its sharp drop combined with its narrowness and meandering path give it much more energy than a river of this size would normally generate.

It invited development. The question was how.

Through 1789, as the Constitution was gaining approval throughout the former British colonies, Brown wrangled the river, trying to build a cotton thread factory in Pawtucket, RI at the falls on the Blackstone River. He was sure he could harness the river to power his mill, but as the end of the 1789 approached, the score stood at Blackstone River – 1, Moses Brown – 0.

America had her welcome mat out in those days. We needed more people and especially people with industrial skills. We weren’t picky. All immigrants were welcomed. This turned out to be a stroke of luck for Moses Brown.

Slaterville Mill -- oldest mill in the Blackstone Valley
Slaterville Mill — oldest mill in the Blackstone Valley

In December 1789, Samuel Slater — a new immigrant from England — began working for Brown. Slater had spent years working at an English textile mill. He recognized that Brown’s machinery was never going to work. Slater had fine engineering skills. In under a year, he’d redesigned and built a working mill on the Blackstone River.

By 1790, Slater’s Mill was up and running, the first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory in the United States. Slater’s Mill proved you could make money in New England doing something other than whaling, fishing, or running rum and slaves. Entrepreneurs hopped on the idea like fleas on a dog. Mills were an immediate success. New England was inhospitable to agriculture, but fertile for factories.

Mills grew along the Blackstone from Worcester to Providence, then sprouted by the Merrimack in Lowell, and eventually, throughout New England. Wherever the rivers ran, mills and factories followed.

The Blackstone Canal


On the Blackstone, mill owners urgently sought a better way to move their goods.

The features that made the Blackstone a natural for generating power made it useless for shipping. The only other choice — horse-drawn wagons — was slow and expensive. the trip took 2 to 3 days over dirt roads from the northern part of the valley to Providence.

Slow moving water in the canal …

When the weather turned bad, the trip was impossible. All of which led to the building of the Blackstone Canal. Meant as a long-term solution, it actually turned out to be no more than a short-term temporary fix … but it was an impressive undertaking.

What Does This Have To Do With Slavery?


Mills brought employment to the north. It created a real industrial base that would give the north the ability to fight the civil war … and win. It started with a river, continued with a canal, expanded with the railroads. Which is why the Blackstone Valley is a National Historic Corridor and known as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution … a revolution that brought the U.S. into the modern world and positioned us to become a top dog on the international scene.

Building the Canal


The Blackstone Canal took 4 years to build, from 1824 to 1828. The main canal runs alongside the Blackstone. In some places, the canal and the river are one. There is an extensive network of small canals, many on tributary rivers like the Mumford. The main canal was designed to handle large barges. It travels in a relatively straight line from Worcester to Providence.

The smaller canals allowed mills to move goods to places not immediately on the Blackstone. Small barges could move cargo between towns and mills.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Big barges were faster and cheaper than horse-drawn wagons. A single barge could haul as much as 35 tons of cargo and only needed two horses going downstream.

The canal system remains largely intact. Trails along the canals where horses towed barges have become walking paths. The barges are gone, but small boats can enjoy the open stretches of canal and river.

Railroads


Ultimately, railroads were the game-changer. As soon as rails from Worcester to Boston, and Worcester to Providence were built, the canals were abandoned. Business boomed.

The Blackstone River was lined with mills and factories at the end of the 1800s. The Blackstone supplied the hydro power and in return, the river was used to dispose of industrial waste and sewage.

75-Train-NK-014a
Photo: Owen Kraus

By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. Fortunately for the river, though not necessarily for the valley’s residents, this was also the beginning of the end of the textile industry in the northeast.

As of 1923, the majority of nation’s cotton was grown, spun and woven down south. Without its mills and factories, the valley’s population began to shrink.

Pollution


In 1971, the Blackstone River was labeled “one of America’s most polluted rivers” by Audubon magazine. It was a low point for the region. It was time to clean up the mess.

We’re still cleaning up. Although not as polluted as it was, the watershed has a long way to go. The river’s tributaries are less polluted than the Blackstone itself because against all logic and reason, waste-water is still being discharged from a sewage treatment plant in Millbury. It’s hard to fathom what reasoning, if any, those who favor pouring sewage into our river are using. The fight never ends.

72-Heron_145

Good news? The birds and fish are back.

American eagles nest in my woods. Herons and egrets wade in the shallows to catch fish that breed there. The river is alive despite man’s best efforts to kill it.

DOONESBURY NAILED IT 41 YEARS AGO – BY BRAINWRAP (AND ME)

Doonesbury nailed it 41 years ago. — By Brainwrap 


 I remember this specific strip too. I was an ardent follower of Doonesbury back in those days. How ironic and sad that his material is relevant 41 years after publication. 

REMEMBERING THE DAY

On September 11, 2001, I had just gotten back from overseas. I’d been in Israel, a business trip. While there, I picked up some kind of nasty bug that kept me very close to home — and a bathroom — and so, I was at home when the phone rang. Sandy and I were in my bedroom, sorting through some clothing. It was Owen — her husband, my son — on the phone.

“Turn on the television,” Owen said.

“What channel?” I asked.

“Any channel,” he said. “Do it now.”

I did. “The World Trade Center is on fire,” I said.

“A plane hit it,” he said. And as I watched, another plane hit the other tower and the world spun round and nothing was the same after that.

Hitting the Tower

We watched, silently. Owen was watching at work, on the other end of the phone line. Then, a tower was gone.

“The tower is gone. Gone,” I whispered.

Then, the other tower fell.

Nothing remained but a cloud of dust and a giant pile of toxic rubble. Information started to come in. One of my co-workers was supposed to be on one of the planes that had hit a tower. I called, but he said he had changed his mind at the last minute. He felt he didn’t want to go on that flight. He’d take a different flight, later.

Close as we were to Boston, everyone was calling friends, family, trying to find out who was where, who was not, if anyone knew something. We watched television, we waited. Garry got home from Channel 7. He said the newsroom had been a very strange place that day. Very strange.

We knew the world had changed. We didn’t know how much.

Firefighters-9.11

16 years later, we know. It will never be the same. So many differences, some subtle, most not-so-subtle. It was the end of our belief in our invulnerability. Here was an enemy we didn’t know we had, didn’t know was out to get us. Maybe the government knew, but it hadn’t trickled down to “the people.” We didn’t recognize the hatred behind the rhetoric.

This is a good day to remember who lived, who died. And how hatred still rules the world.

Has anything we have done, any fighting in which we have been engaged during the past 16 years made the world safer? Or better? No? Then we need to start fixing the reasons for war.

Terry Pratchett defined Peace as “that period of time during which nations prepare for the next war.” We need to change that. I do not claim to know how, but I’m not the President.