Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Forgotten War

In the news this week is a 12 year-old suicide bomber who murdered over 50 people, mostly women and children, at a wedding in Turkey.  Another young would-be martyr was captured in Iraq.  The likelihood that ISIS would continue to use children to fight its war has many of the talking heads on the nightly news making wild statements on how the United States should fight this new threat.

I certainly do not have an answer, but I would like to point out that this is not the first time our country has faced this problem.  A little over a hundred years ago, in a war no one remembers, we faced the same dilemma. It was in a war properly called The Philippine Resistance—an offshoot of the Spanish American War of 1898.

After suffering military defeats in the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, the Spanish Government sued for peace on July 26, 1898.  After two weeks, an armistice was signed on August 12, the day before Americans entered the city of Manila in the Philippines.  The entire war had only lasted a little less than 4 months and while 5,462 of the 274,000 men who served in the war had died, only 379 had died in battle.  The rest had died of malaria, typhoid, dysentery, or yellow fever.

By several measures, this was not much of a war, but the peace protocol specified that Spain would give up Cuba and the United States would annex Puerto Rico and occupy Manila pending final disposition of the Philippines.

A Peace Commission eventually drafted the Treaty of Paris, signed on December 10, 1898.  The treaty, however did not specify what to do with the Philippines, as The Commission itself was divided over the issue.

Note.  If you are ever on Jeopardy or some other game show and you are asked for the name of the treaty that ended some obscure war, just answer either the Treaty of Paris or the Treaty of Ghent:  You have about a 50% chance of being correct.

Even President McKinley was unsure of what to do with the Philippines.  (Privately, he later admitted that he couldn't find the country on a White House globe the first time he looked.)  While some Americans railed against America's growing Imperialism, others saw Asia as a fertile market of millions waiting to buy American goods.

Still others saw a chance to "save the heathens" of Asia by extending missionary activities. 

McKinley finally reached a conclusion.  As he explained to a gathering of missionaries:

And one night late it came to me this way—I don't know how it was, but it came:  (1) that we could not give them back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable;  (2)  that we could not turn them over to France or Germany—our commercial rivals in the Orient—that would be bad business and discreditable;  (3) that we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for self government—and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's was; and (4)  that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ also died.  And then I went to bed, and went to sleep and slept soundly.

Even for a politician, that’s quite a statement.  It neatly summarizes all of American Imperialism.  We took the Philippines for:

1.  National Honor
2.  Commerce
3.  Racial Superiority
4.  Altruism

When Spain pointed out that, technically, America had no claim by right of conquest, since American troops had actually occupied Manila the day after the armistice, we settled the point by giving Spain $20 million in compensation.

The final treaty added Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to American territory.

The Treaty of Paris did not make everyone happy in the United States.  Most Democrats, and some Republicans were against it.  Occupation was not democratic, it countered American traditional isolationism, and it could easily involve us in foreign entanglements.  Some in the military even pointed out the impossibility of defending a possession so far from home—a prediction that would prove true 40 years later.

Some worried about how such an alien culture could be blended into the American way of life.  As one elected racist said from the Senate floor, "Bananas and self-government cannot grow on the same piece of land."

Eventually, a consensus formed that the best way to save the Philippines was to take them.  The treaty was ratified on February 6, 1899 by a margin of 2 to 1.

The same month, Rudyard Kipling published the poem, The White Mans BurdenWithout satire, he calls the American people to a new duty:

Take up the White Man's burden—
Send for the best ye breed—
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captive's need;
to wait in heavy harness
On fluttered fold and wild—
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

President William McKinley issued a proclamation on December 21, 1898, declaring United States policy towards the Philippines to be one of "benevolent assimilation" in which "the mild sway of justice and right" would be substituted for "arbitrary rule." 

By this time, America’s task of helping his "little brown brother" had taken a strange and violent turn.  We had forgotten to ask the Filipinos if they wanted our help.  They didn’t, and were resisting militarily.

It is ironic that before we could impose a colonial rule to help the Filipinos, we had to fight a war in the Philippines from 1899 to 1902 to crush a Philippine nationalist insurgency.  Filipino insurgents were already fighting the Spanish for independence when Dewey's fleet arrived. 

Dewey's victory was due in part to the attack on Manila by Aguinaldo.  The Filipino patriots believed that they had been promised independence for their efforts and felt betrayed by the terms of the Paris treaty. 

Dewey demanded that the Filipinos leave Manila.  Aguinaldo agreed, but retreated only as far as the suburbs where defensive trenches are dug.

Aguinaldo declared the Philippines to be an independent republic in January 1899 and, in response to McKinley's proclamation, issued his own.  In it, he said that "violent and aggressive seizure" by the United States was wrong and threatened war.  Hostilities broke out on the night of February 4, 1899, after two American privates on patrol killed three Filipino soldiers in a suburb of Manila.

America fought back immediately, aided by shelling the Filipino trenches from US naval ships in the harbor.  For months, the Filipino forces tried to fight back using conventional warfare, effectively committing suicide, because the Filipinos lacked the arms, the artillery, and the training. 

The Filipino troops, armed with old rifles and bolos, and carrying anting-anting (magical charms), were no match for American troops in open combat, but they were very effective in guerrilla warfare. 

General Ewell S. Otis was appointed commander of the US forces there and military governor of the Philippines.  The war started well for the US, as Otis pushed the rebel forces from Manila and its suburbs.  When Aguinaldo's government sought an armistice, Otis insisted on an unconditional surrender.

General Otis might have been able to crush the rebellion early had he not been faced with a problem that was totally new to American warfare.  How do you fight an enemy and win the people over at the same time?  Or as my generation would later ask, “How do you win the hearts and minds of people you are fighting?”

At the same time, America began instituting civic reforms.  The American army began building new infrastructure for the Philippines:  New roads, schools, hospitals, bridges, railroads, telegraph lines, and telephone lines.  Disease, especially smallpox, cholera, and plague practically disappeared.  Slowly, there were an increasing numbers of Filipino collaborators.    

Aguinaldo fought back as he ordered the establishment of decentralized guerrilla commands in each of several military zones.  More than ever, American soldiers knew the miseries of fighting an enemy that was able to move at will within the civilian population in the villages.  "Pacified" ground only extended as far as a soldier's Krag rifle could shoot.

The guerrillas would not attack unless they were sure they could win and if  chased, they hid their weapons, went home and pretended they were the friendliest natives on the island—But if they captured an American soldier, he would be horribly tortured. 

And the guerrillas began to attack the collaborators, calling it "exemplary punishment on traitors to prevent the people of the towns from unworthily selling themselves for the gold of the invader." 

Inevitably, the American soldiers began committing atrocities of their own. 

In May 1900, General Arthur MacArthur replaced Otis and with a much larger army, MacArthur cracked down.  Guerrillas would be jailed or executed.  Patrols were kept out longer, forcing guerrillas to run longer.  MacArthur also used an old Indian-fighting technique:  he hired thousands of Filipino scouts and police. 

MacArthur, with the help of a new civilian government under Judge William Howard Taft, began building a new civilian government that was a model of efficiency and fairness.

Aguinaldo was captured on March 23, 1901, by a force of Philippine Scouts loyal to the United States and was brought back to Manila.  Convinced of the futility of further resistance, he swore allegiance to the United States and issued a proclamation calling on his compatriots to lay down their arms.  When Aguinaldo made the public announcement, he was wearing a black bow-tie, a symbol of mourning.  Aguinaldo vowed to continue to wear the black bow-tie until the Philippines were granted their independence. 

On September 1901, guerrillas in one of the last remaining uncontrolled provinces wiped out a US infantry company in Samar.  This was the largest military defeat since the death of Colonel Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.  America was shocked and demanded retaliation. 

The troops ordered by General Smith to "pacify" Samar were also ordered to take no prisoners.  "I want you to kill and burn, the more you kill and the burn the better it will please me.  I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.  The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness..." 

When the officer leading the detail asked for clarification as to exactly who was capable of bearing arms…his commanding officer answered that this meant anyone over the age of 10 years old.  To this day, historians argue about exactly how many Filipinos were killed during the pacification of the island.

Today, the attack and the retaliation are collectively referred to as the Balangiga Massacre.

By the Spring of 1902, organized resistance was pretty much over.  On the 4th of July, 1902, President Roosevelt declared that the insurrection was over and the United States had been victorious.  No one argued the point with him.

The war the Americans called the Philippine Insurrection lasted nearly three years and claimed the lives of 4,234 US troops and 16,000 Filipino soldiers.  By the end of the war, another 220,000 civilian Filipinos had died, largely from famine and disease.  Both sides committed horrible atrocities.  The monetary cost of the war was $400 million, an amount more than 20 times what had been paid to Spain in 1898.

Following the suppression of the insurrection, the US established a colonial administration in the Philippines.  American teachers, nurses, engineers, and doctors flocked to the Philippines to "modernize" it and English was made the official language.  In 1908, we opened the University of the Philippines to train an elite to implement political democracy and to prepare the Philippines for independence.

This preparation was still underway when WW2 started and the Philippines were seized by the Japanese.

Aguinaldo was finally able to remove his black tie on July 4, 1946, when the US finally gave the Philippines their independence.  

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Lighter Side of a Heart Attack

Okay, it has been a month, and seriously, I'm doing fine.  I'm now doing so much better that I hardly even need a nap after putting on my pants in the morning.  The drugs regularly make me think I am Hercules, only to discover that putting on my socks is a task fully equal to cleaning the Augean stables. 

Heart attacks, and the resulting quintuple bypass procedures, are probably not that much fun normally, but I had great docs, good drugs, and some awesome hallucinations.  If you couple this with the fact that I have absolutely no medical knowledge whatsoever (meaning I misinterpreted every single thing that was happening around me), some of the events, in retrospect, are rather funny.

By the time I was safely in the ambulance, both the oxygen and the nitroglycerin were working fine, and strangely, I was feeling pretty good.  I was strapped to a gurney, and for some reason, I started giggling.  As the ambulance left the university Employee Health Center (which the trolls that pass as administrators at Enema U did indeed close down while I was in the Cardiac Care Center) I suddenly got a text from my brother about something he was doing.  This struck me as hilarious, so I used my phone to take a selfie so I could show him what I was doing.  At right, is the only self photo I know of taken by a guy having a heart attack.

If you know the geography of Enema U, you can probably tell that the ambulance is actually driving away from the hospital, heading due west, instead of east.  I pointed this out to the driver, who informed me that he was following GPS instructions.  They were very nice people, who undoubtedly helped save my life that day, so it would be rude of me to point out that the $500 bill I received from the ambulance company includes charges for mileage.  Oh, well!

I don't remember much of the rest of that day.  Lots of people earnestly explained things to me that I understood not at all.  I agreed to anything that was asked of me, confident that my wife, The Doc, understood all the things that I could not comprehend and would prevent them removing anything I might need later.  What do people who aren't married to surgeons do when they go to the hospital?  Whenever somebody asked me a question, I answered, "I had a boo-boo."  Then I would listen to my wife talk for five minutes straight while I understood not one  single word.  This didn't seem to matter to anyone, since usually the only substantive thing people asked me, repeated endlessly, was, "Can you tell me your birthday?"

I always politely answered, "Yes."

I think I was sedated pretty good:  my last clear memory before the operation was wondering why the room was so cold, then they told me they were about to start the operation.  "Remember," I told no one in particular,  "I haven't paid anybody's bill yet."  Then I lost a day.

The Cardiac Care Unit was actually rather pleasant, people there were excellent and took great care of me, and the hallucinations were fantastic.  At no time did I believe that any of the weird shit I saw was actually real, but I was highly entertained.  Lots of things in the room kept moving: there was a menagerie of furry animals, and people who weren't actually there came to visit (Mary Wolf, frequently).  At one point, I vividly saw Captain Morgan walk through the room.  I have no idea what those drugs were, but I finally understand the meaning of "Better Living Through Chemistry". 

The hallucinations persisted for a while, even after I got home.  For some reason, one particular book seemed to constantly leave a bookcase and move around the bedroom.  Finally, it was so distracting that I had to ask The Doc to hide the book to make it behave.  She thought it was hilarious that the book turned out to be Gregory Maguire's "Lost".  If you have read the book, this is a little creepy.

I had the best student nurses.  I really mean that!  This must have been their first week and they treated me like I was made of eggshells.  They spent at least half an hour putting the telemetry lead patches on my chest.  It was obviously their first attempt at this, since even I could tell that they were placing them wrong (each round patch had a picture on it indicating where it was supposed to go).  I kept mum as they put each patch in the wrong spot, but later, the nurse and I had a good laugh about it.  I wonder what the EKG would have reported if they had actually run it with the leads on weird.

Every experience should be a learning experience, and this has been no exception.  I've learned that hospital food is designed to make you leave the hospital as soon as possible.  I can now prove that late night television is much worse than daytime television.  Most important, I now believe that medical marijuana should be legal and nitroglycerin should be sold in vending machines, but prune juice should require a doctor's prescription.

I'm much improved and I'm home now, but—unfortunately—I'm off all the good drugs now, while they wait for..."something" to stabilize (ask the Doc—she knows!).  In some form of karmic fulfillment, the only drug I am currently taking is...rat poison.  Well, they call it Warfarin, but I lived on Galveston Island for seven years and they used it there to kill wharf rats on the docks. 

I'd look into this, but I'm afraid I might find out it is something my wife arranged.

While I wouldn't actually recommend a heart attack, I can still testify they are more fun than some of the faculty meetings I have suffered through.  Those seemed unreal, but unfortunately weren't hallucinations.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Pastry War

Mexico has long had a love/hate relationship with France.  Most people are aware that the French invaded Mexico in the 1860's and imposed a puppet monarchy, which resulted in a lengthy and bloody war before Mexico eventually regained its independence.  Less well known is that there was actually an earlier violent French invasion, known as the Pastry War.

After gaining its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico was far from stable:  in its first twenty years, there were twenty presidents—most of whom seized power by force.  Additionally, every new president faced the same hurdle—raising enough money to pay the army that had brought him to power, 

In one year (1800), Mexico produced prodigious amounts of silver—so much so that Mexico was the economic engine that ran the Spanish Empire—but during the decades of wars for independence, the men had been pulled from the mines to fight.  The abandoned mines quickly flooded and caved in.  It was almost a century before the mines regained the production levels they had reached during colonial times.

Note.  A visitor from another planet comparing the two dominant countries of North America would have easily predicted which country was destined for greatness.  Possessing great natural resources, vastly larger in territory, one country was clearly more advanced.  Her cities were much larger, had more cultural amenities, and a more integrated society.  Mexico was clearly ahead, and when you factored in the slaves of the United States, had a higher per capita income.  Unfortunately, independence brought stagnation and decay to Mexico.  Less than 50 years later, Mexico lagged far behind the United States.

Desperate for cash, most of the incoming presidents were forced to use the same sources of revenue: forcing loans from the wealthy elite of Mexico—especially foreigners still residing in the country.  Naturally, these loans were almost never repaid.  These individuals would protest to their respective governments, who in turn, would protest to the Mexican government and demand repayment.  Unfortunately, constantly changing administrations, fluctuating exchange rates, and a chronic shortage of funds in the Mexican treasury meant these claims were rarely settled.

In 1828, the shop of a French baker, Remontel, in Mexico City was emptied by the hungry Mexican Army.  Remontel protested to King Louis Philippe of France, who demanded 600,000 pesos in repayment.  Today, this is a meaningless number, but take my word for it:  the French King was asking for a vast fortune.  The average daily wage in Mexico at that time was no more than a single peso per day.  They must have been really good French pastries.

The claim, of course, was not settled.  In the interim, Mexico had another series of presidents, including Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, who—after defeating the defenders of the Alamo—had lost Texas at the Battle of San Jacinto:  Mexico was hardly in the position to repay any of her debts.

In 1838, the French King issued an ultimatum:  either Mexico would pay her debts, or France would take military steps to enforce repayment.  During their early years, most Latin American countries derived their tax revenues almost exclusively from import duties collected at port cities.  Foreign countries, seeking to recover debts, could simply seize port cities and confiscate tax revenues until the debt was recovered.

Seizing ports and tax revenues evolved into a convenient excuse for European countries to attempt to seize New World countries.   This was the same excuse France used when it imposed Maximilian on Mexico a generation later.  In 1916, the United States seized the customs houses of the Dominican Republic to preempt European countries from doing the same thing.  For decades, the US Marines collected import taxes, dividing the revenue between debt repayment and tax revenue for the island nation.  While the Dominicans were unhappy about the occupation, they did note that the half revenue they received was substantially more revenue than they had received when their own people had run the customs houses, themselves.

When Mexico still refused to settle the debt, France sent a fleet to capture Veracruz, Mexico's main port.  The port was protected by a massive fortress, San Juan de Alua, on an island in the harbor.  An imposing structure, it had withstood pirate attacks for centuries.  Unfortunately, this was a different age and the fortress was no match for the modern artillery of the French fleet.  The fleet's exploding artillery rounds quickly ignited the fortress' magazines, making the attack one of the first examples of the futility of stone forts against naval gunnery—which was noticed by military leaders around the world.

France rather quickly captured the entire Mexican navy, bottled up all the ports, and cut off all trade in and out of Mexico while it demanded repayment of the debts.  Mexico tried to smuggle goods into the country, and was forced to land ships as far away as Corpus Christi, Texas and bring the goods overland. 

In the battles of Veracruz, Santa Ana returned from retirement, becoming something of a hero after he was wounded and lost his left leg after having his horse shot out from under him.  This set the stage for his role in the Mexican-American War, just seven years later.

Eventually, both sides tired of the conflict, so Mexico agreed to pay the 600,000 pesos and France agreed to stop the embargo.  Naturally, Mexico borrowed the funds. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Twofer?

It sounds childish and naive today, but there once was a time not that long ago when most people generally believed and trusted their government.  The notion that elected officials would actually lie to the public would have been rejected by almost everyone. 

I'm not sure, but perhaps this was because—to my generation, the postwar baby boom generation—the government was run by the Greatest Generation:  the people who had defeated the Nazis in World War II.  It was a generation that was easier to trust.

On more than a few occasions, I have teased Professor Grumbles for his ignorance of economics.  A movie enthusiast, all the good professor knows about economics is what he picked up from watching Frank Capra movies:  a fantasy world where all the business men are evil Mr. Potters and banks exist only to cheat the working man and to foreclose on widows and orphans.

Truthfully, in my own way, I am just as guilty as Professor Grumbles, for while I know better, I still want to believe that every politician is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  I want to believe that no matter how corrupt the candidate, once the election is over, the weight and importance of the job will descend upon the newly-elected and a change will take place whereby he becomes worthy of the high ideals I want to believe exist—if only because they are the things worth believing in.

Unfortunately for me, it was difficult to live through the Sixties and hold on to such childish notions.  Even for a poor dumb ol' country boy, it was hard to escape reality during a decade that was all but engineered to be the end of innocence.  Whether it was the Vietnam War, the Peace Movement, or an increasingly aggressive press, this was the generation that became all too aware of what the nightly news called the "Credibility Gap."

As a child, I must have been dumb as a post, for I think I was the last teenager in America to realize the truth, but eventually, even I wised up.  One day in school, there was a mandatory viewing of a drug film—part of the endless campaign against the evils of marijuana.  I wish I could remember the name of the film, but the plot was easy to follow.  A sailor fell in with evil companions while on shore leave and smoked a dreaded marijuana cigarette.  Months later, the sailor was back on duty aboard an aircraft carrier, where his job was to help provide radar data so planes 9could safely land.  During a violent storm and at a crucial moment, the sailor suddenly experienced the dreaded marijuana flashback, resulting in the fatal crash of the fighter plane onto the deck of the carrier.

All over the room, people suddenly sat up and looked at each other—a marijuana flashback?  A twofer?  How do you get two hits for the price of one joint?  Hell, at that point, I had never tried marijuana, but even I knew that was bullshit.

For me, that was the first crack in the dam.  Once I started doubting, however, it wasn't long until I began to doubt everything in government.  By the time Watergate was over, I was the full-fledged curmudgeon who writes this blog today.

There was one last attempt by the young, in 1972, to reestablish ideals.  The youth of America helped select a Democratic candidate who, in retrospect, could not possibly be elected.  Their enthusiasm highjacked the primary process and dismayed the party regulars who, after suffering a major defeat, changed the delegate selection rules to insure that such political antics would be impossible in the future, thus guaranteeing that elections would be far from free and far "better" controlled.

This was a painful lesson for the country to learn, and the generation that lived through this period was changed forever.  The very idea of believing in an honest government became standard fodder for talk-show comedians.  A new, and far more cynical age, was upon us.

And politicians did their best to perpetuate the loss of trust.  In swift order we had presidents who, though they promised not to lie, swore they couldn't remember details under oath, or lied to grand juries.    And no one expected anything different from them:  they were simply validating what we already believed about them.

Which brings us to this election cycle.  Once again, a disaffected youth vote selected a presidential candidate who, though perhaps unelectable, nevertheless reflected ideals that were worth believing in, even it they were both naive and impractical.  Millions flocked to support a candidate for the first time in their lives..and the rules established forty-four years ago immediately stopped this campaign cold. 

Millions of voters learned that the election was rigged, that winning the most votes didn't necessarily produce the most delegates, and that the entire process was a sham.  A candidate favored by the status quo has been selected—regardless of the will of the people.  Though there is ample proof of the effort to subvert an election, no one currently is facing criminal charges.

Once again, an entire generation has been taught that being idealistic and naively innocent  carries the high price of disillusionment.  Another generation has been taught to distrust both our government—and those who aspire to run it.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Mouse Tale

The two mice crept out of the warehouse on a dark night, watching the eastern sky over the harbor.  In a few minutes, the moon would rise.  The larger of the two mice moved a little slower and though you couldn't see it in the dark, his whiskers were decidedly gray.  As they moved down to the piers, the pair of mice moved silently, but once they had reached the water's edge, the larger of the mice finally spoke to his companion.

"We must be very still while we wait; it is dangerous to be out in the open, even though it is still dark.  When the moon rises, we could be seen. "

"Then why are we here, grandfather?", asked the smaller mouse.

"I want you to SEE!  The life of a mouse is hard, but it is bearable as long as you know that you will be rewarded in the next life.  To truly believe, however, you must see for yourself."

"What will I see, grandfather?", asked the younger mouse.  "What is out here?"

The young mouse's grandfather forgot his own warning, and with a loud voice, answered, "We came to see proof of the next life, for there are signs.  Long after a day of hard work and when the moon is full, you can see angels flying--the angels of mice flying in the sky.  It is a message of hope for all mouse-kind!"

The younger mouse said nothing in return, for while he loved his grandfather, he certainly did not believe his wild stories of an afterlife, and of a heaven for mice.  He was here only for the chance to be outside of the warehouse.  The warehouse that before tonight had been his entire world and he would pretend to believe in anything for a chance to finally see life outside of that building.

Now as the moon slowly rose over the harbor, the two mice could make out the bay, see the waves on the water, the dark shapes of a few distant ships tied at piers.  The larger mouse motioned to his grandson to stay still, for now that the moon had begun to light up the harbor, it was too dangerous to even talk.  The younger mouse mouse occasionally looked sympathetically at his grandfather as the older mouse stared intently upward into the cold night sky, straining to see something in the inky blackness.

The younger mouse had just about decided that it was time to get his grandfather back in the warm warehouse where he would be safe--when suddenly his grandfather gave a soft shriek and stiffened.

"Look!", he whispered.  "Look!  There's the angel!"

The younger mouse stared up into the night and was shocked.  There was something in the sky.  It swooped and swirled, soaring up and down in the night sky.  Then suddenly, the moonlight broke through the clouds and clearly illuminated the dark object.  It was an angel, an angel in the shape of a mouse!  And it flew through the sky, gracefully turning and twisting in the air.  Then, the clouds moved, and as the moon disappeared behind them, the angel vanished in the night air.

For several long minutes, the two mice neither moved nor spoke, then the grandfather broke the stillness.

"Now you understand," the Grandfather said to his grandson.  "Now you can believe for yourself--you've seen the sign."

The smaller mouse was too shocked to even answer.  He didn't know what to think, but his whole world had changed in just a few minutes.   His grandfather's stories were true!

As the two mice quietly left the pier and made their way back to the safety of the warehouse, an old wise rat watched them from the top of a dock piling.  He had been watching them the whole evening, enjoying their religious vigil, had seen them watching the angel, and heard every word the pair had said.

"Stupid rodents!", he muttered.  "Only mice can see a bat and start worshiping angels."



Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Heartless Decision

Thirty years ago, my father had a cherished belief in the efficacy of peppermint candy to cure a long list of ailments.  Heartburn, stomach aches, shortness of breath—you name it—a penny candy was the cure.  Of course, my father was just a poor dumb ol' country boy who left West Texas by way of the CCC and World War II.  

Even after he had a triple bypass in his fifties, he still believed in those little peppermints, saying, "while they couldn't hurt they might help."  There were several on his nightstand the night he suffered his fatal heart attack at age 70.

Now, for the last couple of weeks, his overly edjumacated son has had his own problem with heartburn.  For those of you who are familiar my diet, this probably comes as no surprise, and more than a few of my friends will find it hilarious.  Yes, I occasionally indulge in some "spicy" foods.  Yes, I use Tabasco Sauce as a salad dressing and just recently learned that paprika was more than a colorful garnish designed to make deviled eggs look good.

I would feel this weird pressure on the middle of my chest, but as soon as I ate one of those chewable antacids, the heartburn would miraculously lift.  I got better immediately.  I started carrying a few in my pocket and I kept a bag on my nightstand.  If this sounds familiar, I should point out that mine were flavored strawberry, not peppermint.

Which brings us to July 13 of this year.  New Mexico gets a lot of its tax money from the sale of oil and gas from public lands, and the receipts from this are dramatically down.  We also have a small problem with declining numbers of students graduating from high school.  Somehow, this came as a surprise to the university, which kept expanding programs, erecting new buildings and allowing administrators to multiply and consume resources like grain house rats.  Raises stagnated, enrollment dropped, standards fell, but somehow, we managed to pour millions and millions into a bloated athletic program.  The university was safe because the administration could count on the Board of Regents' annually voting in a tuition raise.

Until the Board of Regents didn't,  Suddenly, the university was facing millions in budget cuts, and the powers that be quickly decided that none of the cuts would come from Athletics.  Well, they did cut the Equestrian Team—despite having just built them a new indoor arena.  This will seem odd to most people who probably believe that riding horses is an outdoor event.  (I seem to remember a King of France and his son, who rode horses inside the Louvre:  perhaps this is the role model for our administration,)

During the televised announcement of the budget cuts, while I and most of the faculty and staff on campus were watching with dread, some very large woman wearing stilettos stood on my chest.  I began sweating profusely (and not just because the university had already begun cutting the air conditioning to my windowless office).  I scooped up those antacids and began chomping away.

But, there was no relief.  Somewhere about the seventh antacid, I began to realize I was in real trouble.  For some reason, I was confused, and I could feel my IQ dropping.  I wandered out in the hall, carefully locking my office door behind me and made my way outside into a scorching New Mexico heat.  I knew where I was going:  just across the street was the Health Center, where both students and employees could go for medical treatment and referral to specialists.  These people had been acting as my primary care physicians for years, and I liked and trusted them.

A lot of what happened then is now a little fuzzy, but I remember standing in the middle of a street for a while wondering if I shouldn't just get in my pickup and drive home to my wife, The Doc. Finally, I made it to the door of the clinic and discovered it was closed for an hour, while the clinic held its employee meeting.  The staff inside was learning, to their horror, that the university was closing the employee side of the clinic and might farm the student half of the operation out to some commercial Doc-in-the-Box company who would run the place for profit.

One of the nurses in the clinic saw me standing out in the heat and came over to the door to tell me the clinic was closed for an hour.  I have this sneaky feeling I looked like a homeless schizophrenic wandering around looking for food. 

I remember thinking how it would be so much easier to just sit on the porch and wait rather than trying to recross that street, but before I sat down, I turned to the young woman and spoke through the glass door.

"Chest pain." I said simply.

And that was all it took.  The people in that clinic saved my life.  Lots of people moved quickly, and I have a little trouble remembering everything.  My blood pressure was off the wall, they gave me oxygen, they put me on a gurney, they started an IV, they called an ambulance, and they put a tiny little nitroglycerin tablet under my tongue.

Nitroglycerin is the best drug in the world!  To my ignorant medical mind, I think we should all be carrying it.  It is WAY better than candy for a heart attack!  Within seconds of that nitro tablet dissolving under my tongue, the evil woman wearing a stiletto stepped off my chest.

Yes, I had a heart attack, and within 24 hours, I also had a quintuple coronary bypass.   The prognosis is excellent, and I should eventually recover and return to work.  But, when I do, the employee health clinic will no longer be there.  The people who stopped listening to the news of their being laid off long enough to save my life, might very well be gone. 

Even while I could barely think, I knew I could trust those people:  I knew they were my only hope.  I knew the doctors and nurses to be an invaluable asset the university should be proud of.  Their loss, if the move continues, would be a deep tragedy.

I have been writing this weekly blog for a little over seven years, and in that time, I have pretty much allowed the readership to grow—or not—on its own.  Today, the nonsense I write each week is read worldwide by between 45,000 to 60,000 people, depending on what I write about.  This week, do me a favor:  Mail this to someone...or even a couple of someones.  Complain a little bit, and suggest that the university reconsider shutting down such a valuable resource.  The Employee Health Clinic has already saved my life.  Maybe the next time they help someone, it will be someone useful.  You know...like a coach?

The university can find the money and it can reverse this decision.  After all, while I was in the Cardiac Care Unit of the local hospital, the administration decided to keep the Equestrian Team.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Pure Blooded Spaniard

Just this last week, I ran across one of those anachronistic people from the northern end of New Mexico.  Way too many of these people still believe they are living in the late 1700’s.

“My family is not Mexican.  My family is from Spain.  We are pure-blooded Spanish.” said the moron.

A pure-blooded Spaniard.  What an interesting concept!  Let’s investigate so we can understand that better.

Much of the warfare that makes up the history of Spain is the result of its geography.  Spain is almost an island: where it is not surrounded by water, it is fairly effectively cut off from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenees Mountains.  Then, it is separated from Africa by the Straits of Gibraltar--a narrow gap of only 10 miles.

The country itself is slightly smaller than New Mexico and Arizona combined, with a landscape dominated by mountains, so that the average altitude is higher than that of any other European country save Switzerland.  Because the country is crisscrossed by mountains and possesses few navigable rivers, communication and cultural integration across its area was almost impossible.
The archaeological and historical records of the Iberian Peninsula indicate that it has been a place of continuous migrations, movements, and displacement of human populations for a very long time.
Somewhere about 1,200,000 years ago, near the beginning of the Paleolithic Age, the first people arrived on the peninsula.  Most anthropologists call these people Homo Erectus or Homo Antecessor.  We know very little about them, except that they used stone tools, cooked with fire, and occasionally ate each other.  (Thus, meeting all the requirements to join the EU.)
About 200,000 years ago, the Neanderthal arrived.  (While it is very tempting to insert a reference here to the administration of Enema U—or at least to our football team—I’m going to pass.)
No one knows for certain what happened to Homo Erectus, but they vanished after the Neanderthal arrived.  Whether this was caused by attrition from competition for food or absorption by intermarriage, no one knows.  After attending faculty meetings for a few decades, I think the Neanderthal ate them.  But, I could be wrong--perhaps they are still alive and serving in Congress.
As Homo Sapiens spread across Europe, it is now generally agreed on  that the Neanderthal were driven into the Iberian Peninsula, with their last refuge being close to Gibraltar; current belief is that Homo Sapiens simply absorbed the Neanderthal through cross-breeding. 
An early group who left an enduring record of its presence there consisted of  ancient artists who decorated the famous cave of Altamira, in what is now Northern Spain. The images there--mostly of vaguely bull-shaped animals that are beautifully represented on a low stone ceiling--were painted at least 13,000 years ago and are still extraordinarily well-preserved.  It seems plausible that these artists, who "invented graffiti", may well have deliberately chosen this place as a gallery in order to pass their artistic legacy on to future generations. If so, their efforts have met with spectacular success, as many modern-day visitors to the site can confirm.
A later group--the Iberians--gave the region its name. It is believed that the Iberians began arriving in Spain some 5000 years ago, from Northern Africa and occupied mainly the southern area up to and including the Ebro valley.  They absorbed the previous, unnamed inhabitants of the area.
As John Crow points out in his book, Spain: The root and the Flower, "The name Ebro itself is from Iber, which is Iberian for "river." In the valley of the Ebro and near the Valencian coast, the Iberians achieved a flourishing culture. They lived in walled cities, and some of the megalithic stones used in their buildings still remain in place. The Iberians were a small, wiry, dark-complexioned race, who were great horseback riders, and were excessively clannish and tribalistic in their social organization. They created beautiful small bronze figures and they had a passion for representing bulls, other animals, and flowers."
The Phoenicians, a Semitic race of merchants who spoke a language related to Hebrew, traded regularly with the Iberians and established their trading posts, such as Cádiz and Málaga as early as 1100 BC.  The Phoenicians brought Jewish traders along with them at about the time of King Solomon.  Spain is actually mentioned in the Old Testament, where it is called Tarshish.  It was a long voyage in slow ships from one end of the Mediterranean to the other in those days, so many of the merchants established homes—at least temporarily—and took local women as wives.
The northern regions of Iberia (North of the Ebro valley) were occupied around 900 B.C. by the Celts, an Indo-European race that had spread across much of Europe. These two races--Phoenicians and Celts laid the foundations of a cultural bias in the south of Spain against the European north—and vice versa—a sociological and psychological dichotomy in Spain (and most other countries) that continues to the present day.  But in the central regions of the peninsula, these two groups intermingled and gave rise to the "Celtiberians," in a complex process of ethnic and cultural admixture. 
(Hell, even I have to admit that while I dislike Yankees, I have quite a few of them as friends.  The fact that it is so easy to hate people you haven’t even met is proof that we still carry some of that Neanderthal DNA.)
The Greeks arrived in Spain around 600 BC and, like the Phoenicians who preceded them, were traders.  They established their posts mainly along the Spanish Levant. Their culture fused with that of the Celtiberians--the finest surviving artistic example of which might be the "Dama de Elche," the magnificent stone bust found on a farm near Valencia in 1897.  The headdress and jewelry represented on the sculpture are Iberian adorning a female figure of somewhat oriental mien.  (Or it could be Princess Leia!).
The first in a series of violent invasions of Spain occurred in the third century B.C. under the leadership of Hamilcar Barca (after whom Barcelona is named), a Carthaginian, whose country had just suffered the loss of the First Punic War to its arch-enemy, Rome. From his newly-conquered Spanish territory Barca planned the invasion of Italy but died before he could launch it.  Barca was not killed by Romans, but by Celtiberians who attacked his army with wood-filled oxcarts.  When drawing close to the Carthagenian army, the wood was set on fire and the oxen ran wildly through the army, scattering it enough that the Celtiberians were able to penetrate the lines and kill Barca.
His son, Hannibal, picked up where his father had left off, and with the (questionable) aid of war elephants, crossed the Alps and invaded present day Italy, remaining there for fourteen years in what ultimately proved to be a fruitless effort, although he did inflict huge casualties on his Roman foes.
Meanwhile the Roman campaign against the Carthaginians in the Spanish Theatre of the Second Punic War met with early success, and in 206 B.C., the last of Hannibal's forces were driven out. Soon after that, the Roman province of Hispania was born.  The Roman general, Cato, effectively ended Celtiberian resistance when he ordered every town to pull down its walls--effectively making all those cities utterly defenseless to Roman attack and occupation. 
However, Spain thrived under Roman domination and soon became the richest province in the Empire, producing grain, mineral wealth, horses, olive oil, and fish products, as well as scholars, writers, and dancers. In addition to amphitheaters, the Romans built highways, bridges, and aqueducts (many of which are still in use today) that connected the growing cities together.  Roman law and religion (Christianity, after 329 AD) took firm root during the Roman Period and Vulgar Latin became the lingua franca of the country--the foundation of modern Spanish.
Rome, of course, had conquered the "known world", and had brought people from everywhere into its culture.  Numidians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians made their way to Spain, and of course, settled down to live.
It should be clear at this point that the Iberian Peninsula was, by the beginning of the first millennium AD, a multiethnic region with a long history of activity and occupation by a variety of disparate races and cultures.
As the Roman Empire fell, most of its former territory was conquered by barbarians.  "Barbarians" is universally translated as “those leaner and meaner assholes the other side of the border”.  In the case of Spain, it was first, the Vandals and then, the Visigoths. 

The last Visigoth monarch, King Roderick, was cruel, temperamental, and stupid—the hat trick of bad government.  There is fairly good evidence that some of his own people invited the Moors in Northern Africa to cross those ten miles of open water separating the two continents to come put an end to his misrule.  To them, the Moors would have been liberators, not conquerors.  The picture at right is Spain as seen from North Africa.

After the Moors conquered Catholic Spain in 711, Jews who were living in Spain were granted religious liberty. Muslims-Jews-Catholics lived side by side for a long time, before the Catholics began a long, long war to win back the peninsula completely.  Actually, the war took almost 800 years, culminating in the victory at Granada in 1492.
During the Moorish occupation, Spanish culture changed dramatically:  art, diet--almost anything of a cultural nature changed.  Even today, nearly 20% of the Spanish language has roots in Arabic.
Let’s stop here a minute and take stock.  Spain (not counting the early hominids who lived on the peninsula) was invaded, ruled, and peopled by:
o   Ancient Iberians
o   Phoenicians
o   Jews
o   Celts
o   Greeks
o   Carthaginians
o   Romans
o   Vandals
o   Visigoths
o   Moors
The point of all this is that if you go to the pound and adopt a scruffy brown mutt with one yellow eye and one green eye, it probably is more "pure-blooded" than the average "Spaniard".  (The same, of course, could be said of most Europeans.)
Note.  Remember the Northern New Mexican who steadfastly believed in his pure European bloodline?  A century ago, most wealthy Mexicans held the same beliefs, taking great pride in their European customs.  Then, during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1918), cultural identity became reversed and most Mexicans began taking pride in their indigenous roots, rejecting European fashions, art, and culture.  This cultural realignment--like the violent revolution--stopped at the border with the U.S.  Talking to my unconsciously racist friend from Northern New Mexico, then, is sort of like using a time machine to visit a long forgotten past--but in México, not España.

A Much Needed Correction

Halfway down the page, the paragraph beginning "The name Ebro itself is from Iber,.." should have been originally attributed to John Crow in his book, "Spain: The Root and the Flower", a book I greatly admire for the writing style of the author.  In the original blog entry, the quote was not properly attributed.  If you read the entry after today, it is properly attributed.

Many of the blogs published here had their start in lecture notes for various classes I have taught over the years at Enema U.  In all, I have taught more than 30 different courses in multiple departments.   Lecture notes are not intended for publication or distribution, so on more than one occasion in the interest of time, I am sure that while preparing them I was careless about citing sources for the material I presented.  That is certainly the case here.

Pictured at right is a photo of my original lecture notes.  Colored highlights indicate ideas I wanted to stress, the small photo is a reminder to the lecturer to advance the PowerPoint slide.  The red arrows are new and indicate the pertinent portions of notes.  Over the years, I have probably given this lecture more than twenty times.

I taught courses on the History of Spain several times over the years and did indeed use Crow's book many times.  While writing the original lecture this blog was based on, I used several sentences from Crow's book.  Later, when writing this blog, I inadvertently used the entire paragraph, not realizing I was using Crow's work.  For this, I sincerely apologize.

I can give you a similar case.  As a student, I benefitted from the wisdom of Professors Louis R. Sadler and Charles Harris, taking every course that either offered.  I still have, neatly typed, my notes from being a student in their classes.  I recently read over some of those pages and was amazed to find whole sections that matched almost exactly lecture notes I later wrote and delivered for my own classes.   I could have sworn that it was my original work.

Anything you read in this blog, if you find it pleasing or even articulate, rest assured that I am simply regurgitating the brilliance of others that I was lucky enough to study under or whose writing was so brilliant that it burned a spot in my mind.  I can quote verbatim whole passages of books by Twain, Heinlein, Asimov, Rostand, and countless others.  I studied with outstanding professors, whose words still echo in my mind, including not just Sadler and Harris, but Fred Plog, Edward Staski, Darliss Miller, Lois Stanford, Howard Rabinowitz, Wenda Trevathan, and many, many others.  I am certain that on far more occasions than I am aware of, I present ideas I learned from them.

Once again, I apologize for the omission.