Monday, September 28, 2015

Concierto de Aranjuez por Joaquin Rodrigo + mas

Un grande de la guitarra española hagamos un pequeño homenaje a quién fue un virtuoso Paco de Lucia

Monday, September 21, 2015

September 21: International Peace Day

Human rights and dignity must be our starting point, and dialogue must be our most powerful tool. Sept 21 is Intl

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Great Video that will not convince climate change deniers.

This stunning new video from NASA shows how air pollution from Asia changes weather and climate around the world.
Posted by OnEarth on Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Saturday, September 19, 2015

On Reading "Black Elk Speaks"

I am reading Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt. Nicholas Black Elk was born in 1863. We are told in this book that he met with John Neihardt on several consecutive days in 1930 and told him the story of his early life. Also present (at Neihardt's request) were several of Black Elk's friends, older than he, who could fill in details of events that occurred when Black Elk was a young child (and would not have seen everything nor fully understood the happenings). Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux, spoke no English; John Neihardt did not speak the Sioux language. Ben Black Elk, Nicholas Black Elk's son was brought in to translate. Neihardt also brought his two daughters to the meetings, one of whom was a trained stenographer who took down what Ben translated. Normally she did so in shorthand, but particularly important statements she wrote down in longhand.

Before he began to explain his life, Black Elk held a ceremony in which he gave Neihardt and his daughters Oglala names, effectively adopting them into his family. (This apparently was required as he was to share details of visions that he had never shared before.) After the telling was completed, a bull was killed and eaten in the old Oglala fashion (one wonders how daughters brought up in Nebraska in the roaring 20s liked eating raw beef liver, fresh from the newly killed bull). The Oglala dressed in full dress and all danced.

Neihardt's specific interest in this work was to understand the Ghost Dance cult that spread across the western Indian tribes in 1890. An aspect of the cult were ghost shirts which the members of the cult believed would, if worn in battle, keep them safe from bullets. Not surprisingly, the idea of thousands of Indian warriors from many tribes rising against the federal troops, believing that they were invulnerable, had worried army leaders. The army was bringing in Sioux bands to the Wounded Knee reservation in conjunction with this concern when the Wounded Knee massacre occurred.

Black Elk had been a warrior at the time and took part in Custer's last stand as well as Wounded Knee. He was also a visionary who had his own visions and led his own vision dances. He participated in a Ghost Dance, learning of the vision of a western Indian, began to make ghost shirts, and began to organize his own ghost dances to further spread the cult before Wounded Knee. Thus he seemed a perfect subject for Neihardt's purposes.

The Story

A significant portion of the narrative is devoted to the battles between the Sioux (and other Indians) and the soldiers. There are a number of smaller engagements, ones we hear relatively little about normally, ending with "Custer's Last Stand" and the Wounded Knee massacre, told of course from the point of view of the Indians. I would note that Black Elk was raised in a hunting gathering culture; killing animals, skinning them, cleaning them, and butchering them would have been commonplace in his life; indeed, he must have enjoyed eating the raw liver of freshly killed buffalo, and must himself have killed small birds and animals for the family pot even as a child. His was a culture that had little exposure to hospitals (which might have done more harm than good, given the state of medicine in the 19th century); deaths of babies, of old people and from epidemics of infectious disease would have been more common then than now -- life expectancy at birth would have been short for the planes Indians and death would frequently have occurred in the tepee. Black Elk would probably have been exposed to more human death growing up than we are today. It may well have been that modern Americans will have difficulty relating to what may have been a rather matter of fact approach to killing, blood and death of Black Elk in his early years as a warrior.

John Neihardt apparently was most interested in understanding the Ghost Dance and related issues. We are told that he was not an anthropologist, nor was he expert on the religious rituals of the Oglala, and that he did not include in his narrative information provided by Black Elk on other Sioux rituals. He goes into some depth about a long vision that Black Elk had when he was seriously ill and unconscious as a boy; this is presented as a central event in Black Elk's life. As the story is told, Black Elk does not immediately tell others about his vision, feeling he will not be taken seriously as a child. When he comes of age parts of the vision are shared with his village, with the aid of much older visionaries, through elaborate dance rituals. Black Elk dresses and paints himself in a manner designed to express the visions and he enlists maidens and young warriors from the tribe to play key roles. He composes and sings special songs related to the vision. The witnesses to the performance take part dancing, and the dancing goes on for hours.

Neihardt thus establishes that some Indians are seen as granted special visions from the spirit world, and that they are communicated through dance rituals. One can imagine the impact of such a ritual on the exhausted dancers to be very great indeed.

Wovoka—Paiute spiritual leader
and creator of the Ghost Dance
Neihardt then describes the mission sent by the Sioux to the Paiutes to learn about the Ghost Dance vision that a Paiute had that foretold that
proper practice of the dance would reunite the living with spirits of the dead, bring the spirits of the dead to fight on their behalf, make the white colonists leave, and bring peace, prosperity, and unity to native peoples throughout the region.
The message also included designs of a new "Ghost shirt" that would keep its wearer safe from bullets.

The reader finds the communication of a message from the spirit world to the living by means of ritual dances to be familiar from Black Elk's own life experiences.

Indeed, the Ghost Dance does spread to the Sioux, Black Elk takes part in one, accepts the teaching, begins making Ghost shirts and begins conducting Ghost Dances for others. As history tells us, the Sioux began to perform the Ghost Dances very actively, and the army became concerned. It was as troops were bringing in a band of Sioux who had been conducting Ghost Dances away from the headquarters of the reservation that fighting broke out and the soldiers massacred men, women and children from the tribe. Black Elk, having been on the reservation, joined with other young men to travel to the gunfire and see what they could do. He describes his successful efforts to save a few mothers and their children from the killing fire of the soldiers, and his assault on the troops wearing his Ghost Shirt, during which he is not wounded by the fire of his enemy.

Black Elk and Elk in the Buffalo Bill
Wild West Show in Europe, 1887

Behind the specific events there is a story of loss of the traditional Oglala culture. In the 1860s the Oglala were living on what they thought to be their own land. They hunted buffalo from horseback, using bows and arrows and some guns. The lived in tepees, and could move camp quickly and relatively easily. They had a complex ritual life that they found satisfying. In 1931 when Black Elk told his story, the buffalo were gone. The Oglala lived in square houses of European design, on a small reservation, in poverty. They were struggling to define a new culture to fit their new circumstances, and we know that even today the Oglala live in poverty and have grave difficulties with substance abuse. It is not surprising that the "good old days" look very good in retrospect. Nor is it surprising that they blame the white man that destroyed the buffalo, took their land by unfair treaties, used armed force to confine them to reservations, took the gold from the Black Hills for themselves, and for many years deliberately moved to destroy Sioux and other tribal cultures.

Do You Believe?

Nicolas Black Elk and John Neihardt
Of course you believe me, because I am writing this on a blog, and you are reading it on the Internet. How could it be less than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Do you believe Black Elk? He was an old man, telling about the distant past; did he remember accurately? Is he remembering things in a way that makes him look better than he actually was; most of us do that don't we. Does he have a purpose in telling this story now, and is that purpose best served by the story he tells rather than his best estimate of what really happened? Did he see enough of the key events to know what really happened, or is he relying on things he heard (and perhaps now thinks he remembers from direct observation). We know he converted to Christianity and indeed served as a missionary and a teacher of Christianity to the Sioux; did his conversion influence his telling of the stories of the old Sioux religion?

Do you believe Ben Black Elk, the translator? He had not lived in the old Oglala culture. Did he understand its nuances well enough to find the right words to translate what his father was seeking to tell Neihardt? We also know his English was not perfect. Was it sufficient to make his father's ideas perfectly understood by his white audience? I have been in the role of translator between people who did not understand each other's language, and found myself choosing the translation carefully, so as not to have the statements of one annoy the other. Professional translators are a very special breed of people of great skill, and Ben does not seem to be in that number.

Do you believe young Neihardt who was transcribing the conversation? Did she get it all? Did she get it all right? Were her transcriptions perfect? It appears that in some cases there would be give and take to try to make a point of Black Elk's clear to John Neihardt. Did John's daughter accurately capture the final version as understood by her father?

Do you believe John Neihardt's narrative, as it got past his editor? We know he deleted some of what Black Elk told him as not fundamental to the story he was telling, and that he added material that he felt his readers would need in order to understand Black Elk. We know that Neidhardt was not a trained anthropologist, nor was he expert in Oglala culture nor Sioux culture more generally; could he have gotten things wrong? Especially, we know he used his considerable command of language to produce a voice for the literary Black Elk; we must remember that Black Elk did not speak English and Neihardt did not speak Black Elk's language, so the English in the book is an invention of Neihardt's. Finally, we know that Neihardt believed that he himself had received life guiding visions, and had acted upon them, that he had a specific purpose in writing the book; can we fully trust his narrative?

I am simply pointing out that the truth of this narrative is not simple, and indeed scholars have been disputing points in the narrative for decades. (The experts apparently have put forward their own guesses as revealed truth!) The problem of reports of cross cultural dialog is that one can not take them as simple truth. It is better to simply regard them as what they are -- recordings of what one person thinks another person told him/her across a cultural gap.

Hilda Neihardt, Black Elk, Standing Bear, John Neihardt

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

Los Angeles in the 40s and 50s -- Growing Up

The History Book Club to which I belong discussed Our Kids by Robert Putnam last week. In the process, several described their own high school experience, complementing Robert Putnam’s description of many school experiences in the book. I thought I might share something about growing up in west Los Angeles and attending public schools there from 1946 until high school graduation in the summer of 1955. Los Angeles was a unique place to grow up in that time.

My parents, European immigrants, moved to Los Angeles in late 1945 and bought their first car and first house in early 46. The house had two bedrooms and one bathroom, typical of the 1930s houses in our lower middle class price range. I should not have expected to grow up in so vibrant a community.

As an 8 year old, my first Los Angeles friends were the kids of my age on my block.
Paul's Dad, 1912
  • Paul (who also went to school with me). His parents, both school teachers, were divorced, and Paul lived with his mother and older sisters. His father, a college graduate, also had a law degree, but never practiced law. His father was very unusual in that he had been on the 1912 U.S. Olympic team with Jim Thorpe, and had brought home the gold medal for the high jump. His father was the best U.S. athlete in the Decathlon and qualified for the 1916 Olympics in that event as well as the high jump, but those games were not held (due to the outbreak of World War I). Paul did not graduate from college, eventually opened and operated his own camera store.
  • Dean, my next door neighbor, went to the MGM studio school. His parents were also divorced, and he lived with his mother and older brother. His father -- when I met Dean -- was staring as Curly in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma (in 1937 he had sung the role of the prince in Snow White -- Disney's first feature length film). Dean and his brother Guy were then already professional actors, Dean the more successful of the two; he would win a Golden Globe a couple of years after we met for his performance in Gentleman’s Agreement. It was through Dean and Guy that I met such actors as Margaret O’Brien, Claude Jarman Jr., Lionel Barrymore and Allen Ladd. NeitherDean nor his brother graduated from college, but both went on to successful acting careers – some 300 credits on the International Movie Data Base (both had starring roles in TV series that counted as single IMDB entries). His brother later started an acting school.
Dean's Dad, 1945
In primary school I added up some lifetime friends who went all through public school with me. The closest were:
  • Allen: I don’t remember his parents’ background. Allen did well through college, becoming President of the Young Democrats and Secretary General of the Model UN in his senior year at Berkeley. Graduating he became a peace activist, going to jail for a year in the mid 60s after an anti Vietnam rally;  that turns out to be a good career move in the peace movement, and he had a long career in the American Friends Service Committee. Along the line he picked up a master’s degree and taught classes at Berkeley.
  • Anthony: His parents were divorced, and both remarried. There were thus four parents  --  three with PhDs and a full professor at USC (who did not have a PhD). Anthony lived with his mother and stepfather in apartments in our neighborhood. His stepfather, Ingolf, I knew well, in part because he took our gang of kids hiking, camping and mountain climbing from the sixth grade to the summer between 11th and 12th grades. Included among Ingolf’s friends that I remember: Nobel Laureate novelist Thomas Mann, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Victor Borge, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Aaron Copeland, Gertrude Laurence, and Leonard Bernstein. Ingolf was a department head at Tanglewood, Director of the Ojai Music Festival, Director of the Evenings on the Roof concert series, conductor of the Borge radio show orchestra, and ghosted some of Schroeder’s piano playing in the Peanuts TV cartoons. Michael Tilson Thomas (Ingolf’s student and now conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra) conducted the orchestra for the tribute recording of Ingolf’s works issued after Ingolf’s untimely death. Anthony’s mother’s was a friend of Ralph Bunch from their days as undergraduates at UCLA.  (He was, of course, the top U.S. official in the UN and a Nobel Peace Prize winner). Anthony’s biological father was the head of the script department at MGM, and wrote children’s books after he retired. Anthony got a teaching credential and a PhD, taught for a while a Michigan State, but moved to England where he ended his career as the chair of the English Department of the American High School in London. He has published several books since retiring from teaching.
  • Dick: His parents moved from South Dakota to LA where his father worked in the Douglas Aircraft Co. factory; I believe his work was highly skilled and involved making models for parts of Douglas airplanes that would be part of the production process. I think both parents were high school graduates. Dick got a PhD in Neuroanatomy, got tenure in the USC medical school faculty, went back to get a second PhD in psychology and then worked as a consulting psychologist.
In junior high school I added Mike to my circle of friends.
  • Mike’s parents were high school grads and divorced; he lived with his Mom and younger brother. Mike decided to be an actor and dropped out of college, taking acting and dance classes instead. After a personal crisis he changed religion, finished college, and went to divinity school, getting a graduate degree and becoming a Presbyterian minister. However, later he spent time in Japan studying acting technique for the No theater; he qualified in Japan for women’s roles in No drama (not many Americans did that). He has published at least one successful book on church liturgy. He worked as a minister for most of his adult life eventually leading a large church. Now retired, he performs occasional on the stage of a local professional theater.
In high school I added a few more friends:

Luana in Coppola's first film
Gordon's memoir
  • Luana: I didn’t know her parents. She started her career as an actress immediately after high school. She was Peter Fonda’s love interest in Easy Rider, starred in Francis Ford Coppola’s first film, and was the girl under the pendulum In The Pit and the Pendulum (81 IMDB acting entries before her untimely death). She starred in the title role in the national touring company of The Reluctant Debutant and starred across from Rex Harrison in a Broadway play that lasted only one night. She later had three scripts that she wrote made into films. She studied acting with Jeff Corey. (Soon after high school, not yet supporting herself by acting, she had a job as a messenger. She convinced a fellow messenger to come along with her to acting class on evening; thus began the career of Jack Nickolson.)
  • Gordon: I didn’t know his parents. Gordon got an undergraduate degree and a PhD from Cal Tech. His published memoir tells about the important role he played at Seagate in the invention of the personal computer hard drive. He continues to do research and development of computer memory technology.
  • Mark: His parents were as far as I knew high school grads; his father was at one time a professional musician. His uncle was with a professional musician with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Mark got a bachelor and masters degree from U.C. Berkeley. He eventually became the head of the metallurgy lab at Sandia and then the head of the special projects division. I understand that late in his career he became a well known volcanologist, studying volcanoes in Hawaii and the Mt. St. Helens eruption.
My own parents: Both were immigrants. Dad was a secondary school grad and Mom did not complete secondary school. Dad was a middle manager in a big corporation during our years in California. Mom was a stay at home mom for most of the time, but worked part time later. At one point, Dad was the office manager for the building owned by the company; since it provided the Screen Actors Guild with a suite of offices in the building, he served as office manager for SAG and got to know two SAG presidents rather well: George Murphy and Ronald Reagan. Later Dad became purchasing agent for office furniture, equipment and supplies for the company headquarters. It was at that time that Reagan asked him as a favor to set up his campaign office in LA for his first run for governor, which Dad did. Mom when I was a teenager worked a couple of days a week for the Mitchell family. He was a named partner in a law firm that specialized in the movie industry, and she was the daughter of a man whose company was one of several that build Hoover Dam. I got bachelors, masters, and PhD degrees from campuses of the University of California.

The basic point is that our middle class neighborhood had good schools. My friends and I had many role models provided by parents and parents’ friends. Some school friends went on to higher education some did not. All of my close school friends seem to have done well in their chosen careers.

Let me add a few more entries from my college days (1955 to 1959) at UCLA. They too indicate the richness of the Los Angeles environment in which I grew up.

  • Chris, a friend made at UCLA whose father had a brief period in the limelight as Elsberg's Psychiatist when the break in of his office by President Nixon's "plumbers" was revealed to the public. These events ruined his practice and embittered him for life. Still, to me he represented the important and useful role that one could assume in adult life with the proper education. Chris went on to a long, successful career as an engineer.
  • Jimmy, a Japanese America who was sent to school in Japan before World War II, and got stuck there during the war. He joined the U.S. army in Japan after the war and served in Korea. He Chris and I were inseparable in Engineering school, graduated together, and he went on to a long career as an engineer.
  • Myron Tribus taught me Thermodynamics at UCLA, and his teaching approach influenced my own teaching. His accounts of his experience doing operations research during World War II I think influenced my own career choices much later. He left UCLA to become Dean of Engineering at Dartmouth College's Thayer School of Engineering. He became Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Science and Technology in the Nixon administration, and since President Nixon did not have a formal Science Adviser, served in that role as well. He then became Senior V.P. for Research & Engineering in Xerox Corp.
  • Linus Pauling is still the only person to have received two undivided Nobel Prizes, one in Medicine for his discovery of the structure of hemoglobin and the Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to the spread of atomic weapons. On two different occasions he took several hours to chat with me, an undergraduate from a different university. He continues to remind me that grace is not inconsistent with greatness.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Degree of Politicization of Views on Scientific Issues

There is an interesting (long) report from the Pew Research Center on this topic. For example:
71% of Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party say the Earth
is warming due to human activity, compared with 27% among their Republican counterparts (a difference of 44 percentage points). This report shows that these differences hold even when taking into account the differing characteristics of Democrats and Republicans, such as their different age and racial profiles. 
Democrats and leaning Democrats also are more likely to favor policies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and promote alternative energy sources. Republicans and independents who lean to the GOP are more likely favor some key energy development policies such as offshore oil drilling, fracking and construction of nuclear power plants. In a December 2014 Pew Research survey, fully 75% of Democrats and leaning Democrats said the United States should prioritize alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power, over expansion of oil, coal and gas production. By contrast, only 43% of Republicans and leaning Republicans expressed support for prioritizing alternative energy production over traditional energy development. 
Here is another finding from the report:
Fully 83% of Democrats and leaning Democrats say government investment in basic scientific research pays off in the long run, and just 12% say such investments are not worth it. A considerably smaller majority of the GOP and independents who lean to the GOP see benefits from government funding of basic science; 62% say government investments pay off in the long run, but 33% say such investments are not worth it.
 I don't think this is a good thing -- that people divide about issues of scientific consensus as they divide by party affiliation, but I don't have anything useful to suggest about it (other perhaps that it is not a good idea to have GOP control of the Congress because that then puts control of government expenditures on science and technology in the hands of the party that campaigns frequently against the scientific consensus). 

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Tech Immigrants: A Map of Silicon Valley's Imported Talent

Silicon Valley imports its brains. Where do they come from?
Source: Bloomberg Business
Before the Congress does anything about immigration, it better be sure not to hinder the flow of brains to Silicon Valley and other tech centers vital to the U.S. economy.

A modest NIH grants program might be appropriate!

An article in the current issue of The Economist indicates that the appropriate substitution of deuterium for normal hydrogen in drug molecules extends the time that the drug remains in the body. (Deuterium is a form of hydrogen with an extra neutron. The change in the nucleus changes the chemistry of the atom and of molecules in which it is substituted for normal hydrogen.) This reduction of the frequency with which a medication has to be taken can be quite useful in some therapeutic applications. The article suggests, however, that
examination of the patent literature found that the American patent office has started rejecting applications for deuterated versions of existing drugs. Deuterating, too, has become an obvious practice.
Without patent protection, I wonder if the holders of the original patents on the drugs (assuming that they are still under patent protection) will find it economically desirable to produce deuterated versions of their products. Will generic companies find it profitable to produce the deuterated versions of drugs?

There ought to be some means to assure the public that useful products within the reach of our technology are brought to market, especially if they are pharmaceutical, and thus of direct benefit to patients. Perhaps the government should set up a grants program to encourage such product development.

Uncommon good sense

Sunday, September 06, 2015

On reading Eric Foner's "Short History of Reconstruction"

the slave went free, stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery. W. E. B. Dubois
I just finished reading A Short History of Reconstruction, Updated Edition by Eric Foner. Foner is arguably the most important historian focusing on 19th century America. His book, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, won the Bancroft, Parkman, and Los Angeles Times Book prizes. It is still in print, and remains perhaps the most important book on the period. His more recent book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in History, the Bancroft Prize, and the Lincoln Prize. He has served as president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Society of American Historians.

The Business of the USA in the 19th Century

Thomas Jefferson saw the destiny of the United States of America to be that of empire, spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It would be a republic, dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Jefferson thought it would take 100 generations to populate that shining empire. Inventions such as the steamboat, the railroad, and the telegraph -- together with mass immigration from Europe -- made it possible to do so in a century. I see the completion of Jefferson's dream as the business of America in the 19th century.

The Louisiana Purchase, the war with Mexico, and expeditions to the Northwest had added the land Jefferson envisioned to the USA by the mid 19th century. The nation was attracting immigrants in huge numbers. It had started as an exporter of agricultural commodities, but was developing industry to become a world leader in manufacturing in the 19th century . The USA was increasingly not only technologically competitive with Europe but a leader in innovation. The nations business in the 19th century would include developing industrial technology and industry to match a world class infrastructure.

It would also be to settle the land that it claimed, and to build cities that would come to house an increasing portion of its population.

Foner focuses on the period 1863 to 1877 in this history, but I think the Civil War and dozen years after its conclusion is best understood in terms of the overall empire building of the United States, especially that of the 19th century.

What Did The Civil War Settle?

Before the war, people used the phrase "the United States are"; after the war, they use the phrase "the United States is". The war established that, as the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union stated, the union is perpetual. Sovereignty is in the United States of America, not in the several states of which it is composed. While some governmental tasks are reserved for the states, and indeed for local government, the federal government is paramount. During the Civil War, the central government of the Union grew greatly, assuming stature and power never before needed. The secessionist states, defeated soundly in battle, were thus proven to have no right to secede. The question remained, how would the institutions of government be remade following the war so as to best accomplish the nation's business.

President Lincoln clearly stated at the beginning of the Civil War that the purpose of the North was to preserve the Union. The USA stood as a beacon among nations, but it was not yet clear that "any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure." Yet Lincoln realized during the war that emancipating the slaves in the states in rebellion would be necessary to winning the war. Doing so would greatly reduce the economic capacity of the Confederacy, would prevent European imperial powers from aiding the Confederates, and would add many tens of thousands of black troops to the Union forces. When four million slaves were emancipated by proclamation, the Civil War became about slavery for the North as well as the South. The 13th amendment to the Constitution eliminating slavery from the USA would necessarily follow Union victory.

After the War


Foner makes it abundantly clear that after the war there was no consensus as to what was to be done, many parties competing for power, influence and resources, and a great deal of corruption and people seeking to get a piece of the pie for themselves. This seems to have been true in the north and the south.

Carpetbaggers from the north initially flocked to the south, some in search of opportunities to do good and others in search of opportunities to make money. Scalawags -- southerners who had supported the Union during the war -- were suddenly favored by the new northern masters after having had a bad time during the Confederacy.

It seems to me that the two major concerns in the South were to develop institutions appropriate to the newly freed slaves and to develop new institutions for agriculture -- the ownership of land and the supply of labor to work the land. Perhaps not surprisingly, those who held the land before the Civil War wound up owning the land after 1877 -- at least the large plantations growing cotton and other field crops.

The north had many concerns: reintegrating the rebel states into the Union, facilitating the adjustment of the emancipated slaves and giving them citizenship rights, building infrastructure, settling the west, continuing to build industry, drawing immigrants, developing the institutions of government and more. For a few years after the war, Radical Republicans in the Congress emphasized Reconstruction in the south. However, speculation in railroad stock resulted in an unsustainable financial bubble, and when it burst the economy entered the Panic of 1973. That in turn brought farmers and workers of  the north into open conflict with the north's investors and merchants. Northern attention turned away from helping former slaves and reforming the governance of the southern states. (This inability to stick with a program of cultural change for the decades needed to complete its work seems familiar today.)

Soon after the end of the Civil War, the freedmen were reunited with families and enabled to go to the churches of their choice; these changes were to remain after the collapse of radical Reconstruction. Freedmen were also allowed to form community associations, and would continue to do so, although white violence (unchecked by federal troops) would eventually reduce this right in practice. Confiscated and abandoned lands initially were taken by the federal government, and freedmen families were allowed to homestead on these lands; later however, when the north lost interest in Reconstruction, the homesteads were revoked and the lands redistributed to white owners. Also, initially freedmen were enfranchised, many voted, and some were elected to public office; after northern interest petered out, a campaign of violence essentially removed the franchise from the southern blacks, and few were able to remain in office.

The Reconstruction resulted initially in more vigorous government in the southern states, providing schools, prisons and other governmental services. These were in turn paid for by taxes on property, that is land. The white population found itself paying more to government run by carpetbaggers and scalawags to pay for services that often went to blacks. Not surprisingly, this state of affairs consolidated white southern opposition to the Reconstruction as it was being carried out.

While blacks were originally thought likely to participate in a free labor market for agricultural jobs, ultimately plantation agriculture was run on a sharecropping basis, much to the advantage of the white land owners and to the disadvantage of the black sharecroppers. Bad crops and/or low prices spelled trouble for the small farmers in the South. There was even a wide spread system in which blacks were arrested and convicted on minor charges, and then rented out to white plantation owners or business owners as "chain gangs" of unpaid workers -- the money paid going to the local government (or to graft).

While the north's economy grew during the latter part of the 19th century, the south's economy was more stagnant and the economic gap between the two grew. The south, firmly in the political grip of the white affluent class, became more and more conservative. It could be depended upon to support the Democratic party, and to support conservative causes.

The Legacy

The failure of reconstruction left the nation with a new legacy of racism in which the freedmen were blamed for the failure of Reconstruction, and blacks were left in the minds of many as an inferior race. Racism of course had always been common in both north and south.

Southerners were able to construct a version of the Civil War and Reconstruction that survived for decades, and in my opinion did harm to the nation. The film, The Birth of a Nation, which showed the Ku Klux Klan riding to rescue fair white maidens from evil black men, was premiered in the White House and went on to great audience success in the early 20th century. For generations the south lagged economically, yet played a major role in support of conservative ideology in national politics.

The nation might have learned how very hard cultural change can be, and how very long it takes. The nation might also have learned that the road to chaos is often paved with initial good intentions. Such knowledge might have been very helpful in the aftermath of later wars. Unfortunately, the lesson seemed not to have been learned.

Reading the Book

This is a beautifully written book, a pleasure to read. Some of the latter chapters read like essays by a gifted essayist. Rather than include extensive footnotes, author Foner provides extensive suggestions for further reading for each chapter of the book.

Were the author not so credible a historian, it would be tempting to reject his arguments as inadequately supported. As it is, someone seeking more detail should read his long book on the Reconstruction in its latest edition; that book has the detail. while this book is primarily a summary of the authors analysis and conclusions.

This is a wonderful book

Joan Baez & Mercedes Sosa "Gracias A La Vida"

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Distribution of Family Wealty

Source: "Nine Charts about Wealth Inequality in America"

We see occassional charts of the distribution of income, but it is hard to understand just what a specific chart means. This data from the Urban Institute seems to clearly show that the rich are getting richer and the poor, not so much!