Looking Backward Into the Present

Using the Popular Culture of the Past to Help Answer Perplexing Questions in the Present

Archive for October, 2008

Is the Cultural Background of U.S. Presidential Candidates Historically a Factor When it Comes to Presidential Elections?

In one week the United States of America will have had an historic election.   Either Sarah Palin will be the country’s first female vice president or Barack Obama will be its first African-American president.   Whether you vote Republican, Democrat or Third Party, there is no denying that it has been an exciting time for American elections. 

But how culturally significant would a Barack Obama presidency be if he were elected? It might be very significant if you subscribe to the theories of cultural historian David Hackett Fischer.  In his 1989 book, Albion’s Seed, Fischer concluded that every president except two has been descended from one or more of the four original English cultural streams (Puritans, Cavaliers, Quakers and Scots-Irish) that formed the United States of America. According to Fischer, the two exceptions were Martin Van Buren and John F. Kennedy.  Van Buren was of Dutch decent and John F. Kennedy was Irish-Catholic.  It would seem then that beyond Obama, the man, being an exceptional leader and uniquely qualified administrator, his African-American heritage would seem to be a cultural revolution.  After all, his father Barack Obama, Sr. was from Kenya. 

 

But stop the presses.  It is well known that the family of Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Durham, can be traced to one of those four English cultural streams.  Obama’s great-great-great grandfather Falmouth Kearney emigrated from Northern Ireland circa 1850 during the Potato Blight and settled somewhere in Ohio.  So ironically, Barack Obama would in fact be the twenty-fourth president of Irish/Northern Irish/Scots-Irish ancestry.  So it might be said, that an Obama presidency would be breaking one cultural stereotype while perpetuating another. 

 

In the end, however, it might be better said that Obama’s candidacy is uniquely American, the right balance between tradition and revolution that this country was founded on—neither of which are in danger of disappearing should Obama be elected. 

 

When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism

When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism

What is a Zouave?

What is a Zouave?

 

This question was inspired by a family member of mine, Fredrick Marvin, who was part of the Aurora Zouaves that toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show around the turn of the nineteenth century. 

 

Apparently zouave (pronounced zoo-ahv) is a general term for a body of soldiers or group of trained men who specialize in unique, complicated infantry drills and wear colorful uniforms usually marked by a “Shriner-esqe” fez hat. 

 

According to Wikipedia, Zouavewas the title given to certain infantry regiments in the French army, normally serving in French North Africa between 1831 and 1962.  They recruited solely from an area known as Zouaoua (Zwawa) and the name stuck.  The French zouaves served with distinction and thus the name was popularized world-wide.

 

Since then, there have been Papal Zouaves, Zouaves of Death, Zouaves of the United States of America and Confederate States, firefighter zouaves and circus zouaves.  That’s a lot of zouaves!

 

Probably one of the most famous of circus zouaves was the Aurora (Illinois) Zouaves drill team, which was formed in 1887.  According to the Aurora Historical Society, “by 1896, wins in successive competitions earned them the title, ‘Champions of the World.’ From 1897 to 1906, the Aurora Zouaves were famous the world over. The team toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and with Forepaugh & Sells Brothers Circus. The Zouaves also toured Europe on their own in 1901-02, playing before thousands of spectators and the crown heads of Europe.

 

Here is a promotional image of the Aurora Zouaves:

 

       

The world champion Aurora Zouaves in Action. Poster print available for purchase via www.rainfall.com

The world champion Aurora Zouaves in Action. Click on link for larger image. Poster print available for purchase via http://www.rainfall.com

 

 
According to the book, The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill by Don Russell and Donald B. Russell, the Aurora Zouaves would execute their drills in “a double-time half-step with the men in close order, touching elbows, and consisting of intricate wheelings and patterns, usually performed in sequence without orders other than whistle signals.  Its climax was wall-scaling, in which a human pyramid was formed and used as steps by the rest of the men, who were tumbled to the top, the last tow or three being drawn up the wall by their rifles and rifle-slings.
 
So when you see drill teams on the football field or in competitions, remember the zouaves! 

 

When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism

When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism

Would the American Government Ever Need Bailed Out Like Wall Street in 2008?

Would the American Government Ever Need Bailed Out Like Wall Street in 2008? This question was inspired by government seizure of the failed Washington Mutual and the selling of a majority of its operations to JPMorgan Chase on September 23.  It should also be noted that JPMorgan Chase also bought Bear Stearns, one of the largest global investment banks, when it collapsed in early 2008 under the strain of the sub-prime mortgage crises.  The deal was brokered by the Federal Reserve

 

This incident reminded me of the actual person, John Pierpoint Morgan, the robber baron financier, who was probably best known for buying out Andrew Carnegie and creating U.S. Steel, the first billion dollar company.  Here is a popular picture of him sitting in a chair. 

 

 

Notice how the way the reflection of the metallic arm chair looks like he’s holding a dagger.

Image of John Pierpoint Morgan: Notice how the way the reflection of the metallic arm chair looks like he’s holding a dagger.

 

 

At the height of Morgan’s power and influence, America was struggling through the Panic of 1907, which was caused by the failure of several prominent New York City banks that led to a chain reaction of bank failures across the country.  Sound familiar?  Apparently I was not alone in drawing that historical parallel.  Many financial newspapers across the Globe have reported this.  For example, Canadian writer Terrence Corcoran wrote in the September, 30, 2008, article, “Financial Markets Go and Down as they Should,” accessed through the online version of the Financial Post:

 

In 1907, J.P. Morgan almost singlehandedly rescued the United States and the world from a financial panic and possible depression. He did it by personally overseeing a series of bailouts of failing or troubled businesses. Of his efforts, the famed art critic Bernard Berenson (who had an affair with Morgan’s librarian) wrote: ‘Morgan should be represented as buttressing up the tottering fabric of finance the way Giotto painted St. Francis holding up the falling Church with his shoulder.’

 

The Federal Reserve was created in the wake of the Panic of 1907 in effort to provide liquidity to the markets in the periods of instability. 

 

What is not so well known, was that as a result of an earlier panic in 1883, J.P. Morgan was called upon by President Grover Cleveland to help bail out the U.S. Treasury, which was running out of money in lieu of a gold crisis.  According to the book, An American History by David Saville Muzzey:

 

Mr. Morgan arranged with the President to furnish the Treasury some $65,000,000 in gold in return for the government’s 4 per cent bonds.  The price Mr. Morgan charged for the gold secured him the bonds at a considerable lower figure than the public were paying for them at the time, and a cry went up from the Western Democrats and Populists that Cleveland had entered into an unholy alliance with the money lenders, and was squandering the country’s resources to enrich the bankers of New York and London.

 

So was this an unholy alliance or was J.P. Morgan the savior of the country?  In all the complexity and passage of time, we may never know for sure.  But we may look to the Centre for Research on Globalization for a little insight into both the Panic of 1907 and the Panic of 2008.

 

In the May 14, 2008 article, “The Secret Bailout of J. P. Morgan: How Insider Trading Looted Bear Stearns and the American Taxpayer,” Dr. Ellen Brown wrote: 

 

In the United States…John Pierpont Morgan again used rumor and innuendo to create a panic that would change the course of history. The panic of 1907 was triggered by rumors that two major banks were about to become insolvent. Later evidence pointed to the House of Morgan as the source of the rumors. The public, believing the rumors, proceeded to make them come true by staging a run on the banks. Morgan then nobly stepped in to avert the panic by importing $100 million in gold from his European sources. The public thus became convinced that the country needed a central banking system to stop future panics, overcoming strong congressional opposition to any bill allowing the nation’s money to be issued by a private central bank controlled by Wall Street; and the Federal Reserve Act was passed in 1913.

 

How does that factor into the American financial crisis nearly a century later?  In the same article, sheds some insight in her discussion of the demise of Bear Stearns in 2008: 

 

The “rescuer” was not actually JPMorgan but was the Federal Reserve, the “bankers’ bank” set up by J. Pierpont Morgan to backstop bank runs; and the party “rescued” was not Bear Stearns, which wound up being eaten alive. The Federal Reserve (or “Fed”) lent $25 billion to Bear Stearns and another $30 billion to JPMorgan, a total of $55 billion that all found its way into JPMorgan’s coffers. It was a very good deal for JPMorgan and a very bad deal for Bear’s shareholders, who saw their stock drop from a high of $156 to a low of $2 a share. Thirty percent of the company’s stock was held by the employees, and another big chunk was held by the pension funds of teachers and other public servants. The share price was later raised to $10 a share in response to shareholder outrage and threats of lawsuits, but it was still a very “hostile” takeover, one in which the shareholders had no vote.

 

So are we entering a second Gilded Age of American history or is this a genuine rescue of the markets?  The quickest way to answer that is to find out who is profiting from the 2008 financial crisis and follow the money. 

 

J.P. Morgan may have said it best, “A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.”

 

 

When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism

When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism