a brief history of the Fleming clan

My daughter started asking me questions about our family’s ancestors this evening. I don’t know much, but I told her what I know.
 
fleming_largeThe Fleming family name obviously originates in Flanders, a region that was at various times controlled by France, Spain and the Netherlands, but it got its start as part of the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar called the region Gallia Belgica, including it as part of Gaul, and called its inhabitants Belgae.
 
As the Roman Empire went through its lengthy dissolution, Flanders was part of mainland Europe known colloquially as the Saxon Shore, mainly because it was frequently attacked by the Saxons from across the Channel in England.
 
It should come as no surprise, then, that when William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, put the word out in 1066 that he wasn’t pleased with the ascension of Harold Godwinson to the throne of England following the death of King Edward and planned to invade England, the natives of Flanders – known as the Flemish – eagerly stepped up to support William’s initiative.
 
(William felt his claim to the throne was stronger than that of King Harald of Norway (Harald Hardrada). King Harold defeated King Harald’s army, killing Harald in the process, but Duke William subsequently defeated (and killed) King Harold, taking the throne of England for himself after the famous Battle of Hastings… but you probably already knew that.)
 
After William – now called the Conqueror instead of the Bastard – successfully consolidated power in England, he distributed land grants to his loyal followers, including the nobles from Flanders who helped him.
 
Henry II (Plantagenet), who was William’s great-grandson, invaded Ireland in 1171 to counteract moves being made by Richard de Clare, known as Richard Strongbow. Henry won the short war, but let Strongbow live and even granted him territory to help bring the other Irish nobles in line under his control.
 
When the Irish kingdom of Meath refused to submit, Henry II simply acknowledged their steadfastness and granted that territory to Hugh de Lacy, a prominent Norman noble. Baron Lacy spent the rest of his life (d. 1186) trying to gain military control of Meath in the name of the king. It depends on who you talk to as to how successful he was.
 
Now, you may wonder why I’ve taken this sideways spin into English-Irish history. Well, patient reader, here’s why you’ve stuck it out this long.

The Flemish, being the loyalists they were, answered Henry II’s call to arms for the invasion of Ireland. Their reward for their loyalty and lives was land grants across Ireland, and indeed, there are Flemings in nearly every county of that fine land to this day. However, my particular branch of the family was loyal to Baron Lacy and set about helping him attempt to pacify Meath.

Other branches of the Flemish clans stayed in England, and still others migrated to Scotland over the years. As the centuries progressed, Flanders became a center of European textile technology and manufacture, with Flemish weavers in high demand across the continent – and especially in England, Scotland and Ireland, leading to a wave of people named Fleming coming to England. Of course, they didn’t get the name Fleming until they got there, because once the King of England established the Poll Tax (a kind of income tax), everybody had to have a last name.

The Flemings loyal to Baron Lacy found themselves on the outs, royal-favor-wise, when they backed James II in his bid to unseat William (of William and Mary) in 1690, but by then the Flemings were well entrenched in Ireland.

It’s entirely possible that my branch of the Fleming family traces its roots back to one John Fleming, who attended a church rite in 1435 in Slane, County Meath, and signed his name spelled with one ‘m’ to an official document. This was not the normal spelling at the time, the common spelling having the distinctive ‘mm’ in the middle.
From what I remember from my Grandmother Fleming’s genealogical research, a number of Flemings fled Meath during the Potato Famine and settled in the Midwest, spanning from western Pennsylvania, through Ohio and on to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

It was at this point that my daughter – remember why I started telling this story in the first place? – declared that she is going to tell people she is “Ohirish with a little Mexican thrown in.” I told her I can live with that.

Now, besides me, you may have heard of a number of Flemings. My clansmen and women have made great contributions to the world. Here’s a rundown of Flemings You Should Know.

  • Peggy Fleming – figure skater who won Olympic gold in 1968, but perhaps most well-known as the object of Snoopy’s love from the late 1960s through the early 1970s
  • Ian Fleming – creator of James Bond. Duh.
  • Valentine Fleming – Ian’s father and a casualty of World War One; the major was a close friend of Winston Churchill and died as a result of German action at Gillemont Farm in May 1917. He was a Member of Parliament at the time, and Churchill wrote his obituary.
  • Alexander Fleming – Scottish scientist who discovered penicillin
  • Renée Fleming – opera singer (and a damn good one)
  • Thomas Fleming – the Archbishop of Dublin from 1623 until his death in 1655
  • Valerie Fleming – two-time Olympic gold-medal winner in the 2-person bobsled in 2006; she also earned 8 silver medals and 8 bronzes over the years
  • Richard Fleming – USMC/USN Captain, KIA in his Vindicator dive bomber in action against the Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma during the Battle of Midway and subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor
  • Williamina Fleming – astronomer who discovered the Horsehead Nebula in 1888 (we claim her even though she married into the clan)
  • Lord David Fleming – a prominent Scottish judge and author of the Fleming Report, which led to public funding for elementary schools
  • John Fleming, the 2nd Lord Fleming – killed in a duel by a guy called Tweedie in 1524
  • Michael Anthony Fleming – a Franciscan monk born in Ireland who became the first Catholic bishop in Newfoundland
  • Dave Fleming – contender for rookie of the year for the Seattle Mariners in 1992
  • Victor Fleming – directed Treasure Island, Captains Courageous, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Joan of Arc, The Wizard of Oz and won an Oscar for Best Director for Gone With the Wind
  • Nancy Fleming – Miss America 1961
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ever heard of andrew jackson?

Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States. He won the 1828 election by a wide margin in both aspects; he took the popular vote by 140,000 votes

(I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it was 12% of the 1.15 million votes cast – the population of the USA was much smaller then.)

and got 178 of the 261 available electoral votes (68% of them).

Seeing as how Jackson beat the sitting one-term president, John Quincy Adams, we could call that a solid mandate from the masses. Not quite a landslide, but a decisive victory nonetheless.

(It should be noted here that in the 1824 election, Jackson won the electoral vote. JQAdams won the popular vote, but failed (obviously) to secure a majority of electoral votes. This set in motion a sequence of events that ended with the House of Representatives using the 12th Amendment to the Constitution to appoint JQAdams as the sixth president, the only time in US history that the HoR has acted to seat a president.)

(Another note, because it’s important: The dominant political party back then was the Democratic-Republican Party. They won six straight elections, but splintered into four factions for the 1824 election, each with its own candidate, which is why the electoral college was such a mess.)

Jackson went on to win the 1832 election as well, beating the well known politician Henry Clay by a wider margin than he had against JQAdams, well over 200,000 popular votes and 219-49 in the electoral college.

After the dissolution of the Democratic-Republican Party, Jackson was key in the birth of the Democratic Party (yes, THAT Democratic Party, though their ideology was more akin to what 21st century Republicans espouse); in reality, he was more what we would (in modern times) call a Populist. Clay, whom Jackson pretty much hated, led the largest opposing faction, the National Republican Party (which is NOT that Republican Party).

Andrew Jackson was born in the Carolina colony to recent immigrants. He was a veteran of the Revolutionary War (he served as a courier at just 13 years old) and, as a result of his commission as an officer in the Tennessee Militia, the War of 1812. He led a combined American and Indian force to victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans, which technically took place after the belligerents agreed to end hostilities.

After the War of 1812, Jackson got more involved in politics and became one of Tennessee’s senators by virtue of his reputation and ambition. His reputation not only included honorable service in the young nation’s two wars, but a victorious duel to defend his wife’s honor, his role in the First Seminole War and his involvement in moving Florida from Spanish to US control.

Due to his experiences in the Carolinas and Tennessee, Jackson talked a lot about how poorly Americans were treated by their federal government. Because of the shitshow that was the 1824 election, he banged the drum of corruption accusations ceaselessly, calling JQAdams’ ascent to the White House a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and the House.

He promised to go after corruption in Washington, to – if you’ll allow me a little leeway here – “drain the swamp.” He promised.

After winning the 1828 election, Jackson set about filling his Cabinet posts. He dutifully appointed political friends and rivals to fulfill promises exchanged for political favors during the election cycle. The thing was, Jackson didn’t particularly care for most of these folks. Instead of leaning on them for advice on how to run his government, he did something else.

He invited his buddies to the White House for bull sessions. This informal group of advisors was known as Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” and they often conducted business in the national interest right there in the kitchen over food, drink and cigars. When you think of backroom politicking, think of Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet.

Lest you think Jackson was reckless, though, he had a plan. For two years the Kitchen Cabinet ruled the Oval Office, annoying the shit out of the actual Cabinet secretaries as well as Congress and – to a smaller extent – the American people. When Jackson got his opening, he tore things wide open. That opening came in the form of Peggy Eaton, the wife of the Secretary of War.

It seems the genteel and/or proper ladies married to other Cabinet secretaries and the Vice President (John C. Calhoun, whom Jackson had a massive falling-out with) didn’t approve of young Peggy or her marriage to Eaton. Peggy was apparently flirty and liked the attention of the male patrons of her father’s bar, and she enjoyed regaling them with her fluency in French and ability to play the piano. She tried to elope with a dashing Army officer, but her father shut that down. Soon after, at just 17 years old, she married a Navy officer called John Timberlake (any relation to Justin?), who was 39 and a drunk. The Timberlakes were friends with John Eaton, a 28-year-old widower and senator from Tennessee. Eaton manipulated the system to help get Timberlake out of debt by getting him posted to a high-paying position with the US Mediterranean Fleet. Rumors of a torrid affair between Eaton and Peggy bubbled under the surface, and some say those rumors were what led Timberlake to kill himself while on station in the Med. The official story is that Timberlake died of pneumonia, but Timberlake was dead no matter what and Peggy was free to marry Eaton.

Sounds scandalous, doesn’t it? Juicy, too! Whoo!

Young Peggy Eaton was by all accounts a forthright, even uppity woman, and her situation and demeanor did not sit well with the other important wives of DC. VP John Calhoun’s wife, Floride, led the ostracizing of Peggy by refusing to invite the Eatons to various parties and other functions as well as refusing invitations from the Eatons. Jackson, remembering the rumors and innuendo surrounding his beloved wife Rachel’s first marriage, took umbrage at this behavior and set about destroying the people treating his friend’s wife so poorly.

After Eaton became Secretary of War, things just got worse in this social situation known as the Petticoat Affair (or Eaton Affair). Martin Van Buren – then the Secretary of State – was so disappointed and humiliated by the whole thing that he offered to resign his position despite the fact that he was unmarried and had no wife to participate in the shunning of Peggy Eaton.

Jackson accepted Van Buren’s resignation, and immediately appointed him as the US ambassador to England. Calhoun, bitter about the unfolding events, conspired with the relevant Senate committees to deny Van Buren the ambassadorship. Remember that Calhoun was the Vice President of the United States at that time.

At that point, Jackson lost his mind (figuratively speaking) and demanded (and received) the resignations of every single one of his Cabinet members except for the Postmaster General, a guy called William Barry. The new Cabinet members owed their loyalties only to Jackson – and most certainly not to Congress – and functioned as a band of bootlicking yes men as “King Jackson” began to expand his reach and power over the nation.

King_Andrew_the_First_(political_cartoon_of_President_Andrew_Jackson).jpg

(Cartoon is in the public domain.)

As for Van Buren, he waited a couple of years and was Jackson’s running mate in the 1832 election (remember, Jackson won). Van Buren went on to win the 1836 election handily, perpetuating many of Jackson’s anti-establishment policies.

From a policy and practice standpoint, and maybe I’ll have to save this for another post some other time, Jackson was a mess. His hatred of the Second Bank of the United States drove him to destroy that financial institution, which compounded a recession that dated back to the Panic of 1825. Economically speaking, things were OK for the USA for a few years starting in 1830, and Jackson got a lot of credit for that, much of which he actually earned. However, his “Bank War” not only erased all the gains he made, but sent the US spiraling into its worst recession up to that point. That recession lasted from 1836 to 1843 and saw its peak with the Panic of 1837, which took place during the Van Buren administration but was a direct result of Jackson’s policies.

I realize this has gotten a bit long and you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all about Andrew Jackson, a guy that’s been dead since 1845. It’s because I’m not just telling you about Andrew Jackson, I’m warning you about Donald Trump.

Yeah, that’s right. Trump.

Like Jackson, Trump believes he is the alpha and omega of the decision-making process that will save the United States. They both surrounded themselves with fawning admirers that formed an echo chamber instead of providing meaningful guidance or any semblance of thoughtful opposition.

Jackson’s initial Cabinet secretaries weren’t bad at their jobs, but they didn’t always do what Jackson wanted them to, so he marginalized and ignored them. When he got the chance, he got rid of them all and brought on people that were willing to do his bidding almost without question. (Roger Taney, who served in multiple positions under Jackson, stood up to him a couple of times, but always managed to do what Jackson wanted done, and more or less in the fashion in which Jackson wanted it done.)

Jackson drained the swamp, as he promised, but once it was drained he filled it back up with an even more odious liquid than he drained out.

The people Trump is bringing on to run his transition team and the people who are being bandied about as possible Cabinet secretaries in a Trump administration are just the first wave. Trump is testing the water – not only for these people, but for Congress and the American people as well.

If these transition leaders and possible appointees end up willing to do only what they’re instructed to do by their lord and master, they’ll no doubt keep their positions in the Trump administration. If they resist, choosing to serve the United States instead of Lord Trump, I have no doubts they’ll hear the words their master made famous – “You’re fired!”

If Congress accepts these transition leaders and possible appointees without comment or resistance, Trump won’t have to bother creating a Kitchen Cabinet. He’ll have one with his actual Cabinet.

If We The People accept these transition leaders and appointees, we’re only setting ourselves up for a bleak future in which Trump continues to force upon the population a string of racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, jingoistic unelected leaders whose ultimate goal – like that of their master – is to use their ideological poisons to pit us against each other so fiercely, to keep us fighting each other so intently, that we become so focused on our own survival that we are blinded to the destruction of our once-great nation.

There’s an ancient parable about frogs. If you take a frog and toss it into a pot of boiling water, it will do whatever it can to get out of the water and stay alive. However, if you put a frog into a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, by the time the frog realizes the water is too hot for survival, it’s too late to escape and it dies in agony.

We’re the frog, and the 2016 election put us in the lukewarm water. Trump is starting to turn up the heat, and unless we stand up to him, by the time Trump shows his hand it will be too late to save ourselves or our nation.

 

Right now I give us a 50/50 chance at surviving Trump’s ultimate reality show.

kobach and his muslim registry

Have you heard of a guy called Kris Kobach? He’s currently the Secretary of State for Kansas, and he’s most well known for a string of anti-immigration and anti-immigrant laws he’s written, supported and/or tried to get passed (sometimes successfully).

He’s one of the super racist guys that President Elect Donald Trump has named to his transition team – you know, the folks preparing the government for the ascension of The Donald.

Kobach wants very much to bring back the registry of Muslims he helped establish during the GWBush administration. Back then, it got some attention – but not as much as you might think, what with 9-11 and all. It’s called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS.

It requires men over the age of 16 from 25 countries – and no surprise here, most of the countries are majority Muslim nations – to register, be interviewed and check in with officials during their time in the USA, whether they were visiting or living here. Because the program was so highly criticized, it was allowed to lapse into disuse in 2011.

I guess this qualifies as the “extreme vetting” Trump wanted done on anybody that comes in from these countries. Paying attention to the people who visit the USA or want to move here for an extended period of time is, I think, important, but having a whole program or even a governmental institution dedicated to that … wait a second – wouldn’t those things fall under Immigration and Customs Enforcement? Ah, so we already have an institution dedicated to that.

OK then, well, adding NSEERS back into the mix and putting it under ICE would still cost a shitload of money, right?  All sorts of people to do the interviews, meet with the Musli- er, I mean registrants – on a regular basis, not to mention the researchers needed to delve into people’s backgrounds. That’s going to be REALLY expensive – anybody who runs a business knows it’s the people costs that get you.  I’m not really comfortable with the government spending that kind of money, especially when everybody running for president keeps promising to cut my taxes. Surely hiring a bunch of people and putting them to work for the government is going to INCREASE my taxes, not cut them.

Now I am not one to identify a problem without offering some kind of solution. In all seriousness, those kind of people really piss me off. I mean, seriously, you’re part of the problem if you don’t offer a way to fix the problem you’re bringing to light. Stop that, and be part of the solution!

Here’s my solution, then, and it’s way cheaper and easier to implement than a bunch of people restarting an old, discredited (and unconstitutional) program. PLUS MY SOLUTION CREATES JOBS! RIGHT HERE IN THE USA! That’s right!

1. Require every Muslim entering the country for any reason to wear at all times on the outside of all of their clothing a simple armband that identifies them as practitioners of Islam.  (Here’s an example I whipped up.)

muslim_armband

2. Make the penalty for not wearing the armband something severe – expulsion at the least, but to be truly effective, the punishment should be execution by firing squad. That will be sure to get their attention.

3. Require that all armbands used for this program be Made in the USA!

See how clean, quick and easy that is? No big bureaucracy required, and everybody will know which visitors or immigrants need to be watched carefully. Maybe we could add a 1-800 number so people that see something can say something.

If anybody know’s Kobach’s phone number or email address, send me that info so I can get in touch with him. I’m 100% certain he’ll be excited by my idea to save the government a ton of money.

I’m pretty sure a program like this existed somewhere else a while back, but I’m not sure how well it worked out. If anybody can point me to a resource that gives some information on how it turned out for the folks that implemented the identification program I’m thinking about, let me know.

you can’t kill free speech

As some folks know, I’m a member of the BMW Bikers of Metropolitan Washington, or BMWBMW. I’m also a volunteer Board of Directors member, and in addition to my role as the Media Chair for the club, I also put together the club’s monthly newsmagazine, Between the Spokes. When I first started my editorship of BtS, I decided to run a periodic editorial column called “Between the Gutters” – a play on both the title of the club’s publication and magazine design, where the “gutter” is the space between columns or the space between the right side of one page’s content and the left side of the facing page’s content.  These columns have run the gamut from ethanol to tinnitus, and in the February 2015 issue, I addressed the issue of free speech. Most of the correspondence I have received so far has been positive, but this column did draw my first ever negative response. While it was well written and not at all aggressive, it did suggest that such a politicized issue as free speech had no place being discussed in a regional club’s monthly newsmagazine.  While I disagree, it’s certainly that person’s right to say so!

Now – on with the “offending” column!

In December and January, the attacks on free speech escalated. This is not a good trend, no doubt about that, but it’s not a new trend, either. We may think quashing free speech is a political, economic or religious issue, but it permeates many layers of our society, including the many thousands of words written by and about motorcyclists as well as the machines and products on which they rely.

While part of me still thinks it was a hoax, the cyber attack on Sony Pictures surrounding its release of the buddy comedy The Interview drew our attention in a small way to the issue of free speech. The film is a satire that bases its plot on an American TV personality, played by James Franco, and his producer, played by Seth Rogen, being granted an interview with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and then being asked by the CIA to assassinate him.

The assault on free speech related to this movie came from the attackers threatening more attacks and the release of private information if Sony went ahead with the film’s release as scheduled. Sony initially pulled the film, blaming major movie theater chains for refusing to show the film due to threats of violence against any of them that did. Under pressure from a wide swath of Americans, including President Barack Obama, Sony reversed course, releasing the film in a limited number of theaters and online through various websites in late December, more or less as previously scheduled. After earning more money than any previous digital release in Sony’s history, Netflix is — as of this writing — in negotiations to secure exclusive streaming rights for The Interview.

The incident that precipitated this column was the terrorist attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satirical newspaper published in Paris, France. On 7 January, three masked men armed with assault rifles killed two policemen, including one who was serving as the editor-in-chief’s bodyguard, along with ten employees of the paper, including four cartoonists, two columnists and the editor in chief, himself a cartoonist and columnist.

Charlie Hebdo is well known for its anti-religion stance; they regularly publish full-color, front-page caricatures of Mohammed, Jesus, the pope, other religious figures including generic Muslims, Christians and Jews, and a wide variety of French and European political and social figures. Many of these covers depict these people in humiliating or sexual situations and are patently offensive to many.

The paper’s offices were firebombed in 2011, without loss of life, but this time, the frontal assault resulted in a bloodbath. One of the policemen killed was lying wounded on the ground with his hands up when one of the Kalashnikov-toting terrorists shot him in the face. The terrorists shouted “Allahu Akbar,” a common Islamic invocation usually translated as “God is great.” These shouts were caught on video by onlookers, as well as a comment from one of the terrorists that they had exacted revenge for the newspaper’s portrayals of Mohammed. The outrage and sympathy at this horrific event focused on the perceived intention of the terrorists: punishing Charlie Hebdo’s writers, cartoonists and editors for their words and images, and by doing so, frightening other writers, cartoonists and editors into silence.

DSC02426

Not even 24 hours after this terrorist attack, the Chinese government arrested and imprisoned the three brothers of a Chinese-born US citizen. Shohret Hoshur is a Uighur, and the Uighur are a long-oppressed ethnic minority under Chinese control. The implication here is clearly that if Hoshur continues to report on anti-Uighur events taking place in Xinjiang, his brothers will be subjected to unspecified punishments extending beyond the five-year sentence one of them has already received for discussing his arrest on the telephone with Hoshur.

In 2014, a dustup called “Gamergate” shook the video gaming world; while it spreads through a variety of issues, one of the core concepts is the active suppression of the opinions, ideas and efforts of female game designers, programmers and reviewers. Several women were threatened with rape, assault and death in an ugly, misogynistic attack on a perceived minority in the gaming world. In reality, females make up 52% of those playing video games according to the Internet Advertising Bureau’s study published on 17 September 2014.

Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist writer who writes for the website Feminist Frequency and regularly discusses tropes that denigrate and marginalize women; one repercussion of Gamergate was the cancellation of Anita Sarkeesian’s talk at Utah State University after an unknown person emailed the university promising to commit “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if the talk proceeded. Sarkeesian, as well as game developers Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn, later fled their homes in the wake of numerous death threats.

All of these events above are ways in which somebody attempted to infringe on free speech in ways that evoked or threatened violence. They don’t have anything to do with motorcycles, though, so I’ll give you an example that does relate to our sport.

Most of us are familiar with Motorcyclist magazine. I have a subscription and read it cover-to-cover when it arrives. It’s a good magazine, but its administrative staff once fired a writer over a negative article he wrote for a completely different publication.

Dexter Ford contributed articles to Motorcyclist for three decades, but was summarily fired in September 2009 for an article he wrote for The New York Times. In “Sorting out differences in helmet standards,” Ford examines US and European helmet certification standards, which can often be confusing as they overlap and contradict each other. He criticizes the Snell Foundation for its 2005 and 2010 standards and reports that some helmet manufacturers have stopped submitting helmets for Snell certification in favor of US Department of Transportation (DOT) and United Nations ECE certifications.

Ford’s article is clearly critical of Snell, but does not mention any helmet manufacturer by name; the closest he comes is a passing mention of a “$400 Snell-certified helmet.” In 2009 in the US, that meant only a small number of helmets.

It wasn’t long before emails got leaked showing exactly why Ford was let go. Brian Catterson, then the Editor-in-Chief of Motorcyclist, said, “I’m getting serious heat over [Ford’s article],” because, as Catterson writes, Ford “greatly downplayed” the Snell 2010 standards.

“Sorting out differences in helmet standards” wasn’t Ford’s first blast at Snell’s standards. He wrote an exposé of just how bad the Snell 2005 standards were for Motorcyclist called “Blowing the lid off.” He researched extensively for the article, even backing his assertions with data from scientific tests, proving to himself and many others that Snell standards were inferior to DOT and ECE standards. Unfortunately, the article is no longer available on Motorcyclist’s website, but you can find it with a quick Google search.

The heat felt by Catterson came from helmet manufacturers Arai and Shoei; in 2005 and perhaps even 2009, these two manufacturers dominated the motorcycle helmet media, if not the market, enjoying their heyday before the proliferation of Korean- and Chinese-made helmets. It’s reasonable to think they were also major contributors to the Snell Foundation, which is a not-for-profit group that operates with funding from helmet manufacturers.

To boil the issue down to its component parts, Arai and Shoei threatened to pull their advertising from Motorcyclist because Ford wrote an article denigrating Snell standards for The New York Times. By doing this, both helmet manufacturers engaged in an attempt to quash free speech. They threw their weight around like the industry giants they were and cost a man his job. (Disclaimer: I currently own two Shoei helmets and have owned two Arai helmets in the past. All are/were excellent helmets and a Shoei RF800 and an Arai Quantum/f protected my head during two separate crashes. The RF800 most definitely saved my life in 1999.)

According to the termination letter sent by Catterson to Ford in October 2009, Ford wasn’t being fired for the hit piece he wrote for the Times; rather, his termination came from what Catterson characterized as Ford’s inability to prevent personal vendettas from infusing his work. Catterson mentioned specifically a press conference — not even a written article! — Ford participated in after the publication of the article. Of course, the leaked email chain refuted Catterson’s assertions, exposing the real reason why Ford was fired – because he crossed two of the magazine’s biggest advertisers, who complained to management. It’s also clear from the emails that Catterson shares Ford’s opinion of Snell, yet Catterson throws Ford under the GS, blaming him directly for costing Motorcyclist about $100,000 in advertising money.

Dexter Ford only lost his job. He wasn’t gunned down like the Charlie Hebdo staffers, he wasn’t threatened with rape and murder like the women of Gamergate, and he wasn’t even arrested like Shohret Hoshur’s brothers. From the day that Ford was fired, though, nobody writing for Motorcyclist would be able to continue to do so without taking into account the magazine’s advertisers — no matter what outlet they were writing for. Arai and Shoei are heavy hitters, but once manufacturers of their size and strength were able to force Motorcyclist to punish a writer for what he wrote, it’s not hard to believe that larger advertisers — say, motorcycle manufacturers — or even smaller ones wouldn’t be able to do the same. Once the seal is broken, as they say, it’s all downhill.

I’m not in any way trying to equate the firing of one motorcycle journalist to the brutal murders of ten political/cultural/societal satirists and two policemen, but both situations show the extent to which people will go to prevent the publication or dissemination of information with which they disagree or find offense.

There’s a reason that the freedom of speech is one of the very first things codified in our Bill of Rights. Free speech and a free press are fundamental concepts of social contract theory, a body of sociopolitical philosophy that has come to govern much of the world since its emergence in the 18th century. The American and French Revolutions, and the Constitutions that came after them to guide each country, were built upon the bricks of social contract theory. The citizens of the free world should never allow the actions of radicals and malcontents to curtail this fundamental freedom and must endeavor to protect these freedoms at all costs.

Without the freedom of speech and of the press, there is no freedom at all.

The article that got Dexter Ford fired is available at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/automobiles/27SNELL.html.

summer book exchange #9: Christmas Truce

There’s stories, rumors, apocrypha, legends and myths. Telling the difference between them – for historians – is critical and often difficult.

Christmas Truce, by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton, 1984

photo 2There have been dozens of books, articles and movies written about the legendary Christmas Truce in World War I. This book, though a bit older, is one of the better ones.

In 1914, the governments of Europe merrily sent their sons off to fight what they were sure would be a very short war filled with honor and glory. “We’ll be home by Christmas,” they all cheered, certain of their impending victory.

Then they discovered the realities of machine guns, artillery and poison gas. Those who died, many have said, were the lucky ones, because the rest of us had to live forever in a new and unpleasant world.

Christmas Truce examines day-by-day the break in the fighting that spontaneously happened in December 1914. Soldiers who had only the day before been eagerly trying to kill each other stopped fighting, shook hands, exchanged gifts, and some even played in pickup soccer games.

Brown and Seaton present here a good examination of the before, during and after of the impromptu truce. The pacing of history books is often monotonous, dragging facts through the molasses of time, but the authors’ work in television has apparently given them some insights into how better to pace a book to keep the reader interested.

The book is well and thoroughly researched. If you’re interested in WW1 history, this is one to pick up.

the good news is – the trouble in the middle east is not really our fault

There’s a lot of hand-wringing going on in the USA today as Iraqi militants (who, if they were on our side, we would call freedom fighters) attempt to wrest control of the nation from a government set up and supported by the US and numerous other western nations.

No matter what any of us do, they’ll win. Eventually. The good news is, though, that it’s not our fault. Really. Well, mostly not our fault. (That statement is not meant to denigrate the sacrifices of over 4,000 American lives in the attempt to bring peace to that region.)

What we call the Middle East is a mixture of African and Asian territory populated by a Muslim (religion) and Arabic (ethnicity) majority. Most of it is hot, difficult territory to live in, but they have a shitload of oil under their deserts, so it is, in fact, a very important place in the disposition of the entire world.

The Middle East is also the cradle of civilization – it’s where populations first developed the key characteristics of what we call civilization – and people have been fighting over it ever since the first walls went up around the first cities there.

The Middle East claims a lot of firsts – the cultivation of wheat, domestication of goats and cows, Catal Hyuk (1st major human “city”), invention of pottery, irrigation and agriculture, the wheel, writing, and much, much more. After the Romans conquered the region, though, it’s pretty much a slide right into the strife of the modern era.

The Persians conquered the region in the 500s BC. Alexander the Great (Macedonian/Greek) conquered Persia (and thus the Middle East) in the late 300s BC. The Romans took over the region gradually, starting with the defeat and destruction of the Carthaginian Empire in the mid-100s BC. The Roman emperor Hadrian named in Syria Palestina, and Emperor Diocletian turned the region into a more-or-less self-governing territory (under his control, of course), when he split the Empire into four pieces. Diocletian gave over control of Italy, Spain and most of North Africa to Maximilian, France and Britain to Constantine, and Greece and Southeastern Europe to Galerius. He kept for himself Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, Syria, and what we now call Turkey (they called part of it Asiana and the other part Pontica).

Christianity was growing when Diocletian partitioned the Empire, and that new religion helped destroy the Romans. Note that I say “helped” and not “caused,” simply because there were many reasons the Roman Empire went into decline and Christianity was but one aspect of the trouble facing the collapsing Romans.

Islam came along in the 7th century AD, changing everything in the region. The previously polytheistic Arabs rallied behind Muhammad and created a new Arabic/Islamic Empire that conquered all of North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and Spain. The only things that kept the Muslims out of Europe were the Pyrenees Mountains (separating Spain and France) and the presence of massive, aggressive Asian tribes north of Turkey.

Real trouble between (Middle) East and West began in 1095 AD, when the Roman Catholic Pope Urban II decided that, after 450+ years of the Muslims controlling Jerusalem, it was time for the Christians of Europe to “reclaim” the “holy land.” The Europeans won that first war, conquering Jerusalem in 1099, but the Arab Empire retaliated, leading to another eight “sanctioned” Crusades and about another eight “unofficial” Crusades, many of which were launched by the Catholic Church against other Europeans. You probably never heard of any of them, except maybe for the Albigensian Crusade, which wiped out the last remnants (in France) of the Christian sect called Catharism.

Mostly, though, the Crusades were about the Catholic armies of Europe trying to wrest control of the Middle East from the Muslim armies of the Arabic Empire. Over 400 years of warfare, the result of which was that the Arabs continued to control the Middle East.

Let’s see how that panned out, then: 1095: Arabs in control of the Middle East. MANY YEARS OF WARFARE. 1456: Arabs in control of the Middle East. I wonder how many people died to accomplish that goal.

Note that nobody knew anything about the copious stores of oil at that time.

Islam underwent many changes in its formative years, especially the years after Muhammad died. There was a big fight over who would be the caliph, the leader of Islam, and that fight led to a schism (a split in a religion) that left us with Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. It wasn’t terribly unlike the schism in the Catholic Church we call the Reformation, the one that gave us Catholicism vs. Protestantism, in the 16th century.

Anyway, the Seljuk Turks dominated the region for a time. They subjugated the Arabs and controlled most of (then later just parts of) the Middle East into the 1300s. The Ottoman Turks started their rise to power at the end of the 1200s and dominated the region until the end of World War I in 1918.

After WWI is when, as they say, that shit got real.

(FOR MORE AND AWESOME INFORMATION ON THIS TOPIC – I.E. THE MIDDLE EAST IN WWI, READ “Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East,” by Scott Anderson. FANTASTIC BOOK!)

See, the Ottomans were on the losing side in the Great War, and along with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they got smacked down in the peace. Both the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were dismantled by the Allies. By “Allies,” I mean England and France, because the US packed their shit up and went home when the fighting was over, leaving President Woodrow Wilson with his dick in his hand at the peace talks in 1919.

In 1917, the British gave permission to the Zionist “nation” (i.e. Jews all over the world) to rebuild a homeland in Palestine, which had been controlled by the Ottomans and was now under the control of England (more or less). England and France occupied the territory in 1918, and France started stirring shit up immediately, going to war with the locals in Syria in 1919. The next four years saw a near-constant state of warfare in the region as Turkey tried to establish hegemony, upsetting many British and French plans.

(Obviously, by now, everybody was talking about oil.)

The thing is, France had put no effort at all into the Middle East during WWI, they had just suffered so much in Europe that they felt they were entitled to some spoils – that is, the Ottomans lost, so France deserved territory. They didn’t give a shit about the people already living there, the effort the British (who had their own agenda anyway) put into keeping the Arabs and Turks fighting each other to keep the Ottoman Empire as much on the margins of the war as possible.

France took over Syria and Lebanon; Britain took over Iraq (then called Mesopotamia) and Palestine and exerted a lot of influence, if not outright control, over Persia (later renamed Iran). Saudi Arabia emerged in 1932 when Arabs living in Hejaz and Nejd, pissed at the Allies and the Turks, decided they’d had enough of being pushed around and treated poorly and forcefully established their own nation. The other parts of former Ottoman territory in the Middle East became Yemen and the various Arab states of the Persian Gulf (Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar & UAE).

It was in the wake of this partition that the modern concept of the Middle East emerged. As the Ottoman Empire was ruled by Islam, these new nations were also steeped in their own local history and majority Muslim as well, with pockets of Christians and a (very) few Jews. The problem (among many) was that these regions had been ruled by a distant, disinterested empire for so long that they had no tradition of self-government. As they struggled to learn how to govern themselves, they had France, England, Germany, and later the USA pushing and prodding them this way and that – manipulations both subtle and overt. They never really had a chance to get themselves peacefully established.

PLUS, when England and France marched in and drew the lines in the sand that became these international boundaries, they did so WITH ABSOLUTELY NO CONSIDERATION OF RELIGIOUS OR ETHNIC DIVISIONS in the local population. They brought their Western arrogance along with their cartographers and geologists and divided up the region according to their own selfish agendas. The fledgling League of Nations – a precursor to the nearly useless United Nations – was complicit in this partition, squandering the opportunity to create a truly beneficial international institution and doing what the more powerful (or at least more influential) nations of the world wanted. The needs and desires of the less powerful nations of the world were completely ignored and France was at the forefront of this bullying behavior.

The British weren’t much better about it, but at least the Brits had skin in the fight. France kept crying about how bad they had it during WWI, completely ignoring the FACT that they had NO military forces in the region and REFUSED to support the Arab effort against the Turkish armies in the sand. Between the end of WWI (1918) and the beginning of WWII (1939), there were seven major rebellions or uprisings against the colonial rule of England and France.

Italy and then Germany invaded the region in the late 1930s, which led to England and the USA re-invading and re-conquering the region as part of World War II.

After WWII ended, the Cold War started, and – while we haven’t talked at all about religion up to this point – that’s when the USA and USSR started heavily meddling in Middle Eastern affairs in order to exert some control over the world’s oil supply. Between the USA and the USSR vying for influence (and oil) in the Middle East, governments were propped up and undermined so many times that just trying to keep it all straight will make you dizzy. The new nation of Israel – created by taking land away from the Arab population in Palestine – fought several wars to defend and expand its borders. The Persian Gulf states gained their independence gradually, with the last of them doing so in the early 1970s.

Now, the desire of these people to rule themselves notwithstanding, a multitude of European nations have been meddling in the affairs of the Middle Eastern people since the fucking 11th century – a THOUSAND years, people. A THOUSAND YEARS. The machinations of the United States and Russia are merely the latest drops in the bucket.

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19 dead so far this year in school shootings

Including the murderer and the murdered at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, OR yesterday, 19 grade school and colleges students have died in what we now so casually call “school shootings” in 2014.

It’s barely June.  19 people.

Stay with me, this isn’t going where you think it’s going.

A lot of people are going to say that guns are the problem. The majority of guns used in these incidents have been legally-obtained weapons, either purchased legally by the shooter (such as the shotgun-toting Aaron Ybarra & stabber/shooter Elliot Rodger) or taken without permission from people who bought them legally.

Saying the problem is guns is easy, but it’s only part of the problem. There are so many guns in the United States that they’re simply everywhere. If you don’t own a gun yourself, you know somebody that has one – at least one. Depending on where you are right now, you might be sitting next to somebody who has a gun on them right now. The vast majority of guns are owned by law-abiding citizens that could never imagine using them in any capacity other than to defend themselves, their family or their property.

The only way to make guns NOT a part of this problem is to remove them from the equation. ALL of them.  Nobody but the military & the police have guns and that becomes the new reality of the United States of America.

That isn’t going to happen. Period.  It’s time, therefore, to stop talking about guns as being the problem.  Gun ownership laws (aka gun control laws) aren’t going to change enough to remove guns from the hands of the vast majority of citizens of the USA.

What else can we point to?  Bullying?

Maybe.  Maybe bullying is a problem.  That cowardly little asshole Elliot Rodger felt bullied by other kids and rejected by women.  Those kids that shot up Columbine High School felt bullied and mistreated.  Bullying has been going on since school started and while it’s always been a shitty thing, millions of people have dealt with it in other ways than shooting up their classmates. Are we not teaching coping strategies to our children?  Are we telling our children, “Oh, well, if that football player picks on you, it’s OK to shoot him in the face, then empty your gun into the pep rally attendees in the gymnasium.”

Of course we’re not.  Bullying, then, isn’t the problem.  (Don’t get me wrong – it’s A problem, but blaming these school shootings on bullying is what I’m talking about.)

I’m going to go out on a limb here, then, and say that guns and bullies aren’t causing these school shootings.

The media is at fault.

NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, even NPR – they are the reason we’re seeing an increase in the frequency of these school shootings.

Every time one of these cowardly little assholes takes an assault rifle into an elementary school and blows away a bunch of kids, these “reporters” and “anchors” and “experts” spend unimaginably countless hours on TV and radio dissecting every aspect of his personality, digging down into his psyche, his motivations, his difficult childhood – any aspect of the shooter’s life that gets them a little more air time, a few more ratings points.

What it turns into is a fetish, a cult that worships these little fucking assholes who think shooting their classmates is going to get them attention. Why do they think this? BECAUSE IT’S TRUE.

It used to be for the average American to get on TV, they had to streak across the 50-yard line during a nationally-televised college football game.  That was a one-and-done event, a laugh on the news that night.  Now you too can get talked about on TV for endless hours simply by buying a gun (legally) and using it to attract the media.  If you shoot up a school – you don’t even have to kill anybody – then the talking heads on TV and radio will discuss your life in minute detail for days, weeks, even months.  They’ll talk about you now. They’ll talk about you when your trial comes up.  They’ll talk about you in a year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years.

(Think they’ll forget about it in 20 years?  Guess what – it’s the 20th anniversary of the murders OJ Simpson was acquitted for. Guess what they’re talking about on TV this week?)

Shooting up a school has become the newest, best way to achieve immortality in our corrupted culture. There is no more sure way to achieve the goal of people paying attention to you than to shoot up a school, movie theater, fast-food restaurant, etc. You’ll be on the “news” and achieve immortality.

The problem, then, is us.  That’s right – you and me and every other American. Not the guns, not the bullying, not the misogyny alone – but all of it.  USA! USA! USA! We’ve done this to ourselves by creating a culture that glorifies “media,” that thrives on TV shows like America’s Got Talent and American Idol.  Our society, our empire, is crumbling around us every day and we’re so oblivious to it that the only way to get any attention now is to get on TV – and what surer way to get on TV is there than to kill classmates?  It’s a guaranteed way to get your picture into every American household, to make your name a household conversation piece, to get you mentioned on every channel, station and newspaper in the country.

The solution, then, is for the media to simply stop talking about these events in such morbid depth.

Like eliminating the guns, though, that’s never going to happen.  As a society, we have no self-control, and we simply won’t be able to do it.  Ever.

We live in the country we’ve built, and we deserve exactly what we’ve created for ourselves.

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