Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hating America

America-bashing has been a popular world sport for the past... I don't know... couple of decades or so. Maybe longer. Most Americans couldn't care less but the 18% of Americans who live on the far left (and think they are 99%) are driven absolutely CRAZY that they are not universally loved. I'm one of the ones who don't really care (because I don't know what I could do about it anyway) but there are some interesting stats out there as to where the primary venom is coming from:

#1 anti-american bloggers and commentators are from Canada;
#2 are from the United Kingdom;
#3 are from Australia (but closing in on the UK fast);
#4 are Germans, believe it or not (they like to call Americans warmongers and racists. Go figure.)

France is not in the top echelons of the Hate America and all things American crowd. I am embarrassed to admit I just assumed France would be right up there. I'm sorry, France.

I had intended to reprint some of the more inventive invective in this post, but I will spare you. Instead, I summarized and aggregated for you below. There really aren't that many variations or reasons people hate America; they are just phrased differently. The main ones, repeated over and over, appear to be:

1. Americans' patriotism and flag-waving is sickening to the world.
2. Americans are fat, stupid, arrogant, and uneducated and don't have "free" health care like the rest of the world does.
3. Americans don't know enough to drive on the left side of the road (Honest! That's one of the reasons we are hated! - not by Canadians, though.)
4. Americans eat fast food. Their fast food franchises pollute the civilized world.
5. Americans don't know shit about hockey or real football.
6. Americans can't even find Australia on a map.
7. Americans don't know how to hold elections. They elected George Bush. George Bush wasn't really elected. Americans elected George Bush twice. The American way to elect presidents is stupid.
8. Only a few Americans have passports. Americans don't travel abroad very much. Americans don't know ANYTHING about Europe or Australia, think Canadians live in igloos and ride polar bears.
9. American beer is cat piss.
10. Americans are bullies who drag the good countries into their wars with them.

These are not meant to be true or false; they are only summaries from various blog comments and posts. Some are probably true and some are probably false. They are only meant to be a list of repeating reasons of why people in other countries HATE America, when asked why.

Some of them would be hilarious if they weren't serious about what they were saying. For example, one guy went on and on about about the deficiencies of the American school system and how stupid almost all Americans are, and his entire rant was full of misspelled words and bad grammar. A German guy said we should be ashamed for attacking our neighbors. He didn't specify. Poland? Czechoslovakia? France? Russia?

A purpose of this post is just to remind you that there is still hatred out there, and that it is not all coming from America. If ANY of the things I read were to have the name of any other country substituted for "America," you would think it was shockingly racist and unfair.

I started this post by saying I was among the majority of Americans who don't care. After some soul-searching, I find I truly don't care (at least not in such a way that it makes me tremble in anguish or lose sleep.) So that part was true. (I have had many debates with people in the blogosphere from other countries who try to explain to me why I SHOULD care. Usually these people also try to explain to me why Obama should be king forever. Foreigners know a HELL of a lot more about American politics than Americans know about foreign politics, I'll say that.)

Does anyone have any favorites I didn't mention?

I'm not trying to embarrass anybody. I really want your comments about this subject. We know each other well enough that you can speak plainly here if you feel like speaking to this. I just want you to think twice in the future before you enter into any generalized conversations about how crappy Americans are. I am guilty of generalizing about certain groups as well, and I promise to start trying not to do it anymore.

Yes, that includes the far left, the far right, Muslims, liberals and anyone else I have mouthed off about in this blog in the past. I even promise to keep my opinions about marmite to myself.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Glorious Revolution: for the Scots, not so much.

The Jacobite Risings went on over a period of almost 60 years, from 1688 to 1746. They were a series of battles, or revolts, or rebellions, whose aim was to try to restore the House of Stuart to the thrones of England and Scotland (later, Great Britain.) Not successful in the end, but interesting. Their most famous pretender, James III and VIII, sailed from Dunkirk in 1708 for the Firth of Forth to invade with the help of 6,000 French in 30 ships. They were thwarted by the Royal Navy and harassed all the way back to Dunkirk. That attempt was rather disappointing, if you are of the Scottish or Irish persuasion.

Confused? Losing interest? Let's try it from a different angle.

Elizabeth I
James I and VI
Charles I

Republic (Cromwells)

Restoration of Stuart with Charles II (The current Prince of Wales will be, probably, Charles III. The Charles' don't have that great a record and one wonders why his Mum named him that, but maybe he will choose to be King Arthur instead. His call.)

Charles II
James II (Fled England 1688 and thus is considered to have abdicated)

The Glorious Revolution

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 saw William III of Orange, Netherlands, installed as William III of England and Ireland. Ruling Scotland, he was William II. He ruled jointly from 1689 with Mary II, protestant daughter of the above abdicated James II and VII. She died in 1694. The period of their joint reign is known as William and Mary.

Ex-James II made one serious attempt to recover the throne for the Stuarts in 1689, landing in Ireland. He was defeated by the forces of William at the Battle of the Boyne the next year and returned to France where he set up a pretender court, sponsored by his cousin the Sun King (Louis XIV), and "ruled" from there. The Orange Institution of Northern Ireland was begun in honor of William's victory at the Boyne, and continues to this day.


Anne ascended to the throne upon the death of William III in 1702. His joint regent, Queen Mary, was her sister. She was (of course) also a daughter of the former James II and VII. Anne was, technically, the last Queen of England and the last Queen of Scots. Her short reign ended in 1714. The Act of Union occurred in 1707, so she reigned as British Queen from 1707. She died without an heir and was the last monarch descended from the House of Stuart.

Anne was a good eater, and enjoyed her rich food. Terrible gout was her reward. She suffered a stroke shortly before her death and was rendered unable to speak. She was 49. She died of erysipelas (she was almost certainly diabetic) and was buried in the Henry VII Chapel of Westminster Abbey. Her body was so swollen and large that it was borne in a vast, almost square, coffin. (Wikipedia)

The Hanovers arrive from Germany.

George I was the second cousin of Queen Anne.

George was Anne's closest protestant relative.

The Jacobites attempted to replace George with their Catholic Stuart candidate (Anne had over 50 relatives who were closer by blood than George was, but they were all Catholic. Catholics are forbidden to inherit the British throne as of 1701.)

The Jacobite's candidate was Anne's Catholic half-brother, the pretender James III and VIII.

George II
George III

George II ruled until 1760. The Jacobite attempts to overthrow the Hanovers effectively had ended by 1746. The Jacobite Risings continued and intensified after the installation of George I, however.

Next: some of the Jacobite battles; the Clans. Another important Scottish-American.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Prelude to the Glorious Revolution

"The Highland Charge" was interesting to watch. It was the custom of those brave lads to set aside their plaid kilts before battle, fire a volley, then run full tilt at the enemy with broadswords, wearing only their shirts. And a big smile, I suppose.

It would be hard to put an estimate on the number of email requests I have received from Americans, mostly from the Midwest, asking me - practically begging, actually - to make a series of posts that would, once and for all, finally explain the ins and outs of the Jacobite Risings which were semi-rife starting in the latter part of the 17th century in Great Britain and Ireland. Those in Iowa primarily were interested in the Orange William gentleman.

In response to this evident thirst for something to mentally chew on during the regular corn-growing season in breadbasketville, you are now reading the first of what will probably be a dozen or so posts on the fascinating subject. Boy, is it ever.

I am also going to try to pull this off without once mentioning the name Guy Fawkes (oops!) or using the words recusant or undercroft. (Dang!)

I suppose I should first mention that Jacobus is Latin for James. I don't know if that clears anything up or not, but I feel it is important. I am foggy as to whether Latin in Scotland at the time was important because James II (and VII) was Catholic, or whether it was just a carryover from ancient Roman occupation. Be that as it may...

The demise of the childless Elizabeth in 1603 pretty much bit it, historically speaking, for the Tudors. Well, bit it except for the fact that Henry VIII had an older sister, I guess. Thus did come forth the Stuarts upon the scene, descending from the north. Everyone loved them.

First, of course, you had your James I and VI, who was, lo, the great-grandson of the aforementioned esteemed elder Tudoress. This, in case you are keeping score already, was known as the Union of the Crowns. Thus did it come to pass in 1604 that the King of Scotland became also the King of England and Ireland. As was usual for British monarchs of the age, he also called himself King of France (though of course he wasn't) mostly just to anger the French in general and keep them agitated.

The above is only for historical review and really doesn't actually constitute any red meat with regards to the Jacobite Risings, yet seems almost necessary if you are to place James II and VII in proper historical context. I hate to admit it, but some Iowans OFTEN have that trouble. You know who you are. Oddly, they know instinctively, however, that Jacobean refers to James I and VI, while JacoBITES refers to James II and, ah, VII.

Well, sir, long story short, James I and VI, normally uninterested in women to the extreme, finally had it called to his attention that women were necessary if an heir was to be produced and so he married a 14-year-old Dane named Ann who got shiprwrecked in a storm on the way to Britain and ended up in Norway, whereupon her beloved James, whom she had not yet had the pleasure of meeting, came to collect her in person with 300 or so of his buddies. My God, but it was romantic.

To quote the Brothers Four and the lyrics to Eddystone Light, "From this union there came three, a porgy and a porpoise and the other was me." (Yo ho ho, etc.) Actually it WASN'T me but was, rather, he who was to become Charles I after the porgy and the porpoise died ahead of him. Well, to be absolutely honest, Charles I died as well, but not before becoming king and trying to rule without Parliament and bringing on the English Civil War wherein Charles REALLY lost his head. And that's a fact.

After the republicans had mucked about for a bit, kings were reinstalled and you had your Charles II (and XXVVII??) and James II. And VII. Sigh. THEN came the Jacobite (rhymes with "take a bite") Risings.

Please don't be angry that I make you wait until the next post before talking about Scottish clans. You may be sure it will be worth the wait. Not to tease you needlessly, but if there is time I will also tell of the War of Jenkins' Ear.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

South Fork Remembered

Here are some pictures taken a few years ago of what the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club area looks like today. Please click to enlarge the pictures.

You can visit the National Park Service website for the Johnstown Flood Visitor's Center HERE.

All photos copyright Tom Osburn

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mr. Carnegie, a final note.

The South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club was established in 1879 by a group of wealthy industrialists and financiers of the Pittsburgh area for the purpose of providing a place of rest and relaxation for themselves and their families away from the dirt and clamor of the city. The dog-eat-dog world of big money is often tiring.

The place included a fairly large lake and about 160 acres of other land, upon which they built a large 47-room clubhouse with a dining room seating 150 and, eventually, 14 "cottages" for those of themselves who didn't want to rub elbows with or sleep near mere regular millionaires. The "cottages" were something more than that, as you might imagine.

There were many sailboats and small craft and their attendant boathouses. There were even a couple of steam yachts. There were 61 of these men in all, involved in what, to them, must have been a trivial fancy. Among these moneyed elite were Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon, Philander Knox and our hero Andrew Carnegie. Birds of a feather.

I just love the name Philander. I wonder if he did? Silly me.

The lake was really a reservoir, a man-made lake made possible by an earthen dam built in the 1850s to imprison the waters of the Little Conemaugh River. The lake was quite large, and maintenance of the damn dam was of low priority: A previous owner had even removed the drain pipes to sell for scrap. The waters of the lake were perilously close to the top of the dam. It has been known to rain in western Pennsylvania.

Were the current wealthy owners concerned? If so, they hid their concern well. First they scraped a few feet off the top of the dam to make the road across it wide enough so two carriages could pass. Then they put screens over the overflow tubes to keep the expensive stocked game-fish from escaping out of the lake. I'm sure they tipped their top hats to one another as their carriages passed over the top of the lowered dam, but the screens trapped not only fish but debris as well. Soon the water was only a few inches below the top of the dam.

Did I mention it was known to rain in western Pennsylvania?

Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was/is located about 14 miles downstream from the hunting club. "Downstream" is key: Yes, there was still a river under that lake. In late May of 1889 it began to rain. And rain. And rain. The streams were overflowing and the streets of Johnstown were getting streams of their own. Merchants and homeowners began moving their stock and belongings up to the second floors of the buildings in preparation for the rising water.

And it rained and rained and rained.

The story is too long to tell in detail in a simple blog post. Besides, the Johnstown flood is already well known, in a list of American disasters like the Chicago Fire and the San Francisco Earthquake. Many books have been written about the Johnstown Flood, including a famous one in the 1960s by one of my literary historian heroes, David McCullough.

As the rising water began spilling over the top of the dam at South Fork, observers who happened to be out standing in the pouring rain said the dam, as if in slow motion, just sort of "moved away", and water with the force of Niagara Falls rushed into the pretty little steep-sided valley and began a 14-mile journey of hellish destruction to Johnstown.

The filthy evil wave of roiling debris and death was 35-40 feet high and was moving at about 40 miles an hour when it struck the city. By then it contained farmhouses and animals and barbed wire and all the debris from smaller towns along the way, and even a few locomotives. It stuck the big stone bridge in downtown Johnstown and paused, swelled, and slowly subsided as the bridge held. The pile of debris at the bridge in the center of town was enormous and contained everything imaginable, including much oil. The pile covered thirty acres, they say. That night it caught on fire.

Ah, well. The story is old and you have probably heard it before:

1600 homes destroyed. 4 square miles of the center of Johnstown completely destroyed. The great Cambria Iron Works was no more. 2209 people dead (before 9/11, the largest civilian toll of any American disaster.) 99 entire families wiped out, including 396 children. 750 bodies weren't able to be identified. Bodies were found as far away down river as Cincinnati. Bodies were still being discovered as late as 1911. Clara Barton's new American Red Cross got it's first trial, and performed magnificently. The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club donated 1000 blankets.

Andrew Carnegie built them a new library.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Wee Andra Carnegie

William Carnegie moved his little family from Dunfermline to Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1848, borrowing the money for the emigration. Andrew was 13 years old. His first job was as a bobbin boy in in a cotton mill, child labor being the norm back then. He was making $1.20 a week. His next job was as a telegram messenger boy, which doubled his salary. Andrew became interested in the telegraph business and eventually became an operator. This led to him being employed with the Pennsylvania Railroad three years later as a telegraph operator at $4 a week. He soon worked his way up to a superintendent's position with the railroad.

Those were days of graft and corruption, and, under the tutelage of his boss, soon learned the wonders of insider stock trading. Andrew began building an investment nest egg. As the years went by, Carnegie made a lot of money with his friends at the railroad in investments and kickbacks, which was the way it was done back in those days. And perhaps still today.

Carnegie was wealthy before he even got into the steel business. He returned to Dunfermline several times, dropping a lot of money there each time. In 1879, he built them large swimming baths (I think that means a swimming pool) and in 1884 gave $40,000 towards a free lending library. He began to pick up several influential British friends, including Prime Minister Gladstone. I'm sure it was due to his pleasing personality and had nothing to do with money. Oddly, he supported the anti-monarchy, pro-republican movement at that time, and bought up several newspapers to push his views. I guess nothing came of it. Victoria was probably not one of his British friends, I'm guessing.

In 1881, Carnegie returned to Dunfermline with his elderly mother who laid the corner stone for the Carnegie Library he was in the process of donating. Elderly but strong, apparently. Then he went home and wrote a book about Americans and Britain. Stole my idea. His was published. Actually he wrote quite a few books.

Mainly, though, Andrew Carnegie built a steel empire which he eventually sold to J.P. Morgan as part of the mammoth combination called U.S. Steel, for about $485 million dollars, give or take. That's $485 million turn-of-the-century dollars. That's about $11 billion in today's weak dollars. At 66 years of age, Andrew contemplated retirement. He spent the rest of his years as a philanthropist. I think that means stamp collector. His specialty was libraries and church organs.

He eventually died, without leaving Max any money. But I want to go back to the late 1880s and tell another story about him first. It has nothing to do with Picts. Just wait.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pittsburgh Steel, part dà dhà

The realm of the Picts was divided into several provinces, or sub-kingdoms, one of which was known as "Fib". By A.D. 1160 or thereabouts, it was being spelled "Fif". Today it is known as Fife, and a more beautiful ex-Pict sub-kindom you would be hard-pressed to find.

Fife is no longer a Scottish county, but is rather something called a "lieutenancy area". I won't make an attempt at that; Scottish lieutenancies and local government regions are well beyond the scope of your average American's need to know, and, let's face it, desire to know. Suffice to say that this gorgeous bit of green Scottish heaven is tucked away by the sea, between the Firth of Tay and the Firth of Forth. Try to say THAT fast three times when you are drunk, laddie! I have heard rumors, however, that Fife is up for a captaincy soon, or even a majorcy in the near future.

The picturesque city of St. Andrews is perched there near the sea. In addition to the magnificent ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral, pictured above, it is rumored that some other folk have taken up the game of golf in nearby environs. Since I have already done the People-of-St.-Andrews-love-Bobby-Jones golf post elsewhere in this blog, I won't get sidetracked about golf here. However, there is MUCH rich history and interesting stories to be found in Fife, and I may revisit it for that purpose sometime in the future.

In November of 1835, a boy was born in Dunfermline (one of the three districts of Fife) to a weaver and his wife. It is the story of this little boy that this little series of posts is really about. He was to become America's second-wealthiest man behind only John D. Rockerfeller.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pittsburgh: A Man of Steel, Part One

The word "Medieval" refers to the Middle Ages, that period of European history which falls roughly between the fall of the western Roman Empire (A.D. 500) and the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Some scholars would place the beginning of this era as A.D. 1100, and refer to the earlier part of it (between the fall of the Romans to A.D. 1100) as the Dark Ages. The end of the Middle Ages would, in turn, witness the birth of the Renaissance.

Be that as it may — who could quibble over a few hundred years in a place with such a long history — the fall of the Romans in the West gave rise to the emergence of separate kingdoms and monarchs, as well as an increased power of the Roman Catholic Church.

In Scotland, in the early Middle Ages, between the fall of the Romans and the Kingdom of Alba in A.D. 900, two of the most important of the emerging (4) petty kingdoms were those of the Picts and the Scots..

The Vikings arrived in the eighth century, and established colonies along the coasts and islands. In the ninth century, the Picts and the Scots combined under the House of Alpin to form the basis of the Kingdom of Scotland.

The picture above is of the Monymusk Reliquary which dates to the 8th century A.D. It resides in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It was used for saintly assistance by Scots in battle, much as the Ark of the Covenant was used in battle by the early Hebrews. The Reliquary is now empty.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Huge Rooster Beats Off Hungry Fox

Tidbits gathered from BBC News:

Suffolk County Council formally elects Mark Bee leader.
"In April, Mr. Bee beat off competition from... "

Scotty McCreery wins American Idol.
"... beating off competition... "

Aussie woman, 89, beats off bandit with handbag.
"Used a handbag to beat off a knife-carrying... "

Is it possible the term "beating off" means something different in British than in American?

To put it another way, would you REALLY beat off three guys to save your girl?


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