When in the
<Arguing the Case for
(Roman & Littlefield)Charles Adams doesn't like Abraham Lincoln. Not even a little bit. He suggests that American history has been rewritten to make him out to be a god --- but the fact of the matter is that Lincoln fomented the Civil War by sending supplies to Fort Sumter and thus forcing Jefferson Davis to attack. Several newspapers --- such as the Chicago Times, New York's Journal of Commerce, Freeman's News, and the Day-Book all questioned the need for war, so Lincoln had them shut down either by sending in the military or having the post office refuse mail privileges.
In addition, despite the wording of the Constitution, he called up the militias of the various states without the express consent of Congress, and most doubtful of all, he suspended habeas corpus --- throwing close to 10,000 people in jail without right to trial or bail. When, in the case of Ex Parte Merriman Chief Justice Roger B. Taney tried to hold a hearing on the matter, not only was it blocked by Lincoln, but the President issued an order to have Taney arrested (several members of the Maryland legislature had been jailed earlier because of "their lack of zeal for war on the Confederancy.") Only the reluctance of a federal marshall, Ward Hill Lamon, to make the arrest saved the eighty-year-old Taney from prison.
It's an interesting take on American history. Adams goes through the various succesionist movements in world history, lists the federal property (before Ft. Sumter) taken over by the South, and concludes that the Civil War was not over slavery --- but over tax revenues. Since southern ports provided 80% of the tariffs to the national budget, their loss would have serious consequences to the operation of the federal government, so, he writes,
As with all sucession wars throughout history, it was a fight for land and resources.
Further, Adams points out, not only had Lincoln himself come out in support of the fugitive slave laws, the "Emancipation Proclamation" was not signed until 1863 (Lincoln called it his "last card.")
Our only complaint with this version of American history is the style of the author. Rather than writing in a linear fashion, he tends to be circular, repeating the facts not only in the text, but as captions as well. Still, some of his insights and quotes are well worthwhile. He says that The Civil War started a "barbaric revolution." He quotes Liddell Hart, to the effect that
Modern nations have reverted to more primitive extremes --- akin to the practices of warfare between barbaric hoardes that were armed with sword and spear.
The cartoons and pictures, numbering some fifty-five, are wonderful.
--- Carlos AmanteaWild
<Stories of Survival
Clint Ellis, Editor
(Avalon)n anthologist must have read enough to be able to pick and choose those stories that are going to make it worth our while. Especially if one tells us that we'll be reading about "the world's most dangerous places."
Well, we give it to editor Willis. He's found what we used to call "chiller-diller" stuff. Some of the authors here are well known (Edward Abbey, Barry Lopez, James Dickey, Evelyn Waugh). But it's the ones we are not so familiar with that scare the bejesus out of us. For instance, David Roberts has made sure that we will never try to climb Mount Deborah in Alaska. He and his friend (or one-time friend) Don Jensen started across a glacier, and managed to fall into not one but two crevasses. Getting out of the hole is one of those agonizing processes where if a single line had parted, at least one of them would still be resting there to this day.
And Sir Wilfred Thesiger, for some fool reason, decided to cross the Empty Quarter, which is not really empty --- it has several hundred thousand square miles of sand: some blue, some red, some mounded up in hills, some in high hills, some in impossibly high hills. What it is empty of is water and plant life.
He attempted the journey with four Bedu. Their equipment: a few camels, a few skins of water, and some flour. For those of you who plan to cross the Empty Quarter, could we recommend either an airplane or a convoy of HumVees, several loaded with beer. After ten days, thirst (obviously) became a problem. Not to worry: one of the Arabs, al Auf, you remember Al Auf, said that
if an Arab was really thirsty he would even kill a camel and drink the liquid in its stomach, or ram a stick down its throat and drink the vomit.
But the top story of them all is Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows." Blackwood and his companion who he only refers to as "the Swede" get stuck on an isolated island in the far reaches of Danube where things begin to get a bit strange. A mysterious rip appears in the canoe; one of the paddles disappears, as does much of the food. And then the willows start making noises:
chattering and talking among themselves, laughing a little, shrilly crying out, sometimes sighing --- but what it was they made so much to-do about belonged to the secret life of the great plain they inhabited.
It reminded us of The Haunting of Hill House, too many strange noises and visions, until at last, both Blackwood and his companion start getting a bit barmy. What makes it work is the detail: specific and yet a bit fuzzy at the same time, just enough to get the reader's imagination working overtime:
...there, opposite and slightly above me, were shapes of some indeterminate sort among the willows, and as the branches swayed in the wind they seemed to group themselves about these shapes, forming a series of monstrous outlines that shifted rapidly beneath the moon...They rose upward in a continuous stream from earth to sky, vanishing utterly as soon as they reached the dark of the sky. They were interlaced one with another, making a great column, and I saw their limbs and huge bodies melting in and out of each other, forming this serpentine line that bent and swayed and twisted spirally with the contortions of the wind-tossed trees. They were nude, fluid shapes, passing up the bushes, within the leaves almost --- rising up in a living column into the heavens....
Unceasingly they poured upward, swaying in great bending curves, with a hue of dull bronze upon their skins.
The next time someone invites you to take a canoe trip down the Danube, get off at Budapest.--- C. K. ChanDust
A History of
The Small and
Joseph A. Amato
(University of California)Amato calls it Dust, but this is just a code for the real subject matters: dust, disease, and dirt. For centuries, the 3Ds were an integral part of your life. Forget the romantic peasant. If you were poor, you were
dirty, almost always barefooted, legs ulcerated, varicose and scarred, badly protected by meager and monotonous diets, living in humid and badly ventilated hovels, in continuous, promiscuous contact with pigs and goats...dung heaps beneath their windows, their clothes coarse, inadequate and rarely washed, parasites spread everywhere --- on their skin, in their hair and in their beds --- often attacked by boils, herpes, eczema, scabies, pustules, food poisoning from the flesh of diseased animals, malignant fevers, pneumonia, epidemic flues, malarial fevers, lethal diarrhea (not to mention the great epidemics, the diseases of vitamin deficiency like scurvy and pellagra, the convulsive fits, so frequent in the past, epilepsy, suicidal manias and endemic cretinism.)
It was better in the cities, yes? No. The vermin were everywhere, and people --- even the royalty --- stank:
Eugen Weber describes a young French princess in 1700 who had to be instructed "not to take lice, fleas, and other vermin by the neck to kill them in front of other people..." In an age when water was scarce and baths rare, kings and queens stank. Some were notorious: "The smell of Henry IV was so ferocious that his wife had to brew special perfumes to stand him."
Come the industrial revolution, and microscopes, and the pioneers of public health, the world --- at least in the cities --- began to change. Instead of running sewage down the streets, they put it underground, and piped in fresh water. Asa Briggs said that the
hidden network of pipes and drains and sewers [was] one of the biggest technical achievements of the age, a sanitary 'system' more comprehensive than the transport system.
Another critic said that the sewage system of the Second Empire was one of the engineering triumphs of the 19th century (Jean-Jacques Rousseau had once said farewell to Paris, Adieu ville de boue--- "good-bye muck city.")
By the 1950s, we felt we had banished the 3Ds forever --- but then they gave us some new surprises: bacteria and viruses had mutated, miracle medicines no longer worked, and new microscopic particles --- called smog --- turned up that were as bad as anything that previous generations could invent.
Amado has many stories to tell, and he tells them in a workmanlike way, but, as with his title, he stretches damn near everything to get it in under the umbrella of Dust including, somehow, hawking's Black Holes that leak. Further, his story-line seems to peter out after he gets past the mid-20th century. Still he is industrious enough to seek out every tiny fact about dust, including the names for that creepy furry stuff that grows under your bed: "beggar's velvet, house moss, and slut's wool."
And, it was special for me. The very word "dust" provided me with a musical accompanyment. All while I was reading it, I could hear my old fave Nellie Lutcher singing,
Hurry on down to my house baby
Ain't nobody home but me.
Pull it down, push it down, any way you get it down,
I'm as blue as I can be.
Ashes to ashes,
Dust to dust,
C'mon baby, we must we must,
If...you hurry on down,
Ain't nobody home but me.--- Ignacio Schwartz