Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sleepless in Oxford

The Colonel knew what he signed up for when he joined the Marines.  

His mother was nearly apoplectic and his career Air Force NCO dad couldn't decide whether he was more upset that his son was going into the Marines or that he was going to be a [expletive deleted] officer.  They, and everyone else in the Colonel's world, opined with amazing foresight that serving in the Marine Corps would be hard at first and then get worse.

So, the Colonel knew what he was getting into.

Nobody, however, warned the Colonel about the absolute gut-wrenching, soul-sucking, hate-inviting, head-in-hands, cap-throwing anguish that would attend his life every football season as an Ole Miss Rebel.  

Thanks to his aforementioned career Air Force dad's assignments, the Colonel spent little time in Mississippi (his parents' home state), and knew precious little about Mississippi -- other than lots of doubled consonants.  There was that fifth grade year ('66 -- '67) in Columbus, while his dad went to fight the communists in Vietnam -- but, other than that, he had no clue.  He knew more about Morocco, Panama, and other foreign places (like Arkansas and Louisiana), than the 'Sip.  He was 18 and a stranger in a strange land when the Colonel's folks dropped him off in front of his dorm in Oxford.  

Ole Miss greeted the Colonel like something foreign on the bottom of a penny loafer.  Ole Miss was old money, southern aristocracy, and partying preppies.  None of which matched the Colonel's pedigree.  To say he didn't fit is like saying you shouldn't put ketchup on a T-bone.

Duh.

And, yet...  even though Ole Miss didn't love him, the Colonel fell in love with Ole Miss.  

It wasn't love at first sight -- more like love at long association.

And, it was a tumultuous, if not torrid, affair, punctuated with Rebel yells and early fall mornings cutting through the Grove for that 8 o'clock class, alone on his path and in his thoughts, the greatest of which was why in the name of all that is righteous did he let his academic advisor sign him up for a 5 semester hour math class that met at 8 in the morning every... day... of... the... week.

An 8 o'clock 5 semester hour math class should have been enough warning to send the Colonel running for his life.  That particular first semester freshman hell was, it turned out, harbinger of the nature of his life-long, love-hate relationship with Ole Miss.

And, speaking of harbingers...  Ole Miss football in the mid-seventies was atrocious.  The first season of games attended by the Colonel was painful.  

Eleven on a scale of one to ten painful.

Root canal by a recent dental-school grad painful.

Bumper hitch ball - shin collision painful. 

Listening to Donald Trump pa...  

You get the picture.

Rebel football was so bad in 1974 that South Carolina beat us 10-7 on our homecoming.

Why is that so bad you ask?

South Carolina won just one football game that year...

Then, just when the Colonel finally resigned himself to muddling in the mire of Ole Miss football mediocrity, the Rebels would pull off a stunning upset (Alabama and Georgia in '76, Notre Dame in '77); playing football like they actually knew how to play to win.

The last ten years -- since the Colonel returned to, and re-retired on a slice of country paradise just north of the campus..., and bought season tickets -- have been particularly painful.

There have been spectacular wins against hated rivals and complete collapses against non-conference patsies.  The emotional roller coaster that is to be an Ole Miss Rebel is not for the faint of heart.

Luckily, the Colonel, as has been pointed out by many close to him, has no heart...

Still, the Colonel gets entirely too wrapped up in the outcome of a game played by a bunch of teenagers.  So much so that most Saturday nights during football season, he doesn't sleep.

Not one wink.

Win or lose, late into the wee hours of Sunday morning, the Colonel will toss and turn, replaying the game's turning points.  It's stupid, the Colonel knows.  But, he ain't smart and you can't make him...    

Tonight, a hated rival -- LSU -- comes to town.  Nothing epitomizes what it is to be an Ole Miss Rebel more than Rebel Nation's absolute and abject hatred for LSU.  Tonight, the Colonel will pay way too much to park way too far away and hike way too long to climb way too high to his season-ticket seats for which he pays way too much of his hard-earned pension to yell way too hard for a bunch of teenagers in whom he invests way too much of his emotional energy.

In all probability -- if his long history with Ole Miss is any indication -- the Colonel will walk a couple of miles back to his car tonight, dejected, frustrated, and swearing that this is the last year he's gonna subject himself to this insanity.

Then, again... we might just win.

Either way, the Colonel won't sleep much tonight.          

      

              

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Columbus Dei

The Colonel doesn't understand the big deal about Columbus.

Seriously, he got lucky.

Timing is everything and the Genoese (Italy didn't exist at the time) map-maker hit the court of Ferdinand and Isabella at just the right time.  The rulers of the united kingdoms of Castile and Aragon (Spain didn't exist at the time) were feeling froggy after finally running the last of the Moors out of the Iberian peninsula and they jumped at the chance to enrich themselves with the opening of a new trade route to the Orient.

But, if Columbus hadn't gotten backing from the court of Castile, the Colonel feels quite comfortable in positing that another intrepid explorer from any one of a number of European countries would have very soon found his way across the Atlantic and washed up on a beach in the Caribbean or found shelter in a bay along the North American eastern seaboard.  It was just a matter of time.

Heck, French fishermen were already sailing pretty darn close.  And, we don't need to even begin a discussion about Norse longboat landings several centuries prior to that of Columbus's leaky second-hand caravels.  

It's a bit ironic, since Columbus was in search of a westward sailing route to China, that there's fairly good circumstantial evidence that a Chinese mariner hit the west coast of North America seventy years before Columbus bumped into the Bahamas.

The Colonel's point, blunt as it may be, is that we make far too much of a big deal out of Columbus (Cristobal Colon).  His "discovery" of the "new world" was a happy accident (happy, unless you happened to be an Arawak) that would have been accomplished by somebody else within a very few years.

(For the Bama and LSU fans who may have stumbled upon this blog whilst searching for pachyderm print toilet paper or a corn dog recipe, the Arawaks mentioned above were the inhabitants of the Caribbean islands when Columbus arrived.  They no longer exist.) 

And, while we're on the subject (if tangentially) of European exploitation of the Western Hemisphere, can we please dispense with the tired, and quite specious, argument that the "native" inhabitants of the Americas would have continued to live peaceful, noble lives in complete harmony with their environment if not for European interference.   

First of all, even the most cursory examination of Amerindian history reveals rampant inter-tribal warfare (replete with massacres, displacement, and -- gasp! -- cultural appropriation), large-scale terra-forming and nature-displacing city-building, and wholesale destruction of local environments.   

Second, even if Europeans had not attempted to colonize in the Americas and only contented themselves with establishing trade with the Amerindians, there would still have been no way to prevent the introduction of diseases for which the Amerindians had no natural resistance and from which perished upwards of 90% of the native populations extant in the Western Hemisphere at the end of the 15th Century, C.E.

Granted, the next three centuries of European exploitation of the Americas were replete with actions judged heinous by our "modern" sensibilities -- slavery and forced labor chief among them.  But, to assume that those practices began with the exploitation of the Americas, and were the exclusive province of European cultures, plumbs the depths of historical ignorance.

So, let's cool the Columbus jets, shall we?  Let's put his accomplishment in the proper perspective -- recognition, without lionization or stigma.

      

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Real Colonel Rebel

During his operational time as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, the Colonel's radio call-sign was "Rebel."  It was naturally and obviously acquired because the Colonel didn't go to college -- he went to Ole Miss.  

When the Marine Corps advanced him, at the turn of the century (this century, not last -- he ain't that old) to the rank by which he will forever self-refer, the Colonel determined that he could and would also forever self-refer as the 21st Century personification of the Ole Miss mascot -- Colonel Rebel. 

The Colonel is the real Colonel Rebel. 

Imagine his dismay when, in 2003, the temp-help filling positions of leadership in the University of Mississippi's administration caved to a very vocal and very small minority demand that Ole Miss retire a mascot that very vocal and very small minority deemed offensive.  Eventually, a rigged election selected a danged bear as the new Ole Miss mascot.  

A bear.

A goofy bear -- bearing absolutely no qualifications nor any historical association with Ole Miss.   

Em - bear - assing.

Well, as of this week, the bear is dead.  The temp-help filling positions of leadership in the University of Mississippi's administration caved to a very vocal and very small minority of students who wanted the bear replaced by...

... ready for this?

A landshark.

The inmates are firmly in charge of the asylum.  

The animals are running the zoo.

The second lieutenants are leading the regiment.

The monkeys are managing the circus. 

Donald Trump is the pres...

You get the picture.

Unconstitutional political correctness is rampant on our Republic's college campuses and Berkley ain't the epicenter.  

The Colonel declares, with not one scintilla of parochialism, that Ole Miss is the epicenter of unconstitutional political correctness -- the very poster child of the pestilence of idiocy infecting our nation.      
Appeasement of the political correctness fascists (political correctness is the ultimate expression -- the very face -- of fascism) is a never-ending exercise in frustration and loss of physical and intellectual freedom. 

Appeasement always begets additional demands from the appeased, because the demand to which the appeaser accedes was never really the reason for the protest.  Political correctness is far less about social sensitivity and far more about accretion of social power at the expense of another's right to the innate human freedoms of expression, self-determination, association, orientation, and religious belief.  

The slashing saber of political correctness cuts both left and right.  For this reason, our wise (if imperfect) forebears incorporated in our republic's plan of governance certain protections (and a means for strengthening the original plan's protections) against the capricious societal use of mob rule (also known as "democracy" -- a term not found anywhere in the Constitution) to deny the holding of minority viewpoints critical in a truly "free" society. 

But..., holding a Constitutionally protected minority viewpoint does not give an American citizen veto over the Constitutionally protected beliefs and actions of the majority.  The Constitution does indeed protect the rights of the minority.  The Constitution does not protect the feelings of the minority. 

Governmental, or other authorities', actions which attempt to protect the feelings of the minority at the expense of the rights of the majority are UNCONSTITUTIONAL. 

By the way...  the Colonel is deeply offended by the caricature of a fisticuffs-ready leprechaun and the term "Fighting Irish."  Irish mercenaries were enlisted to hunt down and kill the Colonel's politically outlawed clansmen (MacGregors) in Scotland several centuries ago.  Irish immigrants were enlisted to hunt down and kill the Colonel's politically outlawed kin during the War for Southern Independence.

And..., exploiting a shark as a mascot is the very height of disregard for animal feelings.

Just saying.     




Thursday, September 28, 2017

Lumber Liquidator

The Colonel used to suffer from ADHD.  These days it's just ADD -- there ain't no hyper left in any of his activities anymore.

But the ADD shows up all over the Colonel's vast holdings here at the astronomical center of the southern sanity universe.  There's at least a dozen projects scattered around the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere -- none of which are more than 90% completed.

The major project that the Colonel has been pushing toward the 90% completion mark all summer is a combined lumber-drying solar kiln and lumber storage facility adjacent to his sawmill (Semper Filet).  

The operating theory behind the solar kiln is that a clear, south-facing roof and flat black interior walls will raise the interior temperatures well above the ambient and speed the drying of lumber fresh off of Semper Filet.  The Colonel figures he can dry lumber in his solar kiln in as little as a couple of months during the high sun season, where before it took six months or more for lumber stacked in the open to dry enough to be used for various almost finished projects.  

The Colonel has been ploddingly planning this particular structure for several years, studying construction concepts and deciding on the dimensions for the building.  Most of the DIY plans he perused seemed much too small for his purposes -- the Colonel intends to build a doghouse cabin down by Lake Brenda and that's going to take a lot of lumber.  So, the Colonel's solar kiln building is going to be three times bigger than anybody else's.

And, no, he's not compensating.  The Colonel just has plenty of experience with underestimation.  There was that dock that he built on Lake Brenda ten years ago, for example.  The year had been exceeding dry and the water was very low.  So low, in fact, that the Colonel estimated it would be decades before water levels reached anywhere near full pool.  The Colonel built the dock so that its deck would be dry up to 90% of full pool.  

The Colonel underestimated.  Three days of heavy rain the following March provided him with the opportunity to brag about catching fish swimming over his dock.  

When the Colonel commissioned the construction of his Man Toy Storage and Sawdust Production Facility, he figured that a 50' X 20' building would be large enough to house all his toys and a shop.

Wrong.  By a factor of three.

Most of the plans for DIY lumber drying solar kilns call for a relatively compact shed with a footprint of around 6' X 12'.   The Colonel hasn't a doubt in his military mind that a building that small will not even come close to cutting it for his purposes.  He's thinking a bit more "industrial-sized."   

The Colonel's building has a 24' X 16' footprint, with three separate stalls.

So far, framing up the Colonel's lumber storage and drying facility (he uses the acronym, LSD) has consumed all of the lumber that his personal forest-to-mill operation produced over the last 5 years, and, although it runs counter to his self-reliant lumber production philosophy, the Colonel has been supplementing his lumber needs with regular runs to the commercial lumber yard in town.

The other day the Colonel pulled up to the house, his beat up old pick-up -- Semper Fillit -- filled to the gunnells with a load of store-bought 2 x 6s.  The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda was pulling weeds in her flower beds and welcomed the Colonel home in her most loving way,

"Where have you been all morning, Knucklehead?"

"Had to go to town for some supplies," the Colonel answered -- careful to not make eye contact.

"I see that.  I thought you said when you spent ten grand on that noisy saw mill that you would never have to buy wood again."

"It wasn't ten grand," the Colonel countered, still carefully avoiding eye contact.  "It was less than eight."

"Yeah, but you have easily spent another two grand on blades, log handling tools and gas for that noisy old thing."

The Colonel busied himself with unloading lumber from Semper Fillit and, without making eye contact, corrected the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda, "Its name is Semper Filet."

"What?"

"Semper Filet, the sawmill's name is Semper Filet."

"More like Semper Fundit," the Colonel's bride countered. "Why won't you look at me?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," the Colonel answered, still carefully avoiding eye contact.

"Look. At. Me."

The Colonel stood from his lumber labors and faced the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda.  "Yes, dear."

"Don't you 'yes, dear' me!  You spent a bunch of money on wood this morning didn't you?"

"Lumber."

"What?"

"It's lum-ber. You keep callin' it 'wood.'"

"Quit changing the subject!  How much did you spend?" 

The Colonel turned back to his lumber labors and mumbled, "couple hundred."

"What?  Did you say you spent a couple hundred dollars on that load of wood?"

"Lum-ber."

"Li-ar. I know when you say 'couple' you mean a whole lot more than just two."  

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda was beginning to give the Colonel thoughts about changing her nom d' amor.  

"The Colonel is thinking about changing your nom d' amor."

"Nom da what?"

"Nom d' amor.  You know, the lovingly descriptive term the Colonel uses for you when he writes or talks about you."

"That's not a real word.  You're just making stuff up, again."

"Whaddayou mean, 'again'?  The Colonel only occasionally 'makes stuff up.'  Most of the time he is using 'creative license'."

"Stop that!"

"Dear, the Colonel can no more restrict his use of creative license than a stepped-on copperhead can keep from bitin'."

"No, knucklehead, stop referring to yourself in the third person!"

"Dear, the Colonel can no more restrict the use of his trademark third person style than..."

"Please just stop!"  The comely and kind-hearted (pending change) Miss Brenda raised her dainty flower garden-gloved hands, palms facing the Colonel.  "How much are you going to spend on this monstrosity of a building blighting the landscape?"

"Dunno."

"You 'dunno', or you don't 'wanna' say?  Seriously, knucklehead, your grammar gets worse by the day.  For a man with two Masters degrees under his belt, you talk like the fifth grade was your 'senior year'."

"I. Don't. Know." 

"That's better."  The comely and kind-hearted (change pending) Miss Brenda's dainty flower garden-gloved hands were now resting on her dainty hips.  "Now, let me get this straight.  You bought a sawmill so that you wouldn't have to buy lumber anymore.  Now you have used up all of your own lumber, and are buying more, to build a building in which you are going to dry and store lumber that you make on that noisy old saw mill..."

"Semper Filet."

"Oh, shut up!"  

Monday, September 25, 2017

Silent Stance

The Colonel as Reviewing Officer for a Graduation Parade at MCRD,
Parris Island, shortly (no pun intended) before his retirement from active duty.
Everyone else has weighed in on the professional athlete protest during the National Anthem, so here's the Colonel's take:

The Colonel has been on record, from a time early in his adult life, as a very high risk to do serious jail time if he ever catches someone intentionally desecrating the national colors. That commitment has not changed, even though the swiftness of the Colonel's inevitable retaliatory strike may have lost a step or two with the passage of years.

The Colonel has saluted our Republic's colors thousands of times in uniform and out, at the sound of morning colors, at the playing of the National Anthem, at their passing on parade, and at the playing of taps for fallen warriors. The Colonel has even knelt on a couple of occasions and presented the folded colors of a fallen warrior to his widow. Not many things move the Colonel, but he is moved to tears nearly every time the National Anthem or Taps play -- particularly the older he gets.

Oh, how old and tearful he feels this morning. He must say that the current kerfuffle over kneeling players -- stoked by the self-aggrandizing current temp-help in the Oval Office -- is symptomatic of a loss of national vision... on both ends of, and throughout, the political spectrum.

The Colonel fears the people of our great nation -- made "great" not through the actions of our elected representatives, but by the sacrifices of its liberty-loving citizens -- have gouged bloody battle lines of civil strife down the middle of America's soul. We take vehement vocal issue at every perceived slight, at every utterance of our political foes, and at the actions of those who choose to exercise their American liberties in a manner with which we disagree.

What moves the Colonel this morning is the dawning realization, in the pea-sized collection of cognitive goo lying fallow in the bony recesses of his follicully-challenged brain housing group, that we Americans are standing sightless and deaf behind self-built battlements of individual indignant self-righteousness, screeching epithets at fellow Americans.

The Colonel almost wishes that we were mute, as well as blind and deaf.

But, that's the point. We Americans don't have the right of sight and hearing, but we do have the right of free speech.

Sight and hearing is the responsibility that comes with free speech.

The Colonel gets it -- and feels it -- the sight of pampered, overpaid actors and athletes using their publicly-paid-for stage to exercise their right of free (if misguided) speech is infuriating at first sight. But, in our fury we should not close our eyes and ears to the viewpoints of others -- no matter how misguided we feel they may be.

Our fury only feeds their mistaken belief.

The Colonel hasn't watched an NFL game in nearly a decade -- for reasons completely unrelated to the current situation. Frankly, the Colonel believes fantasy football has tainted the NFL experience (the Colonel is a dinosaur, he knows) -- but that's grist for another post. Anyway, the Colonel has far more pleasurable pastimes for his Sunday afternoon -- long, mouth-agape, snore-filled naps, chiefly.

So, please join the Colonel as he continues to rise to the position of attention and tearfully salutes the banner of patriots' dreams and widows' pride.

Or not. That's your right.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Washington's Farewell Address, 1796

George Washington's Farewell Address
"FRIENDS AND FELLOW-CITIZENS:
1 The period for a new election of a citizen, to administer the executive government of the United States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived, when your thoughts must be employed designating the person, who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprize you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.
2 I beg you at the same time to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.
3 The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty, and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped, that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives, which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement, from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence impelled me to abandon the idea.
4 I rejoice, that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty, or propriety; and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.
5 The impressions, with which I first undertook the arduous trust, were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say, that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious, in the outset, of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied, that, if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.
6 In looking forward to the moment, which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude, which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that Heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; than, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation, which is yet a stranger to it.
7 Here, perhaps I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.
8 Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.
9 The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquillity at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee, that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.
10 For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of american, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.
11 But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those, which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the Union of the whole.
12 The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds, in the productions of the latter, great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find, a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connexion with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.
13 While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in Union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from Union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighbouring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty. In this sense it is, that your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.
14 These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the union as a primary object of Patriotic desire. Is there a doubt, whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope, that a proper organization of the whole, with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to Union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those, who in any quarter may endeavour to weaken its bands.
15 In contemplating the causes, which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by Geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavour to excite a belief, that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them every thing they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren, and connect them with aliens?
16 To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions, which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a Constitution of Government better calculated than your former for an intimate Union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This Government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.
17 All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.
18 However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
19 Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the constitution, alterations, which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments, as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard, by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that, for the efficient management of our common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.
20 I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.
21 This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
22 The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.
23 Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
24 It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
25 There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
26 It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution, in those intrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the Guardian of the Public Weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way, which the constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for, though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.
27 Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
28 It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric ?
29 Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.
30 As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.
31 Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its Virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices ?
32 In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The Nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of Nations has been the victim.
33 So likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
34 As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent Patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practise the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the Public Councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak, towards a great and powerful nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
35 Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defence against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.
36 The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.
37 Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
38 Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality, we may at any time resolve upon, to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
39 Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?
40 It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.
41 Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
42 Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing, with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view, that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.
43 In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course, which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.
44 How far in the discharge of my official duties, I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.
45 In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my Proclamation of the 22d of April 1793, is the index to my Plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your Representatives in both Houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.
46 After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.
47 The considerations, which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe, that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the Belligerent Powers, has been virtually admitted by all.
48 The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without any thing more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.
49 The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me, a predominant motive has been to endeavour to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.
50 Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope, that my Country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.
51 Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man, who views it in the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations; I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat, in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.

George Washington
United States - September 17, 1796"

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

De Soto's Gold

The third book completed in the Colonel's summer professional reading program is Charles Hudson's "Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun; Hernando de Soto and the South's Ancient Chiefdoms."

The Colonel has long been fascinated by the notion of the exploration of the Southeastern interior by the Spanish two centuries before English-speaking colonies were established on the Eastern seaboard.  But, until now, that fascination had not carried much beyond the facts in the preceding sentence.  Hudson's book provides a narrative (complied from contemporary chronicles and supported by archeological evidence) of the de Soto expedition that not only puts flesh on the bones of the Colonel's skeletal knowledge, but provides detailed fatty tissue as well.

In the late Spring of 1541, an army of (mainly) Spanish explorers led by veteran conquistador Hernando de Soto crossed the Little Tallahatchie River somewhere within 20 or 30 miles of the Colonel's vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere.  The exact site of the crossing is impossible to verify -- the Colonel would like to think that de Soto's army (or at least exploratory patrols therefrom) actually traversed ground now a part of the Colonel's vast holdings.  The lands through which they marched (between the Chicaza chiefdom near present day Columbus, Mississippi -- 100 miles to the southeast -- and the Quizquiz chiefdom on the Mississippi River south of present day Memphis) was an empty wilderness, devoid of human inhabitants.  

The Colonel is old, but even he wasn't around at the time to be able to verify.   

The de Soto expedition had begun nearly two years earlier.  Launched from Cuba in May of 1539, de Soto's army landed in Tampa Bay and from there literally fought (both against geography and inhabitants) their way around to present day Tallahassee, thence north through Georgia, South Carolina, and well into North Carolina before turning westward through the Appalachian mountains into Tennessee, and from there, into Alabama and then across Northern Mississippi.   

By the time they crossed the Little Tallahatchie, the original strength (approximately 600) of de Soto's army had been reduced by more than a third.  But, they had killed far, far more than that number of the inhabitants of the lands through which they marched, searching for "La Florida's" equivalent to the exceedingly rich culture of the Inca, participation in the subjugation of which had already made de Soto a rich and influential man.  The aim of de Soto's exploration of the Southeast was purely conquest and colonization of a wealth-producing culture for which he would be the principal and not just a participant.  

De Soto's army was an amalgam of seasoned soldiers and treasure-seeking adventurers.  They were armed with weapons and clad in armor that was at the pinnacle of warfare tactics and technology at the time.  A third of the army were horsemen, employing tactics honed in centuries of conflict against the Moorish invaders of the Iberian peninsula.  It was the warrior culture that had developed from the Iberian Christians' response to and eventual reversal of the Islamic invasion of the Iberian peninsula that made conquest of the New World's richest and most powerful civilizations possible, even when Spanish armies were vastly outnumbered by the armies of those civilizations.  

The men of de Soto's army, according to Hudson, did not identify as Spanish.  Spain, as we know it today, did not exist in the 16th Century.  The power on the Iberian peninsula belonged to the regions of Castile and Aragon (united by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella late in the 15th Century); those regions themselves being recent amalgamations of several smaller and distinct regions (some of which even today agitate for independence from Spain).  Hudson says that, rather than as Spaniards, the men of de Soto's army considered themselves Castilian, or natives of the smaller regions or towns of Iberia.  But, primarily, they identified as Christians.  This primary identification by religion, born of centuries in opposition to Islam, was so ingrained that it caused them to view all others as infidels.  The inhabitants of the Caribbean islands, the Inca, the Aztec, and the inhabitants of La Florida (as they referred to the land to the north and east of Mexico) were infidels, as well.  Infidels were to be subdued by the sword, conversion to Christianity was to be a consequence of conquest.   

That they viewed the native inhabitants of the New World as subservient infidels, explains (but doesn't excuse) the cruel and rapacious nature of their actions against them.  At every encounter with a new village or chiefdom, de Soto assumed the position of a superior, demanding tribute of corn (the staple of the late Mississippian culture of the Southeast and the primary victual on which the army subsisted) slaves, and riches. If the natives were accommodating, de Soto accepted and rewarded their subservience and tribute with little more than trinkets.  More often than not, the larger chiefdoms, upon which de Soto descended, reacted violently. By the time the army was in the Colonel's neck of the woods they had fought pitched, set-piece battles with a half dozen different large chiefdoms and running skirmishes throughout their trek with dozens of smaller chiefdoms.  The army suffered heavy losses of men and material, and by the second year of the expedition were clothed no better than the natives.

But still, de Soto pressed on.  At each new village and chiefdom, de Soto had but one overriding question: "Where is the largest city, and is there gold?"  The Inca or Aztec analog in La Florida did not exist, and de Soto literally wore himself and his army out in the fruitless search for it.   

Two years after landing in Tampa Bay, de Soto reached the Mississippi River near present day Memphis.  As they did at each major river on their march, the army built large boats and crossed the Mississippi, bringing scores of horses, several hundred hogs, and a couple hundred native slaves with them.  The next several months were spent searching for cities of gold throughout present-day Arkansas and Southeastern Missouri.  They found only scattered chiefdoms eager to repel the invaders from their territories.   Nearly a year after crossing the great river, his hopes of finding a rich civilization to subdue dashed, de Soto fell sick and died on the west bank of the Mississippi.

Before he died, de Soto conferred command of the army to Luis de Moscoso.  The army now wanted no more searching for gold and physical sacrifice.  They wanted to go southwest to Mexico, where their countrymen had established "civilized" colonies.  Moscoso first scouted for an overland route, but discovered increasingly difficult geography and fewer native villages from which to procure corn as they traveled into what is now East Texas.  They turned back to their starting point on the Mississippi River, built and provisioned boats, and sailed down the river to the Gulf and then west to Mexico.  Less than half the number that began the expedition in Cuba three years earlier made it to Mexico.

As Hudson narrates each leg of the de Soto expedition, he takes great pains to describe what is now known about the native cultures at each contact point.  The picture he paints is of a myriad small subcultures almost all influenced in one way or another by the late Mississippian, "mound-building," culture.

Mississippian culture began in the Mississippi River valley around 800 A.D.   Archeologists, who coined the term "Mississippian" to denote it, have determined that the culture grew out of a shift from hunting and gathering to an increasing dependency on the cultivation of corn; a grain that grew easily and robustly in the alluvial soils of the large river deltas of the Southeast, returned high yields, and endured long storage.  The cultivation of corn, as opposed to the nomadic nature of a hunter/gatherer lifestyle, rooted people in place.  A collection of family farms became a village.  A collection of villages became a chiefdom.  And, as the natural conflict of man continued, stronger chiefs conquered and annexed lesser chiefdoms, or at least demanded tribute from them.  

The enduring, dominant, and perhaps most characteristic trait of mankind is warfare.  Conflict between neighboring hominids is as old as one wants to peer back into the geological record.  Warfare between small collections of people tends to be limited -- characterized by raiding resulting in relatively low casualties.  In the case of the Mississippian cultures there was no clear economic or political incentive in completely wiping out one's neighboring enemy.  In many cases enmity between neighboring chiefdoms actually drove the development of larger and larger political associations, with political centers of power growing hand in hand with religious ritualism and necessitating the building of larger and larger civilization centers. 

By the time the army of de Soto arrived in the Southeast, the great Mississippian cultures had reached their zenith and were in decline.  In many local cases the decline had been cataclysmic, with little left but native remnants who knew nothing about the builders of the great earthen mounds around which they lived.  In some cases, great swaths of territory were completely devoid of inhabitants where once great numbers were extant.  The cause of the Mississippian culture's collapse is unknown, but was certainly either warfare, climate change, epidemic disease, or habitat destruction and crop failure; or a combination of all or parts of the above.   

Even the mighty chiefdoms -- Apalachee, Cofitachequi, Coosa, Chicaza, Quizquiz, Utiangue, Anilco, Quigualtam, and others -- thriving when de Soto arrived, were themselves gone a century later, the remnants of which coalesced into new tribal collectives, namely the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creeks, and Seminoles.  Contrary to uneducated popular belief, even these tribes were not 100% native American blood -- European and African interbreeding began with, and exponentially expanded from, first contact.   At the time of their removal from the Southeast in the 19th Century, each of the "five civilized" tribes were amalgams of many disparate native ancestors, European descendents, and former African slaves, each bound only by a shared language and relatively recently adopted cultural practices. 

The great irony of the de Soto story is that in the Spaniards' frantic search for instant wealth in the lands of La Florida, they catastrophically failed to see the forest for the trees.  The wealth of what became the Southeastern United States was not what gold or silver the ground did or did not produce, but the ground itself.  Had de Soto chosen a strategic position on the Mississippi River or any of the other major tributaries that either fed into the Mississippi or the Gulf of Mexico and established a colony, he could have eventually ruled an agricultural kingdom larger and richer than any on earth at the time.

Strategic myopia has always been, and will likely always be, the great limiting condition of man.                                                            

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Eclipsed

There's a building sense of excitement here at the approximate astronomical center of the known universe (also known as the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere).

A solar eclipse is scheduled to appear overhead the Big House here at Egeebeegee, headquarters of the Army of Northern Mississippi.  

The Colonel has been busy in preparation for the big event.  The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda was missing him the other day and found him working in one of his fields. 

"Hey, Knucklehead," she called out, "it's way past your nap time and it's a jillion point five degrees out here!  What are you doing?" 

"Marking off parking places.  What's it look like the Colonel's doing?"  Sometimes the Colonel gets a wee bit exasperated at the questions from his bride.  Particularly when it's a jillion point five degrees outside and the Colonel is overheated and in need of a nap.

"It looks like you're using up the last of my orange spray paint.  Don't you have something better to do?"

What could be a better use of the Colonel's time than making a jillion point five dollars renting parking places to observe the solar eclipse?  Sometimes the Colonel gets a wee bit exasperated at the lack of situational awareness from his bride.  "Don't you know there's about to be a solar eclipse overhead the Colonel's vast holdings?  The sun will be blocked for a few minutes and midday will be dark as sunset."   

"Big deal," the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda sneered.  "That happens every time a thunderstorm comes along."

"Well, dear, thunderstorms happen all the time, but the moon doesn't cover the sun but once or twice in your lifetime."

"Silly man.  The sun is a jillion point five times bigger than the moon.  How can the moon cover the sun?"

The Colonel stood and faced the love of his life, sucked in a humid heap of the stuff that passes for air during August in Mississippi, and began his hip pocket lecture on orbital dynamics, the positional relationship of planetary objects in the inner solar system, and the rarity of the moon's shadow crossing any point on the earth's surface.

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda recognized the tell-tale signs of the beginning of one of the Colonel's stupefying, hours-long lectures, and cut him off with the hand and arm signal signifying "Oh, please just shut up."  

"Okay, okay.  I get it.  The moon is going to cross in front of the sun as it goes overhead and it doesn't happen very often.  But, that doesn't explain why you're marking off parking places in one of your fields."

"Not just one of my fields, Sweetthing.  All of 'em.  We're gonna be rich.  Don't you see?  This eclipse is only going to be visible in a narrow strip of land as the sun crosses the Northern Hemisphere.  People from places outside of that narrow strip are going to pay big money for a spot inside the path of totality to sit and watch."

"Sounds like the path of total nonsense to me.  Another one of your get rich quick schemes.  Remember how the 'pet tree' idea turned out?"

"Look, the Colonel can't help it if the public doesn't recognize a fad when they see it.  Pet trees are just an idea whose time hasn't come yet."

The Colonel stepped off another three spaces and started painting another line in the grass.  "There's another 900 bucks."

"Nine hundred dollars!  You're charging nine hundred dollars to park in one of your fields?"

"All of my fields," the Colonel reminded Miss Brenda.  

"Why nine hundred?"  The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's voice had changed to the tone that indicated she was afraid to hear the answer.  "Why not an even thousand?"

The Colonel was ready for that question.  "Sweetie, we are just south of the path of totality.  We are only going to see about 90% of the eclipse here.  So, the Colonel is going to offer a discount."