1863 Copperheads = 2010 Tea Party?

I recently re-watched Ken Burns’ The Civil War (thanks to NetFlix). I was stunned when the story turned to the Copperheads and Sons of Liberty. The language and beliefs of the 1863 Copperheads/Sons of Liberty is almost identical to the Tea Bag Party of 2010! If you take the time to dig in, you will be floored.


“The Copperheads were a vocal group of Democrats in the Northern United States (see also Union (American Civil War)) who opposed the American Civil War, wanting an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates. Republicans started calling anti-war Democrats “Copperheads”, likening them to the poisonous snake. The Peace Democrats accepted the label, but for them the copper “head” was the likeness of Liberty, which they cut from copper pennies and proudly wore as badges. [1]

They were also called “Peace Democrats” (although the 13th Edition of The American Pageant makes a distinction between the two, as those termed Copperheads were at the extreme end of the Peace Democrats) and “Butternuts” (for the color of the Confederate uniforms). Perhaps the most famous Copperhead was Ohio’s Clement L. Vallandigham.”

Even better…

“Historian Kenneth Stampp has captured the Copperhead spirit in his depiction of Congressman Daniel W. Voorhees of Indiana:

“There was an earthy quality in Voorhees, “the tall sycamore of the Wabash.” On the stump his hot temper, passionate partisanship, and stirring eloquence made an irresistible appeal to the western Democracy [i.e., the Democratic Party]. His bitter cries against protective tariffs and national banks, his intense race prejudice, his suspicion of the eastern Yankee, his devotion to personal liberty, his defense of the Constitution and State’s rights faithfully reflected the views of his constituents. Like other Jacksonian agrarians, he resented the political and economic revolution then in progress. Voorhees idealized a way of life which he thought was being destroyed by the current rulers of his country. His bold protests against these dangerous trends made him the idol of the Democracy of the Wabash Valley.” [Stampp, p. 211]


The Significance of Insignificance (aka what is most surprising about Barack Obama’s nomination)

I have been stunned by the events of the last eight years, beginning with George W. Bush’s first election coupe in Florida. Many of the things that have happened feel like a ridiculous science fiction novel and are quite distressing (e.g. Florida election, 9/11, Iraq lies, Iraq war, global revulsion of USA, Patriot Act, rise of the extreme Christians, faith-based decision making, extreme partisanism, oil crisis 2.0, global warming and the denial thereof, etc.).

And, the nomination of Barack Obama–as well as Hillary Clinton’s close second place–is right up there. Obviously, the fact that a (half) African American can be nominated is an unexpected, historical, and significant event. And, considering the regressive, fear-incited slide that America began in 2000 and 2001, the truly remarkable event is how insignificant Barack Obama’s race was during the campaign. Obviously, his race played a part in many people’s minds, as measured in the black and hispanic vote, but somehow it was not the main issue. This represents a major turning point for America and the rest of the world.

So, how did this happen?

Clearly, Barack Obama deserves most of the credit. He is a gifted orator and inspiring leader, and he presents a refreshing bi-partisan, reasonable, and fair character. But, I believe that there are other factors that made this significant event mostly insignificant.

First, George W. Bush and friends were able to regressively transform our country in a matter of eight years because of the fear created by 9/11. See Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine for the recipe. Now that many are seeing the results and waking up, the pendulum has swung the other way (i.e. we want change). I believe that the majority of people while looking for the obvious fixes to Everything That’s Broken (e.g. foreign policy, economy, environment, health care), they are really looking for a new type of leadership and someone they can trust. And, Barack is feels like exactly the right guy at the right time. This is based on my theory that when choosing leaders the most important factor is the current conditions and how each candidates matches up, and less about who’s the best candidate in the absolute sense. When in crisis, go with something different. Hllary feels too much like the same. So, in summary, the current crisis conditions laid the ground work for Americans to nominate an African American. If he ran in a different time, I believe he would not have a chance.

My other wingnut theory as to why America was suddenly ready to vote for an African American is due to the TV show 24 in which the president, David Palmer, played by actor Dennis Haysbert, was African American. This may seem silly or even insulting to some, but this was the first time I have seen the president portrayed as a black man on national TV. And the key was that he appeared to be a remarkable president and leader. This TV role modeling showed many–albeit in a silly TV show–that it is possible:

"David_Palmer/ president_official_portrait_lores

Summary: The truly significant aspect of Barack Obama’s victory in the DNC presidential nomination is the insignificance of his skin color. I think there were three major factors that made this possible: 1) America is in crisis and wants a change, 2) Barack Obama is an amazing orator and leader, and fits #1 perfectly, and 3) the TV show 24 showed America that an African American can be great president.

Andy Goldsworthy Copy #1

My Andy Goldsworthy rip-off (#2)

During our Thanksgiving holiday in Annapolis I reveled in the fall colors and decided to make my first Andy Goldsworthy copy. This was done in my sister’s front yard in Annapolis. I wished I had made it larger and cleared the brown leaves away. I was taking a lot of abuse from the family so I rushed it. I now know that these projects need to go slow and allow the artist to soak in the surroundings. It was a great experiences-besides the constant abuse from family members–and I look forward to doing more copies. I have ideas for making these more my own in future projects.

Here’s a few other angles:
My Andy Goldsworthy rip-off
My Andy Goldsworthy rip-off
My Andy Goldsworthy rip-off

btw: Andy Goldsworthy is an amazing artist living in the UK. He’s been doing these types of pieces for a long time (and I just found him recently!). You can see his stuff at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Goldsworthy and here are some of his best pieces imo:

I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and `found’ tools – a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn.” Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

The Problem with Atheism by Sam Harris

I’ve been a quiet non-believerfor most of my adult life–grew up a devout Catholic–but have always felt uncomfortable with the term “atheist.” I never liked the idea of representing my beliefs by a term that describes what I don’t believe in. The term “atheist” feels nihilistic and negative, and does not describe what I believe in (secular humanism, rationalism, skepticism, speciesist?). Sam Harris’ speech captures this issue perfectly. It’s long, but worth every minute.

I hope you enjoy the read as much as I did:


Video – The Problem with Atheism

btw: I read Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation” and “End of Faith” and thoroughly enjoyed both reads.

What you know vs. what you don’t know


A few of my friends and I were talking the other night about professors that had left a deep impression on them. And, I recalled Dr. Dan Garber at the University of Maryland Civil Engineering department around 1979. He taught me “Statics” and “Dynamics” classes and was a tough, but fair teacher. I would occasionally stop by his office to ask questions and often received jewels of wisdom (and fatherly advice). He was a wonderful teacher.

The jewel that I remember the most clearly was a response to me complaining that there was just too much to learn. He smiled and said something like “Let me draw you a picture…” At which point he drew a small circle and said “the area in the circle represents how much you know.” He then pointed to the perimeter of the circle and said: “And, this is how much you THINK you don’t know. You know, the unknown and mysteries that you can see, but do not yet understand.” And then he added the kicker: “And, as your knowledge grows, so does the perimeter of the circle and your realization of how much more you need to learn. In other words, kid, it only gets worse.”

While simple and possibly trite, this image has stayed with me and has been a good reminder whenever I start thinking that I have it all figured out. 🙂

Added: Note: A couple of people have commented “doesn’t the yellow circle represent your knowledge better than the blue circle?” Answer: “No.” 🙂 First, the total body of knowledge is roughly infinite and thus needs to have infinite dimensions, and is therefore represented by the infinite plane that the circle is drawn on. The area inside the circle represents your current knowledge. In this metaphor, it would need to be an area covering gained knowledge, not a line with zero area. As you grow older and gain more knowledge, the circle expands and the area grows. [Obviously, a more sophisticated model would be n-dimensional and much more uneven than a circle, but let’s not go there. ;-)] The yellow circle is the edge between what you know and what you don’t know. You can think of the edge as your `knowledge horizon.’ Beyond the yellow is the stuff that you don’t know. And, so the point is that as your knowledge grows (area in the circle), your `knowledge horizon’ also grows, and thus your perception of how much you still have to learn grows too.

Again, it’s simple, maybe a little trite, and cutesy, but it reminds me of Dr. Garber’s kind, fatherly mentoring and reminds me not to get carried away with my own brilliance. 😉