Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Abraham Lincoln, Slavery and the Civil War

Awhile back I was reading some old reference books I have and some things about the Civil War struck me. First off, one thing is clear: Abraham Lincoln, though a great man in his own right, would have been a minor figure in history and a minor, probably one-term, President had it not been for the Civil War. By seceding, the Southern States catapulted Lincoln into history. Lincoln won below 40% of the popular vote. Lincoln's Republican Party won a majority in neither House of Congress. According to The Presidents, edited by Henry Graff, Stephen Douglas felt that had the Southern States not seceded, Lincoln would have been powerless: object of pity and commiseration rather than of fear and apprehension by a brave and chivalrous people.

But that is not what happened. The South DID secede and this gave Lincoln the opportunity to be a great figure in history. And Lincoln certainly rose to the occasion.

The claim that secession had nothing to do with slavery is bunk, mere revisionism by the losing side that didn't want to be tarred forever for defending slavery. Southern secession was EXPLICITLY (though not necessarily exclusively) about slavery. The North did not fight primarily over the issue of slavery, but over preservation of the Union. But for the South, preservation, and even expansion, of slavery was the prime issue for at least 2 decades before the Civil War, and was the main reason explicitly stated for secession. In fact, the issue of slavery almost led to secession more than once before South Carolina finally made good on the constant Southern threat. Slavery was the issue that dominated American politics. Perhaps the South and individual Southerners had reasons other than JUST slavery for fighting. But the single issue that led to secession was slavery. Period. Any other claims are false.

When Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836, the issue of the annexation of Texas was avoided by Andrew Jackson and Martin van Buren. Jackson did not even recognize Texas independence until his last day in office and Martin van Buren declined Texas' offer to accept annexation. The reason was simple. Annexation of Texas would immediately raise the question of slavery because Texas would enter as a slave state. From the moment President Tyler raised the issue of annexation, to the final entry of Texas into the Union, the issue of slavery was a constant companion to the issue of the annexation of Texas. In fact, Secretary of the Navy Calhoun SPECIFICALLY tied the annexation of Texas with a justification of slavery. Calhoun claimed that opposition to annexation of Texas would place slavery in jeopardy.

The same constant preoccupation with slavery applies to the entry of every state in the Union between then and the Civil War. Political debate, maneuvering and compromise, all about slavery, surrounded each and every possible entry of a state into the Union. Even President Polk, when he couldn't find a proper compromise for the entry of California and New Mexico into the Union, left the issue for his successor. (As an aside, it seems Polk was the first president to publicly complain of lobbying of Congress by private this is NOT a new problem).

In the case of California, Southerners initially blocked statehood because it would enter as a free state. It took the HUGE, complex compromise of 1850 to resolve statehood for California, involving the status of several other new states as well and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which imposed Federal control over fugitive slave laws in every state, forcing states to enforce slavery even it they were free states. Jefferson Davis, during this debate, even raised the specter of secession over the supposed attack on slavery and Southerners after its adoption threatened secession if that compromise was in anyway threatened.

In the case of Cuba, although several Presidents considered annexation of Cuba, no compromise was ever reached that coincided with such annexation interest, so Cuba, a potential slave state, never entered the Union. In the case of Kansas, compromises were circumvented, leading to bloodshed that presaged the Civil War. In most other cases, compromises were reached maintaining a balance between slave and free states. In no case was slavery not an issue.

States rights, though consistently an issue in American history from its foundations until today, was not a consistent issue for either pro- or anti-slavery sides. America has always, probably SHOULD always, have an ongoing debate between Federalist and States Rights factions. Our Founding Fathers were split on the issue, and the balance between the two probably more than anything defines America. But the claim that Southern States consistently favored States Rights over the Northern advocacy of Federalism is wrong. Some Southerners argued that no state could outlaw slavery because of a Federally guaranteed right to property even as one moves from one state to another. This is certainly not a States Rights argument, but IS a pro-slavery argument. Others argued that no individual state or territory should have the right to exclude slavery because this would create an imbalance between free and slave states. To many Southerners, this balance outweighed any sentiment in regards to States Rights. Northerners were split over whether Congress, territorial legislatures or states should determine the status of slavery within a state/territory.

Similarly, the South opposed States Rights on fugitive slave laws. The South believed the Federal government should force states to enforce fugitive slaves laws to the South's favor. In fact the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was a Federal law enforcing the slaveholder's property rights, using Federal agents, over the laws of individual states. Federal judges and Federal marshals enforced the law and could fine anyone who aided a fugitive slave. This is about as Federalist a law as you can get, yet it was supported by the South. Northern states responded by passing state level laws asserting the right of each state to refuse to recognize slavery even in the case of a fugitive from another state. Wisconsin even passed an act of nullification against the Federal fugitive slave law of 1850, a strong exertion of States Rights. Other Northerners, of course, preferred a Federal solution to fugitive slave laws, but Southerners were more than willing to give the Federal government control if it meant enforcing slavery, and Northerners were willing to exert States Rights arguments if it meant refusing to return fugitive slaves. Similarly, many Southerners opposed letting Nebraska and Kansas choose whether to be slave or free, and wanted a Federally imposed solution to maintain a balance. The defining issue was slavery, with Federalism vs. States Rights being inconsistently used by many to justify their position on slavery. Northerners disobeyed the Federalist fugitive slave laws, but did not threaten secession over them. Southerners often threatened secession over opposition to slavery even when that opposition was by a state over Federal objections.

In fact it was the imposition of Federal control over how they treated fugitive slaves that finally split the Whig party. Southern Whigs thought it was a perfect compromise while Northern Whigs despised it. Northern Whigs gave up on their party aruond 1854, helping to form the Republican Party. Meanwhile, to avoid similar division in 1852, the Democratic Party had to find a pro-slavery Northerner, Franklin Pierce. Slavery was dominating and splitting BOTH major parties with each party shifting stands on Federalism and States Rights as needed.

The Southern states threatened secession if a Republican was elected. When Lincoln sqeuaked to victory, the Southern states followed through with this threat. In their declarations of secession, it is precisely the institution of slavery and the Northern refusal to enforce the Federal fugitive slave laws over state laws opposing Federal fugitive slave laws, that were cited as the reasons for secession. States Rights arguments were asserted within this context, but no other issue of States Rights was mentioned nor was the Federal fugitive slave law a cogent States Rights argument. The South Carolina declaration of secession is the most reasoned and interesting of those I have read and does emphasize the individual states independent actions in forming the Union, and hence asserts that each individual state has the right to break its ties to that Union. Though again, the primary grievance was that individual Northern States have exerted their individual wills against the Federal fugitive slave laws:

The states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa have enacted laws which either nullify the acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these states the fugitive is discharged from the service of labor claimed, and in none of them has the state government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution.

Thus it is the exercise of States Rights by Northern States against acts of Congress that South Carolina cites as their primary grievance leading to secession. And again, no other grievance other than ones relating to slavery are cited.

The Virginia article of secession is one of the shortest and least defensive, simply repealing their state's ratification of the Constitution, and it cites Federal "oppression of the southern, slaveholding states" without citing specific instances. This could ultimately be viewed as placing States Rights at the heart of secession, though since it is unclear what Federal actions they are referring to, it is hard to judge. I would view Virginia's act of secession as the most interesting for study because it simply exerts the right of any state to repeal its acceptance of Union. I will indicate later that this goes against statements made by Presidents Jackson and Madison, but otherwise could well be legitimate arguments for secession without the burden of slavery as an immoral reason for secession. But it also is the vaguest of articles of secession so requires a rejection of many founding father's and Presidents' views regarding the nature of the Union and the legitimacy of secession, as I will describe later.

The Texas articles of secession had perhaps the most disgusting justification: upholding racism per se. Their main objection was that the North was "proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color", and that blacks "were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race." Sorry, Texas, but this is a horrible justification for secession. But it was also perhaps the most honest since at heart, it was the Southern states' desire to hold one race as inferior and as property that led to secession. The Southern States wished to exploit and abuse other human beings without interference.

Confederate Vice President, Alexander Stephens, made all of this explicit:

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted...

[Jefferson's] ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. ... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner–stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.

Again, disgusting and immoral.

Despite many later claims after the South lost, economic factors were not cited as a main factor in the articles of secession. This does not mean they didn't play a role, but it was not a major reason for secession.

Was secession justified? Immoral reasons aside, could a state secede? This is a very legitimate question, particularly at the time. President Andrew Jackson didn't think so in his "Proclamation to the People of South Carolina" during the nullification crisis:

...each State having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute jointly with the other States a single nation, cannot from that period possess any right to secede, because such secession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a nation, and any injury to that unity is not only a breach which would result from the contravention of a compact, but it is an offense against the whole Union. To say that any State may at pleasure secede from the Union, is to say that the United States are not a nation because it would be a solecism to contend that any part of a nation might dissolve its connection with the other parts, to their injury or ruin, without committing any offense. Secession, like any other revolutionary act, may be morally justified by the extremity of oppression; but to call it a constitutional right, is confounding the meaning of terms, and can only be done through gross error, or to deceive those who are willing to assert a right, but would pause before they made a revolution, or incur the penalties consequent upon a failure.

Similarly, James Madison claimed that a state could not secede at will from the union with other states without their consent or a violation of the compact:

A rightful secession requires the consent of the others or an abuse of the compact absolving the seceding party from the obligations imposed by it.

This is, of course, why most of the articles of secession tried to justify their secession by claiming abuse by the Northern states. I would argue that claims based on the refusal of Northern states to enforce slavery in the form of enforcing fugitive slave laws imposed on them by the Federal government is not a convincing argument. It certainly lacks any moral high ground and it also is not convincing from a States Rights point of view.

I should note, as was once pointed out to me by a Southerner, that although slavery was the true reason for secession, it was not the reason why most Southerners fought for the Confederacy. In reality, a form of nationalism that put state loyalty ahead of Union loyalty was why most individual Southerners, including anti-secessionist Robert E. Lee, fought. The South seceded over slavery and fought largely out of pride. The North primarily fought, initially, for preservation of the Union based on their interpretation of the Constitution (where secession was seen as treason), but in the end added abolition of slavery as a reason to fight. With the emancipation of the slaves, Lincoln gave the North a moral cause to fight for, which neither side previously really had. Perhaps that was Lincoln's biggest accomplishment, realizing that to win the North needed a moral justification for their side.

Secession made war inevitable. Lincoln in theory could have let them go, but in reality he honestly believed they were not within their rights (for the reasons quoted from Andrew Jackson, George Washington and James Madison above) and so he saw it as HIS moral duty to defend the Union from treason. Lincoln also was anti-slavery, though early on he showed every indication of compromising on the issue of slavery to preserve the union. As an aside, a fascinating story of American sailors shipwrecked off the North African coast and being enslaved by Berber tribes in what is now Western Sahara and Morocco, was one of Lincoln's favorite books and was an influence on his, and others', views regarding slavery. A modern and amazingly gripping version of this story can be found in the book Skeletons on the Zahara, by Dean King.

Much has been written about the give and take of the actual war. There is little I can add. I was looking at a very brief thumbnail sketch of the war as presented in the Times Atlas of World history. What struck me was how there really was no way that the South could win short of foreign intervention or a major blunder by the Union. Neither of these were impossible, but I think the South really had no chance.

In 1861, the Union had all the advantages. With a higher population (particularly when only free citizens were taken into account), more wealth, merchant and naval shipping, factory capacity, iron, coal and firearms production and food production, the Union had every advantage. The South had only one material advantage: cotton production. But cotton alone can't win a war. Barring major mistakes by the Union or foreign intervention, the South was doomed from the start. It just didn't have the manpower or resources. This is no big revelation, but I think this overwhelming advantage is often not appreciated when the details of battles and generalship are examined in minute detail.

The South without a doubt had the better far. And this is probably the main reason the war dragged on for so long. In fact, this is also reflected in the fact that even though nearly three times more soldiers fought on the Union side, the Union lost more men, killed or wounded. Generally, when one army is outnumbered, it has far higher casualties. But when well led, a smaller force can out do a larger one almost every time. Good generalship kept the South alive for as long as it could before sheer exhaustion defeated them.

But leadership wasn't enough and in some ways it didn't extend to an overall vision for the war. When I look at the broadest view of the war, campaign by campaign, the Union had the better overall vision for the war because they fought it in a way that losing key battles would not lose them the war. They focused on isolating the heart of the South, and they kept at this despite whatever dramatic defeats they suffered in the most famous theater of the war in the East.

There really were two main fronts: the Vriginia/Maryland region, where most of the famous battles were fought, and the periphery. Most attention both then and now is given to the Virginia/Maryland front. But looking at the big picture, it seems to me the war was won and lost in the periphery. The Virginia/Maryland front involved successive unsuccessful invasions. Mostly the Union, with mediocre leadership, tried to invade Virginia and were driven back by better generalship on the part of the South. I think an invasion by the North that succeeded could have ended the war quickly. I think an invasion of the North by the South could never have won. And I think they knew that. Mostly the South played a defensive war. It wasn't until June 1863 that the South invaded the North in what was probably a desperate move. Their loss at Gettysburg, of course, is recognized as the turning point of the war.

But I think the war was lost before then and it was lost on the periphery. The Virginia/Maryland fighting took up a tiny area and until the very end accomplished little. It was here the South fought at its best. But strategically the South lost the rest and that was decisive.

The Union spent a great deal of effort methodically cutting off the deep South from the rest of the world, including the trans-Mississippi Confederacy. This was the plan of General Winfield Scott. It was this strategy that won the war, and it was possible because of the Union's superior manpower and resources. Had they kept exclusively to it, and not tried successive invasions of Virginia, the Union probably would have done far better. And the Scott strategy didn't take superior generals, merely methodical ones like Grant.

And Grant began by methodically capturing key positions along the Mississippi, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers in 1862. This was a HUGE strategic move. One attempt by the South to stop him was beaten back at the battle of Shiloh. His victory at Shiloh allowed Grant to continue cutting off the South. At the same time, Admiral Farragut and General Butler took the same approach at the lower end of the Mississippi. A naval blockade all along the Southern coastline was carried out with limited, but increasing, effect by the superior Union navy. Combined, these three efforts aimed at surrounding the deep South completely, and even before it was complete, it doomed the South. One attempt by General Bragg in Kentucky to break this effort ultimately bogged down. Bragg's failure ensured the loyalty of the border states to the Union. This encircling effort culminated in the complete cutting of the South in two when Grant finally captured Vicksburg in 1863. The entire Mississippi river and the border states were in Union hands, and the sea was largely dominated by the Union. Gettysburg occurred at about the same time as the capture of Vicksburg. Gettysburg represented one more turning back of an invading force on the Virginia/Maryland front (yes...Gettysburg is in Pennsylvania, but this was just a brief extension of that front). Vicksburg, I would argue, cut off the South irrevocably and opened the way for the devastation of the Southern heartland.

Which is what General Sherman proceeded to do. His famous/infamous march through Georgia cut the South in two diagonally. This wouldn't have been possible without the previous cutting off of the South along the Mississippi, the border states and ocean peripheries.

The superiority of Union resources even in the face of superior Southern generalship, made Union victory inevitable. This is illustrated in the fact that the Union by 1864 had some 44% of its free male population, aged 16-60, in military service. That is a HUGE percentage. Imagine nearly half of the men you know, age 16-60, in uniform. But the South had 90% of its free male population aged 16-60 in arms, a level that is simply unsustainable. The Union was overextended, but the South was way past that. They were ruined by the war. The Union had a frontline and normalcy behind it. The South had no normalcy.

What about foreign intervention? Could the South have been saved by intervention? After all, the American Revolution probably would not have succeeded without French aid to the rebels. Seems to me that the one foreign power that could have swayed the balance from the Union was Britain. And Britain might have had an interest in hobbling America. After all, it was only about 50 years since the last war between Britain and America where Britain practically destroyed America (and, incidentally, which set the stage for Skeletons of the Zahara). But, since Britain, inspired by the likes of the African explorer David Livingstone, who saw first had the horrors of the slave trade in Africa, had taken a strong anti-slavery stance some time before, it was probably unlikely that there would be a political will within Parliament to side with the slaveholding South. This was another example of how the immoral foundation of the South's secession worked against them. By linking their cause with slavery, they lost any moral justification and made foreign intervention far less likely. Had Southern secession been divorced from slavery, Britain almost certainly would have jumped in on their side.

What of Lincoln? What role did he play? Lincoln won on a platform not of abolition, but merely opposing any further extension of slavery. Even this was unacceptable to a South that had demanded either expansion of slavery within the Union OR secession. In effect Lincoln drew a line in the sand. He allowed the South their peculiar institution, but refused to allow them to extend it beyond it's current extent. Had the South accepted that, Lincoln may well have been rendered obscure. But the South seceded and it was at that extreme moment that Lincoln's greatness became manifest. He justified first the preservation of the Union to America using the arguments of Madison and Jackson, and when the slow, methodical strategy of the Union was taking its toll on American morale, he further justified the war as a war against slavery, giving the Union the moral high ground. That was the extent of his greatness. And it succeeded.

What if he had not been President? Secession might not have occurred. What then? The South was in no way near abandoning slavery. This immoral institution would have continued longer. But the constant conflict between free and slave states would have continued. Secession would have happened eventually. It is possible that a weaker President would have allowed secession or been unable to rally America to the cause of Union. Had that happened, the history of the Union might have been similar, though possibly further secession would have reduced the Union. I am convinced that the South, with little industrial strength and maintaining the immoral system of slavery, would have become somewhat of a third world nation and probably even have further split. Texas and the deep South had little in common. That alone would have been a rift. Other rifts might have occurred. Division and economic weakness would be hard to overcome. The Union would have had more of a chance as long as further secessions didn't occur. But the worst aspect would have been the further perpetuation of slavery.

Lincoln's refusal to allow secession finally enforced the views of Madison and Jackson of the invalidity of secession. Until Lincoln put the might of the Union army behind those views, they were merely opinions of great Americans, but not necessarily definitive. And his realization that the moral high ground lay in finally accepting abolition as Union policy was a risk, but one worth taking and one that defined his greatness.

Had he survived longer, there is evidence that Lincoln's view of reconstruction would have been similar to Grant's, but probably better executed. As it was, reconstruction was left to the problematic Johnson and the competent, but certainly not exceptional, Grant. This allowed Southern racism to defeat reconstruction despite early gains for blacks in the South. Had reconstruction been better carried out in the South over the racism of the defeated South, the Northern forms of racism would have had a much harder time standing the test of time. As it was, re-establishment of Southern racist policies in Jim Crow laws prevented America from fulfilling its ideal of all men being created equal for many, many more years. I should note that the South was not alone in having racist laws, but the defeat of the South in the Civil War gave the nation a chance to allow more equal treatment even to the point of allowing blacks to run for political office. The resistance to this in the South prevented progress for almost 100 years. Had Lincoln survived, I believe his greatness would have been even more manifest and even more critical for the reconstruction of the Union along better lines where Jim Crow, North and South, would have been far weaker. As it was, Lincoln's Presidency and the Civil War are one story.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thoughts on Language and Thinking

Americans tend to be unilingual (monolingual?). Which means to most of us, even if we learn a foreign language in school, are shaped by a single language structure. We are completely unaware of the fact that the way our language is structured forces us to shape our thoughts a particular way.

Let me give one example that will be familiar to many of us. I took Spanish in High School. Never got very good at it, but can vaguely understand it and could probably order a respectable meal in a restaurant.

One of the most striking differences between English and Spanish is what seems to be an illogical obsession with gender in Spanish. Why are inanimate objects considered either feminine or masculine? To an English speaker it seems very strange. But if you grow up with a language that forces you to assign gender to all nouns, this will shape how you think of the world. English speakers do anthropomorphize objects and give them gender (e.g. ships being "she"), but it is sort of a quaint thing, not normal. We don't categorize tables and chairs as feminine or a dress, of all things, being masculine. Now Spanish speakers obviously don't literally consider tables and chairs female and dresses male. They aren't checking between the legs of a chair or in the folds of a dress to verify if it has balls or not. But English speakers are going to have a more developed sense of "it" as opposed to "he" and "she" than Spanish speakers and Spanish speakers are going to have a more poetic, gender shaped view of the world than English speakers. Spanish takes a greater than biological view of gender. This language structure will shape in subconscious, very subtle ways how people think and I suspect this comes out in small ways particularly in how art and poetry is expressed.

Of course I am somewhat pulling that out of my ass...not sure what kind of studies have been done. But it also links into a genuine linguistic concept. From The Horse, The Wheel and Language, an excellent book about the origins of the Indo-European language family:

...all Indo-European languages force the speaker to pay attention to tense and number when talking about an action: you must specify whether the action is past, present or future and you must specify whether the actor is singular or plural. It is impossible to use an Indo-European verb without deciding on these categories. Consequently, speakers of Indo-European languages habitually frame all events in terms of when they occurred and whether they involved multiple actors...

...when describing an event in Hopi you must use grammatical marks that specify whether you witnessed the event yourself, heard about it from someone else, of consider it to be an unchanging truth. Hopi speakers are forced by Hopi grammer to habitually frame all descriptions of reality in terms of the source and reliability of their information.

Think about what a fundamentally different way of thinking each of these language structures essentially impose on the people who grow up speaking this way. Of course everyone in both cultures is capable of thinking in terms of tense and number as well as source and reliability of info, but the language itself imposes one set of concepts on everything ever said while the other language imposes a different set.

This touches on a rather touchy aspect of linguistics. For a long time linguists hypothesized a very strong version of this idea, that language strongly shapes thought. That is largely discredited, and so the pendulum has swung the other way, so many linguists deny that language shapes thought at all. But I think there is a happy medium that is closest to the truth. In terms of how language affects thought, I mean a "weak theory," not the strong version, of this idea. From this wiki:

Current researchers such as Lera Boroditsky or Debi Roberson believe that language influences thought, but in more limited ways than the broadest early claims. Exploring these parameters has sparked novel research that increases both scope and precision of prior examinations. Current studies of linguistic relativity are neither marked by the naive approach to exotic linguistic structures and their often merely presumed effect on thought that marked the early period, nor are they ridiculed and discouraged as in the universalist period. Instead of proving or disproving a theory, researchers in linguistic relativity now examine the interface between thought (or cognition), language and culture, and describe the degree and kind of interrelatedness or influence. Following the tradition of Lenneberg, they use experimental data to back up their conclusions. These psycholinguistic studies have since gone far beyond color perception (although that is still studied), having explored motion perception, emotion perception, object representation, and memory. The gold standard of psycholinguistic studies on linguistic relativity is now finding cognitive differences in speakers of different language when no language is involved in an experimental task (thus rendering inapplicable Pinker's claim that linguistic relativity is absurd because it is "circular").[citation needed]

Recent work with bilingual speakers attempts to tease apart the effects of language from the effects of culture on various aspects of bilingual cognition including perceptions of time, space, motion, colors, and emotion.[31] Researchers have described differences between bilinguals and monolinguals in perception of color,[32] representations of time,[33] or other elements of cognition.

I think how a language is written also will shape how one things. I remember a bit of an epiphany in Japan when I got good enough reading kanji (the Chinese characters) that I could look at a sign and even if I couldn't sound out the words, I knew the meaning. At a glance I knew the meaning of a phrase even if I wasn't sure how to say it. It take a long time to learn the kanji, but once you know them reading is a different experience...more visual and impressionistic rather than carefully constructed from each letter or syllable. I realized then and there how that would shape how Japanese learn and absorb information. Now Japanese is a hybrid where they use both ideograms (the kanji that convey instantaneous, visual information) and syllabic (the hiragana that convey sounds that you have to piece together sequentially to understand). Chinese is closer to purely ideographic. So I imagine the impact is even stronger. One consequence of this kind of language is that puns become a more widespread and literary art form. When an ideogram can be pronounced more than one way, and often ideograms come to represent specific sounds as well as ideas, the scope for clever and funny word plays become almost infinite, creating a very rich language and one where humor and poetry is going to be hard to translate. You can translate the meaning, but not really the underlying, pun-like submeanings. A mundane example, which is about all I can muster. In Japan you can never but a set of cups or plates for four people. Always three or five. Four is considered an unlucky number. This is because one of the pronunciations for "four" is "shi." "Shi" is also one of the pronunciation for a kanji meaning "death." So for no reason except coincidence of sound, four comes to be associated with death and this influences how dishware is marketed.

Even with a fairly limited exposure to a language I have felt how language structure influences thought. When I was in Samoa (the independent nation formerly known as "Samoa i Sisifo" or "Western Samoa") I picked up some of the language. One of the main directional indicators used in Samoan is "towards the shore" vs. "away from the shore." Clearly a useful thing on an island that would not be so useful on a continent, so the language developed the concept which then, in turn, will shape how people conceive of the world around them. Not so much in terms of four cardinal directions (which of course they have as well) but in relation to the sea that surrounds you.

I am a biologist so for me anything to do with people boils down to something biological. We are animals like any other animal subject to the same rules. I can't help but think that in infancy, when our brains are first making critical connections (and, actually, pruning away far more connections that aren't needed), and when we are first imprinting language and then absorbing it like a sponge, our brain wiring must be shaped by the language we are first exposed to. And I would imagine someone raised bilingually from birth would have a more flexible, richer way of conceiving of the world, drawn from both languages he or she was exposed to while the brain is first being shaped.

We all think of language simply as a tool for communicating, and different languages like different tools you pick up to communicate...kind of like picking up different sized screw drivers to screw in different size screws. But language is a more powerful think in our lives than we realize, actually shaping how we conceive of the world. It is more like when given a single sized screwdriver, we then see the world as only composed of screws of that size. We know there are other sized screws, but they are less in our awareness. We HAVE to adjust the "proper" sized screw before we even notice the other sizes.

Think on that next time you hear someone advocate for "English only." A big chunk of the world grows up at least bilingual now (whether it is because they learn English as well for practical reasons, learn Arabic or Hebrew or Latin for religious reasons, or learn a native "tribal" language as well as a national language). America is somewhat behind here, and one can't help wonder if this limits our flexibility in how we think about the world.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dealing with Mold and Mildew in Your Home

My apartment building, including my own apartment, has had ongoing moisture problems, including leaks, floods, and general humidity. This brings mold and mildew...we have even had areas with that deadly black mold that can ruin a home if you don't catch it early enough.

I also want to draw your attention to my earlier article regarding the role of mold and mildew in the allergy and asthma epidemic. Keeping your home free of mold and mildew can reduce (not eliminate) your allergy, asthma and other respiratory problems. I know I used to get a respiratory infection every cold season that wouldn't go away. Once my building solved the leak and moisture problems and I got on top of cleaning and preventing mold, my respiratory problems largely went away.

So over the years I have spent a fair amount of time battling mold and mildew. I would like to pass along the more successful treatments I have found.


Mold and mildew grows where moisture collects. Areas that get damp are likely to get mold. Areas where dampness is chronic, mold will take strong hold and may be hard to get rid of. These are the conditions, particularly within walls, that can cause the deadly black mold that has closed down entire buildings in worst case scenarios.

If you see wet areas, look for leaks and get them fixed. Particularly near walls because moisture within walls are the hardest to deal with and the most common source of mold infestations. If there is a wet area, treat it for mold ASAP...see below for ways to kill and prevent mold. Apply where you can when you see a damp area. Note that bleach is what I list below as the most effective mold careful using this on carpets or fabric since it can damage the color and the fabric.

Dehumidifiers can be useful when moisture has built up. Sometimes, particularly in humid weather, moisture just stays put for days or weeks, which is a guaranteed mold environment. A dehumidifier can help. These are noisy, energy hogs, generate tons of heat, and need frequent emptying. But sometimes they are what you need to do the job. We have only had to use them when there was like a foot of water in our apartment, ruining our floors, during humid weather. But my building uses them in a common carpeted area to deal with moisture and they definitely help. Here's one that is Energy Star Rated, so that would limit the energy use, something you will appreciate if you need to use it for any length of time:

Deal with leaks and dry out damp spots...these are the first line of defense against mold and mildew. But you can also reduce the chances of mold growing by one simple treatment.


There is a safe, simple product that helps prevent mold and mildew. Many products make this claim, but this is the ONLY one I have found that seems to actually help. It is based on sodium carbonate, a simple compound not to be confused with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) which is a related but different compound. Sodium Carbonate (probably the carbonate itself) keeps the mold from being able to germinate and grow. If not washed off it can be effective for weeks. But even if used on shower surfaces it helps reduce mildew growth when used after some bleach treatment (see below under killing mold).

If you can get sodium carbonate itself, you can mix your own solution (see how on

But I found a product I find very effective where everything is pre-mixed: Concrobium Mold Control. Of course this is a more pricey option than mixing your own as described in the link above, but it is easier and I know it works.

Apply this from time to time anywhere that is damp or where you have seen mold before. When mold grows this won't work well alone. Use it AFTER you kill mold as indicated below.


X-14 Professional Instant Mildew Stain Remover is the most effective treatment for killing mold and mildew that has gotten established. This is nasty, bleach-based stuff. But it works!

Generally when I see any mold or mildew on a surface, I hit it with this, let it sit a few minutes, then wipe it off. In general this single treatment gets rid of it. Sometimes a second, longer treatment is needed. NO OTHER CLEANER I have tried works as well as this one for killing mold.

On a more routine level, when the weather is hot and humid and I know of surfaces that we get mold or mildew on, I do a preventative treatment with a plain bleach solution. Take regular laundry bleach, dilute around 1:5 to 1:10 in a spray bottle (be careful what you not reuse a spray bottle that had previously held a non-bleach based cleaner!). Then just spray this on a site you are concerned about, let sit a few minutes, then wipe off. This is far cheaper than the X-14 Professional Instant Mildew Stain Remover. It doesn't work as well once mold or mildew gets established, but it can help prevent mold or clean up the very first growth. Usually I use a more gentle cleaner, like are available through Seventh Generation/, Inc

These gentler cleaners do basic cleaning on all surfaces, get grease, smell better and are safer for kids and pets.

But when it comes to getting mold and mildew, I break out the bleach or the X-14 Professional Instant Mildew Stain Remover because they work!

After you have used one of these treatments to kill mold or mildew and have washed it away, you can increase the time before mold or mildew comes back by applying Concrobium Mold Control or homemade sodium carbonate solutions (not as effective, I think, but cheaper) and letting it sit. Together these treatments are very effective. You still have to repeat from time to time (at least once a year when things get hot and humid, often every month or so in humid weather), but in combination these work better than anything else.


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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book Review: "Dream in Color", by Loretta and Linda Sanchez

Sierra Club

When I was growing up, one of my dad's favorite sayings was "Don't let anybody ever tell you you're a dumb Mexican."

Our mom definitely taught us that there are times when we must stand up for our convictions and not back down.

Loretta Sanchez became my hero when she defeated the disgusting right wing extremist Bob Dornan in an upset victory in Orange County, California. Several years later, her sister Linda Sanchez was elected to a nearby district and they became the first ever sisters to serve in Congress.

As the children of Mexican immigrants, their story is obviously one of overcoming great odds and prejudice. But they have overcome those odds with grace, intelligence and great skill.

In 2008 Loretta and Linda (along with Richard Buskin) published their story, a book called Dream in Color.

I love the title as much as I love the Sanchez sisters. And I always meant to buy the book. But I tend to read either ancient history or pure escapist science fiction or fantasy. The stupid turn to the discredited and failed right wing Republican agenda in the 2010 midterm election was what made me finally buy the book, because I knew it would be an inspiring story, and I needed an inspiring story. And I was not wrong in my expectation.

Many people work hard to conceal their background, conforming or projecting themselves in ways that are deemed socially acceptable, politically correct, physically desirable, or otherwise in vogue. And women and minorities are often more prone to this, partly because they're taught to aspire to some mythical ideal. Not us.

Growing up in a traditional Mexican family, we learned about the rich cultural values of our heritage, and as Latinas in Congress we draw daily strength from the lessons that our parents instilled in us. One of the strongest examples of such a lesson is the way Mom stood her ground when told by one of our grade school teachers that we should speak only English at home. She knew that being bilingual was an asset, and we have both repeatedly reaped the benefits of her foresight...

In most of the world being bi-, tri- or multi-lingual is not just an asset, it is a requirement. In Europe most people speak three or more languages. In Japan and India at least two. These are the countries America COMPETES with and our failure to recognize the need to speak multiple languages is one of several reasons (all fueled by right wing stupidity) that America is slowly, but surely, losing its competitive edge.

As for hiding one's ethnic identity, currently living in NYC where almost every ethic group has its own parade it amazes me that America would EVER want to abandon or deny its rich, amazing ethnic and immigrant past and present. America is an immigrant nation and has been from day one. And that has been one of our greatest strengths. Yet Republican America wants to DENY that strong, amazing, idealistic immigrant past. I am descended from German refugees from economic and political problems in the wake of the 1848 Revolutions. And I am descended from Jewish refugees from pogroms. I am interested in, shaped by and proud of those roots. Why would I expect Mexican-Americans to be any less interested in, shaped by or proud of THEIR roots?

Dream in Color is the story of these daughters of Mexican immigrants (that word, "immigrant" that is supposed to be so horrible, but in reality describes all of our ancestries unless you happen to be pure Native American) who rose from tough, though not poverty, circumstances to become Congresswomen. What most right wingers could never, NEVER admit, is that in many ways this book is the ultimate story of the American Dream. The American Dream was, is and always will be the story of the immigrant family that came to America with nothing but dreamed big, worked hard, and achieved great things. THAT is the American dream and the Honorable Sanchez sisters are a perfect example of that dream.

I grew up in California and always found it somewhat amusing and disturbing that people saw my state as so liberal. I lived in Los Angeles where the stereotype largely held, but neighboring Orange County was one of the most conservative districts in the nation and was represented by right wing crazies like Bob Dornan, who wound up so batshit crazy even Newt Gingrich hesitated to openly support him for awhile.

So when, in 1996, a young woman named Loretta Sanchez had the huevos to run against Bob Dornan, I eagerly donated to her campaign, though I had little hope she could pull it off. But that donation was one of my most enthusiastic donations.

Loretta's reason for running, which I didn't know until reading Dream in Color, was basically because when she was pushing hard for improved education in her district, her Congressman Bob Dornan blew her off.

I next tried to make an appointment to see my Congress member, Bob Dornan, but he refused to meet with me. If I had wanted to meet with him about a defense project, he would have been all over it, but as far as I could tell, education held no interest for him. So, at that point, I went home and said, "I'm going to run for Congress..."

The first person I called was mu mom. When I told her what I wanted to do, she said, "Okay, we can do that..."

The fight was hard and Bob Dornan, a truely miserable human being in my opinion, was as nasty as could be, demonstrating just what true Republican "values" are these days.

When I won the one even knew who I was...I'd appeared out of nowhere to beat the candidates and now I was the opponent to Bob Dornan. Well, when he found out who I was he described me as a dream candidate to run against. "She can't beat me," he told the Orange County newspaper, the OC Weekly. "Bob Dornan [I guess like Bob Dole Dornan refers to himself in the third person] is a father of five, grandfather of ten, military man, been married forty-one years. She has no kids, no military, no track record. I win."


Dismissing me resulted in his defeat. And when we had a rematch two years later, Dornan turned extremely nasty.

To my utter astonishment, moderate Democrat (former moderate Republican) Loretta Sanchez beat right wing extremist Bob Dornan. Bob Dornan, who would make today's Teabaggers (remember, THEY came up with that term!) like Carl Paladino seem reasonable, was ousted by an upstart Latina. Dornan spent the next year showing up to Congress anyway, claiming Loretta hadn't really won. He demanded a rematch two years later and was soundly defeated by the now incumbent Loretta Sanchez. I vaguely remember getting drunk in celebration of Loretta's second, absolutely definitive, win. I was immensely proud to have donated to Loretta's first two runs for Congress. The only reason I have not donated since is because she doesn't need my money and other great candidates do.

Within her first year in Congress, Loretta Sanchez proved her worth, despite being resented by many Republicans and despite being a freshman, in the passage of changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (that book that features so prominently in the movie "A Few Good Men) to address the problem of rape of women in military service. In many ways the Uniform Code of Military Justice had failed to keep up with changes in civilian law regarding rape and so wound up protecting rapists and victimizing rape victims. Loretta Sanchez saw this problem for women in the military and sought to change it. She was, of course, solidly opposed by the good-old-boys network of the military and initially by the good-old-boys network of Congress. But she refused to let what was clearly an important issue get pushed aside, and to give credit where credit is due, she was helped by a Republican, John McHugh. Now I never really liked McHugh, but in this case he did the right thing, even to the point, according to Loretta Sanchez, of standing up to fellow Republican Duncan Hunter who wanted to let Loretta's bill die. John McHugh decided Loretta's bill was worth supporting and he went the extra mile for it. Together Sanchez and McHugh, against the inertia of the military, revised the military law codes to better handle rape cases. This all happened, from start to finish, within Loretta's first two years in Congress while Bob Dornan was still showing up and claiming he still represented the district.

I think this experience shaped Loretta Sachez's entire approach towards Congress. Loretta Sanchez is a Blue Dog Dem, which usually means bad things in my book, but Loretta represents a relatively conservative district and, though a Blue Dog, votes well and stands up on fights few other Dems stand up on. So I have always liked her. And her unconventional image, drawn from her Hispanic, hard working, immigrant background, has always endeared her to me.

As a Blue Dog, Loretta tends to be one of those compromisers in Congress that many progressives hate. But in judging Loretta one has to take into account her district (which is conservative) and her experience with Republican John McHugh, where through patience and determination she was able to find common ground and compromise and so pass a much needed bill. She learned the lesson then and there that compromise was possible and could accomplish important things. I think she has stuck to that view, though she has also never been one of the more conservative members of the Blue Dogs. I feel she remains true to progressive ideals though she also maintains a cooperative stance with conservatives. If all Blue Dogs were like Loretta Sanchez, we'd be much better off both as a party and as a country.

Loretta also, like Arianna Huffington, left the Republican party because of the realization that the Republicans did NOT represent her true values...didn't even represent the values they claimed to represent. Loretta Sanchez grew up in a family where one parent was a Democrat and one a Republican, so the choice between the two seemed a reasonable first:

Whereas Mom was a compassionate Democrat, Dad ended up running his own business and reading the libertarian Orange County Register, so he was very antitax and pro-Republican. Neither of them voted back then...they didn't become US citizens until [1996]. By then, like me, Dad had converted from Republican to Democrat...

I remained registered as a Republican and never really thought about it much. That was, until one night when I was flicking through the TV channels at home and just happened to catch Pat Buchanan making an inflammatory speech, calling for an end to immigrants coming to America. I was so angry that a high-profile Republican was allowed to spew that kind of hatred on national television, the very next day I registered as a Democrat.

When Loretta's younger sister, Linda, ran for Congress in 2003, I considered it a given I would donate. If she was HALF as kick ass as Loretta, it was worth supporting her. And she won, making Loretta and Linda Sanchez not only rare in Congress as Latinas (I personally know and like Nydia Velasquez, one of the other rare Latinas in Congress), but literally unique as being the first and so far ONLY sisters to serve in Congress.

Linda Sanchez, partly because she represents a solidly Democratic district and partly because of her own personality, is a more liberal Democrat than her sister. Linda, in fact, is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus while Loretta is a member of the Blue Dog Caucus. Loretta grew up with more to prove, as an older sibling, and I think it is reflected in her more conservative attitude, shaped by a greater need for financial security than social activism. They both make clear that the older siblings had a rougher time and were raised with a more traditional philosophy, but by the time Linda was growing up this was somewhat relaxed and Linda, from an early age, recognized that there were inequities in the world and that becoming a lawyer was a path towards solving those inequities. She was encouraged to become a lawyer by her older sister, but Loretta had imagined Linda using her law degree more practically, getting a higher paying job. Instead, Linda went into labor law and became a union organizer. And she was kick ass in pushing for labor reforms. When a new Congressional district was created in Southern California, Linda decided to run for it...and won. She started as the longshot, as a young Latina, but when she proved so effective that she rapidly became the frontrunner, she became the target for attacks by all the other campaigns in the primary. I get the feeling from her description in the book that this may have been one of the toughest things she had faced: a concerted attack from several other fellow Democrats.

And yet she won. I think this shows the strength of the Sanchez family, that they could turn not just one, but TWO long-shot runs for office into wins.

Like Loretta, Linda Sanchez also proved her worth within the first year, though in a more locally focused way.

One of the smaller cities I represent desperately needed funding to renovate and repave its major street, which was old and falling into disrepair. For ten years the city had been begging its former congressman to try to help get federal funds for the roadwork, but he never secured any real funding for the project. Well, when the time came, and [Congressman] Obey asked for projects, that was one of the projects I submitted. It made it into the omnibus bill, and the omnibus bill passed. That meant that after being in Congress for only six weeks I had gotten it the funding! And wheras before the city had been skeptical, I now had a victory to show them, and it was grateful.

And then, of course, Linda had to face the same obstacles that Loretta had to face as a rare Latina in Congress as well as a freshman. She relates how she frequently felt like asking people (I assume she never actually did!):

Excuse me, but did you just blow me off because I'm a woman, because I'm Hispanic, or because I'm young? Could you let me know?

Linda Sanchez has some of the best lines in the book, the lines that make me think, "YES! That is how I always wanted to say it!" For example:

Sometimes I've encountered Republicans who seem to believe that people are poor because they choose to be poor, and that this wouldn't be the case if they just worked harder. Well, that isn't true. A lot of people start with advantages that they don't even consider to be advantages and I always point this out when I get into fights...

I believe there are two kinds of people in this life. There are those who succeed and attribute all the success to themselves--"I've got mine, you guys have to get yours." And then there are those who succeed and not only credit the teachers who cared, the mentors who helped them, the bosses who took them under their wing, and the parents who pushed them to do well, but also the resolve to help the next group of people who are struggling. For the life of me, I don't understand those who fall into the former category, because the belief that they did it all on their own is just nonsense.

And right there a major FALSE Republican talking point falls by the wayside.

Dream in Color is interesting on several levels. It may not be high literature in style, but it is a very readable, straightforward description of what life is like for Latinas in America and what people can accomplish if they work REALLY hard and take calculated risks. It also provides very interesting perspectives on how Congress works...and doesn't always work. It also provides a much needed counterpoint to the hostile and nasty Republican anti-immigrant rhetoric we hear all too much, instilling a respect for hard working immigrants of ALL ethnicities.

Overall Dream in Color is a quick read, and, though perhaps not immensely profound, is very inspiring, particularly now when Democrats seem a tad demoralized.

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Ancestors: Who's your great great great great grandpappy?

Race, ethnicity, culture, family...all important to people. But usually we think of these things completely separate from reality.

I have been reading several books that together have put some of this into perspective. Each of us are part of the whole sweep of human evolution, and we are all related in a very real, genetic way.

This man might be your ancestor:

(Ramesses II, king of Egypt, 13th century BC)

Yep, I bet lots of people today could, if only we had all the information, trace their ancestry back to this man. I would guess somewhere in the millions of people today are his descendants.

Go back far enough and we are all related. This is a fact. Or, more precisely, every little piece of our DNA ultimately derives from a common ancestor that can be traced back to some specific time and place.

This has most accurately and famously been done with our mitochondrial DNA. This DNA is something we all get from our mothers, so it is a strictly maternal descent. Men contribute nothing to it. In 1987 an amazing paper in the Journal Nature presented an analysis of modern mitochondrial DNA to show that all human beings can trace their mitochondrial DNA back to a common ancestor living in East Africa some 100-150,000 years ago. At that time some 20,000 anatomically modern humans were around.

Interestingly, studying mitochondrial DNA of modern humans indicates that African Bushmen have some of the oldest patterns of mitochondrial DNA around. The rest of us moved away and lost some of the mitochondrial diversity that was maintained in the Bushmen. It is probable that the divergence of the ancestors of the Bushmen and the ancestors of the African Pygmies may be the very first ethnic division in human history since we first started diversifying after mitochondrial Eve. Note: both names are considered derogatory, but no other good generic names are available...Bushman and "Forest People" are considered somewhat preferable because they imply a connection to the environment these people have lived in for millennia, but Bushman and Pygmies are the commonly known terms.

A similar analysis using modern Y-chromosomal DNA (traced only through the male lineage) showed that all men alive today can be traced back to a common grandpappy in East Africa some 60-90,000 years ago. Yep...Richard Simmons and Mr. T are both descendants of the same man.

Truth is, you can do the same kind of analysis with ANY piece of DNA in the just is much harder to do than with the mitochondrial or Y-chromosomal DNA. But statistical analyses have shown that all of us can trace our DNA molecular patterns back to some 86,000 common ancestors. Those roughly 86,000 people, from different places and different times (though mostly probably from Africa since that is the place of our common descent) are our shared genetic heritage.

These are great numbers and indicate how closely related we all are. But once humans started moving out of Africa, that common genetic heritage diversified. We started splitting into ethnic and cultural groups, and possibly even started evolving apart at one point. It has often been assumed that humans have been evolving slowly since modern humans (Homo sapiens) first evolved around 150,000-200,0000 years ago, plus or minus some tens of thousands of years. Interestingly, this places the mitochondrial eve near our evolutionary origin...probably some tens of thousands of years after we became anatomically modern Homo sapiens. But the humans of 150,000 years ago weren't quite what we are today. Physically they would pass. But culturally, and presumably in terms of how the brain worked, was different. Stone tools made from our earliest tool using ancestors, Homo habilis, some 2.4 million years ago up to even Homo sapiens, tended to be slow to change and tended to be similar over wide areas. This doesn't mean things stayed the same throughout that period. Far, far from it. Over nearly 2.4 million years things changed a lot, but the pace of that change was slow and regional variation was small. Then starting sometime around 50,000 years ago, well after we physically evolved, something changed. Suddenly there were many more innovations in tools and far more regional variations. Complex culture seemed to suddenly evolve. Art started to evolve, culminating in the Cro Mangon culture art of Alta Mira and Lascaux. (As an aside, one theory, though one I consider shaky so far, is that the modern Basque are fairly direct descendants of this Cro Magnon culture...there is some genetic evidence for this, but...). Some kind of goddess or fertility cult seemed to start to appear, with widespread appearance of carved female figures called Venus figures. And people started spreading out over the globe. To me it seems like we suddenly evolved imagination starting around 50,000 years ago. Was it a change in our brain structure? Was it a breakthrough in language? No one knows.

Humans of other species (Homo erectus, Neanderthals) had left Africa before then. But they didn't contribute to our modern genes as far as anyone can tell. There is still a chance that some tiny part of our genetic ancestry is from Neanderthals or Homo erectus, but so far there is not one shred of evidence to support that. And we have isolated some Neanderthal DNA to use to try and look for common DNA patterns.

Evolution is driven by two things: population size (since the larger the population the greater the genetic diversity) and distance (since larger population distribution allows greater divergence). It used to be thought that once we evolved to be Homo sapiens we largely stopped evolving. Recent data shows this isn't true. It seems that around 5000 years ago human evolution, because it had reached a critical size and large distribution over most of the globe, suddenly sped up. We can't tell if we are diverging more than ever now, or once again, perhaps due to the bridging of those large distances through modern transportation, we are evolving slowly. The techniques used can't see events closer than, say, 5000 years ago. I suspect that as empires grew, steppe nomads swept across continents, and transportation improved, genetic exchanges increased across our entire population, more or less, to counter act the speed up in human evolution. However, some pockets of people in places like Australia and New Guinea would have been largely genetically isolated for millennia up until around the 18th century. So perhaps any slow down in the pace of human evolution would only have started a few hundred years ago. This means that for our early existence, from 150,000 to 5000 years ago, population size was small enough and our global distribution narrow enough, at least early on, that we were evolving slowly. Things sped up 5000 years ago, but my guess is slowed back down once sailing ships started reaching every corner of the world.

Then we come to a level of ancestry that most of us can understand: can we trace specific ancestors. Truth is, even fairly recently, a recent as a few thousand years ago, we can all trace our ancestry back to a fairly small population. In fact, in rare cases, large chunks of the modern population can trace to specific famous people. For example, Ramesses II was Pharaoh of Egypt in the 13th century BC. He was the greatest, most powerful king of Egypt ever. And Egypt controlled a wide empire. Ramesses II drew wives and concubines from all over: the Sudan area, Egypt, the Middle East. Maybe even from Greece and Turkey. He had more than 50 recorded sons and more than 50 recorded daughters, and this probably doesn't count children sired on slaves or through affairs. His children and grandchildren filled the top ranks of the nobility, military, diplomatic corps and priesthood. Further out, many of his great great grandchildren may have settled outside Egypt as soldiers, traders, scribes, etc. Some think almost every native born Pharaoh of Egypt after Ramesses II probably could trace their ancestry SOMEHOW back to Ramesses II. I would go further. I would say a significant chunk of people living around the Mediterranean today just might have a piece of DNA that can be traced back to Ramesses II. Perhaps even those Jews who supposedly left Egypt during Ramesses II's reign may just have had some people who "knew" an son of Ramesses II.

There is one case where this kind of connection is just about proven. DNA analysis has shown that 0.5 percent of the male population in the world, or roughly 16 million people, are direct male descendants of Genghis Khan. In essence a Y chromosomal pattern (hence only traceable through the male line) was found in this percentage of the population, mainly in the vast area conquered by the Mongols (from Russia to Korea), which could be traced back to the area of Mongolia at the right time in the 13th century. SOMEONE at that time and place who had many children and grandchildren is the ancestor of 16 million modern men. The person known to fit this profile is none other than Genghis Khan. This doesn't really PROVE Genghis Khan was the ancestor of all these people, but it strongly suggests it. He had many children and grandchildren who spread through the bulk of Eurasia and were very powerful for a long period of time. They raped and married and had large families. It is virtually certain that this really does place Genghis Khan as the direct ancestor of 0.5 percent of the male population in the world.

There are almost certainly many other prolific and powerful individuals who have contributed significantly to the modern gene pool. There is no way to know if Ramesses II is one of them because it is much harder to trace back that far with as much certainty as tracing back to the 13th century. But a similar analysis COULD be done to find if a similar chunk of modern humans can trace back to someone in the area of Egypt in the 13th Century BC. But Ramesses II probably fits the profile almost as well as Genghis Khan. Many people who derive from the Sudan, Egypt, Libya and the Middle East have pieces of DNA that came from Ramesses II.

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Saving Money While Fueling Up in Southern California

Sierra Club

Want to save money on gasoline? Conserv Fuel is the station we have found saves us money. If we are buying regular gasoline, then they are usually cheapest around for gas, though only if we are in the neighborhood. But if we have a Flex Fuel car, we can buy E85 fuel, which at Conserv Fuel is WAY cheaper than regular gasoline anywhere else, so it is in our best interest to go out of our way to go to Conserv Fuel gas stations.

My wife and I don't own a car. We live in NYC so only use public transportation. But when we visit my family in California we rent a car and when we can we take the opportunity to rent alternative energy vehicles. We have rented an all-electric RAV4 (LOVED it), a biodiesel VW (loved it), hybrids (not as good as they once used to really get 50 mpg, now they aren't nearly as fuel efficient as they were), and most recently a FlexFuel car.

A FlexFuel car can take regular gasoline, but it can also take up to E85 ethanol. We liked this because the carbon footprint is less, it relies on domestic fuel more than foreign fuel, and it is on average about 40 cents per gallon CHEAPER than regular gasoline. So we could reduce our environmental impact a bit, help the American rather than Saudi economy, and save money.

Both in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara we used Conserv Fuel stations, an independently run gas station that in some locations also offers alternative fuels. Even their regular gasoline is cheaper than the nearby competition, and when they offered it we bought E85 for our Flex Fuel car. Out near the Salton Sea we had to rely on Arco stations (which is actually BP but USED to be a reasonably good company) for E85, but it was still a much cheaper option compared with regular gasoline...and avoided the whole drilling crap.

So if you want an independent gas station that is cheaper than most, and PARTICULARLY if you have a Flex Fuel car so can buy their super cheap E85 (compared with ANYONE's gasoline), patronize Conserv Fuel.

Conserv Fuel Los Angeles:
11699 San Vicente Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Phone: 310-571-0039

Conserv Fuel Santa Barbara:
150 S La Cumbre Rd
La Cumbre Ln
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Phone: (805) 964-0938

Don't get me wrong...even using ethanol for fuel has its problems. But it is much better (and cheaper) than gasoline. And Conserv Fuel is a better gas station option than the corrupt, big name companies., Inc

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Evidence of the Holocaust

Recently I got into an argument on Room 8 with a Holocaust denier who at least was willing to admit some aspects of the Holocaust happened, but denied that there ever were actual gas chambers and crematoria. Like arguing with Creationists, 9/11 Truthers and Global Warming deniers, arguing with Holocaust deniers is frustrating work...and never gets you very far. Yet I am the sort who cannot stand letting lies and misinformation stand unchallenged.

The misconception that concentration camps didn't have gas chambers, Stormfront holocaust denial aside, first arose because people expect all concentration camps to be the same. Since many concentration camps have no sign of gas chambers, people started to believe that none of them did. The gas chambers were part of the dedicated extermination camps where work was only secondary and extermination the primary role of the camp. Many concentration camps reversed that priority...death of the inmates was considered a good thing, but using them as slave labor was primary. Gas chambers were used at the extermination camps. These were mostly in the East in places like Poland, so the main US, UK and French military advances liberated mainly concentration camps where slave labor and oppression were the dominant themes while the Soviets liberated most of the extermination camps. Neo-Nazis often claim that Eisenhower, Churchill and de Gaulle never mentioned liberating gas chambers and claim that shows they didn't exist. This claim completely ignores that it was primarily the Soviet army that liberated the extermination camps that had gas chambers. So that Neo-Nazi claim is easily contradicted.

A breakdown of the main concentration camps and their primary purposes can be found here:

The definitive book on Nazi Germany is the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. I recommend this book to ANYONE who wants to know just how and why Hitler's regime could come into existence. Shirer was a direct witness to some of the rise of Hitler and he describes the era in extreme detail, including the evolution of the concentration camps from mainly housing political prisoners to ultimately being part of the Final Solution, complete with dedicated extermination camps with gas chambers. Shirer's analysis used every scrap of evidence available at the time, meaning the one flaw in the book is that Soviet records were not available at the time, giving the Eastern Front a more sketchy coverage than what happened in the West and in Germany itself. But it still gives most of what you need to know about the policies towards the Jews. Even though I am up on my history of Nazi Germany I learned a lot from this book.

There are two main sources of evidence in any crime scene, and the gas chambers were, quite simply, massive crime scenes. Those types of evidence are eyewitness testimony and forensics. Good criminal cases are built up using both.

Eyewitness testimony is in itself almost overwhelming. In some cases, though, it is inconsistent. For example, for some camps like Dachau and Buchenwald, which were not dedicated extermination camps, the evidence is inconsistent. Claims of gas chambers were made by liberating troops after the destruction of parts of the camp by the Nazis trying to cover their tracks. This left considerable uncertainty, and I will not deal with these camps because the evidence is not solid. Eyewitness testimony doesn't come from the perpetrators or inmates so much as liberators who may have misinterpreted what was a crime scene where the perpetrators tried hard to cover their tracks. But there are camps like Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka where the evidence is very strong, where both the number and consistency of eyewitness testimony is overwhelming. Let me give a few examples (quotes taken from this site).

There is the testimony of SS-Unterscharfuhrer Schluch, who was actually employed to work at the gas chamber at Belzec:

“I had to show the Jews the way to the gas chambers. I believe that when I showed the Jews the way they were convinced that they were really going to the baths.

After the Jews entered the gas chambers, the doors were closed by Hackenholt himself or by the Ukrainians subordinate to him. Then Hackenholt switched on the engine which supplied the gas.

After five or seven minutes – and this is only an estimate – someone looked through the small window into the gas chamber to verify whether all those inside were dead.

Only then were the outside doors opened and the gas chambers ventilated. After the ventilation of the gas chambers a Jewish working group under the command of their Kapo’s entered and removed the bodies from the chambers.

The Jews inside the gas chambers were densely packed. This is the reason that the corpses were not lying on the floor but were mixed up in disorder in all directions, some of them kneeling, according to the amount of space they had.

The corpses were besmirched with mud and urine or with spit. I could see that the lips and tips of the noses were a bluish colour. Some of them had their eyes closed, others’ eyes rolled. The bodies were dragged out of the gas chambers and inspected by a dentist, who removed finger-rings and gold teeth. After this procedure, the corpses were thrown into a big pit.

The old wooden gassing building had insufficient capacity to deal with forthcoming transports, and these were dismantled and in a more central location a more robust structure was constructed. The new gas chambers in Belzec were operational by the middle of July 1942.

This is a confession by a perpetrator to the gas chamber at Belzec. Now let me give testimony from an inmate:

From Rudolf Reder, who was deported to Belzec from Lwow in August 1942 recalled the new structures:

“The building containing the chambers was low, long and wide, gray concrete, with a flat roof covered in tar paper, and above that another roof of netting covered with foliage.

From the yard, three steps a meter wide, and without railings led up to this building. A big vase full of different coloured flowers stood in front of the building. On the wall it was clearly and legibly written “Bade und Inhalationsraume”

The stairs led to a dark corridor, a metre and a half wide but very long. It was completely empty, four concrete walls. The doors to the chambers opened to the left and the right.

The doors made of wood, a metre wide were slid open with wooden handles. The chambers were completely dark with no windows, and completely empty. A round opening the size of an electrical socket could be seen in each chamber. The walls and floor of the chambers were concrete. The corridor and chambers were lower than a normal room, not more than two metres high.

On the far wall of each chamber there were also sliding doors, two metres wide. After asphyxiation the corpses of the people were thrown out through them. Outside the building was a small shed, perhaps two metres square, where the machine was, a gasoline –driven motor. The chambers were a metre and a half above the ground, and at the same level as the chambers was a ramp at the doors, from which the bodies were thrown to the ground.

The men were driven in first with bayonets, stabbed as they ran to the gas chambers. The Askars counted 750 into each chamber. By the time they filled the six chambers, the people in the first chamber had been suffering two hours already. Only when all six chambers were so tightly packed with people that it was difficult to close the doors, was the motor started.

The machine was a metre and a half by a metre: it was a motor and a wheel. The motor roared at longer intervals. It ran pretty fast, too fast to distinguish the spokes in the wheel.

The machine ran for twenty minutes by the clock. They shut it down after twenty minutes. Right away the doors of the chambers leading to the ramp were opened from the outside and the corpses were thrown on the ground, making a huge mound of corpses several metres high.

Two Askars ran the machine. But when the machine broke down once they called me over, since they called me “der Ofenkunstler.“ I took a look at it and saw glass pipes, connected to other pipes leading to each chamber.

When the Askars opened the sealed doors after twenty minutes of suffocation, the corpses were in a standing position, the faces as if asleep, not changed, not bluish, blood here and there from the stabs made by the Askars, bayonets, mouths slightly open, the hands clenched and often pressed against the lung area. The ones standing nearer tumbled out just like mannequins, through the wide-open doors.”

So testimony from perpetrator and victim (in terms of being an inmate)/witness.

Here is the testimony of Erwin Lambert who took part in the building of the gas chambers at Sobibor (the confession of an accomplice to the crime):

“At that time I was assigned by Wirth to enlarge the gassing structure according to the model of Treblinka. I went to Sobibor together with Lorenz Hackenholt, who was at that time in Treblinka.

First of all I went with Hackenholt to a sawmill near Warsaw. There Hackenholt ordered a big consignment of wood for reconstruction in Sobibor. Finally both of us went to Sobibor, we reported there to the camp commander, Reichleitner. He gave us the exact directives for the construction of the gassing installations.”

The new six-room gas chamber building had a corridor that ran through its centre, and three rooms on either side. The three gas chambers were the same size as the existing one, 4 x 4 metres.

The killing capacity of the gas chambers was increased to nearly 1,300 people simultaneously. The enlarged facility became operational in October 1942.

The construction of both doors was the same as that of the doors in the old chambers. The building when viewed from Camp No 1 showed five wide concrete steps with bowls of flowers on either side. Next came a long corridor. There was a Star of David on top of the roof facing the camp, so that the building looked like an old-fashioned synagogue.

Testimony of Pavel Leleko, a Ukrainian SS Wachmann of the Treblinka death camp guard (another confession of a perpetrator):

“When the procession of the condemned approached the gas chambers the “motorists” of the gas chambers would shout, “Go quickly or the water will get cold.”

Each group of women or men were hurried along from the rear by some German and very often the Kommandant himself – Franz accompanied by a dog. As they approached the gas chamber the people began to back away in terror.

Oftentimes they tried to turn back. At that point lashes and clubs were used. Franz immediately set upon the condemned his dog which was specially trained to snap at their sex organs. At each gas chamber there were 5-6 Germans besides the “motorists” with their dogs. With clubs and lashes they drove the people into the corridor of the gas chamber and then into the chambers.

In this the Germans would compete with the “motorists” in brutality towards the people selected to die. Marchenko for instance had a sword with which he mutilated the people. He cut the breasts of women. After the chambers were filled they slammed shut with hermetically sealed doors. The “motorists” Marchenko and Nikolay would turn on the motors.

Through pipes, exhaust gas was fed into the chambers. The process of asphyxiation began. Some time after starting the motor, the “motorists” would look into the chambers through special observation slits along side each door, to see how the killing process was going.

When questioned what they see there, the “motorists” answered that the people are writhing, twisting one another. I also tried to look in through the little window into the chamber, but somehow I did not succeed in seeing anything.

Gradually the noise in the chambers subsided. After about fifteen minutes the motors were turned off, an unusual calm set in.

Further testimony can be found here:

More confessions by perpetrators can be found here:

And of course an excellent eyewitness testimony by an inmate can be found in Elie Wiesel's Night, where he describe the journey he and his family through the concentration camps. Elie Wiesel survived but the rest of his family died either in the gas chambers or from neglect. Let me add that a girlfriend of mine had a grandfather who had been an inmate and witness to the gas chambers and who only survived the final days of Auschwitz by hiding under a pile of already dead bodies until liberated. So my girlfriend herself had heard eyewitness testimony as well.

As the allies closed in on Germany in 1945, there was a concerted effort to destroy evidence. Even before that, in cases where things went wrong the Germans systematically destroyed evidence of their crimes. The prime example of this is the extermination camp at Sobibor which was the scene of one of the very few successful prisoner revolts which led to a mass breakout. To cover up, the Germans dismantled the camp with the stated intent of hiding what had gone on there. This makes it harder to prove by forensics what happened. Archaeological analysis can identify areas that look like they were gas chambers and crematoria and basically give evidence completely consistent with the eyewitness testimony. That alone helps, given the overwhelming and consistent eyewitness testimony from inmates, perpetrators and liberators.

Some of the forensic evidence (documents, film footage, etc) supporting the eyewitness testimony can be found in this article on forensic science used in Holocaust investigation:

In spite of testimonial evidence and intelligence on Nazi crimes against humanity gathered by the Allies and the Red Cross during the war, nothing prepared the world for the horrors that were disclosed when troops finally reached the concentration camps. In addition to the on-site photographs, movies, physical evidence, and reports by officers of the liberation forces, as well as the individual testimonies of those who survived the Holocaust or the Nazi medical experiments, a great amount of Nazi documentation and material evidence was found in prisons, in the secret police archives, and local police administrative files, which the Nazis did not succeeded in destroying before the Allied invasion….

Nazi documents on the number and location of concentration camps all over Europe, such as one signed by the SS General Pohl, compared quantities of prisoners between 1939 and 1942, as follows: "At the beginning of war (Dachau, 1939 = 4,000 prisoners, today, 8,000; Sachsenhausen, 1939 = 6,500, today, 10,000; Buchenwald, 1939 = 5,300, today, 9,000; Mauthausen, 1939 = 1,500, today, 5,500; Flossenburg, 1939 = 1,600, today, 4,700; Ravensbureck, 1939 = 2,500, today 7,500." The report continues, showing a list of new camps built between 1940 and 1942: Auschwitz (Poland), Neuengamme (Germany), Gusen (Austria), Natzweiler (France), Gross-Rosen (Germany), Lublin (Poland), Niederhagen (Germany), Stutthof (near Danzig), Arbeitsdorf (Germany). The War Crimes Branch of the Third U.S. Army (Judge Advocate Section), reported that "Concentration Camp Flossenburg was founded in 1938 as a camp for political prisoners . . . and it was not until April 1940 that the first transport of prisoners was received. . . . Flossenburg was the mother camp and under its direct control and jurisdiction were 47 satellite camps or outer-commandos for male prisoners and 27 camps for female workers . . ." The SS police (Gestapo) established a program of "extermination through work" in these camps, alternating with torture, starvation, and mass execution in gas chambers and incineration in furnaces. A secret motion picture made by the Gestapo of these mass executions was presented as evidence in the IMT court. According to surviving witnesses, when bored, the camp guards also amused themselves by randomly shooting or hanging prisoners.

Forensics also shows traces of cyanide gas in the very remains that eyewitnesses claim were gas chambers and that archaeology suggests were gas chambers. These chemical data basically prove they were gas chambers. The key study was done by Polish scientists at the Institute of Forensic Research in Krakow. The authors are chemists. The first author became Director of the Institute of Forensic Research in Krakow.

The abstract of that study:

ABSTRACT: In a widespread campaign to deny the existence of extermination camps with gas chambers the "revisionists" have recently started using the results of the examinations of fragments of ruins of former crematoria. These results (Leuchter, Rudolf) allegedly prove that the materials under examination had not been in contact with cyanide, unlike the wall fragments of delousing buildings in which the revisionists discovered considerable amount of cyanide compounds. Systematic research, involving most sensitive analytical methods, undertaken by the Institute confirmed the presence of cyanide compounds in all kinds of gas chamber ruins, even in the basement of Block 11 in Auschwitz, where first, experimental gassing of victims by means of Zyklon B had been carried out. The analysis of control samples, taken from other places (especially from living quarters) yielded unequivocally negative results. For the sake of interpretation several laboratory experiments have been carried out.

The concluding remarks from that study:

The present study shows that in spite of the passage of a considerable period of time (over 45 years) in the walls of the facilities which once were in contact with hydrogen cyanide the vestigial amounts of the combinations of this constituent of Zyklon B have been preserved. This is also true of the ruins of the former gas chambers. The cyanide compounds occur in the building materials only locally, in the places where the conditions arose for their formation and persistence for such a long time.

In his reasoning Leuchter (2) claims that the vestigial amounts of cyanide combinations detected by him in the materials from the chamber ruins are residues left after fumigations carried out in the Camp "once, long ago"(Item 14.004 of the Report). This is refuted by the negative results of the examination of the control samples from living quarters, which are said to have been subjected to a single gassing, and the fact that in the period of fumigation of the Camp in connection with a typhoid epidemic in mid-1942 there were still no crematoria in the Birkenau Camp. The first crematorium (Crematorium II) was put to use as late as 15 March 1943 and the others several months later.

More evidence can be found discussed in this BBC article, this article from the University of San Francisco, and this article from Skeptic Magazine.

So confessions by perpetrators and accomplices, testimony by inmates/witnesses, archaeological analysis, supporting documents, and forensic chemistry all agree that in particular concentration camps there were indeed gas chambers dedicated to mass murder. Anyone who denies it is either ignorant of this overwhelming evidence or is being deliberately misleading.

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