Lies That Altered U.S. History (Part 3)


Ragged Dick and the American Dream

Ragged Dick and the American Dream

Event: The Writings Of Horatio Alger

Lie: “A good many distinguished men have once been poor boys. There’s hope for you Dick, if you’ll try.”–Horatio Alger, from Ragged Dick, p. 75. One of many “pluck and luck” books written by Horatio Alger from 1867-1890, Ragged Dick tells the tale of a young bootblack who works hard and rises to middle class respectability.

Born in Massachusetts in 1832, Horatio Alger was surrounded by Puritan legacy. His family could trace their origins directly to Plymouth Pilgrims and they were staunch Congregationalists, so much so that Horatio’s father had decided his eldest son would pursue a life in the ministry. It was here that young Horatio got his first lessons in what would later be called the “American” or “Calvinist/Puritan” work ethic.There are countless examples of the notion that hard-work was the path to greatness: Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard”–“All things are easy to industry, all things difficult to sloth”; Election of 1840–William Harrison was portrayed (falsely) as a man of the earth, from a log cabin in the west, and hard cider drinker while his opponent, Martin Van Buren, was portrayed as a wealthy elitist from the East; Abraham Lincoln–a man born simple in a log cabin rises to President. By the time Horatio Alger sat down to write his stories of young boys who worked hard and rose the social ranks in life, the ideal of the “Calvinist work ethic” had become firmly entrenched in the American conscience.

Lasting Impact: In the years following the Civil War, the United States saw an influx of immigrants from Europe. Some immigrants came because of religious persecution at home–Russian and Eastern European Jews. Many came because of troubling economic times at home–including high unemployment and limited opportunities. And some came for the “American Dream”. It was the work of Alger that captured the imagination and hopes of immigrants. With a little hard work, the American Dream could be realized. Having faced a world with limited opportunities Ragged Dick and the many other novels inspired waves of Southern and Eastern European immigrants to filter through Ellis Island, settle in New York or Boston or Chicago, and strive for the elusive American Dream.

What the immigrants found instead were ghettos, tenements, corrupt local officials, unscrupulous factory managers, and uncaring factory owners. The vast majority of immigrants never found the American Dream no matter how hard they worked. However, their work ethic prevailed. You could see it in the way Americans faced the adversity of the Great Depression and World War II. Recently, this work ethic has come under assault as being either blatantly racist or elitist (Source and Source). Their argument is that the wealthy abused the poor to get their status, in turn bastardizing the Puritan work ethic. The other view could be that without the hope of a better life for their children and maybe themselves, the immigrant’s “work ethic” toward an American Dream may have been weaker and the accomplishments made during America’s Gilded Age may never have been achieved. Either way, this ideal made popular by Horatio Alger had a major impact on America today.

Smallest amount of lying goes the longest way: Luck. Sometimes for a lie to work out you need a little luck. For Horatio Alger a little luck in timing and place helped his “lie” roll into an ideal. Having failed as a minister–because he probably he had an “unnatural familiarity with boys”–and as a school teacher, Alger’s “pluck and luck” books proved the work ethic. He persevered, found a niche, and filled it. His niche just happened to be during one of the greatest influxes of immigrants in American history who attached to his message like infants to the teat. Whether or not you accept that the “Calvinist/Puritan” work ethic was good or bad for America, it must be conceded that without it this nation would look remarkably different.


Event: Mexican-American War

Lie: “…after a long-continued series of menaces [the Mexicans] have at last invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow-citizens on our own soil.”– President James Polk’s War Message 1846.

On the eve of the Mexican-American war, the United States had been “reawakened”. A second wave of religious fervor swept the nation, primarily its western states–Kentucky, Tennessee–and there was a general feel of accomplishment and achievement–except for anyone who identified as Native America, women, or slave; but things were on the eve of change for most of them, also. America had experienced a period of “good feelings”–though those good feelings were about as great as the feelings of week-long incontinence. In this specter of joy, a newspaper editor and political hack, John O’Sullivan, wrote about American destiny. He called it Manifest Destiny and by 1845, the notion dictated every aspect of American politics and society. However, the concept wasn’t new. In 1776, a writer–only known as Salus Populi–wrote a piece called “To The People Of North-America On The Different Kinds Of Government“. In it, the author declared:

I cannot help cherishing a secret hope that God has destined America to form the last and best plan that can possibly exist; and that [H]e will gradually carry those who have long been under the galling yoke of tyranny in every other quarter of the globe, into the bosom of perfect liberty and freedom in America.

Polk was a political ally of Andrew Jackson–working with Jackson during his Bank War. He also understood the political climate of America and while men like Henry Clay and Martin Van Buren were trying to distance themselves from expansionism, Polk dove headlong into it declaring that Texas should be “re-annexed” and Oregon “re-occupied.” This stance got Jackson’s personal blessing and would thrust Polk into the White House.

The Cat and the CockLasting Impact: Two words: Civil War. The Mexican-American War is often characterized as one of darkest blemishes on the face of America. Polk’s behavior in Mexico could be seen as the modern equivalent of Aesop’s “The Cat and The Cock” fable where the cat finally catches the cock and then has to devise a reason why it should devour him. But, we cannot forget that Mexico had a part in this behavior also–they impeded American commerce and often plundered it, imprisioned American citizens, spurned all the envoys that Polk had sent to negotiate. Today, we view “the strong and the weak” as a test of right and wrong. A strong nation, the United States, should never have behaved toward Mexico, the weaker, in the ways it did; however, weakness should not justify impudence, insolence, or threats. 

The war happened. Live with it. The Mexican-American War’s lasting impact has little to do with how crass or absurd or wrong American expansion was during the 1840s, but the impact of Texas’ annexation had on the people of the United States. Abolitionists in the New England states were right in their beliefs that the annexation of Texas may have been justified under the concept of “Manifest Destiny” or an attempt to bring those living in tyranny into the loving bosom of the United States, but it was morally wrong. It was morally wrong to grab land in the West just to expand slavery. America was just expanding its own tyranny westward.

Smallest amount of lying goes the longest way: Conscience. Or a lack there of. When a person lies enough, they tend to believe the lie as truth. In this case, the lie was our manifest destiny to do God’s work, but somehow that work got distorted in a myriad of other issues. James Russell Lowell warned America, specifically the annexationists, of the harm in believing the lie and moving it into the collective conscience and eventually moving into Texas when he wrote in his poem “The Present Crisis” (1845) “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide/In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side…. They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.” We are still burdened with the issues that Manifest Destiny wrought upon the U.S. in 1845.


Read Part 2 here

Read Part 4 here

Ever Wished That Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Would Return to the Comics Page? Well, He Just Did.


Sometimes you think that the impossible will never happen… these are the moments in history that we love and cherish forever.

Originally posted on Pearls Before Swine:

Bill Watterson is the Bigfoot of cartooning.

He is legendary. He is reclusive. And like Bigfoot, there is really only one photo of him in existence. 

Few in the cartooning world have ever spoken to him. Even fewer have ever met him.

In fact, legend has it that when Steven Spielberg called to see if he wanted to make a movie, Bill wouldn’t even take the call.

So it was with little hope of success that I set out to try and meet him last April.

I was traveling through Cleveland on a book tour, and I knew that he lived somewhere in the area. I also knew that he was working with Washington Post cartoonist Nick Galifianakis on a book about Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompson’s art.

So I took a shot and wrote to Nick. And Nick in turn wrote to Watterson.

And the meeting…

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How To Keep Yourself Entertained At The Airport

missed-flight-300x200Let’s face it, at one point in time in the next year you will be joining the throngs of people standing in a decade’s long line waiting for the three TSA Agents who are actually working to finish tearing apart the old lady’s handbag so you can have your naked body imaged and saved for all posterity. Once that ordeal is complete you file with the rest of the herd to your gate and then sit and wait because the airline told you to show up two hours early. Unless you are an aviation junkie–of which I am a proud member… as I type this I am listening to ATC conversations between Denver Tower and incoming and departing flights–you are will inevitably become bored to death and possibly miss your flight due to your unconscious boredom.

And then, just when you think you will be called to get into a thin, aluminum tube for a few hours, they tell you that your flight has been delayed, or worse yet, cancelled. Now what?

Unless you are in Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport with its Rijksmuseum where you canHong-Kong-Airport-golf peruse works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh, or Hong Kong International with its PGA regulation 9-hole golf course, or Singapore Changi and its two-story butterfly grotto, or Seoul Incheon where you can dress in traditional Korean garb or learn about about Korean culture at the UNESCO artifact museum, you are probably stuck in one of the other thousand airports that are dank, dull, concrete structures that reek of desperation and sadness. And then there’s La Guardia.

So, what are you supposed to do? Here are a few suggestions to make your next trip a bit more entertaining.

1. Look For Spies

get_smart-tvDespite all the cyber espionage that is going on around the world, there is still a need for boots on the ground. And these people have to get from place to place, too! Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and stroll the concourse. Now, these people won’t be dressed in dark black trench coats with dark green Ray Bans over their eyes. Their government ids will be secreted within special pouches in their clothing. This will make it a bit more difficult to find them since they will be dressed like everyone else. However, you can spot some subtle differences between a regular traveler and a spy. Here are a few tips to help you be more successful:

  1. They’ll be more cautious about their surroundings. They may even be sitting alone.
  2. Are they exceptionally fit for someone their age? Do their hands show signs of fighting recently?
  3. Do they look too much like a tourist? It’s one thing to try to fit into your surroundings, but another to do so to the point of standing out.
  4. Are they traveling light? Most spies will have equipment waiting for them at their op-site.

Once you found the spy, what should you do?

Your civic duty, of course!

You should follow them. Follow them into Starbucks. Follow them into the bathroom. Sit behind them at the gate area. Make sure they know that you, a simple schmuck, were able to blow their cover.

2. Sit and listen to the shoeshine guys

These will be the cheeriest, happiest people you will see in an airport since the government did away with meeting your family at the gate. They greet every person who sidles up to their wooden and leather station with a hearty “Hello!” or “Glad to see you!” They take silence or grunts from the businessmen who plop themselves down on the seat and hide themselves behind a newspaper or magazine with the same innocent happiness a child has when you put desert in front of them.

And then the shoeshine guy goes about spit-shining and polishing expensive leather shoes scuffed from inconsiderate suitcases and narrow aircraft aisles and tells a story. Most of the time it falls on deaf ears as the men sitting on the worn leather seats fade into their own world. But the shoes, they listen. They hear a story about the time when the shoeshine guy was on patrol near Dak To and his unit stumbled upon a group of North Vietnamese soldiers withdrawing across the border. Those shoes hear about how his daughter is getting ready for prom and how the he doesn’t trust the boyfriend as far as he can throw him. But daddy’s girl is growing up and his wife says he needs to trust her. He can’t imagine letting her go away to college, and then walking her down the aisle. He tells them about his cousin in New Orleans who plays in a little jazz group and how Katrina nearly wiped out the club. But, he says with a boast, jazz survives anything. Every shoe gets a story whether the owner wants one or not.

Be the shoe.

3. Social deviance

Society has a set of norms that we all follow. Most are ones that we can live with. For example, don’t pick your nose then shake someone’s hand. The group-held “norms” help shape the society in which we live. We see them everyday from the handshake at the end clip_image001_thumbof a sports match to the thank you cards you write after you receive gifts. These are the unspoken guidelines that help society move from day to day and give us, the peasants, an understanding of how we should behave in certain environments. Airports have their own strict set of social norms and that makes them the best place to be a little deviant. Now, be careful with deviance. Criminal behavior is considered deviant and we wouldn’t want you doing anything that prevents you from getting to grandma’s house. Well, maybe in some cases. So, here are a few suggestions for deviating from the norm in the airport:

  1. Walk an imaginary pet through the concourse.
  2. Go into the restroom, put all your clothing on backwards, return to the concourse and walk backwards going against the flow of pedestrian traffic, and, if possible, use the “wrong” moving sidewalk.
  3. Watch the airport television and laugh at your own show or cheer as though your favorite sports team just scored.
  4. Follow something incredibly amazing (though completely imaginary) along the ceiling.
  5. Strike up a conversation with the person in the bathroom stall next to you.
  6. Be polite. Say “hi” to people. Wish strangers a wonderful trip. Be excited for them. Stand at the gate area and welcome people to the airport, and if it is your hometown to your wonderful city and state.

Just as a side note, one of the biggest social norms Americans have are their personal space bubbles. I don’t suggest testing these invisible boundaries lest you find yourself in a small, white room with a flickering fluorescent light and two security agents with gloves on their hands telling you to lean over and relax.

4. Play hide and seek

Though it might seem like the endless rows of uncomfortable leather-like chairs would make for a rousing game of duck, duck, goose! people these days just don’t like being pat on the head like we did when we were children. While it may seem that hide and seek would belong under the social deviance section, this version of the game is not so much deviant as it is slight of hand.

The trick here is to get people to notice you. No. You shouldn’t jump up and down and shout that you have a bomb or that you see little gremlins on the wings of the airplane. Remember those gloved agents? The goal here is to be subtle. Casually stroll the boarding area; feign looking for a nice seat to stack your mountain of carry-on luggage upon. Make eye contact with a few people. Get them to follow you with their eyes. Get into their mind. They probably won’t follow you for long, but if you’ve done your job you’ve piqued their interest and they’ll look for you again. Once you have the attention of one, two, and, if you are real good, dozens your goal is to then disappear from sight. I would suggest finding a few hiding places before you begin. Make sure that you will be able to see the “seekers” from hiding place. Once out of sight, watch as they sit in a confused wonderment, maybe even a slight panic, as you mysteriously vanish from the waiting area.

5. Ruin someone else’s flight

Maneuvering into your seat these days is like trying to get your hips into a toddler’s swing on the playground. And really, airlines haven’t changed the seat all that much from the 1970s. They were 18 inches then, 17 inches now. What’s changed is our waist size and that dastardly thing called seat-pitch–the distance from any one spot on the seat in front of you to that exact spot on your seat. In the ’70s that distance was an average of 35 inches. In today’s modern coach, that distance has shrunk to 31 inches. Don’t think that four inches matters? The average seat-pitch in a stadium style theatre is 37.5 inches. Plenty of room to cross your legs. But this isn’t about seat-pitch or our growing butt sizes.

This is about they way people travel.

Option 1: You can earn the title of Mr./Mrs. Dastardly Evil.

They are everywhere in the airport. The wedding party heading out to a hedonistic bachelor/ette party, most likely in Las Vegas. The Spring Break group heading to Mexico or Florida or Texas. The buddies heading out for a weekend golf trip. And what do all these groups have in common? They are looking to party. Help them get started. Buy them round after round at the pub. Ply them with liquor. Odds are they will either…

  1. Be down right annoying during the entire flight, or
  2. Cause the flight to be delayed or, if the flight makes it out onto the taxiways, have to return to the gate. The is the evil part in all this is that you are messing with over one hundred other travel itineraries, and that is only for that flight. You are also impacting the people at the next airport and so on.

Option 2: Be the optimist

For some reason we love to hate everything. “Oh, you believe the opposite of me? Well, you are wrong and I hate you.” We champion mediocrity–see the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus, et all–and then grouse that mediocrity surrounds us. We demand cheap products, but sue because of defects and complain because “we deserve caviar for chicken egg prices.” We are, each and everyone of us, precious in our own worlds. We tear down those who have succeeded where we have failed, but we don’t look to see what we could do to be successful. And these are your fellow travelers.

Nothing ruins a sour mood better than an overly positive person. When the person lugging a mattress-sized carry-on launches into a tirade with the gate agent because they have to gate check the infernal beast, quietly offer to carry their haul down the jetway to the aircraft for them. When the person sitting next to sourly accepts the tiny bag of peanuts and sip-sized soda, politely remind them that a third of the population of the Sudan is facing starvation right now and would gladly accept the food presented them. Remind them that their personal desire to fly the cheapest fare possible has made this situation possible. When they turn around and throw “But the CEO is a greedy, corporate slug.” Nod knowingly and remind them they could have driven. When they say they won’t support the oil and gas monstrosity, give them the option of walking instead. Be positive and find solutions to their litany of issues, because the days of flying with happy people who dress up for the occasion are long gone. Find joy in the dreariness of the airport. Relish in child-like excitement of flight as though it was the first time you were going to soar above our great nation.

6. Build a fort

Nearly every child in America has had the opportunity to build their own little fort out of furniture and sheets. Imagine the creations you can think of while sitting bored at the airport. Claim a few rows of unused seats and start building. You can use your rolling carry-ons as sliding doors, coats can be used as “tent” covers, and your remaining carry-ons can be stacked up to serve as your throne.

7. Have fun with your phone

There are a couple of things you can do here.

Option 1: Set up your own hotspot wifi. If your phone allows for a wifi hotspot (tether) create a wifi for the people in your waiting area. Give it some creative name. I’ve included a few for you here:

  • NSAEavesdropper.exe
  • TouristsGoHome
  • IP freely
  • Don’t Get On That Plane
  • Unsecured Virus Infected WiFi
  • Get Your Own WiFi
  • Amish LANd

Option 2: Take your phone and stand near the windows that overlook the ramp area. Begin an intense phone conversation with no one. If you are a guy, you could say things like: “But it was supposed to be his baby!” or “No! She thinks I’m going on a business trip, I promise!” If you are a girl, you could say things like: “Oh my God! Seriously, how much wax could they possibly need!” or “It was so sad. He thought it was a billy club, but it was more like a toothpick.”

So, next time you find yourself in one of the world’s most depressing airports, remember, there are always things you can do to keep yourself entertained.

Happy flying!