THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

Most all of you have heard of the “Underground Railroad”(“UR”) and are generally cognizant of its purpose.  It has been portrayed, to some extent, in countless books, movies and tv productions, often inaccurately.   What, exactly, was it, how did it function, how successful was it, and was it really a railroad?  Some of the answers may surprise you.  Read on.

The UR was not a railroad, per se, and it did not operate under the ground, like a tunnel.  Rather, it consisted of a loosely organized network of secret routes and “safe houses” designed to guide runaway slaves from the southern slave states to “free” states in the North or to Canada.   The operation was highly localized.  All an agent, or “shepherd” would know was his small part.  Thus, he might be responsible for hiding a few runaways in a barn, a cave, or a cellar for a few days, then transporting them to the next stop.  After he handed them off, his role was finished, and the “cargo,” as it was called, became someone else’s responsibility.

Most of the travelling was done at night.  Individuals or small groups were preferable as they were easier to keep hidden and transport, although one notable conductor, Charles Turner Torrey was reputed to have guided groups of as many as 20 at a time.  Women, children and the elderly or infirmed were a liability as they often had trouble keeping up.  Also, women escapees were not common.  It was more difficult for women to escape, because they were rarely allowed to leave the plantation alone in the first place.  Furthermore, children tended to be noisy and/or difficult to manage.

Many of you are familiar with the name, Harriet Tubman, as she is slated to replace Andrew Jackson as the face on the $20 bill.   An escaped slave, she was one of the most daring and famous conductors, aka “abductors.”  She would often venture into slave country, even onto a plantation, to “abduct” female slaves and help them escape.  In UR parlance, an abductor was one who would approach slaves with the intent of convincing them to flee.   As a black female she would have been subject to severe penalties, up to and including enslavement or death, if she were caught.  Nevertheless, she was able to escort some 70 female slaves to safety via the UR.

A name you probably are not familiar with is William Still.  Many historians consider him to be the “Father of the UR.”  Still was an AA living in Philadelphia.  A strong abolitionist, he was Chairman of the Vigilance Committee of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society (quite a mouthful).  He would often operate as a middleman between escapees and their loved ones who had remained behind, for example, forwarding correspondence between the two groups.  In addition, he made it his business to gather and maintain written biographies of various escapees and memorialize accounts of their experiences on the UR and afterwards.  In 1872 he published a book entitled The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts, which is generally considered to be the most comprehensive written record we have of the UR and those who utilized it.

The term, underground was derived from the fact that it was hidden from sight.  (Think of the “underground” resistance that operated in European countries controlled by the Nazis during WWII.)  The term, “railroad” emanated from the use of railroad terminology.  For example, meeting points were “stations,” and guides were “conductors.”  Conductors could be clergy, transplanted northerners, free blacks or anyone else who was sympathetic.

Other terms:

  1. Shepherds – those who helped runaways utilize the railroad.
  2. Station masters – those who hid runaways in their homes or barns.
  3. Passengers/cargo- escaped slaves being transported
  4. Stockholders – financial benefactors

Methods and locations were constantly being changed in an effort to stay one step of the slave catchers, who were very aggressive,  resourceful and ruthless.  Furthermore, under the law they were entitled to the assistance of local law enforcement, even in the “free” states.

Although a primitive version of the UR operated as far back as the late 17th century, with Spanish-owned Florida as the destination, the peak period was between 1850 and 1860.  Although precise numbers are unknown, primarily because recordkeeping was very haphazard and few written records were maintained, it is estimated that as many as 1,000 slaves per year were able to escape via the UR during this period alone.  As I mentioned above, the ultimate destination was Canada, but many escapees settled in northern states.

Although those numbers seem high they amounted to a drop in the bucket compared to the total slave population in the South, and the economic impact was insignificant.  So then, why did the slave owners try so hard to recapture them?  Why post rewards in the newspapers?  Why retain slavecatchers or bounty hunters?    The owners considered slaves to be their property.  It was a blow to their pride and authority, and they wanted to make an example of escapees in order to dissuade others from trying.   Those who were caught were beaten and/or hung publicly, with their bodies remaining on display for all to see.

As a result of their strong influence in Congress, the law, such as it was, favored the slave owners.  Pursuant to the Compromise of 1850 officials in free states were required to assist slave catchers recapture runaways, even in states where slavery was outlawed.  Sometimes, slave catchers even pursued runaways into Canada.  The law required law enforcement personnel to detain runaways and hand them over, often with little or no documentation that they were actually runaways.  Forget due process.  Accused blacks had no legal rights or means to defend themselves in court.  Often, judges would be bribed to find in favor of the slave catcher.  Certificates of Freedom or other documents were often ignored, stolen or destroyed.  Thus, as unconscionable as it may seem, from time to time free blacks were “captured” and subsequently sold into slavery.   By today’s standards, the whole process seems brutal, but attitudes were different then.

CONCLUSION

Many  escapees found it difficult to adjust to life as a free man.  For them, their life as a free man in the North or in Canada, was not the panacea they had expected.  Despite the official opposition to slavery, many northern states did not exactly roll out the red carpet.  Although discrimination was more subtle, it was still present. Moreover, some states, such as Indiana, passed a law actually barring free blacks from settling in the state to begin with.

As many as 100,000 escaped slaves settled in Canada, primarily Ontario and Nova Scotia.  Again, many of them found that even though slavery had been outlawed, discrimination was still alive and well.  Working class people viewed them as unwanted competition for jobs.  Moreover, in some areas, blacks were restricted from entering certain trades or occupations.

With the advent of the Civil War many of these runaways enlisted in the Union Army to fight.  Following the war, they stayed in the US.  Some even returned to the South to familiar territory and loved ones that they had left behind.  As those who have studied history know, despite their freedom life remained very difficult for blacks regardless of where they ultimately settled.

If you have an interest in the UR I recommend a book entitled The Underground Railroad by Coleson Whitehead.  It is an interesting and informative account of the UR as experienced by fictional slaves circa 1860.

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TRUMP’S NEMESIS

Donald Trump beat 12 other GOP candidates to win the GOP nomination for president, despite strong opposition from virtually all of the power brokers in the party, by successfully tapping into the anger and frustration of much, if not most, of the voting public.  His candidacy has been buttressed by the fact that all polls report that approximately 75% of Americans feel that the country is “going in the wrong direction.”  These same polls have disclosed the public’s deep distrust of politicians, Congress and the government.  Trump is none of those.  Clinton, on the other hand, is a politician, has served in Congress, and has been in government for the better part of 30 years.  Furthermore, she is strongly disliked and deeply mistrusted by a majority of the voters.

So, what’s the problem?  Why is Trump several points behind instead of being far ahead?  The answer is simple and easy to discern, but, at the same time, very difficult, if not impossible, to fix (especially at this late date).  Trump’s biggest nemesis, whom he cannot seem to beat is ….Donald J. Trump, or, more specifically, Trump’s mouth.

He is his own worst enemy.  He, also, is disliked and mistrusted by a majority of voters.  More importantly, whenever a new scandal has come to light, such as the IRS’ bias against conservatives, Clinton’s emails, or the Clinton Foundation’s irregularities, any or all of which should have provided a substantial boost to his campaign, he has managed to say or do something ill-advised to counteract it.  The most obvious examples, among many others, would be his curious and ill-advised decision not to release his tax information, the Access Hollywood tape, the accusations of sexual harassment and his refusal to pledge not to challenge the election result on the basis of it being “rigged.”

In my opinion, this last one was particularly damaging.  The last debate was Trump’s last chance to turn the election around. Most people believe Trump had outperformed Clinton up to that point.  Unfortunately (for Trump), all people will remember is that comment.

For a bright, successful man, he can be very stupid.  He knows that the Clinton campaign and 90% of the media despise him.  He knows that anything he says or does can and will be twisted or exaggerated for political purposes.  So, rather than being circumspect, he runs his mouth.  I know he’s not a politician, but come on!

Regarding his taxes, in a previous blog I strongly urged him to release them.  I am sure that he has had the best tax advice available, and it is extremely doubtful that he broke the law.  As far as paying no taxes, so what?  All he has to do is denote that he followed the law, and, anyway, who would voluntarily pay more taxes than required?   It’s a non-issue, easily foiled.

In addition, the “rigged election” issue is a loser, even though history demonstrates more than a few elections with “irregularities.”  If you doubt me, research the NY governor’s race in 1793, the Chicago and Texas voting in the 1960 presidential election, and Florida voting in the 2000 presidential election (the infamous “hanging chad” election), among others.  As the late Casey Stengel was fond of saying:  “You could look it up.”

Trump’s “rigged” comment probably refers to what his supporters believe is the Dems’ and media’s white-washing of Clinton’s irregularities, if not illegalities, but such vague accusations do not advance his cause.  He should have simply said he would accept the decision of the American people, and that’s it.  He could still it challenge later.  That’s what both Gore and Bush did in 2000.  (Nixon, despite his unsavory reputation in other matters, was a stand-up guy in the aftermath of the 1960 election in that he declined to challenge either the Chicago or Texas voting.)

CONCLUSION

It appears likely that, despite being on the “right side” of most of the issues in the eyes of most voters, Trump will lose, and, perhaps, by a sizeable margin electorally.  When all is said and done, he will have no one to blame but himself.

TRUMP’S LAST STAND

Donald Trump ran an absolutely brilliant primary campaign.  When he first declared his candidacy for president in June, 2015, most people had strong doubts that he was serious.  The so-called conventional wisdom, of professional politicians, the media and the public was that it was merely a publicity stunt, a passing fancy, a means to feed his insatiable ego. He would soon tire of campaigning and move on to something else.  After all, they said, he was an entrepreneur, a deal-maker, not a professional politician.

Well, Trump fooled us all.  He began as one of 13 GOP candidates and just blew the field away.   Republican voters were drawn to his outspoken, blunt style.  In addition, he struck a nerve by seizing onto the key issues that people most cared about, border security, terrorism and the economy.   In addition, he portrayed himself as a Washington outsider, beholden to no one.  His pointed, sometimes personal, criticisms of the administration and his GOP rivals were very effective.  His support grew steadily, regardless of his sometimes outlandish comments and actions both in the debates and on the campaign trail.  It also helped greatly that one by one each of the other candidates displayed fatal flaws and weaknesses that turned off the voters.   Despite growing opposition among the professional politicians to stop him at all costs he won the nomination handily.

Then, the general election campaign began, and Trump stumbled.  He failed to adjust his tactics.  What had worked in the primaries did not in the general election campaign.   Despite the fact that according to the polls over 75% of the voters believe the country is going in the wrong direction, and he is running against an extremely unpopular candidate, he is behind in the polls and running out of time.

In my opinion, his candidacy has been gravely wounded primarily by:

  1.  His mouth.  When attacked, he cannot resist firing back.  From the beginning, the Dems have unleashed vicious personal attacks against him, focusing on his supposed “unsuitability” to be president.  Many, if not most of them, have been exaggerated, if not false.  Such is the nature of political campaigns.  The Dems know they cannot win on the real issues (see above), so they continue to attack him personally hoping for a negative reaction.   Rather than focusing on the issues Trump has fallen into the trap of wasting time and energy defending himself.
  2. Failure to disclose his taxes.  In my opinion, he should have “bit the bullet” and released them.  I said so in a recent blog.  Given his team of tax advisors it is inconceivable to me that they contain any “smoking guns.”  So, he used the tax code to minimize his tax liability.  So what?  Doesn’t everybody?  What moron willingly pays more than he has to?  This is a bogus issue, especially when compared to the real issues.
  3. The Access Hollywood tape and allegations of sexual abuse by various females.  There is no excuse for the language on the tape, no acceptable defense.  That said, Trump, having apologized, should have just moved on.  Stop talking about it.  Stop talking about Bill Clinton’s transgressions.  Everybody knows what he did.  At this point, few people care.  Regarding the allegations, they are just that.  No one ever filed a complaint.  No legal action was taken.  Who knows what is true, and what is false.  Also, some of them were 20 years ago.  What’s next, a story that he bullied a little girl when he was six?

CONCLUSION

The demographics of the country are such that any GOP presidential candidate would face an uphill battle.  The problem is not so much the popular vote, but the electoral votes.   Most polls agree that in order to win the required 270 electoral votes Trump probably would have to win virtually all of the so-called “battleground” states, most notably Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and some of the western states like Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.  According to most polls he is either behind or even in all of them.

I believe that his last chance to win will likely be in the last debate tomorrow.  It will be his last chance to speak before a national audience.  He must “win” it convincingly, but moreover, he must somehow take advantage of it to reduce his 20 point deficit among women voters.   Otherwise, Clinton will win and, perhaps, in a landslide.  If so, look out.

 

HUNTER’S MOON

If you thought that last night’s full moon appeared to be larger than usual, you’re right.  It so happens that all full moons are not created equal.  October’s full moon, aka “Hunter’s Moon,” is the largest full moon of the year.  There are very technical scientific reasons for this, but the short answer is that the moon is now at the perigee of its orbit around earth, i.e. position closest to earth.  Therefore, this month’s full moon, the Hunter’s Moon, is also known as a “supermoon.”

Full moons occur when the earth is located completely between the sun and the moon, and, thus, the moon is fully illuminated by the sun.  In popular lore, full moons are often associated with maladies such as insomnia, insanity and other odd behavior (hence, the terms “lunatic” and “lunacy”).  However, most psychologists debunk any correlation, although, as most of us know, full moons do affect the tides.

Full moons have actual names, which date back thousands of years.  Most every culture had its own set of names, but the ones in most common usage in the US are those of the Algonquin Indians, which inhabited much of present-day New England.  Native Americans used full moons to keep track of the seasons, and the names reflect the characteristics of the particular month in which they fall.  For those of you interested in such trivia, the names are as follows:

January – Wolf Moon, February – Snow Moon, March – Worm Moon, April – Pink Moon, May – Flower Moon, June – Strawberry Moon, July – Buck Moon, August – Sturgeon Moon, September – Harvest Moon, October – Hunter’s Moon, November – Beaver Moon, December – Cold Moon.

In addition, most of you have heard the name “blue moon,” as in the expression “once in a blue moon.”  Basically, a blue moon is an extra full moon.  Most seasons have three full moons, one per calendar month.  But, since a lunar cycle is only 29 days, on rare occasions a month will have two full moons.  This supernumerary full moon is known as a blue moon.  The name dates back to the 16th century, although in the US the term became popularized following its publication in the Farmers’ Almanac in the early 19th century.

There is some evidence that the period around a hunter’s moon is beneficial to hunting, particularly, deer hunting.   For example, the foliage and fields have been thinned out due to the harvest and paucity of leaves on the trees, thus enhancing animals’ visibility to hunters.  Secondly, the brightness of the hunter’s moon makes it easier to see prey.  Thirdly, the does tend to be in “heat” during full moons.  Therefore, bucks and does are more apt to congregate and be easier to find.  Finally, the bucks employ rubbing and scraping noises to attract does, which may tip off the hunters as to their location.  Realizing this, many hunters swear by hunting according to the moon’s cycle.

CONCLUSION

For all of you “skygazers” the “supermoon” will be visible for the next few nights, but it will peak tonight.  The moon will appear to be approximately 16% larger than the average full moon and 30% larger than the smallest.   Because of the proximity of the moon to earth (“just” 222,365 miles) it will be the largest full moon visible so far this century.

TRUMP’S TAXES

Memo to Donald Trump:  Hey shmendrik, the tax [non]issue is killing you.  I don’t care what your high-priced attorneys are advising you.  Release the d..n tax returns, already!  They can’t possibly be as bad as the public is speculating them to be.  It is very likely that the tax returns of someone as high profile as yourself with access to the best CPAs and tax lawyers does not have any irregularities.

Anyone who is not braindead knows that one is entitled to take every tax deduction the law allows so as to minimize his taxes.  Moreover, a public corporation is obligated to do so for the benefit of its shareholders.  No one pays more than they have to voluntarily.  Clinton knows this.  The Dems know this. The media knows this.  Most of the public knows this.  However, the Dems and their media surrogates will keep hammering you on this matter because they have no valid issues to exploit.  They are forced to dig up lies, half-truths, and exaggerations, and this is the latest example.  If some woman were to claim that you pulled her pigtails on the playground when you were six, they  would label you a bully and a misogynist.   Extricate yourself from this “rabbit hole,” and pivot to the real issues that voters care about.

In summary, if you want to be president release the returns in a spirit of full disclosure, and then insist that Clinton release her health records and foundation information, and that she and her aides testify truthfully and fully with respect to the missing emails and Benghazi.  Furthermore, do it before the next debate.  Time to play offense.

CONCLUSION

As I said, Clinton and the Dems are on very weak ground.  The latest Gallup poll has disclosed that 74% of voters think the country is heading in the wrong direction.   Who has been President of the country for the last eight years?  Obama.  Who was Secretary of State?  Clinton.  Who has stated she intends to continue Obama’s progressive agenda?  Clinton.

The same poll identified the three most disliked and mistrusted groups as politicians, congress and the government.  Clinton is a politician; she has been a member of congress; and she has been in government service since  the 1990s.  You are none of those.

Focus on the issues that people care about:  the economy, terrorism/border security, and immigration.  If someone asks you about anything else, pivot right to those issues.  Be a politician like your opponent.  Respond to a question without answering it.

10,000

I began writing this blog in 2012.  My wife convinced me to do it, because I was constantly griping about the economic and political state of the country and the way it was being governed.  She said something like:  “You like to write.  If you feel so strongly about current events, why don’t you start a blog?  Also, it will keep your mind sharp.”  Well, like most of us, I almost always listen to my wife, so I did it.

You may recall that at the time, much of the electorate shared my dissatisfaction, and the 2012 presidential election was very contentious (although not as much as this one).  My original intention was to use the blog as a means of venting my frustrations.  I planned to focus on politics, but, along the way, I branched out into quizzes, history, humor, and eulogies of famous people.  Some of my favorite blogs have been eulogies about Ed Koch, Yogi Berra, Margaret Thatcher, and Muhammed Ali.

Many of you have commented on the blogs, which I appreciated even though we may have had a difference of opinion.  Some of the common comments have been 1) political disagreements, 2) the quizzes are too hard; and 3) on the plus side, that you have learned “stuff.”  I appreciate all your comments, whether positive or negative.

CONCLUSION

When I stared, I didn’t expect to attract many viewers, but this week I passed 10,000 views.  In addition, viewers located in 85 countries have read the blogs, and they are being published in The Times of Israel.

I am very grateful for your support.  I know some of you read the blogs because you agree with most of what I say, but others read them because they disagree and want to see what inane comments I may have made.  No matter.  As the late Dick Young (popular, but controversial sports columnist) once said, and I paraphrase to clean it up:  My goal is to entertain, and it doesn’t matter to me whether you agree or disagree with me as long as you read it.

Hopefully there will be many more blogs coming, and you will enjoy them.

 

 

HOW’RE YOU DOIN?

The current presidential campaign has been characterized by more intensive vitriol, half-truths and misdirection than any other in my lifetime.  Both candidates have very high “unfavorables,” the highest ever polled.  Clinton supporters view Trump as misogynistic,  racist, boorish and ignorant of the issues.  Trump supporters view Clinton as dishonest, a political clone of Obama’s, question her judgement and feel she is hiding serious health issues.  Also, they question the objectivity of most of the media.  Every little thing the two candidates say and do is twisted by the opposition to support the above preconceptions.  Many voters view this election as a “Hobson’s choice.”  Some are so dissatisfied that they have insisted they will “sit out” the election rather than vote for one or the other candidate.

In the 1980 presidential campaign Ronald Reagan famously asked the voters “are you better off today than you were four years ago?”  Some people sniggered, but it was a brilliant question.  It forced people to look past the campaign rhetoric into their own lives objectively.  For those of us who remember the disastrous 1970s under Jimmy Carter – double digit interest rates, runaway inflation, gas lines and Iran holding Americans hostage – the answer was obvious, and it virtually sealed the election for Reagan.

Well, this year I would like to ask you a similar question.  How’re you doin?  Are you satisfied with your job?  Do you even have a job?  Were you “encouraged” by your last employer to “retire” early?   If so, were you able to find meaningful, satisfying, challenging work, or any work at all?  How’s the quality of your healthcare since the advent of “Obamacare?”  Is it overly expensive; are the coverages adequate?  Can you afford to fill your prescriptions at the local pharmacy?  If you’re a recent college graduate have you been able to find a job in your field, or are you waiting on tables or working in a deli “temporarily” to make ends meet?  Hourly workers, have your hours been reduced.  How do your “real wages” stack up?  Have you received an increase recently?  Office workers, has your workload increased substantially, because your employer is loath to hire additional employees?  Are you a recent medical school graduate in your 30s who invested ten additional years of your life and racked up a mid-six figure student loan debt only to end up working for a relatively modest salary in an Urgent Care Clinic instead of in a lucrative private practice?  If you’re a recent law school graduate, have you actually found meaningful work as a lawyer?

If your answer to these questions is “no,” you are not alone.  Most likely, if I didn’t describe your situation, I did describe that of someone you know.  The latest Gallup poll reveals that 74% of Americans are dissatisfied with the “direction” in which the country is going.  That may be a vague, general characterization, but, to me, it denotes that people are frustrated, “pissed off,” and starving for a leader who will “fix” things.   They may not be able to identify specifically what should be done, but they know something should be done that is different from what has been done for the last eight years.

According to that same poll, the three biggest objects of their dissatisfaction are Congress, politicians, and the government as a whole.  They don’t like them, and don’t trust them.  They realize that those entities, through their actions or inactions, have failed to provide the climate for hardworking people to succeed.  Well, guess what.  Trump is neither of those, and Clinton is all of them.

CONCLUSION

Americans say they want change:  Clinton represents more of the same, a virtual third term for Obama.  So, I challenge Clinton supporters to look past the campaign rhetoric and media prejudices that are meant to obscure and mischaracterize the really important issues.  I think (hope) most of you are too smart to be deceived.  Please explain something to me.  Logic indicates that if Clinton is elected she will continue the progressive policies that have put us in the situation we are currently in.  Most of you say you are not happy with the current situation and want changes made.  Trump represents change.  Most of you may have reservations about some of the changes he espouses.  But, we have been trying things a certain way for eight years, and it’s not working.  What would be the harm in trying things another way?

And, I say to Republicans/conservatives/moderates who are thinking of staying home or voting for Clinton, because they hate and/or mistrust Trump, consider this:  if a Trump presidency fails we can vote him out after four years.  If Clinton wins she will likely be able to appoint up to five liberal Supreme Court justices.  FIVE.  That will put a huge liberal majority on the Court for the next 30 years.  Consider that.  If you think America is going in the wrong direction now…..