Friday, April 29, 2016

Encounter With a Cat-Hater

Understand that I've started up a club to promote my new breed of kitty-cats, which meets every Sunday noon in Kell Park, next to the Buckeye downtown library.  While waiting for interested cat-lovers to show up, I display three or four of my cats in a folding cage, set out cheap soft drinks and play cat-themed songs -- of which I have almost enough to make an album by now.

I hadn't realized that I, and especially my cats, had an enemy.

So I was sitting on the bench in Kell park, singing cat songs, when this woman came walking by.  She was middle-aged, with the kind of discreetly chic clothing and jewelry that whispers of money.  She gave me barely a glance, but she stopped to look at the cage with the three silver cats in it, frowned, and asked me what I was doing there.  I explained that this was a meeting of the Silverdust cat club, and I was waiting for the other members to show up.  She asked what sort of 'cat club' it was, and I explained further: that this is a new breed of cat, and I'm seeking out other cat-lovers to help develop the breed.

That set her off.  She launched into a tirade about how nobody should be breeding cats, we should be spaying and neutering them instead -- all of them, since cats are an "ecological disaster".  She claimed that "cats kill songbirds", that cats "kill billions of birds and mammals every year" and "have driven 35 species to extinction", and more, and more.  She was working herself up to a serious hysterical rant, and when she started arching her fingers -- with their inch-long red-painted nails -- into claws, I grew seriously afraid that she'd attack me or my kitties.  I didn't say anything, but I discreetly slid my hand down to my belt-purse and gripped my gun.  I don't know if she saw that or not, but she checked herself, gave me a poisonous smile and said "Think about all that," and turned and hurried away.

Well, that was upsetting enough to remember clearly.  After another hour with nobody else showing up, my husband helped me pack up and take everything home, and I went straight to my computer to do some research.  It turns out that there are a lot of people -- including, under their supposedly animal-loving exterior, the PETA people -- who believe all that vicious nonsense.  And nonsense it is, carefully crafted and spread by people who clearly hate cats -- including, if you please, some veterinarians!  Just why they hate cats I can't say, but their hatred is genuine enough to motivate them to some amazing lies.

For example, that one about "cats kill billions of birds and mammals":  depending on who you talk to, there are between 74 and 93 million cats in the US.  The vast majority of them (the 74 million figure) live in human households, where they get regular meals and have no need to hunt.  Cats, like humans, who hunt for sport don't kill very many prey.  As for stray/feral cats (probably the other estimated 20 million), they live around human settlements and mostly feed off what humans produce -- including large populations of rats and mice.  Now a billion is a thousand million, and there's no way that even 93 million cats could kill one billion -- let alone two or more -- birds and mammals.  The only way to get that figure is to add up, or estimate, the number of prey of every species of cat in the world:  not only house-cats but bobcats and lynxes, ocelots and margays, leopards and cheetahs, lions and tigers, jaguars and cougars, and a dozen species more. 

Then there's that one about "driven 35 species to extinction".  I couldn't find any solid proof of that statement, just claims of falling prey-animal populations with no proof that house-cats were the cause.  Also, some of those "species" turned out to be only sub-species -- breeds -- such as a local brown-footed variety of a usually white-footed mouse.  This is bad science.

As for the charge that "cats kill songbirds", that can be disproved just by observing birds.  Except for the raptors -- owls, hawks, eagles -- birds have eyes on the sides of their heads, so that they can see almost completely around them without moving their heads.  And they do move their heads!  It's very, very difficult to sneak up on a bird;  the only animals that seem to manage it consistently are snakes -- not any kind of mammal.  For another thing, 99% of all birds on Earth can fly.  In a split second, a bird can thrash its wings and be ten feet up in the air -- and I've never seen a cat that could jump higher than eight feet up.  Third, birds are fast.  Their metabolism and reaction time is faster than any other order of animals.  In fact, the fastest-moving animal on Earth is a bird -- the hummingbird, to be precise, which usually beats its wings twice a second.  A bird can easily fly faster than a cat can run -- or jump.  Now some people worry about cats climbing trees to get at nests and eat the eggs or baby birds, but consider that most birds raise their young as pairs -- one parent to tend the eggs or babies while the other hunts for food.  That means that the nest is always watched by at least one bird, who can quickly call the other for help if a predator approaches.  Two angry birds attacking one cat, who also has to worry about falling, is no contest.  The result is that cats very rarely manage to kill birds, and then only those too sick or injured to fly.  The chief predator of birds is other birds -- hawks, owls, eagles -- with snakes coming in second and mammals (all mammals) a distant third.

Now the chief prey of house-cats -- or other small cats in the wild -- is small rodents: mice, rats, voles, moles, gophers, ground squirrels, sometimes tree squirrels, and even small bats.  Snakes and raptor-birds also prey on rodents, and in the wild they keep the populations of rodents under control.  In the human-ruled part of the world though, the ratios are different.  Tree-squirrels may live in our suburbs and other rodents out in farming country, but in our cities the most common rodents by far are mice and rats.  Likewise, the closer you get to urban areas, the fewer the species of predators are.  In fact, the only serious predators of urban or suburban rodents are -- guess! -- small dogs and cats.  Get rid of the cats, and the small dogs (as the PETA people love to do), and it will be a race between the rats and the mice as to which species takes over the city first.  Once the rats or mice have moved in, it will take a lot of cats and small dogs -- and snakes, if you can get them -- several years to drive them out again.  Just ask the city of Apopka, Florida.

So there are not too many cats -- or dogs -- in the world.  There are too many rodents, and that is the doing of man -- and has been, for the last 10,000 years: ever since humans started farming, and provided rats and mice with a reliable smorgasbord.  The ancestors of house-cats, following the mice and rats, moved in with humans not long afterward.  We've had a good working relationship ever since. 

As I said, I don't know why the cat-haters hate cats -- Chinese legend says that such people were rats in a former life -- but they do us no favors with their lies and half-truths and attempts to get rid of cats. 

If that crazy woman comes back on Sunday, when I'll be out in Kell park with my guitar and my cats, I really don't know what I'll do -- but I know I won't let her harm my little creatures.  And I always wear my gun.

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Socialism, Shmocialism

Since Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign has brought the whole issue up again, we really should put this old squabble to rest.

The dictionary defines "socialism" as: "A theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of land, capital, etc., in the community as a whole."  When the idea began, back in the early 19th century, that really did mean "community": the local town or village;  by the turn of the century, Britain at least was studded with towns that boasted municipal water-systems, municipal garbage-collectors, municipal bus systems, municipal farmers' granges, and so on.  Often these community organizations -- like guilds and labor unions -- were entirely self-grown, with no government connection whatever.  'Twas the Russian Revolution which brought about the system of national socialism, with its concept of government-managed economy, and we've all seen how well that worked out.  Government-managed economies, like corporate-managed economies or aristocracy-managed economies, have reliably ended in disaster.

On the other paw, this doesn't mean that group-owned or group-managed property doesn't work.  In fact, there has never been a human society which didn't have both both group-owned and individually-owned, both "public" and "private" property.  Among even Stone-Age societies, the individual might own and control his/her own spears, club, baskets, furs, and so on, but the whole tribe owned the hunting territory.  In that sense, we've always been at least partially socialist.  It doesn't help to try to draw divisions according to "the means of production", because almost anything can become a "means of production";  a simple length of string can be made into a hunting-snare or a fishnet, and nowadays a single 3D printer can become a whole factory. And never mind how an individual -- or a group -- can create services.  No, group or individual ownership of property isn't the problem, and never has been.

What causes the trouble, and what created the very concept of "socialism" in the first place, is control of property, and the economy -- backed up by force.  Whenever one person (king, high priest, company boss) or even small group (aristocracy, priesthood, corporation) claims control over a whole industry, or economy, or all the productive land in a community -- and backs up that claim with an army (soldiers, cops, private guards, or whatever) -- the result is oppression under any name.

See how this worked out in modern history.  In the early 19th century the beginnings of modern industry, based on steam-power, made the existing urban middle-class amazingly rich.  This had two effects: 1) the landed aristocracy noticed, and despite its horreur of being "in trade" (and thereby possibly doing, yuck, physical labor) wanted to get in on the act;  2) the working-class and poor now had choices;  they could stay in the country and work on the aristocracy's farms, or they could move into the big cities and work for wages in the burgeoning factories -- it was just a question of which paid better.  The aristocracy, which used to make its money from tenant farmers on its land, began using that land for mines (particularly iron and coal) wherever possible, and for factories (and never mind how this spoiled the land for farming), both of which required increased labor, so that now the aristocracy was in competition with the middle-class for labor -- and that meant increasing pay.  The working-class and poor benefited from this situation, but neither the middle-class nor the aristocracy liked it.  The next major change was the invention of mechanized -- therefore more efficient -- farming methods.  This meant that the aristocracy could work the same land more efficiently, with much less labor.  That was a blessing for the upper two classes, because now the farming aristocracy could get rid of their ancient armies of tenant farmers with the Enclosure Acts -- dismissing the tenant-farmers and closing off the open lands which the peasants had used in common -- and those former peasants now had nowhere to go except into household "service" or to the mines and factories. With the stroke of a pen, the labor shortage was gone;  now there were more poor seeking jobs than there were jobs to accommodate them.  Wages plummeted accordingly, and don't even ask about working conditions.

Now there had been rebels against the excesses of the aristocracy clean back into Roman times, and the working-class and even the poor were aware of the medieval Diggers, and Ranters, and the legends of Robin Hood.  And, contrary to what the aristocracy liked to believe, the working-class were not stupid.  They knew very well that one power they had was numbers, and with it the threat of withholding their labor.  What they lacked in theory was supplied by sympathetic idealists from the middle-class.  There had been guilds and less permanent labor unions and strikes before, and the working-class began expanding on these.  Out of this stew of ideas and need grew the first concepts of socialism, particularly from the memories of those lost common lands and the observed power of the organized and unified working-class.  In that sense, it was the 19th-century British aristocracy who invented Socialism, or at least brought it on themselves.

In America the situation was a bit different, since there was abundant land -- and, thanks to Thomas Jefferson's Homesteading Act, it was available to anyone willing to work for it.  All through the first half of the 19th century, American lands were steadily filled with small ranchers, trappers, hunters, miners, and especially farmers -- plus small towns filled with small shopkeepers who catered to those small-holders.  An individual didn't need to unite with fellow-workers to survive, or succeed;  s/he did need to be minimally competent at his/her particular trade, and at his/her own maintenance and defense.  Besides, the Constitution guaranteed the individual a certain amount of political power without need to organize into guilds or unions.  Nonetheless, a certain amount of group effort was necessary for survival -- against natural disasters, bandits,  angry Indians or, increasingly, political raiders as the Civil War approached.  Besides, labor unions weren't unknown.  Printers, cabinet makers, carpenters and cordwainers were organized enough to go on strike in the 1790s, various unions along the east coast began uniting to demand a 10-hour (rather than 12-hour) work-day in the 1820s, and when the steam-powered factory system began growing in the 1830s the early unions began forming city-wide federations.  The National Labor Union, formed the year after the Civil War ended, managed to persuade Congress to give federal government workers an 8-hour day.  In this fashion, American Socialism developed from the concept of group action rather than common ownership.

Ironically, the concept of group ownership was developed in America primarily by the upper-class and the government, rather than the working-class.

Before the Revolution corporations had been allowed only by royal charter, and after the Constitution was ratified corporations were still distrusted -- because they were seen as playing with "other people's money" and suspected of trying to override states' rights.  Throughout the 19th century, especially after the Civil War, corporations gained more rights and powers until the federal government felt obliged to pass the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.  Various laws passed since then have not reduced the power of corporations, leading to the old labor-organizers' description of the American economy as "Socialism for the rich, and Free Enterprise for the poor".

The federal government began by claiming ownership (which various Indian tribes contested) to the land all across the continent to the west coast, and the surrounding waters, and throughout the 19th century it used the lands for military bases and otherwise to sell or grant to settlers.  In the 20th century the government did an about-face, keeping large tracts of the lands for parks, restricting the means by which citizens could buy or claim the non-park lands, and managing the lands' resources with varying policies.  By calling these commons "public lands" the government pushes the idea that all of the American people own the lands and the government only "manages" them for us.  The nature and quality of that management has come under considerable criticism in recent years, especially since the Bundy case.

Small and low-level group property experiments have cropped up repeatedly through American history -- business co-ops, church communes, trusts and partnerships of various sizes -- without annoying the neighbors, but in general the large-group property concept of Socialism has never been popular in the United States.

The concept of national Socialism, the idea that the federal government should regulate and control all aspects of the economy, is even less popular -- and has been ever since the end of the Revolution, when the assorted new states began arguing over the Constitution and the amount of control the federal government would have over the states.  Eventually this tension would lead to no less than the Civil War, whose scars haven't yet faded, more than a century later.  This is why socio-economic experiments -- like legalized marijuana, legal gambling, different forms of Welfare and public health-insurance -- are usually tried in individual states first.  Even those which succeed in becoming federal law remain subject to constant scrutiny, and may be repealed years or even decades later.

Altogether, the assorted components of Socialism have always had only limited popularity in the US.  As a unified system, it'll never catch on.  We can stop using it for a political scarecrow and deal with elements of its components rationally, one by one, as individual reform experiments, as they come up.

--Leslie <;)))><                   

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


I got word awhile back that my old college roommate Mary had died of a sudden heart attack, and since she’s now beyond any government’s reach, I can safely tell her story.  Understand that all this happened nearly 50 years ago, so the principals are all dead, or far beyond the statute of limitations, or living in another country.  I daresay the boat is now gone, too.

We were in college at the University of Michigan at the height of the Vietnam War, and the protests against it, working particularly to help boys escape the draft.  Yes, boys: in those days, legal age was 21 – but draft age was 18.  We got involved when our student newspaper did an expose on some professors who were in the habit of taking down the names of male students whose grades slipped to C or below, and sending them to the local draft board.  We connected with the draft-resistance people, and Mary got us into the definitely-illegal business of getting boys whose Number Had Come Up over the border into Canada.  Since I was taking Art classes, and using the techniques thereof to forge ID cards for the escapees, I had very little idea what Mary was up to…

…Right up until the Friday afternoon she dashed into our room and said: “You’ve got to help me.  There are four ‘packages’ I’ve got to ship tonight, and my usual buddy is in the hospital.”  Having a rough idea what that meant, I agreed to help.  I grabbed up four fresh IDs, we threw on our cold-weather clothes, ran down to the corner where a friend in a nondescript car picked us up, and took off.  The drive was long, and after awhile I realized that we were bypassing Detroit.

“Where are we going?” I finally asked.

“The lake shore,” said Mary.  “You don’t need to know exactly where.”

“I thought we were going to drive them across the Ambassador Bridge,” I gasped, knowing that was the quickest way from Detroit to the city of Windsor, Canada.

“We can’t do that anymore,” Mary explained.  “The cops have taken to searching the crossing cars and busses, on every bridge across the rivers.  We’re going straight across the lake.”

I gulped, knowing that the lake she meant was Lake Saint Clair, and this was autumn.

To pause for a brief geography lesson, Lake Saint Clair is the little lake connecting the St. Clair and Detroit rivers, which in turn connect Lake Huron and Lake Erie.  Detroit is at the southern end of the lake, where the Detroit River begins, with Windsor on the other side.  The lake is less than 30 miles across, but it’s still part of the most heavily trafficked waterway in the world.

“How?” I managed.

“Sailboat,” she said.  “A 20-foot sloop, very easy to steer.”

“Uhuh.  Why me?” I asked.  “I don’t know anything about sailboats.”

“You’re reliable,” Mary ticked off on her fingers, “You’re a strong swimmer, and you can at least paddle a canoe.  The Canadian Indians used to paddle canoes full of whiskey clear across Lake Superior during Prohibition.”

This didn’t reassure me. 

We pulled off the highway, drove through some very upscale neighborhoods, and down to the shore by a tree-lined road that could have been anywhere between Grosse Pointe Farms and Saint Clair Shores.  We stopped by a short wooden dock, with nothing else around but a few tree-flanked well-to-do houses, five people and a small sailboat, just at sunset.  Out on the broad water, I could see a distant ore-freighter, heading northeast. 

The wind was light but steady, flickering the furled sails on the trim little boat.  I knew nothing of sailboats, but I could tell that she looked…neat, is the best way to put it.  Her hull was painted dark green, her mast was of dark wood, and the lines I could see were slender and looked to be made of something other than common rope.

There was a gray-haired man walking about on the deck, frowning thoughtfully, tugging at the lines here and there.  He straightened up as he saw us get out of the car.  Mary walked down the dock, stepped onto the boat and started talking to him quietly.  The only words I heard him say were: “Bring her back in once piece, dammit.” 

I turned to the four other people on the dock – clearly the ‘packages’ – and began handing out the false ID cards.  The first of the lot was a stocky young man who was having trouble keeping tears out of his eyes.  The second was a skinny Black kid who looked as if a strong wind would blow him away.  The third was an even skinnier White boy who didn’t look a day older than 13, but had a new wedding ring on his finger.  The fourth, who wouldn’t let go of the third one’s hand, was a painfully young girl – also wearing a new wedding ring, and clearly pregnant.  I had to shuffle the IDs a bit to give her one with a gender-neutral name.  One didn’t ask escapees why they were willing to give up their citizenship to get away from the draft, but I could make some good guesses.

“These are school IDs,” I explained.  “Memorize them.  Hide all your other IDs, and put these in your wallets.  You’ll have to get better ID when you reach Canada, but these will do if anyone stops us during the crossing.  We’ll say we’re a bunch of students, taking the weekend off to go sailing.”

At that point Mary and the gray-haired man came up off the boat.  The man walked away, not looking back, but Mary came up and gave all of us life-jackets, and me a quick list of the parts of the boat and how to work them.  It soon became obvious that Mary was going to sit at the tiller, and I’d have the job of moving the sails around.  The others were to sit in the hold and keep still.  “It’s going to be a long night,” she said, as she moved the escapees into the hold, “Even with a good wind.”

“What wind have we got?” I asked, dutifully untying the boat from the dock as the last of the sun slid under the horizon.

“Due east, and due to pick up,” said Mary.  “Call it the draft-dodgers’ wind.”

With that, she gave me a paddle so I could sidle the boat away from the dock.  I was surprised at how easily that 20-foot boat could be moved with a single paddle.  Then came more orders on how to raise and set the sails, while she worked the tiller.  The work was complicated and laborious, but again, I was amazed at how responsive the little boat was.  Finally I took two small lamps and hung them out on the bow and stern, and we set out into the dark, running – as Mary said – before the wind.

The wind did indeed pick up.  The sails filled and grew difficult to manage.  Twice the boom-crutch got knocked into the water, and I had to fish it back by the line tied to it while Mary swore at the delay.  Except for the wind, I had no idea where we were headed.  Except for the dim and tiny light from the lamps, and intermittent gleams from the three-quarter moon, I couldn’t see a thing beyond the boat.  Mary warned us that we were drawing near the shipping channel, so I kept constant watch for any lights on the water that would have meant another boat;  some very big ships cruised these waters, and not just the Coast Guard.  I trusted that Mary was steering by her compass, and knew where we were. 

I did bother to ask what speed we were making, to which Mary gleefully replied “Almost 17 knots.”  Knowing how wide Lake Saint Clair is, I did a rough calculation as to how long the trip would take us, and felt a little more reassured.

That’s when we saw the ship lights.

There were a lot of them, and they were big.  There was one ship directly ahead of us, going northeast, another beyond that heading southwest, and a third coming right toward us from the north.  Mary swore fiercely and yelled at me to take the tiller, which I did, and she got up and ran to work the sails.  I hauled right and left as she ordered, and the boat turned fiercely.  This shoved the passengers around, and the girl began to wail.  Mary yelled for quiet, and got it, and tied the sails down. 

I saw then that she’d steered us out of sight of the oncoming ship, crossing the wake close behind the northeast-bound ship, and set to likewise pass behind the southwest-bound one.  The ship’s wake made the sailboat buck, bouncing the passengers around again.  The stocky boy announced that he was going to be sick, and I snapped at him, “Over the rail!”  The girl started crying again, though quietly, and her young husband murmured softly to her.  The Black kid tried to sing jauntily about “Round and round, and-a up and down” to keep his courage up, but he was off-key.  I heard the stocky boy retching, and hoped he’d thought to do it downwind.

Mary shushed them all, a little more gently this time, and explained.  The sailboat, she said, was all wood – not enough metal for radar or sonar to notice – and this had advantages and disadvantages.  The advantage, especially in the dark, was that nobody could see us and report what they’d seen to any government agency.  Likewise, the ship being without engines, nobody could hear us if we kept ourselves quiet.  The disadvantage was that, since nobody could see us, a ship could run right over us in the dark.  The little running lights were just enough to make us technically legal, so if anyone did see us they’d be unlikely to think twice about it.  They weren’t enough to give warning to any of the big ships, such as ore freighters.  We’d have to do all the ducking and dodging ourselves.  Fortunately, our boat was agile enough to manage it.  While the kids were thinking over the implications of that, Mary went back to the tiller and I moved up to the bow to watch for more lights.

There were more of them, all through the next hour.  Fortunately none of them were close enough to make us zig and zag so fiercely again, and the wind stayed reliably steady.  The only real problem we ran into was the passengers needing bathroom services, and we had only an empty coffee-can.

When the ship-lights thinned out, Mary checked her watch and guessed that we were approaching her landing-point on the Canadian shore (remember, this was long before GPS locators).  Now I looked for dim stationary lights, far apart, and eventually I saw them.  Mary traded places with me again and went to lower the sails.  Then followed a miserable hour of tacking back and forth along the shore, looking for a particular light.  “Look for a campfire,” Mary said, and we all looked, but saw nothing.  Eventually Mary decided we were too far north, so we turned and floated on the current for a couple miles – for which I was very grateful, since my arms were about to give up. 

Finally we saw the campfire, on a narrow stretch of pebbly beach.  We lowered the sails completely, broke out the paddles – and I recruited the stocky boy to help – and rowed toward the fire until the boat’s hull scraped on the pebbles.  A half-dozen people left the campfire and came running down to the water to secure the boat and help the escapees off onto land.  Our passengers needed the help;  they were all wobbly on their legs.

For that matter, so were we.  Mary secured the anchors, and broke out two sleeping-bags.  “Get some rest,” she said.  “We’re going to have to sail back again, remember.  It’ll be easier by daylight, but we don’t know what the wind will do.”

While I was gratefully spreading out my sleeping-bag, one of the receiving crew brought us a picnic basket full of sandwiches and thermos bottles of hot herb tea.  By the time we’d finished, the receiving crew had vanished -- after shoveling and raking away every sign that they’d ever been there.  We rolled up in our sleeping-bags and got to sleep before dawn.

By the time we woke, it was nearly noon and the wind had shifted;  now it was light and northwestward.  I was stiff with cramps, and I suspect Mary was too, but we crawled out of the sleeping-bags, hauled in the anchors, broke out the paddles again and pried the boat off the pebbles.  50 yards out, we put up the sails and started back toward Michigan.

It was a much slower cruise, going home.  There were more ships, large and small, but plenty of time to see and avoid them.  There were also many sailboats, much like ours.  Nobody paid us much attention, and we didn’t lose the boom-crutch even once. 

It took only an hour to find our original launch-site, which showed me that Mary had sailed this route before, but I didn’t ask.  The gray-haired man was waiting at the dock, eager to help tie up the boat and inspect it for damage, and very relieved to find no harm done except some scratches in the paint.  He and Mary went off for a brief talk while I sat down to wait for our ride back to school.  It occurred to me that I still had a whole day to study for Monday classes, and that seemed incredible.

In later years I told this story a few times, but I mislabeled our actual route.  That was really the only time I sailed with Mary on the draft-dodger wind, but I don’t doubt she made many other trips.  I eventually wrote a song about it, which disguised the details even further.  I’ve often wondered if the old Who song, “Wooden Ships”, wasn’t a vague reference to the liberation sailboat system, for I doubt if Mary was the only such sailor.

What I do know is that the war eventually ended without any government agency catching, or possibly even learning about, the little sailboats that all their diligence couldn’t see or hear.       

            And there is no such thing as outdated technology.
            Knowledge forgotten puts freedom in sight.
            We sail out unnoticed by radar and sonar,
            And take you to freedom tonight. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

An Open Letter to Glenn Beck

Dear Mr. Beck:

You and I couldn’t be further apart politically, but I’ve always respected you as a historian.  I’ve always enjoyed your tales of the obscure and remarkable corners of history, and what they imply for the modern age.  Therefore I was delighted to pick up your book, “Dreamers and Deceivers”, especially when I learned that it had a chapter – “The Muckraker” – about the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, which I know some odd things about.

First, my bona fides.  Back in the late 1970s, when I was an idealistic youngster – having supported the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-Vietnam War movement and the Feminist movement – I grew interested in the Radical Labor movement, moved to Chicago and joined the Industrial Workers of the World.  Yes, the Wobblies: they’re still alive, and growing today.  I became well acquainted with some of the great Old Timers:  Fred Thompson, the great Wobbly historian;  Ottalie Markholt, the investigative bookkeeper and organizer;  and the ancient Joe Vlad – who was there.  More about Joe later.  I also had access to the Wobbly headquarters’ library, which contained some surprising books.  I still have my old Wobbly membership number, X306686.  I worked for several years as an editor and cartoonist of the Wobbly newspaper, The Industrial Worker, and as a musician and songwriter for the union band, “The Dehorn Crew”.  Eventually I took an offer to move to California and work full-time as a writer and musician, but I always maintained my contacts with the old union.  That’s the main source of my information.

But anyway, on to your story.  Upon reading it, I was disappointed to see that you’d gotten your information from the usual sources, including the Socialist ones, with nothing from the Anarchist side of the story – and remember, Sacco and Vanzetti were Anarchists, not Socialists.  The divide between the two ideologies had already started with the Russian revolution.  It grew wider with the Kronstadt Revolt (which a lot of the Wobblies witnessed), wider still with Trotsky’s betrayal of Nestor Makhno, and eventually became an impassable gulf when the Communists betrayed the Republican alliance in the Spanish Civil War.  I find it hard to understand why political researchers still assume that the Socialists and Anarchists are always allied.  You really should have talked to the Wobblies.

Here’s what they could have told you.  In 1920 on the east coast, including Boston, the Italian wing of the labor movement was primarily Anarchist, and of an explosive temperament.  The only radicals more fiercely active were (and are) the Spanish;  in Spain they had bomb-throwing Liberals, if you please!  Now the Anarchists were divided on the subject of money;  there were those who claimed that the majority of money had been stolen from the working class and – since money was needed to further the revolution – it was only just to steal it back.  Then there were those who claimed that money itself should be abolished and replaced with a system of labor/barter chits, or IOUs.  Sacco and Vanzetti – and the Wobblies – fell into the second camp (largely because they had connections with farming co-ops out in the countryside that could barter food).  Still, there definitely were Italian Anarchists who were willing to commit armed robberies and throw bombs – though not that many of them.  A couple of them definitely could have committed the robbery at the Slater-Morrill shoe factory.  Then again, a gang of completely non-political robbers could have done the deed, leaving the Italian Anarchists to take the blame.  To this day, nobody knows who really did it.

Now, one thing the Anarchists were (understandably) short on was competent lawyers.  When the police decided that Sacco and Vanzetti, because of their prominence in the Boston Italian Anarchist movement, simply had to be the perpetrators, where were the defendants to get a lawyer?

Enter Frederick Moore, Socialist – and from a wealthy enough family to have gotten him through law school.  He had also worked for the railroad companies, before making enough money and contacts to establish his own office in Los Angeles.  There were also those who said he left the railroad’s employ because he was “quarrelsome” and “opinionated” and “wouldn’t get along with anybody”.  Not all of this could be blamed on his taste for cocaine.  In any case, sometime during his years in Los Angeles he became a Socialist – but of a peculiar sort. 

He was the sort of rich Socialist/Communist whom the Wobblies came to call a “Parlor Pink”.  That is, someone wealthy enough that s/he’ll never have to join with others to contest with a boss over wages – in fact, will never have to worry about income in their whole life – and who joins a radical political movement for purely psychological reasons.  Now there have been rich radical sympathizers who have done a lot of good – primarily because they were willing to listen to the people directly involved in the problems and conflicts, and don’t assume that their superior education automatically gives them superior minds and a superior right to steer the “peasants” in the right direction.  Then there’s the other sort, best typified today by characters like Bill Ayers, who assume that a revolution is coming and they should be the kingmakers, if not the kings, thereof.  Fred Moore was that sort.

He gained his contacts with the Radical Labor movement when an acquaintance of his, who happened to be a Wobbly, was arrested for making a pro-union speech (which was illegal then) in San Diego.  Moore, upon learning that there were hardly any lawyers willing to defend union organizers, saw an opportunity.  He didn’t manage to get his friend off on the charge, but got him a sentence much reduced from what the police wanted.  The word spread, via the Wobblies, and Moore became the lawyer for labor organizers to hire.  He didn’t make much money at it, because his clients were usually dirt-poor and their struggling unions couldn’t raise much from their entire memberships, but oh, did he become famous.  His clients, often recent immigrants who understood little or nothing about American law, would always follow his advice – which gave him a considerable sense of power.  He successfully defended Giovanitti and Ettor, scapegoats of the Lawrence strike, and Charles Krieger in the Tulsa Standard Oil frame-up, after which his fame went nation-wide.

It was at this stage that Moore learned about the Sacco/Vanzetti case, and agreed to defend the men.  It should have been a slam-dunk defense;  neither man had a criminal record, both had good alibis, and the witnesses to the shooting and robbery only got a brief look at the robbers from a second-floor window (at a time when no man with any self-respect went outdoors without a hat, usually a broad-brimmed fedora), and neither of them knew the defendants on sight.  Even the main witness, who had obviously been carefully coached by the police, admitted when asked about Sacco: “I wouldn’t say it was him, but he’s a dead image of him.”  Any good lawyer should have torn those witnesses’ statements to shreds in short order – say, with a lineup of other Italian men resembling Sacco – not to mention clearing Vanzetti easily.  There were witnesses who saw Vanzetti in Plymouth, selling fish, at the time of the robbery, and others who saw Sacco getting a professional photo taken of himself and his wife in Boston at the time.  The only retort the prosecution had was that all the witnesses were Italians, and therefore couldn’t be trusted.

Ah, but there was a witness to Sacco’s whereabouts that day who wasn’t Italian.  Remember Joe Vlad?  Joe was quite young when he came to America from Hungary in 1901, and he joined the Wobblies soon after they were founded in 1905.  He was living in Boston at the time, and often hung around at the Italian Social Club, which was a Wobbly/Anarchist watering-hole, because he liked the discussions and also preferred wine to beer.  He recalled clearly that he saw, and talked to, Nicola Sacco on that day in the Italian Social Club in Boston, and that Sacco had left to go get his photo taken with his wife less than ten minutes before the robbery took place – clean across the city, in Braintree.  No way in hell could Sacco have gotten to the robbery in time.

So Joe Vlad asked around, and looked up the address of the hotel where Moore was staying, and went to the courthouse, and tried everything he could think of to tell Moore his story and offer himself as a witness.  Well, Moore refused to see him, left orders not to admit him at the office, and used various schemes to keep him out of the courthouse – even unto getting Joe arrested, but then getting the charges dropped before Joe got to court so that there was no chance that Joe could hang out in the courthouse and run into anyone who would listen to him.  So Joe never got his chance to give his evidence to the jury.  Fifty years later, he was still telling the story.

So, why didn’t Moore want Joe Vlad’s testimony?  Why didn’t he use a simple lineup to show that the witnesses could easily have been mistaken?  Why didn’t he lean on the witnesses to reveal how the police had leaned on them?  Why did he sabotage his own case?

It was because he was a Parlor Pink, and he had an Agenda. 

As a Socialist, Moore had no love for Anarchists.  He saw them, as Stalin saw intellectuals, as “useful idiots”.  Likewise, he had no respect for Italian “peasants” who could barely speak English.  What he did want was to use them to expose class warfare, class prejudice, and the corruption of the legal system – particularly in Boston.  For that purpose he sent his assistant to Italy, supposedly to collect character witnesses, but really to publish inflammatory articles in the Italian radical papers.  For that purpose he alienated the judge, who was known to have sizable anti-Anarchist sympathies, instead of using legal methods to get the judge replaced.  For that purpose he needed “martyrs”, and a couple of Italian Anarchists fit the bill perfectly.  He never intended to get Sacco and Vanzetti acquitted;  he intended to use them as pawns in a political circus, which required keeping the trial going as long as possible.  It was a carefully orchestrated passion-play, and had to end in the martyrdom of his hapless pawns. 

How did telling Sinclair that his clients were guilty further his cause?  Most likely because that would keep Sinclair from investigating any further, possibly questioning witnesses to Sacco’s and Vanzetti’s alibis – and possibly running into the insistent Joe Vlad.

Joe Vlad died in 1982, at the age of 96, still sharp as a tack, still telling his tale of meeting Nicola Sacco at the Italian Social Club on that particular day in 1920. 

By then, the gap between the Socialists/Communists and the Anarchists was as wide as the ocean, thanks to betrayal after betrayal, and the Libertarian movement had started up, changing the traditional definitions of political left and right beyond repair.  The labor movement has risen and fallen, and is beginning to rise again with new allies.  And the Wobblies are still here, and growing. 

Still, Fred Moore does deserve to be remembered, along with his various imitators, as a fine example of why you cannot trust a Parlor Pink.  The False Flag tactic is alive and well, and needs to be watched for.


--Leslie <;)))><  Fish 
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