Friday, February 19, 2016

Fact Check: Not All Presidential Assassins Were Democrats

The other day on Facebook, a connection posted the below image which erroneously claims that most presidential assassins are democrats or socialists.  And since I made the decision to be less political on Facebook this year (Dumb. Dumb decision.), I used my blog to make my point: 

Needless to say, the very first line caught my attention (because I know a little something about that subject) and I immediately said out loud, "uh, no he wasn't".  So then I read the rest and realized how inaccurate the entire post is.  

This image is most likely spawn from that pillar of decency, Ann Coulter, who in an interview with CBS's Harry Smithsaid:
...every presidential assassin -- or attempted presidential assassin in the history of the nation has either been a liberal, a communist, an anarchist, someone on the left, or there were two who had no politics whatsoever unless you count John Hinckley, who is certifiably insane.
On the surface, it sounds like Coulter may have a point, after all, the most famous presidential assassin in recent memory, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a Communist, not a Socialist.  The image also forgets to mention Anarchist Leon Czolgosz, who was President William McKinley's assassin (how many people even know that guy's name?). But is Ann right when she says that every last assassin and attempted assassin was "a liberal, a communist, an anarchist", excluding John Hinckley, who gets off because he was insane?

So I decided to do some quick fact-checking, at least where the US Presidents are concerned to dispel the first 5 items in the list:  

1.  The first and most famous presidential assassin effectively makes Coulter wrong. John Wilkes Booth (Lincoln's assassin) was a Pro-confederate, very conservative Episcopal, who was a member of the "Know-Nothing Party", which was an extremist religious conservative group whose platform would be familiar with many conservatives and republicans today. Here is a brief sample of what the party stood for:

  • Severe limits on immigration, especially from Catholic countries 
  • Restricting political office to native-born Americans 
  • Mandating a wait of 21 years before an immigrant could gain citizenship 
  • Restricting public school teachers to Protestants 
  • Mandating daily Bible readings in public schools 
  • Restricting the sale of liquor 
To call Booth a liberal is not just absurd, there is no way anyone can support such a notion given the man's history. This one assassin alone, clearly the most famous in U.S. history, is enough to demolish Coulter's theory. 

2.  Charles J. Guiteau (James Garfield's assassin) described himself as a Theocrat and was member of a strange Christian cult called "The Oneida Community". He supported the Republican party, and President Grant's election, so technically, that makes him a conservative. He was arguably insane, and believed that God ordered him to assassinate Garfield for being ungrateful for Guiteau's work in helping Garfield get elected.

3.  Lee Harvey Oswald (John F. Kennedy's assassin) was definitely a Communist, not a Socialist (big difference). No doubt about it. He actually defected to the former Soviet Union, lived there for a while, and then came back to live in the US, where he became well known as a fierce supporter of Cuba

4.  There were two people who attempted to kill Gerald Ford.  The first, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme was certified Insane, a member of the bizarre Charles Manson's "family's" religious cult which preached an apocalyptic message. I don't know if that makes them automatically conservative, so we'll just put this in the "Insane" category. Anyone who has seen Charles Manson knows that he's insane. 

And also Sara Jane Moore attempted to assassinate Gerald Ford.  She was a Communist, or at least a leftist, as she stated that her reason for trying to assassinate Ford was mainly because of Nixon and his "war against the left". So I guess Coulter gets a point on this one.

5.  John Hinckley, Jr. (attempted assassin of Ronald Reagan) poses a serious problem. Though he was very much insane and Coulter said we could leave him out because of it.  But, Hinckley was actually well known to the Bush family! He supported George H. Bush's run for president against Reagan in 1980, and his brother Scott Hinckley is a close personal friend of Neal Bush!. He may have been insane, but the ties and the political background all suggest him being conservative. No wonder Coulter wanted to excuse him! He demolishes her idea, just like John Wilkes Booth does. 

Then there are a string of assassins and failed assassins whose names are largely unfamiliar to us because they either tried to assassinate presidents who are not well known to modern Americans or who were not as popular or notable as Lincoln or Kennedy. Their names are all recorded in history, and you can easily find out about them: 

Richard Lawrence (attempted assassin of Andrew Jackson) was a British immigrant who believed that he was the King of England. He blamed Andrew Jackson for allegedly witholding money from him that was owed, which would allow him to realize his place as the rightful heir to the throne of England. He was certifiably insane. 

Leon Czolgosz (William McKinley's assassin) was definitely an Anarchist. Well, here's another one point for Coulter! 

Giuseppe Zangara (attempted assassin of Franklin Roosevelt) was an Italian immigrant who suffered from a variety of painful illnesses. He believed that Roosevelt was responsible for his medical pain. So he goes in the "Insane" category. 

Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo (attempted assassins of Harry Truman) were Puerto Rican Nationalists. As political movements go, the Puerto Rican Nationalists were anti-communist, and their flag had a variation of a cross on it, so they don't fit into any of the molds that Coulter suggests (anarchists, communists, liberals). 

Arthur Bremer (attempted assassin of Richard Nixon) was definitely Insane and said that his attempted assassination of Nixon was supposed to impress a girl who dumped him.

Samuel Joseph Byck (attempted assassin of Richard Nixon) was insane, too. 

Another insane assassin was Frank Eugene Corder (attempted assassin of Bill Clinton), who smashed a stolen Cessna aircraft on the white house lawn in an attempt to kill Bill Clinton. He was a former Viet Nam vet, honorably discharged from the military, but was insane and suicidal. His assassination attempt on Clinton happened, ironically, on September 11th, 1994. 

Francisco Martin Duran (attempted assassin of Bill Clinton) was the gun nut who was pissed off at the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, so he took an SKS semi-automatic weapon to The White House and started rattling off shots from outside the fence. He was an avid listener of the conservative talk show host Chuck Baker.

So there you go.  The claims that all presidential assassins are liberals, communists, or anarchists, is complete dispelled with about 5 minutes of work (trust me, it took less than a minute to find all of the presidential assassins in a list), it's easily proven to be just another dumb, unfounded assertion.  We need to pay more attention to what we post and what we share on social media.  

Because when it's wrong, you look as awful as Ann Coulter.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My Great-Grandfather Was A Thug

Researching my family tree, as I periodically do, I recently became acquainted with a distant cousin (3rd Cousin, once removed, to be exact) who shared the little gem at right, lifted from the pages of The Somerset Herald, dated September 29, 1897.

After a bit more research, I learned that 21 year-old William Amos Troutman, along with his half-brother, Henry, 17, were arrested in Mt. Savage, MD, charged with carrying concealed weapons.  On their persons were two revolvers, three razors, two bicycles, and $45.  No report on why they were initially picked up or otherwise stopped by the police.

The men confessed to robbing Mr. Phineas Werner, a farmer from Somerset County, of $1,300 (today's equivalent of about $28,000, adding in inflation) which he left in a bureau drawer while "he was out picking berries". Werner could identify the money as some of it was in paper which he had saved from the war. The robbery occurred on August 6, 1897.  There's no more mention of Charles Bloom and no record of exactly how much money each man took in the take.

Now, one might wonder on what - in 1897 - two boys who could neither read nor write spend a lot of money.  They certainly didn't invest it, as Amos was fairly poor his entire life.  He was 21 at the time of the arrest and if he spent all 18 months of his sentence in the penitentiary, he would have been almost 23 by the time he got out in March 1899.  

I searched the 1900 Census and couldn't find him, so there's no telling where Amos was or what he was doing.  The next account of him is on the 1910 Census, which shows he was married to my Great-Grandmother, Cecelia Winebrenner, for two years.  The census states that they were living in a home at 67 Foundry Row in Mt Savage, MD, that was owned by Amos and was free of mortgage.  It's possible he saved the money for that, however, not probable.  

My guess is that Amos spent the money on the photograph below, including the shirt, tie, suit, shave and haircut to go along with it.  I had always wondered why an illiterate farm boy would need a professional photograph of himself.  But it seems clear that he now had the funds to do it.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Mary Ricker, My Great-Great-Grandmother

Over the last few years, I've introduced you to some of my ancestors.  Last year, you met Isaac Winebrenner, Sr., who had the interesting distinction of being my Dad's paternal and maternal Great-Great-Grandfather.

You also met William Amos Troutman, my paternal Great-Grandfather. William was the illegitimate son of Amos Troutman and Mary Ricker.  Both Amos and Mary came from farming families in very rural Somerset County, PA.  Mary was 18 years old when William was born in 1876; Amos was 20.  Amos is the descendant of Wilhem Trautmann from Reichelsheim, Germany.  It was this lineage that took me to Reichelsheim last October when Kevin and I visited Germany.  I'll talk more about Amos and his family later - today is about Mary.

Mary Ricker, c. 1860
Mary Anna Mahulda/Mahalie Rickard (the spelling of her last name would change over time) was born in 1858 on her maternal grandfather's farm in the Northampton Township in Somerset County.  Her mother, Muhulda Bittner, was not married at the time, but eventually did wed Mary's father, Jacob Rickard, who immigrated from Prussia most likely during Germany's first efforts at unification.  From that marriage, Mary would eventually gain 3 brothers and 1 sister.  By the 1870 Census, two of the brothers and the sister had been born.  The census does not list Muhulda living with Jacob, but its possible she was living elsewhere awaiting the birth of the third son.  Muhulda's younger sister, Catharine Bittner, was instead living in Jacob's house, listed as a "keeping house", along with Margaret Rickard, age 31, assumably a relative of Jacob's, perhaps a younger sister.  So we can assume that Mary's parents got married sometime before 1870.

The actual relationship between Mary and Amos is lost to history.  We can assume (also from the 1870 Census) that the Rickards and the Troutmans were neighbors, since their names appear as Properties #93 and #95 respectively.  Because of this, Mary and Amos undoubtedly knew each other all their lives.  It's unknown if they were ill-fated lovers or if William was born from a one-night stand.  But it was not an uncommon practice in those days to name an illegitimate child after its father, and that's what Mary did when William was born in 1876.

Interestingly, when Mary gave birth to Harvey Walter Deal three years later in 1879, again illegitimate, she did not name him after the father, allegedly a man named Saul Deal.  It's unclear if Mary was just unlucky in love or if she was just a little harlot.  But by the age of 21, she had two children by two different men.  A distant cousin of mine who was Mary's niece, says that Mary "was indeed a bit of a wild thing".  Mary's tune apparently changed over the years because when a niece living with her became pregnant at the age of 16, Mary threw her out of the house.

Mary would eventually be made an honest woman in 1884 by accepting James Wilson Baker's hand in marriage.  Baker was 4 years her junior, being 22 to Mary's 26 (you go, girl!).  Interesting that it took Mary to the age of 26 to get married, encroaching upon spinster age.  Perhaps it was her reputation, or perhaps Jacob kept a tight reign on her.  So Mary left her father's farm with her two boys, ages 8 and 5, and moved to the farm Baker owned.  Baker must have been quite the honorable fellow.

By the 1900 Census, we can surmise that Mary's father Jacob had died since Mary's mother Mahulda was living with the couple, as did two additional female borders. The census also states that of the three children to whom Mary gave birth, only 2 were still living (William and Harvey).  So there was another child, but we don't know if that was Baker's child or perhaps yet another illegitimate child from before their 1884 wedding.

By the 1910 Census, Mary and Baker were still living on the farm.  The census records that Mary still only lists two surviving children, so it's safe to assume that Mary and Baker never had biological children of their own that lived. However the 1920 Census lists a 6 year-old an adopted son named Irvin Garlitz living with them.  No additional information is available about him.

James Wilson Baker died in 1922 at the age of 59, and Mary died in 1931 at the age of 73.  They are buried together in White Oak Cemetery, the same cemetery as William.  The tombstone James and Mary once shared has since disappeared.

Friday, February 05, 2016

What Does Hallelujah Mean?

The first time I heard this song (many years ago) it touched me.  It's been covered by many artists.  Both the melody and the words are haunting and powerful - but the lyrics are confusing.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about this song is that it likely means something different to everyone who sings or hears it.  The words and lyrics have been added and deleted over time to fit certain situations, but this blog is about the original song.  I've struggled myself to understand the meaning behind Leonard Cohen's lyrics.  And here is an explanation or interpretation that makes the most sense to me:

The logic of the song is there can be many different hallelujah's; "hallelujah" can be expressed in many settings and different circumstances.  Cohen uses this theme to talk about the hardships of love.  There are many biblical references in the song (King David, Samson and Delilah). I will not go in to them, others have already explained these references in great detail.

There are many versions of this song. Even Cohen did not always sing the same verses.  I believe the version he performed during his 2008 tour (maybe still does) is the most logical (complete):

Verse 1: 
Now I've heard there was a secret chord 
That David played, and it pleased the Lord 
But you don't really care for music, do you? 
It goes like this the fourth, the fifth 
The minor fall, the major lift 
The baffled king composing Hallelujah 

David loves music, but his love does not. He does not understand this (is baffled) and tries to explain (the cords are matched by the actual song), thus composing the Hallelujah.  I believe this is about unmatched interests in a relationship.

Verse 2:
Your faith was strong but you needed proof 
You saw her bathing on the roof 
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you 
She tied you to a kitchen chair 
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair 
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah 

The man (David) falls in love, but the relationship is not a healthy one. It ends up with him submitting and losing his power (himself). It is a destructive relationship and the Hallelujah is one of despair.

Verse 3:
Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.  
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Maybe the most "black" verse, reflecting on the bitterness of love. When you hear a Hallelujah it's probably not because of joy (seeing the light), but because someone is hurting and the Hallelujah harkens back to a more positive and brighter time.

Verse 4:
Baby I have been here before 
I know this room, I've walked this floor 
I used to live alone before I knew you. 
I've seen your flag on the marble arch 
Love is not a victory march 
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah 

The relationship still exists, but it's hollow. It is like it was when he was alone. He has seen the glorious side of love (the flag on the marble arch), but the love is not lasting and his heart is broken, therefore the Hallelujah is cold and broken.

Verse 5:
There was a time you let me know 
What's really going on below 
But now you never show it to me, do you? 
And remember when I moved in you 
The holy dove was moving too 
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah 

He remembers when things were good, how their lovemaking made him feel like they were really together, and their Hallelujahs were those of joy and ecstasy.

Verse 6:
I did my best, it wasn't much 
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch 
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you 
And even though it all went wrong 
I'll stand before the Lord of Song 
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah 

The conclusion of the song: here Cohen turns from occasionally looking back to completely looking forward.  We try, but often fail in love. We start with the best intentions and though it can go wrong, we still need to try. In the end it is worth it. This Hallelujah is optimistic, because it shows that the hardships have not defeated David.

This last verse is not included in most covers, but for me the last verse makes the song complete. It takes it full circle, bringing back the biblical relationship between the subject and a (the) Lord. It also gives the song a hyperbolic ending, which I prefer.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Iowa Never Picks A Winner*

The first step in voter preference expression for the next President of the United States takes place today in Iowa starting at 7PM CST.

I still cannot understand why the Iowa Caucus is such a big deal.  Historically (*but with one exception) Iowa has rarely chosen the next U.S. President.  The only time since 1972 that the Iowa Caucus predetermined the next non-incumbent president was Barack Obama in 2008.  Let me remind you of who has won the Iowa Caucus over the last 40 years or so.

Note: Candidates in bold eventually won their party's nomination. Candidates also in italics subsequently won the general election.

Democrats - 


per Wikipedia
Not a stellar record, amiright?  Also, let's keep a few things in mind about the Iowa Caucus:
  1. Democratic caucus participants (though not Republicans, whose caucuses vote by secret ballot) must publicly state their opinion and vote, leading to natural problems such as peer pressure from neighbors and embarrassment over who one's preferred candidate might be. Participants are often required to listen to speeches from local political leaders.
  2. An Iowa caucus can last around two hours, preventing people who must work, who are sick, or who must take care of their children from casting their vote.  Plus, for this year a huge snowstorm is expected to whallop Iowa on caucus day.  Lots of people will stay home by choice and necessity.
  3. Each precinct's vote may be weighed differently due to its past voting record. Ties can be solved by picking a name out of a hat or a simple coin toss, leading to anger over the true democratic nature of these caucuses.  Additionally, the representation of the caucus has had a traditionally low turnout.  Others question the permanent feature of having caucuses in certain states, while perpetually ignoring the rest of the country.
Caucuses and primaries are children of the media, designed to whip us all into a frenzy in the guise of being interested Americans.  The only day that matters in this entire production will be in November 2016 when we all (hopefully, all) go out and exercise our rights as Americans to vote for the best person for the job.  Until then, I'm not really paying attention to what happens.