Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Thomas Jefferson and the lady's hand

Readers of this blog know that I am no great fan of Thomas Jefferson, and, while recognizing his contributions to this country, feel that his many faults are all too politely overlooked or explained away.

One of my favorite bits of Jefferson-lore I dub The Great Hand Scandal. Like so many things Jefferson did, it sounds right in theory, but not in actual practice. And, as always with Jefferson, there is a sneaky purpose beneath it all. You won’t find much, if anything, about this in Jefferson biographies, and it takes up space in this blog much to say, not for the last time, how silly we all are about the little things in life. Also, just in case there is a heaven, and Jefferson reads blogs, I can push his buttons.

First, a little backdrop. Back in 1803, Washington, D.C., was a very, very small town, populated mostly, as far as whites were concerned, by government men and their families. Being a brand new city created whole cloth out of field’s and wetlands, it had few conveniences of any kind that one might find in Boston, New York, or particularly, Philadelphia.

Still, as the president lived there (that would be TJ) and the diplomats of foreign states also resided there (although one in particular pretty much commuted from Philly) society dinners were still considered very important. TJ actually set a mean table for Washington, and often invited ten congressman or senators at a time to feast.

1803 was also a time of great stress between the world powers. France and England, only recently at peace, were already at it again (courtesy of Napoleon). Napoleon had just raised money for his war by selling what was then called Louisiana (covering quite a few of present States) causing us problems with Spain, which was still a power even if already under Napoleon’s thumb.

I’ll throw only three names at you. France was represented by Louis Pichon; Spain by Don Carlos Martinez Yrujo, one of my favorite Jeffersonian era characters, and England by a new representative of its government, Anthony Merry. Both Pichon and Yrujo had American wives and had lived here for some time. Merry’s wife, however, was very much a nineteenth century British woman, and we know what that means – propiety and class consciousness.

Truth be known, Yrujo, who had been in America for quite a while and had been fairly close with TJ, lived in Philly in order to enjoy the good things in life. He had for a while, though, become more than a little put out with American’s lack of formality and sense of class. The Louisiana sale had also occurred on his watch, and wrankled.

Yrujo was quite happy that Merry would be joining them as he hoped the British gentleman would be an ally in the war of diplomatic precedence. The two would be the only foreign representatives present who had full ministerial rank from their governments and thought they deserved special treatment, even in social courtesies. They would get that show of respect in almost any other country.

To TJ, the opposite was true. He had already, as part of his Democratic-Republican revolution decided that the president was merely a man (he wasn’t wrong about everything), and had made an effort to curb the pretensions that made him seem special, precisely the opposite of what had occurred under his predecessors, Washington and Adams. In truth, he would be more of a dictator than almost any other president. For now, he intended to use Merry to teach the British and the whole diplomatic class a lesson, and also to let British know that they did not have a special relationship with America compared to France.

One of the social innovations Jefferson started was that meals at the Executive Mansion were conducted pell mell, with everyone pretty much taking care of themselves in terms of seating and eating. Jefferson would appear in completely informal attire, including his famous backless slippers. This was a little hard for some foreign dignitaries to accept, used as they were to formality and rules of rank and precedence (i.e., seating should be done according to rank).

To this end, Jefferson and his cabinet (including Secretary of State and future president, James Madison), drew up a revolutionary code of etiquette for the foreign ministers and American cabinet as if in a Dr. Seuss story. This included a rule that all members of foreign ministries would be treated alike, regardless of rank, titles, etc. For Pichon, this was great as it would put him on equal footing with Yrujo and Merry. Yrujo, not surprisingly, was scandalized by such behavior.

When Merry appeared at the Executive Mansion to give his credentials, he was shocked to find TJ in his slippers. But that was nothing to what followed. First, unlike his predecessor, who only was required to call upon the Secretary of State, Merry had to call on all of the ministers. Irritating, but not fatal. Then, his diplomatic credentials were temporarily yanked, although that was due to an embarrassing indiscretion of Yrujo that I won’t digress with here.

Next, Jefferson did something quite provocative. He invited Merry to dinner and also invited Pichon. That might not seem strange, as they were both diplomats, but you have to remember that the two countries were at war. The rule was that diplomats of warring states would not be present together unless all of the foreign diplomats had to be present for something, and even then, pains were taken to keep them apart. It made sense. Diplomats shouldn’t be clinking glasses when their fellow citizens are shooting at each other.

Jefferson, who had been our minister in France for a number of years, was well aware of this. Yet Jefferson insisted Pichon show up for Merry’s welcome dinner. Pichon was delighted because he knew that Merry was going to be embarrassed under Jefferson’s new seating rules. He rushed back from a visit to Baltimore he was required to be at in order to attend the dinner with his wife.

It was great fun for Pichon and maybe Jefferson and Madison too. When time came for dinner, TJ took Dolly Madison’s hand and sat her on his right. Mrs. Yrujo, an American, took her customary seat on his left. As everyone started to seat themselves pell mell, Merry tried to seat himself next to Yrujo’s wife but was cut off by a congressman. Merry was shocked, at a dinner in his honor, that men of lesser rank than he were allowed closer to the head of the table.

Although this may seem petty to you, keep in mind that governments, including ours, still hold to very formal rules of protocol, and that at the time, all of the diplomats were either shocked or delighted by the situation. Merry also noted to his superior back in London his surprise at finding Britain’s enemy’s representative, Pichon, present to see his humiliation.

Dinners following that one, at the cabinet members’ homes seemed more formal, as these lesser ministers were more uncomfortable with the new rules. However, when it came Madison’s turn, he took it a step further, as one would expect from Jefferson’s loyal lieutenant. This time, Merry’s wife found herself without one of the gentleman to take her hand and lead her to dinner, so that – humiliation upon humiliation – her own husband had to take her hand and lead her in.

This was not without purpose. Merry, who was the choice of our government to represent Britain, had made known that he considered the Jefferson hand affair an insult to his country. Madison was showing him that the new rules weren’t going anywhere and that Britain’s representative had to lump them.

Merry fought back. Yrujo had found his partner. They made a pact that when they entertained the American cabinet at dinner, they would take their own wives hands (gasp) and ignore the American wives. Hah. That would show them.

Things got worse. The cabinet actually had a meeting about this little problem and decided from now on TJ would take the hand of the nearest women to him and that there would be no precedence at all. Thereafter, Merry refused several invitations from cabinet members. On New Year's Day, both Mrs. Merry and Mrs Yrujo refused to attend on the president, and Yrujo made sure that everyone knew his wife was feeling just peachy and not ill. The newspapers jumped in and Mrs. Merry and the cabinet wives were busy trading insults, and . . .

HOLD EVERYTHING . . . . (a Dick Tracy cartoon reference, for the uninitiated).

Things had gotten out of hand. Merry actually advised his boss back in London that unless ordered to do so, he and the missus would not be attending any dinner. This was a bit of a problem, as that was the way a foreign minister got anything accomplished. Yrujo joined him in the boycott.

Jefferson was furious and explained his position in a long letter to James Monroe (who was a diplomat himself and a future president) including these remarks:

“It has excited generally emotions of great contempt and indignation (in which the members of the legislature participate sensibly) that the agents of foreign nations should assume to dictate to us what shall be the laws of our society . . . . [Mrs. Merry] is a virago [a warlike woman], and in the short course of a few weeks has established a degree of dislike among all classes which one would have thought impossible in so short a time . . . If [Merry’s] wife perserveres she must eat her soup at home, and we shall endeavor to draw him into society as if she did not exist.” (brackets were mine; the parentheses, Jefferson’s).

At the same time as this was going on, Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Jerome came visiting with his stunning American wife, who was also the niece of a Senator and the Secretary of the Navy. Jefferson fell all over him, which, given the war, made Merry even more unhappy (actually, it also infuriated Bonaparte).

Eventually, Madison apologized to Merry, at least to the extent of saying that the new rules should have been explained to him when he arrived, but it was too late. Jefferson and Madison had made enemies of Yrujo and Merry.

Although it is hard to say, this matter probably influenced Yrujo and Merry to at least entertain Aaron Burr in his unfilled plans to decapitate the Western territories from the United States and was, more importantly, possibly the re-ignition of U.S. antagonism with Great Britain that resulted in the War of 1812.

Naturally, it is very difficult to say precisely what roll the Great Hand Scandal had in leading to these events. The events are related here mostly because it is amusing to see grown men and women caught up in who took whose hand and where they all sat at dinner. However, there is no doubt that it caused the administration’s contacts at the time, Yrujo and Merry, to despise them, and tempers and positions changed. In fact, Jefferson even changed out of his slippers to greet the envoy replacing Pichon.

Overall, not very diplomatic, TJ. But, then again, you are overrated.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fun with National Security Letters

If you think you have a strong constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, wait a few years. We do still have some rights. A police officer can’t knock on your door at random, and invite himself in to search for whatever he likes without a warrant, but many of the rules which were taken for granted are now easily overcome and are being slowly whittled away. The need for security against enemies foreign or domestic has become predominant over our individual needs for privacy.

There are many ways privacy rights usually coupled with the right not to be forced to testify against oneself, have been eviscerated. Here, the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) is on the table. That’s because, more so than even illegal wire taps, these NSLs represent the most pervasive form of violation of our dearly held privacy rights.

Let’s start with what the fourth amendment to the U.S. constitution actually states:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

This is not an invitation to anarchy and does not mean that the government is powerless to search people or places. Reasonable searches and seizures have always been legal (thank goodness). But the law also contains the requirement before searches and seizures are made, that a warrant, i.e., an official piece of paper which states exactly or where and what is to be searched for, must be obtained by the government.

The warrants are not supposed to be handed out like candy on Halloween, but must be based on an officer or agent’s sworn testimony stating where he gets his or her information and explaining why it’s credible.

If this is done correctly, it would generally make almost any search reasonable, unless its repugnant for some reason.

This isn’t intended to be a treatise on the fourth amendment, so there are lot’s of issues not covered here, such as what “unreasonable” or “probable cause” means, but you should also know that the decision of whether to issue a warrant has always been the province of the judicial department.

There have also always been exceptions to the need for a warrant of which most people would approve. For example, would anyone feel that a police officer who witnesses a felony should have to get a warrant before arresting the person?

The reason the judiciary is involved is because we don’t trust the government, which is doing the arresting or searching, to also make the decision whether it’s reasonable to do so or not. So we instead entrust that duty to a judge, an independent branch.

But . . .

NSL’s have turned all the above on its head. If you know about them already, you are, I hope, regardless of your political persuasion, outraged. If you haven’t heard about them, this might shock you a bit.

These “letters,” similar in nature to a subpoena, have actually been around for nearly 30 years, for use by the FBI. They were rarely used until 9/11 and originally were meant to be voluntarily complied with. Consent to a search was always a common sense exception to the fourth amendment rule anyway.

The letters were also a way to obtain information about people who were suspected of being an agent of a foreign power or involved in counter-intelligence.

When the Patriot Act was passed it further permitted the FBI and then the Department of Homeland Security to serve the letters on various entities to discover information about their clientele, who are American citizens, such as telephone information, library records, etc., supposedly for national security purposes

Here’s the kicker. Not only is the recipient of the letter, who is not even suspected of any crime, required to provide the information, but, under severe penalty, including imprisonment, the recipient was not allowed to tell ANYONE about receiving the letter, including their lawyer.

Unlike with a search warrant, there was no necessity of obtaining a judge to sign off on it.

What happened to the fourth amendment requirement that a warrant be gotten from an independent magistrate upon a sworn statement? Poof. Gone. National security trumps requirements of the Constitution.

Think it only happens to bad guys. It has recently come out that the FBI has served some 140-170,000 of these letters since 9-11, and now about between 40,000 to 60,000 a year. Supposedly only high FBI officials could issue them, but that has now been delegated to many lower level officers.

Of course, who wants to or can afford to fight the government? Not many people. But if you get one of these letters, you automatically become an unpaid spy for the FBI, and are required to spy on people who entrust them with their privacy. And you can’t tell anyone. Not the wife or husband, not your kids, rabbi, priest or imam.

Ironically, if a person was actually convicted of a crime and required, as part of his sentence, to spy on his clients, it would be deemed cruel and unusual punishment or certainly a violation of what’s known as due process.

Yet, somehow, it seems that it is now okay to do force innocent citizens who have done nothing wrong, and aren’t even suspected of a crime, to become the government’s agents. Apparently, we do still have a draft. It just comes in this very weird form.

Robert Mueller, the FBI’s director, has recently testified before a congressional committee that the FBI has done a poor job deciding when to use these letters and that there has been little oversight on their use. And he’s the guy in charge!

In other words, whatever trust was put in the good faith of the FBI and their integrity, was sadly misplace. Do these letters have any real value in fighting terrorism. Mueller did not acknowledge that. To the contrary, he believes that the letters are extremely helpful. Given the secrecy involved, this is hard to verify.

Constitutional or not, the FBI does not even follow the loose rules it already has. “Widespread and serious misuse” of the NSLs was reported by the inspector general’s office to congress. Out of 77 files they looked at, 22 showed illegal use of the letters. That’s more than one in every four files. Out of 170,000 letters, that’s, ummmm, carry the 1 . . . a lot of illegally used letters.

Mueller also said that they would try and fix the problem. Hah! Indications are that it is worse than believed.

There is very little the FBI officer needs to do in order to use of one these letters. Basically, fill out the letter and send an email to a superior officer who can legally authorize it. Yet in an emergency, the agent can fill out a letter by themselves and not bother right away with the authorization. Of course, it turns out that when the FBI did use these “emergency” letters, there was really no emergency. They just didn’t feel like getting authorization.

It is not that the inspector general’s office was even especially hard on the FBI. They found no intentional misuse, which is hard to understand. With respect to the emergency letters, they simply referred to it as “unthinking use of an improper form”. How come that doesn’t apply when you fill out your tax return wrong.

In a related matter, it was found that the FBI repeatedly submitted inaccurate information to the special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which handles warrants dealing with intelligence matters, undermining the government’s credibility according to the chief judge of that court.

None of any of the above is controversial. It is all admitted to by the FBI.

That’s why, even if you hate the ACLU (most likely meaning you lean right) there are some times you should be glad for their work, because this is the kind of case they take that almost no one else will. They did so in the case of some Connecticut librarians.

Depending on whom you believe, these librarians, after being served NSL’s, either first asked the FBI if they could consult their attorney and were told it was okay, or just told the FBI that they were going to do so and were not warned not to. Presumably, the FBI agents were used to people consulting their lawyers and then complying. These librarians called the ACLU and the use of the letter was challenged in federal court (Doe v. Ashcroft).

The librarians were shocked to learn from their counsel that the FBI was still using the letters and requiring people not to talk despite the fact that one lower federal court had already held the letters unconstitutional.

They were forced to take absurd measures even to talk to their attorneys, who advised them that to avoid government scrutiny they could not even call their offices in New York, but had to come see them there. The librarians were terrified when one of their names was accidentally not blacked out in court papers for anyone to see, or when one received a telephone call from a reporter who had learned his name, or when a newspaper later published their names, and so on. The fear was that they, who were not being investigated for doing anything wrong, would be arrested for obstructing justice for just talking about the letter, even though they had complied with the gag order in the subpoena.

When these litigants went to court they not only could not sit with their attorneys (is this getting ridiculous or what), they couldn’t even sit with each other, or even look at each other or their lawyers. Doesn’t sound like the home of the free, does it? Even serial killers and mass murderers are allowed to call and look at or talk to their lawyers, for crying out loud. These people didn’t even do anything except not want to be spies for the government.

One of the librarians involved tells a story of how his teenage son became upset when he answered the telephone and was advised by a reporter that his father was being investigated. It wasn’t true, of course, but the librarian wasn’t allowed to tell his son anything about it or explain to him what was going on. Imagine how that feels. And, again, this guy was just a librarian who wasn’t even accused of anything.

The lowest federal court which heard the librarian’s case decided the subpoenas were unconstitutional violating the 4th amendment and the 1st (freedom of speech). But just before the case was decided by the appeals court, the patriot was modified so that the permanent gag orders were not allowed except under very limited circumstances showing that it would endanger someone or cause a risk to national security. Challenges in court were now built in as was the right to consult a lawyer. This meant the issue became moot and there was no appellate court holding against the government that the gag order was unconstitutional. More congressional oversight has also been built in (for whatever that is worth).

Nevertheless, the government is still free to demand responses to these letters without asking a court’s permission. They are also free to gag a person from making it public if a government official certifies it is necessary, something again traditionally relegated to judicial oversight. In order to challenge this, a person has to have the knowledge, the financial ability, and the courage to challenge the government in court. It almost never happens.

There is obviously a need for the FBI to have great leeway in tracking terrorists. They also face tremendous burdens in fighting public corruption, terrorism, crime and gangs. The method by which they do their investigations cannot be so bureaucratically weighted down that they can’t do their jobs. However, permission to use these investigative tools without oversight by the judiciary naturally leads to sloppiness and abuse.

Security or liberty? Can we have both? The sound you hear is George Washington and Benjamin Franklin rolling over in their graves.

Tony Blair said recently that when the next bomb goes off, people cast aren’t to be asking what happened to their civil rights. They will ask -- why didn’t the government protect us? He’s probably right.

But compare that to the statement often attributed to and published by Benjamin Franklin (but probably not originally written by him): "Those who would give up ESSENTIAL LIBERTY to purchase a little TEMPORARY SAFETY, deserve neither LIBERTY nor SAFETY."

Perhaps Ole Ben would change his mind in these days of nuclear weapons. Admittedly, speculations like that are not real valuable.

Back in the 1940s an economics professor named F.A. Hayek wrote a little book called the Road to Serfdom. Vastly simplifying the central point —the road to totalitarianism comes not from some invasion by an evil force but by the citizenry learning year by year to let government control everything, until they are just totally used to being manipulated and following orders (p.s. sounds exciting but read a little before you buy this book – it is mostly about economics and dry as toast in August).

Neither Hayek (who complained that points in his book were often overstated) nor I suggest that the government cannot have coercive tools to maintain order or access to information about us to prevent crimes or protect us. They have to have and use these tools. But that is no excuse to end run the warrant requirement in the constitution.

And in a real emergency, the ticking bomb situation, exceptions already exist to the fourth amendment. But NSLs are far from a reasonable exception. They are an unreasonable exception designed to totally circumvent our constitutional rights. And, of course, they are just one more way that our rights have been subverted.

If you somehow missed the point of all this, I am pointing out that the supposed highest law, the Constitution, and particularly the bill of rights, does not really protect you anymore from an all powerful government. And we don’t care all that much.

Quite possibly, the road to serfdom will be lined with national security letters. Whether you care or not, is up to you.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A mountain man is an amazing man

A casual perusal at the history of the early 19th century might lead one to conclude that “The Pathfinder” John Charles Fremont, first explored the West and led to its settlement by his travels in the 1840s.

Yet in reading about Fremont it is realized quickly that despite his important trips and his books which help lead to the population of the West by Americans, he was merely a Johnny come lately. Many earlier pathfinders, not as famous as Fremont, had been treading paths, boating, exploring, setting traps, catching beaver, fighting, mixing with Indians and drinking what they could find, pretty much ever since Lewis and Clark came home in 1806.

Much of this invasion of the West by the mountain men or fur trappers took place in the 20s, but they so thoroughly depopulated the county of furs that they worked their own demise. Those of them who did not die in a fight with the Indians or a grizzly bear anyway.

One of these men was Edward Rose, who enjoys no reputation in the 21st century, unlike, say, Kit Carson, who was made famous by Fremont and dime novels, but came much later, and really wasn’t nearly as impressive. Rose’s name seems to keep popping up, no matter which mountain man you are researching, but somehow gained little fame outside the small circle of mountain men researchers. He was seemingly everywhere in the West, and almost impossibly durable and brave, beyond most of our reckoning of what brave means.

Rose, a black man or at least partially so, did not have a biographer publish his story in book form until 1967, during the heyday of the civil rights movement. The title alone almost makes it collectable. It is actually entitled “Edward Rose, Negro Trail Blazer”.  I am not sure how old the author, Harold Felton, was at the time it was published, but “negro” was long out and “black” well in by 1967. Since the biography is favorable, it’s hard to believe he meant it derogatorily. But information from Rose can be found in many other sources, mostly from mountain men who recorded their own stories, and old newspaper or magazine articles.

Rose in fact was in the mountains and plains of the West so early, that he served as a guide and taught many of the more famous mountain men who started their careers in the 1820s. For Rose, sometimes rumored to have been an escaped slave, went up the Missouri River in 1807, right after the Lewis and Clark expedition, and was one of only a few men who were not Indians in the West.

In that first year, he went with another early legend whom also deserves more recognition, Manuel Lisa, an early entrepreneur, in what was the first organized fur expedition. Keep in mind how early this was in our history - Thomas Jefferson was still president.

After a dangerous trip which they survived partially by frightening angry Indians with two small cannons they brought with them, they built Fort Lisa, or sometimes, Fort Manuel, on the Yellowstone and Bighorn rivers. It was there that Rose made a connection that would stay with him for all of his days. He began spending a great amount of time with the local Indian tribe, the Crows, an English corruption of the French Corruption of the tribe’s name for itself, Absaroka, meaning “sparrow hawk.”

Lisa and Rose had a falling out over Rose giving too many presents to the Indians and it led to a physical fight broken up by Potts, a Lewis and Clark expedition alumni. When Lisa got in a boat to leave, Rose ran to one of the cannons and fired a hail of bullets at the boat. Apparently, a tall man was walking past the canon at the time and the bullets passed between his legs causing him to leap in the air and inaccurately announce his own death. The story was not retold to an author until nearly two decades later, and sounds fishy, particularly as when Lisa saw Rose a few years later, he was overjoyed.

Two years later, after serving in another expedition that returned to his tribe a Mandan Indian chief, Big White, who had accompanied Lewis and Clark to Washington, Rose not only became a member of the Crow tribe, he became a chief, and was able to easily walk across the line between white men and Indians. It seems though, that despite his many years with the Crows, his loyalty, sometimes suspected, was with the whites. Undoubtedly, part of his usefulness to the white men was his facility with Indian languages. But that, along with his color, was probably enough to make some of them doubt him.

During his Crow years he obtained a number of names, including Cut Nose, for a scar, but also had a more virile one. This latter name came during after a fight with the Minnataree tribe, when a war party killed a Crow warrior. The Crow’s wife made it back to the camp with an arrow protruding from her robe, and Crow warriors went for revenge, oddly led by a black man named Ed Rose.

After a several hour chase, the Crows caught up with their prey. The Minnatarees were headed for a natural fort of trees and rocks when Rose caught up with one of the warriors. Grabbing his enemy’s horse’s mane, he threw them both to the ground and killed the warrior. When he could not get the warriors with him to storm the “fort,” he grabbed two shields, and with a knife and battle axe attacked himself. He slaughtered the stunned Minnatarees.

Of course, Rose himself may be the source of this story, and its authenticity may be doubted. However, many years later, when Lieutenant Reuben Holmes, who first wrote down this tale, visited a Crow village with Rose, he saw him celebrated and addressed by his other Indian name -- Chee Ho Carte -- Five Scalps.

In 1811 a greenhorn named William Price Hunt led an expedition on behalf of the wealthy John Jacob Astor who hoped to be the second group to cross the continent and rendezvous in California (which was reachable by water) in the aptly named Astoria. Hunt had met up with the impressive Manuel Lisa, but was filled with fears and not happy with his three guides, none of whom had actually been into the Rockies. In fact, they were planning to desert.

At that point Rose appeared with some Crow. For whatever reason, Hunt was also fearful of Rose and upon being told that Rose was going to give them over to the offered him a large salary, some beaver traps and a horse. This makes little sense, If Rose was planning treachery, he would be much better off going through it and getting all of Hunt’s horses, equipments and guns. Besides, all of Rose’s actions throughout his life show that he preferred living with the Indians, but when push came to shove, sided with the white man. It is not farfetched to suggest that this was for sexual reasons. The sole black man, a slave, who had traveled with Lewis and Clark was greatly sought after by Indian woman who were mesmerized by his skin color.

During the march across the country, Rose again showed his courage and experience. Coming upon moccasin prints, Rose was able to identify them as of Crow make, indicating that they were nearby. Shortly thereafter two Indians on horseback appeared in the distance. While everyone else hung back, Rose mounted a horse to greet them in spite of the possibility of ambush. He turned out all right though, and returned to the group with the Crow. Soon they came upon a large group of Crows who swarmed out on horseback in a rush to welcome back Rose. Trade between the two groups was greatly beneficial to the Astorians.

Leaving Rose with the Crow, Hunt and company struggled onward but soon got lost and were almost sure to starve without a way to get over the mountains. Once again Rose appeared with some Crow and led them through the mountains.

At that point Rose dropped out of the white man’s records for a dozen years, which he spent mostly with the Crow, and some with a tribe known as the Arikaras. In 1823 he walked into the camp of William Ashley who was the partner with Andrew Henry, the first man to hire Rose.

Visiting an Arikara village, Ashley was appreciative of their friendliness. Rose warned him that there was trouble brewing, but Ashley wouldn’t listen. Rose advised him to spend the night on the other side of the river and his advice was again rejected. The men slept on a sand bar with the horses.

The next morning the Arikara attacked. They called for Rose to come to their side but he refused. Men were leaping into the water to try to swim to safety as the boatmen refused to come close enough to pick them up. Finally, two boats made it to shore. Rose and many others refused to leave, preferring to fight it out. Many were killed, as were the horses.

Two men were left to cover the retreat for the others.  One was Rose and the other a fascinating former pirate named Hugh Glass, as tough as Rose. Finally Glass swam for the boats while Rose covered him. Only when everyone was clear did Rose swim for safety with rifle in hand, Indiana Jones’ style, with arrows and spears landing all around him.

Shortly thereafter, bolstered by other soldiers (who made Rose a nominal ensign) and trappers and some 500 Indians hostile to the Arikaras, the Ashley party returned and fought back. This time the Indians called for a parley. Only one man, rifle in hand and knife in his belt, went into the fort. Rose. He came back sometime later and said the Arikaras had completely surrendered. Actually, Rose warned Ashley and his men that they were planning an escape, and was right again.

Ashley wrote that he had heard bad things about Rose, but could find no fault with him. What was it that made men like Hunt and Rose fear or mistrust him? Perhaps his color, or his scarred face, his reportedly humorless demeanor, perhaps his facility with Indians and their languages. Difficult to say.

Rose then left with a group of men to trap and explore. This group included some of the most famous mountain men who ever lived, including Jedediah Smith, Hugh Glass, David Jackson (Jackson’s Hole), Tom Fitzpatrick, Jim Bridger, James Clyman (whose memoirs aid us in the story) and William Sublette. Nevertheless, they soon found themselves in trouble. They turned to Rose for help, and he set off alone to find the Crow and get it.

When everything looked black, Rose reappeared with aid. He saved the men and the merchandise. How many times can one man come to the rescue?

Two years later, 1825, Rose was hired on to guide soldiers to some Indian tribes in order that treaties be signed. Rose was successful in getting a number of tribes to cooperate. During this tour, Rose put on a show of his wilderness prowess when they came upon buffalo. Disguising himself as a bush, Rose crept forward and fired 5 times, taking down a buffalo each time. Finally they ran for it, but as they did, Rose brought down another on the run.

When it came time for the Crow to appear at the council, an altercation arose when they refused to let free two Iroquois prisoners. As tempers heated, an Indian chief was struck by a soldier with a gun. The Crow rose as one and a massacre seemed likely, the Crows having the foresight to spike the soldiers’ cannon. Rose stepped forward against his own adopted people, grabbed a musket, stepped on the pile of the rest of them and swung the barrel around his head, hitting a number of braves. Despite the overwhelming odds, it worked. The Crow backed down, perhaps cowed by one of their own chiefs, whom they trusted.

Years later a trapper named Zenas Leonard, destined to write a classic on his travels, wrote of a black man who lived with the Crow who could only be Rose. While visiting, the Crow found themselves under attack by their enemy, the Blackfeet, who were hold up in a makeshift fort. Although the Crow attacked, they could make no headway. On the verge of giving up, Rose stood up and chastised them for cowardness. He told them he would show them what a black man could do. He set off to attack the Blackfeet themselves. Not surprisingly, he was quickly followed and victory ensued.

A few years later, Rose was dead along with Hugh Glass, the man who had stood by his side battling the Arikaras. And it was the Arikaras who killed them, possibly by shooting a barrel of gun powder they were standing near. Everybody dies. Even heroes like Rose.

We sit in our houses with the doors locked and fear even our neighbors. Rose, and men like him braved weather, wild animals, angry Indians, starvation and the unknown all the time, outside, with no roads to walk upon or hotels to sleep in. Rose was undoubtedly one of the bravest, even recklessly so. It would be nice to think he made it to the happy hunting ground.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Bureaucracy anyone

Thank goodness we live in America and don’t need to carry our papers.

Recently, I had the misfortune to lose my wallet. My fault. Apparently, I left it on top of the car before we drove away.

No big deal, right? Cancel the credit cards, get a new license.


I went to buy a car for my kid. Everything goes smoothly until finance guy asks for a copy of my license. I don’t have it, but fortunately, I had already run to motor vehicle and gotten a temporary license until the one with the picture arrived in two weeks.

Everything OK, right?


New York State Department of Motor Vehicles will not accept a copy of my temporary ID in order for me to get title to a car.

Wait a minute. They have my license on file. It’s not like someone from DMV is present to compare my picture to the license when I get the car.

And wait another minute. They just issued me a temporary license without my showing any ID at all. What gives?

So, I go home. Many calls to the dealer. Copy of expired passport with picture OK?

DMV says no.

Ah, I have a copy of my license from 2004, with the old passport and the new temporary ID. Good enough, right?

DMV says no. A picture of my license is fine, but must be from 2005 up.

What? Exactly what is the point of that?

Aaaah. The goddess Bureaucracy must be served.

With all this proof in hand, there is no possible way that motor vehicle can now doubt that I am who I say I am.

Do they care? No. My items have not added up to the magical 6 points of proof they require despite the fact that any thinking being can see that the purpose of the point system has been satisfied.

Of course, you can say, well you lost your license.

I know. Sorry, it doesn’t mean that all rationality should go out the window,

So, today, I took hours out of my day and went to get my birth certificate. I presumed they would be as bureaucratic as the DMV, but it was shockingly painless. That is the sad part -- I was shocked.

It just seems like everything is hard these days and that computers have added on so many layers of rust.


My brother had to get a police report. He called several times to try and arrange it.

Finally, he went down to get it himself.

He was pointed to the person from whom he could get the report.

But he wasn’t allowed to approach her. He had to call her first.

So, he stood on one side of the room and called her on his cell. He watched her answer. She took his order.

He was then able to go get the report – by walking across the room.

I’m not making this up.


Another friend called to say that he wanted to loan someone money who was about to be foreclosed upon. If he didn’t lend him the money to pay the bank, the house would be sold at auction and he would lose everything.

The problem is, a new state law prevents the transaction unless the borrower gets 5 days to cancel.

There were only two days until closing.

Violation of the law is a crime.

So, if the bank refuses to wait, then the old fellow will lose his home, even though someone is willing to lend him the money.

The law is meant to help the homeowner. What was that line about the scariest words in the English language: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help”?


Anything to do about all of this? No. This is who we have become. Bureaucratic computer worshipping paper pushers.

People seem to hate it. Every day I hear (and make) several complaints about it. But no one really seems to want to change it. And as long as technology keeps progressing (and it will) these are our lives.

But it's still nuts. Probably always was.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .