Tuesday, June 30, 2009

This Post Is Not About Michael Jackson

After 10 days on the road, returning to civilization, let alone the Old Nine to Five, is a bit of a shock, but at least I didn't miss much.

On second thought . . .

Congress and President Obama were busily setting the table for the defeat of health-care reform.

Obama was accused yet again of being too audacious. And of not being audacious enough.

The bar code had a birthday.

Yet another coup leader trained at the U.S. military's infamous School of the Americas took over yet another Latin American country.

Could the military gains of the Surge in Iraq be for naught?

The WaPo's best political blogger and one of the best bloggers anywhere went bye-bye.

Chief Justice John Roberts is now totally in the bag.

The Senate voted unanimously to apologize for slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed.

The U.S. soccer team scored a huge upset and then reverted to form.

Bernie Madoff had to forfeit $170,799,000, depriving him of basically everything except his ass. And that was before he was sentenced to 150 years.

Census paranoia is back and better than ever.

The Philadelphia Phillies played some truly crapoid baseball but still are two and a half games ahead of the puh-thetic New York Mets.

Governor Mark Sanford still hasn't apologized to Appalachian Trail hikers.
Cartoons by Glenn McCoy, Clay Jones, Mike Lukovich
and Lalo Alcaraz

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

BREATHE IN
By CathS

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Dance Of The Dragonflies

(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN AUGUST 2006)
Dragonflies are among the world's most ancient creatures and have been performing the mid-summer mating dance that I have observed almost every year of my life for 300 million years. That’s more than 100 million years before dinosaurs appeared.

I can remember being fascinated by this dance as a youngster, although I didn't understand that it was all about making baby dragonflies.

My brother and I would trap lightning bugs in Mason jars to sell to the man at the agricultural research station. He paid us a dime a jar for his research into what made the bugs' tails glow, but I would never consider trapping dragonflies for any amount of money. Even then they occupied a special place in my world.

Perhaps it was because their dance reminded me of dog-fighting World War I flying machines, which captured my imagination at an early age, but I would like to think that the connection was more subtle.

I lived in Japan for a few years. The dragonfly is revered there and depicted on everything from pottery to textiles. I recall one particularly glorious afternoon when I observed their mating dance in the backwater of a stream in the foothills below Mount Fuji.
* * * * * *
After I returned to the States, I would take long walks up the dirt road next to a slow-flowing creek on hot mid-summer days, turn down a narrow footpath through high weeds and slip into the water. It was refreshingly cool four or five feet beneath the surface and I loved to feel the chill percolate up into my chest and then my head.

Dragonflies colonize around creeks and ponds, so it usually wasn't long before they were performing their dance around me. Sometimes they would alight on my forehead – even in mating tandems -- if I sat perfectly still and thought yoga thoughts and breathed yoga breaths.

It was during this period that I first began reading about odonata, as this family of four winged, six legged insects is called.

I learned that the three species indigenous to my neck of the woods are members of the libellula genus. These include my companions over many a summer -- the bar-winged skimmer (Libellula axilena) like the mating pair in the photo, and the less common great blue skimmer (Libellula vibrans). There also is the apparently elusive Jane's meadowhawk (Sympetrum janeae), which is recognizable by its reddish body but has escaped my gaze.

I also learned that these species of dragonflies are short lived (7 to 10 weeks, although some species can live up to four years). They also are territorial.

The mating dance is initiated by the male showing his genitals, of which he is endowed with two sets. This display allows male and female to make sure that they are of the same species and therefore suitable mates. The male then bends his abdomen so that one set of genitals touches the other, which is a sure-fire turn-on for the female, who curls her abdomen forward to make contact with the secondary genitalia and receives the sperm.

As I have often observed, the ritual can vary.

Sometimes the male grabs the female by the head or thorax for a "quickie" without going through the dance. Other times the dance is long and elaborate, involving much diving and spinning, including mad charges in reverse, but in either event copulation takes less than a second.
Sometimes male and female remain in tandem for several minutes, as if to say, "Was it as good for you as it was for me?"

The females are acutely sensitive to pollution and will lay their eggs only if the water is clean. Other times they lay them on waterside plants. Sometimes the male acts as a lookout for the female as she lays the eggs he fertilized. In fact, scientists say that males are so committed to their mating partners that they can display signs of jealousy if other males try to nose in.

* * * * *
A few years later, I lived in an old house a short walk from the creek and two particularly lovely spots -- Ring Rock and the Burned Out Bridge.

Ring Rock (also known as the Rock That David Sat On) is a massive limestone remnant of the furthest extent of the last Ice Age that protrudes from the water at a 25 degree angle. It is so named because an iron ring had been pounded into the rock perhaps 200 years ago so that the locals could tether their wagons to it and lower them into the creek to be cleaned -- an early version of the car wash. I never learned who David was, but I would slide into the creek below the rock -- six or seven feet deep even in the mid-summer heat -- and watch the dragonflies dance.
Alas, the rock attracted hikers and the occasional swimmer, so I moved on to the Burned Out Bridge.

A pair of overgrown fieldstone foundations on either side of the creek are all that remain of this 19th century covered bridge, which is said to have been torched by a man in the early 1950s so that he and his son could fish undisturbed.
This is at a point just below where the west and middle branches of the creek converge, an area that is heavily silted and quite shallow. It took all of one summer and part of the next, but I methodically moved sand and piled rocks until I had fashioned a pool about four feet deep where I could resume my dragonfly encounters. My kids were too young to be of much help, but our big goofus of a black labrador retriever became pretty good at picking up rocks and dropping them onto the sides of our pool.

It was here that I began seriously expanding my horizons to other fauna as I would sit quietly at periscope depth.

There were rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus kykiss), restocked each spring for sport fishermen by the state fish and wildlife agency, and the occasional sunnie (Lepomis machrochirus), as well as some wee fishies that I was never able to identify. There were water-walking spiders (Dolomedes triton), black snakes (Elaphe obsoleta), a water moccasin (Ancistrodon piscivorus), which was a very rare sighting that far north of its southern habitat, and all sorts of toads and frogs, including little frogs called spring peepers (P
seudacris crucifer crucifer), so named because of the time of their arrival each year and their high-pitched trill. The black lab would slog into the marshy areas between the creek and woods and ingest mouthsful of them.

* * * * *
It is mid-summer again. It's been too hot to trek up to the creek, but I was sitting near a fountain in the quiet university town where I live.

I put down the book I was reading, took off my sunglasses and let the sun beat on my face. My mind drifted back to my childhood and the illustrations in a favorite picture book. The young hero is sick and has been put to bed by his mother where he imagines that the quilt spread out below him is a make-believe world with villages, roads and farm fields. Armies clash across this terrain and dog fighting aeroplanes bob, weave and loop overhead.

I grew drowsy and my mind drifted further when something drew me from my reverie and I opened my eyes.

It was dragonflies doing their dance over the fountain.

On The Road Again. Again.

Barring a big development, and that we can do without, blogging will be light and on autopilot through today as I come off of the road. Back to the real world beginning tomorrow.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Abraham Lincoln As A True Genius

The following in an excerpt from remarks that the preeminent American historian Shelby Foote made on C-SPAN's "Booknotes" in 1994. He is the author of The Civil War: A Narrative.

By SHELBY FOOTE
The first word that I have for Abraham Lincoln is genius. There's never been a man who functioned the way Lincoln did. He had never occupied anything resembling an executive position before he came [to Washington] to be president. He knew almost nothing about the office. He didn't know how it ran; he didn't know about departments like the Treasury and so forth. He had done a term in Congress, which familiarized him there. He was very active in politics. The Lincoln-Douglas debates show that the man knew a lot about government, but the actual executive part he learned on the job, and he was just a miracle at it. He was a true genius.

[Stephen A.] Douglas was an interesting man because he had a profound influence on history, if he didn't do but one thing -- he ran for office. UP until then, no man ran for the presidency of the United states. You couldn't say, "I want to be president of the United States" or "I should be president of the United States." Nobody would say a thing like that. It was too presumptuous. You sat back and other people said you should be president. Douglas said, "I want to be president. I should be president." Others talked about their theories, but Douglas was the first to campaign . . . It was unthinkable before Douglas for anyone to campaign.

I'll tell you one impact [the Lincoln-Douglas debates] had: They kept Douglas from becoming president of the United States. . . . During the debates, Lincoln posed a question to Douglas where if Douglas answered yes, he would win the [Senate] election; if he answered no, he would lose the presidential election two or so years later. He had Douglas hoisted on his petard there. Douglas gave the answer that won the senatorial election but would lose him the presidential election.

I usually don't like "what ifs," but if Douglas had been elected, it simply would have postponed the problem. There problem was there. Seward called it an "irrepressible conflict," and it would have been there while Douglas was president, or certainly after he left office. All these splits were going on: The Whigs had dissolved; there were issues that were so bitter between the abolitionists in New England and the fire-eaters in South Carolina and various other places in the South that I'm almost willing to believe that with all our genius for compromise, there still wasn't any way to settle this thing except by fighting. The most regretful thing is that the war went on for four years with an incredible savagery. That's the great shame. There was bound to be a fight, but for it to be the fight that it was with literally more than a million American casualties -- that need not have been. Something should have stopped it before that.

Any Deep South boy, and probably all Southern boys, have been familiar with the Civil War as a sort of thing in their conscience. I honestly believe that it's in all of our subconsciouses. . . . Slavery is a huge stain on us. We all carry it. I carry it deep in my bones, the consequences of slavery. But emancipation comes pretty close to being as heavy a sin. They told, what is it, seven million people, "You are now free. Hit the road," and there was a Freedman's Bureau, which was a sort of joke. There were people down South exploiting former slaves [after the war]. Three-quarters of them couldn't read or write, had no job, no hope of a job, and they drifted back into this peonage system under sharecropping, which was about all they could do.

To this day, we [as a nation] are paying, and [African Americans] are paying for this
kind of treatment. I don't mean there should have been a gradual emancipation. I mean there should have been true preparation to get these people ready for living. [Emancipated slaves] . . . should have been free all along, but they were not prepared for living in the world. They had been living under conditions of slavery, which kept them from living in the world.

When I was a grade school boy in Mississippi, I knew obscene doggerel about Abraham Lincoln, left over from my parents and grandparents. Yankees were despised. When one of them was so unfortunate as to move to Greenville, Mississippi, he was despised. All that has stopped. A great compromise [exists on how to view Lincoln and the Civil War.] I wish my black friends could [accept it.] . . .

In looking back at the Civil War, there has been a great compromise. It consists of Southerners admitting freely that it's probably best that the Union wasn't divided, and the North admitting rather freely that the South fought bravely for a cause in which it believed. That is a great compromises, but we live with that, and it works for us. We are now able to look at the war with some coolness, which we couldn't do before now. I very much doubt whether a history book such as mine could have been written much before one hundred years had elapsed. It took all that time for things to cool down.

'This Is Essentially A People's Contest'

24th of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
Even touchier was [Lincoln's] decision [in 1861] to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, an action that touched on the power both of the legislative and the judicial branches of government. In neither law nor precedent was it clear where the authority for such suspension lay. The constitutional provision concerning suspension appeared in Article I, detailing the powers of Congress, but whether the Philadelphia convention had placed it there to identify it as purely legisative function or for stylistic reasons because it did not fit elsewhere was unclear and subsequently became a matter of great controversy in the Congress and among legal experts.

Belief that only Congress had the right to suspend the writ was the basis for Chief Justice Taney's fulminations against the President in his Merryman ruling. Lincoln made no reply at the time, but in his message to Congress the President pointed out that the Constitution was silent as to who was to exercise the power of suspending the writ and claimed that in a dangerous emergency when the Congress was not in session the Chief Executive was obliged to act. "It was not believed that any law was violated," he added. Then he went on to suggest that "such extreme tenderness of the citizen's liberty" as Taney (photo, below right) had shown could lead to the danger of allowing "all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated."

The next year would see greater infringements on individual liberties than in any other period in American history. Repeatedly the writ of habeas corpus was suspended in localities where secession seemed dangerous, and on September 24, 1862, and again on September 15, 1863, Lincoln suspended the privilege of the writ throughout the country. Initially control of the arbitrary arrests of civilians was given to the Secretary of State, and by best count, 864 persons were imprisoned and held without trial in the first nine months of the war. After February 1862, when such arrests became the province of the Secretary of War, the number of cases greatly increased. Most of the persons so arrested were spies, smugglers, blockade-runners, carriers of contraband goods, and foreign nationals; only a few were truly political prisoners, jailed for expressing their beliefs. It was nevertheless clear from Lincoln's first message to Congress that devotion to civil liberties was not the primary concern of the administration.

In his July 1961 message Lincoln palliated such transgressions of constitutional niceties because of the importance of the struggle in which the country was engaged. At issue in the contest was more than the fate of the United States. Anticipating a phrase he would use two years later in the Gettysburg Address, he suggested, "It presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy -- a government of the people, by the same people -- can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes." More, even, than that, it was a struggle for the rights of man. "This," he told Congress, "is essentially a People's contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government," whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men -- to lift artificial weights from all shoulders -- to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all -- to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life."

An Index To Abraham Lincoln Posts

Abraham Lincoln was the greatest American president because none faced such enormous challenges, none grew more in office and none reinvented the United States to the extent that he did. All of that and the fact that 2009 is the bicentenary of his birth is reason enough to publish posts each Sunday on the great man.

Series highlights so far:
INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE (6/21) Historian Harold Holzer leads an intimate walk-through of the very different presidential mansion of Lincoln's time. LINK.

EVEN LINCOLN NEEDED A GOOD EDITOR (6/14) Guest blogger Michael Reynolds imagines how the Gettysburg Address might have turned out had the president had a good editor. LINK.

MOST HANDS-ON COMMANDER IN CHIEF (6/7) The outcome of the Civil War in all likelihood would have been different had Lincoln not cajoled, taken over for and in some cases dismissed the generals who lacked his vision and courage. LINK.

A SKIMPIER RESUME WOULD BE HARD TO FIND (5/31) David Herbert Donald, the recently deceased Lincoln biographer, writes that an inexperienced chief executive can cause the country immense heartbreak, but that with time and good common sense can grow into greatness. LINK.

NOW ALIEN TO THE REPUBLICAN PARTY (5/11) Pete Abel writes in a two-part guest blog that while there are a few common traits between Lincoln and today's GOP, the differences are far more substantial. PART 1, PART 2.

THE ASSASSINATION (4/22, 4/29, 5/4) It is rather amazing that so little is known about basic aspects of the assassination of John F. Kennedy while there is virtually no aspect of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln a century earlier that remains a mystery. PART 1, PART 2, PART 3.

THE STRANGE BUT TRUE STORY OF THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS
(4/5) It took fewer than three minutes to deliver the famous speech, but it was an afterthought on the day it was given and remained so into the next century.
LINK.

HOW VALID THE COMPARISONS? (3/29) With the nomination and election of Barack Obama, the comparisons to Abraham Lincoln have come fast, thick and furious. But do they hold up? LINK.

A PATENTLY CLEVER PRESIDENT (3/22) That Lincoln was the only president to get a U.S. patent is not surprising when you consider that he was an inveterate tinkerer and had a lifelong fascination with mechanical things. LINK.

A PRESIDENTIAL SCHOLAR ON LINCOLN (3/15) A wide-ranging interview with James Hilty on Lincoln's greatness, frailties and innate conservatism. LINK.

A BUMPY RIDE TO HIS REWARD (3/8) There was a controversy over a photograph taken of Lincoln's open coffin, an attempt to steal his corpse and his body was exhumed an extraordinary 17 times. LINK.

WAS THE GREAT EMANCIPATOR GAY? (3/1) No revisionist history of a famous person would be complete without a book on whether they were gay, or if they were gay whether they were bisexual, or if they . . . LINK.

PRESIDENTIAL POWER GRABS (2/22) The infringements by Lincoln on civil liberties arguably were greater than during any period in American history, including the last eight years. LINK.

EARLY ASSASSINATION PLOT (2/15) A March 1861 assassination plot was never carried out, but Lincoln's response to it sullied a carefully cultivated image of dignified courage. LINK.

OH HE OF LITTLE FAITH
(2/8) Beyond Lincoln's opposition to slavery there was no aspect of him more controversial than his spiritual bona fides
. LINK.

THE BOHEMIAN BRIGADE COMES THROUGH (2/1) Modern journalism can trace its roots to the Civil War, which because of the telegraph and steam locomotive was the first instant-news war, something of which Lincoln was very much aware. LINK.

LINCOLN ON BLACKS & SLAVERY
(1/25) His metamorphosis from a frontiersman who always opposed slavery but like most white Americans felt that blacks were unequal into the Great Emancipator was as complex as the man himself. LINK.

LINCOLN'S CAUTION (1/18) Guest blogger Robert Stein writes that Barack Obama can learn much from the 16th president, who perhaps even more than wisdom and moral strength needed a highly developed political sense of the possible. LINK.

THE FIRST TECHNOLOGY PRESIDENT (1/11) Arriving in Washington at the dawn of the age of the telegraph, Lincoln embraced this new technology of instantaneous communication with a passion and used it not just to communicate with his generals in the field during the Civil War, but to bend them to his will. LINK.

LINCOLN LINCOLN BO BINCOLN (1/4) A substantial Lincoln mythology had taken hold in the American imagination even before his assassination in 1865. This canon of broad brush strokes and tall tales gave Lincoln his historic due but overlooked or willfully ignored the myriad complexities of our greatest president. LINK.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Just Watchin' The River Flow

(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN APRIL 2007)
The Delaware River is the largest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi.

Some 15 million people rely on the Delaware, and most of New York City and all of Philadelphia use it for drinking water. Additionally, millions use it for recreation; 5 million people alone visit the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area each year. Then there are the fish, birds and other wildlife who live in the river and along it.

But very fact that the river is free-flowing -- which is to say that it is not dammed at any point from its upstate New York headwaters until it empties into Delaware Bay -- has caused substantial destruction in the residential communities along the river in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania after each of the three major floods since 2004.

Enough is enough, say these residents, who are begging the Delaware River Basin Commission for relief. That would be in the form of a plan to manage discharges from three reservoirs upriver from flood-prone areas.

Trouble is, these long-suffering residents have some pretty formidable competition: All of those people who drink the river's water, boat and fish on it and use its wildlife habitats, not to mention the wildlife itself.

The history of the Delaware River since Colonial times looms large in whether the contradictory interests of the residents and everyone and everything else can be balanced. That history – notably a decade-long war over an immense dam project that attained international notoriety -- is a cautionary tale.

* * * * *

There has been no greater disaster in the modern history of the Poconos than the battle over that project – the Army Corps of Engineers plan to dam the Delaware River at Tocks Island. Not even the deadly twin hurricanes of 1955 can compare.

Tocks Island would be a lightning rod for the nascent American environmental movement. It would destroy the careers of some politicians and bring success to others. It would be the cause of suicides, arsons and violence. It would expose deep tears in the social fabric of the Poconos, unleashing a deep bitterness against the Corps and the dam’s powerful, politically connected backers that seems just as intense today as it was three decades ago.

The idea of taming the Delaware had been a twinkle in the eye of entrepreneurs since before the Revolutionary War.

In the 1770s, the first made-made changes were made to the river when a channel was cut through the rapids at Trenton, New Jersey to facilitate passage of coal barges. It seemed inevitable that the river would be dammed, but in 1783 Pennsylvania and New Jersey bowed to pressure from powerful sawmill owners, whose barges needed an unobstructed river, and signed an anti-dam treaty that was to hold for 150 years.

The treaty was challenged repeatedly as the Industrial Revolution spread from England to the young republic and factories and mills sprang up downriver from the Poconos. In an 1852 decision that complicated the issue, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that textile mill owners could not raise interstate issues like damming a river that flowed through several states unless one of the states did so first. None did.

In 1890, New Jersey industrialist Charles C. Worthington bought 6,500 acres of land abutting the New Jersey side of the river above the Delaware Water Gap that included Sunfish Pond. That is where the Minsi Indians, who were among the first permanent Native American settlers of any consequence, had fished since they arrived 800 years ago, about the time the barons of the Runnymeade were demanding that King John sign the Magna Carta.

Not coincidental with Worthington's purchase, the New Jersey legislature soon enacted a law allowing companies to be formed for building hydropower dams. In 1913, a one such dam was proposed at Belvidere, New Jersey, 15 miles downriver from Delaware Water Gap, and in 1918 six dams were proposed as part of a massive Boston-to-Washington hydropower system. But the treaty still held.

New York City’s unquenchable thirst would break the deadlock.

In 1931, as the shadow of the Great Depression spread across the land, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. affirmed New York’s right to divert water from the Delaware based on the principle of equitable apportionment. In other words, each state in the river basin had a right to a fair share of water.

Three developments in the mid-1930s would frame future debate over the fate of the Delaware: The Army Corps of Engineers recommended that a dam be built at Tocks Island, the Tennessee Valley Authority was formed and an independent study concluded that the Tocks site was unsuitable.

* * * * *

Tocks Island is a negligible spit of sand covered with oak, sycamore and scrub brush that sits midstream about six miles above Delaware Water Gap just out of the sight of motorists crossing the Interstate 80 toll bridge that links Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Under the Corps’ plan, a reinforced concrete dam – by far the largest east of the Mississippi – would be built at the site, but the proposal was shelved because money to undertake such a huge project simply was not available during those lean times.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, a cornerstone of President Roosevelt’s New Deal activism, gave the Corps unprecedented authority to build dams and hydroelectric plants in four states. The TVA might have been a godsend in the rural South, but was viewed as a federal power grab by politicians in the Delaware River Basin. They were determined to not allow Washington to control what happened to their river.

Philadelphia’s water needs also were growing, and as the Depression receded the city expressed interest in reviving the Corps’ Tocks plan. But its own study of the site concluded that there were big problems that would preclude construction of a dam.

First was the violence that would be done to the surrounding area by a reservoir. The primary concern, however, was the impact on recreation; the study’s authors did not seem particularly exercised about the people whose homes and farms would be under water. Then there was the need for expensive filtration and chemical treatment plants because of the buildup of algae that would result from the reservoir, as well as questions as to whether the riverbed was stable enough to support a concrete dam. The Corps itself would express this very concern in a 1942 study that found that where there was thought to be bedrock beneath the river, there instead were reminders of the last Ice Age: an unstable mix of glacial till, drift and alluvial deposits.

Most significantly, the Philadelphia study debunked the notion that a dam would help control flooding. That was not quite true. The most severe flooding occurs on tributaries, where high waters breach the banks much more quickly than on the Delaware. Dam or not, tributaries and not the river itself are where the most damage occurs.

That was borne out in horrifying fashion in August 1955 when hurricanes Connie and Diane clobbered the region, dumping 20 inches of rain in less than a week. Some 78 people died in the Poconos, most of them from flood surges that turned babbling brooks into raging torrents. The flood wave on Brodhead Creek crested at 30 feet, destroying a church camp and sweeping 38 people to their deaths, most of them children huddled on the top floor of the main building.

* * * * *

Advocates of the Tocks dam saw an opening in the wake of the hurricanes and drove right through it. While the 1942 study had concluded that conditions under the river were unsatisfactory for a concrete dam, the Corps nevertheless dusted off its Tocks Island plan and now asserted the absence of bedrock could be dealt with by an earth and rock-fill dam with a decreased slope in order to spread its weight over a wider area.

The hurricanes also marked the end of resistance by the states to federal involvement. In 1959, support for the dam took a giant leap with creation of the Delaware River Basin Commission, comprised of the governors of the four states in the basin and a non-voting member from the federal government. The Corps would oversee construction and Washington would put up the money, although unlike the TVA, the states would have substantial control.

In 1962, Congress authorized the appropriation of $122 million to build a huge earth and rock-fill dam at Tocks, submerging the historic Minisink Valley and creating a 37-mile-long, 140-foot deep lake extending nearly to Port Jervis, New York. Surrounding this monstrosity would be a 72,000-acre, 80-square-mile park to be called Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. However, the first battle lines were drawn over little Sunfish Pond.

The surprising success of that effort would have unexpected repercussions for Tocks.

In 1965, Glenn Fisher, a brilliant and cantankerous U.S. Agriculture Department scientist whom I befriended years later, and Casey Kays, a New Jersey outdoorsman, independently began calling attention to the imminent destruction of Sunfish Pond and the lovely meadow around it, which was bisected by the Appalachian Trail.

The pond was atop a 708-acre parcel once owned by Worthington that a consortium of companies had bought with little public notice from the state of New Jersey for construction of a pumped-water storage system. Meanwhile, Nancy Shukaitis, whose family had lived in the Minisink since the 1790s, formed the first anti-Tocks organization as the Corps began buying up properties in the footprint of the reservoir.

* * * * *

The Army Corps of Engineers, created in 1799, has a long and checkered history as the custodian of America’s rivers, harbors and wetlands. As was the case with Tocks, it often has been an intermediary between powerful political and private interests. As was the case with Tocks, it manipulated its own engineering and economic analyses to suit its needs. As was the case with Tocks, its tactics could be brutal.

It was bad enough that the Corps offered only pennies on the dollar for properties in the footprint of the Tocks reservoir. It also strong-armed resistant landowners with threats to bring in bulldozers if they didn’t sell on the Corps’ terms.

Although it would be years before the dam would be built, beginning in 1967 and continuing for five years, a total of 206 families were forced out of their homes in three Pennsylvania and two New Jersey counties on both sides of the river. The plight of some of farmers -- left with fields to work but no farmhouses or barns – was particularly poignant. Two homeowners took their lives. Many others, including Shukaitis’ own father-in-law, Blanchard Michael, never recovered from the ordeal and went to early graves.

Michael’s forebears of had emigrated from England, arriving in the late 1780s during the last throes of the Minsi Indian rebellion against settlers. Michaels had farmed the valley for six generations when the Corps announced that it was appropriating their property.

“My father-in-law lived in the belief that the farm wouldn’t be taken,” Shukaitis told me. “I never understood how deeply he felt until he testified in federal court.” Asked what the loss of his farm meant to him by a lawyer for the anti-dam coalition, the proud man bust into tears and wept inconsolably before finally summoning a response.

“I can’t pass it on to my sons,” he said simply.

Michael, like his father before him, was diabetic, and the stress of the pending eviction took its toll. He lost one toe and then a second and third, and finally a leg. No longer able to walk behind his plow team, he faded rapidly and died in 1969. Shukaitis and her husband were evicted the following year.

As the evictions accelerated, the Corps added insult to injury, placing “Houses for Rent” ads in the Village Voice and other New York City newspapers. Under pressure to cut costs, it calculated that revenue could be generated by renting out now-vacant properties until the dam was completed and the reservoir began filling up.

It calculated wrong. The ads were answered by flower children, artists, wannabe farmers and back-to-nature freaks. This ragtag band preferred to be called “river people,” but many were squatters pure and simple who saw an opportunity to freeload off of Uncle Sam. They soon filled the valley’s condemned homes. Some moved into chicken coops. Others put up teepees and geodesic domes. If the dam was a powder keg, the squatters would be the match that lit the fuse.

* * * * *

The Corps had the backing of the governors, congressional delegations, utility companies and business establishments in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware. It also had the tacit support of a U.S. District Court judge in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who turned aside efforts by Shukaitis’ group to scuttle the massive project on the grounds that engineers had made faulty assumptions about the underlying geology and environmental impact. Nevertheless, things were not going well for the people who had all the power and money.

The persistent Fisher and Kays, who had joined forces to form the Lenni Lenape League, caught the first wave of the environmental movement and rode it to Sunfish Pond.

Over 1,000 people joined Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and his young wife on a widely-publicized protest hike to the pond in 1967. The power companies eventually relented and sold the land back to New Jersey, while the soft-spoken Shukaitis, a political neophyte, unexpectedly was elected to the Board of Commissioners for Monroe County, where most of the reservoir would be situated. An emboldened Fisher, tasting blood, turned his sights on Tocks.

Things also were not going well for the American forces bogged down in Vietnam. Beyond the mounting body count, the unpopular conflict was draining the federal treasury. By 1969, the price tag for Tocks had nearly doubled to $214 million. In 1971, the Pappalardos were the last family to leave the valley. The Corps had appraised their lovely three-bedroom fieldstone house and 20 acres for a measly $16,000.

Unlike the Michael family, the Pappalardos were relative newcomers.

Anthony Pappalardo, the oldest of six sons of Italian immigrants, moved into the Minisink in 1940 and started a chicken farm. Eggs were rationed during World War II, and he prospered by selling them in New York City. Anthony’s son, Pete, also is convinced that his father’s life was shortened considerably by the trauma of being evicted.

“We felt like Native Americans. It was a blatant theft of our land,” Pete Pappalardo told me. “We had to move to a house trailer. My mother put up a sign on it that said ‘Halfway House’. Freddie peeled away the ‘W’ and the ‘Y' so the sign read “Half a House.”

The bad publicity generated by the evictions hadn’t been much more than an annoyance for Tocks proponents, but another war closer to home was taking a dramatic turn. That was the war between locals and the squatters. Many residents resented the long-haired newcomers, who swam nude in the river, grew marijuana between rows of corn, harbored runaways and flirted with their teenaged children. Worst of all, some of the squatters were getting welfare.

Having creating the squatter problem, the Corps then tried to wash its hands of it. The Pennsylvania Department of Justice initially agreed to assume jurisdiction over the Minisink Valley because the Corps believed that when the time came to evict the squatters, it would be easier to do so through state courts. But the state backed out when it realized that this was no mere penny ante tenant-landlord dispute.

“There is not one among the squatters I would completely trust to react in what could be considered a normal, lucid manner,” an anonymous Corps official was quoted as saying in one of the many vitriolic articles in the region’s only daily newspaper, the slavishly pro-dam Pocono Record. The official asserted that there was widespread lawlessness, drug use and venereal disease, and that “all the squatters, even the more stable ones, are erratic at times.”

* * * * *

By 1971, tensions had escalated into violence. Carloads of young men sped through the valley shooting out squatters’ windows, setting fires to houses, barns and outbuildings, and killing pets and farm animals.

In September 1971, with Fisher leading an organization of squatters half his age, he demanded that Monroe County provide police protection. Before he could get an answer, armed federal marshals attacked six squatter houses and a pup tent with bulldozers. The raid ended in a standoff when squatters climbed onto roofs and refused to leave. The Corps turned to the friendly District Court judge in Scranton, filing suit to evict them.

In July 1973, the judge ruled that the squatters were illegally occupying valley homes. In November, he gave them 30 days to vacate, but they refused. Finally, in the predawn hours of February 24, 1974, the standoff ended as 90 federal marshals pounced on 65 squatters, including a woman who had given birth the night before. The number would have been higher, but the squatters had been tipped to the impending raid. Bulldozers quickly demolished the buildings, including several historic structures. The occupation was over, but for all intents and purposes so was the fight to build the dam.

* * * * *

The second wave of environmentalism came from, of all places, the White House.

On New Years Day 1970, four months before the first Earth Day, President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act, which required extensive studies on how federal projects like Tocks would affect their surroundings. Had the dam already been under construction, it would have been exempted.

In early 1971, the Corps announced groundbreaking would be delayed while an environmental impact statement was drafted. In July of that year, U.S. Representative Pete du Pont of Delaware became the first major politician to break ranks with pro-dam forces when he unsuccessfully tried to remove money allocated for the first phase of reconstruction because of environmental concerns, including the buildup of algae in the reservoir first addressed in the Philadelphia study 35 years earlier.

Du Pont succeeded on the second try. By May 1972, New Jersey Governor Tom Cahill had concluded that the dam was becoming political poison. Parting ways with his fellow governors, he outlined several stringent environmental conditions that would have to be met if the Garden State was to continue to support the project.

Although the cracks in the Tocks project were multiplying, following the February 1974 raid the Corps accelerated the razing of valley buildings and gutting of others, including historic Zion Lutheran Church, which was stripped of its floors, windows and woodwork. One house was destroyed by accident.

In September 1974, Shukaitis’ group, the Sierra Club and other organizations obtained a restraining order stopping further destruction. The federal budget that year contained no Tocks money for the first time since 1964, and in 1975 the Delaware River Basin Commission, with the Corps’ reluctant acquiescence, voted 3-1 to abandon Tocks. Only Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp, clinging to the tired lie that the dam would control flooding, still wanted to move ahead on a project now estimated to cost $400 million.

Attempts in Congress over the next three years to de-authorize the dam failed, but U.S. Representative Peter Kostmayer of Pennsylvania eventually was able to make an end run by way of legislation designating the upper and middle Delaware River as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system. President Carter signed the bill on November 10, 1978, nearly 45 years after the Corps first proposed a dam at Tocks.

* * * * *

The bitterness over Tocks lingers on for Nancy Shukaitis and Pete Pappalardo.

Shukaitis is a model of civility, but has difficulty finding anything nice to say about the National Park Service rangers who moved in when the Corps of Engineers was sent packing.

“My God,” she exclaimed. “They’re on a power trip. They act like the Delaware belongs to them. I have a young nephew who was admonished by a park ranger for skipping rocks across the river.”

Pappalardo is less sanguine. He cannot bring himself to return to the site of his family home or anywhere else in the recreation area since he was confronted by a park ranger in the mid-1980s. “I get hot under the collar whenever I see a [Park Service] uniform,” he said.

Pappalardo crossed paths with the ranger while hunting. Although he had a hunting license, hunters are supposed to carry a second form of identification, and he didn’t have any. “The ranger told me that ‘Pappalardo’ sounded like the name of a former valley family. I confirmed that it was. The ranger said I would just receive a warning, not a fine, but that was just adding insult to injury.

“They should issue Sorry Cards to the rangers. When they run into someone like me they should give us a dollar and do a Sorry Dance for us.”

Congress formally de-authorized the Tocks Island Dam project in July 1992, 30 years after it had been funded.

* * * * *

Fast forward 15 years and the latest battle over bending the Delaware River to suit the purposes of a few to the potential detriment of many.

I understand why the residents in those flood-prone areas are pleading with the Delaware River Basin Commission for relief.

Under a so-called Flexible Flow Management Plan now being studied by the commission in response to the residents' dilemma, discharges into the river from three upstate New York reservoirs – the Cannonsville, Neversink and Pepacton – would be managed for five months of the year.

These reservoirs were near or above 100 percent capacity when heavy rains soaked the Delaware River Basin, causing flooding and consequent destruction in low-lying areas after three major floods in September 2004, April 2005 and June 2006.

Under the plan, discharges would commence when they reached 75 percent capacity, but that would only be in effect from August through December. In other words, during months other than those that produced two of the three recent floods, one of which was during a severe drought.

While the residents of the low-lying areas deserve sympathy, they are likely to lose out. Yet again, the Delaware River will prevail, as it should.

A Tocks Documentary In The Making

The Tocks Island controversy has not lacked for attention from writers and filmmakers.

The hands-down best book on the project is Damming the Delaware: The Rise and Fall of the Tocks Island Dam by Richard C. Albert. A paperback version of the 1987 book is still in print.

In 2006, the brief documentary Controversy on the Delaware: A Look Upstream at Tocks Island premiered at a local film festival and is said to be available on DVD.

Ghost Waters, a far more ambitious documentary, is currently in production under the supervision of director Nick Patrick, who is relying on the generosity of strangers to complete production.

Click here for more info.

On The Road Again. Again.

Barring a big development, and that we can do without, blogging will be light and on autopilot for the next several days. I'll be on the road doing a (hopefully) final round of interviews for my forthcoming book and will trot out some golden oldies until I'm back in the 'hood.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

On The Road Again. Again.

Barring a big development, and that we can do without, blogging will be light and on autopilot for the next several days. I'll be on the road doing a (hopefully) final round of interviews for my forthcoming book and will trot out some golden oldies until I'm back in the 'hood.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review: 'Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of A Beat Hero' & The Dark Side of Fame

(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MARCH 2006)

Like many a child of the Sixties, I exalted over the writings and the adventures of Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and the other Beats, but it was a free spirit by the name of Neal Cassady who held a special attraction for me.

For want of a better way of saying it, Cassady was the Beats' mascot. He was the catalyst for many of their writings and figured most prominently in the novels of Kerouac. While an underachieving writer who had a tortured relationship with his own literary muse, Cassady is credited with weaning the author of On the Road and Dharma Bums, my favorite Kerouac book, from his realist moorings into his now legendary stream of consciousness approach.

Years later – and after a fair number of adventures myself, including some with a friend who is in some respects the epitome of Cassady – I came to understand that there was a dark side to some of the most prominent Beats: A raging narcissism, alcohol and drug abuse, thievery, plagiarism and a "Me First Always" approach to life that left friends and lovers feeling victimized.
As I wrote here in an article titled "The Summer of Love Reconsidered," much the same can be said of the hippie movement that grew out of the Beat Generation. Cassady was a central figure in some of the most hallowed antics of that era, most notoriously as the driver of Furthur, the road trip bus of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters immortalized in Tom Wolfe's marvelous Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.

There certainly was a dark side to Cassady, which is on full display in Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of a Beat Hero, a newish book by David Sandison and Graham Vickers.

While Neal Cassady is sometimes ploddingly written, it is invaluable because the authors had access to hitherto uninterviewed family members and the full cooperation of Cassady's long suffering wife, Carolyn, a remarkable person in her own right who bore him three children and stood by him long after their divorce.

Sandison, who took over the book when Vickers became terminally ill, nicely balances the darkness and light in this folk hero's life and debunks a fair number of myths along the way. This is especially valuable because Cassady was a serial exaggerator and little he has said and written about his past -- whether it is his childhood or his exploits behind the wheel on many a long-distance trip -- can be taken as gospel.

As Sandison puts it, Cassady was "a uniquely creative mind that somehow managed to change the course of American literature by proxy," and was celebrated (usually pseudononymously) in the best sellers of Kerouac and Ginsberg:
"Jack and Allen had, each in his own way, captured a little of Neal's lightning in a jar. If they would never completely understand him, they had managed to incorporate something of his extraordinary life-affirming presence in their work."
Cassady's own writing was considerable more problematic and The First Third & Other Writings, his posthumously published autobiographical novel, is a mess.

Kerouac borrowed big chunks of Cassady's letters to him and shamelessly used them without attribution. This pained Cassady, especially after his friend became a celebrity, albeit an awkward one. Little of Cassady's surviving prose rises to the level of Kerouac at his best. While he was a natural storyteller, he did not have the chops to stretch himself like Kerouac could.

An exception is the so-called Joan Anderson Letter to Kerouac in 1950. About 5,000 of the original 13,000 words survive, the rest having been accidentally dumped overboard from a Sausalito houseboat according to one unsubstantiated explanation that is a part of the Cassady mythos.

The surviving fragment begins with Cassady's reminiscence of a youthful hospital visit to Anderson, who had just aborted his child:

"To have seen a specter isn't everything, and there are deathmasks piled, one atop the other, clear to heaven. Commoner still are the wan visages of those returning from the shadow of the valley. This means little to those who have not lifted the veil.

"The ward nurse cautioned me not to excite her (how can one prevent that?) and I was allowed only a few minutes. The headnurse also stopped me to say I was permitted to see her just because she always called my name and I must cheer her. She had had a very near brush and was not rallying properly, actually was in marked decline, and still much in danger. Quite impressed to my duties, I entered and gazed down on her slender form resting so quietly on the high white bed. Her pale face was whiter; like chalk. It was pathetically clear how utterly weak she was, there seemed absolutely no blood left in her body. I stared and stared, she didn't breathe, didn't move; I would never have recognized her, she was a waxed mummy. . . . "

Cassady equated freedom with travel and the journeys he undertook for one purpose always took on diversions and other purposes along the way.

Typical was a trip to Mexico taken with Kerouac for the ostensible purpose of Cassady getting a quickie divorce from Carolyn. It became a series of hedonistic adventures and later the central theme of Part Four of On the Road.

Writes Sandison:

"Once again the point of Neal Cassady's adventure somehow became secondary to the seductive vagaries of the itinerary . . . which led to the question of whether the seductive vagaries had not in fact been the real point of the adventure all along."
Cassady was happiest when he was earning an honest living and could provide for his family.

Despite his ability to be a heartless SOB to Carolyn and his closest friends, he doted on his children. A spiritual awakening in the mid-1950s based on the writings of mystic Edgar Cayce flickered on and off and on again, then beginning in 1958 Cassady served a two-year sentence, most of it at notorious San Quentin Prison, for giving three marijuana joints to undercover San Francisco cops who had offered to give him a ride.

His inner demons were relentless, and by the time he had fallen in with Kesey and the Pranksters in the early 1960s and the hippies gradually supersceded the Beats in the public imagination, Cassady had lost any semblance of self restraint. (The photo above of a ravaged Cassady was taken when he was only 39, although he looks many years older.)

When the end came on February 4, 1969, the man for whom being the center of attention was a contact high died alone.

After apparently binging on Seconal, Cassady went walking along a railroad track near San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He passed out in the cold and rain wearing only a T-shirt and jeans, fell into a coma and died a few hours later, four days short of his 42nd birthday.

Kesey, in an interview with Sandison, looks back on one of his childhood heroes in providing a fitting epitaph:

"Kid Eternity was one of the comic book characters we had back then. He could contact people from anyplace or anytime in history, people like Davey Crockett -- anybody.

"In the 1990s, I think, they brought Kid Eternity back again. Somebody sent me a copy of one issue where Kid Eternity needed somebody to help keep him enlightened. He called for Neal who became the main character. In the background were really nice pictures of Ginsberg and Burroughs."