Thursday, December 23, 2010

Julian Assange and K. ---- The Trial --- Before the Law

In Orson Well's version of The Trial, just as K. denounces the vast conspiracy, the attention of the audience as well as his own are seized by the spectacle of brutal sex, as at the back of the Court the Law student begins a brutal sexual assault disguised as passion on the Wife of the Jailer.

"What has happened to me," K. went on, rather more quietly than before, trying at the same time to read the faces in the first row, which gave his speech a somewhat disconnected effect, "what has happened to me is only a single instance and as such of no great importance, especially as I do not take it seriously, but it is representative of a misguided policy which is being directed against many other people as well.  It is for these that I take up my stand here, not for myself."

....There can be no doubt --- " said K. quite softly, for he was elated by the breathless attention of the meeting; in that stillness a subdued hum was audible which was more exciting than the wildest applause--- "there can be no doubt that behind all the actions of this court of justice, that is to say in my case, behind my arrest and today's interrogation, there is a great organization at work.  An organization which not only employs corrupt warders, oafish Inspectors, and Examining Magistrates of whom the best that can be said is that they recognize their own limitations, but also has at its disposal a judicial hierarchy of high, indeed of the highest rank, with an indispensable and numerous retinue of servants, clerks, police, and other assistants, perhaps even hangmen."

The speech is immediately forgotten by all, including the speaker, in the spectacle of sex although the import of the speech lingers throughout the book.  Do Assange's sexual acts and the wrongs that they might reveal invalidate or erase the actual cables that were leaked or the other thousands of pages that Wikileaks has published documenting corporate and governmental deceptions and crimes?  Not at all.  However, the megalomania and desire for power that Assange despises in the State are no less in evidence in his treatment of women and in his comparing himself to Martin Luther King, Jr. and other "martyrs".  Perhaps the problem with Asange is that he is so easy to disparage, while the work of Wikileaks is actually quite important and necessary.  Once the story became about his personality, then the full weight of the leaks were lost, just like the audience at K.'s hearing turned away from him to gaze upon the more enticing  spectacle.

"Every time WikiLeaks publishes the truth about abuses committed by US agencies, Australian politicians chant a provably false chorus with the State Department: "You'll risk lives! National security! You'll endanger troops!" Then they say there is nothing of importance in what WikiLeaks publishes. It can't be both. Which is it?....In its landmark ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, the US Supreme Court said "only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government". The swirling storm around WikiLeaks today reinforces the need to defend the right of all media to reveal the truth." ---Assange
 "No," said the priest, "it is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary....  "A melancholy conclusion," said K.  "It turns lying into a universal principle."
K. famously does not know the nature of his crimes and as Assange's lawyer stated, neither did they, although others say that they in reality know a great deal about their crime but will not accept it.  K. as well denies knowledge of his crime, pleads innocence, hires an attorney to delay his trial and indeed comes to understand that he always knew his crime.

"What's this about a 'pornograph'"?  asked K.'s Inspector in Welles' Trial 
"All this gibberish.  It won't look good in the record" said the Inspector.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Larry Evans, Chess Grandmaster, 1932-2010

I learned a great deal about chess from Larry Evans.  I still have my copies of his edition of  Modern Chess Openings (as well as Korn's 12th, the last to be printed in English Descriptive Notation) and Fischer's 60 Memorable Games.  My copy of New Ideas in Chess still finds its way into my bag for subway reading.
Here is something from New Ideas in Chess under the heading "A wing attack is best met by a reaction in the center".  It, like all of the examples in New Ideas, is drawn from his own tournament games.  This one is from Kagetsu v. Evans, Hollywood Open, 1954.

after ...P-Q4

Evans writes of this position: "This attacker does not always benefit from open lines.  He should try to close the center before embarking on a wing attack.  This cannot always be done.  The defender must keep his lines of communication open, and this requires a fluid center so that he may divert pieces from the other wing to the defense of the attacked wing".

Kagetsu    Evans
 White      Black
1. QxN     B-Q3
2. 0-0-0    R-N2
3. P-KR4  BxN
4. BxB      Q-N5
5. B-Q2    PxP
6. R-N1    Q-K3
7. B-K2    Q-R7
White Resigns

New York Times Obituary.  In the printed edition, the caption puts Evans on the left, but Fischer is on the left and Evans is on the right.
Gambit: the New York Times Chess blog on Evans, with reader's favorite games.

Friday, October 1, 2010

"This is what the corrupt regime's media has been reduced to..."

Another example of altering photos for political purposes.

According to the BBC, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram ran this photo of the recent Mid-East talks in Washington:

It was not the photo that appeared elsewhere:

The independent daily, al-Masry al-Youm, reported that the state-run daily had "carried out surgery" on the photo "to show Mubarak leading and the rest behind".

"This is what the corrupt regime's media has been reduced to," it said in a statement on its website, adding that the paper had "crossed the line from being balanced and honest".
Al-Ahram has since replaced the image on its website with a picture of the assembled leaders seated on chairs in the Red Sea resort.
Officials at the paper could not be reached for comment".

Sunday, August 15, 2010

RUINS companion blog - Until Darwin: Science & the Origins of Race

Given that I am just finishing up this project, I thought it would be good to separate out the postings that relate to it from RUINS, which I intend as a more general blog. The "Until Darwin" blog will be for notes and materials deleted from the final work, as well as references consulted but not mentioned.
Here is the site
Until Darwin: Science and the Origins of Race

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Immigration in the United States: The Nature of the "National Interest"

I was considering some of the rhetoric I have been hearing on the issue of immigration. A few things came to mind the other day....

There is currently a tendency to make the nation appear to be natural or organic through the racialization of the national interest. By this I mean that the manner by which states create a people who are governed and in whose name the state governs, and whose interests it is said to represent. The people who created the state become the people whose existence as a nation legitimizes the power of the state. The national interests are those of both this people and the state, and the naturalness of the people imparts to the state its own basis in the nature of that newly constituted people.

Now that might be a long way of saying in the Weberian sense that the state creates its own legitimacy through the legitimate and legitimizing monopoly on force. There is much that underlies this state power which has, of course, a necessary relation to a territory or place, or now in America, a homeland. If we were to examine this from another direction, we might also trace out the ways in which race is itself a category used in scientific classifications of human variety; a category that has always been associated with the disciplines that serve the state by accumulating knowledge about the nature of the people. These classifications, and not citizenship, are at the heart of the anti-immigrant rhetoric just as they were in the early 1900s.

Why do we keep returning to these questions? Because the attempt to rethink the state always begins with the state as another way of saying “the nation” or “the people”. So long as human relationships and human variety are considered from within the context of the nation-state, the nature of the people will remain racialized.

Now I would propose that struggles around immigration are presented in this this racialized and naturalized setting of national interests, for within the ideology of national interests also lies the ideology of national threats. So it is no accident that the terror of terrorism is often associated with the fear of immigrants, of threats to national identity under the weight of migrant workers and terrorists that enter the nation through the same routes and who also threaten to erase “who we are”, except by violence and not demographics. The largest attack in the United States prior to 9-11 also unleashed widespread harassment and violence against Moslems and those thought to be Moslem, at least until Timithy McVeigh was charged with the crime. Since the nation is always naturalized through race, the threats it confronts are always racialized threats by natural enemies who therefore can not simply be reasoned with. In the case of immigrants the threat can only controlled or expelled, and in the case of terrorists, it can only be met and defeated in “a war without end.” On the side of this difference is the immigrant as an instrument of production-- the most degraded and exploited of workers, and on the other side there is the terrorist who “hates us for who we are”. Both are seen as welling to do anything, though one dies in the desert while journeying toward the hope of a livelihood and the other blows him/herself up hoping to journey to a paradise. While both can not help but be disappointed by the outcome, they can not and should not be otherwise compared.

The opponents of immigration to the United States oppose it because they see the nation as natural, as having a people that are organic to it, and they see themselves as potentially having a state that can protect them and enforce a peculiar view of the nature of the people. They see both the immigrant worker and the terrorist as degenerates who either unconsciously or consciously will cause a general degeneration of the “body politic” of the nation.
So when you hear it said that the immigration debate has nothing to do with race, don’t believe it. It has to do with the scientific ideology of race because the nation-state has always been associated with at the very least “a people” if not a race.

Friday, July 2, 2010

"Darwinism Falls 2013!"... at least now we know that the world doesn't end in 2012

I use clustermaps to track visits to my blog and website. I like the service quite alot, but often when I check my map, I get an ad that reads "2013: Darwinism Falls" or "2013: The Berlin Wall of Darwinism Falls" or even "Darwin was wrong but Evolution is real".
Now these are silly messages showing a profound ignorance, but they are clever. The ad links to a site by Perry Marshall who offers to send you a series of 5 emails over a five day period that will convince you that God exists and that science has "proved" it.
It is funny how so many believe that science can not "prove" anything other than the existence of god. Apparently, whenever science "proves" something that is in opposition to the belief in god, that evidence is never accepted because "God/Religion is beyond science" or some such dodge.
A little further into the site, one finds that it is simply a so-called "Intelligent Design" site. Information theory proves that DNA is a code created by an Intelligence, we are told. Here goes:

1) "DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism.
2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.
3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.
If you can provide an empirical example of a code or language that occurs naturally, you've toppled my proof. All you need is one."

How quickly DNA changes! It is simultaneously a pattern, a code, a language and a storage system, as though those things are the same thing! There is really no reason to go on with the kind of nonsense found on cosmicfingerprints. It is just a mix of old stuff from Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (perhaps a touch of atavistic criminal anthropology prompted god to have a fingerprint).

That last statement is probably sillier than the illogical argument contained in the first three. Perhaps he should consider the language he is using if he wants to find a language that is natural. Or maybe define what is a language. Yada, Yada, Yada.

One person left a message on the museum of hoaxes site that makes an additional connection:
I came across this site through a google ad on digg (I think…), and so far haven’t found anything he might be selling, though I haven’t signed up for his mail list.

I hope no one takes him too seriously. His other works seem to be all about “The secret that doubled a successful company in 4 months”, and how to “Use Google AdWords and the Power of Guerilla-Marketing to Attract New Customers 24/7/365!” ( Note that his commercial site and his Cosmic fingerprints one don’t seem to be linked in anyway.

There’s so much more I could say about this great self-made man of science and his wonderful website, but I have to go port some old JPG programs into the more universal USB code.

Another writer mentioned what is going on with the cosmic fingerprint:
“There is a phenomenon known as pareidolia, “The tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the viewer.” Pareidolia is when we see faces in clouds, or “evil” in the tragic path of a tornado.

I have to agree. I must get the ads because Darwin is a label for some of these posts. Of course, there was a Star Trek: Next Generation episode that purported to show that the DNA of the Humans, Klingons, Romulans, and Vulcans were all encoded by an ancient civilization with a message that they were all created from DNA that was deliberately seeded throughout the universe. They did this because they were lonely having found no other species during their travels. Of course, their civilization is long gone and the only trace of it is the code in the DNA of the various intelligent species.
At least the lonely pseudo-gods in that story died.
Anyway, I sing the body electric. I hear my DNA talking [but I just don't know what it is saying] ...with apologies to Walt Whitman.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Two Recent Stories from the New York Times on Humans and Other Primates

It is interesting and I have not finished thinking about it enough to venture an opinion, but I found these images in Tuesday's New York Times. The print article on June 15, 2010 carried the headline "Paternity Leave Law Helps to Redefine Masculinity in Sweden" with the subtitle "Legislating to give men equal rights at home in the land of Viking lore." The on-line version appeared on June 9, 2010 with the title "The Female FactorIn Sweden, Men Can Have It All"The Times describes the series "The Female Factor" as a series for the International Herald Tribune "The Female Factor Twenty-First Century Fathers In a series of articles, columns and multimedia reports, The International Herald Tribune examines where women stand in the early 21st century." This is the image that appears in the electronic version

In the print version, these two photos appear. Online they were included in a slideshow presentation accompanying the story.

The caption reads: "'When he is in the forest with his rifle over his shoulder and the baby on his back.' Sofia Karlsson A police officier who says she finds her husband, Mikael Larlsson, most attractive this way".

In the same issue of the Times, there appeared this story: "Parental Bonds, Special and Strange" amongst Barbary macaques. It carried this photo:

It carried this pull-out quote: "Among animals, some fathers use infants as 'battle symbols' or to raise social standing." It is worth comparing the subtle ideologies and assumptions of fixity that underlie some portions of these articles.
It might be interesting, in terms of our anthropomorphizing the behavior of other species, this article which appeared the next week in the New York Times:

Chimps, Too, Wage War and Annex Rival Territory

There followed two letters
, the first is more important for understanding the assumptions in the report than is the second letter:
"To the Editor
Re “Chimps That Wage War and Annex Rival Territory” (June 22): It seems clear that chimps, humans and other highly social animals engage in organized warfare when increasing population densities or climate change threaten food resources. When you’re constantly hungry, you will kill or drive away competition for the foods in your species’ diet.

Highly social animals will create ad hoc or longer lasting groups that will cooperate to minimize individual risk and maximize terror in the competing animals. Well-fed researchers should understand that the constant threat of starvation, and to a lesser extent all other desires, radically shape animal intelligence in ways we cannot easily fathom. Tom Fitzgibbon

New York"

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Thomas Jefferson and the Texas Board of Education

In terms of the Texas Board of Education's hostility to Thomas Jefferson, among all other people and artifacts having to do with Enlightenment, the "Founding Father" who rewrote the Bible by removing all religious references (The Jefferson Bible) left us with his views of such priestly tribes.

I promised you a letter on Christianity, which I have not forgotten. On the contrary, it is because I have reflected on it, that I find much more time necessary for it than I can at present dispose of. I have a view of the subject which ought to displease neither the rational Christian nor Deists, and would reconcile many to a character they have too hastily rejected. I do not know that it would reconcile the genus irritabile vatum [the irritable tribe of priests] who are all in arms against me. Their hostility is on too interesting ground to be softened. The delusion into which the X.Y.Z. plot shewed it possible to push the people; the successful experiment made under the prevalence of that delusion on the clause of the constitution, which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity thro' the U.S.; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians & Congregationalists. The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me, forging conversations for me with Mazzei, Bishop Madison, &c., which are absolute falsehoods without a circumstance of truth to rest on; falsehoods, too, of which I acquit Mazzei & Bishop Madison, for they are men of truth. Letter to Benjamin Rush, Monticello, September 23, 1800

Friday, May 14, 2010

Placebo Effects and Policy Limits or what Olivia Judson can teach David Brooks

The May 4th New York Times Op-Ed section presented us with a great contrast between scientific thinking and pseudo-scientific ideology in the columns by Olivia Judson and David Brooks. I am sure you can already guess which one is which, but lets go through it anyway because when the Times inadvertently gives us such a useful contrast, it is well worth paying attention.

So, Brooks' piece first and he begins, of course, with the Northern European as a standard. Swedes in Sweden and Swedes in the United States have the same rate of poverty, 6.7% "Two groups with similar historical backgrounds living in entirely different political systems, and the poverty outcomes were the same." Brooks further notes that the average life expectancy of Swedes has not changed much since 1950 despite their commitment to build "a large welfare state with a national health service, while the U.S. did not." In 1950 Swedes lived an average of 2.6 years longer than Americans, and now live 2.7 years later.

Of course, the second thing to note is that Brooks is using averages rather than differences between the mean life expectancy. But this is not so much my problem with his piece, although it would be useful to compare the results of we used mean rather than average. Instead, the thing that can be pointed out in this little post is the stark contrast between the essays by Brooks and Judson.

Brooks tells us that:
"Ethnicity correlates to huge differences in how people live.....All we can say for sure is that different psychological, cultural, and social factors combine in myriad ways to produce different viewpoints. As a result of these different viewpoints, the average behavior is different between different ethnic and geographical groups, leading to different life outcomes.... So when we're arguing about politics, we should be aware of how policy fits into the larger scheme of cultural and social influences. Bad policy can decimate the social fabric, but good policy can only modestly improve it." [Notice that average has appeared again, as in the "average behavior" of the bodies that make up a population.]

So let's take three concepts that Brooks uses: ethnicity, culture, and politics. What exactly does he mean by these terms in this little article.

POLITICS: is for Brooks simply the means to institute social policy for the control of a population. The problem is that social policies can do very little to affect social change. Social change comes from elsewhere, if it comes at all, and it comes from the internal forces within populations, or "tribes of people," to use Brooks' phrase. Thus, politics and social policy can have only modest effects on the lives of the humans in a given population. Politics, on the other hand, is not about social change, it is about articulating the "viewpoints" of various "ethnic and geographical groups". Politics is about which group can enforce its "viewpoint" and the first rule of the policies that flow from these viewpoints is "don't promulgate a policy that will destroy social bonds" because these bonds are the foundation of politics. At bottom, all politics is rooted in ethnicity and emotion, as in "emotional bonds".

If each "tribe" is given a "basic level of economic and physical security" they will each "create a culture of achievement --- if you are lucky." And if the policy can strengthen the "emotional bonds" of a people, all the better. Brooks cites two examples of successful policies that have strengthen emotional ties: "preschool and military service" but in the end, "we should all probably calm down about politics. Most of the proposals we argue about so ferociously will have only marginal effects on how we live, especially compared with the ethnic, regional and social differences that we so studiously ignore."

So politics is in the end arguing from our ethnic, regional, and social "viewpoints" about policies that will not really help very many people, but might at least strengthen the "emotional bonds" that unite different tribes, or keep them in their place. It is a good argument for the status quo, and that is exactly the kind of argument one can expect from the "progressive conservatism" that Brooks claims to support.

CULTURE: is for Brooks, at least in this piece, about the habits of different ethnic, cultural, or emotional tribes or populations. But it exists in a tautology for him. Namely, Culture rests on ethnicity, but ethnicity is culture. Culture consists of the habits and material production of tribes, and you can define a tribe, an ethnicity, by its habits and material production. Emotional bonds are between families and tribes, and families and tribes are defined by the extent of their emotional bonds. None of this tell sus very much except again that acceptance or restoration of the status quo is always the point of Brooks'commentary.

ETHNICITY: Really, the talk of tribes and emotional bonds, of the importance of the status quo would not be so disturbing if it were not in the context of Brook's use of the concept of ethnicity as a stand in for race. Whenever Brooks discusses differences, he relates those differences to ethnicity and geographical differences, but ethnicity clearly is for him the most important factor. In fact, the Times accompanied the commentary with the blurb "How ethnicity swamps politics." When Brooks wants to talk about ethnic differences, he uses for his evidence data based upon racial differences, in particular the differences between what Cuvier called the three primary races of man, European, African, and Asian. Native Americans and Hispanics make appear only to to compared to the other three "ethnic... tribes".

One can not be sure of what Brooks means by ethnicity, but certainly it does at points stand in directly for race, just as "viewpoint" stands in for "ideology". "The influence of politics and policy is usually swamped by the influence of culture, ethnicity, psychology, and a dozen other factors." The other factors are not worth naming, as apparently culture, ethnicity, and psychology predominate.

And this takes us back to the Swedes that Brooks began with. There is something that makes a Swede a Swede whether they are in South Dakota or Stockholm. Policies, he says, will not change the basic "ethnic" disposition of a Swede.

But let us look just across the page to Olivia Judson's commentary on the placebo effect.

If policy and politics can not trump ethnicity, one might expect that the placebo effect would suffer a similar failure. Swedes in Sweden should respond to a placebo just as Swedes in the US, to follow Brooks' reasoning about ethnicity.
In fact, Judson does not mention Swedes, but she does mention Germans. However, the results are not what one would expect if we followed Brooks on ethnicity/race/tribe/nation. Let us allow her to speak for herself regarding the ethnic/tribal differences and the placebo effect.

Different studies of the placebo effect report wildly different results. One survey of 117 trials of two ulcer drugs found that, depending on the trial, patients in the placebo group had anywhere from zero to a 100 percent recovery rate.

The drugs also varied in their effectiveness from one trial to the next; sometimes patients on the placebo did better than those on the drug. Intriguingly, the results varied from country to country, with Brazilians showing no placebo effect and Germans having a strong one. Why? No one knows, but it doesn’t appear to be because of anything inherently German: trials of drugs for hypertension found a weaker placebo effect in Germany than in other countries.

The problem is that humans are not machines, and emotions are not abstractions. Hope and expectation, anxiety and fear, trust and suspicion — these cause physiological changes in the brain that can interact with drugs, changing their effects.

Given that Brooks wants to hide the workings of power behind the mask of culture and ethnicity, it is remarkable how Judson almost relpies to his avoidence of power. It is power, and not ethnicity, that has the strongest influence on the placebo effect.

...the most reliable source of a strong placebo effect appears to be: the doctor.
Placebo treatments are more powerful if your doctor believes in them. They are also more powerful if the doctor tells you so. In one study, for example, patients who had just come out of surgery were given a saline infusion, and — whenever they asked for it — the pain killer buprenorphine. However, some patients were told the saline infusion was a powerful painkiller, others that it might be one, while a third group wasn’t told anything. Over the course of three days, those in the “know-nothing” group asked for more buprenorphine than those in the “maybe” group, who in turn asked for more than those told they were getting a real drug.

Finally, Judson, whose blog is one of the best from the New York Times, comments on these differences

Differences in hopes and fears, and the resulting physiological changes, may explain why the placebo effect varies so much: individual experiences matter. Some people are more anxious than others, or may find the thought of a particular disease especially alarming. Moreover, in different cultures, similar diseases may be treated with different degrees of gravity.

So different cultures matter, but not in the way that Brooks would have it. And what matters most is the power relationship of those confronting a problem, whether medical or political, and not the ethnic differences between them, even if we could detach Brooks' use of ethnicity from his silent deployment of racialist thinking.

Only those in power would have the "viewpoint" that politics is not about power, or believe that social change is not possible.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Found Object: Note by Robert E. Tucker (illustrator, ornithologist, and forester) with chart of Birds common to Savannah, Georgia

Somehow I misplaced an old field guide and so replaced it with a 1980 edition of Peterson's A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies. Folded in the back cover I found a note from Robert E. Tucker to Dorothy. In it, he describes this book, which appears to be a Christmas gift, as "the guide for learning birds. Most bird students cut their 'birding teeth' on it. I did - over forty years ago."

Robert Tucker was the illustrator of Louisiana Birds by George Hines Lowery (Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries Commission by Louisiana State University Press, 1960). Lowery says that Tucker's "ably executed" illustrations are not for "mere" decoration, but "designed to facilitate species recognition" for the field observer. The Wilson Library Bulletin (1960) refers “to the superb drawings and water-colors”.

Tucker supplies a one and a half page chart of "those that will most probably occur in [Dorothy's] yard.... The list consists of those that seem to prefer living in the proximity of people and accept the hospitality of the feeding tray. Not included are such aerial species as Chimney Swifts and Nighthawks or Gulls, Hawks, and Owls."

Click on the picture to view it in full.

Tucker lists 45 species for Dorothy, noting whether they would be found in summer or winter, and on which page they can be found in Peterson. He also lists the photo number in an edition of "Bull & Ferrand" - which would be John Bull and John Farrand's National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region (1977). In his note, Tucker makes clear that he feels illustrations are preferred to photos because "photographs are fine when they are good, but a poor illustration in many cases because of shadows, color shift in the film or development or position which fails to show key field marks."

According to a web search, Tucker is mentioned in Excelsior: memoir of a forester. by Laurence C. Walker (College of Forestry, Stephen F. Austin State University, 1995.)

He is also mentioned as manager of forest resources and manager of woodlands for the Southland Paper corporation in the 1960s.

This seems to be a nice little piece from a little known naturalist, and useful as historical data for its list of common species as identified by a naturalist in 1984. Of course, I would be happy to return the original to any relative that might want it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Darwin, Slavery, the HMS Black Joke, and Seaman Morgan.

I decided to repeat this story each year in honor of Darwin.

HMS Beagle

During the same stay in Brazil that brought Darwin face to face with the horrors of slavery, he was for a time left behind in Rio while Captain Fitz-Roy and the HMS Beagle retraced the previous months voyage down the Brazilian coast. Capt. Fitz-Roy wanted to confirm that Bahia was to the east of Rio and remap that portion of the Brazilian coast. Upon the return of the HMS Beagle, Darwin was so overjoyed that he later wrote an unusually long entry in his Diary. The night before, he met one of his shipmates, King, who had come ahead. Darwin learned from King
"...the calamitous news of the death of three of our ship-mates. — They were the three of the Macac├╣ party who were ill with fever when the Beagle sailed from Rio. — 1st Morgan, an extra-ordinary powerful man & excellent seaman; he was a very brave man & had performed some curious feats, he put a whole party of Portugeese to flight, who had molested the party; he pitched an armed sentinel into the sea at St Jago; & formerly he was one of the boarders in that most gallant action against the Slaver the Black Joke. — 2nd Boy Jones one of the most promising boys in the ship & had been promised but the day before his illness, promotion. — These were the only two of the sailors who were with the Cutter, & picked for their excellence. — And lastly, poor little Musters; who three days before his illness heard of his Mothers death. Morgan was taken ill 4 days after arriving on board & died near the Abrolhos, where he was lowered into the sea after divisions on Sunday — for several days he was violently delirious & talked about the party. — Boy Jones died two days after arriving at Bahia, & Musters two days after that.— They were both for a long time insensible or nearly so.— They were both buried in the English burial ground at Bahia; where in the lonely spot are also two other midshipmen" (1).
Darwin was obviously taken with this Morgan, especially given the contrast with Captain Fitz-Roy's support for slavery as a "civilizing" institution. The story of the HMS Black Joke is a little different, though. The British navy's frigates could not match the speed of the average slaver, and "the smaller ships were mostly "Sepping brigs (2), which everyone agreed sailed like haystacks, compared with the clean lines of the slaving schooners." So said Christopher Lloyd in his The Navy and the Slave Trade (1949). When it happened that the slaver Henriquetta was captured, it was bought by the Royal Navy in 1828 and renamed the HMS Black Joke. Until it was scrapped in 1832, with a crew of 34 and just one 18-pound gun, the HMS Black Joke, whose name can not help but make possible all sorts of puns itself, captured nine slavers, including the 18 gun El Almirante after a 31 hour chase and battle. In their 16 months of active duty against the slave trade, the crew of the HMS Black Joke freed 466 enslaved Africans from those nine ships.

Later, Darwin relates the discovery of a Mate on another ship, the Unicorn:
May 28th & 29th Captain FitzRoy hired a small Schooner to go to the Rio Negro to bring Mr Wickham in order that he might take command of our Schooner. She arrived yesterday, & to day Mr King, who came with Mr Wickham paid me a visit. — They are heartily tired of their little vessels & are again as glad to see the Beagle as every one in her is to see them. —

30th, July 1st & 2nd Have been employed in arranging & writing notes about all my treasures from Maldonado. — The Captain informs me that he hopes next summer to double the Horn. — My heart exults whenever I think of all the glorious prospects of the future.

3rd–7th All hands of the Beagle continue to be employed in working at the Schooner (for the future the Unicorn). My occupations likewise are the same & I do not stir out of the Ship.

8th It was discovered to day that one of the Mates, belonging to the Unicorn, had formerly been in the President, a vessel supposed to be piratical & which brought the English man of war, the Black Joke, to action. It has, since the Trial, been suspected that this same ship took & murdered every soul on board the Packet Redpole. — Captain Fitz-Roy has determined to take the man a prisoner, to the Consul at M. Video. I have just been astonished to hear the order, "to reeve the running rigging, & bend sails". And we now a little before 12 at night have weighed anchor & are under sail (3).
According to Nora Barlow's note: “The 'Black Joke' was sent out by the Admiralty in 1829 to intercept slavers in West Africa” (4). There are a couple of explanations for why Darwin would get elements of the story reversed or wrong. It is clear that he enjoyed some familiarity with the crew of the Beagle. He mentions in his accounts arguing with Fit-Roy over slavery and as a result being banished by him from the cabin, only to be invited to eat with the crew. Perfect opportunities to hear tales told by an experienced crew like the Beagle's, who knew him well enough to nickname him “Philosopher.” Darwin does seem to have the story correct by the time of the incident with the Mate of the Unicorn, though. A painting of the Black Joke attacking the slaver El Almirante comes from the Royal Naval Museum.

It is little wonder that someone who hated slavery as much as Darwin would mention the passing of Morgan. It says something about History that all we have of Morgan is this brief mention. Perhaps, too, it was people such as Morgan who prompted Darwin to write that contrary to the claims of some Darwinists and followers of Spencer:
“I felt that I was walking on a path unknown to me and full of pitfalls; but I had the advantage of previous discussions by able men. I tried to say most emphatically that a great philosopher, law-giver, etc., did far more for the progress of mankind by his writings or his example than by leaving a numerous offspring. I have endeavored to show how the struggle for existence between tribe and tribe depends on an advance in the moral and intellectual qualities of the members, and not merely on their capacity of obtaining food”(5).
In the Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin brought into the open all of the events he witnessed in the slave countries, but also reveals how he still continued to suffered from the horrors of what he had seen there. His son's statement that even decades later his father endured nightmares of Brazil has a more than adequate foundation in Darwin's own writings. Here is a writer who noted every detail, who centered his work upon his own observations and those of others, who even notes the sound of the sands near Rio Madre when trodden upon by his horse, but who at times leaves out details of his own experiences because the memory so easily enrages and horrifies him. The contrast between the Brazil of infinite tangled banks and the horrific land of slavery found its way into Darwin's work. Even if he could never leave behind the Brazil of his nightmares, he was glad to sail away, never to return.
On the 19th of August we finally left the shores of Brazil. I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, I heard the most pitiable moans, and could not but suspect that some poor slave was being tortured, yet knew that I was as powerless as a child even to remonstrate. I suspected that these moans were from a tortured slave, for I was told that this was the case in another instance. Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have stayed in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten, and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal. I have seen a little boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse-whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean; I saw his father tremble at a mere glance from his master's eye. These latter cruelties were witnessed by me in a Spanish colony, in which it has always been said, that slaves are better treated than by the Portuguese, English, or other European nations. I have seen at Rio de Janeiro a powerful negro afraid to ward off a blow directed, as he thought, at his face. I was present when a kind-hearted man was on the point of separating forever the men, women, and little children of a large number of families who had long lived together. I will not even allude to the many heart-sickening atrocities which I authentically heard of; -- nor would I have mentioned the above revolting details, had I not met with several people, so blinded by the constitutional gaiety of the negro as to speak of slavery as a tolerable evil. Such people have generally visited at the houses of the upper classes, where the domestic slaves are usually well treated, and they have not, like myself, lived amongst the lower classes. Such inquirers will ask slaves about their condition; they forget that the slave must indeed be dull, who does not calculate on the chance of his answer reaching his master's ears.
In this final passage, Darwin refers not very approvingly to Malthus and Spencer while reaffirming his own repudiation of slavery. The final sentence is often quoted, but it is rarely rendered in its full context. The possible reasons for this omission are numerous, and like similar omissions, it is not often noticed. History is made of omissions and the fragments of everyday human life.
“It is argued that self-interest will prevent excessive cruelty; as if self-interest protected our domestic animals, which are far less likely than degraded slaves, to stir up the rage of their savage masters. It is an argument long since protested against with noble feeling, and strikingly exemplified, by the ever-illustrious Humboldt. It is often attempted to palliate slavery by comparing the state of slaves with our poorer countrymen: if the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin; but how this bears on slavery, I cannot see; as well might the use of the thumb-screw be defended in one land, by showing that men in another land suffered from some dreadful disease. Those who look tenderly at the slave owner, and with a cold heart at the slave, never seem to put themselves into the position of the latter; what a cheerless prospect, with not even a hope of change! Picture to yourself the chance, ever hanging over you, of your wife and your little children -- those objects which nature urges even the slave to call his own -- being torn from you and sold like beasts to the first bidder! And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbours as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his Will be done on earth! It makes one's blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty: but it is a consolation to reflect, that we at least have made a greater sacrifice, than ever made by any nation, to expiate our sin”(6).
Darwin writes of witnessing just such events as the selling off of family members while in Brazil. It was Darwin's own blow that the slave mentioned in the previous passage was afraid to defend himself against, but Darwin said he had not raised his hand to hit the person, but in frustration because of their arguing about passage across the river. The encounter profoundly effected Darwin. He was shocked to find himself in the position of being seen as a slaver in the eyes of an actual slave. Slavery, he notes, can quickly make anyone, no matter how civilized or progressive, into the most brutal and inhuman master. Moreover, no matter one's personal view of slavery, the institution itself taints everyone in such a society, slaver and abolitionist alike.

During the voyage, Darwin also gave up hunting, which had been a favorite past time before the expedition.

This year is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. He and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. November will mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Darwin's Origin of Species sold only 50,000 copies during his life. In comparison, George Combe’s Constitution of Man (1827), a phrenological guide to life and conduct, sold 350,000 copies and remained in print from 1828 until 1899.

1 Darwin, Diary, June 4, 1832.
2 “Sir Robert's important improvement in giving to line-of-battle ships a circular bow, we have already slightly touched upon his ingenuity has since produced a more surprising, and an equally important, change at the opposite extremity of the ship, a circular instead of a square stern. ... It having occurred to the philosophic mind of this ingenious architect, that, by not removing the solid bow in the wake of the second deck, in order to substitute the usual flimsy fabric, called the beak-head, the ship would acquire additional strength. in that part of her frame, as well as afford some protection to her crew when going end-on upon an enemy, the circular bow of the Namur was allowed to remain. The advantages of this important alteration struck every one who saw the ship when finished ; and subsequently, as we shall hereafter have occasion more fully to relate, every ship in the British navy was ordered to be constructed with a solid circular bow instead of a beak-head.” James, William. 1837. The Naval History of Great Britain. Apparently, though, this improvement made the ships slower than the slave schooners, who had to deliver their “cargos” before too many of them died. The best that one could hope for in terms of the self-interest of the slavers moderating their treatment of their captives was to be delivered into the hands of the master quickly before dying at sea. It was no doubt unclear to many below decks which alternative was preferable.
3 Keynes, R. D. ed. 2001. Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4 Charles Darwin's Diary of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle. Edited from the MS by Nora Barlow. 1933. New York: MacMillan Company.
5 Letter 241. To John Morley. Down, March 24th, 1871.
6 Darwin, Charles R. 1839. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Journal and remarks. 1832-1836. London: Henry Colburn.