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This Day in History 5/30 – The 1806 Duel between Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickenson

Jackson DuelSome epithets seem custom-made for their people they describe.

Father of his country, Great emancipator, Great Soul…hell, any permutation of “the Great”, or “the Terrible”, or “The Magnificent” and so on.  These monikers may, or may not suit their real-life examples perfectly.

Yet for some reason, the term “ornery son of a bitch” just fits Andrew Jackson like a glove.

Jackson, hero of the War of 1812, killer of Seminoles in Florida, and seventh President of the United States, had what we today would call an anger issue.  Andy was pissed, at just about anything.

He was pissed at his parents for not settling in Philadelphia, where they landed from Ireland, and opting for a lawless wilderness called the Waxhaws between North and South Carolina.

He was pissed at the British for killing his Mom, his brothers and for slashing him with a sword during the American Revolution.

He was pissed at Native Americans for supporting the British, for supporting their independence and way of life, heck for even existing.

Most of all, he was pissed at anyone who slandered his wife’s good name.

Andrew Jackson met Rachel Donelson Robards when he first moved to Nashville in 1788.  Robards was in the process of divorcing her difficult husband, and Jackson couldn’t wait to marry her.  When they did wed, in 1790, he thought the divorce was finalized.  It so happened that the divorce was never finalized, making Jackson’s marriage bigamous and invalid.  In fact, some records show Rachel living with Andy AS MRS. JACKSON before the ink was dry on the paperwork.  Even though they remarried legally in 1794, it made Rachel look like a two-timing hussy, and Andrew would be the first to fight for his wife’s honor.

In 1805, a fellow horse trader and plantation owner named Charles Dickinson started to get under Jackson’s skin about his business dealings.  Specifically, Dickinson had issue with a horse race between Jackson and Dickinson’s father-in-law.  The war of words would escalate from a simple bet on a horse race to a full-fledged public attack on Rachel Jackson’s character.

At first, the original dispute was settled.  Then, Jackson started telling his own twist on the affair, and Dickinson sent a friend to smooth things over.  Jackson then beat the shit out of the friend with his cane, since he was already pissed at dealing with a meddler and an interloper.  Both Dickinson and his friend sent letters calling Jackson a coward.  Jackson responded in a newspaper that the friend was a “lying valet for a worthless, drunken, blackguard.”

This last insult sent Dickinson over the edge.  Since his Facebook page wasn’t available, he publishes an attack in a newspaper calling Jackson a “poltroon and a coward.”Now a casual look at Webster’s would show that Dickinson is being redundant: “poltroon” means a spiritless coward.  However, looking closer, “poltroon” was also meant to describe Jackson as not only cowardly, but evil as well.  This was a sly reference to Jackson’s relations with his wife, which many still saw as somewhat sinful.

Jackson, as ornery SOBs tend to do, demands satisfaction, challenging Dickinson to a duel in nearby Kentucky (Tennessee outlawed dueling).  On May 30, 1806, both combatants met in the Adairville area near the border between the two states.  Dickinson was confident: he was an expert shot and never stopped showing off his skills along the way.  Jackson, knowing his opponent’s skill, thought Dickinson should fire first, as he might be too excited to aim accurately.  If he missed, then Jackson could calmly aim and fire.  Of course, there was the little problem of Jackson dying from his wound, but that was another matter.

As the two men took their places on the ground, they stood slightly angled to each other, so as to give the smallest target possible.  Dickinson, as planned, fired first.  He hit Jackson square in the chest, within an inch of his heart.  Somehow, it could be through adrenaline, stubbornness, or just plain backcountry hate, Jackson manages to stand still, level his pistol, and fire.  The first shot was faulty, as the cock of the pistol only went halfway, so under the rules of dueling Jackson was allowed to recock his pistol and try again.

This time, he hit Dickinson in the chest.  He wasn’t so lucky.

People of the time were shocked, and criticized Jackson for not simply wounding Dickinson and thus settling the affair without loss of life.  Jackson lived through a lifetime of hate; there was no way he was not going to shoot to kill.  Besides, he rationalized that Dickinson was clearly aiming to kill him, so it was only proper to repay the favor.

Jackson was a social outcast after the duel.  It didn’t last long—pretty soon, a few Indian wars and scuffle with the Redcoats in New Orleans would make him a national hero. He would become President, and survive an assassination attempt—even beating the shit out of his would-be assassin with his cane. Yet the rumors about his wife never let up, even after Jackson killed a man for slandering her.

It’s amazing what a life force hate can be.  Can anyone ever be that pissed nowadays?

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Videos for the Classroom: A Day in the Life…from BBC History

As we here at the Neighborhood sit patiently while Governor Cuomo calls us for an interview, I found this cool series of videos.

In my year teaching ancient history, the BBC has been a veritable lifeline, along with National Geographic, Discovery Channel and PBS.  BBC’s History site is particularly instructive, in that it includes games, projects, lessons and dense (REALLY dense) readings on many important aspects of history–mostly from a British perspective, obviously, but it works.

“A Day in the Life…” is a series of short videos about a kid’s point of view through British history.  Since Ancient Rome is on the menu to end the year, I’ve included the life of Roman kid in Roman Britain.  It isn’t entirely accurate, but it is fun, and cool to share with kids for a laugh.

You can go to BBC History for this and other videos.

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A Letter to Andrew Cuomo: Mr. D for New York’s new P-12 Assistant Education Secretary

English: New York State Capitol viewed from th...

English: New York State Capitol viewed from the south, located on the north end of the Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Governor Cuomo:

I hear that you’re losing one of your top advisors to…law school?

May I ask, do you recruit from the kiddie pool?  May I suggest your next interview be during adult swim?

When I heard of Katie Campos’ departure as Cuomo’s P-12 Assistant Education Secretary, I wasn’t surprised.  I mean, how much can a 20-something who has NO experience in the classroom, NOR in administering a school building know about New York’s arcane system?

Let me repeat that—she was never in a classroom.

She was never even a principal.

She was never a TFA drone, a Teaching Fellow, a Broad Fellow or any of the other alternative programs that the reform crowd love to tout as “experience.”

Michelle Rhee, Richard Barth, Geoffrey Canada…I have my issues with these people, but at least they had some real knowledge of the trenches of education.

Campos spent her three years between college graduation and her Albany post as nothing more than a political apparatchik, from Democrats for Education Reform to the New York State Charter Schools Association.  That’s akin to letting the late Ted Kennedy be principal of a girls’ high school—probably inept, and possibly disastrous.

And she was your “most experienced” team member?  I hear the lamentations of a thousand pairs of soiled undergarments.

So for Campos’ replacement, I humbly urge you, our esteemed governor, to select someone with experience, commitment, passion and above all a vested interest in education.

Someone like me.

Now, besides being ravishingly handsome, I do bring some important skills to the table.  So before I start sending my resume up to Albany, a few bullet points to strengthen my case:

  1. Classroom experience – I’m up on Ms. Campos by nine years in that department.  In my near-decade in the classroom, I’ve seen special education kids, English Language Learners, kids in trouble with the law, kids experimenting with drugs and sex, foster kids, homeless kids, kids on the run from abusive parents…you name it.  I’ve managed to reach a lot of them (NOT all…I wouldn’t pretend like that) and in the process, gotten to know what works and what doesn’t work for kids, parents, and teachers.
  2. Bipartisanship – Why not appoint a Republican to your team, Governor?  Especially an elephant like me with a long memory and (most importantly) an open mind to new ideas. I may have an “R” next to my name, but I’m not some Tea Party nincompoop, nor am I a Wall Street goon. After four years as an undergrad in DC, crossing the aisle is really no big thing; it’s more of a matter of getting the right mix of ideas that can help solve the problem.
  3. Honest feedback about current reforms – Testing, Common Core, teacher evaluations, class size: the big four in terms of gripes and controversies (if I’m missing something, let me know).  How about getting feedback from someone who has worked with and worked to implement your reforms at its base level?  The reform poobahs will gladly generate the spreadsheets and charts to keep you happy—but are they being upfront with you?  At least I can give an answer based on those who actually utilize these programs, rather than the bean counters who collect whatever data is given to them.
  4. A balanced approach to the Common Core – speaking of the Common Core, unlike many of the opposition, I really have no beef with these standards per se.  In fact, in several instances they serve as a necessary clarifier for benchmarks that were extremely vague and open to interpretation.  The Common Core is not the problem; implementation is.  The inconsistent nature of Common Core adoption—followed by ramrod exams that were clearly shown to be flawed—indicates a more nuanced approach to the problem.  It’ll be slower, but much more effective in the long run.
  5. A “people person” who gets along with teachers, students, administrators, unions and kids – The “carrot-and-stick” approach only goes so far in New York state among certain places: the “stick” might work in those districts where the opportunities are slim and teachers take what they can get.  Yet there are also places (NYC, Rochester, etc.) that just laugh at the stick and whip out a bigger one.  Whatever programs that need to implemented, the initial phases will be painful.  Don’t make it more painful by using ed reform blowhards who patronize teachers and keep harping that it’s all “for the children.”  We all know it’s for the kids—at least it’s supposed to be.  Send someone who can reach the best in all sides, who can bring people together instead of drive them apart.
  6. A good-looking guy – did I forget to mention I’m ravishingly handsome?  I was on TV, for Pete’s sake.

With a CV like that, there isn’t a statehouse in America that wouldn’t want me on their team, right?

If you are interested, Governor Cuomo, my LinkedIn profile is right here, and I can be reached through this blog or at my email ldorazio1@gmail.com.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Give my best to Sandra Lee (that was from Future Mrs. D).

Sincerely,

Mr. D

PS: If per chance you request an interview, please make sure it’s a nice day as Future Mrs. D enjoys the drive to Albany.

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Mr. D’s New Toy: Looking for cool History Apps for the iPhone

English: iphone Deutsch: iphone

English: iphone Deutsch: iphone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello there, neighbors!  The past week or so has been quite the grind, and I didn’t want to end the week without a little something from the Neighborhood.

This week, Mr. D finally said adieu to his reliable Blackberry.  It was a rugged little email machine, to be sure, but not much else.  Anyway, I did cave (against my inner voice telling me to hang Steve Jobs in effigy) and purchased a 32-gig iPhone 5 (which is NOT pictured here).  I have to admit, after a day or two of playing with it, this little doctrination device from Apple is quite a nifty little gadget.

Now to fill it with all those wonderful new tools, or time wasters, known as “apps.”

I need your help.  Since I really don’t want to look on my own (nor do I have the time), I’m asking the folks in the Neighborhood for a couple of things:

1. What are the top 10 must-have apps on my phone (APART from the pre-installed ones)?

2. Are there any good, reliable…and FREE…history or social studies apps out there?

Any help on this would be much appreciated.  Thanks.

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Videos for the Classroom: “Caine’s Arcade”

This weekend, I was again at TeachFest, this time in beautiful San Francisco, California.  I met up with some old friends, beloved colleagues and many, many new faces.  It was a long, exhaustive, but exciting time for all of us.  More on TeachFest in later posts.

When I was out there, I was introduced to  a young man that really hit my heart.  Caine Monroy is a young boy from East Los Angeles who built a cardboard arcade in his father’s auto parts store.  A young filmmaker, Nirvan Mullick, visited the store for a part for his car, and by happy accident started playing at Caine’s arcade.  He made a movie called “Caine’s Arcade” and its a testament to the imagination and wonder of young people.  Caine’s story has inspired a movement dedicated to play and imagination, and it was a privilege to meet both of them at TeachFest this year.

Here’s a pic of me with Caine and Nirvan:

Nirvan Mullick, Caine Monroy, and Mr. D

Nirvan Mullick, Caine Monroy, and Mr. D

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Mad Men and the King Assassination

Some of the cast of AMC’s Mad Men.

Yesterday was that rare instance when television illuminates.

Even so, the light shone by the tube can often reflect on our own mirrors—and the image is rarely beautiful.

Mad Men has been one of my favorite programs for a long time—mostly for superficial reasons.  Sure, the series gets deep once in a while, exploring emotions or lack thereof (the latter in the case of main character Don Draper), but I just love the entire ambiance.  The clothes, the furniture, the hair, the constant booze, cigarettes and womanizing; the show does a great job romanticizing a time and place that, if you had an ounce of humanity in you, shouldn’t be celebrated at all.

Yet yesterday’s episode, which focused on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968, gave an interesting window into how this predominantly white establishment dealt with crisis.

Let’s face it; for most of America, the 1960s was still a time of rigid social mores, gender roles, and class divisions that gave more leeway to those males who climbed higher up the food chain (a time we’re unfortunately cycling back to today).  The counter culture image of the Sixties was what America saw on TV, but not necessarily what dictated their everyday lives.

To paraphrase a famous saying, by the time the Sixties really reached middle America, it was the Seventies, and nobody cared.

It certainly seemed that way for the characters of Mad Men, as the episode opened with an advertising awards ceremony in New York.  As the advertising honchos got in their tuxedos and mink stoles, the keynote speech (given by the late Paul Newman as an endorsement to 1968 presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy) was interrupted by a shout that King was killed in Memphis.

As the episode wore on, the emotions of the principal characters ran the gamut.  Megan Draper and Peggy Olsen cried at the news.  Don and Roger Sterling stood as stoic as possible—with Roger cracking wise that he thought King’s famous eloquence would save him.  Old-money scion Pete Campbell lashes out at Harry Crane for thinking of profits on what he calls a “shameful, shameful day!”  Buxom office matron Joan Harris hugs Don’s Black secretary Dawn.  Even Don’s son Bobby starts ripping the wallpaper in frustration.

If there was one common theme in their reactions to the King assassination, it isn’t rage, regret, or even sadness—it is awkwardness.

It’s an awkwardness that captures beautifully the confused mindset of most of white America (at least north of the Mason Dixon) at the time.

The King assassination was one of the defining moments of the decade, and opened a groundswell of emotions.  The survivors of King’s movement tried to keep his legacy and activism alive as best they could.  Stokely Carmichael and others in the Black Power movement called for an end to nonviolent resistance.  Riots sprang up in overt 100 urban areas, including Washington, DC, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and New York.

Again, if you didn’t live in these riot zones, all of this was seen through television.  Most of America, to be honest, really didn’t know how to react.  David Halberstam, the famous journalist, reported callous, even vicious reactions by whites, particularly in the South.  Yet most of America was too stunned…too bewildered…and definitely not sure of what the right reaction should be, especially since the wrong reaction (riots, violence) was sprawled all over the six-o’clock news.

Mad Men was not about to cover the rage and discontent in the Black community, and rightfully so.  Mad Men never has been, and never will be a show about people of color in the 1960s.  It’s about white America, the elite of white America, and how that elite changes with the rise of mass culture and mass communications.  Old-money nabobs like Roger Sterling and Bertram Cooper evolve into the self-made media elites like Don Draper.

As such, it would be extremely stilted, and rather phony, to shift focus from Madison Avenue to the streets of Harlem.  The awkward silences, the phony hugs, the confusion about what to do—all of that reflected perfectly the era and the people of the ruling class of 1960s New York, and nothing else.

Yet even with a clear view, the vista is not always pleasant.  In hindsight, we should’ve known better.

The assassination did not serve as a galvanizing force in America.   On the contrary, it showed how while the activists, intellectuals and politicians moved closer together, the rest of America was still far apart.  Not only were the differences vast, but growing every year as awareness through the media didn’t always lead to acceptance or even sympathy.  Many whites in 1968 still saw civil rights as a threat to their way of life, and not just in the South.

The awkwardness, therefore, reflected a reinforcement of social niceties that mask true intentions.  It’s difficult to know how anyone on Mad Men truly felt about civil rights: even the most liberal of characters, like Peggy Olsen, hasn’t had her worldview tested by a Black family moving next door.

So, in its own way, Mad Men was a lot more realistic about the attitudes of the 1960s than any other show.  The strange silences, stilted apologies and affected shows of affection demonstrate an establishment ( indeed, an entire population) with not only an extreme disconnect to the world around them, but a complete breakdown as the chaos enters the front door.

As our society suffered further catastrophes in the decades since, one must wonder if we ever learned how to react.

What do we do when the world comes crashing down?

Do we make the painful observations that are necessary to make our world better…or just wrap ourselves in the comfort of awkward silence?

 

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This Day in History 4/27: US Marines-led force captures Derne

“Don’t call it a comeback,
I been here for years,
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear…” ~ from “I’m Gonna Knock You Out”, by LL Cool J (1990)

Don’t ever think that we’re new to the regime-change business.  We’ve had over two centuries of experience messing with other countries.

English: William Eaton (1764-1811)

English: William Eaton (1764-1811) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On April 27, 1805, a small force of United States Marines, commanding about 500 mercenaries and supported by three warships, an ambitious diplomat and a deposed former pasha, attacked and captured the city of Derne in modern-day Libya.  It was the first recorded land battle by the United States on foreign soil, and the first time the Stars and Stripes flew in combat in another country.

It was also part of our first war on terror (sensing a pattern here?).

Since the 1600s, pirates sponsored by the Barbary States (Modern day Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya) preyed upon Western ships in the Mediterranean.  The Barbary States were (except for Morocco) nominally part of the Ottoman Empire.  In reality, they stopped listening to Constantinople a long time ago.  Each state quietly sponsored a pirate fleet that pillaged any ship entering their waters, usually for gold, materials, ships and especially captives to be ransomed for big payouts.

To avoid such inconveniences, the Great Powers of Europe did what most Great Powers do: pay off the pirates to leave them alone.  Britain, France and other sea powers paid the Barbary States a yearly “tribute” to let their ships sail the Mediterranean untouched.

By  1801, the young United States suffered a similar problem in the Med.  Unfortunately, it couldn’t afford to pay off the pirate states; thus leading to the rallying cry, “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!”, which actually came from the previous XYZ Affair with the French in 1797-1798, but it seems to fit better here.

For four long years, the US Navy engages in a series of naval and coastal battles with Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli, known collectively as the Barbary Wars.  There were successes and failures on both sides: an American frigate was lost in 1801, the USS Philadelphia, only to have it burned in Tripoli harbor in a daring raid.  It deprived the Tripolitans of their prize and even impressed Lord Horatio Nelson, the great British naval commander who had his hands (or hand, I forgot he lost an arm) full with Napoleon so he couldn’t meddle too much.

Things were seemingly at a stalemate by 1805, when a diplomat, an old veteran of the Middle East, had a crazy idea.

William Eaton was the former US Consul to Tunis, a man with a decent reputation amongst Arabs and Americans alike.  As the war dragged on, Eaton was recalled to Washington and came up with an outrageous way to gain the upper-hand.  Instead of ships slugging it out in the Med, the war could open a second front on land.  The ruler of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli, deposed his brother Hamet in a coup ten years earlier.  The plan would involve going to Egypt, where the exiled brother was living, recruit him and hundreds of mercenaries to cross the desert and reinstate him to his rightful throne.  The whole scheme involved naval support from three military vessels and a handful of US Marines led by First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon.

Amazingly, the US government gave full support to this adventure, sending Eaton to the Med with the lofty, if slightly bullshitty, title of “Naval Agent to the Barbary States.” He found Hamet Karamanli, who agreed to the plan and helped recruit about 500 Arab and Greek mercenaries—with Eaton acting as general and commander-in-chief (he appointed himself).  They set up a base in Alexandria, Egypt, where Eaton, O’Bannon, Hamet and squadron commander Isaac Hull laid out their plans.  The objective would be the port city of Derne, capital of the province of Cyrenaica and a base of power for Yusuf.

This motley crew sets across the Libyan desert on March 6, 1805.  It would take almost two months and over 500 miles to cross, and it soon became clear that mercenaries tend to be a handful—especially when they’re two groups that hate each other.  They were promised money and supplies upon reaching Derne, and many weren’t willing to wait that long.  On any given occasion, either the Arabs or the Greeks (sometimes both) threatened to mutiny.  In the first week alone, several of the Arab camel drivers mutinied and turned back.  Things didn’t really settle down until April 25, when they reached Bomba, a city up the coast from Derne where the three naval vessels waited with the appropriate money and supplies to keep the mercenaries happy…for now.

Hull’s squadron bombarded Derne on April 27.  Hamet Karamanli led the Arab mercenaries towards the governor’s palace, cutting of the escape route to Tripoli, while Eaton led the Greeks and the Marines towards the harbor fortress.  Hamet’s forces stormed the western part of the city easily, while Eaton was seriously wounded leading his force over the walls of the defenses.  The defenders left all their cannon loaded as they fled, so Eaton turned the guns on the city and opened fire.  Meanwhile, O’Bannon raised the American flag over the Derne defenses.  The town fell by 4 in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Yusuf had already sent reinforcements to Derne, only to find that the city had already fallen.  While Eaton fortified his position, Hamet and the Arabs patrolled the governor’s palace and the outskirts.  When Yusuf’s forces attacked on May 13, the Arabs fell back before Eaton’s guns and the batteries of the USS Argus saved the day, driving the invaders back to their original positions.

Feeling confident, Eaton was ready to press on to Tripoli and finish off Yusuf…and then, en route to his prize, his government stabs Eaton in the back.

Yusuf, eager to keep his throne against his invading brother, sent feelers out to the US to sign a peace treaty.  Tobias Lear, George Washington’s former secretary and now Consul General to the North African Coast, negotiated a Treaty of Peace and Amity with Yusuf on June 4, 1805.  Incredibly, the treaty did exactly as the US didn’t want to do: pay a ransom, this time $60,000 for the release of prisoners from the Philadelphia and other ships.  Even worse, Yusuf would keep his throne, with the backing of the United States.

Hamet would return to Alexandria, the mercenaries would never be paid in full, and although O’Bannon and Eaton returned home as heroes, they never forgave Lear for his perceived treachery.

Despite the setbacks, Derne was more than just a pyrrhic victory.  Important lessons were learned, such as:

Never fuck with the Marines – a handful…yes, a HANDFUL…of Marines managed to recruit a regiment of hired killers, march them 500 miles across the Sahara, then attack a heavily fortified position, take possession AND repel ensuing counterattacks.  Derne made the US Marine Corps, plain and simple.  All jarheads trace their ancestry to Presley O’Bannon and his small band of asskickers—and they did it in those hot-as-hell Napoleonic uniforms, making them even more badass.  Finally, the Mameluke sword Marine officers carry today is modeled on the one supposedly given to O’Bannon by Hamet Karamanli as a gift for his service.

Never run a line of credit on mercenaries – The 500 goons hired to take Derne wanted cash, and fast.  Eaton kept dangling the carrot to get them crossing the desert, hyping the riches of Derne if they just got there.  A few mutinies later, it was clear they had to stop short and pay that deposit.  Mercenaries don’t carry plastic, and they don’t take IOUs or even COD.  When they were forced to return thanks to the treaty…let’s just say any town between Derne and Alexandria was fair game.

In a multinational force, the Yanks often draw the shit job – ask the poor guys at Omaha Beach about this one.  Hamet Karamanli takes the Arabs to the west side of town with almost no resistance, while Eaton and O’Bannon slog over the defenses and sustain a lot of the damage, at least initially.  Their offense ground to a halt while Hamet’s Arabs stormed the rest of the town in a walk.

No one fucks over a diplomat as much as another diplomat – or, for that matter, an FBI agent, a spy, a CIA operative, a Senate committee chairman, etc.  Derne was the start of 200 years of half-finished foreign adventures, thanks to the double-dealing, backstabbing, face-saving and ass-kissing of our federal agencies that rarely play nice together for long.

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