Curses: Foiled Again!

As Campaigner-In-Chief, Barack Obama, fights for his political life, his strategy is simple.  He gets off the Darth Vader Bus of Despair with a clear message for the American people: “Folks, let’s all hitch ourselves to the Blame Bush Bandwagon ‘cause it’s all his fault.”  Little does he know that he is maligning the single most accomplished president in the history of America!  Dubya was the one guy who stood tough against both the stars that govern us and metaphysical forces that we cannot yet hope to understand — and triumphed.  No other president — not Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy or even the great Ronnie Reagan — can stand in the hall of greatness where Dubya resides.  He is solitary in his achievement, a true American hero, who lifted his country out of a morass of hopelessness.

It all started 200 years ago, in 1811, when resident bully William Henry Harrison and an American militia army kicked the crap out of Tecumseh’s little brother Tenskwatawa and a bunch of his Native American buddies at the Battle of Tippecanoe.  However, don’t throw the racist stone just yet, because the Native Americans involved had been swindled out of their land — fair and square — a couple of years before at the Treaty of Fort Wayne.  Moreover, they had surrounded Harrison’s militia with intent to do bodily harm and (all sides agree) threw the first punch (or spear as it were.)

The problem was Tenskwatawa was a bit of a part-time spiritualist, and he had foreseen the battle in a dream.  He told his followers that the American bullets would not harm them, and there would be a great victory.  Unfortunately, hot steel very seldom obeys the laws of the spirit world, and when the dust settled, the great victory was somebody else’s.  The result was an end to a mighty Native Confederation (and a lot of name calling around the council fires that winter.)

Click all you want there's nothing there

At this point, the tale gets really interesting and the evidence gets really sketchy.  In fact, the only hard proof we have that any of the rest of this ever happened comes from a 1930s Ripley’s Believe it or Not cartoon.  However, in my day, most people who never made it out of History 12 (and some who did) believed it.  The story goes that because of Harrison’s actions at Tippecanoe, Tecumseh or his brother Tenskwatawa (who, given the evidence, had the hilarious nickname, “The Prophet”) placed a curse on the American Presidency.  Either Tecumseh, as he lay dying, or Tenskwatawa many years later, essentially said that Harrison would be elected President, but he would die in office.  Not only that, but one of them (???) went on to say that every twenty years, forever after, no president, elected in a year ending in zero, would make it out of the White House alive.  Apparently, the Shawnee know how to hold a grudge.

Meanwhile, back at the facts, for the next 140 years Tecumseh’s Curse kept ticking away like a top-end Rolex.  Harrison, was indeed, elected President in 1840, at his second kick at the can.  He caught a cold giving the most boring inaugural speech in American history and died a month later.  In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president and although he survived his first term, was re-elected in 1864 and assassinated by John Wilkes Booth less than a year later.  Next, James Garfield, elected in 1880, was shot by Charles Guiteau in July of 1881 and died that September.  However, to be fair, this may have had more to do with the presidential medical staff than a Native American curse.  Apparently, Garfield’s wound was not life threatening, but his doctors were and that’s what finished him off.  In 1896, William McKinley beat William Jennings Bryant to become the 25th president of the United States, and rather than quit while he was ahead, he ran for re-election in 1900.  He beat Bryant again, but the next year, while touring the World’s Fair in Buffalo, was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz and died within days.  In 1920, Warren Harding was elected to the Oval office.  He lasted long enough (3 years) to preside over one of the most corrupt administration ever and be considered one of the worst presidents.  He died in San Francisco in 1923.  The jury’s still out on the cause of death; opinions range from stroke to food poisoning to suicide.  There’s even one theory that he was murdered by Mrs. Harding (who oddly enough burned all his papers when she got back to Washington.)  Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to work very hard, indeed, to fulfill Tecumseh’s Curse.  He was elected president in 1932, 1936, the magical 1940 and 1944.  He finally died of exhaustion and a cerebral haemorrhage in April, 1945.  John Kennedy was elected in 1960 and died in Dallas in 1963.  I’m not going to go into the wherefores and the whys of JFK’s death because if you ask any four people their thoughts about it you’ll get six different conspiracy theories.

Of course, many people do not believe in NativeAmerican curses.  Unable to accept the metaphysical power which surrounds us every day and only primitive people possess, they pooh-pooh the idea.  Many prominent astrologers maintain that the regularity of presidential death has nothing to do with Tecumseh, his brother or anyone else.  It is, in reality, controlled by the stars and the evidence is available to anyone who wants to open their eyes.  There is an astrological cycle which occurs every 19.8 years when Jupiter, the faster orbiting planet, crosses paths with Saturn, the slower planet.  Since Jupiter rules politicians and Saturn rules death, something catastrophic is bound to happen.  Luckily, however, the stars are only concerned with American politicians or we’d have others world leaders popping off with the same annoying regularity.

Fortunately, in the 21st century, George W. Bush came along and put a stop to both 19th century Native American cursery and ancient Americo-centric astrology.  He was elected in 2000 and served two full terms in office.  (There was a moment there when the pretzels nearly got him, but in the end, he prevailed.)  When his presidency was over, he packed his bags, waved good-bye, and went back to Texas, hale and hearty.  Barack Obama, the Democrats, Jon Stewart and the girls from The View can continue to blame him for everything from the National Debt to obesity in preschoolers, if they want to.  However, even they have to admit that when George W. Bush stepped away from the White House, he’d lifted the curse that had plagued America for a century and a half — and even realigned the stars.  Not bad for a straight C student from Yale!

But, wait a minute, you might ask.  What about Ronnie Reagan?  Reagan was a great president who won the Cold War and gave us “trickle-down” economics.   However, as any supporter of either the Tecumseh Curse or the Jupiter/Saturn theory will tell you, Reagan was elected in 1980, and he died from Alzheimer’s, which was already very apparent during his last days at the White House, when Nancy and Frank Sinatra were running the country.

Independence Day Trivia

Several years ago there was a CBC television program called Talking to Americans.  The premise was to ask Americans leading questions about Canada so that they would demonstrate their ignorance of our country and look like jackasses.  The show was very popular.  Oddly enough there has never been an American TV program called Talking to Canadians.  This is probably because Canadians know and care a lot more about our southern cousins than they do us.  For example, most Canadians know that today is Independence Day in the US — the 4th of July.  It’s the perfect day to enhance our trivia knowledge of America.  Here are some odds and sods of information that will make you totally superior to other Canadians (or Americans, for that matter) who do not possess this specialized knowledge.  Enjoy!

Nearly 25% of all Americans have been on TV.

In Washington, DC, there are over 75 lobbyists for every United States senator.

At any given time, approximately 60,000 Americans are flying.

From space, the brightest thing on Earth is Las Vegas.  That’s why the aliens always show up there.

There are more cows in Montana than people.

There are more cars than people in Los Angeles.

If California was a separate country, it would have the 7th largest economy in the world.

The deepest gorge in the United States is not the Grand Canyon.  It’s Hells Canyon on the Snake River in Idaho and Oregon.

The Sears Tower in Chicago is so big it has its own ZIP Code: 60606.

Only 12 people have ever stood on the moon – all Americans.

The last time anybody checked, which was 2006, the United States gave – gave! – other countries $22.828 billion dollars in foreign aid.  That’s in a single year, directly from the US government, and not the Red Cross, Unicef, Save the Children or any other charity — including Bill Gates.

The United States is weirdly shaped.
Buffalo, New York, which is on Lake Erie directly south of Toronto, Canada, is further east than Jacksonville, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which are all on the Atlantic Ocean.
El Paso, Texas, is closer to San Diego, California than it is to Houston, Texas.
Reno, Nevada is further west than Los Angeles, California.
Louisville, Kentucky is closer to Windsor, Ontario than it is to Memphis, Tennessee.
And Windsor, Ontario is actually south of Detroit, Michigan.

There are more hazelnuts grown in the Willamette Valley, Oregon than everywhere else in the world — combined.  In fact, Oregon produces 98% of the world’s commercial hazelnut crop.

The most popular tourist destination in the world is San Francisco.  Paris, France is #2.

Pocahontas was the first woman to appear on US currency, in 1863.  Martha Washington was second.  Minnie Mouse (featured on the Disney five dollar bill) was third — but that doesn’t count.

As of today, the most widely recognized symbol in the world is the Coke — followed by Facebook, Pepsi and Google.

Finally, here are a couple of facts that could win you untold numbers of drinks in a bar.  Just remember to phrase them properly.

1 – How many states are there in the United States of America?  Most people (who aren’t dolts) and every reference book will say 50.  This is not true.  There are only 46 states in the U.S.A.   However, there are also four Commonwealths: Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts — which round the number up to an even 50.

2 – How many presidents were born in Kentucky?  Even the mighty Google tells us only one, Abraham Lincoln.  Nope, wrong again.  There were two: Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis his Confederate counterpart during the Civil War.

To all my American friends: Happy 4th of July!

I Had a Friend in Arizona

When I was a young man, I lived in Arizona.  I had a friend who worked for Amtrak.  You can take the train from LA to New Orleans if you want to, but it’s a bum-numb-er, and I wouldn’t advise it.  My friend worked on the route from Tucson to El Paso.  It’s an interesting part of the world except in the summer when nothing moves in the heat – not even the sun.  It’s Chiricahua land — you know them as Apaches — but there are no Chiricahua there anymore because they were all taken to The San Carlos, to die.  This was long before a couple of Republicans named Earp shot it out with Ike and Billy Clanton one afternoon in 1881.  Amtrak basically follows the old railway line that went through Benson into Cochise County and across the southern end of the Dragoon Mountains to New Mexico.   This was originally the route of the even older Butterfield Stage which, from 1857 to 1861, went from Tucson to Franklin (what would become El Paso.)  What does all this have to do with anything?  Not much.  I just wrote it to smart-off about how much I know about Arizona.  The real story is my friend who worked for Amtrak.

In the old days, Amtrak was a despicable railroad.  They were never on time, the food was terrible, they lost reservations, lost luggage and once they lost a couple of passengers who stepped off the train during a breakdown and were left, out in the desert.  Amtrak was so bad they even employed people like my friend who honestly was never prepared for steady employment.  He had wonderful stories about all the foul-ups at Amtrak; unfortunately, most of them were connected to him.  Finally, unable to find anything Daniel (not his real name) was even remotely competent at, Amtrak stuck him in the Information Desk.  His only job was to point people in the right direction, tell them where the bathrooms were, and adjust the clock that gave the times for arrivals and departures.  That’s where he ran into trouble.

Since Amtrak was constantly late in those days, lots of folks would come up to Daniel at the INFORMATION booth and ask if the train was on time.  Daniel would look up from his book, point to the clock that gave the time delay and say, “Nope.”  Sometimes, if his book was particularly good, he wouldn’t even point; he’d just purse his lips and shake his head and then go back to it – he loved Westerns.  Think about this for a second.  Ordinary people get impatient at traffic lights.  So normally, unless their names were Mr. and Mrs. Mohandas Gandhi, nearly everybody was looking for a little more information than that.  Invariably they would say something like, “What the hell’s going on?” or “What’s the deal?” or even a simple “Why?”  Daniel would swim up from his book again, look at them like they were idiots and say, “Does it matter?”  Obviously, from time to time, tempers would flare and after a couple of weeks of this, even Amtrak couldn’t take the mountain of complaints.  They threatened to fire Daniel.  I know for a fact he was supporting at least 2 girlfriends at the time and a large Louis L’Amour habit, so he needed the money desperately.  He promised Amtrak, on the souls of his grandchildren, that he would shape up and fly right.  And he did.

Daniel hit on a cunning plan.  He eventually realized that people wanted a reason the train was late — even though it didn’t actually matter. They wanted to understand.  They wanted some connection to the events.  They wanted something to blame.  They didn’t want to feel helpless.  And they wanted all these things simultaneously and unconsciously.  So what Daniel did was make things up.  Whenever the Sunset Limited (as it is now called) was late, in either direction, passengers in Tucson were told a variety of lies based on Western novels.  Daniel wasn’t stupid enough to tell them the train had been attacked by the Apaches or anything — although once he did say it hit a buffalo — but rockslides, grass fires, washed-out bridges and such like, were all fair game.  Amtrak was happy, the passengers were happy (relatively) and — most importantly — my friend Daniel kept his job.

What does this have to do with anything?  Not much.  It’s just that sometimes when events are out of control — in Tucson, or any other place for that matter — it’s good to have people like Daniel explaining things to us.  It’s good to have a reason why things went wrong.  It doesn’t have to be true.  We don’t need the truth; we just need to understand.   We need a simple, sensible explanation so we don’t feel helpless.

Tucson, Arizona is a nice town, and people don’t get killed there for no reason.  Maybe it’s wicked politics or an insane lack of gun controls.  Maybe it’s the culture of the Wild West or American culture itself, but somewhere there has to be a reason.  I’m sure my friend Daniel might be persuaded to come up with one for us.