April 30, 2010

Signal Lanterns

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom — Tags: , , , , , , — Russ @ 12:55 am


A few weeks ago, April 18-19, was the anniversary of Lexington and Concord and Paul Revere’s legendary midnight ride. I didn’t think of it at the time, preoccupied as I was with stuff like the SEC and Goldman. But I intend to pay closer attention to these august dates from our lost revolution in the future.
It’s literally true that Paul Revere’s ride is a legendary matter. Throughout American history there have been many Reveres. There was the original story of the “wounded innocence” of 1775, the province of all who were forced by fate into the crucible of war and revolution. (Though when the participants were getting their story straight they rejected Revere’s own deposition because he wouldn’t swear to the alleged fact that the British fired first at Lexington, and he alluded too much to the patriots’ prior preparations for exactly such a British march, which planning tended to contradict the wounded innocence contention.)
The story of the heroism of the midnight ride and the signal lanterns was the folklore of Boston right from those first heady days. The legend grew though the first half of the 19th century. Then came the Civil War, and with it Longfellow’s immortal tale of the lone hero with his ringing call to a nation to fight for its freedom. It was carefully tailored to resonate with a public being fired up for war, and at the same time to flatter the already prominent American legend of the hardy, self-reliant man of action. The story had spectacular success from its publication in January 1861, and this has been the base of the legend ever since, while further hagiography as well as debunking built upon (or chipped away at) this base. Thus we’ve seen the martial “Colonel Revere” of proud imperial days, and Esther Forbes’ “simple artizan” [sic] of 1942, the common man who rose to the occasion, and even the capitalist-soldier of the Cold War, as well as the relatively playful satirical treatment of Revere and other patriotic-affiliated figures following the pointless horror of the Great War, or the far more angry debunkers of the Vietnam and Watergate era (some of them going so far as to claim the midnight ride never took place, or that Revere was drunk as he rode, or that he was a  snitch). And so on into modern times where between structural depictions of the social forces of history and “political correctness” Revere and his midnight ride have often disappeared completely.
While we can dismiss shallow liberal “correctness” with the level of respect it deserves, we are forced to recognize the power of history itself and its economic and social currents. Today especially we’re buffeted amid a vast turbulence of forces. So far as I can see the readers of this blog agree that the global financialized debt system is doomed and must collapse of its own weight, and also that there’s little even a large mass of the peasantry, let alone a few lonely denizens of the blogosphere, can do to affect the way these forces play out and the tempo of their doing so.
Where does this leave the people and events of our legends? Whether we take the legend of a lone midnight rider (or a handful of riders if you include Dawes and Prescott, who are the only other well-known names) and wounded innocence which spontaneously rose and fought back at Lexington and Concord, or whether we go with the more accurate story of a several dozen messengers acting out a well-laid plan which culminated in the vigorous resolution of the fight, either way it’s still just a relative handful of people.
Did history have greater space for contingency and small-scale agency back then? Was that too a casualty of the industrial age, the oil age, the age of masses, and by today nothing can any longer be contingent, and no one, not even among the powerful, can be an agent?
And then there’s the question of whether today’s events ever still concentrate such pivotal significance into such a small space, in terms of time, geography, and the number of actors engaged. If instead we expand the idea to just look for the metaphorical Lexington event, which could serve to fire the will to fight of millions, or if we go further and seek to envision the discrete moment which could signal the final breaking of the exponential finance and Bailout wave, it’s still hard to imagine. 
What can today be the equivalent of a General Gage marching upon Lexington? The latest and most exciting event has been the SEC’s filing against Goldman, which has indeed excited everyone to the point that we see speculation everywhere on whether this is the breaking point for Goldman, or even the turning of the tide against Wall Street itself. Almost as pregnant with portent is the looming European debt default unwind, which may roll up the EU itself, with incalculable consequences. We still have zombie Dubai, still extending and pretending. And providing eschatological backdrop as well as threatening economic devastation itself, we have the eruption of Iceland. Can any of these really provide the non-linear break? We’ll rightly keep doubting until the moment it happens, and probably for some time afterward, just as the newspapermen who witnessed the first Kitty Hawk flight said “that’s nice” and went home thinking, “that was a neat trick, whatever they were really doing”, and it was days before what had happened really sunk in. 
When I think of the early days of the crisis the date 9/29 still leaps out at me. I remember writing it on the cover of the notebook I started in August. On 9/29/08 I wrote, “Sarajevo”. It was the day the first TARP vote rejected it. Of course we know what happened next, and by now I don’t say that date was particularly important. But at the time it struck me as a critical moment in the crisis. I thought they might actually have to start letting the whole thing unravel right then and there. But of course that didn’t happen, then.
Can there really be such a day? Can there be Marches of the Regulars and midnight rides? And even if there still could be, could there again be a response? Can the Minuteman spirit ever reawaken?
Well, that’s just some musings when I thought about the old days. Paul Revere struck me because his legend has been so resilient and evocative for so long for so many. Like I said, I don’t know if they even teach him in school anymore. But should we ever be able to seize upon events, it would be of great use to have the legends to help render them familiar. Not just Revere (who’s really just an example here, but a good one) but the entire heritage is waiting and wanting to do real work once again. It wonders, How was our Revolution lost?
So I just wrote this as some notes and suggestions for further thought. Maybe it doesn’t make a lot of sense, or maybe it’ll give people something to think about. We seem to have unfathomable time (meaning simply that we have zero idea if the zombie starts toppling tomorrow or five years from now or anytime in between) and not a huge number of options for what to do with it at the moment.
Oh well, another strange gizmo for the toolbox.


  1. How about April 10?

    This is the date Poland’s anti-Russian leadership was decapitated in a plane crash under mysterious circumstances and which just happened to be the anniversary of the 1940 Katyn massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals.

    A recent WSJ article indicates the investigation into this incident may be less open and shut than originally announced:

    Early focus on pilot error led to widespread speculation in Poland’s media that President Kaczynski might have pressured the pilot to land, or that the pilot, a captain in the Polish air force, decided to land the plane despite warnings from the control tower to divert.

    Capt. Arkadiusz Protasiuk, however, wasn’t that kind of pilot, according to colleagues who flew with him. “He was very cool-headed” and experienced, said his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ryszard Raczynski, head of the 36th Special transport aviation regiment, in an interview.

    Col. Raczynski said it would be normal procedure, if an airport isn’t closed but the control tower is advising diversion, for a pilot to make one approach to the runway just below the cloud floor to check the conditions. Russian investigators say the Tupolev made only one approach to the runway at Smolensk.

    According to the Russian company that overhauled the Tupolev in December, it was equipped with a system that should have warned the pilots they were dangerously close to the ground. It is unclear why the equipment didn’t prevent the crash.

    Capt. Protasiuk had trained on Yak-40s, small Russian-built passenger jets, Col. Raczynski said. As the presidential Tupolev-154 took off from Warsaw on April 10, Capt. Protasiuk had 2,937 hours of flight-time under his belt, the colonel said.

    Capt. Protasiuk knew Smolensk Airport well, according to Col. Raczynski. On April 7, Capt. Protasiuk flew as co-pilot on the flight that carried the Polish prime minister’s delegation to Smolensk for an earlier Katyn commemoration. The Russian military airport didn’t have a precise guidance system to help planes land—although at one point in the past it did, Col. Raczynski said. The Tupolev was equipped with the second-best of three grades of Instrument Landing System, requiring 300 meters of visibility to land safely, the colonel said.


    Comment by Jefferson — April 30, 2010 @ 3:06 am

    • Anything’s possible with that.

      But it doesn’t seem to be a pivotal event for the global economy or American politics.

      Comment by Russ — April 30, 2010 @ 6:04 am

      • If it turns out Russia or some third party was responsible for crashing the plane, it would be the type of black swan event that could easily start WW III which in turn would have a profound impact on both the global economy and American politics. Not saying it’s probable but it is an example of the type of incident that I anticipate will trigger a geopolitical explosion in the not too distant future.

        Comment by Jefferson — April 30, 2010 @ 9:04 am

      • I know what you mean. Nobody expected Sarajevo to do any such thing like it ended up doing in 1914.

        Comment by Russ — April 30, 2010 @ 9:25 am

  2. Really love this entry. You write exceptionally well.

    I read broadly around the web. In broader places like Yahoo! where commentary after stories is added, it appears to me the blogosphere has become our horse riding through the night. People may not understand the intricacies of policy, the derivatives markets, what the CFMA and GLBA are..but they do understand unfair and unjust. The captured MSM ratings are rock bottom.

    There have been and will always be sheep on both sides. Europeans often referred to Americans as naive, it appears they are correct. That is changing rapidly. Just like Watergate, Vietnam and other earthquakes, our collective cynicism grows like fast expanding economic bubbles designed to capture the wealth of the majority who are honest rubes who do not seek vast fortunes or power, free money or handouts.

    Finally I leave with this germane quote from the past.

    “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.”
    — Sinclair Lewis

    Comment by NS — April 30, 2010 @ 7:04 am

  3. The un-televised revolution without teabags or flags.


    Comment by NS — April 30, 2010 @ 8:21 am

    • Thanks. I hope the injustice and immorality of it all is sinking in.

      It would be great if a protest like this got half as much coverage as the tea protests do.

      And I’d sure love it if every struggling and unemployed person could see the quotes from those criminal parasites:

      As the protest shuffled past Wall Street, the bankers who stopped to watch seemed more bemused than terrified. One man in a pin-striped suit walked up to the marchers and began chanting, “Astroturf!” Next to him, two young bankers snickered as they observed the scene. “These guys just want money,” said one who only gave the first name of Mike, a copy of the Economist tucked under his arm. “They want to tax Wall Street, which would be a disaster for the economy, to fund their bullshit public sector union jobs. God, I hate the labor agenda.”

      The crowd should’ve lynched them.

      Comment by Russ — April 30, 2010 @ 9:29 am

    • I wish I had the silver pen of this blog’ author, Russ. I read your Alternet.org article. First, it’s the Gadsden (G-A-D-S-D-E-N) Flag and it is anything BUT “ahistorical.” Ben Franklin, you know him, right? The author might know him to if he would get his nose out of the air and put it in a history book written by an historian instead of some School of Education flunky of a textbook writer. THe Gadsden Flag represents an appeal for the colonies to unite to fight the French in the French and Indian War. The Gadsden Flag is the first symbol of our shared American identity which existed two decades before the Revolution. What the hell is wrong with that idea? And the tea in those gd teabags represents the outrage of the colonists over being taxed or otherwise put upon by their sovereign “without representation.” To many today it seems that our government is not listening to us. I hear it from both the left and the right. The author of your article will soon be working for the MSM: facts are of no importance to him/her. Every movement has its extremists and your AFL-CIO is not without its own.

      Comment by Jessica — April 30, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

      • Yes, but the trouble is so far the evidence is that for all their rhetoric they’re just Republican sheep.

        Most of them call themselves “Republican”, their heroes include obvious corporate establishment shills like Palin and Beck, and almost all the organizers are on record, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, as saying it’s all about the money and astroturfing for the Reps.

        I guess the real proof will come in November – do they really reject Washington, or is it all bullshit?

        BTW, I don’t recall hearing about any tea protest on Wall Street. If they brought all that anger directly to the gangsters and not just to the gangs’ government flunkies, I’d be more impressed.

        Comment by Russ — May 1, 2010 @ 1:54 am

  4. I think we just need to smarten up Obama, et al.

    Smarten up, makes me think of a story about one of these old con men who used to sell medicine out the back of a covered wagon. At one point he started bottling those little rabbit pellets, (aka rabbit shit) & called them smart pills to make one smart. One day one of his customers told the con man that those “smart pills” tasted like rabbit shit. The con man replied, “see now you’re getting smart

    Comment by chas — April 30, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

    • Yeah. But so far all these idiots keep eating the shit pellets Obama hands out and think they taste good.

      They’re the same shiteaters as Bush followers.

      Comment by Russ — April 30, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

  5. No doubt we need some relief –

    Reminds me of another joke.

    Reminds me of an old Red Foxx joke about a group of colored men & boys out raccoon hunting at night with dogs. When the dogs finally tree a raccoon one of the more courageous young men volunteers to climb the tree & extract the raccoon. Soon after he is heard calling down to the group below, “Just shot up here amongst us – some of us needs some relief”.

    Comment by chas — April 30, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

  6. Good blog, Russ. I don’t know the answer to what you’re asking. What is it going to take to bust this thing wide open? I don’t know. I used to think I was a pretty good predicter of human nature and human actions. The last couple of years have very clearly schooled me on that: I don’t any freaking idea about human behavior & thought. I don’t know what it is going to take, but there is a breaking point, and when this puppy busts loose, look the hell out.

    Comment by Bloodgroove — April 30, 2010 @ 9:30 pm

    • There’s definitely the breaking point. I guess the real question is whether people will do anything to prepare for it and perhaps help speed it along, or whether we’re just committed passively to fate.

      Comment by Russ — May 1, 2010 @ 1:58 am

      • Here’s the deal, there are just hoards of us out here that didn’t participate but have and will be among those who suffer despite our best efforts.

        This is why the issue of ‘trust’ is at hand, both in our financial world and political world. It tough to find an honest broker of either isn’t it?

        To put a fine point on it. When those who lived their lives honestly are denied, those who did prepare requiring uber discipline, foresight and decades of work; then the puppy comes off its leash.

        and here you see the results being played out a world away:


        What the kleptocrates don’t get is they can cut deals all day long and mandate ‘austerity’ but if the ‘public’ doesn’t bend to that authority and agree, if they were not the reason for the need to institute ‘austerity’ then human nature dictates what comes next, history is a FINE teacher.

        So the ‘little people’ get to pay for the misdeeds of the new world robber barons while they make off with untold billions? OK, I think we’re gonna find out if that pig will fly.

        Comment by NS — May 1, 2010 @ 8:09 am

      • I hope the people of Iceland stick to their guns, and Greece as well.

        As for what can spark that spirit in America…..

        Comment by Russ — May 1, 2010 @ 8:57 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: