Monday, January 29, 2007

The Peter Cooper Story, 1: The Lost Peekskill Years


Few people hurrying along the north side of South Street in Peekskill, N.Y., take notice of the tablet gracing the wall of the Wachovia Financial Center. For the past 76 years this bronze bas-relief casting has marked the site where Peter Cooper once lived. Erected by Peekskill's Friendly Town Association and affixed to the since-demolished building of the Peekskill Savings Bank, the tablet was unveiled on Peter Cooper's 140th birthday, February 12, 1931.

Designed and sculpted by George T. Brewster, head of the art department at Cooper Union in New York City, and cast by the Gorham Company in Providence, R.I., it reads, "Upon this site from 1793 to 1810 lived Peter Cooper, inventor, educator, philanthropist." Through the years, the tablet and its almost ghostlike image of Peter Cooper have acquired a lovely moss-green patina. Unfortunately, the plaque also has the baggage of an erroneous and imprecise legend.

Unfortunately, the tablet's claim of a 17-year residence in Peekskill by Peter Cooper is inaccurate. Buried in biographies of Peter Cooper by Allan Nevins (Abram S. Hewitt: With Some Account of Peter Cooper. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1935) and Edward C. Mack (Peter Cooper: Citizen of New York. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1949) is incontrovertible evidence that he lived in Peekskill during only part of that period. A year before he died, Peter Cooper dictated to a stenographer more than 200 pages of a memoir of his early life. The typescript of these reminiscences was lost, but fortunately the original stenographic notes were discovered later at Cooper Union, the remarkable educational institution he founded.

Peter Cooper was one of the most significant American figures of the 19th century. Although he had less than a year of formal schooling, he became a successful inventor, engineer, industrialist, educator, civic reformer and philanthropist. He had the Midas touch--but not the Midas curse. He made a fortune and gave much of it away during his lifetime. He did indeed spend part of his youth in Peekskill--but not over the span of years shown on the tablet. To trace where Peter Cooper lived as a youth, we must trace the movements of his peripatetic parents.

A Genealogical Detective Story
Historical and genealogical research is not unlike detective work, requiring patience and attention to detail. Hidden clues often confirm suspicions and reveal truths. Just as frequently they lead to dead ends. Here is what can be pieced together about the Cooper family's years in Peekskill and elsewhere:

Peter Cooper's father, John Cooper, was born in Fishkill, N.Y., in 1755, the fifth of eight children of Obadiah Cooper and Hester Terboss Cooper. The Terbosses were among the first settlers in Fishkill. His mother, Margaret Campbell Cooper, was born in 1762 in New York City, the daughter of John and Sarah Oakley Campbell. Her father was a wealthy manufacturer of pottery and tiles. His business located on the site of the future St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway at Fulton Street, erected between 1764 and 1766.

When the Revolution began, Peter's father was in business as a hatter in Fishkill and owned a few slaves. He was among the first to enlist in the fight to free the colonies from British rule, serving as a sergeant in a regiment of local Fishkill "minutemen." Minutemen were expected to be ready to assemble under arms on a minute's notice. His regiment was rushed to New York City in 1776 to dig trenches on Governor's Island. A huge fleet of British warships and troop transports was anchored in the Lower Bay, and British troops had landed on Staten Island.

The American forces were too few to hold the city and abandoned it. A week later, a fire broke out in a tavern called the Fighting Cocks. Swept by a brisk wind, the flames raced through the city, destroying the original Trinity Church and everything as far north as Barclay Street. The regular firemen had left with the American forces. The retreating American army had carried off most of the church bells and other fire alarm bells.

Suspecting arson, irate British authorities rounded up some 200 men and women for questioning. Among them was a young captain in the American forces named Nathan Hale, who was not in uniform. When questioned at the headquarters of British General William Howe in the Beekman House at 50th Street and the East River, he was found to be carrying incriminating papers. General Howe ordered him hanged without the formality of a trial. His last words from the gallows, paraphrased from Joseph Addison's play, Cato, were to become famous: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." For collectors of trivia, the site of the hanging is believed to have been in a British artillery park at about today's Third Avenue and 66th Street.

From Harlem Heights, George Washington watched the southern horizon glow red and remarked, "Providence, or some good honest fellow, has done more for us than we were disposed to do for ourselves." John Cooper's regiment retreated northward to Westchester County, taking part in the Battle of White Plains and garrisoning Fort Constitution, below West Point.

John Cooper's first wife was 19-year-old Martha Pinfold, from Newtown, a small settlement between Maspeth and Flushing in the present borough of Queens. They were married on May 4, 1777, in Newtown. Sixteen months later, on September 18, 1778, Martha Pinfold Cooper died in Fishkill, leaving him with a week-old infant son, also named John. After serving as a minuteman for two years, John Cooper was drafted for service outside New York State. He took advantage of a law that permitted him to pay $60 to get a substitute to serve for him.

Returning to Fishkill, he joined a regiment of Dutchess County militia as a second lieutenant and served for four years at West Point, at Highland under George Clinton and as commander of a detachment at Fishkill. On December 21, 1779, John Cooper married for the second time. His new wife was the 17-year-old daughter of General John Campbell, then deputy Quartermaster General of the Continental Army. She was educated at the Moravian Young Ladies Seminary in Bethlehem, Penna., the first boarding school for young women in America. Hugh Campbell, John Campbell's brother, evidently a Presbyterian, was buried in the graveyard of New York City's Brick Presbyterian Church at Beekman and Nassau streets, but John Campbell and his wife were--or became--Moravians and were buried in the graveyard of the Moravian Church in John Street.

The Revolution Ends
After the war, the couple continued to live in Fishkill. Around 1785, perhaps at the suggestion of her parents who had already returned to New York City, they moved their growing family to the burgeoning community at the south end of Manhattan Island. With daughters Sarah and Martha in tow, they became part of a large-scale migration from the country to the young nation's growing cities. John Cooper opened a business as a hatter, the only trade he knew, in his home on Little Dock Street, between Broad Street and Old Slip. At the end of the 18th century, Little Dock Street was close to the East River's docks and piers; later renamed Water Street, today it is lined with skyscrapers.

His business prospered. One day he met a young fur trader named John Jacob Astor, who was looking for a shop. He found one at 40 Little Dock Street. "Very likely through a hatter named Cooper, who dwelt not far from No. 40," wrote Arthur D. Howden Smith, Astor's biographer, in his biography, John Jacob Astor, Landlord of New York (Philaelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1929). John Cooper became a good customer of the fur trader, buying the beaver skins that Astor bought from western Indians and so-called "Mountain Men." If a customer lacked money to pay for a hat, Cooper took payment in "hay, buggy-hire, bricks, firewood, tobacco, wool, sugar, flour, honey, old sheepskins, casks of rum, three days' work of a Negro, and so on," according to an account left by one of his granddaughters. For all practical purposes, John Cooper was as much a grocer as he was a hatter.

A son, James, was born in 1786; another son, Thomas, arrived in 1788 but lived only 11 months. The 1790 census lists John Cooper as head of a household of five white males over 16, three under 16, and four females. Aside from the members of his family, the others may have been boarders, servants or helpers. On February 12, 1791, Margaret Cooper's third son, Peter, was born in the combination house and hatter's shop on Little Dock Street in New York City.

To Peekskill
John Cooper moved to Peekskill in 1794, with four children, ages 12, 10, 5 and 3. We can date Peter Cooper's arrival in Peekskill with a fair degree of accuracy. According to his own memoir, when Peter was three years old, John Cooper moved his family from Manhattan to Peekskill. Since Peter's third birthday was February 12, 1794, this would make the year of his arrival in Peekskill 1794--not the 1793 of the tablet on the bank building. In Peekskill, John Cooper bought a parcel of land, built a house and opened a grocery store. Since he had been successful in business in New York City, biographers ascribe no rational explanation for his move to the country other than wanderlust or restlessness--ignoring the appeal of the life he had previously known in the Hudson Valley.

Peter Cooper himself later explained the move by saying that he "became enamored of the country life." He wrote, explaining his lack of education, "My only recollection of being at school was at Peekskill, where I attended three or four quarters, a part of the time (probably half of it) being half-day school." He added, "The reason I was the only one of my father's family who had so poor a chance was that he [Peter's father] moved to the country when I was only three years old."

Business in Peekskill was brisk for John Cooper--his ledgers show sizable sales of molasses, rum and sugar, along with such items as penknives, buttons, oilcloth and bridle bits. As before, he was a storekeeper, hatter, shoemaker, brewer and farmer, sometimes all at the same time. He also scoured the woods for wild honey and fur, netting wild pigeons for extra income. Young Peter was befriended by Pierre Van Cortlandt, New York State's first lieutenant governor, who used to give him peaches from his orchards at the Manor House in Croton.

But John Cooper was no businessman. An easy touch, he extended credit generously to customers. As a youth, he had been swept up in the fervor of the Methodist revivalism of evangelist George Whitefield's "Great Awakening." A devout Methodist, John Cooper not only took the time to help his fellow Methodists build a chapel but also opened his home to visiting clergy and gave them unlimited credit at his store.

An early Cooper biographer was J.C. Zachos, a professor at Cooper Union, the exceptional educational institution Peter Cooper founded, and the inventor of the stenotype machine. In his 1876 biography, he wrote that it was "not more than two or three years before he [John Cooper] found that nearly all of his property was in the hands of other people, and that it was impossible for him to collect it." The inevitable financial disaster followed. For the next dozen years or so, John Cooper and his family moved from place to place in the Hudson Valley seeking success but leaving little trace of their presence. Additional sons made their appearance: a second son named Thomas in 1794, William in 1799 and Edward in 1803.

Young Peter's sporadic education came to a halt after the family left Peekskill. He was forced to help his father as the family traveled from one location to another. In addition to hat making, the elder Cooper tried dairy farming, brickmaking and brewing. It is not easy to pinpoint the destinations of Peter Cooper's chronically restless and insolvent father and his tagalong family; they ranged from Brooklyn, then a separate city to the south across the East River from Manhattan, to the Hudson River town of Catskill on the west bank of the Hudson to the north.

Back to New York City
We know that John Cooper moved back to New York City around 1799 and took up hat making again. He either lived in Brooklyn (he had a home there some time between 1796 and 1808) or in a house on Duane Street owned by his mother-in-law, where Peter remembered living as a boy. Standing on Broadway in front of St. Paul's Chapel, Peter Cooper witnessed the mock-funeral procession of George Washington in New York City in 1799. Many other places conducted similar ceremonies to honor the former President, who died December 14, 1799, at Mount Vernon, his Virginia estate. Young Peter was particularly impressed by the "peculiar way in which his boots were reversed in the stirrups of the charger that followed the hearse."

John Cooper's ledgers show sales of hats between 1796 and 1808, and show that he accepted rum, food and wood in exchange. Eventually, he sold his hat shop at Duane Street to Peter's half-brother, John, 13 years older than Peter. We also know that Peter's father moved back to Peekskill at some time between 1800 and 1804 and built a brewery there, and that he later built another brewery in Newburgh, where he was living before 1808 and again after 1814.

One clue suggesting the Cooper family's presence in Peekskill in 1804 is the marriage in Peekskill of John Cooper, Peter's half-brother and only child of Martha Pinfold, who had died in childbirth. On April 21, 1804, 26-year-old John Cooper married 17-year-old Elizabeth Hawes. Born October 2, 1786, in Peekskill, she was the daughter of Soloman (Solomon?) Hawes and Lavinia Hammond. As might be expected, newlyweds John and Elizabeth Hawes Cooper remained in Peekskill after their marriage. A son, Thomas Edmund Cooper, was born there August 15, 1812.

The written record of the Cooper family's movements is often clouded. In 1866, when he was 75, Peter Cooper wrote in an eleven-page autobiographical fragment that when he was 12 or 13 (1803 or 1804), his father built a brewery in Peekskill and a year later another in Newburgh, a town in which he remained for two or three years. "He then again removed to Brooklyn and went back into hats and keeping cows for the sale of milk." That would place Peter Cooper in Peekskill again only until about 1805, making the 1810 date on Peekskill's plaque impossible.

Ten years after writing his brief autobiographical reminiscence, he told biographer J. C. Zachos that after building the Peekskill brewery his father moved to Catskill, where he made bricks and hats, and that he then moved to Brooklyn. In this account, the Newburgh brewery follows the Brooklyn interlude, and young Peter worked at brewing in Newburgh until he was 17--in 1808. Regardless of the sequence of the periods when he lived elsewhere, Peter was gone from Peekskill by 1805.

The Coachmaker's Apprentice
Young Peter Cooper cut family ties in Newburgh in 1808 and struck out for himself and headed for the burgeoning metropolis of New York City. Abandoning hat making, brewing and brick making, the trades at which he had worked for his father, he apprenticed himself for four years at $25 a year to coachmaker John Woodward, of the firm of Burtis & Woodward. So sure was his new employer young Peter would serve out the full term of his apprenticeship, he never asked him to sign an indenture bond. The coachmaking workshop was at the northeast corner of Broadway and Chambers Street. That corner in 1846 became the site of A.T. Stewart's "Marble Palace" department store, which later became the New York Sun building and still stands.

The dates and facts of his apprenticeship in New York starting in 1808 are well documented in existing records, further casting doubt on the Peekskill tablet. While he was learning coachmaking, Peter Cooper taught himself a variety of skills, including ornamental wood carving and sold his handiwork to Woodward and other coachbuilders. Always curious about new methods, young Peter invented a machine for mortising carriage wheel hubs--work that had previously been done by hand. Woodward was impressed with it and bought it from him. In 1879, Peter Cooper could write, "That method is still mortising all the hubs in the country."

So satisfied was Woodward with his apprentice that he voluntarily paid him $50 for his third year and $75 for his fourth. After completing his apprenticeship in New York City late in 1811, he rejected Woodward's offer to set him up in the coachmaking business. Instead, he found a job in Hempstead, Long Island, in a shop making machines for shearing the nap from cloth. In November of 1812, with two partners, he bought the rights to the machine.

Peter Cooper married 20-year-old Sarah Bedell of Hempstead, N.Y., in her parents' home in that Long Island community on December 22, 1813. The marriage lasted 56 years, ending with her death in 1869. The couple had seven children--although only three would live to adulthood. The new groom delayed announcing his marriage to his parents--still in Newburgh--in a letter two weeks after the event. "I would inform you that you now have another daughter-in-law," he wrote laconically. After his marriage, he bought out his partners. Now he was in business for himself and would never work for another person. Peter Cooper was on his way and never looked back. There is no record that he ever visited Peekskill again.

When a newspaper makes an error in reporting a story, it prints a correction. If errors are found in a book after it has been printed, the publisher inserts or tips in each copy an errata sheet correcting the errors until a new printing is made. But what can a community do when a 76-year-old memorial contains misinformation?

In John Ford's 1962 motion picture The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, actor James Stewart, playing a U.S. senator, returns to the small town of Shinbone in which he got his start. He attempts to correct the story that he shot a notorious outlaw named Liberty Valance by explaining to the editor of the local newspaper that the real hero of the incident was Tom Doniphon, played by John Wayne.

At the end of the film, Stewart asks the editor, Maxwell Scott, played by veteran character actor Carleton Young, "Mr. Scott, you're not going to use the story?" "This is the West, sir," the editor replies. "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." That seems to be what happened in the eastern city of Peekskill in 1931, when some overenthusiastic citizens created a legend and then cast it in bronze.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tocqueville's Democracy in America: Solving a Mystery and Exposing a Fraud


Early in May of 1831, two young Frenchmen arrived in the United States to study American penology and prison systems. Alexis de Tocqueville, 26, and Gustave de Beaumont, 29, were scions of old aristocratic families. To prepare for their trip, they studied the available literature about America. Their inspection tour of American prisons was actually a polite cover for their real interest: to study the social and political institutions of the young republic.

Indefatigable researchers, Tocqueville and Beaumont crisscrossed the United States from Canada to Louisiana and from the East Coast to Michigan on the western frontier. Traveling by steamboat and stagecoach, they visited 17 of the 24 states then in the union. Upon returning home, they wrote a joint report suggesting that France copy the penitentiary system in America. Working from notes gathered in their travels, Tocqueville later published his masterpiece entitled Democracy in America. It is still read and widely quoted for its trenchant observations on American society and institutions.

C-Span's Error
After researching the nine-month journey of Tocqueville and Beaumont through the United States, in May of 1997 the C-Span network began broadcasting from each stop on their trip. The TV tour, which was billed as "In Search of Tocqueville's Democracy in America," began in May of 1997. It concluded in February of 1998, coinciding with and commemorating their departure from New York City for France on February 20, 1832.

To mark Tocqueville's journey, C-Span erected plaques at the places where he and Beaumont stopped. In Peekskill, N.Y., a plaque was placed at the new waterfront park, Riverfont Green, to mark his visit to the area. Here is how C-Span described Toqueville's itinerary on July 1, 1831, based on its research in available records: "Leave Yonkers by steamboat; stop in Peekskill long enough to go hike Anthony's Nose; board the steamboat North America headed for Albany." But there is no documentary evidence that Tocqueville and Beaumont ever stopped at Peekskill, much less hiked to Anthony's Nose, which is north of Peekskill, near the present Bear Mountain Bridge. If not Peekskill and Anthony's Nose, what settlement and mountain had they visited?

Separating historical fact from historical fiction is a task often reserved for professional historians who follow in later generations. Nevertheless, the amateur historian of minor talents may sometimes dare to walk where the academic lifts his robes and stalks away. The evidence from which C-Span concluded that Tocqueville and Beaumont had visited Peekskill, and then had hiked north along the river to Anthony's Nose was both tenuous and bothersome. In 1831, successive formidable barriers of Manitou Mountain, Anthony’s Nose, Mine Mountain, Canada Hill and Sugarloaf descended to the water’s edge and effectively blocked land travel north from Peekskill along the river. The main road north from Peekskill (the Albany Post Road) veered far to the east toward Continental Village,. After passing on the east of the mountainous barrier, travelers on the Albany Post Road (Route 9) headed northwest down the Old West Point Road (Route 403) to Garrison. It was not until 1922 that the Peekskill-Bear Mountain Bridge toll road was laboriously carved into the sheer slopes of Manitou Mountain and Anthony's Nose along the river to reach the Bear Mountain Bridge. Careful reading of contemporary sources offers strong evidence that Tocqueville and Beaumont probably did not stop in Peekskill and certainly did not "go hike Anthony's Nose."

Let's Look at the Record
On June 30, 1831, Tocqueville and Beaumont started their tour of the United States, sailing by sloop from New York City to Yonkers. Arriving unannounced at the home of the influential Livingston family, they were disappointed not to find them at home. To while away the day, Beaumont sketched the Hudson, and Tocqueville hunted birds with his fowling piece.

The following excerpt is from a letter Beaumont wrote to his brother Jules from Albany on July 4, 1831. It was printed in Tocqueville and Beaumont in America, a massive work by George W. Pierson, professor of history at Yale University and Yale's first official historian. It was based on Pierson's 1933 Ph.D. thesis. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1938):

That night [June 30] we found in our inn two beds prepared in a kind of attic, so well-warmed by the last rays of the setting sun that I thought we should suffocate during the night. Finally the steamboat from New York to Preskill [Peekskill] came next morning to draw us from our hole. In taking this boat we were counting on having it carry us to Calwell.

Beaumont quite obviously had difficulty either in transcribing local place names or in reading his own notes. Author Pierson could not identify the mysterious Calwell and noted "not sure about this" after the place name. Beaumont's letter continues:

We did in fact arrive at Calwell. There we took a charming promenade through woods and over rocks; and we sweat blood and water to get to the summit of a very high mountain from the top of which we saw one of the most beautiful spectacles and one of the most imposing tableaus the North River presents. On all sides we saw chains of mountains stretching out before us. There was near us especially a bay called Anthony's Nose, whose shape is all that is most picturesque. We waited until evening for a steamboat. At nine o'clock it arrived with its usual speed. It did not land where we were because that would have taken too much time, but it sent us off a boat into which we were thrown like packages with our trunks, and we found ourselves being towed by the steamboat until we caught up with it. All this happened so quickly, in such darkness and on such a vast sheet of water that there was something magical in our taking off.

Later in his letter, Beaumont identified the steamboat as the North America.

What Mountain, What Bay?
Calwell's geography sounds vastly different from that of Peekskill, then a comparatively large community dotting the gentle slopes at the mouth of Annsville Creek. and the area around it. But old maps do show a small community variously named Caldwell Landing or Caldwell's Landing on the opposite, west bank of the Hudson directly across from Peekskill. Caldwell Landing/Caldwell's Landing is today called Jones Point. This was obviously Beaumont's "Calwell." Timetables of the period reveal that, like Peekskill, the hamlet was a regular stop for steamboats then plying the river. A ferry once connected it to Peekskill. Caldwell's Landing also lay at the foot of an impressive mountain, Dunderberg, the southernmost peak of the Highlands west of the Hudson. The mountain up which Tocqueville and Beaumont toiled could not have been Anthony's Nose.

Anyone who has hiked in Harriman State Park is familiar with the Ramapo-Dunderberg trail (affectionately called the "R-D") and its red on white blaze on trees and rocks. With its eastern terminus at Jones Point, the R-D's course up the slopes of Dunderberg follows the trail taken by the French travelers. And what about the bay Beaumont reported sighting? Looking north today from the summit of Dunderberg as the two French travelers did, a hiker cannot miss the bay Beaumont described as "near us." Lying just below the viewer, between Dunderberg and the sprawling bulk of Bear Mountain, Doodletown Bight forms a deep loop in the Hudson shoreline. Bounded on the east by Iona and Round Islands and closed off on the south by Salisbury and Ring Meadows, this bay has remained picturesque to this day. Still learning English and somewhat shaky in the new tongue, Beaumont can perhaps be forgiven for misidentifying the bay as Anthony's Nose, especially since the bay and the prominence called Anthony's Nose are both visually on a direct line of sight from Dunderberg.

C-Span failed to identify and locate this crucial landmark bay. Yet on the slim evidence of the name of the mountain misapplied to the bay, the network mistakenly assumed that Tocqueville and Beaumont had climbed Anthony's Nose. It would have been a remarkable feat indeed for the two travelers to arrive at Peekskill from Yonkers on a morning boat, make an arduous trip to climb Anthony's Nose, and return to Peekskill to kill time waiting around for a northbound boat. Besides, Anthony's Nose was only a river pilot's navigational landmark--hardly an objective warranting so much effort. Moreover, Peekskill was a bustling and vibrant Westchester County village. A visit to it would have given them a chance to study an interesting community outside of New York City, and Beaumont would certainly have described it in his letter.

John Curran is Peekskill's official historian and curator of the Peekskill Museum who participated in the C-Span telecast from Peekskill. When Mr. Curran's attention was called to Beaumont's account by this writer, he conceded that Tocqueville and Beaumont had probably not visited Peekskill, nor could they have climbed Anthony's Nose. Beaumont's "Calwell" obviously was Caldwell's Landing, and his "very high mountain" clearly was Dunderberg.

Mr. Curran remarked somewhat ruefully to this writer that the C-Span incident was a reminder that a wise historian should always seek original sources to verify facts. "We [the Peekskill Museum] own a copy of the Pierson book," he said. "I should have checked it instead of relying on the work of the C-Span research staff. We'll have to have the plaque changed. It now says that Tocqueville visited Peekskill; it should have read that Tocqueville could see Peekskill from Caldwell's Landing across the river."

The Tocqueville Fraud
A deviation in the itinerary of Toxqueville and Beaumont is not the only mistake made by latter-day interpreters of the accoint of their journey through America. As a writer and principal author of record of Democrcy in America, Tocqueville is often quoted--but not always quoted accurately. Aside from the above-cited itinerary misinterpretation, Tocqueville has also been the subject of a long-standing hoax in which a widely used quotation is attributed to him. The following stirring but fake Tocqueville quotation has become popular with political speechwriters over the years:

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers--and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce--and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution--and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.

Stirring rhetoric--but not words Alexis de Tocqueville ever wrote or uttered. As part of a course assignment, a student of political science at Claremont McKenna College in California discovered that the quotation is nowhere to be found in Tocqueville's masterwork, Democracy in America. The exact origin of these sonorous words is unclear. It turns out that part of the spurious quotation was apparently lifted from a book by Raymond C. Knox titled Religion and the American Dream (New York: Columbia University Press, 1934).

At least three American presidents--Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton--have all used the counterfeit Tocqueville sentiment. In a campaign speech in 1952, Dwight Eisenhower quoted it, attributing it only to "a wise philosopher [who] came to this country." Ronald Reagan employed it in a 1982 speech, harking back to Eisenhower's quotation as the source. Two years later, Reagan used it again, declaring that Tocqueville "is said to have observed that 'America is great because America is good.'" Reagan speechwriters became so enamored of the phony Tocqueville passage, they inserted it into several other Reagan speeches.

In 1987, ultra-conservative Representative William Dannemeyer (R-Cal.) paraphrased the counterfeit quotation to "America ceased to be good in 1971, when America's promise to pay ceased to be good." What the congressman was referring to was President Richard M. Nixon's decision sixteen years earlier that the value of the dollar would not be linked to the amount of gold held in Fort Knox.

Bill Clinton told a Boston audience in 1992, "I believe in the essential core goodness of the American people. Don't forget that Alexis de Tocqueville said a long time ago that America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will no longer be great."

No historian, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in 1993 not only embellished the false quote but ascribed an incorrect date to it, saying: "As the remarkable French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville noted in the 1850's, the source of American virtue . . . will always be found in the churches and synagogues of America." But Tocqueville's Democracy in America was published in 1835. Use of the false Tocqueville quote inevitably increased in campaign years. In May of 1996, in a speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), another presidential hopeful, used the fictitious Tocqueville line about America's pulpits "flaming with righteousness." Later that same year, Pat Buchanan worked the "America is great" theme into the speech launching his campaign for the presidency.

And so it goes; the misattribution continues. In 2001, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao repeated it and dated it to the mid-1800s. Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, Chairperson of the American Red Cross, used the specious quotation in 2005, attributing it to Alex de Tocqueville. As recently as Thanksgiving Day 2006, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) repeated it as a Tocqueville quote. National and state elections are always in the offing, it seems. Despite their questionable heritage, ersatz Tocqueville quotations will continue to do yeoman service in the cause of politicians and public figures. Whenever you hear them repeated, listen closely. That noise you may hear in the background could be the sound of Alexis de Tocqueville turning over in his grave.

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Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (1/18/07)


Nearly four years after our preemptive invasion of Iraq, the United States finds itself trapped in an unwinnable war. Despite being discredited and rejected in the November election, the President's "stay the course" strategy is now masquerading as a "surge of troops." How did a situation come about in which the most powerful nation on the face of the earth could be frustrated and stymied by a shadowy army of irregular guerrilla fighters who strike suddenly and melt into the shadows of the night? Neither the administration nor the media ever explore the reasons for the impasse, which stems from crucial miscalculations about changes in warfare following the ending of the Cold War in 1989.

During the four decades of our tense standoff with the Soviet Union, planning was for a global conflict largely centering on the clash of massive armies on the plains of Central Europe. To wage such a war, large numbers of ground forces, naval forces and airpower were required. The battle plan of the U.S. and its NATO allies anticipated sustained ground combat against the massed divisions of the Soviet Union and its client states of the Warsaw Pact. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, the need for massive combat forces suddenly evaporated. Pentagon thinkers envisioned a changed world in which clashes would involve one country at a time. Combat was anticipated to be over quickly. And the United States would be able to decide or decline to enter such successive combats in according to its national interest. Emphasis shifted from manpower to sophisticated technology. In fact, technology became in Pentagonspeak a "force multiplier" that would make up for the reduced numbers of troops.

Given the on-again, off-again nature of anticipated US involvement around the globe, a lighter, faster, smaller and more easily transportable ground force was seen as preferable to the Cold War's ponderous divisions. Planners bought into this philosophy, and accelerated the transformation of the U.S. ground forces into a highly mobile force that placed great reliance on technology. Stockpiles of supplies were positioned near expected key flashpoints around the globe. From reliance on a large standing force, the Pentagon shifted to dependence on Reserve and National Guard components pressed into service for short tours of duty.

As it turned out, the new force structure proved ideal for handling situations in the 1990s, including the senior Bush's introduction of troops into Somalia, and Bill Clinton's interventions in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. But if recent history has proved anything, it is that Pentagon thinkers created an armed force inappropriate to the preemptive wars the Bush administration has chosen to fight. Instead of being narrowly engaged in one country at a time, U.S. forces found themselves fighting simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of being terminated quickly, both wars have become open-ended and unconventional engagements with stubborn, elusive guerrilla forces. And rather than being elective, with September 11, the United States found itself faced with a challenge it did not have the luxury of ignoring.

Modern warfare has three traditional phases: deployment of each country's forces, destruction of the enemy's forces and occupation of the enemy's territory. Civilians in the Pentagon like Donald Rumsfeld saw the third aspect, occupation warfare, as less important than the first two. The now-legendary clash between Rumsfeld and Gen. Erik Shinseki was over this precise issue, sometimes encapsulated in the phrase, "boots on the ground." After a flower-tossing victory parade in Iraq, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz planned for a quick pullout of troops. Regrettably, crucial military specialties that are now in high demand in Iraq and Afghanistan--career-slowing assignments in civil affairs, for example-were delegated almost entirely to units of the reserves.

What the chickenhawk neocon encouragers and enablers never foresaw is that Afghanistan and Iraq would continue to be low-intensity guerrilla conflicts in which counterinsurgency and sectarian civil war negated pacification programs and threatened the American military's very control of the ground. Guerrilla forces understandably avoid direct clashes with superior forces and are less susceptible to defeat by advanced technology. Such combat requires the presence of large numbers of widely dispersed ground forces exposed to hit-and-run attacks and to lethal improvised explosive devices planted along major routes used by the occupiers. Victory, in the accepted sense of the term, is always impossible to measure or even to achieve.

Late in 2003, it became clear that the U.S. force that defeated the Iraqi army was too small to pacify the country in the face of resistance from insurgent tribal and religious groups, and that the mix of technology to manpower was dangerously disproportionate. The Bush administration's solution was to dip more heavily into Reserve and National Guard components. But not only was the military created after the close of the Cold War ill adapted to the task it faced in Iraq, a long, drawn-out, inconclusive war more resembling medieval siege warfare, but the burden shared by the active duty and Reserve forces was unfairly out of balance.

Made up of older, more-experienced troops, this country's Reserve and National Guard have a larger proportion of higher noncommissioned ranks, heads of families who have wives, children and responsibilities. Many are in the process of buying homes and have mortgages they cannot pay for on military pay. Some are proprietors of small businesses that will fail without their owners present to operate them. Ignoring these realities, the Bush administration is coldheartedly destroying lives and families by repeatedly calling up Reserve and National Guard units for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A crisis exists that is not being addressed. During World War II, troops served for the duration." As it turned out, this was to mean service for as long as four years. But long continuous service was mitigated by the sense that sacrifices were being made by everybody in and out of uniform. During the Vietnam War, the grossly unfair draft was compensated for in part because an overseas tour of duty lasted one year, and draftees were discharged in two years. No small part of the growing unrest among soldiers and their families, not to mention most of the country, over the way the Iraq War is being conducted stems from the failure of the Bush administration to adapt to the reality of the unsustainable conflict into which they have plunged the country.

Recognizing the dangerous repercussions in the 2008 elections of the President's headstrong determination to prolong the blood letting at all costs, Republicans in Congress are becoming jittery. Military strategy is now being driven solely by the President's callous determination to dump the inevitable withdrawal of American troops in the lap of his successor in the White House two years from now. In the meantime, Osama bin Laden, who touched off the conflagration in 2001, chuckles to himself in his mountain fastness somewhere inside Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. We have indeed become a nation of sheep.


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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (1/11/07)


If you've never met a neuralgian, you are about to meet one now. Me.

Neuralgians are members of a small group that suffers from trigeminal neuralgia, a disease of the trigeminal nerve. Physicians describe it as the most excruciating condition known to medical science, and sufferers can attest to that. It has been called the suicide disease because of the number of suicides attributed to it before effective treatment was available. The stabbing pain comes on suddenly without warning, almost like a bolt of lightning streaking down the side of the face. It repeats itself at intervals of a few seconds or a few minutes and then is gone as abruptly as it came, only to return unexpectedly.

Despite its intensity, trigeminal neuralgia (also called TN) isn't very well known. In 1990, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., analyzed medical records of that city and found that the disease affected about one in 25,000, mostly those over the age of 50. Other medical statisticians believe that because it is often misdiagnosed and is not required to be reported to government health agencies, TN may be more common than suspected, affecting as many as one in 15,000 persons.

TN is not a new affliction. First-century Greek and Roman physicians called it cephalalgia. French surgeon Nicolaus André described five cases of it in 1756 and called it tic douloureux (painful spasm), a name by which it is still known today.. It was also called Fothergill's disease in 1773, after the doctor who described 14 cases to the Medical Society in London. Other medical terms for it are trifacial neuralgia and epileptiform neuralgia. Early treatments included bloodletting and exorcising of demons, the use of bee and cobra venom, opiate drugs and purgatives. Surgeons tried injecting boiling water, alcohol, chloroform and other chemicals into the face.

When all else failed, they cut the facial nerve, sometimes paralyzing the patient's face. Confederate President Jefferson Davis suffered from it. So did Russian composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff. After suffering for 20 years, he finally achieved relief at the hands of a French dentist and hypnotist in 1930. Author Gloria Steinem has been treated for TN pain since 1994. The late actor Norman Fell (who played the landlord, on TV's popular "Three's Company") underwent neurosurgery to get rid of his TN, and Norma Zimmer, Lawrence Welk's "Champagne Lady," has waged a constant battle against TN pain since 1981.

TN almost always strikes one side of the face in areas served by one or more of the three-branched trigeminal nerve. There are two trigeminal nerves--one for each side of the face. These nerves exit the base of the brain in a region called the "pons" and fan out in three main branches supplying sensation to the face. The lower, or mandibular branch, serves the lower jaw; the middle, or maxillary branch, serves the cheek and upper jaw; the upper, or ophthalmic branch, serves the forehead and eyes. TN pain is usually provoked by a light touch on the face or a breeze or a movement of the face, as in talking, eating or yawning. This sensitive area is called the "trigger zone."

Diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia is often difficult. Because they see TN rarely, some doctors and dentists may be unfamiliar with the disease. As a result, it is not uncommon for a patient to visit a succession of doctors and dentists, having root canals, tooth extractions, sinus surgeries and other medical procedures. A study of more than 7,000 TN patients showed that nearly 90 percent had pain for more than a year before being correctly diagnosed; 13 percent went for ten years or more before an accurate diagnosis was made.

No cure exists for trigeminal neuralgia, but it can be treated successfully with anticonvulsant drugs used to treat epilepsy. Ever since it was first used on patients in Scandinavia in 1962, carbamazepine (Tegretol, Carbatrol) has been the TN drug of choice. It is still the most used TN drug, although its popularity is now being challenged by oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), which has fewer side effects. Aside from life-threatening allergic reactions, carbamazepine can bring on serious blood disorders, including irreversible aplastic anemia damaging to bone marrow and other blood deficiency conditions. Patients being treated with carbamazepine must have frequent blood tests. A variety of other antiepileptic, antidepressant, muscle relaxant, and autopsychotic or tranquilizing drugs also are used alone or in combination to treat TN.

Medication is the only therapy that about half of all TN patients will ever need for their pain. Occasionally, TN goes away spontaneously. For most patients, however, TN is a progressive disorder, with more frequent attacks and more severe pain. When medicines become ineffective, patients often seek relief through surgery. Five types of surgery are in use today, three involving insertion of a long needle through the cheek to reach the trigeminal nerve. In one procedure, radiofrequency lesioning, heat is applied to the nerve to damage it and reduce the number and intensity of the transmitted pain signals. Ever since the 1800s, surgeons have been injecting various chemicals into the trigeminal nerve to stop the pain of trigeminal neuralgia. The substance most used today is glycerol, a viscous alcohol with the consistency of honey.

The glycerol injected through the needle damages the nerve and interferes with pain signals. A third through-the-cheek procedure, called balloon compression, uses a larger-diameter needle and deposits a tiny balloon alongside the nerve. When inflated, the balloon squeezes the nerve against bony tissue and damages it, disrupting the pain signals. Another type of surgery--radiosurgery, also called gamma-knife surgery--makes no incision; carefully focused beams of radiation cut off circulation to the nerve, causing it to scarify and die. If pain recurs, a second radiosurgery can be done.

The ultimate surgical procedure--and the most expensive--is microvascular decompression. Developed by Dr. Peter Janetta at the University of Pittsburgh, this now widely accepted operation offers the best chance of long-term pain relief. A half-dollar-sized hole is opened in the skull behind the ear, exposing the brain. Using a microscope, the surgeon searches for the trigeminal nerve root. When it is found, a small piece of Teflon surgical sponge is placed between the offending artery or vein and the nerve. Although patient risk is higher than in other procedures, the success rate of this complicated operation can range between 85 and 95 percent. Unfortunately, facial numbness may result from surgical procedures, with slurred speech or even accidental burning of the mouth from hot liquids.

As a disease, TN is unique in the varieties of facial pain in which it manifests itself and in its response to a diversity of treatments, including chiropractic upper cervical spinal adjustment, acupuncture and nutrition therapy. In my own case, I experienced my first TN attack in 1982--like one's first kiss, the first TN episode is never forgotten. After several years of prescription drug treatment, I undertook a search of the medical literature about trigeminal neuralgia. In an obscure paper from Sweden I found reports of success with massive daily doses of Vitamin B-12 over a ten-day period that gave marked relief to patients. I showed this paper to our family physician, Dr. Saleem M. Mir of Croton, and I am forever in his debt. He agreed that it was worth trying since B-12 is essential to the health of the myelin sheath that surrounds nerves. If the damaged myelin sheath of the trigeminal nerve causes the nerve's short-circuiting pain, perhaps B-12 would repair damage to it.

To my surprise and relief, by the fifth day of injections, the pain had diminished to tolerable facial twinges; by the tenth day pain entirely ceased. Eureka! I had found a magic bullet. Vitamin B-12 is now part of my armamentarium. Paradoxically, it does not work for every TN sufferer. With trigeminal neuralgia, no treatment can be counted on to be effective for everyone. Neuralgians must discover through experimentation what works for them.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Does Mourning Become the Electric? 2: The Fall and Resurrection of the Electric Automobile


In 1900, electricity powered 38 percent of the automobiles built in the United States. Electric cars far surpassed the modest 22 percent figure for gasoline-powered vehicles, and edged close to the 40 percent enjoyed by steam cars, the most popular. Yet only a few years later, gasoline supplanted both steam and electricity as the motive power of choice. Gasoline-powered cars preempted speed records that had belonged to electrics. The stiff, staid electric became "milady's automobile," before disappearing almost completely.

A century ago, electric carmakers touted the electric's safety--drivers of gasoline vehicles often suffered serious injury when cranking their engines. Buyers of electrics were assured of low operating cost and cleanliness, with an absence of noise, vibration, heat and odor. Electrics offered simplicity of construction combined with elegance of design, ease of control, and economy of power.

Never mentioned, however, were obvious disadvantages: Their disproportionate battery weight, limited range of operation (between 50 and 80 miles), inherent danger in handling acid and electricity, and the special facilities needed for recharging batteries. The latter were important. No electric owner would venture very far without first checking on the availability of recharging facilities. These were usually at electricity generating plants, and the occasional garage specializing in electric vehicles.

Steam, electricity's main competitor, had its own drawbacks. When the cumbersome steam vehicles of the previous century were improved, the engine was made lighter. Steam pressures were also increased to about 600 pounds per square inch. The addition of flash boilers cut the time required to get up a sufficient head of steam--from 20 minutes to two minutes.

Stanley Steamers were built in North Tarrytown (now Sleepy Hollow), N.Y., by the Mobile Company of America, owned by John Brisbane Walker, publisher of Cosmopolitan Magazine. His Mobile Wagonette factory was housed in a building said to have been designed by Stanford White. After 1904, the Maxwell--famously the car of comedian Jack Benny--was built there. Until recently, the site housed the now-demolished General Motors assembly plant.

Although the electric vehicle found favor with the public, it got low marks from experts. Thomas A. Edison, interviewed by a reporter from The New York World, made a rash prediction. "Ten years from now you will be able to buy a horseless vehicle for what you would have to pay today for a wagon and a pair of horses, and the danger to life will be much reduced."

"Will these vehicles be run by electricity?" the reporter asked. "I don't think so," was the frank appraisal of the "Wizard of Menlo Park." He continued, "As it looks at present, it would seem more likely that they will be run by a gasoline or naptha motor of some kind," Hedging his bet, he added, "It is quite possible, however, that an electrical storage battery will be discovered that will prove more economical, but at present the gasoline or naptha motor looks more promising."

Edison had been vainly trying to develop a low-cost, high-energy battery. Other than his too sanguine prediction about the automobile's reduction in the loss of life, Mr. Edison was right about the future role of the internal combustion engine. Professor Elihu Thomson, a prodigious inventor of electrical devices in his own right, expressed a different opinion. He favored steam as the best power source for motor vehicles, calling the storage battery "an unmitigated nuisance." Steam vehicles had their limitations, he acknowledged. They needed water every 30 miles and fuel every 40 miles. He even conceded that, on occasion, boilers could--and did--explode.

Portents of Trouble
Mass production methods eventually lowered the price of gasoline automobiles, leaving the pricey electric the preferred vehicle of the rich. Advertisements stressed its exclusiveness. Gasoline automobiles responded to the influence of European design and moved the engine from under the driver's seat to the forward part of the car, adding a sturdy, protective body. Electrics stubbornly continued to display their coaching antecedents. Many retained the traditional stagecoach body that rode cradled between the wheels on stout springs.

Gasoline automobiles became longer and sleeker, while electrics seemed to become taller and even more sedate looking. The story that the height of the electric automobile was dictated by the requirement that a man be able to enter one wearing an opera hat is apocryphal. Despite the electric automobile's advantages, sales declined rapidly from their 1900 high-water mark. Of the 21,692 automobiles built in the United States in 1905, 86.2 percent were powered by gasoline, steam accounted for 7.2 percent and electricity only for 6.6 percent.

Improvements largely accounted for this spurt in the gasoline automobile's numbers. American iron foundries abandoned the shaft-type cupola furnace for the reverberatory furnace in which the material being treated is heated indirectly by a flame directed downward from the roof. This enabled the production of a better grade of iron for cylinder castings. The unreliable "hot tube" ignition of early gasoline engines gave way to electric ignition. And the discovery of the Spindletop gusher in Texas and other prodigious oil fields assured a seemingly unlimited supply of motor fuel.

By 1908 the prospects for manufacturers of electrics who had survived the financial panic of the previous year were dim. Electrics continued to decline in popularity and then made a surprising turnabout. Sales figures leveled off and soon began to rise.

Improvements in Electrics
Manufacturers of electrics decided to stop competing with gasoline-powered cars for the touring market. Instead, they emphasized the economy and dependability of the electric, especially for short runs. Subtle changes also were introduced. The first electric automobiles had married carriage-building practice to--of all things--streetcar technology. They were merely carriage bodies with wheels propelled by modified streetcar motors.

The rear axle usually had the wheels solidly fixed to it, with the wheel and axle combination revolving as a unit. The motor was suspended under the body toward the rear and geared to this revolving axle. An early refinement was a fixed rear axle with a motor driving each rear wheel. As in gasoline automobiles, chain drive was popular. Early electric models had a single chain drive to the revolving rear axle. This eventually gave way to chains on both sides.

From 1901, various forms of shaft-driven electrics were also available--one model had a double universal-jointed propeller shaft connected to the rear axle by a bevel gear built into the rear axle. By 1910, chain drive began to be replaced by shaft drive, with its attendant simplicity and silence. Eventually, worm gearing gave electrics smooth and responsive acceleration that no gasoline vehicle could match. Battery equipment could include as many as 40 lead-acid cells. Unlike the batteries of today's gasoline automobiles used only for starting, lighting and ignition, they were of heavier construction and therefore more expensive.

Electrics continued to be steered with an old-fashioned boatlike horizontal tiller. Manufacturers of electrics insisted on calling it a "control lever." A switching device for linking battery cells in various combinations governed forward and reverse speeds. A few electrics featured rear-seat steering that permitted operation from the back seat. The sight of a seemingly driverless vehicle heading toward them could be disconcerting to unknowing pedestrians and oncoming drivers.

Early electrics came with pneumatic tires, but the excessive weights of cars and batteries caused frequent blowouts. Tires were changed to solid tires, deceptively called "cushion tires." Eventually tire manufacturers developed a pneumatic tire able to withstand the weight of electrics.

Because large engines did not take up their front ends, electrics enjoyed an advantage over their gasoline-powered rivals. Narrower front ends permitted a smaller turning radius. Some manufacturers of electrics eventually moved part of the battery load under a shortened front hood for better weight distribution.

The Power Industry Wakes Up
During the electric automobile's early years, the electric power industry neglected its market potential. Awakening suddenly to its possibilities, an industry group, the Electric Vehicle Association of America (EVAA), was formed in 1910. Drawing members from utility company executives, battery manufacturers and electric vehicle builders, it set out to boost the use of electric vehicles. Embarking on an ambitious promotional program, EVAA member companies replaced their gasoline trucks with electric trucks prominently displaying slogans extolling the advantages of electricity. "If it isn't electric, it isn't modern," boasted the trucks of the Philadelphia Electric Company.

Industries faced with continuous stop-and-go driving were prime candidates for electrics. "When an electric stops, it stops all over," was the way one proponent put it. Electric delivery wagons became popular with breweries, bakeries, department stores and handlers of freight--express companies, railroads and steamship lines. Heavier electric vehicles were also available: trucks, theater buses, omnibuses and even ambulances. An electric ambulance sped a mortally wounded President illiam McKinley to a Buffalo, N.Y., emergency hospital that fatal Friday in September 1901. The EVAA also made touring in an electric less haphazard by publishing regional guides with route maps and directories of charging stations.

If there was one thing an operator of an electric vehicle feared it was being caught away from recharging equipment with a set of dead batteries. Operators of electrics frequently checked the charge on their batteries with hydrometers, especially before starting a trip. One enterprising owner of an electric, H.W. Biddle, a carriage builder of Ravenna, Ohio, overcame the dead battery problem in ingenious fashion. He carried a pair of carriage shafts slung on the underside of his electric. If his car's batteries went dead, Mr. Biddle hired a horse from a nearby stable, hitched it up and drove home.

Harold E. Dey, a New York builder of electrics, described a novel method of recharging a battery, "When going on a long journey I will probably carry a jointed fish pole with a spring clip at the end. In case of running short I can spring this on a trolley wire and recharge it in a short time, using a water rheostat to control the voltage." Mr. Dey did not explain what he proposed to do if a trolley car came along during his recharging operation. For the benefit of those who might question the ethics of helping himself to electricity, he hastened to add: "Of course, I would reimburse the trolley company."

A Golden Age
If the electric automobile had a Golden Age, it was in the three years leading up to 1912. In October of that year, according to the magazine The Automobile, 33,842 electric pleasure cars were registered in the United States. New registrations for the year totaled 5,550, an annual growth rate of 20 percent. But 1912 was also a watershed year. Cadillac's 1912 models featured the self-starter as standard equipment. The following year, 50 other manufacturers adopted it. Brainchild of Charles F. Kettering, the self-starter effectively sealed the fate of the electric. No longer could dealers who sold electrics use the dangerous hand crank of a gasoline engine as a clinching sales argument.

A survey of the electric pleasure vehicles of 1912 reveals an interesting contrast. Twenty manufacturers offered 94 electric models. Some 40 manufacturers offered 404 gasoline models. At the low end among electrics was a two-seater Studebaker electric runabout. The well-known South Bend carriage-building company first experimented with electrics in 1898 and offered its first electric automobile in 1902. At the high end of the price range was a Hupp-Yeats Imperial limousine, built by a company that had been in existence only a year. Most electric models now used shaft drive, with chain drive and then direct gearing next in popularity. For 1912's electrics, the Exide battery, manufactured by the Electric Storage Battery Company of Philadelphia, was almost exclusively the battery of choice. This company held a virtual monopoly on lead-acid battery technology in the United States. Diehl, General Electric or Westinghouse supplied electric motors.

Electric automobile advertising of the period continued to emphasize the distinction of owning an electric. Dowager leaders of society, operatic divas and movie starlets were pictured alighting from the electric of their choice. It was an advertising campaign that backfired, however. The electric soon gained the reputation of being "a woman's car." To counter this, manufacturers enlisted the big names of the electrical world. Thomas A. Edison was frequently photographed in his Baker electric. General Electric's electrical genius Charles P. Steinmetz favored the Detroit electric.

Deformed from birth, Steinmetz had to drive in a kneeling position. Although he could wend his way through the most complicated mathematical equations, the quick-tempered, cigar-smoking Steinmetz could never master his machine. After a few hairbreadth near-accidents, he wisely turned the tiller over to his lab assistant and lifelong companion, Joseph LeRoy Hayden, later adopted by Steinmetz as his son.

In 1913, the trade magazine Ignition and Accessories jumped on the electric bandwagon and announced that it was changing its name to Electric Vehicles. As the unofficial journal of the electric vehicle industry, its pages teemed with trade news, occasionally enlivened by articles such as "The History of the Electric Wheel Chair" or accounts of "sociability runs" by society matrons in their electrics to a nearby restaurant for tea.

Two Wars and their Aftermaths
In 1914, American automobile manufacturers produced 568,000 vehicles. Internal combustion engines propelled approximately 99 percent of these. The First World War, which began that year, brought with it shortages of raw materials--another blow to the already-tottering electric vehicle industry and one from which it did not recover. Although the electric vehicle industry was encouraged by the prediction that gasoline prices soon would go to 40 cents a gallon, this was cold comfort when electric vehicle companies began to fold. Between 1914 and 1918, many respected electric automobile names disappeared

Hit just as hard by shortages and wartime priorities, the gasoline motorcar industry scarcely faltered in its production for civilian consumption. The war did not affect the industry until 1918--the first year gasoline motorcar production failed to exceed that of the year before. Not surprisingly, 1918's gasoline engine output for military trucks and aircraft more than made up deficits, helping to keep the gasoline vehicle industry healthy.

In its January 1918 issue, the magazine Electric Vehicles was still valiantly beating the drums for the electric automobile. Advertisers were few--among them an enterprising soul who offered for sale a list of the names and addresses of 1,400 automobile owners in Bexar County, Texas. The Hawkeye Battery Company of Dubuque, Iowa, offered a battery charger for sale. In that issue, A. Jackson Marshall, secretary of the National Light Association (which had absorbed the now-defunct EVAA) commented on "The Electric Vehicle Situation," calling "the gains permanent, the outlook bright."

Mr. Jackson was whistling in the dark. The February 1918 issue of Electric Vehicles never appeared--it, too, was a casualty. Electric vehicle manufacturers continued to drop away. By 1924, not one electric (or steam car, for that matter) was to be seen at the National Automobile Show. Four years later, only two electric manufacturers were left: Detroit and Rauch & Lang, builders of the Raulang electric automobile. The Raulang died in 1928, but the Detroit would survive until the late 1930s.

Electric trucks, however, continued to serve industry and proved their worth when gasoline was scarce during World War II. Those drivers who had stubbornly held onto their electrics laughed at gas ration books. Owners of gasoline-powered vehicles scurried to snap up the few electrics on the used car market. In Europe, too, where the gasoline shortage was even more critical, interest in electrics surged during the war. England, France, Germany and the Netherlands all built and operated electric vehicles during the war years, sparking a surprising postwar interest.

The years since 1945 have seen a spate of experimental electric cars. How to give the electric automobile enough power to go long distances without adding excessive weight or bulk still remains the basic problem. The horses that befouled America's cities are gone now. In their place, however, are more than 200 million internal combustion engines belching forth their own wastes, their supply of fuel subject to the political vagaries of the explosive Middle East. Storage battery technology, too, has come a long way since that day in May of 1882 when the French liner Labrador landed the first shipment of French electrical "accumulateurs" in New York. It still has a long way to go.

To this day, storage batteries remain the bête noire of the electric automobile. Not only are lead-acid batteries heavy, but also their energy density is low--from 8 to 12 watts per pound--and their operating life (measured by the number of recharges possible) is small. Other types of batteries with higher energy densities and longer operating lives come with prohibitive costs.

The Future of Electrics
On a cloudy December morning in 1996, a clutch of celebrities assembled in Los Angeles to take delivery of the first mass-produced electric cars manufactured since before the First World War. and leased to them by General Motors. General Motors had first named their long-awaited battery-powered car the Impact, an unfortunate choice later changed to the EV1. Leased to them by GM, the EV1's lucky drivers included Jay Leno, Tonight Show host and classic car aficionado, and long-legged Baywatch actress and conservationist Alexandra Paul. After the reporters and photographers had departed in their gasoline-powered cars, the new EV1 owners were left with their $35,000 prizes, two-seaters of limited range and versatility.

Despite having consumed millions of dollars in research money, like the electrics of a century before the EV1 could travel only 50 to 80 miles before needing a recharge, which could take from four to eight hours. When residents of California--the most environmentally conscious state in the Union--failed to snap up GM's electric car, the company suspended manufacture of the EV1. Honda, long an industry leader in environmental improvements, also announced it would stop selling it electric minivan, the EV Plus.

Until a lightweight battery of high energy density and low cost is developed, only a small market for lead-acid battery electrics will exist--most likely in urban areas where traffic congestion limits speed or for users with much stop-and-go driving, such as package delivery, mail carrier routes, and golf carts and industrial forklifts. Electrics will never make their owners guilt-free, since electricity is still mostly generated in plants fueled by coal, petroleum or natural gas.

Of Hybrids and Fuel Cells
Appropriately called "hybrid cars," a new player has entered the game. Combining internal combustion with electrical propulsion, these run on gasoline from today's filling stations and never need to be taken out of service for recharging. With its two engines, the hybrid offers the best of both worlds. When a hybrid car accelerates, both engines operate in tandem to provide maximum horsepower. At cruising speed, when power demand is low, only the piston engine operates. When the driver steps on the brakes, the electric motor runs in reverse, exerting a braking effect and recharging the batteries.

The Toyota Prius, a hybrid compact sedan has a conventional steel body and weighs 2,800 pounds. Its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating is 52 mpg city and 45 mpg highway. Honda's tiny Insight, a three-door, two-seat hybrid coupe, weighs a mere 2,000 pounds (it has an aluminum frame and ultra-light body panels) and is rated by the EPA at an amazing 61 mpg in city driving and 70 mpg on the highway. Honda also offers the Honda Civic hybrid, a compact sedan weighing 2,732 pounds. Its EPA rating is 46 mpg city and 51 mpg highway.

Today's hybrids cost more than their conventional counterparts. The difference can be offset in part by a federal income tax credit of up to $2,000 as a clean-fuel vehicle. Qualified hybrid vehicles (including the Toyota and Honda models) registered in New York also qualify for a $2,000 state income tax credit.

Although hybrids will not totally insulate us from the tyranny of OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), by helping to reduce our gasoline consumption they are steps in the right direction. Surprisingly, the hybrid idea has been around for a long time. In 1916, the Woods gasoline-electric coupe was introduced. It boasted a four-cylinder gasoline 12-horsepower engine, an electric motor and an Exide battery half the usual size. Called the "Dual Power," its engine could be used to charge the battery or run the car. Among its features were regenerative coasting and braking, and the ability to preset cruising speed (cruise control, as it is known today). Its selling price was $2,750, and only a few were sold.

The hydrogen fuel cell, now seen as the most likely successor to the storage battery, is still not practical for general use. It has performed well in America's space program, where cost is no object. The principle of the fuel cell has been known for 168 years--ever since Sir William Grove displayed the first model in 1839. Grove made an educated guess. He reasoned that if an electric current can cause water to separate into its component gases, hydrogen and oxygen, perhaps combining these two gases could generate water and electricity. His surmise was correct. Amazingly, in turning two of the most abundant elements into enough energy to power an automobile, no toxic emissions are generated. The only by-product is water fit to drink.

In his 2003 State of the Union message, President George W. Bush proposed funding $1.2 billion so that "America can lead the world in developing hydrogen-powered automobiles." This is more smoke and mirrors. While $1.2 billion sounds like a lot, it's really only $720 million on top of what has already been allocated for such research--and it's spread over the next five years. "It's better than nothing, but it's also a drop in the bucket," said Mark Bunger, senior auto-industry analyst for Forrester Research. "The number--$1.2 billion--that's about what it would cost an automaker to develop one new car, like a Ford Taurus. This is not such a shot in the arm that it's going to hurtle the Americans ahead of the Japanese."

We can also forget about leading the world; the Japanese have already beaten us to the punch. In December 2002, Toyota and Honda became the first automakers to bring hydrogen vehicles to the U.S. market, leasing them to the city of Los Angeles and the University of California. Meanwhile, American automakers are still tinkering with their prototypes.

Cars powered by fuel cells are still decades away. In the same way that electric automobiles needed an infrastructure to provide recharging facilities, fuel-cell cars will need a similar hydrogen fuel network. Hydrogen is still four times as expensive as gasoline. Fuel cells are ten times more expensive to build than a gasoline engine. Today, hydrogen is produced in a process that requires the burning of fossil fuels.

Remedying the government's failure to impose realistic mileage goals on gas-guzzling light trucks and SUV's would actually yield more immediate benefits. Not only do these top-heavy behemoths pour excessive pollution into the atmosphere, they are rapidly becoming the most dangerous of vehicles.

Our Shameful Appetite for Oil
The basic weakness of the internal combustion engine is its thermal inefficiency--only a quarter of the BTU's in a gallon of gasoline is translated into motion. The other three-quarters are lost in braking and as heat dissipated by the engine and radiator. Seventy-five cents of every dollar we spend for gasoline is wasted. Keep that in mind the next time you fill up at the gas pump. With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the United States has more than half the world's automobiles, consuming the lion's share of petroleum resources in our obscene oil gluttony.

From a barrel of crude oil, a host of useful substances can be created: pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, paints, adhesives, plastics, synthetic fibers and fabrics, solvents, lubricants, fertilizers--you name it. Yet we burn it selfishly, as if the supply were endless. Future generations will surely despise us for our profligate destruction of the planet's finite petroleum resources.

Our excessive consumption of oil is a stench that no protestations of entitlement, or free enterprise, or contrition, or any other fair word can turn to sweetness. Nor has the government done enough to discourage our flagrant use of fossil fuel. It spends more to subsidize fossil fuels and nuclear energy than it does for research into fuel cells, wind or other forms of renewable energy. President Bush's energy plan, for example, still calls for spending $2 billion to support a classic oxymoron--so-called "clean coal." In contrast, the European Union has increased its expenditures on renewable energy research.

America's early leadership in wind- and solar-energy has been frittered away by successive administrations. Today, the largest producers of wind energy are the Danes, and the leaders in solar energy are the Japanese and the Europeans. The question, therefore, is whether America will continue to be the superstate serving supercorporations, with self-interest, greed and waste as cardinal, and ultimately self-destructive, values. Within our grasp is an alternative future characterized by a true sense of community and expanded democracy--a world free from the selfish materialism and mindless pursuit and exploitation of nonrenewable natural resources. All we need to reach this goal is determination, intelligence and collective effort.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (1/03/07)


'Tis the season to be jolly. It's also a time when pundits of every stripe trot out their predictions. Permit me to try a few. In the coming months, Wall Street will surge to record levels, oblivious to the false prosperity created by our military-industrial economy. We are now spending about $10 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the total cost of both wars standing at well over $400 billion. These figures do not include the billions spent by the Department of Energy for nuclear weapons, by the Department of Homeland Security for "defense" of the homeland from terrorists or the cost incurred by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the lifetime care of those seriously wounded. A figure ranging between $1 trillion and $2 trillion would be a more realistic projected total cost.

Simultaneously, the U.S. trade deficit reached $782.7 billion in 2005, the fourth year at which this debt set a record. Our trade deficit with China alone stood at $201.5 billion, the highest deficit with any country. So great was the looming debt imbalance that last year Congress was forced to raise the national debt limit to $9 trillion from the previous $8.2 trillion. When George W. Bush took office six years ago the national debt was $5.6 trillion. Since then Clinton's big budget surpluses collapsed into deficits and the national debt has shot up by a whopping 50 percent. Because China and Japan enjoy huge trade surpluses with the U.S., we owe much of this debt to the central banks of the two countries.

So long as the Chinese and Japanese governments are willing to accept U.S. dollars in payment for their exported goods, we can continue to live in our fool's paradise on the brink of national bankruptcy. No wonder gold is close to $650 an ounce. To the nearly $9 trillion of national debt must be added the U.S. economy's nearly $9 trillion in mortgage debt and another $9 trillion in corporate bond debt--the latter up 34 percent since 2001. The U.S. economy also faces about $15 trillion in unfunded Social Security liability and an additional $35 trillion in unfunded Medicare liability. Add the statistic that the US has lost almost 3 million manufacturing jobs in the last six years, and the future looks grim.

Now, about the Iraq War. You remember the war, don't you? It's been in all the papers. Those who like to quote encouraging statistics are fond of pointing out that only four of Iraq's 18 provinces are aflame with resistance. What they don't point out is that the four provinces contain 40 percent of Iraq's population. The policy that American units would stand down as Iraqi units stood up has completely collapsed. Iraqi units have shown themselves to be undependable. The joys of the Christmas season were dampened by the sad news that American military deaths in Iraq had passed the 3,000 mark. In fact, December set a record for the number of casualties in any month in 2006, giving the lie to any claims that we are winning.

Between March 20 and May 1 (the date the “Mission Accomplished" banner was displayed), the period of active military combat, 140 American troops lost their lives. That means that 2,860 soldiers and Marines died unnecessarily because their commander-in-chief did not provide enough troops not only to defeat the enemy but also to smother any insurgency in its crib. The American military, intended to fight two wars simultaneously anywhere on the planet, has been humbled by a ragtag force of determined fourth generation war fighters.

For those unfamiliar with the term, fourth generation warfare is a concept developed by Thomas X. Hammes in his book The Sling and the Arrow. Defined as a war in which one of the participants is not a nation but a violent ideological network, it is similar to terrorism and asymmetric warfare, but is much narrower. The fierce conflicts in which we are embroiled in Iraq and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan are fourth generation wars.

There will be no drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq. President George W. Bush has tabled the face-saving report of the Iraq Study Group co-chaired by James A. Baker, his father's friend, and will actually escalate the war by increasing the number of troops in Iraq under the cover of the term, "surge." His action will generate protests back home and will constitute a slap in the faces of Baker and Bush's father, who has frequently used his influence to assist his wayward son. These include pressure to gain "legacy" admission to Phillips Exeter Academy, Yale University and the Harvard Business School.

During the Vietnam War, the senior Bush got his son into the so-called "champagne unit" of the Texas Air National Guard and helped to cover up his yearlong absence without leave from that unit. Later his name surfaced in the bailout and cover-up of the financial skullduggery at Harken Energy Corp., where the son served on the board of directors while the firm created Enron-type deals that hid debt and artificially inflated its earnings. Ironically, the Harken debacle left George W. Bush's alma mater, Harvard University and its endowment fund, saddled with $20 million in debt.

Look for changes in military strategy that will come in part from the Israeli experience in the five-week midsummer war in Lebanon fought to an inconclusive cease fire between July 12 and August 14, 2006. "The war between Hizbollah and Israel?" you may ask. "What has that to do with Iraq?" Surprisingly, Hizbollah had achieved such a remarkable level of preparedness that it could respond successfully to the massive Israeli incursion. Despite intensive air attacks by the Israeli Air Force, Hizbollah fought one of the worlds most advanced and heavily armed conventional armies so cleverly, and so fiercely that Israel was glad to accept a UN-brokered cease fire. Hisbollah forces were robust, disciplined, well trained and intensely motivated and gave a remarkably good account of themselves, they shocked Israeli military planners.

A key factor in the Israeli campaign was the use of drone aircraft with near-saturation coverage of southern Lebanon. Unmanned drones were employed to detect the launch of medium-range missiles. Within a minute, the site's coordinates were communicated to waiting Israeli planes, making it possible for them to hit the crews and launchers before they could be moved to cover. The Israeli use of drones marked a turning point in unmanned warfare. Unfortunately for the Israelis, Hizbollah's more numerous short-range missile launchers could be brought out of hiding, fired and hidden again before there could be a retaliatory attack. Nevertheless, most military experts now see unmanned drones as one of the most significant developments in modern warfare.

Following the Israeli example, in Iraq there may be greater use of unmanned surveillance aircraft to combat the planting of roadside bombs, plus helicopter gunships and attack aircraft. Look for no major changes in strategy, however, with the departure of the two architects of the failed U.S. policy. Gen. John Abizaid, top U.S. commander in the Middle East, has already put in for retirement; Gen. George Casey, U.S. commander in Iraq, will be relieved in one or two months. Attacks on U.S. troops and bloody sectarian warfare will continue unabated. Expect Saudi Arabia, tired of witnessing the Iraqi Sunni minority being attacked by the more numerous Shiites and their militias, to pour still more funds into Sunni hands. Despite American efforts, there will not be a "victory," simply because what we want--a stable government--will be impossible to achieve in an unruly country riven by religious animosity and with many of its best professional people having left the country.


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