The World In A Grain Of Sand

SiO 2

Today's encore selection -- from The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization by Vince Beiser. Sand, the most important solid substance on Earth:

"[Sand is the] most impor­tant solid substance on Earth, the literal foundation of modern civilization. … Sand is the main material that modern cities are made of. It is to cities what flour is to bread, what cells are to our bodies: the invisible but fundamental ingredient that makes up the bulk of the built environment in which most of us live.

"Sand is at the core of our daily lives. Look around you right now. Is there a floor beneath you, walls around, a roof overhead? Chances are excellent they are made at least partly out of concrete. And what is concrete? It's essentially just sand and gravel glued together with cement.

"Take a glance out the window. All those other buildings you see are also made from sand. So is the glass in that window. So are the miles of asphalt roads that connect all those buildings. So are the silicon chips that are the brains of your laptop and smart­phone. If you're in downtown San Francisco, in lakefront Chicago, or at Hong Kong's international airport, the very ground beneath you is likely artificial, manufactured with sand dredged up from underwater. We humans bind together countless trillions of grains of sand to build towering structures, and we break apart the mol­ecules of individual grains to make tiny computer chips.

"Some of America's greatest fortunes were built on sand. Henry J. Kaiser, one of the wealthiest and most powerful industrialists of twentieth-century America, got his start selling sand and gravel to road builders in the Pacific Northwest. Henry Crown, a billionaire who once owned the Empire State Building, began his own empire with sand dredged from Lake Michigan that he sold to developers building Chicago's skyscrapers. Today the construction industry worldwide consumes some $130 billion worth of sand each year.

"Sand lies deep in our cultural consciousness. It suffuses our language. We draw lines in it, build castles in it, hide our heads in it. In medieval Europe (and a classic Metallica song), the Sandman helped ease us into sleep. In our modern mythologies, the Sand­man is a DC superhero and a Marvel supervillain. In the creation myths of indigenous cultures from West Africa to North America, sand is portrayed as the element that gives birth to the land. Bud­dhist monks and Navajo artisans have painted with it for centu­ries. 'Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives,' intone the opening credits of a classic American soap opera. William Blake encouraged us to 'see a world in a grain of sand.' Percy Bysshe Shelley reminded us that even the mightiest of kings end up dead and forgotten, while around them only 'the lone and level sands stretch far away.' Sand is both minuscule and infinite, a means of measurement and a substance beyond measuring.

"Sand has been important to us for centuries, even millennia. People have used it for construction since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. In the fifteenth century, an Italian artisan fig­ured out how to turn sand into fully transparent glass, which made possible the microscopes, telescopes, and other technologies that helped drive the Renaissance's scientific revolution.

"But it was only with the advent of the modern industrialized world, in the decades just before and after the turn of the twentieth century, that people really began to harness the full potential of sand and begin making use of it on a colossal scale. It was during this period that sand went from being a resource used for wide­spread but artisanal purposes to becoming the essential build­ing block of civilization, the key material used to create mass-manufactured structures and products demanded by a fast­-growing population.

"At the dawn of the twentieth century, almost all of the world's large structures -- apartment blocks, office buildings, churches, palaces, fortresses -- were made with stone, brick, clay, or wood. The tallest buildings on Earth stood fewer than ten stories high. Roads were mostly paved with broken stone, or more likely, not paved at all. Glass in the form of windows or tableware was a rel­atively rare and expensive luxury. The mass manufacture and de­ployment of concrete and glass changed all that, reshaping how and where people lived in the industrialized world.

"Then in the years leading up to the twenty-first century, the use of sand expanded tremendously again, to fill needs both old and unprecedented. Concrete and glass began rapidly expanding their dominion from wealthy Western nations to the entire world. At roughly the same time, digital technology, powered by silicon chips and other sophisticated hardware made with sand, began reshap­ing the global economy in ways gargantuan and quotidian.

"Today, your life depends on sand. You may not realize it, but sand is there, making the way you live possible, in almost every minute of your day. We live in it, travel on it, communicate with it, surround ourselves with it.

"Wherever you woke up this morning, chances are good it was in a building made at least partly out of sand. Even if the walls are made of brick or wood, the foundation is most likely concrete. Maybe it's also plastered with stucco, which is mostly sand. The paint on your walls likely contains finely ground silica sand to make it more durable, and may include other forms of high-purity sands to increase its brightness, oil absorption, and color consistency.

"You flicked on the light, provided by a glass bulb made from melted sand. You meandered to the bathroom, where you brushed your teeth over a sink made of sand-based porcelain, using water filtered through sand at your local purification plant. Your tooth­paste likely contained hydrated silica, a form of sand that acts as a mild abrasive to help remove plaque and stains.

"Your underwear snapped into place thanks to an elastic made with silicone, a synthetic compound also derived from sand. (Sili­cone also helps shampoo make your hair shinier, makes shirts less wrinkle-prone, and reinforced the boot sole with which Neil Arm­strong made the first footprint on the moon. And yes, most fa­mously, it has been used to enhance women's busts for more than fifty years.)

"Dressed and ready, you drove to work on roads made of con­crete or asphalt. At the office, the screen of your computer, the chips that run it, and the fiber-optic cables that connect it to the Internet are all made from sand. The paper you print your memos on is probably coated with a sand-based film that helps it absorb printer ink. Even the glue that makes your sticky notes stick is de­rived from sand."

The World in a Grain The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization
author: Vince Beiser  
title: The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization  
Mr. Sandman: The Chordettes, 1958

Sitting Ducks Over Normandy

Douglas C-47s drop 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers into Normandy on June 6, 1944, in a painting by Jack Fellows. (©2004 Jack Fellows, ASAA)

On June 6, 1944, my father, Lieutenant Russell Chandler Jr., flew a Douglas C-47 into Normandy, dropping troops of the 82nd Airborne Division at Ste. Mère-Eglise. He subsequently operated out of temporary airfields in Europe, supplying frontline forces. He also participated in Operation Market-Garden, during which he was shot down after a resupply mission to the 101st Airborne Division. Like other logistical elements, transport pilots did not receive the acclaim of their higher profile contemporaries, such as fighter pilots. Yet transport units frequently suffered very high casualty rates.

Imagine being in a formation of unarmed aircraft hundreds of miles long, dropping below 1,000 feet at 90 mph, with every German in the area shooting at you, and you can understand why he said, ‘As sitting ducks, our only defense was darkness and the hand of God.’ Russ Chandler’s story illustrates the composure under fire that these unsung heroes frequently demonstrated.

Aviation History: When did you enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps?

Chandler: I enlisted in 1940 at the age of 21. I did my basic training at Maxwell Air Base, Montgomery, Ala. I guess because I had ROTC training at a military high school, I ended up being the cadet commander for the entire base.

AH: Where were you first assigned?

Chandler: I was trained as a photographer, and my first assignment was to the 44th Bomb Squadron (Heavy). We were located at France Field in the Canal Zone near Colon, Panama. Our primary duty prior to the war was to run flyovers in Douglas B-18B ‘Bolos’ [bombers modified for antisubmarine warfare] up and down Central America, photographing the terrain for the purpose of mapping the best route for the Pan American Highway.

Before World War II, Chandler served in 44th Bomb Squadron (Heavy) flying Douglas B-18B “Bolos” assigned to Central America. Here he poses with gear after traveling to British Guiana, where Bolo crews flew patrols to protect oil tankers leaving Venezuela at the war’s outset. (Courtesy of Russell Chandler III)Before World War II, Chandler served in 44th Bomb Squadron (Heavy) flying Douglas B-18B “Bolos” assigned to Central America. Here he poses with gear after traveling to British Guiana, where Bolo crews flew patrols to protect oil tankers leaving Venezuela at the war’s outset. (Courtesy of Russell Chandler III)

AH: So you actually enlisted before the United States entered the war?

Chandler: Correct. Four of us, including my stepbrother [Roland Jehl, who became a 30-year career officer and rose to the rank of full colonel], could see the war coming, and our bravado got the best of us, so we signed on. We hoped that early entry might give us an opportunity to attend flight school later. Besides, they promised us that we could serve together. Of course, that was an exaggeration.

AH: We don’t hear of much action in Central America. Did you experience any combat in your time there?

Chandler: Besides serving as a photographer, I was also a machine-gunner. After the war broke out, we were restationed to Atkinson Field, near Georgetown, British Guiana [now independent Guyana]. We were pretty much isolated and flew mostly routine patrols to protect oil tankers coming out of Venezuela. Another B-18 in our group sank a German U-boat, U-654, on August 2, 1942, but another U-boat returned the favor by sinking our supply ship as it entered Georgetown Harbor. That was before Christmas, and it supposedly carried a supply of frozen turkeys. Instead, we enjoyed baked monkey that Christmas. I guess my first action occurred when we encountered, bombed and sank a German ship.

Chandler first saw combat when the B-18 on which he was serving as a machine-gunner bombed and sank this German ship in 1942. (Courtesy of Russell Chandler III)Chandler first saw combat when the B-18 on which he was serving as a machine-gunner bombed and sank this German ship in 1942. (Courtesy of Russell Chandler III)

AH: What about flight school?

Chandler: Flying was my childhood dream, and when the opportunity arose, I took the qualification exams and was accepted in early 1943. I did my primary training in Albany, Ga., basic at Bainbridge, Ga., and advanced training at Moody Field in Valdosta. I was commissioned in October 1943 and sent to Sardis, Miss., and Austin, Texas, for my multiengine rating and C-47 specialization training.

AH: You trained on the Atlantic Front. How did you ferry your aircraft over there to England?

Chandler: There were two primary ferry routes: the shorter northern route up through Nova Scotia, Iceland, Greenland and then England, or the longer southern route.


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AH: You took the southern route, right? Explain how that worked.

Chandler: My co-pilot and I were sent to Muncie, Ind., to take delivery of our ‘Gooney Bird,’ or ‘Dakota,’ as the Brits called the C-47s–I liked that better than the Skytrain designation that the United States used. We flew south, stopping at Moody Field, where we had to overnight because of a ‘mechanical’ issue; then we continued on to Miami.

AH: You had a bit of a grin on your face when you mentioned Moody Field.

Chandler: Yes, that was very close to the hometown of my bride of six months, and she just happened to be at Moody when we had that problem. From Miami, we flew to Puerto Rico, to Trinidad, then to my old base in former British Guiana, and on to Recife, Brazil. Then we took the long hop to Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic, on to Freetown, Sierra Leone; next to Marrakech, Morocco; before heading north to England.

AH: I understand the Germans tried to disrupt that route, right?

Chandler: Ascension is a small, nine-square-mile island in the Atlantic under British administration. During the war it became very important as a refueling station for those aircraft making this southern journey. The United States built a landing strip there called Wide Awake Field; 25,000 planes landed during the war. We navigated via radio beacon set up on the island, and if you were to misnavigate you would eventually run out of fuel and ditch into the Atlantic. Apparently, a German duplicated the signal, only more powerfully, and drew some of our planes off course, never to be seen again. I think we had discovered that trick before my trip, but I did have one scare. I had been pleasantly surprised when our crew chief brought me a fresh coffee several hours into the flight. That surprise became terror when I stepped to the rear of the aircraft to discover him brewing another pot over an open-flame Coleman burner. Obviously, he had forgotten that those two rubber containers filling the cargo compartment were the highly flammable aviation fuel needed for the extended range! We had no more coffee, but it makes you wonder about some planes that just vanished, doesn’t it?

AH: Sure does. Did you carry any other cargo during the ferry trip?

Chandler: Only the four cases of Kentucky bourbon I purchased in Puerto Rico to resell when I got to England.

AH: At a reasonable markup, right?

Chandler: Sure, fifths that sold for $1.50 in Puerto Rico were worth $25 in England. A little bootlegging has always been an acceptable part of military transportation. One just had to be discreet about it.

AH: So you ferried that C-47 more than 12,000 miles.

Chandler: That sounds about right–and at an average cruising speed of about 165 mph calculates to over 70 hours of flying time, not including refueling stops. It took us several weeks with the layovers.

AH: That’s over halfway around the world. Tell us about the last leg from Marrakech to England.

Chandler: We were scheduled to leave almost immediately, but a bad weather pattern had developed off the coast of Spain, so we had to lay over a few days in Marrakech. This began creating a logistics issue, as planes were starting to stack up on the field. But we finally pushed on after a few days. I have learned in life that things are relative. For example, I was standing in line to get final clearance from the flight coordinator when the B-17 pilot in front of me explained he must delay his trip because one of his .50-caliber gun turrets was jammed. Nonplussed, the colonel in command pointed to me and said, ‘See that .45 on that man’s belt?’ The lieutenant responded, ‘Yes, sir.’ Whereupon, the colonel shouted, ‘Well, that’s the entire firepower his aircraft has. Get your damned butt out of here!’

AH: That must have been an embarrassing moment for the other guy. Did you have any problems getting to England?

Chandler: Just as we had flown in from the States, we flew that leg in single, scattered sorties. We were entirely on our own, with no fighter support. Bouncing along between some cloud layers at about 8,000 feet above the Bay of Biscay, I spotted a twin-engine fighter, I think an Me-110, several miles to my starboard. I suppose he would station himself there to pick off unarmed guys like me, but fortunately those clouds offered a very good sanctuary, so I pulled up into them. That is, until I began to ice up. I then eased her below the clouds, and to my chagrin again spotted our pursuer, so I jumped back up into the cloud cover. This hide-and-seek game continued forever–more like 20 minutes. I suppose he began to run low on fuel, as he finally dropped the pursuit without firing a single shot.

AH: So you didn’t get to use your .45?

Chandler: That’s right. We continued on and refueled somewhere near Land’s End before pushing on to our final destination.

AH: Which was where?

Chandler: We were assigned to the Ninth Air Force, 44th Squadron, 316th Troop Carrier Group, stationed in Cottesmore, Nottingham.

AH: What did you do the next three months leading up to D-Day?

Chandler: Mostly training, with emphasis on forming up and flying in the large formations that we would utilize on D-Day. We did fly a few night missions over France, dropping intelligence personnel and supplies to the Resistance forces. I guess I flew three or four of those missions.

AH: Do you remember any major incidents from those months?

Chandler: When that many personnel and aircraft are involved, there will always be accidents. However, the one that was most disturbing to me occurred when our group was flying formation and the lead aircraft suddenly climbed up out of formation, for what reason we will never know, and collided with another formation crossing overhead. That aircraft was carrying the group commander, the chaplain and other high-ranking officers. We flew directly through the flames and debris, which gave us a small glimpse of what the big day would be like.

Decorated in their black and white invasion stripes, these C-47s, like hundreds of others at bases across southern England, await their cargo on the afternoon of June 5, 1944. (National Archives)Decorated in their black and white invasion stripes, these C-47s, like hundreds of others at bases across southern England, await their cargo on the afternoon of June 5, 1944. (National Archives)

AH: What did you think of the C-47?

Chandler: I found the C-47 a very sturdy and reliable aircraft. I am sure hundreds are still flying somewhere in the world today. They would absorb a tremendous amount of flak, and I have seen some still flying with half their rudders blown off. They certainly fulfilled the mission they were designed for.

AH: Tell us about D-Day.

Chandler: For us, it started the night before. To make our drop scheduled for 1 a.m., we were wheels up about 10:30 p.m., and it took about 1 1/2 hours to form up and about an hour to the drop zone to avoid radar. We crossed the Channel at about 500 feet and climbed to 1,500 feet as we hit the Channel Islands to avoid the AA. I dropped 27 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne into the area just south of Ste. Mère-Eglise. We returned the next morning to drop supplies and equipment, and that evening we towed in gliders.

AH: Explain what those formations looked like.

Chandler: I can still picture it. For the 82nd Airborne, there were over 430 aircraft in a very tight formation, wingtip to wingtip, for miles on end. Overall, there were 2,000 C-47s used on D-Day. I think the recent HBO movie Band of Brothers portrayed it fairly accurately.

AH: Including aircraft being blasted out of the sky?

Chandler: Unfortunately, yes. Flak was often heavy, and it was sickening to watch your wingman take a hit, nose over and head down. There was no skill in avoiding being hit. You stayed in formation and prayed it wouldn’t be you. Of my group of 27, I think we lost seven that first day. Those of us who survived knew it was the hand of God that had delivered us home.

AH: Tell us more about what it was like on that morning of D-Day?

Chandler: It was a huge risk to drop such a large number of men at night, but one calculated to surprise and disrupt enemy troops that might try to reinforce those at the beachhead. We had complete radio silence, and the only navigational aides we had were blue lights on the top of the wingtips and fuselage. The lead aircraft of each group of 45 would home in on a radio beacon being broadcast by pathfinders, who had parachuted in at midnight. We had to follow the leader to the drop zone.

Paratroopers and their equipment cram the interior of a C-47 shortly before takeoff to their drop zones in Normandy. (National Archives)Paratroopers and their equipment cram the interior of a C-47 shortly before takeoff to their drop zones in Normandy. (National Archives)

AH: What were the weather conditions?

Chandler: I don’t recall any moon. It was very dark, and there was cloud cover when we hit the coast of France, which caused some of the squadrons to lose visual contact with their leader and disperse. I understand paratroopers were scattered throughout the Cotentin. Our group was able to remain in formation and on course. I think we found the right drop zone, but there was no way to know at that time.

AH: Tell us about the flak.

Chandler: I guess our ‘great surprise’ didn’t last for long. It would be hard not to notice 2,000 aircraft at 1,500 feet. Once we crossed the coast, the Germans started throwing everything they could at us. I doubt if there were any Dakotas that weren’t hit somewhere. It was a frightening fireworks display, but the noise of some ordnance penetrating your aircraft was a bit unnerving.

AH: Any anecdotes from the first drop?

Chandler: I remember one paratrooper, a sergeant, who had taken some shrapnel in the leg. By rights, he should have stayed on board and flown back with us. Instead, he told my crew chief, ‘I’m jumping, it’s too dangerous in this thing!’ And he did. I guess we all have our own perspective of where the danger lies, and I suppose he did get medical attention as soon as he hit the ground, instead of waiting two hours to go back to England with us.

AH: At what altitude did they jump?

Chandler: Six hundred feet. Once the shroud line was pulled, those guys were on the ground in seconds, with as little time as possible as a target. However, at that altitude and at 90 mph, we were a pretty large target and in range of every type of small arms. I was glad it was still dark, but at that moment we all felt like sitting ducks.

AH: What was your greatest fear?

Chandler: Actually, friendly fire. After exiting the drop zone, we broke formation, and it was basically a race home, with every man for himself. The safest location was down low, so we were screaming back across the Channel just above the deck, and suddenly this large shape appears through my windscreen and starts firing its entire portside armament toward us. I never identified the cruiser that we encountered. The encounter was reminiscent of a previous incident in which our Navy had shot down nearly 50 of our own C-47s returning from a drop zone in Sicily on July 10, 1943. Although I wasn’t involved in the previous encounter, others in my unit were, and they always reminded us of the fact that 30 percent of the aircraft used in the airdrop were shot down in such a manner. This only heightened our anxiety.

AH: Did you continue to make airdrops?

Chandler: No. The gliders we towed in carried large mesh mats, which were rolled out onto cleared fields. Those Dakotas could land on a fairly short field, and within days we were landing on these temporary runways, delivering supplies and returning with casualties to England.

Paratroopers and their equipment cram the interior of a C-47 shortly before takeoff to their drop zones in Normandy. (National Archives)Paratroopers and their equipment cram the interior of a C-47 shortly before takeoff to their drop zones in Normandy. (National Archives)

AH: Any other troop drops?

Chandler: Yes, we continued to supply partisans behind enemy lines, and our squadron dropped the 101st Airborne during Operation Market-Garden.

AH: The ‘bridge too far,’ right?

Chandler: Correct–it was for me as well. I was resupplying our troops at Eindhoven on the second day [September 18, 1944] when I was brought down by groundfire on the return flight.

AH: What happened?

Chandler: We had made our drop in the afternoon and were busting along somewhere over Belgium at maybe 800 feet. As we crossed a tree line, a battery of German 88s opened up on us. Unlike on D-Day, we were dropping in daylight. This gave us more accurate drops and allowed the ground units to be closer together, but made us much more vulnerable targets. One shell slammed through the cabin, knocking out half the rudder, and another took out the starboard engine. Well, you don’t fly too far with one engine at that altitude, and I may have made another two or three miles before I pancaked into a field, spun around and slammed into a hedgerow and caught fire. We stopped less than 100 yards from a German hospital.

AH: So you were behind enemy lines?

Chandler: Fortunately, the front was ill-defined, as the fighting had moved on. Apparently the Germans in that hospital had been abandoned. I guess they were the lucky ones; the war was over for them. They even came out and carried me into the hospital.

AH: Did everyone on your aircraft survive?

Chandler: Yes, fortunately. But the impact jammed my left foot between the rudder pedals and the firewall. My crew chief had the foresight to go back to the rudder and manually move it until I was freed. I think the plane blew about 10 minutes later.

AH: Is that why you received the Air Medal?


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Chandler: Correct. But I would have preferred a nonstop flight from Eindhoven back to England. When I brought that plane in, I didn’t have time to think of anything other than finding a long enough field and delivering on what I had been trained to do. Every pilot in my unit deserved the same citation. I understand that there were roughly 400 Army Air Forces casualties in that operation.

AH: Was your injury the end of your combat days?

Chandler: Yes, my ankle was pretty messed up. I was airlifted back to England and put on a hospital ship and sent home.

AH: You had a pretty close call.

Chandler: Yeah, but by the grace of God, I am here today. Many of my friends aren’t, and it is still difficult for me to reminisce.

AH: Besides being a part of the last world war, is there anything that this Army Air Forces experience did for you personally?

Chandler: Besides the brotherhood thing that all us World War II vets share, there are two personal benefits that I can attest to. First, I was able to utilize my pilot skills in my business, and always owned a small aircraft of some sort from the 1950s through the ’80s. As a salesman, I could cover twice the territory of my competition. However, and most important, traveling between training sites I met a beautiful young woman in south Georgia. She couldn’t resist my aerial courtship (although the flyovers were clearly against regs), and she soon became my wife. We’ve been married for 60 years.

This article was written by A. Russell Chandler III and originally published in the July 2004 issue of Aviation History. For additional reading, try: The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far, both by Cornelius Ryan; or D-Day: June 6, 1944, by Stephen E. Ambrose.

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What do Bugs Bunny, Brer Rabbit, Roger Rabbit and the Easter Bunny all have in common?

They are all hares, not rabbits.

Bugs Bunny and Brer Rabbit are both modelled on North American jack rabbits, which are long-eared and long-legged hares.

For years I shot at hares out in the oilfield, but rarely hit one on the run. They can run 48 mph and can leap 8 feet into the air. Chubby, my coyote, could run one down in his youth and eat it on the lawn.

Bugs Bunny, who won the oscar in 1958 for Knightly Knight, made his screen debut in 1938 in Porky's Hare Hunt. Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, loathed carrots: nevertheless he still had to chew them during recordings as no other vegetable produced the desired crunch.

The origins of Brer Rabbit are in the story-telling traditions of African American slaves, who told tales about the hare being more wily than the fox. Robert Roosevelt, uncle of President Theodore and friend of Oscar Wilde, was the first person to write down the stories but it wasn't until 1879 that The Uncle Remus Stories, transcribed by Joel Chandler Harris, became national classics.

The insufferably cute Easter Bunny, is also an American invention. It is a commercial sanitization of the hare as a fertility-moon symbol. In Saxon culture, the hare was sacred to Eostre, the goddess of spring, which is where we get the word Easter.

Few animals have such mythological association. From ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia through to India, Africa, China, and Western Europe, hares have been portrayed as sacred, evil, wise, destructive, clever, and almost always sexy.

It's their astonishing fertility: a female hare (doe) can produce forty-two leverets in a single year. Pliny the Elder believed eating hare would make you sexually attractive for up to nine days.

Jessica Rabbit gets a more relevant makeover angers fans
The Book of General Ignorance  (Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong)
pp. 231-232

If you want a wonderful tale involving a rabbit and not a hare, check out Rene Zellweger in Miss Potter.

Miss Potter 2006 directed by Chris Noonan and starring Rene Zellweger Ewan McGregor and Emily Watson Biopic about Beatrix Potter the much loved illustrator and author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit childrens book Stock Photo


Mothers, harems, family rivalries in the succession of Ottoman rulers

Today's selection -- from The Ottomans: Khans, Caesars, and Caliphs by Marc David Baer. 
"Ottoman history was not made by men alone. The politics of reproduction played a crucial role in Ottoman history. To understand this, however, we must reassess our notions of what politics and the political are. Normally one speaks of politics as being played out in public. The private realm is excluded from consideration. But the distinction between public and private is not helpful here. If harem means 'home' and that home is the home of the sultan and his family, then the private is most assuredly political, for decisions made in his home had repercussions for the entire empire. The women in the harem were educated and politically ambitious. Far from being a purely domestic space, the harem was a political centre filled with powerful women, reflect­ing the Ottomans' Turco-Mongol heritage. Pre-Islamic Turcoman society, as depicted in folk epics-many of which are devoted to manly warriors-contains many stories of women who were also fearsome combatants, swift horse riders, and political players. The Ottoman harem was anything but the lascivious fantasyland de­picted in the West. The majority of its inhabitants had no sexual relations with the sultan. It was more akin to a convent, with rigid rules of behaviour based on notions of sexual propriety, all with the aim of ensuring the continuity of the dynasty.

A cariye or imperial concubine.

"The politics of reproduction in the Ottoman Empire passed through different stages. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centu­ries, the Ottoman sultans usually married Christian (especially Greek and Serbian) and Muslim (Central Asian and Turcoman) princesses. This was a means of forging political alliances or dis­solving conquered dynasties. But rather than allowing the sultan to produce offspring with his wives, the dynasty preferred him to have an unlimited number of Christian and Muslim concu­bines for childbearing purposes. The aim was to prevent entan­gling alliances with formerly or potentially powerful families. By the mid-fifteenth century, sultans no longer even entered into childless marriages. For whereas married, free Muslim women had the right to children and sexual satisfaction from their hus­band, concubines, who were legally slaves, had no such rights. As in the Seljuk harem, the dynasty adopted a 'one mother, one son' policy. A concubine who had given birth to a male heir was no longer allowed to be a sexual partner of the sultan. Or, at least, if she was still intimate with the sultan, she was required to use birth control-usually intravaginal suppositories made of herbs, spices, and plant essences -- and abortion to ensure no more chil­dren. Roles of royal consort and mother were distinguished. The mother of a sultan's son and other post-sexual women, including the valide sultan (mother of the sultan), had the highest status in the harem.
"From the mid-fourteenth century to the end of the sixteenth century, the mother and son, when he reached the age of eigh­teen, were sent to a princely apprenticeship in Amasya, Konya, Kutahya, or Manisa, former capitals of vanquished rival Muslim principalities and dynasties, where the prince served as gover­nor and commander, learning the arts of war and governance under his mother's tutelage. It was a reflection of the Mongol legacy, in which senior women commanded soldiers in war, al­though the prince was also assigned an administrator as tutor. The role of the Ottoman mother was not as impressive as that of her Safavid counterparts, who went to war, although not without tragedy -- one of Shah Ismail I's wives was captured by Selim I in 1514 and given as booty to one of his officers. Upon the news of the death of his father, the sultan, the prince and his mother raced to Istanbul to proclaim him as the next ruler. The son who defeated his other brothers in combat or outmanoeuvred them to be the first proclaimed as sultan rose to the top. His mother was determined to ensure this happened. Until the end of the six­teenth century, succession was accompanied by fratricide. Upon being enthroned, the new sultan killed all potential rival male claimants -- brothers, nephews, cousins, and uncles -- wiping out all branches of the dynasty that were not his own. Sultans were not above having unfavoured sons murdered to allow an easier succession for their favourite. The Ottomans maintained the Mongol tradition of giving all sons equal claim to sovereignty, while utilising fratricide to ensure that the ruler, once enthroned, went unchallenged. A new phase began, however, with the life of Suleiman I's love, Hürrem Sultan."

The Ottomans Khans Caesars and Caliphs
author: Marc David Baer  
title: The Ottomans: Khans, Caesars, and Caliphs  
publisher: Basic Books  
date: Copyright 2021 by Marc David Baer  
page(s): 203-205

"Rum, Romanism and Rebellion"

Protective Tariffs

Today's selection -- from The Wealth of a Nation by C. Donald Johnson. In the 1880s, the United States had high tariffs and a huge budget surplus. President Grover Cleveland had great difficulty with legislation designed to reduce tariffs, since they were deemed to protect "the American workingman from the conditions of 'pauper labor' of Europe":

"There is little evidence that Grover Cleveland had given much attention to the issue of trade policy before his election to the presidency, an event that ended twenty-four years in the wilderness for Democrats since James Buchanan had left the executive mansion in 1860. Before he was nominated to run for president, Cleveland's political career was hardly three years old; he had been mayor of Buffalo in 1882 and governor of New York during the years 1883-84. In his short tenure he had acquired a reputation for integrity and fighting graft, which contrasted nicely with Blaine's reputation for cor­ruption. In the particularly nasty 1884 campaign, however, the Republicans revealed that Cleveland, a bachelor, had fathered an illegitimate child ten years earlier. Paternity of the child was actually questionable, but Cleveland candidly and without hesitation accepted responsibility. With issues like this personal attack -- which, while embarrassing, had the unintended con­sequence of enhancing Cleveland's reputation for honesty -- and Blaine's 'Burn this letter' incident dominating the campaign, tariff policies took a backseat.

Cleveland portrayed as a tariff reformer

"Although he was cautious and gradual in his approach, the new pres­ident soon picked up on the tariff issue, taking the side of the moderate reformers. In his first annual message to Congress in December 1885, he reflected his fiscally conservative bias when he justified proposals for reduc­tions in customs duties with the simple observation that 'our revenues are in excess of the actual needs of an economical administration of the Government'. In an effort to avoid a philosophical and political quagmire, Cleveland studiously added, 'The question of free trade is not involved, nor is there now any occasion for the general discussion of the wisdom or expediency of a protective system.' Throwing a bone to the protectionists, he further cautioned that the reductions should be done 'in such manner as to protect the interests of American labor .... Its stability and proper remuneration furnish the most justifiable pretext for a protective policy.' His only directive regarding the selection of tariffs to reduce was to focus on duties 'upon the necessaries of life' so as to 'lessen the cost of living in every family of the land and release to the people in every humble home a larger measure of the rewards of frugal Industry.'

"Modest as it was, Cleveland's proposal did not win approval in Congress.

"Although Democrats controlled the House with a comfortable majority, ­protectionist Republicans still maintained a slim rule over the Senate -- a sizable faction of Democratic votes could be expected to line up against any tariff reduction. Hence, when the Ways and Means Committee produced a bill containing moderate tariff reductions supported by the president, the Republicans with the aid of thirty-five Democratic dissenters were able to defeat a motion to bring it to the House floor for a vote.

"In the months that followed, Cleveland became more determined to address the growing surplus in the government treasury and more infuri­ated with the inequity of protectionist tariff policies. In his second annual address to Congress in December 1886, he renewed his tariff reduction pro­posal using language that contrasted sharply with that in his soft-pedaling proposal the year before. In a section much longer than in his previous address, he wrote passionately about the plight of the American farmers, who were 'forced to pay excessive and needless taxation, while their prod­ucts struggle in foreign markets.' Assuming an Adam Smith perspective and a Jacksonian posture, he pointed out the 'abnormal and exceptional business profits, which ... increases without corresponding benefit to the people at large the vast accumulation of a few among our citizens, whose fortune, rivaling the wealth of the most favored in antidemocratic nations, are not the natural growth of a steady, plain, and industrious republic.' Despite its more passionate approach, the president's message again failed to move Congress, which adjourned in March the following year without taking a vote on a tariff bill.

"Adding to the president's frustrations, Republican protectionist forces, led by the secretary of the American Tin Plate Association, had trooped into the Illinois district of Cleveland's tariff reform workhorse, Ways and Means chairman William R. Morrison, and marshaled his defeat. A num­ber of other tariff reform candidates lost in the 1886 midterm elections, reducing the Democratic majority in the House to a narrow margin.

"Despite bleak odds and his poor track record, Cleveland resolved over the summer and fall of 1887 to force the tariff reform issue in a bold and unprecedented fashion that would define his presidency. Taking few into his confidence, the president decided to devote his entire annual message to Congress in 1887 to the tariff issue. Following the tradition of his pre­decessors, his previous annual messages had been long, ponderous briefs, covering a multitude of 'State of the Union' issues on domestic and foreign affairs with a variety of legislative recommendations scattered throughout. This year the input his cabinet secretaries provided on the sundry matters of concern within their departments was a wasted effort. Cleveland wanted no distractions from other public issues. He intended to present the tariff issue in a manner that would shock the conscience of the public, if not Congress; With only a few edits from close advisers, the president was solely respon­sible for the message. In making a methodical and straightforward case against protective tariffs, he wrote the address in the fashion of a lawyer's appeal, though he spiced it with a fair share of emotive, political rhetoric.

"Cleveland began by laying out the central problem of the government's growing surplus, which he said was turning the public treasury into 'a hoarding place for money needlessly withdrawn from trade and the peo­ple's use, thus crippling our national energies ... and inviting schemes of public plunder.' He charged that collecting more revenue from citizens than was necessary to maintain the government was a 'perversion' tanta­mount to 'indefensible extortion and a culpable betrayal of American fair­ness and justice.' Reviewing the current fiscal picture in some detail, he warned that the surplus would almost triple in the next year with no pro­ductive use for the surplus funds. All of the government's bonded indebt­edness that could be paid off without premium or penalty had already been retired. Cleveland was opposed to 'unnecessary and extravagant appropria­tions'; he also objected to depositing US Treasury money in private banks because it established 'too close a relationship between the operations of the Government Treasury and the business of the country ... thus foster­ing an unnatural reliance in private business upon public funds.' Predicting disaster if Congress continued its inaction, the president said 'the gravity of our financial situation' demanded a remedy and turned his attention to the cause of the problem.

"The system of taxation that had caused this 'needless surplus' consisted of import duties and internal excise taxes levied on tobacco and alcoholic beverages. Since the latter were not in Cleveland's view, 'strictly speaking, necessaries.' consumers of alcohol and tobacco had no just complaint as to this tax. On the other hand, the tariff laws, which he called 'the vicious, inequitable, and illogical source of unnecessary taxation,' should be revised and amended 'at once.' These laws, he contended, raised the price not only of all imported goods but all domestic goods that were protected by tariffs as well, because domestic producers increased their prices to correspond with the protective duty. Cleveland said he was not proposing to eliminate protection of American labor or manufacturing interests but only the pro­tection of 'immense profits instead of moderately profitable returns.' In the midst of the United States' centennial celebration, he scorned those who justified this unreasonable tariff scheme under Alexander Hamilton's infant industry argument, condemning domestic manufacturers 'still needing the highest and greatest degree of favor and fostering care that can be wrung from Federal legislation' after 100 years.

"As to the protectionist argument that high tariffs shielded the American workingman from the conditions of 'pauper labor' of Europe, Cleveland observed that of the approximately 17.4 million workers engaged in all American industries only 2.6 million were employed in manufacturing industries that benefited from high tariffs. He was careful not to suggest that the protected workers -- who were in the minority -- should forgo the benefit that high tariffs might have on their wages in order to lower prices for the majority of wage earners. But, with a degree of understatement, Cleveland noted that the protected workers 'will not overlook that they are consumers with the rest.'

"He then turned to the effect of the tariff on the farmers, 'who manu­facture nothing, but who pay the increased price which the tariff imposes upon every agricultural implement, upon all he wears, and upon all he uses and owns.' Addressing the wool tariff issue, Cleveland said that the farmer who had no sheep was forced 'to pay a tribute to his fellow-farmer as well as to the manufacturer and merchant.' He said the benefit even to sheep farmers was 'illusory' because most sheep were raised by farmers in small flocks of twenty-five to fifty sheep, which at then current prices would allow a tariff profit of only $18 to $36, depending upon the number in their flock. When the wool was manufactured into cloth, he observed, a further sum was added to the price to benefit the tariff-protected woolen product manufacturer. By the time the sheep farmer purchased his own woolen goods for his family for the winter, he had lost his tariff profit through the cost of his new merchandise. Considering the small number of sheep farmers in proportion to the rest of the country's population and the illusory value of the wool tariff even to them, the president concluded that 'it constitutes a tax which with relentless grasp is fastened upon the clothing of every man, woman, and child in the land' and should be removed or reduced.

"Taking up a theme addressed by Adam Smith a century earlier, Cleveland attacked monopolies, which had come of age in America's Gilded Age in the form of trusts." 

The Wealth of a Nation: A History of Trade Politics in America
author: C. Donald Johnson  
title: The Wealth of a Nation: A History of Trade Politics in America  
publisher: Oxford University Press  
date: 2018  
page(s): 109-113