Posts Tagged ‘Maryland’

Screw the Rich

[Note to my sensitive readers: there’s some pretty strong language in this post, just thought I’d warn ya. Also, this post is not meant to insult or demean the NPS or the fine staff & volunteers at Hampton NHS. They were friendly & terrific and I thank them for the job they do. — Barky]

In the tony suburbs north of Baltimore sits the magnificent mansion and grounds of a wealthy, “old money” family: the Ridgleys. Tourists traipse through the buildings, marvel at the architecture and rare collectibles (like Chinese pottery, Swiss grandfather clocks, silk-upholstered Queen Anne furniture, and ivory-handled cutlery). They meander through the grounds and ogle the symmetrical gardens and flowering shrubs, oohing and aahing all the way. If they’re feeling adventurous, they may trundle to the old farmhouse and sigh “oh dear, slaves once lived here”, followed shortly by “let’s get to Denny’s before the Early Bird Special expires”.

Who gives a fuck.

Seriously, I couldn’t give a rabid rat’s ass about fawning over treasures or discussing “the history of wealth in America”. Why? Because that history is a nasty, sordid one. By and large, the truly wealthy are nothing but a pack of leeches and have been for most of our history. From human traffickers to slave owners to Civil War profiteers to robber barons to market speculators to environmental rapists to “offshorers” to Bernie Madoff to the Koch brothers, these soulless bastards have screwed over this country time and time again, and continue to do so to this day.

It wasn’t always this way. Way back in the beginning, many of the wealthiest people on the continent gathered together to overthrow the yoke of British imperialism. Benjamin Franklin was an inventor, entrepreneur, and visionary businessman. To this day, adjusted for inflation, he solidly sits amongst the 50 wealthiest men in America. John Hancock also sits on this list, he ran one of the most powerful trading companies on the Atlantic coast. Many of the other signers of the Declaration of Independence, the crafters of the Constitution, and the financial backers of the Continental Army were wealthy businessmen and landowners. These folks risked their fortunes, put their necks in the metaphorical noose, and stood up to oppression for the good of all.

The rich don’t have to be jerks today, either. There are all sorts of good guys in business, folks who provide good value for a fair price, use innovation and provide quality products and services to the public and turn a tidy yet fair profit. There are business people who support noble causes, stand up against injustice, and work as much for their employees as they do for them. Sadly, though, these people will never become one of the “uber wealthy”, that gaggle of cocksuckers who connive and conspire to screw over the country for the sole purpose of lining their own pockets and stroking their own ego.

Folks like those have been here since the beginning of the country. Shortly after we gained our independence, the wealthy began to be part of the problem instead of part of the solution. A mere 35 years later, wealthy merchantmen pressured James Madison and Congress to declare war on Great Britain. Publicly, they wanted “honor”, but in reality, their businesses were in jeopardy due to the British execution of naval power. In the eyes of these rich Americans, war was a small price to pay to return to profitability.

Wealthy Southerners prevented the nation from handling the slave issue. Slaves were dirt-cheap labor, the source of Southern wealth, and the foundation for the entire Southern economy. Of course, it was a double-edge sword, for the slave economy also prevented entrepreneurism, invention, and advancement in the South. But it was what gave the wealthied gentry their power, their prestige, their income, and therefore they influenced Congress for decades to ignore their “peculiar institution” until 600,000 Americans died horribly painful deaths to end the barbaric practice. Of course, some folks became wealthy as war profiteers, which I guess proves the point that the rich almost always prosper at the hands of the rest of us, one way or another.

The rest of our history is equally sordid. Railroad magnates paid pseudo-slave wages, cared little for the safety of workers, used well-practiced fraud to steal millions from the government, and influenced the pace of the near-annihilation of the native Americans. Oil magnates displaced homeowners, despoiled huge tracts of land, crafted vertical monopolies to control the nation’s commerce, and formed holding companies to hide their tracks. In the industrial age, the rich burned people alive in shoddy New York City garment factories, flooded the entire city of Johnstown because they didn’t maintain the dam at their country club, violently cracked down on mine safety protests and spread cancer and misery across the land by polluting the air we breath and the water we drink.

Nowadays, they don’t act in nearly as bloody a manner as in the past. Instead, they use scam after scam to steal from the common man and bribe and cajole lawmakers to let them do so. They’ve moved far from simply convincing lawmakers to look the other way. They’re packing the courts so they can have free reign, paying off Congress to legalize their schemes, and use phony “grass roots” organizations to convince the voting public to support more scams intended to fatten their wallets and enable the continuing screwing of America. Oh, and occasionally they rape the maid.

So here’s the question: what good does the rich do for America today? None. Do they create jobs? Yeah, overseas, where they can (again) get cheap labor and work the local population so hard they jump to their deaths from high windows. Do they provide quality products and services to the public? Yeah, as if: the richest men in the country today sell technology so weak and treat our personal privacy so poorly, I’d bet a Russian crime syndicate knows more about your private life than you do.

Do today’s fat cats even use their wealth to support charitable endeavors? Frankly, I’m not even convinced that’s true. Look at right-wing nonprofits like the Heritage Foundation, who preach the screwing of America. Who funds that? Not middle-American bake sales or bike-a-thons, those things are funded by rich fuckers trying to “prove” that screwing over America is good for America. I would love to see an honest study of charitable giving by the rich. I’d bet far more goes to private “shell game” foundations (set up to protect their trust funds) or supports  right-wing “foundations” preaching the Gospel of Screw-You and buying off Congressmen than goes towards curing cancer, buying ambulances, feeding the hungry or rebuilding communities devastated by tragedy.

This long-winded diatribe is not intended to encourage or condone another Bolshevik revolution. I fully understand that we are a nation that succeeds because we are allowed to succeed, and that becoming rich is one part of the American dream. What it is intended to do is call out the wealthy in America for their thoughtlessness and greed.

In that spirit, I will address the rest of this post directly to them, the top 1% of income earners who control 40% of the nation’s wealth: there is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to abuse your wealth and power. There is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to profit off the misery of others. There is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to scam millions off your customers whilst providing nothing of value or (even worse) causing harm to them. There is nothing on heaven or earth that gives you the right to earn 300 times the income your employees earn while your bad decisions ruin the company.

What does exist is your responsibility to act as much in the good of the country as the next guy. It could even be said that because you have more wealth and power than the average man, you have more responsibility to contribute to the nation in which you live in a positive and constructive manner. You are rich and powerful because of the freedoms this nation affords (witness a certain oil executive living life in a Russian prison if you doubt what I am saying), and you owe this nation your honest and kind-hearted support.

Bottom line: you need to stop being douche bags. Not all of you are. You can be rich, you can be successful, you can have power, but you can also be  decent human beings.

[All pictures on this post, and the post itself, are mine and mine alone and are not to be copied without my express written permission. My other photos of Hampton are here.]



Hampton National Historic Site

By the Numbers: Wealth in America

Warren Buffet on Taxes

Does Income Inequality Matter?

Read Full Post »

Feel the Love

I went to Baltimore on business in 1992, early in my National Park quest. That was in that tremendously warm-and-fluffy, “the world is SAVED!!!” time in the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was such a great time for this country: the end of Soviet communism, the liberation of eastern Europe, the first time since WWII that America had actually won! We had just kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in a great victory. Our economy was in good shape, we were the biggest dogs in the neighborhood, and finally, after all those decades, the fear of nuclear annihilation was gone.

It felt everything was going our way. It was great! Now, of course, our country is well, kind of a mess (when crabbyolbastard and I are out for a couple of beers nowadays, the words “it’s all a bag of ass!” cross our lips quite often). But back then, it was a great time to visit America’s Shrine.

Fort McHenry was the spot of inspiration that enabled Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that would become the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem. Fort McHenry is the only spot in the NPS called a “shrine”, and rightly so. And I have to say, if you’re as “into” this country as I was at that particular time, then McHenry is the place to go. I was downright gooey with patriotic love (um, ewwww!) when I was there. It was terrific. It’s a beautiful spot, right on the bay, great views, stiff ocean breeze, big Stars & Stripes fluttering from a big mast, absolutely marvelous! I need to stop by again next time I drive down I-95.

I want to give a little shout-out to Baltimore. I don’t know what downtown Baltimore is like today, but I was there at what seemed like a great time for the city. Camden Yards was just finished, there were all these great restaurants and pubs (and, even better, brewpubs!) around the harbor. I don’t have any specific memories of my short time there, but the general ones I have are fond. I’d love to hear from Baltimoreans (Baltimorites??) today. What’s the city like? How’s the downtown and the harbor doing? And just how is good, old Fort McHenry?

[I didn’t own a digital camera when I visited Fort McHenry. Heck, digital cameras weren’t even invented yet! Pics are public domain stuff scraped from the National Park Service website.]



Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

The Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Neighborhood

Google map to Fort McHenry

Read Full Post »

Angel of Mercy

OK, this is sappy time. I hate sappy time. I like trying to be insightful, I like to try to put the pieces together. I like trying to be observant, I like pointing out things that might not be obvious. And I love being snarky, cynical, humorous, and rebellious. But, due to the subject matter, I can’t be anything else but sappy today.

Clara Barton -- Public Domain Photo Courtesy of WikipediaClara Barton National Historic Site is truly unique amongst all of the historic sites in the National Park System. To my knowledge, it is the only site that was originally built with honorable, selfless intentions. I can think of no other site that was built upon as many good intentions as the collection of buildings erected by Clara Barton and her American Red Cross organization on the outskirts of Washington, DC.

This is a site where a visit really drives home the point of the person or organization it honors. It is a fairly sizable estate, but every building was built for a single purpose: helping people in trouble, whether from war or disaster or hardship. It was built 25 years after the Civil War, where Clara Barton aided the wounded at the horrific battles of Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg and others. It was built 20 years after her trip to Europe, where she first heard the ideals of the International Red Cross. It was built 10 years after she took those ideals back to the States and founded the American Red Cross. It is a set of buildings that exudes from their very timbers the goodwill, helpfulness, and sympathy that comes from a caring heart.

Clara Barton House -- Public Domain Photo Courtesy of WikipediaClara Barton’s home doesn’t have a magnificent name, she was beyond such vainglorious honorifics. It’s not lined in comfort or affluence, she was neither born into wealth nor had a desire to accumulate it. It doesn’t even have any remarkable architectural elements, such things are trivialities compared with the sufferings of man. What her home did have were dozens of bedrooms, lots of storage and warehouses, proximity to Washington, DC, and easy access to the main byways of the nation. On her property, she could house those left homeless by disaster, stockpile and ships tons of emergency supplies, and lobby Washington endlessly on behalf of those who needed help.

The remarkable thing about Clara Barton’s home is it was, indeed, her home. So she lived amongst all of these charitable activities day in and day out. She truly committed her entire life to it. She wasn’t some rich philanthropist who gave cash to charity and head out for steak tartare with her socialite friends. She wasn’t some politician who cuts a ribbon at an AIDS clinic and skeedaddles before the sick people show up. She was there, with her operation, day and night, night and day. This was truly a remarkable woman.

Red Cross Initiation Ceremony -- Public Domain Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

Now it has been said that Clara Barton could also be a terrible taskmaster and, frankly, a real bitch. I also know that the Red Cross has not had a sterling reputation throughout its entire history (witness the scandals after 9/11 and Katrina). And, when I was younger, I personally talked to WWII veterans who hated the Red Cross (I think the Red Cross was useless when families fraught with disaster needed to urgently track down soldier sons & husbands). But, in my opinion, no other charitable American had both the kindness of heart, and the spirit and determination, to help as many people as Clara Barton did.

I challenge any reader to think of any other NPS site that is built upon as many good intentions as Clara Barton’s home in Glen Echo, Maryland. If you want to nominate one, please post a comment and we’ll talk about it!

Red Cross Headquarters -- Public Domain Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

[For some reason, I don’t have any pictures from my visit to Clara Barton NHS. I know I owned a digital camera, but I must have run out of memory on my disk or something. It was the first year I owned one, so I probably screwed up somehow. A wholly reasonable notion, based on the operator 😉 . Pictures on this post are public domain photos courtesy of Wikipedia.]


Clara Barton National Historic Site

American Red Cross

Apharesis (This is an alternative way to donate blood, where you donate the life-saving platelets & plasma but you keep your own red blood cells. This means it doesn’t tire you out like regular blood donation. If you’re an eligible blood donor, try it out. I do it regularly and like it. Frankly, it’s the only way I can relax for an hour or so in this hectic-assed world 😉 )

Google map to Clara Barton NHS

Read Full Post »

Babies on the Rocks
Little Catoctin Mountain Park is sort of a red-headed stepchild of the National Park System. It’s just a “park”, not a “national park” nor a “national monument” nor a “national historic park” nor any other such designation. It doesn’t have any grand natural wonders: no canyons, no snow-capped peaks, no staggering escarpments, no 2,000-year old trees. It doesn’t have herds of buffalo, grizzly bears, elk, or endangered manatees. Maybe a few bald eagles, that’s about it.

It does fit two good niches, however. First, a portion of Catoctin was carved out and turned into the Presidential retreat of Camp David, site of important moments in American history from FDR’s war councils, to the Sadat-Begin summit in ’78, to Iraq war lie crafting by the Bush administration. I’m sure having a National Park Service site as a neighbor helps with Camp David’s security and secrecy (although ask any pizza delivery guy in the area and you’ll get instant directions to the place, proving that even the greatest military power in world history still travels on its stomach).

Vista © 2008 America In Context

The second, and in my opinion more important, niche that Catoctin fills is it’s status as a destination campground available to millions of people in the greater Baltimore-Washington metropolis. I’m a firm believer that everyone should have access to the great outdoors, especially those in the big cities who might otherwise not even think about trees & forests. In Catoctin’s case, it provides access for millions in just an hour’s drive or so. It certainly seemed quite popular when I visited: the campground area was nearly sold out, and dozens of folks were hiking the trails.

Wolf Rock © 2008 America In ContextThere’s a popular spot in Catoctin called Wolf Rock, a flat granite expanse full of cool nooks & crannies. Hopping over all the crevices is pretty entertaining, especially for the pre-teens in the crowd. Boys and girls alike were having all sorts of fun clambering over the rocks and jumping the various pits & cracks in the rock face. Just good, old-fashioned, dangerous fun, the kind kids have been having for hundreds of years. I’m not one of those adults who think kids should be prevented from having dangerous fun, the danger is part of the fun and needs to be embraced by kids. After all, it’s healthier than sitting in a sheltered environment playing video games. Let’s see: a slight risk of a head injury, or a near certain future of obesity and Type 2 diabetes? I’ll take the craggy rocks, thank you.

Say No To Crack © 2008 America In ContextBut let’s get realistic here. After my own brief experience hopping craggy rocks (much more difficult on 40-year-old joints than 12-year-old joints), I headed back to the trail. I passed a group of young adults with backpacks, obviously ready for their own turn on Wolf Rock. Turning for a polite “good morning” to my fellow park enthusiasts, I noticed one of them actually had a baby on a backpack carrier, ready to walk on craggy Wolf Rock! Now I think kids need to be exposed to the risks of the world, and I don’t think parents of young children should be captive in their own homes, but come on! It’s a craggy rock face full of sharp points and deep crevices, and you bring your baby with you? Come on, kiddies! You’re parents now, show some responsibility, for God’s sake! Taking the baby into the woods is fine, but be careful where you’re walking, folks.

I’ve seen lots of people doing stupid things in the National Parks, but bringing a baby onto Wolf Rock is definitely in the Top Ten Stupidest list.

Rolling Hills © 2008 America In Context

[All pics on this post are mine and copyrighted thusly. This is just about the extent of my pics of Catoctin, however. It’s a nice spot, to be sure, it’s just not particularly photogenic. A couple more photos can be found here]


Catoctin Mountain Park

Brief History of Camp David

Google map to Catoctin Mountain Park

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »