Archive for January, 2011

“Comfortably Numb”

January 29, 2011

Of all the people in history that have reached 65 years of age, half of them are living right now. And that’s for the whole world. Here in Madera County, we’re all over the place. Look around. Geezers galore! I’m proud and amazed at being part of our illustrious bunch, having entered my 70th year this last September 8th when I turned 69. Wife Eileen is most uncomfortable having me state personal chronology this way, “70th year” ringing in her ears with ominous overtones, but I find still being on the right side of the lawn an astounding achievement.

The United States entered World War Two three months after my birth and ended it four years later with two blinding explosions of star-hot white light over Hiroshima and Nagasaki as The Atomic Age rolled in with terrible terminal fury.

J. Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist and professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is known as the “father of the atomic bomb”. Later solemnly pondering such achievement with churning discomfort as he reviewed the horrific fruits of his labor, Oppenheimer famously recalled these words from the Hindu Holy Book, Bhagavad Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one. Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Back then, even we children knew the score. “Duck and Cover” wasn’t a game, but a constantly repeated survival exercise. We were carefully instructed to “listen for sirens” and be on the lookout for a “brilliant burst of light”, at which point we were to dive to the ground or under our desks and, if possible, cover ourselves with anything appropriate, if only little hands on tiny faces. I honestly never expected to see puberty, whatever I might have thought that to be, although in the late ‘40’s we never heard of “puberty” at all. There were many more secrets then. But not about instantaneous death and destruction. These always seemed but a single flash away. It was understood that existence was a precarious proposition.

Proportionately miraculous, therefore, is the extraordinary notion that so many of us in Oakhurst are still here, our longevity primarily attributable to the overarching guarantee of assured mutual destruction should “the radiance of a thousand suns” ever again be darkly unleashed.
This “War Against Terror?” How foolish a phrase and how wrenchingly sad, for only ultimate terror has kept us safe so far.

But things have become marvelously, almost immaculately anesthetized. We are painlessly removed from stark realities for which we still remain ultimately responsible. “War” has become an abstraction. Just a word. Other than a slender percentage of population, most of us live safe above the cry of battle, far away from the rumble of artillery, at comfortable, soothing distance from death rattles of the dying. Such cultural sequester is not by accident.

It was a full fifty years ago, January 17, 1961, that President Dwight David Eisenhauer, Supreme Allied Commander of our victorious forces in that Second World War, issued this critical warning in his Farewell Address to the Nation:

“My fellow Americans, we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

An astounding recent article (December 2010) in the Boston Globe analyzed the career paths of 750 of the highest ranking generals and admirals who retired during the last two decades. Escalating through earlier years, by 2004 through 2008, 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives, many becoming millionaires in the process. In 2007 alone, the move from general staff to industry was virtually a clean sweep. Thirty-four out of 39 three- and four-star generals and admirals who retired in 2007 are now working in defense roles — nearly 90 percent.

Yet no one seems to care.

With a trillion and a half dollar budget deficit this year alone, fifteen billion dollars a week now feeds the increasingly voracious American war machine.

It’s crazy!

With an American war hero’s warning unheeded and predatory power unchecked, we have become a people comfortably numbed — resigned to bored indifference — our continuing presence in Afghanistan and elsewhere off our shores — an extended act of moral abrogation and national insanity.

“Goofy’s Golden Gavel”

January 21, 2011

Among our species’ most puzzling and haunting mysteries, right up there with the meaning of life, the secret of bumble bee flight (there’s no aerodynamic reason) and why men leave up toilet seats (gravity defiance?), is one purely attributable to the late Walt Disney. I’ve heard it since First Grade.

“If Mickey is a mouse, Donald is a duck and Pluto is a dog — what — and who — is Goofy?”


Unlike a dog – he stands on two feet — wears human clothing — and talks.

That voice has seemed suspiciously familiar all along — his curious, stuttering cadence — those blurry eyes — such great big hands — and what a stunned look of blank amazement at — almost everything.

The giant gavel John Boehner so proudly pounded as he became our new Speaker of the House was made to certain specifications in Middletown, Ohio, part of John’s home district. One suspects the exact design was primarily to assure all assembled that Speaker Boehner’s gavel was much, much, much bigger than his predecessor’s — approximately the size of a small fire hydrant — possibly reflecting Boehner’s panting embracement of “trickle down” theory with typical dog-like loyalty.

In certain circles, size still counts. So does chromatic hue. Though made of wood, John’s gavel, flashing under the pulsing, strobe-like illumination of cameras by the score, started to glitter like gold. And well it should. There’s money up on that there Hill.

Saddle up, boys!

Look! Loot! Lots! Loads!

Only the night before John’s big day, our own new Congressman from California’s “Gold Country”, Jeff Denham (almost — he wasn’t sworn in yet — that’s just a detail) threw one heck of a “You Can Buy and Pay Me Some More” Party at one of the coolest spots in town. Representative Denham, having campaigned on a message of austerity and budget cuts, charged $2,500 a person (or $50,000 a table) at Washington’s posh “W” Hotel for a no holds barred, shake ’em on down fund raiser headlining LeAnn Rimes, fresh from a confessed extramarital affair and her recent Christmas Pageant appearance with a gay choir in a “Sexy Santa” outfit. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Santa’s always been fashionable. Attendance was wall to wall. In fact, before even being elected, Jeff has become a fundraising kingpin for fellow freshmen members, planning at least four high dollar fundraisers in D.C. at the Republicans-only Capitol Hill Club.

The word is out. Reputation counts. Denham comes through. Proper contributions? Political solutions!

Jeff’s a player.

In late March, Denham probably violated federal election law when he traveled on a corporate aircraft owned by a prominent west-side farming company from Fresno to the Bay Area with Karl Rove, Presidential Advisor to George W. Bush.

Rove, long overdue for serious time in the slammer, had just addressed a major Republican rally at the Fresno Convention Center. Karl should have advised Jeff about the “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act” George signed in September of 2007 making it illegal for House candidates to fly on corporate jets.

But this is nickel and dime stuff.

If there was a shred of doubt in anyone’s mind that sinister forces are at work in the world, one only needs to review the appalling “Remembering the Brave” Campaign launched in support of then California State Senator Denham with an extensive paid schedule dominating our mountain airwaves on every major Fresno TV station in days leading up to the June 8th Primary. Over $150,000 in funds were spent as we witnessed Jeff Denham climbing to long sought Congressional heights on the backs of the bereaved. Veterans’ groups were justifiably in an uproar. Why didn’t all that money just go to the cause?

And how often will we again, time after time, bribe (“contribution”) after bribe (“donation”), see our darkest suspicions blatantly verified by the conduct of elected officials displaying total disregard for true honor, proper respect and common decency. Family values — discounted to dust.

Pound that golden gavel, Goofy.

“A Namesake Well-Hanged”

January 6, 2011

Lawrence Cavanaugh in the Dock –Tasmanian Superior Court — September 6th and 7th — 1843 — Courtesy — State Library of Tasmania

While I was always professionally known as “Peter C. Cavanaugh”, my actual middle name is Lawrence, named after my Great-Grandfather Peter’s Uncle Lawrence.

Making a VERY long story short, while I discovered only last year that our family on my mother’s side date back to the Mayflower ( ) — it’s quite different from the Cavanaugh (Irish) side of the bed.

Great-Great Uncle Lawrence was naughty. The above picture is from a newspaper portrait featured in the Tasmanian Times from September 6, 1843. He is actually standing in the dock, on trial for — you name it –although he was always a gentleman to the ladies. The following is from official records:

“Lawrence Cavanaugh was born in Waterford, Ireland. His actual birth date has been lost, but may have been around 1805. He is described as a man of indomitable spirit, courage and resolution and it is unfortunate that for whatever reason he turned to a life of crime. His particular marks are described as a missing little finger right hand, “A.D.” above elbow joint left arm, two stars in palm of left hand, one on wrist. He was Roman Catholic, had some education in that he could read and was a stonemason and quarryman by trade.

On 24 August 1828, he was convicted of burglary in Dublin and sentenced to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney on the ‘Ferguson’ in 1829. Cavanaugh was in trouble with the law almost immediately committing several offences, including bushranging, escaping and attempted Robbery Under Arms. His record became so serious that in 1831 he was transported to Norfolk Island (the prison for the most hardened criminals) for 14 years, where he continued to get into serious trouble. On 13 February 1833, he received forty lashes for insolence, followed by another 150 the following January for attempting to escape.

In 1842 he returned to Sydney and on 19th January he received 36 lashes for cutting his irons and trying to escape. His next bid for freedom was successful. He stole some firearms and escaped with two others. When they were recognized near South Head some 17 days later, Lawrence fired at the two men who had seen him. He was quickly recaptured and charged with attempted murder.

On 12 April 1842, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment in Tasmania. He was sent on the ship ‘Marion Watson’. On arrival there he was sent to Port Arthur where he met Martin Cash and George Jones, both of whom also had long criminal records.

Between 1830 and 1877, Port Arthur was used as a high security prison. Desperation drove many convicts to attempt escape from Port Arthur, but only a few ever made it successfully via Eaglehawk and East Bay Necks.

Some ‘bolters’ perished in the dense bush or drowned whilst attempting a sea crossing in makeshift canoes and rafts. Others were caught in the act and subjected to severe punishments for their efforts. Some of the escape plans were quite bizarre. In one case, the convict Billy Hunt disguised himself as a kangaroo and attempted to hop across the Neck. His plan was brought to a sudden halt when one of the soldiers decided to shoot the large hopper. Billy was forced to reveal his true identity.

None of this detered Cash, Cavanaugh and Jones. They made a carefully planned and executed escape on 26th December 1842. On reaching the Neck, they tied their clothes in a bundle on their heads and followed each other silently into the water. Cash lost sight of his friends and feared that they had been eaten by sharks.

On reaching the opposite bank, however, they were re-united, though all had lost their clothes during the crossing. The men stole provisions and clothes from a nearby road-gang’s hut. They then built a log fort on the top of Mount Dromedary. They turned to full-time bushranging operating  in the Derwent, Bagdad, Pittwater and New Norfolk Districts. For the next 20 months they caused much fear across Tasmania as they robbed homesteads, inns and travellers, including mail coaches.

They considered themselves lucky as they normally managed to avoid parties of police and soldiers sent after them and survived a number of shootouts and close pursuits with the authorities and armed civilians. They also tended to concentrate on the properties of the well-to-do, leaving the poorer farmers and settlers in peace. They became known as Cash, Cavanaugh & Jones and then simply “Cash & Company”.

In August 1843 Cash discovered that his paramour Bessie (who was living in Hobart) was seeing another man. Furious he decided to kill her. He and Cavanaugh disguised themselves as sailors and made their way into Hobart to find her, but were quickly recognised. There was a shootout in which Cash escaped but Cavanaugh was wounded and surrendered.

Cash decided to try again, so on Tuesday 29 August 1843 he returned to Hobart. This time he was recognised by two Constables who challenged him and then chased him as he fled. He could have made good his escape, however he made a mistake by running down a dead-end street.

Here he was seized by another Constable named Peter Winstanley. Cash fired a pistol and the bullet struck Winstanley who died shortly afterwards. By now the two other constables had been joined by some civilians and they tried to seize Cash. He fired again and the bullet struck two civilians. However, he was quickly overpowered and taken to the Davey Street gaol.

On 4th September 1843, Cash and Cavanaugh were tried before Justice Montague at the Hobart Town Criminal Sessions. Cash was charged with murder, Cavanaugh with Robbery Under Arms of the Launceston Mail Coach at Epping Forest on 13th July 1843, both of which were hanging offences.

They were found guilty and sentenced to hang on 14th September. However, an hour before the execution was due to be carried out the sentence was reprieved. Instead, both men were to be transported to Norfolk Island, known to prisoners and guards alike as ‘living hell’.

At Norfolk Island Cash became a reformed man. In 1852, he was considered to be a “trusty” and was appointed as a Convict Overseer. On 24th March 1854, he married a woman named Mary Bennett and on 31st March 1854, he was appointed as a Constable. On 24th June 1856, Martin Cash received a Conditional Pardon and this was confirmed as a Free Pardon on 11 July 1863

Lawrence Cavanaugh, however made no attempt to reform. In October 1846, he joined the former New South Wales bushranger Jackey Jackey (William Westwood) and several other prisoners in a mutiny.

They killed or seriously injured four men and committed several other serious crimes. Justice was quick to follow and on 12 October 1846 Cavanaugh was hanged. Shortly before his execution he asked to see his old mate Martin Cash and both men exchanged final farewells.

Lawrence Cavanaugh is buried in Murderer’s Mound, outside the Cemetery on Norfolk Island, along with the other mutineers.

Today a ferry boat named in honour of Lawrence services Dunk Island 4 miles of the coast of Queensland Australia.”


So the story actually has sort of a happy ending, with poor Lawrence having the boat named after him many years following his final swing.

As I’ve mentioned and written before, “Rock ‘n Roll” is not just music — “It’s An Attitude.”

I find I’m MUCH prouder of my Great-Great Uncle Lawrence than those fucking Pilgrims.

They banned Christmas!

Rock ‘n Roll!