Saturday, July 31, 2010


National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a story on the conservative reaction of women in the American Arab Community in Detroit to belly dancing. Many women interviewed had daughters or other relatives learning or actively belly dancing in and around the Detroit area. I wasn’t surprised that most of these women were adamantly dead set against the American or European version of this dance and thought the amount of strategic exposed skin and the seductive movements highly improper and inappropriate behavior. Many of their daughters, nieces, etc had been discouraged from the dance and some even censured for it. I thought to delve further into what has become a major phenomenon in the United States and most western countries.

First of all, “belly dancing” is a western term and mostly fostered and romanticized in the 18th and 19th centuries and introduced to America at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The dance caught on, became more risqué and a staple on the vaudevillian circuit. Then along came Hollywood and film and the rest is history. As sexual and suggestive as many appreciative Americans think belly dancing - it is nothing more than a middle eastern/north African Family inspired activity that appears to have been originally intended only for the eyes of the women of the clan.

There are a lot of theories about the dance that attribute its origins to just plain entertainment or the remnants of an ancient eastern folk dance. Perhaps it is the result of all the above though we are well assured that this form of dance has been thoroughly romanticized, reinvented for Europeans and Americans and even reintroduced back into the Middle East where its movements and presence are not wholly welcome. The dance is still performed there but generally with more clothing than we Americans would accept or expect… So, while we apparently can’t be certain about the origins of the dance, this writer personally believes the Family inspired theory that it is a dance performed by women for women.

In the United States we now see belly dancing performed as entertainment in many Middle Eastern restaurants, clubs and hookah bars. Sometimes the “men folk” of these restaurants seemingly chose those establishments as nothing more than an indulgence and opportunity to appreciate the female form undulating to supposed ancient rhythms and movements. Many dancers learned their skills at dance studios or even exercise clubs where the benefits of the dance are obvious.

Belly dancers Kaya and Sadie from Denver, Colorado made the finals of the 2010 version of America’s Got Talent and with their stunning performance drew rave reviews from Judges Piers Morgan and Howie Mandel (who wanted more) not to mention thousands of admiring male and female fans on the Internet. Sadly Kaya and Sadie were eliminated from the competition though Howie understandably wanted to take both Kaya and Sadie home with him…

We need note also the presence of the famed American professional dance troupe – the Bellydance Superstars - who were formed in 2002 by famed producer and manager Miles Copeland of BTM, I.R.S. Records and Sting fame. The troupe has toured the world to rave reviews for six years including Europe, Asia and Africa including Morocco where they played in Marrakesh, Casablanca and Rabat. Word is still out on whether they will play Middle Eastern hot spots in Egypt and Syria (how about Iran?) where Copeland hopes to sow the seeds of American goodwill. We do earnestly hope that his admirable efforts will bear fruit.

Now, I am a big fan of Middle Eastern cuisine (right hand only – please) and am well beyond the basics of pita bread, hummus, and baba ghanoush. While in the southeastern US I frequented several Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants owned and operated by Middle Eastern businessman and restaurateurs. I was pleasantly surprised with the attendant belly dancing. The dancers were all friendly and would even talk with restaurant patrons after their performances.

All the girls appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent. Of course, I had to ask where they learned to dance. Much to my delight and perhaps the harbinger of an additional breakthrough diplomatic strategy that could end the thousands of years conflict in the Middle East was their collective answer. They had all learned to dance at the local Jewish Community Center. Hmmm.


Ned Buxton

Monday, July 26, 2010


I have long been a fan of National Public Radio (NPR) and one of the reasons was the almost delicious and independent presence since 1985 of Senior News Analyst and famed commentator Daniel Schorr. Prior to NPR Schorr had a distinguished 23 year career with CBS (the last active member of smokin’ Edward R Murrow's Boys) where he impressively earned the enmity of Richard Nixon in 1971 (Watergate). Ted Turner tapped Schorr as his first employee in 1979 and he called CNN home for several years. Schorr gave CNN instant credibility and a place in the market.

The always feisty and outspoken (I say courageous) Schorr followed an almost no holds barred approach that startled and cajoled the subjects of his attention. He validated his effectiveness by earning a place on Nixon’s infamous “Enemies List” and was denounced in Pravda as a "provocateur" and denied return to the Soviet Union in 1957 after refusing to cooperate with Soviet censors and antagonizing Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in a Face the Nation interview. Schorr was then head of CBS’s Moscow Bureau, but boy did he make a point...

While he was mostly recognized as an award winning radio and TV journalist, he was one of the mainstays of The Christian Science Monitor where he very impressively plied his trade in newspapers from 1948 to 2009.

I liked the idea that he served in WWII in Army Intelligence but never thought the CIA and FBI beyond his purview. No sacred cows there – the truth will out. CBS and the NY Times who had nurtured hard wired relationships with these entities didn’t appreciate Schorr’s candor. Schorr’s handling of a suppressed House of Representatives Intelligence Committee report (The Pike Report) on illegal activities in the CIA and FBI and all the attendant posturing turned out to be a good lesson but nothing more than a temporary speed breaker for Schorr.

Working to the end, Schorr last appeared on NPR with that distinctive voice of his just a couple of weeks ago. In his remarkable six decade career he reported and ultimately interpreted and opined the news for NPR setting the standard for modern investigative journalism. Given that role Schorr proclaimed that NPR was his own, Promised Land because, "Nobody ever told me what not to do."

With a brilliant candlepower Schorr sometimes had little patience for those mere mortals who couldn’t or wouldn’t walk the walk but they nevertheless remained part of his constituency. Schorr embraced a mostly liberal perspective but that didn’t stop him from tenaciously defending to his core the opportunity for anybody to communicate and espouse their causes and perspectives. Schorr bemoaned the “Slippery, Sliding Scale of Civility” in our society which has turned out to be a harbinger of even greater demonstrations of disrespect in the 21st century. Schorr believed that we all win when we engage a respectful exchange of ideas and perspectives whether it be personal, business or political – however diametrically opposed we are.

Daniel Schorr was 93 and lived a full and productive life leaving what may be an unapproachable legacy for journalism – especially when you consider his pedigree and witness to world history. He made a difference and always guaranteed that we would have all the information and perspectives – sometimes at personal expense. Daniel Schorr made sure that we didn’t forget the lessons of history. As Bill Moyers wrote immediately following news of Schorr’s passing, "With razor-sharp wit, personal courage and love of our craft, he distinguished himself and journalism."

Daniel Schorr because of his personal conviction and character was the archetype for that almost extinct journalistic model that embraces the truth whatever the cost and really didn’t have any other options save to pursue that path. I ask who is capable of picking up the gauntlet and giving us that kind of balance in the future?

I now have an even greater sense of my mortality, especially as I move through my 60’s. When Friends and those that occupy sacred and highly respected status in our lives move on - it signals the beginning of the end of our upright status on this planet and I wonder whether how many of us would in the final reckoning have made such a courageous difference. Well done and sleep well, Daniel.


Ned Buxton

Monday, July 19, 2010


So what came first – the chicken or the egg or the horse or the cowboy? A Friend recently pondered the latter question so this post is dedicated to simplistically answering that complicated query and even defining who the first cowboys were. Most folks out here in Texas don’t appear motivated or compelled to look much beyond our current borders to ponder that inquiry. If we were just talking about Texas Cowboys then we could wax eloquent about some real heroes whose presence and work ethic was critical to expanding and defending our borders and perpetuating our way of life in what we now know as the American Southwest. Our question is much more macro and predictably takes us well beyond the shores of North America and surprisingly to some ancient shores.

It would follow that those who were the first to domesticate the horse for the purpose of droving - and not just as beasts of burden and a source of food - may have been the first cowboys? Well, that remains a somewhat controversial question that is still being debated. Up to a millennium appears to have transpired from the domestication, breeding and the ultimate use of the horse to drive stock. Bottom line: the horse came first.

We need note that the horse originated on what is now the North American continent some 55 million years ago. They evolved and migrated across the Bering land bridge into what is now Siberia and spread across Asia and then into Europe, south to the Middle East and into Africa. During a time line from those 55 million years to roughly two million years ago and the Pleistocene Epoch (The Ice Age) when Hyracotherium transformed into what we now know as Equus – the modern horse (browsers to grazers).

The advent of Humans in recent times (roughly 10,000 years ago) resulted in the demise and extinction of Equus in North America who - as current theories appear to correctly postulate – was hunted for food. Boy did they miss the boat and validates once again that cultures evolved at substantially different rates based on their environment, natural resources and motivation.

The images of horses appear in Paleolithic cave art as represented in the caves of Lascaux (a series of caves in southwestern France near Montignac as represented in the painting above my mantle) as early as 30,000 BCE. Now these animals were truly wild horses which as we have noted were more than likely hunted as food by Cro-Magnon (Early Modern Humans) and Neanderthal before they were ever used as a work animal. The occupants of what is now North America had to wait for the Spanish to reintroduce the horse (our first nations called them big dogs) to our continent in the sixteenth century in their ultra successful attempt to create a new world order (colonization) – a la Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján and Hernando de Soto.

At any rate, while the horse was extinct in North America, horses were fast becoming a mainstay of many ancient civilizations including the Sredny Stog culture, the Botai people of Kazakhstan, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Scythians, Parthians, Mongols and others. The horse properly established their significant place in history and, hence, our inquiry today. We are certain that the first horses were domesticated as well as used for food and then transportation of both humans and cargo somewhere around 4,000 to 3,500 B.C.E.

There is no doubt that cultures which used the horse for a variety of tasks, including agriculture, war, hunting, transport, recreation and, yes, food would have out of necessity had to develop a way to control what had to be herds of horses and livestock and someone to direct this resource – someone on horseback.
Aha! We know now that the wheel was also part of this equation.

The solid two or four wheeled Mesopotamian (Sumerian) chariots pulled by as many as four Onagers or asses before the introduction of the horse were first used around 3,500 to 3,200 BCE for transportation and war though some archeologists speculate that the wheel may have been invented far earlier in Asia. In a great irony, we need note that the wheel already had some manufacturing applications i.e. the potter’s wheel before it was remotely thought to aid in transportation.

The Egyptians invented the spoked wheel around 2,000 BCE and took the chariot and the role of the horse to the next level in Africa. By around 1435 BCE the Egyptians were mass producing the chariot. But there had long been a horse culture in Iberia which suggested by acclaimed Portuguese historian, zoologist, anatomist, horse breeder and paleontologist Dr. Ruy D’Andrade dates from the Neolithic period (5000 – 4000 BCE) when native tribes of what is now Portugal and Spain may have even used horses in war.

Though their origins are unclear it would appear that the less than homogeneous Iberians were soon influenced by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians and yes, ladies and gentlemen - the Celts (among others) who apparently in several successive waves were a major factor in the development of their culture. From these roots sprang the great horse culture of Spain and one of the primary sources of the modern Cowboy.

Though the origin of the early name of Spain, “Iberia" continues to be debated, some scholars attribute the name to the Greeks while some even allow for a Celtic influence. While the real origins of the name will probably remain unknown relative to our post we do have substantial evidence of Celtic weaponry, horseshoes, bridle bits and even spurs evidenced around 500 B.C in Iberia. We also see riders in saddles portrayed in Iberian stone carvings, bronze castings and paintings.

While the Celtic influence is undeniably substantial and while this writer would love to attribute one of the fundamental origins of the cowboy as Celtic, alas that conclusion will never come. It is apparent that the cultural input was from many disparate sources and out of this rich mélange evolved the Vaquero/Caballero/Cowboy of the Americas.

If we are objective (my reward for this effort) we have to give due credit to the Scots for their prodigious influence especially in the American West for the evolution of the modern cowboy. You see, the cattle industry had long been a staple of the Scottish culture and even to the degree of elevating reiving (rustling) as an honourable rite of passage akin to counting coup by our own First Nations.

When Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples arrived in Scotland some five thousand years ago they brought the Celtic Shorthorn with them which bred with the native wild cattle and voila – you have an industry where cattle were routinely driven and pastured in alternate mountain and lowland locations and then eventually with the development of the cattle industry driven to market by drovers – both on foot and on horseback. This became an established profession from the 16th century in Scotland, a skill that migrants to the Americas (US and Canada) took with them – along with their culture. All this activity was concurrent with the initial Spanish activity in the Americas. The Scots émigrés became a substantial component of what we now know as Cowboys of the American West.

The archeological record has not revealed whether wild horses spread into Scotland after the end of the last ice age around 10,000 years ago or if horses came with those first settlers. We are certain that horses have been in Scotland since at least the 8th century BC and were ultimately used later to great advantage by both the Picts and the Scots.

Ron Gibson, Scottish Member of Parliament (SNP) and historian in his, In Plaids and Bandanas: from Highland Drover to Wild West Cowboy establishes clear and coherent links between the Highland cattle drovers of 16th century Scotland and the North American West.

The Scottish connection and legacy is well documented in the record and seems highlighted by the seventy year ownership (1882-1952) of the iconic Matador Land and Cattle Company by a Dundee, Scotland group. Matador, located on the high plains at the caprock of the Texas Panhandle was once one of the largest ranches in the world reinforcing Scotland’s transatlantic relationship with Texas.

Matador and Texas history resounds with the names of folks like Alexander Mackay of Dundee and Murdo Mackenzie who was characterized by then US president Theodore Roosevelt as "the most influential of American cattlemen."

In the end there is no doubt that the Modern Cowboy is the composite of the great horse cultures of Europe, Asia and Africa embellished with our own American brand. The very existence of the Cowboy validates once again that we are everyman and the product of a back and forth cross cultural pollination. The world was getting smaller even then…

When all is said and done it took the Spanish to facilitate all this by contributing/importing their culture and the horse back to the Americas/New World ultimately to New Mexico and Texas where an increasingly homogenized though equally disparate group out of necessity prompted the creation and evolution of our modern cowboy
decades before my forefathers landed at (or somewhat near) Plymouth Rock.


Ned Buxton

One of the inspirations for this post and an excellent source of information on this topic is the book, Origins of the First American Cowboys by Donald A. Chávez y Gilbert. Donald is an educator, historian and writer from Belen, New Mexico where he teaches in the Los Lunas Public Schools and also operates the Terra Patre Farm. You can gain some of the interesting details of this great adventure by reading his revealing book in its entirety, online at: This gentleman has his act together and we strongly recommend this undoubted future member of the Buckaroo Hall of Fame for his objective and well written works.

Might of Right also recommends Highland Cowboys: From the Hills of Scotland to the American Wild West and Plaids and Bandanas: From Highland Drover to Wild West Cowboy both by historian and Scottish MP Rob Gibson who recounts the connection between the cattle cultures of Scotland and those of the iconic Texas cattle industry. Boots and kilts, aye.


Sunday, July 4, 2010


For many years my personal heroes have been Charles Kuralt (RIP), Bill Geist, Andy Rooney, Ben Stein and others of that ilk because of their ability to communicate, enlighten, make us all think and sometimes laugh (Thank God for CBS). They are mostly right though some have been labeled as curmudgeons, save the polite Kuralt. These folks have walked the walk and sometimes (OK mostly) pushed the envelope to make their points.

For most of my life I have been compelled to share my ideas and thoughts to the chagrin and delight of some – on both sides of that coin. I always envisioned that someday I might occupy that lofty perch as demonstrated and earned by the above icons. Importantly, I have also learned that when some folks get it right, then there’s no reason or excuse to try and improve on it. Today on CBS’s Sunday Morning Ben Stein nailed his 2010 Fourth of July homage and I offer it to you intact. Enjoy.

“Two hundred and thirty four years ago, a group of very brave Americans came out with the rough draft of the best idea for human organization in the history of the world: a nation in which the government would run not by a monarch, but by the consent of the governed.

As I said, that was a rough draft, that Declaration of Independence. For generations, Americans lacked the ability to govern themselves because of their race, and then for a while after that because of their sex, and even for longer, because they didn't have enough money.

But in a miraculous process, through wars and protests and lawsuits and demonstrations, this American nation now truly is run by the consent of all of the governed, of all races, creeds, sexes, and economic stations.

This truly is a miracle in human history. Its glory can be demonstrated by a simple test, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair once said, "How many want in and how many want out." Very few people leave this country voluntarily, and a heck of a lot risk their lives to get in and stay in.

Now, we are under attack by a creed that hates the freedom and human dignity this country stands for. Those people have serious power to hurt us, as we have learned. And some people say we cannot beat them because you cannot fight an idea.

But that is exactly why we are going to win: because the idea that the founders came up with in 1776 is the one that is closest to the deepest aspirations of the human heart: freedom and individual dignity. The men and women who risk their lives to vote in Iraq and Afghanistan, our brave men and women who offer up their lives for this ideal, the millions who want to come here prove that the Founders had hit a home run. Or, put it this way, how many taxi drivers do you suppose there are in Pakistan who left New York City to move there?

We and the other free societies are where the human soul wants to be, and on this Independence Day, We are not red America or blue America, to coin a phrase. We are a very blessed America and the future belongs to the free.”
Well done, Ben, and along with the rest of you out there - enjoy a happy and safe Fourth of July. That’s your right…


Ned Buxton