Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What's Left Special Report: Guns

What's Left Special Report: Guns in the US

I almost forgot to put the video up.

Monday, June 11, 2018

What's Left Special Report: Guns

What's Left Special Report: Guns

Welcome Jon Swift Memorial Roundup readers. If you would rather see the video of this, it's at

February 14, 2018: Seventeen are killed, 17 more wounded, in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida

May 18, 2018: Ten killed, 13 wounded, in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.

May 25, 2018: Two injured, happily none killed, in a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School in Noblesville, Indiana. According to CNN, this was the 23rd school shooting of 2018 - just 22 weeks into the year.

And of course we heard from the right wing and from the gun nuts all their sorrowful expressions and their thoughts and prayers and of course their excuses and diversions and distractions, blaming the massacres on mental illness, bullying, Hollywood, violent video games, socialism, single parents, Godlessness, abortion, and now Ritalin. Everything but the guns.

Well, you know what? I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear anything they have to say, now or ever again. I don't want to hear the gobbledygook, the nonsense, the lies, the garbage. I don't want hear any of the noxious venom spewing from the fangs of the snakes at the NRA. I don't want to hear the slimy excuses, the shopworn slogans, the stale talking points.

There have been well over 60 mass killings in US over last 30 years. One every couple of months for 30 years. In the vast majority of those cases, the guns involved were obtained legally. Of the weapons used nearly three-fourths were either assault weapons or semiautomatic handguns.

So I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear anything from the gun nuts or their bought off lackeys in Congress. I don't want to hear their lies, I won't tolerate their distractions, I won't abide their trickery, I won't fall for their attempts to talk about anything other than the damn guns.

What's more, I also don't want to hear it from the Democrats, I don't want to hear any of the mealy-mouthed blather from political cowards who will whine that they're doing the best that they can even as the body count rises and members of their own party continue to either worship at the altar of the NRA or run and hide at its approach.

And that's nothing new. Even Mr. Nobel Peace Prize himself, President Hopey-Changey, talked big about "meaningful action" on guns while the only thing he did was to expand the areas where people can legally carry them. Thanks to legislation approved and actively defended in court by the glorious Mr. O's administration, you can transport a gun via Amtrak train, which you couldn't before. Even better, you can now carry a loaded, concealed gun around in a national park, which you couldn't before.

And I don't want to hear, as we have always, invariably, inevitably heard after every tragedy and as sure as the sun rising in the morning will hear after the next one that "now is not the time" to talk about doing something about the carnage. Because if that's true, then what the hell time is "the time?"

Know this: The mass murders, especially the ones at schools, grab our attention, take our breath away, break our hearts and break through our indifference but they are in fact only a small part of the reality, a small part of the daily, grinding, carnage that guns bring to our nation.

Over the past five years, on average, 13,000 people in US are killed, murdered, every year by gun. Over the past five years, on average, nearly 22,000 commit suicide by gun every year. Over 35,000 gun deaths a year - 96 a day - including seven children and teenagers. Ninety-six a day: that's three Parklands plus four Santa Fes a day, every day, day after day.

The suicides are especially tragic because while gun suicides account for 60% of gun deaths and 50% of all suicide deaths, they only account for about 10% of all suicide attempts - because 90% of those who attempt suicide by gun succeed, while 90% of those who try by other means fail and rarely try again.

So I have to ask: When is it "the time" to talk about the guns? How many more have to die before it's "the time?" How many more have to be shot down before it's "the time?" How many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, have to lie in spreading pools of their own blood before it's "the time?"

How many children have to cry out for mommy after a fall or a bee sting until someone has to gently as they can explain again that mommy is no longer there before it's "the time?" How many wives have to wake in the night and reach across the bed and have that moment of confusion before the pain of remembering - yet again - why there's no one there? How many parents have to suffer the repeated gaping empty ache of being in the grocery store and reaching for something before realizing - again - that they no longer have to buy that sort of cereal or that particular brand of peanut butter?

The days of those children, those spouses, those parents, are not measured in minutes but in pains; they are not marked by hours but by aches. So what time is the time? And why is this time, whatever time it is, not the time?

So I don't want to hear it; I don't want to hear any of it. Not the time? Of course it's the time, it's way past the time, way past time to face the truth that there is only one issue here: there are too damn many guns that are too damn easy to get.

Part of the problem is, we don't actually know how many people own guns or how many they own. Keeping official records on that sort of thing, thanks to the NRA and political cowardice, is illegal. So the information we have is all by survey.

But based on that, there are by various estimates anywhere from 270 million to 310 million guns in private hands in the United States - close to one firearm for every man, woman, and child in the US and about one-half of all weapons owned by civilians in the entire world.

But while those numbers about ownership may be close to the actual totals, they remain indefinite, imprecise. Still, one thing is for sure: more guns equals more gun crime, more gun deaths, more murders, more suicides. That's what the research shows, over and over again.

In 2013, researchers from Boston University looked at the relationship between gun ownership and gun homicides over the 30-year period from 1981 to 2010 in all 50 states. They found a "robust correlation" between the two factors.

Also in 2013, a team lead by Dr. Eric Fleegler, a physician in pediatric emergency medicine at Boston Children's Hospital, used information on state laws from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence to create a list of 28 possible laws states could enact to in some way control guns or access to them. They also used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding gun violence. Putting those data sets together, they found that the more such laws a state had, the lower the level of gun violence there. The states in the top 25% of gun legislation strength had a 42% reduction in gun deaths compared with the states in the bottom 25%, including a 40% drop in homicides and a 37% drop in suicides. Notably, when gun violence was lower, other types of violence did not go up, suggesting people without guns do not kill themselves or others by other means.

In 2014, a team lead by David Hemenway, director of the Injury Control Research Center at Harvard University, assembled a list of nearly 300 experts on guns, which they established by going through about 1,200 articles on firearms that had been recently published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Hemenway began sending monthly surveys to the authors of these articles. The results showed that a heavy majority the experts responding agreed that having a gun in the house makes it a more dangerous place to be, makes it more likely that a woman living in the house will be killed, and increases the risk of suicide. Heavy majorities also agreed that having more guns around does not reduce crime and that strong gun laws do reduce homicide.

In 2016, a report by researchers from the University of Nevada-Reno and the Harvard School of Public Health used World Health Organization data to compare gun violence and murder rates across 23 developed (or "high-income," as they are also called) nations, including the US. Among the findings were that Americans are 25 times more likely to be violently killed with a gun - murdered - than in those 22 other nations; we are six times more likely to be accidentally killed with a gun; eight times times more likely to commit suicide using a gun; and overall 10 times more likely to die by gun than residents of other developed nations. It found that homicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans 15 to 24 and the third leading cause of death among those 25 to 34. Americans 15 to 24 are 49 times more likely to die from gun murder than similarly aged young people in other high-income nations; for those aged 25 to 34, the risk is 32 times greater.

Despite having only one-half the total population of the other nations studied, the US accounted for 82 percent of all firearm incidents. What's more, the US accounted for 90 percent of all women, 91 percent of children aged up to 14 years, and 92 percent of youth aged 15 to 24 years who were killed by guns.

In 2017, a working paper by John Donohue, an economist and law professor at Stanford University, addressed the question of relating gun ownership to gun crime at a time during which violent crime in the US has been and continues to decline. He found that the introduction of so-called right-to-carry laws makes violent crime rates 13-15% worse and the gun homicide rate 9% worse over 10 years. That is, even as violent crime is dropping, it would have dropped significantly more in the absence of those laws. More guns around, more guns carried, more crime, more death. The result was based on an analysis of 37 years worth of data comparing gun crime rates in states with and without right-to-carry laws, including how the rates changed in states that adopted right-to-carry during those 37 years.

And just last fall, evidence from a massive database maintained by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tracks lives lost in every country, in every year, by every possible cause of death, showed the US as a shocking outlier on gun deaths.

Measured by socioeconomic success, such as income per person and average education level, the US ranked 9th highest among the nations of the world - but on death by gun violence, it ranked 31st highest. That is, of the 195 recognized nations of the world, only eight nations had higher socioeconomic success than the US, but 164 nations had lower levels of death by gun.

The rate of gun death in the US in 2016, the most recent figures available, was eight times higher than the rate in Canada, 27 times higher than in Denmark, 33 times higher than Germany.

But oh, we're told, even if all that is true, well, it's unfortunate, it's terrible, but it's the price we pay for freedom! The freedom we are guaranteed by the Second Amendment, the Amendment that itself guarantees our freedom!


I'm going to have to get a little legalistic on you, but it's necessary because you can be damn sure that the gun nuts are going to trot out the Second Amendment argument over and over, the argument that goes "I can have my guns - the Constitution says so!"

So first, let's be clear on what the Amendment says:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The first important Supreme Court decision about the Second Amendment was Presser v. Illinois, which was decided in 1886. In it, the Supreme Court found that the Second Amendment limited only the power of Congress and the national government to control firearms, not that of individual states. States could essentially put on whatever restrictions they wanted. That decision was affirmed in Miller v. Texas, decided in 1894. Now, this was before the idea of incorporation, the idea that the protections of the Constitution extend to the states as well as the federal government, became commonplace, so these decisions are not truly relevant the legal situation we face to today. But they do mean that right away this idea that from the very beginning the Founding Fathers wanted everyone to be able to own whatever and however many guns they wanted is totally bogus.

The next big case, the important one, was United States v. Miller. This was in 1939 and it concerned the National Firearms Act of 1934. That Act required that certain types of weapons be registered and taxed. A unanimous Court upheld the law, saying there was no conflict with the Second Amendment. The Court found that:
In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a [weapon of the sort involved in the case] has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. ... With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.
The syntax is rather stilted, but the meaning is clear enough.

For 69 years, that was precedent, relied on by all lower Courts and occasionally referred to by the Supreme Court itself. For 69 years, the legal standard was that states and the federal government were within their legitimate powers to regulate sale and possession of weapons which were not related to maintaining "a well-regulated militia" - which, in the absence of state militias (except to the degree that the National Guard could be considered such), pretty much meant any weapon at all.

Put another way, the guarantee under the Second Amendment was understood to describe not an individual right but a collective one: It applied to the people as a whole, not to discrete individuals, and referred to the right of the people of a state (or a nation) to collectively defend themselves against attack.

After 69 years, the narrowest majority of the Supreme Court, 5-4, decided to ignore those decades of precedent, or more to the point, to regard them as irrelevant. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment does provide an individual right to own a gun.

To do that, they had to go through some real mental contortions. They treated the reference to a militia as merely "prefatory," as having no legal effect, no legal meaning, even though there doesn't seem to be another example of such a "prefatory" anywhere in the constitution. What's more, the phrase "keep and bear arms" has traditionally referred to serving in a military force (including a militia). To get around that, the Court majority broke the phrase into two separate pieces - so it's not a right to "keep and bear arms" but a right to "keep" arms and an entirely separate right to "bear" arms as part of a military.

This decision only applied to federal enclaves such as the District of Columbia. However, two years later, in McDonald v. Chicago, the Court ruled in another 5-4 decision that the finding in Heller applied to the states as well.

That is what the gun nuts now rely on, that is what they now argue: "Can't have gun control. Second Amendment. Supreme Court has ruled. Debate is over." Now, if you're ever faced with that argument, the first thing you should do is to ask those wackos if at any time during those 69 years that the Court said otherwise, in all that time did any of them just say "the Court has ruled, the debate is over, we lost." Of course they didn't. So don't expect us to do it now.

Especially because I'm going to advance an argument that the interpretation of the Second Amendment relied on by the gun nuts and the NRA and the right-wingers on the court is wholly bogus even beyond the majority's mental contortions.

First, again, here is the text:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Here is James Madison's original proposed text:
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
Note that expressed this way, the tying of the article to a militia is specific and undeniable; it makes no sense to regard the reference to a militia as some sort of passing observation with no relevance to the rest of the text.

What's more, the "Powers of Congress" as listed in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution include these (among others):
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States;
Note well: Congress can maintain a navy but only raise an army and that for only two years at a time - and meanwhile, can call out the militia to "suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions."

The expectation was that the US would not have a standing army, that one would be raised in the event of need but that the militias would be the first line of defense against attack. Despite that - and this is something that then-Justice John Paul Stevens noted in his dissent in Heller - there still was a concern at the time that Congress would disarm the state militias and create a national standing army and the Second Amendment was intended as a guarantee to the states that their militias could be maintained. Which means that yes, it was about a militia from the very start. Which means the Miller decision got it right and the Heller decision should go to hell.

But there's another thing that is equally if not more important: The gun nuts - and, in fact, a lot of gun control advocates - don't know what the Heller and McDonald decisions actually said.

In Heller and reasserted in McDonald, the majority of the Supreme Court actually embraced the concept of the 1939 Miller decision that the federal government and the states have the authority to regulate firearms. What's more, that majority argued that the protections of the Second Amendment only apply to weapons "in common use for lawful purposes." In fact, in Heller, the Court said the ruling, quoting here,
should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
The majority also said that other existing or potential prohibitions, such as banning concealed weapons or the carrying of "dangerous and unusual weapons" were unaffected by the decision.

So the gun nuts who claim that the Second Amendment gives them the right to have pretty much any kind of gun they want and as many of them as they want and carry them wherever they want are, happily, completely wrong. Heller and McDonald are far more limited than gun nuts hoped and than control advocates feared.

Carrying concealed guns can be banned. Carrying guns into schools or government buildings - or, for that matter, on Amtrak trains or in national parks - can be banned. Assault weapons can be banned. Semiautomatic handguns can be banned. High-capacity magazines can be banned. Safety locks can be required. "Dangerous and unusual" ammunition such as hollow-point bullets and armor-piercing rounds can be banned.

Michael Waldman, who is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, has noted that even since Heller, courts have upheld nearly all gun rules, finding that yes, individuals have a right to a gun, but society has the right to protect itself, too.

And in fact that society agrees. A survey by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and published in the May issue of the "American Journal of Public Health" covered 24 proposals of varying severity restricting access to guns. A majority supported 23 of them; significantly, a majority of self-described gun owners supported 17 of them and in most cases the approval gap between gun owners and non-gun owners was in the single digits.

And in terms of societal right to self-protection, it's wise to recall here that gun ownership is a distinctly minority position in the US: Based on surveys, no more than about 30% of Americans own one or more guns and the figure may be as low as 22% and only 42% live is a household where anyone owns a gun.

An important sidebar here is that I would not approve of all the proposals in the Johns Hopkins survey, as some made a history of mental illness a bar to gun ownership - and the fact is that the best and recent research shows no reliable predictive value in associating mental health and gun violence. Put another way, the research says that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent toward others, especially to commit mass violence, than anyone else is. We can't simply dismiss the harsh truth of mass violence with the slogan "better mental health programs." They are justified on their own account - but not because they will address the issue of mass shootings, because they will not. They are a gun lobby-pushed distraction. The issue is the damn guns. Stay focused.

So staying focused, here's the last thing, a bottom line: Based on current jurisprudence, the truth is that pretty much any kind of gun other than basic hunting rifles, shotguns, and ordinary handguns could be banned outright.

And dammit, they should be - ban them all. You want to hunt? Go with a basic rifle. Don't even try to tell me that you need an AR-15 to go after deer. In fact, why don't you use a bow? Or is the extra effort involved in having to track the deer to get close enough to take it down with a bow instead of dropping it from a couple of hundred yards away with your manhood too much for you?

You want to target shoot? Use a pellet gun. Yeah, yeah, I know, they can be dangerous blah blah blah - but don't even try to tell me you need a Glock to shoot out a paper bulls-eye.

Ban them all. I know that's not going to happen. I know there is no chance of that in my lifetime and probably much longer, if ever. But it's not going to stop me from saying it and from wanting it - and as long as I am 100 times more likely to be killed by a gun here than in the UK, I'm going to keep on saying it and keep on wanting it.

I am not usually a one-issue voter. but this year, on this issue, on there being too damn many guns that are too damn easy to get, I am. So this year, this time, this election, if you are not with me on this, I am against you.

Because all I can think is that until we Americans as a people, as a culture, grow the hell up and throw away our childish fantasies that somehow we are all living on the frontier in the 1870s with nothing between us and who knows what danger except our trusty guns, until we grow the hell up and ditch the infantile vision of ourselves as action movie heroes ready to leap into action to defend the defenseless and save the day, until we grow the hell up and realize the our guns have brought us death and not deliverance, until that time the tens of thousands of people who die by gun every year in this country will continue to die by the tens of thousands - because there are too damn many guns that are too damn easy to get.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Outrage of the Year 2017

Now for our third yearly award. This is for the Outrage of the Year for 2017.

The Outrage category is different from the Clown Award in that it's meant to involve something that was spread over the year, something on-going, where the Clown Award could be for a one-off. Which also means it's more about an issue than a person or persons.

By way of illustration, the 2015 Outrage of the Year was the Trayvon Martin case; for 2016 it was the Democratic Party presidential campaign (both primary and general).

There were a few themes that ran through my posts during the year that I considered for the dishonor of Outrage of the Year. (The links are examples.)

One was what I called the "unleashing of militarism as national policy," including essentially making the War Department the director of policy in Afghanistan and the US enabling of war crimes in Yemen, combined with news about our wars becoming pack-of-the-paper stories and the virtual disappearance of those wars and of military spending in general from the concerns of the Left.

Another was how a number of states and the federal government responded to protests by variously pushing legislation specifically intended to make it harder to protest and trying to prevent media from covering such protests.

There was the disparaging of the "other" marked by continuing opposition to the rights of LGBTQ people and even the human dignity of immigrants.

All of these are outrageous and outrages. But ultimately, I chose a topic that I brushed against, discussed briefly, a number of times but only addressed directly and at length late in the year.

So the Outrage of the Year 2017 is the scourge of sexism and the sexual discrimination and violence to which it gives birth.

And oh, the examples were everywhere. I already mentioned "Time" magazine's jackassery on the topic. There was plenty more where that came from, such as the guy who to the delight of his friends, got filmed humping the "Fearless Girl" statue on Wall Street - because crude, boorish, simulated sexual violence is always good for a laugh.

Worse was Captain Peter Rose of the New York City police, who was not concerned about a sharp increase in reported rapes in his precinct in 2016 because many of the attackers were acquainted with the victims, and "only two were true stranger rapes." Because, y'know, a woman who knows her rapist isn't really raped.

And in a dark part of the universe there exists an entire online community of men dedicated to "stealthing," the practice of sneaking off a condom during sex without your partner knowing because it's the "right" of a man to "spread his seed" regardless of the desires of, or potential consequences to, your partner.

Meanwhile, good old economic sex discrimination rolled on.

According to the US Census Bureau, women make up more than 47% of the workforce. They make up at least a third of physicians, a third of surgeons, a third of lawyers, and a third of judges. Women also represent 55% of all college students.

But at the same time, American women still earn less than men do, a difference that persists across all levels of education to the point where a woman with an advanced degree can expect to be paid less than a man with a bachelor's.

The point here is that while it was sexual harassment and violence that got most of the attention this past year, they are not, at the end of it all, the real problem. Sexism is.

Sexism, the underlying assumptions about women that society has long held and still does hold, assumptions that breed a sense of privilege and power, even if unconsciously, in men, is the problem, is the root of the poisonous plant of sexual harassment and assault, is the foundation of workplace discrimination, is the cause.

Sexism is why women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, why women don't advance in business despite earning more college degrees than men for thirty years and counting, why women still get paid only 83% of what men do.

And sexism and the corrupting influence of power it feeds is why women have been forced to pretend to ignore the smirks and sneers, to abide the grabs and gropes, to fear the silent street and the empty elevator.

In realities ranging from stifled dreams and blunted careers to harassment and brutal assault we have the chills, the throbbing aches, the raging fevers; in sexism we have the disease, one we all - men even more than women - have a moral duty to eradicate.

Sexism: Outrage of the Year 2017.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Clown of the Year 2017 - Total Jackassery Category

Now for the Clown of the Year 2017 - Total Jackassery Category.

And not surprisingly, we had a good number of jackasses from which to choose. For example, we had Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who in describing Tweetie-pie's trip to Saudi Arabia in June, positively gushed over the fact that "there was not a single hint of a protestor anywhere there during the whole time we were there, not one guy with a bad placard."

The host interrupted to suggest that maybe that was true because Saudi Arabia is, y'know, a dictatorship, but that didn't stop Ross, who enthused as how "there was certainly no sign of [protest], there was not a single effort at any incursion. There wasn't anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood."

Then there was old Clown pro Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who took his best shot at the award.

Daesh - that is, ISIS - took credit for a suicide bomber attack and siege at Iran's parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on June 7. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing the next day, Rohrabacher said the attack could be a "good thing" and actually proposed that the US government support ISIS in attacking rival groups and even suggested the attack was part of some secret foreign policy of TheRump.

He later issued a statement "clarifying" his position, which, until it was corrected - a clarification of the clarification - assumed Khomeini is still alive. He died in 1989.

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin was a serious contender and has to be considered first runner-up.
On September 28, when asked by a high school student whether he considered health care a right or a privilege, Johnson not only went with privilege, he also said that food and shelter and clothing should also be considered "privileges," reserved to those who can afford them.

"What we have as rights," he said, "are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Past that point, everything else is a limited resource that we have to use our opportunities given to us so that we can afford those things."

So in other words, there's only so much health care - or food or clothing or shelter - to go around, so it's up to you to be able to pay whatever the market demands and if you can't, well, you just didn't "use your opportunities." Johnson did not explain how you can have a "right to life" if you don't have food, shelter, clothing, or health care.

What - in a great old phrase I like - capped the climax was that not only did Johnson, in addressing "rights," refer to the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, but the actual quote is "certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Which means the very source he cited says those are not the only rights. [Emphasis of course added.]

Our final nominee before announcing the winner was a sort of a crossover in that he could just as easily been in the Basic Stupid group.

His name is Mike Shoesmith, and he is the self-styled executive editor of something called PNN News and Ministry Network although I couldn't for the life of me find out what the PNN is supposed to (or ever did) stand for.

Anyway, writing on his "news and ministry network" which is actually a blog on October 19, he argued - and I do mean he argued, he went on at some length, this was no tweet, it was a column - he argued that "when a man sees a naked or partially dressed woman a chemical reaction happens in his brain ... giving him an involuntary surge of pleasure," which he apparently regards as a bad thing. But this means that, he turns to the criminal code now, "without his consent" she has "applied or attempted to apply" a force against him.

Which means that, he rambled, that if a woman wears "suggestive clothing" around a man she is committing criminal sexual assault against him. Seriously.

So what could top all of that? Because yes, something could and did.

So the winner of the Really Big Red Nose for Clown of the Year, Total Jackassery Category, is, how could it be otherwise:

"Time" Magazine.

Amal Clooney is an accomplished, international human rights lawyer who made a powerful speech to the UN General Assembly on March 10 calling on the world body to investigate human rights crimes by ISIS in Iraq, especially against the Yazidis, a religious minority who ISIS regards as devil worshippers to be wiped out. She specifically called on Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to send a letter to the Security Council so it can vote to begin investigating those crimes.

And how did Time decide to tweet about this story? With an image of her dancing with George and a headline about showing her "baby bump" at the UN.

And if that isn't award-winning jackassery, I can't imagine what would be.

They weren't the only ones, but while we might - emphasize might - expect it from outfits like "Entertainment Tonight" or "E! News" or tabloids like The Mirror in the UK, to see it from as establishment and mainstream a publication as Time just serves to emphasize how deep-rooted and pervasive sexism in our media really is.

"Time" magazine: Clown of the Year 2017, Total Jackassery Category.

Clown of the Year 2017 - Basic Stupid Category

Yep. it's the Clown of the Year for 2017!

For Clown of the Year, we have two categories. First is Basic Stupid, for those who just made us go "Wha?"

We had, for example, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who in March said that among our nation's immigrants were those "who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they too had a dream that one day, their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters...might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land" - asserting, that is, that slaves were actually immigrants seeking a better future for their descendants.

We had Pennsylvania state senator and gubernatorial hopeful Scott Wagner, who insisted fossil fuels have nothing to do with global warming which is, he said, actually caused by the Earth moving closer to the Sun and the increased body heat from a growing population.

Speaking of climate change, we had Rep. Tim Walberg, who told a constituent town hall on May 26 that he isn't worried about it because "if there's a real problem, God can take care of it" - just as, apparently, God has stepped in to head off every other major catastrophe, plague, or extinction throughout history.

And there was Lucian Wintrich, White House correspondent for the right-wing conspiracy blog The Gateway Pundit, who took offense at a picture of three people giving the finger to Mt. Rushmore, fuming that "They break into our country, steal resources, and then do this. And libs wonder why we are pushing for immigration controls," apparently so blinded by the sight of brown skin that he didn't notice that the three are Native Americans - and then responded to a mocking headline that we was telling "Native Americans To Go Back To Mexico" by saying - and I swear this is a quote - "And they should."

Before I announce the winner, I want to note that Kellyanne Conartist was a leading contender early on. For example, in January she groused that the media wouldn't give Tweetie-pie "the benefit of the doubt" because "he's telling you what was in his heart. You always want to go by what comes out of his mouth rather than look at what's in his heart." That is, TheRump's chief media mouthpiece whined that the media pays attention to what he says.

Then in February, faced with questions about TheRump's team's possible collusion with Russia, she spluttered "you're not looking at the other side, which is 'What if it's not true?' I haven't heard that question at all."

Either of which would be a worthy candidate, but she was disqualified when it was noted that saying inane crap like that was part of her job description.

So now: The winners of the Really Big Red Nose for Clown of the Year, Basic Stupid Category is (or rather are)...

Donald TheRump supporters!

Clowns of the Year, Basic Stupid Category
For the past 29 years, National Public Radio's “Morning Edition” has observed the Fourth of July by having the show's hosts, reporters, newscasters, and commentators do a reading of the Declaration of Independence.

This year, NPR also tweeted out the Declaration, 140-character line by 140-character line.

So what happened? Backers of TheRump, who I suppose could be called Rumpers, who usually can be found ritually chanting "Make America Great Again" interspersed with accusations of how everyone to their left is un-American, didn't recognize the Declaration of Independence and accused NPR of "calling for revolution," "condon[ing] the violence" (of the Left, of course) and pushing "biased propaganda" and "trash," while references to George III as an "unworthy" leader were taken to be code for TheRump.

Even when people pointed out the source document for NPRs tweets, the Rumpers still claimed it all was bias on the part of NPR. Put another way, they are saying that the Declaration of Independence is anti-TheRump propaganda.

Which, I suppose, in a way it actually is.

Donald TheRump supporters: Clowns of the Year 2017, Basic Stupid Category.

So that's it. Your own proposals can be in comments. Just remember the standard: This is for the really dumb, not the (merely) venal. That comes under Total Jackassery, up next.

Happy 2018

Happy 2018 to everyone.

With the ending of my TV show, I've been taking a bit of a break from politics. But I will be back within a couple of weeks.

Peace, joy, and love to all.


Friday, November 24, 2017

This is why I do the Thanksgiving post

This is why I do the Thanksgiving post

I came across this by chance; it's from the blog of a group called Global Immersions, based in Boston.
In 1620 the Mayflower, a small ship carrying 102 passengers landed in Plymouth. They journeyed across the ocean seeking religious freedom and prosperity. Their first winter in Massachusetts was brutal and many of the original passengers and crew died before they could see the spring. They were greeted by the indigenous people who taught them how to survive in their new environment. They were taught to cultivate the land and how to live off of the land. In the fall of 1621, their successful harvest prompted a celebratory feast and select Native Americans were invited. This is considered to be America’s first Thanksgiving.
There are at least eight historical errors in that one paragraph:

1. The Mayflower was not a "small" ship by the standard of the times. In fact, at 180 tun, it was somewhat larger than average for a merchant ship; typically such ships were 140-160 tun. (A tun is a large cask. Merchant ships were measured by the capacity of the hold.)

2. Seeking prosperity, yes. Seeking religious freedom, no. Not only did they not believe in religious freedom as we understand the term, to the degree they wanted such freedom for themselves, they had it in Holland - in fact, that's why they went to Holland in the first place. (On a technical point, in the period "freedom" was equated with anarchy. The term used would have been "liberty of conscience.")

3. There's no reason to think the winter of 1620-21 was any more brutal than any of those surrounding it. The problem was that they were delayed six weeks in their departure from England and so got to Cape Cod six weeks later than intended. Discovering it was too late in the year to safely sail around the Cape to their planned destination - the mouth of the Hudson River - they spent a month finding a good place to stay in New England. By then it was late December so they had inadequate time to prepare and living in such close quarters for so long made it easy to spread disease. And it was disease, not the brutality of the winter, that killed so many.

4. They were not "greeted by the indigenous people." In fact, they didn't speak to a native until March and that was to Samoset, an Abenaki from what's now Maine. It was a couple of weeks after that when they first spoke to a local (Squanto, aka Tisquantum).

5. The natives did not "teach them how to survive." Rather, the settlers were determined to remain as English as possible, doing things, including dressing and behaving and living, as they already knew how to do. It took a few decades or more before it began to sink in that hey, maybe the people who have lived here a few thousand have some good ideas.

6. and 7. The natives did not teach the settlers how to "cultivate the land" and most certainly did not teach them "how to live off the land." They did do one thing that proved very important: They showed how to cultivate what the settlers called "native corn," "Indian corn," or "turkey wheat," which we now just call corn, which had to be dealt with differently from the grains and pulse the English brought with them (wheat, oats, rye, barley, peas, beans, and such). But the idea that pretty much any ordinary English person of the period would be unfamiliar with cultivation and fishing is just silly and as for hunting, while both sides were familiar with traps, snares, and nets, the settlers hunted with guns, with which the natives were unfamiliar. (Not that they were unfamiliar with guns but that they were unfamiliar with hunting with them.)

8. "Select" Native Americans? "[M]any of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men...." Which means there were at least 90 natives present, so there were at least close to twice as many natives as settlers!

The paragraph under consideration here is an example of poor history rather than revisionist history, but it still indicates the happy-talk mythologies we were taught as children and so still has the same lack of balance.

One final note on this: In reading this year's examples of revisionist history I became struck with how the ultimate intent seems to be to conflate a single event - or, more broadly and accurately, a few decades in the history of New England - with the entire history of the treatment of Native Americans, leading to or more likely drawn from the conclusion that there just had to be something evil about the settlers, about the "first Thanksgiving," about all of it.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

39.2 - Goodbye and farewell

Goodbye and farewell

All that talk about hope, about the necessity of hope, brings to mind the phrase "keep hope alive." It's attributed to Jesse Jackson and while I expect he was not the first person to ever say the phrase, he is the one who made it a mantra and so can lay claim to it.

And it's what we have to do, always have to do: keep hope alive.

It's one of the things I've tried to do here - amid the news and views, the anger and the analysis, to maintain hope.

Even in the face of the continuing advances of the reactionaries, in the face of the racism and the sexism and the classism, in the face of the willful ignorance and the denial of science, in the face of the banality of evil as on-going wars become a back-of-the-paper story, in the face of all that and more, I have tried to maintain, even to offer, hope.

Because the truth of the matter is that even many professional grouches (like me) are actually unregenerate romantics whose sharp words are honed on the inexplicable, indefensible, yet utterly unshakable conviction that things not only should be but can be better than they are.

An embarrassingly large number of years ago, a friend asked me for some background information she could use for a presentation on world hunger she'd been talked into giving at her church. She confessed to being very nervous about doing it and said she envied my ease at giving speeches.

I answered that I envied her gregariousness, how comfortable she was one-on-one with strangers, a quality that gave her skill in door-to-door petitioning. I've always found the prospect of going to a street where I know no one and knocking on strange door after strange door, political petition in my hand and earnest expression on my face, rather intimidating.

She half-smiled and said something about how that didn't seem anything special or "important." The truth is, I'm not sure she believed me.

But I meant what I said. Because every one of us has his or her own strengths, has something we can contribute to the struggle for peace, for justice, for the environment, for, in short, life. None of these abilities is inherently more important than any other. All are important, all are necessary, and the question isn't whether your particular skills are "better" or "worse" than any others but whether or not you are using them.

Some, like my friend, are good at petitioning. I'm not. Some are good at fundraising. I'm not. I lack both the focused concentration necessary for large-scale organizing and the patience for phone-banking. The list of my inadequacies is embarrassingly long.

My strength happens to be words. Talking. Writing. Giving speeches. And like that. So doing this is, simply, something I thought I could contribute. What's Left has intended from the beginning to be an example of what's called advocacy journalism, a type of journalism that deals in facts, not propaganda, and wherever possible uses neutral sources but which makes no bones about having a point of view; journalism, that as I have put it, "puts facts into an ethical context in order to spur action."

Put another way, What's Left was from the beginning intended to be a voice of conscience and a tool in an on-going movement, something of use to the many whose skills in other areas so greatly exceeds mine. Something that helps. Something that keeps hope alive.

In doing the show, I've been guided by four quotes that served as editorial principles:
1) "To thine own self be true." Which, as I expect you know, is a quote from Shakespeare.
2) "The US isn't the worst - but it is the biggest." That's a quote from Joan Baez.
3) "Sometimes a bit of humor contains more inner truth than the most serious seriousness." That's from a chess grandmaster named Aron Nimzovich.
4) "No one but no one, no matter their ideology, political perspective, or status as 'left' or 'right,' 'liberal' or 'conservative,' can be by that reason exempt from either criticism or praise." That's from me.

The reason I bring all this up now is that this is the 300th edition of What's Left, which was born under and in fact has lived most of its life under the name Left Side of the Aisle - a name which I never actually liked because it implied that I'm a Democrat, a description which anyone who has watched the show for any length of time would know was misleading. I recall, for one example, writing in 2012 how I would not vote for Barack Obama because he was too conservative.

So anyway, yes, this is the 300th edition of What's Left.

It is also the last edition of What's Left.

Yes, we are hanging it up, packing it in, closing it down, choose the cliche that pleases you. After something over 6-1/2 years of an almost weekly show, it's time for me to find another way to be useful, to advance the causes in which I believe.

Actually, that's not quite right, there will be one more, a holiday special intended for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, on the history of why they are on December 25 and January 1 as opposed to any other days of the year.

But yes, we are turning out the lights, closing the door, again choose the cliche you prefer.

I've said this before but it bears repeating. I have been greatly helped over these past years by several people without who this simply would not have happened or even if it did would not have gone on nearly so long as it did.

So I want to say thank you.

First to Donna, just for being Donna. She is my strength, my source, my reason to get up each day.

I want to say thanks to the staff here, to Dylan, Kris, and perhaps especially to Yvanna because she once said that she liked working the camera for the show because she always learned something, which is about the most complimentary thing someone could say to me.

Then there is Will, video editor extraordinaire of song and fable.

And finally there is Rich, the Executive Director of the station and the all-around go-to guy here who was willing to take a chance on me: When I first approached him about doing a weekly show of political commentary, he - I could tell - wasn't too sure that it wouldn't peter out after a few weeks. But he took the chance to let me do it my way and I hope in the time since he was given enough cause to be happy with his decision.

So with that I guess it's time to wrap this up for the last time. This is not the end of my activism, I just need to find a different outlet. It doesn't even mean that What's Left won't reappear at some point in some altered form.

Because for now and for the future, the issue for me, for all of us, is not "What can I do?" It's "Am I doing what I can?" Perhaps that only amounts to a little, to what can seem so trifling as to not matter, but matter it does because none of what we do is for nothing.

We are each of us as individuals called, required by what is right, required by the call of justice, to do what we can. No one can expect more of us - but we should expect nothing less of ourselves.

So instead of saying to you "see you next week," I am going to say "Carry it on." Because like the man in the movie said, "Never give up, never surrender."

And as always, peace.

39.1 - The "First Thanksgiving" story based on historical evidence

The "First Thanksgiving" story based on historical evidence

This show is on the week approaching Thanksgiving, so it seemed the right time to engage in what has become for me sort of a yearly tradition, where I say gather 'round, kiddies, I'm going to tell you the real story, the based-on-actual-historical-sources story, of the first thanksgiving.

By which, of course, I mean the event that occurred in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621 which is the basis of our now-traditional Thanksgiving holiday.

One of the reasons I do this almost every year is that it is truly amazing just how much misinformation, mythology, and general muddle-headedness there is out there on this topic. In fact, it seems that what can fairly be called revisionist history about the events have become almost as traditional as turkey and pumpkin pie.

I like to try to bring some hard historical reality to the discussion.

So to start our Thanksgiving tale, consider this:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And though it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
That comes from a letter dated December 11, 1621. It was written to an otherwise-unidentified "loving and old friend" in England by Edward Winslow, a Mayflower passenger and a leader in the early years of the colony. It was contained in a book published in England in 1622 under the rather ponderous title of A Relation or Journal of the beginning and proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plimoth in New England, by certain English Adventurers both Merchants and others.

The book is popularly known today by the less cumbersome name of Mourt's Relation and consists of eyewitness accounts of various events during the first year of the settlement.

Here's why that letter is important here: It is the only contemporaneous account of what we know as the "First Thanksgiving" which is known to exist.

The only other even near-contemporaneous account comes from William Bradford, long-time governor of the settlement, who wrote about it in his journal at least 10 to 12 years later. Even there he just sort of brushes by it, endorsing Winslow by referring to "not feigned but true reports."
They now began to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses against the winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took in good store, of which every family had its portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so large of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.
That's it. That's all of it. That's what the entire "First Thanksgiving" story is built on. Everything else is speculation, interpretation, some questionable third- and fourth-hand accounts, and guesswork, some of it informed, all too much of it not.

Some things we can tell from the accounts: For one thing, based on other references in those same sources, we know that the event took place after September 18 and before November 9. Mostly likely, it was in late September or the beginning of October, as that would have been shortly after harvest.

In considering the event, the first thing to realize is that this was not a "thanksgiving." To someone of the period, a thanksgiving was a religious occasion, a day set aside for prayer to give thanks to God for some special and unexpected blessing.

The first public day of thanksgiving in the town actually came in the summer of 1623: A crop-threatening drought had lead to a day of "humiliation," a day of fasting and prayer to beg forgiveness for whatever they had done to cause God to bring this on them. Literally immediately after, the same day, there came a soaking rain which saved the crops and so a day of thanksgiving seemed appropriate.

So no, this was not a thanksgiving. Such days would occur occasionally as the cause arose; to plan for one in advance, much less to plan for one every year as we do now, would be regarded as a gross presumption on God's will and intentions.

What this was instead was a very traditional English harvest feast, a celebration of a good harvest to which it was customary to invite those who had been helpful to you over the course of the year (which is very likely why the natives, who had indeed been helpful, were there). True, the settlers didn't have a good harvest - Bradford describes it as "small" - but they had a harvest. That surely raised everyone's spirits: It indicated they were going to make it. Reason enough for a celebration, especially considering what they had been through to get to that point.

I want to make a quick aside to explain a rather subtle point more clearly: Europeans of the 17th century - especially the more religiously-conservative sorts, such as those that lead the Plimoth (as it was often spelled at the time) settlement - did not make the sort of clear distinctions between what is "religious" and what is "secular" that we do today. The sense of, a feeling of, an awareness of, the "hand of God" or the "will of God" was much more central to their lives than it is to the vast majority of us now.

What that means here is that the 1621 harvest feast would surely have included prayers of thanks to God and perhaps a sermon from their religious leader, Elder William Brewster, as significant features of the event, just as prayer would have been a frequent feature of their everyday lives, from meals to musket drills to mucking about in their fields, tending the crops.

However, they would not have regarded this as "a day of thanksgiving" as they understood the term: While the prayers would have been significant features of the event, they would not have been the central features; not the purpose, not the point, not the driver behind it. Celebration was, feasting was.

Put another way, had we been able to witness the 1621 feast, to our modern eyes there would very likely have been more than enough praying, giving thanks, and singing of psalms and hymns to make it look like a religious or at least religiously-inspired event, but to a person of the 17th century it would have looked about as (for lack of a better term) secular as such a thing got.

Anyway, back to our story. As for the eternal question of what they ate, we can confident they had fowl such as duck or goose (as the governor "sent four men on fowling" in preparation) and yes, quite possibly turkey ("of which they took many," Bradford said). They very likely also had fish, specifically cod and bass, which are mentioned in the sources, and quite possibly deer.

Another aside: I'm going to use the possibility of deer to raise the issue of using historical sources without running too far ahead of them, a sin of which too many of the revisionist accounts are guilty: Even though Winslow says the natives "went out and killed five deer, which they ... bestowed on our governor ... and others" we can't tell if those deer were brought soon enough to be butchered, dressed, cooked, and presented as part of the feast or if they were brought afterward as a sort of thank you, a reciprocal gift in return for having been "feasted" for three days.

Bradford's mention of venison doesn't resolve things because in the period, "venison" meant "hunted meat," which obviously includes deer but isn't limited to it. So while they quite probably had deer, either from the natives or their own hunting or both, we can't say it definitively.

Edward Winslow
Getting back to the menu, lobster and other shellfish is another real possibility; elsewhere in the letter that I quoted Winslow mentions that they are abundant in the area - as are eels, of which, he claims, they could take "a hogshead in a night." If you think "eels, eew," know that an English person of the period would have responded "They're just another sort of fish." (A hogshead is a cask holding about 63 gallons of liquid. Yeah, Winslow was likely exaggerating; he was like that.)

By the way, the portrait of Edward Winslow posted here was done in 1651, 30 years later, after he had returned to England. It is the only verified picture of a Mayflower passenger known to exist.

As for the rest of them, we have no idea what they looked like beyond the traditional description of Myles Standish as short with red hair, a description given some backing by the fact that in a book called The New English Canaan, a nasty satire of the Plimoth settlement written in 1637 by Thomas Morton, Standish is identified by the name "Captain Shrimpe."

Beyond that, we can reasonably argue for some others foods such as a sort of pie made from squash from their gardens, sweetened with dried fruit which they would have brought with them from England, salad from other stuff from their gardens, and a sort of coarse corn bread.

Water would have been the major and perhaps the only beverage: Their supply of barley would be limited (Winslow says the "English grains," which would mean such as wheat, rye, and oats as well as barley, "grew indifferent good") and there is no mention of hops. No hops, no beer; no much barley, not much ale. Even if they did have some barley, there may well would not have been enough time for brewing since harvest. And while they did bring beer with them on the voyage, it is highly unlikely that there was any significant amount of that left nearly a year later. So they might have had a little ale or even maybe a little wine brought from England and reserved for a special occasion, but again is was likely mostly, and possibly only, water.

So that is pretty much it, pretty much everything we know or can reasonably assume about the event itself. Not much to build a whole mythology on, is it?

Even so, it drove the pap we got fed as children, marked by images of picnic tables laden with turkey, mashed potatoes, and apple pies surrounded by natives dressed like they just came from the great plains and smiling "Pilgrims" dressed in the fashions of the 1690s.

And that same sparseness of detail - and one of the reasons I go through this most every year - is probably a good part of the reason the event provides so much latitude to those who want to replace the childhood (and childish) image of noble settlers and savage natives with one of noble natives and savage settlers, who every year, regular as clockwork, treat us to the historical revisionism that has, again, become as traditional as turkey and cranberry sauce.

In place of the happy talk mythologies of peace, love, and harmony we were spoon-fed as children we find people snarling out dark tales of drunken, murderous, bloodthirsty settlers facing off with natives "crashing the party" at the feast and doing it in such numbers because Massasoit feared he'd be kidnapped or killed otherwise. It is a vision that, as much as the earlier one, is an attempt to overwrite history with ideology. It is, in other words, pure bunk.

In point of historical fact, relations between Plymouth and the neighboring natives were reasonably good for several decades. There were stresses and strains and disruptions, yes, but for the most part they managed to keep intact the peace agreement-mutual defense pact they made in the spring of 1621.

Things gradually got worse and I won't go into all the reasons why but the biggest two were population pressure and disputes over land that were rooted in vast cultural differences between the natives and the English.

The native culture had no concept of land ownership. Not just they didn't own the land or that everyone owned the land, or the Great Spirit owned the land; no, the idea of land as something you could possess just didn't exist. To own something, for the natives, meant you could pick it up and carry it away with you. How could you own something if you have to leave it behind anytime you go anywhere? Which makes real sense, especially for a semi-nomadic people who live in one area for part of the year and another area the rest of the year.

But for the settlers, for any European, land ownership was an everyday concept. That cultural chasm was a source of repeated conflict.

The peace finally, irrevocably, completely broke down - but that was in 1675, more than 50 years after the so-called "First Thanksgiving." The point here is that at that time, in the fall of 1621, native-settler relations were good.

In fact, the very next sentences of the Winslow letter I quoted above are these:
We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us. We often go to them, and they come to us; some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them.
Winslow also says that all the other native leaders in the vicinity have made peace with Plymouth on the same terms as Massasoit, as a result of which, he asserts, "there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly." He goes on to say that:
We for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England. We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us. They are a people without any religion or knowledge of God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, just.
(Just to be certain you know, "trusty" means trustworthy, not trusting, and "quick of apprehension" does not mean quick to be apprehensive. It means quick to understand, quick to grasp the meaning of something. As for "religion," in his later book Good News from New England Winslow says "therein I erred" and goes on the describe the native religion, as least as he understands it.)

That does not sound either like bloodthirsty settlers eager to kill natives or like natives who feared contact with those same settlers or felt they had to display mass force to avoid being kidnapped or killed.

If you're still not convinced, consider that in June 1621, three or four months earlier, the town felt it necessary to send a message to Massasoit requesting that he restrain his people from coming to the settlement in such numbers. This is from Mourt's Relation, this is the message they sent to Massasoit.
But whereas his people came very often, and very many together unto us, bringing for the most part their wives and children with them, they were welcome; yet we being but strangers as yet at Patuxet, alias New Plymouth, and not knowing how our corn might prosper, we could no longer give them such entertainment as we had done, and as we desired still to do.
That's how "afraid" the natives were of the settlers, so "afraid" the town had to ask them not to come around so much.

Assigning the role of angel or demon to either side is trash: Neither of these peoples were either. Neither were saints, neither were devils.

So I reject the revisionist history, indeed I resent the revisionist history. I resent it first because it’s lousy history. It's based on ideology, not information; it looks to satisfy demands of politics, not of scholarship, and it is every bit as full of false tales and mythology as the nonsense and pap that we got fed as schoolchildren.

Plymouth in the fall of 1621 genuinely was a scene of peaceful and friendly relations, of good feeling, between English settlers and their nearest native neighbors. The "First Thanksgiving" was a moment of celebration when everyone on both sides, even if they were still wary each of the other, believed that yes, this was going to work out.

That wasn’t going to happen; it was a false hope, even a foolish hope. It was brief enough moment, lasting by even a generous understanding no more than a few decades, and a rare enough moment in our nation's history of cruelty toward and genocide of the native peoples of this continent such that while "the First Thanksgiving" shouldn't be a source of happily-ever-after "why can't we all just get along" fairy stories, neither is there any need to co-opt it into the service of ideology-driven revisionism.

Because that moment of hope did exist. And frankly, I resent the attempts to strip away that one moment of hope in pursuit of a modern political agenda.

I remember a friend of mine some years ago talking about “the urge to find angelic forces in the world,” that is, the seeming need many of us have to fix on some group, some movement, some something that we can convince ourselves is utterly pure in its motives and behavior. In our attempts to find some better balance in our understanding of what was done to the natives of North America, the cruelties inflicted on them, the racism and bigotry which targeted them, too many of us in considering the “Pilgrims” of Plymouth have chosen to simply swap one mythology for a perhaps more satisfying but equally false one.

Balance, it seems, is still a long way off.

So anyway, I hope you enjoyed your Turkey Day, I hope you had time to spend with your family or friends or better yet both and I hope you can understand why I celebrate the day as an expression less of thankfulness for the past (or even the present) than as an expression of hope for the future. That hope, too, may prove as foolish as that of 1621, indeed these days I often think it is - but the blunt fact is, hope is also the one absolute, indispensable requirement for any effort to make that future a better one.

What's Left #39

What's Left
for the week of November 17-23, 2017

This week:

- The "First Thanksgiving" story, based on historical evidence

- Goodbye and farewell

Sunday, November 12, 2017

38.6 - RIP: "Fats" Domino

RIP: "Fats" Domino

We have an RIP this week I really meant to do it, I should have done it, last week but the truth is I just forget. Not this time.

On October 24, Antoine "Fats" Domino, the man whose combination of rhythm and blues and a boogie-woogie piano style helped to create rock'n'roll, died at the age of 89.
He died at home in his beloved New Orleans, surrounded by family.

Oddly, a lot of people have forgotten him or never heard of him, but in the 1950s he had a run of more than three dozen top 40 hits and the only person who sold more records over that time was Elvis Presley. Ultimately, he charted 63 times on Billboard and 59 times on the R+B chart. His song "The Fat Man," release in 1949 is regarded by many as the very first rock'n'roll record and was undoubtedly the first rock record to sell a million copies.

Antoine "Fats" Domino
His biggest hit was "Blueberry Hill," but the one I remember the most, the one I associate with him because it was one of the very first rock'n'roll songs I knew, was "Ain't That a Shame."

Let me wrap this up with two quick asides:

One is that the nickname "Fats" did not arise from his physical size but because his piano style reminded others of that of Fats Waller.

The other is that at the very start of the '60s a certain young performer signing with a record company needed a stage name. Someone said he looked like a "little Fats Domino" - which he sort of did - so they called him Chubby Checker.

And with that, I guess there's nothing else to say except thanks for the music, Fats, and RIP.

38.5 - Outrage of the Week: sexism, the cause of sexual harassment and assault

Outrage of the Week: sexism, the cause of sexual harassment and assault

I have talked on occasion on this show about the scourge of racism, one of our two great national evil -isms. I have also talked some about our least recognized -ism, that of classism, our contempt for the poor no matter their race.

But I have not talked enough about our other big national evil -ism: sexism. But this week it is the Outrage of the Week.

There has been a lot of talk and news recently about sexual assault and sexual harassment as the hashtag #metoo continues to trend. It seems not a day goes by now without some man whose name you know being accused of sexual harassment or assault as the fact that some women have come forth has emboldened others to tell their stories which has in turn emboldened still more.

It's like a floodgate has been opened, releasing a torrent of pent-up frustrations, hurts, injuries, and bad memories.

It's important this is happening because - the temptation is to say it "reminds" men, but that allows for too much prior awareness; let's say rather it hopefully "informs" and "educates" some men and for some who were to some degree aware, "emphasizes" to them just how commonplace these sorts of experiences are for women, just how almost, if not in fact, routine they are. Not so much the outright physical violence, but the degradations, the humiliations, the commonplace put-downs and sneers they experience.

A good place to see this was a recent article in which four women, all US senators, recalled their own experiences with sexual harassment and the comments section on the article, as is all too common, is where the truth of things was visible, as the comments were chock-a-block with things like:
- Are we sure these are women? (with the response of) They are women, that no one wants to go near.
- They got hit with the Ugly stick a couple of times.
- I think they are faking and just hostile because they are NOT a man.
- They could only PRAY for someone, probably legally blind, to hit on them.
- The Guys Involved must have really been hard up for some action!!
- I would think that these homely women would be flattered.
- There [sic] just upset cause they were told to do the dishes.
Numerous cases, that is, of denials of their words and sneering references to their appearance, which served as proxies for denial of either the truth or the significance of the accounts.

The fact is, sexual harassment can be anything from a passing crude comment to a laser-focused, deliberate, on-going attack; sexual assault can be anything from an unwanted grope to brutal and brutalizing rape. The effects on victims can be anything from mere irritation to physical and emotional catastrophe.

It is vital, it is important, it is necessary that we as society, particularly we as men, face, acknowledge, and deal with this - but at the same time there is a point in all of this that I don't want to get lost.

A recent article claimed that a common thread among the abusers in the news lately was economic inequality, that the abusers were in a position to damage their targets' jobs or careers if the victims resisted or complained. Which I would say is close but not quite right - the difference between abuser and abused is not money but power, social power, social dominance. In these cases it was the money issues involved that created that power, but it was the power dynamic itself that lay at the root.
Men do not abuse their girlfriends, their fiancees, their wives because of the economic inequality between them; the subway groper has no control over his victim's job; the date rapist is not thinking about her career prospects.

Because sexual harassment and assault, for all their venomous nature, are not ultimately the issue. They are an outgrowth of the issue.

The issue is sexism, the root of the poisonous plant of sexual harassment and assault. The issue is the underlying assumptions about women that society has long held and still does hold and yes, including among too many women, who are no less likely to be shaped by the culture around them than men are, assumptions either that women are inferior to men or that women should be, deserve to be, "protected" by men - both of which relegate women to lesser status and, as we are also finding about race, assumptions which few people will admit to embracing but which they still express in attitudes and behavior even if they are not consciously aware of it

Beyond the recent news about sexual harassment and assault, there was something else that prompted addressing this now. It was an article I recently came across at the website of the Harvard Business Review. I want to tell you about it.

The article noted that despite improvements, women remain underrepresented among CEOs, receive lower salaries, and are less likely to receive that critical first promotion to manager than men are and looked to examine the claim that this was because - it wasn't put this way, but it's what it came down to - women are not as ambitious as men. [The three links are from the article.]

So they asked: Do women and men act all that differently at work?

Working with what was described as "a large multinational firm," researchers
collected email communication and meeting schedule data for hundreds of employees in one office, across all levels of seniority, over the course of four months. We then gave 100 of these individuals sociometric badges, which allowed us to track in-person behavior.
I'm going to skip over relating what data they gathered and how they went about maintaining employees' anonymity and so on to get to the conclusion. They found
almost no perceptible differences in the behavior of men and women. Women had the same number of contacts as men, they spent as much time with senior leadership, and they allocated their time similarly to men in the same role. [M]en and women had indistinguishable work patterns in the amount of time they spent online, in concentrated work, and in face-to-face conversation. And in performance evaluations men and women received statistically identical scores. This held true for women at each level of seniority. [Emphasis added.]
They also found men and women had roughly equal levels of access to senior management and that women were just as central as men in the workplace's social network.

Yet men were advancing in the hierarchy and women weren't, and at each higher level of management there were fewer women.
Our analysis suggests that the difference in promotion rates between men and women was due not to their behavior but to how they were treated. Gender inequality is due to bias, not differences in behavior.
In other words, the cause is sexism. The existence of sexism in the workplace is well-established, so it's not so much that this is new information, as it is meticulously researched information, with the very meticulous nature of the work adding to the outrage of the message it carries.

Sexism, the assumptions that constitute sexism and the sense of privilege and power those assumptions breed, even if unconsciously, in men, is the problem.

It's sexism. Sexism is the reason why women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, the reason why women don't advance in business despite earning more college degrees than men for thirty years and counting. Sexism is the reason why despite improvement women still get paid only 83% of what men do.

And sexism and the corrupting influence of power it feeds is why women have been forced to pretend to ignore the smirks and sneers, to abide the grabs and gropes, to fear the silent street and the empty elevator.

It is good, it is needed, it is brave of this growing number of women to speak out about the harassment and even assault they have experienced, to let other women know that they are not alone and no, their own experience was not an outlier; it is necessary for men to hear this message, to absorb it, and frankly it's even necessary for some women who will continue to deny it.

In realities ranging from stifled dreams and blunted careers to harassment and brutal assault we have the chills, the throbbing aches, the raging fevers; in sexism we have the disease.

I have, yes, several times denounced racism on this show. It's about time I denounced our other great social wrong, the outrage, the monumental outrage, of sexism.
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