Tuesday, May 09, 2023

May is not a merry month

May is not a merry month

I'm coming to hate May.

I used to enjoy May; it seemed to me to be the month with the most flowers in bloom. But not anymore.

Next week is three years since my wife, Donna, died. I like to say that she died in "the COVID spring" even though it wasn't from COVID. Instead, it was from a massive bacterial infection that her compromised immune system (diabetes, heart condition) could not fight off. In about 11 hours it went from "I don't feel well" to "I'm sorry, your wife has passed."

And now May, this day in May, has taken Helios.

Helios was 15 years old and some indeterminate mixture of hound and Jack Russell terrier. He was, as were seven of the nine dogs I've had as an adult, a rescue. (The others were puppies gifted from litters.) And he was, by as universal an agreement as such a thing ever is, the sweetest dog people had ever met. Sweet not only with people but with squirrels, deer, cats, and other dogs.

He'd been failing for some time, which was not unexpected considering his age. The usual frailties: couldn't get around as easily, had to occasionally be carried up or down the porch stairs, had to wear doggy diapers, that sort of thing. But to the end he liked being outside and loved attention and as long as he continued to appear to enjoy life I would deal with the hassles.

But today, today, he hit the wall. He could not stand up, he just lay sprawled on his side with his legs out straight. He refused to drink or eat (even his treats) and seemed to drift in and out of awareness of our presence. It was his time. So I called the vet and had the deed done.

"The deed." What do you call that? "Killed," which is literally true, is too harsh for me to deal with. "Put to sleep" is dumb: He's not asleep, he's dead. And I really, really despise "put down." He was a 13-year companion, not a goddam suitcase, some sort of burden I'm glad to be rid of.

Which leaves me with "euthanized," which I use for lack of a better term, even though it seems so coldly clinical.

And now, no more expense for dog food or treats or new collars or whatever, no vet bills, no dealing with wet diapers or messes on floors, no more having to go out in the snow or pouring rain. Like the song says, I really should be glad but, well..,

No. I'm really really not.

I really am coming to hate May.

When Someone Tells You Who They Are, Believe Them The First Time

 When Someone Tells You Who They Are, Believe Them The First Time

The title of this post is a quote from Maya Angelou that seems especially appropriate these days, and I'm reminded of a letter-to-the-editor I wrote some time ago in response to a syndicated column by George Will, at the time regarded as pretty much the definition of a right-wing intellectual.

"Some time ago," indeed: The date of the letter is January 3, 1995. This is the unedited text:

To George Will (Boston Globe, January 2) goes the honor of being called an honest man. Cutting through the nonsense of Newt and company, he opens the heart of his cohorts' agenda: "'Back to 1900,'" he says, "is a serviceable summation of the conservatives' goal."

"Back to 1900." Back to a time before legal labor unions or effective anti-monopoly laws, a time of child labor and twelve-hour work days. Back to a time before consumer or environmental protection laws, before regulations requiring safe working conditions, a time when being killed at work was a major cause of death. A time before Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment or disability insurance.

"Back to 1900." Back to when poor people were considered genetic defectives who deserved their condition. Back before civil or voting rights laws, when wives were chattel, blacks were either "good n*****s" who got called "boy" or "uppity "n*****s" who risked being lynched, when racism (against Irish, Italians, and others as well as blacks) was institutionalized, sexism the norm, and gays and lesbians, as far as "polite society" was concerned, didn't exist.

Back, in short, to a time when the elite were in their mansions and the rest of us were expected to know our places, live lives of servitude without complaint, and then die without making a fuss. "Back to 1900" is indeed "a serviceable summation" of the right-wing's goal, which is to undo a century of progress toward economic and social justice in order to selfishly benefit their morally stunted lives.

And if anyone thinks I'm too harsh, remember that Will's "summation" was offered as a moderate alternative to Christopher DeMuth of the American Enterprise Institute, who proposed we "go back to the Articles of Confederation and start over." One wonders what, given the chance, they'd do with the Bill of Rights.
They told us. Believe them.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

071 The Erickson Report for March 1-14


071 The Erickson Report for March 1-14

Episode 71 of The Erickson Report has -
- some Good News about the death penalty;
- A Longer Look at Jimmy Carter;
- a reminder about Democrats;
- news on more attacks on transgender rights; and
- an update on Gigi Sohn's nomination to the FCC.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

070 The Erickson Report for February 9 to 22


070 The Erickson Report for February 9 to 22

Episode 70 of The Erickson Report covers just two topics, the two we said last time we were going to address:
- guns, and
- attacks on Social Security.

[Sources used to follow shortly]

The Erickson Report is news and informed commentary. It is advocacy journalism, using facts and logic while never denying it has a point of view. We proudly embrace the description "woke" (“aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice" - Merriam-Webster dictionary).

Comments and responses are welcome either here or at whoviating dot blogspot dot com.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

069 The Erickson Report for January 26 to February 8, Page Five: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrage]

Now for the Outrage, which can be summed up in a single word: Florida. There is a lot there, so much that for now I'm going to focus on one aspect.

The College Board has been for several years developing an AP, an advanced placement, course for high school students on African-American studies. An AP course, if you don't know, is an elective students can take in high school that can be used as college credits.

As part of the process, the College Board sends the courses to various places around the country to get input and reactions and then for approval.

Unfortunately for the students there, one of the places they approached was Florida.

The administration of Ron DeSantis, without even seeing the syllabus, rejected the program entirely, saying “the content of this course is contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

Having gotten his "Don't Say Gay" bill and his "Stop Woke Act" through a legislature dominated by drooling, mouth-breathing, acolytes, he and they have gotten to the point where they aren't even pretending any more.

What they want, what they're after, is to totally bury any discussion of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, any discrimination against BIPOC, any discussion of homophobia or transphobia or racism, they want ultimately to make any of it illegal. They want to make it a crime to recognize the existence of bigotry in their fiefdom.

They're not even pretending any more! They'll as much as openly admit it.

The end of December there was a hearing in a suit brought by Hillsborough County Forida State Attorney Andrew Warren. He had been suspended by DeSantis for signing a pledge to not prosecute abortion-related crimes.

Warren's attorney noted that DeSantis, who gleefully declared Florida is where "woke goes to die" after being re-elected, had called Warren "a woke ideologue" in announcing the suspension. So his attorney asked some DeSantis officials what "woke" means.

The answer he got was that "woke" is, quoting the witness,"the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

That's what they're against! By their own words, what they're against is even admitting to, much less doing anything about systemic injustice. That witness even said that DeSantis doesn't believe such systemic injustice exist.

Which means that Ron DeSantis is exactly what you suspected all along: a garden variety ignoramus, racist, and bigot. He's Lester Maddox with a good speechwriter instead of a pickax handle.

(Look it up.)

What's more, he is also a plain old schoolyard bully, something else he has in common with Lester Maddox.

He uses all his powers - including those given him by his legislative minions for just this purpose - to attack and punish anyone who crosses or displeases him. Andrew Warren was one, but hardly the only one. And I have to tell you, one of the reasons bullies get away with as much as they do is because too many people are unwilling to say "Screw you."

As an example, consider the NHL.

The League itself estimates its total full-time workforce is 84 percent non-Hispanic white and a coupe of years ago USA Today said 97 percent of actual players are white.

The league has been making some efforts, seemingly sincere, to have more diversity both on the ice and off it. As part of that, it scheduled what it called a Pathway to Hockey on February 2 in Fort Lauderdale. It sought participants who were, quoting, "female, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and/or a person with a disability. Veterans are also welcome and encouraged to attend.”

So Ronnykins, spluttering like a six year-old spoiled brat stamping his feet and whining "Not fair!" issued a statement calling the event "discrimination against a politically unpopular demographic" - that is, white people, who are of course so discriminated against by the National Hockey League - and that the league should "remove and denounce" the announcement.

Within hours, instead of telling him to "buzz off," the league had completely capitulated, deleting the posting, saying it was "not accurate" and that oh my yes, white people, please do come.

That is not going to help them or protect them in the future and they damn well did or should know it and if they don't they are fools.

One last thing on Florida - for now, that is, there's more, but time is fleeting.

When I quoted DeSantis's office as rejecting the College Board AP program because “the content of this course is contrary to Florida law," they didn't quite say that. The actual quote was that it is "inexplicably contrary to Florida law." [Emphasis added.]

What the hell does that mean? What kind of mental gnomes are we dealing with here? "Inexplicable" means "can't be explained." So if that quote means anything at all, it means that "this course is against the law but we are incapable of explaining how or why."

Which doesn't give you a lot of confidence in their intellectual standing to evaluate any academic program.

But, let's be fair, nearly two weeks later, he managed finally to come up with a reason: As part of this avowedly interdisciplinary examination of African-American history and experience, it has a section on Queer Theory - that is, the history and experience of LGBTQ+ American blacks.

And so according to DeSantis himself, any discussion of the experience of those people, any acknowledgement even of their existence, is illegal in Florida schools. There is no other rational interpretation of this.

It is monstrous, it is despicable, it is frightening, it is an Outrage.

But while monstrous, it does accomplish one thing: Those of who were wondering if he is more of an anti-LGBTQ+ bigot or more of a racist now some have reason to think it's the former.

But only by a little.

069 The Erickson Report for January 26 to February 8, Page Four: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

 Next, it's the much-anticipated return of Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages.

We start, as we usually do, with the Clowns, of which we have three.

First up, we have GOPper Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, who has vowed to start an "anti-woke caucus" to fight what he calls a "woke agenda" in Congress.

He said that the move would help crush the "doctrine" of "wokeness," necessary because, he whined in the most unintentionally-revealing remark in quite some time, "we no longer live in normal America."

Jeez, and they call us snowflakes.

He should call it the "Send in the Clowns" caucus. You know, "Don't bother, they're here."


Next, we have a twofer. Two infamous anti-LGBTQ+ preachers, each of who has called for gay people to be executed, want their male followers to give up beer.

Steven Anderson, founder of the New Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement and pastor at the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, and Jonathan Shelley of the Stedfast Baptist Church in Watauga, Texas, posted unhinged rants about how drinking beer is risky for men.

Why? Because beer has hops, of course. Uh, what? Y'see, hops contain a minute quantity of a phytoestrogen mimicker and so, according to our two Clowns, drinking beer will make you effeminate.

Friends, that is champion level Clown. And paranoia.


The third one requires some background. COP, or Conference of Parties, is an annual multinational confab to see who has the best PR campaign claiming to be really really we really mean it committed to staving off climate change. COP28 is to take place in Dubai in late November.

Our clown here is US climate envoy John Kerry, who expressed his approval of the selection of Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil company, to preside over the meeting. Kerry justified his approval of al-Jabar by citing a recent speech al-Jaber gave.

Not very convincing, because in that very speech al-Jaber talked about how COP should “get it done across mitigation, adaptation, finance, and loss and damage” - which is less about preventing climate change than about learning to live with it - and the company he heads plans to increase its output of crude oil.

Activists rightly equated al-Jaber's choice to asking “arms dealers to lead peace talks.”

With John Kerry's approval. The act of a Clown.

069 The Erickson Report for January 26 to February 8, Page Three: Turning Medicare into a corporate piggy bank

I'm going to talk briefly about two programs relating to Medicare, one of which you likely have heard of and one which you may well have not unless it affected you directly.

The first is Medicare Advantage. If you are older, that is, of Medicare age, you may even be on one of these programs. Approaching half of us are. I am, in fact. For me, personally, it seemed the best option I had. And if you're a senior in overall good health, as I am, it may well be for you too.

But it's a scam, a cheat, a rip-off - not necessarily of anyone in the program, but of the taxpayers, of the people as a whole.

Who says so? Among others, Wendell Potter, former vice president for corporate communications at insurance giant Cigna and someone who helped design the PR campaign that convinced Congress to go along with the scheme.

He now says: "Medicare Advantage is a money-making scam. I should know. I helped to sell it."

The first thing to know here is that Medicare Advantage is not Medicare. It is a separate corporate health insurance industry program established under Medicare Part C. And it stands, bluntly, as a step on the road to a total privatization, that is, the destruction, of Medicare.

Here's how Medicare Advantage works: Insurance corporations, unlike real Medicare, don't deal on a person-by-person, procedure-by-procedure basis. Instead, every year, Advantage providers submit a summary to the federal government of the aggregate risk score of all their customers and, essentially, are paid in a massive lump sum based on that figure.

This is all done under the notion that being private capitalist corporations, they'd be more efficient that any government agency could be, and so the whole programs would save taxpayers money. It doesn't, as repeated audits have shown.

Instead it has become an enormous cash cow for insurers, in large part because of the way they have rigged the risk-scoring system to maximize profits.

Your risk score is a measure of how much the company thinks you will cost in benefit payouts. Simply put, the sicker you are, the higher the score. And the higher your score, the bigger the payout to the company from the government. Which creates a clear incentive for the corporations to inflate their risk scores.

Consider how this could happen in my case. Again, I am in overall good health. But I'm getting older, I'm in my 70s, and as folks get older some issues can arise just in the course of ageing.

For example, I've developed a tremor in my left hand. It's something that sometimes happens to older folks. It's an annoyance, especially because I'm left-handed. It can make it difficult to type and I sometimes have trouble when I try to write things down and yes I do still write in cursive sometimes. It's an annoyance.

The point here is that I had a neurological exam and it was negative. It's what's called an essential tremor; it just is. There is no neurological involvement.

But in my medical records, under diagnoses, it says "hand tremor," not "essential hand tremor." An insurance company could look at that and despite the exam say "Ooh, so there is still a risk of neurological involvement. Raise his risk score."

I've had surgery on both shoulders due to osteoarthritis. Even though there has been no other issue before or since, nothing that has required any medical intervention, still the corporation could say "He's got a history, there could be more in the future. Up his score."

I've had in some past some digestive issues. Again, this is a matter of annoyances, not something that impacted my day-to-day life. But under diagnoses, it says Irritable Bowel Syndrome. "Oh my," says the insurance company, "that's serious. Higher score."

The point being that you can take someone in overall pretty good health and make them seem much sicker, with a higher score, depending on how you want to interpret the record.

Which is exactly what has been happening.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimated that “net overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans by unconfirmed medical diagnoses" came to $11.4 billion in fiscal year 2022 alone.

And on top of all that, the program is designed such that once you're on it, you're pretty much stuck. There are significant financial obstacles to switching to real Medicare, making it as a practical matter almost impossible for a lot of people. Which means that over time the portion of Medicare-age people on these so-called Advantage programs grows and the fear is that once that figure is over 50%, which it almost is, that will be used to justify shutting down real Medicare, leaving these programs the only option.

The whole thing is, as Thom Hartmann called it, a Trojan horse to privatize Medicare. The entire program should be shut down - now.

Oh, and if you're on traditional, that is, real, Medicare? You are still being thrown into the clutches of grasping insurance companies.

Which is that other program I mentioned, the one you might night know about. It was set up under Tweetie-pie under the name Direct Contracting Entities as what amounts to a for-profit corporation acting as a benefits manager contracted by Medicare to sit between you and the health care provider. That is, instead of Medicare in that space, dealing with claims in and benefit payments out, there is a private corporation contracted to do that.

These DCEs are paid monthly by the CMS to cover a specified portion of a patient's medical care instead of Medicare dealing with reimbursing providers directly. The issue is, these companies are paid that contracted amount and anything they don't spend on care they keep as profit.

Which clearly gives these corporations an incentive to skimp on Medicare patients, including finding ways to deny claims or only approving the cheapest treatment methods even if a more expensive one is called for.

This began as pilot program and was deliberately designed with the idea of being another step to privatizing Medicare and another way to rip off the public even as it was being sold with the traditional mantra "private enterprise efficiency."

Virtually any company can apply to be a DCE, including investor-backed startups - that is, even with no prior experience in insurance, health care, or medicine - along with other Wall Street types and insurance corporations already doing Medicare Advantage programs.

And if you're on Medicare, you can be assigned to one of these profit-hungry outfits without your approval or even knowledge.

Okay, but that was under Tweetie-pie, right? We have a Democrat in there now, so it's okay, right?

Dream on.

Not only is the Blahden Administration continuing the program, the CMS announced in January a significant expansion of the pilot program with the goal of making it universal - of having everyone on Medicare assigned to one of these outfits - by 2030.

About the only thing Blahden did was re-brand the program as, get this, ACO REACH - Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health. Because turning over administration of our health insurance claims to private corporations whose goal is, never forget, maximizing profit, increases accountability - somehow.

Bear in mind that the $650 million in Medicare Advantage overcharges discovered by federal audit back in 2013 and 2014 still have not been recovered from the corporations that claimed them.

Medicare and Social Security overall are about the most popular, most successful federal programs in US history and the right-wing and reactionaries hate them for precisely that reason and have been trying to shut them down from day one. We cannot let them succeed.

One last thing on this, a question all this raises: If we as a people, through our taxes, can in these programs pay - as is happening - for Medicare and Medicaid plus corporate profit plus the cost of illegal overcharges, how in hell can anyone continue to claim we could not afford a national health care plan?

I intend next time to look at the renewed attacks on Social Security, including the calls for a new version of a cat food commission.

069 The Erickson Report for January 26 to February 8, Page Two: The anniversary of Roe v. Wade

January 22 marked the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade - and the first such anniversary without it.

Years of fanaticism, years of lies about abortion and about the people who get them, and particularly years of lies by Supreme Court nominees swearing that Roe is "settled law" even though they knew damn well SCOTUS has the power to overturn such "settled law," and perhaps most egregiously equal years of failure by Democrats to call those nominees out on those lies and evasions, together have brought us to the point where for the first time in US history a protected, recognized right has been stripped away.

And the fanatics, busily chanting "Onward Christian Soldiers," have no intention of stopping.

So let's mark the day by noting some recent headlines on the topic.

For example, Alabama has a near-total abortion ban which targets abortion providers but exempts the people who get abortions from being prosecuted. That creates a loophole for folks who want an abortion to do a self-administered, chemically-induced one.

Well, State Attorney General Steve Marshall doesn't like the idea that people actually have an option. So two weeks ago his office issued a statement that people who use an abortifacient could be charged with a crime under a chemical endangerment law.

Originally passed to protect children from exposure to chemicals and fumes from home meth labs, this law has been expanded in practice to apply to pregnant people who took any drugs while pregnant or exposed their fetuses to drugs. Now they want the term "drugs," until now referring to illegal drugs, to refer to legal ones that the Alabama official fanatics don't like.

Meanwhile, there's a method of doing an abortion called "dilation and extraction," or D&X, which involves dilating the pregnant person's cervix and drawing the fetus out through the birth canal. In 1995 the fanatics at the National Right to Life Committee dubbed it "partial-birth" abortion, a medically-meaningless and deliberately misleading term used by the fanatics ever since.

In floor debate in the Minnesota legislature on January 11, State Senator Bill Lieske showed the level of actual understanding of the issue so common among his ilk, which is why this is important.

He said "We have born alive individuals and we must protect the born alive. In this case, a partial-birth abortion. The child is in part born alive."

In other words, Lieske thinks the aborted fetus is "partly alive!" He didn't specify which part that was. This would surely deserve a Clown Award for utter stupidity if this level of ignorance wasn't so serious and so common among the men making these laws.

What has even greater potential impact is that some states are even looking to prosecute people simply for providing information on openly-available, entirely legal options for people who want to obtain an abortion but live in a state where such rights are being destroyed. Even just telling someone "You could go to such-and-such a state and get it done legally there" would be a crime, aiding and abetting a crime, and free speech be damned.

This is no joke and no exaggeration. The South Carolina legislature is considering legislation to do exactly that*, based on draft legislation from those fanatics at the National Right to Life Committee. Meanwhile, Mississippi is investigating a group called Mayday Health over a billboard advertising a website providing some of that sort of legal information.

And this doesn't even touch on the intensified campaigns to restrict or even ban birth control. Because as we told you many times, overturning Roe was not the goal - it was just a step in the process of achieving the fanatics' vision of the Republic of Gilead.

And the efforts are not limited to the state level, because despite their decades-long screeching that regulations on abortions should be "returned to the states," now they have that they have it they are looking for federal legislation to ban abortion after 15 weeks and to block states that try to preserve access to reproductive care from doing so. "Return it to the states" was just another lie.

Now, not all the news is bad, of course. I mentioned before suits in Indiana, Kentucky, and three other states arguing that abortion restrictions in those states are a violation of the plaintiffs' religious freedom, taking the fanatics' recent practice of making every attempt to combat bigotry into a First Amendment violation and turning it to a good end.

A new example is a challenge to Missouri's ban, one filed on January 19 by a group of 11 religious leaders of varying faiths. As part of their argument, they note that during debate on the bill, several lawmakers, including the bill's primary sponsor, specifically invoked their religious beliefs while drafting the bill, marking it a clear violation of church-state separation and the Missouri state constitution.

The fact is, we face a moment when every aspect of reproductive health care from birth control to post-natal care is under attack and the fanatics seem ascendant, a moment that arose in part because despite the signs, for too many among us, including those most directly affected, the loss of those rights didn't seem "real" until the Dobbs decision actually came down. Fortunately, the resistance lives and continues and hopefully will grow.

As for our opponents, the fanatics who proclaim their "freedom" but deny it to others, who proclaim "love" for the fetus but deny it to the mother, who claim to pursue "justice" but deny it to your victims, Matthew 23:27-28 has the words for you, you who are the embodiment of the truism that for the right wing and its acolytes, the right to life begins at conception and ends at birth.

Enjoy your time while you have it - because in the long run, we will not let you win.

*At the link, scroll down to Section 44-41-860. But don't stop there. It gets worse.

Friday, January 27, 2023

069 The Erickson Report for January 26 to February 8


Episode 69 of The Erickson Report notes the anniversary of Roe v.Wade with some recent news on abortion rights, goes over how Medicare Advantage programs are actually backdoor ways to privatize Medicare, and reintroduces Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages, with three Clowns and the Outrage that is Florida.

The Erickson Report is news and informed commentary from the radical nonviolent left. It is advocacy journalism, dealing in facts and logic but having a point of view. Sometimes serious, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes even flip but always with the intent to inform and inspire,The Erickson Report strives to be a tool for justice
Reactions and comments are welcome.
Abortion rights
https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and- analysis/blogs/stateline/2022/05/19/some-states-already-are-targeting-birth-control
Medicare Advantage / ACO HEALTH

Saturday, January 14, 2023

068 The Erickson Report for January 12 to 25


Our first show of 2023 looks at two issues we expect to continue to be issues throughout the year:
- the war in Ukraine
- bodily autonomy, including reproductive rights (including abortion) and transgender rights.

We intend to repeat this for the next show or two, giving some attention to other issues that we think will be persistent ones.

We also anticipate the return of our most popular feature, Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrges.

Finally, a head's up: I am in the process of moving to another state. Don't be surprised (or dismayed) if sometime in the next four to six weeks I have to skip a show. I will try to let you know in advance.

067 The Erickson Report for December 21 to January 4


Our traditional holiday show covering just two questions: Why is Christmas on December 25? Why is New Year's Day on January 1?

This is a repeat of last year's episode. The history hasn't changed in that time. :)

Thursday, December 15, 2022

066 The Erickson Report for November 24 to December 14, Page One: The "First Thanksgiving"

066 The Erickson Report for November 24 to December 14, Page One: The "First Thanksgiving"

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.

In fact, just two weeks ago I saw a bit on the BBC that not only treated those who settled Plymouth in 1620 and those who settled Boston in 1630 as if they were one group with identical views about religion (they were neither), but also said they settled here in order to engage in religious oppression because they could not tolerate the religious pluralism to be found in England!

Right. The England where it was required by law to be a member of the Church of England, were some of those who came on the Mayflower had spent time in prison for just that reason, where King James was saying of dissenters - including other Protestants - "I will force them to conform or I will harry them out of the land," and where, oh yeah, just 40 years earlier Protestants were being burned at the stake for the crime of not being Roman Catholic.

The basis for the claim of pluralism was the Toleration Act - which came in 1689, 67 years after the founding of Plymouth and on the far side of the English Civil War. What's more, while that act provided for freedom of public worship for people such as Baptists, they still could not hold public office and it didn't apply at all to Catholics or Unitarians. [Editorial note: In the broadcast version I said the Act was in 1682. 1689 is the correct year.]

I am not impressed with the scholarship shown.

So this traditional exercise in trying to bring some hard historical reality to the discussion.

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.

By the way, Winslow had a portrait 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."

Winslow's letter 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." Quoting:

    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.

Which also means, by the way, that Winslow's account was written very likely little more than a month after the event, so yes, it was contemporaneous.

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 six-week 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 that same evening, the rains came - and not a storm, a gentle 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 surely why the natives were there: They had indeed been helpful, so they were invited. And yes, that is the best understanding. The revisionists would have it that the Natives simply crashed the party - but perhaps realizing that put the Natives in an unfavorable light, it got revised to a version I first heard two or three years ago where Natives who happened to be in the vicinity heard the gunfire from the militia drill, assumed Plymouth was under attack, went 30 miles back to Massasoit's chief village, where he raised a force and went 30 miles back to Plymouth to help, all in the narrow time frame available - an account that could fairly be described as utterly nonsensical especially when you note that Winslow's account shows no trace of either distress or surprise at the Natives' presence.

One other thing here: True, the settlers didn't have a good harvest, the usual trigger for such a feast - note that 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, including the death by disease - probably pneumonia - of half their numbers in the first months.

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 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). We can also assume they had fish, specifically cod and bass, which are mentioned in the sources, and likely deer.

Another aside, this one on the issue of historical interpretation, specifically of using historical sources without running too far ahead of them, a sin of which too many of the revisionist accounts are guilty, making too much out of too little. Note that Winslow says the natives "went out and killed five deer," but he also says "which they bestowed on our governor" - that being William Bradford - "and upon the captain" - that being Myles Standish - "and others." In other words, they were given to various leaders of the community, not to the community as a whole. More to the point, we can't tell if those deer were brought to the feast and 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, which personally I find more likely because of Winslow saying the Natives "went out and killed five deer" rather than "brought five deer."

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; in fact at the time the meat of hares was called venison. So while they quite probably had deer, either from the natives or their own hunting or both, we can't say it definitively.

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.)

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.

Again, some interpretation here if only to show its importance in examining history: Some argue that there couldn't have been pie or bread because the settlement had no oven. It's true the primary sources covering the early several years of Plimoth make no mention of ovens one way or the other, either "we built some" or "we wished we had some," but there are a number of mentions of bread in various contexts. And with bread being such a staple of the English diet, I find it hard to accept that they got as far as harvest without having made at least a couple of ovens to make use of the grains they grew, which would primarily be for bread. But again my real point here is not so much to argue for my interpretation as to point up how much interpretation can go into judging history. We have to tread carefully.

Moving on, 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.

By the way, one classic of revisionism is the claim the settlers were persistently drunk because they drank a gallon of beer a day, Preferring it," in the words of a number of the revisionists, "even to water." Indeed it was preferred to water for good two reasons: One, being made from grains it provided nutrition which water didn't. In fact, beer was sometimes referred to as "liquid bread." The other is that it keeps longer. Water will spoil. Warm, even tepid, water is a good breeding ground for bacteria. Beer, on the other hand, is boiled in the course of preparation and contains alcohol, both of which serve to kill germs. The settlers knew nothing of germs, but they did know the effect: Beer keeps longer. As for the gallon a day, first, some revisionists claim it was a half-gallon a day and second, if you've been gradually introduced to drinking beer since you were weaned, that doesn't seem that big a deal. That doesn't mean nobody got drunk; it does mean it was not routine.

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 almost 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, which mostly arose out of Boston, which was established in 1630, and disputes over land that were rooted in vast cultural differences between the natives and the English.

For one specific, 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, which by its nature includes the concept of exclusive use, was an everyday notion. 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 heart of 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 a little 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 and still target 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.

I'm going to wrap this up with a few quick sidebars about the time before any of what I've talked about, a few details surrounding those first months you might think worth noting.

- First, you often hear the Mayflower referred to as a "small" ship. To our eyes it is, but at 180 tun, it was somewhat larger than an average merchant ship of the period, which went around 140-160 tun, a tun being a large cask that became used as a standard measure of the capacity of a ship's hold.

- You also often hear it said the passengers came for "religious freedom." They did not. First, that would only have applied to a minority of those on the Mayflower and not only did they not believe in religious freedom as we understand the term, "freedom" being equated with anarchy, to the degree they sought what they would call "liberty of conscience," those who had been to Holland - which was that minority of the passengers - had it there. In fact, that's why they went to Holland in the first place: Because they refused to be part of "the King's Church" (the Church of England), they were held to be criminals; in fact, some of them had spent some time in prison because of it. Unfortunately for them, they not only found such liberty in Holland, they also found poverty of a degree that threatened to fracture their community, in fact they were afraid it was dissolving before their eyes. That's why they came to this continent. As for the rest, the majority, they came for that most of cliched American of reasons, a better life coupled with the promise of owning land, the very symbol of both status and security.

- It has also been asserted that the first winter was marked by starvation; I've even heard it claimed that they all would have starved to death but for the corn - which has somehow expanded in the revisionist tales to be corn, wheat, and beans - they stole from a cache while exploring Cape Cod. Okay, this is partly true. The deaths came as I said earlier from disease, likely pneumonia, spread by the necessity of living in close quarters until housing could be built. Starvation was not an issue: The ship's stores provided food for the winter, which could be supplemented by fishing. What is true is that they stole some corn, but that was for seed corn for the following spring, which makes it rather silly to imagine it was a quantity sufficient to feed the entire group for the winter. Make no mistake, that did involve disturbing some graves and that was a really scummy thing to do - and it wasn't the only scummy thing they did during those initial explorations, as they also stole some items from the houses they found because they thought they were as a modern person might put it "interesting artifacts." In fairness I do have to add that the settlers promised themselves they would make good for what they took, which they did when they were able to contact those natives - the Nauset - after the winter was over, but while that eases the wrong, it does not excuse it.

- Finally, 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 wasn't until a couple of weeks after that when they first spoke to a local (Squanto, aka Tisquantum). And those indigenous people would not have called themselves Wampanoag. That is a native word that means something like "people of the east" or "people of the dawn" and it's been adopted by the Natives of what's now eastern Massachusetts as a generalized term for all the Natives of the area. But no Native of the period would have said "I am Wampanoag" because that would mean "I live to the east of where I live," which makes no sense.

So anyway, I hope you enjoy your Turkey Day, I hope you have time to spend with your family or friends or better yet both - while staying safe for yourself and others - 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.

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