Friday, December 31, 2021

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 7: And Another Thing

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 7: And Another Thing

We close on a happier note, which is that we have an occasion of And Another Thing, where we step aside from politics to look at some cool science stuff.

And we have two, both from astronomy.

First, on Christmas Day, the James Webb Space Telescope was launched into space.

It is the largest, most powerful telescope ever sent up and once in place and deployed, will be able to do everything from giving close-ups of neighboring planets to seeing the first galaxies formed to aiding the search for extra-terrestrial life.

Twenty years in the design and development, the telescope, which "sees" in infrared, should be producing its first images in about six months.

Second, a couple of weeks ago, NASA announced that it has been confirmed that in April the Parker Solar Probe, which has been orbiting the Sun, passed through the corona, the upper atmosphere of the Sun - in effect, you could say the probe touched the Sun, surviving a three year journey and a roughly 2 million degree Fahrenheit environment to do what was previously thought impossible, a journey which already had provided more information about our source of heat and life while revealing new mysteries still to be explained.

Science is cool.

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 6: RIP Desmond Tutu

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 6: RIP Desmond Tutu

Okay, I've got just a couple of minutes so let me run through three things very quickly.

First, we have an RIP. Desmond Tutu, aptly described by Reuters as "The anti-apartheid hero who never stopped fighting for 'Rainbow Nation'," died in Cape Town, South Africa on December 26. He was 90.

The best reaction in my mind was that of Rev. William Barber of the Poor People's Campaign: "

Let we who believe in freedom and justice be his legacy always.
Indeed.

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 5: A Year of Stupid Special Merit Award

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 5: A Year of Stupid Special Merit Award

But there is one more award, an award for the achievement of combining stupidity, jackassery, and outrage in one package. So herewith a Special Merit Award to someone who wasn't even nominated this year but whose contributions to the spirit of these awards can't be overlooked.

So congratulations to "President" Joe Manchin.

Joe Manchin makes me miss Lyndon Johnson. LBJ would not have put up with his crap. Her would have dragged - not invited, not asked, dragged - Manchin into the Oval Office, reamed him a new one and said "You know that money you wanted for that project in West Virginia? Get in line or forget it."

For those who say that's not fair and he can't do more because he's from this incredibly red state, let me start by reminding you of the many times he shifted the goal posts, always suggesting that if we just got rid of this or adjusted that he could support Build Back Better only to have a new this or that when he got what he wanted.

And let's not forget that it appears his real issue with the bill is the inclusion of the Child Tax Credit, which significantly cut child poverty, because this multimillionaire twerp who lives on a yacht and drives a Maserati while together with his wife sucking down a million bucks a year from the coal industry for doing and creating nothing thinks that poor people will just blow the money on drugs - because, y'know, poor people.

But more directly, the idea that he can't sell the bill to his constituents is bull. First, he is popular, well-connected, and well-known. He has a 61% approval rating and 70% of West Virginians say he's an "independent voice," a substantial shield against any threat to his political future a "yes" vote could raise.

Second, the polls in West Virginia on the bill are all over the place depending heavily on the way the question is phrased - for example, one phased the issue as "Joe Biden's trillion-dollar spending plan" and got 70% opposition while another phrased it in terms of some of the provisions and got 68% support.

And even ignoring all that, the fact remains that even if supporting BBB, doing the right thing for the people of West Virginia, even if it were to cost him his seat, it is still the right thing to do. No excuses.

Finally, for those who say we can't go the LBJ route, we can't do that, we can't push him or he'll just switch parties, and then where will we be: He's not going to switch parties, at least not before the midterms. No way. Right now, his entire power, his entire influence, the thing that gets him on TV most every night, is the fact that it's a 50-50 Senate. Period. He switches parties and it goes to 51-49 GOPper and he is back to "Joe who," just another schmuck in Fishface McConnell's army.

Joe Manchin may be a self-centered, egomaniacal, glory-hunting creep on a power trip, and he is, but he is not stupid.

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 4: A Year of Stupid: Outrage of the Year

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 4: A Year of Stupid: Outrage of the Year

Here's another reason for skipping Two Weeks of Stupid: Because this week's choice has been elevated to Outrage of the Year. And it can be told very easily:

In just six weeks, the six weeks prior to Christmas, the US, the United Kingdom, and the European Union together secured more coronavirus vaccine doses than the entire continent of Africa received in the entire year.

According to an analysis by the People's Vaccine Alliance, between November 11 and December 21, the EU, UK, and US obtained 513 million vaccine doses. African countries got just 500 million doses across the whole of 2021.

A good part of this is the greed-driven selfishness of the pharmaceutical industry, which maintains a stranglehold on vaccine production, abetted by some developed nations such as the UK and Germany which are blocking action at the World Trade Organization on a temporary waiver of patent rights on the vaccines so poorer countries could produce their own.

And in case you're wondering, the combined population of the EU, UK, and US is about 810 million. The population of Africa is about 1.4 billion, over 70% more.

This is not only inhumane, it's stupid. Remember the Omicron variant first appeared in southern Africa and as we are constantly telling the anti-vaxxers here at home, unvaccinated people are providing a genetic breeding ground for new variants to emerge.

Inhumanity, greed, selfishness, and stupidity in one package. That is a gold-medal worthy Outrage. It is in fact the Outrage of the Year.

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 3: A Year of Stupid: Clowns of the Year

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 3: A Year of Stupid: Clowns of the Year

We are going to skip the Two Weeks of Stupid this time - which in a way is too bad because we had a good one for Clown: Candace Owens, the right-wing talk show host who got owned by Tweetie-pie about vaccines on her own show and then tried to whine it away by tweeting that he's an old guy from before the time people could "do their own research."

Instead, as this is the last show of the year, it's a good time for one of those yearly wrap-ups. So I'm going to use the occasion to give out awards for Clown of the Year and Outrage of the Year. This was a shortened year for various personal reasons so we don't have as many nominees as we normally would, but we still have some worthy winners.

For Clown, there are two categories: Basic Stupid and Total Jackassery. And in the category of Basic Stupid, the Clown of the Year is the man who put the "gomer" in Gohmert - Representative Louis Gohmert of Texas.

At a June 8th hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee he put this question to Jennifer Eberlin, the assistant deputy chief of the National Forest System, quote:

"I was informed by the immediate past director of NASA that they found that the Moon's orbit is changing slightly and so is the Earth's orbit around the Sun. We know there's been significant solar flare activities and so is there anything the National Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management can do to change the course of the Moon's orbit or the Earth's orbit around the Sun. Obviously that would have a profound effect on our climate."

And apparently this is not sarcastic; he was serious about this. Louis Gomer was actually raising the idea of changing the orbit of the Earth in order to deal with climate change. He is hands down the Clown of the Year, Basic Stupid category.

A quick science aside here because this is just the thing to demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger effect, where in effect the less you know about something the more you think you know.

It is true the Moon's orbit is changing slightly. That has to do with interaction with the tides on Earth. It's also true that the Earth's orbit is subject to some for lack of a better term wobbling and those cyclical shifts in the Earth's motion and the resulting change in its position relative to the Sun can be a driver of long-term climate change, including things like triggering the beginning or the end of glaciation periods or ice ages.

The thing is, those cycles run on time frames ranging from 24,000 to over one hundred thousand years and the warming we are now seeing is from a time frame of maybe one hundred-fifty years. Those cycles and the warming we're seeing now have absolutely nothing to do with each other and Louis Gohmert really really really is a Clown

Okay, moving to the Total Jackassery category, we have another clear winner: smug transphobe Dave Chappelle.

Chappelle released a new special the beginning of October and got flak over the offensive transphobia it included, up to and including a walkout by some employees of Netflix, where it was streamed.

He responded by claiming he is the actual victim, saying "You said you want a safe working environment at Netflix. Well, it seems like I'm the only one that can't go to the office anymore."

Then, at the November 22 screening of his new documentary, Chappelle tossed around the "f-word," made jokes about people’s use of various pronouns, and pretended to identify as a woman to get a cushier prison cell, proving to one and all that he has learned nothing and doesn't intend to.

Which actually had been clear from the start. Back in October, he supposedly offered to meet with members of the transgender community, but, he said, "You will not summon me. I am not bending to anybody's demands." But he'd meet - under certain conditions. Quoting:

"You cannot come if you have not watched my special from beginning to end. You must come to a place of my choosing at a time of my choosing." (In other words, "You will not summon me; I will summon you.") "And thirdly, you must admit that Hannah Gadsby" - another comedian and a member of the LGBTQ+ community - "is not funny."

An "offer" which doesn't even attempt to hide the fact that is neither serious nor sincere.

You'd think that growing up as a black person in the US Chappelle had to deal with some issues of personal identity, so he'd be able to have some understanding of the feelings of others dealing with a similar sort of question. But he doesn't and he won't - because he finds it easier and more profitable to punch down with cheap shots. Dave Chappelle is a Total Jackass.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 2: The case of Kim Potter and Duante Wright

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 2: The case of Kim Potter and Duante Wright

Kim Potter                             Duante Wright

Okay, let's get to this.

On December 23, Minnesota local cop Kim Potter was convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of 20-year-old Duante Wright during a traffic stop in April. You probably recall this was the case where she shot him, thinking, she said, she was using her Taser, a claim that at the time was widely mocked by civil right activists and the local community and numerous places on the left.

Potter was jailed immediately after the verdict with sentencing set for February 22. I don't know why it should take two months for that, but that's the date.

Overall, I think the best reaction came from the ACLU, which tweeted "This verdict is still not justice. True justice doesn't come one verdict at a time. Real justice means that these situations do not happen in the first place."

I'll get to my own take on this outcome later but first, I want to talk about something else, something that this case raised for me when it first hit the news in April, something I have talked about before but which has gotten far too little attention and to which this case should draw attention but I fear won't: the fact that the screwed-up way we train police in this country leads to, produces, cases such as this one.

Because the fact is, we are teaching police to be afraid. We are teaching, and I mean actively teaching, cops to be in constant fear of instant death, to be prepared to shoot first and ask questions later, to feel it's not only their right but their duty to avoid to the extent possible any degree of risk even when that means just shifting the risk onto non-cops.

One notorious example is the so-called "21-foot rule" or "Tueller drill." Even though it was only intended as a training exercise, it is actively taught in some police academies and widely accepted informally among police forces. It is the idea that someone with a bladed weapon who is 21 feet away can attack and kill you before you as a cop can unholster your gun and get off a good shot. Not only has it been debunked, it has been twisted and distorted to mean that if you are carrying a blade within 21 feet of a cop, they are justified in shooting you on the grounds that they felt they were at immediate risk of death; no actual aggressive move on your part is required.

There is the widely-used "Bulletproof Warrior" seminars from Illinois-based outfit called Calibre Press, seminars which press the idea that "officer safety" is the overriding consideration in any interaction with non-cops and pushes the implicit notion that general public views cops as their enemy.

There was the so-called "research document" promoted by the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association a year ago that called Antifa and Black Lives Matter activists "terrorists" who were plotting "extreme violence" and described civil right protesters as "useful idiots."
    
We are both formally and informally, officially and unofficially, teaching police to be afraid. We are teaching them to be scared all the time. We are teaching them to think of every non-cop as a potential suspect and even a potential assailant.

That's why, for example, to cops there are police and there are "civilians," a term that by default defines the police as a military force, an army. It's why in any encounter with police we will likely be regarded as a "suspect" and therefore by definition dangerous to some degree or another.

It's an overall pattern, and overall way of thinking, that gets instilled in cops that leaves them in a constant state of stress. And note I didn't say alertness, I said stress.

I've talked about this before, how in watching videos of shootings by police, I was struck by how often the cops sounded scared. I particularly remember the video of the killing of Philando Castile in 2016. The cop has the gun, it is pointed at Castile, who is sitting and obviously unarmed, but I clearly recall thinking that despite that, the cop sounded terrified - and that wasn't the only example.

Which brings us back around to Kim Potter and Duante Wright. I'm going to revisit something I said in the spring, shortly after this hit the news, because, as I said at the time, it demonstrated what I maintain are multiple things wrong with how we train police. Some of what fllows is quoting that earlier post.

We start the incident with the male cop, Potter's partner, approaching Wright's car after he was pulled over. The cop approaches the car with his gun out and demands Wright get out of the car. Immediately: Why is his gun out? The tension is mounting before anything even happens.

Wright says "For what?" and the cop answers "I'll explain to you when you get out of the car." Again: Cops are taught they they have to be in control of the situation, to dominate the situation, at all times. Why couldn't he have said "You have an expired inspection sticker," which is supposedly the reason they pulled him over in the first place? Why couldn't he just answer the question instead of responding, in effect, "Be quiet and do what I tell you" and so raising the tension further and giving Wright cause not to cooperate but to fear cooperation? So why? Because that's what cops are taught: to be in charge and accept nothing other than passive submission.

Wright starts to get out of his car but then tries to get back in. Potter runs up to join the other cop. There is a struggle. The tension is stretched to the limit. Potter is heard shouting "I'll tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!" - then a bang and a second later, "Holy shit, I shot him."

In the wake of this, the police chief said he believed Potter intended to use a Taser but mistakenly drew her gun, a claim that was, as I said, widely ridiculed.

And on its face, it does seem absurd. A cop's gun is about a pound heavier than a Taser, is a different color and an at least somewhat different feel.

So here's the question: Did I believe, do I believe Potter told the truth? Did I believe, do I believe that she shot Daunte Wright thinking she was Tasering him? The answer is yes, I did and I do. And again it relates to failures in how we train police.

Most police departments, including the one here, require that officers carry their guns on their dominant side and Tasers on the opposite side, which is supposed to lower the risk of confusing the two. But the instant I heard that, I said "That's wrong, that's ridiculous, that's the opposite of what it should be." Because under stress, in a high-stress, adrenaline-pumping situation, you are going to default to your dominant hand. Having your gun on your dominant side is going to increase the risk of tragedies such as that of Daunte Wright.

Betsy Brantner Smith of the National Police Association said it's called "slip and capture" and likened it to getting into a rental car, going to start it up, and reaching for how you start your own car before realizing that's not where you are.

It's also called "muscle memory" and you know damn well you have experienced it. Hell, I had my current car for six months before I finally stopped reaching for the gear shift in the wrong place. You've experienced it, you know you have, and you weren't even under stress.

What's more, this is certainly not the first time this has happened, of a cop shooting someone thinking they were firing a Taser. There are documented cases of it. So can I believe that Kim Potter shot Daunte Wright believing at that moment that she was Tasering him? Yes, I can. Because of the way she was trained. That, it shouldn't need to be said but probably is, does not excuse it. In the immortal words of Mr. Spock, "I understand. I do not approve."

So if I were the sentencing judge, what would I do? I have genuine sympathy for Kim Potter. I believe it was a genuine mistake - something on which, I will note, it seems most observers now agree. Not, however, some places on the left; the Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, used the term "murder," which while technically legally correct, still carries a heavy connotation of deliberateness, something made explicit by Color of Change which said of Potter "her actions were not accidental," which if it means anything at all it means they're saying she shot Wright on purpose.

I also noted more a recent video, from the body cam of a cop who arrived soon enough to see what happened but not soon enough to be involved, showing the immediate aftermath of the shooting, showing Kim Potter on the ground, crying, her remorse both immediate and extreme, extreme to the point where that cop took her gun for evidence but let her hold his - and then went back and took his gun back because of fear of what she might do as she leaned on a fence going "I just want to die."

So I do have genuine sympathy for her. But at the same time, we can't let this go. We can't let it pass. She made a mistake and she's sorry, but someone died. There has to be punishment; there have to be consequences.

So with all that in mind, if I were the sentencing judge I would go for 3.5 years followed by several years of probation and community service and I would very likely say she could never again be a cop. Anywhere - none of this going to another jurisdiction and getting hired there. Anywhere.

I guarantee you that for some people that would not be nearly enough and some news accounts say prosecutors intend to push for something close to the maximum of 15 years to "make a point." But I think that would only add another tragedy to a tale that already had enough of them.

Because the point I would make is that while it is true as we so often say that we can't address police violence and brutality without addressing racism, particularly in our police forces but in our society as well, it's equally true that we can't address police violence and brutality without addressing the screwed-up way we are training them to think.

045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 1: Good News on the Minimum Wage


045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12, Page 1: Good News on the Minimum Wage

I know we're all aching for some Good News, so try this on: On January 1, the minimum wage will rise in 21 states and dozens of cities and counties, with four more states acting later in the year. This is the result of nine years of labor activism springing from the "Fight for 15" movement among fast food workers, which started in 2012.

These increases are due to cost-of-living adjustments and scheduled raises written into local minimum wage laws as more states and localities act on their own in the face of determined inaction at the federal level. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and hasn't been raised for 12 years, the longest it has gone without an increase in its history, which dates back to the Great Depression.

As of January 1, the lowest minimum wage among those 21 states will be $8.42 for small employers in Minnesota, a rather paltry amount but still more than a dollar an hour and more than $2400 a year above the federal level, and in over half of the 21 states the minimum will be at least $12 per hour. In two cases - large employers in California and in New York City along with Long Island and Westchester county - the minimum hourly wage has hit the magic number of $15.

Although several states already have planned increases that will eventually raise their minimum hourly wage to $15, there is still a long way to go, considering not only that by the time they get to $15 it won't be worth $15 any more - in fact it already isn't - but that in 20 states the minimum wage is still the poverty federal level of $7.25.

And I do mean poverty level: Working full time, year-round at $7.25 an hour is $15,080. The federal poverty guideline for a household of two people is $17,420.

But don't let that stop you from savoring the fact that a combination of labor activism and consumer concern - the latter of which, by the way, is why Amazon raised its minimum to $15, as it is so loudly trumpeting now - activism and concern are what has made these gains possible.


045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12

 



045 The Erickson Report for December 29 to January 12

- Good News on the minimum wage
- Thoughts prompted by the Kim Potter verdict 
- Clowns of the Year: Louis Gohmert and Dave Chappelle
- Outrage of the Year: vaccine selfishness 
- Special Clown/Outrage Award: "President" Joe Manchin 
- RIP: Desmond Tutu 
- And Another Thing: James Webb Space Telescope takes off; Parker Solar Probe "touches the Sun"

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

044 The Erickson Report for December 16 to 29, Page Two: Why is New Year's Day on January 1?

So now the natural follow-up: Why is January 1 New Year's Day? Because that wasn’t always true. So why?

In large part, the reason has to do with the convenience of the Roman senate, a calendar almost no one uses any more, and the stubbornness of tradition.

The earliest recorded New Year's celebrations are believed to have been in Mesopotamia about 4000 years ago, that is, about 2000 BCE. Babylonians began the year with the first new Moon after the vernal equinox and greeted it with a multi-day celebration called Akitu. This actually is a logical time to start the year, since the vernal equinox is the first day of spring, in mid-March, and spring is traditionally a time of beginnings, of renewals, of planting crops and the birth of new farm animals.

Various other ancient cultures used different days, but all had some astronomical or astrological significance:

The Egyptians used the heliacal rising of the star Sirius, which is again the brightest star in the night sky of the northern hemisphere. The heliacal rising is when a star can be seen to be rising in the east just before sunrise, just before it is too bright to see any star other than the Sun. For Sirius, this takes place in what is by our present day calendar mid-July and it was important because it predicted the annual flooding of the Nile, an event so important to the the Egyptians' agriculture

Persians used the vernal equinox; the Phoenicians used the autumnal equinox, which is the first day of fall; while the Greeks used the winter solstice, the first day of winter.

All these choices carried some meaning beyond the date itself. January 1 doesn’t. So why January 1?

An early Roman calendar designated March 1 as the first day of a new year. This also explains something else you may have wondered about: If March is the first month of year, September is the seventh - and the Latin for "seven" is septem. Likewise, October, November, and December: octo being Latin for "eight," novem for "nine," and decem for "ten." Those months were named as they were because they were the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months of the year.

That early Roman calendar was a lunar one, based on the Moon. The problem is, the average lunar month is about 29 and a-half days and there is no way you can match that with a solar year of roughly 365 and a-quarter days. And it is the solar year, not the lunar year, which drives the seasons.

What’s more, that calendar consisted of 10 months and a 304-day year and didn't even count the days between the end of December and the beginning of the year at the vernal equinox, with the vernal equinox apparently being designated March 1.

The calendar was reformed around 713 BCE to add the months of January and February, creating a year of 355 days, still 10 days off the solar year. To correct this, the Romans from time to time inserted a leap month of about 22 days into February, which served to over-correct the disparity between the calendar and the solar year, giving them some time before the error again got so big that another leap month was required.

Next, according to general but apparently not universal agreement among historians, in about 153 BCE the Roman Senate moved first day of year to January 1 because that was beginning of the civil year, time that newly elected Roman consuls began their terms in office, and it was felt to be just more convenient to have the civil year and the legal year start on same day. January is also a reasonable time because January was named for Janus, the Roman god of gates, doors, and beginnings - that is, the god of all transitions - who had two faces so that he could see both the past and the future simultaneously.

Despite all the repeated corrections, by the time of Julius Caesar, the calendar remained seriously out of whack with the solar year. So in 46 BCE Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar. This Julian calendar, as it came to be called, also introduced the use of leap years to keep the calendar year from drifting too far from the solar year. Remember that the solar year is about 365 and one-quarter days, so every four years the calendar and the solar year diverged by a day and that error accumulates. So it doesn't take a great many years before the difference is noticeable. Adding a day every four years keeps the calendar more in line with the solar year. This same calendar came with a decree that firmly fixed January 1 as the start of the new year.

After the Roman empire fell, the generally-accepted year for that being 476, and as Christianity began spread across Europe, the Catholic church, which remember had previously adopted and adapted a fair part of the merry side of Saturnalia, now felt it was in a position to downplay "pagan," "unchristian" festivals such as those that had come to surround the new year in Rome.

So in 567, the second Council of Tours banned the use of January 1 as the first day of the new year. Remember, this is at a time in European history when the authority of the church in civil matters, not just religious ones, was all but unquestioned. If the church said do it, governments did it.

As a result, in the Middle Ages in Europe, the official new year started at different times in different places, the old day of March 1; March 25, which is the Feast of the Annunciation and right around the vernal equinox; Easter, even though was a different day year to year; and December 25, by then the traditional birthday of Jesus.

But remember: Julius Caesar had set January 1 as New Year’s Day in 46 BCE - which means that by time the Council acted, the practice of keeping that as the first day of the year had been going on for 613 years and was so well established that a lot of people simply ignored the "official" date and kept to the older one.

The Julian calendar also was flawed because the solar year is actually a few minutes shorter than 365 days and six hours, so the use of leap years every four years slightly over-corrects the difference. A few minutes may not seem like a big difference, but again the error accumulates over time and by the latter 1500s it had grown to 10 days.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII oversaw design of new, more accurate calendar, which changed the rule of leap years such that only century years divisible by 400, not 4, would be leap years, the better to prevent the over-correction of the Julian calendar. Thus, 2000 was leap year, but 1900 wasn't and 2100 won't be.

This still leaves a tiny over-correction but it will take over 3000 years for that error to build up to a single day, so nobody really cares and we'll all be using star dates by then, anyway..

Most significantly for our story here, Pope Gregory apparently knew a losing battle when he saw one and surrendered to tradition, restoring January 1 as the official New Year's Day for the church after 1015 years.

Catholic countries in Europe were quick to adopt the new calendar, with Spain, France, and Italy doing so the year it came out. But Protestant ones did so only gradually, suspicious that the “Antichrist in Rome” was trying to trick them into worshiping on the wrong days.

Scotland, for one, didn't adopt new calendar until 1600, nearly 20 years later. And England, which had used March 25 as start of year since sometime in the 1100s, didn't finally make change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar - along with its colonies, which included us - until 1752, 170 years later, by which time, the Julian calendar was 11 days behind the Gregorian, which was corrected by removing 11 days from the year: Wednesday, September 2, 1752 was followed by Thursday, September 14, 1752.

There are tales of riots breaking out with people believing their lives would be 11 days shorter or that they had lost 11 days of wages. While such sentiments existed, historians now are of opinion that the story of riots is a myth. However, the change of calendar was an issue in the 1754 parliamentary elections so it's hard to credit the idea that there were no protests of any sort.

Anyway, that's it: January 1 is the first day of year not due to any special meaning or relevance of date itself, but due to the convenience of the Roman Senate, the Julian calendar which almost no one uses anymore, and the surrender of Pope Gregory XIII to persistence of tradition.

2020 really was a hell of a year for us and for the world and for me personally. I think my favorite remark on it was Stephen Colbert saying he would never forgive 2020 for making him miss 2019. But we've gotten through it, we've kept going, and now we actually can see some reason to hope.

So in the spirit of Constantine, let me say Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Chanukah, Happy Festivus, for all the atheists like me and all the pagans out there, Happy Winter Solstice, and to all of us, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. Like the man in the story said, we are halfway out of the dark.

044 The Erickson Report for December 16 to 29, Page One: Why is Christmas on December 25?

This show will be seen in the second half of December, so it's a good time for me to engage is a sort of holiday tradition around here and put aside heavy-duty politics in favor of addressing precisely two burning questions: Just why is Christmas on December 25, as opposed to any other day of the year? And why is New Year’s Day on January 1, as opposed to any other day of the year?

To answer about Christmas, about why it’s on December 25 as opposed to June or something, right at the top, you have to realize something. Based on how we celebrate the season, based on how we - and by that I mean Americans and to a perhaps even greater extent Europeans - engage and embrace the season, the traditions we follow in our celebrations, Christmas is expressed in symbols such as Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, brightly-wrapped presents, candy canes, wreaths, and mistletoe, along with local traditions.

It is not expressed by a creche.

Because you know those people who go around saying that "Jesus is the reason for the season?" He isn't. And he never was. Now that half of you are composing nasty emails, let me explain. The season is because of astronomical patterns.

Until relatively recently, people were much more aware of the movements of the Sun and Moon and stars than we are now unless you are either a dedicated stargazer or an astronomer.

Such movements were necessary signs of the changing of the seasons, of when to plant, when to reap, when seasonal rains were coming, when game would be plentiful, and so on. The sky was their almanac, their seasonal calendar.

Some of that awareness lives on in popular expressions and mythology. For example, did you ever wonder why the hot humid days of July and August still sometimes are called "the dog days?" Ancient peoples by their observations were able to realize that the star we call Sirius, which is at its highest point in the sky in the middle of the night in the middle of winter, is at its highest point in the sky in the middle of the day in summer.

Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky in the northern hemisphere. It is in the constellation Canis Major, or the Big Dog, and is known as the Dog Star. So the middle of summer becomes the days of the dog - the dog days.

In prehistoric times and even well into recorded history, people believed that things like the Sun acted willfully or were controlled by gods that acted willfully - and each year watching it get lower and lower in the sky each day as winter approached, a fear developed that one year, one of these great cycles, the Sun would keep sinking until it disappeared below the horizon, leaving them in perpetual darkness and cold. So each year, when the Sun stopped sinking and began to rise higher in the sky each day, it was reason to celebrate.

This is the time of the winter solstice, which occurs in the Northern Hemisphere, depending an exactly where you are, around December 21 or 22.

"Solstice" is derived from two Latin words - sol and sistere - which together mean that "the Sun stands still," which is what it appears to do at the solstice: Every day, the sun had been lower and lower in the sky; at the solstice, it stops doing it and then reverses, climbing higher and higher each day.

All over the Northern Hemisphere, this was a time to celebrate: China had celebrations, as did ancient Egypt had celebrations, as did ancient Greece - in fact, in the earliest days, theirs involved a human sacrifice.

The Druids celebrated, it was celebrated in Iran, Native American peoples of North America, including the Pueblo and the Hopi, had their celebrations.

In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was called the Yule. Great yule logs were burned; people drank mead around bonfires listening to tales of great stories of the past for as long as the log burned, which could take 12 days. A boar was sacrificed to the chief god Odin, who donned a broad-brimmed hat and magic blue cloak and sped around the world at night on his great white horse. Mistletoe, which was a sacred plant because it grew on the most sacred tree, the oak, was cut and a spray given to each family to be hung in doorways as good luck.

That is our first reminder that a lot of our holiday traditions - including the term "Yuletide," the time of the Yule - are drawn from pagan ones, including decorating with garlands, wreaths, and the Christmas tree itself, along with the man who can magically fly around the whole world in one night.

For the date of Christmas, though, now we're getting into the space that lies between history and interpretation.

While historians are confident they can date the year of the birth of Jesus without a couple of years, no one knows the day of the year Jesus was born - or even what season. To the extent that the Bible can be trusted as a source we can be very confident that it was not in the winter since shepherds did not watch their flocks by night at that time of year; the flocks would most likely have been corralled.

In fact, "watching their flocks by night" was most commonly done in the spring when the flocks were pastured and newborn lambs needed special protection from wolves. That has lead some to argue he must have been born in the spring. But that is an awfully thin reed on which to try to build a foundation, much less a conclusion.

What's more, the earliest known use in English of the word "Christes-Maess," or the Feast of Christ, or Christmas, was in a list of Feast Days with Mass Days that was set down in England in 1038, a thousand years after Jesus died. No Saint's day listed for December 25th.

Indeed, early church leaders (I'm talking 2nd and 3rd centuries here) argued about when Jesus was born - the options included January 2, March 21, March 25, April 18, April 19, May 20, May 28, November 17, November 20, and, yes, December 25. And at the same time, some, such as Origen, argued that the whole thing was pointless and wrong because it shouldn't be celebrated at all. Celebrating birthdays, he said, was for pagan gods.

Still, by the mid-third century, the idea for having a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus was getting established. Nonetheless, it took another hundred years for that notion to become formalized and for a date to be fixed.

Meanwhile, in 313, Constantine the Great issued his Edict of Milan, legally allowing Christianity in the Roman Empire - actually, he went considerably beyond that; the text actually says it was

proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best.
Which shows a lot more tolerance than many here do today, especially among our right-wing so-called Christians, the fanatics who every year around this time get such a kick out of playing the oppressed victim under the relentless assault of the atheistic socialistic hordes - even though Christians make up over 78% of the US population.

Oh, and as a sidebar and contrary to popular belief, while Constantine considered himself “an emperor of the Christian people,” he did not actually formally convert by getting baptized until shortly before his death in 337 and Christianity did not become the official religion of Rome until 380, 43 years after his death.

Getting back to the point, the earliest known reference to Jesus being born on December 25 doesn’t come until the first years of the 3rd century, about 175 years after he died, with the first recorded date of his birth actually being celebrated on that day was not until 336. And it wasn’t until 350 when Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th of December.

But that just brings us back to the start. How did the chosen date, why did the chosen date, come down to December 25? That was the question, after all.

To answer that, first remember that these developments were taking place in Rome, which had become the nerve center of organized Christianity.

Which brings us us back, in turn, to the winter solstice. The Romans, like many other ancient peoples, had solstice celebrations. In Rome it was called Saturnalia.

This was originally a feast day to the god Saturn, but over time it grew to a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. It began with sacrifice of a pig and involved riotous merry-making, feasting, and gambling. Houses were decorated with laurel and evergreens. Schools were closed; the army rested; no criminals were executed.

Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewelry, incense, and more. Temples were decorated with evergreens. Processions of people danced through the streets, with masked or blackened faces and wearing fantastic hats.

Masters feasted with slaves, who could do and say what they liked - supposedly, anyway. I doubt they really felt free to push the privilege very far since in at most a few days later they would be back to just slaves, but hypothetically they could.

Notice, by the way: traditions including decorating your home. Laurels. Visiting friends. Gift-giving. Holiday parties. Not Christian traditions, Roman ones. Pagan ones.

The old Roman goddess of the solstice was Angerona, whose festival day was, logically enough for a goddess of the solstice, December 21st.

But when Mithraism, personified by the god Mithra, was introduced to Rome in the mid-2nd century, the goddess was largely supplanted in favor of Mithra's day of seasonal rebirth, which was December 25. Mithra, himself a composite of earlier beliefs, became amalgamated with a Roman sun god named Solis Indigini, or the Native Sun, a god which in turn came from the Pelasgean titan of light named Helios.

"Pelasgean," by the way - yes, another sidebar - was how the ancient Greeks referred to the people who lived in the region before Greek culture emerged.

This new being, this combination of Mithra and Solis Indigeni, this composite of two composites, was Sol Invictus, the "invincible" or "unconquered Sun," and Mithra's day, December 25, became Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or the birthday of the unconquerable Sun. When the emperor Aurelian proclaimed Mithraism the official religion of the Roman Empire in 274, the day became an official holiday.

So, put it all together. Before Constantine the Great issued his Edict of Milan in 313, being a Christian in Rome could get you killed. Refusal to participate in the Imperial cult was considered treason.

During the Great Persecution carried out by the emperor Diocletian from 303 to 311, Christian buildings and the homes of Christians were torn down, their sacred books were collected and burned. Christians themselves were arrested, tortured, mutilated, burned, starved, and condemned to gladiatorial contests to amuse spectators.

So if you wanted celebrate the birth of the man you regarded as your savior - and the idea of having such a celebration was by then pretty widely accepted among Christians - you had to hide it. So since the time is purely symbolic and basically arbitrarily chosen because no one knows the actual date for certain and it's really based on tradition and nothing more, what better time to do it than during Saturnalia - when everyone else was celebrating and so no one would notice? And what better day to pick than December 25, when the birthday of the unconquerable Sun could be thought of as the birthday of the unconquerable “Son?"

Indeed, according to St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, writing in the late 4th or very early 5th century, just a few decades after Christianity had become the official religion of Rome,

[the] Roman Church purposefully placed the keeping of Christmas between two popular folk festivals, Saturnalia and the Kalends of January, in order to give Christians something to celebrate about [undisturbed] while others were engaged in secular merrymaking.
The Kalends, by the way, is the first day of each month in the Roman calendar; it’s the source of our word calendar. And yes, there was a popular folk festival in Rome the first week of January which was a significant part of the Roman solstice celebrations.

By the year 354 CE, four years after Pope Julius I had designated it as such, December 25 had been accepted in Rome as the date of the Feast of Christ, or Christ-Mass, Christmas. Gradually most of the Christian Church agreed.

Once Christianity became the legal religion of Rome in 380, the church began appropriating what old pagan customs it could, with the result that the merry side of Saturnalia was gradually adopted and adapted to the observance of Christmas.

And so that is why Christmas in on December 25: Because Christians hid within, then adopted, then adapted, pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. By 1100 Christmas was the peak celebration of the year for all of Europe.

But let me finish up by saying that even then the idea was not universally accepted. Origen's conviction that celebrating the birth of a god was for pagans persisted among conservative Christians for centuries, including among the separatists and Puritans who settled Plymouth and Boston here in Massachusetts. They regarded Christmas as a pagan celebration with no Biblical justification. Instead of Yuletide, Puritans called it “Foolstide,” proving that no, puns are not a recent invention. In fact, at one point Boston had laws against celebrating Christmas.

As an illustration of the attitude, we have the journal of Plymouth Colony governor William Bradford, who in the entry for 1621 recalled what he called a passage "rather of mirth then of weight." (Spelling in the excerpt has been modernized.)
On the day called Christmas day, the Governor called them out to work, (as was used,) but the most of this new company [Here is referring to some people who had arrived the month before, in November 1621, on a ship called “Fortune.”] excused themselves and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it a matter of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led away the rest and left them; but when they came home at noon from their work, he found them in the street at play, openly; some pitching the bar and some at stool-ball, and such like sports. So he went to them, and took away their implements, and told them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of it a matter of devotion, let them keep to their houses, but there should be no gaming or reveling in the streets. Since which time nothing has been attempted that way, at least openly.
That last part gets some added significance when you recall that Bradford is writing here in about 1631 or 1632, about 10 years after the fact.

 And the outlawing of Christmas not just here at home. In 1644, Great Britain's Puritan-dominated parliament passed an ordinance which called for December 25 to be a day of “solemn humiliation,” following up in 1647 by abolishing outright the feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun - known in the US as Pentecost. The ban was not lifted until the restoration of the crown in 1660.

Back in the colonies, as I already mentioned, the MassBay colony - that is, Boston - banned celebrating Christmas altogether. That was in 1659. The ban remained in place for 22 years, until 1681, and even then it was a governor appointed by the restored British monarchy who revoked the ban.

Despite the lifting of the ban, the first recorded celebration of Christmas in Boston wasn't for another five years, in 1686. Even for many years thereafter, Thanksgiving remained the important seasonal holiday in New England.

Then in the wake of the revolution, interest in Christmas in the former colonies faded because it was seen as a British holiday. In fact, Christmas did not again become a major holiday in the US for several decades, not until a religious revival in the early 1800s spurred interest in the day, particularly in the South. As a result, it was, it's generally agreed, more than 50 years after the revolution before Alabama, in 1836, became the first state to make the day a holiday.

Even then, New England continued to lag behind: In Plymouth, the first time Christmas was even mentioned in one the town’s newspapers as far as anyone can tell wasn't until 1825. As late as 1856, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that “The old Puritan feeling prevents [Christmas] from being a cheerful hearty holiday” in the region, but, he added, "We are in a transition state."

And so it was: By 1860 that same Plymouth paper - which, interesting sidebar, is still being published, by the way, 198 years after it started - was filled with ads for Christmas presents and by the end of the century Christmas was as much a part of Plymouth and the rest of New England as it had become in the rest of the country.

Monday, December 20, 2021

044 The Erickson Report for December 16 to 29

 


044 The Erickson Report for December 16 to 29
 
This is This episode of The Erickson Report is our annual holiday episode, stepping aside from hard politics to address two burning questions: Why is Christmas on December 25? And why is New Year's Day on January 1?
 
The Erickson Report is news and analysis from the radical nonviolent American left. It is advocacy journalism, using facts and logic in pursuit of justice, never denying it has a point of view but always respecting truth.
 
Comments and reactions are welcome either here or at my personal email of whoviating at aol dot com.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

043 The Erickson Report for December 2 to 15, Page Five: Two Weeks of Stupid [the Outrages]


Finally, we have two Outrages.

The DOD's so-called 1033 program was established in 2013 to transfer supposedly "excess" military equipment to local police forces. In the years since, according to Stephen Semler of the Security Policy Reform Institute, local cops have received "nearly 70,000 firearms, over 5,000 military vehicles, and 358 aircraft" valued at over $1.5 billion, including nearly $34 million in the first quarter of 2021mili.

The program has been a significant factor in the dramatically increasing militarization of local police, where cops more and more act like an occupying force than community protectors, leading to more police violence. Studies have shown a positive and statistically significant relationship between 1033 transfers and fatalities from officer-involved shootings.

This year in the debate over the NDAA, Rep. Hank Johnson of GA proposed an amendment to exclude combat gear and weapons from the program.

The outrage is that the amendment failed. It failed because 22 House Democrats - including liberal hero eric swalwell - voted against it.

It would take an act of Congress to dismantle the program entirely, but there is nothing to prevent Joe Blahden from issuing an Executive Order suspending the transfers or even demanding the return of equipment, because technically the stuff is on loan from the DOD. In fact, Obama did exactly that.

We'll see if Blahden acts. If he doesn't, it will only double what is already an outrage.

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Finally: Last year, 13-year-old Adeola “Abraham” Olagbegi was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, aplastic anemia, that required him to undergo surgery for a bone marrow transplant. The good news is that Olagbegi’s transplant was a success.

And, another bit of good news come his way: The Make-A-Wish foundation granted him a wish. And he chose to provide food for the homeless citizens of his hometown in Jackson, Mississippi, for one year.

Once a month for the next year, at least 80 homeless folks will be provided food donated by local churches and businesses.

So why is the here under outrages?

Because why should he have to? Why should this child have to give up this special gift to do something that our society should do as a normal part of its normal functioning, making sure people have enough food?

The USDA, the Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

And food insecurity is a very real daily issue in the US. According to the USDA, in 2020, nearly 14 million households in the US, encompassing 38 million people, were food insecure; 10 million of them had "very low food security," meaning there were times during the year when they weren't wondering where their next meal was going to come from because they already didn't have a current meal.

And the numbers might be worse. The group Feeding America estimated that 54 million were food insecure, noting that 60 million resorted to food banks to supplement their food supply during the pandemic.

The difference between the two estimates represents the product of the large-scale increase in aid driven by the COVID pandemic, an effort which kept the numbers as - pardon the expression - low as the USDA estimate. Which happily goes to indicate that 16 million people in the US may have been spared food insecurity last year by those efforts - but unhappily shows how much more could be done.

Consider that a new poll from Impact Genome and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research used a somewhat broader notion of food insecurity to include people who would say they have enough food but despair at the idea of being able to afford fresh fruits or vegetables - because the fact is, eating healthy is expensive. The survey found that 23% of people in the US fit that broader description.

Despite the increase in programs, nearly three-fifths of those people struggled to access the government or nonprofit assistance that should have been available to them, and more than one-fifth, more than 4% of our population, about 13 million people, said that they had not been able to get assistance of any kind.

131 years after Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives;
59 years after Michael Harrington's The Other America;
57 years after the start of the modern Food Stamp - now SNAP - program;
53 years after CBS News' "Hunger in America;"

and all the times since, after all this time, all these times, after all the times we were told, after all the times we insisted that now we know, now we see it, after it all, we as a nation are still depending on private charity and 13-year-old children to, in the words of the prophet Isaiah (58:10) "Spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed."

And That. Is. An. Outrage.

043 The Erickson Report for December 2 to 15, Page Four: Two Weeks of Stupid [the Clowns]


We wrap up this time with Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages, starting, as usual, with the Clowns.

The Library of Congress has begun what amounts to a routine re-cataloging task of changing the dehumanizing terms “aliens” and “illegal aliens” as subject headings to the neutral “noncitizens.”

And guess what, to no one's surprise, our favorite bag of grease, Sen. Ted Ooze was very very upset. This was, he bloviated, a “politically motivated” move, an “Orwellian attempt to manipulate and control language.”

Which, apparently, labeling upwards of 12 million of our fellow residents as The Other for thepusposes of faer-mongering and fundraising is not.

Ted Ooze: always good for a clown show.

As a footnote, the Blahden administration has made some efforts in this direction, including a memo ordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection to drop "illegal alien" in favor of "undocumented noncitizen."

Dealing with dehumanizing language brings us to our next clown - supposed comedian but certainly homophobe and transphobe Dave Chappelle.

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You know about this, I'm sure, but still it bears sneering.

Chappelle got return fire after his new special was released the beginning of October because of the offensive transphobia it included, sparking a walkout by some employees of Netflix.

He responded by saying "I said what I said, and boy I heard what you said. My god. How could I not? You said you want a safe working environment at Netflix. Well, it seems like I'm the only one that can't go to the office anymore." In other words,  he followed up being offensive by claiming he is the actual victim.

Classic clownishness. But wait, there's more.

On November 22, at the screening of his new documentary, Chappelle tossed around the "f-word," made jokes about people’s use of various pronouns, and pretended to identify as a woman to get a cushier prison cell, proving in case there was any doubt that he has learned nothing and doesn't want to.

Actually, that had been clear from the start. Back in October, he supposedly offered to meet with members of the transgender community, but, he said, "You will not summon me. I am not bending to anybody's demands." But he'd meet - under certain conditions. Quoting:

"You cannot come if you have not watched my special from beginning to end. You must come to a place of my choosing at a time of my choosing." (In other words, "You will not summon me; I will summon you.") "And thirdly, you must admit that Hannah Gadsby" - another comedian and a member of the LGBTQ+ community - "is not funny."

An "offer" which doesn't even attempt to hide the fact that is neither serious nor sincere.

I'll end with this, addressed to Dave Chappelle: One of the things you said in that special was "Gender is a fact."

Yeah, it is, but not in the way you think, you ignorant dolt. Your sex might be defined biologically, but your gender is who you are, it's your sense of self, it's who and what you feel yourself to be, which may or may not line up with your outward appearance. The fact that difference between sex and gender can exist is what raises the entire issue of being transgender. The technical term for the mental stress and suffering some experience as a result is gender disphoria.

You'd think that growing up as a black person in the US you had to deal with some issues of personal identity. So you'd think that you'd be able to have some understanding of the feelings of others dealing with a similar sort of question. It's called empathy. Look it up.

But you won't - because you find it easier and more profitable to take cheap shots. Which is just more proof that you are a thoroughgoing Clown.

043 The Erickson Report for December 2 to 15, Page Three: Noted in Passing


Now, a few things Noted in Passing, just a minute or two on a couple of things I wanted to mention.

First up, at last, it appears the government is taking corporate crime seriously.

Too bad it's the government of Sweden.

On November 11, prosecutors in Sweden indicted two executives of the Lundin Oil corporation for complicity in war crimes perpetrated in Sudan between 1999 and 2003.

In essence, the charge is that Chairman Ian Lundin and former CEO Alex Schneiter turned security for an oil field where the company had a claim over to the Sudanese military either knowing or criminally indifferent to the fact that the change would (and did) result in war crimes including massacres.

The case marks the first time since Nuremberg that prosecutors have brought “grave war crime” charges and indictments against individuals.

As a footnote, the company released a statement saying "There is no evidence linking any representatives of Lundin to the alleged primary crimes in this case." In other words, "We didn't actually pull the trigger, so nothin' to do with us."

Sorry to tell you, gang, that ain't how it works.

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Here's something interesting. On November 23, the DOD announced it is establishing a new group to investigate reports on the presence of UFOs in restricted airspace.

The formation of the group comes after the government released a report in June, encompassing 144 observations, which concluded there was a lack of sufficient data to determine the nature of mysterious flying objects.

This comes after decades of officialdoms deflecting, debunking, and discrediting observations of UFO's.

What I personally find interesting is that he new group, the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, refers not to "unidentified flying objects" but to "unidentified aerial phenomena" or UAPs, which I find interesting because I have been calling them that for a number of years, speculating that they are actually some sort of natural phenomena that are rare enough that we haven't learned yet to recognize them, much like the UFOs that commercial pilots learned not to report for fear of being grounded but which are now known by the names red sprites and blue jets and are types of lightning that strike upwards from the tops of thunderstorms.

Wonder if I'll get any credit for the name.

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Finally, in April 2015, Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, a credit card payment processing company, raised the minimum wage at his company to 70,000, which he paid for by cutting his own pay to the same level.

He was mocked as a "socialist," "lunatic of all lunatics," whose employees would soon be on bread lines.

Six years later, company revenue has tripled, the customer base has doubled, 70% of his employees have paid down debt, many bought homes for the first time, 401(k) contributions grew by 155%, and turnover dropped in half.

What's more, when the pandemic broke out, the company lost 55% of its business in one month. Price said the company was four months from bankruptcy. Instead, his employees voluntarily took pay cuts of an amount they each chose, seeing the company through until things improved.

And they have - to the point where those employees have all been given back the amounts they passed up.

Apparently being a socialist lunatic is not such a bad thing.

One final note: When Price made the announcement, Rush Limbaugh declared that he hoped this would become a Harvard Business School cast study of how socialism fails. It is a Harvard Business School case study - just for the opposite reason.

043 The Erickson Report for December 2 to 15, Page Two: More on Critical Race Theory


We have an update or continuation of my discussion about Critical Race Theory.

This was prompted by the fact that Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg recently gave a good example of the kinds of things CRT examines when he noted that systemic racism in the design and location of highways in American cities and suburbs continues to adversely affect low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

As a specific example, he pointed to underpasses along the parkways in the Long Island suburbs of New York City that were deliberately designed to be too low for buses for the specific purpose of keeping buses from bringing low-income - mostly non-white - city residents to Jones Beach.

Right-wingers first denied that was true and after having to admit it was, dismissed it as irrelevant because those underpasses were built 92 years ago.

But they're still there! That's the point: The racism of 92 years ago is still impacting people today.

They don't get it - and the truth is, they don't want to.

It's already become clear that the MAGA meatheads who rant and rave about CRT have no notion what it is, they can't explain it or describe it, they just know it's being taught in public schools and they are flat out against it, dagnabit - whatever the heck it is.

What's also becoming clearer is what the actual objection is. And it's not to CRT.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll a couple of weeks ago asked respondents: “How much do you think public schools should teach about how the history of racism affects America today?” Some 70% of the public said "a great deal" or "a good amount" while a majority of Republicans - 53% - said it should be taught "not so much" or "not at all."

As Laura Clawson of DailyKos putit, "That’s not an objection to critical race theory" but "an objection to kids learning that definitely within their grandparents’ lifetimes, the US had explicitly racist laws that have continuing effects today."

Hell, you don't even have to refer to continuing effects. A Monmouth University poll that came out a bit before the Washington Post/ABC News poll asked a slightly different question: "Should public schools teach the history of racism?" 43% of GOPpers disapproved - 34% disapproved strongly. Of just teaching historical reality.

And really, you can't even call it history not just because of the continuing effects of past racism but the reality of present-day racism as a fact of our society. Even leaving that aside, even if you leave immediate present-day considerations aside, it barely constitutes history rather than current events.

I'm going to use my life as a timeline.

- I was 12 when federal marshals had to escort a 6-year-old black child past screaming racist mobs so she could go to a newly-integrated school.
- I was 14 when Medgar Evers was assassinated.
- I was 15 when Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were murdered in Mississippi for trying to help black people register to vote.
- I was 15 when the Civil Rights Act was passed.
- I was 14 when MLK gave his "I have a dream" speech; 19 when he was murdered.

These events and others, were part of my growing up, they are part of my living memory. I know I'm old, but it still means that in an historical context, in a societal context, they are not that long ago.

And the fact is, at the very least a significant number among those who call themselves GOPpers don't want their kids to know about any of it. They don't want them to know about the segregated lunch counters and restaurants, the segregated waiting rooms, the segregated bus seating, the segregated schools, the segregated neighborhoods, the segregated drinking fountains, for pity's sake. They don't want them to know that as recently as 1967, 16 US states still had laws banning interracial marriage.

Because knowing would hinder their ability to continue to maintain their bigoted fantasy that they are the real victims, they are the truly oppressed, and racism longer exists - except, that is, for the "real" racism, which is directed against them.

It is depressing. And it is frightening.

043 The Erickson Report for December 2 to 15, Page One: The Acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse


Updated We start with the issue that has to be addressed: the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse.

Right at the top I have to say I was not surprised by the outcome. I was bitterly disappointed, but not surprised - notwithstanding the bruised knuckles I got from banging the desk so hard when I learned of the verdict.

No, not surprised - because from the start this was effectively a baby-faced white boy on the one side and three Black Lives Matter protestors on the other.

In that context, the defense didn’t have to present a convincing argument that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. The didn’t even have to offer a reasonably persuasive argument. All they had to do was present a superficially plausible argument that Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense to give the jury something on which to hang an acquittal on the grounds that the prosecution hadn’t proved its case.

Add to that a judge clearly biased in favor of the defense -
- he dismissed the gun charges on which Rittenhouse was all but undeniably guilty
- he blocked prosecutors from showing his connections to violent right-wing outfits like the proud boys
- he told the defense they could malign Rittenhouse’s victims as rioters, looters, and arsonists

Given all that, the case was pretty much over before opening arguments. I did maintain hope Rittenhouse would be convicted on the reckless endangerment charge - because I had to - but....

There is no appeal from an acquittal so the question becomes what happens now.

Rittenhouse himself is basking in his 15 minutes of fame on right-wing media and he is being held up as a conquering hero on right-wing social media - or at least he was, as most recently he’s had a blot on his escutcheon for having dared to criticize the totally wonko and for that reason QAnon hero Lin Wood.

What matters, though, is that it’s being suggested across right-wing social media that this case is now a legal precedent or even standard where you can now go and shoot lefty or progressive protestors and get excused by claiming it was self defense.

That’s not true of course, at least not yet, but that’s not the point. The point is that people can think it is.

Considering some - many - of the things the coterie of nitwits that is the American right wing believe - just consider that gang in Dallas maybe still waiting for Godot - and the idea that one of them could believe and act on that is a very real possibility.

Hopefully, any such person could be deterred by the other news - keep hope alive - that less than a week after Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted, the three bigots who murdered Ahmaud Arbery were convicted on a variety of charges and now face life in prison.

The jury had to deal with none counts covering five different felonies. Despite that and despite the efforts of the defense to rig the jury and appeal to racism - I think I hope that crack about Arbery’s “long, dirty toenails” is a takeaway from this trial - despite that, the jury reached its verdict in 10 hours, which shows how open and shut this case was. The defense did take a stab at “self-defense” but that fell flat and the trio were convicted by their own words.

There are three less attended facts related to this case I wanted to mention.

First is that former Georgia District Attorney Jackie Johnson has been indicted on charges related to her failure to pursue the case, including violating her oath of office and obstructing police.

Second, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating former Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill over his refusal to press charges despite the evidence, apparently due to his son’s relationship with one of the accused.

And three, one fallout of the case is that it has lead to Georgia reforming its citizen's arrest laws, something we can hope other states will do as well.

Beyond that, we can also hope that the lizard brains whose trigger fingers have gotten twitchier in the wake of the Rittenhouse trial will also deterred by the fact that in the same week that the Arbery verdict came down, a jury awarded more than $26 million in damages against two dozen white nationalist leaders and organizations for the violence that erupted during the 2017 so-called Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA.

This was the result of a month-long civil trial from a lawsuit filed by the group Integrity First for America on behalf of nine plaintiffs who had suffered physical or emotional injuries as a result of the violence and featured a vast collection of chat room exchanges, text messages, and social media posts by the defendants proving that yes, they intended there to be violence at the rally - which of course comes as no surprise to any of us but it's good it's now part of an official court record.

Now watch them do an Alex Jones and just try to stall paying until everyone dies of old age.

On the other hand, there could be more coming: Integrity Fitst for America intends to refile on the two counts where the jury deadlocked and seven other defendants who refused to respond to the lawsuit have been hit with default judgements, with damages still to be set by the court.

Finally on this, in a legally unrelated but politically and socially related case, on the same day Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted, a Kansas City MO white cop was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action for the killing of a 26-year-old black man named Cameron Lamb in 2019.

It was only the second time in Kansas City history a cop was charged in the death of a black person and the first ever conviction. The previous case was in 1942. So maybe it means something. I don't know but I'd like to think so. Because like I keep saying, keep hope alive.

[Updated with some links.]

 
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