Thursday, November 18, 2021

042 The Erickson Report for November 18 to December 2, 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.

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

So to start our Thanksgiving tale, consider this:

    Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week.

    At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.

    And though it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

That comes from a letter dated December 11, 1621. It was written to an otherwise-unidentified "loving and old friend" in England by Edward Winslow, a Mayflower passenger and a leader in the early years of the colony.

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.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

042 The Erickson Report for November 18 to December 2


042 The Erickson Report for November 18 to December 2

This episode:

- A correction
- The story of "the First Thanksgiving"


Monday, November 08, 2021

041 The Erickson Report, Page 5: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

041 The Erickson Report, Page 5: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]
Moving on the the Outrages, here are six civil society organizations in the West Bank:

- Addameer offers legal aid to prisoners, collects data on incarcerations, including so-called administrative detentions – i.e., there's no trial – and acts to end torture.
- Al-Haq documents violations of Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories.
- The Palestine branch of Defense for Children International monitors the killing of children and the wellbeing of children imprisoned in Israel.
- The Union of Agricultural Work Committees aids Palestinian farmers, mainly in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control.
- The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees
- The Bisan Center for Research & Development, which describes itself as seeking to "enhance Palestinian’s resilience" and "contribute in building an effective democratic civil society."

Beyond that they work in the occupied territories, they have one other thing in common: On October 19, the Israeli Defense Ministry labeled all of them terrorist organizations based on an unsubstantiated claim that they are secretly controlled by the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Under Israel’s 2016 counter-terrorism law, these human rights organizations now face possible mass arrest and being shut down by the Israeli government, and anyone identifying with the groups can also be subject to imprisonment.

Reaction was swift:

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued a joint statement calling it "appalling and unjust" and "an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement," a government that "for decades" has "systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians."

Twenty-one Israel-based civil organizations joined in a statement calling the move a "draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work" and "an act of cowardice characteristic of repressive authoritarian regimes."

United Nations Human Rights Office in Ramallah called it "the latest development in a long stigmatizing campaign against these and other organizations."

The US-based Jewish Voice for Peace said it was "an attack on all Palestinian rights and an obvious attempt to evade accountability" and called on its supporters to "flood Congress with outrage."

The editors of the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz labeled it a "destructive folly" and "a stain upon Israel," adding that "the outlawing of human rights groups and persecution of humanitarian activists are quintessential characteristics of military regimes, in which democracy in its deepest sense is a dead letter." There is, the editors said, "a straight line from defining the nonviolent struggle against the occupation as 'diplomatic terror'" - which Israel has done in the past - "and designating human rights groups as terrorist organizations."

A coalition of nearly 300 U.S.-based social justice groups urged the Blahden administration to "immediately and unequivocally" condemn this "shameful" "attack on human rights," noting that calling your opponents "terrorists" is "a dangerous, well-worn tactic of authoritarian regimes."

There was more, but that should make the point that the international civil and human rights community has had enough, more than enough. Several of the statements said that one of the reasons Israel thinks it can get away with this is precisely because it has gotten away with so much for so long.
Which is painfully true, just as painful as the undeniable fact that the US has been Israel's prime enabler.

Yes, most definitely an Outrage.


And then there was this: On August 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Joseph Rosenbaum is dead. Anthony Huber is dead. Gaige Grosskreutz is still recovering from a severe wound.

But according to Judge Bruce Schroeder, presiding over the trial of Rittenhouse, none of those three people are victims or at least none of them can be called “victims” during the trial.

“The word ‘victim’ is a loaded, loaded word,” said Schroeder. “‘Alleged victim’ is a cousin to it.” That is, the terms are too inflammatory, too prejudicial, to be allowed.

There are ways around this and people have already suggested some and you can, to be totally fair, make an argument that "victim" should be avoided since the question is not if Rittenhouse pulled the trigger but under what circumstances. But what moves this beyond an ordinary silly legalistic argument over language is what Schroeder said those vic- um, those men who were gunned down could be called by the defense.

He told defense counsel that in closing arguments the three can be called “looters,” “rioters,” and “arsonists” even though none of them have been charged, much less convicted, or any such crime or indeed any other related to the events surrounding the shooting.

That is, in Schroeder's court, "victim" is out of bounds even in reference to the people Rittenhouse is on trial for shooting, but “looters,” “rioters,” and “arsonists” are entirely reasonable descriptions of men who have been charged with nothing. I will be blunt: I find it beyond hard to accept the idea that having a baby-faced pro-cop white boy on one side the three young protesters against police violence on the other is not a major factor in operation here.

But even if I'm wrong about that, this is still a case of the judge openly endorsing, even inviting, inflammatory, prejudicial language being directed toward the people Rittenhouse shot - hell, I'm not in the court, his victims. Openly inviting, that is, putting the victims on trial. And that is still an Outrage.

041 The Erickson Report, Page 5: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

041 The Erickson Report, Page 5: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

Now for a regular feature, Two Weeks of Stupid, Clowns and Outrages. And we start, as usual, with the Clowns.

Our first Clown this time out is President Joe Coal Baron Manchin. After his event at the Economic Club of DC on October 26, three climate hunger strikers confronted him on his demand to cut climate provisions from the reconciliation package.

Manchin replied by asserting “the United States has done more than any other country. All the emissions are coming from Asia.”

So apparently all that West Virginia coal from which he gains a million a bucks a year from investments is being used for what, doing artists' sketches?


Next there is Texas Republican state Rep. Matt Krause, who has a 16-page list of roughly 850 books and he intends to "investigate" to see if Texas school libraries might be harboring any of them.

Krause has used his position as chair of the House Committee on General Investigating to dispatch a letter wanting school districts to report whether they have any copies of any of the named books and if so, to report how many of them and how much money the district spent to get them.

Beyond such titles as The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the list, not at all oddly, seems obsessed with LGBTQ+ titles and ones about reproduction.

A peek under Krause's mattress might be interesting.


Then there is the case of a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch uncovering a flaw in the website of Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that left the Social Security numbers for 100,000 staff members vulnerable. The information was contained in the html source code for the site.

The paper notified the agency and held the story until the agency had a chance to correct the error.

But it seems true that no good deed goes unpunished, because Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, apparently jealous of all the other GOPpes who've been awarded The Order of Big Red Nose, is vowing to prosecute the staff of the paper, charging they are "hackers" who "decoded" the source code to uncover the data. He claimed such an investigation would cost taxpayers $50 million.

Now, not only is that figure manifestly absurd, the thing is, the source code for a website is easily available to anyone with at most a couple of clicks because your own computer must have access to that information in order to display the web page correctly. Try it. Look for the Tools menu in your web browser, where you should find something listed like "View source code." In fact, if your browser is Firefox, just do control-u.

In other words, all this proves is that Mike Parson has absolutely no idea what hacking is.

I love this one because it gets back to the true meaning of Clown.


But finally, sometimes it's hard to say if something is a Clown or an Outrage, it straddles the line between. Here's an example.

It's an unnamed teacher at Ridgefield Memorial High School in Ridgefield, New Jersey.

On October 18, Mohammed Zubi, A Muslim Arab-American senior at the school, asked for an extension on completing a math assignment. The teacher responded with 'We don't negotiate with terrorists."

Shortly after making the comment, the teacher supposedly told Zubi he did not “mean it like that.”

Excuse me, teacher person, but just how the hell did you mean it?

A supporting Clown award goes to the school administration which initially dismissed it as a “personal matter.” Only after the incident became known through social media did school board members take it seriously. In a statement a couple of days later, the district said it is conducting a full investigation and that the teacher in question has been suspended until further notice.

041 The Erickson Report, Page 4: Noted in Passing

041 The Erickson Report, Page 4: Noted in Passing

Next up, we turn to an occasional feature, Noted in Passing, which is where we run through a few things quickly to make sure they get mentioned without spending a whole lot of time on any of them.

First up, the picture below is of Eric Zemmour, a rabble-rousing television pundit in France who is finding fervent audiences for his anti-Islam, anti-immigration invective and may run for president.

The sickening similarities to Tweetie-pie aside, what I wanted to point to was his for lack of a better term smile. Does it ever strike you that all of these reactionary bigots, no matter who they are, no matter where, all seem to have the same sort of supercilious, self-satisfied smirk, that creepy haughty expression that looks like Hannibal Lecter after a good meal?

Seriously. Watch for it.


Here's something to cheer you up - not.

It seems that in a closed-door meeting on October 26, Democratic leadership advised House progressives that even as Build Back Better was on the verge of "being gutted beyond recognition" they better start acting like they are getting a major win whatever shreds of tattered cloth finally emerge.

"If we don't act like we are winning, the American people won't believe it either," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. So progressives should, according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "Embrace this and have a narrative of success."

Eric Zemmour

In other words, instead of campaigning against the lobbyists, the grifters, the corporations, and their enablers :cough: Manchin Sinema :cough: just lie and proclaim "there's an awful lot good in this package" even though you'd be hard put to find anything that impacts the corporations or the rich, that is, anything that they didn't want there.

That is, we can have whatever small gains or incremental improvements we want so long as the interests of our overlords continue to get priority.

It can be really depressing.


Quickly noted because it's a topic that requires and deserves a fuller treatment, but I wanted to note that during oral arguments at the Supreme Court on that insane Texas anti-choice law - you know, the one that says you can't sue the state to stop it because the state isn't the one enforcing it, it's a vast sea of potential plaintiffs suing anyone in any way connected with an abortion so you'd have to deal with them one at a time - a couple of the justices who voted in September to allow it to go into effect appeared to be having second thoughts.

Brett Accused Rapist Kavanaugh and Amy Bugs Bunny Barrett both had skeptical questions for the lawyer for Texas - and with John Roberts, who I still think looks at cases with an idea of how the Roberts Court will look to history having in September voted to block the law while appeals continued, a switch by either of those Trumpite wackos would block it.

That wouldn't be the end of it since there's no time frame for a ruling and who knows how many lives will be ruined in that time - but at least it should put a damper on other states such as Ohio already considering their own version of a "ha ha can't touch us" ban.


Finally, we have an RIP.

Mort Sahl

Mort Sahl, a trailblazing political satirist with a biting wit whose rapid-fire monologues earned him the nickname “Rebel Without a Pause” died October 26 in Mill Valley, Calif. He was 94.

In 2011, his live 1955 recording “Mort Sahl at Sunset” was cited as the first standup comedy album and was named by the Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry.

Unhappily by the 1970s, Sahl had been labeled a conspiracy kook and had lost most of his audience, particularly after he worked for New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, whose claims about a wide-ranging conspiracy among anti-Castro activists and the CIA to assassinate John Kennedy eventually came down to a single indictment against a businessman named Claw Shaw, who was acquitted in less than one hour. Sahl didn't return to Broadway until a one-man show in 1985 - but he remained defiantly contrarian until the end of his life.

A favorite quote from Mort Sahl: “Liberals feel unworthy of their possessions. Conservatives feel they deserve everything they’ve stolen.”

Indeed. RIP, Mort Sahl.

041 The Erickson Report, Page 3: A Longer Look at Critical Race Theory

041 The Erickson Report, Page 3: A Longer Look at Critical Race Theory

We're going to take a slightly Longer Look at critical race theory. We're not going to plunge in as deeply as we usually do with A Longer Look but we can at least lay out some basics.

Critical race theory is that academic law-school discipline you've heard about so much after never having heard of it at all before the fanatical right tried to turn it into a social bludgeon. When you do hear about it, it's usually without - or with a very confusing, jargon-laded - explanation. So I'm going to try to give a little clarity.

To start, I'm going to take us back to September 22, to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on restoring the Voting Rights Act. At that hearing, Sen. Ted Ooze tried to dismiss the impact of voter ID laws by demanding of a panel of witnesses if such laws are racist and after having the one in Texas cited as an example of precisely that, came back with: “When I go to vote, they ask me for my ID, I pull up my ID, I show it to him [sic]. I vote. Is that racist?”

The witness to who he addressed the question gave a proper and effective answer, but I refer to this now because it occurred to me at the time that my answer would have been yes. Not that the person is necessarily racist, but that the act is racist because it operates within a racist system.

Later, it occurred to me that this is actually serves as a very basic illustration of what critical race theory is about.

That Texas voter suppression law was created, and was found by a federal court to have been created, with racist intent. Although facially racially neutral - it doesn't mention race anywhere in the text - its designers used demographic data and historical voting trends to target for restrictions those methods of voting that were more likely to be used by non-whites than by whites along with requiring those types of ID that non-whites were less likely to have. In other words, it was designed to make it harder for non-whites than whites to vote.

So even though it appeared on its face to be racially neutral, the racism was baked into the law. So if you are operating under that system, if you are voting under that law, you have two choices: don't vote or participate in a racist system. You could be the most non-racist voter who ever lived but still the system in which you operate means you are acting in a racist manner. You cannot avoid it.

That is a very simple, even over-simplified, example but it serves to illustrate what critical race theory is about: how racism is built into the law and social structures of our society.

Another simple, even simplistic but useful example is redlining, the practice of denying various services to residents of minority communities based solely on where they live. The most notorious, but not the only, examples involved what interest rates someone paid on a mortgage or a loan or even if they could get credit at all depended not on their individual circumstances but on their address. There actually were examples of whether or not you got credit depended on which side of a street you lived on, because the red line the bank drew to determine the credit-worthiness of a neighborhood went down the middle of that street.

What happened is that the previous decades, the history, of racial discrimination in housing and employment had resulted in black Americans being mostly confined to poor neighborhoods, lending itself to the superficially-reasonable but convenient notion that living in those communities meant you were less credit-worthy. So the segregated housing patterns generated by racial bigotry became locked in and persisted - and still persist - even after redlining was at least supposedly outlawed. (I say "supposedly" because as recently as 2015 banks were paying out settlements as a result of their redlining practices.)

The point is that racial and racist patterns, structures, that were created by white supremacy do not simply disappear on their own and they do not cease to exist, they do not cease to operate, to influence, because we are unaware of their roots. They are baked into the unspoken and quite often unaware assumptions about the law, about the economy, about our society which we carry in our heads and under which we operate.

Those assumptions are what critical race theory examines to get at the roots of the white supremacy which drove them. Because if they are to change, they must be examined, dissected, and actively overcome.

This doesn't mean that critical race theory is unassailable as a discipline and indeed there are critiques of it. And I have to admit that personally, I think that reducing everything to race, as some of its proponents do, as if there were no other factors such as economic class involved, is too simplistic. But at the same time that does not mean it is not a valuable tool.

And it also means that anyone who tells you that critical race theory is about how all white people are racist or about teaching white kids to feel guilty about being white either doesn't know what the hell they are talking about or is lying through their teeth. There is no third option - and the fuss about it is on the one hand being promoted by people who are invested in maintaining their own power and position and want to avoid any discussion of race, period, because they know an honest discussion will call into question their own privileged positions, and on the other hand is being embraced by those who are being distracted by the latest shiny penny to misdirect them from considering what is really impacting their lives or who are reluctant to examine their own assumptions because they are fearful of what they will find.
And that is evil on the one hand and tragic on the other.

041 The Erickson Report, Page 2: COVID deaths top five million

041 The Erickson Report, Page 2: COVID deaths top five million

But since no Good News can go unsullied, three days later, on November 11, AP reported that the global death toll from Covid-19, as tallied by Johns Hopkins University, had passed 5 million, less than two years into a crisis that has not only devastated poor countries but humbled wealthy ones.

For example, together the United States, the European Union, Britain, and Brazil, all upper-middle or high-income countries, account for just one-eighth of the world’s population - but nearly half of all reported deaths. The US alone has recorded over 740,000 dead, more than any other nation.

According to estimates from the Peace Research Institute Oslo, the worldwide death toll rivals the number of people killed in battles among nations since 1950. Covid-19 is now the world's third leading cause of death, after heart disease and stroke.

What's more, that total is almost certainly an undercount because of limited testing and people dying at home without medical attention, especially in poor parts of the world, such as India.

I suspect the grim reaper is not feeling so grim these days.

By the way, after what seemed like a tsunami of news accounts about breakthrough cases, where a vaccinated person tested positive for Covid, accounts which were used to attack the value of vaccines, recently released federal data sheds light on the matter.

What it comes down to is exactly what you should expect: Overall, fully vaccinated people had a far lower chance of testing positive for the virus or dying from it than the unvaccinated. All vaccinated age groups saw similar rates of breakthrough infection, and they all had much lower rates of infection and death compared with the unvaccinated in the same age groups.

As noted by Dr. David Dowdy, a public health researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, for any disease other than Covid, what everyone would be struck by is the dramatic difference between the unvaccinated and fully vaccinated.

But of course this is not any other disease, it's Covid, which is as much a political disease as a medical one.

Which leads me to end this segment with a wonderful comment from one Neil Truick:

For decades, it was "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service." Nobody said a word. They added "No Mask", and people lost their damn minds. For decades, it was "Cover your mouth when you cough." Again, nobody said a word. "Wear a mask" and it's grounds for insurrection. People fatigue me.
Me too, my brother.

041 The Erickson Report, Page 1: Good News

041 The Erickson Report, Page 1: Good News

On October 22, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California rejected an attempt by the Blahden administration to keep in place a Tweetie-pie-era Clean Water Act rule which environmental and Indigenous advocates argued would have "devastated" states' ability to manage their rivers.

The June 2020 rule changed the Clean Water Act certification process to allow federal agencies to approve large projects such as fossil fuel pipelines, hydroelectric dams, industrial plants, and wetland developments over the objections of states and Native American tribes along with establishing with a one-year deadline for permitting decisions and limiting the factors that state and tribal officials could consider.

Washington Attorney General and co-plaintiff Bob Ferguson welcomed the ruling, saying the Trump administration "did everything it could to yield to the interests of polluting industries." And now - my words, not his - over the objections of the Blahden administration, that rule is no more.


On October 29, the Supreme Court refused to block a vaccine requirement imposed on Maine health care workers, the latest defeat for opponents of vaccine mandates.

The Court had previously rejected challenges of vaccine requirements for New York City teachers and Indiana University staff and students, but this was the first time it had ruled on a statewide mandate.

The mandate went into effect on October 1 but the state gave until October 29 before it would be enforced to give time for people to get the shot.

As of November 2, Maine's four largest hospital systems reported that between 96 and 100 percent of employees were either vaccinated or had a valid medical exemption.

Friday, November 05, 2021

041 The Erickson Report for November 4 to 18


Good News:
- Court throws out Tweetie-pie era water rule
- Supreme Court upholds Maine vaccine mandate

COVID-19 deaths worldwide pass 5 million

A Closer Look at critical race theory

Noted in Passing
- The reactionary smirk
- Dem House leadership tells progressive members to pretend they are winning
- Kavanaugh, Barret seem skeptical of Texas anti-choice law
- RIP Mort Sahl

Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages
- Clown: teacher tells Arab student re math assignment "We don't negotiate with terrorists"
- Clown: Premier Joe Manchin says all emissions are coming from Asia
- Clown: Texas legislator "investigating" if school libraries hold any of a list of 850 books
- Clown: Missouri governor threatens to prosecute reporter as "computer hacker" for obtaining publicly-available information
- Outrage: Israel labels six Palestinian civil rights groups "terrorists"
- Outrage: judge rules prosecution can't call those shot by Rittenhouse "victims" but defense can call them "rioters" and "arsonists"
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