Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Outrage of the Year 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, good old economic sex discrimination rolled on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexism: Outrage of the Year 2017.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Clown of the Year 2017 - Total Jackassery Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Time" Magazine.

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

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

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

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

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

Clown of the Year 2017 - Basic Stupid Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald TheRump supporters!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 2018

Happy 2018 to everyone.

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

Peace, joy, and love to all.


Friday, November 24, 2017

This is why I do the Thanksgiving post

This is why I do the Thanksgiving post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

39.2 - Goodbye and farewell

Goodbye and farewell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I want to say thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And as always, peace.

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

The "First Thanksgiving" story based on historical evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's Left #39

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

This week:

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

- Goodbye and farewell

Sunday, November 12, 2017

38.6 - RIP: "Fats" Domino

RIP: "Fats" Domino

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

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

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

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

Let me wrap this up with two quick asides:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

38.4 - We Are Not Alone: Malaysia, Vietnam, India

We Are Not Alone: Malaysia, Vietnam, India

Next, it's We Are Not Alone, our weekly reminder that just because some event does not affect us, it does not mean it is unworthy of notice. We are not alone on this planet and "It affects us" is not the only measure of importance.

To start this time Malaysia has been hit with unprecedented flooding in the wake of a major storm on November 5 with intense rain that left nearly 80 per cent of Penang state flooded, with some areas under three feet of water.

Authorities have confirmed seven deaths and around 10,000 people have been evacuated in Penang and Kedah states.

The government says it's now prepared to spend the equivalent of over $1 billion on flood mitigation projects over the next few months.

The storms and flooding may have been worsened by an indirect effect from Typhoon Damrey, which smashed into southern Vietnam on December 4. It was the worst storm to hit the area in 16 years.

As of November 7, there were 69 known dead with 30 more missing. More than 100,000 houses were still under water.

The typhoon is the latest in a string of major storms to hit Vietnam this year. In September, Typhoon Doksuri tore through the central part of the country, killing 11 people and last month, more than 70 people we killed in flooding and landslides in the nation's northern and central regions.

Moving on to a non-natural disaster, around this time every year, the city of Delhi, India is covered with smog - thick, acrid fog, a combination of vehicle emissions, smoke from burning of crops in neighboring states and from fireworks from Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

his year has been so bad that on December 7, the Indian Medical Association declared a public health emergency in the city, and people have been advised to avoid any outdoor activity.

To give you an idea of how bad it is, the Air Quality Index goes from "excellent" at a score of 0-50 up through increasing levels up to "severely polluted" at 300. The index in New Delhi on Tuesday was 316.

It's even worse in Punjab, some distance to the north: The index in that state is 462.

Punjab banned crop burning in 2013 in an attempt to alleviate the problem but the law is largely ignored. Even so, Punjab officials insist crop burning and the associated smoke has been cut by 30%. That reduction, however, doesn't seem to be having a major impact on the smog either there or in Delhi - in fact, the trend of recent years has been for it to get worse.

38.3 - Question: why has the left dropped military spending as an issue?

Question: why has the left dropped military spending as an issue?

I have a question.

In the midst of all the talk about Tweetie-pie's proposed tax gift to the rich and the hack-and-slash treatment proposed for Medicare, Medicaid, and much more, another part of budget considerations has been met with a massive yawn.

On November 8, House and Senate negotiators agreed on the Fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), setting authorized levels of spending for the War Department. The figure? $700 billion.

That stunning figure includes $634 billion for core Pentagon operations and $66 billion for our various wars.

That is not just an increase over last year, it is an increase over what Tweetie-pie asked for: It's $31 billion more for Pentagon operations and $1 billion more for the wars.

It is a total increase over last year of $81 billion, more than 13% - an increase so large that had the DOD budget simply stayed the same level as FY 2017, not cut, just stayed the same, the US could have paid this year's tuition for every public college student in the country and still have $11 billion left over for board and books and so much for "free college is unaffordable."

Instead, we're supposed to waste it on crap like the F-35 strike fighter, the most expensive weapons system in history, with more than $100 billion invested over 25 years and it is still, according to recently-retired Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, at least two years and $1 billion from being combat ready.

We're supposed to spend it on more bombers, more submarines, more destroyers, more aircraft carriers.

And we are supposed to pay for war and more wars and wars you haven't heard of and wars that are secret.

The New York Times reports that the United States has been at war continuously since 9/11 and now has nearly a quarter-million active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. American forces are actively engaged not only in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen but also in Niger, Somalia, Jordan, Thailand, and elsewhere. In fact some 38,000 troops are on assignment in places the DOD lists as "unknown" doing who knows what.

So here's the question: Where the flaming hell is the left?

Why the silence? Why the acquiescence? The NDAA passed the House by 344-81 and the Senate by 89-9.

Looking for, proposing, ways to cut war spending used to be a rallying cry of the left. Money for life, not death! we said. Fund human needs! we said. What the hell happened?

Is it truly that just because it's not Americans doing a lot of the dying that we just don't care? Is that what we are saying? Or are we embracing the militarized paranoia of "the terrorists are coming! the terrorists are everywhere?" Is that what we are saying?

Well, I'll tell you what I say and I'll do it by paraphrasing something I wrote about 25 years ago:

Killing is what too much of our federal budget is about. I’m not going to get into the argument about what portion of federal spending goes to the military, not only because of disagreements over exactly what should and shouldn’t be considered “military spending,” but also because, frankly, I just don’t care.

Forget the number-crunching, forget the arguments about discretionary versus non-discretionary spending, about ratios and operating budgets and “trends,” forget the blather and the bother. The issue is not the percentage of federal spending going to the military, the issue is military spending. And the military budget has been and continues to be too big.

As long as we can afford to build rail guns but not railroads, the military budget is too big.

As long as we can afford humvees but not health care, the military budget is too big.

As long as we can afford military housing but not public housing, the military budget is too big.

As long as we can find money for mass murder but not mass transit, the military budget is too big.

As long as we can pay to make our bombs smart but not our children, the military budget is too big.

As long as military aid is given higher priority than development aid and world hegemony matters more than world hunger, the military budget is too big.

In short, as long as it’s easier to approve money for matters of death than for matters of life, the military budget is just too damned big.

But that’s still the political reality, no matter the current numbers: For domestic programs or non-military foreign aid, spending has to be justified - but for military programs, not spending has to be justified. The bias remains in favor of the Pentagon, the burden of proof remains on its opponents.

That bias, to be blunt, is the mark of militarism. And as long as that remains true, the military budget Is. Too. Big.

And I am ashamed of how the left seems to have forgotten that.

38.2 - Clown Award: unnamed man who went to a Halloween party dressed as a suicide bomber

Clown Award: unnamed man who went to a Halloween party dressed as a suicide bomber

Next, the Clown Award, given as always for an act of meritorious stupidity.

Two years ago, Warren Demesme was arrested in New Orleans on suspicion of sexually assaulting two girls, both of them minors. He was read his Miranda rights but waived them to deny the allegations, which he had already done in a previous interrogation. During his questioning, he invoked his constitutional right to counsel, telling the police as quoted in the police transcript:
If y'all, this is how I feel, if y'all think I did it, I know that I didn't do it so why don't you just give me a lawyer dog cause this is not what's up.
Despite that, the cops kept questioning him and he later made incriminating statements. Demesme was charged with aggravated rape and indecent behavior with a juvenile, which in Louisiana carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

His attorneys petitioned to have his incriminating statements tossed from his upcoming trial. But on October 27 the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled 6–1 that because he included the slang term "dog," his statement was so ambiguous that neither the cops nor the courts could have any idea if he was asking for a lawyer or not and so there was no need to stop the questioning or bar use of the statements.

This is not the kind of thing that is normal for the Clown Award, which is usually geared to what is mockable, but this was just so outrageously offensive and stupid that I had to find a way to include it.

Okay, back to the mockery.

Roy Moore
Right-wing psycho bigot Roy Moore is, I expect you know, the GOPper candidate for Senate in Alabama, with a special election on December 12 intending to fill the seat vacated by Jeff - "I'm not a racist, I swear I'm not" - Sessions.

On October 31 he called for the impeachment of District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who issued an injunction against Tweetie-pie's ban on transgenders in the military.

He called the injunction, quoting,
absolutely ridiculous and a perfect example of the outlandish doctrine of judicial supremacy whereby judges exalt themselves over the Constitution they are sworn to uphold.
Roy Moore was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court in 2003 because he refused to remove a 10 Commandments monument from the lobby of the court building despite an order from a federal court to remove it as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state.

He got himself elected back to the Court in 2013 only to be suspended in 2016 and later resign - in essence, he was booted again - because he ordered state probate judges to continue to enforce the state's ban on same-sex marriage despite the fact that it had been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

And this is the guy who is now whining about judges thinking they're something special and above the law and the constitution. Now, that is a clown.

Happy Halloween
But I do like to give the award for genuine stupidity, so here it is, the Big Red Nose, and it must go to someone whose name I don't know because I believe it has not been released.

It happened this past week in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, a suburb of the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia has seen several incidents liked to Daesh, that is, ISIS, over the past few years, including some in country and some where Malaysian nationals were suicide bombers in Iraq.

So this guy, identified only as a man in his thirties, thought it would be clever to go to a Halloween party - including going to the condominium building and riding the elevator up to the floor where the party was - dressed as a suicide bomber.

Yeah, he would up getting arrested. Officials say he is being investigated for a charge of criminal intimidation.

Apparently there is no legal charge of clown.

38.1 - Hero Award: Brennon Jones and Sean Johnson

Hero Award: Brennon Jones and Sean Johnson

We start the week with a Hero Award, something we occasionally give out here to someone who just does the right thing on a matter big or small.

And this week, in fact, we have a double award.

Our first hero is Brennon Jones of Philadelphia, who for the past year has been running a service he calls "Haircut 4 Homeless," a one-man mobile barbershop giving free haircuts and shaves to the city's homeless men - not only that, but providing food, clothing, and toiletries. Which certainly makes him a hero around here.

Meanwhile, Sean Johnson had a successful barbershop going in the city, successful enough that he had just purchased a new storefront a few doors down from his existing one.

Jones was likely a little surprised when Johnson, who he had never met, said he - that is, Johnson - wanted to show Jones something.

As Jones tells it,
[Johnson said] "Listen, I’ve got a building I want you to come check out." He said, "Do you like this place?" I said, "Yeah I like it." He tossed me the key and said, "It's yours."
The new shop opens sometime this month, with Mondays dedicated to serving the homeless, partnering with shelters and stylists to provide transportation, a haircut, and food.

Making Sean Johnson, whose decision to pay it forward made it possible, our second hero.

Just something to feel good about.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

What's Left #38

What's Left
for the week of November 10 - 16, 2017

This week:

Hero Award: Brennon Jones and Sean Johnson

Clown Award: unnamed man who went to a Halloween party dressed as a suicide bomber

Question: why has the left dropped military spending as an issue?

We Are Not Alone: Malaysia, Vietnam, India

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

RIP: "Fats" Domino

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

37.8 - On the push for war with North Korea

On the push for war with North Korea

We end this week with a warming, a heads-up if you will: 2017 heading into 2018 is shaping up a lot like 2002.

That's because 2002 was the year of an on-going campaign to get the public to embrace a war against Iraq - and as time went on the public resistance to the idea continued, the claims became more and more intense, the dangers being claimed more and more extreme.

We are seeing much the same now - with, I strongly suspect, the same ultimate goal: war, as the claims get more extreme.

On October 25, we had testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security from the chair and chief of staff of something called the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack about a hypothetical North Korean EMP attack on the US.

"EMP" is "electromagnetic pulse" and it's a by-product of nuclear explosions. It's a burst of intense electromagnetic energy that can disrupt power grids along with phone lines and internet services and more; it can even fry delicate electronics.

The report claims that such an attack would wipe out the US's technological infrastructure for an indefinite period, resulting in, it claims, 90% of us starving to death inside of a year.

Scared yet? No?

Well, the next day, October 26, a report from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University breathlessly told us that North Korea has an advanced, dangerous, biological weapons program with the ability to douse thousands of people with lethal doses of anthrax, smallpox, viral hemorrhagic fever, or any one of 10 other germ warfare agents.

And two days after that, on October 28, Secretary of War Jim Mattis declared during a visit to South Korea that the threat of nuclear missile attack from North Korea "has accelerated" and that "I cannot imagine a condition under which the United States would accept North Korea as a nuclear power."

But just in case you still can't be stampeded, there is a back-up: Testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 30, both Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to rule out a US nuclear first-strike on North Korea. Y'know, just in case.

Tillerson noted that "no president, Republican or Democrat, has ever forsworn the first-strike capability." That, unfortunately, is true - but then again, while some of those presidents brandished those nukes, I don't recall any of them before now ever being quoted something to the effect of "What's the point of having nuclear weapons if you're not going to use them?"

Hang on tight.

As a footnote to that, new reports say that Mount Mantap, the 7,200-foot-high peak under which North Korea detonates its nuclear bomb tests, is suffering from "tired mountain syndrome," where it has been so weakened by repeated tests that the area around the facility is no longer stable.

During the last nuclear test at the facility known as Punggye-ri on 9/3, the mountain visibly shifted, with a 6.3 magnitude artificial earthquake created by the test followed within minutes by a 4.1 magnitude natural quake with an 85-acre area visibly subsiding. Since then, the area, not known for natural seismic activity, has had three more quakes.

It's bad enough that Chinese scientists have already warned that further nuclear tests could cause the mountain to collapse and release the radiation from the blast.

In fact, the weakening was significant enough that when an underground tunnel was being constructed sometime in October, it collapsed, trapping 100 workers - and when another 100 were sent in to rescue them, the tunnel completely collapsed, killing all 200.

This doesn't mean the facility would have to be abandoned and North Korea is unlikely to do so, there being, it seems, few places in the country fit for such a nuclear test site. But it does mean that new tunnels would have to be drilled in another part of the mountain.

Which marks this news as clearly a setback to North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions. Not an end to them by any means, but a setback.

The thing is, between satellite imagery and seismic observations, US intelligence services doubtless knew about these events - the weakening of the mountain, the subsequent earthquakes, the collapse of the tunnels - pretty much as soon as they happened. So I find it interesting that it was not long after the tunnel collapse that Mattis insisting on an "accelerating" threat of attack, since it would seem odd to claim an increased threat just as your adversary has suffered a setback - unless your intent is not to deter an opponent but to promote a war.

Like I said, hang on tight.
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