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Celebrate Indeginenous Peoples Day

Indigenous Peoples Day “Today we celebrate the people who first called this land home. We remember the struggles and tragedies they endured. We honor their place in and contributions to the shared story of America.”

Indigenous Peoples Day “Today we celebrate the people who first called this land home. We remember the struggles and tragedies they endured. We honor their place in and contributions to the shared story of America.” (click to embiggen)

America was inhabited already when Columbus blundered his way into the West Indies. They are called the West Indies, in case you didn’t know, because he thought he had sailed all the way around the world to Japan, China, and India. Seriously. He was convinced that San Salvador was Japan, and Cuba was China.

Columbus wasn’t a great thinker. Contrary to what school teachers were still telling us when I was in grade school, Europeans had known for centuries that the world was round. And Pythagoras and Aristotle had both deduced that the Earth was a sphere because of the shape of the Earth’s shadow on the moon during Lunar eclipses. Eratosthenes calculated the size of the Earth pretty accurately based on shadows at different latitudes more than 200 years before the time of Christ (He also correctly deduced the tilt of the Earth’s axis a bit later).

Columbus thought that Eratosthenes was wrong, that the Earth was much smaller, and that it would take only a short time sailing west to reach Asia. He was very wrong. And not just because there were two continents Europe didn’t know about.

And then there was the abominable way the Columbus and the Europeans that followed treated the people who lived here. It was not, as some of my other teachers used to say, merely that the Europeans had more advanced technology. The Europeans were fond of making written agreements with the people who already lived here, and then when it suited them, ignore the agreements and take, kill, or pillage whatever they wanted.

So, yeah, even though I am a pasty-skinned, blue-eyeed white guy with ancestors from places like Ireland, England, and France, count me as one of the people who celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day.

Tribes of the Indian Nation

Tribes of the Indian Nation (click to embiggen)

The movement to replace Columbus Day with a holiday honoring Native Americans have been around for a long time. In 1989 the state of South Dakota abolished the state observance of Columbus Day and enacted a Native American Day to be observed on the same day as the Federal Observance fo Columbus Day.

Several other states: California, Nevada, and Tennessee all observe a Native American Day in September (the California holiday first called for by then-Governor Ronald Reagan in 1968, though not enacted into law until 1998).

Governors in Alaska and Vermont (and probably others, but I haven’t found them, yet) have issued proclamations to declare and Indigenous Peoples Day, but neither state’s legislature has enacted it into law, and such proclamation tend to be ceremonial, usually assumed only to apply to the year issued.

On the other hand, a rather huge number of cities and towns all over the country have adopted ordinances replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Maybe when more follow more states will join South Dakota.

“Columbus didn't discover America, he invaded it!”

“Columbus didn’t discover America, he invaded it!”

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Normal is overrated — more adventures in dictionaries

Bugs Bunny making a silly face with the words “I've done a lot of things over the years, but acting normal isn't one of them.”

“I’ve done a lot of things over the years, but acting normal isn’t one of them.”

The first time I experienced mental health therapy was in middle school, after I was injured by a bully severely enough that the school nurse said I needed to be taken to the hospital. Later, in the infinite wisdom of a typical school administrator, I, the perennial victim of bullying, was threatened with expulsion if I didn’t go to counseling and if the counselor did not report I was making progress. They never said progress toward what, but it became clear as the twice-monthly went on through the rest of that school year and the next, that what she was trying to do was teach me to act like a normal boy. I don’t think she ever used the phrase “normal” to my face, but she certainly did when explaining things to my parents.

There were many reasons why I didn’t behave like a “normal” boy. And usually when I have written about this topic before I have focused on how as a queer kid I was gender non-conforming. But that wasn’t the only problem. There are queer kids who did a better job than I ever did of blending in. And there are lots of not-queer kids who were bullied for being different in other ways. I had other strikes against me.

One of my relatives, for instance, described me as “a lost adult trapped in a child’s body” when referring to my childhood. One reason several people perceived me in that way as a child is because my intelligence was several standard deviations above average. That had two very distinct effects on my behavior. One was that I often understood and knew things people didn’t expect a child to know, but the other was that there were very few of the kids my age that I got along with, so I kept forming close relationships with adults. And that increased the gap between myself and most of the kids my age.

Now, the word “normal” derives from the Latin normalis, which means made according to a right-angle or square. But ask most people what normal means and you’ll probably get something close to what Oxford calls sense 3: “Constituting or conforming to a type or standard; regular, usual, typical; ordinary, conventional. Also, physically or mentally sound, healthy.” Interestingly, that usage of the word in English only came about in the early 1800s. When in first came into the language, in the late 1400s, it referred exclusively to a regular verb. Then in the mid 1600s its meaning expanded to refer “Right-angled, standing at right angles; perpendicular.” Which is how it entered the lexicography of mathematics.

I was interested in science for as long as I can remember. We can blame my mom the science fiction fan for that. When I was a baby, she literally read aloud whichever Robert Heinlein or Ray Bradbury or similar book she had checked out from the library. And mathematics is something I fell in love with early in school. We moved around a lot because of my dad’s job in the petroleum industry, but as luck would have it, the school district where I attended first grade and a portion of second was one that won awards for excellence year after year. They gave me a great start.

For instance, the explanation my second grade teacher in Fort Collins had given me of the Distributive Property, was how I got labeled a freak on the first day (three schools later) that I attended school in Cheyenne Wells. It was late spring in Third Grade when we moved to Cheyenne Wells, and they were just getting to things like the Distributive Property of Multiplication. The teacher tried to explain it to class, but her explanation wasn’t very good. And during the period when we were supposed to be going through a worksheet and helping each other with the problems, the teacher overheard me explaining the the kid next to me how it works, so she brought me to the front of the room and made me explain it to the whole class. And then they all knew I was a Math Freak, a Brain, and the Teachers new Pet.

It wasn’t just the first school, of course, it was also the fact that I loved to read so much, that whenever I was given a new set of books at school, I would read them all the way to the end on my own as soon as I could. And half the time that I spent in the library I was tracking down non-fiction books about topics that came up in the science fiction, mystery, and adventure books that I loved. And most of the time throughout grade school and middle school, I would rather sit in a corner and read than run around the playground or do other things the rest of the kids were doing any time we were turned loose.

That always failed to endear me to the other kids.

Despite the fact that at heart I was an introvert, I also loved explaining things to people. Which often came across as me being a show off or know it all.

As an adult, I work in a technology field writing and designing documentation and help systems explaining how systems work. So all of those characteristics eventually became useful, eventually.

But there was no amount of counseling from that therapist—or mentoring from my middle school wrestling coach (and pre-algebra teacher!), or the other attempts by specific teachers who tried to take me under their wing to steer me through the shoals of bullying—that would make a smart, queer, introverted, book- and science-loving, know-it-all pass for normal in a typical primary or secondary school.

Which isn’t a slam on the other kids, but rather the way we herd children together by age and leave them to their own devices to work out social dynamics. The theory is that we learn to get along with diverse people that way, but the system creates an artificial social environment that encourages some of our worst behaviors.

I survived. I not only came out of the system free of bitterness and resentment, I often find myself in the position of defending public schools from the distorted statistics some people wave around trying to prove other options are better (spoiler alert: the statistics are on traditional public school’s favor). And when it comes to bullying, private schools and charter schools don’t handle those situations one iota better. In fact, for marginalized kids, they are much, much worse, statistically.

But I digress.

Learning to get along is a worthwhile goal. Conformity and trying to pretend you’re something you’re not, are toxic and destructive. I wish we were better at teaching the former, rather than enforcing the latter.

That statue doesn’t mean what you think it means—bless your heart

The official declaration of the State of Mississippi when they seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.”

The official declaration of the State of Mississippi when they seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.” (click to embiggen)

I wasn’t born in the South, but because of economic factors too complicated to go into at this juncture, the small town in Colorado where I was born was inhabited almost completely by recently transplanted southerners. All of my grandparents had been born in former Confederate states, as had most of the teachers at the public school, and the parents and/or grandparents of 95+ percent of my classmates at school. And even though my father’s job had us moving around to other parts of the central Rockies through most of grade school, because our family attended Southern Baptists churches, I continued to be exposed to certain myths about the Civil War that descendants of Confederate families tell themselves. I was taught that slavery wasn’t the primary issue of the war, for one. I was taught that most soldiers on the Confederate side had been involved for economic reasons, and certainly not because they believed that whites were superior to blacks, for another. And I was taught that just because the Southern Baptist church and many other institutions still advocated for the segregation of that races, that it wasn’t because they still believed that one race was superior to the other.

Each of those statements was a lie.

I was a teen-ager in the 70s when the Southern Baptist Convention finally endorsed desegregation of its churches. And it was as a teen that I learned most of what I’d been taught about the history of our denomination and the Civil War was untrue.

Historically, every state that seceded to form the Confederacy (not just Mississippi a port of whose declaration is pictured above), explicitly listed either slavery or the superiority of the white race (and some mentioned both), as their reasons for seceding. The infamous cornerstone speech delivered by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens explained that the foundation of the new Confederate government was “the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

It can’t be any clearer than that: the primary mission of the Confederacy was the perpetuation of slavery of black people and the entrenchment (nay, glorification) of white supremacy. And Confederate soldiers did not volunteer, fight, and die by the thousands because of some need to preserve the mythical idyllic pastoral culture of the Southern plantation—most of them were too poor to own plantations, for one thing! No, typical Confederate grunt believed that if slaves were freed, working class whites would surely lose their livelihoods. The collective self-esteem of the white working class was shored up by the explicit statement that at least they weren’t slaves, so while they might have worked hard in exchange for less than their fair share of societal prosperity, at east they were better off than those black folks! The abolition of slavery was then perceived as an existential threat to the white working class. Of course they were willing to take up arms to protect slavery!

In the immediate aftermath of the war, symbols of the Confederacy weren’t displayed publicly. There were memorials erected in a few places to those who died in one battle or another, and certainly individual tombstones were occasionally emblazoned with Confederate symbols, but there wasn’t a stampede to erect statues to the leaders of the Confederacy afterward. For one thing, there wasn’t a lot of pride in having been on the losing side.

The first big rush of Confederate monuments was years after the war ended as Reconstruction officially ended and Federal troops were withdrawn in 1877. Across the former Confederacy, state legislatures started enacting Jim Crow laws, designed to make it difficult or nearly impossible for black people to exercise their right to vote and to enforce segregation of the races. And statues and monuments went up all over the South. The plaques usually talked about the bravery of the person depicted, but there were also language about the nobility of the cause for which they fought. Blacks living in those states, most of whom were former slaves, knew exactly what that cause had been, and the message the statues and monuments was clearly: “white people are in charge again, and don’t you forget it!”

A portion of the Southern Poverty Law Center's graph showing when Confederate monuments and statues were erected across the country.

A portion of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s graph showing when Confederate monuments and statues were erected across the country.

Most of the Confederate monuments were put up in the 1910s and 1920s, coinciding with an increase in activity of the KKK and similar organizations terrorizing blacks. And the next big surge was in the 50s and 60s when civil rights organizations began having successes against some of the Jim Crow laws. The purpose of those monuments was not to honor the culture of the South, the message was still “stay in your place, black people, or else!” A great example of this resides not many miles from my home. Washington territory was never a part of the Confederacy, and the few inhabitants of the state who served in the war did so as part of the Union Army and Navy. A local family, some years after the war, donated land in what would one day become the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Grand Army of the Republic (which was an organization made up mostly of Union side Civil War Veterans) for a cemetery for Union soldiers. And that’s who was buried there. But decades later, during one of those surges of monument building, the Daughters of the Confederacy paid to have a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy erected in the cemetery. There are no Confederate soldiers buried there. Not one. And there are no soldiers’ names engraved on the massive monument. But there it is, erected in a cemetery full of Union soldiers, a monument to the so-called noble cause of the Confederacy.

Now that some communities are rethinking these monuments—many of them extremely cheap bronze statues erected during times of civil rights tensions—other people are claiming taking them down is erasing history. No, taking down these post-dated monuments in public parks and so forth isn’t erasing history, it’s erasing anti-historical propaganda. The other argument that is put forward in defense of the monuments is that “both sides deserve to be heard.” That’s BS in this case, because there aren’t two sides to racism. There aren’t two sides to bigotry. There aren’t two sides to genocide. White supremacy is not a legitimate side to any argument.

When we defeated Hitler’s armies, we didn’t turn around and erect monuments to the government that murdered millions of people in concentration camps. We destroyed their symbols. When we liberated Iraq, we tore down the statues of Saddam Hussein, we didn’t enshrine his image in an attempt to give both sides equal time. Those few Confederate monuments that list off names of people who died are fine (even if a lot of them have cringeworthy language about the cause they were fighting for). Cemeteries where actual Confederate veterans are buried of course can have symbols of the Confederacy on the tombstones and the like. But the other monuments, the ones erected years later, they don’t belong in the public square.

They belong in the dustbin of history.

The first openly queer person to run for U.S. public office and win was not who you think

“This is the first time in the history of the United States that someone has run openly as a gay person and been elected to public office.” – Kathy Kozachenko, Ann Arbor, Michigan, April 2, 1974

“This is the first time in the history of the United States that someone has run openly as a gay person and been elected to public office.” – Kathy Kozachenko, Ann Arbor, Michigan, April 2, 1974

On April 2, 1974, forty-three years ago, University of Michigan student and Human Rights Party candidate Kathy Kozachenko was elected to the city council of Ann Arbor, Michigan, making her the first openly gay or lesbian person to run successfully for political office in the United States. Notably, Kozachenko was not the first gay or lesbian person to serve openly in public office; in fact, her predecessors on Ann Arbor’s city council, Nancy Weschler and Jerry DeGrieck, came out during their first and only terms, making them the first openly queer officeholders in the United States. (To be clear: the distinction is that Kozachenko was openly gay as a candidate, whereas Weschler and DeGrieck did not come out until after their elections.)

After serving one term, Kozachenko stepped out of the public eye, though not out of the activist life entirely. After meeting her life partner, Mary Ann Geiger, and having a son, Kozachenko retreated more fully into private life and her place in queer history went virtually ignored for decades.

In “The First Openly Gay Person to Win an Election in America Was Not Harvey Milk,” a 2015 piece for Bloomberg politics, Steve Friess explored the factors that contributed to Kozachenko’s diminished place in the history of gay liberation: geography, misogyny, timing, messaging. When asked why the groundbreaking gay journalist Randy Shilts referred to Harvey Milk as “the first openly gay elected official in the nation,” for example, Kozachenko “figures there was little fuss at the time because it was just liberal, small-city Ann Arbor.”

“I don’t think I was brave,” Kozachenko told Friess, “because I was in a college town where it was cool to be who I was. On the other hand, I stepped up and did what I felt needed to be done at the time. Maybe that’s the whole story, that ordinary people can do something that then other people later can look back on and feel really good that they did this.” #HavePrideInHistory #KathyKozachenko (at Ann Arbor, Michigan)

(Reposted from LGBT HISTORY ARCHIVES IG: @lgbt_history.)

Is it weird for me to think this is a cool coincidence one day after I write about a much more recent openly gay person at the University of Michigan?

Wishing on 9/13…

Cover of the Sept 21, 2001 edition of the Village Voice.

Cover of the Sept 25, 2001 edition of the Village Voice. (click to embiggen)

Jim Wright, an author who is also a navy veteran, posted some comments about the 15th anniversary of 9/11 on Facebook on Sunday which upset a lot of people. They called him a traitor and other nasty names, and reported him to Facebook for violating community standards (which the post didn’t). Subsequently Facebook (as they always do) gave in to the loud voices of rightwing people who claim to love Freedom and Liberty, but only for people who agree with them. These folks also often yell a lot about how much they love Jesus, and then they call people like me faggots, lead prayers saying we deserve death, and call for people who have committed no crimes to be executed. So they neither understand what freedom means, nor do they understand any of the teachings of Jesus.

Mr. Wright’s post was blunt, and not at all a feel-good statement. But it also contained a lot of truth:

“You’re expecting some kind of obligatory 9-11 post, aren’t you?

Here it is, but you’re not gonna like it.

15 years ago today 19 shitheads attacked America.

They killed 3000 of us.

And then … America got its revenge for 9-11.

Yes we did. Many times over. We killed them. We killed them all. We killed their families. We killed their wives and their kids and all their neighbors. We killed whole nations that weren’t even involved just to make goddamned sure. We bombed their cities into rubble. We burned down their countries.

They killed 3000 of us, we killed 300,000 of them or more.

8000 of us came home in body bags, but we got our revenge. Yes we did.

We’re still here. They aren’t.

We win. USA! USA! USA!

Right?

You goddamned right. We. Win.

Except…

Every year on this day we bathe in the blood of that day yet again. We watch the towers fall over and over. It’s been 15 goddamned years, but we just can’t get enough. We’ve just got to watch it again and again.

It’s funny how we never show those videos of the bombs falling on Baghdad today. Or the dead in the streets of Afghanistan. We got our revenge, but we never talk about that today. No, we just sit and watch the towers fall yet again.

Somewhere out there on the bottom of the sea are the rotting remains of the evil son of bitch who masterminded the attack. It took a decade, but we hunted him down and put a bullet in his brain. Sure. We got him. Right? That’s what we wanted. that’s what our leaders promised us, 15 years ago today.

And today those howling the loudest for revenge shrug and say, well, yeah, that. That doesn’t matter, because, um, yeah, the guy in the White House, um, see, well, he’s not an American, he’s the enemy see? He’s not doing enough. So, whatever. What about that over there? And that? And…

Yeah.

15 years ago our leaders, left and right, stood on the steps of the Capitol and gave us their solemn promise to work together, to stand as one, for all Americans.

How’d that promise work out?

How much are their words worth? Today, 15 years later?

It’s 15 years later and we’re STILL afraid. We’re still terrorized. Still wallowing in conspiracy theories and peering suspiciously out of our bunkers at our neighbors. Sure we won. Sure we did. We became a nation that tortures our enemies — and our own citizens for that matter. We’re a nation of warrantless wiretaps and rendition and we’ve gotten used to being strip searched in our own airports. And how is the world a better place for it all?

And now we’re talking about more war, more blood.

But, yeah, we won. Sure. You bet.

Frankly, I have had enough of 9-11. Fuck 9-11. I’m not going to watch the shows. I’m not going to any of the memorials. I’m not going to the 9-11 sales at Wal-Mart. I don’t want to hear about 9-11. I for damned sure am not interested in watching politicians of either party try to out 9-11 each other. I’m tired of this national 9-11 PTSD. I did my bit for revenge, I went to war, I’ll remember the dead in my own time in my own way.

I’m not going to shed a damned tear today.

We got our revenge. Many times over, for whatever good it did us.

I’m going to go to a picnic and enjoy my day. Enjoy this victory we’ve won.

I suggest you do the same.”

—Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

I almost never write about 9/11. On the first anniversary, I made a post on my old blog called “Living for 9/12.” And I reposted it on this blog around the eleventh anniversary. I didn’t express the same sentiment as Wright either of those times, but I’m getting to a similar emotional space.

It’s not that I think we should forget the deaths that happened that day. But could we try using that grief to accomplish some good in the world? I mean, my goodness, it took us 14 years to pass a bill to help the fireman and paramedics and police who responded that day, survived, but have suffered longer term health issues. And yes, we killed the mastermind of that plot, but along the way we’ve bombed countries that weren’t involved, and have used the original tragedy to justify all sorts of violations of our own civil liberties, assassinating at least one of our own citizens without due process, not to mention developing a disturbing habit of killing civilians with drones!

Every year about 11,000 U.S. citizens are murdered with firearms, sometimes in mass shootings like Orlando or Sandy Hook, most in incidents that barely make it to the local news. That’s nearly four 9/11s every single year. Maybe we should actually do something to prevent some of those? Or at least let the National Institutes of Health research into whether we could do anything to reduce that number?

Why are we unable to work up any determination over any of the tens of thousands of deaths that have happened since that day?

I need to stop ranting. There was one other 9/11 post I saw on the day that I think is worth looking at. It isn’t like Wright’s at all, but it also doesn’t wrap itself in the flag to push an agenda. Tricia Romano is currently the Editor in Chief of a Seattle weekly newspaper, the Stranger. But in 2001 she worked in New York City, writing for another weekly newspaper, the Village Voice: I Was In New York City During 9/11. I’ll Never Forget.

Sausage making: my history with presidential nominees

party-imagePresidential campaigns in the U.S. are weird. Okay, let’s be honest, politics everywhere is weird, but the way Americans choose candidates has a particularly amazing number of eccentricities. We choose candidates through a patchwork systems of caucuses and primaries, which also generate the delegates who will eventually write state and national party platforms through an arcane series of district, county, and state meetings and conventions. And sometimes the arcane becomes literal (such as the time our state’s Republican party platform had multiple planks condemning witchcraft). Politics is supposed to be about compromise and finding solutions that a majority of people can get behind, which makes things very difficult for people who expect a candidate to agree with them on absolutely everything in order to get their support. The more voters involved, the less likely it is that you’re going to get your first choice. Which isn’t a pleasant realization. As I well know… Read More…

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month…

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From the President Obama’s official proclamation for Veteran’s Day 2015:

The United States military is the strongest, most capable fighting force the world has ever known. The brave men and women of our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard demonstrate a resolute spirit and unmatched selflessness, and their service reminds us there are few things more American than giving of ourselves to make a difference in the lives of others. On Veterans Day, we reflect on the immeasurable burdens borne by so few in the name of so many, and we rededicate ourselves to supporting those who have worn America’s uniform and the families who stand alongside them.

Our true strength as a Nation is measured by how we take care of our veterans when they return home, and my Administration is committed to ensuring our heroes and their loved ones have every chance to share in the promise they risked their lives to defend. We have made it easier for veterans to convert their military skills to the civilian workforce, enabled more veterans and their family members to attain Federal education benefits, and expanded access to timely, quality health care for all veterans. Just as every veteran deserves the support and benefits they have earned, those who have given everything to defend our homeland deserve a place of their own to call home…

Our veterans left everything they knew and loved and served with exemplary dedication and courage so we could all know a safer America and a more just world. They have been tested in ways the rest of us may never fully understand, and it is our duty to fulfill our sacred obligation to our veterans and their families. On Veterans Day, and every day, let us show them the extraordinary gratitude they so rightly deserve, and let us recommit to pledging our full support for them in all they do.

Our allies still refer to this holiday by its original name: Armistice Day: Nation remembers war dead. We barely study World War I in public school history classes, and when we do, it seldom includes the whole story: How did the first world war actually end?

Regardless, if you want to show support for those who served, may I humbly suggest donating to National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. There are, of course, many other fine charities that serve veterans and their families. You can find more of them here: Charity Navigator: Support Our Troops

Indigenous Peoples Day

native-american-quote-indianSeattle, where I have lived for thirty years, is one of many cities in the U.S. that have declared October 12 Indigenous Peoples Day. In Seattle the ordinance declaring the new name for the holiday was signed into law 364 days ago, which means that today is the first time we’re officially celebrating it here. There are a lot of good reasons we should consider getting rid of Columbus Day: Christopher Columbus was a lost sadist. There shouldn’t be a holiday in his name and Columbus a problematic historical character: unreliable navigator, relentless self-publicist, chaotic colonial administrator, and probable mass murderer. Which makes many ask Why is Columbus Day still a U.S. federal holiday?

When I was a kid, I don’t remember any of the school districts I attended giving us the day off. Columbus Day was a day we talked about the very white-washed version of his “discovery” of the Americas. I used to work with a man who was born on Columbus Day, and what he loved most about it was that where he went to school it was a day off, so he and his friends always got to go to the movies or something similar on his birthday.

94842cae33908dd208ad90a2a0b1df5fAny problematic figure can represent a teaching opportunity, of course: Ángel González: I’ll be raising a glass to the adventurer whose legacy shows how Hispanic culture and the United States are inseparable, in glory and in shame. And it must be noted that simply changing a holiday’s name doesn’t necessarily solve real problems: It’s been a year, but improvements for Native American services are off to a slow start.

And of course some people wonder Why Do We Celebrate Columbus Day and Not Leif Erikson Day?

I have neither a clever nor wise conclusion to this. I think it is sad that there are people who defend Columbus Day, and not at all surprising that many of them are the same ones who bitch about so-called illegal immigration with absolutely no self-awareness of the irony of what Columbus and other European colonists did to Native Americans. But I do believe that names matter, just as truth and understanding matter. So, count me as one of the people who thinks the federal holiday’s name, at the least, should be changed.

“…that mountain top is sure to blow!”

http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/st_helens/st_helens_gallery_23.html

Public domain photo from the USGS of the big eruption on May 18, 1980.

“The year was 1980,
May 18th, you’ll recall,
When daytime turned to nighttime,
In the town of Yakima…”

I never lived in Yakima, but Longview, were I was living and attending school in 1980, was in one of the flood plains that was in danger of major flooding when Mt. St. Helens began erupting in 1980. The Oregonian recently acquired some photos that were taken by a pilot that day, that have never before been published. They’re pretty awesome. Go take a look.

We were lucky on May 18, because the wind was blowing away from us. So while three of the rivers that converge there at the towns of Longview and Kelso rose so high that they almost overtopped the dikes, daytime did not turn to nighttime for us, and our houses, cars, and yards weren’t covered with muddy ash.

Than happened exactly one week later, on May 25, when the mountain had another really big eruption and the wind was blowing our way.

She had lots of little eruptions before and after. I took some really eery pictures one sunny afternoon of the mushroom-cloud shaped plume of ash rising up behind our house. I should find those pictures and scan them in. It did look scary having our house in the foreground and that cloud rising behind it.

Some time after that big eruptions, I heard one of many songs entitled “The Ballad of Harry Truman” that were written that year. The opening lines to one of them I’ve quote above. I’ve found a recording of that version, but there are several other good ones.

They are not about the former U.S. President, but about a cantankerous old man who refused to be evacuated from his home on the mountain. He had various responses to people asking him why he wouldn’t move. Usually he mentioned his secret cave, where he had a barrel of whisky stashed to “sit out the trouble.” He had other more colorful replies, including skepticism that it would be that dangerous.

Of course, not only was Harry’s home destroyed, but the entire lake it was near and hundreds of acres around it was disintegrated. Not just buried in mud, or lava, blown out as thousands of particles of gunk.

I understood, even though I agreed he was crazy. He’d buried a lot of friends and his wife on that mountain. He was 84 years old and had lived on the mountain most of his life. He didn’t want to live or die anywhere else.

Every year at this time I spent a while searching the net hoping to find a copy of the song whose opening lines I always remember. That version’s chorus called for us to raise a glass for Harry, and hope that he’s got his cats and whisky, still hiding in his cave. As I said, a lot of folk singers wrote songs about him. Of the ones I have found, I think Neal Woodall’s may be my second favorite:

When people ask, ‘Why don’t you go?
That mountaintop is sure to blow,’
And Harry says, ‘That may be so,
But it sure as hell beats dyin’ slow…'”

14 beats 11

A taxidermied raccoon

Raccoon eating Cracker Jacks.

Legal argie bargie can be fun. But sometimes, it’s just sad.

During the American Revolutionary War (1775-83), the government of the state of Georgia had purchased a large amount of goods on credit from a merchant who lived in South Carolina by the name of Captain Robert Farquhar. At the end of the war, Georgia refused to pay the amount owed Captain Farquhar on the grounds that Farquhar had been a British Loyalist—not on the grounds that the supplies they received had been defective in any way, or that he had otherwise failed to deliver what he promised. It seemed to be nothing more than spite…

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