The Life of Q

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“I am Q”

…said the real Q.

Dumbfounded, the crowd stared back at him. They glanced around at each other, and then turned their eyes back to him.

And there was much blinking.

Finally, a woman with long flowing hair mustered up the courage to speak; “The real Q would never call himself the Q.”

Many nodded and grunted their assent to this.

“Anyway, everyone knows the real Q is shorter than you,” added a tall man. “And Hunter Biden would have shot you by now.”

“Hillary’s emails would get you,” someone growled.

“It’s true,” echoed a short bald man. “If you were Q, exploding popsicles would have found you within mere moments of that confession.”

“No really, I am Q,” said the real Q.

“Oh really,” asked the short bald man, “what’s your favorite kinda pizza?”

“I…” the real Q hesitated “…I don’t really like pizza.”

The crowd gasped.

“What?” asked the real Q.

“You knew it was a trick question,” the tall man piped up. “Any kind of favorite pizza would condemn you once and for all!”

“Damned pervert, for sure,” echoed the woman with the long flowing hair.

“Pepperoni?” asked the real Q.

“Pervert!” answered the tall man.

“Canadian Bacon?”

“Pervert for sure,” echoed the crowd.

“But you knew that, didn’t you?” said the short bald man.

A well-dressed old codger sneered, “I’ll bet he likes pineapple on his pizza.”

“Told you, he was a pervert!” Said the woman with the long flowing hair.

“You didn’t say the wrong thing,” said the tall man. “It’s all very suspicious.”

“Could it…” Once again the real Q hesitated. “Could it be that I just don’t have a favorite pizza? Or maybe I know the deal with pizzas, because I’ve told you about them before, and I avoid them as all good Americans should?”

A chorus of rejection came pouring out of his ears; “No,” “Definitely not,” “Cut the bullshit!” “We know better!”

“Seriously, how do you know I’m shorter than, …well,” the real Q was getting irritated. “How do you know I’m shorter than me?”

“You once mentioned your shoe size,” said the tall man.

“It’s true,” nodded the woman with the long flowing hair,” I saw it on Parler.

“No, not Parler,” the old codger snapped. “He said it on Facebook; that was before we all turned our backs on Facebook?”

“We have?” asked the tall man.

Several people struck him with their hats.

“Anyway, it wasn’t his shoe size on Facebook,” said an old woman leaning upon a cane. “It was his favorite mug.”

“No, that was on Chan,” said a young man wearing spectacles.

“Don’t follow the Parler shoe,” shouted another woman. “Follow the Chan Mug!”

“No, he speaks to us through Rumble,” said another voice from the back of the crowd.

“Not the Rumble; the truth is on Parler,” the woman with the long flowing hair shouted.

“Was,” said the bald man.

“Was on Parler,” the woman with you-know-what-kinda hair corrected herself.

“OKAY FINE!” shouted the real Q. “You read my shoe size on Parler.”

“Facebook!”

“Fine, FACEBOOK,” shouted the real Q. “You read my shoe size on Facebook. How do you know that was me that wrote it?”

“We don’t.” Said a man named Tim. “we don’t know that you’re Q, so we don’t know that you’re the real Q. Even if you were the real Q, you wouldn’t really be Q to anyone who believed in Q, not even if you could prove that you are Q, or even if Q could prove you were Q. The real Q saw to it that no Q could be proven, so if you are here offering up proofs of your Qness, then you must not be the real Q after all.”

The crowd shouted in unison, “So say all the Q!”

“What?” asked the real Q.

“Do we get to stone him?” asked the tall man.

“Wrong parody,” said the woman with some kinda hair.

“OKAY, FINE! FINE!” The real Q shouted over the lot of them. “If I’m not the real Q, and you have no way of knowing just who is and who isn’t the real Q, then how do you decide when to assume someone is the real Q and listen to what he says?

All agreed this was a good question,

“Um,” A dim-looking man spoke slowly at first. “If it’s cool.”

The real Q shot him a dirty look.

A smart looking fellow with a tree on his shirt tipped back his hat and proclaimed loudly; “We decide it is the real Q if it is cool AND if it says bad things about people we want to think badly about.”

All nodded in agreement.

“But it does have to be pretty cool,” the dim-looking man added.

The crowd reluctantly assented to this addition.

“Look,” said the real Q, “This is why I came out to you. the joke has just gone too far. You can’t just treat a message as coming from Q if you hate the people it asks you too. You have to have some independent means of knowing whether or not they are worth hating.”

“That’s what Q is for.” said the bald man, “If it’s Q, then they are just as awful as he says they are .”

“And if you want to think they are as awful as he says they are, that’s how you know who is the real Q?”

“Precisely,” the crowd affirmed.

“Isn’t that what you wanted?” asked the woman who really did have hair.

“Well n…” seeing the crowd around him tense up, the the real Q hesitated one more time. “I mean, yeah; that was my plan all along.”

“Uh huh,” the tall man nodded. “Just when did you decide this was your plan?”

“When I realized that was the plan that you wanted me to have, which is exactly what real Q followers would want the plan to be and exactly how they would want the real Q to figure anything out, just as they do.” The real Q almost looked confident. “Right?”

“Maybe,” said the man named Tim.

“We’re going to have to run it by the executive committee,” said the tall man.

“The executive committee?” asked the real Q.

“Yes, the executive committee,” said the old codger. “The executive committee of the Proud People’s Front.?”

“Not the People’s front of Boogaloo?” asked the real Q.

“Hell no,” spat the tall man.

“Splitters! the crowd shouted in unison.

“I thought you guys were boogaloos.” said the real Q.

“Say that again and I’ll turn you into a liberal,” snarled the man named Tim.

“Not since Tuesday,” said the woman who’s hair really was a wig all along. “We don’t boog our loos, no more!”

The real Q strode to the center of the crowd and gathered up all of his courage. “Look, you can’t just live like this. You can’t be one group of terror, patriots, one day and a different bunch of patrio-terrorists the next, love Mike Pence in December and try to kill him in January. You can’t believe everything you read on Facebook one day and dismiss it all the next, learn everything you know from Fox news for decades and one day decide their a bunch of Goddamned liberals. Sooner or later you have to make an effort; you have to find some way of sorting the truth out from the crap and sticking with it instead of blowing like a leaf on the winds of the latest semi-pornographic narrative to catch your eye while surfing through cat memes. You just just can’t live like that!”

“We can’t.”

“No, you can’t. That’s no way to live!”

“DON’T YOU OPPRESS US!!!”

Addendum to the Legacy of Rush Limbaugh: The Cost of His Antics

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I’ve read a few things about Rush Limbaugh this last week or so. Of course, I shared my own thoughts on the man, and no, they were not be the kindest things you might read about Rush, but I meant every damned word of it. What I see in the way of praise for Limbaugh coming from the right wing blogosphere in the wake of his detah has me shaking me shaking my head and grumbling. No surprise there, of course, but it does bring to mind an extra thought on the matter of this awful man and his awful legacy.

I have often thought that people like Rush Limbaugh do more damage to conservatism than they will ever do to liberalism or progressivism. We still think what we think over on this side of the political spectrum. Professional bigots such as Rush Limbaugh may be able to drown out our voices from time to time, but they can’t force us to follow their own script, to think the way they pretend we do. Our politics remains what it is despite their best efforts to distort it.

The same cannot be said of conservatism.

More than any other right wing hack, Rush Limbaugh successfully redefined conservatism in American politics. He made it what it is today. This is what all the countless posthumous dittos written in remembrance of rush consistently amount to, a story about hoe he redefined conservatism and effectively made conservative politics the force that it is today. Throw in a couple gratuitous bits of pseudo-patrtiotism and some faux Christian sentiments, and you have the bulk of what is said to honor the man; he made conservatism what it is today.

Just think about what that means!

How it actually worked?

The Sandra Fluke debacle is a great example. It illustrates perfectly why Rush Limbaugh’s impact on conservatism is nothing to celebrate. Sandra Fluke’s testimony was about an aspect of Affordable Care Act, something conservatives generally opposed. There were plenty of things that could be said in response to Fluke’s testimony. People could have questioned her estimates of the cost. They could have pressed her to substantiate various anecdotes in her testimony. They could have argued any number of details, and at the end of the day, there would still have been one very serious question about whether or not a national policy mandating the details of insurance coverage for institutions like Georgetown is really the best way to handle any of America’s healthcare problems, let alone those that Fluke was talking about. That is the debate I would expect to have with conservatives on such a matter.

That debate did not happen.

Instead, we got a national dialogue about the sex life of a law student.

We got the debate about the sex life of Sandra Fluke, not because she invited it, but because Rush Limbaugh preferred that round of right wing gossip to the substantive debate we could have had – should have had! In dropping this gigantic red herring on the national stage, Rush Limbaugh did not merely silence Fluke, he also silenced the legitimate voices of conservatives who had something worthwhile to say about the matter. This was not the decision of a strong conservative voice; this was the preference of a cowardly man who had nothing to contribute on the topic hand. Limbaugh had to lie to get his version of the debate in the public sphere, and he did not hesitate, not this time or any other. That his intervention could be thought of as a strong expression of conservatism is damning praise for conservatives. A strong voice for any cause doesn’t start diverting attention from the real issues, which was always Limbaugh’s modus operandi.

In the end, we on the left still know why we support the ACA, some form of universal payer, or any other sweeping national reform, but the ranks of Republicans who can tell you anything more than sordid stories from the right wing gossip industry grow thinner with every passing year. They do so, because right wing media was remade in the image of Rush Limbaugh.

What Rush did for conservatives was to replace their best arguments with a range of cheap gotcha games like the one he played on Fluke. Of course, by the time of the Fluke affair, Rush already had countless allied pundits who desperately wanted to be him. Combined with Rush himself, their collective chorus of nonsense effectively drowned out any serious efforts to discuss healthcare. Instead we debated whether or not Obama was a socialist, a Muslim, or Kenyan. And then of course, there was talk of death panels. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this nonsense is merely a means to an end; it drives the public consciousness and narrows the options of those who rise to fame on the basis of such lies. To this day, countless Republicans think Barack Obama is a Muslim and that he is not a natural born citizen of the United States. I also hear talk of lizard-people, but anyway… This was the crap that filled our nations airwaves as some struggled to fix our very broken healthcare system.

This was also the crap that fed the imagination of the idiots who stormed our capital.

And the sleazy right wing pundits and politicians who spurred them on.

…and the idiots who don’t understand how the one led to the other.

We can lay this fact, the fact that conservatives all over America were so easily distracted then and now, directly at Limbaugh’s feet. It was Limbaugh who took diversions like the one he played on Fluke to the top of the media market and the stage for propaganda operations like Fox News. It was Limbaugh that crushed any hope that conservatives with anything substantive to say would find their way into the news cycle and replaced it with an endless supply of bobble-head pundits ready and willing to caricature themselves and their supposed politics.

The modern republican Party is an talent agency for right wing media. Folks run for office so they can command better speaker fees and maybe even land a spot on some cable television program pretending to be conservative. Thoughts of actual governance completely escape the modern Republican leadership. That’s why Ted Cruz ended up in Cancun while AOC and Beto went to work helping people through the crisis in Texas. Time was when we could have debated whose vision was better for America. Today, we are left with the simple fact that they tried and he didn’t. Hell, Cruz didn’t even come back to address the crisis killing people in his state; he came back to address his own PR crisis, no more and no less.

If you think that example an outlier in Republican politics, then you have not been paying attention.

Limbaugh certainly did redefine conservative politics; he transformed it into a form of low-grade pornography. It sells better than conservatism did before he came along, and it distracts voters and party officials alike from the real work that needs to be done in American government. But it does get ratings.

Our former President liked ratings.

He liked them a lot.

These priorities did not come from nowhere. They came from a right wing circus crafted in the image of Rush Limbaugh.

Once again, his legacy is nothing to be proud of.

The Legacy of Rush Limbaugh

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Rush Limbaugh passed away today.

I for one have no intention of dancing on Rush Limbaugh’s grave. Neither will I sit passively while the right wing echo chamber tries to fashion his memory into something worthy of respect and admiration.

Limbaugh consistently claimed to be doing satire. He was “illustrating absurdity with the absurd,” or so he liked to say. What this meant in practice was a good example of Schrodinger’s Asshole, the practice of saying something outrageous, then deciding whether or not you meant it based on the response you get. When Limbaugh got enough support, then he stuck to his guns. When he caught enough flack, then he was just kidding, and we liberals really needed to get a sense of humor. Teenagers do this. So did this professional bigot.

Often Rush would enter into a segment by noting some objectionable behavior carried out by someone on the left. He would ask, “What if I did that?” Then he would have a field day. The resulting rant could always be dismissed as a parody of liberal behavior, but that was only if such disclaimers were necessary. All too often what Limbaugh said following this kind of set-up became God’s own truth in the minds of his followers. What Rush did or didn’t mean by his comments on any given show was always up for revision. His ‘satire’ was never more than an exercise in plausible deniability, and his constantly insincere commentary carved a lasting place in the literal understanding of the ‘conservative’ mind of American politics.

So, what is Limbaugh’s legacy?

Let’s take a look at just one of the many interventions Limbaugh made in our national politics.

Limbaugh’s comments on Sandra Fluke.

This was part of the debate over The Affordable Care Act, specifically, a question about whether or not the Catholic University, Georgetown, was entitled to an exemption from required standards of insurance coverage for their students. The requirement in this case was the obligation to cover birth control. Sandra Fluke was one of several people called to testify before a Congressional committee on the matter in February of 2012, but she was excluded for for a number of reasons. A week later, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee met and invited her to speak.

In her remarks, Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown, made the case for mandating full coverage of birth control at Georgetown. Her comments focused on the use of birth control to combat health problems such as polycystic ovary syndrome. Fluke told the story of a friend suffering from this condition, one who paid over a hundred dollars a month for birth control that was specifically used to combat this particular health condition.

At no point in her testimony did Sandra Fluke comment on her own sex life or any birth control expenses she herself might have had.

On February 29th, Rush Limbaugh commented on Fluke’s testimony with the following diatribe:

What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex — what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”

(As quoted in The Huffington Post, emphasis in the original.)

Subsequent controversy focused on the rudeness of Limbaugh’s commentary, on his decision to call Fluke a ‘slut’ and a ‘Prostitute’. Many on the right wing of the political spectrum came to Limbaugh’s defense, but in this case the backlash was sufficient to threaten earnings for Limbaugh’s show. In response, Rush came out with the following apology.

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke. I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level. / My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

March 3rd, 2012, As quoted in Wikipedia.

Limbaugh later added that he had acted to much like a liberal in making such remarks (Wiki again).

To say that Limbaugh’s apology was disingenuous is putting it mildly. The sheer irony of a man denying that he meant to launch a personal attack on a woman he had described as a ‘slut’ and a ‘Prostitute’ while lecturing her on the importance of personal responsibility is beyond outrageous. Adding that the nature of his error was essentially that he had acted too much like a liberal doesn’t help much. In effect, Limbaugh’s apology was really a thinly disguised effort to press forward with his attack.

Naturally, Fluke rejected his apology.

What always struck me as the most important outcome of all of this is the fact that Rush Limbaugh never retracted the central deceit of his comments on the matter. Fluke had not been talking about her own sex life or that of anyone else. Her point had always been that medical conditions could generate the need for birth control and even drive up its expense. One could find a lot to dispute in Fluke’s testimony, and reasonable arguments could be made about the policies in question, but it is simply not true to say that she was asking anyone to pay for her personal birth control. If Limbaugh was ever confused about this fact, he surely knew it by the time he produced his pseudo-apology. Not only did Limbaugh leave that lie on the table, he pressed forward with it in the very way he worded his fake apology.

In fact, the lie stands to this day.

Limbaugh’s fans, and countless ‘conservatives’ all over the United States still think of Sandra Fluke as the woman who wanted a university to pay for her own personal birth control, the liberal who wanted Georgetown to fund her own sex life. Whatever ‘conservatives’ think of Limbaugh’s language and general conduct, his narrative still dominates the right wing take on this matter. The lie that Limbaugh used to drown out more reasonable efforts at debating the policy implications of the day has never been rectified. It still clouds the issues, and it still paints a bullseye on Sandra Fluke which America’s right wing will be all to happy to take shots at the next time she dares to enter the public eye one more time.

This is Rush Limbaugh’s legacy. This is the long term outcome of his rhetoric, the result of a juvenile game of “maybe I mean it – maybe I don’t.” In this instance, Limbaugh’s intervention served not only to harm an individual but to leave a lasting source of disinformation which he never corrected in any way.

This lie is Limbaugh’s legacy.

This lie and countless others like it.

Fake Patriots and Fake George Washington Quotes

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See this meme?

You can find it all over the net. The quote contained in it is extraordinarily popular in right wing circles. This should surprise nobody of course. It has George Washington singing the praises of private gun ownership as a means of preparing the population for possible war with their own government. The price of freedom, it seems to suggest, is the need to be ever vigilant against one’s own government, to be prepared at all times to rebel against that very government.

If you were to boil down the thinking of the Insurrectionists on January 6th, it might well be this quote right here.

There are different variations of the meme, to be sure, but the quote itself is near and dear to right wing America. They share it with each other, and with the rest of us, on a regular basis. I first encountered it when a friend posted it for my benefit on Facebook. I have seen it there many times since. The quote finds its way onto twitter every day. It certainly found its way into Parler a number of times before that crappy service found its way into oblivion. You can find the quote on Instagram. It’s all over Pinterest, compliments on websites like Zazzle and BrainyQuote. It certainly makes its way around Tumblr. You can find this quote on merchandise at various online outlets, …T-Shirts and such. I could go on, but you get the idea. This quote gets around. It’s popular.

I mean, it’s REALLY popular!

And it’s fake.

To be a bit more specific, the first 11 words of this quote are from the fourth paragraph of George Washington’s first address to Congress. Everything after that has been doctored so as to make it into a talking point for gun owner’s rights.

Here is the fake quote:

A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might abuse them, which would include their own government.”

Here the original:

A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a Uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufacturies, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.

Another Variation on this Fake Quote

(Emphasis added.)

So, what happens when you call people out on this? Well, sometimes, folks get the point. Some decent people actually take the correction and get on with their lives. More often, they refuse to believe they are wrong. Some just ignore you. Some sources, I suspect, are bots, programed to simply post this and other propaganda over and over without regards to any efforts to engage them. The most common response, I get, however is to tell me that the quote above is actually a paraphrase of something Washington actually said. Some even provide me with a link to the actual speech. (Whether or not they have read the speech is another question.)

In a parallel development, I have noticed a lot of people taking to twitter in recent years to post the actual quote above. This might well be a response to the fact that some of us keep addressing the fake quotes wherever we find it. Realizing they don’t need the fake quote, they use the real thing for pretty much the same political purpose. In their minds, the real thing is still very much a statement about the importance of the Second Amendment. It may not contain an explicit prescription for revolution-readiness, but at least it makes the case for private gun ownership, ad we all know what that means…

Right?

The problem is, it doesn’t.

If you read the rest of Washington’s speech, you can see quite clearly that its overwhelming theme is the exercise of the Federal government’s newly expanded powers. Yes, that’s right, Washington was actively working to expand the powers of the Federal Government, as did many of the founding fathers now celebrated by those whose very definition of evil is encapsulated in the phrase “big government.” One of the powers Washington was most happy to have at his disposal was the ability to outfit a viable military force. THAT is what this paragraph is about. It is nestled in between two other paragraphs that are most explicitly about troops and preparations for war. Keep reading that same speech, and you find Washington speaking quite explicitly about the prospect of war with Indians in the present-day southeast.

Among the many interesting objects, which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a Uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.

The proper establishment of the Troops which may be deemed indispensible, will be entitled to mature consideration. In the arrangements which may be made respecting it, it will be of importance to conciliate the comfortable support of the Officers and Soldiers with a due regard to œconomy.

What Washington is actually talking about is the ability to field an army. He sees this as an essential exercise of the powers newly granted to the Federal Government under its new Constitution. He is urging Congress to encourage the manufacture of weapons so that the armies of the United States will not have to rely on foreign powers to arm them in the event of any future war.

Just to be clear, the prospect of such future wars certainly does include the possibility of open rebellion, but Washington isn’t arguing that citizens might need to rebel against their own government. If anything, he is mindful of the prospect that he might need to put down such a rebellion. Remember, it was Shays’ Rebellion that triggered the urgent need for a constitutional convention in the first place. Its purpose was to fix perceived weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation, specifically, the inability of the central government under that plan to tax the population directly so as to give it the means of fielding an army capable of putting down such an insurrection when it happens again. That’s right. The trigger for creation of the U.S Constitution was the need to put down rebellions, and Washington himself was fully down with that very agenda. Lest anyone think this might have been idle speculation, one has only to remember the whiskey rebellion.

When private citizens decided to rebel against the Federal government over taxation while Washington, foreshadowing so many of the themes of modern right wing politics, far from backing the rebels, Washington sent troops to put down that very rebellion.

Now there is an interesting detail here insofar as the troops in question took the form of a militia. I reckon some might say, “See! See, that’s what we are talking about,” but of course that ignores the difference between the actually regulated militias of Washington’s day, and the self-appointed weekend warriors who call themselves militias today. More to the point, it ignores the fact that the militia in the Whiskey Rebellion was not defending itself from “their own government”; it was actually serving as the arm of enforcement for that very government. You see, that Constitution whose powers Washington wants to flex here gives Congress authority over the militia, a provision quite controversial at the time, and arguably one of the inspirations for the Second Amendment still in draft form as Washington made this speech. One of the newly expanded powers of the Federal government Washington is actually trying to build upon in this very speech is power to arm and control the militia.

The enumerated powers of Congress includes the following:

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Hopefully, you caught the part about “suppressing insurrections.”

Because that’s what Washington actually did on his own watch.

This meme would have us believe Washington would side with the rebels. This meme would have us believe that Washington was hyping the virtues of an Amendment not yet ratified as a means of countering the very power he was actually seeking to build in his First Address to Congress.

This meme is a lie.

It is not a paraphrase of Washington’s actual statement, and it is not (as several folks have assured me) an honest description of Washington’s actual views. It is not an honest mistake; it’s not a different point of view.

It is a lie.

***

FYI. The Spurious Quotes page at Mount Vernon certainly includes a brief repudiation of the quote. The text of the speech itself is certainly worth a read.

Some Damned Infamous Ducks!

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We Americans really love our independence, don’t we?

Or at least the thought of it!

Independence can be measured in any number of different ways, but in American politics, it typically means you earn your keep. Maybe you start a business and make a profit, or maybe you have a job and earn your pay, or maybe you speculate on the stock market (without or without the benefit of insider knowledge) and turn a profit without really contributing much of a product or service. Either way, the point is that we typically define our economic independence in terms the ability to pay our bills without asking for help (or at least not asking for that help through any medium short of the highest paid corporate lobbyists). Anyway, the point is, we pay our own bills right?

This is an incredibly ironic measure of independence.

This measure enables a real-estate tycoon to say that he built a structure when he didn’t lay a single brick. It also enables the average person to find shelter without building a house, to cloth himself without making the fabric or fashioning it into a shirt and pants, and it enables us to feed ourselves with all manner of meats and vegetables that we neither grow nor harvest ourselves. We have no idea where most of these things comes from or how it got to the stores where we bought it, not our food, our tools or any of the essential supplies we used for much of anything. Some folks may know a thing or two about fixing a car or building a table, but the fact remains that most people in the developed world lives our lives surrounded in mystery at the very nature of the stuff we use to get through the day. This we count as independence!

Because we paid for it!

It is ironic.

Contrast this with the indigenous peoples of the Alaska who until relatively recent history would have housed themselves, clothed themselves, and feed themselves. To varying degrees, many still do. In times past, the skills necessary to do so were common knowledge in any of these communities, and those skills turned what non-native Americans have typically called a ‘wilderness’ into a wealth of resources ready and waiting to be transformed into food, clothing, tools, and even housing. Small wonder that people so often described by outsiders as living in poverty would see themselves as wealthy. To someone without the skills to hunt, a caribou on the hoof is nothing until it finds its way into his freezer. To someone with the necessary skills, it is fine just where it is, at least until it is needed.

I do not mean to paint a utopian picture here, not by a log shot, but my point is that this is a very different vision of what it means to be independent. Here, the question is not whether or not you can pay for your stuff but whether or not your stuff becomes yours by your own hand, or at least that of your friends and family.

I also don’t mean to suggest that this is entirely unique to Alaska Natives. I reckon it would be true of indigenous people all over the world, depending to one degree or another on the impact of colonization.

***

One sees this conflict between a world of consumerism and a world of subsistence activities and play out quite regularly in the relations between Alaska Natives communities and outside institutions. Also in cultural conflicts between Alaska Natives and non-natives with or without the involvement of government entities. Sometimes, you have to look carefully to see it; sometimes, it is loud and clear for all to see.

The Barrow “duck-in” is one such time.

This story is told best by Rachel Naninaaq Edwardson, I think, in her documentary, The Duck In. Michael Burwell’s article, Hunger Knows No Law, is also an excellent source. If the quick & dirty version I am about to offer interests you at all, then by all means, check out either or both of these sources.

***

What happened?

In 1916, the United States entered into treaty with Governing governing the hunting of migratory waterfowl. A similar treaty was signed with Mexico in 1937. In 1918, Congress passed passed a law enacting the term of the first treaty into Federal law. This in effect made it illegal to hunt migratory waterfowl in the U.S. from March 1th, to September 1st.

Why is that a problem?

Because that’s when those birds are here on the North Slope of Alaska.

I mean a duck or two may head south a bit late, but no, for the most part, that’s when migratory waterfowl are present in this area. To say that hunting ducks and geese are a substantial part of the native subsistence economy is putting mildly. It does not appear that subsistence hunting was ever contemplated in the treaty negotiations, nor in the Congressional actions which codified the treaties in U.S. law. Both were intended largely as a means of controlling sport hunting, much of which would take place in the lower 48. So, a law passed for the purpose of controlling the leisure activities of weekend warriors who mainly feed themselves store-bought food had effectively banned the hunting activities of people who actually need that meat to get through the year.

Alaska Natives were out of sight and out of mind when the laws were made.

Luckily enough, they were also out of sight and out of mind (for the most part) for many years when responsibility for enforcing these laws fell upon federal officials. Thus selective enforcement helped to correct the errors of selective attention, for a time anyway.

When Alaska became a state in 1959, things started to change.

To make a long story short, state officials decided to enforce the law, even in the North Slope of Alaska. According to Burwell, some of these officials were convinced that the Iñupiat population of the north slope had become less dependent on hunting as local stores made produce available. The prospect that the Iñupiat community might be using the stores in limited ways while seeking to remain self-sufficient in others (and particularly, with respect to food) does not seem to have occurred to them. Resistance, they figured, they could be resolved by educating the population (which reminds me of the Navajo livestock reductions, but that’s a story for another post). In 1961, Wildlife officials began to arrest people caught hunting waterfowl during the proscribed period of time.

As it happens, that was a rough year for the North Slope insofar as the annual whale harvest had yielded only a two catches and other likely sources of game were not yet available.

…just the birds flying overhead.

To make a long story short, one of these agents, Harry Pinkham, emerged from his room at the Top of the World Hotel to find; “every man, woman, and child standing in front of my door with a duck in his hand.” Flustered to find an entire town demanding that they be arrested, he went to the local Magistrate Judge, a native woman, named Sadie Neakok (who provided the quote above). Neakok instructed him to follow the law. In all, 138 hunters self-reported their crimes and Pinkhman ended up confiscating 600 pounds of eider ducks (it took two separate plane trips to transport them out of town). State Senator, Eben Hopson (also a local Iñupiat) wired then Governor Egan to ask for welfare personnel to take care of the children once all the adults were taken into custody. Thus, what wildlife officials had hoped would be a matter of handing out fines and lecturing a few natives quickly escalated into a case threatening to overwhelm state resources.

Nobody actually spent time in jail for this, of course.

Instead wildlife rediscovered the virtues of selective enforcement, providing advanced warning whenever their officials were coming up to the North Slope and staying only for 3 days at a time. With these measures in place and well publicized, they really couldn’t have done much more to help hunters avoid getting caught. In time, of course, the laws and treaties were changed to accommodate the cycles of subsistence hunting.

For the indigenous community of the North Slope, this was a win.

A damned good one!

Don’t get me wrong! Conflicts over subsistence hunting rights are a still common, here and in the rest of Alaska, but in 1961, at least, the Iñupiat community of North Slope successfully fought off a threat to their subsistence activities by means of civil disobedience.

***

One of more interesting things about Rachel Edwardson’s work on this comes at about 16-minute mark in her documentary wherein she includes a series of public statements on the issue, all of which foreground the different political economies in question. Outsiders, of course, assumed that hunting, or at least subsistence hunting, would simply cease at some point along the inevitable march toward civilization. Was it not time, even past time, for folks to simply give up the hunt and buy their food?

“The Eskimos have claimed that the ducks leave their northern area before the legal hunting season opens. They also use such phrases as ‘hunger knows no law’ to justify their taking the ducks illegally. In this age of assimilation, where is the point at which the natives must forfeit must forfeit their old rights in favor of the rights of modern civilization?”

(Anchorage Daily Times, Editorial, June 15, 1961.)

“These people were from established communities where ample food is available. The basic conflict is the desire of the natives to continue certain primitive customs and yet live in civilized communities. All of us, including the Eskimos, must realize that the development of any country in the world brings with it advantages and disadvantages. This is true in any civilization, and it must have become obvious already to many of the native people of Alaska. Sincerely, Ralph A. Duncan, Special Assistant to the President.”

(Extract from Whitehouse Response to the United Presbyterian Church, Barrow Alaska)

Edwardon answers these statements with Eben Hopson’s statements on the subject (from his wire to the Governor, I believe). For his own part, Hopson begins by telling stories about people who feed themselves, whether by hunting or farming. He then turns the whole issue, on its head, he asks if anyone would accept a law forbidding the buying of meat at the store?

“We have survived from this land by hunting, just as any other John Dick and Harry have survived from the land by plowing the fields where they could raise crops. If there was law enacted without your knowledge making it unlawful for you to buy meat at your local store, and you continued to buy it because you needed it, I can see and hear you screaming up and down about that law being unjust, and discriminatory, the minute you found it out. If the meat was a matter of survival for your, would you stop eating meat for 3 months out of the year and wait for some disinterested person to come along and try to amend it for you without having assurance that the problem would even be solved.”

– Eben Hopson, State Senator.

I really don’t think the different visions of independence could be more clear than they appear to be in these letters. Those expecting the indigenous community of the North Slope to simply accept the laws in question clearly envision a future in which “Eskimos” buy their food at the store, just like the rest of us. This of course means that people will also get a job instead of spending their days out hunting or preparing for the hunt. It is a world in which people satisfy their needs by first first earning and then spending money. Those organizing and supporting the duck-in consistently envision a world in which they feed themselves. The modern world complicates both visions, of course, but this was a moment wherein the outside world appears to have forced the issue; as if to say; “Stop hunting and buy your food at the store.”

And the native community said ‘no.’

‘Hell no!’

A Crying Chorus, Very Lonesome!

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Am I so lonesome, I could cry?

No.

But I sure do like the song. I recall the original from my childhood. We lived in a small redneck town in Colorado back then, and the music was the perfect soundtrack for a part of my childhood spent on the back of a horse rather than a bicycle.

Of course, the rock&roll chased almost everything else out of my musical tastes for a time, and I have to admit I was slow to put anything by Hank Williams back in my personal playlists (kicking myself there), but I don’t think there has ever been a moment I heard him on the radio, or in a movie, or on some friend’s stereo that I didn’t smile a little and enjoy the music. Hank Williams was full of amazing tunes.

But Lonesome is in a class all by itself.

Puts a lump in my throat every damned time!

I actually think what brought me back to the original was the cover by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes back in the oughts. That song did more damage to my truck speakers driving back and forth from Flagstaff to the middle of the Navajo Nation. Their version was made to be loud, very loud! They probably took a small portion of my hearing down along with the speakers, not that Black Sabbath hadn’t already vandalized my hearing well before they added their two cents of post-punk goodness.

…or badness.

All is forgiven though. They led me back to Hank.

A few years back, I added one more version of this wonderful tune to my playlist, a cover by Hurray for the RiffRaff. Moni always says this version is a little too slow for her taste, which is odd, because she loves the RiffRaff even more than I do, but their version of Lonesome is just a bit too slow for her.

I love Moni anyway.

I know this tune has been covered and re-covered by many great artists, but these are the versions I know and love.

Anyway, Three Lonesomes!

Three favorite songs!

Poe’s Law, the Civil War Edition

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Have you heard of the minie ball pregnancy?

It occurred during the civil war at a battle in Raymond, Mississippi. Apparently, a minie ball (a conical-shaped bullet commonly used in the era) passed through a Confederate soldier’s testicles and then lodged itself in a young woman’s own private parts. Though, still a virgin, she later gave birth to a baby boy, apparently impregnated by the minie ball carrying the young man’s seed along with it.

Okay, but by “apparently,” I of course mean “not at all.”

This did not happen.

Not really!

Photo of Legrand G. Capers found in Wikipedia

The fact that this didn’t happen didn’t stop an army surgeon by the name of L.G. Capers from reporting on the incident as though it really did. He describes in detail coming upon a soldier staggering toward him before collapsing as a woman began screaming from the house in which he planned to conduct field operations. He treated both parties, or so he says. Later, Capers writes that he returned six months later to find the young woman pregnant though her hymen remained intact. A month or so later, he also delivered the baby, still confused about her story. After piecing the events together later, Capers says he found the soldier and explained the child to him. Of course the young man did the honorable thing, and the doctor reported visiting the lovely couple many years later to find them living happily together with 3 children.

All of this was published in a journal known as the American Medical Weekly in 1874. It was later republished in a British Medical Journal, the Lancet, and a few subsequent publications (whose editors should probably have known better) have presented the story as medical facts. Author Tony Horowitz tells us that at least one museum in Vicksburg Virginia related the story without comment as of his research for book, Confederates in the Attic, published in 1999. (The story appears on pages 199-200). Though the American Medical Journal later published a clarification explaining that the whole account had all been a joke, it seems there are always a few folks determined to take it seriously.

Also, aside from the source being a known spoof, apparently, this is a medical impossibility.

This time, by “apparently,” I mean “absolutely.”

What has me thinking about this today is Horowitz’s account. As he put it, the original account was intended as a spoof of other wildly exaggerated stories circulated by medical doctors in the wake of the civil war. If nothing else could have tipped a reader off as to nature of this tall-tale, the fact that Capers reported later removing a mini-ball from the child’s own testicles should probably have been the final “gotcha” moment of the story. Tall tales often have this, a final twist so improbable as to effectively communicate to anyone who might still be wondering that the whole thing was just an elaborate joke. This, if nothing else, ought to have tipped readers off then and now as to the nature of the Capers’ clever little yarn. Note to mention, the correction published published by the same journal.

Apparently, some people would rather believe the story anyway.

And by “apparently,” this time I just mean “apparently.”

***

All of which brings to mind a principle coined by an old net-friend of mine, Nathan Poe. Frustrated with debating young-earth creationists on Christian forums, Poe once quipped; “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article.” In other words, you can’t make a satirical statement sufficiently outrageous to out-absurd the very people he was arguing with. But of course Christian fundamentalists are not the only bunch with a few loose canons in their midst, as others have pointed out. So, the principle has been generalized since its original formulation to apply to a broad range of topics about which satire might be mistaken for the real thing, not the least of reasons being that someone is usually just as extreme as any parody their critics might make-up to poke fun at them.

Apparently, that was also true in 1874.

***

This story was only a couple pages out of Confederates in the Attic, but I highly recommend the book as a whole. Great read! There are some other good sources on the internet. Wiki has a decent page on Capers, and of course that contains many good links in itself. Mark Powell’s write-up is useful and fun to read. Of course, Snopes has a good page on it as well, complete with many of the relevant primary documents.

And …winner!

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Right on this corner, I believe

For a brief period of my life (in the early 90s), I lived on the south side of Chicago. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.

I remember one day seeing a couple young men laughing at one of the local homeless guys. This particular individual was always stoned or drunk, or both. Often, when he approached me, he couldn’t even put the words together to ask for change; he just held his hand out. He was often in bad shape. At least once, I found him passed out on the street, with his own piss flowing out over the curb. This time at least he was up and moving with some purpose as he walked by the young men, both of whom were well dressed.

Laughing, one of the young men shouted back at him; “Hey do you remember me?”

“Yeah.”

“Really? Who am I?’

“You!”

I’m not sure this particular individual knew he won that exchange, but the two men mocking him sure did.