Summer Reading


IMG_3957Last year I joined Now Read This, the online bookclub sponsored by PBS and The New York Times.  Why did I join?  To expand my exposure to books I might not otherwise read, to learn, to explore, to interact with others reading the same books.

I rarely read fantasy or science fiction.  This summer has become an exception.  The June choice, The Fifth Season by Jemisin, won the Hugo in 2016.  The other two books in the trilogy won in 2017 and 2018.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I read them all.  The spine says Fantasy.  I think they are more science fiction.  Even people who claimed they did not like either fantasy or science fiction became like me and read them all.  This series tells a futuristic tale extremely applicable to events, both social and political, in the world today, how prejudice kills both overtly and covertly,  how fear of those who are different affect everyone, what it costs to live in a world where certain attitudes exist.

It took me two days to finish the July title even with chores, touchup house painting, all the things teachers attempt to do during summer break.  Although I had previously read at least three books by Luis Alberto Urrea, I had not read this one, The House of Broken Angels about a family who lives back and forth across the border–San Diego and Tijuana.  It is a tragic-comedy about the endurance, hopes, dreams, cooking, living of several generations.  His non-fiction book, The Devil’s Highway, is a must read for those who want to understand what occurs along the US-Mexico borderlands.

In the midst of all this, I went back and reread Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.  Wow, no wonder it caused a stir when it was published in the 1960s: a whole country where everyone switches back and forth between male and female and those who cannot do this are considered perverts.  Additionally, the main character is described as having very dark brown skin and those who do not behave exactly as they should or politically protest are sent off to a stark camp where they work in excessive cold and eventually die.

Then I read an article about Toni Morrison and authors who do not write for people based on a certain audience, e.g. black, white.  They write about what they know, what they feel, for a different purpose. One book listed was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy, all of which takes place in what we now think of as Nigeria. It has not one single white character in it.  I kept thinking, wow.  I read a lot of literature from Africa, Middle East, and Latin America.  Most of the time, for better or worse, characters from other cultures show up, usually European and usually for the worse.  Not in this one.  If you go to a book store looking for it, look in Young Adult.  Jemisin’s can be found in Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy.  When I mentioned to someone I could not tell why some are categorized one way and some another, I was told there is less graphic sex in YA.  Really?  I cannot tell the difference.

Next on my list?  I annually act as a judge in a literary contest.  Three novels arrived in yesterday’s mail.  Guess I need to get busy.

 

September 1, on the Rim of Wonder


Sunrise

Dappled clouds

Owl hooting

Wren climbing

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Later, I graded papers and watched part of John McCain’s funeral, some of which almost brought me to tears.  I often disagreed with him but never did I question his passionate love of country, his courage, his willingness to buck the norm, to defy convention when he thought it was the right thing to do.  I think he and I shared certain values on which this country is based even if the country as a whole rarely lives up to them.  These include the conviction that all people are equal, that everyone deserves justice, and each person carries the right to find his or her own share of happiness without judgment and condemnation from others who may think differently.

Later, while working on the latest book I am writing, I found handwritten recipes written by my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Nellie Narcissus Duke (Kaiser),whose father came here from Switzerland as a child.  One, for dumplings, remains readable.  The other written in pencil on the front and back of thin paper is fragile.  It is for Strawberry Shortcake.  If Grandmother Duke ever made dumplings, I do not remember it.  Mother did–chicken and dumplings.  I wonder if she used this recipe.  I do remember conversations about the shortcake because Dad did not like strawberry shortcake even though he liked strawberries.  I took photos of these two recipes written decades ago in my grandmother’s handwriting.

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Do You Need an AK-15??


I was going to post a poem today but found this and decided to share.  Maybe I could create a poem about all this shooting but would it matter? Doubt it.  This blog post says more or less what I think about all this.  I read the comments on the original blog post.  Anyone who seems to post anything controversial will receive a lot of malign and or misinformed comments.  Some people appeared to have totally misread the post.

Do I know how to shoot?  Yes.  I used to be my dad’s hunting partner.  I could hit bunnies, squirrels, raccoons on the run with a 22 without a scope.  We used large caliber rifles to deer hunt.

I no longer possess any interest in killing animals.  I do not object to hunting if you eat it and it is not endangered.

via “Fuck you, I like guns.”

Blood Quantum: A Poem for Our Time


 

My grandson cuts himself into 16 equal pieces:

4/16 Urhobo from Africa

3/16 Spanish from Spain

4/16 European–two Swiss German great, great-grandfathers

(Werth and Kaiser), Irish, English and who knows what

3/16 Mexican–whatever mixtures that may be

2/16 Navaho

 

Who am I? What am I?

Who are you? What are you?

Do we really know?

Who sets the rules?

white men

black

Indian

Native American

Irish

English

German

from where and for whom?

 

He looks Navaho:

-blue black straight hair

-pale brown skin

-obsidian eyes.

One four year old girl asks him,

“Are you American Indian?”

His six year old self says nothing.

She repeats,

“Are you American Indian?”

He says, “It’s complicated.”

 

The Navaho won’t claim him, too little blood.

He needs 1/4, not 1/8.

Caddy and Fort Sill Apache allow 1/16, not Navahos.

1/4 blood is for

-Sioux

-Cheyenne

-Kiowa

-Navaho

1/8 works for Comanche and Pawnee.

Some Cherokees only want a Cherokee ancestor.

 

But he is none of those.

Is he Navaho?

Is he white?

The old South goes by the one drop rule:

one drop of Negro…

Is a person with 99/100 per cent white

and 1/100 black, black?

Who says?

Kids at school ask, “What are you?”

He tells them.

They say, “You’re lying.”

 

I only know specifically about two ancestors,

the Swiss Germans.

Another great grandfather disappeared during the Civil War.

I don’t even know his name.

Who am I?

Who are you?

I think I’ll get a DNA test.

Then I’ll know how many pieces I need to cut myself into.

 

Note:  This was originally published in my book “On the Rim of Wonder”.  I had a cousin send me 75 pages of ancestry information.  I looked up more myself.  That one great grandfather remains a mystery.  I had my DNA done.  It did not match what I expected from the ancestry work.

Blood quantum is the term the US government used to determine whether a person would be qualified as an Indian.  Now many Indian Nations use it to decide who can be on the tribal rolls and who cannot.

 

 

Taking a Knee?


When I read this post, I kept think the other times in life when people as he puts it, “take the knee”: when men propose, when people pray. No one see those as signs of disrespect or do they? For all those who think it is disrespectful, try reading every verse of the national anthem. Hint: the author was a pro-slavery slave owner.

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Institute of American Indian Arts (Photo compliments of Moni)

Not everyone really appreciates just how powerful the ritual of standing for the National Anthem really can be. I got a real sense of this when I was 14. My Jr. rifle team won the Wyoming-state BB-Gun finals, which earned our way to the International BB-Gun Championship in Bowling Green, Kentucky. …on July 4th. As the child of a career military officer, I was always happy to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner or to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but standing there during the final ceremonies, the whole thing took on a whole new layer of meaning for me. That time, I had my heart in my throat. That time, the whole ritual moved me nearly to tears. I loved my country so much, and at that moment, putting my hand over my heart for that beautiful song was absolutely the…

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White Trash and Rednecks


Nearly everyone lies about an important aspect of US history even historians. School history books avoid the discussion totally, this significant part of US history, much of which explains past and current racism.

Americans pretend that social class does not matter, that anyone can rise to the top given enough effort.  This myth depends on the continuation of a very selective historical memory, indeed, a lie.

It began with the British and those who intentionally left there to come here.  Even colonists divided the classes with poor people and criminals at the bottom–whores, discharged English soldiers, robbers, highwaymen; the saddest of the lot were the orphans, rounded up, loaded on ships bound for America, sold as indentured servants. Often these contracts were repeatedly resold with no routes for the individuals to escape.  The rigid English class conditions continued here.  People of higher classes in the colonies referred to the poor as waste, rubbish, and trash.

John Locke, often considered the father of constitutional government, favored slavery and aristocratic society.  He endorsed an aristocratic constitutional government and called the poor, landless, lazy lubbers. Because the southern colonies lacked sufficient land lubbers and land owners believed Africans more suitable for hot, humid swamp clearance, they petitioned for slaves–previously illegal in Georgia, for example.  These wealthy landowners also viewed poor whites as too lazy to work.

Even the esteemed Ben Franklin believed in the concept of class as inevitable.  Both he and Jefferson saw expansion westward as the solution to potential class conflict.  Franklin thought the new colonies needed more people and advocated for the freedom of slave women who bred many children and for white women to be allowed to gain property rights for the same.  More people would move west and alleviate class conflict. Franklin was not an advocate for the poor, whom he considered lazy, slothful.  He even endorsed their forced migration westward and referred to them as “the meaner Sort, i.e. the Mob, or the Rable”.

If this sounds shocking, Jefferson went even further, calling the poor, “rubbish”.  He did feel they could improve, given land and education.  He did not include slaves in this theory.

If you ever wondered about the origin of the term “cracker”, look back to the era of Andrew Jackson, the era of “squatters” in a log cabin in the thickly forested frontier, people who squatted on land they did not even own.  Many saw them in both positive and negative terms:  half strong, hard working pioneers and half robbers.  Two terms applied to these people, “cracker” and “squatter”, none of whom legally owned the land where they lived, troublemakers with no hope of upward mobility, people who championed crudity, distrust of civil society and city dwellers, and held on to a kind of crude arrogance.  Both terms came from England where such people were considered lazy vagrants.  The more educated and “civilized” viewed them as degenerate, low class fornicators.  These squatters saw Andrew Jackson as their champion and Davy Crockett as their hero.

The phrase “white trash” became common in the 1860s and after.  These were the southern poor with dirty faces, ragged clothing, distended bellies without possibility of improvement, who for a brief time were viewed as even lower than slaves.  Southern aristocrats pushed the concept of bloodlines for people as well as livestock.  They advocated a criteria for human as well as livestock breeding to justify slavery and Anglo-Saxon superiority.  Native Indians were a biologically inferior, degraded race, doomed to extinction.  Later Texans used similar arguments to deter intermarriage with Mexicans.  Sam Houston championed this cause apparently ignoring his own personal history.  He had lived with Natives and married two of them.  In the long run these beliefs did not help poor whites or raise their status.  They lived off the worst land and were continually referred to in derogatory terms, e.g. white trash, sand eaters.

Just before the Civil War some elite Southerners advocated to keep certain classes ignorant.  They defended the planter class as having the best bloodlines, whose destiny was to rule over poor whites and black slaves. When they realized they needed poor white support to secede, and that many did not support them, they convinced them the war was necessary to save them from a state worse than slavery.  Some were promised land and other rewards.  Since most were illiterate, they remained unaware that they were referred to as “perfect drones”, “the swinish multitude”, and other pejorative terms; and that some saw them as trash who contaminated whatever they touched. It was not the Southern elite who died in masses during the Civil War; it was the poor, recruited with Davis’ rhetoric about the superiority of the white race.

Later, during Reconstruction, William Percy wrote a description of poor whites as those who lynch Negroes, lack intelligence, attend religious revivals then fornicate in the bushes afterwards.  He also explicitly referred to them as Anglo-Saxons.  Teddy Roosevelt saw this a bit differently.  He wanted Anglo-Saxons to work, to join the military, and breed, but he excluded poor whites from this group and his plan.

The term “rednecks” came into use in the South during the 1890s.  It referred to people who lived in the swamps and mill towns, wore overalls, heckled at political rallies.

The Great Depression exacerbated the situation for poor whites and increased their numbers dramatically.  Those who had never been considered white trash joined the ranks of the poor.  Many Southern writers went back to discussions about the Civil War and argued about the current poverty and how to solve the problem.  One, Jonathan Daniels, even wrote that Rebel pride blindfolded all classes.

Later, one way to overcome the prejudices against the poor was through music and TV shows, e.g. Elvis Presley and “The Beverly Hillbillies”.  It allowed the country to feel better about prejudices and pretend they did not exist.

Today this manifests itself through politicians who “pretend” to be white trash and rednecks to gain votes, but in reality live the lifestyle of the upper class.

 

Note:  For those who wish to read more about class and the writings of the individuals mentioned above here is a partial list.

 

Writings and speeches of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson

Sherwood Anderson’s “Poor White”

Writings of John Locke

Works of James Agee

“White Trash:  The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America”

Speeches of Jefferson Davis

 

 

 

 

Quote for the day


Sadly, this quote seems appropriate given the events in Virginia.  I had hoped we were beyond this but apparently not.

 

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pockets.  Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”.  Lyndon Johnson, 1970.

Religion


Recently, while reading a novel about a woman in Shakespeare’s time, I came across this statement by one of the characters.  It rings so true for many eras of human history, I feel compelled to share it:

 

“Religion is not only about men’s souls.  It is about who rules us, what laws we obey, how and why we are punished, and by whom.”

ACoE Invades South Texas


No regard for precious wildlife, no regard for property rights, no regard for anything.

Jude Lieber

Photo caption: Snapshot from one of my trips to the Rio Grande — Big Bend National Park hot springs with with wild mustangs on the Mexican bank.

We knew this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Trespassing on private soil, our own Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE) have begun clearing areas for the border wall. Rather than steal land legally through eminent domain, they have arrived without permission or notification. Instead of cutting through ranchland, they have begun where it will hurt the most — nature preserves. The first location to fall beneath the saw, machete, and blade is a strip through the National Butterfly Center. Scientists had purchased the area from farmers and restored it with plant species vital to the survival of the threatened monarch butterfly. Now, only brown stubble remains. The wall will block the migration of thousands of land-based animals, cutting their territory…

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Make America Great Again?


Although few argue with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, few look long and hard at the history and life then.  Unless you owned land, were male, were white, nothing for you.  Most of the founding fathers still held, tacitly or openly, to the old English class system.  Many owned slaves even when they claimed to dislike it.  Throughout United States history,  a small group of high status, white men have controlled the country.

More recently during WWII, we imprisoned Japanese Americans but not Germans.  The Japanese were often seen as ruthless, barbaric while the Aryan German remained quite close to the idealized, white, patriotic American ideal.

Today when people read about white men murdering large numbers of people, the news and the comments indicate that most think these people are abnormal, not like the rest of us.  This is a country fascinated with hate.  For many in the last couple of years this has taken the form of hatred of outsiders, refugees, dark people.  This has brought a new wave of tough on crime mentality.  People who think differently, more welcoming, more critical, are seen as subversive, anti-patriotic.  Much of the public sees certain groups, e.g. black men, as criminals, wicked, violent, groups to be feared.  Any research contrary to these prevalent views tends to be hidden, pushed away, unreported.  One example is a report by Homeland Security in 2009 which warned law enforcement agencies about the dangers of right-wing conservatism.  Certain conservative groups demanded the withdrawal of this report and succeeded.

Certain Christian groups push for a return to Christian values not realizing perhaps the origin of some of these values.  The word, evil, provides an excellent example.  This word goes back to Saint Augustine who defined it as a refusal to act morally, a refusal to do good.  While Hitler, the Holocaust, and Nazism have been associated with evil, interestingly fascism has not. Franco in Spain escaped the evil label probably because the Vatican, the US government, and US businesses supported him.  The word evil is rarely used to describe state sanctioned violence as in the US support of the Shah of Iran, Pinochet in Chile.  It appears we pick and choose the evil label to suit certain purposes.  Powerful groups are rarely labeled evil and therefore do not become targets of general hatred.

Fear relates to hate.  People hate what they fear.  Some media play on these fears to incite hate to suit their own goals and philosophies.  Certain talk radio hosts use their rants to further their goals in this manner.  They want people who do not think like they do to incite fear which leads to hate. These media can easily inflame the public fears about crime, refugees, drug usage.  They also rely on the often hidden preexisting prejudices that many deny they have, e.g. racism, fear of outsiders, fear of differences.

The ultimate end of these prejudices is war.  The often popular belief remains:  justice and goodness can be attained via violence, force.  We are good and everyone against us is evil and therefore to be hated.  The war vocabulary remains part of common everyday language:  War on Women, Drug War, War on Poverty.  Our language remains full of these types of communications.  It expresses a common worldview. Problems can be solved by force.  This continues in spite of enormous evidence that it does not work.  The War on Drugs never attained success, our economic and social problems remain.  Even efforts at containment frequently fail, e.g. the current opioid epidemic.  Many schools currently hire police officers and sometimes students are arrested for relatively minor infractions.  Often those arrested are students with certain types of disabilities or from certain minority groups.  Our prison population has increased by 500% over the last thirty years with the increased imprisonment of women double that of men, mainly due to drug related crimes.  Obviously, these “wars” are failing. Because of the “cult” of individuality and freedom, people in the US often see these failures as the result of individuals acting irresponsibly rather than societal failures.  Although these factors do not force an individual to behave in certain ways, they do affect a person’s psychological makeup, opportunities for betterment, and mental and physical health.

We have become a society possessed with fear and hatred caused by a profound mistrust of others.  Contrary to what many wish to believe this nation has a long history of obsession with perceived enemies and evil.  Some see threats everywhere, liberals hate conservatives and vice versa, some fear and hate those with different sexual orientations, the list seems endless.  Many see the solution as one form of war or another either through violence, incarceration, or laws.

Mass rallies on both sides further incite this sort of mass mentality.  History remains full of disastrous consequences of such behavior.  The Nazis came to power this way and killed millions of Jews via such strategies.  The genocide in Rwanda is another example. We see the perpetrators of such as monsters, but common, ordinary men and women made the Holocaust possible.  Good, decent people engage in horrible crimes.  The Ku Klux Klan continues with membership of otherwise ordinary, upstanding citizens. Doctors in Nazi Germany rationalized their help with exterminations and experimentations as part of German nationalism to save their country.

In the US racism is not the sole purview of white bigots.  Just recently someone commented to me about being colorblind.  Such is a form of denial.  When people see another person, they notice how they look, eyes, height, etc.  Most white people in the US today never choose to recall, if alive then, and acknowledge, if not,  the millions of black people (mostly men) lynched, most of whom were raped, tortured and castrated before they were killed.  When someone commits these types of atrocities today, we often refer to him as a monster.  We conveniently forget the long history of atrocities against all people of color in this country, atrocities deemed perfectly normal at the time.

As noted in the examples above, much of the violence and hatred and injustice currently seen in this country has a long history.  We have not been able to even come close to the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Instead of talking about Making American Great Again, we need to change the conversation into a future vision of making the US like the vision detailed in this document, a place where justice and the hope of equality can be attained by all, regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion.

 

 

 

 

Note:  Recommended readings include “Considering Hate” by Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski and “White Trash:  the 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg.