CATEGORY: PoliticsReligion

Hobby Lobby hypocrisy: 401k plan invests in contraception

HobbyLobbyEverydayObamacare litigant secretly profiting from the very immorality it publicly opposes.

The story by Molly Redden in Mother Jones, “Hobby Lobby’s Hypocrisy: The Company’s Retirement Plan Invests in Contraception Manufacturers,” is absolutely worth a few minutes of your time. In short: three-quarters of the Hobby Lobby retirement plan investments are in funds that invest in pharmaceutical companies that produce contraceptive devices that Hobby Lobby’s owners object to having covered by their insurance plans: Continue reading

CATEGORY: Guns

Eggs vs bullets: Michael Dunn, Willie Noble, and teens being teens

egg-tp-musicI’m trying to wrap my brain around Willie Noble’s killing of Adrian Broadway in the wee hours of Saturday morning in Little Rock, Arkansas. Seems she and six friends drove to Noble’s house and proceeded to cover his car in eggs, toilet paper, mayonnaise, and other debris. Nobles response was to run out with gun blazing, firing into the fleeing car and killing 15-year-old Adrian, who was in the front seat.

Willie Noble, like Adrian, is African-American. He “was charged with one count of first-degree murder, one count of a terroristic act and five counts of aggravated assault.”

Continue reading

Pete Seeger

An era passes with Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, a warrior for social justice in America, held the line until the end.

I regret not seeing Pete Seeger live in concert–I was too young to have appreciated him in the 1960s and 1970s . I eventually got to see Richie Havens on the same bill as Arlo Guthrie in 2009, but not Pete Seeger. And now he’s gone at age 94.

There was was a recent Facebook post asking people to name ten albums that stayed with them. I forgot to add in my response one important collection: Songs for Political Action. It’s a 10-disc collection of American protest songs from the 1920s through the early 1050s. One of the songs was “Hold the Line” by Pete Seeger, written about the Peekskill Riots. I first heard selections from these albums in 1998 when I participated in a National Endowment for the Humanities workshop called “Communism in American Life” at Emory University. Continue reading

Creepy2

Huckabee’s botched Jedi mind trick on women and reproductive rights

Creepy2Mike Huckabee wants Americans to believe that Democrats are interfering in the reproductive rights of women by bribing them with birth control:

“If the Democrats want to insult women by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”

In a version of the statement on his Web site, Huckabee has a slight variation in which he charges that Democrats “reduce women to beggars for cheap government funded birth control.” Continue reading

Wealth

Born rich: “Affluenza” is now a license to kill if you’re wealthy

Accountability? Not for rich people: being wealthy absolves you of responsibility for your actions.

We have a new legal defense and this one will be the death of us: Affluenza. I have to admit that the term, used here on Scholars and Rogues in a number of previous posts, including Amusing ourselves to death, circa 2010 and Affluenza: Black Friday is America’s new high holy day, both by Sam Smith, had not seeped into my consciousness. It took a death, four of them, actually, to emblazon the term on my mind. In case you missed the story out of Texas, a 16-year-old stole alcohol from Walmart, got drunk, drove recklessly, and killed 4 innocent people. His court ordered punishment: 10-years of probation and some pricey rehab to be paid for by mums and daddums. No jail time. None. Continue reading

Slut-shaming quantified: science catches up with female power

CATEGORY: RaceGenderFellow Scrogue Russ Wellen called our attention to an article in the New York Times, “A Cold War Fought by Women,” about research by Dr. Sarah Hrdy that quantifies female competition and aggression. Not surprisingly, Dr. Hrdy and her colleagues conclude that it exists and, importantly from a scientific standpoint, it can be measured through experiments that can be replicated. Continue reading

A chili response: Cat & John’s Anniversary Chili

CATEGORY: FoodDrinkMy esteemed colleague, Sam Smith, recently posted the recipe for his award-winning Doc Sammy’s Three-Meat, Three-Bean and Molasses Crock-Pot Chili.  It sounds amazing.  And if I’m ever in Seattle when 40 degrees and damp, I’d be tickled to sample the original.

Today is my 6th wedding  anniversary and John and I celebrated at home with a pot of chili (a good idea on a blustery day in November in Ohio).  We started with Sam’s recipe, but made some alterations to accommodate our lower-salt diet.  My thanks, and apologies, to Sam.  Hope you enjoy. Continue reading

Politics: Don't Tread on Me

A house divided: what happens after government shutdown ends?

“And we are looking for ways to reopen the portions of the government that we agree with.”  Jenny Beth Martin, Tea Party Patriots

There it is in a nutshell.  The whole national divide summed up in one sentence.  So, Ms. Martin, we know you’d like to defund the Affordable Care Act.  What else? I’ve met Libertarians in my life who would strip all funding from public radio and television and the arts in general.  How about National Parks and monuments?  There sure was a stink this week in DC when the World War II Memorial was closed.  Rand Paul went so far as to label those who closed it “goons.”  But should such a memorial even exist at taxpayer’s expense?  Should its maintenance and upkeep be sold off for naming rights?  But opening those closed attractions seems to be a high priority for even members of the Tea Party.  World War II vets storming the barricades is certainly more photogenic than furloughed meat inspectors or passport clerks. There’s a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico–granted a weak one, named Karen.  Surely it will cause damage and certainly there will be requests for aid.  FEMA was already reactivating personnel previously labeled non-essential.  But even in the event of a natural disaster, is the federal government’s assistance really all that essential?  After all, a number of conservatives exclaim loudly that the federal government is incompetent.  But let a disaster strike, say a fire or flood in Colorado, and even those counties that will be voting to secede from the rest of the state because of its recent too-liberal tendencies line up at the federal trough.  Certainly a number of conservatives objected last fall to aid to New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.  It’s a lot easier to say no, to place conditions, to object, when it’s someone else’s state or district or city.  Or home. I’ve thought about objecting on those grounds myself.  When I see Texas or Alabama in the news for some disaster:  chemical plant explosion, hurricane, drought, I think, “No help for you!  Let you fix this on your own, since you don’t want to help others.”  Briefly. It’s just anger–mine.  I realize that.  And I know that, in reality.  I would never want people to suffer that way just for the sake of a political disagreement.  How about you, Ms. Martin?  How hard is your heart?  Does it satisfy you to see people suffer? Abraham Lincoln said of slavery, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Well, we certainly tested that theory.  And three-quarters of a million men died to make the house all one thing. Is there going to be a civil war this time?  No.  Eventually our representatives will be forced to come to their senses and realize that, when you govern, at least in this country in this century, you don’t get to just operate or fund “the portions of the government that we agree with,” but you have to deal with the rest of it, too.  Getting to that point is getting uglier every day. But will there, nonetheless, be a time of reconstruction?  A time of binding up the nations’ wounds?  I certainly hope so. I can’t see how it’s going to happen.  But it has to at some point.  Lincoln, after all, was right. Image:  Marty Duren.

Dad and cat 1962

Watching my dad die

Dad and cat 1962My dad, David White, died on Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 10:10 PM.  I found out the time later–I didn’t think to look at the clock when it happened.  He died after five days in the hospital, after two weeks of being unable to eat, after nearly 25 years of congestive heart failure following a heart attack at age 49.  He died at the end of three days of dying.  I still called him “Daddy.”

People asked if he had been sick.  Well, yes, he had been.  But he had been sick for so long that we sort of took his illness for granted.  When he went into the hospital the previous Tuesday, no one was terribly worried.  My mom called in the evening to tell me that she had taken him to the emergency room because he was still so nauseous that he could not eat.  When I had dinner with them the week before, he had eaten very little because his stomach was upset–he never got any better.  Mom said, “Don’t come down.  They admitted him after we waited in the emergency room for four hours [that was unusual--his heart condition usually rated more attention].  The doctors are trying to get the nausea under control.  I’ll call you tomorrow night and let you know how he’s doing.”

You see, my dad went into the hospital normally once or twice a year, usually for either dehydration or excess fluid on the lungs (it’s the lasix tightrope walk–ask any racehorse).  The doctors would change some of his meds, re-prescribe others, and eventually send him home with an equally well-stocked pharmaceutical larder.  We thought this would be the same kind of incident, even though, after a June hospital stay, we were told the incidents would become more frequent.  He finally accepted a wheelchair (which he never used after it was delivered) and oxygen at home to ease his breathing.

Mom called on Wednesday and reported he had a better day–he had even been able to eat some cream of chicken soup (apparently the dietitian had overlooked his heart condition and had not prevented the soup from reaching him).  I was once again hopeful and promised to leave school early on Friday to spend some time with him.

When she called Thursday night, the news was not so good.  The nausea was back.  The dietitian had cracked down on his food choices.  No more cream of chicken soup (too high in fat, not on the heart diet).  No potatoes or other high potassium foods (the result of a misdiagnosed kidney condition earlier in the year).  My mom argued with the nutritionist–my dad wanted the soup (it had tasted good) and he was going to have his soup, either from their kitchen or from hers.  He got his soup, but he could barely eat any of it.  She said I had better come down on Friday.

On Friday morning I got to school a little early to prep for a meeting.  My cell phone rang as soon as I entered Tudor House.  It was my mom, “You need to come down now.” I picked up my husband, John, and a suitcase and we headed for the hospital an hour away.

Daddy had been moved to the Cardiac Care Unit at Mercy Hospital (I still call it “TM” as in “Timken-Mercy” even though the name changed several years ago).  He had just been settled in the room when I got there.  My sister and mom were both there.  Both had been crying.

CIMG0530My dad had no blankets covering him.

The lack of blankets startled me more than the breathing at first.  My dad wore a heavy down coat most of the time–even in the summer–over his standard t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, sweater vest, and sweater, all the result of a permanent chill because of poor circulation.  The fact that he was not heavily bundled up and apparently not cold was a bad sign.  The good sign was that he was lucid.

“The doctors said there’s nothing they can do but keep him comfortable.” Mom was that blunt.

The CCU staff was wonderful.  His cardiologist had cared for him since Daddy’s heart attack in 1985 and Dr. U was the one doctor my parents trusted implicitly.  Even he acknowledged the end of the road–my mom said he was almost in tears.  The doctors suspected the nausea was being caused by one of the heart meds that was keeping him alive and there was no way to address the situation.  They would have had to stop all of them and restart them one at a time to eliminate the culprit.  That was not an option.

Daddy’s breathing became more regular as the nurses got his anxiety under control.  But his condition worsened.  He asked for pain medicine in the afternoon–one of the side effects of worsening congestive heart failure is pain in the extremities as circulation weakens in the body’s attempt to keep the vital organs functioning.  His nausea also increased and he began vomiting more frequently.

I must make a confession at this point: I’m squeamish.  I can’t deal with blood or vomit.  My sister was a real trooper when Daddy was actively sick.  I, wimp that I am, ran for the washcloth and the nurse.  At some point while I was out my sister changed the channel from “Law and Order” to “The Kardashians.” It’s weird what details stick with you.  It was the first time that I saw that particular show–it added to the unreal nature of the weekend.

We stayed until late Friday evening and then went back to my parents’ house for the night.  My mom stayed at the hospital.  Sometime that night my parents made a decision.

On Saturday, my dad’s symptoms were about the same.  He slept more and was frequently sick.  At one point, when my sister and mom went for lunch, he woke up for awhile and talked to me about the natural gas explosion and fire in San Bruno, California that was being covered on the news.  We discussed the suspected corrosion of the pipes as a possible cause.

There were a lot of things I wanted to say–but I couldn’t get the words out.  I wanted to thank him for all the understanding over the years, for his constant patience with my mom’s health, for welcoming me home when my life fell apart (more than once).  As usual, I connected with him via the news and missed that emotional piece that neither of us seemed to be very good at.  The opportunity passed.  That’s my biggest regret.

Friends and relatives visited.  At some point one of the nurses brought in a heavy looking round magnet on a cord and hung it from a hook on the wall.  I knew it was a magnet because it stuck to the wall on its side, looking like a bright blue doughnut.

Later Saturday afternoon, my mom asked us all to come out to the waiting room.  She told us that she and my dad talked Friday night and made the decision to stop his remaining meds.  The doctors said that, once that happened, Daddy would die within a short period of time.  They would increase his morphine to continue to keep him comfortable.  He would lose consciousness, his blood pressure would drop, and eventually his heart would stop.  We understood that he was suffering and that nothing could be done and this was the remaining course of action.  Were we OK with it?  Yes.  Did we want to be around when the meds were stopped?  Yes.

Sunday morning, early, we all gathered at the hospital.  He looked around at us and said, “Well, I’m ready if you are.” Daddy kissed us all and told us that he loved us.  I thanked him.  The nurse turned off the IVs, except for the one with the morphine.  He closed his eyes and slept.  We stayed close by.  It felt somewhat morbid to sit and wait.  But I knew I had to stay and bear witness.

After a couple of hours, my dad woke up.  He looked around and seemed to be rather surprised to see us.  He put his head back against the pillow, “What’s taking so long?” My mother looked thunderstruck (I now understand what that expression looks like), “Well! What at kind of a question is that?” My brother-in-law tried to be philosophical, “These things aren’t in our hands.” Me? I burst out laughing, “Well, you’re the math guy.” He seemed to think about that and slept again.  Aside from answering nurses’ questions, he didn’t speak again.

Morning became afternoon.  The nurses brought us coffee, cookies, and some fruit.  Daddy’s blood pressure remained steady.  It declined a bit and then rose again.  My husband and I began to think it might be another day or so.  Later in the afternoon, we made the decision to drive home to the east side of Cleveland to get more clothes and necessities.  On the way back to Canton, we stopped and got some Chinese food.  I got back in the car and found messages from my sister:

    5:51:45 PM Last bp reading 62/17 but they switched arms HR still 70
    5:54:01 PM Ill update u in 10 min
    6:05:17 PM 67/24

I feared I would miss being at my father’s bedside because I was hungry and that I would have to bear that burden of selfishness forever.  I replied:

    6:24:35 PM We’re on our way back.

More messages on the return drive:

    6:27:33 PM He seems the same it may have been the changing arms Hr still 70
    6:36:30 PM 61/18 at 630
    6:43:51 PM We’ll be there ASAP
    6:45:22 PM K i know ur mom wants u to b here

We arrived at the hospital before 7 PM–Daddy was still with us.  My mother and sister continued to cry intermittently.  Daddy’s blood pressure continued to drop.  One of the nurses closed the door to the room and pulled the drape part-way across the windows to give up some privacy.  I sat near his feet, on his left side, my mom on my right, holding his hand.

There was nothing to do but watch the numbers fall and listen to his breathing grow more shallow.  After 9:30 the alarms went off more frequently.  The nurses silenced them–there was no help to summon.  Just after 10, it became clear that it would be any minute.  The final alarm went off.  The nurse took that big blue magnet and placed it on Daddy’s pacemaker to disable it, in case it fired (someone had told me earlier what it would be used for).

Daddy was gone.  We sat with him for awhile, waiting for the doctor to come and make the pronouncement (some things are not done until someone declares them done).  The nurse came in to tell us the doctor was delayed.  We waited awhile longer, saying our goodbyes.  Then we escorted my mom off the CCU floor for the last time.

Daddy70I so wish I had had the courage to have the difficult talks with him: about his illnesses, his final arrangements, his funeral.  But I didn’t.  I understand all the reasons people don’t talk about those things:  it’s a reminder of mortality, it’s morbid, it’s rude.  But I should have asked him how he was really doing.  He told me basics about trips to the doctor–but not about the slow decline over the years.  We could see some of it.  But we never talked about the fact that he was Dying.

In the end, lacking his wishes and input, we improvised–we did the best we could.  I guess that’s how we go through life, despite our best plans and intentions.  We made the funeral arrangements, I immersed myself in a tribute video for the wake, I had a memorial placed in the football program for the high school whose games he attended for over 35 years.

It’s been 3 years now.  Daddy’s ashes still sit on the mantle of the fireplace he built.  I wrote most of this shortly after the funeral.  It took this long to be able to edit the piece without crying–too much.  I think of him with every great science news story, or when some some politician we spoke of gets his comeuppance or I get to travel some place new and wonderful.  Or when I call my mom and get the answering machine and hear my dad’s voice, still taking calls.

Given our mutual uncertainty about the hereafter, I don’t think much about “heaven” in connection with my dad’s afterlife.  I’d like to think he’s sharing another dimension with Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan, finally understanding all those equations and theories that he strove to understand in this life.

Love you, Daddy.

CATEGORY: Religion Humanism Atheism

Should the US military be promoting Humanism and Atheism?

CATEGORY: Religion Humanism AtheismContrary to common wisdom, there are atheists in foxholes. Humanists, too. Granted, not a lot of them. But they exist. But do they need a chaplain?

NPR recently did a story about Jason Heap applying to be the Navy’s (and in fact the US military’s) first Humanist chaplain. Jason became an minister in Texas after graduating from Brite Divinity School at TCU. He later graduated from Oxford. And, somewhere along the way, he lost his Christian faith. Apparently when that happens, it does not result in the loss of one’s designation as a minister.

Heap’s application has gotten farther than anyone in the past who tried to follow this path. And some people are really unhappy about how far Heap has gone.

Take Colonel Ron Crews (Retired), who heads the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. On the Alliance’s Twitter homepage, they leave no doubt about where they stand, “Pursuing a nation where all chaplains, and those whom they serve, freely exercise their God-given and constitutionally protected religious liberties.” For the NPR story, Crews explained,

“‘For God and country.’ That is the motto of the chaplain corps, and someone who comes from a humanist freethinker position could not ascribe to that motto. So it’s by definition of who a chaplain is.”

Heap also faces opposition in Congress, where Representative John Fleming (R-LA) introduced an amendment to the 2014 Defense Appropriations Act to “prevent funds from being used to appoint chaplains without an endorsing agency.” In other words, no denomination, no chaplaincy. Fleming explained,

“This I think would make a mockery of the chaplaincy. The last thing in the world we would want to see was a young soldier who may be dying and they’re at a field hospital and the chaplain is standing over that person saying to them, ‘If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.’”

After the Fleming amendment passed the House as part of the appropriations act, Religion News Service added, “Currently, the Department of Defense recognizes more than 200 endorsing agents, all of them based on a belief in God.”

Unfortunately for Crews, Fleming, and RNS, they’re all wrong on their basic assumption that the unifying characteristic of current military chaplains is their belief in God. Three short examples.

According to 2012 statistics, there are between 12-14 Buddhist Chaplains. Many are endorsed by the “Buddhist Churches Of America,” a Japanese Buddhist organization originally invited to the US to support Japanese immigrants near San Francisco. Its origins are in Mahayana Buddhism though it became a separate sect in Japan called Jodo Shinsu (“Pure Land”). Although many westerners consider Buddhism a “religion,” it does not concern itself with the worship of a god and certainly Buddhas are not gods. It is best described as non-theist. In the words of Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, “The fundamental aim of Buddhist practice is not belief; it’s enlightenment.” However, in keeping with tradition in many parts of Asia, it is also not mutually exclusive. This means that practitioners may combine a variety of spiritual practices, some of which may involve various deities or spirits.

There are three Hindu Chaplains in the US military, all endorsed by the Chinmaya Mission West. It is almost impossible to generalize about “What is Hinduism?” as practices and beliefs vary widely from polytheism to non-theism. Chinmaya Mission was founded in 1953 by followers of Swami Chinmayananda, a devotee of the study of the Vedas (ancient Hindu texts). Yoga, meditation, and study are all part of Vedantic Hindu practice, with the goal of understanding and achieving higher consciousness. Among Swami Chinmayananda most famous teaching are “‘Renounce your ego’ is the Lord’s only request. ‘And I will make you God’ is the promise” and “If I rest, I rust.”

Finally, there are between 18 and 22 Unitarian-Universalist chaplains, all endorsed by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The UU denomination is non-creedal but does promote “The Seven Principles,” broad ethical guidelines. To borrow from Will Rogers, “I am not a member of any organized religion. I am a UU.” UU ministers run the gamut from truly ecumenical, to those that lean towards one belief, including Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or Humanist. None of the Seven Principles demand belief in a divine being. In fact, the state of Texas tried to revoke the tax exempt status of UUs because of their lack of devotion to a deity. It’s not unusual for services to have Humanist themes. One of the earliest services that I clearly remember was presided over by an avowed Atheist. Included in the music for the service were Humanist hymns from the UU hymnal.

So. Colonel Crews and Representative Fleming, it’s time to step away from this one. The US military has already set an example of allowing chaplains from non-theist denominations. Furthermore, the purpose of the Chaplain Corps is to meet the needs of those serving in the military, and there are more self-identified Atheists than Buddhists, Hindus, and UUs combined. Add to that the largest single category of religious declaration in the military, “No religious preference,” with over 22% of the military, about whose needs we know little.

Does the military need Humanist Chaplains? Yes, if it would meet the needs of those who have chosen to serve. This isn’t about the religious preferences of civilians.

CATEGORY: Family

HobbyWeek: Digging up the Dead

The central figure here is not an idiot or moron. The idiotic expression was produced by a sudden poke in the middle of my back by Uncle Will’s thumb and the reaction was almost fatal. The family tries to suppress this picture, but I mean to keep it alive as long as I am alive. I, Emmy, have spoke this.

It began with a photo that I found in the mid-’70s. My Aunts Jo, Marion, and Rose took my mom and me to the Neely house in Rayland, Ohio to see if there was anything there that we wanted as it was being cleaned out so that my cousin could rehab it for her family. We found lots of antique glassware, my great-grandmother’s rocking chair, and lots of other fascinating, filthy items that just had to be saved. Somewhere, I picked up a sepia-colored photograph–bent, repaired with tape, and absolutely fascinating. The quote at the beginning was written on the back and the white house to the left is where I found it. I tucked it away in an envelope to await the day that I could afford to have someone restore it.

The hook

My dad told me that the note was written by Aunt Emmy, who I had met when I was very young. She didn’t marry until she was 60, and then her husband died after ony a year and a half. She spent her last years in a nursing home in Wheeling, West Virginia, called Altenheim. The name on the sign was written in very fancy script and was hard to read. One day a young couple stopped by, parked and approached the porch where Aunt Emmy was sitting. “We’re here to see the antiques,” the man announced. “Well, you’re looking at one of them,” Emmy replied. I had a hero. I also had a model for aging well.

That photo sat in its envelope for decades, moving with me from apartment to house. I heard more Emmy stories. I also heard stories about her brother, Wink. How he took a bus out to Kansas in the 1920s and bought a plane. The seller spent a couple of hours teaching Wink how to fly it, and then Wink flew it home. To Ohio. By himself. This is the same uncle whose ship was sunk by a German U-Boat before the US got into WWI. The Germans were very polite about it. They surfaced and signaled their intention to the merchant vessel, gave the crew time to get into life boats, and then torpedoed the ship. Oh, the Germans came back with food and water for the crew. They didn’t want to kill the Americans, that might bring the US into the war too early. Uncle Wink, with the big grin on his face, stands to the far left with my paternal grandmother. His real name was William Winslow, named for the mischievous Uncle Will with the errant thumb.

But, in the end, it wasn’t the stories that compelled me to start seriously putting together the pieces of my family tree. That took the death of my father in 2010. All of a sudden, the stories stopped. I felt compelled to record what I had heard and connect the dots. I had to pick up Emmy’s torch.

There are two things in my background which make genealogy a natural rabbit-hole for me to fall down. The first is that I majored in and taught history. I was influenced by my Uncle Jack, a priest and historian who told the best stories about long-dead cardinals. The second is that I love a good mystery. Add to that a strong streak of perseverance (instilled in me by my father) and and a real curiosity about anything in my background that might explain how and why I ended up as me. In other words, how far did the apple fall from the tree?

The mysteries

There are two main mysteries over which I have been obsessing pondering. The first involves a letter to my paternal grandmother and the second involves the death of my great-great-grandfather during the Civil War.

The letter is a one-page typed document, written by my grandfather (nicknamed “Teeny” since his childhood) to my grandmother, Jeanne, who was visiting her ailing sister in New York in March or April of 1930. He had, according to the letter, recently been fired from his job and was still angry about it. It sounds as if there was some sort of scandal:

My Grandmother

The methods pursued in my release were positively rotten, and don’t think for a minute that I have been keeping quiet about it. I haven t [sic] the first person yet to say that they were justified in their action. . . . I am getting sick of talking about it to people it doesn’t do any good, I want a little action. . . .

So Good Night Darling and don’t worry every thing will work out alright, someday, We will have the pleasure of watching somebodyelse squirm.

Here’s the kicker, on the outside of the envelope, in my grandmother’s handwriting are these four lines:

Wherever you go
Whatever you do
I want you to know
I’m following you

At that point, my grandparents had been married less than 6 months and the Depression had started. Within eight years, at age 36, my grandfather would be dead from cirrhosis of the liver. By the time my dad was two, he and his older brother slept at their grandmother’s house most nights. There are no photos of my grandfather except for a tiny photo of him as a toddler pasted into the family Bible.

The second mystery involved Teeny’s dad, Daniel, who had been orphaned in the 1860s before he was six years old. His parents, Aaron and Isabel, married sometime in the 1850s and had three daughters before the Civil War started. They lived in what was called District 44 of Virginia–today it’s called Triadelphia, a town to the east of Wheeling, West Virginia. I’ve found Aaron’s parents and siblings. I know that some of his brothers, his father, and at least one uncle joined a Union regiment in the part of Virginia that seceded from Virginia to become West Virginia.

Aaron was 28 in 1860, Daniel was born in 1863, so Aaron lived until some time in 1862, at least. I can’t imagine that he did not fight in the Civil War. But I have no idea what happened to him or to Isabel. Granted, that part of Virginia/West Virginia was dangerous–there was a lot of internal turmoil and Confederate raids. Perhaps they took the children to live elsewhere, were killed in a raid, died of disease, or maybe a combination of those. Perhaps Aaron died on the battlefield. Daniel and one of his sisters show up in the 1870 census records, orphaned, more than a hundred miles away in Donegal, PA on neighboring farms. Eventually they returned to the Ohio Valley, across the river from Wheeling.

The wrong information

Of course it turns out that some things you heard about your family while you were growing up were wrong.

My mom’s family missed an entire nationality. I was always told that her side of the family was German–which is true, so far as I can tell, so far–for my grandfather’s side of the family. But my grandmother’s side of the family came from The Netherlands in the 1600s and helped settle the Hudson Valley. It’s a long way from that to a coal town in the West Virginia hills.

My dad’s family has the rumors of famous ancestors. We have one near-miss: the one of the earliest arrivals was a younger brother of Edward Winslow, he of the original Pilgrims on the original voyage of the Mayflower. The other rumor is that we’re somehow related to Oliver Cromwell. Great, some people get Jefferson, I get a Roundhead. I am happy to report that, aside from a handwritten note on an old family tree, there is no evidence to support this.

The surprises

In the course of my research, I’ve connected with a distant cousin in central Ohio. She was tickled to learn that I knew that one of our grandfathers had married 2 sisters (sequentially, the first died, no bigamy, so far) and that the sisters were listed under several different names because of their various marriages.

The Reaves

It took me several years to locate two individuals whose portraits I photographed at my Aunt Geraldine’s house before she passed away. I spent an afternoon scanning photos and making notes on who all of the people were. Finally, she retrieved two pastel portraits on convex drawing board in ancient oval frames. I was allowed to remove them from the frames for photos. She said, “Those are the Reaves.” I couldn’t find any Reaves on my mother’s side and they weren’t too many generations back. Then one day I tripped over them. Well, I tripped over their daughter, anyway. I think the portraits I have are too old to be my great-grandfather and mother. One of these days I’ll find their names, too.

My Aunt Jane let me borrow a suitcase that was found in the attic of her old house. It turned out to be full of photos and letters from my paternal grandmother’s family. That’s how I found the Mysterious Letter. There was also a collection of postcards from various southern hotels my uncle stayed at in the 1950s. A 1941 George McQuinn baseball card. An envelope containing 3 curls cut from my dad’s hair when he was a year old. Dozens of handwritten deeds. A box of family letters. Lots of envelopes full of negatives.

And at the bottom of an old box of assorted chocolates, in two pieces, was a glass negative. The only one I found. It was Emmy’s picture. Turns out that it scans beautifully. I haven’t had a chance to restore the image yet. But I can see that I didn’t do too badly with the first one, especially where I had to improvise (for example, creating Uncle Paul’s jaw line that had been obliterated by a fold). Of course I have to restore it. Emmy would want it that way.

I mean to keep it alive as long as I am alive. I, Cat, have spoke this.

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ReligionWeek: Will organized religion destroy your religious freedom?

Organized-Religion4On July 2, America’s real Independence Day, by the way, leaders of a number of churches that doctrinally and theologically do not usually see eye-to-eye gathered at the National Press Club for a “religious liberty” press conference to announce their collective effort to trample individual religious freedom. They released “Standing Together for Religious Freedom: An Open Letter for All Americans.” The signatories to the letter included leaders from Catholic, Evangelical, Mormon, Lutheran, and Jewish organizations and denominations, as well as academics and various values-oriented groups, such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council.

The point of their letter and presentations is that the Obama Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services are violating the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause by requiring insurance companies or administrators to provide birth control coverage in separate policies to persons covered by policies paid for by religious institutions opposed to contraception. In the “Standing Together” letter, the objection is described this way:

Very simply, HHS is forcing Citizen A, against his or her moral convictions, to purchase a product for Citizen B. The HHS policy is coercive and puts the administration in the position of defining–or casting aside–religious doctrine.

In short, the heads of some major conservative religious institutions believe that their right to freely practice their religion trumps an individual’s right to not have religious doctrine forced upon him/her.

The “product” that “Citizen A” is being forced to provide is health insurance, which does not violate the tenets of any known denomination, not even Christian Science. A wall has been proposed by HHS to provide separation of church and contraception, but that apparently is not sufficient. It will only be substantial enough if it imposes religious doctrine on employees of religious-affiliated institutions, regardless of the religious leanings of the employees (or lack thereof). And, let’s face it, we’re talking primarily about women’s use of contraception.

One more point: no one is forcing “Citizen B,” the employee, to buy anything. If the religious doctrine in question, a ban on some or all forms of artificial contraception, is truly compelling for the employee, then that should be sufficient for that person to adhere to the prohibition. But, it’s not. In fact, this prohibition does not convince a majority of any faith to eschew contraception (across the US about 60% of sexually-active women use contraception), much less its employees. Perhaps this is a way to attempt to control the behavior of at least some people associated with institution, since members of the flock don’t always toe the line.

But I digress–I wrote about much of this in a recent post on Hobby Lobby and its claim of religious freedom (which, by the way, the “Standing Together” letter implies support for, “we call upon HHS to, at a minimum, expand conscience protections under the mandate to cover any organization or individual that has religious or moral objections to covering, providing or enabling access to the mandated drugs and services.”) [emphasis added]

What’s really interesting is how groups that would not otherwise get along, come together in the name of power and politics.

Let’s start with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. They oppose interfaith prayer and worship to the point that LCMS pastors were chastised for participating in interfaith services after September 11 and the Newtown shootings. But apparently it was alright, in this case for the president of the LCMS to band together with representatives of the Catholic Church, despite the LCMS aversion to such churches that “attach spiritual or eternal rewards to the works or virtues of men.” This harkens all the way back to Luther and the 15th century argument over whether men are saved by faith alone or through faith and action.

We also have Catholics and Pentecostals sharing the stage. Traditionally, they question each other’s practices. Catholics find the symbolic communion and baptism of Pentecostals wanting. Some Pentecostals, like some Baptists, question the very existence of the Catholic Church and go so far as to call it anti-Christian.

And everyone, despite their past criticisms and questions about its very nature, is willing to partner with the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints–Mormons–to build a bigger coalition against the contraception mandate. Just as Evangelicals and Southern Baptists were willing to endorse Mitt Romney, they are now willing to work with the denomination that was once labeled a “cult” because it suits their purpose.

Speaking of cults, nearly all of the churches “Standing Together” consider the Hare Krishnas to be a cult, calling it variously “sinful,” “deceitful,” etc. Some dismiss it as paganism or “just a Hindu sect.” However, for the purposes of defeating the contraception mandate in the name of “religious freedom,” the International Society of Krishna Consciousness is included. In fact, they seem to be the only non-Judeo-Christian faith to join the group.

Add to that the fact that various Christian denominations that promote the belief that, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes unto the Father, but by me” and yet are willing to share the stage with Jewish leaders who do not share that view.

Why?

My dad was a very thoughtful man–and also a very skeptical one. He was especially skeptical of Big Business and Big Religion. He said on numerous occasions, “Sometimes things just don’t make sense until you add money into the equation.” I don’t know if he was familiar with L. Ron Hubbard’s line, “If you want to get really rich, start a religion.” But I wouldn’t be surprised if he were.

These religious leaders are joining together to gain power and influence. Dating back to the 1980s, conservative Christian groups (primarily Protestants), banded together to exert influence over policy and elections. But as the religious landscape in the US changed, the coalition had to change as well. The tent, as they say, had to get bigger and more inclusive of religious conservatives from different faiths and denominations. The trend towards more overt involvement in politics by religiously-affiliated groups started after the Clinton administration and it shows no sign of slowing. What the individual religions cannot do on their own, they hope to do by joining together to put the combined weight of their membership behind their policy push, sort of a faith-based cartel. A pseudo Big Religion.

Some Big Businesses, who have no religious limitation on their political activity (and Citizens United to provide them with free speech), already strive to have a maximum impact on elections. Imagine the possibilities if Big Religion and Big Business combining to increase each other’s influence over policy and daily life.

Some people argue that anyone who goes to work for a religiously-affiliated institution has to expect to toe their doctrinal lines and if the employees don’t like they, they can quit and find another job. But what if all businesses are granted the ability to impose the religious beliefs of their owners on the employees?

And what better starting place than with something as innocuous as contraception?

Ted Nugent for President?

The slippery slope of American ignorance has just been greased: Ted Nugent wants to be president.

His claims to fame:

  • He’s got seven baby-mamas who’ve given him nine kids (wonder if he’s up to date on child support?). Imagine that reality show. By the way, this fact is being touted as his campaign slogan.
  • He cut into his own leg with a chainsaw. While filming a TV show. Makes Gerald Ford’s falls and George W. Bush’s pretzel look like they weren’t trying.
  • He LOVES the NRA. Question is: how much do they love him?
  • He was investigated for threatening President Obama. That oughta be good experience for conducting foreign policy.

Can’t wait to count the legs on this one. Think he can get Michelle Bachmann as his running mate? Or would Sarah Palin be a better choice?

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Corporate contraception: the religious freedom of Hobby Lobby

bcbHow much discrimination, in the name of exercising one’s religious freedom, is acceptable?

Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based arts and crafts supply store with 500+ establishments across the US, along with its sister company, a Christian book store chain, are seeking exemption from the birth control requirement of the Affordable Care Act. On June 27, a judge suspended fines of up to $1.3 million while the case is being pursued:

“The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had said Thursday the companies were likely to prevail, comparing the companies to a kosher butcher unwilling to adopt non-kosher practices as part of a government order.”

A kosher butcher? I wonder what kind of health care he provides to his employees? Because that’s really the issue. More on that later.

Hobby Lobby, Inc. is owned by the David Green and his family (worth about $4.5 billion) and has been a privately held corporation for its 40 year life. The company’s Web site proclaims, “The foundation of our business has been, and will continue to be strong values, and honoring the Lord in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.” Like Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby is closed on Sunday. The Greens donate tens of millions of dollars a year to evangelical causes. A major recipient has been Oral Roberts University, which has been given over $110 million since 2007.

But the Green’s enterprises—Hobby Lobby, Christian bookstores, religious movie production companies, and an advertising agency, among others—are not churches or religious non-profits, they are privately held corporations. If the family chooses to donate a significant portion of their wealth to religious causes, that’s their choice.

But in this case, the Greens want the option to extend their religious practices into their business by denying their employees insurance coverage for certain forms of birth control on religious grounds. The objectionable methods prevent a fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus, and, since the Greens believe that life begins at conception, preventing the egg from taking root is tantamount to abortion. So far, there is not an exception in Affordable Care Act implementation to contraception coverage for secular employers.

The Obama administration and Health and Human Services have been working ways to provide even employees of churches and other religious institutions with separate optional coverage through insurance companies for contraception. Some religious institutions, most notably religiously-affiliated schools, have tried to restrict or influence the behaviour of employees by having them classified as “ministers” and therefore subject to all of the organizations’ precepts. Others simply issue a blanket statement requiring all employees to adhere to institutional teachings. So far, there don’t seem to be any cases of women fired for using artificial birth control, probably because of medical confidentiality requirements. But there are cases of women being terminated for getting pregnant.

Interestingly, over 2/3 of sexually active Catholic women use artificial birth control, despite the Church’s ban. This is a similar figure to that for the female population at large. One could assume that Hobby Lobby’s workforce is probably reflective of that norm.

On Hobby Lobby’s Web site, in the Career section, it asks, “Why Hobby Lobby?” It offers these answers:

  • Benefits
  • Advancement Possibilities
  • Employee Discount
  • Community Involvement
  • Stores Closed on Sunday

Note that it does not say “Christian working environment,” “Faith-based employer,” or use other language that would imply a religious litmus test. It’s not clear when, in the hiring process, a potential employee would be informed about the need to adhere to the Green’s beliefs regarding contraception. Yes, Christian language is used on the site and is apparently prominent in the Hobby Lobby stores, but that is a reflection of the owner’s beliefs, not a requirement for its employee’s beliefs. Why? That would be illegal.

Relating this back to the kosher butcher case, there are a number of differences. A kosher butcher shop exists to meet the dietary needs of observant Jews. To be kosher, the butcher shop needs to conduct the processing of meat in specific ways and provide for the appropriate certifications of the products. Not all of the employees have to keep kosher. A shop could even be owned by a non-Jew. What’s more, kosher, is in its essence a product specification that exists for the requirements of the consumer. Without those requirements, there would be no demand to supply, despite the desire of the business owner.

Hobby Lobby does not exist to serve primarily a religious function, except maybe in the minds of its owners. There is no product specification that comes from consumers for a faith-based arts and crafts store. It sells more than religious goods and many goods that have no religious purpose. Its locations are diverse and seem to be selected for their profitability, rather than the orthodoxy of the customer base.

The Greens, and their chief ally in their lawsuit, the Becket Fund (a non-profit that pursues cases of religious discrimination ) state:

“The Green family respects the religious convictions of all Americans, including those who do not agree with them. All they are asking is for the government to give them the same respect by not forcing them to violate their religious beliefs.”

The grounds for their lawsuit is that the Affordable Care Act violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Originally passed to protect Native American sacred sites and practices, it requires that governments A) refrain from limiting a person’s religious freedom, unless they have a compelling societal reason for doing so and B) select the least intrusive method to achieve their goal, if they need to restrict a person’s religious freedom. The Green contend that the Affordable Care Act both limits religious freedom and is overly intrusive.

Now that would be true if we were talking about the federal government limiting members of the Green family in their religious beliefs or practices. But that’s not the situation. In this case it’s the ability of the Green’s family-owned corporation to act on the religious beliefs of its owners. A business incorporates to establish a protective wall between itself and its owners. The Green family wants to keep that wall in place, but create a conduit through it for their religious beliefs.

The problem with opening a religious conduit for corporations to act on their owner’s beliefs is where does that right end? Can a florist refuse to sell flowers to an existing customer when the customer marries his same-sex partner? Could an employer who opposes homosexuality or Islam, refuse to hire Muslims or gays?

Can they refuse to serve an African-American Muslim lesbian at the lunch counter?

Of course the another tack does not increase the porous nature of the corporate wall—it builds on recent case law, namely Citizens United. There is the possibility that the courts or government agencies will expand the definition of corporate personhood to allow for corporations to have not only free speech, but also freedom of religion.

Which raises the interesting question, if corporations are people, what religion should they choose?

Yes, Americans have religious freedom—both in terms of their belief and practice, or lack thereof, and from having religion forced upon them.

Yes, Americans can take their labor elsewhere if they find working conditions untenable.

But allowing secular corporations to cross those lines and impose faith-based dictates sets a bad precedent that has to be stopped.

CATEGORY: CrimeCorruption

The George Zimmerman case: 12 ignorant people

Okay, make that six in the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman case.

For a long time, at least since the OJ Simpson trial, I’ve had the sinking feeling that, in the age of Three Ring Justice, that the days of selecting twelve unbiased members of a jury may be long-over.  Instead, the defense and prosecution seem to need to seek out the untainted:  those untouched by media coverage.

But who does that really describe any more?

In most places, voter rolls are still the source of jurors.  We’d like to think that we prefer an informed electorate (don’t get me started on the reality of the situation).  But, in the case of jurors, being “informed” also usually means “disqualified.”

Sometimes, as hard as I try, I cannot help being “informed,” even about that which I would prefer to be ignorant.  Granted, I reduce my chances of preserving absolute ignorance by having a Google News home page.  But, still, I could not go for a beer at my favorite local establishment without seeing coverage of the Jody Arias trial.  I tried to ignore the whole sordid tale of the peroxide swan who reverted to brunette duckling as a defense strategy.  But, there it was, with my burger and beer, in my news headlines, even on the monitor at the gas pump.

So, how does one stay ignorant?

Juror B-37 said during the selection process that, for her, newspapers were for “lining the bird cage,” and no, she didn’t read them while performing that task.  She did watch the news and had heard of the case, but, aside from thinking it unfortunate, had no opinion.  I wonder if she votes?  I wonder if she informs herself the same way for that other civic duty?

I loved the movie Twelve Angry Men, the original, with Henry Fonda.  Yes, I understand the problems with the sort of juror activism portrayed in the movie.  But at least it contrasted the involved and informed jurors with the ignorant and reluctant.

I’ve only been called for jury duty once–about three years ago (so I’m probably eligible again).  I spent a week mostly offline sitting in the pool room.  Got called to one selection group–it ended with the person to my left.  Went back to waiting and reading.

A friend told me I’d never be selected anyway:  too smart.  Maybe that’s true–I wasn’t going to hide my nature to avoid or ensure service.  She had covered her education and intelligence behind a wad of cracking gum and smart-aleck answers in a ploy to get dismissed.  She got chosen.

I’m not sure how to address the ignorance issue.  Or even if it really needs addressed.  It just seems important for the jurors to be able to understand the evidence–and, for that, they need to be aware of the world, not ignorant of it.

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Amanda, Gina, and Michelle survived, but not all women in Cleveland are that lucky

SeymourAveCropToday Cleveland celebrates the return of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight. We feel a collective sense of gratitude and amazement at their survival and reappearance. I listened to versions of their story covered locally, nationally, and internationally and that feeling seems nearly universal.

But they were gone for a decade. Gina disappeared when she was 14 and Amanda when she was almost 17. They’ve spent a significant amount of their lives in captivity, in conditions we don’t even begin to understand. And their prison was in a crowded urban neighborhood, near some of the most heavily re-gentrified neighborhoods in Cleveland, Ohio City and Tremont. How did this go on for so long? How many times have we asked ourselves that lately? Boston, Newtown, others. Situations that weren’t right but no one could put their finger on what was wrong.

In Cleveland, we faced the same question with the Anthony Sowell case. He was charged in 2009 with the murder of eleven women over a four-year period. The bodies were buried in the yard and stored throughout the house. And no one noticed. At least no one “credible.” There were women who apparently escaped, but no one connected the dots. And the 11 women who died? Other women with credibility issues: addiction, criminal records.

The first woman kidnapped and brought to Seymour Avenue was Michelle Knight. A relative said that the family thought that Michelle left town after her baby was taken away from her by child welfare. So far the media has not pried into Michelle’s past (eventually they will, once the regular details get a little boring). But her situation bears similarities to some of the women killed by Sowell.

What Amanda, Gina, and Michelle also shared with Sowell’s victims was a neighborhood mired in poverty. The Near West Side of Cleveland, outside of Ohio City and Tremont, has rundown housing stock, gang problems, and significant homelessness. Not far from Seymour Avenue is the spot along I-90 where Angel Bradley-Crockett’s body was eventually found by police after several phone calls and a visit by the highway department – the police had dismissed the naked body as a “deer carcass.” Her killer was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

In a world whose mantra seems to be, ‘there’s no such thing as privacy,” we’re pretty good at minding our own business in the Midwest. Neighbor puts up a 6-foot fence? That’s his business. Neighbor boards up his windows (providing it doesn’t violate the building codes)? That’s his business. As Charles Ramsey, the neighbor who helped Amanda escape put it, “Like I said my neighbor, you got to have some pretty big testicles to pull this off, bro. Because we see this dude every day. I mean every day.”

There is no one answer to why this happened or went on for so long. But Cleveland seems to keep repeating the same mistakes where its missing poor women are concerned. Back in March there was a movement in the US and elsewhere to draw attention to violence against women around the world. It seems we have a great deal of work to do, still, at home.

CATEGORY: Guns

Showdown looming between the NRA and 3-D printed guns

LiberatorGunThere’s about to be a really interesting showdown: the NRA versus 3-D printed guns. The NRA had its national convention during the first weekend in May in Houston. NRA Vice-President Wayne LaPierre proclaimed, “We will never back away from our resolve to defend our rights and the rights of all law-abiding American gun owners.” Well, Wayne, we’ll just see about that. Because this year the NRA convention took place on the weekend between the publication of the Forbes article, “Meet The ‘Liberator’: Test-Firing The World’s First Fully 3D-Printed Gun,” and the release of the blueprints for the gun for use with home 3-D printers.

The incoming President of the NRA, Jim Porter, is the down-home type that the NRA hopes its members can identify with: pot-bellied, baseball cap wearing, southern, white, middle-aged. If you haven’t seen this video of Jim, you really ought to–his thoughts on the “War of Northern Aggression” are worth a minute of your time. After all, that’s what the NRA is about, right? Protecting the rights of the little guy to legally acquire, carry around, and play with an arsenal. Baloney.

We know that’s not the whole story because standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Jim is Wayne LaPierre. And Wayne is not only NRA VP, he’s also its CEO. He’s the real power. He’s the one who has been steering the NRA closer to the Koch Brothers, Crossroads GPS, and other conservative sources of Big Money:

The Violence Policy Center has estimated that since 2005, gun manufacturers have contributed up to $38.9 million to the NRA. Those numbers, however, are based on publicly listed “sponsorship” levels on NRA fundraising pamphlets. The real figures could be much bigger. Like Crossroads GPS or Americans for Prosperity, or the Sierra Club for that matter, the NRA does not disclose any donor information even though it spends millions on federal elections. (The Nation)

That’s right: the NRA, not surprisingly, has close ties to gun manufacturers. I wonder how happy they are going to be about “gun owners” becoming “gun printers?” My guess is: not very.

If the NRA were really about the protecting the rights, freedoms, and privacy of the “little guy,” the average American gun owner, then they would be all about supporting printed guns. After all, what’s more off-the-radar than printing your own gun? No registry. No background check. But also, no profit. So we’ll see how egalitarian the NRA really is.

One of the many ironies in this situation is that the British had prohibited manufacturing in the US of items that were manufactured in the UK, including guns. Dissatisfaction over not being able to make guns (amongst many goods), was a contributing factor to the American Revolution. And we all know how important references to the Founding Fathers, the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution are to the NRA. Given that level of emphasis on American founding principles, the contortions that will have to take place to justify the NRA opposing 3-D printed guns will be really interesting to watch.

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

A quick history lesson: Falklands or Malvinas, it’s complicated

Thirty years after the Falklands War, the islands where the sheep to people ratio is 200:1 are back in the news. First, 99% of the voters in the March 12 referendum voted to remain a British territory. Second, many of Margaret Thatcher’s papers relating to the war were released on March 22. It seems that some in her party didn’t believe that the islands were worth a war.

Most Americans probably don’t remember much about the war and know even less about why it was fought. It certainly doesn’t seem to have enough significance today to warrant the recent headlines. But this is one of those stories that reminds us about the serious consequences of decisions that seem unimportant.

The Falkland Islands are about 300 miles off the southern coast of Argentina. They were probably first spotted by the Dutch, but the British and French made independent claims to the islands by the mid 1700s (most of the landings seem to have been made by accident when ships encountered the horrible sailing conditions near the tip of South America). The French lost their claim to the Spanish and everyone seems to have quit the islands by the early 1800s, leaving the equivalent of ball markers in their place, just in case they decided to return. Well, the Brits returned first–part of that whole “Sun never sets on the British Empire” push in the mid-19th Century. Such way stations were important for provisioning ships bound for China or elsewhere in the days before the great canals.

Colonialism and imperialism being what they were, Britain’s Falkland claim was secure for most of a century, until after the World Wars and the rise of self-determination. Then it seemed more important for Argentina to claim the islands off its coast. By the 1960s, Argentina had become adamant, though strictly vocal in its demands. Argentina’s government veered between military coups and the Peronistas (who rose from a coup in 1943). Juan Peron’s third wife, Isabel, who modeled her appearance after the iconic Evita, became president after her husband’s death. She was overthrown in 1976 by a junta that ruled until 1983, the period of the “Dirty War.”

At some point before 1982, an Argentine actress donned an evening gown, piled her hair up a la Evita, and hired a helicopter to fly her to the Falklands. There, brandishing a machine gun, she climbed off the helicopter and claimed the Falklands for Argentina. It was all captured on film. Great publicity stunt, ineffective invasion.

Finally, in 1982, Argentina acted in earnest. After six years in power, the junta was facing discontent. Inflation hit triple digits, brutal repression was meeting resistance, and there were calls for reform. In March, the military acted to restore Argentina’s territorial sovereignty by invading the Falklands.

The conventional story goes that Argentina invaded, Britain determined to defend the islands, and, after a brief period of attempted neutrality, Ronald Reagan sided with his ally and friend, Margaret Thatcher. Except that there was more to the story.

To begin with, according to the just-released Thatcher papers, the Tories were split over the Falklands. Some advisors even backed buying out the inhabitants and offering them full citizenship to move elsewhere. But the more hawkish elements of the cabinet won out and an expeditionary force was launched in April to retake the islands. The sticking point, early on, was gaining the support of the United States.

At first, Ronald Reagan tried to remain neutral and even offered to mediate a peace settlement. This was not what Thatcher was expecting from one of the closest and most reliable allies of the UK. She drafted a note to Reagan expressing her displeasure, but was eventually convinced to tone down the original language:

“Throughout my administration I have tried to stay loyal to the United States as our great ally,” she wrote. “In your message you say that your suggestions are faithful to the basic principles we must protect. I wish they were, but alas they are not.”

There were a number of factors in play in the US response. It’s not clear how many were known by the Prime Minister. Some members of the Reagan Administration, particularly Secretary of State Alexander Haig, doubted Britain’s and Thatcher’s ability to pull off the Falklands mission. They also were concerned about how long the Tories would remain in office. But there were also larger issues.

The Reagan Doctrine in Latin America was a manifestation of the Cold War that built on the Monroe Doctrine (i.e., the Western Hemisphere is closed to European colonization) and the Roosevelt Corollary (i.e., the US will act as policeman to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, if necessary). In Cold War terms, this meant that the Americas were closed to economic or political movements that were considered unfriendly to the US. Consequently, the US maintained the Cuban Embargo and opposed the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. In keeping with the theory “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the US supported Pinochet in Chile and right-wing military governments in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Argentina.

By 1982, the Reagan Administration was already involved in covert activities in Central America, centered on overthrowing the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. The US backed the guerrilla opponents of the Sandinistas, known as the Contras, with aid and weapons. The US also needed to provide them with training, but doing that openly in a covert operation was impossible, so we needed to outsource that operation to someone with a strong military, who knew the language, and was somewhat beholden to the US. According to my late graduate advisor, who spent decades on the subject, our covert partner was Argentina. It’s not known if Margaret Thatcher knew about that arrangement. Or if she cared about putting Reagan between the proverbial rock and hard place. She probably did not earn the “Iron Lady” nickname for having a magnetic personality.

One other thing to consider—for which we also don’t know the answer. Did our reliance on the Argentinian junta encourage them with regard to the Falklands? They certainly would not have been the first—or last—country to mistake “utility” for “license.” In any case, after they rejected Reagan’s offer to negotiate a peace, the Argentines learned just how much we valued them—Reagan publicly supported the Thatcher government diplomatically and militarily.

It has to be assumed that Argentinian training for the Contras ended abruptly—leaving the US with a big hole to fill in a hurry. The CIA had to find another country with a strong military, who owed the US for its support, and who could keep a secret. Our second choice, the story goes, was Israel.

This explains the rather puzzling news reports that started surfacing over the next year or so: the Sandinistas were using military advisors from the Palestine Liberation Organization. Huh? Why import military advisors from the Middle East? Unless, perhaps, they were familiar with the tactics—and the tacticians—being used by their opponents.

The British military force arrived in the Falklands through the end of April. By the end of June, Argentina was defeated. Of course, they left behind nearly 20,000 landmines as their legacy—which has probably continued to endear them to the Falkland Islanders. The military junta was discredited in Argentina, so much so that they allowed elections to take place the following year and relinquished power. Margaret Thatcher went on to serve as prime minister until 1990, outlasting her ally Ronald Reagan in office.

Nicaragua continued to be a thorn in the side of the US. Oliver North and company came up with their “neat idea” to defy Congress by mixing illegal support for the Contras with illegal arms sales to Iran. It all came to light as the Iran-Contra scandal. After that, the most powerful legal weapon in the US arsenal was to economically cripple Nicaragua and hope that the Sandinistas would eventually fall (which is mostly what happened).

Since the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the War on Terror, the US has gone back to mostly ignoring Latin America, except for complaining about their sending the US too many illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants. Not surprisingly, the relationship with Argentina has never been particularly close.

One coda to this story. In 1988, in my first year of grad school, I enrolled in a graduate program for about two weeks during winter break. We spent a few days in Costa Rica and then flew to Nicaragua for the remainder of our studies. The flight from San José to Managua involved a plane that I was assured was older than I was. We circled repeatedly, trying to gain enough altitude to get over the mountains and then descend into Nicaragua. It was on that flight that I discovered, painfully, that I had sinuses, when my head suddenly threatened to split in half. I must have made a loud noise, because I startled the person in the seat to my right, who asked if I was okay. We had a short conversation while my pain subsided with the altitude. Where are you from? Me: United States. Him: Palestine. I did not ask questions.

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Mississippi is fat and wants to stay that way

mississippi-smith-fatMississippi Republican State Senator Tony Smith, who, as a restaurant owner as well as a state senator, conceivably profits from the poor nutritional choices of his constituents, has proposed a piece of state legislation being dubbed the “anti-Bloomberg bill.”  The act’s official title is “An act to reserve to the legislature any regulation of consumer incentive items and nutrition labeling for food that is a menu item in restaurants, food establishments and vending machines; to specify that the act would not affect the federal regulation of nutrition labeling under existing federal law; and for related purposes.”

The purpose would be to prohibit cites or other entities in Mississippi from enacting legislation like that in New York banning enormous sodas (which was recently derailed by a judge). It would also prevent bans on the plastic chachkes that fast food loves to include in its kids’ meals – “Hey kids, collect all 6 and get fat in the process.”

The bill passed 50-1 in the Senate.

Lest you think that the drive to remain the most obese state in the union is somehow partisan, I offer the following. The bill’s sponsor in the House, Democratic Representative Gregory Holloway, explained “We don’t want local municipalities experimenting with labeling of food and any organic agenda.” That’s right, organic food has its own agenda. It’s right up there with the feminist agenda and the homosexual agenda in its threat level to Mississippians.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, Mississippi also gets another prize: worst state for math and science education.

For years, Mississippi has been awarded the “fattest state in the US” prize. If the legislature has its way, they’ll continue an unbroken streak for the foreseeable future. Go Mississippi!

Downton Abbey

The short, useful life of Downton Abbey’s Matthew Crawley

Matthew[Spoiler alert] Poor Matthew Crawley. He survives World War I, early 2oth Century medicine, and plows into a milk truck just after becoming a father. How very British. How very Lawrence of Arabia. Americans were (are) furious.

I realize that I should not admit my love of Downton Abbey. But it is the only show that I’ve made an effort to watch in its original run in years. I know: it’s essentially a soap opera. Yeah, but with really great costumes. And wonderful writing. And Maggie Smith. I know: it romanticizes class divisions and contains historical inaccuracies. Oh well–it’s fiction.

I try to avoid spoilers. It was only by accident that I saw headlines about Dan Stevens, the actor who played Matthew, was leaving Downton. I figured that he would probably get killed off. If the series were made in the USA, we’d just pull a Darrin Stevens and switch actors. But, with the death of Sybil earlier in the season, there was always the faint possibility that the character would live on. But, alas, that was not to be. As soon as Matthew left the hospital after holding his newborn son for the first time, smiling, driving fast through the English countryside, I new he was a goner.

I’m not sure if anyone has asked creator Julian Fellowes about the possible homage to the opening of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia: T.E. Lawrence polishing his motorcycle (a Brough-Superior, first one to do over 100 mph), climbing on and then having a marvelous fast drive on gravel lanes in the English countryside (clip here). Until he encounters bicycles coming in the other direction. With poor Matthew, it was a convertible and a milk truck.

Someone did ask Fellowes for a reaction to the outrage among American fans. His response was not sympathetic, “Most of the [UK] soap operas always use the Christmas special to kill huge quantities of their characters.” Some writers have sympathized with actor’s dissatisfaction with the character of Matthew, saying that he got bad story lines.

I beg to differ. Matthew saved Downton at least five times: becoming the male heir, marrying his cousin Mary and securing her estate and reputation, investing his inheritance in Downton and saving it from bankruptcy, convincing Mary’s father to modernize Downton’s management, and fathering a male heir. He got to fight WWI and survive (even though they thought he was a paraplegic for awhile). He decked Sir Richard. At Christmas. Finally. Best punch thrown in the entire series. He made his Irish brother-in-law-to-be his best man and taught the family to value him.

Yeah, Matthew did spend parts of the series trapped in a wheel chair and then trapped in a period of mourning that reduced him to stumbling around like one of the undead, with dark circles that must have been designed to appeal to the Twilight crowd (do they even know PBS exists?). His character seemed to be frequently Embarrassed, Depressed, Confused, or Offended. And I understand his wanting to leave before he gets so type-cast to Americans that the brevity of his career rivals that of Hugh Grant.

Well, here’s to Dan Stevens in hopes that he made a good choice.

And here’s to Matthew Crawley. Thanks for saving Downton. RIP.