CAT | Social Science & History
Last Saturday, Nov. 30, was the 74th anniversary of the beginning of a forgotten war, the Soviet invasion of Finland, called the Talvisota in Finnish, and the Zimnyaya Woyna in Russian.
The Red Army, which possessed three times as many soldiers as Finland, 30 times as many aircraft, and a hundred times as many tanks, poured across the border in 1939, three months after the beginning of World War II.
The ostensible goal was to take a strip of border territory the Soviets regarded as essential for their security. Leningrad (now again St. Petersburg) was only about 25 miles from the border. Some claim the goal was to totally absorb Finland into the USSR and make it a province of a Great Russian state again.
The Soviets demanded the territory and offered some in exchange. The Finns refused, the Soviets attacked without warning as they had Poland.
The Finns, though vastly outnumbered, had the home field advantage and high morale. The Soviets were hampered by Stalin’s Great Purge of 1937 when the officer corps of the Red Army had been virtually wiped out, leaving only loyal or terrified subordinates in command.
Volunteers from Sweden, Estonia (where the language is essential a Finnish dialect) and America came to fight for Finland. They learned to improvise to make up for lack of materiel. Few now remember how the home-made gasoline bomb came to be named for Vyacheslav Molotov, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars.
But after four months of hard fighting superior numbers told. Finland had to cede the territory the Soviets demanded, and more.
The peace lasted 15 months. After dividing Poland between them the German’s turned on their former ally and attacked the Soviet Union. Finland saw this as an opportunity to regain lost territory and renewed hostilities, fighting alongside Germany.
This led to one of the greatest ironies of the war. Finnish Jews fought alongside the Wehrmacht, the grandfather of a Finnish friend among them. Several were nominated for the Iron Cross, but refused.
The way my Finnish friend put it was, “When the bastards are coming at you shooting, you don’t inquire too closely about the man next to you shooting back.”
Finland walked a tightrope throughout the war. Their war policy was to make it plain they were fighting the Soviet Union as co-belligerents of the Third Reich, not allies. They generally stopped military operations at their pre-war borders, they declined to advance to Leningrad to complete the encirclement of the city, and ceased operations that threatened the Murmansk route of American aid to the Soviets.
The Finns also flatly refused demands by the Nazis to take any anti-Jewish measures.
The end of the war saw concessions of territory by Finland, reparations paid to the USSR, and the lease of a naval base with right of passage to the Soviets. It also saw brief fighting with the Wehrmacht to expel them from Finland.
But they kept their independence and maintained it throughout the Cold War. They were not a satellite state like the countries of Eastern Europe, and though they had a communist presence in their parliament I can testify from personal knowledge their attitude towards the Soviets was one of open truculence.
When my parents traveled from Finland to Russia back in the 1980s their Finnish tour guide told them, “Some things are better in the Soviet Union. They have a better neighbor than we do.”
One sign of Finland’s commitment to being Western is that virtually all young people in Finland are fluent in English, far fewer in Russian though Russia is next door.
It’s significant also that private gun ownership in Finland is the fifth highest in the world, and in Europe neck-and-neck with Switzerland.
Since I was reminded of this anniversary I’ve been trying to think of lessons that might be learned.
One is of course, that life is complicated. The hammering the Red Army took from the Finns in the Winter War forced them to make significant reforms that put them in better shape for the next round. The Finns relationship with Germany went from enemy to co-belligerent to enemy again within the space of a few years.
Another is that sometimes you have to hold your nose and do something that stinks to survive, but you always have to draw the line somewhere.
But most of all I think, is the virtue of what the Finns call “Sisu.”
It’s hard to translate without being wordy, but it means: guts, toughness, strength of will in the face of adversity, never giving up or giving in despite repeated failure, resilience, grit.
Just the other day I had a Facebook exchange with a friend.
This was an exchange of the kind which reminds me of (journalist) Frank Meyer’s observation, “We find comfort among those we agree with, growth among those we disagree with.”
The fact is, sometimes I spend entirely too much time with people I agree with. And of the people I don’t agree with, a lot of them don’t argue very well. It’s just not very challenging to discuss disagreements with somebody whose contentions begin and end with, “I just feel…”
When you disagree with someone who can support their position well, it challenges your brain, makes you define and refine what you believe and why you believe it.
The Facebook format forces you to do it in tiny bites, which is frustrating but also sharpens your ability to write succinctly.
In this case the point of disagreement came down to the hot button issue of our day, race.
He believes there is a cabal of white supremacists attempting to gin up racial hatred, because they are fearful of coming demographic shifts which will result in whites becoming a numerical minority around the middle of the century.
I think this is absurd, that white supremacy is the obsession of a tiny minority of pathetic losers.
In my humble opinion racial divisions are being ginned up because a voting society can always be dominated by a coalition of minorities. (There is allegedly a mathematical proof of this.) Therefore it is in the interest of at least one party to hinder the assimilation of minorities, foster divisions in society and nourish a sense of grievance.
But after signing off it occurred to me that it may not matter who is right or wrong, if we lose sight of what it means to be an American.
I don’t care what the racial/ethnic makeup of America becomes, so long as we remain American in the only way that counts.
There have been lots of nations which retained their culture but changed their look. The Mongols in the time of Ghengis Khan were not Asians but a Turkic people among whom red hair and grey eyes were fairly common. That changed after the conquest of China when every Mongol warrior brought home a Chinese concubine or ten.
Several North and South American Indian tribes and bands have become more phenotypically white or black due to intermarriage. Gypsies I’ve known in Northern Europe look distinctly different from their cousins in Romania and Bulgaria. Ashkenazic Jews often look far more European than their Sephardic brethren. Examples multiply.
I do believe that fears of demographic shifts are not groundless. I will state here and now that I used to be an open-borders libertarian. I rethought that position after conversations with people in the Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
These postage stamp-sized countries have always lived with the knowledge that a hiccup of history could wipe their nation out – forever. Who now remembers the Lusitanians? Or that the Prussians were originally a Slavic people whose land and very name was taken by the Germanic people who wiped them out?
For the Baltic peoples, a “demographic shift” means their countries become Russian, and they become a historical footnote.
But America is too big for that to happen, isn’t it?
Furthermore, America has always been a mixture of peoples. Samuel Johnson described Americans disdainfully as a bastard race of Scots, Irish, Germans and Indians. Why should any more mixing make a difference?
(After the Revolution perhaps Dr. Johnson had time to reflect that though it’s the purebreds that win the dog shows, it’s the mutts that win the fights.)
It shouldn’t matter – unless we lose sight of what makes us all Americans.
America is almost unique among nations in that our identity as a people is not defined by ancestry, but by our relationship to a set of ideas embodied in a canon of political literature.
The only other examples that come to mind are the Jews and their relationship to Tanach (Torah, Prophets and Teaching), and the Icelanders and their Sagas, historical literature about the founding of their nation.
The American canon is ill-defined but certainly includes the Declaration of Independence, Common Sense by Tom Paine, the Constitution, and The Federalist (a kind of operating manual for the Constitution). I’d say the bookends might be John Locke’s Treatises on Civil Government on one end, and the First and Second Inaugural Addresses of Abraham Lincoln on the other.
I would include Cato’s Letters by Trenchard and Gordon, a whole lot of pamphlets that circulated on both sides of the Atlantic in the 50 years prior to the Revolution, and the anti-Federalist papers as well.
Much of the Hebrew canon is made up of discussion and debate about the proper relationship of men to God and men to men in society. The American canon is a debate about the relationship of men to each other in political society.
In the American canon many historical threads come together. Echos of the Irish Brehon law that “a man is better than his birth.” The Native American notion that one may become a member of the tribe by adoption as much as birth. And the Hebrew tradition that a man can demand an accounting for his treatment by his sovereign – or even his God.
This is what being an American means to me, and if we lose this we – and humanity, lose everything.
A Texas company Solid Concepts just announced they had made a working model M1911 automatic pistol and test fired 50 rounds through it.
What made this interesting was that the gun was made with a 3-D printer.
Just last year the open-source organization Defense Distributed printed a plastic gun and actually got a few rounds through it, but it broke down very quickly as you might expect.
The State Department then “suggested” Defense Distributed take down their download links for design components as they might possibly be in violation of International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
Solid Concepts succeeded in printing a metal gun, and then fell all over themselves saying, not to worry this tech isn’t the desktop printer you can buy for about $2,000, this is a much more expensive model.
“The industrial printer we used costs more than my college tuition (and I went to a private university),” company spokesperson Alyssa Parkinson said. “And the engineers who run our machines are top of the line; they are experts who know what they’re doing and understand 3-D printing better than anyone in this business.”
Big deal. Anyone remember what desktop computers used to cost when they first came out, and how little memory and computing power they had? About like your smart phone has now.
I myself have been gritting my teeth, because I’ve been telling anybody who’d listen for the past 30 years this was coming.
The ability to build small arms in small workshops is not new. After the British military disaster at Dunkirk in World War II when a great many of their combat arms were abandoned, they started producing the Sten gun, a stamped metal machine gun with a design so simple it could be produced in garages.
The Polish Resistance used to turn make them in apartments using metal salvaged from bed frames.
Blacksmiths in the Philippines and Afghanistan have turned out replicas of the world’s small arms on hand-cranked lathes for generations now.
For decades it’s been an open secret that any modern machine shop quipped with computer-controlled milling machines could turn out small arms with the right software programs.
The only difference was in the level of expertise needed. New 3D printing technology lowers the skill requirement and puts the ability into the hands of basically everyone.
And it’s going to get cheaper and easier, that’s just the nature of technology.
The more difficult problem actually is the production of modern smokeless powders and primers for the bullets. I’m not certain what the level of tech necessary for this is, but I’m going to guess about the sophistication of your average meth lab.
Bottom line, banning guns from society is a fantasy.
Ban the technology? How well has that ever worked?
And do you want to ban the tech that is going to revitalize manufacturing and make possible wonders such as small business custom car manufacturing?
Enact draconian penalties for possession of firearms?
That’s certainly one option. One that creates an incentive not to submit to arrest and try to shoot it out with the police instead.
And what haunts me is the feeling that once all firearms are banned, why wouldn’t a criminal, or even a very scared citizen willing to break the law, say, “Oh well, hung for a sheep, hung for a lamb. The heck with a pistol, print me a Sten”?
Law enforcement is rightly concerned about firearms with no serial numbers getting into circulation, and guns cheap enough to be used in one crime then destroyed. The existence of a legal aboveground firearms industry at least insured that almost all guns could be identified and a reasonably accurate record of the chain of ownership maintained.
As a society we should have been thinking and discussing the potential consequences of this for a long time now. Instead we’ve been absorbed in what we can now see was an utterly pointless debate about whether society should be disarmed.
We are for better or worse going to remain an armed society, at least in potentia, forever.
On the strength of precisely one feature-length movie, “District 9” (2009), South African writer/director Neill Blomkamp was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2009, by Forbes magazine as the 21st most powerful celebrity from Africa, and by legendary director Ridley Scott as a “game-changing filmmaker.”
“Elysium” grossed $11 million on opening day, and $139 million box office to date. It’s already made back the $115 million production costs.
“District 9” was made for a paltry $30 million and did $211 million box office. So it’s a safe bet Hollywood is going to let Blomkamp make more films.
That is unless they catch on to what he’s up to. Then he’s toast.
“Elysium” is set in a very dystopian Los Angeles in the year 2154. The city is a third world slum populated by a massive influx from Latin America.
Max (Matt Damon) is the rare underclass Anglo. He’s a former car thief/convict who works in a factory which makes robot police. The same ones who beat the stuffings out of him for sarcastic backtalk.
Overhead in orbit is Elysium, a wheel-shaped space colony (technically a Stanford torus) populated by one percenters in the ultimate gated community.
Lots of the earthly poor would like to get there, not least because every mansion has med-pods which can fix anything short of death.
Most get shot down by Kruger (Sharlto Copley) an operative with a thick South African accent, employed by Elysium’s Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster).
The squeamish president of Elysium wants this to stop. Delacourt cooly asks him if he has any children, as she does.
Delacourt has a stake in the future, and is willing to protect it at any cost – including staging a coup.
Back on Earth Max is trying to go more-or-less straight, but is forced to hire on with a gangster in a job to invade Elysium when he is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at work. He’s got five days to live and needs to get to a med-pod.
Max’s childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga), a nurse, also has an interest in the job because her daughter is dying of leukemia.
Hollywood loves to hate rich people running evil corporations who get warm fuzzies oppressing and exploiting the poor and downtrodden.
Hollywood is of course the home of humble craftsmen toiling in a cottage industry.
Reviews have been wildly divergent. Some conservative media have dismissed “Elysium” as socialist claptrap.
On the other side of the aisle, Ben Kenigsberg at Roger Ebert’s site calls it a “class allegory.”
Me? I think Blomkamp is trying to make us think uncomfortable thoughts about problems which have no easy solution – or perhaps no solution at all. An unforgivable sin in Hollywood.
Blomkamp is an Afrikaner, descendant of Dutch, French Huguenots, and a mixed bag of European dissenters. He was raised during the last gasp of Apartheid, and saw civilization in South Africa start to unravel after it ended.
His mother took him and his siblings to Canada after a 17-year-old friend was murdered by carjackers in his own driveway. He once saw a black janitor beaten half to death by a gang of blankes (whites).
On a trip to Tiajuana, just across a thin line from San Diego, Blomkamp was kidnapped and held for $900 ransom – by the police.
Note the fictional Los Angeles of “Elysium” was filmed in the very real Mexico City.
What Blomkamp presents us with fictionally, is the reality that industrial civilization provides us with a lot of nice stuff, not least of which is medical care that prevents most of our children from dying in childhood.
But that’s not the case in much of the rest of the world. From our southern border to the tip of South America are millions of people who would like to have what we have. People who love their children as much as we love ours.
But what would happen if the borders fell?
Apartheid was morally repugnant. So is what happened after the apartheid regime in Rhodesia fell to the joy of all right-thinking peoples who don’t live there. So is what’s happening in Blomkamp’s native South Africa.
And maybe Los Angeles soon enough, the city Blomkamp calls “Johannesburg lite.”
Anyone remember that Cuban and Argentine working classes once had higher standards of living than the United States?
Blomkamp sees that civilization balances on a knife edge, and appreciates it more than those who’ve always had it ever can.
Hollywood evidently saw “Elysium” as a movie about the virtuous poor versus the villainous rich. They didn’t see that Blomkamp’s vision of the future is much more complicated than that.
Shhhhhhh! Don’t tell them, and maybe we’ll see more movies from this game-changing filmmaker.
UPDATE: OK, “Elysium” has been out for a while and I can indulge in a spoiler in good conscience. I just had a conversation with a bud who told me a conservative friend complained the movie was 10 minutes too long – referring to the scene at the end where the shuttles take off from Elysium full of med pods and land in the slums.
Joyous mobs of people rush to the shuttles to get all their ails fixed. Because of course the only reason the inhabitants of Elysium never did this of their own free will is that they are heartless one-percenters who enjoy being the only people who can fix everything that goes wrong with their bodies.
What struck me was, maybe the movie should have gone on for another ten minutes.
Millions of people rushing to… how many med pods? People who can neither build nor maintain them.
And how much energy do they use? How much computing power, if they are fixing things on the DNA level? How much rare or hard-to-get material do they use? How often do they break down and what does it take to fix them?
And what’s going to happen when the next thousand people in line, assuming these people do lines, hear “Beep, beep, beep. Only ten fixits left on this med pod.”?
July 4th is upon us again. This year it falls on a Thursday, and as usual we’ll celebrate with fireworks.
I have a guest from Poland staying with me who I will take to the celebrations at our town’s biggest park to see the display.
Poland is a country connected to ours through much history from the very beginnings of our country.
A Pole Kasimirz Pulaski helped found the U.S. Cavalry and died leading a charge at the Siege of Savannah in our Revolution. The U.S. Army cavalry ensign is, coincidentally or not, the red and white banner of Poland.
Pulaski came to America as an exile from Poland under sentence of death for leading an uprising against Russian domination of his country.
When word of his death reached Poland, his enemy King Stanislaw August remarked, “Pulaski died as he lived, a hero – but an enemy of kings.”
Another Pole Taddeusz Kosciusko brought his skills as a combat engineer to the cause of American independence, and designed the fortifications at West Point.
Kosciusko later led an uprising in 1794 against Russia and Prussia in a vain attempt to prevent the dismemberment of his country by Russia, Prussia and Austria. He failed, and Poland was wiped off the map of Europe for more than 130 years. Sentenced to death, he was saved from execution by personal appeals from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Other foreigners served in the army of George Washington, bringing much-needed military skills to an army of amateurs led by a commander whose only military experience had been 18 years earlier and who had never commanded more than 1,000 men.
Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben, a phony baron but a real soldier, taught military drill to the raw American recruits.
Von Steuben once remarked in exasperation, “It’s not enough to give an American an order, you have to tell him why!”
Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb, first came to America in 1768 on a covert mission for France, to determine the level of discontent among colonists. He was impressed by the “spirit of independence” among the Americans he met, and in 1777 he returned with his friend the Marquis de Layette to fight for that independence.
De Kalb was mortally wounded at the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780.
While de Kalb’s wounds were being tended by a British surgeon he said, “I thank you sir for your generous sympathy, but I die the death I always prayed for: the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.”
Lafayette returned to France after the Revolution, He became a tireless supporter of the cause of the liberation of Poland, and was very nearly sent to the guillotine when the French Revolution went seriously wrong.
What brought these men here, to face and sometimes meet death in what must have seemed an uncertain cause at best.
Perhaps it was this:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
We forget today how these words terrified the ancient autocracies of the Old World. How they denied the right of any government not based on the protection of human right to exist, and asserted the right of the people “to alter or abolish it.”
And we forget how men of many nations saw our cause as their own.
One Englishman transplanted to America, Tom Paine, wrote in 1776, “Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for all mankind.”
Happy Fourth of July.
Well I took my son to see “World War Z” the other day and will probably be reviewing it week after next unless something more compelling comes along.
(Sneak peak: as an action movie it’s pretty good.)
I’m old enough to remember the second wave of monster films in the ’60s when I was a kid. The first wave being the black-and-white classics of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. Or maybe they were the second and third waves, there were some classic silent monster films.
It seems to me this wave has some significant differences. For one, the old monster films either had only one monster, or one primary monster. A Dracula film was about Dracula. He may have turned some beautiful women into vampires along the way but only the Count really counted.
Nowadays they pile on the monsters. They’ve taken an idea from the late Richard Matheson (who died last week at the age of 83) of a plague of monsters and run with it.
In Matheson’s “I am Legend” (1954, filmed as The Last Man on Earth in 1964, The Omega Man in 1971, and I Am Legend in 2007) the world is overrun by something like vampires or zombies created by a plague.
Matheson also introduced the first hint of the vampire as not-so-bad guy. This idea was fleshed out in Fred Saberhagen’s “The Dracula Tapes” and sequels, where we learned that Count Dracula was some kind of uncle to Sherlock Holmes.
The 1979 “Dracula” with Frank Langella as Dracula and Lawrence Olivier as Abraham Van Helsing introduced the “sexy Dracula” that had young girls itching to roll down their turtlenecks for the smooth-talking count.
Now we have the “Twilight” series, “The Vampire Diaries” and “True Blood” with whole families, clans and civil rights movements of vampires who if not all good guys, at least have the choice of being good.
Then came the Zombie Apocalypse, hordes of zombie books and movies in which the zombie condition like vampirism is an infectious disease, but doesn’t make you more attractive.
Zombies are like vampires in one sense, they’re corpses who won’t stay dead. They’re different in a whole lot of other ways though.
For one, vampire legends are common in a lot of different countries, though we got Dracula from Romania via Irish author Bram Stoker.
Incidentally, though the persona of Count Dracula was based on the historical Voivode (Prince, or “Governor”) of Wallachia, Vlad Tepes (“Vlad the Impaler”) Dracula (“Son of the Dragon”), he is remembered as a national hero in Romania, and not at all associated with vampirism. Making him into a vampire in fact intensely irritates some Romanians I know.
Zombies as we know them come from one place – Haiti. And they’re real.
There is a theory vampire legends may have come from observing people infected with rabies, though that seems a stretch to me.
The origin of zombies is known however, and has been for some time. Zombies are a legend from Haitian voodoo, but based on the practice of drugging hapless victims to make them fall into a death-like coma, then revive them after their own funeral and keep them compliant and stupefied with drugs.
Haiti’s French masters knew about this in the 18th century, and knew it wasn’t supernatural. The colonial penal code of Haiti had a law making it a crime to give anyone a drug to make them appear to die, revive them and make them into slaves.
In 1985 Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis published “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” an account of his research in Haiti to find the zombie drug. Which actually turned out to be a sophisticated combination of drugs derived from datura, pufferfish venom, toad, and sea cucumber.
After being retrieved from their graves and revived, victims were dosed with lower concentrations of drugs, and possibly a bit brain damaged from lack of oxygen. And because of the superstitions about zombies, if they escaped they couldn’t go home.
The appeal of vampires is easy to understand I think. Though way mutated from the original myth of a demon-animated corpse, the modern incarnation is basically an immortal superhero with some weaknesses. So you have to stay in after sunrise and your diet is a little restricted, big deal. And they even fudge that a bit these days with animal blood and sunscreen.
(If you want a modern treatment of the vampire closer to the original myth, check out “Let Me In” (2010) or better, get the Swedish original “Låt den rätte komma in” (2008). In one word – chilling.)
But what’s the appeal of zombies?
Simple. You get to shoot a lot of people in the head.
There is a lot of concern, fully justified in my opinion, about first-person shooter games. I’m concerned as a parent about games which offer practice in killing people.
With zombies you can blast away all you like with a clear conscience. I have to admit that I’ve wasted a few quarters in “House of the Dead” video games myself from time to time.
I started out last Monday writing my weekly movie review when a report of terrorist activity in Montevideo, Minnesota landed on my desk.
The FBI press release had it that someone named Buford “Bucky” Rogers had been arrested in a raid on his parent’s trailer home on Friday. The FBI claimed they’d seized lots of guns, including a Romanian AKM assault rifle, Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs.
It’s a bit outside of our coverage area but it seemed serious, so up I went and spent most of the day in the trailer park outside of town, talking to the Rogers family, a.k.a. “The Black Snake Militia” and their neighbors, and watching the TV news people from as far away as Minneapolis and Sioux Falls come and go.
Since then I’ve caught the news reports of the terrorist plot as it’s gone national. The FBI claims they’ve saved Lord knows how many lives.
It’s all bull$#!+ and a lot of so-called journalists should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves!
The “terrorists” are father Jeff Rogers, a man four years younger than I am who looks 20 years older. He’s wheezy, out of shape, and had open heart surgery not long ago. His son Shawn is 17, though neighbors told me they guessed his age at 13-14, which should give you an idea how dangerous he looks. As it turns out Bucky doesn’t live there but with his girlfriend and their 10-month-old baby in town, which is actually where he was arrested.
These people aren’t terrorists. They’re dumb as stumps, nutty as fruitcakes – but probably harmless.
The talking heads pointed their cameras at the family, asked a few questions – and sat back and watched them rave about implanted microchips and their “militia.” Because everybody wants to be a movie star, and this was likely the most attention they’d gotten in their lives.
But they’ve got guns!
All of them legal and registered to Jeff. A sizable collection but no bigger than those of friends of mine who include teachers, county commissioners, farmers, and cops.
They wear camouflage!
For God’s sake, cammie is the right-wing equivalent of “Che” T-shirts and “Mao” paraphernalia. “Look at me! I’m wearing the battle dress of a military I don’t remotely qualify to join.”
Nobody gets upset when college students parade around campus wearing the faces of mass murderers on their shirts. Nobody cries “racist” that one was the greatest murderer of Hispanics in the 20th century.
Why the hell aren’t journalists asking intelligent questions?
If the FBI found bombs in the trailer home – why aren’t the Rogers family in custody? According to Jeff, they weren’t even mirandized.
Molotov cocktails? That’s an incendiary made by filling a bottle with gasoline and stuffing a rag in the neck for a fuse.
Nobody stores Molotov cocktails! They keep cans of gas, rags, and bottles around and assemble them as needed!
Shawn Rogers said the FBI carted off a box of scrap plumbing pipe. I believe him, The Rogers seem to eek out Jeff’s disability pension by collecting and selling scrap. I got Jeff Rogers to open the “bomb factory” shed – it’s a junk heap!
Some reports more cautiously said they had “bomb making materials” in their house.
That I believe. But then again, so do I – and so do you. Between your kitchen and your bathroom you have the ingredients for at least two high explosives which I won’t name, but they go off at a harsh look. Everybody is one chemistry lesson away from a bomb.
Bucky Rogers I haven’t met. Word from people in the school system is he was a trouble maker but not scary in school, but his little brother is rather liked by his teachers.
Bucky was on probation for burglary, but didn’t do time. He mouthed off a lot on Facebook in ways that could be seen as threats. The FBI said he admitted after a Miranda warning to firing his father’s AKM at a gun range.
Gotcha! Probation violation – which is what he’s been charged with so far. So why hasn’t he been charged with making terroristic threats?
Bucky’s parole officer might have taken him aside and told him to dial the nutty stuff down until he was off probation.
Instead the FBI swooped down on Montevideo, roped in several local law enforcement agencies, and when the FBI show up in your office you don’t say “No thanks.” They staged a major operation at considerable expense which I seriously doubt the local law will ever get reimbursed for.
Many readers I’ve talked to are quite sensibly skeptical about the sensationalist news reports. Good on you! The county sheriff has been admirably restrained and rather noncommittal in his public statements. The FBI is often disliked among local law enforcement agencies, but it is not wise to antagonize them.
But why all the commotion? Not to mention the expense.
If I were a right-wing conspiracy nut, I’d suspect that in the aftermath of the Boston bombing the PC Patrol is desperately searching for terrorists who aren’t Muslims. The Rogers are the people America has been taught to fear – white, redneck gun nuts.
But since I’m a cynic I have to wonder if the FBI affidavit didn’t give it away. The agent who signed it said he’d been at the Minneapolis office since he graduated from the academy in 1999. If I had to guess, I’d wonder if someone is tired of being stuck out in the boonies and sees a big score that’ll get him back to the bright lights in the big city.
Note: This is the self-syndicated column I submitted to my subscriber(s) for this week. I usually wait a while before posting on my blog to give the print-only outlets a head start. Currently this is re-posted on the websites of rural newspapers in a five-state area in the upper midwest.
I am expecting the compost to hit the thresher over this one. We’ll see, and stay tuned for part 2.
Yesterday, May 1, I saw a Facebook post by an academic I’ve known for… a long time. He teaches history in an east coast college and advertises himself as a “labor historian.”
He, or somebody, had filched the classic “We can do it!” WWII poster of a working woman flexing her bicep and appropriated it to promote International Workers’ Day. He urged everyone to “honor labor.”
Just because I get intensely irritated by the kind of intellectuals and academics who would do anything for the working class – except join it, I left a comment.
I said, “Good idea! How about everyone honor labor by listing all the jobs we’ve done that involved demanding physical labor. Mine are: waiter/bartender, garbageman, framing carpenter, bucking hay in season, sewage treatment plant operator, and in between journalism gigs I drove a grain truck for harvest.”
At any rate, I got curious and looked up a few things about the date. For one, nobody remembers but April 30- May 1 is the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane that used to mark the beginning of summer. Great bonfires were built and cattle driven between them to be purified by the smoke. Everyone would douse their house fires and relight them from the sacred bonfires.
In the 19th century May 1 was promoted by socialists (my academic acquaintance is a socialist), communists, syndicalists, and anarchists as a day to honor labor. The day was chosen to commemorate the date of the Haymarket Square bombing in Chicago in 1886. (Which actually happened on May 4, I don’t know why the date was changed to the first.)
During a demonstration a bomb was thrown at police by person or persons unknown, killing seven of them. The police returned fired on the crowd, killing four.
In the aftermath, eight radicals were tried, four executed and one apparently committed suicide in his cell in a particularly grisly fashion with explosives.
For well over a century this was considered the judicial murder of innocent people for the crime of having unpopular opinions, until historian Timothy Messer-Kruse dug up an awful lot of evidence that seems to show that the trial was quite fair by the standards of the time, and if any innocent people were executed, it was because their lawyers were more interested in making points than oh, say preparing a defense. You know, that thing lawyers are supposed to do?
At any rate, eight years later in the aftermath of the Pullman Strike of 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the bill declaring the first Monday in September Labor Day, unofficially marking the end of summer. The date was chosen specifically to avoid any association with May 1.
Nonetheless May 1 remains a labor holiday in over 80 countries world-wide.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
According to Entertainment Weekly, “42” made Hollywood history with the highest-grossing premier of any baseball-themed movie. Which is true but almost beside the point. It’s not just about baseball, it’s about honor.
It’s about men doing the right thing at a time when it was unpopular and dangerous to do so.
It’s good for people dissatisfied with current progress towards universal equality to remember things were once a lot worse. And it’s good for those so proud of conspicuously having all the correct attitudes to remember there was a time when wearing those convictions on your sleeve carried a price.
“42” is the story of Jackie Robinson’s first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946-47, that broke the color line in baseball. The number was Robinson’s, and the only number to be retired by all of baseball.
The movie, like baseball, has a star but it’s about a team.
Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) president and general manager of the Dodgers, wants to break the color line. Because he’s deeply offended by the stain of racism on the game he loves passionately. Because he’s been carrying the humiliation for years of not having done enough for a black man who was his friend.
And because he sees a tremendous opportunity in the huge number of black baseball fans and the chance to have first pick from an untapped reservoir of talent.
There’s an important point there. It’s good when people start to realize something is wrong, better when people realize it’s not only wrong but unprofitable.
Rickey needs just the right player, an extraordinary athlete but one who can keep his temper under the worst provocation.
He finds him in Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman). Robinson plays baseball, football, basketball, and even tennis well. He’s intelligent, articulate, and high-spirited. That last characteristic having gotten him a court-martial in the Army when he refused to move to the back of a bus.
Rickey tells him he’s going to have to watch that.
“Are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Robinson asks.
“No,’ Rickey replies, “I’m looking for a negro with guts enough not to fight back.”
And it takes guts for sure. The film does a great job through a series of scenes showing the daily casual humilitation Robinson and his new bride Rachel (Nicole Beharie) have to put up with. And for a while it only gets worse, mounting in viciousness as Robinson goes through training and then takes the field with the Dodgers.
But they also have a lot of support from friends like African-American sports reporter Wendell Smith (Andre Holland) and a redneck-looking workman who approaches them, initially terrifying Rachel.
“I want to tell you something,” he says. “I want to tell you I’m behind you, a lot of us are. I figure if a man’s got the goods he ought to have a chance.”
And that’s what “42” is all about. There is no affirmative action in sports. A player has the goods or he doesn’t, and there’s no excuse for failure and no hiding ability.
Robinson had it, and once he got on the field there was no denying it.
“I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a ****n’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded,” says Leo “Nice guys finish last” Durocher (Christopher Meloni).
And therein lies the point about discrimination, and honor.
Any man of honor will be offended by discrimination. Because if you don’t give a man a chance, you’re never going to be sure you’ve deserved your accomplishments, or got them because somebody else was denied the chance.
“If he can take my job, he’s entitled to it,” says shortstop Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black).
Reese has something to prove by standing up for Robinson publicly in front of his Southern relatives. This is brilliant shown in a scene in which a young boy is starting to pick up on the detestable behavior of the grownups around him – until Reese walks over to Robinson and puts his arm around him before a game.
Many who stood up for Robinson were Southerners, and some of the worst bigots were Yankees, and thank y’all most kindly for making that point.
“42” makes all these points and more, but doesn’t hit you over the head with them. If there’s anything at all to be regretted it’s that you don’t see more about some extraordinary people, but it might just inspire you to learn more about Rachel Isum Robinson, Reese, and how people like Dixie Walker (Ryan Merriman) eventually changed and grew.
Note: This is my syndicated column.
Well, we know the rest of that old saying isn’t true. Words hurt. Sometimes a lot, depending on who says them.
In every society children are taught social rules for what kinds of speech are appropriate, when and with whom. Rules backed by sanctions ranging from dirty looks to social ostracism, or in extreme cases an educational beat down.
These days though, speech is policed on many university campuses by speech codes – and “policed” is no idle metaphor for speech deemed “offensive.”
Recently my attention was drawn to this website “Microaggressions” http://www.microaggressions.com/
According to the creators, “Microaggressions are the subtle ways in which body and verbal language convey oppressive ideology about power or privilege against marginalized identities.”
The site solicits contributions from people with “marginalized identities” about ways people have conveyed their oppressive ideologies.
Already I’m not liking this. But maybe that’s because I get antsy when people start talking about offensive speech in ways that seem to indicate a need for legal remedy rather than say, a punch in the nose.
But have a look at the site by all means. There’s a mix of valid, invalid, too-easily offended, and some that infuriate you with how thoughtlessly cruel people can be.
A random sample:
*”Entered an informal backgammon tournament (8 players, all men but me) and won my first round. Was told by another player that I was “good…for a woman.” My vanquished opponent called him out on that – and noted that it was likely the attitude why more women don’t play.”
Valid, irritating, what an idiot. Note that the idiot was called on it though.
*”I go to a McDonalds for lunch break, alone. I sit down at an empty table next to an elderly man, who immediately comments, “What a pretty little thing, I wonder if she’s waiting for her man to come along.” Made me feel like my only purpose is to be some man’s ornament.”
Annoying, but can we give the geezer a break? He’s from another age, probably lonely and trying to start a conversation with an attractive lady. Overreacting.
*”’I wish I could bring my dog out to eat with me!’ Teenage girl and mother to me at a Chinese restaurant; I’m a 23 year old male with a service dog.”
Overreacting, get over it, they were trying to be nice. Perhaps a bit clumsily.
*”I was walking behind a male coworker when he stopped in his tracks and began backing up into me, dancing, while singing “Big Booty Bitches.” I’m a woman. Made me uncomfortable, angry, demeaned.”
In a more civilized age any gentleman within range would have offered to thrash this boor. Regrettably in this age you can get into lots of trouble for that – but a job complaint is definitely in order.
*”’If she wears those shorts out there, it’s her own fault if she gets into ‘trouble.’ My grandmother referring to my shorts on a cruise in Turkey. Apparently if I wear short shorts out, I’m asking to be raped. I’m 18. Made me feel upset, exposed, scared.”
GRANNY IS RIGHT YOU TWIT! Do not go to another country, with a radically different culture, and expect them to abide by YOUR rules.
*”’My first words to her were what any father would say to their own daughter: What were you thinking walking alone like that!’ The director of Campus Security in a lecture to first-years. The girl she was talking about was sexually assaulted when she was walking back to campus at night. 300 students, no one objected.”
No, those would not be my first words to my daughter. They’re true, and will eventually have to be said, but there is a time and a place for everything.
*”’Well, there are many meanings of the word [rape] other than what you’re talking about.’
Comment made by my MFA program director when I asked her not to use the word ‘rape’ casually in class, after sharing that I am a survivor of sexual assault. Earlier that day she had referred to something jokingly as ‘internet rape,’ and I was so triggered that I had to leave class and cry in the hallway.”
Heartbreaking. What a clueless idiot the instructor was.
*”The learn-to-speak-German tapes I’ve been listening to will ask me to “Say ______ in German” and then will ask me to say the same thing “as if you were a woman” (because some aspects of the grammar are gendered and would be different depending on the speaker). But I already am a woman.”
It’s called “grammar.” Take it up with the Germans if it offends you.