Sunday, November 11, 2018

Meanwhile: A Century Ago




In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

- John McCrae, "In Flanders Field", 1915

More later

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Daisey Lecture Four: Buried Histories

Daisey's fourth lecture doesn't progress entirely linearly with the others, but rather deals with the large context of erasure. Erasure from history in their case of women, and erasure from the land itself in the case of its original inhabitants. And being neither female or of native american heritage, I really don't really have much to add to their experiences except a laconic "Aye-yup."

But I do have a few things to say about my own brushing up with how I know what I know. What I was told.That may have some bearing.

My grade school experience matches tightly with Daisey's - a school text that tended to gloss over the more unpleasant issues. The one I remember had a Conestoga wagon on the top half of the cover, and a steam engine on the bottom. Sort of showing progress in that process. But it was a bunch of initial stories that prepared me for learning other stories, sort of how you learn that atoms are little solar systems and then discover quantum mechanics and electron shells later on.

And my high school experience had a lot of readings, usually by established historials. A lot of Hofstader and Kissinger, and things like the J-curve (Note - I hate the dreaded Davies' J-Curve, but that's a story for another day).

But in Junior High something different occurred. I discovered primary sources. As opposed to going to some historian looking back and pre-chewing my thoughts, I found I could go (to a library, in those pre-Internet days) and get input from people that were around at the time. That was cool. That made history exciting in an Egyptian Archaeologist sort of way (This was before Indiana Jones).

Great Art is not necessarily Great History
Also cool was Mr. Mentecki, who was a history teacher, and who first embodied the idea that people, including the people giving you your history, lied. He would do this by lying. Continually. How his ancestor was with Washington atop Mt. Washington, and almost got it named Mt. Mentecki. How he was a race car driver. How he sang with the Four Seasons (his wife affirms that this last one was the truth - he was in the audience and drunk at the time). And someone would call him on his lies and he would congratulate the student and give them a free period. And the other students would not understand.

He would also do things like read a passage of history and ask about what the writer really wanted. Give different viewpoints of the Boston Massacre. Or show a picture of Washington Crossing the Delaware and pointing out everything that was innaccurate about it.* Decades before Lies My Teacher Told Me, I had a teacher telling me about lying.

I think this has left me open to new ideas, and even when a new interpretation of events shows up, another story, I am poking around the edges, looking for ulterior motives.

But anyway, Women in History. There aren't any. Well, that's not true. They had to be there - subordinate, helpmates, mothers, property. When the question came up of beating your wife in law, it was more of a case of when and where it was proper to beat your wife as opposed to the if the act itself was inhuman. But in the "official" history (as opposed to "official history"), there are not a lot of women in the narrative that concerns itself about great men.

Those that show up are mythologized - Betsy Ross, Pocahontas, Molly Pitcher, all reduced to their great moment (creating a flag, sparing John Smith, fighting the British) that pushes them into the same realm as Paul Bunyan and Captain Stormalong. And we have a couple who are known for being in proximity of great men - Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, and, most recently, Sally Hemmings. Nope. Not a good look for us.

But there is a moment for women in colonial history that we hit and then forget about. It popped up every year in school, along with set theory and clock arithmetic. The Salem Witch Trials.

The Salem Witch Trials are a good, safe story. It involves women (as victims, but still....) It can be laid at the feet of other women (even more useful) and against a religious group that most people think of as extinct (Puritans- The Congregationalists are a descendant, but you don't think of them, much, either (sorry, guys)). It shows that occasionally we all go a little crazy and kill people for stupid reasons. It shows us injustice happens, but it happens such a long time ago it doesn't have any real affect on today.

So, yeah. Salem Witch Trials. Women in history!

Native Americans, we have a lot more of in our books. Almost always as military opponents. Blackhawk. Pontiac, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Geronimo. A moment's reflection gets us to some who didn't die directly of European bullets - Tecumseh, Seattle, and, of course, Guyasuta, but who merely faded away. They were always the ones being swept away across the plains by the encroaching Europeans, making way for progress. Sacrifices must be made. They were them, and we remember them because they fought.

Zinn's A People's History of the United States was not my first "woke" text. That would have been Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, which hit my life at about/slightly after Mr. Mentecki. Here was, as Daisey notes, the story we always knew but never really delved into. Everyone knew of Little Bighorn - Custer is seeped deeply into out bones, but not so much Sand Creek. This was one of those books that made me face the idea that, though the victors, we the citizens of the US were not the good guys (of course, in the same period - Viet Nam, which has other resonances).

History is vast, and filled with stories. Whose stories get told reveals a lot about both the storytellers and their world. The vanishing of women and Native Americans are only one component of editing our pasts to justify our actions in the present.

More later,

* Flag wrong, river too wide, real crossing happened in the middle of the night, and that's before you get to the questions of whether an icy Delaware would have been frozen solid and is that really James Monroe in the boat with Washington? But we are talking about something painted 80 years after the event.


Friday, November 09, 2018

The Political Desk - End and Begin

Because of the nature of Washington's voting (mail-in ballots, stuff trickling in for a while), I usually wait a couple days before posting the results. At least one contest will still be hanging fire by the time I finally update this. So how did it go?

Most of these are in the +5% differential on the initial ballot drop, which in terms we're looking at very much a vox populi. Boldface is for those of you keeping score about my recommendations at home.

Initiative Measure No. 1631 - The Carbon Fee  - No
Initiative Measure No. 1634 - Prevent Soda Taxes -  Yes
Initiative Measure No. 1639 - Firearm Safety - Yes
Initiative Measure No. 940  - Training and Oversight for Police - Yes

Advisory Vote No. 19, Engrossed second Substitute Senate Bill 6269 - Repealed (Not that it matters)

United States Senator - Maria Cantwell.

United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 - Adam Smith.

State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 8 - Steve Gonzalez.

And furthermore:

United States Representative Congressional District No. 8 - Kim Schrier.

State Legislative District No. 47. State Senate -  Mona Das.  This is the one that is really too close to call. Incumbent Joe Fain was marginally up on the first drop of ballots, the lead shrank to 90 votes. Ms. Das is now up by 200 votes, and it may shift again. Meanwhile, the day AFTER election, the State Senate decided that, yeah, maybe we should check out this rape accusation thing after all. Regardless of political affiliation, this should steam your clams. If Mr. Fain was responsible, voters should have been warned. If innocent, he should not have had to face the voters under such a cloud. I will update if the results change.

State Legislative District No.  47 Position No. 1 - V Debra Entenman.

And Lastly, Stare Legislative District No. 47, Position No. 2 -  Pat Sullivan.

Well, now that the election is over, we can all relax and get back to our lives, right? Hang on, slow your roll, podner. We're just getting started.

Yeah, you may have put the people into positions that you agree with, or showed your direction in inititatives, but now comes the tough part. You wanted a particular candidate for office because of their stand on health care, or corruption, or corporate favors? Let them know about it.

The quote attributed to FDR is: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it." Even if we agree with everything a candidate believe in (and we don't all agree about everything), we need to keep up the pressure. Because those who DON'T believe will keep up the pressure as well.

More later, 

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Furthermore: Shades of Washington

OK, I promised to deal with this one, even if Daisey mentions it in a later bit. Not seeing it in Zinn, but that's the job of the historian - to decide what stories get told. There are more than enough tales in the current narrative where the People decide to get frisky with all this freedom and stuff, and the Government decides to kick their teeth in, and here's one more.
This is the only statue I know of for the Whiskey
Rebellion. It is not where the actual fighting took
place, but rather in Washington, PA (also called
Little Washington), 20 miles south of us.

And it is important to us because it involves George Washington. And it is important to me because it is where I grew up.

I wrote last time about how my chunk of Western PA was the launching pad for the Seven Years War. And even afterwards there were competing claims about who owned the region - PA or VA. That was settled in 1784 with a survey. Things got better, right?

Well, then there was the Whiskey Rebellion. 1791-1794. It started two years into Washington's first term., and came to a head after his re-election.

OK, here's the short form: Early US Government was broke, needed to raise funds to pay for the revolution. Among other things, Hamilton pushed out a tax on distilled spirits. West of the Alleghenies this did not go over well. Whiskey was used as a modicum of trade, more stable than the government currency in places. Also it was easier and profitable to ship whiskey back east than the component parts. In addition to being a pain on the producers, the tax gave a break to big distillers as opposed to small operations, and there were a lot of small operations into Western PA.

And the guys who were most affected in this? White guys, with guns.

So from 1791 to 1794 there was a ratcheting up, with defiance to pay the tax, or the fines that came with the tax (you had to go to Philly to do that, which was way the hell and gone). Tax collectors were attacked, there were meetings about the degree of revolt, Moderates argued with Radicals. A lot of the tools of the Revolution were put into play - Liberty Poles and correspondence circles. Here was see the creation of Democratic-Republican societies, which would actually become the "other party" to oppose the Federalists. These whiskey rebels felt they were continuing the War of Independence many of them had fought in.

And seriously, if you tell a lot of people the war is about taxation by a distant government, they're going to get bent out of shape when the winner tax them from a distant government.

The Federal Government, finding their way out of the mess that what the Articles of the Confederation and the Panic of 1792, disagreed with this concept. From the Federalist standpoint, championed by Hamilton and with Washington's support, the Revolution had created a new sovereignty, and stuff that was OK during the revolution was no longer appropriate. Going with Daisey's note that the Revolutionary war was merely a change in the letterhead of management, that makes sense. All these frontiersmen threatening people was going too far.

And the strike of the point was the burning of the Neville house, up on Bower Hill, a couple valleys away from where I grew up, not far from the church I was baptized in. Walking distance, really. The whole process started when John Neville, put in charge of collecting the taxes, accompanied a federal marshal to serve writs against the rebels. They were fired upon at the Miller house and Neville returned home.

Later, a group of about 30 militiamen arrived to besiege the house. Shots were fired. Both sides retreated for reinforcements. About 600 rebels showed up the next night, Neville had fled at that point. The rebel leader, Major MacFarlane, was shot during an attempt at negotiations. The house eventually surrendered, the survivors within spared, and the building burned to the ground.

Neville was was a perfect example of the elite that Daisey talks about. Virginian. Wealthy. "As close to being an aristocrat as republican America west of the Alleghenies would allow", per his wiki entry. He had slaves who helped defend the household. When news of the attack reached back to the nation's capital at Philly, the new government had to decide whether they would negotiate or send in the troops. Washington did both - sent in some negotiation team and recruited militia from a few states and marched on Pittsburgh, along with Hamilton and Light-Horse Harry Lee. Only time a US President has led troops. Imagine Trump at the head of a tank corps rolling through Texas.

In the face of the armed forces of the Government, the rebels faded. Some lit out for further west (like Kentucky, which might as well be the back end of the moon in those days). A few were arrested. Fewer were tried. Two were convicted to be hanged. They were pardoned by Washington.

But this was a moment, one of those pivot moments where things could go many ways. Some saw this as betrayal of founding principles. Others put it as creation of a new nation that would not put up with this crap. For most people, it was a speed bump, forgotten in the wake of the Revolution, something that comes up in one of these Internet articles.

For me, it is local history. The house where the initial shots were fired is still there, in South Park (a large park known for picnics, county fairs, and the working model of Skybus, our monorail). Neville's house (sorry - Neville's OTHER house - he had one that is still around in  nearby Heidelberg) was replaced by a hospital and now by townhouses. Suburban sprawl has moved over the coal-dark hills and fog-shrouded creeks, so established the trees planted in the subdivisions have reached climax growth.

And yeah, I think George was done messing with us after this.

More later,

Monday, November 05, 2018

The Political Desk: Final Push

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Buried, like five entries below this, is the usual Jeff Recommends post. And SINCE I've buried it, here it is again, for you last-minute voters in the areas concerned, without commentary. 

Initiative Measure No. 1631 - The Carbon Fee  -YES
Initiative Measure No. 1634 - Prevent Soda Taxes - NO
Initiative Measure No. 1639 - Firearm Safety - YES 
Initiative Measure No. 940  - Reduce Police Shooting - YES 

Advisory Vote No. 19, Engrossed second Substitute Senate Bill 6269 - Maintained.

United States Senator - Maria Cantwell.

United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 - Adam Smith.

State Supreme Court Justice Position No. 8 - Steve Gonzalez.

And furthermore:

United States Representative Congressional District No. 8 - Kim Schrier.

State Legislative District No. 47. State Senate - Vote for Mona Das

State Legislative District No.  47 Position No. 1 - Vote for Debra Entenman .

And Lastly, Stare Legislative District No. 47, Position No. 2 -  Pat Sullivan.

In the WEEK since I posted the initial recommendations, we have the following updates on Republicans in the state:

Dino Rossi swore in an interview he knew nothing about foreclosures. Turns out he bought a house in foreclosure. Maybe he forgot. KIRO7 reported this, though I am sure that the Times will get around to mentioning it, like, oh, Wednesday or so.

The Times does talk about the rape accusation against Joe Fain, and how there should be an investigation ... maybe ... after he's re-elected for another two years. Meanwhile, an accusation against a Bellevue police chief was proved false. The chief went on administrative leave during the investigation. That was a smart move.

And then we have from Eastern Washington, Mike Shea, who's not only pushing for genocide against non-Christians (as defined by Mike Shea), but is doubling down on it. Because the Republican party is becoming a White Nationalist Party.  His opponent is Ted Cummings, who is not endorsing shooting non-Christians. Just thought that might be worth mentioning.

No Republicans. Go Vote, and Vote Hard.

More later, 

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Theatre: Our History is Now

A People's History  created and performed by Mike Daisey, Seattle Rep, Through 25, 2018.

So, you know that dream where you show up for class and its the final exam and you realized you haven't been there since the orientation session? I had a similar experience here. But let me back up a moment.

Monologist Mike Daisey is doing a show on American History. In 18 parts. Based on what he (and likely you) learned in school, compared with Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and shone through the lens of his own personal experience. For the past few weeks he has started with Columbus and moved through American History to the present day.

Eighteen different shows. And he has made them available as audio files to those who were willing to talk about them. And I took on the challenge. So around here you'll see a lot of write-ups where HIS monologues have taken ME. But his stuff is better, so you should check him out. Also, it is probably going to get to Christmas before I finish this particular task.

But, as fate would have it, the show my Lovely Bride had tickets for was the LAST show of the first 18. Daisey has moved through the entirety of American History (I just got past Washington in my follow-ups), and this last show concentrated on Obama and Trump.

So I feel like I missed a couple beats here.

Daisey, pulling from Zinn distills American History into two basic founding principles - Genocide and Slavery. We wiped out one group of people to get the land, and enslaved another group of people to work the land, and that's why we are here where we are today. And he makes a good case, right up to today with the election of Obama, a representative of a race we enslaved, and with Trump, who has benefited ultimately from the relentless decade-long dogwhistling of the Republican Party against those people and the targeted marketing of Fox News.

And he does it well, and I'm not going to compete with him here, even in summary. There's a lot of good crunchy stuff in here on how the Republican Party is now a zombie, controlled by its "Freedom Caucus" and well on its way to becoming solely a White Nationalist party, and how the Democratic party, triangulating and big-tenting to the point where it has no meaning itself, is a fuzzy ally to humanists. But I'm going to save all that for when I get to the end of the audios.

But he does it all better, live. He lectures and jokes, he yells and he cajoles. He connects. He engages. He convinces. His journey through American History is a very personal one. Daisey never met Zinn, just as Dante never met Virgil, but the writings of the two earlier wroters informed their later authors as they guided them through the inferno.

I always mention the set. The set is for a monologue. Table. Chair. Class of water. Apple and name plaque. A map directly behind him with red lines streaming out like blood, or lancing in like lazers. You choice. Whatever, it rivets our attention on Daisey.

There are a number of threads throughout Daisey's epic presentation, but one of the important ones is - the world is changing, and the histories of the future will reflect on how we reacted in the rise of global climate calamity. And given our history, a house built on two pillars of genocide and slavery, is a house built on sand, and we will be swept away by the rising tide.

A People's History, having completed an 18-performance tour de force, now starts again. "This time, I might even get it right," he says. He gets it right. If you saw a performance already, tickets cost only 25 bucks. Go see it (unless you're a big fan of Hamilton - he just hates that guy).

More later,


Saturday, November 03, 2018

Daisey Lesson 3 - Shades of Washington

I'm going to have to say this - I'm not going to be able to keep up. I'm talking about Mike Daisey's A People's History. He's performing it here in Seattle at the Rep in the form of 18 different monologues and has made performances available to individuals by audio recording, provided we talk about it.

And I want to talk about it, since his work (and Zinn's original) fires off so many neurons and connections and memories about the entire process. The Lovely Bride and I will be attending the performance tomorrow afternoon (4 November), and I will go into more detail about the nuts and bolts of the live performance there .For the moment, I'm reacting to the 3rd Monologue - call it "Fireworks", since it starts there.And he talks about how we have totally screwed up the world, and it is primarily the fault of (usually) white, (almost always) male, (exclusively) rich people. And the definitions of those three terms have some flex in the story he is telling, but rest assured, the bog-standard history you learned in school? No really accurate.Not completely false, but a lot of bits get left out which serve the interests of white male rich people.
This is a detail of a statue called "Points of View". It is on Mount Washington,
overlooking Pittsburgh, and shows Washington meeting with a leader of the
Seneca, Guyasuta. They did not meet on this spot. The meeting happened in
1750, four years before the events that kicked off the Seven Years War. No one
really knows what they talked about. Welcome to History.

And that gets me to George Washington. Really, several George Washingtons. I am from Pittsburgh, and a lot of our history is wrapped up with this Virginia planter. We have county named after him. We have a mountain named after him. We have river crossing named after him. We have a major road named after him. We have all sorts of weird stuff named after him. And he has left deep, personal, marks in our area.

But I say there are several Washingtons. The first is the one we meet in the school books, the mythologized one. You know - cherry tree, never lies, crosses the Delaware, wooden teeth, great general, Valley Forge, BOOM! he's president. He's the guy you see on the dollar bill and huckstering for President's Day sales. And like certain other childhood mythologies, you grok after a while that he was not all that, and that these are stories, mostly elaborating upon or made up entirely in the nineteenth century to exalt our past and cover up the darker stuff.

Then there's the darker Washington. Zinn and Daisey know this guy. Really rich. Lot of land (52,000 acres at his death, scattered all over the place, including Western PA), Lots of Slaves (317 living people owned at his death, but we are told that some of them were his wife's, and some were on loan. As if that makes things better). And he had a mouthful of teeth from his black slaves. The wooden teeth? Pretty much debunked. Hippopotamus teeth, I've heard later. But most recently, there's been a fessing up and his dentures were made from the teeth of enslaved black men.

It is horrible and dark, but the story being told here is horrible and dark. I think I mentioned that at the beginning. Zinn's work  is measured, carefully meting out the genocide and charnel foundations of our nation. Daisey leaps into it, and makes you really, really uncomfortable that you have this guy's face on your money. People reject that truth, and that's understandable. But it is still a truth.

Another Washington, though, is the Doof. Tall guy, athletic, not the brightest knife in the shed.. And that worked for him over the years. Hardly the homespun backwoodsman, his adventures in the West made his name,  his ability to survive let him rise in the ranks, and his very non-political nature while leading a REVOLUTIONARY ARMY made him the go-too man for the first Presidency. While not a saint and not a sinner, that's a comfortable version for a lot of people.

And then there is the Washington that kicked off the Seven Years War. He's the guy I want to talk about here.

Yeah, as Daisey notes, we lay out stuff like that in broad daylight, we just don't direct your attention to it that much. But long before the Revolution, Washington was big part of the development of Western PA, with pushing the natives around, and with kicking off a war with the French. And the Indians. In fact, we call the Seven Years War, our first really global war, the French and the Indian War because that's what we worry about here in the provinces. And it started twenty years before the Revolutionary War.

Western PA, better known in those days as the Forks of the Ohio, was a bit of a territorial football in those days. We had natives inhabitants - the Seneca and others. We had the French, whose approach was to set up camps and trade, turning those natives into employable resources. And we had the English. Two competing groups of English at that - The Virginians and the Pennsylvanians.

Which group of Englishman was supposed to have a claim to the Forks was a bit of a mess - they were running off crappy maps back in England. Virginia's colonial grant was huge, including the chunk of land south of the Mon. The Pennsylvanians ALSO claimed that land. Both colonies were giving out grants and sending in surveyors to divvy stuff up.(my part of PA, south of the Mon, was actually part of this Virginia claim, and had its own county after the war - Yohogania (nope, didn't know about that until I started researching this posting). Washington, in his Young Surveyor capacity, had been one of the Virginians getting the lay of the land. So when the French built Fort Duquesne, the Virginians dispatched Washington to make them back off.

And they found a French scouting party and ambushed them. Then they negotiated with the French, and during the negotiation, Washington's Native American guide, one Tanaghrison, who was on the outs with the tribal leaders on the French side, killed the French commander. Much badness descended. and Washington got out of the territory by signing a confession accepting culpability for the assassination. People point out that Washington could not read what he was signing, but that just feeds into the Doof narrative. He was trapped in hostile territory with people who were REALLY mad at him about the death of the French Commander (including the commander's half-brother). So yeah, he signed a confession in the middle of nowhere and that was the end of it. The date was July 4, 1754.

Except that WASN'T the end of it, of course. The confession got back England, and the English dispatched a couple regiments to clean up Washington's mess, and, yeah, take the Forks of the Ohio for the British. General Edward Braddock, came up from Virginia and got his clock cleaned by the French and the indigenous population. Washington was part of Braddock's forces. Then they sent General John Forbes with more troops, who came in along the Pennsylvanian route. The advance stalled when Major James Grant got HIS clock cleaned by combined French and Native American forces from Fort Duquesne. While Forbes holed up, the French decided that it was probably best to book out and leave their allies hanging. The Brits get the Forks, build Fort Pitt (after the British politician) and we get Pittsburgh. Elsewhere, things quickly got out of hand, and we ended up with the Seven Years War.

Braddock, Forbes, Grant. These are well-known names to native Pittsburghers. I grew up in what had been, 200 years previous, a war zone. It never really clicked until years later.

By the way - My primary source material on all this? Fred Anderson's Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (2000). Good book. There's a shorter version, The War That Made America, by the same author.  Strongly recommended.

And Washington? He came out of it just jake, and when the Virginians were looking for someone to lead the troops against the British, he there, already a war hero and an adventurer of Indiana Jones-level. 

But Washington is not done with Western Pennsylvania. I don't know if Daisey is going to mention the Whiskey Rebellion, but I will. Eventually. 

Daisey's monologue on Chapter 3 repeats on November 8 at 7:30 On Thursday, unless it is sold out. Apparently there's a lot of that going around.

More later,