...is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, of that a man should tell a lie ? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course; but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is, therefore, at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.
30 June 2009
Still flogging away at those same old dead horses, sbh? Well, yeah. How dead can they be when they keep turning up again and again in new documents?
From Abbie Smith's country comes an insane "Oklahoma Citizen's Proclamation for Morality," sponsored and perhaps written by local legislator Sally Kern. (See Ed Brayton for the details.) It is brim-full of crazy, but I'm only going to examine two of her seventeen Whereases, the two Ed Brayton conveniently put in bold. The first of the two is the pseudo-Madison "ten commandments" quotation, and the second is the pseudo-Henry "religionists" quotation.
About the pseudo-Henry quotation I have written ad nauseam; the language alone shows it could not have been by Patrick Henry (or his uncle as one ludicrous suggestion has it); it was of course written in 1956 for The Virginian, a short-lived pro-segregation periodical. (See here for a summary view.) Only a fool or a liar would continue to quote this after it has been so thoroughly debunked. (The entire "proclamation" suggests that the author may well be both.)
About the other fake quotation, the pseudo-Madison, I've written relatively little, partly because I am aware that Chris Rodda is going to do her usual thorough demolition on the thing, and I'd really like to see what she's turned up before engaging in my own observations. Still, my research gives us a picture of the course of events in the development of this fake, and I'm going to make a few notes on it here.
First, the forger has taken for his inspiration something Madison actually did write in the Federalist Papers (XXXIX):
The first question that offers itself is, whether the general form and aspect of the government be strictly republican? It is evident that no other form would be reconcileable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the revolution; or with that honourable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self government. If the plan of the convention, therefore, be found to depart from the republican character, its advocates must abandon it as no longer defensible.
The portion in bold above became the basis for a new quotation that surfaced some time in the 1930s. (My notes show that I had found an example from 1933; today's Google book search only came up with examples from 1954.) Here is the new creation:
We have staked the whole future of American civilization not upon the power of government, far from it, but upon the capacity of mankind for self-government.
The portion in bold the forger boldly lifted from the genuine bit given above. I have previously noted objections to the words future and civilization as used here; Madison preferred to use future as an adjective rather than as a noun, and typically used civilization in its sense of the process of becoming civilized, rather than as here the result of that process. However.
A second, seemingly independent version of the saying also circulated. In this case the circulator, and possibly the author, was Dean Clarence Manion, one-time right-wing radio commentator. In a 1950 speech he said:
"The Founding Fathers of the American Republic remembered this when they wrote our Declaration of Independence, and The First American state and Federal Constitution. As soon as these documents had been promulgated, one of the most erudite of the Founding Fathers, James Madison, said that 'we have staked the whole future of our American Political Institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self government'. He meant the Constitutional freedom of the American citizen will last just so long and only so long as that citizen keeps the capacity to govern himself according to the moral and legal standards of personal conduct that run through the Christian era all the way back to the time of Moses. [Cleveland Bar Association Journal, 1950, page 21]
Of particular interest is the reference to "our American Political Institutions," the words perhaps suggested by Madison's original "all our political experiments". Were it not for the part about staking the whole future this might pass as a misremembered version of the genuine quotation. With this Dean Manion version, however, we can see the "ten commandments" fake quotation in embryo. Note that the sense of the "ten commandment" version is found in Manion's interpretation immediately following the fake quotation. Indeed, making it even tighter, Manion earlier defined self-government as "the government of each individual person by himself according to the set-standards of the Ten Commandments". With this the stage was set for what would be the definitive version of this fake Madison quotation.
That came when some unknown person took the two versions and melded them together into a single Frankenstein quote, adding material to the end very like Manion's commentary. To make the process clearer I have placed the words taken from the first version in blue, those from the second (Dean Manion) version in orange (the struck-out words were not used by the forger), and the part seemingly suggested by Dean Manion's commentary in red:
We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the
wholefuture of our Americanpolitical institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government: upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.
It is notable that in all this verbiage one fragment of genuine Madison survives: the phrase "the capacity of mankind for self government." All the rest is completely bogus.
As far as I've been able to determine this version first appeared in the 1958 calendar of Spiritual Motivation, a source I personally have never seen. At least this is where Frederick Nymeyer says he got it in a piece of column-filler on page 31 of the January 1958 issue of Progressive Calvinism: Neighborly Love and Ricardo's Law of Association (PDF). From here we find it showing up in works by the usual suspects: The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) by Rousas John Rushdoony p. 541; Listen America! (1980) by Jerry Falwell p. 51; America's God and Country (1994) by William J. Federer p. 411, and so on. Liars for Jesus, all of them.
These two tired fakes (the pseudo-Patrick "religionists" and the pseudo-Madison "ten commandments" quotations) have been repeatedly debunked, and even some in the lunatic fringe have begun distancing themselves from them. Isn't it time to retire them permanently? I know I'm ready to see them shipped out to the south forty of the old propaganda homestead, plowed under, and used for organic fertilizer.
A quick note here: today (well, yesterday, now) I had no internet from 5:16 in the morning until at least 8:00 at night, at which time I quit checking. It's well after midnight now, and the internet is back, sort of, although it's very sluggish. My internet provider (half-rhymes with Bombast) has promised to send out somebody to look at things tomorrow (well, today, now), so maybe things will be back up soon.
I'm not holding my breath. Service has never been Bombast's strong point, and as an internet provider, the company sucks. If it weren't a monopoly, I would switch to somebody else. Unfortunately it is, and I'm stuck with them.
Still, maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time they will actually solve this goddamn problem, which has been a continual annoyance ever since we signed up with them. As I've indicated, I have my doubts. Upgrading to business class (their suggestion) didn't help; switching to their phone service (their suggestion; I must have been out of my mind) didn't help; I don't suppose that whatever they suggest tomorrow will make any difference either. If they suggest anything. The last time somebody came out the signal suddenly improved while the Bombast people were here, and then returned to crap once they were gone.
Anyway, maybe this entry can serve as a place-holder until the internet is back, assuming that it ever does come back.
28 June 2009
Tom Van Dyke at American Creation calls attention to this fascinating letter from Dr. Benjamin Rush to Richard Price, dated 25 May 1786. Dr. Rush gives his estimate of the percentage of Trinitarians in the United States at the time:
A small pamphflet [sic] addressed by you to the Congress, and the legislature of each of the States, upon this subject, I am sure would have more weight with our rulers than an hundred publications thrown out by the citizens of this country. It will only be necessary in this pamphflet to be wholly silent upon those subjects in Christianity which now so much divide and agitate the Christian world. The wisest plan of education that could be offered would be unpopular among 99 out of an 100 of the citizens of America, if it opposed in any degree the doctrine of the Trinity. Some of the members of the reformed Episcopal Church in the middle and southern States complained of the note you published with my letter in the English newspapers. It has injured them in the opinion of some of the English clergy. You will perceive from their prayer book, that their Articles, tho' reduced in number, are equally Calvanistical with the Articles of the old English Church. [emphasis added]
Now of course there is no reason to suppose that Dr. Rush took a scientific survey of his fellow citizens; it's far more likely that he just pulled the numbers out of his ass. Nonetheless he does give us numbers in an area where guesswork has been the general rule, and his is at least a contemporary guess.
Benjamin Rush's defense of the Bible as a school book also makes interesting reading in light of contemporary controversies.
I gave a brief and inadequate account of the lists of atrocities that circulated in old Oregon country as anti-Indian propaganda in the first part of this series; before I continue I'm going to elaborate a bit on our sources. Relationships among texts fascinate me, as I'm sure you're all too aware, but indulge me for a moment.
- The Todd list [T] as I mentioned in the previous installment appeared as part of House Misc. Doc. 47, 35th Cong. 2nd Sess. It is the oldest of the five and Drew explicitly acknowledges it as a source. It doesn't seem to be available online.
- The first Drew list [D1] appears in Senate Misc. Doc 59, 36th Cong. 1st Sess. Drew used the Todd list as a source (and often repeats it nearly verbatim), but clearly had another source or sources.
- The second Drew list [D2] appears in the Report of the Secretary of the Interior for 1863. This list is distinctive; the sources may well be the same as for the first Drew list (or the first Drew list may have been his source), but this list is padded out with some really dubious entries.
- The Sutton list [S] is found in a March issue of the Portland Bulletin. Drawn up by a pioneer named Sutton, it has an annoying and nebulous relationship with the first Drew list. In some items the Sutton list seems to be based on the first Drew list, and indeed, in one case I think the evidence is conclusive. But there are other places where it almost looks as though the Sutton list is a source for the first Drew list. In particular it seems to avoid items on the Todd list, behavior explicable if it were an independent source used by Drew in addition to the Todd list, even though the Sutton list was published later. (Sutton is known to have been keeping such a list.) So as a piece of speculation let me try to reconcile the lines of evidence by suggesting that Sutton made a list; that list was used by Drew in compiling his list along with the Todd list; Sutton added some material from the first Drew list to his list when he prepared it for publication by the Portland Bulletin. I don't actually know that the data supports this hypothesis; I'm just noting it as a possibility.
- The San Francisco Evening Bulletin list [E] likewise appeared during 1873. The items appear to have been entirely selected from the second Drew list, though I suspect there was a written transcript of some kind in between; perhaps nothing more than the reporter's notes.
Okay, in this installment many of the incidents are related to the laying out of the Southern Emigrant Road through the heart of Modoc country. Lindsay Applegate left us his account of the establishment of the road against the efforts of the Hudson's Bay Company; it was part of the struggle between Great Britain and the United States for the control of Oregon country, as well as part of the competition between Oregon and California for settlers, as well as between southern Oregon and the Willamette valley. For our purposes it is probably enough to say that settlers in the Oregon-California border region found it politically advantageous to lay out a road through Shasta and Modoc territory to attract settlers, and they seem to have been relatively unconcerned about the fact that there were no forts near enough to secure the road, and no treaties with the peoples in whose country the road was run. There were consequences to this act. So let us begin with
A Sick Immigrant
In the fall of 1846, a sick immigrant was killed on the southern Oregon immigrant road, near Lost river, by Modoc Indians. [T]
Okay, to start with, this is everything we know about this alleged incident. Oddly, Lindsay Applegate, who was actually in the territory at this time, says nothing about it. Drew left it off his first list, and it doesn't appear in Sutton either, but Drew does mention it in the preface to his second list:
Their history [that of the “Klamath Lake, Modoc, and Pah-Ute … tribe”] … begins with the summer of 1846, the date of the first overland emigration via what is now known as the southern Oregon emigrant road. Their operations that year were mainly of a thieving character, the emigration having been a surprise to them, and allowing no time to mature a concert of action for more bloody purposes, such as they adopted in subsequent years. They made a beginning, however, by murdering one, if not more, of that year’s emigration, and committing many thefts and robberies. Their point for attack was at a place on Rhett or Tule lake, now known as “Bloody Point,” and situated ten miles southeast of the “Natural Bridge,” on Lost river. [D2]
There is a lot of extra verbiage here, but as far as the facts are concerned, it still boils down to one thing: the Modocs murdered one immigrant in 1846. The general statement that the Modocs used to use a place the settlers called Bloody Point for their attacks is true; it has no necessary application to this incident. Here's what the San Francisco Evening Bulletin (SFEB) writer made of it:
The history of their depredations and massacres begins with the year 1846, when warriors of the [Modoc] tribe killed one white man at a place in their country now known as “Bloody Point.” [E]
As far as we can tell the SFEB writer need have had nothing more in front of him than the second Drew list. He has taken the general statement about Bloody Point and turned it into the specific place for this alleged incident, but there's nothing to show any actual extra knowledge here.
All that can be said in our present unsatisfactory state of knowledge is that Todd may well have had some sort of evidence for this claim. No one else, however, seems to know anything about it, though that doesn't stop them from elaborating on it. Drew's statement to the effect that the Modoc, Klamath, and Piute peoples were virtually one tribe gives us little reason to trust his other statements, by the way.
The following year, 1847, Levi Scott, of Oregon, and of the previous year’s emigration, returned with a small party along this route to make further explorations, but, on arriving near Goose lake, was attacked by Indians, wounded, and had one of his party, named Garrison, killed. [D2]
This is the first of several additions in the second Drew list that appeared neither in the first Drew list or in the Todd list. Unlike some of the later additions, this one seems to have a solid basis. According to Lindsay Applegate Levi Scott led a party out to meet incoming immigrants. At the same time he attempted to find a way to shorten the road by taking a more direct route at one point. While he and a man named Garrison were out exploring they met with a couple of Indians who seemed friendly. It looks like appearances were deceiving. Abruptly the two raised their bows and started shooting. Garrison was killed; Levi Scott, though wounded, managed to drive their attackers off. At least that's the story as told by Lindsay Applegate. Applegate knew Levi Scott, which puts him in a good position to be well-informed. He does preface the story with the words "it appears," which would seem to indicate some sort of reservation on his part, though it might well just be that he was reporting something at second hand.
The SFEB list contains an abbreviated version of this item.
Train of Twenty-Three
At the same time an entire train—twenty-three persons or upwards—were massacred at Bloody Point. [D2]
This is the second of the peculiar additions that first appear in the second Drew list, and it is a rather suspect one. We are asked to believe here first that Todd overlooked this major event—twenty-three people killed—during a time when the road was being actively patrolled, and second, that Drew himself had somehow overlooked it when putting together his first list. And on top of this the event went entirely unreported in the newspapers of the time. Indeed, Jesse Applegate, Lindsay's brother, actually reported in October 1847:
Except an old wagon, abandoned by Judge Burch near Rogue river, every vehicle which took the southern road arrived in the valley, the teams in good condition, and their owners in fine health and spirits, having suffered, from all sources, a comparatively trifling loss of animals. [Oregon Spectator]
Now, while I'm trying to take these events in chronological order, this is one time when it's necessary to skip ahead. The very next item in the second Drew list is a similar claim about a party of eighteen who were likewise massacred at Bloody Point. As with this one there is no supporting evidence and neither the Todd list nor the first Drew list contained it. I don't have a specific piece of counter-evidence to cite in this case, but it had really happened, you'd think there would be something more positive to point to.
These items share several peculiarities. First, no names are given. Second, the massacres are said to have happened at Bloody Point. Third, the numbers are oddly precise, considering that the rest of the information about the incidents is so vague.
For me the reference to Bloody Point is a good place to start. A fellow named Ben Wright (whom we will hear of again) named this place in 1852 during conflicts that year with the Modocs. There is no question that attacks occurred here in 1852. It is, however, extremely unlikely that many attacks occurred before that date; all indications are that the settlers were surprised by events. When I read the contemporary accounts there is no indication whatsoever of a history of trouble on the road, no reference to earlier slaughters there, nothing of the sort.
The numbers mentioned are interesting too. In 1852 when a survivor of a Modoc attack arrived in Yreka a party went out to patrol the road and bury the dead. According to contemporary sources about twenty bodies were found and buried; this is reasonably close to the numbers eighteen and twenty-three given for these two unattested items. The lack of names is also suggestive; the people whose bodies were found and buried were unknown. My best guess at this point is that both these items (assuming that Drew didn't simply make them up altogether, which, given his low regard for truth, is by no means out of the question), are distorted reflections of the events of 1852, which made a big impression on settlers, and continued to generate ever more elaborate stories for decades to come.
Something of the effect these grisly discoveries had on people may be indicated by Lindsay Applegate's account of a similar discovery in 1846:
One day, during our march through this country, Capt. Scott and myself, leaving the party on the west side, crossed the river for the purpose of hunting, and, while pursuing a band of antelope, came upon wagon tracks, leading away from the river towards a rocky gulch among the hills, two or three miles distant. Several wagons seemed to have been in the train, and on either side of the plain tracks made by the wagon wheels in the loose sand were numerous bare-foot tracks. Following the trail into the mouth of the gulch, we found where the wagons had been burned, only the ruins being left among the ashes. We found no human remains, yet the evidences were plain that a small train of immigrants had been taken here not a great while before, and that they had perished at the hands of their blood-thirsty captors, not one having escaped to recite the awful tale of horror. Possibly the bodies of the victims had been thrust into the river. Possibly the drivers had been compelled to drive their teams across the sage plains into this wild ravine, here to be slaughtered and their bodies burned. By a more extended search along the river and among the hills, we might possibly have found some of the bodies of the victims, and might have obtained some clue as to who the ill-fated immigrants were, but even this was not practicable at the time, and we could only hurry on with sad hearts to overtake the train far up the river.
Different time, different place—but the effect of this mute testimony to a past catastrophe may be the key to understanding these ghost reports. By the same token, of course, if these two were inventions, it may well be that the inventor (Drew, I would suppose) was exploiting the feelings the sight of such burned wagons evoked.
The Whitman Massacre
On the 29th November, 1847, Dr. Whitman, a Protestant missionary, his wife, two orphan children, a Frenchman, and about eleven immigrants, were massacred at and near the mission in Walla-Walla valley by Cayuse Indians. This was the commencement of the Cayuse war. [T]
This item, which appears only in the Todd list and the first Drew list, is shameless padding, as the event happened in a different part of old Oregon country from the area under consideration—the Oregon-California border region. I can only suppose that Todd and Drew were relying on the notoriety of the event and the ignorance of western geography in their intended audience back east to help make their case. And, as I don't intend to deal with it here and now, I will refer interested readers to the Wikipedia entry for The Whitman Massacre.
Party of Eighteen
In 1849 another train of eighteen or more persons were also massacred at the same place. [D2]
The "same place" is Bloody Point, and this item (which appears only in the second Drew list and the SFEB list) has the same problems as the earlier alleged train of twenty-three. For the general discussion, see Item 6 above.
Captain Warner and Party
(26 September 1849)
September 26 the same year, Captain Warner, of the United States engineer corps, and several of his party were murdered near Goose lake. [D2]
This item is unique to the second Drew list (out of the five versions I know of) and is a bit out of the immediate geographical range of the rest. R. S. Williamson left us an early (14 February 1850) account of the event, reprinted in Senate Ex. Doc. No. 47, 31st Cong. 1st Sess., pp. 17-22. Captain Warner was in charge of an exploring expedition attempting to determine possible routes from the Humboldt Valley to the Sacramento River.
When Captain Warner had discovered the pass, and reached the eastern base of the range, he travelled to the southward, intending to recross the mountain on the Lassen trail. On the 26th day of September he was riding in company with the guide, a short distance ahead of his little party. They had descended a little ravine and were ascending the rugged hill on the other side, when a party of about twenty-five Indians, who had been lying in ambush behind some large rocks near the summit, suddenly sprang up and shot a volley of arrows into the party. The greater number of the arrows took effect upon the Captain and guide, and both were mortally wounded. The Captain's mule turned with him, and plunged down the hill; and having been carried about two hundred yards, he fell from the animal dead. The guide dismounted and prepared to fire, but finding he could not aim his rifle, he succeeded in mounting and retiring down the hill. He died the next morning. The party were thrown into confusion and retreated at once. Two men, George Cave and Henry A. Barling, were badly wounded. Cave died before reaching the valley, while Barling reached Benicia, was placed in the United States hospital under charge of Assistant Surgeon Deyerle, and has now nearly recovered. Captain Warner's body was visited several times, and his note-book, &c., brought to me. The Indians who made this attack are supposed to be of the same tribe, and have the same manners and customs, as those in the immediate vicinity of Tlamath lake. They caused a great deal of trouble among the emigrants by stealing their cattle in the night; and they acted with a great deal of caution, never showing themselves during the day. They have no other arms than bows and arrows, and generally go entirely naked. They seemed to have been emboldened by the presence of so small a party so far from the emigrants' trail, and presented themselves in considerable numbers in the vicinity of Captain Warner's camp for several days preceding the attack. It is difficult to make an estimate of their numbers, but they certainly can form a formidable body.
One of the reasons this item appears only in the second Drew list may well be that it is not really an instance of an innocent settlers being struck down by a savage foe, which is the general purport of these lists. Captain Warner was the leader of a military expedition into Indian country; he was in fact (even if 19th century legal theory didn't look at it this way) invading territory belonging to another people. The Klamaths (if they are the ones responsible) may well have looked at themselves as noble patriots repelling a savage invader.
Sprink [or Prink] and Cushing
August.—Messrs. Spink and Cushing, packers, were murdered, and their train and loading destroyed by Indians, on Klamath river. No provocation given and none claimed. The murderers were not punished. [D1]
The Sutton list also has this item, the only material change being that the incident is said to have happened "near the line of Oregon and California" rather than "on Klamath river." Walling devotes a couple of lines to this incident, but adds little except that the perpertrators were Shastas:
In August, 1850, two packers, Cushing and Prink, were killed on the banks of the Klamath river near where the ferry was afterwards established. Their train was taken and their cargo destroyed by Shasta Indians. [Walling]
This is one where I haven't turned up any further information; a check of newspapers from the era revealed nothing, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.
#These parts are running much longer than I had envisioned when I started the series. The next part should concern events of, or contemporary with, the first Rogue River War (1851). There will also be material in a later section dealing with the southern emigrant road.
To Be Continued
Mike Flex: Well, Radio Active is expanding all the time and it’s soon to be opening up a new religious department which should be lots of fun. And the man in charge of all this, who’s popped in to spread the word, no doubt, is here now, the Right Reverend James Wright. Hi there, how are you doing?
Reverend Wright: Uh, very well, thank you.
Mike Flex: That’s great. Good news. So, Jim, tell me, how did it—how did it all start?
Reverend Wright: Sorry?
Mike Flex: How did it all start, this Christianity bit?
Reverend Wright: Well, I suppose it all started as you put it with the birth of Jesus Christ, our savior.
Mike Flex: Mm-hmm, so he was very much the inspiration behind the whole thing, was he? But of course like so many cult heroes his work wasn’t really appreciated during his lifetime, is this true?
Reverend Wright: Well, he had a small band of followers, his disciples.
Mike Flex: Yeah, but he didn’t receive the international acclaim you feel he deserved.
Reverend Wright: Look, this isn’t some sort of pop celebrity we’re talking about; this man was the moral and religious leader of the Christian movement.
Mike Flex: And of course in many ways that’s bigger, right? Now I read somewhere that he once fed a whole crowd of people with just five loaves and two fishes.
Reverend Wright: Well that’s the feeding of the five thousand.
Mike Flex: Right, right. Great, great. So—so—so is that something you now include in your act?
Reverend Wright: I don’t have an act, I’m a minister of the cloth.
Mike Flex: Oh, right, it’s sermons with you, right?
Reverend Wright: What?
Mike Flex: Okay, well, many thanks for popping in, Jim, and I take it you’re plugging this book here you brought, the books called the Bible, and it’s available in hardback and paperback priced—
Reverend Wright: Outrageous!
Mike Flex: Well it’s a bit expensive, evidently. Well, it looks like a damn good read. Lots of fun there. Okay, thanks Reverend Jim.
27 June 2009
Sri Lanka—Authorities have taken Chandrasiri Bandara, a popular astrologer, into custody to investigate one of his predictions. Defying the polls the astrologer says that changes in the alignment of the cosmic spheres on 8 October are bad news for the present government, signifying hard times ahead with rising living costs. (Economists have made similar predictions.) The prime minister, he predicted, would become president, and the opposition leader prime minister. The Criminal Investigations Department is looking into the basis for the prediction according to police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekera. It is not clear exactly what they are looking into—do they think he had political motives, or are they merely suspicious of his astrological interpretation? The arrest is condemned by the opposition. (BBC)
Los Angeles—Noted Beatles collector Michael Jackson died Thursday of possibly natural causes. The owner of such coveted Beatles memorabilia as the rights to the bulk of the Lennon-McCartney catalog, Jackson has been the subject of much speculation recently concerning the disposition of these much-coveted sentimental treasures. One theory has it that he's left at least some of his collection to ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. With the imminent re-release of the Beatles catalog in listenable condition for the first time since the advent of the CD, fans are concerned about the fate of these soon-to-be-lost tracks. Jackson's condition is unchanged. (NY Daily News)
Stockholm, Sweden—The Swedish Court of Appeals blandly ruled that Judge Tomas Norstöm, one of three judges who presided over the recent Pirate Bay trial, had no conflict of interest, despite his membership in two advocacy groups on the other side of the issue, the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Swedish Copyright Association. "For a judge to back the principles on which this legislation rests cannot be considered bias," appeals court judge Anders Eka said, apparently with a straight face. Four men involved in the operation of The Pirate Bay, which among other things makes it possible for smaller artists to share their work with others via peer-to-peer networking, were tried and convicted for copyright violations earlier this year, despite the utter worthlessness of the legal claims against them. Backlash against the verdict is considered responsible for electing a member of the Pirate Party to the European Parliament. (ZDNet, BBC)
26 June 2009
24 June 2009
I used to write fiction (never sold any) and in one story I had a character who, confronted by a Gnostic, said that an agnostic was an atheist who was just too chickenshit to admit to it. I don't know that I've ever heard anybody say it that way in real life, but I've run into the attitude quite a bit. Much depends on how you define the words. Remember when old Polycarp of Smyrna was going to be thrown to the lions or burned at the stake the Romans urged him to denounce the Christians. "Say, 'Away with the atheists,'" the proconsul told him. Polycarp obliged. "Away with the atheists," he repeated, gesturing with his arm to designate the spectators, not the Christians. It's all how you look at it. An atheist, as Mark Twain might have put it, is somebody who doesn't believe in your god.
A good piece over at Evolving Thoughts discusses the meaning of the words atheism and agnosticism, looking at the changes in the meaning of the words over time. John Wilkins has got me thinking again about the oddity of this particular situation: why is it, exactly, again, that I have to pin myself with a specific label on this point? To borrow from Wilkins' piece, it's as though everybody in the world was expected to have a particular team in some sport that they identified with. Well, what about the rest of us? Those of us who just enjoy the game, for instance? And what about the people who just flat-out don't do sports?
There are a lot of things in this universe that I don't have opinions about. Things I've never studied, for instance. Things I don't know enough about. Things where there isn't enough information to even form an opinion in the first place. What influence did Beowulf have on subsequent English literature? Who would win in a fist fight, Santa Claus or Goofy? Is there a god?
I'm sorry; I actually don't have an opinion, and I really never felt the need to form one. I know some people say it's the most important question a person can face—but I just don't see it. People have sicced their deities on me in the past, saying that their god will torment me through all eternity if I don't believe in him, but unless said god can manifest himself in some more tangible way than random bluster, can do something to give me a clue as to why I should be afraid of him and not all these other deities, I can't get worked up over it.
It's like this. Say a stranger comes up to me on the street and tells me "You must believe that Shakespeare based the character of Mercutio on Christopher Marlowe. If you do not you will burn in hell for eternity." Well that would make that a pretty important thing to believe in, wouldn't it? So isn't the safe thing to do to adopt that position, to go around loudly proclaiming that Christopher Marlowe was Shakespeare's model for Mercutio, regardless of whether there was any evidence for it or not, because hey, if you're right, you won't burn in hell for eternity. And if you're wrong, you've only wasted your life making an asshole of yourself. It's just simple logic, isn't it?
This is where I have the problem. This argument can be framed to support anything whatsoever. Unless there's something resembling evidence that my believing or not believing in a thing will actually have an effect on my afterlife there's no wager here at all. It's more like betting on 00 on a roulette wheel with an infinite number of spaces. You might as well try to sell me celestial wax for buffing my aura. It's infantile.
It's so infantile I cannot believe that people seriously make this argument. Their faces must get awfully used to being laughed in. Oh, wait—I hear an objection from the audience. You—Mr. Strawman.
That's Dr. Strawman, if you please.
Okay, Doc, what's on your mind?
Why do you hate God so much?
Where are you getting that from, Dr. Strawman?
Well, you're spending all this time railing against Him, denying His existence.
No, actually I'm not, Dr. Strawman. I have nothing against any god or supernatural critter whatsoever. I mean, when Athena came down to give Perseus a hand killing a gorgon, I thought it was pretty cool. When Yahweh helped the Israelites escape from Egypt, that was great. And when Gandalf the Gray—
Gandalf was a wizard, not a deity.
I know, Dr. Strawman, but you're missing the point. I like Sherlock Holmes, too, but I don't believe in his existence and I sure as hell don't worship him. Oh, sorry about that.
That's quite all right. I'm a Doctor of Divinity.
Come to think of it, I take it back. There are deities I don't much care for. Cthulu, for one. There's a god worth fearing if you like. And I don't like Yahweh all that much when he's out ordering the massacre of the Canaanites or drowning virtually all mankind in a single flood—he's got a petty vengeful side, no doubt about it. And Hera can be a real bitch—
So you admit to hating God.
Maybe. Now you're confusing me. Yeah, I suppose, in the same way I'm not fond of Sauron or that vicious psycho-criminal that shows up in every Dick Francis novel. The first time I saw Othello I could hardly applaud the actor that played Iago, I was so pissed off at that unctuous smiling bastard. (That was Ashland 1966 I think; whoever you were, you did one hell of a job that night.)
But those are fictional characters.
Well, as far as I know so is Yahweh. Or Chemosh, or Ashur, or Dagon.
But that's a bogus argument. Nobody worships Chemosh or Dagon these days.
Is that the test? Popularity? The god the most people worship today is the real god? What about when the entire Roman Empire worshiped Jupiter and the rest, and virtually nobody had even heard of Yahweh? Was Jupiter the big god on the totem pole till Yahweh dethroned him? And what about Allah?
Hey, remember—I'm just a figment of your imagination. I can't answer arguments you haven't already seen addressed somewhere.
Oh, yeah, sorry about that Dr. Strawman. I kind of think this discussion's gone a little off the rails, don't you think?
Maybe. That's not my fault, though. You're the one that keeps trying to compare God with these made-up idols. What about the second commandment?
Uh, which one is that? "Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk?"
Oh, that's very funny. You know perfectly well which one, just as you know in your heart that you are not right with God. That's why you rebel against His word, try to deny His existence, try to convince other people that He doesn't exist.
Dr. Strawman, I don't do any of these things. Maybe it makes you feel better to imagine that in my heart of hearts I agree with you, that I really know God exists and am denying it, no, pretending to deny it as an excuse to perform some nameless rituals in my basement. Whatever. Your believing it doesn't make it true. I don't even really think about your god all that much, except in the context of religions of late antiquity, and for all I know maybe you wouldn't even recognize the God that third-century Christians worshiped as yours. I don't know. You can make up stuff about me all you like; the fact is I can make up stuff about you, too. In your heart of hearts, Dr. Strawman, don't you know you're just telling yourself fairy-stories? You don't believe this stuff any more than I do, and you're just trying to convince other people of God's existence just so you don't feel alone.
Ha! I knew you were trying to convert me to atheism!
No, I'm not trying to convert anybody to anything; I'm trying to make a point, and you, as a creature of my imagination, ought to be cooperating with me, not tossing out random non sequiturs to throw me off my rhythm.
I thought that was my job.
No. This is why I try to avoid religious discussions; we always seem to end up talking past each other; we make assumptions about the other's hidden motives and try to address them, and instead of getting anywhere, we end up arguing in circles.
Now we're getting somewhere. Arguing in a circle is the only way a human being can reason in the presence of his Creator.
If I'm willing to accept that you really have some belief in a god—Yahweh or whoever—even though I have a hard time believing that any adult could seriously hold onto a notion like that, are you willing to accept that I really don't have some secret belief in your god that I'm just suppressing for some reason?
Nothing on earth will convince me of that, "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things."
Yeah, well, Paul wrote a lot of stuff.
And as for trying to retreat into agnosticism, the word just means ignorance. But the Bible tells us that there is no excuse for ignorance of God. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge."
And Second Isaiah says that Yahweh "sits above the circle of the earth and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers to him." And that he "stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them like a tent to live in?" If people look like grasshoppers to him, how high up is he? A couple hundred feet? We've got airplanes that go higher than that. Even skyscrapers are higher. And do you really believe that the sky is made of some curtain-like material? Something Yahweh could spread out?
Now you're being ridiculous. And what was that about "Second Isaiah"? Are you trying to deny that Isaiah correctly prophesied the coming of Cyrus as king of the Persians over a century before it happened?
Huh? How'd Cyrus get into this?
The only reason you atheists came up with this Second Isaiah business is so you can deny God's power of prophecy.
Okay, that's it; I'm finished, Dr. Strawman. You win, there's a god, and I'm off to get some cosmic wax to buff up my aura.
Huh? I mean, uh, hallelujah, I guess. Praise the Lord.
And you know what else, Dr. Strawman? I actually do believe that Marlowe was Shakespeare's model for Mercutio. I know there's no evidence for it, and I have no rational reason for believing it, but I am quite convinced that you in your heart of hearts share my conviction and know perfectly well that it's true. And, Dr. Strawman, if you deny it, you will burn for eternity. So are you with me, Dr. Strawman, or against me? Isn't the answer obvious?
That's the stupidest argument I've ever heard. Do you think I'm an idiot?
Well, thank you for dropping by, Dr. Strawman.
You're quite welcome, I am sure.
22 June 2009
A good many years ago, no matter how many, I was given a book for a birthday or christmas. It was a limited edition reprint of an interesting little booklet by Charles S. Drew, Oregon pioneer and Indian-hater, entitled An Account of the Origin and Early Prosecution of the Indian War in Oregon. The reprint is dated 1973, and that was probably the year I got it; the original booklet was dated 1860.
The story behind the booklet is something like this: In the 1850s settlers had expended money, goods, and services in a series of conflicts with the native peoples. They expected the Federal government to repay them. The Federal government, in response, looked into the legitimacy of the expenses, and not just whether the money had really been spent and on what. No, they also inquired into the origin of the conflict to see whether it had been justified, or if, let us say, a bunch of drunken settlers had shot up a native village while in pursuit of women to rape, and then had the gall to charge the government for it. The trouble is, the financial interest gave investigators the incentive to see the settlers wrong in any conflict. The response from the settlers was simple; they blackened the character of the native peoples indiscriminately, and painted them as the bad guys in every case.
So when The Topographical Memoir and Report of Captain T. J. Cram, relative to the Territories of Oregon and Washington came out, containing a savage criticism of the settlers' role in the conflicts, Drew responded with this booklet. Its modern reprinter says of it:
This Drew booklet is important source material in that it lists rather completely the early pioneers of the area who were murdered by Indians.
This is an overstatement; the list is neither complete, nor is it correct to say that all those on it were in fact murdered by the Indians, or even murdered at all. On investigation this list turns out to be a hodge-podge of fact, fraud, misrepresentation, and error.
Where did Drew get this list? He points us to an earlier similar list by Nathaniel Todd. Clearly Todd was not his only source, however; he left out some of Todd's and added others of his own. Later on Drew issued a second version of his list; this one made still more changes. In 1873, during the Modoc War, the lists were revived again, with the Portland Bulletin printing a list of alleged Modoc atrocities based on Drew's first list, and the San Francisco Evening Bulletin putting one out that is closely related to Drew's second list. Thus I personally have stumbled on five different versions of this list; there are likely many more.
Now as I turned up various versions of this list I got increasingly curious as to what exactly had happened in these reported incidents. I took the time to investigate some, and for others information just fell into my hands. The stories were interesting. So were the systematic distortions of events. Over time I built up quite a collection of information. I'd always intended to do something with it—put out a book or paper, whatever the material justified—but time has gone by and the loss of so much other work has made me nervous. So what follows here is an installment in what may turn out to be a series. This one features three early episodes found only in Todd's list.
For whatever reason the Todd list starts earlier than the others. As Drew had the Todd list in hand as he wrote he must have omitted them deliberately. Perhaps he felt they were too remote in time to be of any service.
As far back as 1834, a party of about thirty persons, under the control of Captain Smith, were massacred near the mouth of the Umpqua river. [T]
Although the date and numbers are wrong, this item obviously refers to an attack by Kalawatsets on the Jedediah S. Smith expedition near the Umpqua river on 14 July 1828. According to James A. Crutchfield (It Happened in Oregon) a party of eighteen men, led by Jedediah Smith, camped on the banks of the Umpqua while engaged in trade with the locals. Smith and two other men (Richard Leland and John Turner) were out scouting when a party of apparently friendly Kalawatsets decided to attack the camp. At least eleven men were killed (the skeletons were later observed by John McLaughlin, the father of Oregon country) and one escaped (Arthur Brown). Jedediah Smith and his companions likewise survived, leaving three men unaccounted for. The four known survivors all eventually made it to Fort Vancouver and at least some of the goods were recovered.
As far as we can tell at this distance the attack may well have been unprovoked and was perhaps motivated by a desire to get goods without paying for them. While I don't have the details (and it's unlikely that they survive) John McLoughlin—who was a fair man, respected by the natives of Oregon country—investigated the affair, and he seems to have concluded that the attacking party of Kalawatsets was in the wrong, and ordered them to make restitution to the survivors. On the other hand we have no Kalawatset account at all, and in other incidents of this sort the matter is not nearly as cut-and-dried as it first appears. Still, other than doubling the number of victims and getting the date completely wrong Todd seems to have done fairly well on this one.
Although the Smith party incident didn't happen in 1834, another interesting event is alleged to have occurred about this time. According to the Oregon Statesman (20 June 1851) "It is said that a Mr. Turner of St. Louis, destroyed a portion of [the Rogue River] tribe sixteen or seventeen years since, by allowing them to rob him of a quantity of poisoned provisions." I wonder why Todd left that off the balance sheets.
Daniel Miller et al
In June, 1835, George Gay, Daniel Miller, Edward Barnes, Dr. Bailey, Mr. Sanders, John Turner, John Woodworth, and an Irishman called Tom, were attacked by Rogue River Indians near where Mr. Birdseye now lives in Rogue River valley, and Mr. Miller, Mr. Barnes, Mr. Sanders, and Tom were killed. The other four were badly wounded, but made their escape. [T]
Now the story behind this seems to run something like this: In 1835 John Turner—who was one of the survivors of the 1828 incident just mentioned—led a party of settlers up to Oregon from California. Among them were Dr. William J. Bailey from either England or Ireland, George Gay from England, John Woodworth about whom nothing seems to be known, along with Daniel Miller, Edward Barnes, —— Sanders or Saunders, and a fellow from Ireland known as Big Tom. Turner's Indian wife also accompanied them. They had with them forty-seven horses and the necessary equipment for trapping. One morning, while they were camped along Foot's creek near the Rogue River, members of the Rogue River tribe started showing up. Turner's wife conversed with them through Chinook jargon, the trade language of the Oregon country, and concluded that they meant no harm. More and more Rogue Rivers showed up, and then, without warning, they attacked the small party. While the men attacked the trappers, the women drove off the horses and gear. Two of the settlers, Barnes and Miller, were killed quickly, but the others fought back, Turner seizing a blazing log from the fire and wielding it as a club against the foes. They successfully fought the Rogue Rivers off, or, more likely, the attackers, having got what they came for, made a successful withdrawal. Either way the six survivors [correction: there were actually seven, as Turner's wife also survived the attack] set off nearly destitute, all of them wounded to a greater or lesser extent. Sanders and Big Tom were unable to continue, and were abandoned to die of their wounds. Dr. Bailey, however, even though his jaw was split and never properly healed, survived to make civilization, as did John Turner, George Gay, and John Woodworth. Dr. Bailey, a surgeon, became a man of some importance in the Willamette Valley; George Gay made and lost a fortune in Oregon country, John Turner lived as a recluse, and John Woodworth vanished into obscurity.
Now again with this incident we are hampered by the lack of any sort of check on this account. The Rogue Rivers had a bad reputation; on the other hand there are accounts—or rather rumors—of trappers taking potshots at them during this same time period. While the Rogue Rivers don't seem (on what little evidence there is) to have had any grievance against Turner's party, they may have had reason to be unfriendly to passing Euro-Americans. We're in speculation country here. As it stands, it seems likely that the locals saw an opportunity to gain forty-seven horses with relatively little effort, and took it. (Sources: Transactions of the Tenth Annual Reunion of the Pioneer Society, 1882; Bancroft's History of Oregon.)
In August, 1838, as a party of citizens of Oregon were driving the first cattle from California to this Territory, they were attacked near the same spot where the party were attacked in 1835, by the same Indians, and Mr. Gay, who was of the party of 1835, was again wounded. [T]
Walling's* account differs significantly from Todd's: the date was September 1837 rather than August 1838 and the attackers were almost certainly not the same people. Further, and most egregiously, Todd omits the reason for the attack completely.
Walling named a number of the members of this particular expedition. For our purposes I will note only a few of them. The leader was a man named Ewing Young. P. L. Edwards kept a diary of the trip. George Gay and Dr. William J. Bailey, survivors of the previous incident, were also along. [Addition: From Edwards' diary it looks as though John Turner, who survived both previous incidents, was also along on this one.] And there was a man named Tibbetts or Tibbats. There were about twenty in the party in all.
On 14 September 1837 an Indian came into their camp, on what mission we are not told, but he was alone [correction: actually he had a ten-year-old boy (his son?) with him] and not making any trouble. George Gay and Dr. William Bailey, however, were still pissed off about the events of two years before, and wanted revenge on somebody. Keep in mind that both had been injured and Dr. Bailey had been hideously disfigured for life by the blow that had broken his jaw. As Walling notes they were still some distance from the place of the attack two years before, and it is quite possible that this particular individual had never even heard of it. Still, he was an Indian, and that was enough for Gay and Bailey. They shot the poor fellow, and, as Walling puts it, "The act was deeply resented by the Indians throughout the whole section, and the party met with the greatest difficulty in continuing the course."
[Update: The Diary of Philip Leget Edwards is actually available online thanks to the California Association of Texas Longhorn Breeders. I had relied on the excerpts in Walling for my version of events, but the account of the murder of a local man is even shabbier than Walling indicated:
About two miles before reaching camp, five or six Indians came to us in a friendly manner, and one, accompanied by a boy about 10 years old, followed us to camp. There had been frequent threats on the way that Indians would be killed as soon as we had crossed Shasta river, and I had heard threats of killing this one while he was following us. It had generally passed as idle braggadocio, and I was hoping that present threats were of the same sort. I, nevertheless, intended telling Mr. Young. In the hurry, however, of unpacking I could not do it unobserved. We had just let loose our horses and sat, when a gun was fired just behind me. Gay and the Indian were sitting within ten feet of each other, when the former shot. The Indian sprang up to run when Bailey also shot at him. The Indian ran about 20 paces and fell dead, down the hill. Some of the scoundrels now hallooed, "Shoot the boy! Shoot the boy!" The little fellow, however, turned a point of rocks, plunged in the brush, and, as he was not pursued, he escaped. They afterwards alleged it was only to prevent his spreading the news. At the sound of the gun, Mr. Young asked vehemently, "What's that?" and began censuring the act. I sprang up, calling it a mean, base, dastardly act, and that such men were not to be depended upon in danger! Bailey retorted, "Are you to be depended upon in danger?" I replied, "Yes." "We'll see," said he. I said, "Yes." Carmichael was one of the first to censure the murder, but he now joined others against me. "We are not missionaries," said he, "we will avenge the death of Americans." Mr. Young and myself soon saw that it was of no use to wrangle. Some of the party were silent—most were in favor of the act. Only one that I recollect spoke against it. Turner, Gay and Bailey were three of four survivors of a party of eight men who had been defeated at the next river, and several of the survivors were much mangled. Turner's wife had also escaped. This they allege as their justification. But the murder was committed four days before reaching the place of their defeat, and the Indians may have been of another tribe. Nor could any consideration of private revenge, allowing its legality in itself, authorize endangering the property of others. We must now prepare ourselves for fighting our way through the hostile Indians. This fool act, as Mr. Young said, "cost us half our animals." One act of barbarity is not to be omitted. Camp and Pat stripped the Indian of his skin clothing, and left him lying naked.
The entire diary is well worth reading; check out the link.]
On 17 September they camped at Foot's creek, where the previous incident had occurred. The next day—well, let's allow P. L. Edwards to tell the story from his diary:
SEPTEMBER 18.—Moved about sunrise. Indians were soon observed running along the mountain on our right. There could be no doubt but that they were intending to attack us at some difficult pass. Our braves occasionally fired on them when there was a mere possibility of doing any execution. About twelve o'clock, while we were in a stony and brushy pass between the river [Rogue river] on our right, and a mountain covered with wood on our left, firing and yelling in front announced an attack. Mr. Young, apprehensive of an attack at this pass, had gone in advance to examine the brush and ravine, and returned without seeing Indians. In making further search he found them posted on each side of the road. After firing of four guns, the forward cattle having halted, and myself having arrived with the rear, I started forward but orders met me from Mr. Young that no one should leave the cattle, he feeling able, with the two or three men already with him, to rout the Indians. In the struggle Gay was wounded in the back by an arrow. Two arrows were shot into the riding horse of Mr. Young, while he was snapping his gun at an Indian not more than ten yards off. To save his horse, he had dismounted and beat him on the head, but he refused to go off, and received two arrows, probably shot at his master. Having another brushy place to pass, four or five of us went in advance, but were not molested. Camped at the spot where Turner and party were attacked two years ago. Soon after the men on day guard said they had seen three Indians in a small grove about three hundred yards from camp. About half of the party went, surrounded the grove, some of them fired into it, others passed through it, but could find no Indians. At night all the horses nearly famished as they were tied up. Night set in dark, cloudy and threatening rain, so that the guard could herdly [sic] have seen an Indian ten paces off, until the moon rose, about ten o’clock. I was on watch the first half of the night.
To sum up, passing through Rogue River country a party of cattle drivers shot a peaceful Indian. His friends retaliated by attacking the party, injuring one of the men who had done the shooting. Nothing of this could have been gathered from the Todd list alone. It's a reminder on the earlier episodes how much we don't know about the events. Gay and Bailey had good reason to be pissed off; they had no reason to attack that particular individual. Conceivably the attackers in the earlier incidents likewise nursed grievances they chose to take out on unoffending third parties. Or, it is quite possible that extant accounts leave out significant incidents (like the shooting of a passing tribesman) that would cast a different light on affairs. But greed and cruelty are also motivating factors in human affairs, and it may well be that the events happened as narrated.
However exaggeration also plays a considerable part in the narrative of events. I mentioned earlier a guy named Tibbetts who was along on this expedition. A few years later he was again in this region, and here's how one of his fellows narrated the story he told them:
The man Tibbats was one of a party of fifteen, which was defeated here by the Indians, some three years before. One of their number was killed, and two died of their wounds on the Umpqua, whither they were obliged to retreat, although they had forced the Indians back with great loss.
Contrast this with the contemporary account given by Edwards and you can see how tall the tales grew in this region. And, to give credit where credit is due, we note that as inaccurate as Todd's version has proved to be here, it could have been worse.
A Note or Two
The Todd List [T] is found in House Miscellaneous Document No. 47, 35th Congress, second session (running title: Oregon and Washington Volunteers). My photocopy is among my missing files, and unlike many government documents it doesn't seem to be available online. The quotations in this entry are taken from my notes on these incidents, and were transcribed from my lost photocopy. I plan to replace it, time permitting, and (I hope) will post the complete list online at some point.
*One of the books that I will probably be citing often is a little difficult to describe easily. In the 1880s Portland publisher Albert G. Walling put out a series of county histories for the state of Oregon, a different volume for each county. Chapters 1 to 34, covering the exploration of the state and the Indian wars, are identical in all volumes, however. Only the chapters from 35 on differ for each county or region. The useful material in this book, for current purposes, comes in this common section. So while I'm actually quoting from Walling's History of Southern Oregon, the links to the online Illustrated History of Lane County will work just as well. At this point the two are really the same book. Oh, yeah, one more complication—the volume is anonymous. I will refer to it as Walling, after its publisher.
Update: Part two deals mainly with alleged events along the Southern Emigrant Road.
21 June 2009
Those were the days, my friend,
We thought they'd never end,
We'd sing and dance forever and a day.
We'd live the life we choose,
We'd fight and never lose,
For we were young and sure to have our way.
Believe it or not, my brothers and I used to play in an old stagecoach. Sometimes in our imaginations it was a stagecoach in the Old West; sometimes it was a spaceship on its way to the outer reaches of the galaxy. When it rained, which it often does in the Pacific Northwest, the roof leaked. It was parked in the parking lot behind Vancouver (Washington) radio station KHFS where my father was a DJ. KHFS was a country-western station at that time, and I suppose the stagecoach was suitable decor. It disappeared around 1959 to reappear at the Oregon Centennial Exposition, while KHFS replaced it with a buckboard.
My father's on-air name was Hoot Howard (according to my best memory and some promotional literature I used to have); my brother remembers him as Lonesome (or maybe Mournful) something-or-other. My impression is that listeners sent in names and then voted on them, or maybe they drew the name out of a hat. A ten-gallon hat, presumably. One piece of promotional literature actually showed my father in western attire, complete with cowboy hat. I don't think I ever saw a less convincing cowboy, but who am I to judge?
The other Vancouver radio station, KVAN, was also country-western. (I'm pretty sure of that; this is all coming through a half-century of fog and mist—I know what I remember, but are my memories accurate?) My father's radio-school buddy Bill Howlett was a newscaster there. Their top DJ was a fellow billed as Wee Willie Nelson. I believe Wee Willie's show was quite successful; my father used to say that other DJs looked up to him.
On occasion they, along with a few other people in the Portland area radio scene, would get together at our house to play cards and do whatever adults did in the fifties (smoke cigarettes, or in my father's case cigars, and drink beer at any rate). The gatherings happened late, after my brothers and I had been sent to bed, but when we got up in the morning we could tell there had been a party. My mother always kept the house in perfect order, but on these occasions there would be overflowing ashtrays, glasses left out (sometimes with small amounts of beer still in them), drawings, bits of paper with arcane calculations. At least once there was an amazing clay alien left on the card table, and I remember one drawing with a spaceship landing on a small planet made of polyhedrons.
Newscaster Bill Howlett was responsible for the clay alien and at least some of the drawings; he had ambitions as a writer and actually wrote a novel (never sold) retelling the Arthurian legend in the modern advertising world. DJ Wee Willie wrote songs and sang in clubs; he even recorded a song that he hawked on his radio program. My father wrote a play, or at least parts of a play (I had it until recently) that showed clearly the influence of George Kaufman and more faintly (I believe) Ring Lardner. These guys had ambitions; they were clearly going places.
Or maybe not. Bill Howlett remained a newscaster, even when KVAN became KISN and turned to rock 'n' roll (a form he detested; he was a Dixieland man from way back). Wee Willie shook the dust from his shoes, split the scene, and never looked back. My father stuck with KHFS as it too went top forty and was reborn as KKEY, but after a couple of years accepted a job as chief engineer at KXL (in Portland) and with considerable relief gave up the DJ business altogether.
Bill Howlett stayed with KISN till the bitter end, when the station died a horrible death. Once one of the Portland area's best-known radio newscasters, he was reduced in the end to taking odd jobs at various area stations. He never sold his novel, but was still working doggedly at it until the day he died unexpectedly of a heart condition he didn't know he had. (At the time he died he was actually living in the room directly above me as I write this, the room that's now my niece's.)
My father's literary ambitions died when I was still a child, and I remember vividly the moment when I showed him a piece of my own work, and he handed me his play and said he was abdicating his position as playwright-in-residence in the family. He moved from radio to television, but stuck with engineering till a bout with giant cell arteritis and a bad reaction to prednisone sent him to his grave.
And Wee Willie—well, now there's the interesting thing. I think it was some time in the 1980s when my father showed me a newspaper item about country singer and songwriter Willie Nelson. "You know," he said, "I'd always wondered about that. It never seemed very likely to me, but—" According to the article American icon Willie Nelson and Vancouver DJ Wee Willie Nelson were one and the same. When I next saw my mother (she and my father had divorced long before this and she was living in Colorado at the time) I asked her about Wee Willie Nelson. She had no trouble remembering him and observed that he used to drop by on occasion. It had never once crossed her mind that he was in any way connected with the country music legend.
Now in all fairness I don't actually know that the Wee Willie Nelson my parents spoke of and the songwriter Willie Nelson had any connection. Wikipedia adds some support:
In 1956, Nelson moved to Vancouver, Washington, to begin a musical career, recording "Lumberjack," which was written by Leon Payne. The single sold fairly well, but did not establish a career. Nelson continued to work as a radio announcer in Vancouver and sing in clubs.
Right time, right place—but it would have been nice if the name of the station he worked for had been given. And the country legend is a bit younger than I pictured the DJ from my father's account—a good seven or eight years younger than my father, rather than being about the same age, as I'd thought. But there really weren't a lot of Vancouver radio stations in the fifties (and still aren't, actually), and it would be a pretty tall coincidence for there to be two Willie Nelsons in the Vancouver radio scene in the late fifties.
There's no point to this story, no moral to be drawn. If country legend Willie Nelson really blazed like a comet through our little backwater we were entirely unaware of it. He was just one of the guys, another young man with ambition and drive and talent—but ambition, drive, and talent are a dime a dozen. My father said he thought Wee Willie Nelson had a great future ahead of him—in radio. The idea of him making it big in country music apparently never crossed his mind. He seemed pleased enough at the idea of Wee Willie's success, that somebody had emerged from the Vancouver radio cocoon to fly to the stars, but that was about it.
Now my function in all this is as a retailer of slightly used memories. If I ever met Wee Willie Nelson it made no impression on me. Mind you, meeting the flesh people behind the disembodied voices of the airwaves was nothing unusual in our world—wasn't everybody's father on the radio? Still, I remember the overflowing ashtrays, the odd mementos of legendary evenings, the sense of wonder of what it must be like to be an adult and to take part in events like these. But by far my strongest memory of the Vancouver radio scene is sitting inside that stagecoach with the leaky roof, our own futures yet unwritten, as imaginary horses took us on our own private journey to the stars.
20 June 2009
Some days it doesn't pay to put your fingers on the keyboard and start typing. I've started and trashed at least a dozen openings for this current entry, and I still don't know what the topic is supposed to be. Am I gibbering about obscure Portland-area DJ Wee Willie Nelson? or about slogan-stealing? or what? My resources are inadequate to doing justice to the topics that cross my mind at the moment. I had files of documents relating to the history of Portland radio, and copies of books like Summerhill and Catch-22, that might have been helpful in one or the other, but I don't have them any longer, and it feels like part of my brain is missing. I used to know where to go for stuff; one of my most valuable assets in writing was my file of notes taken over the decades on a variety of topics that interested me at one point or another. And just as my memory is increasingly failing me I lose a big chunk of my external memory storage, so to speak. It is goddamn frustrating.
One thing I had notes on was the use of the term "pro-life". I can't find a goddamn thing on the innertubes about it. I know the term was kicking around before the anti-abortion crowd got their hands on it, but I can't find dates or specifics anywhere. As I remember those of us who were interested in the environmental movement before there was an environmental movement used the term "pro-life" to identify our position as protecting and defending all life everywhere, as being opposed to extinction for any species. (I remember concerns whether the "pro-life" movement should support extinction for organisms that cause smallpox or polio—would this not be anti- rather than pro-life?) And earlier than that I seem to recall some D. H. Lawrence types using the expression to mean a healthy open attitude toward sexuality, or something like that.
As I remember it there was a kind of split between those who preferred the save-the-planet sort of rhetoric (probably borrowed from the anti-nuclear folk) on the one hand, and those who focused on the species-in-danger approach on the other. The one direction leads directly to Earth Day, the latter perhaps to the Endangered Species Act. Speaking only for myself, I never cared for the Earth Day type of language; the planet Earth is in no danger—its sister planet Venus gets on just fine without the thin film of life on its surface Earth boasts of. It's living things that are in peril. Hence the designation pro-life.
I do remember being irritated when I first heard the term "pro-life" used to mean "anti-abortion". I regarded it as theft pure and simple, and not even a good theft; pro-life is utterly inadequate as a slogan for their position. It fits them about as well as a Frederick's of Hollywood evening gown fits the average linebacker. "Pro-life?" Don't make me laugh. And don't for God's sake give me that incredibly lame line about being pro-innocent life—the slogan you anti-abortionists stole says nothing whatsoever about innocence, only about life. If you didn't mean it, why steal it? Yeah, I know, you liked the sound of it—never mind that it made no bloody sense at all.
Now somewhere in the vast wilderness of the interwebs I saw some anti-abortion type claiming that pro-life was an accurate description of the movement because it focused attention on the important thing—that the foetus, no matter how undeveloped, is already a separate human individual entitled to all the rights and privileges that come with that status. Now personally I don't get that meaning from pro-life; something more like pro-foetal-personhood would seem to fit the bill. But really, what was wrong with anti-abortion? It's succinct, and it's accurate. Oh, I suppose from the "pro-life" viewpoint it only covers the conclusion, without giving the grounds for it. It's quite conceivable for someone to oppose abortion without believing that the foetus is a separate human individual entitled to life at all costs. Such a person would be anti-abortion but not pro-foetal-personhood—or something like that. I'm not a believer, and I don't play one on the internet either. I'll leave it to them to explain.
The people opposed to the ban on abortion, on the other hand, had a real problem with the movement label. Pro-abortion is only accurate in the sense that supporters were against its prohibition, not in the sense that they were in favor of abortion itself, or even what opponents like to call "abortion on demand." Many felt there should be strict restrictions on the practice, favoring it only in cases of rape, incest, or if the woman's life was in danger. The uneasy compromise in this case was the weasel term pro-choice, which focused on the issue as they saw it, which is that the choice should exist, but leaves wide open the basic question of who should do the choosing, and under what circumstances. Also, like the term pro-life, pro-choice is way over-broad in its implications. Pro-choice in regard to what? Just one narrow issue—whether a woman chooses to bring her foetus to term. And pro-life in regard to what? Again just one narrow issue—whether a woman should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy.
If you didn't already know what these labels applied to you'd have a hell of a time figuring it out. Pro-choice? Choice in regard to what? What profession to go into, what recreational drugs (if any) to enjoy, what church (if any) to attend? And pro-life? What does life mean here? We could be talking anti-war (as I believe Joseph Heller used the term), anti-pesticide, anti-death penalty, or anti-vivisection. Fuzziness seeps in when sloganeering replaces thought.
I suppose they're no more inane than the labels given to groups in the past. Free-soilers, abolitionists, know-nothings, nullifiers, roundheads, levelers, and other extinct forms of life once walked the world stage, and the people then knew what was being abolished, or leveled, or nullified. It's just some of us can't keep from poking the phrases with pointed sticks.
19 June 2009
We had a small fire here at the house that has left us all a bit on edge, I think. Nobody was hurt; people, dog, cats, and tortoises are all okay. There was no structural damage; merely a lot of smoke and some adrenaline filling up the place.
So I'm behind on everything right now, which is irritating when I've only just relaunched the blog. Still, these things happen, I guess.
18 June 2009
15 June 2009
Are you put upon by powers?Somewhere during my high school years, the late sixties maybe, I had a vision of a sort of parody pop album, an anthology that would do for the excesses of the day’s music what Rejected Addresses had done for Wordsworth and Walter Scott. I called it something like Plastic Sole in my mind, and I wrote a Bob Dylan parody, a Simon and Garfunkel parody, a Doors parody, and a Rod McKuen parody for it. I think maybe I had a Bobbie Gentry-style ballad planned for it too. The Dylan was particularly mean-spirited, as I recall; I had him attacking a Mr. Jones-like character who (it becomes obvious) the singer is sponging on, the singer finally ordering him to get the hell out—but only after he’s forked over all his spare change.
Are you restless for release?
Death just might be that final rush you crave.
We all believe in flowers
And we all believe in peace;
There’s endless peace and flowers in the grave.
Freud, Marx, Engles, and Jung
Of course I never did anything with it; it was just something to occupy my mind when I should have been coloring maps for Contemporary World Problems. I would have loved it if somebody else had done something like that, however, especially if it was done well. But as far as I knew, nobody else even seemed to be thinking in that direction.
Had I but known a group of jokers at the Harvard Lampoon were thinking along the same lines, maybe a bit diagonally from my take. In June of 1969 an album appeared entitled The Surprising Sheep and Other Mind Excursions and it was an album at least superficially matching the general description of my own mind excursion, Plastic Sole. I wonder what I would have thought of it if I’d stumbled on it at the time.
I think I would have liked the Bob Dylan parody, “Seventeen Miles from Waukegan My Cantaloupe Died.” The takeoff focuses on the surreal aspects of Bob Dylan’s imagery; my main objection now would be that while it is surreal enough, it just isn’t that Dylanesque. “In the Palm of My Hand” is a very broad parody of the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb,” though taking the imagery in quite another direction. “Little Miss Muffet” reworks the nursery rhyme as a Wilson Pickett track, with a touch of Otis Redding thrown in. (I doubt that this one would have meant anything to me at the time, to be honest—though years later when I first heard it on the National Lampoon Radio Hour box CD set I instantly got it.) “Recipe for Love” targets Dionne Warwick, and I see by it that that same instrumental riff that irritated me also irritated its composer. I might have got a kick out of it.
But the one piece I feel fairly confident I would have liked is something called “Welcome to the Club,” a Lovin’ Spoonful parody written by Christopher Cerf. This one took that ghastly scene that unfolded in 1968 Chicago and turned it into a light-hearted “Daydream” spoof, with pun-filled lyrics:
If your life is a boreWith the police riots in Daley’s Chicago fresh in our minds, the clubbings and stompings and gassings and all that, this piece would have had a special poignancy then, or so I imagine now.
And you’d like to get more
Of a boot out of people you meet,
Well forget your self-pity
And come down to a city
Where the folks will positively knock you off of your feet
On behalf of each judicialOn the whole I think I would have been disappointed, though. Too many performers crying out for parody were missing, and the execution was distinctly on the sloppy side. And Bob Dylan—the guy is ripe for parody, and yet till this day the best efforts fall short. Maybe Paul Simon’s “Simple Desultory Philippic,” or John Lennon’s untitled takeoff come the closest, but, well, I’m sure it’s possible to do better. Well, the moment has passed, I suppose.
And executive official
We promise you a smashing good time.
But Bob Dylan (played by Christopher Guest) was featured on the next major excursion in that direction, a record entitled simply Lemmings, featuring a show put on by the National Lampoon. The first act was a series of sketches somewhat in the style of the future Saturday Night Live, and none of that appeared on the album. But the second act was a stunning parody of Woodstock, complete with takeoffs on Wavy Gravy and Max Yasgur. This is what appeared on the album, slightly abridged. (A Joan Baez parody that had already appeared on the album Radio Dinner was omitted, for example. And later incarnations of the show featured parodies of Donovan and Joni Mitchell that had yet to be created at the time of this recording. Anyway.)
The opening track, “Lemmings Lament,” sets the stage by parodying Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” as performed by CSN&Y. It sets out the theme later made explicit by Farmer Yassir—“This here mass suicide of all you young people may just be the best goddamn thing ever happen to this country.” Next up Bob Dylan casually repudiates the protest movement he helped to launch:
You say I was your leader,Then, after an excursion into early 1960s death rock that seems a bit out of place here, there’s the stunning John Denver takeoff, “Colorado.” Chevy Chase did Denver about as well as he did Ford, but the song is funny enough to survive even that, with lines that came back to haunt me when I did spend a winter or two in Colorado:
You say I turned you on,
You’re starting to suspect now
That it was all a con.
Oh, Colorado’s calling meThe song has moments of lyric intensity, usually followed by a thumping anticlimax:
From her hillsides, to her canyons, and her rivers and her trees;
When blizzards snap the power lines, and all the toilets freeze
In December in the Colorado Rockies.
The wind sang us a lullaby;The James Taylor parody, “Highway Toes,” had previously appeared, at least as far as the lyrics went, as part of Sean Kelly’s “Swan Song of the Open Road,” which featured takeoffs on Walt Whitman, Richard Brautigan, and Pete Seeger (not “Well-Intentioned Blues”) as well. The music, by Christopher Guest, however, sounds more like Gordon Lightfoot than James Taylor. But the Joe Cocker (John Belushi) parody is dead on, if a little overlong.
The snow was thick as cream,
And icicles were chandeliers
Like crystals in a dream,
And the streams were strips of diamonds,
And the hills were white as snow
And a bear ate all our soybeans in the night.
The basic idea of linking musical parodies by framing them with a Woodstock satire was absolutely brilliant, and even if the “Festival of Death” thing is a bit over-obvious, the execution is solid. To quote Farmer Yassir again, “Long hair, short hair—what’s the difference once the head’s blowed off.”
If I still had my files and notes I probably would have pulled out my old high-school outline for Plastic Sole (or whatever I really called it) and looked it over one more time. There wasn’t anything in it worth saving, probably, but I did enjoy planning it so many years ago, and I probably would have enjoyed the recollection. The Rod McKuen parody, for example—I remember working on it gleefully (I detested Rod McKuen for whatever reason)—but I don’t remember anything else whatsoever about it. I imagine it was embarrassingly bad—but I don’t know, and now I’ll never know. It’s not important, but it’s irritating.
Bear with me folks; I’m having a difficult time adjusting. But I should be off this black nostalgia kick in a day or so. I hope so, anyway.
14 June 2009
But then suicide's a crime
Don't want to waste the police's time
Just quietly do myself in
Like the guy in that book by Solzhenitzyn
The Pee Cees
It's late here, late for me anyway, and it feels like one of those horrible Sundays long ago when KPFM abandoned me at ten and there was nothing to anesthetize me against the hard reality of the new school week beginning inexorably Monday morning. I don't know why Sunday night was so much more bleak than Monday morning—maybe Monday was busier, less time to concentrate on the horror that awaited.
Maybe it was the dread silence from the radio. I had an FM radio in the days when nobody knew what FM was and the entire dial was a wasteland of small-audience stations—religious broadcasts, niche music, public radio, a few simulcasts, and classical music station KPFM. Twenty-four hour broadcasts of music I actually liked, at least till ten on Sunday night. That's when the silence fell. Sometimes I listened to religious shows, just to keep the silence at bay. I'm sure I listened to other things as well, but the pickings were thin, especially as Sunday night turned into Monday morning.
Insomnia was my constant companion in those days. On a good day—or night, rather—I'd drift off early to the sound of Verdi or somebody like that and sleep through the night till the alarm clock went off next morning. More typically I would lie in bed for hours staring at the ceiling, possibly picking up intermittently whatever book I was reading at the time, or writing a few lines of something or other while I waited for sleep to come. Or maybe not. The sleepless nights were probably not as common as I remember them; more likely they just stand out. Even so I remember vividly the cold feeling of looking over at the clock to see that it had turned three, and knowing there was no way I was going to get enough sleep to keep me going the next day. Those hours felt the worst, I think, since my mind was clear and functioning in a way I knew it wouldn't be the next day. It was after a night like that I fell asleep during science class, much to the amusement of my friends and the concern of my science teacher, who asked me several times if I shouldn't maybe see the school nurse.
During summer vacation I would normally stay up till dawn and then sleep till early afternoon. My mind seemed to function best during the hours of darkness. I was told many times that this was all nonsense—that if I simply maintained a regular schedule I would have no difficulty getting to sleep at night. And I could actually make that work sometimes, with a great deal of effort and determination, and frankly, a lot of lying for hours in bed doing nothing but waiting for sleep to come. The only time I really ever managed that schedule thing was for one year at college when I took two morning classes and was determined not to screw things up, but by then I was adult and had learned such tricks as catching sleep during odd hours of the day in case it eluded me at night.
Silence and darkness were the enemies. Silence, with nothing but the inexorable ticking of that damn alarm clock, and darkness, with nothing to see but the shadows, kept sleep away. Hence the damn radio, and that night light my father installed by my bed. The more I think about it, maybe that is why it seemed so goddamn bleak on Sunday night, when the radio station signed off, and I had to face another silent night. No crutch to help me limp into sleep country. Just the ticking of that damn clock, and the luminous dial glowing fitfully in the shadows.
Ah, memories. But here in the real world it's late and I feel half past depressed and lost in the suburbs of suicide city. I know this mood will pass, and maybe by tomorrow, but as my personal eight ball might say, Outlook grim. Give up.
12 June 2009
Although I didn't set out to pick on children it happens that in the course of running down some fake quotations attributed to various founding fathers of the United States I used as my starting-point two pieces allegedly written by schoolkids. One of them was a prize-winning essay written by a junior in high school; the other a prize-winning speech composed by a home-schooled ten-year-old.
The essay, entitled "Time for Change" and written by Lauren Harr, was a response to the question "What do you think needs changing in the world and what can you do to make that change happen?" The speech, which supposedly won first place honors for 6th grade at the 13th Annual Christian Heritage Speech competition, was given by Edward A. Allen and entitled "How the First Great Awakening Influenced Our Founding Fathers" (this was the assigned topic). Harr used quotations from Washington and Patrick Henry to support her point that church-state separation was not envisioned in the Constitution. Allen used quotations from the same two plus Jefferson and Franklin as his main illustrations for ways the First Great Awakening influenced the founding fathers. He also threw in a Madison quotation to show that this influence extended to the Constitution itself.
The trouble with these quotations, which are central to the theses of both pieces, is that all of them are fake. And by fake I don't mean, please note, that they had a word off here and there, or that they were a popular misquoting of something Washington or Franklin actually said or wrote—I mean that they were out-and-out fakes, words put into their mouths by somebody else with an axe to grind. (And even worse—a number of them were actually misquotations of the original fake quotation.) Here are the seven, in all their glory:
It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ! (falsely attributed to Patrick Henry)
It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here. (falsely attributed to Patrick Henry)
He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world. (falsely attributed to Benjamin Franklin)
The reason that Christianity is the best friend of government is because Christianity is the only religion that changes the heart. (falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson)
The future and success of America is not in this Constitution but in the laws of God upon which this Constitution is founded. (falsely attributed to James Madison)
It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. (falsely attributed to George Washington)
It is impossible to rightly govern a country without God and the Bible. (falsely attributed to George Washington)
The Pseudo-Franklin quotation is the oldest of the bunch, going back to 1793, and was actually written (in French) by Jacques Mallet du Pan as part of a summary of views he attributed to Franklin. The Pseudo-Washington quotation goes back to 1835, and is part of an argument attempting to show the existence of a supreme being which was attributed to Washington on the authority of an anonymous gentleman. (Both kids get this one completely wrong, by the way; the original quotation reads "It is impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being.") Pseudo-Henry's quotation comes from a 1956 periodical, and was only relatively recently mis-attributed to Patrick Henry. The Pseudo-Jefferson is a very recent concoction, first appearing in print in 2001, and the Pseudo-Madison is merely a clumsy paraphrase of the earlier Pseudo-Madison fake "ten commandments" quotation, to which it is almost always attached. (This one is odd in that Allen's speech was delivered in 2003 while Google books records no earlier appearance in print than 2004.) The fake "ten commandments" quotation can be traced back no further than 1958 and was no doubt concocted at that time.
The thing I'm struck by here is not so much the ignorance of the two kids involved—who expects kids of say 10 and 16 to know anything? No, the thing I'm struck by is the seeming mendacity (or extraordinary ignorance) of their teachers, their parents, and the contest judges, who all rewarded them for behavior that would never fly in a college paper, let alone in the real world. Dress it up as you like, the use of fake quotations is nothing but lying. Had it been merely a matter of illustrating an essay or speech with a lively quotation it wouldn't matter that much, though it's still very bad form. But when the quotation is essential to the thesis being argued, as it is in both cases here, it matters very much indeed. Without the four fake quotations he used to support his point, Allen is left with absolutely nothing to show how the Great Awakening influenced the founding fathers. And this is the central point of his speech. Somebody should have caught this early and sent him back to the drawing board to fix it. And without the two fake quotations used to bolster her untenable claim that church-state separation is not inherent in the first amendment, a key paragraph of Harr's essay is left in ruins, a fact that should have precluded the essay winning any kind of prize at all, unless all the other contestants contributed really crappy stuff. (At least neither of the two honorable mentions used fake quotations to bolster their theses.)
Again, I don't blame the kids half as much as I blame the adults who let them get away with it. Presumably Allen and Harr got these fraudulent quotations from sources they trusted—and apparently nobody around them could be bothered to tell them that a little more research might be in order. How are they going to feel, I wonder, when they realize that these trusted authorities were lying to them?