What kind of English word is “Winnemucca”? How about “taco”? “Fond du Lac”? People who get bent out of shape over other people speaking languages besides English while out in public in this country probably fail to realize how many English words have their origin in other languages. As much as 30 percent of English words are borrowed from the world’s thousands of languages. It would be difficult or impossible for the average English speaker to use only Anglo-Saxon words.
In the United States especially, where nearly 100 percent of the population comes from elsewhere in the world, the English language is a polyglot mixture made up of additions from languages everywhere, and yet it stands apart in its diction, its spelling, and in other ways. Place names preeminently use some version borrowed from the many Native American languages that have all but disappeared otherwise. What does it mean to send somebody back where they came from, when almost everybody came from somewhere else at one time? Send them back where? To Ohio? To Florida? If we go back far enough in time, almost everyone will have to leave, and the Native Americans – what is left of them – will no doubt feel immense relief, as of an oppressive burden lifting away from them.
The Tower of Babel, a painting by Pieter Breugel the Elder (c. 1525/1530-1569).
Exclusionary talk is loco chauvinism. It is meshuga, and yahoos who go on about sending others back where they came from are clearly non compos mentis. They should examine their own origins, which in the latest generation or two or three might be in places like Tulsa, Santa Fe, Tennessee, or Baraboo, but going back further could be traced to Scotland, or Frankfurt, or Sarajevo, and ultimately to Africa. White folks weren’t always white, and anyway no deity ever descended from the heavens to declare whiteness a superior trait. It only matters to people who are terrified of losing their imagined superior place in society, and must have Others to look down upon. Ordering Others to speak English when they are conversing among themselves is not only high-handed, it ignores how immigrants have enriched and informed English itself with words and expressions from everywhere. The proper remark for an English-only speaker to make in that case, if any is necessary at all, is gracias, or merci, or danke, or mahalo, or arigatô, or . . .
Johnny Cash (1932-2003) sang a North American version of “I’ve Been Everywhere”, a song written in 1959 by Australian country singer Geoff Mack, and which in the original version included all Australian place names, many of them originating in the languages of the Australian Aboriginal peoples.
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
It’s been 154 years since the Civil War ended and still Southern white supremacists expect everyone else in the country to walk on eggshells around them so as not to upset their mythology or the chips on their shoulders. Yesterday, July 13, was Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee, a holiday there since 1931, when it seemed like a good idea to commemorate a Confederate general who murdered captive black Union soldiers during the war, and after it became the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Now it’s 2019, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee‘s lame excuse for continuing the practice is that it is what’s expected of him under the law, even though he could push to have the law changed if he had the political will and courage.
All this hiding behind the disingenuous mantra of “heritage, not hate” is for the purpose of upholding monuments to and celebrations of Confederate leaders whose actions and beliefs, however much they deluded themselves and others in their own times into feeling were noble and righteous, have in the past 154 years proven to be in the service of one overriding principle – white supremacy. Dress up evil however you want, turn somersaults in logic if you like – in the end it’s still evil. Once state and local governments withdraw their sponsorship of these Confederate monuments and celebrations, individuals are still free to honor them in private if they are so inclined. No one is infringing their First Amendment free speech rights in speaking out on behalf of their Confederate idols in the public square; it’s just that everyone else no longer has to be subject to the constant looming presence of publicly sponsored monuments and celebrations reminding them to know their place, particularly if they are the descendants of slaves.
Theater poster for the 1915 D.W. Griffith filmThe Birth of a Nation. The movie glorified the KKK and set the stage for the organization’s resurgence shortly afterward.
In the past two and a half years, because of the tone set by the White Supremacist-in-Chief occupying the Oval Office (proving not all white supremacists are Southerners, by any means), more awful people have crept from the shadows into the light than many decent people were aware existed. As the specter of awful behavior grows, it is not enough for decent people to shun it and the awful people who afflict society with their malevolent derangement; decent people need to confront it, preferably without violence, but by speaking out forcefully and often in public, because otherwise a bully will always take silence to mean assent, even approval.
A clip from an August 2017 episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert which aired shortly after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After a generation has passed, will we erect monuments to the malignant culture that has grown within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol? Will we celebrate the concentration camps for brown-skinned immigrants at “detention sites” from Texas to California and elsewhere around the country? Stopping the cancerous growth of white supremacy will require more decent white people standing up to it and saying “enough already”, an outspoken attitude of noble and righteous indignation that is long past overdue, as evidenced by a state still celebrating in 2019 the hateful heritage of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Website headline writers like to insert the word “just” in their copy for the sense of immediacy it conveys. They have room to insert the word because website headlines are usually sentence length descriptions rather than the terse summations newspaper copy editors used. Longer descriptions can be good teasers and also boost the rank of a website post in search engine results because that’s the way Google has decided sites and posts should be ranked, and Google sets the bar for search engines and for the internet generally. Ask them why.
Search engines don’t like the short headlines common in newspapers. The reason many headlines on the internet read the way they do is because writers are responding as much to what search engines like as they are to what they believe their readers like. It’s not easy keeping up with the Kardashians, and the only way websites can do it is to couch everything in terms of immediacy, as if it were all breaking news worthy of readers’ attention. To generate clicks on their posts and get them ranked highly in search engine results, website writers must tease about the content using descriptive headlines, and then make sure to give whatever they’re describing a sense of happening moments ago by tossing in “just” at least once.
Residents of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, fill Jackson Square on August 14, 1945, to celebrate the surrender of Japan. Oak Ridge was one of three main sites of the Manhattan Project, and was responsible (though those working there did not know it) for refining uranium to be shipped to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to be fashioned into atomic bombs. Photo by Ed Westcott, working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The newspaper headline “War Ends” might not fly with today’s internet and social media news headline writers, who would be tempted to write “War Just Ends”, even though it would be open to multiple interpretations.
The tendency is to hype everything, even inconsequential matters. Add news sharing on social media, and the hype gets amplified to 11, as a member of the fictional heavy metal band Spinal Tap observed. Trust and references build credibility on social media, even if common sense and a little digging into sources reveals there are no grounds for credibility. Google hones search results based on what they know about users, and Facebook and Twitter follow Google’s lead while juicing results further by adding the finer details they know about their users. Facebook and Twitter set the bar in social media for how posts get pushed to the front for sharing on their platforms, and as long as readers keep clicking the wheels keep rolling, no matter how worthless are the posts everyone shares.
This clip from Sesame Street could serve as a metaphor for what the internet and social media have become.
A word such as “just” is a fine, serviceable word in most cases. Unfortunately, once some influential writers, platform arbiters, and readers on the world wide web and in social media adopt it as a manipulative expression it gets overused, abused, and misused on its way to becoming trite and tiresome. Just sayin’.
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
— President Lyndon Johnson to staff member Bill Moyers, on observing racial epithets on signs during a visit to Tennessee.
The terms “white trash” and “rednecks” are probably the only remaining instances where derogatory epithets are more or less acceptable in general society. Privately, of course, people of all stripes can and do use epithets of all kinds to describe others they don’t like, and it often matters little how different are the beliefs they express in public. The reason the labels “white trash” and “rednecks” may still be acceptable has to do with how, now more than ever before, they designate a voluntary lifestyle choice rather than an inborn condition. 100 years ago there was speculation among scientists and others that the condition had a genetic dimension, but since then the argument has been discredited along with the practical applications of eugenics, such as forced sterilization.
The white working class has attracted renewed scrutiny from politicians, the media, and academics after the perception of the 2016 election results as a resounding announcement from those ignored voters that they wanted their concerns addressed. By no means are white trash or rednecks any more than a minority of the white working class, and their votes comprise an even smaller percentage than that, since most of them do not habitually vote, or even register to vote. It is also untrue that white working class voters were the primary constituency of the Republican candidate elected to the presidency. There were not enough of them to install the Republican in office, any more than ethnic and racial minority voters alone made up enough of Barack Obama’s constituency to install him in office in 2008 and 2012. Nonetheless, politicians, the media, and academics unhappy with the 2016 election results have seen fit to blame the white working class, and by extension white trash and rednecks, for inflicting the current presidential administration of Supreme Leader on the country.
A 1937 photo by Dorothea Lange of two men walking toward Los Angeles, California. Ms. Lange took many photographs in her work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), a New Deal agency.
There is no backlash to denigrating white working class people. Across the culture at the moment, it is a safe bet for people like academics who must otherwise be extremely careful in navigating the identity politics cultural minefield, lest they destroy the career in the bureaucracy. Certainly there are some people who deserve criticism, and perhaps as suggested earlier that would include people who have made a lifestyle choice to be vulgar and offensive. Making such a lifestyle choice now, when people have greater access to information than ever before, can be considered more than ever a conscious decision rather than a cultural or genetic backwater that a person cannot escape. But the information they seem to prefer is fake news over real news, and bolsters their apparent preference for ignorance over knowledge, bigotry over acceptance, and reality television over reality.
Near the end ofA Face in the Crowd, a 1957 film directed by Elia Kazan, and starring Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal, the public gets a peek behind the mask of the demagogue, “Lonesome” Rhodes. There are many similarities between this film and today’s political and cultural environment, but there is one major difference in the ability of the public to register shock and disapproval for abysmal character flaws in its leaders. Some of the baser elements in today’s society would not only not be shocked by Rhodes’s revealing of his true character, but would approve of his remarks as a middle finger thrust upward on their behalf in defiance of elites.
Just about everyone seems to look down on someone else, to the point that it can be considered a universal human need. Elites are certainly not free from the need to look down on some other group, but in practice they have learned it is in their own interest to be circumspect about expressing their disdain, at least in public. Sneering at the white working class generally without first splitting off the subset of white trash and rednecks is a bad idea that serves to highlight the disconnected and arrogant nature of elites, and it is behavior that will serve to push white working class voters, once the foundation of the Democratic Party along with black working class voters, farther away from Democrats and more securely into the arms of Republicans, where they are given rhetoric they want to hear, but nothing of substance. Listening to people is the first step toward working with them, while loudly condemning them all as racist, misogynist white trash might demonstrate to everyone your purity for the satisfaction of your own smug self-righteousness, but it is hardly the way to win friends and influence people, a vocation otherwise known as politics.
July 4th has passed, and all the loud, boisterous fireworks with it, to be supplanted as we settle into summer by the quiet, flickering lights of what are known as fireflies in some parts of the country, and lightning bugs in other parts. They don’t live long as adults, which is when they are putting on their light show as a mating display. They typically live only a few weeks at that stage, and since the time over which a given population turns into adults may be staggered over six to eight weeks, their activity on summer evenings over a particular area spans June and July, more or less.
Fireflies are beneficial to gardeners not only in the aesthetics of their adult displays, but also when they are larvae residing in leaf litter and other detritus, where they prey on snails and slugs. Firefly larvae also eat earthworms, which is not beneficial as far as gardeners are concerned, but two out of three ain’t bad, as the saying goes. Firefly larvae, like all of nature’s creatures, have concerns other than whether their lifestyle choices benefit human beings.
Firefly Catching, an 1891 Japanese woodblock print by Mizuno Toshikata.
Like too many creatures in the modern world, firefly numbers appear to be declining. Habitat loss and collateral damage from pesticide use are the most likely culprits. Well, actually, the culprits is us, to paraphrase Pogo. In this case, our culpability is of the bull in a china shop variety. No one sets out to destroy fireflies, not even children who catch them in jars and then forgot about them. With fireflies, when they lose a habitat to human development, they don’t simply pack up and move elsewhere, but instead they die out in that place.
In the 1933 Marx Brothers’ film Duck Soup, Rufus T. Firefly, played by Groucho Marx, has some idiosyncratic views on how to woo wealthy widow Mrs. Gloria Teasdale, played by Margaret Dumont.
The fireflies children chase and capture are usually the ones out in the open, flying over an expanse of lawn. Those are the males, flashing their lights for the benefit of the females who, in most species, are incapable of flight and watch and wait from vantage points in the leaf litter and tall grass at the edge of wilder areas, sometimes flashing lights of their own in response. Those edge of the wild and wild areas are critical to the success of the firefly’s life cycle. We may notice only the fireflies flickering across our lawns on a summer evening, but mostly they spend their short lives in wilder areas where the grass grows tall and becomes meadow, and then past that where the trees become forest. Be careful where that pesticide spray drifts then, or better yet avoid using it as much as you can, and consider that the best light show of all on a warm summer’s evening doesn’t come with loud bangs and puffs of acrid smoke, but with an unassuming quiet beauty.
The passage of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act separated commercial banking from investment banking, and for 75 years there were no enormous financial meltdowns in the United States originating from the banking sector of the economy. In 1999, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed the main provisions of Glass-Steagall and, in the view of critics of the repeal, the countdown to financial meltdown began, culminating in the Great Recession which began in 2008. The meltdown, like the Great Depression which gave birth to Glass-Steagall, had worldwide repercussions, but in the aftermath there have been only watered down reforms of the banking industry in the US such as the Dodd-Frank Act, and no high level banking executives have gone to jail, been taken to court, or even been indicted. It’s only a matter of time therefore before a similar financial crisis strikes the US, particularly since the new presidential administration is talking about dismantling Dodd-Frank.
Crowd gathering on Wall Street after the stock market crash on October 25, 1929.
Like other European nations, Iceland was swallowed up in the 2008 financial crisis. Like the United States, it had its own unruly banking sector contributing to the crisis – casino banks, in the sense that they used the money from depositors in their commercial operations to gamble on dubious investments, always passing along losses to customers while reaping the profits mostly for themselves. As in casinos, the house rarely loses, and in the case of casino banks when it appears they might lose the government will be there to bail them out. That’s the deal banks have come to count on, particularly if they are “too big to fail.” Unlike other European nations and definitely unlike the United States, Iceland allowed its casino banks to fail and then vigorously investigated and prosecuted the casino bankers responsible. In Iceland, 26 top bankers have gone to jail since 2008, and moreover their economy has rebounded robustly. In the US, 0 top bankers are wearing orange jumpsuits as a consequence of causing the 2008 financial meltdown, and the economy has limped slowly toward recovery ever since.
It’s interesting to note that the 2016 Republican Party platform included a plank about reinstating Glass-Steagall. Wall Streeters were alarmed at first, but then everyone realized it was merely politics as usual and that the incoming Republican administration and Congress had no intention of taking the idea seriously. They have been proven correct. Democrats make rumbling noises occasionally about reinstating Glass-Steagall, but even if they had the will, they don’t have the votes. It’s all just politics at this point, since Wall Street money has long since turned heads in both major parties.
“Let them eat cake!”
There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently … and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.
― Gore Vidal, from his 1975 essay “The State of the Union”.
Social reforms wrought from identity politics are all to the good, but as always in our culture the primary fixation should be on the money. Martin Luther King, Jr., understood this when he traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968 to speak to striking African-American sanitation workers. Without work and the personal dignity that comes from a living wage, people cannot begin to address their social situation and have the energy to improve their lot within society as a whole. For the poor and the middle class it all starts with money, and for the rich it ends there as well. The oligarchic elite take advantage of social issues like gay marriage to divide and distract the majority while they continue to concentrate wealth and power in their own hands. There are two financial reforms which would go a long way toward stemming the rising power of the corporate oligarchy and restoring power to the majority of Americans: reinstatement of Glass-Steagall or something very much like it, and the legislative or constitutional rescission of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010.
The first frost of fall was late this year across much of the U.S., in some places by one to three weeks, depending on the source of average frost date information. People who spend a lot of time outdoors tend to notice this, and also that a trend has developed of fall frosts arriving later and the last frost of spring coming earlier. Even people who pay attention to climate only sporadically may have noted the muted fall colors of the trees this year in parts of the eastern U.S., a result of extended warm weather and drought.
Fall Colors, Interstate State Park, Wisconsin and Minnesota; photo by Tony Webster
Cumberland Power Plant smokestacks, Cumberland, Tennessee; photo by Steven Greenwood
The growing season has increased over the last forty years or so, but that is not necessarily a good thing considering that short-lived creatures, such as insects, adapt more readily to swift changes than longer-lived plants and vertebrate creatures. Forty years is swift in the long view of climate. The short view is called weather, or weather events. Adding up weather events over forty years plots a trend in the climate. Unfortunately for the sake of rational discussion, too many people fail to make the distinction between weather and climate.
Not everyone agrees that the climate is getting warmer, or that if it is then humans are the cause of it. Some of those climate change deniers are motivated by their religious beliefs, others by a suspicion of government regulators, and still others are unmoved by the weight of scientific evidence, citing doubt about the conclusions. Who has sown that doubt? As always, we are well advised to follow the money. It comes as no surprise then that Big Oil, following the example set by Big Tobacco with regard to the link between burning their products and cancer, has worked to sow doubt about how the burning of fossil fuels contributes greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and causes a warming climate. Where there is doubt, they know, effective action against them can be hamstrung, and profits will continue to roll in until we all burn up from second hand smoke on a global scale.
Cigarette smoke; photo by Flickr user Challiyan
Again following the money,the insurance industry is coming around to the reality of global warming and the increase in expensive weather events it is causing. The insurance industry, conservative gamblers that they are, are most interested in the economic facts they can pin down so as to minimize risk and maximize profit. They are not swayed by emotional appeals to religious or political views, but only by appeals to their bottom line. Another group whose costs are affected by the results of global warming are states and municipalities. As seas rise and severe weather events increase, causing unprecedented flooding, these entities have to pay for infrastructure improvements and higher insurance premiums.
States’ attorneys general are beginning to go after the fossil fuel industry to recoup costs, much as they did to the tobacco industry in the 1990s. It will be an even more protracted fight in this case because of the gargantuan amounts of money the fossil fuel giants can bring to bear; not everyone smoked in years past, after all, but today practically everyone uses gas, electricity, natural gas, plastics, and the list of products goes on. Some of these products can be replaced by use of renewable resources like wind and solar, but ultimately, like the reduction in use of tobacco products due to increasing social opprobrium, the steps for overcoming reliance on fossil fuel products and thereby breaking the economic stranglehold of Big Oil need to be taken by consumers, and that will require some wholesale changes in lifestyle, especially in the industrialized nations.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2014.
Rural communities and small cities took a blow to their prospects for municipally provided broadband internet service on August 10th when the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled against the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 order to preempt state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee. Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, had petitioned the FCC to allow them to build municipal broadband networks and the FCC had acted under a provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act directing it to remove barriers to broadband investment and competition. The Sixth Circuit Court ruled the FCC did not have the power to supersede state law.
19 states have laws hampering the ability of local governments to provide broadband service, with the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) offering sample legislation to more states. As Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and now an advisor to Common Cause, put it “Let’s be clear: industry-backed state laws to block municipal broadband only exist because pliant legislators are listening to their Big Cable and Big Telecom paymasters.”
The FCC defines broadband as an upload speed of at least three megabits per second and a download speed of no less than 25 megabits per second, and maintains a map displaying the different types of service available around the country. Even in larger cities where broadband is more commonly available, however, consumers have few choices of internet service provider because for all practical purposes carriers such as Comcast operate as regional monopolies.
The possibility of building municipal broadband networks has been an option in areas of low population density where private internet service providers often display little interest in building out their network for what they see as small return on their investment. People in poorly served areas sometimes turn to satellite service, though it has drawbacks in the form of high latency speeds and throttling of service for users who have reached certain data caps. In the same areas, wireless service can be spotty, with generally low data caps at high cost.
It appears the debate over net neutrality and whether to treat broadband service as a utility may revive, and it will be up to Congress to either strengthen the FCC’s regulatory powers over the states and the industry or to enact legislation defining internet service providers as common carriers, something companies like AT&T and Verizon fought tooth and nail against during the last round of discussions in 2014.