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Persecuted for Wearing the Beard

[ 70 ] February 10, 2014 |

When you think of men and the 19th century, you probably think of beards. Large, ridiculous beards unseen again in American life until the early 21st century. Moreover, the beards of those days were ubiquitous. They were a sign of respectability and manliness. Ads abounded for beard-growing aids for those (like me) who really couldn’t do it naturally.

But it wasn’t always such. In fact, beards were strongly disdained in the clean-shaven first half of the 19th century. And when they did start showing up, they were tied into the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution in the North, what with its Mormons and Shakers and canals and trains and free love communities and abolitionism and women’s suffrage movement and transcendentalism and then its beards. These social movements faced a lot of resistance. Some is more well-known–the violence against Mormons for instance. But the Finneyite revivals in western New York disgusted many as well, especially in the working class. And so when reformer and intentional community member Joseph Palmer grew out his beard, the response from his town of Fitchburg, Massachusetts was much more severe than you’d expect:

He was described as a kind and tolerant man, but life was not easy for Joseph Palmer after he moved to Fitchburg, Massachusetts in 1830. People would openly insult him, throw rocks at him, regularly break the windows of his home, and even cross the street so as not to be near him when he passed by. Even though he was deeply religious man who regularly attended church services, Palmer was publicly denounced during sermons by his pastor, Rev. George Trask, and even refused communion.

What awful thing had this small town butcher done to warrant such persecution? Joseph Palmer’s crime was that he was the only citizen in Fitchburg, Massachusetts who chose to wear a full beard, which (contrary to my vision of the 1800′s being a beard grower’s paradise) had been out of fashion in the United States since the time of the Pilgrims.

In fact, Palmer was so reviled that in 1830, while walking out of the Old Fitchburg Hotel, he was attacked by four men who attempted to forcefully shave his beard on the grounds that his beard was immoral. Palmer was thrown on the stone stairs, and even though he was a muscular, 200 pound farmer, he was unable to repel the four men and resorted to stabbing two of his assailants in the legs with his jackknife. His attackers were only hurt badly enough to curtail their efforts, but Palmer was arrested and fined for committing an unprovoked assault. Even though he had the resources, he refused to pay the fine on principle, and was jailed as a debtor in the Worcester city jail. He spent over a year in prison, during which time he repelled two more attempts by jailers and prisoners who sought to shave his beard against his will.

Palmer would be quietly released thanks to the large amount of bad press that was generated by his story as it wound its way through the national newspapers, but he would refuse to leave until he could secure a proclamation that it was perfectly acceptable to wear a beard. He was never given that assurance, and he was eventually tied to a chair and carried out of the jail against his will.

Of course, times and fashions changed and Palmer was vindicated by the time of his death to say the least. More information on the bearded one here.

“I am an openly, proud gay man.”

[ 159 ] February 9, 2014 |

Wow.

Michael Sam, an All-American defensive lineman from Missouri Tigers and the Associated Press’ SEC Defensive Player of the Year, said that he is gay in interviews with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” and the New York Times on Sunday.

Sam stated publicly what his teammates and coaches at Mizzou have known since August: “I am an openly, proud gay man.”

Sam is eligible for the NFL draft in May. Assuming that he is drafted, Sam could become the first openly gay player in the history of the NFL.

“I understand how big this is,” he said. “It’s a big deal. No one has done this before. And it’s kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be … I want to be a football player in the NFL.”

What happens next is going to be fascinating. Sam is not quite an elite draft prospect. According to the linked piece, he’s the 12th rated outside pass rusher, which I assume would make him a mid-round pick. If he’s not drafted, we will know why. Perhaps the most underreported sports story in the last year is what happened to Kerry Rhodes. The excellent safety was blackballed from the NFL this year after he was outed by a magazine who had pictures of him and a boyfriend at a resort. He couldn’t get a bite. Think of the terrible pass defense in the NFL. Rhodes is a well above-average player. And he could barely get a workout.

And then think about the Richie Incognito bullying of Jonathan Martin. Think of the stupid things NFL players still say publicly about gays, such as the Panthers’ Steve Smith when asked about Rhodes. And then we all know how much NFL owners, coaches, and GMs hate a spectacle. Chris Kluwe couldn’t get a tryout this year either, even though he’s a reasonably average punter and he was allegedly driven out by a homophobic special teams coach and management indifferent to this behavior while hostile to Kluwe’s own soapbox.

So let’s see what happens. It’s probably going to take the right kind of coach (say, Pete Carroll perhaps) who has generated a locker room atmosphere that is more accepting than, oh I don’t know, the Dolphins. If Sam isn’t drafted, it’s going to be a disgusting shame.

(PC): It’s noteworthy that the seven previous SEC defensive players of the year were all first round draft choices. Of course being a great college player doesn’t guarantee that someone is necessarily a top pro prospect, but the SEC is by far the best conference in college football, and it seems odd that the conference’s top defensive player would slip all the way to the last couple of rounds, let alone go undrafted. The story NFL scouts were giving out before Sam’s announcement is that he’s not big enough to be an NFL DE and not fast enough to be an OLB. There’s some reason for suspicion though, as apparently Sam’s orientation was an open secret in Columbia and was therefore known to NFL teams prior to his announcement, so the existing pre-draft evals were probably already reflecting the league’s prejudices.

Fans and Players

[ 195 ] February 9, 2014 |

Last night, Oklahoma State’s star basketball player Marcus Smart went into the stands and shoved a Texas Tech fan. The initial reaction was typical–Smart’s a bad apple, he’s blowing his career being stupid, etc. See Myron Medcalf who claims, “It’s too early to know exactly what happened with Smart and that fan.” So let’s be sure to write that blog post condemning him before we know what happened!

Because you see, it’s typically much more complicated. Dave Zirin with a great run down here. Turns out this “fan” is a notorious jerk, so much so that Dick Vitale knows who he is and viscerally dislikes him. And he’s a racist. In fact, Smart claims this dude called him the n-word, which the guy is only sort of denying. But there’s larger issues at play here. Zirin:

5 – I have over the years spoken to a ton of former college basketball players who have stories about having racial slurs tossed at them by fans. They are conditioned before games to never go into the stands, and just keep their anger in check, no matter the cost to their mental and physical health. They are also pressured not speak about it to the media after games, to keep up the illusion of college athletics as some kind of innocent, wholesome endeavor. This dynamic, as much as anything, speaks to the utter powerlessness of so-called student athletes.

6 – Moments like this are exactly why the Northwestern football players felt compelled to form a union. So-called “student-athletes” have no power. They have no grievance procedure. Right now, as we speak, Marcus Smart is being told that the best thing for him, his family and his future NBA draft status, would be to just apologize and take whatever slap-on-the-wrist the Big 12 or the NCAA hands down. The most upsetting part, given the economics at play, is that this is probably good advice. It might not be great counsel for Smart’s mental health, but it is for his wallet.

7 – In a just world, Marcus Smart would not be suspended at all. Instead the NCAA would enact a FIFA style response. That means they would either bar Jeff Orr for life from ever going to another Texas Tech game, or, if it is found out that “the n-word” gets dropped from the stands in Lubbock like it’s open-season on black players, then make Texas Tech play in front of an empty arena for the rest of the season.

8 – A lot of former players are saying the equivalent of former NFL player Donte Stallworth who tweeted, “You don’t get a free pass to say/do whatever you want to athletes because you’re a fan… just save that faux tough guy ish for the internet. If you talk about a players family, fire a racial slur or throw a drink on them, right or wrong, you shouldn’t be surprised at retaliation.” Players are tired of enduring this, and they should not have to.

9 – One person tweeted to me that Jackie Robinson would never have gone into the stands when called a racial slur. This “Jackie Robinson: model minority” nonsense needs to be unpacked. First of all, that was 1947. Times have changed. Second, Jackie Robinson, a husband and a father, would have risked organized violence, as in lynch mobs, if he had pursed a physical response against fans. Third, Jackie Robinson was a 26-year-old Army veteran and a college graduate from UCLA. He also carried the hopes and dreams of masses of people with every at-bat. To ask a 19-year-old Marcus Smart to act in accordance with Jackie Robinson is a ridiculous weight to ask Mr. Smart to carry. And lastly Jackie Robinson, if you read his searing memoir, I Never Had It Made, had real regrets about not going into the stands and pummeling racists with what he called “my despised black fists”. Jackie Robinson died way too young at age 53. He and his family always believed that his early death was connected to the stress that he had to carry precisely because he kept it all bottled in on direct orders from the Brooklyn Dodgers organization and on society’s orders, shaped by the pre-civil rights times in which he played.

I do hate how conservatives (or anti-people standing up for themselves) have turned Jackie Robinson into whatever they want him to be, i.e. “a model for the race” which in reality means someone who never says a public word against the racism they face from fans. As Zirin says, it’s not 1947 and there needs to be a real way to deal with this. The NCAA doesn’t care, Texas Tech certainly doesn’t care, the players have absolutely no power to do anything. They are unpaid labor serving as a free minor league to professional sports leagues, often at significant cost to taxpayers and students. Marcus Smart could quit right now, go play in Europe for a few months with compensation, and then go declare for the draft. But then he’d been seen as even more of a bad apple. Instead, wherever he plays next on the road, opposing fans can use whatever racial epithets they want and there’s really nothing anyone is going to do about it.

Opt Out of Standardized Testing

[ 149 ] February 9, 2014 |

The more parents who opt out of making their children go through the pointless and educationally destructive Common Core standardized testing that is the fad of Rheeist politicians of both parties, the better. I certainly implore all the parents who read this blog to stand up against this horrible education policy that hurts both students and teachers.

Making Poultry Producers Pay Up

[ 36 ] February 9, 2014 |

Maryland legislators have introduced a bill to make the state’s poultry producers pay a whole 5 cents a bird to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed from runoff from these incredibly polluting facilities. Governor Carcetti O’Malley has backed away from such legislation in the past, afraid of angering big business in his desperation to become president. Of course, the poultry plutocrats are claiming this will drive all production out of Maryland. But this is obviously sensible legislation given the enormous environmental impact of meat production on the waterways of the mid-Atlantic.

Looking Back at Conservative Reviews of Popular Culture

[ 196 ] February 9, 2014 |

Have you ever wondered what that inveterate old racist crank William F. Buckley thought about The Beatles? Luckily, now you can find out. From September 13, 1964:

The Beatles are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful. They are so unbelievably horribly, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as “anti-popes.”

I love the Avignon papacy more every day.

Dead Horses in American History (IV)

[ 61 ] February 8, 2014 |

Man sitting on dead horse, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1880

Sochi in History

[ 29 ] February 8, 2014 |

I suppose there aren’t a whole lot of places in Russia where horrible things haven’t happened. But still:

History has largely been kind to Alexander II, the Russian czar who freed the serfs in 1861, just two years before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 (the two world leaders even corresponded about their plans.)Modern historians refer to him as the “Czar-Liberator” and compare him to Mikhail Gorbachev for his willingness to engage with the West and reform Russia.

But on the occasion of the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi and the surrounding areas, it’s helpful to look back and remember that 600,000 locals died from starvation, exposure, drowning and massacres in a concerted campaign by the Russian Empire to expel the Circassian people, as they were called, from the region. The Circassians and the other inhabitants of the Caucasus region did not fit into the Czar’s reform program, because he viewed them as an inherent risk to the security of Russia’s southern frontier and the nation is still coming to terms with the consequences of the czar’s expulsion of the Circassian people today.

The czar’s approval of this rapid expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Circassians to the Ottoman Empire resulted in an ethnic cleansing through disease and drowning as overcrowded ferries crossed the Black Sea. The Ottomans were unprepared for the influx of refugees, and the absence of adequate shelter caused even more deaths from exposure. Those Circassians who attempted to remain in the Russian Empire and fight for their land were massacred. Sochi’s “Red Hill,” where the skiing and snowboarding events will take place during these Olympic Games, was the site of the Circassian last stand, where the Imperial Russian armies celebrated their “victory” over the local defenders.

Really, this is like holding the Olympics on the site of Wounded Knee.

Dead Horses in American History (III)

[ 37 ] February 7, 2014 |

“Horse-Meat ‘Worms’ Fool Frogs,” Popular Science, 1940

Republican Gods

[ 37 ] February 7, 2014 |

The only quibble I have with Waldman’s essay is that he doesn’t put the Republican deification of corporate heads in historical context. Republicans have ALWAYS deified business owners. During the mid-twentieth century they had to mask that rhetoric by talking about respect for organized labor and such, but that was always a sham only forced upon them by political realities. Today, the remnants of hiding their deification of plutocrats is by talking about “small business owners,” but again, this is a dodge for political reasons. Whether in 1865, 1915, 1975, or 2014, Republicans have always considered the whims of corporate leaders as far more important than people eating or having shelter.

Ambassadors

[ 89 ] February 7, 2014 |

I know that ambassadorships to comfortable nations of low to middling strategic importance have been used to reward friends of presidents for a long time, but it would be nice if the appointees had marginal knowledge of the nation of appointment. Or you know, had been there before.

I mean, does the fact that Norway feels insulted matter on a geopolitical level? No, not really. But it does reinforce stereotypes of Americans being insensitive clods who know nothing of the world.

Pregnant Worker Rights

[ 76 ] February 7, 2014 |

Good news for working women who become pregnant:

While New Jersey and New York City were the latest to pass workplace protections for pregnant workers, a new state has taken up the cause: West Virginia.

The state has long been mostly purple, but has’t voted for a Democratic president since 1996. Yet now it’s embracing a new requirement for its employers championed by progressives. Its Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant workers unless there is undue hardship, unanimously passed the House on Wednesday.

While there are some existing federal protections for pregnant workers, they can still suffer financial hardship or even health problems when employers refuse to accommodate them. One West Virginia worker, who wished to remain anonymous because she is still employed, found out the hard way when her employer in the chemical industry put her on unpaid leave when she showed a doctor’s note that she couldn’t work with a particular chemical. Her story had a positive outcome: after she hired a lawyer, the company came to the table and they came to an agreement. But as Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, one of the organizations helping to propel the bill forward, told ThinkProgress, “This law will address those problems without having to have the resources to get a lawyer.”

Democrats need to push a federal bill on pregnant workers’ rights. It will either force Republicans to do something positive for workers and pass the bill or expose another front in their war on women. It’s both the right thing to do and good politics. A bill was introduced last May but hasn’t gone anywhere. Let’s hope that changes.

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