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“Fuck” in History

[ 27 ] February 11, 2014 |

Bringing you only the most important news of the day, here’s the first known use of the word “fuck” in the written English language, in its modern spelling. Written by a monk of course, in 1528.

1980 in One Photograph

[ 62 ] February 10, 2014 |

We interrupt this regularly scheduled Dead Horses in American History blogging to bring you 1980 in one image:

Willie Nelson on a golf course, jingoism, the Cold War, the last days of the Carter Administration, those shorts–really what’s missing?

Dust Bowl Analogies

[ 50 ] February 10, 2014 |

The point in this New York Times op-ed is a good one–the state of farming in California is highly tenuous. Given that a huge percentage of the fruits and veggies you are eating in the cold, cold month of February come from The Golden State, the potential to see this decline quite rapidly in the face of long-term drought and aquifer depletion by those seeking short-term solutions to it is very real and very scary to the American diet.

But I do have to take objection to the constant use of the Dust Bowl any time there’s a drought or farming crisis that leads to shuttered farms. The Dust Bowl was a very specific set of circumstances that could repeat themselves, but probably won’t. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s in the western Great Plains (worth noting that the conflation of Okies migrating to California because of the Dust Bowl is largely false. Most of those people were sharecroppers kicked off their land due to other conditions of the Great Depression and the consolidation of land under AAA policies. They were mostly from central and eastern Oklahoma or further east and south, which was well outside of the Dust Bowl range.) happened because a naturally occurring drought combined with the winds of the Plains to blow dirt away after decades of horrible agricultural practices that stripped the land of its native grasses and sod. That led to this, in Haskell County, Kansas in 1941 (which was itself after the Dust Bowl ended):

We’ve seen drought before and since but we’ve never seen another Dust Bowl. That’s because droughts happen in different places under different conditions and because agricultural practices, while still quite unsustainable (such as in California today) have changed to limit such an event today. This isn’t to take attention away from the very real crisis in California, but it is to ask that we stop invoking the Dust Bowl without context every time there’s a drought where people grow crops, which is basically everywhere.

Shorter Republican Party: “Unemployment Before Unions!”

[ 133 ] February 10, 2014 |

The response of Tennessee Republicans to the UAW organizing campaign with Volkswagen approval in Chattanooga lays bare just how much the Republican Party hates organized labor:

A state senator said today that future financial incentives for expanding Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant may hinge on how workers vote this week on whether to accept the United Auto Workers.

Should workers vote for UAW representation, “I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee senate,” said State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga.

Also, state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, urged VW workers to vote “no” on the UAW.

“The taxpapers of Tennessee reached out to Volkswagen and welcome them to our state and our community. We are glad they are here. But that is not a green light to help force a union into the workplace. That was not part of the deal,” the House majority leader said at a press conference.

Now I am strongly opposed to incentives to get companies to move around the globe. But to pull those incentives and basically ask Volkswagen to close the plant and send the manufacturing to Mexico is a new low for Republicans. They would prefer massive unemployment to workplace representation.

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.”

[ 160 ] 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

[ 197 ] 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.

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