The Great Dying in the Americas after 1492

Unbound

Great DyingI had heard of the Great Dying in the Americas after 1492. Still, it was a shocking headline in my newsfeed. 56 MILLION. This is the “estimated number of Indigenous Americans killed by violence, famine, and disease due to European colonization from 1492 to 1600. That’s a 90% drop in the Indigenous population – a decline so rapid it caused the earth’s temperature to cool.”.

“We know the story. Or, at least, we think we do: In 1621, a shared feast between Pilgrims and Indigenous Americans in Massachusetts to give thanks for the harvest and survival of Plymouth colonists created a 400-year tradition Americans mark annually.

“Most of us know that tale is, in large measure, a lie

“That story exists in part to obfuscate the quite bloody reality of how the nation was actually claimed by the colonists who arrived here,” said Julian Brave NoiseCat, a journalist, activist, and advisory board member for The Emancipator.”

When facts such as these are shared, I hear so many non-Indigenous people complain, “Why are they ruining the best holiday?” I understand. Hey, I grew up with the myth as well. It was such an affirming, positive story that one wanted it to be true.

Instead

“So how do Indigenous people in America mark Thanksgiving? The ways are as diverse and complex as the communities themselves. They do mourn the atrocities their ancestors suffered. But Indigenous culture is also firmly rooted in the tradition of giving thanks. They find a way to do both.

“One of NoiseCat’s traditions is attending Sunrise Ceremonies at Alcatraz Island, the Indigenous land that became the now-shuttered prison, to commemorate a 19-month occupation that began in 1969. Bay Area Native American activists sought to reclaim the island under the terms of a 19th-century treaty.”

The article is from Unbound, a newsletter from The Emancipator, published by the Boston Globe. In each issue, “Kimberly Atkins Stohr, senior columnist for The Emancipator and The Boston Globe, explores past to present-day themes centered on antiracism and democracy.” She examines “some of the most urgent conversations on racial justice infused with context, news, and perspective.

The statistical citation is from Quarternary Science Reviews’ 2019 study Earth system impacts of the European arrival and Great Dying in the Americas after 1492 by Alexander Koch, Chris Brierley, Mark M. Maslin and Simon L. Lewis. You can hear Koch on the Last Born In The Wilderness podcast.

Still COVID-free, knock wood

reinfections

Several people I know IRL have gotten COVID in recent weeks. They are mostly the cautious, mask-wearing, vaccine-taking types. Also, Biden, Harris, and Fauci got it.

I’m still COVID-free, knock wood.

We have been going to the theater. All venues still require masks, and some, vax cards, and I am pleased. CDTA buses still require masks and have dispensers for those without, but about 30% of the riders are either maskless or wearing them on their chins. Frankly, I have run out of mojo to give them the evil eye.

A headline in the Los Angeles Times last week read: “‘I’m over it.’ Many in L.A. shrug off COVID-19 wave despite super-infectious subvariants.” I’m not sure I’d go anywhere in California. Look at the map from last week.

For instance, I’d be terrified to go to ComicCon in San Diego, even though participants are getting their vax status confirmed. Mark Evanier went to the first 50 of these notes and says he “can’t explain my assorted feelings about going this time. I know I’m happy that Comic-Con exists again as I’ve always had a good time at them. I’m just hoping everyone rises to the occasion and respects everyone else’s concerns about too much close contact. Comic-Con has never been the place you go to get away from crowds. Quite the opposite.”

Reversal

Something that fillyjonk said I totally understand. “One thing I think the pandemic has done to my mental health that’s a bad thing is, I’ve gotten in this mindset where ‘what is now, will be forever.’ So if things are bad, if I’m anxious, if I hurt – that’s forever now.  ‘This is where I live now, I guess.'” I guess I was hoping for “THAT’S IT; COVID is gone.”

An article in the Boston Globe was scary. ‘Oh my god, not again’: COVID variant making reinfections more common. “Officials reassured people that if they get a booster now, they will still be able to get the updated booster that’s expected to be available in the fall.” But I got my second booster in April, so now what?

The CDC says “potentially more infections to come before that fall booster is available, which is why we really want to make sure people have as much protection as they can right now.”

I AM comforted somewhat by the fact that most of upstate New York is green or yellow, even as NYC, the three counties to its north, and Long Island are red. This is a reversal from three months ago when upstate was redder, and downstate was greener.

Still, I’ll be happy when I get my BA.4/BA.5 specific shot.

Post-Roe worse than pre-Roe?

Employing the logic of Plessy v. Ferguson

Being old enough to remember the pre-Roe v. Wade days, it was a time when people with means were able to get a safe abortion by going somewhere else. Some people went as far as Sweden if memory serves.

Others would utilize back-alley ‘practitioners” who utilized “alternative” methodologies, which would often leave women infected, permanently incapable of bearing children, or occasionally dead.

In a post-Roe country, it will be a time when people with the means will be able to get a safe abortion by going somewhere else. I saw on the news that a clinic in Mississippi was working on a way to get people to New Mexico to receive services.

From the LA Times: “Defiant California leaders stood ready… to protect residents and non-residents alike from any federal rollbacks of abortion rights, though they could face significant challenges in expanding the state’s capacity to serve as a haven for those arriving from outside its borders.”

And those who choose to flaunt the state laws in Texas and Oklahoma? The populace has been deputized and monetarily incentivized to report alleged perpetrators. (What happened to the right to privacy?)

Check out these maps from Axios and the New York Times, though I’ve noticed these maps vary a bit, especially regarding Pennsylvania.

Being the masochist that I am, I actually read Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion in  Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. OK, not the last 30 pages, which cataloged all the historical opposition laws to abortion in the states and pre-state territories. One could research similar opposition to contraception, interracial marriage, same-gender marriage, and other rights that were once considered controversial.

Tribe response

Here are some responses that resonate with me.

The new Supreme Court’s iron fist by Laurence H. Tribe, who, not incidentally, is cited in the opinion on page 46.

“If the right of a woman to decide whether to have a baby — a right that arises from the simple idea that everyone owns their own bodies — won’t qualify, then neither will most of the rights you have long assumed are yours. And not a word of the draft would prevent women who have abortions, or who miscarry in circumstances the state deems suspect, from being imprisoned as criminals.

“And this might not be a two-sided coin: A court capable of doing what the Alito opinion would do is equally capable of saying that a nationwide abortion ban would represent a legitimate exercise of Congress’s power to treat abortions as commerce and accordingly ban them all, while a nationwide attempt to codify Roe and Casey to protect the liberty of women would be a constitutional overreach…”

Tribe trashes Alto’s “tortured” reasoning. “Indeed, the most relevant text, the Ninth Amendment, instructs that the failure of the Constitution to ‘enumerate’ a right cannot be taken to ‘deny or disparage’ its existence.”

Also, check out the Boston Globe piece, The Supreme Court is coming after democracy itself by Adrian Walker.

The Atlantic

In The Atlantic, Alito’s Plan to Repeal the 20th Century by Adam Serwer. If the conservative justice’s draft opinion is adopted by the Court, key advances of the past hundred years could be rolled back.

“Alito’s writing reflects the current tone of right-wing discourse: grandiose and contemptuous, disingenuous and self-contradictory, with the necessary undertone of self-pity as justification…

“Alito claims to be sweeping away one of the great unjust Supreme Court precedents, such as… Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld racial segregation. But in truth, Alito is employing the logic of Plessy, allowing the states to violate the individual rights of their residents in any way their legislatures deem ‘reasonable,’ as the opinion in Plessy put it.

“Aside from rights specifically mentioned in the text of the Constitution, Alito argues, only those rights “deeply rooted in the nation’s history in tradition” deserve its protections. This is as arbitrary as it is lawless. Alito is saying there is no freedom from state coercion that conservatives cannot strip away if conservatives find that freedom personally distasteful…

“This is total gaslighting; he knows as well as anyone that these other rights are like Roe, rooted in the right to privacy. If Roe is imperiled because it is unenumerated and not ‘rooted in our history and tradition,’ then these other rights are also subject to challenge,’ Melissa Murray, a law professor at NYU, said of Alito’s disclaimer. ‘Conservative lawyers are going to eat this up like catnip, and of course, they are going to challenge these other precedents.'”

Delegitimized

I know I’m having a difficult time accepting the legitimacy of this Supreme Court because of the chicanery of its composition manipulated by Senate Republicans. When Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, they said Obama couldn’t select Merrick Garland to replace him because of “precedent” involving picking a justice in the President’s final term in office.

Yet the Senate ran over such “precedent” when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September 2020 and Trump appointee Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed in near-record time.

Speaking of the upper chamber, Susan Collins (R-ME) is shocked, SHOCKED that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, who suggested to her that Roe was “settled law” during their confirmation hearings would lie to her.

Interesting times. Ugh.

Rote memorization

87 years ago…

I’ve been musing on rote memorization. One reason is a column in the Boston Globe, The blessing of ‘rote’ memory by Jeff Jacoby. The subtitle: “Memorization for its own sake has long been unfashionable. It shouldn’t be.”

Jacoby notes: “There was a time when memorization was a standard feature of American schooling. In 1927, New York City’s board of education directed grade school teachers to teach poetry to pupils, with particular emphasis on the use of rhythm, diction, and imagery.”

Of course, “it isn’t only literature that can be memorized. The elements of the periodic table, the names and locations of the 50 states, the 46 US presidents, the first 100 digits of pi, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, all the best picture Oscar winners — the list is literally endless…

“Everyone memorizes some things — the multiplication tables, their Social Security number, song lyrics, the Wi-Fi password, family members’ birthdays — but memorization for its own sake has long since gone out of favor.” I was not specifically aware of that trend.

Lowest form?

“Writing in The American Scholar more than 40 years ago, the late Clara Claiborne Park, a professor of English at Williams College, commented on the disdain with which professional educators dismissed learning material by heart as mere ‘rote memory.’ She quoted one college president who sneeringly called memorization ‘the lowest form of human intellectual activity.'”

Jacoby pushes back. “But there is nothing ‘low’ about mastering a block of information so effectively that you can surface it at will… You don’t have to be a ‘Jeopardy!’ contestant to relish having instant recall of thick slices of knowledge. Memorization takes work, but there is joy in the accumulation of knowledge that requires no googling.”

I’ve actually gotten pushback in this blog about this in the past. Why remember it when you can just look it up? To which I’ve indicated the joy – yes, that’s the word – of knowing stuff.

The Word

When I used to attend a Friday Night Bible Club for several years, roughly from fourth through tenth grade, Pat, the woman running it, suggested that we should try to memorize Bible verses. To this day, I still remember Psalm 119:11, in the King James Version, of course. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”

Memorization was also the recommendation at her church, Primitive Methodist in Johnson City, coincidentally very close to where my parents would move after I went to college. I remember one of the PM teens selected John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” It wasn’t explicitly stated, but I have long thought that this process was suggested in case the Communists took over the country and took all of our Bibles.

Music allowed me to cheat somewhat. Because I know the anthem God So Loved the World, I can cite John 3:17. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

A college friend of mine surprisingly got into a brief but intense Christian phase. They recommended that I memorize all of the books of the Bible, and I dutifully did so.

Now? Well, I can get through the Pentateuch, then Joshua Judges Ruth, which, not incidentally, is the title of a Lyle Lovett CD that I own. Then the twofer history books, which are in reverse alpha order: 1st and 2nd Samuel, Kings, Chronicles. The history section ends with EastNortheast; I mean Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and… a couple more. The five major prophets, then I totally fall apart over the 12 minor prophets. I’m better with the New Testament, but some of the epistles – where IS Philemon? -are a bit shaky.

Lousy memory

I did really well with math tables. I know the Social Security numbers of my wife and daughter. And I used to remember all the area codes, and the geography they represented when the codes had a zero or one in the middle. Also, I’m rather good with birthdays.

But rote memorization of words was/is tougher. I struggled with the Emancipation Proclamation, which is only two minutes long. I could never be a leading actor because I couldn’t absorb the lines. In high school, I was the Fire Chief in Eugene Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano. I couldn’t remember some soliloquy, so someone put it on a scroll, which I took out and read, then flung towards the audience.

Yet I DO know the Presidents, which helped on JEOPARDY; the order of Beatles album releases (US AND UK), and most of the MLB players who hit more than 500 home runs.

The one thing I actively tried to instill into my child’s brain was the names of the states. Not exactly in alphabetical order, but the four A states, the three C states et al.

Recently, Kelly thanked his 7th grade English teacher for forcing his class to memorize a particular poem that he learned to hate, but since…

Five things I know about Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby. Matt Slocum AP
Bill Cosby. Matt Slocum AP

After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the rape conviction of Bill Cosby, I heard his lawyers say a bunch of hooey. And, involuntarily, I yelled at the television.

There are five things I know about Cosby.

1) His comedy routines are still stuck in my head. As I wrote a little over a decade ago, he was an “iconic individual in my life.” I watched him in everything from I Spy to JELL-O pudding commercials.

2) He is a disappointingly awful excuse for a human being. Five dozen women have credibly accused Cosby of sexual assault. Using his considerable power and influence, he took advantage of his position to become a serial predator.

3) Nevertheless, the overturning of the conviction, on purely legal grounds, was correct, unfortunately. As Slate noted, “Don’t blame the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Blame prosecutor-turned–Trump lawyer Bruce Castor.”

As the Washington Post noted: “The crux of the ruling is this: Castor had said he had a deal with Cosby saying Cosby wouldn’t be charged criminally for the sexual assault claimed by Andrea Constand. Castor said he did so to prevent Cosby from pleading the Fifth Amendment in ongoing civil litigation.”

“The thrust of that opinion is that, even though then-Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor never reached a formal agreement with Cosby that granted him immunity from prosecution, a press release that Castor sent out in 2005 — combined with Cosby’s later, incriminating testimony in a civil lawsuit — had the same effect as a formal immunity deal.

A5

I resist the notion of suggesting, though, that Cosby was released “on a technicality.” Constitutional protection is not “a technicality.” The right not to incriminate oneself is not “a technicality.” If there had not been immunity in a civil case against prosecution in the criminal case, Cosby would never have elocuted his actions in the civil case.

4) Still, this is awful news. From the Guardian: “Victoria Valentino, who accused Cosby of assaulting her, told CNN that she was “absolutely shocked, stunned’ by the court’s decision. ‘It’s a gut-punch. What does it say about women’s words, a woman’s value, all the lives that he damaged? It’s outrageous. I’m infuriated,’ she said.

“Lawyer Gloria Allred, who represented many of Cosby’s accusers, said the decision must be ‘devastating’ for those women. ‘My heart especially goes out to those who bravely testified in both of his criminal cases,’ she said.”

“Like it or not, the decision to prosecute or not prosecute lies solely within the discretion of a district attorney and once he makes an agreement with a defendant, that agreement is a contract just like any other and when the defendant relies on that agreement, that is a binding contract,” Randy Zelin, who teaches at Cornell Law School, told USA TODAY.

He predicted the decision will have value as a precedent. “It means an oral agreement is sufficient to enforce a promise from a prosecutor,” Zelin said. “The good news is prosecutors are now on notice to be careful what they promise – and to put it in writing.”

Andrew Wyatt

5) Bill Cosby’s team should just shut up. Andrew Wyatt is the guy who complained about  Eddie Murphy’s joke on Saturday Night Live in 2019. Murphy said: “If you would’ve told me 30 years ago that I would be this boring, stay-at-home house dad and Bill Cosby would be in jail — even I wouldn’t have taken that bet.” He then did an impression of Cosby saying, “Who’s America’s dad now?”

Upon Cosby’s release, Wyatt said. “This is a man who was railroaded, who was targeted because of a black man being America’s dad… On this hot day, this is a hot verdict for us that we will forever cherish because we got one of the greatest, or the greatest entertainer alive today, Mr. Bill Cosby, this great American citizen.” Wyatt claimed “vindication” in the rape case and a victory for black Americans. I’m not buying it. At all.

As Renée Graham in the Boston Globe noted: Black America deserves justice. Bill Cosby’s release from prison isn’t it. A powerful man escaping accountability doesn’t help Black people ensnared in an unjust legal system — or encourage sexual assault survivors to speak out.

Black America

“Cosby shows his disdain not only for sexual assault survivors but for the same Black America he spent years criticizing in speeches promoting respectability politics as he willfully ignored systemic racism as a blight on generations of Black people.”

Sidebar: the initial remarks by Cosby’s TV wife Phylicia Rashad is why I don’t tweet.

In summary, the opinion piece by Emma Gray of MSNBC speaks to me. “Processing [the] events requires us to hold many truths at once: I believe the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had legal reason to come to the conclusion that it did; I believe every person should be afforded due process; the criminal justice system is fallible and broken; I believe Bill Cosby is a sexual predator; I believe victims of sexual assault are routinely failed by the justice system and the culture as a whole.”

So no, I won’t be seeing him on a proposed comedy tour. Ever.

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