Migrating to an empty continent?

This is the perspective of a native American:

“Recently, Rick Santorum repeated a widely held myth of US exceptionalism. “We came here and created a blank slate, we birthed a nation from nothing,” the former US senator and CNN commentator told the rightwing Young America’s Foundation’s summit. “It was born of the people who came here.” His “we” excludes Indigenous people who were already here or African people who were brought in chains. And that “blank slate” required the violent pillaging of two continents – Africa and North America. If the United States was “birthed from nothing”, then the land and enslaved labor that made the wealth of this nation must have fallen from the sky – because it surely didn’t come from Europe.

“Racist depictions of Indigenous people in the media (CNN is a major offender) points to a deeper issue. The erasure of Native histories and peoples – which existed long before and despite a white supremacist empire – is a founding principle of the United States. In fact, it’s still codified in US law. So when Rick Santorum and his ilk stress that Europeans possess a divine right to take a continent, create a nation from “nothing”, and maintain cultural superiority, they’re not entirely wrong. It’s the default position with a long history.

“And maybe Santorum and his kind are right when they position the US as a Christian theocratic nation. After all, the founding principles of land theft, enslavement and dispossession stem from religious justifications. A 1493 papal decree known as the doctrine of discovery, justified the Christian European conquest of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. As secretary of state in 1792, Thomas Jefferson declared the doctrine, implemented by European states, was international law and thus applied to the nascent United States as well.

“Those views later inspired the Monroe doctrine, the assertion of US supremacy over the western hemisphere, and manifest destiny, the ideological justification of US westward expansion and colonization. An 1823 US supreme court case, Johnson v Mcintosh, upheld the doctrine, privileging European nations, and successors like the United States, title via “discovery” over Indigenous lands. Indigenous nations and sovereignty, the court ruled, “were necessarily diminished”.

“Such a legal and political reality for Indigenous people is so taken for granted that it is rarely mentioned in history books let alone mainstream commentary. Instead, a culture of amnesia permeates the United States. But purposeful forgetting can’t erase intent, it only perpetuates injury. Erasure makes the taking of Indigenous land easier.

“Although the United States quickly accuses other nations of genocide, it hasn’t acknowledged its own genocide against Indigenous people. To affirm it would mean to take measures to prevent it from happening again. That would mean halting ongoing theft and destruction of Indigenous lands, cultures and nations. A process of justice would have to follow suit. An entire legal order that underpins the backwards racist views and practices towards Indigenous people would have to be overturned. Indigenous land and political rights would have to be restored. A savage nation built of untold violence would have to be finally civilized and make amends with the people and nations it has attempted to destroy. After all the elimination of Indigenous nations was not only about taking the land, it was also about destroying an alternative – a world based on making and being in good relations versus that of a racialized class system based on property and conquest.

“That world still exists, and its stories still need to be told by Indigenous people.

“That’s a tall order that takes willpower, courage, and truth-telling we simply don’t see emanating from corporate newsrooms like CNN, to say nothing of political and ruling elite in this country. Firing Rick Santorum won’t solve these deep-seated inequalities and anti-Indigenous racism. But Indigenous genocide denial – the ultimate cancel culture – should have no platform if we are to finally transcend the 15th century racialist views codified in the doctrine of discovery.”

(Nick Estes is a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and an assistant professor in the American studies department at the University of New Mexico.  Pub. in The Guardian)

My comment, If you have never visited, say, Nevada, and seen the way that the original inhabitants of the Continent are existing ( or scraping a perilous living), then do so.  It is upsetting, to say the least.

Question of the day

Why do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in our driveways and put our useless junk in the garage?

My comment:  A leading sociologist explained to me that usually there is too much junk in the garage, and  you can’t open the car door sufficiently to squeeze into the driver’s seat.  Why didn’t I think of that?

“Read Epicurus” – a poem

They peddle fear here.

They peddle fear of terrorists and sudden death

They peddle fear of rapists and angry drivers

They peddle fear of government and paying tax

Of deer ticks, butter, sugar, fat, untested drugs;

Of unknown visitors and dark-skinned men,

Of invasion, war and sudden death,

Of gunmen holding up cashiers,

Of bombs in culverts, school kids murdered with guns.

They peddle inquietudes, nervousness, distrust,

And to the terrified, apprehensive, cowed,

They preach damnation, hellfire in the afterlife.

The more they frighten us the more it gains the vote,

And the opinion-makers drivel on in biased turpitude,

Yapping in support of party, church and power.

Command, empire, sway, rule, dominion, supremacy

All depend on mongering fear and bald mendacity.

 

But then there is Epicurus,

His character assassinated by the church,

Maligned, misrepresented, damned by rote.

He only sought a tranquil mind, a life of peace,

Fearing nothing.  For fear, he said, brings pain.

And politics?  Striving, ambition, restlessness.

There are no active gods, said he, no afterlife,

No spirit out there, evil or benign,

Rewarding, punishing, damning you to hell,

No trumpets, choirs, or seats of the almighty.

Just atoms, molecules, and, in them, everlasting life.

No devils, angels, harps, or golden cities;

No god resembling, oh!, coincidence! a man!

No omniscient god who reads your thoughts,

Or manages the minutiae of your life.

Your life, indeed! Your life it is, subject to fortune,

Tribulations, ups and downs, but in the end just yours.

 

Try not to chafe and fret, but seek a mental peace.

Pursue the arts, activities you love.

Don’t worry over things you can’t affect.

Seek simple pleasures, food and friends.

Forsake consumerism, shops and malls,

Buying only what you really need.

Do no harm. Mend fences where required.

Cultivate  your garden and your peace,

Or get a dog.

All to be done in moderation and with joie de vivre,

 

For simple pleasures trump all wild excess.

Be fun, be smiling, for life is to be lived – 

What follows lasts a long, long time,

Should some abuse you as an atheist,

Remember! it is a propaganda word, and just a word,

Spoken by people with their own agenda

Read Epicurus! Till your garden, walk your dog,

Enjoy Nature while we have it still.

Reject all superstition, think for yourself

Believe not the religious memes of modern life.

Be gentle, thoughtful and and ask yourself…

Why do they peddle fear here?

(Robert Hanrott, January 2006)

My current comment:  “Plus ca change!”

Classical music

“The head of the Royal Philharmonic is making a serious error by believing that abolishing the term “classical music” will suddenly attract thousands of young people into our concert halls. The leadership of the RPO seem to be suffering from a crisis of confidence in their art form – brought on by our society’s obsession with making everything “accessible” or, rather, watered-down.

“Even during the years of Soviet communism, Russian musicians and orchestras – with the encouragement of the state – maintained the most elitist rituals, even when playing before industrial workers in factories, positively rejoicing in classical music and all of its white-tie-and-tails rituals.?It is very sad that in modern Britain, serious art and culture of all kinds is being dissolved into a supposedly democratised mass of nothingness. That such ideas should come from the RPO – the orchestra of Sir Thomas Beecham – is beyond belief. “(Stuart Millson, classical music editor, The Quarterly Review, East Malling, Kent)

My comments:  Yes, watered down. Just as there is some truly dire popular music there out there, there is also dull and unimaginitive classical music. In my personal opinion serious orchestral music hit the buffers in the railway station when it went atonal and eschewed melody and the ability to tug at the heart. The audiences fled, understandably. But there is a huge amount of truly beautiful music, operatic, orchestral, chamber and solo instrumental music that carries you away to another place, stirs the imaginatination, calms you then excites you, and leaves you happy that life isn’t forever ordinary and humdrum. Put aside the cellphones and Facebook and experience it! It will be an Epicurean moment.

P.S: I go to the gym and am assaulted on a Sunday by the spin cycling class next door. This class is accompanied by the most repetitive and unimaginitive music I have ever heard. The chord sequences are I-V-I- V-I-V for a solid hour. Talented writing it is not. I feel like handing out to the cycling exercisers free tickets to a Chopin recital or a Beethoven symphony – if only they could cycle to them.

The decimation of fertility. No. 3 (last comments)

Just the other week, hundreds of residents who live near Luke air force base in Arizona were advised not to drink their water, when tests detected high levels of toxic chemicals. Scientists have found these substances in the blood of nearly all the people they tested in the US. No country or region on earth is untouched by PFAS contamination. It is a global problem. PFAS has been found in every corner of the globe. It is virtually present in the bodies of every human. It’s found in fish deep in the sea, and birds flying high in the sky.

And it’s killing us, literally, by harming and attacking the very source of life: our reproductive capacities. The rapid death and decline of sperm must be addressed, and it must be addressed now. There is simply no time to lose.

(Erin Brockovich, the environmental advocate, and Suzanne Boothby, slightly edited for length).

My comment: I apologize for three days of talking about the above subject, but it is barely mentioned in the national news, and is rather important. (under-statement of the year!)

The decimation of fertility. No. 2. ( follow-on from yesterday)

Research has found that the chemicals discussed yesterday are not just dramatically reducing semen quality, they are also shrinking penis size and volume of the testes. These chemicals are literally confusing our bodies, making them send mixed messages. This is nothing short of a full-scale emergency for humanity.

Given everything we know about PFAS chemicals, why isn’t more being done? There is a paltry patchwork of inadequate legislation responding to this threat. Laws and regulations vary from country to country, region to region, and, in the United States, state to state. The European Union, for example, has restricted several phthalates in toys and sets limits on phthalates considered “reprotoxic” – meaning they harm the human reproductive capacities – in food production.

In the United States, a scientific study found phthalate exposure “widespread” in infants, and that the chemicals were found in the urine of babies who came into contact with baby shampoos, lotions and powders. Still, aggressive regulation is lacking, not least because of lobbying by chemical industry giants.

In the state of Washington, lawmakers managed to pass the Pollution Prevention for Our Future Act, which “directs state agencies to address whole classes of chemical, rather than a chemical by chemical approach, which has historically resulted in companies switching to equally bad or worse substitutes. The first chemical classes to be addressed in products include phthalates, PFAS, PCBs, alkyphenol ethoxylate and bisphenol compounds, and organohalogen flame retardants. The state has taken important steps to address the extent of chemical pollution, but, by and large, the United States, like many other countries, is fighting a losing battle because of weak, inadequate legislation.

Just as an example: you can’t eat the deer meat caught in Oscoda, Michigan. The health department there issued a “do not eat” advisory for deer caught near the former air force base because of staggeringly high PFAS levels in the muscle of one deer. (No one knows how contaminated the rest of the herd is)

The rapid death and decline of sperm must be addressed, and it must be addressed now.

(Erin Brockovich, the environmental advocate, and Suzanne Boothby, slightly edited for length)

The decimation of fertility. No. 1

The end of humankind? It may be coming sooner than we think, thanks to hormone-disrupting chemicals that are decimating fertility at an alarming rate around the globe. A new book called Countdown, by Shanna Swan, an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, finds that sperm counts have dropped almost 60% since 1973. Following the trajectory we are on, Swan’s research suggests sperm counts could reach zero by 2045. Zero. Let that sink in. That would mean no babies. No reproduction. No more humans. Forgive me for asking: why isn’t the UN calling an emergency meeting on this right now?

The chemicals to blame for this crisis are found in everything from plastic containers and food wrapping, to waterproof clothes and fragrances, in cleaning products, soaps and shampoos, to electronics and carpeting. Some of them, called PFAS, are known as “forever chemicals”, because they don’t breakdown in the environment or the human body. They just accumulate and accumulate – doing more and more damage, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Now, it seems, humanity is reaching a breaking point.

“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” Swan writes. In addition to that, Swan finds that, on average, a man today will have half of the sperm his grandfather had. “The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” writes Swan, adding: “It’s a global existential crisis.” That’s not hyperbole. That’s just science.

(Erin Brockovich, the environmental advocate, and Suzanne Boothby, who contributed research and reporting for this article)

Know- Nothings

One in 10 Indigenous Americans don’t have access to safe tap water or basic sanitation.
The US government has not done enough to ensure Indigenous American tribes have clean drinking water and sanitation. An estimated one in 10 Indigenous Americans don’t have access to safe tap water or basic sanitation, which causes a range of health conditions. Tribal leaders said this breaks the pledges the government made in return for the cessation of land, which promised they’d get a “liveable reservation and a home conducive to health and prosperity”.

My comment: One politician recently inferred that white people discovered a completely empty continent when they came to North America. Those who know anything at all about American history know perfectly well that this is total nonsense. Many indigenous people were rounded up and moved to unpromising land in the West, but at least they were promised reasonable living conditions, among which was drinkable water. How do so many people today manage to get through schooling knowing so pathetically little about their nation’s history? And the chief culprits yearn to actually rule the United States? They should be ashamed.

Extremists

People with extreme views are less able to do complex mental tasks, researchers at Cambridge University have found.

The study, of 330 US-based participants, found those with extremist views tended to see the world in black and white terms and struggled with complex tasks. The findings could be used to spot those at risks of radicalisation, the team said. ( Cambridge University, 22 Feb 2021)

My comment:  Could this be caused by the confusing complexity of modern life?Is there a greater proportion of extremism in the population than there was, say, 500 years ago, when life was simple and agrarian?  Is the decline of religion a factor (note the fervor of the supporters of charismatic leaders). Is the steadily growing authoritarianism in so many countries (politics made simple – do as you are told) attractive because you don’t have to think for yourself that way.  Wow!  This needs a whole book!

Money in politics

Just one dozen megadonors accounted for almost $1 of every $13 raised by candidates and political groups over the last decade, according to a new report by Issue One. While most Americans have a general sense that the ultra-wealthy have too much influence on our elections, the numbers in this study are shocking. For just 12 individuals, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, to account for nearly 10% of all political spending in the last 12 years shows how out of control the concentration of wealth in our politics has become. (Shane Goldmacher, Patriotic Millionaires, 23 April 2021)

My comment: These huge donations are not given out of the kindness of heart of the donors – they expect something back, and usually get it. If I called this corruption I would be yelled at. But it is obscene. How wonderful it would be if elections were paid for by taxation (but based on what proportions?) so that politicians thought first about their country and all their constituents, instead of the bank balances of the few.

To be alone

What would you give for a day on your own? Fifty pounds, £1,000, a toe? Perhaps that sounds offensive: it depends, of course, how you have spent the past 365 days. You might sacrifice a digit for a soft body to slump against on the sofa, for the hot, heavy weight of a sleeping child numbing your arm or a hand within reaching distance when the night-time dread sets in.

There is an epidemic of loneliness: 36% of Americans in a recent survey reported feeling lonely “frequently” during the pandemic; in the UK, the same percentage felt loneliness “sometimes” or “often”. But it is not the whole story: one of the frustrating things about pandemic life is the inequitable distribution of warm bodies.

There are lots of them here, using my bath oil and favourite mug and dusting every surface with protein powder, having thoughts and expressing them loudly. I really love them, but I recently found a slightly incoherent note I had written (presumably at a trying moment I have managed to forget) that reads: “It is possible to love your children fanatically and also to wish they would go away for long enough so that I can feel that love in peace.” I stand by that – and would extend it to my partner, even though he is the only person I would ever choose to live with and the past year has been surprisingly harmonious (thanks to his forbearance and good humour while I have been my usual disagreeable self).

Like so many, I have not had more than a few hours alone since last March. A year is 8,760 hours: if Malcom Gladwell is right and it takes 10,000 to master a skill (he is not), I should have almost nailed togetherness by now. I haven’t, though. I just want some time by myself, because I can think only on my own.

I know how pathetic that sounds. People manage – thrive, even – in busy, challenging environments. I have watched them achieve things this year that I could barely dream of, even while they are being used as a climbing frame by toddlers or having to make a motte-and-bailey castle out of yoghurt pots. Because, apparently, I enjoy the hot burn of shame and inadequacy, I follow a woman on Instagram who has five children – five! – and who has written her third book in lockdown. I could claim there is “no more sombre enemy of good art” than a husband with a speakerphone and a packed schedule of shouting into it, but what kind of “good art” am I creating, exactly? This is hardly War and Peace.

Even so, without alone time, my intellectual capacity has shrivelled. My thinking happens only when I am brushing my teeth or walking the dog (and only if I don’t run into the chatty garage owner who has strong opinions on side panels). Apart from that, I am reduced to tabbing between email and Twitter, mouth hanging open slackly, saving videos of funny animals to watch later. Sometimes, I look up spartan monastery retreats with single beds and starched white sheets, or read about the Amsterdam Begijnhof, where women coexisted peacefully, productively – solo, but side by side.

I got my wish last week, sort of. My younger son was at school, the elder at work and my husband spent a day poking some ominous boards in our future home. I was alone at last, just me and the freaked-out dog, who had forgotten what it was like not to live in a pack 24/7, and who sat in the wardrobe. It was amazing, the quiet house and the sense of space in my head more luxurious than any spa break. I watched all the internet videos I had saved; I located the good nail clippers and hid them; I stared into the fridge and tidied a cupboard.

Did I get any work done? Ah, well. Not really. Perhaps I was actually, finally, missing background noise. As Easter holidays start this week, so I can test this theory properly all too soon. (Emma Beddington, The Guardian, 24 Mar 2021)

My comment: My wife and I, both of us tending towards introversion, have enjoyed this covid period, for all the dread of catching it. We have eaten well, exercised a lot, and have argued about nothing I remember. I suggested that, once normality returned, we might depart to an uninhabited Pacific island with a bottle of suncream and a packet of matches, and live in a cave, so used we have become being solitary. But suddenly we are socializing again and planning travel; and normal life starts to flood back. Introversion? Not much of an option from now on.

Statehood for DC?

The House’s vote to pass D.C. statehood wasn’t the only milestone for the statehood effort. Earlier, the White House released a statement endorsing D.C. statehood, calling on Congress to “provide for a swift and orderly transition to statehood for the people of Washington D.C.”

The Biden administration throwing its support behind statehood adds to the growing wave of lawmakers and activists who are backing H.R. 51. It still faces a serious challenge in the Senate, but there is clearly a growing recognition among Democrats that D.C. statehood must be a priority. (Patriotic Millionaires, 23 April 2021)

My comment: Epicurus may have disliked politics, but if we were able to explain to him that a group of people larger than the populations of some existing States has no vote in Congress (in a democracy), and are arguably the biggest group of disenfranchised people in the (democratic) world, he might well ask ”Why on earth is that? That’s not fair”; in Greek, of course). He would also be amazed that so many Americans don’t even know about the votelessness of DC. Yes, this is highly political, I know. DC is painted by extremists as a “swamp” (that is a place with a large number of educated people). But it is nonetheless scandalous and a puzzlement to foreigners and fair-minded people everywhere.

Dementia and cold water dips

Cold-water swimmers have long professed its benefits, from improving the mood to boosting the immune system. Now they have another incentive to brave the icy water: it may also protect the brain from dementia.

Scientists conducted tests on 40 people who made a practice of swimming daily in an unheated north London lido in winter, and found their blood had elevated levels of a brain protein called RBM3. Known as the “cold-shock” protein, because its production is triggered by a drop in core body temperature.

RBM3 plays a crucial role in restoring connections in the brains of animals coming out of hibernation. Its impact on human brains has never been tested, but in tests on mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s, those with raised levels of RBM3 experienced significantly less synapse and brain cell depletion than other mice.

Achieving a natural boost in RBM3 is not safe or easy: it requires the body to enter a hypothermic state. However, the researchers, at Cambridge University’s UK Dementia Research Institute, hope that if their findings are confirmed, it might be possible to develop a drug that mimics the protective effects of RBM3.

My comment:  Or move to the south coast of England and swim in the sea every morning in winter?  After the hospital deals with your hypothermia you will be in good shape.

Part 2. Prince Philip: God to the Vanuatu tribes! How and why?

Nobody is sure exactly how or why the Prince Philip cult movement began, though there are various theories. One idea is that villagers may have seen his picture along with the Queen’s on the walls of British colonial outposts when Vanuatu was still known as New Hebrides, a colony administered jointly by Britain and France.

Another interpretation is that it emerged as a “reaction to colonial presence, a way of re-appropriating and taking back colonial power by associating themselves with someone who sits at the right hand of the ruler of the Commonwealth”, pointing to the sometimes violent colonial history of Vanuatu.

What did Prince Philip make of it all? Publicly, he appeared to accept their reverence, sending several letters and photographs of himself to the tribesmen, who in turn have plied him with traditional gifts over the years.
One of their first presents was a ceremonial club called a nal-nal, given at a 1978 meeting convened by villagers. Subject: Prince Philip.

“So the British resident commissioner went down, made a presentation of photos of Prince Philip. Hundreds of these people were just waiting around, sitting or standing under the bushes. One of the chiefs then gave a club to pass to Prince Philip, asking for proof that he received it. It was sent all the way to the UK, where pictures of the duke holding the club were taken and sent back to the villagers. Those photos, among other memorabilia, are still treasured by the villagers to this day.

In 2007, several tribesmen met the duke in person. Flown to the UK for the Channel 4 reality television series Meet the Natives, five tribal leaders had an off-screen meeting with the duke at Windsor Castle where they presented gifts and asked when he would return to Tanna.

His reply, as reported by the tribesmen later, was cryptic – “when it turns warm, I will send a message” – but appeared to please them. Though Prince Philip was known for his frankness and has been criticised in the past for being culturally insensitive, on Tanna he appears to have been diplomatic.

Chief Yapa was one of several tribesmen who met Prince Philip in Britain in 2007 and took pictures with him. Prince Charles also visited Vanuatu in 2018 and drank the same kava his father did decades ago. He also received a walking stick on behalf of the duke from a Yaohnanen tribesman. (By Tessa Wong, BBC News).

My comment: So we assume that it one remote corner of the world Prince Charles is now a god, inheriting the title from his Dad. I can think of godlier candidates.