Smoking

I kind of quit smoking when I was 33 after having incessant heart palpitations. I think the actual trigger had been the exhaust we breathed stuck in traffic the night before after watching fireworks at the mall. Plus I’d had a lot of dental work done which involved repeated doses of ephedrine. Whatever. The doc looked at my EKG and said I had to quit smoking. And drinking caffeine.

I loved smoking. Maybe I imprinted on my father’s lifelong relationship with Winstons. Maybe I was just a natural addict. Maybe the boost I got from nicotine helped me jumpstart the confidence I so badly needed.

Pretty much within the first several weeks of college, I bought Winstons and started smoking. I learned how to French inhale. I learned how to flip ashes and thump butts out of car windows. After a year or so, I gave it up temporarily because my soon-to-be husband didn’t like me to smoke and I wanted him more than I wanted cigarettes.

For a while.

I could write an entire story about my life with cigarettes, about the on again, off again drama while married to him. About the shift to Kools after I met a particular man who was my lover for three months. One spring night as a thunderstorm raged outside, I ran out of Winstons. He offered me a Kool and that was that.

Smoking felt even more exhilarating with Kools, the intense menthol burn on the inhale, the slightly sweet smoky exhale. I loved each new pack in its clean white and green colors, the ceremony of tapping the pack, of pulling the little cellophane thread that opened the top, the careful tearing off one side of the foil interior wrap and the skilled thump on the side of my finger to knock the first lovely white cylinder loose. These were gifts, objects of beauty. That first puff felt wonderful, but it was the second hit that filled my lungs and my body with the full tobacco experience.

If anyone ever wanted a hit of my cigarette, they did not get the second hit.

Cigarettes were my best friend. They were there for me when the rest of my world dissolved into runny shit. In lonely moments, in anger, in grief, I turned to my faithful companion. In the dark of night, I relied on the warm cheery glow of a cigarette’s lit end. In hunger, in drunkenness, in the hours of tripping my brains out, the cigarette was there, centering me, reminding me of myself. Being the lighthouse in the storm.

With my first pregnancy at age twenty-seven, I bravely stopped smoking. Time slowed to a crawl. I so wanted to do right by the future child growing inside me. Then one night my husband and I had a vicious fight. I leapt into the old Ford 150 and drove to the nearest gas station where I purchased a pack of Kools. Then I drove to a vacant parking lot and lit that old friend and sat there crying and smoking. I subsequently smoked through all three of my pregnancies.

I required a cigarette when on the telephone. Otherwise I might leap out of my skin in annoyance with yet another incessant nonsensical blathering about whatever, or another tale of romantic angst, or whatever the fuck it was someone else had to tell me and I thought I had to listen as the minutes of wasted life ticked by. Without cigarettes, I finally learned to just draw my line in the sand and make whatever excuse was necessary to end the call.

After the doc said I had to quit and pointed out that I risked having some other woman mother my young children because I could fucking die, I stumbled out of the building into the glare of July sunlight and sat in my blazing hot car with the windows down while I smoked my last cigarette. I cried. Deep body shaking sobs. Then I drove up North Street, finished the last drag on that luscious Kool then tossed the rest of the pack out the window. Yes, I looked back. The little green and white pack lay forlorn on the pavement.

That wasn’t the end of my smoking. I went through a period where I’d meet a friend for a beer and she smoked my brand and I’d luxuriate in the pleasure of ‘just one.’ Only I never could smoke just one. ‘Just one’ after weeks or even days of abstinence resulted in dizziness and nausea. I had to smoke more often if I wanted to tolerate the effects. And I did smoke more. I stopped and started smoking so many times I lost count. The craving would get so bad, I’d buy a pack, smoke one then throw the pack away. Then I’d buy a pack, smoke one, and keep the pack in my glove box until the next insurmountable craving forced my hand.

It took nearly ten years before I really quit. I’d have dreams of smoking, feel the pleasure of smoke curling over my tongue, drawing deep into my lungs, brushing past my lips as I exhaled. In the dream, I’d panic that I’d started smoking again, that I’d never be free of it, that I’d always be tortured by an addiction I couldn’t beat. Even now, nearly thirty years later, I sometimes have that dream. In recent years when the dream occurs, I know in my dream that it’s a dream. For years, though, I’d wake up not sure if I had started again.

Side note: Maybe I have this dream often. I don’t know because I mostly can’t remember my dreams anymore. Why is that? My life is crumbling away before my very eyes.

I understood my thing with cigarettes was a real addiction. To me, addiction is the ability of a chemical to make a place for itself in the recesses of a human brain and take up residence there. A more refined understanding is that it isn’t the chemical itself that takes up residence, but the effect that chemical has inside the body. The whole endorphin receptor thing. The euphoria that results from those effects will live forever inside me, always ready for that moment when I might finally lay down my guard and say ‘why not?’ and bring flame to the tip and inhale.

Knowing that, I sometimes lament my father’s last request for me to bring him a cigarette. Or, more accurately, I lament my response.

We all knew he was dying. Eighty-five years of life and Winstons finally came to collect its debt in atrophied heart muscle and congested lungs. He spent his days and nights those last weeks in a hospital bed in the family room, unable to walk and perhaps in pain. But he never said he hurt. He didn’t complain.

On one of my last visits before he died, he held my hand and asked if I’d get ‘the old man’ a cigarette. I said no, you know you can’t smoke, you’re on oxygen. But later I thought, what the hell was I thinking? I could have turned off the oxygen. I could have bought a pack and wheeled him to the porch and watched him enjoy the hell out of that damn thing.

It would have been the rational, kind thing for me to do. He hadn’t smoked in nearly a year at that point, so I’m not sure how dizzy it would have made him. Maybe it wouldn’t have been the joyous sensation he expected. Maybe he would have coughed or choked. But he was dying anyway.

I should have done it.

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U.S. Budget — Military and Social Security

Deceptive and Counterproductive.

Discussion ebbs and flows on the topic of U.S. spending. Of particular interest to several of my liberal friends is military spending. Frequent Facebook posts on this subject claim that military spending consumes over half the budget.

I agree that the military is not an ideal place to invest so many billions of dollars. I also agree that the U.S. has a history of blowing money on weapons and aggression. Further, I question whether the U.S. uses military means when a better, longer-lasting path to peace and stability in troubled parts of the world would be investments in education, infrastructure, agriculture, and commercial development.

All that said, I have to protest the continuing use of incorrect data in arguing against military spending. The cause for less military spending is not enhanced by presenting incorrect information. Just the opposite.

The accurate 2017 budget breakdown:

Please note that the portion designated military spending occurs in the lower left  of this pie chart and as such does not constitute half of the U.S. budget. It’s important to discriminate between a breakdown of discretionary spending and overall spending. Discretionary spending is one category of overall spending. It’s within the slice of pie of discretionary spending where we see the big bite that goes to the military:So yes, military spending within its slice of pie of discretionary spending, is over half the budget. And there’s no limit to the close examination this distribution of funds deserves. But please, let’s make our arguments based on the actual facts.

A second realm of considerable error by liberals calls for a shift in U.S. spending to better honor social programs like Social Security. A popular mantra on social media these days mistakenly claims that we ‘own’ our retirement funds because we paid into them. The following discussion spells out the facts:

“It’s My Money” [WRONG!]

* A common perception about Social Security benefits is: I am entitled to the money. It’s my money. I’ve saved it.

* Social Security is mainly a “pay-as-you-go” program. This means that it pays most of its benefits by taxing people who are currently working.

* Per the Social Security Administration: The money you pay in taxes is not held in a personal account for you to use when you get benefits. Your taxes are being used right now to pay people who now are getting benefits. Any unused money goes to the Social Security trust funds, not a personal account with your name on it.

* From the start of the Social Security program in 1937 through the end of 2016:

  • 94% of all Social Security payroll taxes were spent in the same year they were collected.

  • 13% of Social Security’s total income (including payroll taxes, taxes on Social Security benefits, transfers from the general fund of the Treasury, and interest on the Social Security Trust Fund) has accumulated in the Social Security Trust Fund.

* Per the Social Security Administration: Since the Social Security system has not accumulated assets equal to the liability of promised future benefits, the social security wealth that individuals hold represents a claim against the earnings of future generations rather than a claim against existing real assets.

* After the federal government pays back with interest all of the money it has borrowed from Social Security, the program’s current claim against the earnings of future generations is $30.8 trillion. This amounts to an average of $132,914 for every person now receiving Social Security benefits or paying Social Security payroll taxes.

* Per the Social Security Administration: There has been a temptation throughout the program’s history for some people to suppose that their FICA payroll taxes entitle them to a benefit in a legal, contractual sense. … Congress clearly had no such limitation in mind when crafting the law. … Benefits which are granted at one time can be withdrawn.…

* In 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (5 to 4) that entitlement to Social Security benefits is not a contractual right. [emphasis added]

[For more discussion of Social Security taxes, allocations, and projections, visit the Just Facts page.]

So let’s get our heads screwed on straight, fellow progressives. While a large chunk of U.S. tax dollars go to military expenditures, it is NOT consuming over half of our tax dollars. Our Social Security and Medicare funds are NOT held for our future use like individual savings accounts, but rather are spent immediately in payouts to persons currently receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits.

If we expect to prevail in directing our nation toward a more equitable and socially conscientious future, we need to be well informed and make our arguments for social justice in ways that make sense and align with the facts.

That is all. For now.

Its or It’s?

Unique to humans, language is our most widespread way of communicating. The more clearly we express ourselves, the better our chances of success in any life endeavor. Not only do better communication skills help us interact with others, these skills also allow us to organize our internal thoughts better.

As a former English teacher, I’m often pained with the confusion of language pouring into our ears and eyes on a daily basis. But hey, we were all so young when we sat in our last English class. Much of what we heard went in one ear and out the other without lingering even one minute in our frontal lobes. Therefore, as a public service certain to garner scorn heaped upon my head, I will now embark on a few brief lessons in grammar.

#1 – The most conspicuous in this communication confusion is the wayward apostrophe. This little quirk of ink is meant, most of the time, to show possession. Its close twin in usage is its role in substituting for a missing letter, as in a contraction.

In possessive use, I’m talking about Marcie’s shawl. Or Tom’s briefcase. The apostrophe is NOT meant to show plural, as in “There were twelve Marcies in the room.” NOT “There were twelve Marcie’s in the room.,” the latter suggesting that there twelve of Marcie’s something in the room.

The use of an apostrophe in showing more than one (plural vs singular) is an invasive creeping blight that appears in all kinds of places. You’d think sign painters and retailers would have a glimmer of awareness about this problem. Maybe they just don’t care that their failure to communicate could cause puppies to die.

Or at least lead to Grammar Nazis convulsing on their front sidewalk.

Now this apostrophe problem would be easy to solve for most people if that’s was all there was to it. But apostrophes show up again in contractions such as “I’m” meaning “I am” and “it’s” meaning “it is.” Not too many people miss the “I’m” and “can’t” and “Tom’s” punctuation, but an endless stream of “it’s” show up when someone wants to describe the problem with “its,” in this usage referring to a sled. In “its long path downhill…,” “its” shows possession without an apostrophe.

Simple rule for “it’s”? If you can substitute with “it is,” you’re doing it right.

Otherwise, ask yourself if you’re using the troublesome little quirk in place of a missing letter. That’s a contraction. [Notice my clever usage of the apostrophe in place of the “i” in “That’s,” as in “That is.”

For yet another discussion in this endless harangue over apostrophes, there’s this article in The Atlantic magazine.

 

#2 in our list of confusing grammatical mistakes is the endless conundrum about contractions. I’ll simply insert this instructive meme here in hopes of making my point without belaboring it. If the language offends you, please accept my apologies. The creator of this learning aide merely meant to gain your devoted attention.

#3 in our list of confusing grammatical mistakes is the dangling modifier. This is not, as some might think, a reference to certain anatomy. Well, maybe. In some cases. But stop and think—what is a modifier? Or more fundamentally, what does “modify” mean?

Modify means to refine something. Add to it, clean it, change it in some way, large or small. A mechanic overhauling an old car is modifying it. A carpenter repairing a broken staircase is modifying it. Likewise, our communications aren’t “Dick ran.” or “Mary fell.” These words and ideas need modifiers to help us understand more about what we’re trying to say.

When words are added to modify the meaning of a word or phrase, the modifiers add a better understanding of what the modified word means. For example, in the sentence “The boy ran,” we get the basic idea. It’s the noun (boy) with the verb (ran), noun and verb being the skeletal structure of any sentence. But if we say “The seven-year-old boy ran fast.” we have modified “boy” with the adjective “The” and the adjective term “seven-year-old.” We’ve also further explained what we mean about “ran” with the adverb modifier “fast.”

[Clearly, the term “adverb” means adding to the verb. The term “adjective” is less obvious, since it doesn’t explicitly say “adding to a noun.” But that’s what it means.]

Modifiers can be single words or entire phrases. I’ll leave it at that, although in the foggy heights of grammar, entire sentences can also modify. And often do.

Actually, while I’m slightly off-track, I’ll go ahead and say that to some extent, most of what we might say or write serves to modify an initial idea or statement. In a novel, an entire plot concept is modified through hundreds of pages of development and explanation.

But back to the heinous task at hand. Let’s add a bit more information to this basic sentence: “Worried about missing his dinner, the seven-year-old boy ran fast.” Here the initial phrase “Worried about missing his dinner” is a further modifier of “boy.” The mistake that often occurs is that the speaker/writer will not directly connect the modifier to the word it modifies but dangles in some other part of the sentence. You might see this error as “The seven-year-old boy ran fast worried about missing his dinner.”

This type of error occurs frequently because our minds gather the words and work out the meaning even if the word placement is somewhat garbled. Even though the modifying phrase is most closely situated next to “run fast,” we could easily understand that the modifier refers to the boy, not that it tells us anything about his running or how fast. This kind of short cut occurs all the time, especially in the media where the objective is to skip through as much language as possible in order to dispense more information in a shorter period of time. Viewers have the advantage of watching body language or seeing images that help modify the limited spoken words.

Shortcuts like these don’t work as well in written media where only words are present to explain what is meant. For example, this sentence attempts to give information about an archaeological discovery:

“Archaeologists have unearthed a 2,400-year-old burial containing the remains of men, women, and children arranged in an interlocking spiral shape while investigating the ancient settlement of Tlalpan in southern Mexico City.”

But because the modifying phrase does not appear next to the word(s) it modifies, the sentence is awkward if not confusing. Better: “While investigating the ancient settlement of Tlalpan in southern Mexico City, archaeologists have unearthed a 2,400-year-old burial containing the remains of men, women, and children arranged in an interlocking spiral shape.”

Multiple websites hosted by Grammar Nazis offer a multitude of similar examples. The following are from one such site:

“Hoping to garner favor, my parents were sadly unimpressed with the gift.”

Problem: This is a dangling modifier because we do not know who or what was hoping to garner favor. It is unlikely that the parents were hoping to garner favor, since they wouldn’t have given an unimpressive gift to themselves.

Correction: This sentence could be corrected by adding a proper subject, or identifying the person who was hoping to win over the parents. For example,

Hoping to garner favor, my new boyfriend brought my parents a gift that sadly unimpressed them.

Now, the modifier is no longer dangling, since the subject- or the person- who is hoping to garner favor is identified.

“Hoping to excuse my lateness, the note was written and given to my teacher.”

Problem: Here, it seems as though we have a subject- my. However, my is part of the modifier and not the subject itself.

Correction: We need a subject that is modified by hoping to excuse my lateness, since obviously the note didn’t have those hopes.

Hoping to excuse my lateness, I wrote a note and gave it to my teacher.

Now, the problem is resolved. I am the person who is hoping to excuse my lateness, so I wrote a note and gave it to my teacher.

After reading the great new book, the movie based on it is sure to be exciting.

Problem: Again, we are left wondering exactly who read the great new book. The phrase can’t possibly be modifying the movie, since the movie can’t read.

Correction: A subject must be added so the modifier has something to describe, change or limit.

After reading the great new book, Anna thought the movie based on it was sure to be exciting.

In the remote possibility that you’re still reading at this point, I’ll just sign off my duty as a worthy citizen by offering this link to yet more common grammar mistakes. Hey, it’s a hellish job but somebody’s got to do it.

 

The Shannon-Fisher Feud

Old Washington County Courthouse with the jail in the basement. None of the murderers in the Shannon-Fisher feud ever made it to the jail.

[Special shout-out to Legends of the Old West for their tireless work in collecting and preserving information about our past.]

On Saturday December 19, 1868, young Maurice K. Shannon joined a card game at one of Evansville’s taverns. The bustling town in the extreme southwest corner of Washington County sat nearly astride the border between Arkansas and Indian Territory and suffered a rough traffic of traders, cattle rustlers, whiskey smugglers, and other desperadoes who came and went alongside established local farmers and hopeful merchants who enjoyed a thriving commercial trade of everything from guns to gingham. Maurice grew up here, the eighth of twelve children in a thriving pioneer family. Like most young men, he was itching to prove himself.

Around the table betting alongside the eager eighteen-year-old were men experienced in games of chance including one known as Major Fisher.[1] As might have been predicted by any worldly-wise onlooker, Maurice suffered a distinct disadvantage in this company and soon exhausted his betting purse. Eager to redeem himself and undoubtedly encouraged by Fisher and company to further his embarrassment, Shannon wagered his horse and its saddle on the next hand.

He lost.

Shamefaced, the boy returned home to suffer the wrath of his father Granville Shannon whose fine personal mount and prized saddle had been the property so casually lost to a game of cards. History fails to describe what punishment might have befallen young Maurice. His father had endured hardship for all of his nearly seventy years and didn’t suffer fools lightly.

Soon after his son’s ignominious blunder, Granville rode into Evansville to settle the value of his loss. He demanded Fisher pay him thirty dollars. Bemused, Fisher paid up then put out the word that he wanted full reimbursement from Maurice.

Maurice met with Fisher about a week later on December 26th and tried to make his case. He flat didn’t have thirty dollars, an equivalent of $500 in the present day. Exactly what he said to Fisher, whether he offered terms for settlement or accused Fisher of cheating, is not known. Maurice stood at the bar debating his options of which he had few. The older man had no intention of letting him off the hook.

Finis[2] Shannon, seven years older than Maurice and concerned about his younger brother’s welfare among these hardened tinhorns, had trailed him into town. Now standing in the tavern doorway, he sized up Fisher where he stood some distance from Maurice. Fisher turned and Finis thought he saw the man draw a gun. Quick to defend his brother, Finis fired and shot Fisher through the head, killing him instantly.

Finis Shannon made no effort to escape as people reacted to the shooting.  He stood judgment in a hastily called court session before the township’s justice of the peace. After hearing multiple witnesses give evidence for and against and taking into consideration the history of the conflict, the justice found Shannon’s act to be justifiable and he was set free.[3] Thus began a drawn-out affair that would span more than a year of bloody retribution.

~~~

The infamous John King Fisher of Texas. Is this the man leading the Fisher Gang in Arkansas?

According to the story passed down since the time, John K. Fisher, brother of Major Fisher, had been away at the time of the shooting. He and a friend, Calvin Carter, had been ‘south’ to attend some horse races. On his return, John learned of his brother’s death and became outraged that Finis Shannon had gone free. Demanding a higher court of justice, John K. Fisher quickly saw to Shannon’s re-arrest and had him brought to Fayetteville. There, contrary to John’s expectations, the higher court also found Shannon’s act to be justified and set him free.

John Fisher vowed revenge.

~~~

Much of the lore surrounding the Shannon-Fisher feud had to do with the so-called Fisher Gang led by John King Fisher. His right hand men in this gang were Calvin H. Carter, James “Jim” Reed, Charlie Bush, and James Black. In particular, Jim Reed’s involvement has spilled a gallon of printer’s ink due to the fact that he was married to Belle Starr, a woman whose notoriety far exceeded the reality.

One account claims that the only reason Reed came into the picture was that his brother William Scott Reed had been killed in one of the original shootouts with the Shannons, and Reed wanted revenge. Scott Reed did die in the upcoming Evansville gun battle, but that’s beside the point.

This excuse, promoted by Glenn Shirley who was a kinsman of Belle and a Western writer of the mid-20th century, may have been part of his effort to show Jim Reed as a man brought into the fight against his will.[1] But months before the shoot-out over a card game, Jim Reed, John K. Fisher, Calvin Carter, and Charlie Bush were indicted on a federal charge of selling liquor in the Indian Nations. One of the witnesses was Finis Shannon.[2],[3]

After his failed attempt to put Finis Shannon behind bars for the death of Jarrett Fisher, John K. Fisher made it known around Evansville that he planned to kill Finis. His threat hung in the air as he and his friends lay low. Meanwhile, those close to the Shannon family had risen to Finis’ defense in court as well as in the community and made no effort to hide their disgust with the vigilante justice promised by Fisher.

In particular, Finis Shannon’s father-in-law, Dr. J. C. McKinney, had taken it upon himself to advocate for Finis, no doubt in an effort to ease the mind of his distraught daughter who lived in daily fear of Fisher’s promised retribution. The couple’s daughters Laura Alice and Sophie were only three years and one year old.

A month after Finis shot Major Fisher, on January 21, 1869, Dr. McKinney made his way along Evansville’s main street to George W. McClure’s store for a few purchases. John K. Fisher spotted him outside, followed him into the store, and after exchanging a few words, shot McKinney through the heart. He walked out as McKinney lay dying in the shopkeeper’s arms.

~~~

Do you have any information about this feud or the Shannons and Fishers? Please let me know–this is still an active investigation.

These pieces of the story are excerpted from Chapter 17, Murder in the County: Fifty True Stories of the Old West, by Denele Campbell. The Shannon-Fisher Feud winds on for over a year leaving dead bodies in its wake. For the full account and the collection of all the 19th century murders in Washington County Arkansas, obtain your copy of the book at Nightbird Books in Fayetteville or order from Amazon.com 

~~~

[1] One court record names him as Major Jarrett Fisher.

[2] A corruption of Phineas, ‘Finis’ is but one of several spellings found in historical records for this man. Also found is Fins, Finas, Finias, Finius, Finies, and Fines.

[3] Goodspeed 192-194

[1] Shirley, Glenn. Belle Starr and Her Times: The Literature, the Facts, and the Legends. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982. Pages 86-93

[2] Jacket 68, pp 570-578 and p 241. Defendant Jacket Files for U. S. District Court Western Division of Arkansas, Fort Smith Division, 1866-1900. Records of District Courts of the United States 1685-2004, ARC ID: 201532. Record Group Number 21. The National Archives at Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.A.

[3] Glenn Shirley’s account states that “On February 12, 1869, Finnis M. Shannon swore a writ against Fisher, Carter, Bush, and Black for introducing spirituous liquors into the Indian country, a crime for which Shannon had been arrested many times by Fort Smith federal marshals. In response to this capias, Deputy Marshal B. F. Little ‘proceeded to the Indian Nation’ with a posse of four men and ‘was gone in constant and active search for thirty-six days’ without finding his quarry.” Shirley has it wrong. Up until this time, Shannon had never been arrested.

Evansville in lower left corner of the county. Map circa 1909. Oklahoma to the left of the state line.

***History of Evansville from the 1889 Goodspeed History of Washington County, Arkansas:

This village was named in honor of Capt. Lewis Evans, who opened a store there about 1830. He was succeeded by Charles McClellan, and about 1838 a flood of merchants came in, bringing large stocks of goods to sell to the immigrant Cherokees, to whom large sums of money were due from the Government. As payment was delayed for fifteen years, many of these merchants failed, and the business interests of the town were seriously impaired. Soon after the town was laid off, Leonard Schuler established a tan-yard, the most extensive ever in the county. A horse-mill was built by Evans soon after he opened his store, and for a short time it supplied nearly the whole county with meal. There are now in the town two steam saw and grist mills, with cotton gins attached. The first was erected by C. E. Rose, in 1870, and the other by Littlejohn & McCormick, about five years ago.

The first schools in Evansville were taught by Allen M. Scott, who was succeeded by Mrs. Dr. Bartlett. For four years, from about 1874 to 1878, a graded school was maintained, but it has since been abandoned.

The business interests of the town are now represented by the following firms: J. A. Bacon, Basham & Goodrich, J. M. Chandler, J. R. Flinn, F. N. & N. B. Littlejohn and G. W. McClure, general stores; L. W. Rosser, cabinet maker; W. L. Childress, cabinet and wagon maker, and J. C. Ferguson, wagon maker. About one mile north of Evansville is a little village known as Greersburg, containing a store, a blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, a Masonic lodge and a school-house.

No known images of 19th century Evansville exist.

Incessant Self-Righteous Ignorance

Thursday afternoon I got a phone call. I had forgotten it was the day before the anniversary of Roe v Wade, immersed as I was in my current writing project. Usually I hang up as soon as the pause-click-click tells me it’s a solicitor.

The woman said her name was Grace. This time I said “Hi, Grace.”

“How are you?”

“I’m fine, how are you?”

“I’m calling on behalf of the Right to Life. We need to stop the killing of unborn babies.”

“Oh,” I said, instantly furious. “Well, you can stop right there. I’m Pro-Choice.”

I hung up.

Then I spent the rest of the evening thinking of what I should have said.

  • Oh really, Grace? Are you referring to an embryo or a fetus? Do know what an embryo looks like or that 67% of abortions occur before eight weeks? So in this image of a human embryo, is this the chicken or egg phase? When you have eggs for breakfast, are you eating a chicken?
  • So are you in favor of government forcing women to have children? Is that part of your ‘smaller government’ plan? Smaller except the part where the Fetus Police want to control what’s going on INSIDE YOUR BODY?
  • Gee, Grace, how exactly would you suggest the government keep women from terminating unwanted pregnancies—should they require them to check in monthly for a pregnancy test? Then if they’re pregnant, the government can keep them in a Safe-For-The-Unborn-Baby Compound until the baby is born, thereby preventing any ‘home remedy’ abortions. Women wouldn’t be allowed to leave, so taking care of other children in the home or providing meals/laundry service for their husbands would have to stop, not to mention finishing school or keeping a job.
  • So you’re in favor of forcing women to produce children they don’t want? Tell me, Grace—do you think those women will be good mothers to those children? Did you know that 70% of abortions are performed on women making 200% or less than the federal poverty line of $11,670? Did you know that this same group of women, without health insurance, are far less likely to have access to birth control? Did you know that children from families with annual incomes below $15,000 were over 22 times more likely to experience maltreatment than children from families whose income exceeded $30,000? Did you know these children were almost 56 times more likely to be educationally neglected and over 22 times more likely to be seriously injured? Did you know that childhood poverty is closely related to the later incidence of crime? Think of prisons, Grace, more and more prisons built to hide away children forced on poor families by the lack of access to birth control.
  • So Grace, since I’ve got you on the phone, maybe you can explain to me how you plan to stop abortion. Ending unwanted pregnancies has been going on for thousands of years. Maybe you didn’t know that. Maybe you thought that it was only after the passage of Roe v Wade that women started having abortions. Maybe you didn’t know that throughout the ages, women have decided who will be born—not men, not governments, not churches. Women are the ones responsible for selecting future generations. I bet everyone alive today came from a woman sometime in the past who terminated other pregnancies. Even you, Grace, probably have a grandmother back in the mists of time who decided to limit the number of children so she could take proper care of the ones she already had.

I’ve got some abortion statistics for you, Grace, showing women’s reasons for obtaining an abortion.

    • 74% felt “having a baby would dramatically change my life” (which includes interrupting education, interfering with job and career, and/or concern over other children or dependents)
    • 73% felt they “can’t afford a baby now” (due to various reasons such as being unmarried, being a student, inability to afford childcare or basic needs of life, etc.)
    • 48% “don’t want to be a single mother or [were] having relationship problem[s]”
    • 38% “have completed [their] childbearing”
    • 32% were “not ready for a(nother) child”
    • 25% “don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant”
    • 22% “don’t feel mature enough to raise a(nother) child”
    • 14% felt their “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion”
    • 13% said there were “possible problems affecting the health of the fetus”
    • 12% said there were “physical problems with my health”
    • 6% felt their “parents want me to have an abortion”
    • 1% said they were “a victim of rape”
    • <0.5% “became pregnant as a result of incest”[1]

Shall we discuss some of this data? You’ll notice that almost all the reasons for abortion have to do with lack of birth control. What is your position regarding birth control? Do you agree that birth control and all related information regarding human reproduction should be taught by middle school level? Do you agree that birth control should be freely dispensed at middle school level to any student who requests it? How about churches dispensing free birth control so there aren’t so many precious Unborn Children being aborted?

Did you know that only 1.3% of pregnancies are aborted after 21 weeks and generally only for medical reasons?

≤6 wks 7 wks 8 wks 9 wks 10 wks 11 wks 12 wks 13 wks 14-15 wks 16-17 wks 18-20 wks ≥21 wks
37.2% 16.9% 12.8% 8.3% 5.5% 4.5% 3.5% 2.7% 3.3% 2.0% 1.9% 1.3%

Grace, did you know that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act mandated that all employers were required to provide 100% coverage for all birth control methods? The only exception came after religious groups refused to provide such coverage and took their argument to court where they won the right not to provide coverage.

Maybe you can explain that for me, Grace. If the horror is abortion, why is there such outrage about preventing unwanted pregnancies? Because that really doesn’t make sense.

I mean, yeah, I get it. I know the unspoken thought. People aren’t supposed to have sex unless they want a child because sex isn’t for enjoyment. Sex is a duty to produce another generation—period. Because the only reason we’re on earth is make more of us. So if you’re having sex for fun, to feel good, then you’re doing it wrong and God will smite you.

It’s true that in all this, it’s the woman who suffers. I’m guessing that has to do with eating a forbidden apple. That’s on Eve. So she’s the one who has to suffer, all part of God’s loving plan to make people do what He wants them to do, which is, evidently, to keep having babies.

By the way, Grace, I don’t know how old you are, but if you were around in 1987, that’s the year the world population reached five billion. Now picture where you were and what you were doing in 1987 and imagine twice as many people. Because that’s where we’ll be in another thirty years. Twice as many cars, twice as many houses or twice as many people living in one house, twice as many big cities. Twice as many people grabbing that last loaf of bread.

It’s true that much of that population growth won’t be in the U.S. or Europe. The growth will mostly occur in Africa, you know, that “shithole” place where people already born are starving and killing each other. And Asia, of course. Those are the places where humanitarian agencies bring in food and provide medical care, including birth control. So the moral stance of this ‘Christian’ administration is to cut off financial support for any humanitarian health care group that offers abortion counseling along with birth control. So if a woman wants to obtain birth control, she can’t get it because someone in that same facility is answering questions about or providing an abortion.

That’s so perfect. So genius. So in keeping with the goal of stopping abortion.

~~~

[1] Finer, Lawrence B. and Lori F. Frohwirth, Lindsay A. Dauphinee, Susheela Singh and Ann F. Moore. “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitiative Perspectives.”Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Guttmacher.org, September 2005.
White, Angela. “Cost of Giving Birth at the Hospital or at Home.” Blisstree.com, 21 September 2008.
“Why It Matters: Teen Pregnancy and Education.” The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, retrieved 19 May 2009.

 

A Presidential Stain

Just like in every other aspect of his privileged yet miserable life, Donald Trump can see only the surface. His “shithole” description of nations like Haiti or those in Africa is apt if you only see the poverty and political chaos. A thoughtful educated person would see beyond that surface to the culpability for all that of white Europeans.

African tribes lived fruitful happy lives in their native state, just as did the natives of the Americas. But their natural progress was interrupted by those from more developed cultures who took them as slaves and exploited the resources indigenous to their lands. Since emerging from the dark ages, European countries have sailed around the world trying to enforce their religious beliefs while at the same time seeking slaves and resources to enrich their nations.

That’s how Haiti became a predominantly black society. When Spanish explorers arrived in 1492, they found a widespread population of the Taino people, a Native American tribe. Disease and genocide pretty well eradicated the Taino by 1625 when Spain’s grip on the island loosened in the face of French, English, and Dutch incursions. France seized control of Haiti and by 1700, France had established plantations for tobacco and cotton and imported African slaves to work the fields. Within the next century, the agricultural focus turned to sugar cane.[1]

Intimidating slaves with unimaginable brutalities didn’t require many whites. Accounts of horrific tortures are preserved in Haitian histories. The island’s populations suffered not only the brutalities of enslavement but also the irregular devastation of earthquakes and tidal waves. The current status of Haiti resulted from the most recent earthquake eight years ago with “a death toll estimated by the Haitian government at over 300,000, and by non-Haitian sources from 50,000 to 220,000.” The quake destroyed the country’s capital city and in the intervening years, hundreds of thousands have died of starvation.

Clone this story of Haiti into a long list of other “shithole” countries referenced by our Moron-in-Chief, with a few tweaks and details thrown in. No one in Africa asked for Europeans to come into their midst to enslave their people and steal their natural resources. Just as Native American tribes had enjoyed a sustainable lifestyle in the lands now called the United States,  African tribes maintained long-held religious practices and lived in stable communities.

Facts about the exploitation of places now referred to as “Third World” are available to anyone with a modicum of curiosity and reason. In a world before Trump, knowledge of these facts by a person elected president would have been taken for granted. Such knowledge would inform attitudes as well as foreign policy, most especially our immigration policies as, allegedly, the most advanced nation on earth.

Slavery became common within much of Europe during the Dark Ages and it continued into the Middle Ages. The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Arabs and a number of West African kingdoms played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade, especially after 1600. David P. Forsythe wrote: “The fact remained that at the beginning of the nineteenth century an estimated three-quarters of all people alive were trapped in bondage against their will either in some form of slavery or serfdom.”[2]

The conquest of African nations occurred for two reasons: Christian zealotry convinced of its supremacy and the acquisition of wealth. Christian and Muslim missionaries still plague Africa, preaching sin and redemption to people who originally possessed sophisticated spiritual beliefs that had served them well for millennia. Social disruption and war resulted—my religion is the true one and infidels must die. Much of the warfare in Africa today is based on conflicts between Christians, Muslims, and tribal traditions. This serves several objectives—it keeps the local people at a disadvantage so they’re more easily exploited and it sells weapons of war, fattening the wallets of First World industrialists.

As for the direct acquisition of wealth, in the ages before modern machinery, slaves were the machines who tilled, planted, cultivated, and harvested the crops. Crops for food, crops for textiles like cotton, and crops for rope and other industrial materials enriched farmers. More slaves equaled more money. If advancing social conscience hadn’t eliminated slavery, likely the advance of the machines would have accomplished much of the same thing. (Or, arguably, the elimination of slavery helped push the development of machines.)

But slaves weren’t the only wealth captured from these “shithole” countries and exploited by European conquerors.[3] “Africa has a large quantity of natural resources, including diamonds, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and cocoa beans, but also woods and tropical fruits.”[4] Once European nations discovered these resources, they couldn’t keep their hands off. Using primarily enslaved indigenous people to perform the labor in mining these resources, European nations built their wealth on the backs of African people and their native wealth.

This smash-and-grab mentality continues today. Much of the chaos of Central and South American countries is a result of American agricultural interests controlling the vast majority of suitable cropland. Here in these winter-free zones, crops can grow year round and keep the supermarket shelves full even in January. The story of American exploitation and criminal interference among our neighbors to the south portends a timebomb waiting to go off in our faces.

Under previous presidents and as the United States has tried to become more than an imperialist power in the world, programs to help improve conditions in “shithole” countries have been an important objective. Unlike our current president, previous holders of that formerly-prestigious office have supported programs to help improve conditions for native peoples. Education, health care, and social reforms have been part of an outreach that included a proportioned immigration quota.

The denigration of nations and even an entire continent by racist labeling shows nothing about those places or their people compared to what it shows about the person uttering the denigration. What Trump’s profanity reveals is a man totally bereft of curiosity, respect, and knowledge about the world around him, a man whose only goal in life is self-aggrandizement. That his petulant narrow vision should spread such shame over our entire nation is a horror that can end none too soon.

~~~

This post is dedicated to Martin Luther King, a man who rose to the pinnacle of human achievement, unlike the man current soiling the White House.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Haiti

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploitation_colonialism

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_resources_of_Africa

Linsey-Woolsey

While working on one of my current projects, a history of 19th century development along the valley of the West Fork of White River here in Northwest Arkansas, I thought to search newspapers for any mention of Woolsey, a small community along the river’s passage.

I found only a slim assortment of news items mentioning the location of Woolsey. The dominant mention of the word “woolsey” came in conjunction with the word “linsey,” as in linsey-woolsey, a type of fabric. As often occurs in my wanderings through Internet storehouses, I’m now sidetracked into this fascinating bit:

Linsey-woolsey (less often, woolsey-linsey or in Scottish English, wincey) is a coarse twill or plain-woven fabric woven with a linen warp and a woollen weft. Similar fabrics woven with a cotton warp and woollen weft in Colonial America were also called linsey-woolsey or wincey.[1][2] The name derives from a combination of lin (an archaic word for flax, whence “linen”) and wool. This textile has been known since ancient times; known as Shatnez in Hebrew, the Torah and hence Jewish law explicitly forbid wearing it.[3]

Well who knew?

The fabric served an important role in 19th century clothing, as noted in multiple merchant advertisements published for William Vance and Brothers, East Main Street in Little Rock, “in the store formerly occupied by Messrs. McLain & Badgett,” :

Clothing: Fine, wool and piece dyed black cloth dress and frock coats; blue, brown, claret and mixed cloth, do. [ditto]; fin black, blue, and other colors of cloth, Palto, sack and surtout coats; Tweed, cassimere [cashmere], jeans and linsey sack and frock coats; green, blue and white blanket and blue flushing over-coats; fancy and lain, black, blue, and other colored cloth and cassimere pantaloons; blue, grey mixed, drag and cadet mixed sattinett [worsted wool in satin weave] and tweed cassimere, linsey and jeans pantaloons; blue, grey, drab and black cloth vests; fancy colored, woolen and silk velvet, do.; black velvet and satin, do.; also jeans, cassinet [English twilled stout trousering and waistcoating in various colors, made of fine cotton warp and woolen yarn dyed in the wool] and linsey-woolsey, do.; together with a good assortment of flannel shirts and drawers; ribbed and plain knit lambswool and cotton, do.; linen and muslin shirts; fancy satin, Lutestrong Italian and India, cravats; and also, gum-elastic, silk, cotton and worsted suspenders; stocks, collars, bosoms, gloves &c, &c.

Another source explains that “Back in Tudor times in England there was a coarse linen material called linsey, whose name was formerly believed to have come from the dialect word line for linen, but is now thought to be from Lindsey, the name of the village in Suffolk where it was first made. Linen was woven with wool to make a less costly fabric that became known as linsey-woolsey, with the ending of wool changed to make a rhyming couplet.”

Henry Smith, who was a Church of England clergyman and a renowned preacher — he was known as Silver-Tongued Smith — included this comment in his sermon, A Preparative to Marriage, that was published in 1591: “God forbad the people to weare linsey wolsey, because it was a signe of inconstancie.” He was referring to the Biblical prohibition against wearing clothes made from a mixture of linen and wool.

Rather later, linsey-woolsey became an inferior coarse cloth of wool woven on cotton. You can tell its humble status from Elizabeth Gaskell’s mention of it in Sylvia’s Lovers of 1863: “How well it was, thought the young girl, that she had doffed her bed-gown and linsey-woolsey petticoat, her working-dress, and made herself smart in her stuff gown, when she sat down to work with her mother.”

The Ohio Democrat commented in 1869 on local small farmers who had come into Charlotte, North Carolina, to sell their cotton crop: “They were uniformly dressed in the roughest sort of homemade linsey-wolsey.”[1]

Another source gives the following examples of the phrase as used in sentences:

Often overlooked, in fact, is the clothing worn by the four million American slaves created from what was called “plantation cloth,” “slave cloth” or “negro cloth”: coarse, thick bolts of linsey-woolsey, kersey and osnaburg.  New York Times May 5, 2014

Her dress was a shapeless linsey-woolsey gown, and home-made list slippers covered her long, lank feet ‘Be that the fashion?’ she asked, pointing to my short, closely fitting walking-dress.  Woolson, Constance Fenimore

Let us imagine he enters one of our fashionable churches, with his “rough and ready” linsey-woolsey, seamless garment on, made of wild sea-grass, thus presenting a very forbidding appearance, and what would be the result?  Graves, Kersey

Very few made long excursions from home, except the manufacturers of Kendal, many of whom travelled on foot in quest of orders for their worsted stockings and linsey-woolsey. Scott, Daniel

The women wore dresses of linsey-woolsey and coarse flax.  Purcell, Martha Grassham

But in this present day we find, alas, too frequently a linsey-woolsey religion. Shepard, W. E.

Their petticoats of linsey-woolsey, were striped with a variety of gorgeous dyes, and all of their own manufacture.  Various[2]

In an 1835 book, The South-West, the author comments on the yeomen of Mississippi.

These small farmers form a peculiar class and include the majority of the inhabitants in the east part of this state. With the awkwardness of the Yankee countryman, they are destitute of his morals, education, and reverence for religion. With the rude and bold qualities of the chivalrous Kentuckian, they are destitute of his intelligence, and the humour which tempers and renders amusing his very vices. They are in general uneducated, and their apparel consists of a coarse linsey-woolsey, of a dingy yellow or blue, with broad-brimmed hats; though they usually follow their teams barefooted and bareheaded, with their long locks hanging over their eyes and shoulders, giving them a wild appearance…[3]

The phrase entered the Congressional record in an 1846 speech by Mr. Magnum of Oregon when he stated that “When every man carried with him a portion of the national sovereignty, it required no preparation of the national heart for war when the national honor was supposed to be affected. Their plain fellow-citizens, attired in linsey-woolsey, were more keenly alive to national insult, or imagined national insult, than any other people on the face of the earth.”[4]

Because the fabric could be obtained and/or created at low cost, linsey-woolsey clothing long defined a certain class of person. In an extended rant about Colonel Hindman published in the Fayetteville, Arkansas newspaper, the author referred to “linsey-woolsey democrats.” (The Arkansian, Fayetteville, Arkansas, Aug 19, 1859 p 2).

According to William Edward Shepard, a Holiness preacher of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, linsey-woolsey meant “made of linen and woolen mixed; hence, made of unsuitable components; ill-assorted; anything unsuitably mixed; a motley composition; medley or absurdities;  balderdash;  jargon;  gibberish.”[5]

And there you have it, dear friends, for what it might be worth. My tolerance toward my wild-hair tangent being fully exhausted, I go back to the task I had at hand two hours ago.

~~~

[1] http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-lin2.htm

[2] https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/linsey-woolsey

[3] The South-West. In Two Volumes. Vol II. By a Yankee. New  York: Harper & Brothers, Cliff-St. 1835. P 171

[4] Abridgment of the Debates of Congress, from 1789 to 1856: Dec. 4, 1843-June 18, 1846. United States. Congress, Thomas Hart Benton. D. Appleton, 1861 – Law

[5] https://www.bol.com/nl/p/linsey-woolsey-religion/9200000045861560/