Just moved to the country? Never lived in the country before? Here’s a word of advice: don’t piss off the country people.
In a trend beginning with the pandemic and continuing today, people are moving to rural areas and away from big cities. The options of working from home make such a move increasingly attractive. With this influx, those of us who already live out in the sticks have a few words of advice. Pay attention.
There are unwritten rules out here along these winding back roads. One of the first you need to always remember is about driving. Do not tailgate.
Nothing pisses off an old timer like somebody crawling up our tailpipes. Makes us want to slam on the brakes, then jump out and storm back to your car where we’d tell you that you won’t get where you’re going any faster by driving twenty feet from my bumper than you would at fifty feet. Even fifty feet is pushing the boundaries of politeness. If it’s after dark and your headlights are torching my eyeballs through the rearview mirror, a hundred feet isn’t far enough. Just ease off and give it some room. You moved out here to relax, remember?
I once had a short-lived neighbor who drove without any consideration whatsoever for these rules of the road. If they zoomed up behind you on the road, they’d hover within a few yards of the rear of your car and flash their lights. Like that’s going to make us go faster? Or pull over? Buddy, that just guaranteed that we’ll ease off the accelerator to creep along at ten miles per hour, knowing these roads offer zero room to pass. They were too stupid to know that when someone in front of you taps their brakes, it means back off.
Those folks lasted about two, maybe three years. I’m not exactly sure if they moved or if someone just killed them and dropped their bodies down a gully. They deserved to die, not only for their rude roadsmanship, but also for the fact that they took a perfectly fine old rock house, knocked out all the interior walls then couldn’t understand why the roof sagged. Crow food.
Another rule about driving in the country is the nod you give to an oncoming car. If it’s someone you know well, you exchange the full hand wave. If it’s an acquaintance or a neighbor, you lift one or two fingers from the steering wheel. You could nod, but nods are hard to read in a moving vehicle, so the hand motion up by the windshield is the best way to show that you’re not armed and you wish them well.
By the way, if you’re a gun nut and get off on shooting, try to aim so your bullets don’t go near my house. Also, don’t fire off rounds late in the evening unless you want someone to call the sheriff, thinking somebody is getting killed. Got a block of tannerite you can’t wait to set free? Keep that damn stuff away from my property unless you want to buy me a bunch of new windows.
Also, do not burn your trash. Even under the cover of darkness, we can smell it and we will call the law on your sorry ass.
Keep in mind that nobody lives in the country to be snuggly close to other people. There’s a good reason we’re parked out here on a piece of land without neighbors ten feet away from our bedroom window. We like our privacy. We like the quiet. We like nature. So if you’re moving out here thinking it’s okay to visit your new neighbor with a bunch of chatter about nonsensical bullshit just to be flapping your gums, stop right there. Do not come out here thinking we’ll welcome any of that.
In Washington County, Arkansas, where I live, there are unwritten rules about noise. If your dog stands outside and bays at the moon for five minutes, nobody’s going to come knocking. But if that sucker is out there barking barking barking for an hour or more, you’d better do something and fast. I’ve been known to call a neighbor and tell them if they don’t shut up that damn dog, I’m going to call the sheriff. Now the sheriff would laugh if I actually called him, and there’s no chance he’d actually do anything about my complaint, but this move serves the purpose of letting the neighbor know the situation has become dire.
By the way, it’s never okay to shoot somebody’s dog. If it gets that bad, just start calling your neighbor when the barking wakes you up—two a.m., three a.m. Like that. Pretty soon they get the idea.
On the other hand, if your dog runs up by my house and kills my cat, your dog will die.
The only time it’s okay to visit a neighbor you don’t know, especially if you’re new to those parts (defined as living here less than ten years), is if somebody died. Then you can fry up a pan of chicken or whip up a batch of fine beef chili, or bake a cake, then go in nice clothes to their door and offer your condolences. If they invite you inside, it’s up to you whether you want to walk into a house full of grieving relatives who don’t know you from Adam and don’t care to know you now. My advice is to hand over the vittles and go on your way.
Remember, nobody moves to the country to socialize.
Out here, we appreciate the beauty and bounty of Nature. So when a newbie buys up a piece of, say, twenty or forty acres and sets the bulldozer to it, our curses will summon dark forces that will haunt you forever. We’ll drive by wondering why you didn’t just stay in town if you didn’t want to see Nature. That land you ‘cleared’ is now stripped of topsoil and these hills erode quick. Next thing is you’ll have gullies carved down to the clay or nothing but a jumble of rocks, and you won’t get anything to grow on it including grass.
Some folks do that thinking they’ll get a horse or two, that old gentleman farmer fantasy. They spread fertilizer and wait. Nothing grows. Or they think they’ll have a lawn. We have a guy on our road who spent the first three years up here trying to grow a lawn. He lay in sod. It died. He lay in sod again. Finally, his third season he bought himself a fancy little tractor rig that he drove hour after hour, lifting the soil, raking the soil, smoothing it and probably praying over it until finally his last batch of sod survived. I see him out there, nursing it along with fertilizer, weed killer, and so forth, and I have to admit he’s got himself a nice smooth patch of Bermuda out there. I think he might crawl around with scissors to trim the edges.
I’m sure he froths at the mouth about the land on both sides of him where fescue, wild flowers, and all other sorts of unruly plant life thrives. But then, he built his house about forty feet from the road, so even before he started his lawn quest, we all knew he was an idiot.
What we respect and admire are new property owners who respect and admire what came before them. There’s a new house going up on a hill on the north side of the road. He left all the trees except where the house is located. Down by the road just before his driveway cuts up toward the new house, there’s an old rock structure built in the 1800s. It’s been there through thick and thin, its impressive stonework still proudly exhibiting the expertise of its builder with smooth long stone lintels over the windows and doors and a fireplace that would draw even now in that roofless stone cabin. It’s a landmark we enjoy seeing every time we fly up and down that road. When we saw that property up for sale, we lived in mortal terror that some citified person would snap it up and send the bulldozer out after that sweet little relic.
We take care of our road, at least, we’re supposed to. As I once wrote about Roy who lived up here in a little Airstream with his dog Cindy, he took it on himself to patrol our half mile of dirt road. He’d walk that road just about every day with that German Shepherd and pick up any refuse that had blown out of somebody’s truck or had been tossed out by some hoodlum from town—beer cans, plastic bags, fast food wrappers, bottles of all kinds, an endless stream of trash that, since Roy died, has slowly collected in the ditches to be churned into the ground whenever a road grader makes its way up here.
I do what I can along my road frontage, on occasion finding beer cans tossed onto the first twenty feet of my long driveway, enough to let me know some jackass from town parked there to drink and have sex. When I’m picking up that mess, I’m angry enough to think I’ll put up a gate or at least set a game cam down there, but then it’s easier to just pick up their trash and glare at the next stranger who drives down this way.
You can always tell when they’re not from around here. You give your wave or lift a couple of fingers in greeting. If they give you a dumb stare, you know.
They’re moving in fast these days. New houses going up here and there, for sale signs on big stretches of pasture that have been cut up into pieces. There’s cleared hillsides that look like an aluminum recycling facility for all the trailers parked up there, one after another, some of them neatly landscaped but most of them surrounded by trash and clutter that tells you exactly what kind of people live there. They’re so ignorant they don’t even realize that their trash wouldn’t be such an eyesore if they’d left a single damn tree standing. I mean, if you want to hang it all out, move to west Texas where the land is already flat and treeless.
With yesterday’s arrest of Josh Duggar on federal charges of child pornography, this family of “19 Kids and Counting” fame is once again under the spotlight. Age 33, Josh along with his wife have so far produced seven children, following in his parent’s tradition of gene reproduction without regard, apparently, to the need to actually parent those children, an allegation supported by Duggar’s continuing sex crimes.
As a teen, Josh molested four younger sisters and at least one friend of theirs. Members of their church, the sprawling First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas, along with an officer of the Arkansas State Police (now in prison for child porn) helped Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar cover up these insidious crimes until the statute of limitations had run on any potential prosecution.
On the heels of that scandal in 2015, Josh’s rough treatment of a woman he hired for sex hit the news along with the revelation that he had joined a dating service dedicated to married men who wanted to hook up.
“A few months after apologizing for his “wrongdoing” in the child molestation scandal, Duggar has confessed to cheating on his wife Anna, developing an Internet pornography addiction (which he later removed from his statement) and signing up for two paid subscriptions to Ashley Madison.”
Is it finally time to examine the roots of such disgusting behavior? Is it time to look at the repressive nature of evangelical Christianity that lies not only at the foundations of Josh Duggar’s offenses but also of the innumerable cases of youth ministers and preachers and multiple other respected positions of these churches who find themselves embroiled in sexual misdeeds?
Other such abuses appear with crushing frequency not only in Northwest Arkansas but across the country where evangelicals embrace their collective ignorance. Previous posts regarding this issue include a report on earlier Duggar shame as well as the rape of a six-year-old girl rehomed by Republican state representative Justin Harris, owner of a childcare center in the small town of West Fork. [See Footnote]
These are not isolated incidents. Hardly a week goes by without the report of another minister or youth leader or congregational member caught in one or another sex crime. The Washington Post spotlighted the problem of sexual abuse within the evangelical Christian community in a 2018 article:
“Across the United States, evangelical churches are failing to protect victims of sexual abuse among their members. As the #MeToo movement has swept into communities of faith, several high-profile leaders have fallen: Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was forced into early retirement this month after reports that he’d told a rape victim to forgive her assailant rather than call the police. Illinois megachurch pastor Bill Hybels similarly retired early after several women said he’d dispensed lewd comments, unwanted kisses and invitations to hotel rooms.
“…The sex advice columnist and LGBT rights advocate Dan Savage, tired of what he called the hypocrisy of conservatives who believe that gays molest children, compiled his own list that documents more than 100 instances of youth pastors around the country who, between 2008 and 2016, were accused of, arrested for or convicted of sexually abusing minors in a religious setting.”
While on the surface church members who embrace the teachings of Christ might seem the least likely to commit such abuses, it seems that the fundamentalist religious power structure and their teachings lie at the heart of these perversions. Just as Catholic priests (and nuns) have been found disproportionately likely to sexually abuse young children compared to the rest of the population, evangelical Christians hear the same unnatural lessons from the mouths of their preachers. Sex is sin. Touching yourself (otherwise known as masturbation) is sin. But if you sin, God will forgive you (so, in essence, there’s a backdoor if Satan overcomes you…).
Attempting to live outside the demands of the biological bodies we inhabit is nothing but an elaborate game of whack-a-mole. The need pops up no matter how sternly we might try to suppress it. The stronger the urge, the louder they preach, the more likely the urge will slink off sideways into situations where the risk of being discovered is least likely to surface. Little kids can be intimidated into silence. Little kids are gullible, easily convinced that this diddling inflicted by an older person is somehow okay. Little kids are innocent, therefore they don’t taint the abuser in a sexual act the same way an older experienced sex partner might.
Then there’s evangelical power structure of an authoritarian god who delegates his authority to the male who then is enabled to rule over lesser beings like women and children. Those under this male authority can be subjected to his abuses, and those abuses can be covered up on his edict, making sexual abuse very tempting to repressed males.
But the roots go deeper still. The way this religious authority works is to demand adherence to a set of rules. This is the opposite of teaching people how to think or take responsibility for themselves. After all, if you ‘sin,’ it’s not really you, it’s Satan.
Children brought up in this belief system are often forced into homeschooling or church schools where they are taught not to question. Despite humanity’s crowning glory of cerebral function, intellect is switched off in favor of rules. Parents of Josh Duggar are a perfect example of this willful ignorance, refusing to obtain secular psychologist help when their oldest child’s incestuous fondling came to light and instead keeping it in the church family.
“The roots of the Judeo-Christian sexual prohibitions, as well as the sexual prohibitions of religions such as Islam, spring from ancient Jewish tribal law. During early times wives were considered “property” and laws were specifically codified to protect three things: livestock, wives and dwellings–an order or importance that seems clear in Jewish law. Beliefs among different groups ranged all the way from the approval of prostitution, homosexuality, sex with slaves and liberal views toward divorce, to 180-degree shifts in each of these areas.”
“One of the myths of ‘evangelicalism’ is it inoculates the young against ‘sin’ and keeps them pure, compared to the alternatives. While anecdotal stories can be told this simply is NOT statistically true for most evangelical young,” reports this author in a first person exposé.
“It sure wasn’t true at the evangelical school I attended or in the church. In fact, the worst of the bunch was the pastor’s son. Yet the pastor publicly claimed his son was pure and virginal even though he absolutely knew that was a lie. In reality, the son was going through a large number of the teenage girls at the time and it wasn’t all consensual. His wife, who I knew somewhat, later said in an interview they were having sex and the pastor knew it the whole time but lied from the pulpit. ‘Dr. Hyles’ lying was blatant just like David’s. David was a blatant liar. He told lies that he couldn’t possibly get away with. The problem is that his dad has set himself up so good, that everybody doubts everything because that’s how they have been taught.’ But the preacher dad also lied about his own affairs, as did his son-in-law who seduced an underage girl when he took over as pastor.’”
In another article, the relationship between sex crimes and extreme religious beliefs is set out in stark terms.
“While outwardly decrying abuse, extreme religiosity may breed it. In a sample of first-year students at a southern U.S. university, researchers found ‘significant relationships between religiosity and victims of child sexual abuse by both relatives and non-relatives. Persons sexually abused by a relative were much more likely to be affiliated with fundamental Protestant religions.’ A 2006 study of religiosity among Australian men incarcerated for serious sex offenses discovered that those who maintained religious involvement from childhood to adulthood had more sexual offense convictions, more victims, and younger victims than other groups, including atheists. Among Jewish men in an Israeli prison, ‘religious Jews … were more likely to be in for sex crimes,’ according to other research.”
Tragically for all concerned, the evangelical response to the realities of natural sexual desires is to frame sexual misbehavior as a crime of Satan rather than a predictable outcome of their theology. Josh Duggar is the product of his family’s extreme religious beliefs, not an anomaly. It may be a relief to his seven children that he is currently being held without bond.
Never before has the heavy hand of religion gripped so hard in its effort to control a state government. The Republican majority of the 2021 legislative session has strained to enact every conceivable moral judgment on the state’s citizenry, promising that a large sum of taxpayer dollars will be tossed into the maw of federal courts defending the church’s agenda.
Since many of these laws intrude into the private homes, bedrooms, and bodies of Arkansans in violation of their Constitutional rights, they will—hopefully—be overturned.
Established by Jerry Cox in 1991, the Family Council is again the force behind another disgraceful session, wielding its medieval outrage over Republican legislators who can’t seem to see beyond the church hymnal. It’s as if science never existed, which is exactly what the Council wants. The Council’s agenda could not be more conspicuous: strangle the privacy and individual rights of the people of Arkansas through the enactment of laws that move social norms backwards a century or more.
“The Family Council is a conservative education and research organization based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Our mission is to promote, protect, and strengthen traditional family values found and reflected in the Bible by impacting public opinion and public policy in Arkansas.”
Purportedly a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, the Council lists its areas of concern as Abortion, End of Life Issues, Stem Cell Research, Human Cloning, Physician-Assisted Suicide, Same-Sex Marriage, Religious Liberty, Homosexuality, Gambling, Judicial Activism, Education Choice, Home Schooling, Divorce, Taxes, and Healthcare.
Seven of these fifteen ‘areas of concern’ are very personal, private matters, yet the Council has convinced legislators they have the right, yea, even verily the responsibility, to wade in and slam a fist down on the dinner table.
What follows is taken from the Council’s website.
“What a week at the Arkansas Legislature!
“The legislators stood strong and enacted H.B. 1570, a really good bill protecting children from dangerous gender-reassignment procedures. Lawmakers did this despite immense pressure from liberal groups across America.”
Following ‘a brief look back at the week,’ the Council gets down to passing judgment on the legislation passed so far:
Good Bills Passed So Far
H.B. 1570 (Prohibiting Sex-Reassignment on Children): This good bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) and Sen. Alan Clark (R – Lonsdale) prohibits sex-reassignment procedures on children. The bill also prevents funding of sex-reassignment procedures performed on children. This bill will protect children from being subjected to surgeries and procedures that can leave them sterilized and permanently scarred. The bill has passed the Arkansas House of Representatives and been sent to the senate. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 562 / H.B. 1402 (Abortion-Inducing Drugs): This good bill by Rep. Sonia Barker (R – Smackover) and Sen. Blake Johnson (R – Corning) updates Arkansas’ restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs like RU-486. It outlines requirements that abortionists must follow in administering abortion-inducing drugs, and it prohibits abortion drugs from being delivered by mail in Arkansas. It also updates current law to ensure doctors who perform chemical abortions are credentialed to handle abortion complications and can transfer the woman to a hospital if she experiences complications. The bill has passed the Arkansas House. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Jerry Cox visits with Capitol Police officers ahead of a press conference in support of H.B. 1570, the SAFE Act.
Act 560 / H.B. 1572 (Informed-Consent to Chemical Abortion): This good bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) and Sen. Scott Flippo (R – Mountain Home) outlines the informed-consent process for chemical abortion. Arkansas’ current informed-consent laws for abortion are geared primarily for surgical abortion procedures. H.B. 1572 will help ensure women get all the facts about chemical abortion — including its risks, consequences, and pro-life alternatives. This will help save many unborn children from abortion. The bill has passed the Arkansas House. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 462 / S.B. 289 (Conscience): This good bill by Sen. Kim Hammer (R – Benton) and Rep. Brandt Smith (R – Jonesboro) protects healthcare workers’ rights of conscience. Arkansas’ current conscience protections are narrowly focused on abortion, abortifacients, and end of life decisions, and they protect only a limited number of people. S.B. 289 helps broaden these protections for healthcare workers. See how your state senator voted here. See how your state representative voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 498 / S.B. 85 (Abortion): This good bill by Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R – Rogers) and Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville) requires an abortionist to show an ultrasound image of the unborn baby to the pregnant woman before an abortion. Currently, Arkansas law says an abortionist must offer to let the woman see the ultrasound image. Research indicates that some women are less likely to have an abortion once they see an ultrasound image of their unborn child. That means pro-life bills like S.B. 85 can help further decrease the number of abortions in Arkansas. Arkansas Right to Life is the chief proponent of this bill, and we fully support their efforts. See how your state senator voted here. See how your state representative voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 309 / S.B. 6 (Prohibiting Abortion): This good law by Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) prohibits abortion in Arkansas, except in cases when the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Family Council worked closely with Sen. Rapert to pass this good bill that could save the lives of thousands of children and give the courts an opportunity to overturn decades of bad, pro-abortion rulings. See how your state senator voted here. See how your state representative voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 226 / H.B. 1116 (Simon’s Law): This good bill by Rep. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) and Sen. Bart Hester (R – Cave Springs) is named in honor of an infant in Missouri who died after doctors put a Do Not Resuscitate order on his chart without his parent’s knowledge or permission. If passed, it would help protect children in Arkansas from being denied life support or having a DNR placed on their medical charts without parental consent. The bill has passed into law. See how your state representative voted here. See how your senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
Act 392 / H.B. 1544 (Pro-Life Cities Resolution): This good bill by Rep. Kendon Underwood (R – Cave Springs) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R – Branch) affirms the right of municipalities in Arkansas to declare themselves pro-life. H.B. 1544 outlines some of the findings and language that cities can put in their pro-life resolution. The bill also clarifies that Pro-Life Cities can install signs or banners announcing that they are pro-life. The bill has passed the Arkansas House and the Senate City, County, and Local Affairs Committee. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read the Bill Here.
H.R. 1021 (Home School): This good resolution by Rep. Cameron Cooper (R – Romance) recognizes and celebrates 35 years of homeschooling in Arkansas. The resolution passed the Arkansas House on a voice vote. Read The Resolution
H.B. 1882 (Privacy): This good bill by Rep. Cindy Crawford (R – Fort Smith) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R – Branch) protects physical privacy and safety of Arkansans in showers, locker rooms, changing facilities, and restrooms on government property. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 662 (Prayer): This good bill by Sen. Ricky Hill (R – Cabot) and Rep. Cameron Cooper (R – Romance) establishes a Day of Prayer for Arkansas Students annually on the last Wednesday of September. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 388 (Abortion Facilities): This good bill by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R – Jonesboro), Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville), and Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) requires any facility that performs abortions to be licensed by the Arkansas Department of Health as an abortion facility, and it prohibits abortions in hospitals except in cases of medical emergency. S.B. 388 will help ensure that every clinic that performs abortions follows all of Arkansas’ laws concerning abortion facilities. This has the potential to save many women and unborn children from abortion. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 527 (Abortion Facilities): This good bill by Sen. Ben Gilmore (R – Crossett) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) requires abortion facilities to have transfer agreements with hospitals, and it fixes a flawed definition in a pro-life law passed in 2019. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 463 (Abortion Facilities): This good bill by Sen. Blake Johnson (R – Corning) and Rep. Tony Furman (R – Benton) requires the State of Arkansas to report abortion data to the federal Centers for Disease Control. It also tightens Arkansas law concerning abortion facility inspections, and it requires abortionists to file certain documentation when the woman is a victim of rape or incest. The bill has passed the Arkansas Senate. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1830 (Religious Freedom): H.B. 1830 by Rep. Jim Dotson (R – Bentonville) protects the right of public school students to express a religious viewpoint in class assignments the same way they could appropriately express a secular viewpoint in an assignment. See how your state representative voted here. Read The Bill Here.
S.J.R.14 (Religious Freedom): S.J.R. 14 by Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It prevents the government from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion. The measure is similar to Arkansas’ state Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Family Council strongly supports this good amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. Read The Bill Here.
H.J.R.1024 (Religious Freedom): H.J.R. 1024 by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) and Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It prevents the government from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion. The measure is similar to Arkansas’ state Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Family Council strongly supports this good amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. Read The Bill Here.
H.J.R.1025 (Life): H.J.R. 1025 by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It says that the sanctity of life is paramount to all other rights protected by the constitution. It states that Arkansas citizens, acting as jurors, have the sole authority to determine the amount of compensation or civil penalty imposed because of injuries resulting in death or resulting from acts that create a significant risk to life. H.J.R. 1025 will help prevent the State of Arkansas from placing a price tag on human life. Family Council strongly supports this good amendment. Read The Bill Here.
H.J.R.1010 (Casino Gambling): H.J.R. 1010 by Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville) amends the Arkansas Constitution to remove authorization of a casino in Pope County. This is a good amendment that will help curtail casino gambling in Arkansas. Family Council supports H.J.R. 1010. Read The Bill Here.
H.J.R.1011 (Casino Gambling): H.J.R. 1011 by Rep. Joe Cloud (R – Russellville) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It changes the casino amendment that authorizes casino gambling in Pope, Jefferson, Garland, and Crittenden counties. Under H.J.R. 1011, the Arkansas Racing Commission would not issue a casino license in Pope County unless the voters of the county approve conducting casino gaming at a local election. Family Council supports H.J.R. 1011. Read The Bill Here.
S.J.R.16 (Boys and Girls Athletics): S.J.R. 16 by Sen. Alan Clark (R – Lonsdale) would amend the Arkansas Constitution to require public schools to designate their athletic teams as “male” or “female,” and require student athletes to compete according to their biological sex. This would prevent boys who claim to be girls from competing in girls’ sports at school — and vice versa. Family Council supports this measure. Read The Bill Here.
H.C.R. 1007 (Abortion): This good resolution by Rep. Jim Wooten (R – Beebe) and Sen. Jason Rapert (R – Conway) recognizes January 22 — the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade abortion decision — as “The Day of Tears” in Arkansas. The resolution acknowledges the 61 million of unborn babies killed in abortion in America over the past five decades, and encourages Arkansans to lower their flags to half-staff on January 22 to mourn the innocent children who have lost their lives. Read The Resolution Here.
H.B. 1429 (Home School): This good bill by Rep. Mark Lowery (R – Maumelle) and Sen. Ben Gilmore (R – Crossett) makes it easier for a student to withdraw from a public school to home school. The bill reduces the fourteen-day waiting period currently in Arkansas law for families wishing to transfer out of a public school. It also makes technical corrections to the home school law. Read The Bill Here.
[My note on Arkansas home schooling policies: There are no educational requirements for parents/guardians who provide a home school for their child(ren). The law does not give the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education or the school district the authority to review or monitor a home school student’s work. Home schools are not accredited by the state. There are no grades, credits, transcripts, or diplomas provided by the state, education service cooperative, or by the local school district for students enrolled in home school. Parents are not required to test their students.]
[Additional note: Home schooling allows parents to teach religious beliefs while leaving out those pesky topics like history, civics, and science.]
Bad Bills Filed So Far
S.B. 622 (Hate Crimes): This bad bill by Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R – Texarkana) and Rep. Matthew Shepherd (R – El Dorado), commonly being called a “hate crimes law,” outlines vague, protected classes in state law. This bill is so ambiguous that it’s impossible to know just how far-reaching this legislation may be. S.B. 622’s protections for religious liberty are not adequate. The bill does not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent cities and counties from enacting their own, more stringent hate crimes ordinances. It does not do enough to protect free speech or prevent thought-policing. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1685 (End-of-Life Care): This bad bill by Rep. Michelle Gray (R – Melbourne) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) guts the intent of the Arkansas Healthcare Decisions Act. It lets healthcare workers who are not physicians work through end-of-life decisions with patients and family members. It does not require healthcare workers making these decisions to have appropriate training in end-of-life care. It makes it easier to deny a dying person food or water. Family Council strongly opposes this bad bill. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1686 (End-of-Life Care): This bad bill by Rep. Michelle Gray (R – Melbourne) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) guts the intent of the Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment Act. It lets healthcare workers who are not physicians complete Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms. It removes an important provision in state law that says a POLST form is not intended to replace an advance directive. It inadvertently prevents consulting physicians — such as palliative care physicians — from completing POLST forms with patients. Family Council strongly opposes this bad bill. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 655 (Sex-Education): This bad bill by Sen. Greg Leding (D – Fayetteville) and Rep. Megan Godfrey (D – Springdale) implements Planned Parenthood-style comprehensive sex-education in public schools in Arkansas. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1869 (Gambling): This bad bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Russellville) would legalize internet gambling and Keno under the Arkansas Lottery. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 3 (Enacting Hate Crimes Legislation): This bad bill by Sen. Jim Hendren (I – Gravette) and Rep. Fred Love (D – Little Rock) enacts hate crimes legislation by enhancing penalties for crimes committed against certain protected classes of people listed in the bill. The bill is virtually identical to H.B. 1020. Family Council has opposed hate crimes legislation for more than 20 years, and we oppose this bill as well. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1020 (Enacting Hate Crimes Legislation): This bad bill by Rep. Fred Love (D – Little Rock) and Sen. Jim Hendren (I – Gravette) enacts hate crimes legislation by enhancing penalties for crimes committed against certain protected classes of people listed in the bill. The bill is virtually identical to S.B. 3. Family Council has opposed hate crimes legislation for more than 20 years, and we oppose this bill as well. Read The Bill Here.
H.J.R.1008 (Initiatives and Referenda): H.J.R. 1008 by Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R – Horatio) amends the Arkansas Constitution. It requires initiatives and referenda submitted to voters via petition drives to be approved by at least 60% of the votes cast on the measure in order to pass. However, it would not require constitutional amendments submitted by the General Assembly to be approved by 60% of the vote. Family Council opposes this measure. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1228 (Public Drinking): This bad bill by Rep. Lee Johnson (R – Greenwood) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) would let cities in dry counties approve public drinking in “entertainment districts” if the city contains a private club that serves alcohol. Under Arkansas’ “entertainment district” law, alcohol can be carried and consumed outdoors on city streets and sidewalks around bars and restaurants, if approved by the city council. The bill has passed the Arkansas House of Representatives, but has not been approved by the Arkansas Senate. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1066 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Clarksville) would let microbrewery operators ship beer directly to private residences anywhere in the state of Arkansas or to residences in other states that allow direct shipment of alcohol. The bill may not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent alcohol from being delivered to someone who is under 21. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1148 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Frances Cavenaugh (R – Walnut Ridge) and Sen. Missy Irvin (R – Mountain View) overhauls Arkansas’ local option election law concerning alcohol. The bill reduces the threshold for taking a county wet or dry via a petition drive. Liquor stores in wet counties would be able to continue operating even if the county voted to go dry. The bill would make it easier for some cities or towns in a dry county to be wet while the rest of the county is dry. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 510 (LGBT Counseling): This bad bill by Sen. Greg Leding (D – Fayetteville) and Rep. Tippi McCullough (D – Little Rock) would prohibit healthcare professionals from helping children overcome unwanted same-sex attraction and gender confusion. However, the bill would permit pro-LGBT counseling that encourages children embrace a different sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a bad bill that hurts healthcare professionals and endangers the welfare of children. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1697 (No-Fault Divorce): This bad bill by Rep. Ashley Hudson (D – Little Rock) and Sen. Greg Leding (D – Fayetteville) permits no-fault divorce in Arkansas. Under current law, couples in Arkansas can divorces in cases such as infidelity, abuse, following a lengthy separation, and other circumstances. H.B. 1697 would permit divorce due to irreconcilable differences, discord, or conflict of personalities regardless of if the husband or wife is at fault. Read The Bill Here.
Other Legislation to Watch
H.B. 1069 (Contraceptives): This bill by Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R – Clarksville) and Sen. Breanne Davis (R – Russellville) lets pharmacists dispense oral contraceptives to women without a prescription from a doctor. Family Council previously opposed this bill. However, Rep. Pilkington has filed amendments to the bill. His amendments address objections Family Council raised against H.B. 1069. Family Council is neutral on this bill. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 32 (Alcohol): This bill by Sen. Jane English (R – North Little Rock) and Rep. Karilyn Brown (R – Sherwood) would let retail liquor permit holders — such as liquor stores — deliver alcoholic beverages to private residences in the county where the store is located. The bill may not contain sufficient safeguards to prevent alcohol from being delivered to someone who is under 21. The bill has passed the Arkansas Senate and the Arkansas House. See how your senator voted here. See how your state representative voted here. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1341 (Alcohol): This bill by Rep. Karilyn Brown (R – Sherwood) and Sen. Jane English (R – North Little Rock) permits on-premises consumption of alcohol on Christmas Day. Currently, Arkansas law generally prohibits bars and liquor stores from selling alcohol on Christmas. This bill would allow alcohol to be sold for on-premises consumption in bars and restaurants on Christmas. It would not let liquor stores sell alcohol for off-premises consumption. Read The Bill Here.
H.B. 1522 (Marijuana Transportation and Possession): This bill by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R – Springdale) and Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R – Rogers) prohibits a person from being under the influence of marijuana in public or at a marijuana dispensary or marijuana cultivation facility. It clarifies that it is unlawful for a person to use marijuana by inhalation in a place where marijuana is prohibited by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016. It also imposes penalties for possessing more marijuana than Arkansas’ medical marijuana amendment allows. And it makes it a crime to transport medical marijuana into Arkansas from another state. See how your state representative voted here. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
S.B. 389 (Parental Review of Sex-Education): This bill by Sen. Bob Ballinger (R – Ozark) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R – Perryville) requires public schools to notify parents about sex-education material and give parents the option of opting their students out of the class or activity. See how your state senator voted here. Read The Bill Here.
 Some bills pertaining to non-personal/privacy concerns are excluded from this article.
As the Arkansas legislature passes a bill to deny medical care to transgender individuals, the spotlight once again shines down on this state as the home of vastly destructive ignorance. One of the bill’s Republican sponsors, state Rep. Robin Lundstrum, compared gender-affirming treatments to surgical and chemical “mutilation,” and said children should not be allowed to make such decisions before they turn 18.
“This is about protecting minors,” she said. “Many of you, I would hazard to guess, did things under 18 that you probably shouldn’t have done … why would we ever even consider allowing a sex change for a minor?”
This statement reveals the abysmal ignorance of Lundstrum and other sponsors who not only failed to research the science behind transgender needs, but also ignored testimony from parents and medical professionals who pointed out that once treated with appropriate therapies, transgender incidents of extreme depression and suicide drop off significantly.
Lundstrum and colleagues fail utterly to grasp that the crisis point for most trans individuals is adolescence, when the body they expect and hope to live inside starts to change away from that expected form.
“According to the American Psychological Association, gender dysphoria is defined as persistent distress related to the feeling that one’s body is not congruent with their perceived gender. Simply put, gender dysphoria occurs when the way a person looks on the outside doesn’t match the gender they feel on the inside. Gender dysphoria is actually a relatively new diagnosis. It replaced “gender identity disorder” in 2013, in a move intended to underscore the fact that being transgender is not an illness or a disorder—only individuals who experience distress related to their gender status require mental health treatment. Research suggests that a number of factors can help to reduce the levels of distress and psychological dysfunction related to being transgender. In addition to psychotherapy with an empathetic provider who is well-versed in transgender issues, interventions that increase family, peer, and community acceptance can go a long way towards improving outcomes and quality of life for transgender men and women.”
Not surprisingly, among Arkansas legislators whose primary source of information is an ancient religious text, this new legal restriction reflects zero awareness of the increasingly startling body of evidence that shows how modern chemicals play a role in our sexuality.
“Exposure to hormone-altering chemicals called phthalates — which are found in many plastics, foods and personal care products — early in pregnancy is associated with a disruption in an essential pregnancy hormone and adversely affects the masculinization of male genitals in the baby, according to new research. The findings focus on the role of the placenta in responding to these chemicals and altering levels of a key pregnancy hormone.
One need not delve deeply into scientific literature to discover the impact of prenatal exposures upon our sexuality. An extensive entry in the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia offers two important points:
1 – “An endocrinology study by Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab postulated that ‘In humans, the main mechanism responsible of [sic] sexual identity and orientation involves a direct effect of testosterone on the developing brain.’ Further, their study puts forward that intrauterine exposure to hormones is largely determinative. Sketching the argument briefly here, the authors say that sexual organs are differentiated first, and then the brain is sexually differentiated ‘under the influence, mainly, of sex hormones such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone on the developing brain cells and under the presence of different genes as well … The changes brought about in this stage are permanent. … Sexual differentiation of the brain is not caused by hormones alone, even though they are very important for gender identity and sexual orientation.’”
2 – “Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals that, at certain doses, can interfere with the endocrine system in mammals. Work on possible neurotoxic effects of endocrine disruptors, and their possible effects on sexual orientation when a fetus is exposed to them, is in its infancy: ‘we mostly know about the relationship between EDC exposure and neurobehavioral function through an examination of outcomes within a limited sphere of questions.’ While studies have found that xenoestrogens and xenoandrogens can alter the brain’s sexual differentiation in a number of species used as animal models, from the data in hand to date, it is ‘misleading …to expect EDCs to produce profiles of effects, such as sexually dimorphic behaviors, as literal copies of those produced by native hormones. Such agents are not hormones. They should not be expected to act precisely as hormones.’”
Endocrine disruptors aren’t some rare trace element. They’re present in the lives of all of us. What are some common endocrine disruptors?
Bisphenol A (BPA) — used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are found in many plastic products including food storage containers
Dioxins — produced as a byproduct in herbicide production and paper bleaching, they are also released into the environment during waste burning and wildfires
Perchlorate — a by-product of aerospace, weapon, and pharmaceutical industries found in drinking water and fireworks
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) — used widely in industrial applications, such as firefighting foams and non-stick pan, paper, and textile coatings
Phthalates — used to make plastics more flexible, they are also found in some food packaging, cosmetics, children’s toys, and medical devices
Phytoestrogens — naturally-occurring substances in plants that have hormone-like activity, such as genistein and daidzein that are in soy products, like tofu or soy milk
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) — used to make flame retardants for household products such as furniture foam and carpets
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) — used to make electrical equipment like transformers, and in hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, lubricants, and plasticizers
Triclosan — may be found in some anti-microbial and personal care products, like liquid body wash
In 2016, the Obama Administration pushed legislation that required the Environmental Protection Agency to begin testing the over 80,000 unregulated chemicals currently on the market in everything from food packaging to shampoo.
“The new law requires EPA to test tens of thousands of unregulated chemicals currently on the market, and the roughly 2,000 new chemicals introduced each year, but quite slowly. The EPA will review a minimum of 20 chemicals at a time, and each has a seven-year deadline. Industry may then have five years to comply after a new rule is made. At that pace it could take centuries for the agency to finish its review.”
Chemicals are not the only factor potentially involved in transgender cases. Even the most vigilant pregnant woman cannot avoid times of extreme stress or hormonal fluctuation triggered by a variety of situations. Yet no one escapes the silent chemical flood surrounding us every day in every way. Even more shocking, micro-plastics are now appearing in placentas.
“The health impact of microplastics in the body is as yet unknown. But the scientists said they could carry chemicals that could cause long-term damage or upset the foetus’s developing immune system. The particles are likely to have been consumed or breathed in by the mothers.
“The particles were found in the placentas from four healthy women who had normal pregnancies and births. Microplastics were detected on both the foetal and maternal sides of the placenta and in the membrane within which the foetus develops.
“A dozen plastic particles were found. Only about 4% of each placenta was analysed, however, suggesting the total number of microplastics was much higher. All the particles analysed were plastics that had been dyed blue, red, orange or pink and may have originally come from packaging, paints or cosmetics and personal care products.
“It is like having a cyborg baby: no longer composed only of human cells, but a mixture of biological and inorganic entities,” said Antonio Ragusa, director of obstetrics and gynaecology at the San Giovanni Calibita Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome, and who led the study.”
Despite years of awareness that plastics and other chemicals were exerting unwelcome changes in human existence, the production and consumption of these synthetics continue unabated. A 2019 study by the World Health Organization concluded: “In 2015, humans produced around 407 million tons of plastic. A recent review collated 50 studies wherein scientists found microplastics in fresh water, drinking water, or waste water. Some of these studies counted thousands of microplastic particles in every liter of drinking water.”
In a society—indeed a world—deeply dependent on plastics and other chemical products in everyday life, Arkansas legislators are not alone in failing utterly to provide the kind of informed compassionate leadership the American people deserve. Similar legislation pushed by religious groups at home and abroad attempt to cram a square peg into a round hole—withholding medical care, threatening prosecution for providing medical care, and enforcing blatant discrimination against anyone who doesn’t fit the round hole. Without understanding anything of the scientific facts behind growing anomalies like transgenderism, this effort to force binary sexuality onto a modern population creates crushing harm to those impacted and will do nothing to address the underlying cause.
You may remember my last blog post documenting the chaos ongoing at the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (DWS) and its utter failure to accommodate claims by self-employed workers for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
Earlier this morning, I was on hold for over a half hour at which point the line went dead, a continuation of what is assuredly an endlessly futile effort to speak with a human at the state’s DWS offices on behalf of Bill, my neighbor who is owed, according to DWS policies, for claims going back to November 2020.
Bill and I learned back in January that no further PUA claims would be accepted until they had verified his identity. Nothing in their materials explained how to verify his identity but rather stated that he would be notified by mail or email as to the procedure.
A month later on Saturday February 13, Bill told me that he had received a letter from DWS demanding that he verify his ID within 7 days of the date on the letter. The letter was dated February 6. 7 + 6 = 13
On Monday, Feb. 15, Bill managed to wait on hold long enough to speak with someone at DWS on a phone number given to him by a friend, NOT the phone numbers listed for DWS. The man who answered the call took Bill’s information, verified him, and gave him a password so that he (I) could access his PUA account at arunemployment.com. It did not work.
Here’s the Feb. 15 follow-up email I wrote for Bill to the info email address for DWS
Regarding your recommendation via telephone on Feb 15, 2021, I am attaching photo of myself with ID card plus photo of ID card front and back. You gave me a temporary password of –xxx– but I can’t access the PUA claim page at www.pua.arkansas.gov/home. It won’t open. Is there a different web address I should use?
Please note that this email and all my access to the internet is through my neighbor, Denele Campbell, and her computer. She sent a letter this morning to your info email ADWS.Info@arkansas.gov The letter states:
“Your letter dated Feb 6 to –xxx– was received Feb 13 by Mr. –xxx–. The letter requires him to present his state-issued ID at the local workforce center within 7 days of the date on the letter.
“THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE. Not only did he not receive the letter within 7 days, our roads are impassable and will be impassable at least another 7 days.
Ms. Campbell has been the person filing Mr. –xxx–‘s PUA claims because HE DOESN’T HAVE A COMPUTER OR INTERNET. HIS PHONE DOESN’T HAVE DATA — when he can afford to have the phone working. He is desperately in need of money because he’s a self-employed construction worker and COVID has kept him away from most jobs for the last year.”
You may respond to me through Ms. Campbell’s email or on my phone at —.
No big surprise that the email did not result in a response until Feb. 22, at which point the following email came through.
Please contact the hotline number 1-844-908-2178. They are open from 6am to 4pm Monday through Saturday. Please use the following emails below if you cannot reach anyone by phone.
Dear Reader, you may remember that telephone number. It is the unemployment hotline. For over three weeks, I’ve been dialing that number and waiting on hold for hours at a time, to no avail. Try it yourself for a fun time! Be sure to press #2 and #2 on the menu for PUA assistance.
Finally, last Friday the 19th after the roads were semi-passable, Bill drove to the Fayetteville DWS office and waited along with a very long line of other people standing outside in the freezing temps. He got there early enough to be #7 in line and soon sat face to face with a human who typed some info into his computer and told Bill he was now verified.
There is no accounting for the previous verification email we sent to DWS. Obviously whoever receives emails is so far behind they did not register the verification we sent within the five days that passed before he appeared in person at the local DWS office to – again – verify.
Now that he’s verified both by email and his in-person verification, I returned to the PUA webpage at DWS. The page won’t open.
Here’s today’s email to DWS:
I am the neighbor of PUA claimant –XXX–. Last year I filed his weekly claims. As of mid-January 2021, I could no longer access his account. Information from the DWS website informed us that until his identity was verified, he (I) would not be able to access the account. Those instructions said he would receive an email or letter telling him how to verify.
A month later on Feb. 13, he received a letter stating that he had seven days from the data on the letter to verify in person at the local DWS office. The letter was dated Feb 6. We were under eight inches of snow with subzero temperatures at the time. So I emailed photos of his state-issued ID front and back plus a photo of him holding the ID beside his face. No response.
On Feb. 19, Mr. X stood in a line at the Fay’vl DWS office until they had an opening at which point a DWS worker took his ID and information and told him he was now verified. Apparently the Feb 15 email identification information had not been processed into the system as of five days after it was sent.
Upon the Feb 19 verification, the DWS employee stated that he could now access his PUA account at the DWS unemployment site.
WRONG. The website will not open. I AM THE ONE WHO HAS TO FILE HIS CLAIMS. HE DOES NOT HAVE A COMPUTER.
What is the problem? I can’t spend even more hours on hold waiting for a real person to answer the phone. The Fay’vl DWS office says they don’t handle anything to do with PUA except to verify IDs.
Why is it beyond the capacity of the State of Arkansas to gear up for this ridiculous situation by adding more hotline numbers and more personnel to handle what is obviously a large number of people who need help????????
Can somebody please HELP me gain website access for Mr. –xxx—so that he can file his PUA claims?
It’s difficult to imagine how incompetent (also, how understaffed) DWS must be for these kinds of dead ends to continue. The process runs in perpetual loops. It’s not that expensive to add more hotline numbers, but I suspect the problem is that even with only one hotline number, there isn’t enough staff to handle the call volume.
Same holds true for responses to emails from people who need help. There is NO EXCUSE for this level of dysfunction at a state agency charged with providing a lifeline to people who can’t work. Bill picked up a short-term construction job two weeks ago – working on a roof in freezing temperatures – before the snowpocalypse kept him at home for a week.
By the way, I’m now on hold again. For the last half hour. Bill’s phone has been shut off and he’s living on money from pawning tools. Tools that he uses to earn income.
The tune is entitled “Soon May the Wellerman Come” and is labeled a sea shanty in most media. Over the last few months, it’s become a hot item, spreading virally through several online platforms. There’s even a piece about it on Wikipedia where its origins are discussed:
“The song’s lyrics describe a whaling ship called the “Billy o’ Tea” and its hunt for a right whale. The song describes how the ship’s crew hope for a “wellerman” (an employee of the Weller brothers, who owned ships that brought provisions to New Zealand whalers) to arrive and bring them supplies of luxuries, with the chorus stating “soon may the wellerman come, to bring us sugar and tea and rum.” According to the song’s listing on the website New Zealand Folk Song, “the workers at these bay-whaling stations (shore whalers) were not paid wages, they were paid in slops (ready-made clothing), spirits and tobacco.” In the whaling industry in 19th-century New Zealand, the Weller brothers owned ships that would sell provisions to whaling boats. The chorus continues with the crew singing of their hope that “one day when the tonguin’ is done we’ll take our leave and go.” “Tonguing” in this context refers to the practice of cutting strips of whale blubber to render into oil. Subsequent verses detail the captain’s determination to bring in the whale in question, even as time passes and multiple whaling boats are lost in the struggle. In the last verse, the narrator describes how the Billy o’ Tea is still locked in an ongoing struggle with the whale, with the wellerman making a “regular call” to encourage the captain and crew.
Whaling was one of the most dangerous pursuits among fishermen. Crews of hardy sailors endured extended sea voyages through storms and high seas before ever sighting their prey. They ventured out on wooden boats to make the kill, harpooning enormous whales that didn’t give up without a fight. Once the whale succumbed to its injuries, the next task was to haul it to land where the sailors dissected the massive marine mammals mostly to render their blubber into whale oil which, at the time, served as an important fuel for oil lamps.
“In the days before the discovery of petroleum, whale oil supplied the fuel for the lamps that illuminated the nights in American homes. In addition, the whale was the source of a boney substance called baleen used in women’s corsets, hairbrushes, buggy whips, collar stays and various other products.”
The practice of whaling nearly destroyed several species of whales including the one mentioned in the song, the ‘right’ whale. Prior to whaling in the southern seas, whalers had nearly exterminated northern varieties that existed closer to places the British, American, and other whaling ships called home. Wives were left to fend for themselves for months on end while their husbands rode the high seas in search of nature’s bounty, and the men themselves spent long hours on deck, tending to the business of sailing a ship while watching the waters for signs of whales.
The songs men created in those circumstances reflected the nature of their lives. The lyrics of Wellerman revealed those circumstances – waiting for ‘sugar, tea, and rum’ when suddenly a right whale is spotted.
There once was a ship that put to sea And the name of that ship was the Billy o’ Tea The winds blew hard, her bow dipped down Blow, me bully boys, blow (huh)
Soon may the Wellerman come To bring us sugar and tea and rum One day, when the tonguing’ is done We’ll take our leave and go
She had not been two weeks from shore When down on her a right whale bore The captain called all hands and swore He’d take that whale in tow (huh)
Before the boat had hit the water The whale’s tail came up and caught her All hands to the side, harpooned and fought her When she dived down below (huh)
No line was cut, no whale was freed An’ the captain’s mind was not on greed But he belonged to the Whaleman’s creed She took that ship in tow (huh)
For forty days or even more (ooh) The line went slack then tight once more All boats were lost, there were only four And still that whale did go
As far as I’ve heard, the fight’s still on The line’s not cut, and the whale’s not gone The Wellerman makes his regular call To encourage the captain, crew and all
Soon may the Wellerman come To bring us sugar and tea and rum One day, when the tonguing’ is done We’ll take our leave and go
Since its apparent origin circa 1850-1860, the Wellerman song has enjoyed multiple reincarnations not only as a sea shanty but also as a folk ballad. Its most recent popularity began with an a capella version recorded in 2018 by The Longest Johns, a British group. The recording went viral on TikTok in 2020.
In late January 2021, a version by Scottish musician Nathan Evans brought in a multitude of contributors lending their voices to the mix, which is the version I heard first. I like it. I think I mentioned that.
But why? A lifetime of exposure to and participation in music has not prepared me for how this piece resonates with me. It’s emotional. It haunts me. And I detest the wasteful cruel practice of slaughtering whales which continues today in some parts of the world.
As I pondered the unexpected appeal of the song, I considered its various elements. The rhythm is fast paced and evocative of songs so typical of human endeavors where the song’s beat matches the movement of the labor. You know, like marching to war.
Then I considered the melody and harmonies, rich with folk ballad nuances meant to evoke tender feelings and, conversely, a reflection of those feelings. I even considered the minor intervals involved here and there and how these particular harmonics speak of sadness and darkness. There is an underlying fatalism in the song, that we do what we must despite the risks.
One explanation for the popularity makes the connection to the current pandemic, such as an article in The Guardian which concludes:
“My guess is that the Covid lockdowns have put millions of young [people] into a similar situation that young whalers were in 200 years ago: confined for the foreseeable future, often far from home, running out of necessities, always in risk of sudden death, and spending long hours with no communal activities to cheer them up.”
I agree that must be a factor, but I’m not young. Surely that’s not all there is behind this phenomenon.
Then it slowly dawned on me. Like so many works of art, the song speaks to something greater than its apparent subject. A metaphor if you will, akin to the appeal of Moby Dick.
The Wellerman is a cautionary tale, a philosophical statement on the human condition, that we prepare ourselves to succeed at the pursuit we believe most likely to provide what we need to live. As we labor in pursuit of our prize, we seek relief in “sugar and tea and rum.” Finally we spot it. Harpoon it. Make it ours.
But instead of taking the prize, we belatedly realize it owns us, drags us interminably across vast seas, the days and years of our lives.
Underneath our conscious minds, we understand the song’s message. Its meaning addresses our heart, informs our quest for the meaning of life. There’s a resignation here, that we will go out again and again, risking everything, in the hope of seizing the prize that will make it all worthwhile. In the end, it is our lives we have paid.
The first absurd assumption is that people who need income assistance during COVID have computers or access to the internet. They might have had smart phones at one point, but not now when they don’t have food.
I can only hope that other states are more skilled in dispensing unemployment assistance than Arkansas. The Arkansas Department of Workforce Services (DWS) has lots of problems, in particular with COVID unemployment money meant for people who are (were) self-employed.
Traditionally, unemployment benefits have never applied to the self-employed. State law requires employers to buy unemployment compensation policies for their employees. No law requires such backup for those who work for themselves.
I got into this issue because I’m helping a neighbor, a 58-year-old man [I’ll call him Bill] skilled in building trades, specifically carpentry, drywall finishing, and painting. Bill owns no property, has no savings, and possesses a few tools of his trade plus a 2001 Dodge Dakota that’s one wheeze away from vehicular death. He lives hand to mouth. He can do just about anything, his livelihood forged over decades of getting by any way he could.
By June 2020 when the CARES Act passed Congress, he told me he didn’t know how to get money through the program even though it promised unemployment income for the self-employed. I agreed to help.
The information, application, and weekly claims go through the DWS website in the PUA special page for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. But Bill doesn’t have a computer. His phone doesn’t have data – he can’t afford it. So on my computer, I’ve filled out his information and filed weekly claims. At first, the process involved stating what aspects of COVID kept him from working, in his case that his workplaces were shut down and jobs he was supposed to start had been cancelled. The application then required him to state whether he was receiving benefits from any other source. Then he had to verify the information was accurate.
It was a huge relief for Bill (and me) when he received a debit card with money flowing in from the claims we filed weekly. He could buy groceries, pay rent, and repair his truck.
About three or four months in, the state suddenly started requiring him to name at least three job contacts he had made that week and any work he’d done. There was no statement in advance that he would have to make job contacts in order to receive benefits, so a few weeks of claims were denied. Once I figured out the requirement, I let him know and he started making phone calls and checking in with people he had worked for.
Nothing had changed. Nobody was hiring interior labor and damn few outside construction jobs were hiring. Still, he made the required effort so we could state on the unemployment claim forms that he met those requirements.
Then he fell and cracked a bone in his arm, so for three weeks I noted on his claim form that he had broken his arm and couldn’t work. Well, that’s not COVID related, so they didn’t pay him for those weeks.
Once he got better enough to handle his tools, we filed more claims but they didn’t send any money. Blank claims forms did not appear on his PUA page and there was nothing to fill out. He had no other income and the infection rate in our area was in the top five worst of the entire nation. Afraid to try to work even if jobs had been open, he began pawning his tools. His phone shut off. His truck insurance expired. He went to a church for food handouts and I gave him sacks of groceries to keep him from starving during the holidays.
In early January, I went again to the PUA page and found claim forms available back to November. So I filed claims for him through mid-December. So far he’s received just over $700.
He now has a working phone again, but he’s three months behind on his electricity bill. His arm is permanently bent from the cracked bone near his elbow because he had to cut and split firewood before it was fully healed in order to keep himself, his dog, and the plumbing in the house where he lives from freezing. Fortunately, his rental is on wooded property where he could cut trees. He did receive the recent $600 stimulus check and is using it to reinstate insurance on his truck and get some of his tools out of pawn.
But I can’t file any more claims for the new round of PUA unemployment because the AR DWS is apparently incapable of providing coherent support for the process. After a delay throughout most of January 2021, citing technological issues, their website offers now PUA information with instructions as follows:
“…PUA has been extended under the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act. The PUA extension will provide additional weeks of benefits, to a maximum of 50 weeks, ending with the week of March 13, 2021. Weekly certification, identification, and documentation will be required.
“If your application is approved, you will need to file continued claims for each week you are unemployed to receive benefits. The work search requirement is now in effect, and you must report the number of job contacts when filing your weekly claim. The one-week waiting period is also back in effect.
“Submit your application and file weekly claims for PUA benefits online at www.pua.arkansas.gov/home Sunday – Saturday: 6 am – 6 pm
“If you have trouble filing online, or if you have questions regarding your account, you may call the hotline 844-908-2178 Monday – Saturday 6 am – 6 pm
“Those eligible will also receive the additional $300 FPUC for weeks claimed starting with the week ending January 2, 2021 and ending with the week ending March 13, 2021.
“You will be required to verify your ID to receive PUA benefits. You will receive notice in the mail and/or via email with instructions on how to complete the process. If you have already verified your ID, you do not have to do it again. If you are unable to verify your ID online, you may present your identification in person at a local DWS office or at an Arkansas Workforce Center.
“You will be required to provide documentation showing proof of employment/self-employment or planned employment/self-employment. You must submit the following supporting documents:
“1. Proof of earning from the last tax year or other financial documents. Until documents are received, the minimum PUA benefit amount will be applied.
“2. Documentation substantiating employment or self-employment or the planned commencement of employment or self-employment.
Needless to say, there is no hope of actually speaking with someone at that hotline number. The laconic voice on the recording remarks on ‘the high call volume’ and regrets there is no one who can take the call at this time. The caller is referred to their website.
To date, Bill has received no mail or email instructing him how to verify his identification.
The website allows no entry to Bill’s previous account, claiming the password is wrong. We did not change his password. Attempts to obtain password assistance are supposed to result in an email with instructions, but no emails have been forthcoming.
The website does not provide any information about what exactly they meant in item #2, “documentation substantiating self-employment” or “plans to commence self-employment.” If Bill had self-employment or plans for work, he wouldn’t need PUA money. More to the point, would it have killed them provide an EXAMPLE of how to document “plans to commence self-employment”???????
Without any further explanation of what exactly the documentation for such ‘plans’ might comprise, how is one to meet the requirement?
The PUA Handbook states that: “The PUA weekly assistance amount will be calculated in accordance with Arkansas Employment Security law. The weekly assistance minimum is $133 per week and the maximum is $451 per week. The weekly amount shall be the weekly amount of compensation that individual would have been paid as a regular unemployment insurance compensation unless the weekly benefit amount is less than 50% of the average weekly payment of regular unemployment insurance benefits. The maximum weekly benefit amount shall not exceed the maximum weekly benefit amount of regular unemployment insurance benefits payable in the state. … [and on and on with more incomprehensible drivel]
At one point in their PUA handbook, DWS states that “The weekly assistance amount payable to you will be reduced by the amount that you have received for a week or will receive for a week based on the following criteria: [four income sources that don’t apply to Bill] and…Gross earnings in excess of 40% of your Weekly Assistance Amount.” So, apparently, if your weekly assistance amount is $133 and you earn $55 that week, your assistance will be $78 which tops out your $133. Or not?
We won’t know from one week to the next whether Bill will find work or whether his “plans to commence work” will be considered adequate by whatever mysterious criteria they use.
I’m a college graduate and fairly skilled dealing with bureaucracy. I’ve plowed through the formation of more than one small business corporation and a couple of nonprofits. If I can’t make sense of this bullshit, how is a man of limited resources and a high school education supposed to negotiate the process?
Answer: He’s not.
That’s the entire point. Throw up as many barriers as possible – lack of access, incomprehensible “information,” verification requirements that are impossible to meet – and voila you have a program that is just about as worthless as the paper it’s written on.
I’m outraged for him. I’m outraged for all the other self-employed people who make up a huge segment of our economy who have been left in the ditch by COVID – gig-workers like musicians, audio guys, recording studios etc., as well as carpenters, painters, and other repair folks, plus restaurants and night clubs and other venues that have been forced to close. These people are losing their homes, their vital services, everything that they depended on to earn a living and survive.
As I said at the start of this rant, I hope other states are far better in providing PUA funding to the people who need it. This isn’t the first time I’m been ashamed and outraged by the failures of Arkansas government. I don’t have any hope that things will improve in the near term. But I just wanted to make people aware that despite federal efforts to extend a helping hand, many of those in Arkansas who need help AREN’T GETTING IT.
Moving forward toward a more egalitarian compassionate society is the American tradition. We’ve been a world leader for this specific reason and we cannot step back from our evolving moral challenges. This moment cries out for a clear vision of what we must do to continue that tradition. I’ve jotted down a few of my ideas but welcome feedback both pro and con.
1. Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, terminated under Ronald Reagan.
“It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States.”
2. Significantly increase federal funding for schools to bring teacher salaries closer to professional standards. Add to Common Core educational standards for K-12 to include more vigorous education in civics, history, and science. Add debate and classes on world’s major religions to required courses.
3. Expand curricula standards to home school and religious school requirements. High school diploma should not be granted to anyone who has not satisfactorily completed Common Core benchmarks.
4. Tax any church or organization that advocates Dominionism, a form of political advocacy that would in essence overturn the U. S. Constitution. This advocacy violates tax-exempt status.
“An example of dominionism in reformed theology is Christian reconstructionism, which originated with the teachings of R. J. Rushdoony in the 1960s and 1970s. Rushdoony’s theology focuses on theonomy (the rule of the Law of God), a belief that all of society should be ordered according to the laws that governed the Israelites in the Old Testament. His system is strongly Calvinistic, emphasizing the sovereignty of God over human freedom and action…”
5. Enact mandatory two-year government service for every eighteen year old. This would serve in most cases as a type of apprenticeship. Military, Peace Corps, AmeriCorpsVISTA are forms of diplomacy and peace keeping. New services that could include Sciencecorps (to work with forestry, marine, agriculture, medical agencies), Vocational Services (similar to WPA, to work on nation’s infrastructure in jobs including engineering, carpentry, welding, concrete work, etc.), Art Services working alongside accomplished artists, musicians, writers to provide useable materials/performances for various venues. Etc.
6. Require each American adult who has not served in a program outlined in #5 above to volunteer one day of work each year within their local government, either city, county, or state. Refusal to participate would result in withholding driver’s license renewal or other penalty. Handicapped and persons over 65 would be exempt. Alternative could include attending one local political party meeting per year (established parties only).
7. Form bipartisan committee to study pros and cons of terminating the Electoral College. The presidency must represent the will of the people NOT the states.
8. Congress must take action to end gerrymandering and other forms of voter manipulation/suppression.
9. Congress must re-enact the ban on assault weapons and streamline regulations governing background checks to include gun shows and online sales.
10. Congress must streamline immigration procedures and services, provide adequate funding to expand staff sufficient to process all asylum applicants in a timely manner, and – most importantly – focus U.S. aid in Latin American nations from which most asylum seekers are fleeing in order to stop violence and economic problems that lead to emigration.
This childish whine, in so many words, emerged Thursday from the lips of right wingers from Mitch McConnell down to FOX pundits on The Five. Democrats, according to them, were no better than Wednesday’s rioters, when fires and looting occurred last summer in various cities around the nation. Or when the elections of 2000, 2004, and 2016 fell under public scrutiny and led to questions regarding the legitimacy of the subsequent presidency.
That’s their excuse, their pathetic effort to somehow escape censure for their failed president and his ‘leadership’ in fomenting an attempted coup.
This gloss does not withstand even cursory scrutiny.
First, the violent street demonstrations.
Protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police erupted in the streets of Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and over 2,000 cities and towns in over 60 countries in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Between 15 million and 26 million people participated in these protests, the largest outpouring of public rage in the nation’s history. Investigations concluded that about 93% of the protests were peaceful, but in a few locations, violence including arson, looting, and assault resulted in an estimated $1-2 billion in damages nationally.
Under President Trump’s not-so-subtle encouragement, racism flared into full bloom during his term, a seeming grant of carte blanche to white extremists which in turn ignited protests. Multiple other black lives lost to excessive police violence (Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and more) and the two protesters killed in Kenosha by a 19-year-old white militant Kyle Rittenhouse became part of these events where protesters demanded changes to police practices as well as the removal of local statuary honoring Confederate heroes and slave traders.
These protests involved citizens of communities massing in their town centers to demand change in local policies and civic entities (police, lawmakers) that heretofore had led to disproportionate deaths of people of color. For the sake of brevity, we will not delve into clear evidence that in at least some instances, alt-right actors penetrated peaceful protests to instigate violence and property damage.
There is no comparison between these protests and the invasion of the nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021. For over nine weeks since his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, Trump had refused to accept election results, claiming the election was rigged. He agitated and advocated for his followers to take action, promising that on January 6, it “will be wild.” On the morning of the 6th, he held a rally at which he aggrandized his accomplishments, denigrated his opponents including some Republicans, and elaborated at length on convoluted conspiracy theories meant to explain why he had been the legitimate winner of the presidential election.
Trump’s speech, which rambled on for over an hour, concluded with:
“So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” [Italics mine.]
Rabid followers expressed no doubt as to what their leader expected of them. What followed has been burned into the brains of virtually every American as we watched masses of Trump true-believers storm the Capitol, overrun security guards, vandalize, steal, and invade the inner sanctums of the people’s house, the center of our nation’s government. One demonstrator occupied the speaker’s chair to proclaim Trump the president. Others roamed, strewing papers and files, no doubt searching for the elector ballots in an effort destroy official election results.
This was no local protest about policies and public services that need reform. This was a directed effort to overturn a presidential election. An attempted coup. This is not equivalent to anti-racism street protests by any stretch of the imagination.
But oh, they want to make it so. Even as they voice outrage at the violence and destruction, they scramble for excuses of why it’s no worse than the summer protests. They want, more than anything, to shift the blame from themselves for aiding and abetting Trump’s lunacy over the last four years and somehow make it about Democrats.
Democrats alongside Republicans and all the rest did not endorse or in any way approve of protesters setting buildings on fire or the looting of private property. We can ALL agree that violence and property destruction is not the right path. That is not the way to solve problems in our society, whether we’re talking about racism, police brutality, or anything else.
BUT – that is not what happened January 6. Trump conceived of, directed, and initiated the invasion of our capitol building because he lost his bid for re-election. Spinning off into la-la-land amid a thick stew of conspiracy theories, he incited his hapless followers to these acts of contempt and dishonor against the very center of our national government.
There is no equivalency.
For the record, whether or not McConnell is, at this point, capable of admitting the facts, in each of the 2000, 2004, and 2016 elections, there were legitimate problems with the election results. There were not disgruntled Democrats trying to overturn an election nor did the defeated candidates lead an attempted insurrection.
In 2000 in Florida, the election was so close that Gore was initially declared the winner. Further complicating the Florida results was the infamous hanging chad issue where election officials debated whether the incomplete removal of a tab on a punch card ballot signified a vote or not. A preliminary recount decided in favor of Bush by 537 votes. The state supreme court ordered a more thorough recount but that ruling was overturned on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The result, without a legitimate recount, came out with George Bush: 50,546,002, Al Gore: 50,999.897 votes with an electoral count of 271 vs 266.
It’s not clear what McConnell might refer to in his mention of Democratic complaints about the 2004 election. There were legitimate concerns about voter suppression and purges of voter lists in largely minority districts but there wasn’t much public protest about the results, and certainly nothing remotely similar to the January 6, 2021, disgrace.
As for 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.8 million votes. Whether future examinations (without Trump stonewalling) will reveal Russian manipulations behind the electoral vote count, U.S. intelligence agencies had warned for months that Russia had become involved in the presidential campaign. McConnell led the Senate in its refusal to consider the articles of impeachment brought by the House of Representatives as a result of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference and obstruction of justice. Trump’s refusal to release information in the Mueller investigation or allow testimony by members of his staff became part of the obstruction of justice charge. Trump has continued to dismiss the investigation as a hoax, bringing along his sycophants including McConnell. Both matters will be more fully revealed to the public once Trump is out of office.
If anyone could feel justified in leading a public protest about election outcomes, it would have been Hillary Clinton with nearly three million more votes than Trump. But like the professional she is, she conceded graciously to the electoral college results.
At this point for McConnell to allege that this and other Democratic concerns about Trump’s rogue presidency somehow equals rightwing invasion of the Capitol is an absurdity. Nevertheless, this is all they’ve got, this whiny ‘he did it first’ allegation that in itself does not hold water. Since Election Day, there has been no resounding civic outcry about injustice as there was in the street demonstrations protesting overzealous police and systemic racism. There was no massive support across the nation in support of Trump’ claim. What happened January 6 was about one man’s pathetic inability to accept defeat.
The response by McConnell and others in an attempt to deflect blame for this outrage does not speak well for the future of the Republican Party. Either they acknowledge the depths of their culpability and immediately set out to correct the screed of lies inculcated on their voters or face the very real likelihood that the party will not survive Donald Trump, just as Sen. Lindsey Graham predicted in the 2016 primaries: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.”
I’ll get to the elephant in the room in a minute. Right now, I just need to say, what the hell are these guys thinking?
Newsflash to series creator Chris Van Dusen and Netflix producer Shondaland (Shonda Rhimes) and Netflix execs who signed off on this house of cards: people who enjoy Regency romance are not going to like this conglomeration of ridiculous sex and error. Whoever made decisions about how to bring Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novels to the screen clearly has no knowledge of the time period (1813) or appreciation of the aspects of that history which nourish the storyline.
Did I say nourish? Let me rephrase that. Historical accuracy is ESSENTIAL to the storyline.
First of all, the casting. Dear God, why is 31-year-old Claudia Jessie playing the part of a 17-year-old? The face, the body, and most of all a voice worthy of an aging jazz singer immediately create painful cognitive dissonance every time this actress appears on screen. In the part of the second oldest Bridgerton daughter Eloise, Ms. Jessie sticks out like a sore thumb. No matter how tightly laced the corset or uneven affections of voice are meant to disguise her age, it just doesn’t work.
By the way, poor quality control on audio means some entire narratives are incomprehensible no matter how high the volume.
Same casting problem with one of the Bridgerton sons. Luke Thompson plays the part of second-oldest son Benedict, written as a 27-year-old blade exploring the ways of haut ton social situations. Luke Thompson is a well-aged 32 years old. His age is obvious even when he’s supposed to appear boyish and naïve. Please.
But let me move on to glaring corruptions of historical accuracy thick on the ground in this Netflix series. Early on we’re treated to a scene where Eloise is hiding out in the back yard to smoke cigarettes. Cigarettes did not jump from Mexico to France until the 1830s and didn’t make it to England until the 1840s. Even then, these tobacco conveyances were not the long slender white-wrapped items spotted in Eloise’s delicate hand. Cigarettes weren’t widely available until mass production in the 1880s. In 1813 London, a protected young lady like Eloise would have had no access to any such thing. She would have been very lucky to find a servant or stable hand she could bribe to obtain raw tobacco for her.
I get why Dusen wanted to show Eloise smoking. She’s a rebel, not eager to follow the tradition of marriage and children. Her use of cigarettes shows that rebellion. Except – it doesn’t. Because it’s completely ridiculous!
This type of ignorance undermines virtually every scene. Regency men were considered undressed if they appeared outside their bedchambers in anything less than complete formal attire – pants, shirt, waistcoat, jacket, and cravat, and yes those de rigueur Hessians. Yet we see aristocrats parading around in their shirt sleeves, often with the sleeves rolled past the elbow. Also often missing from male attire is the cravat, an essential element of proper male body covering. In reality, serious scandal would ensue from such flagrant exposure of forearms and necks.
Male-female touching likewise was simply not done except in very specific circumstances. A gentleman might touch a lady’s hand if he is helping her into or out of a carriage, for example, but they would both be gloved. In greeting, he would bow over her gloved hand and air-kiss above her knuckles. He might also welcome her to rest her gloved hand on his lower (fully clothed) arm when walking or escorting her up or down steps. But the touching rampant in these scenes is often ungloved and conspicuously caressing, like a dance scene where some genius decided that dance partners could lavish their hands on each other’s bodies – neck, shoulders, waist – in ways that would never occur among proper ladies and gentlemen of those times.
In fact, touching at all during dances was so scandalous in this time period that the waltz (another import from the outrageous French) had barely gained entry to the ton’s social gatherings. A debutante was required to pass muster at Almack’s by a panel of older society grande dames in order to gain the right to dance a waltz. Hostesses of society dances were careful to allow only two waltzes at any of their events, well-spaced between country dances and quadrilles in which participants move similarly to those in modern square dancing with touching limited to fleeting passage of gloved hands and no close body contact.
Restrictions on the waltz reflected its close body positioning and the clasp of both hands with the dance partner’s. Even at that, intense scrutiny by other dancers and society matrons watching proceedings with an eagle eye enforced the rules of engagement, most importantly the appropriate distance tolerated between the bodies of dance partners. Yet in this Netflix series, we see couples hugging up to each other, standing body to body to whisper sweet nothings and emote.
The music is yet another problem, adding to the flaws in dance scenes. The producers/writers took the lazy way with this, using soundtrack music as the dance music so that dance music doesn’t start or stop with the dance. Dancers simply cavort around the floor to whatever part of the soundtrack happens to occur at that point. This eliminates the real tension experienced between dances by young women desperate to be claimed for a dance. It also smears over specific types of music used for specific types of dances. There’s no good reason for this except lazy production
Equally cheesy are bits and pieces such as a scene where the courting couple walk across a bridge and the male lead pulls a rose from a bush to hand to his lovely lady. Our hero plucks this rose without tugging or breaking it from its bush and presents a long straight stem that would never exist in those circumstances. But then, once one questions the reality of that moment, one is quick to survey the rest of the ‘rose bushes’ lining that particular bridge and reach the firm conclusion that all of these are arranged bouquets, probably not even real flowers.
Social etiquette involved lessons on how to bow and curtsey, yet here we see men bowing slightly without their arms in proper position, plus short head bobs and virtually zero curtseying even when standing before the Queen! No.
Unlike many scenes in the Netflix Bridgerton series, females of the upper class never ventured outside alone. A maid and sometimes also at least one footman accompanied them as protection not only of their reputation but also their personal safety against a desperate underclass of thieves and opportunists.
Successful Regency authors pay attention to this wretched dichotomy between rich and poor for the depth it adds to these stories. In the one Bridgerton scene of the impoverished parts of London, which by any estimation consumed the majority of that real estate with dilapidated side-by-side buildings and manure-littered streets teeming with vendors hawking wares, grimy orphans looking for pockets to pick, whores, and scoundrels of every ilk, we get a brief scene in a bricked alleyway where a handful of actors strive to convey reality – and fail.
Apparently, what the writers/producers of the series do not grasp – and perhaps did not even try to understand – is that these subtleties are what fans of Regency romance adore. We look for quirks of language, the rigid rules, the details of dress and social interactions that define that time period. We expect characters to obey the norms extant in the early 19th century, not just because we’re some kind of historical purists but because those norms are inextricably linked to the behavior that drives the plot.
This falls flat most of all in the sex scenes. We see actors feverishly ripping off their clothes to pursue their desire without slowing down to appreciate the shocking touch of ungloved hands or the explosive eroticism of a man’s exposed neck, sans cravat. By the time the two main characters get around to kissing in the garden (oh, my!), an unbelievable melee of groping and whole body molestation takes place. In reality, for 1813, just the touching of lips was enough to ruin a young lady whether or not the guy ever touched her body. Jeez, Louise, who signed off on this absurdity?
In the moment when Simon Bassett, Duke of Hastings [played by Regé-Jean Page] finally satisfies his raging desire for his heartthrob Daphne Bridgerton [played by Phoebe Dynevor], the wedding night scene proceeds through the ripping off of clothes, kissing, a bit of body contact and a nice buttocks shot to a few seconds of active intercourse during which the virgin’s face portrays her loss of virginity (oh, that hurts) to pleasure (really?) and satiety (no bliss?). And we’re supposed to be satisfied with that terse culmination of a long and tortured courtship?
As for this and subsequent sex scenes, I’ll just quote a bit of a Salon critique [https://www.salon.com/2021/01/03/bridgerton-sex-is-not-good-sex/]:
“He maneuvers her hand down there. She looks pleasantly shocked. Then he stands up and takes off his pants so she can get an eyeful of what she’s working with. Apparently that is sufficient, because then he mounts her, informs her that “this may hurt a moment” … then badda bing, badda boom, he starts pumping away like a bunny hopped up on cold brew coffee. Afterward he rolls off of her and finishes in the sheets – more on that later – as the tender music fades out.”
Producer Shonda Rimes claims in interviews about this series that she is a great fan of Julia Quinn’s books. She should read more. It’s obvious from her work with Bridgerton that her understanding of the Regency period is painfully limited. Otherwise it’s difficult to believe a woman of her professional experience would sign off on this travesty.
Likewise, for a man who claims to have studied and adapted this story over a three-year period, Chris Van Dusen gets a “D-” for his utter failure to portray the very details that serve as the lifeblood of a Regency romance. And whoever decided that a guy was the right person for this job, anyway?!
Van Dusen claimed in one interview that he wanted to show the contrast between modern social norms and the stifling conservativism of the Regency period. But by shortcutting the details and failing to authentically portray the realities of the Regency period, an uninformed viewer would mistakenly assume there weren’t that many differences. Yes, women were property and that comes through fairly clearly. But how their lives – and the lives of men – were guided moment by moment in that mindset is diluted and in many scenes fully bastardized in this cavalier adaptation.
Which brings us to the elephant.
Van Dusen grabs onto an old unproven allegation that King George’s wife Charlotte was of African descent and through this broken door welcomes a large contingent of Black actors into key roles of this series. We don’t know to what extent this decision reflected the influence of Ms. Rhimes, herself a successful Black producer, screenwriter, and author. Maybe they thought this would give the series some kind of outré appeal.
But the more I watched and witnessed scenes where Black actors comprised such a large percentage of the ton and at points expounded on how Queen Charlotte opened the door for ‘their kind’ to participate more fully in society, the more I realized that this outright misrepresentation of London’s Regency period serves as an outrageous disservice to Black history.
[It’s relevant to note that contemporaneous images of Queen Charlotte fail to bear out these allegations.]
In reality, the British Empire played fast and loose with issues of race.
“Owing chiefly to the parliamentary campaign of William Wilberforce, the ‘Slave Trade Act’ had been passed by Parliament in 1807, but this act prohibited only the trading in slaves in the British Empire, and crucially not slavery itself. Within Britain, slavery had been found unconstitutional in 1772; but, so long as they did not bring any of their slaves into Britain, slave owners such as Sir Thomas Bertram remained free to profit from the exploitation of slave labour in the colonies. Slavery itself was not abolished in the British Empire until 1833.”
As noted by many scholars of the time period,
“Overt racism was rampant. Servants of the rich were beautifully dressed, but treated like possessions (much like a brood stallion or a rare antique vase.) Portraits would show noble women and a Black servant, be it a child or adult, sitting at the edge of the painting, which served to increase the contrast of the female’s creamy white skin to the ebony complexion of the other sitter.”
Despite Van Dusen’s assertion that he wanted to show how society has changed over the last 200 years, neither he nor Rhimes seem to understand that without an accurate portrayal of Britain’s high society during the Regency period, viewers can never appreciate how times have changed. One of the tensions for fans of Regency romance is the nerve-bending restrictions on women compared to the freedoms we take for granted today. Authors of Regency (or any historical) romance go to great lengths to research their work to ensure authenticity in this regard.
During that long struggle, women have fought like tigers to gain the right to govern their own lives as well the right to own property and vote. Likewise, Black people have battled to gain their rights and freedoms and still suffer from prejudice and outright violence so long entrenched in white society. To smear all of that into a fantasy where a Black man could ever be a British duke who publicly courts a virginal white girl in 1813 London is to, well, whitewash the true struggle.
Okay, I understand the primary energy behind this series is to put Regency eroticism on screen in hopes of cashing in. They’ll probably succeed in this since Regency fans like myself are watching the series, even if we’re yelling at the television. But even in the sex, these producers/writers fall short of their goal.
After all the producers’ and writers’ efforts to create this simulacrum of Quinn’s novels on screen in order to capitalize on the sex of it, viewers get to the sex and find it flaccid.
P.S. One irreconcilable problem in casting this series is the apparent widespread use of breast implants among actresses. These do not play well in the extremes of Regency dress in which corsets pair with extremely low cut gowns. Corsets push the breasts up high, which in many instances during this series, reveals the hard edge of implants. Distracting, to say the least.
And while I’m at it, I’ll point out that among the most titillating bits many Regency readers enjoy are scenes in which the male is so aroused by the object of his affection that his erection is prominently displayed in the front of his tight breeches. Despite his embarrassment and desperate thoughts of icy water and old toothless men, the surging organ persists, thus requiring the fevered hero to modestly place a book or hat over his lap or hide behind a chair. At the pinnacle of this particular cliché, the female in question notices the anomaly and is intrigued even if she, in many cases, has no idea how that peculiar bit of male anatomy might come to play in her deflowering. Alas, we see no such deliciously provocative sights in this production.