The Jeff Bezos Problem

By Daniel Spils – originally posted to Flickr as Jeff visits the Robots, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11253016

This morning I received a query from a friend of mine asking where he could buy one of my books. He didn’t want to buy from Amazon and further line the pockets of Jeff Bezos.

This widespread reaction to Bezos’ fortune and his choices of how to spend his money has reached the point where I feel obligated to fully explain why my books are marketed at Amazon and why we might need to take deep breath and cut Bezos a tiny bit of slack.

In 1994 at the age of 32, Bezos decided to establish an online bookselling enterprise. Within the next twenty years, his company Amazon had expanded to offer an enormous range of products. But his original idea was about books. By the early 2000s, Bezos had expanded his concept to allow authors to publish their own books.

Before this, authors faced two options. Traditionally, a printed submission letter with an outline of the proposed book would be submitted to a publishing house for consideration. If interested, the publisher would request the manuscript for review. With a slim chance of acceptance, the book could easily languish in these dead end processes for years before a) a publisher somewhere accepted the book or b) the author gave up in despair.

By the end of the 20th century, publishing houses increasingly refused this first layer of submission from authors. Instead, authors were directed to find an agent who, after screening the manuscript, might deign to take the book under his wing and offer various revisions and plot recommendations before then trying to market the book to a publishing house. The publishing house still could refuse the book, but if they saw any promise in the project, their editors would pick through the manuscript for yet more revisions. Again, months turned into years while authors held onto hope, usually to ultimately meet with rejection.

Literary Criticism, caricature of literary critics removing passages from books that displease them, c.1830 Charles Joseph Travis de Villiers

Or worse. Two books of mine submitted in the late 1990s through this Sisyphean process ended up published by other people. I’ve described these infuriating experiences of intellectual property theft in previous blog posts here, here, and here.

The other option for authors was to self-publish. This path was taken by my mother who paid nearly $2,000 for her family history to appear in print. A friend of mine also took this route when she paid a vanity press to print a few thousand copies of her book, which she had to store in her garage and distribute herself. But along with the internet and the engineering genius of Bezos, Amazon formed a branch known as Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) where an author had total control over the publication of her/his book.

Print on demand simply means that when someone purchases a certain book, it is then printed and shipped. An author using KDP must prepare the manuscript by certain layout guidelines, but is then free to choose page size, white or cream paper, and certain other formatting options. The manuscript is uploaded at the KDP website and after proofing, the book is ready to purchase. The author can either use KDP’s cover templates to create the book’s cover or upload a cover file created entirely by the author. (I use Photoshop and thoroughly enjoy the use of color, imagery, and font choices.)

The freedom this provides an author is absolutely stunning.

A few print-on-demand enterprises co-exist with KDP, but KDP’s software is supremely user friendly and allows for maximum author flexibility. KDP also offers swift interaction with staff via email, chat, or phone if/when questions arise. KDP pricing, at least for paperbacks, means that authors gain a higher share of the sale price than is available through any other publishing outlet. Ebook pricing is not quite as competitive as a few other entities such as Smashwords, but promotional options are much wider.

My first book, Notes of a Piano Tuner, published in 1996 by a traditional small regional press, sold for $16.95. My royalty was one dollar. Through KDP, a recent book that retails for $26.95 pays me $8.70. KDP retains $7.47 for printing costs, and the rest is KDP profit. While that is a sizeable profit for KDP and its parent Amazon, I am still ahead of the 5.8% profit I received through traditional publishing. At $8.70, that’s over 32% profit.

Book market in India

Perhaps even more important for most authors is that self-pub books at KDP remain on their virtual bookshelves forever and essentially worldwide. These services are available to authors in India, China, Japan, and many other far flung locations and in their own language. KDP provides the services needed to register my ISBN number with the Library of Congress. They provide marketing tools I can use to promote my books. I don’t have to do anything for my books to be found in online searches for my subject matter.

While all this is wonderful and amazing and possibly would have occurred sooner or later without Jeff Bezos, the fact is that he was the one who made it happen.

Not to say there hasn’t been a downside to the avalanche of author-published books his brain child has created. Key to the bookselling industry have been the various filters through which a manuscript would pass—agents, editors, and ultimately reviewers who offer insight into the nature and quality of any particular book, thereby providing a prospective reader a guideline of sorts to measure whether plopping down the requisite dollars is a wise decision. But as this Indie avalanche hit mainstream reviewers like Book Review DigestBooklistBook World, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal or other traditional book review sources including Saturday Review, Observer, New York Times Book Review, and The New Yorker, the welcome mat quickly rolled up.

Self-publishing authors, known as Indies (independent), suffer no such critiques either before or after publishing. Some are able to pay a few of these review entities to gain a review, but the price is steep. Kirkus, for example, wants $500 per review for the onerous task. Most turn up their noses entirely.

The reason for this bottleneck in the literary pipeline is painfully clear to anyone who reads Indie books at random. The writing can be abysmally awful, everything from misspelled words to dangling modifiers and other grammatical abominations to outright absurdity in balanced presentation or research authenticity or, in fiction, plot line or character development. Furthermore, the Indie risk of showing one’s bare behind, i.e. complete lack of literary talent, is compounded at the review stand by the sheer quantity of self-published books flooding the marketplace.  

For a few genres, most notably romance fiction, a review option of sorts has sprung up to fill the gap. Facebook pages, groups, and multiple websites have proliferated where authors can submit a romance book for review. For a modest fee, usually $50 to $100, a promoter will set up review ‘tours’ that take a book through several such entities and can, in theory, rack up a nice quantity of reviews for that particular book which are then posted to the Amazon book listing page as well as to other book promotion sites like Goodreads. A rating of 5 stars is a sure path to reader interest, and most of these reviewers won’t post a review of less than 3 stars.

The Caxton Celebration – William Caxton showing specimens of his printing to King Edward IV and his Queen By The Graphic, June 30, 1877, p617. Retrieved from old-print.com. Printing up through the end of the 18th century was largely a product of wealthy patrons who paid for the books they wanted in print.

No such wondrous option exists for most other types of books. A few exist for science fiction, a few for historical fiction, but virtually none for nonfiction. Authors must find creative ways to let the public know about their books, which up to a few years ago could include setting up an author page on Facebook alongside a personal page. One author I know had gained nearly one thousand ‘followers’ on her Facebook author page, and each time she published a new book or wanted to promote an existing book, she simply posted an enticing bit on her author page and the majority of her followers would receive the notice on their newsfeed.

Sadly, those days ended with Facebook’s corporate rush for money. Now my friend’s author page posts are seen only by a half dozen or less of her followers. The only way she can make a bigger splash is to pay Facebook to promote her posts. Depending on her choice of audience, the number of days the post should run, and her spending limit, Facebook will promote the product. It has reached the point, however, where Facebook newsfeeds are so spammed with similar “sponsored” ads that people usually just scroll past.

Ironically, even traditional publishing has stopped most expenditures on book promotion. Publishing is less about literary accomplishment and more about profits, and the trimming has proceeded at pace. Authors whether Indie or not are expected to pay their way through book signing tours and public appearances.  

Despite these stumbling blocks in Indie publishing, the old publishing world has crumbled. Few corporate-owned publishers are willing to risk possible low returns on an investment of manpower, ink, warehousing, and distribution unless the odds are good that an adequate return is more or less guaranteed. That’s why books by celebrities and known authors crowd the shelves and why libraries, which depend on mainstream reviews to determine acquisitions, will rarely if ever shelve Indie books.

In my case, where the majority of my books are focused on local history, I can promote my books through networks of friends and in local outlets. In the case of the book my friend wants to purchase, Good Times: A History of Night Spots and Live Music in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the demand has been great enough that I have partnered with the Washington County Historical Society to serve as an outlet through which they gain a decent percentage of the sale price and which offers the interested public a local source for the book.

However, the book is still published by KDP. As the author, I pay only the printing cost and receive no royalty from the sale. Whatever margin I wish to receive is gained in the wholesale price I charge the historical society. But, simply put, that and the rest of my books likely would not exist without Bezos.

Ooh, the 70s!

As chronicled in the massive history of Fayetteville’s music scene, the 1970s overflowed with great music that echoed down the length of Dickson Street. The Charles Tuberville Band was among them.


Back: Singleton, Smith, Billy Osteen
Front: Ellis, Tuberville, Womack
Photo courtesy Joe Phelps

Charles Tuberville Band

Charles Tuberville became hooked on the guitar after watching an older cousin plug his “machine” into an amp and began playing a song by The Ventures. Then when The Beatles took rock n’ roll by storm, that changed everything. Charles got his first guitar, an electric Harmony Bobcat, for Christmas in the 7th grade. “‘At the time, I was playing trumpet in the school band. The day I got my electric guitar, that trumpet never again came out of the case,’’ he recalled in an interview for Blues News.[1]

His Fayetteville band formed in the early 1970s and played popular clubs like Notchy’s and The Library. In 1976 when the Brass Monkey took over the former Gaslight space in the basement of the Mountain Inn Annex, the Charles Tuberville Band served as the house band. Members of this powerhouse group were Charles Tuberville and Billy Osteen (Cal Jackson still in Memphis) on guitar; Albert Singleton then later Cherry Brooks, vocals; Lance Womack, drums; Jimmy Smith, keyboards; Jim Sweeney (Tulsa), Joe Ellis, bass. Members of this band later appeared in other groups. Charles Tuberville moved to Tulsa in 1979 and went on to ply his guitar craft in multiple formats, performing on an album with Tulsa musician Jimmy Markham including Get Ya’ Head Right (2018) and producing his own album, Somethin’ in the Water in 2019.

Don’t miss these great stories of creativity, ambition, and craziness that permeates the 550+ pages of GOOD TIMES: A History of Nightspots and Live Music in Fayetteville, Arkansas — available at Amazon.com and the local Washington County Historical Society offices.


[1] Bill Martin, “Charles Tuberville,” Blues News, Sept/Oct 2019, p. 3

Gas, Grass & Ass

Seeking a self-sustaining life outside the city and a new start for her marriage, this twenty-five-year old woman boldly embarks on proprietorship of a full-service gas station along a highway in rural Arkansas. Her hope to live and work at her own place of business soon encounters not only the end of her marriage but also the entrenched conservatism of the rural South. Joyful in recounting her experiences with an endlessly astonishing parade of human nature, Campbell portrays a unique slice of American life at a pivotal time with the fall of Richard Nixon’s presidency and the end of the Vietnam War. Buoyed by a wellspring of support and companionship, Campbell struggles to hang on to her dream of independence.

Excerpt:

At that time, the University of Arkansas split its football season between the Fayetteville campus and War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, a concession to the Little Rock elite who considered it their prerogative to host ‘home’ games. So on the three weekends that Fayetteville hosted the games, traffic from Central Arkansas and elsewhere backed up for miles along Highway 71 as game time approached. After the game, the Conoco could count on plenty of sales as the out-of-town football fans headed home.

We stayed open late on those nights, bugs flying into the lights shining down from their high perch over the gas pumps, the steady hum of traffic on the road. If the Razorbacks had lost the game, the line of taillights carried with them a somber quiet acceptance that not every game in life is a win. If the team won, the nighttime traffic diminished as rowdy fans lingered in town to celebrate in the raucous bars along Dickson Street, guitar licks and drum beats echoing into the night. George’s, the Swingin’ Door, The Library and more were standing room only, their floors sticky with spilled drink.

I recruited helpers from Cousin Dave’s gang although Dave himself wasn’t having any of it. He’d worked enough for his folks when they owned the Conoco, he said. One of the friends I hired for a late night of football traffic was Mark Y. His lanky frame stood well over six feet tall, his twenty-year-old body filled out with field work on his family’s farm. Despite a thicket of light blond hair and a handsome face, he was miserably shy, but he needed money, and so that night and several other times, he forced himself into the public eye. Dave, JR, and the rest of the gang encouraged him to do the work—none of the rest of them wanted to pump gas until ten p.m.

One of those nights, the guys were watching television with me in the apartment when Mark suddenly appeared at the door, a red flush on his cheeks.

“There’s a woman out there,” he gasped. “Big fancy Continental. She’s… she…”

We all sprang up and crowded around Mark, trying to guess the crisis.

“What? Is she sick? Hurt?” I said.

“No, she…” He glanced around at the guys standing there, waiting to hear then his gaze came back to me. His head dropped forward as he looked down. “Lordie,” he muttered.

“What?!”

He stammered more then finally got a few words out. “I…I walked up to the window and the window was down, and… Well, first, she smiled at me.”

“She smiled at you?” Dave bent over laughing. “What the hell?”

“No, she, uh, she… her skirt was pulled up and I could see…Lord help me.”

“What?” JR demanded. “Could you see her panties?”

Another uproarious surge of laughter poured out the open door into the night. Mark’s face had turned beet red.

“No, damn it,” he said, jaw twitching. “There weren’t no panties.” …

~~~

Available in paperback at Amazon

Are Whites Superior? (Part 2)

Yanomami, Brazil [https://www.survivalinternational.org/articles/3162-yanomami-botanical-knowledge]

On first glance, it seems as though people descended through Western European ancestry are, by far, superior to people of color, those primitive folks who lived in tribal groups as hunter-gatherers in Africa, Australia, and the Pacific Islands—and American Natives. Let’s not leave out those strange people from Asia whose skin color isn’t exactly white. None of them look like us with our pale skin, light colored hair, and elegant facial features.

We are, after all, the ones who invented the marvels of our modern age from electricity to computer chips. It’s been the Americans and other Western Europeans, the penultimate of PIE western expansion and ingenuous invention, who have won the wars with our aircraft carriers and jets, sent men to walk on the moon, and just met the latest challenge from the viral netherworld to invent vaccines to conquer COVID-19. What more evidence do we need?

That’s the first and only consideration given to such a question by those who want—need—to believe they are superior. It was this thread of ancestry that supported Hitler’s quest to create a ‘pure’ Aryan race, thereby justifying the horrors of the Holocaust.

A second glances pulls back the curtain to reveal much more.

In truth, what white Indo-European descendants have created would not exist were it not for the earlier works of other cultures. The modern world and its many marvels exist not because of white supremacy but rather as a result of all cultures of all times.

It was the Sumerians (Iraq, Mesopotamia) who developed number systems, the wheel, a set of laws, and invented the earliest writing.

“Scholars now recognize that writing may have independently developed in at least four ancient civilizations: Mesopotamia (between 3400 and 3100 BCE), Egypt (around 3250 BCE), China (1200 BCE), and lowland areas of Southern Mexico and Guatemala (by 500 BCE).

“…The Phoenician alphabet is simply the Proto-Canaanite alphabet as it was continued into the Iron Age (conventionally taken from a cut-off date of 1050 BCE). This alphabet gave rise to the Aramaic and Greek alphabets. These in turn led to the writing systems used throughout regions ranging from Western Asia to Africa and Europe.[1] [Phoenicia was located in Lebanon (Middle East) from about 1100 to 200 BCE.]

Black eggshell pottery of the Longshan culture (China, c. 3000–2000 B.C.E.)

Most of the foundations of modern science appeared first in China and/or the Middle East, neither of which were white people. In Babylon, successor to Sumer in the lands of modern Iraq, medical practices, metallurgy, animal anatomy, and astronomy were documented as early as 2000 BCE. Egypt developed astronomy, medicine, and mathematics including geometry as well early concepts in neuroscience and in the empirical method of scientific study. By the first century BCE, the Chinese had advanced the use of decimals and fractions, kept records of astronomical events such as sunspots, supernovas, and eclipses, and are credited with a long list of other discoveries and inventions including gunpowder which, upon discovery by Western explorers in the early Renaissance, were lifted wholesale into Western cultures.[2]

While Islamic achievements between 786 and 1258 CE encompassed a wide range of advancements, especially in astronomy, mathematics, and medicine, white people of Western Europe lived in fortified tribal encampments, waged war with swords, and did not read or write except in cryptic runes or enclaves of monks using the remnants of Roman literacy.[3] These earliest non-white cultures advanced the inventions of Greece and Rome.

Hindu-Arabic numerals, set of 10 symbols—1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0—that represent numbers in the decimal number system. They originated in India in the 6th or 7th century and were introduced to Europe through the writings of Middle Eastern mathematicians, especially al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi, about the 12th century.

Western Europe’s invasion of Latin America brought diseases which wiped out nearly 90% of the native population, with the remainder subjugated into slavery to see their religious texts burned and accumulated wealth loaded onto ships bound for Europe. Yet before this invasion by the Catholic Spanish and Portuguese into Central and South America, the native cultures there had developed some of the world’s most advanced mathematical and astronomical expertise, calendars that equal anything invented so far, and agricultural refinements that produced corn, peppers, squash, potatoes, and tomatoes along with many of the bean types in popular use today.

An artistic recreation of The Kincaid Site from the prehistoric Mississippian culture as it may have looked at its peak 1050–1400 CE.

The myth perpetuated by such invasions, including the stories taught to generations of white Indo-European descendants in the United States, is that the Native tribes of our lands were uncivilized people who benefited from the teachings of European religion, speech, and cultural traditions. But for over 15,000 years before European diseases killed tens of thousands of them and deliberate genocide killed thousands more, Natives had lived quite well on this land, following their spiritual practices and developing extensive trading routes. Their general philosophy encompassed “harmony with nature, endurance of suffering, respect and non- interference toward others, a strong belief that man is inherently good and should be respected for his decisions.”[4]

Just as with the so-called primitive cultures in Africa, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and—closer to home—the Natives of the Americas, the civilizations they built did not wipe out their forests or pollute their rivers and air. They enjoyed communal life, unlike modern America where hardly a day passes without a mass shooting by frustrated Indo-European males who cannot go off ‘a-Viking’ to loot and plunder. The longing for a return to the violent ways of medieval ancestry is reflected in everything from the hue and cry over gun ownership to the rabid insurrection of January 6, 2021, when men carried Confederate flags symbolizing their supremacy.

Today, those finding unacceptable differences among persons wishing to make their homes in the United States (and other Western European countries of PIE descent) chose to discriminate not only for skin or hair color but also for religion, cultural practices, and even styles of dress. This is not new. As noted in a recent article in The Atlantic, “the United States has never been a “diverse nation of immigrants,” a phrase that first appeared in the national dialogue in the late 1890s. The U.S. has consistently favored immigration by Northern Europeans (PIE DNA) and, since 1882, has “deported more than 57 million people, most of them Latino.”[5]

Like so many other revelations resulting from modern science, DNA research clearly reveals that behaviors ascribed to our white ancestry are not in fact hardwired into our minds.

Further studies finally debunked race as a biological marker for humans for two key reasons. First, we cannot distinguish a “white” person, for example, from a “black” person by looking at their genetics, alone. Skin color is determined by a number of genes, and so even if a certain set of genes suggests someone may have dark skin, an entirely separate set of genes could also make their skin lighter. In addition, humans are so mixed that any physical features that may have arisen, such as height or skin color, do not clearly “belong” to one group of people. Moreover, the traits we might see in a particular white person — blond hair, blue eyes, light skin — are not grouped together in our DNA. In other words, many characteristics that we consider as racial traits are not inherited as a fixed combination. Having light skin has nothing to do with one’s having blue eyes (or being tall, or liking math, for that matter).”[6]

The evidence is clear that racism is not an inheritance based on our DNA but rather a choice taught by parents or cultural institutions and perpetrated by those who refuse to learn. Increasing numbers of white men and women of Indo-European ancestry have evolved to accept all humans as equals and embrace progressive reforms that overcome earlier, prejudiced views. Of the 255,200,373 Americans eligible to vote in 2020, only 159,633,396 actually cast a ballot (66.3%). Of those, supporters of an entrenched Indo-European view gained 46.9% and the progressives gained 51.3%, neither of which is a majority of the nation’s eligible voters. In the greater eligible voter population, only 32% voted for Biden and only 29% voted for Trump.

The slow trend toward an increasingly evolved view of the world based on science and acceptance gives hope that human intelligence can overcome the ancestral influence of PIE DNA’s long traditions. But only if we try.


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

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

[3] Islamic scholars also pursued advancements in chemistry, botany and agronomy, geography and cartography, ophthalmology, pharmacology, physics, and zoology. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_in_the_medieval_Islamic_world

[4] http://www.wellnesscourts.org/files/Duran%20-%20American%20Indian%20Belief%20Systems.pdf

[5] Dickerson, Caitlin. “It’s Always Been About Exclusion.” The Atlantic, Vol 327-No. 4, May 2021, pp 11-15.

[6] https://www.illinoisscience.org/2020/09/there-is-no-biological-meaning-for-race/

Is Racism In Our DNA?

Typical Western European/American representation of Jesus Christ as a white man with light hair and blue eyes

If we track the roots of Western civilization to its earliest evidence in language and genetics, we find that our language and other markers of our ancestry track the spread of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language from its roots in the Eurasian steppe circa 4,500 years ago. This expansion can be traced through word relationships as well as commonalities of myth and religion, but also through similarities in social behaviors. From Bronze Age Greeks, Indo-Iranians, and Anatolian (Hittite) people, this cultural thread weaves through Iron Age Indo-Aryans, Iranians and, most importantly for our consideration, European groups including Celts, Germanic peoples, Italic peoples, and other Western European populations.

Recent DNA analyses of these populations support the theory of PIE migration and conquest over earlier human settlements.[1] By the Middle Ages, ancient Indo-European traditions, myths, and languages had reached Scandinavian cultures and spread across medieval Europe. Genetic information shows that certain characteristics currently attributed to European ancestry such as blue eyes first appeared in the genetic record around 13,000 to 14,000 years ago in Italy and the Caucasus. Light skin is less easily tracked as a genetic factor but researchers believe this feature spread through Western Europe between 19,000 and 11,000 BCE (Before Current Era). Other physical characteristics also follow this migration, including taller height and blond hair.

This movement from east to west parallels the penetration of farming practices into hunter-gatherer populations. Farming required settling into one location to oversee the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of farmed crops, meaning that people were able to accumulate more worldly goods which in turn led to inequalities as well as the need to determine paternity of children who might inherit such goods. Social rules proliferated to govern communal norms including the sexual behavior of women.

Migrations that spread PIE language and culture

By around 3500 BCE, people of the PIE traditions had domesticated the horse, adapted the wheel to chariots and wagons, and begun herding food animals such as cattle. The growth of grazing herds led to conquest of neighboring lands to expand grazing space. Increasing use of metals for weaponry (copper, bronze, iron) alongside war chariots pulled by domesticated horses led to the rise of empires from Greece and Rome to the European colonialism that shaped the modern world starting in 1500s. Just like their PIE ancestors, early Western civilizations seized power by conquering bordering indigenous populations and usurping any natural resources native to those lands.

Operating in the arrogance of supremacy, or the ‘might-makes-right ideology,’ expansionists viewed the world as theirs for the taking. If the tools of conquest could overcome native defenses, then it was conveniently considered a God-given right to take whatever the natives might have, not limited to their possessions and lands but also their very lives. Enslaved to their new masters, conquered people endured the various brutal labors required of empire building whether mining lead, tin, or salt or building roads, temples, and coliseums where even more slaves could be forced to ‘entertain’ their masters with fights to the death.

Rising from the ashes of the vast Roman Empire, by 1500 CE, Western European powers traveled the world, spiking their nation’s flags into new lands to claim it for king and country. During the next five hundred years, Spain ‘discovered’ the so-called New World. France, Great Britain, Portugal, and Holland (Netherlands) quickly joined the land grab, swooping in to establish their own satellites in the Americas and then around the globe. Most of these conquered people were people of color, therefore automatically considered inferior and suitable for genocide or enslavement.

Ironically, all these Western European powers were themselves shaped by invasions by outsiders, virtually all of which were also PIE cultures. For example, after the Celts penetrated the British Isles sometime around 2000 BCE, continuing waves of foreign invaders included the Romans (circa 55 BCE); Germanic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (circa 400-500 CE); Norse, Danes and other ‘Viking’ entities (700-900 CE); and finally the conquest by Normans (1066). The influence of Scandinavian influence on British culture and language can’t be understated, since the Normans (Northmen) themselves were Norse Viking invaders of France circa 900 CE who agreed to stop pillaging Paris in exchange for lands along France’s western coast.[2]

England and subsequently the British Empire staked its claim first on Ireland and Scotland, but also on North America, India, Australia, Egypt and a major swath of Africa along with portions of China, Indonesia, and various Pacific islands.[3] Spain plundered most of South America as well as the western half of the present-day United States and the Philippine Islands. Not wanting miss out on native hoards of gold, silver, and precious gems, the Catholic Church worked through both Spain and Portugal to destroy indigenous religious traditions and take possession of their wealth.[4] France suffered the loss of much of their colonized territories to the British in the Seven Years War (1756-1763) including a large swath of the United States heartland and much of eastern Canada, then made up its losses with the occupation of northwest Africa, parts of India, and various parts of Indochina.[5]

Along the way, racism stood as a primary justification for enslaving not only Africans to produce wealth in American and Caribbean colonies, but virtually any indigenous peoples who fell before the advance of Western Europeans. A standard concept undergirded these actions, perhaps best stated in 1884 by the Frenchman Jules Ferry: “”The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior races.”

The western European colonial powers claimed that, as Christian nations, they were duty-bound to disseminate Western civilization to what Europeans perceived as the heathen and primitive cultures… In addition to economic exploitation and imposition of imperialist government, the ideology of the civilizing mission required the cultural assimilation of “primitive peoples,” as the nonwhite Other, into the colonial subaltern of eastern Europe.[6]

Then, just like that, there were no more new lands to conquer and movement westward turned back on itself. Throughout the rush to ‘conquer’ the American West, freed slaves, migrant laborers from Mexico and the rest of Central America, and imported Chinese performed the backbreaking labor of building railroads, mining, and agriculture. Today’s U. S. agricultural industries depend heavily on the descendants of mixed Spanish-Native peoples.

For a time, the tradition of colonization continued into the 20th century in the form of wars against lesser nations. In a belated effort to rein in this long tradition of conquest, “In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill jointly released the Atlantic Charter, which broadly outlined the goals of the U.S. and British governments. One of the main clauses of the charter acknowledged the right of all people to choose their own government. The document became the foundation for the United Nations and all of its components were integrated into the UN Charter, giving the organization a mandate to pursue global decolonization.”[7]

Meanwhile, domestic discrimination by whites takes form in laws that are used selectively in the United States to disproportionately imprison Blacks and Latinos where they are used as a labor force and whose imprisonment enriches the rapidly growing private prison industry. The racist white-supremacy inheritance of PIE ancestry continues in the 21st century, thriving in right-wing hate groups and political party movements across the United States and Western Europe.

The racialist perspective of the Western world during the 18th and 19th centuries was invented with the Othering of non-white peoples, which also was supported with the fabrications of scientific racism, such as the pseudo-science of phrenology, which claimed that, in relation to a white-man’s head, the head-size of the non-European Other indicated inferior intelligence; e.g. the apartheid-era cultural representations of coloured people in South Africa (1948–94).

…Despite the UN’s factual dismissal of racialism, in the U.S., institutional Othering continues in government forms that ask a citizen to identify and place him or herself into a racial category; thus, institutional Othering produces the cultural misrepresentation of political refugees as illegal immigrants (from overseas) and of immigrants as illegal aliens (usually from México).[8]

The same science that has tracked white ancestry over thousands of years has not only provided modern civilization with countless amenities but also clear evidence that underneath our skin and other outward appearances, humans are all the same.

https://themetamodernist.com/2017/12/27/why-god-is-a-white-man-god-the-father-in-western-art/

See Part II coming soon: “Are Whites Superior?”


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

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

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

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

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_colonial_empire

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilizing_mission

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analysis_of_Western_European_colonialism_and_colonization

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Other_(philosophy)

Rules for Newbies

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.

We’d be glad to see you gone.

Evangelical Christian Perversion

Josh Duggar arrest photo April 29, 2021

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.”[1]

Duggar’s extensive political connections reflects poorly on the Republican slate of elected officials.

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[2]]

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.”[3]

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.”[4]

“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.’”[5]

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.”[6]

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.

The family of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, a tribe of potential abusers and victims

See also:

https://slate.com/human-interest/2021/03/sex-addiction-fact-check-atlanta-shooting-history.html

https://www.vice.com/en/article/pa98x8/purity-culture-linday-kay-klein-pure-review

Even Biblical scholars tend dabble in child porn. https://medium.com/belover/when-bible-scholars-are-child-pornographers-ea6f62fe0b3f


[1] https://people.com/tv/josh-duggar-paid-for-affair-guarantee-on-ashley-madison/

[2] https://denelecampbell.com/2015/05/24/a-state-of-perversion/, https://denelecampbell.com/tag/duggar/, https://denelecampbell.com/tag/fundamentalists/

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/05/31/feature/the-epidemic-of-denial-about-sexual-abuse-in-the-evangelical-church/

[4] https://www.cybercollege.com/history.htm

[5] https://medium.com/the-radical-center/the-perverse-incentives-of-sex-in-evangelicalism-dd32e4a9767d

[6] https://theintercept.com/2021/03/23/atlanta-shooting-sex-addiction-religion-morality/

It’s Baack!

Looking for some perspective on today’s viral crisis? Considering humanity’s infinitely long track record with similar outbreaks, we surely aren’t surprised that it’s here again. In case you’re not up to speed on the history of mankind’s virus background, check out my last blog post.

There is evidently an ingrained memory of this threat to our lives. Instinctively, we know there are invisible killers lurking out there, and entertainment takes advantage of our interest. Not only have scientists made regular warnings to prepare for such eruptions, our literature and movies regularly focus on outbreak what-ifs.

Outbreak, 1995

Consider the list of 79 – yes, 79 – movies on the topic of epidemic/pandemic outbreaks. In fact, as long as movies have been made, viral contagions have been a favored subject. Here’s a great list.

If you prefer to curl up with a book, writers and historians have been exploring the desolate landscapes of plague-riddled civilizations since Greek and Roman times. Daniel Defoe was one of the first English writers to producing a book about devastating disease with his 1722 A Journal of the Plague Year, which chronicles the 1665 bubonic plague in London. Here are more books to consider.

1950

One might wonder why anyone would want to read about horrific diseases when we’re in the middle of our current crisis, but art reflects life in many important ways. Movies and literature about pandemics not only explore the physical effects of the disease but also the human response to collateral damage like quarantine, isolation, and economic hits. We can gain a greater understanding through this informing exploration, and that in itself is somehow comforting. It’s like, ok, we’ve been through this before and survived. We can do it again.

But most of all, such deep history about our relationship with diseases like SARS-CoV-2 (COVID 19) provides critical information for those entrusted with leadership over us all whether elected officials, agencies, teachers, or scientists.  In our tragic case, our president failed to read history or listen to experts – or even his predecessor, President Obama, who had learned from Ebola and Zika that preparations must be made BEFORE an outbreak ever occurs. The sad result is the enormous death rate for a nation purportedly the most advanced.

The most malevolent viruses are fast and silent killers, moving through populations before we have time to prepare. There is no excuse for the current situation in the United States where we’re still not in possession of enough face masks or testing apparatus to get in front of this tidal wave of death.

1950

Perhaps most instructive about such movies and books, both fiction and non-fiction, is the inevitable reactions of people. There’s denial – it can’t happen here, it’s not that bad, it’s still safe to go shopping, I won’t wear a mask – that has become one of the most virulent aspects of SARS-CoV-2. It probably wouldn’t matter what the books and movies might say to the folks clogging state capitol steps with their guns and angry, unmasked faces. Their denial derives from lack of understanding of the science involved and a refusal to admit they might be lacking. It doesn’t help that their presidential hero praises their ignorance – because he too is lacking.

Mother Nature will keep throwing these things in our path. I predict another new viral crisis within the next two years. Meanwhile, we don’t yet know if a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 will work – after all, vaccines depend on the idea that our bodies create effective antibodies once the vaccine is administered, and those antibodies will protect us from a new infection. But increasingly, reports filter in that persons are becoming sick for the second time, which means antibodies aren’t working. And we already know that to date, our best flu vaccines are only 50%-60% effective.

SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay, folks. More of us will die. Grab the popcorn and watch a movie! And next time you vote, make sure your chosen candidate is going to protect you and your loved ones by preparing well in advance for the next outbreak.

Trump — It’s About Jesus

Make no mistake. The whitewash of Trump’s many sins is not just about Republican power madness or foreign influence or money. It is those things, but mostly this is about Jesus. Finally the evangelical voter bloc can fulfill its forty-year wish list to do away with all liberal advances. No more abortion, no more gay rights, no more talk about climate change or pollution. No more mingling of the races or giving those colored folks a place at the table. No more helping hungry people with a handout they don’t deserve or helping sick people pay their medical bills.

Evangelicals — a term that today refers to people who believe that Jesus died for their sins, that the Bible is the word of God, that every believer has a “born again” or salvation moment, and that the good news of Jesus should be widely disseminated — make up as much as a quarter of the country, or close to 80 million people. Around 60 percent vote, more than any other demographic, and among white evangelical voters, more than three-quarters tend to go to Republicans, thanks to wedge issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgender rights.[1]

During the last days of Trump’s 2016 campaign, he met with “Robert Jeffress, the head of 14,000-member megachurch First Baptist Dallas, a contributor to Fox News, and one of the earliest evangelical leaders to support Trump, presided over the meeting.

“I usually stand when he [Trump] comes in the room as a way of showing respect — he doesn’t ask that, but that’s just something that I’ve normally done,” Jeffress explained to the assembled, who included Wayne Grudem, a well-known theologian and co-founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; Eric Metaxas, a bestselling Christian author and radio host; Ryan Anderson, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation; and Jay Richards, a philosopher and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank that campaigns against teaching evolution in school.”

At this meeting, Trump, no doubt coached by his Republican handlers, promised to fulfill the evangelical agenda: He would end the contraception mandate of Obamacare; select only anti-choice judges; do away with the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt entities from endorsing politicians; support prayer in school; oppose any bill that pulled funding from Christian schools that were charged with discrimination; keep transgender people from using the “wrong” bathrooms and locker rooms; and protect Israel.

It’s been a long time coming, ever since the incestuous relationship between Republicans and Christian extremists joined forces under the benevolent guidance of Ronald Reagan. The power brokers behind the Republican Party figured out that if they could gain a voting block as widespread and fervent as evangelicals, they could turn back the tide of progressive change. They’d been slammed on all sides – the ‘60s generation had turned its back on the corporate agenda, passed laws forcing dirty manufacturing to clean up its messes, and was working hard to put women and minorities on an equal status with white men.

Casualty of the U.S. abandonment of Syrian Kurds, 2019.

This unholy coalition of conservatives, evangelicals, and racists developed a strategy that finally paid off with the election of Donald Trump. Now they had the whole government in their control. They quickly began reversing rules and laws and appointing federal judges who would abide by the coalition’s view of the world:

  • eliminating voting rights for blacks and the poor
  • packing the courts with extreme conservatives
  • allowing unlimited gerrymandering of voting districts
  • barricading U.S. borders against refugees (but only those who aren’t white)
  • reversing pollution controls in order to ‘ease’ the regulatory burden on corporations
  • promoting any and all efforts to reverse Roe v Wade
  • chewing off vital parts of the Affordable Care Act until they can shoot the entire act in the head
  • destroying the U.S.’s standing on the world stage, betraying allies, and doubling down on military force as the only viable foreign policy
  • accepting murderers as friends (such as Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, who in absentia murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and war criminal former U.S. Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher)
  • ignoring the public health crisis while ending school lunch programs that sought to reduce the nation’s childhood obesity problem

And much more, most of which serves the corporate agenda more than the evangelical. But who’s counting?

The ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ mindset of the unholy Republican coalition demonstrated its determination to push its agenda at any cost by its election of Trump despite (or because of) his racism, his corruption, his sexism, and his utter disregard for standards of personal honor or morality. The idea that Trump was God’s chosen messenger despite his history of multiple sins appealed to the evangelicals. After all, who among them had not sinned? Their entire religious outlook is based on the idea that God will forgive sin. Lo and behold, God had forgiven Trump, made him King (er, uh president), in order for him to work God’s will on the wayward United States of America.

Trump, on the other hand, knows he’s not forgiven nor has he ‘gone forth and sinned no more.’ Trump hungers for power and adoration, and he’ll say and do anything to keep that juice coming. Honest public servants who attempted to serve in his administration held onto their posts despite Trump’s tantrums and verbal abuse out of a sense of duty to the nation. The landscape is littered with their empty desks.

An overcrowded fenced area holding families at a Border Patrol Centralized Processing Center is seen in a still image from video in McAllen, Texas, U.S. on June 11, 2019 and released as part of a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General on July 2, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/07/border-facilities/593239/

Trump has no conscience, no agenda, and no principles. He does what he’s told by advisers who put up with his out-of-control behavior because they have their own agendas. For Stephen Miller, the agenda is making America white again. There’s Jarrod Kushner, a Jew, who quietly works as ‘strategic planner’ to advance Israel at the expense of Palestine and of U.S. security in the Middle East. There’s Trump’s daughter Ivanka, possibly the only person who can actually exert some small amount of control over her father, acting as a so-called adviser for women’s issues while in reality maximizing profits for her family’s financial interests.

For Mitch McConnell and other elected lackeys, the agenda is to hang onto their elected seat in districts where the majority of voters are either evangelical, racist, or otherwise drinking the Kool-Aid so freely dispensed by the party. Going against such constituents is simply too big of a risk to take even though the 2018 congressional elections should have warned them their hold on power had become tenuous.

The Republicans cling to their long-game strategy in the belief that evangelicals will continue to sleep with the morally corrupt. Evangelicals rush along in their cognitive dissonance to embrace the idea of end times, eager to do what they can to trigger the promised apocalypse which will bring Jesus back. In this mindset, they alone will be ‘saved’ while the rest of those libtards burn in hell. So why should they listen to anything progressives might say?

Science, as always, is not to be trusted even though every day evangelicals depend on the advances science has brought to modern society. Antibiotics, x-rays, MRIs, organ transplants—nothing is too ‘modern’ to ignore when an evangelical is fighting disease and death. Cell phones, DVRs, GPS, air conditioning—nothing is off the table when it comes to comfort and entertainment even if those terrible atheist scientists might have invented it. But when the science doesn’t fit into their religious view, forget about it. God is the only one who can change the weather. God assigns gender and never intended same sex love. God favors white people—that’s the reason He blessed the United States and gave whites dominion over those red-skinned heathens who were here first.

What evangelicals fail to see through their rapturous haze is that once Trump and his enabling Republicans have broken the Constitution in order to fulfill their agenda, they and their agenda will no longer matter. With the failure of the Republican-controlled Senate to hold Trump accountable, the executive branch of the government is without limits. What that might mean for the future of our nation is too terrible to contemplate.

The unholy alliance of religion and politics has been the source of the world’s worst evils since the beginning of time. That reality was fresh in the minds of the Founding Fathers. That misguided zealots now work to overturn that understanding and the protections written into our Constitution cries out for correction. It remains to be seen whether the correction will come in the 2020 election or if it will come only with another civil war.

 

~~~

Further reading: “Trump is an anathema to everything I was taught to love about Jesus, everything I was taught about how to live out my faith. His disdain for decency, disrespect toward basic tenets of right and wrong and complete disregard for the most vulnerable among us could not be more fundamentally un-Christian. To vote for him because he sees the political expediency of supporting restrictions on abortion is a Faustian deal with the devil that is ultimately more likely to exact greater cost than reward.” https://time.com/5775440/donald-trump-evangelical-opposition/

[1] https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/christian-right-worships-donald-trump-915381/

Tea Time

A couple of hundred years ago, the Brits figured out the utility of tea. In China where the tea plant is native, tea had been an important human companion for thousands of years. Aside from its refreshing properties, tea offers the opportunity for a satisfying ritual.

Americans need tea time.

It was with that in mind, as well as the beverage’s healthy attributes, that I included 50 loose leaf teas in fulfilling a personal dream of opening a café.

Yes, this blog post has nothing to do with current events, politics, or social disorder.

Trailside Café & Tea Room gained success almost immediately upon opening in March 2009. The old Quonset hut building where it was housed transformed from an out-of-the-way eyesore on the outside to another place in time on the inside. Peaceful pale apricot walls, crisp white tablecloths, and framed images of people taking tea in Arabia, China, Paris, and other parts of the world helped shape an atmosphere of world community centered on tea.

Since the café closed in December 2011, I have on occasion tried to continue my gospel of tea. There’s a terrible hurdle in this effort, however. Everyone thinks they know about tea.

They don’t.

What Americans know about tea – Camellia sinensis – is a tea bag-stained glass of water heavily flavored with lemon and sugar. Friends, that’s not tea.

Well, it’s tea, but not really what tea has to offer.

Consider, for example, the many types of tea. When tea leaves are plucked from their bushes, they are spread out to dry. With no further ‘curing’ process, this become white, yellow, or green tea.

Currently there is no generally accepted definition of white tea and very little international agreement; some sources use the term to refer to tea that is merely dried with no additional processing, some to tea made from the buds and immature tea leaves picked shortly before the buds have fully opened and allowed to wither and dry in natural sun, while others include tea buds and very young leaves which have been steamed or fired before drying. Most definitions agree, however, that white tea is not rolled or oxidized, resulting in a flavor characterized as “lighter” than most green or traditional black teas.

In spite of its name, brewed white tea is pale yellow. Its name derives from the fine silvery-white hairs on the unopened buds of the tea plant, which give the plant a whitish appearance. The unopened buds are used for some types of white tea.

Oolong comes in many styles, my current favorite cup every morning being the Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong. In general, oolong is

… a traditional semi-oxidized Chinese tea produced through a process including withering the leaves under strong sun and oxidation before curling and twisting. Most oolong teas, especially those of fine quality, involve unique tea plant cultivars that are exclusively used for particular varieties. The degree of oxidation, which varies according to the chosen duration of time before firing, can range from 8–85%, depending on the variety and production style.

What most Americans think is ‘tea’ is black tea. Sadly, most teabags sold in stores contain leaf dustings and fragments after the quality leaves have been diverted to more discerning consumers.

Black tea is more oxidized than oolong, green, and white teas. Black tea is generally stronger in flavor than other teas. While green tea usually loses its flavor within a year, black tea retains its flavor for several years. For this reason, it has long been an article of trade, and compressed bricks of black tea even served as a form of de facto currency in Mongolia, Tibet and Siberia into the 19th century. Black tea accounts for over 90% of all tea sold in the West.

After the harvest, the leaves are first withered by blowing air on them. Then the leaves are processed in either of two ways, CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) or orthodox. The CTC method produces leaves of fannings or dust grades that are commonly used in tea bags but also produces higher (broken leaf) grades. This method is efficient and effective for producing a better quality product from medium and lower quality leaves of consistently dark color. Orthodox processing is done either by machines or by hand. Hand processing is used for high quality teas. While the methods employed in orthodox processing differ by tea type, this style of processing results in the high quality loose tea sought by many connoisseurs. The tea leaves are allowed to completely oxidize.

Jeanne Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir taking tea.

Next, the leaves are oxidized under controlled temperature and humidity. (This process is also called “fermentation”, which is a misnomer since no actual fermentation takes place. Polyphenol oxidase is the enzyme active in the process.) The level of oxidation determines the type (or “color”) of the tea. Since oxidation begins at the rolling stage itself, the time between these stages is also a crucial factor in the quality of the tea; however, fast processing of the tea leaves through continuous methods can effectively make this a separate step. The oxidation has an important effect on the taste of the end product, but the amount of oxidation is not an indication of quality. Tea producers match oxidation levels to the teas they produce to give the desired end characteristics.

Then the leaves are dried to arrest the oxidation process.

Finally, the leaves are sorted into grades according to their sizes (whole leaf, brokens, fannings and dust), usually with the use of sieves. The tea could be further sub-graded according to other criteria.

Ho Chi Minh taking tea

The benefit of black tea processing methods is that by mixing, tea leaf flavors are combined, allowing product standardization. Which takes a lot of the fun out of tea.

Finally, there’s pu-erh (pronounced ‘pooh-er’). I never gained much appreciation for pu-erh. It’s an acquired taste and largely considered medicinal among the Chinese.

Fermented tea (also known as post-fermented tea or dark tea) is a class of tea that has undergone microbial fermentation, from several months to many years. The exposure of the tea leaves to humidity and oxygen during the process also causes endo-oxidation (derived from the tea-leaf enzymes themselves) and exo-oxidation (which is microbially catalyzed). The tea leaves and the liquor made from them become darker with oxidation. The most famous fermented tea is pu-erh.

Experimenting with tea to find one or more favorites doesn’t just require finding a source. (My go-to place for quality teas is Upton Tea.) One must appreciate and meticulously follow proper preparation techniques in order to gain the full flavor of the tea. This involves heating good quality water in a tea kettle (not microwave), the appropriate amount of tea leaves placed in a strainer large enough to permit full expansion of the leaves, careful timing of steep time, and avoidance of adding flavor killers like sugar, milk, or lemon.

PLEASE! Give the tea a chance!

For example, boiling water (212°) is required to steep a black tea, but absolutely ruins green or oolong tea. For those more delicate leaves, the tea kettle should be pulled from the stove when it first starts to steam, around 190°. Steep time for a Darjeeling black tea is only 2-3 minutes whereas an oolong is best at 4-5 minutes. And so forth.

Tea not only offers the stimulation of caffeine, but also of theobromine (also found in chocolate) and theophylline (also found in chocolate and when isolated, serves multiple pharmacological purposes).[1] Additionally, tea contains useful flavonoids[2], EGCG (believed useful in reducing LDL-cholesterol)[3], and other flavins (with complex health benefits)[4].

The preparation and serving of tea to oneself or a small gathering of friends can be a soothing ritual of human-scale attention to detail. The process invokes a sense of timelessness and caring. No wonder early Americans continued this tradition of their British brethren. And no wonder that King George’s 1773 outrageously high taxation of tea became the rallying point of our revolution. After that, it became unpatriotic for Americans to drink tea, instead diverting the need for a social drink to coffee.

I’ve found tea far preferable to coffee, which makes me jittery and upsets my stomach. I enjoy the variety of teas beyond my current Iron Goddess phase. I keep some good quality Darjeeling on hand as well as some Jasmine pearls (green tea scented with jasmine flowers). And my first love in tea is never far from my mind, unsweetened black tea on ice of which I once could drink gallons until I figured out why I couldn’t go to sleep at night…

At my age, tea drinking must take place before noon in order to not lie awake at midnight, which explains why the Brits can have tea time at 4 p.m. and then attend late night parties without suffering. I’ll probably never adopt the British/Irish/Scottish habit of super-strong blends like Irish Breakfast or the practice of steeping a full pot of tea with the leaves left in. As one wag noted, such preparation made tea strong enough ‘to trot a mouse over the surface.’

I haven’t even mentioned flavored teas – smoked, blended with bergamot (Earl Gray), or combined with citrus, spices, or fruits for a wide variety of flavors. Or you might one of a few Westerners who enjoy tea Tibetan style mixed with Yak butter and salt.

Consider experimenting with tea for your new year!

 

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Related blog post on Tea and China here.

 

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

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

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

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flavan-3-ol