Category Archives: politics

Ruminations on the Confederacy

redneckI am a Southerner.  A bona fide one.   My direct lineal ancestor, Lemuel Lamb Hardy, was born sometime between 1695 and 1700 in Chowan, Bertie County, North Carolina and died there on Salmon Creek in 1750. Solomon Zant, my mother’s Great (times five) Grandfather on her father’s side was probably born in Switzerland, but made it to Ebenezer, now a ghost town in Effingham County, Georgia in time to hitch up with Elizabetha Keiffer  on March 24, 1767.[i]

My point is: my Southern roots go back to before the U.S. became a country.  We came early to this party and we stayed late. Which gives me the right to comment on this whole “Romance of the South/ Up with the Confederacy” CRAP coming up through the drains these days, poisoning our public discourse with pure vituperative nonsense.

Any student of American history knows that the United States was founded on a fault line – slavery – and that it was only a matter of time before tectonic plates shifted and the nation was rent asunder. A civil war was in the cards from Day One. In fact, pace Tea Party,  it’s arguable that the Second Amendment had a lot more to do with assuring Southern whites that they would be able to surpress a slave rebellion than it did with ensuring that patriots could defend themselves from some nonspecific tyranny.  It still does. “Don’t want too many of them brown people getting up in our white business, after all.”  Isn’t that what you believe?

There was nothing romantic about the Old South.   It was predicated on an abomination.  The Southern “way of life” was a rare bloom growing from a great reeking heap of manure.  Africans did not benefit from being dragged to these shores in chains and then treated worse than pack animals.  (The wonder is that they have managed to succeed to the great extent that they have, enriching our culture beyond anything us honkies could pulled off under similar circumstances.)   As for the ladies, corsets like Scarlett O’Hara wore resulted in everything from squashed ribs and hearts to displaced spleens.   If childbirth didn’t get you, your corset surely would.  (Not that you could ever hope for a seventeen inch waist.  I’m talking to you, Paula Deen.)

And here’s the kicker, those of you just a-longing for those good old days upon the Swanee River, for most of you that will be a case of nostalgie de la boue.  Because you descend from Crackers.  Yes, Crackers.  All of you who are so proud to call yourselves ‘Rednecks’?    Crackers. Tenant farmers.  Dirt Farmers. Poor white trash.  You know how to tell?   Do you have a great grandmother who belonged to the Daughters of the Confederacy?  Is your daughter eligible to be a debutante in North Carolina or Georgia or Mississippi?  No? I thought so.  Crackers.

I’m a Cracker too.  I once asked my Grandfather Hardy what his people had done in the Civil War.  “Why, they hid in the swamp every time the recruiter came by,” he told me.   “They didn’t think the war had anything to do with them. They were dirt farmers.  They didn’t own slaves.”

And your relatives probably didn’t either, so stop dreaming!

When I was twelve years old, I read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind for the first time. Then I read it four more times.   I loved it.  I fell for it hook, line and sinker.   For a number of years it informed my view of the Civil War and the history of the United States and my own identity as a Southern woman.  Excuse me.  As a flower of Southern Womanhood.

Then I grew up.

So don’t save your Confederate money, boys.  The South will not rise again.  And you are not who you think you are and never will be. So just get over it.  And, while you’re at it, learn to spell.

[i] (Interestingly enough, Ebenezer was established in 1734 by 150 Salzburger Protestants who had been expelled from the Archbishopric of Salzburg in present-day Austria for religious reasons.  Elizabetha was a Saltzburger, as was Solomon’s mother.  The town was intended to be a religious Utopia on the Georgian frontier, but that’s another story.)

True Patriot Hearts

ohcanadalyricsNational anthems make me cry. Not all national anthems, just mine.  Because I’m a hybrid – that is to say, an Americanadian —  I have two national anthems: The Star Spangled Banner and O Canada.  My worst nightmare?  A joint Canadian and American event, kicked off by not one but both national anthems, usually with a bagpiper thrown in to up the emotional ante.     By the time the last verse wraps up, I’m heaving with sobs and in literal black face; even waterproof mascara cannot withstand the upwelling in mine eyes of tears unleashed by these patriotic paens.

And I don’t even much like these songs.  Not only are they impossible to sing, but they are fundamentally silly.  “True patriot hearts in all thy sons command.” Really?  What are all of Canada’s daughters doing? Canning?   And, “With glowing hearts, we see thee rise!”  Rise from where?  To do what?

As for the back story to The Star Spangled Banner — based on a poem written by a lawyer and amateur poet after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy  in the War of 1812.  All I can say is, “Keep your day job, Francis Scott Key!”  Besides, it wasn’t as if the War of 1812 was a real war.  It was more like a war-ette and one the United States lost, even though Americans are loathe to admit it.  Yes, the star spangled banner may have yet waved over Fort McHenry, but the British torched the White House and the U.S. failed in its attempt to conquer Canada – a victory Canadians attribute largely to Laura Secord’s cow.  That was some cow. The chocolates aren’t bad either.

So why do my national anthems make me cry?   Patriotism, in and of itself, is scarcely a virtue.  After all, what is patriotism but territorialism with an upgrade? Wolves pee to demarcate their territory and then proceed to howl about it.  We secure our borders with blood, sweat and tears — like urine, bodily fluids – then break out in renditions of O Canada and The Star Spangled Banner  — usually out of key — to celebrate the fact that it’s ours, not theirs.  “He’s too territorial,” we say of the dog that bites the postman on the way to the front door.  “He’s dangerous.  He’s got to be put down.”  What about those moron vigilantes patrolling the border between Mexico and the United States, those “patriots”?  Are they that much different from overzealous, rampaging dogs?  How about putting them down?

Canada is a thin warm line hugging a vast frozen frontier – bravado in the form of O Canada fortifies the spirit as we hunker down for yet another long, cold winter – “Yes, we are a people. Yes, we own this, albeit we scarfed it from First Nations. Yes, we belong here even though the land would, by its wintry actions, beg to differ.” It’s like my mother said.  “I understand why people went to Canada.  What I don’t understand is why they stayed.”  Needless to say, Martha Nell was not a big fan of cold.

As for the United States, I suppose there are more fractured societies, but it’s scarcely united.  Democrats think Republicans are from Mars and Republicans think Democrats are from Hell.  Yet, at every sports event, up to our feet we leap to hear our national anthem mutilated – our idea of a great send off to the men and boys who, twenty years later, will have puddings for brains.  Hooray for us!

Still I weep. I guess I’m a sucker.  For that one glorious moment when I am swept up in the heady romance that is nationalism, I feel at one with the past, with history, with those who have come before me and those who will come after me and all of those whose voices are raised alongside mine.  Isn’t this grand, I think.   Aren’t I blessed?  Does God not shed His grace on me?

And then the moment ends and I realize that I 1) don’t believe in God; 2) have racoon eyes; and 3) unless this is the Democratic Convention, many of my fellow warblers are probably from the Red Planet.

Maybe we should do away with national anthems altogether and commission an Earth anthem instead.  I could get behind that. Only, please,  can it be a little less lame than the ones we’ve got?

Get those women out of there!

This blog post was originally published on August 19, 2010, but the story, published in the New York Times on January 10, 2015  about the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram using a girl perhaps no older than ten as a suicide bomber, caused me to freshly bemoan the fact that we seem to be able to no nothing for the girls and women victimized by these barbarians.  As always, when no redress seems possible, I resort to my old standby: revenge fantasies. So, once again, how I, in my perfect world, propose to deal with these assholes.

There are a whole lot of reasons we need to get out of Afghanistan, but I can’t help but be terribly concerned about the plight of Afghani women left to the Taliban’s devices.  Last week Time Magazine’s cover picture was of an eighteen year old girl whose nose had been cut off not to spite her face, but for running away from abusive in-laws.   How bad women’s lives have been under the Taliban, indeed, how bad they are in any of the places where harsh Sharia law applies, is hardly hot news. On the other hand, I’ve never seen someone whose nose has been cut off. It’s sobering.

I used to rail a good deal against religion because of the many bad things that are done in its name.  Then I read Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World and realized that it’s people who do bad things and, if they don’t justify it by religion, they will justify it by some other means. Or not.  Maybe St. Augustine was right.  Maybe we’re just bad.

Or maybe it’s the men who are bad.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have two wonderful brothers, an incredible father and a fantastic husband.  I have a lovely son, great male friends and colleagues. . . .  They are not bad.  But in the case of Aisha, the girl whose nose was cut off by her husband while her brother-in-law held her and the Taliban judge looked on. . . .  I’m sorry. Those guys are BAD.

Or maybe they’re just Biblical.

Let’s not forget that Muslims consider the Bible one of Islam’s holy books: according to Muslims, the Bible was God’s unfolding revelation, only (again, according to Muslims) the Jews didn’t get it quite right, which meant that God had to make another stab at getting his people, whichever people that actually was, back on track:  ergo, “Chosen People?  Take Two.” Moreover, both Hebrews and Arabs are considered Semitic peoples, who share the same subgroup of Afroasiatic languages. In other words, they’re kissing cousins. Which is why we shouldn’t be overly surprised the same horrendous punishments proscribed in Sharia law, can also be found in the Bible.

Here’s the difference: some of us have moved on.

Sure, stoning was the punishment for eighteen different crimes under Jewish law. However, in the early years of the Common Era, the Sanhedrin – essentially, the Jewish lawmaking body – effectively put the kibosh on capital punishment.  After 30 AD (CE), no more stoning.  Or, at least, no more legally sanctioned stoning.

Fast forward two thousand years and they’re still stoning and mutilating people in IranSaudi ArabiaSomalia, and those portions of Afghanistan under Taliban.  Hello!  Time Warp!  Get with the program, fellows!  You’re loathsome barbarians! Aren’t you embarrassed?

Apparently not.

Americans believe in freedom of religion, but you don’t notice Scott Roeder, the nut job who shot abortion provider George Teller, getting a pass because he thought murdering somebody was God’s will.  Isn’t there some way we can protect these women from their ridiculous men? Because, trust me.  No woman, no matter how pious and fundamentalist her upbringing,  believes that she deserves her frigging nose and ears cut off for running away from an unhappy domestic situation, and, if she does, she should be rescued because she has been brow-beaten to the point of being delusional.

“Off with his . . . everything!” Monty Python’s The Holy Grail

As this long war winds down, the accepted wisdom is that no outside power, no matter how Super, has proven capable of conquering Afghanistan.  I have a plan. Let’s poll the men and see who thinks Sharia law is a good idea.  Then let’s airlift any of the men who think otherwise, along with every last woman and child the Hell out of that Hell hole; let’s take them with us when we go.  We owe them that much, surely.  Then we can sit by and watch as the men left behind destroy one another one appendage at a time, rather reminiscent of the Black Knight in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail.

It shouldn’t take long.

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Our War . . . on drugs! Reflections on Iraq

The snake pit that is Iraq

In the previous century we watched Europe self-destruct twice, then clamber out of the ruins and put itself back together again, sort of like the Scarecrow after his near death experience at the hands of the Wicked Witch of the West, reconstituting himself with fresh straw.  Of course it was painful; of course it took time.  But not that much time.  Not really.

Why is that?

Well,  for one thing, we could have jammed both world wars into the better part of a decade that we have been in Iraq  and, although part of the legacy of those wars was the dissolution of European-based empires, the countries that had given their names to those empires were established entities with relatively intact institutions. They could be right-sized, the fat trimmed, the belt tightened without too much attendant angst.  Winging, yes.  Bleeding out, no.

Not so the Middle East.

Saddam Hussein was a nasty piece of work.  Tyrannical dictators usually are. But let’s not forget that our opprobrium towards him has far more to do with his nationalization of Iraq’s oil fields than any cruelties he perpetrated on Iraqis, Kurds, et al.  After all, we have given ample proof of our tolerance of corruption and bad behavior from Heads of State, provided they align themselves with our objectives.  What was unforgivable about Hussein (besides testing nerve gas on dogs) was his attempt to keep Iraq and Iraq’s oil for himself/his cronies, not the atrocities to which his regime gave rise nor the fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction he was rumored to have stockpiled.

I’m not sure what we expected when we marched into Baghdad in 2003. . . .  Oh, right — to be hailed as liberators.   Well, those whose job description includes administering  lipstick to sows point to some improvement seven years down the line.  However,  far as I can see, Iraq remains war-torn, ravaged, occupied by a loathed foreign power (us), and swarming with mercenaries, Al Qaeda infiltrators, tribes with genocide on their minds and suicide bombers lining up for the chance to blow the whole shebang to Kingdom Come.  Not a place I’d want to live in, but the place in which we, in large measure, have condemned the Iraqis to live.

The use of heroin and other hard drugs, virtually unknown in Iraq under Saddam’s regime, has increased dramatically since the U.S. led invasion; even more disturbing has been the spike in use among children. To be fair, this is partially due to Hussein’s draconian drug laws (it was pretty much “Off with her head!” if you were caught changing your mind) and the presence of troops along Iraq’s various borders, now porous conduits for hashish and heroin from Iran and Afghanistan and cocaine from Turkey. That the Iraqis are lighting up, that they are turning on and tuning out, that they are hopping aboard the white horse should come as no shock, given what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  As I said in a previous blog about Afghanistan – who can blame them? I’d take drugs too.  So would you.

And, so, it turns out, do our troops, only in their case, it may not be so much a case of abusing drugs as it is of  using them — prescription drugs, that is, although I’m quite certain that some of our troops are up to some type of less quantifiable psychotropic shenanigans in their down time.   On the record, however, are Department of Defense statistics showing that, from 2005 to 2008, there was a 400% increase in the prescription of antidepressants and other drugs used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia among our troops and that, as of 2007, 12% of combat troops in Iraq took antidepressants or sleeping pills.  Do they need them?  Hell, yes, and don’t you be thinking of taking them away from them!  In 2009, 160 active-duty Army suicides were reported – a 15% increase from the previous year — and a whopping 1 in 10 of the men and women who serve in this theatre of war will return home to wrestle with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome – our Evil Fairy’s gift to them that  keeps on giving and giving and giving, year after year, one shitty thing after another.  And, by the way, “Thanks for your service. No, really.”

In the immortal words of Edwin Starr: “War! huh-yeah/What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing.”

Praise the Lord and pass the pipe!

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Black Dog Day

My dopamine is down a pint; I’m having what Dan Carlin calls a Black Dog Day.  I’m not sure why.  Generally I’m relentlessly cheerful, but today . . . today not so much.

Speaking of Dan Carlin, he of Common Sense and Hardcore History, it’s partially his fault, him and all the other podcast pundits I listen to on an ongoing basis: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Jack Clark of Blast the Right, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, the New Yorker’s Political Scene, every podcast Slate does except the sports one, (because, as I have long maintained, I don’t do balls); The Nation and Washington Week in Review and PBS Newshour and The Daily Show and The Economist and Bill Maher’s Real Time and  Time Magazine, always and for decades, cover to cover.

You get the picture.


I am an idealistic skeptic. I worship heroes and have delusions of grandeur . . . for them, not for me, which explains to Seasoned Readers why I think the sun shines out of Obama’s ass. I also thought it shone out of Martin Luther King’s ass and the collective asses of the Kennedy brothers and, oh, yes, Right Wingers, FDR’s ass as well. Especially FDR’s ass. (I hope that thought is sending you into convulsions. That would make me very happy.) I have been a political junkie from the tender age of seven, when my Dad woke me up on a cold Indiana November night, took me outdoors, pointed to a night sky chock full of stars and announced, “Camelot begins tonight.” He also gave me a juice glass of Coke – to celebrate.  My mother never let us have pop, but the night Jack Kennedy was elected. . . .  That was a big night.

Of course, it doesn’t help my present slough of despond that I am listening to an audio version of Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World in my car. (The Nazis are just launching their program of racial cleansing.  Mother of God, were they evil!)  As for my read-read,  I’m midway through Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, which is about how the Internet is turning our brains into sparkly yo yos.  And it is.  I used to get lost in a book for hours.  Now I can barely hold out for ten minutes before the urge to multitask overwhelms me and I leap to my feet and dash off to do several things at once, one of which, incidentally, is this blog.

To top it all off, just this past weekend my stunningly beautiful twenty-five year old daughter told me she was worried about getting old, that she was afraid of losing her looks.  (I prudently stopped short of confessing that I still fret about my figure and whether I’m “pretty”.  Hello! I’m fifty eight years old.  The answer is:  No.) Then she showed me how, with only a slight bit of manipulation, she could make her under-knee crease resemble either her bum crack or what we used to refer to as her  “cluny.”

As my father used to sing whenever anybody whined, “Everybody hates me/ nobody loves me/ I’m some ugly child/ I’m going out to the garden and eat worms.”

Or maybe I’ll just cook supper while I’m unloading the dishwasher and ironing the napkins, all the while listening to Gwynne Dyer’s Climate Wars on my i-pod. (Speaking of which, move north.  Come 2036, it’s us who’ll have all the food!)

Through the Looking Glass and into the Fire: Afghanistan and America’s longest war

What a difference nine (and counting) years make. Sort of like stepping through the proverbial looking glass: it turns out that nothing is as it seems. Good wars turn out to be bad ones; a righteous cause is revealed to be baseless; we sacrifice on the altar of our presumption the very people whom we say we are trying to save, whose hearts and minds we say we aspire to win. Oh, we swear up and down that they matter, but they don’t.  Not really.  Otherwise we would have probably made a greater effort to stop killing what the now disgraced General McChrystal characterized as an “amazing” number of them.

Sure, they all look alike – raggedy and dusty and like they live in a country that’s been bombed into the Stone Age. . . . Oh, right.  It has been bombed into the Stone Age.  Or it’s dark and they have guns.  Oh, and what about that unfortunate habit of theirs of shooting off guns to celebrate a wedding or driving rapidly towards checkpoints while gesticulating wildly – never advisable given our understandably jumpy troops. And what’s with the bad guys not wearing uniforms? That way you’d at least know who’s side somebody’s on before he. . . say . . . blows himself up  so as to take out you and a few of your buddies.

The crux of the problem is that we’re out of sync: we’re waging a war and they’re . . . well . . . they’re messin’ with us.  Let’s face it. The Afghanis are wedged in between a rock and a hard place with nary an iota of wiggle room.  If they co-operate with NATO forces, the Taliban does bad things to them; if they co-operate with the Taliban, NATO troops do bad things to them.  It’s what you might call a lose/lose situation. The only way to chose between two, very painful evils is proximity – the guys who are within striking distance. . . . That’s who you side with.  For the time they are within striking distance. The hearts and minds of the Afghanis aren’t for sale; they’re for rent. By the hour.  And, frankly, under those circumstances, mine would be too.

The United Nations recently published the results of a study to determine the prevalence of drug use in Afghanistan. It reveals that 800,000 Afghans, 7% of the adult population of 14 million, are drug users – a disturbingly high percentage when compared to other countries and one that is steadily rising.

Under the circumstances, who can blame them?

Obama established an end time to our involvement in Afghanistan back in December 2009.  It can’t come soon enough. It’s time we picked up our toys and went home.

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A Warrior Falls on His Sword . . . or Shoots Himself in the Foot. Which is it, McChrystal?

When asked by PBS Newshour what General Stanley McChrystal could have been thinking when he mouthed off to Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings, retired generals Dan McNeill and Merrill McPeak appeared genuinely baffled. They alluded to McChrystal’s no-nonsense, gruff and blunt manner and pointed out that he had evidently spent insufficient time in situations requiring tact and diplomacy. However, it was pretty clear that they were not convinced that this was the whole story.   McPeak, who appeared stunned throughout, referred to McChrystal twice as a “Warrior,” hesitating a moment before he uttered the word as though he wasn’t sure how that word, so loaded,  would play in the modern world outside gaming circles.

I have no doubt that McChrystal is a Warrior . . . one with a capital W.  Joe Klein describes him as an extraordinary soldier, but one who is pathologically incapable of not speaking his mind.  However, I’m not sure McChrystal . . . or it . . . is that simple.

Let’s review the history of our engagement in Afghanistan.  Bush plunged us into this war in retaliation for 9/11 and to get Osama Bin Laden dead or alive.   I’m actually not going to fault him for that.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Probably we should have looked before we leapt . . . and realized that  Afghanistan defies military occupation and has for millennia, that the words that greet visitors as they arrive at the Kabul International Airport might properly be those that  greeted sinners entering Hell in Dante’s Inferno:  “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”   Instead, we came, we saw, we thought we conquered, we declared premature victory and off we dashed to Iraq to destroy that country.   Having accomplished  Operation Iraqi Ruination, we turned our sites back on Afghanistan to discover that it had – OMG! – metastasized.    What to do?

What to do, indeed?

That was the  conundrum with which Obama had to deal when he took office (conundrum in the sense of a logical postulation evading resolution):  1) how to slink out of Iraq while saving sufficient face to show ourselves on the world stage after that particular embarrassing and devastating debacle; and 2) how to get out of Afghanistan without looking like a bunch of tribal yahoos whopped our technologically superior asses. In an earlier blog, I referred to the war in Afghanistan as a tar pit – easy enough to clamber into, hard as Hell to get out of, and virtually impossible to emerge from not besmirched.

What are Obama’s current options in Afghanistan? The Left wants him to bail; the Right wants him to hunker down and win.  The Left wants out yesterday.  The Right doesn’t care how long it takes, so long as we WIN, goddam it!  Of course, this is all hypothetical because victory in Afghanistan is impossible. This isn’t a conventional war, after all; it’s a police action and, boy, are those bad guys are winning! Worse and much more conclusive, they’ll be there long after we leave and, possession being nine tenths of the law, that’ll be the end of that.

So, what’s a President to do?  After a lengthy review of the war effort and much consultation with generals, Obama decided to compromise.  (Was this a good idea?  How the Hell do I know?  Can you have a good idea when it comes to Afghanistan?)  He nearly triples the force he inherited as Commander in Chief, giving the Generals and the Right more or less what they wanted; then, to appease the Left, he promises to start drawing down troops in July 2011, to, in effect, end the war at a more or less specific point in time.  In other words, he gave the Generals what they said they needed to win on their terms and then he’s getting us the Hell out of there, no matter what. He’s ending the war and trying to put the best face on it that he possibly can.

Oh, now, stop your fulminations!

Lefties, remember the scene in Saigon when we all of a sudden pulled out of Vietnam.  Do we want to a repeat of that in Afghanistan?  I don’t know if I’m prepared to sit through a performance of Miss Saigon set in Kandahar.

Righties, stop foaming at the mouth.  We’re losing! Sometimes America loses!  No, really. Suck it up.

As for the military brass. . . .

Well, that is where McChrystal’s very public insubordination comes in. As McPeak pointed out, McChrystal is a Warrior.  He’s not a police chief.  He’s not an administrator.  He sees that our offensive is on the defensive, that our “war” effort is circling the drain, that our attempts to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people are offset by their desire to keep their heads.  And, as a Warrior, a proud Warrior, he can’t stomach it; for sure, he doesn’t want to be associated with it.  I don’t believe for a nano second that McChrystal did not fully intend for his remarks and those of his closest aides to appear in print. I don’t know whether he knew he’d be fired, but I suspect he did.  After all, that way there could be no question that the unspeakable nightmare unfolding in Afghanistan is Obama’s war and not McChrystal’s.

Move over you three Afghan officers who,  as reported by Time, shot yourselves in the foot when your battalion’s combat tour was extended so that you could get medevacked the Hell out of Hell.  Make a little  room on the heli  for Stanley.

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Gulf Oil Spill Reflux

Some people wanted to do bad things to my poor little Smart Car . . . with me in it!

I was astonished last Saturday to wake up to a crowded inbox full of comments on my weekly blog The Gulf Oil Spill – It’s on You, America.  I’ll be honest.  Usually my little forays into cyberspace net a handful of nice comments from family members and a few high school buddies I haven’t seen for 35 years (and whose names appear to have mysteriously morphed although I think I know who they once were.)  So I was unprepared for the love/hate that bubbled up like a witch’s brew from the ether over the next few days.   Canadians pointed out that it was cold up here (I know, I live here), a number of people wanted to do bad and really quite imaginative things to me and my car, it would also appear that I am stupid, naive and (worse!) a progressive (to which I say, “Duh!”). . . and then a lot of people agreed with me that we should stop pointing fingers and get about the important business of ending our addiction to oil.

Which was, after all, my point.

Let me reiterate: I’m not saying that BP shouldn’t be held to account and I’m not saying that they are not to blame.  They should and they are. For the oil spill.

Nor am I saying that the government’s response was all that it needed to be.  I heard from some of you in the Gulf who pointed out any number of things the government could have done better.  I believe you.  And even the radical Obamist that I am admits that there are things he could have done better as well. You’ll notice I said ‘he’; not ‘He’.  I may think that the sun shines out of his ass, but I don’t believe he’s infallible. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing a blog about politics; I’d be founding a new religion.

Let’s get real, folks. The ship of state is a big, creaky, rusted out old tub and, yes, for all you big-government loathers, it is bloated.  How did it get that way?  Well, I don’t want to let Republicans get all the credit, but both Reagan and W. did a really good job of not walking their government-is-the problem talk.  Budgets, deficits and government all ballooned during their administrations; their legacy is the Jobba the Hutt size mess in which we currently find ourselves.  Not to mention those two dandy wars.  It’s a whole heck of a lot easier to jump into a tar pit than it is to clamber out of one and good luck coming clean any time soon.

No, it’s not big government that’s the problem, it’s bad government.  And right now we have big bad government. It’s not bad because Obama happens to be President.  It’s bad because it has no regulatory teeth in critical areas. Think about it. If the banks had been better regulated, we wouldn’t have lost our collective shirt back in 2008 and, if oil companies had been better regulated, we wouldn’t be filling up the Gulf of Mexico with crude even as I write — 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day worth. We have a systemic problem.  Something’s broken. And that’s why it’s ultimately pointless to focus on Obama and how he’s handling the situation and especially on what he is wearing while handling the situation.  Hello.  This is not about outfits. This is not Sex in the City III, it’s Apocalypse Now and we can’t allow ourselves to be distracted. The ship is going down.  Forget about the damned deck chairs.

Part of being adult is accepting responsibility, taking charge, and directing your energy towards being part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Stop yelling, “Kill the ump!”, haul your ass out of the bleachers and get onto the field.  Stop with the blame and get in the game.  That’s what I’m saying.

By the way, I approve dissenting comments because I believe in a free exchange in the marketplace of ideas.  I’m willing to admit it when I’m wrong and I listen to cogent arguments.  Sometimes I’m even persuaded by them. From here on out, however, I will not approve comments that are weird, creepy, threatening, or so completely off the wall that I fear for their writers’ sanity.  And, please, if you’re going to comment, don’t make things up. Check your facts.  I do.

The Gulf Oil Spill – It’s on you, America!

My Smart Car uses less than $300 a year and can hold a week's worth of groceries and an admittantly apprehensive golden retriever!

Written on June 16, 2010, on the morning after Obama’s historic Oval Office address to the Nation

Get ready, ’cause I’m getting on my high horse!

Those of you who know me realize that I’m a radical Obamist. I think the sun shines out of his ass.  Really.  I do.  And I think he’s handled this old Spill in the Gulf thing as well as anyone could be expected to have.  I mean, just how do you solve a problem like Maria?  This thing is huge.  What?  He’s supposed to do nip-ups and make it disappear?  He’s supposed to get pissed off and his divine wrath will somehow plug the hole?  News flash: governments can only do so many things at once.  Sure, the Minerals Management Service was a party on the rocks heading for the rocks, but we had two wars on the go, 47 million Americans without health care, and a global financial meltdown.  Our President was, I think you’ll agree, a little busy.  Reform, particularly reform of entrenched bureaucracies, takes time, especially when that entrenched bureaucracy is having as much fun as MMS seemed to.  Rome wasn’t built in a day; nor was Sodom destroyed in one.  No, wait. It was.  Never mind.

In any case, my point is this.  The responsibility for the oil spill ultimately lies on us – and by ‘us’, I include Canadians, because 1) I am an Americanadian and 2) Canadians are even bigger energy hawgs than Americans. According to the World Bank (last updated June 15, 2010), in 2007, Canadians consumed 8,169 kilograms of energy, per capita, while Americans consumed 7,666.  Compare that to other industrialized countries:

  • Australia – 5,992
  • The Netherlands – 4,909
  • Russia – 4,909
  • France – 4,258
  • Japan – 4,057
  • Germany – 4,027
  • United Kingdom – 3,464
  • Italy – 3,001
  • China – 1,484

What’s wrong with us?  I’ll tell you what’s wrong: we’re a stiff-necked people.  Never mind the Jews (Israelis, incidentally, use only 2,875 kilograms of energy a year).  It’s us North Americans who have refused for decades to do one damn thing about our addiction to oil.  What made Jimmy Carter, the first President I ever voted for, a one-term President?  A little thing called the Iran hostage crisis.  Oh, and the fact that he had the temerity to tell us that we had a problem with oil and that, if we didn’t do something about it, that problem would grow and grow and grow . . .  just like the oil spill filling up the Gulf of Mexico right now.  For advising us to turn the heat down and wear a cardigan, we banished him to that penumbral shadowland haunted by ex-Presidents, where he has labored ever since in the service of world peace, and put in his place – ta! da! — Ronald Reagan – a nice man, but a terrible President (don’t go all flinty-eyed on me; I said he was nice), and so far down the oil companies’ pockets that he was sucking lint with every breath.

Come on, people!

Stop criticizing the President for not being mad enough or empathetic enough or for wearing the wrong kind of pants. . . .  (What is it with Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson anyway? (  What does she want him to wear?  Hip waders?  Overalls?  Hot pants?  Oh, excuse me.  He’s supposed to dress like Thad Allen?  He’s supposed to pretend to be in the Coast Guard? The way Bush pretended to be a fly boy?  Give me a break!

Instead look in the mirror and see the person who has not written his Congressman asking that a carbon tax be put in place; who has objected to wind turbines in her neighborhood because they aren’t pretty; who just had to buy that Hummer, but somehow didn’t have to buy that Prius (thus potentially martyring themselves for the cause); who invests their money on Wall Street in the hopes of making more money, but not in green investments in the hopes that our children might have an actual planet at the end of this wild ride.   Criticize that person.  Then do the right thing. Get off your duff and help us out a little here. We could sure use it.

The common wisdom is that we get the politicians we deserve.  Not true in Obama’s case.  We don’t deserve him, but we’ve got him.  So let’s just be grateful he’s not a warmongering idiot like Bush and get on with it.

Land as Story: a road broken and the tragic undoing of the Cherokee Nation

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Broken Road is set against an historical backdrop of the events leading up to 1838 Removal of the Cherokee Nation from their ancient tribal lands in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee to Indian Territory beyond the Mississippi. The Cherokee called this event the Trail of Tears and it ranks in my mind as one of the most shameful episodes in American history . . . and one of the most telling.

For the purposes of this blog, which is based on a talk I did at the University of Western Ontario for the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, I’m going to focus on the way the Cherokee viewed their land as opposed to how those white Americans responsible for the Removal and other, similar acts viewed that same land. This difference in viewpoint is key. It explains not only how the fledging US could, without, as my mother would have said, a burp, uproot indigenous peoples from tribal lands held for millennia, but also why many Americans have such a hard time wrapping their minds around efforts to become more sustainable today. It has to do with what the land has meant to them throughout their history on it.

Trail of Tears

Let me give you a little historical background on the Cherokee.

When the white man made first contact with the Cherokee around 1540, their lands encompassed some 140,000 square miles throughout 8 present-day states. Over first 200 years post contact, the Cherokees gradually ceded big chunks of this land to the Americans until, by 1838, the time of the Removal, that homeland had been reduced to land held in the mountains of western North Carolina, North Georgia and Tennessee.

The Cherokee were considered one of the “Five Civilized Tribes” and with good reason. Among native peoples they were the poster children for early adopters: in large measure they adopted European farming methods and embraced Christianity. Moreover, through the invention of the Cherokee syllabary by Sequoyah, Cherokee became a written language, capable of being written and read. The nation even had its own printing press and newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, written in Cherokee. There was also a great deal of intermarriage between whites and Cherokee and it was not uncommon for wealthy Cherokee to own slaves and have peacocks strutting across the lawns of their plantations.

If the goal of white Americans vis a vis the Cherokee was to convert them to European ways, to assimilate them, you’d have to say that they succeeded royally. And the Cherokee counted on that to save them. That was their first mistake.

Enter Manifest Destiny.

Manifest Destiny is the religious belief that the United States should expand from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean . . . and that it does so in the name of God. Of course, once America actually did extend from shore to shore, there has been a bit of what you might call ‘Manifest Destiny’ creep or, perhaps, ooze, but that’s more the story of modern times. For our purposes, we’re back in the days when ‘west’ meant west of the Smokies.

Here’s an 1872 painting by John Gast entitled Spirit of the Frontier. I apologize for not being able to find this image on anything but the cover of this card driven strategy game of the same name, but, as it was a strategy game the US was playing, the context seems not unapt.

If you click on the image to enlarge it, you will see heroic American settlers moving west, driving the savages and the bison before them. You’ll notice that they are protected and guided by this goddess or angel figure, a.k.a. Manifest Destiny, and that she is very graciously bringing the light of civilization from east to west. Quite the juggernaut. And, wouldn’t you know it, the Cherokee were right in the way.

The Cherokee made a miscalculation when it came to the Americans. Although they adopted many of their ways, they nevertheless chose to remain a sovereign nation, something the ambitious US was ultimately unable to tolerate. Moreover gold was discovered in Cherokee territory in 1829 – not much, as it turned out – but the Americans wouldn’t figure that out until after they’d managed to get their hands on their land.

The fight against Removal went on for decades. The Cherokee fought removal, using every legal recourse available and, to be fair, they did receive a good deal of support from many Americans. That they not be removed was a real cause celebre, particularly in Abolitionist circles. However, in the end, the Frontier Party of Andrew Jackson prevailed and the Cherokee were driven from their homes and farms and moved to Oklahoma. (The Cherokee name for Andrew Jackson was ‘Chicken Snake.’)

Here is a map showing the route taken by the various Eastern tribes to ‘Indian Territory’. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see that the Cherokee weren’t the only peoples that were moved west, but the story of the Trail of Tears has special poignancy because of the intensity of the hardship endured by the Cherokee . . . that coupled with the staggering loss of life. 16,000 poorly provisioned people began the march to Oklahoma, which was conducted mostly on foot, much of it in the winter; only 12,000 finished. Approximately a quarter of the nation, died on the Trail.

Unto These Hills

Broken Road is not first book I’ve written about the Cherokee. Constant Fire, a collection of short stories published by Oberon Press, was also about them. In fact, I won the Journey Prize for best short fiction a decade ago for one of the short stories included in Constant Fire: Long Man the River. It featured an uktena, a horned serpent, the same mythical beast whose ulunsuti is central to Broken Road

So, why am I, a white Canadian woman writing about the Cherokee? Well, in the first place, I’m not Canadian. I’m an Americanadian. I was born and raised in North Carolina, but came to Canada at twenty two and have lived over half my life in this country. I consider Canada my home and have been a Canadian citizen for many years.

However, much of my misspent youth was spent on the Qualla Boundary in the mountains of North Carolina just south of Smoky Mountains National Park. The Qualla Boundary or The Qualla is an 82-square mile plot of land held in trust for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. If you click on the thumbnail a map of the park will come up and you can see Qualla at its bottom right hand corner.

You’ll notice I said Eastern Band of the Cherokee. Wait a minute, you’re thinking, weren’t the Cherokee all removed to Oklahoma back in 1838-39? Well, not every last one of them. Some stayed. Some got away. Others came back. The ancestors of the modern-day Eastern Band – about 8,000 souls according to the 2000 Census — were some of those wealthier Cherokee who held title to their land in accordance with U.S. laws; the estimated one thousand Cherokee who evaded the soldiers trying to round them up by hiding in the mountains (although initially branded as outlaws, to be shot on sight, they were eventually given amnesty and allowed to remain in North Carolina); and the surprising number of Cherokee who actually walked back from Oklahoma. For example, there was a renowned wood carver named Going Back Chitolske, who was named after one of his great grandfathers who had made the trek back.

Although the Qualla is supervised by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, it is not an Indian Reservation per se. It is made up of plots of land bought up by Yonagusta, one of the wealthy chiefs who had remained behind, and his adopted son, a white man named Will Thomas, and held in trust for the remnants of the nation. In other words, the Cherokee had to buy their own land back from the government in order to give their people a teensy tiny part of their patrimony in which to live. (Coincidentally, Will Thomas is the subject of Charles Frasier’s novel, The Thirteen Moons. Frasier is perhaps better known for his novel, Cold Mountain.)

So, what was I doing on the Qualla Boundary? Well, my family worked for the Cherokee History Association from 1966 to 2005. The Association ran several tribal businesses, including the Cherokee Museum, the Oconaluftee Indian Village, and Unto These Hills, an outdoor drama.

At the entrance to Mountainside Theatre

Unto These Hills opened in 1950 and played to an estimated 100,000 people a season. The theatre seated 3,000 and we were full most nights. Cherokee, the principle town on the Boundary, was a major tourist destination cum tourist trap and it is adjacent to a big national park, which meant busloads and campgrounds full of tourists. Tourists needed something to do at night and, at that time, there was not much of a nightlife in the mountains of North Carolina, which meant that they came to see ‘The Drama’.

My family’s association with the drama spanned three decades. My father, Bill Hardy, directed it; then my brother Peter directed it and Dad produced it; my mother, the fabulous Martha Nell Hardy, played the female lead – a salty old mountain woman – for a quarter of a century and I . . . I was a Corn Maiden.

Me at 17 applying 'Indian paint' for Scene One and the Green Corn Dance

(This, incidentally marks the height of my dancing career.)

Unto These Hills covered the history of the Cherokee from 1540 to the Removal in 1838. It was a big show, with a big cast and crew, and, along with professional actors and dancers, it included about seventy five Cherokee. In addition to being a profit centre for the tribe, the drama was a big seasonal employer in the area. Whole families would work in the drama, which meant that I got to know Cherokee of all ages, from very young children to very old grandmothers, Walkingsticks, Bushyheads, Owls, Sequoyahs, Hunters, Swimmers, Losiahs, Wolfes and Crowes.


For the purposes of this blog, I would like to reflect on how the Americans thought about land — what it meant, what it was worth – and how the Cherokee thought about that same thing.

The Americans’ sensibility was born of the kind of muscular Christianity that brought Europeans to the shores of the New World and then allowed them to despoil it and to disenfranchise its inhabitants with such little compunction. Their idea of the New World was that it had unlimited resources, and that those resources existed to provide for white people whose gaze was fixed, not on this life, but on the next, not on this earth, but on some gated community in the sky. As a consequence of this mindset, they were not overly concerned with stewardship. Moreover, they thought of land as a commodity, something that could exchange hands and continue intact.

For Cherokee, however, their land was their identity; it was everything and all its features – its rivers and streams, its gorges and mountain — were sacred. Not only sacred, but inhabited by all manner of spirits: with little people and star people and people who lived under mountain and underwater. Their landscape was replete with places where important things had happened that must be remembered – Ambush Place and The Place of the Lizard Monster and Where the Tracts are.

Toineeta, an old conjure woman and one of the principal characters of Broken Road, says it best.

“In my language there is a word for the land — eloheh. It means many things — land, the story of my people on the land, the way of my people on the land, the gods that inhabit places. . . . Eloheh! Eloheh! I cannot tear out my heart and live. In the same way, I cannot leave my land and live.”

As far as the Cherokee were concerned, Oklahoma did not . . . could never compensate them for the loss of their ancestral home for the simple reason that it was not their tribal land.

As for the Americans, the U.S. and the world are still reaping the whirlwind sown by Manifest Destiny. If you do not consider nature to be sacred, if you are not grateful for and mindful of what you kill and eat or grow and eat, if you believe that this world does not matter as much as some other, distant one, then you are unlikely to spare time or dime to protect and preserve it. You just move on down the road, spewing exhaust.