North to Nowhere

A Mostly Mindless Ramble

Nebraska Borders and Vice

§ Filed Under: native americans

This post by NPR is hilariously ironic. The basic idea is that rural Nebraskans are upset that Colorado’s newly legal pot is slipping across the border and potentially ruining their amazing way of life. Even if you ignore the fact that most of the claims are anecdotal, this quote is just makes me laugh:

“We need to stand up and say, ‘No, we don’t want this stuff here,’ ” Hayward says. “It’s dangerous. It’s bad for people’s health. You don’t want your kids getting involved in this.”

Why? Because at the same time that those in the southern part of Nebraska’s panhandle are dealing with a potential influx in marijuana, those in the northern part have long practiced the same basic principle with alcohol. Sydney (the town in the story) is a two and half hour drive from Whiteclay, Nebraska, a town that’s sole purpose is to sell alcohol to residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation, which has long banned its sale within the reservation. Whiteclay is far from the only town to exploit the market for illegal cross-border alcohol purchases, it’s just the most blatant about what it’s doing. So forgive me if I don’t necessarily feel immense support for Nebraskans crying about Colorado’s pot.

Procrastination Readings

§ Filed Under: links

Worth noting that the protest wasn’t that out of place at the time:

This is actually not as random as it may seem (and this is the one hole in the documentary’s treatment of the topic). An open umbrella was a common protest of appeasement policies. According to the historical society:

Umbrella protests first began in England after Chamberlain arrived home from the conference carrying his trademark accessory. Wherever Chamberlain traveled, the opposition party in Britain protested his appeasement at Munich by displaying umbrellas. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Americans on the far Right employed umbrellas to criticize leaders supposedly appeasing the enemies of the United States. Some politicians even refused to use them for that reason. Vice President Richard Nixon banned his own aides from carrying umbrellas when picking him up at the airport for fear of being photographed and charged as an appeaser.

That puts the umbrella protest into more context. In the early 1960s I can see there still being people around who were angry at any attempts to appease Hitler and the Nazis prior to the start of WWII. I also wonder if Witt was protesting JFK in some way, but did not want to say so after he was assassinated and so blamed the protest on his father. Either way, the umbrella is not such a random detail after all.

In 1732, a vampire “outbreak” happened at Český Krumlov, not far from Prague. I say a bit more about this in an article for Disinfo (“What’s a Vampire, Really?“), but the question, for me, was this: Why outbreak? Why not, for instance, call them vampire attacks? Because the fear of vampires at the time were linked to contagion and spread of disease, and by some accounts, vampirism sounds much more viral than supernatural. The “vampire debate” of the 1730s borrowed from science and from folklore. Some 40 years later in 1775, Kirby’s Miscellany carried the story of a young woman struck by palsy who could not eat. She must have been starving and dehydrated, but the witness describes something else entirely: “her cheeks [are] full, red, and blooming. […] she slept a great deal and soundly, perspired sometimes, and now and then emitted pretty large quantities of blood at her mouth.”i Such descriptions probably sound familiar, and it’s no surprise; Bram Stoker spent years researching strange tales of folklore for Dracula, and the vampire-infected Lucy is described much the same way.

I don’t think anyone is out to completely destroy the passive voice, most would say it has a purpose, but Pinker seems to think there’s a marauding band of grammar fanatics out to kill it. Although he does conclude by noting the serious issue with the passive voice:

Then why is the passive so common in soggy prose? Good writing narrates a story, advanced by protagonists who make things happen. Inept writers work backward from their own knowledge, plonking down ideas as they think of them. So they begin with the outcome, and throw in the cause as an afterthought. The passive makes that all too easy.

Finding a topic that is not yet covered on Wikipedia is also a useful lesson in reviewing sources and a good exercise for finding research gaps. Such an assignment, instead of going to the shredder after being graded, stays online and remains useful for others, even if just as a starting point for a good article to be developed in the future. As a bonus, students take assignments with real-world impact more seriously. Even better, new articles on Wikipedia will often be reviewed by Wikipedians, reducing the amount of work for the professor.

The West, the Wild West, and California

§ Filed Under: history

Monday’s freshman American history survey ended with the students having to write about what the defined as the west and what would fall into the “wild west.” Most of the students tended to favor a geographic approach to the west with the general concensus being anything from roughly Oklahoma to the Pacific was “the west.” The bigger debate came when they had to define the mythic or “wild west.” A lot of students took the view that the wild west was something out of Tombstone: sparsely populated deserts. Others focused on Texas and Oklahoma (naturally) because of cowboys and Indians. Oddly far fewer went with a Deadwood-esque west. But the one thing everyone agreed on was that California was not wild and some only put it on the paper because it was on the west coast. The few who justified their answers said California doesn’t qualify because it’s highly populated with the unstated point being it’s too sosphisicated to be the wild west.

I mention all of this because the Western History Association is holding its annual meeting in Newport Beach with the most important question being cowboy boots or saddles? I admit palm trees and high class shopping (even if it is on mispronounced rodeo drive) don’t fit into my idea of the west but sometimes you’re surprised:

Armchair Cowboy

That’s a custom-made recliner found in an upscale western store in the shopping plaza across the street from the hotel. It also costs more than my car. Even better, most of us flew into John Wayne Airport where you walk by this. All of that’s great, but the flight in highlighted a lot of real issues for the west. For one, we flew over a reservoir that was probably two-thirds empty highlighting the ongoing water crisis in California (and reminded me of Chinatown). Add to that issues of sprawl, smog and traffic jams that contribute to it, and you’ve got ample reasons for holding a western history conference in Southern California.

Myth, Memory, & the Vietnam War

§ Filed Under: history

New York Times:

Now the Pentagon — run by a Vietnam veteran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — is planning a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Vietnam War. The effort, which is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $15 million by the end of this fiscal year, is intended to honor veterans and, its website says, “provide the American public with historically accurate materials” suitable for use in schools.

But the extensive website, which has been up for months, largely describes a war of valor and honor that would be unrecognizable to many of the Americans who fought in and against it.

Leading Vietnam historians complain that it focuses on dozens of medal-winning soldiers while giving scant mention to mistakes by generals and the years of violent protests and anguished debate at home.

The article links to a TomDispatch post by Nick Turse that provides more details and the inaccuracies and the Pentagon’s response to questions. The big question I have is who’s writing the history for the website and is it being officially reviewed by independent historians. The answer seems to be no, which is a shame.

Procrastination Readings 10/8-10/9

§ Filed Under: links

Beth clearly hasn’t ventured outside New York all that often. What’s worse is OKC’s cattlemen’s is pretty bad compared to the true one in Fort Worth.

Important counterpoint

Two sources with first-hand knowledge have confirmed New York investor Bartoszek had moving trucks on standby to relocate the team to Seattle. They say a Seattle financing specialist had helped Bartoszek line up local investors to own a small piece of the franchise.

Wonder if they would’ve packed up the band too.

Does Baseball Have a Foul Ball Problem?

§ Filed Under: sports

A few points in response to the Bloomberg story:

  1. When the Tulsa Drillers opened their ballpark in 2010 the team originally planned to start games before 7PM. They ended up moving the start of games back because a kid sitting on the third base line ended up in the hospital after getting hit by a foul ball the family couldn’t see with the sun in their eyes.
  2. The ballpark has one level of bowl seating and a lot of them are prone to foul balls getting sharply hit into the stands. Yet there’s lots of seats that families with small kids can sit in and be generally safe from fouls, but many chose to sit closer in the hopes of getting a ball. In turn many parents don’t pay even attention to the game or sit their kids closer to the plate instead of shielding them.

It’s All About the Fans

§ Filed Under: sports


The growing number of empty seats in student sections across the U.S. is a sign of soaring ticket prices, more lopsided games and fewer matchups against longtime rivals, and the proliferation of televised games that make it easier than ever for students to keep tailgating long after kickoff

So college tuition is soaring through the roof and students can’t afford to attend games and when they do they’re stuck with match-ups that are nowhere near as good as ten years ago. Awesome.

Markwayne Mullin Will Only Defend Parts of the Constitution He Likes

§ Filed Under: idiocracy, links, oklahoma

Oklahoma’s version of Joe the Plumber doesn’t care for the first amendment and the ban on state sanctioned religion unless it means more Christianity:

The next caller, a woman from Antlers, said she was worried about “the way they’ve taken prayer out of school and the direction this country is headed with this one-religion ideal.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the early 1960s that schools could not impose mandatory prayers in public schools. Subsequent decisions have allowed “moments of silence” and student-organized voluntary prayer. Mullin said that isn’t good enough.

“How can we ask our kids to do something we’re not willing to do ourselves?” he asked. “We’re saying to our kids, ‘We’re not willing to take a stand; our teachers are not willing to take a stand; our superintendents are not willing to take a stand.’

“That is hypocritical,” Mullin said. “If we want to put prayer back in our schools, our communities have to stand up; the churches have to stand up; the parents have to stand up. They have got to say, ‘No, we want it in our schools.’ We’re going to do what we want to do because it’s our schools. It’s our public schools.

“Prayer is the root of this country.”

Mullin said his own children attend a rural public school in which “the superintendent stands up and prays every morning.”

Hopefully someone knows the district Mullin’s kids attend and file a complaint against the Superintendent (if it’s true). Or in the very least get Mullin rejecting led Islamic, Jewish, Pagan, or any other prayer in school.

Too Many Beers

§ Filed Under: alcohol, links,

In the ’90s, it was effortless to select a craft beer: It was the one that tasted different. Today, quality is no longer the sole differentiator. To stand apart, breweries must enlist new tricks to make consumers look at their beer. “We’ve looked at our packaging for 20-plus years, and we felt that we needed to see something new,” says New Belgium PR director Bryan Simpson. After much debate, New Belgium swapped its iconic watercolor imagery for a colorful contemporary look featuring hand-painted imagery. “New labels provide people with a reason to give a beer a second look and perhaps try something they’ve walked past for years,” Simpson says.

More selection is terrible for breweries competing for space, especially true local craft brewers, but at least at the moment it’s fun to spend some time in a decent liquor store exploring new beers.

Always Take First Hand Accounts With a Grain of Salt

§ Filed Under: dissertation

One of the many books I picked up today at the library was We Are Still Here: A Photographic History of The American Indian Movement, a good looking large glossy text produced by the Minnesota Historical Society Press which included photographs by Dick Bancroft and text by Laura Waterman Wittstock. Both Bancroft and Wittstock had interactions with AIM during the height of the Red Power period; Bancroft as a sympathetic photographer and Wittstock as a journalist. Yet in both of their introductions to the text, they argue that the death of Raymond Yellow Thunder was the major contributing factor that lead to the occupation of Wounded Knee. Here’s how Bancroft describes it:

One thing leading to Wounded Knee was the death of Raymond Yellow Thunder, which happened in Nebraska, just over the border from Pine Ridge. Very tiny liquor stores were selling enormous quantities of beer and spirits to Indians from the reservation, and race relations were just terrible. Four white men seized Yellow Thunder from the street, stripped him of his pants, beat him, made him dance at a VFW hall, and left him badly hurt. He died of injuries and exposure.

Bancroft correctly provides the basics of the Yellow Thunder incident but he gets off track when he writes:

AIM came in as a result of that incident, and then there was a strategy session about what to do next. AIM always said during that period that it never went anywhere unless it was invited. The traditional leaders had contacted Russell Means. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back and everybody converged. And they got into Pine Ridge and then they decided, “What are we going to do?” Well, the most famous site on the reservation is Wounded Knee.

Here’s Wittstock:

…The blowup and occupation of Wounded Knee, which began shortly after the murder of…Raymond Yellow Thunder. He died of his wounds alone sometime between February 12 and 20.…This was the immediate issues that led to the Wounded Knee occupation on February 27, 1973.

Both Wittstock and Bancroft are completely off base in arguing that Yellow Thunder’s death was the immediate cause of Wounded Knee, primarily because Yellow Thunder died in February 1972 not 1973, a full year before the occupation. AIM did show up to Pine Ridge in the wake of Yellow Thunder’s death and lead a protest which shut down Gordon, Nebraska for three days and lead to the District Attorney filing charges against the four attackers and leading the town to form a commission to look at race issues in the area. The Yellow Thunder protest was a major victory for AIM and the success was probably in the back of the minds of those who invited AIM back to Pine Ridge in February 1973 after the failed impeachment of Dick Wilson, which was the prevailing reason for the Wounded Knee occupation.

If I was generous I’d say Bancroft and Wittstock are confusing Raymond Yellow Thunder’s death with that of Wesley Bad Heart Bull, who died in a bar fight in Buffalo Gap, South Dakota and whose attacker also received a lesser charge than AIM and Oglalas had hoped for. However both have the details of Yellow Thunder’s death and neither even remotely mentions the protest/riot at the Custer County Courthouse that saw a small building burned to the ground. Bad Heat Bull’s death along with protests in Rapid City in the period prior to Wounded Knee highlight the racial tensions surrounding Pine Ridge but political corruption rather than race relations led to Wounded Knee. Amazingly a quick glance at the chapter on Wounded Knee, written by Wittstock, notes Wilson impeachment as the issue behind the occupation.

Bancroft and Wittstock’s confusion about the period generously characterizes histories of the period, as evidenced by the general belief that Leonard Peltier was charged and convicted for his role in the Wounded Knee occupation when Peltier actually spent most of the occupation in a Wisconsin jail.