Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Why do so many Americans claim to possess “Cherokee blood”?

"Are you sure? You don't look Cherokee to me."
"Recent demographic data reveals the extent to which Americans believe they’re part Cherokee. In 2000, the federal census reported that 729,533 Americans self-identified as Cherokee. By 2010, that number increased, with the Census Bureau reporting that 819,105 Americans claimed at least one Cherokee ancestor....
[Unless you have confirmatory DNA evidence, I would tend to doubt family stories about Cherokee ancestors...] 
...So why have so many Americans laid claim to a clearly fictional identity? Part of the answer is embedded in the tribe’s history: its willingness to incorporate outsiders into kinship systems and its wide-ranging migrations throughout North America. But there’s another explanation, too.
The continuing popularity of claiming “Cherokee blood” and the ease with which millions of Americans inhabit a Cherokee identity speaks volumes about the enduring legacy of American colonialism. Shifting one’s identity to claim ownership of an imagined Cherokee past is at once a way to authenticate your American-ness and absolve yourself of complicity in the crimes Americans committed against the tribe across history."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Historian Jay Winik's Six Favorite Books

Well I'm not afraid to admit that I haven't read any of these. I listened to the audio-book version of Einstein, but that doesn't really count. I have read Manchester's Churchill books and other books by Boorstin and Massie. Looks like a good list, though. I think I would be most likely to read Nicholas and Alexandra or A World Lit Only by Fire first.

"Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (Oxford, $20). The finest single-volume work on the Civil War out there. Written with verve and panache, it's filled with rich character portraits and fresh interpretations of the key political, social, and military events. I loved this book when I wrote April 1865, and love it still.
Einstein by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, $20). The improbable story of a patent clerk who couldn't get a teaching job and ended up unlocking the mysteries of the universe. How can the reader not find Einstein's life captivating? Bravo to Isaacson.
The Creation of the American Republic by Gordon S. Wood (Univ. of North Carolina, $35). The 1790s were the critical first decade of the United States, but Wood's account of the years 1776–1789 deftly lays bare the underpinnings — the establishment of a distinctly American political system and a new enlightened age. A must-read for students of American history.
The Americans: The National Experience by Daniel J. Boorstin (Vintage, $18). This rich little book opens with the story of how the "City Upon a Hill" prospered because it was really a city on the sea. That marvelously evocative detail begins the voyage that is the story of America. Boorstin was the Librarian of Congress, and his quirky insights and erudition shine on every page. His prose sparkles.
Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie (Random House, $20). Massie is a master story-teller, and this book is his finest. It is at once an epic human drama and a compelling tapestry depicting an empire crumbling in slow motion. Here is the fall of the Romanovs; here are the deaths of the well-meaning, often hapless royals; and here are the events that gave birth to Soviet communism.
A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester (Little Brown, $16). I am partial to William Manchester's books on Winston Churchill, but time and again I'm drawn to this elegantly crafted portrait of medieval Europe, a civilization on the verge of collapse that then experienced a remarkable rebirth. The book is filled with exquisite details as well as unforgettable heroes and villains.
—Historian Jay Winik is the best-selling author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval. In his new book, 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History, he takes the measure of another fulcrum point in the story of Western civilization."

Monday, October 5, 2015

Why English used to be the best college major

The American Scholar
"What was the appeal of English during those now long-ago days? For me, English as a way of understanding the world began at Haverford College, where I was an undergraduate in the late 1950s. The place was small, the classrooms plain, the students all intimidated boys, and the curriculum both straightforward and challenging. What we read forced us to think about the words on the page, their meaning, their ethical and psychological implications, and what we could contrive (in 500-word essays each week) to write about them. With the books in front of us, we were taught the skills of interpretation. Our tasks were difficult, the books (Emerson’s essays, David Copperfield, Shaw’s Major Barbara, the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and a dozen other works) were masterly, and our teacher possessed an authority it would have been “bootless” (his word) to question.
Finding pleasure in such reading, and indeed in majoring in English, was a declaration at the time that education was not at all about getting a job or securing one’s future. In comparison with the pre-professional ambitions that dominate the lives of American undergraduates today, the psychological condition of students of the time was defined by self-reflection, innocence, and a casual irresponsibility about what was coming next.

Also visible in the late 1940s and early 1950s were thousands of GIs returning from World War II with a desire to establish for themselves lives as similar as possible to those they imagined had been led by the college generation before their own. For these veterans, college implied security and tradition, a world unlike the one they had left behind in Europe and the Pacific. So they did what they thought one always did in college: study, reflect, and learn. They would reconnect, they thought, with the cultural traditions the war had been fought to defend. Thus a curriculum complete with “great books” and a pantheon of established authors went without question for those students, and it was reinforced for everybody else.
For those like me who immediately followed them in the 1950s and early 1960s, the centrality of the humanities to a liberal education was a settled matter. But by the end of the 1960s, everything was up for grabs and nothing was safe from negative and reductive analysis. Every form of anti-authoritarian energy—concerning sexual mores, race relations, the war in Vietnam, mind-altering drugs—was felt across the nation (I was at Berkeley, the epicenter of all such energies). Against such ferocious intensities, few elements of the cultural patterns of the preceding decades could stand. The long-term consequences of such a spilling-out of the old contents of what college meant reverberate today."

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Man -- George Herbert (1593–1633)

                My God, I heard this day
That none doth build a stately habitation
         But he that means to dwell therein.
         What house more stately hath there been,
Or can be, than is man, to whose creation
                All things are in decay?

                For man is ev'ry thing,
And more: he is a tree, yet bears more fruit;
         A beast, yet is, or should be, more;
         Reason and speech we only bring;
Parrots may thank us if they are not mute,
                They go upon the score.

                Man is all symmetry,
Full of proportions, one limb to another,
         And all to all the world besides;
         Each part may call the furthest brother,
For head with foot hath private amity,
                And both with moons and tides.

                Nothing hath got so far
But man hath caught and kept it as his prey;
         His eyes dismount the highest star;
         He is in little all the sphere;
Herbs gladly cure our flesh, because that they
                Find their acquaintance there.

                For us the winds do blow,
The earth doth rest, heav'n move, and fountains flow.
         Nothing we see but means our good,
         As our delight, or as our treasure;
The whole is either our cupboard of food,
                Or cabinet of pleasure.

                The stars have us to bed;
Night draws the curtain, which the sun withdraws;
         Music and light attend our head;
         All things unto our flesh are kind
In their descent and being; to our mind
                In their ascent and cause.

                Each thing is full of duty;
Waters united are our navigation;
         Distinguished, our habitation;
         Below, our drink; above, our meat;
Both are our cleanliness. Hath one such beauty?
                Then how are all things neat!

                More servants wait on man
Than he'll take notice of; in ev'ry path
         He treads down that which doth befriend him,
         When sickness makes him pale and wan.
Oh mighty love! Man is one world, and hath
                Another to attend him.

                Since then, my God, thou hast
So brave a palace built, O dwell in it,
         That it may dwell with thee at last!
         Till then, afford us so much wit,
That, as the world serves us, we may serve thee,
                And both thy servants be. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Can't You Hear Me Knocking -- The Rolling Stones (1971)

All rock 'n roll is antisocial, but this cut is really antisocial. The Rolling Stones -- music for criminals.

Yeah, you got satin shoes
Yeah, you got plastic boots
Y'all got cocaine eyes
Yeah, you got speed-freak jive

Can't you hear me knockin' on your window
Can't you hear me knockin' on your door
Can't you hear me knockin' down your dirty street, yeah

Help me baby, ain't no stranger
Can you help me baby, ain't no stranger
Help me baby, ain't no stranger

Can't you hear me knockin', ahh, are you safe asleep?
Can't you hear me knockin', yeah, down the gas light street, now
Can't you hear me knockin', yeah, throw me down the keys

Alright now

Hear me ringing big bell tolls
Hear me singing soft and low
I've been begging on my knees
I've been kickin', help me please

Hear me prowlin'
I'm gonna take you down
Hear me growlin'
Yeah, I've got flatted feet now, now, now, now

Hear me howlin'
And all, all around your street now
Hear me knockin'
And all, all around your town


Friday, October 2, 2015

CPB Classic: So you want to be a marine biologist?

"Say, that old wine in a new bottle wasn't bad. How about some day-old whiskey?"

I am re-posting a piece from December 2013. It's pretty good, though, and didn't get as much readership as it should have. So here it goes again, out into the ether.

So you want to be a marine biologist?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Jailing the mentally ill in Virginia

"Jamycheal Mitchell had stopped taking his schizophrenia medication before he walked into a 7-Eleven near his family’s Portsmouth, Va., home in April and allegedly stole a Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake totaling $5.05.
After the 24-year-old’s arrest, a judge ordered him to a state psychiatric hospital to get help. But like an increasing number of the mentally ill, he sat in jail for months as he waited for a bed to open.
Other inmates said Mitchell paced naked in a cell often covered in his own filth. Family members said they were told he sometimes refused to eat or take medication, and jail records show he manically yelled. He grew gaunt, and by Aug. 19 he was dead, having shed at least 36 pounds.
A state medical examiner has yet to report a cause of death, and police are investigating Mitchell’s case, but his family and civil rights and mental health advocates are outraged that he was allowed to waste away over a $5 misdemeanor. Jail officials denied any wrongdoing, saying Mitchell was fed regularly and was seen by a nurse.
Mentally ill inmates are being warehoused for weeks, months and, in rare cases, years in jails around the nation, waiting to go to state mental hospitals where experts determine whether they are well enough to stand trial and treat those who aren’t. Advocates say the delays are leaving vulnerable defendants to languish, sometimes with tragic results.
In recent years, a defendant with mental illness was raped repeatedly at the Los Angeles jail as he waited eight months for treatment, according to a lawsuit. Three former guards at the Santa Clara County jail in California have been charged with murder for allegedly beating to death a mentally ill inmate who was waiting for a treatment bed. A third inmate in Washington state committed suicide during a wait for treatment.
In Virginia, officials said 89 inmates are waiting in jail for court-ordered mental health treatment. The backlog for Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, where Mitchell was to go, is averaging 73 days."