Timothy McVeigh

(November 21, 2015)

In the sturm and drang over the Syrian refugees, I keep seeing Timothy McVeigh come up which is not surprising being that he was such a scary dangerous mass murdering terrorist creep and an All American white boy at that. However, Timothy McVeigh was not a Christian. I’ve seen this meme I don’t know how many times these past couple days, but bad news for us secular humanists….Timothy McVeigh was an atheist. An ardent one, at that. Science, he proclaimed, was his religion. He’d been raised a good Catholic kid, but as an adult he was a committed atheist. It happens. Being a committed atheist myself (and raised Catholic at that) I am not completely surprised, as we’ve had our share of mass murderers, including two of the big three (Stalin and Mao–Hitler was a believer of some kind of religion, apparently.) As the end drew nigh McVeigh hedged his epistemological bets somewhat and described himself as agnostic, and finally, just to be safe, he had Last Rites with his last meal. But as a working terrorist he was absolutely not a Christian. Now there is a lot of wordy delusional nonsense by micro-offended atheists trying to show McVeigh wasn’t an atheist (or that any bad guys ever were atheists, being that we are intellectually incapable of being anything but pure as the driven snow), but that is a load of philosophical crap. McVeigh was an atheist. And I can only imagine just how offended he’d be if he knew he would one day become the poster child for white Christian domestic terrorists. After all, it took a rationalist, if psychopathically ideological mind to devise such an extraordinarily powerful bomb from items you could find in a barn (well, several barns). Obviously Tim paid attention in science class. And it really was some bomb. 168 dead (and hundreds more wounded) is quite an achievement in the annals of terrorism. In fact despite the endless litany of car and truck bombs that have numbed us almost to the point of not caring (there were several in the past couple days, in fact), Timothy McVeigh’s Ryder truck full of fertilizer ranks as eighth deadliest motor vehicle bomb ever. That’s right, of all the car and truck bombs ever–many of which involve several vehicles and drivers who blew up with them–McVeigh’s remains one of the very worst ever. Indeed, it ties for thirtieth (with the Chechens) in the deadliest terrorist attacks of all time. Which is quite an achievement, you have to admit. Of course Osama’s 9/11 is still the most horrific act of terrorism ever, by far, thus giving Republican politicians their initial excuse to wallow in nativist religious bigotry and paranoia. Not that paranoia itself is entirely a bad thing in an age of terrorism, and certainly we on the left have our own cherished paranoias. But it was Timothy McVeigh, the All American Atheist, who committed the second worst terrorist act in American history. Indeed, one that even beats out most jihadis, even the recently martyred crew in Paris. Which shows that despite of the memes, and in spite of the incessant ghastly attacks by fanatical jihadists (the vast majority of them upon Muslims, actually) you don’t need to be religious to be a truly inventive dangerous person. You don’t need to be a Muslim, you don’t need God or gods at all. You don’t even need ideology. All you need is your thinking cap. Which is why there should be a government registry of atheists. Has Ben Carson proposed this yet? I know I’d sign up.

Timothy McVeigh

Alas, he was a white American atheist. Bull is bull.

Occupations

(January, 2016)

In the zero sum world of Facebook, where everything is either all right or all wrong, the crazy armed militia occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is all wrong. It’s treason, it’s an act of war, it’s something that deserves to be bombed by the air force (sorry birds), or attacked by the army (sorry again, birds). Any surviving occupiers deserve immediate arrest and long term prison sentences. Some  want them hanged. Progressives can be just as ugly as Tea Partiers when they get riled up.

And while I am not in support of the Militia occupiers at all, the very first thing I thought of when I heard about it was the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969. It too was over grievances about land rights. A radicalized offshoot of the American Indian Movement calling themselves Indians of All Tribes (IOAT) got the idea to seize Alcatraz Island. It began with fourteen activists but as there was barely any attempt to stop them soon there were over 400 people, including children, on the island. John Trudell made daily radio broadcasts. This went on for nearly two years. Property was damaged, the place abused. Several buildings were burned down. The electricity and telephone service to the island was eventually cut. The occupiers began to leave. The final dozen or so were driven off by a large force of federal police that landed on June 11, 1971. There was no real opposition. I believe only one person died during the occupation, a young girl who tumbled to her death off a cliff in the fog. Very sad.

Strident demands by angry conservatives that the island be bombed or shelled or assaulted by US Marines with shoot to kill orders were ignored. The occupation had ended peaceably, with minimal force used.  There were no arrests. Damage to the island’s facilities by the occupiers came was in the millions of dollars. The graffiti is still visible.

Though perhaps largely forgotten, the occupation is considered a landmark event in New Left politics, and certainly one of the key steps in the growth of the American Indian Movement. It is part of the Progressive folklore, and as much a part of the Civil Rights era as the March on Selma. And while it achieved virtually none of its stated goals, President Nixon did stop the long running Indian Termination Policy, which had been an existential threat to Indian sovereignty. The federal government no longer terminates tribal recognition by decree. In fact, the current nation within a nation status that American Indian tribes have, with their own laws (and casinos….) can be traced back in many ways to the occupation of Alcatraz Island. The Indians raising hell on Alcatraz Island had a profound impact on the survival of the First Nations as independent tribes in the United States.

You may differ on the justifications with the forces of anarchy stomping around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge looking (to us) like heavily armed fools, but when you decry occupation itself as a violent act of treason and demand Obama send in the air force to bomb the hell out of the place, you have far more in common with the hard right of the 1960’s than the New Left. The occupation in Oregon is pretty much a mirror image of the occupation of Alcatraz. But Facebook doesn’t do mirrors well.

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Not Fade Away

(2015)

Back in 1952 it was obvious that after twenty years the Democrats would at last lose the White House. The public wanted a change, and there were no Democratic candidates with the stature (“presidential timber” was the phrase of the time) of any of the Republicans like Thomas Dewey or Robert Taft, or Dwight Eisenhower or Douglas MacArthur. Dewey and Taft were arch-enemies. Dewey was an internationalist and Taft was more an isolationist. He wanted us out of Europe. As things went, Taft began edge past Dewey in the standings. As nominations were still primarily backroom arrangements–primaries were just beginning–such standings were difficult to glean, but the press and politicos seemed to think that things were leaning in Taft’s direction. There was a draft-Eisenhower movement in the works–he was, after all, the big American hero of WW2, the architect of victory–but he would rather not be president. He’d done his bit and wanted to retire. But he was worried about Taft’s isolationist tendencies…Ike was worried that it was basically handing over Europe to Stalin. Stalin gave him the creeps. So he told Taft that if Taft stated that he would continue the current American policies in Europe–NATO, the Marshall Plan, etc.–that he, Eisenhower, would make a Shermanesque declaration of his lack of presidential ambitions (“I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”) Taft refused. Ike jumped in. It looked neck and neck heading into the convention. So Taft decided to jump the gun on normal procedure and announced his choice of running mate before the convention. He chose Douglas MacArthur. Continue reading

Acid, incense and data points

CSPAN is great on weekends, it’s all history, with lots of historians giving lectures on various topics and, being historians, they tend to be pretty good story tellers. That is until the sociologists show up. Nothing kills a good story like a sociologist. Instead of a rousing narrative you get heaps of arcane social science jargon. I stare blankly. It’s a panel on Haight Ashbury. Groovy, I had thought, feed my head. I turned off the Trump news to watch old hippies with Ph.D’s in history they earned to keep out of Viet Nam telling stories about the Dead and the Airplane and the Human Be In. And these panelists certainly look the part. Not a tie in the bunch. They apparently were even there, some of them. There’s some inside Deadhead references. But no stories. Instead, they are bumming my trip with sociology. Total buzzkill. Acid, incense and balloons reduced to data points. Valid data points, sure. Important perspectives, yes. But what a long, dull trip this hour has been. I like to read about this multi-disciplinary approach to history in books, sure. Hell, I am surrounded as I type here by a library of tomes like that. Sometimes at a party a stoner will crack one open and his glazed eyes will glaze over. You actually read this shit my guitar player asked incredulously after finding a some absurdly academic history of the Andrew Jackson administration tucked under the couch. I spluttered. I thought drummers couldn’t read at all he said and threw the book back on the floor. I pushed it back beneath the couch, embarrassed by my dull choice of reading matter. But that was a book. This is television. Entertainment. If I wanted that kind of dry intellectual thing I’d watch the science lectures on UCTV, which I also do, but not for a rousing good yarn. Hell, it’s Saturday night, I’m stuck at home, and TCM is having another Esther Williams marathon. So I was watching C-SPAN listening to these five professors go on about Haight Ashbury. I had no idea the Summer of Love could be so boring. I’d rather be hanging with the guy who was dishing the dirt on Alexander Hamilton a couple hours ago. He may have been wearing a suit, and probably couldn’t roll a joint, but he sure could tell a story.
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Accidental Death and Dismemberment

Just looking at the dismemberment breakdown in my Accidental Death and Dismemberment policy. It’s not the kind of thing I read everyday, but still, it’s kind of entertaining in a grisly way. Losing an arm, say, or a leg is good money. Losing both is better money. Even better if the arm and leg are on different sides of the body. I remember reading in a book about the Civil War that  General John Bell Hood lost an arm on one side, a leg on the other. They had to strap him to his horse. That always seemed kind of pathetic for a big, tough Texan like John Bell Hood. I also read somewhere that he died after the war in one of those yellow fever epidemics New Orleans was notorious for. That would have been worth less money, dying from yellow fever, than losing that arm and that leg. But of course he lost that arm and that leg in a battle, well, two battles. Hood always liked to be in the thick of things. But his Accidental Death and Dismemberment policy would not have covered either amputation. Gotta read the fine print…no wars.* He should have thought about that before galloping like a fool headlong into the fray. He had to rely on veterans benefits, if they had those back then. Well they did, or would have, except he was on the losing side. No veterans benefits for them. They lost their country, their peculiar institution, and their veterans benefits. All they had left was Dixie, and you can whistle that till the cows come home and you ain’t gonna get a penny. Look before you leap, I say.

Those Accidental Death and Dismember plans–AD&D in the trade–really get into the details. You make a few bucks losing a finger or two. A thumb is a bit better, losing a hand better still. Same goes for toes and a foot. But those are still chicken feed compared to having the whole arm or leg lopped off. Losing both really does cost the insurance company an arm and a leg. They must hate that. The rep would be in the operating room, if he could, trying to sew the things back on.

The policy gets a little weird above the neck. Loss of speech, hearing, vision and maybe even smell are covered. You lose just one eye or one ear you earn some pocket change. If you lose one ear and one eye–one of those how the hell did I do that things–you get a better deal. They list all these in the policy, and all the other body parts, with the pay out for each. They run down the page in declining value. Dying is winning the Super Lotto, of course, the big wazoo of AD&D. That first D is what you aim for if considering your prospects in an accident from a strictly financial point of view. The arm/leg thing comes next, then an arm or a leg all the way down to a measly finger. You look at your finger and realize how little it’s worth. It wiggles back, showing you what it can do.

OK, this essay is getting under my skin. And that skin isn’t worth anything, insurance wise. So I’ll stop right here and leave you, dear reader, free to go watch Dexter. Personally I can’t watch Dexter. I find it disturbing and disgusting and wonder what is wrong with all you people. Then again, Dexter the serial killer is giving his victims the big wazoo, insurance wise. I doubt they’d appreciate that, however. Besides, they’re all bad guys and bad guys never have life insurance, so never mind.

 

* Actually John Bell Hood would have known all this too well, since he was the president of a life insurance company after the war. Imagine that. The company was ruined by the yellow fever epidemic that killed him. Killed him, his wife, a kid or two, and left a mess of orphans. Ironic now, tragic then.

 

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Mission San Miguel

(Unpublished essay, early 90’s, updated later…though it’s strange reading stuff from maybe two decades ago….guess I’ve written maybe a million words since then and this stuff seems like it was written by somebody else. Somebody with better manners and terribly serious about being a writer.)

About midway between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area lies Mission San Miguel. Only yards away traffic speeds between the two metropolises; only a few cars pull off the highway and stop at the old mission.  The parking area is dirt, the grounds old and a handful of chickens strut about. There is a well with a busted pump, indeed lots of machinery, piles of it back in the plaza and the surrounding storerooms, where the evidence of the factory nature of the place lies about in broken abundance. A dusty diorama recreates the extent of the mission and surrounding acreage of vines and orchards and grain and pastures. The local Salinan indians were impressed as laborers. They lived in barrack conditions; so too did the clergy and garrison. Little San Miguel, just a speck on the highway, had once been an outpost on the frontier of the Spanish empire. A garrison town, it brought together soldiers and the no less military Jesuit order [though I think San Miguel was a Franciscan mission] to hold sway over the native population, convert them to into loyal and productive subjects of the Bourbon kings. Crops were raised to support the mission and its populace, as well as to trade with the other portions of the empire. The authority of Spain was represented here in the Church, whose building is quite a spectacle. Much, much larger than one would expect from the term “chapel”, it is a building designed to hold a couple of hundred worshippers within its imposing walls. It is a living church, serving the local Roman Catholics, and votive candles flicker in the dim light and missals lay scattered about the pews. But the presence of powers past is strongly present in the extraordinary paintings gracing every surface in the most vivid hues. The artist had come from Spain, though materials were scarce and he used Indian apprentices and local materials to make the paints. Thus many of the images are through the eyes of a Spaniard, the hues the choice of an Indian; whiles others are by the hand of an Indian directed by a Spaniard. It’s an extraordinary mixture. In the little museum in the gift shop (for that’s what San Miguel is, a small diocese with a gift shop) stands an imposing statue of Saint Michael himself, in Spanish armor, holding an immense sword to the throat of a prostrate Lucifer. Where they saw this Lucifer we can only imagine, but Lilies of the Field the Mission San Miguel was not.

Spanish power ebbed away with the 18th century, Madrid ceased to care about its outer works in far flung territories and San Miguel languished in obscurity. That’s what the mission is now. An abandoned outpost of a long gone civilization. The outer edges of empires always end like this, sometimes dead, sometimes alive but barely. The change here was brutal….California became a U.S. state, a protestant land, English speaking. The Indians disappeared, nearly wiped out in the decades after the Gold Rush. The descendants of the Spanish Empire were reduced to peasants. The mission itself became a whorehouse for drunken white men. That was shut down, eventually, and the place sat empty. Then a century ago the chapel sprang to life again, a small parish, for the local peasants and sundry Catholics. The terrifying sword wielding San Miguel of the conquistadores was long gone, though, just a statue in the museum. This was the home of Jesus and Maria and a simpler, more forgiving San Miguel. A saint of the underclass. The new occupants refurbished the place, cleaned it up, touched up the walls, held services. We showed up during mass. I watched from outside the door. The candles glowed red, the people murmured their prayers, the priest went through the timeless motions, some in English, some Spanish, some Latin. He blessed them, sprinkled holy water, and mass ended. When the parishioners had filed out and the padre disappeared into his chambers we slipped in to look around. The walls and ceiling were beautiful, the still vibrant colors, European imagery rendered by an Indian hand. I went up into the balcony where the choir sat for big events, Christmas and Easter. It was dusty and a sparrow lay on the window sill, limp, dead, its neck broken, fooled by all that blue sky beyond the glass.

Mission San Miguel

Mission San Miguel

Chicken Hawk

twigs and seedsJust reading the Wikipedia entry on Selective Service, the draft. I never had to register for the draft, as they stopped registration on March 29, 1975, just days before my 18th birthday. That was about the same day that the back of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) was broken by a massive North Vietnamese offensive. Saigon fell a month later, on April 30. Maybe you recall the helicopters jammed with panicky refugees taking off from the ceiling of the US embassy. I distinctly recall a man losing his grip and falling hundreds of feet. The camera didn’t catch the impact.

We watched the helicopters land on the decks of US aircraft carriers. Once emptied of people, the machines were dumped over the side. Their rotors thwacked the sea with huge crazy splashes and then the machines disintegrated and sank. Gone. They dumped who knows how many helicopters over the side. We had way more helicopters than we needed in Viet Nam by then. Actually we didn’t need any helicopters in Viet Nam by then. We had lost. We didn’t need any new soldiers either. Hence I never had to register for the draft.

That felt good, not being registered. Felt a little spoiled, even. No draft card burning for me. No need to plan a sudden trip to Canada. California was so warm and sunny and full of beautiful women. Canada was cold and gloomy and full of Jesse Winchesters. If he’d been my age Jesse could have moved into Topanga Canyon with Neil and Joni and never been down to twigs and seeds. But there he was up in Montreal, and it was cold, and everyone was speaking French.

By 1979 the Pentagon decided they might need new soldiers again. The Russians were getting all wacky, invading Afghanistan, freaking out everybody, so Jimmy Carter figured we ought to try and act like a superpower again. That meant, a generation ago, not only being able to blow up the world but having the ability to raise a big army. You couldn’t raise a big army without a draft, and you couldn’t draft anyone unless you had a list of names. Not that they were going to draft anybody–that was the last thing the generals wanted, they’d had enough of stoned hippie conscripts fragging officers–but it looked good on paper. And it would impress the Russians who, after all, still had a gigantic army. So beginning January 1, 1980, eighteen year olds had to register for the draft. But there are only so many eighteen years olds in one year. You add 19 year olds and you can double the pool of potential draftees, include twenty year olds, and you triple it. So they made registration retroactive for every American male who was born between January 1, 1960 and January 1, 1962, inclusive.

Which meant that those of us born between March 29, 1957 and December 31, 1959 (inclusive) never had to tell the Pentagon we were ready whenever they needed us. In fact we were the only 18 years old since September 16, 1940–when the Selective Service Act became law–that didn’t have to tell the Pentagon we were ready when they needed us. We didn’t have to tell them nothing. We were special. The Pentagon played no part in our lives whatsoever. We never even thought about it. In the Pentagon they wore uniforms and thought about guns, I played drums in punk rock bands and thought about girls. Perfect. No worry about boot camp or the next Viet Nam. No worry about nothing.

Think about it…somehow two years and nine months worth of Eisenhower’s bouncing baby boys were beyond the reach of the draft board. Generations of young American men loathed their draft boards. Not us. We didn’t have a draft board. Couldn’t. We weren’t on any list, nor could we be threatened with jail for not being on a list. There would be no war for us. No army or navy or air force. No drill sergeants. No scary commie tracer bullets. I mean ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country? Who, moi? I’m one of those special kids. We never had to lift a finger to help our country. Who said freedom isn’t free?

I’d make a great chicken hawk. The best.

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twigs and seeds