Today, 12 October 2023, is the traditional Columbus Day.
Over at thenewneo.com is a reprise of a 2022 post that revealed to me an odd fact: it was not our indigenous peoples or other ethnic minorities that started the anti-Columbus thing, it was white supremacists.
Neo quotes a National Review article (the link seems dead since then) by Jennifer C. Braceras which pulls the cover off the Klan [the emphasis is Neo's]:
Here, in the United States, the anti-Columbus movement was sparked by white supremacists nearly 100 years ago. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan promoted negative characterizations of Columbus in order to vilify Catholics and immigrants, many of whom celebrated Columbus not only as a source of ethnic and religious pride but also as a symbol of the free and diverse society that resulted from the European presence here. The Klan tried to prevent the erection of monuments to the Great Navigator, burned crosses in opposition to efforts to honor him, and argued that commemorations of his voyage were part of a papal plot. Rather than honor a Catholic explorer from the Mediterranean, Klansmen proposed honoring the Norseman Leif Eriksson as discoverer of the New World and a symbol of white pride.
I didn't know "identity politics" of that kind went back that far. Also hadn't thought much about whether back in history (apart from religious iconoclasts) anybody was getting all worked up about statues.
Neo quotes this long section from TheHill.com, which I found educational:
In the 1920s, from coast to coast, members of the Ku Klux Klan opposed Columbus. In Richmond, they tried to stop the erection of a Columbus monument. In Pennsylvania, they burned fiery crosses to threaten those celebrating Columbus. The Klan newspaper, The American Standard, attacked honoring Columbus – on the basis that a holiday for him was some sort of papal plot.
The Klan was no fan of Columbus. He stood athwart their nativist desire for a country pure in its Anglo-Saxon and Protestant origins.
What Americans have forgotten is that white supremacy has historically sought not only the denigration of African-Americans and Jews but also of Catholics – and among them Hispanics – ascribing to the latter all manner of harmful stereotypes as brutal criminals and sexual predators. This narrative is known throughout the Spanish-speaking world and in academic circles as the “Black Legend.”
Historian Philip Wayne Powell wrote of this smear campaign: “The basic premise of the Black Legend is that Spaniards have shown themselves, historically, to be uniquely cruel, bigoted, tyrannical, obscurantist, lazy, fanatical, greedy, and treacherous; that is, that they differ so much from other peoples in these traits that Spaniards and Spanish history must be viewed and understood in terms not ordinarily used in describing and interpreting other peoples.”…
In the rush to judge and deface, few remember that it was Spain that forbade slavery of most Native Americans and made them Spanish citizens. Fewer still remember that Columbus seems to have faced arrest by his fellow explorers for punishing – even executing – those who had abused Native Americans. And almost no one recalls that it was not Columbus but the exaggerating zealot Bartolome De Las Casas, who is most often cited in smearing Spanish exploration and with it Columbus, who was the one who proposed African slavery for the New World.
Anyway when I was growing up, every 12th of October my mother would recite the 1492 poem (well at least the beginning). The beginning is pasted below. The poem seems to be widely credited to Jean Marzollo, an editor at Scholastic Books. But Jean was born in 1942 and my mother learned the poem in the 1930s. Go figure. Here you go:
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.
A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go...
A university is a collection of departments that agree not to talk to each other.
I ran into an article claiming that cows radically changed the marine ecosystem in the second half of the 19th century. The title of the piece is "How Cows Destroyed an Entire Marine Ecosystem in California." It's from 2021 so it's not particularly fresh as a topic, but I thought it would be a good example of what can happen.
This article is a summary of a scientific study called "Nineteenth-century collapse of a benthic marine ecosystem on the open continental shelf." The study is real science with sample taking, sample analysis, radiocarbon dating, and top-level sciencey language. Basically it proves that long ago there were gravel dwelling filter-feeders in clear waters, but by the mid 20th century these were replaced with various mud dwellers living in mud.
The study area was small, including three Southern California areas. The study says, "These three sites are Short Bank in Santa Monica Bay, and the western and eastern parts of the Palos Verdes shelf." Having ascertained that this change in the biome occurred, and having quantified the organisms involved, possible causes are sought. Those mentioned are: a.) sewage effluent; b.) global warming; c.) siltation owing to livestock grazing and farming.
The study emphasizes: "Heavy grazing has many negative effects, but most notable in this context is soil compaction from trampling that increases surface runoff of rain and thus the potential for soil erosion. Sediment transport to the sea, always episodic in this semi-arid setting, was thus almost certainly much higher during the nineteenth century than during preceding millennia of occupation by native hunter–gatherers."
"Thus almost certainly" is what somebody writing a report says when the data is thinnest and most suspect. It's what you say instead of something firm and sciencey. Well, the causes are secondary. The conclusion of the study is that we need to study this topic more. (More funding! More studies! More beach time!)
Here's a free suggestion for the next study. Lay off the global warming and the cows and the peaceful, ecologically-aware indigenous hunter-gathers, and think about these two words: HYDRAULIC MINING.
Before gold was discovered in Coloma, California in 1848, gold was discovered in the San Gabriel Mountains in 1842. Here's an article about it that would be a really good resource except the San Bernardino Sun wants to sit on it like a broody hen rather than let you read it. But here are a whole bunch of pictures that feature hydraulic mining. Yeah, it was horrifically damaging to the environment; the original San Gabriel mines pretty much choked out everybody that relied on Placerita Canyon water. Hydraulic mining was such a big deal and caused so much environmental damage that I'm surprised ecologists don't know about it. But then, the scientists are products of a university, where the History people never talk to the Biology people.
Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot has passed away at the age of 84.
Considering that when I saw him at the Marines Memorial Theater in San Francisco in 1979 his brain was apparently so drug-addled that they passed him a freshly tuned guitar for every number with a lyrics sheet taped to the top of the body, I'd say that he had a good long run.
Let me slip away on you
You've seen better days
The morning after blues
From my head down to my shoes
Let me slip away, slip away on you...
Into the arms of our merciful Savior.
Why are there more sad, mad, and bad smilies than glad smilies?
Does this reflect someone's judgement about the default human condition? "Odds are" you feel [this way]?
Not much room here for those who were born somewhere on the Snark Spectrum. Just for instance: Where is Playfully Sarcastic? Cheerfully Wry? Weirded-out Sidelong Glance?
I feel so excluded.
We will go through this one number at a time. This is offered without knowing anything about the poet. The original will be in italic type.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
The blackbird's eye (like most birds) does not actually move in its socket. If the eye is moving, the whole head is moving. I suspect the twenty snowy mountains are old white-haired literary men, and the poet sees himself as the only one who can see the way to social progress.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
blackbird : tree :: mind : Wallace Stevens.
But blackbirds will fly off.
Therefore Wallace Stevens will lose his mind.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
I think he must mean raven. Or turkey vulture. Maybe when he writes "blackbird he simply means "black [space] bird."
It was a small part of the pantomime.
Pantomime because silent, I would guess. But pantomime is artificial. Is the poet implying that the visible world is not real?
A man and a woman
A man and a woman and a blackbird
A man and a woman and a blackbird walk into a bar.
The bartender says, "What'll it be?"
All three say, "Gimme a shot of Old Crow."
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Blackbirds do not whistle. Perhaps the poet is remembering a Black Phoebe? But that would make it a black-and-white bird.
At any rate:
inflection : innuendo :: blackbird whistle : silence;
that is, to simplify,
voiced : unvoiced :: voiced : unvoiced;
or more simply,
1 = 1.
A tautology is not a very deep statement.
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
Also, it was autumn a minute ago, and now it's winter.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.
The antistrophe of this verse is an indecipherable clause.
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?
Residents of Haddam, Connecticut, would perhaps have better appreciated the in-joke here. I think the poet is asking this: Why think about those who are fighting and dying in the Great War when you should be concerned about their mothers and sweethearts here at home. Perhaps I am crediting the poet with far more philanthropic sentiment than he has demonstrated.
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
The poet recognizes war rhetoric and patriotic marches, but also acknowledges that with war comes death (and carrion eaters).
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
Two questions: a.) Does the poet believe in object permanence? Does he believe the blackbird continues to exist when it crosses out of his visible horizon?; b.) Does the poet believe that at the centers of others of the "many circles" there are Others who are potential blackbird observers who may have something to contribute to the conversation? Or are the "many circles" simply the poet's conjecture of other places he himself may someday occupy?
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
(A train passing a green lighted track signal at night.)
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.
The power and the unstoppable momentum of the rushing train both inspires and frightens the poet. Embarrassed by these emotions, the poet insists that other poets and literary types would have been scared to be scared too, if they had been so close to that train that night.
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Clutching his gin bottle and high as a kite...
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
...The poet is scared of his own shadow.
Or: The poet, buying into pacifist rhetoric, imagines that the Great War is the actual end of civilization.
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.
Ah, now it is Spring! The thaw has opened the waterway, and even the poet's depressive episodes must be temporarily eased.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
Wait! it was Spring a minute ago...
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
And -- his depression is back. He's already starting to want that gin bottle again.
“One prefers, of course, on all occasions
to be stainless and above reproach, but,
failing that, the next best thing is,
unquestionably to have got rid of the
― P. G. Wodehouse
15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975
I guess he died longer ago than I thought. Now there was a man who never worried that he was going to run out of commas, Oxford or otherwise.