12 May 2017

The Meaning of Life, Part 2: Ain’t No Power in the ‘Verse

Yes, the title is a reference to Joss Wheddon’s space western Firefly.

Under Ireland's 2009 Defamation Act, “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.”  Seriously, Dail Eireann, what the fuck?  Have you even HEARD of the 21st century?  And if there were a God or Gods, he/she/it/they sure as hell wouldn’t need you to stick up for him/her/it/them.

“Man is an animal,” wrote anthropologist Clifford Geertz, “suspended in a web of significance he himself has spun”.

On Planet Terra (Earth) of the Solar Planetary System in Orion’s Spur of the Milky Way Galaxy in the Local Galaxy Group of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster in the Laniakea Supercluster of the Universe, during the Anthropocene Chron of the Subtlantic Stage of the Holocene Epoch of the Quartenary Period in the Cenozoic Era of the Phanerozoic Eon of the Current Supereon in Galactic Year (GY) 20, Jews believe that Adonai speaks Hebrew, Muslims that Allah speaks Arabic, American evangelicals that Almighty God speaks Elizabethan English, Roman Catholics that Dominus Dei speaks Latin, Eastern Orthodox that Kyrios speaks Greek, Hindus that Brahman speaks Sanskrit, Zoroastrians that Ormazd speaks Avestan, Buddhists that Adibuddha speaks Pali, Shintoists that Amaterasu speaks Japanese, religious Daoists that Tai Di speaks Mandarin Chinese, and Sikhs that Vahiguru speaks Punjabi. 

Each of these groups, and each subgroup and splinter and cult and sect within each of them, believes they are the Chosen People from which will come the Anointed One to assert their rightful dominion over all Creation for all Eternity. 

That belief is absurd.  In fact, all “belief” is absurd.

* * * * *

To believe is to define.  To define is to limit.  To limit is to control.  To control is to corrupt.

Belief is not humble; it is aggressive.  Belief is not a sign of submission; it is an assertion of domination.  Belief makes itself superior to that in which it claims to believe by controlling it through the very act of belief.  Thus, belief is blasphemy.  Belief is vanity.  Belief is futility.  Belief is the very antithesis of faith.  At the opposite end, disbelief affirms belief by that very negation, which is another attempt at control.

To have faith, one must surrender control.  To surrender control, one must abandon limitation.  To abandon limitation, one must give up definition.  To give up definition, one must let go of belief.  To have faith, one must neither believe nor disbelieve; one must unbelieve.

* * * * *

There is no Higher Power in the ‘Verse, no Supreme Being, no Divine Creator-Redeemer- Transformer, especially not an anthropomorphic and anthropopathic God such as humans repeatedly create in their own image with whom to have an illusory personal relationship, an illusion of an illusion with an illusion. 

Every form of Ultimate Reality conceived and believed by human religion and philosophy, each of which is geocentric and anthropofocal, is too small for our Universe.  Even in the very rare instances in which humans have perceived an Ultimate Reality as something genuinely Other, they have then proceeded to append to that insight intermediary realities to connect it to our own in order to believe, define, limit, and control, reducing fairly advanced intellectual and spiritual concepts to mere ideological dogma.  As the Hymn of Creation in the Rig Veda admits, “The gods themselves are later than creation”.

To state categorically that there is absolutely nothing beyond what we can see with our five physical senses, however, is as unscientific as religion.  For all we know, that Something may be so far outside our ken that it is as invisible to us as the tall sailing ships of invading Europeans initially were to the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere whom their passengers were about to conquer, kill, rape, and plunder.

In Somerset Maughm’s The Razor’s Edge, protagonist Larry Darrell said, “A God that can be understood is no God”.

So, if there is Something that was before all Time, is now, and will be even after the end of Time, with Time here being defined as the lifespan of the current universe, it is beyond personhood, beyond being, beyond effability.

If there is Something, it produces yet claims no possession; it redeems yet requires no gratitude; it sustains yet exercises no authority.  It has no need of obedience, worship, prayer, praise, adoration, supplication, benediction, love, or even respect.  It just is.

If there is Something, it is both perpetual and ever-changing, flowing through and animating all that is throughout spacetime and beyond, transcendent yet immanent, metacosmic yet omnipresent, eternal yet omnitemporal.

If there is Something, it has no name.  It has no need of a name.  Since it is the one and only Something, there is no other Something from which it needs distinguish itself.

If there is Something, it is the Source of all that is, the Course shaping its formation, and the Force energizing its manifestation.  From our perspective, these are different things, but in reality they are One.

If there is Something, it is neither male nor female.  It does not take sides, nor have sides.  From it emanate both light and dark, good and evil, order and chaos, yin and yang, life and death, integrity and entropy, creation and destruction, everything and nothing.  Each of those antitheses is defined by its opposite.  Without their counterpoints, none of them can exist, and the fact that those opposites exist in competition with each other is what give us choice, the choice which is the definition of freedom.  And without death, life has no meaning.

The essence of life, of all existence, is change and evolution.  The nature of time is this: The future has already happened and the past is yet to be, and the moment where we are now is the beginning, and the end, and every moment in between.

Tune in next time for, “The Meaning of Life, Part 3: No Gods, No Masters”.

(Video of Stephen Fry interview for which he was recently "investigated' by the Gardai)

11 May 2017

Iranian Authorities Block Attempts by Gold Medalist’s Husband to Stop Her From Competing Abroad

Since Facebook is blocking this story from the Center for Human Rights in Iran for the second day in a row, I am copying it to my blog and posting it from there.


Iranian Authorities Block Attempts by Gold Medalist’s Husband to Stop Her From Competing Abroad

For the second time, Iranian authorities have allowed two-time Iranian Paralympic gold medalist Zahra Nemati to travel abroad to compete despite her estranged husband’s attempts to force her to stay home.
According to Article 18 of Iran’s Passport Law, a married woman needs her husband’s permission to travel abroad. 
“You cannot do something for selfish reasons to endanger the interests of the nation,” said Nemati in an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on May 8, 2017. “When I travel to other countries, I am representing the disabled women of my country and I bring home medals.”
“My husband’s wish certainly won’t affect me because I don’t travel for personal reasons,” she added. “It’s for a goal higher than a couple’s marital issues.”
On May 8, 2017, Nemati’s husband Roham Shahabipour told the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) that he had asked the Passport Office not to issue an exit visa to Nemati after she asked for a divorce.
“After the Paralympic Olympics in Rio, Zahra left the house for some reason and has refused to come back home despite many appeals,” said Shahabipour. “She has even asked for a divorce, so I banned her from traveling so she won’t be able to compete in any tournaments abroad.”
Nemati, who won the gold medal in women’s archery at the London (2012) and Rio (2016) Paralympics, told CHRI that her husband had also attempted to force her to stay home before the Rio games, but the authorities allowed her to travel for competitions, including to an event in Switzerland in March 2017.
“My husband unfortunately banned me from traveling before the Rio games and I was very demoralized when I got there. I didn’t say anything because I don’t like to talk about my personal life,” she said. “Of course, Mr. Shahabipour can say anything he wants, but I can only hope that future decisions by the authorities will not be influenced by his words.”
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Nemati became the second woman after Iran’s 1979 revolution to lead the Iranian team at the Olympics’ opening ceremony.
In 2015, Niloufar Ardalan, the captain of Iran’s women’s national futsal team, was issued a special permit by Iran’s judiciary to compete in the Asian championships in Malaysia despite her husband’s attempts to make her stay home.
“I’m not going abroad for fun,” Ardalan tweeted in May 2015. “My goal is to bring home glory for my national flag and my country. I’m a woman and a mother and I won’t forego my rights for being either one.”

27 April 2017

The Meaning of Life, Part 1: Cosmic Perspective

This trilogy is not like the Monty Python version, there will actually be more parts.

Lots of folks say we need to abandon American exceptionalism.  Some, like my Dear Uncle Napoleon, prattle on about British exceptionalism.  Today, rather than taking on either of those two comparitively minor annoyances, I hope to kick the shit out of both Homo sapiens sapiens and Planet Earth exceptionalisms.

A single member of the H. sapiens sapiens race is, on average, 664 billionths (10-9) km3 in volume, with an average lifespan of 67.2 years.  There are currently 7.3 billion (109) individuals of that race on Earth, or Terra.

Earth, or Terra, is 1.12 trillion (1012) km3 by 4.54 billion years.  It rotates on its axis at a speed of 1674.4 km/h while revolving around Sol at 108 thousand (103) km/h.

Sol, our system’s star, is 1.4 quintillion (1018) km3 by 4.56 billion years.  The Solar Planetary System is 1.7 duodecillion (1039) km3 by the same 4.56 billion years.

The Milky Way Galaxy is 8 sedecillion (1051) km3 by 13.2 billion years.  Of its 200 billion stars, 40 billion support Class-M planets, with 8-10 billion of these hosting life-forms analogous to Humans, making some 61.6 quintillion (1018) sapient beings in our galaxy.

There are 2 trillion (1012) galaxies in the Universe with 80 sextillion (1021) Class-M planets hosting 123 nonillion (1030) sapient beings in the Universe at any one time.

The Universe, the ‘Verse for short, is 213 duovigintillion (1069) km3 by 13.8 billion (109) years.  It is expanding outward at a rate increased by the like-polarity of the electromagnetic fields of different galaxy groups.  And it is just one of innumerable such cosmic bodies making up the Omniverse (aka Multiverse), and is currently the only one we can measure.

* * * * *

The Universe is formed of a single matrix called spacetime. 

Everything in the ‘Verse not of the matrix of spacetime is composed of energy.  Energy can be neither created nor destroyed but only change forms.  All matter that exists is but alternate forms of energy. 

Spacetime and energy are thus the fundamental building blocks of the ‘Verse and everything in it, the emanations from which all that is evolves.

There are four basic dimensions—height, length, width, time—which define the point in the spacetime matrix at which we are at any given moment.  Energy flows to and from that single point in spacetime—forward and backward, up and down, left and right, past and future—along each of these dimensions.

The force of gravity provides the cohesion for the ‘Verse in a relationship with the dimension of time that is correlative if not causal.  Without gravity, there would be no time; without time, there would be no gravity.

* * * * *

Life is a function of energy, of thermodynamics.  Given appropriate conditions, life is inevitable, because energy in the form of matter will spontaneously self-organize through abiogenesis.

Once manifest, life evolves into more complex forms which themselves evolve further, with those most adaptable being the best able to survive, reproduce, and flourish.

Life has existed on Terra for 4.1 billion years, and in the Universe since 10-17 million years after the Big Bang.

The essence of life is change and evolution, growth and decay.  For individual organisms, birth and death define the boundaries of life.  Without death, life has no meaning.

Whether or not there is another form of existence once the organic shell has been shed in death and life on this plane ends does not matter; Humans debating those questions are like fetuses discussing questions on life after birth.

* * * * *

In 5 million years, the H. sapiens sapiens race, and along with it the H. sapiens species and the Homo genus, will be extinct due to degradation of the Y-chromosome, if we have not already destroyed ourselves and/or our biosphere or suffered a mass extinction we don’t cause.

In 800 million years, multi-cellular lifeforms will have vanished from Terra.

In 1.3 billion years, eukaryotes will be extinct and life on Terra reduced to prokaryotes due to CO2 starvation caused by chemical disruption from Sol’s increasing luminescence.

In 2.4 billion years, the Milky Way Galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy will collide and merge into one Milkomeda Galaxy, altering the structure of everything in them, though most stars and planetary systems will remain intact.

In 5.4 billion years, Sol will enter its red giant phase, incinerating Mercury, Venus, and possibly Terra, destroying any remaining life on Terra if not.  The habitable zone will move out to Mars, and Saturn’s moon Titan may become habitable.

In 8 billion years, Sol will collapse into a white dwarf, expelling half its mass into the interstellar medium, making elements available for nucleosynthesis and forming an emission nebula.  Any remaining planetary bodies will be stolen by passing stars, leaving the Solar Nebula.

In 14.4 billion years, Sol will be a totally dead black dwarf star.

The Universe will eventually end in the next Big Bounce (a Big Crunch facilitating another Big Bang) in around 60 trillion years, dying so another can be born anew as it was formed before.

All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again, and again, and again.

Next:  “The Meaning of Life, Part 2: Ain’t No Power in the ‘Verse”.

16 April 2017

A Whiter Shade of Chill 2.0 (for Ungagged 18)

“He said, ‘there is no reason and the truth is plain to see’.”

This piece is redited from one I first wrote back in 2008 and have redone with different titles, this being the latest.  This current name—“A Whiter Shade of Chill 2.0”—comes from one of my all-time favorite movies, 1983’s The Big Chill, and one of the songs featured in it, Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.  The quote with which I began is a verse from the latter.

The film is about a group of friends who attended the University of Michigan in the late 1960s and considered themselves part of The Movement, against the war, for women’s liberation, for the war on poverty, against segregation, for civil rights, etc.  But in the end, it turned out that they were just role-playing trendy revolution, following fashion, and the illusion never changed into something real. 

The action in the movie takes place a decade and a half later after their ideals have withered and the cosplay yippies have all become yuppies, an industrialist, a high-end doctor, a TV action star, a corporate attorney, a writer for People magazine, a wife to an accountant married for security, and a drug dealer to the wealthy.  They had all fallen down like the toy soldiers they were.

The catalyst for the story was the suicide of the one member of their clique who was still trying to live by those formerly professed ideals.  Alex Marshall, the dead guy in question, was Kevin Costner’s first movie role.  The original opening scene, later cut, had him in the bathtub bleeding, still alive.  In the release all we saw was his body, no face, as the mortician was dressing him for the funeral home, the last shot being that of his slit but now sewn up wrists. 

Alex was the true believer, the one person in the group who really believed the things he was saying, the principles they espoused.  And continued searching and believing long after he left the university and the others had gone on with their yuppie lives.

Everyone I knew enjoyed the movie, but the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers had different takes.  To the Boomers, the movie showed that ideals weren’t as important as friendship, and that trading principles for cash was just pragmatic common sense.  For me and my fellow GenXers, how most of us felt is best summed up in the words of Winona Ryder’s character in the opening scene of the 1993 movie Reality Bites.

“The Baby Boomers wonder why we aren’t interested in the counterculture that they invented, as if we didn’t see them disembowel their revolution for a pair of running shoes.”  Running shoes at the time were one of the motifs of the yuppie stereotype.  They were even featured in the movie; in fact, the afore-mentioned industrialist manufactured them.

One of the many conversations my friends and I had about the movie figured in one of the more memorable series of events from when I was at UTC.

One evening, I was being given a ride home late one afternoon by a female friend with whom I was having a date that next weekend.  I forget the reason exactly that I needed a ride, but it may have been after Sunday Mass at the Newman Center.

Mary, the girl driving, and I had both seen “The Big Chill”, her twice, me four times, and were discussing it.

As we passed out of the tunnel through Missionary Ridge from McCallie Avenue in downtown Chattanooga onto Brainerd Road, Mary half-turned to me and asked, “Who do you see yourself as?  Which one of the characters?”

“Hmmm...,” I replied. “I guess I'd have to say Nick.”  Nick, played by William Hurt, was the cynical drug-dealing anti-authoritarian former psychology student and war vet had who lost his genitalia, or at least the function thereof, in Viet Nam.


"He's so cynical, and so am I." 

"Well, you’re as cynical," she answered, "but that's not who I'd say."

"Oh, who do you see me as?"

Keeping one eye on the road, she looked at me sideways with a funny look in her eyes and said, “Alex.”

Alex? I thought. The dead guy??

So I asked, “Alex?  The dead guy?”

She told me she was talking about the things the other characters said about him, all their memories, all the ways he'd touched their lives.  It wasn't a dead guy she was comparing me to, it was the memories of that dead guy.  She wasn’t casting me for Zombie Apocalypse, at least.

For mine and Mary’s date that weekend in 1983, we went to a Sicilian-owned restaurant in Brainerd Village, Mama Theresa’s, very intimate atmosphere, delicious food, great wine, then to a movie.  Typical dinner-and-a-movie date, but the conversation at dinner was fantastic, lively, and engaging.  All-in-all, one of the best "just-a-date" dates I had ever had to that point.

I couldn’t get Mary on the phone for the next three weeks after our dinner and movie, nor did she show up at the Center in Sundays.

When Mary finally did show up for Sunday evening Mass there after three weeks, she came up to me and said, with no preamble, “I’m sorry, but things between us would never work out. I'm too conventional for you.”

(Conventional: 1. Following generally accepted principles, methods, and behavior. 2. Ordinary, commonplace. 3. Lacking originality or individuality. 4. Typical, stereotypical. 5. Conformist.)

I just stood there with my mouth open. What do you say to something like that?

After a time, Mary and I did get back to being pretty good friends again, but for a while it was pretty awkward.  She never explained nor gave me any hint of what had brought her to that conclusion after just one date, and it wasn’t exactly like we didn’t know each other. 

Mary graduated UTC and began teaching at Notre Dame, the local Catholic high school which was her alma mater.  She graduated there in 1980, a class ahead of my best friend at UTC. 

A few months after she started working there, I got a call from her asking if I wanted to come to her wedding, and if so, she’d send me an invitation.

The 22-year old too-conventional-for-me Catholic girl was marrying a 38-year old divorcee who had 19-year old a daughter.  And she had called me unconventional.

(Unconventional: 1. Not adhering to accepted standards. 2. Out of the ordinary. 3. Dissident, unorthodox, heretical. 4. Atypical. 5. Nonconformist, maverick.)

Sure, I replied, I’ll go. Why not?

The wedding was surreal. The only person whom I knew there was Mary, my friend and one-time, literally, date.  I ended up slow dancing, very closely, with her new 19-year old step-daughter Darly, which her boyfriend, whom I hadn't known about, didn't seem to appreciate, though he took it out on her rather than me, by delivering her to her grandmother, me in tow.

What ensued was a lot of screaming and yelling and scolding.  In Cuban Spanish.  No one paid me any attention.

It turns out Darly was not happy about having a step-mother only two years her senior, but she wasn’t pissed at Mary, she was pissed at her dad.  So she’d overindulged in refreshments.

A couple of weeks later, Mary was fired from Notre Dame High School on grounds of moral turpitude for having married a divorcee, by the same organization (the Catholic Church) that has provided so much aid, comfort, support, and shelter to the kiddie-fuckers in its ranks all over the world with the cooperation of its highest echelons, including the head of the Inquisition later known as Pope Benedict XVI.

Before that, though, I had called Darly, my friend Mary’s new step-daughter, two nights after the wedding, and the two of us wound up dating on-and-off for several months.

As for those ideals I spoke of espoused by the Baby Boomers of the New Left?  The Millennials whom so many Boomers and GenXers scorn and belittle are their Second Coming, and unlike their predecessors, they really mean it.

23 March 2017

The Union Is Dissolved (or soon will be) (for Ungagged 17)

(Note: Not the USA “Union”)

I think the reason the percentages in Scotland flipped from indyref 2014 to the referendum on Brexit vs. Remain is that suddenly the stark prospect of being completely at the mercy of the central government in London was inescapably before the country.  In 2014, long before Cameron’s idiotic attempt at undercutting UKIP began, the 55% didn’t have to face that prospect, thinking that their evils were then sufferable and therefore saw no reason to dissolve the bands which connect them with another.  As much as I could from the western side of the Atlantic, I supported the Remain effort, signing petitions, posting and reposting opinion articles on Facebook, tweeting and retweeting relevant materials.

Since the Brexit vote, the European Commission has granted €4.4 million to Scotland’s Tidal Turbine Power Take-off Project, which is being jointly conducted by University of Edinburgh, Aachen University in Germany, and Delft Technical University, north of Rotterdam.  The project is expected to last three years, well past the farthest date for the UK’s exit from the EU.  So apparently the EU is not holding the votes of Scotland’s neighbors to the south against the country being dragged out against its will.  This bodes well for Scotland’s possible reentry after its independence should it choose to pursue that path.

Up until the Brexit/Remain campaign, I had had a fairly negative view of the EU on several points.  First, the way in which that collective body treated one of its own members, Greece, in 2010, as well as Cyprus the same year, followed by Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and, to some degree, Italy.  The imposition of austerity upon those nations, Greece most of all, punished the working and poor citizens of those countries for the sins of the rich.  The fact that the EU’s most powerful economy, Germany under Angela Merkel, was able to overrule those who sought to mitigate the damage to the welfare of those nations’ less fortunate demonstrates that it is not in America alone that money equals speech.

A recent article by Amir Fleischmann for Jacobin, “The Myth of the Fiscal Conservative”, carried the subtitle, “Austerity measures don’t actually save money. But they do disempower workers.  Which is why governments pursue them in the first place”.  Like the benefit sanctions against which SNP MP at Westminster Mairi Black recently spoke in a video for The Guardian.  Further down his article, Fleischmann states that, “Fiscal conservatism is a myth, because cutting government programs doesn’t actually reduce government spending”.  Which says as much about the current governments in both the UK and the USA as it does that of the EU and what it has imposed upon its members in need.

The other major bone to pick that I have with the EU is its treatment of refugees, most of whom are fleeing wars and other conditions created by some of its member states.  Besides making a questionable deal with a country it won’t admit to its ranks because of the authoritarian nature of its current government.  I mean, of course, its agreement with Turkey for the latter to hold back as many as possible from reaching the borders of its member states.  It has also bullied some of its smaller members into holding those who do manage to arrive in what amount to concentration camps in poor conditions to prevent them from getting into bigger and more wealthy countries in the north.

That last phrase, “in the north”, is key, though perhaps “core” might be better.  Because all of the victims of adverse consequences imposed by the EU, with the exception of Ireland, lie in Europe’s south, and the latter, which once played a major part in saving Europe’s civilization, is on its periphery.  The nature of this discrimination against weaker nations and outsiders seeking refugee from war-torn countries showed forth brightly in the recent decision of the European Court of Justice that permits employers to discriminate against Muslim, Sikhs, and other minorities by forbidding them to wear turbans, hijabs, and other articles of religious clothing at their jobs and firing them if they insist on doing so.  Chancellor Merkel, head of the government of the EU’s most powerful nation politically and economically compounded that atrocious decision with a call for a ban on hijab in every place in Europe where that would be legal.  And, as I mentioned above, in the EU just as much as in America, money is speech.

Once upon a time, the EU may have intended to be primarily a means of social and cultural exchange for its constituent members, but what it has become is the primary agent for the sprread and enforcement of the ideology of neoliberalism on behalf of its wealthiest states and their wealthy citizens, along with Northern, and to some degree Western, European racism.  It has, in effect, moved power from the polling station to the marketplace, from the ballot to the wallet, as have the governments in both the UK and the USA.

Former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover once stated that the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States from the Black Panther Party was not their guns but their Free Breakfast Program for Children.  Old Labour stalwart Tony Benn explained the real motives behind this mentality, not directly speaking of Hoover of course, in his interview with Michael Moore for the latter’s documentary SiCKO.  Tony’s coffee cup next to him read, “Old Labour and Proud of It”.  The “Old Labour” which actually struggled on behalf of working and poor people, as opposed to the “New Labour” of Clinton-allied Tony Blair and his cronies and acolytes.

I think the best way to discuss Tony Benn’s comments is to quote them directly.  He said, at first answering how the NHS came to be, that,

“If you go back, I think it all began with democracy.  Before we had the vote, all the power’s in the hands of rich people.  If you had money, you could get healthcare, education, look after yourself when you’re old.  And what democracy did was to give poor people the vote, and it moved power from the marketplace to the polling station, from the wallet to the ballot.  And what people said after the war was very simple.  They said, ‘If we can have full employment by killing Germans, why can’t we have full employment by building hospitals, building schools, recruiting nurses, recruiting teachers.  If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people’.

“I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world, because if you have power, you use it to meet the needs of you and your community.  And this idea of choice which capital talks about all the time, choice depends on the freedom to choose and if you are shackled with debt you don’t have the freedom to choose.

“People in debt become hopeless and hopeless people don’t vote.  They always say that everyone should vote, but I think that if the poor in Britain or the United States turned out and voted for people that represented their interests there would be a real democratic revolution. So they don’t want that to happen, keeping people hopeless and pessimistic.  See, I think there are two ways in which people are controlled.  First of all frighten people, and secondly, demoralize them.  An educated, healthy, and confident nation is harder to govern.  And I think there’s an element in the thinking of some people: we don’t want people to be educated, healthy, and confident because they would get out of control.

“The top 1% of the world’s population own 80% of the world’s wealth.  It’s incredible that people put up with it, but they’re poor, they’re demoralized, they’re frightened, and they think perhaps  the safest thing to do is to take orders and hope for the best.”

Upon independence, Scotland will have a chance to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as shall seem most likely to effect the safety and happiness of all its people.  In the movie The Patriot, starred in by the same actor who played William Wallace in Braveheart (Mel Gibson, in case you didn’t know), the film’s protagonist, Ben Martin, asks fellow South Carolina assembly members why he should trade one tyrant three thousand miles away for three thousand tyrants one mile away.  A free and independent Scotland will be also be able to decide a new direction, one all its own choice, for international and trade relations. 

Along with people such as Robin McAlpine of Common Weal, Icelandic legal scholar Katrin Oddsdóttir, and others, I would suggest the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), currently composed of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.  Once admitted, Scotland would immediately have access to all its markets gained through its twenty-seven trade agreements, including the EU, without the compulsory conditions imposed by the latter association.  For example, as pointed out by McAlpine in a recent article for CommonSpace, Scottish fishers would not be bound by the dictates of the EU’s Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies.

As for intra-European travel, the UK, nor Ireland for that matter, has never opted into the Schengen travel area anyway, and as an independent state, Scotland will be free to do so.  Three members of the EFTA have opted in, while the fourth, Switzerland, has dealt with that matter through bilateral agreements.

If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people, because the needs of the many should outweigh the greed of the few.  And people shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.

Alba gu brath.  Thig ar latha, our day will come.  Keep the faith.  Peace out.

25 February 2017

Scots among the Southern Indians

Dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of Scots, mostly Highlanders and Islanders, with some Uplanders, Lowlanders, and Borders, lived and traded with the Indians of the Old Southwest, that part of the U.S.A. now known as the American Southeast.  There were also traders and agents who were of English, Irish, Welsh, and German origin, even a few Hugeonot French, but these were far fewer  in comparison than the number of Scots.

During the French and Indian War of 1754-1763, the British colonial administration decided it needed to centralize all forms of relations with the myriad Indian nations and tribes under a single umbrella rather than continue with each province (colony) going its own separate way.  To some extent this worked out, to some extent things remained as they were.   By the eve of the Revolution, trade responsibility had returned to the individual provinces while the Indian Department was in charge of political relations.

Initially, the Department of Indian Affairs was divided into two districts, Northern and Southern, divided by the Ohio River.  From its opening in January 1756 until 1764, activities of each were conducted by a Superintendent with one assistant.

In 1764, the governor general authorized each superintendent to appoint permanent resident agents among the tribes called commissaries, each with an interpreter and clerk.  In the Southern District, there was a commissary for each of the major tribes—Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw—plus one for the Small Tribes on the Lower Mississippi River (Biloxi, Houma, Attacapa, Bayogoula, Tunica, Apalachee, Ofogoula, Quapaw).  John Stuart, Superintendent since 1762, handled relations with the fifth major tribe, the Catawba, out of his Charlestown, South Carolina, headquarters.  The Seminole were counted among the Creek.  The province of Virginia maintained authority over the Indian tribes within its boundaries.

In 1766, the governor general authorized Deputy Superintendents in both districts, three for the Northern and two for the Southern.  Stuart appointed Alexander Cameron, Commissary to the Cherokee, as Deputy Superintendent to oversee relations with the Catawba, Cherokee, and Creek and his cousin Charles Stuart, then Commissary to the Small Tribes, as Deputy Superintendent to oversee relations with the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Small Tribes.  The number of commissaries had expanded as well, each major tribe now having more than one, plus posts at St. Augustine, Pensacola, and Mobile.

By the outbreak of the Revolution, there were Deputy Superintendents for the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Small Tribes, and Stuart had appointed his brothr Henry Stuart as chief Deputy Superintendent.  Those who served with the British Indian Department during the Revolution, with the exception of John and Henry Stuart, did so not just as mere adminstrators but often as active combatants and commanders. 

Notable Scottish traders, agents, and refugee Tories among the Cherokee and other tribes of the Old Southwest (now the American Southeast) included the men listed below.

Edmond Atkin, of Scottish origin, served as the first Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District, based out of his hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia.  He served from 1756 until his death at the end of 1761.

Thomas Brown was born in England, but emigrated with a group of Scots from the Orkney Islands to Georgia.  During the Revolution, he was a Loyalist living in Brownsborough, Georgia, near Augusta, who relocated to Florida after he was tied to a tree, roasted with fire, scalped, tarred, and feathered by a mob of the Sons of Liberty.  Making his base among the Seminole, he led the East Florida Rangers, made up of Loyalist, Seminole, and Lower Creek. 

When the British Southern District for Indian Affairs was split after the death of John Stuart in March 1779, Brown was Superintendent of Indians Affairs for the Atlantic District to work with the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole, relocating to the recently captured Augusta, Georgia, from which he also led the King’s Carolina Rangers.  He remained there until June 1781, when the American recaptured the city and he had to relocate with Cameron and Taitt to Savannah until June 1782, when they had to remove again to St. Augustine, East Florida.  He was ordered to cease operations in September 1783.  He moved to Abaco Island in the Bahamas, then to St. Vincent’s, where he died in 1825.

William Buchanan was the first white man to settle among the Cherokee beyond the Tuckaseegee River, at least according to family records.  His son or grandson John Buchanan sold the land which became the first British settlement in Tennessee, Sapling Grove (now Bristol), the first of the North-of-Holston settlements, to Evan Shelby in 1768.  John’s son, also named John, was one of fourteen defenders who managed to hold off an attack by 280 Cherokee, Creek, and Shawnee on Buchanan’s Station the night of 30 September 1792.

Alexander Cameron served as John Stuart’s Commissary to the Cherokee then (simultaneously) Deputy Superintendent (over relations with the Catawba, Cherokee, and Creek) until the latter’s death.  His base was first at the Cherokee town of Keowee in what’s now Oconee County, South Carolina.  He later moved to the Cherokee town of Toqua on the Little Tennessee River, and became adopted brother to Dragging Canoe, then headman of Great Island Town.  Later he moved to the Upper Creek town of Little Tallassee, where he lived until an assassination plot in September 1777 forced him to relocate to Pensacola, West Florida. 

Upon John Stuart’s death, the Southern District for Indian Affairs was split in two, and Cameron was assigned as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Mississippi District to work with the Choctaw and the Chickasaw.  After Pensacola was captured by the Spanish in May 1781, he joined Brown in Augusta, Georgia.  Barely a month later, Cameron and the rest had to relocate to Savannah when Augusta was retaken by the Americans.  He died there in December 1781.

Alexander Campbell served as John Graham as Chief Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Mississippi District, making his base at the Cherokee town of Turkeytown, near what is now Centre, Alabama.

Dugald Campbell served as the Southern District’s Commissary at Mobile.

John D. Chisholm was a Scottish trader originally based out of Pensacola who moved to live among the Upper Creek in 1778, then later with the Cherokee, before establishing himself in the North-of-Holston settlements, from which he traded with the Overhill and other Cherokee.  He later moved to reside permanently in Willstown, serving as secretary to Cherokee leader Doublehead until the latter’s assassination.  When Cherokee began migrating west beyond the Mississippi River in the early 1800s, he joined them.

James Logan Colbert was a longtime trader living several decades among the Chickasaw, who was either born in Inverness or in the Carolinas to someone born in Inverness.  During the Revolution, he became a Captain of the Department of Indian Affairs Mississippi District, operating independently against the Spanish after their capture of the Lower Mississippi in autumn 1779.  At his death in 1784, he owned a huge plantation with 150 slaves.  Of his six sons, four became leading headmen of the Chickasaw during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, while his two daughters married other headmen.

Alexander Cuming was a Scottish aristocrat who may have been sent to the Cherokee by King George II, or may have ventured to Cherokee Country on his own.  He claimed the Cherokee had given him the title of “king”.  It is a fact that he brought the first seven Cherokee to visit London.

John Doigg served as the Southern District’s Commissary at Pensacola.

John Elliot was a prominent early trader among the Cherokee, contemporary of Ludovic Grant and John Watts, Sr.  The Cherokee reportedly detested him.

John Anthony Foreman was a Scottish trader who settled in the town of Ooyougilogi, twenty miles northeast of Chattooga (site of the later Rome, Georgia), who married Susie Rattling-Gourd of the Paint Clan, with whom he had seven sons, man of whom became prominent leaders of the Cherokee Nation, and five daughters.

Christopher Gist served as assistant to Edmond Atkin, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District, 1756-1761.

Nathaniel Gist, son of Christopher, was a trader among the Cherokee of the Overhill Towns on the Little Tennessee River who became the father of Sequoyah (also known as George Gist or Guess), inventer of the Cherokee alphabet.

John Graham succeeded Alexander Cameron as British Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Mississippi District upon the latter’s death at Savannah, Georgia, in December 1781.

Ludovic Grant was one of the first, if not the first, traders among the Overhill Towns of the Cherokee along the Little Tennessee and Tellico Rivers, first making his home at Great Tellico, later moving to the Little Tennessee.  He lived in the Overhill Towns from 1726 to 1756, and his letters written 1730-1756 provide a wealth of information about the Cherokee of that time.

George Lowrey was a Scottish trader who married Nanyeh of the Wolf Clan (also known as Nannie Watts) and became father to Cherokee warriors and later political leaders John and George Lowrey.

John McDonald was Alexander Cameron’s assistant.  At the outbreak of the Revolution, he took up a post on the west bank of South Chickamauga Creek where a branch of the Great Indian Warpath crossed, providing a link to Henry Stuart in Pensacola.  The site later became Brainerd Mission.  After the first westward relocation of the militant Cherokee during the Revolution, Dragging Canoe (Tsiyugunsini), their chief war leader, set up his base at the town established his headquarters at the town of Chickamauga on the east bank of South Chickamauga Creek, across from McDonald’s trading post and commissary. 

When John Stuart died and Thomas Brown became Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Atlantic District while Cameron moved to the Mississippi District, McDonald became his Deputy Superintendent to the Cherokee, based out of the Cherokee town of Running Water at what is now Whiteside, Tennessee. 

In 1788, he and his deputy and son-in-law Daniel Ross transferred operations to Turkeytown (Centre, Alabama) in order to be closer to their supply lines from now Spanish-held Pensacola, after he became the official Spanish agent to the Cherokee as well as British Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District.  When the Cherokee-American wars ended in 1795, he moved to modern-day Rossville, Georgia, and built what is now known as the John Ross House, later moving to his former home on South Chickamauga Creek.  In 1817, he sold that land to the American Board of Missioners, where they established Brainerd Mission, which lasted until the Cherokee Removal in 1838.  Afterwards, he moved in with his grandson, now living at the Rossville house, where he died in 1824.

John McGillivray commanded a company of provincial militia working with the Chickasaw along the Mississippi during the Revolutionary War, at least between the time of Willing’s Raid (September 1778) and the capture of the Lower Mississippi by Spain in fall 1779.

Lachlan McGillivray was a Scottish trader among the Creek who became the father of later Creek leader Alexander McGillivray, who led the pro-British faction of the Lower Creek during the American Revolution.

John McIntosh served as John Stuart’s Commissary and later Deputy Superintendent to the Chickasaw from late colonial times into the Revolutionary War, except for a brief period when he was instead Commissary for all West Florida based out of Mobile.

Roderick McIntosh served as Southern District’s Commissary to the Upper and Middle Creek from 1764 to 1772.

William McIntosh was a Scottish Loyalist who moved from Savannah, Georgia, to live among the Creek during the Revolution and became David Taitt’s assistant deputy among the Lower Creek towns.  His son, also named William, became one of the leading men of the Creek Confederacy after the Revolution.

Charles McLemore was a trader among the Cherokee at the time of the Anglo-Cherokee War (1758-1761) who became father to later Cherokee warriors and postwar leaders John and Robert, the latter of whom named McLemore’s Cove in northern Walker County, Georgia.

Daniel Ross, father of later Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation John Ross, was a trader travelling down the Tennessee River in 1780, captured by the militant Cherokee near the later City of Chattanooga and rescued from death by John McDonald.  He later married McDonald’s daughter Molly, and served as McDonald’s assistant when the latter was Deputy Superintendent of the Atlantic District to Thomas Brown.  He remained McDonald’s assistant after the Revolution, moving with him to Turkeytown (Centre, Alabama) to continue supporting southern Indians fighting American settlers.  When the Cherokee-American wars ended in 1795, he and his family moved to the Cherokee town of Tsatanugi (from which Chattanooga is derived) at the modern St. Elmo.

Charles Stuart served as his cousin John’s first Commissary to the Small Tribes (on the Mississippi River), stationed in Mobile, then became Deputy Superintendent to coordiante relations with the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Small Tribe along with serving as Commissary to the Choctaw.

Henry Stuart was his brother John’s Chief Deputy Superintendent, based during the Revolution out of Mobile, then Pensacola, both in West Florida.

John Stuart was the lone survivor of the Fort Loudon Massacre in 1758 which began the Anglo-Cherokee War (fought concurrently with the French and Indian War).  Of course, that was in response to the murder of a large number of Cherokee hostages of the British at Fort Prince George near the Cherokee town of Keowee.  In 1761, he became British Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District out of Charlestown, South Carolina, which he remained until his death during the Revolution.  In that office, he succeeded its first holder, English-born Emond Atkin, who served from 1756 until his death in 1761.  After his house was attacked at the outbreak of the Revolution, he relocated to St. Augustine in British-held East Florida, where he died in March 1779.  By Susannah Emory, he became the progenitor of the Bushyhead family of the Cherokee Nation.

David Taitt served as Stuart’s Deputy Superintendent to the Creek, making his base at the Upper Creek town of Little Tallassee near present-day Mongomery, Alabama.  At the time, the Creek ere divided into four divisions, the Upper, Middle, and Lower Towns, and the Seminole, who were counted as another.  Taitt relocated with Alexander Cameron in September 1777, but returned in early 1778 only to be recalled to Pensacola shortly thereafter, from which he fled in May 1781, along with Alexander Cameron, after its capture by the Spanish, only to be forced to relocate to Savannah, Georgia, in June 1781 when Augusta was captured by the Americans.

Charles Fox-Taylor was the natural son of a Scottish laird who became a trader and agent among the Cherokee after the close of the Cherokee-American Wars.  His sons, Richard and Fox, were prominent business and political leaders of the Cherokee Nation, the former leading one of the parties heading west during the Cherokee Removal.

John Thomas served as John Stuart’s Commissary and later Deputy Superintendent to the Small Tribes on the Lower Mississippi and Gulf Coast (Biloxi, Houma, Attacapa, Bayogoula, Tunica, Apalachee, Ofogoula, and Quapaw).

James Clement Vann was another Scottish trader among the Cherokee, possibly brother to John Joseph, who later married Wah-Li of the Wild Potato Clan and became step-father to James and sisters Nancy and Jennie.

John Joseph Vann was a Scottish trader who lived among the Cherokee near what became Springplace, Georgia, the site of the first Christian mission among the Cherokee, built by the Moravian Brethren.  By a Cherokee woman named Wah-Li, he became father of James Vann, a later Cherokee warrior, plantation owner, merchant, and civic and political leader who during his life was the richest man east of the Mississipi River of any ethnicity.

John Walker, Sr. was a trader among the Cherokee after the Cherokee-American wars ended who became friends with then General Andrew Jackson while serving under him during the Creek War of 1811-1813.  He was already by then father of future Cherokee leader John Walker, Jr.

John Watts, Sr. was an Indian trader of Scottish descent among the Cherokee from about 1750 who became the official British interpeter with the Cherokee after the Anglo-Cherokee War (1758-1761).  He married Wurteh of the Paint Clan, sister of war leader and later political leader Doublehead and of First Beloved Man of the Cherokee Overhill Towns, Old Tassel, who was murdered by settlers in 1788.  They had six children, one of whom was John Watts, Jr., a later warrior who succeeded Dragging Canoe as leader upon the latter’s death on 1 March 1792.

* * * * *

While in the Southern Theater during the Revolution, nearly all the Scottish Highlanders and their descendants were Loyalists, most of the Irish Protestants or Irish Presbyterians, the group later called “Scotch-Irish”, almost universally supported the Whigs.  The same was the case in the North, at least in the beginning, but three Irish Protestants defected to the Loyalist cause in 1778 and became prominent in Indian affairs.  These three were Alexander McKee, Matthew Elliot, and Simon Girty, whose brother James and George later joined.

Contemporary references to the “Scotch-Irish” do exist, but they are incredibly few.  Usually the group is referred to as “Irish Protestants” or “Irish Presbyterians”.  In Ireland, “Protestants” were strictly those of the Anglican Church of Ireland; even Episcopalian immigrants from Scotland were classed with Presbyterians as “Dissenters”.  The term “Scotch-Irish” did not come into common usage in the North until the 1840s, with sudden expansion of influx of refugees from the Irish Famine of those years.  In the South, it was not common until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1776, the Continental Congress organized its own Department of Indian Affairs, divided into Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts.  In practice, however, each state appointed its own representatives to the various tribes.  For example, North Carolina appointed James Robertson its agent to the Cherokee, Virginia appointed Joseph Martin, and South Carolina appointed Andrew Williamson, each of Irish Protestant descent. 

24 February 2017

Water and Blood (for Ungagged 15)

First, I want to comment about the latest glaring example of how in America, the greed of the few outweighs the needs of the many.  I am appalled at what has happened the past few days in Standing Rock, with the expulsion of the water protectors and the arrest of those who stayed.  But it’s not like we didn’t see it coming.  The writing was on the wall the instant then-President Obama broke the momentum of the struggle by giving those fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline and their supporters the fleeting, ephemeral victory of a temporary halt by an easily reversible executive order. 

Doing so with less than two months left in office gave cover to faint-hearted politicians both native and non-native, undercut the eagerness and zeal of all but the most hardcore of resisters, and allowed time for the crowds to dissipate to a more manageable number for his successor’s storm-troopers to clear. 

All to make way for the black snake to carry fuel for out-dated technology that is destroying the planet, both by aggravating climate change and by poisoning the land with leaks and spills which are inevitable given the utter lack of interest in preserving infrastructure clearly evident in nearly every part of America.  Water is life, and native lives matter.

And now to the NHS.

The following is from a leaflet introducing a new government program to citizens and residents of the UK in 1948:  “Your new National Health Service begins on the 5th of July: What is it? How do you get it?  It will provide you with all medical, dental, or nursing care.  Everyone, rich or poor, man or woman, or child can use it or any part of it.  There are no charges, except for a few special items.  There are no insurance qualifications.  But it is not a charity.  You are paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in times of illness.”

Michael Moore’s 2007 film SiCKO was my introduction to the UK’s National Health Service, and the quote I just read is from Labour Party stalwart Tony Benn reading from that leaflet.  He also made several insightful comments during his segment that I’ll be covering at another time, as they point to larger issues than the one here.  Among them, however, he quoted Margaret Thatcher saying that NHS was a given; that no politician in the UK would ever think of touching NHS, or the social welfare support system in general.  He added that if that ever happened, there would be a revolution.

My East End-born and Oxford-trained anatomy and physiology professor at Dalton State College echoed Thatcher’s comments in a discussion we had during the 2008 U.S. election campaign, and she said that while she had been a Tory in England, if she were an American, she would probably be a Democrat.  I refrained from pointing out that it was a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who had led the charge to “end welfare as we know it”, all but destroying the New Deal and handing over Medicaid to the states so that now poor people such as myself have no access to healthcare.

What I saw of NHS in the film, which also featured the systems in Canada, France, and Cuba, filled me with envy.  To stay in a hospital, go to an emergency room, visit a doctor, and then just leave, with no bill to pay, no huge debt to sink into, no insurance forms to fill out, and all without having to get permission from corporate bureaucrats more concerned with profits than patients and their well-being…it was amazing.  And then medicine.  A prescription at the time was only £6.65, which was just $10 US.  Of course, now it’s £8.40, but because of the fall in the pound due to Brexit, that still works out to about $10 US.  For an American, it was like a fairy-tale.

Please, people of the UK, I’m begging you, rise up.  Stand and defend the NHS before it’s gone, bankrupted into nonexistence by politicians redistributing pounds that should be spent on the welfare of your people rather than tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate welfare.  Because once it’s gone, there may be no getting it back.  Your health, your safety, and your freedom depend on saving it.  

Go out into the streets and make yourselves heard.  Deluge your MPs with phone calls, letters, emails.  Campaign street to street, door to door.  March, chant, scream.  Hold up the American system as the example of what your life will become without NHS and declare that you deserve better.  Because you do.  In fact, we all do, every person on the planet.  Saving the NHS can be a first step to taking back power from the market-place and putting it back into the hands of the people.  Into your hands.

Fight for yourselves.  Fight for your friends, family, neighbors, compatriots, and guests in your country.  Fight in the name of the water protectors driven from their camps by storm-troopers serving the minions of the wealthy and powerful few.  Fight for all of us.  Fight for me.  I won’t benefit directly, of course, but knowing your health is safe and secure will give me hope, hope that one day in American the needs of the many will finally outweigh the greed of the few.

Thig ar latha, our day will come.  Keep the faith.  Peace out.