Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Paul Chaat Smith on Team Names and Indian identity

From an interview in the Times with Paul Chaat Smith, a Comanche, who recently curated an exhibit of commercial images of Indians:
The Washington’s team name is gone. The Land O’ Lakes Maiden is also gone. Should all this stuff just go away?

We wanted to avoid being prescriptive, to say, “This team name is bad. It’s a slur. But this other one is not.” Some things are obnoxious. We should get rid of some things. But we are not trying to be the police force to shame people. It doesn’t help us to eliminate everything. The problem with Native Americans is the invisibility in American life. 

.     .     .

The show also re-examines four stories involving Indians that circulate widely in American culture, including the Battle of Little Bighorn. The show calls Custer’s defeat a national shock akin to the Kennedy assassination. But a few years later, some of the warriors are celebrities. And pretty soon the Plains Indians, who numbered only 30,000, came to symbolize all Indians, and even America itself. How did that happen?

It’s one of the craziest things. There was a sense of national tragedy after Custer’s defeat. But pretty soon, Sitting Bull goes on lecture tour in the East. There was a range of opinion, but a lot of people saw these Sioux folks, these Cheyenne folks, as wonderful Americans.

After Little Bighorn, people said “Hey, we kind of like Indians. It’s what makes us different, this special sauce of American Indians.” But there were still acts of dispossession happening. All these things are coexisting. 

Historians have long written about the connections between the U.S. Army victory in the Civil War and conquest of Native American territory in the West. But now the general public has become more aware of it, in part thanks to recent debates over Confederate and other Civil War monuments. Does that surprise you?

Ten years ago, you would see discussion of all these famous generals in the Civil War. Then you’d see them involved the Plains Indian warfare, but it would never be connected. They were treated as completely discrete political developments.

It’s amazing to see how fast people are making these connections, like the recent incident with the statue of Ulysses S. Grant. He was a brilliant general in the Civil War, then a president. But he was also behind some of the campaigns that resulted in the Black Hills being dispossessed. For me, that’s always eventually what you want to get to: a kind of complexity. It’s not helpful to see history in black and white.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Some Random Summer Photographs

My second son tries to teach our rambunctious young cat to walk on a leash.

Going about as well as you would expect.


Stone man on the trail in the woods.

The half white deer, growing up fast. My wife: "Does it mean anything? An omen? Does it mean Trump will lose? Wouldn't that be great." A doe with beautiful twin fauns has also been hanging around the neighborhood, like she is showing them off, but I haven't been able to get a picture of them.

Volunteer petunia growing in the front steps.

Stone tool called a scraper from a Navy base in Washington where I worked for one day last week.


Monday, July 13, 2020

Jorge Luis Borges, "Poem Written in a Copy of Beowulf"

At various times I have asked myself what reasons
moved me to study, while my night came down,
without particular hope of satisfaction,
the language of the blunt-tongued Anglo-Saxons.

Used up by the years, my memory
loses its grip on words that I have vainly
repeated and repeated. My life in the same way
weaves and unweaves its weary history.

Then I tell myself: it must be that the soul
has some secret, sufficient way of knowing
that it is immortal, that its vast, encompassing
circle can take in all, can accomplish all.

Beyond my anxiety, beyond this writing,
the universe waits, inexhaustible, inviting.

–translated by Alastair Reid

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Caroline Fraser, "Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder"

My wife, an amateur expert on all things related to Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books, recently pressed this book on me. She said it is so good that even I, hardly smitten by Little House mania, would love it. She was right. Prairie Fires (2017) is a remarkable work of history, fully deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. It uses the lives of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, to tell the story of the American prairie country from the Homestead Act to the Dust Bowl. It is humane, learned, graceful, evenhanded and insightful, everything a work of history should be, except maybe witty.

In Caroline Fraser's telling the Little House books sprang from two roots: Laura Ingalls Wilder's youth in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas and South Dakota, and her twisted-like-an-ingrown hair relationship with her manic-depressive daughter. It is typical of Fraser's approach that she never actually says Lane was bipolar; she was never diagnosed as such, so that would be imposing her interpretation on the material in a way she scrupulously avoids. She just tells you about Lane's life until you have no doubt.

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane

Mother and daughter were very different. Wilder was a poor pioneer girl who worked hard her whole life, did a pile of chores before going dutifully to school, married, founded churches, joined societies, and generally lived as a proper 19th-century woman ought. She got her start in journalism writing "Farm Wife" columns for agricultural magazines, full of tips about raising chickens and more efficient ways to clean house. Lane was a "modern" woman, with her own career as a yellow journalist at the height of yellow journalism, divorced, free-living, scandalous to the home folks of Mansfield, Missouri where she mostly grew up. Lane made a lot of money writing half-made up stories and books, for example hack biographies of Jack London and Henry Ford, but then spent it on grandiose schemes like building a villa on the coast of Albania. She was an inveterate liar.

Various people have claimed that Lane actually wrote the Little House books, or edited them so heavily that she might as well have. Lane was certainly capable of that level of mendacity, but really this is just another case of the cynicism for its own sake that bedevils our cynical age. It is perfectly clear that Wilder wrote the books, since dozens of manuscript versions of all the book survive in her hand. For some of them you can trace out line by line where Lane made editorial changes. The changes are significant to the tone of the books – my wife says Lane and the editors at Harper Collins were responsible for making the books "sweet" – but the events are all the way Wilder wrote them. Somehow the relationship between mother and daughter survived repeated betrayals and a constant battle over both how Wilder's story would be told and how much of it Lane could borrow for her own books. They were, it seems, one of those mother-daughter pairs inseparable in the misery they caused each other. From that relationship, though, sprang something amazing.

The really great part of Prairie Fires is the first 175 pages, which chronicle the pioneer life on which the books were based. (Honestly if you wanted to stop at that point, nobody could blame you.) As Fraser shows, the books are most accurate when they are least believable. The incredible story of the grasshoppers who drove the Ingalls away from their farm on Plum Creek, Minnesota was part of a catastrophe that enveloped the whole of the western plains. The year 1874 saw the largest and most destructive locust swarm in North American history, known as "Albert's Swarm" after a Nebraska meteorologist named Albert Child who tried to measure its scope. By Child's calculations it measured 180 miles wide, 1100 miles long, and covered 198,000 square miles, containing roughly 3.5 trillion insects. When they had done eating everything growing in their path they laid eggs, and the next spring an immense brood of wingless nymphs hatched and began walking across the land like a marching army, just as Wilder described. The Wilders were ruined along with thousands of others.

The thing that bothered me most in the books was the weird behavior of the Indians in The Little House on the Prairie. They hang around in a vaguely menacing way, their faces painted, but they never do anything. In one scene two Indians barge into the Ingalls house and demand that Ma feed them. In another the Indians camp nearby and spend all night whooping and shouting, making people fear they are about to go on the warpath, but then in the morning they just ride away. It turns out that the land Pa was squatting on belonged to the Osage. They were in treaty negotiations with the US government to sell this land and move to Oklahoma, but the deal was not yet sealed. They were trying to intimidate squatters into leaving what was still their land without doing any actual violence that might put the treaty negotiations at risk. Since 5-year-old Laura cannot possibly have understood this, the perfect fit between what she remembered and what was actually happening speaks strongly to the accuracy of her memory.

One of Fraser's sub-themes is the ideology of self reliance that animated the Wilders, and that passed from those pioneering farmers into American politics. From Fraser's point of view, the Wilders were repeatedly lied to and let down by those in power, and she wants her readers to understand that their own efforts played only a limited part in their successes and failures. Her strongest indictment is of the railroad men and real estate speculators who lured tens of thousands of homesteaders to claim land in the Dakota Territory. That land, as experts understood, was simply too dry for subsistence farming. Government scientists tried to warn that homesteading in the Dakotas was doomed and fought to limit land claims to those with enough capital to set up the large, irrigated farms that alone had a chance of succeeding. But the homesteaders pushed ahead, singing "Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm." More than 80 percent failed within a decade.

The Ingalls, though, did not see things that way. They thought they had failed because of bad luck and bad decisions on their own part, and when they left Dakota they immediately set off for Missouri in pursuit of another place where they could find cheap land and set up a farm. Nor did the plight of the homesteaders elicit much compassion from other Americans. In New York, failed homesteaders were bumpkin losers: "It is humiliating to have them so constantly before us, passing round the hat." (76). The governor of Minnesota was not even sympathetic to those ruined by the grasshopper plague, saying he would got give them charity and thereby "weaken the habits of self-reliance." The editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote, "If anybody chooses to lie down and be eaten up by grasshoppers, we don't care much if he is devoured body, boots, and breeches." (80) 

To Fraser this is all disgusting, and she wants to launch a moral indictment of those who lured homesteaders into the desert and then abandoned them to their suffering. I wonder if she is missing a deeper explanation of what was happening: simple demography.

What really happened in North America was that European settlers established themselves and then started to breed at a fantastic rate, rarely seen in human history. Especially in New England and Canada the first settlers averaged more than 7 children raised to adulthood per family. When Paul Revere died he had 148 living descendants. This fertility created a river of humanity that stormed across the continent like, well, a little like locusts. They ate up everything in their path: cutting down forests, plowing the land, eating the deer, killing or driving out the Indians. You can point to particular acts of villainy, like the Trail of Tears or the Yankton War, or luring those homesteaders to Dakota. But viewed from on high those individual acts were all but irrelevant. That river of people was not going to be stopped; no government in the world had the power to even slow it. There was always a huge surplus of people who were just extra mouths to feed at home, so they restlessly pushed into the woods or onto the plains. It's sad that Almonzo Wilder and so many others took homestead claims where there wasn't enough rain for wheat, but what would they have done instead? They left the east because there wasn't any work for them at home. 

Another excellent section traces the collision of the self-reliant attitude with the Dust Bowl, which was raging while Wilder was writing Little House on the Prairie. Farmers were screaming for help from Washington, but when they got it they hated it almost as much as dust and ruination. If the problem was that the prices for farm products were too low, said government experts, the solution was to reduce production. And the obvious way to reduce production was to stop farming marginal land that was blowing away in dust storms and turn it back into grass for grazing. If the problem was the low price of hogs, the long-term solution was to raise fewer hogs, and the short term solution was to slaughter a few hundred thousand surplus animals and bury their carcasses in the dust. If you watched Ken Burns' documentary you heard old people still traumatized by the government men who showed up at their farms to kill and bury their livestock, not even letting them eat what they could salvage. It never seems to have occurred to many farmers that what they were asking for – prices that would stay high no matter how much they raised – was mathematically impossible. But anyway the hatred of New Deal farm policies across the plains defined the politics of those states for generations to come.

I am left wondering what really makes for a good life. Pa Ingalls failed over and over again, but his daughter remembered her girlhood as a long adventure, and then she made it into stories that have brought joy to millions. If Pa had stayed in Wisconsin on his farm and never done anything else, Laura might have avoided a lot of hardship, but would that have been a better life? Does a good life mean a safe and prosperous one, or does it mean something else?

David Teniers the Younger

David Teniers (1610-1690) was a wildly productive Flemish painter best known for his depictions of peasant life. He was famous and successful in his own time and has remained so ever since. Above is a typical Teniers work, Peasant Festival (1645).

As you probably guessed, Teniers was the son of another painter named David Teniers, who seems to be completely forgotten except for one series of works he did together with his son. The son's career up to 1650 was so typical as to be downright boring, a gradual rise through the ranks of the painters' guild in Antwerp paralleling a steady rise in the prices his work commanded. This is my favorite documentation of peasant life among Teniers' works, Peasants Celebrating Twelfth Night (1644). Put on silly hats, get drunk, laugh.

A wonderful evocation of the bourgeois ideal of family life: Self Portrait with the Artist's Family performing a Concert, 1640s.

I like The Kitchen, obviously set in the home of someone very rich, because you can see how they put the feathered skin back on swans to serve them as the centerpiece for elaborate dinners. Moderns think swan tastes terrible and wonder if medieval people even ate it after all this trouble was gone to, but the answer seems to be yes. Tastes change.

Later in his career Teniers painted dozens of works showing monkeys dressed as humans, doing human things. These were a big fad at the time and perhaps say something about how contemporary wags felt about human life. After all the 17th century rivals the 20th as a time when amazing progress in knowledge, wealth, and creativity were balanced by war, destruction, persecution, environmental devastation, extreme ideologies, and so on. Hence, monkey people.

In 1652 Teniers became court painter to Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, who ruled Flanders for the Habsburgs. He did multiple paintings of the Archduke's collection of paintings, an interesting sort of meta-art. 

Teniers painted in pretty much every genre known at the time: still life, history, portrait, religious scenes, and so on. Here is Christ Among the Learned Men, 1650s.

What drew me to Teniers was his depictions of the arcane side of 17th-century life, alchemy and witchcraft. Above are two versions of The Alchemyst in his Laboratory.

Two witch paintings, Dulle Griet (aka Mad Meg, a famous witch of Flemish folklore) and The Witch's Initiation. It seems that the older woman is teaching the younger one how to congress with demons. 

Those are the only two Teniers witch paintings of which I have been able to find decent images online, but I know there were many more because I have found a dozen in engravings made after Teniers' paintings. Above, The Sabbat and Departing for the Sabbat.

Notice the way the brooms are ridden. Depictions of witches riding with the straw in front and behind were both common in the period, so the point seems to have been in dispute. Here the straw is lit, a detail I am not familiar with. A light for the way? Or did the witch inhale the smoke, an allusion to people entering trances by inhaling the smoke of certain plants, something that had been described in 17th-century ethnography from the New World and Siberia?

As a historian you have to envy people who study Holland and Flanders in the 1600s for these amazing recreation of ordinary life that they have in such abundance and the rest of us have almost none of. (above, Peasant Wedding; below, Peasants Playing Bowls)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Textualism and Indian Country

Neil Gorsuch was put forward for the Supreme Court by various conservative bodies, such as the Federalist Society, because he believes strongly in a doctrine called "textualism." This doctrine was well defined by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote,
We ask, not what this man meant, but what those words would mean in the mouth of a normal speaker of English, using them in the circumstances in which they were used ... We do not inquire what the legislature meant; we ask only what the statutes mean.
Or as this blogger put it, "Only the written word is the law."

American conservatives are attracted to this doctrine because they think US courts have been interpreting laws in ways that go far beyond what they say. By prying into what laws "mean", they think, judges have effectively been writing their own laws. The main decisions that made this a conservative mainspring were Roe v. Wade – after all, the word "abortion" does not appear anywhere in the Constitution, so under a textualist interpretation there can be no right to abortion – and those that turned a ban on segregation into mandated school busing.

But Neil Gorsuch has lately been giving some of his backers a lesson in what it means to take the text seriously. First there was his ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that a law forbidding discrimination on the basis of "sex" applies to gay and trans people. One could argue against this on many grounds; for example, if you are an originalist who likes to rule on the basis of what the law meant when it was written, you might argue that nobody in 1964 intended the law to protect gay people. But Gorsuch just looked at the text and said, to me, "sex" means what adults do in bed together, so homosexuality is obviously protected.

And now there is his ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, delivered Thursday, which holds that wide swathes of Oklahoma are still "Indian Country":
On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever. In exchange for ceding “all their land, East of the Mississippi river,” the U. S. government agreed by treaty that “[t]he Creek country west of the Mississippi shall be solemnly guarantied to the Creek Indians.” Treaty With the Creeks, Arts. I, XIV, Mar. 24, 1832, 7 Stat. 366, 368 (1832 Treaty). Both parties settled on boundary lines for a new and “permanent home to the whole Creek nation,” located in what is now Oklahoma. Treaty With the Creeks, preamble, Feb. 14, 1833, 7 Stat. 418 (1833 Treaty). The government further promised that “no State or Territory shall ever have a right to pass laws for the government of such Indians, but they shall be allowed to govern themselves.” 1832 Treaty, Art. XIV, 7 Stat. 368. 

Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.
Here is the hidden danger in textualism for conservatives. Legislators have a very long tradition, probably stretching back to Hammurabi, of writing laws one way while knowing perfectly well they would be interpreted in another way. Custom and long usage, they knew, would keep the full language of the statute from being enforced. 

But textualism is death to custom and tradition, unless those things are clearly written into the law. 

Liberals shouldn't necessarily gloat over this, because Gorsuch has shown in these rulings that 1) he really means what he says about reading only the text of the law, and 2) he is perfectly willing to throw big monkey wrenches into things like how justice is administered in Oklahoma if he thinks the law calls for it. He will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade every chance he gets.

Friday, July 10, 2020

A Ring and a Curse from Roman Britain

In 1785, this gold ring was found in a field near Silchester, England. The top depicts the goddess Venus, her name spelled backwards showing that this was used as a signet. The ring likely dates to the 4th century AD.

But around the outside someone later carved a name, Senicianus, and a garbled text that seems to be "vivas in deo," lives in God, which was a Christian saying.

In 1929 famous archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler learned of this ring and thought the name sounded familiar. After a search he discovered where he had seen it before: on a lead curse tablet found at a temple of the pagan god Nodens, 80 miles away from Silchester near Lydney in Gloucestershire. On this tablet a certain Silvianus complains that his gold ring had been stolen by a man named Senicianus. He deposited money at the temple equal to half the ring's value, hoping the gods would "permit no good health to Seniciacus."

If this is a coincidence, it's a quite striking one.

To make matters even more interesting, Wheeler took the ring, with its circular inscription, to a philologist named J.R.R. Tolkien for help with the translations. Who thereby got his hands on an actual cursed ring from ancient times.

The person who recently put this on Twitter, Gareth Harney, wonders if this piqued Tolkien's interest in magic rings, but I think the old German Siegfried legend, as filtered through Wagner, is the real source. Still, it's fun to imagine what Tolkien made of this little stolen treasure.

Links 10 July 2020

Anna Maria Teresa Mengs, portrait of Anton Rafael Mengs, c. 1780

"Guide cells" help flatworms regrow missing heads, bodies, whatever else they have lost. (NY Times)

One group of Southerners enjoyed the fourth of July in the 1860s: recently freed African Americans.

Video of dolphins "shelling" – chasing a fish into an empty conch shell, then carrying the shell up to the surface and shaking the fish out. Another sort of dolphin tool use, and another bit of culture, since this is done only by certain pods, the knowledge passed between peers.

Three recipes to help you eat like a Roman. Bonus: how to bake Roman bread (no leavening, which would have come in handy during the Great Yeast Famine of 2020).

Gigapixel image of a famous copy of da Vinci's The Last Supper. Unbelievable detail, and more authentic than the badly decayed and repainted original.

The 1947 sci-fi film that predicted how people would use smartphones; it even shows people bumping into each other while staring at their mini-televisions.

Indian Archaeologist searches two decades for medieval fort, which is then accidentally uncovered by workers "trying to extract mud from a foothill."

Bloomberg: lawsuits by activists and opposition by politicians have made it impossible to build new gas pipelines in the US.

Former Senator Judd Gregg reveals the perfidious left-wing plot afoot: Joe Biden is just a stalking horse for the far left, and as soon as he is elected they will 25th Amendment him out of the way and bring a radical in to replace him. Never mind that Biden trounced all the leftists in the primary, and never mind that his VP is not likely to be much more radical than he is.

What happens when an African grey parrot goes head-to-head with 21 Harvard students in a test measuring a type of visual memory? The parrot wins.

The fight continues over Anne Rice O'Hanlon's mural at the University of Kentucky; in a perfect summary of the problem, the Times notes  that "students have denounced the mural as a racist sanitizing of history and a painful reminder of slavery in a public setting." No one has figured out how to depict a non-sanitized, non-painful version of our history.

Indian emperor Ashoka fell hard for Buddhism. In 257 BC he decided we all had to be more ethical, so he wrote little speeches urging everyone to be more ethical and had them carved on boulders, pillars, and cave walls all over India. It was worth a try, right? 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Genetics and Folklore of the Hungarian Royal Family

From their first appearance in written records, in the late 800s AD, until 1301, the Hungarians were led by the Arpad Dynasty. The man who led them into modern Hungary was known as Ügyek; Arpad was his son. According to the chronicle known as The Deeds of the Huns and Hungarians, Ügyek was descended from Attila the Hun. The Huns and Hungarians were not closely related people and Hungarian, a Finno-Ugric language, has no relationship to Hunnish. So many moderns have refused to believe this.

Now some scientists have learned something interesting via ancient DNA:
Based on the genetic analysis of two members of the Árpád Dynasty, it appears that they derived from a lineage (R-Z2125) that is currently predominantly present among ethnic groups (Pashtun, Tadjik, Turkmen, Uzbek, and Bashkir) speaking Iranian or Turkic languages.
One of the Arpads they sampled was King Béla III (1172–1196); the other was one of additional individuals (six males, two females) who were also placed in the Royal Basilica of Székesfehérvár.

So the male founder of the Arpad line really did come from central Asia into Europe, which means that for all we know the dynasty really was descended from Attila.

This reminds me of a weird fact I learned years ago about the nobility of Poland. In the 16th and 17th centuries they insisted that they were not, in fact, Slavs, but descended from the Sarmatians who dominated the whole steppe region between about 200 BC and 400 AD.  For a while some of them dressed in what they thought were Sarmatian clothes (really they were Turkish). Western rationalists like Voltaire mocked this pretension and it went out of fashion in the 1700s.

But rather than coats of arms the Polish nobility liked to identify their families using abstract signs called Tamga. There's one in the plaque above, surrounded by winged Victories. Modern archaeology shows that these were once widely used across the steppes and into central Asia, especially by the Sarmatians. Not, so far as we know, by the Slavs. Archaeology also shows that people who were probably Alans, a Sarmatian offshoot, did settle in southern Poland in the post-Roman age of migrations.

Sometimes weird old legends have some truth to them.

The Ideology of American Police

Good article by Zack Beauchamp at Vox about the unwritten beliefs that American police officers hold about their jobs:
The ideology holds that the world is a profoundly dangerous place: Officers are conditioned to see themselves as constantly in danger and that the only way to guarantee survival is to dominate the citizens they’re supposed to protect. The police believe they’re alone in this fight; police ideology holds that officers are under siege by criminals and are not understood or respected by the broader citizenry. These beliefs, combined with widely held racial stereotypes, push officers toward violent and racist behavior during intense and stressful street interactions.
I think you can't understand how the police behave without coming to grips with how they see the world. The emblem of this ideology is the "Thin Blue Line," which represents police standing between the good people and the dangerous criminals.

One reason police feel this way is that they are trained to be paranoid:
In 1998, Georgia sheriff’s deputy Kyle Dinkheller pulled over a middle-aged white man named Andrew Howard Brannan for speeding. Brannan, a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, refused to comply with Dinkheller’s instructions. He got out of the car and started dancing in the middle of the road, singing “Here I am, shoot me” over and over again.

In the encounter, recorded by the deputy’s dashcam, things then escalate: Brannan charges at Dinkheller; Dinkheller tells him to “get back.” Brannan heads back to the car — only to reemerge with a rifle pointed at Dinkheller. The officer fires first, and misses; Brannan shoots back. In the ensuing firefight, both men are wounded, but Dinkheller far more severely. It ends with Brannan standing over Dinkheller, pointing the rifle at the deputy’s eye. He yells — “Die, fucker!” — and pulls the trigger.

The dashcam footage of Dinkheller’s killing, widely known among cops as the “Dinkheller video,” is burned into the minds of many American police officers. It is screened in police academies around the country; one training turns it into a video game-style simulation in which officers can change the ending by killing Brannan. Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop, was shown the Dinkheller video during his training.

“Every cop knows the name ‘Dinkheller’ — and no one else does,” says Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who currently teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Of course being a police officer is dangerous, but not as dangerous as being, say, a farmer or a bartender, and a lot less dangerous than logging or fishing. And according to numbers Beauchamp cites, nearly as many police die in car crashes as from violence, but while the police are obsessed with violence they are often careless drivers. For example, many officers won't wear seat belts because they think they might have to jump out of the car quickly to intervene in a violent situation.

Another important part of the ideology is the sense that nobody understands what the police go through:
Police officers today tend to see themselves as engaged in a lonely, armed struggle against the criminal element. Officers believe these efforts are underappreciated by the general public; according to a 2017 Pew report, 86 percent of police believe the public doesn’t really understand the “risks and challenges” involved in their job.

Rizer, the former officer and R Street researcher, recently conducted a separate large-scale survey of American police officers. One of the questions he asked was whether they would want their children to become police officers. A majority, around 60 percent, said no — for reasons that, in Rizer’s words, “blew me away.”

“The vast majority of people that said ‘no, I don’t want them to become a police officer’ was because they felt like the public no longer supported them — and that they were ‘at war’ with the public,” he tells me. “There’s a ‘me versus them’ kind of worldview, that we’re not part of this community that we’re patrolling.”
To me all of this means that the response to police violence can't be more demonizing of police offers; it has to be reintegration of the police and the communities they serve. So long as police officers feel like they have been stranded alone on the streets, surrounded by danger, while the people they protect revile them, they will continue to be violent.

Monday, July 6, 2020

RIP Ennio Morricone

Morricone wrote the score for The Mission, one of my favorite pieces of music. This fourteen-minute compendium gives a good sample.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Two National Park, Two Sides of Madagascar

Today an imaginary journey to Madagascar, a huge island with a very diverse ecology and many National Parks. These baobabs aren't in any national park, but they're so famous and impressive I put them here at the start anyway.

Amber Mountain

First we journey to the far north of the island, to the Amber Mountain Reserve. Amber Mountain is a volcanic eminence catches that more rain than the surrounding lowlands, and as a result is covered by a mountain rain forest. The park measures 45,000 acres (18,000 hectares) and is, people say, more accessible than most of Madagascar's parks.

The lush forests are full of streams and waterfalls, and there are two crater lakes.

And wildlife, including many species of lemurs

and chameleons, including the tiny Amber Mountain leaf chameleon, one of the smallest reptiles in the world.

And birds; to judge from the pictures people have posted, many tourists to Madagascar are birdwatchers, and the island has many unique species. These two are from a nice journal of a Madagascar nature tour you can read here.

Tsingy de Bermaraha

Tsingy de Bermaraha is a famous national park that encompasses the largest area of the karstic badlands that the locals call Tsingy. According to wikipedia, Tsingy comes from a Malagasy word meaning "where one cannot walk barefoot."

This spectacular topography of these stone forests crops up in several places along Madagascar's northwest coast, but this national park protects the largest and most impressive.

As you might imagine, life in the Tsingys is vertically divided. The National Park has trails laid out so you can explore parts of the upper zone, including what seems to be Madagascar's most photographed bridge.

But there are also places where you can get down into the bottom. 

Some of these crevasses hold water, so the plant life is much more lush than up top.

The area is home to many unique plants and animals, some confined to a few small enclaves within the stone forest.

There are many lemurs here, including what seems to be a tribe of very friendly national park ringtails, or at least everybody's tour includes a photograph of them.

And birds.

This is a dry area, which makes this trek a nice contrast to the wet forests of Amber Mountain. 

These two parks are just the beginning of Madagascar's diverse natural wonders, but there we will leave it for today.